Exchanging This City for That Town
By Lee Wei Fen
They say you spend the rest of the year the way you ushered in the New Year— I spent mine spread eagled with you, drinking soup.
This is the end of Touch, the beginning of sight and sound and words until we meet again. On the other hand, I am looking forward to street names that will slowly grow familiar, yoghurt brands I'll grow fond of and dependable upon; a new map of spatial memory, a city learnt like braille.
In the plane I spend three minutes memorising my new address, stumbling over the postal code. Another three wondering if there is a bath tub.
I have been here for a week, seven days and 23 hours. I bought a bicycle so I can fit like a puzzle into this town. Yesterday, I cycled with a new friend along the school roads and it felt like something out of a French song, only I don't know French. I sit with my bike out in the fields all the time now, basking not only in the sunlight of winter's cold but of the winter's cold in sunlight, the very thing I think about all the time in Singapore's tropical heat: the ability to tumble right out of class into the grass, to sleep in the shade and wake up warm, to have clothes that protect and not smother.
Tonight: spent a few seconds staring into the sky wishing you were here, then licked my fingers clean.
The messier my room gets, the more it feels like home. I am slowly colonising parts of these bare walls and furniture, especially the floor. This space is the only stake I lay claim to in this town, the only place I can truly call my own. I take a photo of the new walls, and juxtapose it with old photos I have. Colours I am forgetting, walls I have not thought about for a while. Side by side they look strangely familiar.
When I first arrived from the city to this town it drove me crazy. Since then, I have grown fond of it part by part step by step. I find little things to amuse myself with, hidden spaces to learn to love. The train station where people only enter and exit has become my new world. One Saturday night I turned a corner from youth and beauty dancing on G Street; sat by the tracks watching trains brush past my face loud and unapologetic, a cat next to me. It felt like being sixteen again: it felt clean.
By the time the first month rolls around, we are living the small town life of house parties and quiet conversations and yellow light, recognizing people on the street and waitresses from school. It is a lego world, self contained and sunny.
I have been living here more than thirty days now, living so hard knowing I won't be back for a long while. Thinking of endings right at the beginning makes every moment stand out sharper and clearer—the wasp buzzing in my ear, my face to the sky, the wind blowing everything behind me. On my bike path home there is a major turn where the skies change completely and the stars are flung all over—then I cycle furiously out of fear of the dark, my head upturned.
I love the anonymity of being an exchange student, how it is an excuse for every single thing that goes wrong or right.
The days here keep sliding gently, a tenor moving quietly from A to G.
I met a boy without intending to. The first time I saw him he was wearing pants outlined with blinking lights. The second time I saw him, I asked him what is your soul made of?
A new month creeps up and now it is March, and the days are getting longer. I track the weather like I track change, unpeeling layers of an hourly guide, obsessed with the cold.
I never understood seasons till I arrived here, never understood the perpetual longing for sunshine, the living in the future tense of spring. I am trying to live desperately and sometimes it works but sometimes it does not. Sometimes, living desperately means staying in bed all morning watching the rain ripple puddles on the tarmac outside; just because I can, just because back home my window is not next to my bed. Does that make sense? I am living desperately according to differences, tracing the dots between here and there, home and home, you and me.
The spaces have changed. I understand the downtown grid now, pay homage to road names. Some things remain static, like the golden evenings. There are still no good Asian places to eat at.
My new favourite time of the day is six pm because it shines as I bike round the bend of South Davis squinting to the beat of post-rock, knees in clockwork motion.
It seems this is how I have adopted this town: inhabiting your habits, following the trails of your mind; making love on the sheets of your streets, learning to kiss at stop signs. This town was never mine. Most days I want to disappear into the glare of the sun, into the rush of traffic below.
This is what I will miss: the cold on my skin flying slowly on a bicycle under a cloudy mess of a sky. Biking along Russell Boulevard at sunset. Infinite tarmac.QLRS Vol. 9 No. 1 Jan 2010