Tea with a stranger.

Now in Seoul.

So this afternoon we met another of Ki’s instagram friend, tea connoisseur, Lee Woo-kab. As with our other meetings, the language barrier makes Ki unusually reserved and I become the default translator. 

That said, we’ve been blessed to have met such hospitable folks who are genuinely interested to share much of their culture and ways with us. After lunch, Woo-kab invited us home (which doubles as his tea studio) and generously served us countless rounds of tea. Tea as old as Mother Wong. Some tasted very clean and gentle on the palate, others strong like medicine. We drank so much (four hours!!!), my blood is infused with tea now.

Far West (i)

Took two weeks off in late July and found my feet in Kashgar, Xinjiang. This is part one of my travelogue, with part two to follow below. 

By the balcony of the 100 year-old traditional tea house at the cross junction of Wusitang Boyi Road and Kumudai Erwazha Road. Just ordered a pot of saffron tea and two sticks of lamb kebab. 

As I was about to sit down beside this elderly Uighur man, he stared at me with curiosity only to let out a gentle smile when he realized that I too was looking at him. “What is this Chinese girl doing here in this predominantly male setting? She is wielding a camera and she even dares to sit with us men.” Were these thoughts running through his mind? Because that was what I imagined it to be. 

We looked at each other again in want of a conversation, yet also imbued with the understanding that language, or the lack there of, would be our deal breaker. Just then, something clicked and he muttered to me in almost incomprehensible Mandarin, “who are you?”

The smell in that corner of the Old City triggered a memory. There was a certain sense of familiarity. It reminded me of a place but try as I would, I was unable to put a finger to it at that time. But now that I think about it, it was the same smell that floated in the air in the Cambodia villages. That smell of nutmeg in the air.

Far West (ii)

I stand in awe of the mountains behind.

Dear Smelly, 

Muiido was probably a lesson planted by the producers to steel me for this episode in a yurt in Karakul. Pretty similar conditions as our “summer hut” in 2012 : 

i) no decent toilet. I had to pee in a transparent bag (at least you had a green one!), which I failed quite miserably. Thereafter, I decided to find secluded spots to relieve myself. The high altitude a guilty accomplice in making one increasingly dehydrated, upping one’s pee frequency. Sian. 

ii) My food stash is pathetic. I just finished my one and only choc biscuit. I have a cup noodle but the only drinking water they have here is “湖水可以的”. 

iii) I thought I could at least photograph the mountains + a blanket of stars, but it is total darkness outside. I might also be the very few guests around here. I’ve got no heater in this 10C weather - just four layers of clothes and layers of thick comforter. It is keeping me warm and toasty, but the comforters are so heavy, they are weighing down on my ankles. 

That said, life isn’t so bad here. Initial uneasiness of being disconnected faded fairly quickly. I’ve just finished reading “The Light Of The Fireflies” which is similar to “Room” (which you introduced me). So as you see, I have been thinking of you a lot tonight. 

Cheers pal. Hope you are comfy & snug in 202 PP Road while I reminise our good times together. WYWH. 

27 July 2016 


Last point : When I was traipsing on the green pastures earlier in the day, I had my moment with God. The scenery; His creation. I sang the very few worship songs I knew. It was so peaceful.

Came out, found a clean looking space (but is anywhere really clean from animal poop?) and settled down with my Kindle and takeaway lunch in hand. Been eating so much noodles, I decided to dabao rice from Taxhkorgan instead. Definitely tastier than it looked. Not a fan of green pepper though!!! Tossed them 1m away from me. The lambs came swiftly and left no trace of the dreaded green pepper’s existence.

Goodbye Kashgar, I quite adore you.

[Far West] In an old tea house

Spent a good hour at the 100 year-old tea house drinking saffron tea and munching on two lamb kebabs. I’ve got so much to say about this place - right from when I first entered this male domain, to when uncle (far left) and I spoke incomprehensibly to each other and so much more. But the one thought that resided deeply in me when I left was that this could be a place where writers leave writing their best novel ever.

[School of Hard Knocks] Letters to Dheena

Nesa writing a letter to her brother, Dheena, in RTC. Dheena has served more than half his sentence and will be out by mid 2017. Mel makes it a point to visit Dheena at least once a month, but the kids have fewer opportunities to do so because of various factors like school, transportation and money. A mamixum of three family members and/or authorized friends are allowed per RTC visit. Letter writing becomes a way for the siblings to keep in touch.

[Re/introspection] Letters from 1999

Letters from 1999. 

During his first imprisonment back in 1999, Kim sent several letters home to his sister. He asked after the family and also requested for his sister to write in on his behalf to plead for leniency. 


Below are some excerpts : 

“..are you still working? Put all my hongpao in my cupboard. Call father everyday give me three dollars and you put it on my cupboard with my hongbao. The one with mirror. Sis, write letters to the ministry of home affairs for mercy. Go and find MP and tell them about me and ask them to write letter to Ministry of home affair. When you write letter of find MP, tell them about parent divorce, family problem and this is my first time in prison. Tell them I already change and working outside. Tell them I feel regret, scare and I hope they give me a chance to change myself and turn over a new live. Tell them to give me go home early.” 

“I also read books in here. Borrow from library. I borrow five books title 《鹿鼎记》. One books four hundreds pages. All in chinese. I have noting to do but to read books. If not I will be very scare on here. A kind of feeling. The feeling is very scare and thinking of you, mother, father and all my friends. The more I think the more I scare. I will get mad soon with this kind of feeling. But I cant stop thinking. Nobody can help me from this feeling. Maybe this is the first time in prison. I just cant take it. Please help me. Save me. Find MP and ask for mercy. I BEG YOU…” 

“That day mother come and visit me. I know you outside cannot come in. You didn’t bring you IC as it still doing. You bring the paper right. The officer don’t let you in right. Don’t be upset. They are cruel. They will get their punishment. God will punish them. That day mother came and she cry. I felt like a knife stab in heart but I cannot cry. I must stand it.” 

“Last month I wrote a letter to Ministry of home affair saying I was beaten by CID and ask for a chance but the officer say cannot pass, which mean cannot send out. They say I should hire a lawyer or write to CID. I tell them cannot send, don’t send lah. Then they start to talk louder and told me to go out and don’t want to see me. Correct right, what lawyer, they think I got money. Got money also no use, the CID can just don’t admit. They are all the same, told me wait one hour at the officer and told me to get out, don’t want to see my face. They don’t know our feeling, feeling of getting out early, feeling of scare inside here. They only think I am trying to act.” 

“This few days very hot, at night go toilet also sweat. In here the food not bad, good to eat but less. No choice prison’s life is like this. Here every day, got fruit. Monday and Friday eat bean cube and meat. Tuesday and Thursday eat fish and chickens, the rest of the days eat noodle, kweoy taoy, and egg, peanut. Everyday also got vegetables. I drink a lot of water everyday at less 10 to 15 mug. To keep healthy, if not get sick easily. Exercise, very hard lah, asthma. Okey, I have to stop here, sorry about my handwriting and spelling mistake, ok? Take care of yourself and wish you a early Happy Birthday. Stay cute.”

[School of Hard Knocks] Girls and kittens.

So, the kids found three abandoned kittens at their lift landing a couple of days ago and decided to take them in. 

B : So what are you gonna do with the kittens? Giving away? 

Shivani looks at mummy and say : No, can we keep them, please? 

B : Then who is gonna pay for the cat food and all? You pay, lah. 

S : I will save my school money and buy food for them everyday. Don’t need a lot. But please, let me keep the kittens. 

The kittens are lucky to have found its way to you guys :)

[Always Loved, Forever Missed] Photo book on Papa

‘Always Loved, Forever Missed’ is a photo book comprising images from years before taken with my phone and compact camera, selected for its memory, the moment or a mood; new sets of images made specifically to remember the ‘then’ and the ‘now’; and interspersed with journal entries of my grieving and loss. 

I took quite a long time to put this book together because it was really emotionally draining to be looking through old photos and trying to make sense of this exercise I was putting myself through. It helped that I went ahead of myself by telling people that I was gonna be publishing a book about Dad, because then it created some pressure and momentum. But yes, I am finally done with it and happy to say that pre-orders are open, each copy is SGD 50. Not going to be pushing it out to any bookstores yet, but if you’re interested in getting one, I’ll be happy to deliver it to you. Happy Wednesday, all!

[Always Loved, Forever Missed] Photographs + memories

My father wasn’t a genius of a photographer, but it was always very important for him to be documenting us in the various events and stages of our lives. We’ve got 4 drawers full of 4R prints at home and a few hundred images in his laptop. After combing through thirty years of memories, I finally picked out 16 images, made by my father and some by me, to be hung up on our wall. All these couldn’t have been possible without Kimmy spending a large chunk of yesterday morning hammering in them nails and making sure it was well aligned.

[School of Hard Knocks] PSLE Results

Accompanied the twins to school today to collect their PSLE results. As I was sitting with bated breath in the school hall waiting for the students to be ushered to their classes for the results, I recalled my own results day some 10 years ago and the waves of disappointment I felt when I fell short of my expectations. No pressure from my parents or teachers, but I still remember feeling very down when I had to walk to the back of the hall to share my results with my folks. The same disappointment plagued me when I collected my O level results. Not cool when you’re in a school where single pointers were aplenty. I only got my act together when I went to junior college and finally enjoyed studying. I was quite the nerd. 

What I need to emphasize here is that some of us are just late bloomers, we discover our potential so much later. Ban ban kor kor did two extra years in primary school, made a lot of poor decisions in life and spent a lot more years in prison before eventually straightening out his life and graduating with an Hons. degree in a good school. Life is too short to cry over lousy PSLE results. The real defeat is when you choose to give up and shortchange yourself. Chin up, and try again next year, thangachi.

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