San Quentin

For most parts of my life, as short as it is and for as far as I could remember, learning has never been a chore. Quiet joys comes from deriving mathematical models, identifying historical significances, or understanding how water, flour, yeast and salt transform into bread. There were times when I had tried to tear down the doors of my classroom in kindergarten, and when the cane was a study companion. Yet, I have never taken learning as an obligation to achieve some other goal. It is a necessity in itself, as much as it is a desire. For if one could not learn, then one couldn’t be better. If one couldn’t be better, one could only become worse.

Of late, school reeks of rusty metal bars, and curriculum paints the classroom walls a sombre grey. Even so, the nail-scratched markings counting down the days wouldn’t fade. Projects are the shackles, and class participation – roll calls. Resolve is the colour of the uniforms that could only fade; motivation is the meagre light that penetrates the high walls – present, but without warmth.

In the usual case, two paragraphs of cathartic indulgence wouldn’t suffice. One would expect some contorted transition to whimsical talk of coffee or cakes (or both all the better), almost always forcibly so. Today, I’m having ice-cream instead. Maybe, just maybe, there is this little inner imp trying to orchestrate despair so that my old friend would take pity and visit me. O blind courage, where art thou?

Summer dreams, ripped at the seams.

At a great place, with an even greater mentor.
At a great place, with an even greater mentor.

People say summer is a dream. I couldn’t be less sure, on the eve of a new semester. Am I waking up into a dream, or am I falling into reality? Ever since my enrolment at the university, my life has been oscillating between who I am and who I want to be. This incoherence is not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be discomforting on occasions. At least, I know where I am headed.

My mom tells me that when I was really young, I wanted to be a fireman. In primary school, I wanted to be an astronomer. For a while, I wanted to be a doctor, then, a scientist. I couldn’t remember if there was a time when I didn’t at least have a vague idea of what I want to be. I don’t need a fixed direction, but I can’t live with having no direction at all. That’s me.

“My name is Han, and I want to be a pastry chef.”

This proclamation sounds frivolous and strange enough, but it helps me stay on track. I don’t suppose it takes such difficulty for most to find their place in the kitchen, but I could use a little more clarity. Business schools and commercial kitchens are rather disparate worlds, and I suck at transitions.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that summer break is over. The previous month has been eventful – leaving Pollen, a week’s stint in the military, a trip to Tokyo, and being a photographer for Freshmen Orientation Week. This summer has been more than rewarding and I hope that the next would be just as fantastic, if not better. Before then, the second year of school wouldn’t be short of adventures to look forward to! For one, I’m taking another French module, super! Getting to see friends around in school will be awesome too, and not forgetting an exchange programme to Hong Kong in the second semester!

As usual, I’ll promise more time for baking and French. More reading too, with more positivity. Here’s to a great year ahead!

Stuck in the Middle


The final pages of great reads always leave a bittersweet taste. I liked books, when I was a child. I didn’t read much, but those puzzle books where you have to flip back to the previous pages to find hidden clues had most of my attention. I can still remember the smell of the neighborhood library that has long been demolished. In my teenage days, I had spent most of my free time on school work, video games, and Go. Except for a few books that has managed to catch my attention, such as Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, most of my readings were perfunctory – the news magazines we all had to subscribe to for school work. Then I rediscovered the joy of reading, from Elliot Perlman’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, or Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind. I enjoyed both thoroughly, but I can’t remember which did the magic. What I can remember is a line from The Shadow of the Wind:

Books are mirrors; you only see in them what you already have inside you.

Till today I have always found this true in the books that I cannot put down. But stories have to end, and you just can’t hold on to them forever. That’s why endings are always bittersweet, as are all things in life. I am always bad with saying goodbyes, sometimes I just end up not saying at all. I guess a part of growing up is to learn how to say goodbye.

I like being right in the middle of the book. There’re enough pages to put part of yourself in the story, to see the world in the eyes of the protagonist(s). It’s a comfortable milestone too because you know you have the next half of the book to indulge in. Yet it could also be discomforting because in the following pages you will grow increasingly conscious about getting closer to the end of the story. Wouldn’t it be great if we can all be stuck in the middle? But pages are turned as inevitably as La Seine flows.

While the middles of beginnings and endings are great, being in between two different things is… exasperating. The feeling of being temporary is upsetting, but to try not to be attached to anything is worse. Because everything ends together. Because you can’t tear out the pages, keep them under your pillow, and expect that everything will be OK.

I know I started Roodelia to write positively, but these days the strain on mental fortitude is ever more palpable. On a brighter note, vulnerable moments necessitate optimism. In the past, I would have said something like, ‘the world is a sad place’ or ‘life is a passing dream’. But it’s the great stories that makes reading worth it, however bittersweet endings could be. Bad stories aren’t worth mulling over.

P.S. It’s cathartic penning these thoughts down, now I’m off to a new book!

07 | Somewhere only we know.

Blackburn Tanzania V60
Blackburn Tanzania V60

I seem to have so much to write, but no stories to tell. That’s part of the reason for my hiatus, along with many other mundane reasons like getting caught up in school. Today, I’m not going to any particular point, or bother much about coherence. I’m just going to, let it go. Apologies for the pun. It makes a nice song anyway.

The past few weeks have been hectic in school, oh what’s new? Exams are around the corner, but the most burdensome projects and papers are over. Except for tying up a few loose ends, my momentum has been slowing down for the past few days, perhaps dangerously so. I’m sitting in my ‘home-ground’ café, not because I work there or live near, but because it makes a comfortable ambience. At this very moment, I’m staring out of its windows, in envy of the potted plants along the road. Basking in the sun, they dance with the butterflies in the wind.

I would be a fraud to not admit that productivity arouses me – in an asexual, intellectual way. Who am I kidding when I say that I want to do nothing? Some part of myself enjoy having books read rather than reading itself. The knowledge gained over the process of learning. The distance swam instead of the joy of swimming. The only process which I could prefer over the result would possibly be being in the kitchen and putting ingredients together. At least that’s what I can conceive over half a cup of latte. Piccolo, to be exact.

These strange things that matter to me – I would think them absurd in my days of spirited youth. The days when I aspired to be a doctor, a bioengineer, or an evolution biologist. Have I mentioned that as a child I wanted to be an astronomer? Not an astronaut, because I hadn’t known what exactly they had to do besides floating in space.

I’m wondering how that would actually feel like. Being so alone in pure nothingness, seeing Earth from above in its entirety, but yet strife and suffering remains invisible. It’s just us to be so – so conscious of what matters to us, so ignorant of what really matters. After all, what really matters might actually just be what matters to us. That is a dangerous proposition, for then what really matters right now, is a good cup of coffee, and chocolate maybe.

This also goes to show why I usually tend to write with a point in mind. Let me indulge in not making a lot sense, but don’t be mistaken – reason is my reliable friend. It shouldn’t, however, be your only friend because you’re end up a lonely person with forty cats. Another friend you must make, is chocolate. Last Wednesday, I had the wondrous opportunity to attend Cacao Barry’s launch of its range of purity from nature chocolates – Alunga, Ocoa, and Inaya. Being the fanboy I rarely am, I was more impressed at meeting the pastry chef and the chocolatier than tasting the chocolates themselves. I did had a lapsang souchong bonbon which intriguingly matched that characteristic smoky fragrance to the new chocolate. But the most important thing I went away with was a renewed inspiration to pursue what really matters most, at least to me.

Alright, I shall spend the last half of my second cup, a pourover from Blackburn Tanzania, doing nothing. It’s sweet, with bright berry notes with a lasting finish.

Necessary Provisions
21 Eng Kong Terrace
Singapore 598993
T: 9231 7920

#002 About Reading.

I finished this book recently. It’s a very light read for young readers, sufficiently detailed to spark anyone’s interest in history. Not at all lengthy and long-winded. I haven’t been too keen in history, and my experiences with it in school many years ago had been dismal. Well, school makes many interesting things uninteresting. But I enjoyed my times in school. And I’ve not enjoyed history this much before.

Admittedly, this book is not some deep and extensive work of time’s tales. From the time of ancient Egypt to World War II, Gombrich has picked out the defining moments to put together this concise volume. The facts may be speckled, gaps abound and (only slightly) biased from his Austrian origin. But one can easily sense it as an impassioned work that has served its purpose. And that purpose is to inspire and to educate the general public, as it has done for me. What I found most outstanding about it was the personal touch the writer included. And it was genuine when he expressed his disdain for the most hideous instances or his favor for the most beautiful moments of human history. This unabashed expression of his emotions toward certain events may seem unprofessional, but that is only human. He has told the story of time through his research, through his mind. Like a story. There is always another time for those heavy tomes of chronicles.

It is always an experience reading a book, and a different experience to finish reading one. This might be obvious to the many readers out there, but the truth is I haven’t been reading so much before this year. When I was young I read children’s books, like every other child. But as I transited into adolescence I was more drawn to videogames and books were simply boring. Every now and then I would pick up some books from the library, but rarely I would read them after I brought them home. I read, perhaps, a book or two a year. This may well be the greatest regret of my life (not that I’ve for very long to substantiate this claim). Now that I’ve gotten the bookworm, I hope I am never cured of this parasite.

Wait, I always find myself digressing to random perspectives like this, and find it hard to work back to what I intended to write about.

So yes, about finishing a book. When I finish a book, I would close the hind cover, not with a loud thud but perhaps you do, and ponder. Ponder about new perspectives and inspirations that have gotten to me. Many times have these ‘newfound insights’ dissipate after a while, but I’ve decided to write about it here for once. This time I have thought about the frailty of our societies, more so of human nature. I think we are still capable of the brutality that we judge of our ‘uncivilized’ ancestors. I think I’ll stop at this before that pessimism kicks in.

Goodnight bookworms!