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Bastille – Pompeii

This sums up how I’m feeling right now.

But if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
Nothing changed at all?
And if you close your eyes,
Does it almost feel like
You’ve been here before?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?
How am I gonna be an optimist about this?

I have to retreat to the corner of my bed now.

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ein Optimist? (an optimist?)

I evangelise positivity. When shit happens, I say, just flush it out, you’ll get a clean/clear slate again.

Okay, so I don’t exactly say that, but the point is clear.

I am rather naïve, I believe in sparks, miracles and amazing things. I believe in people and their abilities. I think their good turn deserves another. And particularly with the people close to me, I think they’re much to awesome not to be wanted for various reasons, e.g. job, love…

But I have an inability to listen to my own preaching.

When people are down, I say all sorts of great things and really believe in what I’m saying. I would feel like I’ve failed if I wasn’t successful in making them feel better.

But for myself, applying those same words to myself just doesn’t work. Somehow I just don’t understand how or why (or whether) good things will happen to me. It’s feeling like I’m undeserving, perhaps.

Every now and then I fall back into this well where I’m drowning in my own self-pity. I plan and hope for wonderful things but sub-consciously don’t believe that it will happen.

While the faith in my own happy ending continues to waver, I hope I find the strength to fight for this happy ending.

Damn this is hard.

Being Too Comfortable

A year and a half ago, I knew what I wanted and I was searching for it.

Things didn’t go according to plan, and this became plan B. Then S came along, and plan A became increasingly an ideal plan. Before I knew it, time flew by and the end of 2012 is in my face.

As we await the truth of 21.12.2012, that is whether we all perish or not, I’ve been reminding myself not to get too comfortable with the current situation.

I work in an environment where more than half of my colleagues are anticipating their impending retirement in their positions. We don’t have the best pay but we have really great corporate benefits. I’ve settled down and have a lunch entourage I can always count on to make the days a little better. I always have some people I will IM on a daily basis to make things livelier. I am comfortable with everyone in my department. I have networked reasonably far and wide in this company. Of course there’s always more I can do, I’m not saying I’ve done a perfect job.

But every now and then, especially now, I remind myself to get off my chair, wipe off the dust and evaluate if I’ve been sitting on my ass for too long. A little over a year couldn’t have been too long, but it was never what was planned. And I’ve been talking about wanting the same things for ages. Rereading some information online has made me realize I’ve done it the easy way, found an obstacle and quickly placed it in a KIV (keep in view) corner.

I’ve realized how easy it is to fall into the trap of being too comfortable with what works. I’ve been so comfortable on this chair that when presented with the world as my oyster again, I hesitate. I wonder if it is worth giving up this peace I’ve been having.

And gosh, that was scary. I’m glad I found it every now and then. It, being the conscious effort to get off my chair to take a look around.

I need a different chair. And I need to first get off my ass before I can plonk onto another chair.

And I’m not really talking about chairs.

Lieben (to love)

Yesterday at German class, we had a list of trivia questions we had to go around the class asking one another. One person came up to me to ask me, “Was ist für Sie das Wichtigste im Leben?” (What’s the most important thing in life for you?)

And what came quickly to my mind was “lieben” (to love).

Right now I can picture where, how, what and why I would love and feel love all around me. Living in a city I love, with someone I love, with a job I love, plus staying connected with the people I love, listening to the music I love, etc. I think that’s all that really matters in life.

But today is not that day. Today our time difference drew us further apart by an hour. (Big thanks for ending, daylight saving.) Today I woke up alone and grumpy. Today I’ve to prepare for work the next day. Today is not the day.

The day better come soon.

pride and irony

Interestingly, just as I heard a national day song playing on TV, I was reminded that one year ago on National Day, I had missed the entire parade as I was having a Skype interview in hope that I could do an internship in New York.

One year later, I’m having the same discussion, but for a different country (Deutschland, ja gerne) this time. This has come up again and again and again.

It’s enough of saying I need a change, and the world is my oyster. I know the general change I want, and I’ve the biggest push to date.

I’m sorry I don’t feel rooted here. I don’t feel contented. I don’t feel satisfied and whole. And I’m sorry it took a song (that is supposed to invoke nostalgia and national pride) to remind me that I’ve just done this a year ago. It failed then, but the next time I try (possibly next year, depending on how things pan out), I will be prepared. I will try even harder.

I know it’ll be tough. But damn it, I need to try and make my own mistakes.

I just need time to zoom by a little quicker now, if you don’t mind…

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

Are you a ‘have’ person or a ‘be’ person?

S and I were talking about this last night about ‘have’ and ‘be’ people. This sounds weird in English but it stems from ‘haben’ and ‘sein’, I believe.

(Strangely, I had to think extra hard to remember that it’s ‘avoir’ and ‘être’ in French. While typing in French, I also thought of ‘Flughafen’ before ‘aéroport’, though the latter was much closer to ‘airport’. S must be pleased. Anyway, I digress.)

He was talking about a friend who grew up in a village in Germany with few inhabitants, and never ventured far for most of his life, until he moved to a different city for university, and then to China for an exchange semester. Now he has graduated and is in India doing an internship.

While I was in awe of his sense of adventure, I had wondered if he was really enjoying himself there. To be constantly close to your family (in a village!) all your life, then move to a continent so far away, in a country with language and culture extremely different from your own, it sounded like a lot, a lot of adapting to do.

S said that his friend was happy, and that he was a ‘be’ person. He needed little things to be happy; he lived for the moment. He was that kind of guy.

Then we also established that S was that kind of guy too. He didn’t need material things, he didn’t need photographs to capture the moment, he just lived it and retold stories from memory – not from physical evidence.

In fact, while he was in Asia for two and a half weeks, he only took out his camera on the night before he left – to take one picture. It didn’t turn out well, so he kept it again. I wasn’t even sure he brought his camera all trip long.

If ‘have’ and ‘be’ were a spectrum, I think I would fall in the middle, perhaps an inch or two closer to ‘have’. I used to be a ‘have’ extremist. I didn’t own material things but I enjoyed the thought of having them. I idolized people who did. And I liked keeping evidence of everything.

At a concert, I would take a million pictures of the band on stage while I was extremely far away. While people jumped, I tried to keep still filming a video of them singing my favourite songs. When I was first in Europe, I snapped pictures of everything because I wanted to remember everything – the street signs, roads, cars, landmarks, and possibly every dish I tried. I kept every city map and every ticket stub.

I think somewhere along the line I started inching towards ‘be’. At concerts, I only take a picture to show I-was-here-damn-it! I’m enjoying the songs now. While traveling, I’m busy lying on the grass or wandering down streets to snap many pictures.

I’m also beginning to realize I need much less to feel safe now. Perhaps it’s has to do with being comfortable by myself. Or with someone. With S, it was always little worries. He’d ask if I wanted to do something and if I said yes, we’d just do it. I mean, after all, he was the sort of guy who spins me around into a dance when we hear a good song on the streets.

Yes, on the streets. Where people are.

Nevertheless, I’ve still got ‘have’ in me. I still like having physical things to look back on. I just cannot fathom travelling without a camera. But I’m full of admiration of the ‘be’ people. I think the ‘be’ people live with much less worries about whether they’ve captured enough memories.

This will sound cheesy, but perhaps every once in a while, we should really try to live for the moment.

Goodbye, Wisdom Teeth.

Today, I was operated on. As I’m typing this, my lower jaw is still numb (although not as numb as before), and I have to consciously push my lower lip out with my tongue. It was an experience I’ll never forget and I’m about to describe it in excruciating detail just as my friend recounted his experience to me last night. It helped because I knew what was coming up next. Hopefully this helps somebody.

I had two wisdom teeth left. Both lower molars – left and right. I’m not sure what happened to the top two. Perhaps they were extracted when I was getting braces done. But that was when I was 14 or 15, and that seemed kind of young to have wisdom teeth grown out, so maybe not.

I had a consultation on Tuesday with the dentist and she advised having both extracted at the same time. I was worried about not being able to chew any food. She said it’s a fallacy that extracting one side would mean you can chew on the other. I believed her. She also advised having local anaesthesia instead of general anaesthesia. I believed her. I believed in her because she was wonderful, clear, straight to the point and yet assuring. I didn’t always feel wonderful about the decisions but I believed in her.

Today, two hours ago, I was lying in the chair as the nurses prepped me for the surgery. I was in a surgical gown, shower cap, shoe cap, trying to be still while lying on the chair. The nurse wiped my face with antiseptic wipes, and smudged Vaseline on my lips. The dentist entered and she asked me how I was doing. This must be a trick question. I said I’m good but nervous. She was amused. She said the two lower molars will be coming off. I said that wasn’t the best situation but okay. She was amused again.

She then said she understood how I was feeling because she had gone through it herself. She had returned a changed person after undergoing the procedure as she knew how it felt to be in the chair, instead of the dental surgeon. I regained trust in her.

She then swiped two cotton buds with something disgusting, and placed it in my mouth and said, this is going to be bitter, but some things in life just have to be bitter. I don’t like that idea. It was indeed bitter, but I’m Asian. I can take anything that tastes funky.

She then got me to open my mouth as wide as I could, and I did with reluctance. She got her needle and injected me. It was so damn painful I was trembling. I realised that and tried to relax so I wouldn’t tremble anymore. This went on at intervals. After she injected a few times around the area, she showed me the needle and said that was what she had learnt from her experience. She used thin needles instead of the giant one, and injected really slowly so that it would slowly absorb and really get in. It was really slow indeed, it was freaking painful. I wondered why I listened to her when she suggested local anaesthesia. She should’ve knocked me out completely.

Then it started to get numb. I felt weird opening and closing my jaw. She went away as the nurse placed a towel on my chest and eyes. Good, I could see nothing but the light. I closed my eyes and thought happy thoughts. Langkawi, beach, sand, scooter. S wants to ride a scooter around Langkawi and that was an exciting thought!

The dentist came back. She was ready, I was not. But okay, there’s no point waiting. She told me she was going to begin. She injected the area a few more times. It was good and numb. She then proceeded to slice my gum. I was numb and I could feel the movements. It must’ve been bleeding crazily. The nurse did a good suction job. I didn’t taste the blood. Maybe my tongue was numb too. Then she whipped out another fancy equipment and told me I was going to hear drilling and feel some vibrations. And she drilled my tooth in half. That took two kinds of drilling equipment. She then got her surgical tongs and ripped it right out of the socket.

I was warned that female dentists didn’t have the strength and often seem like they’re using a whole lot of effort trying to get wisdom tooth out, so male dentists were the way to go. But they were wrong, she was awesome. She got it out, and I didn’t feel her body weight on me. I didn’t feel her struggle. She took a little while but she got it out without much trouble. She told me it was done and she was going to stitch it up. And she did. Then it was time for the other side.

Bearing in mind I was periodically trembling with fear, then trying to take a deep breath to calm myself down, worrying about my wriggling tongue getting sliced, worrying about her drilling my other tooth by mistake, etc, it was really assuring when she told me I was doing a good job. What did she probably mean was – good job lying on the chair though you’re trembling and making things difficult for me. But she said it convincingly, so I believed I was doing a good job. I took another deep breath.

I told myself if I could do it once, I could do it twice. The slicing, the drilling, the yanking it out and the stitching repeated. Langkawi, scooter, Langkawi, scooter. And then it was done.

My lower jaw was entirely numb, and any sound I made ranged from mm (go on), mmhmm (yes) to mm-mm (no). But they had lots of questions for me. Did I feel giddy, did I want to top up the balance with cash or card, did I want to use nets or master, did I have any questions for them. I struggled to make sounds that sound like words.

I was also warned by friends that I should take the painkillers as timely as possible, i.e. every 6 hours. But when I received my medication, it stated – one pill every morning after food. Oh god – my painkillers are only taken once a day.

Now I’m home – extremely happy to be home – and thankful to never ever have to repeat the above, ever, ever again.

Thank goodness wisdom teeth don’t regrow like milk teeth.

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What could’ve been

I don’t know about you, but every so often it hits me that my life could’ve been very, very different.

Probably because I’m not someone who knew exactly what I wanted, and thereby had many options presented to me instead of having to fight for a specific route. And I guess my parents empowered me with the decision-making authority.

My very first big decision I had to make as a kid was deciding which secondary school to go to. Even with this, I leaned towards school A, but ended up going to school B – thank god because a large number of my great great friends were people I knew from here. Would I have been able to speak better mandarin had I gone to school A? Perhaps. But the joy of being in a girls school (ie school B) was something I thoroughly enjoyed, to be honest. It was a good time to hide from them boys.

Deciding which junior college I wanted to go to was next. And I ended up in the one where I met my ex. No doubt it was clearly scarring experience seeing as to how we’ve left each other’s lives completely, we had good times and I don’t regret having gone through them.

Deciding which university to go to was a close call. But in my university, I met the best group of friends ever and are still in close contact in spite of our hectic lives since graduation. Wouldn’t have had it any other way. I also got to live away from my parents by staying in a hostel with my best friend. I loved that independence though I didn’t love the distance or the ‘book-in’ sundays.

Deciding where to go on exchange – yet another close shave. I had wanted to go to Canada but was rejected. Had I gone there, I wouldn’t have been this head over heels in love with France, French culture, Europe as a whole, etc. I wouldn’t have met these amazing bunch of friends from all over the world (because the French school I ended up in consisted of international students making up 50% of the school population!) and I wouldn’t have met S.

Deciding whether to jump onto the first job offer presented to me was yet another huge dilemma I was going crazy about. Had I taken it, I might be thoroughly unhappy (because it deals with unhappy people), and I would have hated commuting. I would also not have been able to take S around when he came and we may not have ended up the way we are. I would also not have taken up a holiday job at the salad bar, which was so much fun! I loved it, loved the people there and loved what I did for the month and a half!

Lastly, I recently found out that a guy I used to hang out with quite a bit, and used to have a huge thing for, is now engaged. Had anything have happened, things would be so, so different!

For all of above, I say a big WHEW.

Thankfulness

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?