Autumn’s end

Australia hit me hard. It was not just the going back to the monotony and doldrums of sitting, bound to the office desk, by an invisible chain. It was not just the relentless, densely clustered crowds – everywhere, from the roads to the malls to the side paths or a bench or any random space that could be inhabited by human bodies. It was not just because there was no space to break down and cry, no privacy to be vulnerable. It was not just the artificial tinned peaches and imported tomatoes in my lunch salad. And it was definitely not the square pieces of uniform, factory-manufactured enriched white bread.

But it was all of it in a way, because every single thing reminded me of all that it could be, instead. Things that were so easy there became impossible here. Many things, when looked at too closely, or broken down thoroughly, are reduced to pointlessness.

This is the hardest part, the first few days upon coming back, being thrown back into the grind of work and daily life. This is the hardest part, when your body is here but your soul is not. Some people call it post-vacation blues, but for me, it is deeper than that, hitting me hard at the core of my existence.

It’s as though I was split into two halves when I was born, a solitary rendition of the origin of our “other halves” in Plato’s Symposium – a copy of which I bought in a bookshop along King William Road outside the city of Adelaide, which I have not begun reading yet.

It is in these moments that I understand why books like The Catcher in the Rye are written. Something, deep inside me, has been detached. And I don’t know how to find it back, if I can, and most importantly when.

Don’t forget all this.

I’ve got a long day ahead with a mountain of work, so here I am, drinking Kopi-C Gao (coffee with evaporated milk, thick) and treating myself to my favourite Singapore breakfast – kaya toast. Found a nice little coffee shop near my office. It’s something I will inevitably miss when I’m away from home.

It’s Friday today, my first TGIF on this job. Although it’s only been a week, the work has been quite demanding. And draining – or maybe I just need time to get used to it.

I’m a copywriter, using my love for words for commercial purposes. Not exactly something I’m passionate about, but it’s okay, I don’t hate it and it’s the best thing I am capable of doing – writing. Putting my words to good use. But is it really good? Words are powerful, but there are so many ways of using it.

Our clients want profit, and yesterday as I was working on social media posts, I couldn’t help but think again, sometimes the sincerity shown by corporations seem ironically, insincere. Sincerity becomes a means to an end – winning over customers. So is that really sincere in itself?

When you’re caught in the grind, there’s no time or space for these thoughts. Which is why, I figured, people are able to go on despite being exhausted or drained by the routine.

But today, on the bus ride to work, caught in the traffic, I kept my eyes open and noticed the little things. The way I used to. As I was listening to this track, I remember who I have always been. Something I do not want to lose.

I saw many things – the reservoir, the people jogging or going for a stroll. The whole stretch of beach along East Coast Park, running parallel to the expressway. And then, as we were stuck in traffic, I saw two motorcyclists actually talking to each other and having a conversation, side by side. A precious little moment in this busy city.

There is so much to see, so much to feel, and so much to say. Yet we’re all reduced, subdued versions of ourselves.

What are your hobbies? What movies do you like? What is your favourite kind of music?

All this small talk, I wish I could ask, do you want the long or short answer? In other words, are you asking because you really care, or simply out of politeness or a dislike for awkward silence?

I like traveling, because I find it a pity that we are born into our selves at a specific time and space. Traveling allows me to live more than one life, to experience life in more than one way. That’s why I do not go for things and places tourists like. I try to observe the locals and live like them, seeing all the imperfections of each place.

For the same reason, I like world cinema, because I believe we should step out of the media and world narrative dominated by America. Sitting in a dark cinema with a story from another person from another part of the world makes me feel like I am traveling too, and for those hundred minutes or so I experience life from another person’s or people’s perspective.

Books, I guess it’s the same. I like non fiction prose, relating to culture or social issues. I just read this, this and this and loved all of it. And this too, written by a journalist with that penchant for minimal sharp prose.

Music? I can’t paper bag them into genres. But here’s a track that sort of sums up what I love:

Don’t forget all of this.

Work

Not everything in this world has a purpose. Some things are just mundane and superfluous.

I know that.

But at the core of what you are doing, it has to be purposeful, or at least done with a sense of purpose, no?

Not even meaningful, for meaning is subjective.

Is that really too much to ask?