After work yesterday, I took a longer route home than usual. In the spirit of randomness and self-surprise, I took a different bus. I knew I wanted to go somewhere different. It felt like something I wanted to go back to.. but I knew it was neither SMU, home nor work.
I found myself at the bus stop at the foot of a familiar hill.
It was drizzling slightly but the familiar upslope walk beckoned. I always wondered if the old Bukit Timah campus was situated on the real Bukit Timah hill or if there was a bigger elevation nearby more befitting the name of hill. From what I can recall of my time spent at the top of the Accountancy Building back then.. I don't think there was anything else higher for quite a distance.
The walk was further than I remembered. Maybe because this time I took time to take in the sights as I walked up, instead of the late-for-class marathon. The trees were as magnificent as I remembered. The Oei Tiong Ham building still carried its great white majestic face, but now it was more a mask.. for I could see that the renovations had removed all the fixtures, leaving its frameless windows open like gaping eyes and one could see that there was nothing inside. A great, majestic lion once reared here.. now it is a hollow corpse and skull.
The NUS shield appeared on the construction perimeter every 5 metres. It almost felt that someone took great lengths to erase any doubt on who now lays claim over this prize. They've taken down the Glass Lounge and most of everything has been carved out save for the first few floors of the accountancy building. The roads and trees and the face of the buildings still felt so natural to my sense. I never imagined how homely the campus would still after a year. I walked past the accountancy to the House 1 area, which was I had a number of performances, discussions... late night confessions.
They demolished the Food Haven building and the Clubhouse. I spent countless hours there... both in the SA Council Room in the clubhouse as well as in the Studio we set up at the Lounge@Haven. The bridge from House 1 to that building now stops short before the road. I looked at the empty field of grass and felt sad. I was confused and couldn't imagine how all those memories could fit into a space so small. I stood on the orange slope steps that led down the slope beside the bridge.. and stared for a long time. It was like dealing with someone's death. My mind had to accept that it will never experience the same thing again.
I walked out through the Botanical Gardens. There was this one spot where there were always a few elders doing Tai-Chi in the wee morning just before the first class. The green grass was perfect and in the dim light of the dusk, the two black swans walking up from the lake to feed seemed surreal. A couple was lounging on the bench and parents brought their children for walks.. It really didn't feel like the hustle and bustle of fast-paced Singapore. I swear it was in a different time-space continuum. Time slowed. I remember always turning back at this particular point in the Garden, where I would see the SMU shield born proudly on the top of the accountancy building. You could really see it for miles. It was always an inspiring picture. Now, there was nothing.
I sometimes think that it is this that makes one age. That process of coming to terms, accepting and moving on. I have had quite a bit of that since the initial carefree undergrad days. A lot of things have changed since the beginning.
It was a hard fight for me to get to SMU and when I was finally in, it was everything that I expected it to be and more. The campus was home, the studens.. all friends. Everyone on campus treated each other with respect. I honestly feel that a lot of that has gone now. Now, students are strangers after hours. I can't enter the library after-hours just to return a book to Margaret Chan. A book she was expecting. The guards stopped me and said they have consulted with Margaret, who was attending the Dean's book launch at level 5, and to pass them the book as well as to write my name and contact so that she could know who I was.
I was infuriated. Not at them because they were just doing their job, but because I was being treated like a second-class citizen in my own school. The person who made the decision not to let me up obviously does not trust students and if you don't trust.. you obviously can't have a relationship and be on good terms. While I have personally experienced how ridiculously destructive and brainless students can get, I still believe we should give students the benefit of the doubt. That extra mile. That trust. I found that lacking usually from the lower administration compared to the higher positions. Usually.
I had to rant. I wonder if its just me feeling like the school has gone from treating us like intellectuals to treating us like children. Maybe some of us are. I had a vision of a place where intellectuals interacted and discussed. We would trust each other to behave in a reasonable manner. We would talk openly and make friends, share facilities, encourage activity and discourse on all manner of things, hold doors and pick up litter. Basicly, we will not be sheep without common sense. I think you know what I mean.
Am I a dangerous criminal when I proclaim that rules are guidelines that should be bent when they need to be? Apply your slippery slope then yes.
I miss the old SMU. I cling to my friends.. the ones that remind me of it. I still nurture the hope that we would one day be that vision of trust and common sense, in a campus that one would readily call home.