We moved out on the 452nd day.
The 451 days prior we spent in Escada View. Located in the sleepy neighbourhood of Kembangan, "Escada View" - as its name might suggest - is one of those condos that if you gazed at from about 100 meters, you might admire the columns and curved balconies, these lines that wrap around the building like a ribbon wraps a gift, and trees - especially the palm trees - that suggest you’ve found an oasis on the edges of this loud, noisy city.
I mean look at this sexy, Airbnb photo
Increase the resolution on the condo and the cracks start to appear.
It's how I imagine Justin Bieber looking twenty years from now - a shade of those dreamy, boyish looks but with features that start to droop with panda eye circles and creases that cut across his forehead. But still, it'll be hard to erase that image of the teen pop idol that everyone fell for.
The first crack in Escada's View: the oasis myth. Look beyond the building facade and you'll see a giant highway with cars roaring, interrupting the birdsong.
Crack #2: the mean muggin' security guards. The only way to enter is through the security gate, keycard in hand. When I'd forget the card in those first few weeks, Din, the balding Malay security guard with a metalhead's mohawk, would deliver the stinkiest mean mug that'd leave tucking my tail between my legs as I'd walk past his security station. Two months ago, I talked with him for the first time and discovered that he is, indeed, a metalhead. And Rammstein lover. And Deadpool fanatic. Which now makes him like my favorite person in Singapore.
Crack #3: For all the romantics hoping to pull a Romeo, there are no balconies. Decades ago, the developer went overbudget and could only afford parapets.
Crack #4: The Pool. Well, let's start with the chairs. The wicker lounge chairs surrounding the amoeba-like pool have holes bored into them, all in the ass area. Maybe a lot of fat people lived here. Nights later, we’d find that groups of twenty somethings would congregate around the pool at around midnight to party, listen to Bollywood music while one neighbour walked this elegant husky dog - yes, people own HUSKIES in freaking Singapore (oh how they must suffer!) - around the pool. And annoying dogs that yip with a measured frequency and screeching high pitch. Yip, yip, yip…you know that yip that all the sudden inspires a young Buddhist man sworn to nonviolence to suddenly take an aggressive turn and consider committing canicide. That kind of yip.
Everyday, those kids left a wreckage from each night partying for the old cleaning uncle to collect. That cleaning uncle must be at least 70 years old. Shit.
452 days after walking into those gates, I’m the one who’s volunteered to vacate us from the premises once and for all. Emptying the place we called home. Emptying it of every last trace, every last crumb, every last stray hair (and there were many).
I remember imagining what we could create with the sunken living room. Floor cushions! What an amazing idea for a relaxed and cozy atmosphere! Fuck sofas and their imposing presence. At least floor cushions can be moved dynamically along with second-hand IKEA rocking chairs and a coffee table made of recycled materials that would, together, meet the needs of whatever purpose we needed the space for. Even if it was just to watch movies.
But it wasn’t just movies. That’s where we often sat to dine. Dine to fried curries and red rice that I’d quickly whip up after a long day, or pastas that Jialing would put together that always HAD to feature eggplant (or brinjol or aubergine...whatever…). Or birthday booze.
Actually the booze only happened once.
I remember celebrating my 30th there. And that girl who Airbnb’d with us also had the SAME birthday as me (only she’d just turned 18 - making me feel like a fucking dinosaur), so we decided to celebrate the crazy coincidence with multiple bottles of champagne while smothering our faces with Ben and Jerry’s and talking about what it means to really age.
I think I’m getting old.
The floor cushions. That’s where I used to escape when Jialing’s snores were too loud. Or the time I just sat there reading Brave New World while listening to jazz. I hardly ever listen to jazz, but for some reason it made sense to do so that Sunday afternoon. We also opened Christmas presents there, and I distinctly remembering my dad complaining about how the cushions were terrible for the spine. Or maybe that was my mom.
And then there's the kitchen. What a kitchen! I remember how the landlord only gave us the place because the family with a competing offer ($300 more than ours!) was Indian. Concerned that the family would cook curry that would seep into the walls just as it did with the previous tenant (who also happened to be Indian), the landlord opted in our favor. And I thought - man, that’s some racist shit isn’t it? Well, I guess it's karma that I also happen to LOOOOOOVE my curries and indulged these wells with plenty of kormas, saags, and jalfrezis.
At the kitchen's sliding door, I find slight shards from where Andrew, another Airbnb guest, broke a glass and did nothing to clean it up. That same night, he placed one of his apple cores on my dinner plate mid-conversation while there was still food on my plate. Who does that?
There’ve been a lot of guests who stayed with us. 56 to be precise. I wonder what the accumulated effect of having so many people occupy the same bed is. One thing I wonder is whether any of them shared the same nightmare. There must be a high probability that at least two of them had nightmares about gigantic spiders and cockroaches.
Phub, my brother from a Bhutanese mother, was our first guest. Oh man, so much fun! I remember him flopping in the kids’ pool like a baby seal. Well he’s a little bit bigger than a baby seal, but not quite a grown seal. You get the picture?
I actually kind of loved the pool. What a joy to stare outside the window at a pool with palms lording over it, tall enough so that civets could crawl along the gate and go unnoticed. It’s the pool where I launched myself into during my 30th birthday after giving my speech. Don’t know why I jumped in in street clothes, but it just felt like something I should do. An ablution to usher in the new decade. I’d take a lot of ablutions in that pool. Mostly after runs in the heat. Does that count as an ablution?
I danced a lot on these tiles. That space in between the kitchen and the living room. It’s this open space where my tiny bluetooth speaker has a magical acoustic sweet spot at the centre of the room, the kind of sweet spot that just shuts down the world outside of our condo. And so we dance, wriggling our bodies and flailing our limbs in hopes that they might land on beat. Like that time my friend Jupi stayed with us and we went CRAZY over that song “Feel it Still”.
We made a lot of memories here.
And it gets me thinking how spaces can be containers for memories. Escada View has now become an extension of my body, such that if I walk by the pool side, I might remember that time I jumped in with all my work clothes on, or if I go into the kitchen, I'll remember that time we celebrated Bhutan National Day by making ema datshe. I never know what memories could be evoked at any point in time.
But then I thought, if someone came here to demolish all of Escada View with a bulldozer to the point where it no longer became recognisable, would I still feel attached?
Would my body still no the longitude and latitude of that place where I met Shah, my security, for the first time and he confided in me his friend had committed suicide. And in that moment he wanted to hit me but I leaned in for the hug, disarming him entirely? I’ll always remember that moment with a tinge of pride and a tinge of shame that I no longer really keep in touch with him. Deep down, I think he needs professional help and that as much as I’d like to win people over with unconditional love, that love still remains pretty conditional.
This is the second time that I’ve been asked to be the last person to scrape a home in its entirety: dismantling bed frames where we used to have sex, boxing kitchen supplies that have supported many a meal, stripping the walls of its photo frames until the condo is returned to its original state, naked, but not exactly as it once was. At least it can’t be in my eyes. As long as this building stands, which won’t be long given Singapore’s reputation for de-construction. As I pack, I realise how we’ve accumulated far too many tupperware containers, tote bags, and recycled peanut butter jars. Maybe we can donate the jars to a zero-waste restauranteur.
So here it is, almost as it looked on February 2, 2017. When we first stepped in. All of our cells mopped, vacuumed, and sprayed away with disinfectant. Sterile. Ready for the next owners to populate it with their dust, their curries, their tears, their snores and screams, their feet taps and jumps while dancing to the next “Feel it Still”, their fluids when they decide to be spontaneous and fornicate in the kitchen.
We never managed to accomplish that last feat. Not yet.
I write this from my old desk in my new flat, wondering how things are starting to feel cozy again.