the driving playlist: a post about going places

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.

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an old visitor a-knocking

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.

6:56pm in real 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.

twenty yeet-teen

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.

happy new year, folks.

1242 hours

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.

what’s so happy about a heartbreak party

lost spaces
Talitha

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” [1]. 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. 

check out taliza’s instagram for the shoot:

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Footnotes:

[1] "Lost Spaces: An Indie-Pop Band Which Will Fill Up the Twilight On Your Daily Commute", Friends of Sevenpie, December 4, 2017