Who am I really?

SUNDAY, 12 SEPTEMBER 2004

By now, I have accumulated enough information on myself to recognize myself when I pass a mirror, and to respond (most of the time) when the name my parents chose to call me 33 years ago is uttered; a name I have accepted over the past 33 years as good enough for everyday use. I have fairly recently reached a plateau in my religious-philosophical quest for what it means to be human. I have a decent understanding of what makes me happy. I can act with an acceptable degree of confidence in a variety of situations. And I can explain without too much inaudible mumbling what I want to do with my life, where, and with whom.

Then, as I was bicycling past a nursery late this afternoon, the strangest thought came to me. If I had a lot of money – not necessarily billions, but much, much more than I need to merely keep myself alive, I would buy myself potted plants. Not just one, but dozens. I will rearrange my entire living room; portraits placed upright on bookshelves will be hanged on the walls; guitars will be moved from the corner to another spot; furniture will be moved into the storage room; all to make room for all the potted plants.

The data I have on the subject of me as a person includes the following: “Brand Smit likes plants because he likes nature. Despite this, he does not currently have any potted plants in his apartment because all the plants he had kept in the past died because of a lack of care. The reasonable conclusion can thus be drawn that Brand Smit is not truly a plant person.”

Whatever.

I’ve been having a problem for quite some time now. My emotional landscape is once again relentlessly harassed by a Storm of Scepticism. To my own embarrassment (since I thought I had left behind such amateurish issues way back in … July?) I am wondering again what the point is of everything. What is it all about?!

Frantically my fingers again flip, on a daily basis, through the steel cabinet full of answers: Satisfaction of Needs, Mathematics and Science, Find/Define and Be Yourself, Physical Existence as Part of a Very Long Process, Love and Togetherness … and on and on one file after another shoots past.

It is true that I have just returned to Taiwan after spending four weeks in South Africa. It is also true that I had just gotten used to the charcoal-scented air of the Highveld during late winter, and pecan nut pies for R27 at the greengrocer, and the charming woman who works the till at the supermarket. And, fair enough, I saw my parents, my younger sister and for the last two weeks also my older sister (and her firstborn) every morning on my rounds through the house between reading mass-market gossip magazines and taking smoke breaks under the tree in the front yard.

This is not August 2003. It’s not February 2004. It’s not 2002, 2001, 2000, ’99 or any other period of my life. It’s September 2004. I still respond to the same sounds uttered when someone wants to draw my attention, and (except for the moustache that I’m going to shave tomorrow) I still look the same. But my grey matter nowadays dictates ambitions for, and visions of, the future other than “repatriation to the country of my birth, marriage and children” and so on. I know, therefore, it is not the fact that I am back in Taiwan that is clogging my gullet again with lack of faith. The lack of faith was there while I was reading the gossip magazines in the late afternoon sun on the smallholding outside Bronkhorstspruit. The scratching at the hollow part of my soul was palpable while I was busy considering the value of the Highveld’s wide open spaces for reflective thought processes.

Pleasant, then, was the surprise this afternoon, as I was rolling past the nursery on a wet road, when I temporarily bowled my cynicism flat with an old joke like what I would do with more money.

Scientifically as I usually approach these matters, it took me a good fifteen minutes before I had qualified the question to an extent where I could answer it. “I would buy myself a helluva lot of plants,” I thought out loud. “I would send my parents money every month, whether they need it or not. Then I will go on holiday in December … and buy myself 20 VCDs on a single shopping excursion … and the Alphaville Greatest Hits CD.” Later that night (feeling somewhat better about my bookshelves being sorted again) I added that I would also dine at a fine restaurant at least once a week. (“Because I’ve always liked good food,” I thought.) I would also make significant investments in new technology. I would get a new computer, a digital video camera, and the latest generation mobile phone on the market. I would also buy myself a new sound system – my faithful Aiwa Discman won’t allow me to listen to Metallica at a volume that does not destroy my short term memory … what was I busy saying?

The well-known phrase, “I am”, is usually completed with all kinds of data bits, traditionally including name, date of birth, family and friendship ties, how you make money, where you live and other information that, in the first place, tells you who you are, and then also facilitates the process by which you introduce yourself to other people.

Regarding myself, I can say that I, Brand Smit … wait, let me do this in a different way:

I, Brand Smit, am a man … 188 centimetres tall, weigh more than 90 kilograms, receding hairline on the forehead, hair on my upper lip … would prefer to weigh less than 90 kilograms, wouldn’t mind too much if my hair could grow back … South African … have no strong desire to be a citizen of another country … sprang to life in the ethnic group historically classified as either “Boers” or “Afrikaners” … currently living in apartment number 4~2, Lane 2, Ci Hui Xin Cun, in the city of Fengshan, Kaohsiung County, Taiwan … want to live here or in Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, London or maybe Paris, and I wouldn’t mind to own a garden cottage in Bronkhorstspruit … was taught as a child that belief in the teachings of primarily the Protestant Churches is the only way to continue to exist after physical death in “Heaven” … happy with my current, vague beliefs about God, Jesus, the Immortality of the Soul, and Life after Physical Death … earn money as an English teacher … would rather want to earn money as an entrepreneur in collaboration with other people who also profit from my projects, so I don’t have to be too concerned with marketing and distribution … cannot currently watch TV even if I want to … would like to be someone who has the option to watch TV rather than write pieces like this one on a Monday night … don’t spend a lot of money, other than on the most necessary groceries, movies, cigarettes, and cheap video CDs … would like to be someone who has more money to spend when he wants to do something, or wishes to purchase an item … etcetera … etcetera … who cares? If the day were longer, I would probably have smoked myself to death. Just as well, then.

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