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Saturday, 4 February 2017

Faith in humanity...seems like bs to me


Be innovative, make a difference, be anything but ordinary... These are phrases that I've been so accustomed to hear. I've always lived with the mantra that I have to stand out from the crowd, make an impact and, maybe, leave a legacy when my time on earth expires.

It was not long ago that I realised that (almost) everyone has the same mantra. The truth is, hardly anyone wants to be the average Joe or plain Jane - even Joe and Jane hate to be called average! But the truth (also) is that not everyone will be Isaac Newton, Nelson Mandela or Steve Jobs. Why? If everyone stood out from the crowd, no one will stand out from the crowd. For Thomas Hobbes to leave such a lasting legacy, there has to exist mediocre, uninspiring political philosophy students like myself, who cannot conjure a ground-breaking theory such as the social contract theory.

I also came to realise that even if I were to become someone as prominent as Barack Obama, the legacy that I leave today could be obliterated tomorrow. Newton's third law states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The election of Obama symbolised a breakthrough for race and politics in the United States. Yet, the election of Trump annulled any progress made of racial tolerance among Americans.

It seems that at the end of the day, we, homo sapiens, are preoccupied with nothing else but ourselves. Do we truly hope to change the world because we wish to make it a better place? Or is it just because we want to be remembered as someone extraordinary? Do we extend our helping hand to someone in need because we genuinely desire to meet that person's need? Or is it merely because our conscience tells us that it's the right thing to do? Even religion - seemingly the most selfless thing - is selfish in itself. I value my faith because it brings me peace and joy, it grounds me in reality, and it makes me true to myself.

No matter how hard I try, I can't force myself to do something I do not want to. Even if it seems like I'm doing something that I do not wish to do (be it mundane household chores or biting my tongue from making a cutting retort), it is ultimately something that, in the deep recesses of my heart, I know is good for me. It all boils down to me, myself and I.

I've come to accept this as human nature. And with human nature as the basis of our every action, there is no way that I can ever, truly truly truly, make a difference.

I mean, yes, we now understand why we don't float around on earth like we do in space. Institutionalised racial discrimination has been abolished in South Africa. And we now have instant information access to the events that are happening across the globe. These are great! But what I'm saying is that we still cast votes based on our irrational fears and insecurities. We still emit greenhouse gases despite knowing that our descendants are gong to bear the brunt of it. We still purchase items from H&M, Nestle and Apple, despite hearing that they enlist child labour. My point is, it is impossible to change the world. The person that I am today is not that different from the first person on earth, and will not be that different from the last person standing. Faith in humanity seems like bs to me.

Because I've come to realise this, I will abandon my vain aspirations of radically making this world a better place. Instead, I will settle with living a simple and happy life, with the sweet company of my loved ones.

"Behold that which I have seen: it is good and comely for one to eat and to drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labour that he taketh under the sun all the days of his life, which God giveth him: for it is his portion." 
-Ecclesiastes 5:18

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Quarter-life crisis?


23. I’m turning goddamn 23 this year. But you know what?

I am still perpetually filled with that teenage angst from 10 years ago.
There are times when I hate everyone around me – with no bloody reason!
Times when I just wanna shut the door, put Simple Plan on replay and turn up the volume till my eardrums are about to explode.
Times when I don’t give a shit about stringing my thoughts into perfect sentences. Or blogging about inspirational i-don’t-know-whats.
Days when I itch for the feeling of unrequited love – yes, I make myself depressed by listening to Jay Chou even though I’m in a perfectly functional relationship.
I still waste days weeks marathon-ing Korean dramas even though I had resolved to read a book, learn a language or go for a run instead.

And then, it hits me that I am no longer a self-entitled teenager, “justified” to do or say whatever the hell I want. (Because someone is gonna catch my back. Anyway.)

I realised that in a couple of years, I will become a wife, a mother, an officer, a... person with truckloads of responsibilities. Someone who is expected to catch the back of others. And it creates this deep-seated resentment for marriage, child-bearing and basically anything synonymous to growing up.

I don’t think I can do this. Is it me or can you relate?

-

But I will throw away these thoughts. I will replace my rock music for mellow instrumentals. I will wipe away that smirk and plaster on that befitting smile of maturity. I will tear into pieces my journal of absolute gibberish and instead, make a list of things to be grateful for. I will spend my free time reading up on politics instead of celebrity gossip. I will cultivate a distaste for netflix and savour the beauty of networking.

I will be a fake, impersonal and self-righteous adult. Like most other adults.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

10 silly little things that I love about you


Insurance, driving license, a new home... These are things you are forced to start thinking about when you are turning twenty-three. And five years together. When people start (perpetually) asking you, “When are you getting married?!” Life (with your significant other) isn’t just about that white lace wedding dress that you’ve always dreamt about. It isn’t just about a perfect honeymoon on the warm and luscious sand of Santorini. It isn’t just about the names that you have in mind for your future kids. It’s also about the boring, and sometimes nerve-racking, argument-inducing, bits.

This year, we (as a couple) turn five. We’ve reached the stage where the tedious parts of life (and our relationship) are finally wearing us down. We’ve reached a point where date nights, love letters and polaroid photos seem awfully trivial. Anniversaries seem “pretty lame”, petty gifts, a waste of money and sentimental words, puke-worthy. Truth be told, I wasn’t planning on writing this. In fact, since our anniversary falls in the midst of exams, we agreed not to do anything on the 17th of January this year.

But, you know something? I stayed up last night thinking about my life thus far; and a huge part of it was, you – from meeting you for the very first time when I was eleven, to having an unrequited crush (years later) and finally, waking up to the same familiar face that warms my heart every morning. I thought of the sweet little things that we did. The first date that we had by the Marina Bay. I remembered leaning on your shoulder and refusing to adjust my posture even though my neck felt sore. I recalled the first time we did a 10k Nike run together. I remembered how you insisted on running by my side despite me urging you to break your own record, but ended up dashing off when the shot was fired. I remembered laughing my heart out when I saw you waiting at the 7k mark, looking out for me. I remembered the selfies that you would send me every night when I enlisted in Basic Military Training. And I remembered how important these silly little things were in bringing us to where we are today.

So, even though this may cause me to throw up my breakfast when I read it again tomorrow, today I’ll tell you 10 silly little things that I love about you.

1. I love how you add “Mel knows” at the start of every story that you tell someone.
2. I love how you put so much effort into planning me a surprise but (always) end up telling me about it because you’re just too excited.
3. I love how (using the words of our flat mate) you can make a story of a tortoise sound exciting.
4. I love how you tell me that I’m fat and chubby all the time, yet buy me way too much food.
5. I love how you tell me “I love you” as much as you call me fat and chubby.
6. I love how you come into my room every night to give me a goodnight hug.
7. I love how you say Korean dramas are a waste of time, yet you occasionally watch it with me.
8. I love how hard you try to persuade me to eat an apple.
9. I love how I’m the first person you turn to when you need a prayer.
10. I love how you say, “Meeeel, you really know how to push my button,” when I (deliberately) annoy the hell out of you.

The list can go on and on, but I’ll save it for next year. And the next. Happy 5th anniversary, my love. Even when we’re seventy, let’s not forget these silly little things, okay?

Monday, 9 January 2017

Her quest for peace


Peace. In a metropolitan city like London, peace seems to be a rare gem hidden among the rapid footsteps of tardy office workers, the awkward handshakes between newly acquainted colleagues, the turning of a page by an unsettled high school student, and the overpowered whispers for spare change ("please").  

I've been searching every nook and cranny for that hidden gem.  

-

Tiny pellets of ice hit the surface of my windowpanes, mimicking the sound of metronomes clicking. This is it; the moment I've been looking for. I make myself a cup of hot chocolate, with extra chunks of marshmallows. I scan through the collection of books that I've accumulated over the years (some of which I actually haven't read). Ah, Wuthering Heights, my all-time favourite. I pick up my pristine copy of Emily Brontë's masterpiece, roll into my duvet and endeavour to experience peace amidst the storm hail. 

"Time brought resignation and a melancholy sweeter than common joy." I read the line over and over again. My hot chocolate is turning cold. The skies are clearing and a couple of residual raindrops trickle down my windowpanes. I get more and more restless by the second. I've done exactly what carefree girls do in Valencia-filtered Tumblr pictures. Yet, peace refuses to open its door.

-

I hop on the last bus home. I'm all alone. The silence is deafening, so I put on my headphone and shuffle-play the new playlist on Spotify. Your Coffee Break. "Just the right blend of chill-out acoustic songs to work, relax, think and dream to," it promises. Maybe today I'll find solace in a good piece of music. Ten minutes into the journey and, for a moment, it seems as though peace is finally welcoming me into its embrace. As I take a cautious step into its presence, the screech of the bus tyres snaps me out of my reverie. It's time to get off. I take off my head phones and walk right back into reality.

-

We lie down in our tent, with our heads perched out and our eyes fixed onto the sky. I lift up my hand - the one that isn't holding on to his - and reach out for the stars. The clouds are on leave today and the stars are out to play. I can almost hear them chuckling, dancing to the sound of the waves. I tilt my head to the left and observe the outline of his forehead, nose bridge, and then his lips. I think I've found my peace, right next to -- you.

We reminisce about the first time we met at the old bookstore down Charing Cross road. We talk about the absolutely perfect day that we've had, from the moment we opened our eyes to the splendour of the morning sun, to the picturesque view that we were greeted with at the peak of Scafell Pike. We discuss about the future that we envision - with you and I, our children, and our children's children. And suddenly, it isn't as perfect as it seems. The future that I dream of is one that is intricately designed to revolve around him; but his isn't the same. Nature's harmony is suddenly disrupted, as we erupt in words of fury.

I take it back. Screw you. Screw peace. Screw everything.

-
-
-

The scorching sun looms high above and its rays barge through the curtains of my room to invade my slumber. I put my hands up to prevent my eyes from hurting. Damn it! The sun's up. I must be late for work. I grab the shirt and pants at the top of last night's pile of laundry, put them on and run for the 8:05 bus. I am at peace.

-

I prepare a black suit for tonight's funeral. I hear Brie wailing from the adjacent room and it sends shards of ice straight through my heart. Tears build up at the corner of my eyes but I am at peace.

-

I walk through the underground station at Waterloo (as I've done so for the past five years). "Excuse me!" An angry commuter brushes past me, as his shoulder slams right into my chest. If it was a year ago, I would've grabbed him by the arm and demanded for an apology. Instead, I let out a gentle sigh and utter under my breath, "bless you." I am at peace.

-

Peace. In a metropolitan city like London, peace seems to be a rare gem but its one that I've finally found. It is not in the sound of raindrops on your rooftop. It is not in Yiruma's most tranquil melody, Kiss the Rain. It is not in the steady heartbeat from your lover's bosoms. It is not in a short getaway to the Lake District. It is from within.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

A letter to myself (a year from now)


Dear Mel,

You're probably working on your essay right now, with a cup of Earl Grey tea, slightly sugared and perfected with a dose of semi-skimmed milk, as usual. You're not the type who gets excessively flustered or stressed over things, unlike Marcus. On the contrary, you're pretty laid-back, you sketch occasional time-tables to remind yourself that you don't actually have that much time left to reach your deadlines. Even though you almost never seem stressed out, there are times when you experience sudden breakouts on your face, your period comes couple of weeks late and you suffer from consecutive nights of insomnia. Those are signs that a burnout lies a few steps ahead of you. Dad once shared about the 'second wind' phenomenon. In a marathon, it comes when you think your legs are about to give way. All of a sudden, you're filled with renewed strength and you 'cruise' through the final lap of the race. Don't give up. Wait for it. (And definitely, as observed from past experiences, do not start binge watching Korean dramas!)

The next, and more important, thing that I want to remind you is how blessed and privileged you are. You're a fervent believer of 'living in the moment'. It is impossible for you to envision your life five years from now. You take ages to reply your text messages, but you're snap-chatting every little thing that intrigues you (and that really annoys your friends at times). And while you're 'living in the moment', you tend to forget and take for granted how far you've come to get to where you are today. You get angsty about temporal things that don't go your way. You become appalling ungracious to others and forget the immense grace has been poured out to you. No, it's not how far you have come, but how blessed you've been and how much support you've received from the people around you.

As a millennial, you were told that you were special, that you could make a difference to this world. And in the competitive society that you were brought up in, your worth was determined by your academic ability. You never believed in this bullshit (probably because studying was something you hated, as many of your primary and secondary school friends can attest to), but you started buying it when you did surprisingly well in your 'O' Level exam. When you got into the Humanities Scholarship Programme in Junior College, and subsequently received a conditional offer of the prestigious SAF Merit Scholarship, you thought that, maybe, you were quite the genius. You started to dream about studying in the world's best universities, rising the ranks as an SAF scholar and maybe, embark on a political endeavour one day. And then, you were proven wrong in the 'A' Level exam. You reported your results to the scholarship board knowing that the scholarship would be taken away from you. You sent in your transcript to the prestigious universities that you had applied to, knowing that you would be rejected. From being placed on a pedestal, you were humbled to the point of sobbing in your shell scrape during field camp. You went to the other extreme and had a poor attitude in everything you did. From then on, everything seemed to go on a downward spiral and you were in a place - a labyrinth - where you thought you could never get out from. You were wrong.

When Marcus received his overseas scholarship, he urged you to go to the UK with him. You knew you did not have the means to pay for an overseas education when you were only given a humble local study award. Yet, he assured you that everything would work out. With your meagre savings, you managed to pay off the additional sum needed for tuition fees at the University of Manchester (your third choice on UCAS) but had absolutely nothing left for your daily expenditure. Instead of living lavishly, out of an overflow of his love, Marcus decided to spend his scholarship allowance on funding an extra person. No, he did not just apportion a small amount of his allowance to ensure that you were living comfortably. He took care of your interests equally as well, or even better, than his own. Because of this, you were given the opportunity to fulfil your desire of studying in the UK, albeit not having a fully-funded scholarship of your own and not in the university of your dreams. But by the grace of God, you excelled in your undergraduate programme and was, again, given another shot at studying in your dream university - this time, for your post-graduate degree.

This is only a truncated version of the full story. Behind every essay that you wrote, every application that you made and every conversation that you had with your academic referees were the utterance of prayers by your family and friends, the kind words of encouragement that kept you going and the sovereign hand of God that opened each and every door. Do not ever forget this.

In the good times, don't forget those who stuck with you in the bad. When someone gets on your nerve, show him or her grace that has been shown to you again and again. Although it's tempting for you to camp at home and keep to yourself, go out. Step out of your comfort zone to meet people from different backgrounds. (You always tell yourself to do this at the start of school term but you never maintain your resolve.) Finally, praise God in the good and the bad. This earth is temporal. Whatever comes your way, keep your eyes to the heavens and know that it is well.

Regards,
Me.
31/12/2016
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