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These days I am confronted with the brevity of life almost everywhere I turned. I have just been told that my own sister, my only other surviving sister, is found to have a tumor in her colon the size of a ping-pong ball. It has metastasized, spreading to the lungs and probably the bones. This is Stage 4. Then there is Uncle Bob, my son's father-in-law, who is in hospital after a fall that left him with a blood clot in his brain. What troubles me is that I am not as troubled as I should be.
The first brush strokes that fill a blank canvas are usually not seen in the finished painting. It forms the underlay, over which other colours are added. That's why I don't like to start a painting. The first layer of paint is not always pleasing to the eye. But from there, as I work on the painting, the scene takes shape, and the hues become more vibrant. The best part of the whole process is when I work on the details, and see the realism showing through. The finished painting is the reault of a lot of work, and dedication
The best part of the day is sunset. It's when the day is over and I had accomplished what's necessary and worthwhile. It is drawing the curtains on the past and going to bed to wake up to another new day. At sunset, I celebrate the end of a day well-lived. The dramatic hues of crimson and yellow against a darkening sky marked the glorious exit of the day. So it is when I come to the end of my life. It will be beautiful, if I can look back and declare that my life has been well-lived.
Still on the subject of death and disease, I was down at the school canteen for a break when there was a commotion at the noodle stall. Jon told us the "noodle uncle" had collapsed at the stall and a student and a teacher were at that moment trying to resuscitate him. An ambulance had now arrived and the ambulance attendants have started CPR with a pump. My companions left my table to see what was going on. I, on the other hand, continued with my meal. I have always resisted doing what everyone else is doing, so I stayed.
The "noodle uncle" died at the hospital. He had a heart attack. At first, we thought it was all very sudden. Philip went to the wake, and "noodle auntie" told him he had been sick for a while. There was an obstruction in one of his arteries. The cardiologist had advised surgery to insert a pacemaker. He was not willing to spend $40,000 on the procedure, so the doctor gave him pills to take. However, he went to a Chinese "sinseh", a practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine, who told him not to take the medicine. He was ill-advised.
I woke up at about 5.45 this morning and found a "Whatsapp" message on my Samsung phone. It was from my son. His father-in-law had passed away in the night. Two days earlier, doctors had advised that the family allow them to operate on him to remove the blood clot. After much discussion, they made the heartbreaking decision to let him go and save him the suffering. The blood clot was over half his brain, so the surgery carry great risk. He would be in ICU for a long time. He was also very old, almost 90.
What is passion? Can we see passion? Are there visible manifestations of passion? I think I am looking at them now, all over this room and on the floor. There are seven quadcopters on the floor. When he first started, there was only one. There are radio-control accessories, and an assortment of cables, carbon fibre propellers and what have you. As the hobby grows on him, it also grows on the home. Your passion takes up all your resources, but it keeps you happily occupied. It's good to have a hobby, something productive that keeps him learning and living.
If the moon is full tonight, I will go sit in the balcony. I will pour myself a glass of wine, and read the new book that I bought, the one that teaches me how to write short (sentences). It is always windy in there so I will weigh the table cloth down with the candle holder. I've not been able to drink wine out there by candlelight because I could not lit the candle. The wind is too gusty. I'll not turn the light on in the balcony. I'll read by the moonlight.
But there is no moon tonight.
The finals of the meet this year has spiraled out of control. The principal wanted it at night, in a big stadium outside of school. Then he wanted to make it a family affair. He sent an invitation to every parent of the three thousand students. As expected, half of the parents of the youngest of our student population are coming. As it gets bigger, so do the problems of logistics. It is now more of a carnival than an athlete meet.
Why, yes. He has now called it a carnival and there is even a mass dance!
I will not beat myself up over this small mistake. I left a student out of the shot put event because more than three competitors had signed up and I was only allowed to register three. I had twenty-four hours to register them in the system, so I asked their captain. He named someone to take out, and that happened to be a better putter than the others. When he turned up, he found he was not allowed to compete. He was mad.
I apologized. There's nothing else I can do. I'll not lose sleep over that.
Your whatsapp came while I was in class. I guess that helped because I could not let myself fall apart. I had to focus on my job. You said you felt you and Baby are the least of his priorities, that you can't stand it anymore, that each time you talked, you argued. Sounds familiar. But wasn't there a time when the two of you were in love? When you had cancer, he gave up his job to look after you. Think about what you are arguing over and see if those are problems enough to break up a family.
I spent this day shopping for the Lunar New Year and the Re-union feast at our place tomorrow evening. This is what is celebrated as the beginning of spring in China and wherever the Chinese diaspora is found. It is the most important festival in the Chinese calendar. The re-union is very important. This is the time of the mass return flow of migrants from the cities to the rural areas, by trains, by planes and any other means. They must get home for the re-union, by any means and at any cost. Family is so important.
We've chosen this night to have the Lunar New Year Re-union dinner because everyone is available on a Sunday night. This is usually done on the Lunar New Year's eve which is next Wednesday. The food was ready by 5pm. The relatives started arriving by 6 with more dishes for the feasting. The last ones to arrive were our little grand-daughter and her parents, my son and his wife. We do this every year, and in the beginning of our marriage, I almost dreaded it. I didn't like big family gatherings. I see now that family defines us.
I could see that she was crying. I told Alexis to take her to the washroom. Twenty minutes later, I went to look for them. Alexis said she was all stressed out by the deadlines this term. Her mother nagged at her in the car and she broke down. I held her hand and told her to do one thing at a time until it's all done. Soon, she was ready to return to the Auditorium. I called her mother who rushed down to school. She too broke down. She had watched helplessly as her daughter struggled with her work.
The series of video clips voiced over by famous personalities found on the website "Nature is Speaking", or something to that effect, were very watchable; the filming was excellent and using famous actors like Harrison Ford and Julia Roberts goes down well with the audience. I especially like the clip Water. It was voiced over by Penelope Cruz. The theme is, humankind is wreaking havoc on nature, but nature doesn't need us. We need nature. Really? I think nature needs us. Every garden needs a gardener to tend it. The Earth and all that's in it is one big garden.
Tonight I watched a few of those TED talks on topics like "Letting go of self-importance" and something on the Math of Weight Loss. Of course, at the time of their talks the speakers were absolutely convinced of the positions they expounded. I wonder if they still hold on to those beliefs. For instance, Lisa Rankin says the body can heal itself. Does she believe that she will never get cancer again? The one that spoke on the Math of Weight Loss, does he really believe that by breathing out carbon dioxide we lose weight? It's not that simple.
A niece brought a PRC tour guide to court for cheating her 86 year-old widowed aunt. He was her tour guide on a China trip three years ago. He soon moved into her villa as her "godson", fired her entire domestic staff, and brought his own family over. When the widow, who had a 40 million dollar fortune, signed over the power of attorney to him, the niece took him to court. The courts quickly dug up enough dirt on him- for instance, he started bogus companies to get permanent residency here - to bury him, and lock him away.
There are three trees in the garden. They are all palm trees. They loomed over the car park and I am drawn to them because they are so different from one another. The first tree is almost entirely covered by climbers, so that the greenery that enshrouded it actually hid the real tree beneath. The second tree is completely free of climbers, but it is sad looking because the fronds lower down on the trunk had died and they hung down lifelessly. The third tree is healthy, no dead leaves and no climbers. This is good material for a parable.
It was I who told them that it is not important to win. It's enough to finish the race. But now I am beginning to think that's not what I should be telling my athletes who are there running for the House. Everyone must run to win, and not just to complete the race. Completing the race is the easy part. You need to want to win so that you'll push just that little bit harder. Maybe, what I should be saying is you don't compete if you don't want to win. And if you don't win, well, you've tried.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. In the early years, the root of my unhappiness was the failure to change certain things, or people. I have problems with people I live with whom I hope would be more considerate, more loving or more understanding. We were told that we need to talk, to learn to communicate better. It's easier said than done. Talking usually ended in arguments. It took almost a lifetime to reach this stage in my life when I accept the things, or people, I can't change. I've learned to be happy.
He was here on a scholarship given by our government: free accommodation, no school fees, a generous allowance, and with no strings attached. There are about a hundred of them in our school, and most of them perform very well. He was, however, a disappointment. His long string of trespasses include truancy, lies, forgery and theft. He was defiant, unrepentant and unresponsive to counseling. Now, he has graduated, and wants a letter of recommendation from our school for college. We can't give him one, and he can't go to college without it. The dilemma is as much his as ours.
Who was it who wisely penned that an owl is a bird that talks a lot but cannot fly? So the duty or purpose of all birds is to fly? But I can name a few more that can't fly, such as, the ostrich, the chicken and the turkey. Flight is just one attribute. The owl can boast that it can talk while most birds can't. When applied to people, maybe the point here could be simply this: some people may not be like most people, but we should make a conscious effort to treat them without prejudice nor contempt.
A flock of swifts circled overhead restively close to the clock tower. Among the two thousand or so gathered for the morning assembly in the grounds below, only a few heads turned skyward, drawn to unusual sight of the swarm above. Announcements were read over the public address system, the usual dreary stuff. Then we saw, circling above the swifts was a huge bird with a wingspan more than ten times that of the swifts. I could not be sure if it was an eagle, but it would explain the excitement in the air above us. The predator is near.
The picture of the black swan at the Botanical Gardens, dry webbed feet on dry ground with the receding water of the lake in the background is evident of the little rainfall we have been having this first two months of the year. The grass everywhere is turning brown and trees are shedding their foliage. All signs point to another dry month like what we had this time last year. We are now only beginning to appreciate that the impact of global warming will also be felt here in this tiny island state, just like the rest of the world.
It's a weekday and I am only home because I'm sick. So I now have time to hammer out words to clear a backlog of writing. Why is it we spend our time doing things that don't really interest us and struggle to find time to do what we are passionate about? It's because we need to make a living. That's an irony, right? We do not live so that we can live? I envy those who are making a living doing the things they love, but I had that chance. What I am is the sum of my choices.
At last, there is some good news. My son's neighbour, who had been harassing them since they moved into their new flat in the middle of last year, had finally turned up for a court appointed mediation session. He had signed a document that he will not bother my son and his family, and if he does, that document can be used against him in a court of law. He even said he has problems with his tenancy and his landlord may not allow him to stay. He could be moving out in two months. Well, we wish him well.
Vignesh says he's not well, and may not be able to run the 200m at Monday's heats. What can I say? I am only allowed to enter three competitors. I had to eliminate three from a field of six runners, and Vignesh was one of those selected. Here at our school, we cannot substitute a reserve because we use a software that turns out the events, and every runner must be registered by name. Once again, technology has trumped commonsense. There'll be outrage among the eliminated runners on Monday when they hear that Vignesh can't run and they can't substitute.
Racism is real and and it hurts. I was thrown together with a group of four at a workshop where I was the only Asian. It soon became obvious that they're not happy that I was in their group. Firstly, they're talking without making eye contact with me. Then one lady left to join another group. The two gentlemen that remained made no attempt to hide their displeasure in working as a group. They were not interested in anything I have to say. I became very self-conscious and ashamed that I can't speak with their native accent. It's humiliating.
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