This week, Gunny reminisces about his time in Scotland.
I’ve often wondered how the British write such good poetry. Following those hasty November days, I spent two weeks in a sleepy little Scottish town far away from the vagaries of city life and got my answer.
Heck, if you chuck me there for a couple of years with no ticket out, I’ll write you some poetry too.
Of the Scotland that greets us from postcards and Google image, little registered beyond the initial awe in the bus down the country lanes from Glasgow airport. It’s a beautiful place, guaranteed. More so for the Singapore teenager bogged down by daily pressures of tall buildings and sounds in the street for the 17th year running, no less. Scotland will have none of it. Neither will her cattle and farmhands roaming the fields beyond the highway, or the occasional M&S and its complementary megamall.
It’s got to be my first time seeing such serene expenses for hours on end, and it felt like half the world away, as if the busy city streets I’ve always known fell away into tasteful evanescence and got locked up in a box. I tried my best to look composed, but we all know love’s a losing game. Soon it was all jubilation, no hesitation.
There’s something more than the pleasant weather and gentle hills, though, it’s something in the Scottish air I can’t quite put my finger on. Kilmarnock is approximately a quarter of what Singapore has to offer in size, but maybe ten times the culture, one-tenth the economic activity, and a whole lot of baguettes. Wonderful baguettes filled with everything from smoked salmon to Mexican chicken to roasted beef to haggis (my favorite mix of cattle gut, tongue, heart, and all sorts of things you wanna eat but not think about), which make Subway look like happy meal. Plus cookies.
Perhaps it’s the distinct lack of chain-stores and MNCs (7-elevens, anybody?) that warmed my heart during those evening strolls, or maybe simple hellos joggers exchange in parks, despite the fact you’re Asian and very out of place. Even in Stewarton high school where teenagers like myself dress 10 years older even for daily lessons, the welcome was fabulous and sincere, nothing short of the Scottish hospitality I was told.
Winter nights are generally cold and rainy, but when you’re with friends all that cease to matter. Or maybe it does, once you step into the hotel lobby and find your coat a dripping mess of Uniqlo cotton. But that’s ok, because you know the mass of Glasgow Rangers’ tees you bought with the day’s cash is still safe in the backpack. And, of course, Laura’s always there with her easy jokes to make me feel like the rain’s a drippy tap blessed by the highland gods to rid the lands of evil popcorn.
Yes, Laura, she’s the buddy with the absolute wickedest sense of humor and crazies to boot. She’s your average Scottish girl and she knows her broadband connection well. I’d be surprised how alike the globalised generation is all around the world, what with Facebook and Youtube spreading the word about every meme and sock and rapper that’s coming-of-age. We know the same musicians, the same roflololol, the same Burberry, the same eBay, the same Facebook messaging and the same but separate sky. She does homework, hang out with her band mates, plays piano from time to time, watch shows and whatnot. Only difference? She lives in a house, and me a flat. And she’s a girl. No duh, Sherlock.
Oh, and she gets to go to university on full state scholarship. I almost flipped.
As with all immersions, the days are packed schedules, involving academia and shortbread and park projects and the occasional highland cow. Of all the places I’ve been too around Kilmarnock, I don’t much remember the scenery. It’s the good folk we met that gave me the deepest reverberations somewhere within; Paddy and Lindsay the park rangers, Tom and Friser the foresters, Jane who knitted all 15 of us woolen hats when she heard we were coming, the bus driver whose name I never quite caught, Mairi and Jim, Laura’s parents, Sarah, Allision and Laura’s other band mates, Dawn and her delicatessen (best baguettes in all the world), the pantomime folks, the folk musician playing Oasis songs on Main St, the librarian in Dick College, the list goes on. People just like any other, with all the scars and stories, not the fame. They’re what made Scotland. Or at least my Scotland.
I arrived expecting some kind of solitude and rational thinking cold climates are always associated with, and ended up in reverie with all the good people I met. Had I not, Scotland would be a lot more food and a lot less fun. And yes, I still want to be a ranger one day. But no, I don’t need a Florida wife. Of all the gin joints in the world, I’m glad I walked into this one. The Western world is nothing like the frivolity American sitcoms will have us believe; these are people with dreams, lives and eventualities. They have their fair share of problems, as with all people, but with a lot more breadth and a lot less worry. Treading lightly amidst their footsteps, I sometimes feel unbearably light. And it’s not simply just the cold wind burning calories. It’s something else.
I guess there’s the place, then there’s the people. Then there’s the people who make the place worth all the while.
All differences aside, that little town had all it takes to make me wanna stay for a while, and I guess in all its capacity to steal my heart reality is something else altogether. I didn’t much look forward to the Arabic cheese on the Emirate flight as much as I thought I would.
Like I said, it’s something magical about that little town, something I can’t quite put into words. And gladly so, for a little of that magic is lost each time I try.
I’ll be back, though, someday. I haven’t even seen the whole of Dean park yet.
– Gunny, 11S60