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.