Disclaimer: In Real Life is a platform for everyday people to share their experiences and voices. All articles are personal stories and do not necessarily echo In Real Life’s sentiments.
It was my birthday, again, and I was spending it by myself, again.
I decided to put on a dress for a change, and go to a café I don’t usually go to (their coffee is more expensive than the rest).
Still, I kind of liked it there, mainly because they played music from a long time ago. That, and because the barista had a really nice smile.
I walked past that famous street, always so full of people taking pictures of the same damn thing; posing next to a bicycle, looking like they’ve never quite rode on one before. I can be such a Grinch, even on my birthday. Oh well…
The music prevailed despite the noisy tourists. I love seeing the old uncles play music with their DIY instruments. But where are the old aunties?
The café wasn’t too crowded, and I was quite at peace, reading Bukowski, while sipping good coffee. I texted a guy I had a crush on, but I had a feeling it was unrequited, yet again.
Georgetown always had a dreamy feel to it.
Image courtesy of Ernest Zacharevic
I didn’t have real plans — the plan was to not have a plan, but I knew I wanted to get inspired, and something told me to head to this island.
My black coffee danced along to songs that people these days don’t usually sing along to.
The words on the page urged me to write my own in my one Ringgit notebook which had one of those famous murals, probably by Ernest Zacharevic, but I’m not too sure. The perennial battle of consumption vs creation.
The Marvelettes were singing Please Mr. Postman. The background music seemed to give me a hand, nudging me to throw in some dissonance to my words. I took everything in, like a not-so-young Padawan.
Outside, there was bitterness in the sunshine, but at least it didn’t rain. Even if it did, I would just have to play along. Bukowski would be indifferent either way.
And no, the postman never did bring any love letters; it was always bills, rejection letters, and more bills.
It was nice to be away from tall, pretentious buildings, phallic towers, and annoyingly cold subways and malls; away from corporate folks who wear their name tags during lunch breaks.
And just like that, three and a half months had passed.
Photo by Donald Tong
Tomorrow is January first, the day I leave.
There was love, and heartbreak; days I felt at peace, and days where I questioned everything. I had to constantly remind myself to observe; to not react and just be; to embrace life’s paradoxes, just like Lao Tzu.
I had already fallen in love with this place, yet, what is love? A distraction? A temporary fix for pain, loneliness, mundanity, and boredom? The sweet red cherry to accompany the quotidian?
Or is it more of the real deal: Something you want beside you despite all the meaninglessness that comes with life, and yet, somehow inspire art? I was still looking for the latter.
I will miss a lot of things.
Night walks to nowhere, in the company of rats scurrying about as they glisten under the moonlight; trying to keep calm as one hops over my feet, its cold, scaly tail grazing my skin.
The bemused cow that stopped traffic the night both the Buddhist and Hindu procession took place all at once;
The random conversations with random strangers that inspire one thing that leads to another.
Eating siew bao at the jetty till after sunset, not wanting to leave, thinking about everything and nothing;
The cool people at Hin Bus Depot who live consciously with nature; the barefoot hippies, the wonderful souls who make art, who inspire me out of my insecurities;
The dude Capoeira-ing at the rundown bus stop; the woman who blew soap bubbles and sprinkled glitter on people;
The buskers at Padang Kota and the family picnics on weekends (and some weekdays);
Nusantara for cheap menthols, and discovering the real function of Minyak Kapak with respect to Gudang Garam;
Drinking watered-down liquor to songs I just can’t seem to run away from, like that annoying Ed Sheeren song, all for the sake of good company;
Not understanding why I find myself walking down Love Lane for the millionth time, which is always too full of people forcing joy upon life;
Long runs to nowhere, taking in the beautiful architecture, while noticing something different every time;
The Datuk Putih keeping watch in the red shrine, not too far away from the angry dog’s life in chains;
The homeless people sleeping at Prangin mall — how am I contributing to society?
The joy that is D’Loovis, Soundmaker Studio, Gerakbudaya, Hikayat and Penang House of Music — the only museum here worth so much more than the ticket price;
Serendipitous books at Chowsrasta;
Staring at the peacockian neon lights dancing about Komtar at night even though she ate all the stars — a postmodern Stockholm syndrome of sorts;
Late night lok lok and shwarmas (the stall on Chulia St.) whenever I forgot about dinner;
The one ringgit chapati on Lebuh Queen;
Trying to wake up early so I can continue the search for the best roti bakar;
The masala thosai and masala chai at Woodlands;
Hong Kee Wan Thun Mee’s prawn dumplings;
Feeling like I’m winning at life every time I get on the free shuttle bus.
Photo by Fabio Eckert
The clock struck midnight, while cars were stuck in a sea of people.
There were firecrackers and human expressions of joy in the form of shrilly yells; lots of confetti, people in odd hats, amateur drunks, and lousy music, played extra loud.
Everything was over in five minutes. I found my love for life, and so it was time to leave, again.
For more stories like this, read: How Moving From the Suburbs of JB to KL Changed Me as a Person and 5 Things Living in the Sarawak Jungle Has Taught Me About Surviving Isolation.
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