Part One: The Infamous Outlaw (江洋大盗)

Backstory: 三毛 (Sanmao) is a Chinese-born Taiwanese writer who was able to capture the imagination of my mother’s generation with her book, Stories of the Sahara, published in 1976.

Sanmao, in a nutshell is “an incurable romantic, a lonely dreamer and a gifted drifter”.

After falling in love with the Sahara from an article she read in National Geographic, Sanmao, a non-traditionalist even by 21st century standards, follows her heart to the great desert. Stories of the Sahara is a window into the life she builds there and her musings on the interactions she has with her Spanish husband and Sahwari neighbours in this completely different world to what she or her audience has ever experienced before.

More than four decades later, I am one of many young women who are finding and quickly falling in love with the unique blend of kindness, wisdom and freedom present in her work. It is such a pity that more of it is not translated into English as I truly believe many will resonate with this gentle force of nature of a woman now and into the future.

I won’t say much more about Stories of the Sahara except that you absolutely should get your hands on a copy. Currently, I’m on book 4/15 of her entire collection with the intention of reading them all. I wanted to share one of my favourite stories so far from 稻草人手记/A Scarecrow’s Scribbles from Sanmao’s time in the Canary Islands.

Please forgive any unintended errors or creative liberties I’ve taken in this translation. I hope you enjoy 江洋大盗/The Infamous Outlaw.


If you want to hear about the Chen family, I have to begin with our ancestors.

We had generations of scholars with not much to their names. The Chens were all humble in possessions guided by a wealth of morals and principles.

You see, we didn’t just record people’s names in our family tree. Our scribe and accountant diligently keeps track of everyone’s ethical income and expenses and the balance sheets he kept were never wrong.

Such is the family I grew up. Logically speaking, you’d expect my parents to be fielding marriage proposals left, right and center ever since I was a little girl. Alas, not so.

To borrow a phrase from the bible – if my parents were a grape tree, I would not be a hanging vine. In my own words, if the fortune teller was ever to try and predict my future, by the time he gets halfway through his calculations, the disgraceful daughter that I am would’ve already lost the entire family fortune.

Ever since I was born, I’ve locked away a huge secret in my heart. After I learnt how to speak, I’ve made sure to keep my lips sealed tight about this matter. They say blood runs thicker than water but even my parents have not heard even a peep about this.

What terrible secret do I have that’s making me act all mysterious?

Fine, I’ll tell you, but only you. And only if you promise you won’t turn around and tell John Smith and Jane Doe! Even if you are in a tight spot and want to sell me out…just remember that Sanmao isn’t anyone special and you will get pennies for this information.

As I said earlier, ever since I was born, I knew this truth about myself. Even though on the surface, I don’t look any uglier or different in any discernable way from anyone else, that’s actually not the case.

I’m fake. Not only am I fake, I am also empty inside. I’m so goddamn empty I don’t even have any posters up on the barren walls of my insides. I don’t have a brain, heart, bravery or courage. I am well and truly a big black hole.

To give you another example of my condition, I’m like one of those scary aliens. They come to Earth on their UFOs and blend into humanity seamlessly. They are just like all these other happy people their living happy fulfilling lives. If you didn’t have any special powers to spot these aliens, you’d never be able to catch them out. I am one of those aliens.

I don’t enjoy being an empty person. Being hallow inside makes it harder to stay upright. When the wind blows, or a stranger accidentally bumps into me, or even when a small branch brushes against me, I would be knocked onto the ground, unable to get back up.

Ever since I could remember to when I turned fourteen, I would constantly be falling over. My body was covered in bruises and everyone was laughing at me. Even though I had nothing else inside me, my tear ducts and temper never let me down. Every time I fall, they’re there to join the party.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past fourteen years and I simply cannot go on like this. If this continues, surely before I hit my twenties, I would have had a final fatal fall to my death. If I don’t want to die young, I need to find another way to save my life.

What can I do? After careful consideration, I decide to copy those shameless japanese neighbours of mine and become a thief.

This world is so big and crowded, I figured. Everyone else has so much ready-made stuff. If I take a little from here and nip a little from there to fill up my empty hole, after a while, wouldn’t I become a full person?

After I made up my mind, I decided to get an X-ray.

(to be continued)

a tragedy untold: by and for me

She visits me in warm sepia dreams.
Leaves a blanket of patchwork memories and
make believe, how I wish to curl up into her
wicked mirage and fall back asleep.
Instead I fold up her name gently and tuck
it between pillow and unkissed cheek.

If I was more wistful novella than young
woman I would want to be read on a beach.
Her approximation would appear around chapter
three. On the last page we would be holding hands
remembering when we painted each other on
sky-coloured fabric with rainbow threads, all these
possessive inky syllables in a state of fragile
permanence until the storyline snaps, pages slip
out of hand and the gossiping waves set this
stolen and romanticised piece of her free.

Nobody mourns the loss of us, not my
unsuspecting muse or the ocean breeze.
The blurred and crumpled title reads
a crush or otherwise tragedy untold
by and for me.

Tiny Letters: to remind myself the pandemic will be gone and I will still be here

Written in Chinese, English translation below.

2020年5月28号晚上,当你在看什么乱七八糟的女团节目时,手机突然响了。

A letter from the past.

你已经完全忘记去年的你会把自己25岁的规划发给一年后,现在的自己。

22岁最后的一晚读这封信,发现现实和欲望和短短几个月前真的变了很多。 当然都是和疫情相关的那些事。

最近情绪真的很不稳定。动不动的就哭,或者从里到外的麻木。虽然每天坚持写日记但是差不多天天都一样的这些那些有的没的。 低沉的点点滴滴也没有什么营养,需要仔细的品味。 好久都没有写诗了。

那天Stephen问我有没有什么我真正热爱的事情,我居然头脑一片空白。 小时有真的有,摄像,写诗 等。疫情之前虽然没有我自认为可以被称作为热爱的活动,我也会为了我喜欢的事情忙碌 – 跳舞,攀岩,去美术馆,在大自然里发呆…而其中对我来说最重要的可能会是旅游吧。

‘18年本不应该发生的单行旅游 (本和新西兰高中同学约好一起游玩一个月,不了她最后因为找工作没有和我在曼谷碰面)。路上交的朋友,青游馆和沙发上的记忆…发现我好喜欢那时候的自己。也喜欢刚知道自己得到梦寐以求的工作后的自己。

几个小时前,我才和Darcy对话。当时真的很伤心。聊着聊着就说到了关于自己想要改变的部分。我给他打了一个(一点都不诗意的)比喻。 如果我是一辆车,现在我想提升和升级的地方太多太多了还不如换一部车。可惜要把自己完全换掉可没买一辆新车那么简单。

我真的很感谢这封信的到来。也许它不能完全的把我从颓废的几个月里拔出来,但是它提醒了我,我不是一直都这么不喜欢自己。 疫情不过是一个外来的因素。它压抑但不是一个永久的状态。

加油,马上就要turn 23岁的我。 而现在我也写一封信给十二月三十一号的你。

2020年,这个奇怪的一年马上就要结束了。如果你还没有定下名年的目标,那你就赶快想想吧。 希望这封信对你像对现在的我一样是一个惊喜。 希望你听到我现在的伤心和迷茫,可以笑着说你已经克服了。如果还没有,容我心疼一下下,然后告诉你我们真的没关系。 不管怎样,你已经很棒了。

我的一生至今很有幸 – 生活没有起过很大的波浪。(希望不会jinx自己) 目前我自身是一艘很小很小的船,微不足道的波浪和风就能把我的船身震动,行程搅乱。但不是还没有翻船吗!怕什么! 活得好好的话在可能的情况下能开朗点就开朗点 。主动权要放在自己的手心里然后握紧它。 世界上最无条件的永远支持和懂你的人不就是你自己吗…一定不能忘了对她好点。

Be gentle with yourself。 2021,新年快乐~


It’s the evening of 28 May 2020. You are watching some awful Chinese girl-group competition and an alert pops up on your phone.

A letter from the past.

You’ve completely forgotten that past-you has sent a copy of your ‘goals for when you turn 25’ to today-you.

Continue reading “Tiny Letters: to remind myself the pandemic will be gone and I will still be here”

the rain comes

and then it goes.

the air is sharp and still.
the water, calm until doppleganger
clouds break character, giggling, as trees
lean over the river and shake their bits dry.
meandering ducks split the horizon and I
realise that heaven is just mud and fish
but do not mind as daylight cracks overhead
and a passing bird I do not recognise
pierces the sky with a war cry. soon,
poached-egg sun spills its warm,
gooey center into our open mouths
and stains upturned cheeks.

just like yesterday, we do not care about
zigzagging between dead trees and shallow
water reeds as we hold our paddles up
like hungry children with giant spoons
ready to devour the entire world and
all of its wild in our very next breath
before we do it all over, again and again.

gaia in all her grace, gathers us around
her table. she feeds us with tailwind and
birdsong, nostalgic singalongs and echoing
rock walls. we savour every last scrap before
leaving with more sophisticated palates
for gratitude. nourished, the zing of woodfire
conversations and charred-stars remain,
inexplicable, on the tips of our tongues.

people come
and then they go.

the air is sharp and still.
the water, calm.


How (not) to win over your partner’s parents

I visited the small country town where Darcy grew up over Christmas.

To be clear, calling Moonambel a ‘town’ is incredibly generous. There’s only 167 residents (according to the 2016 census) – it’s no wonder not a single colleague or friend could place it on a map when I shared my holiday plans!

Of course, this did not dampen my excitement for this ‘suburban girl goes country’ adventure. Not only would it be the furthest I’d have travelled since the pandemic, this was the perfect opportunity for me to meet and (obviously) win over Darcy’s parents.


What do I mean by “suburban girl” anyway?

Growing up in Auckland, New Zealand, I spent my formative years within a 30 minute walking radius from the suburbia starter kit: gorgeous beach, shopping centre and local public school.

All my basic needs and more were fulfilled in that bubble.

I’ve always assumed most kids lucky enough to live in this part of the world (with a few key caveats) would have had a similar experience. I had no idea how unrelatable my upbringing was to Darcy and vice versa until we began sharing childhood stories with each other.

What do you mean Linda had to gather firewood and heat up water for you to have a hot shower? Are your fond childhood memories really throwing piles of bricks at the wall and sticking your leg into the river as leech bait? Did you and your best friend spend an entire weekend cycling back and forth (thrice) through the mountains because a girl he had a crush on lived in the town on the other side?

How strange, how fun, how exciting!


As soon as I arrived in Moonambel, I begin experiencing the ‘foreignness’ of it all for myself.

First stop was the winery Linda works at.

All is normal as we wait patiently for her to close up shop… except for the delicious smell of turkey wafting through the building on Christmas Eve. Understandably out of place, particularly after everyone else has gone home.

Why could we smell a turkey being roasted in a winery out of hours, you might be wondering?

Well with no oven in her house and having built up excellent rapport with the chef, it made perfect sense to Linda to call on a few favours for our visit.

A few hours later, with delicious turkey in belly and mission top of mind (to make Linda love me more than she loves her son), I offer to do the dishes to show my gratitude for the feast she made.

I could tell Linda was a bit uncomfortable with the idea at first but I insisted and she relented. She ends up hovering over my shoulder the entire time as I scrubbed turkey stuffing off one plate after another. I didn’t think much of it, chalking it up to the almost obligatory polite dance around guests helping out with the clean up or perhaps she was quite particular and she wanted to make sure I was cleaning the plates up to her standard but too nice to say so? I make sure to take extra care to ensure every dish is spotless.

In my mind, I did a decent job. Linda didn’t really say anything to the contrary either except a gentle reminder for me to turn off the running water when I wasn’t actively rinsing a plate, fair enough.

After she goes to bed, Darcy and I debrief and perhaps we were both being paranoid, but just in case we were committing a heinous faux pas without realising through our insistence of doing the dishes, we decide to take a step back and gather some intel the next day.


As we polish off exorbitant amounts of leftovers on the evening of day two, our eyes meet across the table. A subtle nod and our plan is set to motion.

Soon, with drying towel in hand, I am taking mental notes of Linda’s every move as she begins the clean up process.

Immediately, I notice that she opts for an entirely different method of dishwashing than I do.

She fills the sink with warm soapy water like a ‘bath’ for the cutlery and plates. After the items are cleaned, they are removed from the soap-sudded and scrap-filled water and are immediately air or towel dried.

Whilst not exactly a revolutionary way of doing dishes, particularly for my Caucasian friends, I remember discovering this style of cleaning when I was 11 years old.

At the end of our first soft-tech (cooking) class in school, all the teams are cleaning up their workstations. What would have otherwise been an uneventful day is turned on it’s head when I scan the room to compare our progress and freeze in horror at what I was seeing.

“How can they not rinse the soap off the dishes? There’s bits of food in the water they just pulled that out of…why does the teacher not care? This is so gross!” I whisper to my fellow Asian-New Zealander friend.

“I know, I don’t get it either, but just do it like we’re told.” She replies, clearly embarrassed by how uncool I was acting.

As dramatic as it sounds, it felt like a key tenet of my upbringing, identity and world view was being challenged in that moment and I have never backed away from an opportunity to explain the ‘superior’ dishwashing method since to anyone I happened to share a sink with.

At this point, I should probably explain how I do the dishes. You may read my description and think “duh”, much like what I expected of my classmates and teacher on that fateful day 12 years ago. In the time since, I’ve learnt many life lessons including to never assume anything about anyone – not their experiences and definitely not the way they go about doing their chores.


Maggy’s guide to dishwashing

  1. Fill a bowl with warm soapy water, this is your “main bowl”
  2. Take dish sponge, and clean all your plates/pots/cultery, dipping into the main bowl for more soapy water as needed
  3. Run everything under running water to wash off soap and air dry
Continue reading “How (not) to win over your partner’s parents”

everyone has a 2020 poem

and this is mine.

nostalgia. nothingness. noise and repeat

it seems like
the less I do, the more
tired I am and either way
I am not getting any younger
as I sit and wait for life to matter
as much as it did back when
I scribbled my name on the
front cover of my very
last calculus exam.

the cynical 17 year old was right.
the only maths I ever do now is
subtracting days by the hour,
reviewing memories to the
power of x. is it possible to solve
this lethargy by working backwards?
I am guesstimating the root of all my
problems sprouted some time in the
2010s but I don’t have any of this
worked out on paper as proof of concept.

I wish someone could tell me if I
am passing or not as I copy everyone else
by doing more, documenting more to replace
actually being more – rounding up all these
constructed moments (doesn’t matter of what
or what even for) can’t you see that I am so close
to tipping, tapping, turning point?

living life to the fullest exposure and washing
out all doubts of self, believe me, things are
really looking up from this low angle shot, as I
lie, knowing only the blinking caret is here to stay,
dancing to the tick of every minute, it hungers
like an ill-fed guillotine for a slice of life, authentic style.

Instead I offer up my whole head, dust, rust and all.
meditation is too much work, take it off cleanly
at the nape. let it roll like tumbleweed through this
empty field of nostalgia, nothingness, noise and repeat.

Maggy’s New Years Resolutions 2021

One of my new years resolutions for 2021 is to start writing again and posting on my blog at least once a week.

At the end of week one, I have already run into trouble.

I don’t have any writing ready to share!

So, to kick off the year, I thought I’d put my hot-off-the-press resolutions out to the world.

I hope this is somewhat interesting to some folks. I personally love having a bit of a nosy into other people’s lives.

Rules:
#1. I am allowed to refine/edit my goals during the month of January
#2. I will share my progress quarterly for accountability


Relationships

  1. Surprise my partner six times
  2. Surprise my parents and grandparents twice each
  3. Build a habit of thinking of what my parents/grandparents might need when I go shopping
  4. Surprise my friends 12 times (10 left)
  5. Host four board games and/or dinners in our apartment

Fitness

  1. Hit weight goal
  2. Do six pull ups consecutively
  3. New running personal best
    • 5km in 30 mins
    • 10km non-stop
  4. New rock climbing personal best (aim for 15/16V)
  5. Try personal training in February
  6. Group fitness of some type every week

Career

  1. Find a meaningful volunteer role, preferably with elements of leadership development
  2. Connect with a mentor, have at least six purposeful meetings
  3. Weekly, monthly, quarterly reviews of work and life

Better me

  1. 12 new hikes this year, four overnight hikes/camps
  2. Mindful consumption of:
    • 24 Books/Audiobooks
    • 24 Films/Theatre/Musicals/Shows
    • 24 Webinars/Public Lectures
    • 24 Art Galleries/Exhibitions
  3. Try/Re-try something new six times
    • (e.g. Improv class, Medical trial, MeetUps, Bumble BFF, Fundraising writing)

Creative

  1. One post on blog per week
  2. 24 pitches submitted
  3. Make six crafts
    • (e.g. build DIY glass house, watercolour, pottery, clay sculpture)
  4. Print two rolls of film

Miscellaneous

  1. Investigate DELE exams for Spanish
  2. Investigate English teaching course
  3. Investigate tour guiding

Coincidentally, 24 goals for the year I turn 24.

Credit to Matthew Dicks for having a great NYR system that I have heavily borrowed from with some adaptions.

(Side note: the podcast him and his wife Elysha produce on how to become a better storyteller called Speak Up is a fantastic listen.)

If you have read some of my other writing before and have clicked into this post out of curiosity, thank you.

My writing will be a little different this year though I do hope to still get some poetry in here and there. The source material (read: me) is much of the same. I hope you will choose to stay.

Q: What are some of your end of year reflections or new years resolutions?

A coin and a clock

jr-korpa-G508WdtXbr8-unsplash.jpg
Image courtesy of: JR Korpa

It’s opposite day,
and I hate those piercing eyes –
all sharpened storm clouds
soaking up soft lighting rods
as if rules did not matter here,
only you and I. Roofed under
rewinding time, spooling moments
tangle but do not tame our desire to
pull a little more breath out of each
other, we, are the disobedient children
of the night. Forgetting what was yours
and what will be mine, listen, as water
breaks outside. We are safe here,
I assure you, before I look to the skies,
send my silent prayer for this phantom
pain in chest to subside.

Continue reading “A coin and a clock”

Wanderland

AIW
Image credit: fnafmangl

HELP.

I have fallen down
the rabbit hole.
Lost who I am in
INFP alphabet soup, wish
upon Gemini that I’ll find
my way to Ravenclaw.
But as furry foot of luck
hops up and down of reach,
I am left wondering who
the cleaver was for.

In this food chain I have
four decades to climb, first I learn
the sizzle of rock bottom as
branded prey. Sit and riddle
for 8 hours of the day, pray
that when I led soul to slaughter
block,  I did not become both
butcher and brittle breaking
bitterness.

Bit by bit I remember being the most
myself in a town with no history
or future to my name. No bigger smile
than when the rest of me blended into
the Cheshire light. Feast my eyes
on dazzling new sights, at night
I cocoon myself in glittering lucid lines
or in a mad hatter moment, find a new
best friend for the night.

Continue reading “Wanderland”

Dish 22 – $29.50

She is broken promises
piled up like plastic takeaway
containers. The bins stink
like hypocrisy and a million
dead fish screaming silently.

Excuses stain apologetic teeth in
shades of lost crimson, I suppose
sometimes the daysblendintonight
followed by another #094183 sunrise.

As green-eyed monster sinks deeper
into orange-pink sulci, she ferments
gram after gram of misdirected
resentment in saliva before swallowing
self whole. Become this dark,
bottomless hole – name it stomach
rather than mind or soul, convince herself
she can quantify abstract problems on
scale and in mirror, feed herself lie on top of lie until it hurts to swallow.

Forget how to hunger, watch young skin stretch
from feigned indifference to
burdensome vanity as weighed
heart learns to falter faster
than it flutters. At least that is
the sous-chef’s choice of the day.

On the cusp of 22, serve up
seasoned afflictions, boiled-down
contradictions, superiority
spiked with low self-esteem,
no guarantee who tomorrow will be.
…………………………………………………    $29.50/piece