Space

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I’m at Heathrow, walking down a long conveyor to the departure gate. To my left, we glide past a dark mirrored wall, in which I can see my own reflection, travelling along with me for the ride; while to my right, arriving passengers carried the other way towards the immigration hall half dissolve in white neon. Suddenly I become aware that this scene is split in two, dark versus light, space moving simultaneously forwards and backwards. On my left my dark, anxious-anticipatory self is walking along the beltway towards the East, to the ‘plane on the tarmac and to my husband, who will be there at the other side to greet me. In the harsh white light on my right I can see like a phantom in the light bouncing off the tiled walls my future self, walking down this same corridor at the end of this trip, returning back home to solitude. I meet myself coming the other way.

So there in this moment in a humdrum, windowless and un-mapped airport tunnel, in a sharp perception as fleeting as the photograph that I, knowing in that split second that I will make a painting of this scene, had fumbled for on my ‘phone and caught on the wing, I found myself moving through the landscape of my own mind and through both our complex biographies (because I see in my mind always his reverse East-West comings and goings), and all the struggle of constructing a life across two worlds, between intense togetherness and its twin of dumbly flailing loneliness, our worlds turning relentlessly from light to dark , each of our arrivals containing its own departure, each beginning its end. The realization was as sudden as a religious revelation and yet at the same time utterly solid and tangible, the most physical manifestation imaginable of autobiographical space and of the body’s relation to it, more real than real. Such perfection of imagery, such closeness of physical space and arrangement of forms to emotional and autobiographical truth – this is rare. Experiencing it, I suddenly fell on the perfect image. I can seek conjunctions similar to this one, take photographs, search page after page on Google Image, make drawings and re-order reality, and for most of the time this is what I have to do, treading water and waiting, but these moments, only a handful in a lifetime, are beyond price. I have been gifted the image.

At other times, I skate across the surface, making images from images, enjoying the panache of the painted response to external reality – bodies in a wood, trees, foliage – the interface between paint and photograph its own stimulus, the experience of painting its own pleasure, and I, adding another one to the score, lift up each new addition into the racks. Then from time to time, although I know in my heart of hearts that it will end in tears, I become compelled to work another way entirely, digging deeper, beneath the pictorial image and through a doorway into to the more hidden, complex spaces of the mind, attempting to dredge up through oil paint’s malleability and my own sheer will-power my inner self, my memories, fears and deepest fantasies, the wilder shores of the psyche. Here, on the interface between image and abstraction, memory and photographic prop, I struggle and flail, and when each new and increasingly frenzied address to the canvas surface feels like it might just succeed this time, I turn my back and shut the studio door only for the painting to treacherously evaporate into smears without structure or reality or seeming intent, formally unstructured, emotionally homeless.

 

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Drawing

DRAWING

The palm trees are reflected darkly in the pool. Their shadows hang upside down from the far rim where their bases, heavy and blurred like the most deep-seated of melancholias, blown in the real world’s circling storm outside, shift uncomfortably like manatees and then as they ascend, reaching higher and higher and are mirrored down towards where I stand on this side, become finally ethereal, pale and crystal-edged against the heavens where it is still blue, their top branches undulating with frenzied distraction as the storm encroaches. Their unobtainable height has become the vertigo that falls on me when I think of that far-off state when I was at one, or thought I was, or dream of moving towards. If I alter my focus this vision vanishes and is replaced by the pool’s stone floor, or the concentric circles spreading outwards now as weighty drops of hot rain break the skin. I’m looking for metaphors in nature’s spaces and in its forms.

Thinking takes place in the intervals between statements. Truth is in the gaps. I know when I reach for an approximation or, bored, grab a hasty summation. Like playing a game of amateur tennis I zone in and out of focus and at the top of my game I lose attention and throw it all away. As I move my hand from one mark to the next I use lodged training from long ago to assess distances, using the first fixed measure as my keystone. If I’m concentrating I can feel the whole scene like this, each gap and space, so that the drawing emerges out of the empty page like a harmonious whole.

When this happens I do not fall off the wire, and can perhaps reach something more than a topographical representation, a photographic correspondence. Making each mark I know what the next one should be, and the next, and the next. I am seeing ahead to how the drawing should be, not as a picture but rather, how the arrangement of measured intervals that gradually enclose shapes will answer an intuitive feeling of how this engagement with mere physical facts, the randomness or impersonal, unresponsive un-human truth of Nature’s arrangements, like the act of rubbing one flint against another can create on the page something else, an arrangement of forms, a selection from nature, or a subtle re-arrangement of its harmonies, that becomes a metaphor for feeling. In the gaps I find my longing for lost parents, when I remember that they will never again answer a question of mine; in the black reflected palms is reflected my despair on these listless tropical afternoons when I don’t know what to do with myself; in the height of a banyan tree across the rice fields as it climbs to grasp an unreachable towering white cloud after the rain has passed, that being at one I once had, or thought I had a few times, and race towards now, faster and faster with open arms.

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Tiger Balm and Sweetcorn Ice Cream

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One week to go and this is beginning to feel like that dangerous territory of limbo-land – neither here nor there. I’ve had some correspondence with my neighbour back home about building works she is about to start, and thinking about my house – Mole End-like – is treacherously leading me by the hand into that listless departure lounge where daily life has stopped running along unquestioned.

These are some of the things we’ve done. Last week Kamal and Liz and I went to the launch of a show of photographs taken by Bangladeshi migrant workers as part of a project which hooked them up with local Singaporeans in order to share their experiences. It was quite a strange experience. The project was clearly well-intentioned, and needed. This is a city where migrant workers are usually out of sight, out of mind; a recent mini-riot in Little India on a Sunday night resulted in deportations, increased policing and a local ban on alcohol. The awkward part for me, perhaps coming from a different context, was the decontextualising emphasis on similarity “We are all, after all, all human’ several of the speakers earnestly declared, with several of the Bangladeshi workers amongst the crowd listening intently. But language is a minefield. Is it only that in the UK we’ve had longer to get it – a little less wrong? As Kamal and I leafed through the individual photo albums we discussed their small differences, potentially revealing (one man who had written that he missed his kids back in Bangladesh had photographed Singaporean children playing on the shoreline at East Coast), the problem of recounting histories and how you can understand accurately and without filters something of the experience of others.

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On Saturday I went the launch of a new venture at Haw Par Villa. This, for the uninitiated, is one of Singapore’s oddest of oddities. Built in order to teach traditional values by the family whose empire was built on Tiger Balm, the site is an extravaganza of exuberant sculptural tableaux, polychromatic, ornate and often extremely violent, representing scenes form ancient Chinese mythology, folklore and Confucianism. The Courts of Hell are especially unforgettable.

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Once a popular theme park, the grounds have gradually slipped into unvisited obscurity, but the tourist board is now making an effort to revive them. The statues are being restored, and two twin artists with the help of my good friend Liz have taken over some of the pavilions, including the one that once housed the family’s Jade collection, for a series of exhibitions and workshops:

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The launch was good-natured affair, with an intelliegently curated group exhibition in the main space. One of two smaller pavilions had been transformed into a camera obscura, which revealed the upside-down image of the diorama across the way, a battle between heroes and sea monsters. As one’s eyes attuned to the dark the scene emerged, and shadowy figures carrying umbrellas against the relentless rain flitted across the pavilion wall. In another pavilion a workshop on seal inscription was about to start, and a group was seated expectantly.

I wandered off around the rest of the adjacent deserted buildings, which once housed a museum and a restaurant called the Golden Nest. Rain fell on the ornamental pond and over the port, down at the foot of the hill.

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Last Thursday was Fei’s birthday. We went with Kai to the kopitiam across the way. Earlier in the week Fei and gone off for a wander around the neighbourhood, where we had once rented a flat and which I had painted a lot in my last sabbatical. We had come across this guy, an itinerant ice-cream vendor of a kind apparently once seen all over the island but now almost extinct. We ordered an ice cream each, mine a yellow corn-flavoured wedge cut from a slab and held between wafers, Fei’s wrapped in green pandan bread. On this second occasion, the night of his birthday,which was close and electric with a long-threatened storm we saw the vendor peddling furiously out towards the highway chased by the plum-coloured clouds of the fast–approaching tempest. We leapt into his path and begged him to stop. He did, and so we chose and ate and went home sated and just one step ahead of the rains.

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Pulau Ubin ( At Last )

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“So fine was the morning except for a streak of wind here and there that the sea and sky looked all one fabric, as if sails were stuck high up in the sky, or the clouds had dropped down into the sea.”

Virginia Woolf, ‘To The Lighthouse.’

I’ve wanted to cross over to Pulau Ubin for the longest time, but couldn’t find anyone to go with me – Alex and I, who have braved the dread Frog Drain together, have long planned it, but she’s in Melbourne now. Then last week another friend, Dinesh, suggested trip out to the island, and so I found myself waiting at the ticket barrier at Tanah Merah MRT on a Saturday morning.

Ubin is an island off the north-eastern shores of Singapore. Legend says Pulau Ubin was created when a frog, a pig and an elephant from challenged each other to a race from Singapore’s coast to the shores of Johor. The animals that failed to cross the seas would turn to stone. None of them made it, and in their failed sea voyage the elephant and pig turned into Pulau Ubin or Stone Island while the frog became Pulau Sekudu, Isle of the Frog . Dinesh told me that a real elephant and a real tiger had both recently made it across the water to Ubin from neighbouring Johor.

It’s the last truly untouched area in Singapore, and the last one to have something like the old kampong (village) lifestyle that once formed the rural infrastructure across Singapore and the Malaysian peninsula. Ubin has lived under the cloud of planned development for decades. The threat is in temporary abeyance: back in the ‘90s the government announced plans to run the urban rail transport system across the water, fill in Ubin’s wetlands and cover the island over with housing blocks so that it became like the main island. But the outcry was so great that for now at least, it is a kind of semi-rural, day trip paradise, stranded between the towers and shipyards of Singapore and of Malaysian Johor that face each-other like parallel universes across the straights. The island has fewer than fifty inhabitants now, and the number diminishes each year, though the remaining villagers are holding out against inducements. To my fleeting eye they seemed perhaps sometimes jaded and weary as they rented us bikes and served up indifferent Kampong Chicken.

So – our day was a visual immersion and delight, with good conversation along the way as cycled through tropical forests and across grassland, and walked along the wetlands boardwalks, luxuriating in the sea breeze. Birdsong, soft greens, shaded paths with the glimpse of sea between trees – these are some of the things we saw:

This strip of kampong homes gently strong along the road in a lush forest clearing

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with the most flamboyantly eye poppingly magenta bougainvillea I think I have ever seen:

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We propped out bikes at the foot of this wonderful tree and stared upwards.

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The visitor’s centre at the Chek Jawa wetlands is this villa, the former Chief Surveyor’s holiday retreat. So strange, Weybridge Tudor in palm groves

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In the main room, facing the sea, a fireplace. We wondered if it had ever been lit.

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We followed a long boardwalk suspended above the reef, where small orange crabs with outsized single attack pincers were engaged in a state of constant internecine warfare. As I looked out across the seas north-east towards these unknown islands I really realised that I am far from home, and truly in the Tropics. Families chatted soporifically in the boardwalk pavilions in the afternoon heat.

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When we returned to the wetlands entrance we found this family of wild pigs (as well as a troop of louche macaques) rummaging nonchalantly around the bikes.

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At the top of an observation tower, where some teenagers lolled and flirted we were on eye level with the upper reaches of a mighty baobab tree

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To one side of the path we stumbled on this visual first for me, that astonishing South-East Asian, phenomenon, a lotus pond, mysterious, half magical, half sinister

ImageDinesh wanted to see the German girl’s shrine. The uncertain story is that she escaped from British soldiers who were rounding up her planter family during the First World War by jumping out  of a window, but in her terrified flight fell into one if the island’s quarries. Malay plantation workers found her body and covered it with sand and flowers as they passed by each day, until she eventually received a proper burial. This place has become a shrine, especially amongst gamblers and players of the Singapore lottery, who come with offerings of food, toys and kitsch memorabilia.

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This puppy adopted first me, then Dinesh by sheltering under our bike pedals and legs, before moving on to the next passers-by.

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As we boarded the bumboat back, the long- circling storm finally broke, and the water was peppered by salvos of warm rain as we lunged our way back to Singapore.

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Cutting up Pink Guavas while listening to Radio 4

The other day someone posted online some cool thoughts on painting by Richard Diebenkorn:

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Two of these notes jumped out. First, no. 6: ‘’ Somehow don’t be bored but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential.’’ I think that’s right, and ties in with his other notes about searching but only to find something other than what is searched for, and the dictum about not seeking a subject. I think for me at any rate, when work is going well (and it finally seems to be after lots of what has seemed like a very painful and at time seemingly purposeless struggle – or at least the language has fallen into place and it’s all lined up ready to go) – then I start off each new painting in a state of something like boredom, or perhaps more accurately, diffidence, and then gradually get sucked into the image and space and feeling and colour, through struggle; often for me a struggle with drawing, and especially drawing gesturally with paint, so that I can get the feel of  a pose, and of an individual, not illustratively but with paint’s physical fact. Maybe Gerhardt Richter makes sense when he says in an interview somewhere that he never knows when he goes into his studio each morning what he’s going to do – if he can be believed when he says this, and it does seem an unlikely proposition.

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And I also like the final note in Diebenkorn’s list, no. 10: ‘’Be careful only in a perverse way’. I’m not myself a meticulous or painstaking painter ( I can think of painter friends who interestingly are), but I think the process of pushing that approach beyond absurdity can be both compelling and compulsive. A great example, which often comes up in class, is the painter Antonio Lopez in the film documentary ‘’In the Quince Tree Sun’, who tries to describe in paint, as he does every year, with absolute precision, the fruiting quince tree he had planted in his back garden in Madrid. In the year shown in the film, if I remember, he gets stuck on a large preparatory drawing study, very carefully measured in a Euan Uglow kind of way, which he has to change constantly as time passes and the fruit ripen and swell, and the boughs bend lower with their burgeoning weight, until finally summer is over and he finds himself taping the fallen, semi-rotten quinces back onto the tree so that he can carry on working. I would take this film being in part about the rapture of his absorption in the process itself, and in part about the ultimate impossibility of painting to represent life, and the evasive slippery fluidity and of its space, forms and colour and light.

Incidentally I heard a professor of English say something rather stupid the other day in a talk about the American poet Wallace `Stevens, when she ranked poetry higher than painting because it is something like better equipped to deal with the ambiguity of experience. This was especially ironic as behind her, to illustrate Stevens’ poem about pears she had projected a slide of a Cezanne still life – with pears. Who else more deeply searched than Cezanne for a way of encompassing this ambiguity? And it’s the very perversity of painting – its attempt to capture physical, emotional or temporal reality on a two-dimensional rectangle with coloured matter – that makes it such an eternally absorbing practice, because the interface between reality and the medium’s limitations is like when  two stones rub against each-other and sparks fly.)

 

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Here is the Stevens poem itself:

Wallace Stevens, “Study of Two Pears”

I
Opusculum paedagogum.
The pears are not viols,
nudes or bottles.
They resemble nothing else.

II
They are yellow forms
Composed of curves
Bulging toward the base.
They are touched red.

III
They are not flat surfaces
Having curved outlines.
They are round
tapering toward the top.

IV
In the way they are modelled
There are bits of blue.
A hard dry leaf hangs
From the stem.

V
The yellow glistens.
It glistens with various yellows,
Citrons, oranges andn greens
Flowering over the skin.

VI
The shadows of the pears
Are blobs on the green cloth.
The pears are not seen
As the observer wills.

Of course the poem itself is in its last two lines ambiguous in interpretation.

And here is a cityscape by Diebenkorn. He caught so well San Francisco’s flat bright light and the long straight streets rising up to the ocean’s void beyond the ridge.

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It’s a sultry Friday night here and an imminent storm has been swirling overhead for a while now. Earlier I cut up some pink guavas while listening to a Radio 4 download of Alice Walker’s Desert Island Discs. It’s as good a way as any of staving off homesickness. Out of the kitchen window, lit up by lightning flashes I can see the ship in the air, which appeared a week ago down in the industrial area between us and the sea.

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A couple of nights ago we decided to walk out there and find this strange thing.  We crossed the muddy Pandan river, whose chaotic banks are lined with ship repair yards, and then through the industrial area itself, which is its own world in which everything is different. Vast factory buildings loom up above the lushest, untamed vegetation lining the storm canals, and lean wild dogs cross the streets like shadows. At the factory gates workers were waiting for buses to take them back, perhaps to dorms elsewhere in Singapore, or across the causeway to Malaysia.

The ship was further than we thought – each time we got to a corner, it moved one block away, until finally, we got to the end of a street, and there it rested, not a ship but an oil rig under construction, suspended on columns high up in the air, with tiny figures up there, looking back at us.

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After the Rain

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Yesterday the rains finally broke, wave upon wave, so that everyone came to kitchen windows and looked up skywards at the longed for event finally happening and called across the canyon between the blocks, and washing was hastily hauled inside. It rained today too, that pounding, sullen tropical thunderstorm where the rain drops down in infinite heavy rods and the air is water and nothing else, and you can hardly breathe but feel you are diving through rain and struggling for the surface. But the trees are lifting, the grass morphing green again in front of our eyes, and the tree ferns are shaking themselves up and stretching out in new green tongues.

ImageOn Friday evening I went into town to attend a book launch. On my way there I skirted along the side of the Padang, the heart of colonial Singapore, fronted by the stone palaces of past British power. Two of these, the former Supreme Court and City Hall, are currently being jointly transformed into a new National Gallery. As I passed I looked up and saw that the Royal Coat of Arms has been carefully chipped away from the stone pediment. On the edge of the Padang itself clusters of Indian construction workers, who had been working on the site, were sprawled on the grass, watching beefy and sweating expats hauling themselves across the football field. In the distance, above the rain trees, the infinity pool that sits astride the towers of the Marina Bay casino hotel shimmered in the late afternoon heat like a sleek fusillage.

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ImageThe launch was for ‘Body Boundaries’, an anthology of Womens’ writing co-edited by my friend Tania De Rozario: one of those peculiarly contradictory Singaporean events, and it is some of those contradictions I want to roam around in this post. The launch was an impressive event, with a youthful audience, a roster of readers in turn outrageous, funny and frank, held in the former colonial parliament building, and with – hard to describe, in a way, but I guess a kind of pioneer spirit. These people are, to my eyes, carving out identities, personal and artistic in a context where these things are relatively untried, and up for grabs.

ImageAfter the event I walked across the Singapore River to the Financial District to meet another friend, and we roamed around Marina Bay looking at the festival of light installations. In the night air the aroma of Western food, chips, fried chicken, burgers, meaty and greasy and pungent and rich, rose up. Chinos and loafers, laughter from bars, glamour glimpsed through foliage in soft lighting, a fake Indian street cart weaving its way through the strolling Singaporean families with Bollywoood music blaring. This is the Singapore of popular perception, international playground, glossy and glitzy and awash with money. We watched a hologram display in which beaming, running children were suspended eerily above the water, trapped in dry ice.

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ImageThis was another country, far far away from the oily noisy steamy conviviality of the hawker centre I can see across the way, and the complex community structures that make up these HDB blocks, where the cries of the neighbor-hood kids playing in the gardens rise up as I write on this steamy post-storm evening. There is real poverty in this wealthy city, especially amongst the elderly. Down the Ayer Rajah aisles, as down every hawker centre aisle in the country, trudge invisible grandmas and grandpas with heavy metal trolleys, clearing plates and wiping tables. As well as our neighbor two floors below, there is another old woman, in the kind of floppy cotton hat English ladies wear to garden, who collects cardboard. She can stoop down from standing like a sharply compressed U to scoop up boxes; these she then compresses and hauls off to her secret hiding place, one of the cavities in the concrete wall along the temple storm drain, into which she vanishes with her stash.

ImageNothing is terrible; there are safety nets and there is much much worse of course, in the slums of Jakarta and Medan and Manila, not so far away. And I’ve seen old people going through left over vegetables down Walthamstow market at the end of the day. And we tender out care, as happens here; my dad is helped each morning by Kamila who is saving up to build a house back home in Poland. Maybe here the divisions are that much more visible because life is lived so much more outdoors. In the condominium where we go to swim every morning, beautiful young Japanese mums gather with toddlers for the bus that will take their children to the Japanese School, and then they do yoga; blonde wives busy themselves with agendas and emails, and the Filipino maids pushing baby strollers around the pool pause to chat, or phone home.

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Maybe the Chicken Rice Uncle got drunk with the Chicken Wings Uncle

ImageIt’s been a while. Apart from painting in the studio, Suzanne back in London, and I here have been working hard on the exhibition project we’ve created, doing all the things you have to do now around a show these days.

So much blogging!

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 So much tweeting!

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and meetings  and emailing and grant writing. It’s all very exciting though. We’ve got together a wonderful line-up of artists, young and established from Singapore and the UK, painters, sculptors, filmmakers, dancers and writers, and we are going to bring it all together in London on June 12. Our next step – to set up a crowd funding campaign, so watch this space!

But for now, time to switch of, and think about life, and all  its sensory joys.

ImageIt’s been incredibly dry here, a drought, with no rain for something like seventy days now, and the vegetation, usually so lush and green and gorgeous, is burning up in the heat of the sun. The great tree ferns that make their home in the junctions of the rain trees are all disappearing, the grass turned brown a long time ago, and the bougainvillea that normally trails from every footbridge is fighting a rearguard battle. Even the tallest trees are struggling. Only the condominium grounds where we go to swim, watered assiduously every morning, are still lush and verdant, and the stadium sprinklers whirr throughout the day.

In the last two evenings the haze has rolled over the city, drifting over from forest fires across the causeway in Malaysia – when the monsoon winds change, it will instead flow from Sumatra. It arrives stealthily in the afternoon and from my studio window looks at first quite beautiful, like an English mist (this is a strange thing  – seen from a room or bus cooled by aircon a stretch of forest can look quite pastoral, like Kent or Oxfordshire, but once you step into its heart you are truly in the Tropics. Great black ants cross the path in a ruthless trail and the cicadas’ song all around is piercing and relentless, half majesty and half terror).

And with the haze comes the smell of burning wood, acrid and troublesome. After work we go down to the hawker centre to buy our supper and hurry back home to eat in cleaner air.

But this morning is a beautiful morning, bright and clear and the light is radiant.

ImageImageOn Sunday we walked part of the way along the Southern Ridges, from Hort Park to Bukit Chandu. After meandering through the park, which is a new educational garden design and planting resource, we passed through its further gates and crossed a large, open valley, with wooded hills on both sides on which scattered colonial bungalows still stand. The valley floor is taken up entirely by nursery beds – rows of bougainvillea, lilies and young palms. This landscape has a generosity and relaxedness about it – in this most planned of city states – that reminded me of the wealthy north-western suburbs of Nairobi, rolling and lush and bright with flame trees.

ImageBukit Chandu, where we rested, is the hill where famously brave soldiers of the Malay C Company held out for two days against greatly superior Japanese forces, finally, after running out of ammunition, in hand-to-hand combat. Those who survived were massacred.

The museum to this battle is housed in a former colonial villa. We arrived before opening hours but The Malay guard waved us through, and the ticket seller auntie passed from room to room turning on the video displays. Somehow the poignancy of the history being retold was heightened by the location, with its calm, cool verandahs and solid wooden staircase. The displays were very moving; drawings by a ten-year old Chinese boy who saw his entire family executed and himself survived bayoneting; a surviving British POW’s soft West Country voice, grappling to describe how it feels when the boundary between life and death is arbitrary and can be crossed at any instant, a Malay widow talking about her husband, lost.

ImageI’ve been trying to take some unseen shots of the Ayer Rajah hawker centre where we eat every night, so that I can describe it to you. It’s not easy; people are very alert and the chicken wings uncle has already caught me out – photography is theft!

ImageTo walk its three aisles is to me one of life’s richest experiences, so dense in detail and noise and the waft of cooking smells – Mee Soto, Mee Rebus, Hokkien Prawn Mee, Rojak, Nasi Goreng – and the clattering of utensils against woks and the whirr of fans and the blaze of neon lights, and frenzied cooking and movement and languages I cannot understand, that it is like a kind of swoon or faint. I can never remember its details or grasp it in hindsight.  The central avenue houses the Malay stalls, some of them rated amongst the highest on the island. To weave your way through the crowds, between the seated families at the end of the day and the table clearers’ trolleys and the stall owners’ staff bearing plates of food in search of their clients is to be in a speeded up super8 film, sensation piled on sensation.

The choice of delights is so great that I sometimes get anxious about deciding – a problem I’ve had since first coming to Singapore – and so panic and choose the first thing that comes to hand. But our default meal of choice, every time, is the Tom Yam made by this woman.

ImageIt is our first choice every time, and we would happily eat her soup every day, and pretty near-as-much do. It reigns supreme amongst tom yams and she knows it and she knows her power over us; it is the power of fresh fish and prawns and tom yam paste and lemon grass and lime leaves and squid and clams and steaming white rice.