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Popagandhi



Between long form cycling and tech



Published: Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:23:47 +0000

Last Build Date: Wed, 23 Aug 2017 19:23:47 +0000

 



Signals and Noise

Wed, 23 Aug 2017 18:15:53 +0000

I’ve been on the internet for a very long time, but my online self really only found its home when I got this domain in 2003. 14 years: enough to see blogs decline into the mushy wasteland that is Medium articles, video in every website we now load, and a million apps to help me connect with everything that we love. I’ve led a hectic online life outside of this blog, but at the end I keep wanting to come back to see what I can do with it.

Lately, I’ve had circumstances that forced some introspection, such as the following:

Everything worth doing, to me, are still the difficult ones. Sometimes it’s hard to hear through the noise.

(image)

I’ve been on the internet for a very long time, but my online self really only found its home when I got this domain in 2003. 14 years: enough to see blogs decline into the mushy wasteland that is Medium articles, video in every website we now load, and a million apps to help me connect with everything that we love. I’ve led a hectic online life outside of this blog, but at the end I keep wanting to come back to see what I can do with it.




Munduk

Mon, 17 Jul 2017 18:15:53 +0000

Munduk.

(image) Two people, suspended between heartbreak and fury, met on Hong Kong Street after almost 2 years without each other.

Their hearts, recently broken by others, found each other agreeable — even safe.

They made a plan. The universe attempted to foil it. To no avail.

Through long public holidays, expensive flights, an expiring passport and the logistics of homes, broken and renewed, no unfortunate event stood in the way.

I stood behind the multitudes to wait for you: the many sweaty, smelly men waving flags awaiting their Chinese tourists. Me, in my shorts with holes, a top that’s much too big and my hair that’s floppy and flat after an hour on a motorbike to come to see you.

Even on arrival, the universe was determined to place one last obstacle before us: the long amble, actually scramble, along the railing, past the sweaty tour guides, into some tourists, around the ATMs, and then you, there in the flesh.

As with the start of new things, my pulse sped up mostly in not knowing how close I could be. It had just been a few days since I had been with you, and here I was furiously making plans to cancel all of my plans.

There’s a curse on this island for couples who come here together, they say.

What they didn’t say: come as a not-couple, leave as a couple, uncursed?

I hoped.

In the most improbable places, we found fireplaces and each other.

Before long, you would say, coming to Munduk to see me was one of the biggest gambles you had ever taken. Next to Bosnia.

In the first week we travelled many towns, lakes, forests and hills; sat in many cars and planes together, discovered how a plane aisle was much too jauh, so soon.

The odds were long, but our odds are good. And I don’t even like Bali, not one bit. I love us in it.

(image)

Munduk.




Do What You Don't Know

Tue, 11 Apr 2017 18:15:53 +0000

Like so many people who grew up with the Internet, there have been many incarnations of my online self. To some, I will forever be the queer blogger who started writing about the lesbian experience as a teenager in Singapore in the early 2000s. Some find that courageous; I found it much more difficult to change pronouns than to pretend to be someone I was not. To others, I am a travel blogger who enjoys hiking across Asia on trains, bikes and boats. That is made possible by a blend of courage and stupidity, and it has served me well.

Read the rest of this post here.

(image)

Like so many people who grew up with the Internet, there have been many incarnations of my online self. To some, I will forever be the queer blogger who started writing about the lesbian experience as a teenager in Singapore in the early 2000s. Some find that courageous; I found it much more difficult to change pronouns than to pretend to be someone I was not. To others, I am a travel blogger who enjoys hiking across Asia on trains, bikes and boats. That is made possible by a blend of courage and stupidity, and it has served me well.




On The Spectrum

Mon, 21 Nov 2016 18:15:53 +0000

What’s it like to be on the spectrum? It is to be able to do wonderfully complex and abstract things, at the speed of light, yet to be stumped at how to give straightforward directions to others. To be diagnosed after the age of 30 is to learn quite resolutely: the weirdest feature in my being is not who I am, but what I do not understand. I do not understand what is easily understood by most. But I have done a good job pretending I do. People expect me to understand because I manage to pass for somebody I am not: well put together. In charge of my mind and body. Able to hold a conversation, fill rooms with hundreds of people. Capable of making inferences and deductions based on fact and feeling. Able to pass for ‘neurotypical’. In recent conversations like the ones I’ve had to pay a lot of money to have some obvious things pointed out to me, I’ve had to dig into the recesses of my psyche. Things I thought I’d scrubbed out of my brain and consciousness. I did not have to go back very far: I live in my head, suspended between my thoughts and reality. In my head, I have already raced through the day’s tasks elegantly, solving one interesting problem after another. In reality, I struggle to put on my shoes. Five year old me’s daily problem: no matter how hard I try, I cannot will my fingers to arrange my shoelaces and straps in a manner that makes sense. This still happens to me. In my head, I may have made spreadsheets upon spreadsheets to address every question I have thought of while showering in the morning. In reality, I cannot will an arrangement of words and numbers to show up without brute force. This tires me. At social events it would be nice, of course, to finally understand how to moderate my speech or behaviour to match what is expected of polite company. But I am interested only in a very tiny set of topics. It helps then to not know what it feels like to pass for social; I have only ever managed to wager a guess. Since I do not know how that feels like, I do not know how to want those things, which is often mistaken for apathy. It was to have made mathematical calculations of my romantic odds instead of caring for people on an individual level. For that, I am sorry. All of those times people asked me on OkCupid or Tinder what I was looking for and I said ‘an algorithmic match’, I thought it was the only thing to say. And if we actually dated, I was still looking for the algorithms and my mainframe was out of date. Being on the spectrum means I grapple with simple questions: the one which terrifies me most, even to this day is — how are you? There is a five second delay in which I think, how, am, wait, what does that mean and who am I? Am I good today? Is that the truth? Am I more good than the last time I was asked this weird question? It feels like an infinite loop. Asking me how I am or how I feel, is no different from being asked to reach into the bottom of my soul and finding no difference between one abyss and another. How am I? How do I feel? I don’t know. In place of feelings, there are patterns. There is the pattern of ‘everybody is smiling am I more convincing at making eye contact now or am I still failing’. This sometimes looks like I have too many feelings, or that I have none. There are the patterns of ‘this looks like something which has happened before which leads me to conclude… Something’ and ‘oh shit I got it terribly wrong’. There are few patterns in-between. I have been lucky to find my feet in a career that skews unfairly towards people on the spectrum, but the parts of it: the speaking at conferences, the socializing and networking, the parties, the world of people talking to and understanding each other, that I shudder at. To be on the spectrum is to have few tools for anger and other emotional processes. How is someone else feeling? I can only wager a guess. It is to disproportionately over-emphathise (because it seems like that’s what people do), or t[...]



Wordpress to Jekyll

Tue, 18 Oct 2016 18:15:53 +0000

If this looks bare to you, it’s supposed to be.

I’ve just finished archiving all of my old posts and giving them some new life as something else they’re not: cool.

By using Jekyll and Github Pages, this setup lets me edit the site in a way I must prefer now: with a text editor and git.

Most things are still here, and I’ll add to it shortly.

But sometimes less is more.

If you’re into that sort of thing, check out my repo!

(image)

If this looks bare to you, it’s supposed to be.




What 31 Feels Like

Mon, 10 Oct 2016 18:15:53 +0000

Wonderful but sometimes a downer.

Comfortable but invigorating.

Stable but enervating.

Fun but sometimes mild.

Energetic and delicious.

World-changing and domestic, depending on the day.

Upwards trajectory but sometimes down.

31 is about being happy in my own skin: that it’s really okay to have greasy hair and over-sized T-shirts, when you have your dog and your partner by your side.

Thank you for the most wonderful year, to everyone who has played a role in it. I am lucky and grateful to have all of you by my side.

(image)

Wonderful but sometimes a downer.




My article on Indonesia in Brink, last month

Sat, 01 Oct 2016 18:17:40 +0000

I’ve started writing articles for Brink, a new media publication by the same people behind the Atlantic. My first piece is on Tech’s Role in Reaching Indonesia’s Rising Middle Class.

(image)

I’ve started writing articles for Brink, a new media publication by the same people behind the Atlantic. My first piece is on Tech’s Role in Reaching Indonesia’s Rising Middle Class.




Panic at the Disco

Tue, 14 Jun 2016 01:36:41 +0000

Gay clubs were for flowers.  Update: I wrote this piece before we learned more about what happened. I’m sorry about misgendering or mis-identifying the victims. I’m 31 in a few months. Not old, but old enough to remember how coming out was not on Tumblr, it was at Taboo.  I would go with my best friends, all of us so drawn to each other (boys and girls) because we saw a spark of — what was it? We thought it was weirdness at the time — in each other. It was a badge nobody gave us, but we saw on ourselves anyway.  If only someone could have told us: this badge, it is a badge of queerness. Use it well, do not sleep with worthless people, and you’ll be okay. One day.  Why did the Orlando shootings reverberate across the world as I knew it — on the walls, timelines, of every queer person I know, and their allies? The idea of safe spaces, and sanctity, kept coming up. Weird, perhaps to consider something like a sweaty, sweltering gay club sacred. But it was. And will always be.  Even if I never felt like I was of “the scene” (there was literally nothing for me there), being a woman, outnumbered with my persuasions out-persuaded, it was, in so many ways, where I found myself.  I’m a terrible dancer, but some alcohol with the encouragement of men who don’t care about sleeping with me, made gay clubs the only place I felt safe. I didn’t have to worry about men, even if I went alone. And most times, I did. In Singapore, in Bangkok, in Helsinki, in every place I have called home or visited for longer than a day. A gay club had always found itself on my itinerary. It was my window into the pulse of the rebels, the misfits, the mostly straight but didn’t want to be fag hags I could sometimes persuade. Most of all, the complete sense of belonging and the unadulterated self. There, I could be myself, long before I could be that person at school, at home, in my places of worship.  When Omar Mateen went into a gay club halfway across the world, spraying bullets and quite literally hunting down gay people, my memories merged into one, as it did for many queer people everywhere. He didn’t kill 50 gays in one club, he reached into, placed himself in, and ripped up the safe space we have all found.  But how to explain a safe space to people who have never needed one? 18, venturing out timidly with my best friends. Seeing educators; kissing each other (of the opposite gender) to pretend, badly, that we were all straight.  20, between life milestones, trembling and swooning every time an older women “picked me” (hahaha, I was very young and very hot; they should have been swooning instead). More recently in life, being protected and cared for by wonderful gay men in cities all over the world. From Istanbul to Helsinki and San Francisco.  It was not just 50 gay men that Omar Mateen killed.  It was all of us on the dance floor. The veteran gays who go to see friends and dance with them. The young man peeking out from his closet, having to hide his queer clothes in his bag. His career as a hot young stud, vanished. The fag hags who love the gay men they cannot have. The old couples who go because they want to believe they still got it. The amazing dancers. The not so good ones. The long lines for the men’s toilets; the lack of one, of the lack of a toilet, for women. The bad vodka. The cheap rum. The smell of leather and sweat. The promise of darkness and kink — but is it really that dark or kinky if you were the one getting it? The camaraderie. The cliquey lesbians who think anyone talking to their girlfriends is infidelity, even when gay men do it. The stolen kisses once outside. The sobering effect of a greasy meal early in the morning when you didn’t meet someone interesting or you made the right choices in life. Kebabs and Chinese food. Drunk friends you send home vowing to never let them d[...]



Kolkata Kalling

Tue, 31 May 2016 20:51:24 +0000

12 years ago in Kolkata. At the time still much referred to as Calcutta. Now less so. The city doesn’t change; but you do. Every picture I have of it from 12 years ago still looks like it could have been from December, when I last visited. Perhaps even today. When I land at midnight later, there will not be the crisp, muddled air of the winters I love in that city, just the night time counterpart to the heat that I know will pound on my face, and the ground, sometime in the morning. All that I know, all that I do, I owe it to this city, even if it will never know it. When my school friends were road-tripping across European cities for ‘summer break’, or perhaps even the big cities of China and America for work and school, I found solace here. It can be hard to see, but Kolkata is a hard act to beat. It’s the ultimate summer. Followed by monsoon. And the sounds of…. It’s a monsoon and the rain lifts lids off cars Spinning buses like toys, stripping them to chrome Across the bay, the waves are turning into something else Picking up fishing boats and spewing them on the shore — James, Sometimes (which somehow always comes to mind when I think of this place How to beat it? The start, really, of empire. The fall, or rather the fading away, of one. The majesty of India’s cricketing hopes and dreams, and occasionally the dashing of, projected unto Eden Gardens even when the matches aren’t in season. The death of Marxism, available for the world to see at every adda and every failing piece of infrastructure. Tagore’s poetry. Indian Coffee House. The children of Tollygunge, who taught me so much, 12 years ago. Sandesh. On hot afternoons when the sun hits the ground and meets engine oil, the smell reminds me of my first love among the many other putrid Asian cities I have come to love: “So in the streets of Calcutta I sometimes imagine myself a foreigner, and only then do I discover how much is to be seen, which is lost so long as its full value in attention is not paid. It is the hunger to really see which drives people to travel to strange places.” — Tagore, My Reminiscences This foreigner is not done discovering. 12 years ago in Kolkata. At the time still much referred to as Calcutta. Now less so. [...]



In Small Rooms with Betawi Women

Wed, 27 Apr 2016 21:24:58 +0000

Not for the first time, I found myself in a tiny room on a hot day, the youngest among old women. Each with a different thing to say to me, also the only person not from around these parts.  “You’re so old now! And unmarried!” “Your hair is too white! Eat more soy beans!” One woman rubbed my tattoos, making a screechy sound with her teeth, before announcing to all the other old women around her: “these are real.” No judgement, no scorn – I was local enough to be in a place like that, but not local enough to be judged.  “Can you bring me some white chocolate next time you come, girl? I had them once and only in your country (Singapore). I’ve never had them since.” She rubbed my back some more.  At places like these old women collectively talk, soothe each other’s tired or injured muscles, and together not give a damn about anything outside of those doors. At least for an hour.  I went often to places like these, my severe back pains often needing urgent attention from anything that would give them rest. In Jakarta, I am a frequent visitor to Haji Naim – a group of famed healers in the Betawi community. I figured that if it didn’t work there was at least delicious soto Betawi to be had next door. Now that I come here so often, a massage almost always precedes a lovely bowl of soup and beef.  I’ve always been glad to have the ability and opportunity to bond with old women anywhere in the world – their wisdom and unlikely sorority is what I look forward to, whether in Yemen or India or Singapore. Here, the Betawi women took turns rubbing my tattoos, shrieking when they discovered (repeatedly) that they were real.  Most of my time in this city has been about discovering, for the first time, scenes that played such a large part in my youth. Hot afternoons with old Indonesian women. Dusk on the street with teenagers singing with their guitars. Children begging. Families living under bridges. The Indonesian movies that used to play so often in my tiny, hot Singaporean shoebox apartment, now alive in parts of the city.  And yet the other parts of it are real, too. Large gleaming buildings. New shiny things. Cocktails as expensive as Singapore’s. Malls full of only imported things. My feet in both worlds: one in the village and one in Pacific Place. One in meetings with fancy people, another under the firm thumbing of extremely old women.  It’s a difficult balance to keep up, but I enjoy each moment. White chocolate in Betawi houses; going home to my $5 room after a day out in $5 coffee houses. Improbable things and inevitable places. As I chug along at work and in life, I’m relieved to have the opportunity to make things work again. Not for the first time, I found myself in a tiny room on a hot day, the youngest among old women. Each with a different thing to say to me, also the only person not from around these parts.  [...]