September 2nd, 2018

Charah coffee

(no subject)

I'm writing this from my new place in London--LONDON--with my feet and knees aching due to all the cleaning and unpacking and temporary storing of things that I've been doing the whole day. I have been too focused on the actual move to properly digest this new reality...doesn't really feel like reality yet, partly because I am going to Nice tomorrow (I really didn't plan this very well; what made me think it was a good idea go on a holiday two days after moving into a new place?!) and so it doesn't feel like I have moved to London yet; and partly because Etienne, bless his heart, was kind enough to hire a van and drive me and my stuff to London, and stick around while I was indecisive about how I wanted to arrange the (shitty) furniture in my room.

Right, there is a lot in that last sentence. Let me unpack (no pun intended) it a little. Now that I am aware of how many things I have to do, and ought to do, before 7 September, and now that I am aware of how much effort it is to move three years' worth of stuff from one city to another, my Nice trip is very ill-timed. Nonetheless, I love that place, I want to swim, I want to stuff my face with French pastries, especially le eclair au chocolat, and so I will go and relax and work on the journal articles at the same time, but probably not the research proposal for the Oxford fellowship. I really don't know what I'm interested in; at least, nothing concrete enough to make a decent, let alone amazing, research proposal. So why waste my time? But we will see. Maybe inspiration will miraculously strike when I'm swimming in the Med, looking out to the endless sea, contemplating life and the meaning of existence. That said, to be honest, I'm more interested in doing some proper writing...

As for the second part of the sentence: when I first entered the room, I was massively disappointed. I had the impression from the agent that all the furniture in the room belonged to the agency except the bookshelf. From what I remembered, the room had at least two wardrobes and they looked fairly decent; more importantly, the bed was very nicely decorated with two bedside tables and looked really cosy. When I entered the room, it looked nothing like what I saw. The bed was shoved into the corner when it was below the window when I viewed the room. There was only one old wardrobe and chest of drawers--not nearly enough storage space for my wide collection of clothes. There was no bookshelf, which I'd already expected, so no complaints there. The dining table suddenly looked ridiculous, for who ever wants a dining table in her room? The TV stand, a midnight black that swallowed all the colour from the room, looked like an eyesore. The only thing that I liked was the sofa.

So I tried to rearrange the furniture before unloading the van and I just couldn't think of how to make it work. I hated the bed in the corner, hated the wardrobe and drawers planted in the middle of the room. Thankfully, inspiration struck over dinner at a Lebanese restaurant nearby, and when we came back, I pushed the wardrobe and drawers to the side of the room and placed the bed in the middle of the room. I was thinking maybe I wanted the bed below the window like how the previous tenants arranged it, but Etienne convinced me not to because the light will stream directly into my face in the morning through the blinds and it would be difficult to sleep. So now I have the sofa against the wall beneath the window, which will make a great reading spot; the bed in the middle on one side of the room, and the dining table and TV stand on the opposite side.

Etienne suggested getting the agency to take away the TV stand. Apart from the cost of removal (I think it's 50 pounds) which I don't want to pay, I've devised a pretty good use for it: it has some shelves of sort, which I am temporarily using to store my books until I get a bookshelf, and which will make good storage spaces for my PhD files. What I'd wanted removed was the dining table but I've changed my mind. It'd be nice to eat on a proper dining table after three years of eating on a study desk.

The lack of a study desk isn't great but I will make do. I may also buy a wardrobe...ah, this place is costing so much money.

What I really do not like about the room, though, is that the smell of cooking from the neighbours drifts into my room whenever they cook. I hate the smell of food in my room, especially when I'm in bed like I am right now. I don't even know why people are cooking at midnight. I also very much doubt that shutting my window would make a difference, given that I only have it opened very slightly because the food smell was really strong yesterday and it was really dry and cold at night. This reminds me of my college room in my first year: the kitchen's extractor fan thing literally ventilated the kitchen right into my en-suite, which was right next to my bed. There was a housemate that loved cooking at 3am. Great stuff.

All that aside, I must record something amazing that I did today. I bought a bedside table from Argos, a cheap one (19 pounds), that requires self-assembly. I bought it despite not having either the tools or the experience with assembling furniture, thinking perhaps I could pay someone to do it for me, having in mind the hardware store around the corner that Etienne and I came across yesterday. I went there with the instructions manual in hand, and my first question to the owner was, 'Do you provide assembly services?'

He said no. Then I showed him the manual and he picked out the tools, assured me that the assembly was easy-peasy despite my repeated proclamations that I don't know anything about these things, that I would realise how easy it is after I have done it. 'You'll come back next week with a picture of it and say that you did it,' he said.

So I bought a hammer, a screwdriver with numerous different screws and a measuring tape. After a gruelling 1.5 hours during which I sat on my wooden floor and pushed and hammered and got a step wrong but managed to fix it after successfully yanking out a stuck wooden peg thing which elicited a 'COME ON!' from me, I assembled the bloody bedside table.



As is apparent from the photo, my fitting was neither precise nor proportionate. and the drawer doesn't slide very smoothly. But you know what? I don't even care. The sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when I put the pieces together and it works was the definite highlight of my day. The hardware store owner said, 'Don't underestimate yourself.' And so I thought, Yes, I will do this; I will do this despite never having done design & technology in secondary school and pretty much having never used a hammer or screwdriver, and do it I did, and this cheap-ass Argos bedside table will remain with me until my dying day.

...okay, no, I'm not going to ship a crappy 19 pounds back to Singapore, but the dramatic effect was nice, no?

What was also nice was this old man saying to me, 'You're looking good!' as I passed him on the street; getting checked out while walking along Kilburn High Road (such a boring high street! My area is boring! Typical Zone 2 London...zzz); and while he certainly wasn't flirting, the hardware store owner was quite hot. He wasn't even physically my type or particularly good-looking; he was bald (I don't like bald men), rather on the large side (I don't like fat men), and had a ring (I don't do married men). But it was the way he carried himself: helpful, friendly, but on a proper professional level.

I don't think that made sense. Why am I even trying to justify my finding a stranger hot? Actually, I know why: because it happens so infrequently! The last time I saw man and thought 'omg he's hot' was in May when I had dinner at the Rainbow with Raffie in Cambridge. This man had a biker sort of vibe...

Okay, this entry has gone to the dogs. I'm going to stop writing now and watch Jane the Virgin (Rafael is so hot, by the way; but I'm Team Michael forever. That said, I want a Rafael in my life who encourages me to write the way he encourages Jane to write!).
Charah coffee

In Nice

It was the rare occasion that I sat by the window on a plane; the control freak in me does not like anything but the aisle seat on flights that are more than two hours long. I do not like the feeling of being trapped in my seat, unable to get up, stretch my legs, go to the toilet, anytime I want; feeling trapped by the inconvenience and embarrassment of having to ask strangers next to me to kindly let me pass through a few times too many. It was a good thing, then, that the British Airways flight to Nice was only 1.5 hours, for I was allocated a window seat upon checking in and I did not want to pay 13 pounds to change my seat (I do find it jarring and incredible that these proper airlines are incorporating some elements of the business models of budget airlines); and it was all thanks to the window seat that I witnessed a pretty incredible sight during the flight's descent.

The setting sun painted the skies a dreamy pinkish hue the colour of candy floss. With a cavalier casualness, the sun infiltrated the clouds grey with oncoming rain; and now the clouds, infused with this incongruous saccharine pink, looked unreal, almost futuristic, like a computer-generated image in the style of Rene Magritte. Magritte's matter-of-fact lines and precisely defined contours, separating clearly the subject from its background; and this was what the clouds looked like as they glowed starkly, with a touch of the surreal, against a pink that evokes Monet's Houses of Parliament at sunset.

Of course, it is the other way around: Monet evokes the candied pink of the setting sun. It is nature that inspires us, for we cannot inspire what contains us. But I tend to forget; I am far removed from nature even as I cannot survive without it. I marvel at human genius and the beauty that it is capable of, forgetting all the time that it is nature for whom beauty is effortless--for whom, simply put, beauty is being.

*

It is fitting that I was reminded of this when touching down to Nice. The last time that I had a similar thought was almost exactly a year ago, swimming in the Med with my back to the Cote d'Azur, the Promenade des Anglais, and thinking about humans and nature, humans in nature. Alas, I cannot quite remember the exact content. I had written about it on the beach in between my swims. Essentially, I am always moved by reminders, usually brought about by my being in the sea, of how insignificant most of us are in the grander scheme of things. Even our efforts at making sense of existence, be it presupposing a god of sorts, or concluding that existence is simply that which is poor, nasty, brutish and short--what does Nature care? It goes on quietly in the background, putting in place the necessary conditions for us to scurry about like a headless chicken to make sense of all of this.

Perhaps it ultimately does not matter. Or perhaps the opposite might be more apposite: that it matters precisely because we have the capacity to scamper about and fret over the meaning of existence, unlike Nature that simply exists. Can we simply exist? Am I capable of simply existing?

I have spent a significant portion of my adult life feeling dissatisfied with my life and plagued by the urge to up and leave. I am a restless soul, I have been told. Perhaps more precisely: my effort to try, but fail, to make sense and something of my life had led to a largely unhappy three years of a PhD at Cambridge.

But now: perhaps it is because I can see a glimmer of the light at the end of the tunnel; or perhaps it is because I have moved to London; whatever it is, and despite the pressure of finding employment, I finally feel a sense of peace that has been missing from my life for the past two years. Perhaps it is also due to my letting go of the urge, the need, to find a romantic relationship and wanting to just be happy being the amazing person that I am me.

I want to live my life with a purpose. I want to be open to new experiences. I want to stare the meaninglessness of life in the face and rise above, to overcome, because, yes, that is what true freedom is: to be free to make and invent life in your own image, to choose to live despite your existentialist convictions, to live up to, and fulfill, the potential of the person capable of coming to these existentialist conclusions. Have I not always valued freedom? I have never really understood it, not even when I was enamoured with Kant's idea of freedom; but now, I think I finally get it.

*

Here is something I don't get: it is two times in a row now that I land in a place that's known for its warm weather, just to receive a warm welcome of an incongruent and surprising pissing rain. Pissing Rain was what greeted me when I landed in Treviso en route to Venice; rain was what greeted me today when we touched down at Nice (great landing, by the way; didn't even feel the impact. This pilot was amazing), and when I got off Bus 98, the rain was coming down pretty hard. I didn't bring an umbrella, naturally; this is a beach holiday and I did not anticipate any rain. So I had to drag my suitcase and my handbag in which contained my laptop in the pouring rain while trying to navigate with my phone. There were hardly any shelters on the way to the apartment but thankfully, it was a short 6-minute walk.

I really love this place. I had such a wonderful time here last year and I'm happy to be back. I'm staying in the main shopping area this time, which explains why my vegetarian thali dinner cost 18 euros; but this was the cheapest option that had two thins that I needed: easy beach access and a short-ish walk to the train station. It's also a bit closer to the Old Town. But honestly, Nice is so easy to get around. The buses/trams are convenient, and it's such a joy to walk along the promenade and feel the seabreeze and sun on your face, smell the salt water...it doesn't even feel crowded despite the tourist crowd (though perhaps it's worse in August).

I want to go to Menton this time. I was thinking of going to Juan les Pin again because the beach was AMAZING!!! but I think I should explore a new place. I shall do that on Tuesday. So exciting!