Friday, 18 August 2017

Beauty in brokenness

I sit at the edge of the bedroom - the one and only bedroom in this small apartment that was built for newly-weds - and watch my siblings crawl out of slumber. Before I left for the UK, my sister and I shared a room to ourselves in our old home. My brother had his own room while the two young ones slept with our parents. Although it may sound like a crowd - trust me - it was beyond comfortable.

I came home for the summer after my first year in the UK. Despite all the mental prep that "we had to downsize to a smaller home", "you won't have a room for yourself" and "you might not even have your own closet", I could not get used to the fact that I no longer had my own privacy, let alone a proper place to unpack my clothes. I have to admit, even though I tried to be a good daughter and refrained from grumbling, I was, at many times, frustrated. Moreover, the drastic change from having my own room to "squeezing" in a shared room of the same size made it all the more unbearable. Mind you, we are a family of seven.

When I came home for the summer after my second year, I was told that a loft has been built for my sister and I to share. An aircon was installed as well, probably because my mum knew how hard it would be for me to sleep in such intense humidity. Perhaps, she had sense my discomfort during the previous year's summer after all. The second summer was considerably more comfortable since I had my (makeshift) personal room space.

This is my third summer back at home. My mum asked if I would prefer to sleep in the loft or in the room. I chose the room. I don't know why I did that, but I chose to sleep where my baby sister would roll over to my side and steal my blanket in the middle of the night, where my mum and brother would snore through the night in perfect harmony, and where I was in the midst of five other warm bodies. (My dad lovingly gave up his spot for the couch.) Am I uncomfortable, though? Not at all.

It takes me an average of one to two hours to fall asleep in the UK, regardless of how tired I am. On bad days, it could go up to three, or even four. At home, in the presence of my family, it takes minutes. This, I cannot explain.

What I can say is that even though things have gotten tougher for my family, things have not gotten uglier. Despite the initial discomfort and occasional grumblings, we have gotten closer as a family.

I guess there is beauty in brokenness, after all.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Be satisfied but don't settle

It's 2a.m. in the morning. I had a really long day at work and what's worse? Instead of heading home for a nice and simple meal whipped up by my mother, I was obliged to have a couple of drinks with my colleagues at our same old hangout. As usual, the "couple of drinks" turned out to be a night-long conversation about office gossips, the latest season of Rick and Morty, and our future ambitions if we ever decide to leave the military. Again, as usual, the 15-minute train ride home felt like an eternity. "If only I could teleport... If only I could teleport... If only I could teleport..." I chanted in my head, dying to go home, get clean, and hit the sack.

It's 2a.m. in the morning. I am finally in the comfort of my bedroom, surrounded by the familiar sound of my baby sister's breath. I am just about to put an end to my rather mediocre day when my second sister starts whining about her high school woes. She is one and a half years away from having to decide what she wants to do with her life. (Well, not her entire life but what she wants to study in university, which would - sort of - dictate direct the subsequent years of her life.) Problem is: she's got absolutely no clue what she wants! We spend an hour throwing out career options and the relevant degree programmes, while I struggle to fight off the strong desire to drift into slumber. Another hour goes by and we seem even more confused than before. And then, silence. I guess she fell asleep. Or maybe, she just needs time to think and process everything. It's probably time for me to return to my former preoccupation.

I am still very very tired but somehow, my mind is not ready to call it a day. I drift into a semi-conscious state. I go back to my high school days, when I was filled with ambition, like my sister, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life but convicted that I wanted to do many meaningful things in this lifetime. My university days flash across my mind, like blurred images - those you have in dreams, in the final hours of sleep, just before you are greeted by the morning sun - and a sense of pride fills my belly. I have come a long way, indeed, and I'm sure my 18-year-old self would be proud of where I am today.

I linger on that sense of pride and attempt savour every bit of it but it fades away too quickly. I am suddenly overtaken by a tinge of regret that, within seconds, manifests itself into an overwhelming sense of dread. Yes, my 18-year-old self would be proud of where I am today but my 80-year-old self wouldn't. "What happened to that determination that got you through military training? What happened to that excitement that got you typing away after every dream, and experience, and epiphany? What happened to that YOLO attitude that motivated you to do silly things that you now and then look back and laugh at?" These questions flood my mind with an unrelenting determination. Tired? I am no longer tired.

I am turning 23 in three months. Without realising it, I have succumbed to the demon of adulthood. When I was 18, I had lofty dreams about backpacking Europe. I have been in the UK for three years now but have NEVER backpacked Europe. "Why backpack when you can afford a comfortable room to sleep in?" the demon of adulthood whispers in my ears. When I first joined the army four years ago, I told myself that I must jump out of a plane one day. I begged and persisted, and begged and persisted, for a chance to be put on the Airborne course but the reply was always, "wait." Four years on, I find myself discouraged and no longer even asking. "Just focus on your career," the demon of adulthood slaps me in the face. When I was 19, I discovered my passion for writing and I could spend hours narrating a story for my handful of readers. Now, (I think) I would very much rather spend the evening on a brainless show after a long day at work."What's the point in spending so much time on something you're not being paid for? It's not worth it," the demon of adulthood lectures me.

But tonight, I will not be seduced. I will not turn the other cheek. And I will not be lectured. Let me tell you, I will backpack because I am 23 and should do it while I still can. I will try again and again to pursue the experiences that I've always wanted, even if they do not value-add to my career, because one day, I will regret if I didn't even try. And I will invest my time and effort in my passion even if it doesn't pay because THAT IS WHAT PASSION IS.


For those who are reading this, whether you are 18, in your 20s, 30s, or even 50s, it is not too late to pursue what you've always wanted to do but have yet to do so. Of course, there are career decisions we have made and cannot undo. There are seasons of our lives that we did not cherish and can no longer relive. There are mountains that we have always wanted to scale but no longer have the stamina to do so. But- There are also many other things that you've jotted down in your mental bucket list years ago and may have neglected. For those things, I shall steal Emma Watson's quote (and yes, take it out of context), "if not me, who? If not now, when?"

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

That near death moment

Have you ever had that near death moment that they always talk about in novels or TV shows? Yes, that moment when your entire life flashes before your eyes, and you're overwhelmed with the sudden realisation that you should've treasured the time you had with your loved ones.

I've had it.

I shared my testimony in 2014, about how I miraculously survived a car accident four years ago. I was hit by a car while crossing the road, and at that moment - and moments after - I thought I was going to die.

It has been seven years (and two months) since the accident, and I still vividly remember what went through my mind in that 'dying moment'. I thought about the fight that I had with my little brother in the car that morning. I thought about how rude I was to my mother because she took his side. I thought about how awful it would be if I didn't have the chance to tell them that I was sorry. I thought about how much it would've broken their hearts if that was their last memory of me. Unable to prop my body up into a kneeling position, I laid there, on the ground, begging my Maker to give me just one more chance.

And He did.

I'm writing this today because I've almost absolutely forgotten how that near death moment feels like. Sometimes, I argue with Marcus and hesitate to say the words 'I love you'. Sometimes, I reject my baby sister's Skype call because I'm too busy with assignments. Sometimes, I try to avoid a hug from a friend because I don't like physical contact.

But today, the thought of another near death moment brings me to (literal) tears. What would come to mind? That 'I love you' that I should've said? That call that I should've answered? That friend that I should've embraced with every ounce of my energy?

I guess I will be looking back at this post from time to time, for the years to come.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

"How many pull ups can you do?"

"How many pull ups can you do?" This ranks as one of the most common questions that I receive in the military. While it may sound like an innocent question, there are many hidden assumptions behind it - correct me if I'm wrong. You can only earn the respect of men if you can do pull ups. You have no moral high ground to command men if you can't even do pull ups. You can't defend the country effectively if you are not strong. The list goes on.

To prove my point, I would like to share something that I found two years ago, which I've kept mum about.

I'm not sure how many of you remember my blog post, I'm not pro-PAP, I'm pro-Singapore. It was a short write-up that I posted on our country's 2015 National Day and it received an overwhelming response from the online community. While I received many compliments, I also received a good deal of...how should I say it? crap. Among these crap was this forum thread on hardwarezone.com, which my batch mate alerted me about. 

Although its content is no longer there, I managed to get a screenshot of the title. To break it down for you, I did some googling and found out that "gpgt" is a lingo that means "got picture got talk". "Military Expert 4" is my rank-to-be when I return from my studies and "keyima" is the mandarin pinyin for "can or not". In this context, I suppose it means "can she make it?" In plain English, I guess they are trying to find out if I can make it in the military, based on their judgement of...a picture of me. 

Of course, the conclusion wasn't exactly promising since "she looks like she's from the NCC." (The National Cadet Corps, for students who are still schooling.) Well, I can't blame them since I look so damn tiny in my oversized smart 4. Just look!

And to be fair to them, it wasn't JUST based on my picture. They were rather inquisitive, I have to say. "How old is she?", "How many pull ups can she do?", "What business does her father do?". (Although I still can't understand how these questions have anything to do with my capacity to serve in the military.)

OK, I think I've more than sufficiently proved the point that "how many pull ups can you do?" is not an innocent question. At the back of the questioner's mine, it is a measure of how much respect the respondent deserves as a woman in the military.

With more and more women in the military the past few years, I felt compelled to write this. Most people that I've met in the military would deny that they are prejudiced against female soldiers. But honestly, based on my personal encounters, I can confidently say that the military is freaking sexist. 

Men and women have different standards to reach in the physical fitness test. Before it was reformed, a male soldier below 25 years old had to complete the 2.4km run under 9min 30sec. For a female soldier, it was under 12min 45sec. I completely understand this (although I hope it was stricter), and I accept that most women are naturally less physically inclined than men. But what I couldn't understand was the reaction of some, not all, of my male counterparts when they heard about it. "What?! 12.45?! I can run 2.4 on my hands in that timing." OK BITCH, SHOW ME. 

During my training days, I remember being sent to a female officer for "counselling" because of my attitude problem. (The same one that women MPs have when they offend their male counterparts in Parliament - yup, that problem.) I remember, clearly, her wise words. "As a female in the military, your every single action warrants twice the amount of attention – regardless of whether it’s good or bad. When you do well, your colleagues are going to show you twice the respect. When you do badly, you will receive twice the contempt. It’s up to you how you react to such situations. Make use of them as opportunities to prove your worth." In other words, "you need to fix that attitude of yours, woman."

And I did. Hah - thought I was gonna say something inspirational like "don't let anyone define your worth" or "it's not about excelling within the system but rising above it"? Nah, I still need my pay and promotion. No matter what I say, the military is still going to be a safe space for egotistical male officers who can't get enough assurance at home that they have to use their rank to demand respect. (okay, i am pushing it. really. this is just for comedic effect.) But the point is, the military is sexist. Suck it up - you chose this life.

So, finally, to answer the main question, I couldn't do any pull ups back then but now I do eight. (!!!) Sorry it took two years to answer. Now, can I get my pay?

(I wonder which offended person is gonna ask me to watch my words. Come, show yourself.)

Monday, 20 March 2017

Am I a psychopath? Or am I just human?

-This narrative, as with all other narratives that I have written, is based on both actual experiences and events that I've conjured-

I rest my fingers on my keyboard, watching the text cursor blink, and blink, and blink. This is the third time in the week that I've tried (and failed) to translate my thoughts and emotions into words. It used to be so easy. Happy thoughts, sad thoughts. Sometimes about love, sometimes about that deep burning hatred for humanity. But these days, it's just a mixed bag of emotions that, really, can hardly be stringed into coherent sentences.

This morning, I watched a video of refugees dying while seeking asylum and I bawled my eyes out as though I was their sister, lover, or friend. In the afternoon, I got mad at my relentlessly argumentative neighbour that - if God had permitted - I would have tore her sorry throat into pieces.

While I work towards the fifteen thousandth word of my dissertation, I turn on my speakers and put my favourite playlist on shuffle to break the deafening silence. And then, I turn it off because the noise frustrates me and I start to lose concentration. I turn it back on again when the silence gets agonising. This happens on a daily basis.

As many have told me, my confidence is unparalleled and I have no lack of self-assurance. Even towards the most senior person in the room, I am unable to bite my tongue when I have a passionate retort. Yet when it comes to tutorial groups, I find it so bloody difficult to put my hand up and fight - against the sea of hands - to offer my two cents worth.

To me, one of the most precious things in life is to spend time with the people I care about. Quality time ranks as my top love language, alongside acts of services; and nothing beats a good ol' catch up session with a friend that is dearly missed. As long as it's not more than two hours. (The average time that it takes for me to start feeling overwhelmed and in desperate need for a social timeout.)

Honestly, I don't know why I'm sharing these anecdotes. Or maybe I do. I'm puzzled, and yet I marvel, at how I'm capable of possessing such a wide - and intense - range of emotions, within such a short timespan. I love, and I hate. I smile, and I cry. I'm full of confidence, and self-doubt. I want to be left alone, but I want to see you, you and you.

Am I a psychopath? Or am I just human?
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