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

Becoming Pat

At the core of our beings, Pat and I are the same person.

What sep­a­rates us is our emo­tion, or lack thereof. Pat’s the log­i­cal one, I’m the emo­tional one. I’ve always looked up to him — his strength, his morals, his per­son­al­ity — with­out really under­stand­ing why.

It’s only in the last year that I’ve come to real­ize Pat is a Taoist. This comes with the real­iza­tion that I’m a Taoist myself, and explains why I try to be more like him.

The inter­est­ing part is that he doesn’t even know that he’s a Taoist — sort of like Winnie the Pooh — which is exactly what makes him a true Taoist.

One of Chuang Tzŭ’s para­bles illus­trates this point. In an abbre­vi­ated ver­sion, Knowledge seeks a con­scious reflec­tion to know the Tao, and asked Silent Do Nothing and Reckless Blurter, before ask­ing The Yellow Emperor (ahhh, the Romantic per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of Chinese fables):

Knowledge said to The Yellow Emperor, “I asked Silent Do Nothing and he kept quiet. Not only didn’t he answer me, but he didn’t even know how to answer. I asked Reckless Blurter, and though he wanted to tell me, he didn’t, and even for­got my ques­tions. Now I’ve asked you, and you know all about it. Why do you say that you’re far from it?”.

The Yellow Emperor said, “Silent Do Nothing was truly right, because he didn’t know any­thing. Reckless Blurter was nearly right, because he’d for­got­ten it. You and I are far from right, because we know far too much”.

The same is true for Tai Chi1, or any mar­tial art for that mat­ter. Dissect it too much, and you lose the mean­ing. Think about it too much, and you don’t react. As Michael Babin wrote in his arti­cle on self-defense train­ing:

It is sad but true that real skill comes from seem­ingly end­less drilling of the basics and then learn­ing how to transcend/forget most of what you have so patiently learned.

In other words, learn­ing struc­ture is essen­tial to learn­ing to react to a com­plete lack of struc­ture (i.e. a real fight); but if you focus on struc­ture for too long it becomes counter-productive to “being with­out struc­ture” in mar­tial terms. One of the many annoy­ing para­doxes in the inter­nal arts.

One of the many para­doxes in the Taoist phi­los­o­phy as well. As much as I try to study it, learn it, and apply it, I find myself think­ing about it too much. As a result, I occa­sion­ally stray from being cen­tered, and lose my balance.

It’s the con­scious reflec­tion which Knowledge is seek­ing that pre­emp­tively dooms his search. This is my prob­lem as well. I buy Taoist books with a thirst for knowl­edge, but they’re all telling me the same thing now. Not that the books haven’t helped at all, but I feel like I’ve reached a limit. Perhaps even the sim­ple act of writ­ing about this is counter-productive.

I have the under­stand­ing, but I can’t apply it with­out think­ing about it first, and it’s the attempt to apply it that ruins the point. I’ve yet to reach a stage of pure reac­tion and spon­tane­ity, like Pat.

But I’m get­ting there.

  1. Yet another exam­ple of how Tai Chi is the phys­i­cal expres­sion of the phi­los­o­phy. Or per­haps this could be reverse-generalized, and said that the Taoist phi­los­o­phy is reflected in every­thing, such as mar­tial arts. []
23 Nov 07

Winter Window

Thumbnail: A winter scene out my window

Turning over and over in the sky, length after length of white­ness unwound over the earth and shrouded it. The bliz­zard was alone in the world; it had no rival.

When he climbed down from the win­dow sill Yura’s first impulse was to dress, run out­side, and start doing something.

—Doctor Zhivago

When one looks out­side their win­dow and sees this, this blan­ket of purity, what else can one feel but seren­ity, con­tent­ment, and hope?

21 Nov 07

A Chance To Create

Good news. Wait no. Great fuck­ing news.

I met with Frédéric, the owner of the Salon, and after show­ing him a port­fo­lio of my pic­tures, he agreed to let me have an exhibit in the next show in February.

As this wasn’t only his art gallery but his house as well, I offered to let him make the deci­sion after see­ing my com­pleted work. He told me there was no need, as he trusted me based on what he had seen in my port­fo­lio, which I felt was a very nice compliment.

As artists (and I use this in the loos­est sense of the word to describe myself), we’re very dif­fer­ent. I told him that I like to study pho­to­graphic tech­niques, espe­cially in pho­tos that I like, and apply those tech­niques to what I want to express or show. When I look at a piece of visual art, I look at mean­ing and intent. When I cre­ate, I keep the same thing in mind. Frédéric, on the other hand, is more of a gut-feeling type of artist. He does what he feels is right, and doesn’t worry as much about the under­ly­ing message.

He asked if I was sin­gle, and I told him I was. “Good”, he said, “That’ll help you focus”. It made me think of a quote by Alexander Dumas:

Woman inspires us to great things, and pre­vents us from achiev­ing them.

I made a remark about how I’d have a forum to develop my ideas now, projects I never pur­sued because I didn’t have a way to get them to a wider audi­ence. He told me that I shouldn’t worry about an audi­ence, and gave me an exam­ple to demon­strate his point: if you cre­ate the most beau­ti­ful thing you’ve ever done and you keep it in your base­ment, it isn’t art because no one sees it1, but to get caught up in that dilemma, and to not cre­ate sim­ply because of that, is a tragedy.

So now I can pur­sue and develop one of my photo project ideas. I have to decide on a theme. I have see how much enlarge­ment I can do to my pho­tos with­out too much loss of qual­ity. I have to decide on the size of the final prints. I have to decide on the frame size and shape. I have to get the final prints framed.

I’ve always wanted to cre­ate acces­si­ble art2.

Perhaps this will be my chance.

  1. An inter­pre­tive answer to the Zen kōan of the sound a tree makes falling down in the for­est, I’m sure []
  2. As opposed to some­thing such as poetry, which is less acces­si­ble to the com­mon per­son. As a medium, film, pho­tog­ra­phy, and music (with lyrics) are more eas­ily digestible. []
21 Nov 07

Recording My Dreams

Note: Dreams are funny things. As the cre­ator of the world you’re in, you have an omni­scient knowl­edge of every­thing, includ­ing what other peo­ple in the dream are think­ing. Things that are lyser­gic and ran­dom make per­fect sense in a dream. Every now and then, espe­cially when they’re very vivid, a dream will seem fas­ci­nat­ing, so I’ll write it down and post it. Then I read it over again, and think “This is the stu­pid­est, least coher­ent thing I’ve ever writ­ten”. Then I delete it. I’ve done this about a half dozen times, and they’re the only entries I’ve ever deleted from this blog.

This is an exam­ple from last night. I’ll try not to delete it.

There was also a part about play­ing table ten­nis that pre­cedes the begin­ning, like the scene between Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers in Match Point, which, eerily enough, is some­what sim­i­lar to this dream. However, the mem­ory has been lost in the haze of consciousness.

P.S. If you ever read this, Alex, please don’t beat me up. KTHX.

Dreamt Sophia and I were in love.

Read the rest of this entry »

20 Nov 07

A New Winter Ritual

Snow col­lected on the grass last night.

This makes me dream of week­end morn­ings in my liv­ing room, tea and a lap­top, look­ing out to a blan­ket of white. Dolly curled up on the arm­rest next to me, as she always is. No other con­trast feels as cozy.

Ritual dic­tates that I watch Onegin or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind on the day of the first snow­fall, a trib­ute to win­ter scenes and warm romance.

This year, I’ll buy myself some skates. I’ll pack a snack and some water. Maybe my cam­era in case an image catches my fancy.

As the strings shud­der and the beats go on, I’ll carve a lit­tle path for myself on the canal, and burn beneath the orange sky.

And this will be my new ritual.

18 Nov 07

She Doesn't Know How Beautiful

The art of longing’s over, and it’s never com­ing back.

—Leonard Cohen, Death of a Ladies’ Man

They ask me why I’m cry­ing. I tell them the song is too good, not to cry.

They ask me why there’s a bounce in my step. I tell them I’m in love, and I don’t care.

They ask me if she’s taken. I tell them she is.

They ask me if she knows. I tell them it doesn’t mat­ter as long as I feel this way, and I’m never let­ting go.

They ask me, “Why her?”.

I tell them she makes me happy with­out try­ing.

17 Nov 07

Emergence Exposition Opus 01

A few days before the show, I found out that Krista and Shane were play­ing a small venue in town. Usually I make it a point to see an artist just once in my life, but last time was dif­fer­ent; I was expect­ing Lederhosen Lucil, but was treated to an entirely dif­fer­ent and unfa­mil­iar sound. This time, it was my chance to see Krista and Shane per­form after becom­ing famil­iar with the songs. Turns out the venue was in un petit salon des arts. This place boasted a mix­ture of dif­fer­ent art­forms; music, metal sculp­tures, pho­tographs, paint­ings, and graphic poems.

I didn’t really feel like going out that night, but I forced myself to go, remind­ing myself that I could say the same thing any other night and I’d never get anywhere.

Thumbnail: Entrance of the Emergence Exposition

When I arrived, the Salon was to capac­ity. I couldn’t even get in the entrance; there were peo­ple phys­i­cally block­ing the door. My chance to get in came after a few had made room by leav­ing, then I saw a path up the stairs and took it.

Enter six degrees of sep­a­ra­tion.

Read the rest of this entry »

14 Nov 07

In Her Prayers

Every now and then, Louise let’s me know that she’s pray­ing for me. For my health. For my success.

She really believes in the power of prayer. It’s healed her fam­ily, it’s given her guid­ance, it’s pro­vided her with the strength that she needs. She’s one of the few Christian’s whose faith I respect1.

It’s a nice feel­ing to be in someone’s prayers, and she does this even though I’m not Christian myself.

Normally, I’m a skep­tic about these things.

Which makes it dif­fi­cult to deny how it’s lately been working.

  1. In most of my expe­ri­ence, it’s as Nietzsche said; “The Christian resolve to find the world evil and ugly, has made the world evil and ugly.” []
13 Nov 07

Present for the 27th

Eric, who used to work with me, intro­duced me to Brant Bjork, and stoner rock in gen­eral, about two years ago. It’s a genre that explores delight­ful rep­e­ti­tion, where vari­a­tions are sub­tle, but pow­er­fully psychedelic.

[I]t is cer­tainly accepted that the effects of mar­i­juana and the often low or psy­che­delic riffs of stoner rock com­ple­ment each other.

—Wikipedia, Stoner rock

I liken the idea to Plastikman’s debut album, Sheet One. Though of a dif­fer­ent genre — trance — it fea­tures a per­fo­rated album cover, an homage to acid tab art, for which the LSD enhances the details of every sin­gle min­i­mal­is­tic beat (so I’m told).

While I’ve enjoyed Queens of the Stone Age, who are con­sid­ered to be influ­enced by the stoner rock move­ment (indeed, Josh Homme and Brant Bjork formed pio­neer­ing band Kyuss while in high school), the sound is a lit­tle more com­mer­cial, less droning.

After I heard a few songs by Brant Bjork, I was hooked. I never asso­ci­ated it with a mem­ory, which is what I do with almost all my songs, but it was good enough that I didn’t have to.

At Thanksgiving, dur­ing one of my trips through the mall with Andrew and Alex, I resumed my search for Brant Bjork’s solo album by the name of Jalamanta. It was a big­ger city, a big­ger place…maybe I’d have a bet­ter luck. Unfortunately, every music store gave me the same answer; it was an album they didn’t keep reg­u­larly in stock.

Alex asked me what I was look­ing for, the name of the album and artist, and I didn’t think any­thing of it.

Thumbnail: Brant Bjork

Yesterday, I found a pack­age in the mail. Fragile — CD, it said. Inside was the Brant Bjork CD I’ve been look­ing for, which they found at an inde­pen­dent music store. Along with the CD was a card made from my Pollen Junkie photo (which was taken in their gar­den), with a mes­sage writ­ten on the back.

And as great as it is to finally hear the songs I’ve been miss­ing, as nice as it is to have an orig­i­nal release, it’s noth­ing com­pared to the thought­ful­ness, the effort they made to find me exactly what I was look­ing for.

Update: Julie bought me a lucky bam­boo plant, along with a vase filled with dec­o­ra­tive rocks and a cute hand-drawn card. Very, very nice! Definitely an effort spent acquir­ing all these things, and much appreciated.

11 Nov 07

A Loss of Faith

Been hav­ing an insane argu­ment with a per­son on Flickr over a “racist” pic­ture of me and Bronwen.

Are peo­ple really this asi­nine? I really don’t want to believe it, but it’s kinda hard when they repeat­edly go beyond all sense of logic.

There goes my faith in humanity.

Please, please, please, let this be a joke.

09 Nov 07

Privy To All The New Shit

I’ve been in the strangest mood lately. Killing my Top Rated playlist every­where I go, yet I skip through 90% of the songs, try­ing to find the right one. Talking to myself. Replaying con­ver­sa­tions in my head.

I don’t quite feel at one with the Tao. I’ve been let­ting small things get to me. It’s as if I’m falling back into my old destruc­tive habits, but upon real­iz­ing this, I fight against it. The strug­gle, when observed objec­tively, is quite amusing.

These are excit­ing times. Along with the excite­ment comes ner­vous­ness. It’s turned me into a jum­ble of emo­tions, bit­ter­sweet, and unlike any­thing I’ve ever expe­ri­enced before.

Wish I could do some­thing with this feeling.

08 Nov 07

Trolley's B-Day '07

Thumbnail: Rock 'N Bowl alley 
Thumbnail: Aaron and Karen 
Thumbnail: My shoes in blacklight 
Thumbnail: The girls bowl 
Thumbnail: Making a wish 

Since he’s never been bowl­ing before, we decided to go for Trolley’s 30th.

Rock ‘N Bowl is an inter­est­ing phen­emo­nen. Aaron thinks it’s for the 14-year-olds to get all hooched up and feel like they’re going club­bing. Didn’t stop us — Trolley included — from get­ting carded at our table when pitchers.

Five-pin is harder than I remem­ber. Maybe because I was try­ing to spin every­thing, so it would either hit the left pins, or com­pletely gut­ter on the right when I tried to adjust. For our two teams, it was a pretty close match through the night.

For the pho­tographs, I tried to play around with light set­tings. 2nd-curtain-sync wouldn’t work for me, and I didn’t real­ize that there’s a set­ting for it on the 580EX flash which over­rides cam­era set­tings. As a result, the pic­tures are mostly flash-less to cap­ture the mood of the wildly swing­ing light.

The next day, I dis­cov­ered that I some­how pulled my left glute and right groin mus­cles. A gen­tle reminder on Trolley’s birth­day that we’re all get­ting older.

06 Nov 07

A Difference of Love

Love doesn’t end, just because we don’t see each other.”, she told him

Doesn’t it?”, he asked.

People go on lov­ing God, don’t they? All their lives. Without see­ing Him.”

That’s not my kind of love.”


I real­ize that on days like this — when the wind is cut­ting through the seams of my jacket, when my stom­ach is so cramped that it twitches, when I’m uncon­trol­lably nod­ding off to sleep on the bus, when my trans­fer expires before I can use it, when incom­pe­tence isn’t keep­ing my appoint­ments — that I can’t call you. It just wouldn’t help.

You aban­doned me when I needed you the most. I’ll never trust you with any­thing impor­tant again. Including me.

You may say you love me, but I don’t love you. Not anymore.

This is how I real­ize that love is defined dif­fer­ently by dif­fer­ent people.

My love is (was) boundless.

Yours is of convenience.

04 Nov 07

Hugging Etiquette

She hugged me yes­ter­day. I thought I was over her, but maybe I’m still smit­ten. Physical con­tact does funny things to the mind.

I don’t under­stand why girls are so into hug­ging. Often, I’ll go for a hand­shake, and as if it doesn’t take, they’ll lean in to hug after­ward. A girl once asked if she could hug me after I explained to her my pro­ce­dure for check­ing a cat before adop­tion. Figure that one out.

The funny thing is that most girls aren’t very good hug­gers. They give limp hugs — more of a press­ing of the arms to the body — and it bugs the crap out of me. It’s like get­ting a soft hand­shake, also referred to as the “limp noo­dle”.

Bronwen’s an excep­tion. I always give and get a bear hug from her when I see her and when she leaves. Sometimes we fight for arm posi­tion­ing, because we both pre­fer to have the arms lower than the other. I like to have my arms around a girls’ waist, whereas she likes to have her arms sur­rounded, so she feels protected.

The two Louise’s are/were also good at hug­ging. Nice and firm, with­out being too clingy. Maybe it’s a Louise thing.

It just makes me won­der; if girls are so into hug­ging, why aren’t they bet­ter at it?

04 Nov 07

Taoist Hedonism (or Why I Don't Miss Smoking Weed Anymore)

One of my daily rit­u­als used to be light­ing a joint when I got home from work, and rid­ing off the weed for the rest of the evening. It was the only thing that could relax me; oth­er­wise, I was tense and uptight. I couldn’t just sit and watch a movie, read a book, lis­ten to an album with­out it because I felt too guilty, as if I wasn’t get­ting enough done.

For the first year that I quit, I missed it ter­ri­bly. Not because I couldn’t sleep, not because food became bland, not because music didn’t sound as good, but because I couldn’t calm down. I was always try­ing to get things done, con­stantly depriv­ing myself of plea­sure to accom­plish things with­out an end.

Following Taoism has changed that. Taoists value becom­ing as a child. Having no extra­ne­ous thoughts, and liv­ing in the now.

Unless stopped by adults, chil­dren live life to the full, whereas for most adults exis­tence seems more of a near-life expe­ri­ence where we resem­ble actors rehears­ing for a play that never quite begins, instead of play­ing fully, as chil­dren do, in a per­for­mance that has no begin­ning or end.

—Mark Forstater, The Tao

In doing so, I’ve begun to live every day as if it was my last. I don’t worry about run­ning out of my good tea any­more, and just drink it. I don’t feel guilty about doing noth­ing, about let­ting my mind wan­der. I do what I feel like, when I feel like it. I’ve been able to let go. I stopped sweat­ing the small stuff, and started enjoy­ing life.

Remember how well you slept as a kid? That’s how I’ve been sleep­ing now.

An ex-smoker once told me that the part he missed the most about smok­ing was the rit­ual. The early-morning-coffee or the after-dinner smoke. He felt a lot bet­ter after quit­ting, but if he found out the world was going to end in a week, the first thing he would do is go to the cor­ner store and buy a pack of smokes. I used to think that I’d do the same with weed. Not so, anymore.

Not that I don’t miss it every now and then. There are cer­tain things that can only be expe­ri­enced through mind-tripping highs. It’s some­thing I’d like to keep for spe­cial occa­sions. When I go to see Darren, or when John comes down, but even those sel­dom times aren’t worth it any­more. I know I’ll never do it again, but I don’t mind because I know I’ve been for­tu­nate enough to expe­ri­ence it already. The impor­tant part is that I’m not depen­dent on it.

Taoist hedo­nism has set me free.