Back in year one, my friends and I had this thing where we would always walk to UTown every Monday afternoons, no matter where we stayed, no matter rain or shine and no matter what classes we were supposed to be having (cos free S/Us THAT’S WHY). You see, three years ago there used to be this ice cream parlor in UTown called Bing Bing that served really nice ice cream. They always have one or two new flavours every month, and their regular lineups are pretty awesome too. My personal favourite was a double scoop combo of Earl Grey Tea Latte and Coffee flavoured ice cream. Rich man’s yuan yang, I called it. I can still recall traces of that soft, silky, sweet but nuanced mix of goodness swirling in my mouth as I savour every last drop of my monday fix.
The scoops were quite expensive actually, around 4 dollars per scoop, but every mondays they have a 1-for-1 promotion which effectively cut the price of them creams in half. Being the cash-strapped but indulgent freshies that we were, we exploited this system (which perhaps contributed to its eventual collapse) and became loyal patrons of the store. Most of us paired up and bought a scoop for each. Some others more financially endowed went all-in for two. Those going through hardship swallowed pride and asked for samples. But regardless of the color of our creams or how many scoops were in our cups, we relished in each man’s company and in our shared fraternity. We even came up with a name for our group: the Bing Bing Brothers.
In our heydays, the Bing Bing Brothers were the epicentre of all social interactions. Jokes were shared, gossips were traded and memes were made. If you’re in the Bing Bing Brothers, you’re in. Alas, our days were numbered before we even knew it. Somewhere sometime out there in some cold stark office room, a Bing Bing manager probably realised that their NUS outlet were only generating surge sales every monday, and that was probably barely enough to cover the week’s rent. In the end, economics trampled over petty opportunistic-sentimentalism and our little brotherhood found ourselves gawking on a sign none of us wanted to believe: “We are closing.”
Fast forward three years, our group as we knew it has mostly dispersed. Most still stay on campus, though a significant portion now stays in PGP rather than the halls or UTown. Some stay outside campus. A few are going through internships, and most are busy with FYPs and other projects. It gets harder to bring people together, now that we don’t even take the same courses.
As I look back on these memories, I can’t help but wonder: Why do things change, and why do we hate it when they do?
Recently I’ve been shuffling almost everyday from UTown to Engineering for a project, and was reminded that crossing the rainbow bridge* used to be a daily ritual in year 1 for me (that was before I discovered how much webcast the human brain can cram in a week before the exam). I remember that I used to grab a cold cup of Frosties whenever I can on my way to those lectures, and now Wendy’s doesn’t even have any stores in Singapore.
I walked past YIH a few weeks ago and noticed that the Starbucks was gone. I remembered then that on a gloomy day in year two I had called my parents just minutes before going for an interview for an engineering team. I really wanted to join that team and was a nervous wreck, and that phone call with my mom, dad and younger sister, and that mildly-spicy cup of short brewed coffee gave me the courage I needed to keep my mind together as I waltzed into that interview. Today not even the OCBC ATM outside the Starbucks outlet remained.
Some nights I walk pass PC Commons and a part of me stirred in anticipation of bumping into familiar faces, fellow friends fighting through weeks of missed classes and impending deadlines. It used to be that I could stay up damn late and chances are I’d still find a few of my friends in the domes or project rooms huddled together around the two or three packets of soggy Ameens cheese fries. Walking through the hallways nowadays my glances were mostly met with empty chairs or foreign faces.
Maybe it’s just a year-4 syndrome, a phase that I’m going through as I mull over my final year, months, weeks and days in NUS. Or maybe it’s something more primal, that maybe we are all wired either by design or through millions of years of evolutionary pressures to once-in-a-while question the significance of our existence, to ponder the fleeting nature of our days and perhaps to even yearn for eternity when we could barely see past tomorrow.
Maybe it’s the hallmark of our modern societies, that we are just so bombarded… with fast cars and fast fashion and fast food and the fast life, instant likes, instant connections, instant learning and instant noodles, quick bucks, quick maths, quick facts, quick memes. Chug. Swallow. Rinse. Repeat. Hustle. Sprint. Scramble. Success! Do as I do and you’ll be rich in no time! Follow these trends and you’ll have all the friends! But wait. Don’t blink. There’s more. Things change. Here’s a new cafe, here’s a new bar. Here’s 10 new beaches that we liked so far!
…that maybe sometimes we get disoriented and forget where we are.
Maybe familiar places give us comfort because they are like sanctuaries in an ever-changing landscape. They’re islands of constancy where our shared experiences and memories can be placed for safekeeping, knowing that years down the road we can still come back to these places and our memories will be right where they were. They anchor and frame our lives as physical and emotional landmarks, giving us a sense of where we are, where we used to be and where we are heading.
Maybe that’s why we feel sad when these places move or close down, and feel uncanny when the food stall aunties and uncles change even though we might not even know their names.
Maybe in the end, we simply need our own little reasons to get up in the morning, to live each day with the anticipation that something good may be brewing just around the corner, to find melodies to sing over the constant rhythm of our days.
Maybe all we need is our own small cups of Bing Bings.
(and dear God please don’t close Swee Choon)
*The bridge UTownians use to descend into the other 9 realms: FoE, FoS, FASS, SoC, Biz, SDE, Law, Med, and YST. Don’t get the reference? Check this image
Benaya Christo is a final year mechanical engineering student in NUS. In between cramming down webcasts and describing himself in third person, he enjoys taking time to stop and stand still as the world whirls around him. Also, he hasn’t had his morning coffee yet so this is all he’s gonna’ write for now.
Featured image courtesy of Straits Times
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