The trouble with being self-aware

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Cloudy Melbourne, 2017

Dear Seafarer,

I believe that some of the hardest people to help in the world, are the ones who are the most self-aware. Self-aware people, as the name suggests, have great insight into themselves — lot more than we might ever notice, as outsiders.

They’re the ones who have taken a problem they’ve identified within themselves, and analysed it through and through, multiple times inside their heads. That perspective you so cleverly thought you’re giving them for the first time— they’ve thought of it ages ago. They know everything that’s broken within them, and they probably know how to fix it.

When talking to people, I reflect consciously on their levels of self-awareness. I recognise that there is something presumptuous about parroting a problem or issue that might seem obvious to them. There is nothing much I can say, that might be helpful at all. It’s like telling a blind man that he can’t see. Perhaps this is why I put in effort into offering the most genuine, and novel insight I can think of, whenever someone confides in me. Bland, generic advice or feedback doesn’t do much at best, and demotivates at worst.

Perhaps deep down, I too, wish that when I’m troubled, that someone would say something that I’ve yet to realise. I feel like some of the most powerful moments in life are when I’m shown that there could be a different perspective to things. I want to feel alive, I want to experience paradigm shifts! I want someone to say something that will move me. Perhaps it will be akin to getting a sign from the Heavens. I’ve always been drawn to eloquent, deeply reflective people for this very reason. When they speak, more often than not, I am learning something new.

However, the truth is, very rarely can someone say something perfect, in the immediate moment. So much can happen, merely within an iota of vulnerability. I am often at a loss for words. It is both a humbling and confusing moment, to watch someone else in pain.

Words do not solve problems. I have to remind myself, that for a self-aware person, this might not be the first time they’ve grieved over a vexing problem. They’ve probably tried every solution in their book, and nothing seems to have worked out.

It is a painful situation for anyone to be in.

And so, sometimes, the best thing I can do, is to hold my tongue, and wait with them, within the discomfort of their emotions. There is a time and place for silence, just as there is a time and place for offering solutions.

Truly hearing someone out is a difficult art. I have yet to master it myself.

All said and done, I’ve always believed that transformation requires two main steps. The first step is awareness of the problem. The second step is internalisation, and is what I believe to be the game-changer.

Knowing something, and internalising it, are two different processes. If knowing something was enough to change our behaviours, many of us would have stopped procrastinating, a long time ago. I myself am terrible at internalisation, which is why most of my problems start, and stagnate at self-awareness. Internalisation is also the reason why I recognise that some people need to come to terms with things within their own pace, even if it seems obvious to me.

Ultimately, everyone helps themselves, just as I need to help myself. All this self-awareness is for naught, otherwise. I have a boatload of problems and perhaps, within me, I’ve already come across the solutions.

I’m working on internalising that.

To those who already know their demons, I sincerely wish that you’ll find the courage, wisdom, and discipline, to let your self-enlightenment guide your path.

Monsters in men

Dear Seafarer,

This is a story about the monster within me. I have grappled with it for a long time. I do not write this to make myself sound good. I wish to come to terms with it. Here we go.


One: The gentlest cruelty

One of the most difficult concepts for most of us to contemplate, is the notion that we can be cruel. We want to believe that we have the purest of intentions, that we aren’t monsters. Surely we know better. Surely we can’t be that bad.

Human cruelty is terrifying, because it doesn’t always look like cruelty. Sometimes it looks quiet and subtle, the sort any ordinary person can perform. It looks like the passengers of a plane who sat back, and watched, as someone else got brutally dragged off.  It looks like the boy who said nothing, when his friends bullied a gay classmate to death.

Then, there’s the sort of cruelty we do to those who love us. It looks like a son who doesn’t call his mother during Chinese New Year. It looks like a harmless fat joke you make to a friend, using their vulnerability at their expense.

It looks like me, selfishly hanging on to a lover I’m not sure I can love.

The exact moment I peeked into my monster within, my mind went white. I grappled with it. I made up disgusting, flimsy excuses. With every rationalisation, I lost inch after inch of respect for myself. Perhaps, deep down, I recognised it. I couldn’t run away from it.

The darker aspects of my personality has always fascinated me. I’m someone who feels physical pain from knowing I’ve hurt or inconvenienced others. I couldn’t kill an ant, or a spider. I feel deep, penetrating guilt, and shame. I want desperately to believe that I am good.

Despite that, I am shockingly good at cruelty. My cruelty looks tender and warm. It hides its cowardice and selfishness with polished words, good intentions, love, and hope.

The gentlest sort of cruelty. 

I know this, because for the first time in my life, I am currently someone’s girlfriend. Every morning, I wake up, and I question if I can love my boyfriend. My mind recognises a thousand things that could go wrong with our relationship. I’ve noticed myself become impatient, sharp, condescending, selfish, unreasonable.

I tell him that I may leave him, but our hands remain intertwined. I tell him I’m not sure if this is what I want, but my hands stroke his head at the same time. He looks at me with his big eyes, and I know he is wounded. I apologise, and we kiss. He holds me in his arms, and caresses my body to sleep, his heart satiated. My body dissolves into peaceful slumber, but my heart remains empty and confused.

Have I found home within him? Is effort more important than the right guy? Shouldn’t it be enough that he’s so loving and kind? Does it matter if we don’t have the best chemistry? Would things change if we kept at it? 

A thousand questions race through my mind.

When did I get so selfish? When did I fear loneliness so much, that I would ignite love I’m not sure I can return, in another’s heart?

By objective standards, there is nothing wrong with my boyfriend. He is handsome, patient, and caring. Whenever he comes over, he makes sure to bring little things he knows I’d like. Smoked salmon. Tea. Blueberries. When I tell him something important, he listens attentively. He shaved clean because I made a passing joke before on how his stubble feels like sandpaper on my skin. He constantly asks how he can make my day better. He’s curated a long list of notes about me in his phone. so he doesn’t forget any details. It is full of things I’ve said, things he plans to do for me, things he wants to ask me.

He would give the world to me, in a heartbeat.

But, I am still trying my best to give the world, to him.


Two: He loved me too soon

I’ve been here before.

Prior to my current boyfriend, I was dating a loving, established man. He gave me the world too. He lavished me with gifts. He caught on to all the things I liked, and made sure he would treat me to them. He sat with me through my thesis. When I was sick, he drove an hour to see me, with a bag of medicine, then drove back. We dated casually. Enjoyed each other’s warmth. My heart was always light and happy when I was with him. We had an easy, natural chemistry. However, I remained conflicted. The only thing that was missing was physical attraction. I battled with this for ages. I wondered if I truly loved him, but I enjoyed all benefits of a wonderful relationship at the same time.

That was the first time I realised there was an ugly, shallow monster within me.

I never labelled our relationship, and made him feel insecure. We dated casually for too long. Eventually, I rejected him. Almost immediately after, I started a new one with my current boyfriend.

That was the second time I realised how cruel and thoughtless I truly was.

I allowed myself to be swept away by the thrill of having a handsome, new lover. Over time, I realised that our chemistry wasn’t quite natural. Conversations fell flat, we didn’t quite meet intellectually. I found myself mentally checking out with him. I didn’t feel the security I felt with my older, more established ex.

It’s like a demotion, I cruelly thought. Almost immediately after, this was followed with a flood of guilt and shame.

Ironically, I am a better girlfriend now with my current boyfriend, compared to my ex. I try my best to be caring, attentive, and kind. I tell him frequently that I appreciate and value him. I remind myself to be patient daily. I thank him for loving me.

In some strange way, I feel as if I am atoning for my mistakes. I feel like this is karma. I didn’t want to make my current boyfriend feel unappreciated and insecure, the way I might have inevitably made my ex feel.

The only problem was, I realised at this point that my heart belongs to my ex.

However, it was too late.

He loved me too soon, and I loved him too late.


 Three: Moving Forward

I am worried that I won’t recognise love or a good thing, even if it is staring at me in the face.

Perhaps that is why I’m afraid of letting my current boyfriend go. Some part of me hangs on to the promise that it could become love, eventually. I am afraid of making the same mistake I made with my ex, of letting another good man go. I tell myself, perhaps everything takes time. Perhaps I’ve been wrong in thinking that natural chemistry is important, the way I overestimated the importance of physical attraction to me.

Ah, but then it sounds like a justification, does it not? 

Perhaps, the bigger, deeper reason, is that I don’t want to be alone. I have been alone for a quarter of a century. I have had nights where the gaps between my fingers ached to be filled. I miss feeling the warmth of another. I miss being held. The world is big and cold and frightening, and I want to face it with someone by my side.

Ah, but then, it sounds like I’m a coward.

They say that life unfolds in proportion to your courage. The more you do things that frighten you, the more you discover strength within yourself.

Is it courageous to let him go now? Am I inadvertently holding him back from his true happiness? 

Tomorrow, he is coming to see me. I’ve made him some ‘omurice.’ He wants to hold me in his arms, and I will let him.

As I smile warmly at him, I will quietly pray for the courage to do the right thing. If I need to let him go, I hope I can sit with the discomfort of him hating me. Perhaps that is the only place where cruelty can be useful, when it helps with emotional detachment.

Until then, I might dangerously still try my best to love him.

That is my kind of cruelty.

Fin

The Alternate Universe of an Unremarkable Life

Dear Seafarer,

I am dying, and I know it.

I mean, yes, technically, everyone ends up dead at some point, but I am dying in a way far more terrifying than the biological atrophy of my body.

I am dying in my soul. A death of the mind and its passions. An intellectual decay.

I profess that I have been feeling rather demotivated lately. I’ve recently flown home for a bit after completing an intense final year in my degree. I am now a graduate. In cruder terms, I  am also “officially unemployed,” and at a complete loss as to where to go from here. Prospective offers which once seemed promising no longer feel within grasp. My visa progress seems to also have stagnated. I have no idea if the application will be accepted.

There’s something terrifying about not having a concrete plan, and realising, with rising urgency, that time is ticking. The twenties seem to surge past us by like bullet-trains. Suddenly the thirties loom just around the corner.

My life, I feel, has not yet begun.

So here I am, back at home, attempting to recalibrate my life. I find myself back in limbo, deeply uncertain of the future, and threading the line of apathy and hedonism. I wake up as the morning tips into the afternoon. I eat what I want. I catch up with my friends. I talk to my parents, and listen to my mother complain about the maid. I watch mindless Youtube videos of a bleached blonde ranting about her cheating boyfriend, and manage to be strangely invested. Occasionally I’ll indulge in a documentary, or an intelligent commentary about the veiled meaning behind so-and-so movie, but that only slightly  alleviates the guilt that I am wasting my life, potential, and opportunities away.

It is effortful to plan and get productive. Somewhere within the recesses of my mind, I recognise that I am being foolish and irrational, but I simply cannot bring myself to do anything. My brain is trying its best, sparking off with lists and creative fun activities and miscellaneous things that will probably make tomorrow a better day, if I committed to doing them. But somehow, I don’t get to doing anything substantial. One by one, I feel my ideas die within me.

It’s a disconcerting feeling. Each idea feels like an electric impulse, travelling down a neuron, only to meet a dead end, because it isn’t paired with immediate action. The idea fizzles out at the synaptic terminals, and I go back to my mindless Youtube surfing, with guilt and self-admonishing mounting within me. My mind palace is  gradually beginning to go gray, and crumble.

This has prompted me to start thinking about the lack of momentum I’ve been experiencing in my life, and how this could pan out, a few years down the road. Here is one plausible scenario:

In an alternate, bleak future, I’ve forgotten how to feel passionate about anything. I haven’t drawn in a while, and I no longer get creative visions. Art no longer excites me, and I can’t be bothered to try either. I’ve missed out on amazing opportunities, because I haven’t been able to stick to something long enough to see it through. I’m still dependent on my unfortunate parents, who are worried sick for me, because I haven’t been able to find a job. My peers and siblings have moved on, and are flourishing in their careers. I’m poor, afraid, lacking in imagination, and terribly lost. I don’t have much job experience, or skills that I can offer. This affects my self-esteem, and I end up developing social anxiety, making it difficult for me to make friends or sustain a relationship. In attempt to cope, I delude myself into making grand plans, none of which I’ve actually taken action to accomplish, out of said anxiety. I stay within my comfortable bubble of “anticipation,” without actually moving an inch.

Also, I probably still use cheap dollar-store make-up (gasp).

Back to the present.

I’m here, today, writing this blog post, in attempt to dissect the anatomy of this rut. I have 48 drafts of things I’ve started but never finished, but somehow, I feel like I need to push through for this entry. If I do not force myself to break the spell, I feel like my life will somehow go on, underwhelmingly, comfortably. It is one of the most dangerous things that can possibly happen, to someone of my placcid personality.

I am thinking about my unremarkable future, and I wonder, from where I stand now, if I could still change it all. Crossroads terrify me because they unfold the story in very different ways, should one road be taken over the other. I have this feeling that there’s no turning back.

I do not like to seal my own fate. It is far too much responsibility. If I screw up, it’s on me.

However, in the words of Thomas Carlyle,

Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand. 

I’ve been there before, rooted to the spot, afraid to act out of fear. Suddenly, my life passed me by, and I was struggling to keep up. Will I make the same mistake? Is that a future I can accept?

I shudder to think of it. I must not allow it. I must do something, anything.

Tomorrow, I’m driving myself to the salon, to cut my hair. I will make my bed, and declutter my room. It is a small thing, but it is a start. Perhaps then I will write my goals down in a little notepad, and think deeply about how to go about achieving them, over roasted green tea.

Come to think of it, I’ll need to make a dental appointment,  call the immigration centre, update my resume, and work on that drawing….

I must move, somehow. This amniotic sac of time will only last me for a bit, before life ruptures upon me, and grants me rebirth.

The search goes on.

I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone

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Placeholder image until I draw my own. The night at Mt Cootha. I was supposed to take pictures of the Supermoon. Oh well.

Dear Seafarer,

The worst part about getting used to someone else’s warmth, is forgetting how to sleep alone. Some nights start to feel tougher than most.

But ah, it’s not all that cracked up to be, when you really think about it, right?

First, there’s the stickiness, perhaps of sweat, and the stink of other bodily fluids. Sometimes it gets a little too hot. You’re cramped up a tiny space, or you swear to God that some part of your body’s blood circulation is getting cut off. The blanket-to-person ratios are off-balance. You tangle limbs. You turn around, and your face is buried in the crook of someone’s armpit hair. The bed feels too damned small. You become an automatic audience of gassy fanfares (farts and all). Let’s not get started on the sonorous symphony of snoring, or the flattering view up someone’s nostrils.

But then, they reach over, and pull you close. You feel their heartbeat. You feel their flushed skin. The softness of their fat, or the hardness of their bones. The rise and fall of their chest. The sound of their breathing. Their warmth, right next to you. A tangible reminder that you are not alone, not tonight.

It is a sweetly comforting feeling. I’ve always wondered why strangers crawl into bed with each other. I do believe I am beginning to understand why.

We don’t want to sleep alone. Not all the time, anyway.

Touch is one of the most basic foundations of human contact. We hug, kiss, hold hands, make love. We are reminded of how we are essentially one organism, pulsing together to the beat of life. We connect when we touch; silently, powerfully.

In this wide, wide universe, with specimens as vast as the stars, we are not alone. What a miraculous, beautiful blessing that is! It is one I hope to never take for granted.

But these days, I think, I will have to get used to sleeping alone again.

Yesterday, I wrote one of the hardest message I ever had to, in my life, and sent it. I essentially told a man who loved me, that I didn’t know if I could love him back, at least to a similar intensity. I had been agonising over this conversation for a while, and it finally came to a breaking point.  I had to confront it, as difficult as it was. I felt like scum. I felt foolish, selfish, ungrateful. I cried the whole night through. But, it was done.I did what I thought was the most honest thing I could do, to honour him, and his feelings.

Despite all that, I was miserable, and I only had myself to blame.

I don’t wish to romanticise loneliness. Sure, they wax lyrical about self-empowerment and being “your own person,” before you get into relationships. They tell you to sort out your emotional baggage, or it’ll come back like a demon and haunt you relentlessly, no matter who you end up with. And yes, I largely agree with these principles.

But there are some days when I honestly just… don’t want to be alone. I had gotten a glimpse of warmth, and I craved for more. However, I couldn’t do it, at the expense of someone else.

Yesterday night, after sending the difficult text, and crying my eyes out, I texted a friend. Then, I made mushroom soup, entirely on a whim. I chopped a bowl of button mushrooms, a potato, and some onions. I simmered them with almond milk, covered the pot, and left to cry some more. The pot boiled over. I rushed back to the kitchen, and cleaned the mess on the stove. Then I added salt, herbs, and left it to simmer some more. I started crying again. My friend eventually came, close to 10. P.M. I answered the doorbell, red-eyed, with tear-stained cheeks.

We sat down on the couch, and talked.

I sobbed about how I was afraid I had made a mistake, about how I was afraid, fundamentally, that I’ll end up alone forever. What if I don’t find a man who will love me that much, ever again? What if THIS was it, and I had royally screwed myself over?

She spoke, softly, gently. Her hands were on me, her eyes were tender.

There it was. The touch, the human connection.

The conversation eventually drifted to other things, but I didn’t mind. In that moment, I was not alone.

Warmth, I had to remind myself,  takes different forms too. Sometimes in a friend. A mother. A cat. A cup of tea from a stranger. It most certainly is not exclusive to lovers. But we can forget, sometimes. Somewhere along the way, within a quarter of a century, I myself had forgotten how to sleep alone. It would be a struggle, for a while, to get comfortable again, in my own silence.

But while I sleep alone (for now), I would not be lonely.

Today, I woke up, and my hand itched to text him. Itched to tell him I was sorry. Itched to ask  if he would take me back. My emotions were taking me for a ride, and I knew I would cave in.

So I did the only thing I could do. Remind myself, that I didn’t have to stew in my own loneliness.

I spoke to someone else. I messaged my sister. I confided in a friend. Then, I studied. Surprisingly, I was pretty productive. I hadn’t been flowing in my work, not in a long while.

Around midnight, I went to see the supermoon with another friend, and her sister. I had my tumbler of home-brewed chrysanthemum tea with me. I sipped it on the viewing deck, underneath the stars. The “supermoon” was bright, but still small and blurry from where we were. My camera could not adequately capture it. I did  not bother taking photos, and just took in the atmosphere. Couples were everywhere. The place was abound with chatter. It was noisy, chaotic.

I thought about him, and if I wanted him by my side, at that very moment. I realised that while I wouldn’t mind it, I suppose, I wouldn’t mind this temporary solace, either.

My friend came bounding back to me with her camera. We got up, dusted ourselves, and went home, both agreeing that it was an underwhelming experience.

But still, it wasn’t unpleasant. I had company of my own. Within that security, I was fine being by myself, for a while. I wasn’t envious of the couples around me. I was okay, despite the weariness in my heart.

I suppose, that’s what it is. Ultimately, as long as we have loved ones to return to, we’ll be fine. That’s something we need to remember. Company and warmth does not start and end with a lover. At the same time, solace gives us the space to properly miss, and truly appreciate the people important to us.

Tonight, I sleep alone. Tomorrow, I will wake up fine, just as loved, and entirely blessed. I will miss him, of course. But life moves on. If we’re meant to be, we’ll fall into each other’s orbits again.

Let the healing begin.

The Microwave Mocks Me

Dear Seafarer,

I am having the worst time of my life at the instance of writing this. I am a hair’s width away from snapping, and the seismic impact is going to feel like all the tectonic plates of my inner universe are sliding and shifting over themselves, crumbling and crackling into a wasteland.

Wasteland. 

It feels like I am almost barren of hope.

I am, currently, an inch away from my thesis deadline, and I am staring a mountain of things I need to correct. Almost a third of the digital document is pockmarked in red annotations. I begin to wonder if I had written anything salvageable at all, and in my mind, I am mentally calculating the outcomes of my future, and its dwindling alternatives, should I fail to remove myself from this downward trajectory.

Breathe and calm down, I tell myself, but that does nothing to quell the rising panic that is simmering at the pits of my stomach.

To top it all off, I am feeling immensely light headed.

How on earth did I get here with all these gaps in my knowledge?, I ask myself, and I feel almost instantly worthless, like an impostor, like someone completely out of place. I feel like I’ve spent 3 years in university on autopilot, and I have learnt absolutely nothing. I’ve been staring at the screen for the past 2 hours. The most I’ve done, was correct my references. I have yet to attack the meat of the thesis, and something in my mind is not clicking. Ideas are not synchronized, random concepts are floating all over the place, the flow is disjointed, and I am feeling incredibly confused by the growing minute.

I decide that I should eat something. Maybe the fresh air would help.

I get up and cross the campus, to walk towards the food refectory, thinking of butter chicken.

The lady behind the counter looks surly. She scoops the butter chicken into a small container and hands it over to me, in silence. I say thank you, pay her the money, and walk back.

In that span of 10 minutes, I pendulum between thoughts of wanting to kill myself, asking for forgiveness from God and my parents, encouraging myself to keep going, and breaking down into a ball and disappearing into a manhole. I wish I could erase myself, like a glitch in the Matrix, and none of this would ever have to happen.

I feel hot tears well at my eyes.

I finally arrive back at the library. I put my things down and head to the student microwave. I stick my packed vegetables in, and press the “start” button. The lime digits beep, but nothing happens. I try again. It beeps. Nothing happens.

Screw this, I tell myself. The curry might still be warm enough to enjoy, so that might balance out the coldness of the vegetables.

I sit down, open the lid of my food container, and start to eat.

An Australian girl comes in, and tries. For a couple minutes, she has no luck. I feel relieved that it wasn’t just me. There was no real reason to feel relieved from something insignificant like that, but I suppose, in that moment, I didn’t want to feel like I was exceptionally out of luck, in comparison to everyone else.

I tell her that I couldn’t get it to work either.

She smiles, and walks back to her partner. I continue to eat, and try to ignore the stress that is killing my appetite.

After a while, I hear her walk back to the microwave. Perhaps she’s trying her luck again. Beep, beep, beep, the microwave goes. And it starts.

Following that, a Chinese couple walk in. They try it too, and the microwave goes on without a hitch.

It is a stupid microwave. It is a stupid, irrelevant incident that warranted no further thought.

But at that moment, I couldn’t help but think;

Even the microwave mocks me.

For a while, I contemplate the absurdity of the situation, and I almost manage to snap myself out of my negative reverie.

There are billions of people in the world right now, and everyone is stressing over something and something. Maybe someone’s lost their homes. Maybe someone’s just found out they got cancer. Maybe they’ve got bills to pay and they’re hanging by the next paycheck. Maybe someone’s lover left.

I am sitting in a student kitchenette, feeling upset over a microwave.

Thoughts of my thesis came back to me.

I need to keep going. I need to keep going.

I have finished my dinner, and am back at my computer now. After writing this, I will try my best to focus, as heavy as my heart feels.

Wish me luck.

I’ll need it.

 

People-Watch: Suits and Skirts

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10.45 a.m | Eyeliner

I like my eyeliner to extend just a little, over the corner of my upper eyelids. I tend to draw them sloping slightly downwards, giving my eyes a gentler look. I usually choose liquid eyeliner, because they produce smoother, sharper lines. I draw it on carefully, following the curve of my eyes, ghosting across the eyelashes. Today, I’m keeping it minimal. Not too thick. Just barely there. For the finishing touch, I fill in the outer corners of my eyes with brown crayon liner. Next, I apply a peach-scented lip balm, shaped like a cute plastic cupcake. It was a gift from a friend. Then, I go over my lips with a sheen of plum purple gloss, to give it a dash of colour.

Next, hair. I pull it into a simple high ponytail. My clothes were set, too. I was wearing a sleeveless white, halter-neck top, and a black, high-waisted pencil skirt. Finally, I pulled on my flats. Black, with a ribbon at the tips.

I stared at my reflection. I looked like an office girl, with a 9 to 5 job, probably in a cubicle. My mouth tasted like apple crumble. It was the only thing I had for breakfast. Time to go.

11.45 a.m | ‘Ang Moh’ Couples

The train whirred clunkily, as it chugged along the underground subway tracks. Every now and then it came to a stop, and an unnaturally polite voice announced the name of the station, as the doors clicked open. People filed in and out. Everyone looked sombre, as if burdened by the weight of morning light. A pretty girl in a blue dress slept, in the seat opposite mine. Her salmon pink handbag lay vulnerable on her lap. I wondered if someone was eyeing it, waiting to grab it on the way out. An old woman and an old man chattered, two seats away from me. From the corner of my eye, I noticed the old woman handing the old man a ringgit note. The old man appeared bashful, but accepted it anyway. I overheard her saying, “Ini you ambil kasi family.” I wondered if they were friends, and what warranted her charity.

Two pairs of foreign couples came in. I noticed the women. In the first couple, the woman was wearing a grey top, and grey sweatpants. She had a regal look, with black hair, cropped extremely short. Her thighs and calves looked full and bulky, but her face was sharp and defined. I remember thinking about the stunning contrast between the white of her skin, against a backdrop of leathery brown, and tanned yellow people. The second couple appeared to be the polar opposite of the first couple. Where the first couple was understated and monochrome, the second couple was vibrantly technicoloured. The woman was brightly dressed, in a lilac tank top, and orange Bohemian print pants. Scarves hung down from her full waist. She wore strangely thick make-up, with sharply drawn, exaggerated eyebrows, and red lipstick. Both couples left the train before my stop.

12.00 pm | Wet Butterflies

I arrived at KL Sentral, a bustling hub of people. Some were dragging luggages behind them. They were probably transiting to the airport. Some looked like your regular office workers. Security guards and police stood on standby. I blended into the ecosystem of the station, and moved silently through the sifting crowd.

I recalled that we were supposed to meet in front of McDonalds. I made my way over to the gaudy, yellow sign. For a while, I stood there, unsure of who I was looking out for. A smartly dressed young man approached me, and asked if I was with TalentCorp. I nodded and mouthed a “yes.” He smiled and motioned for me to join them. Suddenly, I see an entire group of youth, dressed in work clothes. I see a flurry of blues and whites and blacks. Ties. Sleeves buttoned at the cuffs. Pinstripes and blazers. Pencil skirts to the hem. Covered shoes.

I wondered how many of us there knew ourselves, or what we wanted to do with our lives. There we stood, a group of baby-faced, round-cheeked youth, in stiff, formal adultwear. I felt out of place, like a butterfly ejected too early from the chrysalis. I was fully developed, in the physical sense, but my wings were still wet.

1.00 pm | Gentle Girl 

I am in a bus, talking to a girl. She has a gentle face, clean of make-up, except for brown contact lenses. Somehow, despite it being our first meeting, we ended up talking with ease. We spoke of the differences between introverts and extroverts, between thinkers and feelers. She tells me that she has a wide range of interests. She goes lecture hopping. She had a quiet, but thoughtful manner of speaking. Something about the way she spoke made me feel as if she was always deep in thought, thinking about something faraway.

Before I knew it, the bus rolled to a stop. We were at our designated office.

I decide that I like her.

This doesn’t happen too often.

3.00 pm | Don’t Understand

I am sitting in an office pantry, a few good floors up, in a towering glass building. We are discussing a case. The room is hushed, and everyone is listening intently. An ex-Yale Professor is talking about FTAs and how industries collide, like interstellar galaxies. He spoke quickly and decisively, never missing a beat. There was a complicated looking graph, projected on the screen. I wondered how many people in the room were following his train of thought. Perhaps that’s the thing with confidence. If you speak fast enough, everyone will think you know exactly what you are talking about. This professor definitely seemed to know his stuff. His explanations sounded extremely logical, and yet the concepts weren’t quite meshing in my mind. I only captured the gist of it, at the very end.

I glanced outside the window, and memories of someone’s laugh lines flashed in my mind, for some reason.

5.00 pm | Regrets

The second office had walls of marble and cream. We were in a meeting room. A collected young woman is presenting in front of us. She had a round face and a grounded manner of speech. Somehow, she reminded me of a good friend. She wore a blue dress, with a silver pendant dangling from her neck. She was a civil engineer. Now she is a consultant. The topic shifted to one of happiness.

“When we talk to the top CEOs, all of them legends in the field of consulting, with highly successful careers, they all say the same thing.”

She paused.

“They wished they spent more time with their families.”

8.00 pm | Pleasant Strangers

We are having dinner, sponsored by the company. The waiter brought out pizza, plates of canapes, fish rolled in pita bread, salmon, calamari rings, and pasta.

One of the consultants is sitting opposite me. She is young, pretty, Indian. Small nose, short hair. Wore a yellow dress. We attempt to make conversation. It goes a little awkwardly at first. We simply asked questions that required no effort to answer, like dispensing data. I felt a part of my brain tune off, as I grappled to make a connection.

Finally, we hit the topic of personality types, and MBTI. Something in me sparked, and we began talking with more ease. My new friend, the gentle girl from the bus, joined in. I could see she was taking interest in the topic too. We chatted about the differences between Feelers and Thinkers, and how they complement each other. We also spoke about misconceptions people usually have of introverts. Something about being able to give and receive genuine insight excites me.

The conversation petered out, but I still enjoyed dinner.

9.00 pm | Chinese Soaps

The industry insight session has long ended. I felt like my social tank was exhausted, but in a good way. I learnt new things, and made good connections. I decide to pull down my hair, and walk to the bookshop. I particularly love this place, with its bright lights, classical music, and wooden floors.

I passed by a paper diorama, by artist FeiGiap. It was a pop-up, featuring old town coffee shops, akin to the sort you would see on Malaysian streets. His buildings were extremely detailed, down to the rust of the windows, or the peeling paint on the walls. In contrast, his human figures were simple; doe-eyed schoolgirls in pinafores. I appreciated his aesthetic a lot. There was a deep sense of nostalgia from looking at his drawings. I was happy that somewhere out there, an amazingly talented artist shared my sentiment on the evocative atmosphere of looking at buildings, and old architecture.

After that, I grabbed a book on problem solving, and another on “Kawaii Things to Do in Japan.” It was written by an Australian artist from Sydney, who runs a blog titled “Hello Sandwiches.” I sat down by a corner to read.

Before I left, I stopped by a shelf of Chinese soaps. They were all an earthy, brown hue. Some were slightly yellowish. Some had blocks of texture in it. The labels looked interesting. Tea-tree. Pinewood. Mandarin orange. Wild Patchouli. Jars of diffusers were arranged above the soaps. They were labeled with things like “Calm”, or “Revitalizing.”

Wild Patchouli was my favourite. When I inhaled the soap, I was overcome by a deep sensation of calmness, spreading throughout my body. The scent was gentle and earthy, but also refreshing. It distinctly evoked the imagery of brown parchment paper, a Chinese medicine shop, and 1930s China, for some odd reason.

Then, I thought about my late grandmother.

10.15 pm | Goodnight

It was time to go.

I bought myself potted milk tea (oolong, with oreo crumbs), and called it a day.

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Good Night! ❤