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 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 13

I opened the list of the hotel’s quarantine activities yesterday for the first time. They had a list of exercises I could do in my room, museums I could walk through virtually, and parks with street-view visits. I laughed and then closed the page. If I’m being honest, apart from the once or twice a day when I press my face against the window and try to feel a little bit of humidity on my skin, I haven’t missed the outside world that much. There are things I am looking forward to doing—going on a run, sitting down in a restaurant. But I haven’t felt as cooped up as I expected to.

Maybe it would have hit me midway through my third week, but I guess I’ll never know.

Part of is that my room is extremely nice and there are distinct areas in it for doing different things and also a wide open space in front of the TV which helps in, if not occupying more space, at least looking out and having the illusion of spaciousness. And, of course, all of Singapore unrolling in front of me from the windows.

I like showing people my view on Zoom calls; people say a variety of things in return, but most people say some variation of it’s so beautiful. I shrug. It’s just Singapore, I say. And, to be fair, where I am, in the midst of the CBD, looking out on the Merlion (Marina Bay Sands is obscured by the hulk of the Pan Pacific) and the Singapore flyer and Gardens by the Bay, is not quite just Singapore; it’s postcard Singapore, it’s the Singapore you sell to tourists, designed for people to look out of 5-star hotel rooms and go, ah, I’ve made it, the promised land, holy gleaming grail of skyscrapers and air-conditioning.

At a height when everything shrinks to ants the buildings so large when you stand among them become inconsequential, pinched between your fingers. My favorite part on airplanes is in the middle of the ascent when you can see the shift happen, from the trees and people just there to blocks scrolling away into the distance. It’s fantastic to give yourself a false sense of importance. Maybe that’s it. I don’t know.

Everyone in the quarantine Facebook groups I was in recommended getting a bike or a treadmill for your hotel room. It helped with the sensation of movement, they said. People also recommended videos of tracks you could follow along for the duration of an hour, or more. Mostly I just watch bad sitcoms on the bike, or call my friends. I don’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. But I also don’t know if I feel like I need to. Because of the biking, my thighs ache most of the time. (I need to do yoga.) That’s some kind of movement, some tangible growth. My body moving around me instead of the world.

I was thinking about coming back to Singapore at the beginning of the pandemic last year and those three months at home. I talked with my mother a lot about what we missed and mostly we came down to not that much, actually. And I have realized since then it is nicer meeting people in person, seeing their whole body from the torso up. But it’s okay the other way around, too. Your world shrinks fast. That’s not necessarily a bad things.

After the reduction of quarantine was announced, I let my schedule and plans collapse a little. I’ve spent a lot of mornings in bed watching TV, occasionally glancing to my side as the storm clouds roll in. Somewhere far away. Somewhere outside my little universe. Today I woke up and the air-conditioning combined with the humidity outside had fogged over the windows entirely. All I could see was pale blue and the faint blush of sunrise at the rims. No shapes of anything definite. I felt like I was flying.

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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So, Are You Excited for College?: Gap Year Week ?

Yes. No. Maybe? I don’t know. Sometimes. It depends on the day. Whether I had a good breakfast that morning, whether I had a chance to work out or not. Whether my next blog post is going well or whether it’s stuttered to a two-lined, abrupt halt in a Word document I haven’t opened in weeks. How much time I’ve had to think in the past week. If I’ve gone hiking or not. Which friends I’ve talked to.

I’ve had a year, you see, to run the gamut many times over, lapping a circuit of emotions until the ache grew tight through my hamstrings. The agony and the ecstasy. The midnight College Confidential binges and the social media following sprees. The America the beautiful and the oh-god-please-anywhere-but-there. (For that one, it’s always tended towards the latter.)

I write these posts partly to document but partly also to find out what I’m thinking about things. In the process of sentence construction and word choice, as I accumulate it all into paragraphs and watch the word counter tick steadily upwards, sometimes I stumble upon discoveries. If I pull something apart enough—my experiences, my beliefs, my reactions—I can find the rationalizations holding it all together. Bit by bit I can excavate arguments from the sediment of memory.

In case it’s not clear, I’m trying to do it now. Get this process to answer the question. Am I excited for college? Really?

Does it make sense to get excited for something I’ve always known a certainty? I’ve had the privilege to know that since I could first understand the concept of graduate education. This year slotted in neatly, extended the timeline, but didn’t change the inevitability of it. Did you know that in my last year of high school I considered, several times over, not taking a gap year at all? There was so much excitement around moving in to your dorm and choosing classes and a year felt so long to wait. I wanted to tell my parents it’s okay, forget it, I’ll just head off with everyone else, what’s the point of all this fuss for an extra year of holiday.

I still don’t know what the point of all this was. But I’m glad I took the year(-and-a-bit), for reasons that might take a while to understand. That’s not what this piece is about, though.

Perhaps inevitabilities are the only things worth getting excited for. They’re going to happen: why not anticipate them with joy? Why must the dependable become the mundane? Why am I asking so many questions? Why do I have to dissect everything? Can’t the fact of it be enough?

Just so you know: I am writing this, now, on the flight there. My window open and the ocean far below. Just so you know: here is the edge of the tumble. Here I am freefalling into becoming a bona fide adult. Here I cannot pretend things are far away any more.

Right now, all I can think of is that there’s so much still I want to write. Sentences and paragraphs, half-completed outlines, floating and hoping for completion. I wanted to have the time to write them. I wanted to have the space to write them. But heedless of that, this thing, these four years, this foreign country, is barrelling at me, now at 1000 kilometres an hour, the waves stripping away into the distance below. It’ll always be like that, though. The long list of things I haven’t done will always outweigh the things completed and will always include cleaning my desk. (Sorry, mom.)

I’ll have a new desk to mess up now. New things to fill it with. The list will only lengthen. There’ll be so many opportunities around me, some I’ll have to miss, some ripe for the working for, which might change the way I think, give me hope, or take it away, show me fresh directions, or point me with renewed confidence down old paths. And more possibilities, perhaps, that I haven’t yet thought of. Right now, all I can see going forward is one yawning shadow of unknown magnitude containing who-knows-what. It’ll fade as I move towards it, but only bit by bit. Right now, Singapore still only a few hours behind me, the goodbyes fresh in my lips and eyes, it’s easiest to cling to the bright things I know for certain. My home of ten years, my family, the routes I’ve worn rotten.

The first time I went to the US in sixth grade, I spent the weeks leading up to our departure dissecting not our itinerary, but rather our flight. I planned out how I’d move my watch forward gradually, every hour, to keep pace with where we were in the world. I carefully planned the books I’d read and the movies I’d watched. I asked my father, who’d flown that route before, incessant questions about what the plane was like. At one point my mother asked me in bemusement why the enthusiasm. It was just a flight, after all (and one I would, ultimately, spend miserable with flu, accumulating a snowy pile of used tissues around me). “It’s the only part of the trip I can actually imagine,” I’d replied without thinking.

Now, on another plane flight to the US, I think that still holds true for me. I can’t get excited about what I don’t know. And college, no matter how many times I mouse Google Street View in front of my dorm, is something I can hardly picture at all beyond the clichés. It’s what you make of it, everyone has told me, over and over. And so this four years: nothing but blank potentiality. I can’t get fully excited about it. Nor can I get scared. I have no idea what’s down the pipeline. Only predictions and hopes.

In my first blog post, I wrote And so begins the rest of my life. This is another beginning approaching. Another rest-of-my-life. Just over the still-dark horizon. A year to run the gamut of emotions about that, but sitting here I’m calm, not tense, not exuberant. Maybe all those laps have left me somewhere in the middle. Not quite anything. Only knowing that I’ve had the time to consider much more than I would have otherwise, the consequences, the implications. Time to examine and time to prepare, and time to do neither of those, too.

Sunrise will be in a few hours, I think, and will come cardinal-red and brilliant. Beyond that will come the landing and the grounding, at last. I don’t know what that will feel like. But I’m ready for it. I’m ready. I’m ready.