There and Back Again

I didn’t stay in the same country for all this time. No, there were trips as well, though not all of them were very fun. I’ll just note some of the more eventful ones.

Sometime during my late teenage (when I was still semi-suicidal and on medication) my mother wanted me to come with her to Amsterdam for a conference that was being held there. I didn’t have much choice in anything those days, and so I went.

The Netherlands was a wonderful place. There were canals everywhere and I couldn’t quite believe how a city functioned that well when everything was on water. I wandered a bit up and down and…I would love to tell you more but given the state of my mind at that point I don’t recall a lot of it.

Plus there was really nothing much to do there (except attend a Dutch language class with a really pretty language instructor – I mean really pretty!) I was still very ill and almost had a semi-relapse in the hotel room, which my mother tried to stave off by holding me tight and telling me not to scream. Ok, now remembering that is painful. Your son is suicidal and he still has to go with you to Europe so you can attend a conference? That’s pathology for you.

Let’s see, what else. I was quite amazed prostitution was legal in the Netherlands and probably even MORE amazed that you could watch porn on late night TV. I did sneak a bit of watching in (I was a teenager after all) but when you are sharing a room with your mother…not the best of ideas.

Oh, and the boat ride in which I drank six glasses of wine and ate crackers while observing a Greek lady hit on my Mum. There was this English gentleman at the side who looked soooo disappointed that 1) the lady found my Mum so interesting (she said so herself) and 2) she was probably a lesbian (the lady, not my Mum) My mother didn’t seem to notice the lady’s interest or possible sexual inclination. It was still interesting to watch though. To this day I don’t actually know if she was a lesbian or not, but it was a sight to see nonetheless.

Then there was the Turkey trip. This was probably as close to a bona fide holiday that I’ve ever taken with my family for twenty years.
The food was fantastic (it was really fresh!) and the culinary highlight was to me definitely the honey cake and the tomatoes! (did I mention I love tomatoes?)

There were lots of boring long stretches from place to place and I spent most of my time there listening to anime songs on my CD player and telling Meimei stories. Our tour guide was actually kind of terrible and I spent a lot of the trip hanging out near this other tour guide whose clients were Japanese and eavesdropping on the interesting things that he was telling them.

The Hagia Sophia was nice. There are some places where you can really feel that things are different and this was definitely one of them. The whole purpose of the trip was to fulfill my Mum’s desire to go to Pamukkale but when I got there I didn’t see what the big deal was.
The highlight for me was definitely doing Kamen Rider poses on top of the ruins and singing the EVA opening in half of an ancient auditorium. I actually have some photos from the trip and I look relatively happy and not drowning in despair, which is kind of nice. I think this is one of the few times that my illness went into relative remission.

A few years down the road we also (notice that all the trips are with my mother?) we also went to Berkeley for some academic affair.
It was nice to see California again. I think I was more affected that I realized but I hid my emotions so that my mother wouldn’t see them. I felt…relieved? This was still the same California that I remembered, that I dreamt about. Of course rationally I knew that California would not suddenly explode overnight but it felt a lot more real to walk around and see and touch. I remember going into a random store and buying apple juice and it felt like…home.

We stayed at the house of an academic named Bethany Andrews. She was the perfect host – learned and educated (she was a professor) polite and warm. I tried to tell her about how horrible Singapore was with its almost Fascist class system but she just said “every country has that, even the US” She was so nice I couldn’t even feel upset at her dismissal of my views.

I slept a lot during that trip (because my Mum was bugging me) and I once overheard Mrs Andrews tell her “Clarice, just leave him alone.” God Bless that woman.

The plane flight back from the US to Singapore was eventful for a completely different reason. There was this little Chinese kid on the plane who was wearing his parents thin with his antics. Since I was more than topped up on sleep from Berkeley, I decided to take over. I had always wanted to know just how long you could play with a kid until he was exhausted.

I got my answer. Four and a half hours. He came over with this big smile on his face and planted a keychain into my palm. Ni gei wo. (Here you are.) I gave it back. Wo gei ni (I give it to you.) He put it into my hand again. I gave it back. He put it into my hand. For four and a half hours. His father shot me a glance of the purest gratitude and nodded off. The airline stewardesses were both amazed and appreciative and kept on looking at me during the flight. One of them said “Ni hen xi huan hai zi!” (you sure like kids!) to which I just smiled.

Oh yes and how I can forget – I visited Japan at one point! I went with Wenzong (not the best of travel partners to be honest) and we were prepared to kick ass and buy lots of stuff. We didn’t do much of the former but boy did we do a lot of the latter…probably too much.

The first time any anime fan steps into Akihabara is a magical experience. There is just so much stuff to buy. To see. To do! To experience. Just walking around was cool. I had this wishlist of stuff to see and buy and somehow we managed to do most of it.

There were shops and books and games and models and…whoa. I was kind of overwhelmed but Wenzong gave me the best (and only) advice he had ever given me in his life – don’t think so much about it, just experience it. Which turned out to be right.

I bought a LOT of stuff in Japan (we kind of overdid it to be honest. We barely had 1000 yen to our names when we got back) but which I soon regretted when I came back, because I found that you could download most of it online. I really should have done better research before going on the trip. Of course at that time I felt a lot of guilt at wasting money and the like, but I can be a lot more forgiving of myself now.

One of my clearest memories of the trip is standing in front of Violence soapland and wondering if I should go inside and…avail myself of its services. A soapland is a uniquely Japanese institution where lovely naked ladies will scrub your back for a certain price and do more than that for higher fees. But at 20 or so that would have been a little wild even for me.

Actually the most eventful experience of my time in Japan had nothing to do with anime, games or anything remotely Japanese. (Of course if I was writing this book when I was 20 that wouldn’t have been true and the trip would have probably taken up seven chapters…) On the eve of our flight back we were in our ryokan watching TV when I happened to strike up a conversation with a Jewish girl there named Adina.

I’m not sure how we got to talking about religion but we did. I was still pretty agnostic at that time (though open-minded) and I was willing to listen to what she said. I remember her telling me about Jewish gematria (a belief that certain numbers and letters in Hebrew have deeper and interrelated meanings) and me being more than a little skeptical. Etched in my memory forever is how she cocked her head to the side, smiled and said “so you think because I can speak so rationally to you I do not have faith in my God?”

Those words shook me to the core. I continued to speak and talk normally (I think we drifted into a conversation about comics) but inside I was thinking. And thinking. We had to leave the next day and I was sad to see her go.

Years later in SRW Alpha 3 I would see the Dis Astragant’s final attack and think of her. The gematria of God, as if He himself was telling you messages in the words of his chosen. The infinite light that Cobray wielded – yet another name for the Ineffable and Eternal.

I tried to correspond with her via email but somehow it never worked out – I think I just lost her email address or something? Adina, wherever you are, may Yahweh hold you forever in his embrace.

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