Friday, July 31, 2009

Train Journey: the end of summer

I was writing this in my mind even as I hurried down the Raffles Place tunnel toward the train station, past the stand that sold the expensive, expatriate array of magazines and the 7-11 that sold the cheap and cheerful housewife-ly selection of page turners alongside the candy spread and 'fridges full of sandwiches and yoghurt.

This one is going to be rambly and without any real point.

Stepping down onto the escalators that led to the station, I thought of my birthday - it was this week, the Wednesday just past - and of roses, red dresses and firelight.

I've wanted roses for awhile really. Ever since the November trip to Sailor's Falls and the room that seemed to fill with the scent of the full blown rose in a slender vase. Oh the scent! It reached out, wound its loving arms about you and rested softly on your hair- the humming alive scent of summer and countryside.

I sighed involuntarily, stepping onto the escalators that led into the bowels of the station, already starting to fumble for my purse.

But staring at the roses at the Republic Plaza florist a month after Sailor's Falls- tightly furled buds, miserably devoid of scent- I could not bring myself to buy them. They led exiguous lives in plastic wraps and no doubt, some girl would be delighted to have them – exemplifying or perhaps implying some form of love that needed to be translated into diamonds and expensive rosebuds.

But I just wanted gloriously rich red and fragrant – a rose blooming in the full heat of summer,to bury my nose in and remember summers past.

Then turning toward the MRT turnstiles, a brief glimpse of a red dress – beaded and unsuitable for the pasty skinned woman who inhabited its cheap shiny confines.

If not a rose then a rose red dress. A dark red wrap dress, in flowing satin so that I could dream about princesses in castle towers, picnics beside rivers and a library lit by firelight.


Birthday presents are odd things. It’s nice to get them but I won’t run away from the fact that the best birthday presents have been the ones I bought for myself.

Sometimes I think it’s my fault really; there are too many sides – and not one is the one exactly, though they all are. The girl who can listen to Keith Jarrett is also the girl who listened to Hey There Delilah and the Fray is also the girl who can listen to the same overly emotional rendition of There is a Fountain every day is also the girl who loves hymns.

Through the turnstile and hurrying toward my platform, I thought of the birthday presents I would buy for myself this year. Piano lessons, a new Keith Jarrett CD – the melody at night with you – a jar of good honey, new running shoes and (this was a luxury for me) new, expensive shoes for work.

People weaving in neat choreographed paths toward the same destinations. Joo koon.Pasir Ris. Dhoby Ghaut. City Hall - where I often got off to buy groceries on the way home. Stepping on the escalator, I thought of Thursday.


Thursday I had woken up – as the saying went – on the wrong side of the bed. Tired from the celebration the night before, my stomach hurting, angry at myself, angry at being in Singapore and having to go to work. Walking down the Raffles Place tunnel toward work that morning - the self same tunnel I had just come through - there was a thumping visceral knowing, of being... in Singapore with crowds, airless tunnels, drones. It angered me further to think about myself turning into one of the drones.

The image of the St Kilda Road winding gently past the war memorial and parks in the afternoon sunlight floated to mind on Thursday morning and clung on with the intransigent might of a rose tinted memory.

I didn’t want crowds, didn’t want people on top of me, everywhere. I thought of green fields, farms, light and air and wanted to cry.


The carriage is hermetically sealed with air-conditioning turned on strong. But no matter how climate controlled the train seems to be, there will always be this soaring lift, almost like that moment of take-off on a plane - whenever the train rises from the tunnel and into the air.

The sharp intake of breath when we slip out from the dark, is for the sunset over green fields and the Kallang river. Then Kallang station – home, the quiet safety of my room and soft notes of the piano – are not far away now.

Thursday lunch hour, driven to frustration, near tears and exhaustion by the unrelenting drill of the day. I took up my purse and phone and fled to the quiet comfort of a bookstore. The largest I could find, 1,2 3 – no, 4 train stops away.

The week turned then, with the understanding that I needed time alone. To be away from crowds,to dwell, however briefly, in that oddly charmed circle, the place beyond time and space with the Creator.

Thursday night- home, to a book, to sit and sleep.

On the train, hanging on to the rails.

Last week, telephone conversation with H: telling me not to go for the conference, asking me not to give myself more excuses to leave Singapore. What are your intentions, why do you want to go? How does this help?

And I finally realised. She does not get it. Does not want to leave Singapore, does not understand the need to meet people – so random and interesting and lovely when you finally find a new someone with an aspect that mirrors you in some way. Not soul mates but friends with an angle that precisely fits a side of you so that for awhile – you have someone who understands.

Why do people do anything?

I don’t need an excuse to leave. There are reasons enough that excuses are not needed. If I am here, it is because I choose to be – and I do choose to be,for now.

But the restlessness does gather strength and there does not have to be a reason beyond needing to meet people not from these shores for travelling and clearing away the cobwebs of daily existence.


Thursday falling into Friday into this moment on the train, swaying with the train's motion and the weekend with its frenetic pace, embraced.


The Wild Geese

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.

~ Wendell Berry ~