Sentimentality – Nepal Edition

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Sentimentality and remembering people

In the village several personas struck me. The man from a lower caste who loved his children but is helpless because of his economic situation. The bunch of girls from grade 6 who are as smiley when in school and when helping out with household chores at home. The old lady who has lived long enough to be unfazed by foreigners coming in, comforting me with a hug because language is excessive and redundant in such tender moments. The man taught me that life can be difficult but worth living. The girls taught me that life is what it is and what it is can be delightful. The old lady taught me that saying goodbye is normal and sentimentality is adorable but life goes on.

Within my team I saw and admire several personas as well. Our differences stemmed not merely from culture, but from personality as well. Bibhuti is the social butterfly. Rijesh is my kind of humour, the low-key, hair-touching kind. Shirish is the gentle giant, sensitive to feelings and always there to provide comfort. Nhung is the most raw and unembellished person I know and admire, with her unretouched humour and personality. Saroj is what I would call confidence, 100% pure not from concentrate. Milan is my walking encyclopaedia, Nepali edition. Faay and Ju are the reserved architects, creating magic from within waiting for others to discover them through their drawings. Sohan is the 17 year old I could have been but wasn’t quite exactly, at the precious stage of constructing his identity and discovering the possibilities. Kah Wei is like the reassuring big sister who pushes for things to happen but is still a little girl at heart, when she dances unabashedly or when she complains of pure evil in this world.

I try to sketch each person in my mind from my interactions with them. Sometimes I remember the exact moments our eyes meet and our sentiments exchanged without words. Other times I remember verbal exchanges, such as the times Nhung made me laugh and vice versa. As an introverted extrovert I gain energy not from interaction alone, but from digesting them and reflecting on them, to gain insights on a person and extract value from my understanding of that someone. I try to learn a little from each person I know, not in an attempt to be an amalgam of different people and personalities (I can never be as funny as Nhung, for example), but to take on certain traits under certain circumstances.

Personas can be general and stereotypical, and the more of them I know, the better I can interact with new people. Interactions with different personas, while cannot rehearsed, can be practiced. Realising that people have different personalities helps me know how to behave differently in the presence of different people.

More valuable to me however is not the fact that this study of people makes me more socially adept, but that I become more empathetic as a person. I don’t always have to agree with someone’s way of doing things, or be able to live like that someone. Each person is a treasure trove of personal experiences on a smaller scale and a product of society in a larger sense.

Getting people to trust me and confide in me is also a personal endeavour. I am curious to know people’s aspirations beyond the superficial reply, to dig deeper into their hearts. Perhaps I am subconsciously dissecting their motivations and decision making process, in order to make out for myself what I personally want in life. I also relish the feeling of people trusting me enough to bare their souls to me, the details of which I savour because people are so complex and interesting. I keep secrets to feel special, pieces of information too precious to be shared.

And interactions don’t have to be long for them to be meaningful and memorable. I had a girls-only encounter with the female security guard who smirked after groping me (twice) and I asked her if she had squeezed my chest on purpose the second time after I had flinched and displayed my awkwardness the first time round. I spent an hour listening to the manager of a hostel at Nagarkot rave about Lee Kuan Yew and Singapore and saw his passion for his personal success and that of his country. I experienced the hospitality and spontaneity of Nepalis when the owner of my hostel whisked me off on a motorcycle to get my sim card when I merely asked for directions. The cool undertones of my interaction during spans of 5 hours spent with a British traveler and our conversations about ancestry and culture also gave me insights into asian migrants in western countries, and the quirks of British people.

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Sentimentality and saying goodbye

I suck at saying goodbye to friends. In my mind it is elaborate and marks a full-stop. But more often that not goodbyes are brief because they would burst at the seams if everyone said everything they ever had to say, did everything they had to do. I cry because goodbyes physically remove us from each other’s immediate lives, so quickly and so suddenly. I start remembering the times I had failed to treasure while I was able to be in that person’s life, wasted because of petty emotions or pure neglect. I start wishing I had done things differently, cleared up misunderstandings quickly and treated the other party better. I think of all the possibilities, and the regrets in terms of words not spoken and appreciation not shown.

Saying goodbye to places is another thing I suck at. I vividly remember crying when I was young and went back to Singapore about spending a few days at Tanjung Pinang. This feeling returned when I had to leave Sindhuli because I had grown quite attached to the place even if I had only been there for a week. I now knew the faces of the children, the teachers, the villagers. I now knew some of their stories. I saw snippets of their lives. I wanted to know more. But yet I was going to be transported away on a jeep, 4 hours back to Kathmandu and now, another 6 hours by plane back in Singapore.

I failed miserably at holding back my tears, my back facing the group of school girls and village women crowding behind me. The old lady who had spoken to me the day before (us not understanding each other, me merely nodding to whatever she said for a few minutes) exposed my front and approached me probably telling me not to cry in Nepali. I sobbed even harder and she came forward to give me a warm hug. I didn’t stop crying, but my heart was full.

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Sentimentality and starry skies

I take comfort mainly in knowing that the starry skies cover us all when night falls. Even if the stars don’t shine as brightly in Singapore as in the village they are there nonetheless.

The stars so endless in their numbers also reflect the infinite possibilities in this world, in terms of future events that will happen and the people whom I will meet. The convergence and divergence of paths are like constellations, seemingly random but probably predestined.

And of course, the shooting stars. I remember staying awake till 12 (unearthly for a village that is pitch black by 6) and waking up at 4 (unearthly anywhere) in hopes of seeing shooting stars and being disappointed. The city girl in me scoffed and wanted to settle for youtubing “shooting stars” but I decided that nature could teach me a lesson here. Nature is serendipitous and based on affinity not deadlines. It requires patience but it is always worth it. I saw my first two shooting stars in Sindhuli, and they etched the sky so momentarily like a nail scratching the darkness and making a faint trail which dissolved back into pitch blackness. It felt like I made all of my wishes without making a single wish at all. It felt like it didn’t matter if the wishes came true or not because shooting stars are evidences that good things happen in life, irregardless of whether they are planned or not.

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