First love presents itself as stomach-turning butterflies, a palpitating heart and infinite nervousness. When he is near, you find yourself unable to think straight; when he kisses your cheek for the first time, it feels as though you've just won an Olympic gold medal for your country. You're proud and ecstatic and have no fear. You don't know what's coming next, except that the world feels as if it doesn't exist when you're in his arms. When his lips touches yours, you feel as though your legs can no longer take the weight of your happiness. You don't think about the future because what could possibly go wrong? You are here and he is with you and everything feels so right.
But then all of a sudden everything is torn away from you when you least expect it. He leaves as quickly as he entered, leaving a storm of dust behind in his wake, and the ashes of the future that you never spared much thought to anyway. You are down on your knees, trying to gather the ashes but you fail; the tears streaming down your face are clouding your eyes. He left you with no map, no road signs to navigate the aftermath of his departure, and his absence has left you more lost than you have ever been before. So this is what it feels like to your heart broken for the first time. People try to make you feel better. They tell you it gets better with time, but maybe you don't want it to get better. You never want to forget the best moments of your life.
There’s something so humanistic, raw and fragile about the way humans crave connectedness. Your blood screams for a sense of belonging, regardless of where you are. In social situations, you scrounge for a common thread binding you to the stranger you’re conversing with, and when you get incredibly excited when you find it—it’s as if you’re looking at the scars, wounds and crowns of the other person and are saying “Yes, I understand you. You are my kind of human.” You have found something in their blood and bones that you understand. You have found a little bit of home in them, and will continue doing so in every person you meet, for the rest of your life.
Complaining about where we live seems to be one of common threads running through us humans, regardless of where we live. There is always something we dislike about the weather, the infrastructure, the government, the lack of nightlife, the lack of this and that…I have met some individuals who, in extreme cases, went about harping the same tune to everyone they met—about how much their city is such a dirt hole, etc. That sentiment followed them wherever they went, no matter where they went and which city they moved to. While I cannot discount the many who love their city, I marvel at the others who would much rather focus on the negative aspects of the city—whichever it is—than trying to find little gems within it. When you strip the superficial layers of each city back, you will realize that life in every city—at its core—is fundamentally the same. Sure, some cities may have a little bit more or a little less of this and that but when you focus on the externals, you are merely living life through that myopic view of yours. I believe every city—for the most part since there are no absolutes—has something special to offer. They may be some cities that suit you better, but can your priorities really not change? Our likes and dislikes shape-shift all the time, and so can our characters. So the next time you find life getting a little bit dreary wherever you are, take a step back and truly question your thoughts. At the end of it all, the people who matter most to us are what makes life meaningful. And these people will always be there, loving you and you loving them, wherever you are. When all else fails, dig a little deeper into the people closest to you. True gems can be found in each of them, regardless of where you are.
It’s amazing how just a tiny slither of hope has the power to enable people to live through the most traumatic experiences. Even though it hurts every part of their being, right down to their very core, as long as they have that tiny slither of hope, that tiny ray of light floating above them, no matter how out of reach that light is, they will be able to move mountains. But the toughest part is to begin to see that tiny slither of hope—to even want to, to even want to allow yourself to see it, to touch it, to understand it, to embrace it, to feel it course through and take over your entire being—to allow that vulnerability to take over, and its consequential, overwhelming, catastrophic pain that will come.
I can never seem to get over the dichotomy between wanting my voice to be heard, and risk revealing too much of myself when writing. They always seem to go hand-in-hand—but if I had it any other way, my voice will be heard without revealing too much of myself.
Perhaps this dilemma is subjective, because no two writers work the same way. Nevertheless, I believe all writers write from what they know—even fiction writers. Their writing may not be real, but these writers create from within themselves. These little snippets of inspiration are then morphed and manipulated to take on multiple disguises, but once you peel back the layers of final product—the final story—you will find that the story is just a manifestation of fragments of the writer’s life.
As Sylvia Plath, one of my literary heroes aptly put: “I write only because there is a voice within me that will not be still.” In order to unpack this “writer’s quagmire,” it is essential to revisit my motivations for writing. I primarily write to make better sense of the jumble of thoughts in my head. When the thoughts come they always come thunderously, ricocheting off the walls of my brain, absorbing the energy off each other, beating violently on the walls of my head. These thoughts then translate to overwhelming emotions that I cannot seem to get past. I often tremble ever so slightly—I may be imagining this (but what is real?)—while I open a word document or pen and paper and attempt to translate these thoughts and feelings into words.
As a wanderlust, I’ve faced too many goodbyes. The first few times were the toughest, but that doesn’t make every time easier. When it’s time to separate, I will feel that familiar dread in my gut, along with a heart so heavy that it takes all my willpower to go through those gates without having a million thoughts racing through my mind. So many things can happen during the time till our next meeting—people can change, places can change, circumstances can change, and there is always the possibility that the goodbye will be the final one. Airports are so bittersweet—they host too many goodbyes, yet they witness the most amazing reunions.
I’ve come to expect the dread and the heavy heart during separations, so I guess that makes the separation a little more manageable, however “manageable” separations can be. There are so many reasons for the dread and heavy heart, but I’ve come to realize that the worst part about separations is the knowledge that the things and people you’ve left behind will continue to take on lives of their own—that things will never be the same again. Things will lurch forward and full speed, people will carry on with their lives, and although social media, chat apps and video calling make staying in touch so much easier than before, the fact that you aren’t physically present in their lives means that things will never be the same when you’re back. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to fly back and forth every few weeks of months, good for you, but for most of us who leave family and friends behind in search of something else, something different (note that I don’t say “something better” because really, the point isn’t to escape from reality but to explore)—we’re often gone for months and years.
It doesn’t matter that it has been four months since I last breathed Taiwanese air—at times like these, in an effort to preserve these memories that are beginning to shift and rearrange themselves in my head to make way for new memories, for new memories to build upon these old memories—I will do my best to write, to record these memories all down, so that months and years ahead, even when the mind tries to play tricks, these words will stand testament to all I’ve experienced.
1. Stores that open till late. Having a full workday meant a lot of my experiences around the country was restricted to nighttime, save for weekends. In many Western countries, it would have been disastrous for me because stores and businesses often stop operating pretty early. Being the true-bred city girl that I am, I embraced this aspect of Taiwan immediately. It helped a lot that it was actually safe to hang out at night as well. My heart is constricting now that I’m recalling all the lovely, quaint little cafes, tucked away in back alleys teeming with life. Not to mention that big cities are really pretty at night—Taipei 101 was definitely quite a site to behold from Elephant Mountain or 象山 which is technically more of a hill than a mountain, but still offered one of the best views of Taipei 101. I really miss those little hikes up Elephant Mountain after work and thoroughly sweating through my clothes thanks to the humidity and heat.
2. Feeling safe when it’s late at night. This might not only be unique to Taiwan, but it’s the first foreign country in which I’ve felt safe when it’s late. A very big reason I felt safe at night in Taiwan, especially in the major cities, was because the stores remained open till late, and also because I could count on many people still being up and about when it’s late thanks to these stores that remain open. This is one of the many things I love about Asian cities. It also helps a whole lot that the Taiwanese in general are immensely trustworthy and upright people who seem to always put others before them.
Any Singaporean who hasn’t been living as a hermit would have heard by now all the fuss surrounding the ban of the marching song “Purple Light”—an integral part of a Singaporean National Serviceman’s life. For those unaware of this issue, this article sums it up. The main problem lies in the line “rape my girlfriend”—in some cases “rape” is replaced with the word “beat” which similarly promotes violence against women.
While it makes me proud that we’ve moved one step forward in the fight to end such misogynistic ideology, the negative reactions surrounding the ban just proves that there are still an infinite amount of people who aren’t on the same boat with regards to striving for gender equality. The comments on it surrounding the whole issue just appalls me and honestly makes me want to break down and cry. Examples are articles like this that poke fun at the issue and make light of it—and their accompanying comments from Facebook users. This isn’t what progress means. They say Singapore has achieved many feats within mere a couple of decades but in this aspect, we have remained stagnant and so far behind many other countries. I would like to problematize many other issues that plague Singapore’s supposed success, but in this piece I’d like to voice my responses to the negative reactions surrounding the “Purple Light” ban.
As with everything else, friendships have been and will always be subject to change. There are an infinite number of elements within a friendship that can evolve—like the earth’s plates, these elements struggle and run head-on into each other, causing all sorts of friction until the incongruence displays itself outwardly and physically—exactly like how the earth breaks apart at its surface when it finally succumbs to the pressure underneath. While I am rather ill informed on the theory of plate tectonics, I think there is an uncanny similarity between elements of a friendship and the earth’s tectonic plates.
They say that sometimes, you have to let go of things—objects, cities, hometowns, gadgets, and friends—when all they do is blow and push at you from in front, causing you to struggle backward in your life path, just as strong gusts of wind blow and push at you from in front, causing you to fall behind, pushing you further and further away from the path you’re on.