during this quarantine season, my friends and i kept in constant contact through: Jackbox Party and Chloe Ting.
it started out with online Cards Against Humanity first one Saturday night, with Ken, Austin, Tal and Irfan, and sometimes Chok and/or Danny. and then it became every Saturday night, regardless of our respective timezones. then, because Austin had Jackbox Party, we spent the next few weeks playing that. and then Tal discovered Covidopoly and we tried that out too. it gradually became a routine that i was looking forward to every Saturday night. while we hardly hung out on normal days after we graduated from Sunway (because of work, other responsibilities, timezones etc), the global lockdown presented the most apt opportunity to do so, and even more frequently than before.
i had never heard of Chloe Ting until the day Xin Qi sent a link of one of her workout videos to our Whatsapp group. since then, (almost) every evening, Xin Qi, Joyce, Ash and I would pull out our yoga mats and spend the next 15 to 20 minutes working out together while on a four-way video call. at the end of every session, we would clap and say “good job”. like, “good job for surviving another day of this pandemic, my friend. i’m glad that we still have each other even during this uncertain period of time.”
it’s an awful time to be living alone right now, but at the same time, the bizarre ways in which all of us still keep in contact with each other and carry out daily tasks together don’t make me feel all that lonely after all.
it’s also made me realise how fortunate i am during this MCO that most of my existing friendships and relationships are online in nature. the fact that they are long-distance in the first place sucks, but under the current circumstances, nothing much has actually changed, except for the additional perk that most of us have more free time now. (save for the fact that being away from my parents was initially a great source of anxiety, but it reassures me more now that Kedah is one of the relatively safer states to be in now.)
it’s a trying time for everyone in the whole world right now, but i am thankful for the company of my family and friends who may be far in distance, but close at heart.
dear readers, it’s been a while. sorry for being away for months; i lost my writing voice sometime ago and i’m trying to find it again.
it’s been exactly 30 days since Malaysia imposed a nationwide MCO in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which means that i have been stuck in my KL condo for a month now, venturing out only for grocery runs once every fortnight.
i wish i could say that a month later, i’ve gotten used to staying indoors under a government-imposed order, but do you really get used to living in a pandemic?
it started way back in January for me:
my first time reading about the coronavirus (then still known as 2019 n-CoV) was on a train on the way home to Alor Setar for chinese new year. right up until that point in time, i had been occupied with work, and also Oli’s visit in December and our trip home for Christmas. so it wasn’t until i had settled down comfortably in my train seat that i found myself properly scrolling through twitter for the first time in weeks. that was when sporadic tweets of a virus outbreak in China popped up on my timeline and immediately caught my attention.
here’s the deal with me and the general concept of being sick: i am terrified of it. i have anxiety, which has also led to the growth of a spurt of hypochondria. i didn’t manage to put a name to it until much later on, but growing up, every little illness i had made me think i was suffering from a more severe disease, never mind that there was no real, rational basis behind the fear. that’s just how anxiety works. even before i had started getting panic attacks when i was in secondary school, there was a period of time when i had consistent headaches for consecutive days, which frightened me so much that i had to go home halfway through a midterm and persuade my parents to bring me to the hospital because i was worried that it was caused by something life-threatening. (it turned out to be caused by stress.) since then, the situation has repeated itself, but with different illnesses.
so it was no wonder that the very idea of a disease outbreak scared me a lot. at that point in time in late January, the number of infections in Wuhan was rising exponentially, but there were only a handful of cases outside of China. but that didn’t stop my brain from initialising lowkey panic mode. fear is usually stoked by a lack of knowledge, and that applied to my fear too. i was afraid because i didn’t know anything about this virus, and the worst part was no one else seemed to know much about it too.
so the first day of chinese new year saw me sitting in a corner by myself at my relatives’ house, obsessively pouring over any and every news article or update i could find on the coronavirus. and then news came about that Malaysia had its first cases. i remember that moment vividly, because it was a moment when i stopped my card game with my relatives because i was feeling too anxious to do anything else except worry. i don’t really know how to describe the fear haze that i was consumed by during the whole of chinese new year; all i could remember was the feeling of extreme disillusionment of seeing all my family and friends celebrate the festive season with smiles and laughter, and then there i was feeling way too paranoid about even sitting close to anyone and already wearing a face mask because i had just read that the virus had a 14-day incubation period and most people who got it were asymptomatic. the word “pandemic” appeared more and more frequently in headlines each day. there were only less than 10 cases in Malaysia at the time but all i could think of was, you never know. i had dragged my parents to pharmacies to buy hand sanitisers and face masks, reiterating to them what i had read in the news; wash your hands, cough into your elbow, don’t touch your face.
looking back in retrospect and comparing the current situation with three months ago, maybe i was overreacting. anxiety does make one catastrophize everything. but from my point of view now, there was no doubt that mentally preparing myself for the worst at the very beginning lessened the blow that the horrible dread that i was to face in the coming months dealt to my mental health as the situation got worse all around the world.
i was supposed to go back to KL after that by train, but i was already afraid of crowds, so i hitched a ride back with my uncle instead. i showed up at work the next day with a face mask on and felt anxious after finding out a colleague was sick with a cough. i started following KKM Putrajaya on twitter and obsessively checked for the daily local infection counts. i said no to weekend plans if i could help it and i stopped going to malls altogether. the feeling of disillusionment still persisted, because with the mere 20 or so cases in Malaysia at the time, no one around me seemed to be too worried, and yet on some days it was all i could think about.
weeks passed by after that and it was March, when Italy and South Korea were starting to make headlines. the WHO had also given the disease an official name, COVID-19. admittedly, as i gradually fell back into the comfortable lull of daily routines and also being occupied with work, i allowed myself to feel more assured, about the situation in Malaysia at least.
and then Case 26 happened in KL, and my anxiety levels rose again. this cluster led to a suspected scare at my workplace, and i found myself at the office late one night having a panic attack at the possibility that i might have been exposed to COVID-19.
the possibility was, fortunately, ruled out a week after, but there was barely time to feel relieved when news about the tabligh gathering surfaced, and Malaysia more or less descended into chaos. the word “lockdown” was starting to get thrown around on local twitterjaya, and three nights before the announcement of the MCO, my cousin called to warn me of the possibility of a state- or nationwide lockdown, and that was a pivotal moment for me, i think. i had read so much on people’s experiences with lockdowns in China, and then in Italy, and they never failed to send a chill down my spine. they were recounts of checking the national death toll first thing in the morning upon waking up, being restricted from visiting family even within the same city, and essentially witnessing the physical shutdown of a whole country. the fact that we would also soon be facing similar measures sent me into yet another panic: does this mean Malaysia will also be seeing the same figures and tolls as those two countries?
the MCO happened, as we anticipated it would, and more than anything, i was worried for my parents. the whole balik kampung on the eve of MCO fiasco aside, i knew there was no way i could risk returning home after having just gone through a suspected exposure scare. but accepting that fact didn’t make me worry any lesser, and the first few weeks of the MCO saw me trying very, very hard not to remember the countless anecdotes i had read on journalist websites. it wasn’t the first time knowledge had turned against my anxiety. but all i could do was frantically remind my parents to not go out, and to be extremely careful if they had to.
going out on grocery runs for me is no walk in the park, either. i am lucky enough to live somewhere within walking distance from several supermarkets, and i count my lucky stars for that. but each time i step out of the house, i am unable to shake off the nagging feeling that i am already inherently at risk. even after disinfecting everything i’ve bought, and all the surfaces i’ve touched, internally i still countdown 14 days from the day i left the house. it’s hard to even draw the line at how reasonable my worry levels are at anymore (“What was deemed abundantly cautious on Wednesday morning became common sense by Wednesday night.” *).
with that said, i have already reached the point of staying indoors where my windows are already fully opened, and yet i crave more sunlight than ever. so while venturing out carries with it an element of fright, i can’t help but anticipate the wide, open areas of being outside my room, and being bathed in Malaysian sunlight, the epitome of humidity and heat.
if it’s one thing living in a crisis has taught me, it’s that the act of thinking and worrying about it never truly stops – not even in my sleep. all my life, i’ve always had vivid dreams every single night, and i usually remember most of them after waking up. in the past, i’ve noticed that my dreams usually correspond to my emotions and thoughts during waking hours, with anxious dreams being the more intense and impactful ones. so when i started having recurring COVID-19 dreams with common themes and patterns, i was not really that surprised.
they never start out the same, but they all share the common setting of being outside. one time i was in Italy, having just got off an ItaliaRail train, the very same trainline my parents and i were on during our trip there in summer two years ago. one time i was on a crowded beach in Australia, with my parents and an aunty and uncle. one time i had flown back to Manchester, and met my university friends at the airport. one time i was in South Korea, taking an Uber to a hospital with five other strangers. one time Oli flew here, and i went to a local café to meet him. and then comes the turning point of the dream, and each time, every single time, it eerily fleshes out in the same way.
first comes the sudden realisation that i am outside during a pandemic, and not indoors as i should be. then comes the panic of why am i not wearing a mask? what am i doing here? why are my parents and relatives and friends and boyfriend not wearing masks? am i at risk now? and then comes waking up, and the ultimate feeling of relief when i remember that i have not left the house in weeks. i am safe, for now.
and that moment right between panicking in my dream and waking up, brings with it such a disjointed feeling. i am privileged to wake up and feel safe, which feels very ironic when reality is such that outside these four walls, outside my restlessness and boredom, a crisis is happening. it never stops, it never sleeps. out there, people are bravely working on the frontlines, people are sick, people are dying. just because i don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.
(i dream of covid is a website documenting dreams of people all over the world, notably changed and affected by the pandemic.)
living with anxiety and hypochondria under a pandemic lockdown sounded like my worst nightmare, but just like any other person, there is no choice but to keep on keeping on. during this crisis, i have seen how selfless and kind people are to those who are in need, read touching accounts of humanity shining through in the form of charities, volunteers and even just normal folks buying meals for food delivery riders. during this crisis, it can never be emphasised enough just how incredibly brave all health workers are, and how hard they are working to literally save humanity. and one day, once all of us get out of this, the time must come for us to hold important conversations on the changes that must be effected in societies all around the world, in order to better protect everyone in a country, and not just those who are rich and powerful. the normal citizens of the world deserve better.
i’ve been stuck in a mental rut lately (non-COVID related but i’m sure the effects of isolation are starting to get to me in every aspect) and like i said, i’m trying to find my writing voice again. not being able to write has made me feel like i’ve lost something important, and i’m hoping if i can get back into writing again, i can start lifting myself out of this rut step by step, day by day.
meanwhile (as if any of you need any more reminders, but once more for good measure), stay at home if you can, social distance, and call your loved ones regularly. these are trying times and it’s not a gesture of weakness to be extra gentle with yourself. remember that.
almost two months into working life sees me gradually starting to develop a routine. which is good! i love routines. my god have i aged.
and then sometimes i get days like today where everything is sort of, wack. not necessarily Vine-wack if you know what i mean, but more of a bizarre-wack.
this morning i drove to KL High Court at 10AM. i was in the public carpark and as i neared the end of the road, i started turning right in search of empty spots, except there was one problem: there was a car parked by the curb and it was parked quite a distance away from it. my first turning attempt saw me extremely anxious watching the proximity between both cars increase. so i stopped, reverse, and then turned to the left a bit to gain more space between us so that i could finish my right turn safely.
but i barely even completed that thought before i felt my whole car lurch downward and there was a heart-sinkingly loud thonk and i knew i was fucked.
i’d driven down into a rather large drain and had one tyre stuck in it, and all my frantic reversing did nothing at all.
so i got out, a million thoughts racing through my head, all of them ending with what do i do what do i do. some people stopped their cars and came over to help and at first, two strangers stopped to help lift up my car as i put my car in reverse, but to no avail. the tyre and sunk into the drain too deep. i was honestly quite panicky but i knew in that moment, i couldn’t afford to panic. i called the lawyer i was following to court to tell him i’d be late, and then thought i’d try my luck asking the security guards of the carpark to chance any help i could get. and then i remembered that a pupil at my firm had recently gotten into a car accident and had firstly contacted the car insurance company for towing help. after a few different calls, i finally got my car insurance company right (lol – i was learning a lot of things this morning).
right as i hung up however, another car stopped and the guy that came out convinced me that it was possible to get it out with the help of a few more people. and sure enough, a few more people passers-by stopped to help. and this time, it worked. with the generous help of a few strangers, my car was free.
i couldn’t stop saying thank you to the kind souls who, without hesitation, had stopped to help me without asking for anything in return. my heart was swelling with immense gratitude. these people didn’t know me, owed me nothing, and yet their one simple gesture (maybe not so simple. i mean, what’s simple about lifting a carwith your bare hands) had really saved my day. i still believe in the inherent goodness of us malaysians, of us humans.
getting back in my car, i felt like i could almost cry. so i allowed myself that moment of respite for five seconds before parking and heading for court. i remember looking back at my backseat and seeing my gift for my secret santa sitting comfortably there, like it had no idea what had just happened.
after the hearing, i drove back to the office. and then it was time for the firm’s christmas party.
the party started with ciders and beers passed around as all 20 or so of us gathered at the “living room” of the office, fried chicken and cakes and salads arranged neatly on the table. Sher Rynn and i did some last minute wall deco, to some of the staffs’ amusement.
and then it was time for the opening act. it was us. we were the opening act.
the night before, Joshua, Sher Rynn and i had stayed back till 1AM drafting…improvised lyrics to 12 days of christmas, tailored to include members of the firm. it was a gruelling three hours punctuated with episodes of two extremes: guys this is great we are on FIRE and what is this i’d rather do translations please end us
our 3-minute long TT rendition of the christmas carol was surprisingly met with very positive responses and passionate laughter, even though it was technically a lowkey roast session of everyone in the firm. but it made me really happy to see how well-received the efforts of our previous night were, and all three of us collectively concurred that all that was super worth it.
and then we exchanged presents for secret santa and i was a bit apprehensive when i found out i was gifted a durian flower perfume, but it turned out to be very nice. just like the whole christmas party, and by extension, pretty much the whole day. very, very nice.
as i am slowly adapting and blending into employed adulthood, every little happiness counts. and i am thankful for days where little happiness-es accumulate into a big happiness that constantly serves as a reminder of how bright the days can be when it’s dark and gloomy all around.
just popping by to announce that ya girl has gotten herself formally employed! yes, yes, thank you for the applause
sometime last month i finally got my CLP results and i passed. the moment of cognisance was a peculiar one – i was watching Terrace House with Oli through discord when Janice suddenly texted me a “CONGRATS!!!!!!” and my anxiety spiked instantly. the first thought that came to mind was this can’t be right because once midnight struck that night, i was already refreshing the E-LPQB website but all that showed up was a blank page. the second thought was, well, it wasn’t really a thought anymore because i was hurriedly trying to find out the source of Janice’s knowledge to verify for certain what felt like a sliver of hope blooming within my ribcage.
five days later i was back in KL, having accepted an offer to commence my pupillage at Tommy Thomas.
at the time of writing, i am one week into my first full-time job. it’s been all three things at once: intimidating, exciting and tiring. everything is absolutely brand new to me; the environment, people, and workload. i am still very much trying to get used to a 早睡早起 (lit. early sleep early wake) daily routine which i have admittedly not had for a few years already, and most importantly, i am trying my best to adapt to my new working environment, in terms of doing work and also interacting with my colleagues and bosses.
funnily enough, what prompted me to write this was a Shower Thought™ (you know those Shower Thoughts™): i’m running out of shower gel – time to buy a new one – what brand should i get – this is a decision entirely up to me – wow – THIS IS A DECISION ENTIRELY UP TO ME
i think since young, there were a lot of things in my life that i didn’t really have autonomy over, and its effects carried over to my current phase of adulthood. to this day, freedom is still such a precious and treasured concept to me. even the tiniest of freedoms, like choosing which brand of shower gel to get.
but ultimately, entering adulthood literally translates to freedom, both in a good and bad way. endless possibilities under the sun sound like a dream come true, but having no limitations also poses a fright. luckily, my carried over effects from childhood mean that i already have plenty of self-imposed limitations; too much, in fact, that it has mostly become a major hindrance in living an anxiety-free life, but being thrown into the whirlpool of adulthood also means that for once, it is entirely up to me to decide how i wish to steer through the currents of said whirlpool. from something as tiny as selecting a shower gel brand, to something as significant as choosing a job that i want.
in life, there comes a time when there are no longer instruction manuals issued out to tell you what your class timetables are, or there are decisions that you have to make by yourself without consulting other adults (because you are the adult now). it’s both scary and exciting at the same time. and that’s what freedom will always feel like to me.
midnight fell, and Oli wanted to go for a night drive. so where else better to go than to familymart a mere 4 minutes away?
we went to familymart almost everyday when Oli was here, and even during the previous times he was in KL, until it has essentially become a staple. when there was nowhere else in mind to go, there was always a handy familymart nearby. unagi onigiri, sakura cheesecake, belgian chocolate sofuto and milk cookies blended shake. and also loacker matcha wafers, häagen-dazs’ matcha ice cream, calbee’s flaming hot chilli chips and even some au fairy ‘mermaid elixir’ hydration facial masks. these are the things i’ve associated with our familymart trips.
familymart has always felt like a huge comfort to me, besides the fact that it is pretty much omnipresent in KL, everytime i enter familymart searching for something (ie food, drinks, something to make me feel happy like, i don’t know, an ice cream), my search is always satisfied, and familymart always delivers. that night in familymart sri hartamas, as Oli and i were looking for desserts to fill ourselves with as we play mario kart on the switch, everything on the shelves felt like a possibility, and i was happy, because i was surrounded by comfort, in the form of familymart, in the form of Oli.
the streets were empty as we drove back, a huge contrast to the perpetual traffic under the highways near the jalan kiaras, and it felt like our own comfort bubble, the anxiety of driving in KL temporarily dissipated for the night. everything beneath the stars felt like ours, and more importantly, the night felt like ours. and it was, because all i needed at that moment was Oli, our own space, and the matcha ice cream wafer wedged between our seats as we drove home.
two months ago, i went to Melbourne for a week to travel and visit my friends. Taliza bought a disposable camera to document the trip. (click for more of her photography works)
Mornington was a little more than an hour drive from Melbourne city. it was the morning right after i landed, and halfway through the drive in Austin’s car, we stopped at a McDonald’s (alternatively, Maccas) for breakfast.
Cape Schank and Flinder’s Blowhole (who is Flinder? what’s a blowhole? questions that remain unanswered to this day) were very windy which means there was a lot of hair in my mouth that day. but it was beautiful, and it was such a stark contrast to the past few months of incessantly mind-numbing book flipping that the scenes before my eyes took on an almost surreal appearance.
the same day, we had fish and chips lunch somewhere near the sea – but we weren’t the only ones hungry for food. with our fish and chips boxes in hand as we sat at a bench by the road, we were under constant vigilant (and annoying) surveillance by a humongous flock of seaside aves.
after that, Taliza, Austin and i wandered around the quaint streets and stumbled upon this old, vintage cinema-cum-dvd rental store. it almost felt like a scene straight out of a 90s’ coming-of-age film. or Stranger Things.
forgive me for positing this – but Melbourne is a strange amalgamation of a very hipster Western town and a heavily Asian-influenced immigrant district. which is not a bad thing at all, and which also means that there’s a “best of both worlds” situation going on.
we went to South Yarra for brunch on Taliza’s off-day and the brunch cafés and vintage thrift shops that lined both sides of the streets were heavily reminiscent of Manchester’s own Northern Quarter.
on one of my last nights in Melbourne, we were drinking and playing games at Unit 522 when Ken Fui said, “you think i don’t know you well? i’ve known you for more than six years already!” and it truly struck me that i’ve known this group of people for as long as i had had my secondary level education. for a quarter of all 24 years of my life. and there’s a special feeling of kinship when it comes to long friendships like this, which i will treasure for the eternity of always.
*blows dust off blog* it has been a million years, my friends.
many things have happened, but also not really. mostly i’ve just been spending the past months studying for the CLP and it just ended yesterday. the end of exams has been such a recurring event in my life that you’d think i’d get used to it by now but this particular exam has caused so much mental anguish that me and janice agreed that the tuition fees should’ve come with therapy. so of course the end of CLP felt life-changing, even if it was but for a fleeting moment.
and fleeting it was, because the moment it ended, i immediately had another urgent and pressing issue to attend to, which was packing everything i had and moving them out within one a half days before i flew off to melbourne for a week. this despite the fact that i have yet to find a new place to stay and can only temporarily store my stuff at a friend’s place. this, on top of packing for two different trips with two distinctive climates.
so now i’m just in this transition period of the highest degree of uncertainty, and my exam stress hasn’t exactly dissipated, merely substituted with this perpetual temporary state of things hanging over my head like an uneasy itch i can’t seem to scratch.
but it’s okay. i expect nothing less than seeing myself two months in the future looking back at this period of time and chuckling snobbishly at the clusterfuck that was my life and weaving it into a tale of incredulousness to share with my friends over drinks and hotpot.
somehow, amidst my responsibilities of going to work and attending CLP classes, i have sought refuge and comfort in the act of driving. whether it’s a 5-minute drive to The Sphere to get groceries, or a 40-minute drive stuck in traffic from JHJ to home, driving has been the only time when i am able to be left alone with my thoughts, but not alone enough to be completely idle (because i still have a motor vehicle to pilot), and it’s a blissful respite from the constant thinking i have to do because in that moment and in that moment alone, my sole responsibility was to drive myself from one place to another, while being accompanied by music.
which is why the priority for my spotify playlists have shifted from studying playlists to driving playlists, because the absence of music while driving has proven to be an anomalous handicap for me. maybe it’s because it feels too quiet (and thus too alone) if there’s no music on, or maybe i’ve just gotten too used to the habit of perpetually having background music with anything i do or anywhere i go (even more so since the birth of my faithful JBL Go). and thus what transpires are very, very brief moments of incredible clarity of my state of being and my surroundings as i am driving along the highways of KL, with my driving playlist on play like a reliable friend that i can always depend on.
Hello, Anxiety - Phum Viphurit
notwithstanding the largely relatable lyrics of this song about anxiety, there’s a guitar riff accompanied with repeated echoes of “we’ll be fine” midway through the song that i absolutely cannot resist dancing to, even if it’s in my car and i run the high risk of having another driver look over and pre-judge me to be a really weird city resident among all the other occupants of this city that obey the social cues to remain prim and proper in the eyes of society.
this occurred once at the traffic light right outside Nexus Bangsar South and even though i’m seven months into living in KL, and three months into driving by myself, i still give myself a metaphorical pat on the back for making it safely home everyday, especially if it’s after a long day of running errands and fulfilling responsibilities. just to tell myself, “yay you survived the day, you anxious person. good job.”
Opera House - Cigarettes After Sex
as part of one of the mandatory tasks of JHJ’s internship, the other interns and i had to follow the firm’s lawyers to court for one day, and not going to lie, even though i had to leave the house by 7am to avoid the rush hour that could quickly turn my pre-existing 25-minute drive to shah alam into a full hour one, i was pretty excited to be attending actual court for the first time.
and thus, 7 in the morning on a tuesday saw me driving to shah alam by myself for the first time, incredibly sleep deprived without a hint of caffeine to help me in my bloodstream, but somehow still functioning on what little adrenaline i could summon so early in the morning and also my driving playlist.
my first impression of shah alam was awe at all these official-looking buildings that i’d never seen before, as well as the sultan salahuddin abdul aziz mosque. and it doesn’t stop there. i followed mr hari and amanda into a hearing in chambers for an appeal, and subsequently after that, esther, audrey and i randomly entered courtrooms just to sit in on trials. and listen, i might not be your number #1 candidate when it comes to having a passion for the law, but it certainly was impressive and rather bizarre to witness all the legal theories and procedures i’ve been learning in formal education since four years ago in action right before my eyes, playing a fundamental role in maintaining one of the building blocks of the society.
that one day in court together with the lawyers and interns from JHJ really triggered a slight shift in my perception towards a legal career in the future.
boxset.girlfriend - lost spaces
on the day of Undercurrent at The Bee, Publika, i had a sudden client meeting to follow kamlesh to at UOA Business Park right after work that morning, so my plan to go home first before picking hui wen up to go to Publika got scrapped, and i found myself smack right in the middle of rush hour traffic to get from glenmarie to puchong, and then to sri hartamas. to spice things up even more, i was only left with a single bar on my fuel tank, so i had to do a detour somewhere in subang, immersing myself further into the jam.
we reached Publika pretty early though, and had the bombest calamari pizza with beers while discovering new local music live.
(we had to leave before lost spaces started playing their set which made me really sad but as much of an aspiring KL driver as i am, i have yet to acquire the bravery of driving alone too late into the night.)
Take On Me - a-ha
there was a period of one week after my sudden panic attack when i completely restricted myself from any and all activities that did not involve studying at home the whole day. it was my way of coping with the sudden surge of fear, until a few days later during lunch when i watched the latest kaguya-sama episode which involved an extremely detailed commentary about ramen, and i made up my mind on the spot that i was going to have ramen for dinner that night.
so i drove marco and i to bangsar shopping centre where we had Ippudo ramen and then i impulse-purchased a new peripera lip ink and a Boost juice and it was the first time that week that i felt more like myself again. capitalism is a drug, am i right folks
but that brief outing pulled me out of my fear haze long enough for me to look at the world through clearer lens again, to realise that a lot of obstacles and hindrances in life are self-constructed, and that there is nothing wrong with loosening the self-inflicted pressure noose you have had around your neck all this while.
Best Friend - Rex Orange County
rumin, lionel, marco and i went to ipoh for two days to celebrate lionel’s birthday, and i didn’t drive at all, but it was still a place that i’d gone to.
it was my third time being on an official trip to ipoh, and the second time with rumin. we revisited all the places we’d been to (because ipoh really isn’t that big), had food coma after food coma, and then burned under the 37ºC heat even as we drove from one place to another.
Best Friend was my most listened to song for that month, and it was a pleasant surprise to me to find it playing on marco’s playlist as he was driving us to ipoh.
Flowers - boy pablo
boy pablo is one of those artists whose music i really liked even upon first listen, and Flowers is one of those songs that made me really sad even upon first listen.
after my panic attack last week, i was recommended to attend a counselling session at the said recommender’s church. i didn’t really know what to expect out of the session, never really having told anyone besides family and friends about my anxiety.
i didn’t know what to expect, but it definitely wasn’t an influx of reassurances that i have been doing the right things all this while. i wasn’t told anything that i didn’t already know, and the counsellors similarly acknowledged that, but, and i only realised this during the rainy drive back home, i was filled with a deep sense of serenity and relief that came with firm reassurances like these. all this while, since i was 17, i never really knew what i was doing, especially in regards to my mental health. sure, i talked to my family and friends whenever things felt too overwhelming, consulted friends who also had a history of anxiety, and read a bunch of twitter threads and one too many thought catalog articles for my liking, but these were all self-regulated without any external force to validate my own actions and coping mechanisms.
all this time, i have just been trying to get by without allowing my anxiety to stop me from doing the things that i wanted to do in life, like attending college at sunway, flying to a foreign country alone to study in uni for three years, and living alone in the capital city while juggling both studies and an internship at the same time. and at the end of the day, they really were just words uttered by strangers that i’d met for the first time, but it still brought upon myself a strong sense of triumph and satisfaction that my life is still mine to make of it, and that i have been, and am still capable of continuing that.
Japanese Denim - Daniel Caesar
last tuesday was (technically) my last day of my internship at JHJ. we had a mooting session in the morning about defamation, and after that, it signalled the end of the last module of the internship, and there was a mini party at night with kamlesh and the other lawyers.
honestly, applying to JHJ didn’t even feel all that long ago. it feels like it could just be last week when i was consistently feeling restless being by myself at home, still trying to adapt with this newfound and rather permanent solitude, and being in a huge city with so many responsibilities to fulfil. it feels like it could just be last week when i went to JHJ for the first time and was interviewed by kamlesh and chin han, and it also feels like it could just be last week when i first met esther, audrey, may, divviah and di shen while being briefed about our modules and contracts.
and now the melancholy is starting to set in as the empty spaces on my task checklist are gradually filled with signatures, and i realise that our days of being able to use the war room are numbered. every single person that i have encountered during this internship journey has been nothing but kind and helpful, even when they were so busy and deep in work. despite being absolutely clueless about so many of our modules and tasks, everyone has been so patient and willing to teach us bunch of oblivious interns about mock tasks that do not even benefit them directly. and for that i am so incredibly grateful. if there’s anything that has improved my perspective towards practising law as a whole, it’s these people at i’ve met at JHJ.
i had a panic attack in public yesterday, the first time in a very, very long time. it arose the same way they usually do: a quick flurry of negative thoughts, one chasing after the other, bludgeoning their way through my usually-sturdy mental fortress, and then the very, very unpleasant (vague but consistent) BGM thudding in my peripheral vision, making me feel like nothing will feel happy or good again.
this all happened within the span of like, 2 minutes, right after the waiter served my hor fun soup and as i picked up my chopsticks. and then i lost my appetite immediately after, stomach acids churning again.
the seed got implanted inadvertently during a conversation with marco in the car which made me come to the realisation that july was only four months away. CLP was only four months away. and i’d spent the past week not attending classes or studying or doing anything substantial because i was down with a stomach infection. and i am so unprepared for CLP. and it’s all going to shit.
the timing was very unfortunate because it caught me in a sickly, hungry and exhausted state and i had little to no willpower to fight against it. but i was fortunate that at least i wasn’t alone by myself when i was panicking in public.
for the whole day after that the mini episode just left a sour taste on my tongue (and stomach, literally) and i just cried and cried because it reminded me of very bad days and feeling powerless and weak against my own thoughts and the frightening anxiety of what the future entails. but that’s the thing about overwhelming thoughts: they are a box that squares you in until you are unable to see beyond it and look at the bigger picture. and after allowing myself to calm down and talk to family and friends, i managed to recall bit by bit my general optimism towards life, and things that made me happy, make me happy and would make me happy. i recalled the bigger picture of things not entirely going to shit even if the worst case scenario happens. because in that snap moment during lunch, my memory had absolutely let go of all of that.
i’m still terrified of CLP, but i’m taking my mom’s advice from ages ago which still very much applies: to take one day at a time.
freshly showered with a starving stomach, i’m sat on the couch in the living room of saville, having just swam for an hour and am now waiting for the ginger chicken in my steamer to be cooked for dinner, as foster the people plays from my JBL go. the song is a 2014 relic, yet i feel as present as ever. and adulting lately has kinda felt like that for me – present.
i just got my own car, which means that my grab app has been left untouched for almost a whole month now. i’ve been driving to and from work and classes pretty much everyday, weekends included, for the whole month of january. i am currently halfway through the litigation module of my legal internship, which means that workload has doubled in volume, alongside the concurrent doubling of my own CLP classes. this means earlier mornings and later hours of going home; familiarising myself with the federal highway and coming home to a single lightbulb i’d left on in the kitchen.
i want to say that this foreign and isolating routine feels weird, but it would be more accurate to say that it feels like nothing. and i don’t mean it in a way to express easiness or comfort, but rather an almost mechanical and robotic sequence of waking up, getting from one place to another, going back home, and sleeping (except with the anomalous daily segment of going on ROC and discord lol). but i know that’s how adulting is. it’s only just the beginning. i haven’t even properly gotten into it yet.
and yeah, sure, i’m still lonely as all heck, but i think there’s a certain gratification to be derived from knowing that i am living this day to day life by myself rather independently, and have not gone starving or (too) dysfunctional. yet. and ironically enough, for the first time in my life, i feel like i am allowed to make as many mistakes as i can. things like getting lost in the KL highways and ending up at freaking carcosa seri negara during peak hours, attending a mock mediation session at my firm in a state of severe sleep deprivation, and spending 10 minutes trying yet failing to side park, make me both anxious and a little bit exhilarated knowing that this life in the city that i am currently leading is very much all within my grasp of control. this story belongs to me. i am writing this story by myself. it’s lonely, but it feels present.
the loneliness part – i’m still trying to navigate my way through it. but i’m living and i’m learning, and that’s all that matters.
this year was the one year where it felt like a combination of several years. half of it was spent in manchester and the other half in KL, and already i feel like the person that i was during these two periods was two completely different people.
i’ve already talked about manchester so much on here, but 2018 in uni, even more so than the second half of last year, was one of the best periods of my life that i’ve ever lived through. it was a year of many new friendships…and also heartbreaks, and most importantly feeling utmost satisfaction and confidence in my own skin.
and then came graduation, objectively supposed to be one of the most important milestones in my life. after which came the onerous ritual of adulthood that involved moving to a brand new city to live alone and feeling like i have to work from ground zero again.
and it was difficult, and it is still difficult, but last week, a day after the pool party, as i was in the grab on the way to KL sentral to take a train back home for the christmas break, i realised that i was heading home with a slightly heavier heart than previously. i realised that i had started to form pleasant and comfortable memories of living in KL, like eating pork noodles with new friends, getting late night soft serve with older ones, and even hanging out on discord with people i’ve never met talking about a mobile game. they weren’t much (especially if i were to compare them to uni days in manchester), but they offered solace in the fact that i was capable of creating happy memories and feeling comfortable in a place that felt hostile to me upon my initial arrival.
2018 has truly been a year of many changes, some upsetting, but most were welcomed changes. i can only wish the next year to be as great if not greater than this year, to help me grow and learn towards becoming the person that i want to be.
do you ever just one-up your own sadness? think to yourself, i have never felt this sad before, and then a week later you think the same thing, and then the week after, and then after.
i was upset when i got here, so i made myself go out everyday, texted friends to hang out with almost every hour. i told myself that it’s fine now, i still have many friends here. then i felt too restless, so i took japanese classes and got a job, and i told myself it’s fine now, i will be too busy to feel sad. and then now i realise that in the midst of busyness i still feel empty. without the distractions of multiple real life responsibilities and people and games that are to be honest sustaining me when i’m home alone, i don’t know how to feel happy. i thought i was doing well but perhaps i’m not. and i feel scared. i feel desperate. i feel lonely.
i don’t like thinking there is an external solution to this that i need to find, because ultimately self-care comes from within, but i don’t know what to do to make myself feel happy anymore.
in my pursuit of KL’s artsy fartsy art scene, i said “yes” in a heartbeat when taliza invited me to join her friends to catch lost spaces and talitha’s gigs at urbanscapes house.
i’ve mentioned this before to multiple friends that since coming back to KL and being given a taster session on what is presumed to be KL’s creative art scene (zhongshan building, cooler lumpur, merdekarya and now urbanscapes), malaysians can be quite the artists, even in comparison to my experiences of artsy manchester (and we’re talking about manchester here, home of afflecks and oasis and the 1975, the actual hub of england’s artistic sub-culture). i love what they’ve done to the art scene here, by incorporating local elements and experiences to make it feel all the more familiar, all the more malaysian. it feels fascinating to me particularly because most of my life growing up in alor setar, i have rarely come to associate my surroundings with art. music, paintings, exhibitions etc that i learned about growing up were all sourced from the internet, and in my mind’s eyes were pretty much a foreign affair. it wasn’t until i went to sunway and met a group of creatively like-minded friends (studying a-levels, of all things), that i started to realise that there is an actually abundance of malaysian art, albeit more obscure than their western counterparts. (see “In convo w/ visual artist LITH NG on her show @ Urbanscapes 2018” written by my friend Ellen on her friend’s urbanscapes exhibition)
lost spaces is one such band that i discovered when i was looking up local artists on spotify. shun was the one who introduced them to me, the lead singer being a friend of a friend. and i was pleasantly surprised by how quickly i took a liking to their music, considering the fact that i have zero knowledge of the local music scene. they describe their music as “groovy indie pop with hints of ambient R&B” . with heavy usage of dreamy synth sounds and malaysian-accented monologue inserts (as heard in instant.romance, where two boys discuss about the millennial woes of finding love), lost spaces makes music that is bound to make you dance or at the very least tap your foot along to, until you realise the inherent melancholy interlaced within the lyrics and you’re a bit confused because the song is upbeat but the words are so, so sad. (seems like we’re miles away from happy days / we seem to be stuck here looped in a fuzzy daze)
also they have really aesthetically pleasing single covers and i am weak for pastel colours of the pink to purple range.
Talitha’s gig was next and the Heartbreak Party was actually hers, in conjunction with her EP release of BOYS. her new EP is called BOYS, but the actual best track of it is called GIRLS. (if this isn’t a metaphor for real life, i don’t know what is). and it really is a heartbreak party, isn’t it? her songs sing of feelings of sadness, betrayal and disappointment in relationships that maybe hit a bit too close to home once or twice. it felt like maybe we were all supposed to cry together instead of sing along during the gig. (he doesn’t / he doesn’t want me enough to love / love me enough to try / he wouldn’t / no, no, he wouldn’t look me in the eye / even when i told him i’d try)
after the party, taliza and i headed for the balcony of the third floor of 2 Hang Kasturi for an impromptu shoot, something that i hadn’t done in nearly four years. and it felt really nice. there were other people around too, so there was no helping the initial awkwardness of people staring and a four-year hiatus (and an oily complexion after having just emerged from a crowded room), but it felt familiar, and it was taliza, and it was one of the few moments so far during which i felt the complete compatibility of my surroundings, and being in the city of KL.