Think of the Love that was Found

Think of the love that was found, and how many people wander about their entire lives, never quite finding such love, never fully delving in such throes of passion. Think about how the entire year had gone by and this love only grew. Think about that for a while.

Be happy for this, not scared. You’re about to embark on deeper commitments that of which will test your discipline and daily mettle. How much do you really want this? Ask yourself this question everyday; when classes end, before you sleep, before you embark on yet another chapter. Keep asking yourself: what is it you’re writing for, and maybe the answer will creep up on you when you least expect it.

Think about love that was lost, love put on hold, passions that had no follow up. Think about how action need not equate to intention, that acts of love need not equate to love itself, that love may just be much more than what you do, but sometimes manifests in the things you don’t. Don’t think of failure as the affirmation that love is beyond you. Think of failure as love that overflowed and underwhelmed all at once, that gave evidence of feelings, albeit stuck in the wrong places, like fine wine downed by an alcoholic or fluffy tiramisu put into jars (I hate cakes in general).

Think about those who want to love but are unable to. You know how that feels, so feel that again, and in feeling the emptiness, learn to appreciate all that is whole in your life. You know you haven’t been doing that lately so learn to. Maybe just this once, before you forget.

Think again of the love that was found. From the quiet nights after 2 am to the surge of passion on the bus ride from Toa Payoh to Clementi. Know that this desire will follow you. It will leave its scent on the nape of your collar, the stench of its intimate parts deep within the roots of your hair. You will get lost in a metaphor and play with the similes. You will find out new things everyday, search deeper, feel more and explore what it is that makes you love. This is the closest you’ll come to being yourself, and the funny thing is you don’t even believe this as you type.

But one day you will believe. I believe that one day you will believe. It’s a convoluted faith, but since when was anything convoluted necessarily something to abhor? You love the convolutions, the pain, the dilemmas and the misery. You want nothing but to dive headlong into trouble. But when you come up for air, I want you to remember that you are a lucky man, lucky to have found what you love. A lucky man indeed, even though that doesn’t sound convincing to you just yet.

Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year

I set out to write a “seasons greetings” post but halfway through it got way way too dark for the world to see the entirety of it. I initially just wanted to say “you are never alone” but I got carried away and what could be said in four words became 6 paragraphs. Anyway here’s one of the less intense paragraphs.

“It is in this darkness and fear that we fail to notice that what makes life worth it isn’t necessarily the most obvious things. It’s less than that. The good mornings you get from the bus uncle, the ‘whats up?’ an old friend sends you upon joining Telegram, the 2 am chats you have with the friends who stood by you since before dating was an option. We fail to notice that all we need is someone to listen to us when we are sad, to make light of the dark with or without knowing it. We don’t need conscious efforts from a significant other but we go to such lengths to feel like we do. While we are nursing our wounds the people around form an effervescent belt of concern that reaches far deeper than tomorrow ever could. That is what we need and that, in essence, was what the elderly in the article had always wanted, but a part of them slowly died as they realized they could no longer have it. They left their slippers on the highest floor of their HDB block as they plummeted to the earth.”

With that, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

I Wrote a Post About NS, and This is What Happened

One year ago today, the most peculiar thing happened.

I was on the brink of leaving my service in the army, when I published this post on the 5 things I’ve learnt from my national service.

It garnered some attention, and I have to say that it was a positive post on the most part. Hell, it was fun to write, and I felt that whilst writing it that perhaps not all was lost during those two years. I may have learnt a thing or two (5 was just an arbitrary number).

That was when things started to go wrong. I had a Whatsapp message from my superior, telling me that the post was getting unwanted attention and that I had to take it down. His line of argument was that some sensitive information about the training procedures and that some of the behaviour the men displayed in my post could not be revealed. All this happened within a day of the post being cast on the web, and the entire process was quick. I was ushered back to camp with frightening haste and I remembered feeling like it was all a mistake. What could my post do to the strong fabric of the armed forces, and what could this all mean to the future of this little space that I had carved out for myself?

On the way back to camp, I knew of two things. First was that my intention was never to reveal any secrets or to tarnish the name of the army. Remember that this was a positive post about what I’d learnt and it was a more or less enriching, coming-of-age sort of outline I wanted to carve. And I felt like I did it pretty succinctly too, one lesson leading up to the next, where a flow was well thought out from start to finish. Of course, that kind of subtlety fell short of any actual appreciation by this higher authority. Secondly, I found myself feeling unhappy that I had to remove the post. It was a post that was truthful. It held the actual contents of what we did, the things we went through and the pain that ensued. It was this pain, in its most raw form, that ultimately helped us grow stronger, closer and more cognisant of who we were as individuals and within a group. It was an accurate portrayal of what had happened, yet I started to realise that just because something was true doesn’t mean the world had to know about it. Or should I correct myself; it doesn’t mean the world should know about it. There’s a difference between the two, and the latter certainly implies more serious consequences.

I suddenly had a list of people to talk to. The entire power structure of the camp, from my batch mates to the camp commander, seemed to know of my post. One of my superiors showed me his Whatsapp chat with screenshots of my post passed around on the regulars group chat. If I hadn’t appreciated the power of words before that, I certainly appreciated it there and then. Words were powerful, and when used wrongly or concisely (and in this case, both) can make men with lofty ranks and well-ironed uniforms shudder. Words have the ability to disassemble, reassemble and make what was once known feel inconsequential or thrust them under different filters of light. It reveals and conceals, fights and defends. Such is the power of words.

I’m not saying all this out of thin air, though it may seem that way. From what the superiors told me about that post, I was convinced time and again on two conflicting trains of thought. First was that my post was pretty awesome for having caused all this mayhem within a well organised system, and second that my post was the silliest thing I could have published due to the unnecessary chaos that ensued. Here’s what I mean.

From a very practical perspective, I should never have posted that post. I should never even have made any changes. I should have taken that post down. It was silly. I was silly. My post did nothing to change the system. It was but water under the bridge once I had it removed, with many levels of the age old hierarchy breathing a mighty sigh of relief. They told me of the logic simply. There were state secrets in the posts, descriptions of army trainings, overseas training locations and silly one liners about how the way of life was within the unit. Secondly they took issue with a particular incident of troop misbehaviour that I described at length. I felt that this particular incident was important, but they maintained that it would erode the unit’s reputation. The thing is, everyone within every unit knows that every unit probably has its own form of misdemeanour and sloppiness observed amongst the troops. I mean, come on. When you enlist 25,000 young men a year against their will, you can bet that a good portion of them will break some of the rules. Everyone knows these things, but for the life of them this had to be an unspoken truth. No one was actually going to write a well-organised, sufficiently thought out post that people would take seriously. Until I tried to, and found out why these things are only mentioned in passing on anonymous NS confessions pages.

Which is precisely why I felt that I should have posted that post. I regret taking that post down for those few days, but it’s easy to say such things when you look back. I had to talk to so many superiors that day and one thing was clear: the position they held over what should have been done was still in contention. One of them asked if I had taken the post down and when I told him “Yes sir, I have.” he looked at me incredulously and said “Boy, you shouldn’t have. I see nothing wrong with your post.” On the other hand, the camp commander spoke firmly to me, telling me things involving state security and reputation. I nodded along. He spoke in very fluent English with a deep voice, and I respected his authority. My point here is that there must have been some sort of active discourse amongst the guys up there over this. There must have been those that felt that there was nothing wrong with it, but ultimately someone in the force had to put their foot down and say “no, remove that” and it just so happens that the guy with the higher rank gets the most say. I intended for none of this, but all the better that it happened.

But other than some in-camp discussions and frantic attempts to snuff out my post, I felt that the main thing that was compromised that day was the truth. My point of contention was whether the facade the formation tried to keep up was more important than the truth. The answer still lies in a grey area for me. It really led me to question whether certain things could ever be known to the world, and whether what we saw on the media was only there after layer upon layer of heavy filtering and proofreading. I’m not saying that these practices are bad, I’m just wondering whether there’s ever a way to distinguish between gross misrepresentation and a “constructed truth”. I should have been more rigorous that day. I should have edited the post and saw it for the sensitivities it neglected and the inconvenient truths it espoused. In many ways I regret not doing so. But when I wrote the post that day I did not aim to have any filters. Whatever came out was the truth. I set out not to cause a uproar amongst the superiors, not to garner popularity, not to manoeuvre my way around what could or couldn’t be written. I set out to write a good post. That was all I wanted and I felt that telling the story as it was, to tell the truth, was the best way to achieve that. Too bad it doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to.

Nevertheless, what happened that day didn’t discourage me from writing. In fact, I wrote a lot more after that, thinking my way around each post and finding new life from the words that sprung from the keyboard. One of my superiors encouraged me to revisit the post, edit it and put it up again. And that was just what I did. Having so many mixed reviews and conflicting pieces of advice was what made me feel like the entire post was worth it. From people telling me to take it down immediately to those who told me they saw nothing wrong with the post, I felt like my writing achieved a plurality of ambiguous sentiments, from the outright slammers to those that encouraged. It provoked discussion. It made people scratch their heads. Most importantly, it gave people a faint notion of the inconveniences, the triumphs and the pain that came with serving the nation.

It attacked, defended, and united. That’s what every good piece of writing should aim to achieve.

 

Kaohsiung: Picking Up Where We Left Off

Today was long awaited, for I had never actually travelled overseas with this bunch before. I had my experiences with my secondary school friends in separate trips, and most of them turned out to be really memorable. There were mountains climbed, motorbike rides at 4 am, and some crazy stories and inside jokes that went well beyond their call of duty and infiltrated beyond every imaginable facet back in our mundane lives.

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So when we planned this trip back in October I was already excited for it. It took about sixty days to get to where we are now — on the plush beds in our AirBnb in Kaohsiung. There wasn’t much planning in between our busy lives so once all the assignments were submitted the entire process has been and will continue to feel freshly spontaneous.

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We planned this trip from south to north of the island, starting from Kaohsiung and ending at Taipei via Taichung.

Kaohsiung has been your typical Taiwan city. There is nothing lacking here; from the cabs that flash past in abundance to the night markets lining every street and blocking out every blotch of pavement. Kaohsiung has and Kaohsiung delivers. We walked a fair bit and tried out the public transport, which was effective in shuttling us from the inner to outer city areas.

We didn’t do a whole lot today. Given that Veggie was vegetarian, we tried out this super high-rated vegetarian restaurant called Han Lai Vegetarian Restaurant (漢來蔬食), located on the fifth floor of a huge department store called the Han Shin Arena.

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Forwarding the vegetarian agenda

The entire restaurant was posh, but the prices weren’t unreasonable. The service was really friendly and the food served was great. The vegetarian food back in Singapore had a certain taste that made you feel like it was undoubtedly vegetarian. The food here, however was vegetarian not because of its label, but simply because it didn’t have meat. This is a very fine difference. The food tasted like vegetables should, and didn’t mask its taste behind mock meat products but took to the challenge of shaping the tastes and combination of the greens. There were a lot of mushrooms, for example. They used these to enrich everything both in texture and taste (unfortunate that Veggie wasn’t a big fan of mushrooms!). They also combined certain products like You Tiao and Chee Cheong Fan to get a delectable dish both diverse in taste and texture (taste and texure seems to be all I can describe food by) whilst there were dumplings and noodles with a hearty infusion of mushrooms (again) and greens. My favourite by far was this dish where they had an assortment of mushrooms, corn, greenbeans, soy and yam and taukwa in a claypot rice mix. The rice stuck to the sides with a flirtatiously burnt taste and the vegetables neutralised the saltiness of the dark sauce. It was as good as you could hope for a vegetarian dish to be, and it had us scraping the sides of the pot for more.

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This claypot dish is phenomenal.

In the night we scoured the streets, the four of us, hungry and desperate for some food and finding it in the form of Liouhe night market (六合夜市). I had visited this place back in March 2014, back when I was here on an army trip. It was exactly like how I had left it; crowded but not stifling, the cool air settling nicely over the wide streets streaming with tourists. The shops were an assortment of temptations with voluptuous clams and creamy potatoes poking their heads out, almost whistling at us, inviting us over for the purchase. Nothing presents one with the prospect of excess as well as a night market.

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Liouhe night market with the customary grilled squid below!

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The walk down Liouhe was nice, but predictable. We avoided what we didn’t find alluring enough and ate what we wanted. We then took a cab down to Rei Feng night market (瑞丰夜市), where a surprise awaited. On the maps this night market didn’t take up a lot of space, and so we left it as a second choice. In fact, unlike Liouhe, it only occupied a small section of road so we were fooled into thinking that it was definitely much smaller. When we arrived we were duly impressed by the complex network of shops that stretched deep within a complex unbounded by any roads or alleyways but existed on its own. There was no linear concept behind this, and the people walked about instinctively, recognising undiscovered lanes and bashing through the hoards of locals. Granted that we didn’t scour the entire complex, the shops at Rei Feng did seem to sell its products at slightly cheaper prices than Liouhe, perhaps due to its popularity among the locals and with the tourists flocking to the latter.

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Crazy, unwinnable games

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Clams!!

It seems like the last few times I’ve visited Taiwan hasn’t exactly left me yet. We’ll be going to Taichung tomorrow, and then Taipei after that, most of the things we’ll be doing will mirror what we did the last taiwan trip. I think Kaohsiung has been the last part of the puzzle that Taiwan has to offer, after venturing to the central and northern parts of Taiwan this May. I’ve had a lot to see, and a lot to learn from this place that hasn’t ceased to impress. My next Taiwan post will probably come during subsequent trips.

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We still won a pikachu at the end of it haha

Until then, here’s to the rest of the trip!