12 Cages

1.   Caged

I like the adventures because you know that when they say, “I’ve got a plan,” and then they tell you, you know it’s not going to work. And when they say, “I’ve got a plan,” and they don’t tell you, you know it is going to work, and it’s all very exciting. I thought real life might be like that for a while, so I didn’t tell anybody what I wanted to happen, but it didn’t make any difference. I knew I was kiddin’ meself.

– Dave McKean, Cages

There are two sides to any cage – a inside and an outside. A cage stops you from getting out; it also stops others from getting in.


2.   The Lives of Diving Instructors

Whenever I dive, I confront the lonely freedom of diving instructors. Juxtaposing our holiday against their work has become such a familiar tension.

In Phuket, Mike tells A and I about how he recently divorced his wife and left the UK. His friends who had children all envied him. When I asked him if he envied them, he sounded convinced that he did not.



3.   “Man is born free, and is everywhere in chains.”

Rousseau’s quote was an essay topic we got in secondary school. I never wrote about it; I don’t know why I remember it so clearly.

In One Nation Under Surveillance, Chesterman argues that the modern paradigm of trading off liberty for security wrongly assumes a fiduciary relationship between the State and its vulnerable people. Instead, he proposes analysing intelligence issues through the device of a social contract negotiated between equals. In other words, we consent to how much freedom and privacy we want to give up in return for the comfort and convenience we gain.

Perhaps the converse is also true: if we consent to give up our comforts and security, we gain freedom in return.


4.   Tiring of the World

“Want to go to Bed.”
“They’ll find us somewhere to sleep in a little while.”
“No. Bed.”
“You mean in Room?” Ma’s pulled back, she’s staring in my eyes.
“Yeah. I’ve seen the world and I’m tired now.”

– Emma Donoghue, Room

Some part of me is really scared that if I leave, I will tire of wonder and hardship and I will realise that the grass was never really greener on the other side. And then, I will want to return to the trappings of modern society. I will be a prodigal son.

Or worse, I will no longer have any dreams.


5.   I Dreamed a Dream

Anne Hathaway delivers the most powerful rendition of this song that I have seen and/or heard. Playing to her strength, Hathaway sets herself apart by relying on her acting. In 3 intense minutes, she displays a full panoply of emotions – from numb resignation (0:00-0:18), to stirring disappointment (0:19-0:32), to deepening regret (0:33-1:03), to growing resentment (1:04-1:30), to soaring bitterness (1:31-1:44), to hungering despair (1:45-1:56), to consuming anger (1:57-2:11), to naive longing (2:12-2:30), to bitter hopelessness (2:31-2:42), to overwhelming dismay (2:43-3:03), to painful sadness (3:04-3:21), back to numb resignation (3:22-3.32).

The floodgates of emotions open and shut: you can literally see the grief and bitterness drain away and her eyes deaden in the last 10 seconds of the song. This is catharsis at its best.

This is not to say that her singing is bad. In a single note from 1:32-1:45 (and really, one note is all that is required), she demonstrates her vocal prowess. This note in itself is a breathtaking work of art. It draws you into its weakness and vulnerability, and then surprises you by the sheer power left in its wake.

From The Princess Diaries to The Devil Wears Prada to The Dark Knight Rises to Les Miserables, a flower has certainly bloomed.



6.   Escape

On the last night of our firm trip, H and I languish in the living room long past midnight. We drift in and out of slumber, but we refuse to go to our much more comfortable beds to sleep. We know that when we wake up the next morning, the escape will be over.



7.   RCIA Retreat

Proximity breeds intensity. So the RCIA Retreat opens a floodgate of painful reminders – what I wish could be, what I know cannot be, what I wonder could have been. It occurs to me that how trapped we feel depends not on how free we are, but on how free we desire to be.


8.   Whose am I?

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fastened your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.

– John 21:18

In my latest angst-arc, I have found myself questioning who I really am. Friends around me are converging towards their vocations. I don’t even know my desires. Who am I? 6 years ago, when I did my first ever SFX session, I argued that the more appropriate question is, ‘Whose am I?’

In Calvary, one of the best overtly Catholic movies that I have watched (i.e. movies like LOTR excluded), the protagonist’s daughter asserts in a confession to her literal and spiritual father, “I belong to myself, not to anyone else.”

Father James responds, “True. False.”



9.   Tristan

I take Tristan out at weddings only. When people notice him, I tell this story to mitigate his extravagance.

My parents gave my siblings their watches when they got married. But they gave me Tristan when I turned 25. I tell people it is because my parents have given up on me. So since Tristan cannot be my wedding gift, I wear him for other people’s weddings instead.

Later that night after the wedding, I go to the airport.


10.   Muted

I try to mute my struggles about work. There is a point that sharing becomes indulgent, and can weigh others down, rather than being edifying. And I have crossed that point I think.

But on a Sunday evening Mass, I sit next to the very person that I told myself to be cautious of whining too much to. “There is work tomorrow,” I moan.

“I feel you bro,” he sighs in reply.


11.   Trial

I am at my first High Court trial. My boss whispers to me, while our client is being cross-examined, that we have an audience. I fidget in my long flowing robes (that sometimes get trapped beneath the wheels of the chair) to sneak a glance behind. I see some Japanese (I think) students observing us outside the enclosure of the courtroom.

I want to go up and talk to them, and ask them why they are here, whether they are interested in law and justice, and what they want to do in life. But there is a Judge in front of me, and a glass panel behind me. And the miasma of legal gravitas all around me.


12.   Black Hole

Busyness is a singularity. Matters clog up and converge to a point so dense that it consumes everything else. Things that enter into the blackness of this period do not return – texts, calls, requests, warmth, love.

It is easy to assume that nothing is wrong when nothing is seen or heard. But when there is a tear in your universe, there is darkness too – not the empty kind, but the kind so full of turmoil and chaos that nothing escapes.

So to those who have made bids on me, this is my excuse and my apology.




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About Mel

I dreamt I was a whale. https://melvynfoo.wordpress.com/about-mel/