“It is perhaps when our lives are at their most problematic that we are likely to be most receptive to beautiful things.”
Alain de Botton,
The Architecture of Happiness
I wish we could talk more about the deep, meaningful bonds that we could have with places.
One of my most cherished songs is Under the Bridge by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which explores just that. I love the story behind it, how the singer, Anthony Kiedis was feeling lonely one particular day. He had split with his then-partner, Ione Skye, and his friendship with his bandmates, especially young guitarist John Frusciante, was in a strained state.
His sense of loss for John triggered memories of his relationship with Ione, which went on when he was at a low point in his life. Rather than being present in his relationship, he was shooting up drugs under a bridge.
Driving through the streets of Los Angeles that day, he felt a strong, unspoken connection with the city. As he detailed in his memoir Scar Tissue, he sensed that “there was a nonhuman entity, maybe the spirit of the hills and the city, who had me in her sights and was looking after me.”
He felt as though the city was his most loyal friend, who was there for him during his highs and lows. In the warm company of the city, he no longer felt so lonely.
Sitting in his car, he came up with a free verse poem titled Under the Bridge, forming melodies to his words and singing them to himself. As soon as he got home, he jotted the poem in his notebook and gave it a proper structure. Yet, the poem was never to be read by anyone but himself.
Of course, that later changed when producer Rick Rubin discovered the poem, and in turn, the rest of the band ingeniously helped make it into a real song.
The song has always meant a whole lot to me, as it reminds me of Subang Jaya, the city where I was born and raised in.
About three years ago I was forced to leave my old neighborhood due to certain circumstances. While I don’t live there anymore, I still go there as frequently as I can. Every so often, I feel the need to “go home”.
But what does home mean anyway? Does it refer to the house or the neighborhood that you stay in? If so, do these places cease to be your home once you’ve moved out of them?
These past three years have especially made me realize that home can mean much more than in a purely physical sense. Home for me, is your happy place — it can be anywhere where you feel happy, and feel safe to be vulnerable. Home doesn’t have to be a place that you own, or where you live permanently, or where you store your clothes — it only has to mean something dear to you.
In my younger years, I may have taken this place for granted. After all, here was where my entire life was based in. Perhaps it takes tragedy and grief for you to appreciate the beauty and meaning in places. And for that, I’m honestly grateful, as I might not have been able to appreciate Subang if it weren’t for the difficult experiences I’ve went through.
In his book The Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton writes about this “prerequisite”. Though he is specifically referring to architecture, I believe his writing applies to places in general as well. He says, “It is in dialogue with pain that many beautiful things acquire their value. Acquaintance with grief turns out to be one of the more unusual prerequisites of architectural appreciation. We might, quite aside from all other requirements, need to be a little sad before buildings can properly touch us.”
He adds in the book, “We may need to have made an indelible mark on our lives, to have married the wrong person, pursued an unfulfilling career into middle age or lost a loved one before architecture can begin to have any perceptible impact on us, for when we speak of being ‘moved’ by a building, we allude to a bitter-sweet feeling of contrast between the noble qualities written into a structure and the sadder wider reality within which we know them to exist. A lump rises in our throat at the sight of beauty from an implicit knowledge that the happiness it hints at is the exception.”
It took a lot of pain for me to recognize my happy place in Subang. Over the years, some folks have tried guilting me into “moving on” from Subang, asking why I’d trouble myself with a 20-minute drive just to do simple tasks like attending Friday prayers and going to the post-office.
But the thing is, I’ve never felt the need to move on, as they say. I have nothing to feel bad or guilty for — because it makes me happy. I enjoy my 20-minute drives there, and I love going there even if I have nothing to do.
It means the whole world to me to drive around Subang, to work and read for hours at my favorite café, or to sit at the usual park, or to simply stop my car there and just be present, with music playing — most often, the Chili Peppers.
Because spending time in Subang is one of the easiest ways to make me feel better. I would feel more at ease and clear-headed, as though my worries would just melt away.
Even right after I completed my final paper of my Bachelor’s degree, I didn’t celebrate my freedom with video games or movie marathons, or lunch at an expensive steakhouse that day. I simply drove to Subang and sat in the park with a Thermos of hot coffee.
The city is like a friend who knows just how to be there for me in times of sadness or loneliness. I’m fortunate enough to have a place such as this to turn to for comfort, in joy or in grief.
There is no ending to Subang. No matter where I may be, and no matter who I may be, for the rest of my life, home will always stay with me.
“I don’t ever wanna feel
Like I did that day.
Take me to the place I love
Take me all the way.”
Red Hot Chili Peppers,
Under the Bridge