taking my last look at the land where women in straw hats nonchalantly navigate bulky carts through peak hour traffic, complete with a symphony of sirens. shopping pedestrians seem to be replaced by motorists along endless shoe streets and crossing roads becomes a once-in-a-lifetime experience: slowing down, striding confidently and acting like you own the road. the lake that has grown all too familiar to us, where the brightest colours are blooming flowers in the day and warm ornamental lights at night, where the weather oscillates between sweltering 30 deg sweat stains and biting 15 degree winds and sweater weather. a gentle language vaguely reminiscent of something which we know, some faces kinder than others but only people who have been all too willing to share their stories, hopes, aspirations- vastly different from ours. lives centred around simplicity, community, happiness, even when they have had the chance to pursue more.
the rice terraces are breathtaking. in the faint fog with soft sunshine filtered in, the stretches of rice fields wave and curve in thin layers; mountains of terraces rise and fall unstoppably. i always fall behind, knowing that the view which lies behind me will never fail to invoke in me a spring of wonder, trying to capture every moment when i know clearly the camera cannot come close to imitating reality. girls munch on fresh sugarcane on tiny rocks in the river, the clear, clear water wetting our toes a little as we sit there in the sun, friends hilariously losing sugarcane to the currents. scaling precarious ledges and praying for the best, no more inhibitions as hands contact mud surfaces as long as they offer another wall of safety from the steep slopes below.
most of the time we look down at the path but when we look up, and back, an unreal view greets us. there is this small sense of awe seeing the foggy white hotel in sapa town that marked the beginning of a treacherous trek growing smaller and blurrier. drunk villagers come from a wedding, making their way about the narrow paths more skilfully than us, women deftly make the trek in rubber slippers, never missing a step, children skip about the stones with baskets on their backs, weaving together little handicrafts out of nature: straw horses with a little fluffy tails and heart shapes.
at school the children climb onto the roof and pounce onto each other without restraint, giggling and learning to ride a motorcycle although the scene might have made a Singaporean mother’s heart drop. playing five stones with real stones in church, using a plastic bottle as a bat to hit cans around- indeed anyplace and anything becomes their playground. red algae multiply over the crop waters, pregnant pigs wander into open home gates, ducklings waddle in drains swimming with trash.
faint lights shine through the slats of the little wooden house at the break of day as the roosters cry incessantly to stir us awake. who first interpreted this sound as cockle-doodle-doo? the rumble of motor engines and I look up to see patterned lines of light cast onto the roof I am sleeping under; they eventually move away from me and disappear to be replaced by darkness once more. the animals come alive first and then there is the indistinct chatter of villagers and children. ethnic minorities proudly don their traditional dress as they zoom by on motorbikes and go about their daily activities. the fresh, crisp morning air the best remedy to lift a slightly hungover head, still a little woozy from happy water and extreme hospitality from the previous night. smiling at our homestay host’s husband as he opened the gate for us, venturing out into the village in borrowed rubber slippers which all the villagers seem to have. imagining how it would feel to wake up every morning to a view, a feeling, a peacefulness quite like this, striking conversations of awe and light-hearted laughter. i can’t be persuaded to go back into the house for breakfast when i’m feeling this way; when i can feel nature’s therapy working into me and the sunlight on the fields, the roaming animals make me smile; i didn’t know it then but my longed-for tethered freedom approached its zenith.
I’m a writer for…
Would it be ok if i got a few words from u about today’s event
Do u want to introduce your organisation
And your role in it
unaltered words hastily typed onto a tiny phone screen; i walked into a scene i could never be prepared for. after standing around under the sun for a good hour looking for people to interview, i finally decided to talk to this particular lady. immediately, she told me frankly: i’m deaf. oh. i was taken aback for a second but i whipped out my phone and started typing what i had meant to say.
what struck me about this exchange was the way we both readily inconvenienced ourselves for the sake of achieving some sort of clarity and understanding between each other- she gave up the sign language i had seen her comfortably gesture earlier as i allowed a digital, visible language to take the place of a verbal language i was accustomed to. and in that moment, both of us thought nothing about it, as instinctive as switching car gears while driving. i think that is the beauty of inclusiveness: that unconscious attitude; a lack of deliberation.
26 September 2016
once mundane; now almost novel. i hear myself loudly, self-conscious about the noisy clacking of shoes. the smell of home cooked fare wafts out of windows at lunch time and conjures thoughts of families eating together. i watch mynahs chase the yellow birds in the way we all want to run after that which is beautiful.
love the rainy days experienced in the confines of the home: the pure white sky purged of all its tears, a hopeful blank page waiting to be stained with colours again, the shivery cold air that rushes through the open balcony doors and carries my spirits, the silence that remains after the storm like a heavy air that has settled over the earth, disrupted every now and then by the rumbling of a bus engine as the day’s activities quietly pick up and stir to continuation, never quite forgetting where they left off.
is the conventionality of vulnerability, not having to depend on yourself all the time, being fussed over and cared for when you’re sick, lemongrass and chrysanthemum tea and all the age-old remedies mothers believe in. the constant noise and conversations, close to never a moment of silence, someone being there to answer your doubts no matter how stupid they are. the comforting, satisfying home cooked fare that no outside food can ever compare to, the relief of knowing that your meals are not a cause for worry. familiar, loved company in itself; warm hugs. the closeness of the sky, the visibility of its blueness and pinkness and all its beautiful transitions, the proximity to an entity so vast and overarching and the reminder of just how small your problems are; your bad day is. remembering my love for sunsets as i watch out my kitchen window rather than the grey grids which contain glimpses of other lives.
it is in fact mid-summer in an eternally summery singapore, but today has been one of the longest days since university has started. i’m not a particularly huge celebrant of mid-autumn festival, but it’s my first one away from my family. last sunday we enjoyed the most glorious snowskin mooncakes filled with lotus paste and a champagne white chocolate core- together. today the crowd is a pretty different one.
yesterday i looked at the moon and was dismayed that the sky was foggy and the moon was but a dim spot. i was worried that the moon wouldn’t be bright, round and clear for mid-autumn festival, that it wouldn’t be the same moon i associated all mid-autumn festivals with. i wonder why.
but the moon didn’t disappoint- sure enough, today as i’m taking a long walk back to hall after the bus services have discontinued, there it is- a round glowing face beaming through the shadowy branches. it makes me happy and puts me at ease, the moon guiding the way on a quiet, eventually solitary walk, as i am led forward perhaps by a little warmth from spiced rum and old friendships rekindled. along the walk i see a couple with lit paper lanterns by the road; it warms me and i try to slow my pace and look, stay longer in that atmosphere. i haven’t seen any candles except my friend’s birthday candles today.
today, amidst the familiar countenance of the moon, there are so many new faces. mooncake sampling and impromptu, rowdy foosball matches with people i don’t know but shared many laughs with, making an impossible sprint for the bus for the longest distance and missing it, panting all the way to my very first training afterward and swearing at the red line. classes with unbelievably exaggerated vocal exercises that simply reminded me of choir days, sustained, deep, somehow personal conversations with people i never would have expected, walking back along the blue track with insects and whatnot creaking in this wilderness.
feels, for lack of a better term, like an out-of-body experience for me. the idea forms in its infant stages inside my head, a seed sprouting tiny leaves. the faint halo of what i want to express glows and before it fortifies the time is up and off i go, lips moving and forming words i never conceived, i don’t know how i’m releasing them from me with such conviction and intensity. my mind doesn’t go blank but it’s like it frees itself of everything it holds, it occludes itself from my senses and i have no inkling of the word i’m going to speak next; everything is surging from my soul and being channelled with such uncharacteristic passion and intensity. i can’t remember much because my mind was in this state that i cannot encapsulate in description, an untouchable space in those moments with unforeseen, invisible workings. what i remember is believing wholeheartedly in every syllable i uttered, charging like an unstoppable train until the end, fuel-filled, fire-filled and i knew i was going to end there. i trusted and delivered.
It seems like a tall order to compress the enormity of the past 8 months into a single post, but I believe it’s possible. I’m certain that these past 8 months have contained some of the best moments of my life, even though my indecisive nature hinders me from directly pinpointing a frozen frame in time. There have been so many mixed emotions: the most apparent and long-lasting freedom- joyful freedom of doing whatever you want and being uninhibited, painful freedom of having nothing to do as the hours stretch ahead of you, the heavy feeling of impending adulthood and commitments intensifying, how fast we’re growing up. With every friend I meet we mention how old we feel now (in a relative sense), lay out our confusion and fear about the completely different life that lies ahead of us- it is terrifying for many to step into unknown territory. But under every layer of fear there is a small spark of excitement or longing for adventure; the idea of possibility is endless but something I don’t quite dare to entertain.
Travelling: I travelled widely enough to satiate a wandering heart/ mind, and I’m so thankful. Winter in Japan and Korea and seeing a short-lived 5 min snow for the first time in my life, parasailing and spending New Year’s Day in Langkawi, making it back to the hotel just before the clock struck twelve and clinking our bottles of apple cider together in a resounding “Happy New Year!”. An adventure in India, a place I never thought I’d go in my life, staying in the desert, stargazing, sunrise camel rides and vibrance epitomised in the Holi festival, colour on skin and cameras and dancing with strangers, shedding all self-consciousness in good fun and the sharing of culture. My first trip with friends to Hoi An, strange feelings of freedom in simple acts of walking in the streets, peaceful motorcycle rides through rural landscapes, boat rides on the water illuminated by floating lamps, taking in the charming old town in its night-time magic.
Superhero Me, Planet of Possibility: I discovered the joy of working with special needs children, or special kids as we like to call them. To set the context, Planet of Possibility is an experiential, interactive art show that makes a stand for inclusion in Singapore. This year, we reached out to over 60 children from 4 special education schools and worked with them to create their very own artworks- for children, by children. These children may be different from us but we believe that differences are good, differences are what make us diverse and create a stronger whole. I learnt the importance of patience, of trying, understood how much joy a smile, laugh or the completion of a simple task can bring. Pride stems from seeing that the children have given their best; contentment comes from engaging them rather than the huge successes we are so accustomed to in our material world. Thankful for the small moments I’ve derived joy from during the exhibition: of a genuinely interested adult, marvelling and in awe of what children’s minds and hands can create, being involved, wanting to know more during which I am just so happy to share. Seeing a familiar face of a child who has returned so often I’ve lost count but whose names I clearly remember- Matthew and Akash, when parents explain to their children about differences in such a kind light- that God made each of us differently but that doesn’t mean we are any less than another, when children themselves are interested and ask me more about the superpowers, when they remember what I’ve shared, when you feel like you’ve potentially made a small ripple of change in the lives and beliefs of these impressionable beings. Of speaking about what I’ve grown to believe in wholeheartedly, becoming the mouths of these children who may not be able to articulate themselves as eloquently as their art deserves to be expressed, speaking for Grace and her unbelievable patience which I am only more in awe of each time; it is like a spark of conviction that is renewed inside me each time the words bounce off my lips. Affirmations come more easily to me now, empathy and understanding.
Logue internship: Very much intermingled with Superhero Me but developed me more for the school and professional aspect, taught me to approach situations with heart. Had the privilege of meeting people so passionate about their art and their lives, people who compelled me to want to write about them and express their story with every ounce of sincerity I could muster. Successful people not tied down by pride, opening themselves up and sharing their stories which can touch many. Having to return to the same location 6 times to shoot and learning that you do get better with time and practice; become more sensitive and patient with photography. Whenever I was tired and disheartened I would meet a kind soul who shared their story with me and rejuvenate me, remind me why I’m doing what I’m doing. In everything you do fatigue is going to be definite at some point, but every now and then these little encounters/ reminders keep you going. In the end it was all worth it, and I’m proud.