In the past, well… almost four months now, I’ve been spending a lot of time with birds.
Specifically, ornamental chickens… Bantam Cochins, to be exact. Though also jumbo quail, fantailed pigeons and paradise whydahs.
[The latter are a species of finch indigenous to Sub-Saharan Africa. They channel their New Guinean cousins, the birds of paradise, in that the male grows two large and surreal tail feathers – like pinstripes on a suit – during the mating season.]
I never thought I’d meet someone who runs a farm.
Well… “farm” is a bit of an overstatement. It’s really just an allotment. A wee bit of a plot of land.
But what a charming wee bit of a plot of land it is.
From the first moment I stepped into it, I knew it was special. And in fact, it’s been an idyll.
I’ve been caught up in the shenanigans of the various individuals of the flock – each with their own names and personalities. A quick scan through whatsapp will reveal just how extensively these birds have taken over my head-space – and it has all been most enjoyable and not at all banal.
Of course, I’m of no use, really, in the farm.
I’m at best ornamental, like the chickens. I do an occasional bout of seed germination and the washing of water and food troughs. I will feed the birds all manner of food including dead, dried worms, though not live, squiggly, squishy ones – I draw the line there. And I will assist in chasing after and gathering the birds up in order that they may be returned to their coops for the night. I’m getting particularly good at stalking the pigeon on his roost.
But otherwise, I’m there just to take in and be part of the atmosphere… I’m not expected to do very much else, and I’m very, very good at being pretty.
Occasionally, in the evenings, we stop by after a day’s work, gather up the flock and crack open a bottle of wine to relax and unwind. Occasionally, in the mornings, we stop by before a day’s work, let the flock out to play, and have a pot of coffee to start the day.
These have been the happiest moments of my life in recent months.
I guess one could say that I’m nesting.
Because that’s really what I’ve been doing, on multiple fronts.
* * *
On the home front, at least, the nesting is clear.
A place-of-my-own is, in effect, a nest. And in the past 6 months since I’ve moved in, I’ve done everything I can to make it the most nestly nest I’ve ever nested in.
The novelty of having a new home has worn off a wee bit, it’s true. But every day, I’m still finding new bits of the nest that surprise me; that fill me with child-like wonder.
I’ve given myself over to luxuriating in the nest… taking long-ish showers in my bathroom; cuddling up with a good book and a cup of tea in the great velvety armchair in my study; going early to bed, so I can snuggle deep into its snuggly sheets and four-poster fabulousness.
And don’t even get me started on my floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with books everywhere Oh, I love books!!
The farmer described my place as lepak – perfect for doing nothing in.
And indeed it is! There are loads of spots one can loll about in.
The guestroom sofa, for example, which doubles up as a sofa-bed. I had it custom-made in Italy and waited four months for it – it’s the comfiest sofa and bed on earth, even as it’s the most sturdy; it’s worth every penny.
Or the parquet floor in the guest-room, my preferred spot for a quick afternoon shut-eye, or rough-and-tumble. The hard floor helps stretch my (stress-ridden) back and shoulders, and from the floor we can just about see the sky out the window.
The carpet in the living-room also makes for a very amenable hang-out. I’ve got a couple of low coffee tables, and a ginormous beanbag. It’s a nook and cranny all in one; conducive for two-person cuddles, after an evening of delicious red wine. 😁
Early last week, the final piece of furniture – the final feather in the nest – arrived. This was an outdoor two-seater settee for my living-room balcony. The piece was described as a “loveseat” in the catalogue, and certainly it’s just right for two people taking in the cool night breeze and the song of the nightingale.
The loveseat – and a small, two-seater dining table ensemble – have replaced two single-seater rattan wicker chairs that had previously fashioned my balcony into a veritable verandah of some grand, colonial hotel.
That former layout and configuration had looked absolutely gorgeous, and been just about comfortable for the single writer-wanderer, tapping intently at his Macbook while sipping at his lone glass of wine.
But it has proven to be rather unamenable for any other sort of closer human company.
Therefore the loveseat, which renders the balcony warm and welcoming… Homely, rather than hotel-like.
Yes, I’m nesting.
There’s a kind of finality to the term. One builds a nest to settle down in, after all. And I’m definitely settling down.
I feel that this is Home in a definitive, final way. As in… I don’t ever want to leave this place again. As in… this will probably be the last place I live in. As in… I could die here.
As it is, I already wish I could spend more time at home. I don’t want to go anywhere, ever. I want to lie in bed a little longer; curl up a little longer in my great armchair with my book; stretch my back a little longer on the guestroom floor.
I want to spend all my time here… I would have no problem spending all my time for the rest of my life here… I know I won’t feel bored. I’ve got everything I need.
But then work intrudes. I’ve got to go to work. …cue muffled grumblings…
And yes, there is the matter of the farm(er) as well.
* * *
The grief I felt last year, in the aftermath of having a stent placed in my heart, has given way to a kind of resigned stiff-upper-lip-ness.
It was a difficult time, I admit.
During this time, I couldn’t write. I felt shattered… like I needed to pick up the small little pieces of myself, slowly, at my own time and pace.
I’ve been doing just that for months now… allowing myself to be happy; affording myself multiple small moments of kindness; opening up my heart again despite it being broke…
I think I’ve more or less picked up the shattered pieces of the old me and glued them back together. The result, if I may, is a vintage mosaic, a kintsugi-ME whose shatter-lines are visible, but who shimmers like those Byzantine mosaics in the Anglo-Norman cathedrals of Palermo.
I see myself now as a beautiful, but immensely fragile, thing. Something that requires extra-special care.
Which is a rather jarring thought, given that I’ve never thought of myself as needing much care at all, let alone, extra-special. I’ve always seen myself as independent, indefatigable, indomitable.
And to be told that I was deluding myself – or at least, that living indomitably came at a grave cost – was heart-breaking.
So I still grieve.
It’s only natural. The new me allows myself to grieve.
Occasionally, after I’ve had a little too much to drink at home on my own, I retreat into what I call my Heartspace – the store-room, just past my kitchen, which I’ve refashioned into a sort-of NSFW gallery. And there, I sob.
I sob hard… Real hard… Gut-wrenchingly hard. I don’t do anything by halves.
I sob for myself… For the Indomitable ME who was shattered last year when he was told his heart was rubbish and needed fixing.
And then again, was it really fixed?
Certainly, a stent was never touted as a permanent fix. It was only a temporary solution, until such time as I would need a bypass… say in 5 to 10 years perhaps? That would also be a temporary fix, until the point where no bypasses would work anymore, and I’d die prematurely and inevitably from cardiac arrest.
I don’t want a bypass in 5 to 10 years. And I certainly don’t want to die young.
Though I’m convinced I’m going to. No really, I think I am.
I’m a romantic at heart – and dying young has such a ring to it – it’s so La Boheme. It has to be my destiny.
So I cry.
I cry for my past-dead-self from 2020, and for my future-dead-self in 2035 (or whenever), who perishes young but gorgeous.
There is a bright side to all this.
The conviction with regards to ma mort précoce – I’ve always been precocious, after all, so it’s only natural one finds me precocious on the dying front – has afforded me a sort of fear-thee-not, carpe diem attitude to life these days, particularly at work.
I no longer give a toss what people think. I mean… they’re not going to die young. I am.
So I’ll say whatever I want. Dress in whatever I like. Poke fun at myself if I feel like it. I’ll work only with people I get along with, and with people whom I feel a connection to. And do only things I find enjoyable or meaningful. Anything else is a waste of time.
And I haven’t much time to waste.
Knowing I will die young, I want every single remaining day of my life to be full of happiness and meaning.
I want to be so stuffed with happiness and meaning that I puke it everywhere, spraying it out of my every orifice and covering every inch of everyone and everything around me with bright pink goo.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking:
Sign me up for the pink goo.
* * *
The past two weeks, it’s been back to the grind as we opened the first major international special exhibition in the pandemic era. It’s a fabulous exhibition. I mean, the title says it all: LIFE IN EDO x RUSSEL WONG IN KYOTO. Hurrah!! Huzzah!!! Whoopwhoopwhoop!!!
I’m so proud of myself and my team for pulling it off. Big thanks to Russel and our Japanese partners and to everyone involved!! It’s a miracle the exhibition happened at all given the circumstances.
The upshot of this post-ish-pandemic opening up of the museum and of Singapore has been a gruelling schedule of live performances – des spectacles en direct – for lack of a better term.
In two weeks alone, I’ve had some two dozen engagements with press, patrons, diplomats and other special guests at all times of the day – mornings, afternoons, evenings, all-day; breakfasts, lunches, teas, dinners…
These engagements (live performances) require me to be at my best, to be on my feet giving tours of the exhibition, or to be deep in conversation – in multiple tongues – about art, culture, life and the museum.
I smile and I laugh; I serve my guests food and wine in typical, multi-tasking fashion; I float through corridors and twirl about on my feet; I throw witticisms and aphorisms into conversation to enliven the mood.
In short, I entertain, beguile and persuade.
I transform into my alter-ego, Shabu-Shabu-ko, or Shabu2ko, for short – a High-End Geisha 高級芸者 from the Bukit Timah Flower District. I’m just missing the shamisen 三味線.
If you take in our new exhibition, dear reader, you’d know that a lot of work goes into becoming a geisha, or geiko 芸子, as one is called in the Kansai dialect.
Shabu2ko may seem immaculately and effortlessly dressed and poised each time (s)he appears in public. But so much lies behind that veneer of perfection; so much goes into perfecting it.
For starters, I’ve always suffered from anxiety that requires constant management.
I’m an introvert. At a pinch, I’d rather be shuttered up at home, on my own, reading my books – but I alluded to that already, earlier in this post.
Meeting people, especially strangers, tires me out. Even scares me somewhat.
And yet, ironically, the job requires me to do just that – over and over again, as its modus operandi. As an introvert, I couldn’t have chosen a more challenging occupation.
But I’m a professional – I do my job exceptionally well, I know; and like the true geishas, I see myself as an important custodian of Asian heritage and culture.
[I’m also exceptionally curious – kaypoh, in local parlance. I like to know what’s happening in the world and what’s happening with people. So therein lies another (ironic) way in which I’m conflicted. 😂]
So I throw myself into the role with gusto, knowing I would do very well; but also knowing there would be a cost.
Later on in the evenings, at the end of the day, I would drink to quell the anxiety.
More often than not, I would already have had a couple of drinks, especially before a dinner or evening engagement, when I would feel the need to loosen up, to compensate for my lack of a shamisen.
But then later… after the event is concluded, it would be some more drinks. To relax and release the tension.
Later… I would also binge-eat junk food as a reward for the hard work, as compensation for all that energetic air-strumming with my plectrum.
And then I’d feel a little ill; I’d be not a little drunk and suffering from a spot of indigestion… I wouldn’t be able to sleep very well…
And not being able to sleep well, I’d wake up the next morning with my head throbbing, wishing I could lay in bed… but then I have to go on, and so I imbibe coffee to keep going, to coax Shabu2ko out from morning-zombie-apocalypse…
And so it continues…
I’ve been on the job for four years now. And this – the drinking, bingeing on nonsense food and caffeinating even as I put on kimono, hair and make-up – described my professional life week after week, year after year.
[Thankfully I don’t gain weight despite binge-eating – though I think this is because the job takes so much out of me that if I don’t binge-eat I might actually even lose weight. 😬]
Behind the ivory-white make-up and crimson-red lips, Shabu2ko has aged visibly in the mirror, before her very eyes, in a very short time.
It’s no wonder that her arteries started to clog dangerously. Her heart would’ve given out at some point, if she hadn’t caught up with it first.
It still could.
In the past three weeks, all the hard work I’ve made (in the months post-stent) to change my diet and my outlook on rest, has gone to the winds.
As these three weeks come to a close, I’m feeling its toll keenly.
I’m completely exhausted in a way I’ve never been before. I feel tired for no reason; and no matter how much I sleep, I don’t feel in any way refreshed. I suppose this is my body and heart telling me that they can no longer party on like it’s 2019.
My heart is literally heavy. I feel a weight on it, palpably.
Earlier this week it was aching – a dull, throbbing ache. I find it hard to describe… it’s like a kind of indigestion, only higher up the chest; or like someone is literally gripping my heart, and firmly.
Each time I read an email or have a conversation that is just slightly on the stressful side; each time I had to prepare myself for another stressful engagement, particularly with strangers, I felt the grip tighten. I immediately felt tired and the desire to lie down. But yet I knew I couldn’t lie down for long. I’ve got so much to do.
I’m a little worried.
Yes, I know I’m going to die young. But I don’t want to die tomorrow.
[As a humorous aside… earlier this week, I was staying at my mother’s. She had just gone for her second COVID vaccination, and she’d asked that I stay over, in case something should happen to her post-prick.
But of course, nothing did happen; nothing ever will. She’s as strong as a mammoth – her glare would turn ghosts to stone. I’ve often joked about her living longer than I would.
Instead of me taking care of her, it’s been a bit of the reverse, as I’ve been flopping about feeling tired and taking naps all over the shop.
Not that she’s suddenly become all motherly, mind you. It’s not her best suit. She tries her best, at most.
When I told her I feared I was going to die young, she reacted with genuine consternation (for herself), remarking how “You’re not going to die young. You can’t die young because you’ve got to take care of me!”
I’d have rolled my eyes, if they hadn’t been insomniac-ally rolling all night. I’d have felt hurt, if my heart wasn’t already aching.]
And so two days ago, I decided to take a week and a half off to nest, rest, and reflect.
I decided it was best to do so for my health.
I know that I can’t go back to this grind in a week’s time, post-rest. It wouldn’t be very sustainable. In fact, it’s probably unwise.
I know that I need to retire Shabu2ko. Or at the very least, keep her for very, very special occasions, and for very, very special eyes only.
But how do I do that when almost everybody I have to entertain is very very special??
Ah, who cares!
Put down the shamisen you never had, Shabu2ko. 放下三弦吧，涮涮子。
Let’s get lost in the wilderness! 让我们迷失在旷野！
* * *
And so it’s back to the farm then…
…where I’ve nestled in to a sort of quiet calm in an almost-wilderness.
Here there’s someone who takes care of everything… including me.
Never thought I’d allow anybody to take care of me… Never been taken care of so I don’t know how it feels like… I’m suspicious of it…
But I’ve been reading recently that it’s important to indulge the other’s Hero Instinct… if only because this protectiveness stems from strong affection.
And I’m liking strong affection. Two thumbs up, I say.
It’s funny how once I had more or less pieced myself back together… once I started treating myself like a rare work of (Byzantine mosaic) art, the universe started treating me kindly in turn…
And I stumbled upon something so wonderful…
It’s early days yet.
But I’m really enjoying it.
Enjoying the bathing quail and basking pigeon… the strutting hens and preening cock… the farmer pottering about the farm, watering plants and shooing poultry… and the farm-to-table egg, kale and rocket salad I would prepare in the evenings for friends or for the two of us only…
Admittedly, it hasn’t been one-hundred-per-cent idyllic. A recent rat incursion saw three of the birds – two chickens and a pigeon – killed… summarily decapitated by the pest(s).
Yes, farm life can be brutal.
But we overcame the crisis quick enough, respecting each other’s differences of opinion as we strategised the best defensive approach.
Bereft of its sibling-partner, the lone pigeon has become enamoured of the jumbo quail; he has taken to following her around like a lovelorn Duke Orsino does his Olivia, watching as she bathes and luxuriates in her sand-bath.
The remaining Bantam Cochins have been brusquely gathered into one coop, with the smallest of the lot – our Malvolio – being bullied relentlessly and maliciously by the other three; she’s gone quite bald from all the vicious henpecking.
In the meantime, three new chicks have joined the flock – a Black Bantam Cochin, a Light Sussex and a Brahma – they are still so young that it’s impossible to determine what gender they are. These young gender-benders, these Cesarios, scamper about the farm, feasting on worms, blissfully unaware of recent tragedy.
It’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will, but at the urban farm.
Peace has gradually returned to Illyria. The chickens and quail are laying again. The paradise whydah has lost his pinstripe tailfeathers. A brand-new pigeon – our Viola – has been recently procured.
Mating Season is over. Mating Season has just begun.
All is as it should be. And I hope it remains this way for a while.
I’m hoping to spend much more time nesting here too.
Now excuse me, as I go help gather up the birds for the night.
#nesting #urbanfarm #twelfthnight #apaceofmyown