Twenty One

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Life works in interesting - or may I call it, magical - ways. I don't really know what "fate" means as it has always felt like a far-off concept pertaining to something supernatural, but on occasion it can sometimes be the closest explanation or feeling I use to reason out why some things just seem to fall into place perfectly.

And that's what happened on my twenty-first birthday two months ago. On the actual day, I really wanted to minimize social interactions as much as possible and take some time alone to be with myself - to reflect about the past twenty years of my existence, and hopefully to pen down some thoughts along the way. (Yes, I'm someone who actually makes plans to consciously get into a pensive state of mind.)

Following my usual theatre studies lecture on Wednesday mornings, I made my way to Atlas Coffeehouse along Bukit Timah. The area gives off a warm, familiar feeling reminiscent of secondary school and junior college times (I somehow frequented places near Botanic Gardens MRT station a lot in the past), and the cafe hits the spot in terms of balancing a chill yet buzzy vibe. It wasn't a full house that day, but the space was reasonably filled. Despite the crowd, there was a certain calmness to the chatter - everyone felt pretty laid back, and I could still clearly hear the slight dissonant melody of Twenty One Pilot's Stressed Out over the speakers.

We used to play pretend, give each other different names/ 
We would build a rocket ship and then we'd fly it far away/
Used to dream of outer space, but now they're laughing at our face/ 
Saying "wake up, you need to make money!"

"How apt," I remember thinking. But no - this isn't going to be a post about how the practicality of life seems to catch up with us and strip us of imagination and happiness as we grow older. I'm a strong believer that you can still carry the idealism that we all had as kids with you in life - it's really not a bad thing, and it's not ignorance either. Who told you that you can't build rocket ships now? I could go on about this topic, but let's leave it for another day. I thought the song choice was apt simply because it was one that signified the changes that come with growing up, and well - it was my birthday and turning twenty one is supposedly momentous.

So I took out my brown Muji notebook - the one I've kept since junior college, the one that contains much of my deepest thoughts and random doodles, the one that I turn to to write in a non-structured manner -  and tried penning down some thoughts. However, as I chewed on my soba noodles and took a sip of my hot chocolate, I didn't feel particularly energized nor inspired. I have always struggled with the significance of birthdays because to me it has always felt like any other day (albeit with slightly more attention, and for that I am blessed). It does seem awfully lame to force fit some learning points out on this "special" day just because. Yet, so much weight seems to rest on how you interpret your life on that day.

What's the point really? I closed the book and left the cafe. Relax, Li Yin. And so I decided to take a little walk at several familiar haunts. I walked past Island Creamery, thought about the people I shared ice cream with; walked through Botanics, thought about the picnics I had and frisbee games I played (oops - I mean watched); took the MRT to Serangoon, surrounded myself with the sights of the hood I used to call my home; and made my way to Sengkang.

And just a couple of steps after I exited the MRT gantry, I saw a face I recognized - one that isn't that familiar, but one that has stuck with me for many years. It belonged to my primary four form teacher, someone whom I've been trying to reconnect with for many years. She was the person who saw so much potential in me back when I was uncertain of myself, she was the person who made her students write journal entries - which opened my eyes to a whole new world of writing for writing's sake, she was the person who accompanied me for various additional enrichment programmes the school sent me for, she was the person who believed that I could write a book - and congratulated me afterwards with a handwritten card even when she was no longer my teacher then. "I look forward to reading more of your stories in the future" - it was simple, sweet and still impacts me today.

Somehow, she was able to recognize me instantly despite almost eight years of not seeing me in person. The moment was truly amazing, and I gushed, "I'm so happy to see you!" Because well, I really was. She's honestly someone I always wanted to bump into but never did - and I couldn't visit her in school because she no longer teaches there. We chatted for a bit, not without her reminding me multiple times that I "didn't change at all" in terms of my outward personality. As we parted I just felt an immense sense of joy and gratitude.

Every birthday, I write about how thankful I am towards the people who've stayed by my side in life. And I definitely do still feel this way for sure.

But this birthday also showed me that the person I am today has actually also been shaped by so many people I've been lucky enough to cross paths with, but don't necessarily keep in touch with. It is inevitable that not all of them can remain a constant presence in my life due to circumstances - and that's okay. It's perfectly okay. It is important, though, to realize how much they've made a difference on my life and I just hope that the person I've become, or will become, does justice to all these amazing people.

And bumping into my teacher on my birthday this year really reminded me of this - that I should strive to the best person I can ever be, for myself and for everyone who has ever seen something in me, no matter how small or however long ago. From the brief interaction with my teacher, I could tell that she genuinely still cares about me, and that she's proud of how much I've grown. I just hope that I managed to convey a sense of gratitude as well, so that she knows how much she has positively impacted my life.

I truly can't properly describe how happy I am to have bumped into her. That's fate yo. Even though it's such an intangible takeaway, I'd consider myself to have received the best birthday gift that day.

To end off, here's a selfie I took on my birthday morning on the way to school - thanks Papa Yap for tirelessly driving me around every day without fail. At the point of this photo being taken, I didn't think that my day would play out so eventfully. Thanks universe. :') 

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