Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Six years, and closer than ever ♥

#throwback to when we were 17 and free cones day was the best date everrrr 

Six years. With each passing year, our anniversary celebration becomes less and less extravagant. Perhaps, it's because we are getting lazy. Or perhaps, it's because we are so certain of our future together that we no longer need to indulge in the idea that we have been together for (merely) another year. What is a year compared to a lifetime together? This year, we had to celebrate it a couple of days earlier, before I headed back to Cambridge for the new academic term. We deliberated over whether to spend the evening climbing or watching The Greatest Showman. We went for the latter, and had absolutely no regrets. We headed home after the movie, and decided to have a simple burger-and-shake meal at the pretty hipster shop just down the road. We shared our sides (as usual), played a gory version of would-you-rather (which included death by mincer or being gradually pulled apart by four horses on each limb - yucks. We both chose the quicker death, to be minced alive.), chatted about outdoor climbing, DC comic characters, and the table on our left. It was like any other date night. I loved it.

About two weeks ago, I was mad at you (but mostly at myself). Instead of telling you, I said I was tired and wanted to go to bed first. You knew that something wasn't right. About half an hour later, you came to check if I was still awake but I pretended to be asleep. I regretted the moment you left the room. I got up, went to find you, and asked for an iPhone charger. (Oh, what a poor excuse!) Nonetheless, it resulted in a two-hour long conversation that was extremely therapeutic. I shared with you what I had been struggling with (emotionally) for the past few weeks - possibly months - and coincidentally, it was something you had studied in your undergrad. I am not ashamed to share it with everyone now: it was rumination. You told me how to overcome it, and as I tried, I felt instantly better. We rejoiced for a good ten minutes, as you uttered a prayer over me, and we exchanged hugs. We were awestruck by the meaningful and timely conversation that we had! I don't know what that evening meant to you but to me, it brought our relationship to a whole new level (just when I thought we couldn't get any closer, after being together for almost six years). A friend once asked me if I could ever be fully known by another person, and my instantaneous answer was 'no'. I've always been resistant to reveal my vulnerabilities to others, including the people closest to me; but that evening, after sharing my struggle with you, it felt as though I was standing before you, for the first time, emotionally bare. And I guess, that has also given me the confidence to truthfully share, here, not only the pretty moments and peaks in our relationship (and in my life), but also the troughs. I'm proud to say that I've emerged from my trough, and have yet to engage in a full cycle of rumination since then - I've learned to stop myself in my tracks.

Today, as we turn six, I'm thankful for you, more than ever. While human relationships are largely characterised by pompous celebrations and superficial conversations, I'm glad that I have you. I'm glad that I have someone that I don't have to put up a fence with, someone who although may not fully understand me, chooses, every day, to accept me anyway, and someone whom I can depend on, with no fear of betrayal. I don't need fancy dinners and diamond rings, I just need you by my side, with no frills.

Happy sixth anniversary, my dear. I love you with all my heart, and more...

Monday, 8 January 2018

What is wrong with us?

I sat in the middle of the congregation, listening to the pastor preach on the Beatitudes (it was probably the third, fourth, or even fifth time that I've heard a sermon on the Beatitudes), as my mind drifted off to the future - to a week later, when Lent term would finally begin. I created a mental checklist of the things I wished to accomplish in the final week of Christmas break. But that wasn't it. I was still listening- blessed are the peacemakers... And also observing the people at my periphery. People watching; something that I've always been inclined to do when I'm in a sea of human beings. The girl on my left drew out her cell phone, casually strolling through her Instagram feed and 'liking' every photo (as though there was an auto clicker installed into her thumb) while listening, and nodding, to the pastor. She seemed to be about two or three years younger than me, give or take. The man on my right was sat upright, listening attentively to the preacher, with a bible open on his lap- Matthew 5. He caught me taking a glance at him. I gave him a sheepish smile, and he reciprocated with a tender grin. He was about thrice my age, or maybe slightly less.

At that moment, I paused, grabbed hold of that awry feeling within me, and pondered on what actually was wrong with the situation. And beyond that, what is wrong with us, young people.


1. We need to be constantly multi-tasking. While the elderly man appeared to have no issue offering his full attention to the pastor, I found myself fidgeting in my seat, as multiple thoughts ran through my mind - some from the sermon, and some from i-don't-know-where. The same could be said for the girl to my left. She needed to be doing something else, on top of merely listening to the sermon. That's what's wrong with us. We seem to be unable to devote our full attention to doing one thing at a time. When I study, I need music. I also need my cup of tea and some snacks at arms length. And I need my phone to be by my side so that I can unlock it the moment I receive a notification. Perhaps it is because we have all become such social (media) beings that our attention has become habitually divided by the myriad of content that appears every second on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. We cannot focus. And this brings me to my next observation.

2. We want to be good at everything. I recall the to-do lists that my friends and I came up with in secondary and high school. They included things that we wanted to do or learn after completing our O and A Level examinations. I remember that among the many things we wanted to tick off the list, there were learning a new language, picking up self-defence, going for dance classes, running a marathon and mastering a couple of pop songs on the piano. Unsurprisingly, we left most of the boxes unchecked. I mean, yes, we did try a bit of everything but we didn't actually accomplish anything. That's the problem. We want to be good at everything but when we try to devote our limited attention to so many things, we end up being good at nothing. We are jacks of all trades, but masters of none. The same thing can be said about friendships. We prioritise quantity over quality. We invest in too many friendships that we end up having very few genuine friendships.

3. We care too much about what other people think. I'm not talking about our Instagram pages right now (although that is also a problem). I'm talking about our conversations. I'm talking about the tyranny of liberal views and how it has made our conversations, on the contrary, highly illiberal. In the past, we could talk freely (well, not completely freely but surely more than at present), debate, and sometimes even joke about 'taboo' topics such as religion, sexuality and feminism with people of diverse views. Today, it seems like society has as a whole come into conclusion about certain issues and there is no longer room for debate. Joking about them seems like a crime in this hypersensitive environment. As a result, we have become largely evasive to deep conversations with people who are different. For issues in which we empathise with society at large, we are very vocal. But in areas where we differ, we seem to prefer to hangout with those of the same views. I, too, am guilty of it and I don't exactly blame us. Society seems to be getting more and more polarised, and it makes it more intimidating to approach someone with a different view. But this has to stop! The more we encourage groupthink, the more intolerant our society will become. I'm not saying that we should be insensitive and not care about other people's feelings. What I'm saying is that, perhaps, we can combine the lessons that can be learnt from our predecessors and the modern times: to express what we truly think but in a respectful manner and with an open mind.

4. We are not willing to work hard for the small things. Perhaps because we have been told countless of times to 'dream big' and not settle for anything less, we have the tendency to dismiss many meaningful but seemingly trivial things in life. The first thing that comes to mind is cooking. In my three years of undergrad, I've met many students who complain that eating out is too expensive but cooking takes 'too much time and effort'. They have more important things to do like studying, and dinner becomes something that is just a call away.

I am currently living with a retired English couple and what makes them admirable, in my opinion, is the amount of time they devote to preparing dinner and reading. Every evening, they spend about an hour preparing dinner and another eating. After that, they would sit by the radiator with a glass of wine and a book in hand for about three hours before heading to bed. I enjoy reading. But I sometimes find myself getting frustrated when the novel I'm reading involves the use of way too many words to describe a situation. I always end up 'Googling' for spoilers. And I guess, the same can be said for acquiring information. With a vast network of information available to us at the click of a finger, we don't quite see the point in reading books that require hours of comprehension before gleaning its treasures of knowledge. And this is a huge pity. We miss out on the simple pleasures in life, which require patience and hard work.


As I thought about these things, I gradually slipped into a state of despair. I knew that I was part of a generation that is plagued with problems that cannot be nipped in the bud, placed in circumstances beyond our control. But I also knew that while we cannot control the circumstances that we are in, as corny as it sounds, we can control how we react to them. We can, as I shared in my previous blog post, will against ourselves and choose to do what we would not naturally choose. 'And this is my final and most important point.' I looked up at the pastor and realised that I had missed a significant portion of the sermon. All I could do then was to wave off every other thought and give my full attention to the last bit of wisdom that she had to offer.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Not wilful but strong-willed


The first few days of the year are always so surreal. The four numbers seem so foreign, like a distant vision of the future. And yet, it is the present.

A year ago, just before 2016 came to a close, I wrote a letter to myself a year from then. As I read it today, it occured to me just how well I know myself. I knew that in spite of rallying myself again and again to go further and beyond my potential, I would still fall back to my default way of life. That is how my life has been in the past 23 years: oscillating between wanting to prove myself to be better than I really am and being comfortable with the status quo.

As with most people, I looked back at the past year with a tinge of regret, knowing that I could and should have lived it to the fullest but I didn't. Of course, there were significant milestones and achievements that are worth celebrating, rejoicing and recalling with pride. But at this moment in time, despite being placed in an environment of unceasing opportunities, I find myself merely floating. Unlike my logic-driven friends who are able to consistently go to bed at 12a.m. at night and get up at 8a.m. in the morning, I am someone who is driven by my natural impulse. I sleep when my bed calls out to me and I get up when I think I've gotten my due hours of rest (which typically include almost an hour of rolling in bed in the morning). Like every personality trait, there are pros and cons. A feelings-driven person like myself would spread his/her wings and soar when it comes to things that he/she is highly motivated to achieve. But at the same thing, without something that excites him/her, he/she would simply float along and live day by day feeling (almost) completely satisfied and comfortable achieving barely anything.

This is how a typical day at home looks like for (an unmotivated) me, when I'm not at college. I would get up when the sun is hanging high up in the sky. I would take my own sweet time to make breakfast lunch and then do my quiet time. And the rest of the day would be a random blur of coursework and tv series, before hitting the sack when my eyelids start getting heavier than I can bear. (Mind you, being feelings-driven does not mean I'm lazy. I get my coursework done but that's about it.)

To be honest, a typical day for a motivated me looks pretty much the same. In fact, it probably applies to most students. But there is something different. I feel different- ideas blossom in my head at random parts of the day, keeping me awake at night and giving me something to look forward to the next morning. There is this unquenchable fire within me that invariably manifests itself in every area of my life: my relationships with others, my conversations, my writing, my work, and my worship. It is no longer mere satisfaction and comfort. It is passion, zeal, and immense joy that I experience.

While this is fantastic, I've come to see that waiting for that moment of awakening is a tremendously unhealthy way of living my life. Those are times when the best of me is put on display for the world to see but those are also times that rarely come by. Out of ten essays that I write, probably only one would ignite that enthusiasm within me. Out of the multitude of things that I encounter each day, week, or even month, probably only one would inspire me to write. And when I return to work in seven months, I'm pretty sure that not every day would remind me of why I chose the job. I guess that's just how life is. If every day is a special day, there would be no special days at all.

I recently read that,

'the strong-willed one is not the wilful one. A wilful child wants only his own way. His will has never been exercised against himself. The strong-willed person wills against himself, chooses that which he does not naturally choose, refuses that which he would naturally choose.'

I guess that is my answer to how I should seek to live out 2018. I don't have any specific resolutions for the new year but I know that what I want to do this year is to make my dull days meaningful (not necessarily exciting, but meaningful). I don't want to waste these precious opportunities just because I am not in the groove. To do that, I have to exchange my wilfulness for a strong will; a will to make the most of even the dullest of days. To not give in to my natural impulse of seeking comfort and mere satisfaction in doing 'what I feel like doing today.' To stop dancing back and forth in a salsa of excitement and monotony.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Myers-Brigg couldn't diagnose my Mr Hyde

Just a couple of week ago, I asked my boyfriend who majors in Psychology if he thinks I might have a split personality. "You? Of course not," was his prompt reply.

I read the classic, Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, last year and I remember making a mental note that the moral of the story, to me, is that everyone has both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde living inside them. I particularly enjoyed the novel because by embodying our inner thoughts in the actions of Mr Hyde, Stevenson sheds light on the vulnerability of our human nature.

Like most enlightening novels, which give you a better glimpse of the world (and of yourself), I read it with great pleasure, made a mental bookmark of my favourite quotes, and shelved it as soon as I flipped to the last page. Never did I expect the story to strike a chord within me a year later.

I've always prided myself on being a confident individual. My Myers-Briggs personality profile screams 'Confident Individualism'. I don't speak up a lot in big groups but that is not because I lack the confidence; on the contrary, it is because I don't feel the need to air my views unless I feel strongly about something that is being said. I let the negative things that people say about me get to my head, but not my heart; and I'll do whatever it takes to prove them wrong. I am almost never in a state of panic because I know, deep down, that things are under control. At least, that's what I thought.

In the past few months, I have caught myself occasionally tearing up at trivial comments made by someone dear. I have found myself wide awake at three in the morning feeling just too edgy for slumber, apprehensive about what tomorrow will hold. I have gotten way too emotionally affected by (repetitive) dreams that make absolutely no sense in reality. And I have, countless of times, felt slightly utterly disappointed when I see someone performing better in an area that I pride myself in.

This is a side of me - let's call it (pardon me for plagiarism) Mr Hyde - that I've never seen (or maybe acknowledged) before. I mean, I've been emotional and insecure about certain things but they are usually things that warrant a huge reaction - an anomaly and not the norm. I've always got Mr Hyde under control. I was the dominant person in this body that we cohabit; and I could always command Mr Hyde to take a back seat just before he started getting out of control. But these days, he seems to be the driver while I, the passenger.

Mr Hyde is not someone whom I like; no, he's someone whom I absolutely abhor. He is the part of me that seems to be a tremendously ugly stain on that almost perfect piece of painting. A side of me that I wish to brutally murder, to permanently remove from existence.

But to kill Mr Hyde is to kill myself. For he is I, and I am him. As I called to mind the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, I realised that I had misunderstood the main message of the story. Truly, everyone has both Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde within them but it was because Dr Jekyll had tried to bury Mr Hyde deep within the recesses of his mind that it resulted in the brutal actions of Mr Hyde. In the same way, my Mr Hyde has been deprived of self-expression for far too long, as I tried with all my might to be the person that I have always been known to be. And this caused him to create a thundering scene each time he surfaced - at first, once in a blue moon, and then, almost every other day.

It was only when I acknowledged his presence, when I stopped shoving him to the backseat, and when I started learning to co-exist with him that I realised he wasn't so bad after all. When I gave him the freedom to express himself, he was able to do so in a beautiful albeit raw and sometimes startling way.

Myers-Brigg couldn't diagnose my Mr Hyde. Indeed, I am confident, independent and full of faith. But I am also insecure, sensitive and full of doubts.

My boyfriend was right. I did not have a split personality. What I was experiencing was the backlash of trying to force myself into my personality type. Yes, I am dominantly INFP-A, with emphasis on the (extremely high) A. But more than that, I am human. I am a volatile, unpredictable, and indefinable human being.

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Military training through a woman's eyes

When I was a child, the girls in my neighborhood would bring their Barbie dolls to each other’s homes to play dress up. I would stay at home with my little brother to play Hot Wheels and Beyblades. When I was a teenager, my girlfriends would babble all day about the latest episodes of Desperate Housewives and Charmed. I would raise my brows in bewilderment, wondering how on earth could they be as fascinating as going to the arcade to play Time Crisis. In high school, when we were asked to share our aspirations, the girls in class said that they wanted to become businesswomen, teachers, and journalists. I wanted to become a soldier. I was convinced that it was one of the most respected jobs in the world. Yet, all I received were the snickers of my male classmates.

It didn’t bother me. After high school, I went on to inquire more about a career in the military. Instead of finding more incentives to become a solider, I was consistently cautioned about the gender inequality that is pervasive in the military. Being the stubborn person that I am, I went ahead to enlist with the military in spite of the multiple warnings. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Our society tells us that women shouldn’t be rolling around in the mud. Women should smell like daisies in the summer, not wet soil after rainfall. Women should apply facial supplements to maintain their complexions and not camouflage cream to avoid enemy detection. Women should learn social etiquettes and graces, not how to brutally murder their opponents.

If that’s the case, I went against every aspect of societal norms for women. Instead of going to the spa, I went out to the field without showering for days. Instead of healthy greens and protein, I fed on combat rations. Instead of carrying handbags and clutches, I held my rifle and a field pack. Instead of the comfort of a velvety bed, I slept with the ground beetles in my shell scrape.

As time went by, my fellow military comrades started treating me as a brother-in-arms, rather than a lady. Although some found it pitiful, being seen as one of them and partaking in the same experiences was precious to me.

One of the most common warnings about being a military servicewoman is the lack of respect received by male colleagues. The fact that we aren’t as physically inclined as men makes it harder for us to earn their respect. Speaking from experience, it is true that no matter how hard a female solider trains, it is almost impossible that she will be as tough as a male solider with the same amount of training.

Route marches were agonizing for me while it seemed like a breeze for my section mates. Digging a fire trench took me almost twice the amount of time taken by my buddy. Fast marches were equivalent to cross-country races for me, as it required two of my tiny steps to compensate for one of my male comrades’. Physical and combat training never failed to push me to my limit.

Yet, at the end of the day, no matter how hard I pushed myself, I could not outshine their physical performance. It was only during one of the route marches when my fellow platoon mate encouraged me that I realized that it didn’t matter: “It’s so damn tiring! I wonder how you girls do it. I’m so huge and I feel like I’m about to die. I don’t understand how you can carry such a heavy load with that tiny body of yours. You have all my respect.” The fact that I wasn’t as physically able as them didn’t diminish the respect that they had for me. It was the determination and resilience that mattered.

One of the most aggravating comments that never fail to make my eyes roll is “females get it easier in the military.” I can’t comprehend why but assumptions are made that commanders slacken their expectations for women. It is not true. I was the only female cadet in the professional term of my Officer Cadet Course. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t given any leeway because I was a woman. I was assigned to one of the most challenging assignments and received twice the reprimand from my Commanding Officer each time I made a mistake. As much as I persuaded myself to stay true to my faith in the military, I was becoming extremely depressed and discouraged. The warnings were true after all. There wasn’t any room for women in the military.

As I was plagued with more and more unpleasant situations, I started considering the option of leaving the military altogether. It was not until I confided in a fellow female officer who was years ahead of me in the military that I was reassured of my convictions.  “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 perform, your colleagues are going to show you twice the respect. When you falter, 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 mettle and worth.” 

Ever since the conversation, I’ve been earnestly holding on to her piece of advice. I stopped hating the attention and pressure that were on me. I refused to believe that I was being picked on because I was a woman. Instead, I saw those situations as opportunities – opportunities to testify that women not only deserve to have a place in the military but to also be looked upon as valuable assets. I wouldn’t say that I have been completely successful in each attempt but I know for sure that the military isn’t as it was years ago. More women like myself are breaking the stereotypes that women aren’t made for the field, and society is becoming less and less appalled at the news of a lady joining the military.

The military is a special place. It is not for everyone, but it is definitely a fallacy to say it is not for women. There are women out there, like myself, who harbour similar or different aspirations that are against social conventions. To my fellow sisters, do not be afraid of what society tells you. Do not let anyone or anything belittle your ambitions. In the words of Mariah Carey,

“There’s a hero 
If you look inside your heart 
You don’t have to be afraid 
Of what you are.”
© Melody Sim | All rights reserved.