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Archive for August, 2009

accidents cause new people

More accurately, unintentional incidents often lead to one meeting new people. It takes two data points to establish a trend, and a third to confirm it (sorta), and it so happens that the events of today offer me three such data points.

1) So I was supposed to meet Johanna at the Performing Arts Center in Collegetown, where a shuttle from Bethel Grove Church was supposed to pick us up. Half an hour after the bus was due, the bus still hadn’t arrived, but there was this other Asian student waiting near us, and he had a Bible with him. So we approached him and asked if he was waiting for the Bethel Grove shuttle as well. It turns out the church shuttles are all (in his words) “rather iffy”, and more likely than not, the bus wasn’t gonna come, but he was waiting for the public bus to go to his church in Ithaca Commons, and would we like to come along? And so we ended up joining Michael (from Cornell) at the Vineyard Church of Ithaca, where we met two more Asian American students, Dave and Chelsea (also from Cornell), along with a hundred-strong (or maybe eighty) congregation of families, students and old folks. After the service (they have an opening song, then refreshments DURING service, followed by the sermon and the rest of the worship!), Dave chauffeured the three Cornellians plus one Ithaca College student back to our respective locations, and even dropped me right outside the hall I was supposed to be at. Nice people. I’ll definitely visit them again. Interestingly, their church is in such an obscure location of Ithaca Commons that if not for the meeting with Michael at the bus-stop, there’d be absolutely NO CHANCE of us ending up there.

2) Later in the day, I went to collect some registration documents from the Arts & Sciences office, but was told that they didn’t have my documents. It turns out that the deferment process was a little bit messy, and that although Cornell knew I was coming this Fall, the Arts & Sciences people were expecting me last Fall, and in light of my absence last year, weren’t expecting me anymore! But it’s not as serious as it sounds. It seems like the only repercussion of this technical (or administrative) fault is that I don’t have a printed copy of my courses (I have an online one, though), and I don’t have a faculty advisor! So I was sent to one of the Deans in A&S, and guess what? he assigned himself as my faculty advisor! So instead of having to wait for tomorrow to get a meeting with my faculty advisor like the rest of the students are doing, I got to meet my advisor today, and my Dean of Studies as well! And the funny thing is, none of the others who deferred matriculation because of NS had this problem, which turned out to be a privilege.

3) At the end of the long day, I headed back to Donlon with BoonJin (from Malaysia). We just came from two a capella performances (really good! but that’s another stories), so we were talking about music, and the conversation eventually led us to the grand piano on the first floor of Donlon. And when I’m with new people at a piano, I can’t resist teaching them the “knuckle duet” (more accurately, I play it first, and people invariably ask to be taught it). Halfway through, some other guy from Donlon came along and started watching. And from watching, it became learning (he’d never played on the piano before!), and while HE was learning, another guy came along, and I think the chain would have continued if not for the fact that it was time for another performace (poetry followed by acrobatics). So the four of us watched the performance together, and I’m pretty sure that’s not the last I’ll see of them.

So yeah. So much stuff’s been going on over the weekend that I haven’t blogged about, but there’ll be photos soon (I hope). Also, this’ll be the end of my first week here! And I’m pretty glad that I could end the eventful week with meeting all those people (meeting people during orientation doesn’t count, cos those meetings are sorta forced/planned/orchestrated). Looking forward to more of such in the future.

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at the neck of the hourglass

So this is my last night in Singapore. After all the rushing about, I’ve finally forced myself to sit down, reflect, and write.

It’s been really busy, the past few months. The earlier reunions start off safe; birthdays, or just a casual meal, and everyone congratulating each other on having survived secondary school, JC, army, or even the first few years of university: it all depends on the congratulatee. But soon the gatherings start to have a faint hint of the impending separation in the atmosphere. And then the gatherings become overt farewells, and the pace picks up. Lunch, dinner, lunch, high-tea, dinner, supper, overnighters… and then the airport, and photos and hugs and waving and watching the glass doors slide shut behind other people; soon it’ll be my turn. My turn to walk through those glass doors, to pass the departure gates and the flight attendants on the way to my seat, to watch the ground peel itself away from the plane, further and further and further away, and the people and buildings and patches of grass getting smaller and smaller, and then, cloud.

It’s like I’ve been living in a huge passenger plane all my life, and my fellow passengers are my friends and family, and now I’m getting up from my seat, and slowly walking towards the open door at the end of the aisle. The light pours in from the open door; it is from there that I must jump. And along the way, I pick up speed as I put on my sky-diving gear, and I high-five family and friends who are seated along the aisles. And the remaining length of aisle contracts under my advancing feet, until I can see the people in front of me, jumping off one by one, and soon it is my turn, and I glance back, see the faces one more time, and then I jump. And I see cloud.

Cloud, and not the distant land below; featureless cloud, featureless as my impression of my destination. Sure, I’ve heard stories of this Land where I’m going, seen it too, through pictures, moving or not. But they remain isolated images, glimpses through the cloud. There are no memories of smell, of sound, of taste, and no memories of events and emotions associated with those memories of sense. My destination is a distinctive Other, a new kind of new, different from any place that I’ve visited for the first time back here in Singapore. In Singapore, no place is really new; an air of familiarity lingers in even the most novel of circumstances, in the air, the people, the food, the weather; an air of familiarity that comes with having spent a fifth of a century of my twenty year life in places which are but variations on a theme. But America. America is different. I might as well be going to a mythical land. After all, my only impressions of both places are solely through stories and pictures. And it doesn’t help that my destination shares the name of the home of Odysseus.

So I will hurtle through the cloud – horizontally in the literal and vertically in the metaphorical sense. And yet, though I will be moving a great speeds, I will feel like I’m hanging in limbo, suspended in the timeless zone between the departure and arrival gates, the doorways to other worlds, passing zoneless time. I imagine that’s what a grain of sand would feel like as it passes through the neck of the hourglass: behind it, the sands of its past, relentlessly pushing it forward to a single point; before it, its future, spreading out larger and larger into the open and unknown. And at that exact point between irrecoverable past and unknowable future, it hangs for what seems like an eternity. Or what Odysseus must have felt, standing at the open gate of his house, his family and home of many years behind him, and all the road before him. The foot that crosses the threshold separating home from the rest of the world takes an eternity to land on the earth that belongs to the Outside, the Other, the Odyssey.

Tomorrow, I shall take that step. Tonight, I sleep.

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a reminder

Though you are in your shining days,
Voices among the crowd
And new friends busy with your praise,
Be not unkind or proud,
But think about old friends the most:
Time’s bitter flood will rise,
Your beauty perish and be lost
For all eyes but these eyes.

W。B。 Yeats

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