On walking into a place for the last time

The morning walk to work is executed, like the daily routine at work, unthinkingly. Yet when one realizes that one is leaving the space which one has occupied every day for the last two years, more attention is paid to the minute details of her routine, lest this phase of her life is concluded with nothing more than a sigh of relief.

The building itself is white and blue. What kind of blue, you ask –

well it could be defined picturesquely as “Rocky Mountain Blue”, or if truth is what we’re going for, “Cheapest Shade In The Shop Blue”. It is exceedingly ugly (being built more than 30 years ago, you understand), almost Japanese minimalist but with enough extraneous details to transcend the zen bar into just plain ugliness.

It is easy to leave a place that is ugly. You naturally want to leave any memory of it behind. I had a really hard time leaving Cornell. Its old buildings, its blue skies (the skies in America are scientifically proven to be bluer than those in Singapore), the greener grass, and the wonderful frosty temperature. It is damnedly hot in Singapore right now and we can’t wait to leave. The sun is hotter than we have ever remembered it, as if it were fissioning to produce another bulb of sun, closer to us than anybody else.

En route from the bus stop to my architecturally vacuous building is a shrubby hedge lining the path. I’ve never seen anyone trimming it, but it is always trimmed. When it is bright out after a rain, lizards with willowy, elegant tails creep to the top of the hedge to sun themselves, blinking at all the humans trudging in to work, making their gurgly little mocking laugh.

Then one passes by the brain sculpture – a totally crass piece of non-art featuring maybe 10-16 grey resin brains mounted on metal poles being bathed in a spray of water. One of my friends cynically remarked on his way out, “That’s how XXX views you guys – as brains on sticks!” which made me decide to have yakitori for dinner.

My office is on the 3rd floor. Instead of taking the elevator, I walk. There are only 4 storeys to this building and only 2 elevators. I’m not sure what the current capacity of the building is, but there must be at least 150 people on each floor. There is a central stairway, and two antisocial stairways on the east end and the west end which almost nobody takes. I split my journey up between the two, because the antisocial stairway is not air conditioned (or I would take it all the way). From the first to the second floor, I take the central stairway. Because I have the luxury of being on the third floor, from the second to the third floor, I walk to the west end of the building to the antisocial stairway and take that to my lab. This serves the purpose of breaking up the “stair climbing” section of my journey to the lab and more importantly, allows me to check if the white collared kingfishers on the rain tree next to the building are there in the morning.

For all the building’s ugliness, it is surrounded by several majestic rain trees which support many species of birds – kingfishers, sunbirds, fruit pigeons, magpie robins, orioles. The most ridiculous part about the architecture of the building is that I don’t get to see any sunlight until I reach the antisocial stairwell. Only people who get “window seats” in the lab get to see any of the wildlife at all, perhaps about 5% of people in company. There are three avid birders in my lab.

Today Mr Kingfisher was perched on his favourite branch of the rain tree outside – it is going to be a good day.

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