What were your aspirations when you were younger?
I didn’t have big dreams – most children dream of becoming pilots or doctors. My parents were hawkers, so I was inspired to be one too. They used to sell all kinds of food, from beehoon to bak kut teh. My contribution was being a taste tester (laughs). My parents would work long hours, so I used to cook meals for myself and my sister.
When was your first experience with animals?
Whenever I visited my grandmother’s place in Malaysia, I’d get very excited when I saw the free-roaming chickens, turkeys and cows. After my parents folded their food business, my father became a crane operator. He’d bring me to the construction site where many stray puppies were. I begged him to let me bring one home, but he always said no. Every day, we’d go to a nearby chicken rice stall and I’d ask the owner for the spare, unwanted parts. I’d happily tote a big bag filled with chicken parts and feed the hungry dogs.
Being that they were strays, were you not afraid of them?
Not at all. I was curious and fearless. When I was young, I thought that all dogs were harmless. There’s a scar on my face — I got it when I was petting a stray dog that was eating. He just clawed me and got me in the eye. I have so countless dog bites on my body.
You joined a gang when you were a teenager. Tell us about that.
I was fourteen years old, and I went to a skating rink with my friends. The rink was also a gang’s hangout place. The members recruited us — I think they just wanted to strengthen their number. I didn’t think joining a gang was wrong; I thought it was fun making so many new friends. I began dabbling in glue-sniffing — it was the cheapest drug available to us. I got a little nauseous inhaling it; it wasn’t the feeling I thought I would get. Then I moved on to marijuana; again I didn’t get the high I was expecting. I just got very hungry and could not stop munching on snacks. Eventually, one of my friends introduced me to ecstasy. I wanted to throw up, but when everyone else around you is high, you can’t help but go along with it. I just became giddy.