Sunday, 30 June 2013

Day 394-396-Sacks Of Seedlings On The Sill

Sacks of seedlings on the sill, 
So fresh, so young, so pretty still.
I water, I feed and I turn you around
I even talk to you and make cute sounds.

Oh, sacks of seedlings on the sill,
I'll do my darndest not to make you ill.
No bugs, over water or too much light
But terrible brown thumbs are hard to fight!

That ditty was something I made up and sang over and over again as I was planting the seedlings into little colourful sacks. Each sack was painted according to the colour the seedling in it will bloom into. Until I started gardening at the abandoned house, I really did have brown fingers. I figured if the seedlings don't survive, at least I'd still have those colourful sacks. 

But I think we all know the seedlings will never die.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Day 389-390, 394-395- Through The Window

Will it pique? 

Will you peer?

Will they please?


On the side of a wall that the world sees only through a broken window, I have carefully hung old prints that once belonged to the Old Man. 

These are unexceptional prints, simply encased in an equally unexceptional way. 4 pieces of  ill-fitting, dirty wooden pieces accentuating the coarseness of the drawings, making the yellow of the paper seemed yellower. 

Did you happen to know, by the way, that papers yellow because they are made from wood?

Yet, yellow and coarse they may be, these prints are also pretty and I think they liven up an otherwise dead corner. Most importantly, they are reminders of an essential part of the Old Man; the half of him that was the gardener. 

On the floor underneath the mixing bench and in a place where the world hardly notices, lie a stack of papers. You can almost hear them whisper; these blank canvases of artists. Do they hide secrets or hold promises? Will they eventually end up in museums or be fit only for lining trash bins in their final days? 

Last but not least, in a damaged wicker where the world will never see are placed the logs for the home's stove. Tucked away in neat little piles, they are forgotten until it turns too cold or when the caffeine needs come calling.

Wood, paper, art, wood. 

In a moment of sudden revelation or insight, I realise I have unwittingly by these placement depicted the evolution of paper from wood and then paper to art, yellowing back to wood. 

So one day, if you do chance upon an abandoned house and notice a broken window, try peering through it. Who knows, you may bear witness to the ecosystem of art .


I write this post, hopefully in the aftermath of the worst haze condition that Singapore has experienced. I say hopefully only because at the time of writing, the forest fires in Indonesia and the cause of this terrible smog have yet to be abated. Some say the fires have in fact worsened. Due to unexpected winds, Singapore has enjoyed a respite from the haze since Sunday. Today, a freak but much welcomed hailstorm in some parts of this country has dissipated the haze even more. 

Although what we call the haze has been almost an annual recurrence since the mid 90's, what happened this year was so bad that the Pollutant Standards Index hit unprecedented hazardous levels for 3 days in a row (3-400, normal readings are 50 and below). Malaysia, another victim of this haze, has had to declare a state of emergency in Muar, an area close to my brother-in-law's family and a mere two plus hour's drive from Singapore. 

My heart goes out especially to the people of the Riau province, Indonesia, where the forest fires are. The pollutant indexes are twice that of Singapore's (a record 900 yesterday morning) and on Friday, the Indonesian government too finally declared a state of emergency there.  A grave shortage of effective masks, air purifiers, even air-conditioned spaces has affected thousands of Riau residents; hundreds of them in hospital as we speak, for respiratory problems. 

These forest fires, widely known to have been started by big conglomerates dealing in palm oil and paper, is a common slash and burn method deployed by these companies as the cheapest way to clear land for re-plantation, deforestation or logging activities. Thanks to the worst haze in history, there are finally some efforts made to expose them this year with the governments in Indonesia and Singapore pledging to prosecute these companies for their irresponsible conduct. There are also calls to boycott products, including papers, produced by these companies.

As for me, in that 3 hazardous days of haze,  I have had to escape even from my own home to hole up in the air-conditioned room of my sister's. The choking haze not only forced me indoors, it also gave me a constant headache, blocked nose and sleepless nights. Even now, temperature is at a purgatorial 35 degrees.  

The country went into a panic. People started hoarding masks, buying up 100s , in turn causing a severe shortage and more panic buying. There are unscrupulous traders who jacked up prices of the masks but there are also good Samaritans who went around distributing masks in the poorer parts of town. I myself own a grand total of 1 mask, given to me by my mum with a meager leftover stock from the SARS days, 10 years ago.

A time to test the best of us or a time to bring out the worst in us. For me, it is also a timely reminder never to take fresh air, blue skies or a single tree for granted. For all of us, the clarion call to save the diminishing rainforest of South East Asia must surely sound louder and more urgently than ever before. 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Day 392 & 399- Paintings That Inspire

The original of this painting is in fact a Persian miniature taken from the folio of The Shahnama of Shah Tahmasp. It now forms part of  the treasures of the Aga Khan Museum. Titled Salm and Tur receiving the reply of Faridun and Manuchihr,  the story goes as follows:

Salm and Tur were the jealous sons of Faridun who cruelly decapitated their brother, Iraj, also Faridun's favured child. Angered, Faridun spent the coming years training Manuchihr, his grandson and heir of Iraj, to avenge Iraj. When Salm and Tur found out how strong and powerful Manuchihr had become, they sent a messenger to Faridun begging him to spare them. Of course, Faridun flatly refused and instead, swore the most gruesome deaths upon Salm and Tur. This work depicts the return of the messenger who bears this terrible response to his masters, who are visibly horrified: “The envoy having further told the message/Of Faridun, those tyrants’ heart grew sore,/ Their faces blue as lapis lazuli.”

I love how the domination of the lapis blue is used to reflect the fear of Faridun's treacherous sons. In fact I love that blue so much, a mixing bench was created around it and that miniature in real life has become the wall of my miniature house. This painting was also the inspiration for the colours on my palettes.

Then there is the old man's portrait. So much has been written around it that I don't think another word is necessary to explain the significant role it plays in the building of the abandoned house. It was even the raison d'etre for an easy easel; which turned out to be one of my favourite creations in this house.


Because it has elicited precious participation from my friends here in blogland; thanks to a glaring omission. 

My dear friends, all the conversations that went on in my head when I added the splatters to the easel felt almost like you all came over for tea tonight. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful collaboration. 

I think this easel is finally looking like it belonged. 

Monday, 10 June 2013

Day 391- Easy Easel

As I watched with my mind's eye the old gardener painting his self-portrait, I saw a palette of mainly black, a few brushes and definitely a easel, an old and very used easel.

Pictures courtesy of

So I scoured the net and finally found one that looked like it was real easy to make. Look at the plan. Study it carefully if you are planning a life size one or if you intend your artist doll  to be able to fold the easel and store it after she's done. That version is the Sophisticated Easel. 

For the Easy Easel, all you need is 3 square tooth picks, an ice cream stick, pen knife and glue. 3 steps and you are there.

First, cut the requisite pieces. Use all 3 tooth picks for the legs because they already naturally look like legs. Glue the pieces as in the picture above to form the frame.See that tiny bit at the left hand corner of the frame? Save that because you will need to glue it to the center base of the shortest side of the frame. 

Here we are at Step 3 after all the pieces are glued. See that center bit for the last leg? It's glued to both the base of the short side and the last leg. It keeps the leg stable. Paint it or not, but leave the glue  to dry strong before you start. Mine took 24 hours.

This is it, a no frills, easy easel if you need one for a gardener artist who builds everything he uses. 

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Day 387, 395 & 396-Quiet Tea

I have missed the silence at my abandoned house; 

the quiet even as I worked;

and especially when I was stitching my Indian pillows;

those moments when I had to rest my eyes.

How the world stood still;

the instant my eyes shut, not moving, barely breathing.

I look forward to reliving that silence, 

as I sit on my embroidered pillows

slowly sipping my quiet tea.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Sipadan-A World Before Mankind

Morning Chatter -Sempoerna, 6/5/2013

From the onset, it seemed our Borneo trip was plagued with obstacles one after the other. 7 weeks before we were due to leave, there was an attempted invasion of Sabah by the Sultan of Sulu right at the gateway to Sipadan, Sempoerna. It felt as unreal as it sounded, so much so that the attacks had been described as surreal. Truth be told,  we were so set on going that we didn't allow a war to stop us, not to mention the election or a bomb scare. 

Morning from the window- Sempoerna, 6/5/2013

This was the picture of calm and charm that greeted us on our 1st morning at Sempoerna, the sleepy village through which all travellers to Sipadan must pass. It belied the weird and exciting world that has been on my bucket list for eons. 

Sipadan Water Village, Mabul Island- 6/5/2013

The minute we stepped onto the wooden floorboards of our resort, we knew our perseverance had more than paid off. 

Picture taken by MarG, Sipadan Water Village, Mabul Island

I remember thinking this must be what heaven is like for good people. 

Starfishes at Kapilai-6/5/2013

This picture was one of the first I took with the brand new Panasonic Lumix camera I bought on the morning before I left for Kota Kinabalu. I wanted a camera for underwater pictures so that I could record my historic trip to the diving spot of my dream.

Blue Starfishes- Mabul, 6/5/2013

Corals, Mabul, 6/5/2013

Foraging, Mabul, 6/5/2013

The camera did not work very well underwater but thanks to some heavy photo edit, I managed to salvage some images capturing a few of those precious moments I spent in this amazing world. 

That's me posing with a friendly sea creature from paradise pool. I assure you, no animals or starfishes were harmed in the making of this picture.

My camera conked out after one day in the water but the lack of pictures did not make me forget.

Picture courtesy of Green Sea Turtle, Sipadan

Those few days snorkeling in Mabul and Kapilai was truly like swimming in Nature's aquarium. I saw some really weird  fishes and corals, most memorable being the encounter of the 3 giant sea turtles. The backs of these turtle were so big, swimming atop  one was like sprawling over a dining table for 4. Yet, those giant creatures were more graceful than the sveltest of ballerinas.

Picture courtesy of, shoals of barracudas, Sipadan Island

Nothing however prepared me for the spectacular that is Sipadan. We were blessedly lucky to be amongst the 120 daily divers permitted in this protected enclave. And when the sight you behold the moment you dipped your head into the water is a swirling shoal of fishes circling you, you know why this is one of the last few precious spot on earth that must be left unspoilt. 

Sunset at Sipadan Water Village, 6/5/2013

I witnessed my best sunset in this trip

and saw the sun rise to meet the moon from the window of my room.

Borneo 2013 has to be my trip of the year like how Europe 2012 was for last year.

Pure Magic! 
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