When I was just a wee child growing up in Jakarta, I would occasionally be taken by my late grandmother to do her groceries. Being a traditional person, she shunned the modern supermarket in favour of an old-school wet market. These places are typically found in Asia, if there is any example in other parts of the world I would certainly profess ignorance. They're characterised by the moisture that permeates the air, floor, and goods for sale. Fresh fruits and vegetables are arranged neatly in mounds, with shoppers bagging the goods themselves. Live seafood are displayed in the adjacent area, while another housed hawkers of poultry, eggs and red meats. Fast forward more than twenty years later in Shanghai, I found myself doing weekly shopping in my neighbourhood wet market - choosing my own bean curds, mushrooms and eggs. In late summer, figs and peaches are abound. My seasonal favourites are lychees in late spring, and strawberries in winter. There is no cheese and little dairy to be found here, for that I would have to go to the supermarket, which is probably a good thing or I cannot stop myself from hoarding Brie every week. For my poultry needs I would always go to this friendly couple who would choose a freshly slaughtered chicken for me, then chop it up and gut it as requested. On the first few occasions I started buying from them, they would offer to slaughter one from their stash of live stocks kept underneath the counter - my grandmother herself had on several occasions expertly killed live chickens in our kitchen - but I always refused. My hypocritical self would rather not witness the cruelty of my consumption. Give me a pink plump one any day without the evidence of pain, please and thank you.
To the new generation, wet markets present a bygone era; the days when folks converse with their grocers and the latter know the shopping habits of their clientele. Even my weekly trips are now threatened by the convenience of ordering groceries online. With several taps on my phone, I can have the same mushrooms and tofu delivered to my doorstep, thanks to Chinese companies that have pushed the user experience of phone apps and e-commerce logistics beyond anything I can ever imagine. As I’m writing this I am sipping a tall cup of frothy latte that was ordered via a food-delivery app (I fear this may become a terrible habit), brought to me piping hot within 30 minutes. The cost: $4. Human cost: no idea.
It’s been a very long few weeks running around cities and countries. I stared at these photographs that I had taken months before in Kyoto, before I took on two projects with Daniel - one of them our techwear line Velamen, the other one is the re-launch of ROSEN, our new collaboration of staple garments in luxurious fabrics. I thought I was busy then, but it was nowhere near what I am going through now. Three to four nights a week, I sleep for less than five hours. Between running the archive store, writing essays, creating social media content, taking care of Velamen samples in Guangzhou, while continuously sampling ROSEN garments at the other side of Shanghai, I am mentally required to be in several places at once, and several more physically. It’s the kind of challenges I find to be very fulfilling, yet too much of a good thing can be bad. I have found myself unable to get out of bed on some occasions under the weight of the workload facing me everyday and my mind swimming in anxieties. My fatigue turned me into a miserable human being who wasn’t too pleasant to be around with. Thankfully I have a reliable support network I can count on whenever my mental strength has been completely sapped. The internet has brought me closer to you, my wonderful readers and customers, and they’ve also allowed me to keep in touch with people all around the world who are willing to listen to my (first-world) woes without judgment.
The time was 9AM. I was doing my early morning reading and writing session again. When I finally caught up with sleep the night before, I woke up in much better spirits. I could get back to my couch with coffee and a new author to tackle. His name is Kenzaburō Ōe, a Japanese nobel laureate. I had just finished The Silent Cry - a post-war novel with a touch of suicide and incest thrown into it - and am now diving into The Changeling, another one with suicide as its central theme. It does bring to light how different cultures view the act of taking one’s life. Abrahamic religions stress so much importance in the non-ownership of one’s life that to take it away voluntarily - no matter the difficulties that drive one to consider such an action - is an unforgivable sin. Yet, one could possibly argue that Jesus himself chose to commit suicide by not fighting nor running away - assuming the tale of crucifixion is true. Without all that satellites and geotagging Instagram features dude could have easily run off to the Alps and married a fellow shepherd. Though the act of ending his life wasn’t carried out with his own hands, he succumbed to a fate that had been handed down to him. Religious defenders have argued that if one does it in a self-sacrificial manner, such as firefighters and military personnels, that makes it commendable. But to save oneself from pain and suffering is an immoral act, considering the fact that both occasions leave behind grieving families and friends. Without invoking the logical fallacy of ‘because the bible says so’, it’s hard to argue why a person who suffers so deeply should not have the choice to end their misery. I don't know what it's like to go through a life so bad that suicide becomes a better alternative. However, I would argue that we didn’t have the choice to be born into this world, perhaps the least we could have is the right to not continue suffering should life becomes acutely unbearable. If indeed as religions argue that we have been given the ‘gift of life’, then surely like a gift, we can decide what we would like to do with it.
From our consumption to our most deeply-held beliefs, every aspect of our lives is mired in hypocrisy. A short paragraph on a heavy topic such as suicide certainly does not do it any justice. Perhaps one day I can continue writing about this topic. It might end up being a showdown between Hume and Kant.