Salam Ramadan☪️

Tonight, my heart is so full — it may be my belly speaking after a wholesome dinner of Tom Yum soup noodles and a gigantic jug of Thai iced milk tea, but truly, I was thankful to have made a trip down to Geylang Serai Bazaar tonight. Today marks the third day of Ramadan, a period (usually a month) during which Muslims are encouraged to pray 5 times a day and fast from before the break of dawn till sunset.

It was hot and humid and our shirts were clinging uncomfortably onto the skin of our backs. There is a perpetual stream of sweat down the side of our faces, sweat pooling in the creases of our foreheads and upper lips. An occasional sweaty jostle by a passer-by.  Incessant hollering from the adolescent and high-spirited stall vendors. Despite the discomfort, the unbearable temperature and phobia-inducing crowd, we pushed on and whizzed our way through the throngs of people trying our best to avoid the smokers.

There were kebabs, pulled lamb meat burgers, Thai iced teas, chendol soft-serves, Takoyaki, fruit bowls, Turkish lanterns…I felt as if I had entered Narnia’s wardrobe and set foot on an alternative world, one that has been compressed into this tiny space that has been coincidentally festively decorated in the spirit of Ramadan.

It is times like this that I truly, truly am thankful for the cultural plurality in my homeland, Singapore.



dear diary...

Reflections in the Jacuzzi

Usually, after a swim in the pool, I would head over to the jacuzzi and just sit there clear-minded and relaxed, enjoying every jet of water as it massages my back.

Today was different. Every stream of water jetting against my skin felt just like a variant of the emotions surging within me — disappointment, frustration and sadness. I sat there, like a crestfallen child who had just been told that the drawing she’s been working on the whole night before was trash. My vision, initially trained on following the congregation and dissipation of the clusters of bubbles, blurred out eventually as my mind lapsed into yet another round of self-chastisement and blame. I lifted my left hand and allowed it to be supported by the bubbling water, only to watch it sink a few moments later with its own weight. I observed its beige gradually get absorbed and fused into the blueness of the tiled floor of the pool.

It probably sounds so stupid, but I have never felt more heartbroken before. Not even after I lost my first love. And this agonising feeling I’m feeling right now and since 10am today was due to nothing more than 3 digits.

3.61. I blinked. Once. Twice. I proceeded to refresh the screen a few more times. No, it had to be wrong, it CAN’T be 3.16. I refused to believe the score before my eyes. I can’t possibly be that lousy. A few agonising moments later, it dawned on me that I had no other choice but to accept that 3-digit score, that my hope of getting at least a 4.0 was nugatory, evanescent, just like the bubbles that were gone as soon as they were formed in the jacuzzi.

Come on, it’s just 3 digits, it’s just a score and nothing more. Move on like you always have. Stop dwelling on it, it can’t be changed anyway. You are more than that surely. Don’t let it fester and develop into a self-fulfilling prophecy. SUCK. IT. UP.

Yes, I know, I get it. It’s stupid, to allow your self-worth, self-esteem and value rest upon these 3 digits. It’s stupid to be dwelling on it even 4 hours past the time it was released to me. It’s stupid to be so caught up in what’s already been written when my only option now is to keep moving forward, to relentlessly trudge towards the end of the tunnel.

But surely, I am entitled to what I am feeling right now, aren’t I? Is it so wrong to feel upset and disappointed at myself, at having fallen short of my expectations? Is it that bad if I wanted to dwell in these emotions, if I wanted to be all whiny and annoying and selfishly wallow in my own sadness? I don’t want to suck it up, I don’t want to just stoically move on and on and on like I always have. I want to soak in the heartache. More than ever before, I want to cherish this pain and anguish as I wilfully think back to what I could have done better, and I will make sure the emotional distress this “failure” has caused me is deeply etched in my subconscious as a reminder, and later, something to be resurfaced and celebrated along with the pride and pleasure of achievement. Because the sweetness and joy of victory and success will never be as sweet and joyous as when one has once experienced the bitterness and regret of failure.

There are no crests without the troughs. There are no highs without the lows.

It sucks that even after claiming that I am in here for the joy of learning, and learning for the sake of learning, I have to admit that I still seek a sort of validation through grades. However, I do recognise that this toxic habit of making a huge share of my self-worth a function of my academic achievements is one that has been drilled into my psyche since the start of my education and one that I should definitely rethink.

end of catharsis.

dear diary...

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo — Family VS Self

Recently, I broke my drama hiatus by watching the oh-so-popular Weightlifting Fairy Kim Pok Joo. I devoured it like how a hungry chap wolfs down his lunch having skipped breakfast.

One thread that ties the narratives of the different characters together is the theme of family. From Bok Joo’s unconventional family unit consisting of just her, her ailing father and uncle, to Joonhyung’s troubling and traumatising familial past since his mother suddenly left him in the custody of his aunt’s family, to Siho’s already faltering family ties further destabilised by the confrontation of financial difficulties brought on by her increasingly demanding gymnastics career.

They are all adolescents, at the cusp of adulthood. And to strengthen the notion of independent living and self-sufficiency, these characters are required to stay on campus, I suppose, as part of the college’s residential living programme. For the most part of the drama, we are shown the perspective of the main characters as they get by day after day, week after week of gruelling practice, their personal problems with relationships and their struggle of finding themselves, their own identities. Occasionally, the family intervenes be it through financial difficulties, the threat of break-ups and divorce, or through the worrisome health of an important family member (like Bok Joo’s father).

Having experienced a year of living independently on campus away from my family, these problems and some of the scenes in this drama resonated strongly with me. At times, I found myself getting really caught in playing this independent adult character, someone belonging to no one else but myself. I do my own laundry, I eat whenever and whatever I want to eat, I sleep the number of hours I feel like sleeping on the weekends, I invite the people I loved having over, and the list of liberties from living alone as my own person goes on. It felt good to throw away whatever troubles and considerations that would usually crop up when making decisions involving more than one person about the things they may not like, the compromises that I’ll have to make, the extra responsibilities that I’m expected to shoulder, the times that I have to fit my own schedule to in order to make plans work…the worries are endless, too.

Somewhere in the middle of the entire drama, Si Ho finds out about the impending divorce between her parents not from the parents themselves, but from her younger sister. She had an idea all along that if anything is going to break her parent’s marriage, it would be her budding career as a professional gymnast because of the financial strain it has brought upon her parents and the conflict of interests between her parents right from the beginning. Si Ho confronts her mother at her workplace upon receiving news of the divorce with anger mixed with disappointment. A squabble ensues when Si Ho says she’ll quit gymnastics and work for an income instead. The following in the translated dialogue between the mother and daughter:

Si Ho: I’ll quit gymnastics. I’ll work and make money instead.

Mother: Who says you can? Who says you can quit gymnastics? Do you think your life is just your own? Wrong, your life is part of my life, too.

Si Ho: That has burdened me the most. The fact that my life is also your life. Why are you being greedy over my life? You should have lived your own life better. Why did you have to put me through all of this.

(a thundering slap ensues, duh. How dare you challenge your mother’s authority and decisions, you ungrateful wretch.) 

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So, I have been wondering, at which point do I have full autonomy over my own life? Do I even have complete sovereignty over my self? Do we ever have full autonomy over our lives? Because, what about our parents, people who have made my life possible and existent in the very first place? Or perhaps our parents’ ownership over our lives ceases the minute we exit our mothers’ wombs. If so, how then can we explain the years of love and care given to us by our parents. Is that a simply biologically programmed instinct in parents for nurture or a socially constructed expectation that oblige human parents to care for their children till they are at least of a certain age? If my life is part of my parents’ life too, who makes the final decision?

dear diary...

A Letter to Debussy

Bonjour Monsieur,

Just recently, I stumbled upon a playlist of your pieces on Spotify and I must say that I am very thankful for that. In this day and age, it is simply too hard to find music as divine and beautifully complex as yours. Your pieces leave me with a very rich feeling and often, when it ends, I will feel as if I had just woken up from a reverie. Google tells me that you were an impressionist composer. I have heard of impressionism in art before. They typically have quick, thin brushstrokes, their objects lack defining outlines and they omit minute details. This made me wonder: what makes your pieces impressionistic? Here are my thoughts on one of your masterpieces, Clair de Lune, in my humble attempt to understand musical impressionism.

Clair de Lune has a magical ability to evoke different moods. I feel that it evokes several different qualities and auras of a moonlit landscape. The notes were like a force. This force was strong enough to nudge my thoughts in a certain direction but not impose a definite shape on them. In a way, although your notes inspire a certain vibe, I still had the freedom and space to project my own imaginations onto the piece.

In the opening 14 bars, there is a general stillness and tranquility marked by pianissimo in dynamics. There is not much movement going on in the first 8 bars as the left hand sustains a thinly constructed harmonic line that slowly descends while the right hand delivers the melodic theme that clearly stands out from the mellow harmonic backing. These few bars alone conjured in me a sense of pensiveness, a peaceful imagery of a lonesome moon.

This peacefulness, however, is soon shattered and disturbed as you gave the next section a different texture. From bar 27, the harmonic line adopts an arpeggioc texture, rendering more movement and liveliness. This section brings to my mind the whirling cells of clouds in Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. Amidst the flurry of movements (of the air particles and light in the painting; of the arpeggiation of the chords), there still is an established order – a distinctive melodic line stands out in the sopra voce just as how in the painting, the general image of the stars and the moon are not undermined by the seemingly chaotic brush strokes.

After several bars, you brought back the melancholic theme of the first 8 bars. I noticed that you modified the theme quite a bit. I interpreted this thematic recurrence as something like a memory – an imperfect one – of the tranquility evoked in the opening bars. Just like how the theme recurs with a structurally different baseline and tonal quality, our memories of things from the past can never be as perfect as the past itself. It is sometimes effaced by the passage of time and our limited capacity to remember perfectly. Sometimes, our imagination and emotions at the time of remembering embellish and enrich the memory, just like how the harmonic line thicken with the addition of more notes.

My conclusion is that, in the same way that an impressionistic painting aims to make viewers grasp the general mood and form of the object, impressionistic compositions like yours seek to inspire rather than impose a certain atmosphere and image. I would love to hear from you about the ways in which you achieve this through notes and harmonies.


dear diary...

Romantic Grocery List

Since young, I have been confronted with societal ideals of the kind of men I should be dating, and resultantly, marrying. They were subtle back then, appearing in the form of male protagonists in superhero movies, television shows and comic books. Some of them weren’t even human in form, but the fact they they prevailed at the end of the day appeals to me. I had known, that I wanted a hero, someone who can save me from all my problems as much as cure the world of its diseases, someone who can tirelessly give me all the material and emotional comfort that I crave.

Then in my teens, and as the societally approved dating age range approached, discussions about our ideal “types” of guys began to surface frequently, often being a hot topic among close friends. My group of friends was no exception. One day, someone initiated the discussion and I found myself running through a grocery list of things I want and envision to be consumed in the next few weeks, except that this list wasn’t about vegetables and ready-made food, it was about a human being, one that I forsee myself being attached to.

He is to be tall, have a matching sense of humour, attractive (a lean physique, and nice facial features)… I had ran out of things to say. As embarrassment visibly spread across my cheeks, I scrambled for other traits previously spoken by my friends and made them seem like I had included them in my list as well. Ambitious, financially stable, chivalrous, responsible… Having averted a small crisis, I was contented with myself and did not put much thought afterwards about the traits that I had just listed about my “dream guy”.

In college, after dating a few people, I realised that my list was futile, useless. It consisted of mere conjectures, of fantasies, an idea of romantic connection inspired by the unrealistic expectations driven into our young innocent minds by TV dramas and Hollywood Rom-coms. It has never felt the ground of reality. In reality, when I am attracted to someone, when I’m in love with someone, I don’t actually tick off all the traits that I had listed on my “grocery list on romance”. I love them without a reason, I love them for everything they are and everything they are not. In reality, “a good sense of humour” is as ambiguous as hell — someone could be funny but in an abrasive way, someone else could be good at cracking intellectual jokes but anything beyond that his jokes induce more of a cringe than a guffaw, nonetheless they are all compartmentalised under the trait “good sense of humour”. Sometimes, you find yourself in love with a guy who is not fantastic looking but makes it up in his character and how he treats you when he’s with you. Sometimes, you may be attracted to someone who’s not doing so well financially and is in a phase of limbo in his life. In all, human attraction is way more complex and unpredictable than just simply a fully checked list of traits, or a block of code that you type into a program expecting a desired end outcome.

When you are attracted to someone, you abandon whatever criteria or yardsticks you previously held. You like them for being them, even if they don’t perfectly fit the mould that you’ve constructed for them. You will find yourself loving how your hands fit perfectly together, how his touch could warm you even in the coldest nights, how he would run to the McDonald’s a couple of bus stops away just to get you McSpicy when you’re a whiny mess complaining of hunger, you’ll appreciate his courage even if his peck on your lips or cheek was sloppy, you’ll find yourself wanting to share with him every intimate secret about yourself, you’ll find yourself letting your guard down for once in a long time, because there’s nothing and no one to guard yourself from anyway.