The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: nostalgia

Last Summer

sword

We were singing little ditties
all summer.
We were singing little songs
of peace.
We had hopes to dare, to soar, to crash,
for we were little scamps
that summer.

We were riding adventures
all summer.
We fought hand-in-hand
together.
We braved far lands,
through bogs, our parents.
With our wooden swords we staved off dragonflies,
last summer.

But last summer
had come to an end.
Last summer did, as all summers are wont to do.
We were made to grow up
and say our goodbyes.
We may have traded our suits of armour
for suits of linen,
our swords become mantelpiece attractions.
But I will always remember
our summers.

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Chasing Roads

otakarova

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!”

Musical memories

Have you ever listened to a song, and be deluged by memories associated with it?

There are certain songs that will always remind of certain things. Amy Winehouse reminds me of my time in Prague, for I listened to a lot of it whilst there. The grey streets and grey looks of people staring across you on the tramvaj will always evoke the soulful tunes of the late musical talent.

Particular albums of Japanese electronic artist, Fantastic Plastic Machine, brings about images of my time in Munich and Vienna.

Songs from Chinese pop singer Faye Wong reminds me of this one friend whom I, of my own stupidity, did something cringe-worthy, and we’re no longer friends. We talked about how Faye Wong is one of his favourite singers. I can’t listen to her songs without being reminded of how dumb I had been.

Music is not something that is merely heard with the ears, but seen by the mind and felt by the heart. All it takes is music to remember memories, to feel emotions, to affect judgement (BrE. AmE uses ‘Judgment’). Just as diaries hold your memories for posterity, we are just as able to meaningfully code data into the tunes and lyrics of music.

It is said that Socrates used different locations of his home to memorise his oratories, by assigning a word or fact to a specific object or feature of his home. Likewise, I think tunes, rhythm and lyric can achieve the same storage effect.

Losing these memories, on the other hand, seem a lot harder. How does one consciously forget a tune? When one hears it, recollection of it is instantaneous. Plus, many memories imprinted onto music are done so subconsciously — perhaps an incident happened while you’re listening to the tune, but it is seldom a concerted effort. This makes losing that memory more difficult.

Be wary of musical memories, they have ways of nesting in your head.

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.

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。”

“你等下要吃什么?”

“随便.”

“下来吃饭!”

“哦。”

我不需要非常华丽的词来表达我心中的话。我阿嬤只会用简单的华语来说她要说的话。

(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?”

“Anything.”

“Come down for lunch!”

“Ok.”

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.

Don’t cry

When I was in primary four (fourth grade), I took part in a haiku competition on Children’s Day. It was also World Haiku Day or something, and everyone in school had a chance to participate. I submitted three, complete with drawings to go with them. One was about a spider, one was about a pig, and I can’t remember what the last one was.

I actually won something. I won a set of colouring pencils from Japan, with a Mickey Mouse motif. I was also given a book on haiku from children around the world. As a kid, I looked at the pictures more than I looked at the poems from children who were my age.

As I grew up, I would revisit the book every now and then. I also did something that I would never have done as a kid, and that was read the foreword and introduction. It was in Japanese, but there were translations. The foreword said to the effect of  “Haiku by children are always the most precious things. They say things as they see them, and that is surely the true essence of haiku.” (I don’t have the book with me right now, I’m just writing from memory.

And that is quite true. If you look at haiku these days, people think as long as you keep the 5/7/5 syllable (or mora, in Japanese) structure, you basically have a haiku.

threadlesshaikuThe above is a t-shirt design from this online store Threadless. Haikus sometimes don’t make sense on sight, but like any poem, sometimes readers have to work at them to get them. This ‘haiku’ has nothing more to it than a buffoonery of what a haiku is. People sometimes think that because the structure of haiku is so simple, the only way to be smart and outstanding is to be clever with words.

But traditionally haiku is visual poetry for the mind. The words are unassuming, but in the images they conjure, they reflect, capture and convey some truth in the natural world. Let’s look at a famous example, Bashou’s “Old Pond”.

古池や蛙飛び込む水の音

From Wikipedia, it translates as: An old pond, a frog leaps in, water’s sound. All of them simple images but powerful.

The haiku book I had said children see these images best. Have we as adults lost this ability forever, to see the natural with simplicity of mind and words? Maybe if we try hard enough, we might realise that perhaps what seem lost to time is merely buried and forgotten, but a good shovel and with some arm work, we might possible recover it.

mushiatsuiIt’s humid

I dropped my ice cream!

Don’t cry