We check our watches, lean back against the cushions and take a moment to gather our thoughts, watching from the window the milling crowds in the mall going about their weeknight shopping.
The restaurant has stylishly tall ceilings, ornate chandeliers with warm lighting and a pretty water feature bubbling alongside the plush fabric of banquette seats and formally set tables with starched black napkins.
The waiter bustles about filling our glasses and arranging the appropriate cutlery for our orders in a manner so elaborate, it’s amusing to watch.
He places a platter of crispy pappadum topped with chopped onions, tomatoes and spices in the centre of the table and invites us to begin our meal.
It’s all wonderful.
But really, I’m pretty sure neither of us wants to be here.
It is 9.45pm, fourteen hours since we all first started out the work day, and the effects of being cooped up in back-to-back meetings is showing its toll on all our faces.
My female colleagues and I, we chat a little about how dinner times are different between Singapore and India and the United States – dinner is typically at around nine in India…this is bedtime to the Singaporeans and Americans.
Halfway through the conversation, one seated beside me, excuses herself to answer her mobile phone.
She speaks animatedly, and even though I don’t know the language, it’s not too difficult to make out that she’s assuring her little girl that she’ll be home real soon.
We turn our attention back to the business dinner conversation at hand.
But not before a candid, spontaneous exchange of smiles and words – from one working mom to another – about how culture and language and location may be different, but challenges are similar wherever one is, in the world.
Similar challenges of planning logistics and arrangements when having to leave home earlier in the morning to attend first-thing-in-the-morning meetings.
Similar phone conversations, in any language, of why we can’t be home yet and yes, we’ll be home soon as we can.
Similar polite excuses to leave the dinner earlier to attend to the needs of home and husband’s dinner and children’s bedtimes.
And in the pensive car ride back to the hotel, I think about these similarities.
About how I can’t be home yet and how badly I’m wanting to be, as soon as I can.
And the differences.
Hers, a twenty-minute commute. Mine, a thirty-three hour countdown and two thousand five hundred miles in between now and then.
There is a branch of comedy theatre called improvisation comedy, improv for short. And in the improv world, there is a category called a Harold.
Actors get up onstage, without any idea whatsoever of what character they will play or what plot they will act out. They take a few random suggestions from the audience, and then without consultation with each other, put together a play from scratch.
Entirely random? Not quite.
What may appear random and spontaneous is actually an art form governed by a series of rules, and all the actors must abide by those rules. One of the key rules that makes a successful improv play is agreement – characters must accept everything that happens to them, and responses must always be in the positive.
And so we find similar elements too, in Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon.
I’m not sure if the two are related, or one was an inspiration for the other.
Johnson’s Harold is delightfully imaginative and always positive.
Armed with just his trusty purple crayon, Harold decides to go for a walk in the moonlight, so he draws a crescent moon. He draws a path to walk on…but after a while, the path seems to lead nowhere, so he draws a shortcut.
Through a forest…but he doesn’t want it to be a big forest, so he draws just a single tree. An apple tree. That will produce red juicy apples in season. These apples should be guarded, so he draws a dragon. It’s a fierce one, so fierce it frightens even Harold himself!
Stepping back and unaware that his trembling hands are drawing an ocean behind him, Harold suddenly finds himself way into the deep. But some quick thinking saves the day (the night?) as Harold draws himself a boat. With a sail.
Saved…by quick thinking. And the moon follows along. After a while, Harold grows tired of sailing and anchors the boat to look for land. The beach makes him think of a picnic. So he draws a picnic, with all his favourite flavours of pie. There’s more…get yourself a copy and read on to find out the adventures of Harold.
First published in 1955, this timeless classic is simple yet exciting without being boisterous. In his own quiet manner, Harold shows adults and children alike, the marvelous stories and experiences one can create with a little imagination and a lot of clever creative thinking.
Have a couple of purple crayons handy – after reading, you might well be inspired to take off on a little walk by moonlight of your own with your child(ren). 🙂
If you like optical illusions and tessellations, you might find D.B. Johnson’s Palazzo Inverso fascinating.
A story about an apprentice named Mauk, his job is to help the Master design and build a grand Palazzo. Every day is the same, and on an ordinary day like any other, Mauk wakes up, and goes through the motions like he always does. But something strange is afoot – the bricklayers are spilling bricks on the ceiling and workers are falling down stairs, the water in the fountain is falling up instead of down and everything appears all mixed up.
The Master blames Mauk for all the mayhem. But Mauk only sharpens the pencils, he isn’t allowed to draw.
Except…at times when the Master was looking out the window, Mauk might have turned the drawing round just a tiny bit and the Master never having noticed this, never realized what a strange Palazzo he was drawing.
This is a continuously looping story, which means you read it from the front to back, and then turn the book upside-down (and see what happens with the picture!) and read from the back all the way to the front again. Great fun!
Notes to the parent:
- For more supplemental activities on optical illusions and tessellations, readers based in Singapore should check out the “Mathematics Everywhere and Everyday” and “The Mind’s Eye” sections at the Singapore Science Centre.
- You can also click here for an online version of the story. But seriously – the print version is a lot more engaging, and allows you to take your time to pore over the intricacies of the pictures. Which I still haven’t got enough of. 🙂
Excerpt from D.B. Johnsons’s website:
The apprentice Mauk is an entirely fictional character who takes his nickname and his inspiration from the work of Dutch artist M. C. Escher (1898-1972). Escher’s skill at playing with perspective and tricking people into seeing his version of three–dimensional space made him world famous.
In a work called Ascending and Descending, Escher drew stairs that lead down and around a building’s inner courtyard, yet appear to go back and end where they began. These endless loops going nowhere became his trademark. He was fascinated by stairs and realized that with a few carefully drawn steps he could take a person out of the real world and into his world of the impossible.
Robert McCloskey’s a classic recommended author in every home school reading list.
It’s global. (I checked a few sites to be sure of this).
We first chanced upon Blueberries for Sal some time earlier and borrowed it out of curiosity.
I have to say that in tropical urban cityscape Singapore, it’s not easy to identify with a story about bears on a hill, picking blueberries or making jam. For the winter.
So when we first read it to our children over half a year ago, they didn’t take much to the story.
After all, per their expert preschooler wisdom and very reasonable reasoning, and I quote –
“…bears live in the zoo, right?!”
“…the “hill” downstairs of our apartment block doesn’t have a blueberry bush, only bougainvilleas and ixora.”
“…blueberries come in tiny overpriced (ok, that bit about tiny overpriced is from me…) clear plastic punnets from NTUC Fairprice”, and
“…jam is found on the second shelf of the refrigerator”.
So I wasn’t holding my breath when we found Make Way for Ducklings last weekend.
In fact, um, we…borrowed it more for ourselves than the children. 😛
Because DH and I were ooh-ing over the vintage illustrations that reminded us so much of those silent cartoons that played on the CRT televisions in our childhood, those cartoons accompanied by classics by Mozart or Vivaldi or Bach.
But we were pleasantly surprised – they requested two repeat readings within the same sitting.
Like Blueberries for Sal, the story is, again, something we’d never really identify with in our culture.
Again, it would be pretty close to unimaginable to expect seeing ducks nest in Kallang Basin or Singapore River (yellow rubber duckies don’t count!) or cross any street, or the AYE, KJE, BKE , KPE, PIE or ECP*.
[Readers in the United States would probably identify much easier with the story – there is actually a sculptural installation in the Boston Public Gardens honoring Mrs Mallard and the famous little ducklings – Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack and Quack.]
But at the core of it, it’s a happy, warm and fuzzy story all about parents and children and family and making a home.
And that theme probably resonates deeper and keener in each of our souls than we’d ever think. Imaginably so. 🙂