A Strange Winter

A nightly rain poured down on the whole of Singapore and managed to wet the Singapore River itself. Singapore has greeted me with a rain on my arrival, and is bidding me farewell with this rain in my last days. In this rain, one can easily see that there is something tragic about the Singaporean sun, quite different from the unforgiving sun of other Southeast Asian countries. The sun here briefly punishes the city with its vicious rays, only to be usurped by an overcast sky. Though one can never defy its presence, the sun is so casually forgotten and replaced. It is a czar in decline that reigns without hope over this tropical sky.

The colorful neon lights of downtown skyline are draped with a rain-induced mist. Overlooking this sight from afar at desolate Marina Barrage, I once again find myself all alone in a strange city. Looking at the shy, vivid city lights seeking refuge behind the fog, I know that it is precisely for this transcendent moment that some of us travel. It is not for an instantly gratifying thrill of being in a new place, or for a temporary vacation from the dullness of every day life. It is in search of this rare and fugitive moment that we set sail to unknown places. Among the angry mobs and burning tires in Kiev, or in those snow-covered mountains of Vilnius, I was there searching for something that always evaded me. This pretty skyline glided with mist arouses an innocent hope in me that it might be harboring, once and for all, that which I have been looking for all along.

A man does not have to understand what he is seeking in order to foolishly fling himself on a reckless search for it. After all, not knowing is precisely a reason for wanting to know. The torment of not knowing where to go or what to want is often enough to destine him to this calamitous journey. On this roadless expedition one does not know where one is headed, and thus one can only hope to recognize the prized destination upon arriving there. In this way we are forced to roam blindfolded as heroes of our journeys, not knowing where we are and where to go. At this very moment, I might be looking at this mesmerizing man-made skyline of Singapore, but the truth is that all I see is nothing.

In many ways on this journey we are to carry out the labor of Sisyphus. In the Greek mythology, Sisyphus was sentenced to roll a massive boulder to the top of a hill, only to see it slide down to the bottom once it reached the top. He was thus destined to repeat his action in eternity. Of this famed hero, Camus wrote that “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.” To him the meaningless struggle in eternity must have been heartwarming. Most likely this exotic sight of Singapore skyline might also be heartwarming to those simply enjoying their vacation. Yet new cities often only fill my heart with emptiness, and I guess it is because I am on a road looking for not a vacation, but something in particular, something that I do not understand.

Strange city lights always insinuate to me that they are hiding what I seek, just slightly out of my reach. Yet whenever I carefully reached out my hands citybound, time and again I grasped only emptiness. Apparently years of traveling have not taught me any lessons, and with a gullible heart I again stand beholding this yet another city hoping I can find something in it. Despite knowing that there is nothing, I have no choice but to stupidly throw myself at this melancholy skyline. There is no inherent meaningfulness or moral superiority in this foolish pursuit. Yet this search must go on because it is simply everything I have, and the only logical response left in me. Just as Sisyphus walked downhill toward the boulder to continue his inconsequential actions, one sometimes has to behold the city as though doing so meant something. One must at times pretend as though the city sheltered the treasures in pursuit, even though one knows not what they are. In this life sometimes the most illogical action is the one that makes the most sense.

Therefore we senselessly raise the sail for this ludicrous voyage with the most reasonable purpose. From the eyes blankly fixated on this skyline it is evident that this journey with no destination is devoid of meaning. But in this destitution of meaning we must most certainly carry on. This city may only fill our hearts with emptiness but emptiness is still more fulfilling than nothingness. We can only hopelessly glare at these cruel lights that never reveal what it seem to promise, but not being able to know is still less tormenting than simply not knowing. I am a prisoner irresistibly drawn to this fatal city lights like a moth to a flame. This punishing skyline might well burn my wings to ashes, yet I have no choice but to instinctively follow this most irrational passage.

The rain has picked up the intensity and is now coming in gushes. As raindrops grow more frequent and noticeable, I grow too exhausted to continue this endless search. For the first time in a while, I am no longer rummaging through these charming city lights seeking answers. My eyes do not implore, but rather stare blankly at this indifferent city. Bitterly I am coming to terms with the absurdity of the journey I am undertaking, and the nonsensical life that renders such journey an only acceptable action. Under this nocturnal rain, reckless desperation dissolves and contemplation takes its place. The effect of the beautiful Singaporean skyline is harsh. I thought I could be pensive without being lugubrious. But Camus was right in that “beginning to think is beginning to be undermined.” These vivid moments of rumination expose me and leave me vulnerable.

Surely the next morning the sun will come out and shine on the puddles and wet pavements to resume its temporary reign over this sky. In the depth of the Singaporean summer ruled by this tragic sun, I discover a strange winter. This winter undermines us with the most tormenting and vivid contemplation. Yet in that moment of being undermined, and only in that precise moment, we can affirm that we are truly alive. Only in the throes of this winter we are alive to the bitter end. Someday the summer will come, just as the morning comes in Singapore, and when it does we must not forget these winter days and the taste of being alive. I can finally put a word on that which I have been seeking all along, and it is ‘summer’. Perhaps we are all foolish wayfarers endlessly seeking the summer in our winters. When I find that incredible summer, I hope I can remember this strange winter that showed me what it feels to be alive.

Singapore 2017 June