“…it’s an intriguing space, that period and gap between who the girl was and who she will become.”

“When I touch my face I
think palace. I think
could have or could or
have not. I think
the city is divided by rivers
and hearts and little living
things I never learned
how to name.”
— Becca Yenser, from Columbia Park

Sometimes I recall tales from Miri, Sarawak – aka the small-town, whenever it appears here – in ’12, and remember a time when I used to naively make ignorant and stupid statements like “There’s PJ [my hometown], then there’s everywhere else” and “There’s real-real-real KL, then there are all these other places that think they’re part of KL.”

(deep sigh)

Hey, you know, do yourselves a favor: Get out. Live elsewhere. Get humble. Live differently.

And when you’re out there, immerse yourself – not just stand to one side, apart, like I did for 8/10 weeks back then thinking I was too good for the place. Sometimes maturity is about admitting that while a place isn’t for you and your soul – it’s still you. “Does it demean you, make you less, to be respectful of another’s place? To hold back your tongue from unnecessary opinions? What makes you think that just because you grew up privileged, you’re a cut above everyone else?” …were the kind of hard knocks Eldest Sis laid on me on the weekend of Week 8 – just as my goodbyes were in place, ecstatic I was almost done with the place. For many months later, I remember the shame that chewed my insides and the self-disappointment that followed. I think all of us have defining stories of growth; I have several, as I’m sure everyone does, but none as transformative – yet – as that 10 weeks in ’12, in a small town where I did more growing up than even 3.5 years in Philly. 

Now it’s three years later and I’m fully aware I’ve romanticized, to a degree, the experience and the town that it is exciting but also nerve-wracking when it finally, fully hits that I’m returning. Oh. It’s really happening. Maybe reality will bite hard this second round, you know? Maybe everything sweet in my memories will in reality, taste awfully bitter. Maybe I’ll still hate the place at 24-almost-25 with the same passion at 21. I’m a bundle of nerves lately whenever I think of this unknown-end-date move, no kidding, but as John Mayer (who else) puts it, “Fear is a friend who’s misunderstood.” To be honest, one of my biggest fears is that I will find myself stuck in a place that does little to nothing for my soul; an internal stagnation. I’m always equally nervous at the thought, “Too bad, you placed yourself there.”

So every once in awhile I recall and share, to a different audience each time, stories from Miri in ’12 – even if I’ve told them a dozen times by now. These stories are a reminder that while it’s true one can take a girl out of the city only to realize the city stays within the girl… it’s an intriguing space, that period and gap between who the girl was and who she will become.

I’m a bundle of nerves, no kidding, but I look forward to Round 2 in ’16.


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