It was one of those mornings where I woke up ‘leaping’ from bed because it was going to be an exciting day. After seven gruelling exam papers, I was ready to take on life again. I might have done really badly in one of my papers, or failed it even, but I wasn’t going to worry about it now. The day started with a video call with my mom, then I managed to squeeze in a morning climb at the wall and made my way to the city centre for the Sundance Film Festival. We were going to catch not one, but TWO Sundance films in a day! The weather was beautiful, the sky in glorious blue, and I was in the presence of an awesome company.
It was going to be, as how the Brits would put it, a BRILLIANT day.
I’ve been quite sappy recently.
We’ve passed the halfway mark of our time here in the UK. By now, we have almost mastered the art of taking the tubes and busses and wherever our feet may take us in these busy streets. Standing on the right side of the escalator comes naturally to us, the dramatic UK weather no longer takes us by surprise, we have learned to queue up for everything, mind our P’s and Q’s, whip up our own fry-ups and avocado toasts instead of overpaying them at cafes (there’s a slight 1% chance we may still be able to own a house someday), and an increased interest in a good banter or two.
I miss home, I really do. Most of all, I miss my family and friends, yes even more than the food (my dietary habits have slowly taken a different turn since I got here).
But I am also starting to miss London.
First Sundance documentary: Chasing Coral. Being a recreational scuba diver, I was particularly keen on catching this documentary on the rapid coral bleaching phenomenon that is driven by climate change. The filmmakers were literally chasing against time to film and capture the process of coral bleaching in various parts of the world just so that they could show it to people like you and me to create a sense of awareness, and to educate us on how we can help. I’m not much of a crier – but the sight of healthy, beautiful corals turning into lifeless, bleached fossils managed to draw a tear of two from me. An entire ecosystem that supports us from beneath is dying and it angered me that to this day, some of the most powerful people in the world still think that climate change is some kind of a hoax.
We could use some sunshine now, but first, free ice cream! Ice cream is one of our favourite things and getting one free totally made our day. I was amazed at how food technology has evolved – this delicious thing is gluten-free AND dairy-free! Those aren’t things I’m particular about, but it’s nice to know we don’t have to compromise flavour for healthier options.
What do I love most about London? It’s hard to pick one particular thing, but I love how accessible everything and every place is. I could get lost in the city whilst discovering the hidden nooks and corners and still meet up with friends in a totally different part of the town on time. I love having the option of walking first, and taking public transportation only when I need to be somewhere in a jiffy or because the weather is shitty.
Also, I’ve been writing a lot more since I got here. On the blog, or even in my personal journal – I’ve been inspired by the places I’ve been, the things I’ve been through and the people I’ve met.
And most importantly, I’m beginning to find my own voice again.
“Go left, right or straight on? You decide this time,” I was told. I gleefully picked a left and we walked aimlessly until we reached St. James’ Park. We had hours to kill before the next screening, and we weren’t going to pass up the chance of lying on a green patch of grass in the summer sun. I brought a book with me, of which I read a few paragraphs before putting it down because I got too carried away in conversation.
I learned a new Portuguese word, “Saudade”, which carries the beautiful, nostalgic meaning of longing of something or someone. That word also resonated with me in a way I can’t explain, not even as I type this.
I guess I’ve always wanted to feel like I belong, but not to a physical space. But more like, the space within me that I’m learning to learn about and love a little more each day so that wherever I am, I am my own home and not defined by square feet. And maybe one day share that space with someone else.
Once we were done absorbing all the vitamin D that we could get, it was time for dinner. I had the best vegetarian burger of my life. The day just kept getting better.
Living in a developed country doesn’t mean everything is greener on this side. Yes, I am living in a city that I only used to see in movies, but now I am also living in a city that we see in the news. Years has passed since the tragic 9/11, and we have observed no less terror attacks in major cities ever since. From Brussels to Paris to London itself – the past few years have presented its own grief and triumphs. It is no less amazing to see how tragedies as such both tear people apart and bring them together at the same time.
When the Westminster attack took place, I was in uni – which means that I was all the way in East London, far from the chaotic scene that unfortunately some of my friends had to go through. Nevertheless, it was the first time I had to “check-in safe” on social media to appease my loved ones. Texts and calls kept coming in throughout the night (when UK goes to sleep, Malaysia wakes up), and while I was grateful for everyone’s concern, the effects of the event was hardly felt at my side of the city. Things cleared up pretty fast and soon, everyone was back on track.
And then Manchester happened. It was far from where I am, but that doesn’t make it any less sad.
But no one told us what else was coming.
The second film: Icarus. This documentary was quite unexpectedly epic – it was an expose on how the Russians weaved their way through the international anti-doping program to earn their medals, told from the point of view of the mastermind himself, Grigory Rodchenkov (he’s like the Russian equivalent of Snowden). Greek mythology fans would understand the reference of the movie title, as Icarus was the son of the creator of the Labyrinth whose wings that were made of wax melted when he defied his father’s orders and flew too close to the sun, resulting to his tragic fall into the sea – in short, it was a story of personal over-ambition.
I was in awe of the ordeals the director and creator of the documentary put himself through, including risking is own life to get Rodchenkov’s story across. Yes, even if that meant blatantly accusing Putin of being responsible for it all. I wonder if I’ll ever have that kind of courage when it comes to storytelling.
By the time the movie ended, my brain was fried. Both movies gave me a lot to ponder about, and while it has been a really long day, it was becoming one of the best days ever. We parted ways at the tube station, and just as I stepped into the tube, I read a text from the scholar’s group chat informing us about the London Bridge attack. Announcements were being made that some stations were closed and immediately it struck me that that was the other line my friend was on.
You know that feeling when you just want the fastest tube in London go faster so that you can get some bloody reception to contact someone you care about?
I didn’t either, until that day.
The moment I reached my station, there were some police doing crowd control and I started getting missed calls and texts. My friend had also left me a recorded voice message, of which I was relieved to hear. My flatmates started calling me to check up on me and we were all glad that everyone was okay. Then I found out another incident had happened at Vauxhall too, and that was when I realised that I was getting upset over this. I reached home all tired and worn out, and joined my flatmates who were watching the news from the laptop in the kitchen whilst replying texts and calls from our loved ones.
I “checked-in safe” on social media. Again. I called it a night and went back to my room.
It was supposed to be an awesome day. And in more ways than one, it was.
These twists of events did not need to happen. But they did.
It was a quiet Sunday morning. I sat at the edge of my bed recounting the day that had just passed. A couple of my friends texted me to share about how troubled they felt throughout the day, and I was glad I wasn’t alone in feeling that way. While we weren’t exactly at the event of the attack, it did feel like it could have been any of us. I am not implying that London is a dangerous place to live in because truth it this could happen anywhere, in any country.
And I felt helpless and frustrated because of that very reason. What if someone I know became one of the collateral damages of these incidents? One of my chat groups from people back home said they weren’t surprised by these things anymore, and that it has always been an ongoing ‘war’. I knew it was a harmless comment, but tell that to the parents of those whose children were killed in the attack. It’s so easy to be from the outside looking in, but London has been more than just a home for me for the past nine months – it’s a place where I had slowly discovered bits and pieces of myself and start over. And just as if it were to happen back where I come from, we all grieve together.
In times of tragedy we also see unsung heroes stepping up to lend a hand to those in need, people voicing up for those who are unable to speak for themselves, and leaders who refuse to give in to bullying and terror. These are well-needed wins.
Living fully has always been something I strive for, and even more so since I started this new chapter. We will never know when our time is up, which is why, like every mathematical problem, we leave the unknowns and imaginary numbers as they are and focus on what we already have at hand – life.
From the small things, such as making our bed or spending quality time with loved ones to bigger things like doing something that scares us or be a part of something bigger than ourselves – they all add up to the borrowed time that we have here.
Each time we show kindness, we win.
Each time we’re true to ourselves, we win.
Each time we choose respect, we win.
Each time we forgive someone, we win.
Each time we love, we win.
I’m writing this to remind myself to fret small and live big, and to remember that love intrinsically trumps fear. I belong to a generation that has more power in their fingertips and voices than ever before. A generation where a small act of kindness can go a long way and create ripples beyond boundaries. And there’s much to be done.
I’m writing this to remind myself that this little life I live now, as finite as it may be, could influence another – in the present, in the future. It’s almost like our lives, in a strange roundabout way, are being lived forever.
I am not afraid.