Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Dead people, dying people.

I held my hand bag against my chest, kept my head down, and strode as fast I could through the dark and somber alley. Melancholy, despair and rage filled the air.

'Screw those filthy bastards!' a hoarse voice startled me. I kept my head down.

'Keep going. Just keep going,' I chanted to myself.

All of a sudden, an slender but firm arm reached out for my ankle, stopping me in my tracks. 'Look up! Look. At. Them,' a young woman with a glare that could slice through iron demanded.

I looked up and saw that we were not alone. We were sandwiched between two buildings of about three storeys high. In each building were pairs of elegantly dressed men and women, sipping away at their wine glasses and savouring their scrumptious dinners. With chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and candles resting on the tables, I reckoned that they were probably fine-dining.

Another hand grabbed my other ankle. And the next thing I knew, dozens of hands were wrapped around my legs. Dead people, dying people. With a unified pull, I was dragged through the earth, as I tumbled through a hole that was forming rapidly in the ground.

I woke up in a different land. I was surrounded by old people, young people. They wore the exact same thing - a grey robe that extended till the ankle. I was wearing it too. People were coughing, crying, sneezing, and vomiting. The man behind me bumped me forward. 'Move, young lady.' I realised I was in a queue.

'Wh...what are we queuing for?' I asked the man.

'The physician? Get out of the queue if you're not here to see her!' he replied

I walked around, clueless, in an attempt to make sense of what was going on. The people here seemed rather listless and sometimes angsty - although not quite as angry as the alley-people I had previously encountered. I found out a few things: one, these people were ill and waiting to see the physician. Two, there were no 'filthy bastards' here. Everyone wore the same thing, ate the same thing, and saw the same physician. Perhaps, that was why they were less resentful than the alley-people. And three... about half a mile away, I could see a pile of bodies reaching up to the sky. Dead people, dying people.

'Who are they?' I asked the child beside me.

'They are the ones who never got to see the physician... Who knows? I might be next,' replied the child, as he inched forward in the queue.

That was when the horrible stench gave me a sobering slap in the face. I opened my eyelids and found that I was back in my room. Praise the heavens, it was just a dream.

I crawled out of bed, turned on the radio and grabbed my toothbrush.

'The people have voted. All hail our great and wise leader. As promised in her campaign, all aliens will be executed if they do not leave this town by midnight.'

I scurried around the room, packing my luggage as fast as possible. I had an entire day to gather my fellow alien friends together and leave for another town. It would be fine.

I ran out of the house and headed towards the campus. It was too late. It was all too late. Dead people, dying people. The town people had already begun to cleanse their homes of aliens.

Capitalism, socialism. Democracy, autocracy.

Everywhere, people are dying. No matter what we do, people are always dying.

I felt a huge blow across the back of my head. I fell to my knees, and then to the ground, as my knees gave way. Blood trickled down my forehead, and I was gradually surrounded by a pool of my own and my fellow aliens' blood.

I hope that this time, I will wake up in a better place.

The end.

Friday, 30 March 2018

We are engaged!

As little children, we dreamt about the day when we would become that policeman, teacher or chef that we have always aspired to be. We played make believe with our childhood playmates, walking down that imaginary aisle in our 'wedding gowns and suits'. We put our soft toys to sleep, as though they were our precious little babies. We bubbled with excitement at the thought of, one day, becoming an adult, and being able to finally pursue all the things that we have always dreamt of.

But as the years go by, as we begin to have a glimpse of how mundane, tiring, frustrating, and sometimes nerve-wrecking, adulthood can be, we start to lose our wonder. Perhaps, that dream job is not as exciting as it seemed. Perhaps, weddings are more of a diplomatic event than a genuine celebration of the union of a couple. Perhaps, marriage is a constant tug of war between a husband and wife, rather than the epitome of an unbreakable bond. Perhaps, children are more of a nuisance once they outgrow their cute and cuddly phase. Our idealism turns into skepticism, and then, finally, to cynicism. 

Last night, we strolled down the beach, hand-in-hand, pondering about the prospects of adulthood. The taste of sangria and garlic prawns from dinner still lingered in my mouth. The sound of the waves gently lapping on the shore, and the colourful lights emanating from the ships afar, set the mood for a romantic evening stroll back to our Airbnb apartment. Our trip in Tenerife had thus far been spectacular - from seeing an orca for the first time, to watching the sunset above a sea of clouds and kayaking in the ocean with dolphins jumping around! Yet, in spite of all that, the thought of adulthood unwittingly dampened my spirits and created a domino effect of negativity. We talked about home ownership, and weddings, and children; and the deeper we went, the more emotional and angsty I became. In the past few years, I've started to become cynical about those who idealise having their own homes, getting married, and having kids. And with confirmation bias, I became cynical of those things in themselves. I guess it is all part of that quarter-life crisis that immature 'young adults' like myself tend to go through. We just cannot accept the fact that we are growing up.

Throughout the conversation, you kept telling me that everything would be okay as long as we go through it together. To be honest, it didn't help. In fact, it made me all the more annoyed that you always have a way to make things seem so simple. Simply loving each other will not solve all our problems. It will not make them go away. It. is. not. that. simple. I kept trying to put that across but all you did was to assure me, and reassure me, that it would somehow be okay. We just had to take things one step at a time. Deep down, I knew that you were probably right and I was being unnecessarily negative but I just couldn't brush off the feeling of apprehension. We couldn't come to a conclusion, and so we left it as that. 

While I was showering, guilt hit me like it always does after we bicker. 'Again. I always have a way of ruining something that would otherwise have been perfect,' I thought, as I started to sob in the shower. I recalled the night that we argued to the point of tears over phone, and meeting each other the next day with puffy eyes to celebrate your birthday for the first time together. I remembered the multiple times we walked out of a fancy restaurant in the midst of a date to settle our disputes. I thought of the days when we were on the verge of breaking up, and how we somehow managed to work our way through them, with our faces soaked in tears and our hearts clawed open. Those days were long gone but the fear of an unknown future with brand new challenges gripped me. I didn't think I could go through those heartbreaks and self-bashing all over again. It seemed so difficult to step out of the status quo.

I wiped away my tears, chucked those irrational thoughts aside, stepped out of the shower and headed back to our tent. And that was when I saw the candles on the floor. You held my hand and said that you had something to tell me. 'Wow. He is really overdoing his apology,' I thought, until I saw the camera on the tripod. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that you would ask me for my hand after what we just went through; after what we just talked about. You looked me in the eye and started stringing up slightly touching but awkward sentences, in an attempt to recall what you had written. You finally gave up. And that was when you started tearing up. You said you didn't know what the future would be like but you could never imagine it without me. That sentence yanked at my heartstrings. This was the boy that I first fell in love with, standing right in front of me, being completely honest, vulnerable and sincere. I didn't need you to tell me that everything is going to be okay. I didn't need solutions. What I needed was to hear was that you cannot do life without me, as I cannot without you. And that gave me the courage to brave the storms of life with you, and to have the confidence that we would somehow stick together through it all. You asked if I would give you the honour of spending the rest of my life with you. I said yes. 

Just a few days ago, I told you how I didn't understand why people say 'congratulations' when a couple gets engaged, and why they say 'sorry' when they hear that someone's loved one has passed away. Marriage is not exactly something to be celebrated and the passing of someone's loved one is not the fault of the person who utters the apology. But I think I see it now... When people say 'congratulations' or 'sorry', they are not unaware of the problems of marriage or the fact that their apology will not bring a dead person back to life. They say them because in spite of these challenges and impossibilities, there are things worth celebrating and comfort worth giving. 

So, I will accept all your congratulations with heartfelt gratitude, knowing that the road ahead will be an arduous one. Marriage is such a big and scary word but I thank God that of all the men in the world, I am going to wrestle it with you. I love you, my fiancé.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

It's not easy to not give a damn

These days, I find it harder and harder to open up to other people. Perhaps, as I grow older, I am becoming more and more reserved. Or perhaps, it is because I am becoming more aware of just how brutal society has become is.

As a teenager, I remember not giving a damn about what others thought about me. I mean, yes, I wanted to 'be like the cool kids' (Echosmith, 2013); but I never felt the need to prove myself to be smarter, more capable, more confident, and more tenacious than I really was. It was absolutely 'okay' to fail a test. It didn't matter that I spent my after school hours cheerleading and playing netball (not for the school team), both of which didn't add any value to my curriculum vitae. It didn't cross my mind that I had to hold back my tears when I was too afraid to touch that stupid frog in an orientation camp game, which caused my team to lose. And I always said whatever the heck I wanted - which costed me a very painful lesson when I talked back to a senior lieutenant colonel while I was a cadet trainee. I've learned to bite my tongue and respect the rank.

But today... Today, I find myself being exceedingly proficient at writing a politics essay on a topic that I, frankly, know nuts about. Why? Entering my forth year of higher education in the UK, I think I've mastered the art of writing a decently good essay - it's not about how much you really know. It's about how well you convince the examiner of how much you know. Today, I find myself always having to hold back my tears in front of others when I'm frustrated, disappointed, or hurt, only to let it all out the moment I shut my room door. We're told that being too emotional is not a good thing. Today, I find myself barely saying anything in large groups, unless I'm compelled to. And even when I do, it is because I've scanned it through my mind at least three times to make sure that it is a rock-solid point that I have to contribute. Today, I find myself double - no triple - checking my blog posts, instagram captions, and facebook posts, before clicking the 'Post' button. Let's call it, self-censoring.

And unwittingly, I realise that this has affected my relationships with other people. I've stopped bitching and gossiping about others with my girlfriends, which I suppose is a good thing. But with that, I've also stopped breaking down in tears even with the people closest to me (except for Marcus - putting this out here otherwise he would surely object!). I've stopped sharing my problems, partly because I don't want to burden others and partly because it makes me vulnerable. I've stopped expressing my most genuine convictions, probably because I don't want to seem too 'extreme' or 'un-nuanced'. And I no longer do silly things with friends - re-watching high school musical through the night, dancing to K-POP music, taking lots of embarrassing selfies, and writing meaningless post-it notes for each other - because no one does them, at least not with other people, anymore. It would seem all too silly now.

But here's the truth. While I may seem more 'qualified' (in a societal sense) as a graduate or an employee, the truth is I have barely changed. What you see on my graduation certificate, my curriculum vitae, and my personal statement is probably bull shit. (I'm probably going to regret saying this but heck it.) The truth is, I'm a politics graduate but I love Justin Trudeau just because he is handsome. Who cares about his policies? The truth is, I prefer celebrity gossip over Brexit news. The truth is, I mentally roll my eyes every times someone asks me for my political views the moment they hear that I study politics. Can we talk about something else? The truth is, I cry, no, I bawl, when I'm furious - it always makes me feel better. The truth is, while I'm completely silent in a discussion group, I'm cursing at stupid people with stupid views in my head. (I know, very illiberal of me. #sorrynotsorry) The truth is, I spend my time doing silly things like watching Korean reality shows, dancing in front of the mirror, taking 1,001 selfies with different filters, and making random lists like 'nice baby names' and 'things that make me happy'.

So yes, I've let the cat out of the bag - although, really, it's not much of a secret because I'm sure everyone has things they do or think in private as well. So, what's keeping us from displaying them? Is it because how of brutal and judgmental society is? Or is it just because we care too much about what other people think?

Perhaps, this is a quote to consider:

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Keep calm and climb on

Drops of tears trickled down my cheeks as I took my finger out of the bucket of ice water.

When I look back at the past 23 years of my life, I realise that I have never actually committed to a particular hobby. I sing in the shower, I dance in front of the mirror now and then, I used to doodle a lot, I won some trophies in the international chess tournaments in primary school, I did some cheerleading and played some netball in secondary school, I passed the Grade 7 piano exam, and I used to run a lot (until I joined the army and starting hating it). Yes, I did a lot of things; and I'm decent at most of it. But there wasn't anything that I felt could be a life-long hobby. There wasn't anything that made me earnestly want to get better and better (except for maybe chess; I genuinely loved the checkmates). I guess that made me a jack of all trades, master of none.

Two years ago, I started rock-climbing (bouldering). Initially, I did it to accompany Marcus since he had no one to climb with in Manchester. For a whole year, I would go to the climbing gym with the intention of 'keeping fit with my boyfriend in a rather fun way'. To put it another way, it was just another sport that I didn't mind spending 3 hours of my time on every week. To my pleasant surprise, I improved exponentially. And as my strength increased, so did my interest for the sport.

Climbing has made me do things that I never expected myself to do. I hate competitions, especially when I'm not utterly confident. Even though I'm still too apprehensive about competing in Singapore (where everything is just so much more competitive than elsewhere), I have climbed for my university in the UK. It was pretty dreadful, but it was a great experience. But that's not the most shocking. What marvels me, even till today, is the fact that I climb alone at least twice a week in Cambridge. Before I started climbing, I used to ask Marcus why on earth would he climb alone. I guess I've always seen climbing as a social sport. It seemed silly to climb alone. I was wrong. Yes, climbing is a social sport and the gym is always filled with groups of friends - laughing, chatting, and cheering each other on. But it is also a place for students and workers to go, by themselves, in the middle of their breaks or after work to rejuvenate. More than that, I've started to proselytise about how great the sport is; and the joy of bringing a friend who has never climbed to the gym is unspeakable.

All these must definitely attest to how much I've grown to love the sport. My Instagram explore page is littered with climbing videos. A quarter (probably even more) of my conversations with Marcus is about climbing (although we can probably attribute it more to him than me). We even talked about building a climbing wall in our home in the future! And I've started to do 'silly' #climber things like hanging on a board and chasing numbers on a wall. Until a month ago.

I've had this dull ache in my ring finger for a couple of weeks but my excitement to complete the next 6C+ route at the gym caused me to close an eye and 'allez' through it. It was a bad, very bad, decision. I hope someone could've warned me about my stubbornness. As I spanned across the wall to reach for the pinch on the right, I heard a loud 'POP' in my left hand and immediately let go of the crimp I was holding on to. I landed on the mat with a thud, staring at my left ring finger, as it went completely numb. I had pulled a tendon in the finger.

That was five weeks ago. I remember desperately Googling for answers (as I always do). 'How long does it take for a pulley injury to recover?' It depends on the severity of the injury, said Google, but typically for a small tear, it would take two weeks to a month before a climber can resume light climbing. I was relieved to know that.

I went to climb yesterday, expecting myself to be able to complete at least the 6As (and thinking that I've seriously lowered the bar). Oh boy I was wrong. I did a dyno to a jug and pain seared through my ring finger as soon as it touched the hold. Clearly, my injury was worse than I thought. If you're a climber and you're reading this right now, you're probably thinking I'm an idiot. I don't deny that but to be fair, I was very very hopeful. And hope makes you do stupid things.

Today, as I did my ice therapy, it struck me just how unfair this setback is. I don't know when my finger would fully recover. I don't even have the confidence to say that it would - that I would be able to crimp as hard as I used to when it hurts to even hold a jug right now! I was so discouraged that I told Marcus that maybe climbing isn't a thing for me anymore. I have been religiously doing my ice and heat therapy, and recovery stretches and exercises every damn day since I pulled my tendon but it seems to have had been to no avail. Every time I go to the gym thinking 'maybe I'll be able to climb a decent route today', I leave disappointed and frustrated.

But then I suddenly remembered one of the biggest setbacks in my life - my A Levels. I remembered how I shut myself in my room and sobbed for the entire day, as I reported my score to the scholarship board knowing that the overseas scholarship would be taken away from me. And I remembered how, despite of the huge setback, I managed to eventually get to where I have always aspired to be - here in Cambridge. I took the longer (and bumpier) road; but I am here.

So I will not stop climbing. I will probably be frustrated when I climb again this week, next week, and the week after. And more. But I won't stop climbing. I'm not an exceptional climber, and I don't aspire to be one. But the least I can do for myself is to not throw away this sport that I have grown to love just because of a tiny setback. I wiped away my tears and began my finger stretches.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Our own gods

The sound of the engines grows louder and louder as the train departs from the Cambridge train station. I peek outside the window and see a blonde-haired lady with a turquoise suitcase and grey fur coat chasing after the train. Of course, the train doesn’t stop for her. In fact, it picks up speed. I find it amusing how some people chase after trains when they have begun their departure. I get it for buses – I do that sometimes, too – but trains are different. They absolutely won’t stop for you. At least not here in the UK.

The train has reached a constant speed, as it swooshes through the vast expanse of greenery with sporadic sights of cottage-like houses. Ah, this is what serenity looks like. If only, the sun would emerge from these thick and gloomy clouds. A slightly plump man with a white bushy beard enters the cabin and exclaims in a low and husky voice, “Tickets, please!” I snap out of my reverie and start digging into my haversack for my ticket and railcard. Three passengers to go – I must find them before he approaches me! A commotion arises between the ticket inspector and the three passengers. Wonderful, more time for me!  

The commotion turns into a full blown argument. Everyone in the cabin has stopped whatever they are doing, giving full attention to these three passengers. I make sense of the situation and realise that the three passengers are probably friends. It seems that they have missed the previous train and hopped on to this train, in hope that there would not be a penalty. The ticket inspector decides to go by the books and charges them an extra ten pounds each, as this is a peak-hour train. Just as the ticket inspector turns away from them and approaches me, one of the three passengers, a white man in his late-twenties, makes a cutting remark, “You should go home tonight and reflect on what you did. You could have been nice about it but you didn’t.” The ticket inspector looks at me, and gives me a sad smile. I feel bad for him. He was just doing his job.

The journey continues as though nothing has happened. Everyone resumes whatever they were doing prior to the commotion. I put on my ear piece and shuffle-play the playlist that I have created just for long train rides like this. I watch the barren trees pass by me, as I think of my loved ones back at home. I think of my brother has just enlisted into the army. I think of my third sister who is stressing over her A level examination, going through the exact same thing as I did six years ago. I think of my forth sister who looks like a graceful doe when she dances but an angry water buffalo when she speaks. I think of my baby sister whom I skyped just yesterday and looks as though she has grown even bigger than I last remembered. Indeed, she is no baby anymore. And I think of my dad who tells me that I’ve put on weight every time we Skype (I would be obese by now if it’s true, dad) and my mum who is always, always, always asking about my health (which hasn’t been great lately). She is what makes home, home; she is my go-to when I have my period cramps, when I can’t sleep, and when I’m aching all over. I think about my loved one who is waiting for me upon arrival in Oxford in about two hours. I think about just how important they are to me and how much I love them – more than myself, indeed. I think about how love is so powerful, as to make a selfish person like myself selfless.

But then, I also realise that I am wrong. Love is not selfless. It is in every bit selfish. I protect and care for these people because if something were to happen to them, my heart would be wrecked. I love them; I love them with all my heart because it brings me joy, and satisfaction, and purpose. I think about them, and I miss them dearly, because they give me a place I can call home even when I am thousands of miles away.

And then I suddenly understand why that blonde-haired lady would chase after the train even though it wasn’t going to stop for her anyway. I also understand why the passenger in front of me condemned the ticket inspector for merely doing his job. It is this: regardless of how good or bad it is, the action or thought of every human being is ultimately driven by none other than him or herself. I do a quick Google search, as I always do when looking for answers, and find that there is, indeed, a philosophical term for it: psychological egoism. Whether you love or hate a person, whether you commit a theft or donate to a charity, you are ultimately motivated by self-interest. The blonde-haired lady chased after the train because, instinctively, she expected it to stop for her even though she knew it wouldn’t. The passenger in front of me faulted the ticket inspector for doing his job because in his perspective, it wasn’t fair. At the end of the day, we see things from our own perspective. In my eyes, the world and everything in it revolves around me. And in your eyes, they revolve around you.

But the funny thing is: even when you turn into ashes, the world continues to spin. Someone will probably shed a tear or two. Another, buckets. But eventually, you will become a faded memory, buried in the shadow of new acquaintances and experiences. And when the people who remember you turn into ashes, too, there will probably be barely any trace left of you in this world. And in spite of that, in spite of having a full knowledge of that, you would still continue to live this life as though the world revolves around you. As though the sun rises every morning, the stars sparkle in the night, the waves sing a never-ending lullaby just for you. And so will I. Why? Because that’s a human thing to do. Because at the end of the day, like it or not, we are all our own gods.
© Melody Sim | All rights reserved.