Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Night

Last time you spotted a bug hanging from the ceiling, when I was humming Rumi's quatrains and cooking up Chinese medicine. Tonight you pick up the George Bataille novella on my desk. 'No wonder you've been running a temperature,' you say. 'Talk about indecent universe!'

You brought juice and chocolate. At the rush of sugar I open my eyes. You cast me a mischievous look, as if I was an intruder to my own home and I had sat down to assume my present persona: a woman who is plagued by a mysterious fever when she hardly has a cold.

'Don't ask me why,' I say, 'these days I just have a temperature sometimes.'

There must be other remedies. We can watch a cult movie--I have pirated copies of rare titles from the 70's. An insane young mother puts her love child in a basket and watches it float away down the river; a Mexican gunwoman whips her lover and kisses the wounds on her back so full of love. Or we can play some bizarre Japanese music and celebrate the night, a night others cry to because they pretend to walk under a starry sky when the universe is indecent and lewd--they only put on gelded eyes.

'Let's do something lighthearted,' you say.

There is no music--only the sounds of my steps on the floor, me taking a front step and another around you, a little spin; me raising my arms for an imaginary embrace, for balance; you turning, me following your collarbones to receive your signals when you are not aware of giving them; the sounds of my breathing, of my encircling the night.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Relief

Last year I visited the parents of a girl friend I had for ten years. L moved to France to start a new life. Few of us heard from her ever since; fewer saw her when she made quick trips back to Hong Kong, alone or with her husband's family. Her parents did not see much of her either except her sleeping at night in the bed she used to occupy, her getting ready in the morning to go out--L had a lot of errands to run.

'She came back to visit the Immigration, the dentist, her hairstylist, shopping malls, not us,' her mother said. In her early 60's, she had developed serious back pain and put on weight because of her relative immobility--she needed bed rest for the most of the day. She was still the lady I knew from my teens: short-haired, laid-back, spoke Cantonese with a strong Indonesian accent and occasional giggles.

I had brought nothing with me: no fruits or herbal remedies or anything a Chinese kid would bring out of courtesy when they visited their elders. L's parents watched me grow up for a few years when L and I were best friends. They liked to hear about the books and music I loved; they made soup for when I was around. In their mind I was as good and intelligent as a girl could be, and I had no parents.

'You don't need to know why a relationship dies. It can happen for no reason, like my relationship with my daughter,' she said, sitting on a fold-up chair with her arms crossed against apple green walls. She was trying to console me when I mentioned my broken friendship with L. I felt sorry for not being able to come up with better dialogue, in return for the affection she still had for me after all these years.

L's father picked up his guitar and began to play. Back in the days he was a minor celebrity around town. He worked in a bicycle shop in the neighborhood L and I grew up in, played a lean electric guitar along with his band mates every Friday night, which attracted a large crowd and constant media attention. Now retired, he still had his punky hair, 60's style shirts and a rocker's look on his face.

'Would you like to sing now?' he asked.

'But we already jammed in the park before we came up here,' I said, 'next to all those Filipino domestic helpers who were singing Christian songs!'

'It's kind of noisy downstairs. We can do another song. What about 'If I Give My Heart To You'? Here.'

I did not know the song, but I followed every note he played and sang along.

***

Last week E.T. and I had satay at a sidewalk restaurant near the countryside. He had a bottle of Corona and I had a pineapple drink.

'Now even you've gone over to the other side in life,' he said.

'It happened very quickly since last summer. I don't need to be understood anymore when something's already fucked.'

'It's a good thing. Here's to your birthday.'

We toasted.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

For My Poet Friend

This week is my birthday. Steven in NYC sent me a package: two beautiful chapbooks, State(s) of Flux and (Ir)rational Animals, two journals in which his poems were published, and another book he mentioned in one conversation (I think last year).

Steven and I have known each other for four years. In the early days we spent a lot of time grooving around with words. Sometimes we talked about literature and writing; other times we drifted off to the sun seeping through his windows and the night outside mine, dreaming of a time when we would sit on the grass in a park, read and eat some fruits in the breeze.

There was always drama going on in my life against the empty spaces in his at that time, though his spaces suffered occasional intrusions. I imagined Steven walking down the streets with a black umbrella and a soon-to-be stranger by his side, or him typing away on a computer at a cafe. Steven means coffee--espresso, a strong and thick smell in the morning against his foggy senses and sleepy eyes. There he was in his kitchen or lounge room.

We both made our shares of complaints. For some reasons he found my response very funny, like when I said, perfectly serious: 'Don't blame your ex. for being troublesome. She's a girl after all.' Steven's concern for me was more eloquent: his thoughts were concrete before I finished my lines, and I kept on talking to let him see the shape of my being. These days we do not get to connect as often though our dynamic is the same.

In my drama-ridden mind, I thought I must look like a character in a movie to him, an ungrounded woman of sort. Steven has different opinions. Looking at me from afar he still sees the best of me and protects it with his words, when I am ready to lie down, ambivalent and sticky like a dead starfish. His rationale is simple: This is what I think of you and there are others in your life who think the same. Those who do not have no right to judge!

In one of his books Steven wrote that I move through the pages. I found it in my memories--yes, there is a song for me, notes from my life and little anecdotes we shared, like a failed arthouse film from Taiwan and the gleam on collarbones. Other traces I am less certain of. Did I have this conversation with Steven or did I hear it from him? I was there, in between his spaces, even when I had no inkling of my own presence in his world.

One thing I have always liked about Steven is his sense of poetics: I like his work, I think he is a good poet. Now and then I read a poem of his and feel, 'This sounds like me thinking', except he is able to give it form in a way that I cannot. A few years ago I showed one of his poems to my friends and they asked if I wrote it. 'This is very you,' they said. My answer was no, I could never have written it. I do not have his language.

Reading his chapbooks the other day, I came closest to wishing I was a poet and that I could bring joy to someone else with such pure, succinct expression, because nothing--not money, not fancy holidays or objects, not pampering or promises of future comfort, nothing!--makes me happier than this kind of understanding and chemistry put into words, elusive and intangible as they are. If I ever write a poem again, it should be for Steven.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Shields

Tonight a man sat down next to me and said, 'I'd like to be with a generous woman like you.' He made his judgment based on a brief story I offered. The story featured him at the start. He was the one who set off the waves out of his good-hearted, straight-forward nature and his perception of the world: the dynamics between people and glimpses into a truth that had to unfold, one that would bring out the sparks if it was handled honestly in space that people should learn to give, because a desire was true once it was born and had a life of its own.

What he failed to see when he looked at me--me sitting in a high chair flinging my legs in skinny jeans, smiling in blood red lipstick--was that different shades of light shine on every story. The lights that could turn our worlds into the brightest places, make us laugh and cut through the mist of complexities, could only make others go blind in fear. I have fine skin as this man has a rough, charming laugh. We raised our voices then kept them down against the strumming of guitars, hallow singing and blue light--we had no armors, no shields.

'It's a matter of being brave,' he said. 'When you act generous, some things fall into places at a later time.' Kindness hurts the most: through the night it plays itself out like an episode in a horror movie with no ending. It chases you, taunts you down the dark alleys and you slip, you want to stay on the ground rather than get up to be brave again. How do you keep your anger to yourself--how do you rip yourself open to find that place of affection that lays ruined and offer it to someone else, as if your life was larger than theirs?

The man held my hand. What he could not foresee from the start, we still cannot see. We do not know what has truly fallen or what is falling in the days to come. 'I'll see what I can do for you,' he said.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Red Dream

You arrived in my town and called me. There you stood, tall and lanky in a red and black striped shirt, your hair falling soft and brown and a little messy on your forehead. I hadn't expected your presence. You're supposed to be on a trip to another state, or you'd hide in some corner in your city until the summer passed.

I had no sense of time. The only thing I knew was that you were here. You decided to fly over to my town even if it was for a short time--too short, given all our talks about second coming. At the sight of you I grinned and threw my arms around you. It was a happiness seeping through my skin, as we walked down the bright corridor to the studio where a tango party was happening. My tango classmates were there, sipping red wine, dancing when we entered and I presented you to my world: here's my poet friend, a presence to behold in this moment as if I couldn't see what would happen the next day, or the day when you would be gone.

In the dream the world was red. There was a joy that lived in the in-between state. I asked you to wait for me as I looked for my tango shoes--blue, black suede and black stiletto heels. I was in a tank top and a black knee length skirt, and I felt naked in my excitement. You're just happy to be with me and to watch me dance. You wore that smile you usually had in pictures: just a little calculated, hiding your shyness and your worries about happiness that would not last.

I must be calling you in my dream. Even now I'm still calling, seeing the image of you in red, your half smile--and I remember your voice, which I last heard in a recording of you reading a poem in public. You're like air slipping between my fingers. I open and close my hands when I feel you, but you're not there and I see only my skin. An emptiness.

***

When I woke up and started the day, there was a notification of mail collection in my mailbox. It was addressed to my full name, the one I gave you in my last email.

It must be your books waiting for me.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Note to Mr Right

You're nothing but a beautiful scam. Few people see your pretension because you don't even see it in yourself--you have total belief in your game like the snooker player who keeps a serious face and loses half-way.

Have you seen your share of Tarkovsky's films? In art there can only be talent and mediocrity. Either you're an artist or you're a hack who spins some good looking shit. For most people in the world the mediocre is the real shit. You're as good and shallow as those who buy into your pretty twists. The worst is that you act like the proper kind of guy because that's the only way you've known how to live--you strike a deal and build a small empire wherever you see fit. It's easy to seek new ventures to distinguish yourself, when you're rich and established and glamorous.

As if that special aura you wear isn't enough, you now put on a halo of righteousness. You're the Mr Right who's right in your dealing with everything and everyone. After all, given your status and demeanor, how could you miss out on any crucial details or moments? If there're bumps on the road it's someone else's faults. You raise your voice and announce your judgment. If anyone violates your opinions, you reassert yourself and hang up rather than listen. There's no way you could have made mistakes; it's the others who mess things up.

Success is going to be no problem--someone like you is a stunner by the world's standards. But if there's any truth in what you do, I'll fucking eat my hat.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Blackbox

Everything fades so fast. In delirium the world is a blackbox theater. The drama is fleeting pictures of intensity. A man wearing a green straw hat opens his mouth to speak, but his face is gone before I can grasp it. Then there is the void again: my memories fall into oblivion, I cannot find the presences and places I have held onto. Maybe they have shifted and moved on to the future, where they lay waiting for me to pick them up, wash them clean so I can reclaim them and the seeds will blossom once again--in that new world, the sun shines a brighter light.

If only we could navigate through the currents, not for a moment fall back into the agony of things. I love to tread through the impossible because everything is a challenge nothing is at stake if you do not hold glimmers of hope. It is not about hope; it is about moving along each day that unfolds, towards another time and space that I will not foresee.

* * *

In the last few months I have read mostly poetry. It is not a sign of sadness as much as proof of my decelerating attention span. I want to take the world into my hands and live it, hold what I discover and leave.

Last week I read three collections of poems by British poet Paul Farley. From what I have read his poetry is observant, compassionate, quiet and quite versatile. Here is one that makes me smile. From Tramp In Flames:

The Westbourne at Sloane Square

You again! Of all the bomb-scarred stonework
and air vents underfoot I knew by heart.
You, still going strong in your black pipe
above the passengers and mice-live tracks.
You, flowing through eighteenth-century parkscape
into an ironclad late-Victorian night.

Pissed and standing on the eastbound platform
I was a tin soldier who'd fallen in
to London's storm drain, sent spinning around
the Circle Line long after closing time,
and all along I've carried these trapped sounds
I hear again and recognise deep down.

How many miles of shit have you crawled through
since we last met? I'd do it all again.
We've less choice than we think, the likes of you and me.
Blind water, borne along or bearing through,
escaping in a hurry for open sea.
To think we start as innocent as rain.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Kings of Convenience
















It's taken me this long to post these pictures from Kings of Convenience in Hong Kong on March 25 because it's Easter holiday and everyone is supposed to be lazy or I have been away dancing and generally up-to-no-good.

I've listened to KoC since their first album in 2001 though at the time they're nowhere near one of my favorite bands. In those days I was going through a serious post-rock phase--I still am and probably always will be--think instrumental rock music built on creative, controlled chaos and escalating layers of emotions. In my mind KoC was a solid outfit: they made a big sound with acoustic guitars and they sang wonderfully, so what's there not to like? I suppose it was the association of their first album cover with cardigans and English tea: it all seemed a little too soothing for my taste. I wasn't such a fan of 'pop' music either and KoC was accessible, albeit genuinely gifted.



















My taste hasn't really changed over the years but my relationship with KoC's music has for one reason: many of the other bands I like have stopped playing and KoC is one of the few I can still look forward to. There's a lot to say about a music fan going over the stuff she's liked and waiting to hear what's next. Now I listen to KoC more deeply and live that intricacy of feelings I used to miss in their songs. Simple tunes like Cayman Island and I Don't Know What I Can Save You From that are perfectly well-crafted. It doesn't hurt at Erlend and Erik are gorgeous boys: they're cut out to be a pair. I'm a big fan of Erlend in his nerdy persona!
























Jing Wong opened for KoC. I think Jing and I met over three years ago because of our shared interest in Beckett. Jing is a popular presence in the indie music scene in HK. In earlier days he was seen busking outside Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui and the frantic pedestrian areas in Causeway Bay. I remember one of our few phone conversations during which he whined: 'The police hunted me down the streets and accused me of begging!' while Jing, in fact, made a few bucks, adjusted his skinny tie, and exited the scene half smiling.

These episodes earned Jing a growing reputation and he was making appearances in movies (at least one that I'm aware of) and all kinds of street and stage concerts. Jing is now signed to a record label and will release an album this year. When he's not singing Jing runs his own fashion brand Daydream Nation with his sister. At the KoC concert Jing was in his element and a hit among the audience. Great things lie ahead for Jing and I look forward to the day when he is crowned the prince of indie pop in HK (or is he already?).























Davina is a friend from HKU, which means we've known each other for years and years though we never make plans to meet up, since we're both introverts who act like extroverts, except Davina is popular and has more friends who adore her than one can imagine. We both live in old Chinese-styled buildings: me in a quiet one, Davina in a rowdy one inhabited by hawkers and their clients who size her up and down. Another thing we laugh about--in our separate universes--is that we are people who can't seem to make plans but trust that life will work out while we're celebrating and loving every moment of it.

At the concert Davina appeared out of thin air and joined me in the audience. Both of us were surviving on three hour sleep, though Davina was still energetic as a sleep-deprived eccentric could be. When I frowned at how the photo was a little blurry, she spoke in her typically loud and sweet voice: 'Why does it matter? It's not a wedding photo!' Such response was very much in line with her usual persona ('I watched a lot of TV' she said, when my friend asked why her English was so perfect at my birthday drinks last year). Davina is as good as Davina is, and I hope to run into her again soon.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Don't Stop The Dance

Tonight I drifted on the dance floor--in and out of drinks spilling on a girl's dress, frantic dancers amidst presumably fancy moves, and conversations with my tango classmates. One moment my friend EC made a remark--out of good will--about my recent life which threw me into immense self-doubt. Had I switched off my music and sped past the highway so others could have an easy ride, when I should have spat and crashed to give them a taste of trauma?

I went to sit down on the carpeted stairs and called E. Back in the days E and I had a tricky love story. At best we overcame ourselves and let our story live until it exhausted its possibilities. On my part it was an extended curve of resistance, surrender and finally a massive black-out. But you cannot pretend what exists does not exist. One day I had to see him again: he is the one who knows me.

'Come and save me,' I said on the phone.

Twenty minutes later E walked out of the lift and I threw my arms around him. To my friends I introduced E as someone who studies Chinese medicine. 'We used to date. He's here to talk to me,' I said. The girls were amused how I made a past lover appear--one who was here to scoop me up--as if I had a magic wand. E and I watched the dance.

'Tango suits you very well. It's emotionally intense.'

'My favorite partner at the studio--he's a shy person but when he dances he's very intense.'

'I don't think I can be that person.'

'Anyone can turn into that person. It takes time and effort but you'll get there. It's a process.'

E and I talked. Four years after we first met we still manage to feel amused at each other. To me E is an 'alien entity' that also happens to be a real person: few people I know are as intelligent, quietly eccentric and exceptional as he is, with his frizzy hair and his head full of Bach scores. To him I must be an ever-changing palette that is finally showing its true colors. In the last two years I have started to grow into the person I am, which is the person he thought I was from day one. Listening to my stories, E put his hand on my arm and laughed.

'No other girl would think or act the way you do. Not a Hong Kong girl anyway.'

'C'mon! I'm a guy half of the time. You've always known that.'

'No, you're straight from European cinema. Everyone expects Hollywood plots and you're a character in a French film. People who don't know you will second guess your words and actions and wonder if you're playing games.'

'I have my fucking principles!' I smiled.

'And what are they?'

'That I'll always try to understand and I act true to what happens.'

'Some things about you are too good to be true. When people reach their dreams they're afraid to live it. I think they just have to watch more French films to understand you and believe you're real.'

Someone asked me for a dance. Spinning in the crowd I noticed E had disappeared. When it was over I checked my phone. There was a message from him: 'I'm heading home. You have fun.'

And so I danced. Tonight I am as happy and free as a person can be.