Ethos' 2020 Favourites (Vol. 2)

Dear Reader,

I hope December has been slower, that you’ve had the chance to recentre.

We’re continuing to reflect on our favourite things this year. It seems fitting that many of us have been turning to art forms that value time and patience. Where has the time gone?—we find ourselves wondering as we hurtle towards the end of a very strange year.

We hope that these small pleasures offer you a moment of stillness. What’s one thing that has brought you peace this year?



A painting of the god Vulcan forging the bolts of Jupiter

Benjamin's Pick
Crafts: Smithing

“But Fingolfin gleamed beneath it as a star; for his mail was overlaid with silver,
and his blue shield was set with crystals;
and he drew his sword Ringil, that glittered like ice.”

The idea of giving shape and purpose to formless substance has always intrigued me—a sheet of paper (or leather), a bar of steel (or soap), a slab of clay (or butter), a dead tree; blu-tack. The fact that each creation is only limited by the imagination and skill of the creator makes it that much more beautiful.

And so, the bladesmithing videos I found for all the hours I spent at home this year were, truly, precious windows into singular worlds. Each unique project was the sum of all its component essential and irreversible (isn’t there a strange beauty, too, to permanence?) processes:

A bar of solid steel stock, a dozen heats and reheats; made tirelessly malleable, then drawn out into a blade—shoulder, tang and all. Bevels hammered in, points sharpened; the heat-treat, quench, and tempering. Hollow-grinding in the fuller before the handle is carved and wrapped, pommel machined on a lathe and tapped with a screw-thread. Then the final assembly, and the accompanying satisfaction of bringing everything together. Almost palpable.

Conceptually it sounds simple enough, though watching something on the screen can never compare to the actual experience of forging something—there’s so much that takes place that a viewer so removed doesn’t see. The heat of the forge, the scent and taste of the embers, the sting of chill air.

It will probably be a long time before I actually stand before a furnace myself, but till then: to living vicariously.

For those interested, here's a project I enjoyed especially.


Kah Gay's Pick
Podcast: SAGA by AWARE

Storytelling done right. One of the stories of the year for me, that it was produced by local talents and featured a Singapore group doing indispensable work created an extra magical connection. I love the cast of characters this podcast presents, including a glimpse of Hedwig Anuar, the first Singaporean Director of the National Library, and a founding member behind the name Association of Women for Action and Research. By starting with an “A”, AWARE would surface to the top of alphabetical lists, increasing its searchability, a telling detail that reveals Hedwig’s cataloguing mind.

These sharp details and characterisation contribute high fidelity definition to the drama of a hostile takeover unfolding at AWARE’s Annual General Meeting in March 2009. I am now past episode 2, and waiting for episode 3, eager for the storyteller to further flesh out the plot. What makes this a particularly gratifying listen is the honesty and openness of the individuals who participated in the storytelling – prominent AWARE members apologise for certain missteps, and at the same time, make no apology for who they are. Their character and conviction is admirable, and inspires us to step boldly forward into 2021 with heart and courage.


Wai Han's Pick
Music: Nostalgic Songs

My playlist harks back to more than 30 years ago. Not surprising at all, coming from someone in the seventh decade of her life. Joining in the chorus of “Yellow Bird” was such a lark in secondary school. A crowd favourite, one might say, when requests are made of the school choir during assembly programmes.

But serious interest in songs must have dated from primary school, having learnt that a song can be sung in parts and discovering that my tonal range was called “alto”! “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” was no longer a simple six-liner. Instead we had to watch out for the conductor’s cue to come in with the right notes.

Even further back in my childhood, the sounds emitting from the bathroom cum toilet were my father’s Cantonese opera arias. In particular, I remember his lusty rendition of “Sounds of Temple Bells”. A haunting tune, a sad tune. Coupled with my mum’s love for the operas of our dialect group, I learnt to enjoy Flower Princess and songs from many other opera films at cinema screenings and later over television. Though I never learnt the names or lyrics of the other tunes, I could memorise large parts of the iconic nuptial scene between the Song Dynasty princess and her consort in Flower Princess.

And today, the two strands of my musical interest have merged. The English hymns that I began to learn in mid-life, praising God and His goodness, have led me to first learn Cantonese gospel opera, and now sometimes, to adapt the familiar tunes to lyrics of joy and thanksgiving. “Sounds of Temple Bells” became “Chimes of Church Bells”.


Suning's Pick
Poetry: The Weighing by Jane Hirshfield

The other day I was in the mall, and I started hearing Christmas carols once again. I didn’t mind it at all; I had forgotten how much I liked December for precisely these: its festive spirit, the chillier weather, and the reason for the season. It’s this wistfulness and hindsight at the end of a year that allows me to be still and thankful, despite everything that’s happened. One of the few poems I discovered and really appreciated this year is Jane Hirshfield’s “The Weighing”. It’s a lightness I’d like to emulate, and hope you might find the words meaningful too.

The heart's reasons
seen clearly,
even the hardest
will carry
its whip-marks and sadness
and must be forgiven.

As the drought-starved
eland forgives
the drought-starved lion
who finally takes her,
enters willingly then
the life she cannot refuse,
and is lion, is fed,
and does not remember the other.

So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.

The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.

(From December 12, 2020)