467: How much remains the same is the scariest question

Is it really true? I think it is, though I’ve never truly known what it’s like to grow up in a generation unmarked by technology. That as young people nowadays, we are generally shitty conversationalists, having been prone to over-analysing, over-thinking, writing and rewriting endlessly those text messages that flow from our phones. Or our computers, back when it was the medium of choice.

So, that I remember. I was eleven when the Internet really took off. Suddenly the school sent round flyers urging parents to give their kids the gift of Internet; all the better to do their projects with, all these newfangled individualised research projects (God, too many of those…). I got my first e-mail account. I listened to that familiar tone, the same one I heard as a young child over the fax machine with its replaceable reams and rolls of smooth paper, I listened as it became the first recognisable ring tone of the decade, complete with the grey box window that would pop up whenever you tried to dial up. How, as a child and an irritating sibling, one would deliberately pick up the phone during critical moments in order to disrupt the connection. It was exhilarating. Thrilling. The promise of something new over the horizon, all this new and wonderful information, all these sources of information, and a whole new world. My cousin, 6 years older and infinitely wiser at 17 to my 11, introduced ICQ to me at a family gathering. I remember his number — it was 6 digits. I remember mine too, the way I don’t even remember anybody’s telephone number these days. I caught on to a whole new way of speaking. I was eleven. I talked to my friends but also random strangers who asked me how old I was. I always added two years to my age. I got sent porn videos. It’s also kind of disturbing now that I think about it, but back then the world was so big and I had so many things to learn. Back then there were no pop-up blockers, parent-child filters, and the web was a cowboy town and a lawless place. In a way, the Internet forced me to grow up faster than I ever would. That familiar sound (“eh-oh!”) — I still smile when I hear it, and it has become a sign of solidarity, for those who still remember and still recognise. As with “rehi”, the use of the slash to denote an action (“/slaps around with a big trout”), to make someone an op, and back when the hash sign was only used for channel names. A different generation. 

I was from an all girls’ school. Everything was unknown, including boys. Yet somehow they figured in our lives prominently, not least because the Internet helped to speed things along. I remember being in one of those enrichment classes when I was twelve, on a Saturday. There was a boy I thought was cute, in a bright blue t-shirt. We had been in the same programme for years (I had also been eyeing him for years). The programme ended; we turned thirteen. I forgot about him till I went for one of those stupid GEP camps, and there he was, amazingly. I have an excellent memory. I generally consider that a shortcoming. I think I used the age-old line (“Hi, you probably don’t remember me, but …”) — he responded. I think we had e-mails; we exchanged them. I don’t exactly recall what happened then, but we found each other on Napster, back when it still existed, back in its hey day. He sent me music. We talked. I told him I only listened to Class 95 and Jacky Cheung. He sent me more music. (I think we see where this is going.) Then MSN Messenger came on, in a big way. I added friends. He introduced his. I started chatting with more and more people I had never seen, back in the days when there were no digital cameras, no data messages, no way to identify anybody at all other than from the way they spoke online. So much overthinking. The way the change in your username, your font, your font colour, your font size, whether you used alternate caps or a full stop at the end of your sentences, meant everything and nothing at the same time. How you would agonise over whether to initiate the conversation given that there was no such thing as “last seen” and you would never know if he was just busy or did not want to reply, and nobody at 14 could handle that kind of mental trauma. There were times when it made me happy just to see someone log on, even if there was no conversation. This continued all the way up till I left school and stopped using MSN Messenger. A good ten years. There were also handphones. Snake, Snake II, and then Space Invaders, on that indestructible Nokia phone that everybody had. The way your parents knew you were dating someone because your monthly message count went through the roof. How you would avoid the phone ringing in the middle of the night by calling his mobile phone, then he would use his house phone to call your mobile phone, and then finally you would drop off and connect the land lines. Nobody needs that anymore. The art of sneaking thus has disappeared, simply because there is no more need for it. All around Singapore there were shy school going teenagers who arranged to meet at the crossroads of secondary schools — Popular, Junction 8, Orchard MRT, Starbucks — kids who had no idea how these strangers looked like, bringing along an entire army of friends for moral support, heart racing nonetheless. It occurred to me recently that this was more than ten years ago, and more than ten years later people are still doing the same thing. (The other day someone asked me, hey, have you ever met anyone from these dating apps? I replied no. Because I have no interest and no need. But you see.) Blogs came. We over-analysed further. There were all these words I didn’t know what to do with, words that are still floating around on the Internet somewhere, I think. Throughout all this my heart raced and my heart broke. More than ten years later I’m still talking about it. Now I still pick apart my emails. All my sentences are a test.

What’s so different? Nothing much. I’ve been having strange and meaningful conversations with strangers lately. It reminds me of the times when I was younger and I believed that these things would lead me somewhere. There have been requests to call. I refused, not only because it is not necessary, but also because speaking on the phone is a full-time endeavour, and I can’t write, rewrite, analyse. Think. I greatly prefer to write. Now you can’t meet someone for coffee and also bring an entire gang of friends along and like most people, I am a better conversationalist on paper. It occurred to me that the last time I had to deal with this sort of situation was more than ten years ago, and I’ve forgotten how to gently tell someone that I don’t want to meet them without sounding impolite. Or maybe society is just less forgiving towards 26- rather than 14-year olds. Who am I kidding, it totally is.

Just ten minutes ago I went searching for a quote in my archives that I wanted to re-use. I came across a list I made when I was 17, of books I had wanted to read. It now occurs to me I have read none of them still. How much we forget without knowing, only to remember at the strangest times.

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466: Remember 2013

So, this post is later than all the rest of the years combined, probably. It’s not even January anymore, and I’ve just celebrated two New Years. I think I meant to say that I would have done this earlier, but given all that has happened in the past month, I suspect the tone for 2014 might have been entirely different had I written this towards the end of December instead. 

Strangely enough, I feel like I’ve spent the past month trying to think about how I should be writing this post. I usually rely on the previous year’s post to remind me of how the year started, but I guess I’ve told the story of what happened in Bangkok fairly often this time round, and that 2014 began in much the same way. 

But, in any case. The beginning — non-stop partying. Six people crammed into a tuk tuk to Chatuchak. Coconut ice cream. Many stories to tell, and much food was over-ordered. 100 sticks of satay. A drunken note scrawled and left by the room service trolley (“I know it’s dark, but — don’t trip”) which maybe should become the motto for the rest of our lives. The sunrises. Eternal hope. Coming back exhausted and yet not. Knowing that “exhausted and yet not” would continue to define the rest of the year, with months and months filled with files and mark-ups and emails. But funny how chance meetings turn out to be fortuitous, and as we stood by the roadside outside a club buried in the middle of a carpark in Thonglor, and I took a bite out of a random stranger’s chicken wing (who had spent a good part of the night hitting on R), we had no idea that we would shortly be seeing him again and again every other Friday (and sometimes every Friday). And so it’s been, this process of constantly meeting new people, at work, in bars, at clubs, an ever-expanding circle of friends, realising that everybody somehow knows everybody else, and that the world is very small indeed. But across the years since graduation (has it really been that long?) it is sometimes disconcerting to find that the ones you thought you might have been close to forever are not so close to you anymore now. Once in a while I think about it and it makes me feel slightly melancholy, and maybe you win some and you lose some, but sometimes the loss is so gradual, so unnoticeable that it takes a while before you realise that a deep connection might have been lost to any number of other demands on everybody’s time. Of which there are a lot. 

Which is not to say that it is a bad thing. Despite all the general angst about my job (although I’m not sure if this is just hindsight talking), I was not profoundly unhappy. In 2012 many people left and then I got thrown into the deep end a lot. And there were many days and nights in front of the computer at my desk slaving away at 3am for deals that I might have been running alone, to shitting out advice I never knew I had in me, the crazy whirl of being abandoned for 3 weeks and running into the conference room for a meeting at 4am in the morning (and what the hell? Seriously). Me getting lectured on contract law with partners with my measly C+ in first year but negotiating derivatives and securities. All this and more, but tellingly, despite everything and the crazy hours and my increasingly insane ability to appear to function on less and less hours of sleep each day, I did not feel like I fucked up. And maybe it’s one thing to realise that while there is always the urge to 远走高飞 to a better place, there is still some kind of fulfillment I can find in my job, if only just to prove to myself that I am capable of doing so. The eternal passive optimist in me probably still believes that there cannot always be just a downside to everything, even if the upsides are often (maybe always) harder to find. 

But still, a better place. Still looking, still roaming, and each year maybe I still want to roam more. What’s to stop you now from doing anything that you can do (especially if you’ve been taught, since young, that you can do anything? I blame my schools for this one)? As I grow older (and older) there are increasingly sensitive questions being asked, and there are a million reasons not to give the correct answer. It could be that these are childhood dreams that I have never really let go of, especially the innate desire to be carefree, or just to think about as little as possible. Last year I wrote that the oncoming years would be spent trying to recapture lost youth — I don’t think that anymore, not really, because I think I was mistaken. I realise the issue is not that I am growing older, because in the grand scheme of things I am, still, pretty goddamn young. This year during my birthday A handed me a can of Red Bull. I can’t give you youth, he said, but I can give you boundless energy. It was strangely touching and witty and also sad, all at the same time. But those words have stayed with me since, and so what this really is is a war against fatigue, which has nothing to do with whether I am young or not. Which maybe explains the continued need for catharsis every Friday through some form of total abandonment (always drunken) despite always, always, always being endlessly tired, why the first drink is always a Jager Bomb so that I can dance the rest of the night away and still wake up in the morning in time to go for brunch or yoga. I do it because I still can, I still want to, and I’m still young. There are still a million things I want to do. Study. Work overseas. Write a goddamn play. Vegetate. I realise I am still (always) trying to explain why it is that I need to do what I do, endlessly justifying, if only to convince myself that there must be some higher power at work, that I am shaped by events and circumstances, that maybe I can’t help it and that all this is outside my control. Or maybe it isn’t and I’m just lying to myself for the heck of it. 

I must have taken a million holidays this year. Bangkok, then Hong Kong, then Switzerland, Italy, Bali, Sydney, KL. Blown an exorbitant amount of money on bags and dresses and other frivolous and unnecessary things. Managed to sleep an epic-ly low number of hours where I went to bed at 4 or 5 or 7am and rolled like a comatose ball into work the next day. Waking up, going back to sleep, waking up, passing out, getting more sleepy, more tired, more awake at night. Eat sleep rave repeat. If I admit it to myself, this year was lived in an entirely selfish manner, and probably on all counts. 

But in between there was all this: new friends, better friends, good friends, fireworks, confetti at sunrise, the pulsing beat of the music with 20,000 other people, maybe some sense of connection, fending off creepy French men, coffee runs at 4pm, punch bowls, smearing lipstick on everybody for the birthday boy kiss, moving office and saying goodbye to cheap food and lunch dates. The world is filled with mad men and we are madder than most. Quiet walks, deep conversations, conversations I don’t remember having, doing things I remember and then doing things I don’t remember doing, drunken movie marathons, discovering new places to hang out, juggling the demands of a relationship during the weekends against my endless unfulfilled desire to have fun. There were arguments, but not that many. Mostly it has been happy and things are easily resolved by logic. I don’t know if this is the lawyering at work here. But it seems to be working, finally (finally), after cycling through naive hopes and starry eyes and heartbreak (not just mine), through the numerous road trips and journeys, forward to the next venture beneath the skies. A lot of beer and laughter. There was little sadness. My life is less volatile than it used to be, or maybe there is just less time to be dramatic about things. The losses were few. I found some time to stare at mountains and soak in the snow. Hung out on the steps outside our holiday apartment, bottles of wine in hand, the smoke drifting up, on the summer nights. Over-ordered as always. Struggled with my weight. Decided to exercise and then not exercise and then exercise and then just to fuck it only to attempt to take control of my life again. I sat on my broken computer for a year. Realised my music collection had not grown exponentially, as it used to, as it should have, because I still miss those songs and all the things they reminded me of. But always, always the conversations, which were alternately frivolous and not, alternately life-changing and not, conversations I’m not proud of, conversations that I struggle to remember. 

I guess unlike the year before there’s no point in wishing that the losses will be fewer, so that part of the Winterson quote won’t get whipped out this time. In the first month of 2014 I have lost more things than I ever have in the past few years. Oh no, G said, I’m sorry. Hope they weren’t irreplaceable, he said, at which point I replied that past a certain point I suppose everything must be replaceable. (A bit tragic, how blase we feel nowadays, about our illusions of the world shattering.) Which they were. Replaceable, I mean. More easily than I thought it would be. It’s always been fairly easy to make myself let go, or otherwise I never would have made it this far without being fucked up. It is a skill I find hard to tell other people about, especially those close to me, who are close to me but don’t really understand, because they have never asked the same questions nor tried to find the answers themselves. And sometimes it is difficult to admit to yourself that there maybe is no real answer. And so what this is, as well, is learning to make the best of the cards that one has been dealt with. You win, you lose, I guess, and still you play. Is anyone else getting tired of me re-using the same quotes yet?

As the year begins I always feel like I am standing on the edge of something big. But this year the edge is closer than ever before, and the something is so big that I am alternately scared and excited and terrified the fuck out of my mind. (That’s 2 against 1, and fear still wins.) But we’ll see. It could be that I go places, it could be that I go nowhere, or maybe, like they say, true voyage is return. But even though I cycle through uncertainty and trepidation and wander fearful and lonely as a cloud, there is at least some hope that there will be journeys to take which are worth taking. 

So. To being young, forever young, and forever on the road.