Spring Came and Went in a Week

Spring came and went in a week. In the middle of April the weather was still a chilly 5-10 degrees celsius but when it turned to May saw a shooting up to the twenties. I took my coat off, the trees wore their leaves and endowed themselves with flowers and the birds called out unafraid.

I believed that as long as winter stayed that I would as well, that I’d stay here in my room forever wrapped in woolly warmth and hearing the cold wind pound the side of the building. But spring came and went in a week and by the week after, I had already packed my bags and was gone.

It all feels very fast.

I thought that I’d always be suspended in this space that I had slowly started to call home. Not that it was spectacular, or much of a home. I didn’t make many friends, and many nights felt like they could have been potentially lonely. Not like I was savouring every moment and writing about my day to day like I wanted to at the start (didn’t really get to it in the end, did I?) At the start I would take pictures of dining halls and lecture theatres, frame a bare tree onto the backdrop of blue sky. I would step on snow and feel it crunch under my feet as if trying to warm it up. Everything was beautiful back then, but so so cold. So cold that water on the ground turned solid black. So cold I would look into cameras and force a smile. But that changed soon enough because the story was never so rosy.

Soon I fell into a routine. I felt like a body at the mercy of some tide that swept me along and I went with it. For the first time in a long time I had a chance to hit the refresh button and be in a place with people I didn’t know so well at first, in a place that was so far from home that soon any thought of it faded away, though slowly at first. I wasn’t fighting anything anymore. It is incredibly selfish to say this, but it was just me out here and I let myself be. I just let myself float. Where I was floating to or how long I could stay in this position didn’t quite cross my mind. I lost the sense that duty and accountability (remnants of back home in Singapore) and I felt the damning need to put myself first in a country where everyone seemed to be doing just that.

I quit Instagram, and didn’t really update this blog. I did this partially because I did not want to see the world through a screen, but now that I look back, it was really because all these platforms would invariably remind me of home. And home came with its burdens. Manifold burdens. It came with feeling too much and wanting to be somewhere else when you’re at home, and home when you’re somewhere else. I didn’t know a lot of things, but I knew that I didn’t want to be somewhere else, even if that somewhere else was home. I knew deep down that I was not made to always miss, or always chase, or always feel lacking. I wanted to just focus on things that were in front of me and feel that those were enough and in turn feel that I was enough.

The only way to feel that way was to be in those experiences the best way I knew how. Winter was so cold and dry that I forgot what the wet and humid Singapore eternity felt like. It probably feels like this: when walking two blocks resulted in a patch of sweat on your back, or when your hair would stick to your forehead (I know now since I’m editing this back home). The sticky sensation that often prompts a shower. I forgot about these minute sensations almost entirely. And if I could forget something as simple as that, what could be said about other memories of home? Sure enough, I could no longer imagine how food back home tasted like, or how exactly the streets smelled of damp soil after the rain. I forgot how my dog would curl up beside me when I was back home and lying in bed. I forgot about how it felt to run in the warmth. I let routine wash over me in the cold and the darkness. It chiselled me into something different.

They say that every single cell in your body is replaced such that your physical body seven years ago is entirely different from your current body. The replication is immaculate, with the old cells passing down their information to the new cells (this is definitely not how this works, but for the sake of allegory please grant me this) and one seems like the same person with the same features and much of the same memories. And with that, you appear like you are you. I wonder if the same can be said for a table or a chair. If you take one screw out of it today, an armrest the next day, and replace every part of the chair over a sustained period of time; would we still say that it’s the same chair? Does the chair retain its essence and remain as the chair at the start?

As I spent 4 months in Yale I ate the food from here, talked to the people here and ran down roads dry and cold. One thing that remains certain is that parts of me, like the chair, were constantly being replaced. My cells were dying and replacing themselves with the nutrients from food made far from Singapore, my brain cells encapsulating new memories made oceans away and my lungs taking in air that didn’t come with the weight of humidity and growing used to it in ways too subtle for me to understand.

And in that way I feel that the person I could confidently say I would always be in December is not the same person who writes this in May. In December I was wary, unable to think of any new experience as being intrinsically valuable, I was always finding a way that an experience could be better, more precious. I was trying to settle but could not. When I travelled I couldn’t sleep well. I was restless to no end. I was always conscious of how I wanted to protray my life. I didn’t know it then, but I wasn’t the person that I wanted to be at all. As the months went by, from January to April I learned to settle. The world turned on its axis as cells replaced themselves. Yale, as big as it was, was my teacher. Buildings that looked like heritage sites at first began to look less spectacular as time went by. What seemed extravagant began to take a practical foothold. The cold became less of a novelty and more of an accepted fact.

Maybe it’s good that things live and die, and that our bodies replace themselves every seven years. I let conversations flow and drinking sessions show me the way. I talked to many people and then just a few. I didn’t talk to myself but there were many hours in my room alone, so I might as well have. I travelled to a few places and loved every moment so much because I let myself just not care so much about the experience. I let it hit me but, but wasn’t bothered if it didn’t. Time gives us all the chance for growth and reevaluation and the fabled letting go. I found all that in the cold of winter, and realised that I had found it when Spring hit like a car against a concrete wall.

I didn’t find myself, that would be too cliché and frankly arrogant. And also a little millenial. But I’d like to think I made some progress. I wrote a few articles. Made a few good friends (never write anyone off because of what you think they’d be like, and always try to understand people with all your heart because everyone has a story to tell). I seriously felt like writing was not something that I was looking forward to as much as the days went by so I dug something out from the past, polished it and posted it online and its reception was encouraging (I believe that Singaporeans have a heart, and it is this heart I write for). I wrote a long manuscript that I am still embarrassed by but will whip up to perfection. But am glad I stuck to writing, even at the lowest points where I severly interrogated my passions. (I also ran a lot. It was cold and my ears almost fell off but I got used to it.)

The lesson from this time abroad if there ever was one? 6 months ago I almost didn’t apply for this. I was stuck in a metaphysical winter in my mind that just wouldn’t thaw, and wouldn’t budge and if not for Zhi Hao telling me to do it I might not have. Have I not done so I would have been in Singapore the entire semester and not have had this chance to know how much more I could have become in those months. Entering this country in the middle of one of its harshest winters felt like the blooming of another sort of spring. The lesson is perhaps, to slap that voice in your head now and then.

Winter lasted for 3 and a half months before spring came around in less than a week. Jackets came off, smiles returned to faces. By May it already felt like summer. In the heat that I dreamed of for months is where I find myself again but in between then and now a lot had changed.

The Silence Between

The silence between two people is a space that is immune, meaning, that nothing can quite break the silence except action, and since we presume silence then there is no action anyway. So silence, though fragile, is also somewhat indestructible by the very virtue of being itself. In silence what develops and what is lost is what ever there is inherent already whilst there was action and interaction. In silence only lies potential. Distance itself is a great carrier of silence, though not unique as a place where silence may reside. Instead, silence plays to its own tune, and challenges one to sustain it. Do you have faith? In faith there can be that silence, a blissful one. From the lack of faith, a tumultuous silence, one filled with fearful thoughts, thoughts of lack, thoughts of failure. Silence uncovers all these things.

I think what silence uncovers as well is our will to grow. Our will to take a step out of ourselves now and then to ask questions. We see a lot of what is real when given some distance, when given that silence. The silence between close friends comfortable, the silence with a distant acquaintance or relative at times unbearably awkward. Physically both are the same, but implications wise, never more different. We need to grow out of these moments, find a will to want something more out of ourselves. I think that in such moments we have to think of ourselves first, ask if we are comfortable with the way things are and whether this silence, in what ever form it comes in, will be what defines your relationship with the person or what destroys it. We have to ascertain early on whether there will ever be the potential for growth, and if there is that in our silent shells we decide that we want to fight or not. There’s no point anymore, if say, the silence is one that swallows you whole and makes your heart sink. Then you have to reconsider the silence, maybe take some action. Fight or flight.

But also, silence teaches us patience. Silence can be blissful, but also a time when thoughts wander and you struggle to fill them with anything else but what you really want to fill them with. But you cannot. Silence teaches us that waiting isn’t just about letting time pass. It is an act of self improvement. As I said before, physically it seems simple, but in every other aspect it is an act of supreme endurance, a conscious act of trying, pulling the brakes, letting feelings come and go unattended. It’s all ok, in the sense that, it’s ok that there is a struggle. It is only to be expected. That’s what the silence is for. To grow.

The silence between two people then, is a gamble. Because as invulnerable as silence is, it makes its participants ever more vulnerable, the most vulnerable they can be. Once there is action again we do not know how the other has changed, or even how the interaction will change. Do you believe that two people have a specific essence? I do. I think that any interaction is its own self-contained universe. In the silence that universe is allowed to morph, but morph separately, apart, disjointed. It tends towards growth, or towards death. Something is bound to change. Put them back together and you get an essence that wasn’t what it was, something different. Not necessarily better or worst, but different. Silence is the slow preparation of what there is to mix, of thoughts, emotions, identities flailing, changing, ripening, decomposing. Everything. Silence is invulnerable because you do not know what the other person might change into. It is the impenetrable wall that you either grow stronger for or falter.

Silence between two people exists. And that’s all there is in between is faith, all sorts of faith; the good, the bad, the ugly. We don’t always conquer the silence, but we always learn something about ourselves in the process. If we see it that way, then any silence gives us something valuable. A part of ourselves, perhaps, that we hadn’t previously known.

Being Busy is Ok if You’re Ok with Being Busy

I never thought I’d be one to say that I’ve been busy lately so haven’t been updating my site. But it has been as such. But no, I won’t say I’ve been busy but more like, I’ve had less energy. I’d attribute this loss of energy to the tremendous load of training I’ve been administered, but also from the energy that has been siphoned from me doing a myriad of meaningless things. Missing buses, running errands, scrolling from start to finish on my newsfeed. I’ve been preoccupying myself with the wrong things in all likeliness.

But if I have to be honest that this week has been the busiest of all. I’ve had to cover a lot of news in school, took over the chief role because the actual chief of newsletterland went overseas this week and passed most of the responsibilities to me. So it’s ironic that I’m writing this. I always write at the most inconvenient of times, like now when I’m supposed to plan out my 2500-word psychology essay.

Busy-ness isn’t just measured by work, but by the rate of change of effort from one week to the next. We can go for weeks at a time doing a fair amount of work and not feel busy, or exhaustingly so. But if you had an easy week before and suddenly had a fair amount of work slapped upon you then suddenly it feels tiring. That’s this week for me; things suddenly increased in intensity; two assignments chasing me and a presentation today that went horribly.

I’m the kind to set my own standards and chase them. No matter what the outcome, if I’m not satisfied then I’m not. Nothing can convince me of my worth but myself. And that’s the way it goes with most of the things I care about. I stumbled on the explanations, made a wrong interpretation of the experimental results and was rightfully corrected. It was to be a bad stain on the week, and no matter how small a stain it will still be called a stain. But what can I do but move on?

And move on I did, because following the blotched presentation there was some big news that hit my school. There was a change in leadership in the upper echelons, and my news organisation had to cover it and so I was newsletterland represent, and followed the media into a press conference area.

I clutched my laptop, got ushered into a room with my phone as a voice recorder and my heart fell in between my slippers when every reporter in the room was dressed in semi formal attire and I was dressed to greet Santa Claus in the middle of the night in my living room. And It wasn’t even christmas. And I found myself greeting the school’s Governing Board instead. Embarrassed but keeping up a strong front (power-play is all about confidence rather than actual ability, they say) I shook some hands, sat down, recorded the entire proceeding, took some notes, shook some hands again, and left. There were a bunch of straight up reporters in there, proper voice recorders that looked like Nokia phones, a pile of notes, serious voices asking a bunch of overlapping questions and frenzied scribbling. And there was me who was just impressed that I got a complimentary bottle of water for just being in the room. After I left, it was time to start on the article. I had a few hours and time was ticking.

I forgot to say that busy-ness isn’t just about doing more, but about learning more as well. If I gave you a bunch of things to do that you were already familiar with, you would be irritated but you wouldn’t be engaged. Which means to say, you’d do these things without thinking twice about them, a bit like what menial labour is all about. But give someone a list of unfamiliar tasks and a whole different realm of busy is unlocked. It’s not your compartmentalisable busyness where you can do one thing at a time because you know A should go before B and following that is C. This is a very frenzied, disorganised busyness, where the mind constantly works to make sense of the situation, of the different parts that go either here or there, the best way, the most efficient way, and most of all deal with the different combination of things that do and do not work and deal with it via trial and error and at the end of the day be ok with it. Many people do survive doing unfamiliar things, but whether they’re ok with is is a different story.

As the day draws to a close it feels very much like I’m ok with it. Sure, it was a hell of a day. I could have spent three hours on everything if I did everything to the best and most efficient of my abilities, but I spent 9 hours instead. But I’m okay with it. I’m ok with learning for now and letting new tasks dismantle my resolve and have me assemble myself again and again. I think that’s what choosing your struggles is about, to be unfamiliar with something but still say ok, I’ve got this.

Maybe I’m preparing myself for the future when I say such things. The way things usually play out, the chances of you winning every battle that comes your way is slim. You have to concede that you’re just not into some things in life. When I was 14 I went for flute lessons but I learned that I preferred running and so went with that. The busyness of flute-playing wasn’t one I could accept, the busyness of running in circles was and so I still continue to do the latter. Choice isn’t about the initial tick of the box but the hundreds and thousands of days that follow that you continue to tick that same box.

And this all follows nicely to the box that I ticked today after all the madness subsided. I declared my major today, and am strangely happy to say that I’ll be majoring in Arts and Humanities with the emphasis on creative writing. Maybe this was a box I already ticked back in army when I first wrote that short story. Maybe this was a box that I ticked again and again when I wrote article after article and updated this blog. But it feels real now, perhaps more real than ever, that this is a box that I will have to continue ticking, a busyness that I have to be ok with, over and over.

And so it is no wonder this choice didn’t feel like a groundbreaking one, not at all. This choice was already made, and in many ways I feel like I’m not in control here. As a friend said, it’s the inevitability of dreams. It’s just the way things will turn out, and the reason why I feel like there’s something to look forward to in the future. Busy it will be, but I’m ok with that.



Spotify ‘Your Top Songs 2016’ Playlist

If my life were a giant playlist I’d put on some earphones, have it on repeat and walk through some dark woods all day. I’d take deep breaths of clean, moist air and allow the music to dictate the pace of my steps, avoiding rotting logs and side-stepping large rocks that stick out of the damp soil.

But my life is hardly a playlist, though scrolling through Spotify today I noticed the closest thing to it: my top songs of 2016.

I clicked it absentmindedly, thinking that it would just be another one of those things you press on the Youtube sidebar and end up being thoroughly unimpressed by (most things on the internet are like that anyway) but it turned out to be very informative. 2016 seems to be compressed into a few thoughts by the end of December, but as the songs just kept coming, I realised just how much I had listened to over the year. Surely I couldn’t have had so much time. There were songs that I never knew I listened to so much, just the vague memory of it pings back like a distant light that you can barely make out. I sit there thinking about the year.

When we think back about time we look for firm anchors and incidences and then begin to explore how we felt about these events then, versus how we feel about them now. Listening to the playlist had an opposite effect, it brought back feelings, or the memory of feelings, from which I had to trace back to the events or the time period in which those feelings were attached to. The song doesn’t pause for you, but continues and gives you more clues. Suck it and See by the Arctic Monkeys played, and I thought about the times I would listen to AM on repeat as I studied, something I don’t quite do anymore. Then there was Petit Biscuit, which accompanied me through late nights, whether we were drinking or I was struggling to write something, anything. And so the playlist goes on. I don’t listen to those songs as much as I used to.

How nice would it be to live life like it were a playlist. Not just a static playlist, but one that keeps changing according to what you fancy, one that evolves constantly, kicking out the older songs and adding in new songs as you go. There’s no feeling like getting to know a song better. On the first listen you’re not so sure if you like it so much but as it goes along it gets better, you get more attuned to what it’s trying to say. And before long you get the song, and the song gets you. Even the self invented language of Sigur Ros has you closing your eyes and nodding along. And then it becomes a melody you hum in elevators or on the last kilometre of a run. It follows you. But then as soon as you begin to love the song something strange happens: the song starts to fade. That vehicle of emotion picks you up less and less, drops you off a few stops too early, sometimes a few stops too late. As time goes on the song ceases to be what it meant at the start. It loses its lustre, and even before you can begin to question why, you are transfixed on a different melody, one you’d swear to keep close to you. But the cycle, it repeats. You’ll lose your affinity with that song. And we’re okay with that.

We’re okay with that, which is the most remarkable thing. Songs come and go but do not break our heart. I wish we could be like this about the comings and goings in our lives as well.

But we can’t, which makes sense because songs are pure, but life experiences that they remind us of are not. Experiences taint if not anything, and as the playlist goes on, as you begin to link the songs to the emotions to the experience, you realise just how songs mean nothing if not for your experiences. Songs are like clothing, no? Synthetic and meaningless if not for the wearer under it. And they come and go like the seasons, just giving themselves the time to nestle on your chest and when it is their time to leave they leave, silently closing the door behind them.

Until the day you decide to put on some earphones and take a long walk through the woods. The sound of nature is cut out, only the sight of its shy demeanour exists alongside the sound of 2016, that cuts through the air like falling ice. And then you see him hiding behind a tree as you listen to his favourite song. And you suddenly wished he didn’t have to kill himself like that. And then as the song changes you see her sitting by the stream, and you regret not having talked to her about everything before it all went wrong. And at the end of the path you see him: yourself. He is looking up in the trees as if searching for a bird, with a little notebook in his hand. His posture is upright, full of hope. You walk up to him. You want to ask him just what it was that gave him so much to look forward to back then. That maybe, if I knew that one secret to my past happiness, that I could put my earphones away and step out of the woods.

But then the song switches, and when I look up again he is gone.






On the Morning of 27th October

Once I awoke I felt the cool air pool at my feet, as if dipping them in cold water. The end of the bed leads to an open window, outside the sounds of pitter-patter, the absolute grey of the sky beyond. It wasn’t your ferocious concrete grey, but the slight touch of impurity mixed into white. There was nothing beyond this tainted white, only an infinite expanse of uniform cloud, stretched over the sky like cling wrap over a Tupperware world.

I wriggle my toes, the edge of the blanket slips off the top of my knees. I turn over again before sitting up. The cool air wafts into the room when I open my room door, an intimate gushing in. I walk down the corridor and stand by the window at the end. The grey has seeped through into the suite, into the walls and onto me, washing me over with ash. I take a deep breath at the ledge, breathing in dampness. I hold on to the ledge, as leaves flutter in the distance, trees small when viewed from the ninth floor. The pulse of the rain quickens, a hushed conversation growing more intense as more secrets are exchanged. The dull sky speaks. The air channels in, cooling our endeavours once more. The buildings are less bright, less shiny, less perfect. In the distance things that were once clear and defined have been shrouded in mist and blurred. We, in turn, are made less perfect. Rain has a peculiar scent that is neither pronounced nor insignificant. She invigorates the land and as the land breaths we smell her breath. We are made to listen to her as she drowns out everything else. Walking to Foodclique, there was a devastating quiet that hung over U-Town. But then it wasn’t exactly quiet, not vacuous by any means, but the pounding of rain emanating background noise that cancelled everything else out, that made our voices rounded at the edges. She made our words and actions, already insignificant as they were, more so. Rain came in a relentless rhythm, which finally broke the surface in words that drowned out ours, like the loud relative during Chinese New Year, like the seminar asshole that just wouldn’t shut up. And yet, it marvelled me to no end, that no takeover should ever be complete as this, with the world ensconced in rhythmic fury and greyness seeping in like this was Pleasantville, that covered not only the world but also our minds, that made us feed off the lack of colour as if a drug. If dullness were a drug then what would this make us? Would it make us the addicts or the patients? The rain continues to speak, maybe she had the answers, but it wouldn’t matter either way. We couldn’t catch up to the pace of her murmurs.

Later I would take the lift up to the highest floor of my college. One thing led to another and I ended up standing at the ledge, arms on the railing. The land spread out below, lightly misted, like a last minute thank-you-note you decide to write before your time with someone is over. The mist accretes into the distance, the height plays tricks on how we see. I have run to that reservoir before. That is West Coast Park, where I had triumphed but then also failed. There were the roads that held me at 12 am as I stumbled back to college, drunk. I remember the footsteps we took out of those gates, onto that bus. It was a sunny morning but somehow the rain brings me back. These are the memories that are only conjured when a world is cloaked in grey, when background noise helps you focus and urges you to be calm, but at the same time screams at you to remember. And I remember. I try everyday to forget but the grey draws me in and I remember.

The Words We should have Said, the Things We should have Done


The last two weeks have been heavy. A community has been in grief. It was difficult to describe the tension in the few days after the incident, just people walking around, blank looks on their faces, people trying to look strong. I for one, was at a loss because for once in my life words failed me. I didn’t know how to describe how I felt.

I have written short stories about suicide and death, grief and loss. I do these things not as a means to get closer to these issues, but to distance myself from them. I know very well that what I write is fictional, that though the themes might have played out before in different combinations it certainly hasn’t played out in the way I imagined in my head. I console myself in that way. Sometimes the sadder the story, the more content I feel writing it. It’s a balance between living in a world I know is made up yet keeping one foot grounded in reality. Finally when the story comes to fruition my feelings go full circle and I am pushed back into this world, the door shuts on my imagination and I am back where you guys are. It’s a perverse sort of pleasure.

The incident has forced me to view things from the other direction. It forced all of us to behold the facts, before attempting to imagine what might have driven someone to do what they did that day. Rather than a world of possibilities opening up, it felt like a heavy door had been shut, followed by a vacuous slamming sound that signalled the absoluteness of the act. I struggled to come to terms with it. All my attempts at imagining how this happened failed, and I am sure this felt the same for most of those around me. I didn’t write about this precisely because what I felt wasn’t something I had ever written about before. I only knew of the limited range of emotions in my head that I put into stories. How inconsequential all those attempts at synthesising grief or sadness seemed now.

So instead we did something very different. The first instinct for many of us millennials is to hide behind a keyboard when things got tough, but this incident taught us to do anything but. Instead, we began to reach out. we began to take each other seriously in real life conversations. We began to ask the important questions such as “how are you” and “how has it been”. We sought help in each other rather than in ourselves. Because in times like these it becomes evident that no one can make it through life on their own.

Because we don’t know if people want to be alone or not, whether they chose to or whether they were driven there by circumstance. We cannot assume that loneliness is our end state. Because it really isn’t. Loneliness is a progression to greater things but never the greater thing itself. If I had any regrets, they would come later on when I thought back about my interactions with the person. It always went back to not treating people better when we had the chance, of the words we should have said and the things we should have done. This doesn’t just pertain to the person in question, but to all the other peripheral and main characters in your life that come and go and whom you always assume are okay. But it doesn’t take so much effort to put our phones away and ask them about their interests and passions, about their struggles and stories. We die a little every day when we disregard the narratives of others, and to act that way is as good as feeling that way, regardless of your intentions.

Treasuring your life and living it to the fullest is not a selfish act, because living life to the fullest includes taking care of those around you and being present to the best of your abilities. As my favourite author puts it:

“People die all the time. Life is a lot more fragile than we think. So you should treat others in a way that leaves no regrets. Fairly, and if possible, sincerely. It’s too easy not to make the effort, then weep and wring your hands after the person dies.”

In other words, we should reach out when we can, and learn to never leave things unsaid.


I hope you’ve found a better place to be, and may we all promise to live our lives to the fullest; if not for ourselves, then for the people around us.

Eat that Up, It’s Good for You 

When a Sigur Ros soundtrack is playing through my earpiece and I’m on a long bus ride home little seems to be wrong with life. The good in this semester has been rather slow in appearing for me, but I’ve been very thankful for them. I’ve worked hard and planned my time to the best of my abilities. Good time management isn’t just about getting that three hour study session in order but knowing when you should rest, when you should be with people. The latter has been lacking because some alone time was needed, quite badly, during certain junctures in the semester. But I survived, and I’m glad I did. 

This semester has been about facing up to all sorts of truths. The truth of university, the way it all hit us during our second year, so methodical, so unfeeling, so hyper-engorged with things to do. So tough, to sum it up. It hit us all off a fantastic summer and we didn’t even have the time or the people to complain to. We were left to either rot or flourish. Staying still was not an option. Work piled up and there was always something to do. We didn’t want to appear weak but in some way or another, we all were. At least I knew I was. There was also the truth of being in a leadership role of an organisation. How to know my shit when shit hit, how to get down to work when everyone was resting, how to deal with people at their best and their worst. How to deal with my own shortcomings, how to know things; just know things. Those were all challenges for me. I told myself time and again that this was exactly where I should be, and I’m going to stand by this endeavour until it bears fruit. 

Dealing with people hasn’t been easy either. It has occured to me that in the course of our lives we either say too much or say too little. I’m in the latter category, and for that, I have suffered greatly. I didn’t say enough to the people that mattered even though I really wanted to. And yet. It doesn’t matter in the end. Because if, say, you really cared for someone you would just say these things and not hide them. But of course I didn’t. I cared greatly but I hid everything. And so I might as well not have cared. And so from how I see matters now, things should have played out like they did, and they did. And all there’s left to do is to pick up the pieces and trudge on. 

On a lighter note, running has been a joy. I have been doing four runs a week for the entire semester thus far. I ran even when I was sick, ran when it was midnight through unlit paths. I waited for trainings as if they were the only things to look forward to. And sometimes I honestly believed they were. I don’t like excuses when it comes to the things I love; it’s either I go all out or don’t do anything at all. Of course, I chose the former for this case, and I’ve developed a laser focus. From devoting an independent laundry cycle for running clothes to just wearing my shoes and taking the lift down, I got the whole routine down to a science. Day in and day out, it’s apparent that if you love to do something you’ll make time for it. I just think of the entire year that I’d waited due to injury and would do anything to run again. And now I’m running again. What greater privilege is there? 

And so my semester looked like that. Missed opportunities but many gained as well. I’ve needed a lot of patience and discipline to see that. But it is early days as yet. A lot of strength is yet to be sought and gained. A lot remains to be learnt. I acknowledge that I don’t have the same energy as I did one year ago but with the loss in energy inevitably comes experience. I think a lot can still be said about going through these tough times but I will not indulge in that just yet. All I hope is that the year end post will find me in optimistic hands. 

What Happened on Saturday Morning 

The tiles have worms in them, a cavern of tunnels, little perforations for a network of bugs and critters to crawl through. That I was sure. I tumbled over old newspapers, rickety tables that weighed a hundred tonnes, said hi to the old uncle that lived in this one-room flat. A cockroach wriggled, desperate to catch one last breath. 

I step into a brightly lit house, faces greet me, ask me, just why was I so late. I sheepishly tell them I had come from somewhere, that I would explain later. I had to bathe first. It was already bad enough being late for a class reunion, let alone ask to shower. But that was just how it was. I flicked specks of paint off my forearm, scrubbed dirt from between my toes. Goat’s milk soap ran down my body. I felt clean for the first time in four hours.

There were bedbugs after all, in between the tiles, behind little pockets of uneven paint that decked the walls. There was a rusty bed frame that needed moving out. Then there was us, the four of us. Just standing there. 

Someone told me to try the Vietnamese spring rolls. That they were made specially for me. Someone told me to eat more chicken rice. The wine was waiting behind in the pantry. I was from this and that school doing this and that. That’s nice, nice to know you’re doing well. Why, thank you. I am quite happy where my life is headed. Life, ambitions, dreams. Silence. The sound of wine being poured. Cabernet Sauvignon. It has been four years.

Uncle has gone to McDonalds to sit so we don’t know what to throw away. We grabbed random items, pulled them aside, away from brown walls once white. A mahjong case thick with dust, a relic of money won and lost. Heaps of clothing unfolded. Tin cans amid leftover food. Cigarettes. More dead cockroaches. Small specks of black peppered walls and floor. Bedbug eggs? We didn’t want to know. We swept away the dust that crusted the spaces behind, the spaces no one was ever meant to see. Maybe that’s what history really means. 

Who wants more wine? And so more wine is passed around. The mood is convivial. Remember when we used to do this and that and that and this? The spring rolls were fantastic, vegetable fresh and prawn crunchy. We talk about stuffy classrooms and the stressful syllabus, about idiosyncrasies that didn’t seem to have changed. We talked about what used to be us, now in a distance but still looking bright. And we laughed even more. There were still paint flecks on my toenails.

We began by scrubbing the walls of their history of dirt, and painting them over with our own narratives. The paint gleamed white at first, but dulled to beige as it dried. I still wonder why. 

We go in a circle now asking each other what we’re doing. She’s about to work in public relations. He’s going to be a lawyer. I tell them I want to write a novel. It’s like an orientation activity but this was hardly orientation. This was in fact the exact opposite.

Before I knew it I had to leave. A class reunion, I told the other volunteers. Goodbye old house, goodbye the walls that we painted over. I didn’t get to say goodbye to the old uncle that left for Mcdonalds. I packed up to go. There was some sadness in the leaving. A self serving sadness that made me feel better; because what’s worst than leaving this place and feeling good? You had to feel bad for not helping more. Always. That’s what makes you a good person. No? 

We had our time back in the days and we laugh about them because nothing comforts people more than a shared history. Forget suffering, because suffering is okay if it’s shared. And in many ways it was shared between us, this group of people who were put together, by and large by random, and given these challenges. Fight for your academic future, they said. And so we did. We fought. And our laughter is the proof that we survived to tell the tale.

I walk down the side of the road. Construction on both sides, the sun is beaming down weakly through the haze. Cars pass by, none of them an available cab. Don’t complain, I tell myself. Your existence is the definition of privilege. You never had to fight it out. Being late for a class reunion would be the least of your worries. Having to bathe at your friends house is just the first luxury of a life inundated with them. You have nothing to complain about, this life is perfect as it is. 

I travel home with one of my former classmates. I tell her about what happened before I arrived. That volunteering was nice but it comes with its burdens. She told me some of her concerns. She told me about her grandparents who are hoarders. Who have a hard time letting go of things. And why was that so? We never truly try to understand before telling them to throw things away. I said that we should perhaps listen to their stories. But that’s just me and I’m all about stories and perhaps the world doesn’t work that way. The conversation veers to something else as the bus moves along.


You Don’t Just Tell Someone to Chill 

Coming off a fulfilling summer, I would say that life is looking up right now. Like most people, I am chill as they come when things go my way. A house over my head, friends that care, a school to attend. I count my blessings like a Shepard his sheep. I don’t sweat the small stuff when the horizon is flat. I live my life with optimism and I want the same for the people around me.

For many of us who live our lives like that it’s especially easy to want our friends to be happy. And when I mean happy, I mean always happy. We want for our friends to be well, and we equate wellness with happiness and will do anything to see them that way. Whenever our friends tell us about their problems we tell them to chill, saying this word with the finesse of a firefighter dousing flames.

And the logic seems to work out. Things happen in our lives, many of them bad. We try our best to change things but sometimes are not able to. And you know what they say; that the only thing you can control is your mind so if you tell your mind to chill then everything will be fine; you won’t be sad and when you’re not sad then you’re well.

I have come to the conclusion, however, that wanting your friends to be chill is selfish. Sure, being chill is nice and all. It is a state of being that we silently strive for in our everyday lives and go through extensive pains and spend exorbitant amounts of money to uphold. 

But very much like having supper or owning a hamster; there is a right time and place for chillness. Chillness is when you just finished two hours of research and are looking at traffic pass by above an overhead bridge on the way home. Chillness is listening to Bach alone when all your friends cannot get over One Direction. Chillness is for when you are ready for it, for when your mind needs to rest and the intensity of your soul needs to subside. 

Chillness is not about suddenly stemming the flow of tears just because your friend accuses you for having no chill. Chillness is not downing can after can of beer to get over that ex and laughing too hard with your friends, banging the table too loudly. Chillness is not about getting over something you are not yet ready to get over. Being chill is not the remedy for sadness. Going through sadness is. 

I often see sadness as a tunnel through a towering mountain. It offers a way across challenges, but a dark and lonely one as such. There is no chill in this tunnel. Often it is just you, alone, walking forward in the dark, desperately feeling for any semblance of yourself, any guidance that the jagged walls can bring. You really want to get out but alas sadness offers no shortcuts. The only way out of sadness is through it, where you will face yourself and make sense of how and why you feel this way. It is suffocating, terrible and some of us never quite make it out of that tunnel. Ultimately, it is a journey of constant self-acknowledgment. 

For anyone who is not in this tunnel of sadness with you, it is too easy to say “just chill, it’s going to be ok.” However, there is real danger in telling someone to chill. It makes them hyper-aware of their heightened emotional state, and worst of all, makes them feel other-ed because of it. They start thinking of why it is them that have been singled out to be the un-chill ones in a world that seems so abundantly chill.

We treat emotion like it is something that can be tempered with and controlled when that is hardly the case. It’s almost as absurd as telling a stab victim not to feel pain or a mourner not to cry at a funeral. Just because you can be chill, doesn’t mean that others should be chill or should even try to be. Chillness was never a given, but a privilege.

So next time you notice a friend trudging through their own tunnels of sadness I challenge you to gear up and go into that tunnel with them. Hold their hand, stay up with them till 3 am, bring them to a quiet spot where the lights are dim and the air is cool and listen to them, sit there quietly but always, always be there.

You don’t just tell someone to chill, but rather try to understand why they are not. Because chillness can only be experienced and not commanded. Because ultimately to listen carefully, not just with your ears but your presence is what it actually means to care.

Because that is what your friend really ever needed.


How Was Your Summer?

If I had the time the time to go around asking people what their summers were like I totally would have done that. But of course, I didn’t have the time, nor was I going to meet someone just to ask how their summer was. People have lives to live.

Instead I imagine alternative summers and make mental notes of them. And here they are. (One of them is actually me) 

“Summer was intense. It came and went pretty fast because I was always on the move, always doing something. It was somewhere in the middle of May when I was flown off on an internship in Mumbai, India. It had to do with telemarketing, and I thought I would be fine with it when I signed up. But that was back then, in my foolish past. I remember packing the night before and frantically texting my friends, practically panicking, worried that I wouldn’t be okay out there. There are a lot of bad things that could happen to one when they are overseas, and I didn’t want to be one of those foolish enough to try and get hurt. But of course, here I am now, safe and back home. None of what I imagined happened. I must admit, India was exactly how I thought it would be, except there was no Holi festival at that time (Laughs). But no, seriously, I went to work everyday feeling more and more confident, though I knew I had a lot to catch up on. The streets were dirty compared to back home, but everything functioned spectacularly. The locals are way more hardworking than I ever could be. Granted, they don’t have the same reliable resources that I did back home, but something about them spoke of limitless desire. I still can’t place it till today, and since I’m already back maybe I never will. Also, remember to eat only cooked food in India. Not that it’s spectacularly unhygienic, but it’s quite a leap for our immune systems to go about eating fresh vegetables there. I suffered the consequences, but I’m okay now.”


“There was a one month period during my summer that some may say was sort of wasted. I don’t know, it doesn’t look like I did much, but it felt like little steps towards growth for me. During the whole month I would wake up every day at about eight, cook breakfast for myself (usually scrambled eggs on toast with cherry tomatoes), then read a few chapters of a book in the mid morning. Then I would visit the local supermarket, buy some groceries, then cook pasta for lunch (always pasta, nothing else). Afternoon will see me either writing something personal, reading more, or going for a long run. What I’d do without those long runs. At night I may meet my friends who have gotten off work, or spend time with my family. It seems like a total waste of time but in those months I learnt something important; to give time to myself and slow down to an almost halt. I felt a lightness that I’d never known before, and it was great. Also, I mastered 6 different pasta recipes (Carbonara, Aglio Olio, Bolognaise, seafood Marinara, prawn basil cream and Vongole) and got myself back to consistently running again. There’s no other way I would have spent that portion of summer; cooking, reading, running.”


“Summer was terrible. I spent my three months in an internship that I didn’t like at all, with people I am certain I will never see again in my life. Worst of all, I mixed up the submissions and got allocated an internship in Woodlands when I lived in Bukit Timah. I wake up at seven every day just to get to work by eight thirty, squeezing onto that sardine can of a bus. I flounder about pretending to get myself a hot beverage at the pantry before work finally reaches me. It’s not that I’m paid a whole lot too, only about nine-hundred a month. My friends are earning much more, and tell me that this isn’t worth it. But exposure is important, everyone says. I mean, to be fair, I still don’t know what I really want, but I all I know is that this doesn’t feel like it. But yet I have to do it, because who knows? Maybe life is going to be like this for the next thirty years, just me cooped up in an office job that I don’t like, with a group of bitchy people that I can hardly talk to about anything other than the weather and traffic. It sucks, but this may very well be the rest of our lives. Passion can only bring you so far, and summer has shown me that.”


“I spent my summer largely travelling. I saved up quite a lot from a bunch of odd jobs I did over the semester and so I had some to spare. My parents even offered to sponsor some cash for the trips, but I politely declined. Anyhow, I travelled with a few friends at first, and then myself. We did a little round trip first around Europe, starting in Germany then hooking east to Austria, Czech republic, Hungary, Poland, France then London. Most memorable was the Auschwitz concentration camp memorial, where some of the most horrific events in human history occurred. In World War Two Jews were treated like cattle, herded efficiently into large gas chambers where they were tricked into thinking were large showers. The entire ground looked like an army camp, sanitised and inconspicuous. It showed me that evil can exist in any form, and called for tremendous reflection. I was humbled by how small I was in the grand scheme of things, just one life that was lucky enough to have an opportunity to thrive. We walked around for hours, none of us uttering a word to each other.

What’s good about travelling with friends is that you end up knowing almost everything about them, even things you haven’t before. I have known this bunch since secondary school but somehow one night we had a discussion and we talked about the things we wanted to achieve by thirty and most of the answers came as pretty unexpected. It makes me wonder if we know anything important about each other at all. Travelling (and maybe summer) grants us this opportunity for reunion with the people we choose to be around. The rug is swept from under our feet and only we remain, just people floating in some weird space.


Writing the above made me feel strangely self-centred, because like it or not, my attempts at fiction somehow or rather always revolve around me. It’s as if I can’t escape from my own humanness and truly step into someone else’s shoes. I wear my identity like a second skin. To be fair, a lot of us try. We say that we can imagine how it feels, or how someone feels but this couldn’t be further from the truth. We can only approach understanding, but never ever understand anything in its fullest. To fully understand is to attain perfection, and if this summer has taught me anything, it is that no one’s narrative is perfect. We just find our own peace with how we choose to manage our time and our relationships, and live it out. 

School starts in eight days, and the show must go on.