Saturday, 18 December 2010

clarissa tan

Clarissa spends her life trying to separate fiction from non-fiction. As a journalist, she focuses on travel and the arts. As a desperately hopeful author, she writes short stories and is working on a novel. Clarissa won the Spectator’s final Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize for travel writing. Her blog, Words and Letters, is a series of vignettes exploring the nature of fiction.


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February 18, 2010
Special to asia!

Today we have naming of parts.

“Rob, we’ve got this great one for you. It’s like a parody of a parody of ‘Nam. Tom, this one has your name written all over it – you lead a band of men around the countryside, looking for a private. As for you, George, you wander in the desert looking for gold spoils, satirically. Brad, you get to be a Nazi-like Jew and everything. And Russ, Russ, relax. We’ve got this awesome one where you get to wear a gladiator’s outfit and chop heads to haunting music. Right, everyone. We’re trying to evoke war, remember? All the blood and the sweat and the torn limbs and how nobody ever wants it again. Got it? The audience will love it.”

Today we have naming of parts.



February 16, 2010

Another Chinese New Year, this time of the Tiger. As usual, as a concerned relative you see it fit to interrogate me, insinuate things about my life, allude to my filial and familial feelings (and failings).

What if I interrogated you instead? What if I judged you by my own values, and find that you come up short? What if I said I find it pathetic that I’ve never seen you carry a book, much less read one? What if I said I think it’s a disgrace that you don’t seem to care about the progress of democracy in your own country? What if I said I wonder what you and your husband ever find to talk about, since you don’t seem to be friends, let alone lovers? What if I said I thought it was absurd that you spent all those years trying to get a son to please your mother-in-law, who lives with the utterly wicked notion that boys are better than girls?

You hand me a red packet filled, I am sure, with dollar notes, condescension and pity. Take it and shove it.



February 13, 2010

Last night, I fell asleep and my book slipped from my hands. I saw, from the corners of my consciousness, the words spilling out of the pages, like little drops of mercury. They streamed on to the floor, where they formed a shimmering pool.

Then, like a silver river, the words flowed out of my front door, down the staircase of my apartment block, across the road, past the trees and houses and down into the valley.

My river of words glazed across field and sea and stone, and coursed through the mighty desert, where it joined hands with the moon.



February 11, 2010

“Oranges are not an only fruit,” the mother told her little daughter, in a supermarket.

“You must always put them two by two, in a red basket. Cannot only-only one. If you give one orange, very bad luck. Means no pair, no luck, no prosperity, no babies. Then when you bring them to people’s house, always remember, wish them Happy New Year, Gong Xi Fa Cai.”

I watched as the daughter solemnly helped her mother with the oranges, carefully arranging them in scarlet paper bags, helping them go in two by two.



February 7, 2010

What wonderful things he saw. Mountains on the Moon, spots on the Sun. An infinite number of Stars lining the Milky Way. Satellites dancing round Jupiter. The Universe, and our consciousness, expanding under his very gaze. It was the day the earth moved, spinning on its axis, with us clinging on for dear mercy, the wind streaming through our hair. All the astres around us, glowing.

Years later, he would recant. Threatened with torture, afraid of another kind of flame, he said he had never seen what he saw. Or rather, that it didn’t mean what he had thought it did, thus saving himself.

But it was too late. He had flung the stars into the sky, and each became a burning testimony, a winking acknowlegement that we are never exactly who we think we are.




Naming of parts

Readers have written to me to say that they particularly like the first and last sentences of my post, Hollywood.

The sentence(s) are from the poem Naming of Parts by Henry Reed, who fought in World War 2. The poem describes how, undergoing training as a soldier, he is taught the parts of a rifle.

I riff off the phrase “naming of parts” and try to put it into what it might mean in today’s context. My blog post is a pale, pale imitation of the poet’s style and work, though.

Here is Reed’s poem, so everyone can appreciate it.


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