dear diary..., wanderlust

A Rainy Day in Tainan 

Today, for the first time in such a long while, my heart fluttered at the first sight of a stranger. A glimpse of her pretty side profile and the tips of her eyelashes through the slits in the curtain of her soft hair was more than enough to bewitch me into momentary paralysis. I revelled in the air of admiration cloaked by a layer of anonymity.

The bridge of her small nose.

The heart shape of her lips.

The smooth arc of her jawline.

I couldn’t think properly, the kind of mental block that usually happens to me when I’m mesmerised by something or someone before my eyes and my mind is wholly fixated, consumed, beholden to it. I had nothing left to offer, except pure admiration and fascination. I had desperately wanted to speak, to communicate, to strike up some silly small talk no matter how incredibly disabled my Mandarin has become without the aid of some occasional English. I promised myself that I would overcome that invisible barrier that had been standing between me and all the could-have-been relationships and friends.

As I awkwardly sat on a bench nearby, I ended up speaking to her through the conversation that took place between her and my parents, who were much more proficient at Mandarin than me. They asked, to my surprise, all the questions I would’ve asked. I learnt that she’s from Taipei and she came to Tainan for a weekend trip with her pals. She isn’t a schoolgirl like I had initially made her out to be due to her small stature and conservative dress sense. She has been working for quite some time and is slightly older than me. She’s been to Singapore even. My parents went on asking her if she liked Singaporean food. I took every window of opportunity when she’s slightly distracted to steal a glance, at the same time trying my best to feign an air of indifference just in case she caught on to my obvious interest in her.

Ask her for her number, I silently urged my parents in futility. So that when she comes again we can bring her around. I knew that they wouldn’t. Why would they? It would have been really awkward anyway. After all, she’s just a passerby whom we happened to meet by chance at a bus stop in Tainan.

But, wouldn’t chance make this sudden, random, unexpected intersection of our two realities so much more meaningful and significant? What exactly is the statistical probability that of all the other places, times and people I feel a special feeling towards a particular someone? Sure, I have also by chance come across hundred of thousands of other people, far too many faces than I could have ever vaguely remember, but those were just passersby on the streets of my life, whose footsteps and impressions will eventually be washed away by the an occasional rain, or be buried under millions of other track marks in a perpetual cycle of appearance and erasure.

The surge of passion and everything by far still indescribable to me is something of a rarity. I don’t often feel this way, especially with strangers. It’s not like I’m extremely picky or have a very strict criteria for the people I decide to let into my life. I don’t quite know. But when it happens, the little benign sparks morph into an uncontrollable burning flame that resist immediate taming and I find myself plunging, falling, spiralling deeper and deeper into something in between the lines of love and obsession.

As I am writing this, I am on the same bus as her.

She presses the bell signalling that she’s about to alight and my heart breaks a little. Greedily, as if I could hold her back with just the power of my stare, I fixate entire being and attention onto her and just bask in the warmth of her presence, and fantasies that I know too well would haunt me with regret moments later.

The bus pulls to a halt.

The doors open and the faint smell of rain drifts in.

She gently threaded down the steps in the most graceful fashion and alights, brushing aside the bit of stay hair that has just came loose.
In that moment I turned shyly and slightly to catch one final glimpse of her and her beauty.

With a pane of glass wedged between the two realities of ours that only tangentially intersected, I smiled and waved her goodbye.

And she smiled an infinitely gorgeous smile whose warmth, I swear, could last me all the winters I will ever live through.

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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.

Cordialement.

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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...

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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