‘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.

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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.

Too Large For Words

So it happened. A disaster, both tragic and unexpected, in the form of the quake that hit Sabah and the climbers at Mount Kinabalu last week, happened. My heart goes out to everyone affected by the quake, Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans alike. As an educator, my heart went out to the parents, teachers and students involved in that horrific experience. It would take a person all the boldness and courage and faith in the world, to move past an experience that shattering, and keep living. I cannot imagine how everyone directly involved must feel. I worry for how Singaporean public would try to wrap their heads around this letting a group of Primary School students trek overseas and whether or not the trip is justified, whether or not the experience is worth it, whether or not … we could have foreseen what would happen. These parents, students and teachers put their faith in a school learning expedition, because they believed in an education that was bigger, and better, and beyond the classroom. I pray they do not lose hope in that ideal after this. I pray that the school leaders have the wisdom to counsel, to support, to love their teachers and students more than ever. I pray that the parents and families will learn to trust and love and live again. I pray that the teaching fraternity, all of us out there, will band together and stand up for what we believe in.

Everyone has been sharing the articles and news on social media since a few days ago. My fingers wane at the prospect of sharing an article like those being circulated. What happened seems too large for words to describe or contain, too sensitive for it to be conveyed via online text. Should I appear apathetic and distant and say nothing when I share the article? Or should I engage in what has transpired, and undermine the severity of emotion underpinning it? There just seems to be no straightforward, correct way to mourn with the relatives of the deceased, our teaching fraternity, and our nation.

Perhaps that is the way mourning is: always out of place. May God uphold us.

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.

Hello Twenty Fifteen!

Last evening before the new year countdown, about a hundred and twenty family and friends from our church gathered to share our thanksgivings for 2014. It is my promise that I count my blessings for 2014 in words, even if I do not share it.

I am closing in on the end of four years of my first career. A lot of people say that you tend to face an ‘existential drought’ at the end of the first four years of your career, resulting in many switching careers. I reckon that it may not be true, but at the same time, 2014 was a year of questions, answered mainly with frustrations and disappointments. It did lead to a lot of personal reflection, taking the time to slow down and rethink my raison d’etre.

In 2014, I lost the friendship of someone very dear to me. But through it, I learnt that everything is volatile, and as cliche it sounds, change is the only constant in life. I learnt that I need to cherish every person in my life, and not take their friendships for granted.

In 2014, I also learnt that God is sovereign. He has always been and always will be. He works in the hearts and minds of not just our peers but our students, and although it may not be clear, it is clear to me that He was there when W, N X and H struggled to come to school and fight their own shadows. It gives me much peace and comfort to know that He is Lord and I can pray and commit all my little students’ futures to Him. There is always a way out, a way that the Lord has prepared for each child.

I learnt that words can be cheap, but they can also cut deep. But my run-ins with some people only made me more certain of my purpose and abilities. Despite all the challenges, God sustained me through the love of close friends and family. Every little success and failure that happened in 2014 is a result of His mercy and grace. Praise the Lord!

I am thankful for the privilege to watch my little kids grow from when they were twelve to when they graduate at sixteen, making decisions concerning their future, preparing to chase their dreams.

I know that no matter what challenge 2015 flings at me, God is able to catch me and His sovereignty and love will empower me to tide through all of that! There are a lot of new changes to welcome and embrace this year, not to mention that 2015 is Singapore’s 50th year! I pray that I walk more closely with the Lord, and listen to His leading.

Don’t Call Me

I have a confession to make. I avoid all calls on my hand phone – whether they be anonymous or otherwise – with the sole exception that they are friends I want to speak with at that point in time.

I don’t think the hand phone created this tendency. I think it provided us with the option of not picking up phone calls at times we consider inconvenient. When my friends call me at an inconvenient time, say, during a TV programme or when I am preparing a cup of coffee in the kitchen, I have the choice of switching my mobile to silent mode in order to stop it from interfering with my usual method of business. It will magically stop ringing and vibrating, and give me a sense of respite at knowing I can choose when to give the caller my attention. If at all.

I think we have grown to abuse the convenience of the phone. From ignoring calls when I am truly held up in the kitchen, or in the washroom, or in a conversation with a friend, I have come to ignore calls when I don’t feel up for it.

Yes, you heard me right. When I don’t feel in the mood to speak to you, I can easily ignore your phone call and then conveniently put up the excuse that I was caught in the middle of something and your call came at a bad time – shifting the responsibility of me answering my ringing phone, to you, the caller, to time your calls perfectly. I feel all (or most) responsibility is absolved when I tell the caller that “I was busy, sorry I missed your call.”

We have a reason, and a pretty valid one, on our side. That is, hand phones should not be a distraction to our lives and we should not disturbed just because we have unlimited access to our electronic gadgets. We have the right to protect the privacy in our lives and if I want some peace and quiet when I am watching my drama on the TV set, I should have the option to make you call me back again or text me. Yet, I wonder if we use this reason too often it has lost its persuasive value. Have our lives become so full of distraction itself, we shun communication with others because we dislike hearing their voices?

I think only we ourselves will know the answer.

Oranges and Lemons

So our home is once again stocked with food of many kinds, some from the bakeries downstairs, and many others from relatives and kind brothers and sisters from church. As in tradition every year, brothers and sisters spend the second day of the Lunar New Year visiting our home. They gather around the table, peel mandarin oranges open and enjoy the fellowship together. After we have satisfied ourselves with the goodies and candies, mum offers us her honey lemon drink to give our throats the gentle reprieve of something cool and soothing.

My mother and sister are excellent homemakers. For a good few hours from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon, they juggled between warming up the siew mais and jiao zis (Chinese dumplings) in the kitchen, entertaining the guests, and serving up the numerous delicacies and making them feel all at home. They also had to do the washing up of the dishes, the constant replenishing of the ba guas (Sliced roasted pork) and pineapple tarts on the plate, and coax the guests to enjoy and feel all at home. 

Myself on the other hand, found an excellent hideaway in the form of my bedroom. Every one in a while, I would pop into my bedroom for ten minutes to a half hour, and soak in the peace and serenity away from the hustle and bustle.

Hustle and bustle is nice, they are reflections of life and joy as opposed to death and loneliness, but peace and serenity is the third space found in between the two. I never quite thought of myself as an introvert, but a friend also made this startling observation that I don’t like large groups and tend to avoid being in the spotlight or at the party. Just being with friends you are comfortable with is more than fine. Perhaps it is a sign of ageing ha ha. Also I need to take breaks of quietness to avoid getting too overwhelmed by the crowds. It happened at our church’s Christmas and New Year events, when I found great relief in moving away from the crowds and into another room (or in the toilet). So while my mum and sis were busy entertaining guests in the living room, I allowed myself to take timed breaks to replenish my energy and ease my nerves.

I remember how using electronic devices became a  hot topic of the Lunar New Year in 2013. As ironic as it was, Facebook was one of the platforms in which my friends advocated the switching off of our mobile phones and devices and focus our attention on the moments that count – the here and the now. I remember being rather pessimistic about New Year visitations last year – it seemed to hold little significance other than being the usual formality to reunite as a family during the CNY holidays. I hardly spoke to my cousins, other than the twinnies and their brother who attends  the same church as us, and the topics that dominated the conversations between my uncles and aunts at the dining table, were often of little interest to me. I always perceived my male cousins to be chauvinistic men who cared mainly for themselves (and I have evidence to prove it if I have to) and that gave me little reason to want to mingle.

This year was slightly different. One of my male cousins got engaged in the course of last year, and I suppose that – entering into a new stage of his life – has propelled him into the realm of mature gentleman-hood. Or maybe it is because his other counterparts are scattered across the different continents in the world. My relatives on my maternal side are the ‘globalised’ sort of family you would imagine in the twenty-first century. They skype their new year blessings to each other throughout the day because one cousin is in Canada, another is London, and yet another in Japan. (And yes, I know that just as reliably I am giving this commentary about my cousins and their ‘good’ nature, they too probably think of me as boring and elitist and deliberately detached from the rest of the world.)

So this year’s family reunion was nice. SImple, but enjoyable. The relatives who were not otherwise engaged on another part of the world gathered for a simple evening meal, each family contributing one or two specialties. Grandma is getting on in age and contents herself with a good home-cooked meal. The cousins played an ‘intelligent board game’ (in my brother’s words) Balderdash – while my sis and I took a backseat and listened in to their eccentric and hilarious discussions during the game. I managed to get on quite a bit on the new book I am reading on my Kindle – The Fault In Our Stars by John Green – and felt comfortable and respected even though I was not joining in all the ‘fun’. My aunt sat down next to me and smiled when she said she understood why I would prefer being away from the noise and in the quiet instead (‘too much noise from your students’ – I suspect that’s completely legitimate and true). My uncle who usually spouts nonsense sat next to me and commented about my being in education and his past experience working for the government as an engineer.

I think it helped  that the shows were boring and purposeless – unless Mediacorp’s purpose for screening Back to the Future was to drive families closer together on New Years because the TV programmes were so horribly painful to watch. :( I completely do not understand why Mediacorp would screen such an old movie on New Year’s day. My guess is that perhaps they are trying to capitalise on the time travelling through the past, present and future – as a symbol of starting the new year with our eyes on the things that matter – family, love, virtuous things. But Mediacorp did not seem bothered to even package the holiday movies. If it is an old flick, don’t put a ribbon on it and pretend that that’s going to make it appealing.

The weather is getting warmer here, but still enjoyable. The evening still brings cool fresh breezes that makes my skin tingle and my face feel refreshed. Now let’s hope the weather stays kind as the hot season picks up.