the walking man
image by J
The joys of walking are seldom fully experienced on this island. The reasons are many: it's the weather - that debilitating heat or the indecisive raining that is not quite a steady drizzle or a thunderstorm; the fast pace of life; the design of our pavements and streets; "there's nothing to see"... Or maybe, as in many cities, we reserve our walking for indoor, air-conditioned environments designed to visually entice and seduce at every step (no, not museums, but shopping malls).
But the nature-lover's trek, the scholarly stroll, the solitary romantic's ramble, the lovers' meander, or just a destination-driven march are all possible (and enjoyable) on our small, car-mad island.
When I was a student, I had spent my holidays walking around the city alone. Now, since we don't drive, J and I walk a fair bit everyday whenever we can give the bus or train a miss. 2 Saturdays ago, with J at the gym and the December morning air agreeing, I walked around half of Toa Payoh alone. It was a lovely walk. I thought about this book.
When I had first read the graphic novel The Walking Man by Jiro Taniguchi, I did not know what to make of it. Used to either manga's futuristic apocalyptic visions (Jiro Taniguchi had drawn one of these, Icaro with Moebius) or strangely moralistic fantasies, I was expecting with each frame or page of The Walking Man that there would be an odd twist in the tale. Perhaps this nameless man was a serial murderer or rapist. Perhaps he had just moved into a town with a dark past. Or perhaps he will have an affair with that woman he has just met in the park.
But as the book progressed in its slow, desultory pace, all there was was as the title promised - a man (middle-age, seemingly well-off and nerdy) and his random walks in a town he and his wife had just moved into,a slightly old town. He gets caught in the rain. His glasses are smashed when he passes a group of boys playing in a field. He has a chance encounter with a woman in an autumnal park. He meets a bird watcher. He spots a local bird in the next chapter. He finds a lipstick left behind by a group of giggly schoolgirls. So used is the typical reader to our own cityscape and TV dramas that we expect these chance encounters to each lead on to something sordid, dangerous - well, exciting. Yes, now that's reality, or rather, life!
So for its stubbornly idyllic and nostalgic ways, I guess this story is not unlike a fantasy. Yet The Walking Man is oddly about "real" life. Not just for its realistic renderings in each frame, but how Jiro Taniguchi manages to evoke the very sensory experiences (and more) - the sight, smell, thrill, touch, humour, wonder, curiosity, taste, even possibly temptation - of that nameless walking man through his story and images. These walks translate into every positive sense of being alive.
I was also reminded of another book Designing Design by Japanese graphic designer (Muji's CD) Kenya Hara that J had recently bought. Kenya Hara, in writing about the disorientation of too much media/information today, describes it as too little information. Our brain has too little, not too much stimulation. He compares our experiences today to having a multitude of post-it notes on the brain, but none stimulating our human brain in all its sensory possibilities of knowing and living. There's a diagram in his book where, to an outline of the human body, he sketches a diagram of the brain not just in the head, but brains located all over our bodies - in our hands, shoulders, feet, chest...
not at this pace lah! - image by J
During one of our many walks around the city on a hot, sticky weekend, J and I were determined to get to our next destination in the shortest time possible. But I thought perhaps all the speed walking is generating more heat. So I deliberately slowed my pace, and made sure that I felt my feet - from heel to toes - touch and lift off the pavement each and every step. I don't know about J, but I felt immediately calmer and cooler - anchored not to to heat from the cement, but a kind of solid ground...metaphysically speaking!
Alone, you get to tune in to your body/senses in the context of the world around you; with someone, there's another kind of living. Either way, walking is good. Yes, despite the punishing sun, the irritating indeterminate half-rain-half-drizzle, the rush for the next errand, our often unattractive patchwork cement sidewalks, and the lure of those comfortable, shopping mall corridors...