Getting the VIP treatment in Iran

Having bought tickets for a VIP bus from beautiful Esfahan to Rasht, a beautiful town in Northern Iran, I was prepared for comfortable seats and Iranian entertainment I did not understand.

But the VIP treatment I got was something I never paid for: A wonderful conversation (thanks Google Translate!) with an Iranian woman, a former math teacher, in her 60s. Within ten minutes of us meeting, my lap was covered with pomegranates, oranges and a stray lemon (for my Kebab meal provided by the bus company). We exchanged numbers and stories and soon she offers her home to me.

That is Iran for you – full of surprises and warm hospitality. Couchsurfing, the popular hospitality service that allows locals to host travelers for free, is very active in Iran. Before I left, I received almost 60 messages from Iranians inviting me to their homes all over the country. During the course of my trip, I stayed with and hung out with locals who made my trip unforgettable.

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My couchsurfing hosts, Solman and Ehsan, in Shiraz. I hate random, weird food combination but eggplant yoghurt and chips were the best!

This may come as a surprise to those who know Iran for its association to the “Axis of Evil”, popularised by former United States president George W. Bush. More recently, Donald Trump passed an inexplicable (really) travel ban that banned people from seven Muslim-majority countries including Iran from getting a Visa in the United States.

Despites America’s animosity toward Iran, Iran has enjoyed a strong presence on many travel bucket lists. In fact, to match an increasing demand, AirAsia offers direct budget flights to Tehran for less than $600.

Tourism figures in the nation have doubled in the last year but it is still void of tourist trappings – for now. Even the most tourist-friendly places are still favoured and populated among locals.

In Iranian capital Tehran, there is the hip Darband. Darband lies at the foot of a popular hiking trail, and it is dotted with small teahouses, cafes and restaurants – almost all of which offer hookah (or shisha). It may be an uphill walk, but the best, most secluded spots are found further up along Darband where you can sit on carpeted platforms right next to a water fall.

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In Iran, hijabs are compulsory for both locals and tourists. Many in Tehran take the law as a suggestion – merely covering up just a little of their hair. At Darband, we see women letting loose, with the safety of seclusion, as they take off their headscarves showing off their coloured hair, piercings and tattoos. They lean on their boyfriends’ shoulders and show affection freely.

While Tehran is Iran’s cosmopolitan city (complete with modern pollution), Shiraz is the nation’s cultural capital. It is known for its stunning mosques, gardens and its literature. As I head out to The Tomb of Hafez, the most celebrated Iranian poet, late on a weekday evening, it is packed with locals. Some are taking selfies, laughing as they enjoy one other’s company and others are sat on the ground in circles reading the poetry of Hafez out loud.

I am invited to join one of their circles. One of my new friends then tells me that along with the Quran, many Iranians keep a collection of his works at home. I may not understand Farsi, but I have gained an appreciation for Hafez and his musings on love.

Iran has many beautiful mosques but Shiraz, in my opinion, has the most beautiful ones. Traffic can be crazy in Shiraz and I found myself seeking refuge and peace in the mosques and its gardens for hours.

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Eram Gardens

One of the most popular mosques is the Nasir ol Molk Mosque (below) – otherwise known as the Pink Mosque. Arrive before 7am, and you will be treated to a kaleidoscope of colours filling the small room. Also, remember to look up when you are in any mosque or bazaar in Iran. It is very likely that the ceilings may take your breath away with its intricate carvings, colours and symmetry.

IMG_0884.JPGEqually breathtaking is the city of Isfahan, the most beautiful city that I have ever been to. Situated at the center of Isfahan is the magnificent Naqsh-e-Jahan Square (also known as the Imam Square) – the second largest square in the world followed by Tiananmen Square. (80 per cent of my time at Isfahan was spent without my phone because I ran out of battery so I have terrible pics of the place. You just gotta trust me on this – it’s beautiful).

Surrounded by two grand mosques, a huge bazaar, and several teahouses, it is easy to spend an entire day here. But the best activity is to do what the Iranians are doing: Sit down and have a picnic, an activity common throughout the rest of Iran wherever there is a patch of grass. At the square you will see artists painting the sights around them, young teenagers gossiping, and horse carriages riding delighted families around the square.

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After spending time at Imam Square, you can take a long leisurely walk to Isfahan’s famous bridges including Siosepol Bridge and Khaju Bridge – both of which are gorgeously lit up at night.

The bridges are a perfect backdrop for a romantic date as the arches are occupied by older Iranian men singing beautifully in groups. Romance is a language clearly not lost in translation. Local couples have the same idea too as they snuggle up close to each other in the arches of the bridges.

Once you have explored the three main cities in Iran, it is worth going up North to explore some of Iran’s beautiful nature. Masuleh is a village where houses are built into the mountains and where the streets are built on top of the roofs.

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There is nothing much to do here except taking hikes, and drinking copious amounts of tea, and non-alcoholic beer and smoke Shisha but it is worth spending at least a night there. Several games of Backgammon  as well as a free flow exchange of stories and 3/4 of a Fargo episode kept my Dutch friend and I more than occupied for three days.

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Close to Masuleh is Rudkhan castle, which was a challenging two-hour hike through dense forests and up a mountain. You may want to give up mid-way through but just curse your way throughout and you will be there in no time. The view left me speechless (but it may also have been the exhaustion).

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Photo: Sjoerd van Baarsen 

Iran is a beautiful, complex country that has many beautiful views, cities, and mosques but it is undoubtedly the people of Iran and their warmth that will lead to repeat visits to the country.

Tips:

  • Due to the sanctions imposed on Iran, you will not be able to use your credit or debit cards so make sure you withdraw enough money. For mid-range travelers, I recommend 50Euros per day.
  • Taxis are very cheap but they tend to rip tourists off. Always bargain down to at least 70 per cent of their asking price before settling on 50 per cent of the fare.
  • Traveling between cities is easy and cheap (around 20 Euros). Just take the VIP buses from bus stations.
  • Women must follow the dress code and wear a headscarf at all times when in public spaces. They should also wear loose-fitting shirts that cover your bum.

P.S. If you’re visiting Iran for the first, second or sixth time, make sure to go to Dina’s blog. Her Iran travel guide is the best Iran primer you can find out there – it has all the information you need and then some. She is a Singaporean that has been to Iran many many times – and she is basically an expert (in my opinion).

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Because he moves me

After getting tons of flattering messages about how my smile (and more) inspire men’s boners, my OKCupid account got suspended because I had “violated” the site’s terms and conditions. I was told to contact the site if this was “an error”.

If violating the site means seeking potential partners when I’m in bed, with my two-day-old unwashed hair, unshaven legs, cookies stuffed in my mouth only in a way that would make someone think I’m participating (not even winning) in an eating competition, then yes, I deserve the suspension.

Maybe I even deserve this suspension because I couldn’t even get those tiny, snackable Chipsmore cookies myself. My sister just got a FitBit so naturally I’m taking advantage of this. “Jasmine, you want to get to 10,000 steps right? If you head to the kitchen and get me lots of cookies, that’s like 20 steps,” I tell her. She hates me but she begrudgingly accepts that I am right. And so I hear each and every one of those 20 steps before the cookies enter my mouth.

Optimal laziness is helping someone else achieve their fitness goals from bed.

The truth is the suspension came at the right time and I’m in no rush to fix it. Any semblance of a search for someone new was a farce and I don’t think I was fully aware until this past Sunday. A good sign that you are not ready to be with anybody is if someone’s touches and kisses feels like a million cockroaches scurrying all across your body.

I so desperately wanted to be far away from him as soon as possible but then he requested I queue up with him for McDonald’s. I tell myself: “Just five more minutes and you will be alone”. I’m not very religious anymore but I felt ashamed for praying that he wouldn’t order some special order burger that would only serve to delay our parting.

Whatever I was feeling at that moment was made even more clear when I cried in front of my sister for the first time (excluding parental reasons) ever that night. A seemingly innocuous answer to an equally innocuous question (“How was your date?” “I don’t think I’m going to see him anymore.” “Why?” “I just felt so *cue ugly crying face* suff…..foooo…ccaaaaated”) resulted in tears that even my sister didn’t quite know how to handle (she ran to Jovita’s room for help and they came back and stared at me helplessly).

Let it be known that I literally had to hide my tears when we were watching Me Before You (I cry easily when watching movies). When we were watching the movie, I let fat blobs of tears hang all along my jaw until they could no longer hold on because I was afraid if I tried to swipe them away, Jasmine would notice. She noticed the fat blobs of tears that later formed white splotches on my faux-leather skirt. Busted.

The problem here is that I am not exactly heartbroken. Yes, I do feel hurt by Dom especially as our contact with each other started dwindling over the past few months. But I quickly learned to stop expecting anything from him (though I’m still waiting on an email reply from him…. ~insert angry face emoji~).

Yet, my heart still feels whole – whole in a way that I’ve never felt before. And it’s like as though there is some kind of shield protecting it, making sure it doesn’t crack just yet, and ensuring that no one else can slide in through those cracks. But how long can this shield last? When will the cracks start to show?

I feel hurt by his actions (or lack of) and detest the complete lack of control I have over the situation. But if anything is broken, it’s my fragmented little mind pulling me in all sorts of directions – desperately trying (and sometimes failing) to move away from that part of my brain that stores all our memories. Meanwhile, my heart remains steadfastly in love with him. Or the idea of him? I’m not quite sure.

Dom told me once about something his mum said. I think it’s his mum. Let’s just assume it’s his mum because she would say wise things. I have never met nor spoken to her before but I assume she is wise because she has her own garden and her own vegetables and she cooks food using her own vegetables and she does his taxes and she is his mum. She told Dom that you can only really know if it’s love six months after meeting someone.

So, is it love that I feel for him?

A friend (who is as clueless as I am) and I were talking about just what it means to love someone. After perusing countless films, literature and music, I still did not quite understand what love was – and more importantly, if my feelings for Dom could be equated to love.

My friend told me that he thinks he loves his girlfriend because she moves him – with her strength and grace. And to me, that made the most sense.

I think Dom moves me in a similar way. Not with his strength and grace. I think he moves me in ways that matter to me more. I wish I had the proper words to describe how I felt. But I feel that his presence in my life (both virtual and then physical over the few months we were together) has changed my life in very minute yet profound ways. He is kind, intelligent, caring, emotional, full of empathy, passionate and just unafraid. Every time I decry the state of humanity, I think of him, and suddenly I’m not as angry anymore. (Although when I think of how horrible dating is, I get angry when I think of him hahahahahaahahaha…. ~crying face emoji~)

It’s his fearlessness and passion that moves me the most. It inspires me to kind of take charge of my life (even though, as of now, I have never felt less in charge of my life). But you know, baby steps. Traveling with him has changed the way I travel too. Wandering around the streets of Hong Kong alone for cheap food, exploring the unfamiliar, treading into territory where I knew language would be a barrier just increased the thrill of it. When someone has so deeply affected even the little things in your life, what else can it be but love?

There are more than a few things I don’t like about him. He can be incredibly self-centered, and I wonder sometimes if he cares about how I’m feeling – about him, about all of this. As much as I love his passion, he is just never satisfied – and I think that’s dangerous. He’s always looking for more. And I guess we have both come to realise (separately – I took a lot longer) that I will just never be enough for him.

He is always in search of that next great story, and unfortunately the chapter of us has come to an end.

Despite all of that, I think being so moved by someone is a beautiful feeling, even if it’s not exactly being reciprocated. Maybe that’s why I don’t want to let go of that shield (wall?) protecting my heart. Because what if no one else moves me again?

I would be lying though if I said I didn’t care that I don’t inspire these feelings for him.

I wish something about me moved him too. I wish I was someone more than the person with the great taste in music (no small feat though…). Who was I to him?

But I’m going to have to ignore that broken mind of mine and appreciate the ways my life has changed because of him and maybe take that much needed break from the hell that is dating.

A couple of months ago, I wrote that I hoped I will never forget anything if he breaks my heart. Back then, I didn’t realise that falling in love with this person would mean these memories become a part of my story, and they will play a small but significant role in how I lead my life from now, and I think I’m fine with that. But that’s just today.

Most of the time, I think about how I seem to have been thrown away, cast aside. Confusion reigns. Could I have been more open? Should I have learned to tell better stories? How could I have been better? Self-doubt rules and that is a dangerous kingdom to live in.

And I get angry because why do I love a person who has exiled me to such a kingdom?

Because he moves me? Because he moves me.

 

 

 

You gotta get up and try try try

There’s something about karaoke and its ability to make you pay attention to lyrics to songs you had never really paid close attention to before.

There was a profound moment while singing (shouting) Sean Paul’s Get Busy last night when I realised I had no idea what the fuck he was on about.

“Percolate anything you want to call it
Oscillate you hip and don’t take pity
Me want fi see you get live upon the riddim when me ride”

I mean I can probably take a stab in the dark and figure out the subject matter but WHAT EXACTLY is he saying? So it has now become one of my life’s goals to figure out why Sean Paul’s songwriters decided there were no better words than percolate and oscillate to use in a song about sex.

Later, we sang (shouted) Pink’s Try, which is a song that I may have listened to a couple of times but not one I had really listened to until last night.

“Where there is desire, there is gonna be a flame
Where there is a flame, someone’s bound to get burned
But just because it burns, doesn’t mean you’re gonna die
You gotta get up and try, and try, and try
Gotta get up and try, and try, and try
You gotta get up and try, and try, and try”

See how much better a song is without the words percolate and oscillate?

There was a moment when I was singing (shouting) the words of the chorus of the song and I just said: “Holy shit, that’s so true. You gotta get up and try (try try)!” as though Pink is the first person who came up with the revelation that you have to try to make something work even if it means you might get hurt.

I find that the chase is often one of the more thrilling (and the easiest) aspects of a new relationship. When someone you like desires you all the same, it’s a glorious feeling. But then what happens after?

Fate can only bring two people together. But ultimately, it plays no role in those two people staying together. The part that comes after the chase is often messy, uncertain, unsettling, ugly and sometimes even brutal. If you’re lucky, there is beauty to be found. But it’s not happenstance. It’s a whole lot of work.

This past weekend was all about romance. Not mine. Just a bunch of fictional characters on my computer screen. I binge-watched Love, the new Netflix series co-created by Judd Apatow.

I initially thought that it would be yet another story about that hot-but-screwed-up girl who meets that nice guy who eventually fixes her.

But it turned out to be a much more messy affair. Gus (Paul Rust) is a “nice” guy that turns out to be this huge passive aggressive jerk. And Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) is a girl that has addiction issues who’s basically looking for a nice guy to validate her.  They have a meet-cute. They like each other – but that’s the easy part.

What happens after is how they communicate (or mis-communicate) their expectations of each other. Actually no, they just skipped that communicating part altogether.

Being honest is easier said than done. And half-truths that are designed to pass off as honesty are unhelpful.  “Sure, it was fine” “I guess” and “Not quite” don’t exactly say anything and they don’t help in framing and managing the other person’s expectations. And this was basically the problem between the two leads in Love.

Things really start to go wrong on their first official date together. Gus has a whole date all planned out and he’s super excited and he clearly thinks it’s going to turn out great. But he doesn’t really know Mickey, and so it’s no fault of his own (at first) that she is less than excited about his plans. Things go downhill from there after Mickey doesn’t appear to enjoy the date the way he expects her to enjoy it.

Expectations.

Hah, I’ve been guilty of this one too many times.

Sometime last year a friend visited me here after we first met in Koh Tao, Thailand nine months ago when we were learning to dive.

We spent two days together here and it was great. But the second night, when we were out just laying under the stars (in my revisionist version, we could see actual stars okay?) with the skyline of the country splayed out for display in front of us, was magical. The conversation was flowing, jokes were being laughed at, phrases in our respective languages were being exchanged and taught, and an unforgettable night was being made.

Both of us acknowledged that this would make a perfect date. “If only we were with the right people,” I thought.

After that night, I made a mental note to do all of these things – with the right person. Let’s just go ahead and define the right person as someone more right than him. The next one is always the right person anyway until he isn’t.

Finally that time came. Well, the right person came. The planets were finally aligning. I can finally have that perfect date. I had so many expectations that I didn’t even acknowledge the possibility that it would be anything but perfect.

Alas, it wasn’t.

Maybe it was me (unfairly) expecting him to be in awe of everything he saw and maybe I didn’t know him well enough to know what impressed him and what didn’t. Either way, I was annoyed. Because I had brought the right person and I didn’t feel that same magic – not that night at least.

Just like Mickey wasn’t at fault for not enjoying her date in Love, I don’t fault him for not feeling that night or for possibly not enjoying the city.

After all, I think (for me at least) that there were some smaller, magical moments that didn’t need the help of a splashy skyline and some fancy trees.

Manage your expectations.

Lesson learned, move on. More accurately, lesson is being learned, moving on.

Love also explores what happens after the quirks you like about the other person fade into the background – and the ugliness starts to show.

And sometimes that ugliness can manifest in the vulnerability and insecurity that’s annoyingly par for the course when you start to like someone. You now have something to lose. “Why hasn’t he texted me? Why has he read my texts but not replied? Why are his replies so lacklustre? What is going on?” I’ve been through all of this before (and sometimes even worst!).

It’s frustrating and it makes me super annoyed at myself because I don’t like being that person who reaches for her phone in the middle of the night after a random dream/nightmare to see if someone has texted (though it’s also a great feeling if he does text – ah, contradictions!!). Somehow when someone I like (a rare occasion in itself) enters the picture – my picture, things start to shift and my cool all but disappears.

So at what point is it okay to show your ugliness with the comfort in knowing that the other person won’t leave?

Just gotta get up and try (try try) I guess.

Just keep looking

When I first started writing this post a couple of days ago, I was so alive and so inspired. I was PUMPED. I had plans. I was going to do that – and then do this. I am going to make all my dreams come true. I am in complete control. I’ll finally take ownership. Nothing can stop me.

Ah, how quickly things change.

It must have been last Friday when I woke up to “breaking news” that gravitational waves had finally been detected – a hundred years after Albert Einstein first predicted them.

This didn’t even pique my interest at first. I mean I’m somewhat of a news junkie and I like just knowing things (I once knew a man who found fault with my hunger for knowledge but that’s another story for another day). Science, however, has always eluded me. Unless you are telling me about a bottle of nail polish that can detect rape drugs, it’s very likely I will not be interested in the latest developments in the big, confusing world of Science.

And then I read a New York Times article by Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist, on the detection of these waves. About this breakthrough, he wrote: “Every child has wondered at some time where we came from and how we got here. That we can try and answer such questions by building devices like Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) to peer out into the cosmos stands as a testament to the persistent curiosity and ingenuity of humankind — the qualities that we should most celebrate about being human.”

After reading that, I spent hours reading up on various news sites, and Reddit threads – and this is what I gathered happened: One hundred years ago, a man you might have heard of, Albert Einstein, as part of the theory of general relativity, predicted the existence of gravitational waves.

What does that mean exactly? Basically, anything with mass (stars, planets etc) will distort the space-time continuum. And any huge events (think two huge-ass black holes colliding and then merging) will result in gravitational waves, just like the ripples formed when you throw a pebble into a body of water.

A bunch of people from LIGO built two super huge detectors – one in Washington State and the other in Louisiana.

Long story short: These things detected a signal from gravitational waves that were a result of a collision and merger of two huge black holes from a billion light-years away.

I like that for almost a century, these scientists never stopped searching for more answers, to make the unknown known. They never gave up. There may be a lot of shit going on in the world, and sometimes we (I) tend to focus on all of that way too much. But here, there are these scientists, with their persistent curiosity, looking to uncover the deep secrets of the universe and galaxy far beyond us and our understanding. And it’s beautiful.

Now we have found a new way to look at (or hear) the universe. We will probably better be able to understand huge events that happened a billion light-years ago.

And it’s all because the unknown excites them. Meanwhile, the unknown and the frustratingly constant uncertainty scares me.

When I started writing this post, it was going to be all about how I am going to embrace the uncertainty. I’m young! I too want to be active in searching for my own answers, my own truths and my own destiny. And more importantly, I wanted to be persistently curious – just like those scientists. I was so excited to tick things off a list that for now only resides in my mind.

For most of 2015, I had completely lost sight of my dreams, and my passions. I was too busy tending to that creature inside of me – the one that’s fed by nagging self-doubts and insecurity.

A culmination of events that began with my trip to Europe then slowly forced me to expunge that creature from inside of me and start tending to myself instead. I remembered more dreams, created new ones, and actually started to form plans that would make them come true.

But even then, I felt that this constant fear of rejection was a hindrance to my growth. I could never deal well with rejection – after all, in my 26 years, I’ve never really been rejected. I’ve been an abnormally lucky person with not many war stories and virtually zero battle scars.

It was only in December when I finally felt that kick in my ass, the one that told me to just go for it. Fuck all the consequences. At least I would have tried with all of my effort. That was enough.

It was then, when I was lucky enough to head to the US for two weeks. The first five nights in San Francisco were part of an Airbnb experience that I was fortunate to be a part of. And it’s also where I met the most wonderful people, whose stories I often think about even today as examples of lives well-lived.

Toby Klayman, a San Francisco artist well into her 80s, is one such person.

I used to think that I didn’t want to live a long life. I would be too tired by the end of it, I thought. I didn’t want physical complications to hinder me from living a fulfilling life. I didn’t want to be alive thinking that I’d rather be doing a whole host of other things. But that was just stupid, because here I am doing just that. I didn’t need to be 80, with a frail body, to be feeling all of those feelings.

Yet Toby, while no longer as youthful, is still learning and is still very much alive – sometimes more so than me.

Born to a conservative family, she too faced a lot of pressure from her parents while still enjoying a fantastic upbringing.

Her parents raised her up to think for herself, and be independent. But when she was at home though, she had no choice but to obey. (It’s something I struggle with even today). They also tried to fix her up with a man to marry (sounds familiar…) – and were less than pleased to find that she had sworn to devote her life to art, which she discovered at 18.

What I liked about her story was that despite consistent pressures, she paved her own way to create her own destiny, to finish her own story. She wasn’t going to let anyone fill in her chapters for her.

More importantly, Toby never lost sight of her goal.

To truly be independent, she moved away from her parents. After that, mistakes were made, lessons were learned, and she kept living – mostly through her art.

She told us that she had experienced a lot of pain and she channelled all of that into her art. I sat opposite her in her cosy kitchen, which was covered wall-to-wall with her paintings (and her husband’s) as she told us her story with such candor, wit and warmth.

When she was 20, she spent a weekend with a black man and then eventually found out she was pregnant. Toby knew that her parents would be upset especially because he was black, and feared that she would end up having to move in with them and have her freedom severely curtailed. So she kept it a secret. Not a believer of abortion, she gave her baby up for adoption five days after she gave birth to the baby girl.

After that, she moved to San Francisco with not much money and poured herself into her work. She found success but never stopped thinking about the girl. It was a closed adoption, so she legally couldn’t go looking for her. But she left a letter in court files just in case her daughter went looking for her.

And she did.

Slightly more than 25 years ago, her daughter, Sue Harris, called her after her adoptive mother died and they eventually reconnected.

Now they share a loving relationship – and Toby has since re-adopted her as her daughter.

I don’t think I can ever forget the way she spoke about Sue. Overflowing with pride is not quite it although I could tell how proud she was of her. It was almost like she was so content with her life – but she knew that there was only more happiness and pride to be felt. Toby was not quite done with life.

And why would she? She is now happily married to another fantastic artist, Joseph Branchcomb. They met when she was 56 at a coffee shop at Mission Street in San Francisco.

I don’t think I’ve ever been convinced of the idea of soulmates. My belief in the idea of soulmates seemed to be confined to movies and literature and evaporates as the credits roll or if there are no more pages to flip. Then it’s back to a reality where “the one” is a concept to be laughed at.

But as I observed the two of them, I started to think that I too could wait 56 years for my soulmate if it meant I could be as happy and comfortable as them.

In the movie Beginners, Hal (Christopher Plummer) has a question for his son, Oliver.

Hal asks: “Well, let’s say that since you were little, you always dreamed of getting a lion. And you wait, and you wait, and you wait, and you wait but the lion doesn’t come. And along comes a giraffe. You can be alone, or you can be with the giraffe.”

Oliver replies: “I’d wait for the lion.

Hal says: “That’s why I worry about you”.

I’ve never been much of a romantic – and I still struggle to believe that there is such a thing as Love. Or rather, I don’t believe that Love is what movies and music make it out to be. It seems like such a grandiose idea that only encompasses the good feelings. No one ever talks about how Love could actually be annoying and a pain in the ass.

I do feel like I have since experienced quick five-second flashes of feelings that are probably congruent to Love. Almost there, but not quite. Isn’t that always the case?

Anyway, I’ve always believed that I’d choose the giraffe. What’s the point in waiting for a lion that might not even turn up?

And then I see Toby and Joe, and suddenly I want to wait for my lion too. Isn’t there something romantic about that kind of faith?

When I started writing this post a couple of days ago, I was full of fire. Nothing could stop me.

And then yesterday, it dawned on me that the more plans, hopes and dreams I had, the more I had to lose. And I was just angry and annoyed at my loosening grip of control over almost every aspect of life. And suddenly, I couldn’t believe all the words that I had written just a few days before. I was mad. I deleted almost everything.

I woke up this morning reluctantly, with my sheets over my head, pleading with Time to stop, so I didn’t have to get back up. But 7.01am turned into 7.31am and I had to come to terms with the fact that my prayers weren’t heard. I stood, defeated, under the shower, and told myself to breathe in, and breathe out and that I’ll be okay even after I step out of the shower. I wasn’t completely convinced but I had to find a way out of that shower.

Over the course of the day, I slowly came to reconcile with the fact that I may not be in complete control. And that’s okay (or at least I’m trying to be okay with it).

Those LIGO scientists were at the behest of the fucking universe and galaxy and an event that happened 1.8 billion light years away. And that didn’t stop them.

Toby kept on going with her art, with her life, with her dreams, despite everything that was thrown in her way. To her, giving up was not even an option. She kept looking, she kept living, and she hasn’t stopped learning.

Even till this day, she is always trying to keep up with the newest apps, the newest technologies so that she can market and sell her art, and help her students learn. (You have no idea how much I learned about Pinterest from her).

Sometime last year, just before my US trip, I read Gilead, an amazing novel by Marilynne Robinson. It is written from the point of view of Reverend John Ames, a 77-year-old man, who married late, and has a young son.

He finds out that he is dying so he writes a book for his son.

Even as he is dying, Ames continues to marvel at the small wonders of life, of the planet – a reminder that even the most insignificant things can bring great amounts of joy. And I know that. Some of my happiest memories are also the most frivolous, insignificant moments. But in pursuit of a kind of bigger, grander version of Happiness, I often lose sight of that.

So this long, long, long, ranty blog post is a reminder to me (and to anyone who needs it) that it’s important to let go a little and continue that search for answers to all your unknowns – no matter how long it takes. And that there will be pain, hardship, confusion, and doubts during that journey. But there will also be moments of joy.

Ames writes: “Adulthood is a wonderful thing, and brief. You must be sure to enjoy it while it lasts.”

I think I will.

Too much information

I remember being in Angelina’s room when I sent what I thought would be one of my final texts to him.

By then, we had had quite a few back and forths about my feelings and his ambivalence towards them. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t settled. I was so confused. I was told that it was a relationship. But no. No relationship would have me feeling so insecure. (Please tell me that’s true.) I long for one where I feel completely confident in my feelings for him, one where I don’t have to create a break-up playlist to prepare myself for the worst outcome, one that doesn’t make me almost-cry (just tilt your head upwards, so that the tears get sucked back in, and then tell – no – will those tears not to stream down your cheeks) on a bridge over the Pan Island Expressway (PIE).

So I texted him: “Hey I know I’m always sending you these late night(ish) texts. But I’ve been thinking that this thing with us is not really working out anymore and think we should just end it.”

We didn’t Skype (he didn’t see the point of downloading Skype), so text it was, as cowardly as it seems now. I was always better with the written word anyway. Maybe this was better.

As soon as I sent that text, I wanted to be as far away from my phone. I didn’t want to touch it. Did not want to hold it. Did not want it near enough such that I could feel its vibrations.

I did not want to know what he would say. Whatever his reply was would be too much information for me. His reply would either tell me that I had been wrong about our interactions prior to my final text – or worse, that I had been completely right.

For once, I did not want to be right. Just this once, I wanted to be informed that I was overreacting.

He texted back the next morning at 8.16am. I remember being on the crowded train on the way to the State Court when my phone vibrated. It had to be him. Yep, it was him. Still, I did not want to read the message. I have a full day of fishing for the juiciest crime stories, another day to try and make Page One of the paper, another day where I have to be friendly with lawyers, prosecutors, interpreters, another day of waiting at void decks of  the accused or victims to try and get a little more than other dailies, another day of pretending, hoping, that I belong at the State Court with the other more experienced reporters. Another day of stuff that had nothing to do with him.

But that day had everything to do with him. I needed to know if I was right.

I checked my phone about three hours later (pretty remarkable restraint).

He said: “Jeez, you’ve been thinking a lot about this.”

And then two minutes after that first text, he said at 8.18am: “But yeah sure, I’m fine with whatever as long as you have peace of mind.”

I’m guessing it took those two extra minutes to show that he didn’t give a fuck.

Fuck, I was right.

It’s okay, I began the process to get over it. I guess I must not have felt as much for him as I thought. I’m actually pretty okay. I got a good story. I didn’t even have to whip out my break-up playlist (it has yet to be used). I’m fine.

Mostly because I had already started the process of forgetting everything. Forgetting why I liked him. If I didn’t have that information, then I didn’t have to feel.

All I know is that he was a mistake. The lack of information and memories in my brain led me to that conclusion. I have zero information left in my brain to tell me why I even liked him. I remember nothing. Was he funny? Was he smart? What did we even talk about?

I screengrabbed his texts and sent it to my closest friends. “You definitely did the right thing,” they said.

Actually, that’s how I remember all of this now. Those screengrabs are still in my “Screenshots” folder on my phone. I had deleted all of these on my main folder but hadn’t realised there was another album that had remnants of a relationship(ish) that I had almost no recollection of – until yesterday.

I went on a kind of… thing with someone (he thought it was a date, I didn’t even want to be there) recently and we were talking about past relationships. At 26, I felt like it would have been pretty abnormal to say that I hadn’t really been in a relationship, so I bring him up as an example of the only “relationship” I’ve been in.

I tell this “not-quite-date” (who likes to call me Babe and touches my arms unnecessarily) about G. He asks me what about him was attractive to me. My mind goes blank. What was it? I can feel my brain just flashing back to blank spaces that used to house memories that I’ve since deleted. I can barely even remember what he looks like.

I’m really attracted to guys who make me laugh. So he must have been funny right? So I tell this not-quite-date: “Er, I guess he was funny?”. I’m not convinced. Neither is he.

Yesterday, I looked at that album of screenshots. There were those break-up texts. (By the way, he thought I was joking. So I had to end it again one week later when he texted me because he thought I would “get over it”.) But there were also those texts that I screengrabbed so I could read them again. He had said to me once, after I made a lame joke that involved typing DONG 20 times: “Actually, my eyes always light up when I talk to you.”

I must have felt something then. Of course I did. Or I wouldn’t have attempted to save it. Nothing is based on fact anymore now. Just inferences of how I would have felt.

Two years later, somehow the lack of information in my brain, which disallowed any sort of memories of him to be stored in my head, enabled my heart to still remain whole, untouched, unscarred, pristine.

That means that heart is another’s to break.

I remember telling Shikin when I realised that this thing with G had the potential to become more serious than I was ever used to: “I don’t want him to be the one to break my heart.”

Admittedly, I said that mostly because he was perfect on paper. After all, he fulfilled my mum’s criteria of a perfect guy (catholic, Indian, engineer). And I could actually tolerate him. I didn’t want to lose that. I could settle for someone (at that point) as long as he would get my mum off my back (even temporarily).

Two years later, I still am the owner of a head that tends to over analyse everything, that tends to nitpick, and overthink – and then, forget.

But that same head is also now occupied with thoughts of another – a far better person, who for some reason makes me want to be a better version of myself, to experience life, to feel things, to just be me (but better!). He is flawed for sure, mostly in ways that I have yet to find out.

With him though, I feel like I don’t have to over analyse everything (admittedly on some occasions, I still do). It’s not because I’m confident in whatever this is. Quite the opposite. I have never felt so much uncertainty with anyone else before. But eh, I know I’ll enjoy the time I get to spend with him. I’m sure I may want more at some point. But for now, that’s enough.

One thing is for sure though – I do not ever want to forget. Anything. I do not want to delete information and memories from my brain so that my heart continues to remain unscarred.

It’s his to dent, fracture or break.

After 26 years of mostly idle activity, I think my heart should finally start paying its due and work a little. I’m strong enough to deal. (Besides there’s that playlist…)

Whatever it is, whatever happens, I don’t want to forget any of it. Of how ridiculously happy I felt during my last night in New York. All the colours in my head! His voice! My legs so casually intertwined with his, while he constantly readjusted the position of my head on his bony chest.

We listened to my favourite songs that I had compiled in a playlist for him a year ago, recalled the six days we had spent mostly together, heard his stories, learned more about him – I’m always so hungry for his words, his energy, his passion. I never want to forget the moment that I finally realised that this person my head was laying on had far surpassed the person that I had imagined in my head when we had been e-mailing just 1.5 years before.

As much as I wanted to at that point, now I don’t think I’d ever want to forget that second night in bed when I realised I was purposely sticking to the wall, as far as possible away from him, in an admittedly weak attempt to calm that beating heart of mine. I even tried rubbing my chest because I was afraid he would somehow hear it.

I never want to forget the feeling of his hands finding mine when we were out walking.

And I never want to forget the feeling when I knew I’d see him again.

A little respect for bad dancing

I am bad at a lot of things. Cooking, cleaning, telling stories, math – basically everything my mum wishes I was good at.

But there are some things that are just fun to be bad at. Singing is one of them. (How can karaoke actually be fun when you can’t croak and crack your way through a Mariah Carey song? )

And then, there’s dancing.

I’m a bad dancer. No sense of rhythm at all. When I go for my Body Step or Body Combat classes at the gym ( I should really use past tense for this. Gym hasn’t happened in a while), I literally spend a lot of the time just standing still in the middle of the room, while everyone else’s limbs seem to be cooperating with each other.

Meanwhile, I just look confused as I stare at my arm and mentally chide it: “Arm, why must you always move in the same direction as Leg?”

When I’m at a club, or at a music festival though, I don’t care. My fingers are pointing up at the ceiling (or sky), my feet’s moving (probably not in sync with the music), I’m singing along (badly) to the words of the song, and usually, my eyes are closed.

I tend to dance with my eyes closed because I want to feel like I’m alone in the room. It’s a euphoric feeling.

I want to feel alone in the room, because I do not want to feel embarrassed that my feet is not moving to the right beat, that my hips don’t lie as well as Shakira’s – and oh gosh, what do I even do with my ass?

I want to sing as loudly as possible, with one hand clutching my chest as I belt out the (wrong) lyrics and the other just pointing at random things. (Kim Jong Un and I are probably meant to be).

But when I watched the clip above from HBO’s now-cancelled series Looking, I remembered thinking: “How nice would it be to simply badly dance with another person without fear of being judged?”

I loved this scene when I first watched the episode two years ago. Andrew Haigh (Weekend) directed this episode, and man, he is a genius at portraying intimacy. I love how we can hardly spot Patrick and Richie at first, and then the camera moves slowly toward them, and ah, there they are. We get closer, eye-level almost. I feel almost privileged to observe this moment between them. This 51-second long moment.

Patrick (the non-bearded one) is dancing off-beat, jumping about unfashionably, and singing out loud without a care in the world – basically doing exactly what I would do. Except that he is directly looking at the object of his affection. He dared show his dance moves in front of Richie! And he’s not embarrassed! HOW does he do it?

Emotional intimacy, with a romantic partner at least, is something I’m admittedly not that familiar (or comfortable) with. It’s scary sharing a part of myself with someone else – whether it’s sharing my (very very very) bad dance moves, singing, or even something as simple as telling someone how I felt about my day.

So many questions start swirling around in my head. Is he listening? Does he care? Is he bored? Should I stop? Will he judge how I can never dance to the beat – or how I can’t rap in time? Is there even a point to this?

But I am learning that sometimes it’s best to not overthink things. Live a little, they say.

I always feel super happy whenever I revisit this clip. Firstly, it’s because it’s hella romantic. And secondly, it’s because, if Patrick can do it, so can I! (I identified with Patrick a lot in the show because he is also not entirely experienced with love, very naive, lacks self-awareness, and has a general tendency to be an idiot. That’s me).

I’m not there yet, but I believe that I too will soon be able to dance, with my eyes wide open, as I look into his.

Till then, I’ll practice my moves.