Wistful Wonderment

When I made the big decision to move countries in pursuit of a new job, a lot of my thoughts and worries were related to adjusting to living in India, as opposed to leaving Singapore. My feelings on the Singapore side of things were basically around the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to hang out with my brother, sis-in-law and niece on a regular basis anymore. I knew they were upset about this too, because the sis-in-law said, “Go, have fun. Just, you know, be back in a year.”

Subconsciously, that must have stuck in my head as I made final preparations to leave, because I did everything as though I was going away on extended vacation rather than moving away. I had to move out of my house, of course, but I left almost everything else in a suspended state, convinced that I would eventually be returning in a year. It’s been almost three months since I left (a quarter of a year! ūüėĪ) and now, actually living here and working here, it’s really hard for me to tell whether I’ll be able to stick to that¬†deadline of one year. I have no idea how things will shake out in the coming months.

I think in the hurry of packing up a life’s worth of things and leaving, I didn’t get a chance to fully say goodbye to Singapore. Rather, I did say goodbye, but it was quick and rushed, with no thought as to all the things I was going to be leaving. When people asked me during the last few weeks whether there was anything special I wanted to do or anywhere specific I wanted to go, I couldn’t think of anything because I hadn’t had a chance to miss anything yet. And then when I got here, there was so much to be done (from setting up bank accounts and getting government ID cards done to setting up a house and finding my feet at work) that I didn’t have the time or the mental headspace to think too much about anything else.

Now, though, I’m slowly starting to remember all the things I miss.¬†The people are a given, not just my family, but my small group of friends, who always made the time to meet up (despite most of them having much busier schedules) and do things together. Different friends satisfied different¬†needs (one to go cafe hopping with, one to do nail art with, one to exchange book recs with, one to watch movies with, one to drink wine with), and together, they made for a very holistic friendship experience.

This post is for the other stuff I miss, or as the sis-in-law puts it, “NON-LIVING THINGS.” I’ll leave out the obvious things like cleanliness, public transport, general orderliness, efficiency and safety, and focus on things that are more specific to me. In no specific order:

  • Food.¬†I¬†know, I know. For all intents and purposes, I get tons more options in India than I did in Singapore – practically everything here has a vegetarian option. I think what I miss is the variety, and the easy access to different kinds of cuisines. Yes, there are lots of places here that serve world cuisines, but it usually takes a bit of travelling to get to anywhere good, and there’s just not that many restaurants to choose from for any particular cuisine. Whereas in Singapore, to borrow from a Tamil saying, if you trip and fall, you’ll land on a restaurant. Food is everywhere. Also, in the last two or three years, vegetarian food has started getting really popular. I mean, McDonald’s put its first ever vegetarian burger on the menu after a full decade of me being there. When my mom visited me last year, we made a list of vegetarian-only places and couldn’t even tick all of them off the list by the time she left a few months later. All that just makes me sadder that I had to leave just when vegetarianism was¬†really catching on.
  • Groceries. Vegetable shopping is so much easier when things are¬†neatly packaged and weighed and not loose and caked in dirt. Also, even the basic supermarket would have gourmet ingredients for my more ambitious cooking adventures, whereas here, if I want herbs or a special type of cheese, I have to either order it online or travel to find a place selling it. (We’ve established how much I don’t like to travel here.)
  • The internet. I’ve elaborated on this already. ¬†Suffice to say, I miss not having to think about numbers so much.
  • Movies. I used to watch an average of two movies per month in the cinema back in Singapore. On Tuesdays, you could get cheap tickets for $6.5, and plenty of popcorn and drinks for $4. Also, getting to a screening would be easy, because there would be a cinema in almost every mall, and malls were scattered around the small city so plentifully that you’d land on one if you – repeat it with me – tripped and fell. I get to watch TV and movies as part of my job now, so this isn’t so much of an issue, but I miss making movie dates with friends, just as an excuse to meet them often.
  • The library. Good God, do I miss the library.¬†Singapore has about 30 public ones (another one of those “trip and fall” places), and all of them are large, air-conditioned, neatly maintained and well-stocked (and in some cases, damn stylish). For $10, I had a lifetime membership, which gave me access to more books than I could borrow at a time.¬†Many a day have I spent in the library, perfectly content to sit in a corner, reading or working, nipping out for a quick lunch or a coffee. Good times.
  • The beach. For me, the beach, especially when thought of in relation to Singapore, means a whole lot more than just sand and water. For me, it includes picnics with the family, long walks with the housemate and even longer bicycle rides to the airport or to the city. It is associated with sunrises and sunsets and ocean breezes, a place to get away from the hustle and bustle of normal life.
  • Sidewalks.¬†How sad is it that this can be something one can miss?! You can walk everywhere in Singapore. If not for the weather, I probably¬†would actually have walked everywhere. Here, the sidewalk is more like “the side of the road”, and I have to be constantly on the lookout for open ditches, garbage, mud, spit, poop, and of course, cows.

Singapore is essentially Western life in an Asian context, which, when you think about it, really is the best of both worlds. I miss you, home away from home!¬†(It’s too early for nostalgia, no? </3)

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N is for Neighbour

One morning, a few weeks ago, I got into the elevator at work and smiled politely at the guy sharing it with me. He smiled back, pressed the button for the 6th floor, then turned to me, asking, “What level?” It took me a few seconds to get over my disbelief, during which I just gaped at him, before I composed myself, scoffed, and replied, “Dude, I’ve been working next door to you for a year and a half now.”

Now, you have to understand, I work in a three-person office, which means we rent a tiny room in a co-sharing building. Everyone in the building works in similarly small offices, and because of the co-sharing nature, you have to get out of the room and roam the common spaces to use literally everything from the toilet and the water dispenser to your phone (because the rooms are so small, you’re likely to disturb someone if you talk aloud). In a situation like this, when this guy was likely to have walked past me countless times in the corridor, it felt crazy¬†that he didn’t remember that I worked on the same floor as him, let alone right next door.

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – maybe he just doesn’t¬†have a memory for faces. But this isn’t an isolated incident. A few days ago, a similar situation occurred at home (I may have to consider the possibility that I just have a really forgettable face). This one didn’t shock me as much – in the year and a half I’ve lived at my current place, I can count the number of times I’ve seen my neighbours on one hand. There are two other houses on the same level as mine, and I still am not completely sure how many people live in each one, let alone know their names.

You can understand how, having grown up in India, this may be a slightly strange situation for me. In India, neighbours are as good as family. Like family, you can’t really pick them – you’re stuck with them. If you’re lucky, you get neighbours you like, but even if you’re not particularly fond of them, there’s pretty much no way to avoid them. Whether it’s a¬†bowl of yoghurt, a new breakfast recipe,¬†the latest gossip or unsolicited advice – everything is shared with neighbours. The time between moving into a new place and sitting in your neighbour’s living room, having a cup of tea and sharing your life story, can vary between a couple of hours to a full day, but usually not any longer than that.

Within a few weeks, you know everything. Everything. Entire life history, knowledge of extended family, full details on current drama in the family, and possibly a spare key and the combination to the Godrej safe containing all the family jewellery. And then, of course, there’s the food. We once lived next door to a couple who had two sons, so the woman took to chatty, girly me immediately, often referring to me as her adopted daughter. She was a great cook, and so whenever she made something new and/or special, I was one of the first few recipients. Me being a food lover often made my response to her food more enthusiastic than her own son’s, which meant I got even more stuff to try.

Even apart from the food, neighbours have always been a big part of the good memories of life in India. Maybe it’s because I don’t live as part of a family (I do feel that kids foster neighbourly behaviour), or because I’m not in the house during reasonable hours of the day, but it just doesn’t feel the same here. Yes, I see familiar faces around my condominium all the time, and we smile politely at each other, but there’s still no neighbourly feeling about it.

I hope it’s not too long before I get a proper life-sharing neighbour again.

Y is for Years

In my last post, I shared an XKCD comic about how age can be a scary thing when seen in relation to specific events. Like Jurassic Park, Friends and Toy Story all being 20 years old (if they were people, they would’ve gone through an actual childhood and been in college by now!) or 9/11 having happened 14 years ago (doesn’t it still feel so recent?) or the fact that children born in the new millennium are now almost old enough to drive. They write their birth years starting with a 20, you guys. They shouldn’t be allowed to do anything yet!

Every time one of those articles pops up on Buzzfeed, all “37 Things That Will Make You Feel Old”, you can’t help but wonder… where did the years go?! How did we come this far so quickly? At 16, I feel like I could’ve told you the highlights of each year prior in great detail, with anecdotes and evidence where necessary. Now, I feel lucky if something memorable has happened in the entire year to stick in my memory. I don’t remember things all that well to begin with, so that just heightens my sense that this last decade has been a blur, with things happening and changing so fast, I’ve barely been able to process them.

Facebook now has a “see what you were doing this time last year!” option, and it’s funny to take a peek at your younger self, ranting away, oblivious to things in the future. In the interest of feeling like I actually lived the last 10 years fully, instead of speeding through them, I thought I’d do my own peeking and compile a yearly yearbook of sorts, a snapshot of each year as I remember it in my mind. This is how I picture myself when I think about each of these years.

2014 – At my parents’ home in India, happily unemployed sitting in the living room in front of my computer, doing this challenge. At the library in Singapore, doing my freelance writing and reading books. At the function room of the neighbouring condominium, attending zumba classes.

2013 – In my living room, trying to mark a ton of papers while feeling utterly miserable. In Paris with my housemate, huddling against the rain and the cold winds. Chilling at home during the school holidays, enjoying my new freedom and painting. A LOT.

2012 – At work? Honestly, I don’t remember much from this year – it was crazy in terms of work stress. Oh! At my new house, setting up the wifi router at 1 in the morning.

2011 – At work, struggling to keep up with my overwhelming first year. In Komalas, holding my tiny little niece in very nervous hands.

2010 – At a canteen table with classmates and doing fun assignments during teacher training at NIE. On a field trip with fellow teacher trainees, being the class idiot (as usual).

2009 – In the lab, desperately doing assays for my final year thesis. At the university cultural centre, attending my graduation ceremony with my friends. In school on the first day of contract teaching, fully realising what I’d gotten myself into. At home, falling asleep at 10pm on my birthday.

2008 – At my brother’s place, going on a massive diet and losing a lot of weight. In Tioman, getting very, very drunk with my friends.

2007 – In Cuttack, at my brother’s wedding. At my brother’s place, being surprised by my friends on my birthday with a surprise party.

2006 – I don’t remember a lot from this year either, honestly. And this was pre-Facebook, so I can’t even check.

2005 – At PGP in NUS, meeting some friends for the very first time. At science canteen between classes, wondering how the hell we were going to survive jam-packed Mondays for a whole term. In a study room in PGP, celebrating my birthday with new friends.

It’s a little scary to me how little I have retained in terms of memories in the past 10 years. Sure, I remember a lot more than that in actuality, but on the surface, it doesn’t feel like 10 years’ worth of life. Some years are more vivid than others – those are the kind I want more of.

On another level, though, a part of me feels like it’s fine to not have vivid memories of everything. I don’t want to go through life feeling the pressure of making every single thing memorable – sometimes, it’s enough to just be happy in the moment.

And I guess that’s what life is, essentially – a mixture of those things. Some things stay in your short-term memory and some make their way into the “Memorable Events Of My Life” folder in your brain, and at the end of the day, neither of those is less important than the other in shaping who we are and what we take away from our lives.

U is for Unagi

If you read the title of this post and thought of sushi… good for you, but we’re probably not going to be the best of friends. If you read it and thought of Ross Geller with¬†two fingers to his forehead and a silly expression on his extremely slappable face, hello and welcome to my life.

I can’t remember when Friends¬†(I refuse to write it with the periods in between) came into my life (it has to have been more than 15 years now) or who introduced me to it,¬†but from the time I started watching it, it became an essential part of my life. Maybe it was because it aired at a time when Indians were just starting to mass-consume Western media, but 90% of my friends have watched the show and remember it¬†well enough to quote it.

I remember watching every episode when I was younger and laughing my head off, and then rewatching all of them when I was much older, realising how much stuff¬†had completely gone over my head earlier and wondering what exactly I had found funny if I’d missed so many of the jokes. Still, Friends was always a great conversation starter. Who you liked best invariably said something about you. I shunned people who claimed to love Ross or Rachel because I couldn’t stand them or their stupid romance, and while this view remained unchanged through the years, I was able to admit, with the help of age and maturity, that¬†David Schwimmer was probably the best actor in that group.

Between my own friends, “remember that Friends episode when…” was a¬†common occurrence. Everything and anything could and would be tied back to Friends, and the people who weren’t obsessive as us about the show would find it a chore to take part in the conversation. There wasn’t anything as fun as remembering random quotes, jokes or moments from the show, and sometimes, I miss that. I miss that level of obsessiveness, of having watched every episode at least 5 times, of knowing exactly what another person is talking about when they make a reference. There’s so much stuff out there these days, it’s hard for us to be single-mindedly focused on just one thing, and so there just isn’t that level of bonding over the love for one show.

Friends wasn’t uniformly great. It wasn’t the most diverse cast, the characters were not all given equal screentime or importance, some of the storylines were just downright weird (was there anyone who wanted to see Joey and Rachel hook up?). There was a big downward swing in quality in the later years, and there are episodes of Season 10 that I’ve probably watched just once (I KNOW). Still, there was something about it that gave me and a lot of other people unconditional joy. It still provides for so many fond memories. Whether it’s chuckling at Joey wearing all of Chandler’s clothes because he took his underwear, or imitating¬†Monica’s “That’s not even a wooooord!”, or singing one of Phoebe’s horribly inappropriate songs, or happily indulging in Brad Pitt being snotty at Rachel, there’s never a dull moment when reminiscing about Friends.

I know I’ll never forget it. It will always be the show I first obsessed over. It will always be the show I can quote off the top of my head. In the way that people now get sorted into one of the four Hogwarts houses based on personality, I sort people into Monicas and Rosses and Chandlers and Phoebes. It’s the show I grew up with, and even though I’m all grown-up now, it hasn’t left me.

M is for Murder

So, murder is a big part of growing up in every household…

I kid, I kid. This letter is dedicated to dear Agatha Christie, the author of the mystery books that dominated my train journeys during my childhood. Being fairly short books that could easily be devoured in a few hours, and being the hard-to-put-down kind, they were the ideal way to keep myself occupied during long, solitary journeys. When I travelled to Chennai every month to get my braces tightened, they kept me solid company. Additionally, they were the kind of books that you could easily find at the railway station, so I didn’t even need to plan too much ahead of time.

My first few experiences with Agatha Christie books were spell-binding. They were all essentially similar kinds of books, and each one typically revolved around a murder mystery that would take several twists and turns before being solved, usually accompanied by a long, elaborate explanation in the last chapter. What I loved about these books, in particular, though, was that Christie would lead you to suspect every single character in the story (and exonerate them) before finally presenting a solution that was either ridiculously simple or cleverly complex.

This reached a peak when I read Murder on the Orient Express. It had a story so interesting, and a solution so clever, I promptly pronounced it my favourite Agatha Christie novel. I still name that book as my favourite if asked these days, despite my not having read all the books in the series or even that particular one a second time. I feel similarly about And Then There Were None, but not to the same extent.

Of course, in time, as other authors and genres started to capture my interest, the Agatha Christie series lost its novelty, and the stories all started to melt into each other. The format got a little too familiar, so I stopped reading them at some point, and since then, I haven’t looked back.

My brother made the decision a few years ago to collect all the Agatha Christie books so he can read them when he retires and has all the free time he wants. I’m not sure how many he’s collected yet, but it would be great to go through all the books at some leisurely point in my life and relive the good times. Formulaic as they may be, I’m quite attached to Poirot (not so much to Miss Marple, though) and spaced apart, the mysteries can feel quite fresh.

Until then, maybe I’ll just stick to reading the books on long train journeys.

G is for Games

I’ve never been much of a sports person. I like playing badminton every once in a while, and I enjoy the occasional good tennis match on TV, but other than that, I’ve never been what you might call an avid sports fan. Games, though… now, those are a different matter. I love games.

Board games used to be all the rage when I was a kid. They were expensive, so we didn’t own too many at home, but the ones we did have, I cherished. My brother owned a big Scotland Yard set that I found fascinating, simply because it had so many parts and so many rules.¬†I was too young to play, but I’d have fun just watching other people do their thing. When I was a little older, I got my own Clue set to fawn¬†over.¬†It was easy enough to understand, but it still took time to play, which I really enjoyed. (I hate games that get over too quickly because I’m greedy and want everyone to stay with me as long as possible.) When I was around 15, my extended family took a trip to North India. During the long train journeys or late evenings at hotels, we’d play card games. We were around 10 or 11 of us, all of different ages, so even a simple game could get loud and rowdy, exactly the way I liked it.

And then, for a while, games sort of vanished from the equation. It still surprises me that we never did any big game nights at university, considering we had the numbers and we had the time. We might have played Jenga once or twice, but that was it. I also played Scrabble every once in a while with my brother and sister-in-law in those years, but those occasions didn’t pop up nearly often enough. The next time I really got to play was when a bunch of colleagues invited me to¬†go out and have some fun on one of our (rare) light days at work. Singapore has a few places where you can pay to chill for a few hours, eat some snacks and play from a wide selection of board (and video) games. We played games¬†I’d never even heard of before; that was how behind I was on them.¬†We stayed there for a long time, made a lot of noise and generally had a good time.

That’s the way I like my games. Lots of people, lots of noise, lots of laughter and lots of insults being thrown around. I like playing with people who really get into the game, who get serious about winning. I wish more people did game nights; I’d definitely do it if I knew enough people who’d join in. There’s something special about just sitting around with a big bunch of friends and indulging in a few hours of simple, good fun. It’s stress-relieving, entertaining and uniting.

These days, though, it seems like the only game that unites all of us is Game of Thrones. Which is fun, too, but in a totally different way.

C is for Commercials

I was born in the late 80s, which means most of my conscious memories are from the 90s. Any middle-class Indian kid who spent his/her childhood in that era¬†will have some similar memories. One such memory might be lying down on the floor doing homework while the TV blared on in the background. I can’t remember now if I had a room of my own (I might have had one that I shared with my brother), but it never mattered, because the living room was where things got done. Papers and books spread everywhere, it was the only way to do your work and not feel isolated from everyone else. (Of course, when adolescence set in, isolation became a cherished thing, but until then, I craved company at all times.)

Whether or not anyone was actually watching TV didn’t matter; it was just comforting to have it running in the background. I haven’t ever been particularly fond of Indian TV, but I can’t deny that we got some of the best commercials. (Although I never really appreciated this until I went to Singapore and realised how extraordinarily bad advertisements can be.) Some of those 90s commercials are timeless, and I’m likely to remember their melodies for as long as I live. (It probably helps that we saw each commercial some 2357 times, until they were firmly implanted in everyone’s brains.) They’re also a great source of nostalgia, as a bunch of us once realised¬†during a gathering of Indian university friends on Diwali. Each jingle we remembered was a trip down memory lane, associated with something from our youth.

Who can forget the Washing Powder Nirma jingle, or even that of Ujala, accompanied by images of white sarees with blue borders? Remember¬†the cute kid who runs away from home because he’s angry with his parents and is tempted back with promises of jalebis? Or¬†the Dairy Milk girl who runs across a cricket field like a loon? Or the school girl¬†from the English Marie ads? (I didn’t realise that jingle was a version of a song from¬†My Fair Lady until much, much later.) Who didn’t drool at the sight of that Amul butter sliding down a hot paratha? Who didn’t want to be a Complan girl/boy back then? Was there a single unfunny Fevicol ad? I still remember all the words to the Bajaj jingle, and to the Amul Doodh (x4)¬†ones, and¬†I still laugh at the series of ads Aamir Khan did for Coca Cola.

The ads on TV these days are slicker, smarter and funnier, but they won’t ever feel the same as those early ones did. Those first 10 or 15 years of your life produce memories that you’ll always carry around, even if they’re just silly jingles to products you can’t even get any more. That’s what nostalgia is, I guess. Still, I’m happy I got to grow up at a time when the commercials had heart, and were as entertaining to watch as the shows or movies they came in between.

What’s your favourite old commercial? ūüôā

B is for Birthday

There are roughly 3 categories of people in the world when it comes to birthdays: the ones¬†who get excited in advance, the ones to whom it’s not really a big deal and the ones who get actively depressed around that time. I belong to a sub-category in between the first and the second – I pretend like I don’t really care, but secretly, I’m excited. On the actual day, I may inexplicably flit for a while to the third category, but I usually manage to bounce back.

It’s funny how you remember some birthdays so clearly, and how others barely make a blip on your radar. Growing up, I went through several types of birthdays. I had the typical large birthday parties, with decorations and door gifts, fancy cake (I remember one that was themed like a pink sheep farm!), food and lots of friends. Of course, I barely remember those people, even when I look at photos, but I remember enjoying those birthdays. Then adolescence set in, and I remember my mother having to physically drag me away from studying for my exam the next day to change clothes and cut a cake. My birthdays always fell right in the middle of exam period, and the mark of a good birthday in those years was having an easy exam (English!) the day after. Because of exams, being able to wear “colour dress” (as we called non-uniform clothes, and which now strikes me as painting a terribly sad black-and-white picture of school in general) was no big deal because it wasn’t a regular school day, and I couldn’t distribute sweets to my classmates.

On my birthday in my first year of university, I was struck with terrible homesickness. I thought I was going to have to spend the day alone because all my friends were busy, and I was happily proved wrong. That was the start of a good spell. University yielded some very good birthdays. I had a great bunch of friends,¬†and because I was the only one to have a birthday in the second half of the year, I always got the most elaborately planned surprises. That first year was just the start of the ritual “sabos”, and in my third year, my friends went to a whole new level by conspiring with my brother and sister-in-law and tricking me into going to their place¬†for the surprise. I couldn’t have asked for better birthdays those years.

Then it started going downhill. Work took up 90% of my time, and that first year after graduation, I was so tired, I went to sleep without checking email or Facebook for birthday notifications. That was a new experience for me, having only about a quarter of a day to celebrate and being too exhausted to even stay up until midnight to properly “end” my birthday. After the good old university days, this was a bleak reminder of what my life was going to be like for the next God-only-knew-how-many years.

These days, I can’t bring myself to get too excited about birthdays because there’s just not enough time to properly savour them. Once in a while, you get lucky with a weekend birthday, but most of the time, you’re stuck somewhere, spending your day the way you would any of the 364 other days of the year. It’s kind of sad, actually. There’s nothing really overly special about an event that comes every single year, but it’s a good occasion to gather the people you love, enjoy their company and just be thankful for having had another 365 days of experiences, of life. We don’t do that nearly enough. A birthday doesn’t have anything to do with ageing, and you don’t need 437 Facebook friends to wish you; it’s just an excuse to celebrate, to surround yourself with your favourite people¬†and treat yourself. I wish we could all have the mindset and freedom of children when it comes to birthdays, basically.

I’m probably past the age of surprise birthday parties, and amazing birthday gifts are probably a thing of the past (I think we all did more with birthday gifts on a limited budget than we can think to do with money in our pockets), but it would be nice to still have one day in the year that’s guaranteed to make you feel good. A day off from work to enjoy some of your favourite things (maybe a day off for your bestie(s) as well, come to think of it), two nice meals and lots and lots of love showered on you.

It’s not too much to ask, is it?

Facebook Yearbook

It’s the last day of the year! Time to reflect and review and write that “A Year In Review!” post! But what if you have the memory of a goldfish and can’t remember anything from before three days ago? You follow Sayesha‘s advice and hop on over to Facebook to see what you’ve been up to in the past year. (For a more comprehensive picture, troll other forms of social media as well.)

Painstakingly compiled, I present to you:

Clueless’¬†2013: The Social Media Edition

January

Attempted Insanity¬†(caution: link leads to big picture of sweaty, shirtless, bald man, if that’s the kind of thing you don’t want people to catch you looking at), discovered the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, sent out hand-written letters to some of my favourite family peeps, started thinking about a trip to Europe¬†and made some frankly awesome-looking bow-tie pasta.

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February

Started planning the Europe trip in earnest, giggled a lot after hearing the phrase “hairy styles” in class (and over the ensuing ‘pun battle’ on Facebook),¬†got to spend many a working Friday enjoying the nice outdoors and other working days running into things like this:

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March

Celebrated my darling niece’s second birthday, learnt to enunciate a proper Chinese saying, rediscovered the artistic genius that is Russian Unicorn, took a trip with the students to Bintan, Indonesia and got up to this view for 3 days:

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April

Welcomed Game of Thrones back into my life, shot an air-pistol for the very first time:

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… and that’s about all that happened that month, apparently.

May

Visited Gardens by the Bay:

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got my visa for France, read my first book that wasn’t part of the A Song of Ice and Fire series in 2 years, made Angry Birds out of play-doh and got to experience the world of a blind person for a few hours at Dialogue in the Dark.

June

Went on a fun cycling trip with colleagues, got convinced to get an ironed-out fringe, and finally made that much-anticipated trip to France!

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July

Dropped my phone on the first day back at school, bought a new one after much deliberation on the model, wasted a whole day learning the Cup Song (and watching videos of a bazillion other people doing it), joined a fitness programme, watched a movie in IMAX 3D (alone!) and enjoyed the crap out of it, and watched a ballet performance in the park:

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August

Went out to dinner with both housemates for the first time, went on yet another cycling trip with a colleague, watched the National Day Parade on television over a nice Bangladeshi meal, got into lots of pointless arguments about beards, engaged in yet another pun battle on Facebook, indulged in Secret Friend shenanigans at school, and had a margarita in a beer mug:

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September

Made a dramatic re-entrance into the blogging world, celebrated my (to be) last Teachers’ Day with a colleague-aided duet, received some super cute gifts from students, like this one:

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spent a week drowning in the arduousness of exam paper setting, tended in my resignation at work, took a nostalgic trip back to the motherland (university), and celebrated a low-key 26th birthday.

October

Wrote over 50 personalised notes for my (last batch of) graduating students (complete with animal stickers and sparkly ink, like a proper grown adult):

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took lots of pictures with the kids, celebrated the end of exams (yes, it’s painful for us teachers, too!) with fun game days out with the colleagues, started on my first audiobook and bought my gorgeous Macbook Pro.

November

Went on yet another cycling trip with the colleagues (and one non-colleague; yay to mixing of friends circles!), celebrated my last day of teaching:

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went karaoke-ing after a whole year of wanting to, went to Pulau Ubin for the first time, started planning my year-end trip with Mom, took lots of group selfies (groupies?), got my first gel manicure (pretty, but such a chore!), attended my last official day of work and said my goodbyes to a lot of dear friends, binged on Breaking Bad.

December

Attended so many weddings, shopped a LOT, enjoyed so many ‘farewell’¬†dinners with the colleagues, made an entire painting from scratch:

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made a family trip to the River Safari, completed my Paint-by-Numbers project, sang a lot of Christmas songs, finalised plans for the vacation with Mom, packed up my things at work, packed up my stuff at home, and wrote this post.

It’s been an eventful year (social media doesn’t do it justice), but looking back on it, I realise that more than giving me memories to cherish, it’s given me so much to be thankful for.

Thank you to my family for always being there, supporting my decisions and always encouraging me to be a better version of myself. A mini-thank you to my niece for always brightening up my day just by being her.

Thank you to my wonderful colleagues for making a tough job enjoyable, for always lending a listening ear, for making me look forward to things and for always, always making me laugh.

Thank you to my students for being silly, getting me through tough days at work and for every word of appreciation that made me feel like I was doing a decent job.

Thank you to my housemates for being good friends I could always talk to, for all the meals we shared (no matter how few and far between!) and for making our house feel like home.

And thank you to the universe for surrounding me with good things and good people this year. There were lots of things that didn’t go right, but so many more things that did, and for that I’m grateful.

Goodbye, 2013! Here’s hoping next year brings just as much cheer and happiness as you did.

Automan, Automan, friendly neighbourhood Automan!

Dear Automan,

Today is a special day. I wouldn’t have remembered at all, but my grandmother reminded me. Indirectly, of course, but it was her switching on the TV and setting it to Sun TV that directed my attention to the loud advertisement for “Padaiyappa” in the first place. One of Rajni Kanth’s most famous movies to celebrate his whateverth birthday. And as I was rolling my eyes at the unreasonable love people of the South seem to have for him (let’s ignore my similarly irrational love for SRK here, shall we?), I was reminded instantly of you.

You, and your love for ‘The King’, as you called him. I remember when you went to watch the first day, first show of “Baba” when it was released, at an insane 5 or 6 in the morning. You picked us up for school that morning, so incredibly excited that you had watched your idol in action after such a long time. You wouldn’t stop making the \m/ sign for AGES. I remember rolling my eyes then, too.

I think I was too young back then to appreciate your presence in my life, but now that I’m back in the same town 6 and a half years after leaving it, I see things a lot more clearly. Back then, you were just the man who picked me (and several other girls) up for school every morning and dropped us back every evening, nothing more. Now, thinking about it, you were so much more.

You were the man who waited patiently every evening as I sat in the library after school, picking books to take back home with me. You were the man who agreed to take me on the second trip home, even though it would be out of the way then, just because I needed a little more time to finish the chapter of the Harry Potter book I had started and was too engrossed in to put down and go home. You were the man who used to entertain us with funny stories on the way to and back from school, the man whose auto was always full of laughing girls. You made sure I got my preferred seat in the auto when I reached the right age (‘seniority’, we called it), and that one day when I fell down and injured myself on the grounds after school, you took extra care to make sure I was okay and got home safe.

You even gave me a nickname that caught on so quickly, I was called nothing but that in school for the next five years. Of course, you didn’t mean for it to be a nickname, but the funny way you pronounced my name, combined with the fact that you always added “ma” to our names out of respect, even though we were less than half your age, made sure of it anyway. I bet the girls at my school remember me by that name even now, even if they don’t remember how exactly it originated.

I don’t exactly miss my school life, but I can’t deny that some of my best school years were spent here in this town. And you were a big part of them, whether or not you realized it.

I don’t know where you are now or what you’re doing. You might have won the lottery, for all I know, and gone away to live peacefully in a big mansion on the outskirts of the city. And yet, I can’t help looking out the window of the car whenever I’m passing by the school, just to check whether you’re among the many automen waiting in line to pick a new bunch of students up and drop them off home. I haven’t caught sight of you so far, but I hope that if I ever do, you’ll remember me as fondly as I remember you.

Happy birthday, Automan. I don’t know how old you turn today. For that matter, I don’t even remember your name – you will always be “Automan” to me. But wherever you are, and whatever you’re doing, I hope you’re happy. And I hope you’re still as big a fan of Rajni Kanth as you were back then.

Nostalgically,
Me.