Wildflower

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Because it was Al’s last week as a bachelorette, we girlfriends decided to (finally) meet up for tea at Arteastiq. There was a strange sense of lingering bittersweetness as we listened to each of us share about our present stage of life. Almost fifteen years ago, we still donned our short haircuts looking like awkward schoolgirls on the edge of puberty, carrying our heavy schoolbags and making our way to school. Now years later, we have experimented with all sorts of hairstyles and lengths, negotiated fashion trends, and exchanged our boxy schoolbags for totes and hobos. Time has been kind to us; we have grown up well.

I listened in to the various conversation threads at our tea table. We recognise that life is not all roses and chocolates and pastel colour shades. There are realities of wedding days that people may gloss over due to the hype and celebrations; there is unflattering truth that I have ballooned twice in size since I graduated from University. There is the private emptiness when a happy marriage has not bred children a few years later. There is that nagging torment that beneath our seemingly successful jobs, we are not all that happy, and looking for the next turn in life is at the corner of our minds. There is also that swell of courage that we need to brace ourselves with, when we get ready to welcome the possibility of change.

I am becoming more excited at the prospect of possible change, and am becoming more convinced that there is no harm in entertaining that possibility. Perhaps when time is ripe, circumstances will allow me to be more forthcoming in sharing.

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Weddings and Baby Showers

At twenty-eight, I fluctuate between being secure about where I am in life, and being extremely uncertain about it. Most of the time I feel really happy seeing my friends get engaged and getting pregnant, and giving birth and decorating a new home. I also feel very comfortable being on my own and enjoying the solitude that comes with it. Then there are times when I wonder when the time for me to experience love and have a kid and visit Ikea and do all those adult things will be.

Tonight we dug out this Bengawan Solo baby shower cake voucher for a walnut cake (yummy!). We all thought it was from a friend at church until I saw my name on the envelope. It was a friend more than half a year ago in November. My mother’s eyes widened, “Your friends have kids?”

There was an awkward pause and all I could afford was a “yeah?“.

Her next line was “When is it going to be your turn?” “You are almost 30!”

Then, “Are you seeing anybody right now?”

I really wanted to walk away. The aftertaste of the conversation lingered in my mind – and trust me, it wasn’t pleasant. Those questions made me feel that I should be happily married and about to give birth to a child anytime. It made me feel that I was living on a different timeline that was moving years too slowly compared to my peers – who by the way, have about 2 kids already.

I was insulted because she seemed to expect me to be seeing someone, although if she had taken notice of my life, I have been bogged down by one thing, and one thing only: schoolwork.

It really doesn’t make sense to drop such comments instead of help me remember that His plans for us are perfect. It is hard enough already making sure I remain vigilant and prayerful, and be a good friend and teacher and daughter and sister.

Hard Lesson #1: Make Time

‘Make time.’

This is a principle I am not unfamiliar with since the start of my working career. All of us have twenty four solid hours in a day, nothing more, nothing less, but we choose to spend them in different ways. Time, in its measurable quantitative value, cannot be made. But Time, in its qualitative form, operates in a strange and elusive paradigm. It can be stretched and compressed, it can pass slowly or quickly, it can be worth immeasurably, or nothing at all.

From the beginning, we were urged to learn how to ‘Make time.’ It served as an effective instruction to manage our various responsibilities and commitments. Of course, it is one of most difficult lessons to master, for me at least. Inadvertently, my time is spent squandered on indulging in the convenience of my introversion and my slothful private habits. Needless to say, my spiritual life, church life, even social life, suffer the most. For my selfishness rules with great tyrannical conviction over the twenty four hours I have been blessed with, allotting minute pockets of time to what may matter most in reality, and giving lavishly to matters of personal indulgence instead. What a shame.

My few achievements and successes in my career cheers my spirit some at the end of each year, although increasingly the value of the reward is little compared to the opportunity costs of it. Each time at the end of a grand year, I experience a rather short-lived reflective period and begin to count my blessings, and remember that it is the Lord God who builds up, and it is the Lord God who sustains the work of my hands. Only in a spiritual drought nearing the end of the year, do I remember that God’s grace is sufficient, His blessings like showers that pour out upon us. Then, I give God the glory.

At a home blessing service this evening, a Bible passage struck me, harking down to the very same principle of ‘Making Time’ as from the beginning.

Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for he grants sleep to those he loves.

Psalm 127:1-2

Unless the Lord God wills the house to be built, nothing will be accomplished. Tonight I remember the smallness of our being, and the greatness of our Lord’s might and compassion in contrast. Each time I see a child succeed, I have to give thanks and praise God – not just by my mouth, but with my heart and soul as well.

The curious thing is what follows in verse 2. When we forget who is in control, we tend to be worrywarts. I know I have a strong tendency to want to be in control. It is only then when I feel empowered, assured, and at ease, believing that I pull (most of) the strings of this puppet show. But how silly it is to think that we have access and control over all the puppet strings for the show! How silly it is to worry about those strings, when the Lord God has already promised that His will be done!

I try to, do things, even when I might guess that it is possibly in vain. When the busy season comes, my life extends late into the night, frequently tempering at deadlines, and believing that I am ‘busy‘ ‘toiling‘ away, robbed of the ability to be joyful and thankful and to have rest and sustenance when work gets tough. In verse 2, the Bible states – and right in my face – that ‘the Lord grants sleep to those He loves’. Whether this means a full 8-hour sleep package at night, or restfulness during a brief night’s nap, what it means for sure, is sustenance for the journey.

So with this promise, what God wants is probably the simplest thing from us: to ‘Make time.’ To make time for Him.

This hard lesson #1 is for Twenty Fifteen.

Hong Kong Diaries

This December, I went to Hong Kong for a short trip with M. In the five days there, I have returned wholeheartedly acknowledging the heartiness of food at the centre of Hong Kong’s lifestyle. It was massive, excessive even, and yet the amount of physical exercise we did on foot seemed to offset the indulgence we spent taking care of our tummies.

M was patient and accommodating, and we went around to some lovely touristy places and visited the streets of Mongkok and explored some of the lovely HK eateries. The best part of the eating must be the HK congee. I fell in love with the generous flavours and cook of the rice. Although I have never been a huge fan of porridge, I loved and polished every bowl of porridge I had in Hong Kong. We also had our fair share of egg tart and bread tasting at several bakeries, including Kum Wah Cafe & Cakes as well as Tai Cheong Bakery. There was a lot more variety and flavour in the food and I definitely enjoyed savouring each dish I was introduced to. I could not appreciate every dish though – the traditional HK dim sum with the beef balls and fish balls were strange to the palate and I had to rely on M to help finish up the food. But goodness we ate so much – almost every thing we had could have been halved and we would still be full. There just was not enough time spent in HK to fully explore the different foods and flavours!

We also went to Disneyland, Ocean Park, and The Peak – which were exciting places to spend time at. It would have been great if we had other company to give us that boost in bravery to take more rides. M isn’t quite a thrill seeker when it comes to theme parks, and I needed that extra persuasion to truly make our every penny count. It is my first time in Disneyland, and the experience was truly magical – it is probably the best time I had in Hong Kong these five days. We had a nice variety of thrill rides, fairytal-ish exhibits and performances, and delicious park snacks like caramel popcorn with Mickey sitting on the pack, and a Mickey Mouse shaped rice with grilled chicken from their Starlight Fast Food stop yum. M specially requested to stay for the evening parade, which really killed my feet by the time we got back to our hostel – but I thought was something we could not miss out on! It was amazing the lights, logistics and detail that goes into the parade, and I was nothing short of being blown away.

Our accommodation was at the HK Youth Hostel Association’s Mei Ho House at Sham Shui Po / Shek Kip Mei – one of the revitalisation projects that aimed to preserve the historical aspect of the district after the 1953 big fire that wiped out many families’ housing. The hostel was only opened a year ago, and the building was beautifully furnished, complete with a gift shop, laundry room, huge kitchen pantry, beautiful eclectic cafe, open-air lounge areas, and even an indoor museum that presented the story of Mei Ho House.

I did not think I would need that long to walk through the exhibits in the museum, but I spent almost one and a half hours in that 2-storey showroom. There was a fair balance of videos, photographs, artefacts from the past and more importantly, write ups that presented very honest but courageous real life stories of people who experienced the fire in one way or another. In the midst of the disaster, the strength and resilience of the victims of the fire really moved me in a powerful way – almost as if there was something that connected me with these families that I had not even met. The burning down of the residential buildings made way for restorative projects and the new housing policies from the government. It also brought out the best in other people in communities near and far. People who generously donated to the needs of the victims, people who contributed their time and energy to raise funds for the victims, even the victims themselves who came together to tide through the difficult times, sharing bathrooms and food and money. I was just amazed by the strength in humanity to face adversity in such a courageous way, something I am not sure I can manage. It is in times like these that we see the providence and sovereignty of our God who gives strength to the weary and hope to those in darkness.

It is a lot to take back, in a strange way. During the week-long vacation in Hong Kong, M visited her aunt several times, which allowed me opportunity for some personal reflection and prayer. As she shares with me the personal stories of her relatives and family in Hong Kong, what strikes me is that they have endured certain kinds of hardship that required them to stand up strong from beneath it by relying on the Lord, and in a very humble way, they have done so.

When my ankle gave me all sorts of mobility problems – we had to plan our itinerary around it in some way, resting at regular intervals, avoiding walking long distances (and eating more) – M’s relatives kept asking after us, reminding us to rest enough and apply medication and what not. As much as the attention can be overwhelming, their concern is undeniable as well. Despite wheelchair-bound, living in an elderly care home, M’s aunt bought pork buns for us as she worried we may not have time to grab dinner.

More than anything else, these five days gave me plenty of time to spend with my good friend and sister-in-Christ, and catch up on what has happened in the past one semester of our lives. We had plenty of time to pray and think and engage in conversation, and I give thanks for that.

Lots of take back, lots to remember to keep moving forward.

Holidays

Snooze the alarm.
Make coffee from the drip machine.
Wait for Korean drama to load on Dramafire.
Open documents folder.
Go back to Dramafire.
Open PowerPoint and Word documents.
Go back to Dramafire.
Play with other tabs on the Internet.
Create a new document for a worksheet.
Go back to Dramafire.
Use the toilet.
Order in lunch.
Pretend to pack up a small part of the house.
Go back to Dramafire.
Fiddle with PowerPoint.
Have lunch.
Take a nap.
Channel surf on TV.
Tell myself that there is still tomorrow.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

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Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

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What Gives Life

With the advent of the holiday season, someone on Facebook suggesting listing down 10 things that we most enjoy, things that make us who we are, that make us feel alive. Those, I guess, are the things we need to hold on to and if there were ever something to get ourselves lost in, these would be it. Here’s my list.

  1. Being among children
  2. Watching movies (Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart, The Hunger Games: MockingJay Part 1, The Hobbit … the holiday repertoire of movies is mindblowing!)
  3. Music (k-boxing, Michael Buble, One Republic, The Corrs)
  4. Writing (anything from blogging to typing emails to actual writing)
  5. “Me” time and wide, open spaces
  6. Honest conversations with good friends
  7. Making artsy stuff for friends (putting that Paper Market collection to good use!)
  8. Thrilling experiences (roller coasters and things like that)
  9. Being with my kids at school (surprisingly.)
  10. Poetry (<3)

I wonder how this would change say, in the next five, ten, fifteen years. :)

Like a Walk in the Desert

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He walked on, footstep after footstep, sinking his feet into the warm desert sand with every step he took. The space was vast, the ends boundless. He turned 90 degrees to his right, and the view that greeted him was completely the same as what he had turned from. He tried again to the left, only to be engulfed in a sense of utter friendlessness and confusion. The longing to escape from this pit of aridity and sameness grew stronger with every gust of wind that swept past his ears. The fear of never leaving that desert and never seeing a colour other than that rust-stained sandscape again made him scream out in wild hysteria.

My mind too has been a wandering in the desert, and has lost its bearings. It has been near impossible to put into words my thoughts and feelings, and the closest that I have come to doing so, is to speak of it metaphorically.

In the past few days I revisited some of my earlier entries recounting my experiences in school. Many of them reflective, filled with a sense of childlike wonderment at the infinite possibilities of teaching in a classroom, and a heart of immense gratitude when given opportunities to shine. I cringe when I read those entries – partly because it makes me feel stupid for being naive then, but partly also because I see in my present self the opposite of that earnest young fellow who wrote those entries three years ago.

There is something more I need to fix, and this is something I have been lying to myself about in order to play down the necessity of it. There is, simply put, no way a person can expect to find his way out of the vast changing landscapes of the desert, without God as his guide. And I guess the only thing one really needs is to be in tune with God.

Take My Life

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I sat across from my two teacher friends at Bakers & Cook last week hearing them take turns to tell their moving and empowering tales on Teachers’ Day. As one friend recounted her experience, the other friend wiped tears off her cheeks, gushing at the sentimentality of the moment. As they recounted their versions of Teachers’ Day 2014, my mind was working to find a way to divert their attention onto something else. I had no inspirational Teacher’s Day story or memorable gift from a student that reaffirmed my calling, and I did not want to be in the position to have to answer another, “So, how was your Teachers’ Day?” question. My Teachers’ Day was spent ordinarily. My form class gave me an obligatory Teachers’ Day notebook, most of the messages reading “Happy Teachers’ Day!”. I walked into class and distributed their results slips, and they behaved the exact same way they usually do.

I know we are not in this job for the recognition, praise or thanks, but truth be told, sometimes that is what we need to keep us going. And this year, I felt trashy and tired and tired of having to keep up with the smiles and grins. I feel under-appreciated by the school, and by the students. I need to find my bearings again. I need to refuel my soul and remember why I am in this profession. I have spent this entire week savouring the times spent alone and with friends, and wondering if it is time to move on. But half the time I spend beating myself up over why such a question even exists to plague me. If I believed with all my heart that teaching is a calling, then why do I struggle so hard to find out if it is time to change courses and move on? It is either I commit what I do every day into the Lord’s hands, no matter the amount of acknowledgement or praise because I want to labour for the Lord; or I have taken it upon myself to decide what career and future I want.

My principal wrote and shared a personal poem with us on Teachers’ Day. It may have been the most meaningful point that day for me:

Dear God, who am I to be so blessed
with this motley crew who call me ‘captain’
That You in Your infinite wisdom
gifted me when my posting did happen?
In my third year now, I give you thanks
for this precious gift, wondrously fine,
of colleagues, with loving hearts of gold,
Team _, one I’m proud to call mine.

Teachers, on this, most sacred of days,
may the ideals which influenced your choice
of this noble profession remain
and give cause to make your hearts rejoice
May today be a gentle reminder
that while rocky days may un-inspire,
you are much loved and held dear, for truly
you have the power to set hearts afire!

I pray you’ll enjoy, until you retire
many more years to lead, care and inspire! 

My career this year (and hilariously by extension, my life) seems to have paled in comparison to previous years. I wish I relied on God in the pursuit of my career achievements and choices. I wish I had prayed before I took on roles and responsibilities, before I decided to binge and mark, before I decided to run my life in a way that I approved of. I had allowed my emotions to cloud my judgment in my job and at many points, probably was not in the best shape to give my students my all. I feel ashamed when I see the extent to which my friends have given up my holiday and time and sleep to work with their students to build them up.

I do have plans for change, but God needs to to come before those plans first. It never is easy to put your thoughts in words, especially when it is this close to midnight. My prayer is just that I continue to seek out God’s will and figure out all these infinite possibilities with His direction.

Top Ten: Movies Version

1. The Perfect Storm (2000), Wolfgang Petersen
The film blew me away. I felt for the first time being held in awe and in fear at something so grand and powerful.

2. Shop Around the Corner (1940), Ernst Lubitsch
This has got to be a classic. It has the most humorous and wittiest lines ever! Plus the chemistry between the leads are just hilarious.

3. Cloud Atlas (2013), Twyner and the Wachowskis
Casting and makeup was superb. At some points I hated and groaned inwardly in discomfort, but the script had the most powerfully gripping and mindblowing lines that defied all forms of normalcy.

4. Fiddler on the Roof (1971), Norman Jewison
A really long musical-comedy film, but a powerful and honest one too. The soundtrack and lyrics are amazing, and the portrayal of culture and tradition in the face of a changing reality is simply alluring.

5. American Beauty (1999), Sam Mendes
I watched this only once, but some scenes still haunt me after so many years. Again, disturbing in nature, but there was so much beauty in the dysfunctional and disturbing.

6. Life is Beautiful (1997), Roberto Benigni
I found strength from this humble representation of the human spirit in the holocaust.

7. Invictus (1999), Clint Eastwood
My Secondary School teacher introduced the poem to us and I have been passing it on to others. This narrative about football and the coming together of South Africa never fails to warm my heart.

8. Armageddon (1998), Michael Bay
Aerosmith’s hit did this for me. And I am not even a fan. I loved that it championed a father-daughter’s love above the blossoming romance between Tyler and Affleck.

9. Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Peter Jackson
God worked through JRR Tolkien to write such a powerful trilogy series. The epic fantasy novel with lessons that are not even fantastical but terribly terribly real. And I love Sam.

I know that there should be ten on this list but I could not bring myself to seal the list with any other particular film. The Pianist (2002), Roman Polanski, This is Spinal Tap (1984), Rob Reiner, and The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Frank Darabont.