The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: friends

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.

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]

The Determination

(This is post is backdated, written on 23rd July, 2016)

I was on a boat, taking a video of my friend and his sister being dragged behind whilst tubing. It was as my friend’s birthday, and he had invited me to join him to celebrate his birthday. I figured I should get out of the house and see if I was capable of being celebratory. They wiped out, after a while.

“It’ll be your turn next,” they said. “OK,” I replied.

I put on a life vest and got on the tube. I signalled for more speed. “Alright, lean back a little, we’re starting!” the friend driving the boat said.

The tube jerked as the boat picked up speed. I tightened my grip.

“More speed!” I signalled.

Soon, I was bumping along, skimming water, battered by the waves. The boat turned and I skewed at an angle. I needed to do something quickly lest I pancaked and flipped. Readjusting my weight, I shot another thumbs up. “More speed!” my thumb communicated to my friend.

It was not long before every turn threatened to roll me over, every straight dash threatened to leave me behind. I held on, but had to constantly readjust my weight. My fists were clenched and my knuckles white — that hurt but I was holding on and staying on top. I had reached a point where I realised it wouldn’t have been wise to call for more speed but I couldn’t have anyway — I didn’t know that at the time but the boat was more or less at its top speed. I was determined to stay on top; I had to. I came out here today to celebrate my friend’s birthday and I will not let myself fail to enjoy myself and impinge on his birthday fun with my disappointment in myself had I let myself go and fallen in the water and so I must hold on, I am determined to and I will achieve what I had set out to do today.

“Dude, you did great! I don’t think people usually tube at that speed!” my friend’s friend said, as I climbed back on to the boat.

“Thanks. I tried to stay on top,” I replied.

“Maybe you gotta let go, sometimes. Sometimes it’s fun just to let go and wipe out,” he said.

“Maybe, but not today,” I said.

 

<– DAY 4

DAY 6 –>

Listening Comprehension: Fill in the empty spaces. (27 marks)

Lines

I cast a line, and I waited, not expecting a response.
But, lo! A bite!
You called me by a familiar name, a name from a time thought foregone.
I reeled; could it be?
That no matter the time lapsed, distance spanned, silences met,
that things were as they should have been?
But I knew better: time ravages, distance cools, silence forgets
And pulled in to meet with trembling hands and a clamoring heart.

Captain

You spoke of how you thrashed, how you were lashed
by forces that had you trundled, trussed, and tried.
Blinded beyond belief, beyond benefaction — barking madness.
Bye,” you said, as I remembered, back then,
back when you cast yourself afloat.
And I cried as I heard your tale,
sorrowed that I could not sail with you
during your stormy seas.

Colours

“Have you heard about colours?” you asked.
“They can be quite therapeutic,” you said
through a new veil of age and wisdom.
And so I sat in silence for hours,
drawing out lines and figures
dashing out spaces
despite my cramping hand
(whilst you worked),
so that I could give you something to fill in with colours
to repair the missing gaps in our lives.

20150909_145534

We danced, we laughed, we skipped around. And then we were twenty-six.

 

 

I wish you good luck.

I wish you good luck.

Captain

We became friends, and we were friends, and then one day, friends no more.

What does one do when a friendship, whose tethers are time-worn and frayed, comes loose and slips away? Time ebbs, and the vessel departs, do I fling myself to reel it back?

Or do I set it alight and let it go, in a Viking’s funeral, remembering that it once burned, with the last memory of its light in sight?

And now that I find myself aware of all the ropes around me in varying stages of decay, do I darn them, mend them, let them be?

Lines

“Let it go,” it says. “Let it go. It is the way of life. Two parallel lines may never meet, but if they differ enough, will remain close enough that they merge for a really long time. But eventually, they will depart, and then it is time to go.”

“But why does it have to be that way?” I ask. “Our lives are not simple straight lines. We meet by circumstance, but it is by virtue of entanglement that we remain hurtling through space bound; entwined.”

“All things tend towards chaos,” it says. “And in chaos squared, tangled lines come unwound, and come free of each other. That is the very essence of life. A static line is a dead line.”

Inexorable

We must grow up, but must we grow apart? Perhaps part of growing up is learning to let go, perhaps part of letting go is to know — when to say hello; when to say good morrow; when to say good bye, and say no more.

Perhaps one day, I will hear from you again. Until then, fare thee well, I’ll keep these memories.

shaf

Unicorns on a unicycle at UNICON 17 (Part 1)

unicorn

I went up to witness UNICON for the first time. For those who do not know what UNICON is, it is a unicycle convention, kind of like the equivalent of the Olympics for unicycling. For the first time, UNICON is held in a location that is financially accessible to me, and it would be remiss of me to miss it again.

And so it was a trek to Montreal to attend UNICON 17, where some other Singaporeans would also be attending. Going up would also mean that the Masticating Bunnies From Hell from Ride the Lobster would be reunited for the first time in six years.

However that reunion would be tardy because Jiahui, one of the team members, would be so exhaustively busy traipsing all around Montreal visiting friends while we friendless people huddle around and twiddle thumbs.

mtl1

I’m surprised my well-worn and falling apart bicycle bag has held it together for so long after all these years. It last saw use on my trip back to Singapore in January, and with each subsequent use, it falls apart bit by bit. A zipper pull fell out previously (the zipper itself was still intact) and I wonder what else would break on this trip to Montreal.

And of course, it had to rain on my way to Penn Station. I brought an umbrella along with me, and holding on to one bag of two unicycles, a plastic bag with some food to last the 11-hour train journey, an overstuffed backpack, and an umbrella should probably be a Cirque du Soleil act of its own.

I got to the train station an hour early and I was like “Great! Maybe I’ll get a chance to snag an early seat.” I totally forgot one had to check in luggage from States-side, and because I didn’t do so, when the train opened for boarding, I had to go check in, and ended up being the last to board.

mtl2

Thankfully there was a backward-facing wheelchair-reserved seat available. I was feeling pretty much handicapped by that point, and I had the right number of wheels (big ones, at least), and there were no real wheelchair people in need, so I took it. It wasn’t too bad, I got stretch out, as I hurtled backwards all the way towards Montreal.

So, I was supposed to meet some of the Singaporeans at the college, where some of the events are held. Interestingly, no one bothered to tell me the instructions on getting there, only providing me with a street address. Well, I don’t have wireless internet on my phone, but thank goodness for being old-fashioned, and I had to ask three people how to get there. The first older station attendant didn’t speak much English (why is he working at the information kiosk at the main train station then?) but I understood enough to get to Berri-Uqam. There, I asked a younger English-speaking lad who told me to get to Pie-IX (pronounced “pea-neuf”), which I retrospectively probably remember the older station attendant mentioning something like that, but “pea-neuf” and “Pie-IX” didn’t connect as being the same thing in my mind because je ne parle pas français. Anyway at Pie-IX some teenager told me to just go down a road, at which point I took out my 20″ unicycle, shouldered my 29″ uni, my backpack, and my umbrella, and finally made it to the college.

mtl3

I think UNICON 17 already kicked off two days ago. But on my first night, it was apparently Naked Bike Ride day, and the unicyclist were planning on crashing it. So many unicyclists went, it was a pleasant surprise. I believe the number of unicyclists matched the bicyclists head for head. Males also outnumbered females maybe four to one. And there were definitely more naked unicyclists than there were naked bicyclists, as a lot more bicyclists kept more pieces of clothing on. Perhaps as the UNICON attenders were from another country, they didn’t have to worry about maintaining some sort of professional credibility in Montreal as many of the bikers did. Or maybe Europeans just like getting naked a lot more.

mtl4

As I was not registered to participate competitively, there was very little I could actually do at UNICON. I felt like making friends was an uphill endeavour, when many already had their circles of friends either from having attended UNICON before, got to know each other by virtue of participating in the same event, or were basically from the same country.

One morning, I sat myself down at a random table, and introduced myself to the table. It comprised Americans, a Canadian, and some Germans. I eventually got to see them over the next couple days and even got to hang out with them once or twice.

mtl6

Some of them (the Canadian and the Germans) went up to Mont Royal, and I joined them. One of them played the piano while I unicycle-danced in the background. It was all fun and games, until the experts showed up. Then they proceeded to defy gravity and jumped all over the place, and us mere mortals of lesser skill just stopped.

I got to see the UNICON events, of course. I was mostly there for the freestyle, and it met my expectations of what I thought it to be. Slightly dismaying was to see six to nine year olds completely outclassing me with freestyle, as the leapt onto their unis with a stand-up leg-up glide like physics was optional.

Freestyle expert solo was OK, and the first place winner went to USA Matt Sindelar, who did a Western cowboy themed routine using that very well-known tune from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, gun sounds and all.

Japan’s freestyle male expert solo entry Kaito Shoji was slightly less than what I expected, compared to last year’s winner. But he was still pretty good, and had great synchronicity with the music at the beginning.

Thomas Tiercy from Switzerland had one of the more interesting routines, though he didn’t place in top three. Perhaps it was because his routine was less about unicycling and more about object manipulation, but I felt it deserved a place on the pedestal because it was so different from the rest. It was also more show-sy than the others, which I appreciated a lot.

Shoji’s pair entry with Natsume Yamamoto was definitely much better, and the performance was more enjoyable. It featured great chemistry between the unicyclists, and felt less like a run-through of tricks, and more like a performance.

Here are some of the photos from Freestyle Solo and Pair.

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While Street really isn’t my thing, here are also pictures from the competition. I have no idea who these people are, but the UNICON list says these people are: Christian Huriwai (New Zealand), Maxwell Schulze (USA), Raphael Pöham (Austria), Josef Sjönneby (Sweden), Jack Sebben (Canada), and Casper van Tielraden (Netherlands).

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I’m breaking up this post because it’s getting too long. More to come in part 2!

Thoughts from Four Weddings and a Funeral

4weds2

There is nothing sadder than the laughter uttered
at the remembrance of a funny memory of a dearly departed
which is then immediately swallowed
because one is reminded that
the dearly beloved is no longer there.

Pre-packed life choices

Previously I wrote about the breakdown of the Singapore education system and how elitist and dichotomising it is. It is known as being competitive and stressful, but what is little known about it is by making one choose one’s path from as young as in middle school, it results in a situation where the “choice” involves very little choosing at all.

By the time we’re in secondary school (middle school), at the end of secondary two (eighth grade), Singaporean students start subject specialisation and are able to pick the subjects they would want to study for the rest of their secondary education. Like in the UK, students have options such as taking “triple science” (physics, chemistry and biology — reserved for top-performing classes usually), or go more of an “arts” route (literature, geography, history, drama, etc.). Students will also get the chance to take Advanced Math (calculus).

These choices don’t seem like they matter much at this stage, but they actually do. The subjects one picks determine which post-secondary school the student is able to enter, which in turn affects not only which university the student can enter but even the major the student can take.

For example, were I to go on an “Arts” route in secondary school (which I did) and took more humanities than sciences and math, I would not even have been able to enter what is called the “Science stream” in grammar school (high school), I’d have been only able to enter the “Arts stream,” because a good grade in math and science are a requirement to enter the “Science stream.”

In the British/Singaporean education system, where a student declares a major before he or she enters university, what majors one is able to declare is dependent on the subjects one took in grammar school. Want to declare Engineering? You’d need a good grade in physics or chemistry and math. Want to declare law as a major? Probably stellar grades in English, math, humanities, basically everything (I doubt law school would admit anyone with less than straight ‘A’s)

Having dropped Advanced Math in middle school, and not getting an ‘A’ in regular math for my ‘O’ levels, I was prematurely excluded from ever entering the “Science stream” in grammar school, which means that I could never have been able to even study any of the math or science majors in university in Singapore.

All that because I chose to study literature and geography in middle school.

But when a child is forced to make these decisions that ultimately impact his or her life at the age of 14, 16 and 18, how is that child supposed to make those decisions when even people in their 20’s and 30’s don’t even know what they want to do with their lives?

As such, these students merely make pre-packed life choices — not knowing what they want to do with their lives, they can only shoot for the best they can achieve, and hope that it’d all work out. For example, most simply aim to enter “triple science” in secondary school. since those classes are reserved usually for the best, without consideration if they would actually want to pursue a career in science later on in life. Students figure that if they have the best grades possible, it gives them the most options later on.

In high school, students have to choose about three to four ‘A’ levels subjects to take. If the students mostly took science classes in middle school, chances are, they’d probably be going for the “Science stream” in high school as well, even though the “Arts stream” is available. To them, they think that taking the arts limits their options because they cannot envision getting into university through the arts, and hence default to taking the sciences and math. Students take subjects because they’re good at it, not because they like they subject.

In my high school, the ratio of science to arts classes was 31 to 8.

The majority of my high school peers in the “Science stream” ended up declaring engineering or business or some sort of science/math-related major to enter university, because that’s what they have been studying their entire lives from the point where they had to “make a choice.” They chose not to have to think about choice, and chose a default, pre-packed path in their life of math and science, because they’ve been told everyone needs that to get at least some sort of a job.

Did my friends want to become engineers and businessmen? They still don’t know what they want to do with their lives. But they know they have a career of math and science in which they can apply for jobs, because that’s what they studied in university.

In Singapore, it is not so much “What do you want to be when you grow up?” because the end is not so much a want as it is an inevitability.

Let me read your writing

Friends, let me read your writing, let me read your blogs,
let me read your diary, let me see your thoughts.
When we speak, we speak frankly,
directly, quickly, without much care
for how the words come out
save for how they’re wrought.
But in your diaries,
you edit, censor, redact, and scratch out
offensive lines and statements that would have left you
seeming anything less than pristine
because writing is posterity
because writing makes it so.

So let me see your way with words
and the way you write your tales,
and the way you leave your trails,
let me see your red ink
and read your silences, ellipses, spaces.

Grammaticality is gangsterism

What better way to understand what is the purpose of grammar than by having to explain it to someone else?

A couple days ago, I met up with a friend to engage in workshopping each other’s writings. She was naturally stronger in Chinese, and I English, and so we both wrote a piece in each other’s weaker language.

I started by editing her poem for grammar. There was a line she used, “My feelings to him,” which I pointed out is ungrammatical. I said, “You could use ‘My feelings ‘for’ him’ or my feelings ‘towards’ him instead.” She asked why can’t she use “to” when “to” and “towards” have the same meaning; a directional preposition?

She asked me, “What is the purpose of grammar? It seems to be getting in the way of communication; people dismiss my speech because they think my grammar is not perfect, but isn’t communication about getting your point across?”

I was stumped; how often does one think about what grammar is for?

A quick search on Google about “Why is grammar important” yielded these common answers: To be able to talk about the language, and for concise, clear communication.

I asked a linguist friend, and he could only conclude why we have grammar, not why is it important. A Chomsky-esque approach would be that language and grammar are innate, then humans naturally create grammar when dealing with language; psychologist Steven Pinker notes that even deaf babies and children exposed to pidgin produce language in a grammatically-consistent manner.

What this means is that grammar is the basis in which we are able to formulate our thoughts in a particular language — a skeleton structure, if you will. Without grammar, we can still strongly feel about a topic with mere words — you only need symbols to hold meaning — but one cannot actively vocalise these thoughts without knowing that structure. From mere feelings, we graft these feelings into actuality and words around the structure that’s innate to us.

But that still does not explain why grammar is important in the way we deem it today. We say that without proper grammar, communication breaks down as meanings are lost. How true is that? Compare these:

“I am baboon.” “I are baboon.” “I am a baboon.”

They all mean the same thing, but the meaning is evidently clear when one hears any of them. The only difference between the first two grammatically-incorrect examples and the latter grammatically-correct one is that people would stop to note that the first two are grammatically-unsound, but the meaning of the sentence otherwise is gleaned regardless. Of course, egregiously grammatically-unsound sentences do impede understanding of meaning, where if one said something like, “Apples red is food favourite me,” and even then most people can still understand that sentence, with some time.

Really, it seems that for the most part, the grammaticality that we’re obsessed with contributes little to the understanding of meaning, but more so to judge people when they deviate from the correct form. We peer pressure each other to conform to a communally-agreed standard and belittle those who don’t, almost akin to gangsterism. Thus you have your pedants who would sneer at the usage of “comprises of” whereas most people don’t even know that it is technically ungrammatical. But ask these pedants why “comprises of” is ungrammatical, most would only be able to tell you that is because what was decided in the past.

But grammaticality is never dictated by what was said in the past — it is always decided by what is agreed upon in the present. It might have been inherited from what people in the past agreed on, but what they agreed on is always susceptible to change and still pending the approval of the current community using it. The pronoun-verb agreements we use today would have been ungrammatical in Middle English, where there were distinctions (“I speak,” “Thou speakest,” “He speaketh,”). Even between dialects in the same time period, what one community sees as grammatical might not be in another; an example today is between African-American Vernacular and General American English speakers. Many AmE speakers would think a speaker of AAVE as being ‘ungrammatical’ or plain wrong, when in fact AAVE has just as many rules governing it as AmE.

Linguists push for a descriptive linguistics stance; one where language is studied as it is used without value judgement, as opposed to a prescriptive one. Yet often it is the lay person that proclaims fire and brimstone should one not use the subjunctive properly, or were a person to mess up ‘who’ and ‘whom’. Funnily enough, that linguist friend tells me an anecdote that on a dating website that asks “Is proper grammar important to you?” he put the answer “No,” but only in the sense that he’s not a prescriptive linguist; you get a case where most everyone else would have indicated “Yes” on that question, linguists, who would be the ones to most academically make comments on grammar, don’t really care that much for “proper grammar.”

So to my friend who made the grammatical mistake, yes I understood what you wanted to say, but I suppose to not let other people judge you as intellectually incapable by mere virtue of your grammar, it is probably best to yield to public pressure and learn “proper grammar.”