dear diary..., wanderlust

Adieu, Bangkok

I can’t believe that my four days in the Land of Smiles is finally coming to an end. This thought sunk in me as I lie on the bed in my hotel room, staring into the whiteness of the ceiling. As I do so, memories of these few days seem to stain my vision like how watercolour does on loose paper. They were somewhat vague and fleeting like the diluted blotches but sometimes were filled with the kind of vivacity and clarity of a single focused moment. As I lied down there and let my mind float upon the rapids of an intense flashback, I can’t help but feel a sincere and profound resonance with the statement: “Time flies when you’re having fun”. These four days have been nothing but exciting, eventful and enriching.

Day 1:

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Even before we touched down in Suvarnabhumi International Airport, Bangkok had already greeted us with flashing lights, roads packed to the brim and a symphony of vehicle honks that’s a little too loud for comfort. As dusk swept across the entire city, the hustle and bustle only grew more prominent as lights from various sources flood the streets — street lamps, car floodlights, storefronts and neon lights. It was as though the city flipped to its other side, exposing an alternative version of itself and its own true beauty.

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Without any hesitation, we hopped onto a tuktuk to take us to our dinner location. The tuktuk is a common mode of transport in Bangkok that consists of a motorcycle front and a metallic hind that carries about 3-4 passengers. It is the modern cousin of the cycle rickshaw.

 
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Our driver drove with wild agility and impatience. In that moment we were drowned in excitement and fear and the loud puttering of engines, and choking on concentrated car exhaust. The entire ride was a blur. In the chaos and confusion of that moment, there arose in me a strange feeling of sedation, of zen. It was like bubble embracing me in its exclusive space insulated from the hustle and bustle of my surroundings. It had a meditative quality especially when all around me, the roads were a sea of monochromatic red. I stared straight ahead at the tuktuk driver’s head and let a million random thoughts run through my mind like how a kite runner in Kabul runs after his kite with childlike innocence and vigour.

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Nightlife in Bangkok is basically synonymous with a trip to the Night Markets. We made our way to one nearest to our hotel and dinner place — Pratunam Market. Captured here is a moment of intense concentration by a street artist amidst all the distractions, lights, passerby and secondary opinions.

Day 2:

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We heeded the advice of one of the locals and took a boat trip down one of the tributaries of the Chao Phaya river. Thanks to him we managed to escape being scammed on our tuktuk ride to the jetty. Thanks to him we discovered a less touristy and more locally authentic side to Bangkok and those making a living along the river that runs through Bangkok city. Thanks to him, we learnt how important it is to make an effort to assimilate into the culture of the host country and that one of the best ways to do so is to try to speak in their native tongue. If you look like a Thai (asian features) and speak Thai (even if minimal), you pay so much less than the average tourist, at least for tuktuk rides.

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“Why not get a nice cool beer for the uncle?” asked the lady who approached us in her wooden boat chocked full with all kinds of things to sell — from country flags, to tidbits and beverages to oriental fans. Here, we witnessed the sense of community present between the families and people who live along the same river. The informal economy that has boomed because of the river and its surrounding religious monuments has benefitted those living nearby. Many, like the lady in the picture, set up their own floating markets and take advantage of the influx of tourists into their ‘backyard’ to earn a few extra dollars.

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When you are immersed in a society of friendly and compassionate souls, you can’t help but feel the same. Happiness and joy become irresistible and inevitable.

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A little gentrified area near the Grand Palace.

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Taken along Yaowarat Road, Chinatown. The buildings exude an old charm that is reminiscent of those I’ve seen in Hong Kong, an aged but timeless look. A tuktuk in an ostentatious shade of pink whizzes past, its engines roaring as if to flaunt its own presence, consequently disrupting the serenity and solemnity of the scene.

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Where are the bus stops in Bangkok? Wherever the bus stops.

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Enjoyed a cone of matcha-cum-charcoal flavoured ice cream in the blistering heat.

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Reunited with my college suite mate at a relatively new night market — Talad NEON. It is right smack in downtown Bangkok and it is everything you would love to see, eat and do after a long day at work.

IRRESISTIBLE.

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After several hours of walking around, we decided to just chill at one of the many bars at Talad NEON. The bars in Bangkok are commonly double-decked and beautifully decorated with fairy lights and themed graffiti. Needless to say we headed straight for the upper deck, got 2 cocktails for about S$4 each and a Chang beer. We talked the night away and learnt a lot from my suite mate about expat life here in Bangkok and what she does to integrate herself as much as possible in this society. This photo features me and my non-existent glass of margarita because I finished it too quick. It’s delicious.

Day 3:

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Boat Noodles @ Union Mall. Each bowl was barely S$1. Two of us ate 11 bowls in total but we still had space for more.

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In the evening we visited another night market — Ratchada Train Night Market. It was on a slightly bigger scale and had more bars, more shops, more food and certainly more people. Certain parts of it felt European and gave off a Christmas Market vibe, except it’s 33°C and everywhere you go you hear Thai pop blasting.

 

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We drank at a bar that directly faces a barber shop, so that provided some entertainment. 😛

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Frozen Blue Hawaiian and a slightly tipsy me.

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Our last full day in Bangkok and a very empty Rachathewi Station. My heart shed a little tear upon realising that fact.

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Thai spices and condiments.

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Looking around me in Chatuchak Weekend Market, the place was teeming with expats and tourists like me. The place had a really nice vibe and I would have stayed for even longer if not for the killer heat. Yes, we surrendered, we surrendered to the heat but not before we filled our hands with Thai handicrafts, new pairs of shorts and tops.

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Leaving with a reluctant heart. Final glance.

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Post-massage meal. Nero pasta with prawn and tomyum sauce. We went to a very Westernised cafe for dinner and even then I looked for a fusion between Thai and Western cuisine. It was a match made in heaven, I would have ordered another if not for the hole in my wallet.

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This was just next to the cafe’s cashier. What a beautiful thing to stare at while munching on some food. For a moment, the sight of this transported me to one of those humble small shops on a random quaint street in Paris or London.

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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.

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dear diary...

My Favourite Mode of Transport I.

Whenever I plug in my earphones — on the car, on the subway, on the treadmill, on a stroll, whenever — I’m instantly transported to another place, another era, I become a visitor of my own past, a spectator, sometimes a griever mourning for the bygone days.

Innocence — Avril Lavigne

Waking up, I see that everything is okay
The first time in my life, and now it’s so great
Slowing down, I look around, and I am so amazed
I think about the little things that make life great

I wouldn’t change a thing about it
This is the best feeling

A throwback song to when I took my first steps into the realm of sports — my first track meet and my first game of table tennis. A breach of innocence, I suppose, as the title of the song suggests, a boundary, a line that has prevented me from trying new things, a line that’s reinforced the ludicrous belief that as a girl, I should be more demure, I shouldn’t be out there, in the sun sweating, running, panting. I lost my innocence, but not in that sense of the word. Rather, I lost my fair skin and my “femininity” in the most restricted sense of the word. What have I gained instead? I couldn’t be happier. I gained a nice glowing tan, one that I preferred so much more to the sickly pale skin that screamed of insipidity. Deep down, I knew that I had worked hard for what I wanted to achieve on the field when the gun goes off and having tan skin (because of hours of training under the blisteringly hot sun) doesn’t diminish my femininity, instead, it strengthens my identity as a strong and determined girl on her way to womanhood. This song reminds me not to let social expectations hinder my interests, to continually challenge the boundaries and stay true to my passions.

 

Let It Go — James Bay

I realise that as I grow, my musical taste mature and I gravitate towards songs with an urban touch to it. The calm twanging of a Gibson electric soothes my bristling soul. It’s a song fitting for when I’m on the move, in transit. It’s a song that makes even that hottest day cooling and breezy, a song that somehow harks me back to the same landscape of a rainy winter evening on a nondescript street in London every single time I listen to it.

So come on, let it go
Just let it be
Why don’t you be you
And I’ll be me?
Everything that’s broke
Leave it to the breeze
Why don’t you be you
And I’ll be me?
And I’ll be me

Bay sings like someone who’s been hurt before. His voice is gilded with a poignant and melancholic edge to it and when he sings and strains his voice with the all the passion in his heart and memory at the climax of the song, the lyrics and its sentiments permeate my entire being and my suffering is no longer a solitary affair. I found sympathy in his songs, I found solace and comfort during an emotionally turbulent and uncertain period. The imagery of rain that Bay evokes in me with his voice is probably more reflective of my inner state than his. He might have been singing about a love lost, a love that he fell out of, but the sotto voce rings of countless attempts to rationalise with a difficult reality with the gradual regression of optimism and patience.

 

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dear diary...

A Friday Night 

It’s a Friday, the end of a hectic week, the metaphorical comma in the middle of a college semester.

That Friday night, we sat on the cusp of spring break, brimming with the hope of more moments spent together, of more memories of each other.

But you had to leave. You had to leave so early in the week and return just before the madness begins. I couldn’t help but think the universe had conspired against us. But loving you would mean wishing the best for you, to support you in the things you love, even if it means distance, even if it means time away from each other, or two longing hearts across the continents.

It was a quiet night. Most people were out — clubbing, waiting for their flight at the airport or hanging out downtown. We sat on the stone bench next to each other, leaving a small gap between us, as if to signal caution and respect for each other’s space, evidently the signs of a couple still in the infant stages of love. We talked, I whined a lot, sighed at the speed at which time has past, sighed at how quickly were growing up, at how in a blink of any eye we’ll soon be finding jobs, tossed into the ocean that is adulthood. I looked up at the ocean of stars above us, the sky a deep mysterious blue with overtones of black. The chilly wind flirted with my hair and caressed my skin, making me yearn for some warmth. I shot you a cursory glance hoping that I didn’t get caught in the act. Oh how I yearn for your embrace on such a breezy spring night. I just couldn’t find the words to say it nor the courage to lift my arms. You seemed deep in thought, your kind eyes afixed on something afar, oblivious to the tempest of emotions stirring within me nor my desire to hold you close and never let you go.

As I’m writing this, you’re on your way to the airport. I write with a reminiscing and slightly melancholic heart, clinging on to the memory of your hug, a hug that has been so long overdue but one that spoke most directly to me. In that instant when my head collided with your chest, I heard you beat the rhythm of promise, of love.

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dear diary...

31.12.2016

Today I woke up as per usual. A little later than on normal days when I had college to attend and errands to run.It was past 9, and a couple more minutes to 10. It was one of the few times I actually woke up naturally, without my alarm clock repeatedly and incessantly screaming at me to wake up, or the abrupt presence of my dad in my room out in the balcony putting the clothes out to dry. Warm rays of sunlight filtered through the slits between the two plain white curtains in my room and cuddled me in their mild, gentle heat. The temperature was just nice, the kind that invites people to go for a jog outside But the humidity was still palpable. This is Singapore, after all. I decided that today was going to be one of those lazy days, even if it was indeed the final day of the year 2016.

I had my daily dose of Murakami on my bed as usual. Norwegian Wood. The plot took a heart-wrenching twist and I can almost anticipate an ominous ending. Brunch arrived and it was prata — one plain and one with eggs. They were soggy, soaked with drops of condensed vapour due to its heat. But I liked them all the same — the overpoweringly pleasant aroma of fried dough with chicken curry. Just two pieces were enough to fill my stomach and induce some kind of sleepiness in me. I managed to suppress the temptation to fall back into sleep even though I continued reading on my bed (not the most conducive environment to do so, but I managed nonetheless).

Time flew when you’re busying yourself with something. It’s lunchtime and I might as well have skipped it because all I ate was a fishball, a steamed prawn and a pathetic portion of fried fish. I downed everything with a glass of tea, and settled down talking with my younger brother. Today’s the final day of 2016 and it’s also one of those days he’s actually in a pleasant mood. Not many days are like this and I am grateful that today is one of those days.

We decided to go cycling. My brother has been persuading me to go biking with him for quite a few days now and finally I relented. The weather was fine, a slight, playful breeze was flirting with the leaves of evergreen trees that lined the roads. Traffic was light, thankfully, so the air was a little clearer than usual, without dust dancing ferociously around us and inducing our coughing. All was peaceful without the constant humming of engines and occasional honks.

We rode towards the East Coast Park connector, into the underpass to the park itself and headed straight for Marina Barrage. It has been months since I’ve been there. I remembered the last time I was here, I was running with a junior of mine, 15km straight down. Those were the days, when I was fitter and had the luxury of time to build up an impressive level of endurance and stamina with consistent training. Well, I thought to myself, if I had the will, all that’s standing between me and level of fitness is just time. At the same time, if it really matters to me, I will find a way to make time for it. A part of me longed for the past, the past version of myself, when I had a system, a scehdule, a goal of my own.

On our way there, the wind was blowing towards the direction we were heading. But not so on our way back. We faced a strong windy resistance after making a U-turn at the barrage. My thighs were beginning to burn as we started on our way back home, the unpleasant and excruciating sensation of accumulating lactic acid lingers even if I wasn’t pedalling. My butt cheeks were aching so much from having sat on that hard and small bike seat. It’s no wonder I put off cycling and go running instead. Too much of a hassle and you hurt are strange parts.

We were riding home at a faster speed than when we got to the barrage. Whizzing past the throngs of people and unsteadily manouvering through children on bikes and pedestrains on bike lanes, occasionally cussing at their lack of road safety knowledge, we finally got to Bedok jetty, the relatively peaceful part of the park. The wind swept in with it the smell of sea. I can almost taste the saltiness of it. Oh how I missed those days when I frequented the beach on my runs, seeing it every other day or two. But then I looked back at those times briefly and realised than while on the run, I don’t usually have time and the relaxed mental state to enjoy and fully soak in mood like how I could on bike rides. Perhaps, a plus point for biking instead of running.

We crossed the underpass and got to the other side of the road. There is an army camp there and it was devoid of people, no one running on the tracks, no guards patrol the entrance, no sight of a smoker taking a puff on the stair landings next to the vending machine. Obviously, they were told to go back, to spend time with their loved ones on the eve of the new year. Without the people in it, the entire camp had a look of desertion. The compound is evidently young but it was hollow, lifeless and forlorn once people have vacated.

I starting seeing white spots and knew that my blood sugar was dangerously low. Thank God we were approaching home. Once home, I downed the entire cup of grass jelly. Sugar never taste so sweet, I thought.

I spent the night finishing up Norwegian Wood while my brother was out with his friend counting down and my parents watching television in their room. It was a lonely way to spend the eve of a great moment, alone in a room with a (honestly) depressing book and 6 unusually active hamsters. I had a strange feeling that the hamsters were excited about the new year too but dismissed that thought because that was just me anthropomorphizing these poor guys.

I was sobbing at the ending of the book when he texted. Lonely and feeling a little depressed, I replied and see if the conversation could take things the other way. We ended up talking way past midnight and were the first ones to wish each other a happy new year. We touched on random topics like rap and shared about how we felt about movies, books and animes. It felt like the day we sat on the roof garden after some wine having the exact conversation while peering down at warm glow of street lights and listening to the slight rustling of tree leaves.

I thought I’d spend new year’s eve alone but I was wrong. It was far lonelier than previous new year’s eves but it felt warmer and more intimate (even though we communicated through text) because I spent it with the person I love.

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