27.5.06

room with a view

夜深人靜(五)之廟
glowing temple - tonight a group of men were there loudly chanting "Prosper! Prosper!". Well, at least they acknowledge that their god is wealth. photo by J

It's been almost 4 months since I've become a high-rise flat dweller, our flat perhaps one seventh the size of my parents' Phua Chu Kang-inspired house. Our flat has a total of 4 window panels (excluding 2 cut-outs in the bathroom), 2 face the north, and 2 face the south.

The former gives me an immediate view of a school and Chiam's Potong Pasir sliver in Toa Payoh - and beyond, the concrete of more housing estates in Bishan, then Ang Mo Kio... The latter affords a more varied view. There is the neighbouring Taoist temple (always a neon-spectre of activity), more flats like ours, the city in the distance, and beyond - a dark grey line of indecipherable concrete or sea or refineries or pollutant...

夜深人靜(一)
天変6
Happy hanging around...
Night (Dusk) Day from the windows.photos by J

I remember some time ago WW told me about her visit to emily dickinson's house (now the Emily Dickinson museum). The poet lived there most of her life (1830-86), and wrote about 1800 poems, most of which were almost all undiscovered and unpublished till after her death. In particular WW told me (if I recall correctly) how she felt strangely moved by the window of the house where Dickinson must have sat most of her time, viewing the world outside.

I guess most of us would be quick to label her some recluse. How could anyone stand it? Being in one place all of their lives?

夜深人靜(三)之鉄窗
our iron-grilled, "upgraded" lift lobby.

But even if hers was really a life lived from behind a window, it was not limitative in any way. After all, it provided a view to one of the most lively intellectual periods of America's history, the American enlightenment, a literary "golden age" - and, of course, the political upheavals of a civil war. More importantly, it provided a view for words that seem to defy the framing of their sentences, take apart and remake the line to fit their own relations and rhythms. Space is as quick and as expansive as one mind behind one window of one house in one town providing a view all the way to eternity - and back, just to "tell it you" .
The only news I know
Is bulletins all day
From Immortality.

The only shows I see,
Tomorrow and Today,
Perchance Eternity.

The only One I meet
Is God, -the only street,
Existance; this traversed

If other news there be,
Or admirabler show -
I'll tell it you.

The Great Singapore Sales Girl
Singaporeans' favourite view - the shop window! photo by J

Maybe it's no longer possible, with our planes and satellites and fibreoptics and flickr, to sit by one window and find through its view a space so large it can contain a whole life and eternity. Maybe.

After 4 months, perhaps the novelty of my 4 windows has not yet worn off. But today the confines of this island (about to be swept into a shopping frenzy starting today with the Great Singapore Sale) are starting to get on me. Today, almost 7 months after Taipei, I am thinking of Shanghai and Beijing...

5 comments:

wahj said...

Dickinson's experience isn't completely alien to a Singporean: I spent most of my youth staring out one window in my flat as well.

I've become convinced that that outer landscape available to us is what shapes and limits our inner landscape - that our view of the world literally shapes our worldview. I've always felt that most Americans think big because of the space they can see before their very eyes (city-dwellers and poet-recluses excepted) whereas most Singaporeans think small because we live in a place where we can't even see the horizon most of the time.

fortycalibernap said...

hey, wahj -- long time.

i'll greet by presenting an apposite pov, starting by stating that i believe the 'bigness' of yanks has little to do with any field of vision.

there's no more expansive view anywhere than in a desert, and there's never been a tribe or civilization to my knowledge that has come out of the desert with truly expansive worldview.

as i write that i'm immediately reminded of the same thing you're now thinking in reading it -- the christian story of jesus in the desert -- make of it whatever you will

there are few experiences to match time in a desert, but growing into that wide vista seems to involve a deep internal move of the soul.

american 'big' is nothing so profound. here it's big as in Big Macs and livin' large and Big Stick and lately Big Brother.

we're 'big' because of the space we have to move in, and the space we had to cross originally (both literal and psychic) to get away from what drove us here in the first instance.

and finally, i'll firm up the implication by saying that this movement continues now as some idiotic aggressive riot of conflict. wide-open vistas accompanied by a very narrow heart.

yes, you're reading a strong bias. i don't think that detracts from my central point, if you can find it :)

ampulets said...

I'm tempted to agree with both (yah, what a cop out)! I guess in the case of Singapore, we could be accused of having some sort of "small island" mentality - of imagining our concerns and realities to form the basis for the rest of the world - hence mis-sizing our own relevance and importance? Aka "frog in the well" syndrome. Bigness here referring not to bigness not of heart or spirit, but of vision, imagination and daring. Of course, perhaps in the case of the US, that largeness of vision (Whitman's America) can also become the over-sizing of ambition and greed, the relentless frontier-seeking.

This is just a more long-winded way of saying we are a damned lot on earth! Entrusted with more, we grow exploitative. But seeing less, we grow timid and resigned. The one "good" thing is that at an individual level, somehow whatever bigness of heart or soul that still exists, resists the dictates of land mass and empire size.

samuraibunny said...

planning an interstate holiday now, i realized that i wouldn't have to go to a money-changer because i wld still be in the same country!! even my bank card will work, because they have branches there too.

this is a novelty because everytime i leave sg i have to visit the money-changer. talk about small-island-mentality.

Elnora Turmelle said...

Staring at the beautiful view from your window is one of the most relaxing activities - especially during the sunset, if you are near a beautiful beach. Since Singapore has lots of temples and other historical places and houses, it would be great to spend some time staring at the window and take creative shots with your camera (whether DSLR or toy camera). For sure you'll capture creative craft for photography.

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