Tag Archives: solitude



“For what separates dawn from dusk is day
And what separates joss from ash is respect
And what separates you from me is time
And if you lose even the memories
Then we will truly be apart”
– from Separation by Daren Shiau


I remember that twilight hour. I had emerged from a small bookstore where I had been browsing through Daren Shaiu’s Peninsula whilst broodily negotiating an online sale. It had been a long day.  Earlier I had walked through the bright green compound of Dempsey Hill visiting art galleries, along the way stumbling upon big wire cages full of noisy parrots and a dreamy green pond with fishes the size of small sharks. I had a difficult time in Anna Berezovskaya’s exhibit. It was all so beautiful and whimsical and other-worldly, yet I struggled to immerse myself in it fully because I couldn’t stop wrestling with myself in my mind. The second exhibit (Zhu Yan Chun’s The Substance Series) returned me to mountain paths and natural pigments, and I breathed easier.

 [The day’s clippings]
In the glow of early evening the meandering lanes of Duxton road had me scaling a hill and passing the entrance to a small park where I met a big cat, a miniature tiger-like creature.

I lingered a while in Monica Duxton’s exhibit- A Universal Truth, feeling soothed by light and space. When I stepped out to wander again, I looked at all the corridors and windows a little differently. A universal truth indeed. I also felt curiously tempted to get a drink, after a long period of ambivalence to alcohol.
Stepping out of the bookstore, I walked past shophouses to the main road which was lined with cars making their way home from the city. I felt very subdued, and a little bothered inside.

Across the road was a set of flats. Rows of disorderly bamboo laundry poles stuck out from stacks and stacks of faintly glowing squarish windows. Behind them, the dramatic silvery towers of a newer housing development jutted out like a swords. Pattern and juxtaposition. This is also poetry, I thought to myself. The mixture of lights and street sounds left me mellow and dreamy, and I felt myself suspended, like the light in the sky, between darkness and day.

After a long train ride I would arrive home, where I would make myself very upset with my verbal blunders, overanalyse the transaction I had earlier completed, attempt to clean my room, annoy those around me, and end up feeling very hurt and trapped and childish and taken advantage of.

I’m not sure how the evening ended. But once again the night would have come, dark and cool, closing the day and dividing it from the next. It used to bother me terribly, the way one day did not flow smoothly into the next like verses in a song do. It often felt like someone was taking a scissors and cutting each day and each moment off from the next.

In the end, I am not quite sure how to end the telling of this story. Perhaps I shall simply allow it to retire, close this pandora’s box of memory, creep beneath the covers. The words of Alvin Pang float to mind:

“Let waking divide
this day in which you walk
from the past
which already is less
than whisper, fainter
than a breath’s caress.”

“Make space with your words
so those who come after
may hear their own voices
in your silence, deepening.”

(From a poet is instructed by the death of his master) 


Other Things by Alvin Pang

Other Things

To buy a potted plant is to admit both faithlessness and need. To water the plant, perhaps daily, perhaps once in a while when you remember and the leaves start to droop, is as close to love as it gets.

Other things mean other things.

To light a lamp is to hide darkness in the same closet as sleep, along with silence, desire, and yesterday’s obsessions. To read a book is to marry two solitudes, the way a conversation erases and erects, words prepare for wordlessness, a cloud for its own absence, and snow undresses for spring.

The bedroom is where you left it, although the creases and humps on the sheets no longer share your outline and worldview. In that way, they are like the children you never had time for.

A cooking pot asks the difficult questions: what will burn and for how long and to what end.

TV comes from the devil who comes from god who comes and goes as he pleases. To hide the remote control in someone’s house is clearly a sin, but to take the wrong umbrella home is merely human.

The phone is too white to be taunting you. The door you shut stays shut. The night is reason enough for tomorrow, whatever you believe.

Remember, the car keys will be there after the dance. Walls hold peace as much as distance. A kettle is not reason enough for tears.

The correct answer to a mirror is always, yes.

– Alvin Pang

(This poem balances whimsy and lonely so nicely, I feel like I can read it over and over again for a long time.)

Quiet nights in the living room. I’ve been kicked out of the bedroom. The dog blinks from under the sofa, disturbed by my presence but too polite to do anything about it. I can feel time passing around me, time stored in all these familiar shadows, familiar paraphernalia. Only the dog has full access to all our scent traces – the places where our baby hands marked these same objects. Your things remain where you leave them, although like the sheets in the bedroom, they no longer share your outline and worldview. Like the children you never had time for. 

The dog himself has matts near his collar, his toe-nails are always tapping the vinyl floor until once in a while we remember to trim them. On the table a terrarium that never gets sprayed until we recall it is there, as close to love as it gets. 

I often think it would be nice to pick up the phone and be able to call someone, to ask: how am I supposed to sleep, where am I meant to go, and who will love me now? The phone is too white to be taunting you. Instead I wonder around the kitchen, staring into cupboards looking for satiety. Left on the stove for the people who didn’t eat dinner, a cooking pot asks the difficult questions: what will burn and for how long and to what end. Of course my questions won’t actually be said, they will only linger, the only question is with whom? Words prepare for wordlessness, a cloud for its own absence. 

Unable to accept rest, I linger on the couch with a book, bookmarking its pages with tears. To read a book is to marry two solitudes. Perhaps my author also wrote in tears. I have to stop crying and being so terribly small and seeing hurt everywhere if not I’ll never be able to sleep. The night is reason enough for tomorrow, whatever you believe. I wash my face, say a prayer, look in the mirror. Mirrors always ask too many questions, but the correct answer… is always, yes.

Good night.

The present that mirrors all.


Trains, like showers and other magic, are best taken in solitude. It rocks and rumbles as it starts, then the rumbles start to have a rhythm to them, and then the world is flashing by. You’re looking out the window and seeing beautiful things. Like the sunset sky spreading its wings over rooftops tinted gold, like dark rain glistening on the window, like morning mist bathing the trees as day takes first breath.

It’s not like a painting, where the colours are still. It’s more like looking into someone’s eyes, where the world swirls and pulsates with light. As you cut through the transient sky, there are a few seconds of dissonance where you are looking at the sky and the land but you feel like you are seeing somebody. The gold in the air, the glint in the dark, all appear as someone, someone dear, laughing in your memory. You realise this, and you feel a distinct sense of existential convergence, as though all the beauty and the wonder of the world were at once captured in that one moment, those laughing eyes. In your mind they sparkle, like bells. You’re aching because you’re wrong and you’ve always been wrong, yet you feel you must be right this time, brought back to a moment where you felt nothing in the world mattered more, except that the delight and the kindness in that face should never be lost.

Light and dark pursue each other and turn around a new day and you watch. Even as the train pulls into the station you are sure that somewhere out there, there must be an answer to your fears. You’re still relentlessly feeling your way through the distance with your eyes, trying to distinguish that tenderness that will restore your wonder and fill you with courage. As you search you realise that they were all wrong, who told you to look within yourself. Salvation, like an embrace, can only come from out there.

“You-You alone will have stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night..You, only you, will have stars that can laugh!”

― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Thoughts after 8 weeks of blogging

I started this blog worrying that I would not have enough to write about. I never seem to think or feel very much about anything, compared to most people. I also worried that I would regret my writing, should I say something overly emotional, or offensive, or just plain silly.

But I ended up never having a shortage of things to say. They say reading is like conversing with a friend. I reckon writing is the same. Except that friend is yourself, the deepest part of yourself, the part I thought only other people had. I realise now, that there is magic in words. For when I write I never end up where I intended to go. I learn new things and discover what is hidden. I am comforted, amused and inspired.

Not that I love my writing. Indeed, I don’t like it. It is at best, juvenile, and at worst, just plain weird. Reading my writing often seems to me like listening to bad pop music – it all sounds the same.

But I do not despise my writing. I cannot appreciate my posts as pieces of writing, but I appreciate them as pieces of myself. They are as much a part of myself as my body or my voice or my mind. And we must learn to love ourselves, however much we might want to change. In self-expression, the shades and patterns of meaning that emerge are unique only to us. That is also why I must remind myself to appreciate other people’s thoughts, even if I don’t agree with them. For the colour of the thought that is expressed is unique to the person’s heart, and can never be replicated

I tell myself now not to worry about previous posts that might have been a tad bit strange. Strange or not strange, they are still reflections of what I was at that point in time. We must value what we were as much as we value what we are and what we can be. Though the first is often the most difficult thing to do.

I somehow ended up writing a lot more emotionally than I ever intended to. I would like to assure my friends that I am as much myself as I ever was, perhaps even more so than ever. Here, where I have been released from both the burden and the comfort of the mundane. If I am sad, it is not a complicated sadness. It is actually simple. It is that deep central emptiness that haunts every man. Most of my days are good days, and I don’t feel it too badly. But bad days do come, days where I feel I might be going a little mad. But perhaps, it is those days where we feel like we are going mad that we are actually becoming sane.

I started writing not really knowing what I was writing for. And I’m still not really sure what I am writing for. But it has brought me closer to myself. I’m grateful to everyone who has dropped me a message to encourage me, or liked and commented on my posts, or just stopped by to read them. Here on this rainy night, conversing with myself on Microsoft word and filled with a mixture of self-doubt and self-amusement again, I feel like I have only been given too much to treasure, from the hands of those who love me.


“My father never talked to me, except when we studied together. He taught me with silence. He taught me to look into myself, to find my own strength to walk inside myself in company with my soul.”

~The Chosen, Chaim Potok

Much Ado About Beatrice (and me)


“For, out of question, you were born in a merry hour

No, sure, my lord, my mother cried;

But then there was a star danced and under that was I born”

~ Much Ado About Nothing


I love Much Ado About Nothing because I love Beatrice. She’s a heroine to me because she’s a girl disenchanted but still spirited – a girl with a dancing star, in a night sky that blindly runs on.

She’s been disappointed by men and disillusioned with marriage. She can’t describe her birth as a merry affair.

But she has enough magic in her heart and magic in her words to be glad of life, and wakes herself with laughter after a bad dream.

It takes her kind of strength to realise that there’s no such thing as a fairy tale life, and yet smile, and yet chide, and know life must go on.

People ask me if I’m homesick. I really don’t think I am, yet. The fact that I have to go around asking people what it feels like to be homesick probably proves it so.

But both at home and in London, there have been strange, confused nights where I feel the grief I think Beatrice must have known – the grief of looking back to a disappointing past and looking forward to a lonely future and wondering if all of life is just a mistake.

But when the moon is high in the late night sky, I dry my tears, wash my face and look myself in the mirror, and sometimes really can’t help but smile. Messed up as my mirror image is, I realise I do know who I am, after all. The me that has been, and will always be. I am too, an undying spirit. I am not so much a gentle spirit, as some would envision, for mine is like the soldiering waters. And I have enough faith and enough magic left to keep me going, no matter what’s around the river bend. A star danced, and under that was I born.


[Edit: I’m a little shy about this post now because its so emotionally raw. But I guess we all have times when we get down and life seems terribly depressing. And time I crafted this was one of those moments for me. I guess hope, like faith, comes and goes a hundred times an hour. And that’s what makes life so bittersweet.]

London Has Quiet Too



Most of my friends were dazzled by the thought of living in such a big city as London, but I came to London fairly undazzled, anticipating little. “A city is a city. I have come from a busy city. Now I will live in another just like it,” is what I thought to myself.

“Methinks I see these things with parted eye…”

But in a strange way, I have been dazzled.

It wasn’t the city lights, or the parties or the shopping that captured me.

It was finding, amidst the bustle of city streets, a place to sit down surrounded by trees, to lie down on a bed of grass with no company but a book, to see dogs run free and squirrels scramble up trees, and the sun periodically peek out from behind the clouds, bringing sudden life into everything around me.

The things climate and space constrictions in Singapore made impossible, this city has made possible to me.

“Curioser and curioser!”

Somehow I have discovered that kind of romantic solitude I thought to exist only in books – to be alone, yet never lonely. Over the past few weeks I have gone on some solo excursions – a long walk to a market, to a city farm, and to a quiet garden in a museum.  Yet my most enjoyable episode was an afternoon in the park, reading Augustus and eating a sandwich lunch.

“Calm as to suit a calmer grief”

Yet at some points in my quiet moments, I became aware of a gentle pang in my heart, a little burden. Somehow part of my quiet was being able to look inside myself, and realising how deep that chasm I call my heart actually goes.

“All live are mysteries, I suppose, even my own”

But I remember those who have loved me, and I am not afraid to face whatever I will discover, in the world or inside myself. It is a confidence that comes only from knowing that I am unconditionally loved.

To be alone, yet never alone. To be afraid, yet never truly afraid. That is magic enough to dazzle any heart that has tasted this mystery.


  A happy little friend I met yesterday

*Above quotes (in order of use as headings) are from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, In Memorian by Lord Tennyson and last but not least, Augustus by John Williams