#94 sisphysus and his rock

Lately I have been thinking about this Greek mythology that S told me many years ago back when we were university students. Sisphysus was a notorious king and he was punished by the Greek Gods to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill but only to watch it fall downwards again.

Sometimes I think we are somehow like Sisphysus. We are striving and we know we have to strive and work hard. But at the end of the day, when we finally get the work done and reach the summit, we don’t stay there long enough to bask in the glory. Somehow things just can easily undo themselves or we simply have to keep striving towards another goal because life goes on. And we continue the fate of striving, for the sake of striving and for the sake of improving our lives. And the cycle repeats itself.

For this first term, I think I have been working quite hard to meet both learning and non-learning targets and to juggle the many hats and responsibilities of a full-fledged teacher in Singapore. I don’t know what I get at the end or what I get out of it. All I know is I can’t stop and the cycle has to continue.

Recently, I feel that work has been changing me. Or to put it another way, the work personality has been eroding my own personality. Increasingly, I catch myself thinking about visibility of actions (whether what I do is seen by others) and how to make actions more purposeful in my personal life. I don’t like this. I miss the person who values friendships and who does things because of how much they matter and not how much they can be seen. I feel like I am less genuine and less sincere. And that bothers me.

How do you keep pushing the boulder without allowing the process to change who you are?


#93 hiccups

I have officially worked for a year in this school. There are many new experiences, some good and some really bad. But most of them are somewhere in the middle – they can be better but they are not the worst. I see a lot of room for improvement in many ways but I am glad that I have survived. Yes, there have been unhappiness, worry and some bouts of overwork but it is not enough to break me.

Maybe this profession also offers some respite from the real world because we work by timetable and schedule. We sort of know what will happen every week in our classes ag least and we plan the lessons for the week and weeks ahead. Life takes on a rhythm.

But the reality is life is full of accidents and little incidents that can just suddenly snowball and take over your life. The car crash, the diagnosis or even the breakup that can change a person’s life so quickly and dramatically. On hindsight, we are pretty fortunate every day to worry about the details of living. We are shielded from the inevitabilities of life by the mundane, predictable details of life. When you zoom out on things, being able to complain and worry about things is actually a privilege by itself.

How beautifully fragile we are that so many things can take but a moment to alter who we are forever?

#92 I don’t agree with you

Back in the UK when I first got to know Y in 2015, we did not agree on many things. Our conversation sometimes started like this: I expressed my opinion or came up with an argument about something and Y began her sentence with “I don’t agree with you…” We did not agree on many things, from trivial things such as whether the couple outside Waitrose were madly in love or on the verge of breaking up to more serious topics about China-Hong Kong relations. I remember just last year, we debated about the use of exclamation marks in text messages. I felt that multiple exclamation marks help me to express my feelings while Y felt that the use of more than one exclamation mark in a sentence is excessive. To me, it is quite amazing how we could disagree on so many things and yet stay as very close friends. In fact, the more disagreements we have, the closer we become. I value people who dare to say that I am wrong. How do you agree to disagree in practice? We had several not-so-good attempts at agreeing to disagree but after numerous tries, this is what I learnt about the art of agree to disagree:

1. Have the conversation in person.

Although it may be tempting to resolve the conflicts over Whatsapp (especially if the differing opinions started from there), it is always better to have any intense conversation in person. That is because it is easier to focus on the issues when you speak in person. In addition, sometimes the tone of the messages may lead to more misunderstandings.

2. Choose the correct setting.

It is important to choose the right setting with sufficient privacy. The place has to be quiet and relatively free of distractions. Sometimes when there are other people around, the ego of winning the argument may get in the way.

3. Listen respectfully.

Give each other the chance to express their thoughts and feelings without interrupting. Listen and try to see things from their point of view. Resist any temptation to interrupt.

4. Use ‘I’ language.

I feel that when friends disagree on something, it also gives them a chance to learn about each other. The best way to enable such learning is to use ‘I’ language. Examples include: “For me, I feel that…”, “when you do this, you make me feel that…” or “I may be wrong but I feel that…”

5. Ask questions to clarify.

Different people, who grew up in different environments, may have different beliefs and opinions. Sometimes both parties can be right. But winning the argument is not important in my opinion. What is more valuable is this learning opportunity to learn more about how other people see the same issues.

6. Conclude with an emphasis on the relationship.

Regardless of the topic of contention, I feel it helps to end the conversation with humility and gratitude. Usually, I will say something like, “Thank you for saying that to me, I didn’t think of it that way previously. In future, I will take note of that.”

#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.

#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 🙂


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. 🙂


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.


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.


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.


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”. 🙂


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.


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.


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.


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.