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Some Time of Solitude

September 4, 2006

I made a pact with myself not to go to church. Having nothing to do on a Sunday was too much to bear, especially since I have faithfully gone to church, under duress from the parents, every Sunday for the past 20 years. To escape from this circle of self-doubt,  I stepped out of the house with a vague impression of what I needed to do – go to Changi Village to eat some nasi lemak.

It was too early to go home after my meal, so I had to kill more time. I crossed the bridge over the inlet that separates the stalls from the small lovely beach, and walked along the strand. I took off my slippers, and felt tiny daggers of sand on my soles. I checked my handphone – nothing. I checked my watch – still too early. So I walked more, till I came to a small clearing where everything was perfect, and I realised how much my life depended on having something – anything – to do: waiting for email, checking my handphone messages, compiling this Spreadsheet, rushing home, reading a book, chatting with friends. I hadn’t done nothing – absolutely nothing, goalless and guileless nothing – in a long time. Not since before I enlisted, and time was not yet so precious.

So I sat down on the grass and did nothing. Well, technically I did something. I sat on the grass. I basked shamelessly, like a lazy lizard in the sun. I overheard bits of conversation – fishing line, fishing technique, fish bait. I saw, in the corner of the horizon, like a mistakenly and deceptively benign growth, the entrance to Pulau Tekong, where the Basic Military Training Schools are located, and wondered how I could have survived 5 weeks there the first time, and 7 weeks the second. I sat right underneath the spot where planes fly over to land at Changi Airport, and observed the underbellies of planes, a small miracle. (KLM has a decal in the corner which says ‘The Flying Dutchman’.)

And then I lay down on the grass, and felt tiny daggers of grass on my back. ‘Life, London, this moment of June’ – somehow Woolf seemed so relevant, even though this wasn’t London nor June. Lying on my back staring into the sky I saw a perfect taut palette of blue, which was so pure it pained my eyes. Behind that lay the universe and mysterious black, that unknowable and unknowledgeable entity that scientist are trying to compartmentalize. (Does Pluto care if it no longer is a planet?) And then it struck me how huge it was, the sky, and realised how necessary it was for us to construct myths to explain how big it was, and how small we were, and how even till today we continue our mythmaking efforts by explaining it all through science.

I sat for half an hour, till I felt like I needed a cempedak goreng.

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One comment

  1. read this:
    http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?041129fa_fact1



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