Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Lately, I have made a little effort to keep up on my language ambitions. After having missed the french film festival that ran for a week here, I decided to do what I have done previously when I was in an earlier relationship, go to the video king rental and take out some french films, just that now I watch it by myself. I remember that all through the late teenage years and early twenties we all went to see french films in the cinemas. So it was with fond memories that I browsed through the small collection of foreign language titles. Actually I was really surprised that the video king rental shop had not closed down, I thought that no one else would be renting DVDs these days. It is quite expensive, but I think paying for it and having a limited time frame to watch them changes the way I make the selection of the shows I would like to watch. I take more time to look at the choices of the plot, the actors and the directors, and also the place where it is shot. So I have just watched 'The Artist' (Jean DuJardin), 'L'Immortelle' (Jean Reno), 'Beautiful Lies' (Audrey Tatou), 'He loves me he loves me not' (Audrey Tatou). Being half the price of a movie in the cinema, I make this time a solitary, single enjoyment, savoring macarons or my favorite red velvet cake bought from the bakery just a few doors down from video king rental. I'm sure that through osmosis of some sort, french words have crept into my long-term memory already.
And I messaged Julien, about my new-old hobby. He too watched L'Immortelle on the same weekend, after I gushed about the scenes in Marseille, and although it wasn't a big deal, I felt that it was a sweet gesture, that it was almost like watching it together. I remember when we were on the white rocky paths of Marseilleveyre, a dry hilly place covered with white rocks, and I couldn't walk well. For one, I had never been used to walking on rocky paths, or pathless paths where you found yourself evaluating each footstep. The strange thing that was when I returned, I felt that the ground was too flat and now, more than a month later, I still take the staircase from the MRT platform to the main gantry area, I still prefer to walk on grass patches instead of concrete. How strange, that my legs would prefer non-flat paths after a lifetime of walking on them.
He never teased me the way I would him, almost mercilessly, if I spotted something he could not do well that I excelled at. I lamented at the fact that I was so slow on those paths and so many people passed me by. It isn't a competition, he said to encourage me. I felt so small.To think that I thought quite highly of myself for walking home almost everyday from the main MRT station, a good 25 minutes' walk to my doorstep, a feat that would raise most Singaporean eyebrows. It was this sense of a matter-of-fact humility and 'non-competitiveness', two traits I had always appreciated but never embraced, that drew me to him. It was this feeling of just being at ease with the world and at ease with yourself, with being the way you are, that grabbed me as I found myself failing to walk further, and for the last final steps stumbled my way through while holding on to his coattails for dear life. I really admire people who can push themselves to learn something new in three months, a new sport, a new language, and while I tried my utmost to do it too, I think there's nothing wrong in taking my own time and learning something else along the way. I have always been too impatient and with the passing of time I hope that I realize sometimes time can be a friend. Being in love, for one, needs the realisation of time to illuminate what we need to know. When I returned from Marseille, a trip I had many reservations about making in the first place, it seemed that something would blossom between us, but it also seemed impossible at the same time.
I wanted to write about so many things, it seems that every now and then I get this influx of words caught in my thoughts, and writing out what I could not be able to speak coherently of, just seems to make it all better inside. How do I write about the kind of adventures I've been on, and remembering fondly the friends, some, very handsome men, who have been on these journeys with me. Yet I have had no romantic allusions, and neither did they. It is friendship of the purest sort, positive, healthy, meaningful ones I've always seemed to have (with handsome men!) throughout my life. And few people understand this, that I can have such close friendships, spending extended time together, talking, sharing a drink, sharing life experiences, yet never even crossing the line of being more than friends. I wanted to write about why I travel, something that this year I've taken as almost a birthright, it was only after someone asked me if I was traveling like a gap year of sorts that I realised that I was doing it so often, and the feeling of being tired but refreshed at the same time, the feeling of coming home and feeling happy once your feet touch the carpeting on the Changi Airport's floor, the euphoria when, several days later, I find that the film I have carried so carefully around with me developed into interesting, if not amazing photos. We do not know how lucky we are to carry this passport that enables us to go into most countries without paying a high fee or applying for a visa, it seems such a waste to do the same thing every weekend when for the almost the same amount of money we spend here we can take a weekend to somewhere else.
Despite having been born in this crowded city all my life, I think I crave a life someplace else from the madness. More recently, at the end of last year on the last day of my job, I found myself booking a flight to Penang and wanted to travel the Penang-Kuala Lumpur-Melaka-Singapore route, slowly, as I've always wanted to do. I ended up staying in Melaka for 10 days, the duration not part of the initial plan. People always wonder what I did every day in 'boring' Melaka. Boring? It's idyllic to wake up to the fresh air and the sounds of birds chirping, walking to the nearest kopi shop to eat my standard breakfast of soft kaya bread and half-boiled eggs. Everywhere else in Asia, the typical breakfast is a bowl of soupy noodles of some sort, call me Western but I just cannot stomach such fare for breakfast! People always ask what I did every day to make me stay there for so long. I think I did more there than I could do in the same time in Singapore. I wanted to do something creative, so I persuaded the owner of a clay house to teach me pottery on a kiln. I gave up on that rather fast. That was backbreaking work. Never again would I look at a piece of handmade pottery the same way. Then the owner of a second hand bookshop introduced me to the owner of a cafe who kindly gave me a long driftwood to paint, and all his oil paints.
Later I was given a canvas by a retiree from Penang and suprised even myself by staying around to complete the painting - oil painting takes an excruciatingly long time to paint and dry and basically I was so busy in Melaka, really, every day I woke up early in the morning to paint, take a walk around in the afternoon, and the days just passed.
I was looking for a place close to this setting, where you really could live happily not going in to any mall and eat the same thing and just feel glad walking the not-so-crowded streets. It's a strange dream that I had, that I never told anyone, I wanted to live in a place where there are mountains and seas; while in Chiangmai with Sergio, we walked out of the city gates to eat dinner along this stretch of restaurants and cafes having non-Thai food, Chiangmai food is too spicy to eat enjoyably for me. And there would be the mountains in the horizon as we crossed the road and as we ate we could see the evening sun turn to dusk.
Each time I saw those mountains I thought to myself, how lucky I would be to be able to see mountains everyday.
I wondered for months what Marseille would be like, because after I was able to save a little and plan for trips two, three months in advance and book the ticket without serious repercussions, I had wisely saved money by booking Chiangmai in advance, two months before, and Marseille in August when I was going in November. Huge savings there. Although it seems that every month a part of my salary now goes to booking a ticket to somewhere. This month, it's Penang. Well, lucky for me that I don't have any other expensive hobbies except photography! Marseille wasn't that different as I had expected, the kind of culture shock you feel immediately like I did when I landed in other Asian destinations, that, this place is so different from what you are used to. Marseille felt familiar, as if I had been there before, even though it was my first time to Europe. Later, I griped about how there weren't any toilets to be found EVER, and marveled at their innovative trashbins, which was just a large transparent plastic bag attached by a thick band,to a metal rim. Such a good idea. Most of all, Marseille made me feel that I could be a better person, if just a little better. Because seeing the Mediterranean sea that stretches out forever everyday, coupled with the too vividly blue skies that is the type of sky you can only imagine in fantasy, seeing these everyday, with the smell of fresh bread everywhere, hearing the sound of waves, this is paradise.
You discover that the everyday things on your to-do or to-get-done list in Singapore doesn't really matter anymore when you can have a slice of bliss just sitting at a cafe, having the most delicious croissant for breakfast, with coffee, facing the ocean, and nothing beyond. If I ever have the opportunity to live there, I will make the best of the simple moments that are so sublime.
And perhaps this year, the lessons learnt add up to make me a better person after all. I've tried not to overbuy stuff, a wasteful nature I've inherited from city living where everything is so accessible. Little things, like actually using a lipgloss until the last swipe. This may sound insignificant but it is challenging, as it's really tempting to buy new lipglosses... Planning a little bit on travel in advance. Not spending too much on taxi - an essential to meet clients - and also Starbucks, I try to only drink mocha on Fridays, and switch to healthier, cheaper options like fruit juices. I did book swops, went to second-hand bookstores, not buy any books until I've finished reading all the ones I have (same for clothes!) There are some things I really enjoy that I can't help spending on, nice cheese, macarons - they are expensive! A good tuina massage once a month for the neckaches. Treating friends for lunch. Facials to ensure I still look 25.
I realized I am quite easygoing and while I am not all shiny bubbly happy, I am not the worrisome type, nor the overtly critical, though at times I can be both.
Last Christmas, I found myself going on a strange journey that seemed to be out of a dream. There was dancing and hugging and crying and taking frantic bus rides. While this year's proves to be more mundane - I am actually in Singapore after years of not being here, I will enjoy my quiet day, snuggling alone, watching my last DVD in my stash. I think I will enjoy a quiet day for once, and possibly get up to doing something useful, for once!