Retirement is not what it’s cracked up to be — it’s boring as fudge.
That’s the cold hard reality confronting Uncle Larry, the kopi stall owner played by Duan Weiming in Shaking Legs, a spin-off of 128 Circle, the Mediacorp drama following the lives of a group of hawker centre vendors in a fictional HDB estate.
When Shaking Legs — a Singlish slang for ‘to be idle’ — opens, Larry has shuttered his business and is preparing for the next chapter of his life: retirement. But guess what? He isn’t emotionally (and financially) ready to hang up his spurs just yet.
Did working on the series make Weiming ponder about his golden years?
The 60-year-old freelance actor, whose day-job is a butler and personal driver to a Chinese businessman, says, “I will work until I cannot work, maybe till I am 70 or 80. But my employer might worry I would fall and hurt myself. You must know when it’s a good time to quit.”
Speaking to 8days.sg over the phone from his ‘office’ in Sentosa — where his employer lives — Weiming says, in Mandarin and English, he doesn’t wish to be one of those retirees who spend their days at coffee shops “reading newspaper and chit-chatting”.
“I find that situation really sad,” says Weiming. “Are they waiting to die? This is not a good way to die. If you are fit, why don’t you do something productive?”
Also, he can’t afford to retire just yet. “I don’t have a lot of savings,” says Weiming. “If I only depend on my CPF, I don’t know how long that will last me. I still have to take care of my mum and my son. That’s why I am constantly working, still contributing to my CPF; I still have many years to go.”
But two incidents almost forced him into early retirement.
In June, Weiming, who suffers from diabetes, underwent surgery to save his right leg from amputation. Barely three months later, he sustained a nasty laceration below his right knee while using a chainsaw.
“I switched it on and it got a real kick and I don’t know why but I dropped it on my leg,” he recalls. “It was real sudden!”
“Brother, I lost a lot of blood,” says Weiming, feigning an anguished scream.
Despite the severity of his injury, he didn’t seek proper medical attention — at least not until the next day.
He first consulted his GP who then referred him a hospital. When the doctor there suggested repairing the wound by filling it out with flesh from the other parts of his body, Weiming balked.
“I didn’t see any doctor,” he says, proudly. “I see myself.” Don’t bother arguing with him: The man simply doesn’t trust doctors. He also finds hospitals a hassle.
Weiming opted instead to patch himself up with herbal medicine prescribed by a jitong or spirit medium. (Hey, if the Hear U Out producers are reading this, you should contact Weiming ASAP.)
He claims the unorthodox remedies were just as effective as the treatment he received for his earlier leg operation. He even texts us the before-and-after photos to prove that he isn’t bragging.
While Weiming’s recovery seems remarkable, one can't help but wonder: what if this alternate treatment went sideways?
"Luckily successful," says Weiming who's been dressing his own wound since that hospital visit. "Just think of it as a war injury and I'm in the midst of recovery. I can move around but slowly; I can't do any strenuous exercise. I'm also careful with what I eat — I try my best to avoid seafood."
That said, he did have friends who called him "an idiot". “They would say, ‘What happen if you die?’ I said to them, ‘Never mind, you only lose one of your friends — but you must come to my funeral if I die'.”
“At my age, I’m open-minded,” he adds. “Life and death are fated. If God wants you, you can’t escape him; if God doesn’t want you, you won’t die, like my mother — she’s 96. She’s weak, can’t walk, but she’s still alive. God doesn’t want her!”
Before things get a tad too morbid, I try to steer the conversation back to Shaking Legs. If Weiming were to retire, he would rather devote time to learning something new than hang out at a kopitiam boasting past glories.
And what does he have in mind? Fortune-telling, he says. Over the years, he’s been diligently reading up on the subject, consulting the masters even. For Weiming, calculating one’s bazi (or birthday characters) is a fun way to pass the time. “Also, it’s fascinating to mull over the things [about the metaphysical world written 5,000 years ago,” he says.
“Give me your [bazi] and I will interpret it you, the good and bad,” he continues. “You reflect on the interpretations and decide for yourself if it’s accurate or not”.
And Weiming’s a firm believer. He remembers one reading foretold that he and his then-wife — whom he divorced twice — would have two children (a daughter, now in her 30s, and a 12-year-old son) while another warned him that he shouldn’t be a businessman and that he’s best suited for jobs in arts and entertainment. Alas, it’s information that would’ve been more useful decades ago when he lost his shirt in a series of failed ventures, including a karaoke chain and a car workshop.
Weiming says he’d has done some fortune-telling for friends, including two actresses whom he declines to name. “They thought my readings were accurate,” he says.
But there’s a dark side to fortune-telling, he cautions. “When I share with people about things I am not supposed to say and they are not supposed to know, bad things will come to me.”
Did Weiming foresee his gruesome leg injury?
“I found out that I might encounter xue guang zhi zai (or a ‘blood disaster’) this year,” he says. “So from the beginning of the year, I had been very careful. Then I had the leg operation in June, which I thought that was it. But that was an illness. What happened to me in September was an accident.”