張子璘《早苗》- “Zoumiu”, Again, 9 Short Stories


This has to be a coincidence.  I randomly picked four Chinese novels to read from the library.  The previous book is a collection of nine short stories.  This books is also a collection of nine short stories.  Relationship, especially in the form of divorce, is one of the themes of the previous book.  Same for this book.  The previous book writes in a certain style of surrealism blurring reality with illusion.  This book, same.  And when one of the stories from 《早苗》Zoumiu” – note that I translate based on the pronunciation because the title is derived from a female name – has a scene of the main character pondering with a glass of cold beer, I flipped.  It was as though I was reading 《嘉年華會》(Carnival”).  The beer, the divorce, the surrealism, the same number of stories – either it is a common trend in today’s Chinese literature bear in mind that “Zoumiu” is written by a Taiwanese writer while “Carnival” by a Hong Kong writer, the coincidence is simply, surreal.

Before I comment on the “Zoumiu”, I would like to write a bit on what I observe on the languages of these two geographic locations (can’t really say countries, can I?).  Hong Kong and Taiwan are most likely the only two places in this entire world that the people still write in Traditional Chinese.  I sincerely wish with all my heart that Traditional Chinese will not vanish, swallowed by the Simplified Chinese so commonly promoted by China.  For those who wonder what the difference between the two is, it is as though “Simplified English” becomes official and words such as ‘wot’, ‘happend’, ‘wif’, ‘btw’, ‘u’, ‘tt’, ‘impresn’ become the endorsed language.  Imagine English classics printed with those simplified forms.  The analogy may be crude and not entirely correct.  But the essence is there.  And that is how I feel when I read Simplified Chinese.

While I was reading “Zoumiu”, I realize that the choice of words between these two places – Hong Kong and Taiwan – can be different.  An analogy could be the subtle difference when you read British novels and American novels.  Both are written in English.  But there are differences between the two.  I, for one, read Hong Kong novels at a much faster pace.

At times, I am not sure which culture is more dramatic in nature – Taiwan or Hong Kong?  “Zoumiu” is prefaced by two I supposed reputable writer and editor in Taiwan.  Full of over-the-top promises that set my expectation sky high on “Zoumiu”, before I have even started reading the book.  The author 張子璘 has won the 1st prize of the Taiwan’s “Save the Literature” award.  “Zoumiu” is a story of love, and death.  Death is the center theme.  The nine stories are: 《早苗》《那個中午》《夜裡》《活者的記憶》《背影》《陌生人》《等待》《嫉妒的漂浮》《緩慢的自由》.  Again, for ease of reference, I would translate the titles to “Zoumiu”, “That Afternoon”, “In the Night”, “Memory of the Living”, “View of the Back”, “Stranger”, “To Wait”, “Jealousy Afloat”, “The Slowness of Freedom”.

“Memory of the Living” has perhaps the most impact on me.  In the story, the main character’s mother often stares outside the window, every passing moment of the day, holding a little black box.  One day, the main character returns home and discovers his mother has committed suicide.  He then opens the box and understands what his mother meant by: “I will tell it to you one day, until you mother is too tired, cannot hold it any longer, and I will pass it to you”.  My heart sunk when I too discovered what it is.

Another favorite story of mine is “Stranger”.  One day, a girl discovers a corpse like stranger appears in her home.  And through interacting with this stranger, conversing on the topic of her first divorce and second marriage, the stranger does not seem that foreign any more.  An extract of the story below (the author puts an extract upfront at the beginning of each story, interestingly).


The rest of the stories, like these two, explore on the decisions people make, on love, at times observed from a distance, almost like reading from a spirit’s view, or indeed from a spirit’s view.  Some stories are inconclusive leaving me to ponder on what is real and what is not.  One story, “Jealousy Afloat”, the main character is obsessed with the memory and illusion of his lost love decades ago, keeps revisiting old places until he sees her, together with the younger him.  The writing style of that story could seem extreme, but I tend to think that the author is gifted in bringing human interactions alive.

Additional Info: Singapore library tag is ZGZL, Wisdom Books official site, and ISBN 978-957-450-508-1.

The Coincidental Encounters and the Incidental Chain of Events That Leads to This – My First V-blog (Prelude) Episode 2

I don’t want to sound too much like a rip off from Haruki Murakami’s short story “Chance Traveler” but I too have my share of coincidental encounters to share.  Totally random of course but interestingly, these coincidences happened in the span of three consecutive days.  And outside this three-day window, puff, my days have become as ordinary as they have always been no matter how hard I observe.

What are the odds to meet the same person in the morning queuing just one spot in front of you at your favorite coffee joint two days in a roll?  And the queue was otherwise empty, just you and him.  And if you think that I always have the same timing every morning, I don’t.  I have not seen him since then.

How about the same colleague whom enters a lift with you when you head out for lunch, both of you have your own lunch plan, and you see her taking the same lift with you when you are done with your lunch?  In my case, I wasn’t even observing the lunch hours.  And apparently, neither was she.

One morning at ten, I was at the lift lobby and with me was the cleaning lady who was done with the day.  We chatted and I learned that she starts work at six every morning.  The following morning at ten twenty, I was at the same lift lobby, patiently waiting for a lift, and with me, the same cleaning lady.  She was late because there was more trash to attend to.  This time, I learned that after she has finished with the cleaning work at our office, she heads over to another office.  And she lamented that we only pay her S$350 a month for that 4 hours of work a day.

All these lift encounters can’t beat this particular one.  I often carry with me a cup of freshly brewed coffee to work every morning.  The lift was crowded and at one floor, the door opened.  Just when it was about to close, one guy from behind jerked into action and pushed through the crowd as he dashed towards the closing door.  He knocked onto me and I spilt the hot coffee onto a huge fellow in front of me.  How embarrassing!  But it was not as embarrassing as meeting the same huge fellow in the same lift the next morning with me holding another cup of hot coffee.  I so wanted to dig a hole and hide inside.

*          *          *          *

While the above encounters that happened in the span of three consecutive days may sound random, the incidental chain of events that leads to my wanting to create a video blog is all but.

I don’t get to have lunch with my good buddy Choong Yoong often.  We both know about it though we both deny it.  We meet once a year, usually due to some last minute arrangements.  It is just the way how we operate, I guess.  Every time we meet, I am always delighted by the variety of topics he has.  Mostly out of the world kind of ideas or news or theories or gossips, it is hard not to be enchanted by this precious lunch appointment that rarely occurs.  So out of the blue, I suggested that he should set up a podcast and I will be his faithful subscriber.  He laughed and told me that he has tried making an episode, and that was hard.  He then turned to me and said: You should have your own podcast instead!  I asked why and he pointed out that I have a dynamic voice to keep the audience interested (or something like that since that event happened quite a while ago).

Podcast and me, you have got to the kidding right?

But ideas are strange little fellows.  They stick to your head and refuse to go away.  And I parked this little idea in my head for months.

Another idea comes from the limitation I feel about blogging.  Don’t get me wrong.  Blogging is great; it is spontaneous; and I can write about anything and everything to my heart content.  Almost.  Except the invisible word count restriction that hangs on my neck all the time.  I have to try very hard to keep my blog entries within 500 to 1,000 word count.  Occasionally I hit 1,500 words and I have to remind myself not to do that often for I do treasure my own little crowd of online readers.  It is said that an average adult reads prose text at 250 to 300 words per minute.  In that sense, perhaps even a 500 words entry is still too much for the my precious audience to take.

And because of that, I have got another idea – to have a series of blog entries with a related theme and a time table to adhere to.  I often wonder what the online readers would feel if there is a sense of anticipation, like a TV series.  And even if this little experiment doesn’t take off, I would have published a 10,000 words entry that is broken down into ten little pieces.

Finally, I have always fantasized with the idea of making a little video using 100% original materials.  Can this be done?  How far can I stretch myself?  Connecting all these three little ideas prompts me wanting to just do it.

So, do it I shall.  A v-blog it will be.

My 1st v-Blog Mini-Series:

Coincidence + Tempo

I have always been telling my friends that my life is full of coincidence. And of course my friends’ replies are always – just ordinary coincidence.

Yesterday, during my business lunch appointment, I saw one of my ex-colleague whom I have not seen for at least a good couple of months. Then, on the same day, I bumped onto her again while I was waiting for my dinner partners to arrive.

And yesterday I had dinner with this two friends of mine from work and today, at the same place I met them the day before, I met them again buying dinner at the same stall.

Life sometimes makes me wonder a little bit.

Back to the recording of my solo album, I can’t believe that I have spent 2 hours just to re-discover the exact tempo for all my 16 songs. I have to play through most of each song with the metronome to get the exact tempo prior to the actual recording. This is getting time consuming. And of course, during which, I re-scan the keys of the songs and make sure that they are not too high or too low.

Hopefully I can get the album out before Valentine next year.

Last Stop – Beverly Hills (Again)

Really don’t quite understand why Colin is so in love with Beverly Hills.  To be honest, today was the second time we visited Beverly Hills.  What’s in BH?  Well, a lot of expensive shops and a lot of beautifully dressed people. T his time, we wore a bit smarter than last time and we did feel a bit more comfortable.

How about the “Walk of Frame”?  I was kind of disappointed as the street looked really dirty and the stars on the floor just don’t look pleasant at all.  We had burgers at BH and I am certain Colin hated it.  What to do?  We are in America.

Throughout the whole day, Colin was very quiet.  Can’t really guess what’s go wrong.  Maybe my driving or maybe something else.  Actually, we had quite a lot of dangerous situation when we were driving.  Don’t think I am a good driver after all.

Spent quite some time to locate the Hard Rock Café and finally, we found it at the Beverly Centre.  Indeed, it is quite a big shopping centre.  Correction – it looks big but half of the building is car park.

Bought another deck of books and decided to watch the movie at the centre itself.  The movie is called “Volcano”.  What so special about this movie is that it was filmed in Los Angeles.  That is why we are.  And guess what, the eruption actually took place at the Beverly Hills.  Even more unbelievable, the ending of the film was filmed (well…) right in front of the Beverly Centre.  Isn’t that a very nice coincident?

Last day of the holiday already and the conclusion is that I have been very much enjoying myself.  And it is a very nice break for me.  I think I do learn a few lessons in terms of relating to other people.  Perhaps I am very spoilt and for that, I need to improve myself.  I do think it is kind of difficult to tolerate such a person like me.

Second thing is that I have been thinking of JP from time to time.  Thought I can forget about the whole thing during the trip but life doesn’t always turn out to be so predictable.  Guess Annie is right.  Forget about the fake Juliet and keep looking for the real one.

Oh, I just found about something quite interesting about the famous Route 66.  It started from Chicago and goes all the way across America and reaches Los Angeles on the other end.  Isn’t that amazing?  If you want to travel from the East Coast to the West Coast, all you need to do is follow the Route 66.  The whole road covers three time zones and eight states.  Which eight of them?  Well, that is IMKOTNAC.  That is how I remember.  To spell them out, we have Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Another interesting thing that I have discovered is that none of the American actually knows where exactly, i.e. in which beach, Bay Watch is being filmed.  Maybe as one said, they film it all over the places.

Okay, back to work.

A Weekend Full Of Online Chat

What a weekend !  A weekend without daylight.  The chat line is very additive.  I just hooked onto it for hours.  So ended up going to sleep at 7 in the morning and woke up not seeing the daylight.

First night I logged in as “New Wilf 97”, toured around and nothing really fantastic.  Second night I logged in as “Etoile 97” and that caught most attention from the French (as Etoile means star in French).  I intended to hide my sex and see what happened.  Guess what, most of them thought I am a lady !  Glad to talk to the French about Mylene Farmer and they told me that she is a bisexual.  Doesn’t bother me really.  And my favorite topic of that night was relationship.  One guy told me that he worked in a pub before and met this waitress in the same pub.  I guess they kissed but according to him, still not sure.  So I gave advice like go shopping with her, buy flower and so on.  In the end, he was certain that I was a “she” and I didn’t tell him in the end. (Note : few weeks later as I chatted with him again, he managed to get more attention from her.  Thanks to me!)

And I was chatting with someone called “Paris”.  In fact on that night, I dined in Planet Hollywood and coincidentally he was one of the waiter.  He is from UK and we chatted quiet a fair bit.  Talking about long legs waitress in Planet Hollywood and so on.

And the most fun was last night in which in nicknamed as “GoodBoy”.  In the room of “Mr/Ms Right”, I chatted with an American girl named “Lilly”, a British called “Tugger” and a New Zealand guy called “Alan”.  It was so much fun and I missed them all.  I called Tugger Fish & Chips and called Alan, Kiwi.  Our topic ranged from movies to music to cycling to books to relationship.  Tugger told me that he is divorcing and I asked how come.  He told me that he and his ex-wife were very good friend and they marred for the wrong reason.  I asked, “Child ?” and he said yes.  But he felt a long better now and still go out with he ex as good friends.  Hard to believe, isn’t it ?