Monday, 25 January 2010


31st December 2009

She took quaint little steps up the stairs as all eyes were on her. Holding the handrail, taking one step at the time, she was unable to go any faster due to the dark blue robe that hung till her knees. The crowd waited patiently in silence as she reached the top of the staircase and took a bow. Making a right turn, she grabbed the wooden log that hung overhead and with all might, reclined her arms and held that position.

Her face white as snow and her expression deeply concealed behind that thick white mask, but a moment of anguish resonated through the crowd, as we looked on while one of her size held her position just beyond a second.

A sudden force and a forceful release saw the log flying forward with an immense velocity, as it struck the huge chunk of metal an unexpectedly loud gong rang throughout the still night air, filling the entire vicinity with the soothing sound of the bell, as the crowd cheered on while she took modest little steps down the stairs.

The Japanese believe that ringing the temple bell 108 times helps to quell the 108 Earthly Desires as defined in Buddhist doctrine. While hardly a believer of the intent, it was hard to deny that there was something oddly Zen and soothing about listening to the sound of the bell ringing through the cold winter air, inducing a slightly hypnotizing effect on me, as my mind started to wander.

I could hear some Japanese being spoken in the background, announcing the name and bell number, as a man dressed in a business-suit took brisk steps up the staircase and took a bow just as the lady before. The only words processed by my wandering mind and subpar Japanese was the number "24".

A gong as loud as the previous was heard shortly after that, and as the sound of the ringing bell was carried across the temple grounds, so did my mind wander further and further into the cold, winter night...


A small light flickered away, and slowly, it grew stronger and brighter. A sudden sensation ran along my cheeks as I felt something warm and slightly moist making contact.

I burped as I felt a familiar taste of cream and beef running through my insides before being emitted from my nostrils. I raised my hand to my mouth, and uttered a quick "Excuse me."

She just looked at me and smiled, as she ran her thumb along my index finger.

"Happy 2 Year Anniversary Darling," she said to me, with a look of bliss and happiness.

Indeed, it was the 24th month, and a rightful celebration over some of the finest pasta that I've had at Garibaldi. And it was definitely a cause for celebration, as we had indeed came a long way, from an experimental relationship of exploration, to one that is an unexpected balance of bliss, excitement and comfort - and indeed, there was no better way to celebrate "us" then the activity that defined us most.

"Happy Anniversary Darling," I said to her, looking deep into her eyes and stared right through her into the future.


I felt a weight on my shoulder as I turned my head to see her head leaning on my shoulder.

"Tired Darling?" I asked her, and was met with an expected nod.

I looked at my watch. "12.45 a.m."

Quite expected for her to be tired at this time, considering the pattern that we've developed over the trip.

"62" was the number that I could pick up with my level of Japanese, as a grey-haired man in a business-suit made his way up the stairs and rang a rather weak gong with the bell.

I stared into the flames of the bonfire before me as my mind started to drift off with the dying sound of the bell again.


Still slightly groggy from just waking up from a deep sleep not too long ago, I stared at the top panel of the lift as I saw the numbers flash.

"5...6...7", the lift jerked and the doors open.

I stepped out of the lift and walked down the familiar hallway, the monotony of the white-washed walls broken up by the occasional glass window made up the perimeter of the building; in fact, the entire campus had that consistent look.

It was hard to imagine the comfort of which I have slipped into my thrice-a-week routine, doing the same thing almost mechanically.

In Bon Jovi's words, "It's all the same, only the names will change." But the "names" in this case definitely give the "same" a lot more meaning, as the human touch adds a lot more to a task that could otherwise be mechanical and monotonous.

Surprisingly nonetheless, as looking back to the time of graduation, I remember telling myself (and those around me) that, "I want to stray the furthest away from teaching as possible" when it came to career choices, and yet, life's irony always has a way of getting back at you.

But more ironic than the circumstance however, is perhaps the consequence - which oddly has its own gratification and fulfilment in and of itself.

I took a deep breath as I reached for the door handle and opened the door the last time before the term break.

"Good morning", I said, for the 62nd time.


"You want to go, darling? If you're tired, we can just leave now," I said to her, looking at the obvious signs of fatigue on her countenance.

She shook her head in a semi-autistic manner. She always displayed such queer signs when she was tired and still trying to be obstinate. Her eyelids blinked heavily as she tried to watch on.

Number 72 was another lady that had her face painted white, but this time clad in a dark red Kimono. From her posture and her movements, one could tell that she was older than the first, perhaps in her 60s or 70s.

She swung the wooden log back as far as she could, and thrust it forward with almost all her body weight.

The log didn't hit the bell squarely, and as a result, the gong was hardly as loud as it should have been.

I looked up at the full moon hanging in the cloudless sky as the sound of the bell rang off into the distance.


I looked at the moon on screen, as I tried to move my mouse to shift the man a little to the right, to align it closer to the centre.

My eyelids were extremely heavy as I felt the bodily fatigue sinking deeply into my body and perhaps my soul as well. It had been too long since I last had a proper sleep, 72 hours in fact, since I had slept anything more than 4-hours.

All physical indicators were steering me towards getting into a horizontal position on the bed just a few steps away, but my mind kept reminding itself of the necessity of staying awake and finishing the job. The weight and the responsibility suddenly felt so heavy, too heavy for one man to bear, and yet, that was the feeling that I experienced almost once every 2 months, every time that we were rushing for something or meeting some deadline.

The "Crazy-24" as I've come to call it, happened a bit too often, where the 24-hours before the submission would have me glued to my seat at a frantic multi-tasking pace and clearing and coordinating tasks one after another.

"5:22 a.m." read the bottom right of my screen, as I placed my chin on my hand, willing myself to persevere.

"The whole is greater than the sum of its parts" has never resounded more untruly, as the act of juggling between 2 part-time jobs definitely weighed more than that of 1 whole one.

It has been too long since I last slept, and even longer since I had a proper weekend.

My sight grew blurrier and blurrier as my eyelids grew heavier and heavier. I sat upright and shook myself out of it, etching a single word in my mind.



I was quite amazed at her determination and that she managed to persevere for so long as the 99th person made his way down the stairs.

The 100th saw another suit-clad business man taking to the stairs, and repeating the procedure like the 99 before him.

One at the time, we had reached the 3-digit mark and almost set out what we said to do before we came for the trip, to survive all 108.

The 100th bell tolled as its familiar sound filled the temple grounds once more.


We stood outside the restaurant, flipping away at the menu, looking at the tantalising pictures of the gastronomical possibilities that awaited us within.

I glanced to the right column, noticing the little numbers and totalling them at the back of my head.

My hand subconsciously reached the tip of my back-pocket as I thought about the amount that I had. Yet, there was no real need, with only a budget of 100 bucks to spare a week; it's not hard to figure out where every single cent went to.

And yet, this was the life that I had gotten used to over the last 4 months, one of frugality and conscientiousness, one that was calculative and projected.

The human heart and mind are extremely malleable things, and it's funny how when you are in abundance, wants becomes needs; but when you are stripped to the bone, you learn to see wants for what they are and form justifications to dispel them.

I was tired of feeling this way, and too often over the past few months, did I question if it was all really worth it? Can one really live on passion? Or is it time to give up on the dreams and ideals and "grow up"?

We walked away from the restaurant towards the direction of the familiar yellow "M" further down the mall, as I uttered under my breath, "just a little while longer."


The last one for the night, and naturally, year, stepped up to the podium to the sounds of loud cheers, louder than most before him except the exceptional one of two extremely popular ones. Like the others, he made his way up the stairs, took a bow and grabbed the log with both hands.

As he swung the log back, I took a moment to think - to think about the desires; not so much as to quell them, as with the meaning behind the ringing of the bells, but more as to the desires I might have for the year ahead.

Instinctively, thoughts came rushing into my mind, decisions to be made, goals to be achieved, places to be visited, things to be bought - all came flooding in during that split-second.

But as much as the New Year is a time for resolutions, I believe than more so, it is a time for memories and remembrance.

And as the last bell sounded, images of the year flashed by in my mind - laughing with the students, crying on the floor, anger at the table, opening that door; aromatic smells that lingered, and spices on the tongue, singing to the music, counting meteors one-by-one.

As the sound of the final bell died down, I turned to her and smiled gently.

"Let's go." I said, as I grabbed her hand and we walked off into the new decade.