Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Twentyfifteen

Many often take the time to declare, on the last day of December, if (insert year) was overall a good or bad year. This year, instead of doing the same I think a question that would hit closer to home is, "Did you like 2015?"

My answer to that is, no. I can say for certain that 2015 is not a year I would bring up again in a decade or two, when a group of us gather for a meal and share favourite memories from the past. I wish I could say I like 2015, I really do. 2015 was a spectacular year, but it proved to be the most challenging in more ways than I could ever have imagined.

The first four months of the year was spent mostly in school or a Starbucks cafe, lacing my blood with dangerous amounts of caffeine and sugar in an attempt to write a dissertation that I had given myself too little time to complete. All of that craziness paid off eventually, and I graduated with my Bachelor's degree with honours in Arts Management in September. The experience was fun and also incredibly enriching - I've always liked academia and I can see myself going through the same thing again, hopefully doing a post-graduate programme someday if I have enough money saved up by then.

It also became the year I chose to completely neglect my health - physically and mentally. I developed really bad sleeping habits during my last semester in school - sleeping at close to 6am on most nights - and this slowly became a bad habit that went on throughout my vacation break, through the start of my internship... right up to the point where my immune system gave up trying to fight for me and I had the worst mind-spinning, limbs-aching sort of cold two days before Christmas. The only bright side to this was that when I visited Europe eight weeks ago, my circadian clock needed no adjustment at all.

The lack of sleep also brought on a lot of anxiety and bouts of depressive thoughts during and after my school term. Some days were bearable, other days I wish I had more courage and fight to talk better sense into myself.

2015 was the year I travelled to Japan with my aunt and later, alone for a few days and it has been the most memorable trip of my life to date. Every trip to Japan had been wonderful, but this one took the cake. I met up with an online friend I'd never seen in real life in Fukuoka, over some great food, conversation and drinks. I stayed up all night in Namba with a friend who is living and studying in Japan, and had a karaoke marathon and finally went to bed at seven in the morning. I met a fellow Singaporean while I was wandering alone in the streets of Kyoto, and she happened to be travelling on her own too - we had dinner together and I learnt that there is a certain inexplicable kind of joy that is felt when home always finds its way to you again no matter where you are - sometimes in the form of strangers displaced in foreign lands. I felt carefree, and there was nowhere else I would rather be in those moments: it was enough.

I broke down in public for the first time this year. I did the same in class when I was seventeen (junior college) in a shoebox classroom. This time it happened in the middle of the streets, at a junction between a shopping mall and a supermarket. It was a fairly ordinary day in June, when I had just ordered my tray of food at a coffee shop for lunch, before sitting down to scroll through some updates on social media. That was the day I found out an old friend was on Mount Kinabalu when the earthquake in West Malaysia struck, with the very same primary school expedition team that appeared several times on the news the past two days and I had earlier taken that same news in with no more than casual acknowledgement and apathy because - "I don't know them and I guess they are in a better place now" - but it turned out I knew them; I knew him.

How do you react to someone who has died? I don't know. I don't know if there will ever be a functional, all-encompassing answer to this, because I will later learn that reactions to death can be very different. I don't recall everything in detail, or maybe a part of me just doesn't want to - but I remembered walking off, leaving my tray of food completely untouched, dialing anyone who would be the first to pick up and the next thing I knew I was stood on the ground, uncontrollably sobbing while passersby stared, and continued their Sunday shopping.

There was also that morning in December where I woke up to the phone ringing continuously, until my mother got out of her room to respond to my aunt. In the haze of having just woken up, it sounded like a normal phone call, until my mom came in with the news, her voice cracking before she completed the sentence - "她跳楼-" and I remembered not the remorse so much as the anger - the anger that still returns every now and again - which undeniably scares me because I thought the only reaction I should be having is sadness. I wasn't close to my cousin, primarily due to the large age difference - but her departure haunts me, and it haunts us, a constant and stark reminder of life's brevity.

There are days where my mind wanders back and forth, recounting the days I had this year; the people I lost, the memories I gained, and what little of the naivety I have that remains. I have felt emotions, the good and the bad too overwhelming to ever comprehend and this constant state of not knowing unsettles me. I spent New Year's Eve at home, an uneventful evening like any other and when it hit midnight I didn't feel a need to celebrate, in particular - only a sense of relief that I've made it another 365 days.

I wish I didn't have to grow up. But I did. And so long as I am here, I will keep growing up. I'm scared for the future, where nothing is set in stone and I don't have anything constant to hold on to. I drew a New Year's omikuji online for the fun of it and it gave my my kanji of the year for 2016 and I thought it was every bit fitting for me at this point in my life:
育 (kana: いく, pinyin: yù) - 
a symbol for education, growth, nurturing
Here's to a better year and a better sense of self, goals, dreams and conquering fears.

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