Night Thoughts by Day

I think that to write is to come to an understanding.

I think that, I think that.

I think that, to know what is in one’s own mind, one must express.

Does a feeling need a name to be known?


Sleeping has been a challenge for a while now, but last night’s experience was particularly interesting. I was part of a conversation that included two people who I know, only one of whom was making any sense. I remained alert for quite some time after awakening and mulled over what had been said, but it trickled away from me as fast as I recognized the nonsense that was happening. And then I remained alert thinking about the strangeness of these people having a conversation, and I noticed a feeling of something lost.


I wonder what people mean when they claim to understand others.

I wonder what people mean when they claim to understand themselves.

Can we understand others without understanding the self?

And can we understand the self separately from understanding others?


I am far calmer lying awake at 3am than 11pm.

At 11pm, my eyes are active. It takes effort to put the book down, effort that my occasionally rational brain insists upon because it’s late. It’s 11pm, after all, and I haven’t been sleeping.

At 3am, my eyes are tired. My brain spins but my eyes are tired and at least I’ve slept until then, which is comforting. I need to stop the thoughts from dancing but at least my eyes are closed and that feels good.


At 3am, I go back to:

How am I feeling about the move?

Aside from feeling defeated by the question, I’m terrified.

I was a different person the last time I moved, and that was in a different lifetime.

How am I supposed to be feeling?

At 11pm, I am alert enough to avoid the subject.


During a very dark period of my life, I used to record my thoughts in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep. I used to turn on the songs that made me cry and play them over and over. I’d mouth the words until they became part of me and then I’d cry and be able to rest.

This is not that time.

But I am aware of how the patterns of behaviour that I developed out of necessity at that time have imprinted themselves on how I cope with challenges.

Adaptation is critical to human survival, and I wonder if I have become habituated to the sort of aimlessness I am experiencing now. This is not the right word, and far from an accurate characterization of my time and even my personal reflections of my time, but it is an accurate word to describe this feeling. It is a strange world when the reality and the feeling do not match.

Something is different this time, this move, this change. I cannot blame the pandemic, for blame is cause-effect, right-wrong, black-white. And the world is shades upon shades of gray and purple and green and blue and and and.

But I can acknowledge that coping throughout the pandemic has necessitated adaptation.


I wonder about our claims to significance.

Do we know at the time that a thought, a conversation, a shared glance, an observation will become signficant?

Or is significance developed through, over, across time? And then, is it the act or event itself or our memory and interpretation of it that becomes significant?

And does it matter?


I remember what it means to be excited and intellectually, I am. But my body does not have those feelings. The first inkling I had of what my body had lost was the moment when a friend reminded me, “This is an adventure.” As I write the word, I cannot keep from smiling.

Adventure.

My body knows what it is to have an adventure.

My mind knows what it is to live an adventure.


Does a feeling need a name to be known?

I think that, to know what is in one’s own mind, one must not be afraid of looking.

Summer in Singapore

That it has been two and a half weeks since my last entry and I haven’t noticed should say a thing or two about where my mind has been lately. Everywhere, nowhere, now here.

My friends, colleagues, and I are again spending the summer in Singapore. Our visa status, just like last year, does not guarantee that we will be allowed reentry. It’s hard on everyone, of course, and the best thing to do, the only thing to do, is make the best of where we are and what there is. Lucky for us, there is a great deal of life to be lived if you’re willing to go out and look.

Back in May, on a holiday weekend that otherwise would have found many of us on a plane to somewhere else, two friends and I walked Singapore’s Green Corridor from Hillview south to Tanjong Pagar. This was 13km of the 24km-long trail and I was more interested in the conversation with my friends (and some general antics) than taking photos. Two photos that I did take, however, largely summarize my experience on this part of the trail.

The Green Corridor is an abandoned, overgrown, redeveloped rail corridor that once linked Singapore with the rest of the Malay Peninsula. There were reminders of the railroad everywhere, and reminders that nature, trees, will always be there. Trees are steady, strong, resilient. They bend so that they do not break, reroot to build a new home. They shelter, they provide, they live on. I don’t need to read the research (although I have) on the power of nature to slow down the body. I am reminded every single day.

The tree in the photo below reminded me yet again. It was our first landmark on the Green Corridor. It knew, well before we knew, the role that collective resilience would come to play in all of our lives.

There were points along the walk where the rail line, a marker of what the world was and how it was defined, disappeared. There were times when we were simply walking on an open path between field and road, protected by fences and foliage on either side. Walking south, we watched the distance between ourselves and the shipping cranes in Tanjong Pagar gradually shrink. But every so often, reminders reappeared. Reminders that Singapore, like every place, has not always been what or how it is now. Reminders of how quickly development becomes redevelopment, and the impossible dream becomes the everyday.

Although fenced off and abandoned to prevent people like me and my curious friends from exploring, it was not difficult to imagine the rail depot that this once was. Singapura is the Malay name for Singapore. That’s what this place was, and at its very core, there is so much of Singapura that remains for those who ask, who learn, who look.

Just a few days ago, one of my friends and I finished the walk. We started up north this time, further north than we needed to because the maps are not obvious, and followed the rest of the trail from Woodlands south to Hillview.

Before finding the trail, we lost ourselves on a fortunate detour that took us to the Rainbow Bridge in a part of Singapore we’d never seen before.

And by the time we found the trail, running perpendicular to a current MRT line, we discovered a Singapore that was well and truly Singapura, and before that, a forest.

There were a few times when this northern stretch converged with modern life, but the excitement of seeing different trees, different plants, different flowers, and hearing different birds and animals remained throughout the walk. These are parts of this place that I have never seen but that remind me, somehow, of places I have known. Perhaps in a different story in a different life.

I have a great respect for these places that have taken me from my everyday to a totally different world that was once the world. In discussions of change, I think we forget how rapidly change can occur. And because we forget that, we also lose sight of what exactly is changing, and to what degree, and when. And we forget that nature is stronger than we are.

A very special off-shoot of the Green Corridor is a short walk through Clementi Forest. We heard about it back in May when we saw a few women, covered in mud and exhilarated, rejoin the main train and celebrate. Clementi Forest is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a rainforest. Now. Again. It has grown over the rail line that is still visible through the mud, under fallen trees, and in the gully that was dug long ago to house it. To imagine this island, known for modernity, as the rainforest it used to be is today’s equivalent of the impossible dream of a world powered by technology.

And to take the time to seek out the impossible is to find yourself in a different place, a different world than what you thought you knew. And that’s just it, isn’t it? We only know what we know and there is so much out there to leave us in the child-like embrace of wonder.

Into Boxes

The last time I packed my life into boxes was four years ago. Some of the boxes were already packed from a year earlier. At that time, I’d moved to four countries in four years and I was well-practiced. But in the intervening years, I have not only acquired things that I would actually like to keep, but four years in a place is just a different sort of packing up.

If it can’t fit in a box, which then fits into 4.5 cubic metres, and if it can’t fit into one of two 23kg-limited suitcases, it can’t go. There is no space for last-minute decisions.

Buying real furniture was a big deal. It meant that I could no longer pack a suitcase and leave. I have three pieces of furniture that will take up most of the space. The kitchen chairs are last on the list. We’ll see, the movers told me.

But even if I’d packed up and left before the furniture, it would have meant leaving the books and I’ve already done that twice. So all fifty books will be packed. And how is it only fifty? The others, countless others, are in different boxes on a different continent. They will stay where they are.

Most of my kitchenware will be packed. I’ll need to buy a few new things on arrival, things like pots and pans and chopping boards. No sense waiting untold months for those to arrive. But I can live without the dishes (containers are on the upon-arrival-shopping-list), so all of the dishes will be packed, three pieces of service for four. I wonder how many will break on the way? All of the cutlery, too, because it’s a set for eight and a good one. The glassware will be packed. And some of it will probably break.

The art will be packed, as will what I termed “decorative items” (close enough to tchatzkes, right?) on the insurance list. We need clarification, they wrote back. I clarified.

The climbing gear is packed, as are journals and letters, mail received and beloved. Board games neatly stacked – do they sell board games in English over there? The bag of bags was packed with another bag, along with dance shoes, crochet materials (I’ve brought the nice yarn all this way, after all), stationery (I’ve had that orange stapler since someone made me a pre-university care package), a spare sewing kit, and all of the things we forget we once needed until we’re ruthlessly discarding them. But the two pieces of leftover tissue paper came in handy while wrapping the aforementioned tchatzkes. Decorative items.

The contents of my night table drawers will go into my carry-on bag. Things that they tell you not to pack in a suitcase. Laptop and related tech, legal documents, jewelry, cash, camera. Current journal with two pens because of that one time. Etc.

A sheet and a towel need to go into the suitcase, along with a small knife, my most favourite cooking utensils, and a set of bamboo cutlery. There are several weeks to go, after all. And then I’m moving immediately into an empty apartment, and my shipment won’t arrive until it arrives, and it can’t land at Customs until some bureaucracy is attended to. A couple of weeks of work outfits and their shoes need to go into the suitcase because school will likely start before my stuff arrives, and first impressions are everything.

It is making decisions about the clothes (and gosh, what if the weather turns?) that I am postponing as I write this. There’s nothing remaining on the walls, there are neat piles on the floor, but there is still normalcy in the closet. I know where everything is and it looks like it’s supposed to look in there. Once the hangers are piled up and boxed for shipping, everything left just sits in a suitcase.

And then the apartment is empty of most of what it means to physically live somewhere.

But I’m having guests for dinner this weekend so the kitchen, at least, will wait another day.

Daytime at Clarke Quay – Singapore, October 2020

Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by someone trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place