Tag: Thoughts

Numbers, and a life to demise

My head is wrapped around three. One. My hands are pulled across me. Two. My body is mangled beyond degree. Three. My legs wish to flee. Four.

I recall that night, many years ago, when I spoke to a mathematician. We talked for hours over the phone. But I remember so little of that night. Another friend once said that the best way to recall a memory of a distant past is to return what we were then. So, now, I need to speak in a language that will make this revisitation easy: numbers. We called for four hours, thirty-three minutes, and four seconds. We talked about devotion, people, religion, mathematics, and art. Memory tells me it was five topics; delight contests but gives no alternative. Perhaps it is true: the choice to measure is given up in moments of pleasure.

I was young and foolish. I moved into my dorm without an alarm clock. The only marker for time was my phone. Yet, talking to him over the phone meant that I could not have constant access to it, to time. The occlusion to it also implied that I knew nothing about direction and movement. I sought something else for anchor.

I looked out of my room and saw the light. I counted the number of times the light in the street ahead turned red. Ten was the most. His words were coming out of my phone; they were clashing with my numbers. Even though I mouthed these numbers, and said nothing, I still lost count. This arithmetic break told me that words and numbers could not go hand in hand. I had to stop. I needed to hear the reflections of my friend, his theories about applied mathematics and the linearity of lines.

Years later, tonight, I am thinking about this friend, his passion for numbers, and his belief in their workability. What will he say of my situation?

Your numbers could work, he would say.

But, as I write this now, I know that his answer would come from a place foreign to human relations; they come from data and equations. My numbers, in that regard, would work.

In dreams, in memory

I dreamt of war quick and fast
Of sanguine faces
And whirlwinds of dust

I pray to thee
Imploring whence does humanity
Gain its infinite glee

To a sickening dismay
As with all other prayers
On that bed I lay

Without an answer I slept
Ruminating in the limpid air
There in the far distance a lady wept

To whose horror! To whose gain!
Are flesh and blood harbingers of pain?


This emotion will be unintelligibly, improperly and unjustifiably transcribed. Oh why do I even try! I can no longer figure my way through words; I am undeniably handicapped. These are growing dissatisfactions of which there are no ailments, no solutions! It is a biological disorder; a tumour growing and hurting the insides of my gut, my lungs, my valves, my skull and possibly culminating in the glorious penetration out of my skin—screaming in absolute liberty! Oh why do the bones want more? Is skin not enough?

Of disappearing coffee shops and identity

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

photo by me

I don’t know what Kopi-O means nor coffee’s manifold definitions (in Singapore context, that is)
My grandmother speaks Teochew — a dialect facing a fading relevance
her grandson howbeit lacks the ability to speak it authentically

in the interview they asked me how the Singaporean identity can be established
through Literature

we are young
but we are halfway through murdering a revered generation of Singaporeanness

we don’t know when Tomb-sweeping day is, but they do
what exactly Moon Cake Festival symbolises, but they do
we let go of things we don’t find relevant

my children will never speak Teochew or Hokkien because I don’t
mayhap they’ll ask me what Hokkien is if they were to consume Hokkien Mee
alack then, we’d be part of a generation of disappeared coffee shops and pungent medicated oil

notice their silent cries, the battle against modernism — crushing coke under their strong feet
there’ll be old women collecting scraps of cardboard no more
Fa Gao, Iced Gem Biscuits, Haw Flakes, Wheel Crackers, Pola Snack, Wang Zai biscuits, cheap mint sweets wrapped in translucent crimson wrappers would be here no more

I am, part of a generation that obliterates a revered generation of Singaporeanness;
the edge of a knife that slices the skin, gladly embracing — not blood but — a demonised modernisation

we are young
we are in search of our identity
we asked for it in SG50 and we’ll still do the same when SG100 comes
we’re attempting to find a set of ideals that characterises us as idiosyncratically Singaporeans
Singlish! Singlish! Singlish! they repeat instinctively
but in school, we condemn it
in Kinokuniya however, it seems to me that poetry peppered with Singlish is glorified
(tell me you’re not caught in betwixt clarity and utter mess)
is Singlish then peculiar to Singaporeans?

we are young
all we have are a few rare riots and a broken vernacular we think of as wholly Singaporean

there is no history —
as opposed to the Middle Ages and Romantic Period
no nothing we can feel gravely about
no nothing we can have our heartstrings move violently with fervency and interest

between progression and stagnation, we logically chose the former
we must let go

and so we’re back at the big question:
“What makes us Singaporean?”

we are young

“a novelist is not obliged to write directly about contemporary history, but a novelist who simply disregards the major public events of the moment is generally either a footler or a plain idiot.”

To Orwell: This is to Singapore and to you. Thank you for inspiring this poem — with your essay: “Inside the Whale” — written with profound impetus. Hopefully a new breed of Singaporeans would be discovered, whose language and characteristics would be utilitarian enough to be a hallmark of our identity, worth remembering through Literature.


they told me my dream was lofty
in Singapore society
I conceded
(I was aware, am aware, fully aware)
unwillingly admitted its grandeur…

the social change it could possibly engender —
is not only left to be marvelled at

uproot a forest a tree at a time
creatures die, people perish
to be resolute, work hard and await
the daisy that’ll eventually
sprout from death


I used to be able to appreciate movies in a literary lens, naturally, noticing the finitely pleasurable details that hold a seeming insignificance to the entirety of the film. I’d be fond of the particular overlay of tint that sheds light on the general personality of the film; that thin and thick trunks represented the director’s focus on naturalism.

But days ago, this literary process worsened from a mere retardation to a complete cessation. I noticed only the superficialities yet innately knew that there was something more purposeful to be discovered, to be analysed and fathomed with a satisfying joy. I only fear. Perhaps this is what a life without lucidity is: bereft of a fuller and more intimate possession of our bodily experience.

Alas. My muscles are worn, my mind rusted, my eyes terribly dry like dead leaves. I want to wake up at the break of dawn — especially on Saturdays — to acknowledge time with an impact, to realise that I have clasped time in my very hands, and to permit its flow would be at my own will.

Ah! experiences will only get richer and we’d anon learn how to master our minds that are in seeming gridlock.


it’s August
a week into August
I used to remember dates rather cleverly
writing them down daily instinctively
like an accountant immune to figures

4 more months to the end of the year
4 months ago I enlisted

weeks before my impending military stint
I wrote copiously —
an army of apprehension overkill,
of terrible dreams

4 months after,
I discovered faces I never thought I had
and balanced between brains and brawn

is this growth
or is this a hardening of the heart?

today’s Singapore’s birthday
she has her progress charted
by analysts, economists and government officials
PM Lee’s National Day Message revolved largely
about our society —
in light of terrorism

highlighted its vulnerability

after the foiled threat on Marina Bay Sands
we’d be wary, yet inclusive
we’d be kind, and compassionate
we’d be protected, but free

(written on 09082016)

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