Tag: me

Layers of London

In my latest adventures in #content production, have a read of my work on the wonderful Layers of London project:

Enjoy!

Velvet

I am here in San Francisco for work. I decide, this sunny Saturday, to go and see the Painted Ladies, that row of colourful houses, hoping to cross another classic tourist spot off my list after the very disappointing “Asian Art Museum”.

I arrive, snap a few photos, self-conscious at behaving as a tourist does, and quickly walk away, up the hill of Alamo Square Park to see what other views I could enjoy of the city from this elevated spot.

Then I see a fat Jack Russell Terrier leave a group of four picnicking middle-class Asian-Americans and chase after a homeless man, trudging along wrapped in a dirty blue sleeping bag. The dog yaps, barks and snarls as its big thighs chunkily power it along. It seems pretty harmless, being a comically overweight dog, circles the homeless man a few times, continuing to snap and yap. The homeless man seems wary, recoils slightly from the wobbling drool, but otherwise he does not seem too concerned.

An overweight, gay white man sitting on a bench nearby overlooking the grass on calls out, “VELVET. VELVET! COME BACK VELVET.” He shouts, laughing. He looks at the Asians and shrugs, grinning from ear-to-ear, “He just doesn’t like homeless people! I just don’t know where he gets it from!”

They all look at each other and then look at him, and burst out laughing, the homeless man metres away. Velvet circles back round to another group of people, now all white, and they play with him, scratching him behind the ears.

Velvet decides to make another pass at the homeless man who has already begun to make a move down the hill, away from all the happy, laughing wealthy people, the clear blue sky bright and clear, the sights of bridges and skyscrapers all around.

The fat gay man calls out to Velvet again and laughs, repeating himself – “I just don’t know where he gets it from! He just doesn’t like them! I don’t get it!” He continues to shrug and smile at no-one in particular, and no-one seems to find this peculiar. Tourists walk around. Polaroid cameras click and whir, and the wind is quite soft and pleasant.

Velvet jumps onto a nearby bench and plays with a new couple and the same Asian girl continues to watch, and laughs, that same open mouth shrieking laugh. I walk away, to the other side of the part, and I can still hear her laugh, ringing through the air, at what now, I do not know.

A few minutes away, I see a black man, large and bald, explaining to another young Asian-American woman what venture capital firms like to see in start-ups: “autonomous income streams”, apparently. That is, companies into which you don’t have to put any more work to pull out endless amounts of money. She nods. He stares at me as I eavesdrop.

I walk to the bus-stop and I overhear a young couple talk about enjoying the snake carpaccio with white truffle cream sauce.

Then, my phone runs out of battery and I accidentally take the trolley bus in the wrong direction.

it was the happiest night of my life

Typewriter

The last time I wrote on a typewriter I was living in Bedok Reservoir with our now dead grandfather Arwa Datuk Aman. Our uncle, Uncle Hamdan, who, despite his two adult children, had not yet left home, was the owner of this typewriter, and the funny stories we wrote as young children drained his ink – to his silent displeasure.

In hindsight, I think he enjoyed our company.

The flat at Bedok Reservoir I remember was often full of faces showing other forms of silent displeasure. Mak Long, perpetually upset with Abah, still could not help but ask for his advice on whether it was safe or not to eat mushrooms with some mould on them (“tell her a mushroom is already a fungus”), a grandfather annoyed that his grandson could not read out a phone number in Malay, and eventually a funeral procession of flowers over his silent body.

In the end, Hamdan sold the flat without asking for anyone’s permission.

The silence filled the house in the end.

The Malay word for funeral is “pengebumian” – from the root word “bumi”, meaning “earth”. Thus, a ritual or ceremony to return one to the Earth. 

Damascene Chaos

This small piece of writing was initially written in 2017 for a post on The Wayfarer’s Compass. I am reproducing it here to build up the blog as a writing portfolio. Not my traditional style of writing I suppose, but it does reflect the state of my mind once upon a time. Reading it puts me in a particular pensive mood, so naturally I tend to avoid doing so.

Enjoy. 

Whenever I tell people of my time in Damascus before the war, I inevitably end up talking about the chaos. The mad bustling mess of colours, sounds and flavours, a sensory assault for those of us used to suburban sterility.

Life would flow all around me, through me, and often rudely shoved me out of its way. I learnt as best I could to navigate through it, learnt the ways of the people, the ways of the city, but still I found the disorder and confusion so grating.

But there was peace too.

I lived for 6 months in Damascus, in Rukn ad-Din (where else!) – The “Corner of the Faith”, a little maze of streets centred around Abu Nour Mosque, where people from all around the world came to study Islam – and I truly mean all around the world. I met people from Russia, Daghestan, China, Mongolia, India, Turkey, Thailand, and other places I’d never heard of before. I hardly spoke any English my entire time there. We spoke to each other in Classical Arabic, a strange linguistic bubble with a liturgical language as the lingua franca, and we often liked to think we were speaking as people did in the time of the Prophet. The Arabs looked on and laughed at our Shakespearean formality.

Rukn ad-Din lay at the foot of Jabal Qasioun, a mountain standing overlooking Damascus. There are many legends about the mountain: that it was where Adam first lived, that it was the site where Qabil killed Habil, that is was where the 40 Abdal gather every night to pray tahajjud over the city to safeguard it. It was said that throughout history many a Damascene leader had ascended its stony steps and prayed for rain, for it was here that prayers would always be accepted.

I made many prayers on that mountain once upon a time.

To get to the top of the mountain, you had to pay a man with a ute to drive you up to a certain height, where the roads ended, and then walk the rest of the way. There were always a few drivers around, and their trucks were decorated with fake floral garlands and swathes of heavily patterned red-and-black fabric straight out of a British orientalist’s Bedouin tent fantasy – the kitschier the better.

I rode up by myself regularly, to the bemusement of the Syrian drivers, who either chuckled at my oddly-accented shami Arabic, pelting me with their curiosity or ignored me altogether. Even in the colder months I would walk up to the top with just my heavily worn leather sandals on my dusty feet, bought from Souk al-Hamiddiyya like a proper tourist, and ground into fraying threads like a proper seeker.

When I sat upon that mountain and looked upon the city, I looked upon the world, and felt some of its spiritual magic enter my heart.

Nutella

I couldn’t find her this morning.

Walking to the train, I saw: a dark patch of gingery fluff bursting out of the blood-stained road.

Not moving.

She was always moving.

I covered her with a soft white cloth and carried her home.

Later, when no-one was watching, I cried.