31 July 2017

It’s August! But barely – it’s 1.19am now, so you could say we’ve just stepped into the month.

That’s how I started off this new post before I realised that it was actually 31 July. My concept of day and night – and time itself – has been blurred due to my very peculiar, very irregular, and very taxing duty schedule.

I start another week of day duties in a few hours, which I’m quite ambivalent about. I’d say this mix of feelings is more or less overwhelmed by anxiety. They’re being ridiculously strict as of late and the processes are perpetually getting more and more complicated – unnecessarily.

None the less, je dois y faire face. I’m just glad I have a team of fellow conscripts who are good friends and competent workers, and some officers who are always kind and understanding. Good people make life so much easier.

 

Pulau Ubin

Speaking of my team, we had an outing to Pulau Ubin on Wednesday, the 26th, and it was a blast. We invited EH along too. Although he’s not in our team, he used to be, and he’s a great friend of mine after doing 14 months of duty together, a fact I highlight with much eagerness, since I’m always so amazed by the scary passage of time. We all met up at the bus interchange in Changi Village. Unsurprisingly, most of us were late and we only converged at 11.30 when the schedule was 10.30! EC accidentally went to the wrong ferry terminal and had to taxi himself over while we waited in the right one.

The first item on our itinerary was brunch at the seaside zi char place. It’s essentially a dilapidated – and I use that word in the most charming way possible – little building with an adjoining tent and lots of plastic tables and chairs on a rickety platform reaching the seaside. It’s shaded by lush greenery on both sides, but opposite the end facing the sea, it opens up into the village full of bicycle rentals and pavements leading into the jungle-esque trails of the island.

Approaching from the mainland, a storm beckoned. The sky grew dark and the wind cold. This gradually escalated into howling winds that, it seemed, threatened to blow the entire establishment away. Within the duration of our meal, we had to change seats two times to avoid the nascent rain. But it was all awesome. We agreed that the rural atmosphere, no matter how storm-drenched, beat that of the office, and just being there instead of the office was so uplifting. All good moods.

We cycled for hours and trekked into crevices, over roots and under branches, out onto rocky arms that reached for the sea… And took photos – lots of them. Some of the best experiences were the steep downhill slopes. The exhilaration of the speed and strong wind shooting against you are well worth the on-and-off fear of losing control, crashing, and dying. We also went up the observation tower that my brother and I had climbed up back in 2015. It was so much easier this time because I wasn’t starving. I’d also like to believe that my legs are stronger now thanks to all the running I’ve been doing.

On the trail, we joked about how this experience would be if we were in our military gear, and kept calling K and D “combat fit” since they were handling the trek with the most ease. (“Combat fit” means that based on physical health and fitness, a conscript is fit to enter combat during war-time. Combat fit soldiers are associated with military competence, tough physical training, buffness, and swagger.)

Here’s an Instagram post I made about the trip:

<blockquote class=”instagram-media” data-instgrm-version=”7″ style=” background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:658px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% – 2px); width:calc(100% – 2px);”>

<p style=” color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px; margin-bottom:0; margin-top:8px; overflow:hidden; padding:8px 0 7px; text-align:center; text-overflow:ellipsis; white-space:nowrap;”><a href=”https://www.instagram.com/p/BXAdOUwBn5n/&#8221; style=” color:#c9c8cd; font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; line-height:17px; text-decoration:none;” target=”_blank”>A post shared by Wesley Lincoln (@wesleymlincoln)</a> on <time style=” font-family:Arial,sans-serif; font-size:14px; line-height:17px;” datetime=”2017-07-26T10:53:40+00:00″>Jul 26, 2017 at 3:53am PDT</time></p></div></blockquote>
//platform.instagram.com/en_US/embeds.js

 

Grinding for those Grades

My journey towards my French, German, and Chinese exams continues. I have about two months left to prepare, and I also feel ambivalent about that. The anxiety-stricken part of me says I’m going to crash and burn, and end up going into the exam halls without proper preparation and screw up. The small, optimistic and sound-minded part of me says I can get through this and finish the journey soaring.

Of course, each day is a raging battle between these two roughly-defined portions of my psyche.

I’ve been practicing writing French a lot. Just today I decided that I should write a short passage about my day every other day at least. It can be about anything, because true mastery of a language is the ability to write anything, isn’t it? For today, I wrote about a documentary I watched with my father yesterday. It’s about Australian agriculture experts going to Nepal to help impoverished farmers. I felt proud of myself because I knew some of the terms I needed to know, like l’agriculteur, le taux de productivité and such. Obviously my knowledge is far from perfect, but having building blocks like these is a start.

I need to ride on this sort of optimism for all three languages because my moods are way too volatile. Sometimes I listen to people speaking French and get very demoralised and feel very inadequate because I can’t understand what they’re saying – I only catch small fragments of speech – and I can’t speak like they can. This sense of inadequacy is really damaging because it makes me feel like these endeavours are worthless. Otherwise I try to rethink my techniques and panic because two months is not enough time to restart the process of learning using another new method. I have to stay away from that slippery slope and focus on the here and now.

 

Tick.Ninja

K recently told me to check out a website called Tick.Ninja. It’s a free online repository of study materials for all sorts of exams, but mainly the national ones. I saw ‘H2 French’ under the ‘A’ Level section and lost it. I was practically (literally) yelling in excitement.

As it turns out, Tick.Ninja is an endeavour by some of his friends to build an online pool of resources for students. I heard K talking to ES about it before. He’s helping them promote the website and was really keen to introduce it to me. It looks like a worthwhile project to me and I decided to design some icons for their links, and K says his friend, who initiated the project, liked them. I’m super excited! I want to share some of my notes there too.

 

Philosophy

Kurzgesagt on YouTube recently uploaded a video titled “Optimistic Nihilism”, which is the channel’s philosophy. It is essentially a worldview that perceives universe – existence itself – as void of any meaningful purpose, that it will one day come to a complete end, leaving oblivion. It also establishes that the story of the universe may not be centred around us humans, and that our presence in this realm is but an insignificant fraction of existence. The authors say this may have been the biggest “practical joke”.

 

But the “optimistic” aspect is what appeals to me – it puts forward the idea that because oblivion will follow this current existence, the mistakes, shame, and evil that we have seen and even done ourselves, will cease to matter, and that we should focus on making meaning of life ourselves. And that makes so much sense to me.

Of course, some might misunderstand the nihilistic aspect as thoughtlessness and recklessness – an excuse for madness, caprice, inhumanity, evil. I prefer to see it as a blank canvas where the human mind is the tool to make sense. There are, of course, other frames through which we can see the world, like religion and spirituality, but these are but frames. After all, all that we think, believe, say, and do are products of our own minds, not inherent elements of the canvas that is our universe.

I also see optimistic nihilism as a means for liberty of morality: a reminder that conventional morals are societal constructs, and that not all of them are necessarily right or rightly necessary. That’s what wars are fought over, I would say, and you could say that it makes this philosophy dangerous, admittedly. That’s where I stick to optimism. Besides, I would like to believe my worldviews are mature and complex enough that they can’t be summed up in a paragraph or two, so don’t take this as the sum total of my beliefs.

 

Music

K and I have been listening to lots of Westlife music during night duties. It brings back so many childhood memories since Mom used to love Westlife a lot. Of course there’s other music we listen to, like “RedBone” by Childish Gambino. I don’t understand the song because I can’t catch any of the lyrics, but it’s really chill and has a comforting sort of vibe to it. The very apt album art baffles me. I haven’t tried to find meaning in it (whether through contemplation or research), but I would rather be haunted by the image than spoil the illusion by dissection.

 

Languages

As of late, I came across Luxembourgish, a West Germanic language with less than 400,00 speakers. I saw an Instagram post by Erik Mardes with a caption and comments in the language, and I was fascinated by it. I could pick out some words that I understood because they’re close to German. I haven’t heard it spoken, though. I might explore it after my exams. Maybe I’ll add a Luxembourgish column to my table of Germanic words!

 

It’s 2am now. I have to be up in four hours, so it’s probably best if I go to sleep.

Au revoir.

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