A Birthday, A Death and Two Celebrations

17 03 2013

What is your most memorable birthday celebration ever?

If I had to describe mine, it may go along the lines of one of the following:
  •  Revolving doors. One entering, the other exiting.
  • Yin and yang. Black and white.
  • Two sides of a coin.
More concretely, a birthday spent attending a funeral – that of my paternal grandmother’s, who passed away peacefully last month after a long, tenacious fight against cancer.
The contrasts and juxtapositions are, of course, jarring.
For a boisterous birthday party, substitute a sombre gathering. For birthdaysong-singing, substitute traditional Buddhist chants and prayers. For birthday hats, substitute white traditional costumes. And for candle-blowing, substitute bowing with incense-sticks clasped between hands.
But there were also close parallels despite the apparent polarities.
I was none too pleased when I first found out about the arrangements. Spending my nineteenth birthday at the funeral parlor was not exactly my idea of a celebration. Early in the morning, I had gone off for a celebratory 10-kilometer running race, then quickly dashed off for a bit of hurdling practice before rushing to catch the train to the funeral parlor. I was tempted to snarl and growl my way through it all, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised how both my birthday and my grandmother’s funeral were both celebrations of life.
One, a celebration of a life to come. The other, a celebration of a life that was.
Two celebrations for one birthday? You bet. It’s like having two double-chocolate fudge birthday cakes to myself.
A line of poetry comes to mind. I first came across these wondrously phrased words when reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. 
And all the lives we ever lived
And all the lives to be,
are full of trees and changing leaves.
           – from Luriana Lurilee, by Charles Elton
Lives lived. Lives to be. Trees and changing leaves. Here, on my nineteenth birthday, was a reminder of transience and ephemerality. But more importantly, it was a celebration of not one, but two lives.

From Hidden Beauties, a Reminder

2 01 2012

I read about an old journalism adage recently, that the best story is often the one staring you in the face. It’s been floating around in the back of my mind lately, and I think it can be extended to include Hong Kong’s beauties: its best aspects are often staring us right in the face.

Visiting Po Toi Island yesterday to wrap up 2011, it felt as if I had been transported far from Hong Kong and dropped on some exotic paradise of some sort. The South China Sea stretched relentlessly on before me, the rocky landscape was interspersed with fantastical rock structures, and everywhere I looked, there was a sense that this island had stories to tell.

As I walked towards the southern tip of this southern most island of Hong Kong on the last day of 2011, it occurred to me that there was something very ironic and paradoxical about it all. Here I was, counting the last hours of the year 2011, reflecting on and celebrating the happenings of the past 365 days. And yet right under my very feet was a cliff made of rocks millions of years old, and all around me there were rocks jutting out of the landscape, looking like a monk from this angle, a turtle from another. No one had moved them there – nature’s elements did, over a long, long time.

And so while I was there counting time in hours, surrounding me was a landscape created through an eternity. This, I think, was a reminder. When we counted down ten, nine, eight seven…what did those ten seconds really mean? Nothing, really, when put into perspective of the eternity of the surrounding world.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to wrap up 2011.

Counting time in hours while touching time in the form of millions of years...a reminder of our place in the world.

Finding My Roots

13 06 2011

I had hoped to take candid street shots like these on my photowalk today, but that didn’t work out too well. No worries, though, because I found another kind of movement: the slow advance of tree roots meandering their way through the the little cracks on the pavement.  (I wonder how long it has taken for the roots to grow into such an intricate pattern? I presume it’s a fairly slow movement, but how slow?)

Written all over these roots is the word ‘Life’.

Tree roots snaking, sliding, slithering.

The tree spreads its arms...

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