Today my mother ran into a woman she’d gone to university with, standing in front of us in the queue for a bento bar on Miyajima Island. My mother hadn’t seen her old friend in forty years and was pleasantly surprised to have been recognised. My parents had just started dating the last time they all met, at a Dinner & Dance. Now three kids and four decades later they meet this old friend on holiday, going through Western Japan. I want to say that this incident got me thinking about the mechanics of time, how it can be catalysed or gently nudged (through a once-familiar face, a song, or a phrase) to bend and stretch. But the truth is I think about time all the time.
Hard to believe I left the Translator’s House in Amsterdam just eight days ago, dragging things down the impossibly narrow staircase out into a cold, sugarless afternoon. I didn’t want to leave. Not yet. The streets and houses around Vondelpark are so grand and beautiful. Ditto the elegant boutiques with their enviable homewares or racks of chiffon dresses with price-tags that make your eyes smart- all these things signifiers of a type of unquestionably polished adulthood and classic prosperity that feels very remote. Vondelpark itself feels a lot more approachable. I visit it every time I’ve come to Amsterdam. On my last morning I went for a slow run through the park, avoiding the bike paths, and came across a giant tree house structure full of Sharpie doodles and the names of groups of friends, the sort of cheerful insignia you’d find in a club or pub bathroom.
On the way to the airport I took a tram through the city for the last time, going past groups of smoking, laughing teenagers (had any of them written in the tree house?) and honeymooning couples with their arms slung across each other, shopping bags in tow, or just people going about their usual workweek, crossing the streets with unmistakeable surety and purpose. And then another train to Schiphol, and back to London, London for half a day unpacking to the point of terrible disarray, before leaving for the airport to fly to Singapore for the Singapore Writer’s Festival. Been so jetlagged and grateful to be travelling because of my book (the preceding sentence sounds so insufferable, even to myself) but also overwhelmed by the sensory triggers.
Being in Singapore always registers as florid colours to me, the vivid palette of childhood that is fuchsias and greens and yellows. Sometimes these colours get faded and warped with age. Coming back home to Singapore, especially after a long time, is always charged and overwhelming, euphoric and melancholy, comforting and alienating all at the same time.
The seaside by The Hague registered as slate-green and toothpaste-white, in the foamy tips of the waves. The building site all around the Mercer Hotel registered as gray and beige. I’d eaten silky cheong fun and other varieties of delightfully salty dim sum for lunch at the Chinese restaurant at the bottom of the building one of the days (which of the days? How quickly memory elides granular details) and the waitress told me the restaurant had been there for over twenty years, longer even than the hotel itself. It is fascinating/depressing to imagine the enduring lifespan of buildings and things, how you can go into a history museum and stare at a pillaged tapestry or a really old jug that has outlasted incredibly violent battles and all kinds of human frailties. A tapestry can’t get sick, for example.
Now it is the end of my Chronicles run and I am a little sad at how quickly it ended. The first few days after the festival I went about my errands with a kind of shadow-imprint of how it would have been like to have stayed on with everyone- wanting to be there and still part of that pleasurable experience, a nostalgic act of speculative memory-making, which is one of the kindest forms of imagination. Till next time, someday.