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  • It was the summer of year 2010 when I met Pingu in Vienna.
    We understood each other earlier on a dating website I've used to learn some "real-time German". The initial stages of most online conversations went around the weather, age, place of birth, birthday before some of these guys disappeared when i rejected their request to switch on webcam, while some simply left after being perplexed by my confusing exchanges in German.

    Pingu belonged to a rare kind of presence who continued speaking to me later in English. We were talking from what i remembered to be a long time, over politics, graveyards in Vienna, the German language, his hometown in Tyrol, his love for the children TV show "Pingu", and changing the world.

    The first time when we reluctantly logged off from each other at the sight of dawn, I flew out of my house as if I was happy and unafraid of the consequences of happiness... jumping onto the streets, lovingly thinking how the Sun has gradually arrived on my part of the world in Singapore while leaving his in Vienna.

    For a week to come, we were always talking to each other whenever we can over philosophical ideas of reality... He once said that I was the antithesis to his mind as we almost always understood each other through contradiction of ideas. We visited his hometown in Tyrol, went to the Vienna University Library together, sometimes meeting his sister in Vienna and listened to the summer rain/rain.mp3 as he read while I drew the leftovers of his face in the sunset...

    Only problem was I only had a picture of his face and I had yet to arrive in Tyrol or Vienna.

    And then I woke up from these imaginings one day when he told me that his girlfriend of two years was coming back from Spain. He had spent his long summer days looking for another person that he can forget his late nights out and laundry work, his girlfriend will be back the next day and we will have lesser virtual time with each other. I remembered watching Jonny Greenwood on youtube in a glass container nearly suffocating from water... "A heart that is full up like a landfill.... Bruises that won't leave... No alarms and no surprises."

    And then I said the most painful thing I thought of to him: "Would be great if I can meet both you and Steffi, maybe do lunch or dinner."

    A week later I was going to meet him at Westbahnhof on my second day in Vienna.
    How do I start to look for him? He would just be similar to every human being I saw on the first few days in a new city - busy and alienated. After a few awkward staring incidents, I found him, in the man whose gaze was not trying to reach mine, but that of Schiller's world. He stood in the first morning light I saw of Vienna, as I stood before him, a few inches from his Schiller book, he looked up and gave a wide grin. I asked: Pingu?

    Maybe he said hi and continued "I was expecting you to be bigger" and he looked down at either my pendant or potentially breasts (I can't tell), his voice one octave higher than I imagined.

    "Ha... I was expecting you to be smaller from your picture." My voice less flattering than I wanted it to be.

    We continued walking towards another train line, I was still in awe of being foreign in another country, knowing no one and starting to know someone. I looked at a woman cursing another in Italian with a kind of admiration for her frankness of emotions, smiled at another few who searched me with their minds whom Pingu had averted. We switched Ubahn at Langenfeldgasse in a tunnel of curious onlookers. He told me about construction of more Ubahn Stations along another line (which I did not stay long enough in Vienna to know). We left the onlookers yet to arrive at their destinations and the summer colors and cloudless blue was clear in my vision now. We sat down at a greek restaurant inside a shopping mall, I asked him trivial questions and looked at the paintings, the window, hearing his answers bounced off from the blue walls and the Mediterranean props.... as we are really just waiting for Steffi, her two young brothers and mother.

    After an indefinite length of time, Steffi sat herself beside me and her mother, her brother had a book by the name of "the world belonged to us" (uns gehört die Welt) which I mistook for "we belong to the world". Her mother asked me about a swimming pool in Singapore she saw in a travel brochure, after some arguments, we realized that we were talking about the same place, her idea of swimming pool were my memories of a casino. I rarely spoke to Steffi and her mother over my salad, which I had much difficulties talking to myself to eat. Pingu tried to ask me why eat something that's not first course... but he couldn't find "first course" in his mind and Steffi gave him the words. I stopped talking and instead merely listened to the cacophony of laughters and ideas in a language I can't understand without big gestures or emotions. They spoke and looked at one another, the salt and pepper and their own food except at me, which answered to my suspicions of being visible but ignored. I never felt time so slow in the dimension of laughters and conversations, but that lunch was my first glimpse into a different timespace.

    Pingu talked again, he asked if I've seen the Hundertwasser building, and I told him about a work by Zahir hadi in Singapore, which led to a discussion about how buildings are similar to conceptual art when they don't function. At one point of time, i asked if he smokes when I saw a sign which banned smoking, he said no and he asked me if the fork was art. We spoke to each other for a long time continuing despite a few brief pauses on the other end of the table. Steffi's brother demanded we speak German so that he can listen to the conversation too.

    Finally, all six of us fell into a long silence - the aftermath of laughter and a heavy meal. Steffi's mother talked in long gibberish (not without big laughs in between mutterings) which I somewhat understood to be farewell words, she stood up and shook my hand wishing me a safe journey through Europe and her young sons trailed behind her as she paced out of sight. Steffi asked Pingu of their plans in the afternoon, Pingu asked about mine. I said I had to get a phone line. He invited me to their house at Steffi's reluctance.

    Steffi continued not speaking to me, but this time out of malice instead of self-consciousness. We have already boarded the same Ubahn when I noticed that. An elderly woman stared mercilessly at me as I mindlessly stood in her way at the left side of the escalator before Pingu had time to warn me, "You have to stand on the right."

    I looked at both him and Steffi and jokingly replied "Well, I stood on the left side in my country... ok... now you know how you can tell tourists apart from locals."

    We twisted our way through antique shops, things without a trace of usage on sale are rarer in Vienna, bookstores, a few phone shops, a construction site after alighting at Margaretengürtel Station. I asked for water when we reached their place, Pingu gave me cold ones. The marble floor was comforting in the warm air even though i had my socks on. Steffi was still not talking to me, Pingu and I took our drinks and sat outside in the balcony with a few pots of untamed plants. There was a grey building to the left with a few crawlers and a big tree as the only few signs of life.

    "So now we've been trapped in a sociological situation?" referring to his housemate's cat who slipped comfortably between us, beneath the chairs, sometimes trying to speak to us. According to Pingu, two persons doing something or nothing don't exist, only a third party will create a sociological existence.

    So I continued, "If the cat is replaced by a camera? Do we then disappear in a sociological sense?"

    A slow breeze beat about an invasion of flying leaves as we retreated into a long silence. The tree cast a long shadow on the cemented grounds, the shadows of the tree on Pingu's perplexed expressions. I rubbed the base of my feet against one another, imagined a person starring at us through one of the dark windows from the building, thinking about consequences of not getting a phone line within the day, thinking of invisible streets rolling ahead behind what's visible, not thinking about Steffi's mother and her sons, or the way back to Ubahn in the near future.

    After a while, Pingu asked, "What are you thinking?"
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