(no subject)

And I'm in the driver seat, trudging along the coast line as we inch closer to the left turn that would park us right by the beach, while from where we were, we looked out at the impermanent marquee tented along on the grassland, fluorescent shafts of light cast a third world clinical glow and them folks who belong to town saunter about, plied with bargains from hawkers that have turned the heady evening into a bazaar and the thrilling note of the karaoke singer dragged through the blackness of our clammy night. And before we got there, before we stopped the cars cold in the corner dirt-track and hiked over to claim a spot facing the vauntingly ebb-less sea, the fireworks shot upwards and outwards, declaiming and smirking at us for failing to punctually commemorate the collective moment where those of us in Greenwich +8 would cross over to a new decade.

Later with sparklers nimbly handled on the tip of our fingers, we wheeled like children, performing imaginary somersaults and cartwheels as our arms led those sprinkle of sizzling sparks against the shadow of one another, shading and lighting our animated faces, crossing the calendar with a belief that some good luck with rub off from such high spiritedness and spoke of this year as if this year has nothing to do with last year and last year was just some rotten luck and by some obstufucating form of ritual commemoration, the repercussions and consequences that might have trickled into the present could be washed away by the low tide, carrying sequential after thoughts into the lull of what seemed to be that night a calm and forgiving sea.

or so we believe.

(no subject)

Awesome Christmas gifts. Finally my very own copies of Iris Murdoh's The Sea, The Sea, Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and Herman Melville's Moby Dick or The Whale. I could reread them over and over again. Blissful end to a decade and a hopeful beginnings through one might anticipate of the turbulent teenage years of the twenty first century.

(no subject)

MS told me, in a momentous though quiet and unfussy meeting of far-flung friendships forged through LJ, some months ago that he was attracted to my stubbornness for insisting on employing the written word in my livejournal (these days, blog would have become the de rigeur terminology) and never have once used a photograph to illustrate my thoughts or daily experiences. This is primarily because I am lazy and have very little inclination to picture my life visually despite cultivating a rigorous taste for the visual art as the years go by.

On the other hand, I think I was just as intrigued by a principally anecdotal tale of how the French daily Le Mondewas able to resist publishing photographs alongside their news and editorials. I have no way of finding out how true this is, for it is clearly not so today. But I thought, back then, living in a deluge of the visual that often leaves us very little room for imagination, let alone aneasthetises, through its reproducibility and repetition, our ability to empathise with the sufferings of another or react to horror - I thought it heroic.

What does it matter now. This project began at the very beginning of the decade when the world was much smaller than it is now. In the careless sort of way the topic is brought about over drinks one night, we dug into the decade as asked for cultural significance and achievement. Colleagues and friends, older than I am, were not convinced that there was anything new nor original with which the past ten years could be summarily framed within. The answer was quite obvious, the internet changed us, even as this platform is receding towards irrelevance.

Someone said, I guess I hadn't notice because these things didn't really impact on me. For the rest of us, who grew up with the internet, have our world expanded by the possibilities of its endless horizon, it is a terrifying fontier-like landscape verging on sublimity. To look back and see when wikipedia became a daily bread, youtube for staple entertainment, facebook for communication, and then consider the magnificent ruin that is livejournal, sitting today at the precipice, when it was once close to the epicentre of our cultural life in the early years of the Noughties.

I write less now. I write less for pleasure, for reflection. Little did I know that the style I was keen on developing in my journal would have an august precedence - the Chinese literary genre of shan wen, or short, concise, excursive essays that meander and observe. Yet, writing less, writing in a space that has become irrelevant, I am afforded some freedom once more, ironically - free from the constraints of testing words against readers.

I never write for myself. Umberto Eco once wrote quite delightfully that those who believe so are atheists. Rightly so. But there is a part in journal keeping that is aimed towards self-cultivation. They are like the little strings knotted on one's pinky, serving as a reminder that one's personhood can be magnified by writing. When we write, we transcend. We become a bigger person, a much more magnanimous person. Our writings tell us that we have the ability to absorb and see the world in much more ways than where we stand in our current position. Our present smallness is compensated with this rich and complex entity that we can become aware of in our writing - our own personal complexity that make us full and rich and perhaps, meaningful.

I think Susan Sontag wrote something to that effect. When we encounter our own writing, we see ourselves as being capable of so much more. This, then, partially explains my endeavour.

In a week or so, the decade closes. We look for clues, events, cues that would on the long run come to explain what the beginning of the 21st century is. Nothing much has changed to be honest. Great ideas ran out of steam by the eighties at least. We just take it all in and throw it out to the further reaches of the earth, opening the floodgates, granting access to the inaccessible, so that somethings may return in the future at some importune moment when we need them - a poem, a video, a sonnet, a photograph, a passage, a song - and they may be some source of endless strength. Proliferated, endlessly.
  • Current Music
    I want to hold your hand

(no subject)

It's nice to stay up this late at night. I haven't done this since university. It's easier to fall asleep these days, I don't have that restless youthful energy in me anymore. Those days of thunder seem to have come to pass and the working life is measured by a different rhyme and reason.

It is not entirely dark outside. There is a faint bloom of red in the sky, the dark rusty kind of colour that might be hinting at rain. It is humid in the tropics and it's easy these days to go back six or seven years ago as if the five year away was some form of caesura, so that when old friends greet you, they take you back into an older existence and you count the years... has it been six or seven years? Sometimes I would recoil in horror - where did all the time go?

In some other time, I remember we still used the phone (not a mobile phone) to call each other after the world goes to sleep. You would ask me on ICQ (not MSN chat) - Can I call you now?

I would wait patiently and pick up the receiver as soon as the phone rang so that it would not wake my parents up. I don't actually recall what we spoke about although I did remember your heavy breathing over the phone. Unconsummated infatuation/crush/love is so much more meaningful, complex and rich in hindsight. I wonder why I don't do this more often.

In this fashion, we spoke until the azan prayer was called out from the local mosque. Then our hurried and quiet goodbyes. I would sleep, containing in my dreams, the thought of a possibility of a different life with you. We were after all leaving the country to study abroad.

Eventually, you left a month earlier than I did. We promised we would meet up at the other end of the world, catch up and pick up where we left off. We never did. We led different lives later on, fell in love with different people, create different stories from our experiences. Although on many occasions our lives did intertwine. Gradually, we changed and watched each other grow up. But this is a story that fills in the caesura.

(no subject)

In the last semester of my sophomore year, Shih Tao's 10,000 Ugly Ink Dots was what I laboured over with a reverse sleeping pattern, working from midnight until eight in the morning, surviving on instant noodles in the computer lab. Shih Tao's preoccupation was to realise what he understood as I-hua. Translated as one stroke, it expresses the mastery of consciousness not unlike what Taoist and Zen-buddhist aspire towards in an aesthetic process.

Undiscerning Sino-phile would be quick to claim this as Pollock-esuqe, a precursor to modern abstraction. But I think Shih Tao’s work best exemplifies the genre he worked within, that of the Chinese landscape painting. More than any other painters, he was able to show us what landscape represents - the mind magnified as geography. 10,000 Ugly Ink Dots composes an unfettered mind. Its loose splattered ink form a precise vocabulary to describe what I was to face back then as winter was coming to an end. Until then I had not realise what was required of me to face the immensity of university life.

It's as if he was trying to say, apply yourself to your study. And I did.

(no subject)

hello journal. it's sad that i don't write to you as often anymore. not that i haven't been keeping to my resolution, which is to write more. it's just that priorities have shifted to some other platform. other platforms mean other kinds of writing, the sort that doesn't have similar texture and contours as the ones i get to shape here.

not writing here means i look back less. there is a certain lightness to my life now. i read a book recently. it describes where i'm living quite accurately. here's a short excerpt, 'in this fast young city, he did not want to sleep, he did not want to stop. this was a place that had no past, only the present. what happened yesterday was a dream; last week was forgotten, last month never existed at all. every night was the same.'

i take in a lot everyday. probably more than i ever did in that languid life i once new, far far away from here, where, at the age of nineteen, i escaped to. i often forget in the course of my five years away, i was trying to run away from this place. nostalgia turns. i longed for return and now i come to face its uncompromising reality.

a friend suggested today that she is intending to take up lessons in malay language, so that she can learn how to write malay properly. she wants to absorb its reality rather than resist it. for many of us, it's a tug and pull game. it's also a class game. it's something we negotiate with everyday. i get tired from this.

i wade through different realities each day and it is not easy. trying to find something from the region is what i want to do, but most people here just want to find a country they belong to, or perhaps an identity they can belong to. then i look at the island down south and they have moved so far ahead, perhaps away from all the hung up most of us are trying to come to terms with. not so much as having transcended them, but having lifted themselves from this geography so that it doesn't matter anymore, doesn't matter at all.

i hate to believe that i need to get out of this city every two weeks, to go somewhere else. anywhere really, to be reinvigorated again, from the middle class ennui i often feel. i thought i would fit right in, because, after all, this is my history and i want to work with the history. the problem is this place has little time for history, much less personal history. history is always fighting against another big history. so slowly but surely, i too forget what i promised myself to do, to write about a life that does not necessarily telescope into a bigger picture. bigger pictures are often shallow.

i want it to be easier to live here. but clearly it is not. i have a one year window left. then i will have to decide whether to run away again. but to run away is to lose all hope and i know i will abandon my project which i have set out to do but fail miserably. yet, it is almost impossible to do it here.

i saw a video of some college student dancing cheesy moves to a pop song. it brings me back to the turn of the century. the problem is, unlike someone who have lived through the sixties, seventies or eighties, growing up in the nineties means that i have fond memories of it. i like its belatedness, it's failure, the feeling that it's at the end of the line for anything meaningful to emerge in pop culture. it is a very special feeling and sometimes i believe only those of us who grew up then can truly appreciate this.

anyway, everything, being too late, appeals to me. it's such a sad feeling. i want to keep this feeling and live with this feeling because it's the only thing that makes any sense to me.

Murder in Makati

1. So, what happened to VN? Tell us. We said, leaning slightly forward in anticipation, mindful of the beer bottles that we were brushing against as we huddled into a tight ring around a small squarish table in a swishy expat bar.

2. You said it with a flair that could only come out of a drama queen, 'Well... you know about the fire right? Well, it's actually not a fire.' You gave us both the look.

3. AO asked, 'What do you mean?'

4. I ventured, 'You mean he was murdered?'

5. You answered in that affirmation I've learned to use, 'Ugh-ugh' (meaning 'yes' in Tagalog) in that manner that is to me whimsical despite the gravity of our subject. You asked, 'How could you have guessed it?' The way in which as if you would have added, 'Well, I would never have...'

* * *

I still visit his facebook occasionally and there messages are left, right up til the recent January months, by distant friends beckoning to catch up. But there are also more cryptic messages, messages I'm too lazy to translate on babelfish but notes which ended with 'I miss you' or 'I miss you so much', although I doubt that the word 'so' actually means a more severe experience of grief. Grief is after all grief.

* * *

I remember X from our meeting last April, who was a very close friend of VN. She worked in one of the high end retail chain across from where I was staying. They picked me up together on a Saturday night and showed me a good time around town. X was the only 'girl' in the group, he would even sometimes model for NG, a statement to the kind of gender fluid games they play. They seemed to have this undefined bond, the brother and sister sort of ties, the ability to stand together next to each other in a club and not say anything to each other and feel extremely comfortable in one another's company.

I heard that X collapsed the moment she got wind of this tragedy in their little micro-cosmos. I'm curious though if he ever comes back to her as a revenant. Because that's what the one half of a twin does, or so I'm always led to believe. I have tried imagining what it must have felt like, the feeling of collapsing, being stabbed, the way the ground loses concreteness beneath one's feet. But then I'm taught through whispered channels that the past trickles into the present and that he still sticking around - by the apparitions that have appeared and then vanished amidst the wave of crowd in a busy nightclub, the music player turning off by itself, that faint cold draft we would trade for a warm palpable presence. And also less noticeably but more convincingly by the words of encouragement left on his facebook wall as well as them photo-tags on facebook of a happy mischievous face smiling, pouting, posing for the camera assuring us that life's abso-fucking-lutely amazing.

Bay of Manila

I look across, from the balcony, towards a calm and waveless sea. If I squint hard enough, I can make out the shadowy crop of a ridge that might just be the opposite end of the bay, its languorous pool of water unstirred by wind. The road that follows the curving bay is lined with coconut trees and there is a cloudy cast above this passive picture on an inert morning. Last night, arriving after sundown, all of these were a blank canvas and I was able to draw on its darkness and describe, in the absence of light, my own pain and worry which I have carried across the sea. These defeats should stay at home but it is inevitable that they would appear in another place and another land if one has to always carry one's heart wherever he or she may go.

There are a lot of noises coming from the neighbouring blocks. It seems as if construction is underway. This neighbourhood feels a bit like Saigon in its relentlessness. But this comparison is probably a little clumsy. Now that the view is fixed and bathed in light and that my knowledge of what I am looking at when I am staring out from the balcony is in fact the bay of Manila and nothing else, I think the past has receded a little and I am shoring towards the future. Later, we will be driven to Cubao through the hellish traffic of the city, made worse by the fact it is Friday today. All the meetings, drinking and studio visits we will be doing is a mere presage of the life I am to lead and the work that looms over us in the months to come. And there is so much to do. All we can really do is - riding on the motion, crossing one hurdle after another, picking up after a fall, absorbing more dark wisdom from wherever we are - to keep moving on.

Other Lives

Today was the first time I saw the volcano, faintly appearing from a swirl of smoke that hovers above its breathing and puffing crater. It has a steep slope running up forcefully on both sides, erected as a stolid tower and centre to the town that is beyond its reach.

Somehow having the mountain as an aesthetic anchor for a town has a charming appeal. Like Mt. Kinabalu for the Sabah capital of Kota Kinabalu, or perhaps even Fuji for Tokyo, the mountain as an axis gives a fixed point to a breathing and living space, or at least we pretend that it does.

Often it is holy because it conveys certainty, an apex embodies that which is eternal - heavenward. That amidst the stream of banners strewn across town that divides the allegiances of the townsfolk along party lines in the upcoming elections (lines that are arbitrary at best, so says BD, because everyone here wants the Sultan to be our next President), there is always that one enduring symbol looming over all that is temporal.

* * *

IM, who slept beside me, sharing the same bed in our recent trip to Yogya, would recount the moments leading up (though sometimes leading back) to a tender moment of clarity, of falling in love, following my inquisitive prompts. Often I got her to fill in the details, painting the kind of idyllic picture I have of the east coast, eight hours by car away from the busy city lives we lead.

Here she illustrates a world whose livelihood is rhythmed to the seasonal change that brings in a faithful monsoon in the beginning of December which lasts through the following month, shutting down all holiday resorts operating on coral-ed islands where her lover works. I imagine him to be tanned and toned, slightly muscular with a boyish grin. He has wavy hair and the way it tussles in the wind lends him an air of purposefulness even as his youthful feature betrays an attitude more akin to a childlike sense of carefree non-chalance.

I have an image of him maneuvering a speed boat across the reef, shuttling a boisterous party of tourists, staring outward at an approaching storm. It is the last month before the resort closes and already portents of the imminent monsoon were visible. He is in blue broad shorts and he stares out at the sea piercingly, as if he is challenging its immensity.

Here in the late afternoon, unbeknownst to the self-indulgent visitors, the passages of time that mark one year after another was this cyclical season. It must be a melancholic feeling to have a year drawing to a close, more so that this emotion is not celebrated as a specific date, which is a construct anyway. At the edge of the modern world, tethered to its ambition by the tourism industry, this sleepy island was also its furthest point. Therefore this must be also where he ran towards in order to free himself from the things that binds most of us to a life that is characterised as 'responsible'.

I wanted to ask if IM thought if this was naive. But I didn't. I didn't have the heart because I'm partially beguiled by the emotional histories arrested by the present. Having no past and no future, a present that abides to nature's wheel of time is enticingly edenic. Of course it could only have that lingering sense of bitter sweetness when one realises that soon enough we will have to grow up and perhaps (very) unwillingly, give up.

Still I want to know what was his feeling as time inches in, robbing him of youthful abandon, what kind of feeling it must be facing the empty, vast and daunting sea. Not so much what answers or questions, but what kind of emotional scale one is forced to use to measure the future.

* * *

Now the last of the boys have left for the South of the planet, I am questioned less about whether I miss Melbourne. What do I miss? I have been recounting: I miss the beach, the library, going to the film festival alone, the lonely winter and quiet paces around the city - absorbing life through the many moments of solitude that are both comfortable and assuring.

These things sum up what I haven't had over here: time for myself. B said that this region is a very social place. No one, for example, eats out alone. It is a very rare occurrence. You can't clam up. It's a very difficult thing to do.

Here, I am often concerned with other people and other lives.

* * *

I, too, am beginning to shape another life.
  • Current Music
    暗湧 - 黃耀明

(no subject)

When we collapsed on the parquet, lying on our back, inching into a comfortable position, shoulder barely brushing against the other, you craned your neck and exclaimed, 'We've destroyed our lives!'

This is partially true, because later, upon hindsight, away from this city we were able to ask more conscientiously about why we did that to ourselves and why we continue to do so. Again and again.

By just lifting my head a little, I could look out the tall window at the neatly divided rows of suburban houses lying asleep at five in the morning below us, which reached out towards the horizon, stretching like chip boards burnt with a soporific orange glow.

That night you blamed it on what you had. But often, you said some other time, we have always hoped for something else but it never turned out as fun as it used to be. There is something sexless and dead about these faces we saw but never remember. You called them deformed and it maybe because our numbed minds are the very stuff that produced these visions. We describe these experiences as interminable, hellish, occasionally as an existential play. Often, I think we are lucky (maybe this is tragic luck) to be reflexive enough about these things.

The problem is you can't go back pretending you have never been through this before nor had the realisation of a universe expanding (no matter how false) outwards from your very existence - What still if the history of your immortal youth is so deeply entwined with this consciousness expanding experience? What could be worse than the other lives people lead, as J puts it, 'the 20 something year old idea of what life means'. He was referring to 'posing for vacation pictures in sunglasses' and other lifestyle aspirations that we sometimes share but nevertheless are always cynical of. There must be something more. This we are certain and that is why we do it again and again for a chance to find some other elusive meaning in a plateful of dust.

Later we would laugh at what I've said in the lift when we made our six o'clock escape, 'If we have brought Debutante here, we would have destroyed his life!'. So it became the new phrase we threw at each other for the past month, mocking at our sincere effort to embrace and revolt against this very desire towards some form of transcendence. Everything seems to be life destroying from this point onwards. The heart is abused.

At one point during the after party, a faceless person crawled up and asked, 'Are the two of you together?' I remember saying in my state of stupor, searching for words, slurring, 'No, we are good pals. He's my best friend.' You responded, 'Really?'