What set in after the ‘it’s finally over’ relief wasn’t a bursting ecstasy, but a sort of numbness that stood its ground in me and refused to budge. I guess it wasn’t completely able to dispel the (mental) exhaustion even when I exited the exam hall with throngs of excited chatter, but I am truly glad that it’s temporarily over.
If there’s anything good that came out of this, it is that I will now appreciate the ‘normal’ days more. Days packed with lessons streaming to and fro classrooms and lecture halls- deemed tiring only two weeks ago, but now I know better and hopefully, I can treat the new term with a more positive attitude.
One thing I’ve also grown to appreciate is time. This might sound like a no-brainer but such things just escape you when you’re resentful of everything. It is easy to slip into believing that a life packed with friends and excitement and social activity is a fulfilling life, but what has become so lovely is the luxury of time itself; seconds and minutes ticking by in solitude, not doing anything but feeling at peace and more in touch with the world. Time itself is a blessing: I can go on long bus rides staring out at the streets, people all around me: the man in a striped shirt on the road flagging down a taxi, the old man crossing the road on some sort of powered scooter. I can stare at the clouds, drifting slowly as the world drifts by, merging together into larger masses as the noise fades away around me. Doing nothing makes me feel happy, at peace, instead of guilty for letting aimless minutes run by. For this much I am grateful.
Bouts of motivation and concentration, enclosed for hours on end in woody rooms, murmuring economics and geography fervently under my breath like casting spells. Trying to rush as many 70 pages sets of notes as possible in a day, meals less than an hour before I find myself back in the seat in the corner of the room, armed with a bottle of milk coffee that I quickly decide does not help. When you are studying the good days are the productive days, days spent bonding with books and graphs and reproducing sketches and diagrams. It becomes kind of the opposite; the truly good days spent with friends and family store themselves in your brain not as beautiful memories, but pangs of guilt that surface when you’re awake at night knowing you can’t finish everything. Fulfilment becomes the superficial text that clings loosely to your brain, content you won’t remember in two months.
Charging forth too quickly too late, energy burning out, becoming especially susceptible to distractions that are just forms of escapism. 10pm which most consider the night in infancy becomes bedtime because I can’t bear to look at more notes, but a head clouded with thoughts keeps me awake even an hour later. Looking forward to mealtimes excessively, the only breaks from monotony. Setting schedules but too tired to keep up the rigour, slipping up, convincing myself that it’s okay, i’ll never finish studying anyway. Feeling sick of everything, wanting it all to be over.
I am my mother’s daughter; I am my father’s child. It is the first thing I am, long before they gave me a name and gave the world something to recall me by; it is a part of my identity that will never change. I see their reflections in the mirror and their flaws in every glass pane: eyebrows, eyes, nose, ears and lips that are my doors to the world but were the doors to theirs before me. Narrow shoulders, legs inclined inwards below the knees, large long nails. The comments every chinese new year are almost invariably: ‘you look just like your mum; your sis looks like your dad.’
I see haphazard snippets of them in what I do: mum in the strange way I twist my noodles with chopsticks into neat bundles, dad in the cups of 3-in-1 white coffee that I predict will one day become part of my daily routine. I guess we grow up with their habits which mould us one day into people like who they are. If someone who knows my parents catches me eating one day, would he or she say: ‘your mum eats her noodles in exactly the same way’?
My second identity is the one the world impresses upon me, something as fluid as runny glue and rigid as it is when it fixes objects in place. It is part of me that is already formed yet still growing and ever-changing. I am the collection of how I sense the world: attraction to prints and tender melodies tripping over poetry-lyrics, warm breath of bakeries and the indescribable smell of old books, aversion to vegetables and vaguely familiar faces in crowds, the occasional adventurous streak in food choices, the desire to lose myself in something as small as beautifully-placed words and large as the majesty of nature. I am clay which everyone who has entered, left or stayed made their mark upon. Every compliment and insult and affectionate gesture, every conversation and experience and moment, every dream broken and given a chance, every shove towards a goal, for better or for worse, has formed me. And still, I am always in a chrysalis.
I guess the last part of my identity is something I don’t know. How do you differentiate between what you are and what you perceive yourself as? Maybe a different me lies underneath all the social concealments that I haven’t yet probed, deep feelings that haven’t yet arisen. Maybe the need has never surfaced for us to come to a conclusion about who we really are, because society accepts our identity as our friends, grades, wealth, health, mistakes, achievements. All these are ‘what’ we are, not ‘who’. I don’t understand myself fully either.
I don’t particularly love running, but it’s something that happens to me from time to time. And I find myself wondering that if everything in this world can be considered some form of art, then maybe running is a form of art as well.
The art of distraction:
catching glimpses of the sky from disappearing puddles, shoes scattering gauzy blue and white; focusing on the way shiny droplets cling onto deep purple grasses, gently hunched over from their height. People zoom past on bikes, children play with scooters, a woman walks a fox-like dog which is graying around the muzzle in the same way that humans do. I watch the way different people run: legs turned slightly outward resembling a happy skip, springs embedded in their calves in a liberating jog. I realise how some people have such a distinctive way of running. Quite a distance ahead of me my dad is running at a steady pace, greenery stretching out all around him. The day is darkened after the rain and from the onset of night, and everything inherits a soft, muted tone. The life of nature, the trees and grasses, the waters, almost look like a faraway painting.
The art of tolerance:
my heavy breaths fall into different rhythms between stretches; my ears try to attune themselves to the changing melodies. Sometimes when people run by me there is this brief and occasionally awkward period of panting in tandem, before one of us pulls ahead or falls behind. All of us in motion are somehow sharing the same moments, and even though our bursting hearts seem intolerable and demand us to stop we continue running all the same. My over-imaginative mind conjures up scenes of heart attacks and I create a communication device that would allow me to press a button and inform my dad that I was too tired to run or had fainted or something of the sort. My sweat-slicked earphones keep slipping and I forcefully shove them back into my ears. Everyone I see is moving and it has the effect of keeping me in a jog. Lying to myself works sometimes, in the attempt of extending the exercise just a little further. But when I finally stop my calves feel like bent plastic rulers, unable to stop springing forward from the momentum even though I just want to take it slow now.
what’s ours in this world? we lose people, we lose possessions, we lose emotions, and usually what’s lost can’t be found.
whatever we have is only transient, even our thoughts and ideas, our feelings, the core of what we believe forms our identity. ‘me’ is too invariable a term to encapsulate all the changes stirring inside, painting beautiful murals and wreaking irreversible havoc. the ‘me’ last year isn’t the ‘me’ now.
when even your identity is a variable, what’s yours in this world?
From my journal:
“One day I will look back upon these ‘dreadful’ memories and want to relive them more than anything.”
but secrets don’t make up a friendship
and maybe her trust was in that vulnerable moment,
leaving me wondering how much is survival and habit
how much is actually true
her voice was different now:
she knew well enough
of the age that had abraded the cheerful, gliding lilt
leaving a rough, weary vibration that glimmered
faintly in her heaving chest
the warning lights flashed:
bright red, or black and white?
already fading out of sight
when she spoke she sometimes
thought she had felt the same vibrations
rippling upon her lips
the questions that tumbled out of her fumbling brain
and distant at the same time
their brows furrowed in brutal ‘V’s, eyes narrowed
like bursting seams of tolerance
meaningful glances stabbed right through her
WARNING!!! WARNing! warning…
lights blinked like startled animal eyes
every time they said ‘Ma’ with
teeth clenched, offering monosyllabic utterances
the 3 seater sofa sank sadly to the right
where meaningless scenes of cantonese dramas
floated by in her isolation
staring at blank screen with open mouth
new domestic worker easing food into her system
soon the memory chip in her head malfunctioned
and there was nothing
they packed up her clothes
called her ‘Ma’ with tender voices and treacherous eyes
she didn’t remember from infancy
when they rested their hands on her shoulder
they glued the label on
the box slowly closed in around her,
cardboard flaps blocking out the light forever
the driver came to send the defected good
to the dumping ground