The Unkeepable & The Unthrowable

There are things in life that fall into this bucket.

You don’t want to keep them because maybe they make you upset, angry or turn you into a monster of emotions that you can’t quite put into words. These things are the black sheep of your history, the scars of your wars, the nightmares that haunt you.

Yet, you can’t throw them away. They don’t quite come in a physical form that you can stuff into a trash bag and dispose of. They are like speckles of dust, small enough to consciously ignore but significant enough to remind you of their existence. They may settle temporarily in the corners of your mind but a little trigger could cloud up your rationality and create a mess. Lingering fragmented bits that you can never rid of.

And I wonder, what do you do with these things?

I had always imagined our minds to be like storage warehouses, filled with boxes of all shapes and sizes. There’s one for work, one for family. One for friends, and one for enemies. One for general knowledge, and one for lyrics. One for faces, and one for voices. There is one that keeps our secrets, and one that keeps our thoughts. Some boxes are carefully sealed, labelled and shoved to the furthest corners of our memories. Some are left open, with their lids lost – or maybe they never had one in the first place. Their contents spill out once in a while and we try with great haste to put them back in. Some boxes are just too small; contents grow so rapidly that we struggle to keep them in place. And sometimes, we just decide to let things swell and grow and flood our space. We’d feel overwhelmed.

What kind of box do we keep the Unkeepable and the Unthrowable? Seal them up, like an artificial vacuum void of air? Perhaps they’d stop unsettling. Mix them up with another box in hope that chaos breeds distraction from remembering? Keep them in layers of boxes so that they will never overflow? Stack them underneath bigger, heavier and more important ones in hope that the weight keeps them buried below?

Or maybe, they don’t even deserve a box in the first place. I still don’t quite know.

Annual Thoughts

It’s not fair that we’d only spend the last hours each year reflecting on the past 52 weeks. If only we could introspect as much as we breathed, then we would be spared from mistakes that arose from blurred judgment, tears from unnecessary heartaches, and found depth in the everyday words that hung from our conversations.

One year ago, I spent my New Year’s eve sitting quietly at a cafe in San Diego, sipping a cuppa while watching the last hours of 2011 roll slowly but surely by. For several hours, I sat there with my thoughts, recollecting moments and trying to make sense of the 364 days that had already gone by. That day, I was just about halfway through my three-week solo backpacking trip. While people were gathering for countdown parties and celebratory drinks that evening, I decided to spectate from afar. I wanted to know how it would feel like to feel joyous and renewed without participating. I wanted to experience the simple, intrinsic happiness from just thinking about people I know and love greeting the new year with even greater resolve. I wanted to feel what people were feeling, without feeling anything myself – if you know what I mean.

It was a nice exercise. It made me feel like I was part of a larger meshwork of beings. Although I was traveling on my own through six cities that winter, I hardly felt alone.

That was how I started 2012.

If there was such a thing as a year being too eventful, then 2012 would fit perfectly into the ‘too eventful’ bucket.

San Diego, Las Vegas, Austin, Charlotte. Dublin, Northern Ireland, Manchester, Liverpool, New York City, Boston, Chicago. London, Edinburgh, Bath, Windsor, Stonehenge off Salisbury. And more recently, Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Penang.

Old Trafford, Anfield, Emirates, Wembley. England versus Ukraine, Arsenal versus Coventry. Even though I never understood football and never remembered what’s an offside. But I liked the grandeur of stadiums and feeling the adrenaline of spectators.

2012 was plentifully spent in solitude. Probably a third of the cities I traveled to during the year was without companionship. I came to realize that solo traveling is addictive, and I also came to realize that I enjoyed the silence of being alone. Countless hours spent at coffee hideouts and cafes with a hot latte and a good read. Running off to the seaside before sunrise to watch silhouettes becoming illuminated figures. Spontaneous explorations on foot with my camera. Sitting at my window for hours staring at the snow falling flake by flake…

For as long as I can remember, I have always classified myself as an extrovert. But perhaps we change, even the most core of ourselves might change overtime. Perhaps as we grow up we discover some parts of our inner self that we never knew existed. Either way, the person I am now displays so much introversion that I wonder if I have ever been an extrovert at all. Sometimes, I prefer to turn away from the crowd and dissociate myself from the majority. Sometimes, I put on my earphones to intentionally cut myself off from the world so that I can watch it without sound. Sometimes, I wish I could spectate my life from afar as a third party.

Solitude gave me thought space to find answers to hard questions. Quite often, solitude was like a war ranging between me and myself. Because of the silence, your inner thoughts become so much louder. And you start to listen to them more. I don’t know if that is necessarily always a good thing, because there were times when my thoughts got a bit too loud and I didn’t know how to silence them when I needed to.

2012 was a hard year. I don’t know how else to describe it because I really don’t think that you can generalize 365 days of your life into a single word. I wouldn’t be doing justice to my history, but I will attempt to explain why it was a hard year.

There were many transitions. Non-trivial transitions. I graduated from school, twice, within the year (within two consecutive months actually). Once for my bachelors degree in Singapore, and another for my masters degree in the states. I moved back to Singapore after living in the US for almost two years. And one week after I officially graduated from university and ended 19 years of education, I was on a plane to London for work training in attempt to mould me (along with many of my peers) into someone ready to contribute to the workforce.

On hindsight, I wasn’t ready. My body was protesting from months of sleep debt prior to graduation and from jet lagging across three time zones. My mental profile was still that of a university student, not a working adult. I was missing Pittsburgh’s sunsets and the smell of spring. I was thinking about home. I had many loose ends that were left hanging due to my sudden and inevitable departure. I left my heart in so many places that I didn’t know how to find it back.

To be honest, I felt tired trying to live. I was dragging my feet and my life along with it.

I thought I would be cheering from the huge list of personal, academic and career milestones in a single year. I had imagined myself basking in my own glory and patting my own shoulder for a job well done. But I realized that we are human beings. We have the ability to adapt to changes but we need time. I can’t be pitching a school project one evening and find a steady footing in the workplace the next morning. I can’t simply stop missing people and places by flying off on a jet plane. And most importantly, I needed time to reconcile hanging thoughts and inconclusive decisions. I felt like my life had gone well ahead of me and I was struggling to chase after it. I found myself trying too hard to be happy just because I was in London and I was supposed to be enjoying myself. I was desperate to be happy because I wasn’t. I was tired, and I wanted very much to slow things down a bit so that I could catch my breath.

The working world also presented a whole set of challenges that I didn’t expect. The subtle pressure to conform, yet stand out. People are always watching you, people are always judging you. Every hand you shake and every connection you build could possibly open a new door of opportunities. Every bridge you burn could also potentially return to bite you in your next work life. Expectations are so complex. Learning to conquer your inner fears of inadequacy and incompetence is tough, but letting them eat you alive ain’t an option either.

They say that we are so sheltered while in school – now I understand what they mean, and how the reality of adulthood feels like. Responsibilities are obligations, non-negotiable. Being a working adult also means that you now have a stake in keeping the household alive and kicking. You’re no longer a child that can get away from doing the chores by throwing tantrums. Health cannot be taken for granted and people grow old, including our parents. Longevity isn’t a given, it must be earned. People enter and leave our lives. Procrastination is a losing battle.

Some of these made 2012 really hard.

But I tried telling myself that when things are bad they can only get better. And I realized, too, that sometimes we cannot leave it to chance to make things better.

Coffee shop breakfasts. Morning walks and slow jogs. Cooking dinner during the weekends. Paying the bills. Family time. Acoustic guitar. Finding back health that has been carelessly lost. Reading on the way to work and on the way home. Embracing introversion. Being honest, and being realistic. Remembering humility. Taking every piece of work seriously, no matter how trivial. Listening to own thoughts. Letting go what cannot be held on to.

I could go on for another 3000 words about 2012, there’s too much to say. For better or worse, 365 days of events occurred. There were jobs well done and regretful mistakes made. Letting bygones be bygones will not be easy and I can’t say for sure that I won’t look back. But I will give myself ample time I need to find the steadiness within, and stay true to things and people that matter to me most.

How to Treat Yourself Better

1. Eat breakfast

I don’t know about you, but I get very grumpy without a good, hearty breakfast. Your stomach battles through the night without food while you’re sleeping; the least you could do is to be nice to it in the morning. I know a lot of people who don’t eat breakfast, or who actually just stomach something randomly taken from the kitchen for the sake of going through the motion so they can claim they ate breakfast. Please don’t do that. Meals are pleasurables. They need to be treated with respect. Throwing trash down your system in a trashy manner makes you no better than a big pile of trash.

2. Smile

At your neighbour who shares the lift with you as you head down to the ground floor. At the old granny who takes her terrier for walks every morning. At the bus driver whom you see every day because you take the same bus at the same time from the same location. At the barista who prepares your morning coffee. At the random stranger whom you accidentally bump into along the corridor. At the little kid who smiles at you as she walks pass you, holding her mom’s hand.

3. Slow down

Stop rushing, you’re not always in a hurry. You’re just used to being in a hurry. Why do you need to cut in front of someone else walking at a tad slower pace than you when you’re not even in a rush to go anywhere by anytime? Feel your words before they leave your mouth, don’t let them slip away before you even meant to say them. Breathe.

4. Look up, look far

Not figuratively, but literally. I don’t know why, but when you walk and you stare at some point far ahead in the distance, or up in the sky, the world feels so big. I have this favourite street in Pittsburgh that I would take whenever I walked to school. I loved it because it’s always so empty, like it’s entirely yours to keep. I used to walk under the mid-day sunlight and gaze at the blue cloudless sky above. Or close my eyes and feel the world around me. It felt so liberating, and it made me feel so alive.

5. Embrace solitude

Ditch your mobile devices. Ditch YouTube. Ditch Facebook. Ditch your iPods and MP3s. People today struggle with nothingness. We can’t stand in the lift for 1 minute without looking at our phones or talking to someone. We can’t spend our 30-minute train ride to work sitting or standing in silence, not doing anything. We can’t live a moment with just ourselves. We are always clouded by everything else and not our own. It takes time, but I think we all need to sit down with ourselves once in a while. Listen to your breathing, listen to your thoughts. Listen to the world and resist the urge to participate and respond. Observe passively and spectate. Let your mind ponder and your heart wonder. Try it, I think it’s refreshing.

The Wet Market

I miss the smell of the wet market. I miss the familiar rustic smells of the clothing and old second hand book stores. I miss the warmth and welcoming feeling it never fails to offer.

The wet market was closed for 3 weeks or so, and I haven’t visited it much since I came back for good. I used to go to the wet market a lot with my mother since I was a kid, and sometimes after that we would go to the supermarket to get other groceries and household products. Even after so many years, it still feels exactly the same. The only thing that has changed is that prices have skyrocketed like crazy. But these stallholders still sell the freshest and the best, and customers like my mother still pay the extra few dollars because it is worth it.

It even has its own little community. Familiarity breeds familiarity, and everyone knows each other. Relationships build and foster regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, shape or size. Everyone is welcomed, even if you’re new, you’d feel like people there treat you with kind of sincerity that makes you want to go back.

I stood by the fish stall which my mother always makes a trip to for the freshest fish. A granny came by to get some fish, probably for her children caught up with the working world, and maybe even for her grandkids whom she would want very much to grow up healthy and strong. The wet market is filled with people like her – mothers, fathers, grandmothers, grandfathers, daughters and sons – taking that extra effort on a Tuesday morning to get only the best for the people they love and care for.

Early morning, wet market love.

Ear Candies

When I find a tune I fancy, I put it on repeat mode. I can listen and re-listen to the same song over and over for hundreds of times till I remember every syllable of the lyrics, every inch of background music, and even to the extent of knowing exactly when my iPod will start the song again when it ends. And after a while it becomes a comforting background tune that resonates among the corners of my mind.

And because I tend to listen to music while doing something, many of my die-hard favourites have over time become associated with particular events and stories and feelings and emotions.

Here’s 10 songs that bring back specific, emotion-packed memories.

1. Gone / Daughtry

This was from one of my first English albums that I listened to. I was in Junior College when I bought my first MP3 player – a Creative Zen Nano in lime green. It had a tiny horizontal screen that displayed the song being played like a ticker tape, all in gray scale. And that was like the coolest gadget to possess then.

I spent a lot of after class hours hanging out at our very own CCA room. Getting that club room was a huge piece of pride and freedom for all of us in the Exco and it took us a crazy amount of effort to get it from the school — I shall leave that whole story for another time to tell — anyway, we used to spend countless hours after school in our CCA room fighting with overdue tutorials and conducting early morning emergency meetings before assembly. We had an outing to IKEA to buy furniture and accessories to beautify our room and I remember that we took a silly video introducing our newest hangout being revamped. And for some reason I remember that this song was playing out loud on speakers from my Creative Zen Nano while we were being crazy on video.

2. It’s Not Over / Daughtry + 痛快 / S.H.E

Obviously being distracted school kids with short attention span, we weren’t always concentrating on lecture notes and homework when we were supposed to. Because we would do even less when we got home, and there was something slightly more motivating to study with friends, we would have late night mugging at our CCA room. Our school administrative staff (aka our favourite admin aunty) was the most awesome person in the world because she would take dinner orders from students staying back in school and get them delivered right to our general office for us to collect. And so we would order our favourite salted fish fried rice for dinner and (try) to mug and clear unlimited volumes of tutorials till we lose our sanity – which happened very often actually. During one of those episodes when we sort of lost our minds trying to solve integration problems at 10pm, we started changing lyrics of songs that we were playing on speakers. These two songs were the sad victims of our insanity, but all in the name of good fun. I still laugh over it now. On hindsight, I conclude that we should never become lyricists or songwriters, though to be fair we were (and still are) pretty talented at making a mockery out of anything, ourselves included.

3. How You Remind Me / Nickelback

Junior College was particularly awesome because we had East Coast Park at our backyard and I used to pay it a visit several times a week for a run to kick off some heat. There were many times then when the going got really tough and I struggled to stay abreast. Sometimes things got over my mental and emotional threshold. Running was always my best solution to turn to. Running kept my spirit alive and my sanity in place, while channeling all the bad energy into good physical maintenance.

Music is a great companion when running because it acts as a great distraction from the physical tiredness. This song was my all-time favourite song that I would always listen to on repeat mode when I went for my runs. Its slow, steady rhythm was great for pacing my speed for a long distance. It became my audio stopwatch and my breathing cue because it was always the same song, same distance, same route.

4. 你最进还好吗 / S.H.E

Of all the songs that I got hooked on to, this one was probably the most long-lasting – easily for several months I was listening to this very same song on an infinite loop. Even till now I still like this song, and I still like it very much.

I got glued to this song when I was in year two of university, I think.

That semester I remember doing Software Engineering as one of my classes. SE was the notorious module of my course that seniors would tell freshmen about expecting many, many sleepless nights being spent to survive the class. In the end, I didn’t really have sleepless nights but I had lots of sleepy afternoons and long nights of coding. I still remember that my team met from 7pm to 10pm every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in order to make consistent progress. Often it ran past the timing till 11 or midnight, running off to catch my last bus while still in a daze of an overheated brain.

I survived that semester thanks to power naps that I would take in the library every afternoon. I had my favourite spot on the second floor that I’d claim my territory where I took naps in multiples of 20 minutes in order to stay moderately functional for the rest of the day/night. And I would always listen to this song on repeat when I took my naps. I listened to it so many times that it became a soothing lullaby that accompanied me through those tired afternoons.

5. Just A Dream (Cover) / Sam Tsui and Christina Grimmie

I got hooked to this rendition of Just A Dream during my first year studying in the states. And I stumbled upon this cover on YouTube, before I even heard the original by Nelly. For the record, I have always liked this cover version over the original.

This was the first time I heard about Sam Tsui and Christina Grimmie, two now very popular YouTube artists who have grown to become rather famous for their original approach to doing covers. I think this cover skyrocketed their popularity in the music space. And it is because of this cover that I became quite a fan of Sam Tsui’s covers.

Somebody once told me that if I ruled a country, I would get Sam Tsui to compose and sing the national anthem. I remember having a good laugh, because that implies an obsession with his vocals and music talent, and because till now I refuse to admit that I hold that level of obsession. He does have awesome vocals and I like the way he frowns when he sings, but he has done a few so-so covers so I do indeed still apply fair judgment in his performance. Not blind obsession OK.

6. Stereo Hearts ft. Adam Levine / Gym Class Heroes

The epitome of my Maroon 5 addiction. I was first introduced to this song by a senior of mine, and I searched for it on Spotify. I remember I searched for Stereo Love instead and got the one by Edward Maya (which is another great song by the way), and was waiting for Adam Levine’s voice to show up but never did within the first 5 seconds and thus concluded I must have gotten the wrong song. Levine’s vocals are just too distinct to be mistaken.

It was also shortly after stumbling upon Stereo Hearts when I got the chance to watch Maroon 5 live. They did a gig in Lycoming College in Pennsylvannia, and a few of us hit the roads for a few hour drive to this town called Williamsport. It’s so funny because while we were so excited to see Maroon 5 live, none of us actually knew all their names and I remember that we were frantically Googling their band’s bio while in the queue to enter the concert premises. Of course by the time we hit the standing area (there were no chairs) of the concert hall, we were contented knowing that our dear lead singer’s called Adam Levine and that he’s damn awesome.

Post-concert syndrome kicked in immediately upon leaving the concert hall – blasting Maroon 5’s songs over and over on our trip back to Pittsburgh and singing out loud with the car windows down.

And it never ended there. For I think the next few months, Stereo Hearts was on eternal replay during my waking hours and it was so bad that I successfully incepted every other person living in my house. They either heard Stereo Hearts from my phone, laptop, or from my poor imitation of Adam Levine’s pitchy voice – enough to get it stuck in their heads till everyone was humming Stereo Hearts at home. Awesome, isn’t it? I still put it on replay once in a while to put a little beat into my day.

7. Tom’s Diner / Suzanne Vega

This song will forever be associated with Ireland.

We went to Europe during Spring Break when we had a week off school and Dublin was our first stop. We were on a cab that took us from the city’s airport to our accommodation and this was the last song we heard on that cab’s radio before we bid the driver goodbye. It was the first time I heard this song and I was so captivated by its chillax beat that I was determined to find out the name of the song. Most unfortunately, by the end of the day I forgot how the song went like and I felt so lousy because I wanted to make a video of the trip (which I still have yet to work on) and put that song in it. It was my Ireland song.

About a month (I think?) after our trip, I was listening to Spotify radio and I randomly, awesomely, stumbled upon that song. I remember being so excited that I was jumping and running around the house announcing to the whole world of my victorious achievement. Tom’s Diner – then and forever my Ireland song.

8. Moves Like Jagger (Cover) / Tyler Ward and Katy McAllister

I discovered this cover on YouTube just before I left for a 6 hour bus ride to Toronto to look for a friend. And I loved this cover so much that I immediately bought it on iTunes, plugged it into my iPod nano and put it on repeat for the full 144-minute bus ride to Toronto.

I remember that when I arrived at the bus terminal 6 hours later in middle of the night, that was one of those times which I actually feared of freezing, literally, because it was so incredibly cold when I got off the bus. I waited for my friend for what seemed like eternity and she arrived clad in just two miserable layers of hoodies. I stared at her thinking she must be crazy wearing so little when temperatures were at freezing point. Till today, I can’t quite forget how it felt like that night to be so cold beyond physical tolerance.

9. Ass Back Home / Gym Class Heroes ft. Neon Hitch

Neon Hitch has outstandingly beautiful vocals. I don’t even know how to describe her voice.

This was my solo backpacking song. The song that accompanied me for three weeks of adventure that stood between just me and the world. It was set to replay mode on my iPod, and I never changed it throughout my trip. The same song on every coach, bus, train, plane, street car, or cab that I took. I love listening to music when I travel because it’s as if I can actually control the mood of my journey and this song made every mile I covered an upbeat.

The only exception was when I was in Vegas and Treasure Island was so awesome because their hotel rooms came with an iPod dock, and I decided to put Stereo Hearts (again) on replay – just for two nights, and two nights only.

10. Safe and Sound (Cover) / Megan Nicole and Tiffany Alvord

The symbol of Hunger Games, one of the most heart-wrenching and morbid story plots I have ever come across. Gorgeous song, beautifully written and covered. I grew attachment to this tune because it somehow provided refuge from the tsunami of events that I was failing to cope with then. They say that tough times don’t last but tough people do. That was one of those tough times that lasted much longer than I could. Murphy was trying to test my thresholds and did successfully capsized every bit of stability I possessed.

But it did blew over, eventually.

Deep in the meadow, under the willow,
A bed of grass, a soft green pillow
Lay down your head ,and close your sleepy eyes
And when again they open, the sun will rise.

Here its safe, here its warm
Here the daisies guard you from every harm
Here your dreams are sweet and tomorrow brings them true
Here is the place where I love you

Your Move

Moving on is a mandatory component of growing up.

Every year before Chinese New Year comes, I would spring clean. It’s amazing how much possessions you’d collect over just a year. Space is limited, so something somewhere needs to go because new things will always coming in, whether you like it or not.

I think that we are engineered to like new things. Maybe because there’s a sense of novelty, a tinge of freshness. Or hope. Hope that something new will provision us in a way that meets or even exceeds our expectations. Hope that this could be a worthy replacement of something we already own, or used to own. Hope that we could possibly possess something that fills a gap, a hollow. We are always so conflicted, because even though we ask for steadiness and security, we want adventure, we want surprises and we want little silver parachutes to brighten our days.

But even if new things descend upon us infinitely, we can really only open our doors to a finite number of them. We need to be selective, we need to be prudent. For things that we welcome with both arms, there are also things that we need to let go. It’s not necessarily one-for-one exchange, but there’s only that much we can possess at one go at any one time, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Letting go is a big part of growing up. There are things that we used to hold on to as kids but have to give up as we enter adulthood. I realized that there’s an expiry to everything in life. And it’s not about recognizing that they have a fixed expiry date. It is about recognizing that we set expiry dates on everything we possess and we have the autonomy to rule their expiry. In our hearts and minds, only we can govern when we choose to possess or hold on to something, and in the same way, we are the ones who decide when to truly let go of something – first physically, then mentally and emotionally.

Growing up can be hard, but it’s only as hard as we make it for ourselves.

Tearin’ Up My Heart

By the end of this very week, I will be on another long haul, 13-hour flight back home. So quick, so much anticipation, yet so much mixed feelings.

I have been rather nomadic over the past two years, been hopping about from city to city traveling, studying and now working. I probably have not stayed put in a place for more than six months continuously, and so when people ask me if I’m looking forward to going back home, I don’t really know the answer.

This will probably be my last long haul flight, at least for quite a while. I know for sure that I will miss this limitless freedom to travel, going wherever my soul pleases and feet take me. I know for sure I will miss exploring new places, getting lost in new cities with complex urban plans, and stumbling upon special zen spots by accident which I will claim to be my secret hideout for that city. And I will miss running to my secret hideouts or favourite quiet spots to ponder about the world at large. Traveling has changed me a million times over, in any and every way. It gives you so much adventure, and so many reasons why life is worth living.

So on one hand it is really hard to part with the hands of a nomad and return home where life feels stable, routine and grounded. It is honestly upsetting when I begin wondering when will be the next time I get to backpack to somewhere foreign again and let this world amaze me with its awesomeness. And somewhere deep inside I fear that for some reason, I may not even get to travel like this ever again.

On the other hand, I have been away from home quite long enough – I must admit. Home sickness does loom over you when you’ve been gone for too long. Never ever underestimate the power of home. People who will stand by you no matter where you are and what you do. Things that you’d deem so familiar that its merely second nature to you. Being home always makes me feel like I’ve got a new boost of strength and energy, ready to take life’s challenges ahead regardless what they might be. And so yes, I do yearn to feel grounded in some place I have known for as long as I can remember and indulge in the comfort of familiarity.

The bottom line is that my heart is torn into two — dying to stay yet begging to leave.

Gusty souls

You haven’t experienced Chicago until you’ve felt the strength of its gusty winds. Fast and furious, the winds here are not to be underestimated. Enough to knock you off balance momentarily, you’d have to be careful not to be swept off your feet because the gusts can be ruthless.

Navy Pier felt like Fisherman’s Wharf all over again. Being a weekend it was flooded with big yellow school buses, kids of all ages, teachers and parents. The liveliness of kids chattering and laughing nicely juxtaposed the tranquility of the zen waters. Sat by the edge of the pier and watched sail boats with brightly colored CHICAGO words stamped on as they danced around in the waters. They looked so fragile, so vulnerable. One wrong move and the seemingly light-weight base would topple over. But those experts maneuvered the sail like it’s second nature to them, catching on the gusty winds with precise timing to hitch a ride down the waters.

The streets of Chicago are amazing. Millions of skyscrapers towering over you, perfectly aligned along the meshwork of streets. The grid-like road structure matches the four cardinal points of the compass, which essentially means that if you pick the right street, you can literally see the sun setting along the narrow slid between these skyscrapers, engulfing them from the top with an orange glow that slowly spreads downwards. Because of the variety of building heights, each structure gets illuminated to a different extent and cast different lengths of shadows on others as they block the sun rays from penetrating. I was fortunate to catch the first moments of sunset against the Chicago skyline from afar. It was breathtaking. You’d wish you could hold on to it for eternity and not let it go.

I take my hat off to the brains behind all these architectural masterpieces. Each carries its own flavor, be it old-school Victorian or slick modern marvels. It’s so easy to not watch where you’re heading as you comb the streets, since you’re perpetually eyeballing everything around and above you except the road ahead. As if there wasn’t enough on my plate, I headed to Willis Tower that stands at 103 storeys high, boasting to have been the tallest building in the world for over 20 years. You’d feel like a midget against the crashing heights of city skyscrapers, but at the skydeck, those skyscrapers seem nothing more like little Lego structures. From the top, you can really see how every building is so perfectly constructed and neatly placed seemingly equidistant from each other. The little boats by the pier become tiny white speckles in the sea. You realize how insignificantly small you are in this world.

My impulsive decision to catch a concert by a renowned street dance company was no doubt a good choice. I never heard of them before but it’s dance so that can’t go wrong for a dance lover. It was contemporary, with a modern yet odd classical twist. Three stints in total, very captivating. The worst thing about contemporary is that I usually find it hard to comprehend what the story is behind the choreography, but ironically that’s also the best part because it makes the dance so open-ended and thought-provoking.

I have been on stage in dance concerts more times than sitting in the comfy theatre chairs, so I know exactly how those dancers feel. The blazing spotlights that seemingly switch colors and intensity magically, the squeaky sounds when you slide across the stage or turn on the ball of your feet against the non-slip flooring, and the anticipation and anxiety of response. The stage lights are often far too bright for you to make out anyone distinctly in the audience. Every person in the theatre can see every movement and facial expression you make, yet you can’t see any of theirs. On stage it feels like you’re in a different world, where you’re blind from sight. You can only trust your instincts and feel with your heart.

You want so badly to pull everything off perfectly, to give the audience everything you’ve got. And when you complete your performance and hear the roar of applause, it’s heartwrenching. So you smile at the darkness before you, the intensity of appreciation from the audience making every bit of energy spent worthwhile.

Those were the days.

What do you stay awake for?

It finally stopped raining, so glad! It’s still chilly though, hope I have layered enough to take the windy landscape.

Perfect start to the morning: up early for a warm sandwich with a cup of mocha latte. Sunday morning breakfast feeling. Tempted to make more progress with Hunger Games while sipping my coffee but knowing that I will get glued to it I’d better not. A lot of exploration work on my agenda today, can’t wait.