Past tense

I lost my aunt today.

She was a joy to visit and call, because she was always full of optimism, full of joy and she was the most understanding and supportive aunt.

She had been battling her illness for a while, which makes grieving a little easier. But the use of past tense is unnerving. I do think she is in a better place now.

H, bless his heart, let me talk on and on about her while he’s away and exhausted from the day. But she was the best aunt.

I remember telling her about H, when he hadn’t met the family yet. She would come excitedly into my room, giggle and ask me to show her a picture of him. Then dizzy with excitement, she would tell me her impression of him – all of which were naturally positive comments.

She would ask a few questions about him as a person and about his family. Then she would quickly say that it’s important to know that one is a good person, and would be a good partner. And from my answers, she knew that I had found the right partner.

When I was moving to Germany, she told me not to worry, and that my parents just want me to be happy, and simply advised me to call home regularly.

When I moved to Germany, she asked if the environment was great, if I got used to the weather, if work was hard to find.

When I found a job, she was happy to hear that I had settled in. She had already started losing weight and energy by then, but she would tell me that hearing from me made her day.

When we visited in April, she was low on energy but she refused to let us leave. She happily told stories, waited for them to be translated for H, waited for me to translate H’s answers. We had planned to stay for an hour, but we stayed for hours more.

When it got so much worse a few weeks ago, I made her a video of me just saying hi from the bathroom stall at work. She insisted on her son taking a video and sending it back. She didn’t have the energy anymore to sit up or hold a phone. Her eyes were barely open, and she looked completely different. But in the short video, she managed to squeeze in the fact that she was delighted to see me and hear from me.

I’m extremely far away from home, and I won’t make it to the funeral. But I hope she knows that I’ll miss her very much.


zum ersten Mal (for the first time)

In the spirit of creating new experiences, I’ve had several firsts this Easter weekend.

Since it was my dad’s birthday coming up (plus an awesome friend of my brother who had an awesome deal), we had a staycation. That’s a vacation in the same country. Well, that might sound like a proper holiday, but bearing in mind that I live in a city-state…

I also learnt that the German expression for that is „Wir machen Urlaub auf Balkonien“, which literally translates to a vacation on the balcony. That cracks me up. Anyway, I digressed.

During the staycation, I bugged the poolside bartender and made him laugh through my pursuit of the ball owned by the hotel. It was a volleyball that eventually was on the loose and I swam for it.

I ended up playing ball with a little boy in the pool – and that was such a ball! (Excuse my pun.) We ended up creating moves before our throws, which included spinning around under water, doing Gangnam style, the chicken dance, etc. He was about 5. Mentally, I was about 6.

When my parents had gone to sleep and my brother and his fiancée left us, I went down to the bar by myself. I’ve never gone to a bar by myself. It sounds incredibly sad and truth be told, I was rather bummed out but the live band was amazing. When the band completed their performance, I wasn’t tired enough yet so I lingered around. The bartender and his manager were such lovely souls. It was not until this weekend that I’ve said anything more than what drink I wanted to a bartender!

It was also not until today that I’ve done anything with eggs on Easter. Looking forward to the reaction of my parents when they open the fridge tomorrow.

easter eggsFrohe Ostern! (Happy Easter!)


There it is – a brand new year.

I would love to say “Whoa. Where did the time go?” But I think this year didn’t exactly zoom by. It did feel like a year ago that I did the annual reflection.

That’s not to say the year wasn’t eventful. It was, and that’s also why at this very point, it feels extremely far from the events of last year.

  • Career

Can’t believe I’ve stuck with my job all this time. As a product of the new generation, it’s safe to call it an achievement to have it made it past a year of being with the same company. I think I’ve grown through it, the ability to separate emotions from business, networking internally, dealing with external vendors, being now called a “bro” by my lunch group, etc. There are greater responsibilities now, and there is a greater comfort level where I’m sitting now – and that comes with slight fear and knowing that there’s still a lot of room to grow – maybe within the role, maybe within the company, but also maybe out of this city I call home.

  • Family

I lost a loved one at the start of the year. Sometimes I worry that I’ve forgotten how things were with her around but sometimes I dream of her and her indirect ways of showing approval for the things I do. Sometimes I feel so sorry for her, for leaving behind a broken extended family that only held up with her presence. The extended family is definitely screwed up, but I’m keeping my nuclear family close, and I think we had a pretty good year.

  • Friends

I don’t think I’ve realised the fragility of friendships until this year. The ability to drift apart through space and time, and the ability to think – ah heck it, it’s too much trouble, and if you don’t care, I don’t care. With the evolution of technology, somehow keeping in touch becomes a greater pain in the butt – how was that possible? I decided to lay off social media like Instagram and Twitter, partly because I didn’t want to know everything about a person before meeting them, and partly because I would like to know what friends would like to tell me in person, i.e. not through the broadcast of social media. This year definitely saw me through the making of several new good friends, the ups and downs of sustaining some old ones, and how the ones with the best fit are gonna stick around through it all, without much effort at all. I’m truly blessed in that area.

  • Love

I remember someone telling me not to give in to the stereotype of long distance relationship being difficult. It’s true that for most of the time, it is easy peasy. I love him, he loves me, one of us is in the wrong city. When we meet, it’s heaven on earth; when we part, it’s hell. There are so many ups and downs in a long distance relationship, god knows my poor cousin had to hear me out so many times. If it isn’t a cyclical moodiness of realizing how far apart we are, it is just insecurity. It’s tough to get a healthy balance of dependence and independence necessary. But at the end of the day, it’s about what works with us, and I think we did a pretty amazing job keeping it going, reigniting the spark every so often, despite – till date – having no expiry of the long distance in sight. But it’s clear we have a similar goal and I’m blessed to have someone love me from 10,000km away.

  • Personal development

Participate in two more 10km run, check. Picking up a new language, check. Picking up a new sport, check. Let my hands go crazy with art and craft, check. Read more books, check. Read the news more, check. Spend less time worrying about what others think of me, check. Travel to new destinations, learn to pack really light, travel alone, check check check.

And for the new year? Apart from the usual blessed and healthy family and friends, I sincerely hope for career enlightenment, at least for the time being. Remaining active physically. Exploring the kitchen more. And cohabiting with the boy.

I’m ready, 2013. Take on me.

Learn How to Die to Learn How to Live

Early this year, I lost my grandma. I was not meant to be taken aback when she had to go because she had a full struggle and I saw her progressively get worse.

Just two years before, she was the most active 80plus lady I knew. She was alert enough to hear all my stories, to figure out how we can see each other via the computer screen while I was abroad. She knew to ask all the right questions – whether I was eating well, whether I was keeping warm.

When I came back, she kept interested in my pictures. She gave me much more freedom than she used to. But she was still a force to be reckoned with. She was the life of every party. And she was a disciplinarian. She would discipline us behind the scenes, but rave about us to all relatives, neighbours and strangers – true Asian style and more.

One day she had a bad fall, and everything just got worse thereon. She wasn’t as mobile, she wasn’t as strong. She couldn’t find the strength to move around on her own anymore. She couldn’t go to the market or to make us delicious meals. Her memory got worse.

Then she had the second fall, and she started talking about death like she knew it was knocking at her door. We refused to listen, we forced physiotherapy on her, we made her eat more than she could (which was nothing at all).

And so when she couldn’t get out of bed, and she was constantly ill and eventually hospitalized for a long time, we knew her time was coming. We were warned to be mentally prepared. But when she left at a ripe 90 years old, I was shocked anyway. My heart dropped anyway. My tears ran anyway.

Despite that, despite all her suffering, she tried to impart words of wisdom whenever she was alert enough to. She told me that I have to be careful when selecting a partner. She told me to be good to my parents. She told me to work hard. And she seemed like she knew she was leaving, and had come to terms with it.

I think somewhere along the way while I was grappling with her passing, I was recommended to read Tuesdays with Morrie. I took four months to start. And it’s an amazing book.

While it wasn’t really about how to deal with the passing of a loved one, it makes one reflect on whether we’re living life the way we want to. It really strikes a chord.

Below is my favourite excerpt, from when Mitch was asking Morrie (who was diagnosed with ALS) about the idea of dying:

Did you think much about death before you got sick, I asked.

“No.” Morrie smiled. “I was like everyone else. I once told a friend of mine, in a moment of exuberance, ‘I’m gonna be the healthiest old man you ever met!’ ”

How old were you?

“In my sixties.”

So you were optimistic.

“Why not? Like I said, no one really believes they’re going to die.”

But everyone knows someone who has died, I said. Why is it so hard to think about dying?

“Because,” Morrie continued, “most of us all walk around as if we’re sleepwalking. We really don’t experience the world fully, because we’re half-asleep, doing things we automatically think we have to do.”

And facing death changes all that?

“Oh, yes. You strip away all that stuff that and you focus on the essentials. When you realize you are going to die, you see everything much differently.

He sighed, “Learn how to die, and you learn how to live.”

the weekend read

Speaking with Acquaintances VS Loved Ones

In parallel with the previous post about being blessed – I noticed something at work today.

I’ve a colleague who was previously in a position where she had to liaise with customers all the time. She is absolutely brilliant on the phone. She has amazing phone etiquette and she speaks to cold callers, service providers, etc with extreme courtesy.

I adore her. I really admire her ability to make small talk, her ability to make others comfortable around her, her comfort with her job, in her own skin, her faith in running, how she juggles work and family, etc.

Her husband’s currently abroad, and I think they hit a slightly rough patch. So when he called the other day, she switched to a clearly irritable-sounding tone.

And then it hit me because I think we’re all guilty of it. How is it that we speak with acquaintances in a nicer manner than when with loved ones?

I mean – do we care about strangers on the streets? Do we care about our customers? Do we care about the acquaintances? Do we care about the colleagues we make small talk with? Do we care about them as much as our loved ones? How is it that we’re extremely nice to them instead?

Even if we’re having a bad day, we still mask it in front of others. But with our loved ones, we let it show. We let it all out. I’m upset, and I want you to know it. But in some ways, that seems really sad to me.

I’m not saying I’d rather mask my feelings when with my loved ones. I definitely would rather let them know what’s truly going on than anyone else I don’t care about. And it’s not about being close enough to not stand on ceremony, or skip the formalities.

But if we’re so nice to others, shouldn’t we try to say these “please” and “thank you” to our loved ones too?

When was the last time you said, “Mum, thanks for cooking the meal. It was delicious.” When was the last time you said that to somebody’s mum when you were invited over?

When was the last time you said, “Thank you” when your sibling decides to give you a ride to somewhere you needed to go? When was the last time you said that to cab driver?

When was the last time you said, “Could you please help me…” to your boyfriend instead of demanding it right away? When was the last time you said that to a colleague?

Shouldn’t we care more about sustaining that relationship with our loved ones – enough to speak to them in a nicer manner?

Feeling blessed, just because.

Every now and then I get caught up in the where-do-I-go-from-here, what-do-I-want situation, I get lost in the pursuit of happiness. Then moments sprout up and I realise that I’ve so much to be thankful for.

I’m six months into my first full-time job. Sure, six months old is a baby but I’ve finally reached a stage where I feel comfortable being at work. I’m still not sure if my job’s what I want to be doing (and that’s another story on its own) but the people are lovely. Just yesterday, a colleague took the time to sit in the terrace with me just to find out how I was doing, and boldly shared with me about his past.

I say ‘boldly’ not because it’s of embarrassing content. But to share your personal anecdotes, I think it takes courage. It’s putting yourself in a vulnerable spot for all to see, and it’s free for all to judge or critique you on. I think that’s one of the toughest things I face when making small talk with people. I often face a roadblock simply because I don’t feel comfortable enough with sharing. And then in kind, people would feel awkward. I was egged on to share a story I’ve been telling and retelling but my mouth was shut, apart from a one-liner synopsis. Oops.

But I digress.

My parents are lovely folks. My mum cooks every dinner, and both eagerly ask me every morning if I’ll be returning home for dinner. Often the answer is yes, but often I return at around 8. Despite that happening a lot, mum would text when it’s past 7.30 to double check if I was, in fact, going to have dinner at home. Usually I reply when I’m downstairs; well, to say that I was downstairs. When I get home, she’s usually warming the food up for me. Blessed.

My brother is engaged to marry, and after a casual whine about how I wasn’t invited to take a look at some wedding locations they were looking at, he texted me to say that they were revisiting some places and invited me to join the couple in their hunt. He isn’t a sibling that is affectionately expressive. In a country where there is not much hugging or kissing your family, it is hard to tell. (I wish we were. Physical touch is underrated.) Especially when his messages frequently end off with ‘hmph’ or ‘ew’ or ‘you’re hmph/ew’. But I would know that he was being affectionate. Blessed.

My boyfriend is quite some miles away and is almost always busy. Like when he was back at his parents’, he managed to find some time, between having lunch with his parents and taking his grandma out for tea, to find out how I was doing. (Well, not really tea. Kaffee und Kuchen, as they call it. It literally means coffee and cake. Yum.) Between stressing over his masters thesis and catching football matches at a bar with his friends, he sends “beer-tasting kisses” as he calls it. It makes me laugh. Blessed.

My friends are a mixed bunch. Some are halfway across the globe; some are just a few streets down from where I live. And still, I feel like I can reach out to them anytime, and they would listen to me whatever my story may be. From politics to family, living styles to food, culture to gossip, I can always find someone to talk to. Granted I’m not someone with many close friends, the ones that count are amazing. Blessed.

I’m also at a stage where I seem to want to learn anything and everything. You’d think that phase would die down upon graduation, but I think it has only strengthened since. Signing up for classes just gives me an undeniable thrill, even if I know it’s going to be a huge challenge. I’m gearing up for a physical challenge and the challenge of picking up a new language. I’m plastering post-it notes around my cubicle (and soon, my room will get a piece of it too) to help me catch on with the language quick. And I’m truly thankful for having the luxury of time and financial capability of taking these up. Blessed.

If your day feels like crap, take a second and look around. Despite the crap, what are you thankful for?

Filial Piety

Filial piety is so bizarre.

It’s not the concept that I find bizarre. To be good to your parents, to be respectful towards them – that I completely agree and understand why. But how do you display filial piety? That is the question.

I recently met a friend from the past, we reconnected one random day while bumping into each other on the train and discovered we had so much more in common now than ever before. And both of us have ideas and plans of travelling the world and working in a different country. We shared the same joy for being in a foreign land, and had the same adrenaline rush of overcoming that adaptation barrier.

But being an Asian in a conservative country where filial piety is of utmost importance, we know it breaks our parents’ hearts that we want to get away from our mother land, that we’re not within x kilometres radius from them. If and when we do move away, we won’t be there for them whenever they need it. We can’t be there to take them on weekends just because. We can’t fulfil the Asian idea of being a filial child, taking care of them till they’re old; giving back everything they’ve given to us, which also means sacrificing our hopes and dreams to be with them, like they did for us.

But I constantly wonder if there’re other ways of displaying filial piety.

It doesn’t help that there was recently an article about how an ex-classmate had such thoughts about moving away but she was willing to wait as she had an ailing father. While I congratulated her on an article well written and published, everyone else was complimenting her on being the perfect daughter.

I love my parents, I really do. I appreciate that they’re so amazing. I appreciate that they made do with circumstances and painstakingly brought both my brother and me up. I admired the fact that my dad stayed still in a job for stability to ensure we had everything we needed. My mum stayed home to watch us.

Now, both my brother and I have wings. We have our own ways of thinking. He will soon be married. My future is unplanned and I like that I could go anywhere I wanted to. My parents were a careful balance of strict yet liberal with us, and I guess because of that we could go anywhere and do anything we wanted but we knew how to stay within the boundaries.

When my grandma passed away, my dad told me that he will always want to remain in Singapore, and that he would give me his blessings if I did move away. And while that was all I ever wanted to hear, it pained me to hear that as well.

We were always brought up to consider our parents’ feelings, and to really look deep into what they say. If they said they didn’t mind an issue, were they just being nice? Did they really not mind it? This was one of the cases where I knew that it would pain my dad but he loves me so much that he would rather have me happy elsewhere than stay here for them.

I think I always knew that I would want to be out of this city. I’ve prepped them up when I went away on exchange. I prepped them up when I returned and constantly raved about Europe. I’ve prepped them up when I took up the Skype interview for an internship in New York. I even searched for jobs in UK, France, Germany and Switzerland upon graduation. And I think they got the idea when they found out I was dating a foreigner. I think they got even more certain when I started doing a lot of travels without ‘adults’ (as in parents) or tours.

While I haven’t got a solid plan to leave yet, I know I will eventually regardless of the outcome of my current relationship. It is never about feeling like Singapore is insufficient for me but I’m in love with going through the process of adapting to a foreign city, and it isn’t just for holiday sake.

So now the question is, is there no way of being apart from your parents and still show that you love them? Would moving away mean one isn’t filial? Is this all very selfish?


Holidays are commercialised. I mean, we don’t even celebrate some of them officially as a city/country. But nevertheless I’m gonna roll with it because it’s a holiday with great intention.

Et voilà, things to be thankful for:
1) a happy & healthy family
I’m thankful for my parents who occasionally drive me mad, and probably vice versa. This applies to my brother too but I know they’ll be there. Hmm I hope I can still say this when (or if) I make life changing decisions against their favour! Lol

2) an amazing support system
I often say I’ve not enough friends because it’s terribly difficult to ask for company these days. But I know I can still always speak to them and they’ll offer me a listening ear. I’m glad to have support even in crazy times, and shared angst in terrible times. Empathy works wonders, really. I’m thankful for these amazing friends. 🙂

3) a job
I’m thankful for my job. I don’t necessarily love it yet, and I hope I do when I eventually get a sense of ownership and belonging. But I’m thankful that I’m earning and I’ll be able to rejuvenate (coughtravelplanscough) as a person every now and then.

4) life’s surprises
I’m thankful for all the surprises life has sprung on me. It often makes me question whether the path I’m taking is the better one and often I find something else to be thankful for. All the little roads I had to take to be who I am today, I’m glad I took them.

5) love
I’m thankful for love because it taught me to be the kind of person I want to be. Past loves have taught me so much and present love taught me to appreciate.

I’m thankful that I have all of the above to keep me going, and make me glad to be alive.

So to those who celebrate it: happy thanksgiving! What are you thankful for?