In a couple of hours, I will be 23. No matter how much we try to convince ourselves that birthdays are no longer worth celebrating, there is no denying that we will acknowledge the day on which we were born. We can say that it’s just an arbitrary day to which we ascribe an arbitrary meaning, but isn’t it the case for just about everything else?

23 seemed a much more onerous number than 22. It’s on the fringe of having a consistent adult life. Questions about the meaning of things seem frivolous. Responsibilities weigh in on decisions. It wouldn’t be a forgiving decade. Chance has it that I have so many unanswered questions. While conviction grows ever stronger, so does doubt.

The fork ahead never seemed so apparent. I thought I have chosen, but choosing is a never-ending chore. And there are no wrong paths. I could have mistaken this fact; it might just be a belief that I wouldn’t deny myself.

I’m turning 23, and all that is palpable is my hollow hope, my blind courage, and my insecurity. So much for this conviction – I can hardly speak my mind.

"But I am young no longer now; for sixty years my heart's 
been gone. 
To play its dreadful music there, beyond the valley of the
sun.
I watch with envious eyes and mind, the single-souled,
who dare not feel.
The wind that blows beyond the moon, who do not hear 
the Fairy Reel.
If you don't hear the Fairy Reel, they will not pause to steal
your breath.
When I was young I was a fool. So wrap me up in dreams
and death."
The Fairy Reel, Neil Gaiman

I’d wished myself a fool anyhow. A 1000 times over.

Oh kids, aren’t they a noisy bunch? Mid-afternoon, the bus that gets to the train station would be packed with students on their way home. The top deck, without the close supervision of the bus captain, would overflow with their excitement. Surely, it’s their favourite time of the day; it’s a momentary relief from teachers, parents and expectations. Even the most studious children would forget about their homework until they get home. Some share glorious feats of slaying the great green gargoyle in their virtual quests, others sneak treasured snacks amongst their closest pals. The common denominator is their chatter – loud, sincere, and unrestrained.

It shouldn’t be surprising that many aspects of our living experience follow an inverted parabolic path. In our childhood and adolescence, we crawl and climb and hop to higher grounds. At some point, the roads take a turn downhill, often sooner than we would expect them to. Independence is one example; the sweet taste of the first paycheque would hardly portend the need to have someone else change our diapers when we are all decrepit and broken. Other factors that are associated with independence, such as ability or income, follow the same pattern.

Reticence is another. As we grow older, we speak less of our minds, and perhaps more lies. Could we be less verbally expressive on the whole, as we pass into adulthood? A study of the average number of words spoken each day by people of different ages would be interesting. Past the tipping point, one wouldn’t be too far from being that nagging grandmamma or that grumbling grandpapa.

No doubt I’m generalizing, and over-simplifying. If there was only a single turning point in life, it would be too predictable, too easy. Only in the twists and turns we are lost and found, and then there are those who wander.

I’d wished that I could speak my mind more often, although it wanders off every now and then.

Ham and Brie sandwich from The Provision Shop

Ham and Brie sandwich from The Provision Shop

Inspired by this drool-inducing video kindly (or perhaps insidiously) shared by some precious friends, I have set off on a pilgrimage of sandwiches. Midweek, I have munched on three sandwiches that had some sort of cheese in them. It started with one of Ham and Brie at The Provision Shop, because I was at Everton Park for a bag of beans from Gitesi, Rwanda, after giving away the last of my Kochore beans. There was berry compote in it, which wasn’t a bad idea because its sweetness aptly lifted a potentially heavy meal. What wasn’t welcomed was the half-hearted service. That let the food down, but anyone could tell the front-of-house was crestfallen. Could be a broken heart, or a tough day at work – I’m sure we all have days like that.

I had my second sandwich from Breadyard – a frequent haunt, in part due to proximity, in another, acquaintanceship with the owner. I had the Ham and Cheese sandwich, an alternative from my usual Duck and Orange because of this pilgrimage. Ivan, the owner, was there himself on Tuesday to put apple slices in the sandwich. Another splendid idea which does justice to his dedication to baking wholesome bread.

Tomato and Mozzarella sandwich from Necessary Provisions

Tomato and Mozzarella sandwich from Necessary Provisions

The third was Tomato and Mozzarella, at Necessary Provisions where I have opted to get some revision done, but ended up writing this post. Fresh tomatoes espoused to the supple cheese, with a side of well-dressed greens, could hardly go wrong. Then there were the cinnamon rolls which I couldn’t resist.

These sandwiches made satisfying meals, but they aren’t ‘grilled cheese sandwiches’ per se. It is hard to find something so simple in the fancy cafés these days; I’ll have to make do. Eons ago I had an actual one from Simply Bread, which was decent, but lacked the oomph. Perhaps it’s time to head to the fromagerie and spend some time in the kitchen.

N.A.O and Café Dumo

N.A.O and Café Dumo

If I had some sort of talent in putting paint on canvas or gyrating my lanky figure to music, I would have gone to the School Of The Arts, SOTA in short. Because it has such a beautiful campus. Fortunately, I had no such gifts, nor was SOTA opened when I left Primary school. Back in the days, choosing which school to go to was a much simpler feat. I had gotten very interested in some kind of chess called Go (or Weiqi), from reading this Japanese manga – Hikaru no Go. So I’d set my mind on this particular school which was famous for their Go club. My exam score barely gave me a place in this school, just as I made it into the club by pure chance. Funny how things have worked out.

Nevertheless, the establishment of SOTA was a commendable feat to encourage our people to be more accepting of ‘alternative pathways’. It is not the most ideal; students have to take the International Baccalaureate at the end, so they have to split themselves between passion and obligation. Yet it is a compromise, given the state of our culture – in which qualifications mean a great deal. I would love to witness the day when we can tell our children to be who they want to be and be honestly proud of it, although that is quite unlikely by current projections.

I had a discussion some weeks ago with a botanist mentor/friend over dinner, about how in cities we cannot expect the obsession with money and mentality of hoarding to simply go away. Not even with any form of government intervention (in a free/sort-of-free society that is). Imagine how different the conditions are in a smaller town. It isn’t difficult to find one’s purpose in being a painter, a farmer, a postman, or a baker. For instance, through his humble hands, the baker kneads bread out of flour, water and yeast for his neighbours who lie in their soft beds while he works the dough. In a city, all notions of such romance are dispelled as bakers scramble over meagre profit margins, which probably wouldn’t suffice to raise their families. Material wealth takes centre-stage; aspirations limit themselves to enterprises and financial institutions. It’s all about capital, resources, and efficiency. In the most efficient economy, the only conceivable bakeries are the factories.

Ironically, our consolation lies in our inefficiency. We can’t work like robots (at least, not yet). We fall in love, and we fall out of love; we are seduced by utterly inefficient notions such as spending an afternoon with ume-scented green tea and lovely cakes in the company of friends. (You saw that coming, didn’t you?) We need only to head over to nowhere but SOTA to be seduced by my favourite patisserie in this condemning city – Kki Sweets.

Kki Sweets started out on Ann Siang Hill, and after an 8-month-long hiatus, it re-opened in SOTA. So much has changed, so much hasn’t. At its new home, full-length glass windows and simple, wooden furnishing exudes a comfortable openness. The owner only made the welcome warmer, as before, treating everyone like neighbours. And the influence of Japanese patisseries extends beyond its hospitality; the cakes are concise and light, focussing on getting the simple things right. Some of my favourite cakes are still there, notably the onigiri, although it wasn’t available on this visit. But luck has it that I could have my fork on the N.A.O, a dainty strawberry and pistachio mousse cake, and Café Dumo, a balanced coffee entremet, for I have missed out on these two back then.

There are new offerings, but I couldn’t really be sure.  The incumbents are great, but like all food places, innovation and improvement are necessary. Prices are steep, relatively, but not unjustified, for both the chefs’ dedication to their craft and the impossible rent prices. Its tea selection is limited, but sufficient and apt for its sweets. Better coffee would retain more customers, because their palates are getting pickier with the saturation of cafés. Understandably, a standard espresso machine is a heavy investment, for cost is always an issue in a bustling city like Singapore.

On our part as consumers, we can be more discerning. If we want places like this to stay, because it is not just a business, then we have to acknowledge that our support makes a difference. Everyone will have their own favourites, and it’s always sad to see them go. Yet I hope that Kki Sweets is here to stay, for its simplicity, its charm, and its warmth is the kind of love we would want to fall into.

Kki Sweets
1 Zubir Said Drive
SOTA #02-01

https://www.facebook.com/kki.sweets

A couple of days ago this was on my feed: Hanging with High School Hank from the vlogbrothers. Who? John and Hank Green, if these names ring a bell. VidCon? Nerdfighteria? The fault in our stars? OK I’ve not read the book or watched the film, but you would probably recognize the last mention. Check out their original channel, or watch vids from their CrashCourse channel and you’ll probably learn more things than can be taught in business school pffft! (OK no hating this time around, considering how grim the previous post was.)

On a lighter note, I thought I should make a list of “Things to achieve in Year X”. I know I’m not in high school any more (sigh) but hey! I’m still young! (right…) So here goes nothing!

2014: Bake an awesome birthday cake.
2015: Finish The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir.
2016: Be free.
2017: America!
2018: Chocolate.
2019: Work somewhere in Spain/France.
2020: Make bread.
2021: To the edge of the world.
2022: Buy an espresso machine.
2023: The Great family meal.
2024: Israel/Syria/Egypt, if there’re still there.
2025: Learn a new language.
2026: Live 10 days without any communication device.
2027: Cook eggs.
2028: Send 10 letters.
2029: Invent a new snack.
2030: Balloons!
2031: Run.
2032: Keep running.
2033: Venice, if it’s still there.
2034: Stay on a boat.
2035: Visit a coffee plantation.
2036: Wish upon a star.
2037: Write something and get it published.
2038: Read a novel overnight.
2039: Northern Lights, if there’re still there.
2040: Look forward, if I’m still here.

Yeap so I guess that’s a pretty long list. No particular reasons for anything, just whatever that comes to mind. It will be nice to look at this list again, a few years, decades down the road. (Hello the 40-year-old-me, this is you when you’re 23. Can you imagine you’re actually typing this with your fingers when they have yet to invent a consciousness translator?)