Wanderlust

I am hit with a sense of wanderlust today. Perhaps it’s because work is so boring these days. Perhaps it’s my disatisfaction of a recent project decision which requires me to stay and contribute another year when I am all but ready to leave Singapore for a role in Perth. Perhaps I’m a tiny bit lost in life – just cannot see where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing in the next few years – that I seek inspiration in faraway places. Whichever it is, travelling offers something different, gives me something to be excited about, and injects much-needed adventure and escape from our humdrum lives.

One of the positive things about working and living in Singapore (at least I try to see it that way) is how easy it is to travel around. Singapore is an Asian hub, very conveniently located and flights from and to are aplenty! Ever since V moved to live with me in Singapore a few years ago (yaayy, V!), we’ve been to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia (though I would consider Bintan more Singaporean than Indonesian), and most notably Italy! We tend to travel on the economical side, but our trips are always fun and memorable.

Through an amazing coincidence, this morning I got a message from my postgraduate roommate, Bertha, who relocated to Hong Kong for work a year ago. She told me that while exploring a new place to live is a fantastic experience, she felt kind of lonely there and it’s been hard and slow to meet new friends. She promptly suggested that I go visit and kindly offered the spare room in her apartment. Just like that, now I have a winter getaway to plan for early next year (yaayy, Bertha!).

This day and age, you can do your travel research from the comfort of anwhere with an internet connection. I snuck some browsing inbetween work today and was ecstatic to find a few more places nearby worth travelling to. Here are some for inspiration:

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An easy and spectacular hot air balloon ride over Bagan and the vast Inle Lake, Burma

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A dive with barracudas and turtles in the azure waters of Sipadan, Malaysia

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A relaxation by the unspoiled pristine waters in the Maldives

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A trek along 3000m tall mountain passes of Bhutan

MRT Ethics

Don’t you sometimes wonder who is most deserving of seats in the MRT? We know the corner ones are reserved for the elderlies, pregnant women, parents with small children, the disabled, but that’s more a guideline in Singapore than a common practice. What about people with ailments or burdens we could not see?

I’m all for giving up my seat to those who need it more, but there are times when I do need it too. Once I had my usual episode of dizzy spell caused by my inherently low blood pressure. I knew if I continued standing up it would get worse, so when a lady exited the MRT, leaving the corner seat unoccupied, I took it. A few stops after, a pregnant lady entered. Hmm, quandary. Self safety or selflessness?

It took me almost a minute, admittedly, but I finally stood up and offered the seat. You’d think the lady would smile and thank me for my sacrifice, but no, she gave me a steely stare, then sat down without so much as a mumbled thank you! I almost instantly regretted giving her the seat!

In some countries, people do not hesitate to give up their seats for others in need, I know. But in those same countries, the people whom the courtesy is extended to happen to be sweet and grateful about it too. You feel good being kind when it is acknowledged, and it becomes a reinforcing loop. It makes me question whether a person deserves kindness if he/she doesn’t extend the same to others.

On Being Kind

A few weeks ago, while I was on a trip to Hanoi, we met a German girl named Katrin who was part of our Ha Long Bay tour group. We had a few conversations about her travel; she had been on a solo trip for months, covering US, a few countries in South America, Australia, New Zealand, and she was on her last leg, South East Asia. She told us that from there, she would go to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Bali, and we said she could contact us when she arrived in Singapore. Luis, who was with us on the trip, even offered his place for her to stay in, something that I wouldn’t do myself. He told me later that he was happy to provide a traveller a place to stay which is better than a backpackers’ hostel and she seemed like a nice person.

At the time, it didn’t strike me, how unusual his offer was. Or maybe it did, but having known Luis for some time, it wasn’t odd of him to do something like that.

Since the guys at work have a plan to go for a crab dinner this Friday (you can read the invite on my previous entry, it’s entertaining), I asked them if we could invite her. I didn’t really think anyone would mind, I asked for courtesy’s sake more than anything else, but B shot me a look and said, “No lah, I don’t like strangers.” And soon everyone else agreed.

I recounted the conversation to V at home (because I think too much sometimes and I can’t get B’s comment out of my head) and he thinks we’re uncommonly kind and that Katrin is very lucky to have met and known us, but he also emphasizes that it is definitely not what people normally do, offer someone a place to stay and be a good friend for her even though we know little about her.

I have my own reason for being kind and those who know me well get why I am the way I am. People and life in general have been kind to me. I grew up loved and surrounded by family and friends. I never once got cheated by someone I trusted. I never encountered firsthand how horrible we humans can be to one another. I’ve had moments when something bad could have happened, but they didn’t because people I didn’t know proved to be honest and helpful, despite my worst fears.

My dad told me I was too trusting. I always quipped back that it was thanks to him and my mom that I am. They have done a good job raising me, protecting me from all possible harm, and ensuring my childhood was happy, carefree. They were good catholics, and if that part hasn’t necessarily stuck in entirety with me, it taught me to believe that people are inherently good. That’s what I choose to believe now, that God is the good in all of us, not an omniscient, all-powerful deity who controls our lives and determines our fate.

So it came as a surprise that once my dad got angry with me for lending a friend a sum of money for his dad’s heart surgery without so much as a promissory note drafted stating that he would return it, the exact amount owed, and when. He said it was stupid of me (I don’t remember him ever calling me stupid before) because if anyone could cause me the biggest disappointment, the fiercest of hurt, my dad said it would be someone I trusted; a friend, not a complete stranger. Needless to say, it gave me a few sleepless nights too, wondering what was right and wrong, who to believe: my parent or my own heart.

V told me to be prepared to lose the money. It wasn’t easy, but I understood that he was just preparing me for the worst, without really blaming me for my action. I had this in the back of my mind for weeks before I finally decided what the heck, we’ll see what happens. And my friend returned my money. Which affirmed my faith and showed me it’s amazing sometimes, what you gain when you let go. V was right, it’s okay to be kind and trusting, but if you decide to be, go all the way and don’t expect anything in return. Humans are not perfect, some may end up truly disappointing us, but that shouldn’t change who we are. I love the warm feeling I get when I’m nice and kind to others. That’s my God experience and that should be enough reward in itself.

I don’t know exactly how Luis has gotten to be as nice and kind as he is now (I’m sure he’s been through a lot lot more than I have and he mentioned how his friends had cheated him out of all his savings twice), but he has a big heart (and I didn’t mean the enlargement of the heart muscle, or hypertropic myopathy, which is a serious disease, as Sheldon Cooper once said). I hope he keeps it and never changes.

Kindness, An Undervalued Quality These Days

If you live in Singapore, you would have read on the papers or heard about the recent controversial blog entry written by Xiaxue, arguably Singapore’s most widely read and influential blogger, in which she repaid the men who slammed her and her friends over being PAP (People’s Action Party, Singapore’s leading political party, for those of you unfamiliar with it)’s supporters, by posting their derogatory, insulting remarks (most involve calling them brainless prostitutes) next to their pictures with their family or friends, descriptions of their education and what they do for a living. I do not know if what she did was the right thing, but I know those men had it coming and deserved every bit of bad rap resulting from this act of revenge.

In response to Xiaxue’s post, these men had the nerve and conscience to call Xiaxue’s action low. How’s that for pots calling a kettle black? Is human integrity such an ancient concept? Are we fools who cannot see the obvious: that our actions have consequences, that who sows reaps? And from the news of it, the wives of these men actually stand by and support these men! Geez, here I thought we women are the smarter and wiser sex, but apparently we’re as hopeless.

This is but one example of countless cases of online bullying and defamation which happen every day! V and I have discussed this topic a number of times, the shift of human interaction brought about by social media, and we would try to explain, perhaps still inadequately, why people are much meaner, much more inconsiderate online. V said when we write online, we think we’re anonymous. We think because we hide behind an alias and do not speak our mind directly to someone’s face, we are less responsible for it, removed from the point of impact and aftermath. We do not have to witness how much the other person would be affected by it, what can a few words on the screen do?

But the truth is that the person you’re directing the comment to takes it as if it is thrown to his/her face. That a stranger would want to hurt you with such intensity is a devastating reality that people are not as kind as you expect them to be.

Personally, I don’t fathom how writing something negative and directing it at someone are more doable than shouting insults to someone’s face. I interact with people online as I would in real life. It’s just more convenient to stay in touch online, you don’t have to be physically in one place at one time, but otherwise what’s different? Is it just me?

Life gives us many challenges and each of us fights our own battles. Almost everyone we meet would have gone through painful moments and sufferings. I think the least we can do, knowing this much and accepting that we cannot know what someone else has gone and is going through, is be kind to one another. It doesn’t matter where.

What Did You Want To Be When You Grew Up?

This topic came up during lunch and it’s so interesting how much the answer reveals, and how you can match someone’s personality to their answer.

When I was little I wanted to be an astronaut. I’ve been laughed at countless times because of this, and I don’t understand why. Is it ridiculous? To a kid, everything seems possible! I am a dreamer, even now. Why else is my blog titled “Waiting for My Wings to Grow”?

My colleague Yulina wanted to be a banker. In contrast to my answer, it is a very realistic dream, and she admitted to choosing this because her father was a banker. I’m not really surprised. Yulina and I are very different. She’s grounded and pragmatic. She does not idolise people, let alone cartoon characters. She has no patience nor interest for fiction. She stared at me in disbelief when I revealed that Prince Phillip from Sleeping Beauty is my first love. She’s probably my best friend in the office, but I can’t help but think life must be so boring that way!

Another colleague of mine Zhongjie wanted to be a fireman. Again, not surprising if you know the kind of person he is. He’s kind, gentlemanly, and always does the right thing for himself. He eats right, exercises regularly, joins marathons and triathlons. He keeps a low profile at work, but is helpful and hardworking when you need him to be. He’ll make a great fireman.

Javey couldn’t remember what he wanted to be. Typical, as he doesn’t have a passion. He doesn’t believe in anything strongly enough to pursue or fight for it. It sounds harsh and don’t get me wrong, he is a good person. But he goes through life without really knowing what makes him happy (other than money) and what he truly wants. I know a lot of us are in the same position.

What is your childhood dream? Chances are it’ll help you learn something about yourself.

The Pursuit of Happiness

This post is going to be a serious one. This afternoon, as I was browsing online, I came across a blog entry of my friend’s. She’s a senior in my university, someone I looked up to who was very nice and supportive of me. She got married a few years ago and has only recently, in the beginning of 2012, made a decision to become a NEET. NEET is a government acronym for people currently “not in education, employment, or training”. In her own words, “My reason for doing this is simply because I don’t see a point in sitting in an office taking instructions from other people for at least 10 hours a day when I could have spent those 10 hours doing other things that please me more.”

People may think she or her husband is rich and they would be wrong. But rich is a relative term, and one I would not use to describe her or her husband, whom I also knew from university. I don’t think they want anything, in Singapore a married couple can certainly live off one person’s salary. If they have kids, things may be a little tight, but they don’t and I don’t think they have any plan to in the foreseeable future.

The first question that came to my mind was what then? We were not close friends, but as far as I can tell, she’s not the type of person who likes to sit around and do nothing, although she values her personal time and is most comfortable when she’s alone. And yes, I was right, she has been busy the past few months, busy with cooking, traveling, reading, exercising, playing the piano, learning French, growing her own hydroponic herbs. Almost all were done in the comfort of her home.

She said all she’s ever wanted was to be able to live her life by her own choices, not to be dictated by external influences such as culture and norms, and above all, to be happy. Happiness is a choice. And while she agrees that we can make a conscious choice to be happy in whatever circumstances the world throws us into, she wonders if it would be better instead to tailor your circumstances as much as possible so the path to be happy is of the least resistance. Her life ambition is to be able to gladly say that everything that has taken place in her life is of her own choices, when the Shinigami comes to greet her (Yup, she’s always been an otaku).

Her entry stirs up mixed emotions in me. On one hand, I congratulate her and am happy that she made such a difficult (by the standard of our society) yet right decision for herself. Here’s someone who could stare life in the eye and claim from it what she truly wants. On the other hand, I wouldn’t make that choice for myself and for a while I try to rationalise why. Why, in spite of my admiration, I disagree that it’s the right choice, at least for me.

I, too, believe that my life is my own. I wouldn’t conform to society if that meant sacrificing my happiness and my beliefs. And I, too, can think of a hundred different ways I’d rather spend my days than sit in an office. But I have other dreams. I want to have my own home to hold my favorite stuff and make memories (not babies!) in, I want to travel around the world comfortably (not by cycling, not by hitchhiking), I want to afford good quality things for myself and my loved ones. I know that sounds materialistic and consumptive, but I do get happy over worldly things. I’m not ascetic.

There is happiness to be had when I know I’m standing on my own two feet. When I know I earn enough to provide for myself and those I care about. I derive satisfaction and a sense of deserved accomplishment when I get glowing performance feedbacks in my workplace. I learn at work, oftentimes without realizing, because I work with different kinds of people (there must be at least 20 nationalities in our office), tackling a multitude of problems: technical, functional, and personal. I have stressful days, but I have good, rewarding ones as well. They may not always be proportional, but the good days are worth waiting for.

I had a colleague who once said, everything around us, everything that enables us to live the way we do today, are results of the intelligence, innovation, and hard work of countless people before us. One of my company’s core values is stewardship, and its essence is making the world a better place for the future generation. I am not as selfless as you may think, and I’m not about to throw myself into charity work full time, but in my own ways, in doing my work the best I could every day, I’d like to think I’m doing my part, contributing to progress and betterment of human lives. Is it a far-fetched notion? I have to think big sometimes, because I don’t care for the alternative: feeling insignificant and fatalistic.

One day, I would have saved and invested enough money to quit my job and do whatever it is I’m passionate about. I still don’t know what that is, my interests are too eclectic at this point in time, but I’ll find out and pursue it. When that time comes, I don’t want to be worrying over my means, my dad, my sisters. I want to be in a position that I don’t have to make sacrifices to live the life I want. And till that time, I’ll make the most of what I have and do.

Do you have differing opinions on this subject? I’d love to hear them.

Baby Talk

Lately, I’ve been asked a lot about whether I want to be married and have babies (not necessarily plural). I’m at the age where most of my friends are getting married and having their first kids. Let me cut to the chase. My answer is not yet to marriage and not ever for babies.

Is this surprising for you, whether or not you know me? I have friends saying that I would make a good mother and they are certainly wondering what could have gone wrong in my childhood or past that led to such a resolute decision. Did my parents mistreat me? Did I inflict any pain or emotional scar to an impressionable kid?

Nah. I had a lovely childhood, the best parents anyone could ask for, imperfect though they are in their human ways, and a healthy, positive outlook on the world. Sure I grow jaded and more cynical as I age and learn, but I’m one of those people who can still perceive the good in humankind, the beauty in nature and human creation. I’m kind and helpful most of the time and I generally do not make enemies.

So why, you ask, don’t I have the desire, the certainty, the urgency to be a mother and impart all these positivities to another human being?

Some people dismiss my statement as one of a girl too young to feel maternal. I disagree. If I were just too young, I would be ambivalent and say I didn’t want a baby now, but maybe later when age forces me to decide? I can’t foresee that later ever going to happen, so I say it as it is. I don’t live in a maybe situation.

A simple explanation would be that I’m selfish. I have lots of expectation and dreams to realise that I don’t have the time and money to devote to someone else. Raising a kid involves a huge degree of selflessness, most of your personal time, and an astronomical sum of money! It is not a commitment to be taken lightly or with the blind faith that you “will figure it out”. If you have something that needs figuring out, for gosh sake do it now. A baby presents a whole new set of challenges. If you are not in control of your life now, don’t dream you will be once the baby arrives. Each baby is a difficulty level upgrade, not a bonus item!

A lot of mothers said or wrote how fulfilling it could be to have babies. How the difficulties are nothing compared to the rewards. Some of them quit their jobs to be full time moms and bragged about how it’s a choice. While I don’t dismiss the possibility of modern women being happy this way, I think for most cases they said this to convince themselves that it’s the right choice. It’s not a fair choice if the other options are crappy (abandoning your kids, juggling career and motherhood when they’re incompatible and wearing themselves out in the process).

Anyway, I’m rambling and must be boring you. I think parents have the hardest job in the world. And yes, I call it a job because it involves a lot of work and sacrifice, definitely not something you do for fun. If you decide to subject yourself to it, it had better be because the urge really hits you and you tumble head over heels over the idea. That just seems like the only way to go against reason and logic and convince yourself that all the sacrifices will feel worth it.

As for me, I have a track record of being consistent in things that really matter (apparently these do not include boyfriends, but that just goes to show how content and comfortable I am without them), but in the small likelihood that my position on this changes, I will adopt another person’s baby or provide financial support for his/her education and healthcare. We have no shortage of babies in the world, see, the dwindling birth rates in first world countries notwithstanding, but very few are born with the privileges and opportunities they deserve.