Note: I was rifling through my stuff one day, clearing my space, simplifying its order and letting it breathe when I found this. It was those times that I needed to write down what I felt – just like author Elizabeth Gilbert when she felt besieged by her emotions and the world – because if I didn’t I was going to implode. I wrote this almost seven years ago, and as I was reading through it, I realised that I’m on that same boat again. The funny thing is M, R and I had a falling out ages ago; actually it was only with M, but M and R are like identical twins so that friendship collapsed altogether. M seemed affable until his salacious side showed. And, embarrassingly, I can’t remember who J is! It’s a different setting now but that need to search for kindred souls has not waned. Let’s just say once bitten, twice shy.
Most of the students were filing out of the hall as he rolled up his yoga mat and tucked away his notes. There was not a trace of fatigue on his face unlike most of his yoga students who shuffled out of class. Balakrishnan Metchap, or Bala as everyone calls him, was still smiling and looked as if he were just beginning his day. Pardon the cliché – even his eyes were smiling, dancing even! Obviously, it must be the yoga. After all, he’s been practising it for more than seven years. He got in to it because of a knee injury he told the class once.
Up until then, I just waved at him then walked to my regular spot in the room. This time I accosted him and gave him my name card, handing it with both my hands (it’s how it’s done in Singapore). He looked at it, a smile on his face, and then pointedly asked how I was handling Singapore. He deduced I was a Filipino reading my last name; Spanish was his next guess.
“It’s quite a cold country where people don’t generally smile,” Bala remarked matter-of-factly, continuing on to say that the Filipino culture is so warm vis-à-vis his culture.
His question stopped me in my tracks. I could only manage a wry smile. How does one coming from a culture of affectionate camaraderie (that’s being forthcoming and touchy-feely in the parlance of the 20somethings) adjust to an environment that’s close? Now, it wasn’t Bala asking me the question. I was asking myself the same question.
I was gung-ho at the beginning. The phrase “hope springs eternal” was a mantra I often recited during my first few years in Singapore. I was brimming with optimism that I’d break through the glass barrier and forge good ties. The mantra slipped into oblivion as interpersonal relationships went awry with, among other things, stilted conversations drying up the spring of cheerfulness. Watching movies and plays alone became the order of the day alongside parrying the classic question “You watched it alone?” accompanied with rolling of the eyes and jaws dropping in shock. Extending invites to for drinks or whatever was non-existent and witty banter was relegated to doing it with an imaginary friend or friends back home through e-mail and phone calls.
Being in a relationship didn’t do much either because I might as well have been single. His idea of a relationship was completely opposed to mine. He believed that maintaining a relationship was meeting up with his friends on our dates and saying that he’s not a 24-7 kind of guy. I was residing at the opposite spectrum of the relationship.
There were a few souls I managed to connect with but the connections were ephemeral. One “close friend” sent me a long e-mail saying she had to stay away from me because we were spending too much time hanging out together. Another just turned cold turkey and kept me at arm’s length. To think, we were talking on the phone for hours, buying a vacuum cleaner for my flat etc. Meanwhile, this other person refused my birthday invitation on grounds that her soul won’t find salvation if she stepped into my flat.
Fortunately, I stumbled into a handful of kindred souls. I met my flatmate at my gym’s locker room who introduced me to several people through the months. Admittedly, I was wary about trying to connect again. “Why bother?” I thought to myself. But one fine day, I braved the chilly wind and found myself basking in the warm glow of compassion. I’ve reconnected again! M and R are affable individuals. S, J and P are gracious and caring.
Connecting with other people hasn’t stopped since then although I’m more cautious. Chalk it up to yoga. I was able to re-connect with myself through yoga. Becoming more aware of myself helped me to resolve certain emotional baggage I carried with me for some time. There’s nothing like positive energy coursing through your body that just makes you want to reach out to the world. And there’s nothing like good energy that draws positive people into your circle of light. Chalk it up to accepting the fact that not everyone can be on the same plane as you –just guard against sliding down his or her plane, if you get my drift.
Now, if we were to replay that scene again with Bala, I’d be saying, with a wide smile, “Not bad. I am doing all right. Thanks. Good class. I’ll see you next week.”