A distinct hometown memory 另一種鄉愁: Hometown roads

元宵 Fifteenth Day of the CNY

[Saw a string of 天灯-sky lanterns some people had lit and set off from the top of a hill, float up like a string of burnished amber pearls toward the bright full moon in the night sky. Nice.]

Maybe it was thinking about the chinese new years of the wonder years spent at father’s upcountry hometown in Malaysia; maybe its the indirect prodding and jiggling at almost forgotten grey memories long shrouded behind the fog of time… One such sliver of time-frozen memory crystallized and revealed itself from the murky mists of my mind, and finally put a name and title to an old song and wisps of lyrics and melody which had been teasing at the edges of my mind for almost 30 years now.

雲樹路哭雨露 (yun shu lu ku yu lu)
cloud tree road cry rain mist/dew

Driving north upcountry into Father’s hometown in Johor, Peninsular Malaysia for the First Day of CNY had been an annual pilgrimage my family will make ever since I could remember. I didn’t particularly enjoy the trips and visiting my extended family on the paternal side in Malaysia; after all, I hardly meet them save for CNY, Qing Ming (to go 拜山-pray to the hill or ‘tomb-sweeping’ at the elaborate family and clan grave tombs, usu located at hillside cemeteries), and some other notable dates and occasions. At that young time, I resented the fact that I would be missing out on the First Day of CNY and meeting my cousins and family from Mum’s side of the family in Spore.

Still, there was a certain thrill and mystery to these upcountry drives. This was before the second causeway link at Tuas and the pan-state Malaysian North-South expressway were built; we took the old back roads which were then the only way to drive up north from town to town. These were narrow two way/two lane roads which sometimes backed up for miles if you were caught behind an overladen lumber or oil palm truck with an especially anal driver who refused to let the cars behind him pass. These roads can be a little intimidating and dangerous; but Father knew these back roads like the back of his hand and know every tricky turn and gaping pothole and could even drive on them at full speed in the dark, as he had done so many times in the old days when he had to drive right across Msia overnight on some urgent business and the road lamps were often out, leaving some inter-town roads in total darkness.
[I remember some of these overnight drives with me sitting shotgun next to father. I accompanied father on a few of these business road trips, both the good ones (during the good fortune times when all was hunky-dory with father’s businesses and we traveled around Msia as he went to inspect his businesses in the various states, feted by his business partners to good food -山猪肉/wild boar meat!-, drink, and luxurious villa stays at the highlands), and especially the bad ones (during the bad years when these same business partners almost held father’s business ransom with the huge bad debts they owed from the credit and stock father had extended to them. ‘Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer’ was something father had to do during those bad years. Dancing with the devils, was what Mum grimly called it then).]

Father made sure we set off on our 3-hour drive early in the morning hours, usually before 4am, to beat the holiday traffic and to ensure we arrive at grandfather’s house before the roosters (yes, there was a chicken coop beside the house!) start crowing at daybreak. There is something about long drives into a different country in the early morning hours that is always exciting and filled with anticipation and hope for a little adventure. Especially when you are seven or eight. There would be at least one, usually two stops along the way, not at those grey drab and flood-lights lit rest-stops you now have along the new expressways, far away from all the interesting little villages and towns. I remember we would always stop at Father’s favourite little breakfast stall somewhere in Skudai (or was it Kulai?), pulling up and stopping almost by the roadside at a little corner coffeeshop, serving simple but the best early morning piping hot char-siew buns and steaming siew mai and har gow.

And previously off another tangent elsewhere,  I have described these our long drives upcountry to Father’s hometown:

http://legacydaily.com/2009/11/i-90/

Your post above on long drives upcountry and memories of loved ones struck a deep chord.

I am transported back into Dad’s sedan as we drive north upcountry on our yearly pilgrimage back to his hometown in north Johor, Malaysia. Setting off at sleepy 4am to beat the traffic, playing silly ‘scary’ games with the dark shadows that looms towards and zooms away with each passing street-lamp…but finding security in the comforting silhouettes of Mum and Dad in the front seats. Then, rolling the windows down and hanging my head out to watch the creepy but so beautiful dark figures of trees in the rubber and oil-palm plantations whizzing by, and smelling that acrid but immensely clarifying scent that is found only in the woods – of early-morning bracken, moss and dew. All these to the magical melody of Enya’s Orinoco Flow playing on the stereo (I insisted, they acquiesced).

Apologies for my flight of fancy. But thank you.

The referenced Enya song in that 2009 description and memory clearly marked it as a memory from my teen years. But I actually remember these long upcountry drives from much earlier in my childhood, and there was another song I especially associated these hometown drives with, but which I have since almost forgotten. In the decades and years since, there were moments (perhaps prompts from a similar familiar sound or tune or words or smell or emotions…) when little snippets and wisps of this old song and its lyrics and melody will stir up within me, and I’ll have scenes of those familiar old roads/路 and forests/plantations/樹 whizzing by appear in my head, and that ‘acrid but immensely clarifying scent that is found only in the woods – of early-morning bracken, moss and dew/露’ almost palpable in my nose…

雲樹路哭雨露 (yun shu lu ku yu lu)
cloud tree road cry rain mist/dew

I will almost remember this old song and have its title at the tip of my tongue…but just as quickly, these moments and wisps of memory will fade, and I will be left with that wretched restless and unsatiatied feeling and frustration, of an elusive and taunting memory that remains fleeting and at large…

I know the lyrics to the song contain the words 樹/tree and 路/road and maybe 露/dew. But these are rather generic words and did not give any useful clue towards solving this frustrating riddle and puzzle in my head all these years.

A few days ago, almost like magic, the other words in the lyrics surfaced and crystallized in my head, and more importantly, this time, the song melody played and remained long enough in my head for these crucial keywords to fall into place, and to finally reveal the song for the first time in many long years…

雲…樹…路…哭…雨…露 (yun shu lu ku yu lu)
cloud…tree…road…cry…rain…mist/dew

另一種鄉愁 A distinct hometown memory (by 鳳飛飛 Feng Fei Fei – 1981):

1981年,改編日本歌曲《昴(すばる)》(by 谷村新司)
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作詞:晨曦,作曲:谷村新司
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另一種鄉愁

沒有哭泣的那一種滋味,那種使人刻骨銘心的鄉愁;
如果深深經歷那種感受,才會明白為何佔滿心頭。

啊!只要獨處,日昇日落,許多感觸;
啊!那種滋味,澎湃飛舞,怎麼傾訴。

,不要遮斷那故鄉的道
我雖沒有,只怨那

閉上眼睛的那一種的滋味,那種使人刻骨銘心的鄉愁;
就在眼前不斷的漫步,睜開眼睛它又佔滿心頭。

A distinct hometown memory

A distinct flavour/emotion without tears, that distinctive nostalgia for your hometown etched into your bones and imprinted within your heart
Only if you had deeply felt that kind of feeling, will you understand just why it fillls your heart so

Ah! You only have to be alone, watching sunrises or sunsets, to feel these surges of emotions
Ah! That distinct flavour (of emotion), a furious raging torrent, how to confess/confide

Those clouds and trees, do not shroud and cover these hometown roads
But I did not cry, only blaming the rain and the mist/dew

That distinct flavour/emotion when you close your eyes, that distinctive nostalgia for your hometown etched into your bones and imprinted within your heart
Those unending slow steps (on this old hometown road) before your (mind’s) eyes, filling your heart once again upon opening your eyes

I didn’t even know its actual title then, I used to just call it the ‘路-Road’ song. But now that this old song is firmly in my mind once again, I remember that I used to hum and sing it all the time. I simply loved the ethos and silent sadness evoked by the lines:

那雲和樹,不要遮斷那故鄉的道路;
我雖沒有哭,只怨那雨和露。
Those clouds and trees, do not shroud and cover these hometown roads
But I did not cry, only blaming the rain and the mist/dew

and they were always on my mind during the long drives back to Father’s hometown, on those winding roads lined with stretching plantations and endless trees, sometimes shrouded with early morning mist and dew…

Here is another video of the song, this time someone with apparently similar sentimentalities have set it to images of his/her hometown, seemingly a small Malaysian town too:

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[I remember at that early age in primary school, while my friends and peers were going on about the various flashy and immensely popular idols like Michael Jackson, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, or Sam Hui, Anita Mui, Leslie Cheung; I was too embarrassed to share my favorite song then, this old-fashioned sounding Mandarin song with such old-fashioned lyrics…]

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杨朱 Yang Chu: The brevity of life, Rip Van Winkle and time value

杨朱曰:
“百年寿之大齐;得百年者,千无一焉。设有一者,孩抱以逮昏老,几居其半矣。夜眠之所弭,昼觉之所遗又几居其半矣。痛疾哀苦,亡失忧惧,又几居其半矣。量十数年之中,逌然而自得,亡介焉之虑者,亦亡一时之中尔。则人之生也奚为哉?奚乐哉?为美厚尔,为声色尔。而美厚复不可常猒足,声色不可常玩闻。乃复为刑赏之所禁劝,名法之所进退;遑遑尔竞一时之虚誉,规死后之馀荣;偊偊尔顺耳目之观听,惜身意之是非;徒失当年之至乐,不能自肆于一时。重囚累梏,何以异哉?太古之人,知生之暂来,知死之暂往,故从心而动,不违自然所好,当身之娱,非所去也,故不为名所观。从性而游,不逆万物所好,死后之名,非所取也,故不为刑所及。名誉先后,年命多少,非所量也。”

-《列子》, 杨朱篇

THE BREVITY OF CONSCIOUS LIFE

YANG CHU said:

“One hundred years is the limit of a long life. Not one in a thousand ever attains to it. Yet if they do, still unconscious infancy and old age take up about half this time.

“The time he passes unconsciously while asleep at night, and that which is wasted though awake during the day, also amounts to another half of the rest. Again pain and sickness, sorrow and fear, fill up about a half, so that he really gets only ten years or so for his enjoyment. And even then there is not one hour free from some anxiety.

“What then is the object of human life? What makes it pleasant? Comfort and elegance, music and beauty. Yet one cannot always gratify the desire for comfort and elegance nor incessantly enjoy beauty and music.

“Besides, being warned and exhorted by punishments and rewards, urged forward and repelled by fame and laws, men are constantly rendered anxious. Striving for one vain hour of glory and providing for the splendour which is to survive their death, they go their own solitary ways, analysing what they hear with their ears and see with their eyes, and carefully considering what is good for body and mind; so they lose the happiest moments of the present, and cannot really give way to these feelings for one hour.

“How do they really differ from chained criminals?

“The Ancients knew that all creatures enter but for a short while into life, and must suddenly depart in death. Therefore they gave way to their impulses and did not check their natural propensities.

“They denied themselves nothing that could give pleasure to their bodies; consequently, as they were not seeking fame. but were following their own nature, they went smoothly on, never at variance with their inclinations. They did not seek for posthumous fame. They neither did anything criminal, and of glory and fame, rank and position, as well as of the span of their life they took no heed.”

The Lieh Tzu, Book of Yang Chu

What is the time value of a score or twenty years and youth?
When Rip Van Winkle woke up from his slumber, besides a longer and grayed beard, did he find himself richer or poorer from his unnatural sleep?
Was he robbed of his time, as though he had bought a long-dated call option but whose time value has been relentlessly decaying away towards its eventual worthless expiry, soon after he woke up?
Or maybe ol’ Rip had stashed a little something away into a interest-bearing account reinvesting the coupons and compounding and growing over the years, and woke up instantly rewarded with a tidy sum without having to wait for it…
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珍惜 – Cherish:

停泊在昨日離別的碼頭
好多夢層層疊疊又斑剝
人在夕陽黃昏後
陪著明月等寂寞
年少痴狂有時難禦晚秋風.
*經過你快樂時少煩惱多
經過我情深意濃緣份薄
誰說青春不能錯
情願熱淚不低頭
珍惜曾經擁有曾經牽過手.
珍惜青春夢一場
珍惜相聚的時光
誰能年少不痴狂
獨自闖盪,就算月有陰和缺
就算人有悲和歡
誰能夠不揚夢想這張帆.
珍惜為我流的淚
珍惜為你的歲月
誰能無動又無衷,這段珍貴
明天還有雲要飛
留著天空陪我追
無怨無悔也是人生一種美.

珍惜為我流的淚
珍惜為你的歲月
無怨無悔也是人生一種美.

誰能夠不揚夢想這張帆
Who can resist yearning for and raising their sails and dreams

明天還有雲要飛
留著天空陪我追
Tomorrow there will still be clouds to sail on
Leaving a patch of sky for us to chase towards

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In a half and half again score years or 5, 6 years, some are able to huff and puff and push themselves and their fund size to a decent mid to high double-digit MMs, and perhaps priming for takeoff into the triple-digit promised land of milk and honey and mucho manna.

While others somnambulate and sleepwalk through the years like a zombified Rip Van Winkle…

Momo or The Men in Grey (1986)

Watching the video, More, with the grey misshapen men shuffling about their assembly-line and robotic tasks on the factory floor, and the colourless grey tall generic city buildings, I have memories of an old movie from a long time ago flashing across my mind, scenes with mysterious grey men going about their mysterious soul-robbing work and ways in a drab grey city…but I just couldn’t remember what movie it was.

It came to me suddenly just now, and brought a smile to my face. One of those children’s foreign films I watched a very long time ago, born of a children’s book and author with a mind and imagination that was out of this world and so delightful.

The German fantasy and children’s author, Michael Ende, and his 1973 novel, Momo or The Men in Grey:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Momo_(novel)

Momo, also known as The Grey Gentlemen or The Men in Grey, is a fantasy novel by Michael Ende, published in 1973. It is about the concept of time and how it is used by humans in modern societies. The full title in German (Momo oder Die seltsame Geschichte von den Zeit-Dieben und von dem Kind, das den Menschen die gestohlene Zeit zurückbrachte) translates to Momo, or the strange story of the time-thieves and the child who brought the stolen time back to the people. The book won the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis in 1974.

In the ruins of an amphitheatre just outside an unnamed city lives Momo, a little girl of mysterious origin. She came to the ruin, parentless and wearing a long, used coat. She is illiterate and can’t count, and she doesn’t know how old she is. When asked, she replies, “As far as I remember, I’ve always been there.” She is remarkable in the neighbourhood because she has the extraordinary ability to listen — really listen. By simply being with people and listening to them, she can help them find answers to their problems, make up with each other, and think of fun games. The advice given to people “go and see Momo!” has become a household phrase and Momo makes many friends, especially an honest, silent street-cleaner, Beppo, and a poetic, extroverted tour guide, Gigi (Guido in some translations).

This pleasant atmosphere is spoiled by the arrival of the Men in Grey, eventually revealed as a race of paranormal parasites stealing the time of humans. Appearing in the form of grey-clad, grey-skinned, bald men, these strange individuals present themselves as representing the Timesavings Bank and promote the idea of “timesaving” among the population: Supposedly, time can be deposited to the Bank and returned to the client later with interest. After encountering the Men in Grey, people are made to forget all about them but not about the resolution to save as much time as possible for later use. Gradually, the sinister influence of the Men in Grey affects the whole city: life becomes sterile, devoid of all things considered time-wasting, like social activities, recreation, art, imagination, or sleeping. Buildings and clothing are made exactly the same for everyone and the rhythms of life become hectic. In reality the more time people save the less they have; the time they save is actually lost to them. Instead, it is consumed by the Men in Grey in the form of cigars made from the dried petals of the hour: lilies that represent time. Without these cigars the Men in Grey cannot exist.

Momo, however, is a wrench in the plans of the Timesaving Bank thanks to her special personality. The Men in Grey try various plans to take care of her, derailing her from stopping their scheme, but they all fail. When even her closest friends fall under the influence of the Men in Grey in one way or another, Momo’s only hope to save the time of mankind is the personification of Time Professor Secundus Minutus Hora (Second Minute Hour) and Cassiopeia, a tortoise which can communicate through writing on her shell and can see thirty minutes into the future. Momo’s adventure will take her from the depths of her heart, where her own time flows from in the form of lovely hour-lilies, to the lair of the Men in Grey themselves, where the time people believe they save is hoarded.

Ah, I remember little Momo and Beppo and Guido. And the ‘special effects’ used in this non-Hollywood 80s foreign film: every time the Grey Men makes another score and steals the Time of yet another victim, another grey building sprouts up in the city and another Suit and Soul is claimed.

Momo (Trailer):

Momo -The Movie (in english language) 1986:

Music, the brain, the spatial movement of melodies and the colour of sounds [feat. Sting+Brian Eno]

As with other accomplished artists with their craft, Sting and Brian Eno ‘sees’ music as colours and angles and movement in their heads.

http://natgeotv.com/uk/my-music-brain/about

MY MUSIC BRAIN

DOCUMENTARY DESCRIPTION

Featuring top musicians such as Sting, Michael Bublé, Feist & Wyclef Jean.

From punk to pop, hip-hop to classical, music has the power to stir up powerful emotions, memories and passions. But it is only now, thanks to cutting-edge experiments, that scientists are starting to understand how our brains process and react to music. Using rock star Sting as a guinea pig, this fascinating documentary sees The Police singer go from stage to brain scan, as experts explore how his grey matter responds to different types of music. Also featuring interviews with Michael Bublé, Feist and Wyclef Jean, find out just why music means so much to us.

My Music Brain, how does our brain work? (National Geographic Channel)

BRIAN ENO: His Music and The Vertical Color of Sound

http://pdfhacks.com/eno/BE.pdf

Much of Eno’s music is constructed on a vertical basis: to a great extent, it is music concerned with the sheer color of sound, rather than with the linear (horizontal) growth of melodies. Each moment in Eno’s music presents certain tone colors or timbres, and the interest lies in the relationships between these colors – rather than in the evolution of thematic material, which has been the norm in in most Western art music for centuries. What Eno hears sitting in Hyde Park is a composite, geographical, ambient music, with no need of horizontal teleology or the logic of linear development.

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Was reminded of the above regarding Sting and Brian Eno from a few disparate touch points, including listening again to Brian Eno’s Deep Blue Day, mentioned in an old post:
https://dustysojourner.wordpress.com/2009/10/18/a-perfect-deep-blue-day/

Brian Eno – Deep Blue Day:

MORE (Get Happy…Get Bliss) [feat. New Order]

Just read elsewhere about Happiness and Bliss…

Big concepts. And immediately thought of one of the most brilliant stop motion animation ever made, the 1998 animated short film MORE, which has a story about manufacturing and consuming ‘Happy’ and ‘Bliss’ products.
[And coincidentally features music from New Order, a Brit punk-rock band I liked, and whose song Temptation (from the movie Trainspotting) I was just listening to the other day]

This animated film is one of those things which you see once and never leaves your head again, popping up most incongruously at the strangest times…like now.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/More_(1998_film)

Plot:

More tells the story of an inventor who lives in a drab, colorless world. Day by day, he toils away in a harsh, dull, and dehumanizing job, his only savior being the memories of the bliss of childhood. But at night, he works secretly on an invention that could help him relive those memories and spread their joy to everyone in his despair-filled life.
When he finishes the invention, it changes the way people look at the world. His success changes him, however, because he loses an important part of himself.

Musing on Happiness and Bliss, and the ancient debate between the Epicureans and the Stoics.

More [animation 1998; featuring the song Elegia by New Order]:

That day shall come when we remove our rose-tinted goggles and realized we have used up the Happy/Bliss/Magic/Colour/Child in us…

歡鑼喜鼓咚得隆咚鏘: 廟會 Temple Festival

大年初三 Third day of the Chinese New Year

The sights and sounds of my childhood Chinese New Years in Singapore were actually rather tame and would always pale in comparison to the thunder and fury of the CNY celebrations practiced by the folk in father’s hometown in Johor Malaysia, with their assortment of firecrackers [more like sticks of dynamite and literally firecracker-powered guns and ‘guided missiles’ we would fire from grandfather’s hilltop house onto the neighbouring houses below. We would always win the firecracker missile war (there really was a scheduled competition and war which my uncles would start at a precise time in the afternoon by firing the first missile) – we had height and terrain advantage; and after all, grandfather was the ‘village headman’ and main landlord of the plantations and fields he tenanted out to the other smallholders and tenant farmers], loud and boisterous temple festival parades and drums and lion dances, even dragon dances.

It was way too loud, garish and actually downright tacky, and sometimes even a little frightening. But to a goggle-eyed city boy, it was also amazing fun. I loved it.

歡鑼喜鼓咚得隆咚鏘
Merry gongs (cymbals) and joyous drums, Dong De Long Dong Jang

And I love this song 廟會 Temple Festival, a very famous old Taiwanese song, which captures the sights and sounds of a New Year’s temple festival so succinctly. The folk in the smaller towns from both Taiwan and Malaysia have much in common. City slickers are missing out on a lot…

廟會 Temple Festival:

王夢麟 – 廟會

1980年,中國年節應景民歌
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作詞:賴西安,作曲:蘇來
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歡鑼喜鼓咚得隆咚鏘,鈸鐃穿雲霄;
盤柱青龍探頭望,石獅笑張嘴。

紅燭火檀香燒,菩薩滿身香;
祈祝年冬收成好,遊子都平安。

歡鑼喜鼓咚得隆咚鏘,鈸鐃穿雲霄;
范謝將軍站兩旁,叱吒想當年。

戰天神護鄉民,魂魄在人間;
悲歡聚散總無常,知足心境寬。

Ah, great lyrics. Old songs always have such meaningful lines. Simple yet filled with poignant imagery. Too much context will be lost in translation, so leaving as is.

Kueh lapis and a girl of the South Seas 南海姑娘

大年初一 First day of the Chinese New Year

Chinese new year used to be, and I guess still remains, my favourite time of the year. The sights, colours, sounds, songs, food, drink, dress, people, games and conversation always seem to be brighter and louder than normal and even a little surrealistic and larger than life; like watching a familiar and comforting old movie where you know all the good scenes and lines already by heart, but you go along with it anyway and at the right time, laugh and whoop again at all the old punchlines.

But while many things remain comfortingly constant, the things that have changed are the ones that really matter: the new faces added and welcomed into the family; and the old familiar faces now gone and passed into memories, remembered only in thoughts and when second aunt picked up a slice of kueh lapis from the serving plate and without thinking remarked that it was Mum’s favourite new year goodie, stopped abruptly in mid-sentence and started to dab at her moistening eyes with her hanky.

kueh_lapis

kueh_lapis

Mum loved kueh lapis. This rich intense confection is definitely not a traditional chinese pastry in the purist sense, but among all the other colourful and exciting, sweet and savoury new year goodies and treats, the kueh lapis always took center stage at home. This multi-layered cake takes much skill and hours of painstaking work to prepare; Mum was not good enough a cook or baker for this cake, so she just went and bought it. The origins of this Indonesian pastry is rather murky by now, but some of the best kueh lapis are made by Indonesian-Chinese, especially from the city of Medan in North Sumatra, Indonesia, which has a large ethnic Chinese population. Mum used to get her friends in Medan to bring over boxes of kueh lapis (I’m talking dozens of boxes of the 40x40cm cakes!) on their trips to Singapore, and she became the ‘distributor’ of Medanese kueh lapis for the extended family, especially during CNY.

Apart from the island of Bali, Medan was probably Mum’s favourite place in Indonesia. While Bali remained the artistic ‘mecca’ for Mum and her fellow generation of NAFA students (naturally from the influence of and following their instructors, the Nanyang masters on their painting trips to Bali), Medan and the surrounding north Sumatran landscapes also held a special attraction for Mum, and she visited the area many times.

I remember one time Mum visited Medan with her older sister (my second aunt, also a NAFA graduate and artist/art teacher), and took me and my cousin along. In Medan city, Mum and Second Aunt met their artist friends and visited art galleries and workshops and bought paintings and artwork and sculptures, especially the woodwork the Medanese craftsmen were famous for (Mum bought many horse sculptures!). There were the requisite trips out to the surrounding countryside and plains with the villages and padi fields, and further afield to the hills, gorges and Minangkabau villages and of course, to the picturesque but touristy Lake Toba and the old bloodthirsty Batak villages; which I really enjoyed. I remember the ferry rides zipping about across the great lake to visit the other little islands, with me and my cousin wearing raincoats clutching onto the rails on the rain-slicked top deck; and enjoying the chilly highland air while riding the cute short-legged highland ponies.

[Mum was really pleased when I went to architecture school, and especially when I started assisting a couple of my professors for their research project on indigenous architecture of Indonesia, including the distinctive bull-horns roofed traditional rumah-house of the Minangkabau and the longboat-shaped stilt-longhouse of the Bataks. Mum joked that just as the Bali landscapes and Balinese culture had been the artistic mecca and muse for her, North Sumatra and the Minangkabau and the Bataks may do the same for me. I’m not sure how true that turned out to be, but till this day, I have an abiding fascination with the history and architecture of the ancient archipelago empires of the Indonesian islands.

{Digression: While some may be aware of the historical, cultural, linguistic and architectural linkages between the original Indonesian settlers and other indigenous aboriginal populations across the far-flung maritime archipelagic islands of East Asia and South-east Asia (like the Philippines and Taiwan) due to their common Austronesian ancestors, who were the finest and earliest mariners in human history; how many know that these linkages extend all the way to the modern Japanese? As unlikely as it may seem today, the Japanese islanders, through their earliest proto-Japanese ancestors the Jomon, have a lot in common with the native populations on the other islands across Asia and the Pacific: Jomon architecture had been identified to posses features distinctive to that of the other Austronesian descendants found across the Asian archipelagos. Even today, many features of traditional Japanese houses (rural farmhouses, not the imperial aristocratic buildings of later periods with their borrowed continental Chinese and Korean elements) have similarities with the traditional architecture of coastal Thai-Viet, Filipino and Indonesian/Balinese houses.
}]

Back in Medan city, the boxes of kueh lapis Mum had already ordered were ready. But what I really remembered from that trip was another pastry, the heavenly and honeycombed yellow cake Medan was even more famous for, Bika Ambon:

kue_bika_ambon

kue_bika_ambon

I loved Bika Ambon and couldn’t get enough of it! I liked its spongy chewy texture, especially contrasted with the slightly scorched and caramelized exterior. I was fascinated with the insides with their honeycomb-like structure; and as with many other things then, I swallowed it line and sinker when Mum told me solemnly yet with a twinkle in her eye, that it was made with real and raw beeswax, that’s why it looks like a honeycomb. Forever the jester and trickster, Mum was.
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Mum was an enthusiastic supporter of 本土文化 – ‘earthy’ local culture, be it her own traditional chinese culture, the curious predilection she had for the 原住民文化-indigenous aboriginal culture of Taiwan’s highland aborigine natives, and certainly for the South-east Asian cultures of the region she was born in and grew up within. Way before the term Modern Asia became a buzzword in luxe interior design, she was already collecting and displaying ethnic Asian art and craft, furniture and furnishings. After all, this was simply what she and other local artists of the 50s 60s and 70s were doing during that period and wave of artistic awareness, appreciation and cultivation of local and ethnic arts, be it in Spore or Taiwan, Medan or Bangkok.

Mum fancied herself to be a 南海姑娘 or a lady of the South Seas, a phrase used by the Chinese (that is, Chinese from North/East Asia – mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan) to refer to ladies from 南洋-Nanyang or South-east Asia; usually implying the ladies from the local population, tropical and exotic and darker-skinned. She had several outfits of sarong kebayas which she would wear proudly while accompanying Father for his official dinners and functions, the look completed with a gold-plated RISIS orchid brooch (heh, guess she was a patriot too and advocate of Buy Local-Singapore!).

risis_orchid_brooch

risis_orchid_brooch

And this Teresa Teng song, 南海姑娘 was one Mum played and sang in the house often, with a soothing and actually rather tropical feel to it (guess she liked it too cause of the pun and wordplay the song title inadvertently has on Mum’s family ancestry and province in China which they were from):
南海姑娘 Lady of the South Seas

椰风挑动银浪
夕阳躲云偷看
看见金色的沙滩上
独坐一位美丽的姑娘

眼睛星样灿烂
眉似新月弯弯
穿着一件红色的纱笼
红得象她嘴上的槟榔

她在轻叹
叹那无情郎
想到泪汪汪
湿了红色纱笼白衣裳
哎呀 南海姑娘
何必太过悲伤
年纪轻轻只十六吧
旧梦失去有新侣做伴

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And to complete this chain and circle of thoughts, which began with that piece of new year Kueh Lapis cake, to Mum and Medan and to 南海姑娘 Lady of the South Seas…I suppose I also straight away made the connection to someone who has been in my thoughts recently.

After all, my high school Lin Yan-mei 蔺燕梅 whom I met again recently after such a long time, is also a Girl of the South Seas 南海姑娘, an Indonesian-Chinese girl from the city of Medan.

父母在, 不远游 When your parents are still alive, do not venture abroad

父母在,不远游

When your parents are still alive, do not venture abroad

-Confucius, Analects

Possibly my most hated line from the Analects.

It has been a very tough two weeks, of drama and induced emergencies…again. Sometimes, I wonder if I should start to take imipramine, diazepam, alprazolam for myself as well.

In a rather ominous portend of my own sliding state of mind, I snapped irritably at a well-meaning someone who was trying to encourage me by quoting the above line from the Analects, words which had been regarded as the paragon of virtue and filial piety in chinese consciousness. Poor chap. He only meant well, but I was in no frame of mind to be agreeable and console and pat myself on the back with highfalutin but empty notions of piety and self-sacrifice.

I retorted with another line, the 三年之丧 or 3 years of mourning for the parents:

宰我问:“三年之丧,期已久矣。君子三年不为礼,礼必坏;三年不为乐,乐必崩。旧谷既没,新谷既升,钻燧改火,期可已矣。”
子曰:“食夫稻,衣夫锦,于汝安乎?” 曰:“安。”
“汝安则为之。夫君子之居丧,食旨不甘,闻乐不乐,居处不安,故不为也。今汝安,则为之。”

Tsai Wo asked about the three years’ mourning for parents, saying that one year was long enough.

“If the superior man,” said he, “abstains for three years from the observances of propriety, those observances will be quite lost. If for three years he abstains from music, music will be ruined. Within a year the old grain is exhausted, and the new grain has sprung up, and, in procuring fire by friction, we go through all the changes of wood for that purpose. After a complete year, the mourning may stop.”

The Master said, “If you were, after a year, to eat good rice, and wear embroidered clothes, would you feel at ease?” “I should,” replied Wo.

The Master said, “If you can feel at ease, do it. But a superior man, during the whole period of mourning, does not enjoy pleasant food which he may eat, nor derive pleasure from music which he may hear. He also does not feel at ease, if he is comfortably lodged. Therefore he does not do what you propose. But now you feel at ease and may do it.”

“Superior man” bollocks!

I harangued the hapless fellow that some parents, even before they pass on, already expect you live as though in mourning, to put on sack-cloth and lie on a bed of sticks, to mix ash into your hair and cry and beat your chest in bewildered and misplaced lamentations. And I have been 不远游 and in 之丧 for far longer than three years already…
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Very tough two weeks. The depressing lows especially hard to stomach this time, coming right after the delightful high of meeting a special someone from high school and reconnecting with tender memories from the teenage years.

But such is life.