Saturday, February 22, 2014

Things better left unsaid

We have been fooled to walk the hallowed hallways of our youths thinking that we've made it, to slave away for grades that are measures of how important we will be, to take action as if they will matter years from now, to boast of our achievements and claim that we've made progress. When, in fact, the hallways are as cold and sterile as when you first walked them, and just as long. The whitewashed walls are full of meaningless doorways and shelves of medals that are mere distractions, because the real question is, is there anything on the other side of the hallway?

The world has always been too big, too crowded and so it is easy for us to believe the things and people who make us feel significant. We have been taught that we can do anything if we try hard enough, when really, this is the mantra of the privileged. My friends at home who could not afford tertiary education overseas, those who are smarter and work harder than I do, I will have an unfair advantage over them anyway. Me with my fancy branded degree. They will never have a real shot in this world where opportunities are about as abundant as undergrowth in the desert. The truth is, we live in a supremely unjust world. There's no equality of opportunity, not in the real sense, and effort does not translate into results when it comes to the things that matter. My friends at home continue to toil while I suck shamelessly on my silver spoon. And what of the privileged? Only a handful make it anyway, and they are, more often than not, not the ones who have tried the hardest.

We are all alone. It is a scary thought to entertain, that we are alone. That, ultimately, the hallways we walk individually cross but do not converge. That we have been lied to. No one really cares that you're passionate and don't mind working long hours. The world moves because people are acting in their own self-interest.

I didn't want to come home last night. I didn't want to deal with all this work. I'm tired, but I know I can come back fighting if only I knew something was waiting at the end of the hallway. But I did come home, I still don't know, and the world goes on in spite of me.

Monday, September 23, 2013

An anatomy of goodbyes.

I don't think there is a proper way to say goodbye. Why do we think there is closure in saying goodbye? There isn't. There are only the people who leave, and the people left behind. A wave of the hand is a poor replacement for the years lost. No matter how you do it, goodbyes cut us wide open, leaving us vulnerable to the ravages of time.

Going away is hard. But arriving and living in a country not your own is beautiful and thrilling. There is a freedom in leaving behind everything and everyone that you used to know. You recreate yourself. It is exciting to feel like you can be anyone you want to be, and not be judged based on your past. But as time passes, it becomes less about how long you've been here and more about how long you've been gone. You wonder how many of your friends back home have moved on. How many have changed. This is the price we pay for our new beginnings.

Back home, the people who have moved on give you less reason to return. You realise that those times you missed so sorely will never be re-enacted. There are no more people, only poignant memories of moments past that manifest in the places you guys used to loiter around. The more you have to say goodbye to, the harder it is. But I feel that's ok. What we have is priceless, and a little pain builds character. A little pain keeps our feet on the ground and makes us understand that we are all human. So human. Too human.

This moment, too, will pass. We have short memories. It is entirely possible I will stop fussing about people and, instead, let achievements and possessions play a central role in my life. I will fall into new routines, find more important matters to worry about, and, one day, I will look back at what I'm writing now and laugh. A hearty, non-cynical laugh, hopefully.

Friday, September 13, 2013

It's becoming more and more apparent that these are the best years of our lives.

Youth is a feeling of invincibility. Youth has tunnel vision. It is self-absorbed. Youth does not understand the language of experience.

When I first came back to Malaysia, I was instantly relieved to be flooded by the comfort of the familiar. But as the weeks dragged on, it became apparent that there was much more than what was on the surface. It was one of those times you accidentally come across an old photo. At first glance, nothing has changed. But then you look longer, and you see the person with the unfocused eyes. The unsure smile. The little bits of discolouration at the corners. Yellowing spots on the back of the photo. The irony of it all.

At some point after that comes the realisation that you have suffered an embarrassing defeat against the odds. Despite all the promises and the fail-safes, nothing is the same. Of course, it isn't obvious at first. But soon enough, the telltale signs surface. The friends who never have time to be friends any more. The plans to "catch up" that are as empty as the words behind them. We have all moved forward, but not all of us have progressed in the same sense of the word. Maybe I'm noticing because I simply haven't caught up, but I don't think so. I can make peace with the fact that people do not want to be friends any more for whatever reasons, but I am disgusted by this lack of effort to push this friendship anywhere.This ambiguity. Every time you miss an opportunity to go out, we have less things to talk about. It feels like you're unpacking all this emotional baggage and, in the middle of it all, you decide that you're tired and just close your eyes and will it to go away. We all deserve better than this.

Or not. This could be a rite of passage. For all I know, promises we made as youths don't count. But I know I don't want to hear about you through mutual friends.I don't want to rely on social media to tell me what I should already know. Heck, let's all stop trying to prove that we're living the perfect life on Facebook. I want to talk, really talk, but it's been so long since we've had a conversation that's not superficial.

I'm grateful for the friends that have stuck with me. Here, nothing has changed. If anything, we've grown closer. But who knows, time has a very persistent way of twisting things we thought we knew. Maybe I'm mistaken. Maybe it's just that not enough of it has passed. But I can't help but think this is how it should be. Easy and spontaneous. The effortless camaraderie. As likely to fight as we are to high-five. And who takes photos when we're seeing each other every other day? I scrunch up my nose at the modern-day dependence on emoticons or stickers or whatever they call them these days to convey our feelings and compensate for each other's inadequacy at understanding. You who is so ready to take offence at what I say, how are we ever going to be friends when we measure and measure our words?

Youth is transient. When the ideals die and we let ourselves be jaded, when speaking our mind is replaced by trying to read between each others' lines, then youth, along with all its promises, have become baggage.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

For Malaysians in the UK.

It is hard to describe to people who have never been to Malaysia how it is to live in our country. The charm in old run-down coffee shops. Our language that is an affectionate blend of cultures. Gatherings with old friends at decrepit burger stalls by the roadside flanked by cybercafes with tinted windows. The way we all come together for an all-important badminton match. The vibrance. This is what you're leaving behind when you leave in the search for greener pastures.

In a couple of years, we're going to graduate. It's scary. As the weeks at university drag into months and eventually into years, it seems there are people out there who are already more accomplished than we will ever be. The people who already know what they're going to do with their lives. We all probably know one or two of them. The presidents of the societies and the insane people who win all the prizes and do all the work on time. The people with the perfect grades and perfect teeth and perfect knowledge of all the possible interview questions. They have the next ten years all mapped out. Woofuckinghoo, I applaud your persistence.

But for the rest of us, we're still somewhat caught in a multitude of options, one more mediocre than the next. There is a sentiment I sense creeping into our collective consciousness, as we struggle with our deadlines, that London is where we ought to be. A utopia of career prospects. But do you really want to live in London? Do you? To work in some formidable glass building in Canary Wharf. Where clocks everywhere remind you of the meetings you're late for and all the time zones separating you and all you know. Quaint coffee shops you have no time to sit down at. Breathing in the stale air of the London Underground where people are power walking in every direction you look, so that even if you are existentially lonely, it is impossible to be physically lonely. I cannot go on living in the UK knowing that I will not be going home the same day I complete my degree. It saps the fight out of me. London makes me sick.

Or you could always move back to Malaysia and work in a cubicle where you trade your mental health and early adulthood for pennies. Doesn't sound like much of a plan but it's the best one most of us have. By the time you repay your study loans, there really isn't much left of your life for anything else. You are no longer young, no longer allowed to take risks, not allowed to fail crazily, because you have too much at stake and too little time. You blend into a work culture that retards initiative in a million different ways so that, little by little, you are reduced to one of them.

Take your pick. I only hope, years from now, as we move to London and move away from London and wished we had or had not moved to London, that we are still fundamentally the person we want to be.

Monday, April 15, 2013


Let us be honest. Brutally honest. We're not going to live forever. The people we know and love are not going to be around forever. As I write this, adolescence is slipping away. Soon, it will be gone, just like childhood and the teenage years have slunk away, so tangible and fresh in our memories, but really, just out of reach. It's funny, how we were all once young and thought we were invincible. And maybe we were, in the little bell jars we lived and suffocated in. But those days are over, painfully over. Before I realise that there is a bigger chunk of my life to look back on than to look forward to, I have a few questions.

Is there anything you can do about people you miss? You meet people you take for granted. Until the day those circumstances that have brought you together, be it school, geography or sports, ends. You're not going to leave these people behind, not in the negative sense of the word. But there is a separation there. The regularity you speak with them dwindles. You see them online and you want to send them a message, but you falter. Some of these people will just fade away into the scenery, and that's ok. But others, you're not so ready to let go. Happiness brings people together, but nothing bonds people like suffering. When you're all broken the same way, you learn to read between each others words and into the silences. We don't have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I'd say that was how I felt with those people, a feeling of family, and, to me, it's worth missing.

What do you dream about? Let's talk about your aspirations. Do you dream about the future and what it promises? Do you dream about a life of comfort and happiness you don't have to try so hard for, or are your dreams the same as waking life, with the same people and the same goals others have set for you? Do you even know the difference anymore? Or are your dreams so impossible and fragile that it cripples you sometimes? What do you do when you realise that your ambitions will amount to no more than a composition in your primary school exercise book? We are our own hardest critics, and it is often easy to forget to be gentle with ourselves.

What is the best way to be happy? Do we settle or do we push? The years inch by and suddenly this becomes a trick question. The immense sense of possibility we had as children has evaporated, leaving a bad aftertaste under our tongues. We have impossibly high standards that we will never live up to. We are overshadowed by our own past successes. Where does that leave us then?

I carry the past on my shoulders and cradle the future in my arms. That is my flaw. I need to revive that sadomasochistic relationship with the present that is my brand of happiness. Then, hopefully, things will start falling into place.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A bulletproof coffin.

Over the years, I have become very good at denial. I am not the rash person I was before. I can't tell if I'm a better person for it. Recklessness felt alive. Now I feel very little for anything. There are very few things I can find it in myself to hate, love or fight for. What I do feel, I keep to myself, concealed under an inscrutable expression I have perfected. I see things, but I refuse to let myself react.

Emotions are pointless. They are futile attempts of our minds to come to grips with reality. They cloud judgement. If there is one emotion I am still as woefully subject to, it's anger. It is the one emotion I allow myself to indulge in. My anger used to be a by-product of my passions. Now it stems from self-loathing. When it happens these days, I do not hit things nearly as much any more. Instead, it is a quiet, seething rage that bubbles barely beneath the calm, civil exterior I try so hard to put together. I've been taught that, harnessed right, it is a very useful emotion. However, to be angry all the time is exhausting. It strips your needs to the bare minimum, but there is only so much self-abuse you can take before you crack.

A lot of times, I look at my life from above, and I swear I do not know what to feel.

I'd like to say that I have nothing. It would make the anger more righteous, more bearable. But it isn't true. I have everything, but I am nothing.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

I don't know.

I've learnt that these three words may be the closest I can come to telling the truth. I don't know why I'm down sometimes. I don't know what triggers the sharp downward plunges in my mood. I'm fine for days at a time, and then, bam, that feeling, that opposite of happiness but not quite sadness. Sometimes it is a pea that balloons up in my face as the day drags by. I know what's coming when the skin breaks and it washes over me. Sometimes I'm happy and I turn around, and it hits me like a yellow school bus and I find I can't breathe properly. These are almost as bad. Maybe it's the idleness. Sitting down and chatting and having fun. Maybe I don't want to have fun because having fun makes me feel guilty. I can make sense of this guilt, but I don't want to. Because it whispers to me how much of a failure I am in all but the most insignificant of ways.

I'm tired of eating burnt rice. I'm sick of eating cold leftover rice on winter nights. So I cook pasta. But I want to eat rice. I like how this short paragraph speaks volumes about my life.

My life is about as exciting as my cooking. Day after day, I dance lightly around the elephant in the room, careful not to rouse it. It is so much easier to not feel, to just be. But I'm afraid to lose myself in this person I'm not for long periods at a time, because I am isolating the human part of myself in this little dark chamber in the folds of my mind and every day I do not take it out for a walk, it decays a little. I decay a little.

I tried running today and my ankle flared up again. Maybe it is enough to exist. To not overexert and overachieve and fuss over every minute detail. To go on, never more than one day at a time, and enjoy the scenery. Then maybe, I wouldn't attach all my expectations, all the important little bits of who I am, to a person I am not sure I can be.

Aaah. Again, this foul stench of guilt.