2020-21 seems to be this giant year of surreal events and changes. If i were told in January 2019 that the world as we know it would shut down, that travel for pleasure would become a strangely impossible, inaccessible thing–I’d have laughed. I’ve spent most of this time eating butter, writing many short stories, and alternating between online bingeing and hiding in an offline cave.
Blogging has been sporadic, often because I’ve been too full of things to say, and unsure of saying them. Most have been unhappy thoughts, despite all the privilege I’ve been surrounded with. I’ve gone on long walks to stay sane, read books following suggestions from many of you, and tried to count the small blessings.
One of them has been a longan tree.
The longan is a tropical fruit, one of my favorites, the less intense/glamorous cousin of the lychee. Longans are sweet, but not overly so; fleshy, but not too well-endowed. You could devour a few as a breakfast snack, say, spitting out their black seeds. I’ve been gorging on them, well, because gorging on fruits has got to be better than gorging on butter, right? Many of the seeds made their way into the compost, and a few days later out came these tiny saplings. Internet searches revealed their identity, and I decided to plant one of them in a pot in order to ‘see what happens.’
It grew as tall as my knee, and started throwing out all kinds of branches. At that point, I decided to replant it in the condominium kitchen garden–and now it is at hip-height. My intention is to water it till it is taller than I am, and each morning, watering my longan tree has become a source of joy. Something about watching this bright green thing thrive, and bathing it with a huge pail has turned therapeutic. On gloomy mornings, I drag myself out of bed because, strangely, this watering ritual is something to look forward to, a reason to get out there, and before I know it, I’m hitting the stride on my walks, and then on my writing once I’m back home.
I’ve been reading Zadie Smith recently, and her essay on Joy.
“The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it has very little real pleasure in it. And yet if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once, how would we live?
Sometimes joy multiplies itself dangerously. Children are the infamous example. Isn’t it bad enough that the beloved, with whom you have experienced genuine joy, will eventually be lost to you?
Why add to this nightmare the child, whose loss, if it ever happened, would mean nothing less than your total annihilation? It should be noted that an equally dangerous joy, for many people, is the dog or the cat, relationships with animals being in some sense intensified by guaranteed finitude. You hope to leave this world before your child. You are quite certain your dog will leave before you do. Joy is such a human madness.”
Maybe my joy comes from the fact that this longan almost didn’t make it. That it is only by a whim that it came to be. Perhaps my joy stems from the hope that this longan would outlive me–that no one would think of chopping it down, its big, shady branches. In the collage above, my sapling is to the right, and the one on the left is a 5 year-old tree. They grow about ten times that size.
When I move out of Singapore, my longan tree is perhaps one of things I’d hate leaving behind. Who knows whether someone in the condominium would think of taking it down if it grew too large , and its roots too insistent?
It is early days yet, and the longan sapling is free to flourish at the moment. In its sunlit leaves, I can hope and dream just as much as I want.
During these covid times, what has brought you unexpected joy? What have you nourished in this past year, and in what activities or pastimes have you sought refuge? Have you ever eaten a longan?
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