I’ve left a drought of posts for the past month.
I would describe the past three to four weeks as really difficult, even though there isn’t much by means of “concrete” hardship to cite. That’s my very eccentric “artistic” way of saying that there haven’t been tangible problems objectively present – simply fears and worries lurking in my anxious and depressed psyche. I’d say they come mainly from work and my exams.
Work is a complete nightmare. It’s draining, toxic, and fruitless. Last week was probably the hardest and most draining week in recent memory, but I don’t have the mental energy or mood right now to describe what happened.
In the beginning I was very passionate about it, but I now feel like I was simply naive and saw the whole environment and job through rose-coloured lenses. I was ready to extend my service voluntarily (I’m a conscript right now) but that very idea seems like a joke now. I’m having one of those feelings of being overwhelmed – you know when you have a hundred examples of things you want to write down and explain that you start typing very clumsily, overlapping thoughts and ideas? Yes, that’s me right now, because I have about a million grievances to pour out when it comes to work.
I guess I should focus on the positive: like the fact that I have a few good superiors and many good fellow conscripts who just ease the pain. I’m lucky to be in a duty team of people who are accommodating and, for the most part, familiar to me. When you’re in a team with people for duty, you essentially share your lives: sleeping patterns, mealtimes, and obviously, work. They become your second family, basically – whether you like it or not. So it helps a lot that my team is full of wonderful people.
All I can do now is buckle down and try to make it through the next four months and I’ll be a civilian again, and I’ll just have to look forward to going back to school. It’s hard to keep a low profile in my unit because I’m one of the most senior conscripts, and also the leader. If things go “right”, I’m supposed to become a Corporal First-Class in September, which only means more will be expected of me and I can’t just keep to a corner in silence.
Meanwhile, as you know very well by now (“you” being a hypothetical reader who actually cares to read the boring stuff I put here), I’m juggling three foreign languages and have exams all through October and into the first week of November. I’ve been studying every single day, and these languages practically flow through my veins right now. But my problem is my lack of confidence. I would say that I am well-prepared for the written exams in French and German, and I’m on my way there for Chinese.
But the speaking exams are what get to me. I’m not a good speaker. Even with English, my first language, I took many years to be able to converse naturally. Obviously I don’t mean daily colloquial conversations about going to the store, or talking to friends and family casually. I mean high-level conversations about social issues, speaking on stage, talking to colleagues and teachers… It’s a social skill. Linguistically, I’m confident enough to say that I have no problem, and, at risk of sounding conceited, to say that I know things most people don’t even care to know. But it’s the social skill I needed (and, I occasionally find, still need) to develop. Sometimes I don’t know what’s appropriate to say, or if a response is really necessary. I struggle to read emotions sometimes, and sarcasm tends to escape me (not always, though). For a period of time I was actually convinced that I was on the autism spectrum (I hope I’m not confusing that with another condition).
Anyway, the whole deal about exams is stressing me out. That was the point I was getting at, but I got carried away talking about talking.
Dinner and a Show
Well, it was really lunch, but nobody says, “lunch and a show,” do they?
Last Saturday, the 20th, my brother brought my parents and me out for lunch at Seoul Garden, a buffet-style Korean barbecue restaurant to celebrate his first paycheck. He’s signed on to the army as an ammunition specialist, and he just completed his course and graduated. (More on that later.)
I’d only been to Seoul Garden once before. At each table, you have a grill and two hotpots of boiling soup to cook your own food, and the buffet spread is huge and full of all sorts of things. There’s fish, chicken and beef in all sorts of marinates – about 20 types in total, I’d estimate. Then comes seafood: prawns, crabs, shellfish. There’s also ready-to-eat selections like fries, samosas, and kimbap. The dessert section has ice-cream, brownies, cakes, mochi, and an ice-shaving machine for your to prepare your own patbingsu, similar a dessert called ice kachang in Singapore.
I was really depressed and anxious that day (I’ll tell you why later). I was also worried that we’d leave food behind. It’s pretty common here – people take more food than they can eat and end up leaving piles of uncooked or uneaten food on their table when they leave. I even recall there being a sign saying that you would be charged extra by weight of uneaten food. But my brother said it was only for extreme cases. Either way, I was getting really (irrationally) worried that we would leave food behind. Firstly it was because I felt like we’d be totally judged by the employees, but more importantly because I hate wasting food. I’ve made it my “life mission” to save wasted food from my workplace, in fact. (I’m never able to save everything, but each less piece of perfectly good fruit thrown away makes a difference, right?)
This whole process of internal agonising sprouted a rather poetic rant that I sent to YW over WhatsApp – I was brooding with my phone under the table rather than enjoying the meal. I feel like it is quite an accomplishment and also good philosophical food for thought, so here are some screencaps of the conversation:
Thankfully, we left without any uneaten food on the table. I was so glad.
Later on, we went to watch “Annabelle: Creation”. It was amazing. The effects and character design for the demon more than made up for the predictability of some of the scenes and events. For example, there was a decrepit wheelchair lift alongside the staircase in the house where the movie takes place, brought back to life to accommodate the main character, a girl who is wheelchair-bound. That, to me, was such a clear horror device and you could tell there was an impending scene where she’s stuck on the lift while being chased by some supernatural villain.
Nonetheless, as I said, I loved the movie. It has a good plot that ties in with the “Conjuring” and “Annabelle” universes. “The Nun” is set to be released in 2018, which I’m anticipating too. It will (I believe – I’m no expert) close the entire loop formed by the three franchises. The Nun is also horrifically grotesque and eerie, which makes me want so badly to see a spinoff based on it. Or her. Also, for friends of smaller constitutions (i.e. my gang), please do not Google “the Nun” or “Valak” (which is the name of the demon that appears as the Nun). You have been warned.
Here is where I delve into something really personal.
The reason why I was so anxious that day was because, when we were leaving home to eat at Seoul Garden, I couldn’t find any of my black T-shirts. 95% of my regular wardrobe consists of plain black T-shirts, and the rest of my clothes are for exercising. I have some red and green T-shirts (the latter are my Junior College jerseys) which I tend to wear for exercise or as a last resort. Now for some reason, I began to panic at the thought of having to wear one of those. It was supposed to be a special night and I wanted to dress little nicer, or, to at least feel that I looked alright.
I wear black because my body isn’t how I’d like it to look. Black hides all the shadows and it gives the illusion that you’re a little more slender than you really are. And you can’t see the line between the T-shirt and black pants, hiding the fact that the T-shirt is really longer than it should be (which would make you look really disproportionate with a way-too-long torso and way-too-short legs).
That’s why I always wear black.
The truth is, I hate my body. I just hate the way I look. And sound. On a good day, I think I have good facial features. But mostly I just hate looking in the mirror and I especially resent the idea of having my picture taken. Do not fucking take my picture. Unless it’s a group photo and I can hide behind somebody. And unless I’m the one holding the camera.
As an adult man (I feel like a boy or teenager, really) it’s quite embarrassing to admit this. Society says men are supposed to be confident and strong, and not emotional. Society says women are the weak and vain ones who need to care about their appearances. And while I don’t believe this and things in general are changing gradually, it’s still hard to admit. Even without the stigma and gender roles, it’s hard to admit a weakness like that.
Typing it out on a blog is one thing, but saying it to your family is another. That’s why I struggled so badly when my brother suggested that we go clothes shopping after Seoul Garden because he’d seen me struggling to find clothes earlier on. I got all angsty and grumpy. Don’t get me wrong – I really, really appreciate my brother’s kind gesture. But I reacted really badly, mainly because I couldn’t vocalise why I didn’t want to go shopping. I didn’t want to go there and see something I liked, only to see that it wasn’t available in my size. And worst of all, I didn’t want to go into a changing room and stand in front of a mirror.
With my parents and brothers insisting and me lacking an excuse I dared to verbalise, we did end up shopping. I did manage to find a few T-shirts I liked, which made me feel really silly after all the fuss, but the issues still stand.
Nevertheless I’m trying harder to lose weight, which is the only real solution I see to the problem. I encourage body positivity and self-esteem, but they aren’t things that work for me. And I do admit that being overweight is unhealthy. I’ve been running as much as I possibly can – four times this week. I’m also eating veggies in wraps and cutting out snacks. The physical activity also helps in another way by getting happy hormones running through my veins. It gives a boost when it comes to studying, so I hope I’ll be alright. I believe I will be. If it’s not too audacious a claim to make, then I’d say that after surviving what I’ve been through, I can survive today’s challenges too.
K and I went out to Orchard on Wednesday evening after work. (That was the 23rd.) He wanted to get a book from Kinokuniya called “The Power of Meaning: Creating a Life that Matters” by Emily Esfahani Smith. We’d come across it previously while he was looking for “Reality Frame” by Brian Clegg, which he ultimately didn’t get. I love the cover design, though the topic isn’t something I’ve explored before. (But I’d read anything.)
We went to Times Bookstore before that, with E who was in Orchard for an appointment. There, I got “Algorithms to Live By” by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths, as well as “The Subtle Art of not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson. (You can imagine what inspired me to get the second.) I had vouchers from this year’s National Day goodie bag, so I saved some money on them. Anyway, K also found the Emily Smith book there and got it from there instead.
But we still went ahead to Kinokuniya and browsed for a bit. I looked at the French section to realise that there are way more titles there, including one by George Orwell. That made me ask if they have the French version of Nineteen Eighty-Four, but it’s out of stock.
After looking at books, we headed to a Mexican-style restaurant at 313 Somerset for dinner. The nocturnal ambience in the area is gorgeous and I particularly like the atmosphere in 313 Somerset. It’s like Clarke Quay, but indoors, and with more nightclub-like lighting – not that I have any experience with nightclubs. They look so hot and claustrophobic to me.
Lastly we explored 313 Somerset, which is really a huge ten-storey shopping mall with decor like a hotel. I’d gallivanted around the complex with MB before so I knew there was a way to get onto the roof from the tenth story, so we headed there – and managed to find the rooftop exit! The wind was howling and the city looked breathtaking. It was an assemblage of ebony structures bejeweled in gold, amber and azure. The rooftop overlooked an open garden-type area of the adjacent hotel, with smaller alleyways extending out further below.
It was a scene that inspired poetry and philosophising, and boy did I philosophise! (Reading this whole thing, I can’t help but feel really boring. Is my writing dry? Are you falling asleep? Well, I know I am, because it’s 3am. So I pray you forgive me if I bore you too.)
We also rode a huge escalator leading to a pseudo-11th floor (?) before heading back down and going home.
Music and Literature
A few weeks ago, I discovered the music of Wincent Weiss. I really enjoy it – it’s soothing and clean, and also a lovely acoustic display of the German language. Here’s some of his music videos.
I also like some other German artists like Mark Forster and Helene Fischer.
I came across this gem, called “Canzone Per Te” (Song for You) by Il Volo. It’s a gorgeous blend of opera and pop, and I had to share it with A. I miss hearing her sing – I’ve only heard her perform opera live twice, and she naturally doesn’t have many opportunities to organise concerts while studying in university. The song evokes so many emotions, from yearning and retirement to hopefulness in the rising melody at 1:15. A pointed out how modern drum sets sound out of place with operatic vocals, which I understand, but I like the combination.
In terms of literature, I’ve been spree-reading modern novels, specifically ones targeted at young adults. The language is lighter and easier, and you can speed through pages without having to decode the meaning of long convoluted sentences. So while I thoroughly love the classics, I’m happy devouring these modern titles too. Currently I’m reading “Carry On” by Rainbow Rowell. Funny story: I told K I had a feeling that the characters were gay, solely based on the cover illustration. There’s nothing in the synopsis, title, or reviews to suggest this, but it turns out I was right! I find that hilarious, somehow. In the past month I’ve also read:
- “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (2012) by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (Secret: turns out that Aristotle and Dante were gay too.)
- “Sektion 20” (2011) by Paul Dowswell
- “The Prince of Mist” (1993) by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
And I’m thinking of getting some titles from Book Depository:
- “Anything Could Happen” (2015) by Will Walton
- “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (French version, 1948) by George Orwell
- “Le Monde de Narnia : le Cheval et son écuyer” (1954) by C. S. Lewis (Translation of “The Chronicles of Narnia: the Horse and his Boy”)
I guess I’ll be off now. I’ll probably study a little if I can stay awake, then read a little in bed and pass out.