Hokien Street and Kopi O

Reading The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew that Yan bought me from the Epigram Christmas sale. Its a thick tome- a comic no doubt, but it has been a while and perhaps a rare occasion this year for me to dig my nails deep into a book and devour the pages so swiftly. But my first impression was one of writing-it-off, the style of the graphics just didn’t draw me in. It was unconscious, and unwarranted since it was not too long ago that I was looking for a graphic novel to get into.

One of the biggest reasons why I love it so far is the the way it connects me to the past, and while set in Singapore, a place I am wholly familiar with, the past that’s featured is a foreign, strange New World. A scene featuring a choice movie outing to the popular Rex Cinema was curious, I mean it is Rex, Rex that is at the edge of Selegie, Rex screening sub-culture Hindi and Tamil films, with a smell of sugar popcorn so strong, mixed up with the deep fried smells of Old Chang Kee. Rex that I too had subconsciously written off, because it’s style just doesn’t appeal to me.

Another scene evokes Hokien Street -spelt with a single ‘k’- was it spelt that way in the past? What did the street mean to people, back when it was Hokien-Street-with-a-single-k? The scene depicted the buzz from the street food stalls at 1:30am. Traces of food to be found: Mee goreng, kopi-O. It stirs my heart and rouses a kind of longing – if I was born of that time, would I know supper stands at 1:30am?

Beyond this nolstalgia it evokes in me, the comic is really about the contested history of Singapore. I had not known, and still don’t, but Yan said that the book ran into controversy because it couldn’t obtain funding from the National Arts Council and was entirely crowd funded, and then its first print sold out. So far into the book, the Chinese school protests, the Hock Lee bus riots, Japanese Occupation, the Communists, the founding father and his adversaries, have all made their presence. I couldn’t help but feel admiration for both comic artists (Sonny Liew and Charlie Chan) and the penchant for revolutionary, patriotic storytelling they share. Comics that are sourced like a thesis, researched heavily. It is no wonder that dictators and autocrats often went after the artistically-inclined. For all it takes are a few of them, to light up the imaginations of an indifferent common folk.

I don’t need to read to the end of this comic to recommend it. I love it. I’ll be sad the day I finish thumbing through this. Hopefully not tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

Pretending it doesn’t hurt.

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Post-annual health check up, this morning. Pretending to be suave, cool… now my gut also suggests, ‘bucolic’, which means rustic, like a shepherd living an idyllic rural life (try not to be too visual about this last adjective imagine the air around me instead, thanks). It might be the last picture of my healthy self, because who knows how the health bill might turn up. Age 30, frequently nauseated, flabby, restless, anxious.

Was a fan of the woman who drew my blood for the lab tests. Bearish, solid looking, with a low voice that I wondered about- not the kind of woman you’d want to see walking down the street issuing parking summons, nor the kind of woman you want to receive job instructions from, but the kind of woman you exactly want to be drawing your blood. Steely, reliable, fast.

I’m being dramatic- and maybe all the drama in the world is born of fear, fear that is concocted of part bad memory, part overactive imagination, and doctors feelings that flood through you – of the nib of a needle grovelling for a blue vein, the brightest and widest of which is invisible and hidden to the eye, and when finally located! the metal jabs itself crudely at it, sucking my red, and eliciting a tight, unbearable, minute, but endless three-vials-of-blood kind of pain?

In reality, I looked away and it happened under 15 seconds almost, with slight agitations when vials were interchanged. But otherwise she was so cool. I wonder if she could detect the full extent of my gratitude when I told her, Thank You.

I’ll keep you posted about the results.

 

Before Midnight. After Sunday.

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This weekend has been about indulgence, indulgent spontaneity. I go for a ride, to the gardens, see happy families blowing bubbles and am satisfied, and wrap my human body against aluminium frame and feel the traffic and the evening sun on my skin. I wake up this morning and I check for movies screening in town and I see that the movie I’ve earmarked to watch is screening, at precisely 1050 a.m. Perfect. I got changed and here I am now, in town after thoroughly enjoying the movie, and now this rainy remnant of a Sunday.

Most weekends aren’t like that. I stay indoors, I do what is easy, I consume meaningful media of the day, nowadays dictated by Korean soft culture. I read a chapter or two of not a couple of pages, and I trawl the net picking up missing bits of me: politics, world news, photos of interesting lives, photos of predictable lives, rants, gossip. I think more about the projects I’ve had only the guts to Think about, daydream and maybe even talk about to a trusted few. I go to bed, nursing these dreams like saved delectable goodies, wrap them up in soft paper and return them to the weekend drawer.

The movie reminds me of what is important to me, vaguely, wholly, in parts and snippets, in associations. I can’t quite say for before, I suspect it might have been a hunger for that close connection with someone that the two earlier movies totally floored me, that endless meandering conversation Celine and Jesse make, that is nothing that special, but special because it reminds me of the everyday, “look at the billy goats!” and the scene would pause in its tracks in admiration of fleeting beauty in the world around us. But today this third film and the live of Celine and Jesse two decades from that magic encounter on the train is important to me because it reminds me of the intimacy I shared with him, it showcases and shares the kind of missing I live in everyday, for someone who isn’t quite present, but never went away. How he would hold and touch me. How he would feel against touch, how fallible the connection was, how brittle the everyday makes people. The little stuff, the bullshit. I think Jesse loves Celine more than she him. And Celne is moved by it, every time, eventually, and they stay together. They stay together.

How does this time machine operate? Celine realises the dichotomy between the world she has built, the real world no doubt, but all built with all kinds of defence mechanisms against her eternal fears, of subjugation, of loving in vain, of mundanity in the onslaught of age, kids, and competing needs. Jesse chooses to regress to a childlike world, playing games as Celine charges, reminding her of the past they share and the connection they made and now live by. He tells her that the present isn’t perfect, and he can’t be all that she needs, but there is nothing larger that he could give her, other than his entire life. He wheedles, and he wants to couple in bed so that the problems will fade, and Celine, buys that eventually. What else could it be about after all? How does this time machine operate?

I feel really restless. This is me, sitting here contemplating. This is me, watching the world walk by, sheltered, safe, in a space I designed out of choice, grapple with the known, speculate the unknown, forget living. Like Jesse said, this is the human condition, we are always a shade of discontentment, why isn’t ours that fiery passionate relationship? Why does it end up with me like a sad dog, wagging her tail, waiting for her master to return? Why am I not as self expressed and as demanding as I should be? But there is no should be. There is only me, and him, and the dynamics between us. And it is imperfect and perfect.

This thing we guard, called perspective, can it be lost, can we be robbed or does it have mastery over me? If I could be a middle aged woman who was walking the departmental store one of the first few customers early this Sunday morning, if I could be the young woman, the young woman other than me today catching a film and watering her senses and feeding her soul. If I could be in Accra, in Kathmandu, in Guangzhou, in Hong Kong, as all these multiple beings, with all these multiple states of self, be everyone, and everywhere, would it save me from this melodrama I subject myself to?

I love my job, but. But really dislike going to work on Monday after such a weekend.

Bus adventures: the bizarre absurdity of first impressions

The light sets the stage. Stage that is foliage, light of 8am. My eyes spot shit. One black discreet bag the size of a golf ball. Then another. Dog shit. Shittier dog owners. I still myself for an ominous day even though everything else looks glorious.

On the bus, I sat opposite a well groomed student, and fussed at my hair in the reflection of big glass windows torched by the stronger sunlight. The strong bright pink of a school bag gets my attention, i noticed a bag tag with three short lines detailing a residential address in a scrawled penmanship. The childish bespoke, at this point drew a close association – the address neighboring my estate – was what stole my attention. A helper had this bag on her lap while she texted, preoccupied. Influenced by a general low hum of conversation drifting from over her shoulder, I concluded the helper was without her charge, aka. Owner of bright pink school bag, and was having a leisurely morning. It didn’t quite make sense to hold a school bag without its little girl or boy, but that is as far as my nosyness went in the morning for owners of pink schoolbags.

Next, by line of sight, my attention fell on a man who laughed maniacally into his phone, crowing in silence, his face screwing up as if came from Edward munch one moment, and relaxing into a state of blankness the next. His ears were plugged into the source of his apparent mania or glee. Locking smartphone in his hands, the silent laughter went straight from windpipe to mega screen. At this point I was curious. What is his mental state? Who is he laughing at/to, does he have an audience? It was pretty extreme behaviour for a single traveler on a public bus.

Pieces of Megan

Megan came to Singapore surprisingly- early this week, and all the notice I got was two lines in my inbox about whether I’d be around if she dropped by, en route to Bali. Megan with the head of curls, with the best dance moves in the club, Megan who reminds me of horses, who’s been in Mongolia the past two years and over, working her all into projects she believes in.

Megan’s surfing in Bali now, after two and a half days on this sunny island, but like every person whom I share my heart with, she’s changed a bit of my world. She takes with her, pieces of me, and leaves me, pieces of her. And I appreciate these pieces so much.

Like how we ran for the bus- and her long strides were enabled by a pair of self-made sandals that is a product of her whole-hearted wish to remake her life, to spring-clean it of unnecessary consumables.

Like Sinéad O’Connor of ‘Nothing Compares’, Megan’s icon for rebellion and her latest urge to shave her head, a notion she anxiously revisited in a bid to distract herself on a recent perilous night bus in Nepal. When she told me- turns out there is another person in my life like Megan, who also wants to enjoy the rain and the wind and the sun a little closer to scalp: my sister. So I hooked them up and the two ladies had a very exciting day at the Lucky Star Barber on Deepavali eve, as the bemused Indian gentlemen gave them everything from ragdoll looks, to mohawks and crews and finally, the No.3 shave.

Megan is a curious combination of stress and fun- a most energetic attempt at living life both seriously and with full enjoyment. She makes lists and does not go to sleep (not even on a holiday) until she has checked all the ‘to-do things’. She wants to run marathons and advocates bare-foot running (I was inspired), finds it hard to get committed to planning trips and booking flights or saving for proper things like apartments, and is also the sort who finds herself constantly in a bind between doing the right thing, and doing the wild thing. Experiencing Megan’s life, makes one feel that there is simply not enough time in the world for all the goodness it has to offer. We all know that I guess, but in Megan’s shoes (or sandals), I feel that itch, to just tear off into the winds.

P.s. Megan is going to live her dream of washing her hair (the little of it) with baking soda, so she left all her hair products with me. And a longish comb the well-groomed Nepalis tried to sell her. Indeed like she hums, (from LCD Soundsystem)- Dance yrself clean.

Beautiful Monday

Yes it is Monday. Yes it is your never-ending week, in your never-ending life.

Or not.

My beautiful friend Sarah sent an inspiring missive to my inbox last night – that sets this week off on just the right note. Don’t take Mondays for granted. Don’t take safety for granted. Don’t take your loved ones for granted. Don’t take the night for granted. Rest in peace, Jill Meagher. You are not a digit in some case file that will be buried in dust and boxes and basements, you are a precious life, and in your wake thousands and thousands more will remember how important it is, to preserve and demand dignity.

Hi ladies

I hope you are all well in your different parts of the world.

I wanted to share with you a photo of myself and a friend at a “reclaim the night” march I attended last night in Melbourne. The march was held on Sydney Road in the suburb of Brunswick to honour Jill Meagher, a woman who was recently raped and murdered as she walked home from a night out with friends. The area on Sydney Road where she was attacked is one I have been out in many times myself and this event touched me greatly.
There were about 5,000 people at the march to honour safety and respect for all women. As many of you may know, women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence worldwide than from cancer, motor accidents, war and malaria.
 
I believe very strongly in building an equal world for women where we are respected, valued, safe and have opportunities to become leaders, have education and follow all our dreams. As women living in the developed world, I believe we have a massive opportunities to lead the development of true equality and safety for women.
You are all women who have played an important role in my life, so I wanted to share this little memory with you. I am proud to play a part in building a better world for all the women I know.
Wishing you all a wonderful day 🙂
Lots of love,
Sarah
It’s so true, what Sarah said. And I also think that not only is safety so necessary for women, safety is for everyone, the rich, the child, the elderly, the student, the migrant other, the gay individual, the sex worker, the office worker, the journalist, the slum. Its human dignity. And I agree that we do have massive opportunity, to lead the development of true equality, that kind of world, for Everyone.

What in the world could be more trivial…

(Ray challenges) What in the world could be more trivial than intimacy? Is there anything real you can write about?
(Hannah asks) What do you think would be a real thing to write about?
(Ray says) I don’t know. Lots of things. How about cultural criticism? How about years of neglect and abuse? How about acid rain? How about the plight of the the giant panda? How about racial profiling? How about urban sprawl? How about divorce? How about death? How about DEATH? Death is the most fucking real issue. you should write about death… Explore that. Death.

From HBO series Girls, on the fucking real issues

Says the Animal Orchestra

Says The Animal Orchestra

We sit in little tables fixed with bronze pots of brown granules

Fur jackets sip espressos and little girls with mascara stick to hot chocolate

Antiquated mirrors and glossy faces plaster the walls

Its not the kind of coffee shop you will stop to hear your own voice-

  

For your voice is lost in the song of low voices, the song of the Animal Orchestra

Inspired by The Most Beautiful Coffee Shops in the World, I thought about the Animal Orchestra and its appeal to me as a cafe I frequented in my years in Melbourne. The cafe is just a little dark, just a little alarming, located at the corner of a street just a stone throw away from my uni. I always sit inside- it’s too bright and normal outside. Every time I walk in, it makes me feel like I am stumbling upon a secret world, where post-apocalyptic mirrors to other-worldly universes beam, and photographic evidence of our hedonistic present are archived. (Photos gratefully pillaged from  Alexander ShekoLara MPia Johnson & Rebecca Hughes)