Doughnut Bliss

As crystal sugar melts in your mouth, your taste buds begin to dance with delight. Your eyes widen instantly. A smile spreads across your face. You indulge in another mouthful as you murmur, “Ahhh! What a bliss!”

Doughnuts.

My earliest experience with doughnuts was during my primary school days in Chung Hwa Middle School, Kuala Belait. Before the recess bell rang, my classmates prepared a dollar in their hands, getting ready to race through the classroom door the very instant we heard the bell.

Next, I found myself pushing through a thick crowd struggling to buy a doughnut from Tuckshop Auntie. It was chaotic. Everyone wanted to stand before her. Many peers waved a dollar in their hands and ordered: “One hotdog bun, Auntie!” or “One icing bun, Auntie!” Then, the word, which I dreaded to hear, went “Two doughnuts, Auntie!”

In those days, a dollar could buy you two doughnuts and they sold like hot cakes. Being the shy one, I failed to buy a doughnut in most days because when I finally came before Tuckshop Auntie after the crowd had dispersed, she declared in her colloquial tone, “Doughnuts? Finished already.”

One day came when I mustered enough strength to push through the crowd to get hold of my desired doughnut. I savoured it!

As I was growing up and my life transforming through different stages, I found, so were the doughnuts! Bakeries began to sell different versions of doughnut, the modern ones! Glazed with melted chocolate of different colours – brown, white, or pink; sprinkled with various types of topping from rainbow chocolate rice to cornflakes, from custard to marshmallows; and, decorated with many kinds of design like chocolate stripes, fondant flowers, or jellies.

Sometimes, I love to taste a modern doughnut while other times I prefer to savour a classical one. A bite into a fried dough dusted with sugar springs nostalgia. For a moment, I find a key to unlock the door to my childhood. The chaos in the tuckshop, the fifty-cent coin in my hand, and the sugar that melted in my mouth, with even some stuck on my lips.

Reliving that moment makes me learn that I can enjoy a brief moment of bliss amidst work challenges. It also allows me to relearn the lesson in establishing the reason behind the toiling hours of painting in my studio and the heart-thumping sleepless nights weeks before my participation in art exhibitions overseas.

Why must I do this? Why must I work hard? What do I want to achieve?

I have asked myself these questions in the silence of the night. Each time I tell myself that the reason is as simple as holding a 50-cent coin while mustering strength in pushing through the crowd just so that I can buy a doughnut and savour it.

As crystal sugar melts in my mouth, my taste buds begin to dance with delight. My eyes widen instantly. A smile spreads across my face. I indulge in another mouthful as I murmur, “Ahhh! What a bliss!”

Art From Within Us

2 different cultures. 1 beautiful friendship.

As traveling usually start with great anticipation, mine was no exception. Italy is one of the countries that I love most. Initially, it was because of the love for classical arts but it later grew into something more…

I painted and took a language course in Florence; traveled to Rome to visit art exhibitions and galleries; and visited my artist friend and his family in Pietralunga, an ancient city in the Italian region of Umbria.

One early morning, I hopped onto a train from Florence to Perugia Ponte San Giovanni, where I would then take another train to Umbertide. My friend and his wife would wait there to receive me and together, we would drive to their home in Pietralunga.

While waiting for the next train in the little town of San Giovanni, I walked into a café, ordered a piece of cake and a cup of hot coffee, and sat down in a quiet corner. The waitress and I started a casual conversation. After learning that I had come from afar and had been traveling widely in Italy, she and her customer paid for my meal.

“We just want to say thank you for loving Italy. This is our Italian hospitality!”

Grazie mille (Thank you very much)! And, I will return your hospitality with our Oriental way of gratitude,” I said as I bowed with my hands placed together.

With heavy hearts, we bade farewell.

I took the next train to Umbertide where my friend and his wife welcomed me with warm, open arms.

Upon arriving at their home in Pietralunga, I learned that they had prepared their son’s room for me as their son had gladly offered to stay the night at his grandparents’. I insisted to stay in a hotel but the 3 of them exclaimed together, “We want to thank you for visiting us. This is our Italian hospitality!”

These unforgettable faces! Cristina, Alberto and their son in their garden at Pietralunga.

I told them about that little moment of friendship I had earlier encountered and how I was told that same phrase. We all shared a good laugh and couldn’t have agreed more to that.

The next day, I left for Florence. As the train was arriving, my friends and I gave each other huge teddy bear hugs. I left with a heavy heart; a heart that was filled with enormous gratitude of how strangers and friends from a different culture had blessed me with.

I love Italy for their classical arts and the imagination of the ghosts of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo rubbing shoulders with me on the cold, wet rainy nights as I strolled alone on the streets of Florence. But, some things are not imaginary – like friendship.

I have gathered stories along my art journey. There’s one art that I searched and I finally found it. A work of art that each of us, regardless of cultures or differences, is able to produce…

A friendship.

It requires only 1 simple ingredient.

Love.

Cristina and me in their living room

This article is also contributed to Inspire magazine October-December 2016 version. You can read it here too: https://yesinspire.com/huifong-ng-6/

How to get lucky in Florence?

Besides Uffizi Gallery, the old masters and Michelangelo’s statues and the flavorful old stories lingering in the air, there’s actually a fun side of Florence – the Il Porcellino.

Il Porcellino is the lucky bronze pig of Florence which brings good luck to visitors who rub his snout.

Situated just beside a small but busy market close to the city center of Florence, it is quite easy to give this boar statue a miss as it is usually crowded with customers at the market. In fact, I had passed by Il Porcellino almost everyday on my way to my Sculpture and Italian language classes for 2 weeks without realizing this auspicious statue.

Il Porcellino was sculpted around 1634 by a Baroque master, Pietro Tacca (1577–1640).

Now, how to get lucky in Florence?

Follow the steps in the video below

If your coin slips from the mouth of Il Porcellino and drops into the fountain drain *and NOT into its mouth* then you are lucky! If it doesn’t, just keep trying until it does.

As for me, I got it in my first trial. LUCKY!!!

Learning to Live without Fear – My Move to Singapore

“This is even harder than saying “Yes, I do.”,” I tell my friends over coffee. The girls break into giggles and ask why that is so.

“Because, if things don’t work out this time, I have nothing to fall back on,” I reply matter-of-factly.

1st October 2015, my move to Singapore in search of a wider choice of artistic opportunities, will begin. If we could put a price tag on Creativity, what would its value be? Some say that creativity is priceless. Some argue that it is worthless. The answer seems unimportant to some but when you carry a suitcase with the intention of living away from home in the name of Creativity, you want to know the answer.

Being an artist seems like an extraordinary career to many. Initially people are amazed by where artists get their inspiration from, but then the interest wanes when it comes to pursuing this as a serious career. How can an artist survive solely on the sale of his or her works? This is when reality seeps in, turning the artistic career into one that is rarely embarked on. Hence, while everyone loves to make art, few venture into it as a full-time profession.

However, as uncommon as being an artist seems, every profession is extraordinary. The rule lies in not seeking the extraordinary career but in making one’s career extraordinary. Every career has its challenges. It depends on one’s mindset in pushing optimism to a higher level, prompting self-confidence and trusting oneself in optimal delivery.

As a classical portrait painter, I have been refused many times by media and galleries because they prefer to feature abstract painters and showcase their paintings. This is because there is a bigger market for abstract work. There are many times we cannot challenge the truth that our works are appreciated by a smaller group of people. Have you ever experienced this?

Not wanting to change my direction, I changed my mindset. When a trade is less appreciated by the general public, it actually becomes a niche because it caters to an audience who is congenial to this style. In my constant search for opportunities, I’ve learnt to never lose my genuine self and honest style but to enhance it with each learning experience. I continue to experiment – to use this as a stepping stone to better understand and improve my style and techniques. Inspiration can also be drawn from the lives of prominent artists, both past and present – that shows that behind their success lie stories of rejection and failure. However, those same stories show how acceptance and success triumphed in the end.

Mary Cassatt, an American painter (1844–1926) during the peak of Impressionism, was one such person who I greatly admire. Mary did not start off smoothly in the world of painting because of the strong objections from her wealthy family. She was not well-accepted into the less privileged society either because most male painters those days regarded females in the trade as unwelcoming and perhaps, even threatening. In spite of these challenging circumstances Mary continued to pursue her academic studies by herself. She also traveled to Paris and spent many hours tirelessly painting copies of masterpieces in the Louvre as a way to self-improve.

After some years, Mary’s hard work paid off as she became an established artist. However, her yearning to learn art led her to continue studying and painting across Europe. She also actively encouraged young American artists by sponsoring them and using her successful artist’s status to connect wealthy art collectors with works of these new artists.

When I first laid my eyes on Mary’s paintings of children and women – I was immediately captivated. I became even more inspired after learning about her story.

No successful journey ever comes easy. As I stare into my cup of coffee, I ponder what the ingredients are to an extraordinary career. Being in love with your work, the determination to work hard, the relentless pursuit of knowledge, courage to push across limits… My deep thoughts are suddenly interrupted by my girlfriends’ giggles. Oh yes! Don’t forget to add a dash of fun too!

 

*This article was contributed to INSPIRE magazine (Brunei) Oct-Dec 2015 issue. https://yesinspire.com/huifong-ng-3/

 

A Walk at Klong Toey market

Dried fishes are stacked neatly among other goods at a stall in Klong Toey market
Dried fishes are stacked neatly among other goods at a stall in Klong Toey market

The aroma of rare spices and dried fishes welcomed us as our eyes feasted on the sight of the plenitude of colours and characters in Klong Toey market. 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the sun was
fierce and the air was dry. This October weather in Bangkok was unsurprisingly warm but it was not the only thing that was warm.

11 of us from Don George’s travel writing workshop arrived at the market all drenched in sweat. However, our pure intention of absorbing all that we could from this market: the sight, the sense, the smell and the story and write about them as an assignment did not deter us from exploring the place.

As I walked through the aisle between the stalls, my eyes laid on the emotionless faces, or so I thought. However, when I was about to raise my phone camera to capture them in the moment, their visages broke into broad smiles with a certain gentleness and genuinity spreading across them. They were shy but they politely allowed me to take their pictures.

“Kob khun ka,” I imitated their melodious lilt as I placed my hands together to my chest and bowed a little to express gratitude like the locals.

Mother and child

Small toddlers resting in their mothers’ arms, young teenagers tending stalls in their school uniforms, men buried in their businesses while one taking his afternoon nap like a log, elderly in their casual chatting over meals; the market was filled with interesting characters spanning across generations. This sense of filial piety which was rooted deeply in the Thai culture was not something to be taken lightly. Each stall may be small but they are businesses with mouths to feed, children to educate and elderly to take care of.

I also noticed that each stall had a small praying golden altar which roughly measured about 1.5 feet in breadth and width hanging high above. Garlands of colourful flowers decorated each altar as faithful offerings. Despite the cacophony in the background, such a view instilled serenity in my heart. Trust, belief and devotion to a higher power in the daily lives of the Thai market vendors were probably the essences that uphold their strong sense of filial piety.

The noises from the tuk-tuks, motorcycles and cars mingled in the dry air while gentle cacophonic conversations played like music in the background. The Thai people spoke gently with sweet melodious cadence and occasional outbursts of uncontrollable laughter. Each character added colour to this place. The rare spices and dried fishes, the aroma and the stench, the noises and the music; they co-existed harmoniously in Klong Toey market. The October weather was unsurprisingly warm in Bangkok but what were warmer that afternoon were the welcoming broad smiles spreading across the faces of the market vendors. For one moment, I felt they were friends whom I had not met for a long time.

A vendor taking his lunch break at the market.
A vendor taking his lunch break at the market.

Their golden smiles whispered to me, Welcome to Thailand, the Land of Smiles.

Learning a new language

How does speaking and writing in 5 languages (and 2 dialects) feel like?

Sometimes, it can feel a little twisted in the mind when I start to fill in a French conversation with Italian words, or vice versa. Sometimes, I will also be dumbfounded in a conversation as I frantically “flip” through my imaginary dictionary in the head to look for that one word – the one word which I used to know so well but I just can’t seem to remember at a time I feel it is most appropriate to use.

When it comes to me speaking Mandarin, Cantonese, English or Malay, it is smooth-sailing because those are the the languages I’ve grown up with, speaking them with my family and friends as well as in school and at work.

Hokkien is a little tricky because of the different tones and accents spoken in different parts of ASEAN. Usually, I still can get by with it by adding some Mandarin words into it.

However, these are the 3 valuable lessons that I’ve learnt from learning these languages:

1) to be reminded to be humble and respective of other languages.

Many rules in a foreign language cannot be bent nor can they be changed to suit one’s mother tongue.

E.g. I am thirsty.

In French, it is “J’ai soif”. In Italian, It is “Ho sete”, which means I have thirst.

There is no way that we can bend this vocabulary in order to suit what we are used to saying. Hence, in each language we must acknowledge its differences, embrace the rules and accept its unique beauty.

2) to implement positive thoughts while learning a new language.

Never think that a language is difficult. When you learn to think of it as interesting, you will find that learning is fun and easy!

3) to see more in-depth beauty in another culture.

The next time you travel, you might like to learn greetings and expressing gratitude in the language of your visiting country.

In Italy, I always greet “Buongiorno!”, “Buonasera!” or “Ciao!” or bid “Buona giornata!” or “Buona serata!” when I leave.

In France, I greet “Bonjour!” or bid “Bonne journée!”.

To Malay friends, vendors, or clients, although they understand perfectly what “Thank you” means, I will still choose to thank them with a “Terima kasih!”

This is because when I greet or thank a person in his own language, I see that his smile is broader and his eyes brighter. It is a simple genuine gesture to say I appreciate you and I love your culture. Of course, not to forget to always seal the words with the international language, – a smile!

Greetings in the same language and seal them with a smile!

Exchanging Roles with A Painting

My wandering feet stopped in the midst of a sea of feet. Some stood on the tip of their toes, some stomped, some lost balance and almost tripped.

Every person around me had a camera or a smart phone in his hand. Pushing, elbowing and knocking amongst one another, they wanted to take a perfect picture of what was in front of us. But, I saw nothing even though I had been craning my neck over their tall shoulders like a little lost swan hiding behind tall grass.

But I thought excitedly, “I must be at the right place!”

A cacophony of voices in a multitude of languages exclaimed in excitement “Ooooh!!!” Amidst the Oohs and Aahs, one Mother shouted angrily at me, “Your hand! Your hand! It’s in my way!” I looked at her without a timely response. She grew furious and pointed, “Your hand! Move your hand away!” I looked down at my hand to which I saw a little boy flashing a winning smile and a victory hand sign at the camera in his mother’s hand.

Before I could react, a force of the crowd from behind pushed me forward during which I lost my balance and almost fell. I held onto a big arm. The stranger looked at me and with a smile, which seemed to assure me, “Come, let me give you a hand” and without a single uttered word, the gentleman held my hand and pushed me to the front of the crowd. I wanted to say, “Thank you!” but I gasped.

What stood before me was the Renaissance woman with her famed smile, Mona Lisa.

Took a few photos of the famous Mona Lisa painting amidst the chaos.
Took a few photos of the famous Mona Lisa painting amidst the chaos.

Created by Leonardo da Vinci from 1503 to 1507, this non-large painting attracts 6 million viewers every year.

Everyone wants to see Mona Lisa. However, have you ever imagined what if roles were exchanged? What if you were she and you were looking at yourself whom you imagined to be another person?

In 2013, I gifted myself a first visit to The Louvre. There and then, while standing before Mona Lisa, I asked, “What if I were Mona Lisa?”

If I were Mona Lisa, I would see countless stories unfolding over the centuries. I would fall in love many times and with many faces but I would too fall out of love many times when each time a face I missed no longer appeared before me. I would hold many emotions within my heart and self. I would retell a story long lost in the dust of Time through my wandering eyes and my mysterious smile.

I would see 6 million people pushing, elbowing and knocking at each other every year just to have a good glimpse of me. I would see people gasping in astonishment, people with tears welled up in their eyes, and people who place their hands on their chests and shake their heads in disbelief that they have finally seen me.

If you were Mona Lisa, what would you feel?

By having yourself imagine if you were a painting, you have instilled in yourself an imagination of emotion beyond normal everyday encounters.

As an artist and art appreciator, I believe this makes for a great appreciation in an art piece, in an innovative way, perhaps also in a most original way.

*This article was contributed to INSPIRE magazine (Brunei) Apr-June 2016 issue. https://yesinspire.com/huifong-ng-4/

First time in France, Part 1 – Getting to Castelnau de Montmiral

Summer’s heat. Butterflies fluttering around wild flowers. My feet soaking in my winter boots. This is the day when I arrive at Castelnau de Montmiral.

I jump out of Francis’ car with excitement, “Wow! This place is so beautiful! Look at the hills in different colours! Look at these medieval walls! I’m inside a story book!”

Francis replies casually while containing his puzzlement of my seemingly-exaggerated marvel, “Well, I’m sure it is beautiful. You will be staying here for the next 2 weeks.”

___

2013. I came for Francis’ painting workshop without knowing what’s in store for me. 3 nights before I was scheduled to fly to France from Singapore and while I was still in Brunei, I received a text message from Singapore Airlines announcing that the airport strike in Paris had brought about the cancellation of our flight. Not a good start to this trip, I thought.

The following days had me panicking over emails with Francis as I had to seek other ways to fly there. Nevertheless, I followed my initial plan to fly to Singapore. While continuously hoping that things would turn out well, during this time Castelnau de Montmiral seemed to me as a dreamland which was too far to even set foot in.

In the wee hour of the morning which I was scheduled to fly to Singapore, I received another text message from Singapore Airlines which announced that the schedule of the airport strike would not clash with our landing time hence our flight would resume that same night.

I went back to sleep only to find myself tossing and turning in my bed. I couldn’t sleep as now Castelnau de Montmiral had seemed to be a dream coming true, after all.

___

I had never been to France but I had prepared myself for this trip by learning the French language for a year prior to my trip. While I was on the plane, an air stewardess mistook that I was traveling with a German gentleman who was seated beside me. After some exchange of glances, she asked me if I was traveling on my own. I nodded.

“You are so brave! I wish to be like you! All the best and please be very careful,” she said admiringly coupled with a dash of cautious advice.

“Thank you!” I replied with a broad smile. I tucked her little advice into my heart while I swallowed a chunk of fear into my stomach. The plane was landing. I was another step closer to my dream but I was very scared.

Charles de Gaulle airport was overwhelmed with chaos as many people were stranded because of flight delays and cancellations resulted from the airport strikes. I queued up to check in for my next flight to Toulouse. After 4 hours of queuing amidst cacophonic complaints, I finally checked in. After 29 hours of continuous traveling, I arrived at Toulouse! Well, not without a little taste of some misadventure as I opted to depart the airport by taking a bus instead of a taxi.

As a result, I lost my way in the city center for 3 hours. Few kind strangers offered different advices to get to my hotel. My GPS did not work. No taxis stopped in that area. I ha­d all my money and belongings with me in this part of the city where beggars started roaming around as soon as the sky began to turn dark. One beggar was approaching me with a smirk on his face while he looked me up and down with lustful eyes. I wanted to cry.

I thought, it’s either I would get robbed or I would get molested, or both. I walked away as he was walking towards me. I began to run, but so did he. My instinct was to keep to the side of the road for safety when suddenly 4 wheels stopped in front of me. A man shouted, “Come in!”

The smirking beggar stopped as I crawled into the taxi while pulling my big luggage forcefully with me.

“I saw you an hour ago but I was on call. Now, I see you again but I am also on another call. But, I know I have to save you because that place is no good for a woman at this time,” the taxi driver spoke slowly in broken English with his heavy French accent as he was driving to my destination.

A sense of relief overwhelmed me despite the disapproval of my pounding heart. What a close brush with an undesired experience!

When I finally checked into my hotel room, I walked to the bed and sat down. I buried my face in my folded arms and knees and I started to weep.

I wept for the adventure and misadventure. I wept for my courage and my fear. I wept for the good of the taxi driver and for the evil of the beggar. I wept for the good and the bad. But maybe above all, I wept because I was lonely in a strange city.

I took off my winter boots. My feet stank from the trapped summer’s heat. My heart sang wildly like fluttering butterflies. I was immersed with gratitude and blessing. Later, I took to Facebook to announce to anticipating family and friends of my safe arrival.

A post on Facebook to announce to anticipating family and friends of my safe arrival at Toulouse.

2 days later, I would take a train to Gaillac and Francis would be there at the train station. It would only take us a 30 minutes’ drive from Gaillac to my dreamland, Castelnau de Montmiral.

A photo with Francis at his painting school.A photo with Francis at his painting school

First time in France, Part 2 – A Friendship in Castelnau de Montmiral

Situated in Tarn, Midi-Pyrenees of the Southern of France, Castelnau de Montmiral is an ancient medieval city atop the hills overlooking beautiful valleys. Pavements of brickworks lead you around the little city with lines of houses and a couple of shops on both sides.

Colourful flowers decorate the windows and the main door of each house of which I heard from some locals that they are now predominantly occupied by rich retirees from neighbouring Britain.

The city is surrounded by a high wall which has stood firmly since medieval times. There are a few houses situated outside the wall. My gite (or lodging) was a beautiful cottage just below a little hill on which the statue of Virgin Mary was erected.

Virgin Mary statue in Montmiral

The night view of the statue of Virgin Mary was a spectacle

I was the second student to arrive. The first was a Canadian woman who had been there a few times before. Now, we were awaiting a Danish artist, a retiree from Los Angeles and his best friend from Paris and a Lady from the United Kingdom. I would share the gite with Lady Caroline and I would soon find out that despite her arrogant looks, she had a funny side and a heart of gold.

Caroline* (Name has been changed) arrived later in the afternoon. She thanked me for taking the smaller room and left her with the big room that she could overlook the valleys and hills from her bed. I told her it was my pleasure but in fact, it was Francis’ order but I thought I needed not to let her know about it.

___

Summer in Castelnau de Montmiral was hot during the day and shivering cold during the night. The temperature could drop to less than 5 degrees at night. On my bed, there were only a few linens and a thin blanket. I searched in my luggage a few cotton tees and put them on all together, wore 2 pairs of socks, pulled the linens and the blanket up to my chin and went to sleep. As the night became colder, I put on my day jacket and covered my head with another pillow.

I was ready for school the next day.

___

School started with Francis’ lengthy but detailed analysis and personal concepts about art and the science behind it. I could see in everyone’s eager eyes that they couldn’t wait to start drawing. I was sure that they could tell from mine too although I was quite fond of Francis and admired his life dedication towards art.

Group Dinner at Castelnau de Montmiral

Group dinner on the first night of school

During the course of 2 weeks, friendships were forged among the students and Francis. As for me, I forged a warm friendship with Caroline one night.

We finished another group dinner. Caroline and I walked back to our gite. Upon returning, we smelled the sharp sour stinking odour from our kitchen garbage. Oh no! We completely forgot to throw the garbage that morning. We frantically tied the garbage bags and with each of us holding a bag, we walked to the garbage bin by the roadside.

It was a full moon. Caroline and I stared at the moon as we were walking. I was shivering so Caroline suggested that we have a little silly dance to warm ourselves up. I added, “Why not sing something about the moon while we dance?” Caroline thought it was a good idea!

“Moon river….la la la la la….da la la la la la….la la….,” I sang.

“Hey, that’s not singing!” Caroline protested.

“That’s all I know about that song,” I said.

“Well, never mind, let’s just jiggy-dance,” she suggested.

“Sure!” I laughed.

So, with the gracious Lady, we jiggy-danced in the dark until we reached the garbage bin by the roadside. The moon was our only source of light but we were not lonely as our laughter was keeping us company. We jiggy-danced back on the way until we reached our gite and Lady whispered, “Hey, don’t tell anyone about our silly dance!” We looked at each other and began to giggle like little girls who had just stolen Mommy’s lipstick.

“Hey, would you like to look at my painting which I have brought from Brunei?” I asked Caroline.

“Yes. Please show me,” she said as she followed me into my room. I pulled out my painting from my bag.

The painting of "Flower Maiden"The painting of “Flower Maiden”

She was admiring “Flower Maiden” painting when she suddenly noticed my thin blanket folded nicely on my bed.

“Don’t tell me you sleep with just that?!” she asked me with widen eyes.

I nodded.

“Oh! You silly girl!” Caroline’s voice rose, “You silly girl! Have you slept in only those sheets for the past 10 days?!”

I nodded.

“Oh! You silly girl! You poor thing!” She went to the wardrobe next to my bed and opened it. There laid thick wool blankets of many sorts and colours. “Why didn’t you find your blankets in here?!” she asked while she quickly pulled a thick blanket out and started to make my bed.

“Because I should not open it without the owner’s permission,” I answered. “I thought this was how beds were made here. I never lived in a cold country before. I thought the problem was with me and not with the bed.” I went on to explain.

“Oh! You silly girl! You have been sleeping in such coldness but never wanted to open that wardrobe! Why?!” Caroline went on with her mouthful words while her eyes turned teary.

That night, I folded my 2 pairs of socks, my cotton tees and my day jacket nicely back into my luggage. That night was warm.

First time in France, Part 3 – A Glimpse into Life

‘Nice boots for a summer,” the Danish artist said sarcastically. I tried to hide my right foot behind my left as if that would help to lessen my embarrassment. That morning, I asked Francis if he could take me to Gaillac to buy a pair of comfortable shoes. Francis took few of us to town on a Saturday afternoon!

Shoes were not the only things I got there as I also got to witness the vendors in Gaillac’s center market in their traditional costumes! That was such a cultural treat as it was the first time they had ever done it too!

Gaillac market smith vendor in traditional costume

Various vendors beaming in their traditional French costumes!Various vendors beaming in their traditional French costumes

On our way back in the car, Francis asked me, “How do you find your new shoes?”

“They are comfortable but they don’t look nice. Comfortable shoes don’t always look nice, do they?” I asked Francis back.

Francis thought for a while, “Perhaps when you keep smiling like you do now, people will be busy looking at your happy face and forget about your shoes.”

I laughed and lowered my head to give him a respectful bow, “Francis, thank you very much for your words of wisdom.”

With Francis in my new shoes

Posing with Francis in my new shoes in front of the school

The last few nights as the students gathered, we learned something about each other. One woman was coping with the loss of her beloved husband after 25 years; one man was learning to live without his demised wife; one was going through a painful divorce; two kept quiet; and as for me, I was learning to let go of my pain.

Everyone came to leave behind something. Everyone came to learn to start a new chapter in life. Everyone came to heal through art.

That night, I sat by myself on the wall that surrounded the medieval city overlooking the valleys and hills. Only that I saw total darkness with a few dim lights from afar. Tears rolled down my cheeks but I could no longer tell if these tears were shed for the beauty of life or its ugly truth. Or, perhaps, these are the arts of life.

“While I have come to learn to make art, art has, in return, made me.” – Huifong Ng