I wake up with a sour feeling in my gut every morning.
Usually it comes accompanied with the feeling of loss, perhaps indicative of a dream of the past that I’d just woken up from; something that has slipped from my fingers, irrevocably irretrievable. It doesn’t go well with the sunlight seeping through the crevices of the curtains or the heaviness of my duvet. It feels strange. Out of place.
We are approaching Week 7 of classes. It’s November. Time seems to be moving so fast but not fast enough, but only probably because I am far too aware of it for it to pass by exponentially as it did during college.
And that is all I’ve been doing: looking back. Preferring to wallow in the impossibility of history than actually doing something about the present within my control. I stumbled upon Tycho on Youtube the other day and started listening to them non-stop on Spotify while reading, and it was exactly what I’ve been looking for but in music form. I wasn’t even consciously paying attention to it, but it somehow sneaked into my head and settled into the grooves that had been availably empty for a year or so. It was so compatible, in the sense that I didn’t even have to listen to it twice to immediately take a liking to it. It triggered a switch that opened the floodgates of emotions that once were, things that I hadn’t felt since coming here, thought I would never feel again. And I miss it. I miss it so much that if I close my eyes while the music plays, I can probably trick myself into believing that I am back at where I want to be the most again.
But at the end of it, I have to open my eyes, just like waking up from a dream that you don’t even remember and yet feel the emotional repercussions of it.
Because all this does is remind me of how inadequate I feel through and through as a university student, a friend, a 20-year-old, a human being. Of seeing everyone else feeling just fine, better than fine and not having any qualms about Social Interactions capital S capital I — and wondering where exactly I went wrong. — I know this isn’t true, of course. I don’t know everyone’s feelings and stories and I have no right to reduce them to merely what is shown on the outside (God forbid this is one of my worst fears, of people only seeing me as what is shown on the outside, which is Incredibly Not A Lot) but like I said it’s already Week 7, freshers week and orientation already feels like light years away, so why do I still feel so uncomfortable in my own skin? Why am I still so bad with people? What is this horrible dread that settles upon me at the prospect of talking to new people even though I want to, want to make new friends and blend in? Where did these pre-notions of “I’m too uninteresting, sensitive and passive for anyone’s time” come from? Who is this timid hermit that has lost so much from what she used to have during college? And I feel, ultimately, the weight derived from the pressure to have fun, to be outgoing and take on the role of a social butterfly and join all the events and travel everywhere otherwise I’m not doing the whole University Thing right stems from heavy comparisons. Arguably with other people, but really it’s mostly with myself and who I used to be.
I feel like, by actively shrinking away from these, from socials and crowds and everything, I’m missing out on another great beginning. I’m missing out. I’m missing out on so much yet I feel most comfortable and relaxed when I come back to the non-judgmental confines of my room and glow of my laptop screen because outside of it, I stutter trying to form words verbally and avoid eye contact because I don’t know, I don’t know how to do it. I give up on making an effort completely because I already feel the self-inflicted rejection before it has even happened.
So I stick to studying, because academics and grades have always been the one constant in my life since kindergarten. All my life my self-worth has been largely invested in my grades and nothing else, and it’s the only thing I feel fairly confident that I have a strong foot in now, so I cling onto it for dear life and try to ignore the fact that I’m not exactly certain why I’m studying what I’m studying. Singlehandedly, I bulldozed my whole principle of “prioritize self-growth around other people over your studies” that I’ve been trying to indoctrinate within myself since the the last few years of high school right up until now. Singlehandedly, I rendered all my advice about taking the first step of courage to anons on ask.fm obsolete. Compared to everything else, reading criminal law cases is an easier and more predictable feat and having lost all the self-esteem and confidence that I’ve somehow managed to build up in college, I blatantly feed myself with consolations that as long as I do my reading, I’m on the right track, because it’s the only thing I know how to do anymore.
But just like everything else, staying alone in my room eventually becomes an ironic paradox as the comfort dissipates and I’m left facing my own ugly thoughts of feeling the L word* and aimless and invisible. It feels isolating being in a crowded room of people, like there is an impenetrable barrier preventing me from forging stable connections, but even after I escape to solitude, the barrier doesn’t quite dissolve, making me feel so incredibly minute in the heterogeneous sea of existences I am surrounded with.
(*Loneliness. I refrain from saying it because I sure am mightily antisocial and reclusive for someone who constantly gripes about being lonely all the time.)
All too sudden, Skype calls with my parents and videos of my dog sent through Whatsapp feel so unreachable. Just pixels on a screen, no more different from a video game I play on my laptop or an anime episode I stream online, and that’s so…sad. That is all I will ever get. Not even a physical touch of reassurance to remind me sometimes that yes, I am worth something, more than what my mind constantly feeds me with. The only time I allow myself moments of vulnerability involve breaking down in front of a webcam, because if that’s the only safe space I’m going to get, I’ll take it. And somehow it is not enough. There is nothing I wouldn’t trade for a day or even an hour of being able to feel completely safe and secure and reassured in the presence of the certainty of care and warmth and encouragement. Why am I here when there is so much love and tenderness readily awaiting me back home? Because all I can feel lately is a floaty sort of detached wandering, the feeling of not belonging, of wondering if it will even go noticeable if I never leave my room again. And what frustrates me is despite all this, despite longing so greatly for affection, I allow little room for that to happen because I don’t know how, and also because I am already vulnerable enough without opening up to expose my wounds as an invitation for increased attacks.
I know I am in no position to mope when I am privileged, so, so privileged to be here, an opportunity so great that many would very much willingly trade places with me for. I acknowledge that, and I know I should be grateful for what I have. But it rarely feels like I have anything to hold onto, and everyday is just a challenge to see how much tinier I can feel in this world that is already too large to find a home in.
On the worst of days, I wake up from nightmares. It doesn’t go well with the sunlight seeping through the crevices of the curtains or the heaviness of my duvet. It feels frightening. Out of place. If there is a place to begin with.
The fifth of November.
There was such a huge crowd surrounding the bonfire that I had to squint to make sure there wasn’t something I was missing out in the fire because the mob, as large as a concert turnout, was just standing around, staring into the fire. It drizzled for the whole day so our shoes were muddy tokens of entrance as we jostled against the thronging crowd, dialling six numbers in one go because the massive human horde was crowding out phone signals. And then the fireworks appeared, peals of high pitch squeals announcing the arrival of colourful sparks embellishing the night sky and leaving warped smoke trails in its wake. It was nice. It made me feel like I was Participating and I was, the night being my first Guy Fawkes Day experience.
Yee Lin and Nicole went on one of the fun fair rides and I watched from afar, still ever so skeptical about the concept of roller coasters and then before the night ended, we went to Evelyn’s place at Denmark Road for the final celebration of Chun Chuan’s birthday.
It was one of the better nights I’ve had.
It’s November, the penultimate month of the year and yet it feels like this year barely started at all. I’ll always have a wonky relationship with the concept of time; one minute I’ll gripe that it moves too slowly, the next too quickly. As it is, it’s Week 6 in Manchester and I’m in the middle of my reading week (which is apparently a thing in university for students to catch up on their reading. It’s kind of ominous that there is a need for this).
Karu came over from Loughborough for the weekend and it was honestly so refreshing to hang out with an old friend and being able to resume a semblance of ease and familiarity of a different life I’d led. It was like trying to partially merge two different timelines in my life (Sunway and Manchester) and the result was…peculiar, but not in a bad way at all. I went to my first MUJS (animesoc) meeting on Friday night where I did manage to make some new friends while my group unexpectedly won second place for anime quiz night and I brought back Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castle in the Sky postcards. After the event, I rushed to the Chorlton Street coach station to pick up Karu.
It was Halloween the next day and there was a Halloween mini-con event I wanted to check out so we went to All Saints Park for a while but left after I took a photo with these two Hitachiin twins cosplayers because we weren’t…cosplaying and just standing around and I couldn’t stand the awkwardness. So we went to Chinatown to shop for Japanese food ingredients instead.
Karu taught me how to cook udon and so that was what we had for lunch after coming back to Weston. After that, because we are both generally very lazy people who didn’t particularly want to go on city explorations on a Saturday evening, we played volleyball for an hour in my common room. At night, Preethi invited us to the MUJS Halloween party at Rusholme and since we didn’t really have any plans, we agreed. It said ‘party’ but really it was just a bunch of anime enthusiasts turning up in cosplays to hang out and talk about, well, anime.
We had mediterranean midnight dinner at Curry Mile and then stayed up till 5AM on another Google hangout session with our NYC correspondent, Bellyn Ooi.
Karu left the next day and I spent the next two days literally cooped up in my room the entire day (leaving only to obtain food twice), playing Undertale and losing all concept of time (especially so with daylight savings when the sun starts to set at 4PM). For the past week, my entire Twitter feed was Undertale hype and I was so curious to see what it was all about so when I finally got to play it, I couldn’t stop at all and I was so enamoured by the brilliant execution and dimensional characters (#irony because they are pretty much just 8-bit pixels) and “morality principle” theme they had going on and the ending was absolutely amazing and emotional and I? bawled my eyes out until my jacket sleeves were entirely soaked through because a freaking indie RPG game was making me face my emotions and cheering me on from a screen and I suppose that triggered something that I’d fiercely clamped down on for a very long time now.
It’s been a while since (I can’t even really call it that, but I can’t think of any other term) fandom investment has affected me this strongly. It usually only happens when I’m not invested in anything else. Real life, for example.
Sometimes I still get bouts of wtf-am-I-doing-here-ness that never really seem like it went away completely since day one and being schedule-less during reading week kind of intensified that and subsequently, homesickness really strongly. It comes and goes. Sometimes it stays longer than it pays its rent for, but I don’t have the energy to chase it out so it resides uncomfortably while I stare daggers at it.
Some days are better though, and I’d use the analogy of bright skies vs dark clouds if we don’t get only seven hours of daylight as winter approaches.
PS. If you have the time and the curiosity…please play Undertale because it is honestly such a good game and also so I can scream excitedly at you about it
I went to stay over at Ee Min’s the last weekend at Opal Gardens, and after playing ping pong and observing a group of Ee Min’s housemates play beer pong at the common room well into the night, Ash suddenly suggested we cycle to Etihad Stadium at midnight. Needless to say, I chickened out of that because it would take about 20 minutes to reach there by bike and we ended up just going to Curry Mile right next to Victoria Park for fried chicken.
Despite it being so late at night, Curry Mile was the opposite of empty, streets and roads-wise. It was my first time riding a bike in so long and on the bicycle lane right next to the road at that so I was really unstable and anxious during the ride there but halfway through I just threw in the yolo towel after being pretty sure that we weren’t going to be in any imminent danger.
It was also my first time having fried chicken in the UK. The English are not as gung-ho about KFC as Malaysians, it seems.
The ride back was more relaxed, and I allowed myself the opportunity to take in the bright lights of Curry Mile (not exactly New-York-City-skyscrapers material but vibrant signboards advertising 24-hour fast food joints and nightclubs will do), breathe in the lingering shisha scents in certain districts and feel the sharp, cold approaching-winter wind against my face, numbing all sensors and stinging my eyes but deriving gratification from the adrenaline these all brought, however short-lived it might be.
We reached Opal Gardens at around 4AM and I woke up the next day with a sore throat but the night’s event was a nice blip in my comfort radar.
I’ve been supremely unadventurous and languorous since coming here, I’m not entirely sure why. All I feel nowadays is tired and sad and hungry and honestly, I’m just trying to lowkey survive in this weird world of wintery whiteness, seeking refuge within the anime posters-plastered walls of my room playing Undertale or, well, writing blogposts.
A month after coming to the UK, my phone got stolen.
- First came the immediate panic of petting down my coat and shorts pockets followed by a frantic search in my bag right in the middle of an aisle on the ground floor of Monki on Carnaby Street, all the time thinking “I’ve scared myself shitless multiple times before, this time won’t be any different. It’ll probably turn up in my pocket or in my bag any time now” but feeling my heart sink every time my palms turned up empty.
- Then came the announcement from Janice that “it stopped ringing” and so did my heart but I fought to think of what’s next, what’s next that I can do to stop my phone getting further away from me because the alternative would be to launch into a full-fledged panic and I couldn’t be having that when I still at least had the chance to maybe do something. In the middle of enquiring about CCTV footage and being told the person behind the counter didn’t have the power to do that, I walked out of the shop multiple times, just staring people up and down, crime investigation TV serial shows flashing dramatically across my mind in a state of desperation, making me believe for the slightest moment the most absurd notion that I might catch the thief red-handed by, I don’t know, noticing someone’s fishy behaviour or maybe being noticed and chased after by a vigilant passerby but that’s not true, because they are exactly what they are, exaggerated TV tropes to reel people in from the absolute realness of real life.
- And then the dawn of realisation that my phone, my safety anchor of distractions and reassurances and also storage vault of photos and messages, was truly gone. Thousands of people walking up and down Oxford Street with their phones in their hands or pockets yet I was the one to have fallen victim (later on in the police station, I received a phone call from Ee Min in distress telling me that her phone had also been pick-pocketed in the exact same fashion as mine with an hour interval between our incidents a few miles away at Borough Market). But what felt the worst was the absolute helplessness of it all; it all happened so fast and theory dictated that something could be salvaged only if I acted quick enough (three-second rule and all its variations) but even after doing all I could do, searching Monki repeatedly, erasing my phone at the Apple store, lodging a report at the police station, they were merely necessary steps I coerced myself into focusing upon so I didn’t have the time to stop and throw a pity party for myself. London was so big but at the moment I felt so, so minute in this huge bustling city of hectic activities and rushing people.
- At the police station, there was a giant poster with the words “BEWARE OF PICK-POCKETS, DON’T LET A STOLEN PROPERTY RUIN YOUR DAY” and I could only be the human embodiment of the laugh-cry emoji
- Getting a new phone immediately the day after because I didn’t know if I could cope with the 5-hour coach ride back to Manchester without any form of distraction, accompanied only by my intrusive and self-abasing thoughts that would lead to god knows what.
- Feeling the highest degree of guilt and disappointment at myself for being so weak and pampered with the immediate remedy of a new replacement and not enough punishment because it seemed that I was angrier at myself than my parents even were.
- And yet unable to even fathom the rest of my days without my phone because it has always been the one thing connecting me to other people, the one thing that allows me to call for help anytime and anywhere especially when I am alone.
The tainting of The Thing aside, it was so great to see Janice again, a familiar face in a stringently foreign environment that still keeps me on my toes. It provided a warming sense of comfort made better with Malaysian food escapades at the Malaysian Hall and Roti King at Euston as well as a transatlantic Google hangout with Bellyn till 4AM.
Places don’t really mean anything, it’s the people that matter the most, and I keep thinking about this because if this is true, then what am I doing here?
One of these is not like the others.
When I started getting into Haikyuu five months ago, I never thought I’d live to see the day that my getting into this animanga/fandom would lead to me actually playing and considering committing to the actual sport of volleyball. It’s really funny how this animanga/webcomic-to-real-life-sport thing happened simultaneously to me, Effie and Ellie – Effie started investing in ice hockey tournaments after reading Check Please! and Ellie, like me, started going for basketball training sessions in her uni thanks to KNB. And then of course there was Bellyn, Taliza and Karu who were also in volleyball hell with me at one point or another.
As it is, on Saturday, I played volleyball again. The day before, I was excited to find out that there would be a free volleyball social play session at Sugden (which was only five minutes away from where I live) so despite sleeping at 3AM the previous night, I got Carmen to go for volleyball with me. And it was so much fun! This time around, compared to the previous UMVC team trials, there were coaches teaching us the very basics and the court wasn’t as crowded. We each got chances to toss, volley, dig and spike throughout the two-hour session and I might just be wholly syok sendiri but?? I think?? I might have improved quite a bit (just a bit though) at receiving and my arms don’t hurt so much anymore. I only got a spike over the net though so that’s predictably appalling. One of our coaches was a setter and I was mesmerized everytime he did a toss because his movements were so fluid and smooth and his toss quiet, bouncy and high in contrast with mine which were loud and always flew off in directions I didn’t want the ball to go to.
(After the session, I asked him about this and it turns out the ball doesn’t touch our palms during a toss; only the finger bases.)
After that, Carmen and I walked to Chinatown and had Korean food for lunch. Even if we hadn’t been hungry and tired from the accumulated soreness of handball (which hadn’t faded away yet even after three days) and volleyball, the food would have still been pretty good so I knew it wasn’t just the growling stomach talking. We then spent the next few hours shopping at Primark and Aldi and despite returning home that evening extremely worn out, it was a very enjoyable and fulfilling Saturday.
That night, at 2AM GMT (8PM in Iowa, 9PM in NYC and 11AM the next day in Melbourne), I had a three-hour Google hangout with the gang (with a missing Zitian) and the familiarity and comfort of seeing and talking to old friends again felt so incredibly nice, even if I was struggling to stay awake most of the time. In the end, the hangout ended with Bellyn taking us on a short tour around NYC at night while on her way to the cinema and Taliza, Harris, Karu and I playing Sporcle until my eyes were watering and I finally went to bed at 5AM.
I love and miss my friends who are scattered all around different parts of the world very, very much and I am so proud of us for getting to where we are now. :’)
Understandably, I woke up at 1PM the next day and had an hour to get ready before I was to meet up with Carmen to head for Trafford Centre. I’d been there once with Ee Min, Yee Lin and the rest during Student Night but the place was just too huge to explore till the ends in one night. Carmen and I took the bus from Piccadilly Gardens and then it was a 30 minute ride to the outskirts of the city.
Trafford Centre was packed on a Sunday but we managed to brave through the outrageously long queue at Five Guys and had a very Western late lunch of cheese burger (Carmen), bacon and cheese dog (me) and Oreo vanilla milkshake (we both shared one).
Approaching 6PM, I was beginning to get very jumpy, out of nerves and excitement. We went to the Trafford Centre bus station to find out that great, Carmen and I could take the same X50 bus because it stopped at Salford and then Piccadilly Gardens after that.
When the bus driver told me that the bus stopped at “The Imperial War Museum, it’s near The Lowry”, I took that to mean that “near” was at the very most a 15-minute walk distance. So after I said goodbye to Carmen and asked the bus driver again for confirmation of directions to The Lowry (“Just go straight and turn left”) I alighted from the bus, a spring in my step from excitement to finally see Dan and Phil in person at their The Amazing Tour is Not On Fire (what a mouthful) show with tickets I’d bought back in March (before I even firmed my choice at Uni of Manchester lol) when the tour was very first announced.
But it wasn’t until the bus pulled away and silence settled in that I realise that I was completely alone on a dark street devoid of life or moving vehicles. Never mind. If The Lowry was where the bus driver said it was, it wouldn’t matter since I’d reach the place in a short while anyway. But after approximately five minutes of walking and no sign of a left turning at all, I started to feel nervous laughter bubbling in my throat as I whipped out my phone and with trembling fingers pulled up Google maps only to find out that The Lowry Theatre was 2.3km away from where I was standing.
And thus commenced the piercingly cold and harrowingly long journey by foot along deserted streets under a darkening evening sky to watch two giant nerds from the Internet that I’ve invested a good three years of my life in.
It felt endless. I was clothed in a sheer cardigan and a midi skirt and 20 minutes into the journey, I wasn’t sure if the ache in my legs were from sports or the lower half of my body turning numb from the cold. I was also getting increasingly worried when it was already 7PM and I still had more or less 1km to go. I was silently fuming at the bus driver but also wary that maybe I had indeed missed a left turning but decided I didn’t want to find out if the latter was true because I couldn’t handle any more additional stress before I actually reached The Lowry. The only thing keeping me going was the prospect of seeing the two tall nerds very soon and also that this would make a great story even though I felt like crying just then (but that would make things worse because it would just be cold tears and I couldn’t possibly get anything from that).
With 300m left on Google maps, I decided I still had time to spare before the show started at 7.30PM so I entered a mini supermarket at The Lowry Outlet to massage some senses back into my frozen fingers that were spewing typos all over the place as I livetexted my journey to Ming. And then finally, finally when The Lowry Theatre finally came into view, it was like a beacon of holy light dawning around me and honestly? D&P were left forgotten because I was just glad to have reached my destination alive and breathing.
Still incredulous of my wintery walk for 40 minutes, I stupidly asked two girls with cat whiskers drawn on their faces if this was the line for Dan and Phil and then proceeded to invalidate my own question with “of course it is what am I saying” before blabbering about my getting lost and having to walk for about an hour (exaggeration for maximum effect) to get here and I was expecting them to turn away in fear (I would’ve) but they were so nice and even looked at my ticket to help me figure out which door I was supposed to go through.
A couple of observations made prior to the commencement of the show: 1) there were a lot of parents (and even grandparents) around 2) pretty much everyone had Sharpie cat whiskers on their faces and/or llama hats on their heads 3) I felt like the oldest person in the room (excluding parents and grandparents) 4) everyone was really excited!!! I was excited too, but these people were really excited, like screaming excited. I guess I probably would’ve been the same level of excited seven months ago but that’s alright because I didn’t exactly have anyone to scream with in real life at that moment anyway. Still, it was really entertaining to take in the shenanigans of the IRL Phandom (oh my god this is actually terrifying now that I think about it in more detail) around me and realise how popular and huge D&P have truly gotten over the past few years. They are practically full-blown celebrities. This was nothing different from a One Direction concert.
And then the show started and I don’t think I’m allowed to comment much about it because #spoilers (no one was allowed to take photos or videos throughout the entire show because they will be releasing videos of the show online after the tour or something) but it was a really, really fun and enjoyable 1.5 hours and I think I was more entranced by the fact that I was looking at Dan and Phil with my own two eyes after years of looking at them move and talk in the small Youtube frame and they were real people holy shit and they were so? beautiful? Now it just sounds like I’m describing sculptures in an art gallery but for all it’s worth, they might as well be on par with that.
The show ended on a high note (haha, #pun) which made their departure from stage even sadder (I was half expecting people to chant encore) because it was back to staring at them on screens again. What would’ve made the night perfect was an actual meeting with them but who am I but a mere simpleton who can’t afford to fork out £80 for a VIP ticket good god
My ride back was in my first Uber, and after being traumatized by walking alone in the cold, sitting comfortably in a warm car back to Weston for free was breathtakingly incredible and my driver was so friendly – he mistook me for an American (“I thought you’re from America! You have an American accent!” “???!!!!”) and lamented about drunk football fans in his car that threatened to smash his windows when he said he wasn’t a supporter of Manchester United. I didn’t mind the small talk one bit, being in such high spirits from D&P, coming back with stories and actually surviving the night in one piece. And that was all I could really feel, really, when I reached Weston and thanked the driver profusely, that after all that I went through that night, I was back in my room safe and sound. Life is so exhilaratingly amazing sometimes.
And now as I am sat before my desk tired after a full day of lectures but insisting that I write this anyway before I forget all the little details that are as if not more important than the general content itself, the previous night feels so far away but then I remember that it was actually a thing I did and by myself at that and it gives me great encouragement that I am capable of many things and adventures in spite of my fears and anxieties (I feel like the moral lesson at the end of each blogpost is basically pretty much the same but that’s okay because I need the reminder always).