478: Remember 2015

I didn’t write one for the previous year; I’m not sure why. It might have been because I was too caught up in the whirlwind of the beginning of the year, having convinced myself that I was too happy and had so many other, better, things to do; unknowingly, the first week of the year slipped by and writing about the year that just passed seemed less and less relevant.

Strange because so much has happened in these two years. So much has changed. I began the first day of 2015 uncharacteristically not hungover from the festivities the night before (although what I actually did, I can’t for the life of me remember anymore), waking up at the ungodly time of 6am to rush to my cousin’s house to prepare for his wedding, and then the hubbub of the whole affair died down to just a few family members, dozing by the armchairs of the outdoor bar in Capella, talking about our lives over drinks and tea. It was a sunny day; the weather was great.

Chinese New Year came. The predictions for the year promised great things. I spent the months mostly being optimistic and bored, a fact made more glaringly obvious by the fact that I can’t remember what I did at work (besides drink) nor outside work (besides drink). Life was peaceful and painless, and uncharacteristically quiet. I was alone for the first time in ages suddenly, and strangely enough I didn’t know what to do with myself. And then: I turned 28. There were too many questions. What should I be doing with my life? What am I doing with my life? Do I really want to be here? Is life too easy? Am I going mad? I read more books in the first 6 months of 2015 than I have in the past five years, which just shows what life in practice does to you. I’m not really sure why I jumped back in again — but I did, and now I’m back to stealing moments from work to read a book whenever I can. I talked about it to everybody and anybody who would listen, trying to find someone who could explain to me why I felt this strange disquiet in my head. But I savoured the fact that I had a Blackberry but never needed to check it, ever; I read my emails at the end of the week and nobody would say anything. I abandoned my Blackberry and the thought of endless blinking red lights and the multitude of horrors that it implied, not so secretly laughed at those who were still chained to their jobs, and went out to explore the world, as I imagined I should have, many years earlier.

So, I travelled. Burma; the first South East Asian country I’d visited (other than Thailand) ever. It was beautiful, but I’m not sure I’d go back so soon. Watched the sun rise 300 feet off the ground, us hanging in the air like lanterns. Lazy days by the pool because it was too hot to do anything else, drinking cocktails in the water and reading Burmese Days, just because we could. Watched the city crumble around us and rise again from the ashes of a long, drawn out past. Thought for a moment that I was back where Singapore might have been, 50 years ago. Revisited Tokyo for the first time in 5 years, fell in love with it all over again. Ate too much. Drank up a storm. Did stupid things like go to a club with all our shopping and two huge shoeboxes. Saw the cherry blossoms rise and fall, got cheap thrills out of the cold wind and the sakura-related everything that they were selling, had numerous conversations about what we wanted to do with our lives, our loves, and more. Fell down the stairs the day after I came back, cut my foot, remained invalid for a week. Nearly didn’t make it to Bali, but somehow I did, with my crazy bandaged foot and industrial-strength injury tape and a shit load of painkillers, more lazy days around the villa, gingerly testing if my foot would explode with bacteria if I waded into the pool, reliving nights at Bounty just because we could, and having strange and wonderful walks back home to our villa with drunken friends and drunken conversations. Life seemed wonderful.

But wonderful is as wonderful does and life does what it likes. Somewhere along the way we lost ourselves and for me at least, it took a long time to find myself again. It’s still taking a long time. Maybe as we get older the time seems shorter, only because there’s not that much for you to find. What can you know that you don’t already know? Are there still parts of yourself to discover?

“Just because we could” seemed to be a recurring trend, for some reason. But that’s just it, isn’t it? Suddenly I realised I was no longer 21 and I was not standing on the cusp of my fullest potential. This was either my peak or the best was yet to be, but either way I was no longer at the beginning. I could no longer tell myself that there were this many second chances, that life was always going to be awesome and filled with endless joys and surprises (not that I’ve really ever done this), but when you’re 28 the only way to go seems to be forward. And so you do things, just because you can and there is no other way. We’ve come too far now; we’re too old. Either we try this, or we never do. And if not now, when?

And then where else? There was a point halfway through the year where I asked myself too many questions. The world changed. If it was at all possible to believe, I grew older (again). And then what was there left for me? I wanted to check myself into an island and never appear again. The days passed, and somehow I couldn’t. When I finally did run away it was the opportunity of a lifetime. And so started the camping, the rain, the fireworks, the dancing, the friends… It was tiring, it was amazing. It’s still tiring as hell, but I don’t think any amount of writing really adequately conveys the highs and lows of this year, and even just thinking about it makes me feel drained. And…

Now I’m here. It’s too far and not far enough from home. Here is a new life I never thought possible, and yet sometimes it seems as if I never left. This is a new city, but all around there are old connections. For all that it’s worth and all that I left behind, it was something I never expected to really do. But now I did it, and I’m finding pride in things that I never really expected to. The work is hard and shitty and I’m chained to my job just like I used to be, there are even more late nights and documents and possibilities of going blind, but part of me now knows that some day all this will pass, and I have options, choices, life decisions, alternatives, to be here or there or nowhere, just so long as it’s somewhere my heart is.

I don’t know where it is now. This year turned out like nothing I expected. It’s raining outside the window of my apartment where I now live alone and the only thing I come home to is the sound of myself. I think in time my heart could be here, but every other week I get the urge to fly home and stay forever. Strange because once again I feel like I’m standing on the verge of something. I wonder if this time it’ll take me three years to realise I should have just done it right at the beginning. I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things anymore. And I’m still bumbling through life dreading all the hellos and the goodbyes. But I’m here. Just because I can be. And some day I’ll go home. Just because I can.

There won’t be many opportunities to feel this way again, I reckon. Some days I wake up and the air is swirling with uncertainty, and I think to myself that none of this is worth the battle that goes on in my head every morning. Some days I feel as clueless as a twelve year old kid, lying in bed thinking about her first crush. Some days all these words get stuck in my head and they can’t come out. Some days my heart’s a mess. I didn’t think it would still be a mess at 28, but here we are. Here we are in a city of skyscrapers and heartbreakers. But we’ll make it work. We’ve got to make it work somehow.

We’ll see what happens this year, but who knows. Some days I wish there was someone who could tell me where to go and how to get there. But in the meantime I take long drives in my head to nowhere, and hope I don’t get lost along the way. How is it possible to still be scared at this age? But it’s possible, if only because there’s so much less time left and so much more to lose. We’ll see if we find the correct question to the answer this year. How much longer do we have anyway?

The answer bloody well isn’t 42. It’s yes.

 

 

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476: Crossing the Rubicon

I see: endless faces. I find: quite easily, those who try to lose themselves. They come in as the music plays on in the back, their footsteps agitated, purposeful. There is a heavy thump of anger as they call for a beer. It’s happy hour, I say to the uneducated. Most people fall for it, since the mode of transport to hell is irrelevant. Everyone is coasting, in any case; I just provide the oars.

I’m not here every day but these two appear more often than they should. They sit by the bar and as I serve their drinks they leave ajar the window to their private lives. The conversations are never grey or static, and sometimes there is another or two or four people. They laugh quietly, then loudly, then there might be an awkward silence, a pensive mood, when the conversation gets too heavy and too private and someone wants to run away but knows they shouldn’t, not just yet. Two or three agonising seconds later they request more drinks and I save the day. Somewhere else, somehow, a boat struggles to stay afloat. The days fade to the sound of some invisible countdown. They sit closer to each other. There are more words, and too many ways to say the same thing. The air hangs down, heavy as lanterns, and maybe their feelings blur as the music swirls with possibility. Once in a while it’s too much, and they dart outside to recharge. Inside between the drinks, over where I stand, is a river neither of them dares to cross. But they lean towards it, swaying against each other, waiting for the truth to drown them both. Each time they leave the universe readjusts. The rest of them mill around, soulless as flies, and the dances continue amidst the alcohol. I make the rest of the drinks as I am commanded to.

One day, she stops coming. The boat does not sink. The river flows. The universe remains undisturbed. He continues as he always has.

469: W X R K

So, interestingly, another one bites the dust. And the eternal question: how long can we keep doing this? Why do we push ourselves so hard? Is this normal?

It’s strange to realize that one is busy and not busy at the same time, and stranger to realize that one can be meaningfully occupied (most of the time) throughout the day and still be able to escape when the sun goes down. These are the limits and boundaries that most of the population lives by, the ones we throw out of the window voluntarily when we enter the profession, whether we like it or not and whether we planned it that way or not. This was something we expected and were expected to do and expected from our colleagues and juniors. Everything was planned and hierarchical and everything would come to you in time, in time just like with everybody else, and we dug ourselves into a hole of comfort in which we went about our business in our little isolated world, our only contact with the Great Beyond being the dial tones of conference calls and that sole window in a partner’s room.

It seems trite to elaborate on, whine about, what is essentially hard work. It surprises me to know that life can be so much easier now. To think about whether life is actually supposed to be this easy. It can’t be, right? It makes me wonder whether I am missing out on something, or whether I was too used to functioning on such a high level that it is difficult to come down now. Which is not to say that there are no learning points and nothing to do, but now that I only have ten things to do a day instead of forty, it means my brain is possibly working four times slower than it can. Which is not to say four times slower than it should. I am not at all sure my brain is wired to function four times faster than the average individual, and with twice the number of working hours. Is this an adequate use of my talents (however meagre and few there are)? Probably not. One could argue I was probably not made to take life so easy. My mum in particular would agree. When I was just born, I was told, some famous fengshui/geomancy/whatever person came to see me. I would earn lots of money, he said, in the typical Chinese way of measuring success. But I would have to work very hard to get there. For years throughout my adolescence this sentiment bugged me every time I forgot to consciously bury it. So I thought about this hard work vs. your life thing, probably way earlier than most people. Probably one of the reasons why my ex-boyfriend could never understand why I was so, so terrified of graduating, of stepping out, into this world where I could no longer coast and would actually have to earn my keep. All in all, I can do it, and enjoy it even as I’m doing it (negotiations alone at 3am in the morning? Bingo!), but intrinsically I have a great and overarching dislike of hard work. Who doesn’t? I am a fundamentally lazy piece of shit. My desired state of mind is vegetative. Actually no, not really; but my desired state of mind is thinking about something other than work. And so that is what it is. Brain challenging? Living up to my fullest potential? Could I go much further than on the path I have otherwise set myself upon? Probably. The level of uncertainty for the answers to those questions is astounding. No. I’m not saving the world, but I earn a healthy amount, and as one can probably tell, I am writing a lot more nowadays. I am thinking a whole damn lot more these days. Which is exactly where I want to be. How long it (the way I think, the way others think, societal norms, inflation, monetary stability, my mother’s wellbeing…) will last I don’t know. But I’ve been where I’ve gone. My mum always accuses me of not thinking things through. Yes and no. As regards certain things I am probably the #1 overthinker on this planet. For other things it’s exhilarating to just do. I’m contradictory. As are you. What am I trying to say? JUST DO IT, WHATEVER IT IS. Do it. Carpe that fucking diem, as they say (grammar probably wrong, and fuck that #yolo shit). Be selfish to the extent that you can (haha). For a Chinese girl this is maybe harder than most. But really. Somebody gave up their dreams so that you could have a chance at yours. Waste not, want not. 

But you are not being wasted. Why do you want? (Thanks, Margaret Atwood.)

A few months ago, that would have been an unanswerable question of the universe. But alas. Things change, shit happens, paths get rejigged, the roads retrodden. Yet the majority of us plow on, content to glorify our own labours. Whatever we say, our pride spurs us on, and we all take some perverse pleasure in advertising the insane number of hours we work each day. This was me. With the introduction of normal working hours I have taken away my own right to complain.

Not everybody considers this a trade-off at all. So what do you do when you reach the Promised Land, wherever it may be? Is this a question I have asked myself before? Yes. Anything. The world is full of possibility.

468

I turned 27. The days pass.

So I’ve been reading horoscopes recently, and more than ever before. What they tell me is nothing new in the grand scheme of things, but possibly mind-blowing only because it’s been a long time since I’ve heard it. Something new is coming your way, there will be eclipses this month, planets crash and stars misalign and you are caught somewhere in between, be careful. Be careful because things, new things, may drop in unannounced and knock you off-balance, somewhere between fear and uncertainty. You may have to rethink many existing foundations. How is it that one day life is orderly and you are content, a little cynical perhaps but on the whole just so, and then suddenly you find that the solid floor is a trap door and you are now in another place where the geography is uncertain and the customs are strange?

There have been many articles about the woes of our generation lately, and mostly how technology has transformed our social lives and interactions. Particularly that Rolling Stone article. I told someone recently I didn’t (never did? Now don’t?) believe in true love. S asked, but what is true love? To which I replied, well your question just answered your question, no? And isn’t that the eternal question?

I remembered that answer, and the only question you’d ever want an answer to. The answer bloody well isn’t 42, it’s yes.

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. 

464: Undesirable Familiarity

First thing I thought when I walked in — oh no, here we go again. Might have been the smell or those endless rows of beds, but more chilling were the corridors that led everywhere except anywhere you wanted to go. Which, usually, was out. I can’t shake it off, as I told my cousin earlier this evening, that feeling that you’re only ever in there for a reason and of course the reason is a bad one. Nobody ever says “see you again,” in these situations, and over time one gets to know the in-house food options a bit too well. People start making slightly off observations like “Wow, this ICU is much nicer than the last one I was in,” and one must grin and bear it with characteristic good (black) humour or risk going insane. Or breaking down. Or both. Because it speaks of an undesirable familiarity, kind of like how you know what your ex does with his underwear at a certain time.

And, after a few days, here we do go again. As I was telling (yet) another cousin, it doesn’t feel too long ago that I was doing this. Being the one standing there and smiling and packing up the chairs at 11pm. But strangely enough I’ve forgotten how to do most of it, like the process is still new and strange and uncomfortable. When I went in I stood there looking all awkward and unsure, like, are you supposed to be bowing three times? Do I say the prayer before or after I do the bowing? You didn’t tell me I had to sprinkle the holy water! Not a bad thing, all in all, in the grand scheme of things. I think this also falls squarely within the purview of Undesirable Familiarity. I can’t imagine what the undertaker feels like.

What this all translates to, at the end of the day, is an Undesirable Familiarity with your own mortality. Which is not to say that one needs to be all Anthem for Doomed Youth on oneself, but clearly there is still some emotional distance between your young self and your not-so-impending death, since young is as young does and for a good long while, one remains blissfully free from the taint of one’s own mortality. Yet. Yet. The first passing of each new generation is always more poignant than the ones that eventually follow, if only because it marks a new wave of depression and self-doubt and self-medication and eventually funerals. Not of others. But your own.

So therein lies the problem with a family that spans four generations. It could have been for the past six decades you have thought yourself the child, even though you are also a spouse and a parent and a grandparent. And you accepted that people were ill for x numbers of years and went regularly into hospitals for strokes and heart attacks and hip operations, and sometimes it would be a slow decline and other times it would be overnight, but you were never too surprised by the eventuality. Because it was, of course, just a matter of time. Nothing to be surprised about. But a death irrevocably marks the paradigm shift from Child to undeniably, unmistakably, Adult, and even as the generation below you moves towards a blase acceptance of the inevitable, it is you who moves to the new class of people who struggle with those mundane everyday questions of “what shall I do to keep myself healthy”, “how do I avoid going to hospital so often”, “what I shall do with all my property when I pass away” and “what will happen to my children when I die”.

I think it is scary when you find you can no longer avoid the siren song of the end of your life.

463: Sweet summer sweat

Small joys — really small. 

When I was 13, Napster was It. There was nothing like it, and we used it for everything from chatting to downloading (I’m sorry, you meant, “sharing”?) to flirting online with your first love, tiptoeing around social niceties and the wonders and horrors of the Internet, strange and new as it all was (and all together at one go!). The rest, they say, is history. 

History has a way of repeating itself. So, when I was 14, I scrambled to get every video I could find. DVD? No such thing yet (I think). VCD? Concert footage? Pink Floyd? Led Zeppelin? Dire Straits? The Eagles? All in the days of their being wild, being young, in the days before I was even young. Still I watched. I collected. I remembered. I sometimes think, it must have been from there, watching close-ups of all these great players picking away expertly at their guitars, tugging at my heartstrings as surely as they were right here in front of me, that I began to think that I could only love those whose fingers were in the right places, whose tastes in music were in the right eras. Namely, that great period of rock, in which I (and them) was conveniently not born: the 1970s and 1980s. It is funny how we always think we love more those things we cannot see.

So, there was this one video. Memorable mainly because at that time (and those times after), it reminded me of a boy who could play just like that. But the boy came and left, and the crackly moving video remained, and from time to time I would re-watch it and let the music, those fingers, the smiles and the way they sounded the damn bloody same — take me away. It was 1977, in Houston, the Capital Theatre. Rehearsing Seven Bridges Road, rushing into the concert hall. Don Henley, sounding the same as he did 35 years ago as he does today. The drums. Glenn Frey. But those two guitars. Those two guitars

My computer crashed when I was 16. I found it again, which was easy in the days when these things were easy to find. I watched it during those cold days in Tilburg when the snow was outside my window and my mind still felt frozen. When I came back in 2009 my computer crashed again. But six years later, reality has set in and these things are no longer as easy to find as they used to be. 

Once in a while, when the urge takes me, I continue the search. There are many videos of them in 1977, some even taken by a member of the audience of that very same live show. But I’ve watched it so many times, too many times, to know that it was not That Video. 

Until today, when the urge took me again. I don’t know why it took me so long. But I found it. I Found It. It’s one of those things, you know? It’s like the times where you think in your head about what is going to happen when Love #1 pops up in front of you and asks you about what’s going to happen from here. What is it that you really want? What do you want to do?

I don’t know. I don’t know. Don’t know where I’m going, not going where I’ve gone. You can’t travel old roads, but you sure as hell can keep them in sight. 

462: Remember 2012

I feel like every year is a struggle to recap every memory that I’ve accumulated over the past year, but part of me feels like it will all go away if I don’t write it down somewhere. This is especially since the work week leaves little time for rumination; or if it does, it leaves even less time for writing it down. Things go by in a blur, mainly (and probably) because things which happen are generally the same things, week in and week out, and none of it is particularly worth remembering. 

Case in point: I don’t remember how I spent the new year, crossing into 2011 — or at least I didn’t, until I read the previous year’s post. Then I spent it working (and working and working), going out every Friday night, till it came to a point where I was too tired to do anything other than sit somewhere and chill the hell out, purely because there was so little time to do any of that. But none of this is really worth noting because these descriptions will be the same each year, and I consciously refrain from naively thinking that any of this will change in the years to come. And maybe it finally is time to admit to myself that I have to grow up, whether I like to or not. 

What else is there? There have been too many extremes this year. So many people are getting married (maybe it is the season? The age? I guess), but there have been far too many losses. Days spent in the hospital, rushing there after work (and I am beginning to realise that maybe they deliberately kept me free so that I could run off on time, or maybe it was some kind of divine intervention, but in any case work was slow and there was still time to spend, together, by a bedside, filled with endless tubes and medicines). Flower parades. Prayers, family gatherings (funny how families only knit better together after a major loss), coffins, processions, hearses, funerals, a bit of mindless levity. To recover for a while, and then to have it all happen again. It would be incredible if it were not true. But why would anyone lie about this sort of thing?

I miss her, we still do. Strange how these things manage to make families closer together (some of the time), and we find ourselves doing more and more things together, or perhaps it is because the shadow of impending loss is now removed and for better or worse (and even if we might be afraid to admit it), we all feel marginally less burdened by it. So there were family lunches (that have not occurred all too often), increased communications, games, drinks, boat rides, after work dinners. Good is good, but if I never stand in the viewing chamber of a crematorium ever again it will not be a moment too soon. 

I have a feeling that the coming years will be spent trying to recapture lost youth. Trying to recreate feelings that seemed so new and momentous and stupendous, that made me want to hold on to it forever. And do it again and again and again. As a result I feel like my thoughts are no longer new, and even the sense of euphoria which we constantly aspire to through concerts and endless jumpings, the pulsing beat and the aching legs and the alcohol and the boys who pick you up — well, that’s just it. Trying to be back to something. Back to Bali, where we were young and stupid; back to London, where we spent endless nights just being Singaporean; back to Bangkok (I still don’t know how I feel about Bangkok, but that’s too complex and deserves a separate post by itself). I felt best when I was drifting through the night in the haze of music on the beachfront, not thinking and not worrying and just enjoying. I had no other purpose to be there. I would go just to feel it again. It makes me sad that it cannot always be like this. But maybe I would enjoy it less if it were always like this, though it cannot be the case that any of this is worth all that other pain. At least I think, it cannot be.

People talk about being depressed when they see the blue sky turn to grey to black in the confines of their small office, but in our firm success appears to be measured by the size of windows, and right now ours is a small pane of glass that looks out not into the messy sprawl of the CBD but the endless scroll of shopping options that pop up incessantly on my secretary’s computer screen. Sunlight appears to require rationing. It is as if we do not require any, and that unnecessarily depresses a person. It will be a long time before we graduate to the kind of level that entitles us to a window where daylight is allowed to stream in unmolested. But well, some people are more equal than others.

I liked Melbourne, and with good reason, since it has all the reasons why I should like it. Bookstores, cafes, bars, not much shopping (but no matter), good food, and I was not a stranger in a strange land. But what I liked more (and this is true of every holiday) was not having to think. Or do anything. It unsettles me when my desired state of mind is vegetative. Case in point: K gave me a Kindle for Christmas. This is one of the high points of the year, even though it came at the end of it. But all I’ve read on it are science fiction novels, fantasy novels, and romance novels. Things that I otherwise would never spend money on (but also partly because I tear through them) but also things that otherwise would not require much brain power. Case in point: my writing, if it even exists these days at all, is less reflective, less lyrical. Even my angst appears to sound less beautiful (haha). A dried up well of lost plots. 

This sounds like a whinefest. It probably is, because the general sense of drudgery appears to overshadow most of the good things, which are often numerous but have little impact. When I was younger I felt like anything could happen. When I was younger I was taught that anything could happen; I could be anything I wanted to be. This is probably true still now, but maybe the problem is that I don’t know what I want to be, or whether I want it enough. I feel like these days we keep setting ourselves up to fall. 

Where was I? This was meant to be an actual post in which I try to drum up all the honesty I have within me and give myself an account of the year to remember. But the truth is I remember less than I ever do, and everything bleeds into everything else. I’m stuck in a rut and I don’t know what to do. I think the aim for the year will be to find some direction, though chances are that I may lose myself searching for it. Maybe take some time off, go travelling (properly). Find a new job? Find a real job? Find something that allows me to do things that I didn’t previously know that I wanted to (because I didn’t have time to want them)? It appears to be a race, before the time runs out on me.

Like they say — “you play, you win, you play, you lose. You play. It’s the playing that’s irresistible. Dicing from one year to the next with the things you love, what you risk reveals what you value.”

May the losses be fewer this year.

461: it’s those restless hearts that never mend

All those times ago, you knew. Those were the times you felt most alive, thinking about your friends around you, sitting by the canteen during recess time round a round table, playing pretend-war with your cardboard drinks. When you were in junior college you hung round the edge of the building, staring across the courtyard, perching on top of your little hideout (and of course it was, who else went there? Your own little elitist paradise. Your moral high ground. What else was it?), waging mock battles across the lecture theatre. 

There we were, brown in our uniforms, sometimes white and blue, each the same as the other. Every day we ate the same things, did the same things, pulled the same tricks. I slept in almost every class. I had a whale of a time. I brought my own cushion. 

Now my cushion is being dry cleaned, and it will come back pure and new, for a new work day and many more late nights. I have said this so many times, but something has changed. When you are working day to day you feel nothing and you think nothing, but when the nights come and you are still awake because this is the time you are always awake (and still working), you remember the times when you did nothing. Thought about everything. Had thoughts about everything and wanted to write about everything. These days we are quiet and tired. Sometimes I think I drink mostly just to remember how I felt when I had nothing to care about when I was younger. 

Which is not exactly true. But nostalgia is powerful, and always available when you need it. At the end of the day the memories only get better with time. Were they really? I’ll never know. But as with these things, they are only what you think they are. 

Tomorrow I will be on a boat. Sleep is precious, but weekends are more so.

460

It’s been a very eventful (and long) four months. I feel like I keep getting thrown off-course by some unexpected frustrating event, and each time I try to just, you know, settle down, something else comes along again. In between all the funerals, the holidays, and the sicknesses, it seems as though I will never be able to get down to work, and to be honest I’m not sure if I want to. As it is, everybody knows that my attention span is woefully short. 

It’s not that I hate my work. But I’m just — bored. And while I’m bored, I don’t want it to become any more exciting, either. Really all I want to do is sit around and bum. And be on holiday forever. Sit in front of my computer and blog about what I’m cooking or doing today, finding beautiful stuff on the web, etc. But you know. Reality hits. 

I spent the flight back from Hong Kong sandwiched between two Chinamen. It was a strange experience (and certainly not wonderful). Strange because they were clearly on two ends of a spectrum, both about the same age, and clearly heading to Singapore for the same reasons. But one was dressed in a business suit and tie (tie? On a plane!) and the other, tanned and weary and in a polo shirt and presumably his best pants and shoes. Presumably, because by no other person’s standards they would be considered so. Yet he was flying a fairly expensive airline, which puzzled me. And it continued to puzzle me as he fiddled with the inflight entertainment controls like he had never seen them before, handled the cutlery like he didn’t know what to do, and spooned a bite of the Haagen Dazs icecream before making a face and leaving it by the side. I felt a pang of sympathy when he looked around and everyone seemed to have headphones (but he didn’t) and he could have looked under the tray table to find them (but he didn’t, and didn’t know they were there) and he also could have pressed the button to ask the stewardess for a pair (but he didn’t, and he didn’t know he could). I wondered if I should have helped him. I wonder if he would have appreciated it. But I didn’t, and I felt bad. 

Ah well. I feel restless.

458: the well of lost plots

You could think about all the ways this could have ended. But at the end of the day, the road never leads to wherever you want it to go. There are routes planned, ways to end. I keep imagining a highway running all the way down the hill, you driving the car down the slope, a vision of the city appearing beyond the horizon. Like the world is before you, and everything is possible. Then you drive all the way to the bottom only to realise that nothing can be done. You always think there is a chance at reconciliation before you remember that the anger is more than the heartbreak.

How does it end? Will it end? Does someone have to give in? Could it be that, after coming full circle, to where it all began, things will still never be the same? There are too many stories about walking the long way only to realise that what you wanted was right in front of you. But at the end of the day, even to cross the road is difficult, and is a lifetime apart.

When the night is dark, it is painful to realise that, perhaps, you are the only one that wishes things were different.

453: you only want the ones that you can’t get

Aren’t the days always better when you think you will never have them again? Lately as I look through my documents and look out of the window through the dark gloomy rain, I think about the sunshine in California and I really miss America. But like Europe, I think I miss what it represents, those days of our lives.

It would be nice, I think, to go on another holiday. Sometimes I think about whether I want summer and sunshine or cold winds all around wrapped up in jackets and hearts warm and fuzzy (“cold weather, warm hearts”! Somebody told me). But anywhere’s great if I’m not here.

449: half the distance takes you twice as long

Things I never imagined I would admit to:

too many things, most of which are too private to name.

Which means, at the end of the day, that I would never admit to them. Because if I did, I would, right? But I haven’t, and so I wouldn’t. (I am really the queen of such self-defeating logic…) It’s rapidly approaching that time of year, when everything seems to coalesce into one big time-bomb, waiting for me to set it off. I feel like Something Big will happen to me soon, and whether or not it’s for the better, nobody knows (which is what I always say, is it not? I get tired of it, sometimes, too) — whenever summer approaches, I feel unreasonably happy. I don’t know if it’s anything in particular; mostly I just recall the joy I felt at the coming of spring, the promise of summer barbecues, summer sun, the music festivals, the way I was so relieved winter was over and the snow was out, coming home and seeing the first person that I saw … and everything in between. I picked out all the good parts of that year and stashed it into my summer memories, ready to be called up whenever I wanted, whenever July came crashing towards me.

And it has. Suddenly it’s June. And then I also feel unreasonably sad, because everything has a flip side. Where does all the time go? (Another question I ask a lot.) It seems like half my time is spent lamenting the passing of time. But these days I have less and less time, and true to form, I spend my time wasting time rather than doing anything… lately it’s such a privilege to waste time, you know? Lately I just had one of the best weekends in a while. I feel anxious not to ascribe to it anything more important than there actually is, but on hindsight it was wonderful because it allowed me to not think about anything. (Okay, but then again, I lie, because all these thoughts were running through my head…) But I’m not used to not thinking about anything, and every step of the way I can’t help it. The best I can do is to push the thoughts aside — but by then, it’s too late. I find myself drawing myself into a circle. That too terrifies me.

What do you do when you so badly want to make sense of your life? Sometimes, it is what it is, right? (like that age-old sentiment: “It’s just you and me  — if it is love, so let it be”) One cannot compartmentalise. Unlike what I said a few years ago, nothing is ever as easy as Before, After and During. Though increasingly it seems it is the only way we measure anything, just because there are so few other indicators. I cannot put things into a box and shut them away.

There was a time when I wrote that nobody knew who I was talking about. I always imagined that many years later as I tracked back to look at my old posts I would be the only one with that secret knowledge. As it turns out, even I can’t remember who I was writing about, some of the time. But these days the people get fewer and fewer, though it seems our lives get more and more complicated. Or maybe we let so few people into our lives at any one point in time, that any more (and any more new developments) complicate matters instantly. (Wow, this post is totally incoherent.)

I remembered what I did today, driving along the highway (I’m always driving along highways) — the car is flying, my mind is empty, The Eagles are playing. Take it easy, they say, one of my favourite songs. Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.

437: it’s a dangerous road (and a hazardous load)

Graduating is such a strange thing. I feel older, and yet not. I am completely unready. This transitional period is unsettling and discomforting, but it achieves what I like the most about life: it postpones the inevitable unhappiness. I don’t know for sure that I will not be happy; yet it almost seems a certainty. This is probably because I am lazy and hate to work, no matter how much I like whatever I’m doing. I cannot imagine how it would feel like to step into an office every single day, facing pages and pages of documents, the only comfort being the pantry with its endless supply of Milo. I am scared.

I am scared that my job will define me. For me it has defined so many others. When I see a doctor I find it hard to comprehend that he once acted in a musical, played rugby, travelled the world. I find it hard to reconcile my secondary school teachers with their private lives, their children, the fact that they do so much more. That they are normal people with likes and dislikes, and hobbies, with bouts of happiness and sadness, and days when they absolutely hate their job. Will it all be lost? When I finally become a lawyer, will everyone else forget that I love to write, to travel, and dream with my head in the air? That I have emotional responses to movies, that my feelings oscillate when I listen to music? I am scared. I am scared that all they will see is a young girl in corporate attire who doesn’t know what to do. I am scared that when I am 35, all they will see are mergers and acquisitions, securities regulations documents. We are so many things. How can one job define us all? Yet it can. The stereotypes are plentiful and exist, surely, for a reason: every year more and more people join the ranks of the soulless, all those who hibernate in tall buildings and wake up only when the bright lights go out. We know this is not true; that we have minds, and loves, and are prone to extreme emotions, we dream as any other. But every year the uninitiated continue to dread the inevitable. This sense of doom is surely an illusion. Will we not keep ourselves intact? But we struggle continually between believing what our eyes and ears tell us, and believing in ourselves. Which one is true? Who knows?

The answer is simple, and perhaps almost too simple. Time will tell. Time, the answer to everything, especially when it comes to things happening. When will you be getting married? Time will tell. When will you be happy again? Time heals all wounds. What is going to happen next week? Just wait and when you will know. Such an obvious answer is also obviously the most useless. By the time time can tell, it is too late. Why would I want to live half my life not knowing where my soul has gone, only to find out that all the stereotypes were true? I am scared.

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.

386: to know it, and love it for what it is

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There was never a greater moment of happiness when I looked at my shadow on the wall while the piano was playing and I was singing at the top of my voice watching everything go by. There was never a bigger smile on my face, and I knew it for sure. The lights were changing and the stage was empty, and all around the voices churned. As somebody fiddled with the camera we leaped across the stage like children, scrawling words into the empty air. Sleepy faces were turned up towards the ceiling. I heard all this music flowing out, into the stage, into our heads and minds. Yet somehow at the other end of the stage hung a deep and pervasive sorrow. There is something tragic in silence, in juxtaposition, in contrast.

There will be no other time like this time. It is one of the greatest things in life, I think — to feel joy, and recognise it, at the very same time.

361: it’s just rough to stay tough

It’s funny how things never turn out the way you expect them to. And though I’ve said this many times over in the past few months, it probably never really hits you till it should. Where do you go when you’re lonely? Do you remember, that time when we were still in love, and as usual I was being cryptic because I’m retarded like that, and you said, no, I’m not here to gun down romance, but you did anyway, in the end, barely a week later (or two; who remembers?). Slowly the answers to every question matter less and less; there is no point asking why anymore. Why? has no answers, or at least none satisfactory. And finally, the answers die away, in a corner by themselves, like little birds in the winter. 

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356: 口上的棉花糖也溶化了

When the curtains closed last night I didn’t know what to think. I sat in my room looking out at the window, but all I saw was my own reflection because the outside was so dark. I think about the construction site and how my friend teased me about opening the curtains, and then I remember how it used not to be there at all, and it always amazes me how fast things change without you even noticing. Can you see the sunset, Sharmila used to ask me, when we were walking from our house to the supermarket, then wearing just slippers and a t-shirt and jeans. As the weather turned colder and our clothes got warmer the site grew and grew and the roof eventually appeared and blocked out the sunset altogether. It’s still not ready yet, and I wonder if it will be by the time I leave, but it’s not the same anymore. 

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354: what you are is beautiful

I said, maybe Sally can wait this time. Every time I turn on iTunes and listen to the old songs I’m reminded of why I love music. The other day I had a conversation with someone (who was it, now?) about whether we would still be listening to new music when we were old. Of course, he replied, why not? Our generation is different from our parents’. I thought about it but we’re not so different after all. It’d be weird to find out my parents were listening to MGMT or whatever the equivalent is, and though this generation appears a lot more exposed to music than the previous one, some things, I think, change slowly, if at all.

 

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350: all i have is your letter read

“But—but it seems so weak,” said Josephine, breaking down.

“But why not be weak for once, Jug?” argued Constantia, whispering quite fiercely. “If it is weak.” And her pale stare flew from the locked writing table — so safe — to the huge glittering wardrobe, and she began to breathe in a queer, panting way. “Why shouldn’t we be weak for once in our lives, Jug? It’s quite excusable. Let’s be weak — be weak, Jug. It’s much nicer to be weak than to be strong.”  

One of the things I will remember most about my school life is the short story. At certain points in my life random quotes from books will pop out at me at jarringly relevant intervals to remind me just how tellingly accurate literature sometimes is when it comes to observing real life. Sometimes I feel like I should stop living in quotes and books and lyrics of songs and using them to describe how I feel, but yet such words continually touch the human heart and spirit, and it is amazing how literature continues to influence my life.

I remember most all the quotes from that book. The only story I didn’t truly like was The Secret Sharer; every other short story has left an indelible impact on me. And then — that time when I filled in the worksheets, three blanks to fill in the correct words from a quote  — so primary school, but it worked — weak, weak, weak, strong, and it always, always springs to mind whenever I wonder if there is any point in borrowing strength from an invisible source.

But there is. There always is.