31.1.15

and the point of all this is?

J: How many years have we been married?
Y: Hmmm. I don't know leh.
J: 11?
Y: *%#... Com'on, it doesn't feel like so long...
J: No meh?
Y: ... I know, let me search our blog! I remember there was a post!

And so friends, that's what a blog is for. A public archive of sorts for failing memories. And on the occasion of an approaching anniversary, allow me to indulge in revisiting a selection of silliness that arose back when we were trying to be "incognito" on this blog...






And an encore, for my favourite watermelon man -


5.1.15

if you had three wishes

Photo by J - he wishes for us amps to hold hands everyday. Heh.

J says I am an diehard optimist. So it seems out of character for me to have a distrust of an optimistic activity, however structured and organised. 

A few weeks ago, such suspicion was stirred when a group of old folks were invited to write their wishes for the future, and to float these wishes on inflated spheres in the Marina Bay. Surrounded by the indifference of glimmering skyscrapers and integrated resorts, it was not difficult to start thinking - Com'on, who would fulfil their wishes? For whom do they wish? What difference would this make for their lives, our lives? 

Some of the old folks I was chatting with appeared at first a little surprised at the request. Maybe no one had asked them about their wishes for the future before. After all, this was a question more often asked to 8 year olds, it is the young who have aspirations, dreams, a future - there are always wants with the young.  But we seldom asked those older than us, even our parents, about their wishes. The old folks surprised me with their readiness to offer their views, the earnestness which they seemed to take this exercise. I should be ashamed of my lack of... perspective, belief?

With many not being literate, they asked if I would help them write it all down instead. And watched as I did so; repeating to make sure I caught what they said. So what did I find myself transcribing? Give me more money? More love? Or perhaps in yusheng-tossing fashion, "huat ah"? 

They wished, almost unanimously, for these three things, and in this order: peace for the country, health for everyone, and joy everyday.  

I was hanging around an afternoon concert today where the average audience age was maybe 60 or more. The singer laughed and said that this was a roomful of "been there, done that" people, and the audience cheered in affirmation. 

Friends and my sweet J, if you've lived a life where you could say "been there, done that" or even just "been here, seen this", would you persist in wishing peace for the country, health for everyone, and joy everyday? 

And to think that I almost forgot, ampulets actually reads 安普樂, the three characters for peace, the everyday, joy. 

26.12.14

grumpy


Kidnap Bob understands that growing old can sometimes make you grumpy. But friends, grumpy ain't your brother! So before the year ends, leave behind that heavy load that's making you unkind and impatient.

15.11.14

beware numbers and noise

All images in this post by J.

Almost every weekend there is a run/race event or two, sponsored by a corporation, a cause or even a cartoon character. At the Toa Payoh sports centre this Saturday, the stadium was hosting a sports events, so was the swimming pool. At the Toa Payoh HDB hub, there is another organised activity - in anticipation of Singapore's 50th birthday next year. On average per day, according to official statistics, there are some 70 arts performances and exhibitions - big or small - taking place. 

There is a fear, I think, of silence and stillness.

The races provide a goal - a definite finishing line. For some it is about strength and speed, and for some, endurance. A number helps define these limits. It is clear. We can achieve. 

The events, be it official or commercial, even artistic, generate activity. It generates "vibrancy" for a city, whose populace and visitors can be entertained and stimulated and fed. The marketing tells us we are missing out if we do not attend to this abundance, this (over)exuberance of life. We can consume.

There is comfort in the numbers. And in noise.

I must be careful, I tell myself, not to be lured by the numbers and the noise. 

The arts can be celebratory. The arts can entertain. The arts can soothe and heal. The arts can, arguably, even be counted. But we miss the point and deny its real power when we deny its silence and stillness - even in the loudest of celebrations. A painting or sculpture or photograph demands that we stand before it, even if for a moment, in stillness.  Music when performed asks that we listen. A dance, even in all its movement, asks for a certain stillness in entering the dance. A book invites us to first sit and read. A film pulls us into its frame of light amid the still darkness.

J's found art - pineapple sculpture Ong Lai Liao! 

A society that allows for the silence and stillness of the arts encourages its members and citizens to appreciate and care for the eternal around them - be it compassion for another, the beauty of sunlight, the community in a shared footpath. 

I struggle if eternal is the right word. Art is not my god after all. But it seems to me the closest word I can find to counter in the extreme this tyranny of speed, noise - and numbers. The eternal defies time, sound and arithmetic.

Friday evening as I left the office and popped by the outdoor theatre Esplanade, I bumped into O, a choreographer whose training is in Malay dance. He has organised an annual festival that gathers Malay dance practitioners in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia in a series of free performances over the weekend at the Esplanade's outdoor theatre and concourse stage. 

There were crowds at both venues. And I found myself tempted to count their numbers! The office air was still in my lungs. Until of course the music, the banter and the faces of people who stopped to listen distracted me. It was far more rewarding than counting.

O and I chatted for a few minutes. It must have been more than a year since I last saw him. I congratulated him on pulling all this together. He explained to me why he felt he had to do it. I asked about his intention to revisit the choreography of our earliest Malay dance groups. 

He said he was watching all his young dancers and how their bodies moved. Their speed. It was alright, he qualified, and quite good, their new moves. But he wanted to introduce to them a language that was slower - it had more - he struggled for the right word... Grace, I ventured to add. Yes, grace and strength, he said.  It was easy for the young, we agreed, to think less of movements that were slow and graceful, not understanding that it required more control and strength.

We need the arts and artists like O to play to a village or a city its music and dance, and to teach its young about grace, control and strength. And to not always hold against them the measure of numbers and noise - but allow them and ourselves the chance of stillness and silence. 

3.11.14

if you marked your time in breaths


Two years ago, J bought a camellia bonsai grown on a ball of moss. It was a most beautiful thing. This solitary tree with its windy branches, proud and silent on its own planet and surrounded by a narrow watery reflection.

Some four months ago, the leaves on one of branches started to wither. And in less than a week, the camellia was dead.  There was no explicable cause.  The conditions that had kept it alive had not changed. At least not to the human eye. J snipped the weak branches off but continued to keep the dish filled with water. But other than that, we did not pay much attention to the ball of moss with the deadened plant. It was partly out of habit that J watered the moss, and partly out of hope - if it had died so suddenly, there could be a chance it would just as suddenly revive.  And so, with such gentle encouragement, the bright green carpet moss continued to grow and glow, joined soon by one or two other species of moss-like weed.

A month or so ago, another new life sprouted. It looked neither like moss nor the camellia. And it steadily multiplied, this weed with its leaves of purple hearts. At night the hearts folded, slept. In the day, they opened to receive the sun. Maybe it had lain in the ball of earth, waiting for the right time to emerge. Or maybe the winds carried it here.

It was also almost four months since our last run at the Macritchie nature reserve. Our last run was when I had just started on my new job. Four months is a long time, a third of a year. Time moves along faster when you are busy navigating a new environment and people.


So although we woke up this Saturday morning to a light drizzle and a uniform grey overhead, J and I persisted. We were determined to make it to the reserve. Packing our bags for a quick shower after the run was, at least for me, like getting ready to meet an old friend. And even the louder-than-usual tourists and the busier-than-normal crowd of fellow morning runners didn't raise a complaint from either of us. This was a day to wake up to.

It is difficult not to romanticise and objectify nature. It is the antidote to our plastic urban lives. Or it is that mirror to our concrete jungle. It is the life-giving mother, inscrutable but ever generous. It is where we are meant to be, that garden and eden. It becomes its own religion. It is mysterious. It is beastly. It can kill. It does not care. It suffers our not caring. It is ____.

I won't deny that running in the Macritchie nature reserve carries with it some of these notions. And at the most basic level - for me - it is tied to breathing. To be precise, for someone who isn't all that fit and great at running, it is tied to the difficulty of breathing!

I started the run with a modest pace, reminding myself that it's been four months. And in this way I tried to keep my breath steady. For the first kilometre or so into the reserve, the damp from the steady morning's steady drizzle had seeped into the earth and was slowly rising. The air carried the smell of a slow decay - somewhere between laundry not properly aired and smoked tea. I cannot decide if I found it unpleasant or I was quite glad for its company.

If nature was indeed like a mirror to our concrete jungle, I thought, and as such, we have never quite left the jungle, we would be like the undergrowth, the saplings, the creepers, the climbers...Very few among us grow to become trees and to enjoy the sun. But even when trees fall, the jungle doesn't mourn. Ashes to ashes, rot to rot.

This thought didn't get very far. The slopes were becoming more punishing. And I had to concentrate on breathing - com'on, my body says, stop wasting energy on thinking and focus on getting oxygen to your calf muscles instead!

Soon the air grew lighter and just that shade of a degree celsius cooler. I stopped smelling the damp and decay. Okay, it felt like my body was getting used to this and I could go on running for a long time more.

But I had to stop. A tree had fallen, struck down probably during Friday's fierce but short-lived thunderstorm. It may still recover if it remained rooted to the earth.  If not, it was most certainly be dead. The topmost branches of the tree laid across and blocked off the trail path.

Thankfully, there were navigable gaps between the branches. Step over one, go between two, slide across another, brush off some leaves, and for the finale, duck under. In the process, take the chance to catch up on and slow down your breathing. Breathe deep. Exhale.

For those brief moments, it felt like being at the top of a tree. I thought, this must be what the banded leaf monkey feels like - high up on a tree top! The damp of the leaves and that smell - an incredible freshness of a fallen tree, but not death. This is how green smells like, that intensity of life - even if just before death or decay.

An old lady in track pants and t-shirt, and holding on to an umbrella, greeted me as I emerged through the branches. She asked why this had happened. I explained Friday's thunderstorm. She said it never did happen, paused, then agreed that there was a somewhat short and violent one. The weather, she shook her head, unpredictable the weather.  Then with the umbrella, she parted some branches and attempted to go on her way. I said something like "Be careful".  The rest of the run went on, as (un)eventful as each breath.

25.3.14

What I don't know about trees and art


View of trees from our living room window. Image by J.

My choice of a de-stressing excursion this Saturday evening was to Kinokuniya's nature section (again!). More specifically, it was to three packed shelves of books about trees - most of them appropriately printed on FSC-certified paper.  There were encyclopaedic books, collections of personal essays, excavations of histories, odes to trees, passionate arguments for saving them, scholarly research into their secret lives...

There's something about browsing books on a topic and by writers you know close to nothing about. Maybe it's the joy of discovery, the surprise, the wonder. Maybe there's a feeling of freedom in admitting ignorance - and with that, the permission to indulge your curiosity and imagination. (Of course, in a bookstore, there's the added lure of shopping...)

I think there's some similarity with the experience of visiting an art museum.  And so J and I decided to continue our real and imaginative excursions into nature the next afternoon at the Singapore Art Museum's show "Unearthed" (curated by Tan Siuli).


The Bukit Brown Index by Post-Museum', image by J.


Because it is so easy to be didactic about man's relationship to nature, the works that seem to fall into this therefore seemed least interesting to me. But there are those that added to this a formal invention or exploration; works that questioned their own methods or admitted their own limits; or works that simply investigated, and investigated.

Senja Road, Ang Song Nian, image from www.singaporeartmuseum.sg 

In this context, it was apt that the last room we saw on the top floor of 8QSAM showed the work of the Earth Observatory of Singapore at NTU (I didn't know such an institute existed on our island!). 8QSAM showcased the work of artists that the Earth Observatory had hosted for residencies.  

We are fond of pitching the arts against science, and vice versa. On this island, at 14 you choose either "the science stream" or "the arts stream". One seeks answers. The other questions. One proceeds by rational observation. The other by conjecture and leaps of imagination. One asserts a singular identity and intellect. The other a collective accretion of knowledge through time, endlessly referencing. After a while, the one seem to be equally true of the other. At least curiosity and imagination must have informed them both. 

13.2.14

the garden


It feels like insects have been inviting themselves to our home.

The first to arrive was a giant adult praying mantis. For a few days, it hung around the plants outside our house and on the gate of our front door - before deciding HDB living was not for it. Then a lovely green insect no larger than a finger nail which I suspect is a stink bug appeared by our kitchen window. A couple of days ago, J found a dragonfly resting on a wall in our bedroom. I shan't say more about a large German cockroach, the first of such visitors we've had in years, or our lizard "friend", brave to test J's  lizard extermination skills.


Maybe it is the lure of the plants that have been slowly colonizing our place. Or perhaps the ever present smell of ripening pineapples and bananas from the kitchen. Whatever the reason,  it's not an unpleasant experience - well, most of the time, after you get over the slight initial scare.

In the bible's creation narrative, we are to name, know, love this nature, and in turn, for our bodies to be nourished by it. So power to those who try to keep such a relationship with nature!

This includes the folks behind The Edible Garden and 农Nong.


Today, on our day off, J and I decided to drop by their "pop up" rooftop farm and shop at the level 6 car park of the People's Park complex (they are joined by online marketplace Haystakt, which stocks Neighbourgoods' products!). The empty car park and an adjoining indoor space features pots and planters of herbs and vegetables, products by folks based in Singapore, and a priceless view of the cityscape.

To get to the rooftop, you will have the chance to take a trip up each floor of People's Park, still a time capsule of tattoo/massage/beauty parlours, maid agencies, travel agencies, money changers, and the "Overseas Emporium". A flight of stairs on the 5th floor will bring you to a door that seems to lead you to nowhere - but open it, and an expanse of ragged concrete and peeling paint will greet you.

If you plan to visit, do so before it disappears by end-March!
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