may we never forget these days

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This post is emotionally wrought with stories of nostalgia, themes of reflection and thoughts on moving on. This isn’t a sad post, but neither is it necessarily an extremely happy one. But that is also how I feel right now – at the perfect state of bittersweetness.

I’ve heard how college changes your life. I’ve heard how it’s the best four years of your life. I’ve also heard how you make some of your best friends here. I’ve seen all of that come true, especially as the past month unfolded itself. I find myself at a really important point in my life, wanting to give it the time and space it needs to fully affect me as it should.

I’ve learnt so much about myself the past 3 years, constantly facing challenges and having to evolve as I learn more about the world around me. I came into college with a head bigger than it should have been. I had completed some significant chapters in my life, but it wasn’t experience that beget opportunities, but humility and curiosity. I learnt that vulnerability is where you are fully taking in what is around you because you have fewer guards to stop you. For example, when I signed up to produce a musical, I walked into rooms, shut up and learnt from others before speaking my part. I learnt to trust the knowledge of the community and my peers, and that made me even more important as a collaborator and manager.

It is also this humility and curiosity that stopped me from judging people who were different from me, something that is almost endemic to the conservative Singaporean psyche and allowed me to connect with a fascinating diversity of people. I am so so happy I got the opportunity to come to Chicago, which is the crossroads of culture, politics and experiences in the US. The days I’ve spent just wandering the neighbourhoods and the nights I’ve spent traversing the beautiful urban landscapes of the city will always be etched into my memory as some of the most classically romantic points in my life.

Before college, I thought I understood what friendship was and what it stood for. A step backwards, I was also a very angsty teen growing up. I really thought I was undeserving of love, that I was someone who had to claw his way up in every situation he was in and prove his utility to earn a place amongst others. It’s a huge part of the underdog story I had to live as a part of growing up, both as a minority and an immigrant. But in college, again in the past month, I’ve seen my real friends take their place and make their love for me known. I’ve felt my heart explode a thousand times over as I feel emotionally connected to the people who have surrounded me for the past few weeks, months and years. I’ve felt distraught as I realise that this chapter is ending, that this story is taking on a new turn and that the cruelty of the life will not allow me to have the privilege of being just a five-minute walk from any of these people. But I’ve also felt the showers of affection. The more I give myself away, the more I get back and the more honest I become, the more connected I become to the people around me. I’m leaving college having a vastly different understanding of friendship and love, and I really am standing on a bittersweet intersection of this realisation.

I am a product of my experiences, my character and the people who support me. I have never felt more connected to life itself, to the wider ways of the universe. I will always be that kid from Singapore, the one with dreams bigger than he can handle, but I will also always be your friend and loyal companion if you choose to be mine. I will take every adventure on with you, and I will promise that our memories will be laced with surreal moments.

These are my transformations in college. may we never forget these magical days and may we always remember who we were at this point in our lives.

hooah.

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take a day off

It’s easy to fall into the trap of obsession. You focus on one thing, and your world starts getting smaller and smaller. In the end, all you’re left with is that one thing, and you look around and there’s nothing left. Many of us let ourselves fall into that trap – we’re so determined and focussed that we don’t give ourselves time to breathe and look around.

Tagging onto this though, is the negative effect of disappointment. If your life isn’t balanced out, failure in your one domain of focus, becomes failure of life as you know it for you. ‘This was all I cared about, and now it’s failed’ is the sentiment.

I was here on Friday.

For good reasons, Lambda Chi has been a core part of my life and college experience. It’s literally a commitment to brothers, and as you would know, reader, I take commitment seriously. I became obsessed with the house to the point that I depended on it for some sense of meaning to my days here. I was conscious of the path I was taking, but at the end of the day, I kept going simply because it was convenient and it was easy. Why go out of the comfort zone when you don’t have to , right?

Now the person I pride myself on being would never let that slide, and I guess I caught myself before it got bad, but it took one emotional moment for me to realize it. Friday night got me somewhere, and I re-evaluated why I felt so many ways. That’s when I realized it was all to do with my own environment – I had built a comfortable space for myself and locked myself in, but the moment it became difficult to breathe, I had nowhere to go.

Saturday let me drop everything and take a day off from my own life as I know it. All my assignments had their deadlines shifted, and I was able to do whatever I wanted. I ended up going for a long run, having brunch in town, help set up a cultural fair, watch two comedy shows and just have an amazing time completely unrelated to my role in Greek Life. I reminded myself why I loved traveling, simply because it forces you out of indulging in comfort, and enjoying diversity. I kept telling people I wish I could travel soon, when honestly there was so much I could do right here while I wait to travel again.

My mind was given space to breathe, my heart was given time to recharge, my soul was refilled. I was on the path to obsession, and I tapped out the moment I realized it. And that made all the difference.

hooah.

i know nothing

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I haven’t told a story in a while. I feel like I have words lodged here and there, attempting to come together like colors form a picture. The mind gets clear when I can write, when I can put down the emotions and the sensations in a form that exceeds itself. So write I will, and perhaps I can understand then.

____

This story starts with a man not too different from me. Eazy was at his regular spot, on the roof of the building he lived in. He had his notebook in his hand, a Moleskine that was gifted to him by his ex-girlfriend, and that he ironically had never used till she broke up with him.

‘Never could understand what was so special about these’ he said, running his hand over the page. ‘I could just as easily write on a notebook from the C-Store.’

The landscape in front of him always had a way of inspiring him. It was Toronto, 2016. Young and bold. This was going to be his break , his big entrance into the world of literary stardom. He had already traveled enough and he was ready to summarize the world in a singular expression. No longer would he be subject to the whims of a system, he thought.

‘It’s time to tell my own story’ he mumbled under his breath.

He uncapped his pen, and moved the top to the page.

‘He…’

He continued staring at the page. Where are my words, he thought. The sensation was a tightness in his brain, blinding his ideas and stuttering his thoughts.

‘He… lived an exceptional life’

Eazy stared at the words he had just wrote. It was only his first line and he already felt unhappy with his work. There was a different story he was trying to tell, and yet, he didn’t know how to say it.

“Eazy, are you there?” he heard someone call out.

He turned around to see the silhouette of a long-haired woman walk towards him.

‘God, she’s always been beautiful’ he thought as he continued sitting.

‘Hey Tina’ he replied. ‘Of course you’d know where I’d be’

‘Everytime Eazy’ she said , as she sat next to him. ‘How’s that story coming along?’ she asked as she peered over into his notebook.

His hands quickly covered the one line he had written. ‘It’s not done…not yet at least’ he mumbled.

‘I saw the one line you wrote’ Tina said as she laughed, ‘It’s not your best work’

‘You’re a great friend, you know, Tina.’ Eazy retorted. He continued staring at his Moleskine for a while more before turning back to her. ‘I’m having problems figuring out what I really want to tell. There’s a story that needs to come out , but it just isn’t.’ he said.

‘Talk to me Eazy, I’m here’ Tina said, placing her hand on his. Eazy turned to her and smiled.

‘Well, alright. Tell me something, Tina. What do you think is a universal theme in all stories you’ve read or seen?’ he started.

Tina stared out into horizon, thinking. ‘It’s about good vs. evil’ she said. ‘It’s always some good guy fighting a bad guy, and saving the day’

‘That’s exactly what I thought as well. Yet it didn’t make sense.’ Eazy replied.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well think about this. In this world, is the fight really against evil people?’

Tina stared back at him for a while. ‘Of course. There’s ISIS, there’s North Korea, heck, there’s disgusting people in this very neighborhood. What on earth are you saying if you’re insinuating that there aren’t bad people out there?’

‘I’m not saying anything like that. There’s absolutely no denying that there are incorrigible people out there. But I’m a writer, and as a writer, it’s impossible for me to see someone as good or bad. ‘

Tina pulled her hand away from his.

‘Listen to what I have to say. Just hear me out. I don’t think you can ever claim someone to be good or bad without recognizing the limitations to the label. You’re talking about a person at a specific point in time, detached from his past and his future . What if he turns evil at some point in his life? Does that mean he was never good? Being good had nothing to do with him becoming evil, yet for all sakes and purposes, the label is stripped from him because his evil is his legacy. What would have kept him from evil? Good? I doubt it.’

‘So you’re saying that evil people are naturally bound for their futures? That they’re destined for evil?’  Tina probed.

‘No, no. But that’s an interesting idea’ he said, as he scribbled the thought onto his palm. ‘What I think I’m trying to say is that there’s a bigger thematic war going on, in both the literary world and ours. One that actually makes more sense. That’s where I’m stuck.’

‘I hear you’ Tina said. She turned back towards the horizon, and Eazy did too. He heard her take a deep breath and sigh heavily. It was funny how Tina was here all this while. She had been supportive of his writing from the beginning, the one and only. If anything, she was the reason why he was back on the roof.

‘Look at that skyline, huh?’ she muttered. ‘Sometimes, this is what I need to take on the day.’

‘Hope!’ Eazy shouted.

‘What?’ Tina said, as she turned towards him.

‘The thematic battle. It’s between Hope and Despair. Both are forces, dynamic and unstable , unlike good and evil.  But more importantly, they are both pure, sincere and absolutely consuming. That’s the bigger battle in our lives. We have to continue hoping, because the loss of hope, the start of despair, is when we have truly lost.’

‘We have to keep believing.’ Tina smiled. ‘I like it.’

‘I like it too. And I think I know just the story to write.’ Eazy said , smiling back as he grabbed her hand and held tightly onto it.

Their eyes locked onto each other, and they continued smiling. Tina turned her head back to the horizon and paused for a while before finally, with hope in her voice, uttered ‘Tell me the story, Eazy’

And that he did.

____

hooah.

and then I said no.

I’m marking today as a milestone in my life. I’ve begun my first steps of saying no ; of choosing what is important over what is necessarily visible. Strangely, I’m feeling displaced , as if a rock has been placed in my gut and I don’t know what to do about it. All I can do is think about it, appreciate my new place and somehow get used to this discomfort. It’s refreshing – being displaced. Today, I made the decision to not run for leadership in my chapter.

Giving some context, I joined Lambda Chi under a contract to myself to commit to improving the state of affairs in the chapter. What is a great brotherhood, lacked the momentum to inspire initiative and project its true self on a community that was obsessed with image. As the Vice-President, over the past year, I overhauled frameworks and planted seeds for a culture of self-motivated external involvement. But my proudest take-away from the position was when I was tired of doing well and wanted to empower others to do better. The game had become easy – it was as if I was an advanced character playing on beginner mode. That’s nothing to say of my own absolute ability – there’s so much I have to gain in experience – but I also came from two significant leadership experiences ; leading in the army and running my own private company. I realized quickly the challenge then was to captivate the chapter to adopt my vision and make it their own by finding meaning in it.  One year later, and I’m incredibly satisfied with the distance we have come as brothers and the vastly different perspective and energy we have for things. There were leaders within the chapter now – voices that mattered. I was no longer the shining tip  – I was part of a bigger foundation for the future.

Joining IFC was my way of playing on ‘very difficult’ level. The issues I’m faced to confront are so much more complex and dynamic ; and ever so scary. Mental health, inclusion, sexual assault, wellness are all topics that are so embedded into college environments and yet perpetuated in echoes throughout society. There’s so much I have to deal with just by tapping on the string that unravels into a mess of related issues and personal lives. But there also lies the opportunity to heal brokenness and potentially transform the future. I know I frequently talk in big ideals and visions, but here I see myself possibly dealing with my biggest challenge ever. And I’m excited.

We went on a retreat this past weekend to have a first touch on our leadership councils and see what we want to plan for in the year ahead. Amongst many other things, the displacement originated from a realization that the scope of my job was very real in its effects. If I did my job well, I could do the same I did for Lambda Chi – I could build a culture that perpetuates itself. I traveled back to my chapter, thinking about the election that was to happen that day. I had expressed intention in the months before of running for the first Vice-President role – a role I wanted to transform in a similar way to how I had transformed the second Vice-President role. The chapter seemed favorable to the idea and I simply had to run to prove myself. Regardless of whether I won, the decision to run itself started to become difficult for me.

I had to choose between two roles that demanded so much from me and it tore me that I cared so much about each community. The decision came finally in the comfort of my brothers, who above all else, reminded me that I had pioneered such a self-starter culture that there was a new brand of leaders emerging in the chapter. One of my mentors once told me ‘The best type of organizational leaders are the ones who empower others such that they are useless by the time they leave’ . I finally realized I was experiencing some semblance of that. I could finally say no, no because it was important that I let this culture perpetuate itself, but also because I needed to see to the bigger task at hand in my new role.

It’s here that I’m displaced. I grew up fighting for roles that allowed me to transform my environments and make them better. Yet, here I am , realizing the success comes in my saying no. In saying that I should not be involved this way – still involved, but in less prominent ways. And if this is the trend, then I’m truly growing up. I’m truly moving into my senior year and making something out of both my youth , and out of my college experience. I’m inspired, and I’m ecstatic, because the final lap is ahead, and oh boy, they’re always so sweet.

As I type these final words, the displacement is starting to sweep away. I’m starting to understand how powerful leadership can be, and how I’m still learning. The world has so much more to beat into me, the stubborn idiot that I am, but every lesson is a ballad in itself.

It’s good to be alive.

hooah.

 

scenes of canada – a travelogue

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Ask about Canada and most friends tell me it’s just a country north of the United States. People are more polite, the temperature is lower and the mountains are higher ; these are the descriptors used often. It’s unfortunate that all these descriptors are comparative, referring to the US as the foundation. In my two weeks, travelling across the country, I’ve come to discover that Canada is a country completely in itself, rich with its own independent history and blessed with the nature of the north.

The nature of how I ended up in Canada is a story in itself. After discovering that it would be too complex to make the journey back home, and consequently to my grandparents’ wedding anniversary, my parents elected to allow me to travel this winter break. The Stooges were all over the world this break, with one in China and one in Austria , and I didn’t want to spend Christmas and the New Year alone. So we remembered we had family friends in Saskatoon, Canada and I ended up plotting one of my iconic cross-country adventure trails. Starting off in Vancouver, I made my way to Saskatoon and took a day trip out to Banff and the Canadian Rockies, spent a couple of days in Quebec City and finally ended the weekend in Toronto. I had also decided to go on a Ski Trip in Breckenridge, Colorado , for a week before this , but that’s a story in itself. Another important note before we start is that this trip happened in the early winter, which is a very different experience from Canada in the summer. I would imagine if I came back in June, I’d see a very different sight.

Vancouver

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Vancouver starts in the University of British Columbia for me , also affectionately known as UBC. I was hosted by Kenneth, who served in the Singapore Army with me in Basic Training. The first thing you’d notice about Vancouver is that the city is on the frontier to an amazing amount of nature. The mountains paint the background and you feel like nature is your companion through your time. The UBC campus itself is interesting, paying homage to the issues surrounding Vancouver, and is on the west coast looking out at North Vancouver. My favorite part of the campus is Wreck Beach , which is the first photo in this post. It unsettles you the moment you finish the climb down , with the vast amount of wreckage found. In warmer seasons, it is populated with nudists, that make for an unique experience.

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Historical Vancouver is found in Gastown where someone with the nickname ‘Gassy’ started his first saloon. You feel like you’re in a different time, with retro looking buildings and complete gentrification with classy restaurants, cafes and a number of souvenir shops. My favorite highlight was the Gas Clock –  a clock that runs completely on steam, and on the dot at every hour conducts a musical symphony from the pressure released as steam is let go. The rest of Vancouver is an interesting conglomerate of districts , with the Harbour hosting the main scenic sights. Most districts have unique qualities, but what I found enjoyable was the mass quantity of Asian food. From Taiwanese to Vietnamese and even to Japanese, there’s quality food found anywhere in the Downtown and Chinatown areas.

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Perhaps the most iconic part of Vancouver is Stanley Park. Historically significant for various reasons, including being home to military use and iconic sights, Stanley Park is an hour of exploring temperate nature. My favorite part was the totem poles, paying tribute to the First Nations [Canada’s way of referring to the Natives]. Canada , in my opinion, does a lot better of a job respecting the fact that they are ultimately immigrants to a country populated by people with an already rich culture. Finding ways to coexist and respect each other are seen throughout the country and provide good lessons to take away.

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Vancouver is ultimately known as one of the world’s most livable cities. Had I not sprained my ankle on Ski Trip , I would have taken advantage of the natural backyard that’s so accessible. Instead, I looked out for other exciting parts of the city, including Storm Brewery, a super microbrewery specializing in craft beers and unique flavors including pickled beer and whisky wine. They’re all in a slightly shady industrial part of town, but are worth the trip out for the cheap tasters and the rich conversations with the other patrons and craftsmen.  mounties

If I was to choose one part of Canada to come back to, it’d definitely be Vancouver. It has most of what I love in a city – good food, affordable lifestyle and vast amounts of nature. It has its fair share of quirks though, from early closing hours to the Mounties [I’m so happy I managed to see these guys] plodding around on the pavement in the city.  Thanks for a good time Vancouver, and thanks to Kenneth, Sarang and Visha for taking the time to host me and show me your city.

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This was the part of the trip that I needed the most. Staying with friends of the family, allowed me to be an ‘adopted’ son for a week and have some semblance of a family after a while.That did mean I had to make an unorthodox stop in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, which has the unique catchphrase of being the ‘land of the living skies’. What that essentially means is that there’s vast amounts of flat land, allowing you to see the horizon far and wide. It makes for amazing landscape photography like the photo above, but I was also very excited to see the Northern Lights while on the road near Saskatoon. If anything, that made Saskatoon capable of providing a traveler his kicks.lakelouise2

Moving out of the plains of Saskatoon, we took a road-trip out to the Canadian Rockies – mainly the Banff region. Now, I had just spent the week before in the American Rockies at Colorado and was already pretty impressed by the mountainous terrain. But the Canadian Rockies are plenty times better, being unfettered and home to so much more natural wonders. There are visual sights around every corner, and lots of photography moments. My favorite was here at Lake Louise.snowfun

In the summer, Lake Louise is an actual lake people go to take boat rides in and engage in other lake activities.  But in the winter, it freezes up, providing the breath-taking view of a lake surrounded by mountains. You can do plenty of activities include sledding, as my family friends did above, or even play ice hockey or ice skate, which was super risky in my opinion but YOLO right?lakelouise

It takes a true traveler to break off the regular tourist paths and appreciate Canada’s natural abundant beauty. Here, moments are frozen for you to stare back at and enjoy; humbly presented for your awe. For that, Banff did a lot for me.albertasteak

Food in this part of Canada isn’t especially creative, although the beef is famous [AAA Alberta Beef] for being not just free of food enhancement, but also more delicious. I tried one up in Banff and was not disappointed – probably in my top 20 steaks. Go to Banff, enjoy the beauty. Thanks to Uncle Anand, Aunty Mercy, Deepa , Esther and Janet for making me feel like home.

Quebec Cityquartierpetit

Before I spent New Year’s in Toronto, I wanted to spend some time in East Canada, also known as New France and/or True Canada. This is where Canada deviates from the U.S. plentifold. Rather than visit another big city like Montreal, I took some of my friends’ advice and visited Quebec City instead. It’s smaller, more French and a lot more charming. This is where New France actually started, and in the winter, this city is beautiful beyond measure. With warming Christmas lights and charming buildings in the Old City, destinations like the Quartier Petit make for not just great photo opportunities but encouraging spirits as people carol and enjoy each others’ company. There’s plenty history embedded in this small city, and fulfills a full weekend’s agenda.lacstjean

I took the time here to truly enjoy Canadian French cuisine then, as this is where culture takes priority. At Aux Anciens Canadiens, staff dress up as waiting staff from the past in a cosy little cottage and transport you back to the days of old. The lunch set menu is value for money, and the food is authentic. I had the Lac St Jean meat pie, a pie unique to Quebec that makes use of game meat and roasted vegetables. With the sweet potato mash and tomato jam, this meal was rich in flavors and definitely reminiscent of my time in France.poutine

Of course. the star in the Canadian cuisine world is the Poutine. The original dish is made from fries, poutine sauce – which is similar to a light steak sauce – and cheese curds. Anything else is a deviation, but welcome addition. Ashton is a fast food chain dominant in the city and particular only to east Quebec. This is where most people go to eat Poutine, and I’ve seen people so much that I felt embarrassed with my small portion. Worth the hype? I’d say it’s an interesting dish to try and Quebec did it best for sure, but it’s not my go to indulgence.duckcrepe

My absolute favorite meal in Quebec City was in the Creperie Le Billig for brunch. Famous for affordable crepes that are incredibly well prepared, the Creperie Le Billig sits on Rue St Jean, a famous street for food and shops, and hosts plenty of patrons in a small outfit. I had the duck confit eggs benedict crepe and spent a whole one and a half hours just enjoying the crepe and ambience. I guess it’s at moments like this where I relished in being a traveler in a foreign city where no one knew me. I had my own schedule and was blissfully enjoying my time , and God, was it fulfilling.

Toronto

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Toronto ended my Canada tour, and boy, did it end on a grand note. Toronto is the New York of Canada – flashy, diverse and exciting. The Yonge-Dundas Square in central Toronto is the main city district and you can find most retail and entertainment options here. It’s similar to Times Square, with the addition of a huge central promenade for activities. steamwhistle

Heading down to south Toronto and you’ll see most of the tourist attractions. One of my favorites was the Steam Whistle Brewery, which embellished its grounds with vintage locomotives and trains. It lent a very rustic feel to the brewery that was refreshing. Steam Whistle is a uniquely Toronto beer brand that adds pride to the Toronto identity. Its Pilsners are pretty good and are a good try while in the city. You can also take tours of the brewery and taste samplers.CN

Rogers Centre, Air Canada Centre and the Ripley Aquarium all occupy south Toronto as well, but the prominent landmark is always the CN tower, a tower that at one point held the world record for tallest building. You can conduct an edge walk at the top that’s really exciting, but I didn’t dare given the cold winds. It’s a quiet reminder of the power of the city, following you around most of downtown and exciting you with every look.hockey

Something else that is big in Toronto is hockey. Probably most of Canada, but especially Toronto. The Hockey Hall of Fame sits in South Central Toronto and is filled with memorabilia and cool motifs from Hockey History. I don’t really follow the sport, but even I enjoyed the walk through the past of how hockey has become the great sport it is.lawrence

St Lawrence Market is a classic western market, that throws back to Toronto’s history. Most of it is regular groceries and meats, but on the west side, one can find many hot meals. Toronto’s ‘famous’ food is the Peameal Bacon sandwich , a thicker bacon placed in a sandwich. It’s severely overpriced, but I wagered it must be worth the price. It wasn’t really, so I’d recommend to try splitting it with someone to make it more value for money. Markets are a good look into the daily lives of locals as well, and I enjoyed seeing how locals interact and go about their lives.tiff

What I looked forward to most to be honest was The Toronto International Film Festival’s Lightbox Cinema that screens movies selected for TIFF and that are significantly important. I watched Son of Saul, a Hungarian film about the gas chambers in the Nazi regime, that was extremely disturbing in showing the realities of being a Jew in those times. The cinema is slightly less commercial and provides a better appreciation of the film genre. I was really happy I managed to spend some time here.AGO1

Another place that surprised me was the Art Gallery of Ontario. It provides free entry to everyone from 6pm – 9pm on Wednesdays, and the exhibits cover a spectrum of periods and themes.  AGO2

What made my night though was the surprise visual arts performance that was held in the central hall. There was a rock band that played, which contrasted awkwardly with the poignant paintings and sculptures around the building, and my favorite was the light art being done with water containers and projectors that projected shapes as the artists made movements in the container. It reminded me of how cities are ultimately destinations of youthfulness and promise , and why I love taking in the energy there. Major thanks to Angel and Kesigun for spending time with me and adding to the life of the city.niagrafalls

My final stop on the trip was a Day Trip out to Niagara Falls. It’s a lot cheaper to book way ahead and use MegaBus to get to Niagara Falls. The falls are everything people say it is – beautiful, magnificent and inspiring. The town itself is extremely touristy the closer you get to the falls, but it’s probably a good idea unless you have restless kids, to make your way straight to the falls. The Canadian side of the falls is definitely better, with the American side only being able to see the American Falls and glimpses of the Horseshoe falls. I even bought tickets to go behind the falls and stand at eye level with the middle of the falls. It’s here that the weight of my journey finally pressed down on me and I realized how blessed I was to be able to stand here and witness this.

___

It took me 19 years to realize my dream, but now I’m travelling so frequently I have to remind myself of the advantage I possess with what I do. Travelogues help me remember my own journeys, but my hope is that people get infected with the same wanderlust that I have. Break out, explore and be pushed out of your comfort zones. Let yourself be exposed to beauty , and let yourself breathe the air you are given.

Canada, you’ve been simply beautiful. I definitely want to come back.

hooah

take my youth, take my memories

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It was the day of the big reveal. Tiffany locked the door as she walked into the gallery. It’s a different feeling having the whole place to yourself , just you and your work.  She saw her soul here , a portion of it at least, laid out for the world to see. It was weird to her how one’s soul can live outside of their conscience.

The first picture was when she was 17 and had her first kiss. She was gleaming, her smile spread cheek to cheek. The summer camp they were at could be seen in the background, and the low quality of the photo taken on her friend’s phone was obvious through the noise all over. She remembered the thrill of the kiss, and then the immediate confusion that followed. What was going on, she had asked herself. I never knew he liked me… but he is kinda cute.  They had stopped once she realized her friends were giggling by the side. They simply walked away and went somewhere else to continue the snog. Whatever happened to him, she thought. They never saw each other past that summer camp.

It didn’t really matter all that much. Her mom had told her before “Your first kiss will be the most magical thing in the world.” She didn’t think so. Every subsequent kiss with Rick had only gotten more magical, and he was definitely not her first kiss. She looked back at the picture again, and smiled at the innocence of her youth.

She walked a couple of pictures down and stopped at a small one. It was a postcard she had written to her best friend that got bounced back. He had decided to travel to Europe and had invited her along. She remembered the day at the airport, giving him his farewell hug. “You sure you don’t want to do this? This small town isn’t big enough for our dreams” he had said. I’m not sure if that life’s for me, she had replied. That was the last she saw of him. They had exchanged postcards for a year, his stories of adventures in the Greek Isles and Swiss Alps and her stories of getting her first job and learning to cook. Her adventures were no less worthwhile, but he was right. Her first job taught her that she was too full of ideas to be locked behind a desk. She sent him the final postcard, asking to join him, if only for a month or so. It never reached him, and she never found out why. Where are you Buzz, she muttered to the postcard. Come back soon, I miss you. Bring the adventure here. She imagined him sitting in a villa in the Croatian countryside , with a beautiful wife and a backyard of opportunity . He’s probably happy wherever he is, she thought.

It was 15 minutes to opening time. She took another lap around the gallery, making sure everything was in place. She smiled at some of her photos, laughed at others. As she neared the middle of the route, she stopped at a portrait that had been drawn of her. Her face was long, her brows furious and her lips curt. This happened 10 years ago and yet so much has changed , she saw. She had been dating Rick for a year, and things were starting to get serious. ‘I’m going to break up with him’ she told Amy, her sister. ‘I’m not sure if I’m ready to be this serious’ she had insisted.

‘Let’s hit the pause button’ she said. ‘We decide our lives, and it’s seems like at this point, you need to know more about yourself before you make any more decisions’

‘Alright’ she said, thinking of Morty and his Croatian villa. They took a year to travel around Asia. From fighting pythons in the jungles to waking up in the middle of the Mekong, her world was changed. It was after the first month, on the streets of Bombay that she had made her first call to give up. Amy had looked at her straight in the eye and said ‘We can go back right now, but let me ask you something first. Have you answered your question?’

She had known the answer wasn’t true. That was when Amy drew the first portrait of her. Every month since, Amy would sit her down and sketch her look. The gallery had them laid out in sequence. As Tiffany continued walking down, she found the one that excited her the most. For the first time, on the last portrait, she had smiled profusely. It looked better than her smile of innocence at the beginning of the gallery. This was confident, proud in fact. You could see a sparkle in her eye, she was happy regardless of the situation. She had just traversed the Three Gorges in China and was overlooking the Bund in Shanghai. She looked back at Amy and smiled. “Hold that” she had said, and took a picture of her that she proceeded to copy into sketch.

“I know the answer now” Tiffany said. I know what this life means for me.

The last picture in they gallery showed Tiffany finally sitting on a bench in Central Park, New York. She was reading a book and smiling to herself again. Rick had taken that picture when she wasn’t looking. Below the picture was a quote she had placed. “When you decide happiness is completely in your hands, you’re probably ready to grow up”

She smiled again. It was time to open up.

geronimo.

 

two stories that defined my week

Let’s take it back today. I had a heavy week, starting on Wednesday , where I caught myself in a limbo of sorts. Every week thus far had been exciting, and every day had been filled with some level of fun and success. Yet, something was starting to feel absent. That’s probably why the dreams started : two dreams that I remembered not just vividly but emotionally. Here they are:

Dream 1 – The Loss of Vision

In this dream, I was seated at a table in a bar. It seemed like I was in one of the bars I had been in, in Wudaoku, Beijing . The lights were loud, and there was music that rang back to the 80s. There were people seated next to me and I was engaged in some form of casual communication.

Then all of a sudden, everything became blurry. What was once a clear sight was now pixelated and definitely evident of my myopia. What just happened, I asked myself. I was panicking – was I going blind?

Hold on, was I wearing contacts? I felt over my eyes and noticed the lack of spectacles. My contacts must have fallen out, I assumed. I conducted my regular vision check, covering one eye and confirming that I could see clearly. My left eye had lost its contact, I determined. I felt around the table I was at, to see if the contact had fallen.

I found it almost immediately, hardened as if it had dried up after being left out for a long period. Had my contact been missing for that long and I hadn’t noticed? What was going on, I asked myself, and immediately woke up.

Dream 2 – The Memory of Courage

Courage is a difficult word to claim. Even the declaration of someone being courageous has to be supported by consistent proof of his courage – a one time act does not validate a sustaining label. I cannot claim courage as a trait as often as I’d like to. I try my best and have had my fair share of courageous moments, but there are a sizeable number of times I wish I had stepped up to the plate and done what I could have.

This dream brought me back to the advanced training area in Tekong ’12 . I was in Basic Specialist training and it was our field-camp. We were being evaluated on a training package, and were at the last leg. We were exhausted, having been in the field for almost 4 hours on consistent battles and hammered with scenarios one after another.

‘The end is around the corner, gentlemen’ the section instructor told us.

We were keeping to pace, ensuring our movement was according to drill. All of a sudden out of nowhere, the sergeant shouted ‘ Arty, Arty’ indicating an Artillery Strike. We quickly dropped to prone position and echoed the words.

‘Goddamnit’ I remember thinking, ‘We were so close.’

‘Arty over’ he shouted, indicating the start of the sprint back to the safe zone. I was carrying section equipment, weighing a considerable weight. That on top of my load-bearing vest and rifle made the sprint one of the more difficult combat tasks of the day. On my sprint forward, I noticed one of my section mates on the floor not moving.

‘What happened?’ I asked him as multiple section mates ran past me and him.

‘I’ve been declared as injured’ he responded.

‘Fuck’ I remember thinking. I didn’t want to have to take on another load, I thought for half a second. But within the snap second, I remembered that if this was war, I couldn’t leave my brother in arms behind. I remembered he could very well be someone else’s sibling or son, and I could not wish the consequence of his ‘death’ on anyone.

‘Carry this!’ I shouted to another section mate who was running behind me, as I tossed him the bag with the section equipment. He got the cue and grabbed it from me.

‘Hold on’ I said, as I grabbed my section mate, and in one motion, threw him on my shoulders as part of the fireman lift and continued sprinting.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked me as I sprinted with him now loaded onto me.

I didn’t respond, focusing all my attention and energy on making the last 80m of the sprint. I was panting, breathing heavily and feeling my shoulders ache.

Almost there, I reminded myself.

I finally reached the safe zone, heaving myself into it. I put my section mate down and collapsed on the floor.

‘Good Job guys, you’re done with the package’ the Instructor commended us.

I continued to breathe heavily, as I reminded myself in that moment about the essential truth of struggle – the existence of peace and the continuation of a normal day requires more sacrifice than realized.

___

There was probably some psychological undertone to all of this. I had sent my laptop to repair and was absent of the usual distractions. I was at the gym a lot more and had more time to think to myself. I was somber pretty much most of the week, reluctant to engage in the regular frivolities. I committed to making every choice purposeful from Wednesday night, and saw some change in perspective.

I’m not sure where I’m at right now. I’m still confused at where I am, and where I’m meant to be heading. Having so much settled in your future, in a lot of ways unsettles you.

This is a new challenge I must face then.

geronimo.