Monday, November 30, 2009

Perhaps love

Z left today - the third to leave Singapore "for good" this year. It's been a year and a half since that Easter phone call that precipitated and catalyzed my move back to SG so it feels as though life has come a full circle.

Have you ever watched Dawson's Creek? About a boy and a girl growing up together? That was us. Minus Pacey and the icky stuff, that is. I was the head in the clouds bookworm, he was the soft voiced musical boy in the seat behind. Together we swapped music, traded comics and books, talked on the phone till dawn, watched sappy tv shows at 11pm while calling each other during the ad breaks and watched each other stumble and flounder around in the rough and tumble of school and adolescence.

Army and university separated us for a time. He left for the northern hemisphere, I, for the south and for years, we rarely met. But when the chips came down, we called each other and wept together.


One of the nicest things about being back in the place you grew up, is that your old friends are all within easy reach. There is a shared history of giggling over prata and milo dinosaurs, people know what you mean when you ask for 'teh siu dai' and there is no need to make the effort to be understood.

I've snuggled in the comfort of old friendships this year, people from high school, junior college and university days, people whose every nuance and gesture is as familiar to me as the loops and whorls on my palm. I unfold for these people, slipping into honest laughter and easy chat over cups of milo and kaya toast.

This isn't to put down the new friends I've come to know and love wholeheartedly over the last few years. There are people who - to borrow a phrase from Anne of Green Gables - just belong to the race of joseph. People you know you are emotionally safe with, who will listen with understanding,laugh with camaraderie and who creep in to take up permanent residence in your heart.

Singapore sometimes still doesn't feel like home but my friends and family always do.


O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Ghost City

Via this blog:

"Windshape was an ephemeral structure commissioned by the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) as a venue and gathering space near their Provence campus in Lacoste, France. Built by nARCHITECTS and a team of SCAD students over a period of five weeks, Windshape became the small town’s main public meeting space, and hosted concerts, exhibitions, and ceremonies throughout the summer of 2006.

Windshape was conceived as two eight-meter-high pavilions that dynamically changed with the Provençale wind. A vine-like structural network of white plastic pipes, joined together and stretched apart by aluminum collars, emerged from the limestone walls and terraces of Lacoste’s hillside. Fifty kilometers of white polypropylene string was threaded through the lattice to create swaying enclosures. The string was woven into dense regions and surfaces and pinched to define doorways, windows, and spaces for seating.

By varying the degree of tension in the string, nARCHITECTS built Windshape to respond to the wind in several ways, from rhythmic oscillations to fast ripples across its surfaces. During heavy winds, Windshape moved dramatically, and made a hissing sound akin to dozens of jumpropes. The pavilions took on a multitude of temporary forms over the course of the summer, as they billowed in and out, and momentarily came to rest. In this way, the local winds and the Mistral gave shape to constantly mutating structures."

So thats the technical and real world explanation. But when I saw the structure of it, especially all lit up at night, I thought of ghosts, dreamcatchers and assorted ephemera. A house for the spirit of the wind - or a trap? But no, no one but God could gather the wind in his fists, no matter how we try.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

秋雨叹三首 (一)



The monsoons are upon us and I'm enjoying the cool wet air and beating rains. There's something therapeutic, almost cathartic, about listening to the angry thrum of the rain hitting your windows, watching it fail against the glass then slide defeatedly down into a puddle.


From Chung King Express:

"Whenever I'm sad, I go jogging. Because when you run, you perspire and then you won't have any water left in your body for tears.."


周杰伦 - 晴天 - so need to learn how to play that guitar opening!

但偏偏 雨渐渐
还要多久 我才能在你身边

Sunday, November 15, 2009

If you know?

Two poems, linked thematically but arriving at such different conclusions. The first speaks of the limit to human understanding, reiterating the Kantian position that we do not know, cannot know the noumenal world,only the phenomenal. Using the extended metaphor of humans as spectators in the before the theatrical grandeur of the universe, it underlines our humanity, our pitiful minds before the vastness of deep space and the glory of the sunrise.

The second poem which I came across this week is from the Proverbs and is one of the finest examples of Hebrew literature and poetry I've ever read. Thematically, it also touches on the limits of human understanding,the mystery of the elements, the beauty of nature. Just like in the in the first poem, we begin with a position of humility- the writer acknowledging his stupidity. He then goes on to ask a series of beautifully phrased rhetorical questions,"Who has gathered the wind in His fists?", designed to show the might and mystery of God and it doesn't end there.

There are answers this time - to his spoken and unspoken questions. He points out that: "He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him." and then goes on to meditate on the world, listing out the mysterious, the wicked, the little things of earth that are wise and the majestic. These are grouped, separated by exclamations in a specific format.

It's interesting, the literary device used to underscore it, (wish I'd time to look it up and study it in more detail). The writer uses numerical order and repetition together, first saying there are "three things" then saying "Yes, four which..." and essentially repeats the characteristics of the things in both lines but in a different manner - all the signs that point to the majesty and design of an omniscient Creator. The effect is to create a flow, so that even though very different things are listed - a barren womb, a spider, lions, ships- the repetition of the "three/four" lines links them together and creates groups for the reader to better comprehend their place in creation.

Underscoring all of that, are the constant themes of contentment, peace and humility. Here, as in Ecclesiastes, binary opposites are used but in a different manner.The poem begins with humility but the wicked are described as being "pure in their own eyes" (i.e pride). The poet asks for just enough so that he can be content, but the wicked as being insatiably discontented - compared, in fact, to leeches.

Both poems begin the same way, but the first ends with an emptiness, facing the vacuum of space and knowing that man cannot know. For him,this is all there is; existentialism is, after all, the logical end point of secular humanism.

The second acknowledges man's finite knowledge and understanding of the world but is peppered throughout, with the writers prayers to God, his advice on a Godly and contented life and sets out the mysterious rationality of the created order and its rightful place before the eternal and infinite Creator. The end point of the believer is not then, a meaningless contemplation of the universe, but a complete understanding of his place in it and the value of his life as a creation of the Almighty.


The Day of the Sun

Arriving early at the limit of understanding,
I managed to find a good seat,
and settled in with the others,
who were fanning away the heat

with their programs full of blank pages.
The orchestra was in place,
and soon the show started.
First, deep space

rose high and flooded the stage,
immersing all the spots
where our thoughts could have fixed
if our minds had thoughts.

Which they didn’t. Then
the sun came out and stood.
that was all that happened,
and ever would.

–Vijay Seshadri


Surely I am more stupid than any man,
And do not have the understanding of a man.
I neither learned wisdom
Nor have knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has ascended into heaven, or descended?
Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
Who has bound the waters in a garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name, and what is His Son’s name,
If you know?
Every word of God is pure;
He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
Do not add to His words,
Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.
Two things I request of You
(Deprive me not before I die):
Remove falsehood and lies far from me;
Give me neither poverty nor riches—
Feed me with the food allotted to me;
Lest I be full and deny You,
And say, “Who is the LORD?”
Or lest I be poor and steal,
And profane the name of my God.
Do not malign a servant to his master,
Lest he curse you, and you be found guilty.
There is a generation that curses its father,
And does not bless its mother.
There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes,
Yet is not washed from its filthiness.
There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes!
And their eyelids are lifted up.
There is a generation whose teeth are like swords,
And whose fangs are like knives,
To devour the poor from off the earth,
And the needy from among men.
The leech has two daughters—
Give and Give!

There are three things that are never satisfied,
Four never say, “Enough!”:
The grave,
The barren womb,
The earth that is not satisfied with water—
And the fire never says, “Enough!”
The eye that mocks his father,
And scorns obedience to his mother,
The ravens of the valley will pick it out,
And the young eagles will eat it.
There are three things which are too wonderful for me,
Yes, four which I do not understand:
The way of an eagle in the air,
The way of a serpent on a rock,
The way of a ship in the midst of the sea,
And the way of a man with a virgin.
This is the way of an adulterous woman:
She eats and wipes her mouth,
And says, “I have done no wickedness.”
For three things the earth is perturbed,
Yes, for four it cannot bear up:
For a servant when he reigns,
A fool when he is filled with food,
A hateful woman when she is married,
And a maidservant who succeeds her mistress.
There are four things which are little on the earth,
But they are exceedingly wise:
The ants are a people not strong,
Yet they prepare their food in the summer;
The rock badgers[b] are a feeble folk,
Yet they make their homes in the crags;
The locusts have no king,
Yet they all advance in ranks;
The spider skillfully grasps with its hands,
And it is in kings’ palaces.
There are three things which are majestic in pace,
Yes, four which are stately in walk:
A lion, which is mighty among beasts
And does not turn away from any;
A greyhound,
A male goat also,
And a king whose troops are with him.
If you have been foolish in exalting yourself,
Or if you have devised evil, put your hand on your mouth.
For as the churning of milk produces butter,
And wringing the nose produces blood,
So the forcing of wrath produces strife.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

a prayer

Found it while trawling the net and thought - oh this could have come from my own heart. My favourite hymn speaks of how the human heart is prone to wander - and it is.

What can I do but ask,and ask again - daily - for grace and mercy to remember Him and drink daily of His Word.

From this blog:-

Heavenly Father, how I long for the Day when I will no longer be tempt-able, deceive-able, or even capable of worshipping any other “god” but you. I so look forward to an eternity of giving you the adoration, affection, attention and allegiance of which you alone are worthy. No one cares like you. No one understands like you. No one redeems like you. No one loves like you. No one restores like you. There is no God but you.

In Jesus, you have already given me a new heart and have placed your Spirit in me. In Jesus, you have already turned my heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:25-27). In Jesus, you have already given me a heart to know and love you (Jeremiah 24:7). In Jesus you have already written your law upon my heart (Jeremiah 31:33). In Jesus, you have already given me a perfectly forgiven heart.

YET, it is not a fully perfected heart. The battle for my heart’s daily worship continues, and will continue until the Day Jesus returns to finish making all things new. Thus, the warning to keep myself from idols has never had more meaning, Father. Help me discern which “idols of the heart” (Ezekiel 14:4) I am most susceptible to trusting in, rather than you. When I don’t think you are “enough,” where do I take the worship you deserve—where do I go for life, deliverance and salvation?


I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its bud,
As the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth,
So the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.

Isa 61:10 - 11

Friday, November 6, 2009

V - Seasons

Recently, I've been doing some thinking about seasons and the various themes of life, death, sorrow, love and beauty that we ascribe to them. A year ago, I had a conversation with M, about seasons and how much we missed the changing seasons in constantly hot and sunny Singapore. Oh how sad, we said, that there are no seasons in Singapore.

We were wrong of course. It's now November, summer in Australia, late fall in North America and Europe. In Singapore, the sun shines but the seasons change.

Seasons mean something – we ascribe to them meanings beyond the mere states of hot and cold, hail, storm and snow. Not for nothing does Shakespeare write “Now is the winter of our discontent” or Eliot begin The Wasteland with “April is the cruellest month”. From Shakespeare to Dickens to and T.S Eliot, weather phenomenon, seasons have symbolized and affected the inner psyche, the spiritual and emotional state of the story characters.

In A Dictionary of Symbols, J.E Cirlot notes that the interplay between climate and character psychology is one of the most frequent in all of literature:

"The relationship between a state of mind and a given climate, as expressed by the interplay between space, situation, the elements and temperature, as well as level-symbolism, is one of the most frequent of all analogies in literature. The universal value of pairs of opposites, such as high/low, dry/wet, clear/dark, is demonstrated in their continued use not only in physical and material but also in psychological, intellectual and spiritual matters."

This is the fifth and last post in the series of posts on the seasons. Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter: ascribing to Spring the sense of freshness and new love, imbuing Summer with heat and joy triumphant, loving Autumn's harvest and colours and then falling into quiet contemplation with Winter.

But really, when I started writing, I started with this post. I wrote this because I realized that M and I were both wrong; there are always seasons. Maybe not of the meteorological variety but there are – and will always be - seasons in our life, seasons of the mind and seasons of the spirit. There are seasons in our inner landscapes even when there is no discernible change in the weather.

People come and go. Seasons – physical and psychological – change. We laugh learn fall down pick ourselves up cry make mistakes, live. M left last night, for good, entering into a new season of her life; in her case geographical and metaphysical change are intricately intertwined, braiding in and out of each other like the rich red braids of her hair.

For other people I know, this is the season of job changes, loved ones coming and going, metaphysical and mental shifts that barely show as ripples on the surface but are titanic in their ability to generate the changes to come.

I'm interested in all the myriad seasons of life - a new child, a time of learning, an awakening faith, the plunge into post graduate studies, new jobs. Friends, call me, write me postcards, drop me an email, tell me where you are now, the season of life that you're walking through. I'd love to hear from you.

For the rest of the seasons I posted poetry, music but for this which encompasses them all, I have only words from the wisest of men, words that will stay with us no matter what season it is. From the book written by Solomon, the prayers of St Augustine and finally - from Scripture.

To everything there is a season,

A time for every purpose under heaven:
A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.


Night Prayer of St Augustine

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake or weep tonight, and give your angels and saints charge over those who slumber.
Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ,
Rest your weary ones,
Bless your dying ones,
Soothe your suffering ones,
Pity your afflicted ones,
Shield your joyous ones,
And all for your love's sake. Amen.


The mercies of the Lord are never exhausted; the mercies of the Lord are never spent: but they are new each morning.