Sunday, August 10, 2008

Singapore Diary

My last night in Singapore. I am flying back to NYC tomorrow, transferring at Heathrow, and I am so ready to leave. The weather has been intolerably hot, only slightly cooler after the rains of the past two days. I saw a lot of friends this time: former school-mates, national service mates, ex-colleagues from the school I taught at, writer-friends, clubbing friends. I enjoyed catching up with people, but felt as if I was dropping in on their lives, parachuting in, and then ejecting out, and their lives continue as before, like mine. Since I no longer live here, in any meaningful sense, these brief meetings are like the rains: intense, over quickly, hopeful of new growth.

Tagore, whom I've been reading in Singapore, loves the rain. For him, it represents inspiration, refreshment, vitality. His poem on rain begins: "My heart, it dances like a peacock, it dances, it dances." He is a marvelous lyric poet, but allies his lyric gift with metaphysical daring. "Last Honey" is one of the best lyrics I've read on old age. "Shah Jehan" is wonderfully complex in its music and its thought. "The Wakening of Shiva" imagines the necessary cycle of creation and destruction. William Radice's translation of this Bengali poet creates vital English poems. He has given Tagore to me. Another good reason to visit India, the other reasons being Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Kipling's Kim, Forster's A Passage to India, and the Ramayana. Very literary roads, I know, but they offer alluring views of a vast country and continent. Looking through my books at home, and trying to decide which fugitive to bring with me to America, I came upon an 0ld copy of Gandhi's prose writings. I think I read the first piece in it, but cannot remember anything about it. It will come home with me.

In the book case I also found a historical study of China during the seventeenth century, a study which used as its focus the life of the writer and entrepreneur Li Yu. I read his short stories with great pleasure, especially those that dealt with gender roles and orientations, during my time at Sarah Lawrence College. Li Yu was also a playwright, and his stories show the influence of the stage, in their dramatic plotting, characters and settings. He was not from the scholar-elite, a fact that endears him to me. He's coming to New York with me too.

I did my reading for ContraDiction, a part of Singapore's gay pride month of events. It was held in Theaterworks, along Robertson Quay. A large white room, with folding chairs laid out in rows for the audience. A good sized crowd came. I'm terrible at such estimation but I think there were at least a hundred people. A National Arts Council representative also came. I read four parts from "The Book of the Body," which seemed to go down well. I sold eight books, more than I've ever sold in a single reading. Enough money to take a cab home afterwards, buy supper for my dad that night, and dinner at Crystal Jade, Holland Village, the next night. He asked for a copy of Payday Loans. I plan to give it to him just before I leave tomorrow.

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