Saturday, April 18, 2020

Chek Jawa Days

Chek Jawa days are just full.

Remember that windy and sultry day? I led you by the hand through the woods. You appeared hesitant at first. I had your hand in mine, and gave you a squeeze to tell you I was near. Two lonely figures we were, in a tunnel of trees and shrubs, walking upon the soft and winding trail. It might rain, they said, but I was undaunted.

The sea was near. We stopped momentarily to look up at the rustling of the leaves and felt the breeze in our faces. ‘That’s the wind’, I said. ‘And that’s the sea too!’ I added in jubilation.

No sooner, the glaring shimmer of the sea broke through the gaps in the woods like a chandelier of lights caught in the wind. We quicken our steps and gingerly picked our way among the rocks and boulders on the rugged shore.

And there you were, bubbling with excitement. You took fancy in almost every piece of broken corals and pebbles. If only you could see the twinkle in your own eyes and the quiet joy in a father’s heart. For a moment in time, I felt immortality and that we could walk on and on till time eternal.

Did you not feel the desolate vastness of the sandflat beneath our feet and the sky above our heads? Would you remember the warmth of a father’s care when I pulled your socks off so that you could stand in the pools left by the receding sea?

You ran around pointing out all the starfishes you could find and asked in the most natural way if you
could keep one in the fish tank at home. I laughed. It better they stay in the sea, I said. You held one for
a moment in your small palm and then let it go. Time could only be counted in sea anemones, sponges
and fishes trapped in the pools. We were a hundred meters out and there were starfishes everywhere.

Two hours passed within a breath and the rumble of the darkening sky signal our return to shore. As
usual, you tired easily, and asked to be piggybacked. Why not, I said. There will be a time when you will
grow up and I will not be able to do so again.

As soon as we were back to the rocky outcrop, it began to drizzle. We took shelter under the canopy of the seashore nutmeg and got our raincoats on. The sea rose steadily and covered the meadow of sea grasses like the drawing of the curtain to signal the end of a show. It was time to go.

I look back in fond memory how two of us retraced our path along the forested shoreline under the rain. We took off our caps just for the fun of it. The moistened trunks and roots looked so enriched in tone over the smooth boulders. Even the pebbles became alive in livid colors.

The rain also brought the birds back into the tiny forested home. We too are going home. Every creature, big or small, has a home to return to. With you in my hand, I bade a final farewell to the families of starfishes that had finally returned to the swollen sea.

I wrote this, my dear son, so that this memory will stay with you forever. I hope you will grow up to feel the same as I do for the home that we share with all these wonderful creatures. I hope you too can experience this unique place with your own child and carry on for yourself the immortality I felt when I was there with you.

I am dedicating this memory to you and hope you will discover for yourself that the true sense of being is being with nature.



Thursday, January 2, 2020

That Trees Do Cry

That Trees Do Cry

It could not have been less obvious. Even the foreign workers working nearby would have realised
something was amiss. A building that was closed and of little significance to them whatsoever, and yet, there was this constant stream of people - individuals, couples and families - that trickled in like wandering spirits, lingering about quietly in as much as a whisper, drifting in and out of the silent stairways, and loitering before bolted doors and unlit windows.

Hitherto they took their cameras out now and again to steal a shot here and there without getting in
each other's way. The respectful silence that permeated the air betrayed the mutual understanding that each one has for the privy of the other's need to be alone to dwell in his or her own timeless place of memorable fondness and youth.

I brought my 10 year old son along just to relive the little moments that we once had here. I vividly
remember one rare breakfast of sandwiches and coffee in the cafe by the fountain in the inner
courtyard five years ago. I couldn't remember what we chatted about, but I remember we had a
magazine and he was reading something aloud to me. I remember feeling very proud as the elderly lady at the next table beamed an approving smile at the proficiency of this young reader.

However the strongest piece of thread that binds me still to this place can be found on the parapet of the main stairways. Here it was, and still is in my eyes, the memorable resting place that me and my siblings sat with Enid Blyton's books in our hands. We loved this spot and would sit here for a while before adjourning home.

I had wanted so much to share this feeling with my son. That I did sitting there with him for a while and we had pictures taken for good measure. However, what happened next, swept me off my feet in the most enchanting way.

'Daddy... look! A slide.' I looked up and saw him sliding down the smooth terra cotta tiles. 'That was
exactly what I and my brother and sisters did too,' I smiled.

Never in my wildest dream that out of my babe's mouth comes a distant voice from my past and so miraculous a gift of vision that only he, my son, could ever have presented me so dearly.

We left shortly after and walked slowly round to the side of the red-brick building for one last time.
Surprisingly, there were still some books lining the window sill inside. They looked forlorn and sad against the algae-stainted pane, leaning out as if to take a last glimpse of us old faithfuls.

It seemed goodbyes were hard even from the inside too. Long gone were the noises of the children and the incessant steps that greeted the arrival and departure of the library visitors. Anguish draped heavy like a burial cloth.

As I walked to my favourite Sea Beam tree at the end-corner of the building, I wondered if I, amongst the thousands of old faithfuls, had done enough to help conserve this place of our youth.

A carpet of tiny flowers greeted me under the Sea Beam tree. Some fell on my head. As I stooped to pick
up some, I found a dying caterpillar lying motionless amongst the fallen flowers. It must have fallen from the high canopy too.

I looked up to see my son who by then was riding happily about in the carpark on his scooter. Will he and his generation ever know that trees do cry when a caterpillar dies? I sincerely hope so, and understand why dad and others alike are so sad today.

- Joseph Lai, 3 April 2004

In its place - a gaping hole of an entrance to the 350m Fort Canning Tunnel. A very short tunnel for a cherished place of memories and growing up for Singapore Merdeka Generation especially. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Cross Island Line on Pale Blue Dot

Recall the number of minutes of travelling time we were told can be cut on the upcoming Cross Island (MRT) Line through our precious forest that we are willing to risk and then read Carl Sagan's reflection below. Would you not be laughing and crying at the same time?

Seen from about 6 billion kilometers (3.7 billion miles), Earth appears as a tiny dot within deep space: the blueish-white speck almost halfway up the brown band on the right.

Pale Blue Dot
- by Carl Sagan 1994

Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there -- on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.

The house is burning down, Nero, and you are fiddling away?! Hahahaha. 

Read also: Celebrating Our Rain Forest in SG50.