Memories

Are they your first form class?

She gestured to the class photograph on my cabinet. I couldn’t help myself but broke into narratives of individual little kids – one of them almost threw a fire extinguisher at their chairperson and another teacher, one cut himself with a penknife and had to be sent to the hospital after it bled out of his bag… these memories were priceless. And because they are priceless, they are also happy ones.

Our experiences, some though nasty, should be kept and stored as pleasant memories. After all, memories are but our way of remembering the past. If we choose to associate sadness and unhappiness with the past, our memories will be grey ones. But past experiences, unpleasant moments and discontinued friendships alike, can all be stored and saved as happy memories.

Those will make our lives more lighter, happier and more beautiful. :)

‘Together’

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Familiar music streamed into my ears as the cool twenty-second story breeze rushed in through the open windows. I had just taken a short afternoon nap and had been woken up to a string of familiar National Day theme songs and local medleys. Even now the music still rings on from the sports area in the distance. Ah, National Day is coming soon.

My brother walks by and hums ‘Together we make a difference’ as the song continues to float melodically through the air – in English and Mandarin. I hear a young child scream a line from the song probably a few stories below us. National Day is coming soon.

In school, we have an inter-class competition and part of it requires us to dress up 5 Singapore icons to win points. It is hard to believe that National Day is just a few days away, and that it is our nation’s 50th jubilee year!

I miss belting out to the familiar national day and community songs just like how we used to as a kid in Primary and Secondary school. There was a certain liberation that came with being appreciative of, happy with and proud of being Singaporean when we let our hair down and groove to the music. I wonder if that day will come this year.

There is just too much to say Thank you for should we make a list of what we are thankful for. A clean and green environment, a well-established education that groomed us to be high-achieving and skillful individuals, the conviction in ‘lifelong learning’ and the multi-racial multi-cultural environment we have grown up in, the access we have to religious and cultural practices, a stable government and economy, a secure community where safety is prioritised, great leaders who were our forerunners in this project of nation-building… and now this responsibility has come to rest on our shoulders.

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.

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.

When Words Fail, Let Our Actions Do The Talking

One week of mourning is drawing to a close. I have been drifting in and out of a mixture of emotions the past week, at times more emotional than others. My mind devoured countless of narratives and counter-narratives in the form of articles, forum posts, Facebook posts, that make the landscape of social commentary this week. As an educator in the civil service, we wear our teacher masks and tell our students of this great man and the history he has shaped in the form of our nation. Yet in doing so, we remain intellectually engaged by emotionally detached from the happenings. We all need some time to find words for how we are feeling and thinking. At this point, my mind is still incoherent, and there is little to say, although much has been coming in waves.

I still wonder how this man could evoke such powerful feeling in Singaporeans although we only read about him in our history textbooks and newspaper articles, or seen him on TV. Wouldn’t making him a public icon also render him impersonal and above us?

I think I am most moved by the idea of this man. He stood firm for the visions and beliefs he had in Singapore, arguably, he lived his life for Singapore. It is hard to imagine why someone would do that.

I am also moved by the unity of Singaporeans. Yes there are also negative criticisms that went out of line this week. But in this week, I felt a Singaporean heartbeat. A heartbeat that weakened in grief because a great man who started that heart beating had left us. Whether I was driving on the roads to work or walking in a public place, everyone seemed more resigned, quiet, silent. I hear about kind deeds Singaporeans showed to one another – taking turns to wait in line, distributing drinks, buns and food to those queuing, looking out for one another, practising patience and empathy when paying our respects. I witness how civil servants and NSmen came together to support the same cause – taking 12-hour shifts, putting other priorities and interests on hold for this one purpose, and in our own way, doing our bit to pass on this legacy to the next generation. As educators, we struggled to contain our emotions and transfer our gratefulness and understanding of a shared history to our students in the classroom. Others volunteered to manage the queues, disseminate information, and all these acts driven by gratefulness and appreciation for what Singapore has become, is indeed powerful.

The interview segments that followed the state funeral let the words and actions of a lot of Singaporeans, both young and old, testify to the legacy and influence of Mr Lee. I was pleasantly moved that toddlers and young children, could offer up their own words of thanksgiving and goodwill even though they would only have heard of him through documentaries or their parents. I am heartened that as one nation, we have come together to show our gratefulness for this one man.

In one article, it described us as the politically silent ones who only in his death, are now compelled into action, and given a voice. After watching the state funeral, I am convinced that I need to become less politically-apathetic and stop taking the peace and security in Singapore for granted. I wish we future generations will be able to continue to do justice to this country we call Home.

Verdict

A few days ago, because of the constant chiding from my mother to take care of my health, I went to see a doctor (who happens also to be an elder from my church) at a Weight Management Clinic.

After spending a few hours at Gleneagles and taking a series of tests (which is a rather novel experience for me, really), it was concluded that I am in the pre-diabetic state with two weight-related problems on the line. After a talk to evaluate the root cause of the issue at hand, it was decided that the primary factor is the irregular eating hours, motivated by my unhealthy lifestyle.

To sum it up, there was no fixed (period of) time for my meals. At times breakfast would be at eight a.m., and at other times, it could be as late as noon – or not at all. At times lunch would be at ten a.m., and at other times, it would be at four in the afternoon. Of course this affected dinner as well. As a result, it is said that my body has no idea how to work with my food intake and is confused because of the constant irregularity of my meal times. On some days, after a long day of near-starvation, S and I would have dinner after work – this often happens at eight, and it would likely be a huge treat to make up for the lack of food in the day.

I think our minds play tricks on us too. I feel hunger pangs at the strangest hours – sometimes at seven a.m., sometimes at eleven, sometimes at two … you get the drift.

I am worried about my health. I certainly do not want to be a position where I helplessly rely on others to care for me in my later years, and desperately turn to insurance claims and medical coverage to support me. That being said, my greatest concern is that it is going to be tough to effect any change in my present lifestyle and dietary habits.

Already as it is, there is barely time to reconfigure life and indulge in some ‘head space’. This new healthy diet the doctor proposes requires a commitment in my food choices and in regularising my eating hours. This requires meticulous thoughtful planning, the self-discipline and inner strength to resist temptations when a scrumptious snack presents itself, the thoughtfulness to the little details – such as the kind of coffee, milk and sugar I should have in the morning.

Sometimes there are no options and no freedom of choice. My canteen serves only 1 type of coffee. By the time I finish my lessons and have time for a break, there are only the remains of the day left at the counter – leftover fried rice, curry chicken, fried patties. I am told that I should pack lunches to school – healthy oats, blended drinks, fruits and nuts, salads, and nutritious home-cooked leftovers from dinner… Yet again, it seems that what this new diet plan requires, is a consistent dedication to sticking with it.

What I can say is that I am grateful. I am grateful that people around me care enough to want to make sure that I am OK. I am grateful that God is giving me a chance to reverse the awful habits I have laboured on my body. I am grateful that as a single, independent woman, I have the financial means to support this diet. Above all, I am grateful for the reminder to take care of our bodies for they are the temple of God.

How Can We Live No Differently?

I met up with an old old friend and sister-in-Christ this evening, only to be asked some really hard questions. I did not need to play ignorant or pretend that my current lifestyle and mental/emotional health is not reflective of my spiritual state. She knew the void that I was struggling with and how I desperately wanted to fix my eyes on something more — something higher than what I could see.

I shared with her my fear that I would still be in the same position, working equally hard, but still as a teacher, years from now. And she asked directly, Why do you need to know how you will advance? That question caught me unexpectedly, and I had no sure answer. Why did it matter so much that I know where I would be headed three years from now? Why did it matter that I ensured I advanced in my career, either on a teaching or leadership track? Things are different for us as Christians, she posited.

She also asked, What is your weakness? For her she confessed it boiled down to two things: Pride, in wanting to be in control, and the Desire for approval from others. I had not thought about it prior to hearing this question in my face. Why was I trying to do so much, what was keeping me from leaning on God?

I think it is a sense of self-pride, of wanting to be in control. I want to know where I am headed, and what I am capable of, and what is in store in the future. I also think it is slothfulness. Rather than spending my time efficiently, I give myself excuses far too easily to watch a movie, enjoy a good meal, or catch up on sleep. I think diligence should not come only in the form of long working hours, but time spent in a focus and driven manner as well.

Having established that, I realised that the way we make life decisions should differ from the way others do, as sound and solid their advice might be. Just like how we check ourselves when we wait for a partner for life, waiting in faith for God’s timeline to unfold in our lives, we should also have patience and godliness as we listen and humbly submit to His Will – even if I have no idea where my current life decisions will take me.

It is truly a time to kick myself awake and start making changes to my life. So how can we live no different from others, when we have the ultimate promise in an eternal living God? How can I struggle with the same jadedness and cynicism towards life and work, how can I claim to be a child of God, when I fight the same inner-demons to do my work with conviction and joy?

It is a troubling and embarrassing testimony of the power to freedom we have in Christ. I need to live a victorious life, and take on my challenges with wisdom and patience and humility. Colleagues may be difficult and challenges may be tough. But if God opens a way and I prayerfully submit to His will, I can only be certain that His good and perfect plan will unfold.

Time for change, hoshao. Time for change and plenty of prayer.

Balance

This is my very feeble and subjective attempt to explain my current relationship status. It is by no means accurate or meant to be objective. Rather, it is a way to consolidate my thoughts on what  the terms ‘dating’ and being ‘in a relationship’ has come to mean for me over the years as I was growing up.

I must have grown up indignant about the need for companionship from the opposite gender. My education in an all-girls’ mission school for ten whole years has certainly etched that feminine identity and independence in my fellow schoolmates and I. My parents’ rocky marriage and subsequent divorce throughout my Primary School years must have also played a part to warn me that first of all, marriage and relationships may not last; and second of all, you did not need a man to be complete. (You did not look far beyond my mother to be persuaded – she is the epitome of independence and success, having raised four children on her own during the most turbulent times of her life.)

It was in Secondary School when my family began to go to church regularly and the church became an essential part of my teenage years. Although I started to develop feelings (more like an interest) in friends of the opposite gender during this time, I never acted on it. During this time, I met girls who got squealish and excited being around boys at some of the combined church camps and events. At one camp, girls skimpily clad in bikinis were at the beach playing beach volleyball and water polo with the boys. Needless to say, I was hugely affected by the culture I observed and wrote an article about it, expressing my discomfort at the inappropriate outfit and behavioral choices of teenagers, as well as implying my conviction to remain blameless and pure.

I read my first teenage girls’ magazine Brio shipped monthly from Colorado Springs. It taught me how to be discerning about many things related to my faith. It also introduced me to Joshua Harris, and his huge release, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye”, a romantically unromantic story about how he and his wife met and kept their love pure before God. What I took from this book was a deep (and probably very misguided) conviction that the concept of ‘dating’ is secular and unbiblical. In fact, ever since, I frowned upon spending one-to-one time with guys I did not know would be my future husband.

It gifted me with a very unrealistic and idealised version of love. On top of that, my mother cautioned me against seeing any boys until I quote, ‘grew up and started work’. She may not have meant it verbatim, but it was a guideline a shy girl would live by. In any case, junior college came and went by too quickly – I had no time to mingle socialise and fall in love. Growing up in a conservative family did not exactly give me reason to challenge these beliefs and guidelines either. I did not know how to look good, use cosmetics, buy pretty dresses or do my hair, and my mother did not exactly have the time to teach me. Everything I knew I learnt via trial-and-error and from my friends. Oftimes I looked like a fool.

In university, my ideal romantic story continued to accompany me. Each time I went out with a guy for lunch or dinner – alone, I would start questioning myself: ‘Did I like him more than a friend?’, ‘What was my purpose?’, ‘What was his purpose?’ and it hardly ended. I over-complicated and over-analysed every friendship I had with a guy, unless (1) he was already attached, or (2) he was not a Christian. I did not envy my social circle (given my very cautious way of managing my friendships), but I did not know how to balance it either.

And sadly, now that I have graduated and started working for nearly four years, there is barely any time to mingle, widen my social circle, meet new friends or invest in friends who could be potential boyfriends. I have fed myself with my own career and self-love that I find it hard to break down the idealised Joshua Harris-love I carried with me for so long.

It is only lately that I admit how imbalanced, and possibly hurtful, this view of love is. We do not lightly invest our heart and mind into relationships, but neither do we hold back from getting to know someone just because we are not sure where it may lead to. The truth is that we will never know who that person may be, and by writing off every single person you might like, just because there is no certainty involved, you are in actuality writing off your future.

It is after all, like our plans isn’t it? We never know the full picture or the final destination, only God does. But that doesn’t stop us from taking the plunge to try something radically different, or giving new ideas a shot to see where it may lead us. I hope 2015 becomes that kind of year. One of self-fulfillment, passion and love.

Finding Inspiration

That is the most uninspiring title for someone desperate for some inspiration. In previous years, I have spent Novembers crafting schemes of work, designing potential learning programmes, reimagining lessons and translating those visions into lesson materials for the upcoming year. Novembers would be a period of evaluation, preparation, reflection and creativity. But this November feels like a stalled vehicle with an engine that does little more than sputter and cough.

I spent a large part of November 2014 coming to terms with the emotions wracked up from a number of events that happened this year. I lost a friendship that still leaves me bewildered and embarrassed. I deleted her from my Facebook and Instagram accounts and left all mutual group chats so I need not have to deal with the constant reminder of what we lost. I struggle to accept my deployment for next year with joy, feeling indignation and jealousy toward some colleagues, and at the same time, trying to remind myself to give thanks to God for His providence (James 1:17). I struggle to get down to work – I have lost considerable momentum and inspiration in preparing for the coming year. I stare and stare at the schemes of work or at the resources and feel… nothing.

No idea comes to mind to make it better, or more accessible, or more relevant. No motivation comes either, and I am left sitting in front of my laptop, feeling shriveled and terribly uninspired and bored.

Hence the urge to find inspiration through WordPress. If I look back at 2011 to 2014 and ask myself what drove me these four years, what would I say?

Students who enjoy learning
When they start to pick up confidence in themselves and believe that they can achieve their personal goals, they start to enjoy the process of learning… and in turn, they inspire you.

Being a part of their growing up
Students grow and mature in a variety of ways, and one of the best parts of the job is to simply be a part of their life when it happens. To watch a student participate in a competition, rise to occasion, and win, is gold. To watch them grow in ability and confidence, is pure bliss.

Being thanked for being a part
Sometimes the student turns back and thank you, and most of the other times, the student does not. Nonetheless, you experience joy on both occasions – and you wish for them to succeed over and over again, even if they do not recognise you or thank you for it.

When a programme works
At other times, I also feel happy when a learning programme is implemented and is proven to work – either it reaps visible results that pleases others, or it receives outstandingly great feedback from teachers and students, or students enjoy it so much they ask about it again, or your team of colleagues believe in the project so much they want to do it again, and better.

These are the things that drive me. When I work this holiday, it has to contribute to at least one of the four things that drives me.

But as humans we do wear out and get tired, and I think we need a higher purpose to sustain us in the long run. Colossians 3: 23 and 24 says:

23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward.It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

This principle, although familiar, is different from the rhetoric that we are so used to. The world tells us that we ought to add fuel to what drives us – our goals, our ambitions, our emotions – and these should be in essence, good virtuous things. But this drive is personal, and therefore has to be narrow-mindedly conceived.

On the contrary, the Bible tells us that our goals should not merely be what would give us pleasure. Perhaps one day, I may be called to do something with all my heart, even if it does not interest me. Perhaps one day, I may be called to do what I have personally never dreamed of doing. Instead, we are asked to work at everything with all my heart because we are working – we are living – for the Lord. The last thing we want is to serve ourselves based on our very narrow-minded goals. Our God is omniscient, I think that truth alone is sufficient to convince me to trust in the Lord and His plans for me. (Psalm 3: 5,6)

Coming back to this issue of being inspired, I think what I lack is not inspiration for work, but inspiration to work. And this ill, can only be treated by the spiritual intimacy to bring me back to Christ.

May our hearts be soothed.

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. :)