Sunday, June 15, 2008

Into A Father's Heart - Father's Day post

From the very beginning, son had already planned the perfect day for his dad. He would wake up early, prepare breakfast for mom and dad, send it up to their room and give them breakfast on bed. Then later in the afternoon, he would drive them to the nearby cinema and let dad and mom have a romantic movie together while he would go back and prepare a nice dinner for them. He even looked up the recipes that would make a good dinner.

After all, he thought to himself, it’s Father’s Day!

So that Sunday morning, he got up early and started cooking breakfast. The night before, he had all the eggs laid out on the table and the sausages and ham left in the sink to tore. He turned on the gas stove and started on the sausages.

The sausages and the ham was done swiftly, now all that was left was the eggs. He cracked the eggs carefully at the side of the pan and broke the shell. A shrapnel of the shell fell into the pan together with the egg white and yolk. Unsatisfied, he got a fork and began digging out the piece of shell. Probably, he was too focused on getting the shell out that he forgot that the stove’s flame was still at the highest flame intensity. In a matter of seconds, the egg was already burnt and the piece of shell was still inside.

A tad disappointed, he turned off the stove and flipped the pan to the side to let the egg slide down. Alas, the egg never did. It was too burnt and was stuck to the base. He was about to again dig the egg out when a brilliant idea crossed his mind.

Why not put some oil at the base and heat the stove up again?

Gleaming, he took the oil, poured some back into the pan, and turned on the stove, expecting the oil to start sizzling and he’ll slide the egg out just in time. Weird, the oil never did sizzle. Why isn’t it hot? He looked underneath and saw that the flames were not coming out. Maybe I didn’t turned it on just now, he mumbled. And he turned it on again.


That was when the whole stove exploded, sending him a few feet back from the stove. He was lucky that nothing nearby caught fire, but the whole stove, the whitewashed wall behind the stove, and the gas tubing, was either molten or charcoaled. He sighed at relief at his survival, but the sound woke his parents up. The dad, half awake with a mouth ajar, asked him what happened.

Nothing much… Breakfast, you know… I was preparing it for you guys… when this useless stove… yeah… you know…

The dad sighed. Son, we’re gonna have to clean up that mess. The boy hung his head low.

But hey! The dad said cheerfully , we could do that after the ham and sausages!

Breakfast was warm and nice. Mom said that the sausages were a little burnt, dad suggested that the ham would have went well with butter instead of olive oil, but he loved the fact that his son cooked breakfast for them. Still, nothing they said could rid the boy off that awful feeling deep down in his heart. First part of the day screwed up, he’d better not screw up the movie and dinner.

The wall didn’t take as long as expected, and soon it was time for the movie. Mom and dad got dressed up, cologne and perfume, a tie and a scarf. All got into the car and son slipped comfortably behind the stering wheel, twisted the keys, and rafted the engine.

If he could remember it clearly and accurately, it was first a loud roar – the usual roar when an engine turns to life – then an unexplainable and rather mysterious metal choking sound, then the engine went dead.

Son was sweating in his seat. Maybe it’s the battery, he reassured. I’ll go check it out.

He checked, and it wasn’t. He was sweating even harder. Mom and dad came out of the car. So what’s wrong?

“Come son, let’s check it out.”

Dad took of his tie, rolled up his sleeves and started fiddling around with the car engine. The son was passing him the tools as the dad looked through the parts cautiously.

Dad, I think it could be the conveyer belt.

Dad opened the hud of the engine. You’re right son, it’s the conveyer. Guess we have to call the mechanics in.

But dad, the movie…

“Forget about the movie son, let’s work on this car ok? Call the toll truck and we’ll go over to the mechanics repair shop.” The boy’s heart sunk deep into his guts. Now all his plans are gone. If he went to the mechanics, he would never get home in time to prepare dinner. All his plans for Father’s Day would be ruined.

Throughout the rest of the evening, he remained calm and strong. He was terribly disappointed that things did not turn out the way he wanted it to. Dad drove him to the mechanics in mom’s car, and they watched the mechanics working on the car for a couple of hours. The car’s conveyer belt was fixed, but the mechanics insisted that they leave the car behind for the other mechanics to give the rest of the car a thorough check on Monday. So both of them drove back home.

The boy no longer had much to say. The journey back home was long and quiet. The sun, in the distance, set behind the hills and the day was quickly coming to an end. What a useless day, what a meaningless day! I couldn’t even give my dad a happy moment in his life, the boy thought to himself.


Hmm? What’s up son?

I’m so sorry… for screwing up today… I so wanted to give you a good breakfast, a good movie… but nothing just worked out… I tried…

“Son, don’t feel sorry for yourself,” the dad interjected. “Today has been the best day in my life.” The boy was stupefied and thought that the dad was trying to console him. Dad must have read his mind as he went on to say, “It’s been a very long time since I last spent so much time doing things with you.”

Washing the walls together, fixing the car, driving to the mechanics, waiting at the shop, and now driving home together. Just you and me.

“You see son, you really don’t have to prepare grand events or special activities for me. I don’t need that. All I need, and truly want, is you. Every single day you wake up in the morning and greet me, every single moment you talk to me about your day and friends, every time you ask me for help in your studies and carpentry, every night when you give me a hug before you sleep, those moments are all Father Day’s moments. All these years, every single day you gave me has been a Father’s day.”

Son was moved by the words of his dad. Little did he know that a father’s heart was full of the smallest things he ever did for the dad, and memories stored with those moments of laughter between a father and a son. If only the dad wasn’t driving, he would have bent over and gave him a hug.

Dad, thank you so much.

No son, dad replied. I should thank you instead. It’s because of you, that I become the reason for this very day, and for all those moments of being a dad.

Happy Father’s Day folks.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Photographer 2 - Stop, Look, and Smile

Just a few days ago, I was surprised and completely elated to meet the old photographer. I was amazed that he hasn’t changed much since the last time we met, which was almost a decade ago? And the best part of all, was that he never did forget me.

“Come young man,” he motioned for me to join him for lunch. “I’d better not get too used to calling you little boy, can I?”

Very quickly we exchanged words and caught up a little with each other. Oh you’re now in college? That’s fast.. Haha.. yup.. going to be a doctor.. Why on earth would you want to be a doctor? I thought all this while your only passion was about shooting pretty girls passing by.. Hey! What do you mean by that? Haha..

He took a sip of his black coffee. Putting down the cup gently, he asked, “Could I have a look at some of your photos?”

I so happened to walked back to my hostel with the camera in my hand. Earlier on there was a major function in college that I was covering. Sure! Why not? Do comment and advice me.

He took hold of my camera firmly and familiarly switched it on and looked into the pictures. His eyes screened through the pictures swiftly but carefully. Without missing a single detail about texture and lighting, we discussed the technicalities of the photos I shot. Flash angle wasn’t too good over here young man.. you could have tilted it a little more to avoid the obstruction on the ceiling.. why did you use low aperture and low shuttle speed? Goodness..

The old man was witty and was taking swipes at my photos. Defensively I explained my motives. I wanted to contrast the backdrop of the stage.. there was a lot of alien light from behind, I had to eliminate it with the flash light.. and no, I wasn’t interested in that girl sitting in the front row..


And all of a sudden, I recalled the last time I had such a hearty laugh with him many many years ago. How a small boy, sitting on the lap of a grandfather who was full of stories, and now, sitting opposite each other, laughing again over a cup of coffee and a camera.

The old man continued to flip through the photographs and added comments here and there occasionally. This time however, I noticed that he was more immersed in his own thoughts.

What’s on your mind, old man?

His eyes gazed wearily. Something must have reminded him of a story he once kept. I could tell, that he was digging deep into his memory bank to recollect that story he once heard of, that incident he once encountered.

I was once like you, he finally said after a long pause. Young, brash, aggressive, ready to take on the world. Without much thought and care, I went out with a camera and took good photos. Nature, people, incidents, events…

But as I grew older I realized my photos never did improve much. Year after year, my photos would have the same theme. Trees swaying with falling leaves, ducks on a pond with its clear reflection, bird swooping into the pond to catch a fish.. it became so stale and boring. There was a point of time where I nearly gave up photography.

I was all ears. Then what happened old man?

“I asked myself, what am I doing all this for?” He paused to sip his coffee while I waited eagerly for him to continue his story. Why bother to take photos that I’ve already taken years ago? Why care about the nature when it’s not like anyone else in the world never did see trees with leaves falling down when the wind blew. So really, why do I take photos?

“You see, young man,” his experience and wisdom was now speaking for himself. “There came that point of time when I no longer enjoyed shooting photos. The camera was now a tool, the pictures that came out were just outputs. How could you utilize your camera to its best, or how would your output ever be amazing enough, if you have no idea about what your input is, or where it’s coming from?

He stopped there, and allowed the words to sink into my thoughts. I pondered and wondered, what old man is saying is true.

If you have no idea about what your input is, or where it’s coming from, how would your output ever be good enough?

So, he continued, I decided to give my faithful pal a break, and took a walk in the park without the camera. As I walked, I asked myself, what do I want to see? And I looked around myself. I saw a small boy cycling on his little plastic tricycle with his attentive mother hovering around him. Now if I had my camera with me back then, I would have immediately knelt down and snapped photos of that moment. But without the camera, I just stopped where I was standing, looked, and smiled at the beauty of the moment.

I walked on and saw ducks swimming on the lake. I’ve taken tones of photos of ducks, young man. Trust me. Tones. But that one time I was standing alone without my camera, I noticed that the very same duck I always shoot pictures of would swim alone while the rest of the pack swam on the other side of the pond. I asked myself, why is that duck swimming alone? Is it injured? Disabled? Rejected?

His eyes lit again. As if as a sudden enlightenment dawned upon him. “Then it suddenly came to me, that if I never stop to look, the beauty of the moment, even if captured on film, would be lost. When I was your age, all I wanted to do was to take beautiful pictures. It was all about the output that mattered to me. And it became boring.

“But that very moment, when I stopped to look, I realized where it all begins. Even before the output can come, it is the input that truly matters. To just stop, and look, and smile. That is appreciating the beauty of the moment. It is at that moment where you realize that those photos of ducks feeding or kids running around in the park matters enough, if you’ve been able to appreciate the wonders at how ducks feed and felt the joy of kids running around in the park.”

Notice that every time the camera is in your hands, all that’s on your mind is about the amazing photos that you want to shoot? He added. You no longer focus on what’s going on anymore.

I nodded slowly in agreement. He handed me back my camera. I looked down into the 3 inch digital screen and flipped through the photos. Yes, in my pursuit of capturing spectacular pictures, I, myself, have lost the beauty of the moment.

For so long I’ve always taken photos simply for the sake of taking photos to ‘own nice photos’. The greed in wanting to take many photos in order to never lose a single opportunity to grab a good shot or capture that rare sight pushed me to keep that camera in my hands in front of my eyes all the while. But little did I realize that I too have slowly lost the beauty of moments.

Stop, look, and smile.

“Old man,” the same curiousity in me back when I was little never died after all. “What happened to the kid on the tricycle and the mother?”

He chuckled. You changed little haven’t you? Well, he told me that once he received that enlightenment, he quickly ran home, grabbed his old faithful and dashed back to where the kid and mom was. The mother, he said, was a bit taken aback at his enthusiasm as he explained to her that he was a photographer who was working on some projects, but eventually she agreed to let him take a photo of her with her child.

“That photo, young man, was the most beautiful picture I’ve ever taken. The mother was squatting beside her son on the tricycle. She smiled, and her son never did look at the camera. It wasn’t about the posture or the graphic details, it was about how that particular photo reminded me of the moment I saw him riding his tricycle. I sometimes take out that photo and wonder, what’s going on with him? Is he already working? Does he have a family? Is he married? Is he happy? And then I remember that evening when he was cycling, with his mother beside him, how I felt so warm to feel the love of a mother and the joy of a little child.”

We never did chat for long, although I badly wanted to. The skies were turning dark, and I had to rush back to my hostel to get some work done. But as I stood up to walk away, I suddenly remembered what he said and did. Turning around, I turned my camera on, and politely asked him,

“Could I take a photo of you to remind me of this moment?”

And he smiled. That very familiar smile I could still remember even after 10 years.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Piano - A Tribute to My Parents

My parents have made certain investments that I knew of, both in mine and their lives. Cars are one. The few that they bought have served our family for close to decades; education, no doubt..

But there is no one investment they made that could beat the piano that they bought many years ago. It's a Young Chang piano, Korean imported. It would never produce the quality of the tone as fantastic as a Petrof or Yamaha, but it's still a very fine piano alright.

First time I sat on the piano chair, I was 3. All I could remember about those days were how I'd just randomly hit the keys and laugh to myself at the funny and weird sound it made. My legs were way too short back to touch the floor back then, so I'd sit with my whole buttock on the chair and let both legs dangle in mid air. After all, I hadn't much use of the pedals anyway.

The piano was my imagination. After watching Disney cartoons, I'd walk back up to the piano and play the songs I heard. Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Pocahontas were my favourites. And as I played, I would imagine myself as the prince saving the beautiful princess, or be the little soldier in the movie fighting his way past evil monsters to get to the castle where the sleeping beauty slept.

Growing older, when imaginations of rescuing princesses faded and realities started sinking in, I still imagined myself as a little conductor, orchestrating a masterpiece for the movie makers. Playing on the high-pitched keys were like flutes, trumpets, strings, melodious and sweet; low-pitched notes sounded like trombones, bass, percussions, evil, dark, dangerous. It was a little child's imagination that kept that black shiny piano in my home always working, and it was a simple piano that painted my life with many beautiful colours.

Having such privilege of growing up in the world of music and sounds, I now realized that my piano actually taught me more than just music lessons. For one, the piano made me realize how much my parents mean to me. Back when my dad was still working, he could afford to send me for music lessons and exams. My last exam was the Trinity diploma. On payment day, I was with my mother in my lecturer's office when she took out a wad of cash and counted it in front of my huge eyes as she passed it to the teacher. Driving away from the music school, all that my mom said was, practice hard and don't waste our money, ok?

I was 14 back then. Money was no longer something that was so casual-looking like water or paper. I was old enough to understand how hard it was for my dad to earn every dollar, especially after being in his lab before and seeing what he has to do each day. For the first time in my life, I got serious about what I was doing. It was an examination alright, and I had to do well.

In the months that led to the exam, I would occasionally wake up from nightmares of failing my diploma test. It wasn't a nice feeling, and it was no fun. Dreams have always been something very real to me, and in those few dreams I remembered waking up to, I always woke up with sweat dropping from my temple and eyes moist and red.

God, please don't let me fail. Please.

I could say that it wasn't those nightmares that kept me practicing even when my hands were sore and the blisters popped all over my fingertips. Maybe it was the fear of not passing, but I couldn't fail as long as my parents were paying. I could not allow myself to let them down, neither could I afford to waste the money that they spent on me.

Now as I write, I look back on those many hours spent with the piano. Sacrificing time to myself, effort and energy, I realized all that I did and all that I earned wasn't for my own self. It was an act of love for my parents. As much as they coughed out that colossal sum of money for my exam and classes out of love, it was just the only way I could have showed them that I love them too. No way I could actually repay their love. It sounds ridiculous even to think of paying them back for all the sleepless nights they went through and all the tears and blood poured out for a son who brought so much pain to them.

Eventually, by God's grace, I passed my piano exam. Though I never verbalized it, though they congratulated me and heaped me with praises, the one thing that I wished I told them earlier on before they gave me the credit for working hard, was this:

It's not about me, it's the both of you. It's your credit, it's your achievement.

Once in a while I will still go home when I'm fed-up of life in college. But there too will be the days when I wished I never did go home. Home now reminds me of all that my dad still has to go through to put bread on our table. Now working private, he works odd hours, travelling from state to state in a truck, works overtime and sometimes have to go back to the factory in the middle of the night to load goods off lorries.

And one night, while waiting for my dad to come home, I cried thinking of how he still has to struggle for us. God, why do you let all these still happen to my dad? It's never fair, and life's never going to be fair. It's always my dad that suffers first from the government, and now the private work, how about later?

He came back at 3am, tired, in pain from loading the goods - 15 tonnes of fertilizer bags - and soaked in his own sweat. He went to take a bath, and coming out, while getting ready to sleep, I hugged him as usual.

Papa, I'm sorry, I blurted.

My dad was perplexed. Sorry for what?

And I walked out of the room. I turned away, not because I didn't have an answer, but because I didn't him to see me cry again. I'm sorry for not being able to help you. I'm sorry that I'm the reason why you still have to suffer so much. I'm sorry that I would never be able to take care of you and mummy yet. Just give me a few more years, a few more years and I promise things will change for the better. But for now, I'm so sorry.

Crying myself to sleep, it somehow dawned to me that if only things weren't the way it is now, I would never be able to keep pushing myself to do better, and work harder for a better tomorrow. But I must say, that these love and struggles that I could relate to, all started the very day my parents bought the piano. It was God's magical way of showing me who really matters to me, and led me to understand that all I did was not for myself, but for them. The piano reminded me, that some things in life are just worth investing in. Or should I simply say that my parents never really did invest in a piano, they invested into me and my brother. That's the greatest investment they ever made.