Fragmented Connections
Cynthia Loh

2011 was the year that marked the (subjective) peak of British rock band Foals— who had just released their album Total Life Forever. I indulge in the rabbit hole1 by scrolling through the infinite dark blue dashboard: photos of Alex Turner2 in black and white populated the screen; poised next to Alice Glass3, drenched in sweat, smoking a cigarette. At the height of my teenage angst, I was longing for a connection with someone who loved early 2010’s indie pop as much as I did; longing for a connection with someone who understood me.

This is how I met K. They were wedged between images of #clockenflap4, Grimes’ blunt green fringe, #painsofbeingpureatheart5, and home7. K has always been my mediator; my proxy; my best friend— as we, together, navigate the crevices of the virtual and the material.

Our friendship was cemented by the moment we exchanged our favourite bands’ posters with one another— I offered K a rolled-up promotional poster for The Vaccines’ concert, and they reciprocated with one for The Horrors. We met at a ramen franchise in bustling Mong Kok with nervous smiles and chatted about our experiences being a teenager within a sea of seasoned (older) music fans. It felt almost cathartic to find someone who was obsessed with the same niches that I was. They understood when I brought up Submarine (2010) as one of my favourite films;  and I understood when they spoke about the life-changing experience that was seeing Gorillaz at the Asia-World Expo Centre for their Plastic Beach tour.

This was the first time I had decided to muddle the boundaries between the virtual and physical— to conflate my Tumblr persona with, well, me. We describe ourselves as being “terminally online” nowadays, but it was undeniable that meeting K allowed me to sit comfortably within the crevices of “real life” and the “online”.

In my final years of high school, we spent most of our days lounging around K’s dimly lit tonglau apartment. We slurped away at Samyang spicy cheesy ramen and sipped homemade mojitos from a glass pitcher. We often spent our weekends with I, and together, we formed the spicybois. Many nights were spent trawling the depths of the internet as we projected our screens onto K’s apartment wall. Belly laughs, impromptu bleached hair, sipping on Asahi’s, ranting about boys (who have an unhealthy obsession with Death Grips) were hallmarks of a night in K’s apartment. In a ritualistic manner, we’d pull up Important Videos and recite all the fragmented words as we remembered them.

“East Hills! Go back to schoooool.”

We’re getting ready to see Naomi Smalls at O-Zone by pouring peach soju into water bottles.

“I feel like a deer in the headlights of love.”

We’ve just brought back a $3 container of takeaway spicy potato noodles to the apartment (and are struggling with our spice tolerance).

“Hurricane Katrina? More like Hurricane Tortilla!”

We’ve spent our last night together in the apartment without realising that it was our last.

2018 was the year we left I and Hong Kong with heavy hearts. We collectively yearned for home as K resituated themselves on Meanjin land, and I, on Gadigal land.

As an anchor of our formative memories, we asked N, a tattoo artist, to permanently mark us— not only so we can carry a slice of home with us, but also of one another. We thought, “maybe this will lessen the pain of being physically distant”, just like a Nurofen would. We scratched our heads as we looked intensely for an image charged with representation— we did not want to be the token Third Culture Kid with a derivative bauhinia tattoo.

I had been on FaceTimes with K all week. They were working through their honour’s thesis on the transience of place, and I, this letter on fleeting virtual intimacies. I pause at intervals to read aloud to them— there were quotes that I  found and adored, but also anecdotes I wrote about the archive of us. As we both try to think through our relationship with home, their video stops.

“Oh, for fucks sake.”

I glance over at the blinking NBN box.

I swap from TP-LINK_83F2 to TP-LINK_83F2-5G in hopes that I get a glimpse of K becoming animated again.

‘Without the body’s presence, site disembodies experience, reducing its presence to mere “indices of memorable places”’.

I reach out to K with my voice in hopes that they get a glimmer of me.

I am still here.

I haven’t left.

I wonder if they are thinking the same.

When I speak to K over FaceTime, we often talk through how much we miss each other. Though this is true, there’s a part of us that long to be by each other’s sides, physically, again— not in a temporary week-long visit, sipping margaritas and wreaking havoc in Fortitude Valley/ Surry Hills/ Nundah/ Newtown— but to return home. To return to that transient place where we grounded ourselves in the jumbling of space and time, amongst the large LED signs, monolithic skyscrapers, and the sublime mountains.

Our conversation’s echoes are not limited to the void. We hope that, somehow, these words will travel across the virtual, the material, Facebook Messenger, the ocean, to reach a time where we knew what home was.

2021 marks 10 years of friendship with K.

K has taken up an almost indexical role of belonging for me. When K becomes lost in pixilation, I do not become worried. For it is me, reaching out across time, speaking to them through the abyss, that brings me home.

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