Han

Tag: Writing

Of disappearing coffee shops and identity

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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.

What do I write about exactly

They asked me what I always write about, probing me harmlessly with a genuine curiosity. I write about the human experience, basically anything.

“So what do you write about? do you write about sex then?” Boys will be boys.

Ever since I started writing consciously, I’ve been exposed to multifarious worlds that are only visible with the opening of the literary eye. I write about the pregnant moon being a personification of ostracisation, I write about animals: that antelopes have to skip quickly across grasslands for slow movements are chances for rapacious vines to crush their rangy limbs.

Yet, I don’t know what I write about; what my writing falls under. If I confess that all I write about is the human experience, then why do I focus largely on grief and melancholy? What about the other bodily humours? an absence of the others then nullifies my stand that I write about “the human experience”.

What do I, what do I write about?

Dream

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

Crestfallen

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.

August

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

hopefully
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)

Under yellow lights

under yellow lights
we blitzed to find distinct categories of love
filtrated amorousness from romanticism
marked out people who were psychotic
and unknowingly drowned the cold hall
in a ghastly apprehension

we then see that
in a grand scheme of things
terrorism and overt nuclear threats
are atomised concerns

saw that
ostracisation was never a deliberate attempt
but a biological perennial proclivity
to purge and better evolution

but we are perhaps
nothing close to having the world as our oyster
nor the sky as our limit

we are finite in desire, in potential and in discovery

under yellow lights
we will never know who we are
and oftentimes
profound analyses reveal haunting and dark visions

for we see not humans, but creatures akin to cancer cells
for we see not a sacred ceremony, but a justified exploration of self
for we see not faith, but a notion that purely advocates homogenity

19, and 19 only

was I at war both with myself and it all
sun and ocean blue
no place to call my home
their magnificence, it don’t make sense to you

to the nights we conquered
as lost souls of our society
with us we had Lana and Panes,
philosophy and Literature,
ambrosial quiches and sweet coffee,
unfounded laughter,
all in depressed drunkards

with every hour
we learn through time —
each suffering’s traded for a blessing
each person’ll teach us a lil’ something

we pull through the night
not because of insomnia but because
sleeping quickens the pace of time
thus we attempt to put it to better use,
somewhere mortal, somewhere breathing

so write,
write about our Singaporean society with a critical eye, but with grace
write about our changing proclivities
write about apprehension for the future
write about transient friendships
write about the sacred ceremony
write about college life

do go back to violins and pianos
don’t relegate talent
to rusty strings

death is anon
so celebrate in dark nights and sing at dawn
do what you do best, boldly

to you, friend
with deep love and illimitable gratitude

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