equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
31 May 08

Ellen and Ziny

Peace sign

Thumbnail: Ellen laughing
Thumbnail: Ziny smiling
Thumbnail: Girls back-to-back
Thumbnail: Ellen serious
Thumbnail: Ziny laughing

Some more prac­tice with pho­tograph­ing cou­ples. Ellen and Ziny are both med stu­dents who used to be room­mates. They hap­pened to be in Ottawa at the same time for intern­ships at dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals, so it was the per­fect oppor­tu­nity to get them both together for a few shots.

Getting black hair and clothes to show up against a black back­ground is very tricky. I sus­pect darker tex­tures need their own ded­i­cated light source to increase the exposure.

29 May 08

I Found Her

The woman I’ve been look­ing for my entire life.

Her name was Christine. She was thin lipped. Frail limbed. Not the least bit cam­era shy, as she pulled her shirt up to expose a breast, like she had fallen on the grass this way and the folds in her clothes rearranged them­selves on her body.

Here she is on a horse in the night. Here she is, grim-faced, cradling her son. There was a scar on her neck from a sui­cide attempt years ear­lier, and through a series of pho­tographs, you could see the scar heal.

For seven years she was mar­ried, before she suc­cess­fully jumped to her death from the 9th floor of an apart­ment in East Berlin.

A blink in my eye, a snap of some­one else’s shut­ter. A muse of flesh and blood. The Jane Birkin to Serge Gainsbourg. The Olga Ivinskaya to Boris Pasternak.

This is some­one who under­stood his art, his mor­bid­ity, his need to cap­ture her sui­cide in a frame, then pub­lish the image of her body on the pave­ment, look­ing down from the 9th floor, along with insou­ciant pic­tures of a teacup, a play­ground, a tank, three plants.

And as soon as I had found her, she’s gone.

Should I be happy that she existed? Should I be sad that she’s gone? Should I be pun­ished for com­par­ing the women I’ve had to her?

Is this painful, or beau­ti­ful, or both?

27 May 08


Part of The Tao Tattoo Series

  1. The Meaning
  2. The Experience
  3. The Background
  4. Tattwo

The tao tattoo


Some peo­ple ask me whether I feel more Chinese or Canadian. While some first-generation Canadians say that they’re nei­ther, I feel like I’m both, because I appre­ci­ate and under­stand things from both cul­tures. I have the best of both worlds.

I already have a the hanzi char­ac­ter for “tao” on my right wrist, so I got the word “tao” on my left in English. This tat­too serves two pur­poses: as an expres­sion of this dual her­itage, and as another reminder for me to fol­low the tao.

The Operation

I went back to Jay at New Moon, who did an awe­some job on my first tat­too. When I walked in, he had the lat­est Mars Volta album on, which I didn’t even know was out until that day. Most of the time was passed com­par­ing them to Tool, two of our favourite bands1.

Can you tell when he’s going over my artery? (Hint: I start to swear)


tao typography

The three-letter word is writ­ten in Avenir. As the Humanist, sans-serif type­face designed by Adrian Fruitiger (also used for the title and menu of this site), it’s my favourite font. Clean, sharp, min­i­mal­ist, and leg­i­ble. The most dis­tin­guish­ing part, as with most good fonts, is the double-story “a”, which increases legibility.

I had over a dozen vari­a­tions, at dif­fer­ent point sizes, kern­ing val­ues, and weights. I wanted the weight, size, and posi­tion to bal­ance with the one on my right wrist. In the end, I went with one that was 63.78 points, and the 35 “light” weight.

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  1. Tool was a favourite until Lateralus came out, and I dis­cov­ered Dream Theater. Ænima remains one of my top albums though. []
25 May 08

Psychoanalytic Reflections 05

Sometimes I come out of a ses­sion feel­ing great. Sometimes I come out feel­ing like a mon­ster, like some hor­ri­ble, fucked-up person.

During my first ses­sion, my ther­a­pist noted that this was a mutual process. It wasn’t as if he was going to sur­gi­cally remove an issue with me, it would take the both of us work­ing together, with a pro­gres­sive effort from me.

That’s what I’m doing now. I’m deter­mined to fix myself.


Unrelenting Standards revisited

23 May 08

Smoke and Light

Smoke and light

Playing around with black-and-white, an off-camera flash, and a nice Cuban cigar.

Sometimes, enjoy­ing life is as sim­ple as this.

21 May 08

The Idea of Love

While my mother always made it a point to stay involved in my life (to a fault), it was never because she loved me. She’s not some­one who’s emo­tion­ally intel­li­gent enough to under­stand what love is.

She just loved the idea of a son, some­thing “nor­mal” peo­ple have.

Which is why she tries to cling to me so des­per­ately, even when I try so vehe­mently to avoid her. It’s the same way that some men or women only love the idea of mar­riage, instead of their spouses. They’re rela­tion­ships based on all the wrong reasons.

Realizing this has made me won­der; did I ever actu­ally love my girl­friends, or did I just love the idea of love?

19 May 08

Pictures of White People Laughing

Playing shots and ladders

Thumbnail: Karaoke crowd
Thumbnail: Bill takes a swig during Karaoke
Thumbnail: Karaoke duet
Thumbnail: Skyy Vodka
Thumbnail: Duet kiss
Thumbnail: Guitar karaoke
Thumbnail: Tray of jello shooters
Thumbnail: He laughs
Thumbnail: Hors D'oeuvres
Thumbnail: Jello shooting
Thumbnail: Doubled over in laughter
Thumbnail: Jello wet will
Thumbnail: Ginger the cat gives me a kiss
Thumbnail: Laughing party
Thumbnail: Shirley plays Rock Band
Thumbnail: Rock Band shot
Thumbnail: Singing faces
Thumbnail: Snoopy the cat
Thumbnail: She laughs on the couch
Thumbnail: Underwear check

Also known as a drink­ing party at Shirley’s.

This is how I learn that peo­ple have a good time when there’s at least one per­son will­ing to make a fool of him­self, because it sets the tone for every­one else.

That being young is to be young at heart. That to be young at heart is to laugh deep and laugh regularly.

And that it never hurts to have alco­hol to help facil­i­tate the process.

18 May 08

Table Tennis with God

I’m walk­ing through a Chinese Christian church. The wood is old but lac­quered well. Decorations line the walls: a tree made of chil­drens’ hand­prints, posters about the Almighty with slo­gans in large print, cal­en­dars and sched­ules of upcom­ing events. We head down­wards while a prayer meet­ing goes on upstairs. A young girl in Heelies skates along­side us in the hall.

We’re lead to a room with two table ten­nis tables, blue, rel­a­tively new. There isn’t much room to maneu­ver, but the light­ing is great. Shou offers us some Jasmine tea. Players are warm­ing up as more Chinese men come in one at a time. They play in sneak­ers with­out sneaker socks, or dress shirts, or those shirts with logos you get for free at a com­pany. Their shorts are an awk­ward length between capris and sports trunks.

Dan intro­duces him­self to every­one. I’m sit­ting down, try­ing to place the province of their accents. Tamarra picks up a children’s book and starts to read.

All their serves are ille­gal; they don’t throw the ball the reg­u­la­tion 6 inches straight up, which means they can put an unfair spin on the ball before it hits the pad­dle. A result of the insu­lar soci­ety they have here, where they play the same peo­ple over and over again, never ven­tur­ing out­side their reli­gious clique. They sim­ply don’t know any better.

Dan gets paired up for a match. They both play con­ser­v­a­tively when warm­ing up, try­ing to hide their tech­niques while feel­ing each other out. “Some peo­ple, when you get it in their hit zone, never miss”. Dan’s oppo­nent makes no mis­takes for him to cap­i­tal­ize on, but a con­sis­tent defence wears him out. His oppo­nent spends his energy win­ning the first game, smash­ing at every oppor­tu­nity, and loses his momen­tum. Dan wins every game for the rest of the match.

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15 May 08

Hold Fast

I was late for work this morn­ing. The weather was beau­ti­ful on the drive in. There were thick, dark clouds hang­ing omi­nously in the dis­tance and high in the sky, but the sun was out, bathing every­thing in bright­ness. The wind was refresh­ingly cool, so I had to roll the win­dows down.

In another weird phase lately. Hyper again. Currently feel­ing this part from verse 35 of the Tao Te Jing:

Hold fast to the Great Form within and let the world pass as it may
Then the changes of life will not bring pain but con­tent­ment, joy, and well-being

Sometimes, I feel like I’m being tested. It hasn’t really been going badly, but it’s cer­tainly a mix of ups and downs, res­o­lu­tions and frustrations.

I started to notice that I’ve been talk­ing to myself when alone. Sometimes I laugh aloud too. I once read an arti­cle about a young man who did a solo transat­lantic jour­ney by boat that took sev­eral weeks, and he said that talk­ing to your­self is nor­mal; it’s when you start to answer your own ques­tions that you should be wor­ried. I think I’ll be alright.

I’ve come to accept the way things have turned out. I’ve felt this way before, but it never lasted more than a cou­ple months, some­thing that hap­pens when I lose sight of the tao. Hopefully it won’t be so ephemeral this time. I just need to remem­ber that things will con­tinue to work out on their own. To stop try­ing to force things to hap­pen. To breathe.

And to hold fast to the way that can­not be walked.

13 May 08

On Being Busy

Thumbnail: Girl outside Compact Music
Thumbnail: Bakery sign
Thumbnail: Rockstar Jeff with his bling
Thumbnail: Julie peers into a furniture store
Thumbnail: Zaphod Beeblebrox night club

So the next two weeks are:

Not includ­ing the work I need to do on my lat­est photo project for the next show. I’m also sup­posed to catch up with Naveed at some point in there; he’s hav­ing a pool party for his lat­est invest­ment prop­erty. I got us some cig­ars because he’s a new father, which I’ll have to do for Aaron as well, since his first (a boy) is on the way.

Busyness seems to come all at once, leav­ing me bewil­dered. Never a bit here and there.

Then all of a sud­den, I’m alone for days at a time, won­der­ing what hap­pened and where every­one went. It’s a strange flux that goes from one extreme to the other.

The goal becomes a bal­ance of both. That way, the soli­tude is a wel­come change from the over­stim­u­la­tion and vice-versa.

11 May 08

Love is a Bohemian Child

Quand je vous aimerai?
ma foi, je ne sais pas,
peut-être jamais, peut-être demain,
mais pas aujourd’hui, c’est certain.

One day, he dis­cov­ered that she loved him just as much as the day she left, and that every new man she sought for com­fort was just another attempt to replace him; he was unlike any­one she had ever met before. But there was noth­ing that could be done; the pain had left him cold and unmoved.

So enough about love, he said, for love is often fickle and unrequited.

And it’s only being on both sides of such an idea that allows him to accept this.

10 May 08

Love is a Rebellious Bird

L’amour est un oiseau rebelle
que nul ne peut apprivoiser,
et c’est bien en vain qu’on l’appelle,
s’il lui con­vient de refuser

Suddenly, he came upon the real­iza­tion that her beauty unin­ten­tion­ally entraps men, who are then led to their down­fall by their own mis­guided ideas of love, and that he was sim­ply another one of many. Not that it mat­tered any­way; to force such things is futile.

So enough about love, he said, for love is often fickle and unrequited.

Tu ne l’attends plus, il est là!

08 May 08

Photographing Couples

Julie and Blake about to kiss

Julie and Blake kissing series

Been work­ing on pho­tograph­ing cou­ples the past few months. It’s more dif­fi­cult than I ini­tially thought. You want to express love, but there are only so many ways one can do so with­out kissing.

You’re no longer pho­tograph­ing an expres­sion, as with a sin­gle per­son por­trait, but an inter­ac­tion.

Julie and Blake hug

Julie and Blake hugging series

Having two peo­ple express them­selves in such a way can be tricky too. Many are too shy to kiss in pub­lic, let alone on camera.

When it works, though, it works. You can see it in their faces. The way their eyes shine. It’s almost like they lose them­selves, because they’re drown­ing in each other, and noth­ing else in the world exists.

And, of course, best viewed large and on black. Click through for full size.

06 May 08

Developments and Denouements

Lights down, sound up, for this one. Maybe some tea and a pas­try if it’s not too late.

I had Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs play­ing here.

Stripped down, the beat alter­nates between triplet–three–one–two-three–one–two and one-two-three–one–two-three–one–two, fool­ing the lis­tener into think­ing it’s in some sort of com­plex time-signature. It’s actu­ally based in com­mon time, but with the triplets in there and the down-beat (marked by the open snare) falling on four and then three of the next bar, the song takes on a syn­co­pated rhythm. This isn’t what makes the song good, though. It’s all Karen O and her voice.

I’ve been so moody lately. Up and down. Developments and denoue­ments. Most likely a result of my over­think­ing and over­plan­ning over every­thing. Still try­ing to take things one day at a time, with­out rush­ing head first, with­out falling head over heels.

It’s all a mix­ture of good and bad. Sometimes, I don’t even know how to feel.

I’ve begun see­ing my psy­chol­o­gist on a session-by-session basis (instead of on a sched­ule — an indi­ca­tion of progress). In between, my Tai Chi classes have become my ther­apy. There’s some­thing about class that cen­tres me; the cama­raderie, the move­ments, the breath­ing, the con­tact, the feel­ing that I’m improv­ing a part of myself, bit by bit, even if it’s sub­con­sciously. A time where I can totally focus, a place where I can for­get every­thing else.

Afterwards, it’s a drive home in the dark with the win­dows down, and the rustling of wind in my hair.

The seren­ity car­ries for­ward. I’m recharged again. Then I’m strong enough to be myself. I’m strong enough to accept these feelings.

They don’t love you like I love you.

06 May 08

Things I Learned At My First Western Funeral