Music and Other Musings

Hong Kong, 8 – 15 March 2016

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Thoughts on Hong Kong:

A trip two years in the making, I found myself bound for the land of dim sum, cha chaan teng and skyscrapers in early March. As I sat in the bus that took me to my hostel in Tsim Sha Tsui that would be my home for the next eight days, glimpses of the main island flashed by. Dense doesn’t begin to describe the city. Drab, grey buildings standing side-by-side, piled on top of each other, built on hills, all exuding a gritty vibe. Little alleys and underground basements that unearthed art galleries, tiny eating establishments and other business, if one. The weather was bitingly cold and windy and I was perpetually shivering.

And the people; there were waves of them everywhere, clogging up pavements and jostling for space on the subway and restaurants. It takes great skill to navigate the streets with grace and patience, remembering that this is a city of 7.3 million people, packed together and living and working in close proximity to each other. They seemed jaded and downtrodden, hardy and hardened. They were curt, impatient and lacking in warmth, hardly qualities that endear them to others. Though I am half Cantonese, I cannot speak the dialect. This made communicating with the locals a challenge as most of them don’t speak English. I could sense a certain stiffness when I asked if they could converse in Mandarin instead; they probably thought I was from mainland China.

One of the things that surprised me about Hong Kong was how expensive it is. I ran out of money not once but twice; something that has never happened before, but as the saying goes there’s a first time for everything. I climbed 286 steps to see the biggest Buddha in Hong Kong, hiked a dragon’s back, got shouted at by a group of elderly women playing mahjong, caught some concerts, and savoured piping hot and custardy egg tarts on street corners.

It was good meeting you Hong Kong. I can’t say I’m enamoured of you but there is a certain charm to the chaos and hectic pace at which you run. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but for now, the memories I’ve formed during my short stay will suffice.

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Recent Gigs

A short round-up of recent shows I attended.

Andrew Hung @ Kult Kafe, 5 March 2016

Better known as one half of Bristol electronic duo Fuck Buttons, Andrew Hung played an hour-long set at Kult Kafe filled with bleepy bloopy songs from his Rave Cave EPs, and a couple of Fuck Buttons songs thrown in. I went alone and stood at the back nursing my beer until he started. It was a decent turnout; about 30 people I think. I was handed a free poster as I left which was nice.

 

Panama @ The Substation, 6 March 2016

Painfully short and unsatisfying – that was the general consensus after Panama’s debut gig at The Substation. I went with S and we sat outside eating burgers and fries from McDonald’s while waiting for the doors to open. They came on at 8.35pm and played their swoony romantic tunes that had everyone grooving and swaying. Then they announced that they didn’t have much material and that they would be playing their last song. I looked down at my phone and the screen read 9.08pm. No way – they’ve got to be kidding! The audience thought so too and cried out in disbelief, refusing to budge when they finished playing and walked off stage. One enthusiastic fan threw back their song title – “It’s not over!” – imploring them to come back for an encore, but alas the gig was really over.

Granted, it’s hard to expect a band with a handful of EPs to their name to jam for two hours, but I wish they had played just a bit longer or done a cover or two. Come back soon guys, and let’s have a proper full-length gig this time.

 

Death Cab For Cutie @ The Coliseum, 7 March 2016

This was a pure nostalgia show for me. I’d seen them at the Esplanade Concert Hall in 2008 and when they returned for their second gig at Fort Canning a few years later, I’d kind of gone off them. I wasn’t as enthused about their recent albums, and the departure of Chris Walla further deepened the disconnect. Seeing them at The Coliseum and hearing their old songs brought back memories when I listened to Transatlanticism on repeat on my discman. And sometimes that’s enough.

 

Paskura @ Hidden Agenda, Hong Kong, 8 March 2016

While searching for upcoming indie gigs in Hong Kong, I  discovered that they were playing on my first night there. Frankly, I had no idea who they were but Russian progressive rock/post-rock/post-metal sounded interesting so I went. They put on a good show and were really enthusiastic to be playing in Hong Kong. Pity the crowd was so thin, only 15 or so people turned up. The venue was pretty cool; it’s located on the second level of a industrial building which is reached by a cargo lift that’s accessed through a small door in the shutters. We definitely need more of these underground music venues in Singapore.

 

Godspeed You! Black Emperor @ MacPherson Stadium, Hong Kong, 11 March 2016

I’m not a big fan of post-rock, but when I found out Godspeed You! Black Emperor were playing at MacPherson Stadium, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see the Montreal legends. It was a solid gig with beautiful music and visuals, and they did an encore which is apparently very rare for them. There was a crowd gathered around the sound booth after and I ambled over to see what was going on. Turns out they were giving away strips of film and I got a piece with a word that I couldn’t make out.

 

Chad Valley and Blackbird Blackbird @ Cafe Hillywood, Hong Kong, 12 March 2016

I enjoyed Chad Valley’s set much more than Blackbird Blackbird. The former had more interesting and complex tunes and friendly stage banter, while Blackbird Blackbird’s songs got repetitive fast. I thought it was strange that though it was supposed to be a live set, he just played the tracks on his laptop and strummed some guitar over them. I’d have been satisfied if it was just Chad Valley headlining, they were that good.

 

The Observatory @ The Substation, 19 March 2016

I haven’t really kept up with The Observatory but their latest August is the cruellest is their angriest, noisiest record to date. I’d read that it was inspired by the haze and the SG50 celebrations last year, and it shows in the accusatory lyrics and sheer wall of dissonance.  They played two sold out shows at The Substation and it was a blistering affair from start to finish. Thankfully I was standing at the back so my ears were spared from ringing afterwards. The covers of The Cure’s ‘Fascination Street’ and Talking Heads’ ‘Burning Down The House’ were a nice touch. They’re truly one of the best local bands around.

A Year On

1 March passed a few days ago and its arrival brought a flood of memories from the past. I wonder if you remembered it was on this day last year that we met. You probably don’t but that’s okay. I wrote something to mark the occasion, because you were special and meant something to me, and you still do.

It’s been a year
12 months
365 days
Thousands and millions of hours, minutes, and seconds
Coming full circle
For the next cycle
It’s been a year
Charting emotions through seasons
A game of push and pull
Played with kid gloves
Yes, no, maybe, let’s wait and see
Try or try not, do or do not
Fall, fail, retreat to defeat
Lick your wounds and repair your broken parts
It’s been a year
Shift to see a new view
Look to find someone new
But it’s a jungle out there
Wild, savage, and full of thorny undergrowth
And how could anyone love me
When I don’t even love myself
It’s been a year
Older but not much wiser
Another scar joining the ones before
The song remains the same but different
You’re back where you started
Alone and on the floor

Change

I quit my job last month. After nearly two-and-a-half years, I finally took the plunge and handed in my resignation letter. Aside from a strange calmness I felt a slight thrill, and most of all an immense sense of relief. That was when I knew I made the right decision in leaving. I don’t miss competing with my colleagues for news to write, scouring the ends of the web for trends to report, trying to make stories go viral, obsessing over likes, clicks and views, and getting stressed when I fail to hit my targets. Doing that five days a week was exhausting and I was jaded and downtrodden when I left. But with all the bad news about the weak economy, a part of me can’t help thinking I should have stuck it out for a few more months. It’s been three weeks since I resigned and I’m still browsing job ads and sending out résumés. I have nothing concrete lined up yet. I can feel that familiar dread in the pit of my stomach starting up and I’m doing my best not to let it overcome me.

Now that I have all this free time, I’ve been working on my personal writing and pursuing interests I didn’t have time for, like photography and catching up on movies. I finally got around to baking chocolate chip cookies in a mug and they were decent. Not the most delicious ones I’ve had, but edible and easy enough to make that I can whip them up whenever I crave something sweet. My new article for Bandwagon was published yesterday, on Valentine’s Day. It might be the month of love, but for many people it’s a reminder that they have no one by their side. I wrote this for the perennially single, unlucky in love and broken-hearted, but I might as well have written it for myself…

Reflections

It’s taken me awhile to find the time to write this but I’m finally penning down my thoughts properly. Plus, seeing as it’s the end of the year I feel some reflection is in order. The past few months have been a whirlwind of confusion, hurt, anger and self pity, a self destructive cycle that left me emotionally and physically exhausted to the point of collapse. This was punctured by periods of numbness akin to being sedated. I felt like I was losing my mind at times, and I very nearly did. I’ve carried a tight knot in my heart for a long time and it’s only recently that it has started to loosen, bit by bit. The pain cut deep; an ache so sharp and intense it felt as though a red-hot iron was being pressed against my flesh. Even now, my thoughts will occasionally wander and come to rest on a certain memory before I realise what is happening and force myself out of it. That things end for a reason and people leave, and there is nothing I can do, is only starting to sink in. No amount of analysing or beating myself up will solve anything. The only thing left is to accept it and move on. It’s nothing I don’t already know—I’ve read advice like this a thousand times—but despair has a way of making everything seem hopeless and insurmountable.

My wish for the New Year is to find the strength to let go of the pain and start anew. It might seem like a clichéd thing to say but they’ve never been as urgent or important as now. I know I need to break free from these thoughts that are holding me back. As tired as I am, I need to pick myself up and try again. Someday, the events of the past few months will be a distant memory, like a blurry photograph.

May 2016 herald better things.

Hanoi, 17 – 24 December 2015

This time last year I was in Ho Chi Minh, and last week I finally got around to exploring the capital of Vietnam. It was a whirlwind 7 days of seeing the Old Quarter, trekking in Sapa and cruising the waters of Ha Long Bay.

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Neon Lights Festival, 28 & 29 November 2015

Some snaps from Neon Lights Festival at Fort Canning Park last weekend. Two days of amazing music with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Kiasmos, The Field, Nouvelle Vague, Damien Rice and Ride, capped off with a crazy dance party in the pouring rain during Flight Facilities—that really brought back memories of the epic rainstorm during Laneway 2011. I haven’t had this much fun in awhile.

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Lingering

I logged in today and discovered a draft that I wrote in October. While reading it, I was reminded of how low I felt back then it seemed as though the light had gone out in the world. Below is the post.

Three months have passed and not much has changed. My heart is still heavy and my spirits low. I don’t dwell on what happened as much as I did at the beginning, but from time to time memories of you invade my conscious and unconscious mind. When I think of you it’s with a pang, a dull ache in a corner of my heart that seems resigned to such occurrences. It’s a sensation I don’t quite know how to handle, something I haven’t felt before. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve found myself replaying happier times in my head and wishing we could go back to how we were. Such thoughts are useless, I know. You’ve moved on with your life. I imagine you’re busy with a new job, jamming sessions on the weekends, meeting friends for a meal or drinks. I wish I too could look ahead to the future instead of regressing into the past. Caught between wishing things could go back to how they were in the past and knowing the futility of such thoughts.

I’ve been struggling to erase you from my mind every single day. I wrote poems and songs and even dabbled in music making to distract myself. I threw myself into work, churning out article after article and staying longer at the office, trying to convince myself it would advance my career. I did everything I could think of to mend the hole in my heart. I started writing a story but I haven’t made much headway after a promising few paragraphs. I joined a few meet up groups in an effort to meet new people. Last weekend, I bought ingredients for chocolate chip cookies which I have yet to bake. Confiding in a few close friends helped but didn’t lessen the pain. It’s up to me to deal with it, I’m the only one who can help myself. I’m doing everything I can think of to move on. I thought that if I filled my time with all these activities, I’d think less and less of you until I stopped thinking about you completely. It hasn’t worked like that. The feeling of emptiness persists like a sad ghost who refuses to return to its grave.

I fear us breaking up has broken me. My heart has sunk and I don’t have the strength to smile some days. I’ve been thinking a lot about my life. I’ve always thought about it a lot, but I’ve been thinking with more frequency and urgency in the past few months. I look back at my teenage years and I don’t feel much different than when I was 18. I still have the same anxieties and fears. Still trying to find my place in a world that is harsh and unforgiving. I have never felt so alone as I do now. I have hardly anyone to talk to. My Friday nights are spent at home. I worry that I’m not doing more with my life. That I should be out there meeting people, networking, letting my hair down and having fun. There are times when it all feels too much. I feel so tired all the time. Tired of everything, tired of trying again and again and failing every time.

 

Ghost

Rewind and press play
In the projector of my mind
There are two sides to every story
Y.O.U.R.S and M.I.N.E
The passing of time brings clarity
Memories come into sharp focus
The brief history of us
Held up to the magnifying glass of scrutiny

Moments flash in a whirl of sights and sounds
What was once the sweet nectar of bliss
Now leaves a bitter aftertaste
Like fruit left to rot
A putrid mess of flesh and foul odour

Unrealness permeates every interaction
Words and actions analysed and dissected
For the millionth time
Seeking clues in the showreel of self-torture
Like a false math equation with no answer
Senseless
A futile Sisyphean task

White flag at the sorry end
Of weariness and giving up without a fight
Deflated like a burst balloon
A well of emotions rising in the corners of my eyes
Tightened chest, heart a dead weight
Holding out for a second chance
A flickering candle of hope
Faint and weak
Ultimately fated to be extinguished

Resignation takes over
With grief and sorrow on its heels
Though wounds may heal
And months of past recede into history
Giving up the ghost of you
Is the hardest thing to do

Gone

Like a sledgehammer
Without warning
A sudden punch to the gut
Cruel knife through the heart
Words that cut deep
With no mercy or compassion
Where happiness once lived
Is now grey and dead
The swirl of confusion, hurt and anger
Replaced by numbness and despair
Like a dream within a dream
Was it real?
Were those memories an illusion?
Did we exist?
You are gone
And I am left
Alone