The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: family

The Memorial

Great writers are immortal:
the names of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Frost
still live on today through their works,
through their words;
they live on in posterity.

Josh was a great writer, as we all know.
Anyone who has had the chance to know him knows that.

But we are here today not to celebrate his posterity.
We’re here to celebrate his memory, yes, but let us not forget:
we are here to celebrate all of you and this moment.

Great writers are immortal:
but what do we know about what made Shakespeare smile?
What do we know what jokes Wordsworth told his friends
— verily, who were his friends?
What made Frost weep?
What did Oscar Wilde whisper to Bosie when they lying in bed?

But we do know how Josh made us feel, made us laugh,
feel inspired, challenged, frustrated and how he loved us.
No one but us will have this moment where we can say we have
lived a life of Josh.
Even were his works to live on, no one but us could claim to have
danced with giddy abandon amidst fireworks,
no one but us could claim to have told him
our humblest, crippling fears.

In this room, we have those who knew Josh
not merely through his intellect but knew him
as a big-headed baby growing up, knew him
as an adventurous soul to the point of foolishness.
Knew him to have fought demons, so many demons.

Josh had many demons. Maybe that’s why he liked angels so much.
His mother’s thesis was about angels. And while he didn’t believe in angels in the Christian sense,
he believed a divine other that represented healing and all that is good.
He would tell me about what he did and what fun he had hanging out with his friends because
up until the recent end of his life,
happiness had always seemed out of his reach.
Every one of you represented an angel to him,
just as he was an angel to all of us.

[Speech: 30th July, 2016]

Repost: Reasons why my mother was an asshole

Image credit to People We Remember

Repost from People We Remember, a site “about memorializing the poignant moments of those we’ve loved and lost along the fragile road that we call life.”

When I was 12 years old, I overheard my mother and sister talking about something. I couldn’t really figure exactly what they were saying but they were behaving all strange and secretive. It had to be important. It had to be significant. I had to know.

So I asked. “What are you talking about?”

To my surprise, they refused to tell me. “You don’t have to know. You don’t have to know just yet.” I persisted and persisted but they refused to tell me. I pled and whined but nothing, not a single word from either of them, and that made me incredibly suspicious.

What were they hiding from me? Why wouldn’t they tell me?

What news was so significant and yet, crucial that I didn’t know about it?

So in the middle of the night, laying on my bed and staring at my celling, I came to the conclusion that I was dying. I probably had some terminal illness, like cancer of the eyebrows or something and was going to die in a couple of months. They were just finding a way to tell me. They just wanted to shield me from the harsh truth. They just wanted me to die happy. They probably wanted me to take my PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) before I died.

So in the span of 2 days, I went through the 5 stages of grief.

Denial

This can’t be happening to me. I am only 12. They must have gotten it all wrong. They probably mixed me up with some other kid. It is probably Kenneth. Come on. That kid has so many moles on his face. One of them has got to be cancerous.

Anger

Why me? Why the hell me? I pay attention in class. I don’t talk and throw shit around! I don’t bully people! Why the fuck not Jun Jie? That boy calls me names all the time. I mean in what world does Perry even sound like Penis.

Bargaining

What if I study really hard? I promise I will score all As, even for Chinese. My Chinese will be better than that Indian kid who is constantly used as an example of how terrible my Chinese is.

Come on God, you can’t kill a kid with so much potential.

Depression

I might as well just stay home and watch cartoons. I might as well just not eat my fruits and vegetables. It’s not like constipation is going to affect me in a few days. Dead people don’t shit right?

Acceptance

Oh well, I mean life is full of sadness and disappointments. I might as well just go tell my mother that I know so she doesn’t have to worry about telling me anymore.

So I told my mother.

And she looked at me.

And laughed

And laughed

And laughed

Actually, she continued laughing all the way till Chinese New Year, where she told all my relatives that her son actually thought that he was going to die.

She hugged me from behind and said,

“What a silly boy.”

No one likes self-righteous people who can’t laugh at themselves.

No one likes self-righteous people who can’t laugh at their own son, especially when he is being an idiot.

~

My mother never believed in a reward system. Kids in school would get presents and money if they scored really well in their tests. I would not.

“You are supposed to do well. Why should I reward you for doing something that you are already supposed to do?”

That’s my mother’s reasoning. To a kid, that was plain bullshit. She was just being mean. She was being an asshole.

However, she did reward me for something. Whenever I did something good or righteous, she would reward me. I helped an old lady cross the road and I was allowed to choose whichever Lego set I wanted.

This led to me becoming quite an overly enthusiastic nice person. Old ladies who needed help crossing roads became like giant walking Lego sets to me.

After a while, the rewards stopped but the habit stayed with me. I guess my mother was on to something.

The world doesn’t need good intentions.

The world needs people who do nice things.

It doesn’t matter what reason or hidden agenda or Lego set you want, as long as you do nice things, that’s all that matters.

~

My mother was a liar.

Till the age of 15, I genuinely thought that my mother was an insanely picky eater.

She didn’t like:

Chicken Drumsticks

Fried Dumplings

Crab Meat

Lobsters

Oysters

Satay

Fish

Nuggets

Cheese

Basically, she didn’t like anything delicious. She would cook or buy them and later say that she didn’t like them or she wasn’t hungry.

So I ignorantly ate them all,

all of her love.

~

She constantly corrected my grammar.

Let’s face facts.

That was pretty annoying.

~

She died.

That was pretty annoying too.

~

I stared at the back of my dad’s head, trying to decipher what he felt about my little article about his dead wife; my dead mother.

After 5 minutes of silence and rapid scrolling, my dad turned and looked at me and smiled “You are the asshole.”

White chrysanthemums

shiroihanaGrandma

This white chrysanthemum

I want to give to you

 

淋雨 To be caught in the rain

emoroad

所谓:望子成龙,望女成凤。但当长了翅膀,想起发的龙望的路往往会辜负对他戴希望的人,那如何呢?

在窝里受得一辈子的气,火气十足,是别离的时候了。

“我得向外飞。” 子儿说。

“为何?” 长辈问着,“危在外多,个个角落藏着不安,不定,不满,不幸。不如不走如何。”

“不行。我不能。”

“那你能去哪里?”

“去西取经:经验、精宴。哪里都比这好。”

“取经?取惊还差不多吧。崇洋媚外,你迟早会回来。”

而非听劝告,放下了一生的友情,放下了一生的便利,他身无长处地往外走。子儿默默地说,“你瞧着。无论你有多么的不信,是胜是亡,由我双腿创我自己的路,是我的选择。” 连伞都不带的他就那样踏出了门,相信他身上燃烧的火将会带他出路途的黑暗。

未成龙的子儿无法独立地飞,只好搭乘飞机,造个西游记。但他没想象路途遥远行程当中淋的雨会是那么的湿。

起初滴的雨,偶尔几滴,算得了什么?心胸已抛了铅,放步如筋斗云,毛毛雨的湿,心怀戴的三昧真火让他暖着,干着。

但不久毛雨变大雨,之前从天上飘落的水花成一刺一刺的箭,泼了下来。走了一半,望不清头,看不见尾。是否迷了路?本是盔甲的衣,被雨淋湿,沾到了皮。让雨刺了皮,刺了心。渐渐,尖尖的箭尖把自信化成灰,掘出了他的虚荣和骄傲。

“这值得吗?” 子儿开始想,长辈播下的疑问的种被雨淋了,开始萌芽。“我还能继续吗?”

路途所见,妖,精,魔,怪不在外,都在内。心里的战场上,已经拼杀过的心魔散落满地。

自疑精他挥着剑,“最初的乐观都是蠢!”

自责王加入了战场, “如果你当初没那么任性,也不会落到现在这下场。”

绝望怪轻轻的唱着,唱着,“从空想造成的意愿始终是空。”

战斗还进行中,在外的我不停地淋雨。

(note: This is another one of those “If you can’t read Chinese, you won’t be able to fully appreciate the nuances of the language” pieces. There are footnotes at the end to help with some of that.)

-Translation-

As they say: May the sons become dragons, may the daughters become phoenixes. But when they are ready to spread their wings to take flight, and that their journeys will inevitably disappoint those who heaped hopes on them, what then?

After a lifetime of antagonism, with a heart full of burning anger/passion, it is time to leave.

“I have to leave this place,” the son says.

“Why?” asked the elder, “Danger lies outside, and in every corner lurks vulnerability, instability, discontent, and misfortune. How about you don’t go?”1

“That’s impossible. And I can’t.”2

“Then where can you go?”

“To the West for sutras: experience, feasts.3 Any place is better than this.”

“Sutras? More like shock.4 Fawner of all things foreign, you will return eventually.”

Unheeding of advice, leaving behind a lifetime of friends, a lifetime of convenience, with the barest of necessities he departed. Silently, he said, “Hark, no matter your lack of confidence, even if I were to triumph or die, with my feet I carve this journey of my own choice.” And like that, without even taking an umbrella, he stepped out, believing that the fire that burns inside him will light him through the darkness of his journey.

The son who is yet to be a dragon is unable to fly on his own, thus he takes an aeroplane on his journey to the West. But what he did not envision was how wet the rain on his journey would be.

At first, the rain was imperceptible — the occasional raindrops, what does it matter? With a heart free of lead and each step on a Somersault Cloud, the wetness of the fine drizzle was stayed by the True Samadhi Fire5 carried within, keeping him warm and dry.

Before long, the drizzle turned into a downpour. The water flowers that drifted down from the heavens earlier turned into piercing arrows, pouring down in torrents. Halfway into the journey, the sight of the beginning is lost, the sight of the goal is lost; is the way lost? The clothing sticks to the skin, becoming armour no longer, and has let the rain pierce the skin, the heart. Slowly, pieces of sharp arrowheads erode the confidence to ash6, leaving behind conceit and pride.

“Is this all worth it?” the son begins to wonder, and the seeds of doubt planted by the elder, watered by the rain, begin to germinate. “Can I still carry on?”

The imps, spirits, demons and monsters encountered along the journey are from within, not without. The battle is in the mind, and the slain demons are scattered everywhere.

The Spirit of Self Doubt hefted its blade, “The optimism you held in the beginning was folly.”

The Demon King of Self-Blame joins the fray. “Were you not so obstinate, you would not have landed yourself in this quarry.”

The Monster of Despair sang softly, softly, “All ambition borne of fantasy is but emptiness.”

And as the battle rages on, I stand on the outside, being drenched in the rain.

-Footnotes-

1: “危在外多,个个角落藏着不安,不定,不满,不幸。不如不走如何。” “Danger lies outside, and in every corner lurks vulnerability, instability, discontent, and misfortune. How about you don’t go?” — There is stylistic repetition using the ‘not’ character in the Chinese text, 不, which is lost in translation. A stylistic translation would go: “Danger lies outside, and in every corner lurks not-safety, not-stability, not-contentment, not-fortune. Not-about not-go?” 不如不走 in the last part also uses the ‘not’ character, but translates as “How about you don’t go?”

2: “不行。我不能。” “That’s impossible. And I can’t.” — Similarly, it continues the usage of the ‘not’ character in response. A stylistic translation would go: “Not-possible. I am not-able.”

3: “去西取经:经验,精宴。” “To the West for sutras: experience, feasts.” — This is a play on and repetition of sounds. The romanisation would be “Qù xī qǔ jīng: jīng yàn, jīng yàn.” The sound for sutra shares the same sound as the first character of experience, and the first character of the compound word, exquisite (jīng). The purpose for highlighting this repetition become apparent in the next point.

4: “取经?取惊还差不多吧。” “Sutras? More like shock.” — A pun on the sound for sutra 经 (jīng), which is the same sound as shock 惊 (jīng).

5: Somersault Cloud and True Samadhi Fire is an artefact and a weapon in the Chinese classic, Journey to the West.

6: 渐渐,尖尖的箭尖把自信化成灰 Slowly, sharp arrowheads turn confidence to ash — This phrase is a brutal repetition of the sound “jian,” varying only its tones. The romanisation goes: “jiàn jiàn jiān jiān de jiàn jiān bǎ zì xìn huà chéng huī.” This utilises the sharp sounds of “j” to evoke the imagery of piercing.

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.

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.”

“Alright.”

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.

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.”

“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.