The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Category: Prose

Beseechment of an ice cube tray

icetrayIt was the summer and you had an intense love affair with me. “I need you,” you told me. And you saw me every single day, sometimes more than once each day. “I don’t know how I can live without you,” you’d whisper, and go for drinks with me. Together, we braved the New York brutal summer.

Once, the building you live in turned off your water because of some issue with the plumbing. You came home to find yourself unable to even pour yourself a glass of water from the taps. Helpless, you turned to me, and asked for my help. I provided whatever little I could as you sat down with me, and waited. Eventually I was able to help, and you managed to get yourself one glass of refreshing, cool water.

Now that summer is over, and we’re going headlong into fall, you forget that I exist. Your daily excursions with me became every other day, and now it’s been a over a week and you’ve yet to make a calling at my place. Sometimes you’re in the neighbourhood, but you never even say “Hi.”

I have been relegated to — what would be the opposite of a ‘fair-weather friend’ — a foul-weather friend? That you’d come calling only when you have need of me?

I shudder to even think about what comes in winter.



Seeing beasts

I play Russian Roulette with my mirror. I never know if I’m going to like what I see each time.

“Oh, you look alright today,” would be the sentiment on fair days. The day passes by uneventfully, mostly never remembered.

“Ugh, what is wrong with your face?” would be the judgement at other times. “Look at yourself, you look utterly and absolutely disgusting.” And then you would remember that your father used to say things like that to your acned 14-year-old self.

“Look at your face,” I’d remind myself, and remind myself I would for the rest of the day.

I grew up with a fear of having pictures of face taken, and also with the disappointment of my friends who wanted to take pictures with me.

“Let’s take a photo together,” they’d suggest, as we hang out for tea, at the park, or at a party.

“I’d rather not, sorry.”

“Oh. Okay then.”

Soon, they’d learn to stop asking altogether.

Just Unlike everyone else

“Look at everyone on this train, on their daily commute, fuelling the veins of this city. The city’s lifeblood, as it were, yet each is so individually lifeless.

I sit here, glancing around, looking at the eyes of those who sit around me. What do they see? If you look long and hard enough into their eyes (without them noticing, of course), you’ll see yourself reflected in their eyes. And frankly, I fear that seems to be all they see.

Eyes that do not look beyond their phone displays, eyes that, by being buried in books, seeks solace from the anguish of having to acknowledge another when they make contact. Eyes that prefer the brief respite of a commuter’s siesta.

Such hubris I bear for being so self-aware.

The one foot distance that separates those who sit across me might as well be a chasm insurmountable. The woman who sits next to me, straight-backed and proper, twiddles and twitches her finger, taking care to avoid accidentally catching anyone’s eye, lest she has to give them back.

What is that man with his hands on his chin, shades on his face, earphones plugged in, thinking, seeing, hearing?

Everyone unthinking, unseeing, unlistening, uncaring,” thought I, as I put on my earphones and sunglasses, picked up my briefcase and got off at my station on my way to work.


Chasing Roads


Once upon a time, in Prague, a tram and a car stopped at the corner of a street called Otakarova. The traffic light was red and both vehicles were waiting for the light to turn green.

“You know, you have it really good,” says the tram, let’s call him Twenty-four, to the blue Skoda car who was waiting alongside him.

“What do you mean?” says the blue Skoda, whose name is Rush, because that’s what his owner named him. “Why do you say I have it really good?” asked Rush to Twenty-four, as his engine rumbled silently and he went put-put-put.

“You have so much freedom on the road. Look at you, after this traffic light turns green, you’re allowed to turn left, right or go straight ahead or anywhere you want to go!” says Twenty-four. “As for me, I go wherever the tracks are laid for me.”

Rush considered what Twenty-four said, and looked at the roads around him, and then he said, “But looking at the roads, you have options too! The tracks bend left, curve right, lead straight ahead.“

“I have choices?” Twenty-four scoffed. “While the tracks bend left, curve right and lead straight ahead, I cannot take any that I wish to. Do you see that small, red blinking light above the traffic lights?”

Rush swivelled its headlamps upwards, and saw that above the traffic lights was a smaller single light that had a red arrow, blinking steadily. It pointed straight ahead.

“Yes I see it. It points ahead,” says Rush.

“There you have it,” says Twenty-four, “that’s the path I will be going, no other ways about it. Many roads have been laid for me, and I don’t even get a say in which ones to take? All I can do is run on schedule and go where I’m supposed to.” At that, Twenty-four rang its bell, alarming a pedestrian who was attempting to run across the road in front of Twenty-four.

“But it’s not so bad, is it?” put-putted Rush, “You’re a great big tram! On the roads, you’re the king – everyone has to give way to you, maybe with the exception of ambulances and police cars. You have the right of way and if you crossed paths with me, I’m expected to maybe even go up on the pavements just to make way for you if the road is too narrow for both of us.”

Rush continued, “Also, look at the good you do for everyone! Hundreds of people, with your help, make it to work, to school, to wherever they need to go.”

“Hundreds of ungrateful people who litter and vandalise within me,” Twenty-four shot back.

“Hundreds more people who’re glad you bring shelter from the rain in the spring, and warmth from the biting cold of winter,” says Rush.

“Trekking dirt in from the rain, vagrants who sleep without meaning to go anywhere, just to be warm,” says Twenty-four. “I wish I could be like you, going anywhere I want to.”

“And I wish I could be like you, and not have to worry about changing lanes, giving way, looking out for pedestrians, etc,” said Rush.

Just then, the traffic light turned green.

“Well it was nice to meet you,” said Rush. “I’m going left now.”

“And I’m going straight ahead, as if I ever had a choice,” rang Twenty-four its bell angrily as it started to roll ahead.

And so they parted ways, with Rush put-putting off to left and Twenty-four moving straight ahead.


A couple of hours later, as Rush was returning back to that junction at Otakarova, and took the route that Twenty-four had taken earlier, he saw a tram lying on its side. There were many people around, some sitting on the sidewalk, some crying, others holding up a bandaged arm. As Rush drove past, snippets of conversation could be heard: “It was as if the tram was trying to go off its tracks or something. How scary!”

One minute

The hand grasped my neck, and I could feel each individual finger intimately. I gurked out of reflex as I felt the grip tighten. It really hurts, and then it didn’t any more, but what remained was feeling of the tightening of a vice. It’s funny how you become so much more acutely aware of your senses when you are about to die.

I tried to breathe through the strangling grasp; a thread of air slipped in, creating a little wheeze and whinny as it went in. Our hands meet, as I tried to push the hand away as that other hand pushed itself against my throat. The heart feels fit to burst as it rapidly inflates and deflates, trying to send what little oxygen each pumping of blood contained around the body. The oddest sensation of bursting welled up in my chest; something wanted to come out. It was like my heart wanted to quit this suffocating body and burst straight out of the chest to take in a sharp, sweet breath. But no, ribs and flesh occluded it, and the offending grip blocked its only exit out.

I’ve always thought the dancing dots in front of eyes that I’ve read in books were a cliché, a myth. Right before me, indeed, were dots. The kind you get when you stand up too quickly when you’ve been squatting for too long. But instead of just flashing stars, they started to move. And they weren’t swirly things either, more like the kind of movement static makes on television. Messy, gussy, interpolation. The face feels kind of flushed. My arms felt itself beat. My legs flailed jerkily. I don’t

Water glasses

You can’t drink out of a glass half-empty; emptiness has no taste. A glass half-full is half-full with water to cool you down, to perk you up, but above all, to sustain you till the next time you need it again. Drinking half-emptiness nourishes nothing.

There is emptiness in a glass, but only when there is emptiness in a glass can you fill it up. A solid glass cylinder cannot hold anything, and any attempt to fill it up results in a mess and a whole lot of wasted water. But by recognising that a glass can be empty can one begin to impart some salve in it.

Why fill up a glass to the brim? What use is there to beat all emptiness out of a glass? Even the steadiest of hands are bound to slip up, and spill. It is fine if a glass still has emptiness in it. After all, you didn’t pick up a glass for its emptiness, did you? You picked it up for its what it’s filled with.

So quit griping about half-emptiness and drink out of your half-fool cup, you full.

Waking up is the hardest thing to do

You still have your alarm set for 9am, but you don’t know what for. After all, it is not as if a day of paid productivity awaits for you today.

You wake up just before 9am, but you don’t know what for. You lie in bed, shifting uncomfortably knowing that there is no impetus for you to remain awake.

You end up going to bed and closing your eyes. The fantasy of darkness and sleep continue but then you wake again. Surely it must be 10am now?

it is 9.15am.

Going back to sleep after having woken up twice seems like sloth unduly so. You make a beeline for your morning ritual.

Not it is not coffee, no it is not breakfast. You check your emails. New mail, but nothing consequential. “Buy new discounted things on sale!” they scream. Every single day.

The morning glory wakes up to be battered into submission, battered into a waking dream, every single day.

阿嬤 (Grandmother)

我好想念每当我被雨淋湿透时,回到了家门,阿嬤一定会问 “你有没有淋到雨?快点去换你的衣服。” 虽然我整身湿湿的,我的回答一定会是 “淋到一点。” 她就会重复 “快去换你的衣”,我就会说 “哦。”

我好想每次考完试时,回到了家,阿嬤就会问 “你今天考什么?” “文学” “考到怎样?” “可以啦。”






(13 Dec 2009)

I miss whenever I get caught in the rain, when I reach home, Ah Ma will definitely ask, “Did you get caught in the rain? Quickly, go change your clothes.” Even though I would be completely drenched, my reply would always be, “Just a little bit.” And she would then repeat, “Go change your clothing.” To which then I would say, “Ok.”

I miss whenever I finished an exam, when I reach home, Ah Ma would ask, “What exam did you take today?” “Literature.” “How was it?” “It was ok.”

“What do you want to eat later?”


“Come down for lunch!”


I don’t need very fancy words to express the words in my heart. My Ah Ma can only use simple Chinese to say what she needs to say.