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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. /ε› η‚Ίη₯žζ‰€θ΅η»™ζˆ‘δ»¬ηš„δΈζ˜―θƒ†ζ€―ηš„η΅,θ€Œζ˜―ζœ‰θƒ½εŠ›、仁爱、θ‡ͺεΎ‹ηš„η΅” 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

the wisdom of (very small) trees

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My mom came over for dinner today. My task for her was to help me trim and “train” my unruly bonsai. And although she does not have any practical experience, she has been studiously watching videos on YouTube. I played her music on Spotify, made her a pot of tea, and found in the toolbox some bonsai wire that J bought years ago and never used. I joked that we are like 2 very cultured ladies of leisure. Photo 1 shows her in action. Photo 2 shows the results of her efforts. Pretty good for a maiden effort, no?  When I praised her, she proudly shared with me these pieces of bonsai wisdom that she had culled from YouTube bonsai masters. Advice that you may selectively apply to other aspects of life.  (1) “Don’t be afraid to cut it all off. Be brutal. It will grow back.” At the end, she must have shorn at least 80% of the plant. She is right. I could not see the form of the plant until all that “extraneous” growth was removed. And while the plant looks quite naked now, the leaves will grow

A Long Walk

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Even in tiny countries like ours, regionalism exists. And among accounts of regional pride, none is as fierce as the Easties’. Last Sunday I took a walk in the East. Whenever I go to Katong, it feels like I am on holiday - it is after all the birthplace of SG’s original leisure class. My walk started at Ah Yee Soon Kueh, and I made my way to coffee with ex-Eastie WW  at one of many hipster cafes, before lunch at the original 328 Katong laksa. But the main destination is actually Seabreeze Bookstore ( @seabreezebookssg ), an extension of  @trendlitpublishing  . Located at level 2 of 366A  Tanjong Katong Road, the moment you look up the stairs, you will feel Seabreeze bookstore’s “Taiwan vibes”. They carry mostly Chinese language titles from Singapore, Taiwan and HK, and a small selection of merch, such as those by Taiwan label 小ζ—₯子. I must say that Trendlit’s book designs are themselves very on-point, and in the context of Singapore publishing, refreshing.   Do check them out. Also becau

On receiving

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Christmas is most naturally about giving. God gave his only son to be born and then die in the loneliest way. Giving is sacrificial, heroic. In all of our roles we are expected to give - parents, children, friends, lovers, leaders, employees…. Less is said about receiving.  Christmas to me is also about receiving! You can joyfully give when you know you have received. When you know you have plenty, more than what you need, giving is a "no-brainer". I don't know how the maths works, but we somehow always receive more than we can give. Even in the worst of times. Haven't we all witnessed or read, in the midst of disaster, humans who act in courage and generosity towards others? Conversely, it is harder to give when you feel you have been denied the things you want or deserve. Even when you give, at the back of your mind you may be counting the cost, or feeling envious of others who have more. Receiving is an art. It takes cognition but also daily practice. J taught me t

strong words

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[Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide and death.] Almost a month ago was the international loss day for survivors of suicide. For the first time, I attended an SOS event. I remember the SOS representative at the SGH morgue that day after J died - she approached me, offered support but stayed respectfully at one side till the paperwork was done. I appreciated that she was around. That year, I received 3 phone calls from SOS asking if I needed any support but always respecting my “really appreciate your checking in, but I am Ok.” reply.  I don’t fully know why, after almost 3 years, I decided to sign up for the online event that day by SOS. There were speakers who were psychologists and academics, and a breakout room later where folks shared their experiences in a smaller group. Those whose loss were more recent I think were most comforted. Nonetheless  all that I heard affirmed what I knew in my head and in my heart. After that session, two friends came over for a lovely lunch u