And here we are, on the cusp of another year. The end, the beginning. 

Who drew the line, who turned the page, who decided that we would have a chance to pause, take stock and cast our eye forward once more, with the hope of redemption?

Not that it matters. In this continuum we call life, the desire to punctuate is necessary for renewal.

And so I sit here, staring at my hands. Staring at the passing traffic. Staring at the flowers in my garden. Reflecting on a year that has turned out to be more than I ever imagined, or expected.

Hard work came to fruition when two books I wrote were published and launched. As it always is for me, the journey towards the words had given me the greatest pleasure, and seeing them in print was in a sense, an anticlimax. Those hours I spent tapping away at my computer, usually in the wee hours of the morning fed my soul in a way that nothing else could. This I understood in a profound way, and has again brought home to me the reason I am a writer.

This year, I spent more time away from home than I have for a long time.  I travelled for work and saw life in remote places, bathing in rivers, partaking of food I would not imagine I could – snake, slugs, porcupine, seedless rambutan and durians from century-old trees. I walked beside nomadic people, spoke to shamans and shifting cultivators. Drifted down timeless rivers, marked by the large white trunks of the towering tapang trees.

It was a startling change. Just before, I was in England spending time with my family, my niece and nephew whose memories of the Lake District will be forever sealed with me. I walked and walked in London, seeking out museums and art galleries, between cups of English tea and sandwiches stuffed with salted beef, cheese and English mustard. 

Towards year’s end, I had the pleasure of youth in my life. Not having had any children of my own, I was entrusted with two young people who were observing an internship period, a final nod to practical work experience at the end of their time in university. 

Jian Zhen roomed at my home for three months during which time I was mostly away. Lee Ching was almost three weeks with me in Sarawak, of which two weeks was spent traipsing upriver and staying in longhouses. 

Both taught me that despite the preoccupation with gadgets and the internet, old fashioned qualities were alive and kicking.  Jian Zhen with his discipline and patience, Lee Ching with courage and toughness, despite her challenge with Tourette’s Syndrome. Both gave me an inkling of what kind of a mother I would have been, if I had been a mother. 

When I consider last new year’s eve epistle and the sombre tone it held, I somehow expected life in 2011 to slow and dip a little. The pace to slacken slightly. Much to my delight, it hasn’t. And so in 2012, I expect more of the same. The lifting, the quickening of my heart at another sunrise, at the touch of another human experience. Here’s to the new year, and here’s to life…toujours!

Usually, I am distracted. My head filled with thoughts that have will. Following their unknown paths, unwieldy and unexpected. Usually, but not always, it would lead to happy endings or graceful revelations.

Along the way, if we are fortunate something bids us stay. Begs our attention. A shift in light. A shadow slipping away. Caught between, a movement that betrays life. Somewhat like a pause to cajole us back to the minutiae of another beating heart, near at hand.

That’s how I saw him this morning. As I tilted the hose to let the water fall in a gentle spray over the cluster of wild green things in my garden, he leapt like some sudden Jack from his garden box. I knew him. Full-throated and impertinent, he had been clamouring outside my window for many nights now; the brown tree frog, tender and terrible at the same time. Demanding to be heard yet acquiescing to be hidden. So that Voice is Myth, A Curious Immortal and only the unexpected sight of his slender limbs, translucent against the morning light breathes of the fragile thread of his existence.

In this way he became, breathing and unrepentant, the Life in Hidden Things.

There was a time when I was afraid to be alone. So much so the desire for company was constant.

I cannot remember when this changed, but it may have been when a peculiar sense of wisdom descended; the one we expect with time, age and that acute experience we call life.

Strewn along our paths are encounters that shift mind, heart and spirit.  When love becomes ill-starred. When silence becomes a balm. When death and loss leave us, bereft and yearning.

There is first the abyss, when fear rises and casts us far and wide, clutching at straws. We wander as souls that seek sustenance, never filling up somehow.

Then, there is exhaustion. When we realise that the abyss is bottomless, infinite as the million stars that gaze down at us, pitiless and distant.

In that moment, we may be sometimes awakened to ourselves. To listen to the stillness around us and feel the vastness of our soul.

A soul that can fill our own universe in inexpressible ways. And then, we walk alone. And we walk, without fear.

For now we understand that our choices are as infinite as the night sky. And the stars, like us, solitary and shining with light that travels so far it is burnt out before our eyes can behold them.

And so, this is how it is.

How it is to be alone.

To lie in the sun. To bask in its incomprehensible rays.

To feel the wonder of it all, in complete and unutterable silence.

She has strong hands.

I have seen them grip the edges of a boat, hauling it over boulders and against the eddying currents of a river, low with water in the season of drought.

I have seen them lift, without pause, pail after pail spilling over with water, moving each resolutely up the high narrow path from stream to smoky kitchen.

I have seen them wield a parang, with equal ease, whether slicing thick palms for their edible hearts in the shadowy forests, or moving them delicately over a can of sardines to release the crimson juices from their confines.

She has strong hands.

They have been browned by the sun as they turn the oars of the boat we are travelling in, upriver.

They have been marked by patterns of fine dots along her left wrist and the tender rise of her left hand.

When I ask her what the tattoo meant, she laughs and says, it was a childhood game, a fancy. Nothing more.

And no, there was no pain.


There are roads ahead of us. Some wide and open, smooth highways where we can rev and roam as we desire. Fearless because we see no obstacles, no sharp and sudden corners.

Then there are roads that lead us on. Roads that we follow with hope and sometimes fear, for we do not know where they lead us. Their ways unknown, their dips sudden and unexpected cause our steps to stumble, our pace to pause, our hearts to tremble.

It is hard to find the roads that are simple and unencumbered. But I am often told, that if such presents to you in life’s brief journey, then it is likely you have chosen well and  you have your destiny within the palm of your hand. This evening, on my walk, I was reminded of this.

Without even seeing him, I can hear him. His three, sometimes two note call, loud, ringing and distinct.

In the shelter of my home – bedroom, sitting room, kitchen – I can hear him. And today, when the sky is cloudless and clear, I can see him. A speck circling high above me.

It is his kind of day today. Waves of heat swirling high lift him as his wings spread wide to catch the wind. He dances the dance of the sublime, a perfect display of the frequent cohesion of creature and nature that often escapes us. Caught as we are in the business of our days.

But today, on a Sunday, I am gifted with an unimpeded view. Though distant, I see the white and brown speckles of his broad strong wings as he tilts gently in favour of the light from the sun. I watch his moving circle grow wide and small as he traces the expanse of blue around him.

Does he see me, a mere speckle of a woman, rooted on this earth. Wishing to be him. To fly, to spread my wings and embrace the heavens. To feel the rustle of the air through my beautiful feathers. To raise my head and gaze at the earth, all below and ahead of me, as if the world was endless and never-ending.

There is a moment of perfection in our everyday. And mine happens most often when the early morning light first breaks through the branches of the African tulip, or as the evening moves its magical golden light over the same.

I cannot fully articulate its ability to raise a sudden leap in my heart.  But it must be the way the light shatters the shadows, and how it grows long and brazen across my backyard. Casting even the unruly leaves lying defeated on the ground as heroes of the day. Curled and beautiful, and somehow noble.

Yet there is a difference. While morning light heralds a triumphant march with its clear and uncompromising rays, the evening is glowing with a mellowed maturity that’s sprung from the long day’s journey into night. One makes me feel strong and optimistic; the other steeps me in quiet.

From my kitchen, I usually sup in private glory. An unusual indulgence in the mundane. For which I remain eternally grateful.

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