Chapter 1

Book 1 : Childhood

Early Days

I’ve tried to start this thing so many times, cajoling, persuading, teasing and outright forcing myself to write. None of it has worked. I would dream about the times I would finally get started, and the words would flow like water, and I would recount triumphs and tragedies both, and tell the Story of My Life. Frankly I’ve also felt that capitalizing too much makes the writing process harder, not easier.

But here I am, with the Book, the Novel, at The Start (see I’m doing it again!) While I’d like to begin with the events that led to its writing, I think that would only serve to confuse the reader. So I’ll start where all things generally do – at the beginning.

I came to life on June 15th, 1982, in Kandang Kerbau Hospital in the nation of Singapore. Or so I am told. Like most human beings I have no knowledge of my own conception or birth. I was a premature birth and weighed 5.2 pounds. A healthy baby boy!

My parents didn’t have a place of their own when I was born, and so for a time I stayed at my paternal grandmother’s place called Palmer Street, a fetid cesspool of a house completely unfit for human habitation. I would like to say I am exaggerating because of artistic license, but I am most certainly not.

There was a pond outside which looked like the Black Lagoon that a certain creature might come out of. The house itself was cockroach infested and filled with all sorts of junk. Not a great place to live, for a baby or anyone else.

According to my mother, I was moved about a lot (to various relatives’ houses) until my parents finally bought an apartment when I was four. Not the most auspicious or comfortable circumstances for a newborn, the effects of which would make themselves known in my later years. Most books on parenting, and common sense besides, would tell you that moving a baby here and there in his first years is not the wisest course of action. But I was also not a planned pregnancy, and my parents did the best they could with what they had at that time.

From the ages of one to six I spent most of my time after school at my maternal grandmother’s place. While it was not as bad as my OTHER grandmother’s “house”, it was sorely lacking in love, care or attention. You see, my maternal grandmother – I’m going to call her Ma Ma, which is what I called her when I was young – didn’t speak to me at all. Neither did my grandfather. (who we called Gong Gong) My aunts and uncles were busy with work and besides, didn’t really know how to take care of a young child.

It’s at this point that I would like to convince you, gentle reader, that it’s not going to be one of THOSE books. Yes, you know the ones where it turns out Poor Baby has Such a Terrible Childhood that was Full of Pain, and then you cry and weep and get all emotional. My life is a lot more varied and interesting than that.

Of course, growing up I didn’t know any of this. How could I? I was only a kid. And despite all the fallout these things would have on my later life, and how lonely I remember feeling, nevertheless I remember that I was happy. I think all children are. The world is so new and bright and shining, and everything is great and wonderful and nice.

I’ll give you an image to go by. Imagine, if you will, a Chinese version of Charlie Brown, the “little round-headed kid” as my mother used to call me. He is playing with blocks on the floor. Short wispy black hair, a big smile on his face, a faded green shirt and blue pants. Big black eyes and a straight, open gaze.

Dei Po Road was where we lived, and for the longest time I wondered why you didn’t pronounce the “t”. There was a little shop nearby which sold ice-cream, and as we all know, all children love ice-cream. My favorite flavor was lime, and if close my eyes now I can still picture myself licking the emerald lolly on a warm evening while following my parents back home. The harsh lights of the shops around us flickering, the dark night all around us – and my surprise at how the center turned to vanilla.

My parents would come every night to bring me home from my grandmother’s place, and I would wait and wait and wait for them. It was indeed a long way home for a four year old, and they would sing songs to me all the way to keep my spirits up, as well as lift me over the manholes and the broken bits of road I couldn’t easily walk over. There was a copse of trees along the way, and I would always would look for it, because that would mean we were halfway home. The songs they sang were from their time spent studying in England. I remember a “Long Road to Tipperary”, one about a train, and others.

I stayed with a few of my cousins at Ma Ma’s place. Their parents were also all working and so their children were there as well. I would learn in later years that my grandparents always resented the fact that the children of the male side didn’t come to their house, but the female side did – an ancient Chinese tradition from times gone by that would haunt me for years to come. But I was young and all that meant absolutely nothing to me.

I also had more than my fair share of childhood mishaps. My mother tells me that by the age of four to five I had yellow fever and jaundice, as well as breaking my head. (more on that below) I can’t remember any of it of course. I also had this horrible ear infection which cleared up on its own that I do recall a trip to the doctor to deal with, but nothing else. This isn’t to mention a host of other flus and blocked sinuses and other things besides. I must have been a tough kid!

In Japanese they say awareness of yourself and the world around you is “knowing the spirit of things.” and that was I was four. Most of what I can remember starts from that time.

One of my cousins who was with me at my grandmother’s was Chen Guanling. He was around my age and really naughty, running around all the time (and getting beaten by his mother for doing it) While we were there I was the Good Kid, and he was the Bad Kid. I actually wanted to play with him but at the same time I was kind of scared of his behavior. He could be quite out of control at times, once even climbing the window grilles and almost falling out of the apartment.

Then there were my other two cousins, Andrea and Mark Lau. They were the offspring of my eldest aunt and were there for a few years with me. My clearest memory of being with them is lying on the straight flat bed in my grandmother’s room and all of us slapping our feet against the wall. We made such a racket that another of my aunts came in and told us to stop it.

I also almost broke my head when I was around four or five. I was jumping around on the bed with my cousins and I hit my head on the steel bedpost. Everyone was worried and with good reason.

They called the ambulance and the hospital called my mother and father. I don’t have a clear memory of this, but I can remember my mother standing over me and crying at the operating table. I still have a scar on the side of my head where no hair grows.

What are my earliest memories? Loneliness. Happiness. Being read to. Being scolded. I would wait patiently and silently the whole day for Mum to come home, and I was so happy when she did. But when I got home sometimes she would scold me for no reason and I would be so sad and lonely. As I child I had no way of knowing what demons lay inside her. I loved and I cried in equal measure.

Oh yes, I went to kindergarten, which I also don’t recall that well. My mother tells me stories of the teachers making fun of me because I wore underpants when I was only five or so. One of them asked me what God looked like (it was a convent school) and I said that he looked like a genie with blue skin. They seemed to really find that funny and laughed a lot. I didn’t see what the big deal was.

The second kindergarten I went to starting when I was age six (Wingham something or other) was better. The teachers were nicer and actually spoke English, for one. I didn’t speak any Chinese despite my biological origins because my parents didn’t either. They told lots of interesting stories too, like how one of them used to trek through the jungle and catch and eat snakes for dinner. Whether they were made-up or not, I couldn’t tell – I was a kid, remember? But I do remember that story time was definitely the highlight of the days spent there.

It was about this time that my maternal grandfather (we called him Gong Gong) passed away. I don’t remember him very well. He used to wait for me downstairs after I was driven back by the kindergarten driver. He would walk with me up the stairs in silence, and that was that. I don’t think he ever spoke a single word to me in his life.

I don’t remember the funeral clearly, but I do remember my mother clinging to me, weeping, and me trying to console her as best as I could. I remember looking out the window and trying to be… strong? Calm? I’m not sure, but I don’t think they were the emotions of a “normal” five to six year old.

In the absence of playmates and parents (i.e. when my cousins were not around) I watched a lot of TV. My grandparents didn’t talk to me much (if at all) and my aunts who lived with them were working most of the time. I was lucky to have some of the Very Best of British TV for Children to mitigate the loneliness. I watched Noddy, (quite a cultural institution back in its day) Gumby, the Wind in the Willows, (which I think to this day has a beautiful, beautiful opening song) and Supergran. A little old lady turning into a superheroine when she eats oatmeal – only the British would think of that!

My grandmother’s house is much the same today, though she is no longer around. The dusty bookshelves lined with books that no one read. The clunky garbage chute at the back. And the small plastic cup that I always drank from when I was younger – which amazingly looks the same after thirty odd years. It’s a faded, chipped little thing, barely big enough to hold in your hand…but just the right size for a child’s fist.

So that ends the days of my early childhood. The years that followed would be some of the best of my life.

Chapter 2


Chapter 3


I have often wondered what would have happened if we had not gone to America. You most certainly would not be reading this. I would have been a completely different person. Suffice to say that it changed my life forever.

Why would an Asian woman from Singapore go halfway around the world and bring her entire family along? PhD studies. My mother wanted to do her PhD and we were to come along because she couldn’t leave us with my father in Singapore. I’m sure at this moment you are well acquainted with how my mother’s and father’s relationship (or lack of one) was, and how she wanted us to be with her and not him.

I can remember my parents talking about this in hushed voices (one of the few times they talked about any issues, or anything for that matter) and how she wanted him to come along with her to support her. He took a year of absence from his job and joined us in the States.
At the tender age of ten, I had no conception of how life-changing the move would be. I innocently assumed that we would be there for two years, come back, and then everything would be the same. I didn’t want to go! I wanted to stay here, in Singapore, with all my friends, where it was familiar and nice and good. I think most kids would have thought the same.

But the die was cast. My mother had acceptance letters from Edinburgh and Chicago, but she rejected the former on the grounds that it was “too colonial” (a strange reason if there ever was one) Chicago was excellent in her field (which was education) and the decision was made thusly. My Dad would come along to help us settle in and then he would go back to his job in Singapore.

I was sad to leave. I can still remember the last visit I had with Connor and Calvin, walking down the stone steps to their place and across the roads to mine. They wrote farewell messages into a scrapbook that I still have today.

And so we packed, and said our goodbyes, and we went. The packing was such a big deal to a ten year old child. It looked like my entire world was going into those huge brown boxes. I looked over each one with worry and wonder. Would all my books and games be safe, going halfway around the world? I remember my Dad telling me that freight could be insured for emotional value and I immediately wanted that for everything that was mine.

A plane ride later and we were halfway around the world. It has been twenty-three years since but I can still remember the first few things I saw. The streets of Chicago, so unlike those at home, tall and wide and seeming to go on forever. The soft carpet of white snow that blanketed everything. The TV channels (more than fifteen of them! not just four!)

The tall old black waiter who brought me a Coke and smiled. It was the year of the Clinton/Bush election and I was watching it on TV, looking at how the ratings measured up. I was completely and utterly convinced that Clinton wouldn’t win and I said so, quite loudly if I recall. He just came up to me, placed the Coke on the table in front of me and left, smiling all the while – not amusedly at all, just a warm, gentle smile that I can remember till this day. I was so embarrassed at my outburst but he didn’t seem to mind one bit.

The snow! I had never seen snow before, let alone felt it. The thick white mass that covered everything, the sensation of cold on my fingers, and the seemingly endless flood of flakes that rained from the sky. Coming from a tropical country to the middle of winter was a shock in itself. I had never ever worn so many clothes before. It was as cold as Singapore was hot.

Everything was new. The streets, the cars, the sky, the entire world. Taxis were too expensive, we had to drive. All the food in the grocery shops was different, and no one spoke a word of Chinese. I remember this black lady crossing the street and singing gospel songs and I was just blown away. Whoa, people sing in the streets? Can you even DO that?

My Mum had her heart set on me going to Chicago Lab Schools (despite the price) and so it was there I went. It was a nice place, almost too nice, to be honest. Everyone was so well-behaved and upper middle-class. Nice, but also a tad artificial, I felt.

School was different too. No bowing to your teacher as they came in and out of the classroom. People sat around and talked and discussed things, instead following exactly what the teacher said to do. We could read books out loud – in fact it was encouraged! You didn’t need to wear a uniform either.

Coming from the hothouse academic environment of Singapore, schoolwork was a cinch. The first take-home assignment I ever got was to keep a journal. We could write whatever I wanted but being the nerdy Asian kid I was I wrote about coming to stay and live in the US. What I REALLY wanted to write about was knights and dragons and princesses but I took the safe option that I was sure would get me an A. I was really quite addicted to A’s back then.

There was a Physical Education class where a fat black girl named Katy was teasing me about something (what about I can’t quite recall – I was only ten at that time) and not knowing that teasing was pretty normal in American schools I reacted rather badly. All that homesickness and frustration and anxiety about being somewhere new must have come pouring out of me, because I ran right at her and started beating her with my fists. The other kids and the teacher had to come and break it up. To be honest I was kind of shocked at myself. I didn’t know I had that in me!

I still feel a bit bad about it now. I hope Katy, wherever she is, forgives a young Chinese boy who was just so out-of-his-depth and confused that he went kind of nuts. The homeroom teacher called my parents and I remember wanting to hide my head in a hole.

We bought a Super Nintendo (the system I didn’t get to buy at home because of the TV, remember?) and I played a Link to the Past – of course you have to get a Nintendo game for a Nintendo system! Which was pretty amazing. I think that may have been the first video game in my life that I tried to get every item, defeat every enemy and leave no stone (or bush) unturned.

Speaking of video games…I remember my first time stepping into Blockbuster Video. So. Many. Games. Rentals in Singapore had amounted to my Dad on his bike (with me often in tow) going to remote (and often kind of seedy) locations around Singapore to find games to rent, and the selection was never really that good. This was something else entirely.

Hundreds of games lined the shelves of each store, and all of them were in English to boot! In Singapore I often had to make do with awkward Chinese translations which I couldn’t understand a word of. But now for the first time in my life, the names that I saw in the stores matched those in the gaming magazines that I spent many a long afternoon poring over.

And, of course, Final Fantasy 4. (or 2, as it was known at that time) I stared at the shiny red case on a cold night at Woolworth’s, wondering why it was fifteen dollars more than all the other games on display. I would soon find out.

It wasn’t just a game, any more than every other game in my life was “just” a game. It was an adventure, a journey of truly epic proportions. It firmly cemented my love of JRPGs which began with Phantasy Star 2. It has a story which was more than just “go here, save the world” but one which encompassed two worlds and a lot more besides. Fighting. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies (especially Rydia!) Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles. True love.

My parents didn’t take to the city well at all. They found it unsafe, scary, and threatening, and worried endlessly about the danger factor. While it’s true that Chicago is not exactly the safest city in the world, I always thought they blew it way out of proportion.

My sister? She was still quite young (around four) But she loved the kindergarten she was at. Everyone adored her and she adored everyone. Especially her father – she was always a Daddy’s girl. One of the teachers used to say that “she’s got her father around her little finger” and that was so, so, true. We played together a lot (since we didn’t have many other friends) and one of my clearest memories of Chicago is her watching me play FF4 while dressed in a tutu from school. Meimei was now old enough to talk and read books so having a little sister suddenly didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.

I have a lot of good memories of my time there. We ate hotdogs outside the “bee place” – which was a little grassy steppe outside a bookstore with a lot of bees. I read books while swinging my legs on the bench in the university library while waiting for my mother to finish her classes. My sister and I made snowballs and snow forts and snow angels and snow castles. If there’s anything I will miss about Chicago, it’s the snow. I know it can make driving tough and shoveling walkways a pain in the ass but playing it in, feeling that hot-cold sensation on your bare skin and mashing it up in your hands and letting it fly…pure magic.

Eventually my mother decided the city was unlivable and that she didn’t know anyone, so despite it being an objectively worse choice in her career she decided to move us to LA. In later years I would also learn that she couldn’t take the academic heat (I believe Chicago University requires four publications a year or something similar) I don’t think I had a strong view about that decision one way or another. I was ten and a half and Asian, I went along with whatever my parents said.

So we packed (again) and moved (again). My schoolmates were sad to see me leave and bought me a book (I still have it, Terry Brooks’s A Spell for Abernathy) but I can’t say that six months had particularly endeared me to them. Maybe it was just too short a time and I still wasn’t used to America. I still have their farewell note though, and wherever they are now, I wish them all the best.

Chapter 2

The Happiest Family In Sanc Ville

Which is what my mother called us, and for a time I think it was very true. From seven to ten I was really very happy. There were still tears and fears, disappointments and upsets, but on the whole it was a good time – quite possibly the best time of my life. Ah, but everyone says that about their childhood, don’t they?

What’s Sanc Ville? My second home after Dei Po Road. That was sold and we moved to a new place, an apartment block right next to a shopping centre which had BOTH a video game store AND a comic shop – which to my young mind meant that basically it was as close to heaven as you could get. Plus our new home even had a swimming pool! What bliss.

I believe that at this point it would be a good idea to give you an idea of who my parents were and are. They are, after all, the people who made me, and they will figure quite prominently in everything that comes next.

Let’s start with my mom. Her is name is Liew Sim Mei, though she also took the name Clarice when she studied in Australia.

I am of course biased but I have always thought my mother was on the pretty side. Certainly the few photographs of her that we still have of her earlier days would seem to lend credence to that fact. She was (and still is) uncommonly intelligent, fast on her mental feet and very well-educated indeed.

She was an aspiring poet, a editor of plays, a teacher (her job for most of her life) and lover of books. Among her other achievements, at the tender age of seventeen she wrote a which when produced, ended up with her being invited to talk to a man who would later become the Prime Minister of Singapore. I was so awed, impressed and proud of her when I learnt of this fact years later.

She is and was also the most critical person I have ever known. Nothing was so bad that it could not be made worse by complaining about it. There was always something wrong with something. It could be the government, the world in general, industrial pollution, men…anything, really. Most often it was my father, but you can rest assured that in any given situation there would be a problem and it would be someone else’s fault.

As you can probably expect a lot of this got transferred to her children as well. Most Asian parents (especially women) set very high expectations for their brood, and my mother was no exception. I think even when I was a child I was hard on myself. Everything had to be done just so, no excuses, no exceptions. Very good was just acceptable. Work hard, study hard and don’t slack off! That was drilled into me pretty much every day as a kid.

She could be tender and caring, and often was. She prized learning about all else, and our house was always filled with books upon books upon books, so much so that visitors would remark on “the library”, a tall brown study at the back of the house. She (and my father) were most definitely very very academically oriented, which meant lots of reading for everyone in the family.

She also shouted, and scolded, and her rages would be things to be feared. As a child whenever she got angry I would run and hide and just wait for Mum to get over it. It seemed to work pretty well.

Oh yes, and she beat me. A lot. I know all you Westerners must be shaking your heads and tut-tutting up a storm by now, but at this period of time in Singapore, beating children as a form of discipline was not exactly uncommon. Though I must say that the amount and the intensity that my Mum whacked me with was most probably outside the norm – though I had no way of knowing that. She would beat and beat and I would cry and cry but it would all be ok because at the end Mum would come back to being Mum again and love me and everything would be ok once more.

As a child, she doted on me (when she wasn’t shouting or scolding) and I on her. I was the happiest when Mum was there, reading to me or playing a game – which due to her work schedule often was not as often as I would have liked. She would print out cards with words with which to teach me reading, and read to me a lot besides.

Then there were games, some of which I did not like. She had this thing about tangrams and often tried to get me to unsuccessfully play with them. But most often it was books. Books and books and more books! As a lecturer she had access to the university library and brought back books nearly every day. Some of my happiest memories are of my mother coming up the driveway, smiling, with a bunch of books in her arms, and me running to see her.

Children’s books, so many of them! I read the Wind and the Willows, Frog and Toad, and almost anything by Janet and Ahlan Ahlberg. I guess one of the advantages of having a lecturer as a mom is that you get access to the Very Best of British Children’s Literature. I would roll around in the big bed that we had and read to my heart’s content.

Which child does not love his or her mother? It’s a rhetorical question. I sat on her lap and she would read me stories and even sometimes play computer games together. We played Moon Patrol and I wanted to shoot, (man did I wear the spacebar down) she could drive. The same went for Space Invaders (actually the game wasn’t really Space Invaders and I can’t remember the name but it was close enough!)

She was pretty hip and cool for a Mum, even if I do say so myself. She had her ultra-traditionalist, Do As Your Mother Says and Respect Your Parents side (which probably came from HER parents) but her time spent aboard had given her a wider view of the world. She used to smoke and even played Super Mario Brothers for a while – although she never made it past World 2.

Along the rages though was also the agoraphobia. And the panic attacks. I never realized (until much later in my life) how much those two things must have burdened her and shaped her life. She couldn’t go out of the house alone, and so she took me everywhere with her. To shopping centres, to buy clothes, to see her family…as a child I just took this as a matter of course and I followed docilely, almost always with a book in hand. Everyone I met cooed and smiled and told me what a smart boy I was to be reading so much at such a young age.

This was of course related to the panic attacks. My mother had suffered from them most of her life, and sometimes her face and hands would tense and she would look around for a danger that was not there. It was pretty scary to be around, especially for a young child. A lot of her behavior could be traced back to that fear – never going out alone, needing somebody around, and not going too far from the house. Agoraphobia and panic attacks both is a deadly combination.

Oh, and the high-blood pressure. My mother has had high-blood pressure since before I can remember. There was a trip to the doctor’s office where I can remember looking concernedly on as the doctor attached a strange-looking device (which actually was just a pump) to her arm. She just smiled and said that it was something Mum had to have done.

It’s kind of obvious now that my mother wasn’t the healthiest of individuals. These things would take their toll on her in the later years in ways which we couldn’t see at that time. But once again to a child they were just things that Mum had and did and that didn’t matter. I loved her and she loved me – what else was there to know?

And now I come to my father. My dad is a tallish, kind and gentle man who worked as a researcher for the Housing Development Board of the government. He was that rarity of rarities – a gentleman who was actually gentle. Perhaps due to his years in the United Kingdom, I have always thought he carried himself with a certain refinement. He was intelligent, learned (perhaps not as much as my mother) and loved (and still loves) motorcycles and detective novels.

He was also (and continues to be) the most negative person I have ever met. In his world there was a cloud behind every silver lining – or better yet, no silver linings at all! If something could go wrong, he would assume it would. Like my mother he was giving to brooding, and when I was a child, I could remember him sitting, staring into nothing, for the better part of an hour. He was adept at seeing the negative quality of any situation and dissuading you from doing anything to improve it. To him it was just being realistic.

A maxim of his was “prepare for the worst.” And boy would he prepare – checking things over ten times and getting to the airport four hours early in case “anything happened.” A born worrier, he used to drive my Mum (and to a lesser extent, me) nuts with his anxiety.
Cheapskates had nothing on my father. He would make a pan-handler looks like King Midas. When it came to purchasing anything his view was that the exchange of goods and services was a battle, and you won if you didn’t buy!

He was a born rationalist. If there was no scientific study on it, it as good as didn’t exist. He analyzed everything. He always looked, asked, but never touched. It wasn’t safe to do anything without rules, use-by-dates, or instruction manuals.

People have many talents, and two of my father’s were cooking and art, especially the latter. When he was younger he was selected to represent Singapore in a regional art competition, and then later on, was offered a position at the Birmingham College of Art in the UK. There’s a whole story behind that as well, but that will come in time. His cooking was never chef-quality but he could whip up quite a few good meals in either the Western or Eastern style.

Strange for such a negative person, perhaps, but my childhood memories of my father are often of him smiling. And yes, he did smile a great deal and was great fun to be around most of the time. I can remember him spending almost every weekend tinkering with his motorcycle in the open space below the stairs of our apartment. He would give me rides to wherever we wanted to go and I can still remember the feeling of the wind streaming past my arms and legs, the helmet two sizes big and heavy on my head.

Of course I didn’t see my parents like this when I was younger! The good and bad were there, but they are very different in a child’s eyes. Mum was the one I went to for advice, the one I was closer to, the one that I had to obey. (or beware the consequences!) Dad was good for games and stories, not so good for help or for work, and the one that I should not get too close to. For even when I was young I knew certain things – the laws of the world, if you will.

Namely, that there was no love lost between my parents. I mean that quite literally, because actually there was no love at all. Perhaps there had been earlier (they DID get married and had me!) but the time I was six they didn’t talk to each other much, if at all. Those of you who are reading this and come from families with divorced parents (or maybe are divorced yourselves) are probably quite familiar with the perpetual Cold War that rages.

There is a relationship of a sort but it’s largely based on false pretenses. No one says anything, and if they do, it’s all very practical and polite. There’s little to no conversation, and absolutely no touching regardless of the circumstances.

But as a child I thought this was the way all families were. And individually, my dad and mom loved me very much. My loyalty to Mum (whom I was closer to) also came with a certain distance to Dad – aided in no small part by his own distance from everything. I was taught (perhaps unconsciously) that Dad was no good. Dad himself was there, but in a sense never really there. For instance, he did nothing whenever my mother scolded me or beat me. I now realize that he was probably terrified of her, and with good reason – she could be pretty scary when angry!

My childhood world was interrupted by the arrival of a little sister. Meimei would become (and still is at the time of this writing) the most important person in my life, but I didn’t know it at that time. In fact, I actually thought she was kind of a bother. I loved to eat out, and now with this new and most unwelcome addition to our family, we could not do so any longer. My mom tried to counteract this by eating out a lot beforehand so that we would have a reservoir of sorts when Meimei came along…but try telling that to a kid! Delayed gratification is a concept that not even the most intelligent seven year can comprehend.

What else does a child remember from his childhood? Video games! I loved (and still love) video games. Except that this love is more akin to what Christians have for Jesus, or parents have for their children. No, I’m not kidding – when I say I loved video games, most people had no idea how much.

For though I did not know then, they were to save my life, open the world to me, and teach me almost everything important about Life, the Universe and Everything. Not to mention being incredibly fun!

I had no gaming consoles as a kid, and so my dad used to bring me to a place called PP Park to watch games instead, which I would do for hours and hours. There was Super Mario Brothers (of course) and Dragon Spirit and Pooyan (who remembers that?) and Megaman and a whole host of other games that I couldn’t identify because I was six years old.

I had an uncle who gave us his Nintendo when he was done with it and that was like the Best Present Ever. Finally I could play games instead of just watch them! I think my favorite game in my childhood had to be the Legend of Zelda. I used to play that with my Dad quite a bit. He completed the game before me, staying up on several nights to make maps and chart dungeons. There was one night where he couldn’t get past a room with eight blue Darknuts and I had to help him fight through it. I almost beat all of them before the last one got to me and I burst out crying – which lead to Mum to coming in and berate him for letting me stay up and play video games on a school day.

So I played video games, and when I say I played I PLAYED. I think now that had I not been so lonely at school and at home, and had parents who spent more time with me (not to mention each other) I would have had more outlets for my youthful enthusiasm. But as it went most of my childhood was spent in front of the TV screen – not an uncommon phenomenon. Contra, Castlevania, Super Adventure Island, and of course Super Mario Brothers – all the classics.

I didn’t just play video games (although my mother would have disagreed with that statement most vociferously) I read a lot – anything I could get my hands on, really. There was absolutely no shortage of books in the house. But I think my favorites had to be fantasy and sci-fi. I read Dragonlance (didn’t everyone at some point?) and I had to endure my mother’s scathing comments about how it was so derivative of the Lord of the Rings and I should read that instead. Whatever. Beverly Cleary was another childhood favorite of mine.

I also remember being really into Arthurian legends when I was younger. The sense of chivalry, heroism and virtue in those tales would stay with me my entire life. I guess all young boys dream of slaying dragons and rescuing maidens in some fashion. I loved myths and legends from all around the world and would collect every folk and fairy tale I could find. The Fairy Book series (The Red Fairy Book, Blue Fairy Book etc) was another childhood favorite of mine.

How about what was on the TV? Star Wars! I never was that big into the whole franchise when I grew older but when I was seven years old I watched the single VHS tape we had of Star Wars (recorded straight from the TV no less) so many times that it wore out. Same goes for Transformers – I loved it to bits as a child (I probably watched the movie the same amount of times I watched Star Wars) but I sort of fell out of it as I grew older.

I also met my first good friends during this time, Connor and Calvin Ying. They were brothers – Connor the younger and Calvin the older. I was Connor’s age but given our mutual bookish nature, I sometimes felt a lot closer to the older brother, Calvin, giving rise to some feelings of shame and misplaced loyalty. But I liked them both and so we all got along – except when the brothers fought, as all brothers do.
Connor was most definitely the best friend of my childhood. We had all the same interests – video games (for him it was computer games, actually. He was an early PC adopter and was always faster with the latest technology than me) comics and telling each other stories. We even had our stuffed animals introduce themselves to each other!

I liked Calvin a lot too. We shared a mutual interest in tabletop RPGs that Connor never really got into. I remember a silent, starless night in which he invited me over to his room to look at his prized collection of RPG books (which were really hard to find in Singapore at that time) and feeling such a sense of togetherness that I could read all the “big boy” stuff with my dear friend. He was four years older than me – a lifetime to a boy of eight or nine.

We had great times together. Like I said, these were some of the best days of my life. We played games all the time and ran around and did all the things young boys do. I ate with his family and they ate with mine. We watched movies and played more games and each day that I spent with them was filled with fun and joy and laughter.

What else was important during this time? School, of course. It is generally a big deal in most young children’s life and mine was no exception. I was both a mommy’s boy AND the teacher’s pet, which of course meant that I had no friends. I remember reading a lot. About the only attention I got from the other kids was when it was time to do homework, at which point I became the center of attention for the whole class. Why? Well, because then they could copy my homework and then get back to playing games of course. Me? I just wanted to finish up everything as fast as I could so I could get back to reading.

While I excelled (more like “beat the pants of anyone close in terms of grades”) at almost every subject, there was the bugbear that would plague my life for years to come. Namely, Chinese. Now, despite being of Chinese parentage, my parents did not speak any Chinese, and I stepped into the classroom in Primary 1 (first-grade to you US folks) without knowing a single word of Chinese. Guess what language the class was taught in? I can recall spending almost the entire lesson looking out of the classroom windows in complete non-comprehension, waiting for my Dad to come and fetch me home.

It was not a huge problem in Primary 1 but grew into one as I got older. At first I just ignored it – like most kids do when they are confronted with something that they don’t like. The thing is, you couldn’t. Or rather for the first year or so you could, and the second year I still got a few passing marks, but from then on no one could ignore the fact that Kain couldn’t speak Chinese to save his life. It was the only red mark on my otherwise pristine academic record.

To make matters worse there was this constant refrain of “you are Chinese, how come you can’t speak Chinese? You Have Brought Shame To Your Ancestors!” I swear I could hear the capital letters even when I was all of eight years old. Many people would tell me this in many years for years to come and internally I would always think “well, I don’t speak Chinese because no one at home does!”

All the usual panaceas were trotted out. I was bought children’s books in Chinese, I had tuition in Chinese, I tried to watch Chinese TV. Nothing worked. All that happened was that I grew to hate it more and more. My mother would also tell me about how she was forced to study Chinese by her own father and how she hated it (in my mother’s family they spoke Hokkien, a Chinese dialect – not Mandarin) All the teachers would tell me about how shameful it was that I was a Chinese person who couldn’t speak his own language. I just stared blankly back at them. Didn’t they know my first language was English?

Chinese lessons were horrors for me. I especially dreaded Wednesdays – two and a half hours of sitting around understanding absolutely nothing. I think it would be quite the ordeal for anyone, let alone a eight to nine year old child.

To be fair, the curriculum wasn’t designed for children like me. The teachers and educators probably assumed that a potential student would understand at least a BIT of Chinese (not an unfounded assumption) I would have been much happier in a Western-based educational system which taught language in terms of grammar (definitely my strong point) or phonetics, rather than the straight-out immersion and memorization approach that the schools in Singapore took.

I would continue to hate Chinese for the better part of two decades. It would get worse until getting better…and though I did not know it at that time, it would be an epic tale of forgiveness and redemption. But you’ll have to read on to find out how that happened.

I was lonely at school and also lonely at home. My parents didn’t get back from work until around seven or so, and there wasn’t much time for playing before it was bedtime (which I recall being about eight P.M or so when I was eight) All I had for company most of the time were games and books, and so I read voraciously and played ferociously. There were other kids on my block that I played with now and then, but none as close to me as C and C, and since they were only free to come over on Saturday, it was for Saturday I waited for with bated breath every day.

No matter how dreary or boring or friendless the weeks were (and they could be all three) it was all worth it when Saturday rolled around. I don’t think it was much of an exaggeration to my younger self to say that I practically lived for that day. Saturday was when I could be with my friends, where we could play the whole day instead of doing homework (that had been done at lightning speed on Friday night) and eat at McDonald’s, then go over to each other’s house and play some more.

I was also pretty close to my cousins, Andrea and Mark from my mother’s side and Jason and Chris from my father’s. The former I spent some time with back when we were all at my maternal grandma’s house. The latter often came over to my place (or I would go to theirs) to play and just generally spend time together. I remember once Jason saying plaintively once when Andrea and Mark were introduced as our cousins “but we’re YOUR cousins too!” Kids say the darndest things.

No mention of my childhood would be complete without talking about Robotech. Ohhhh, how I loved that series. Robotech was also my first exposure to anime – much like most of my generation, come to think of it. Though I had watched some anime before (mainly Sailor Moon dubbed in Chinese) I couldn’t understand it at all because…well it was in Chinese! And I wasn’t one of those kids who were just content to watch the pretty pictures. I wanted to know what they were saying, what the story was!

Robotech was…quite a tour de force to a nine year old, which is when I started watching it. I don’t think I fully appreciated every aspect of the series at the tender age of nine (I definitely didn’t understand all the romance and wished they would get back to the fighting) But it rocked my world and I remember finding and reading all the novels I could get my hands on. Its sheer scope and depth left a deep impression on me – as did the animation quality (so much better than Western cartoons!) and the poignancy of its story.

And yes in case you’re wondering I watched Voltron. I think EVERYONE watched Voltron at some point.

When my sister was born my mother hired a domestic helper, Mary, to help around the house. She was the best hired help you could ever ask for, always remembering our birthdays, out favorite food and what we liked to do. She would wake me up at nine am every Saturday so I could watch Robotech. My mother never really took a shine to her, perhaps subscribing to the Great Asian Conspiracy that all hired help is out to cheat you and steal your money.

Mary used to sing Micheal Jackson songs in this incredibly high (and kind of irritating) falsetto, which in later years I realized is quite a Filipino Thing. Once I even tried to get her to play a video game with me (I think it was Jackal, for the NES) but she refused. Probably for the best.

Seven gave way to eight, and then to nine. I remember buying a Sega Genesis! Which was supposed to be a Super Nintendo (or rather, a Super Famicom, the Japanese equivalent) because it had Mario on it (Mum’s orders – get the one with Mario) but realizing that it did not work on our TV, which was only NTSC. The owner of the game shop himself came down to try and fix it – which to my eight year old mind was akin to the Emperor coming to give YOU gifts, rather than the other way around.

One of the happiest childhood memories I have is of my 8th birthday. My Dad bought me Phantasy Star 2 (which I had spent hours watching at the game shop nearby) and finally I could get to play it! It was a warm and dark evening when I opened the box to discover an instruction manual (I was my father’s son, I loved to read instruction manuals) and a map and a hint book AND the game. Truly an embarrassment of riches! So much material to go through before even starting to play! I was going to start on it but my father told me to have an early night – tomorrow was Saturday and I could have the entire day to go through everything. I went to sleep a happy boy indeed.

Phantasy Star 2, my first JRPG. The fact that you could level up and learn new skills and techniques and equip new gear and armor completely and utterly blew my younger mind. It was so different from all the other games that I played which were action-based – jump here, jump there, shoot this, shoot that. Not that there was anything wrong with that, but I think I hungered for something more and PS2 definitely delivered. I must have put a hundred hours into that game at least. To this day my entire family (including Mary!) can remember its battle theme. Among other things it left me with a lifelong love of purple hair and pointed ears.

Those were good times, the best times. Very possibly the happiest times of our lives. Maybe everyone thinks their childhood is the best time of their life, and in some cases it is even true. That was when Mum and Dad read books to us, and played with us (sometimes) and even still slept in the same bed (but not together) and we had friends and books and games.

Every weekend or so all the domestic workers on the block would form an all-Filipino Alliance and have a barbeque downstairs. All the kids from every house would come down and ride bicycles and play badminton and generally have a grand old time. Even I managed to get my nose out of a book enough times to participate in the festivities.

How about holidays? We took more than a few but it was the one to Club Med in Malaysia that I remember the best. I made sandcastles on the beach only to have them washed away – but that just meant that I could make them again. I discovered that there was a thing called undertow and I flung myself into the sea just to feel the pull of the water on my legs.

I had my ninth birthday party, which was a big affair with ice cream cake! I think I was so excited that I forgot to enjoy myself. I was really into Super Mario Brothers 3 at that time (to be honest I think every boy I knew was) and my Dad, always the artist, decorated my room with paper cutouts of Goombas and Koopas and the smiling clouds of World 3. I was torn between ecstasy and a vague feeling of shame that I was having so much done for me without working hard enough to deserve it. It ain’t easy being Asian.

It was in almost all respects a normal, happy childhood. My dad gave all the kids on the block rides on his bike. I combed the bookstores of Singapore searching for every fantasy novel I could find. There were school trips to the zoo, the aquarium, and the park. We went on more holidays and visited aunts and uncles once in a while. There were big fights about homework, and small fights about everything else. Games were bought, played, talked about, and tossed aside for well, more games.

We took home videos, we were happy, we were normal. I didn’t at that time know that it was not exactly “normal” for parents to almost never talk, or to have to follow your mother around everywhere she went and hold her hand (literally as well as figuratively) But I was happy, and I think so was everyone else.

As a child I thought those days would go on forever, but of course they didn’t. So here we come to the first major turning point of my life.

America, Day 17

Felt pretty good today. I think I am shedding the idea that writing has got to be this incredibly emotional endeavor involving blood, sweat and random inspiration. You just have to get out of yourself and your head and let it flow. Easier said that done, but also easier done than said.
I sort of understand why I’m in such pain at some moments though. This is the second stage of rebirth, and no one ever said that was easy. In fact being born is probably the most painful thing ever…just ask any mother or newborn. Well you can’t ask the latter because they’re only a few minutes old, but the way they’re screaming should generally clue you in to what is happening.

Another poem for your perusal :

No one ever said that being born was easy
It’s probably the hardest thing one can either do
or have done to them.

But now as I am conscious I can feel these pains
more keenly, and I know that they are but
the birth pangs of a new creation
to be welcomed rather than cast aside.

I have never felt such kinship with
caterpillars of I do now
I look at the small white capsules of
their metamorphosis with kindness
what miracles of life and creation must be
working through their cocoons
their entire forms liquefying and combining
into something new.
Becoming a butterfly can be hard work.

I am trying my best
to greet each new day with anticipation
until I realize that I have no need to.
So much of the past has been going forwards,
but sometimes what you are searching for
comes to meet you instead.

Old habits die hard, but I can feel them breathing their last gasps inside of me. For once I am not trying to commit everyone to either words or thought, but just letting it happen – also both harder and easier than you might think.

Spend some more time with my friend, whom I have known for 15 years…a pretty long time. We went to Tatsu Hobby, the only Gundam store in the area.


That is a lot of Gunpla.


Amazing intro by my friend.


Only thing cooler than Gundam is Gundam with horse.




Valuable Pod is Valuable.


This guy continues the long tradition of Gundam antagonists that look like some kind of waterfowl.

If there is a Kirby, we must take a picture of it.


The rare Samus Arandam. The modeller did a great job on it.

I actually really want to watch Tekketsu no Orphans but at the same time I’m kind of afraid because it’s all about child soldiers and yeah…I can relate to that, sometimes too much.

Later went out with some of his friends, who were new anime fans, and I reflected once again on how things have changed and not changed. They still talk about the same things for the most part – which characters are coolest, who they’re going to cosplay next, which is your favorite scene in so and so…I guess geeks never change. I realized once again that I’ve been watching anime longer than most fans have been alive, and that really shakes me sometimes.

I sometimes think this self-reflection thing really goes on too far, and I’m sitting here thinking about life rather than going out there and living it. That’s true to a certain extent, but we do need some time to sort things out and hey, at least I’m writing it all down in the blog nowadays.

Still breaking free of my parents’ influence. It often seems to me that my entire life has been one long fight against everything that they wanted and stood for. I wanted adventure, they wanted safety. I wanted to create, all they wanted me to do was settle down and get a steady job. It’s been a long, uphill struggle and sometimes I can still feel the last vestiges of an internal war. Argh. And I’m supposed to be on my fucking vacation here!

What does one do after meeting anime fans? Well, go to karaoke and sing anime songs of course. Here we are :

Another pretty multicultural karaoke. only my railgun, Flying in the Sky (omg talk about nostalgia…) Common People (English song!) a Chinese song (whose name I cannot remember and that I used the furigana to sing along with) Zankoku Tenshi no Teeze (of course) and to top it off…Stand Proud. We both agreed that no song we sang after that could possibly beat someone punching the TV screen furiously and decided to call it a night.


My friend singing his heart out. I’m so proud of him…he used to be such a shy boy.


Hi, this is my little corner of the Web. I hope you are alternately entertained and enlightened as best as I can possibly manage.

Who am I? My real name is Tai An Zhou. I’m a writer, a poet, a singer, a translator, a cosplayer, a HUGE anime and video game fan, voice actor, an erstwhile philosopher (aren’t we all?)
a student of life in all its intricacy and wonder, and lover of all things weird and wonderful.

I love to write, and I’ve written everything from poetry to essays, travelogues, fanfiction and original works. You can read it all here.

I run a delivery service from Japan. Check it out at

I plan to eventually have a lot more content here. Stay tuned!

I hope that everything I’ve written here helps you, delights you, or enriches your life in some way. May the Divine that resides in all things shine on your soul always.

America, Day 12

America, Day 12

Woke up early because I slept early, starting writing more blog posts. These things don’t write themselves!

FInding it easier and easier to write now I’m getting into a habit of doing it practically every day at regular times. There is something to be said for internalization.

Still sometimes haunted, still wish it would all just go away. I guess I’m only human.

Even as someone who is given to introspection, I sometimes wish I WASN’T. I definitely stay inside my skull too much sometimes. I have to remind myself of two things 1) I can actually DO things now and 2) I’m doing ok. I sit around and think a lot less than I normally did. Time to get out there and write and well, do more things.

Going to see my good friend BQ in Santa Clara today. The first leg of my trip is over, it’s all younger people from here on out. We’ll see what that brings.

I need to finish Gundam Unicorn at some point. Maybe in the train.

Took some pictures of this house in the early morning. I don’t think I will ever get tired of how everything that looked so ordinary can look so magical before the day starts.

Another friend of my hosts came over, a lady named C. A more talkative, vivacious, energetic and sharp lady you’ll never meet. She talked a mile a minute but somehow I didn’t really mind. Maybe it was the interesting stories she had to relate.

We took another last walk around the area. Goodbye Sacramento! It was nice knowing you. Maybe I’ll see you again, maybe I won’t.


Goodbye, Overly Aggressive Ducks. These guys want your bread and they want it BAD.



I asked for her advice after giving the short version of my life story, which I always do. She told me “Stay open, stay connected. Keep up with the writing.” I shall do that. 8 years in the Cave was far too long for my comfort. It was perhaps necessary but terribly painful. I’m finally alive and Heavens willing, I’m going to stay with way!

Had a super multicultural lunch, composed of leftovers from the last few days. I can’t think of a better way to end my multicultural adventures with multicultural hosts. We had the lethal oranges again but in my case I think discretion was the better part of valor and I opted out. C seemed to like them though – she even told her husband about them on the phone.


I may try some variations of them, (or another dessert entirely) in future, maybe on the trip. We’ll see how it all works out.

I wanted to try to get some music instigation going but it didn’t look like it was in the cards. D brought out this song called Swimming to the Other Side, though, which was good. And so I thought it appropriate to share the song that brought me to UU in the first place (C is also a UU) Everything Possible. It went over well, and she thanked me for sharing the song with her
Here’s a link if you are interested. It’s one of the most beautiful and meaning songs I’ve ever heard in my life, in any language.

Still experimenting with things. I could have pushed to sing Melodies of Life, which might have made me happy…but we might not have had enough time to do it. Does that upset me? Maybe not. My life is not dependent on singing one song for friends, no matter how dear they are. Maybe it’s because that they are dear that I can say this.

Now that I can have what I want, maybe I don’t even need what I want. It’s so weird. There’s no right answer, and I’m just feeling things out as I go along. That’s called life, I guess.
So many old ghosts to put away. Sometimes I still feel the old fears – no one likes me, no one’s listening to my music, I should be over this by now (thanks Mum, for saying that like a thousand times when it was never true…) etc etc etc. But the volume is turned down real low now.

It still hurts more than I would like it to. You know how it is – or maybe you don’t know how it is, so I’ll tell you. You’re doing something completely mundane like folding your clothes or making the bed and then it hits you anew…21 years. 21 fucking years of pain and anguish. Envy and time and all that was I fought rips through me once more, and I remember when I could not NOTHING but fight, in which surviving till tomorrow was the only goal that I had.

Breathe, breathe, breathe. It will pass. I close my eyes and tears leak out…I summon all the lightning and flame I wielded into me once and it burns and streaks across the darkness. If I draw the blade, if I transform into that incarnation of strength, the shadow WILL be banished. But maybe at this point I don’t need to that anymore. Put it away, let yourself hurt, let the pain itself be the healing. It’s possible.

What do I need? The child cries out in longing and hatred both. At this point I may need succor more than fulmination, temperance more than fury. What does HE need? Let go, let go. Whatever happens, I am held in the embrace of the Light, clad in heaven without blemish.

Time to attend to mundane matters once more and head to the station. Along the way D asked me what I thought of our time with them and I mentioned that not 30 minutes before I left a water glass on a wooden table without knowing about water spots. And when that happened I felt SO BAD ABOUT IT.

But she reassured me that it was ok because I didn’t know. Whew. What a relief. My sister is once again right – it helps the most to be able to told in the present moment by someone you trust that it’s ok. Another old wound healed. Thank you, my friends, for your many gifts to me – your advice, your house, your meals, your friends. May the Divine bless you in all its presence and power both.

Got a reply from one of my old friends in the USA. I was happy but sad at the same time…sad because whenever they ask me how I’ve been and what I’ve been doing all this time, I have to tell them the bad news. “No, I’m not a computer programmer/game designer/academic/teacher like you thought I would become, I’ve actually spent the last 21 years being abused and taking care of 4 kids.” I mean, it makes ME sad to have to write this, and tell them that.

I know, I know, I could be dead, it could be worse etc. But in the face of the facts those often sound like platitudes.

Argh, enough of this. Out of mind and into the world once more. I’m writing this on the train and I can see a horse farm on my left and well…that’s well enough.

Yes, I boarded the train with no difficulties. The Capitol Corridor train to San Jose, to be precise, though I’ll be stopping at Santa Clara.

More introspection and reflection onboard, along with pictures.

I tried to not go within overmuch but…what the heck. If it happens, it happens. The journey is not something outwards but inwards as well, after all. Don’t fight what comes.

But in the spirit of newness once again I’m not editing it and just writing whatever comes into my mind, James Joyce style. Apologies for the rambling. Skip if you wish, but I’m just going to let myself go here.

I wish I knew what it was in another life, not to have to be a parent at 12, or even earlier.

In the past I had to dredge up that strength, but now it’s simply here. I mind not what foes come because I have the power to defeat them. I don’t need to tear at myself for it.
What the child needs may be to go within, to heal instead of fight.

It’s another old ghost that tells me to settle down, to just get a steady job and go somewhere nice and easy. I have never desired that. That is not my dream, has never been my dream.

What my therapist says comes back once more…this IS the first time in 33 years that I have been free of her influence. I have to let the poison drain slowly. There will be times in which my mother’s issues still live on in me…accepting that and letting them go is part of my healing too.

Such a relief to realize that what pains me so is not mine in the first place, has never been mine.

It’s ok to yourself feel the deep pain, for it was a long time and it was truly hurtful. But not to swim in it and wallow. Let it go, for that burden is not yours to bear any longer.

There are yet more memories of California in the scenery, from things that I once saw to movies and books and games that bring up images of the sun-kissed earth. I think of letting the child have his way and just imagining what it might be like to move back here, at 33 instead of 12. Why not? There’s no harm in imagination. It’s one of our most powerful tools.

I know what I’m about! I know! Free from the curse of constantly second-guessing myself, some courses, at least, are very clear. But I don’t make the mistake as I did in the past of thinking that knowing once means knowing forever. Lanterns are lit, and we walk forwards, but things blur again and we search once more. The important thing is to keep on moving.

There will always be those that have less, and am I never ungrateful for what fortune I may have received. But one doesn’t blank out the other. To be fortunate is to be grateful, and to raise our hands in supplication to that which gives – human, earth or heaven – and not to hang our heads in shame over what we have, or have been granted.

This is my trip and no one else’s. These are my viewpoints, my songs, and what I think is my own business. My life, basically. I’m still getting used to that. I’ve never been able to ever do that before.

Don’t enjoy being overemotional…enjoy being correctly emotional. There is that something within which calls to me, and purged of the past, will return to what it should have been many many years before.

I know there are certain things that will stay, and certain things that will flow. It has already been that way, in many ways. Motion in stillness, and stillness in motion. Yin and yang in perfect balance.

Why not have a day filled with many things? That is, after all, what I wished for myself when I was younger. To create my own curriculum with my own discipline and own studies. To learn everything – though not all at once! Be like the Greeks who I so admired, mix emotional and physical and mental in correct proportions. Even cook sometimes. If I do burn out I’ll just take a fucking vacation or something.

I actually feel a lot better after writing all that down. The blade and the reflection both have their place. I do want to get out of my mind a lot more, but that doesn’t mean that the latter has no purpose…far from it.

Pictures of the scenery :









Managed to get some other writing done as well. I feel the past course through me as I write – some bad, mostly good. There’s a lot of the same nausea that I felt in last year November and December, in the midst of the death and rebirth, a grey miasma that has to be purged. I’m going to keep on writing no matter what distractions may come. There’s something on the other side – I can feel it. And by God I’m going to get there. If attempted suicide didn’t stop me 18 years ago I’ll be damned if anything is going to do so now.

But…there’s no need to try so hard. The bell has rung and the gates are open and all I really need to do is the let the waters flow. Let it happen. Effort isn’t the same as strain. It’s getting used to a new kind of writing, one that isn’t hampered overmuch by what has come before, but uses it as a fuel for creation.

Whew. Holy wall of text Batman! For once I’m not going to apologize for writing it…my Japanese side can go stuff itself for a while for once. I do hope that it helps someone out there, though, and that writing it wasn’t just cathartic for me but was of assistance to anyone who might read it.

Got out of the train and waited for my good friend BQ to pick me up. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him. He’s someone that I have known for a long time but that I have never come clean about my issues with. So I told them the edited version of my life story again. Achievement Unlocked – life story complete with abuse in less than 10 minutes!

Met his fiancee as well, who a very nice lady indeed and a very good fit for him. Some of my friends have expressed concern that at the rate I’m going I might burn out, but she told me not to worry about that. She’s probably right, and I thanked her for her advice. After all, I’m finally getting to do what I’ve waited 33 years to do…burnout? What’s that?

Got to BQ’s house, which is nice, is messy…actually it’s not that messy. I have no idea why people have such hangups with messiness. I’m not going to judge you or your house in any way. ANd believe me, I have seen MESSY. This is not messy.

It is, however, Plushie City.



Aren’t they just adorable!

It’s been interesting to meet him again. He and I have actually impacted each other’s lives in pretty deep ways, though neither of us really realized it. He’s the only person on my journey of reconnection that actually remembers things that I don’t, for one!

Such a change of pace from the older people that have made up the first part of the trip. They were all a) retirees b) walked a lot c) were cooks and d) knew next to nothing about anime and games. The latter are almost the exact reverse in every regard. It looks like I will have to spend most of my time here inside the house instead of gallivanting around every single minute of the day…which is fine by me.

The past and the world continue to change at a rapid rate. Everything looks different, feels different, even smells different. I understand what the new-age Buddhists mean now, that each person can be in their own world and inhabit a completely different place, despite sharing space with others. I can see myself looking onwards on myself when I am here, whatever I am doing, even when I am typing. I know that I am awareness looking out through a human shell, a true ghost in the machine. Deus Ex Humina instead of Deux Ex Machina. It’s surreal and yet enlightening.

Also, I realize that everyone I have been staying with on this trip has been married. I think that I feel my…singleness, for lack of a better word, when I’m around married people. When you’re with somebody you have to consider their thoughts and feelings and how they integrate into your life. You can’t always do whatever you please and you have to mindful of the other person in many different ways. It’s interesting to observe and I really can’t say which is better than the other…since none of my relationships have lasted for more than a few months.

As a side note – my friend has worked at FB and Google and still doesn’t know how to use messages on his new mobile phone. I feel much better about my technologically-challenged ways now.

Oh yes, and his house also has this :


It’s a sign, I tell you.

Very very long day. Gotta sleep. See you all tomorrow with fresh revelations, more pictures and a whole lot of justice.

America, Day 11

Another fortuituous day, May Day. Time for church, which I was quite looking forwards to. I never thought the day would come that I would actually be LOOKING FORWARDS TO GOING TO CHURCH. But then again that was before I discovered a church like this.

The sermon was on pornography. I really admire the minister for not shirking such a difficult and potentially controversial topic. She went through the S word, the G word, and the P word without so much as a blush.

I went up to her later and thanked her. As I said to her, as someone who has both used and abused porn, I can see it’s great potential for both good and evil. Like most things. I’ve needed it in my most darkest of days to stay alive, but it’s also been pretty destructive to both my mind and body. Another thing I’m happy to give up and have a healthier relationship with.
Getting used to the difference between church services…for instance, they don’t clap in this church. Also, they link hands at the end.

Look, a festival! Not really. This is that time of the year that the special interest groups try to get recruit. Turns out the church doesn’t often do this, only once a year to be exact. Must be because I was here. I feel so special.



More pictures of stuff :

I like the flags. Why water, though? (水)I guess it’s the most neutral of the 4 (or 5, if you’re Oriental) elements.


Chatted with many friendly people, some of who came up to me, and told some of them about my book and my blog. I learnt that Sacramento is famous for tomatoes and is also called Sacratomato. It’s a sign, I tell you. Good time for me to blog more!

One of the booths was the labyrinth, a time-honored tradition in which someone walks through the twisting walls in order to gain perspective, clarity and other things besides. Sounds like exactly what I need at this time. I walked it and while doing so I was reminded of the books of Amber and Corwin’s walking of the Pattern…which not-so-coincidentally I read while I was in California, 21 years ago.

I could find my way to the center but I couldn’t find my way back, so I just walked in a straight line past everything – cutting the Gordian knot, as it were. That’s how I got to this point, after all.



Also, vikings. It was for a camping trip. Any camping trip with vikings gets my vote.



My best viking impression. Pillage their women, rape their villa…wait. I’ve gotten it the wrong way around.

I must say, I really really like this church. I liked the Mount Diablo one as well but this feels…friendlier? If I stayed there I would totally come to this church all the time.

Time for lunch. My hosts brought me to an Ethiopian restaurant. My first time eating Ethiopian food! Which is more than a little Indian in taste and texture. Delicious though.



Was aware of a slight pounding in my temples while eating which I recognize as…a hangover. Whaddya know! More new experiences. It wasn’t as unpleasant as I initially thought.

More attacks of the past while in the car. But I think it’s getting better. Slowly, I think, the whys start to fade. Why am I not here yet? Why is it taking so long? Why did I have to suffer so much?

So many, many old patterns. I think back to one of my most reliable of blades, the mighty Occam’s Razor. Why does it take so long to heal, why do the scars run so deep? Because neurobiologically speaking, I’ve thought these things and my mind has run on these tracks for 2 decades. As my therapist often tells me, that is enough time for highways of neurons to form, layers and layers of connective tissue that I can’t expect to go away overnight. In recovery there is the physical brain to be aware of as well.

One step at a time. We’re getting there. 前へ進め、あるくのような速さで。(Move forwards, as if at the speed of walking.)

Walked into a random video store and my God, it looks EXACTLY like 21 years ago. The games have all changed but they’re arranged in exactly the same way. There are still VHS tapes! Wut. Expected more nostalgia and feels but there wasn’t that much. Which I’m actually kind of grateful for. Excesses of emotion can be very, very draining. And I think I’m past the OMGWTF stage of my healing.



A nice garden I saw. And some pictures of the town.




Went for a scroll down Sacramento River. Isn’t it beautiful? Everything I’ve seen so far has been nice.







Beautiful clouds. I have like 20 pictures of them but I can’t post them all here. Here are my chosen best picks.








Oh look, long grass. Doesn’t it look like you could find a Pokemon or two in them?


There was a little grassy path that I walked down to see what was at the other side. It’s the kind of place you’d expect to make a sharp left and find a chest with 2 potions and 500 gold.
I always remind myself that everything I see in games usually has some basis in real life.



We came back and had a snack and had more philosophical discussion, and then…we went on another walk.








I love sunsets.

Sunsets…they sometimes make me think of this.

probably my favorite sunset in a video game, in a lifetime spent playing video games. One of the last games I played before leaving California. It’s no wonder I am remembering it now.
Once again we talked about many things. Transcultural issues and jobs, mainly. How some jobs (finance and psychology sprang to mind) required degrees and some others often didn’t. How some things could be done remotely and others couldn’t. The demon inside still wishes me to decide, but I don’t think I can do that yet. I remind myself once again that decisions do not equal security.

The issue of money. For more than a decade I spent less than 500-700 dollars a month to pay for everything – food, clothes, bills, therapy. Not quite poverty, but not exactly a millionaire’s lifestyle either.

I’ve lived that economical existence for so long that it’s like I don’t know any other way to live. But if you were to ask me what I’d like to buy I don’t think I would be able to tell you. I also remember when I was younger and so anti-consumerist I actually wanted to join an antitrust organization at some point. All that I wanted – freedom, love, healing – couldn’t truly be bought with money. I’m not even sure what it means to me now. More things to redefine slowly I guess.

Also the issue of insurance, so different in Singapore and the USA. I remember people exhorting me to buy it in the former and how it is well-nigh essential in the latter (even with Obamacare) Wow, if insurance could pay for mental illness I would have taken out 6 policies ages ago.

How different it is to be considering things at 33, at 19, at 65. Coming from different worlds and with different goals. So much else to say but I don’t want to have 2 more pages of musings. (there is enough in this blog as it is!)

What a privilege it is to do our taxes, to pay our bills, to have to worry about such mundanities as parking and groceries. I remind myself every day – at least no one is trying to kill me anymore! All this time everyone lived in the real world, and I lived in Afganistan (or at least somewhere very similar)

No matter what happens, no matter what obstacles there are, at least it is not the great pain that threatens to overwhelm and consume and destroy me utterly. Life isn’t fighting anymore…it’s life. And for that realization I have endless gratitude.

Went to bed early. It’s been a long day and I have a train trip tomorrow.

America, Day 10

America, Day 10

Woke up to a beautiful morning and…more problems with the Internet. Sigh. Perhaps Wi-Fi really IS the bottom rung of Maslow’s pyramid. It seems we can get little done without it.
More reflection, of the good kind this time. Much deep pain is being cleansed on this trip and I can feel it both spirit and body. I did not know that the shadows cast were this long, but I have faith – as I have had since forever – that no matter how great the darkness, the light is greater.

Resisted the urge to go back too much into reverie and past memory. My sense is now that it is the future that will illumine what came before. We need to go forwards to go back, and back to go forwards.

Balance, balance, always balance. 静あり,動あり。(stillness in motion、motion in stillness)

( 闇あるところ光あり、悪あるところ正義あり。)

Where there is darkness, there is light, and where there is evil, there is justice. Whoever would have thought that Rom Stol’s words would be such succor to me, a full 15 years after I first heard them. Well, I’ve lived a life full of anime and games, and I do believe it shows.

More poetry.

I have come to another river, it seems
and this time I ford it in joy and gratitude
rather than tarry overlong in waters of
anguish past.

My sword which has served me so long and so well
is beaten into not into any plowshare
but instead turned to reflect that eternal light that shines
a golden beam strikes the edge and splits into
a cascade of rainbows that shines on all Creation.

What pain still remains
I offer up in supplication
It has taught me all it can
may the Universe make better use of it
than I ever could.

This no editing thing is real. I think I’ll keep with it.

Another attack of the past in the morning. This has happened so many times I am well aware of what it is now…古傷の残像 (the afterimages of old wounds)

Let it ride, let it go. Resist to urge to tell everyone and everything about it. You know you can handle it on your own. The difference between the true sharing between friends, and the pathological desire to be rid of whatever is troubling you NOW.

Had a good talk with D about psychotherapy in general. We touched on a lot of issues, but most specifically psychology’s past focus on pathology. Though that is changing – especially with Martin P Seligman’s positive psychology and other practitioners’ differing perspectives. What we focus on becomes us. There has been too much been said about the bad, and not enough about the good.

Though that being said, I still remember more than 10 years of my life in which pathology was the mainstay and the centerpiece of everything. As Shakespeare might say, how it doth raven up and consume your soul. It had to be dealt with because if not it would have destroyed me. Now is the time in which attention can be given to the positive and not just the negative.
Therapy isn’t life…therapy is what we go through in order to GET to life. Therapy has been part of my daily life for as long as I can remember, but it shouldn’t be the main focus. I’m happy that I’ve reached a point where it isn’t! Yes, you can have too much of a good thing.

Also the issue of diagnosis. I was quite surprised to learn that in the UK the DSM is NOT treated as the Holy Bible. For the less psychological of my readers :

I wiki, so you don’t have to!

I guess it stands to reason because they have the National Health Service and as such don’t need the diagnostic criteria as much for insurance reasons. The world is made up of so many things, don’t you think?

Diagnosis only goes so far, it doesn’t present the full picture. What the world calls depression or anxiety has so many factors and permutations. I’d like to talk more about it here but actually, most of what I want to say about that is in other upcoming blog posts, in my book and my poetry. So I’ll at least attempt to keep this travel-centred for now.
Went on a tour of old Sacramento and the Crocker Art Museum. And many good pictures were taken.










The Universe, and everything in it.



Looks like some kind of boss monster doesn’t it?


Ah, time. Since I’m dealing with it, I thought I’d take a picture of it.


The plaque on the wall spoke about children caught in war. I know all about that, in a different way than most perhaps. It’s a good picture.


D remarked that it reminded her of The Scream. Obviously someone didn’t like rush-hour traffic.

Many references in this picture. Gotta catch’em all!


Biohazard switch as art. Ultra post-modern.


These are made out of clay. Amazing ain’t it?


Very Nighthawks. I like it.


Mexican plate used for the Day of the Dead.


More Mexican art. What do you expect, it’s California!


Inspired by children’s books. I like it.

I like this sign.


I particularly like this piece. It looks different from every angle. Here’s a video which I hope captures it.

All this museum going reminds me of my last travelogue to Japan, in which I spent plenty of time in museums. I’m going to have to drag that out and reblog it sometime.

Ai Wei Wei’s bronze heads were the highlight of the moment, and so we went there to see them. They’re quite a spectacle.




My sign, the Dog.

Though I must say that a rather unkind thought popped into my head – well, I could totally make these bronze heads if my father was one of China’s most celebrated poets!

We can’t pick our parents. I’m reminded of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, in which he makes the point quite clear that behind seeming success is actually often a LOT of advantages. Parents, money, connections, being in the right place at the right time…and sometimes just being plain lucky (or unlucky)

So I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. None of us should be. We just play the hand we’re dealt the best we can, and I’m determined to turn jokers into aces at any given opportunity.

More pics of old Sacramento, which my hosts were gracious enough to take me around.





An architectural marvel know as…Big Pink. A rather apt name.


The store known only as Bagel. What a name.

It was time to go back and prepare dinner. 2 and a half hours of cooking madness.

The knife I used was a real beauty. I spent like a full minute simply slicing something, marvelling at the sharpness of the edge, slicing it again and sighing in pleasure. If I had knives like these I’d cook everyday! They also cost a few hundred bucks, so I’ll stick with the one at home which is like…9?

I’ve prepared everything before so it was pretty easy to do. Pics of the food because, well, isn’t that what everyone does these days?





Everyone liked the beef, including me. One of my oldest recipes which has gone through a few revisions.

Then it was time for dessert, which I don’t have a picture of.

I’m going to relate with some embarrassment that I got a bit tipsy at my own dessert. They are oranges soaked in cointreau with sugar, and they really pack a punch, even if they are soaked for only half a day as opposed to a full day.

It was just when D was commenting that the fruit masks the impact of the liquor, which can really sneak up on you, that it hit…speak of the devil, as they say. I had to go lie down.

I may just relate a bit of what it felt like.

I feel fear. I’m scared that I will have a panic attack, but I know that isn’t me. Thoughts arise – so many thoughts. Should I hang on? Should I focus on something and block everything else out? What if I get sick? Will I cause trouble to others? I want to talk, to participate, but I don’t exactly feel that good…

I know where this is coming from – the past, and my mind. It doesn’t wish to feel and so it shunts off everything into. I’m scared that I will throw up, or that I will pass out…but frankly I won’t, and if those things happen it’s not the end of the world. So I simply let myself ride it through…slowly does it.

I really REALLY don’t enjoy feeling this disoriented. And people do this for fun? Though I guess most people don’t have my traumatic past to contend with when they get drunk. My mother got terribly drunk more than once and I had to deal with it, which put me off drinking.

So I went to sit on the couch. D was pretty conscientious and knew exactly what to do – which was to leave my alone, refuse my request to hold my hand (probably a good idea) and give me water to drink. She’s probably seen tipsy people before.

As new experiences go this was pretty interesting though. I also got a better gauge of my post-dissociative, post-medication, post-rebirth tolerance for alcohol…which is kind of low. Something to remember. I guess I’ll just go back to drinking water for now.

My hosts had 2 guests over and they talked a bit about their son, who is incredibly talented and successful. Amazingly enough did not get super envy attack. I guess my healing is pretty on track.

The end of another long day. See you all tomorrow.

America, Day 6

America, Day 6
Woke up at 4:30, having slept at 10 or so the night before. I sense this is going to be a pattern in the USA for me. But it at least allows me to write my blog so it’s all good.
Nothing much planned for today, which is a change. May decide to take it easy.
Or so I said but after finishing up some work I decided to watch more Gundam Unicorn.
我が愛しい妹と鋼鉄の兄弟の同じ物を見せてくれいないか。。。ガンダム。ウニコーンノの証を!(What my beloved sister and brother of steel both see…won’t you show it to me, Gundam? The sign of the Unicorn!) I asked, and it was given, like so many other things.
What lies beyond the NDS…no mere system or contrivance of human hands, but compassion itself. When Banagher screamed 打てません!(I can’t shoot!) I broke down and cried (which happens a lot these days) As Advanced Wind, the Wild Arms 3 opening says…本当の強さは引き金を引くことではないから。(True strength does not lie in pulling the trigger.)
Which is what I love about Gundam – the constant message that though humanity constantly wars with itself, through kindness and understanding we can surpass even cursed destiny. With giant robots of course.
Still have to do that full writeup on Unicorn. I’ll get to it, I promise!
Went and walked around a bit more. Still have a tendency to get caught up in my thoughts. Have to remind myself that it’s by being in the present moment that I will get to the future. After all, the future hasn’t happened yet.





Isn’t it a beautiful city though?
二十年前の面影はまだ残っている。(The traces of twenty years past still remain.) The sunlight – the warm, golden glow of California – sparks so many memories. I remember my child self steadfastly wearing the same things to school every day, searching the libraries for fantasy novels and reading them everywhere, blind to the greater realities around him. In some ways I was a hikkokomori (shut-in) before my time.
How could my younger self have known what plagued my parents? He couldn’t have. He did the best he could and he took the grizzly back with him even without knowing he did.
Going to stop here before I get too nostalgic. There’s the life to be lived in the now.
Met a Spanish lady who commented that my English was very good…I get that a lot, almost as much as I get comments on my Japanese. Thanked her and I remembered my other past as well, the angry 20-something year old who was dying to let everyone know he came from everywhere EXCEPT Singapore, when mental issues and cultural identity raged through me.
It all doesn’t matter anymore. People are people. In the end, there is only pain, and the means to end that pain, whether with compassion or other means. The sunshine does more than just bring back the past…it opens the way to the future.
Whew, heavy stuff for a morning stroll. That’s what you get from Gundam in the morning.
But I can feel the past dying. Everything that I thought and felt was right at that point in time, but now it has little to no relevance. I shall let myself be prisoner no more to hatred and envy that perhaps was not even mine, but was passed down to me. 日差しとウニコーンを一つになろう、前に導いてくれ。(Let the sunshine and unicorn both become one, and guide me ever onwards.)
I said earlier that you’d get some poetry, so here you are.

If we are to grow
And go forwards, then
We must die to ourselves
To our past reality
Everything that we once desired and held so dear

It’s both easier and harder than it looks
Easier because all we need to do it to just let go
But at the same time harder because we cling it to
Without knowing how much it can hurt us.

Let go
Let go, I whisper
I shout
I howl and I scream
Only to have my voice rasp emptily
Until my throat is dry and cracked and bleeding.

I look up to see how
it comes back to me
wreathed in beauty
A benediction in sound.

The past may pain us, yes
But it is our choice were we look
And I choose to fix my gaze not upon
The rusted detritus of yesterday, but
A swiftly unfolding future.

Spontaneous poetry, WITHOUT EDITING. I may edit at some point, I may not.

Also, NorCal is colder than I thought. May need to get another sweater or something for the mornings.
More phone trouble later in the day. Went to an AT&T store and they STILL couldn’t fix it. This means that over 10 people in 2 from nationalities ranging from Filipino to Indian to German to Spanish couldn’t get the damn thing working. Because why? Because Xiaomi, that’s why. Argh.
Spent some time walking around the city just because. It looks just like when I was younger.
Tried not to board the feels train but ending up buying an express ticket on it. My past self awakened once more, the young boy/man who loved America and hated Singapore with a passion. I let him just cry out in rage for a while. Heaven knows he had wanted to say so many things 10 years ago which he couldn’t, because his mother was always there with the constant refrain of “but the US is different now”


Boy, don’t I know it! I wasn’t trying to go back so much as I was trying to go forwards. But each time I spoke of it my mother would take about how I was only there for 2 years (2 years and 9 months to be exact) like it was some a mantra or warding charm that would keep George Washington and his hordes of white men away.
Sigh. Such was life back in those days. I took my thoughts out of the past and into the present once more – the trees and highways and blue, blue skies. Little kids out with their families, young people fiddling with their mobiles (they didn’t have THOSE 20 years ago…) and the wide open streets.
The helpful sales assistant at the Verizon shop with the Spanish accent and short, short hair…would this who my Spanish friend, Vidal, would have been like now? The older woman I met on the slopes of Walnut Creek, walking her dog…could that have been his mother? Or aunt?
We can so often be our worst enemies, and get in our own way. This time I just stepped back, out of the mind, and let the sunshine do its work.
As is so often when I’m lost in reverie, lost track of the time and got of semi-lost on the way back. So I was late for dinner…I keep forgetting that these are proper dinners (where the table is set and everything) not the slap-dash affairs that my sis and I have back home. P even went out to find me! Apologized profusely, complete with bowing. My Japanese side comes out pretty strongly in times like these.
Got the recipe for A’s somen salad, which was wonderful. I swear I am being spoiled ROTTEN on this trip by all the good food I’ve been eating. Every meal has been delicious!
P wanted to play some songs that he had written after dinner. They were beautiful songs – simple and brimming with love, kindness and affection. Very 60s. I asked him if he had ever recorded them and he said no…I forget that not everyone wants to be a superstar like yours truly.
I can’t read music (at least not that well) so he had to sing them first and I followed. We had a great time.
It was such a privilege and honor to be taken into the home and confidence of this person, a quiet, gentle man full of concern and love for his friends, his wife and his planet. I’d like to take anyone who speaks about white privilege to meet this guy…he’s proof positive that you can have things but feel keenly the plight of those who do not.
P also told me that he wrote most of his music from the ages of 30 too 50. It got me thinking…I’ve been in mourning for my lost teenage and young adulthood for so long now, in part because of the (probably mistaken) belief that they are supposed to be the “best years of your life.” But what if that just isn’t true? Like a friend’s wife told me recently – everyone’s blossoming period is different. She’s probably right.
If you have old friends, treasure them. Their wealth of experience and broad perspective is truly helpful. They’ve lived longer than you, and those extra years can be a powerful resource indeed. I think back to the days of my youth where I was alternately exhorted, browbeaten and blackmailed into respect for my elders…if I had known these good people then, there wouldn’t have a need to have been any of that.
Turned in for the night, wrote blog post. Ended the day without thinking up a reference. More newness!

America, Day 4

Woke up early, but didn’t feel tired. That seems to be the normal state of affairs for me these days. It’s pretty amazing, I must say. I technically have a sleep deficit of about…6-7 hours at this point but technically smechnically.

Mindful of the injunction not to work too much on my vacation, I didn’t. There were still things to be done but…I did them. Yay. Less thought, more action.

What feels the weirdest is perhaps writing all these posts with little to no editing whatsoever. Yeah, what you see is what you get. I actually feel I write BETTER without the editing getting the way.

Goddamn phone issue still isn’t resolved. Sigh. I hereby solemnly swear never to buy a Xiaomi ever again.

Took some pictures of the house in the early morning light. I always think that it gives everything a special glow.




If you haven’t already noticed, A is quite the painter.



Got ready to go to UU service. Not memorial service, a normal church service. Like I said, this trip has very spiritual beginnings. Which is pretty cool. I always thought the next time I went to the US it would be for school or to attend a gaming event or something, but no, it’s service after service…I’m not complaining! It’s been very good for the soul. My first ever church service! I feel like a Real Boy now. Or something like that.

The speaker gave an incredibly good sermon which I will just put the YT link up to when it’s done. It was so good that I went up to him personally to thank him. Turns out this was his last sermon before he had to leave.

Meetings and partings and meetings and partings again. Signs upon signs. I feel like I’m in a Neil Gaiman comic or something.

We spent the day touring the city with two au pairs, L (no relation to our favorite notebook writing psychopath) and S from Austria and Germany respectively. I had fun chatting with them. Once again I have to mention anime and our conversation turned in that direction.

What is it with young people and One Piece, Naruto, and Bleach? At least there was Dragonball. That shit never gets old. What was HE watching? Attack on Titan, which made sense because a) he’s young and b) it’s in German.

Talked a bit about Avatar the Last Airbender as well (I prefer Korra because well…she’s female. And hot.) and Game of Thrones, which I don’t watch. L then asked me what I DID watch? Not the contemporary stuff, that’s for sure. I mentioned EVA and Gundam Unicorn but those didn’t ring any bells. (I would have been VERY surprised if they did…)

S was a more reserved sort, but did join in at certain points. Must be the German blood…ok, ok, I’ll stop it with the racial stereotypes now.

It’s kind of strange being around young people, especially as I consider myself young as well. Despite not watching exactly the same things, I know what they are talking about. Like P said, it’s all relative. To people past 60 I guess ALL of us look young.

Also L despite his youthful skill with the mobile phone, STILL couldn’t fix it. Which just goes to show that Xiaomi is the tool of the Devil.

Oh yeah, and the title of the sermon was “Go to the Sea” And so I went. Beautiful isn’t it? I wish I could stay forever, or at least a little longer.


IMG_20160424_135914_HDR IMG_20160424_135935_HDR IMG_20160424_135943_HDR IMG_20160424_140317_HDR IMG_20160424_140332_HDR

Went up to Twin Peaks. Incredible view huh? The wind was so intense that it threatened to sweep me off the top. I felt like I was in one of those kung-fu movies where the master is all like “young one, you must go to top of mountain and take many pictures while not fall off. Only when you post them to Instagram with no filter or lame captions can your training be considered complete.”


IMG_20160424_154756_HDR IMG_20160424_153553_HDR

A cave in the middle of the cliffs that looks like it leads to another world :


Also went to the Castro District, where there are more gays than you can shake a stick at. I mean it, almost EVERYONE on the street was gay. This is SF after all. It’s nice that they have a place to hang out and be completely accepted. I wish I had that kind of place when I was younger, that’s for sure.

Had dim sum for lunch where I became the de facto translator for my group due my knowledge of Chinese. L and S were a bit ambivalent at first (first experience with Chinese food) but I think they enjoyed themselves in the end.

Somewhere before the trip I bit my lip and got a canker sore. I used to need copious amounts of medication for my canker sores but now they are going away all by themselves. I’m healing inside and out, it seems. My need for sleep also diminishes each day…which explains why I am up at 5 writing a blog post.IMG_20160424_164523_HDR IMG_20160424_164528_HDR IMG_20160424_164845_HDR IMG_20160424_164837_HDR

The last stop of the day? Another church, but non-UU this time. Still very beautiful. I am beginning to appreciate churches more and more.

Thanked the organ player for his beautiful music. It’s nice to be able to go up and say hi to people just like that. That may be the thing that I like best about the USA.

After a long day we bade farewell to our 2 young friends (relatively speaking!) and went to have dinner with other friends of P and A.

They had a really nice place – perhaps one of the nicest houses I have ever had the privilege of being invited to. Wonderful children. The wounded part of my mind and heart expected to feel the familiar pangs of envy clutch at my heart but…no, they weren’t there, the constant refrain of “why isn’t my life like this?” Which is a relief and a half.

There’s no point in wishing for what we can’t have. And I can accept that now. It’s just that in the past the grief got in the way. Things are still ok – they’re great, in fact. Something which I am still also coming to accept.

In the course of relating my life story (which thanks to my recent activities I have gotten down to 4 versions – short (less than a minute) longer (5 minutes) half an hour (for close friends) and Super Ultra Long (my autobiography) I mentioned my singing teacher. So of course everyone asked me to sing. I aim to please, so I sang Memories of Life, which has become my go-to piece performance piece because it’s actually in English.

It went over well. Noticed my hand trembling quite intensely. But now instead of suppressing it I just let it happen. It’s ok to be nervous while singing! It just shows how much I want to sing well. There’s also the fact that at this point singing has a therapeutic element to me. As the late great Maestro himself (I speak of Pavarotti of course) once said, being nervous just means that you care about the audience.

Our host (who is also an excellent cook) was a no-nonsense, warm and learned lady who left me with a benediction “may you find what you are looking for, and not just the people.” Thank you. I have a feeling that I will find it, in whatever shape it may take.

A bit of musing before bedtime. As we drove back to the house memories arose once again. I found myself thinking of my dear friends sitting right next to me, of my other American friends. They love their country, I’m sure, but not as I do. Do the long green signs and swaying grasses elicit quite the same reactions in them? I think not. The freeways that span road after road, the lone lights on the street corner…not quite Nighthawks, but close.

I will leave in a month or so, but to them this is home.  Will I come here? Live and settle as 10 years ago I so dearly wanted to? It is once again too premature to say. But the demon that wants to know at all costs, the part that equates decision with security, lessens its grip. Something in changing inside me every day, and without tears this time. It’s not like Japan where I was bawling my eyes out! I just have to keep on walking.

And time…always the question of time. 2 decades since I left. Anime of today and in the past. Old friends and new ones – both in age and duration. Everything I left behind and all that I am picking up again, in new and more beautiful ways. The masters of old say that time is an illusion and we can only live in the now. That is perhaps truer than I ever knew.

Some other pictures of the scenery that I like :

IMG_20160423_102215_HDR IMG_20160424_090808_HDR

IMG_20160424_115220_HDR IMG_20160425_055438_HDR

IMG_20160424_160601_HDR IMG_20160424_145037_HDR IMG_20160424_090812_HDR

IMG_20160423_101746_HDR IMG_20160423_154446_HDR IMG_20160424_104951_HDR

You’ll see a lot of “normal” photos here. A asked me why I was taking so many of them. I said I find normal scenery interesting and she replied with 普通の景色は面白くない (Normal scenery isn’t interesting at all) to which with all due respect I beg to differ. My response is more along the lines of 普通の景色には独特の魅力がある。(Normal scenery has a unique appeal.)

I seem to have forgotten to mention at this juncture that A is Japanese? She’s been married to P for 30 years and has lived in the States for that amount of time.

I had three really busy days! I leave them now and see what tomorrow brings. More blog posts, no doubt.

I’ve taken so many pictures that I actually want to display them in a gallery of some sort, but WordPress is proving harder to use than I thought. I’m going to do everything manually for now until I figure out something better.

Also, I doubt everyone can get every reference in my posts, but they are welcome to try. I’ll buy dinner for anyone who manages to do so WITHOUT THE HELP OF GOOGLE.