479: There is no guarantee of shore.

I turned 29.

These days life is different on the other side. The lights are still bright, and the air still yellow with smog. We are subject to the weather as we always are. But the buildings huddle against each other like old men, and through the windows the dreams of thousands leak, like sunlight through the fog. The taxis wind their complicated chains through the city, their meters jumping through each traffic light like hoops, while the roads behind us close up like zips. The clouds are heavy and come from far away. The rain always promises to come, so we put some strange irrational faith in the weather forecasts, counting the days, but all that floats by is dark shadows and the water never comes.

The city is an ocean. Everyone merely beats the waves, against work, against time, against distance, against love. The boats toss. Our hearts follow and rush up and down with the sea.

Once in a while your heart diminishes and returns to reason. The hard drumming dies down to a calm tattoo, the fog clears, and you feel like turning away for a moment or two. Maybe there are other boats, other rivers, other seas. Other lands. Other shores. Sometimes you feel as if you could and as if you couldn’t, and sometimes even turning away leaves us with few places to go. We must find a boat and sail in it. There is no guarantee of shore. The sea remains. Would we burrow inward, through the city and its endless skyscrapers? But the streets are like jail corridors and there are no pots of gold, only more buildings, more rooms, more problems, more rivers to cross, at the end of the rainbow. Should we get out of here, and out of this city? Where would we go? How would we get there? Who knows? Now it must begin, that slow process. The tap must shut itself off, or someone might drown. Meanwhile we wait for the rain to come again. But like everything out of reach, it only comes when it wants to, not just because your senseless heart calls out for it. But the heart wants only what the heart wants.

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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.

 

 

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.

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.

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.

448: battle ready

Every morning, I get up at 8am. This used to be unthinkable; lately people tell me it’s a luxury. I don’t have to brave the sun and rain in my heels to get to the trains; I am a spoilt child through and through, and my mother drives me there, for all of two minutes. Sometimes she feels charitable and I get driven all the way there. I am aware this is not normal. But nothing is normal lately.

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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.

390: 我们都别说谎

Here is the story of someone who loved not wisely, but too well. Here is the story of someone who remembers everything, from start to finish. Here is the story of someone who has been up, and down, gone the long way, only to find herself back at the beginning. People never really move from the same spot; they’re the same people they always were. Shallow, selfish, cold. Scared. Alone, lonely, awake in the middle of the night. When the same things run through your head, the same scenes, the same words, and your pillow is wet when your eyes open. Your hair curls in tangles, your fingers are clenched. You hold on to the same old dreams. But we’re running over the same old ground. What have we found? The same old fears.

385: 小さな世界

2046

There’s a weight spreading heavily across my chest. The last jump, the last shout. That night I was the happiest I was in a long time, but my emotions are all mixed up and I’ve spent the past week not knowing what to think or do.

Tell me this is normal. Why do I always go searching for doomed endings. Be still.

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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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.

343: i have fought the good fight

There are things I would like you to know, if only you have the time. After all that has been said and done, after all that has come and gone, what matters that is what is left is you and me. Maybe you and me, on two different ends of the earth, maybe you and I, who have been different from the beginning. We have travelled these roads, gone up and down these hills — as uninspiring as they might have been, our journeys are what we make of them. 

How do you feel as you travel through time and space towards a love you cannot save? The train rolls on, and the landscape never changes. Here the skies are dark and wintry, and one barely sees anything through the windows. One makes out the skeletons of trees and the falling snow, grey against the dark ground.

One may ask, 好好的一份爱,怎样会慢慢变坏, but the answer is simple. You remember the times when he said, there will be nothing left if only one side keeps paddling. One is tempted to continually attribute fault to one person, but the fact is that the oars on both sides must move in order to keep the boat moving; and then, more than anything, it must take two hands to clap.

The train is less silent than one expects. In France it was full of Japanese, polite to a fault and quiet as death, whispering around each other, afraid of stepping on someone else’s toes. Here there are murmurs of conversation, muffled laughter, and the sound of little children. Everywhere on trains people sleep and start up again, their heads nodding in time with the jerk of the trains along the rails. If I could, I would whisper my love to you across the tracks, and maybe you would wake up too.

And yet, even if everything is doomed, we take the same chances; and in a warped way, we follow the same paths. We try to not hurt other people as we strive not to hurt ourselves, rejoicing in our youth as we hurtle towards adulthood, drinking in the year as if we were starved of air. Like maniacs we shuttle from place to place, checking off boxes and ticking off sights as we go along, as if each place were so easily explainable, so easily seen. As travelers we brave only the surface of the iceberg, intrepid as we are, and yet what swarms beneath is what is important. What is essential, you remember, is invisible to the eye — it is only in your mind’s eye that you can see rightly.

And then, we paint our pictures in our memories. When we prefer not to take pictures, each detail of every city is absorbed, and we cannot get enough. We struggle to remember everything, as if each day were our last, and we could only breathe that air once. It could be that the people are unfriendly, too friendly, or unnecessarily friendly or unfriendly, but if one is objective one remembers that we do not know enough to judge. All we have are our impressions, and our thoughts, and these are all we have to go on. 

All was good and seemed normal as she walked towards the train that would bring her away, far away from these memories and the things that made her sad. For some it must have been a journey they have made before, towards a future they did not understand. She laughed and joked and smiled, just as she did all this time, brave and strong as she tried to be. As she stepped into the train she waved half-heartedly, as if she knew it might not be the last time that she saw him like this — and yet it was too late when she settled herself, and sat by the window. As she looked out she found no trace of him, and it might have been then she finally realised — neither too early nor too late, perhaps — that there might have been a time when he would wait until she left, but not anymore.

And then — across the rails. The train began to speed towards a new beginning in the middle of the night. Unclear and dark, perhaps, to a girl alone and scared as hell, but still surging forward, the only way she knew how.

 

房子建在海上,就注定一生漂泊. 但连浪子也不会吃回头草. 只要自己能抬得起头往前走,就是对的. 自己问心无愧,光明正大地活着,这才是坚强,这才是力量.

339: remember 2008

The year has been eventful, to say the least. I ushered in the new year at the beginning of the year (last year, now) in a variety of circumstances; every year with the Hwa Chong people, screaming “Happy New Year” at the top of our voices around the swimming pool, and then drinking Raffles beer at the front of Block B, our cars parked in a perfect straight line along the parallel parking lots. I was wearing a red dress, I remember, and the rest were happy and drunken.

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