The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami (Part 2)

The Wind-Up Bird and Tuesday’s Women. I was cooking spaghetti when a woman calls. I answered the phone and have no idea who she is. She just wanted 10 minutes of my time. She seemed to know that I was unemployed. That was very creepy indeed. She mentioned about coming to an understanding, which I didn’t understand at all. I tried not to think much of the call. I started ironing my clothes. Later, my wife called. She mentioned about a job I might be interested in. It was an magazine company. I wasn’t too keen on the offer, to be honest. She mentioned that her salary went up and I could consider just doing housework at home. Our cat disappeared for 4 days already. Later, I heard a bird screeching. It was the ‘wind-up bird’. I thought disappearing cats were normal and I didn’t have to go find it. I left my job at the law firm for no particular reason. I didn’t have any clear goals after I left. My wife worked at a design school, doing office work. I ran errands over lunch. The same woman called again. She mentioned that she heard about me. She had a thing for me a long time ago in the past. She was keen on phone sex. I hung up the phone immediately after 5 minutes 23 seconds had passed. I tried looking for the cat and calling her name. I walked past both old and new houses. The old ones didn’t seem to be occupied. There was a little girl whom I bumped into. She wanted a cigarette. I explained that I was looking for my cat, Noboru Watanabe. She mentioned that she might have seen the cat somewhere. I agreed to stay with her in someone’s backyard to try to spot the cat. We started smoking cigarettes together. Apparently, there were many cats in this area. Now, the girl changed into her bikini. She was 16 and was taking a break from school. She asked me whether I would like a girl with 6 fingers and also whether I would like a girl with 4 breasts. I was sweating profusely in the sun. She began talking to me, something about Death. Suddenly, I woke up and found myself alone. The little girl was gone. After 10 minutes, there was still no sign of the cat or the girl. I felt a softball of death swelling inside me. My wife mentioned that the cat was dead. She blamed me for killing our cat. Suddenly, she burst into tears. Did the wind-up bird wind your spring, Noboru Watanabe? The phone rang but neither me nor my wife wanted to get it. I just let the phone ring.

The Second Bakery Attack. I told my wife about the bakery attack. Sometimes, things just happen and we don’t get to choose. So happened, I revealed the news to her. We were struck by hunger pangs late in the night. Our fridge lacked food. What could have caused the violent hunger pangs? We wanted to visit a restaurant along the highway. It was a special kind of hunger. My wife didn’t want me to go. We opened the beer and started drinking instead. I was never this hungry in my own life, I exclaimed. I imagined myself in a boat, where there was an underwater volcano erupting. Once, I attacked a small bakery. This was the point in which I got very hungry. My friend and I attacked the bakery for food. My wife wanted to find out more about the bakery attack. We made a deal with the baker, where he would allow my friend and I to take his bread after listening to his classical music. We took some of his bread. After this episode, things seemed to change. I lost touch with my friend too. I wonder whether it was a good choice to eat bread from a bakery. I felt guilty about what I did. The feeling of starvation was back, it was like a curse. She told me to break the curse by attacking another bakery. We drove off late in the night. We seemed to be unable to find one. We would attack MacDonald’s, the closest thing to a bakery we could find. My wife was adamant that we would do it. We had our masks on and I held a shotgun. There were a total of three workers. The manager wanted to give us his money. My wife wanted 30 Big Macs for takeaway. The three staff started preparing our order. My wife counted the burgers. Our objective was just to steal bread, we explained. We tied the 3 of them to a post. Later on, we drove somewhere else to eat the burgers. I ate 6 big macs while she ate 4. Our hunger disappeared. She said that what we did was necessary. The underwater sea volcano was gone. The water was clear and calm now.

The Kangaroo Communique. There were 4 kangaroos in the zoo. One was an infant and there was a male and 2 female adults. I sent you a letter because of kangaroos. 36 steps led me from the kangaroo to you. Everything seemed coincidental. I worked at a product-control section in a department store. We have to respond to customer complaints. Type A were reasonable complaints; B was borderline cases and C was customer negligence. I tried my best to write to you, but my mind often went blank for no reason. What kind of person can blame a kangaroo? I was writing to a customer’s complaint. The letter would be called ‘The Kangaroo Communique’. I recorded the letter. I started babbling nonsense now. I feel like I have become the Egyptian sandman, where everything I touch turns to sand. Although I don’t know anything about you, I want to keep it that way. Your letter is all I need. Your letter is of the only that moved me. I am enthralled by the punctuation etc. After I read your letter, I thought of sleeping with you. There was once when I wanted to press the emergency brake button on the subway. I have a girlfriend. Why am I writing to you? Because my sights are set on the Nobility of Imperfection that was triggered by your letter and the 4 kangaroos. I was strongly dissatisfied with myself. I wish to be in 2 places at once. My dream was to lead a general existence and yet be a distinct, separate existence. I was dissatisfied with the tape after I reviewed. But since I decided to send it, I have to live with the imperfections of my choice. It was your letter which caused this cycle of imperfection after all.

On Seeing the 100% perfect girl one beautiful April Morning. The moment I see her, I know she’s perfect for me. My heart starts pounding. It was difficult to explain why I found her to be perfect. She was not a preconceived type. She was no great beauty. How could I have approached her? It turns out that I just walked past her. Maybe I didn’t need any pickup lines. I didn’t dare to speak to her. I thought a story where both a boy and girl believed they were 100% right for each other. Via a miracle, they actually met via coincidence. What a wonderful thing, to be able to find your 100% other. Was it so easy for one’s dreams to come true? They challenged one another that if they were 100% meant for each other, they should split and somehow they would find one another again. However, they never saw each other again. Time passed and now the guy is 32 years old. The glow of their memories were so weak even though they passed one another on the streets again.

Sleep. This is my 17th day without sleep. I didn’t see a doctor about it. The harder I tried to sleep, the more I failed. I could lie in bed, but I didn’t sleep. My body was on the verge of sleep, but I couldn’t sleep. As a result, I was drowsy during the day. Wakefulness seemed like a shadow of myself. No one noticed that I lacked so much sleep. I was going through life asleep, like in a hallucination. Then suddenly, one day, I could just sleep for 27 hours straight. After that, I was normal again. I have no idea why my insomnia was cured. I didn’t tell anyone of my issue with sleeping. My husband was a dentist. He was a little strange looking. I tried to recall his facial features, but couldn’t. However, he was very likeable among my friends. I also have a young son. I drive a used Honda Civic. My husband eats lunch at home. Back then, we were a happier couple. Usually, in the afternoons, I would get some exercise done. I know that I have to put in effort to lose weight and stay slim. I was a housewife who prepares meals for the family. My son has the most interesting life in the family. My husband loved Mozart and Haydn. This was how day by day passed and it was mundane. I remembered having a repulsive dream on the first night I failed to sleep. There was an old man in a black shirt in my dreams. It was not a dream, it was reality. I tried to scream but couldn’t. All I could do was look at him. He seemed to be holding and pouring water from a pitcher over my feet. When I opened my eyes, the old man was gone and my body was drenched in sweat. I woke up and sipped on some brandy. Everything was like in a trance. My body was still trembling. Who was that old man in black and why was he pouring water on my feet? I figured that maybe I was just tired. Then, I tried reading Anna Karenina before I tried to sleep again. However, I found it difficult to concentrate. In my younger days, I used to love reading, but I can’t remember the last time I completed a book. I read till 3 but wasn’t feeling sleepy. In the morning, I prepared breakfast for them. I tried reading the book again, but couldn’t recall what I read. I feel that my life as an adult was very different. I didn’t do most of the stuff I previously liked. I had a strong chocolate craving and decided to eat a chocolate bar. It was lunch time and my husband was back. He wanted to get a new dental machine for his clinic. I didn’t want to have sex and wanted to continue with the book. I tried to lie down to sleep, but I wasn’t feeling sleepy. My mind was clear. It was a typical day for me. My husband could sleep perfectly well and I was very jealous of that fact. Despite insomnia, I went about with life’s chores and went through the motions. My body was at work, but my mind was with books. There was a very distinct disconnection, but no one seemed to realize. I was worried by my condition. Strangely, my health wasn’t suffering. My body still seemed to be glowing. I didn’t want to go to hospital to get checks done. Humans are not able to escape from some fixed idiosyncratic tendencies, like physical movements or thoughts. Sleep counteracts these tendencies. Sleeping helped repair the damage of my tendencies. Life was just a pointless repetition. Then, suddenly, I didn’t want sleep to repair my body. I didn’t want to hand my mind to anyone else. Now, a lack of sleep meant I had more time for myself. At least, my life was not being consumed by anything. I read Anna Karenina 3 times and gained new insight from it. I felt like I gained a lot emotionally from reading. I observed my husband sleeping and thought that looked ugly when asleep. Now, I went to observe my son sleeping. Something about his face also annoyed me. I realized that was because he looked exactly like my husband. My husband was flawless, which maybe is something I didn’t quite like. I drank brandy and read again. It was day 17 of no sleep. I thought that I was going to die. ‘And if I died now, what would my life have amounted to?’ To me, death was simply an extension of sleep. No one knew what death would be like. I drove outside at 3 in the morning. I drove to the harbor. Then, while there, I recalled having sex with my boyfriend in college in the car. Such memories are fading fast. This is how people change. 2 men were outside and they were shaking my car and shouting at me. I started crying in the car. The men continued rocking the car back and forth. They’re going to turn it over.

I’m thirty. When you reach thirty, you realize it’s not the end of the world. I’m not especially happy about getting older, but it does make some things easier. It’s a question of attitude.  – Haruki Murakami

After I gave up sleeping, it occurred to me what a simple thing reality is, how easy it is to make it work. It’s just reality. Just housework. Just a home. Like running a simple machine. One you learn to run it, it’s just a matter of repetition. – Haruki Murakami

No one knows what death is. Who has ever truly seen it? No one. Except the ones who are dead. No one living knows what death is like. They can only guess. And the best guess is still a guess. Maybe death is a kind of rest, but reasoning can’t tell us that…Death can be anything at all. – Haruki Murakami


The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami (Part 1)

The Fall of the Roman Empire, the 1881 Indian Uprising, Hitler’s Invasion of Poland, and the Realm of Raging Winds. It was a typical Sunday afternoon. There was a strong wind that came out of nowhere. I shut the windows and doors. It was like the fall of the Roman Empire. I looked at the weather forecast and it didn’t predict a typhoon. My girlfriend likes to wear a blindfold during sex. I wrote those facts in my diary. The phone rang. I thought it would be my girlfriend. However, when I answered the phone, I just heard fierce wind blowing, like Indians on the warpath in 1881. No one was on the receiving end of the call. 15 seconds, the phone got cut off. Silence was all that remained. I watched Sophie’s Choice and saw Hilter’s invasion of Poland in the film. I was listening to Shostakovich cello concerto when the phone rang. It was my girlfriend. True enough, the wind stopped. She and I would be having hotpot. Both of us wondered on the fury of the wind and why it occurred so suddenly. Strangely enough, I have managed to keep a diary for 22 years continuously, without once stopping.

There’s lots we don’t know about the wind. Same as there’s lots we don’t know about ancient history or cancer or the ocean floor or outer space or sex. – Haruki Murakami

Lederhosen. My mother dumped my father over a pair of shorts. A woman tutors electric organ and was a sports fanatic. She was very driven. She was single. I was speaking to my wife about her. I thought her that woman was never set on marrying. One day, I spoke to that woman. I visited her to my home. She was my wife’s friend. Suddenly, she talked about her parents’ divorce. They weren’t shorts, they were lederhosen. Mum headed to Germany for a holiday and Dad wanted her to buy lederhosen back for him. They got along fine. However, mum extended her trip to 1.5months and didn’t come home. This made Dad very upset. One day, mum filed for divorce, citing the reason that she no longer loved him. My dad reluctantly gave in. Mum was dumping me too. I wasn’t able to forgive her for a long time. It was 3 years later that I saw her again. Everything stemmed from that pair of shorts. My mum headed to a shop to buy souvenir lederhosen. Although she was alone, the shop owners and travellers treated her well and she felt liberated. However, the shop owners wanted to see the customer before they could size the lederhosen for him. My mum was disappointed. My mum negotiated and agreed to bring a man who is similar in size to dad to the shop so that she could buy lederhosen. The shop owners agreed with this. Mum managed to find a guy with the same size as Dad. Later on, she decided to divorce dad. Somehow, mum felt an incredible sense of disgust towards father. The man she brought in resembled dad a lot. Perhaps only women behaved in this manner.

Barn Burning. I was 31 and she was 20 and we met at a wedding party. Our age gap didn’t matter. I was married at that time. She was an advertising model. She was a model and I didn’t care whether she was sleeping with other guys for money. She was studying pantomime. For one shoot, she had to pretend to peel mandarin oranges. It was incredibly pretentious. We became pals. After her dad died, she visited North Africa. 3 months after, she brought home an Algerian guy, who she fell in love with. He worked in trading. I met the guy for a few more times after that. He seemed to be really rich. One day, she and the guy dropped by my house. My wife was out for the moment. They brought some food as well. He offered me some grass to smoke and I agreed. The guy kept smoking while the girl went to sleep. The guy suddenly mentioned that he burn barns sometimes. He simply poured gasoline and threw a lighted match. I found out that he did it once every 2 months. The barns belonged to other people. He didn’t think he could get caught. It was like an obsession. He mentioned that there were a lot of barns waiting to be burnt in this world. He believed that it was a moral thing to do. To him, burning was judging. He was simply obliging. He imagined himself to be burning barns somewhere in the world and also simultaneously existing in Tokyo, forgiving himself. Was there such a thing as simultaneity? The next barn he was targeting was nearby. Despite drinking so much, he was not drunk. They left my house. I walked around the neighbourhood and labelled the barns I saw. I didn’t know which of the 5 big ones he would strike. One month had passed, and no barns were burnt. Could he be getting me to burn a barn? Flashback: I saw this guy again. He burned a barn near my house 10 days after we first talked about it. He also mentioned he didn’t see the girl again. She disappeared miraculously. I keep running to the barns, but none of them burned down. Once in a while, deep in the night, I think of barns burning to the ground.

The Little Green Monster. I was alone at home now that my husband left for work. I looked at the garden and thought of the oak tree I planted. Suddenly, I heard a rumbling sound. Something was moving closer to me. From the ground, out crawled a little green monster with sharp claws. It was covered with green scales and had a funny nose. It sent shivers down my spine. The monster headed to my front door. It kept knocking on my front door. It explored my home and starting speaking certain words. It said ‘it wouldn’t have done you any good.’ I somehow knew that it meant no harm. I felt that it was trying to propose to me. He confessed that he loved me. However, we were only conversing in our minds. I criticized the creature in my head and its scales started protruding from its face. I could tell that it was crying. Every time I imagined a torture for it, it would lurch and writhe and wail. It begged me to stop. All it had in its heart was love. I ignored it and thought that I have the right to think anything I wanted. However, I kept thinking nasty thoughts on how to kill it. Soon, it shrivelled up to the size of a worm. Now, it seemed to try to speak to me. Suddenly, it disappeared and only its eyes remained. Later, that too disappeared into emptiness.

A Slow Boat to China. I met my first Chinese in 1960. I was digging the past for information. Who was interested in what I was trying to find out? I had a baseball accident in the past and it was nasty. Death reminds me of the Chinese. This phrase got stuck in my head ‘That’s okay, brush off the dirt and you can still eat it’. I went to a Chinese elementary school to take a test. The classroom seemed normal. Everything seemed to be in order. Everyone was waiting for their test scripts. There was a test examiner as well. He was the first Chinese I knew. He spoke about the relationship between China and Japan. I went to a port town, where there were not many Chinese. I was never close to any Chinese by in the day. I met a Chinese girl through part time work in Tokyo. She was very diligent. She was very frantic and worked hard. One day, she suffered a bad panic attack and I comforted her. We worked in a publisher’s warehouse. Although she was born in China, she hasn’t been back much. Once, I tried to ask her out to the disco. She agreed to go although I had a girlfriend back then. Thankfully, she enjoyed dancing too. Her brother was her guardian. I asked for her number. I realized that I sent her off on the wrong train, in the opposite direction from her house. When she got off at her station, I was waiting for her and apologized immediately. She started crying. She wanted to be alone now. She was not as upset now and I wanted to call her tomorrow. After she left, I realized I misplaced the piece of paper where she wrote her number on. I never saw her again. My third Chinese was an acquaintance from high school. When I was at a café, a guy came up to me and asked ‘That’s you, isn’t it?’ I had difficulty remembering who he was. He had a bad stomach. Everything appeared very vivid to him. I was still clueless about him. He was married with a 4 year old son. He didn’t want to reveal his name and appeared mysterious. It turns out that he sells encyclopedias. However, he only sells to Chinese and not Japanese. Now, I recalled that he was from my high school. We chatted a while and later parted ways. The city didn’t seem intriguing for me at all. This was never any place I was meant to be. You can read about books on China, but experiencing it yourself is a truly unique experience. I was no longer afraid of loss and destruction. In fact, I longed for China now.

The dirty facades, the nameless crowds, the unremitting noise, the packed rush hour trains, the grey skies, the billboards on every square cm of available space, the hopes and resignation, irritation and excitement. And everywhere, infinite options, infinite possibilities. An infinitely, and at the same time, zero. We try to scoop it all up in our hands, and what we get is a handful of zero. That’s the city. – Haruki Murakami

The Dancing Dwarf. A dwarf was in my dream, wanting me to dance. He danced alone after I rejected it. He set up a record player and danced. The type of music didn’t matter that much to it. It seemed to have boundless energy. He was also flexible and spontaneous. He told me his story. In his north country, no one danced. One day, he was banished to live in the forest. My dream was dying. The dwarf said that one day, I would definitely join him in the forest to dance. It has been decided, apparently. I worked in the elephant factory. We made elephants. It was very rewarding indeed. We artificially manufacture elephants. We do this because for them to reproduce naturally is way too slow. It is possible to make 15 elephants in a normal week. The ear section is the easiest. In the afternoon, we could enjoy ourselves after working in the morning. I described the dwarf to my colleague. He said ‘That’s a tough one’. He mentioned that a guy in Stage 6 knew about the dwarf too. I went to look for this old man in the tavern. There were pictures of the revolution. He worked in the factory since he was a child. He launched into stories about the revolution. He didn’t want me mentioning about the dancing dwarf to anyone else. Apparently, the dwarf danced at the tavern a long time ago. Customers loved to see him dance. Also, the dwarf could manipulate people’s emotions with a choice of dance step. The dwarf was paid to dance before the king. When the revolution started, the dwarf ran away. The revolution people were still looking for the dwarf. Some people say the dwarf caused the revolution. We liked to talk about girls who worked in the factory. I entered Stage 8 and was looking for the new girl. She was incredibly beautiful. I asked her to go dancing with me. She said I could join her, but she wanted to dance alone. The dwarf entered my dream again. Now, he looked very tired and he was not dancing. He was sick and needed a new source of energy. He knew I wanted the girl but he said I needed his help in order to get her. The dwarf would teach me how to dance in order to impress her. But his alternative was that he got into my body and danced. However, I was afraid of this. He had one condition for me, while I was dancing, I was not to say a word at all. If I spoke a word, he would occupy my body permanently. I eventually agreed. I was at the dance hall now, waiting for her. Finally, she showed up. She started dancing alone and she was perfect in her moves. Now, I started dancing and I couldn’t feel my body anymore. Later, she started whirling and stamping with me. I was deliriously happy. After a long time, we stopped and gazed into each other’s eyes. We left the place and kept walking. We went to the top of the hill and I held her. We kissed each other. Suddenly, her face began to change into an enormous maggot. Maggots were emerging from her face and body. It was stinky and pus poured out from her eyes. Everything was dissolving and I tried to close my eyes. The dwarf was laughing at me. I wanted to let out a scream, but didn’t. It was like entering hell. The dwarf was testing me, and wanted me to scream so he could occupy my body forever. I closed my eyes and kissed her. It was extremely disgusting. However, later, I realized that after opening my eyes, she turned into a beautiful girl again. I defeated the dwarf and he left my body. However, he said that I will eventually lose to him. Now, he started laughing again. The police was not looking at me. Now, I have been running from forest to forest and living on berries, trying to escape the policemen. I had to choose between letting the dwarf control me and dance in the forest forever, or continue running from the police.



Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (Part 3)

Crabs. They entered a restaurant selling crabs. The young man was on a date and was willing to try a new restaurant. She was willing to try too. She initially thought that it wasn’t clean. Being adventurous, they tried crabs in the restaurant. They were really happy with the food. To him, eating was very important and it really mattered whether one ate at an expensive or cheap restaurant. For the next few days, they continued eating crab. Everything felt great. Suddenly, the man started puking out white crabmeat. It was all the crab in his tummy. The lump was also moving silently. Upon closer inspection, he realized that they were worms. It was very creepy indeed. After puking, he felt extremely tired. The young lady seemed fine. However, the young man didn’t want to tell her about the puking episodes. He didn’t real the need to tell her. The young lady continued sleeping. His palms were trembling. He didn’t have any direction in life. One thing was for sure: He was never going to eat crab again.

Firefly. I was new to Tokyo when I was 18 and I stayed in a dorm then. It was a cheap dorm. There were simple facilities in the building. The dorm was run by a mysterious foundation and a right-wing fanatic. Some thought this made the dorm dodgy. There was a flag raising ceremony every morning. An old man and an assistant would raise the flag every morning. It was the same routine every day. I wondered why the flag was needed to be kept in the evening? The furniture were Spartan. Everything was also kind of messy and unkempt. My room was really clean and my roommate loved to clean the room. He loved maps and was a Geography major. I studied drama, although I also liked other fields. He was an early bird, while I was mostly a night owl. I was irritated as when he exercised in the room, it would disturb me. He was pissed at me as I suggested that he stop jumping about and exercising in the room. I was talking to a girl. It was summer and people were out and about. She didn’t know whether dorm life would suit her. Sometimes, she wished that she could stay in one. I was on a date. We didn’t really have a lot in common when conversing. She was fit and liked hiking. I wanted to send her home, but she rejected me. I was glad that she wanted to see me again. She seemed to have trouble expressing what her mind wanted to say. As a result, she felt frustrated. I was introduced to my friend’s girlfriend. My friend was a great host. After my friend died, I just saw her once again. Things were awkward. He didn’t leave a death note or any clue behind. I tried to forget about his death every time I visited Tokyo. The air seemed to form the words ‘Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it.’ I thought death existed in a separate realm. Now, I started to feel that death was already inside me. I saw her once or twice more. We would go for walks together. I loved to read but was reclusive at school. I also struggled to explain my feelings to her. I gave her a CD as a Christmas present. Once, my roommate was ill and I had to take care of him. She was 20 now and I bought her a cake. She mentioned that it felt idiotic to be 20. She started talking for 4 hours and I had to interrupt her. Suddenly, she just stopped halfway and nothing came out from her mouth. Later, she started weeping and I felt guilty. She continued crying. That night, we slept together. I left in the morning. A week passed and she still didn’t call. I wrote her a long letter. She replied me in July. She took a leave of absence from college. She would stay in the sanatorium in the mountains. She was glad that I was her friend and she hoped that I would be able to meet her again. I was gripped with sadness. Life seemed meaningless now. One day, my roommate gave me a firefly in a jar. Apparently, he found it in the courtyard. He suggested that I give it to a girl and I thought it was a good idea. I went to the roof with the jar. I stared at the moon. The firefly didn’t give off a bright light, unlike others. It might be dying, I thought. Or was it normally so dim? I released the firefly, but it was more dead than alive. We both sat there without moving. I waited forever. After a long while, it took off and spread its wings and flew away. Traces of its light remained with me.

Again and again I stretched my hand out toward that darkness. But my fingers felt nothing. That tiny glow was always just out of reach. – Haruki Murakami

Chance Traveler. Some events have affected my life. However, most people do not think much of it. I was in Cambridge in 1994 in a jazz bar. The jazz pianist, Tommy Flanagan, was a let-down. I wished that he would play 2 of my favorite pieces. By sheer coincidence, he played the 2 pieces. Both of them were amazing as well. Once, I bought a jazz CD named ten to four. It also happened that a man asked for the time and it also happened to be ten to four. Both of these incidents weren’t very special. This is a story which a friend related to me. My friend was a piano tuner who was gay and had a boyfriend. He didn’t hide the fact that he was gay. He believed in staying true to himself. He wasn’t all that interested in girls. He had sex with a girl when young. To him, sex was a burden. His friends thought being gay was strange. His current partner was with him for nearly 10 years. He loved visiting a café to read on Tuesday mornings. One day, he was reading Charles Dickens’s Bleak House. A woman beside him asked a question. She happened to be reading Bleak House as well, what a coincidence. She was a little overweight. She was married, had 2 kids and joined a local book club. Later, they had lunch together. They thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The next week, the both of them met in the bookstore and had lunch again. Later, she held his hand. Now, he admitted he was gay. Later, she started crying profusely after learning this fact. She admitted that he made her feel exciting and she haven’t felt that way for a long time. She admitted that she had to go for a breast cancer examination and was feeling stressed. He gave her some advice. She was happy that she had met him. She didn’t seem to like her husband. He tried to call his sister. She answered and sounded fierce. Apparently, she had been weeping. She seemed upset. It was 10 years since they last saw each other. They talked about life. He admitted that it was disappointing not to be a concert pianist at the start, but now, he realized that he was better as a piano tuner. He admitted to his sister he was gay. His sister was having a breast cancer operation tomorrow, which was remarkable in a similar state to the woman he met at the café earlier. She felt bad that he contacted her in this sad state. They both hugged each other. His sister was doing okay and well after the operation. My friend was glad he would be reunited with his sister. However, it took something before it sparked that trigger. Chance is a common thing after all. He had no idea what happened to the woman he met at the café. I wished that someone up there would be watching over her.

If you have to choose between something that has form and something that doesn’t, go for the one without form. That’s my rule. – Haruki Murakami

But if we’re really hoping something may come true, it may become visible, like a message rising to the surface. Then we’re able to make it out clearly, decipher what it means. And seeing it before us we’re surprised and wonder at how strange things like this can happen. – Haruki Murakami

Hanalei Bay. Sachi lost her son to a shark attack while he was surfing in Hanalei Bay. The cause of death was drowning after he panicked from the bite. She was shocked and booked a flight to Hawaii. She met up with the Japanese consulate. They brought her to the morgue, where she identified the body as her son’s. She authorized the cremation of his body. He was her only son. The Officer said that nature can be cruel, wild and deadly. Nature doesn’t take sides. Later, she visited the hotel her son stayed in and observed some surfers. She knew that time would heal the wounds. She spotted two men surfing who happened to know Takashi, her son. They admitted that he was a cool dude. Now, Sachi continued to stay in Hanalei Bay and watch the beach. She visited it every year to mark her son’s death, for 10 years. Some of the residents recognized her. She bumped into 2 Japanese hitchhikers on the way to Hanalei and gave them a lift. She also helped them with logistics and settling in. They were surfers. They were definitely grateful for her hospitality. Sachi was an outstanding pianist at the bar and could play by ear. She started off playing in a bar in US. It was decent cash. Her son couldn’t study and was virtually a school dropout. One day, she was kicked out of US for working illegally. She married a jazz guitarist, who later died from drug overdose. After that, she opened a jazz bar and started playing music. Once in a while, she would play in Hanalei too. She didn’t really like her son. There was a rude American who wanted Sachi to play, but she refused. The two hitchhikers mentioned that they spotted a one-legged Japanese surfer recently. It reminded Sachi of her late son. However, despite her efforts, Sachi didn’t manage to spot the one-legged surfer. She thought that things were unfair, but realized that was how life is anyway. Later on, back in Japan, she bumped into one of the surfers. She gave him advice on dating. In her free time, her mind drifts to the scenery on Hanalei Bay. That’s all there is to occupy her.

There are only 3 ways to get along with a girl: one, shut up and listen to what she has to say; two, tell her you like what she’s wearing; and three, treat her to really good food. Easy, huh? If you do all that and still don’t get the results you want, better give up. – Haruki Murakami

Where I’m likely to Find it. Her husband’s father was run over by a car 3 years ago and died. I was talking to the woman. Apparently, he was drunk. I was interviewing her. She was 35 and her husband’s father died at 68. He was a Buddhist priest. Her husband was a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch. Her husband was 41. Her mother-in-law started having panic attacks after her husband’s death. I took notes during the conversation. There was an incident which led her to suspect that her husband disappeared. She called the police but they couldn’t be bothered to investigate. Her husband never used the lift, but always the stairs. I agreed to visit the building where her husband disappeared. I agreed to take the case without any fees. I was just a guy who looked for disappearing people in my free time. I declined her money. Her mother-in-law continued experiencing panic episodes. I walked from the 24th to the 26th floor back and forth. However, there was no clue. I imagined myself eating pancakes and started to drool. I continued walking the stairs for many days later. Despite my efforts, there was no clue. Once, I entered a man running up the stairs and I chatted with him. He knew her husband and they chatted before. Another day, I spoke to an elderly man who was coming down the stairs. He was smoking who said benefitted his health and he also knew the husband. He mentioned that humans didn’t need words, it was words that needed us. It was like a Zen koan. The next day, I saw a little girl on the sofa on the stairs who was singing. We started talking about doughnuts. I mentioned that I was looking for a door in the staircase. She mentioned that she would help me find it, if possible. One day, the woman found her husband. He mysteriously found himself in Sendai. However, he seemed okay. She was glad that she managed to find her husband. I took notes again from our conversation. I dreamt of smoking like the old man and of the people I met at the staircase. I was still searching for something, but I was not sure what it was.

We’re usually thinking all the time, aren’t we? Not that we live in order to think, but the opposite isn’t true, wither – that we think in order to live. I believe, contrary to Descartes, that we sometimes think in order not to be. – Haruki Murakami

The Kidney-Shaped Stone that Moves Every Day. Junpei and his dad were chatting. They were not extremely close. He mentioned that in a lifetime, only 3 women can create impact on a guy. Junpei was young and didn’t understand. He had plenty of questions in is head, which he didn’t dare to ask. Junpei felt that he used 1 woman already, and therefore was cautious of meeting others. As a result, he tried to find fault with women he knew and was convinced that they were not right for him. Hence, he didn’t have good relationships with women. When he was 31, he met a girl at a bar. Junpei was a writer back then. She mentioned that he had a cool aura about him. Her name was Kirie. She seemed like an independent and lively woman. She mentioned that it took time for a writer to hone his skills. Junpei guessed that she worked outdoors, but she was teasing him and didn’t reveal what she did. However, she liked what she did. That night, they had sex and she left her number behind. Both of them had great dates. She praised his writing for being balanced. Junpei preferred writing short stories to novels. She disappointed him when she said she didn’t want to have a serious relationship with him. She said she needed to concentrate on her profession. He shared that the story he was writing was about a lady who was interning in a hospital but was having an affair with a surgeon in the same hospital, who was married. The lady happened to travel alone. She saw a stone that looked just like a kidney. She brought it to the hospital and used it as a paperweight. Every morning, the stone would change position. There was certainly no reason for someone to change its position in the night. There wasn’t any reason for the stone to move at night. She was curious about what would happen to the kidney shaped stone. The lady realized she could communicate with the stone. She grew used to the stone after a while. However, she began to be obsessed by the stone. The stone was controlling her life. She broke up with the surgeon and threw the stone in the sea. However, it miraculously appeared on her desk the next day. Somehow, Junpei also couldn’t reack Kirie. He felt a major void in his life. One day, he heard Kirie’s voice over the radio. She washed the windows of tall buildings and wasn’t afraid of heights. Now, she was a stuntwoman who walks from buildings to buildings. She liked doing stunts as she had to succumb yourself to the wind. The wind understands her. They are in their own warm void. Junpei decided whether it Strike 2 out of 3 women who would impact his life. Even though she never contacted him again, Junpei knew she had a lasting impact in him. The kidney shaped stone disappeared and it won’t be coming back.

That’s important. Your work should be an act of love, not a marriage of convenience. – Junpei

You know everything in the world has its reasons for doing what it does. For example, the wind. We just don’t notice as we go about our lives. But then, at some point, we are made to notice. The wind envelopes you with a certain purpose in mind, and it rocks you. The wind knows everything that’s inside you…They all know us very well. It only occurs to us at certain times. And all we can do is go with those things and keep them and survive and deepen. – Haruki Murakami

Numbers aren’t the important thing. The countdown has no meaning. Now Junpei knew: What matters is deciding in your heart to accept another person completely. And it always has to be the first time and the last. – Haruki Murakami

A Shinagawa Monkey. She had trouble remembering her name. This only happened when she was in a hurry. She could remember names of her clients and everything else, except her name. This happened for a year. She was Mizuki Ando and her maiden name was Ozawa. She married Takashi Ando 3 years ago. However, she could refer to her purse for her name. She felt like a life without a name wasn’t that great. She didn’t tell her husband about this problem. They both a condo in a building in Shinagawa. She worked in Honda dealership. Her job was okay. Mizuki was good at conversing with clients. She wasn’t very ambitious and didn’t want to transfer to the sales department. She went by her maiden name at work. Oddly, she felt she was suffering from Alzheimer’s. Now, she checked into a hospital to check on her condition. The doctors dismissed her case. Later on, she visited a counseling center. Her counsellor was Tetsuko Sakaki, a friendly lady. She was her first client. Mizuki was concerned that she had a disease. She came from an ordinary family. Marriage life was okay for her and she got along fairly well with her husband. To her, her life seemed rather boring. The counselling session ended and there would be another one next week. Mizuki used to stay in a single room in high school. One day, a girl named Yuko came to visit her room. Yuko was standing there. Yuko asked Mizuki whether she had ever been jealous. Yuko was rich and doing well in life but admitted she often felt jealous. Jealously was something growing inside her for no particular reason. It’s not easy to live around with it. Mizuki never felt jealous of anyone. Yuko had to visit her relative’s wake and wanted Mizuki to keep her name tag while she was away. It turned out that Yuko lied and eventually her body was found. Yuko slit her own wrists and died. Was jealousy the cause of the suicide? Mizuki just quiet about the own episode. Even today, she still kept Yuko’s name tag. The counsellor explained that it was normal to feel jealous sometimes. Serious jealousy is like a cancer in your heart. Suddenly, Mizuki couldn’t find Yuko’s name tag. After many counselling sessions, Mizuki’s condition stabilized. The next week, the counsellor presented Mizuki with both hers and Yuko’s name tag. She managed to recover them. This was the reason why Mizuki kept forgetting her name. A monkey was the thief and he seemed too big to be a monkey. Somehow, Yuko seemed to know of this monkey. He could talk and the monkey apologized. The monkey admitted he had a sickness and liked to take other people’s names. It admitted that it loved Yuko and decided to steal the tag. Once again, the monkey apologized for his actions. Her husband scoured the sewers and found the monkey hiding there. The monkey thought that some good came from its actions and pleaded for a lighter sentence. However, when he steals something, both the good and bad things will go. Mizuki wanted to know from the monkey what her bad points were. However, the monkey was initially unwilling to share. Her mum and her older sister didn’t love Mizuki and she didn’t get much love when younger. The monkey admitted that because of this, Mizuki has never been able to love deeply and unconditionally and that she didn’t understand her husband well enough. Mizuki admitted that the monkey’s words were true. Mizuki knew that she had to live with her name. The monkey would be released in the mountains and would not be allowed to return to Tokyo. Mizuki was happy that normal life resumed. Now, she had her own name, a name that was hers alone.

In stealing people’s names, I’m also able to remove some of the negative elements that stick to those names. If I had succeeded in stealing her name, I might have taken away some of the darkness that was hidden inside her. – The Monkey


Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (Part 2)

Dabchick. I was at the bottom of the stairway. It was just a corridor. The hallway was completely silent. I kept walking but realized I was in a T shaped intersection. I received a map and followed it, but there was no door. I was lost. My life was poor and I hated it and wanted a decent job. Finally I found a door. No one responded to my knock. A man appeared after he had a bath. I would be starting work here. There was a password which I didn’t know and he wouldn’t let me in. He didn’t seem to trust me. I asked for a hint and he said the password has something to do with water and can fit in your hand, but you can’t eat it. I had three tries. There were 8 letters. I mentioned dabchick. It was a waterbird but he mentioned that it was possible to eat it. He mentioned that it was the wrong word. I told him there was no such 8 letter word that met his criteria. He wanted me to show him dogs that would not eat dabchicks. I convinced that the bird was horrible in taste. I realized I tricked him as I haven’t seen dabchicks before. The dabchick was sick of life and wanted to kill himself. He was the boss of the company. He mentioned that I was 15 minutes late.

Man-Eating Cats. A 70 year old woman had been eaten by cats. Her body was discovered only a week later. I told this story to Izumi. She loved my voice and when I read aloud to her. She wanted to know what happened to the cats but the article didn’t say. Izumi liked to smoke. I wanted to turn the cats to vegetarians. She told me a story about being shipwrecked on an island with a cat. Would you want to share your food with the cat? Or would you eat it? We were staying on a Greek island. I had a wife and a 4 year old son. My work was ok, although I didn’t enjoy it. I met Izumi at work and she clicked right away. We had a lot in common. We were both married. Time flew by when we met. We also made love with one another. We were convinced that we could have this relationship and not get into trouble. Izumi’s husband found out about our affair. My wife demanded an explanation and was deeply upset. She moved out of my house with my son. I explained that it was a special relationship but she didn’t buy it. Izumi’s husband left her too. She wanted to go to Greece and I agreed to go. I resigned from work as we were planning a long trip. The island was boring and we didn’t have friends. She studied Greek. We kept walking around. I started to paint in my free time. She didn’t want to go back to Japan again. When I was young, a cat disappeared from me in a weird way. Cats often get over-excited over something and disappear in weird ways. I missed my child at times. Everything seemed a distant memory. Suddenly, I couldn’t find Izumi. I was desperate and tried to look for her. When I walked outside, I heard music. Suddenly, I felt myself disappearing, like stepping in quicksand. I was desperately worried and felt like a puppet. I dreamed of her voice. Dark thoughts flashed in my head. The music stopped playing. The moonlight had made Izumi and cats disappear. How could I go on living without her? I pictured the cats devouring the real me.

Newspapers are all the same, no matter where you go. They never tell you want you really want to know. – Izumi

Then, suddenly, I pictured those cats, starving to death in a locked apartment. I – the real me – was dead, and they were alive, eating my flesh, biting into my heart, sucking my blood, devouring my penis….The tips of their rough tongues licked the soft folds of my mind. And with each lick my consciousness flickered like a flame and faded away. – Narrator

Nausea 1979. He vomited from June 4, 1979 to July 14, 1979. He was a young illustrator. We both liked jazz and he liked to sleep with friends’ girlfriends and wives. This turned him on. It was just sex to him. He didn’t want to expose what he did. He claims women look forward to sleeping with him. He claims women want someone to be interested in them. One day, he told me that he just threw up 40 days straight, without any reason. On June 3rd, he drank and slept with a friend’s partner. He seemed okay after that. Although he vomited, he still felt okay after that. He laid off alcohol for a while. Someone called him every day and it seemed to coincide with his period of vomiting. Every day, the guy will say my friends’ name and then hang up. Everything he ate, he ended up throwing up. The doctors could find out what was wrong with him. After a while, he took off from work and changed his habits. It seemed to be getting better, but that night, he vomited again. He usually puked only after the call. Now, he thought that he was imagining picking up the phone and imagining hearing his voice over the phone. He felt that he had schizophrenia. The police were not concerned with prank calls too. Even when he visited my friend’s house, he received the same call too. Then, he recollected that for most of the day, he was alone. He decided to fight back to change his life. He didn’t want to install an answering machine as it would feel like running away from the problem. He decided to drink again, since he knew that he would throw up anyway after that. Interestingly, he also got new clothes to fit his new body, since he lost more weight. On July 14, things just stopped all of a sudden. During the last call, he said my friend’s name and asked ‘Do you know who I am?’, before hanging up. However, my friend didn’t find that voice familiar. Could his feelings of guilt taken the form of nausea? I encouraged him to learn from the experience, in case it might happen again.

The 7th Man. A huge wave nearly swept him away when he was 10 years ago. There was a group of people telling a story each. The wave was the most powerful ever. No one knew much about this man. He had a friend called K and his father was a doctor. He was very close to his friend K, who was very frail. He took good care of him. However, K was great at painting and drawing seascapes. Back then, before the typhoon, everyone started preparing for it. We were advised not to leave the house. The wind was uprooting things. Suddenly, everything felt silent and I realized I was in the eye of the storm. I wanted to explore outside and dad allowed. I walked to the beach and everything was destroyed. K followed me too. The waves seemed hushed at that moment. The waves started receding, nothing like I have seen before. Something seemed ominous. I sensed trouble and fled. However, K didn’t hear me. K missed the earth-shaking sound as well before the wave. However, he heard my shouting too late. The wave was at 3 story tall and the wave swallowed him. K and his dog disappeared. Thankfully, I hid behind the brickwall even after numerous strong waves hit the shore. I seemed to see K appear in the crest of the next wave, which lost power miraculously when it hit the shore. It was no illusion. K was smiling at me and his arm was outstretched, wanting to grab me. The next moment, I found myself in hospital and my dad said I was asleep for 3 days. No one found K or the dog again. K’s parents never blamed me. I was pained with guilt knowing that I could have saved him. I was in a state of emotional shock and didn’t go to school for weeks. I had another dream where I am swimming and someone grabbed my ankle and K’s face appeared. I wanted to move to another town and my parents granted me that wish. After leaving town, things were better. Sometimes, I still get nightmares. I have a phobia of water now. Last spring, I visited the same beach again. I also re-examined his pictures on landscapes. Everything was coming back to me with intensity. I started studying his paintings. I realized that he might not have hated me, but wanted me to join him in another world. My old town was now an industrial city. Everything seemed different now. The beach seemed the same and was peaceful. Probably no one could remember the tragic typhoon 40 years ago. Now, the deep darkness in me vanished. I achieved a form of salvation which I am very grateful for.

Fear comes to us in many different forms, at different times, and overwhelms us. But the most frightening thing we can do at such times is to turn our backs on it, to close our eyes. For then we take the most precious thing inside us and surrender it to something else. In my case, that something was the wave. – The 7th man

A ‘Poor Aunty’ Story. It was a Sunday. The sunlight was brilliant. My companion and I stared at 2 bronze unicorns. Summer was here. A poor aunt entered my heart and left me feeling empty after that. I wanted to write about the poor aunt. She didn’t think anyone would read it. She had a poor aunt, but didn’t want to write about her. It was hard for her to form words to describe the aunt. She doubted whether I could write about a poor aunt as I didn’t have a real poor aunt. However, it is likely that you might have come across a poor aunt in your life. The poor aunt’s name fades before she dies, because she is no outstanding woman. Some people’s names fade only after they have died. What happens to the forgotten people? I tried to recall the poor aunt I had. I had one on my back suddenly. She was about to change form based on how each observer perceived her. It took the form of a dog, or an old elementary school teacher etc. Friends were starting to ignore me. Reporters kept taking photos of me and the aunt and this left me exhausted. One of them interviewed me and I explained that it was not a chore at all. I explained that people’s reaction to words will be different. My response to poor aunt was an independent existence. The poor aunt had no meaning, no form. However, I couldn’t get it out. I could turn a word into a conceptual sign. If you keep repeating a word, it will appear at the back of you. Soon, the hype I enjoyed died as no one was interested in poor aunts. I wondered who became a poor aunt. There are usually explanations for things. However, for the poor aunt, there wasn’t any explanation why she was there. She didn’t see anything on my back. The core of the poor aunt is perfection. In late autumn, the poor aunt finally left my back. When I was in a train once, I saw a young boy pulling and pawing on her sisters’ hat. But the boy kept playing with it. The mother didn’t do anything to stop him as she felt that the boy would be bored eventually. Later, the girl slapped him on the cheek. The boy started crying and the mother hit the girl. The mother said to the girl ‘You don’t belong to me anymore’. She had to leave. I wanted to comfort the girl, but I didn’t. After I left the train, the poor aunt vanished. I felt lost. I called my companion to make sure she was okay. I wondered where did the poor aunt go? In future, if there was a world of poor aunts, would they welcome me? If I ever lived till them, I would certainly write well of them.

Once something has come into being, it continues to exist independent of my will. It’s like a memory. You know how a memory can be – especially a memory you wish you could forget but you can’t. It’s just like that.’ Haruki Murakami

She exists. That’s all. You have to recognize that fact and accept it. Reasons, causes: these just don’t matter. The poor aunt is there. She exists. And that’s what a poor aunt is.’ Haruki Murakami

The Year of Spaghetti. 1971 was the year of spaghetti. I learned how to cook and went shopping. I always felt spaghetti was meant to be enjoyed alone. Every day, I ate it. Every day, a different stranger visited me. However, they hovered at my door, and disappeared soon after. Cooking was like an act of revenge. One day, I heard the phone ring. It was the ex-girlfriend of a friend of mine. She was looking for my friend. I said that I didn’t know. I lied to her and said that I was cooking spaghetti. Now, I imagined myself cooking it. She was pissed at me for wanting to end the call and declared that she was in trouble. I felt guilty for not telling her where her ex was. However, yet, I knew that by cooking spaghetti, I wanted to be lonely and all by myself. The spaghetti represented loneliness.

Tony Takitani. His father was Shozaburo Takitani and was a jazz trombonist. He went to China to perform and had no qualms about leaving Japan. He loved Shanghai. He was successful in the trombone and had women around him. Often, he slept with different women too. However, one day, the Chinese army locked him up. However, he didn’t fear death and thought that he could not change his fate. Thankfully, he was released at the end. Now, his brother disappeared and his parents died. However, he did not feel sad or miserable and expected it. In his free time, he jammed with his friends. In 1947, he got married. 3 days after his wife gave birth, she died. It upset Shozaburo for a while. His army friend named his son Tony for him. Eventually, the name got stuck. Tony wasn’t treated well by his friends, who thought he was American. He was also comfortable being alone. Tony was excellent in drawing and won prizes. Naturally, he became an illustrator. He made good money because of his talents. Tony, at that time, didn’t consider marriage. As he had a pleasant character, many liked Tony for who he was. One day, he fell in love with a 22 year old girl. She wore her clothing with a natural grace that was akin to a bird. She admitted that most of her income when towards clothes. Tony became sad when the girl wasn’t ready to commit to him. However, later, they got married. One day, Tony went to watch his father play jazz. Strangely, he felt that the music his dad played was different from the past. Tony’s wife had the tendency to buy too many clothes. Tony was upset and spoke to her about this. His wife admitted that she was addicted to buying dresses. One day, she got involved in an accident and passed away

. Tony had to get rid of the clothes. He advertised for an admin assistant to work for him, but on condition that she had to wear a different of his wife’s dresses every day. He wanted to get used to the idea that his wife was gone. She was mesmerized by the sheer collection of outfits. Soon, she starting crying as she had never seen so many beautiful dresses in her life. Tony stared at the clothes and they seem meaningless to him not that his wife was not wearing them. Deep down, he hated the dresses and he felt lonely again .Now, he wanted to give some of the dresses to the assistant, whose services he didn’t require now. In the end, Tony got a dealer to take away all his late wife’s dresses. Once in a while, he would stare at the empty room and realize his memory of his wife was fading fast. Two years later, Shozaburo died of cancer and left behind many jazz records. Similarly, he got a dealer to clear them. Tony Takitani was truly alone now.

The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes. Sharpie Cakes was having a competition, where users could design a cake. They were sweet in texture and didn’t taste good. When I said the cakes were not good, many people around me criticized me. A girl I spoke to mentioned about Sharpie crows. The president of the company gave a boring speech. There was prize money for the winner of the Sharpie Cake contest. I decided to participate. The Sharpie Crows would decide whether the cake was nice. The managing director was surprised that I didn’t know about the Crows. They are special birds who ate nothing but Sharpie Crows. However, they had no eyes and their bodies were swollen. They were horrible creatures and they screamed ‘Sharpies’. Some of the crows pecked at one another to eat the Cakes. The crows realized that my cakes were not true Sharpies and started squawking. Some of the birds liked my cakes. There was blood everywhere. I left the building and I was glad I didn’t win the prize.

The Ice Man. My husband is an Ice Man. From afar, you could tell he was one. I decided to approach him even though he was reading. He was definitely a man of a few words. He was a very shy guy who liked to ask me questions but he didn’t talk about himself at all. Soon, he knew a lot about me while I knew nothing of him. However, he couldn’t see the future. I was desperate and curious to know more about him. He was like an iceberg floating in the darkness. I loved him for who he is now, apart from any past or future. My family opposed the marriage and no one celebrated our wedding. The Ice Man works at a refrigerated meat warehouse. Deep down, many people didn’t accept him and his weird character. We failed to have a baby. I was the black sheep of the family. One day, I wanted to go see the world. Although he didn’t like to travel, he reluctantly agreed. I suggested the South Pole as I thought I could see the aurora and penguins. The ice man was becoming more ice-like. Sometimes, the ice man would not want to eat as well. Suddenly, I was afraid of going to the South Pole. I should have nothing to fear as dreams come from the past, not from the future. The South Pole turned out to be an extremely lonely place, with no penguins and auroras. There was nothing except ice and frozen wasteland. My husband started talking to the locals and seemed to enjoy it, which I absolutely hated. The Ice Man seemed to be the same person as the guy in the lobby when I first met him. Seemingly, I felt we were drifting apart.


Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami (Part 1)

I find great joy in writing short stories. His first fiction book was published in 1979. I alternate between novels and short stories. Some of the earliest short stories were written in 1981. It takes about 1 week to complete one, before editing. You can create a story from a small idea. Not every story will be a success and you need to understand that. Some readers prefer short stories to my novels. Some of my best novels are ‘The wind-up bird chronicle; south of the border; west of the sun; sputnik sweetheart; Kafka on the shore’. Almost everything I write can seem strange and queer. Some of the short stories have been incorporated into novels. Both short stories and novels interact inside me in an organic way.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. I was talking to my cousin about my watch. His hearing was affected after a baseball incident when young. Not all expensive watches were accurate, he exclaimed. He didn’t think it was tough to get around without a watch. We were going to the hospital. I was 25, he was 14. The bus finally arrived and it was brand new. My cousin didn’t meet up with his friends from school. There were several old people in the bus, they appeared to be mountain climbers. My cousin was going to see the ear doctor. I left my job and broke up with my girlfriend and my grandma died recently. Now, I was starting to be reclusive. My aunt requested that I send him to the hospital. It was 5 years since I last saw my cousin. We soaked in the beautiful scenery from the bus. I visited the café while he received treatment. Some of the scenes looked oddly familiar. I remember accompanying a friend’s girlfriend in hospital years ago. I tried to recall those times. I recalled that the both of us had a good time. She drew something on a napkin. She drew a lady sleeping in a house surrounded by blind willows, which were trees. The trees have pollen and tiny flies covered with pollen crawled into her ear so she could sleep. The flies would later gobble up her flesh. A young man wanted to rescue her. It sounded like a sad story, being eaten up by flies. My cousin was done and he carried a bag of medicine. We ate in the café. My cousin was apprehensive that the tests would work. Not being able to hear didn’t bother him much. What can be seen by anybody isn’t all that important. I examined his ear. I imagined flies entering my friend’s ear and laying eggs inside, but you wouldn’t be able to hear them.

If you were able to spot some Indians, that means there aren’t any there. – John Ford movie

Birthday Girl. She works as a waitress in a restaurant. Her stand-in was sick and so she had to work. She had quarreled with her boyfriend a few days before and was feeling upset. The restaurant had a good clientele. They worked 3 day weeks. There was only a cashier and a floor manager. The manager always made it a point to dress well. The owner never showed up in the restaurant. The manager had to deliver food to him. It was like clockwork. No one else had seen how the owner looked like. One day, unexpectedly, the manager fell ill. She had to deliver dinner to room 604. A skinny old man appeared at the door. She entered her apartment. He wanted to speak to her for 5 minutes and asked for her age. He wished her happy birthday. He poured her a glass of red wine and they toasted. Now, he wanted to bring her a present. He said he would make her wish come true, whatever it was. She made her wish. However, the old man thought it was not ordinary, unlike a wish to say be prettier and smarter. He concentrated and mentioned that her wish had been granted. Later, she returned to the room to clear the plate, but his door wasn’t open. She recollected that she quit work and never saw the owner again. Everything, to her, seemed like an illusion. I wanted to know what she wished for. It was a wish that takes time to fulfill and she didn’t really regret her choice. She mentioned that she was married with kids and led a seemingly happy life. She asked me what I would wish for, I said nothing at all. To her, that was also a wish. Be careful what you wish for.

Happy birthday. May you live a rich and fruitful life, and may there be nothing to cast dark shadows on it. – The Restaurant Owner

No matter what they wish for, no matter how far they go, people can never be anything but themselves. – The Birthday Girl

New York Mining Disaster. My friend likes to visit the zoo when there’s a typhoon. He likes to survey the animals. Some of them will behave differently from others. The gorillas do not seem to be disturbed. He works in an export company, managing investments and he changes girlfriends every 6 months. Once, he saw a cat in the zoo. He was surprised as it was a run of the mill type animals. I borrowed a suit from him as I needed to attend a funeral. It was the year of funerals for me. I was only 28. One day, there was a guy who slit his wrists in a bathtub and died. He didn’t leave a farewell note. It was sad to commit suicide at only 28. A lot of them died not by committing suicide. It was unexpected. It was like a curse and I already attended 5 funerals this year. My friend likes to clean things when he gets depressed. After that, he will usually feel better. He visited the zoo in the night once and he felt the animals behaved in a strange manner. He liked watching TV because he could switch it off without anyone complaining. Your mind works in mysterious ways. He mentioned there was a lot of ways of dying, some of which your body will not stink. We drank whiskey and champagne. I was at a New Year’s Eve party once. A lady came up and said that I looked familiar. I was pleasantly surprised. She mentioned that she killed him 5 years ago. The miners were trapped and were told not to breathe too hard and consume excessively oxygen. Outside, people were trying to rescue them.

But that’s what death is. A rabbit is a rabbit whether it springs out of a hat or a wheat field. – Narrator

Airplane: Or, How he talked to himself as if reciting poetry. He liked to talk to himself. She was talking to him. He was 20 and she was 27 and she had a kid. Her husband had a job which required him to travel frequently. He liked listening to opera. There was an impressive stereo set. She thought she seemed happy in life. However, she was sleeping with him. ‘If you’re so happy, why the hell are you sleeping with me?’ he thought. She started crying and didn’t stop. After that, they would make love to one another. They had little in common to talk about. He thought that he was living life according to his values, but once in he slept with her, he felt his life was in chaos. They had a very funny relationship. He wasn’t in love with her. One day, their doorbell rang but she ignored it. He had a habit of talking to himself. She got scolded by her grandma when she was young and even now, she didn’t dare talk to herself. He often talked about airplanes when he talked to himself. However, he couldn’t recall what he said to himself. He couldn’t believe he was talking about airplanes as he had no recollection of it. He thought that it was waiting for someone deep in the forest. He touched her hair and it was also the last time she ever cried.

I sometimes think that people’s hearts are like deep wells. Nobody knows what’s at the bottom. All you can do is imagine by what comes floating to the surface every once in a while. – She

The Mirror. There is a force that allows the life to cross over to the supernatural side. However, most people only can see one side of it. Some people don’t fall into either category. I have never seen a true ghost. Now, I will share my true story. I did manual labour jobs at the start. Later, I was a night watchman and was alone in the dark for long periods of time. I had to do prowling in the school late at night. There was checklist which I needed to cover. One day, at 3am, I felt something was amiss and the gate to the pool was banging differently. Everything seemed ok so far. I thought I saw something. It turns out that it was just my reflection in a full length mirror. The reflection seemed to resemble me, but it wasn’t truly me. I felt that the creature hated me. Then the reflection moved and I found myself doing the same thing. I smashed the mirror later. The fact is that there wasn’t any true mirror in my story. I simply saw myself the night before. The most frightening in this world is yourself. Now, I don’t keep a mirror at home.

This thought always springs to mind: that the most frightening thing in the world is our own self. What do you think?’

A folklore for my generation: A pre-history of late-stage capitalism. I was born during the student movement. The 60s were a special period for me. It is hard to pinpoint as to what exactly was so special. Everything seemed more vivid and colourful. Now, we have too many options and things are more complicated. Cause and effect were very important sometimes. Virginity was a bigger deal back then. Some still believe in sex after marriage. There was a guy named Kobe. He was an all rounded leader. He was always by the book and very popular among the ladies. In every school, there would be someone like him. We didn’t click very well. His girlfriend was absolutely gorgeous. They seemed to be having a great time together. Back then, most of us were only interested in sex. When you tell a story, it is important to get the tone correct. We ran across each other in Italy. We sat down together for red wine. He owned a furniture company. He seemed to be doing well in life. We chatted about Italy and he told me his tale. He felt that he was too rule abiding that he didn’t know how to have a good time. He didn’t know what he wanted in life even though he did well in school and everything. He studied law in the end. Yoshiko was his girlfriend in high school. Their parents did not have good relationships. Deep down, they were lonely and edgy. Studying was easy for them. She didn’t want to deep sex until marriage, which he disagreed. To me, a girl’s virginity was not such a big deal. Their relationship did not work out. She wanted to marry an older guy and get used to the outside world. Their love hasn’t been tested yet. He was utterly disappointed. They went to different universities. The problem was that their relationship wasn’t growing or evolving to the next level. It was stagnating and he felt it too. She rejected his idea for sex yet again. She started crying and lamented on having to face the real world in a few years’ time. She agreed to sleep with him after she married someone else. It was extremely weird to say something like that. Later, I loved another girl. For a long time, I didn’t see Yoshiko. Later, I heard she got married. She told me to have confidence in myself when I was experiencing trouble in my business. She was living in Tokyo. She invited me to her place to have sex. He had his doubts, but eventually agreed to see her. I held her but we didn’t have sex. It was no longer possible for us to be truly happy again. This would be our final farewell. That night, I went out with a prostitute and paid for sex for the first time in my life.

The older you get, the more boring traveling alone becomes. It’s different when you’re younger – whether you’re alone or not, traveling can be a blast. But as you age, the fun factor declines. – Haruki Murakami

Ever since we were little, people had been pushing us, expecting us to succeed. And we met their expectations, because we were bright enough to. But your maturity level can’t keep pace, and one day you find there’s no going back. – Kobe

“And when it was all over, the king and his retainers burst out laughing”. It seems to me that very sad things always contain an element of the comical. – Kobe

Hunting Knife. Two rafts were out at sea. The waters were transparent. Everything was gorgeous. My wife and I were staying in the cottages. There was an American military base nearby. There was an American woman and her son staying beside me. Her son on a wheelchair. They were very quiet. We didn’t try talking to them. They seemed to be watching me. Her silver thermos seemed like a knife in sunlight. I went swimming and I decided to get on the raft. There was an overweight woman on it too. Her lady and her son didn’t appear that day. I was on holiday for 9 days already. Her ex used to be the Navy. She used to a stewardess. I told her I needed to leave and she waved at me. I wondered whether the lady and her son were still beside us. It was our last night at the hotel. I saw the man on the wheelchair alone. He admit that he couldn’t sleep. We started chatting. Her mother wasn’t feeling well. Apparently, she had a nervous disorder. She had a strange condition. His sister’s husband owned the hotel, so he could stay for free. It was like a division of labour. He felt his dead legs meant something to his family. His job was to create nothingness, to fill the void. He wanted me to look at a knife he bought, even though I didn’t know much about them. It felt like a living creature and it fit my palm perfectly. He wanted me to cut something with it. I cut some Styrofoam with it. I continued slashing at things at his request.

There are all kinds of nervous disorders. Even if they have the same cause, there are a million different symptoms. It’s like an earthquake – the underlying energy is the same, but, depending on where it happens, the results are different. – Haruki Murakami

The rich people in my family decide everything for us. Tell us to stay a month here, a month there. We’re like the rain, my mother and I. We rain here, and the next thing you know we’re raining somewhere else.  – The man on the wheelchair

A family’s a strange thing. A family has to exist as its own premise, or else the system won’t function. In that sense, my useless legs are a kind of a banner that my family rallies around. My dead legs are the pivot around which things revolve. – Haruki Murakami

Sometimes I have this dream. There’s a sharp knife stabbed into the soft part of my head, where the memories lie. It’s stuck deep down inside. It doesn’t hurt or weigh me down….I want someone to pull the knife out, but no one knows it’s stuck inside my head…I can’t reach my hands inside my head to yank it out. I can stab myself, but I can’t reach the knife to pull it out. – The man on the wheelchair

A perfect Day for Kangaroos. There were 4 kangaroos, one male, two female and a newborn. I was with my girlfriend. We wanted to see the kangaroo. Finally we managed to visit after much re-scheduling. My girlfriend was excited about kangaroos. She was disappointed it wasn’t a baby anymore. It was too big to enter her mother’s pouch. We wondered which of the two females was her mother. The mother hides her in the pouch so she can run with it if it got in trouble. We all thought it would be good to hide in a pouch, like a baby kangaroo. Now, the baby kangaroo hopped into the pouch. It was a wonderful sight.


Singapore in Transition by Han Fook Kwang (Part 2)


This will never happen in Singapore. The state of cleanliness is troubling. Taiwanese people carry their trash with them. People were very hospitable when I visited. They do not wait for the government to solve their problems. They solve them. This is known as social capital. Singapore often pulls people apart. We need people to work together.

Maid industry needs a cleanup. Removing levy scheme and including amount under minimum wage a win-win deal for all. There has been increasing demand for domestic workers in recent years. Quality has suffered. Singapore also uses the levy system. Agencies have to look for low quality, lower cost maids. Most of them have rural backgrounds. HK has a minimum wage for them. It could be a win-win for employers. The Indonesian and Philippine government should establish a common maid agency.

The dirty truth about Singapore. Singaporeans’ poor social graces a result of a weak sense of community. Singaporeans seldom recycle goods. The service quality in Taiwanese restaurants was better than Singapore’s. The staff were polite and enthusiastic. Japanese have courteous behavior and are public-spirited. We, as a society, certainly have work to be done. There needs to be a strong sense of community and identity among the people. We need to look out for one another. Forging strong bonds requires hard work and effort. It isn’t easy to build a civic society.

To get our politics right, get the people sector right. This is where values needed to work together for larger good are cultivated. The author feels that the economy is not as strong as before. He feels that in areas like volunteerism, donations to charities, Singapore is sorely lacking. We do not do our best to help our fellow citizen. A free market society tends to reward the individual more than the community. There is a need to develop the people sector. Civil society is more vibrant than ever before. Singapore is at a turning point.

A world apart and invisible? Beyond their economic contributions, there’s little interest in what foreign works do, how they cope. Dec 8 was the Little India riots. Many Singaporeans hate dormitories with foreign workers. Maybe the foreign workers are transient too and do not want to interact with Singaporeans. Singaporeans need to reach out to them more. Most of them are not illiterate and not extremely poorly educated. Many workers take a year to repay their loans to get to Singapore via agent. Often, some employers do not pay employees on time. The good thing is that foreign workers are protected by the Employment Act. Singaporeans need to change our attitudes towards them.

How to be a smart city (technology not included). People’s actions matter more in making city a better place to live in. There is a new Smart Nation Programme Office. It’s about using technology to enhance performance. Singapore can emulate these 3 places in the world. In Singapore, you just have to throw rubbish down your rubbish chute, where it is much easier. We could use different coloured bins for disposal of different type of rubbish. Have bicycle lanes for cycling. There are many areas where Singapore can work in.

Don’t let hawker fare disappear. The odds are stacked against hawkers – the hours are long, prices of ingredients are high and the public won’t pay more. The food is cheap and you can’t find these sort of prices worldwide. Hawker food is uniquely Singapore. However, it might be a dying trend. Their wages are low and it is tedious work. The government should try to rejuvenate the business and encourage more to take up hawker fare.


Why I am Still Writing on Transport. Mr Sim Kee Boon believed that we could solve any problem if we focused hard. Issues like car population, encouraging people to take public transport still exists. Should Singapore transport system follow HK? Here, we use government Iinked corporations. COE definitely helped, but car prices fluctuate a lot nowadays. The government also has control over how it works.

Should transport system go the HK way? There is greater competition, which spurs innovation, but less order and control. We have strong central planning capabilities, which are good. Many foreigners have praised our transport system. HK also runs the place well. People in HK are even more reliant on public transport than anything else. Competition is fierce among the different transport providers in HK. There is a sole train player, MTR Corporation. There is less restructuring of bus routes vs MTR in HK. Singapore prefers to have fewer players in the market.

Car ownership scheme should be better managed. No policy should result in arbitrary price movements with no relation to economy. In order to raise COE prices, government can reduce the supply of COEs and lower ownership taxes. They can also relax the lending requirements for owning a car. The government often defends themselves by saying that market prices dictate the price of the COE. The COE market isn’t a free market as it artificially controlled. The government reduced supply of COEs too drastically, that caused an issue. In major cities, many people do not drive and take public transport. Examples include cities like Tokyo, London, New York etc.

Taxi woes and the ghost of 1985. Why that is with so many taxis on the road, taxi queues are often very long. The government decided to raise taxi fares. However, the public stopped using their services and demand fell. Later on, they let the taxi companies regulate their own fares. Taxi demand can be unpredictable. Fees must be able to be set sufficiently so that taxi drivers can make a decent living.

The road to new model of public transport. Singapore’s public transport was overhauled. Is a two company operator model bad? LTA needs to be a strong regulator and planner and understand transport requirements. They will also need to understand our bus operators. There is now the progressive wage model. How much subsidy should the government give bus companies to operate?

Shrinking pool of engineer poses national risk. Are our engineers competent enough? We need to have top-notch engineers. Many top students choose not to take engineering. Now, government is making changes to career development of engineers. There needs to be a steady stream of fresh recruits. We are not known to be an engineering powerhouse. NUS and Keppel Corp are developing cutting edge research facilities. Buying the technology from overseas is one thing, but we still need to maintain them at home.

Satellite-based ERP: Great technology but what’s the policy? This will happen in 2020. The more you use the roads, the more you will have to pay. However, this system doesn’t cost cheap. What is our policy going to be? Shouldn’t policies be settled before you call tender on this new technology? Shouldn’t there be more debate on such important matters?

Odds and Ends – Why I write. These are articles with no one theme. I often comment on public issues. I often like receiving alternative viewpoints on issues. Writing can force readers to think more deeply on pressing national issues, which I think is healthy.

Singtel vs Starhub: It gets curiouser and curiouser. There is huge competition between the two in pay-TV. However, there is no common box for the 2 telcos yet. This is a big problem. Singtel, in the past, won the rights to broadcast the BPL. This incurred the wrath of Starhub and consumers were forced to absorb the higher cost. Everyone ends up paying more in the end. Perhaps, they should devote more time into developing their own content.

Insurers should treat customers better. If they can’t explain premium increases and policy changes plainly, they need closer regulation. I had to play twice the premiums suddenly for virtually the same coverage. Insurance companies can just raise premiums as and when they like. There should be some degree of stability in the premiums to be paid. Those with no claims should be allowed to pay less also. There needs to be minimum standards of transparency and disclosure necessary.

Doctors v Doctors. Action must be taken to curb overcharging and ensure industry is in the pink of health. Surgery rates in the private hospitals are increasing at exponential rates. The Government has abolished guidelines on professional fees. Medical insurance has led to escalating costs. Measures should be put in place to control these costs. Wealthy foreigners also come to Singapore to receive health treatments, and this results in inflated costs. Most doctors are not motivated by money, but by a higher calling. The Singapore Medical Council needs to look more into such cases. Doctors still need to meet ethical and professional standards.

Build a winning football team…and national spirit. Make a strong commitment to take care of careers and lives of those selected for national duty. To be successful, we need a great domestic league and a system to identify talented individuals. Average S league attendances have not been good. The game is also dominated by Malays. Many parents feel a football career is too short. Our football budget is not high enough. As a result, some of our talented youngsters go overseas. Football is important as it is great for the nation to bond.

Set aside places in top schools for needy, bright children. There is the Straits Times pocket money fund. Is there a link between poverty and poor grades? Obviously if you have to worry about things at home, you will have less energy to focus on your studies. However, giving these kids pocket money can go a long way for them to take part in more school activities. Poverty has been shown to produce stress/anxiety, resulting in people’s worse decision making abilities. However, more still can be done.

There’s a haze twin that is more dangerous. Finding solutions harder in haze of ignorance and misinformation. Singapore has been trying to pinpoint which are the companies who have been polluting. Haze is taking its toll on public health. In Indonesia, the situation is of course much worse and babies have died because of the haze.

To improve education, go beyond the classroom. Instead, focus on aspects which impact community and society. In Japan, students have to bring their tablecloth, collect their food, scrub the floor and clean their own toilets. Through this, they learn to care for their environment. What happens outside the classrooms are also important. The Japanese people are known for their civic consciousness and social responsibility. Many students overseas also do part-time work in addition to studying.

Singapore In Transition

Singapore in Transition by Han Fook Kwang (Part 1)

Hope, anxiety and question marks

Introduction. He was the editor of the Straits Times from 2002 to 2012. Fook Kwang writes regularly columns in The Sunday Times. We are a more rounded society now. Singapore is thriving for more civic participation and diversity of views. How can the economy continue to grow He has learnt to take feedback in his stride.

Politics. In 1989, he joined the Straits Times as a journalist. Technology and social media changed how people viewed society and politics. The public is more outspoken nowadays. Are the leaders out of touch with what is happening on the ground? The public is becoming more demanding nowadays. GE 2011 showed what happens if the government doesn’t change fast enough. Fear is always still present. It is important to read and think about the articles.

The trouble with $2,200 bikes and $600 chairs. Why were Singaporeans so upset with these purchases? The bidding period for quotations would increase from 4 to 7 days. The issue was not unfair evaluation but also the sheer cost of the bikes. Spending $2,200 on a bike wasn’t typical household spending in Singapore. Does all government need to be analyzed using cost benefit analysis? Can they incorporate assessment methods like using common sense and instincts to decide? Can an organization develop a culture and values system to do the right thing? Is there a widening gap in expectations between the general public and public sector leadership? We all need to agree on what the future Singapore should look like.

The real fear: Being pushed out of home. At the root of disquiet over foreigners is basic human anxiety of being displaced. The number of foreign workers are a concern. Immigration is a hot topic everywhere. The issue is the dilution of our culture and values. Are the foreigners integrating into our society? Mr Lee Kuan Yew had great foresight and could foresee this problem many years ago. Nobody wants to be displaced from their own back-yard. There has been a strain on infrastructure in recent years. However, infrastructure can be continually improved. People have different views on immigration. The common man is worried about their job security and foreigners stealing their jobs. Nowadays, there is also high skilled labour entering Singapore’s shores. The government needs to recognize concerns from Singaporeans and yet do what it takes to continue having a vibrant workforce and economy.

Singapore the real winner in Punggol East by-election. The by-election was conducted fairly. The Workers Party are also a party which is not out to upend the status quo. They certainly do not have plans to become the next government straight away. WP often agrees with the positions of the PAP. WP needs to work on their policies to rival PAP’s. The electorate is more educated and sensible now. It is important to field the best candidate.

Government needs to regain people’s trust. White Paper debate shows people must be persuaded plans are in their interest. Many Singaporeans were unhappy at the White Paper. Is there a lack of public confidence in the government? People need to know that policies are in their best interest. Trust has to be earned and re-earned. There is certainly a measured approach which needs to be adopted when it comes to population growth. The government needs to explain how the increase in foreigners will benefit Singaporeans. This is crucial. The public must feel that the government is acting in their interest and is doing what is best for the country.

Who’s out of touch – our leaders or people?  While some feel the Government has become elitist, others say citizens are unrealistic. The public seems to be getting unhappier at major issues. Has the government gone soft? The first theme blames the government. If the policy makers lost touch with the ground, things might be difficult. Or are the people to blame for having unrealistic expectations of the government? Are they are grateful enough Policy makers need to deal with municipal issues as well.

50 and celebrating the spirit of questioning. People who bought property in the past were able to benefit from them. Many people have taken advantage of the real estate boom. This was one of Singapore’s icons of success. However, are resale flats too expensive? Are we a too materialistic society? Are we better off living in houses with inflated values? There are grave concerns over the Singapore economy. Are Singaporean companies losing their competitiveness? Is our economy in need of structural change? The public also wants a stronger opposition. Our government is never stagnant and is trying their best to rejuvenate the economy. As we turn 50, it is the best time to ask such questions.

What dark secret is in the Singapore basement? There are things every society is not proud to be associated with, but which still exist. What is the cost of economic growth?  Is there exploitation of cheap labour? 3 groups have sacrificed themselves for the sake of economic growth. One is the low-wage workers. However, programmes like Workfare are helping this group. Politicians who were opponents of the ruling party have suffered in the past. Some movies have also been banned in Singapore. There are also many low-wage foreign workers doing the jobs that Singaporeans do not want to pick up. These are the some of the trade-offs in our society.

Fear for Singapore propelled vote swing. Voters feared that the ruling party might be voted out. It would be the unthinkable. The opposition’s campaigns seemed to gain a lot of traction online. There was a fear the ruling party would lose seats and weaken it. Voters didn’t want to see 1 more GRC move to the opposition. Many voters could have been influenced by SG50. The WP kept emphasizing on checks and balances to improve governance. The opponent will have to thread carefully after this bad result. The WP will have to re-strategize and fight again.

Lee Kuan Yew. LKY was a fast worker. Back then, everything was handwritten and he would mail his comments to me. He would always ask reporters and editors on how his speech could be improved. LKY has a tremendous persistence and determination. Many of his initial ideas for Singapore were revolutionary at that time. Indeed, he still continues to loom large.

His conviction and personality shaped Singapore. LKY can look back at Singapore as his achievement. The country has progressed much since independence. Does the younger generation lack the understanding of what made Singapore succeed? His conviction was outstanding and he was relentless about his pursuit of success. Values were very important to him. Thankfully, PAP is never on autopilot and a lot of fine-tuning of policies need to be carried out. He can take pride on our new generation and the effort younger Singaporeans are putting in.

The original big-idea leader. His enduring legacy was that he had powerful ideas for Singapore and the courage and commitment to turn them into reality. Mr Lee was not concerned with winning his critics. The good thing about him was that he was not afraid of implementing new policies. He chose to bring in MNCs, have compulsory NS for males, introduced English as the common language and multi-culturialism. He had a great deputy, Dr Goh Keng Swee. The big institutions were under government control. Mr Lee is an extreme pragmatist. He believed in minimal public welfare and home ownership. Can Singapore sustain its growth? It remains to be seen.

I’m very determined. If I decide that something is worth doing, then I’ll put my heart and soul to it. The whole ground can be against me but if I know it is right, I’ll do it. – Lee Kuan Yew

What’s next for Singapore after Lee Kuan Yew. Passing of larger-than-life leader will bring inevitable change, but key question is what this entails. What will life be like? The current leadership will certainly feel his absence. Lee Kuan Yew also commanded a lot of respect from international leaders and Singapore’s reputation might be affected. Mr Lee had many views on rising China in the past and he built a strong relationship with global leaders. No current leader should try to emulate him though.

He wasn’t afraid to show his true colours. Open display of grief shows Mr Lee’s qualities mattered more than his actions. Mr Lee never sought adulation. He was a very serious leader. He was a very frugal man and wasn’t interested in wealth. This made him more relatable to ordinary Singaporeans. Singapore was his lifelong project. He was never afraid of public examination and he wasn’t afraid to be harsh, when necessary.

Singapore’s future according to LKY. He still thought that Singapore would be safe for 10 years. But beyond that, it depends on the other members of the team. There will be a time when the public wants to try the other side. Nobody can settle the future of a country beyond more than 10 years of his life.

Economy. Hope it isn’t the kiss of death for me. Stagnating wages have been an issue for a while now. Does the average Singaporean worker deserve higher pay than his neighbouring counterpart? How do we make workers in Singapore more competitive? People need to do their job well and display initiative in whatever they do. I was impressed by service staff overseas. Singaporeans have not developed this sense of taking pride in their work. We do not possess the deep skills and knowledge required to make our products/services world-class.

Who do you think owns your company? It’s hard to improve productivity unless employees feel a sense of ownership. Labour productivity growth rates haven’t been growing. The government has been investing a lot into the National Productivity Fund. There is a lot of financial support for start-ups. Will companies be over-reliant on government help? We need home-grown innovators. Productivity is crucial. Management’s problems should also be worker’s problems. If you ask the Japanese who owns their company, they will say that their companies belong to them too.

Do workers here believe that the company they work for belongs to them? If the answer to the question is no, if workers’ hearts are not in their companies, the company doesn’t deserve to be given taxpayers’ money. – Han Fook Kwang

The $6 billion question: Will government funds help SMEs to do better? How do you grow the pie each year so that everyone can benefit? Transformation of the SME industry was the strategy. We want to send workers’ for training and rely less on foreign labour. Singapore is known for the excellent infrastructure and tax incentives. The going will continue to get tougher. However, we have to be accountable for the amount spent in the budget. We need to review whether programmes have the desired effect.

When wages fail to grow along with economy? Stagnating incomes need to be tackled in earnest. Income rose from the 1965s to the 1990s. The median monthly rate increased tremendously. Starting salaries for fresh graduates haven’t been increasing much. Why is there economic growth but no wage increase? This issue is also not uniquely Singapore. Do we need a new growth model? These are important questions which need to be answered. Inflation rates have been rising. Will stagnating incomes affect the quality of living? If the ruling party can’t deliver good jobs and incomes, they might lose votes. Ultimately, they still need to care about the economy.

Do Singaporean workers deserve their wages? Why do our workers deserve a premium when they are not so productive? We do not fare well in case interviews too. Are our workers comparable with engineering firms in Germany? Many say workers in Singapore lack drive. We should be hungrier and more hardworking. Our workers need better skills and ability. The Swiss has managed to reinvent themselves. Let’s hope stagnating wages are not here to stay.

Is Singapore too business friendly for local firms? There are basically no entry barriers. We face the brunt of global competition. It is too easy to set up a business here than many want to try. Toyota and Nissan thrived at the start because of protectionist measures. Once they were bigger, Japan opened up their economy to trade etc. It can notorious for foreign firms to succeed in China. Japanese companies usually favour sub-contractors they know for a long time. Can the system be more nuanced? Can a more protectionist approach yield the new global Singapore firm?

Understanding productivity: Why we haven’t got it still. BCA has been encouraging construction firms to use technology. Our economy is struggling to achieve 2 to 4% of productivity growth. It is not so easy to get workers to produce more. Is the worker even doing the right job? Should he be doing something else? What is Singapore really good at producing? Restructuring of the economy comes into the picture, not just about productivity gains. There is also excessive focus on technology. We need to understand the human relationships in organizations and how employers/ employees interact

If workers do not believe that bosses are fair, that the company belongs to them as much as it does to shareholders, and that they have a future in it, no amount of skill or technology will help them excel. – Han Fook Kwang

Sake, windmills and the art of craftsmanship. Both how Japanese brew and the Dutch harness wind for energy is intriguing. There is a common pursuit of excellence. Be the best you can be. The master craftsman often hands down the skills to the younger ones. They are constantly thinking of new ways to improve the brew. They treat their job with utmost respect and care. The Dutch needed to be good at harnessing energy from windmills as they needed to clear waterlogged lands. The country sits on low-lying land. It is a deep Dutch tradition.

What it takes to get the economy buzzing. Singapore relies on trade and connections with neighbours. We lack enough dynamic individuals to take us forward. We need to develop a culture of entrepreneurship. We need to do our jobs well. People in Japan, Netherlands are very resourceful.

Singapore In Transition