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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Brush With The Tough

You'll have to excuse the somewhat cheesy title.

Yesterday marked the first day of a new semester; my third semester at the school. My friends and I were officially sophomores, and it felt good not to be one of hundreds of freshmen, milling in uncertain circles and exchanging new words as they slipped into a foreign routine and environment. Lectures seemed to go on forever, and by the time lunch had rolled around, we were starved. The food court was, as usual, spilling with students, and we had to make do with takeaways from the snack stall. M- and I settled on curry puffs, while W- went all out and ordered two sides of deep-friend tofu and a side of sticky pudding to go along with it. These were popped into separate plastic bags, and with that, we proceeded to the upper levels of the modern building to look for seats. After alternating between levels seven and five, we settled on the latter and dug in, our hunger pangs now acute. Despite our initial complaints about the lack of seats in the food court that had compelled us into having to purchase takeaways, I had an excellent time catching up with my friends-and I was certain they had, too. Between bites of our food, we compared our pedicures (M- had hers professionally done) and fumed about the fact that I'd been placed in a different class from theirs.

I may be taking a journalism course, but speaking to strangers still remains a daunting experience for me. It's like feeding a child who loathes vegetables a stick of celery: try as anyone might, it's difficult to get me to open up immediately. I've always considered myself a private person. I tend to internalise my thoughts and feelings, and while I love my friends and family, I need alone time more than most people realize.

Stepping into my new class yesterday after lunch was new to me. I hadn't experienced something like this in a year, and I felt startlingly awkward. It was a sharp juxtaposition from the way I usually feel, and the feeling hit me hard. Everyone was sitting in pairs or threes, and as I took a seat next to an unfamiliar face, I could feel slight panic rushing through my blood every now and then. When the teacher announced we were to pair up, the panic reached peaking levels, and the dormant nerves in the pit of my stomach came to life as I watched my classmates pairing up with their friends.

I still experience tiny nausea-inducing spells when I think of facing yet another day with my new class.

It wasn't a perfect day, but here's hoping tomorrow brings better things yet.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


School has left me a little more than drained. The assignments, piled up so high, have been like a treacherous battle against the impossible. But knowing my friends were going through the same thing as I was made me feel better about my predicament.
Life can be a pain sometimes, but as a friend to others, you watch their backs--and they watch yours.
Yesterday, we completed our final assignment of the semester. The holidays had officially begun, and with that, the class erupted into cheers. Ecstasy emanated the tiny classroom, penetrating the four corners made freezing by the air-conditioning, blowing overhead so diligently from various sections of the ceiling. We exchanged hugs, summed up the past year in our words, then proceeded to the lift.

Everything was perfect.

That rainbow connection can be hard to find, but if you sift long enough, it appears, like a pot of colours melding into something inexplicably beautiful.

I woke up this morning in similarly high spirits. With nothing to weigh me down but the promise of a sweltering, humid day--I've always preferred cool weather--I decided to rekindle with the unfamiliar: books.

I've always enjoyed reading, but since getting accepted into my long-coveted, prestigious course, time has not been on my side. Where I once used to write short stories or get lost in a third of a good novel or magazine on a daily basis, the past year offered me little time on my hands. Expending my energy on despised, albeit healthy tasks, such as racing to complete one assignment after the other and spending many an hour (admittedly grudgingly) conducting surveys and research left me mentally drained. Refraining from coffee helped, in a way: I shuddered at the thought of stained teeth. That image alone was enough to put me off drinking the aromatic beverage.

Of course, having lunch with my friends and dinner with the family has always been a top priority, and I never gave this part of my life up, even as I endeavored to finish every task that had been hurled in my direction.

And so, when I awoke this morning, I headed to my bookself, determined to make the most of the day. There, sitting neatly on the bottom shelf, were books I had long abandoned from my secondary school days. The Princess Diaries series, still pristine, seemed to sparkle in the dappled rays of sunlight streaming through the windows. I selected After Eight, my personal favourite in the series.

Easy to guess how I spent the rest of the morning.

On the road to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!:

Monday, October 11, 2010

Awkward Days

Exactly a week ago, I spent Thursday in the most awkward way possible. My friend, A-, and I were painfully broke, and, in our desperate state, we resorted to the inevitable: we got a job.
Having just recovered from a near-scam, in which the woman on the phone admitted she had never intended on paying us if we worked for her, we were doubtful but nonetheless determined. We turned up at a neighbourhood McDonald’s, an approximately hour and a half long ride by bus and train- only to discover the person who had so eagerly hired us was surrounded by smokers, and was smoking herself. It was a jolt for us, and a hard one.
I’ve probably lived what most would describe a sheltered life. I have been exposed to different cultures and people; I’ve seen and been through what most 18-year olds have. At the same time, however, reality has yet to fully descend on me.
Being made to sit in the uncomfortable heat inhaling the acrid cigarette fumes is far from a pleasant experience, especially for someone who has a low tolerance level for the smell of tobacco. Despite the company’s evident lack of professionalism, A- and I had traveled a long way. We agreed not to leave just yet. First impressions are important, and while theirs was far from impressive, we had yet to give them one.
After stubbing out their cigarettes (during which I watched in disgust, my stomach recoiling while A- fought to keep her features even), we were given individual advisors and split up.
 My destination for the day? A far-off industrial park, forty minutes by train and a stone’s throw from the edge of the city. My heart sank, but I fought to remain unruffled by the undesirable turn the day was taking. When we arrived, another shock awaited me.
 It was the exact kind of place I often see in the Chinese drama serials my grandmother watches: dim lights led the way, with the occasional slit of sunlight slipping through gaps in the building’s cement walls. Workers were reversing carelessly in their tractors and pickups; others were welding and carrying gargantuan blocks of hot metal. I had never imagined, I remembered thinking later, I would ever have to enter a place like this in my life.
Learning what life is really like for so many on the other end of the spectrum was a cold dose of reality for me.
In-between rounds of conversations with construction company bosses (one was more than happy to regale his life story to us while sipping on his gin and tonic- although he did eventually purchase the gift card we had been proffering for the past twenty minutes), messaging and cooling off with a can of ice-cold passion fruit tea, my advisors found ample time to smoke on their contraband cigarettes.
The stench clung to my clothes and never left even as we made our way back hours later. The fruits of my labour were barely reaped. Eight hours of work and the sale of four gift cards had earned me a grand total of forty dollars. Four ten-dollar bills were presented to me in all their crumpled glory, and I tried to hide my immense disappointment.  A- fared worse. Her efforts had resulted in a single sale that day, and ten-dollars was passed her way.
We went for dinner in town after, poking morosely at our Japanese takeaway dinners in a beautifully set cafĂ©, all bamboo and tiny, cramped tables. I vented, A- fumed, and we alternated between the two on each other’s behalf before the topic moved on to a more lighthearted one.
The skyline in this part of the country is beautiful, especially at night. Stars are rare, but if you know the right vantage points from which to admire the view, you will be well rewarded. Everything is artificially cheerful. Skyscrapers of varying heights illuminate the area, and that alone put us in a better mood altogether as we dug into our Wendy’s chocolate Frostys-I had treated; she had, after all, earned a quarter of what I had-just over an hour later.
It was the perfect end to a less than perfect day. Sometimes I set my hopes too high, and reality falls short. But then I remember my friends and family. When I return home and everything returns to normal again, I feel warm and genuinely content. Being greeted excitedly by my Dalmatian, Kelly, no matter the hour, is one of the things I love the most about my life.
Knowing I have so much to look forward to makes getting through a difficult day so much easier.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The First Postcard

I usually love term breaks because, aside from the usual shopping, baking and catching up with friends that I do, they give me reprieve and time to vegetate. I appreciate time alone more than anyone realizes.

 As much as I enjoy the hectic schedules the school timetable presents, the challenges I face on a daily basis and laughing with friends, I sometimes wish I could remove all the trimmings. Have a completely toned-down version of my life.

Life, as it is, is beautiful. The accompanying warm, fuzzy feelings that come from spending a lazy afternoon lunch in a restaurant with my friends or family on a warm Sunday in an elusive neighbourhood- that, ironically, is usually brimming to the rafters with all kinds of customers- is wholly appreciated on my part. Working on projects can be a drag, but my friends make it seem otherwise.

At the same time, I catch myself on occasion wondering what I’m doing with my life. Being offered entry into my dream, and a highly coveted, course, felt special at the time. It still does, of course, but the initial euphoria is gradually fading away. I sometimes find myself uncertain and on the brink of breaking down. Not from the craziness of my day-to-day life, but from the decisions I’ve made.

I used to be so certain working in a magazine would be my ambition. I had already planned everything to the finest detail: The carefully cut out pictures I had stuck on to pieces of paper of different textures, sizes and colours, and later, on my bedroom wall; the articles and stories I had written by hand in leather-bound notebooks, all reminded me of what I was working towards.

I would be a deputy editor slash fashion coordinator, with runway worthy threads I’d bought on a shoestring budget- I’ve always had a thing for buying clothes from outdoor markets. It’s not just the prices; it’s the air of expectancy hanging in the air, emanating from the tiny, cramped makeshift stores.  It’s the assurance that what you’re getting is a one-off piece no one else has. Who gives a damn if you might have to put the article of clothing through the washing machine once before wearing it?  Everyone’s also usually friendly and snobs are few and far between, which is a plus. The only downside is the pickpockets that discreetly slip things into their bags and then just as discreetly slip into the crowds and away, unnoticed. Couple that with the unpredictable weather that sometimes results in inadequately attired passers-by thronging these markets, and you’ve pretty much set yourself up for the entire experience.

 Everything used to seem picture-perfect, and in a way, it still does. Even if I were to remove all the gloss, working on one of my favourite titles (Nylon, TeenVogue or Girlfriend are my ideal choices) would be a dream come to life. At the same time, however, I sometimes pause and ask myself if this is what I really intend to do for the rest of my life. The answer, the right answer, would be a resounding yes- perhaps even one shouted aloud.

 Some of my relatives used to discourage me from pursuing a career in journalism when I was younger, saying the long hours and humble pay would never stick with a person as free-spirited and headstrong as me. Plagued by such doubts, I fought back determinedly and eventually won them over. Unfortunately, I’ve found my confidence and determination waning in recent months. If I were to opt out of getting a degree in journalism, I ask myself, what would I do? I’m less interested in getting published than leading a fulfilled life. I’ve always had big dreams, and I would love for them to play out someday in my life. This is where the ‘toned-down’ life-esque part comes in: I want travel to be a part of my life, and working for causes I’m passionate about. I’m not going to lie, however: I sign petitions fighting for mistreated animals, but on occasion. I enjoy writing to a fault, but experience moments of writer’s block. That’s when doubt kicks in all over again.

I still have a good two years before I head for varsity life (the education system on this side of the world is a little different). In the meantime, I’ll just be going with the flow of life and seeing where that takes me.