Just quotes

On the Fallibility of Human Memory

“When I get out of here, if I’m ever able to set this down, in any form, even in the form of one voice to another, it will be a reconstruction then too, at yet another remove. It’s impossible to say a thing exactly the way it was, because what you say can never be exact, you always have to leave something out, there are too many parts, sides, crosscurrents, nuances, too many gestures, which could mean this or that, too many flavours, in the air or on the tongue, half-colours, too many.” — Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale)

Advertisements
Standard
Just quotes

On Living Life on One’s own Terms

“I admired my Mother in someways, although things between us were never easy. She expected too much from me, I felt. She expected me to vindicate her life for her, and the choices she’d made. I didn’t want to live my life on her terms. I didn’t want to be the model offspring, the incarnation of her ideas. We used to fight about that. I am not your justification for existence, I said to her once.” — Offred (The Handmaid’s Tale)

Standard
dear diary..., wanderlust

Tropical City Girl Meets Iceland

Majority of my days have been spent on a sunny little island a couple of miles off the Equator. This means that every day I am embraced by the summery stickiness of tropical humidity, that occasionally my plans get weathered on by torrential rainfall, that white Christmases aren’t a thing. I live in a jungle of fragile trees and vines amidst a greater concrete landscape of steel and glass, of unbending structures and unnaturally sharp angles, a place where nature is conquered and owned, consumed and unappreciated.

On that little island, I feel big — individually as a human being, and as a collective species against the forces of nature. There is almost nothing blocking or hindering me from getting around and going about with my daily plans. As much as I moan about the horrendously stuffy weather, it is incredibly convenient on days when it doesn’t pour. We don’t religiously check the weather forecast while making plans and umbrellas, they are only really brought out during monsoon seasons when it is known to rain for extended periods at a time. If it rains, I know there will be sheltered spaces. Bus stops and subway stations are literally within reasonable distance between key locations, and adding on to that, there are multifarious other ways of getting from one point to another with destructive technology – Grab, Uber, etc. In replacement of uncharted wilderness and tentative roads carved out by lonesome wanderers, we have concrete tarmac, roads that lead you everywhere you desire to go, roads paved with planned conviction, with the confidence that nothing will stand in our way, our way of progress and accessibility.

Living under such conditions my whole life, I have never once questioned their influence on me, my relationship with nature and how much my behaviours and psychology have been shaped by these day-to-day, seemingly insignificant and mundane phenomena. That is, until I travelled across the continents to the land known mainly for its natural splendour and the infinite amount of possibilities nature could offer, Iceland.

It may have been the sheer size of things

Maybe it’s because of the mountains, the glaciers and the never-ending expanses of uncultivated vegetated wilderness. Maybe it’s the sheer size of nature and its sculptures that makes one feel incredibly and insignificantly minuscule. The grandeur and the expanse of Iceland’s natural formations easily dwarf anything human. A row of three-storey houses is nothing but a little heap of material at the foot of Vatnajokull, Iceland’s largest glacier. The churches built on the undulating slopes of mountains in the distant past look like little toy structures left standing there by a mysterious giant.

I remember seeing a huge block of ice in the ice cave that looked like sandstone with its countless layers of alternating white and blue, curiously interrupted by two thin layers of black. It turns out that the black layers were formed by extruded ash from previous volcanic eruptions, whose happenings have been accepted by Icelanders as the norm. What would have been a traumatising once-in-a-lifetime event for us humans, is just another eruption, just another release, just one the necessary occurrences in nature’s grand plan and geologic timescale. While the trauma may have continued through generations and put an abrupt end to many unsuspecting lives, it comes and goes and get buried under layers upon layers of ice. It doesn’t get forgotten, but gets subsumed in the greater scheme of things, until even the humans in the ice cave don’t even get to be reminded of the tragedy it had wrecked. Travelling from one destination to another, was enough for us to realise just how infinitesimally small we, as children of Nature, are. We traversed the valleys and frozen plains in a bus on a narrow winding road, surrounded by forests of bare, stumpy trees, vast expanses of nothingness and untouched virgin beauty. Had we no bus, this journey would be close to impossible in sub-zero temperatures and wickedly ferocious winds. It would remain a mere dream in our minds, a yearning unresolved.

EFD22356-53FE-4E2C-85D3-9BCBE1F8AB7B

Frozen lakes during the morning twilight.

20E8A5C4-51DC-47FE-8B68-4C973068D7A5

Coursing down a narrow road, the only tarmac paved road amidst vast expanses of natural ground. Occasionally, we see other travellers driving along the same path and feel a little less alone.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Twilight hours are extremely protracted during the winter. This is me soaking in every bit of ombré beauty.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Weathered, exposed basalt rock columns found The Black Beach. Each column is wide enough for a person to stand comfortably on.

77A36CD2-608A-40D1-8989-24F4258F784A

It fills me with amazement every time my local guide identifies the mountains and volcanoes instantaneously. It is as if she was introducing a familiar friend of hers.

152F9807-3D73-4D57-83C6-56FD820D8759

Little heaps of artificiality at the base of the mountain.

But it is not only the size of natural formations, but the pervasiveness of nature’s forces in peoples’ lives

Physical size aside, the few days spent in Iceland has allowed me a brief insight into how pervasive and integral nature and her forces are in the lives of Icelanders. In one way or another, the workings of nature has infiltrated into their daily lives, affecting how day-to-day decisions are made, the content of their conversations and even down to their diets.

Weather

There is a sense of helplessness and reverence the way Icelanders converse about the weather. In the tropics we simply forget about the weather and its essential role in our day-to-day lives because we take for granted that it’s always sunny and warm out. Icelanders, conversely, regard it with far higher priority, because their lives revolve around it. The first thing my guide says to us in the morning was always a comment about the weather and when we were blessed with pleasant weather — clear skies, milder winds, a prayer in hopes that it stays the same and doesn’t cave to its fickleness. Weather changes, even the slightest, manifest in what people decide to wear every day (definitely not shorts and slippers), the kind of tyres people drive on, what people are permitted to do (they don’t just leave for the beach with plans as skimpy as their outfits) and even in the Icelandic language. Icelandic is one of those languages with a very rich vocabulary for describing weather phenomena. I read somewhere that there are over 50 variations of the word “wind” in Icelandic [56 Words and Counting for Wind in Icelandic], many of them are well beyond the scope of the English language.

6437CCF7-6D8B-480D-9855-8B062AFFC605

Having a chatty walk towards the Diamond Beach with our guide.

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

The golden hour when the sun sets between 3 and 4pm daily. Everything is lacquered in gold.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Ice blocks strewn all over The Diamond Beach. When the sun rays hit them, they do indeed resemble shiny diamonds amidst dark sand.

Geography and food security

Being an island country situated in the Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is a solitary island with no adjacent landmass. Most of Iceland’s food comes from the surrounding waters, so their diet consists of mostly seafood, specifically, salmon, cod and trout. My experience with Icelandic food was bittersweet. I remember being so excited to finally dig into fresh and deliciously smoked salmon for every meal. But that excitement was short-lived because it was the ONLY kind of fish that was served to us, and after about 2 days and 6 meals, my tastebuds grew sick and rebellious of its taste, especially the intense saltiness of smoked salmon which Icelanders seem to really love.

While I was there, a friend of mine posted a curious and interesting question on his Instagram story: What kind of fish did Iceland and Britain fight over, setting a significant precedent for the establishment of maritime rights? There were only three kinds of fish that I knew in Iceland, and so I hazard a guess. It turned out that those wars were waged over cod, the fish that has been regularly gracing my dinner plate since I was a child, the fish I never once thought needed to be fought over. More importantly, this question came as a shock to me as I finally realised how crucial food security is to the national psyche of a nation [Cod Wars], especially one who is relatively disconnected and located inconveniently in high latitudes.

Living in Singapore with favourably warm waters all year round as well as diverse trade connections, the pertinent problem of domestic food insecurity is easily overlooked and mollified with regional and international food imports. Iceland’s geographical coordinates and climate, however, bear an incredibly restrictive limitation on the variety of food people receive, and it is a problem not solely confined to fish. Every meal I had for breakfast in my weeklong stay there, I ate the same things, just in different quantities. As a city girl, global brands and symbols immediately grab my attention. On my first day there, however, the absence of something was particularly noticeable — the glowing yellow rim of McDonald’s famous M logo. There was, indeed, not a single outlet in Iceland. Why? Geographical isolation, economic stagnation and the inability of the Icelandic krona to pick itself up after the 2009 global financial meltdown, making the import of crucial ingredients like onions horrendously expensive [Where In The World Are There No McDonald’s?].

The people of Iceland have, against the odds of nature stacked against them, attempted to circumvent or at least ameliorate the burden of food insecurity by harvesting what they possess in abundance — geothermal energy — to power greenhouses and keep them at favourably warm temperatures to hasten the growth of crops. I remember visiting a tomato farm and being awed by the science, the technology, the ingenuity and most of all, the resilience of Icelanders. The guide had said that the company imports bees to facilitate reproduction of tomato plants and the entire system is computerised to ensure favourable growth conditions for the crops, down to the most minute detail. In a place where nature is worshipped and revered, where people perceive themselves to be children of nature and not owners of her, solutions and ideas tend to take on an accommodating character, people are more willing to compromise and utilise what already exists for them, people are ready to work around problems.

FEDD1E29-BA22-40DB-A509-E2ED73935846

An island surrounded by the North Atlantic.

CE16C728-2900-4278-9393-472E4B24335A

Lunch on our second day: Rye bread with butter, a salad with balsamic vinegar dressing, baked potatoes and trout. A few meals later, we came to know this as the typical Icelandic meal.

35E8FC4D-2614-4237-8699-58F35B2231E3

Chilling in the Blue Lagoon. Waters heated by the subterranean hotspot are adequately warm such that we don’t freeze despite being out in sub-zero temperatures.

Whatever we have invented, nature offers for free — geothermally cooked eggs and rye cake & geothermal energy

I remember the sourness of sulphuric smoke dancing in the air towards me. Far off in the distance, there are several holes dug into the soil and out of them wafted white smoke, presumably carrying with them the sulphuric smell. It was then that I experienced first-hand the generosity and limitless potential of nature. The Icelanders were lowering metal pots into the bubbling hot and moist soil and extracting several of them out. They were using the heat from the hotspot beneath the island to bake rye cake.

“Just pop it in and after 24 hours, you’re good to go!” It is the same procedure for cooking eggs, except with much shorter waiting time. Eggs cooked in this manner taste fantastic, because they have the added faint taste of sulphur that makes them less bland.

At that time, it seemed that whatever human need there is, nature has got a solution for it; we simply need to find ways to obtain it and harness it.

Geothermal energy isn’t solely used to cook food. That same energy can be used for a multitude of other purposes, like ensuring greenhouses work and stay warm, providing mineral-rich hot water for commercial hot springs and lagoons, heating up the homes of thousands of people over winter, and even generating electricity to power the country. Currently, 25% of Iceland’s electricity come from geothermal sources, with a large remainder generated by hydropower (yet another natural source) [National Energy Authority of Iceland].

The Northern Lights — Not everything is within our control

Iceland is a popular destination for tourists who want to check “Catch the Northern Lights” off their bucketlist. I am no exception. The Northern Lights is natural weather phenomena, and like all weather phenomena in Iceland, it is fickle, erratic and elusive.

The activity of the Northern Lights (also known as Aurora Borealis) is dependent on the clearness of the sky and levels of solar radiation.

My first attempt at hunting the lights was futile. Surroundings were dark enough but the guide had said that chances were lower that day due to the cloudiness of the sky. There was mild activity but because the sky was too cloudy, our eyes couldn’t pick up on it.

Thankfully, I managed to catch them on my second attempt. I remember driving to a a relatively lightless spot not far away from the hotel, waiting in biting cold and praying. Praying that the sun that day was bright enough, that the skies were clear enough, that it was dark enough for the lights to be seen, that this trip to Iceland wouldn’t end up in disappointment. I have heard so many stories of friends and friends of friends who had gone there several times only to return heartbroken and crestfallen.

I must have used up all of my lucky stars that night because we actually got to see the lights. As they danced and shimmered, I can’t help but admit to the triviality and insignificance of my existence amidst these magnificent forces. I am but a spectator, lucky enough to have chanced upon and witnessed such a magical performance, a dazzling concoction of coincidences.

F95A8A93-9B87-49B0-85C7-EB50B20AB097

These were taken with desperation, trembling hands and a lot of trial and error with the manual function on my phone’s camera. In real life, the lights looked much less dimmer and fainter because the naked eye can only pick up so much light. With a camera, however, more light particles get picked up, thus the green looks far more concentrated and obvious.

4045C9FC-5860-4068-988A-61FF7485545CD8D2B4E4-597D-448A-8C78-2056E874D8DF

ACB5EE91-7873-4255-9FC9-19AAA0751790

Human heads do NOT make good tripods.

Standard
dear diary...

Just A Little More…

Why is it that all things have to be rushed?

The voices around us relentlessly indoctrinate and perpetuate:

Time is of the essence.

Time is our only non-renewable resource.

Time is a scarcity, unfortunately, that will only run out.

But some things, only time can tell;

some things require precisely the growth and maturation

that can only take place through time,

like wine,

and feelings fermenting.


Why is it that everything that has happened between us

is all but a means to an end?

Why is it that even if the shot has missed the bullseye

by just an inch,

the bow has to be broken, shattered, abandoned

and never to be picked up ever again?


Why is it that we could have climbed a million steps

to get to where we are today,

but a slip,

an innocent stumble

has the magnitude of an earthquake

revealing the vast chasm between us

crumbling the very delicate road we once tread?


Perhaps all is needed is

a little more time,

a little more patience,

a little more understanding,

a little more forgiveness.

Standard
dear diary...

Dearest Papa,

Dearest Papa,

Happy 52nd Birthday! Today, I had my virgin experience of social art jamming, with the intention of painting something that could be gifted to you as your birthday present. Well, art alone without meaning is but a symphony of colours harmonised and mingled together with brushstrokes bold and fine. So here is a list of things that went through my head as I embarked on a 3-hour long artistic voyage on a Tuesday afternoon without even pausing to drink or eat:

  1. Just like how I am your very first child, your maiden voyage into this big, uncertain, sometimes scary world of fatherhood, this piece of art is my first jab at creating something somewhat aesthetically pleasing.
  2. First attempts are never perfect. The artwork is definitely not perfect. And neither am I. If you asked me, I could go on and on about all the regrets I have about this painting and the mistakes that I had foolishly made precisely because of my inexperience. I screwed up, made mistakes, cursed myself, panicked, found solutions, asked for help, prayed for things to get better and go my way. I sketched and erased, tested the waters, debated between purple and grey. But still, the background is too patchy, and the branches look too flat. The petals of some of the flowers are warped and slightly deformed. Yet, despite all these blemishes and imperfections, they are unmistakably mine and I own them like how you have owned me in the twenty years that you’ve raised me — proud and with the most unshakable conviction of a creator, a father. And I salute you for that.
  3. Being a father, whether it’s your first time or 5th time, is always stressful. I can’t claim to have carried the kind of weight you’ve been carrying, but painting under a time limit is pressurising period. Not to mention painting outside the comfort and private confines or your own home. Every stroke, every move is made under public scrutiny. Constantly, your ears are helplessly deluged with cacophony of opinions, peoples’ ruthless judgments, comments and criticisms. You try not to buckle, take a deep breath, calm your nerves and continue your hustle. Thank you for raising me in your own way, even when the voices that tempt and mislead echo ever so loudly and persistently.
  4. Cherry Blossoms. Why Cherry Blossoms, you may ask. You have always wanted to go to some place like Japan in the summer during the Cherry Blossom season, but have been unable to because of your busy schedule and us. This painting is for you and all the opportunities that you have missed because of me, Bin and Kai, while we await that one summer when we can finally catch the flowers together as a family. Aside, the Cherry Blossom is perhaps the most fitting embodiment of life and all it’s beauty, ephemerality and fragility. This is a reminder to cherish every second spent with loved ones and every moment, no matter how upset or angry or disappointed you may be, because it is precisely these emotions that lift the highs of life even higher.

 

Infinitely, with love

Your daughter, Ning ❤

 

Standard