Asian squatting in the corridor

A stained hand hovering over a leaf
Image from Wanting To Return, 2019. Nur Hadziqah.

Dear Reader,

Not too long ago, I was outside my home, putting some sawdust into a plastic jar that used to contain kueh (you know, the one with the red lid). I had turned it into my first experimental compost bin. There I was, Asian squatting in the corridor, looking at the supplies I had accumulated. They were lined up in front of me: neem oil, perlite, 2 types of potting mix, a plant stand, a new trowel, all sorts of things. This had accelerated quickly. I thought to myself, I became more invested in gardening when my plants started dying and growing.

During circuit breaker, I picked up plant care again (as did everyone else).

I bought some plants online and became a spectator of their beauty. A few flourished and I happily documented them: in photos, in video. They were a sight to behold. One was on the brink of death shortly upon arrival, so one day during work at home, I decided to do an 'open heart surgery' and repotted the plant. It still died and after that, I continued being a spectator.

After that first plant (goodbye Alocasia amazonica), two more plants that were previously flourishing showed signs of an oncoming exit. Before I knew it, I had sprung into action, reading about their ideal conditions, learning how to get cuttings to propagate. I was moved by their imminent death. I made room for pots where there was previously none; my windowsill became a propagation station. I wasn't a spectator anymore, I was involved and watching more intently than before. (They still died.)

You know this: I received two packs of seeds from NParks. I took some time to let my commitment phobia pass. Then, one morning I found myself setting up an egg tray to start my first batch of seeds.

It was when I was transferring these cucumber seedlings into larger pots that I was Asian squatting with my gardening supplies in front of me. By then, a few plants had died under my care and a few had gone from seed to seedling.

It occurred to me that in gardening you have to be tough and tender: There is the physical labour of setting everything up and then the tenderness of placing your seedling into a hole. You want to be nurturing but of course, nothing is truly within your control. Things are fragile, but also surprisingly resilient. Get involved knowing that your role is transient. Observe and reflect, and then let it go. All this I know because of dying and growing. All this I know because I went to work.

They say The Overview Effect happens when astronauts hurtle through space and see our planet from afar. Ivan de Luce described it as "the uncanny sense of understanding the big picture, and of feeling connected to and yet bigger than the intricate processes bubbling on Earth."

But I think you might not need to go to space to experience The Overview Effect. All you have to do is have a moment to take a step back. In fact, you can feel it right here, with your hands in soil, Asian squatting and all.

Yang Menulis
Notes After Terawih

(From October 3, 2020)