Charah coffee

Mercedes-Benz World Half Marathon

I'm sitting in E's living room, a dull ache in my legs, feeling a residual euphoria, the sort that gets triggered by the release of the relevant hormone or whatever when one exercises. The sort, indeed, that I have rode on now in the aftermath of a half marathon, overpowering the fatigue and making me feel pretty damn good.

I ran the Mercedes-Benz World Half Marathon in Weybridge (somewhere in Surrey, close to Heathrow) this morning. It was a four-lap race on a racing track in, obviously, Mercedes Benz World. I can honestly say that, out of the four half marathons that I have completed, the only one that was more brutal was the one in Singapore - and that's more or less entirely due to the tough weather condition back home.

The first thing that I said to E today, immediately after I finally crossed the damn finish line, was, 'That was really tough.' And it was. It was a combination of things: running four laps which means passing the finish three times before finally finishing; the 99.99% unshaded route, which wasn't fun at all because it wasn't cloudy enough today and there was way too much sun; the wind, free to blow unobstructed all over the racing track, surrounded by wide open spaces, and needing more effort than normal to run against it; and my confusion after the first lap, my GPS telling me that I'd hit 5km when I was 1km away from the end of the first lap, then realising later that we ran an extra distance at the start that wasn't part of the lap, so no, I wasn't off by 1km like I'd thought.

The confusion over distance messed up my pacing. Since I thought I was 1km slower than I really was, I started speeding up - and I sped up earlier than I'd wanted. I started off really relaxed, running at a comfortable pace, and the plan was to gradually increase the pace to something close to my max and maintain it for the middle of the race. But nope, that plan did not come to fruition. I don't know how much of my speeding up earlier than I'd planned contributed to the absolute leadenness of my legs at the final lap, but wow, my legs felt terrible. I think I hit the wall even before 18 or 19km; it was something like 14.5 or 15km. It honestly took a lot of concentration and mental effort to keep going and not start walking, or even just drop out of the race. I can't even begin to say how many times I'd thought of quitting the race. When the sun was blazing down on me; when the wind was blowing in my face; when I reached the end of the third lap and hoped in futility that it was actually my final lap...

I like to laugh at the Brits and their overreaction to slightly warm weather, such as reports of a 'heat wave' at the London Marathon last year when temperatures reached an extreme high of 22 degrees celsius. And while I still find their overreaction quite hilarious, I can sort of understand it now, though the problem for me wasn't the temperature; it was the sun. And it was relentless on the track today; it just wouldn't bloody go away. There was a patch of shade for maybe 10m; otherwise, there was no hiding from it. I was actually quite worried when I left the house that we stayed in and saw some rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds. The forecast was for a cloudy day...and it wasn't cloudy enough eventually. I guess the upside was that the sun went away after the first hour, so the second half wasn't that bad. There was still the wind to contend with, though; and that really wasn't fun at all.

My confusion over the distance, coupled with my inability to see the time on my phone because of the stupid sun, meant that I really had very little idea how fast or slow I was going. At one point, I thought I was so slow, and I was suffering so much, that I actually thought to myself that I didn't even care anymore if I finished it slower than in Singapore. All I wanted was for the torture to end.

Well, it did - after 2 hours and 3 minutes.

On the one hand, yay personal best! On the other hand, it was 3 minutes too slow.

That said, I wasn't gunning for a sub-2 this time. I wasn't training properly, wasn't putting in as much effort as I would need to for a sub-2 in my training, didn't even come up with a proper training plan, just ran a few 5k and 10k here and there, did maybe three proper long runs before this (two 15 and one 18) the only goal that I had was to improve on my timing, and I set a rather timid aim of 2 hours and 6 minutes (the previous timing being 2 hours and 7 minutes at the London Landmarks Half Marathon). When I saw that I'd hit the 2-hour mark with less than 1km to go, I pushed myself as hard as I could (which wasn't that hard because my legs were taking a serious beating) and sprinted like crazy over the bloody finish.

My god. I'm still reeling from the toughness of the experience. While running, I thought to myself that I wasn't going to do another race for the rest of the year, and certainly not in the summer. But perhaps the point is to never do another lap race ever again. It was so much more mentally challenging. Still, I'm glad I did this. Now I just need to break the damn 2 hours barrier...
Charah coffee

The Real vs The Unreal

I haven't blogged very much these days because there's only so much writing I can do in a day: the PhD (let's not talk about this), and the Daredevil fanfic that began as a fantasy that I indulge in, a story that I spin in my mind, before I fall asleep (I have been doing this since I was a kid), and which has since assumed a life of its own. It's now around 120 pages, 50,000+ words, and I think only half the story has been told. It's interesting how it seems to be writing itself now. I didn't have any concrete idea as to where it would go, how the story would unfold, when I began writing it; and yet, there's always been a vague but solid enough direction, and it's not so clear if I'm pushing it that way, or if the story is leading me with the confidence in its own coherence and depth that I don't always possess.

The only downside to this project, which has been one of the most exhilarating things that I've done in a while, is that it's pretty much not going to go anywhere. Oh sure, I could change the names; Matt Murdock could be Mark Murdoch, whatever. But the concept of Daredevil is so central to the story, and the characters' interaction with each other, that there's no way it'd remain what it is if I changed it. So I'm resigned to it just sort of dying, definitely in my hard drive and perhaps somewhere on the Internet, once it's finally finished.

The upside, however, is that it's giving me the confidence that I don't think I ever had to really write. Write something longer than an incomplete short story (I have too many of those lying around). Write a story that matters from start to finish, a story that explores themes and ideas that I find interesting, and not giving up on the characters, or the story, even when I don't know where it's going. And, really, write. Just write. Write every day, write even when you're not inspired, write especially when you're inspired and the words flow like water in a stream, and this feeling, like I'm doing exactly what I'm meant to do, is incomparable and irreplaceable.

So in this regard, I really feel that the PhD and all that it implies is a second-best option. And because I know it is true, I don't think I can ever shake the regret, always latent, that I didn't have the courage to pursue what I really want to do - write; that is, write fiction - much earlier. The upside, I suppose, is that it's never too late, right? I don't know. Maybe. We will see.


The point of this entry is something else. The point of this entry is a job interview with a university in Hong Kong that I had at 3.30am last Tuesday, and the vague possibility that I might be in Hong Kong for a year if they offer it and if I accept it, and for some reason, recurring nightmares of NEB.

It seems that I dream about him every month without fail. The latest one was a mere variation on the same theme: a longing, a hopeful heart, a dead-end desire, an inchoate relationship. We made plans to meet after something; he never got back to me.

I told E about the dream. He told me that he's not thrilled about Hong Kong because NEB is there (amongst other reasons). He said that he wasn't confident that I would be able to resist him if he were in front of me now. He said that the chemistry and connection would always be there.

All of this is not untrue. As Rui once said, NEB is my Kryptonite. I have a weakness for him, or more accurately, what he represents, that I can't seem to expel completely. I know all the reasons it was never real with him, all the reasons it would never have worked, regardless of distance, of time, of emotional trauma that I was too proud to accommodate, of scars from the past that would probably never completely heal. I know that he is a fantasy.

But it was - is - an intoxicating one. And that's the problem, isn't it? I struggle with the banality of stability, of normality, of a man who is good for me, with whom I am grounded; a man who gives me a relationship that is sustainable, good, and above all, real. I want the things that I don't have, and now that I have the stability that I thought I wanted, I start to resent it and mistake it for stagnation.

I don't know why, much less what I can do to change it, if I can change it. Perhaps I should simply accept that this is a part of me, and will always be; and figure out a way to manage it. This being, of course, my restlessness, my retreating into a fantasy world and ignoring what is real, my perpetual yearning for the kind of moments that I had with NEB - the type that seem life-altering, where time doesn't exist, in which you are spread wide open and he knows every single bit of you without needing to say a word. The connection, the chemistry - so astounding and delightful in dark corners, but so pale and frail in the harsh light of the day.

Hold on to what is real. Write to indulge in fantasies. Makes sense, doesn't it?
Charah coffee

Harold Pinter's Betrayal; and Charlie Cox!

Today has been great! One of the best days I've had all year!

E and I went to watch Pinter's Betrayal at the Harold Pinter Theatre this afternoon. I absolutely loved The Birthday Party, so I was excited about this one when I saw that Tom Hiddleston is in it. But it wasn't until it was announced that Charlie Cox is in it too that I acted immediately; literally bought tickets on the day that I saw the news. We paid 102 each for stall seats, fifth row from the front; the package came with a glass of champagne (which was way too much for me at 2 in the afternoon and made me flush like an Asian), 'luxury' ice-cream that was more ordinary than luxurious, and the programme.

First, the play: while I do appreciate that Betrayal is quite different from The Birthday Party, in that it is about the intricacies of the relationships between the three characters, and while I appreciate, too, that my only basis for comparison is that these are the only two Pinter players I've watched, I liked The Birthday Party quite a lot more. It simply blew me away when I watched it because of Pinter's absurdly clever use of language - subversive and nonsensical - to convey the absurdity of life. It is more thematically expansive; it makes a point about life; and because the dialogue is frenetic, so was the acting. It was great.

Betrayal was rather more quiet. It didn't blow me away like The Birthday Party did; but I enjoyed it anyway. First, I love parts of the dialogue that were dripping with subtext, where the characters said a lot and said absolutely nothing at the same time. The audience, of course, was in on it; only Jerry (Charlie Cox's character) was oblivious. The brilliance of the dialogue in those scenes reminded me of some parts of The Birthday Party; and I would even say it's Pinteresque, except I can't because I'm not familiar enough with his work to make that sort of claim.

Second, the performances were brilliant: great chemistry between the actors, really loved Zawe Ashton's charisma, Tom Hiddleston is a natural, and while I admit that I am a bit biased (okay, maybe more than a bit) when it comes to Charlie Cox, I enjoyed watching him as the shallow, light-hearted Jerry - a far cry from brooding Matt Murdock in Daredevil. It was a bit odd listening to his native British accent and watching him look at people; but it was great. He was great.

Third, I bought the play afterwards more or less because of a scene towards the end, when Jerry confesses his love for Emma. Charlie's delivery of them was perfection; but more importantly, the poetry and the romance in those lines...I think I melted in the moment. And reading those lines after I bought it nearly made me swoon.


Second, after the play: I had been obsessed with the idea of taking a picture with Charlie after the play for at least a week; and when I get these ideas into my head, I have to do them. I messaged a girl on Instagram who had a picture taken with him when she watched the play a couple of weeks ago, and she told me to leave the theatre immediately when it ends and go round to the side of the theatre to join the queue. The queue, as I found out today, mostly comprised of Tom Hiddleston fans; and because I did exactly as the girl advised, I rushed out of there quickly (didn't even pee even though my bladder was bursting) and was one of the first few people in the queue!

Alas, Charlie came out later than Tom. I took a pic of E with Tom, and when I was right in front of him, I just shook his hand and said, 'Great performance!' or something along those lines. I wasn't trying to be rude, but I didn't see the point of taking a picture with an actor just because he's famous when I'm not particularly a fan of his; and because I love Charlie's work in Daredevil, the person that I really wanted to see was Charlie.

So I asked the security guy next to Tom, 'Can I wait here for Charlie?'

He told me to join the back of the queue. Oh my god, I could've crumbled in disappointment. I didn't want to argue with him because, earlier, he'd made a Tom H fan cry by not allowing her to be in the queue. She had apparently left the show five minutes ago just to stand in the queue and get Tom's photo or whatever; she even had a sketchbook with sketches of him (really good ones, if I may add). I didn't want to mess with him and risk having him ban me from the queue; and so I joined the back of the queue.

Charlie came out after some time. I'd relieved my bladder by then, so I was quite happy to wait a bit. I started talking to two women and a girl in front of me; one of the women liked Daredevil too, which was nice. The queue had already snaked around the theatre, which meant I couldn't see what was going on in front. On my second trip to the front of the queue, I saw Charlie!

I was so excited. I could barely wait for him to come to my bit of the queue...but when he did, the security guy said 'autographs only'. What the hell, I don't want an autograph; I want a photo! When Charlie was right in front of me, I asked him if I could have a picture.

While he did very politely say no (something about how he'd never get out of there if he took a picture with everyone), I was massively disappointed anyway. I did, however, manage to say that he was great in the play and that I love him in Daredevil. He signed our programme book and we started to walk off. E, of course, knew that I was disappointed; I'd been yakking his ear off about a photo with Charlie for at least a week. He suggested that I should go back and at least have a photo where he and I are in the same picture, even if it's not a photo with him; like him in the background walking or something.

I didn't really want to because Charlie had already said he wasn't doing photos; but E pushed me, and I walked back to where Charlie was. Most, if not all, of the fans had gone by then. I honestly had no idea what I was hoping to get, or even trying to do; according to E, when Charlie was walking towards us, E told me to turn around so that he could take a photo. I didn't hear what E said; in fact, I was just sort of standing around, perhaps looking a bit dejected...and the next thing I knew, Charlie walked up to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and let E take a picture.

It all happened so quickly. The whole time Charlie was next to me was probably 3 seconds long. And because it all happened so quickly, all I could do was stand there and smile. I didn't say anything to him, he didn't say anything. He literally strode up to me (he was walking really quickly, like he was in a hurry to get somewhere), put his arm around me and smiled for three seconds, and walked off.

But oh, I was so happy after that. I still am. This is really fangirly of me, and I definitely have fangirly tendencies (see: Jay Chou, Roger Federer, just to name a few); but I really love Daredevil, and his portrayal of Matt Murdock/Daredevil. Like I told E, I don't really care for celebrities or famous people, which was why I didn't have a photo with Tom Hiddleston even though he was right in front of me. I only care when the said celebrity or actor or famous person has made an impact on me; has created something that resonates with me, sometimes quite deeply and personally. Charlie Cox has done exactly that with Matt Murdock/Daredevil, especially Matt Murdock, I would say.

That was why I was all for Charlie, and why I'm really happy that my photo(s) happened! Here they are!

I think this was when he saw us and came over to me.

I know, there are hardly any differences in these pictures, and fucking hell, I look like a tomato (the champagne was potent and it was 2pm and I really dislike drinking in the middle of the day); but oh, this makes me so happy right now, so I'll just post however many I want.


Also, isn't E the sweetest? If he hadn't prodded me to go back, I would've just left. And it was so nice of him to accompany me through my madness! He's the best.

A Bad Day

Today has been a combination of bad news, unproductivity, physical tiredness, and the usual searing hatred towards the PhD that I can't seem to finish. Oh, it's 'finished', of course; save for the conclusion, I've written everything. But the 110,000 words that I've accumulated are not even worthy of being my crap paper.

Two rejections today: one from a literary journal which was expected and thus okay; the other for a teaching post at a summer school in Cambridge, whose law syllabus I designed. Granted, in an ideal world, I wouldn't want to do any teaching at all, and it was something that I felt I had to do as opposed to really want to do.

But the email from the very nice lady who runs the programme, sent an hour ago, left me feeling quite defeated anyway. This trying to get experience which I can't get because I have no experience...and for what, exactly? I know the difference between passion and interest. Yet, I am still stuck on the same path to a lacklustre life that I unwittingly put myself on 14 years ago.

This is all rather overwhelming. At this very moment, I honestly don't know why I'm even trying, what it's for.

Just let the fear of failure continue to drive me. It's got me this far; surely it will get me over the line.

What the hell am I even doing?


The only thing that I'm looking forward to - and it's a pretty huge thing - is watching Harold Pinter's Betrayal this Saturday with E. Apart from the fact that it's Pinter, it's also Charlie Cox a.k.a. Matt Murdock a.k.a. Daredevil. Even though I'm too lazy to go through the hassle of such things, I'm convinced that I want to try and meet him after the play to get a photograph with him, maybe tell him that his work in Daredevil is amazing and inspiring, if it's not rude to talk about the actor's other project after just seeing him in his current one. We shall see. It will be cool if this happened.

Also, E and I watched Shazam! last night. I was excited about this too because Zachary Levi a.k.a Chuck, a.k.a one of my favourite TV shows ever. He was hilarious and great and the movie was superb, in that it's light-hearted entertainment that doesn't take itself seriously. It was great. Way better than boring Captain Marvel and Black Panther (only good thing about BP was the hotness that's Michael B. Jordan).

Alas, it was back to my shitty real life today, and I can't quite put into words how badly I want this torture to end, and how much I hate my life right now.

Also paid 6.65 pounds for a stupid sandwich at 5.30pm today at the British Library. I walked across the street to Pret but there was quite literally nothing vegetarian left. So I went back to the cafe that's just outside the library, which was already closing; but the man dug out a couple of vegetarian sandwiches for me. I was not happy to be paying 6.65 (the other was 4-ish) but beggars can't be choosers and all.

I stopped by Sainsbury's on the way back and bought a big loaf of bread for 1.60 so that I wouldn't ever have to buy a bloody 6.65 sandwich ever again.

Writing is the only thing that's keeping me sane right now, even if it quite often occupies too much of my focus, attention and time. But whatever; this is important to me, and that's that.
Charah coffee

Writing Fanfiction

(Can't even remember the last time I wrote, but whatever.)

I'm writing a fanfic at the moment; a Daredevil one. While this is quite honestly the most fun that I've had in a while, this is a really bad time to be writing fiction (even if fanfiction) because I get so fucking obsessed everytime I'm writing fiction. It is all that I think about: I think about it upon waking up, I think about it while running, I think about it while eating, while on the Tube, even when I'm sitting in the bloody British Library trying to work on my boring PhD. I even use my break time (read: omg, hungry at 4pm, and sleepy also, need sugar rush, so go eat a cake for 30 minutes) to do research for the story. And since I've been writing it mostly at night, it's one of the last things on my mind before I fall asleep.

This is the level of obsession that I should have for my PhD...alas, I'm not sure non-fiction writing can ever excite me to the same degree as fiction. I simply love writing about characters, about people, about their thoughts and struggles. It's so much fun writing dialogue, and to a lesser extent because I'm not good at it, action. It's fun to think about what motivates them to do certain things, their backstories, whether a particular scene is in keeping with what I've established about them so far. And since this is fanfiction, whether a particular comment that I just made Matt Murdock say is consistent with his character.

I haven't written fanfiction since my Slam Dunk obsession days, more than 10 years ago. I haven't even read any fanfiction since then, mostly because I think it's low-level writing and a waste of time. Yes, I'm too arrogant for my own good; after all, some writing, even if fanfiction, is better than none at all - which was the total amount of writing that I was doing before this after I sort of 'finished' an original story that I started in Singapore in December. Any story-telling form of writing is good practice if taken seriously - and needless to say, I take this fanfic very seriously for its own sake, and as an instrumental form of practice.

What I really love about the Daredevil universe is the Matt Murdock character, his complexity and inner conflicts. I mean, lawyer by day, crime-fighting and so law-breaking vigilante by night says it all, doesn't it? So the story kind of revolves around that, and I'm trying to draw it out by using the original character as a foil to him. I want to build on the show's questioning of whether Matt Murdock and/or Daredevil is/are the heroes that we are meant to think that they are, or if they - especially Matt - are more deeply flawed than we think. I really love Charlie Cox's portrayal of Matt Murdock and the way he shows how Matt appears to be this really nice, mild-mannered lawyer, but is in fact impulsive, rash, sees things in black and white, and ruled too strongly by his strong sense of right and wrong. That is why he thinks it's okay to go around in a costume ('black pyjamas', in Foggy's hilarious words) beating up criminals.

Oh, this show is just so good. I'm so tempted to watch it for the third time to make sure that I get his character right, but I'm half-afraid that it would interfere with how I want to write the fic. So I shan't, for now.

This is all quite silly, I know, but I don't care, because it's just so good to be writing fiction again. And I think I need to practice a standard narrative style anyway.
Charah coffee

London Landmarks Half Marathon

In retrospect, running another half-marathon three weeks later was not the best idea that I ever had. The lack of training time in between, cut even shorter by 1) an aching body after an intense gym session; and 2) very fucking terrible English weather, meant that, realistically, there wasn't that much that I could improve on, or target, for the subsequent half-marathon.

Still, I'm pleased to have ran the London Landmarks Half Marathon (even if the fundraising is definitely not coming along well) yesterday morning because, despite the disappointing timing, it was a fantastic race, helped in no small part by the unusually brilliant weather and the stunning route. It was sunny and dry, with a gentle wind that was actually welcome, as opposed to hated, every now and then, especially refreshing when running under the sun. As for the route, the name of the race says it all: it takes you to many famous London landmarks, such as St Paul's, the Tower of London, somewhere south of the river, and along the Thames. I started the race running down Kingsway, past the LSE's New Academic Building, then the part of the campus next to the Royal Courts of Justice. Seeing familiar places that I frequented in one of the best years of my life was such a nice feeling that quite efficiently counter-balanced the unpleasantness of running.

The Cambridge half really suffered because of the bad weather. That said, I might have enjoyed it a little bit more even if the weather had been as pleasant as yesterday. There's just something amazing about running in the city, on roads completely closed to cars, past famous landmarks and in between tall buildings. It's invigorating, and having all these sights all around me took my mind off the physically gruelling thing that I was doing. At many points during the race, I found myself looking around me, trying to figure out where, exactly, I was--a very welcomed distraction, one that I didn't have when running through the rural, flat plains of Cambridge/Grantchester.

What was probably the best part of this race was that I didn't lose steam at the last 2km like I did in Cambridge and Singapore. I took one of E's energy gels, and it's liquid enough that I don't need water to swallow it, and solid enough that it doesn't explode all over my hand when I rip it open. So I opened it at 1 hour 35 minutes and slowly ate it over the last bit of the race. This was probably why I had enough energy to keep going where I faltered previously. Of course, it was extremely challenging, both physically and mentally. But whereas the mind was willing but the flesh was weak in Cambridge, in London yesterday, my willing mind was matched by a more or less able flesh. I kept up the pace as much as I could over the last mile or so, and was ecstatic when I saw the finish line way earlier than expected. I thought the race was 13.2 miles, and so thought I had maybe 800metres to go when I saw the 13-mile mark; clearly, I had (and still have) no idea what 0.2miles is in metres or kilometres or whatever. So I turned the corner, not expecting to see the finish line at all; but there it was, bright and cheerful, the yellow and pink colours of the race screaming loudly at me to sprint towards it.

And so I sprinted with all the energy that I had left, and crossed the finish at 2 hours 7 minutes.

So yes, obviously 3 minutes faster than Cambridge; but honestly quite slow. I'm not super happy with it. It doesn't help that my Nike Run Club app over-records my distance, so it tells me that I'm running at a faster pace than I really am. I think I can do a lot better than 2 hours and 7 minutes in the UK, so I want to train properly and get a proper training device thing to help me run faster.

That's the thing, though. I did two half-marathons this month, and hours after finishing the second, I was already thinking about the next one. Somehow, I never sit still for long enough to enjoy an accomplishment. Of course, I don't really think it was much of one, but I guess objectively, it was, being a personal best and whatnot. I honestly think, though, that I didn't push myself hard enough. As I did one measley long run (15km) in the three weeks after the Cambridge half, I had no expectations going into this and no conscious goal; just told myself to 'just run' and see what happened. I was a bit too content to feel sort of comfortable during the race while I could've pushed harder and made myself feel some discomfort. Oh well.

Anyway. Gonna wrap this up as I'm in the library trying to work on Chapter 4. E was there, of course; he took some videos of me running (terrible form, omg, and terrible facial expression), took photos of me afterwards, and we had a nice walk through St James's Park, then along Embankmen to this shitty pub place just because I could claim a free prosecco with my medal. At least they played cheesy 90's/early 2000's pop music so that was nice. I had a vegan burger; it came with a slice of vegan cheese. If I ever turn vegan, I'd really just give up on cheese completely because vegan cheese, at any rate that slice that was in the burger, is simply awful. There's a weird taste to it that I can't describe, but it definitely does not taste like cheese at all. Worse still, it didn't even melt. And thank goodness for that, for it allowed me to remove it from what was otherwise a rather tasty spicy black bean burger with a few pieces of pulled jackfruit.

I said to E, while walking through Trafalgar Square, 'You're going to get bored of this after some time, aren't you?' 'This' being accompanying me to these races, getting up early in the morning, putting up with my customary too-early-in-the-morning grumpiness, helping me through my shit-I'm-running-late stressing, and sitting around for two hours waiting for me to finish the race.

'No, I won't,' he said. 'I'm not that kind of person.'

Sweet, no?
Charah coffee

Books, etc

I have given up on the side project because it had proven itself to be an unnecessary and additional source of stress; mostly because I knew that I didn't have the time that I needed to dedicate to it to do it justice. Getting back to the review/conference to tell them that I could no longer submit the piece was a relief, so I definitely made the right decision there.

As for the PhD...I finished my draft Introduction (finally), and have (finally) started looking at Chapter 4 again. Alas, today was utterly unproductive because I did not go to the library, thanks to 1) my waking up at 10am; and 2) the shitty rainy weather. I did some work, but it wasn't enough for me to not feel guilty, or to shake the feeling that I ought to be working on my PhD right now instead of writing this entry. I decided to write this anyway because this is an equally important part of my life, one that I have certainly been neglecting.

To be fair, though, there really isn't much to write about. My life pretty much just the PhD, E and running, some tennis...on the plus, quite a lot of reading. Well, I don't know if I've read more books so far this year than I did this time last year, but I've settled into a nice habit of reading a novel in the morning while having breakfast and coffee, and sometimes while having lunch as well. An argument could be made that I ought to spend some of this novel-reading time on my PhD, but this argument is shit because reading novels is one of the few sources of genuine enjoyment in my life these days.

I recently discovered Zadie Smith; devoured White Teeth after enjoying On Beauty, and found the former quite a bit better than the latter even though the latter is one of her later works. I read a quote from her about how her writing as a young writer was ful of aphorisms, which she's stopped doing as a more mature writer. I kept thinking back to this quote while reading White Teeth and, yes, one could fault the prose for being self-consciously clever, but somehow, it was this self-conscious cleverness that gave the book a vitality and energy which, in retrospect, I found lacking in On Beauty. White Teeth brims with joy and an urgency to say certain important things about contemporary British society: immigration, isolation, religious fanaticism, teenaged girls and fitting in, racial politics. And it talks about these issues through characters who are relatable, with whom the reader can sympathise, if not empathise. Having denounced the burnings of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses in Britain as mindless acts of religious fanaticism, White Teeth challenged my perception of the incident by painting it, through two characters, as a defence of an identity that is under attack, subtly and overtly at the same time, in a society that is multicultural on the surface, but which balances precariously at the edges of racial faultlines. Interesting, isn't it, that The Satanic Verses is essentially a novel about the plight of immigrants in Britain, and it turned out to be these same immigrants with whom the novel sympathises that participated in the burning of the book. And they did so because the book, or what they were told about the book, was seen as yet another attack on their cultural and/or religious identity by a foreign country who accept them in name only, and only as waiters, taxi drivers, and corner shop owners; not lawyers, doctors, politicians, bankers.

I think this part of White Teeth really made an impression on me due to how strongly I was convinced that the burning of the Satanic Verses was nothing more than blind, stupid religious fanaticism, and that the right to free speech and free artistic expression must be protected against conservative forces that threaten it. It didn't occur to me what the subjective experiences of these 'conservative' individuals might be, or that there may be more going on than stupid religious fanaticism. White Teeth challenged all of that quite fundamentally; more importantly, effectively.

At the end of the day, the power of story-telling is still, I think, more efficacious and impactful than a well-argued, well-researched article about the same topic. But I may be biased here. After all, literature still remains my one true love.


From White Teeth, I went on to read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, a classic mystery novel. I was sceptical at first because I tend not to take well to classics. Something about the style strikes me as false, and I just can't relate to some random Victorian concerns and mannerisms and whatever. The Moonstone has been interesting enough to keep me reading, and in excitement to boot, though it suffers from overwriting. Some parts are unnecessarily detailed, and so I skim them to get to the juicy bits.

What I find interesting about the Moonstone, though, is how the British class system is portrayed in it. I don't know if Collins intended to comment on it or merely presented it as a matter of fact because, obviously, he wrote in that period. Whatever it is, it is an interesting look into how stratified society was, and how rigid its rules and conventions. And the sexism as well! Male characters make sexist remarks with such casualness that they seem to be talking about the weather, which goes to show how deeply entrenched were notions of how a woman should behave--notions which we find sexist today. For instance: men talking about politics at an upper class dinner party only after the 'ladies' have left the room. I have, of course, been reading a lot about how women were perceived and expected to behave in that time period, but only in non-fiction books. Reading it in a novel somehow makes it more real because the novel depicts the interaction between men and women based on how people of that time behaved, thus making it more real and accessible.

Again, the power of the novel, and all that.

I still sometimes wish I hadn't gone to law school. But anyway.


On a different note, I have been eating way too much.
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Charah coffee

(no subject)

I returned to London today after spending a week in Cambridge at E's, and with E. I felt a slight sense of dread yesterday evening at the thought of returning, and now that I'm back in my room, the sense of dread hasn't yet abated.

It's a combination of things. It's always a combination of things, is it not? The lack excitement, the stillness of life, the ignominy of sharing a house at my age, the uncertainty regarding my future, what feels like leaving E behind... I want to move on with my life. But move on to what? Or rather: move away from the undercurrent of perpetual instability that runs through my life as it currently is. At the same time, the grass is always greener on the other side; I always want what I do not have. How long until I tire of the stability?

It's the same with E, too. I miss him now but it was only two days ago that I felt suffocated and claustrophobic, thus making the decision to come back today. My mood seems to be as changeable as the weather, capricious and unreasonable. My restlessness is wearing me out. I don't know how to explain why I am this why. I just am.


What if I never know what I want, what fulfils me? What if I live the rest of my life unsatisfied, unhappy? But perhaps more fundamentally, whoever said we need a purpose, and why have I believed it for so long? I wish things were easier, simpler, mundane. I wish I didn't spend most of my life expecting the impossible.

I don't know what I'm saying or where this is going. My attention span these days isn't long enough for a properly thought out entry. I'm just tired--physically and mentally. I really didn't know what I was getting myself into when I decided to do this PhD on 2015. It's a shame that we can't ever go back in time and undo our 'decisions'.


Not that I regret it, not really. But a little bit, yes. Mainly because it is the latest iteration on the my effort to improve my life, and so it is the one that is most likely to stick given biological facts, like my age. The thing that I regret about it, if I were to be brutally honest, is that the thought of it--that this is the thing that is likely to stick--fills me with rather little excitement.

Add to all this a perpetual homesickness. This is probably my period hormones talking, but I'm just so tired of being away.


On another note, my legs, especially the front of my thighs, are in so much pain today. It is a wonder that I managed to get back from E's place to mine, carrying my backpack, a sports bag and a big plastic bag of two pairs of sports shoes (running and tennis) and dirty clothes in one piece. Could've been worse, though, right? Things always could be worse. That says nothing about the actual quality and desirability of that which could have been worse.


Did no work today because spent afternoon travelling. Stressed as fuck.
Charah coffee

Cambridge Half Marathon

After a couple of days of angst about it, especially the fundraising part (one of the most tedious and disgustingly self-aggrandizing things I've ever had to do), I'm relieved and happy that the Cambridge Half Marathon is over. My initial goal of finishing in under two hours was no longer feasible after my injury which kept me from running for four weeks, so my new goal was to beat my Singapore timing.

I ended up shaving 10 minutes off the 2hr20min that I did in Singapore. Not too bad in isolation, but in, runners in Cambridge are serious. I saw a grand total of maybe 5 people walking. And unlike in Singapore, I did not finish in the top half of the women, let alone overall. So yes, in a way, it is quite demoralising and it's a bit of a harsh reminder of how average I am at running. But all in all, I think it could have gone worse. I could have been slower than in Singapore. And I really tried to do my best to hang in there, keep putting one leg in front of the other, not letting up until the end.

Alas, it was but an attempt, for I stopped for maybe half a minute at the last 2km (it's always the last 2km that kill), for I'd honestly felt like I couldn't go on anymore. Before that--or at least, I think it was before that--we had to run up a gently sloping bridge. The slope was so gentle that it would have been no big deal on any other occasion...but when you'd been running for 1.5 hours straight, probably more, that was just a bloody fucking nightmare. I was also groaning mentally when we ran along the Backs and cut into town via the Orgasm Bridge, so nicknamed by students because it's a steeply inclined bridge and when cyclists try to cycle up the slope, they grunt as if having an orgasm. Hence Orgasm Bridge, or O Bridge. How intellectual. Point is, when I saw that the route took us up the bridge, I was thinking, Fucking hell. When I started running up, the British man next to me muttered, 'Fucking hell.' It was funny because it was so British.

Like in Singapore, the absolute hardest part was the last 2, 3 kilometres. It was probably slightly harder this time because they marked distances by miles and I have no idea how many kilometres one mile is exactly, so I was relying on my Nike Run Club app. When my app said I had 300 metres to go, I sped up, thinking the pain would end soon...but I ran past a volunteer who shouted, '500 metres more!'

It's just 200 metres, right? NOT IF YOU'D BEEN RUNNING FOR 2 HOURS ALMOST NON-STOP AND YOUR LEGS ARE ABOUT TO GIVE WAY. I don't think words can adequately describe how deflated I felt when I heard that, and even the word 'deflated' is a massive understatement.

Luckily, it wasn't that windy for most of it, and the rain was but a light drizzle. Unfortunately, sometime around the last 2km, strong winds suddenly appeared along with a stitch in my left side. The lethal combination of these two things slowed me down tremendously and I think I really lost a lot of time there. That was why I even stopped.

Overall, I found it quite challenging to settle into a comfortable pace because of the number of people and narrow streets in the city centre. I was also looking down a lot because I wanted to avoid stepping into puddles (my shoes and socks were soaked anyway) and avoid tripping over the uneven parts of the roads (Cambridge really needs to repave their shitty roads). I also brilliantly did not pin the bottom two corners of my number tag to my shirt, so it kept flapping about in the wind and I had to keep it down, sometimes worried that it would fall off (it didn't). And because I didn't want to waste water, I ended up holding the small bottle of water that I took at the halfway mark in my hand for the rest of the race. Oh, and because I didn't bring any longsleeve compression tops from London, I wore one of E's, this really tight one, and I felt a bit suffocated at one point (when we were running in Grantchester). But I was glad to be wearing it when the wind appeared from nowhere and made a mess of things.

What I quite liked, though, was the support of the local people. There were people just standing along the route on the pavement, cheering the runners on, and even giving out candies. This happened more frequently when the route was in more residential areas, so I surmised that those people giving out food/candies lived in one of the houses on that street. That was really nice. And some guy on a bike joked about charging 25 pounds for a ride on his bicycle.

Finally, E was super sweet. The original plan to take the bus to town and walk to Midsummer Common was ruined by the fact that the bus starts only at 9am on Sundays (what the fuck, man?!). So he figured out the driving route, where to park, and got me there 5 minutes before I had to gather in my pen. I ended up spending 15 minutes queuing for the toilet, but at least I wasn't stressed about being late. He sacrificed his Sunday lie-in to get up at 7 and accompany me when he didn't have to. Super sweet, right? He was sad that he missed my finish. He was maybe a minute late. There's theoretically an online tracking, but the information was rather paltry, to say the least. It showed nothing after 10km. I was sure that I ran over at least four of the tracking things, so I was surprised that it provided only the start time, the 10km time and the finish time. Really useful for supporters that wanted to know the right time to make their way to the finish, right?

Raffie said the exact same thing when we finally found him and G. He also said the whole thing was a mess...which it was. There was just a huge mess of people middling about Midsummer Common and it took me way too long to first find E, then Raffie and G. Ah Raffie, my loyal supporter, who was the only one who came down to support the end of my 10km run two years ago. It was nice of him to come down this time given the crappy weather.

Apart from the last 2 or 3 km, the Singapore one was considerably tougher. I kept recalling the Singapore slugfest when I found myself struggling, and it actually worked. If you've been through the worst, the absolute worst, however bad it feels in the moment can only be better, right? I think so too.


E and I were thinking of going to the cinema tonight but nah, I think I'm too knackered!

(No photos because too lazy.)
Charah coffee

Tired in the Library

I'm writing this in the law faculty now instead of powering through the last bit of my never-ending Chapter 3 (which feels like I have spent the past ten years of my life writing/re-writing, lather rinse repeat) because I have a headache, I am cold, and I am waiting for E to pick me up after he's finished with tennis. In other words, I am more or less mentally checked out of this chapter despite the fact that I am one week behind schedule (which, by the way, really sucks and stresses me out). Instead of wasting time reading things like the Guardian and Reddit, I thought, why not write an entry? After all, it's not as if this journal has been bombarded with entries lately.

Still. What is there to say? Life still feels suspended, even life with E. My undefined life post-PhD causes this relationship to be somewhat undefined, too. Or more precisely: it does not feel wholly and fully real. In a way, it feels like it's existing on borrowed time until the other shoe finally drops and we're forced to confront important issues, like Where Are We Gonna Live? I don't know; all I know is, probably not Ghent, or even London, let alone Cambridge, and pretty much not Paris.

Thinking about this is making my headache worse. I'm not sure what is the cause of this headache...I started feeling it a few minutes into my ride on the bus. Perhaps it was a particularly bumpy bus ride today because of the particularly old nature of the bus.

So yes, I have a figured out a way to get from E's place to the faculty/town without spending 10 pounds on taxi each time: take two buses. The annoying thing about Cambridge--and the UK more generally--is that there are two bus companies servicing a town of maybe 100,000, a substantial amount of whom ride a bicycle. This means that there are two different fare types for the two buses that I have to take, which means having to spend extra money and buying different tickets for the two buses. It is particularly annoying that the first bus doesn't have a sensible single trip fare; instead, its cheapest option is 4.50 pounds for a day pass. Um, why the hell would I spend my day taking buses everywhere? It makes sense for some, I assume, but it doesn't make sense for me. So I paid 15 pounds for a 7-day pass, and for the second bus, thank goodness for student discount; otherwise, I'd have to pay 2.50 instead of 1.

I've taken the buses three days in a row now and Google Maps' arrival time has been very accurate, so hooray for that.

Isn't sad that, when I finally update, I have nothing more interesting to write about than taking buses in Cambridge? To be fair, though, I've taken the bus more times these past three days than my three years in Cambridge combined--which was a grand total of zero. But that's the joy and advantage of living in college: it's so central that you can walk everywhere, even if it takes 20 minutes to walk to the faculty. Could be an hour, which I did from E's last week or whenever, in a bid to save money on cab fare. I followed the shortest route on Google Maps and was actually quite scared when I found myself walking through some random marshes or whatever for a good 30 minutes with barely anyone in sight. For some reason--probably an obvious one--after my bad experience with the hobo, I have become quite paranoid about my personal safety as a woman.

Like yesterday. E and I went to play tennis at the club in the evening, i.e. after 8. Halfway through, some random old drunk cycled onto the club premises and started shouting a bunch of shit that didn't make any sense; it wasn't even clear to me the target of his drunken ire. I caught something about how his parents didn't pay for him to do something or other, and 'this country' this and that. It basically didn't make sense.

I was rattled anyway. Rattled enough to lose focus and start playing badly when I was actually playing quite well before that. I was also standing on the end of the court that's just beside the carpark and the path leading into the club, so I felt like he was right behind me, and that the fence wasn't strong enough to keep him out. Even after he'd finally left, I still felt rattled and distracted, and didn't play well for a good twenty minutes before I finally eradicated him from my mind.

Anyway. I'm too tired and unwell to continue this entry for much longer. I really wish I'd brought my novel (White Teeth by Zadie Smith; it's brilliant) to read because I have nothing to do if not my PhD and I don't feel like doing it anymore. So lastly: I've more or less fully recovered from the injury. I ran 12km today and it was horrible but at least I'm running, I guess. I'm not looking forward to the half-marathon this Sunday...having avoided running on anything but a track since I got back into running, the concrete/roads are not doing my legs any favours. My legs were in quite a lot of pain today; not sure if it was just the hardness of the surface, or the lingering effects of tennis last night, or a combination of everything, or just an excuse. Oh well, we'll see how it goes on Sunday, etc.
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