I can never quite tell if Ma J is asleep or just pretending The old lady in the bed next to Ma J's is in hospital because of a second stroke. When we were visiting Ma J this afternoon, the old lady's middle-aged son was also there. He was in his usual round-neck tee tucked into a pair of blue jeans with a belt made of buffalo hide. His limbs are slim, but his belly is round. His bald head, too, is round and abnormally large for his small frame. Let's call him Ah Biao , or if you prefer an English name, you can think of him as Bill (after his buffalo hide belt). When J and I walked out of the ward, Ah Biao or Bill followed us. Three of us stood around the counter by the nurses' work area. J and I were quiet, enjoying the break. Then Ah Biao wanted to show us something special. "Eh, I show you something." Ah Biao unzipped his black waist pouch and took out a small yellow cloth pouch. He untied the colourful string that secured the opening of the pouch. He weigh
By the tracks of the Jiji Station, the oldest train station in Taiwan OK, not quite. We did not even manage to go all the way south to Hou Hsiao Hsien's KaoShiung or even Tainan, but we did venture out from Taipei for 3 days to Taichung. But the real takeaway was actually this supposed feature of Hou Hsiao Hsien's films - trains! Trains are about the best thing about traveling. Unlike cars and taxis, trains are a social mode of transport. Train stations allow for reunions and departures, points to assess and affirm relationships. I admit that all this fades away when you are tired or in a great hurry (or both). But seriously, cars (oh, 4-wheelers!) have only brought about pollution and wasteful consumption, traffic jams, asphalt, mindless obsession with speed and countless quarrels in the stressful, enclosed interiors of cars. Friends, take it slow. Take the train. Read a book. Hold your partner's hand. Be there with the people around you. With Taiwan's highspeed rail
Fiction on this island has never quite flourished. Perhaps because we've never quite made peace with our histories. But two genres of fiction hold special place in Singapore as a result. Ghost stories - the art of unresolved pasts. And that even stranger fruit of fact-as-fiction/fiction-as-history. Part speculative history. Part documentary fiction. A romance of obscurity. The Lan Fang Chronicles , Choy Ka Fai's work supported by the Arts Council's Arts Creation Fund and commissioned for this year's Arts Festival, is maybe of this latter genre. Choy Ka Fai chances upon the Lan Fang Republic, supposedly the first democratic republic in SEAsia, set up by the Hakka Chinese in West Borneo. His research in West Borneo, China and Holland takes him through archival material, abandoned sites, photocopied photographs, a supposed descendent of Luo Fang Bo (founder of Lan Fang) and accounts of Dutch missionaries and colonists. These materials allow him to re-construct a sk
Sleeping J, portrait circa 2006. When archiving images of J recently, I discovered many photographs and drawings I made of him asleep. This is probably quite typical. Your partner, when asleep, will look extra adorable. If not for work, I can spend my mornings just looking at his sleeping face. Of course these sleeping portraits are like death masks. Friends you always ask how am I doing. The concern is sometimes embarrassing. I am definitely doing okay. God has been good. The feeling of gratitude is real. I am blessed with friends, family and both purpose and provision in my work. Many people dealing with the death of a spouse are supported by much less and deal with a whole lot more - young children, ailing parents, a loss of income or subsistence. This is also how I try to keep self-pity at bay.
[Trigger warning: this post mentions death and suicide.] I stopped wearing a watch soon after J died. It wasn't conscious at first. I thought I could wear one of his, but it didn't feel right. I have since given all of his nice watches away except for a $25 Casio and a GShock Frogman he bought soon after we got together. Before he died, I would refuse to wear a watch on weekends. It was a sign that I was "off" from work - my time was mine - and his. What is your relationship to time? Some of us are horrible at keeping time. We are constantly late. Some of us pack too much into a day, and we fail to understand how much time is needed for most of living. Some of us just work away - giving ourselves to whatever it is that demanded our attention at the present. Some of us live in a kind of diseased nostalgia, unhappy with our present and not seeing much of a future. And some of us are always making plans. And if we are not making plans, we are dreaming, constantly dream
At J's fave cafe in Taipei Perhaps it has nothing to do with any intrinsic qualities of the city, the land, the people or the culture that we keep returning to this place. Maybe it has to do instead with the time we lavish walking through its streets and alleys, the quiet we give to ourselves in its hills and valleys, the curiosity we award to its conversations, and our willingness to receive. And so our 8th trip together to Taiwan (a 9th trip was with me/Y with my mom in 2010) yields little in terms of new discoveries. Our typical itinerary is to spend a week in wider Taipei, day trips and all, and another 2-3 days in another part of the island.
Dear friends, m y beloved J died 20 February 2019. He struggled in the past month with anxiety and depression. While he received help from doctors and therapists, and so many of us spent time with him making sure he never felt alone, in the deep fog of his illness he left us.