“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”-St. Augustine.
If my life were to be a novel, its dominant theme, at least up to this chapter, would be exposure-being subjected to influencing experiences. This theme is where most of my important decisions revolve around, including transferring to another college. To me, exposure comes in many forms. It could be a song a middle-aged taxi driver always sings. It could be a question from a kid sitting next to me in the train. It could also be the graffiti works I see in Kuala Lumpur streets. Whatever form it takes, it alters my life and self, bit by bit, every time it comes. I am thrilled at the thought of how much my life could change with my further studies in the States, another Land of Diversity.
Of the five senses I have, I value hearing the most. I am always involved in conversations, especially as a listener. I am always surprised with how much a coffee table talk can teach me. It is through such conversations that I learn about the local artists I have missed and the children’s rhymes like Inky Pinky Ponky that I would not have known otherwise. I also love conversations with complete strangers such as taxi drivers. Each person has his own set of experiences, opinions and most importantly, perceptions. If we listen hard enough, we would always be amazed with how little we know about the world around us. I still remember how I found out about how local taxi drivers’ organization work and how the profession is defined through a chat with the cab driver whom I might never see again. An afterthought, though. If the driver were to compile what he has seen and heard, he could have written a Malaysian version of the Diary of a Taxi Driver given his wry eye of observation. Indeed, conversation lets me see the world through others’ eyes.
It is also through conversations that I often get to sense the unusual rise and fall in one’s tone, pace and pitch whenever a topic coincides with one’s passion. Indirectly, it elevates my spirit as well. Witnessing how Farish A. Noor treasures his collection of pre-war Peranakan lingerie and how he elaborates on the evolution of modesty in the Southeast Asia during his talk in Annexe Gallery has, in a way, stimulated me to find out more about local history that was nowhere to be found in history textbooks and to continue my long kept hobby, newspaper cutting. Knowledge and passion are what drive me to always look out for companions with whom I can share a word or two.
Observation is yet another important form of exposure. For some unknown reasons, I have grown up in a body much weaker than my soul and will. I did not get to climb up rambutan trees or to play Tag and Chase like how my cousins did. Instead, I always sat watching them from faraway, another form of participating I guess. It is fun. I am often involved in random observations. On one morning, I might be looking at how people make their steps, whether they land with heels, toes or the whole soles. On another, I would try to analyze how others hold their pens. I know this sounds silly but that is who I am, an incorrigible observer desperate for patterns. Only with observant eyes can I see more of the world.
I once thought that I lived in the dearth of exposures, having been confined to a quiet town and an academically underperforming high school. However, I started to realize that the lack of exposure is itself an exposure. It is through my high school that I was acquainted with the so-called gangsters. The experience of mediating the relationship between my gangster friends and the disciplinary teachers as a student leader has taught me much. No one seemed to cherish or even notice that some if not all of these alleged “rotten apples” have their own talents. I did not only notice that they are the hidden gems but also ended up learning from each other. With this belief in the abundance of exposures, I make the best of what I have wherever I am. Still, I shall look forward to an even richer environment in the college I am about to transfer to.
To me, reading is the magic wand that removes the boundary of where our sight could reach. I have always been seen as a bookworm since young. While others were busy playing with firecrackers during Chinese New Year, I read through notes on physiognomy and palmistry in the Tung Shing (Chinese almanac) my Aunt kept. Back then, buying books was not an option. Instead, I found delight in picking up general knowledge through newspaper, the most affordable source of information I had then. On recycled exercise books and calendars, I pasted my newspaper cuttings and scribbled short notes about the articles. Newspaper cutting has since then become my main hobby even until I have the luxury of owning a secondhand computer when I was 17.
Along my route of reading, I have met several great companions; one of whom I remember the most is a bookstore owner. Instead of chasing me away when I hid myself at one corner trying to pore through as many books as I can, he was kind enough to loan me the books with a condition that I must discuss about the books with him later. The greatest wish of mine would be to be surrounded with great books and voracious readers. In such environment, I shall indulge myself in the world painted by the likes of Ernest Hemmingway and Malcolm Gladwell.
Yet another form of exposure I would like to highlight is experience, the verb. Reading, observation and listening can only do so much to a person. At the end of the day, it is the experience that really counts. I always thought that I knew how martial art works. It was not until I joined Taekwondo classes at 17 that I started to know that there is more than meets the eye. Self-defense art is not just about levers. It is also about deception and mental state. Staying calm and seeing through opponent’s intention through body movements is crucial. To actually feel how two shinbones hit each other and to suffer the bruise after every session was then the real thing. I also always thought that I knew about fear before I went for flying fox and abseiling during national service. It was only when I overcame the shiver and hesitation at the brink that I knew what fear is. True experience is very much I need from now on as that is the way to really know about something.
What I hope to achieve in college also revolves around this very theme. I hope to be accompanied by great companions worthy of intellectual conversations; to be surrounded by a different level of cultural diversity for more fruitful observations; to lose myself among the racks of books and tomes; and to be part of the exhilarating college experiences.
I believe Mark Twain says it best when he said “Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
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