Archive for January, 2008

Our Last Night

You looked so beautiful last night. I almost could not recognise you when I saw you waiting for me in front of the shop, talking softly into your phone. My voice stuck in my throat and I felt my stomach clench. I could barely croak out a hello as I made my way quietly to your side, waving at you slightly to draw your attention. You nodded and smiled and continued to speak to that invisible person in your mobile. I could barely think. And then we walked together, in step, towards the theatre. I used to think it was quite a distance away from where we were, but as we walked, it felt all too painfully short. It seemed that only seconds had passed before we reached where we had to go.

I knew better than to hope for something not meant to be. But as I watched you I wished with all my might I could turn all of it around, to somehow defy fate or divinity or whatever cruel hand that was dealt to us. But I don’t think you’ve even wondered about that at all – yet perhaps you did, if only for a little while, like an absent thought that flits across the corners of your consciousness – as if you were deciding what film to watch, or whether to have Japanese or fast food for lunch? Perhaps that was the perfect summary of all that I meant to you.

And I wanted to tell you how beautiful you looked – but I wondered, would I be saying too much? What would you think of me if I did? So I couldn’t, I really couldn’t, no more than I could say how much I love the colour of your hair, like autumn leaves, red and gold and brown, shining softly in the fading sun. So I sat there, wasting away as you tapped the keys of your phone.

The theatre lights dimmed and it seemed the whole world disappeared with only you and me left in its entire shimmering expanse. Two of us, that magical number; two of us, alone in all the world, but more distant than I could have ever felt. There you were, right beside me, and I imagined all the things I could ever imagine, but you, you thought nothing, you felt nothing, you only saw and heard the singing and the music and the pretty costumes and the bright spotlights. I wondered whether you would look beside you and realise that I was there and waiting all this while.

But we sat in silence, and for too long a moment my outstretched hand lingered on my lap, an absolutely insignificant gesture that meant nothing to you. By the end of the evening, hardly any words had passed between us. And when you left to meet someone else, you left a great deal more behind. More than anything you will ever come to realise.

And last night, you said nothing, did nothing, but you had already made the choice for the both of us.

*

The narrator is such a sad sap. This is fiction by the way 🙂

Last Days & New Beginnings

Went to develop two rolls of film taken using the FE2. I’m quite resistant to learning to use the flash, which I’m not even sure still works, so I’m going to get some Fuji 400H film (presumably better quality than the mass-market Superia) and push it up two stops to 1600. Let’s see what happens with that.

I think my technique still needs a lot of work, especially for indoor or low-light shots. I’ve noticed a slight improvement but still too many mistakes that I would like. The tendency is either focus-related or camera shake. Aperture 1.4-2 blurs out the background wonderfully (in some instances) but aesthetically, foreground blur does not look quite good to me. However I find myself forced to use 1.4 mainly because of the light conditions and because of these limitations, pushing film becomes a necessity, considering the situation.

Film photography is an expensive hobby, no doubt. I bought a roll of Fuji Sensia 100 at $9.50. Urrrg. I’m saving that for a bright-lit day.

But the reason I’m really rambling so much is because I am frightened. Like overwhelming-crippling-fear kind of frightened, the sort that makes you run for all you’re worth in the opposite direction. I’m supposed to be on a writing/photography assignment in Thailand at the end of the month, and I have the sneaking fear that all my film will get exposed, or be blurred, or just look plain horrid. Or I will have nothing consequential to write and muck up the assignment completely. The fear of failure, to put it succintly.

But this is why the grace of God exists, as I’d told Reen earlier yesterday. When we acknowledge our weakness, our vulnerability, our ineptitude, our inability to trust in our own flesh, that’s when grace becomes all that we are not. This is letting go and letting God. It’s not about merely letting go and setting the situation adrift; it’s about laying our circumstances or the externalities we cannot control at His feet and in His hands. Letting Him take over. And He gives us the victory.

This is how I learn, and grow.


Last Day of 2007: 30.12.07


Men’s Meeting: 9.1.08

Naoko

Once, long ago, when I was still young, when the memories were far more vivid than they are now, I often tried to write about Naoko. But I was never able to produce a line. I knew that if that first line would come, the rest would pour itself onto the page, but I could never make it happen. Everything was too sharp and clear, so that I could never tell where to start – the way a map that shows too much can sometimes be useless.

Now, though, I realize that all I can place in the imperfect vessel of writing are imperfect memories and imperfect thoughts. The more the memories of Naoko inside me fade, the more deeply I am able to understand her. I know, too, why she asked me not to forget her. Naoko herself knew, of course. She knew that my memories of her would fade. Which is precisely why she begged me never to forget her, to remember that she had existed.

The thought fills me with an almost unbearable sorrow. Because Naoko never loved me.

Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami

Coffee and Murakami

“I think of you when I’m in bed in the morning that I can wind my spring and tell myself I have to live another good day.”
– Toru’s letter to Naoko, Norwegian Wood

Yesterday I bought Haruki Murakami’s Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman after watching Michael Clayton at PS. It’s a collection of short stories that includes Tony Takitani, which was eventually adapted into a short feature film I managed to catch at a Japanese film festival in 2005.

I wanted something to read as I waited for ZK and Mabel, so naturally I headed right to Starbucks and got a seat in the outdoor area to get started. The last time I was there, a couple – a businessman and a PRC lady with a faux American accent – kept talking loudly about power and fame and money and trade agreements that frankly, bored me greatly. Their constant one-upping in raised voices made everyone around them inadvertent eavesdroppers.

Yesterday was different. It was quiet, the only available light coming from the lamps perched on the pillars of the building or overhead of the signature green umbrellas. Slouching in my chair, a slash of light, emerging from the gaps, fell on the pages of my book. Hot coffee was within arm’s reach. Chatter from a group of bizarrely-dressed teenagers seated a couple of tables from me drifted in and out of hearing. A sophisticated Indian woman, in a scarf and bohemian skirt, sat quiet and alone at her table, directly across me and only a few metres away. We exchanged glances every now and then. I suspected she was just like me, waiting. Always waiting.

As I read the book I began to wonder: With what kind of eyes did Murakami see the world? What was it that made him think of imaginary trees, mysterious genie-like restaurant owners and the secret twentieth birthday wishes of a part-time waitress?

I imagined myself in a study full of books, with lake or beach nearby to walk along in the early morning or evenings.. and at work I would be typing, just typing, whatever what was it that came bubbling to the surface of my heart and mind. Threading the whimsical and the quirky together with the bittersweet taste of nostalgia.. improbably combined into a pervasive, coherent sort of dreaminess. As I roll those thoughts in my head, sometimes confused, sometimes smiling, I decide that I would quite enjoy a life like that.

So I sat there, leaning back in my seat, looking on as the remnants of the Christmas lights began giving way to Chinese New Year decorations; they twirled and spiralled around each trunk of the small, artificial copse of trees in front of me like a cloud of fireflies suspended in mid-air. The smell of rain lingered soft and languid, rising from skin, leaves and concrete. I felt glad that even like this, sitting with just a book and coffee and alone after an evening shower – were such simple pleasures that I could enjoy. And I realised that it really didn’t take much to make me happy, just the simple things would do. They were enough, and I was content.

I felt most like myself then, being alone with Abba, and it came to me that that was really all that mattered. It would be in Him that I would experience that kind of lasting joy that the world is desperately seeking in the wrong places.

You have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

– Psalm 16:11

I would’ve liked to stayed on just a while longer.

“Naoko shook her head and smiled to herself. It was a sort of straight-A co-ed smile, but it lingered in my mind an oddly long time. Long after she’d gone, her smile remained, like the grin of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.” – Pinball 1973

*

You say you want me to forget everything. You say you want me to leave you alone. But still, at the same time, from somewhere in this world, you are begging for my help. That voice is faint and distant, but I can hear it distinctly on quiet nights. It IS your voice: I’m sure of that. I can accept the fact that one Kumiko is trying hard to get away from me, and she probably has her reasons for doing so.

But there is another Kumiko, who is trying just as hard to get close to me. That is what I truly believe. No matter what you may say to me here, I have to believe in the Kumiko who wants my help and is trying to get close to me. No matter what you tell me, no matter how legitimate your reasons, I can never just forget about you, I can never push the years we spent together out of my mind.

I can’t do it because they really happened, they are part of my life, and there is no way I can just erase them. That would be the same as erasing my own self.

I have to know what legitimate reason there could be for doing such a thing.

It’s 2008. What Now?

This I asked God under open skies and streams of clouds in nameless colours, without stars or even the moon as a companion. No vast expanse of featureless plains as I’d imagined in the most romantic of fantasies that I built so carefully in my head, not even with soft grass lightly brushing my neck as my limbs sprawled carelessly across all of it, stretching far beyond what the eye could see.

Even as a slight tinge of regret passed fleetingly across the corners of my heart, Abba came to me in a way that I have learnt to recognise; carried on a quiet breeze, cool but never quite chill or frigid, bringing a warmth that stirred the depths within where I waited and yearned so earnestly for Him.

The previous year had seemed to pass so quickly, seeing how I was already in the next; it was a journey taken slowly nonetheless. Step by step it happened, a day leading towards another, and many times it was just Abba and me, my hand in His, or carried on His shoulders. We laughed and cried and whispered in each other’s ears, as if we were playing a game so grand and mysterious no one else could know about. And we talked about girls, or the places He would take me, or the little delights He would show only to me.

It’s been a good year. A year of new beginnings, of changes begun from within that have grown silent and unseen throughout the weeks and months. What will the new year bring, I ask my Abba, and He tells me in that soft and comforting voice that only I know to be His.

Adventure Camp in so many ways was a confirmation of the things I had asked for the past year and also a precursor, an indication, of what was to come. On the last day, as the band played ‘The Stand’, I could only raise my arms up high as if I could touch heaven itself. I could not even open my mouth to sing. And I could not stop crying. The tears kept falling and came from someplace so deep within that I could not tell where it was or even describe it; it was even beyond where the soul dwelt, past feelings or emotions, a kind of crying so spirit-deep that I could not even begin to understand it in words, let alone explain.

On Sunday night I opened up the list of expectations I wrote at the end of 2006:

“Abba,

Ireen told us to write the expectations we have for 2007. Yet I tell you that the wealth in the world, everything contained in its dimensions, all pale in comparision to Your glory. They are like sighs in the wind, barely heard and quickly forgotten, when I behold You and the heart You have for me. What love that would give up His most precious thing for me? There is none that compares to You!

Yet Lord I shall list down what You shall fulfill in my life in 2007; for You are faithful, and you shall never put me to shame. Thank you Abba, for all these things:

To never take my eyes off You; that I may always know in my heart of hearts that You are for me, and there is no lack for those who seek You.

Keep me humble, that I may not lose sight of what You have set before me. Give me a heart that shall always thank You for all things, that I may see the gold even in the blackest of dirt.

Give me Your wisdom, the measure that Solomon possessed, that I may see Your hand in all situations. That I shall perceive the expedient way that only You can lead me towards.

Build in me character and an even temperament, that I may be faithful in the tasks You have set in my hands and fair to the people that I deal with. Cause me to walk in dignity, honour, discipline and stability.

Place in my heart the love You bear for me, that I may love the people around me, saved or unsaved, with the same fullness and depth that You love me.

Keep safe all those I hold dear – my family, my caregroup, my friends; raise them up that they shall see in greater measure Your love for them. Pour in their lives such an abundance of blessings that they cannot deny You are real!

Lastly, fulfill in my life the words spoken over me by leaders or friends; that You may be glorified, for my soul makes its boast in You alone.

You are faithful Lord. I pray that 2007 shall definitely be the time when I can testify of your work in my life. Cause me to share my testimony so it shall encourage the people around me.

This is asking so much Lord, but I hope with the confident expectation of good, that You shall assuredly answer each and every single one of them. For You love me, and those who seek You lack NO GOOD THING.

This word is sealed by the blood of Jesus, the Lamb that has sanctified me!

Love, your precious son,
Jianzhong”

I had forgotten what I had wrote in that letter, and it came to me as a complete surprise when I re-read it. I have not written the expectations for 2008 – but I am asking myself, what do I want? And with all honesty, what do I really wish to have in this life?

Do I want more money than I can spend? Do I want a career? Do I want a life partner? Do I want to travel the world? Do I want a fancy car, holidays, meals at posh restaurants? Do I want a wardrobe filled with expensive suits, a cottage in the countryside, a lake house and a yacht, every camera I could want, film premieres in Hollywood and festivals?

Maybe it’s yes. Maybe I do want those things. But right now, what I know is this: more than all those things, I want You. I want You, so much of You that I can’t contain all of You in this heart of mine. This much I have learnt so far – is that all those things are meaningless and empty without You. You’re that extra touch, that needful touch, that makes all these things special.

How can I enjoy this life without You in every part of it? I can’t. I know I can’t.

A book on the life and faith of Rachel Joy Scott, who died in the Columbine shootings, was the one that revived my spirit during my wilderness years in NS. This quote, taken from her diaries, was something I wrote down, all those years ago:

“I am not going to apologize for
speaking the name of Jesus,
I am not going to justify my faith to them,
and I am not going to hide the light
that God has put into me.
If I have to sacrifice everything… I will.”

Like what Anna shared in AAC.. beyond convenience is true conviction. Train me in Your ways. Let me praise You even when I’m pressed, cast down or persecuted. Let my boldness come from conviction, not convenience. Drive me constantly into desperation for all that You are. Forge me, hone me and make me the man that You have called me to be.

Make me a man who will always desire You above all else.

Celebrating 2008 with Abba

Curiously I haven’t been able to come up with something to write these few days. I’ve been trying to organise my thoughts about Adventure Camp, the end of the year and the year to come (and it’s already 2008), but without much success.

Last night I was at an Ang Mo Kio condominium waiting to fetch my mum. I declined to join in the party because I wanted to spend some time alone with Abba. The place, Grandeur 8, is really quite lovely at night – it’s quiet, the entire pool area is dark and illuminated mostly by the lights emanating from the condo buildings.

Spending about two hours alone there was something I really needed – to slow down, relax and have a conversation with Daddy God. I think that simple thing alone characterises much of my journey with Him for the past 2007 – just Him and me. A singular walk of always going to Him, drawing from Him, leaning on Him. To trust not in my own strength but in His.

As the clock struck 12, yells of ‘Happy New Year’ filled the air and people started coming to their balconies overlooking the pool to look at the group of people who were celebrating downstairs. I sat alone at one of the deck chairs, watching everything. I noticed at one of the lower-level units, a man emerging from the living room to the balcony. He turned as a woman entered the living room, then quickly stepped back into the apartment. Without missing a beat he drew the woman into his arms and embraced her tightly, no doubt wishing her a happy new year as well.

Right at that moment, I heard Abba whisper, “Happy new year, son. Let’s walk 2008 together, closer than before.” And I felt His embrace around me. I was in my Father’s arms, feeling the cool night breeze blowing across the waters, and we welcomed the new year together.

December Photostream

Here they are:


Christmas Season 2007!


Arrow Adventure Camp