Saturday, 12 January 2013

Magical Essence Of Friendship

I think when we leave someone behind in our lives, be it because of circumstances or milestones achieved, we expect them to carry on with their lives as we do with ours. We go about our daily routine not thinking of what the others are doing, and we hope, deep down, that everyone has it going for themselves. Very rarely do we pause to think about what's happening on in the lives of others. These others who were once our friends.

In fact, they still are our friends. But time, and perhaps distance may have eroded that friendship into nothing more than mere acquaintanceship. Saying that we remain friends sounds much more cordial than labelling ourselves as acquaintances, because the very word itself sounds tremendously complicated, as though we have to put in an effort to say it. Because friendship shouldn't have to be that hard.

We hope to catch up and to talk over coffee, but with schedules not permitting, we're left with that odd message left on our mobile phones. Instead of responding immediately, we ponder as to what we should talk about, until finally, we put it at the back of our heads, and then completely forget about that one message in our inbox.

Now, when we bump into each other, it's difficult to have an honest conversation right on the spot. We want to give off the illusion that we are doing extremely well. That we are young adults and that we are making our mark in the world. We often fluff up our own lives, so as to not be judged by the other party. We say we're extremely busy with school, or work, when in fact we're just too damn lazy to get out of the house.

When we do finally meet up again, it takes a second to get into the routine of things. It used to be so much easier back when we were in school, at our desks, and wearing starched-up school uniforms. We were equal. No one was ahead of the other. Not by a long shot. We talked about the same things, and our conversations, seemingly endless, ran the gamut from what to eat for lunch, to what to do after school, to who's having a crush on whom. There doesn't seem to be enough time to talk about everything, to the point that we still continue our conversations on the bus home even though we just parted ways ten minutes ago.

Stilted conversations fill up the room when we meet up for coffee. After the hellos and the hugs and the polite catch-ups, we're left with questions we're dying to ask but never dared, like 'Are you still with your boyfriend?' or 'Whatever happened to whomever?' We don't know the comfort zones of one another anymore, and we have to realise that that person sitting directly opposite to us is our friend, but that the person is not that friend whom we had lunch with in school all those years ago. That person is no longer the guy who has always been your lab partner during science lessons, or that the person is no longer that girl who cried on your shoulders when she broke up with her first real boyfriend. 

We fill each other with vague details of our lives, enough to give a semblance that we're fully functioning young adults, but not enough for the personal life to be pried open. No longer are secrets whispered in each others ears. No longer do we share that same journal. Everything in our lives now are personal, and it will remain that way.

We mostly talk about what happened back then; about the food fight that happened in the school cafeteria, or about that one time when that one girl was found crying in the toilet after being bullied. We talk about running in the rain because we didn't have umbrellas on us when we went out of school for lunch. We talk about the good old days, because they really were the good old days. We reminisce about our shared past because that's the only thread that's holding this friendship together now. Because without it, we might as well have been strangers.

When the conversations end, and we feel like it's an appropriate time to leave, we say our goodbyes, and as we head our separate ways, we heave a sigh of relief knowing that our meeting went well. We feel good because we caught up with one another, and because we managed to stay in contact. But on the train ride home, we begin to ponder as to whether we really learnt something new about this person. Our hearts sink because we realised then that the only real reason we stayed in contact was because we can never fully let go of our past. Because the past is filled with memories of who we once were, all full of hopes and dreams and innocence.

We look at our reflections in the glass and we sigh because we could no longer recapture the youth, and that magical essence of friendship.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Brave Soul

I think we are all obsessed with efficiency, with doing work and completing tasks at record speed that we rarely take a moment to step back, and just observe how things are. In our haste to rush off somewhere, we rarely stop in our tracks when someone comes up to us and request for a minute of our time. Be it the flier ladies, the pesky sales-persons, or even the old auntie on a wheelchair selling tissue packets. More often than not, we plug in our headphones, walk with a sulky face, and pray to God that we're not disturbed on our way to the shopping mall.

I had a very humbling experience today. Before catching Silver Linings Playbook at JCube, I had gone off to KFC to get some tidbits to munch on during the movie. My earphones were plugged in, and I wasn't paying attention to the server. I rattled off my order without even glancing up to look at the lady, and assumed, like always, that my order would be quickly typed in, and the food sealed in a plastic bag. That was always the routine, so how could today be any different?

Today was different because the lady serving me was hearing impaired. I would have known should I have glanced up from my handphone, or plugged out from my earphones. I would have known if I had given the server an ounce of respect, and not be absorbed in my own world. I did none of those things, and I felt my heart sink. Not because the lady was hearing impaired, but because the lady was gracious enough to look me in the eyes, and with sign language, pointed to a badge pinned near chest stating that she was 'hearing impaired.' She was patient as she took my orders, asked all the routine questions like upsizing your drinks or switching to cheese fries, all without losing her cool.

I am not a smiley person, and I think a part of me wanted to atone for my mistake of not being conscious of her disability, and so I started to smile. I rarely smile so that was a big step. As I waited for my order, I thought about how brave it is for her to step out of her comfort zone, and especially to work in the service industry filled with fickle customers like me. And then I started to realise; the reason I smiled was not because I was served by an independent, hearing-impaired person. I smiled because I was given great service. There is no difference between her, and the colleague next to her. They were there because they have been employed, and they have been trained adequately to handle customers. That was the moment when I knew that I shouldn't treat the disabled differently.

Yes, there may be some challenges that they face, but they will try as their might to be as independent as they can. There may be certain times when interactions would have to be tweaked to accommodate and communicate with them, but in all other circumstances, they're just like you and me. In fact, they are braver souls than I could ever be, and this is all exemplified by this one lady serving me my snackers at KFC.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Straddle Between Two Worlds

My last week of duty was a truly surreal experience for me. Finally, the time has come for me to hand over the team to my understudy, and for him to be responsible for whatever befalls upon the team. It felt good, knowing that I've managed the team well, with no major conflicts. As I sat at the Tower, looking out at the vast horizon before me, I could recall my nervousness at having to report to a new base, with a whole new system to familiarise myself with.

Perhaps the time has not yet come for me to look back upon the past year at Tuas Naval Base. I still have a month left before I leave the place for good. But as I ended my last duty, I sat upon the breakwaters and contemplated about what the past fourteen months have entailed, and what the future will hold for me. I chose my duty timing specifically so that I could look at the sunset one last time at that very spot. Someone in the team once mentioned to me that the best scenery in Singapore are all occupied by the military bases, and I could not agree more with him. They're often situated at the furthest reaches of the island, away from the prying eyes of the public.The quietness of dawn breaking over the horizon, and the eeriness settling in once dusk takes over; it gives a very calming, somewhat soothing effect over those of us who are away from home.

As I slowly cleared out parts of my locker, the younger batches of guys sat at the table in the middle of the bunk, talking amongst themselves, lamenting about "when will it be my turn?" and in hushed tones, wishing that it was them instead of me who would leave the base for good. I cannot help but chuckle inwardly, because that was me over a year ago, as I saw the first batch of seniors I know leave this place for good. I tend to ignore those conversations, because there is nothing much to be said about the topic. I can't fast-forward their time serving the nation, so the only thing I can do is to not rub it in their faces that I'm leaving.

Somehow, it is always those who have to stay who are most excited about the prospect of leaving. For me, I am filled with a sense of dread, of not knowing what my next week will be like. As much as I hated National Service, it did give me a sense of purpose. And until University starts in August, I feel like I'm a pollen, drifting in the wind. I will miss familiar faces, and late night movie marathons, and binging on the most unhealthy of food. Even now, despite still having to come to base for administrative clearance duties, I already know that I am not part of the platoon anymore. It's as though the tie has been severed, because I am no longer that comrade who has to suffer with them; to do duties with, to have gruelling physical trainings with, and to complain about everything with. It's sad, but it's the first step to regaining my life outside again. For now, I am in a limbo state, constantly being pulled back and forth, and having to straddle between two worlds

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Never Ending Cycle

On lazy hot days like today, I hate going out. So, since nobody was at home, I made myself breakfast for dinner. It's going to be the most satisfying meal I'm going to be having over the next week since I'm going to be mounting my last duty shift this week. Warm, gooey, buttery scrambled eggs on toast with turkey ham. And of course, orange juice and a bowl of mixed berries on the side. I love cooking up detailed set meals when I'm alone at home because it gives me the freedom to actually do whatever the hell I want. And to set up everything so nicely so that I can enjoy a simple, home-cooked meal is such a luxury I enjoy very much.

My mother once commented that I won't die alone if I were to be left to my own devices. I think in my previous life, I was a fifties housewife reincarnate. I enjoy cooking and cleaning and looking at home decorative magazines, perfectly detailing the house I'm going to have all by myself in the future. Lofty ceilings, white-washed walls, leather sofa carefully strewn with cashmere rug; oh what a wonderful life that would be.

I also had the longest talk with Naeem today. We talked about plans for an immediate coffee and gelato session. Another meeting far into the future to conquer the Universal Studios Singapore. And also about university life, and grades, and about faith. I love our back and forth conversations because it makes me think and rethink my life decisions. It's difficult to talk about religion to most people, so I'm grateful for having friends who are strong in their beliefs, and yet are not overzealous when it comes to your own shaking faith. I don't feel attacked like I do with some people, and bad encounters are what have made me severe ties with people whom were once acquaintances.

I've been reading up quite a bit more about the religion and the more I know, the more curious I get, and the more questions I have and it's such a never-ending cycle, And there's only so many questions and doubts a person can take until he breaks, right? But underneath it all reading scriptures and histories of men from years past have made me feel a sense of inner peace, a sense of foreboding as well, and the undeniable feeling of inconsequential-ness  in the face of greater beings.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Zeal Of Our Youth

I don't know why, but for the whole of today, I don't feel at peace with myself. Perhaps it's because I have to report back to base tomorrow? That's probably why, but the last time I felt like this was when I had to report to a new place with a new posting order. Now that I'm nearing the end of my service, there's a bittersweet feeling jumbling within me. On one hand, I am excited to leave all the bureaucracy behind, but at the same time, I've made some really good friends. These people; I practically see them more than I ever saw my family. We eat together, sleep in the same bunk, and practically get into trouble together. To come to a realisation that in less than two months, I would be leaving the place behind for good is daunting. It means that there will be new adventures that I will embark upon.

I am all excited for that, but deep down, and as much as I hate to admit it, the past two years have been a cocoon in which I felt very safe inside. There were bad times, most definitely, but there was routine, and order, and as a Virgo, that is very much appreciated. When February eventually arrives, I would feel sick to my stomach, knowing that I would close another chapter of my life for good. People may say that I would have to come back for re-service, but it won't be the same. Right now, we're all so full of youthful energy, so sure of our place in the world. We are excited for what's to come, and of what we have to offer. We have yet to be disappointed by the outside world, because in our minds, the grass is always greener on the other side. We cannot wait to leave; to leave our mark somewhere out there.

But we all know the world is a cruel place. What if when we come back, we're no longer the same person. Changes are bound to happen, most of the time for the better, but what if we lost that idealistic zeal of our youth? What if we lost our way and never managed to find our path? Then what, are we going to be drones of the society? And then we're going to have the younger generation telling us to 'live our life" and not be saddled by commitments. Ironic isn't it? Because that is exactly what we are feeling right now about our elders.

I feel this need right now to just live in the moment, and take each day as it comes. But it goes against my very nature. I am a planner, and I need to know exactly what's going to happen. But I'm afraid that in my hurry to get out of the bureaucratic system, I'm going to forget the good times. So, for the next forty-five days, I'm going to cherish the time that I have left with all these people, because after that, I am off to open another chapter of my life and to be a more fulfilled and engaging person.