The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Month: July, 2013

Illusory Flowers

hana&chouI don’t know how to paint. I just hack away with pencil and brush and call it ‘fauvism’. I never took art classes, learnt how to correctly apply shades and lighting to colours. In the end, I just lighten where I think light should be and darken where I think darkness should be.

I made this painting (acrylic on canvas) a while ago, with an aim to create beauty from my mind. I think of the two most beautiful things in my head: butterflies and flowers.

There is beauty in budding, blooming, and withering. The idea of growth, blossom and death fascinates me, and perhaps in part inspired by the lyrics of one of my favourite songs.

狂い咲き命を燃やす 揺れながら
The life that blooms off-season burns as it trembles

You are dreaming

この世界は美しいと この胸に
This is world is beautiful  in my heart

It is surely blooming

True, the lyrics don’t make much sense, but the beauty of the image in which they conjure is something I’ve enjoyed for a long time, and it has helped me see beauty in many things, because things are surely blooming. It’s been a source of optimism for me, to see beauty amidst blight. Even if things are ugly on the outside, you can always count on the world to be beautiful in your heart.

Waking dreams

It is often said that dreams are manifestations of the subconscious; I find that very plausible. As if spending every waking moment being reminded that I have yet to find a job is not enough, I am dreaming about them in my sleep too.

I have always had the ability to remember my dreams pretty well, though I am not sure that’s a gift.

I am back in Singapore, but instead of returning to my parents’ home, I go to my grandmother’s. “You’re back,” she says, happy to see me return, and I said, “Yea, but I will have to go back soon.”

“You should call your parents and let them know,” she says.

“Ok, I will do that later.”

And then I procrastinated by going grocery shopping. Being back home, I need not scrimp and save when it came to shopping to feed myself. I did not have to forgo buying meat because it was a tad expensive, I did not have to buy the hardiest vegetables and produce so that they last in the fridge the longest. I could sense the temptation to just embrace this purchasing-power-freedom.

I made it home, and then I called my mother’s mobile phone, instead of my father’s, but a bad connection forced me to call the house’s landline instead.

“Mom, I’m back.”

“That’s great. When did you return?”

“Earlier this morning,” I lied; in the dream I returned last night. “I’m at grandma’s now.”

“Ok, will you come over for dinner later tonight?”

“Yea, sure.”

“How were things in the States? How was the flight?”

“Er, we’ll talk more when I go over. See ya later.”


I could sense that my father was there in that room when I was talking, and it was an uneasy feeling.

The dream ended, I never got to go over to meet my parents for dinner. Maybe I didn’t want to.

Write less, say more

I’m not a big fan of long poetry. I admire people who do write them, and sometimes there are some that catch my eye, but for the most part I like my poems clean, smart and above all, short.

There is something beautiful about making the most out of scarcity. As I see it, we are born into this world and we are bounded by the limitations of our resources and our bodies. But yet we can achieve so much with so little.

I’ve once read that Coleridge once said that in a poem every word counts, but Poe went one further and said that not does every word count, but the position of each word counts too. Applying frugality to word choices makes one more aware of the effect of each word used.

How long is too long? Long enough to drive home what you need to say. Anything else that merely shows off the skill of a writer can almost be considered masturbatory. While it is hard to create the perfect rhyme to agree with meter and image, etc., it is a lot harder to convey a message with a paucity of words.

The words unsaid are the ones that
ring loudest.
Unfettered by noise,
they sing directly to the heart.

The images unseen are the ones that
are sharpest.
Neither myopia nor senescence
will diminish visions viewed by the  mind.

Love without persecution

I was thinking about how recently in the United States, the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 (Prop 8) were both declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States. What this means is that same-sex married couples can officially be recognised as ‘spouses’ in the eyes of the law and be eligible for federal marriage benefits, and that people in California can now legally marry.

There is a very distinct separation of between the government and the courts in the United States. This allows the courts to strike down laws set up by governments that apparently do not reflect the will of its people (the Constitution). Unfortunately that is not quite the case in Singapore.

Even though Singapore has a constitution, the Constitution does not seem to be supreme. It is of popular opinion that the government and the courts are one and the same. Even Wikipedia has noted that parliamentary sovereignty is the de facto characterisation of the legal system in the country. As such, the will of the parliament is often the will of the law, it seems.

In Singapore, under its penal code, there is a statute, Section 377, that criminalises sex “against the order of nature.” Its subsection 377A states that any male person who, in public or private, commits against any male person any act of gross indecency shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years. This effectively makes homosexual sex illegal.

Section 377 was repealed on October 2007, but its subsection 377A was retained. On the decision, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that “Singapore is basically a conservative society…The family is the basic building block of this society. And by family in Singapore we mean one man, one woman, marrying, having children and bringing up children within that framework of a stable family unit.”

Decriminalising homosexual sex is not going to break up families. Not that we’re even debating on the same stage of same-sex marriage as in the United States, but has helpfully outlined how legalising gay marriage affects society (hint: it does not affect you in any way). Decriminalising homosexual sex is not going to cause heterosexual or homosexual couples to suddenly want to commit bestiality, or any of the slippery-slope arguments pitched by proponents of the legislation.

If the government wishes to focus on the family as it claims, why can’t having two mothers or two fathers make a good family? Surely they are just as good as any mother-father pair family, or single-parent family? There are tons of research that show that same-sex parents families do just as well, if not better, than different-sex parents. I would think that having two parents would provide for the children better than a family on just one income. If the government is so concerned about “family units,” then perhaps they should consider making adoption legal for homosexual couples, and allow them tax and national benefits as well.

If the focus is that it is the will of the people not to accept homosexuality because they are conservative, even if the government were to decriminalise homosexual acts of sex, it is not going to stop the homophobia that permeates the country. Repealing 377a is not going to stop the cries of “bapok” and “ah gua” on the streets, just as outlawing racism in Singapore is not going to stop the mutual jeerings of “ah pu neh neh” and “munjen” in the neighbourhood.

But at least we can offer equal protection to everyone, regardless of sexuality, from persecution from the law.

Never mind that the community is conservative, never mind that the majority have yet to accept homosexuals as social equals, but at least decriminalising homosexual acts of sex would be one less guillotine hanging over their heads.

What is the purpose of the government? If the government says it is there to reflect the views of the people it serves, then, well, the seething dissent from the masses these days from unpopular bills such as the move to regulate internet news is the exact opposite of representing its population.

If the government is there to lead by example, why couldn’t the government lead by example on this front, and set a precedent for reducing victimisation of its own people?

There is a disconnect between some laws of the land and its people; just because things are law doesn’t necessarily mean that the mindsets of people will automatically change. The outlawing of secret societies did not magically make people stop subscribing to the ideas that gangs offer protection and fear; it merely drove them underground. It was the eventual modernisation and improvements to policing that left all but a handful still loyal to the idea of organised brotherhood. Singaporeans are slowly accepting homosexuality more are more, regardless of whether the law decrees it or not.

So the courts might as well do the right thing, and the set the go-ahead for love without fear of persecution.

Invitations of a candle


Little moth, O little moth,
will you dance with me?
I sparkle and shine
all pretty and bright;
a beacon in the night.

Brave moth, O brave moth,
do I not inspire?
My flickering ways
set your passions aflame;
your goals, ambitions, aims.

Never mind the pile
of charred moths before you
lying at my foot.

Because you, illuminated and blinded
by my warm light
cease to be a moth for a night,
but become a butterfly
like they who flutter by;
unfazed, unhurried,
because you, with your Icarus wings,
know that you can make it.

So come and dance with me.

How to make your National Day songs work

Last year, around the period of Singapore’s National Day, I wrote a piece on how Singaporeans are liking each successive new National Day song less. Well National Day is coming up again and predictably, there is yet another new song.

Whether or not the locals liked it can be easily summed up in the following parody video.

For those who can’t read the subtitles to the part at the back of the video, I provide a more accurate and closer translation:

“Oh-oh-oh” your mum’s head! Are you done already? I’ve already told you I can’t, yet you still go “Oh-oh-oh-oh.” You completely disregard whether people can stand it or not. You “oh” one more time, I’ll kill you!

Needless to say this year’s song is not well-received.

Singapore is one of the few countries where nationalism is strung proudly on a pole and waved in your face and played to your ears. Nationalism in other countries are rarely worn on one’s chest, because the tacit knowledge that one loves one country is sufficient. Sure, you have Americana, Japanese wave flags on the palace grounds during the Emperor’s birthday, et al, but they are hardly a concerted effort by the government to promote it. The last time I checked, North Korea was the only other one doing it.

One of the ways Singapore does it is by coming up with a new theme song every year to celebrate the nation and to foster ‘national spirit.’ It began in 1986 and after 1987, took a hiatus before coming back in 1998, where every year after that a new song is written. The music is rather catchy, and they’re played all over the country; on television, on the radio, in schools, on the train stations, but the lyrics are rather… shall we say nationalistic.

Here are some choice lyrics from National Day songs in the past till present.

  • You and me/ We’ll do our part/ Stand together/ Heart to heart/ We’re going to show the world what Singapore can be/ We can achieve, we can achieve — 1986, Count on Me Singapore
  • There was a time, when people said that Singapore won’t make it, but we did/ There was a time, when troubles seemed too much for us to take, but we did — 1987, We are Singapore
  • This is Home, truly, where I know I must be/ Where my dreams wait for me/ Where that river always flows/ This is home, surely, as my senses tell me/ This is where, I won’t be alone/ For this where I know it’s home — 1998, Home
  • Stars and crescent shine on me/ Make us more than what we can be/ All our dreams come true/ As we all grow stronger — 2000, Shine on Me
  • Where I belong/ Where I keep my heart and soul/ Where we are one big family/ I want the whole world to know/ I want to shout it out loud/ That this is where I know I belong — 2001, Where I Belong
  • There’s no place I’d rather be/ You’ll always be a part of me/ And even though I’ve roamed the world/ It’s still my home I long to see — 2007, There’s No Place I’d Rather Be

You get the idea.

Do they just simply not like the tunes? While the past few years’ official National Day songs were not well-received, other smaller efforts by regular people were preferred over the official ones.

I think it might be something more complex than people not just liking the tunes. Firstly, National Day song lyrics are incredibly cheesy, and Singaporeans know it. When we recall our favourite National Day songs, it is never for its lyrics, but ones that sound nicest to us. Sure, we hang our flags, we tune in to watch the telly and fireworks on National Day, but I think it is a stretch to say that people fervently subscribe to the content contained in the lyrics.

And when a government-led effort to try to rap out nationalistic message in the songs, I think that people feel it’s overkill. It’s trying too hard to make nationalism seem cool. Anyone remember the public service announcements in the form of raps by local comic icon, Phua Chu Kang?

Those weren’t cool.

It’s bad enough that the words, along with the tunes, of National Day songs are stuck in our heads. They sure are stuck in mine for the most part. Thanks, Singapore. There is no need to try to put on a veneer of ‘cool’ in addition to trying to be catchy.

And so, as part of my, er, patriotism, here are some suggestions on how to make your National Day songs work

  1. Drop the rap.
  2. Forget big choruses, focus on just one or two singers. Don’t be afraid to reuse older, popular singers. They are half the reason why people even bother to listen to the songs. (The other half is because we’re forced to)
  3. Themes that are good: Home, friends and family, being together, fun and laughter.
  4. Themes that are bad: Singapore overcoming adversity, how mighty Singapore is, showing people we can achieve.
  5. The tunes must be simple and hummable. Have you ever heard commercial jingles with complex arpeggios? I think not.
  6. The songs must be within the reasonable ranges of regular humans. We don’t all have five octaves of pitch.
  7. Slow songs are meant to evoke longing and wistfulness, faster songs for vibrancy and liveliness. Play mix-n-match with the Nationalistic jingoism with the appropriate tempo.
  8. Children singers are a hit-or-miss.

Combine all these… and you probably get 1998’s Home. Which I admit, is probably my favourite. I still cringe whenever I have to think about the lyrics, but then I just hum/sing it and pretend the words are no more than just words.

Like we all do.

Sorrowful Rice 黯然销魂饭

Sorrowful rice

I tried making my own char siew, or Chinese barbecue roast pork, for the first time today. People usually buy them because nobody owns a spit and a fire pit, but I learnt that you can actually cook it in the oven, and char it on the stove top!

Given that I now have a batch of char siew, a natural dish to make with it would be what is known as “Sorrowful Rice” or 黯然销魂饭. The dish is essentially regular ol’ char siew rice, or char siew over steamed white rice, with a side of a sunny-side up and some vegetables.

“Sorrowful Rice” is actually the name of a dish from a movie, God of Cookery (食神).

In it, the protagonist Stephen Chow competes in a competition and strives to create the most delicious thing he’s ever tasted. He reaches into his sorrow and memory of a woman, who made him a bowl of char siew rice when he was downtrodden, and she supposedly took a bullet for him. With that, he created the “Sorrowful Rice.”

The sorrow is apparently onions.

I reach into my sorrow and create my own “Sorrowful Rice.”

Grandma, you never got to see me graduate college. You never even got to see me off as I left for New York later that year. You never got to see me do the ‘triumphant return.’ I have yet to return, and it seems I am becoming quite the prodigal son. Will you still be proud of me, even if I am struggling to make something of myself and having racked up a colossal collegiate debt?

What will you say, if you learn that I do not wish to return to the land where you are buried?

On 28th May, 2009, at around 5 AM, you passed away in the hospital. I remember, because I wrote it down.

I also wrote down having heard you cry when Great Grandmother died. It was really painful.

A grandson should never live to see his grandmother cry. Or any old people cry.

I wrote that down in my logs. In my mind, it seemed impossible that you were one to sob uncontrollably, for you were my stoic grandmother; frustrating at times, but always well-meaning and grandmotherly.

I also remember, and wrote down when your youngest son, my uncle, passed away. By traditions and customs, you were not allowed to attend his wake. I can only imagine what grief it must be — grief I didn’t want to imagine, because I remembered the grief you had at Great Grandmother’s funeral.

Many times whenever I am doing something, I would think, “What if she could see me now?” And then I remembered that you can’t, and I am reminded of the finality of death.

Uncle (叔叔), I wrote down what you told me when I visited you on 12th April, 2008.

The first few things he said to me were, “Is the army stressful?” and then he went on about how I should learn to take things easy and learn how to let things go. However I feel that it was more for the benefit of himself, as if he were repeating these to remind himself exactly what he has to do.

But he seems ailing in his road to recovery. He doesn’t wish to pick himself up, saying how exhausted he is and all, and all he does is lie in bed. He doesn’t move much, not even to leave the room or to sit on a sofa. That is bad.

Hope he perks up soon? I’ve even offered going out with him for photography as bribes.

What I did not write down, but I always remember was when you asked me that day, “So what are your plans for college?”

“I’m probably going to apply for college in the United States,” I said.

“That’s nice. What are you going to be studying there?” he asked.


“Journalism? That’s good. I wanted to be a journalist too when I was younger, but I never studied hard, and I couldn’t be one. You should study hard and become one for me.”

You passed away a week later.

I graduated journalism school, but I have yet to find a job in journalism. I am going to keep trying, uncle. With the memories of that robot dinosaur you gave me as a kid, and also that toy guy that you disabled the recoil feature for because it scared me, I will become the journalist you couldn’t be. I could not keep the promise to go do photography with you, but I will try my darndest best with this one.

I should ease up with the onions. This is too much sorrow for me.