Reflections on Life & Non-life

April 28, 2013 , 0 Comments

Back in secondary school, Chloe and I had an energetic debate.

"Can you imagine a place where people are forever happy, a place without sadness? Can you imagine a place where all our needs are fulfilled and we want no more?" She added, "that's what heaven would be, a place of perpetual joy." Chloe was (and still is) a very religious person and I'm not.

"But, is that even possible? Sadness defines happiness. They're antithetical, they're opposites. It's like day and night, fork and spoon. It's only when we've experienced great sadness that we'd appreciate great joy."

"But you can't compare happiness to natural events or physical items! Being happy is a spiritual and emotional state, it's not quantifiable! It's not something you can count or measure. It exists because it exists. It doesn't exist because of other things."

"Okay, for example, if we're forever happy, we would forget what happiness means, right? Being happy would become our default state and we won't feel the same intense joy that we'd feel after a great depression."

"Being serene and satisfied can be compared to a graph. It's like a graph having a high positive value all the time. It doesn't have to be a sinusoidal graph with highs and lows. We don't have to lie our lives like roller coaster rides." She continued, "we can live our lives as though we reside on a mountain top, surrounded by blooming flowers with an ever-pleasant spring weather."

At this stage, our arguments began to circle. Both of us were repeating our main points and becoming increasingly frustrated. Only now, upon reflection, that I realised we were cross-talking. Chloe was arguing from the spiritual domain and me, the logical perspective. We were never going to meet, or agree.

And, recently, one friend passed away.

I'm trying not to examine this experience, trying not to rationalise or philosophise my friend's suicide, but it's difficult. Part of me feels that this should be about him, not me. But the other self-centered part keeps babbling and asking, "death defines life, what constitutes happiness, what about building a cathedral to worship innocence, what is the value of friendship, why can one person's death cause such an earthquake in my life but nary a ripple in others', why is it that people can be happy so quickly when a moment ago they were posting sad comments, how can people be so callous, why are we describing him in past tense already."

Questions repeat themselves, demanding answers and those answers that came were vague, uneasy. Part of me is trying desperately to make sense of this tragedy, but the other part is resisting. The other part just wanted to be quiet and respectful, to remember the better times.

I thought about the conversation with Chloe, that conversation which took place years ago. We were innocent or, at least, more innocent that we are now. How have our thoughts about life, death and happiness changed?

Does death really define the urgency and beauty of life? Perhaps, it does, perhaps, it really does.

I still think about my friend, not with the same trauma, but with a quiet wish that he has found solace elsewhere and a wish that we'd find solace in him finding solace.

A rock that have weathered the ravages of time.
Giant's Causeway, Belfast, Northern Ireland. 
The careless beauty of Nature.
Natural formation of surprisingly hexagonal rocks
at Giant's Causeway.
So Life & Non-life goes on.


What He Left Behind

April 27, 2013 0 Comments

“So, let’s talk about dying.”

“What about dying?”

“Let’s talk about suicide, talk about people too young to die, talk about people who scripted their deaths and left holes in others’ lives.”

“Can we don’t talk about this?”


“Why not?”

“Well, I want to talk about people who committed suicide.”

“Well, I don’t.”


“Fine. Whatever.”

“Let’s imagine a callous person – we’re only imagining that person, he doesn’t exist, no one can be that callous – let’s imagine this person. When this guy found out that someone from his school had committed suicide, he updated his status on Facebook, saying that he hoped the person who died is someone he despised.”

“Who is he?”

“He’s only an imaginary person. He doesn’t exist. Anyway, if you know this imaginary callous person, what’d you do?”

“I’m not sure –"

“What’d you do? To this person who hoped that his dead schoolmate is someone he despised?”

“I think he deserves to be castrated..?”

“Castration, that’s all? It doesn’t seem severe enough. IMHO.”

“Maybe something more severe, like – “


“I’m not sure. Just something more severe. Maybe he ought to be Stomped. Wait, who is the person who passed away? Do you know him?”

“Well, sort of. I don’t know him well enough, I supposed. You know what makes this worse? He didn’t die from an illness or accident. He chose to die. He scripted his own death. He chose it. Why, why, why?”

“Well, calm down, be –“

“Well, I don’t want to be calm! I want to be angry, to be furious, to self-destruct, to hide somewhere and snivel. Why didn’t he turn to us, any of us? His friends from high school, junior college? His classmates from university, his confidantes from the poetry writing class? His professors? People who love him? We are all around. Why, WHY?”

“Life can be unpredictable, huh?”

“Enough with this philosophical bullshit, honestly. Don’t exploit his death to spread messages about life and love. It’s sickening."

"I... ..."

"And he told me, he told me that he wanted to get a PhD in pol science. He told me that. How could he just leave without his PhD? How?”

“I... Oh, look, look at that professor. His nose is so sharp. I bet if his head’s cut off and stuffed, his nose would make a good coat-hanger.”

“I’m afraid that this isn’t funny, not at all.”


In Memoriam, P.H.

April 25, 2013 0 Comments

Because words have turned toxic
and threatened to pollute, 
because words have became useless, 
because words could no longer reflect
a field of feelings so brittle, 
because words no longer 

In Memoriam, P.H.
watercolour on paper
All the best, where ever you are.


In Memoriam

April 24, 2013 0 Comments

My tears dried, leaving sticky and taut trails on my cheeks. The cup of water tasted salty, strangely salty. Condensed tears on my cracking lips, yes, they turned the clean, sparkling water. They turned it salty.

Crying seemed so foreign. It felt strange, so strange. When was the last time I cried? And what was I crying for?

We cried, my professor and I, as we emailed each other, me in England and her in Hong Kong. We cried in front of our computers, for a person whom we could no longer chat with. We cried because we felt responsible, because we could have kept in contact with him, because he could have kept in touch with us, because... we cried because there're too many 'because's.

And I cried for him. He told me that he would study for a PhD in political science and now, he couldn't get that PhD anymore. He is one of the most responsible people I know - why this uncharacteristic act?

And I cried - in abject sadness, in absolute anger - that he could have approached any of us but didn't. Why, why, why? We were a community, weren't we? We were friends. F-r-i-e-n-d-s. Why?

Life is unpredictable. Cherish your life. There're people who loved you all around. Hope that the school community would be united in this dark period. 

Blah blah blah. Such tidbits are cheap. Easy to say, disgustingly easy to say. Please don't bandy about such cheap  consolation. Please, no hypocrisy. Don't write such statements on Facebook before 'liking' trivial, silly memes. People would know. They would know that your grief, if real, is simply too transient and borders on hypocrisy.

And, fuck you, understand? Don't take this opportunity to say stuff like 'RIP Peter, I may not know u but I know sg life can be stressful n without proper support can drive ppl to their graves'. You don't know him. You aren't qualified to turn his death to your opinions about the society. And fuck you, too, people who are sharing articles about the meanings of joy and existence. And fuck the online media for turning this into a circus.

Tired, overwhelmed and confused. Grieving, being angry, then feeling broken. Why am I still attending classes? Why are all appearances so normal? Why are we referring to him as though he had been gone for long?

"He was... he did... he said..." 24 hours later, we're all referring to him in the past tense.

The grief snapped, like the frail stems of daffodils, revealing a meaningless vacuum.

We Are Just Atoms
a shape poem I wrote last year in a class with him


Dove Real Beauty Sketches - Women & Men

April 16, 2013 , 0 Comments

This amazing video explores the self-doubts women have. An FBI forensic artist drew 2 portraits of the same person - one based on that person's self-description and the other, on strangers' descriptions of her.

Commissioned by Dove from media company Ogilvy, this video reminds us that women can be too harsh on themselves.

Dove Real Sketches

And here's a parody of that video, this time on how men view themselves.

Dove Real Sketches - Men

The first video is touching and the second, humorous.

Both videos, however, perpetuate problematic stereotypes of the male and female genders. The former suggests that women are insecure creatures, forever putting themselves down and looking for reassurance.  The latter represents men as narcissistic egomaniacs and women as being harshly critical. 

As many people have pointed out in the discussion threads, these stereotypes could not be further from the truth.

Do note that this post isn't an endorsement of the stereotypes represented. It's merely a post sharing videos that are thought-provoking, engaging and hilarious :]


Salvador Dali & His Secrets To Art

April 14, 2013 , 0 Comments

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dali i Domenech, 1st Marques de Dali de Pubol, otherwise known as Salvador Dali, was a prominent Spanish artist.

He painted impossible landscapes, merging fantasy with realistic representations. In his art, elongated figures topple, watches melt and elephants move about on stilts-like legs.

What is the secret of this artist? What inspired him to paint?

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans
(Premonition of Civil War), 1936
Source credit:
Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bumblebee around a
Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening, 1944
Source credit:
The Temptation of St. Anthony
Source credit: blog of Anja Wessels
The Persistence of Memory
Source credit: Empty Easel
The secrets to Dali's art don't lie in his paintings or sculptures. They lie in his words:

There comes a moment in everyone's life when they realise they adore me.

Each morning, when I wake up, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dali. What is this fantastic creature going to do today, I ask myself. What prodigious works of beauty will he create?

There are some days when I think I'm going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.

Unlike many of us, Dali has a healthy self-esteem. A very robust - perhaps too robust - self-esteem. He believed that he'd become a world-famous artist and this particular belief eventually came true. Psychologists would call this positive self-affirmation or the Rosenthal effect. When someone believes wholeheartedly in his dreams, the universe would conspire to realise them.

Dali has more words to offer:

Do not fear perfection, you'll never achieve it. 

So, yes, Dali's secret to success could be boiled down to 2 essential points:
1) Believe in yourself &
2) Don't be paralysed by a fear of perfection.

Really, it's easier being an artist than you think.


15 Tricks To Soothe Ailments & Emotions

April 10, 2013 0 Comments

Here're some interesting tips (not very if they work well though) : 

Article and Image credits: SG Teach

1.) If you've got an itch in your throat, scratch your ear. When the nerves in the ear get stimulated, they create a reflex in the throat that causes a muscle spasm, which cures the itch.

2.) Having trouble hearing someone at a party or on the phone? Use your right ear it's better at picking up rapid speech. But, the left is better at picking up music tones.

3.) If you need to relieve yourself BADLY, but you're not anywhere near a bathroom, fantasize about RELATIONS. That preoccupies your brain and distracts it.

4.) Next time the doctor's going to give you an injection, COUGH as the needle is going in. The cough raises the level of pressure in your spinal canal, which limits the pain sensation as it tries to travel to your brain.

5.) Clear a stuffed nose or relieve sinus pressure by pushing your tongue against the roof of your mouth then pressing a finger between your eyebrows. Repeat that for 20 seconds it causes the vomer bone to rock, which loosens your congestion and clears you up.

6.) If you ate a big meal and you're feeling full as you go to sleep, lay on your left side. That'll keep you from suffering from acid reflux it keeps your stomach lower than your esophagus, which will helps keep stomach acid from sliding up your throat.

7.) You can stop a toothache by rubbing ice on the back of your hand, on the webbed area between your thumb and index finger. The nerve pathways there stimulate a part of the brain that blocks pain signals from your mouth.

8.) If you get all messed up on liquor, and the room starts spinning, put your hand on something stable. The reason: Alcohol dilutes the blood in the part of your ear called the cupula, which regulates balance. Putting your hand on something stable gives your brain another reference point, which will help make the world stop spinning.

9.) Stop a nose bleed by putting some cotton on your upper gums right behind the small dent below your nose and press against it hard. Most of the bleeding comes from the cartilage wall that divides the nose, so pressing there helps get it to stop.

10.) Nervous? Slow your heart rate down by blowing on your thumb. The vagus nerve controls your heart rate, and you can calm it down by breathing.

11.) Need to breathe underwater for a while? Instead of taking a huge breath, HYPERVENTILATE before you go under, by taking a bunch of short breaths. That'll trick your brain into thinking it has more oxygen, and buy you about 10 extra seconds.

12.) You can prevent BRAIN FREEZE by pressing your tongue flat against the roof of your mouth, covering as much surface area as possible. Brain freeze happens because the nerves in the roof of your mouth get extremely cold, so your brain thinks your whole body is cold. It compensates by overheating which causes your head to hurt. By warming up the roof of your mouth, you'll chill your brain and feel better.

13.) If your hand falls asleep, rock your head from side to side. That'll wake your hand or arm up in less than a minute. Your hand falls asleep because of the nerves in your neck compressing so loosening your neck is the cure. If your foot falls asleep, that's governed by nerves lower in the body, so you need to stand up and walk around.

14.) Finally, this one's totally USELESS, but a nice trick. Have someone stick their arm out to the side, straight, palm down. Press down on his wrist with two fingers. He'll resist, and his arm will stay horizontal. Then, have him put his foot on a surface that's half an inch off the ground, like a stack of magazines, and do the trick again. Because his spine position is thrown off, his arm will fall right to his side, no matter how much he tries to resist.

15.) Got the hiccups? Press thumb and second finger over your eyebrows until the hiccups are over - usually, in a short while.

Hope you find them useful!


Egypt & Our Transient Existence

"For most of its history, Egypt was a dominant power in that region. In later years, foreign rulers began to take control. In 332 BC, Alexander the Great invaded Egypt, bringing Greek language and culture into Egypt for the next 300 years. Egypt then fell under Roman rule after the death of the famous queen, Cleopatra VII, in 30 BC."
- An excerpt from the exhibition's panel 

It was strange, wandering in a space filled with inanimate objects belonging to dead people. One day, like these people, we would all pass away.

What legacies would we leave behind? What objects would our descendants find? iPhones and iPads? H&M jeans?

War relics?

Like those who had came before us, we would eventually die too. One day, our bodies would be dug up by grave robbers and subjected to scientific and anthropological studies. What would our descendants think?

I thought of two paragraphs from A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson.

“If you imagine the 4,500-bilion-odd years of Earth's history compressed into a normal earthly day, then life begins very early, about 4 A.M., with the rise of the first simple, single-celled organisms, but then advances no further for the next sixteen hours. Not until almost 8:30 in the evening, with the day five-sixths over, has Earth anything to show the universe but a restless skin of microbes. Then, finally, the first sea plants appear, followed twenty minutes later by the first jellyfish and the enigmatic Ediacaran fauna first seen by Reginald Sprigg in Australia. At 9:04 P.M. trilobites swim onto the scene, followed more or less immediately by the shapely creatures of the Burgess Shale. Just before 10 P.M. plants begin to pop up on the land. Soon after, with less than two hours left in the day, the first land creatures follow.

Thanks to ten minutes or so of balmy weather, by 10:24 the Earth is covered in the great carboniferous forests whose residues give us all our coal, and the first winged insects are evident. Dinosaurs plod onto the scene just before 11 P.M. and hold sway for about three-quarters of an hour. At twenty-one minutes to midnight they vanish and the age of mammals begins. Humans emerge one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight. The whole of our recorded history, on this scale, would be no more than a few seconds, a single human lifetime barely an instant. Throughout this greatly speeded-up day continents slide about and bang together at a clip that seems positively reckless. Mountains rise and melt away, ocean basins come and go, ice sheets advance and withdraw. And throughout the whole, about three times every minute, somewhere on the planet there is a flash-bulb pop of light marking the impact of a Manson-sized meteor or one even larger. It's a wonder that anything at all can survive in such a pummeled and unsettled environment. In fact, not many things do for long.”
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything

Life is fleeting, unpredictable and amazing. 

Oftentimes, we think that our problems are great, so great that they could drown and suffocate us. But, if we view events along the scale of history, we merely exist in fleeting nanoseconds. There's an encompassing cosmos out there, wider and greater than us.

There's a history beyond, a timeline so vast that our very existence is meaningless to it.

Let this awareness guide us in what we do. Let us cherish the beauty that is before us and cease unnecessary wastage. Let us live our lives brilliantly, like shooting stars, bringing hope and pleasure to those in our world.


English - Does It Belong to Us?

April 02, 2013 0 Comments

It's strange, this experience of being transplanted onto unfamiliar grounds.

A few months ago, I used to scoff at the some poems by certain Singaporean writers. They dispute our ownership of the English language. "English is a tongue we inherited but doesn't belong to us," they say, "it's a language that has been thrusted upon us."

How can that be? I had thought. Most of us have been reading and writing in English since we first stepped into our primary schools. It is likely that our command of English is even stronger than our understanding of our mother tongues. Besides, aren't these poets writing in English? With polysyllabic words, no less.

It's only now that I'm in a foreign land, surrounded by foreign people with a foreign heritage, that I understand the poets.

There're some British people - students, university administrators and supermarket cashiers - who would look at me in askance. There's this unsaid assumption that I'm non-English and therefore, un-conversant in English - a stereotype leveled typically at Chinese students.

Whenever they don't understand me, they instinctively deem that my English is weak. There's no specific act of discrimination, just frequent strange looks and 'could you repeat yourself, please?'s. Some would repeat themselves with exaggerated slowness.

This reminds me, quite starkly, of the idea that English is a language we inherited.

Sometimes, when I'm feeling happy and confident, I'd declare, "down with the colonial heritage! Down with the expectations that our colonial rulers had imposed upon us! Allow English to evolve, grow, like a tree spreading branches in every other way."

Sometimes, I'd think that the poets, they who keep grappling with Singapore's post-colonial heritage... I'd think that they have a point.