In Praise of Shadows

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For a while now it’s been coming. I am spent I am so many people I know I must leave right now but where to? Wherever my book bag can take me. To the sierras of Andalusia. To the blue-green islands on the Indian Ocean. To the Danube river, the Norwegian fjords, the Himalayan mountain ranges.  I’m on the upper deck of bus 80 as the colours of a thousand Tibetan flags fill my eyes. Damn its not easy to sit still with the feeling of “now” grinding at your temples. Don’t blink don’t move don’t blink don’t move don’t blink. Just you and the book in your lap. Familiarise yourself with the nomenclature and don’t let the sentence leave your eyeline.

Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.

As we cross the painted shophouses of Geylang the details open up I see it all suddenly the carved stone flowers the garish pink and green paint dirty and flaking and oh God it’s so beautiful and just like that the tears are streaming down onto the pages of Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows the black ink lines spreading like blood from a bullet wound.

If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty…

An hour later I am at a table with friends having steak bagels and coffee, the thick, acidic ambrosia, a gift from God, surely. The only marks of the feelings past are the faint tear streaks I tried to rub away with the back of my hand but they don’t quite fade away enough. Do they know? I’m looking at life happening outside the glass windows and suddenly everything is alright I’m supposed to be right here within and without sipping a flat coke with a cockeyed beagle sitting at my feet. I’m right here but I was not made for here.

If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy,
I can only conclude that I was not made for here

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Postcard: Bangkok

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Found these old photos of a city that everyone said that I would love but I didn’t. For five days, I felt the grime and grit and noise rub against my skin like a greasy animal and made me more uncomfortable than I’ve ever been in my life. Never again, never again.

I don’t regret it now though. Perhaps I just needed to know that one always has an option, that not all things have to be participatory. Now that I’m older, I realise that I get to choose the experiences I want to have and not just flow along other people’s paths. That means everything. Perhaps, one day I will go back and see the city through a different lens, under another light, in colour instead of black and white.

Beauty in Between

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Causeway

As we cross
I feel the strings loosen on
the things I knit myself to
creature comforts
bad relationships
what you said two years ago in
the hour so full of days
songs, signals, screens
three bars become
two become
one
the little rectangle of light dissolves
as we approach the collection of pink neon
& euphonious sound

I could drown.
I was made for stillness
in a world that prides itself on being loud.
& as the sky unhooks itself from the heavens
& settles on its liquid reflection
I see it all now
how it was meant to be-
untethered, devoid-
eyes open wide to see
the beauty in between things
a breath
a pause
a bridge

It Is Done.

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This is my memory of mass from my twelve years of Catholic school.

We are in the main square, 400 girls categorised by the names of flowers and lined up in neat rows, the hot sun beating down on all of us. Me, with my forehead against my friend’s back, her uniform sticking to her skin. The saints are watching, their bronze faces shiny and unwavering as they peer over the bannister from above.

Father Benedict stands on the balcony, wrapped in white robes. He has a magnificent singing voice. I recall a story my Catholic friend once told me about the Pope addressing crowds from a window of his house every Wednesday in Vatican City. That was very nice of him since he seemed like a very busy man.

10, 20, 30 minutes. My ears prick up at my favourite part, at what I think is the most beautiful melody of the entire mass. Through him, with him, in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, almighty Father, forever and ever…

Soon, it will be time for communion. My Catholic friends will sleep right up till Father Benedict asks them to rise. They will march down the aisle, stretch up their arms as if begging for alms, take the wafer and make the sign of the cross. We crane our necks to see them saunter back to their designated spots. Later on, they will cross the road and smoke cigarettes near the dumpster at Block 96. I once asked my best friend Sarah Anne what the “broken body of Jesus” tasted like and she just shrugged and said: like cardboard. I was not expecting that at all.

It’s almost noon. A spot of my perspiration falls onto the asphalt tile, forming a dark spot before seeping and disappearing into its bleeding redness. The blood of the lamb…

This is how mass was like last Tuesday.

We step into church at five minutes to six, wet from the sudden torrent of rain. The weather has been bipolar lately, much like the day that has just passed, made up of a string of good and distressing news. I don’t know what I’m doing here, except that I felt a strange, involuntary stirring in my spirit when Mitchell said that she was going for mass and before I could stop myself, I hear myself asking if I could come too. So here we are, at the 6pm weekday mass at the Church of St. Bernadette.

We try not to drip too much as we sit down. I look around at the half-empty pews, arranged in a semi circle around a curved, marble platform. We are the youngest people here, children exempted. Before I have time to contemplate what that means, a soothing, female voice chimes through the speakers, informing us in crystal clear tones that mass is starting. Soon, a priest and two altar boys emerge from the inner folds of the sanctuary.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Up, down, and then up again. I sit down a tad too late or say the lines stiltedly. I wonder if people can tell that I’m not Catholic. Mitch tries to help me along but things are moving too quickly and besides, I don’t mind just following.

May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.

Amen.

The words come in dribs and drabs but it’s amazing how much I remember considering how many years its been. The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, the Doxology. Dormant but alive, they have left indelible marks on my memory. The sensations – the weight of the hymnal resting on my palm, the feel of the leather against my knees as I kneel to pray, the murmuring of the congregation – are ones that I am accustomed to. The order of it all is comforting, bittersweet.

The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give Him thanks and praise. 

I know what’s coming up next: communion. Mitch asks me if I would like to go up but I shake my head, sit back down and close my eyes. I am back at St Anthony’s Canossian again, eleven-year-old me, with pigtails and in a pinafore two sizes too big. Somehow it is hard to reconcile that image with the person that I have become. God, where can I find you in all of this? I imagine a thin wafer dissolving on my tongue, absolving me of all my sins.

Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. 

Say the word. As people shuffle around me to receive communion, I realise that I’m blinking back tears. I’m reminded of that e.e. cummings poem that I love so much – it is so long since my heart has been with yours – and I nearly keel over from the feeling of familiarity, the feeling of being well-acquainted with the one who knows my heart the best.

Say the word and my soul shall be healed. 

Say the word.

Say.

Three Trains / Three Stories

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  2230 hrs | 14 February 2018
 North East Line | Boon Keng – Serangoon

They don’t have anymore chickens at Boon Keng!

Chickens?

No more chickens! I went to two NTUCs already this evening. 

It’s an old lady, dressed in a cheongsam top and a slim black pant. She’s carrying many plastic shopping bags, an umbrella and her cracked leather wallet.

Aiyah, my feet hurt, going up and down like that. I’m 64 years old, still have to do this. But what to do? Chinese New Year, right?

She’s looking right at me. Still, I’m reluctant to engage. I’m reading Don Quixote and it’s getting quite exciting. On page 52, the hapless hidalgo is about to be beaten up by a gang along with Rocinante (his horse) and Sancho Panza (his “squire”).

I’m going to try one last time at Serangoon. They have a big NTUC there, some more it’s 24 hours.  Do you know what time the MRT closes down? 

I tell her that I’m not so sure, but that I did hear that there would be an extension of hours because of the holiday. I don’t think she’s heard me because she goes on about the chickens.

I don’t need an uncooked chicken. Even ready-made one will do. They have that now in NTUC, you know? Roast pork also have. You know, last time when my kids were still around, I would never buy this kind, the ready-made kind. Everything cook from scratch. Roast chicken lah. Dumplings. Pen cai. You like pen cai?

Yes, my grandmother makes it every year. 

I also. Last time lah. This kind, can only eat once a year. Long time ago, I will buy how many cans of abalone, you know! Sometimes five cans, six cans, no problem! Will always ask my sons to help me buy early before no stock. All the other special ingredients also. Nian gao, must buy. Also last time, aunty also make pineapple tarts and love letters for all my friends. Good hor?

She’s on a roll now; she won’t stop.

I even know how to make yu sheng myself. Last time where got people buy yu sheng? So expensive now! My daughter loves yu sheng. Nowadays young people don’t like. You like? 

Not really.

You see! But my daughter loves it. I will make big big platters last time for family, to give to neighbours, but especially for my daughter. She loves it, but she isn’t here anymore.

Where is she, aunty?

She stops for a moment, breaks eye contact with me. I think I’ve crossed a line, but her facial expression shifts quickly and she starts to talk again.

Not here lah. All not here. Daughters and sons – all not here. That’s why I just need to buy those ready-made chicken. One can already. Can last for a few days. Don’t worry about aunty. Just need to try at Serangoon. One more time. Okay, my stop already. Bye! Happy Chinese New Year…

 


 

  1400 hrs | 15 February 2018
         North East Line | Outram Park – Dhoby Ghaut

The balloon is in the shape of a cupcake and a little girl is reaching for it. She has blue eyes & strawberry blonde hair and she giggles as she presses her palm against a glass panel riddled with sticky fingerprints, the only thing separating her from her shiny prize. She can’t be more than five.

It’s tied to the bag of a teenager, the pink string looped around the handle twice. Like everyone else on the train, the teenager’s eyes are glued to her phone screen. I peer above the pages of Don Quixote (I’m on page 83 now), transfixed by the girl’s tiny fingers as they make their way towards the stretched, silvery plastic. At one point, they get dangerously close and she turns to her left to grab her brother’s arm. Regarde moi! Regarde moi!

The boy, with his wavy blonde curls and toothy smile, looks a lot like his sister but only twice as mischievous. I glance right and see that they come in a set of four – sister, brother, mother, father – blond and pretty, riding the MRT at 2pm on Chinese New Year eve. They look out of place in a train carriage full of people dressed up in stiff New Year clothes, slightly rumpled in their cotton t-shirts, shorts and sunglasses.

I realise I’ve been staring in their direction too long when the boy starts making faces at me. He sticks his tongue out, his fists curled up in two circles around his eyes. He’s making fun of my glasses! The cheek. I close my book, wiggle my face so that my glasses bounce up and down my nose. He giggles.

Parlez-vous anglais?

I don’t know where that came from – I haven’t spoken French properly in years. Even the boy is taken aback. It’s now his turn to tug on his mother’s shirt. She looks at me, smiles and motions for him to speak to me. He says shyly:

Un peu… un peu d’anglais.

Très bien! Et moi… Je parle un peu français…

My French is elementary, but I have their attention now – even the girl has abandoned her balloon pursuit. The kids start speaking very quickly and excitedly and the mother, who can speak a little bit of English, translates the questions. Like a game, and to everyone’s amusement, I try to recall the little French I know from two university classes to answer them.

They ask where you learn French.

J’étudie français… how do you say “in” in French? Er… “dans”? J’étudie français dans mon université.

Fantastique! Oh… they ask, you go to France before?

Oui, Paris! 

I hold out three of my fingers to indicate that I’ve been to Paris three times (also, I’ve forgotten how to say “thrice” in French) but it’s too late, the kids make a face at the sound of the capital’s name. Even the father, who has been sitting there silently with his newsboy cap tilted at an angle, shakes his head. The mother laughs.

We don’t like Paris. Ce n’est rien. We live… à l’est, près de la suisse? Better, much better.

Uh oh. I’m not surprised. Parisians are the only French people who like Paris. I talk a little more with the mother and make faces at the kids in between to keep them entertained. By now, even the people around us are hanging onto our stilted sentences, entranced by this odd encounter, listening in.

I find out that the family has been in Singapore for five days but that they will soon make their way to Indonesia to “hike mountains”. They love the outdoors, especially the boys They also love how hot Singapore is, but admits that it is too crowded to be pleasant, much too crowded.

Is there like…une fête? La célébration?

The mother gestures around her, at everyone in their best clothes, packed like sardines in a tin can in the middle of the afternoon. Before I can even attempt to explain Chinese New Year to her, we’ve arrived at their stop. Dhoby Ghaut. The mother announces that it is time to go and the father tips his cap towards me. The kids wave at me and proudly exclaim:

Goodbye! Goodbye!

To which I respond heartily:

Au revoir! 

It has been five, very surreal minutes. The atmosphere in the cramped train carriage seems a little lighter. Before the family disembarks, the mother turns to me and says this:

Your French is not so good…. but thank you so much! Au revoir!

Well, one thing’s for sure. They are definitely French.

 


 

2330 hrs | 25 February 2018
            North South Line | Orchard – Link to Shaw Theatres

Hi, what’s your name?

Stacy.

My name’s Kenny. I’m 74 years old. Do you like The Carpenters?

Of course I do!

You remind me of Karen Carpenter. Very lovely, but I think you should lose the glasses because they make you look old, you know what I mean?

Oh dear. I’ll make a note of that.

Listen, I’ll play a song for you. You know, “On Top of the World”? Maybe after that – and I hate to be a bother – you could help me out with my rent?

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Everything Goes

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Why Don’t You Dance?
Raymond Carver, 1938 – 1988

In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard. The mattress was stripped and the candy-striped sheets lay beside two pillows on the chiffonier. Except for that, things looked much the way they had in the bedroom— nightstand and reading lamp on his side of the bed, nightstand and reading lamp on her side.

His side, her side.

He considered this as he sipped the whiskey.

The chiffonier stood a few feet from the foot of the bed. He had emptied the drawers into cartons that morning, and the cartons were in the living room. A portable heater was next to the chiffonier. A rattan chair with a decorator pillow stood at the foot of the bed.

The buffed aluminium kitchen set took up a part of the driveway. A yellow muslin cloth, much too large, a gift, covered the table and hung down over the sides. A potted fern was on the table, and a few feet away from this stood a sofa and chair and a floor lamp. The desk was pushed against the garage door. A few utensils were on the desk, along with a wall clock and two framed prints. There was also in the driveway a carton with cups, glasses, and plates, each object wrapped in newspaper. That morning he had cleared out the closets, and except for the three cartons in the living room, all the stuff was out of the home. He had run an extension cord on out there and everything was connected. Things worked, no different from how it was when they were inside.

Now and then a car slowed and people stared. But no one stopped. It occurred to him that he wouldn’t, either.

“It must be a yard sale,” the girl said to the boy.

This girl and this boy were furnishing a little apartment.

“Let’s see what they want for the bed,” the girl said.

“And for the TV,” the boy said.

The boy pulled into the driveway and stopped in front of the kitchen table.

They got out of the car and began to examine things, the girl touching the muslin cloth, the boy plugging in the blender and turning the dial to MINCE, the girl picking up a chafing dish, the boy turning on the television set and making little adjustments.

He sat down on the sofa to watch. He lit a cigarette, looked around, flipped the match into the grass.

The girl sat on the bed. She pushed off her shoes and lay back. She thought she could see a star.

“Come here, Jack. Try this bed. Bring one of those pillows,” she said.

“How is it?” he said.

“Try it,” she said.

He looked around. The house was dark.

“I feel funny,” he said. “Better see if anybody’s home.”

She bounced on the bed.

“Try it first,” she said.

He lay down on the bed and put the pillow under his head.

“How does it feel?” she said.

“It feels firm,” he said.

She turned on her side and put her hand to his face.

“Kiss me,” she said.

“Let’s get up,” he said.

“Kiss me,” she said.

She closed her eyes. She held him.

He said, “I’ll see if anybody’s home.”

But he just sat up and stayed where he was, making believe he was watching the television.

Lights came on in the houses up and down the street.

“Wouldn’t it be funny if,” the girl said and grinned and didn’t finish.

The boy laughed, but for no good reason. For no good reason, he switched the reading lamp on.

The girl brushed away a mosquito, whereupon the boy stood up and tucked in his shirt.

“I’ll see if anybody’s home,” he said. “I don’t think anybody’s home. But if anybody is, I’ll see what things are going for.”

“Whatever they ask, offer ten dollars less. It’s always a good idea,” she said.

“And, besides, they must be desperate or something.”

“It’s a pretty good TV,” the boy said.

“Ask them how much,” the girl said.

 

The man came down the sidewalk with a sack from the market. He had sandwiches, beer, whiskey. He saw the car in the driveway and the girl on the bed. He saw the television set going and the boy on the porch.

“Hello,” the man said to the girl. “You found the bed. That’s good.”

“Hello,” the girl said, and got up. “I was just trying it out.” She patted the bed.

“It’s a pretty good bed.”

“It’s a good bed,” the man said, and put down the sack and took out the beer and the whiskey.

“We thought nobody was here,” the boy said. “We’re interested in the bed and maybe in the TV. Also maybe the desk. How much do you want for the bed?”

“I was thinking fifty dollars for the bed,” the man said.

“Would you take forty?” the girl asked.

“I’ll take forty,” the man said.

He took a glass out of the carton. He took the newspaper off the glass. He broke the seal on the whiskey.

“How about the TV?” the boy said.

“Twenty-five.”

“Would you take fifteen?” the girl said.

“Fifteen’s okay. I could take fifteen,” the man said.

The girl looked at the boy.

“You kids, you’ll want a drink,” the man said. “Glasses in that box. I’m going to sit down. I’m going to sit down on the sofa.”

The man sat on the sofa, leaned back, and stared at the boy and the girl.

 

The boy found two glasses and poured whiskey.

“That’s enough,” the girl said. “I think I want water in mine.”

She pulled out a chair and sat at the kitchen table.

“There’s water in that spigot over there,” the man said. “Turn on that spigot.”

The boy came back with the watered whiskey. He cleared his throat and sat down at the kitchen table. He grinned. But he didn’t drink anything from his glass.

The man gazed at the television. He finished his drink and started another. He reached to turn on the floor lamp. It was then that his cigarette dropped from his fingers and fell between the cushions.

The girl got up to help him find it.

“So what do you want?” the boy said to the girl.

The boy took out the checkbook and held it to his lips as if thinking.

“I want the desk,” the girl said. “How much money is the desk?”

The man waved his hand at this preposterous question.

“Name a figure,” he said.

He looked at them as they sat at the table. In the lamplight, there was something about their faces. It was nice or it was nasty. There was no telling.

“I’m going to turn off this TV and put on a record,” the man said. “This record player is going, too. Cheap. Make me an offer.”

He poured more whiskey and opened a beer.

“Everything goes,” said the man.

The girl held out her glass and the man poured.

“Thank you,” she said. “You’re very nice,” she said.

“It goes to your head,” the boy said. “I’m getting it in the head.” He held up his glass and jiggled it.

The man finished his drink and poured another, and then he found the box with the records.

“Pick something,” the man said to the girl, and he held the records out to her.

The boy was writing the check.

“Here,” the girl said, picking something, picking anything, for she did not know the names on these labels. She got up from the table and sat down again. She did not want to sit still.

“I’m making it out to cash,” the boy said.

“Sure,” the man said.

They drank. They listened to the record. And then the man put on another.

Why don’t you kids dance? he decided to say, and then he said it. “Why don’t you
dance?”

“I don’t think so,” the boy said.

“Go ahead,” the man said. “It’s my yard. You can dance if you want to.”

Arms about each other, their bodies pressed together, the boy and the girl moved up and down the driveway. They were dancing. And when the record was over, they did it again, and when that one ended, the boy said. “I’m drunk.”

The girl said, “You’re not drunk.”

“Well, I’m drunk,” the boy said.

The man turned the record over and the boy said, “I am.”

“Dance with me,” the girl said to the boy and then to the man, and when the man
stood up, she came to him with her arms wide open.

 

“Those people over there, they’re watching,” she said.

“It’s okay,” the man said. “It’s my place,” he said.

“Let them watch,” the girl said.

“That’s right,” the man said. “They thought they’d seen everything over here. But they haven’t seen this, have they?”

He felt her breath on his neck.

“I hope you like your bed,” he said.

The girl closed and then opened her eyes. She pushed her face into the man’s shoulder. She pulled the man closer.

“You must be desperate or something,” she said.

 

Weeks later, she said: “The guy was about middle-aged. All his things right there in his yard. No lie. We got real pissed and danced. In the driveway. Oh, my God. Don’t laugh. He played us these records. Look at this record-player. The old guy give it to us. And all these crappy records. Will you look at this shit?”

She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying.


 

It’s the 1980s. Therein lies slivers of the distressed, suburban, American life. Unpleasant middle-aged men, twice-divorced, drinking themselves to death and completely abandoned to the drudgery of the working class existence. Linoleum kitchen floors, the air thick with the smell of Crisco & cigarettes & cheap whisky. Wives & mistresses, equally dissatisfied. Dirty motels and pools filled with green muck. Loneliness, loneliness, always loneliness.

Collections like these sadden & confuse & intrigue me all at the same time. Carver’s short stories remind me of Bukowski or Saunders because all of them induce the same feeling. I can’t quite put a finger on what that is, but I know it feels familiar – do you know what I mean? That hollow, empty sound that echoes throughout your body. It’s an education & sometimes, a reflection.

Anyway, Carver’s masterful short stories have kicked off this year’s reading list well. Here’s the rest of it:

  1. Fresh Complaint – Jeffrey Eugenides
  2. About Love & Other Stories – Anton Chekhov
  3. In Praise of Shadows – Junichiro Tanizaki
  4. Koel – Jen Crawford
  5. 32 Yolks – Eric Ripert
  6. The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything – James Martin
  7. The Unaccompanied – Simon Armitage
  8. Blood, Bones & Butter – Gabrielle Hamilton
  9. Love that Moves the Sun & Other Stars – Dante Alighieri
  10. The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood
  11. Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
  12. Pastoralia – George Saunders

I used to read 50 – 60 books a year but this number has dwindled drastically in the last few years. Adulting is tough, guys! So I’m setting the bar a little lower in terms of numbers but reading a little wider in terms of genre – Russian classics, chef biographies, religion & philosophy books, & a lot more American lit. I can’t wait.

Hope all of you are still finding time to read, no matter how busy you are.

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Repave – 2017, In Review

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Inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Paris, March 2017.

Time is relentless
it casts long, tremulous shadows
& we, we are always in transit
fleeting & flitting
between light & dark & translucence 
always fickle
always whisked away by loftiness
by that crumbling feeling
or the lift away.
We don’t study the minute details
but we take in beauty in spoonfuls, gallons…
What ephemeral creatures we are.
We must tread lightly on this earth.

Time is indeed relentless. Each calendar year folds us in without our volition, without countdowns or resolutions, without eyes squeezed shut at a wish being prayed in the middle of a street glistening with rain, praying for better, for more, for an expanse of white happiness to spread into the hours & days & months that will trudge on. When do we stand still long enough to let our souls catch up with our bodies that are always going places? When do we repave?

Rely, rely, rely, rely
Behave, behave, behave, behave
(spent all of that time not wanting to…)
Decide, decide, decide, decide
Repave, repave, repave, repave
(spent all of that time not wanting to…)

Alaskans – Volcano Choir

Now’s as good a time as any. Here are some highlights – with lots of pictures, because sometimes words just don’t do enough justice.


Swansea / Hay-on-Wye/ Cardiff / Paris / Berlin / London.

Six places in five weeks. A pilgrimage like none other.

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Bible school & moody coastlines.
The world’s first national book town.
A harrowing experience.
Wordlessness in my soul city.
Contemplation in the concrete.
Lightheartedness & the going home.


New Beginnings.

& yet all of that didn’t mean I had any real answers to the biggest question… What next? It’s not easy picking up the pieces when what you thought you would be doing your own life suddenly grinds to a halt. Coming back home, I prayed hard & knuckled down, steeling myself for a lengthy, vigorous search.

Turns out I didn’t have to. I went for an interview for a job that I don’t think I was even qualified for, got an offer a few hours after, & started at a new workplace two weeks later. & while the first few months were incredibly tough (still is, most days), I cut my teeth at whatever task I was given & tried to positively impact the people I was surrounded with. Ministry in the marketplace. & while I’m still making mistakes & learning fast & furious on the job, I’m more convinced than ever that this is where God has placed me in this season.

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Four people with two Beatles songs between us, all in a illicitly-booked meeting room.

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ASLB Halloween – where we all drew names & came dressed as each other. One of my favourite workdays of the year.
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Of course, there’s the real Halloween, where the true nightmare is the client who gives you sleepless nights & sore eyes. 
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Getting coffee. Anywhere. Always. 


Church.

Another huge curveball was ministry. What was supposed to be a year of rest turned into a year of shock, struggle, & anger. This came with the painful leaving of many lifelong friends as well – planned or unplanned.

But finally, things came to a head & all the shock & struggle & anger turned into an acceptance of new responsibility, of new calling. Where did it come from? I suppose from the realisation that what mattered at the end of the day was the people & knowing how precious each of them were to God.

Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause

Even though I could walk away from a ministry, there was no way I could walk away from its people. I will serve the church – my church – with as much strength as I have & for however long God grants me the grace to.

Ministry is such a joy, anyway. Like when I got to see three new people from my lifenet get baptised:

Incredible.

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The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

Psalm 16:5 – 6 (ESV)


My Dinner with André.

For the longest time, I dreamt about eating food like this. I spent hours poring over Lucky Peach & Bon Appétit magazines, devouring the column inches & holding the glossy images close to my nose. People who know me know how much food means to me (somewhere between the extremes of gluttony & gastronomy, I hope). I read about restaurants like The French Laundry, Eleven Madison Park, Per Se, Noma, El Bulli, Fäviken, D.O.M., Osteria Francescana, Blue Hill, Alinea, Atelier Crenn & André. André. I never thought I would be able to eat at one of them. Last year, I finally did.

29 courses. 16 glasses of champagne & wine. 5 hours. A dizzy night full of curiosity & surprises. A night redolent with memory.


… & speaking of good food.

In 2017, I ate…

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& ate…

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& ate some more…

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& so the pattern continues on, well into 2018.

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Yay!


Concerts / Festivals / Exhibitions

Totally blew my entertainment budget but loved every single minute spent at a gig or museum.

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Lucy Rose. A beautiful set & documentary showing held in an old-fashioned theatre (The Projector). No frills, all heart.
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The wonderful, inimitable Leslie Feist at the Esplanade Theatre playing most of her latest album – Pleasure – & a few classics, of course.
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HONNE at the Esplanade Annexe Studio. A night of groovy, “baby-making” music. One more off the bucket list.
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Singapore Design Film Festival. Interesting set of films at a nostalgic venue.

Singapore Writer’s Festival. Highlights included getting to meet my ex- creative writing professor Jennifer Crawford, the teacher who impacted me most in my university days & whose double-book release we celebrated together, attending a Simon Armitage poetry reading session & taking a picture with him after (sublime, & then not so much), & all-in-all, remembering how far Singapore has come in the literary world – how after decades, poetry is a luxury that we can finally afford.

Century of Light – An exhibition of impressionist works curated by the National Gallery. So happy to have gotten a taste of the Musée d’Orsay in the most beautiful museum in Singapore.


& last but not least… the little creative things I managed to accomplish last year.

Because I’ve already written so much about the importance of creating, I won’t go into another spiel. It’s been an incredible year with a few sparks of inspiration. All glory to God, my creator. Among all the little essays & poems & sketches, here are a few of the bigger milestones.

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Dream, Memory, Life – a collection of travel essays proudly brought to you by the Hougang Literary Society. We printed 100 copies & sold them at our church’s Christmas fest to raise funds. This little book took most nights for three months (publishing is hard, guys) but it was worth it because we raised over a thousand dollars for missionary work in Kyrgyzstan!

An accompanying photo exhibition – another fund-raising effort, made possible mostly because of my talented photographer friend Faith. Loved how much effort was put into this & how so many people supported this artistic endeavour. To think that our photos of doors & elephants & trees & all the other little things we found beautiful are having in people’s homes, right now.

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Another fun photoshoot that I did for a client. Was pretty stressed about it, but thank God it turned out okay!

A second little gig – opening for Jean Tan, one of my favourite local songwriters & friend, who officially released her Hideaway EP that night. It was a three-song set but as usual, it’s daunting to be in the presence of such great talent. But this gig did force me to write a song that I ended up spontaneously singing with Jawn Chan that night. Such a magical moment to sing a line & hear a roomful of people chiming in after, singing back to me – I am a writer, I am gone / tell me your story, oh come to me…

 


Storytelling. That’s what 2017 was about. Come to think of it, it’s been a year spent repaving, a restoration of joy in the search of all things beautiful.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

 

(Gerald Manley Hopkins, 1884 – 1889)

 

& 2018?

Therein lies cities to be traveled. Lines waiting to be written. A hundred things to be made with one’s hands, conversations to be had, love to be lost & then won again. Newness in a page turning. Hello, hello. 

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