I found myself in the sunset of Bangkok, walking towards the Impact Arena, where the lights were blazing against the round ball of orange that is the setting sun, in the middle of skies with arrays of purple and orange. On the large Billboard it said “Tonight: John Mayer Live”. My heart skipped a beat. It was in the middle of the week, and I was in Bangkok for just 24 hours to see him perform live for the first time.
As I sat in the indoor stadium, amidst the faint smell of beer and heavy perfume the ladies passing by were wearing with their fancy handbags, I marvelled my John Mayer concert white t-shirt and thought about how different this was than the pumped up, youthful show Coldplay had put on in the city a couple of years ago which I also went to (and you can read about it here). But everyone who has been listening to John Mayer knows that you don’t come to his concerts for the confetti or dancing lights or sweat. You come to his concert because you want to listen to some good sounds made predominantly by his guitar, and his corny lyrics.
But what’s wrong with corny? We tease ‘corny’ as something to be made fun of, but secretly we all love it. Secretly, we all think about it.
The show opened with ‘No Such Thing’. The crowd roared. “They love to tell you/stay inside the line/ but something’s better/ on the other side”, the song quipped. The search for more than just what is seemed to be a recurring theme for a lot of John Mayer’s earlier songs. But of course that would never surpass the major subject he writes the most – about the complexities of love and heartbreak.
The concept of the show was a simple one. It’s a bar show setting, with the stage filled with instruments, and so many paddles for each of his guitars. He changed guitars so often you lose track of the frequency. "There are so many paddles!” he exclaimed at one point in the middle of it. By the third song I was already up on my feet, dancing and swaying to his tunes. Eventually I stood up for the rest of the show – the guitar solos were too damn good to listen to them sitting down.
Gravity, the crowd favourite, began in its familiar riff. The crowd went wild. The song, which was dubbed by Billboard as ‘one of the best blues-rock record of all time’, allegedly took him only 10 minutes to write and he came up with it while in the shower. And then there was one of my favourites, ‘Edge of Desire’, a song about the fear of having someone you love and lost forget about you. “I want you so bad I’d go back to the things I believed/there, I’ve just said it/I’m scared you’d forget about me”. Doesn’t that sound familiar? Everyone who has heard and loved that song has someone specifically in mind when they listen to it, and I am not an exception. One of the biggest fears of losing someone you loved is that someday, they’d forget about you. Lost in a distant part of someone’s memory.
“I want to make sure everyone gets at least 75% of the songs they want,” he said mid-concert. “No I can’t play a medley. I’m too young for medleys!” he joked. The rest of the list were the things I have enjoyed listening to over and over again all these years ever since college. ‘Who Says’ is a song about getting stoned, and ‘Stop This Train’ is about time moving too fast, but they’re both really about the angst of getting older. ‘Slow Dancing In a Burning Room’ talked about holding on to a relationship although it was clearly over. ‘Waiting On The Day’ was about the longing for something that lasts. The rest are just as beautifully played.
The show was over with an encore of his newer singles, which everyone danced to wholeheartedly. When it was over I felt a sense of nostalgia. I’ve loved these songs through many phases in my life, before I knew what they meant, and after I knew what they meant. It’s like listening to my own emotions and stories through the music and lyrics of some quirky middle-aged guy who lives in California and leads a completely different life than me, but weirdly, he makes complete sense. I walked home singing ‘Edge Of Desire’ loudly, my heartstrings being pulled a little bit stronger than usual this time.
What’s your worse travel nightmare? For me it boils down to three main ones – losing my passport, losing my phone, and getting sick. I once had explosive diarrhoea on a trip to Bali (pro tip: you should never eat uncooked sambal made by an uncle who looks like a pot dealer), but even that doesn’t top my latest misadventure. On a recent trip to Tokyo, my phone fell at the market, the LCD cracked and that was the end of its short, two-year life.
There were about four more days until home and hand phone repairs were especially expensive in Japan if it’s not a Japanese product. Losing a phone while traveling is almost like losing a lifeline – you lose access to the camera and the internet, which also means you lose access to roadmaps, travel reviews, Google translate and train schedules.
I was exasperated over this loss. How would I know which train to take from one place to another, in Tokyo, the city of a million train routes? How would I tell the waiter I do not want pork in my Ramen? How do I retrieve that picture-perfect selfie I did by the Sakura trees?
But to be honest, here is the reason why I was really upset; there were things in that phone I was not ready to let go of just yet. Old text messages from someone, old pictures of adventures that seemed a million years ago and feels like a dream now. Having these things in that phone, even though I never look at them anymore, felt like re-assurances that they were real, that they really happened somehow.
It wasn’t about the bloody Google Translate at all.
It is sometimes hard to explain the science of letting go. The logic behind it is simple. Things end, and people move on, as do life. So have I, I think. I can’t really confirm or quantify it, because I have long ago accepted that I am absolutely a weirdo in that front – I take a long time to let go of people, even when I know I should. Most days I would feel like I am completely done with it, but sometimes melancholy kicks in and I would miss a dead dream. I know this is the case for a lot of us too. Before we know it we find ourselves checking in (read: internet stalking) once in a while, or think of people when we do certain things because it was what they used to do, too.
After all, love is never exactly common sense. That’s why mothers can go beyond the extraordinary for their children, that’s why sometimes we yearn for people who are already dead, and that’s why it changes our lives and views in ways we never thought possible. The fact it is never completely comprehensible is what makes it magical. And the process of letting go, which is just another façade of love, is also just as perplexing and complicated.
Somehow, getting rid of things that remind me of the person feels like a cruel way of denying they ever existed, something I absolutely despise doing. So I don’t. And when they’re involuntarily taken away from me, like those messages and pictures that disappeared with the death of that phone, it made me really upset.
When I returned home and took the phone to the phone clinic, the techno expert slash judgmental salesman (“Why don’t you buy yourself a RM300 Vevo phone? You can afford that one, I’m sure”, he said, glancing at my worn out flip flops that I forgot to change out of) confirmed that there was no way to retrieve the text messages or all of the pictures in the broken phone. Really? Are you sure? Yes, he was sure. Best let go of this old model and move on to something new.
It made me upset for a whole day.
“Are you really this upset over a broken, old phone?” A friend asked.
Yes, I answered.
“Well, letting go completely is always hard. Especially if it was something you were fond of.” She said.
It is indeed.
I haven’t been blogging as much as I hope to. I tell myself it’s because I have been busy, but that’s as bad a lie as when I told myself that Nutella is made of nuts so it’s basically protein. Being busy has never stopped me from blogging, and I’ll do it over the toilet seat if I have to. So no, it’s not because I have been busy.
I don’t want to say I have a ‘writer’s block’ either, because I can still write my column for NST and I can still write other projects without trouble. But blogging is different from these things because it’s a place that I treat as an indulgence, for me to organize my thoughts over things I am currently experiencing or things that are presently happening around me.
Doing this for as long as I have also means I know very well what causes my ‘blocks’ or ‘hurdles’ – I usually experience trouble blogging when my mind is too anxious and chaotic.
Which is absolutely true, in this case.
A man once told me that I was the bravest girl he knew. I felt so proud of myself when he said this. As a self-professed ‘independent’ girl, being validated for my courage to do things felt like such a milestone. But afterwards, I wondered if it is also the same thing that fuelled me to do a lot of stupid things in my life.
There are two things that really scare me in this lifetime.
The first is time.
The second is regrets.
Time is frightening because I think it steals from us. Before we know it the moment has passed, a chance has gone and an opportunity has disappeared. In a blink of an eye everything can change, and the next thing we know is what we used to have is not there anymore. And unfortunately a lot of us, perhaps myself included, never truly realise that we have something until times fleets by and takes it away from us.
Which brings me to my second fear, regrets. I spend a lot of time reading about or talking to other people because I love stories, and from these stories I often deduce a lot of regrets coming from them not doing something. I suppose it is true that in the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take. In some ways I am afraid that I am on the verge of being exactly that.
That I had a dream but never did enough to pursue it.
That I had a chance that could change my life but I was never brave enough to go for it.
That I had an opportunity to make a difference but I never stepped forward.
That I could tell someone how I truly feel but never did, and end up spending a lot of the rest of my time wondering ‘what if’.
These are the concerns that often drive me to do stupid things. They make me seem weird at times, unfathomable by (some of) my friends. They make me make strange decisions my parents don’t agree on. The make me appear like I wear my heart on my sleeve. Recently it happened again, and as I did this thing I cringed over the fact that I was risking myself being embarrassing and weird, but that fear of waking up one day regretting that I never did it drove me to be brave and do it anyway. I’m still cringing over that possible silliness, but I hope someday when I’m older I won’t be sitting on the patio smoking a cigar wondering ‘what if’ (I’m not sure why but I always picture myself smoking a cigar at 70).
I went through this thing I did over and over again in my mind, and this is the cause for my chaotic mind that did not allow enough calmness to even string a few words together on a blog post. In the spirit of chasing time before it passes us, I decided to send you the parcel on a grey Wednesday morning. In the spirit of avoiding regrets, I told you everything I wanted and needed to say.
Maybe it’s stupid, and maybe it’s pointless.
But in the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take.
There was this interview Oprah did with Jennifer Aniston, where Oprah said, “It must really affect you when people sympathize and say how unlucky you are in love so many times before.” Jen, taken aback, said “On the contrary, I have been very, very lucky in love. I met all these amazing people and learned so much.” She is currently married to a seemingly-fabulous man for years.
And to be clear, I am not at all implying that Jen and I even belong in the same orbit to compare myself to her (I have zero core strength, and also I like potatoes).
Watching that did, however, make me contemplate on the concept of perspectives.
Unlike when we were in college and everyone seemed to be on a somewhat similar path, as the decade passes by we’ll realize that everyone is all over the place in so many different circumstances – some finding out that realities are so different than expectations, some finding ourselves in a strange place we didn't think we'd be in with someone we didn't think we'd be with, and some just still floating about, not quite sure what they're looking for just yet.
Different things are happening to different people, because each of us need to learn differently from others.
And I may not have the wisdom from a marital relationship, nor the experience of co-habiting with the same man for years, but I certainly feel that I when it comes romantic love in the general form, my social past resume says I am qualified to give a review. So here goes.
There are good men and then there are bad men. But for the most of us we will never actually encounter these bad men. Instead, we’ll meet good men who are not perfect, because like us, they are also learning through life and are flawed. I began my early twenties by thinking of men as objectified robots with an easy manual. Now, I have learned that everyone are only just humans. We all get scared, we all change our minds, and we all screw up because none of us are perfect.
And understanding this will make it so much easier to love, forgive and accept others.
But then again, don’t be naive either. The simple truth is that love rarely have boundaries, whichever way we paint it. I learned this the hard way through experiencing the many excuses I was told – incorrect timing, "you're too good for me" (good God come on. Come up with a better one!), social difference, “I’m just really busy these days”, the guy who’s always too worried what people might think – they all just translates to one thing and one thing only; damn girl, he’s just not that into you. People will never easily give up on and risk things they deem as important, and if you’re not seeing those efforts, well, you know what that means. I could have never learned these important lessons of self-worth any other way.
So, if you find yourself being in the circumstances you could never have imagined before, know this; what is meant for us will always find us no matter how much we deny or run away from it, and what is not meant for us will never want to stay, no matter how hard we hold on to it.
And that is pretty much what I, and perhaps Jennifer Aniston, have learned after decades deciphering it – love, the greatest adventure anyone would ever take.
There is this story told by a friend of mine a few years ago.
She was broken up with a man she was very much still in love with. And although time had passed, and so did a few other men, he was still always in her thoughts. They did not keep in touch except for the rare hellos, and one fine day she decided that she did not want to give up on them just yet. And so she had somehow found out that the man was returning on a flight back to the city, and she decided to drive to the airport to surprise him. She had the grand gesture planned – she bought a single rose, an ode to the cheesy romantism she had in her mind, and drove to the airport alone, her heart on her sleeve.
On the way to the airport she decided to call him to ask him to wait, worried that he might be too quick to get a taxi before she could get there. She was hopeful, against all the challenges that they had been through, that he wanted to see her too. “That’s enough, M,” he said to her on the phone, his voice cold. “You should just go home.” He took a taxi and left.
She turned the car around and drove back home crying, with that rose still on the seat.
(And you’re thinking, “Whattt? Does this shit happen in real life??” Yes it does.)
This story resonates with me because it’s a reminder that love makes us do crazy things we never thought we would do. M is just a normal person like all of us, and I bet she didn’t think that she would ever be that girl who would bravely drive to the airport despite all the uncertainties she had at the time. But isn’t it what this thing does? Love, for some strange, incomprehensible reason, drives us to do things we previously assumed were beyond our capabilities. It makes us leap and this sometimes causes us to fall down and hurt ourselves, but without it we would never learn, understand and grow.
Sometimes we are so comfortable being in our own little bubble of familiarity, not wanting to step outside and brave a little bit of sun for something a lot greater. I happen to think that this is when the ignites of love is gifted to us to give that extra bit of push, because without its deranged, elevated, consuming punch of adrenaline, we would never do more. We would just continue to be ordinary. And unfortunately, ordinary is a place where mundane starts and adventure stops.
There are times when I think of all the things I did for the sake of it and I begin to cringe with a lot of “What was I thinking?” moments. They are a swirl of embarrassment, jitters, happiness, sadness, brokenness, a roller coaster ride of the most peculiar of sensations and feelings. But then I began to realise that in many ways, it is actually the compass that drives our lives. It sparks in specific moments with specific people at a specific time, to lure us into a road for us to consider. It lingers against our will to nudge us towards the route that seem scary and unfamiliar at first, but it might be better than anything we could’ve ever thought of.
And although M’s story did not exactly have a happy ending, what it did teach me was that love? It is courage in disguise. It unveils potentials we never saw before. It propels us from all that we had ever known into an exciting, strange territory. It makes us want to cross raging rivers because it makes us believe it is worth it (and it usually is). It is through it that we are able to supersede our expectations of ourselves, and therefore should never be left behind in vain.
Recently a friend told me that she was experiencing some ‘unseen disturbances’ at her house (translation: hantu). They were creepy, detailed stories of moving objects and voices and traces. I wasn’t sure if I really actually believe in ghosts, but let me tell you, being awake in bed in the dark at 1 am will pretty much make you believe a lot of things. I began to imagine the unthinkable – something crawling from under the bed or a child standing at the corner of the room. Any sound made me jump and I was afraid to come out of my blanket (although the logic is weird. I’m pretty sure ghosts can travel through blankets).
And then one day, I had lunch with some girlfriends and one of them revealed that she had somehow, at the spin of fate, ended up in the same office with her longtime ex. Not only were they in the same office, but they were also seated just mere desks away from each other. They had not broken up in good terms a few years ago and had not spoken to each other since, and now there they were, awkwardly sitting across each other and pretending as though they never knew of each other’s existence.
That’s also a story of a ghost, albeit a different kind.
We believe that this world is big until we end up bumping into a ‘ghost’ from the past, and then we realise that the world isn’t really that big at all. I once saw an ex I wished to never see again at the train station, and I literally ran away. Unfortunately for that friend of mine, she would probably have no choice but to spend the next few months involuntarily seeing a past she would like to forget.
Some ghosts are no longer welcomed. They represent a chapter of our life stories where we were a completely different person back then, and now the circumstances are different and things will never be the same again. These are the ghosts we run away from, the ones that make us cringe upon encounters and if you’re like me, you’d be pushing your way into a crowded train and hide yourself behind the largest person you could find on that coach, pretending to be nonchalant despite your sweaty armpits.
But some ghosts also came back to resolve an unfinished business. After all, not every ending would end with closure. Some ghosts come by for validation that your decisions in the past really were the best ones for you. Some ghosts come by so that you can accept them in a different light, as a friend, as a wonderful memory, or as someone you grew up with. And some ghosts come by for second chances, now at a better time, a better place, and a better outlook.
These are the types of ghosts we should never run away from, for they would teach us so much more than they ever could when they first came into our lives.
One of my most favorite films of all time will have to be Before Sunset. If you enjoy good screenwriting and amazing script, you should really find the opportunity to see it.
Here is a quote that resonates with me the most. The older I get, the more I feel that it is true.
We should never take for granted those with whom we find that strange, unfathomable, unexplainable connection with. It's rare, and not everyone is lucky to find it.
It's a magic one should never miss.
(yes, my writing looks like a 10-year old's)
Did I dream it?
I sat across him as I watched him speak. Outside it was raining, slow and steady as the evening grew late and the sky turned cast and grey. He told me about his life and his latest adventures. He looked exactly as how I remembered he looked, which side his hair parted and which side his body leaned on. He seemed in good spirits. I was happy to see him happy. It is always nice to see someone you care about happy. But at the same time, there was this pang I felt to see that he was happy without me. He was doing just fine without me. Did it make me jealous? Maybe. Did it make me sad? Absolutely.
As I returned his orange sweater I had been keeping in my possession there was a sudden realisation that I was never going to see it again. The painting project we bought was packed and ready to go to him, the last little piece of memory of something we did together. It had been sitting in my own living room for three months, and when I tried to pick up where we left off I couldn’t. I just couldn’t. It only reminded me of his face when he was painting on that canvas. I always liked how kind his face looked.
As we talked I began to think about how strange all this was. There we were, two people, once close enough to know what was funny and what wasn’t, what was important and what wasn’t, and what was real and wasn’t. We talked as though neither of us was ever hurt by the other, trying to keep a façade that we were doing absolutely alright. At least that was what it was like for me. I had missed him. I wondered if he missed me. If he did, he certainly hid it well. And then he left, back outside into the dark, rainy weather, the sweater and painting in tow. Gone.
It felt to me like I had been staring at a long, empty road, somehow hoping, against the smallest of odds, that somehow he would emerge again at the other side of that road. I would see his shadow looming as he would appear yet again, telling me everything would be alright now. No matter how much I told myself to stop looking at the edge of that road, to stop staring, I found myself looking and staring anyway. Two weeks later, by the strangest chance of strings of coincidence (although we all know by now that there is no such thing), I came across a picture. I saw the new girl. I saw him. I saw them. They looked happy. And I don’t know what or how, but something inside broke. And that broken something...goodness. If there ever is an adequate enough word to describe the hurt.
There it was.
I wish I write better stories. I wish I write stories about a boy who met a girl and the boy would hang his things and stay. But I don’t know those kinds of stories. The ones I have are about a girl who was staring at that long, empty road, but it was time for her to pick up her things and walk home alone now. That boy who one day showed up with lavender tea, his Sunday sneezes, with his adventure stories about sleeping under the stars in Greece and dreams of trekking the world – he is never coming back. He is gone. The girl will have to do with no closure for this chapter, a cliff hanger, a lost ending.
Did she dream it?