Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Secret Life

I have a curious habit.

After watching a movie, I like to check online for reviews.  Perhaps it's because whenever I asked Bill or Cara or whomever I was with, they'd always nod and simply say: "good!"  before moving on to the next topic or activity of the day.

My mind tends to linger however, in the world created in the movie, with the minds of the heros or heroines for a while longer.   At the start of each movie, they cast out a ribbon and connects their world with mine, until I can't tell where theirs began and mine end.  Though the ribbon dissipates with the rolling of credits and the darkening of screens, I can still feel its pull in a dream like state.

I saw "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" today.

It was "really good".   I said it several times during the movie, thinking I'd like to own a copy of this so I can watch it over and over again. 

Yet, the end of the movie brought a surprising sense of closure.  I did not feel the need to look up reviews or drag my friends into deeper discussions.  I can't quite pinpoint why, though I don't really mind that.

Perhaps I will write more about it later.

Perhaps one secret life is enough for today.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Sound of the Ears

I can't be completely sure, but sometimes I get the feeling my rabbit Nips thinks she was a dog.

My expertise on this matter is entirely questionable.  She was a foster baby, adopted at the ripe age of one, when her first family (who adopted her from a pet store) no longer could keep her.  They left her in my arms and drove away into the sunset. Nice family but not at all talkative.

As a result, I got Nips complete with her childhood cage and a garbage bag half full of hay; but I got nothing on her medical history.  The road to discovery has therefore been somewhat bumpy but not at all unpleasant.

Nips makes the most curious sort of noises.  She hums when she sees me on the move, and as she follows me she hums like a large white bee out on the hunt for some honey.  At first it startled me and made me look for bees by my windows.  In time I've decided to find it charming.  She's happy to see me, I often tell myself and my equally startled friends and family.

Just as I have gotten used to the hum, Nips began to bark, much like one of those tiny dogs people tuck into their over-sized sleeves or undersized designer bags. Her barks are short, with long pauses in between, so it doesn't sound agitated or alarmed, unlike that of a guard dog.  No.  It inspired curiosity, like a teenager learning to drive and discovering some questionable destinations. Her heart doesn't seem to be set in the barking business but it is clear she needs to do it once a while just to be sure that she can.  Not surprisingly, she tends to start up once she hears announcements from neighboring dogs.  Happily she'd join the chorus with her head cocked to one side, her eyes beady and her front paws pushed up, ready to leap rather than hide.

Since last June she has developed a snort of some kind. At first it reminded me of an affectionate purr which she often returned whenever she was petted the first year of her adoption.  But then we heard the noise drag on even when no one was touching her, or when she was eating or sleeping or running her rounds.  At night I could hear her from my upstairs bedroom.  So I'd check on her food and water, change her liter, all to no effect.   Concerned she might be cold, I covered her cage with a thick blanket at night, but it did no good either.  Life got to the best of us those days so we got on for a while trying to ignore it but eventually we took her to Dr Pine, our friendly neighborhood vet.

Dr Pines is a fit and well dressed fellow who talked with a flair you'd normally associate with those 'metro-sexuals' on TV sitcoms.  He told me about his wife and her practice at another vet hospital during the exam and I realized then that his wife had performed Nip's first check ups some three years ago.  Time had flown by all of us including Nips.  She was coming up to be five soon, and here I thought she was still just a baby, a toddler at the most.  Tiny and nimble, she still raced me up the stairs and won every time.  But comes to think of it she no longer did the 'binky' much at all anymore. Dr Pines made no definite diagnosis but gave her some medications and removed a 'bug-bite' on her side which turned out to be a benign skin tumor.

It was a bit overwhelming to take in all the news and medications at once.  But Nips stopped snoring for about a day and a half when we first fed her pineapple juice mixed with medications.  When she resumed, she sounded louder and more persistent but she also started to take longer pauses.  On our second visit,  Dr Pines discovered a bone fracture in her nose but didn't recommend surgery, so we all scratched our heads and came up with nothing further.

Lately I have been spending some time at home and therefore having more opportunities to watch and observe Nip's behavior.  Her snoring has not stopped, but more and more it sounds like a throaty grunt and a protest for attention.  So I pick her up often, and took her outside at times for a refreshing sniff at the newly blooming spring garden.  She gave the landscape a respectable glance and a whiff, but took little further interest even when I stuck her near the herbs patch.  As I followed behind her, I saw what looked like fear cloud over her eyes.  Rather than tunneling her way through the soft garden soil and runaway forever, she dashed back inside at her first opportunity and parked herself upstairs for the rest of the day, snoring as loudly as any over labored grandpa taking an afternoon nap.  Sighing melodramatically,  I brewed up a fresh cuppa and sat next to her to read, to write or to simply gaze at a world slightly reverberating in a bunny scented rhythms and blues.

No one will ever know why we would have a humming, barking, snoring and racing bunny rabbit,   but I guess I still feel lucky enough to have the ears to hear.

'L' is not for losers

Monday, March 18, 2013


Sandy had the shy personality of a crab while her sister Sally was always praised for her disposition.  "That Sally! She dances into the door like a ray of sunshine everyday!"  Aunt Georgia would exclaim.

Aunt Georgia always spoke her thought.  Sandy did not always like her thoughts, but there was safety in knowing so she hung around Georgia and her every word.

Sandy read all the time like a real bookworm.  Then she dreamed day and night about farms, forests and Russia.  She would walk around with a book in her hand with classmates in the park, lost in thoughts and one day in 3rd grade, her way home until it was too dark to read.  When she could no longer see anyone around her, she was not afraid, as she told herself the story of Hansel and Gretel, and feel asleep.  Dad was the one that found her and carried her home at night fall.

The next day she woke up with a jolt. It was still dark outside but she couldn't tell if it was just a tad early for morning tea or she had just fallen asleep an hour ago.  She lay there thinking maybe she should fill the kettle and put it on the stove so the steam could warm the air before everyone else got up.  Then she realized she had to pee so she sat up quickly, swinging her legs to the side of the bed searching for her slippers so she didn't have to step on the cold concrete floor.

But she fell back down as quickly as she sat up, head spinning and her legs so light she could hardly feel them.  Mom and dad was dead to the world, and Lou was neither snoring nor shifting on his bed making it creak and shake like a tired old trampoline. The house was completely quiet, a faint smell of chemical gas lingering in the air.

It was carbon monoxide, she remembered from a lecture at school, one of the few to which she'd paid attention.  The fire in their stove must have died last night. Sandy sat up again, slowly this time, and draped herself from the bed to the floor so she wouldn't fall.  She crawled to the door, twisted open its heavy knob. She wanted to run out but her legs were still soft like stuffed cotton quilts.  So Sandy shouted: "Gas! Poison!" as loud as she could.  Mom finally stirred and opened her eyes, coming to Sandy's rescue by tearing open the newspaper seals on the window panes and calling out to the neighbors.

Everyone was already outside. In fact, the cobblestone pavements of Drum Alley was packed with people sitting on blankets and wrapped in winter coats.  Word on the street was there had been an earthquake last night.


Today I'm thankful for the onset of Spring, the blooming yellow daisy on my patio and this verse.

My beloved spoke and said to me, 'Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.'" Song of Songs 2:10-11 (NIV)

Monday, March 11, 2013


Tacy came around after a long line of failed cleaners.

I was suspicious at first. After losing a diamond ring, having several lamps shattered, and a number of cabinet doors ripped apart, I couldn't help but check on things.

Eventually, Tacy did break something - the vacuum cleaner.  But she left me a note, offering to buy a replacement part that could fix the damage. That was when I realized what had troubled me about the previous cleaners, they just skirted around what was broken (or in the case of the ring, missing)  like it was the open trench on a side walk.  The unspoken awkwardness got to me more than the lost items.

So I left Tacy some money to buy the replacement part.  She made a try at fixing things but the vacuum would not budge. Secretly I wondered if she knew from the start the whole thing was doomed.  It certainly wasn't something I would have ever wanted to tackle on my own either. But for one reason or another we made several trips to the hardware store and tinkered with the blasted black box.  When we finally threw up our hands and called it a lost cause, we were both too glad to put the whole thing behind us one way or another.

For weeks mom would come around and tell me Tacy left places here and there untouched.  Once she left a note once saying: "Please clean the baseboards in the bathroom."   True. A thick layer of dust had collected there but no where else for some reason.  I was tempted to wipe them off myself but curiosity got the best of me so I waited, tough as ever it was for me to wait for anything.

Mom came around and found the baseboard spotless the next time around.  That won her over and Tacy soon became the new cleaner for her sprawling three bedroom ranch.  For weeks she sat on her couch and watched Tacy clean, telling her where she still needed to do more but eventually Tacy got work from mom's friends too. And mom went out to lunch while Tacy cleaned.

Tacy left me a note at the end of each cleaning, with a bright smiley face and a quick phrase of "thank you" or something brief about her next visit.  Like a kid learning about what it mean to smell buttery popcorns (cinemas and a rolling good time), I began to look forward to those little notes as they always came with a renewed floor and kitchen with sparkling shines.

Dad was diagnosed with Cancer in May. Although friends offered to help, I was extra grateful to have hired a professional.  One day towards the end of June, Tacy's note came with a vase filled with simple flowers, and a single sentence of sympathy.  Dad had just passed away.

I hadn't talked to or seen her for months, linked with her only by those yellow sticky notes she left at the end of each cleaning. In my mind her face resembled the smiley on the post-it more than anything else.  But somehow seeing the note made me want to get up and change out of my pajamas, and ran to Target to get a new shower curtain to replace the one that was fraying off to pieces at the bottom. I tossed out the cracked old plastic curtain rod too, and replaced it with a silvery steel model that held up nicely between the walls without leaving behind scraps and scuff marks.  My new curtain had a crinkle texture and bold blue and gold stripes and after a few tries I was no longer afraid to pull it open and close (lest the whole contraption fell on me as the old set had a tendency of doing).  Somehow the smooth operating, shiny and pretty new set made me want to take a soothing bath around scented candles, eyes closed, momentarily stop counting losses and thankful for my sparkling clean tub in and around which all of this could take place.

Tacy never left a note commenting on my new decor, but I pictured her smiling through her next cleaning visit.
Not the actual flowers but a representation

Thursday, February 28, 2013


The alley smelled of day old urine and burned popcorn. I picked my steps among light and dark spots on the ground, skirting the semi-rotten wooden planks covering godknowswhat just before reaching the lion's head gate of #13. The white haired ladies standing there wore faded blue jackets and lumpy gray pants (all cotton) like everyone else, yet their high voices stood out.

I got into the habit of slowing down as I approached their shadowy figures.  Despite of my reluctance at hearing their words, I couldn't help learning about how "Jun whose brother is dumb. He scratches himself there when girls walk by so no one walks by his door after a while. He sits on the street howling into nothing or something but nobody knows." Or how "Ann's old maid sister got caught with a man. They were just lying there side by side in the middle of the day. Oh the nerve of that woman!"

 I did not understand half of what they were saying.  But eventually I learned to fear the "dumb" guy sitting on the edge of the street with his long hair and beard fanned out. His name was long forgotten but everyone called him something like "dumbo" or "retard". He peeked at the world through the curtains of his hair and punctuated any length of silence around him with an outburst of curses and fist pumps.

We called the gossipers "big moms", more for their voices and words than their statures. The gangly one squeezed her eyebrows together and the shorter one pursed her lips like they didn't belong on her face. I avoided eye contacts with them but we exchanged quick glances. They looked like a couple of stand up comics practicing a not so pleasant routine yet they chuckled at themselves here and there. As I walked away, their voices meshed with cicadas singing on top of tall trees and made the summer air thick and cutting at the same time.

Outside the gate the asphalt shone like mirrors. I shaded my eyes as I searched for the ice cream lady wheeling two wooden boxes behind her bicycle. She always covered her ice cream bars like babies -- with layers of thick cotton quilts. So imagine my surprise when I first saw those frozen bars intact in her quilted cocoons but "sweated" into the palms of my hands. Ying stood behind me waiting for our bars - 5 cents each. She was good at waiting, letting me take actions and make decisions without making a peep. Her ten year old big sister took over as soon as she got back from summer camp but for now she and I are best buddies trolling the street looking for trouble, for stories and for ice cream bars.

File:Hutong in Haikou 02.jpg

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Scent of an Ocean

The scent - that ocean'y smell - was notably missing in this seaside city they called "January River (Rio)".   Perhaps it was the surrounding mountains, with all of 'em trees climbing about cliffs and hillsides alike, absorbing everything in the air into their thirsty and porous cells.  Perhaps it was the rain, warm, fat and urgent drops that patted our heads, massaged ocean's tired ripples into actual waves while washing out ancient pavements and the pungent smell of every colorful market stalls.  

In fact, we smelled nothing that brought onto memories of beaches back home. No overflowing sunscreen, seaweed or sand crabs, nor smoky scent of barbeques flowing from mobile vacation homes. The beach belonged to the playful youths, no matter their actual ages.  They flunted their sun drenched bodies in barely there bikinis or speedos, playing futvolley, soccer, beach balls or simply turning themselves over every 30 minutes.   Age or body types didn't matter, the rainbow arrays of shapes displayed on white sand beaches were a marvelous giant kanga of human dignity and loving acceptance of oneself.

Children who were old enough to swim gathered just before sunrise, when the beaches were still empty, their movements all dark, nimble and shiny against white surfs like seal pups chasing after tasty oceanic treats.  The sun would make her first yarn precisely at 6, blushing through layers of clouds and morning fog as you began to think you might have missed it.  You were almost ready to settle into simply admire different shades of cotton candies - purple, pink, blue, coral - weaved into an exploding show into the eastern sky.  Then that red, round, radiant face would leap up above the horizon line, first only a crescent, but rising and promising the rest glowingly and surely.  Your heart would leap then, too, along each step of that glorious morning's ascension. 
We spent our days sipping fresh Agua de Coco and beer.  Before sunset, we'd climb to the rooftop and watch the sun settle back down beneath the clouds' covers and eventually, behind the horizons' lines. The Favelas would light up all over the hills then, like misshapen pieces of quilting fabrics barely covering mountains' sides.  Tall, oppressing darkened shapes receded into the backgrounds then, an elusive and faint reminder of past misfortunes and violence, or perhaps so we wished.  


Of all these sights pressed into our minds rich in colors and sounds, I searched for that scent and found none.  Or perhaps Rio simply has its own signature scent of freshness, of youth and of rising hopes.

Sunrise over Copacabana Beach
Sunset on Ipanema

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sugarloaf (Pão de Açúcar)

It was a zoom at first sight. We landed in Rio de Janeiro under a fine mist.  Thick clouds draped over mountains encircling this lovely and confusing city.  The Sugarloaf however, stood out in the coastal water so clearly that we could make out its baguette like shapes even from the seat of our fly-by-taxi, including the cable lines running between peaks.  Gondolas zipping on these cables inspired visions of ourselves flying high and breezing through the thin air in high altitude.  Were those eagles gliding near the peaks, dashing in and out of an occasional cluster of mist?  Were they eying some unfortunate fish down below?  Or were they amusing themselves surfing the airwaves thrashing among the mountain, the forest and the sea?

It was a love at first sight too.  Though I didn't have time to capture the moment, it was for the best.  Seeing things with my own eyes made the best of all cameras, and the sight bore stronger impressions into my memory.

Harbor / Sea / City view atop the first level gondola ride

I was sure of that as we boarded our gondola on our first Saturday here.  We'd paid the price of endurance in the hot sun (for nearly two hours) besides cold hard cash and then some.  The boy secured a good spot in the gondola with his speed and agility among the sweaty, anxious and pushing crowd, growing in stature and wisdom as he was.  I gave a pat on his back and let my eyes wonder, among mists, shiny white dots made by sale boats under the sun, cobalt blue waters,  white wave lines drawn on pale yellow sand and peoples' faces in various shades of excitement, annoyance, sun worn fatigue, wonder and awe.  At one point and another, I found myself experiencing these emotions as the gondola came closer toward the green mountain wall and then as if by magic, climbed above it to a clear landing area.

The ride was far too short (three minutes!), for the wait, but not for the level in which we found ourselves.  We were now in the company of eagles, as they flew beneath our feet.

Sea / Island view atop second gondola ride


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