#91 uncertainties

The last week of 2017 is quite a strange week.

For the bulk of 2017, life has been busy, hectic and fast. All of a sudden, towards the end of November, things slowed down rather dramatically as teachers and students go off for their well-deserved year-end holidays. Work starts in a few days and it is hard to explain succinctly how I feel at the moment. I feel excited to get started again, to educate young minds and to stretch their potential. I feel worried as I wonder if I am good enough for the tasks ahead in the new year, if I will make the same mistakes as I did last year, if the old mistakes will ever come back to haunt me and if there will come a day when I feel good enough. But maybe we are all in the midst of figuring things out and everyone around me is also trying, learning and figuring. We can’t be perfect but we can become better versions of ourselves. I feel a tinge of resignation too as I imagine how the things that I don’t like will repeat themselves in 2018 and how people just don’t change, at least not over a course of 30 days.

Some people tell me that thinking doesn’t help and I should just take it as it comes, or just “wing it”. But I think it is important to think and prioritize because it’s easy to get too involved with the details when the time comes. Looking back, transiting between 2016 and 2017 was much more uncertain  as compared to the 2017-2018 transition. I didn’t know which school I was posted to and I didn’t know what was expected of me as a full-fledged teacher. Looking ahead, I am aware of my roles and responsibilities in the coming year and I have a sense of what I will be doing at different time points next year. What I would like to do better next year will be to manage the many roles and responsibilities better. I want to be a responsible member of the team but at the same time, I also don’t want to over-stretch myself at work because there are other responsibilities in life. There are things and people that are more important than work itself. So here’s a shortlist of guidelines so that I will stay focused on the important things in 2018:

  1. Shape minds and hearts. Remember why you are in it.
  2. Think before saying yes to tasks. You can’t do everything.
  3. Don’t compare. Everyone is different and everyone has different sets of struggles and priorities.
  4. Don’t get too involved in politics.
  5. Stay grateful and don’t take things for granted.
  6. Let go. Don’t be too hard on yourself.
  7. Try not to get too emotionally attached to work.
  8. Speak up when necessary.
  9. Fight for your rights.
  10. Stay positive.

Just like how Robert Frost puts it, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” Whatever happens, life goes on. So I got to keep my chin up and keep going no matter what. Believe in yourself kid, you got this.

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#90 an unknown artist

M and I were in a music bar in Taipei when we met the “unknown artist”. He came on stage and rocked the bar with a Bon Jovi song before introducing himself. He is a middle-aged man and he has quite a powerful voice. I don’t remember his name but I remember his self-deprecating mannerism which was quite different from the younger female singer before him who was much more idealistic and happier. 

Someone in the crowd submitted a song request for his song and his response was “maybe you saw this guy on stage and you decided to Google him and you just picked one of his songs that seem more popular. And then you decided to find the song on youtube but it has already been taken down.” He sang his song anyway which was actually quite a nice and sad love song. At the end of the song, he said, “Maybe I should go back to singing other people’s songs that are more famous.” He also went on to talk about how he only got invited to sing at this music bar because a more famous singer asked the music bar to do so.

Something about how he spoke makes me feel sad. I imagine how he probably started his music dream a few decades ago and at that time, he was more passionate and idealistic. Over time, reality crept in and eroded his passion, dreams and hopes. After all, what are dreams made up of? People dream when they still believe that good things can happen to them and the life they have imagined will come true one day. Some people also said that we shouldn’t hold onto dreams for too long. But how do we know when is too long? Do dreams expire? Or do they evolve?

#89 a supermarket in Finland

I don’t remember exactly where this incident took place in Finland but the episode reminds rather vivid in my mind.

The four of us were shopping for groceries in a supermarket and we wanted to buy some bread for breakfast on the following day. I placed some bread inside a bag and I was about to check out another aisle when Y stopped me. She pointed out that there was a price tag on the bag and she picked up another bag and said that the price tag on this bag was different. She asked if we should check out whether our selected breads belonged to the cheaper or more expensive category. I told her, rather firmly, that there was no need to and that the results would be the same.

In the end, we checked out with the more expensive bag and yes, we overpaid for our breads. They belonged to the cheaper category. 

A while after the incident, I apologised to Y, “I am sorry for being so stubborn at times.”

Y replied, “It is okay, I think we are quite similar in that aspect.”

I recently read a book called “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough and he pointed out that the same character traits that make up the character strengths can also be the character weaknesses. I can be decisive and determined and I form opinions on my own. This can make things in my life proceed faster than the way they do in others’ lives. This also means that sometimes people are drawn to me because they feel that I have a mind of my own and I don’t dance to the tunes of other people just because that’s the easier option. But because of these same character traits, I can also appear too righteous and I can turn a deaf ear to well meaning advice from other people. 

I need to be more cognizant of my weakness. Listen more, don’t assume you are always right.

“Cause the very thing that make you could be the thing that break you.” -Passenger, the one you love

faces and places (Oct – Dec ’17)

These last three months of 2017 are mostly made up of adventures, travels, retreats and learning journeys. It has been a great period of time for me to learn more about the people who are close to me as well as the people around me. There were several new experiences that I just realized I just need to figure out as I go along. But increasingly, I am beginning to realize that the people around me don’t know everything too and that they are also in the process of figuring things out too and adjusting to their roles. I also travelled more in this last three months of 2017 and seeing more of the world always reminds me how small Singapore is and how sometimes we simply over-think about the small stuff. We aren’t perfect and we aren’t robots so it’s important to forgive ourselves for the mistakes made and move on from there. Sometimes I realize I worry too much about how others may perceive me and because of that, I become afraid of being myself. I need to learn to worry less about what others think. After all, I can’t control their thoughts and sometimes the eyes only see what the mind is ready to comprehend. I hope that in 2018, I will focus more on the tasks and the important people and listen less to the noise around me. Here are some snippets of the last 3 months of 2017 to remind myself of the most important people in my life 🙂

14/10/17

Mervin has never been to the River Safari before so on a nice Saturday afternoon, we visited the River Safari together. The last time I was at the River Safari was about a year ago and I must say that the animals, especially the sea creatures, have grown quite huge and the space given to them seems inadequate. We also did both river cruises – a river cruise down the reservoir and the Amazon river cruise. The first river cruise was rather unsurprising while the second river cruise felt like a ride in an amusement park with animals at the side. Dining wise, we ate the panda buns at the cafe and drank fancy hand brew coffee at the newly opened Starbucks near the ticket gate. Here is a happy picture of us with the panda. 🙂

26/10/17

My dad happened to get hold of WTA Finals Singapore Championship tickets one weekday night so we did a double date that night. We watched the match between Venus Williams and Garbine Muguruza. It was a close match but in the end, Venus won in 3 sets. The tennis was rather boring for that match as both sides just made many unforced errors, including several double faults. Nonetheless, it was a great night with great company.

27/10/17

NUS Department of Chemistry organised an 88th anniversary dinner at Fullerton Hotel one Friday evening. At the invitation of Dr Ang, several alumni of his group from different batches came together to enjoy an evening together. We won the table game; I guess we were all feeling rather competitive that night. It was quite funny that some juniors who graduated two years after me have heard of me even though we have never met before. It was also a coincidence that they are also in teaching so they asked if I had any advice for them. What I told them was to stay, or at least appear, receptive to feedback from the senior teachers and not to be too bothered by what others say. I told them people can be quite negative but don’t allow their negativity to get you down. Whatever it is, always put your best foot forward and love yourself.

It was also the evening when I met the group members from Mervin’s lab as well as his boss. His boss shook my hand enthusiastically and even invited me to take a picture with his group. The funniest part of the evening was when his boss went up to Dr Ang, shook his hand and told him that she didn’t know that Mervin was dating someone from his group. We thought it was quite a funny yet sweet scene.

04/11/17

Hortpark had a Community Garden Festival over a weekend in November. Mervin agreed to check out the festival with me. It was quite funny as it turned out to be a work outing for me as I enthusiastically took photos of many edible crops growing in Hortpark, information about the plants and information about various suppliers of garden-related materials. It’s interesting to see that so many Singaporeans are fond of gardening. I guess there is a certain joy in watching how plants grow and bear fruits under our love and care. After the outing to Hortpark, we walked to Labrador Park to see the mangroves before proceeding to Vivocity for a nice lunch. Here is a happy picture of us in front of a beautiful green wall.

11/11/17

Mervin and I did a quick 2D1N getaway to Bintan one weekend. We stayed at the Canopi. It was supposed to be a glamping experience but it was quite a luxurious stay. The only thing that remotely resembles glamping is the outdoors toilet attached to our “tent”. In our “tent”, we were able to enjoy the modern comforts of A/C while watching television and using Wifi. We did a massage, took a boat ride down a mangrove at night to get to a seafood kelong, swam in the very over-sized, crystal-blue swimming pool and rode on paddle boats on the same water body. All in all, it was a much needed getaway after a very busy semester and time together is always gold. Here’s a picture of us at our toilet attached to our “tent”. 🙂

25/11/17

Mervin and I did a 10-day trip to Taiwan and funnily, we ended up spending 5 days on an outlying island – Green Island. The reason was that due to bad weather, the ferries and flights out of the island were all cancelled so we had to stay an extra two days on the island. Green Island is a small island so we spent time examining different coastal features, exploring different parts of the island, learning about white terror in Taiwan and snorkeling. Besides Green Island, we also visited Taipei, Hualien and Taitung. Things did not really go as we have planned but it was, all in all, a really great trip and we learnt more about and from each other through the trip. One night in Taipei, we went to a music bar and it was nice to eat and drink while listening to good music and that was quite memorable too. Here is a happy picture of us at a hipster cultural park in Taipei. Can’t wait for the next adventure together.

03/12/17

On the last night in Taipei, I also arranged to meet Shufen. It was such a coincidence that she happened to be travelling alone in Taiwan and also happened to be in Taipei on that night. We hung out at the night market and we shared our travel adventures and misadventures in Taiwan with each other. She is such a funny, bubbly, outgoing girl and that was such an enjoyable night. It’s funny to think that I only got to know her a year ago on my trip to Finland. This is the third country that we have hung out together. Can’t wait to see her again in March in China.

06/12/17

This birthday is different from the ones before. On this day, we went to fetch my brother at the airport as he planned his return trip from London such that he would be in Singapore on my birthday. My family, my aunt, my grandma and Mervin came together for a nice dinner at the Wine Connection. Mervin was so sweet to get a rum cake from awfully chocolate and gifts for me. And for this birthday, I didn’t make grand wishes, I just wished for the people around this table to stay safe and healthy in 2018 and I wished that they would all be here to celebrate my birthday next year. 🙂 I suppose the older you get, the more you come to understand that you can’t take things for granted. It is human nature to look out for more and for the next big thing but at the same time, it is also important to take care of and appreciate the most important people in your life. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

15/12/17

I did a week-long trip to Tasmania with my family. It was also incidentally my first road trip as a driver. My brother and I took turns to drive (2 hours interval). The roads were great, except they got rather too winding near Cradle Mountain and that in general, there were too many road kills in Tasmania. On average, it has been estimated that 35 animals are killed in road kills in Tasmania every hour. For me, this road trip is important as it helps me to come to terms with some things. I come to understand that some things are beyond me and sometimes certain things happen to people for no reason. Some say it’s fate while others say it’s in the destiny of the person so I have to learn to accept it.

Tasmania is a beautiful country – we saw a wide range of coastal features, we saw wild animals (>30 wild wombats!), we visited the biggest privately owned lavender farm in the world, we visited the best conserved convict site in Australia, we saw big trees and waterfalls and we went up a mountain. Most importantly, it was nice to travel together and create fond memories together. Here’s a happy picture of us at the Bay of Fires. Looking forward to the next trip together.

#88 new year resolutions

It’s the time of the year to take stock of things that happened in 2017, let go of certain things and try to put up a list of things to do in 2018. 2017 presents its own set of challenges. I learnt to bother less about what others may perceive me; I learnt to communicate more openly, frankly and effectively through the most appropriate channels; I learnt to better prioritize things and people. There were moments of unhappiness and frustration and I hope that in 2018, I would handle them better than I did in 2017. I am sure 2018 will be very different from 2017 and it will be yet another exciting year. After all, what is the fun if we just do life the same way year after year? I hope that the new perspectives will help me in the upcoming year and I hope that I will stay true to myself come what may.

So here is the list of things I wish to do in 2018:

  1. Exercise twice a week.
  2. Read at least one book a month.
  3. Hike at least once a month.
  4. Join baking class.
  5. Join a dancing class.
  6. Check Instagram at most five times a day.
  7. Check Facebook at most five times a day.
  8. Get to know a new person a week – be less self-centred.
  9. Learn how to play a Ukelele.
  10. Get one star kayak certification.
  11. Ride on a camel in a desert.
  12. Live more, worry less.

#87 of bento and train ticket refund

M and I initially planned to stay on Green Island for 3 days. Unfortunately, there were some changes to the weather conditions and the wind became really strong on the third day. The strong winds made it impossible for the ferries to sail or planes to fly. So effectively, we were grounded on the island and there was no way for us to leave the island on that day. The wind was forecasted to remain rather strong the day after so we could only leave the island on day 5.

As a result of the change in weather conditions, we were forced to change our travel plans. We had to change our flight booking from Taipei to Singapore and we also had to make new arrangements to get from Taitung to Taipei. Initially we planned to take the train on day 3 and we had already printed the tickets. So we tried to buy train tickets at FamilyMart for the trains scheduled to depart 2 days later. There were numerous people who were lining up for the one multi-purpose machine to buy new tickets and get refund for old tickets.

As we were waiting in line, the cashier commented, “There were many people this morning who came to get a refund for their train tickets. The processing fees collected this morning for the refund for the train tickets are enough to buy a bento here.” She paused and pointed at the empty shelves where the bentos should be. “But even if you have money, there are no bentos because there is no ferry.”

It was a humbling moment for us and we were reminded that money can’t always get you what you want. So in such situations, when you can’t get what you want, you got to learn to love the things you got. Humans are resilient and are capable of surviving on less.

In the end, there were no train tickets left to take us from Taitung to Taipei so we had to purchase plane tickets instead. Buying plane tickets at a convenience store, what a uniquely Taiwan experience it was.

#86 the car rental on green island

M and I took the ferry across the Pacific Ocean from Taitung to Green Island. Weeks before the trip to Taiwan, M had informed the Minsu owner that we would like to rent a car on Green Island. The alternative to car was scooter and neither of us was confident enough about riding scooters in Taiwan.

When we reached the jetty, we saw many people holding signs displaying names and we searched for the person who was holding up a sign with our names. After a short while, we found our guy and he checked with us again if we wanted to rent a car or a scooter. When we told him we wanted to rent a car, he said, “Do you know how to drive?” M said yes and the guy showed us the way to a car and gave us the car key. He added, “I will be driving in front of you towards the Minsu. Just follow my van.”

We were rather surprised by how casual the car rental process was on Green Island. M’s International Driving License was not even needed in the process. What also surprised us was how much trust people have in one another on the island. Right before our snorkeling trip, we asked the instructor if there was a place for us to put our car key or if we should just bring the car key along into the waters. The instructor replied, “Oh, just leave the car key in the car. Nobody would take it.”

After this conversation, we began to notice how the locals just left their keys on their scooters on the streets. On the first day, we still bothered to lock our doors every time we got off the car. After some time on the island, we stopped locking the car doors.

On the last day, we asked the Minsu owner how we should go about returning the car. He said, “Just leave the car and its key at the jetty when you are about to take the ferry. We will get it later.”

On this island, somehow there is a very high degree of trust and people seem contented with what they have. Is that the face of happiness – when you are contented with what you have and you are not hungry for the things that you don’t have? It can also be that maybe on an island as small as green island (17 square kilometres), there is no room for petty thief. After all, where can a thief go with the stolen scooter or car? He/ she can’t leave the island with the stolen vehicle and there is nowhere for him/ her to hide. Whatever the reason may be, it is such a nice feeling to experience going around without worrying about petty thief. We were really carefree on the island. How much I miss the island and its people. How much I miss trusting strangers.