The Eternal Queue

Crowds at the immigration, people packing themselves in the bus terminal, all clamouring to leave the country. Queues extending in messy loops, stretching up the staircase through the customs declaration area.

That was how insane JB was in the late afternoon of Vesak Day.

Imagine a film on a zombie outbreak. Or one where a bio-weapon was released in a country. Everybody wants to get out, and they don’t care how they do it. Bodies get squashed against each other in the most uncomfortable way possible and you are shoved forwards, backwards, sideways. You can’t see ahead of the crowd and have no idea where you are headed.

You just move with them.

The immigration hall was impossible. Jam packed with people, the only thing you could do was to join the queue nearest to the entrance. Getting to the counters further away meant pushing and shoving your way through, and I didn’t really want to do that while I still retained some sense of public consideration. Ten minutes later, I realised my queue was blocking the entrance and decided that causing 50 people momentary inconvenience as I shoved my way through was the lesser of the two evils.

That was as far as logic goes, because after that, instinct took over.

The shapeless mass of people at the back of the hall meant that I had to somehow figure out who was a part of the queue I had joined. Survival instinct kicked in and I got firm with the ruthless queue-cutters who tried again and again to worm their way in front of me.

Clearing immigration, my relief morphed into some form of grumpy amusement when I heard a security staff telling an unhappy woman that the queue stretching through the customs declaration area was for the bus.

Look, more queues!

So I queued. And queued. And queued.

Until I reached the staircase leading down to the bus terminal, where I got a view of the causeway. I spied three people making their way on foot along the side of the road, looking like refugees making a stealthy escape.

It was as if someone handed me a canister of oxygen and told me to breathe again. 1.5 hours of claustrophobic queueing, wasted when I decided to step out of the line. The people behind me filled my space without any hesitation.

I crossed the causeway to get to the pedestrian path (a narrow path on the road marked out with a white line) with a stranger.

“Are you walking back to Singapore?” he asked.

“Yeah I am.”

He got really enthusiastic.

“Let’s do it!” he said, pumping his fist in the air.

I thought we’d be the rare few who chose to walk. After all, Singaporeans hate walking. And I say that quite confidently since I love walking and am too used to the incredulous expressions I get when I declare my interest.

How wrong I was.

One minute of walking and we discovered we had joined a moving line across the causeway.

You hear stories of people who walk across borders, getting arrested on the other side. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened when the bunch of us reached Singapore.

Dirty grey walls and dimly lit surroundings. Hardly a welcome home for Singaporeans who walked a distance just to see their homeland again. No fans, air-conditioning, or water coolers, but there were direction signs pointing us to the arrival hall. Singapore’s arrival hall: A place I usually hate to be in, at that point exactly where I wanted to be.
I created a bucket list then and there with “crossing a border on foot” as the sole item. It got crossed off immediately. (Can’t say the day wasn’t productive.)

On a sidenote, it’d be nice if they could mark out the boundary between Singapore and Malaysia on the causeway. It’d make good Instagram.

The Eternal Queue

Air travel and self-discovery

I have a bad habit of thinking the worst before I go on an aeroplane. A series of ‘what ifs’ that get from bad to worse, and I don’t think I even need to explain what I’m thinking.

A couple of days ago, I went on a trip to Kuala Lumpur. My impromptu decision to go for the trip meant that I was on a different flight from my travelling companions, basically seven of my immediate and extended family members. Coming from a small family, that is everyone.

So my usual ‘what if’ scenarios got multiplied two times. ‘What if…..’ became ‘what if my flight…’ and ‘what if their flight…’. Starting questions that led to highly complex scenarios that had me pondering for days before departure.

The trip went without a hitch, which I suppose would be statistically the most probable outcome. After all, air travel isn’t actually dangerous. It’s just that airline accidents tend to gain more media coverage and end up skewing our perception of its dangers.

The media. Love it and hate it.

I read a news report yesterday, of flight TR2464 having to turn back en route on its trip to Kuala Lumpur on 20 May because of “inclement weather and a technical problem with the aircraft’s radar”.

Right on cue, my eyes went wide. TR2464? The flight my family took just a few days before? I read and re-read the article. Goosebumps on my skin. A technical problem with the aircraft’s radar? It was a faulty aircraft? Just one day after we returned! Was their return flight, TR2465, the same aircraft?

I began sending that article to my fellow travellers.

And waited for a response.

And waited.

My phone buzzed.

“Yeah, I saw this too. Lol.”

Silence.

A few hours later, another message.

“Wow!”

That was it.

I think I’m a worrywart.

Air travel and self-discovery

Of defeat and Improv

I was quite determined not to have snippets of my life on this blog, but heck it. The only way I’ll keep it updated is to admit defeat. In any case, voyeuristic peeks into people’s lives are so much more exciting than stories and poems, right?

I finally tried Improv, and I’m still not sure why. I suppose we’ve all got this masochistic part of us that goes, “Pick me, pick me! I want to be publicly humiliated!”

Three participants, one instructor. Glass doors. Lots of people sitting outside, able to see what we were doing during that one hour crash course. And naturally, people did look.

Improv is probably one of the wackiest activities I have tried, and I absolutely loved it. It’s one of those things that encourages you to be silly instead of having to adult. And as we all know, to adult is probably the most difficult task society imposes upon us. Unless you’re naturally all responsible and wise.

I was in my natural state. Such a warm, mushy feeling, to be surrounded by so much love and acceptance, but disastrous in some ways. Because, as usual, someone asked me for my age.

So imagine. Under normal circumstances, people have difficulty believing I’m 26, even when I’m trying to adult. There, it was like trying to convince people that I actually was a man.

“No way!” someone involuntarily exclaimed. The other two wisely kept silent. Or perhaps they were just dumbfounded. “I just look 15,” I clarified. From their expressions, it seemed that even 15 was an overestimation. Rather ironic since the course was meant for those 18 and above.

I suppose my despair at that must have been evident, since the organisers gave me an SG50 seniors’ care package at the end of the session. It came with a pedometer that has a tendency to shut off on its own. But at least it gets these old bones moving. Plus a 2×2 Rubik’s cube to help my mind stay sharp. I really should get around to using it, but I just can’t remember where I left it.

Of defeat and Improv

Stranger (YYYY – YYYY)

You, stranger.
Your life defined in just two years,

You wailed with a vengeance in the one you came
Your face etched with stories in the one you went.

You were a child, playing hop-scotch in primary school
You were thirteen, nervous at the sight of your first crush

You were an adult, wondering where your career would take you
You were eighty, sprightly and refusing to be labelled as an elderly.

You might have been a man, enlisting into National Service
You might have been a woman, made to marry to live

You might have been gay, you might have been straight
You might have been thin, you might have been fat.

You, stranger.
You have your time, a time for you to live.

You could make a difference, make it count
You could tell your stories the way you want.

After all, it takes just two years to define your life,
But your lifetime to define those two years.

Stranger (YYYY – YYYY)

Bathroom Mirror (Part 4)

It is often said that people who are near death see their lives flash before their eyes as they die. That concept had always intrigued me. It didn’t seem possible that someone could actually see their lives flash past. A life is years and years of activity. Years and years of experiences, of events, of emotions. Which part of a person’s life flashes before them? And how do they see it? A literal sight before their eyes as their actual surroundings disappear? Or just as a series of memories? And how long does this last?

It seemed to me that I was experiencing something of that sort as I pulled myself up. I didn’t think I was dying (or perhaps I was – I really didn’t know if I would survive the climb into the darkness), but I did have images flash through my mind. Notice I say “my mind”. I was perfectly clear where I was and what was actually in front of me. It was just the sensation of having powerful memories take over your being.

*

Ashara’s first meeting with my mother. Don’t ask me why that was the first of the memories that came into my head.

It happened just three weeks before, on the start of the new year. My mother knew of Ashara, of course. But both of them had seemed strangely reluctant to get to know each other. I had imagined my mother jumping at the opportunity to meet my partner, but she had endlessly put it off. Ashara, on her part, had always been overcome with a need to put on her makeup or attend to various bodily needs every time I spoke to my mother on the phone.

I didn’t expect them to be the best of friends. But it was one of the strangest meetings I could have witnessed, and I still don’t know what to make of it. Ashara dressed like she always did. She was distinct, yet she was elegant. She wore her snake bracelet – a dark gold reptilian body coiled around her slim wrist. She wore it everywhere, looking like Egyptian royalty. A deep purple knee-length toga with her hair in a high ponytail. She didn’t wear makeup.

My mother was dressed as she always was. A long, white, shapeless gown. Her grey hair in a long, thin pigtail. She wore two rings, one on each ring finger. The one on the left was her wedding band; the one on the right was a silver ring with a yin and yang symbol on it. I think she found it at a bazaar.

Seeing them both together was like seeing a high priestess meet a sacrificial victim. They were exactly the same height. Yet my mother deliberately seemed to hunch over as she spoke to Ashara. She bowed slightly when Ashara accepted her offer of tea. When I cracked an unsuccessful joke, she looked to Ashara for a reaction before reacting herself. Ashara sat on the sofa facing outwards; my mother sat to her right with her body tilted towards Ashara.

Neither of them spoke much. But despite this, the silence was comfortable. It was as if Ashara and my mother knew their places and were happy occupying these places. Neither was the superior – they were just people with different roles to play.

Three hours in my mother’s house passed like that. With me playing host while they sat next to each other and played out their silent scene. Yet before we left, they gave each other genuine smiles. My mother, in a sudden show of love, told Ashara to look after me and she readily agreed.

I discovered after that that Ashara and my mother liked each other well enough.

*

I felt a dull ache in the middle of my head as I recounted that incident. Perhaps the memory was meant to convince me to put my head into the darkness.

Bathroom Mirror (Part 4)

Bathroom Mirror (Part 3)

Just one more hand and I would have pulled myself past the limits of the mirror. Just one more hand before I found out if I would lose that hand, and if I was going to exist as a body without a head.

I felt hysterical laughter welling up within me. A body without a head! Me! We all know what happens when a human body loses its head. But in a world where I had stood apparently legless, only to have them appear when they was in front of the mirror, anything could happen. What happened if I ended up being transported back to my world with an invisible head? Would the food I chewed be visible or would it become invisible as well? A loud snort escaped me but it was swallowed almost immediately by the darkness behind me.

It was my first time actually experiencing sound waves. I mean, everybody knows that they exist, but no one ever sees them. I could have sworn that my snort had left me as a series of waveforms that rippled the air in front of me. I saw them bounce off the mirror, rippling the air between my face and the mirror. As the waves travelled towards the sides of my face, they warped and disappeared to nothingness.

I pulled my hand off the mirror and slammed it down as hard as I could. It was difficult since the the lizard-like stickiness seemed to be combined with some kind of magnetism that made it difficult to move my hand far from the mirror or control how strongly I slammed it down. Still, I noticed it again. Small ripples that emerged from where my hand made contact with the mirror which were swallowed up as soon as they hit the darkness a short radius away from me. In fact, it seemed that the sound waves could only travel about an inch away from the mirror and me. Everywhere else, there was nothing. A black hole with the event horizon around me. My astronomy professor would have been pleased. I had skipped most of his lectures, choosing to watch Star Wars instead. But it was his fault, really. He wore an R2D2 tie every lecture and carried a small paperweight in the shape of a Tauntaun.

There was nothing left to do but go up. As much as I didn’t want to lose my head, I could only know what was in the darkness if I put my head in it.

So I reached up into the space above me, my hand disappearing as it passed the boundary of the mirror into the darkness. I placed it down on something that felt like cold concrete. Then I shut my eyes tightly, said a quick prayer (or whatever passed for a prayer since I had never prayed in my life) and pulled myself up.

Bathroom Mirror (Part 3)

She Sleeps On

I have always wanted to experiment with film and spoken word. Found myself with some spare time after falling ill and decided it was time to give it a shot.

Turns out it isn’t easy putting a video together. It took ages for me to finally be satisfied with the script for the narrative. Then I had figure out what the visuals were going to be, take those videos and learn how to use the video editing software. There were hours spent pondering over how best to cut and stitch the clips together while keeping the flow going.  Recording the narrative posed another problem – my voice is naturally higher-pitched and not easy on the ears when recorded. Plus there was a background hiss that was really difficult to remove. So I had to learn how to use the audio editing software as well. Syncing both audio and video later turned a few strands of hair white.

But now, at last, the video is finally complete! Tediousness aside, I definitely want to try doing more of these.

She Sleeps On

Awake in the Beginning

We were only awake in the beginning

A friend recently took this lovely picture and captioned it “We were only awake in the beginning.” The caption could be interpreted in a couple of ways, but the real story is quite literal – two men having to work outside in the wee hours of the morning.

I loved the photograph so much that I tried to create a poem around it (and them, as I imagined it). So here goes.

Awake in the Beginning

I.

We were only awake in the beginning

Walking through streets awash with the yellow glow

Of streetlamps lined up as if waiting

For our arrival.

II.

We were counting down the hours, yet the night was all but ending.

The clock’s ticking so slow

As we struggled with Fatigue as if fighting

For our survival.

III.

We were breathing in the stillness. Breathing –

In. Out. In. Out. Fallow:

The state of being.

We could only wait. For revival.

Awake in the Beginning