So it is 5 days into the New Year and I feel completely let down.
I feel this way every year.
You know, you prepare a big celebration to chase out the old year and usher in the new. After all the celebrations and debauchery, you wake up with a pounding hangover and look at the girl/guy beside you and realized that you’ve just broken your first New Year’s resolution:
To stop leading a life of debauchery.
Well, I did get drunk and high but did not wake up with a hangover. And I did not wake up with a girl/guy beside me. Well, two guys were in the same bedroom.
But one was my twin and the other was a friend whose place was where my twin and I bunked for the couple of days.
WHY? You thought it was something else???
New resolution for you: Get your mind out of the gutter.
Anyway, I need to explain why I feel so let down at the start of almost every New Year. Because after all the pomp and circumstances, you look ahead and realized that you have one year more to survive. One more year of maybe the same shit over and over again.
In short, nothing special. Just you getting older by a year.
Unless something life-changing happens to you. And I hope that it is some positive, good life-changing event.
But enough of pessimism.
Now that it close to a week into 2010, I’ll look back at 2009. Despite my pessimism, I do self-reflections. In fact, I do way too much self-reflections that sometimes I feel like torturing myself over and over again. It can be said that it goes in a circle, my self-reflections and pessimism.
So for 2009:
I can divided 2009 into two broad periods, the first period from January to end June and the second from July to end December.
First half of 2009 was actually enormously fun. I had regained my freedom after finishing 2 years of National Service in September 2008 and this was the first year I had real proper freedom since I enlisted in late 2006. No more reporting to some airbase in some godforsaken place at 8am. No more senseless paperwork. No more fretting over trivial matters. No more cursing at my $460 monthly allowance from the Singapore government (and taxpayers’ money). I was free, at last, to finally enjoy my youth and do whatever the hell I wanted (sort of).
So with my new found freedom, I set off into the unknown and actually looked forward to 2009. First, was my education route. My parents were adamant that I went off to university. That was settled. University of Sydney accepted, in fact, gave me an unconditional welcome (thanks) when I applied for the first time. University of New South Wales and University Technology, Sydney both gave me conditional welcomes (er, thanks?).
Which was weird. The oldest university in Australia gave me a straight yes while the other two gave me tentative agreements. What was going on?
Anyway, who was I to argue? I did not immediately accept Sydney Uni’s offer. I wanted to play the field a bit and I was quite keen on studying in the UK since I wanted to do English Literature. So off I went to the British Council, did my research and ended up applying to University of Glasgow,Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, all Scottish universities. The last one was University of Exeter, in England.
The reactions from my family and relatives went they found out where I applied to was disbelief: “HAH? Why Scotland of all places???”
Me: “Because Scotland, especially Glasgow and Edinburgh are famed for their arts and English literature. Besides, Scotland seem fun.”
Yeah, that was my logic.
Thanks to the help from a friend who guided me through the UCAS process and to a teacher who wrote references for me, I got accepted to Aberdeen, Dundee and Exeter (but only in their Cornwall campus). Glasgow and Edinburgh rejected me, due to my failure to reach their academic points (come on guys, its only a 3 to 4 marks difference!!!).
Well, Dad had been to Aberdeen many times and knowing me, he pointed out that Aberdeen was cold, dark and gloomy most of the year. Furthermore Aberdeen was a small city. Could I, a guy who stayed in metropolises most of his life survive the quiet? Employment wise, if I wanted to work part-time, I would be better off finding a job in Sydney.
So that was how I ended up in Sydney U.
So my education was settled. Now it was time to get a job. At that time, the financial crisis was still ongoing and Singapore was still reeling from it and an economy recession. Massive layoffs, rising unemployment and salary cuts were on the news all the time.
And the Singapore government were saying they’ve got it under control.
Until we found out that they lost billions of dollars through Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund corporations Temasek Holdings and GIC. But that’s another story.
That was one of the low points in 2009. From January to early February, I trawled through the newspapers and Internet to locate job openings. Sure I was young and fit and just finished National Service, a good catch for most employers. But what worked against me was my education.
Although I was an IB Diploma holder, equivalent to a A-Levels holder or high school diploma holder, a lot of Singaporean employers did not recognize it and so judged me by my IGCSE levels results (which were at best, average). So clerical jobs were out of question. Besides, my Mandarin sucked shit. And I was not picky, I sent my resume to almost every job opening, even if the pay or position sucked.
My parents told me it was okay. They knew about the crisis and I was going to university in a few months anyway. Besides, which employer would want to hire me for six months only to lose me? I was not, to put it crudely, cost-effective.
But I went on sending out e-mails and resumes and hoped for the best. Then I got a call from Times the Bookstore. A human resource executive spoke to me, saying that they went through my resume and wanted to hire me. The pay would be $5/hour and I would be a warehouse assistant.
Yeah, I hear a lot of gasps over the pay. But this is Singapore, they don’t have a minimum wage policy.
So I said, sure, I would like to start work.
HR executive says great, she would contact the supervisor of the warehouse and I would be inform when I could start work.
Then, a few days later, Kinokuniya, one of the biggest bookstore in Singapore (and South East Asia) called me up for an interview. So I got a hair cut, lay-out my best clothes and shoes, prepared my portfolio and went for my first job interview. Times the Bookstore had not got back to me, so I just had to grab whatever chances I got.
I went for the job interview and while I won’t say that I aced it, I’m sure I did okay for a first-timer. The interviewers asked me how much I was expecting, so I told them about $6.50 an hour. I thought that was reasonable. But no, they said that as a back room store assistant (essentially the same as Times), the pay would be $5 per hour. Will I be okay with the pay? I said sure, no problem. Predictably, Kinokuniya said that would get back to me. Which, they never did. I can’t remember if they did get back to me but let’s say I didn’t get the job. Anyway, I had started work with Times the Bookstore.
And I can say that was indeed, one of the best times of 2009.
I would say that in the beginning, it was tough shit. I worked in a stuffy warehouse that had no ventilation. So I went back home soaked with sweat. I still remember the disgust on some commuters’ faces when I boarded the bus. But, fuck them, a job is still a job after all. I still enjoy seeing the shock and surprise on their face when I whipped out a thick, fat English novel and started reading during the trip home.
Besides the tough working environment, a lot of people quitted after two weeks. Some left to be enlisted. So the remaining of us had to work overtime to sort out thousand of books, drag large pallets of books around (those weight about 100 kg easily) and set up the place for the warehouse sale.
I have to say at this point that the majority of the people, except for the supervisor, clerk and some technicians fixing up the lights and doing all the construction labour (what about the air-con?????), the rest of us warehouse assistant were within the age of 18 – 21. Most were on school holidays and some finished school and were waiting for their enlistments.
By the way, a big fuck you the Singapore Government. Sometimes I was just sick of reading and watching the news that my generation was complaining constantly and not adept at surviving or adapting to changes. Yes, we are very, fucking privileged thanks to your good governance, and have not seen or experience some horrifying shit but that doesn’t make us any less adaptable.
The supervisor promised the small remaining group of us that a new batch were coming in. Furthermore, they were ‘veteran’ warehouse assistants. We just had to wait for their school to finish. I have to say that I’m glad I waited out those few weeks cause if I had quitted earlier, I would not have met that great bunch of people.
Life became more bearable and I remembered the fun and nonsense we got up to during work. Of course there were some periods of frustrations (most work-related) but otherwise it was mostly fun.
I have to thank the supervisor for keeping me in the team. Within a few weeks of the new batch coming in, I developed a reputation of being late for work (my rebelling against, er having to report on time during 2 years of NS), reading during working hours instead of sorting out the books (what, I like reading!) and taking a lot of personal time off (they were important matters, serious). Generally, I was a piss-poor worker. But the supervisor kept me, not sure why he did but at least I’m grateful to him. And it helped that not a lot of people like that kind of job. Besides, it was only a 6 months contract.
The bunch of people I worked with became great friends and if I was given a choice, I would take up the job again, but only with them. And if they raise the pay to at least $10 an hour.
Just for the record, my parents and relatives were fine with my job. They knew the poor pay and my almost 12 hours working shift but they said it was character-building for me.
At least I was not slacking at home sponging off my father. Like I am now.
Fun and entertainment wise it was great. A couple of high school friends visited Singapore and I had loads of fun, sat on the Singapore sling-shot (reverse bungee) and GX5 Xtreme swing for the first time, celebrated Chinese New Year (which I got a lot of hongbaos, or red packet money), went out clubbing more and spent more time with friends.
At that point, I have been hanging out with Sharmen, Ranga and Gilbert quite often, usually making a trip to an Indian restaurant to enjoy some midnight supper or just taking long walks. I still remember the 15 kilometres nature hike I took with the trio. That trip was immortalized in a photo I would show you later. It was also my first time to manage to convince them to come down to central Singapore. Until they dragged back to Singapore’s west by making me walk 15 clicks.
I also made my first trip to the Middle East. My dad got posted to Abu Dhabi in U.A.E and in March he asked my brother and I to join the rest of the family (parents and sis) for a holiday. It was quite awesome, experiencing Arabian culture, food (especially Lebanese food), coffee and weather. Fortunately during our time there, the weather was quite mild. No 40 degrees Celsius summer that happened 2 months later.
I am also amazed by Dubai, its shopping malls, the buildings, and all the fancy cars that trawled the road. But what I really like was Oman. To me, Oman or more specifically, the capital Muscat was the perfect place. A city sandwiched between rolling hills and the Gulf of Oman and surrounded by picturesque castles and mosques, I really liked Muscat. It was not just the physical beauty of the city but also the atmosphere that attracted. Although the capital of Oman, Muscat was quite quiet and peaceful. And I actually got to interact with the locals who where reserved but friendly and polite.
Generally, the first half of 2009 was awesome. I made new friends, spent time with friends, had a job (albeit the low pay) and had the time of my life.
I actually felt fucking contented.
Then came the second half of ’09.
I won’t say the second half was bad. It just wasn’t as good as the first half. Sure, there was some awesome moments but at best, it was average. Here’s why:
End June, I left Singapore for Sydney. I was leaving for a new life and for the first time, living by myself in a foreign city. I’ve been to Brisbane, Gold Coast and Melbourne for holidays before. But I have never been to Sydney.
I was imagining all the possibilities and was looking forward to starting university. Let me put it this way, I felt fucking excited.
Also, Sydney U’s had one of the best arts faculty in the world, and that was where I was going to be.
So I landed in Sydney.
My parents and I took a red-eye flight and landed early morning. By the time we got to the hotel, we were so dead-beat, both from the flight and carrying my luggage around (I had about 4 bags to myself, including a guitar) that we just slept. We only explore Chinatown and Haysmarket on the first day since it was nearby.
But as the week went on and we did more exploring, I felt myself (excuse the metaphor here) falling in love with Sydney. I like the winding, narrow roads, still do, except when I have to take the public transport and the numerous amount of second-hand bookstores and all the small little shops.
And of course, the winter weather. We don’t get that in Singapore.
After my parents left me alone at Broadway Shopping carpark, I went wild.
I was completely free.
Okay, I didn’t go wild. Neither was I completely free, I was still financially dependent on my dad.
But I felt a tremendous sense of peace. Which was kind of odd. I didn’t know why. Maybe it was the sense of creating a new beginning and future in a new city. A new chapter in my life.
And I fucked that up.
First off, making friends in Sydney U was kinda hard. It is a very big university with more than 40,000 students (both undergraduate and postgrad). It didn’t help that I entered uni life halfway through the school term. I did went for the orientation, made friends, joined some clubs and turned up for some of the meetings. But somehow, it didn’t work out. The friends I made during orientation, most were in another faculty and most were postgrads.
What the… where were the undergraduates?
I did meet them at the clubs but, err, it didn’t work out either. I came away with a grand total of 1 friend for all my effort in joining the clubs.
Of course, I could have made friends with the people at my tutorials. But we only meet up once a week for one hour. And me, being the antisocial bastard, sometimes it is hard to make the connection.
It was not just the lack of friends that pissed me off. It was the frustration at the lack of a normal social life. From having an active social life in Singapore to having none in Sydney pissed me off. Trust me, I did make the effort but after a month into university life, I kind of gave up. Which in hindsight, a very stupid move on my part.
But I am still standing with my decision not to join the Singaporean student society. Sure, its like shooting myself in the foot, like some of my friends (in Singapore) pointed out. I’m not saying that I’m going all out to avoid the Singaporeans, after all I am Singaporean. But my greatest fear (and probably irrational) was that if I joined the Singaporean society, I would get sucked in and just hang around Singaporeans. I don’t want to join just because I want to get to know people and make connections. It is just like using the group. So no, I’m not going to join the Singaporean student group. See the reason here.
So with very, very few friends, I spent most of my time alone. Completely alone.
Being alone has pros and cons. The pros was that I got a lot of time to wander around Sydney and the university grounds. Since I had no social life to tie me down, I could wake up and decide how the hell I wanted to spent MY time. It was my decision on my own time. No obligations. Just an obligation to me.
So in a sense I was freer than I could ever be. I spent time with my own thoughts, something I could never do in Singapore, did a lot of self-reflections and it was also the period when my creative juices started flowing. After a near three years of suffering from writer’s block, I started getting all these ideas streaming into my head.
But then, at some point, I started going insane. I won’t say insane as mentally unstable but I started to crave the social touch. I am after all, a human and humans are social creatures. I can state that although I am, in a sense, an introvert and I can just be alone by myself for long period of times, five months alone was getting too much.
I just had too much time in my hands.
It didn’t help that I only had 13 hours of classes a week. Sure, I was to spent the remaining time doing self-study but I just couldn’t be bothered (more on that later).
So I started spending more time in my apartment (which is an irony) and started working out a lot.
I bought a couple of dumbbells and just poured my anger into the work-outs. I also started being very anal about my eating habits and started doing stuff like eating seven meals a day, eating more veg and fruits and cutting off junk food.
The five months I was in Sydney, I only had fast food twice. Once at MacDonald’s with H, and another time at Hungry Jacks with Brian.
I’ve worked out before going to Sydney and was quite disciplined about it. But it was in Sydney that I developed a new intensity that I did not know I had. So I just worked out and worked out, sometimes 6 days a week, but mostly 5 days a week.
And I got insanely ripped.
Okay, not that ripped. But I definitely packed on some muscles and got bigger.
I wasn’t exactly a bean pole when I first got to Sydney. Three months working in a warehouse, you’re bound to developed some muscles and I had been working out, but just not as intensely. But there was a noticeable difference after I started out my regime.
I’m going to be an attention-seeking bastard here, I can say that by end October or early November with the weight and muscle gain, I started getting a lot of second looks from women and, men.
I was actually kind of proud.
By then it was spring and I would usually prance around in t-shirts and shorts even when that particular day was cold. I have this habit of walking around with my hands in my pockets (no I’m not jacking off, just please get your mind out of that place). Since putting my hands in the pockets would angle my arms such that they, er, show off those toned biceps and triceps. I started doing it more and more.
But I did get a lot of glances from women, and men.
Of course it still did nothing for my social life.
But that was one of the rare high point in the second half of ’09. I remembered when I got back in Singapore in December and my twin saw me for the first time, he said he didn’t believe I was his brother. He also said the got a bit scared cause he never seen me that big. Usually my twin is the bigger one. It was the first time in my 21 years of life that I had overtaken my brother in size. And strength.
But I’m not that buff now, with all that festive celebrations, first a cousin wedding, then Zouk Out, then Christmas and then New Year. All the food gorging and drinking and lack of exercises have brought me back to square one.
Another effect of having no social life was that I spent my 21st birthday alone while my brother was celebrating with friends in Singapore. I remembered I popped into a liquor store, brought a six-pack and had two beers to celebrate. I actually wanted to just pound the whole six-pack but decided against it. I didn’t want to have vomit stains all over the studio.
So I spent my 21st all alone. Sure I got messages on Facebook wishing me happy birthday and spent some time chatting on MSN. But all in all, my 21st seriously sucked shit.
Besides the lack of social life, another low point was my education. As university life went on, I wasn’t prepared for the daily grind of lectures and tutorials. Even though I was studying something I like, I didn’t like the fact that I was back in the same territory of doing essays and facing exams.
I actually lost any enthusiasm for any academic activities after high school. I remember calmly telling my mother that I did not want to go to university after I finished army. My mom just told me that I had two years of army to think it over. She was right, after two years, I wanted to go back to school. National Service does that to you. You come out feeling more stupid.
So I was fired up went I started university. But after a month, I started feeling depressed. It was not that I could not handle the work load, I could. It was just that I couldn’t stop feeling so helpless. Helpless that I was competing against some of the brightest minds in the country. I did have the passion. But some of the brilliant minds had the passion and brilliance. I can be quite a competitive guy and after two months when I felt I couldn’t be beat them at their game, I just gave up (another irony).
I switched off. Threw the books aside. Skipped lectures, handed in essays late, didn’t study for the exams and…
…I still passed.
That was actually quite unexpected. Another rare high point in the latter ’09.
Besides that, I started to feel the pointlessness in chasing a paper. Sure, I got a Bachelor, but then what? Sure I was studying something I enjoyed but I could do the same thing by just reading a lot of books. That what university does anyway. People may say that university provided a structure to learn, encourage thinking about new ideas, debates over old ideas and maybe some prestige that I graduated from a university.
But I probably did more thinking doing my plentiful free time than I did in university. So I started questioning my pursuit for a degree. Like why I had (or my dad) to pay so much and spend the next three years just to get a degree like thousands of other students.
I could easily spend the money on more books and more travels.
I did talk to it about Rajan and one of his advices was just to wait and let time go on. I only spent five months in university and he pointed out that I was out of the academy area for almost three years, so it was natural that I was going through a mild shock. He also said that I will start thinking differently in a year time.
I still think that this higher education issue, although important, is just not really how I perceive it. Maybe I just had a romanticism about university life and this was like a cold shock of water.
So now I’ll just wait.
The other low point was that I had a lot of problems with my hearing aids. Being auditorally challenged, it meant that I spent half of my time in Sydney almost deaf in one year. First, my left hearing aid decided to break down, sent it for repair and had to wait for a week since the technician could not find the problem and had to sent it down to Melbourne. Then a few weeks later, same thing happened to the right hearing aid.
Since the office was located near the CBD centre, each time I took the train, I spent $4.40 for a return ticket. As the office closed quite early and the majority of my classes were in the afternoon (since I can’t wake up before 11am), it was quite hard for me to get a schedule to get my hearing aid fixed. Also, it was difficult for me to pick up my hearing aids as the don’t open during the weekends. So sometimes I spend weeks walking around deaf in one ear. Okay not deaf but it was does get difficult hearing through the ear without hearing aids.
The latter half of 2009 also sucked because of death of two friends. The first death was in 14 November when a high school friend, Agata Pradhan, passed away in her sleep. It came as a shock because she had so much more to attain in the future. My brother and her met up for lunch the day before she passed away and my brother said she was her usual self, cheerful and full of spirit.
I did know that Agata suffered from depression but knowing her and looking at her, it seemed impossible. All I have in my memory of her that she was cheerful, full of zest and seemed to bounce back from each setback. The fact that she was going to attend the same degree course as my brother and was looking forward to it but will now never get to cuts deeply.
If I’m not wrong, I remembered my last conversation with her was telling not to leave Singapore as Brian and I would be back in December. I also told her that when Brian and I were back, we would go out and celebrate and relieve the old times of high school. That would never happen.
It is also a big regret that I never bothered meeting up with her when she was still in Singapore. Sure, she had her own life and we could contact each other by Facebook or MSN. We did make some vague promises but never got around it. Now, I’ll never have to chance to do it.
The other close friend who passed away was Rajan Rishyakaran. He died on the morning on 30th December in a car accident en route to Kuala Lumpur. What happened was that Rajan realized there was something wrong with his car, stopped it in the emergency lane and when he got out from his car, was hit by another car.
That is all the information I had. But it did pained me deeply because it was the second friend I’ve lost another friend in a car accident in 2007. I remembered flying to Bangkok to attend the wake and funeral so I still remember how it is like to have a friend whose life was cut short in an accident.
I don’t know if the driver who hit over Rajan was drunk, speeding, sleepy or all three of the above. I don’t know the full story and can’t curse the driver as an irresponsible bastard who should be banned from driving for life. I also don’t know if Rajan died instantly or struggle for his life before succumbing to his injuries.
When I heard the news, I was in Ho Chi Minh City at that time. At first, I thought it was just a bad dream. But I wasn’t sleeping. So I thought it was some joke played out in very bad taste. But time went on and I finally accepted the truth that Rajan was truly gone. It didn’t help that I kept playing ‘what-ifs’ in my head. What if he followed me to Vietnam, like we originally planned to. What if he didn’t stopped in the emergency lane? What if he didn’t make the trip? What if?
But Rajan is already gone.
I wrote a tribute post to Rajan and you can read more about Rajan here.
But if it some comfort, I know at least Rajan touched a lot of people’s lives within his short life. In fact, the tribute post to Rajan has been receiving a lot of hits and I’ve noticed that the Google searches that led to my blog has been flooded with terms such as ‘Rajan Rishyakaran’, ‘Rajan’ and the best search term of all ‘one such individual’. In fact, the tribute post has the most views in this blog.
So with the death of two friends, I didn’t have a lot of fun ushering in the New Year. I just felt quite subdued.
So besides the deaths, my whining about university life, my non-existent social life, there were some high points (beside me becoming buff) in the latter half of ’09 and there were:
1) Visiting Blue Mountains and H twice. First in winter, see posts here, here and here and another time during spring. The second trip was extremely fantastic and it was the time I had MacDonalds while star-gazing with H and Nikki (a friend of his).
2) Trip down to Melbourne to meet up with Brian, Saki (high school friend), Q-Tae (another high school friend) and Zachary girl (a high school friend). Let’s just say that trip was absolutely tripping.
3) Sean Tan, who brought me and H to Sydney Harbourside for my very belated birthday dinner. And for also bringing me along for paintball games. See post here.
4) Joining a student protest for the first time. See post here.
5) Edward, for bringing me out and introducing me to my new addiction, Affogato, made by the Camos coffee shop.
7) Authentic Korean food. It is difficult to find it in Singapore but in Sydney, rows and rows of them populate the city centre and Chinatown.
8. Going to Zouk Out and having the blast of a time and getting introduced to Trance. See post here.
9) Seeing my cousin getting married. See my dilemma on getting a suit here.
10) Trip to Penang. See picture here.
11) Trip to HCMC and meeting up with old school mates.
So that’s the reflections for 2009 and the goals for 2010:
1) Learn surfing. Edward, I remember your promise.
2) Get a social life and make new friends. I really, fucking hope this works out. I’m going to put in a lot of effort in this.
3) Start working out again. After the mini-transformation, I now realized why my twin likes to work out. The high you get after working out is incredible, especially after you push your body to its limits.
4) Get a part-time job. I miss being financially independent.
5) Be more active in university life. I’m going to contribute more to the student newspaper (despite them rejecting my application) and joining the Debate Society and actually staying there instead of wussing out like last time. Be more active in the Writers’ Society and maybe join the Dramatic Society (its a club that produces play production, not teaching you in the ways of being emo).
6) Actually study. No, scratch that. Now that I know I can pass (barely) without doing anything at all. I plan to put in 50% of my effort so that I can get good grades.
7) Make new friends. Keep in touch with old ones.
8. Go clubbing more. But that would only work if I achieve Goal No. 2 and 7. Singaporeans are hardcore clubbers and every time they ask me about the clubbing scene, I either give them a blank stare or make some excuses that I only go to pubs.
So that 8 goals for 2010. Just 8. Should be manageable.
I wish you a belated Happy New Year.
By the way, here’s the picture I promised: