Saturday, 22 September 2018

Not living but surviving

The bus screeches to a stop. Its passengers momentarily lift their heads to check out what has just happened - nothing much; just a careless pedestrian who has just survived a potentially gruesome accident - and look right back down at the rectangular device that they all seem to have in their palms. The bus gradually moves off once again, as though nothing has happened.

I get off at my usual stop, put on my jockey cap and join the sea of uniformed men and women, marching (almost in perfect harmony) into the military camp.

0830. Everyone is seated, just in time for the daily morning brief. The same thing is being said every day, but it still has to be said. This is how things work - not just in here, but in the entire country. Any questions? No questions. We shake our heads in unison, signalling the start of another working day.

Phones ringing every couple of minutes. Officers typing away at their keyboards. Stacks of paper being thrown back and forth, and back and forth. Permission to carry on, sir! Carry on. Meetings after meetings. Canteen break. Officers typing away at their keyboards. Phones ringing every couple of minutes. Swear words flying across the ops floor.

The sun sets over the horizon as I glance out of the window, humming Wiz Khalifa's See You Again in my head. It is going to be a long ride home... but, my day is finally about to begin(!) Today, I will finally get down to writing something - anything - on my blog, to pursuing something that sets my heart on fire, once again. And perhaps, if times permits, I will resume that language course that I've put on hold for way too long. I look around me but no one in the bus seems to share my excitement - they are still glued to that rectangular device in their palms.

I unlock my house door - the only thing standing between me and my plans for the evening. I'm greeted by my cat, as she purrs at my feet. I pick her up and place her down gently beside me on the couch. I flip open my Macbook, ready to type away and let the inspiration flow. But... as soon as I type the first few words, my eyelids start getting heavier and heavier, as I come to realise that like yesterday, and the day before, I do not have the productive capacity to do anything else.

I open up yesterday's unfinished episode of Running Man, slouch to a comfortable position with my cat on my lap, and called it a day.

- Repeat story again, and again, and again until I retire. And then, (permanently) die. -

The End.

P.s. Let's hope that in Heaven, we can all finally start living, instead of just surviving.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

And the countdown begins

7.03p.m. Cambridge, Cambridgeshire.

I sit by my window and bathe in the full glory of the evening sun. Summer Solstice. It is the longest day of the year. Sun rays pierce through the window panes, lighting up the corner of my room with a golden hue.

I take a sip of my iced coffee and watch the water droplets fall down the surface of the plastic cup. I close my eyes and meditate on the lyrics of the song that is playing: Beautiful Birds by Passenger (feat. Birdy). When I open them again, I see the trees in the garden dancing gently to the rhythm of the song. I see an airplane flying past in the distance, leaving a white trial across the baby blue sky. I hear the birds chirping; and the children from next door playing hoops.

Five more weeks. Five more weeks till I return to the place where the sun sets at about this time of the day, every single day. To the place where the sweltering heat might leave me slightly light-headed. To the place where I will be greeted with the sound of cars swooshing through the streets and angsty drivers honking at each other every morning. To the place where my annoying yet endearing siblings are. To the place I call home.

The yearning to be home and the reluctance to leave this place - does it make sense to feel them all at once?

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Reflections of a passerby in Cambridge

The skies are blue and the sun is out today, as it has been the past few days. Unlike Manchester, Cambridge is blessed with clear skies most of the time.

It is exactly one more month till I submit my dissertation. I should be working on it right now but I've decided to pause, take a walk to the Midsummer Commons and breathe in the fresh Cambridge air instead. Because, it is also exactly one more month till I leave Cambridge for good.

I never felt like a stranger in Manchester - it was my second home. Walking to Lidl to do my grocery, hopping on and off the Magic Bus, and getting takeaway from Curry Mile were all so intuitive to me. I went back to Manchester last week and things were pretty much the same - except that it is no longer a quid but a pound fifty to take the Magic Bus. As usual, Manchester did not fill me with wonder. It was the same old and dull city - not particularly pretty - but somehow, it gave me a sense of familiarity and belonging. It was just. so. different. from Cambridge.

Perhaps it's because I've only been in Cambridge for less than a year, or perhaps it is because I am truly different from the Cantabrigians; but unlike Manchester, I've always felt like a stranger, a visitor, in Cambridge. Cambridge is beautiful - far more beautiful than Manchester will ever be. A three minute walk from home is where the boathouses are. Every evening, you will see the rowers diligently training for the boat race. Further down, across the bridge, is the Midsummer Commons, where cows roam and families spend the evening when the sun is up. Across the road is Jesus Green, where students play football, slackline, have picnics, or simply read a book. The trees in there are lined up so perfectly on each side of the pathway that it amuses me to cycle through them every day. They are especially beautiful in autumn, when the leaves take on various shades of red, orange and yellow. I don't think I will ever forget that mesmerising sight.

Yet, in spite of all its beauty, Cambridge somehow makes me feel lonelier, more foreign, and harder to fit in. I took my Japanese exam yesterday and as we were saying our farewells, our sensei complimented us, saying, "Cambridge students are truly different. If it was elsewhere, they probably wouldn't have been able to learn as quickly." Even though I am a Cambridge student, I felt slightly offended. I suppose it is because I identify myself more as a student of Manchester.

And this is how, I've noticed, Cambridge is so different from Manchester. Well, at least in university. In Manchester, I remember debating, a lot, about our political views in seminars. It was fun. Even though we did not agree on everything, and even though it wasn't always objective, it was fun to see everyone passionately defending their own views. In Cambridge, we rarely did such things. It was always about the readings. Always about being objective, intellectual, and having the correct answers. It made me very cautious to share my two cents worth. And perhaps, that is always why I feel that I am gradually losing my interest in Politics.

Manchester is a safe haven for refugees and I met a handful of them in church. Listening to them recount their times of distress back at home and how they barely managed to escape always put things into perspective. It made all my problems look so trivial in the light of what they had been through. It made me treasure my life, no matter what situation I am in, and never feel the need to be stressed. In Cambridge, all I see is people overreacting over the smallest of things. All I hear is students whining about how difficult university life is. And it is. The undergraduates have it really tough in Cambridge. And while I know that we ought not to trivialise anyone's situation, I can't help but think - really?! I feel too laid-back and nonchalant in this university town where everyone seems on the edge.

But... before I make it seem like Cambridge is a cold and heartless place, I have to say that there were many times when it surprised me. While the people here appear to be more detached and uptight, they are very warm-hearted and exceptionally kind. And unlike in Manchester, I have never been pick pocketed, catcalled or received a racist comment - not once. I remember falling off my bike with my groceries flying all over the place during one of my first few cycles back home. It was an utter mess; but at that moment, a female student came up to me, got her hands dirty while helping me clean up my mess, took her books out of her cotton bag and gave it to me to put the groceries that survived. I also remember falling off a route at the climbing gym, as I pulled the tendon in my left ring finger. I was distraught. But just then, a staff at the gym came up to me and said, "That route there...it's yours." Those five words brought me comfort. These are just a few of the many beautiful encounters that I had in Cambridge.

Next month, when I leave this place, I will probably leave with a heavy heart. When I am back in the grind of working life, I will probably think of Cambridge much more than Manchester - of its luscious fields, the River Cam and its earnest punters. But I will miss both places dearly - for very very different reasons.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Never would we have guessed...

I first saw you when I was eleven. Well, I couldn't tell which one you were, since there were two of you that looked exactly the same. Two little boys wearing similar glasses, with practically the same voice and the same mischievous look on their faces. Never would I have guessed that one of you would be my fiancé twelve years down the road.

I don't know why (okay, actually, I think I do) but I had a reputation of being a bimbo when I was younger. I remember that call that I received from you boys, just hours after collecting my PSLE certificate. One of you asked how I did for the exam. And when you boys heard that I got a pretty decent grade, you boys kept saying, 'stop lying!', over and over again. I was furious. Never would I have guessed that one of you would be my fiancé eleven years down the road.

When I was forteen, like most of the girls in my school, I was obsessed with a Korean boy band. I wore a key around my neck everywhere I went, symbolising a member of a boy band that I used to adore. I remember you joking, on one of the Sundays, that I should be wearing a cross instead. I'm not sure why, but the following Sunday, I came to church with a cross around my neck. Never would I have guessed that you would be my fiancé nine years down the road. I'm still wearing it today.

It was at one of our cell group gatherings over hot pot. I love prawns but I hate peeling them. I remember asking if you could help me peel some, since you were seated beside me. You replied, 'If you don't mind me peeling it with my mouth.' I'm not sure if that was meant to gross me out but I somehow found it endearing. I ate lots of prawns that evening. And perhaps, that was the first time I found you (mildly) attractive. Never would I have guessed that you would be my fiancé eight years down the road.

When you shared about your break up with the rest of us, I was heartbroken to hear that you were with someone else all this while. I guess I must have liked you quite a lot by then. But I had my own eye candy at school anyway. I remember asking you guys if I should garner the courage to add him on Facebook and you encouraged me to do so. Never would I have guessed that you would be my fiancé seven years down the road. I was too much of a coward to add him. We are still not Facebook friends till today.

We talked over the phone till 3.a.m. in the morning, sharing about our insecurities and telling each other about things that we had never told anyone else. I guess we were really good friends by then - friends that could emotionally rely on each another. But I think I must have loved you by then, for I remember yearning, with all my heart, to be in your embrace one day. Never would I have guessed that you would be my fiancé six years down the road.

We were at the rooftop of Nex. I remember it so clearly that the thought of it still makes me flinch today. There were many people hanging out and chatting around us but we were too absorbed in our argument. Our faces were drenched in tears. The break up card had been played. I was certain it was over. You were certain it was over. We tried our best to make things work but our differences were too drastic and it was almost impossible for us to see eye to eye. I couldn't - didn't want to - imagine going back to a life without you. Never would I have guessed that you would be my fiancé four years down the road. We somehow fought against the grain and worked it out day by day.

I came home from university one day, exhausted from a full day of lectures. When I went to the bathroom, I saw that my name was written on the cleaning roster. Strange. I hadn't done my duty for the week. Yet, the bathroom was sparkly clean. As I took a closer look, I saw that it was written in your handwriting. I knew in my heart that you would be my fiancé one day.

You said that when we were younger, you told your best friend that even if I was the last girl standing on this earth, you wouldn't marry me. I was a selfish, crude, and perhaps crazy, girl back then. Never would you have guessed that I would be your fiancée a decade later. But today, I want to say, thank you for eventually seeing the good in me. Thank you for coming to love me. Thank you for writing this epic love story together with me.

Thank you for being alive. Happy Birthday my dear ♥

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Dead people, dying people.

I held my hand bag against my chest, kept my head down, and strode as fast I could through the dark and somber alley. Melancholy, despair and rage filled the air.

'Screw those filthy bastards!' a hoarse voice startled me. I kept my head down.

'Keep going. Just keep going,' I chanted to myself.

All of a sudden, an slender but firm arm reached out for my ankle, stopping me in my tracks. 'Look up! Look. At. Them,' a young woman with a glare that could slice through iron demanded.

I looked up and saw that we were not alone. We were sandwiched between two buildings of about three storeys high. In each building were pairs of elegantly dressed men and women, sipping away at their wine glasses and savouring their scrumptious dinners. With chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and candles resting on the tables, I reckoned that they were probably fine-dining.

Another hand grabbed my other ankle. And the next thing I knew, dozens of hands were wrapped around my legs. Dead people, dying people. With a unified pull, I was dragged through the earth, as I tumbled through a hole that was forming rapidly in the ground.

I woke up in a different land. I was surrounded by old people, young people. They wore the exact same thing - a grey robe that extended till the ankle. I was wearing it too. People were coughing, crying, sneezing, and vomiting. The man behind me bumped me forward. 'Move, young lady.' I realised I was in a queue.

'Wh...what are we queuing for?' I asked the man.

'The physician? Get out of the queue if you're not here to see her!' he replied

I walked around, clueless, in an attempt to make sense of what was going on. The people here seemed rather listless and sometimes angsty - although not quite as angry as the alley-people I had previously encountered. I found out a few things: one, these people were ill and waiting to see the physician. Two, there were no 'filthy bastards' here. Everyone wore the same thing, ate the same thing, and saw the same physician. Perhaps, that was why they were less resentful than the alley-people. And three... about half a mile away, I could see a pile of bodies reaching up to the sky. Dead people, dying people.

'Who are they?' I asked the child beside me.

'They are the ones who never got to see the physician... Who knows? I might be next,' replied the child, as he inched forward in the queue.

That was when the horrible stench gave me a sobering slap in the face. I opened my eyelids and found that I was back in my room. Praise the heavens, it was just a dream.

I crawled out of bed, turned on the radio and grabbed my toothbrush.

'The people have voted. All hail our great and wise leader. As promised in her campaign, all aliens will be executed if they do not leave this town by midnight.'

I scurried around the room, packing my luggage as fast as possible. I had an entire day to gather my fellow alien friends together and leave for another town. It would be fine.

I ran out of the house and headed towards the campus. It was too late. It was all too late. Dead people, dying people. The town people had already begun to cleanse their homes of aliens.

Capitalism, socialism. Democracy, autocracy.

Everywhere, people are dying. No matter what we do, people are always dying.

I felt a huge blow across the back of my head. I fell to my knees, and then to the ground, as my knees gave way. Blood trickled down my forehead, and I was gradually surrounded by a pool of my own and my fellow aliens' blood.

I hope that this time, I will wake up in a better place.

The end.

Friday, 30 March 2018

We are engaged!

As little children, we dreamt about the day when we would become that policeman, teacher or chef that we always aspired to be. We played make believe with our childhood playmates, walking down that imaginary aisle in our 'wedding gowns and suits'. We put our soft toys to sleep, as though they were our precious little babies. We bubbled with excitement at the thought of, one day, becoming an adult, and being able to finally pursue all the things that we have always dreamt of.

But as the years go by, as we begin to have a glimpse of how mundane, tiring, frustrating, and sometimes nerve-wrecking, adulthood can be, we start to lose our wonder. Perhaps, that dream job is not as exciting as it seemed. Perhaps, weddings are more of a diplomatic event than a genuine celebration of the union of a couple. Perhaps, marriage is a constant tug of war between a husband and wife, rather than the epitome of an unbreakable bond. Perhaps, children are more of a nuisance once they outgrow their cute and cuddly phase. Our idealism turns into skepticism, and then, finally, to cynicism. 

Last night, we strolled down the beach, hand-in-hand, pondering about the prospects of adulthood. The taste of sangria and garlic prawns from dinner still lingered in my mouth. The sound of the waves gently lapping on the shore, and the colourful lights emanating from the ships afar, set the mood for a romantic evening stroll back to our Airbnb apartment. Our trip in Tenerife had thus far been spectacular - from seeing an orca for the first time, to watching the sunset above a sea of clouds and kayaking in the ocean with dolphins jumping around! Yet, in spite of all that, the thought of adulthood unwittingly dampened my spirits and created a domino effect of negativity. We talked about home ownership, and weddings, and children; and the deeper we went, the more emotional and angsty I became. In the past few years, I've started to become cynical about those who idealise having their own homes, getting married, and having kids. And with confirmation bias, I became cynical of those things in themselves. I guess it is all part of that quarter-life crisis that immature 'young adults' like myself tend to go through. We just cannot accept the fact that we are growing up.

Throughout the conversation, you kept telling me that everything would be okay as long as we go through it together. To be honest, it didn't help. In fact, it made me all the more annoyed that you always have a way to make things seem so simple. Simply loving each other will not solve all our problems. It will not make them go away. It. is. not. that. simple. I kept trying to put that across but all you did was to assure me, and reassure me, that it would somehow be okay. We just had to take things one step at a time. Deep down, I knew that you were probably right and I was being unnecessarily negative but I just couldn't brush off the feeling of apprehension. We couldn't come to a conclusion, and so we left it as that. 

While I was showering, guilt hit me like it always does after we bicker. 'Again. I always have a way of ruining something that would otherwise have been perfect,' I thought, as I started to sob in the shower. I recalled the night that we argued to the point of tears over phone, and meeting each other the next day with puffy eyes to celebrate your birthday for the first time together. I remembered the multiple times we walked out of a fancy restaurant in the midst of a date to settle our disputes. I thought of the days when we were on the verge of breaking up, and how we somehow managed to work our way through them, with our faces soaked in tears and our hearts clawed open. Those days were long gone but the fear of an unknown future with brand new challenges gripped me. I didn't think I could go through those heartbreaks and self-bashing all over again. It seemed so difficult to step out of the status quo.

I wiped away my tears, chucked those irrational thoughts aside, stepped out of the shower and headed back to our tent. And that was when I saw the candles on the floor. You held my hand and said that you had something to tell me. 'Wow. He is really overdoing his apology,' I thought, until I saw the camera on the tripod. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe that you would ask me for my hand after what we just went through; after what we just talked about. You looked me in the eye and started stringing up slightly touching but awkward sentences, in an attempt to recall what you had written. You finally gave up. And that was when you started tearing up. You said you didn't know what the future would be like but you could never imagine it without me. That sentence yanked at my heartstrings. This was the boy that I first fell in love with, standing right in front of me, being completely honest, vulnerable and sincere. I didn't need you to tell me that everything is going to be okay. I didn't need solutions. What I needed to hear was that you cannot do life without me, as I cannot without you. And that gave me the courage to brave the storms of life with you, and to have the confidence that we would somehow stick together through it all. You asked if I would give you the honour of spending the rest of my life with you. I said yes. 

Just a few days ago, I told you how I didn't understand why people say 'congratulations' when a couple gets engaged, and why they say 'sorry' when they hear that someone's loved one has passed away. Marriage is not exactly something to be celebrated and the passing of someone's loved one is not the fault of the person who utters the apology. But I think I see it now... When people say 'congratulations' or 'sorry', they are not unaware of the problems of marriage or the fact that their apology will not bring a dead person back to life. They say them because in spite of these challenges and impossibilities, there are things worth celebrating and comfort worth giving. 

So, I will accept all your congratulations with heartfelt gratitude, knowing that the road ahead will be an arduous one. Marriage is such a big and scary word but I thank God that of all the men in the world, I am going to wrestle it with you. I love you, my fiancé.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

It's not easy to not give a damn

These days, I find it harder and harder to open up to other people. Perhaps, as I grow older, I am becoming more and more reserved. Or perhaps, it is because I am becoming more aware of just how brutal society has become is.

As a teenager, I remember not giving a damn about what others thought about me. I mean, yes, I wanted to 'be like the cool kids' (Echosmith, 2013); but I never felt the need to prove myself to be smarter, more capable, more confident, and more tenacious than I really was. It was absolutely 'okay' to fail a test. It didn't matter that I spent my after school hours cheerleading and playing netball (not for the school team), both of which didn't add any value to my curriculum vitae. It didn't cross my mind that I had to hold back my tears when I was too afraid to touch that stupid frog in an orientation camp game, which caused my team to lose. And I always said whatever the heck I wanted - which costed me a very painful lesson when I talked back to a senior lieutenant colonel while I was a cadet trainee. I've learned to bite my tongue and respect the rank.

But today... Today, I find myself being exceedingly proficient at writing a politics essay on a topic that I, frankly, know nuts about. Why? Entering my forth year of higher education in the UK, I think I've mastered the art of writing a decently good essay - it's not about how much you really know. It's about how well you convince the examiner of how much you know. Today, I find myself always having to hold back my tears in front of others when I'm frustrated, disappointed, or hurt, only to let it all out the moment I shut my room door. We're told that being too emotional is not a good thing. Today, I find myself barely saying anything in large groups, unless I'm compelled to. And even when I do, it is because I've scanned it through my mind at least three times to make sure that it is a rock-solid point that I have to contribute. Today, I find myself double - no triple - checking my blog posts, instagram captions, and facebook posts, before clicking the 'Post' button. Let's call it, self-censoring.

And unwittingly, I realise that this has affected my relationships with other people. I've stopped bitching and gossiping about others with my girlfriends, which I suppose is a good thing. But with that, I've also stopped breaking down in tears even with the people closest to me (except for Marcus - putting this out here otherwise he would surely object!). I've stopped sharing my problems, partly because I don't want to burden others and partly because it makes me vulnerable. I've stopped expressing my most genuine convictions, probably because I don't want to seem too 'extreme' or 'un-nuanced'. And I no longer do silly things with friends - re-watching high school musical through the night, dancing to K-POP music, taking lots of embarrassing selfies, and writing meaningless post-it notes for each other - because no one does them, at least not with other people, anymore. It would seem all too silly now.

But here's the truth. While I may seem more 'qualified' (in a societal sense) as a graduate or an employee, the truth is I have barely changed. What you see on my graduation certificate, my curriculum vitae, and my personal statement is probably bull shit. (I'm probably going to regret saying this but heck it.) The truth is, I'm a politics graduate but I love Justin Trudeau just because he is handsome. Who cares about his policies? The truth is, I prefer celebrity gossip over Brexit news. The truth is, I mentally roll my eyes every times someone asks me for my political views the moment they hear that I study politics. Can we talk about something else? The truth is, I cry, no, I bawl, when I'm furious - it always makes me feel better. The truth is, while I'm completely silent in a discussion group, I'm cursing at stupid people with stupid views in my head. (I know, very illiberal of me. #sorrynotsorry) The truth is, I spend my time doing silly things like watching Korean reality shows, dancing in front of the mirror, taking 1,001 selfies with different filters, and making random lists like 'nice baby names' and 'things that make me happy'.

So yes, I've let the cat out of the bag - although, really, it's not much of a secret because I'm sure everyone has things they do or think in private as well. So, what's keeping us from displaying them? Is it because how of brutal and judgmental society is? Or is it just because we care too much about what other people think?

Perhaps, this is a quote to consider:

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Keep calm and climb on

Drops of tears trickled down my cheeks as I took my finger out of the bucket of ice water.

When I look back at the past 23 years of my life, I realise that I have never actually committed to a particular hobby. I sing in the shower, I dance in front of the mirror now and then, I used to doodle a lot, I won some trophies in the international chess tournaments in primary school, I did some cheerleading and played some netball in secondary school, I passed the Grade 7 piano exam, and I used to run a lot (until I joined the army and starting hating it). Yes, I did a lot of things; and I'm decent at most of it. But there wasn't anything that I felt could be a life-long hobby. There wasn't anything that made me earnestly want to get better and better (except for maybe chess; I genuinely loved the checkmates). I guess that made me a jack of all trades, master of none.

Two years ago, I started rock-climbing (bouldering). Initially, I did it to accompany Marcus since he had no one to climb with in Manchester. For a whole year, I would go to the climbing gym with the intention of 'keeping fit with my boyfriend in a rather fun way'. To put it another way, it was just another sport that I didn't mind spending 3 hours of my time on every week. To my pleasant surprise, I improved exponentially. And as my strength increased, so did my interest for the sport.

Climbing has made me do things that I never expected myself to do. I hate competitions, especially when I'm not utterly confident. Even though I'm still too apprehensive about competing in Singapore (where everything is just so much more competitive than elsewhere), I have climbed for my university in the UK. It was pretty dreadful, but it was a great experience. But that's not the most shocking. What marvels me, even till today, is the fact that I climb alone at least twice a week in Cambridge. Before I started climbing, I used to ask Marcus why on earth would he climb alone. I guess I've always seen climbing as a social sport. It seemed silly to climb alone. I was wrong. Yes, climbing is a social sport and the gym is always filled with groups of friends - laughing, chatting, and cheering each other on. But it is also a place for students and workers to go, by themselves, in the middle of their breaks or after work to rejuvenate. More than that, I've started to proselytise about how great the sport is; and the joy of bringing a friend who has never climbed to the gym is unspeakable.

All these must definitely attest to how much I've grown to love the sport. My Instagram explore page is littered with climbing videos. A quarter (probably even more) of my conversations with Marcus is about climbing (although we can probably attribute it more to him than me). We even talked about building a climbing wall in our home in the future! And I've started to do 'silly' #climber things like hanging on a board and chasing numbers on a wall. Until a month ago.

I've had this dull ache in my ring finger for a couple of weeks but my excitement to complete the next 6C+ route at the gym caused me to close an eye and 'allez' through it. It was a bad, very bad, decision. I hope someone could've warned me about my stubbornness. As I spanned across the wall to reach for the pinch on the right, I heard a loud 'POP' in my left hand and immediately let go of the crimp I was holding on to. I landed on the mat with a thud, staring at my left ring finger, as it went completely numb. I had pulled a tendon in the finger.

That was five weeks ago. I remember desperately Googling for answers (as I always do). 'How long does it take for a pulley injury to recover?' It depends on the severity of the injury, said Google, but typically for a small tear, it would take two weeks to a month before a climber can resume light climbing. I was relieved to know that.

I went to climb yesterday, expecting myself to be able to complete at least the 6As (and thinking that I've seriously lowered the bar). Oh boy I was wrong. I did a dyno to a jug and pain seared through my ring finger as soon as it touched the hold. Clearly, my injury was worse than I thought. If you're a climber and you're reading this right now, you're probably thinking I'm an idiot. I don't deny that but to be fair, I was very very hopeful. And hope makes you do stupid things.

Today, as I did my ice therapy, it struck me just how unfair this setback is. I don't know when my finger would fully recover. I don't even have the confidence to say that it would - that I would be able to crimp as hard as I used to when it hurts to even hold a jug right now! I was so discouraged that I told Marcus that maybe climbing isn't a thing for me anymore. I have been religiously doing my ice and heat therapy, and recovery stretches and exercises every damn day since I pulled my tendon but it seems to have had been to no avail. Every time I go to the gym thinking 'maybe I'll be able to climb a decent route today', I leave disappointed and frustrated.

But then I suddenly remembered one of the biggest setbacks in my life - my A Levels. I remembered how I shut myself in my room and sobbed for the entire day, as I reported my score to the scholarship board knowing that the overseas scholarship would be taken away from me. And I remembered how, despite of the huge setback, I managed to eventually get to where I have always aspired to be - here in Cambridge. I took the longer (and bumpier) road; but I am here.

So I will not stop climbing. I will probably be frustrated when I climb again this week, next week, and the week after. And more. But I won't stop climbing. I'm not an exceptional climber, and I don't aspire to be one. But the least I can do for myself is to not throw away this sport that I have grown to love just because of a tiny setback. I wiped away my tears and began my finger stretches.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Our own gods

The sound of the engines grows louder and louder as the train departs from the Cambridge train station. I peek outside the window and see a blonde-haired lady with a turquoise suitcase and grey fur coat chasing after the train. Of course, the train doesn’t stop for her. In fact, it picks up speed. I find it amusing how some people chase after trains when they have begun their departure. I get it for buses – I do that sometimes, too – but trains are different. They absolutely won’t stop for you. At least not here in the UK.

The train has reached a constant speed, as it swooshes through the vast expanse of greenery with sporadic sights of cottage-like houses. Ah, this is what serenity looks like. If only, the sun would emerge from these thick and gloomy clouds. A slightly plump man with a white bushy beard enters the cabin and exclaims in a low and husky voice, “Tickets, please!” I snap out of my reverie and start digging into my haversack for my ticket and railcard. Three passengers to go – I must find them before he approaches me! A commotion arises between the ticket inspector and the three passengers. Wonderful, more time for me!  

The commotion turns into a full blown argument. Everyone in the cabin has stopped whatever they are doing, giving full attention to these three passengers. I make sense of the situation and realise that the three passengers are probably friends. It seems that they have missed the previous train and hopped on to this train, in hope that there would not be a penalty. The ticket inspector decides to go by the books and charges them an extra ten pounds each, as this is a peak-hour train. Just as the ticket inspector turns away from them and approaches me, one of the three passengers, a white man in his late-twenties, makes a cutting remark, “You should go home tonight and reflect on what you did. You could have been nice about it but you didn’t.” The ticket inspector looks at me, and gives me a sad smile. I feel bad for him. He was just doing his job.

The journey continues as though nothing has happened. Everyone resumes whatever they were doing prior to the commotion. I put on my ear piece and shuffle-play the playlist that I have created just for long train rides like this. I watch the barren trees pass by me, as I think of my loved ones back at home. I think of my brother has just enlisted into the army. I think of my third sister who is stressing over her A level examination, going through the exact same thing as I did six years ago. I think of my forth sister who looks like a graceful doe when she dances but an angry water buffalo when she speaks. I think of my baby sister whom I skyped just yesterday and looks as though she has grown even bigger than I last remembered. Indeed, she is no baby anymore. And I think of my dad who tells me that I’ve put on weight every time we Skype (I would be obese by now if it’s true, dad) and my mum who is always, always, always asking about my health (which hasn’t been great lately). She is what makes home, home; she is my go-to when I have my period cramps, when I can’t sleep, and when I’m aching all over. I think about my loved one who is waiting for me upon arrival in Oxford in about two hours. I think about just how important they are to me and how much I love them – more than myself, indeed. I think about how love is so powerful, as to make a selfish person like myself selfless.

But then, I also realise that I am wrong. Love is not selfless. It is in every bit selfish. I protect and care for these people because if something were to happen to them, my heart would be wrecked. I love them; I love them with all my heart because it brings me joy, and satisfaction, and purpose. I think about them, and I miss them dearly, because they give me a place I can call home even when I am thousands of miles away.

And then I suddenly understand why that blonde-haired lady would chase after the train even though it wasn’t going to stop for her anyway. I also understand why the passenger in front of me condemned the ticket inspector for merely doing his job. It is this: regardless of how good or bad it is, the action or thought of every human being is ultimately driven by none other than him or herself. I do a quick Google search, as I always do when looking for answers, and find that there is, indeed, a philosophical term for it: psychological egoism. Whether you love or hate a person, whether you commit a theft or donate to a charity, you are ultimately motivated by self-interest. The blonde-haired lady chased after the train because, instinctively, she expected it to stop for her even though she knew it wouldn’t. The passenger in front of me faulted the ticket inspector for doing his job because in his perspective, it wasn’t fair. At the end of the day, we see things from our own perspective. In my eyes, the world and everything in it revolves around me. And in your eyes, they revolve around you.

But the funny thing is: even when you turn into ashes, the world continues to spin. Someone will probably shed a tear or two. Another, buckets. But eventually, you will become a faded memory, buried in the shadow of new acquaintances and experiences. And when the people who remember you turn into ashes, too, there will probably be barely any trace left of you in this world. And in spite of that, in spite of having a full knowledge of that, you would still continue to live this life as though the world revolves around you. As though the sun rises every morning, the stars sparkle in the night, the waves sing a never-ending lullaby just for you. And so will I. Why? Because that’s a human thing to do. Because at the end of the day, like it or not, we are all our own gods.

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.
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