Wednesday, January 01, 2014


Iron railings around the Da Nang river docks

I have been silent for a long time, and now that it is finally 2014, perhaps it is time to break that self-imposed silence.

It has been a year of progress in many respects - many firsts, like travelling with one of my choirs to Thailand and taking a group of children to Vietnam. Recording my first single in a proper studio for a compilation of local indie singer-songwriters. Completing my Kodaly teaching certification for primary level.

It has also been the hardest year I have known. For ten months, I was on the verge of letting everything go. Planning my will, meticulously mapping out who to leave my library to, what to discard, the people I would need to see before I ended it all. Nights spent, thinking of how to die without causing too much trouble to everyone else, deciding that the end of March 2014 would be when all my obligations were finally discharged, and I would be free.

People cling to life with a will; I wanted to die with that same will, a fierce determination that it was time to let go of life and let other people get on with theirs.

I had it all planned so well.

Then Mayerling and Edward Watson happened. A chance research encounter on Youtube with the Royal Ballet's rehearsal clips of an extraordinary dancer named Edward Watson going through a pas de deux with the amazing Mara Galeazzi in the ballet Mayerling, and something...changed. I don't know what happened, and I still don't. I only know that that night, dance had a voice, and that voice spoke to something inside, and long-dry bones began to stir.

I watched more dance clips. Lost myself in the shape of bodies carving their mark in the air, stamping their presence on space as surely as an official seal. For the first time in many, many months, I thought that perhaps I could do it too - dance as I used to do before the injuries and the mental blocks.

So I tried. It was awkward, clumsy movement, but it was movement. I started taking an interest in dance, started working out again slowly. Started thinking about things other than dark shadows and death.

Little by little, mornings were no longer things to be feared despite health problems and acute physical pain. Then one morning, I woke up, and I no longer wanted to die. A pinprick of light at the end of a very dark tunnel - tiny, so very tiny, but it was enough.

Woman on terrace in the Old Quarter, Hanoi, doing late night laundry

And so I went to Vietnam. A solo journey, as much to escape for a short time, as it was to find myself again. I went to Da Nang, and learned once again the meaning of kindness of strangers. Women at the waterfront, line dancing and pulling me to join them, trying to match make me despite language barriers, laughing and smiling. A history teacher I have never met before and whom I may never meet again, pulling me with her and taking me around the town at night, stopping at the ocean front to walk in comfortable silence before taking me back to my hotel.

I went to Hanoi to find memories, and find them I did - places I had visited before, 8 degrees of misty winter cold that brought me straight back to university in Virginia, the forgotten academic within that blazed up again at the prospect of an intellectual historical challenge at the National Vietnam Museum of History.

I returned home to a new year and a new set of challenges, and for the first time in a long while, the fear was not overwhelming, and death did not enter into it. The healing had begun, small but sure.

I don't write this for sympathy or anything other than to document a descent, a journey, and to bring it closure. This is where I have been. This is where I am starting from, all over again. A new year, a new road, and sparks of life in long-dead dreams.

May 2014 be a year of discovery, and a celebration of life for everyone I know.


Kenny Mah said...

There is no sympathy, my dear; only awe and joy that you have overcome and passed beyond this dark period.

Sometimes it's a work of art (a dance vid on YouTube) or journeying into another land (and witnessing life there) that can show us a different light.

Something new, something renewed.

Have a blessed year ahead, my friend.

Shuku said...

Something new, something renewed indeed. Blessed year to you too, my dear - may we see more of each other, and may the year be our best yet. :)

Constance said...

Dearest Shuku, you're an amazing person, always caring, cheering others, encouraging are so selfless. I am so glad that you've found, or 're-kindled' with something that brought back a little light (little or just sparks for now, but I trust and will pray that it will become brighter and more vibrant each day) into your life. Blessed New Year Shuku, and well, New Year is just a number on the calendar but your personal New Year has begun within...:) HUGS!!!

Shuku said...

Constance, BIG hugs, and thank you so much. You inspire me incredibly you know that? Your artwork, and your passion for beautiful things, it's just amazing. Blessed new year to you too, and may it be something even more wonderful than this one. :)

Mei Tan said...

Great post Shuku. May 2014 be one of the best for you and may the light grows to its brightest from now on.