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So here I am on the rickety wooden bridge where every shaky step takes me further away from my days of being a girl, of barefoot running on meadows chasing butterflies circling the flowers in my hair, and another step closer to being a woman, of bosoms heavy with responsibilities, overflowing with possibilities.

It is a hard lesson to learn, graduating at the highest of tiers of formal education, to find not the promised land of fulfilled dreams dancing on white marble floors but me on all fours on grimy linoleum grounds, a paddle scrub in hand. The ivory tower in the clouds hovers above me and I inspect the winding stairs leading up to it, most of it obscured by shadows and thunderous clouds, virtually vertical.

It hurts my neck, holding my head up to keep my gaze upon the tower of dreams, which then hurt my eyes. I take a deep breath, keep my head down and scrub the steps that will pave my way to the tower up in my clouds.

This Side of Paradise

14/04/2017 – 17/04/2017: Tioman Good Friday Dive Trip

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13/04/2017 – Thursday

Just a city girl, living in a lonely world, she took the midnight coach going Malaysia. I’ve always looked forward to the buses, the trains, the planes that take me on a long journey towards my destination. How incredibly cleansing to watching through your relaxed mind and eyes half shut, the trees and the night rolling into each other in a blur, the baggage of work, anxiety and worries caught in the mixture and tossed to the back of my mind where they can’t touch me anymore.

I fell into a deep slumber stretched out at the back of the empty coach before being awaken at approximately 3AM upon reaching our hotel for the night and proceeding to crash into bed again.

14/04/2017 – Friday

One of the best feeling in the world is waking up in the morning and knowing that you’ll be spending the entire day being in nature or doing something that you know will leave your soul and spirit feeling utterly satisfied. Its a kind of enthusiasm, a kind of hope that feels like tiny bolts of lightning, jolts of energy that can overwrite any less-than-quality sleep the night before. The sounds of the world ring louder in your ears and the colours brighter on your eyes.

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The weather was absolutely splendid, the unbelievably azure skies so tantalizing, stoking my impatience to get out there to wrap my body in the warm rays of the sun and fresh open air. But Malaysia boleh, our ferry was delayed and we spent a good amount of time cooped up in the overcrowded ferry terminal, dispersing our frustration through the pores of our necks.

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We reached Noryah Dive Resort slightly after lunch, scorched by a sun reigning over the Earth, shining down on us with all its might, ravenous from the long voyage across the seas. I wolfed down a lunch of fried rice, fries and nuggets before putting on my swimsuit, one which hadn’t seen the light of the day since the start of the month when school and work where in cahoots with each other and got crazy together.

The first dive was a state of panic, the hasty re-introduction to the unpleasant logistics of diving which I had the luxury of skipping during both my open water and advanced certification classes. In retrospect, that luxury happened to be a curse in disguise. That realization hit me as I stood in the midst of a chaos of gears strewn all over the grass outside the concrete equipment shed, feeling as utterly lost as I was when I graduated from school on my last class. I clasped my gear bag between my palms and searched the surroundings for someone to imitate but everyone had advanced way beyond that.

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Drowning in all that jargons, halp

But all’s good. “Angkar”, our dive guide swooped in to save this blurcock damsel in distress with his huge twinkling eyes and megawatt grin with teeth pearly white against his sun bronzed skin. And within moments, my frazzled nerves were tamed as I got reacquainted with the numerous gears that I strapped upon myself.

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Dive #1: The first dive was a shore dive, which meant we had to walk out into the sea with our gears already on and float on backwards until we’ve reached water deep enough. Not a particularly enjoyable experience because I’m not the most graceful when putting on my fins while floating on my back. However, it did bring back wonderful memories of my Bali dives with Rebecca and the beefcake of our instructor.

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I had always struggled with descent, the journey from the surface down to the seabed. How utterly lonely I have felt floating on the surface as I watched with envy the air bubbles of the other divers on the surface as they descended with nary a hitch.

But not this time, for I lowered myself without having to put up a struggle and the sea enveloped me in its cool embrace. Welcome back. The area had lousy visibility due to the currents and the stirring of fine ass sand. Our group of 6 dwindled to 4 after a while and then almost 3 when I mistook another dive group for ours and Angkar intercepted to save the damsel in distress once again. He was indeed my knight in skin-tight wet suit.

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Dive #2: The night gradually descended upon us and we floated about the shallow waters, awaiting sunset before a night dive with Cristyano and Angkar. The sun went out with a fiery passion, setting the skies ablaze before disappearing into the clouds. Angkar strapped a compass to my BCD and taught me how to set the bearings for the land and navigate our way back when we’re turning back. He wanted me to lead us back to the starting point once we’ve circled certain landmarks underwater.

I’ve always loved the idea of night dives. It’s ironic because I’ve been absolutely terrified of the murky depths of the ocean, after having large pieces of seaweed brush past my bare legs, scarring my young mind, while swimming in the Sentosa waters as a child. Being submerged in my fear, in the darkness of a world that is not mine, activates a primal sense of urgency that feels like a burn in the pit of my stomach (might that be adrenaline though I  recall adrenal glands being located in the brain), which sharpens the senses, which have been largely dormant in our world of light and safety.

The dive went really well until we made a stop to practice my buoyancy control with a fin pivot. Then it went downhill from there.

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The ideal fin pivot

I spent what felt like forever fumbling in the darkness, attempting to float and sink according to my will through my breath, while hitting rock bottom 90% of the time. Cris and Angkar were really trying their best to help me, scribbling instructions and filling up the dive slate but unfortunately it was a spectacular fail trying to wield control over my body that no longer felt like my own.

The journey back to shore was quite the experience too, as my one track mind struggled to juggle the demands of looking down at the compass while watching where I was going. Granted, navigating a night dive with my rusty compass skills was probably a level 3 difficulty in the game. I bumped into several huge pieces of corals on the way, feeling both guilty and foolish, hoping fervently we’re headed back to shore.

What a huge relief being raising my head, see the ripples of black waters and the dancing moonlight across its surface. Despite my disappointment about not mastering buoyancy like I had intended to, I felt so incredibly exhilarated coming up for air, like a new life emerging from the cavernous wombs of its mother, welcomed by the chill of the salty sea breeze and silence of the big, great world. Gone was the initial panic. I had fallen back in love with diving once again.

15/04/2017 – Saturday

After one of the soundest sleep I’ve had in the month (April had been fucking crazy mentally),  I woke up, crawled out of my bed on the upper bunk of the dorm and stepped outside. The sunrise had tinted everything in a warm orange glow. All was quiet as most were still sleeping. It was such a wonderful feeling just standing there, taking in the smell of the sea, the sensation of grass and sand beneath my bare feet, the lightness of my spirit. I was SO in love.

The village began to awake one after another, gathered at the dining table for breakfast. I didn’t need coffee that day for I was bursting with so much natural energy, eager to head back into the waters again. We were diving from the Frogman today, which meant no more involuntary weights training and broken seashells jabbing into my feet!

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The boat felt a lot smaller that it did when I was there the last year in October when I did my advanced class. Maybe it was because now that I wasn’t living on board, the sleeping bunks were off access and I had one less area to hang out at. However, we soon discovered the roof and headed on up to soak in the sun.

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There were hours waiting and nothing’s happening as we headed to our first dive site. The Frogman I’m not complaining a single bit because the roof was the perfect spot to chill, where you get an unobstructed view of the surroundings, the vast blue oceans, the unobstructed breeze, the golden rays of the sun warming your back. If perfection existed in a moment, there I was living in it.

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*Boatmen Appreciation*

Dive #3: The dive was not particularly remarkable, more of a desperate escape from the relentlessly rocky boat to quell any intensification of the motion sickness I felt welling up at the back of my throat. Being in the water was so meditative, so healing, so tranquil, especially after getting my buoyancy under control.

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In between dives, we took a boat and went swimming in a beach right in front of some dive resorts, in an area cordoned off for snorkeling. The place was filled with little kids and teenagers, boisterous and lively.  The water was emerald and clear, teeming with snorkelers and colorful fishes. What I was really excited about was the floating platform were you could dive off of. Cris showed me how to do the front flip and I managed to achieve half of it, hitting the water with my back mid turn. Hurts but it felt good being able to accomplish something which I’ve only been able to watched the boys in my swimming classes do in public pools 13 years ago.  It was a very pure kind of happiness.

Dive #4: We hit the waters again in full gear as the sun hit the time of the day where it commences its descend. Visibility was bad but the murkiness of the water was somehow appropriate for the landmarks we were visiting, 2 huge shipwrecks and the massive columns of the beams supporting the jetty.

It was like living in a cinematic segment of an adventure film without the dramatic music, the shadowy hull of the boats slowly coming into view as I ambled forward and it took a while before I could wrap my brain around the sheer size of the wrecks.  I caught myself hearing loud beeping sounds, like the warning alarms of the control devices of sinking ships I’ve seen in movies and the occasional panicked shouts of men, incoherent and frightened. My imagination – a built-in storytelling device. 10/10 experience.

16/04/2017 – Sunday

I woke up at 6 by newly formed mosquitoes bites on my legs demanding to be scratched. Apparently, I had kicked off my protective blankets in the middle of the night and unwittingly started an all-you-can eat blood feast for the little guys. I had half-an-hour before our meeting time so I headed down to the beach to walk again.

It is so therapeutic listening to the waves gently crash against the shore, the crackling sea foam as it retreated back into the ocean, mixed with the excited voice of Sherry face timing her boyfriend, showing him the beauty of the beach at sunrise.

Today was the last day of the trip and I was determined to make the most of the remaining dives I’ve had. We were diving from the Frogman again and I was beyond stoked to see that the weather was working in our favor again. Long live summer days!!

Dive #5: And this seems to be my first encounter with currents. It’s a love-hate relationship. So much hate when you’re going against it, kicking desperately, burning up your oxygen supply and finding yourself stuck at the same spot like a hamster in a wheel. But LOVE when you’re drifting with the current, like leaning back on the softest, silkiest blanket and sliding off it. Almost like flying. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN! I’ll definitely want to learn more about drift diving or dealing with strong currents because the word on the streets is that that’s where you get to encounter the most and best sea life forms.

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Dive #6: Oh boy did I see the Renggis site in a whole new light! LITERALLY.

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It was the most perfect way to end the entire diving trip. Renggis is beautiful BOTH above and beneath the waters. Its mass of vibrant coral reefs were abundant with life and colors, with large schools of fishes just hanging out, darting in and out, between corals, away from my outstretched arms of wistful hopes to have one of them swim in my palms. The parrot fishes never fail to crack me up between breathes into my regulator.

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Girl look at those lips

We also swam past a massive moray eel, more commonly known as bad joke eel, snapping its jaws at little fishes as it emerged from within the corals.

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Credit: Someone in the leisure dive group

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The highlight of this dive has got to be the colossal sea tortoise, which I had mistaken for a huge piece of reef, with a voracious appetite, chewing away at corals like an underwater demolition machine. I was beside myself with excitement, an almost out-of-body experience, seeing this giant creature in flesh, not on the TV screen of Nat Geo.

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THE END

PS: I CAN’T WAIT FOR MY NEXT DIVE!!

PPS: Much thanks and love to my dive buddy, Cristyano

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Alternatives

The first time our skulls stacked upon our spines without aid and begin life with our heads held high between the shoulders, life veterans snapped a pair of goggles with rubber straps which fit snugly over the curve of our developing minds, tinted black, tinted white.

That was our first encounter, the only way we would see the world as the years form, the goggles both stretching and restraining as we grew our minds.

Black tints the tantrums of our instincts not under control, the piercing screams in the silence of the trains, the flailing limbs on the linoleum floors of toy stores, the furrowing of brows, the ominous silence a harbinger to the hard slap across the cheeks. Then it’s the guilt of enjoyment, the afterimage of single digit test scores across tear stained cheeks, ears ringing from lessons delivered in pain, the silence of the air as you speak to find nobody echoing with you, the childish taunts that drove arrows straight through you, the chill of fogged up glass windows from the outside looking in. Black is the blanket of smoke which smothering you to get as low as you can, noses pinched, to get to your next breath of fresh air in the light, tinted white.

White tints the silence when adults are conversing, the sanguine smiles when acknowledged, the “thank you”s which came from voice boxes and not our hearts, the stay out of the way, the hunched backs over papers, pen in hands, scribbling through the night, the sweet taste of victory of hearing your name echoed back at you together with rankings above other names, the annual handshakes with very important but unfamiliar men, the flashes of film cameras, afterimage of the teeth of parents beaming proud. In the white we also find words like “elite school”, “doctors”, “scholarships”, “lawyers” rolled around in tongues, held in between lips like candies, the aroma of a dinner feast to welcome the son of a respectable Chinese family with prospects bright as white, the redness of cloths and weddings, the porcelain teacup pinched between fingers, the delightful cries of grandchildren reverberating a newly constructed BTO flat, a smattering of small feet running across wooden floors.

What if our world is painted in colours beyond black and white?

Reach your palms up behind your head, slip your fingers under the curve of your scalp and snap the tinted goggles off.

Behold a world which explodes in colours, one where children run wild in the woods under the warm sun, dirt on their faces, mud on their knees, where learning the skills of happiness and friendships take precedence over hitting numbers on a paper, where there is no white or black, no RIGHT OR WRONG.

How about coming out of college, pursing your passions, starving on a lower-tiered starting pay and not feeling the sting of judgment? How about getting to know your instincts better in the beds of friends, in the arms of strangers, in the embrace of pure nature? How about building a long and successful future with another girl in a mobile camper van, based on nothing but trust, hope and a golden retriever? How about a life without a house but a home in every corner of this beautiful Earth? How about solitude? How about all the colours of the rainbow without pain and suffering?

How about that?

Re:

The woman behind the clear, glass wall watches life with VR glasses on. Nothing is real so nothing can touch her. Not the hurtful emotions, not the tangled mess of human relationships, not drama, not pain.

The glass wall is impenetrable. To love, to compassion, to feelings, to the mechanics of life that make us all human. All the memo plastered across the glass wall, fading with the wind, as she comprehend but does not fully sense.

A small part of her thought she was going insane, loud thoughts emitting from the gradually calcifying, corrugating shell of a person, only to have their routes foiled by the impenetrable glass.

But another part of her knew that the wall had sprung up all around her, because a visit from her old friend was imminent. She could feel its familiar shadows darkening in proximity.

I’m ready for you. Hello darkness my old friend.

Abject

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I’ve always lived life on the outside of me, outside of this world. A passing traveler always on the outside looking in, latching upon the slightest warmth, fantasizing upon an entire world based on each morsel of heat. I am doomed to walk from window to window, house to house for subsistence, never stepping foot into their interiors.

Cold is my soul, chilled by abject loneliness, my heart frozen still, frost bitten by indifference. Fingers stiff from hands raised against the blistering winds of solitude. I walk on narrow cobblestone streets, shoulders grazing rows of houses, watching, walking, watching.

Maybe this is how I age, shrinking back within myself, hardening, hurting, helpless, dying. Surrounded by people, open doors, “Welcome Home!” mats, warm fireplaces, yet I trudge forward, boots crunching in the snow, obstinately clutching my independence against my chest.

Last year I’ve learnt that loneliness is a dangerous thing that have led me down needle-riddled, thrash-strewn back alleys into the mouths of blood thirsty wolves. I was vulnerable yet hopeful that redemption lies in the warmth of bodies who have lent residence to too many vagabonds.

This year, I peeled off the grimy coat that clung onto my body with false security. Wholesome 2017. I am clean and pure. Yet I am teetering on a treacherous tightrope, braving the Siberian winds of loneliness, above the carnal flames of lust licking my bare feet with every trembling step.

This chapter ends shrouded in the mists of self-doubt and abject loneliness, the downsides of a life of no commitments.

But the pages keep flipping. And then what happens?

(I do hope it does not commence with a relapse)