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Cheap Spirits

The God Tree

So one night I wrote a short prose in a few hours in response to Cheap Spirits (2018), on the first things that came to my mind with regards to the ideas discussed during the process of creating the exhibition. It is part of the exhibition leaflet.


There’s an old banyan tree near my place that I am picturing in my mind now. At home, my family calls such trees Seng Chew, which means god trees in Hokkien. It’s right beside a coffeeshop. In fact, I would say it’s very much part of the establishment. Besides a rather small square allocated for its roots, the ground around it is cement and tiles, some of which had been raised, cracked, popped by the ever-growing roots of the stubborn old tree below them. The massive trunk of the tree is wrapped in yellow cloth, and beside its trunk and roots are two altars. The colourful Raya lights wrapped around the altars blink as silently as the gods they surround. Joss sticks burn, their ashes falling slowly into the holder. The little flame of the candle floats in the bowl of prayer oil.

Right beside the tree and the gods are men, cigarettes between fingers, as they talk about Grab buying over Uber. Water condenses and drips slowly down their beer mugs, damping the tabloid newspaper on the same table; there’s something about a turned over truck on the front page. It’s 11.52pm. Two tables away it looks like someone is knocked out and his torso is sprawled across the table. His mouth is gaping open.

Then, a tiny breeze passes by. The leaves and branches of the banyan tree wave gently. The small flame in the altar flickers for five seconds and then it’s still again. Tua Pek Kong smiles benevolently while Ganesha frowns on, both unfazed, as the topic of discussion among the men beside them moves onto the recent news about the death of a conscript in the army. The K.O.-ed man nearby comes to his senses. He gets up, and staggers to the toilet at the back of the coffeeshop to pee. Above him, a full moon shines bright.

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