remember 2009

We’re here again.

As I write this I feel an insane sense of relief as the year comes to a close. It’s not that it was bad (it wasn’t — far from it), or that it was unexpected (it was — but that’s not the point). More than anything I want to collapse from sheer relief and amazement that the start of this year has turned out so differently from the end.

It was New Year’s Eve, in Paris. We spent the evening at Starbucks, along the Champs Elysees, scribbled a New Year’s greeting on a bunch of napkins to the next customer who’d come by. We spent the last few minutes of the year watching Babar the Elephant in a little place in the Latin Quarter. In the middle R asked what our new year resolutions were. I told her; we talked about it, I forgot.

Later on as we walked out the air was cold and my nose froze. We walked the rest of the way back from the Latin Quarter to our apartment, crossing the Seine and passing Notre Dame, as we always did when we crossed the Banks. KW, who usually walked supernaturally fast, slowed down in celebration. We shouted, Bonne Année!, to random strangers, who smiled back drunkenly at us through their bottles of champagne.

I’ve never been one for resolutions, mainly because I can never keep them. This year is no different, and I walked into the new year armed with a truckload of resolutions, and predictably I stand at the end of the year having completely forgotten what all of them were. What did I wish for? What did I resolve to do? I don’t remember. Maybe it was because of everything that’d happened in the preceding months — and I found myself surrounded by a haze of determination I never knew I possessed.

I keep telling people this, but I’ve never travelled as much as I have, in this past few years. There are always new places to explore, new things to see, new perspectives to take in. This year, more than most, I’ve done a lot of thinking (“When have you not?”, G would say, laughingly), on endless bus rides and train rides. People will call me crazy, but I wish I’d taken more. There’s a strange sense of comfort I derive from lying sprawled across two bus seats (always pretending to be asleep whenever new passengers board, so they don’t take the seat next to mine), looking out of the window across the darkness. In the darkness the bus winds through lonely long roads, sometimes little pathways (on the way to Stansted, mostly), most of the time the Autobahn, stretched for miles in front of me with the snow on the mountains piled high by the wayside.

Where have I been? Everywhere — nowhere. Sometimes I felt like a ghost, passing through towns and cities I would never get to know. All I’ve seen of Frankfurt is the bus station, where McDonald’s and Burger King shine their neon lights in a predictably (bizarrely) comfortable way. I spent the first few days of the new year in Paris, soaking in the bitterly cold weather; talking, walking, chilling at Starbucks writing postcards, shopping along the rue de Rivoli. I did everything touristy (bought every flavour of macaron possible from Pierre Hermé; continuously visiting cafés and teahouses) and everything totally lame (visited the same Japanese restaurant 3 nights in a row; wearing shorts to visit the Eiffel Tower in January). Later on sitting in cafés became a trend. I don’t remember much about Portugal, except that I refreshed some old memories and gained some new ones, and spent a good part of the trip ensconced in some place or another, talking and laughing and discussing things. The warmer weather was a respite, and I returned to Holland feeling colder than I’d ever had before. I went to Sweden, then Berlin, then Vienna. The weather turned better. I stayed in Holland for most of April, writing my papers, having my dinners, riding my bicycle, the wind in my hair. 稻香 playing on my iPod. Then Greece, with the sunshine and the bikinis and ATVs and cheap beer and black sand. Then Poland, back to Berlin, to Istanbul, London for the last time.

It’s always strange to recall a life you’ve had elsewhere. There are times I whined to S about how I wanted to go home, and S asked, where? Which one? I didn’t mean Singapore. I was never nearly as homesick as most people. It was then I began to realise how crazily, slowly, Holland had creeped into my heart — how easily I could lose myself overseas, how easily I could not come back, and not just for awhile. What was there? I don’t know. The sunshine, the canals, the way the sunlight hits the water and reflects off the windowpanes. The (not-so-)seedy red light districts, how the smell of weed floats about in the air. Cheap beer. Tall blonde people. Bicycles. The heavy glow of streetlamps, frites met mayonnaise. I keep thinking of Europe in the not-so-distant past, in which I call Holland home and there is nowhere else. Singapore suddenly became so far away. Its memories became fuzzier and fuzzier in my head, even though I’d lived there all my life. There were things about Singapore I remembered and then decided to forget. I knew when I returned home I would be a totally different person.

This whole year I’ve been counting down. The dawn of the second exchange semester hits you like a bomb. I remember being in Vienna and turning to B, going oh my god, Ben, it’s March! with an acute sense of horror. Then the months began to tick away and everyone started counting down the days they had left, before they went home for good. Everyone leaves behind a life they can never bring back. It is true — it is a dream. It can never be anything else, because it seems like nobody but you knows it existed. Everyone you come back to cannot imagine, or does not relate. Revisiting the familiar, to find yourself displaced. Everything is different, and not like how I remembered. The weather seemed unnaturally hot, unnaturally balmy. I struggled to find my footing. I forgot where was what.y I pulled out my black and white clothes and went to Raffles Place and endured a business day filled with ten thousand heart attacks. Social niceties? What were they? What could I say to everyone who asked me, how was Holland? What could I say? Of course it was fantastic. Of course it is nothing like it is here. But I feel like Orpheus when it comes to Holland, and I feel like if I try to look back, it will all disappear.

It doesn’t matter. Counting down brings great things. There were never so many things to look forward to, when I came back, as this year. Law IV, which changed my life (and many others’). New people come along. Social dynamics shift (again). In between the rehearsals, the headaches, the endless script changes and the countless nights spent writing lyrics, it paid off in the end, and that Sunday seemed one of the happiest in my life. Long talks in cafes, long walks with friends, shopping in Bugis, sitting at TCC, doing all the things I said I’d do but I never got down to doing. I don’t care anymore. Now is the time. We spent too many nights down in the quad jumping around with a bunch of beers and Jon’s trusty new Macbook; too many nights in the audi with Kao’s whiskey, Shawn’s piano, the cameras taking endless pictures of us doing retarded things. We document our lives so much more nowadays. Who cared about what we did everyday, previously? Now I feel like I must remember everything, everyday. Going to the Botanic Gardens, on a whim. Drinking wine. Going swimming, just because we felt like it. Eating huge guiltless lunches after. Drinking beer. Calling people out on random nights. Sitting at the jetty in East Coast Park, watching the stars above, just like how I used to in JC. Planning holidays (again). Watching movies in the middle of exam time. Playing Guitar Hero when we should have been studying. Watching meteor showers in the middle of exam time. Playing board games during exam time (two years ago who would play board games?). Doing everything but studying during exam time.

I’ve changed; there’s no doubt about it. I like to eat fries with mayonnaise. I can’t shower with hot water anymore — Singapore is too warm. I’m less wary about talking to strangers, though I’m still shy as hell and I hate small talk with a vengeance. Some part of me has matured; I’m quieter, more subdued, but I’ve discovered an irritating tendency to talk off the top of my head, and it kills me when I realise I’ve inadvertently forgotten to consider people’s feelings. There’s space in my heart for two places to be called home. My semester back home has been so much more chilled out than before, even though I keep trying to push myself to go places and be things that I want to be. My heart is full of love and I refuse to be bitter anymore. I returned to Japan, with my mother this time, and I realised that I could go again and again (and again). My friendships with certain people with levelled up to an amazing degree, and I pray I will never lose them. I started writing again. I feel like I’ve walked through most of this year with a smile on my face. I care less about what people think. I want to see my friends happy. My father is back permanently. Things will change again.

Where am I now? I don’t know. I’m standing on the edge of something new and wonderful and totally unexpected. The year brings me to unexplored territory. Like last year, it was 3am when I started this. Like last year, I was lost. Like last year, I started writing after I’d had a bottle (or three) down my throat. But this year I’m back in my own room, with my childhood fears and demons behind me, my youthful follies. I don’t know where I’m going (but I sure know where I’ve been). Here I go again, on my own. I’m going down the only road I’ve ever known.

It doesn’t matter — I was happy, like I told R I wanted to be, at the start of this year; I was right. This year has been infinitely beautiful, in all the wrong and correct ways.


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