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We sell rice downstairs.

My father has lived and worked in this shophouse on and off since 1955. There are about 5 or 6 typewriters scattered around, a bicycle from the late fifties from the office boy (who still works for us, and who is still referred to as the office boy even though he’s in his 60s now), an abacus that was probably used to count the first dollars that came through the business and a single bed that my dad bought and assembled himself in case I ever wanted to sleepover.

I come to this “office” whenever I make a trip to Singapore. My dad and I trek up the musty stairs to his personal quarters at the top of the shophouse and by the time we reach his room, it’s so hot that he immediately has to strip down to his underwear in an attempt to cool off. It was 38 degrees in that room today. 50% humidity. 

I sit next to him and we talk about the news. He shows me videos on youtube. I read the paper and he plays solitaire for a while. I love being there with him. It’s a part of me. This place forms the foundation of my personal history that began before I took my first breaths, back when my father was a boy and when his parents were desperately and tenaciously sweating their way out of a pre-industrial poverty.

Now he is an old man and inasmuch as he still kicks my ass at tennis and golf, I am aware.. oh so aware of the passing of time, the aging of men and things, the dust collected on surfaces and the typewriters (how I love those typewriters) sitting unused and at the end of their ribbon. 

The office boy is on leave today. His mother passed away a few days ago so he’s not coming back to work until next week. I open one of the drawers beneath an old television in my late grandfather’s office. There is a microphone plugged into a pale gold console. I turn to my dad with a questioning look. He smiles and tells me that the office boy comes in after working hours, when he thinks that everyone has gone home, and sings karaoke here by himself. Old Chinese love songs from the 70s.

Let’s go out past the party lights
Where we can finally be alone
Come with me and we can take the long way home

~ T. Waits

(Photography by Andrew Miksys from “DISKO”)

But don’t worry darling, pay it no mind
True friends like these are hard to find

Now I no longer hear ‘em calling
From my window every morning
And my life at last means something
Say the birds, the birds, the birds

Islands, giant buddhas and mountain ranges.

(Hong Kong in February)

'Old bureaucrat, my companion here present, no man ever opened an escape route for you, and you are not to blame. You built peace for yourself by blocking every chink of light, as termites do. You rolled yourself into your ball of bourgeois security, your routines, the stifling rituals of your provincial existence, you built a rampart against wind and tides and stars. You have no wish to ponder great questions, you had enough trouble suppressing awareness of your human condition. You do not dwell on a wandering planet, you ask yourself no unanswerable questions; Lower middle class Toulouse that's you. No one ever grasped you by the shoulder while there was still time. Now the clay that formed you has dried and hardened, and no man could now awaken in you the dormant musician, the poet, the astronomer who perhaps once dwelt in you. The squalls of rain no longer trouble me. The magic of my profession is revealing to me a world where within two hours I shall confront the dark dragons and the crests crowned with a mane of blue lightening; and then set free by the coming of night, I shall chart my course to the stars' 

Antoine de Saint Exupery

On the prospect of getting back with ex boyfriends.

In the loamy undergrowth of what-if’s, I find us sitting sedately side by side, and I consider. I look into your face, see the thickening effect of years gone by, the lean edge of youth a little softened. I’d like to say that we’ve barely changed, you’re young and beautiful as you ever were. I’d like to say that we made the right decision every time we parted ways, every time we took a scalpel and made that definitive incision through our hypothetical lives together. I’d like to say that if anything, age has brought us wisdom and the value of hindsight.

Would they be lies? Could it be that we should have had the courage to see our future out together? Could it be that our perceived wisdom is only a hardening of foolish ways and a refusal to acknowledge our mistakes?

In the loam, in the sweet, wet earth where the unanswerable grows, we regard each other, as youths, then as adults. Parallel futures, pasts and presents stretching out like sunbursts from the nexus of our respective hearts and choices. I survived your love, your embrace, your desire, your subsequent forgetting of me and the finding of another love much greater and more present than my own. I survived your lingering looks that stopped time.

So here we are, left in a bar in a city far from where we started, staring through the crystal globes of red wine and whiskey, seeing the multiple futures of what could but will never be.