Sometimes, I just want to disappear into the woodwork

We were on one of our usual road-trips for work and we stopped by this town called Woodville. Now I’ve lived in New Zealand for nearly a decade but my perception of life is still distinctly different; ‘just get on with it’ does not always cut it, like I will not go to a wedding in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt. And so a town derided as being hicksville is for me, actually charming and serene; of week-day afternoons walking down the empty main town-centre and stopping by at the cafe for coffee. I wouldn’t mind living in hicksville, in a ‘bucolic’ hovel filled with books (or an iPad filled with books), with a comfy bed, and an over-grown garden. In reality however, I cannot account for how I’ll survive- what to do for a job (maybe rely on the benefit system?) to pay for Internet (not sure if Woodville has fibre connection), for proper heating in winter and for food because I honestly have no idea on how to create and sustain a garden.

But that is the clear picture in my head coupled with a sense of relief that I probably wouldn’t have to worry about ‘just getting it on’ with what to wear to a wedding; I would have no need for fancy clothes nor score invites to weddings. I would just be this old Asian person shuffling about town with the same regularity as everything else.

Does that sound sad? I actually think of it as a possibility, an outcome and I neither fear nor dread it.

It could be worse- like a future you never anticipated and in which you’re too old and too fragile to cope with even the simplest things.

Why not leave it at that?

I have been very busy which I guess, is a good enough excuse to miss blogging. At some point I begin to question the whole point of this, and then ultimately, to question every other thing that I do that is not about work, or living (like eating properly, exercising, taking your meds, putting on moisturiser followed by a serum and then another moisturiser). I am after all, my work and I think, isn't that enough? It puts food on my table (good food), guarantees some security in my old age, makes me smug in the belief that I am actually happy.

So why don't I just leave it at that?

The Obsession

Someone told me that a long road trip would do wonders for my creativity, that it would stir up my imagination, make me want to write again and that this time, something would come out of it. Turned out they were right. My imagination was stirred up. I wanted to create something, but it wasn't stories- I wanted to take pictures and make videos.

Now, I've been taking photos the moment I had a mobile camera. I have photos on the cloud that pre-date Apple's iCloud. Sixty-percent of the storage on all my devices is images. There is a probably an image of something or someone every other day of my life since 2006. I barely remember stuff, but I can scroll back in time and see what I had done, what I had felt, eaten and worn. It makes sense to take pictures and make videos but what doesn't make sense is how shallow my understanding of it all is and how superficial. I take pretty pictures but have no understanding of how I do it.

I remember one summer (I think) when my dad brought home the first professional camera he's had since he was at university studying Fine Arts. It was a manual Canon, the model of which I can no longer remember. He took photos of all of us- of my mother posed touching flowers in the garden; of my sisters in half-profile, with those weird bowl-cut bangs of the 80s; of me super up-close, pupils half-way up as if I was rolling them; and the best photo of all, of my brother Jay with his famed curls that everyone envied and with our mother's beautiful, placid face.

But this was the thing- half the photos were bad. The one of my mothers' touching the flowers and even the close-up were under-exposed. There was a photo of my dad from the shoulders up taken as if someone had bent at the knees, camera tilted awkwardly downwards (was it my mother who took this with instructions from my dad? Was there a tripod I couldn't remember?) I would've used a different lens to capture a wider angle, or I would simply take the photo face on perpendicular to the subject.

And I know this now because since the trip, I've been studying- something which I HAD NEVER DONE. My dad did photography as well as painting when he was younger and in the space of time between that and the summer he got the camera, a lot of things had changed. I don't know why he had that idea to get the camera and do a leisurely shoot. Was it to take the photos as references to future paintings? Was it to update himself on a hobby/art that he used to do? Whatever the reason, that was the last and only time. The camera was put away in his closet and we would on occasion, try it out after saving enough money to buy film and to have it developed (we had this 'photo-shoot' once with my sisters where they put on make-up and wore black satin dresses and the whole mess turned out blurry and over-exposed, the face foundation coming off as if they fell face first, onto a plate of flour).

I just feel that most of the time, we do things where we just coast along, and I have a long list of these- but after the trip I felt like this is one thing I am simply no longer taking for granted. I don't want to look back and regret having just done things casually and in the same vain of what Leila and I have to label as impeccant mediocrity.

"Ang gand, pwede na" no longer cuts it.

The long drive

I didn't drive of course. In my mind though, I was the one behind the wheel. 

I try to imagine if I could drive and I see myself just driving on and on. I used to do that when I still had my motorcycle. The destination wasn't anything specific; the whole point was the drive itself and how it somehow puts your mind in a zone where you can be away from everything else. This is morbid but I also think of myself dying, some horrific accident that ends my life instantly (it could statistically happen) and the thought forces me to do a quick accounting- have I done enough? How far have I become as a person? Have I loved enough and how true?

And the thing is this, whether you reach this reckoning (of no return or alteration) or not, every so often you do need that accounting.

You need to pause to see if you're moving forward to a destination wherever that may be and to be careful that you're not caught in an endless, repetitious loop like these GIFs below..

Dinner in the middle of nowhere (#werk #trip #DaySix

We arrived in Ranfurly at 6pm, but it might as well been after midnight as the town was effectively asleep as the winter darkness had fallen fast. Tick off the usual suspects- Four Square, the local pub, the hotel restaurant, a small Indian place- they were all deserted.

We dropped our stuff off at the motel (amazingly well-appointed, the Hawkdun Lodge) and accepted the reality that we would be trying to organise dinner from stuff at the supermarket. The Ranfurly supermarket was also empty save for the lone person/cashier/attendant. She was nice enough to suggest Naseby which was a few kilometers away. The directions seemed straightforward enough but I trusted Google Maps more.

It was total darkness all the way and 12 minutes in, some houses came into view, their lights dull. Was there really something in this place?? We drove silently into the centre of town and the few buildings there- the post office, the museum- were art deco and the road lamps were replicas of gas lamps like you would find in Victorian England. It looked to me, so Jack The Ripperish except that, why would Jack go here? Condemned perhaps to a town in the middle of nowhere where he could do little mischief once he dispatched what few residents the town had?

As it turned out, Naseby has only a population of 100.

We find the pub called The Ancient Briton and actually had a pleasant more day to go and snow forecast for the morrow...

#werk #trip #DayFive

Strangely enough, the most interesting things of the day were dead and stuffed.

Bored out of our wits driving for hours on end between stops, we happened to see in Pleasant Point in Canterbury, a brightly-lit room filled with a menagerie of stuffed animals so we stopped.

The O'Rourke Brothers taxidermy has been doing taxidermy for almost 60 years and of a quality that is high enough for their work to be contracted by the likes of the Auckland Museum and the Department of Conservation.

The new owner (who still employs one of the O'Rourke Brothers) Rob Morrison has a direct connection to the business- he is an avid hunter- which is really the first stage in someone wanting an animal (which they have shot) to be stuffed. I guess you either eat it or put aside some serious cash (prices start at $1000 for game heads) to have it stuffed and mounted. Rob took me to the back to see how it's all put together and it's not pretty. But then there is nothing delicate about hunting, or even the processing of meat for food.

The back-end of the shop is literally a sort of butcher-shop; the animals after all, like any shot game, have to be prepared and prepped. For a moment, I thought I would puke at the smell of flesh, sinew and blood, but then I think- it's like when I was 15 again and my dad was teaching me how to de-feather and dress a snipe.

I expected to also smell again, the last part of that process when you singe the skin over a flame to burn off the nubs from where the feathers had been plucked. But there was none of that bitter, acrid fume. Instead, the smell was of cold death- he opens a walk-in freezer the size of a shipping container and brings out a fish waiting its turn to be reincarnated, the sallow flesh, resilient and shiny again like something fresh out of water. The container is filled with wrapped dead animals or parts of them as far back as I can see like some serial-killers grisly cache of unfortunate victims.

The waiting time to get a medium-sized animal done is 10-15 months.

Back in the front of shop, I spy a small fawn in a sitting pose- prices are also determined by how an animal is posed- and it looks unequivocally lifelike, perfect and immortal...I think we should consider ourselves lucky if we had the same fate.

#werk #trip #DayFour

Dear Lei; so basically going around New Zealand for a work project (never mind what it is exactly) which started up north and slowly making our way south. Our routine for the last four days is this; we wake up at 7am and get on the road by 8am or 8:30. We drive (well, the driver does, not me) an average of 200kms between places and it's equally exhausting just sitting down and making conversation (it's inexplicably getting harder trying to communicate with 30-year olds these days). There is nothing much to see in the interior of New Zealand; at some point, the endless stunning landscapes cease to be stunning and just become this blur. Read what you will of what it means to you but really it starts to mean nothing because there is no one there. Suddenly, the idea of someone actually living in the middle of this desolation is an exciting, disruptive prospect (I have fantasized about this so many times). Sorry, but I think I'm convinced that nature is NOTHING without humanity's touch, destructive or otherwise. 

I have slept in about four different motels/hotels. My single piece of luggage is open like a disemboweled thingy on the floor and who brings these many creams and shit?? (I do) Not to mention my normal medication and vitamins (there's this new thing with Garlic combined with zinc, vitamin C and horseradish to stop allergic reactions- seems to work because my nose has stopped itching).

In the next few days (we fly out, the rental SUV ditched, on Thursday), I might see snow and I'm looking forward to that. I have this belief that I have this affinity with the cold, with winter.

I am I think, trying hard to convince myself of that. I look in the mirror and see my skin struggling- needs more moisture I think; thank God I have enough creams in the world for that...


#werk #trip #DayThree

Rain, rain rain. We should have sacrificed a lamb or something for better weather.

#werk #trip #DayTwo

In a small country like New Zealand, it's harder to see the class divisions. The man in the nondescript simple merino top and cords may be seven-figures richer than the man in the slim-cut suit and well-worn Ferragamo shoes. Or vice versa- merino tops and corduroy pants may also mean what it looks which is a modest retirement and a worry about that hip-replacement surgery waiting list. When we passed by opulent small homes in the Bay of Plenty with their long driveways and architecturally landscaped grounds, I couldn't picture what kind of New Zealanders owned them or what jobs (or businesses) they had. What's even more confounding was when we got deeper into the interior where the small towns are, so small, that even the smallest of fast-food chains (a good indicator of population) are non-existent, and I think, how do people in these places make a living? 

I mean, list up the usual suspects- farming, livestock, repairs, medical- aside from these, what else could one do?

Every time I pass by a particularly desolate looking place I think, if I lived here, what would I do? And I imagine these scenarios where I conveniently take away the problem of what to do for a living and I think I would:

1. Try my hand at gardening
2. Finish three books a week
3. Start long-distance running again
4. Learn a new craft like sewing
5. run for office or apply for a community position or something
6. keep a pet like a big dog

Repost: Where were you when the rapture happened?

September 4th, 2011
Remember Google+??? I remember wasting half a day at work, sneaking between open browser pages, looking up for a way to get invited. I eventually got an invite from my best friend and again spent half a day at work building it up.

So much fun, like being asked to spruce up an entire empty floor of some building with your, well, crap. Of course it was crap. What else could it possibly be, just a bunch of cutesy posed pictures (made up some faces on my Mac and edited out my jowl lines, my tired, baggy computer screen scarred eyes) random video links (wohoo! Hollywood Tuna)  and ephemeral flotsam and jetsam. Just the digitized short-hand really of the generation. 

A generation that's gone and disappeared.

And I certainly played well into the night when I got home. It was Cindy's mother's birthday and I had a very handy and dignified excuse- who the hell got drunk on a Monday???? I loaded a box of lemon-cheesecake cupcakes that my daughter Chloe baked for her grand-nana into Cindy's battered Holden.

'Put real lemon there dad, like they did on Top Chef.' Chloe just turned 9 and was trying to run away from her childhood faster than her stints at her school's cross-country races. "I'm sure your grand-nana would appreciate the lemon better on her gin and tonic sweetie..'

'Oh dad!' Mock adult disgust and falling over me for a kiss, her lips bitingly cold on my cheek. 'Where's your jacket hun, it's gonna get real cold.' And out of nowhere, she whips out my worn leather bomber jacket which she puts over some top and leggings on semi-adult legs. And it's my turn for mock-anger, 'oi!' I grunt before Cindy steps in as she's wont to, the only true time it seems for genuine affection, lightning quick snatches of it, before everything falls into the abyss of second mortgages, an immature job as she has always called it and too much Facebook instead of getting our freaks on. 

Like can we do it now, right here on the driveway as she sidles up to me, locking her hips against mine, my hands settling comfortably on the rise of her buttocks.

'Yeah, tell Elaine you're down with the flu, really down with it' I bite her lower lip gently and she bites back, her face a blur, the scent of something richly sweet like dark chocolate on her breath. 

'Uhmm..when we come back, promise...promise..'

Those were my wife's last words to me.

They pause down the driveway just before plunging into the darkened street as a light, misty rain falls. The car's interior light opens and I see Chloe, rummaging for her stuff at the back as usual. She tries to see me through the window, squeezes her eyes into slits, probably couldn't but waves nonetheless at what she believes to be her father still watching her drive away.

I was and it is the last and most painful memory of my daughter.


How it happened, I really don't know. There was no rumbling, no fireworks in the sky, no choir of angels announcing the ascension of the blessed and the eternal isolation of the damned.

I went back to my Google + account and thought, what a refreshing change. Empty; just me and digital quietude. I puttered around in the kitchen, made chapati and cumin meatballs in a Japanese curry sauce. 

I think it was about 10:30 pm but I'm just guessing. I remember looking out the lounge sliding doors, through the smear of condensation and the fog outside. The street lamp just outside the gate was on and it looked to me 'sadly luminous'. I remember that description, sadly luminous and I did feel, like a sudden cascade of cold water had fallen over me and a seemingly infinite, weepy sort of sadness.

And the funny thing was that I never did know what I was sad about at that moment....

(he sends a text message that remains unsent, sitting in his draftbox. There is no mobile service, just a slight, unnerving humming at the end of the line. Television services stop at 3am, radio follows soon after. And yet there is still power even as public lights burn on throughout the day and night. The internet still functions to some degree and when he checks for some clues online, one thing is chillingly clear- status updates on Facebook have ceased just before 10:30pm, GMT. He doesn't sleep for 48 hours straight and walks all the way to his mother in law's house in the suburb of St. Heliers, marveling at a cityscape captured frozen in its tracks even as the day rolls by. Cars are packed at Elaine's expansive driveway. Inside Cindy's Holden is his bomber jacket and he cries and cries clutching it, because it smells of him and not of Chloe..)

Stuff I've eaten in the last 7 days

Repost: two untitled poems circa 2010

This is why I think photos are more reliable records. Even if you filter them, nothing is really altered and it captures that singular truth- that day was what it all was. It was sunny. It was raining. It was raining and you were wearing your new winter boots. It was sunny and you had brunch at that new city cafe; the eggs were runny, the multi-grain bread moist with butter. It didn't matter what you felt or what you were thinking at that moment because there is no record of them. You can put in what you thought you felt at that moment but it feels somewhat insincere. I found a couple of poems I had written while combing through the back-end of my blog and I honestly don't know the context of how and why they are written. The only reason I'm reposting them is that I think they're not that bad.

And maybe this is why I take a lot of pictures- its a cleaner, more truthful record. But what is truth in this day and age? As someone known for fantastic story-telling (for the record, I've never lied anything about my life- I simply do not volunteer information which is nobody's business), what has truth done for me? 

It was so easy,
that after all this time you thought,
it took leaps of faith,
a fortuitous hand
or maybe necessary deceit.
But love knows its way
even in the darkest of places
and I still remember your face
or what I remember of it
that even as I close my eyes
I can see you, as clear as daylight
and see that love
is not garishly bright
as I feared it to be

course love is selfish.
In the beginning, the universe closes in,
collapsing in on itself until
there's only that vision of sweat on the nape
as if your eyesight had suddenly acquired
macro-vision capability.

It was half past 10 when, spent, hungry,
we decided that it was impossible
to ignore the sunlight streaming into the room
which seemed more like the middle of March
rather than June.

You were tracing the veins right below my navel
and just above the line of pubic hair.
Everything does seem vulnerable at a certain point in time;
so clear and translucent
even when you're already half-clothed.
I gushed how wonderful Sundays were;
how carefree, slow and languid.
Today is Sunday, you said,
and I did realize that it was.

We rode the jeep, just the two of us then
and for the first 4 minutes, we cherished the thought
that 4 minutes would seem
like a postponement of the inevitable.
But of
course it wasn't.

We parted
and the rest of Sunday
was dark, closeted and long.

Mining old stuff

It's been a long, long time since I last felt literary. Lately, it's all been about work content; videos, marketing pitches, social media (ugh). So I logged back into my old Blogger account which is like going into that old room, that upstairs attic or basement and rummaging through 'old files'. There's not much there- the longest one is a mere 1,400+ words- but it gives me a picture of myself that I ironically, don't see anymore even with an almost daily record of photos.

I currently have over 23,000 images, a few thousand of which even pre-date the launch of Apple's iCloud (2011) and my suspicion is that when someone rifles through them, they would find someone utterly normal; someone who clearly has mastered the art of taking food photos, has good shots of everyday things, is not really vain (and because I'm not photogenic)  and... nothing much else. There is nothing wrong with normal- the problem is that I'm actually not. I believe I'm not. And I hate being just normal.

The photos don't do me justice in the sense of showing something other than the obvious. But I take them because it's easy- so in a sense it's somewhat true- it is an easy life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the easy life- the problem is that I know nothing is ever easy.

When you rest on easy, that's when everything starts to get fucked up.

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 10.01.22 PM.png

Season's best dressed

In my mind- and don't laugh, though I think you will- my face is pale white, lips half-frozen as I catch my 7AM train in the middle of winter. There are plenty of things in this mental image that is just wrong. My face has never been pale white- the New Zealand sun is harsh and there is less of the pollution that shields your face from darkening UV rays. Winter in Auckland is hardly ever that cold, not when you're talking an average of 7 to 8 degrees. You'll even see someone (usually a fat person) in nothing but a summer shirt, as Kiwis generally think that to be physically affected by the elements is a sign of weakness.

But this is my image, my truth. I am forever done with heat, and sweat and fitted clothes when your body is hardly ever fit for it. So I embrace the coming of the colder season with a cheery nonchalance even as my skin struggles, my nose bleeds and my wallet moans.

A work colleague laughs gently trying her best to indulge me when I say that a new pair of winter boots I had just bought arrives at the office by courier (you don't leave $350 leather boots sitting outside your door unguarded the whole day) is an 'investment'. 'Do you somehow get some money back?' she asks me as if I was dumb enough to use the word 'investment' in a context that was second-nature to her (she's an accountant). 

'Actually I do' I reply. "It makes me realise that I deserve the best things in life that I am able to get for myself." 

I actuall didn't really say that.

I just smiled and laughed sheepishly, indulging her in return; I don't really need to explain myself to anyone and that for me, is one priceless luxury I can afford to give myself again and again.