The painting above perfectly describes my state of mind as I write about what happened last night.
- Archy, 5th Dec 2014
The story began with Gjermund and I coming out of a bar where a cloud computing meet-up just ended. We were on our way to the museum carpark, when we met a girl with wavy, long hair in what normally described as hipster outfit walking out from a path that appears to lead to nowhere, right beside a tunnel - a scene resembling the album art of a record by an indie pop band.
“What’s on that side?” Gjermund asked.
“Nothing. It leads to a construction site,” said the girl, “I thought it may be the way to Fort Canning park.”
They started chitchatting as we waited for the traffic light. This is one of the things I liked about Gjermund. He always makes initiating conversation with a stranger look so easy, and sustaining the conversation look so natural. I wish one day I can be like him; I wish one day I can be sociable.
It turned out that she is from Belarus and this is her first time in Singapore. She was finding her way to Fort Canning park, which she thought was a cool place to visit by herself at 11PM in a Thursday night. Gjermund decided to give her a lift. We got into the car.
“So what do you do?” she asked me, with a smile on her lips.
I could see her eyes glowed with excitement that can’t be described in words when she learnt that Gjermund and I are programmers. “I do programming too. I code in Java.” My heart skipped a beat as she said these words. This was the least expected way to meet a lady programmer around my age. The boundary between fantasy and reality began to fade and I felt like I was lucid dreaming when I learnt that she majored in applied math. There is still something incredibly awesome about a girl who does math, even if her area of research isn’t algebraic topology.
But what’s most mind-boggling is the probability for the occurrence of this very incident: the probability of me encountering a lady programmer from another part of the world with a math degree on Armenian Street is like randomly picking a point in R and getting a rational number. You will not obtain a rational number suppose you are able to write a randomized algorithm for that (which is of course not possible to start with, but damn this is an analogy) and theoretically loop it in a super computer until the Higgs Field in our universe undergoes a phase transition and transforms into an ultra-dense state. The probability is zero.
We arrived at Fort Canning park a minute later. There was basically nothing besides plants that you can’t tell the color of under dim light. Since what she wanted was to check out interesting places on this island and she had not yet been to Orchard, Gjermund suggested that we go there and submerge ourselves with the artificial Xmas atmosphere in Singapore. She was also thinking of having dinner. Most places were closed then. So we ended up heading to the magical place in River Valley where the closing time of restaurants is undefined.
The three of us chatted in the car for about five minutes before arriving at our destination. The more I got to know her, the more I realized we can be good friends (if circumstances allowed). I wasn’t looking forward to a special relationship or anything. Right now the only thing in my mind, besides becoming more productive at work and starting contributing to open-source, is to get into the CSE graduate program at MIT by 21. But the truth is I don’t have female friends and I rarely interact with ladies around my age. Or I should put it this way, I have very little friends and the number of human beings with whom I have longer-than-five-minutes interaction in real life each week on average is less than five. Recently I have been trying to increase this number. I have been going to conferences and meet-ups and managed to pull the number up a bit in the past few days. Despite sometimes getting myself into completely avoidable awkward situations, more or less I had been able to behave naturally and express thoughts and ideas that were on my mind in real-time, while maintaining eye contact as I mimicked how people in real life would interact.
Just when I thought I would not screw things up this time, my anxiety kicked in. We were in one of the Chinese restaurants at River Valley. She was sitting right in front of me. I have always got a bit of social anxiety disorder (with it being especially true when I was sitting face-to-face a beautiful girl). Not a severe one but one enough to make me shut the fuck up when two people are talking, in spite of the fact that I know it is alright to join in the conversation. So most of the time she was talking to Gjermund.
I could see that she was trying to strike up conversations with me occasionally. But every time when that happened, it just proved her right that I am incapable of keeping a conversation going. Here is one of the many ways I screwed up a conversation (which I can painfully remember).
“You taught yourself to code at 16? That’s like … wow! You gotta be super smart.” The girl with kaleidoscope eyes looked at me with curiosity and asked.
“Nah. At you are likely much smarter than me.” What the fuck. I could not believe these words just came out of my mouth.
I was trying to be modest but this was the worst response I could come up with. I was trying way too hard to be modest. She probably said that as a conversation starter - it was a chance for me to tell her more about myself, as we still didn’t know one another very well - but the response I gave her awkwardly shifted the attention back to her. And it was followed by those few seconds of awkward silence, piercing through my bones before she smiled and chuckled out of courtesy. There may be some truth in my words, but sentences like this are often ones used for killing off a conversation. In this case it served its purpose rather successfully.
I really wanted to discuss with her about my passion, and my belief that there isn’t really such a thing as “being smart”. And then we could move on to discussing about her passion, her dream, the meaning of life … This could have been developed into a great conversation but I ended up killing it right away. Actually, I ended up killing every single conversation she tried to pull off until she gradually gave up, probably with the impression that I’m one of those uncommunicative people - a waste of time if you try to communicate with them - and conversed only with Gjermund. Gjermund in the other hand has got a good sense of humor and is always very affable. I wish one day I can learn from him the art of engaging in conversation with other human beings.
There was no doubt she and Gjermund were having a great time chatting away. I watched as I anticipated for an opportunity to get into the conversation. I no longer cared whether I had a mild anxiety disorder. I ain’t gonna bloody give up yet, I told myself. Gjermund noticed that too, so he tried to create that opportunity for me. He succeeded a couple of times. But every time when the opportunity was there, processes in my mind just synchronously ran into runtime errors. I watched myself as I let the precious opportunities gone to waste without being able to do a single damn thing. I ended up not even knowing her name before I said goodbye and left, as she and Gjermund headed to check out the Christmas decoration in Orchard.
● ● ●
This was the first time I got to have human interaction with a girl around my age from Europe and I had successfully made myself into one of those Asian characters in the movies who speak pathetically few lines in the dialogue and often plays as part of the background, with the sole purpose of existence being to add in racial diversity.
Even up to this moment I am still very disappointed at what I did. And I’m so ashamed of myself that I cannot get it off my mind. It sure was a wonderful night. Just meeting her on Armenian Street was true serendipity. But this doesn’t change the fact that I failed to even make an attempt to connect with a human being of the opposite gender, while the second party tried her best to connect with me.
As a writer, I have to write it down. Ever since its occurrence I can’t stop thinking about it. I can barely stay focused on anything else with such preoccupation. I refer to this as the curse of the ones who write. But to be frank, this is nothing more than a struggle to free myself from living in the state of perpetual regrets. Writing what happened down makes it feel like at least I have done something about it. So that I can move on. So that whenever I’m inclined to look back at it I can laugh it off. So that it feels justified to call it a learning experience. As one who aspires to be an angel investor, and also to revolutionize education, I am aware that having social skills is a necessity, and would like to believe that I am a highly efficient learning algorithm. Among the most efficient ones in the universe, if you will.
So fuck it.