The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Deaf, dumb, and dead

My heart clenched with pain
when I heard that song on the radio
that I knew you liked
and can no longer hear.

I spoke your words the other day
to help your friend in need
who needed to hear your voice.
But I can never be you.

Faith ignites a message that falls on stone ears

Faith

A red glow spreads as
electric lotus lamps burn
from a rosewood altar.

Ignites

Three sticks of incense
stuck into the ashes of previous attempts
to reach you.
I flick the dial of a lighter
and it goes “schick, schick.”
A few sparks and the flame is lit,
a covenant made on one end.

Three sticks of incense
rouse and extend fragrant tendrils skywards.
An extension to the heavens —
patch me through, operator.
The sandalwood dance this way and that,
seemingly reluctant to secure the connection,
but like all prayer,
one speaks regardless
of whether the other side is listening.

A Message

“Tua Pek Gong ah, Tua Pek Gong,
my grandma looked to you
for conferrings of harmony
the pious could achieve.
For those who hold their faith each day
in sticks of burning wood.
Structured sutras calm the heart;
metrical relief.

I washed upon these concrete shores,
a boat with much to give.
And countless leagues I’ve had to cross
to berth my anchors in
a port of gold, or so I’m told,
where dreams are to be had.
But all I have to moor the tide
are merely ropes of tin.

Tua Pek Gong ah, Tua Pek Gong
I do not know the form in which to speak
the words that my ancestors would beseech
protections that would sooth the stormy seas.
But would your red auspices run its course
In lands where red is mixed with white and blue?
Where ships are not the vessels they were built
but kindling from the boards that have been stripped.
I rely on mantras that I borrowed
in hopes of days where boats could be ships

That Falls On

Rectitude is all I have when
circumstances bend my back

My communion withers
as three sticks of incense stand
on their last legs.

Stone Ears

A ceramic smile
glazed upon a statuette
could never waver.

For two hearts to beat as one

You came to me in a dream
and I laid my head on your chest.
You were cold and had no heartbeat
just as you were when I first discovered you
many moons ago.
But somehow, in that dream,
when I told you
“You are cold and have no heartbeat,”
we both knew it and
we both twitched a wistful smile;
a calm took me and I knew that
it took you too and
we both were of the same heart
for the first time in
many moons.

Wontonception

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Everyone knows what goes into a bowl of wonton mee (云吞面). You typically have egg noodles, baby yu choy or equivalent greens, char siew (roast pork) and wontons, of course.  It’s a fairly simple dish with no frills. However, what if you wanted to frill it up and make it unnecessarily complicated for a potluck party in which you would fish for compliments?

Then you flip the script and create mee wonton.

You see, I go to this potluck party fairly often where people have come to expect that I bring something interesting each time (I brought kueh pie tee previously). But I can’t keep bringing new dishes all the time! Even new animals and drugs are discovered at a faster pace than new dishes are invented. I wracked my head for concepts and deconstructed a dish I practically ate all the time as a kid.

The concept I had in my head was: take the mee, take the vegetables, take the char siew and put them all into the wonton. If you had a wonton stuffed with wonton mee ingredients and put the wontons in a bowl of wonton mee, you can achieve wontonception! I had no idea how to achieve that since I wouldn’t consider myself an expert wonton maker. However, I was determined and set out to try.

My first attempt involved brushing two egg wonton wrappers with oil and putting it into a muffin tin, putting the ingredients in and baking it. It didn’t work. It resulted in a thin-crackling skin that was not very palatable. You see, I was trying to avoid deep frying anything, since deep frying always resulted in grease lingering the air for days. My kitchen did not have a vent and I had to manually vent anything out of the window with a box fan.

Plus, using two wrappers on top of each other wasn’t enough to contain enough ingredients to make for a satisfying bite. I had to figure out a way to expand the working surface area of the wonton, and came up with the idea of overlaying wonton wrappers and then gently rolling them to compress them into one oversized wrapper.

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On it, I had mee pok noodles, baby yu choy, char siew I made from scratch and fried shallots. I used mee pok (flat egg noodles) rather than mee kia (thin egg noodles) because mee pok is the superior noodle and gives a more substantial bite than mee kia anyway. I tossed the noodles with fish sauce, a little soy sauce, and some of the char siew sauce I used to make my char siew. I stirred some sesame oil into the vegetables. The oversized wrapper has roughly six points, like an odd hexagon, and I folded it top-down, lower left and right corners, and then the upper left and right corners before sealing it with some water.

I tried baking the wonton again in a muffin tin. I was really trying to avoid deep frying anything. When the wonton came back out with a disappointing skin, I was like, “Ok fine. I will deep fry you bastards.” And so I did. The smell of grease permeated the air and mocked my failure at avoiding deep frying. But the wontons came out fine. Deep frying solves everything.

I cut into a deep-fried wonton and the contents tumbled out, a mess of char siew, vegetables and mee pok. My job was done. I had created a chimera that I will parade around the dinner party and bards will sing praises of my endeavours. I brought along some sambal belacan chilli I had made to go along with the wontons.

Most people didn’t stop to listen to my big exposition before eating the wontons at the party.

You ain’t so good, Google Neural Net

Google recently launched an interactive web game to train its neural network to recognise objects. The game, Quick Draw, calls on human users to draw a prompted object within a short period of time and the machine tries to guess what it is based on what it has learned so far from all of the inputs of previous players. Quite ingenious, to crowdsource training a machine learning (ML) program since many people are always looking for an excuse not to do work.

I wanted to test its learning limits. I more or less had a sense of how previous inputs for the prompts would look like, since humans tend to draw objects similarly when under time pressure. I wondered if I drew all of the objects from a different perspective, would the program still recognise it as the object — a task which humans are very capable of?

The answer is: not really.

I experimented with drawing in a sequence that would not be obvious what the object is immediately, but the end product would be discernibly apparent. I experimented with odd and skewed perspectives. Google Neural Net failed most of the time.

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I think my mountains were really good! I started with a skewed line to not trigger immediate “mountain” responses from Neural Net and then quickly added half lines but by the time I was done, any human would have seen that these are really good mountains.screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-3-30-52-pm

I thought it was cute that my mouth were interpreted as a bear, an owl and a smiley face. What?? I started with the top line forming the nose, lips, mouth, chin and neck, followed by the back of the head. I filled in details and drew an arrow pointing to the mouth. In Neural Net’s fairness, its creators probably never accounted for it to learn the concept of pointing — a task that I don’t think is too difficult given how far we’ve come along in ML. It seems Neural Net has really only been learning to identify objects by scanning them as a whole.screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-5-23-15-pm

I drew a jagged tooth key, instead of a wedge-end key because I thought it’d be too obvious. By the time I finished the key, Neural Net still hadn’t recognized it. I had some time left and literally drew in the words “KEY” hoping it’d help Neural Net along but noooope. It thought it to be a crocodile. Cute croc though.

Looking at what examples Neural Net uses as its learned base to pass judgment, one sees that humans tend to draw things either profile or head-on, and hence how Neural Net learns to identify objects.

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Come on. My butterfly was clearly the best butterfly all of Neural Net’s learned examples.screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-5-22-35-pm screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-5-22-45-pm

How are some of your examples even mushrooms!? They look more like penises! I declare my mushroom to be mushroomier than your learned examples!

Google Neural Net, it seems you have a long way to go.

 

Bonus pic from a friend:

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COME ON. In what universe are these trombones?? I’m starting to think people have never seen what a trombone looks like.

YOU NEVER MADE IT TO 26

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Hi.

I’ve been trying hard to smile extra hard for you, but it’s hard, you know. The stone that moves not, know not how to smile, but tries hard, for hardness is its nature upon which churches and houses have been built. But belies the surface is molten rock; undulating, unsettling, unsure, undone. To rest is to solidify into igneous rocks — glowing embers that ultimately fade to black.

Resting atop a rock lies a temple. In the temple, a pebble falls and clacks on the stone floors, stone-on-stone resounding off of the walls. Clack–clack–clackclack–whirl to a rest. A restive mood permeates the temple that stands on top of a rock. Within the temple lies the echoes of a hundred chants unsaid, mantras unrecited. “What if…” “What if…” “What if…?”

Wind scowls around, tendrils of air swirling around rough exteriors that exude toughness. Howls abound of “Happy Birthday” peel away at stucco and linger wistfully with the hopes of prayers that would never reach your ears. “There is nothing happy about this day,” I thought, picking at paint chips at wedge away so satisfying like scabs over wound. I take care not to bleed. On your wall, layers and layers of well wishes applied on by various people, each a different shade of “missing you” and well-meant love; all bereft. I chip away as they dry.

For my birthday, you got me a Toblerone and some white chocolate with coconut in it, to “share with friends.”

I chant, from beneath bedrock where glowing magma moves from within: “If only I could share it with you.” If only magma could become lava.

 

Through my eyes

imageedit_2_8380050066I walked in, hollow as a shell, into the floor of the Stella Maris monastery in Haifa, Israel. I took a seat in the pews in the back. Virgin Mary was on display, as waves after waves of people came to pay their respects and take pictures of her. Waves after waves of people washed in, genuflected, chanted, prayed, touched some monuments, took some selfies. I clammed up as fervour rose around me, rocked around as I waited for the rush to recede, flurry to fade. And then they washed out, and I was allowed to be hollow again.

And in my emptiness I was allowed to fill myself with feelings I had kept at bay.

And then the brine came — salt rinses, stings, preserves, cleanses. Virgin Mary looked upon me, face unchanging, witnessing a scene instead of being witnessed for a change.

Through my eyes, the tears tore through the tear that was tethered together too quickly, too haphazardly, and I was empty and ready to let them come.

Through my eyes, I am seeing sights you sought so much as you sailed in search of something significant other than what your life was.

Then let me be your eyes, for you are unable to see.

Because your eyes had been sewn shut.

[2 months]