i have been negligent in updating this blog because of:

1) orientation (which is over, thankfully or otherwise);

2) worrying over classes and what electives i should take; and

3) constant cravings for japanese food, which rob me of my ability to think.

here’s a menchikatsu recipe which i intend to try tonight.  wish me luck!


we owe it to be kind

if you didn’t have direction or rigour,
you would be kind to others or yourself (or both).
you would be kind because or in spite of yourself.
your kindness laid bare could be grace or ego.

do we owe it to be kind?  (to who?  for what?)
we smile at head-hangers, and children,
and systems in lonely orbit, from coffee till nightcap.
what charity is there after commiseration?

but here’s the park and the subway.
there’s the landlord and your neighbour.
maybe we owe it to ourselves
to write lines about being kind.

not waving but drowning

really, really sorry for not updating, as usual – parents have just left for singapore and it’s just sunk in that i’m gonna be working things out mostly on my own for another two more years.  so while i’m faffing around the house here’s the obligatory passage from men clearly wiser than me.  this one’s niebuhr on america:

‘once the first hardships had been endured, it became obvious that the riches of the new continent promised remarkably high standard of well-being.  these were accepted as ‘uncovenanted mercies’. (…)  it has remained one of the most difficult achievements for our nation to recognize the fortuitous and the providential element in our good fortune.  if either moral pride or the spirit of rationalism tries to draw every element in an historic situation into rational coherence, and persuades us to establish a direct congruity between our good fortune and our virtue or our skill, we will inevitably claim more for our contribution to our prosperity than the facts warrant.  this has remained a source of moral confusion in american life.  for, from the later puritans to the present day we have variously attributed american prosperity to our superior diligence, our greater skill or (more recently) to our more fervent devotion to the ideals of freedom.  we thereby have complicated our spiritual problem for the days of adversity which we are bound to experience.  we have forgotten to what degree the wealth of our natural resources an the fortuitous circumstance that we conquered a continent just when the advancement of technics made it possible to organise that continent into a single political and economic unit, lay at the foundation of our prosperity.’

i promise i’ll write soon.  not sure whether that promise seems more like a threat, though.


An important and characteristically Conradian element here is a suspicion of too much intellectualization, too much thought. […] The captain is protected from such Hamlet-like inertia by Ransome – simultaneously a Christ-figure and representative of the demands of tradition and collective labour.  But the captain is capable of being protected: he has not caught the disease of idleness to which others such as Hamilton have succumbed.  Here the fact of his ship’s being a sailing (rather than a steam) ship is crucial.  Captain Ellis tells him that others are ‘Afraid of the sails.  Afraid of a white crew.  Too much trouble.  Too much work.  Too long out here.  Easy life and deck-chairs more their mark’ (p. 26).  A suggestive comparison can be drawn with [Lord] Jim’s experience in an Eastern port where he meets white men in hospital living unreal dream-lives, men who had remained to serve as officers of native-owned ships, and who ‘had now a horror of the home service, with its harder conditions, severer view of duty, and the hazard of stormy oceans.  They were attuned to the eternal peace of Eastern sky and sea.  They loved short passages, good deck-chairs, large native crews, and the distinction of being white.  They shuddered at the thought of hard work, and led precariously easy lives, always on the verge of dismissal, always on the verge of engagement, serving Chinamen, Arabs, half-castes – would have served the devil himself had he made it easy enough.  They talked everlastingly of turns of luck… and in all they said – in their actions, in their looks, in their persons – could be detected the soft spot, the place of decay, the determination to lounge safely through existence.’  The passage reveals Conrad’s shrewd understanding of how colonial ease could corrupt.

– Jeremy Hawthorn, Introduction to ‘The Shadow-Line’ (Oxford World’s Classics Edition)

thursday writing sunday (serial offender)

so i’ve finally made it to boston, with my parents, and i’m pretty sure i won’t be interested in taking the long flight back to singapore again anytime soon.  will write more when i’ve finally gotten a semblance of normalcy in my life.  meanwhile, it’s major furniture shopping / sightseeing time with my parents, and watching squirrels drop nuts in boston commons.  this city seems quite beautiful.  looking forward to getting to know it better in a bit.

breaking the habit

two habits, to be precise – one’s facebook, and the other alcohol. these will probably be temporary departures. the first is because i need to buckle down and get my arse started on packing. i don’t think i’ll be packing the island of singapore over to boston, but i should start early, because – 1) how much i pack over may not be up to my discretion, since my parents will be traveling with me, and they might connive otherwise; 2) you never know what horrible surprises might be sprung upon you at the last minute, and it’s always good to leave yourself some breathing space; and 3) i’m planning to pack some magic cards over and i need to decide which binder and which decks i’m gonna bring over. now that i’ve been off facebook for, admittedly, only 2 days, i’m finding myself with so much more time to fawn over magic cards/ read gaddis or chabon or igarashi/ exercise… much to my merriment i have confirmed the existence of life beyond hitting facebook and showing other people you have a life. not sure how long this is going to last, and i have told some people i will come back to facebook once i get used to boston, but there you go.

the second habit – you know substance abuse? some people might say i’m the most incorrigible alcoholic they know, but i think that’s still not enough to say with certainty that i’m a drinker to the point of abuse… but i think, if i don’t check myself, i’ll find myself there someday. if you keep to your measure that’s all good, but sometimes i find myself drinking just for the sake of it, at first seeking a high, but after that seeking nothing except the drowsy release that transmogrifies my guilt into a laughing subconscious and leaves me utterly damned when i next come to my senses.

that has to go. when i first started (cue the laughter – i don’t know when that is), it was partially because of me being fundamentally uncomfortable socialising. i know that sounds like a stretch since i talk loudest and longest at social events, but it’s dutch courage, really. alcohol is what i go to when i want bravado, wit and the silliness to kill silences with one trite or stupid comment or another. and of course, if it’s all of us drinking, it’s the good ol’ social lubricant theory. alcohol made conversation that much more fun. we could pretend not to care if someone made a silly comment, or we could pretend our comment was not silly, through the hazy camaraderie we could laugh about something up to a point. and at home, if still drunk, i could write, stare at the result, and say ‘it’s not bad’, and hit the post button before it was too late to redeem myself. but now, alcohol as the stream of my consciousness is a raging, surging river. it’s capsized the boat, it stops me cold, it cuts my arguments into shreds, it reduces my words to primal sounds. i try to make new conversation and fail, and so i fall back on my old yarns, about moscow and japan when i’m in singapore, and about tohoku and singapore when i’m in tokyo. it’s slick if you’ve heard it for the first time. after all, those stories go through telling and retelling, and after a while they’re polished beyond recognition. but nowhere in that kind of conversation do you see a lucid mind; it’s just bobbing about with what is the mental equivalent of a life float. and when you do try to muster some kind of conversation, most likely in response to something interesting you hear from your friends, you can’t rise to the occasion. it’s just a lack of knowledge and a slow instinct lending itself to awkward responses, and you save the situation by launching into your spiel again.

and so drinking – it’s got to give, at least for now (i can hear some of my closest friends sniggering in the background – ‘how long will that be? last you did it it didn’t last a week’. well, i don’t know – for as long as it takes for me to get used to the idea of drinking a beer or two and stopping there, without getting irritated or thirsty or both). one day i will go, bottle in hand, to the ball game, or i’ll be nursing it in the company of good friends, and i won’t feel the need to spend half my time spinning the latest yarn and the other half gulping liquid fire. i’ll be at ease with myself. mightn’t be comfortable with the fact that i’m still prone to silly gaffes and stupid responses, but you know, won’t feel the need to atone for it. perhaps facebook and alcohol share something in that they’re stages for me to do my song-and-dance routine, a smile and a wave, a retiring behind the curtains only to come out again seeking the next encore. that’s probably an intensely stupid analogy. but the message remains the same: i’m breaking the habit.


i’ve done so many things over the past week, and – perhaps it’s age, perhaps it’s just laziness and a lack of practice – i’m not sure where to start, or how to organise all these thoughts into a coherent passage. after helping out at the direct schools admissions of hc, and then going to rj to help mfa with their scholarship fair booth… it’s only fair to feel old, out of your depth, etc. told the kids at hc i was ‘two times your age plus alpha’, and, after telling the rj students i graduated eight years ago, ended up fielding endless questions about ‘[my] job at mfa’ and how it’s like ‘to work in a country other than singapore’. found them flabbergasted when i described how i’m still waiting to do my masters, but hey, that’s life. i remember clumping anyone above j3 status into the rank of ‘supersenior’ back when i was in jc. only natural that i should fall victim to this same instinct my juniors have clearly inherited.

but there are things i want to say, about how smart they are, how eloquent they are, how endearing they are. there’s nothing bad to say – there’s empathy in abundance, i think, beyond the brilliance that sometimes forms a wall of light, that obscures both the individual and the individual’s ability to penetrate the world around him. but all these things that i want to say have to be said later because i can’t find the words for them, at least not now. perhaps before i leave for boston there will be a piece. i hope it’s worth the effort.

so, i have to resort to the usual cheat. here’s a poem by tony hoagland, called ‘jet’.

Sometimes I wish I were still out
on the back porch, drinking jet fuel
with the boys, getting louder and louder
as the empty cans drop out of our paws
like booster rockets falling back to Earth

and we soar up into the summer stars.
Summer. The big sky river rushes overhead,
bearing asteroids and mist, blind fish
and old space suits with skeletons inside.
On Earth, men celebrate their hairiness,

and it is good, a way of letting life
out of the box, uncapping the bottle
to let the effervescence gush
through the narrow, usually constricted neck.

And now the crickets plug in their appliances
in unison, and then the fireflies flash
dots and dashes in the grass, like punctuation
for the labyrinthine, untrue tales of sex
someone is telling in the dark, though

no one really hears. We gaze into the night
as if remembering the bright unbroken planet
we once came from,
to which we will never
be permitted to return.
We are amazed how hurt we are.
We would give anything for what we have.