Time, these days, appears utterly drunk. The hours and days that used to reside in neatly packed containers are now splattered all over the place, shedding the outlines that once held our plans and schedules. As we hold out in our homes, this borderless blob continues to gobble up the lines dividing mornings and evenings, weekends and weekdays.
In these strange times, birthdays remain among the last surviving reminders that time is still pacing forward, not stuck in a perpetual loop. When the clock struck twelve and my wife started sticking candles into the cake, I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief: another year had gone by, just like that. Time pulled a trick on me again. At that moment, I decided that the only way to wrest back control is to look back at the year that was to account for where all the time had gone.
My 30th year was a pivotal fork in the road, not just because it ushered me out of the calendar of youth into the decade of true adulthood, but even more so because of all the personal milestones it contained. Last May, I left Shanghai for Singapore, settling into a different city and a new home, moving into a different company and a new job. Last September, I abandoned the single life and got married. In an instant, the one-player game I had been playing all my life morphed into a two-player game.
I started to recount the highlights from each month more intently. Where did the rest of the time go? Travel usually bubbles up to the top — the trips back home to prepare for our wedding or attend my friends’ weddings, the bachelor party my friends organized, the spontaneous excursions to Seoul, Taipei, Shenzhen, and Bintan… these serve as the sturdy signposts of time. The moments in between though were all a blur.
Time is such a peculiar creature. When we’re exploring new places, it speeds up in the present but slows down in memory. When we’re idle at home, it slows down in the present but speeds up in memory. Is the trick then to extend remembered time through more frequent exploration?
As with everything else, my birthday this year was spent at home. It was mostly a quiet and signpost-free day. As the day progressed and I started craving for that impossible adventure, a line I wrote at the start of the year came back to me: “Last year was all about uprooting myself. This year is all about taking root.” That was when I saw the silver lining amid these unusual times — this forced pause is an opportunity to sink our roots, filter out the world’s noise and explore inward.
As the day began to wind down, I walk to my wife who was preparing a meal in the kitchen, then take a quick glance at greetings from family and friends on my phone. I sit down on the sofa and close my eyes, relishing the quiet time I had the rest of the evening to read and write. I felt immensely grateful at that moment, and it dawned on me that silent reflection was another trick to expand time. As I continued that journey inward, a strange thing happened. Time gradually turned sober, and it gave me the most wonderful present.