Rambles

I write & shoot (photographs) occasionally

Category: humansofsg

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I was out on assignment in bugis and feeling exhausted, decided to plop down on a bench on the fourth storey of bras basah complex. A nice, cool wind happened to be blowing and I just sat there for a few moments breathing, taking it in. After a while, an old man hobbled by and looked at me and the filled bench. I quickly put my bags on the floor and made space for him. The first thing he told me was his age: 85 years. And for the next half and hour or so, he proceeded to tell me his life story in chinese.

Everything happens for a reason seems to be one of the most cliche sayings. Yet, I believe it more and more firmly each time. This old man had left his walking stick behind and had come back to try and find it, but to no avail. He said that he wasn’t too steady on his feet and when he had tried to sit down previously, he spun 2 rounds before plonking down on the seat. People thought he was drunk but he wasn’t. He told me about his 5 children and how having children is hard (to which I answered that I wouldn’t know), his previous job in a bank (there used to be many small banks rather than the few banking giants now), ridiculous old customs in which you had to wait for your older siblings to be married before your own turn came.

He said that love is just a part of life; impossible to make up our whole existence, told me about how people, no matter how rich and powerful, will still go whenever their time comes. These elderly people are overflowing with wisdom and they know it not. It’s heartening that they are so willing to share their life experiences.

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This man carries a trendy red bag and wears super funky floral slip-ons (which he bought from hong kong). He goes to bras basah complex to read up on current affairs and the diplomatic relationships between countries- he thinks it’s important to know about these things. He made his way there himself by public transport even though he lives a considerable distance away. I told him that I enjoy photography and before he left, he told me that he hopes that I’ll set up a photography studio in the future- I told him I’ll put this picture up if I do. He probably doesn’t know the impact he made on me that day but I’m filled to the brim with gratitude.

 

 

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Going away can make you miss a place, or it can repel you from the place even more. But often, it is difficult to fully ascertain the validity of either claim. These days, she speaks of ‘home’ in another continent altogether, where their verbal exchanges have impressed a new lilt upon her tone. Her home has shifted away but mine stays rooted here. To me, this will still be the home where we created adventure trails around the swimming pool as children, shouted ‘Marco Polo’ and hid beneath the bridge on artificial rocks, took pride in hanging upside down on parallel bars. Every year or so she flies away from home, back to a land of childhood memories and stagnant relatives. Every year, we are still here.

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She is a vibrant, multicolored personality, dressed in a rainbow checkered skirt and floral top (she tells us she likes flowers). When we offer her props, she picks the most outrageous ones, round butterfly sunglasses and a Hawaiian-print plastic hat. 79 years old and clambering up the stairs faster than us, so willing to give us parts of herself that you thought age might have guarded. She is a cancer survivor.

She defies the accepted belief that age is associated with weakness and monotony, because it need not be.

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She pushes a pram along furniture-laden hallways. (In retrospect the entire place is compartmentalised, so similar to our whole country in general.) In each little corner a space of strikingly different ambience is tucked away, and I get the feeling that we are looking through invisible windows in an inhabited street, each home looking perfect with price tags intact.

Her hair is bundled into a messy bun with streaks of dyed gold and she walks in front of me. When she bends over her back exposes a strip of skin as thick as a blindfold. A scar snakes up from the waistband of her jeans like a vine reaching for sunlight, yet stopping short halfway. It is a deep purplish colour. Twice I see it, but I don’t see her face clearly; I will never find out her story.

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Unnatural shadows adhere to her eyes in twin carved blades without giving her any impression of menace. My first thought is that I’ve seen her before, not too long ago, actually. She was sitting behind a counter of books, watching me not unkindly with the same artificially dark eyes as I went about my own lagging process of picking out books to buy.

“Which would you recommend?” I asked her when my indecisiveness had finally hit me in the head. Smiling, she picked out a couple of books that she liked and I bought two of them.

We are somewhere else this time, but in the same element. At the nape of her neck she has a tattoo in elaborate script- “escapism”. The ink is as dark as her eyeliner, and the word stays in my head for a long time.