I am seated at a desk in Minerva, one of the few reading rooms at NTU open for most part of the day. It’s a regular Friday evening, few fellow inhabitants in attendance, tapping away into keyboards or staring at monitors. There is a loud cheering noise in the background, which I presume is being echoed in most parts of the campus thanks to the freshman orientation camps. Boisterous groups of freshmen rove about the campus, lending their participation into a multitude of activities, all aimed at bonding within the cohort.
A little more than 2 years have passed since I arrived in Singapore, 2 years and 15 days to be precise. I’ve been wondering of late, about my time here, especially the last year leading up to my present situation. It’s funny, how in hindsight, circumstances can look silly, even a touch comic. It all began when I was completing my Master’s thesis, roughly about the same time last year. Every day, I’d go the CAE lab trying to figure out the intricacies of performing a computer aided simulation, on a piezoelectric cantilever. Most of the time, I’d have no clue what I was doing, let alone know what I wanted to do in the first place. The analysis would for mostly result in these bizarre curves, many orders of magnitude from the expected results. Evenings would arrive, always leaving me at a stage slightly worse off than where I’d started. Simulation, if it has taught me anything, is that patience is indeed a virtue (gritting my teeth)!!
Next, there was the predicament connected with job applications. Hours spent filling up countless forms, attaching CVs and waiting for interview calls which of course, never came. Singapore is an expensive city to live in, not exactly ideal for an unemployed mechanical engineer with dwindling finances. The oil and gas industry had hit rock bottom; the manufacturing sector wasn’t looking good either. Adding on to this were the strict laws enforced by the government on the employers, concerning the ratio of locals to foreigners amongst the employees. None of my applications ever yielded any result. For the record, I didn’t even land a single interview call. My confidence level had plummeted to an all-time low; I was quickly running out of cash. Having worked for a few years previously, I was averse to asking my parents for finances. It was around this point I realized I needed some kind of part time employment to sustain myself. I tried various jobs ranging from e-commerce to selling magnetic mattresses. I must confess I almost laughed at my pathetic situation. Here I was, a graduate mechanical engineer with prior work experience in a world-renowned organization, selling mattresses for a living. My mum and I made light of this, comparing my situation to that faced by a character in an old Malayalam film “T.P Balagopalan MA”. The role enacted by none other than Mohanlal, depicts the plight of a middle-class postgraduate reduced to selling wallpapers, thanks to the near impossibility of finding a better job at the time. It didn’t take me very long to realize I was a hopeless salesman. It was after I completed my thesis I finally found a job more suited to my taste, as a science tutor at a private organisation, catering to students of international schools.
Things were looking slightly better, and it suddenly hit me that I hadn’t been paying much attention to my significant other. We’d drifted apart the last couple of weeks and this gap had festered getting worse as days passed. It has always a flaw of mine, that I turn cold and retreat into my shell when assailed by uncertainty. My taciturnity, frostiness and sombre moods had driven her away, leaving our relationship in shambles. The end inexorably arrived and we parted ways. The next few months were quite the emotional roller-coaster, the time which I presume most lovers go through; the aftermath of a shattered relationship. The phase of should haves and could haves; the permutations and the combinations of decisions which might have changed things for the better; the phase of self-reproach, knowing there is nothing you can do, and yet attempting to, making things all the worse. Now, this brings me to one of Steven’s quotes, one which really struck me at the time:
“I love you still, but with your death I succumbed to a kind of infatuation. I convinced myself that what you and I had, so very briefly, was of far vaster and deeper import than it truly was. Of all the weapons we chose to turn upon ourselves, guilt is the sharpest, Silverfox. It can carve one’s own past into unrecognizable shapes, false memories leading to beliefs that sow all kinds of obsessions.”
― Steven Erikson, Memories of Ice
I won’t say I’ve gotten over it all, those myriad memories of us together, which for some reason appear so much sweeter in retrospect. But yes, there is some kind of closure there now, a full stop which comes at a point you realize you have a choice; you either move on, or you remain a chronically grieving fool, forever wallowing in the misery of unrequited love.
Okay, now before this starts sounding like a column dedicated to agony aunt, I must say things did get better eventually. Well, not quite how I’d wanted them to turn out, but that’s life for you, doling out lessons when you least expect them. These phases I went through, I am quite sure, are in no way unique or exclusive to me. Of course, it’s a horrid place to be in, but nothing like a few lessons from the University of hard knocks to anneal you to the vagaries of life, eh? Selling mattresses was a big deal? This friend of mine used to shovel snow in the blistering cold to earn his cash while he was studying.
I will not say the last year has left me any wiser, but it sure has shown me how foolish and short-sighted I can be most of the time. It has also shown me how valuable family and friends are, when trying to sail your way through difficult circumstances. Most importantly, it has given me a glimpse of how unpredictable and transient, life really is, which brings me to yet another quote, this time by the immortal Maugham.
“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it. If change is of the essence of existence one would have thought it only sensible to make it the premise of our philosophy.”
― W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge
Time really does heal all wounds, which reminds me that it’s time I left! Enough for a Friday, eh? Cheers!