I've been writing a fair amount of blog posts over the last few months. I guess that's where I'm at. I'll put up another sci-fi one next month but for now here is a rambling piece on monkeys and Japan and kissing and some other things but whatever, that is enough.
I touched on my mental health over the last three-ish pieces without suggesting many solutions. I think that's part of my writing style. When I've done writing workshops, some criticism for my writing has been that I formulate ideas but don't have a payoff. I just lead the horse to water and then fuck off. I don't necessarily see this as a problem.
But here is something that might help you for the ole mental health. It helped me. This is the Blindboy podcast. I have been recommending it now for a little while because he is fucking class.
As opposed to mental illness, if you are looking to get a bit of mental exercise to strengthen your mental health then you should check it out. The first three shows are gentle reminders of the pitfalls of anxiety and CBT. The last is on Transactional Analysis. If anything, just go for a walk and let his soothing Limerick accent chill you out.
Creaking Ditch Pidgeon
by The Egg Party
Sitting in the monkey park near Kyoto, I find a bench in the observatory part of the mountain top with a panoramic view of the city. There are many parks and lakes and castles and palaces and fortresses and god knows what else. The city is ringed by mountains, as each artificial fortress is surrounded by a natural one. The monkeys come to visit me, but they only show cursory interest. They are well fed by enthusiastic tourists proffering handfuls of sliced apples. The monkeys are not allowed in this seated section. The ‘researchers’ have shovels and snacks, using a mixture of reward and punishment to keep them away. It is a Sisyphean task, continually coaxing the monkeys into staying closer to the feeding enclosure. The shovel is one weapon, another appears brandishing a stiff broom.
Being here made me want to write a story about these animals. First, I want to write this because of Monkey Magic. I've a lifelong love of this character and his story. I am reminded of his journey and his companions any time I am travelling in a Buddhist country. Or when I am travelling in general. The movie Journey to The West: Conquering of Demons is one of my favourite movies, perhaps my all-time number one. Plus, the director of the film, Stephen Chow, saved my life. But that is another story. This could be the preliminary tale in the series of fan letters I am going to send him. Or maybe the rest of my writing will be just that, more letters to him. Some sort of life-debt. He saved my life, now I am his willing servant. Just some monkey bashing away at keys in service to my master, Stephen Chow.
Monkey Magic, Sun Wukong, Son Gokū, the Handsome Monkey King, the Monkey God. The hater of despair. After monkey is allowed into the kingdom of heaven, he ends up stealing the Heavenly Peaches. They are no ordinary peaches. They are filled with power magic. A bite of one can grant eternal life to the consumer. Monkey finds the fruit and eats up most of the orchard, gorges himself and stealing many. I feel like Monkey when I'm in Japan, somehow, in that I feel like I will upset someone by behaving naturally or, more metaphorically, I feel like I am sitting in that orchard, looking at all this perfect fruit, knowing that I will behave inappropriately, because eating loads of fruit in an ungraceful way is what I do. And no, peaches are not some sexual euphemism.
I'm not graceful or soft or maybe this is just me following my predestined life-scripts. But I feel like a barbarian sometimes, that I am smelly and loud and oafish. I guess I'm too heavily influenced by reading books like Shogun by James Clavell and his ilk, who describe their journeys through Ancient Japan and their reception by the local population. But then I do not think I smell as bad as medieval Europeans. I hope. Anyway, it all makes no sense as I also felt like a barbarian in Germany and that's confusing because they were pivotal in defining the archetype. So maybe neither country suits me, or maybe it is nothing at all.
I do not see this all a problem, more curiosity, an opportunity to observe and think about how my brain would have been molded by some earlier, prolonged exposure to these two cultures. I does make me wonder what was I exposed to in Australia. First thing to mind: I have this distinct memory I trying to play cricket. I thought I should try it because it would make my life easier, Jesus, don’t they all talk about it a lot? So, I started played this sport and I had no gear or skill. I had to borrow a helmet that was too small. When I went out to bat, a teammate would walk from behind and hit the helmet onto my head. I would wander out onto the pitch disorientated, fail, and then walk back in shame. I think this is how Australia has prepared me for the world. The culture has hit this tight helmet onto my brain and I am wandering around, confused to the point of sick, looking for balls.
So, that was me, walking through the world, thinking of Monkey walking down that long road with Trippitaka, Pigsy and Sandy, off to find the sutras in India. My parents also watched the show as children. I was told of other parents in my primary school refusing let their children visit our house. It was the equivalent of Potter panic, or Satanic panic. “Ain’t going over to the house of no pagan monkey worshippers!” I mean, say Shinto or Buddhist or something you prissy bores. You want some pagan display, we could’ve probably managed that too. Gotta be specific in your scorn. But, in a way they were right, I wanted other kids to believe in the monkey too. I mean, shit, Monkey hates despair, certainly a thing my generation have some interest in overcoming.
Anyway, the observatory section in the Kyoto monkey park. Only the cheekiest of monkeys venture here. The guards are on continual alert and it’s an endless task. I watch one sitting in front of me eating the skin of a banana, monkey that is, and I wonder if I have been doing it wrong all my life. However, the fascination with monkeys extends beyond this TV show. Sure, I am a fetishist. I talk of my object fixations, of themes which pervade most things I do: monkeys, wormholes, bananas, eggs, chickens, space, mental illness… Where did these fixations start?
I remember one of the first movies I loved was Aladdin. I think these exotic Disney characters had an extra appeal to me. I think being half Malaysian was why. Bear with me now. I’ve had many moments where I felt the need to demand people believe my heritage. I just don’t look Asian enough to satisfy most casual conversationalists. There was a point when I was younger, when I would pretend to be sick when my class would go to the public pool. I would feign coughing and spluttering because I was worried about taking my socks off. I thought that people might see that my feet were less tanned than the rest of me and call bullshit on my half Asian-ness.
So, the character of Aladdin presented someone from Asia that was ‘Persian’ but really looked like a tanned version of white man in a waist coat. I can imagine the Disney executives sitting around a stripper pole, “we’re onto something lads, 1001 nights! But can we make it whiter?” I could see myself as the Disney version of my heritages, genes filtered to appeal to a more Hollywood audience. “We’re onto something lads, Monkey Magic! But can we make it whiter and more depressing?”
Anyway, that wasn’t the main point. Aladdin has a sidekick, a beloved monkey, the similarly waist-coated Abu. He was my favourite at the time. Nowadays my favourite character is Carpet. What a truly lovely rug, really tied the story together. I think Carpet is the most altruistic character I have ever seen. I mean the rug is conscious in a deep way. How many dates did he put up with, floating underneath silently? He wasn’t the third wheel. First wheel? Third rug? First levitator? I have no idea with this one.
Anyway, this wasn’t the main point. For my brother’s birthday he got a plush toy of Abu. It was a life-monkey-sized hand puppet. Played with it until it transformed into a comforting relic of childhoods past. Now, this part is embarrassing. Maybe it all is. Let me preface – I was a shy, bashful child, I am shy, bashful adult. When I was learning about girls I needed to know how to kiss. Many have asked themselves, in that pivotal time, how do you prepare for the first act?
The Abu hand puppet had two plastic lips you could manipulate once you fully inserted your arm into his only orifice. Unnecessary use of the word orifice? Probably. Also, sorry bro, I know you loved that toy. So, did I, more than you know apparently. I moved the lips and practiced kissing the puppet. Sitting in my dark, shame-filled room. My first romantic kiss was with a monkey. Was this where my obsession with monkeys started? It certainly didn’t help with girls but, really, what does? Other than girls themselves, self-esteem, self-love, respect… well, lots of things really. But maybe this practice could help with kissing robots, there is a greater chance of the machine having Polyvinyl Chloride based lips.
Back to reality, there are kids in the park now, a whole class of them. There is now the double chaotic level, of children and monkeys. The ‘researchers’ are overstretched. The monkeys come closer to me. One has a bunch of straw attached to its messy butt. Another tries to manipulate the viewfinder of the observation platform. Unable to work out the eye holes, it rides the device like a mechanical bull. It watches me as it sits on the bucking metal binoculars, eyeballing the shit outta me.
Finally, one of the ‘researchers’ runs over shouting in Japanese. I am far from translating him, but his face says, monkey you should not be here. I swear I have told you upwards of one hundred times! Why don’t you understand? In this moment I feel a deep kinship with the monkey. Chill my prime mate, I don’t understand either.