Monday, 28 December 2020

What do you do when life is meh?

I recently read Viktor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning and it made me realise one thing - that my lack of zeal in life isn't because of my past experiences or current predicament but my lack of meaning. 

There was a period of time, after reading Yuval Noah Harari's Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, that I became slightly doubtful about whether life in itself has any meaning. Harari argues that "from a purely scientific view, human life has no meaning." From an evolutionary perspective, there was no such thing as the pursuit of meaning until homo sapiens (humans), at some point of time, started to do so. In addition, he argues that the state of happiness is merely a reaction of biochemicals in our body; that regardless of our circumstances, our individual level of happiness would always eventually return to its default level. With these, he concludes that "any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion." I didn't want to live my life based on a delusion and hence, I began to ponder that perhaps, life is really just about earning our keep, eating, drinking and being merry. All is vanity and a striving after wind.

But to what end? I found myself becoming increasingly self-centered and depressed. I realised that when you live life without meaning, pretty much like an animal, all you care about is self-preservation. You're afraid of getting hurt, and you don't let people in because you don't want to give them the power to hurt you. Sometimes, you also forget what kindness looks like. At the same time, you don't really know what you want in life or what you're living for either. You just get by. For me, getting by meant doing my due diligence at work, fulfilling my social obligations, and enjoying my daily cups of coffee and glasses of gin and tonic. But as time went by, life began to feel extremely pointless. And lonely. And there were days that were just so difficult to get by. 

Frankl founded Logotherapy, a type of psychotherapy which argues that "man's search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life." He cites an extensive example of his time in Auschwitz, as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps. He observed that it wasn't the 'fittest' who survived, but the ones that had something to live for, whether it be a person, a duty or a cause. For him, it was the thought of his wife and the profound understanding that suffering gives life meaning - that your circumstances can only go as far as affecting your physical being and that at the end of the day, it is your choice to rise above your circumstances and find a deeper reason to live. 

I was inspired by the fact that someone in a concentration camp had greater zest for life than I do, in my stable career and happy family. It then dawned upon me that it wasn't about my circumstances. For the longest time ever, I have been attributing my pain and sadness to certain decisions that I've made and events that have happened in my life. But really, there's so much more to life than that. In his postscript, titled The Case for a Tragic Optimism, Frankl discusses three aspects of human existence - pain, guilt and death - and how there is potential to find the silver lining in each of them. For guilt (which is what I tend to wrestle with the most), he talks about "deriving the opportunity to change oneself for the better." In simple terms, I should stop dwelling on my mistakes and start focusing on how to become a better person instead.

It took me so long to learn this simple lesson but I guess it's only because I've recently started to find my meaning in life - not anyone's or society's meaning for me but my own meaning in life. 

The key to a lasting sense of fulfilment in life is not that weekend getaway to Bali (which is practically impossible in a lockdown) or the Friday night drinks (which does nothing but gives you a bad hangover the day after) but to be clear of what you are living for.

Harari may (or may not) be right that the pursuit of life's meaning is a social construct but regardless, it has become an essential part of human survival and makes us who we are.


"Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope." 

Romans 5:3-4

Saturday, 5 December 2020

Is it okay to be a sad person?

My boyfriend told me that I'm a sad person - not depressed, just sad. I can be happy, like when I take the first sip of coffee every morning, when I finally send a climbing route that I've been attempting again and again, or during that few moments before the sun sets beyond the horizon...but my default emotion is sadness.

Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in The World as Will and Representation that "life swings like a pendulum backward and forward between pain and boredom."

In some ways, I agree with him. I can't imagine a person (by person, I mean an adult who has been through the full spate of experiences that life brings) who is constantly happy. Life, to me, seems to be characterised by occasional spikes of happiness while mostly teetering between sadness and boredom. And I think that's okay. That's manageable.

But what makes it increasingly unbearable is that society tells us it's not okay.

For years upon years, we have subscribed to Paul the Apostle's teaching that there is joy in suffering (Romans 5:3-5) or Buddha's philosophy that all existence is dukkha/suffering (Four Noble Truths). We have long acknowledged that life is filled with suffering and there's no escape from that. And that a huge part about being human is learning to endure through the pain.

But consumerism, which seems to be the religion of today, preaches something entirely different. "You deserve to be happy," they say. GOOD VIBES ONLY is the banner that they fly. "Life is too short to be unhappy" is their motto. As a result, happiness is normalised while sadness, pain and suffering have become oddball. And sad people (like myself?) seem peculiar and at risk. 

But the truth is, many of us - if not most - are high-functioning individuals who are able to hold deep and meaningful conversations (perhaps even on a deeper level than many people if we choose to) and perform well at work. The difference is that we constantly ponder about how fleeting life is and have a more pessimistic worldview. 

But as with every overthinker, I question whether my thought process is even sound in the first place. 

Should I start embracing the sad part of me and telling people that it's okay to not be okay?

Or should I stop reading Schopenhauer and start listening to the ✧ Feel Good Friday ✧ Spotify playlist that I created instead?

Someone, please enlighten me.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

My friend and foe

I feel the wind slapping against my face. My hair is in a mess but that's okay. We're at 120 kilometres per hour but my heart is racing even faster. The city lights loom overhead. They are so beautiful. I dance to the music in my head. I shout at the top of my lungs about just. how. awesome. this. is. The breeze. The speed. The pretty lights. The excitement. The alcohol in my blood. And you. Beautiful you.

But that's just today. Because tomorrow,

Who knows? I may be bawling my eyes out, and hitting my chest as though that would take the heavy, crushing feeling away. I may be hyperaware of what a mess I am; the feelings of despair heightened by Lewis Capaldi on loop. I may be screaming about just. how. terrible. this. is. The stale air that stifles me. My Sisyphean life. My grotesque reflection. The monotony. The alcohol in my blood. And you. Poor you.

But you know, one thing that's for sure is that I will wake up with a hangover tomorrow. 

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

what makes it special

This song.

It takes me back to that attic of yours at the corner of Cowley Road. It wasn’t fancy at all. You had to sleep on the floor so that I could have the bed every time I visited you for the weekend. But we were happy. And of all the songs that were on repeat from the JBL speakers that I got you for your 21st birthday, this is the song that takes me back to that place. 

It has been quite some time now but this song…it still transports me back to that exact moment when you were writing your thesis with the music playing in the background. I can’t remember what I was doing – perhaps watching a show on Netflix, reading a book or writing my own thesis – but I remember marvelling at how engrossed you were, typing away at your keyboard. I’ve always been distracted by the slightest of things – the sound of thunder in a distance, weird noises from your house mate’s room, or the smell of freshly brewed coffee from the kitchen. But for you, you could block off everything else and focus on the task at hand. And it sometimes got on my nerves, when you don’t even hear me calling your name. Maybe it is a guy I thing, I thought. Or maybe it is a you thing.

The years have come and gone – and our hearts have been broken, and healed, and broken and healed again – but what I’ve come to realise is that happiness thrives in the littlest, most unexpected moments. And those moments are when the fondest memories are made. Occasionally, I still think about our spontaneous weekend getaway to Budapest, the sunset over my favourite – oh, my dearest – Santorini, or the night you got down on one knee underneath the Tenerife sky. But the fondest memories that I have with you, and the memories that make it feel like it was just yesterday, are the simple moments in that attic of yours; writing our thesis, eating Chinese takeout while watching DC, and doing our own things at designated corners of the room with this song (among many others) playing in the background. 


The scenery has changed and I’m still the same person who seeks thrill and chase milestones. But I’ve also learned that it’s not always the extravagant and ‘wow’ moments in life that define us. Sometimes, it’s the bottle of Pocari Sweat that you get me in the morning when I have a hangover, the box of McWings and spicy nuggets (and your oversized jacket) that you bring me when I’m on overnight duty, and the evening walks around your estate that make it all so special.

And there's nothing more that I could ever ask for.

Sunday, 25 October 2020



I thought that
by now
I would have been

sipping wine in my own balcony.
writing things that people want to read.
living life to the fullest.

But here I am

lying in bed wondering where did all that lost time go.
constantly reminding myself that life is still worth the living.

Maybe I’ll get there
by the time I am

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Falling like the s t a r s

Theirs was not an earth-shattering kind of love. 

They would probably not have given each other a second glance if not for...
Two broken souls, buddies, two pints of beer.

She was a train wreck, and he never let anyone in.
But he picked her up at her weakest, and she became his strength.
It's not like they filled each other's empty spaces.
They were broken people, in ways that could probably never be fixed.
But in each other, they found a home for their wandering hearts;
A place to stand naked, and be embraced for the wounds and the cuts.

With each other, they experienced in its entirety the other faces of love - jealousy, obsession, insecurity, and lust.
But in spite of that, they tried their best to remember that love is patient, kind, not easily angered, and keeps no records of wrong, so that they could be together for a very, very long time. 

And that is how the not so earth-shattering kind of love became one that made two broken people find the courage to love again. To find that passion that once burned so brightly within them and defined them - as a woman full of faith and a man of big dreams. 

Just that this time, it burned for each other. And this time, they won't let go.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

do u still love me? pt. 2

It has been a long time since he saw his mates. I must put on my best suit, he thought.

The dinner was perfect, as always. Charles always chose the best wine and no matter how long it has been, the boys always caught on like a house on fire whenever they met. 

"How's Gwen?" Charles' wife asked.

"She's great! She just published her third book. I'm so proud of her," he replied.

"Why don't you ask her to come over and say hi?" 

"You know how she is, she's really introverted. She'll come over when she wants to." I wish she was a little more sociable, he thought.

He was exhausted after a long night of conversations. As much as he enjoyed catching up with his mates, he appreciated the long and quiet drives home with his wife. They would listen to whatever tunes were on the radio, and admire the night lights as they drove through the city.

When they got home, he took a nice and warm shower, and crawled into bed beside her. He took out his phone and scrolled his newsfeed. That was his way of winding down for the day.

Before drifting off to sleep, he remembered how beautiful she looked in her satin dress. Far more beautiful and elegant than the girls in crop tops and miniskirts these days. He had the urge to hold her in his arms and close the gap between them. But he saw that she had turned to her side and gone to sleep.

Maybe tomorrow, he thought. I'll tell her how beautiful she looked tomorrow.

Click here for pt 1: her pov.

do u still love me? pt. 1

She glanced across the room and saw him at the other end with a glass of red wine in his hand, chatting and laughing away with his old friends. 

He still got it in him, she thought. Her mind drifted back to the days when he pursued her like nothing else in the world mattered. She didn't quite know who he was back then. He was one among the many suitors that she had. But in his relentless pursuit of her, she started to see his charm. He knew exactly what he wanted in life and would stop at nothing to achieve them. He had a way with words, and never failed to catch the attention of his audience with his fascinating anecdotes and effortless choice of words. In no time, he became the anchor that she needed, in that carefree and directionless life of hers. 

Their journey back home was like any other. He put the radio on. She hummed to her favourite tunes when they were on air. Except that this time, she tried to strike a meaningful conversation. 

"How's the gang? You guys seemed to be having a really good time," she started.

"Same old," he replied.

"I remember how you guys were back in the days..." It was a cue for him to continue with the reminiscence.

Silence. He must be tired.

"The boys orchestrating the whole wedding proposal... It was really something."

"Yeah it was huh." The rest of the ride was silent, except for the songs that were playing on the radio.

Back at home and tucked in bed, he was scrolling through his newsfeed like he did every other night. Occasionally, he would show her something interesting that he came across. She appreciated it. It made her feel that she was somehow still his closest confidant. She read her book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver, until they were both tired and he went to turn the lights off.

She longed for his touch that night, more than any other night. He had looked ravishing in that navy suit of his. She reached out for his waist but drew it back before her hand touched his skin.

She turned to her side, shut her eyes, and for a long time, wondered if things with between Charles (her husband's best man) and his wife were the same before finally falling asleep.

Click here for pt 2: his pov.

Thursday, 17 September 2020

How I cope with anxiety

In response to my previous post, some of you have asked me to share about my own experience in coping with anxiety. Like this,

and this.

And I thought that it was a great idea! Of course, I have to caveat that I am no therapist and whatever I'm going to say is entirely based on my own experience, which frankly really ain't that rosy. Nonetheless, I'm still alive and kickin' so, here goes.

1. Understand what makes you anxious and ask yourself if it is rational

As someone who thrives on the right brain, I am not exactly methodological in my thinking. Yes, we are known to be creative and intuitive but the downside is that we are largely driven by our feelings - and sometimes to our own detriment. As a right-brainer, I catch myself occasionally on a downward spiral of negative emotions, without actually knowing why I am experiencing them.

I read about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) recently and found that their approach in dealing with anxiety and other mental health issues is very helpful. What is CBT? TL;DR, it is a type of therapy that helps you identify the unhealthy and inaccurate thought patterns that you may have, so that you can correct them and lead a happier life ☺

In the context of anxiety, the first step in CBT is to understand what is making you anxious. For me, after many, many years of dating, I finally figured that what makes me most anxious is when my partner is upset, as I automatically associate it with myself and my short-comings (very non-feminist of me, I know). When he has a bad day and is awfully quiet or accidentally lashes out at me, I wonder if I did something wrong. And then I spiral. When I make (in my opinion) a small mistake and he gets upset, I wonder 'what did I do so wrong' and make a mental note never to do it again. As a result, I end up walking on eggshells around the one I love and feel small all the time - which really isn't in my (confident and free-spirited) character. 

After understanding what makes you anxious, the next step is to ask yourself if it is rational. Instead of constantly second-guessing what my partner feels and why he feels that way, I learned to communicate. And I realised that sometimes, a simple 'are you okay?' does the trick. I find out that he's actually not upset with me and I'm then in a better position to offer a listening ear. On occasions when he is upset at me, I've learned to reflect on my mistake and assess whether the proportion of anxiety and guilt that I feel is rational and justified, rather than spiralling immediately. And I realised that most of the time it is not. He is also human and there may be other reasons for his insecurities or the way he reacts. It is not always completely my fault. After coming to that realisation, I'm also in a better place to apologise, make amends, and care for both him and myself.

Of course, this takes conscientious effort and I understand that sometimes, we're frankly too tired to give a damn. This is where point 2 comes into play.

2. Find your modes of escapism and make sure that they are accessible

Ever since I studied in the UK, travelling has been my utmost form of escapism (and I recognise that it is a very privileged thing). When the going gets tough, I think about my upcoming trip and it gets me through the days. COVID-19 has taken that away and I found myself a little more depressed than usual. How did I cope?

Along the coast of California, taken by Yours Truly

I found accessible substitutes that motivate me to get through a difficult day and give me some form of reprieve. Yesss, for me it was Gin and Tonic. I always looked forward to a nice glass of G&T after a long day of work. Of course, I recognised that alcohol has its detriments and that's why I've lately been substituting G&T with a refreshing cup of iced latte (with a pump of sugar syrup) from Huggs Coffee, which seems to have been brewed to perfection for my tastebuds. I hardly go a day without my iced latte (even on weekends) and most of the baristas remember my order now. 

It is the little things that keep you afloat sometimes.

3. Find space to express yourself

Writing (usually using allegory) is my way of connecting with the world, and letting other people know what I feel without actually saying it. 

In most human relationships. you don't always get to express yourself freely unless you bulldoze your way through your conversations. I realised that this can cause a lot of frustration over time and to keep ourselves sane, we need a platform to express how we truly feel. And those who care will make an effort to try and understand what you're trying to say through your unique platforms of self-expression.

Whether its through literature, fashion, art or music, I think self-expression is an important way to keep one's sanity in this pretty insane world. I write dark fiction not to propagate depressive thoughts but to release the pent up frustration that all humans will have at various points in their lives. And I always end up feeling better.


This year has been a really tough year for many people. But I'm grateful that amidst all the hardship, mental health is becoming a topic that is more commonly discussed. We are all human - from the President, to the Generals and the Average Joes like myself. We all have some form of anxiety that we will have to deal with at some point of our life and it's okay to do what it takes to make life a little more bearable. So, let's be kind to each other and slow to judgement, yeah?

Tuesday, 18 August 2020

her name is anxiety

Sitting for a Greek exam did not give her anxiety.
Giving an unrehearsed speech in front of a sea of people did not give her anxiety.
Receiving a call from her boss in the middle of the night did not give her anxiety.
Having less than a thousand dollars in her bank did not give her anxiety.
Seeing a kid almost get hit by a car did not give her anxiety.
Jumping off a cliff and plunging into the dark waters did not give her anxiety.

It was their cautious choice of words that gave her anxiety. It made her believe that she was a ticking bomb, about to explode and kill everyone at the sound of a trigger.

It was their looks of disapproval that gave her anxiety. It reminded her that no matter what she did, she was never going to be good enough.

It was their ‘I love you but…’s that gave her anxiety. It taught her that love wasn’t enough; that one day, perhaps love would run dry.

It was the prayers that they uttered under their breaths that gave her anxiety. It reminded her of what a devil’s child she was.

And then one day, she realised that the only way to purge the anxiety inside of her was to kill them all. And so she did.

her name is anxiety

But instead of peace, all she found was a different source of anxiety. One that stems from guilt, loneliness, and her own dark and mangled mind.

That was when she learned that to put an end to her anxiety, she should not have killed the ones who loved her. She should have killed herself instead.

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Pandemic fatigue

9.25p.m. Here I am, sitting at the edge of my bed, trying to squeeze out every last bit of creative content that I can. It has been more than a month since I wrote for leisure. I’ve been writing staff papers, one after another, being a good staff officer in my new posting.

As someone who thrives on memorable experiences, tranquil moments and breath-taking sceneries, the pandemic has taken a toll on my quality of life. I lack inspiration and drive to do anything other than work.

Travelling has always been an antidote for me, in this world that I never quite felt I belonged. (But then again, I don’t think anyone really does.) Each time I get overwhelmed by work or worn out from constantly trying to get my act together, I tell myself, ‘a little bit more’. A little bit more to my next getaway – to the sound of the majestic ocean, to sipping cocktail by the beach, and to taking a nice, long walk without a care in this world. To. Really. Unplug. No office calls, no alarms, no obligations.

It struck me today that half a year has gone by without me taking a pause – something that I, as an INFP, absolutely need to be in touch with myself. When Circuit Breaker started, I went into a month of isolation in camp and ever since then, I’ve been living my life as though I’m just waiting for the pandemic to be over and life to resume as per normal. And half a year has gone by, just like that.

And so, I realised that I cannot be waiting for the pandemic to be over before trying to find inspiration, be in touch with myself, and do all the mel things once again.

I don’t know when we will be out of the woods but in the meanwhile, I shall uncap my pen, brush the dust off my life journal and start documenting the highs and the lows, the everythings and nothings, once again.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

My silver lining

I wish
the canvas of my life
isn’t filled with

a fish gasping for air at the surface of an obliterated aquarium.

an eroding riverbank, plastered with riprap to contain the floods of yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

stained mascara, scraps of a scrapbook, abandoned toys and a shovel.

and the story of my life
isn’t written with

a weak pulse that stays with me throughout every moment of the day, reminding me that there’s something that my heart still aches for.

a moment of gripping pain that engulfs me in that few minutes between my sobriety and drunkenness.

comedic tragedy, archived memories, the innocence of yesterday and a mental coffin.


if not for these,
I wouldn’t have known

that there’s a place in this world for the misfits and a broken soul.

that even the raging seas can be calmed by a gentle whisper in my ear.

that I can be loved for my delirium, my history, my darkness and my emptiness.

that every cloud has a silver lining, and
that you’re mine.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Midnight downpour

The relentless downpour makes me think that maybe God hates me.

I'm eccentric and you're an overzealous puppy.
Five years from now, will we be in hell?

They say passion's the key to success;
But not without discipline, and a stubborn determination.

Jupiter's calling and my heart is trembling.
The clock strikes twelve; earth to melody.

My reward and my punishment.
My joy and my trepidation.

We're one and the same, remedy and poison.
Or perhaps, a parallel universe, operating in tandem.

The sun will shine down on me tomorrow;
A child of God, I know no sorrow.

But in the meanwhile,
Will you hold me forever, in this never-ending downpour?

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Forgiving yourself

I have found that one of the most difficult things to do in life is to forgive yourself.

Sometimes in life, you make a thoughtless decision that ends up hurting the people you love. Other times, you put a lot of thought into a decision but not the execution, and you end up hurting others anyway. At the point of making the decision, you probably thought that the consequences could not be that great; that it would be worth it for the pursuit of happiness and freedom. But as time goes by, you realise that you might have been wrong. Collateral damage. You did not think of the collateral damage. (Very utilitarian of me, I know.)

To cope with the guilt, you numb your emotions and continue making a string of poor decisions. You spiral. And in this downward spiral of poor decisions, you hurt even more people and your guilt compounds. But at some point of time, you will come to realise that while you think you’re doing a decent job in keeping your emotions at bay, the truth is that it is eating you up from the inside.

You don’t know how to love yourself in a healthy way anymore. While you’re capable of physical intimacy, you distant yourself emotionally from others so that they do not become another victim of your miserable life. (I mean, you have a track record now.) And in doing so, you hurt again. You hurt those who love you and want to help you heal.

When you realise this, you can either choose to keep pushing them away, and continue the paradox of indulging in your guilt while numbing the pain; or you can choose to pull the plug on your stoicism and try to forgive yourself. But of course, it is easier said than done. The toughest part about forgiving yourself is when you know that the people you have hurt are still in pain.

I have been in a very bad place the past year, coping with all sorts of guilt but I think I’m slowly seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s not because I realised that I have been bashing myself up way more than I deserve, or because I have decided to carpe diem. It is because I’m starting to remember what it feels to be loved, in spite of

my wrongdoings,
my guilt,
my pain,
my betrayals,
my shortcomings,
my doubts,
my hatred,
and my rebellion.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 
2 Corinthians 12:9

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Of madness, discourse and gaslighting

I’ve been slightly obsessed with Shakespeare’s Hamlet the past few days, and came across this short article that I really enjoyed while doing some research. 

For those how haven’t read or watched Hamlet, (I hope my summary does justice) it tells the story of a prince (Hamlet) whose father (King Hamlet) was murdered by his uncle (Claudius, King Hamlet’s brother) in order to marry the Queen and become the new King. Throughout the entire play, Hamlet plots the revenge for his father’s death while his uncle discredits him by calling him out as a mad person. Of course, there are many other things going on in the play but I will dwell on the theme of madness as it is what the article explores.

The article discusses the concept of madness and argues that it is a “subjective and political term.” A person is considered to be mad when he or she behaves in a way that lies outside of societal norms. As societal norms are subjective, so is madness. And by branding someone as mad, it denies them of rights that are accrued to a “normal person”. They are seen as incapable of logic, different and dangerous – “the Other”. This can be used as a form of power play, as observed in Hamlet, where King Claudius’ declaration of Hamlet as a madman causes him to be an outcast. Hence, madness is also political.

Here, the author introduces the idea of discourse (which is the use of language), as espoused by Foucault, and how powerful it is in establishing social hierarchies and achieving personal agendas:

“And, of course, as long as those in power have the ability to define difference as abnormal and insane…they can eradicate any democratic change or disparate voices.”

He then discusses the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey, which tells the story of patients in a mental hospital who are afraid to question the harsh governance of the hospital until the arrival of the protagonist, McMurphy. In one scene, the patients are afraid to take a vote on watching the TV in the afternoon, as they are afraid of the consequences. The author observes that the patients are afraid to vote not because they do not have the capacity to do so but because stepping out of their “safe world of insanity” involves significant risks. He also observed that many of the patients are in fact pretty intelligent and “very able to speak for themselves.” However, they accept the label of insanity and as a result,

“Insanity has usurped them of their voices, their decision making process, even their ability to think.”

What I then realised is that this (the power of discourse) applies to all sorts of relationships – between family, friends, couples and people at work. And hence the phrase “politics is everywhere.”

When discussing gender roles, the author observes that “man is given words of strength while women are named after flowers and treated as the inferior of the two opposing terms.” Let me illustrate. When telling a man to take courage, we use phrases like “man up!”, or more crudely, “grow some balls”. On the contrary, when shaming him for his lack of courage, we use phrases like “stop being a pussy” and “stop crying like a girl”. We may not realise it but these are politicized, gendered terms which empowers a group of people (in this case, men) while oppressing the other (women).

At work, I see it in play with the NSFs. It is convenient to dismiss them as “lazy”, “opportunistic” and “always trying to cheat the system”. Before a new batch of NSFs are given the chance to prove themselves, they are already treated with distrust. As a result, we end up breeding cohorts of NSFs who believe that they cannot make a change in their two years of National Service, and squander it away by giving their bare minimum.

Between a couple, you may find that one is always right while the other is always in the wrong. Perhaps, it is true that the one who is right is indeed right most of the time. However, there is also the case where over time, by using phrases like “you’re crazy”, “you’re being oversensitive” or “you don’t make sense”, one may be able to cause the other to doubt their own thoughts and opinions – gaslighting.
As a victim of gaslighting, you would be less likely to speak up about the injustice you might feel in the relationship, as you constantly question yourself if your thoughts are rational and your opinions, fair. You bite your tongue and swallow your pride, letting your partner get his or her way, again and again. Once again, we see how powerful discourse is in establishing dominance.

In Hamlet, Hamlet gets his revenge eventually by embracing his madness, as he realised that “living within this word’s social meaning will liberate him to probe and investigate, to ask questions that would otherwise not be suitable for a prince.” But it is nonetheless a tragic ending – he dies as a madman. For the rest of us who are not pursuing revenge or some other lofty ideal, the best thing we can do is probably to understand the power of discourse and not fall prey to its use as an instrument of oppression. And of course, to not become the oppressor.

Monday, 27 April 2020

It's raining outside

I look out of the window – that one window which gives me a peek of the world outside my isolation room. It has been exactly three weeks now; three weeks since I packed my duffel bag and stepped into a month of confinement with my Platoon boys. Outside, I see the usual Bus 90 go by. If I had boarded it, I would have gotten home in less than 25 minutes. But I can’t; we’ve got one more week to go.

All of a sudden, it starts pouring. From where I am, in the isolation room, I can’t hear the sound of the raindrops falling; but I see the grey skies, swaying trees and showers from above. “It is raining outside,” I think to myself. And then I realise that I haven’t thought about the weather for a long time now. There is no need to when you’re indoors every day, every hour, and every minute. I think about how life has changed so drastically in a matter of weeks; how no one can say for sure what will happen tomorrow, and how the Muslims got it right with the use of “Inshallah” (if God wills) when speaking of future events.

And I think about how we tend to plan for a single trajectory in life – be it to marry the love of your life and start a happy family, to travel the world and live a carefree life or to climb the corporate ladder and claim a C-suite title – but the reality is that sometimes, things happen unexpectedly that would throw you off your path or set you back for some time. A broken marriage. A death of a loved one. An illness. Retrenchment.

Yet, in all these, there is hope. The human race is the most resilient species in the history of the world, and that is why we are still here today in spite of natural disasters, world wars and global pandemics. We adapt. We work together and find solutions. And we make the most out of every situation.

In the midst of this circuit breaker, as families and loved ones are apart, business is bad, and we are all lacking a bit of Vitamin D, I see, on Instagram (my social media window), people being socially responsible and making essential trips with their masks on, making special arrangements to make sure that their friends’ birthdays are not forgotten, displaying hidden talents that I never knew they had, and eating healthily with their scrumptious home-cooked meals.

So, let us continue to mask on, support our local businesses, whip up a feast, read a book, TikTok away, Houseparty your loved ones, pick up a new skill and work for those abs that you’ve always wanted until this rain finally stops and we can all bask in the sun again.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Unwanted rags

She just wanted to be loved;
to be happy, to be free.

A couple of left turns.
I’m sorry.
Death of a loved one,
by murder. Stone cold murder.
Medicine or poison?
Bottoms up.
Friend or lover?
Maybe a pet.
Karma’s a bitch.

She just wanted to be loved;
to be happy, to be free.
But what’s left of her are
unwanted rags, a broken soul, hangovers;
caged by her own guilt.

But still,
you want me.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

My pandemic lessons

I’m not the type of person who would go on a Staycation – I mean, wouldn’t you rather spend the money on a short getaway instead? Last weekend, I went on a Staycation for the first time in my life. I was supposed to be on Overseas Leave but because of the travel ban, I had to settle with a makeshift vacation in the heartland of my bustling city. The silver lining was free flow alcohol between six to eight, and of course, the company.

I got a call from my boss on Saturday, in the middle of Staycay. I was to report to camp with my platoon on Monday at 2200H for a one-month isolation, as part of the nation’s effort for the Circuit Breaker. Yes, I am a Platoon Commander and also an essential worker. The rest of Staycay was a combination of scrambling to make sure everything was in place for the team by H-hour and trying to savour every last bit of freedom before going back to confinement. It was a mess, but I’m thankful for the Staycay nonetheless.

Like everyone else who was preparing for lockdown, I experienced a mix of dread (mainly because I won’t be able to see my loved ones for some time) and apprehension while understanding why I had to do what was expected of me.

It has been five days since we have been confined in camp; and instead of having to find ways to kill time or keep myself sane, I find myself having a very enriching time and being more grateful than ever.

Let’s rewind. I stepped into camp on Monday evening and saw that everything – and I mean bunk beds, new pillows and bedding, a large stash of snacks, and a bottle of water, a hand towel nicely folded into the shape of a bunny, and a welcome card lying on our individual beds – was prepared for us. And within the next two days, we had WiFi, a Washer cum Dryer, water heater and air purifiers set up for us. Whenever someone sends me a text to check on how the team is doing, the first thing I say is that the logistics team really outdid themselves. I never imagined that living in camp could be this comfortable. And I suppose the same can be said for the people outside, working at the back end to ensure that the Circuit Breaker causes as little inconvenience as possible. Thank you.

I have been a PC for a year now and as soon as this isolation is over, I will be taking on a new role as a Staff Officer. I think one of my greatest regrets as a PC is that I didn’t invest much time in my NSFs. At work, fulfilling our primary task already takes up all our working hours – and even more – that we have to sort the rest of our tasks in order of priority. For me, admin always ranks at the bottom, and I think this applies to many other officers. It is only after fulfilling the requirements from the higher ups that I would remember to approve my boys’ offs and leaves, think about who to nominate for Soldier of the Month and so on. This leaves me absolutely no time to get to know them or listen to their concerns, apart from the periodic PC interview, in which they never ever raise any concerns.

This isolation with them gave me a chance, for the first time, to get to know them (not all, but at least the more vocal ones) properly – their BMT stories, their grievances in unit, their aspirations, etc. And what I learned from speaking to some of them over the past few days is that there is so much more potential in engaging your people as individuals with a mind of their own rather than as economic digits.

Large organisations have the tendency to create blanket policies for their people, for the sheer reason of efficiency. It’s all about generating results. The big picture. Why? “There are just too many people and we do not have the resources to adopt a targeted approach.” The problem with this is that we are dealing with human beings who think and are motivated differently. And this is why you find that in any form of governance, there will always be some form of opposition – of course unless you persistently eliminate them. In my conversations with the NSFs, I came to realise three things: (1) many of them have brilliant minds, (2) but they are motivated differently – some use their intellect to better the unit while others think of ways to slip through the loopholes; and (3) they are being “dumbed-down” by the way we perceive and treat lead them. What these imply is that the traditional army-way of treating our soldiers (i.e. ordering them to do something with no questions asked) doesn’t work anymore. Our young people nowadays are way more inquisitive, want to be heard and will do a good job if they are convinced of why it is necessary.

Obviously, we can’t expect our Commanders to engage every soldier individually and I think this is where my role as a PC comes in – as a street-level bureaucrat. We should be the ones to find out what matters to each soldier, make them feel important and cared for, explain to them the rationale of each policy, and be their voice to the decision-makers. Again, this applies elsewhere – in schools, in MNCs, and in politics.

In the past year I have been racing tirelessly to meet requirement after requirement, but to what end? The work gets done but our people’s morale is low, and they do not feel valued. I wrote earlier this year that it is the people who make up the organisation. People and not digits. I’m thankful for this opportunity to get to know my people better and I wish I had made time to do so earlier.

During this period of time, let’s remember to be grateful to our back end workers and do the things we never really made time to do in our busy schedules, yeah?

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Six years a blogger

I've never seen myself as a good writer, or even a writer. I was never particularly good at English compositions or GP essays. The first time that I found out I was mildly interested in writing was when I won the writing competition as a Recruit in my BMTC cohort. Basic Military Training was coming to an end and we were asked to write about our most memorable moment. I wrote about the night in my shell scrape during our one-week field camp. I had just received my A level results, and did not meet the academic conditions of the scholarship that was offered to me; but I decided to continue serving the Army anyway. I remember tearing up in my shell scrape, trying to stifle a sob in that pin-drop silence, as the moon shone down on our weary faces, feeling like an utter disappointment and unsure if I had made the right decision. But I also remember turning to my left and right, seeing my buddies around me, and thinking that this was so-damn-worth-it. Somehow, my story moved Commander BMTC, and I ended up reading it on the podium in front of three schools of Recruits. So yes, I've known writing about as long as I've known how to be a soldier.

I wrote my first blog post on 4 April 2014. I didn't really know what I was doing then, or what the blog would eventually look like. I wasn't even sure if anyone was going to read it. On hindsight, it was really quite a trashy post; but I liked it. 314 people read it - enough for me to continue writing the next one.

And then, over the next six years, I wrote about all sorts of things. I wrote about my travels; about my university experience, and about the people that I loved. For a brief period, I wrote advertorials, which I later realised I didn't quite enjoy. I also wrote about politics, about religion and my experiences in the military. And I wrote fiction, to hide the real pain I felt inside. But what I wrote most about was my seven-year relationship, which I was so proud of. About how we grew as a couple, our anniversaries, our engagement, and eventually, our break up. And I wrote about my struggle with mental health.

After my break up, I considered deleting some of my old posts but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. My blog, my writing, has seen me through my growing-up years. My coming of age. When there's a reason to celebrate, I write. When I feel an overwhelming sense of despair, I write. When I contemplate about life, I write. When I have nowhere to air my grievances about the injustice in this world, I write. Each post carries a piece of me; and when you stitch them together, this blog tells my life story.

I want to keep writing till the day I die. To write of the mistakes that I will continue to make. The things that convict me and make me who I am. The person that I will fall in love with. The countries that I will travel to once this pandemic dies down.

Today, I celebrate six years of writing this blog. To all of you who are reading it, thank you for walking this journey with me. I'm not the type of person to share my dark thoughts and struggles with my family or friends; so, by spending time exploring this intimate space of mine, you've become a dear friend that I sincerely appreciate. 

Monday, 30 March 2020


Life is like a disease that we try to cope with; to survive.
And family, friends, art, travel and love are our medicine.
Until, one day, the disease takes us away for good.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

A fleeting chapter

He found her at the corner of the bar, with a glass of Japanese whisky in her hand. She caught his eye with her luscious hair that fell perfectly on her shoulders. From afar, she looked like the confident and positive type; but at closer glance, she reminded him of an abandoned kitten that had lost its way. And it tugged at his heartstrings; made him want to put all of his time and energy into caring for her.

She pushed him away at first; told him that she did not have the capacity to love and care for another, and that she was, damaged. But it didn't shake his resolve. He wanted to fix the broken pieces of her heart - piece by piece, to show her all the beauty that this world had to offer, and to make her whole again. Reluctantly, she accepted his kind gesture, cautioning him that she will never be able to do the same for him.

Months went by like this. She would call him when she needed a drinking buddy, and he would show up almost immediately. He would stroke her back until she stopped sobbing, and use innovative ways to make her smile again. Subconsciously, she found herself crying less and less, and laughing more.

Till one day, she found the confidence to fly again. 

She spread her wings and soared into the sky, searching for a new place to call home, to rebuild her life once again. 

But there he sat there in the muddy swamp, sinking deeper and deeper with the burden of her tears and pain weighing down on him.


He still frequents the bar hoping to catch sight of her, hoping that she would one day return and be the one to mend his brokenness.

But she never came back.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

My last letter to you

398 days.

It has been exactly 398 days since the day I left you.

I have lived in guilt ever since, constantly apologising for the hurt I've caused, which I know can never be undone. But when I saw your picture with her three days ago, I felt a sense of relief. I felt relieved that you have finally moved past the hurt and learned to love again - something that I'm still in the midst of learning.

I confessed to you on the 17th of January 2012. We were preparing for our A Levels back then, but that didn't stop us from dating. I mean, what could be more important than true love when you're eighteen?

Seven years of loving each other went by like that; of which, four were spent abroad and eventually became what I call the happiest four years of my life. Of course, there were many occasions when we bickered and hurled nasty words at each other; but each time, love conquered all. 

Well, not all. It all started to fall apart when we returned home for good in the fall of 2018. Life was no longer eat-sleep-study-play-repeat. It was much more than that. There was now family, work, wedding planning, and many other "life things" that we had to juggle. 

On the 21st of January 2019, I wanted out. I was sick of the expectations that I had from everyone, including you. I was tired of living for anyone else but myself; and I made the selfish decision to f*ck commitment and embrace my "free spirit". I thought I was doing something noble but on hindsight, all I did was to take for granted the trust that we painstakingly built over the past seven years and ended up hurting you.

They call it the "gift of hindsight" because you only realise something after it has happened. While I eventually came to see that we were indeed pretty incompatible, I also realised that the way I handled the break up was very immature. All I thought about was myself but that is not what love is. 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. 

- 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

I didn't love you the way I should have. 

I'm writing this today because this will be my final apology. Seeing you happy again has put my heart at ease that I can now find my own happiness without feeling remorseful or regretful anymore. I hope that through this experience, I've matured and learned how to love properly, and I'm deeply sorry that you had to be the scapegoat. And I'm sorry for the times when I blamed you for the break up when I single-handedly drew the final stroke.

It struck me a couple of weeks back that if the break up did not happen, we would've been married by then. In years to come, we may have been a Marshall-and-Lily, or we may have realised that we made a mistake but have to work it out anyway because we made a vow to God and to each other. God knows. But if we throw away this linear perspective of things, I guess we can start to appreciate the seven years that we spent together for what it was worth. 

People come and people go, but some stay for a lifetime. You were my rock and I never imagined saying goodbye to you, ever. It's funny how everything can change in a matter of months, or even days; moreover, change in such a way that it takes your life on an entirely different path. 

I hope you're on a better path now, and I thank you for the seven years that gave my life so much meaning. We will still bump into each other at the climbing gym, at gatherings and perhaps at work. We will still drop each other a text once in awhile to check how the other person's doing. We probably won't be the best of friends but we will still care about each other. So I look forward to one day hearing and sharing the stories that we would've then created, in a life apart from each other. Till then, my friend of 15 years.


And to my readers, I know how hypocritical I sound, having written about the resilience of love for the past few years, only to fail at loving the one I held most dear. I've come to realise that while it is easy to write about rainbows and butterflies when things are going smoothly, it is extremely difficult to walk the talk when the rubber hits the road. I hope that rather than discrediting me as a writer, you'll continue following me through this coming-of-age story of mine. I will keep growing, and sharing with you my experiences in the most raw and genuine way possible. 

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Sinking deeper

I used to feel sad; I used to cry. I used to feel frustrated; I used to scream. I used to feel disappointed; I used to write. But right now, I don't feel anything anymore. All I feel is this profound sense of emptiness, almost as if there's a physical hole in my heart. I can't cry; the tears wouldn't come. I can't scream; our voices are drowned out by bigger things in this world anyway. I can't write; my inspiration is running dry as I sink into this never-ending abyss.


I see their hands reaching out for me, 
trying to pull me out of this eternal state of damnation.
I want to hold on to them,
but all I know is trepidation.

And then amidst the tepid gestures,
He stretches out His arm and offers liberation.

But as I inch a step towards Him,
fear grips me and breaks my resolution.

Maybe one day I'll find the courage,
to love and be broken and to love again.
But till then I'll keep floating in this sea of Whisky and Gin,
so that I may be on top of my pain.

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

The prodigal girl

Have you heard of the parable of the prodigal son? Of how he left home with all of his inheritance, squandered it away, and eventually decided to go home and apologise to his father? Of course, we all know it was a happy ending. To the prodigal son's pleasant surprise, he was welcomed with open arms, and a feast was thrown in celebration of his return. Now, let me tell you a much bleaker story about the prodigal girl...

Once upon a time, there was a girl who grew up in a sheltered home. She was well-loved, and had no lack. Like the prodigal son, food was put on the table for her every day, she had a whole wardrobe of flamboyant clothes, and even travelled to far places! Of course, she had her occasional squabbles with her family - that's what families do - but she was generally a happy person. Not until her coming of age.

As she grew older and started to have a mind of her own, she came to realise how much she was missing out in life. Instead of counting her blessings, she started to covet for what others had that she didn't. Perhaps, it was a quarter-life crisis. As the days went by, her unhappiness compounded at an exponential rate till one day, she snapped. She packed her bags and left to explore the world on her own.

And it was a fascinating world indeed. Some days, she woke up to the sound of the waves lapping against the shore. Some days, she woke up to the hustle and bustle of the city. And on other days, she woke up with a hangover. But as with everything else, the law of marginal utility started to kick in and in no time, she sorely missed home. She wondered what home was like without her; wondered if home was still even there.

Some time later, she decided to check it out for herself and to her dismay, it was no longer there. She searched high and low, and asked the neighbours if they knew where her family went (after all, home was the people and not the building) but no one knew.

Crestfallen, she walked away to continue her journey of life on her own. She still woke up to birds chirping, waterfalls pouring, and other things that made her heart sing. But none of which she could ever call home.

So, this is the story of the prodigal girl and how she became homeless. I hope that one day she will find some place she can call home again.

Friday, 24 January 2020

Organisation with a heart ♡

How would one describe the public sector? Some would say 'a heart of service', 'welfare' or 'compassionate'; while other would say 'inefficient', 'bureaucratic' or 'uncompromising'. I guess it all depends on whether you are looking outwards or inwards. To its beneficiaries, the public sector shows compassion and kindness, or at least attempts to put on such a facade. But to its workers, it tends to appear cold, harsh, and even heartless at times (and I am speaking with the perspective of someone who works in the public sector).

At the birth of an organisation, the vision, roles, rules and relationships (what we call the V3R framework) are being set. However, as human beings, we tend to have different interpretations of the same vision, role, rule or relationship; and hence, problems and conflicts arise. To remove ambiguity and ensure that everyone is 'on the same page', standard operating procedures (SOPs in short) are written and are expected to be abided to at all cost. And as more problems arise, more areas of ambiguity are uncovered and more SOPs are written.

Over time, before every action or decision is made, one has to go through a series of SOPs to ensure that there are no negative repercussions for him or her. As a result, the room for individual discretion narrows significantly and any diversion from the norm warrants an investigation or some form of punishment. As someone who values freedom and kindness above everything else, I believe that while it is necessary to have a set of guidelines on how we should act and make decision, we should learn to take it with a pinch of salt. It is not the law; and even the law requires some level of human discretion. Furthermore, just as the law is not timeless, SOPs need to be reviewed, and challenged, over and over again to ensure that they keep up with the times.

I think my point is, we cannot and should not dehumanise the organisation. We cannot remove human agency from the organisation. While setting SOPs do indeed help to remove ambiguity and improve efficiency in certain situations, they should be practised with kindness and, frankly speaking, some common sense. The organisation is not a building, or a set of rules. It is the people who make up the organisation, no matter how big it may be. And so, it is absolutely possible to have an organisation with a heart.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Travel Haikus

Rows of wooden casks.
The scent of roasted barley.
Best pint of Guinness.
-Guinness Storehouse, Dublin

Drunk and angry fans,
"Take me home, United Road."
Full time whistle blows.
-Old Trafford, Manchester

A cold, silent night.
Glitter spilled across the sky.
The fire that burns.
-Sahara Desert, Morocco

Frozen in the night.
Green hues dancing above head.
My heart skips a beat.
-Reykjavik, Iceland

Latin inscriptions.
I still hear the ancient cries,
and tourist chatters.
-Colosseum, Rome

Sea of white and blue - 
that is where my heart belongs.
And my regrets, too.
-Santorini, Greece
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