How to Tell a Story About the Sea

In our last days, I ask people how they’ll describe the sea when people ask them about it. I ask because the question nags at me as I watch the end near: our position inches towards land when I duck into the doghouse and trace my finger through the gridded map and more boobies begin to circle the boat—clumsy and heavy until they’re not, diving with a fine-honed point into the water in a flurry of starry foam. I want to know how we’ll look back at these five weeks on a sailing school ship through the middle of the Pacific Ocean and back, what neat category it will fall under, and how to encapsulate the vastness of it. What all of this meant. Whether it meant anything.

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Day 15/16/etc

In my last two days in quarantine, I started taking a lot of time lapses. This is how I have always tried to remember things: I take pictures of them. A picture depends on your camera as much as writing depends on your pen. My goal with pictures is not to capture as a scene how it looked but how it was—a small prompt for my memory. So: timelapses. I can’t take credit though: I was inspired by a TikTok from a fellow quarantinee in the Ritz-Carlton, whose window I could actually see from mine.

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Day 11

When the pandemic first “started”, March 2020, as I waited in the airport to fly back home, I scrolled through Instagram. All of my classmates were posting panicked, confused, reflective recaps of freshman year and plans for the future, though no one was quite sure whether it was the end or not, whether we would see each other in two weeks or two months (or, as it turned out, maybe two years). Nearly everyone’s predictions turned out wrong, except for one person’s.

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Day 9

How the room looks now: exercise bike by the bed, facing the TV, tucked away so I do not trip over a pedal at night and scratch my ankle. Desk by the other side of the bed, facing the window, chair oriented such that my background is the mirror and the corner of my pillow, not my bedsheets or said exercise bike, and nothing offends on a Zoom call. And so I can look out, as I do now, at City Hall and the sea of buildings behind it, Singapore fading into sea.

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Day 5

I joined a Facebook group for people returning to Singapore when we booked my flight back, and wasted several evenings obsessively scrolling through the posts, looking at the images of the rooms, reading about people’s experiences. A few of my friends had quarantined already, last year or over the winter; I quizzed them extensively. I started building a sticky note on my laptop where I listed activities as they came to me—everything from “netflix lol” to “learn a new language”. I started a document with TV show recommendations and books to read and filled it up with the list of things I’d always been told to do but had just never gotten the chance to.

And time passes.

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Day 3

I can’t see the sunrise or sunset from my hotel room, but I can see their reflections off the buildings next to me. Both of the last two mornings, stranded in an internal body clock located approximately over the Pacific, I’ve been up to see the light change: the streak of bright colors on the windows, the buildings become beacons. It takes around five minutes for the show to vanish; then it’s like it never existed. This could be a metaphor, if I wanted it to be. I am witnessing the change of the world only through how it affects everything else. I see everything but the shift itself.

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Day 1

A strange but very obvious fact of life that nevertheless catches me off-guard every time: as soon as I leave a place everything I did there—my many lives and heartbreaks and loves—begins to feel like a dream. Even if I can still taste it on my lips. Even with the memory of it yet wrapped around my wrist.

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