Artwork by Ying Wang

ASCENSION #1

Upward salute, Urdhva Hastasana, says tattooed yoga instructor.

Man in Speedos ascends to heaven in electricity-bill inferno, returns to Toyota Corolla ready to do the groceries.

We had gone to the yoga studio. It was on a suburban strip where something like a milk bar had once been. There was no talking, and the shoes were removed like in aunties’ homes.

The way people had breathed scared me, taking notes on how health can sound like choking ponies. And the tattooed instructor emerges and knows the language, I am in awe.

When your body is in balance it is like nothing else, when you are breathing correctly it is like nothing else.

And it becomes the most important thing for the first two weeks because it is only $40 for a fortnight. And then the price ascends and it becomes unimportant. Spirituality and health being bought in membership deals. I buy into it often, it fits daily routines.

DESCENSION #1

There’s something brooding about me when I leave the medical centre where I work.

I’m walking on the platform about to get on the train. There is a portable IV-stand over the yellow line which we are not supposed to cross until we board.

There’s a person laid out across the platform with open arms, bleeding from the neck or the arms, can’t tell, but they’re laid out where I usually stand to get in the door. There are medical assistants touching all different parts of their body, calling on phones. Some people there to watch, some people buying things at the kiosk to eat before the train comes.

I don’t hear any news later and I’m not sure if they were dead or not. By the end of the day I’m probably concerned about something else.

And yesterday, at my job, I am finding myself unable to remove my eyes from the dissection of a lymph node, looks like a red, floppy corridor with forks peeling it back. Sometimes I’m looking at these photographs and think about how I’ve seen the inside a person, but not the outsides and wouldn’t recognise the outsides if I saw them. I think it makes me feel odd but I ignore it because this is a job.

ASCENSION #2

We’re watching exploding bodies in space with stringed music, peeling faces. NASA says this is false prophecy.

“If you don’t try to hold your breath, exposure to space for half a minute or so is unlikely to produce permanent injury. Holding your breath is likely to damage your lungs, something scuba divers have to watch out for when ascending, and you’ll have eardrum trouble if your Eustachian tubes are badly plugged up, but theory predicts – and animal experiments confirm – that otherwise, exposure to vacuum causes no immediate injury. You do not explode. Your blood does not boil. You do not freeze. You do not instantly lose consciousness.”

You bloat. It’s said that the blood becomes gaseous, seething under your skin. You would bruise, your capillaries may burst. And then the UV light, gamma rays and X-rays could warp cells.

I’ve learnt Hollywood Science, I am a student of it. Wikipedia: “Hollywood Science is a general term given to the phenomenon of scientific principles being misinterpreted, ignored or abused by the Hollywood film industry.”

DESCENSION #2

And as you breathe and come back down from it, the lamps begin to yellow on the sides and some people might try to clap, and some people around them wonder, who are they clapping for? Clapping for a movie that was made a few months ago, maybe even a year ago, and the writer had stopped giving a shit about two years ago. And there is food between your legs, which you’ve dropped.

Weird sun when you come out of a dark room.

I leave a cinema on the coast of Hong Kong Island. We didn’t watch movies when we travelled to the U.S. They play movies on a cruise ship, on the deck where you can publicly watch it, but they play the same ones in your cabin.

I had better admit that the movie I enjoyed was problematic, at least in some ways.

Then the conversation becomes tired. When we talk about problems, in ‘fictional’ replays, it becomes tired. Our mothers ask us, why can’t you just enjoy something without there being a problem with it.

The movie exists in the kitchen and down hallways of universities for a few days and then doesn’t matter.

ASCENSION #3

But I know they raised the price of popcorn earlier this year, and data from Screen Australia had showed that the price of a ticket to sit in a cinema had risen 69 per cent, and the most expensive tickets 116 per cent ($12.50 to $27).

And I wonder why we keep going, especially if we’re just going to get angry.

DESCENSION #3

Because I had read that:

“Last year:
43 films lacked any black or African American female characters,
65 were missing Asian or Asian-American female characters,
and 64 did not depict even one Latina character.
Seventy-eight films didn’t offer up a single female character with a disability and 94 were devoid of even one female lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender character.
It was the transgender community that got shut out completely. Across 400 films from 2014 to 2017, there was only one trans character.”
—Brent Lang, Variety.

I had seen a movie late one night.

They have found new ways of making cinema new and challenging, in the manner of how light hits faces and exactly when the tail of a clip is trimmed. It was just before midnight when the movie ended, I had sick feelings in my stomach for reasons that just existed within the movie – the content, but nothing about how the content fit in our movie-going experience, and nothing to do with margins or identification. When I turned around to leave, a cleaner was nimbly punching the air with his fists.

I had just supposed that in the dark everything seems normal because the dark never reveals normal.

ASCENSION #4

While everybody in junior school talked proudly about their ancestors in the war, wearing poppies, I used to try and probe my own family’s Australian history.

I told everybody my great-great-grandfather was here during the gold rush, even if just for a short amount of time. Still I told everybody I’ve been Australian for a long time. Though I am still the first generation to be born here. It had felt good that way, cutting and pasting.

Up on Wikipedia now is a page for him, Ma Ying Piu.

Malcolm Turnbull ascends to a stand at the 2016 Gala Lunch in China for ‘Australia Week’. He proudly references my great-great-grandfather as the Father of Chinese Department Stores. The founder of a department chain, one of the four which grew from HK largely into mainland China in the 1940s.

MT: Each one was built taller and grander than the last. Competitiveness is another enduring characteristic of Australian Chinese entrepreneurs.

He had referred to my great-great-grandfather as “a Sydney man.” Though I recall that my great-great-grandfather was born and raised and grew old in HK, had children who only knew HK. I had wondered why Turnbull had chosen to claim him like this.

I had wondered why many others who have been in Australia for much longer than my great-great-grandfather were still not considered hyphen Australians.

No mention of his initiative to be the first store to hire women as public sales people for the first time in HK.

No mention of my great-great-grandmother Fok Hing-tong who had formed the first women’s association in HK. And was a social activist and leader of the anti-mui tsai movement and the chairwoman of their investigation committees.

It is interesting what we choose to claim when we suddenly want to claim it, and how we choose to represent when we have the power to control what’s represented. It is always easier to be reductive.

DESCENSION #4

James Baldwin had said in an interview for The Paris Review:

“I don’t try to be prophetic, as I don’t sit down to write literature. It is simply this: a writer has to take all the risks of putting down what he sees. No one can tell him about that. No one can control that reality. It reminds me of something Pablo Picasso was supposed to have said to Gertrude Stein while he was painting her portrait. Gertrude said, I don’t look like that. And Picasso replied, You will. And he was right.”

(Issue 91, 1984)

ASCENSION #5

When I look at this photograph of me at seven, I remember how it was so itchy to be wearing that black leotard, and how cold it was on the tiles in the apartment. I remember the white walls and the ceilings were closing in on us at this point, a one-bedroom apartment and the biggest thing we had was the dining table from a garage sale. I had looked at it and wondered how we got it up in the elevator.

DESCENSION #5

When we moved back into a house, not living above the highway anymore, it was too quiet to sleep. We didn’t have the dining table anymore. I wonder how anybody ever got it down.

To sleep in a quiet place. I have an aunty (who I call aunty, but isn’t blood-related) who comes to Australia just to sleep. I ask what she’ll do in February when she comes, she says “ha, sleep!”

People say to die in sleep is always the most peaceful way to die. And I believed this until the night my blood-related aunty died, and I heard the details from my Po Po. It was not quietly.

The way I choose to remember it now, a few years later, is to continue to believe that dying in your sleep is something peaceful. Just like a movie to me, that way it’s more convenient, tells me it’s normal. And the way I talk about it now sounds like a version of spirituality in the way that I have learned to replay it dispassionately. But it really could just be to die quietly in a middle-class home.



Jamie Marina Lau is a writer and artist. Her debut novel, Pink Mountain on Locust Island, was published by Brow Books in April 2018. She is working on more writing, her next novel and on music.

Calling Melbourne’s northern suburbs home, Ying Wang is a digital illustrator and designer. Bold colours coupled with strong linework make up Ying’s illustrative style, but what’s different is her subject matter. Often reflecting on everyday objects or imagery that explores her Chinese Australian identity, Ying uses illustration to reveal new perspectives on ordinary experiences.