What must I do, I ask the monk, to stay?
This city was not always in my blood. There was a time when its wooden houses were not reefs in me, when its paper-covered windows did not slow down the sun I saw. In that time, I did not know the clouds that its cherry trees bloomed in spring, nor the wisteria hanging from its summer trellises. I did not know that if I reached for a scent, I would drown in lilac.
I had never tasted the green of the year’s first tea. I had not heard the city's monks teach that nothing lasted, nor its poets mourn because nothing had. I did not know that sleeves belonged to the grammar of the heart, nor that passing through a rock could bind your fate to another’s.
I had not seen a dyer’s indigo hands. I had not felt swordsmen brush past me as they ran, chasing revolution. And I had not gone to search for words written in fire in the mountains.
There was a time when I did not hold Kyoto inside.
But it stole in through my eyes, through my ears, it unfolded on my tongue. More than a year after I saw the city on holiday, its voices still would not leave. So I cut myself away from my life in Singapore – a life of safe work and safer ties – and moved to the heart of old Japan.