Let me interrupt you with a short poem - before the light turns green

Let me interrupt you with a short poem - before the light turns green

It is a fleeting moment, but I catch it before

the light turns green. 

The bus driver looks out of his window. 

Through my window, I look at him look out of his window.

To the back of his head, I ask: "Uncle, what are you thinking of?" 

He turns his head back, a distant look on his face. 

The light turns green. He glances down at his steering wheel, presses his foot on the accelerator, the same distant look on his face. 

To the side of his face, I ask: "Uncle, what are you thinking of?" 

"Uncle, am I asking the right question?" 

Let me try that again. 

"Uncle, how are you feeling?" 


This short and simple poem was born at the traffic junction, before the traffic light turned green. So much of our time is spent on autopilot - on daily routines, mundane tasks, habits we unconsciously carry out repeatedly. As I looked at the bus driver and quickly typed down on my phone these lines that were forming in my head, I thought of how red traffic lights symbolised pauses/interruptions of the incessant flow of cars. Cars stop, engines become idle, and people take brief breaks in their drivers' seats. I have a particular interest in interruptions (and I'm not referring to rude interjections in conversations), in challenging the status quo and shaking things up. Interruptions catch us in our tracks and remind us to pause and check in with ourselves, be it in terms of what we are doing, thinking or feeling in the moment. Interruptions offer us new choices of alternative actions we can take. Interruptions inject fresh air in stale environments of the trite and uninspiring. 

Interrupting ourselves isn't a new concept, we practise it often in forms like quick overseas getaways from chores and work, or taking days off to read a book and people-watch in a cafe. We interrupt monotony in different ways, and how we think of the concept and how we carry it out speak volumes of ourselves, our beliefs and our values. It's interesting how many people see interruptions as chores themselves that require extra attention and special preparation (yes the irony of this). Because they see it this way, they delay interrupting the very hackneyed practices that are draining them. "I'll just do this a little more before I take a break". "I'm tired, but I need to OT in the office for the rest of the week to prepare for my holiday vacation." They work more to compensate for the very interruptions they needed from their work in the first place. It is also possible (and very often true) that they end up viewing these positive interruptions as hindrances to the work they are tired and burned out from. "Aiya, I need to work. I don't have time for a break." But they need the break. They just end up choosing not to take a break and not to take care of themselves in the way they needed to. 

The thing is, interruptions don't have to be big and grand. We can infuse such interruptions into our daily lives, from automatically looking down at our phones the moment we enter the MRT to looking out of the window at the view. Or from closing ourselves off to our family the moment we come home from school/work to making a stop at the living room sofa to catch up with our parents on how their day went. From automatically lashing out at our dad/mum because they said something that irritated us to viewing it as an opportunity to pause and choose to respond to them differently (and better yet, have a conversation with them about this). From viewing interruptions as hindrances and troublesome luxuries to practising un-monotony in small little ways. Opportunities to break away from habits and habitually-formed beliefs are aplenty. We just need to welcome interruptions as a new habit that we want to form in our lives (aha!). 

To the side of his face, I ask: "Uncle, what are you thinking of?" 

"Uncle, am I asking the right question?" 

Let me try that again. 

"Uncle, how are you feeling?" 

Now I focus on the latter part of the poem. Many times, we confuse 'thinking' with 'feeling'. "I feel that..." is synonymously used with "I think that..." in everyday conversation. I am against this and I think that's inaccurate (there, I kinda subtly weaved in a distinction for you). I know the distinction between feeling and thinking is oftentimes not so clear, but I'm gonna attempt to show you a distinction between these two facets that exist nonetheless. Feeling stems from our emotions, our instinctive gut reactions to events, while thinking comes from the logical and rational operations of our mind. When friends tell me "I think I don't like my job", I ask them "Do you think or do you really not like your job?" It seems like we no longer give ourselves permission to listen to what our heart tells us, but to channel the things our heart says to our mind first before we process what is happening with us. It's as if emotions have gotten a bit of a bad rap, 'influencing' us to make impulsive decisions we later regret. Yes, maybe that's true. But emotions are way more valuable as currency in our daily lives than we give them permission to be. 

"I think she's wrong. She sucks" can be broken down into "She did something that challenged my values" --> "In my view, what she did was wrong" --> "I am unhappy with her". By doing this, we also separate the person from the person's action. It's not personal. And it's not a personal attack. It gives us permission to also see what this person's values and beliefs may be that propelled her to act as such, and to respect these and empathise with her, human to human. 

"I think I should quit my job". You want to quit your job. It's already something that you feel strongly about, before you go ahead and make your pros and cons list on why you should or shouldn't. Using "I think" distances you from your feelings about your job and can even be used as an excuse ("I'm just thinking about it. No harm thinking about it"). If you're already thinking about it, it means it's something you already have feelings about. And that you already have a certain inclination towards. If you stay in the 'thinking phase', you may be stuck in there for a long time and end up not doing anything about your situation. Don't get me wrong, a list of the good and bad can help us make decisions. But if we just stay in the thinking part, we will forever be held back by 'thinking'.

Making the effort to catch ourselves when we make such statements also informs us of the ways we view certain things and what our real intentions and feelings towards such things are. It uncovers the guises and excuses we live under and forces us to be honest with ourselves. Of course, taking the time to think and deliberate is important. I'm not dismissing that it is not. We need both the feeling and thinking in order to survive. However, we need to give the feeling a bit more weight in our lives because the feeling influences a lot of the thinking, as well as how we make ourselves try to think otherwise because we are not comfortable with our feelings. It's not as effective trying to think our way into feeling a certain way. Emotions are a valuable currency that lets us live in the present and lets us appreciate ourselves for our unique traits, personalities and outlooks on life. 

Let's interrupt our overly strong focus on the doing, and reconnect with the being and feeling. 

Travelogue: Bong Roy, the tuk tuk driver in Kampot, Cambodia

Travelogue: Bong Roy, the tuk tuk driver in Kampot, Cambodia

Lost in Transition

Lost in Transition

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