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Sweet nothings

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The cleaner looked at it and declared - “沒戏了”.  She literally means “no show”, or “the show has ended”. It’s a good way to describe the plant - “show over”. I told her that the Hoya Linearis’s native setting is the Himalayas and my recent enquiry with a plant seller for a very beautiful specimen that was over 2 meters (mine was perhaps just over a meter) revealed a price of $250. Her reply to me was this - “不急,等著遇” Which means “No hurry, wait for a meeting.” It’s both wise and poetic advice. This morning the printed pages of a new book project arrived! The book is called 密語. Image 1 shows all the component parts - ink drawings of plants I made during the “Circuit Breaker” month, the text that accompanied the drawings, and companion IG posts by James @jampulets. This, I promise, is the absolutely LAST book project I will make with his input. A plant book of his plant photos was also the very last project we had discussed, and so, it feels good to not owe him this. The book is A3 in size

See you on the other side, babe

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When I visited Seabreeze Books with a writer friend WW some months ago to deliver copies of Furrie and Shortie , I met with one of the owners. The result of our chat was that he invited both of us to contribute pieces to a book they were publishing "My City My Streets". It is a collection of 26 essays in Chinese (and photographs) about streets in Singapore that hold special significance, personal or otherwise. The book will be released in August. Watch for it! My piece is about Toa Payoh Lorong 8. Of course. It's ampulets's original not-so-secret base!  I also made an illustration "See you on the other side, babe" to go with the text, but they decided not to include it in the book in the end. Too bad, because this illustration is classic ampulets!!! Grassroots, filled with love, and just a little mad. If enough friends ask, I may make a batch of tees with it.....  Anyway. Here's the piece, which I wrote in English: Toa Payoh Lorong 8 Cutting across Toa P

A whimsy

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  “If you had known when you started you may not eventually get to know.” 😬 This drawing started as a practice for drawing chrysanthemums. I wanted to draw two stalks of chrysanthemums, one slightly different from the other. When I finished, at the spur of the moment I decided to draw a glass half full (or half empty haha) as a companion for the flowers. It felt right. It felt like the flowers needed the glass. But after the glass entered their world, the flowers began to look instead like they were floating in mid-air, their lack of rootedness accentuated by the weight of the glass at the bottom of the drawing. Hmm, was I wrong? I looked at this picture all evening and returned to it at night. Then I realized! It wasn’t that that flowers needed the glass as their companion. The flowers needed nothing but each other. The glass, however, needed the flowers. I drew 2 glass bottles around the stalks of the flowers, a mottled square-bottomed one and a round short-necked one. Two glass bot

At home in yourself

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  Sunday, I only spoke once to a human being - “thanks, no need plastic bag.” I may also have said “keep going” aloud to a plant fighting a mild infestation of mealy bugs. For an introvert, Sunday was paradise. Years ago I had this conversation with James about what he would do when alone - the most natural and enjoyable thing that came to mind. I rejected his immediate answer “sleep”, and he, after some thinking, replied “running”. It was an equally honest answer. When he could not solve a problem or crack a brief, when he wanted time alone, when he needed to feel better about himself, even when we were overseas on holiday - he went running. As he got older, he ran shorter distances and less, and perhaps that reflected all the stresses building up in his life. My answer then was “drawing”. It still is. Reading, writing or watching a film are second nature to me, but there is something different about drawing… Maybe because there is a visceral quality about the act of drawing - the sme

Fear

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  This photo of Toddler C was taken a couple of nights ago. She had fallen asleep in my bedroom. When she woke up an hour or so later in the unfamiliar room, she somehow got down the bed on her own and took a sleepy stumble down the dark hallway to the living room where her parents and I were chatting. She didn’t cry. She must have heard her parents’ voices and was drawn instinctively towards them - and the light. And soon, she was asleep again. This time on my new couch (comfort test passed!) It made me think that the opposite of fear is not courage, it is security. “For God gave us not a spirit of fear but of power, of love and of self-control. /因為神所赐给我们的不是胆怯的灵,而是有能力、仁爱、自律的灵” A friend gave me a card with this verse in Chinese a few years ago. During that time, by sheer chance, J found out that she and I were both at the same hospital, a week apart, and with the same neurosurgeon! This coincidence was a great comfort to him then, it felt like God’s providence. Although the context for

A garden

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I have been thinking why my small succulents have been looking so unhappy (and one of them gave up its ghost last week). This is despite the grow lamp and the generally dry weather. I have also reduced my watering, so the rocky surfaces look dry.  There is often no better test that sticking your finger into the soil. And yes, just a centimeter beneath the surface and the soil feels slightly damp. If you are still in doubt, there’s the sniff test. Indeed - that smell of early mould. I have an hour to rest before getting back to Esplanade this afternoon. So I decided to sun the succulents and myself by the balcony, and reread this classic by John Dewey.  Dewey sets out this conundrum. Art is created from experience. But when it becomes a product and is set apart from experience - say in a museum - it acquires its aura and aesthetic value. But it also loses some of its initial potency of its creation, the risk or finesse or pleasure in the process of making or in the community life that c

We all need the sun

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The people who work in plant nurseries or shops probably often get this question - “does this plant need light/sun?”  Folks, every plant needs sunlight. All plants thrive with some if not full exposure to sunlight. They make food with it, they grow under it, they bloom and multiply with it, they simply bask in it…Any plant will gravitate towards sunlight, even those that miraculously survive in low light conditions creep ever so slowly towards it. I don’t think there is a plant that deliberately hides from the sun.  My only flowering plant, the Senecio Amplifolius, has blooms angled towards the sun. They are amazingly consistent. All the buds look the same direction.  Succulents or cacti have a condition where they become “etiolated” when they do not have sufficient light. Their form becomes skinny and long, they become unnaturally stretched because they are spending all their effort or energy to get closer to the source of light. Or otherwise they become dormant, barely growing. I thi

Departing Ways

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Zhang AiLing or Eileen Zhang was a writer who inspired legions of fans. I don't know why I was a fan - my Chinese is so shit I probably didn't really understand half the stuff she wrote. But for years I bought and tried to read Zhang's short stories, novellas, letters, essays and even literary criticism. In September 2019, during a work trip to Shanghai, I managed to steal some time away to visit that apartment block where Zhang had supposedly lived (fangirl photo above that my colleague helped to take).   In 2005 I even wrote a short story about Zhang Ailing's ghost. The short story "Departing Ways" was published in a Malaysian anthology, and is reproduced below (with edits): DEPARTING WAYS    Following the death of Miss Jumi Lim’s mother and after a decade of barren, the papaya trees started to bear fruit. But when the ripened fruits disappeared as mysteriously as they had appeared, talk began to circulate among her relatives.       “It’s the tree ghost. You