Background Music. This week, I’m back to work at the office. My desk is right by the reception, where Kiss 92 is on all day (and night) long. I put on my headphones to cancel out the noise – or to indulge in noises that don’t take me back to when I was a dreamy 10-year-old Westlife fan. Most of the time, I try to focus on doing ONE thing at a time; working OR listening to music. Some tasks, sometimes, however, work well with a soundtrack; a soothing and stimulating dopamine release to boost productivity, played on loop so it becomes an internalised part of the day. It varies a lot which type of music works best, and whether it’s purely instrumental or not. Sometimes lyrics or melodies disappear after a certain number of repetitions; sometimes words lead to a more or less conscious insight. I’m wondering about the difference and connection between loving a song, any song, and finding that it compliments or even has a positive effect on the quality of your work versus actively looking for productivity-stimulating music to rewire your brain, like those 6-hour brain power-inducing alpha waves concentration soundtracks that flourish on YouTube. If I get a kick out of hearing some ballad that I love on repeat when I work – is it because it contains some of the elements and frequencies typical of the so-called ‘study music,’ or is it just because they stimulate me generally and therefore my work specifically – or am I really just kidding myself and enjoying an easy form of escapism / distraction?
Flowers, Dinner and a Movie. Exactly 13 months after our first date, I come home from work to a big bouquet of red- and white-striped roses on the coffee table and a few straws of purple heather carefully arranged in the ikebana vase on the dining table from S. ‘You always pick beautiful flowers,’ I write to him. ‘No, they pick me,’ he replies. I like that image: whenever they see him strolling around at the market, the right flowers will strut, radiate and scream for his attention. When he enters the flat, I’ve got candles, Bossa Nova tunes, tapas from Wild Barley and two glasses of red wine ready on the balcony, and once we’ve enjoyed all of that and talked about our favourite moments of the day, we move to the sofa to watch the black and white New York indie movie, Frances Ha. Beautiful and dreamy; sort of Woody Allen without the neurotic rant or voiceover. We fall in love with the funny female lead and her sweet, positive, slightly delusional presence, very aptly described in the New Yorker.
Wonder Woman. The following night, Wednesday, I find myself alone for the first time in months (except for the night after my surgery). It’s funny how it works – I never tire of S’s company, or of that of my family or close friends for that matter, but once in a while, it’s almost childlike exciting and stimulating to have some time alone. S is drinking craft beer at Smith Street Taps and talking about everything and nothing with his former flatmate for 4-5 hours. I’ve never met the guy; S hasn’t seen him in over a year; they’re having a great reunion; I’m happy for him and happy for myself. Sofa, blanket, vegan coconut ice-cream, legs up, massaging my puffy, achy knee with aloe vera cream, laptop perched on a cushion on the armrest, watching Gal Gadot performing every bit as amazingly as I expected in the movie that scored the biggest opening weekend for a female director ever…
The Importance of Real Me Time. That evening alone is lovely – when S comes home after midnight, it is also lovely to see him again and hear about his night. I love his company so much that I miss him after just a few hours apart. I like to think that it’s not in an unhealthy way – I do enjoy my own company too. We talk about ‘me time’ and what it means to each of us. To him, it’s meditating several times a day, sometimes just for a few minutes. Any kind of activity, even if you do it on your own – catching a show, hanging in a cafe, exercising – is a distraction preventing you from really connecting with yourself, he finds. I used to think of meditation as something very planned and forced. Take out time to observe your thoughts and push them away, focus on your breath, straighten your core, slowly come closer to the essence of the practice. Something I should do – but which doesn’t come naturally to me – to intentionally sit. He asks me, ‘do you ever take some real ‘me time’ – when was the last time you were alone?’ My most immediate response is to think about those activities that stimulate deep calm and contemplation for me: my favorite (individualistic) exercises (yoga, barre, swimming, running); wandering aimlessly through nature or cities, soaking in or just sensing my surroundings or where I am in the physical world; reading (fiction or non-fiction), whether it challenges my analytical sense and widens my horizon or ‘just’ is really entertaining; immersing / losing / finding myself in a creative project such as writing, sketching or making collages. Today, I caught myself staring into space – or at the yellow tree outside. And it reminded me of how often colleagues, friends, family ask me what I’m thinking about – when I look out the window, at the air, at the ocean, at something calming. The answer is always ‘nothing.’ I’m not taking a break from my screen or from socialising to solve a complex problem in my head. I just need a moment of coming back to my natural state – which is staring at nature and thinking about nothing. Sometimes it gives me a new insight – every time it leaves me feeling refreshed. More or less consciously, then, I do have several daily moments of real, unaided ‘me time.’ Usually sitting down 😉 I don’t know if it counts as meditation – even after reading Joy on Demand, taking a few Headspace sessions when everyone in London was doing it two years ago, dating a meditator for over a year and watching youtube videos of successful people’s praise of meditation, I’m still to find out whether I should keep on going the way that’s natural to me – or whether I would benefit from real, intentional daily sits. Something I do want to be mindful about is breathing. Whether it’s simply for the benefit of massaging your organs and pumping oxygen to your brain, proper breathing is essential to your physical and mental wellbeing. That’s something I can relate to; and when I think about that, and remember how central breathing is to meditation, I suddenly think of it in a less foreign way – which may be a thought process many people go through before they start meditating regularly? Haha
Indian Guy in New York. The following night is also spent in front of the screen; this time, S and I binge watch the drama comedy show, Master of None, while chewing on thin, crispy slices of cheese-free seafood pizza from the cheap and cheerful Italian joint down on the corner, Chapter 55. Love, career and cultural challenges as seen through the eyes of a 30-year-old Indian guy in New York City. It’s sweet, funny and challenging in a very uncomplicated way.
Plain Vanilla. On Saturday morning, S is teaching meditation to two girls at home, while I go over to Plain Vanilla to enjoy a soy flat white and read Peppermint, my new favourite (100% carbon-neutral) magazine, which S brought back from Australia. Ahh… I really like the new workspace at the cafe – so spacious and light-filled and with nice nature prints on the walls. I take a seat and think to myself how rarely I go to cafes these days – for months, S and I have been drinking most of our morning coffee and tea at home, whereas earlier, we’d always go out to celebrate the start of the day. Now I’m here, and I’m enjoying the atmosphere around me – a bunch of single people buried in their Macs and indie magazines from the bookcase on the wall, families of various ethnicities having weekend brekkie around large communal tables and small kids playing with wooden rocking horses and swings a corner. I’ve only taken a sip and read the first paragraph of an article about sustainable fashion when my friend from California calls me and we chat for about an hour until S joins me. Her almost-3-year-old daughter loves the sea. They have taken her surfing, my friend’s husband lying on the board behind her to make her feel safe and comfortable, and now she’s fearlessly running into the sea on her own, eager to experience the rush of the waves. My friend needs to keep an eye on her at all times when they’re at the beach, because everything goes so quickly. The other day, when they were playing near the edge of the water and my friend was feeling a bit nervous about the force of the water washing in, the little girl looked at her and said, ‘mum, I love you – don’t worry.’ I get goosebumps from the other side of the world.
Japanese Garden. In the afternoon, we drive out to the western side of the country to explore the Japanese Garden in the Jurong Lake. There are so many beautifully designed lush green oases dotted around this island to explore and enjoy! We take a long walk among the manicured trees and flowers, with lots of knee-relax-breaks on the rails of the cute white- or red-painted bridges, where we sit and look down at the water lilies completely covering the surface of the lake.
Sunday. Brunch at some friends’ house in Robertson Quay – they’ve prepared an scrumpy spread of fluffy banana pancakes, slices of green apple covered in almond butter and berries, freshly baked bread with smashed avocado and grilled organic sausages with salad. Coconut water, green tea and even greener juice. S used to live here – it’s fun to see the place and meet his old flatmates. They’re very sweet and the conversation is great – I realise that this is the first time this week that I’m interacting with people outside of work, FaceTime and my home. It’s good 😉 After the happy and very long meal, S and I go for a wander around River Valley and Bugis, admiring the architecture in some of our favourite streets, from the old romantic shophouses to the uniquely shaped newest glass and steel constructions. Spend three-four hours writing and reading in the big, Victorian lobby of the Intercon. Try something we rarely do – pop into a random restaurant without having read or heard about it (!) beforehand, Sawadee Cuisine. We like the look of the place through the large street windows, woody interior adorned with reed wall decoration and golden drapes cascading from the ceiling, and the menu looks appetising. We step in and are met by deliciously spicy and fresh aromas, and after a few hours, we leave wanting to come back for more of the attentive service and the fantastic flavours of the food. Dessert is a jug of organic makgeolli at dark and hip Joo Bar next door. It’s the first time I’ve ever had the Korean rice wine, and I really like it – and this article about it.