D-17

D-17. We make our home in all sorts of places – from the depravity of freedom that we’ve come to all know as the military, the everydays that pass too quickly from work, a favourite corner by a coffee shop or simply a place or the places we always come back to. Our homes are people too: we make spaces in our heart for the ones we care about, and they do the same for us.

I faintly remember the feeling when I returned to Singapore: the humidity rushing in and engulfing you with its presence as I stepped out of the aircraft; the tiresome burden of national service weighing on my shoulders with every check-up I went for, accompanied with the solace and comfort of coming back to the familiar and the slow relearning of what home meant for me.

Home was never a suitcase to begin with. It was a neighbourhood with the pedestrian auntie in the lift that never failed to ask about your day, the shopkeeper at 7-11 amused by the 11:30PM purchase of multiple ice-cream tubs, the pervading noise from the neverending construction of new condos or HDBs nearby, and the occasional smell of curry chicken in the evenings. My home was the delirious, almost hazy-like weekend evenings that almost seem like a reverie. Smelling my mum’s home-cooked food while playing on the piano, the usual nagging for dinner, before the usual Sheng Siong shows and Chinese drama was the dream.

Coming back for the past 3 years meant a slow relearning what home was for me. Home had a new Downtown line and makan places, new people that I’ve sought comfort and love in, and new understandings of my loved ones. Home has never been so dear, and I almost feel that I’m left grasping at the memories that I have, but they always seem to slip out of my grasp. Going to the U.S almost feels like a one-way ticket from home, and that I’ll never feel the same about home ever again.

Part of me feels like this is growing up, and relearning home is a constant flux that I have to learn to deal with. Another part of me struggles to keep my home close – the good morning towel, army singlets and letters from friends all packed into my suitcase.

I am not ready.

Reflections on Understanding

There is no beginning or end.


A multitude of familiar paths lead off from these words in every direction.


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The same was in the beginning with God.

All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

In him was life; and the life was the light of men.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

John 1:1-5, New Testament


A multitude of familiar paths lead off from these words in every direction.


 The trouble with things is that we believe

they are ideas made permanent—

bed to my bed, cheek to my cheek.

Notions lock us outside of that future

beyond imagining. Forget to be elated

and elation is already here.


Each fort-da

a re-enactment of an earlier loss,

a struggle for control that merely

deepens the wound. Then I understood

that everything was an end in itself.

The observer and the observed

but twin poles to a singular event.

No separation between the controller

and the controlled. Eyes saw the leaf

because of that light, but light and leaf

were possible because of the eyes.

 Cyril Wong, Satori Blues 


 A multitude of familiar paths lead off from these words in every direction.


 So, to finally answer your question, no, I never learned-to-live. In fact not at all! Learning to live should mean learning to die, learning to take into account, so as to accept, absolute mortality (that is, without salvation, resurrection, or redemption – neither for oneself nor the other). That’s been the old philosophical injunction since Plato: to philosophise is to learn how to die. I believe in this truth without being able to resign myself to it. And less and less so. I have never learned to accept it, to accept death, that is. We are all survivors who have been granted a temporary reprieve [en sursis] (and, from the geopolitical perspective of Specters of Marx, this is especially true, in a world that is more inegalitarian than ever, for the millions and millions of living beings – human or not – who are denied not only their basic ‘human rights’, which date back two centuries and are constantly being refined, but first of all the right to a life worthy of being lived). But I remain uneducable when it comes to any kind of wisdom about knowing-how-to-die or, if you prefer, knowing-how-to-live. I still have not learned or picked up anything on this subject. The time of the reprieve is rapidly running out. Not just because I am, along with others, the heir of so many things, some good, some quite terrible: but since most of the thinkers with whom I have been associated are now dead, I am referred to more and more often as a survivor – the last, the final representative of a ‘generation’, that is, roughly speaking, the sixties generation. Without being strictly speaking true, this provokes in me not only objections but feelings of a somewhat melancholic revolt. In addition, since certain health problems have become, as we were saying, so urgent, the question of survival [la survie], or of reprieve [le sursis], a question that has always haunted me, literally every instant of my life, in a concrete and unrelenting fashion, has come to have a different resonance today. I have always been interested in this theme of survival, the meaning of which is not to be added on to living and dying. It is originary: life is living on, life is survival [la vie est survie]. To survive in the usual sense of the term means to continue to live, but also to live after death. When it comes to translating such a notion, Benjamin emphasises the distinction between uberleben, on the one hand, surviving death, like a book that survives the death of its author, or a child the death of his or her parents, and on the other hand, fortlebenliving on, continuing to live.

Jacques Derrida, Learning to Live Finally


A multitude of familiar paths lead off from these words in every direction.


As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.

Albert Camus, the Outsider


A multitude of familiar paths lead off from these words in every direction.


There is accumulation. There is responsibility. . .

Julian Barnes, the Sense of an Ending


A multitude of familiar paths lead off from these words in every direction.


 Just as our birth was the birth of all things for us, so our death will be the death of them all. That is why it is equally mad to weep because we shall not be alive a hundred years from now and to weep because we were not alive a hundred years ago. Death is the origin of another life. We wept like this and it cost us just as dear when we entered into this life, similarly stripping off our former veil as we did so. Nothing can be grievous which occurs but once; is it reasonable to fear for so long a time something which lasts so short a time? Living a long life or a short life are made all one by death: long and short do not apply to that which is no more.

Michel de Montaigne, to Philosophise is to Learn how to Die


A multitude of familiar paths lead off from these words in every direction.


 13 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.

16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, and the bright and morning star.

17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

18 For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.

20 He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Revelations 22:13-21, New Testament


A multitude of familiar paths lead off from these words in every direction.


On Words

With apologies to George Orwell

In this writer’s objective opinion, I am quite sure, indeed, that society au courant has become fixated with the excessive adornment of words – if anything, words have simply become frivolous depictions of matters, masked in different ways (whether the truth is among them, however, is not clear). Words have lost their poignance as a medium due to this phenomenon of pretentious diction; it is not hard to imagine many writers nowadays flipping through thesauruses and selecting a myriad of words to embellish them all over the page (as this writer is guilty of). This, of course, leaves things ever much greatly to be desired for us readers, as we are at the great disposal of these writers with their lack of clarity and brevity, picking up the grains of salt and veritas after them (and even this is hard to distinguish). It seems that in this grand scheme of things, we’ve hit a cul de sac in terms of our language development, and have resorted to abbreviations instead – with the likes of LOL, ROFL used as the status quo in everyday language. This inexorable decline has far-reaching effects – and can be said to extend to the moral degradation of our society. In what way? – you might ask – philosophical works and the recent surge of positive psychology attest to this, with their facetious use of words of happiness to make us feel good – to ever victimise others, or our surroundings – how are we expected to be good when we ourselves are guilty of such travesties of abusing words? Words, as Wittgenstein once said, are pointless as a medium as different words have different meanings to different people – thus we fall into the rhetorical slippery slope argument on how we form knowledge – whether it’s empiricism or Cartesian frameworks. We’ve cooped ourselves into a quandary of sorts, spiralling down the slippery slope and perhaps, if not, never into the light of truth again.

As much as it is unfortunate, it seems that one simply has to read everything written nowadays as satire – as we write contrary to our opinions and beliefs, masked in this heinous multitude of words.

Home, my anchor.

dated: a draft since August 2014, published April 2015.

Drafts serve as a recollection for me. Many things have changed since then.

So I am home.

That day in January seems just moments ago, as I dig into my email archive, reading through old messages. The thoughts of uncertainty of a new place to study still linger in my mind, but now, London just seems like a fleeting glimpse into how my future will be like. Studying abroad is not like the glamour that it sounds; it comes with loneliness, well solitude, but also happiness, and an even greater fear for the unknown, but also an appreciation for it. London has exposed me, led me to places I’ve thought I’d never go; maybe I’ve matured up, or maybe sobered up to the harshness of reality, even limped into the oblivion of denial. We tell ourselves a story to live, and perhaps this is my perspective, but I guess the biggest takeaway is that I’ve learnt how not to take things for granted. I think the only qualm I have with myself is that it takes a conscious effort with reminders to remember that I’ve to appreciate the things I have. Maybe this is the process of growing old instead of up; you start to truly count your blessings before you run out of them (thanks Zen).

London has been one chapter altogether, and I can’t say that I’m not bittersweet about my memories there. As this chapter closes, transition has been good, and bad memories start to fade off – I am glad for that, while the good memories remain and stay, and I am too, happy about it. Time forgets, truly.

Now, I fluctuate between different levels of consciousness, from indifference to awareness. My fascination and obsession with anchors still remain. I still wonder about maybe this is really a metaphorical way that my brain is telling me to anchor myself, knowing that I’ll be overseas for the next few years. (if it is, then, I am conscious.)

Home has been a wakeup call, a relief. Wakeup call for me to mature up, sober up, for I’ve not many years left. I’ve too many things I want to accomplish, too little time, and I need to get my priorities right. Drive and dreams will only bring me so far – what I lack in discipline, I make up for in conviction in dreaming, and I guess that drives me. I am driven to go to places that will carry me far in the future, but driven by a positive fear. Receiving the NS medical checkup letter has perhaps heightened my need for self-discipline, as I hope I’ll recieve a good grading of my PES status. I want to look at NS positively, despite the fear of the unknown I have. I think going to London has quelled this fear quite a bit, and I need to get out desperately of my comfort zone to try new things. Coming home has been a relief, as there is no more emotional conflict at home. Conversations of my dad with my mum are common, but his presence seems almost forgotten for a moment. Perhaps our emotions really betray us, as our sadness and perhaps longing seep through our words of hurt and pain, but never stay long enough to drag us down anymore. Emotional baggage gets easier to let go, and we tread easier, and tread lighter. Maybe we’re relieving all the shared memories we had together with him, letting go of them, by moving out of the house. It makes breathing easier, as these recollections come less often. Our old house is not home anymore – there is no furniture, everything is clean and bare. What’s left is only the scratches on the tiles, marks on the walls, the smell of mothballs in the air, everything that used to remind us of home.

Hopefully the future will what we make it to be, with happy memories made in the new house. I’m glad I’ve found my sense of home again, and I understand how important it is to have pillars of strength. It makes me happy that I’ve someplace I can call home now.

As I’m left with two weeks here, I cannot imagine the loneliness that she faces without me. All those car rides, dinners would be cold. I’m grateful that she sent me overseas to study, but also sad that I’m leaving her behind.  Her white hairs are growing more apparent by the day, and they remind me that she is growing old. Her palms too, are rough with countless dishwashings and housework. I am grateful and thankful for her, and she’s my anchor, my source of emotional support and strength. Love really carries us places.