#83 the animals in the farm

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” – George Orwell, Animal Farm

I have been thinking about the concept of fairness lately. In an organization, leaders may proclaim that they are fair, in other words “all animals are equal”. They may say no one member is more important than another and everyone is treated with respect and dignity. They may say it is impossible for work to be divided equally due to the nature of the job but what has been done is that roles and responsibilities are delegated fairly in the best possible way.

But fairness is neither just a concept nor just a lofty ideal; fairness is implementation. In order to claim that you are fair, you must show that you are fair. And the opposite of fairness is biased and privileged treatment and favoritism. Yes, I agree that people are different and they have different capabilities and aspirations. However, there must be a certain expectation that every member of the community is expected to fulfill. Expectations cannot differ from person to person.

The issue that I have here is not about unfairness. In certain organizations and societies, unfairness is the norm – some people are simply entitled to more because of who they are. For example, in China, people whose families have powerful connections find it easier to find a job with good prospects as compared to the others. What I find problematic is that some organizations and societies claim to be fair but they are actually very unfair. And because they feel that they are fair and that they have always been fair, they become very defensive when people accuse them of unfair treatment. “We do this for everyone as every member in the team is of equal value,” they often claimed. But the problem is that the actions do not reflect the values and there is a discrepancy between the intentions and actions.

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others. The qualifier, or the considerations that give rise to privileges, is unspoken on paper but often talked about among members of the community. If this is the reality of the situation, then members of the community are left with two obvious options: 1) you find a way to acquire the privileges and join the ranks or 2) you find a way to fight for fairness in the community. How will you choose? What kind of person do you choose to be? What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind in this community?

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#82 the anatomy of trust

Recently, I read Brene Brown’s new book called “Braving the Wilderness”. In the book, she discussed about “common enemy intimacy” and why the friends whom we gossip with are not our true friends. She acknowledged that it is easy and convenient to fall into the pattern of talking bad about someone or something in common just in order to hotwire a connection. Although such actions bring people closer together, she argued that such connections are superficial and short-lasting.

I get what she is trying to say. Sometimes we are looking for things in common to talk about so as to establish relationships in a new environment. There are topics that are readily available – the common experiences, the people whom we know, the e-mail circulars, the whatsapp chats etc. It is easy to get together to discuss, to read between the lines and analyze the information that we have in common. It is also easy to share or over-share information that is not yours to share in order to “win trust” and “fit in” with the group.  When scrapped of all these information, will you continue to stay connected to these people? Or do you only bond with them in this environment? Will you stand up for these “friends” in times of conflict? How much are these friendships based on “common enemy intimacy” worth?

Brene Brown also brought up a very interesting point in her book. Today the world is increasingly polarized and we find ourselves only hearing echoes of our opinions. Even though we are only hearing echoes of our opinions within our factions, people are not really connected to one another in the factions – people are lonely even among the like-minded folks. Why so?

I guess it goes down to the social glue – what binds people together. If relationships are built based on common enemy intimacy and the idea is that you are either on our side or on their side, connections are fragile and superficial. Maybe someone has something insightful to contribute to the group but he/ she is afraid to be the dissenting voice. We fear losing the sense of belonging no matter how superficial that is because to belong somewhere seems like a better option than to belong nowhere. An environment where most relationships are cemented based on common enemy intimacy is hostile and unsafe and that is certainly not where I want to be. That is certainly not where I can grow as a person.

I am not sure how possible it is but I don’t want to build relationships based on common enemy intimacy. Maybe I cannot change the bigger environment but it may be possible for me to build a micro-environment that is safer and friendlier. I want to establish connections to another human being by being genuine and by caring for his/ her well-being. Is it possible to do so in a workplace setting?

faces and places (Jul – Sep ’17)

” Things get broken and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.” – Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

One year ago, this was a very difficult time for me. There were moments when I could not see beyond my circumstances. There were also moments when I felt that there was little joy and meaning in what I was doing. One year later, I will not say that things are all good and rosy but with Mervin as a constant in my life, I feel like I could ride out any storm that comes my way. In the last three months, we did a lot of things together. We have both met the families, we have shown up as a couple at “official” events and we have travelled together. He was also there when I needed a listening ear and he have been supportive of my job, decisions that I make and my priorities in life. He is attentive, easy-going and indulging. I am so glad to have found him and I look forward to many more adventures ahead!

On the work front, many things have happened.  I have also learnt a lot about teaching practical lessons and carrying out the various non-teaching duties that are essential for the smooth operations in a school. I have learnt to remind myself to do what is required of me and to be less bothered about what people may think of me. I hope that despite the circumstances, I can remain true to myself, be confident of who I am and stay passionate about my job. It does not have to be a big fire of passion but as long as there is something burning, I am cool with it. My job does not entirely define me; my job is simply a part of my identity. Believe in yourself kid, you got this.

03/07/17

I went to Timbre+ with Mervin on a Friday night and that was one of the best nights out that I had in Singapore. I love the vibes of the place, it was casual and relaxing. That was also the night when we celebrated Mervin’s birthday in advance. We had fried food with Norwegian cider and local beer while watching the live performance by a band. I remember the calamansi beer tasted rather funny and we had a good laugh about it. It was also the first time I heard Despacito and I quickly became addicted to the song. We tried to request for “Something Just Like This” by Coldplay but the band did not pick our song. Oh well, there will be a next time!

06/07/17

July 2017 was an important milestone for me because that was when I became a full-fledged teacher. On the day of the convocation, Mervin met my family for the first time. That day marks the start of new beginnings and adventures. As I have said to a friend on that day, I am now stepping into the territory of unknowns – I have no idea what lies ahead and I have no idea what is the standard operating protocol (SOP) in many things. But I hope that with a determination to stay true to myself and ample support from the amazing people in my life, I will grow up to become a responsible, reasonable, thinking and loving adult who is able to sincerely teach, nurture and mentor young minds. I also hope that when things get challenging in the days to come and I feel like giving up, I will look back on this day when everything seems possible and regain my strength. In theory, I want to do this and that but in practice, I am very far from what I want to do and where I want to be. What exactly is stopping me from doing what I want to be and believe in what I am doing? Is it the environment or is it just me?

29/07/17

On this day, Mervin and I visited the National Gallery to see the Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition. It was his first time in the National Gallery. I am really happy that he is willing to do things that he usually won’t do for me. 🙂 We attempted to study her art pieces and take some nice photos while we were there. We went on a Sunday so there were too many people and the lines were horribly long. In comparison to her exhibition that I saw in Helsinki in Dec 16, the exhibition in Singapore lacks information about the artist. That was rather disappointing because people come to take Instagram-worthy photos but they don’t know who the artist is, why she does what she does and what makes her special. The exhibition in Helsinki was comparatively a lot better and more informative and I gained some understanding of Yayoi Kusama through that exhibition. Through the information provided in National Gallery, we could only gather that she is an artist who likes polka dots and is rather eccentric. However, it was not clearly articulated that she was suffering from mental illnesses and painting was her way of running away from her hallucinations, or in her words, obliterating herself.

06/08/17

Mervin and I quite enjoy the outdoors so we have been hanging out in the nature reserves and parks on some weekends. Together, we have been to the Treetop Walk, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Kranji Countryside and I look forward to exploring more places together. I have not been to the Treetop Walk since I was in Secondary School and it was nice to see that a lot has changed. It was also nice to see that there are many Singaporeans who also enjoy spending the weekends closer to nature.

09/08/17

My aunt managed to get NDP tickets for us so Mervin and I went to watch NDP 2017 with two of my aunts and my uncle. It was quite a nice hangout before and after NDP and it was nice to see that they got along very well with him and they even invited him to my nephew’s baby shower for the coming weekend. This is an unknown territory for both of us but I hope that with enough love for each other and sufficient communication, we can have an adventure together. NDP 2017 was quite nice, I especially enjoyed the performance put up by the drones and, of course, the fireworks. Here is a happy picture of all 5 of us.

27/08/17

We went to celebrate Mervin’s sister’s birthday one Saturday at Sushi Tei at West Coast Plaza. It is interesting to think that they have become familiar faces over the course of 2 months. Things are moving quite fast for the both of us. The food was good, we had plenty of sashimi and sushi. We bought cakes to surprise Anger and she seemed to have a good time that evening. 🙂

03/09/17

Over the long weekend in September, Mervin and I flew to Surabaya. We spent very little time in Surabaya and we spent most of our time in the countryside. Marman and Ahmad came all the way from Yogyakarta to guide us for 3 days. It was an intense but fulfilling trip with plenty of adventures. On the first night,  we woke up at 11 pm and we went to climb the Ijen Crater at 1.30 am. It was my first night hike and it was quite an interesting experience climbing alongside so many more people. The blue fire was quite a sight and the overpowering smell of sulfur was real. On that day, we also visited the Madakaripura Waterfall and it was quite an adventure to get there. Our driver got a bit lost, then when we were there, we had to take a motorcycle ride, cross the river in slippers, walk under waterfalls and climb on slippery rocks before we got to the waterfall. The sight was simply majestic and gorgeous and it reminded me about how small humans are through the lens of Mother Nature.

On the next day, we woke up at 230 am and went to watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo. Here is a happy picture of us at the sunrise spot. After that, we took a jeep, then rode a horse and climbed the steps to see the crater of Mount Bromo. I never knew that the crater was so loud and it sounded as though a fighter jet was right over our heads. After visiting Mount Bromo, we went to Prigen Safari which was an interesting experience as our car just drove into the safari and the wildlife, including the lions, were free to roam around in the safari. I wonder how they stop the lions from eating the zebras. The zebras were among the most aggressive and they came very close to the cars in an attempt to be fed carrots. After that, we went for a nice Javanese massage and it was also interesting to experience a communication barrier with the masseur. But I am glad it all worked out fine.

He is a spontaneous, easy-going and caring travel companion. Can’t wait for our next trip together. ❤

18/09/17

My brother left for his Masters programme on a Monday evening. We went to send him off at the airport and I remember I was so tired that day. Even though sometimes he says/ does things that sort of annoys me, he is still my precious kid brother. I hope he will have a fruitful and enjoyable postgraduate experience in London. Till we meet again in December. 🙂

21/09/17

I attended two Chemistry-related courses in September. It is always nice to catch up with the fellow Beginning Teachers and hear about their eventful school experiences. It is hard for me to comment on the sharing. On one hand, I find the sharing very interesting and I will very much like to have such interesting and thought-provoking lessons. But there are time constraints and other considerations (e.g. priorities in a classroom). I also sometimes wonder if such projects are contrived. Nonetheless, I think that it is important as a fraternity to continue to experiment with teaching methods and strive to diversify the learning experience for our students. In doing so, we also become better and more skillful educators ourselves. Hopefully in the near future, one of us will be sharing our innovative teaching practices within the teaching community.

#81 wishing you were somehow here again

“Wishing I could hear your voice again, knowing that I never would.” – Phantom of the Opera, wishing you were somewhere here again

It was 9 pm at night and I was on my way home on a Grabcar after a great date with my boyfriend. As I looked back on the year 2017, I felt incredibly satisfied and happy with my life. Things are going quite well in my life – I am in love, I am managing okay with work and importantly, people who are important to me are well and healthy. There is nothing more that I can ask for.

As I looked at the passing scenery which looked ever so familiar and held so many important memories, strangely I found myself crying. It is hard to describe how I felt at that point in time. A part of me felt so happy as there are so many great things going in my life. Yet, a part of me was overwhelmed by sadness because I wanted so much to share my life experiences with you but you were long gone. I want you to see me in love and I want you to see me as a working adult who is earning my own living but you are not there. I know we are still somehow connected in this universe and you are still watching me in your own way. But I still wish you were somehow physically here and near again and that will mean so much to me.

Then I started feeling rather annoyed at myself for being greedy, for always looking for that one thing that is not there and yearning for it. Yes, it is quite a shame that you are not there anymore but it doesn’t diminish the experiences that I am having. Just because you are not there doesn’t mean that I cannot be happy at all. I still have so many amazing people around me who will catch me when I fall. I have to count my blessings. But isn’t it human to aspire for more? Isn’t it human to yearn for connection? Isn’t it human to miss someone who was once so dear and important in my life?

And then the moment passed. The emotions within me subsided and the tears stopped falling down my cheeks. I made a vow to myself to hold people who are dear to me tighter and live life to its fullest. I don’t have a bucket list of things I want to do before I die but I have a bucket list of things I want to say to people before I die – there are people out there that I want to thank. I want to savour life as it comes and live in the moment with no regrets.

Maybe tomorrow I will be caught up with the details of living and I will forget the bigger picture. But sometimes the emotions come to remind me of what is truly more important in life.

#80 les miserables

Last weekend, I went to watch a NUSSU Symphonic Orchestra outdoor concert at the Botanic Gardens. They performed numerous great pieces and they ended with a medley from the musical Les Miserables. Les Miserables is my favourite musical but I have always struggled to explain why this musical means so much to me. But on that day, as I was trying to explain to M what this musical means to me, things seem clearer.

Les Miserables is set in a very difficult time in France when there was a lot of oppression, unfairness and inequality. (Well we can always argue that every time point in history is a difficult time. Let’s put that aside for now.) In spite of their difficult circumstances, there were people who were kind to other people in the story. For example, the priest was kind to Valjean by letting him off for stealing in the church; Valjean was kind to Fantine by agreeing to take care of Cosette; Eponine was kind to Marius by taking a bullet for him; Valjean was kind to Javert by letting him off during the revolution; Valjean was kind to Marius by saving his life. I would think that the story is a story of hope: in spite of the circumstances where it seems like nothing you can do can change the situation, people can still be kind to one another. And it is this very kindness that makes life worth living and makes people believe that there is something they can do to pass the kindness on.

I believe that although circumstances may seem harsh and unforgiving, a little act of kindness may make a little difference to another person’s life. Maybe I am not able to change things or change the way people think but surely, as the cliche may suggest, a little kindness can go a long way.

I chanced upon a very wise saying on Instagram the other day: “To see the world as how we want it to be rather than what it is, is wishful thinking. To see the world as it is rather than how we want it to be, is being realistic. To see the world as it could be in spite of what it is, that is hope.”

Maybe we cannot be the superheroes that the world needs or we aspire to be but we can be kind to people around us. And what I hope for is that through our small efforts, this land can become a kinder place to live in. What I want to see more is people accepting other people’s acts of kindness and looking for ways to pay it forward. What I want to see less is people scrutinising other people’s acts of kindness and close-reading the acts for hidden agendas. What I hope to see is more people accepting that we can have mutualistic relationships with one another instead of competitive, predator-prey relationships. Can things change and progress in the direction of kindness or is it all my wishful thinking?

#79 “you made a mistake” vs “you are a mistake”

I read Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection” recently and in her book, she discussed the difference between shame and guilt. She argued that when things don’t go as planned, some people may think that they have made a mistake, reflected on the mistake and moved on from there. However, others may react differently. Some other people may internalize the mistake, believe that the mistake reflect their self-worth and think that they are the mistake. “I failed” is grossly different from “I am a failure”. When you feel that you are a failure, the you feel ashamed of being yourself. You may feel worthless and defeated or you may do things just for the sake of proving your worth.

Lately, I have been feeling rather defeated. On some days, I feel like I am a failure. On some other days, I feel like I have already failed so greatly in things that matter, what good can I possibly do? On these days, I feel not motivated to do anything and I wonder if there will be a day when I am proud to be doing what I am doing. Or will I be looking for a place to hide myself in shame so that people won’t discover what I have done or how badly I have screwed up?

At the end of the day, it is all about the narrative that I want to write. My life story will not be a straight path to success and eternal bliss (let’s put aside the debate on what those terms actually entail for the time being). But my life story is not a sob story. I should not be afraid to show who I am. I should not be ashamed of my mistakes and failures as well as my small successes and triumphs. I am the way I am. I have lost things along the way but I have gained and grown in many ways too. As C S Lewis put it, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” But in order to look ahead, I got to feel confident about myself – who I am, what I believe in and what I have to offer to the world. Yes, I have failed in some ways but it does not mean that I am a failure. I am not a packaged success story too. I am just a human being trying to ride out the storm in my life and enjoy my life on this beautiful planet. Every single thing that has happened to me has shaped me into the person I am today (for better, I hope) and I cannot allow one failure to define who I am.

Believe in yourself kid, you got this.

#78 tell me your story

“I just met you on a bus, and we would really like to get to know each other, but I’ve got to get off at the next stop, so you’re going to tell me three things about yourself that just define you as a person, three things about yourself that will help me understand who you are, three things that just get to your very essence.” – Debra Jarvis

I recently watched a TED talk by Debra Jarvis titled “Yes, I survived cancer. But that does not define me.” In the talk, she talked about how sometimes people refused to get off their crucifix and they identify themselves as survivors of something, such as a disease, a traumatising experience or a loss of loved ones, and never quite move on from there.

But why?

Traumas destabilize life in many ways and more often than not, many new lifestyle changes have to take place in order to pick yourself up and find a new normal. Traumas also affect the way you see yourself as well as the way you see life. Survivors of traumas may find that their lives take on a completely new and different meaning after the traumatic experiences. In a way, traumas can change your life. There is the old you before the trauma and a new you after the trauma and I suppose that is why people see that as a defining moment of their lives.

It has been a year since I lost two people who were very dear to me suddenly over a very short period of time. The experience has taught me that there is no given in life and I cannot take anything for granted. I have also learnt that there is no pause button in life – I cannot pause life and sort out my own personal and emotional issues before resuming my life. Life just has to go on. I can’t go on, I’ll go on. I just need to put aside the emotions and get on with the details of living if not I would just be another self-entitled millennial who is self-absorbed in her own life drama. Everyone has their own issues to deal with and their demons to face so I just need to deal with it. I have also learnt that sometimes I help others because I like the helpful side of me and sometimes that is okay. However, sometimes there is a conflict of interests. Maybe I like the helpful side of me but people don’t need me to help them in that particular way. So I guess, in short, I have learnt to manage my emotions and my behaviours better.

But my life story is not a sob story. Yes, there were tears and painful moments but there were good and amazing times too. I cannot allow myself to be defined by the negative experiences in my life. No doubt, these experiences have shaped me greatly but they do not define me. Just like what Debra Jarvis said, “We have to let that old story go so that a new story, a truer story, can be told. Claim your experience. Don’t let it claim you.”

Claim your experience. Don’t let it claim you.

So if I have to say three things about myself that define who I am, this is what I will say: someone who is eager to help others, someone who tries to see the good in everyone she meets and someone who wants to enjoy the roller-coaster ride called Life to the best of her ability.