equivocality — Jeff Ngan's collection of thoughts, experiences, and projects, inspired by pretty much everything
13 Aug 07

The Tao Tattoo

Part of The Tao Tattoo Series

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

Thumbnail: The Tao tattoo

Thumbnail: The Tao tattoo macro 

To remind me to keep my chin up.

To remind me not to sweat the small stuff.

To remind me to live in accor­dance with the nature of things.

To remind me to stay balanced.

To remind me to decrease my wants.

To remind me to indulge myself every now and then.

To remind me that every­thing is as it should be.

To remind me to stop com­par­ing myself to others.

To remind me not to use force against the world, and embrace the way of the universe.

To remind me to fol­low my own nature, and not the trap­pings of life.

To remind me that noth­ing really matters.

To remind me to have no claims to life.

To remind me to be spon­ta­neous, delib­er­ate, watch­ful, rev­er­ent, hum­ble, pure, and accepting.

To remind me that heaven is found on earth.

12 Aug 07

New Camera Gear and Twin Portraits

Thumbnail: Differences between twins
Thumbnail: Orthogonal twins
Thumbnail: Body shot
Thumbnail: See no evil, hear no evil

Okay, okay, I admit it, I bought more cam­era gear. This time it was a flash, an umbrella, and a com­bi­na­tion stand to hold the two. The flash is a Canon 580EX II, the most impor­tant fea­tures being:

I was able to test it out the rig on Andrew and Alex, who hap­pened to be in town that week­end. Out of all my friends and acquain­tances, I’ve known Andrew and Alex the longest, since ele­men­tary school. We got to hang out for a night and catch up before they had to take off. I can still tell them apart from face and voice, although it got quite a bit harder.

It was a good prac­tice in doing por­traits of two peo­ple, and fig­ur­ing out how var­ied the same scene can look with the main light source at dif­fer­ent posi­tions. Overall, I’m very pleased with how they turned out.

09 Aug 07

I Hate My Doctor

He doesn’t lis­ten to me. He’ll ask me a ques­tion, then cut me off. He triv­i­al­izes my symptoms.

Next thing I know, I’m rushed out of office.

He’s a nice guy, but nice doesn’t get you healthy.

08 Aug 07

Apocalypse Now

I just had a day with­out con­tact in the office. So I called every sin­gle per­son I reg­u­larly talk to on the phone, and not one of them picked up. These aren’t just sin­gle peo­ple, they’re fam­i­lies and cou­ples, which means that every­one in the house was out. I even called my cell phone to make sure my land line was working.

It’s like I’m the only sur­viv­ing mem­ber of an apoc­a­lypse. I’d half expect to see a mush­room cloud in the dis­tance, houses on fire, bod­ies in the streets if I looked out the window.

I’ve never felt so alone.

06 Aug 07

A Note On Chinese Titles

Both my Tai Chi teach­ers eschew the title of “Master”, and pre­fer to be called by their first names. As I’ve had it explained to me, even the true mas­ters feel like they need a cou­ple extra life­times to com­pletely mas­ter Tai Chi. This is what my teach­ers com­pare them­selves to, so I sus­pect they feel it erro­neous to use the same title, even though they’ve been teach­ing for decades.

I find it very awk­ward. In Chinese, the word “Master” or “Sifu” implies a teacher, not nec­es­sar­ily a level of skill.

When I was young, I called my cousin by his Chinese name, because I thought it was insult­ing to address him by his rela­tional title of biu dai for “mater­nal younger male cousin” (or “mother’s sib­lings’ son who is younger than me”). I thought the “dai” part referred to some­one as “under”, the way “junior” could be used pejo­ra­tively in English. The thing I didn’t under­stand was that it was appro­pri­ate, per­haps even more appro­pri­ate than address­ing him by name. I’ve since become privy to the com­plex rules of Chinese names and titles, espe­cially rela­tional fam­ily ones.

As a kid, the first thing you’re sup­posed to do when enter­ing a house is greet every­one — adults most impor­tantly — by their title.

People con­tinue this tra­di­tion though, and even as par­ents, they’ll address their elders the same way. It’s a way of rec­og­niz­ing and respect­ing the roles in the fam­ily. Even though my Tai Chi teacher is Occidental, I feel com­pelled to address my teacher as “Master”, instead of “Mike”.

And it’s hard habit for me to break.

04 Aug 07

Puscifer Queen Bee

I always thought I’d meet you at a con­cert. One of those moody, bass-heavy shows as if Robert Smith was fronting Portishead telling us to dance, dance, dance through the fire. The music’s good but too loud, and the lights are warm orange and reds.

But you’re too Suicide and I’m too xXx.

01 Aug 07

Sex and Chocolate

It’s a gen­er­ally accepted rule that sex is a good thing and choco­late is a good thing so by log­i­cal impli­ca­tion, sex and choco­late must be a very good thing.

I tied the red rib­bon from the box of choco­lates around her neck, the pen­dant a plas­tic heart.

30 Jul 07

A Taoist Dilemma

Over some cab­bage roll and peach juice, I asked a sage, “Taoism teaches me to accept every­one and cast aside my purist ways. Yet how can I do this if it’s in my nature to refuse to accept people’s flaws? I must accept myself as I accept others”.

He told me, “If you are happy with your­self and the deci­sions you make, then there is noth­ing to worry about”.

Then he took my bowl, washed it, and we played Warcraft III for eleven straight hours.

29 Jul 07

Summer Days Alone

Thumbnail: Clothesline

Thumbnail: Purple flower

It’s 28°C out­side. It’s hot, but there isn’t a touch of humid­ity in the air. I can’t help but take my time. I’m sup­posed to be think­ing of where I’m going, what I’m doing, but it’s too nice out. Another beau­ti­ful sum­mer day.

And no one to share it with.

27 Jul 07

Interpol and Cat Power

I gasped when I found out that Interpol was com­ing out with a new album. Then I threw up a lit­tle in my mouth when I heard the first single.

Why, Interpol, why? What hap­pened to the min­i­mal­ist, sparse gui­tar riffs? Why did you have to sell out with lighter, more acces­si­ble music?

Turn On The Bright Lights remains one of the most mys­te­ri­ously affect­ing albums of my life. Antics was crap. Our Love To Admire is worse. Interpol needs a return to form.

Oh yes, and I’m in love with Cat Power. Not from her new stuff, which I find pretty bor­ing (her mate­r­ial was a lot more inter­est­ing when she was a drunk), but from the way she dances in the Cross Bones Style video.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXWvjkX446A 480 380]

And while it doesn’t exactly make me go out and buy Kleenex at Costco, it does make me rub against the cor­ners of walls and door frames in a felo­nious manner.

Don’t worry, Mel der Maur, no one will ever replace you.

26 Jul 07

Pat Doesn't Need Me

Sometimes I feel like I don’t offer any­thing to Pat. I call him for advice all the time, ask him to give me rides (gro­ceries, fur­ni­ture, large items on which he bar­gains), vent to him. He grew up rely­ing on nobody but him­self, so he never asks me for any favours, and I sup­pose he has Jen with whom to express his feelings.

Maybe this is the root of my inse­cu­rity. Pat’s friend­ship with me appears diluted. We’d both take a bul­let for our friends, but mine is a far more exclu­sive club than his.

Pat doesn’t need me.

But I need him.

24 Jul 07

An Emotional Day, Reminding Me

Today I woke up and felt uneasy, remind­ing me that I’m human.

Tonight I read that People who lived through Yenan remem­bered see­ing caves in val­leys crammed with peo­ple, “many of whom had gone mad. Some were laugh­ing wildly, some cry­ing” and I felt dis­il­lu­sioned, remind­ing me that human com­pre­hen­sion is lim­ited by the human mind.

Tonight she put her hands on another man, I was sum­mar­ily dis­missed from the group, and it made me jeal­ous, remind­ing me that I’m alive.

Tonight I sat on a rick­ety wooden bench and fin­gered the yin-yang engraved in the mid­dle, remind­ing me that it’s all part of the Way.

24 Jul 07

Are You In A Lot Of Pain?

People won­der how it got so far. They ask me if some­thing hap­pened and I tell them, “Yeah…my childhood”.

They ask me if I hate you, and I tell them “hate” isn’t a strong enough word.

It hurts, doesn’t it? Are you in a lot of pain? Cause I was in a lot of pain.

I’m still try­ing to fix your dam­age. Still try­ing to cover up the scars.

You deserve this. You did this to yourself.

And I fuck­ing hope it hurts.

22 Jul 07

Creatures Of Our Cultures

One or sep­a­rate bills?”, the wait­ress asks us. She has a slight Japanese accent, but aside from her raven hair, her fea­tures are dis­tinctly Occidental.

One please”.

We’re treat­ing, Jeff”.

Nope. You guys are in my town.”

What does that have to do with any­thing?”, they ask, and threaten to leave if I pay. It does noth­ing to con­vince me or change my conviction.

You guys are a lot more behaved than when I was your age”, says the man sit­ting next to us.

Thumbnail: Teppanyaki Flare 

When the bill comes around, we wrench the tray from each oth­ers hands.

Must be odd”, the man whis­pers to his wife, who’s laugh­ing at us.

But it’s not odd to me. It’s the Chinese way. Like hav­ing too much food when you’re host­ing a party because to run out is the ulti­mate embarrassment.

To me, it’s odd when some­one doesn’t offer to pay.

The same way it’s odd to hear North American peo­ple com­plain about their jobs. To the Chinese, a job is how you take care of your fam­ily. It doesn’t mat­ter that it’s mind­less, stress­ful, or hard phys­i­cal labour. You’re just happy to have that oppor­tu­nity. All my Canadian Chinese friends feel the same1.

This is how we were raised. It wasn’t a rule that was spo­ken. We learned it by watch­ing our par­ents, who would clip coupons for gro­ceries, only buy clothes on sale, re-use paper by writ­ing over again with dif­fer­ent coloured inks, but go out to feast with ten peo­ple then fight to pay the bill. Sometimes, they’d even get up to find the server to make a pre­emp­tive, sur­rep­ti­tious pay­ment. Occasionally there were spilled drinks and soiled clothes, as the fight became phys­i­cal2. I think it’s nice part of the cul­ture to be so adamant about friend­ship and company.

And I’m glad to be a part of it.

  1. Aaron is prob­a­bly one of the few peo­ple I know who under­stands. He’ll fight with me, not just over a bill when eat­ing out, but for movies, gro­ceries, and other sun­dries. []
  2. I remem­ber a child cry­ing once, a rel­a­tive of a rel­a­tive, think­ing the par­ents were argu­ing with anger. []
22 Jul 07

Memories Of My Own

They’re out now, the lot of them. Out-of-towners who drove five hours to cel­e­brate with one of their own. People I haven’t seen in years. Seven maybe? God, I feel old. I’ve known a few of them since grade three.

But bar hop­ping isn’t my scene. There’s also this dull, nag­ging headache from stay­ing up yes­ter­day into the early morn­ing. Catching up like old times. I’m reminded of the sleep­overs. Summers putting on plays and learn­ing how to make piñatas at Camp Creative. Catching min­nows and cray­fish in the streams back home.

I’m a dif­fer­ent per­son now though. I was a dif­fer­ent per­son from them then even. I never really fit in the group.

Sometimes I look at the pic­tures of their trips and events and I think to myself, “I wish I was more social. I wish I had more memories.”

But I know it’s not in me to be social.

I have to her­mi­tize or I get over­stim­u­lated. It took me until my early twen­ties to come out of my shell. Then I think of the par­ties I’ve been to, the times I’ve had, the pic­tures I’ve taken, and real­ize that I do have memories.

I have enough.

I have my own.