131 dear grandpapa (23 january 1938 – 21 february 2017)

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dear grandpapa,

you have walked through the lifegate,
you have completed your marathon.

our relationship was brief, 20 odd years, and fruitful
you have been sowing feeding guarding living.

the brevity of your words grew almost minimal,
your actions spoke louder to me since you were of few words

your fox fur tail boney legs will always remind me
the cuckoos you used to sing to, the fishes that you fed.

it used to be that you reached home at about five,
parked your bicycle, preparing shaved antler drink

that was truthfully the weirdest thing fed by you, then
you’d sit in your elastic mini chair till the Ch8 6点半 news.

we have all heard, gong gong, what you have taught
your sons and daughters, our fathers and mothers:

“family first. look out for one another.
patience and perseverance and work hard.”

it was only after listened and looked through
archives of you where i pieced together

the simple believing man that you were,
you studied the word and did your devotions.

a discerning god-fearing man. faithfully you
worshipped him obeyed him and waited on him.

your journey on earth with sin and sicknesses will be
no more because you have ascended peacefully

the moment you closed your eyes for good.

after my grandfather’s passing, i thought i should reflect aloud. those who came to pay their respects to him would know that the wake wasn’t a typical depressing set up. it was literally a party – to put it respectfully, a celebration of my gong gong’s life. the second night was madness. nothing short of a Gatsby party, well except for dancing but definitely a feast with some of his favourite 70s Christian rock blasting in the background, insufficient seats, joyous laughter and reunion for folks who haven’t seen my grandparents in years.

this went on for the next two nights.

the day time was my favourite. for 5 days, i saw my family. we were all about the smiles. it was the last few days to be physically close to my grandfather, and it was an amalgamation of chinese new year and christmas x5. i apologise for the hysterical cries of laughters, but i believe no one stopped us (despite the glares) because it was what gong gong would have praised God for – family. 11 grandchildren he has, i am thankful for being a part of his legacy.

God loved him and blessed him with strength to hang around with us year after year. but he had to leave for his rightful home on the day he slept on. it was difficult to see his physical body embalmed, but the Lord kept reminding me that my gong gong had already reached his home in the kingdom. physicality is temporal. his soul lives on now in the eternal.

Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

– 2 Corinthians 5:1

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127 literature = poverty of human condition

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post-panel reflections – beyond the slp (10 july 2016)

there were discussions of loss and pain through the various mediums of literary art. creative non-fiction, poetry and fiction.

literature is understanding the depth of what happened. to understand the circumstances and growing from them.

there are experiences where we do not immediately comprehend, and so we need to learn how to accept and be comfortable with uncertainty and the unfamiliar.

we may not be able to grasp fully the extent of an emotion, but we should be aware of our perceptions and be open towards such experiences.

the emotional intensity ~ core memory are some what related. the intensity continues to exist in our subconscious. some may not embrace and choose to avoid it – which becomes a suppressed emotion and memory.

and we try to recreate the experiences of pain and loss in our minds because it has impacted us a great deal.

pain and loss is a shared human experience. that is beautiful.

being human is about being broken. and in this brokenness there is beauty. we need beauty to sustain us. in that, there is redemption and hope amidst the dark – even if we don’t see it in this lifetime.

[compilation of the words of leonora liow, danielle lim and eric valles]

123 when a bright light left

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This is a letter of confession that is unsent. It contains the lamentations of a leader’s regrets and shame that he has towards his late servant of the army.

Dearest friend,

I know that you are no longer with us but I am writing to ask for your forgiveness.

A few days ago, I got news that my wife was pregnant. In fact, she was your wife. I have made it through so many months after your passing, and the guilt and shame that I live with return from time to time. For the past few nights, the moonlight that crept in from the balcony has been keeping me awake. Last night, I was pacing up and down the cold marble floor when I finally decided that I should pen my thoughts down to you.

Firstly, I’d like to thank you for your faithful service in the army. After your passing, I have repeatedly heard of the many great and desirable things about you from General Joab and your other comrades. He told me of how you had fought bravely for our nation and brought me pride without fail. Yet, their words pricked my conscience.

You see, no one else but your wife and God knows why you died. No it was not the archers that shot you. You probably thought you were faithfully serving your nation, but here I am writing to tell you the brutal truth and to seek your forgiveness.

It was my order to place you there on the battlefront. I needed to cover up for my mistake. And I have let you, my good soldier, down.

It happened on a night where the moon was nowhere to be found. I had seen her from my balcony as she was removing her robes. The servant girls were pouring spring water over her body with earthenware jars, her eyes closed as she relaxed and laid in the bath. Her face was serene and her long black hair was alluring. I caught myself standing at the balcony for a long time and realised how frustrated I felt that it wasn’t me who was with her in the bath. I am ashamed to even recall this incident. I know I should have stopped myself. I should have turned away. But I didn’t. Instead, I called for a boy to get her.

Sometimes when I stand at my balcony I am still haunted by that very night – it changed my life, her life and your life. It was because of that dreadful night that changed who I was, causing me to take your life away.

You and I were not very acquainted but the people could tell that I was a man with big ambitions, to lead my nation into victory and direct them towards success. I wanted to serve my people, guide them see the Light and be a role model for them. I suppose that the prosperity we enjoyed as a nation was because I was confident about my strength and capabilities. But after stumbling upon your wife and falling for her, I lost all of that strength I took refuge in and found my competency being stripped away. I lost myself.

Irrationality invaded my thoughts and panic overtook the wisdom I took pride in. When I heard the news that I had made your wife pregnant, I knew that I had to act fast. Honestly, I did not want to break your marriage but I had to pay the price for my foolish act. My plan was not meant to hurt anybody. I thought that getting you to leave the war and join your wife at home would settle this once and for all. I thought that what I was doing was for the best, for you and her.

Just the other day, I was observing a myna in the courtyard. It was searching for food and it chanced upon an injured butterfly. Using its beak, it caught hold of it but it was too large for it to swallow. Instinctively, the bird seized its wings and shook the butterfly violently. It took the bird a great effort to finally break the wing of the helpless butterfly and swallowed it. That reminded me of myself.

Did you know that you drove me mad? You were not easily enticed by entertainment or even allured by the idea of spending a night with your wife. I can remember your passionate words spoken unto me, “I’m sorry”. You could not bear to abandon your comrades. While Joab and the rest slept in tents, you did not deserve rest at home, you explained. And I saw what sort of man you were, the honourable one that I was determined to eliminate. You opened my eyes to see that I was the deplorable man deserving to be condemned.

Resentment mixed with fear overcame me. If I could not get you to follow through with my plan to preserve your marriage, I knew that I had to get rid of you entirely before my name was tarnished. Hence, I ordered Joab to move you to the front of the battle.

It was one of the rainy days when the fateful news came to us that many men had died in the recent confrontation.

I saw her – your wife – fall to the dirt ground. She was screaming your name amidst the thunderstorm. The servant girls rushed to help her up but her heart weighed her down. Her continuous wailing made my insides churn and her scream dragged my heart down into abysmal depths. I remember rushing back to my quarters to rest from all the commotion.

I thought all would be well after conniving the ultimate ploy to get rid of you, but what filled my heart turned out to be guilt instead of freedom, remorse instead of repose.

It is probably too late to apologise because after you have departed, darkness crept into my life. I just want you to know how guilty I am of being a proud scoundrel that refused to lay my crown down to acknowledge my mistake of sleeping with your wife. To think that I could outsmart the people around me, especially you, and to try and manoeuvre around my mistake – I was wrong.

The bloodguilt that stained my hands stumbled me from leading my people. I was drowning in the scarlet sea of my shame, shackled to the curse of my iniquity. I was afraid and lost in complete darkness, without vision or any sight of redemption. I know I do not deserve forgiveness, but I begged God to show me mercy.

I am so bloody broken. What I did was selfish. I disregarded another life. I played God to think that I could have it my way. Now I want to confront my past and plead with the innocent man whom I have harmed. I sincerely hope that you will look beyond my abhorrent actions and forgive me, will you?

I still remember the last words you said to me, and these words have been ringing in my ears recently. It showed me your sincerity and nobility as a solider and man. You said, “My lord, thank you for showing us servitude, and what resilience is. You’ve led us selflessly, always placing others before yourself. It is an honour to be led by someone so upright and virtuous. I have learnt a great deal from you.”

I am not sure why the first time I had heard these words from you, didn’t strike me to have a change of heart but it must have been the evil within me that deafened my ears. My friend, you command my utmost respect for your brave service to this nation.

I will look after her and love her as you did. After the day we heard the news of your passing, I decided to take her as my wife because I felt compelled to care for her. We lost our first child, but we have been blessed with another. I am not proud of what I have done as a leader and I have learned things the hard way. With you gone and my first child taken away, it is time for me to learn from you what it truly means to place others before my selfish ways.

It seems like things are no longer as dim as it used to be. The cold days have grown warmer, and the light of dawn a little brighter.

Yours faithfully,
David

107 strong /strɒŋ/

tiny person, her strength is of a bull.

strong. funny what this adjective means physically and character-wise.

one may have the power to lift or carry heavy weights. he may have a large build, packed with muscles – strong enough to lift something the weight of  himself.

but no, this strength i admire is not from a male figure. she has no such intimidating muscles on her, she doesn’t have the time or desire to work out. her time was precious with her loved one. she fed, she nursed – she returned the favour just as how she was brought into this world.

i am not really sure where she draws her strength from, but it must be love that is incomprehensible. there are no complaints, only filial piety that overwrites that supposed “right”.

this big heart has no holes, she just keeps giving.

strong amal

(if you ever read this; you have taught me and shown me something i never had. what this strength is like, i may not experience soon, but i will learn from you. you remind me of how being strong is not about the physicality or the mask you wear but the joy you bring to the people around you even when it is all dark and seemingly dim of hope. God bless you)

102 that same love

them gramps

she’s in her kitchen chopping the garnishes and skilfully cranking the pincers of the mud crab. she throws in a dash of salt and pepper, pours in the ketchup and sprinkles the spices into the boiling pot.

he’s in the common room. seated on the holey-designed plastic chair, he stares deeply into the places unseen.

day in and day out, the same routine as one orchestrates her meals while the other waits in the common room.

lugging the chair after him, he makes his way to the gate. “anne ah! anne!,” he croaked in hokkien. “lock the gate!!!”

“yes, yes,” she replied back from the kitchen as she finishes the final touches to her chilli crab masterpiece. she walks over to the ironing board and grab her keys for the gate.

from the entrance of the house you only see the grey concrete of the corridor. stoned and still, sitting faithfully next to him is the family bulldog, nameless and peering out with him. the scenery can only get better if a neighbour exits the lift and greets him as they make their way home.

back in the kitchen, she scoops the ember thick gravy from the pot and transfers the crab to the serving plate. at the dining table she sets the dishes neatly with the chopsticks and spoon.

they eat in silence. one pulls the shell apart without much force and offers the flesh to the other, yet the other refuses. “no, no. no.”

after lunch, she reclines on the two-seater sofa while he reclines on the brass framed queen-sized bed in the next room.

every few minutes he coughs and hollers for her “anne ah anne!” she responds “oei!” in acknowledgement and a way of telling him she is on the way. she proceeds to hit him hard on the back to clear the phlegm that was irritating his body.

by dusk, they are seated at the same dining table. the television was reporting the usual evening news before the empty sofa ahead; but the old folks’ ears were attentive to every word the news anchor said.

“oh Iraq, every day there is something about it,” she exhaled in mandarin.

the moon comes up, glistening in the pure darkness of the night. comfortably, he lays in bed while she sits on the edge of the bed. they talk about their children and grandchildren’s future. oh how time flies, they are growing up and moving on to different phrases of life.

“so that’s how you say ‘future’ in mandarin. you lousy teacher, don’t teach me properly,” she complained to him. the casual remark sparked the youthfulness and playfulness of their long companionship.

it reminded me of how I used to watch her look after her mother when she was wheelchair bound. she would nag at her and stand by her faithfully.

after tucking him in to bed, she walks out of the room and as she was about to close the door, he said: “leave the door open!” she replied harshly yet lovingly: “ya la!”

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100 times of love have not changed

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now 78 years old, she prepared a feast for me.

she served porridge, like she used to 15 years ago: my favourite egg and dark soy sauce; braised chicken; fried fish and gang-gong and it got me asking for seconds.

she knows the details of her children’s love stories and how they met their other half. how foolish some of them were to give up the world for a pea; while some found their true one.

she said to me in mandarin: “as long as he does not take drugs and gamble.” she would approve of him. i figure she is simple to please.

she is a hard worker, for her family, and her future.

she worked at her noodle stall every day for 40 years. a bowl of noodles used to cost 50 cents, a bowl of noodles costs three dollars now. oh times have changed indeed.

she brought the five-year-old me to the doctor lai’s when my hands and feet swelled and it hurt to walk. and she still offers to bring the 20-year-old me to doctor lai for a petty cold. times of love have not changed.

then 58 years old, was when she first held me.

a few weeks back, i visited my grandmother. she prepared a hearty lunch for the both of us. she told me in great detail about my uncle and aunties’ love stories including my parent’s, it was as if it happened not too long ago.

i decided to take the bold move and invited her to come to church, she did not say no, but she tried to delay the answer of saying yes.

i asked her: “but what if we pass on, where will you go?” and she said: “我会下去, 你会上去.”  (i will go down and you will go up) and it broke my heart to hear her say those few words. i fought back the tears and said: “可是我要看到你.” (but i want to see you again) and she smiled.

she didn’t say ‘no’ to Jesus, so i pray and i wait for Him to open the doors to her heart.

098 away from ground for six hours

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the stop was at Colombo. passengers started shuffling in – looking at their plane ticket and seat numbers – impatiently trying to settle down.

clothed in a red large blazer, she made her way through the seats. there, she finally found her seat at the window.

being one of the first lucky ones to find their seats, she took out her book and started reading. page after page she flipped and slowly the flipping stopped, her eyelids grew heavy and mind went into a state of lethargy.

the engine groan crescendoed and the plane jolted as the body was being lifted off the ground. she opened her eyes and found her body being suppressed by gravity as the takeoff occurred.

she neatened her white hair bun just as the lights dimmed. now, how was she going to read without any lights?

pressing every button on the remote she was confused at why the personal reading light was not appearing. the kind passenger leaned over to press the lightbulb button for her and ta-da! her light came on. moments later, the flight attendant came over to offer her assistance but she paid no attention and shrugged it off. when the attended walked away, she realised that she may have pressed the wrong button calling for her assistance. oops.

the aroma of the meals from the cart woke her up again. “hi mam, what would you like for your dinner?” the attendant asked.

“chee-ken.” she said. but the attendant could not comprehend.

“cheek-een.” she enunciated. still a blank response.

“chik-en.” she tried again. the stewardess served her a tray.

after finishing her main course, she nibbled on her appetiser and dessert. deciding that she should stop, she wrapped her untouched bread in two layers napkin and kept them with her biscuits in her purse. you never know when one will get hungry and it is a good habit not to waste edible food.

“ladies and gentlemen. this is your captain speaking from the flight deck. it is now 5 am local time. we are starting to decent for Dubai International Airport. the current weather is clear and the temperature is 28 degrees celcius. once again, thank you for choosing to fly with us. have a nice day,” announced the captain.

5 am? she thought to herself, and peered out of the window and it was pitch black. where is the sun if it is 5 am?

the wheels hit the ground, finally, the ground. when the plane taxied to the airport, she stood up and got her bags.

now it is time to visit Dubai, until her next flight to Moscow which was in twelve hours.

097 peaches honeyblossom geldof (13 march 1989 – 7 april 2014)

peaches geldof, may you be in a happier place.

this woman was a gem. where do i even begin?

when i was fifteen, i would flip through nylon magazine and admire her column. it became pretty clear to me that this was the lady i was going to model after career-wise. i loved her writings, her ideas and her personality. her taste has always been unique and i liked that. i loved her tongue and cheek style of writing.

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she actually tweeted to me on two separate occasions. the first time was how she told me that her column will be featured in the next issue of nylon. and this was her second tweet to me.

today, my mother woke me up at 6 am this morning and broke the news to me. my mother is the only person who knows how much i look up to her. it hit me stone hard and i was just devastated. (i really sound like a sick creep of a fan but she really motivated me in many ways)

her career was just a part of the inspiration she is to me.

i never liked the idea of having children or being a housewife. but when she had her first son, astala, it revealed a different side of her. and soon, phaedra came along. i watched her pour love into her two boys and it actually showed me that parenting isn’t such a scary thing. and she looked really happy and blessed.

peaches taught me something very important. when you love someone, especially if they are your own flesh and blood, you just want to shower them with all the love you’ve got and you want the world to know how blessed you are. and i am not scared about having kids anymore. i see them as a bundle of joy. she had a perfect family, two beautiful sons, lovely husband and two huge dogs.

unfortunately, narny and gweb will have to rely strongly on tom’s love now. i really pray and hope that the geldofs and cohens carry on stronger than ever. i look forward to seeing the two boys grow up into gentlemen. thank you so much for being a role model in my life.

this is my tribute to peaches honeyblossom geldof.

090 the ceramist I

it was just one of those days where you are working on a dreadful Monday.
i woke up with a smack of realisation that i had two articles due to be published, and an interview at 3pm.

by the time i reached the office, my editor’s email greeted me: two articles – try to send by noon. noon kept ringing in my head and being flustered i dived straight into writing my article. it was such a busy morning.

my afternoon interview was located at boon keng, i figured: “by the time i am done with my interview it should be 4pm, then i will head straight home and relax.” honestly, i was excited to be on my way home early more than anything else.

little did i know, i was so so so wrong.

– – –

the gallery

standing  before a row of beautiful houses of townerville, i swore i fell in love with the setting of the whole estate. i would never have guessed that this part of serangoon looked like that.

a row of polished pale orange and red roofed terraces were new on lease, it was a modern cosy terrace i would say.

i called michelle and she opened her gates to let me into her gallery – mud rock. immediately i blurted out: “this place is amazing and beautiful, i have never seen such a lovely place before.”

and guess what, she lives right above her gallery-cum-studio with her partner.

in the next room, supposedly the dining room, a large working bench was covered with clay and tools strewn all over. seok, michelle’s partner, was busy with a ball of clay working on fat piggies and hedgehogs.

after settling down, we started on the interview. together, they gave me a fifteen minute crash course on the process of making a cup. i can oddly and safely say, chemistry is art. without it, i think these ceramics are just functional items, but with chemistry, it becomes art.

in the midst the interview, adi, the founder of a local brewery of jungle beer, dropped by to deliver his beer for mud rock’s opening this weekend.

seok and michelle were just telling me all about the different flavours and how amazing it is to support local, even the beer! they ended up offering beer! i mean, how can you turn down local beer?! (besides tiger beer)

we picked up from where we left off and michelle went on sharing about learning the ropes of becoming a ceramist and her love for the clay. besides her passion, i think the certain words she spoke of really struck me.

the sense of urgency

michelle understands that when it is the time and need to advocate for a cause, she would fix that on her mind and start on it right away. i think it is her spontaneous attitude and appetite to continue stirring a positive change in this community that has caused hunger among others.

“when you do this from the heart, people will see and feel your sincerity towards it and naturally they will come to your side and support you.”

she is the founder of awaken the dragon festival (a local annual festival for appreciating ceramics).

she asked for no volunteers, but people saw her heart for ceramics and initiated to help and support her.

that support gave her strength and hope that this was indeed a cause worth fighting for.

embrace support; be it good or bad

i could see michelle’s gratefulness for all the support she received from people.

when she embarked on her degree in ANU, she was discouraged within the first two weeks of school. with no prior knowledge on how to work the clay, it seemed as if giving up was a plausible reason. but the phone call to her sister built her up and it had set her foot on solid ground once again.

her classmates and lecturers encouraged her and no matter how the clay would not cooperate, that support meant a lot. eventually, six months into her learning journey with the clay, she had her first exhibition!

that was about four years back but when you look at her gallery now, i was curious to see how her first exhibition looked like. it is unbelievable that today’s results started out from baby steps with the guidance of everyone around her.

she shared that if she were to look back to those days, she would remember the support from the people around her instead of her challenges and obstacles.

“i remember the difficult period not because it was difficult but because I had the support. I remember the support more than how difficult it was. ”

the ceramists’ father is a lawyer, with the hopes of having a successful daughter who followed in his footsteps, but she persisted on with the passion for clay. instead of having swayed her towards his side of law, she swayed him towards the appreciation for ceramics. he is now a proud father of a daughter who is independent and using the her passion to make a rice bowl out of it (pun possibly intended).

on the opposite end of the support line, her late maternal grandfather felt otherwise. a conventional man who believed a basic certificate would have brought her far enough to support herself with a stable job would suffice. but michelle understood his concerns but she just shrugged and said “everyone has their view points right?”

– – –

goodbye was not easy. seok offered me desserts, hoping that i would stay, but i politely declined. i would stay, but i thought two hours did pass by fast and i should knock off anyway.

the last few conversations with michelle felt like she was appreciating me. before i left, she said to me: “young people like you give me hope. and that’s enough, i believe that it is enough to spur the attitude of this generation some more.”

an interviewee appreciating the interviewer? almost impossible but it happened.

i would go on but, another time. another time about her works.

089 fever to tell

early in the morning, it crept in as a sore in the throat,

the moment that happened it is a sign – that is it, Fever should be around here some where.

the body went on with its daily routine of getting out of bed and off to work,

meanwhile the mouth gulps down glasses of water and sucks on lozenges hoping to lock all doors on Fever.

it was a sunny day out yet an unexpected visitor came,

it was the cold, this tap of the nose kept leaking no matter what.

indeed it was a sunny day, but the sun was relentlessly burning the skin and the vital body part – the head.

suddenly it hit the body bullseye, speeding up on the attack and Fever barged in.

marking its territory at each body part, the eyes, the limbs, the kidneys;

they are all his now.

it was never much of a pain that this Fever caused. most doctors prescribe it to be a virus, this virus does not hurt. it was more of a discomfort. the aches in the joints, the eye balls would roll out of the eye sockets any moment if the eye lids would not close. there is no point in lying straight up if the kidneys are trying to swim around.