Saturday, December 27, 2008

Shallow rivers

I've always thought men are like shallow rivers, easy come easy go, no long lasting emotions. They always mean it at the time, but when it ends - it ends and they move on. Like daily newspapers, they move with the times.

I thought it was a peculiar and cruel curse of being female to feel deeper and for longer. Unable to forget, we linger on even the thinnest hope of love.

But recently I find myself changing. Maybe it's a sign of growing up, or learning to make decisions. But gone are the days when I loved the same person for four years, even continuing when he dissappeared for a year, even when he had no more interest and it was me alone in my fantasy of a relationship for the last year. Gone are even the days when I ruminate over a mistake for two years and a relationship that could have been.

As I mature I have less and less time. Feelings are no longer all encompassing, they are now compartmentalised into a certain time a certain place. The infinite has become finite.

A year ago I dated a colleague for a while. The time was spent struggling to decide whether to take it further. On one side of the scales were all the criteria - right age, single, nationality, socio-economic background and staying in Shanghai. But one the other side were some unpalatable values, showiness, messy way of handling problems and style over substance. I decided to end things, but continued to linger and obsess over that decision for a good 7 months.

Meanwhile I decided to alleviate boredom with a younger guy, a freshman at college no less. He was fun, but had a girlfriend which was surprisingly hurtful. At the time I did really like him, to the point of needing to have some contact every day. I thought the chemistry was crazy.

But with the nagging discomfort of the girlfriend situation I gradually cooled off, and when he went back to the US it was a clean end for me. Six months later I've had only faint desires to contact him, which I never acted on, and now I honestly can't remember what I saw in him. The age gap was so great, we really had nothing to talk about. And having a girlfriend but cheating like that really made him a despicable guy in my eyes.

Next was a guy, an exchange colleage I'd already known for a few months by then. We hung out a lot, and the more I got to know his personality the more I admired him. But it was 5 months into his 6 month placement that we had a deep talk where we found more and more in common. We read the same books, like the same obscure topics like philosophy and religion. Each time further that we meet it was closer to something. On his leaving party on the last day, something happened. But of course he was leaving and never coming back. I contacted him once just with a polite message to say goodbye.

I spent the next week moping. Even the next two weeks going over the depth of feeling and connection we shared. Surely, I thought, by all rights, this is the real thing.

But, three weeks later I have a new crush, and a totally different kind of chemistry. And I'm convinced this is the ultimate type of person for me, though again, sigh, this particular example is not. Right person, wrong situation again. Now I look back on the last one and think, it wasn't really right.

I've gone from four years, to two, to one year; then 3 months, now 3 weeks.

I'm making progress. I'm getting adept. I'm practicing the skill that keeps you sane and makes it possible to risk it all - the skill to survive the cycle of falling in and then falling out of love.

Another factor here is decision making. Life lessons are all about that. There's a great line in Chinese: 不走回头路 literally 'never backtrack on a past path'

It means making decisions clean. Make it carefully at the time, but never look back.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What is wealth?

This is a weird one, bear with me...

Being wealthy is when you would still want to do what you are doing now if you won the lottery tomorrow

Because it means the things you have now is worth about the same as that $10 million, or maybe even more. It means you already have that wealth.

On the subject of worth and wealth...

It always surprises me how people make these decisions, how much is something worth, and how much they would exchange for it.

Like my father who always said to me 'Not many people are geniuses, you're unlikely to be one of them, you're unlikely to be special'. He was really trying to convince himself. I think he really could have been a genius, could have been special. He was already starting to gain national levels of recognition and fame when he married my mother - chaining himself to a deeply flawed and problematic burden. That bad decision cost him his life purpose.

But in order to justify it to himself, or just to avoid admitting it to himself, he gave up the whole idea of being special, or even the existence of greatness. So that he didn't have to admit he was wrong and make changes.

It always surprises me that people can give up things of the greatest worth for things that are worth really nothing at all. By some magic, some slight of hand, some trick lighting, somewhere along life's path one can appear as the other.

Or maybe that value judgement is really the hardest test.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Birthday Letters II

Great expectations of those we rescue and those who rescue us. The old house where we wait, and the time the exact seconds, minutes, hours standing still. The wedding cake still as it was. The windows shut, the blinds blind to the filth, the cobwebs and the darkness. I was. Still the one the most right one for you. The one who wanted to make you envy, hate and break you. The moon that tries to eclipse the sun. The warmth that shatters the blinds. The youth that whispered to me of things as they could be not as they were. The seed that sprang green a thousand winters of the heart.

I was. Still the one you've always wanted, was a ship that somehow always passed each other by. We looked. One the day, and one the night. Summer dreaming of winter, and winter longing for summer.

I longed for you, secretely in an igloo underground cave of shelter from the howling blizzard. Slashing all the deadwood of my surface, was the violence of longing. But my prayer is that of the primitive tribe to the sun, as the human yearns for religion, as the earth-bound grass envies the clouds.

And I still write you birthday letters about which you never know. Which I sign, with atonement, with love.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Birthday letters I

By the firelight, in an hourglass, we are travellers old and weary before our time. You say you're a story teller, you see the stars. You tell stories by life's roadside inn where always a time apart from its journey relentlessly going, forward, diverging. Though the past is spent, you leave your broken family behind. You see the mongolian planes, the steppes for galloping horses and lonely wolves cries. In your words lie sleeping potential furled, and unfulfilled I knew you as the greatness that contained the sea.

With you my emptiness was just a dream. Though I have been saying a long goodbye ever since, the day I came to find you in that room in that dorm with the white sash curtains flowing in the breeze. Every night a different dream where someone else was in your place. Your face a receding memory of a friend on an old ocean liner, waving goodbye from the other side of the world.

A wanderer always has his own path relentlessly going, forward, diverging. But under the moonlight, bone white, our paths cross once. Your lamp a spotlight in the night.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

I prefer

I prefer idealists to pragmatists

I prefer backpacking to business trips

I prefer extroversion in others, and introspection in myself

I prefer lightening that interrupts the humid summer

I prefer to shed my skin like a snake

I prefer to cry in movies

I prefer jazz and black coffee on sunday mornings

I prefer people whose cups are overflowing

I prefer a leap of faith

Monday, August 25, 2008

A (stormy) day in the life of a journalist

The worst thunderstorms of this year hit today, waking me at 7am with bellowing thunder and flashes of light. The rain reached epic proportions, pounding my window panes and flooding Shanghai's unsuspecting streets.

As I drifted in and out of sleep, I fervently hoped that no freak storm could last 3 hours, as I had scheduled today that most nerve wraking thing: an interview, in Chinese, with one of those arty types that rarely make sense.

By 11am I was walking through the ongoing rain, ankle deep in flood waters that smelled suspiciously of sewege (and ruining my favourite yellow heels) to meet the Famous Chinese Orchestra Conductor. Having left my dictating machine in the office last week, and failing miserably to get a taxi this morning, I arrived soaked to the rehearsal hall of the Shanghai Opera House.

There I found the conductor in full flow, conducting a hundred musicians and singers, and nowhere near finished. An hour later the rehearsal ended (and I had dried). As I rushed up to catch his attention the conductor told me the hour long interview I had prepared had to be squeezed in to 15 minutes before he left for another meeting.

Such is the glamorous life of a journalist.

Before I became one I imagined it was like mingling with the stars, picking the brains of the sucessful, being invited to media parties, and attending press conferences to a backdrop of cameras flashing.

The strange truth is all the above is true, but there's a cloud to every silver lining.

It was at a media party that I realised journalists occupied the bottom rung of the glamour ladder. Maybe it was when russian models with no brain cells flounced passed us with a breezy, "we don't need tickets, we're models". Or when I saw drunk, rich people ignoring us and behaving badly, making passes at each other's wives and propositioning above mentioned models with promises of private helicopters.

I realised we are perennially the fly on the wall, the observer of those who have done things with their lives, those who have made it. Like being a narrator in a play, you never figure in the plot.
But then as this morning's whirlwind interview ended (I had managed to squeeze another 4 minutes out of him), I was reminded of why I love this job regardless.

Despite his success my interviewee was nice and interesting and had things to say. He loved music, he was passionate and he was living his dreams. He told me about struggling to earn a living at music school, sleeping in metro stations in the winter and working at restaurants. He told me about success, and how, if you prepare for it, luck and fate will surely come.

As I had lunch in a nearby dim sum place, with the rain still going strong, and jotting down interview notes, I thought I was really damn lucky. I come and go as I please, and I write what I want to write. Well, not exactly if you count censorship, but I mean, I'm free to make sense of the chaos of life in words. And I'm free to give my take on it's meaning.

That's what makes it so great, not the glamour, but the nature of what you do day to day. That's what makes worthwile the exhausting days out running around town in torrential rains or blistering heat.

Back at the office it's another day of not knowing what to expect, and who I'm going to meet.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

what I did today

My posts are so damned instrospective and self absorbed. It reflects a life of too much thinking and not much doing. I look at other bloggers and they just talk about what they did and what they ate. Why can't I be normal like that.

Ok so this post is about what I did today. I got up too late and couldn't be bothered to go to the gym. Then I went to work and tried to write an article about travelling on a budget in Asia. Also had a mild panic attack like I do every week since I had the idea, about my over ambitious article about culture gap between East and West. I wanted a salad for lunch but there was a monsoon outside so I went to the disgusting canteen instead, it wasn't so bad though the whole place smells of cabbage.

Last night I watched the American version of the korean film My Sassy Girl, and for some reason it really depressed me cos it was so bad and the original was so good. Today my room mate has some function to go to so I'll be at home alone, probably watching another movie. And doing my laundry.

And I decided to blog the last hour of work cos it was taking up too much of my evenings.

And I'll go to bed again and wake up again and have this unreasonable sense of futility. Cos really, there's nothing bad about this. What's about this? Nothing. Sometimes it's just the circular nature of life, the waking up and going to bed. Every night I swear, I've done this a million times already, and it seems never to take me any closer to happiness.

Things change, but then again they don't. Or maybe I just can't see it.

Aaaargh, I'm thinking too much again.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Notes from the abyss

Why do I associate existentialism with the abyss? Here's something of an explanation. It was a philosophy developed at the turn of the century, in reaction to the breakdown of religion as the thing that gave human life meaning. Having no meaning is like staring off the edge of a cliff, into a neverending darkness. The chaos of freedom breeds madness. Why did people always need the external authority of god and religion? Because it allows us not to look at the madness, and live like it doesn't exist. But existentialism is based on that abyss, on facing up to its entirety. The victory lies in overcoming the hopelessness of our lonely race, and to create something from the absurd. Instead of finding meaning in a meaningless universe, we create it when nature never meant it to exist.

And on this issue of 'becoming' - particuarly appeals to me. It's not simply making yourself who you want to be, but it says, there's no one way you are supposed to be. No one way you'll always be. It frees me from destiny.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Quotes and more from the abyss

Well I started this blog partly to indulge my obsessions with certain dusty, dead, dark and nihilistic, turn of the century philosophers. Actually I never had the guts to do the useless philosophy degree that I desperately wanted (instead I did engineering), so really, maybe, I actually know fuck all about existentialism. But I have read about it, went to some evening courses, and the guy I was obsessed with at 18 for the next 4 years was one. So that's the sum total of my great knowledge on this subject.

But I figure actually, the less the better. What I know I strongly identify with, and what I don't know I'll recreate to be my own brand of philosophy, which, after all, is the point of life.

So I have, over the years, come across a few quotes that hit me in the guts and took my breath away. Perfect prose and love are the only two things that can do that to me. So I'll be sharing some of this with you, but treating you to it little by little, in a controlled release.

This is the one for today:

"There cannot be a God because if there were one, I could not believe that I was not He." Neitzche

Sunday, August 3, 2008

An honest alcoholic

Days when I wake up at 5am are usually grappling-with-depression days. But I don’t just grapple with it, I think about what it means. I figured it’s being at some sort of crossroads – go forward or go back? Make something of your life? Or destroy it? Suicide takes a certain resolve, and planning. Going to live in a cave and grow your own food so you don’t have to interact with the world takes determination. Actually living life takes even more work, a life time of positive thinking and problem solving.

This is where I clench my fists and rail against the sky: why is nothing easy??!

Then it occurred to me the easiest option is to be somewhere in between living and giving up – i.e. wallowing in misery. Never quite making the decision to sever ties, but not having to make the effort to make things better. Yes, misery is the escape of hypocritical choice. It’s great to know that I’ve chosen this scenic route for great chunks of my life, when I could have been just an honest alcoholic.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Why I hate saturdays

Every situation in life can be summed up with a line from the Smiths. Every Saturday can be summed by this: “so you go to a club, and you stand alone, and you go home, and you cry and you want to die”. It’s not just the rake thin girls dressed like sex dolls in clubs like Muse, or the men with only one thing on their minds. It’s the nature of hope. The definition of madness is doing the same things hoping for different results. If so, hope = madness. Saturdays when I try, and fail, to meet new people on a meaningful level repeated ad nauseum makes empty spaces in my head for bad things to happen. Things that make me wake up at 5am the next day. Like how I’ll never find someone who knows me, who gets me, who chooses just me. Like how men and women are no more than what you see on the outside – dolls and predators.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The mental health profession

I know the mental health profession far to well. I’ve been taken in by the system and spat out the other end. I’ve had more therapists than boyfriends. I’ve taken pills and weaned myself off pills. I’m glad to say I’ve never been hospitalised though I know people who have, and I know members of my family who should have been hospitalised but never were. And I know most of them are crazy themselves. Not just crazy, they’re dangerous. And I know because my mother is one, and she’s the reason why I needed therapy in the first place. Next time I have to find a therapist I think the tables should be turned. I’m going to ask them questions, uncomfortable ones. Questions like: why were you attracted to the profession? Have you ever had major depression? What were your parents like? Are you married? Are you happy with your life? Do you have a personality disorder???

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The alcoholic and the journalist

You get to learn a lot about alcoholism as a journalist, because so many journalist tend to be alcoholics. I, a journalist, often have lunch with a friend, an alcoholic, and also a journalist, and we talk about the disproportionate relationship between the two. He says it’s a practical hazard of the job – getting your sources drunk and talking. But I think it’s something deeper. Something to do with the fast lifestyles and shallow, wandering attentions of the journalist. Something to do with its former glory as a profession. Like the alcoholic who coasts on that special, alcoholic charm – what’s underneath is the incompetence, the years wasted, the unwashed, uncared for mess of a person.