equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
30 Oct 06

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We were watch­ing Boogie Nights, and in the movie, Scotty’s wasted at the New Year’s party. He tries to kiss Dirk, but Dirk throws him off. I asked her if she knew Scotty was gay. Until that point, I thought he never gave off any such sign.

Of course”, she said.

How could you tell?”. I had to ask, because I couldn’t tell. I’ve watched Boogie Nights with dozens of peo­ple before, and they’ve all asked if Scotty was gay before it even got to this scene. It must have been the 20th time I’ve seen this movie, but I still didn’t see what so many oth­ers did. My gay­dar can’t be that bad, I thought to myself.

Just from the way Scotty looks at Dirk all dreamy”.

Dreamy? So Scotty wasn’t being par­tic­u­larly flam­boy­ant, he was sim­ply attracted to Dirk. It was obvi­ous to every­one but me.

Then I recalled Pat telling me a few years ago that a cer­tain girl liked me. He didn’t have some kind of inside knowl­edge, he said he could tell just from the way she looked at me. I never believed him, of course, because I had no inkling of such an mes­sage. I never believed him until she gave me a writ­ten confession.

It made me won­der, am I that obliv­i­ous? More impor­tantly, do I ever give myself away, do I ever make myself so vul­ner­a­ble, with such a look?

It took me almost a year to be com­fort­able enough to pho­to­graph Jenn (let alone get­ting over being so tongue-tied around her), because I was afraid of being too trans­par­ent. I always thought that by ask­ing to take her pic­ture, every­one could see how attracted I was to her. I would go around Aaron’s par­ties and pho­to­graph any­one but her. Now I real­ize that in doing so, I prob­a­bly gave myself away.

It’s scary to think that peo­ple may read me so eas­ily from sub­con­scious body lan­guage. A girl­friend once said that her mom asked how she would feel if I asked her out, about a month before I did. To this day I won­der how her mom knew I would. All we did was have din­ner together on Sunday’s. Did I steal glances from across the table? Did I look away when she looked at me? Did I lose myself in her face and stare?

Am I that transparent?

I’d like to think that I can hide such things, but how can I when I don’t even rec­og­nize what it is I’m doing.

How can I hide my heart, when I don’t even know that I wear it on my sleeve?

27 Oct 06

My Cat Can Beg

Before giv­ing her food, I use to ask Dolly to shake or beg or give paw, and she’d lift one paw up (always her right one) for me. Now she’s asso­ci­ated the paw-lifting action with being fed, so she skips the step of me say­ing any­thing and auto­mat­i­cally does it.

She’ll do any­thing for food really.

23 Oct 06

An Intimate Morality


A voice calls me into the back from the wait­ing room.

As I get up, I notice that her eyes are dark against her fair skin, almost black. They’re pierc­ing, but gen­tle, never intim­i­dat­ing. Her face is kind and wel­com­ing, full of youth, like the younger sis­ter of your girlfriend.

I fol­low. Her hair is pulled back in a neat, braided pony­tail. Wrapped around the curves of her body is her den­tal gown, and she looks like a small, ster­ile pack­age of energy. She asks the usual ques­tions, speak­ing with unri­valed con­fi­dence. It’d be intim­i­dat­ing as well, if it wasn’t for the con­trol in her voice.

Even after I’m seated in the chair and the ultra­sonic scaler starts to whirr, I’m sur­pris­ingly calm. The unique buzzing, spin­ning, squirt­ing, suck­ing sounds begin their symphony.

She rests her fore­arm on my chest for lever­age as she works on the posteriors.

With her breasts pressed tightly against my head, she stays like this, com­fort­able in this posi­tion, as she cleans.

I start to won­der how appro­pri­ate it is, if any­one has ever spo­ken out. Or have they not had the heart, like me?

I feel objectified.

As she works, she makes one-sided small-talk, say­ing every word with con­vic­tion. With her tools in my mouth, I answer only in mum­bled pos­i­tives and neg­a­tives. She goes along the arch sys­tem­at­i­cally, molar to molar, lin­gual to buccal.

I want to see her eyes again, to take a closer look at what struck me first. To avoid mak­ing an obvi­ous, dart­ing glance, I pre­emp­tively look where her eyes will be soon as she fol­lows her pre­dictable path, and wait.

Her eyes arrive, and I look away. It’s too uncom­fort­able. I’m peer­ing into the world of another who’s dis­tracted, not return­ing my gaze.

Her phys­i­cal inti­macy was inno­cent, I assume.

Mine may have been less so.

20 Oct 06

The Gerry Project

Thumbnail: Gerry 1

Thumbnail: Gerry 2

This is Gerald, or Gerry as he prefers, an alum­nus of my high-school, Upper Canada College.

Gerry was born in Germany, but being a German-Jew, he soon moved to Holland in the years lead­ing up to the Second World War. “My father was rather pre­scient”, he put it. Eventually, he came to Canada. For four years, he attended UCC, grad­u­at­ing in 1940. I was in the class of ’99. After a year at uni­ver­sity, he vol­un­teered for mil­i­tary ser­vice at 19.

19?”, I asked in dis­be­lief. With a smile on his face, he told me, “You grow up fast”.

He began as a com­mis­sioned offi­cer for an artillery unit. Responsibility of the lives of many men under his com­mand was some­thing he didn’t want, but his knowl­edge of German, Dutch, and English moved him to a more prefer­able posi­tion as an inter­ro­ga­tion offi­cer. His supe­ri­ors would send him co-ordinates of intel­li­gence to gather, some­times behind German lines, some­times in a downed tank, and a pri­vate would drive him in a jeep to obtain the information.

He sur­vived.

From left to right, his medals are:

His proud­est accom­plish­ment is the Maltese cross he wears on his chest — The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, pre­sented by the Governor General her­self. Even though he’s a com­man­der of the order, sec­ond only to knights or dames, he’s extremely mod­est about it. The framed award pre­sented to him lies in a pile of assorted things in his bedroom.

I first met Gerry a few days ago, after find­ing out about him from the bi-annual newslet­ter pub­lished by UCC. The newslet­ter, called Old Times, is a way for alumni, called Old Boys, to keep track of the goings’ on at the College. There was an arti­cle about the school’s prized Victoria Cross medal col­lec­tion being pre­sented to the new Canadian War Museum here in Ottawa. These were the same medals I walked by in the front hall dis­play case every day at school, too young to appre­ci­ate their his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance. Gerry was one of the vet­er­ans invited to attend the pre­sen­ta­tion ceremony.

However, my inter­est in Gerry stemmed from a dif­fer­ent sec­tion in the same issue of the newslet­ter, announc­ing a photo con­test open to all past and present stu­dents. The con­test seemed like a great project, not only as a way to prac­tice my pho­to­graphic skills, but to test myself as well. I would have to find a sub­ject related to the school in some way. Gerry, being an Ottawa-area Old Boy, was my clos­est con­nec­tion. Taking pic­tures of some­one, let alone some­one I had never met before, was a daunt­ing idea, and I would have to step out of my com­fort zone to do it.

After look­ing up his name in the phone­book and gath­er­ing up the courage, I called Gerry. He was happy to meet.

I’ll be sub­mit­ting the sec­ond photo.

Update: Here are the results of the project.

16 Oct 06

Mom Threw Out My Weed

The woman likes to clean.

I mean, I clean my house when I have guests, but every time she would visit, she could go over what I did and get things cleaner. Everything. Like hand-scrubbing the bath­tub. Or wash­ing the glass light-fixtures. Or maybe even to going through my freezer to throw out old frost-burned food and odd-looking, pungent-smelling dried herbs with red hairs in them, kept in an air-tight alu­minum jar.

Herbs you could roll in cig­a­rette fash­ion and smoke to alter your mood and change your per­spec­tive. About $70–$80 worth, kept in three dif­fer­ent Ziploc bags, each with a dif­fer­ent strain that I could choose when I felt that my tol­er­ance to one was build­ing up.

There was hydro from BC I bought off Matt. Some that John got for me, with a funny story behind how he acquired it. Some I don’t even remem­ber who gave me.

I won­der what the expres­sion was on her face if she smelled it, or how she would react if she ever found out that I did such things. I doubt she even knew what it was.

It was prob­a­bly for the best. Even though I quit, I never threw it out.

I don’t think I could bring myself to do it.

13 Oct 06

Dusting Myself Off Like I Just Stole Third

Thumbnail: Green tea ice cream
Thumbnail: Bronwen with Dolly
Thumbnail: Pumpkins for sale
Thumbnail: Bandit
Thumbnail: Quebec view
Thumbnail: Speciality sushi
Thumbnail: Autumn leaf
Thumbnail: Crab claws
Thumbnail: Sarah
Thumbnail: War memorial
Thumbnail: Spicy pork soup
Thumbnail: Olaf

More than a crazy week, I man­aged to sur­vive a crazy fort­night. Something went wrong almost every day, from get­ting my hair high­lighted, to almost get­ting killed in a near-miss car acci­dent, to find­ing out that my com­pany was bought out. On top of this, I kept los­ing sleep, which only expo­nen­ti­ated the stress. Now is the process of pick­ing myself up and dust­ing myself off.

I still feel over-stimulated, so I’ve been her­mi­tiz­ing. Staying away from peo­ple for a while. I’m lim­it­ing myself to one social inter­ac­tion or extra-curricular activ­ity per week. It would actu­ally be noth­ing if I had the option, but I keep get­ting pulled into things because of their annual exclu­siv­ity, such as Thanksgiving din­ner at Louise’s.

I’ve cut off the woman who gave birth to me. There’s a tremen­dous feel­ing of relief, after hav­ing done it. I’m grate­ful for all the sup­port that peo­ple are show­ing me, as well as the fact that none of them have given me advice as if they know more about the sit­u­a­tion or have more wis­dom than I do.

I hold Pat’s opin­ion in high­est regard because he’s the only one who under­stands from both a cul­tural and first-hand point-of-view. He was also the only one who told me, “Good for you”. This, from one of the most for­giv­ing, car­ing peo­ple that I know, con­firmed to me that I made the right decision.

John offered a unique per­spec­tive too, since los­ing his mother at a ten­der age. “You only get one”, he said, although he never chided or judged me about it, per­haps because of the num­ber of times I’ve called him up in tears because of her.

Of the last five times I’ve tried to play table ten­nis, things didn’t work out once. It cer­tainly made the last two weeks a lot more dif­fi­cult to handle.

Table ten­nis is the only thing that helps me sleep well, not to men­tion the fact exer­cise releases endor­phines that fight the exact depres­sion I was going through. I’m tak­ing it as a sign that I’m not meant to play at the moment, so I’m giv­ing it up until next year.

In the mean­time, I’ve taken up Tai Chi. Through the last while, I went back to the Tao Te Ching look­ing for answers, and it renewed my inter­est in Tai Chi, which I see as a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of the the­ory. I was also able to clar­ify a few of the con­cepts with my uncles while they were here, so I’m read­ing things over with a fresh perspective.

10 Oct 06

Letter To My Mother

You didn’t know it, but for years I’ve come close to burn­ing the bridge with you. It was a heavy step to take, because in doing so, I knew that I would never be able to go back on such a dras­tic decision.

I appre­ci­ate all the finan­cial sup­port you’ve pro­vided. It’s been more than I can ask for. Unfortunately, what I wanted and needed the most was emo­tional support.

I’ve always played the role of the sub­mis­sive son. Your boy who’s always done what you wanted and agreed with what you said. When we exchanged tears on the phone in August, I let you know how poorly I was treated grow­ing up. I’ve always put up with it, but the way you acted last week was the straw that broke the camels back. I keep giv­ing you a chance, over and over. Seeing you over those few days was the last one. Even if you say now that you can change, the risk isn’t worth it. The poten­tial mis­ery, frus­tra­tion, and anguish you may cause me aren’t worth it.

Normally, I would be sen­si­tive about the tim­ing — the fresh divorce, the tran­si­tion — but I don’t care any­more. I’ve put my feel­ings aside my whole life. You pushed me too far, and now I have to con­sider myself.

Don’t con­tact me again. Not even if some­one dies. Any calls, mes­sages, e-mails will be ignored. This is not an easy or a brash deci­sion for me, a deci­sion I’ve made after cool­ing off and calm­ing down, but from my point of view it’s for the best.

You give me noth­ing but pain and money, and the money doesn’t mean a thing.

From now on, I don’t have a mother.

And you don’t have a son.

06 Oct 06

A Place To Stay

Thumbnail: Scratch sand 1

Thumbnail: Scratch sand 2

Gua sha, or sand scratch­ing, he calls it.

I’m already sob­bing. The cul­mi­na­tion of another week of stress and lack of sleep. One dis­ap­point­ment after another.

With the bowl of a porce­lain Chinese soup spoon, he scrapes the mus­cles along the back of my neck.

This causes rup­ture of the small sub-dermal cap­il­lar­ies (petechia) and may result in sub-cutaneous bruis­ing (ecchymosis).

According to Chinese med­ical prac­ti­tion­ers, the inter­nal tox­ins in the blood are released and cir­cu­la­tion is improved.

Before con­tin­u­ing down my shoul­ders, he rubs on some Vic’s VapoRub. It lubri­cates the process, cools the skin to ease the burn­ing dis­com­fort, a mix of east­ern and west­ern tech­niques. The patch he rubs turns a muddy mix of red and gar­net, and from this he tells me that I’m work­ing too hard. I have to look after myself bet­ter. Relax every day. Take an hour to exer­cise or walk. The first step to a healthy mind is a healthy body. The colour indi­cates that I have a lot of tox­ins built up in my body.

The darker it is, the more it’s sup­posed to hurt, but I feel nothing.

I take a sip from the mug that he hands me, full of pale yel­low liq­uid. It burns going down. Flavourless, but maybe that’s just the congestion.

It’s spicy”, I mum­ble, no longer speak­ing Chinese. It’s too much on my mind. I need to express myself with­out limitations.

It’s just ginger-water. If you can’t take it, you can add some sugar.”

I don’t reply. The unas­sum­ing con­sommé raises the inter­nal tem­per­a­ture, killing the sick air. To quell the spasms in my chest, I take slower, deeper breaths. It doesn’t work.

I admire you, uncle. One day I hope to be a father like you.”

He breathes a short but heavy sigh. I can tell that these words pain him more than any­thing else I’ve said. He tells me, in Chinese, “Uncle doesn’t make a lot of money. I make sure I spend a lot of time at home”.

I like you, uncle. I hope that no mat­ter what hap­pens, we can still be friends.”

No mat­ter what hap­pens, you’ll always have a place to stay with us in Hong Kong.”

01 Oct 06

Family Tied

Over ten years ago, I lived at my aunt’s house for about four months in the sum­mer. Much of my mater­nal fam­ily was vis­it­ing from Hong Kong, so every­one stayed there as a cen­tral location.

One day my par­ents had a blow-out. It was triv­ial, as always. As a result, from my mom’s side of the story, he went out with another woman that night. From his side, my mom tried to kill him with a steak knife. It cut his fin­ger to the bone when he was defend­ing him­self. The next day, with swollen eyes and a weak voice, my mom showed me the yel­low bruises down her arm. They had to be pho­tographed by the police as evi­dence before they healed. Two subpoena’s later and they were bet­ter than new, for the next few months at least until the next fight.

This is the last mem­ory I have of my aunt’s house. I haven’t been back since. Not until this weekend.

Now every­one from my mater­nal side is here, all my mom’s sib­lings and their respec­tive fam­i­lies. It started out as an act of com­mis­er­a­tion, to help her out dur­ing the divorce. Aunt, uncle, and son, aunt, uncle, and son, aunt and uncle. And then there’s me, with my mom. Without father. The only bro­ken family.

At first I think it’s just a coin­ci­dence. My aunt and uncle have the same vac­uum cleaner that we had, the same piano, the same brown cowhide cor­ner sofa. And then it clicks. Since the divorce, my mom sold the house after buy­ing out my father of the con­tents. Everything is stored here until she moves into her new house, from the base­ment to the fam­ily room, from the kitchen to the bathroom.

My child­hood is strewn across every floor. The fam­ily pho­tos. My old finger-painted, art­work from ele­men­tary school. My dad didn’t want any of it.

I need to get out of here.

I need to get the fuck out of here.