7 years and a coconut tree.

Today it hit me how we really can choose how we live. Or maybe not ‘we’ per se, but our family… and eventually, us, if we wish. It started with me meeting my neighbour of 18 years whom before today I’ve pretty much lost contact with.

I like to study by myself and the peace and quiet it brings so most people probably don’t know this, but I’ve recently graduated from studying in my room to studying in this beautiful common condo room. I love it! It’s bright and airy with a view of the pool and swaying leaves and the occasional sparrow flying about– it just makes me feel so wonderfully serene (and like a caged bird sometimes but mostly serenity wins, thank goodness). In the morning while studying I saw my neighbor walking her labradoodle (labrador and a poodle cross, which just so happens to rhyme with a squiggly line on a piece of paper). She hadn’t seen me. I hesitated and turned back to my books. After lunch, I saw her again walking her dog and this time, I waved. Or not really me hahaha something came over me and my hand had a life of its own and waved. x)

“Hi, __!”, I smiled. “Hello Michelle!”, she grinned in return. She remembered my name! As I did hers. Turns out old friends’ names are hard to forget. Being able to greet /by name/ someone you haven’t met in years always amazes me and for one fleeting fleeting moment

it was like no time at all had passed between us. 7 years ago since we last saw each other regularly for swimming lessons and oh! how much have changed since. The reason I stopped swimming lessons is the same one I give (too often) now.

Busy busy busy. We wear it almost as a badge of honour, ‘a boast, disguised as a complain’ (from the GP comprehension article we did about idleness). We shout it to the world and expect a resounding clap on our backs; we grumble about it to our friends and nowadays, get the veiled congratulatory remark ‘well, better than being a sloth i guess’ in return; most of all, I think we mutter it to ourselves as an automatic defense– ironically it is both a reminder to rush around and an excuse to be idle.

I stopped swimming lessons in year 1. She stopped soon after. I attended RGS, she went to PLMGS. Prefect, House Captain, Guides, Debate, AVPA, Chess… on her side: blank, blank, home school.

Wait what? Home school! She was the first person I knew who home schooled. (In Singapore, 1 in 16,428 students homeschool). Our occasional bumping into each other while trudging back home at 6pm evolved into me bumping into her walking her dog, walking with her brother, walking around. I trudged alone.

I asked my parents why she home schooled, what she learnt, how it was done. In school, everyone leads approximately the same lives– intentionally so. We follow timetables, the dinging of the school bell, the instructions of the teachers who were authority. At home we could play. Home-School seemed like an implausible oxymoron. Perhaps I was trying to resolve this mystery when I delved so deep into the mechanics of homeschooling, maybe I just secretly wanted to try it sometimes. ‘Homeschool’ one week for every 2 school-going months. It was an unfamiliar topic even to my parents though, and the only concrete, though admittedly half-joking line I got was “sit under the coconut tree and read…?”. Coconut trees don’t grow well in Singapore. Clearly my path was destined for school.

When I caught up with her today… through little bouts of conversations with half-awkward, eager pauses, I realized just how different our lives had become, though we started on pretty much the same footing. Since then, coconut-tree-reading had evolved into something of an enigma to me– mysterious, alluring, dangerous (a coconut could drop on your head), ordinary… un-busy. That lifestyle simultaneously calls to me and repels me.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m thinking straight. Am I abnormal, to view flashy living as less of a goal to strive towards, than coconut-tree-reading? It inspires me. For some warped reason my mind surely conjured, I imagine that if I work hard enough one day I will read under the coconut tree. But at the same time, all you need to do to ‘achieve’ this, is to just drop everything and find a coconut tree. I’ve found so many trees in my life, surely this tree can’t elude me.

How do you work towards something which innately requires no work?

Why is it easier to work towards something which does require work?

I thought work was the tough thing to do. Maybe I’m wrong.


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