425: deep dark

I’m always sad when I feel like people forget me just because I’ve always been here.

It’s nothing you can complain about, since it was nobody’s fault to begin with. Or maybe I haven’t been doing a good enough job keeping people with me?

Maybe that’s what happens when all your good friends went overseas and you’re the only one stuck here.

I thought it’d be better when they came back, but nobody comes back for good, and suddenly nothing has changed, nothing has changed at all.

It’s probably no one (and probably me).

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424: no way of making love understandable

Distance is a fickle friend.

It changes, all too capriciously, with our whims. On its own and when it is far away from our own affairs, it conjures up images of fantastic dreams, faraway coasts — sometimes sunshine, sometimes snow. The world seems soft and bright. Distance itself is a faraway and acceptable concept. At times real life intrudes. A train, coming in from the other end of the island. A car crossing the length of the expressway. The hours spent in the air on a cramped seat. Distinct, measurable. One place to another.

When it comes at them straight, most people surprisingly neither recoil from the idea of distance with horror nor shrink into themselves. It is just miles, they say. They laugh, though somewhat nervously. When the opportunity to consider distance comes before us, immediately the gaps between things lessen, and everybody thinks they can manage it. There are other things, other bonds, besides that which clearly ties us all together. It is not, as they all say, about seeing each other every day. Some element of mystery is required, some magic. It is a world where girls, no matter their age, silently watch boys they don’t know turn into men they dream about in the day and at night. The space is required, accepted, acceptable. A plane flies off the next day? No matter. Our love will keep us alive. We will count the days, the months. What is calculable seems acceptable as well, even if it takes some getting used to.

Or not, for there may be no older lie than the one which silently promises that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

The word itself, if I may say so, is deceptively short. The world shrinks when distance is presented as a mere concept. A fifteen-minute walk to your new friend’s house seems near until you find out she lives at the top of a hill. Fifteen hours on a plane seems bearable, but it’s also 10,000 kilometres away. The word itself hides an incomprehensible chasm of space, of time, and of all the other things that never pop out till the other person goes far, far away.

When you’re near everything seems smaller. Far away, even the small things count. What else is there to see or notice? When contact time is so limited, anything can happen. Some people find their true love in between the doors of a cafe every Friday afternoon, reading Nabokov in nerd glasses and muttering to himself. There is a cigarette lit, a puff. A sigh. It seems magical. But when someone near to your heart is so far away, a pause turns into an unbearable silence. A full stop, a sign of anger. Short sentences signify curtness, just as an unwillingness to ever talk properly. And then the question: why are you hurting me? It comes out silently, plaintively. The question is a little girl with big eyes who fears punishment. Because contact time is so rare, such an urgent cry for help is never voiced.

But the hours pass, and then the years. Bit by bit our dreams are eroded as we know more but see less. You shouldn’t have to tell someone, “if only we were closer…”; whatever space apart, near or far, we chose our loves, all the while knowing. We meet, we love, we fight. We cry, and then we make up. We love for a while, then we fight again. We meet, we have a good time; we fly, and then we fight. When does it stop? Perhaps never. We fell in love with a dream. The reality is, distance is a grainy film that obscures too many things, and it is not always something nearness can cure. Ironically, far away they seem less perfect, more like themselves, less suffocated by love. Their other, more distant, selves emerge. Wonderful as you are when you are together, who you deal with most of the time is the person he is when he is furthest from you.

We kid ourselves still. It is such a heavy burden, this distance apart. But what could be stronger (and worse) than love? Many things, it seems, and the most of all, time. You can’t put your arms around a memory.

423: we no speak americano

I’ve been on a shopping roll lately, even though I’m extremely broke, just because I feel like I need to buy something. These days my purchases run the entire gamut of strangeness — last month I bought two pairs of black wedges, one which I’ve been going clubbing in (4 hours’ dancing! No pain! JOY!) and one which is finally getting shipped to me on Thursday. Yay! Then the ASOS sale came and I bought crazy and retarded and useless things. Like a bright yellow leather satchel and pin-studded sunglasses and a mesh top, all of which are completely unsuitable for work. But who cares!

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422: shanghai days

The crowds in Shanghai are getting to me. They are rude in the most uncomplimentary way possible. On the trains it is a war, to see who can get in or out the fastest. A woman drops a newspaper through the platform gap while jostling her way through the door. She bends to pick it up, and gets her head pushed by someone else. Nobody apologises. It is normal. It happens all the time, every time. Somewhere someone is rushing off to save a life or attend to an emergency or meet a lover. Or not. The crowds seethe.

In every country the big cities are the most unbearable. Under the skyscrapers the shadows cast by the bright lights hide the ugly actions of a people. Everyone is moving, moving, inexorably moving; towards an unknown destination, or perhaps unknown only to me.

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421: football and friends

So that was that. It was no doubt ignominous that I had to watch Germany’s last game in two years on a crappy online stream because our local TV channel was too much of a cheapo to air the third place match, something I was rather miffed about considering they promised to show everything from the semi-finals onwards. But I guess you can never rely too much on these things.

I’ve said it before but there’s a reason why I like the Germans. It’s only recently that they’ve begun to change the way they play football, but their players have always been solid and cohesive and rarely prone to theatrics. Perhaps it’s because they all play for the Bundesliga, but it’s always been a joy to watch. When I first watched Kahn in 2002 I was enthralled — even before Iker Casillas came along, he was a stunning example of how a goalkeeper could be captain and lead his team. Players came and went, and Michael Ballack stuck — I never liked him much, though he started out being the same bright promising player that Thomas Muller now is, and to me it was a blessing that he was excluded from the current lineup.

The third place game highlighted how important Muller was to the team: without him, their counter-attacks fell apart, because they couldn’t trust Trochowski (and rightly so, since he couldn’t finish whatever anyone else started) and the resulting disintegration of the German spirit during their game against Spain was devastating to watch. But no doubt they deserved to lose, though I still think generally South Americans and Spain tend to play football that is not entirely genuine. Nobody doubts their passion for the sport, but surely one could do without the diving and wailing and shouting at referees in a show of innocence and then the deliberate stamping on of their opponents’ feet. I like games to be clean and honourable and such antics do not sit well with me at all, particularly if a team has good enough players in the first place. It’s one of the reasons why I’m not entirely keen on watching the final anyway.

After the game I logged on to Facebook and M messaged me for a bit. We talked about graduation and life and how he’s going to move to Austria once he graduates, just to see if it’ll really work out. Everyone thinks about doing crazy things in their lives once in awhile, and clearly few have the guts to actually do it. We talked, I felt wistful and envious at the same time, and I missed M very much. Halfway through he asked if I wanted to Skype.

It’s not that I didn’t want to — I just couldn’t. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with the idea of Skype. Videoconferencing isn’t the same as talking on the phone, though many people feel like there isn’t a difference. But talking on the phone doesn’t require your undivided attention, nor is it offensive or rude to be doing something else at the same time. It could be one of those irrational fears, but I’ve had enough of times where I’m getting called on for “not paying enough attention”. Skyping is like setting up a virtual date; either you’re on it or you’re not, and if you’re on it you’d better put in some effort. It’s not the same kind of chat I’m used to — I do ten different things on my computer at the same time, and Skyping means I have to put everything else on hold in the meantime. I know some people do that, clicking windows and reading websites while Skyping, but the video element is entirely too intrusive, and I feel compelled to give the other person my 100% attention. There’s just no other way around it. Also, the last few times I tried multi-tasking, I got dumped. It may or may not be related, surely, but there’s that, I guess. I’m always afraid something’s going to explode in my face the moment I look away from the screen. It’s too stressful. I can’t take it.

So I spun a flurry of excuses, which sounded lame even to me, but I couldn’t help it. “It’s 5am and I look like shit,” I replied. “Oh come on,” he said. “I haven’t shaved my middle eyebrow in three months.” In my mind I could picture his drawl, and him sitting comfortably on his chair with one leg propped up, his table littered with random things. I laughed, but I still refused. I felt so guilty. Strangely enough (or not), I’ve never been much of a conversationalist. I can write reams of paper of stuff, but I rarely feel comfortable talking about nothing to people I don’t really know. (M, though not really one of them, is also not someone I see regularly.) Small talk is not my forte, and for all the posturing, my hesitancy is always clearly reflected. In my mind I can see my own eyes darting about, left and right up, searching for the appropriate rejoinder, the next question to be asked. Often I have no idea.

It’s one of those things I need to work on, I guess.

420: shanghai nights

Shanghai is overwhelming, and full of dust. My face is going crazy (again) adapting to the weather — the air is smoggy and you can’t see much beyond the next few buildings, though it has cleaned up considerably. A walk along 南京西路 revealed lots of lights, which line the sidewalk, and now it looks like any other street in any other city. Who knows if it’s because of the Expo? A leafy boulevard, flashing lights, but believably Shanghai, because the crowds still jostle at every opportunity possible and refuse to apologise, and crossing the road is a game of who-dares-wins. Rules exist, but are rarely followed. People rush through the roads as if they own them, while cars honk frustratedly as they stall on the tarmac. It doesn’t matter if the light is red or green — the road is a sea of people, moving inexorably towards the Bund as if they were the water. We walked all the way to the Peace Hotel before deciding the adventure was pointless. And then made our way back along the entire stretch of road, the same way as we came. Weekends in big cities are inevitably crippling — nothing can be done, because the entire city is out on a mission to conquer their vacations the same way tourists come all the way to Shanghai to do.

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