Tuesday, January 1, 2013

#78. to january the first

a letter

to january the first:
good morning, new Day. you are no different from yesterday, but we make you so. i'm sorry for the pressure, you and your successors needn't live up to all these. you would be glad to know that as far as expectations go, i have none for you. freewheel into our future, Day, as i go to sleep. take me where you fancy and leave me where you wish. 

as the birthday does, the new year too says: so far, so good. all is still well.

the first pre-dawn (remnants of 2012 darkness) eased into daylight and i watched this from the backseat of a taxi home. i stood barefoot on the ground outside our door to feel the cold under the soles of my feet. i forget sometimes how nice it is to be barefoot.

the first this, the first that, the first Tuesday, the first little (tasteless) cigar, the first thing i eat, the first person i talk to... i pity these firsts. for all the fuss, they afterwards don't mean any thing more than the seconds and thirds, and they end up forgotten or -- when embarrassing -- quickly purged from conscious thought.

meanwhile, the earth keeps going on,
and i am (still)

happy new year, one and all.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

#77. an intercontinental conversation


a long-distance phone call:

"the first snow fell today," you say.
"i went to the seaside today," i say.
and in the expensive silence of that long-distance call, we each imagine magic of the other's mundane.

"i've never felt snow."
"i've never stood in the sea."
i feed more coins into the payphone, just to hear you breathe. it is the river of mark twain's voice: "why hurry? Eternity is long; the ocean can wait."

why do we carve our names in school property, force trees to accept our insignificant initials in their bark, paint big looping letters in text-message-generation handwriting in staircase landings and empty streets -- this whole life is a huge hullabaloo screaming look-at-me, listen-to-me, even though there is nothing left to say.

i found old photos of 2011 last night, and every thing is different now. i looked at them all: i watched my own hair grow, my old clothes get replaced, my thoughts shift, and i've remembered things thoroughly. it's been a long, long year. (a year to survive.)

it's always a different feeling to look at pictures of the past, and sometimes it feels that much warmer and safer and i'd gladly jump back into it all but--

          Why should I want to return
          to a time where even when I occupied that time
          I wanted to go back to another time
          more previous,
          and so on, like my head in barbershop mirrors,
          endlessly deferring to its own
          earlier version. What is the use of nostalgia?

and still
isn't it this way so often, that we invest our whole hearts in some wild distraction only for it to come to no conclusion whatsoever, carry no weight, have served no greater purpose and, in the stillness of its wake, left no mark or memory save for the thrill of the chase --
and what is left is not emptiness. the vacant space that passion once occupied will always be full.

strange world, i'll never be done with you. (please never tire of me!) 

so listen: there's a hell of a good universe next door; let's go

Friday, November 2, 2012

#76. the accumulated mishmash of thoughts from X nights spent alone in the living room

most of my thoughts disappear in the moment between thinking and writing. (and they sound smarter in my head -- they should stay there, maybe.)
but here: incoherent fragments from nights spent not sleeping--

things to write home about: clouds, days of the week, rain, people, train rides, books, pleasantries, temperature, the view out the window, current affairs, clothes, surprises, transportation, new friends, money earned, coffee, pets, calculated mischief, gossip, photographs, sleep, presents, the sea, the cold, food, double rainbows, sunsets, household matters, (selected) opinions, the fact that the post office was closed today, carnivals, matching colours, coincidences, plans, telephone call cards, choices, joy.

things not written home about: dirt, stolen photographs, late nights, buttons, empty highways, rooftops, coffee, constellations, injury, voices, the cold, unfilled time, nakedness, sweet corn on the street corner, indecision, untied shoelaces, inconveniences, poetry, drunk strangers, music, nightmares, politics, maps, little acts of arson, unsolicited advice, worry, warning signs, night skies, accidents, your cigars, mess, the road not taken, what could-have-been, certain joy.

also not written: discovering a great web spun by a spider as large as two hands, and then discovering it again in the morning after a night of the sort of rain that pays no attention to webs. (the spider gone, sad strands of the web stuck to the waterpipes.)

it was here that i wrote that postcard to you: the generic tourist postcard with scenery that i don't remember on the flip side. it's all cordial, the usual niceties, but as i sign off i know that this is the last i will write to you. how do we decide these things -- the last things? finality likes to creep.


Happy November! -- the Norway of the year, though i never knew the reason or context of this comment (probably it starts to get cold or something) -- (unrelatedly, i dreamed a few nights ago of a Norwegian winter's day -- at least in my dream i knew that it was Norway though i won't know for sure since there were no road signs or any spoken language -- and i was first alone and then in the company of three strangers, all male or seemingly so, and when i was first alone i walked past the wooden shelter of an old woman who offered me coats -- any one i preferred though they were largely similar and lined with flannel if that matters at all, and i did not take any but in the next moment was in a one-story building all made of wood, communal housing of some sort, having what seemed like breakfast though it was bright very bright outside and i walked outside abandoning the breakfast or what seemed like breakfast, and the three strangers came with me, and snow began to fall, and it was cold -- a surprise even though we must know that snow would be cold -- and every thing was bright, such great bright white light that swallowed everyone like some warm invisible blanket against the cold, and we had a camera but could not take pictures of ourselves and every thing was perfect, silent, and safe, and we laughed even though we couldn't hear ourselves, and we started spinning and we could have flown if not for our boots (it did feel like i was flying, at least, since someone threw me in the air at some point of our merriment) -- a nice dream to end the spate of terrible dreams i've had those late october days. the kind of dream that says: it's over, and now it begins--)

word of the day: ひきこもり (hikikomori) -- the literal translation: "pulling inward" / what the Japanese call reclusive adolescents, i.e. me, by some measure. any excuse for action is always met with some reason against it. that trip to the post office has been delayed by a month now. also, hikikomori sounds very edible. much like a mochi. yes, you're reading the 5AM thoughts of someone who just spent 6 hours perusing back issues of the National Geographic and re-reading the prose of a rambling man. (no, i am joking, but yes, i hope to get out a little more in the coming days-! -- that exclamation point looks sadly out-of-place, but full-stops are taken as too solemn these days. it is more appropriate to end all sentences and questions with exclamation points, so people don't think something's wrong and ask you if you're okay !!! !!!  -- p.p.s.  i want to watch The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which i've put off for a few weeks. i'll walk up to the ticket booth some weekday in the near future, ask for the movie, and the part-timing girl with the red streaks in her hair will say unenthusiastically "the last screening was yesterday". such is life!)   !!!

Monday, October 1, 2012

#75. in the middle way (twenty-one)

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres

Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

So here we are, after celebrating my birthday with Mom, Dad and Benji in Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh and ... where else!, i'll go to Taipei tonight, with no plans but to see what there is to see (like the sailor that went to sea, in that song) - and why not, because as Omi says,
"After all, God made the whole Earth, and he did not say 'Stay here'." Wish me luck, friends~! It's been such fun!
(Thank you for the fun this month, Papa Alfie and Omi!)

(Happy birthday, i'm twenty-one!)

Monday, September 24, 2012

#74. Eighth of September

September 8 is the 252nd day this leap year. (There are 114 days remaining till New Year's Eve - the forever question: how will i spend it.)

This day, Today, was a brimming glass.
This day, Today, was an immense wave.
This day was all the Earth.
This day, the storm-driven ocean
lifted us up in a kiss
so exalted we trembled
at the lightning flash
and bound as one, fell,
and drowned, without being unbound.
This day our bodies grew
stretched out to Earth’s limits,
orbited there, melded there
to one globe of wax, or a meteor’s flame.
A strange door opened, between us,
and someone, with no face as yet,
waited for us there.
                                September 8th - Pablo Neruda  


You write me from the past and tell me frivolous things. (We are frivolous people.) But i sort my mail in stacks of "to read again" and "to forget", and your words go to the latter -- until i chance upon the stack again and re-live the disappointment of the missing words in the space before you signed your name.

This colour reminds me of you, you say, this song, and these things are souvenirs of late nights and stray thoughts. And tomorrow you will dedicate my favourite poem to the girl next door.

You were right, Sartre, l'enfer, c'est les autres, Hell is other people.

P.S. A comic by Sam Alden that i am liking very much:


(P.S. In a few days i shall be twenty and one -- properly over that transitory age between the ages. I didn't think i'd be here so quick. There are still many things i have yet to do. I think this is the trick: never be truly finished with the world, or the game's over. Also, if there exists such a boat as in the comic above, i'd like to take a ride sometime. Just for the fun~!)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

#73. August

august coming around again marks my second year taking part in the august poetry festival, so this month i'm sending out a poem a day on the back of a postcard, to thirty-two people. isn't that wonderful? (who doesn't love postcards!)

here's my second postcard (in true form, i only got down to this a day late... some things will never change)

(looking at clouds from above ... on the way somewhere, New Year 2012 - the picture i didn't know would actually develop, taken on a camera i did not know worked) 

things have changed from shiny new January 2012... sometimes it feels like there's no control of this spiral towards the future. (and every new year, a new shiny whirlpool with the false promise of newness - we're all just vessels of our pasts and this only gets heavier!) who is the invisible screenwriter of this all... and the plot thickens, everyone!

I remember wishing I could be boiled like water
and made pure again. Desire
so real it could be outlined in chalk. 
Disasterology/Jeffrey McDaniel

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

#72. First day

4.48AM, almost the full moon, and i'm very much alive. (it is the first day of the rest of my life)

it's here- the pre-dawn moment where you think about every little matter that doesn't make a difference. like the newspaper that just made a sound on the doorstep (left by the invisible man i imagine to wear lots of grey and perhaps black slippers, who has a bald patch on his head and one long fingernail; he licks his thumb before picking up another stack; it's all mechanical); also, like the lao po bing (wife biscuit?) snacks i thought my mother would share with me (they sit in their box on the table, two white plastic plates empty too beside them, because i forgot about wanting to eat them); most of all, like the voices rendered unrecognisable by time (how different, looking back) and the footsteps i would no longer recognise (they belong to you).

it's the first day of august. i don't know if i am alright at the present moment, but i know that i will be alright tomorrow. i touch the back of my head and think about my hair. i want to cut it, but i'll leave it be because somehow it feels nice tonight (this remark probably fits right in with "you smell nice today", which isn't all that socially apt). i went looking for a cup of water in the kitchen, but drank from the tap instead.

(  Re.: drinking from the tap; isn't it great that we can do that here? --

here: a nice place to be; but where exactly-
there looks nice too, and over yonder equally appealing
but i have some favourite here's and some dreams of there's   ) but nowhere really that i need to go.

 (where i would prefer to be at this moment- not a favourite but a happy , chilly , sweet-smelling place to be)

i have many things to say: things that annoy me; things that i want to do; things that i do not know and want to know; things that i want to know but will never know (for i can never ask); things that i want to tell people (like silencio)

a conversation that repeats itself no matter who you ask:

"do you think you'll ever win the lottery?"
"it's a nice thought"
"what would you do with it? the money"
"everything, there are so many things i would do. i would quit this job"


"but i'd rather be working for a paycheck
than waiting to win the lottery"

(decision of the moment: what will i do with the rest of my life? - a decision best not made in a pre-dawn daze)

"i'm glad i didn't die before i met you" - my favourite line from this song, that i think i could say to just about everybody.

5.17AM, kim and nick have to be up for school soon. i'd best make meself scarce. do you think i can make it into bed before mom gets up? i'd say the odds are not quite in my favour.

i work the afternoon shift today. ~daylight hours~

5.23AM, i just don't feel like taking a shower, and all i want to know is what my horoscope says in the newspaper on our doorstep. (i will not go and find out)

over! -

suppose i've now fallen asleep and am dreaming that funny recurring dream in which i stare down at the sleeves of a blue sweater i do not own in real life, and grow increasingly bothered that the right sleeve is slightly looser than the left one (so it will go, i will stare at my wrists and those sleeves until i wake up)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

#71. a birthday

june 1 -- it's marilyn monroe's birthday today
isn't she cool? i like her very much.
also, i don't know what it is about these pictures that make me want to look at them for a long, long time.
she's such a caricature

and also so fragile

and enough of a mystery to keep people guessing

she's read books i haven't got round to reading (james joyce, albert camus, anton chekhov, freud are all in a huge library she left behind) -- i've always thought about how people get smart. i'm sure it isn't university, university students don't impress me (then again i never went, and surely they are pretty clever) and she had quite a wit and wrote quite some poetry and i think she had a lot of fun

my love sleeps besides me—
in the faint light— I see his manly jaw
give way— and the mouth of his
boyhood returns
with a softness softer
its sensitiveness trembling
in stillness
his eyes must have look out
wonderously from the cave of the little
boy—when the things he did not understand—
he forgot

with Arthur Miller
but will he look like this when he is dead
oh unbearable fact inevitable
yet sooner would I rather his love die
than/or him?
                    -marilyn monroe

also, i like this song

1., 3., 4., 5. Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Misfits - © Eve Arnold / Magnum Photos
2. Marilyn Monroe in NYC - © Elliott Erwitt / Magnum Photos

Saturday, May 5, 2012

#70. Followed by a moonshadow

Tonight the moon - the fullest full moon of the year (May's Milk Moon) - will be 356,955 km away from Earth (as says The Internet), and we've secured window seats (by online check-in) for prime views of this spectacle! (We leave Rome today at 1640 local time, and will set foot in Doha at around 2330 or so - just when the moon starts to swell.

Time passes so quickly when every thing is new! Just a month ago, Mimi and I were navigating the streets of Willesden Green, asking for street names (thanks to my cleverly having only a vague memory of the address of our destination, but not admitting this of course). And then returning to the street at night, there was a new planet showing up bright in the sky - i'm not sure which planet, but it's been right there. And the moon was full. "A full moon tonight, Mimi, and it will be full when we get back home, too" i said, which prompted her to compare me to some ancient creature telling time by the phases of the moon. Oh c'mon, I said, and we bundled our stuff out of the chilly night and into the warmth of the cabin. It was less than 10 degrees out, I think, that first night! Too chilly!

And since then, we've been keeping time by the moon. And he makes his appearance around 6 or 7 in the evening, and hangs nice and big and pale as the sky darkens -- quite a sight especially in the recent week!

We've spent the last few weeks roaming with no particular aim other than to get to Rome today. (And Mimi has stopped asking "What's the plan for today?")

There have been many hours spent gazing out of slow old train windows -

Mimi on the 70000 Britannia steam train in England

Many evenings spent watching sunsets from famous bridges and counting love padlocks on the grilles... (not adding to them, of course, Mimi strongly disapproves!)  --- that's the view from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

Doing things you can never do on high-speed rail ... sticking heads out the windows and waving at the conductor or the other passengers. And flashing a thumbs-up to the little boy with the goggles three coaches ahead, who nods purposefully with the wind in his hair.

Visiting ancient sites - one of our favourite pictures of the both of us.

Watching seagulls at seaside towns.
(And giggling when they attack hapless fools who leave their picnics out! "Giggle? You were guffawing!!!" says Mimi)

And getting to the top of all the domes and belfries we could (the weather always seemed to turn out this way: blustery. And Mimi would scream HELP HELP HELP all the way down the tiny stairwells!)

And there's lots of things we don't have pictures to show for... like ... attempting to see the Pope at the Vatican!  (Well at least we scored two orange invitations to his Wednesday audience... which ... we did not make it to! Oops, sorry Papa :P)

We can't believe we're going home so soon! (There are more pictures, of course, but they are snug in my harddrive!) But Mimi of course is looking forward to Chinese dinner at the airport, and finally not having the false choice of 20 different types of pizza --- hahahaha!

We had SO MUCH pizza, and critiqued every one of them - strangely the one we liked best was in Amsterdam, and we had dinner there three nights in a row! - but this is one of the only pictures i could find for now ... working quickly because Mimi is getting impatient (to tell the truth all I want to do is charge my iPod, which is connected to her computer!!! this blog post is but an alibi!!!) hahahhahaha, she has no idea.

From our couch in Rome before we catch the taxi,
Mel and Mimi~ (^_^)v

Thursday, March 22, 2012

#69. decisions of the night

spring presents itself (a foreign thing)
and i don't know how to approach it -- i'm never good at choosing

but choice is time travel: i remember the night where in some state of crazed panic i watched myself grab my favourite clothes from the cupboard, take the passport, half manage to pack a bag, search online for the earliest flight to Anywhere (should i go for familiarity? old friends or strangers? which city would i most likely be able to find a job, which city would be the last place they'd look? which country would be big enough to hide me? could i leave the city of arrival without having to cross borders -- they wouldn't find me this way. should i take the thick jacket? jeans. i don't have jeans.) "you can go anywhere!" said my crazed heart, at the height of it all, "there is always a way out!" no, the world is too big, i could never walk to the ends of it. that night, i put the mismatched assortment of nonsense back where they came from. i went to bed in a familiar place.

tonight: paris? should i go to paris? should i go to paris where i will be alone?

it is newly spring. i could be anywhere!

it is a new moon tonight. where should i go with these borrowed days? i shouldn't waste a gift.

i imagine this may sound completely stupid, and maybe i don't understand the theory behind this at all but i've been thinking about the many worlds interpretation of Schrodinger's cat a lot this past month. (Schrodinger's cat -- A cat, is placed in a sealed box with a flask containing a poison and a radioactive source... more here.)

in the many worlds interpretation, every event marks a "split" in reality (i don't know if this is the word to use here) -- the cat is alive and dead at the same time, even before the box is opened, but the "alive" and "dead" cats exist in different parts of the universe or whatever you may call this place, but both cats are real - both the dying and the staying alive happened; there are two ends to the story - but the two cats cannot interact with each other. 

i've always thought about things this way: that part of me has gone one way and the other has gone this way, and so no matter which way i step, i will always be alright - one part of me will always survive and there are never really any wrong moves, right? but what if this is for real: what has happened to the Other Me?

February 20, 2012, i wrote a postcard to a friend: Today i woke up early, was on time for all my appointments, looked up at the sun through the clouds, and felt for once how lucky i was to be right here. 

i don't want to revisit old memories in order to feel the urgency of a decision. i suppose one month is enough of contemplation. everything is over, everything will move on.

unrelatedly, my passport turned three years old on February 16 :) i forgot at all to celebrate this, but all's well. there is always next year. (i'm counting on next year!)

Israel Kamakawiwoʻole's version of What a Wonderful World is always my favourite (it came on my iPod the other day half way through my long walk home), but this version by David Attenborough makes everything so clear. Life is nice :)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

#68. i wrote this for you

i need you to understand something. i wrote this for you. i wrote this for you and only you. everyone else who reads it, doesn’t get it. they may think they get it, but they don’t. this is the sign you’ve been looking for. you were meant to read these words.

('i wrote this for you' - click through for a blog i love)

"who are you writing about?" asks the girl with the big boobs in class, "is this fact or fiction?"

it is June 2010. we are talking about my writing assignment. i do not know how to reply, i may as well have said "your breasts are distracting, please put them away", but i know for sure - i write these things for you. you are fact and fiction at the same time. i imagine you to still be here (i carry your heart says e e cummings - do you carry mine?)

did i write this for you or about you? it is a toast to our memory. (we did not toast on our last night together. we drank cheap bottles of beers with finality.)

i'll answer it now: i write this all for you.

but you are an enigma: you're him and her, you're here and away, you're gone and you're next to me. waking up in the night, the moles on the back of your bare back are a child's game of connect-the-dots, but your breath and your dreams are out of reach. you're here today, someone else tomorrow. and i'm in love with all of you.

every thing we write is a love story, isn't it?

but who are you, who am i?

i wake up at four in the morning, knowing you are leaving. i hear you zip up your baggage outside the room. i imagine the sleep still under your eyes. i remember your hand on my shoulder, your voice - awkward in the past-midnight silence - "go to sleep". i do not sleep. i wait for the click of the door. i tiptoe to the bathroom and take a shower. time goes on.

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am. - Sylvia Plath

Sunday, February 12, 2012

#67. Up, up and away!

If you're reading this, it is quite likely that I don't have access to the Internet. It is also very likely that I have no want for the Internet, because I'm somewhere watching the sun rise together with dozens and dozens of hot air balloons!

There were many video links of generic hot air balloons set to the music Up Up and Away but let's go with the funny dance moves :P

Happy Sunday, everybody!

P.S. I hear there'll be fireworks tonight!

Friday, February 10, 2012

#66. Roaming in an hour

Presents for friends.

Destiny itself is like a wonderful wide
tapestry in which every thread is guided
by an unspeakably tender hand, placed
beside another thread, and held and
carried by a hundred others.

One hour to go, my worldly possessions for the next week or so are strewn across the dining table. Blouses, soap, brown paper bags tied up in string, etc etc...  Camera, hairclips (two because one may inevitably snap), notebook. Music.

How do you decide what to bring? This is something I never know for sure. Things will work themselves out.

Mental note to self: take down the address of our meeting place.

And iPhone charger, yes, I need that!

I'm off to catch some hot air balloons, isn't that great? I've waited four years!

Postcards will be sent :)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

#65. Where to go?

There are 48 countries in Asia. I've been to 8 or 10, depending if you want to count Hong Kong and Taiwan as part of China or separate (I'd go for separate, they are so different). Statehood is a sticky issue, let's not talk about that! (I'm no geographer, so moving along...)
When the first thought of travel came to mind (and the first chance presented itself upon leaving school), Asia was the easiest choice -- after all, the cheapest flights around the region take off from right here, Singapore! There are 3.879 billion people on this continent, that's 3.879 billion and counting people to meet, and that's more than 60% of the entire human race! Friends galore!

Today on Twitter...

The best places aren't listed in the Lonely Planet guides you inherit in hostels, they catch you by surprise! (And there are as yet so many places I want to go in Asia!)

Some recent good surprises:

1. The Rainbow Village - Taichung, Taiwan

I took a chance on this one, knowing that transport would be hit and miss, since this is off the usual bus routes and in a town a little further from main Taichung city. I ended up making new friends which led to more exploration. More here.

2. Ri Xing Letterpress - Taipei, Taiwan

Finding the shop that houses the very last set of Chinese letterpress characters was a great thing! Much like a treasure hunt, I didn't think I'd find it, and found it on my last day in the city. More about it here.

3. Post offices and bookstores

Gosh, the Saigon post office is by far the prettiest I've seen... but I love post offices and bookshops and make it a point to check them out no matter where I go... They're always different and tell certain things about the country.

If you want a postcard, send your address my way, I always write a few.

Look what I found in a small bookstore in Taiwan!

Divorce application forms! Oh my! I didn't know at first, because I only recognised the Chinese character for 'Marriage' (婚)and I asked the bookstore lady, and she looked at me suspiciously... "Hmm... Why do you ask..." she said. "Just curious, I can't read it!" I reply. She looks shocked, didn't I go to school?! After all, I was speaking Mandarin! "The traditional characters look different," I say by way of excuse. And she tells me, "Divorce papers! This is a convenient country!" And she smiles. Yeah, you can find everything in that bookstore!

More on bookstores and cafes soon, I chanced on a good number that I spent a great deal of time in!

4. Train travel

My train journeys have been few, but I managed to hop on the final train from KL to Singapore's historic Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, so that's one for bragging rights~

On my list of Asian trips to make: Singapore to Bangkok, Singapore to Russia (gotta get me some Matryoshkas!), Train through Vietnam, Train through Taiwan (and I don't mean High Speed Rail!)


It was pretty dandy, though, the HSR, it gets you places in a jiffy, literally! No 3-hour bus rides (though I love those) and I was amused by this sign of the explorations you could make while inside the train:

And who can forget the memorable hours gladly "wasted" in a cosy bar with new friends - or old friends - or friends made long ago and chanced upon again! Or nights spent getting lost while looking for 24-hour pho. I think the best places in Asia and the places I really want to go are the places that find us when we get there!


Monday, January 30, 2012

#64. Ri-Xing Letter Casting Firm (日星鑄字行)

I've got a thing for letter press and typefaces and all that jazz, so when I hear that the very last collection of the complete set of Chinese typefaces is right here in Taipei, gosh I have to hunt this down!! So the idea of visiting the little shop behind Taipei Train Station sat at the back of my mind for all seven days that I was in the city and I half-forgot about it... Until my last day in the city (final chances always make you realise the things you really want to know!) and I wandered about down a lane after taking a bus that took me to the Train Station (which is quite impressive, at that! - mental note to self to take a train trip through Taiwan! Tell me about it, I love trains...)

And I chanced upon this little museum (whoops I've lost the iPhone photo of it ...) and made friends with a girl there who told me about how she'd visited Singapore before and I think we were the same age. Her name was Li Xi. We were talking for awhile and I told her about my typewriter (because there was a toy typewriter in her museum) and we talked about letterpress and I asked if she by any chance would know Ri Xing... and a lady at the back of the hall perks up and says "What did you say again? You are looking for...?" And when I say the name of the shop she smiles like it's a secret and I've told this story before but anyway I end up along the correct alley/lane/whatever they call it and right on track for Ri Xing! The lady boss marvels at the weight of my bag - my typewriter is in it - and asks where all my other things are?! "Are these all of your things!" (I am only carrying one bag) And then she tells me not to carry too heavy things. She leaves me alone to take pictures.

I spot a small printing machine in her shop, and I say oh my gosh! I've spotted one already at the Red House museum (a picture of that machine is up there!! *points up*)
And she says her little printing machine doesn't work any more. (I'd missed scoring one by half an hour at the antique store in Taichung, but I wasn't too bothered because I'd no way to take it home anyway. The guy was impressed and said he'd save one for me if I wanted it.)

Here's more photos, also of the machine displayed at the Red House...

So here it was: the very last traditional Chinese letter casting set in the WORLD! How can I contain it all! These characters have been around for some five thousand years, and the movable typeface for Chinese characters was invented way before the Gutenberg letterpress!   

 Discarded moulds - there are a few for really tiny letters!!!

 Shelves and shelves of type! They range from really tiny to font size about 20?

Scooter in the middle of the shop

 The engraving machine - which wasn't in use when I visited (a Saturday or Sunday, I don't recall... but if you go during opening hours you probably get to see this in use!)

 I ask her who the little boy is, and she says it is their son, and he is the same age as me, in university

A good reminder: "As you sow, so should you reap"

Ri Xing's owner Mr. Chang has made it his life goal to preserve the letter cast moulds and create new moulds for the set (because the old ones would have been worn out) before the shop gets turned into a museum. (I don't want it to be a museum!!! I want to walk about and feel things and still have a guy there to call "lao ban" - boss - and to hear the stories about things and to talk about all sorts of things with the lady at the counter!) 

Anyway, he's set up a whole “Duplicate Typeface Engraving Plan” and gathered a bunch of volunteers to help. They scan all 1.68 million typefaces and "edit" them - removing little cracks that allow the ink to seep outside of the accurate printing space - to make new moulds.
While I was there, some volunteers were working on a computer with a whole lot of printed characters on the floor, and a bucket of white paint. They were editing the edges of all the characters to make them as accurate as ever. 

Pssst, they have a blog here: http://rixingtypography.blogspot.com/ :)

If you want to pop by...
日星鑄字行 (Ri-Xing Letter Casting Firm)
Address:台北市太原路97巷13號 (Tai-Yuan Road, Lane 97, #13, Taipei, Taiwan).
Tel: (02) 2556–4626
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