The Girl Who Roams the U-Town Green

It was about 4 am, when I noticed the couple on the U-Town green from the 24 hour Starbucks that overlooked it. I was churning out an assignment, getting really focused on Nietzsche’s arguments on slave morality. I had a Chamomile tea to my left, my pen and paper laid out expertly to my right, giving some space between mug and laptop. Life insurance doesn’t cover accidental water damage.

I saw the couple walking, hand in hand, strolling comfortably across the green. The grassy expanse was the central instalment of the university, perhaps for students to hold spontaneous picnics and lengthy discussions, plot out intricate ideas and delve into equations, to live, learn, discover. But it hardly played that function, standing largely deserted in the day as the hot sun rendered its supposed function obsolete while we went into cold dark spaces to languish instead.

The couple trailed across the green like two explorers cutting across snow. The girl was tall, I could see from afar. She had a lanky demeanour and as far as I could imagine, a chirpy voice as well. She was an antelope, but not the kind that got hunted down by the lions. She was the majestic kind, in an environment void of prey. That’s the way I saw her, strange as it sounds. The boy had a stocky build, was a few centimetres shorter than her. He probably had a voice that rumbled like thunder, his hair short, his glasses prominent, and his gaze dreamy. He was the hulk, but the good kind, the kind that was never angry. They existed, held hands, smiled, leaned close. But at such a time at 4 in the morning, they may as well have faded into the morning mist, a figment of my imagination. They sat at the edge of the green, him stroking her hair, her leaning on his shoulder. He whispered something into her ear. I’ll see you here tomorrow, I imagined. His words to her could have meant everything, yet nothing at the same time. It’s the sort of thing you tell yourself to turn the mundane complicated, the meaningless meaningful.

I found myself at the same spot the next morning, at the lonely hour before the sun decided to get out of bed. The sun baked the green then disappeared behind the horizon again, I emerged for classes and then receded into the dark, escaping from the presence of people. I was yet again at the same juncture of this self-sufficient cycle. 4 AM. The couple veered into vision, the stocky hulk and the graceful antelope. They were back. An unlikely pairing, I couldn’t help but think again, like red wine and seafood or checkered shirts and striped shorts. But it worked. They sat at the edge. Talked. She leaned into his shoulder. Nietzsche continued to elude me. My Chamomile tea cooled in the night. They were still. Then she stood up.

She slapped him.

He shot his hands out, tried to grab her, but he grabbed at thin air instead. I sipped my Chamomile. It was almost room temperature. She walked off, wild, prancing. Free, gliding along, gilded by the morning mist. He sat there motionless, counting footsteps, losing count. It was not long before he, too sauntered off.

The next morning the couple wasn’t there. It was only the hulk. He was sitting a few tables from me, head buried in his hands. Incidentally, he was wearing checkered shorts and a striped shirt. Close enough. I put my mug down.

“You ok?” I ventured.

He looked up. “Me?”

“Yes, you.”

“I’m not ok.”

“Is it because of her?”

“Who else?”

“I saw what happened yesterday.”

“Must have been entertaining.”

“Sure was”

He scratched his head. He hadn’t shaved in days. His voice was nothing like the hulk. It was shrill. I wondered if her voice was deep.

“We only meet here. When we’re done with the day. Just me. And her. Here. Every night. On the green.”

“Only on the green?”

“Only on the green.”

“Why?”

“No reason. It’s just how it goes with us. Most couples meet everywhere. We keep it to the green.”

I looked at the grassy expanse. The darkness challenged me.

“But she isn’t here tonight.”

“I’m glad you noticed.”

“Text her?”

He shook his head. I had a feeling they didn’t text, either. Not your conventional couple.

“We’re not the conventional couple,” he confirmed.

I shrugged my shoulders. Conventionality was not for me to judge.

“I knew it had to end someday. But thanks for looking out for me.” He looked at me in earnest.

“Why did she slap you?” I decided to ask.

“I told my friends about it. About, you know, us.”

“Was there an agreement that you couldn’t?”

“Not that I remembered.”

“Strange.” I murmured.

“Strange.” He repeated.

 

The sun rose and baked the green, then set, and like clockwork I was at the same spot. I sat typing furiously as Thursday night blended into Friday morning, a day where our hopes and dreams for the weekend flourish at the peripheries, an egg yolk about to burst. It was 4 am when I finally finished with Nietzsche. I stared into space. I hated his guts, I silently decided. The computer screen looked fuzzy right before I slammed it shut. The U-Town green emerged from behind. It was being its dark, usual self but there was no couple tonight. No couple at all. The boy’s gone.

Somebody tapped me from behind. I glanced back.

Antelope girl. She stood in the light, wearing a pink dress. It hugged her body with urgency. She smiled weakly, an attractive smile. “Excuse me, but … is he here?”

“Him? The guy you were with two nights ago?”

She nodded.

“Not tonight,” I replied.

She sat down opposite me. I downed my entire mug of Chamomile to ease the tension. It was cold. There was a faint breeze that drafted in from the green. She crossed her arms.

“What’s wrong with me?” She asked.

I looked at her, but didn’t answer.

“Like, I thought he would be different you know?”

“He’s as different as they come.”

“They’re all the same!” She rebuked. She grabbed a napkin from my table and wiped her eyes.

“Come here every night, I’m sure he’ll be back.”

“No. He’ll never return.”

“But you don’t know that.”

She looked at me. I avoided her gaze, looking at my laptop case, zipping and unzipping it. “Do you want to walk with me?” She offered.

“Walk?”

She motioned towards the green. The green stared back; the darkness seemed the stuff on fantasies. Cold and dense, it drew me in, offered the possibilities only opacity could, and transparency denied. It was firm and it mattered.

But I was exhausted. I had four straight mornings of intense Nietzsche. I was deprived of sleep but then deprived of company all at once. I weighed the prospects. What would I gain from walking with her, and what would I gain from falling asleep to videos of cute puppies and the last few pages of Mrs. Dalloway?

“I’m tired.” I finally said.

As if understanding my meaning, she looked at me, smiled, stood up. Walked off.

Disappeared into the night.

Journey to the East and the Thought that Struck Me

Tonight is one of those nights where I flitted between two phases of my life, going back to my camp for a short while to check out the passing out parade of a junior batch. I followed a friend along on his journey to the east, down smooth train lines and colourful conversations.

The parade was great, I guess. Whatever I expected to happen, happened. But it hardly stirred me, or made me feel anything for who I was, or for my former self standing proudly on that same parade square two years ago. I felt nothing whatsoever; my heart somewhere very different, no longer confined by the (newly reconstructed) gates of a place I tried so hard to call home not so very long ago (but alas, failed).

A very strange thought developed on the way back, and not in the way film develops in slow progression shrouded in darkness. This thought developed instantaneously, like an instant bullseye on virgin dartboard. BAM, and it was there.

The thought went about like this; that religion and love are very similar ideas. (This is the first time I’m writing about religion on this space and I still don’t think I possess the maturity to do so but here is a shot at a larger picture).

Ok, so lets get some background. When you fall in love, two things are at play; the practical and the emotional aspect of this relationship you will embark on. Practical matters being that of compatibility, interests, age gap, potential future income, parents, beliefs, etc. We think about these things now and then, subconsciously or not. Then there’s the emotional aspect, where raw feelings are unearthed, and this, in a nutshell, is rather difficult to explain. I like to use verbal imagery to summarise this, and so yes, a lot of eye contact, heart rates, shifty feet and lightheadedness, tingling of the extremities and so on and so forth. If you can’t describe the wind, describe the slanted tree that it blows. But since we all want a more mature depiction, I’ll give it to you. So here we have an instance when a deeper love is being cast into question. A lot of time and energy must have been poured into this one, the poor miners getting covered in thick soot digging so deep. What we unearth will be feelings of assuredness, comfort, familiarity and every strange (sometimes negative) feeling that encompasses what we know as love. These are not so easy to imagine on a verbal plane, and are feelings we feel over time, rather than observe immediately.

And so we have religion, and to me religion and love share some parallels in the sense that there is also this element of practicality versus emotion. But from how I see it, the word “emotion” would have to be replaced by “faith”, for the latter encapsulates an aspect of blind allegiance. We simply cannot know of the entirety of the renewed paradigm religion casts us into, and so have to accept a few things through acts of faith. So here we go again. We have practical issues of family agreement, dining habits, institutional commitments and moral standards, a lot of it revolving around the utility to our lives.

Faith, on the other hand, deals with instances where we feel more than we know, and believe more than the physical evidence provides. Again, this is debatable. In a lot of testimonies I’ve sat through, a lot of what holds faith together does manifest physically; sometimes the sudden healing of an illness, or a recovered relationship with a loved one, or just stabilised sleeping habits. The result of overwhelming faith can be observed in numbed extremities, warm tears, unshakeable assuredness, a sense of direction and for many, a reinforcement of communal ties. However, physical manifestation or not, faith seems to revolve around interpretation, and in that sense, a single situation can be perceived in many ways, depending on individual faith, and the direction and extent it directs one. We have our own unique relationship with what we believe in, like it or not. Institutions can influence our beliefs, but each relationship is unique, and constitutes a huge part of us. In other words, I don’t have to worship an IKEA Scissors to be unique, my own reading of the holy bible constitutes a unique relationship with the religion.

The next thought that came was this: in the same way I didn’t want to get romantically involved with anyone whilst serving the nation, I didn’t want to go about defining my religious beliefs when times got tough. Think about it, it makes sense, and the whole army analogy must have come from the parade I watched.

The same way an army camp reduces prospects with the opposite sex (or any long-term involvement, at least), the trials in your life takes away any semblance of comfort and familiarity, one that religion promises to endow (or at least, do a better job of than your problem-ridden life).

So in the same way you feel a heightened desire for the opposite sex whilst in an army camp, you will feel a heightened desire to seek solace in religion during hardship. This, I always felt, turned notions of emotion and faith into something wholly illegitimate under the cloak of neediness and heightened dependency. It’s not too hard to imagine, is it? Or am I oversimplifying the matter?

I feel perfectly burdened because these assumptions don’t necessarily hold true. A choice made in your time of need isn’t necessarily a bad choice. Going down that line, your preferences during times of plenty won’t always have good outcomes, or be any more legitimate. An army boy can find love the same way a girl who has lost something dear to her can seek legitimate solace in religion, and do a good job of it as well. This is not so hard to imagine, and is well within the spectrum of possibilities.

So on my journey to the west, I made the realisation that we shouldn’t be burdened by our preconceptions. Possibilities abound and life awaits. Just because I’m busy with work doesn’t mean I cannot start writing a novel. Just because life feels empty doesn’t mean I cannot seek solace in religion. Just because I was never a “science kid” doesn’t mean I cannot pursue an elective in quantum mechanics. We don’t need common sense to feel happy, because happiness, as we know, is a complicated matter that pays little regard to logic. Hell, this entire post has been a complicated matter.

Finally, I take the lift up and sit in my room. What happens next? is the question that lingers on the peripheries. Unsurprisingly, the room is silent, as if telling me only you can answer that, so let’s get your act together. 

I sincerely hope I can.

Are You What You Want To Be?

I’m actually writing this in the middle of an extensively exhausting yet endlessly entertaining (whadduup with the alliteration) orientation camp for uni. My thoughts are constantly on overdrive with all the interaction. So after so much running about and talking and shouting, I’ve found a small pocket of time to write this; so here are my thoughts so far.

During the course of my orientation week, I’ve managed to take in a lot of positive  responses for the last three posts I’ve posted, which (in case you don’t know) is a story about the life of my friend. It took a while to write and I spent the entire week before my orientation writing it at random Starbucks cafes, editing it at home and reading it again in bed. It was challenging to get it all down, but I’m glad it all gelled together so well at the end. I even had some great responses; hearts were touched, tears were shed, and most of all my friend’s story was finally put out there.

I was happy about that, and as orientation went on, the themes behind the entire story sort of followed me along. What do I mean by that? You may ask.

Firstly, it takes a lot of courage to do the right thing for yourself, especially when you don’t know if it’s right for you yet. Is what I’m saying making sense? As I wrote the story, I was following him along his life and I kept thinking to myself, how did he make that choice when there was no real logical reason to ever pursue it? For example at the start of the story one of his teachers presented him the challenges of going to Normal (Academic), but he merely retorts that he wanted to go to Express eventually.

It just blows my mind that so many leaps of faith were taken within those few years, with no concrete reason to.

All he had was heart.

(Here comes the link to my situation…)

And so I want to look at my situation now. It is a situation so completely opposite of the events in the story that I’m slightly embarrassed to even use it as a point of comparison. However, I still believe there are things we can learn here.

To be very honest, these few days have been tiring not just because of the interactions, but the mere observation of people as well. After all the shallow ice breaker questions are out of the way, you begin to discover just how complex, intelligent and ambitious each person really is.

I’ve met an American guy who speaks so fluently in rapid philosophical terms that you’re always staring at him in admiration.

I’ve met a guy who saves animals, a girl who had started a business enterprise in India, a Dutch who is insanely in love with European economics and talks about it all the time.

I mean, in my defense, I have this blog which I try very hard to keep thriving, but hearing how these people were talking,  they could have done much greater things in this world than a simple blog.

Simply put, nobody sits in a Starbucks, twirling their index finger on the rim of their coffee mug and suddenly thinks to themselves, I’m going to start a business in India, or I’m going to delve into the depths of Chinese philosophy Or just suddenly goes crazy and grabs every economics magazine published in Europe and gobbles it down (that was an awfully long sentence).

They had to have some sort of drive. They had drive, and they dared to go against the current to get themselves these ideas, these business opportunities and alas it culminates to form this beautiful network of conceptual knowledge, and a great shot at changing the world.

We have to struggle and go against something in order to be our best and have that lead us to what we love.

That is my biggest takeaway for the first few days here in orientation. Just like my friend who had to challenge every last idea about his place in this world, we have to ask ourselves, what is our place in this world? Is it to just sit back and let the days pass by, or are we going to do something amazing with this one life (or one of the lives, for some religions) we’ve got? Are we going to be brave with our choices or shy away from them like a nervous first date?

Ask yourself this if you’ve read thus far, and have faith that you have some sort of higher purpose. Understand that just because you dont know your happy ending, doesn’t mean you won’t have one. Meeting so many different people has given me that faith, and I will spend the rest of my life working towards the ending I want.

But first, I’ll have to go to sleep. A new day awaits 🙂

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What About Sports Camp?

Sports camp was in full swing and a lot of things were happening in a very packed course of time. There were basically 14 hours of activity in a day, tightly scheduled, back to back with very little rest time.

The people you meet in such camps can come in all sorts because every faculty, every type of university student seemed to feature. It isn’t like science camp or Christian camp where a certain type of personality may be observed. I guess that was interesting, and what was more interesting to note was that the girls were all 2 years younger. Though people always say that “you can’t sense the age difference,” I’ll have to disagree on that. I just found the age disparity glaringly obvious from the start in the way I see my JC friends now as compared to the girls in my OG. I’m glad I can see such differences because it just shows I may have matured (albeit only slightly) while in national service.

Another thing I realised was that there was no way army was going to leave our system anytime soon. It’s the tragedy of shared experiences, that guys would invariably start talking about their army stories to ice break among themselves. It was a pity because it only did half the job of bonding everyone since the girls are always left out and generally nonplussed over such rhetoric.

To gel it all together, what made me think a little was a question I was asked by someone whilst we were night cycling. We were riding beside each other when he asked me whether I “had my eye on anyone”, and whether I had a “game plan”. It wasnt an entirely unexpected question but I had to think a while about it. I think this sort of theme is always at the back of everyone’s mind coming into the camps, and for all we know people actually head into these camps with the plan to find someone out there. But I guess I’m not that sort of person, and I’m confident enough to say that most people share my mindset. We come to these gatherings to merely make friends and have fun, to tire ourselves out and test our limits. The notion that camp is one giant matchmaking session has to be disassembled. You don’t need a matchmaking session for the best things in life. If it’s right then it’s right. I feel that things should happen naturally, and I’m old fashioned that way.

So how was camp for me in the end? It was great. I guess I was really quiet and pensive at times but that’s just me, taking my time to warm up to people and being way more talkative on alternative platforms like this one. I wouldn’t blame myself for anything, it’s just a preference. The times that I did get talking I realised that the people that I was about to share my Uni life with are just genuinely nice and ineffable people, both in talk and in action. They’d ask if I was thirsty, offer me help in many aspects and weren’t shy to speak up or stand up for each other.

The group leaders (our seniors) were a really charismatic and humorous bunch that did a good job in holding everything together. We established our identity in being the most lepak OG and just lazed through everything without protest from anyone. It was all cool and thats what I had to admire about the whole process.

So there we have it, my first experience of uni; fun, tiring but more fun than tiring. If this is the foreshadowing of my uni life for the next four years, then I’m more than happy to accept it.

Thank you, OG Rampage, for an insane 5 days and may we all keep in touch!

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Feels Like a Coming of Age

University is about to start, and I am about to embark on my first university camp. Feels unreal? Yes, it sure does. After being away from the reality of studies and civilisation for two years, it sure doesn’t feel like this is actually happening.

A good portion of the last two years have been spent listening and carefully analysing the stories and advice I’ve heard pertaining to this strange place called uni, one that I was semi-glad I had no part to play in. I guess every negative story I heard I just conveniently amplified so that I’d feel less sorry for myself whilst in the army.

But now it’s time to get a move on. Time for me to cling on to a different set of life values and work ethic, make new friends and have a new set of life challenges slapped upon myself. It’s time to grow up and do what I want. Hopefully this will ring true in the course that I’m going to. Even if it doesn’t, I hope I have my own way of adapting. I hope army has left me with at least that one attribute, the power to adapt.

The empty feeling of anticipation is strong yet based on very little, for I have no experiences to speak of yet. I start on a clean slate and am eager to remove any preconceived notions and burdens. I think of myself four years ago, walking with my secondary school friends at the CBD area the day before JC orientation. The water of the Singapore River was calm and we gazed into it, letting it wash away the burdens of yesterday, wash away any doubts we had about ourselves as we welcomed this new phase in our life. We did this while standing beside the friends we knew would remain with us nevertheless, and it felt so right.

I’d like to think back at that moment as I stand on the edge this transition. Think back at how we cannot stand still in life. That like water, what seems to be staying still is actually in constant, subtle motion. Phases will pass and people move on, but alas, I hope that the people who have journeyed with me will keep me constantly reminded of the things we did, and that I can look forward with confidence to the things I’m about to do.

With that, here’s to an (hopefully) amazing time in university 🙂