2012 is a bit complicated. It isn’t J1, or J2, or second year, or the year I graduated. So it’s 31 December 2012, the end of the year I … what? Where is my reference point? The year I turned 23, perhaps. But in 10 years 23, 27, 25, 24 are all going to mash into one another into a blur of memories, and then it would all become “When I was in my twenties”. So maybe. Maybe if I write some things down and the WWW never crashes and takes all my conversations with an imaginary audience with it, one day I’d be able to look back and say, hey, when I was 23, in the first year of work, in the year I figured out how to use powder to degrease my hair, XYZ happened. That would be nice.
2012, on balance, has been good to me. There were holidays, there was lots and lots of singing, there was exotic travel, my Singapore trip count possibly spilled over to my other hand, there were some new friends and rekindling of some friendships I never ever want to lose. There was a certain extent of self-enlightenment, but that has since gone one full circle and then hit a brick wall. There were some points where my dark emotional tendencies went on a bit of an overdrive; but apparently BBC says creative people tend to get depressed very easily…so I’m not just a girl, I’m in fact a creative girl, thank you very much.
This is going to be a scrapbook of memories. It’s going to be a long post. But it’s really not meant for anyone but me. But if you insist…patience is virtue.
I remember prowling the streets of KL with bags of food in my arms, and the faceless man shooting up in the shadows of a darkened shophouse. I remember the smiling, well-groomed old man sitting on the steps of Maybank tower with a gold pen in his breast pocket, just lounging there like he wasn’t homeless, he was just waiting, waiting for a bus to take him somewhere he belonged.
I remember being in office at 2, 3 am in the morning, feeling extremely tense, stapling together drafts that didn’t mean anything to me.
I remember walking barefoot, hand in hand, out onto the silver sands of Bintan, glinting and feminine under the glow of the early morning sun.
I remember Manila and the jarring disparity. There were these dismal streets that looked like a rundown 80s’ America, with torn paper signs hanging off deserted neon lights. There were roofless, windowless, scarred little block-shaped buildings, awkwardly sitting within the embrace of curving, rolling highways, looking like no one has touched them for fifty years. Then the stalling traffic forces you to take a close look, and you see a man lying with his arm over his eyes, taking a nap under the tarpaulin on the roofless top storey. Yes, that was home.
Yet just the night before, there was Greenbelt and Glorietta and their heavily guarded mall entrances. Please, guards, look after all these rich foreign shoppers, like me. Keep us safe. Keep all these burly white men, each with a local woman hanging off his arm, and an LV bag hanging off hers, safe. I remember a South African conference participant saying to me: this is amazing. I’ve never been to Asia, and I never expected it to have such first-world infrastructure.
I don’t remember what the spot was, but the next morning a taxi driver showed me where the shooting of bus hostages took place in 2010.
I remember standing, onstage, in a circle of light, singing my first proper solo, and feeling the most insecure I’ve felt in ages. I remember dancing and singing and the snapping of fingers, consciously telling myself to stop thinking! You’re performing! But I couldn’t stop my mind my from saying, over and over again: OHMYGOD look how far you’ve come, from not being able to remember Orientation batch dance in J1, you’re now singing and dancing – at the same time – onstage to a paying audience!
Boundless, unrestrained, uninhibited self-expression is exhilarating. Sometimes I feel I can only achieve that sort of security singing in a group.
I remember leading my parents home from Lot 10 in the car, and feeling like a schoolgirl – proud that they were proud of me.
I remember feeling manically depressed. What a psycho. I remember the distance and the anger and the despondence.
I remember, in vivid detail, Dar es Salaam, and Robert who worked in mining. On my last night in Tanzania, I went down to the hotel restaurant armed with a book, prepared to have dinner alone. But I ended up having a long chat over dinner with Robert, from the Yukon, who trained young men how to work in the mines. He had a son and a beautiful daughter, who took after her mother. I don’t know his last name. But I remember his face, and I remember his nails were encrusted with soot. We talked about many things – about Malaysia, about the Yukon. He was surprised I knew about Yukon – so I told him about Calvin and Hobbes, and Yukon-Ho! and how I’ve reread Calvin and Hobbes a million times. I told him how I know Dar es Salaam had some beautiful beaches close by, but I didn’t really mind not going, because, it’s only a beach, right? Beaches are everywhere. But no, Yukon had no sandy beach, so the beach was a big deal to his children, eh? But Yukon did have a nice little desolate coast tucked away somewhere, and he knew a secret route there. He told me how he thought people were wrong about mining, and that as far as he was concerned he gave those boys much better wages and a purpose in life. Perhaps. Perhaps working in a place that accumulated dust in your lungs that eventually killed you over the years was no different from a man who jumps off planes for a living.
We headed up to the rooftop bar after dinner. It was a nice, starry, cool sky that hung over us. That was when I noticed his sooty nails. We had a Kilimanjaro beer each, and I remember what it tasted like. It was better than Heineken. Robert said it was amazing how if you didn’t look down, you could be anywhere in the world. You would never know you were in Africa.
It was true. It was surreal. It made me realise that I was not going to let life go before coming back to this continent again and really seeing, feeling Africa.
I remember intermittent moments in the year where I felt unadulterated joy. Waking up. Sitting in a car. Giggling. Eating. Children. Decorating. Finishing a handmade calendar.
December. I remember tearing open an envelope to find a lovingly cut up jigsaw puzzle of photos and messages, an unexpected birthday present from friends I’ve started to let slip away; yet after JC, whenever I missed JC, the handwritten messages I collected from them over the two years were my only source of comfort. How could I have let myself forget that!
I remember walking away from office those last few days before Christmas, and then taking two steps back just to admire the Christmas tree and the blue fairy lights, and the cutout snowy hills and incorrigible snowman peeking out from the side, making fun of the tiny trees. I had been having food poisoning, and going back to my flat to wait for my parents to come pick me seemed like the best thing in the world. It’s amazing how parents can sometimes just make everything okay.
I remember Christmas Eve. The airport.
I remember Christmas. I remember looking at the red cabbage, sprouts, beans and bacon in the wok, thinking, gosh, what a brilliant shade of purple. I remember smelling the roast, and looking at the spread on the table, and thinking, yes, you’ve definitely upped your Christmas dinner game.
At this time last year, I was moping about how I wasn’t in Trafalgar Square rocking the cold weather and getting squashed among a buncha rowdy happy people. Which was when I decided I was going to make myself a collage of all things related to those 3 wonderful years in UK so I could slobber over the good old days.
But you know, I’ve decided. I should stop looking back. I’d never ever figure out what I want to do with my life if I kept dwelling on the past when I thought I knew what I wanted.
Instead, I should go read a book.