Living a Quarter-Year at a Time — Lessons and Reflections

I always found movie quotes tacky and never really bothered to appreciate them — at least until I discovered a few relatable ones that seemed to speak to me in the season of life I was in; and perhaps that was the catalyst I needed.

Growing up, I was a big fan of the Fast & Furious franchise — well, not all; I think it should have ended 4 instalments ago but that’s another story — and as I reflect on how 2021 has turned out, I found a few quotes that were quite apt to my current circumstances. Naturally, they have been manipulated out of context to suit my whim.

“I live my life a quarter-mile at a time… For those 10 seconds or less, I’m free.”

Vin Diesel, The Fast and the Furious

This ended up having a more literal connection to me than I’d have liked, mostly because I found myself only being able to plan 3 months (or quarter-year) at a time. The school I’m planning to go to in Japan runs classes every 3 months, and it is only towards the end of the second month that I will know if I am able to go to Japan, or if I have to postpone my commencement for another 3 months. This has been a recurring cycle since April, and around the world, there is understandably growing tension amongst international students about when Japan will finally be willing to reopen its borders to them.

Consequently, it is almost impossible to plan for anything beyond a 3-month window, not accommodation, nor work, nor travel arrangements — everything becomes temporary. This state of uncertainty probably isn’t exclusive to me; businesses, for instance, also do not know when the next wave of COVID-19 will hit our communities and spark stricter measures, impacting them more than we can ever imagine.

The difference between our circumstances and the one Vin Diesel faced when he gave that quote is that he felt free in between quarter-miles; we do not. We feel trapped and frustrated, and in limbo. “Hope” becomes a word that has lost its meaning. “I can only hope the end of the pandemic is nearing,” we say listlessly, not even sure if we believe the words that come out of our mouths.

“You know those old Westerns where the cowboys make a run for the border? This is my Mexico.”

Han, Tokyo Drift

This is arguably my favourite scene in film, where Sean and Han, the two main protagonists in Tokyo Drift, were leaning against the railing atop the stand that overlooked the iconic Adidas Futsal Park in Shibuya, having a heart-to-heart.

Through later sequels in the F&F franchise, we learn that Han moved to Japan to escape the grief caused by the death of his on-screen lover, Giselle (Gal Gadot). Han likened this to him making a run for the proverbial border.

While not as dramatic, I often question my motives for wanting to start afresh in Japan, away from family, friends, and security that I have in abundance back in Singapore. I was afraid that I merely wanted to escape the myriad challenges here that I perhaps lack the fortitude to overcome. It doesn’t help either, that migration isn’t really something that many Singaporeans do, just because it’s so much easier and logical to live a comfortable and secure life here than to risk it all elsewhere. Often, I find myself wondering if what I hope to do makes sense at all.

But, no, this isn’t it. We are not obligated to bloom where we’re planted; even migratory birds seek warmer pastures in the winter. There are different reasons why families and communities migrate to all corners of the world, but they are all united by a common belief that better opportunities lie elsewhere. This too, is my underlining motivation.

“Look at all those people down there, they follow the rules for what? They’re letting fear lead them… Life’s simple; you make choices and you don’t look back.”

Han, Tokyo Drift

I have probably never related to a movie quote as much as I do this. Personally, I don’t see it as a call to break the law, but to challenge existing status quos and beliefs that society continues to abide by. Life is indeed simple, but our decisions are influenced by these existing structures that limit what we’re able to achieve if we only dared look beyond these limitations.

The pandemic has forced a change in well-established practices. Organisations are now advocating telecommuting, with some even making it a permanent fixture. Such is human nature, however — we are only jolted into action when a crisis hits our shores. Therefore, may we persevere with the same desire to break barriers and innovate as we navigate into the future and beyond. May we always have the courage the go against societal currents and not allow ourselves to be swept away by routine without reason.

And, as we do so, may we never, ever look back.

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