Then I heard someone call out to me. I stopped, turned, and saw him coming to a stop beside me.
'Hey,' I said. I couldn't place the sense of surprise, whether it was pleasant or not. It was definitely unexpected - and so was the jolt of familiarity that quickly gave way to distance, awkwardness.
He asked me how I was. I said that I was headed to the library to write my paper. He asked how that was going. I said that it was all right. I asked where he was off to. He said that he'd started taichi and was going to his taichi class. I asked where it was. He said that it was at [name of the road], which was 30 minutes away by foot. I said that that was brutal.
His nervousness and discomfort was on display in his body language. I could not help but respond to that; in other words, I wanted to leave as quickly as possible. So the conversation ended there, and I continued my way to the library, unsure of what to make of it, but being certain that I had to push it aside and finish what I had to finish tonight.
I finished the draft albeit sans conclusion. But something is better than nothing. And I don't know what to make of the encounter. I suppose there is nothing to make of it; it was just an encounter. But I had a distinct thought while continuing my way to the library: Why do I always feel a sense of repulsion at the thought of my ex-boyfriends? It is as if a part of me can't believe the choice that I made, and it is taking it out on the person in question, a wholly innocent party.
It is as if the cloud of the heady rush of initial romance dissipates, and I see clearly, and I see all the things that I knew from the start would go wrong, which I ignored because I am ruled by my emotions? I like how it feels to pursue something new? I like the attention? Maybe it's simply this: I am a selfish shitty person.
People are always more attractive from a distance. Perhaps that is why I feel invisible: if I can't even see another person, how can I expect him to see me?
On an entirely different note, my writing on communitarianism and Daniel A. Bell's theory of constitutive communities had me thinking about what I would consider to be my constitutive communal attachments. The idea is basically that our identities are constituted by some communities/communal attachments so strong that it defines our sense of who we are and it operates on a subconscious level to shape our identity, such that it anchors our sense of being and meaning. We would be lost and damaged if we ever tried to shed these constitutive communities.
In concrete terms, they can be things like your religion, your gender, your ethnicity, your nationality, your family. While I was reading and writing, I was (obviously) thinking about the issue and how true it was for me; and I realised that, apart from family (which I don't think I consider a constitutive community but I'm not sure yet), the only thing that I consider and feel to be constitutive of my identity is my nationality. It is not my ethnicity, or my lack of religion, not even the fact that I am a woman; it is the fact that I am a Singaporean.
It is really the strangest realisation that I have made in a long time. I have a love-hate relationship with Singapore. I have spent the significant parts of my adult life either wishing to get out of Singapore, or actually getting out of Singapore. I consider patriotism a deeply irrational and therefore silly sentiment, and I would be the last person in the world to call myself a patriot.
But Bell is right about one thing: you feel a sense of allegiance to a nation not because it adheres to your preferred principles of justice or because it respects individual rights, but because of a sense of a particular shared history, shared tradition, shared culture. As much as I dislike the relative lack of freedom in Singapore, I could never give up my nationality and become a British citizen, for instance; even though I like liberal societies as a general rule, these abstract notions of the right do not produce a sense of belonging. I would never feel as at home in any other country as I do in Singapore (nevermind for the moment that sometimes I don't really feel at home in Singapore for various reasons). More importantly, the parts of myself that have been moulded and defined by my being Singaporean will never be eradicated or fundamentally changed by a new nationality.
Bell is also right to say that we can never really articulate what these constitutive attachments really entail. I can say a few things about being Singaporean: I love food; Singlish is probably my first language if it were a proper language; I truly believe in multiracialism; I also truly believe that it is masochistic to walk outdoors for more than five minutes, and that alfresco dining areas are only for ang mohs; and sometimes, being kiasu is entirely legitimate if you really want something to happen.
But I struggled to even come up with that list. All I know is that being a Singaporean goes to the very root of who I am. Maybe this is the answer to the culture clash between East and West that I have felt for the past decade and a half. I am Chinese on the outside, and I am Chinese to some extent, but I don't think in my own language or like my culture; I don't even know my culture as well as I know parts of a foreign one. So I am not really Chinese, but then, I am obviously not Western, either. Maybe, just like Singapore, I am neither Asian or Western; I am just Singaporean. Do I need to define myself beyond that? Isn't this an interesting question?
I'm going to the law faculty tomorrow to print my draft and amend it. I find it so much easier to rewrite and redraft on a hard copy. I have printing credit there anyway, so it won't come out of my own pocket.
I will do no work on the paper this weekend. I think I'll go to a cafe to read and do some non-PhD writing. That would be nice, wouldn't it?
(Title of entry from Sarah Blasko's 'I Am Ready')