An assortment of otherwise semi-bad photos taken while I was in China 2 weeks back. I say semi because there are a (very) few photographs that I actually like, and that my dad didn’t glaze over, and so I consider that an achievement in itself.

I’m very happy to say that I enjoyed the short trip; in fact, the moment we could see specks of farmers on their geometrically-segregated plots of farmland, I felt this strange surge of happiness creeping over me as I leaned out of my seat to take in more of the landscape and I thought, I really like this place, I really do. Perhaps it was because of the cool weather (the wrath of summer thankfully only made itself felt during our last hour in Chaozhou) or the calm quiet of the place, or the seemingly high population of elderly with crinkled, well-worn faces – which put me in peace without ending in impatience.

Before you start imagining rolling hills and endless miles of mist, no, Chaozhou isn’t a scene out of an old Chinese mythical tale. It’s a proper city with a proper airport and the streets are crawling with vehicles. Plenty, in fact, with rusty rickshaws weaving in and out of the traffic (which is crap in the afternoon and evenings, just like any other city), with a symphony of honks constantly in the air. Honks here, interestingly, aren’t used in an angry, aggressive manner though. Rather they’re used as a sort of greeting or should I say gentle alert to let other drivers know of their presence which is essential in the almost non-existent rules of orderly traffic conduct.

Here in our sunny little island (which has been doused in rain lately booooo), two-way roads are clearly demarcated with a severe white line, which the government makes sure to repaint every now and then when it shows signs of fade. In Chaozhou, anything goes, as long as no vehicle hits another or no pedestrians are injured. To put it simply, every corner of the road is well-maximised. Of course you get the occasional really angry honk when a driver fails to be aware of his surroundings, but apart from that, all is well, and cars weave in and out as the situation calls for.

The moment I stepped into our apartment (very kindly lent to us by one of our relatives* because well they had another one hurhur), I was greeted by a giant smoke and tea party which, as my father tried to smoke a cigarette on our very last day, I realised was their way of life here (very much like Turkey actually). Everything and everyone was shrouded in smoke, and in the middle of the room sat a very interesting tea-board (or so I call it). Essentially, almost each household or place with a roof essentially owns one of these contraptions and it basically is a wooden platform where tea is brewed, and cold tea left in the bottom of teacups are poured away into a hole which then leads into a removable bucket, where all loose liquids are collected and poured away. A sort of drainage system. Tea is served before and after every meal, or at any time of the day really, sort of as a way of welcoming visitors. (In our next few days at the apartment though, I realised that the teacups and all were never really washed?)

As we sat around the teaboard with grapes and loquats, I was introduced to a whole new side of my family I never knew existed. The strange thing is though, that where ‘ranks’ were concerned, I was on par with people I thought were my aunts. The Chinese as you may know, are pretty concerned with hierarchical statuses, so I felt the need to be extra friendly to the young people I met the next few days (let’s just be cousins! I said in my very broken mando-chew, which is a very sad and mostly useless combination of mandarin and teochew which gives very sad results because I mostly just croak through my conversations). We managed to take a little trip to my mother’s village the next day where I saw houses and felt hospitality I thought could only have existed a hundred years ago.

There’s a picture somewhere up there of a woman in orange who sold tea leaves. We were just strolling through the village when she called us over, and invited us in for tea. We didn’t know her, but her warmth was memorable, even though the tea wasn’t.

“Try the vegetables, you’ll love them!” I did. Fresh, like everything else on our large, round dinner tables, and so, so much yam in ways I never thought possible (yam in soup?). Reminds me that I wanted to try recreating one of the yam dishes we had there.

On our last day, I had a very good and thought-provoking conversation with one of my ‘cousins’ (I swear I did not misinterpret anything, it really was a very nice conversation). “I realised that life is, at the end of the day, supposed to be very simple” she said, and as a person with a penchant for wanting more and possibly the impossible, it stopped me in a way nothing had in a while.

I still mull over these words the way I mulled over the startling flavour of freshly-brewed mulberry tea there, and because I have to trot to work now, I’ll stop at this. I hope my feeble photos manage to show you the parts of Chaozhou that I fell in love with, and all the quiet sneaky bits of beauty that this sleepy city breathes.

Shambling rambles

I long for words to press themselves onto paper, so that the paperweight of you can be lifted off me.

As you can probably tell, I’ve been going through somewhat of a word (and thought) drought lately, the only things escaping meekly from my fingers being very bad haikus. I think there is a deep and profound philosophy (probably of simplicity and minimalism) behind haikus, but as of now, I think that the only reason why I write them is because I am either too lazy to come up with a full-bodied, well-endowed piece of writing, or because I do not know the entirety of which I wish to express.

Is it regular to be able to hear, and feel very clearly your heart thudding against your chest, also being very clearly aware of only the potentially fragile breastbone separating both, or is it because I have too much time on my hands?

Life has obviously been very uninspiring lately, this ennui of course showing up in the way I choose to retreat to the cool, calming darkness of the kitchen at work to scrub away at bowls leaving my coworkers to handle customers. I don’t even bother fighting them (customers) anymore, simply giving them what they want (i.e. free samples!). I writhe in my boredom.

I also think it has been wrong of me to spend my time on things that shouldn’t really matter. I found that out this week (of which has spanned an entire page’s worth of sad and angry haikus, but maybe some other time) and as such I’ve retreated into the murky, trippy world of aromatherapy to aid with sleep.

I think it’s always scary when you have been trudging on, head-down, deep in something, and something forces you to stop and finally look up. It’s like the first stroke of thunder at the start of a storm, and it makes you jump. The appropriate emotions then start raining down and about you and before you know it, you’re knee-deep in it!

It’s always hard to want something that cannot happen.

I was talking to a coworker about something along the lines of sandwiches, and halfway through he pointed out something starkly. Amidst all my blabbering and rambles, he sifted out the truth, and it was that I just had too much pride. I agree, and it is this same pride that stops me from going back to trudging along with whatever I was deep in. Sometimes, I think, one has to learn when to stop being a damn fine fool.

Thus thus, it is with these extra weights that I stir the sugar cubes of disappointment, hurt, and regret into my morning tea. I don’t usually take my tea sweetened, but these cubes of sweetness have been forced down anyway.

Sure thing!

Procrasti-eating

I obviously am a sure-sufferer of this syndrome. In a desperate need to churn out my article, and all I managed to think of for the past hour was: Golly, wouldn’t it be nice if I had a drink now? A little drink before work never did any harm! Also, while drinking: A little chicken right now would be nice, and so I proceed to hunt in the fridge for Sunday’s leftover sesame oil chicken. Also, while microwaving the chicken, realises that geez the microwave does require some cleaning. I probably should clean now. Then realising while cleaning that some sushi too would be nice (thank goodness for supermarket sushi!) and so on and so forth.

Also, I probably shouldn’t have taken time out to type this.

Eye can tell you the truth

I think the essence of the week has been my friend Kimberley’s very stark and honest comment that girls do shave, like guys. Just not so much of the facial thing. In this age’s emphasis and glorification of seemingly effortless success, I do think that it’s a very timely reminder of how honesty should matter as much.

That being said, I’m very sorry to report that of all the photography tips and magazines I’ve picked up this past week have told me how important photo editing skills are, and how this tool on that programme would work wonders etc etc. I was sorely disappointed (the feeling much akin to when your father breaks your favourite watch, because you would have expected him to know better – as if a father were some perfect, unbreakable and always reliable being – and to avoid making any mistakes). Perhaps that is why I enjoy developing my films so much – because then I’d be able to see how terrible I really am without any magic wand to touch up my faults.

Welp, back to moon-watching then. The amount of time my dad has spent placing the moon under his surveillance makes me wonder if he does have a bit of wolf left in him.

Postcards

I press my cheeks against the cool marble floor of my apartment, and marvel at the wonder that below me lies 20 floors, and above me another 20. The modern sandwich.

Each night, my bed seems to be getting increasingly smaller while my fears get bigger. There is no rest even in sleep. Even my writing corners me into failure.

I take routine routes to places that I think will culture and nourish me, but how is it that stark white walls can be so imposing? I grow ever smaller in the enclosed space.

My companion speaks paragraphs, and I fall through the words that are not there. The spaces between what he says and what that I need to hear bind me tighter each and every day, until a smile eventually freezes itself on my face. If we manage to part without seething rage then that, I think, should be okay.

I do not live, but merely exist, and so I keep swimming.

On and on with withheld breath because bursting out of that layer of chlorinated water gives me at least some release.

Head underwater again,

I see blue in four linear sides.

I continue laps.

comfort 

The day is over,

And it was long. 

After some dinner,

We climb

Freshly showered

Into our bed 

Onto your side, onto my side. 

Moulded mattresses,

We are engulfed —

Lost in the same sheets, the same sides, the same old routine. 

The bed, like our picture frames, is the only thing that holds us together still.

You inhale

( I did something courageous today)

I exhale

(You probably reached a new milestone at work today)

Before we can contemplate our growing division,

We are soon lost to sleep

And wake up to another day

Only to repeat

This same 

Old

Routine.