The Monk Wears Nike

Here the Nokia ringtones, screaming babies
among the chants of ancient sutras.
There the selfies with monks, solar panelled
pagodas, and 10 yuan photographs.

600 monks are gathered for a prayer for world peace
Measured in the gigabytes of recorded insta videos.
Here the sonorous wail of the dungchen
There the stomp of ancient drums.
Each metronome is soaked
in the parochialism of history.
Each pendular swirl of a shaven head is
a scar of the longevity of tradition.
It is the typical measure of half-hearted ego
To claim the sacred reigns to world peace.
Signs warning against photography and smoking throng
amidst the camera flashes and choking tobacco of Chunghwas.

And as the prayer concludes with a storm of drums,
the young monks awaken from their slumber
marinated by a thousand-year old boredom
Hurtle out into the sunlight and the cans of coca-cola.
The older linger taking their place behind counters
selling factory-made trinkets blessed to bring
health, fortune, happiness and wealth.
Piles of 1 yuan notes clogs the monastery.
And a tourist throws a paper bank note into a wishing well
It floats above the sea of drowned coins.
Perhaps he knows something we don’t.

The light rain billows into a deluge.
Wet umbrellas find shelter under reconstructed stupas.
Filth washes away into the Tibetan valley.
And the prayer flags swing heavily,
soaked in the acids of the clouds.

Photo taken at Sumtseling Monastery, Yunnan

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The First Days of Summer

Insignificant is the life that trudges out
Amidst the slow incoming tide:
The vapid stupor of a daily train ride,
The desiccated flowers of a moldy vase,
The silent rains that threaten to fall on an island
Suffocated by the humid pantings of the middle-aged
And the dying who in their eyes see the clouds,
And in their hearts know the inevitable,
But in their mouths would never admit it.

This is the end.

What solemnity that drips forth
From the chequered cotton on those laundry poles,
What silence that drifts from luncheon meat ashtrays,
The solitude that blazes from the burning joss of a bin,
How they fade into clouds and
Wash into the grime of the longkangs.

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Telegram is Red

The Communist Party is like the sun,
Wherever it shines, it is bright
Wherever the Communist Party is
Hurrah, Telegram is liberated!

Screen Shot 2017-05-15 at 12.06.33 PMSometime ago, the inability to express my awakened class consciousness on the Telegram messaging app impulsed me to direct my revolutionary fervour on the creation of a Chairman Mao sticker pack.

It has since been installed by over 394 users and used over 2,230 times as of 15 May. The revolutionary in me is deeply touched by the overwhelming support for the revolution among Telegram users.

And below are my curated favourites:

You can download the stickers here: https://t.me/addstickers/ChairmanMao

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All is cold

It’s because life exists in moments like this:
Where all is still and all is slow:
The orange light turns your hair to gold
And sets the emptiness in me ablaze.

But in a dying heartbeat, in a flickering eyelid:
All is dark, all is cold.

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Angkor Sinjapura

In 900 years, where the many estates of Toa Payoh, Queenstown and Punggol once stood, tourists in the bus-loads of hundreds are crawling over the ruins and crumbled masonry of the HDB flats. Trees grow out of what used to be kitchen windows where maids once looked wistfully out of. The twisted and rotting carcasses of playgrounds and bus stops are uncovered from the earth by archaeological digs. All around, there are tourists – maggots infesting the festering flesh of history and memory, advertised and monetised.

“Angkor Sinjapura was a grand city-state that perished somewhere after the 21st century,” says one of the many guides to his bus-load of Chinese tourists. The Angkor Sinjapura Tourism Board has misappropriated “angkor” from the older, now destroyed, tourist site of Angkor Wat. The association brings greater revenue. “Sinjapura” is promoted as more a palatable name than the historically-accurate “Singapore” which sounds too modern, too Western.

He continues – “The limited ability of the small state in keeping up with the rapid changes in global developments and the rise of the China saw its diminishing place in global history. Its Golden Age was clearly over by the middle of the 21st century. By the end of the 21st century, economic destitution and great power conflict resulted in severe depopulation. Her ruins were finally rediscovered two years ago by a venture capitalist firm.”

Of course, what can tiny states compare to giant geographical entities like China in the passage of history? We are but mere islands, mere breakaways-soon-to-be-remerged, in the shifting tectonic continental plates of history.

“During its Golden Age, the city-state was run by a dictatorial regime. Chewing of gum was punishable by death.” This was a fact that historians referenced from the Sinjapura Annals, an ancient historical text, which was honestly just a satire comic book by a local artist. Camera flashes enshrouds a museum display of an electric chair that apparently executed a record number of 120 gum-chewers in 2017 A.D.

Amidst the ghastly displays, the guides caution the tourists, “We shouldn’t pass judgement so quickly. In those days, the world wasn’t so civilised and Angkor Sinjapura was among the greatest and most civilised of their time. We must have historical and cultural context.”

“I am one of the descendant of the indigenous people of Angkor Sinjapura” – The guide stands proudly before the tourists.

But no not really. His forefathers were but mere economic migrants to the city-state in the early-21st century. In those times, to consider his forefathers “indigenous” would be an affront to the actual indigenous population. But the tourists don’t really care. Where heritage is fetishised, living heritage, however inauthentic, is sacred.

The same historical text purports that Angkor Sinjapura was founded in the 16th century by a mythical Japanese mermaid lion from Cambridge law school which transformed a sleepy fishing village into a great city-state. Statues of a mermaid lion in a kimono with the scales of justice in its right paw and a char siew pau in its left paw are found littered around the ruins – artificially aged. You can find replica keychains in the souvenir shops and online as well.

More heritage: Shops sell language books that apparently teach the lingua franca of Angkor Sinjapura – “Maldarin”. According to the prefaces, Chinese Mandarin was the national language of the city and its inhabitants spoke a curious creole language mix of Bahasa Melayu and Chinese Mandarin which they termed, Maldarin.

A tourist somewhere vandalises an ancient royal porcelain drinking vessel which was really just a kopitiam cup.

Even more heritage: Actors along the tour routes re-enact day-to-day scenes of Angkor Sinjapura at its prime. They all wear Western suits with sarongs – the national dress. The Angkor Sinjapura economy, according to the guides, depended heavily on piracy, both on the seas and virtually. Their moral reprehensibility justified the Chinese hegemonic expansion into the region.

Somewhere further along the tour route, there are the recovered ruins of a HDB flat. For 5000 Renminbi, you can stay for a night in a HDB apartment. Perfect for social media, or whatever is the exponentially-bastardised 30th century version of it. Room service is Angkor Sinjapura cuisine which is a dish of ma-la hotpot, the national dish of Angkor Sinjapura according to the guide.

A television modelled after a 20th century model (they screwed up the dates) plays re-runs of archival footage of Angkor Sinjapura. Curiously, the original narration keeps referring to the city-state as “Singapore” rather than “Angkor Sinjapura”.

No one knows why, not even the guides.

Angkor HDB - 1

Photo taken at Angkor Thom, 2016

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A Clay Cigarette

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500g of air dray clay and some acrylic paint yields pretty results. I’ve gotten a commissioned to do a few more clay cigarettes. It is the healthier option after all. Plus you have a cigarette that will last far longer than a 5 minute nicotine high.

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The 3am voices

Your mother’s vagina – says A in a Hokkien so richly vulgar, so warmly familiar. He steps forward and in the darkness there is only a golden glint of his spectacles perched on the emptiness above his striped collared shirt.

I don’t owe you dog shit, you fuck – B returns in the Mandarin that still long retains the pollutive stench of Hubei. And unlike anything you see in the movies, B merely staggers back, hammered once in the face. It could have been a drop of blood, red on the tarmac, but all is black at 3am and memories too are fugitive.

*

Vagina! I told you the bitch was playing him – says C in mesmerising splotches of Hokkien, Mandarin and English. So too is the eclectic brands that he parades like ugly tattoos which are more manifestations of a rootless psyche than mere fashion choice.

Man-U is the red of his jersey, Xiaomi is the red melamine of his phone, TVB is the sound and fury that blasts from his screen unto his lighted face.

D leans back against the red of the plastic chair, now black in the 3am incandescent. He sighs in English – How the fuck I know? This episode is a fucking twist.

Made in China is the pollutive red of electric lanterns than hang above them – just a drop in the sea of artifice and cringe-dollars of Chinatown.

*

You love her or you love me – E screams. E is what we call an Ah Lian, a fierce one at that. Golden hair, blood lipstick, blue eye shadows – now shades of grey in the 3am alley.

I only love you – F says and a slap lands against his pimpled cheek.

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More wrinkled than phallic

My homeostatic functions have collapsed catastrophically at 5am. I am cold and yet I am burning. The fan drones on a croaking clockwork in the gusts of frigid wind but I am coated in the stench of perspiration. Wet with the churning, nausea of nightmare.

It is the same nightmare. It has always been the same nightmare every night. The same pockets of imagery and absurdity that comes to the fore every time my insomnia recedes. Fire ants of red crawling on my hairs, they don’t bite, they don’t hurt, they merely threaten by virtue of existence. I am a claustrophobe, naked in a rusty, algae-stained shower cubicle the size of a coffin. A caterpillar more wrinkled than phallic crawls and survives along the straight edge of the pillow.

This has been the third night I’ve gone to sleep in a drunken stupor. When I am not inebriated, I am an insomniac. When I am inebriated, I am schizoid. I can’t hear the dashes of conversation of the girl sitting across the bar. I serve her drinks, with the caustic liquids spilling over the brims with my parkinson-ed hands. I can’t even see the bus numbers when my shift ends. I have my spectacles on but my myopia has transcended even that.

***

1.

I am a cynic. I live in perpetual and uncompromising anomie. I have no faith, no love, no emotion, no hope for my future, no optimism for humanity or any political process, nor regard for what I will be. I simply do not have the capacity.

2.

I believe there is a threshold age by which if you do not display indications of greatness, or otherwise, have accomplished things that are precursor to greatness, you will never be destined for greatness. You will not be great, you will not be granted grandiosity, not even a footnote in a history book. Your death will be as light as feather, your life even lighter.

I am rapidly approaching that threshold, with nothing to show. Destined for mediocrity and fated to be of little quality, far in face of a twisted upbringing and ignominious personal narcissism that has promised nothing short of greatness.

3.

I don’t think I will ever be satisfied with life. I’ll always find inauthenticity and artificiality in whatever I have and whatever I have achieved. In the same vein, with or without religion, with or without love, with or without ever finding meaning, I doubt I will ever be truly happy in life. What the hell is “truly happy” even supposed to mean?

Taxidermy and the Void Deck

Grandmother is dead.
A tigress in her life,
Now taxidermied in a coffin.

A family of unfamiliar cousins have been mustered.
Peanuts and melon seeds are the pills
that ease the pain of conversation,
The saliva for non-consensual laughter.

Fourth Uncle is the recalcitrant streak
of an insolent red shirt
in a void deck of white –
chrysanthemums, tissue, fluorescents.

The chants of nam myoho renge kyo
harasses the embalmed sleep of grandmother.
The fragrance of morphine lingers stiffly.
But her lipsticked lips are the prettiest
I’ve ever seen on her face.

Sixth Uncle is asleep at 4am,
I am alone in the vigil.
For the only time in our common existence,
Grandmother and I start conversing.

First in my crippled attempt at Cantonese,
The only tongue she knew;
And finally in English,
The language of my generation
that she’d never understand.

Have you eaten? Is it too hot in the coffin?
Are the lights too bright?

Do you still remember my name?
Would you like to hear about my dreams, my life,
my moral complexities and existential anxieties?
How was it growing up during the War?
Was there ever a moment of happiness with grandfather?
Did you find life meaningful and are you glad to go?

And as always and forever now,
There can only be a reply of utter silence.
Not even a crackle of a candle or a buzz of moth.

This is Singapore after all:
A void deck of exhumed roots and unspeaking history,
Of a phobia of the nostalgia and a poverty of memory.

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The caged soul

I am a walking defect. Without warranties nor guarantees nor replacements. I have a deformed left clavicle from a fracture 7 years ago. A deformed 5th metatarsal from a triple fracture that I’m still recovering from (it probably worsened because I mistook the fracture for a sprain and continued haphazardly trekking, motorcycling, swimming, partying and getting wasted for 5 days in Southeast Asia before treating it at a clinic). I have a myopia so bad I would have long since died if I was living in the Stone Age. CMPB tells me that my thoracic cavity, restricted by a deformed ribcage, cannot sustain me with enough oxygen to engage in strenuous activity. I also probably have quite a lethal dose of cholesterol in my blood stream from sometimes eating five KFC 2-piece meals a month vis-a-vis an indolent lack of exercise.

Some things heal, and the many scars and scabs attest to that. Most things don’t. Like my well-worn two decade old skeletal system.

Fragility. Frailty. Futility. They epitomise the human body and and its uncompromising lack of longevity. Accumulative damage to the physical body is the driving force of ageing and old age will be the death of us all. We are all born with eventuality of death stamped in the nucleus of every cell, as much as I shy from that reality. I will never heal from these damages I’ve incurred in just two decades of existence. And I will incur far more for the years to come.

For all my prideful intellect, it is but a mere effect of this 1.3kg organ sitting underneath my skull. A hundred currently known viruses, bacteria or other illnesses would spell the death of this miserable mass of flesh and blood – the site of all this ego and existential consciousness. God, just one minute without oxygen is irreparable damage to my brain cells.

It is pathetic that humans will cease to exist, for all the generations of trying to make heroes of ourselves, for the all the long years of constructing meaning and fulfilment. It is precisely because the body will die that constructing meaning takes on such a huge preoccupation in human society. And it is this very obsession with physical fragility that creates massive buy-in to the social construct of the soul.

But there is neither soul nor a priori meaning.

We are all destined to cease to exist some time in the future and our bodies are just empty cages.

***

On a side note, it is both depressing and humbling to have spent the last month on crutches. Nothing creates more empathy for the disabled than being one yourself. Our handicapped-friendly architecture isn’t friendly. The Singaporean public isn’t the nicest. And I would never again blame the elderly or disabled from risking life and limb, trying to take the shortest paths, when the overhead bridge or the traffic junction is just a step away.