The stranger who paid for my coffee.

It was late in the night, the pages of “A Matter Of Form” by Horace L. Gold have long been read. I just wanted to be in a place other than my home for a breath of fresh air. The next best place that came to my mind was a stall just a stone’s throw away from where I live. It wasn’t a fancy place; only that of a modest one that the locals found comfort in.

The place was crowded and it had life. Behind my face mask, I saw the stall owners chatting with the servers, friends catching up, and families having a late dinner. It was busy for sure but I didn’t want to leave empty-handed. I looked around; my eyes drawn to a spot. Yes, right there. It was right in front of me. One table with a spot for me even though it was already occupied by a man. There’s got to be a way for me to get coffee, I thought to myself. As if this stranger heard my thoughts, he pulls down his mask and smiles at me.

“Would you like to have a seat and join me?”

Now you might say it was naïve of me to just sit with another man waiting for his order. I didn’t think so. I really wanted my coffee. He looked a few years older than me. I could be wrong. Didn’t stop us from exchanging our names anyway. My order has been made. We sat in our seats for a few seconds in silence. Then he asked, “Back from work?”

“No, I came from home. I live around here.” I answered. “I just wanted to drink some coffee outside. What about you? Where did you come from?”

He gave me another smile before he answered my question.

“I came back from a funeral.”

I was in thought for a few seconds and then I shared my condolences.

I was unsure if I wanted to ask for the details. Our coffee arrived and he gestured me to drink. For the next few minutes, we were just sipping our coffee, occasionally I would take a few biscuits and munch on them. He would later offer me a cigarette to which I politely declined. He didn’t bother lighting up his cigarette afterwards. He told me he had lost a family member due to cancer. He probably was questioning why he still had the box of cigarettes with him though. He explained to me it even though he expected her death, he still wasn’t ready for it. It pained him a lot. You could see in his eyes he was trying to accept that fact. 

He told me he hadn’t been in the best mood to talk to anyone. Said he didn’t want to see a familiar face telling him they were sorry for his loss. He just wanted to stay lost in his thoughts but the fact I looked around persistently for a empty spot, he gave in. I think he was just lonely and needed someone to talk to too. The conversation was all about his late aunt whom he grew up closely with. He went on about his agony, fearing of the thoughts which would keep him awake at night. Even as he held his cup, he seemed lost.

“There are some new feelings I’d have to get used to. It won’t let me sleep for a while, that’s why I have to talk to a stranger. I don’t want sadness to be on my mind all the time.” He said after taking a sip of coffee and putting it on the table.

I’m not quite sure what this stranger was thinking of me at that time. As he went on with his lament, he asked what did I do for a living. I told him I was a writer and I had a blog. He looked at me with a fond expression and told me that sometimes he pens down his emotions as words to get the unbearable feelings of his chest. I wanted to tell him to continue writing as long as it helped him to cope. But he looked close to tears and I guess I didn’t have it in me to break him in public.

I think he knew what I was thinking. He switched the topic and we ended having the usual conversations. You know, the ones like Covid-19, Elon Musk, and the Malaysian Education System. Sometimes, he would speak faster than usual when he got excited. His sentences without a full-stop. But he would catch himself back and ask of my opinion. Funny how his words flowed, I honestly thought he could have been a writer himself. He could but he didn’t.

“When you realize the only thing permanent in life is death, gaining popularity on social media becomes a joke.” He finally laughed.

From that statement alone, I was more convinced that he should have been a writer. The words weighed on me for a while. The nature of life and death was still a gray area for me. I admitted to him that while I was slowly adapting to the changes of metamorphosis into young adulthood, life still can hit me with conflicting emotions and dreaded mundanities. 

“Sometimes you just want to move past all the misery, but it gets lost in translation.” I sighed. “Your judgment is clouded and everything becomes pointless. Is death really the only thing that stays?”

I don’t think either of us had an answer for that. I noticed he was smiling more though. Perhaps the accepting that death was the only permanent thing in life was the actual reason that compelled him to approach a random young person. We all return to dust eventually so why not give that seat to a stranger? Yes, he seemed to be sure of that himself. If he wasn’t, his voice wouldn’t have been so rough when he mentions ‘death’ specifically. Not good… he might just cry. How would I know, you’d ask? You see, I wasn’t just listening to his voice. I listened to his eyes because they spoke so much truth. The eyes will tell the truth whatever society permits.

But I also wanted to remind him that something else was permanent.

“Change is constant.” 

“You’re not wrong.” he replied. “Maybe I should be happier for a change.”

I’m not sure what he really thought about what I said. I guess what deeply affects the hearer is beyond himself. Heck, time flew. You could give us all the time in the world, it still wouldn’t be enough for us to wrap up the conversation. After some 20 more minutes, he had stood up and let me know he was going home. I nodded. My cup of coffee; half-full. It was cold but for this occasion, I didn’t seem to mind. I considered my meeting with this man a sincere one where the hearts and minds connected. I didn’t know until I got up to leave, that he had paid for my cup of coffee. I wished he had let me know so I could thank him. I’ll probably never see him again. Then again, I don’t know, but I do believe he’s going places in life.

My experience of ‘not being Chinese enough’.

“You’re a Chinese. So how come you don’t speak the language?” 

Sounds familiar? I’m sure some English-speaking Chinese people or Chinese people who can’t speak Chinese (at all) can concur that, you get a certain kind of look when you tell them you don’t speak the language even if you’re one.

There’s a bit of silence.

“Oh, you’re a banana.”

A banana isn’t just a fruit, apparently. It is typically used to describe a Chinese individual born into a Western environment and are more inclined towards Western culture, identities, and values compared to traditional Chinese ones. Yes, yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Also, ‘Bananas’ usually consider English to be their primary language of communication and are not fluent in Mandarin or any Chinese dialect (if at all).

To give context, I grew up in an English-speaking household. My parents’ conversational exchanges were dominated by English as much as our dinner table was overwhelmed by rice bowls. So what makes this complicated is that I was living with my parents who had little to zero knowledge of speaking the language. My parents who wanted the best for me too; had good intentions in enrolling me into a Chinese elementary school in the hopes it would open more doors of opportunity for me.

It opened the door to a lot of things.

Initially, things went smoothly. I didn’t have much issues with the basics in Elementary 1 but I wasn’t scoring either. I was only barely making it through. It wasn’t until I was towards the end of a term, the cracks started to show.

Let me explain. 

I knew the character 理 meant ‘understand’ and 解 meant ‘solution’. But with English in my mind, I had no idea that the combination of more than one Chinese character created a vocabulary. Hence, the word 理解 would make up a vocabulary as both a noun and verb. As a noun, it means “understanding; comprehension” while as a verb, it would be “understand; comprehend”.

So homework was difficult even when I paid attention in class. I tried to cram everything a teacher would teach only to be at home tearing up because I couldn’t do my homework. See, each workbook came with homework instructions that were in Chinese too. Here’s an example of an instruction:

理解教材,能认识教材中的汉字,掌握词语,理解句子和段落。

Reading this now, I can fully comprehend what the instruction means. But that wasn’t the case at that time. Now as someone who could only read basic singular characters and had zero knowledge that a combination of two or more characters would form a new vocabulary in Chinese, I literally had no way of even understanding what the homework instruction meant, let alone attempt to do the exercise. Let’s keep in mind that I was a 7 year old whose parents neither read nor spoke Chinese. My inability to understand Chinese seeped into other main subjects like Mathematics and Science. I couldn’t decipher what that previous written sentence meant, let alone understand it with other jargons that were present in other subjects.

Mondays became a nightmare. Homework became a chore. The lack of understanding the language reflected in my studies. I was having a growing resentment towards the language that I couldn’t seem to grasp, just as my own peers were also growing to isolate me because I was too ‘English’ for them. It was incredibly disheartening to see friends who started out close to me moving on with better grades and to better classes, who just stopped hanging out with me when my studies went backwards.

Too much emphasis was placed on reading and writing Chinese. It didn’t make sense to me seeing other students memorizing passages just to write the exact thing in exams. It was something I tried to follow suit but to no avail as I was not used to burying myself in model answers. Teachers were getting upset with me because I was showing little to no progress in my homework. The only praise I got was for my handwriting.

I don’t blame them. But why would anyone expect me to be able to converse beautifully in Chinese after one or two terms when I did not even speak the language at home? Why would anyone think I’d intentionally screw up my studies? That I’d want to turn in an empty workbook because I was just ‘lazy’? Was I expected to love Chinese and use it frequently? It would have been bearable if they tried to correct me. But how was that possible when each time I misspoke something, I became the subject of ridicule in class?

I failed in a lot of my subjects. Even if I passed, I was just lucky. Chinese became the impossible obstacle. Scoring a B for my Primary School Achievement Test (a.k.a. UPSR) was no encouragement for me to continue the language. Pushing school aside, it just wasn’t a language I spoke back home and I didn’t have to use it on a daily basis either. What I had learned felt just enough for me. So I avoided it like the plague.

In high school, I was convinced that all my efforts in the language was not paying off and I was further discouraged to continue learning Chinese. As long as I did not have to face a language that was the root of my problems, I can choose not to face it, so I did just that. I was going to start anew in a different environment, in a high school where the majority of the students spoke English. This time there was no need for me to be a target, except the reality was far from that. 

At the onset of some high school rumours, I became a target of bullying by seniors. Since the reason for being picked on is not related to this particular topic, I will save the details for another writing. The outcome was I still could not escape from being bullied mentally and physically after school. I tried to open up to my own peers, but all I can remember was being driven to the edge, and breaking into tears in the school washroom near the end of my Form 2 term. It took a cleaning lady to coax me to come out as she probably noticed I was sobbing loudly for a long time. When my parents finally found me after an hour, they didn’t question further when they saw their child in a disheveled manner. Long story short, they thought it was best I transferred to another high school. 

I wanted to put the past behind me and bury everything.

Four years later into university, I found myself switching roles with the students that used to be better than me. For the first time, I felt an odd sensation in seeing the ones who used to have ease in their studies struggling in university due to the emphasis on written and spoken English. They struggled with their assignments, they struggled with the lecture lessons, and oh, how they struggled when it came down to oral presentations. At this stage, I was feeling incredibly diabolical.

How strange it was to be a position where I was “higher” than them. Although some of them needed help with studies and I helped them — I doubt I did it with the best intentions. It was all about feeding my ego and relishing off their dependence on me. I made it tough for them during Q&A sessions after oral presentations by throwing them difficult questions I knew were problematic for them. Some of my friends and I didn’t even try to hide our dislike towards them. 

It was also around this time I thought I’d revisit the language that I feared so much and said to myself, “I am going to learn Chinese from scratch. This time, I will be sure that it comes to the same level as my English. It doesn’t matter if I love it or not. I just have to commit to it.” 

It’s crazy how years of people telling you that you are worthless can cause you to think in a certain way. Almost every teacher I ever had in elementary school had ingrained in me that I was useless and that insecurity creeped into every aspect of my life. But somehow along the way, I realized I was being no different than the ones who picked on me before. In fact, I’m a whole lot worse because I was an adult. They were just kids then. What do kids know about hurting another kid’s feelings?

With this realization, I was inundated with a sinking sensation of embarrassment and shame. Not because I thought I was being ‘’smarter’ than them, but because I knew how my perception of those students discounted and devalued their backstories and struggles.

Slowly, the petty reason I had to start over the language was soon replaced with practical reasons. For example, reading and ordering off a Chinese menu, travelling in China, getting Chinese clients, etc. My previous job as a brand ambassador forced me out of my comfort zone, and there were many occasions where my anxieties rose when I had to deal with Chinese-speaking clients only. Some of the experiences were interesting, but there were also ones that landed me in hot water (it’s funny thinking about it now). 

All those experiences, both good and bad, and also my interest to learn Chinese songs and unravel their meanings somehow opened the door for me to start loving Chinese. There was a sense of appreciation for the language that I disliked with a passion as a child. I can’t recall if it was a slow appreciation for it that I never wanted to admit or the profound usage of idioms and proverbs that was so ever present and charmingly archaic in the Wuxia (武俠) and Xianxia (仙侠) series that had me attached. Either way, it’s the reason why I am still practicing Chinese till this day.

So where am I going with this right now? Frankly, I still find it hard to confidently say I speak Chinese. It sounds unbelievable but it is what it is — even as I write this. It was a journey then but my journey’s just started. I don’t know when I will reach the end but for what it is, I just want to cherish this walk while the path is laid out for me. I will get lost a little but that’s okay. 

When I say I am Chinese enough, it means that I have come a long way with the language. From the hours I spent reading in classrooms, my wrist that hurt from writing the characters endlessly on my notebooks, the tears spilled on the workbooks, the fingers that flipped a Chinese dictionary just to find a vocabulary… It also means that sometimes I still get confused between 日 and 曰 without a quick refresher course.

The truth is that learning any language is a continuous process. You don’t just practice it and speak it to be an expert overnight. Looking back on everything I had to go through, I would say it was a privilege for me to learn Chinese. In no way do I blame my parents for not being able to help me with Chinese — I know whatever they did, they gave it their all with the best intentions in their heart. In many ways, learning the language again gave me closure I never knew I needed too. It was a way to put behind the past where the students made fun of me. More importantly, it gave me a chance to redeem myself and also forgive myself for not knowing what I didn’t know before I learned it.

I believe, regardless whichever language you are familiar with at this stage in your life, you have your own experience with it too, and that becomes a story. Our stories are not simply chronicles of events but are pages in a greater human narrative revealing our growth. These narratives, they are precious, and they are something that we should all be cherishing as long as we are alive.

Rekindling an old passion.

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein

It is almost surreal that I am writing about rekindling an old passion. While I love arts and had always leaned towards the creative aspect of life, I loved Science and Math. Unfortunately, I was quite the daydreamer and slacker during my high-school years. It wasn’t until I started living alone and working as a writer that I was able to rekindle my old passions.. Games. Science. Art. Reading. For this blog post, I will talk about Physics, specifically.

Having grown up beside my father, that man has always been a man of few words. To my father, his life was dedicated to Physics, followed by test tubes, pipettes, and atoms. Essentially, I was inquisitive even though I never quite understood what Physics truly was then. But not knowing what it was never stopped me from questioning life and how light can be a particle, wave, and sometimes, even both simultaneously.

My questions gradually became more complex when I entered university. I started to learn more about quantum physics on my own. My father’s cupboard stacked with a plethora of Sci-fi books helped deepen that curiosity further, and books from Isaac Asimov just shaped me to be, dare I say it, the most organized, detail-oriented person I know—at least, I feel that way.

I love order and things to be approached methodically. However, I noticed that even when I planned things perfectly, the most unexpected things would come up and I would find myself scrambling to pick up the pieces. It makes me ponder, maybe, humans never had control from the start. 

Anyway, I suppose I could say I love Physics as it explains the World in its entirety. It holds countless beautiful and elegant theories, intriguing concepts and problems.. I could go on. I am no Physics expert, nor would I consider myself to be a bright individual. I can only say that as someone who has studied a good deal of Physics on my own since I started working, I simply love Physics more than I did before is through all the textbooks, sci-fi books, problem-solving, calculations.. and the sense of wonderment from finding an answer to a question. It’s fulfilling.

I struggled with Physics back in high-school because I was far too young, far too clueless then not to appreciate its technical and mathematical side of it. Was I fascinated by the theories? Enamored. It’s wild to think how years can fly so fast and you can grow to love something that you used to be terrified of. Believe me, if you haven’t done pages of equations just to find a little mistake in your first line, you really haven’t done Physics. Absolutely frustrating but, the output is immensely rewarding; that feeling you get when you solve a hard problem or understand a difficult topic is blissful. Practice physics enough and it is possible (not a certainty) that you will derive great pleasure from it. 

When such pleasure is from logic, what’s not to love?

You are a writer.

Sometimes unknowingly, doubts make us feel comfortable because we count ourselves out before attempting to do something. Just like you know how much you believe something is possible, it makes you uncomfortable because now that means you will have to do it.


If you are an aspiring writer, stop aspiring to be a writer because when you write, you are a writer. Start writing now and push the writing culture forward. Even if that means writing 500 words a day or 5 pages a day, you are still putting something out there. It doesn’t hurt to build that mentality and know that things will not go your way but you are going to push nonetheless, be open-minded, get out of your comfort zone, and talk to other writers and learn from each other rather than being on defense mode that your writing will never be good enough.


Yes, it is going to be difficult. I thought how tough it would be for me, especially hailing from a small town and raised in an Asian household. It’s tough because a lot of times when you say what you want to do, a lot of people including parents don’t think you are going to be successful or make a decent living out of it, particularly when it comes down to anything arts-related. It’s tough because you are supposed to be a doctor, engineer, or businessperson. It’s tough because they want you to be someone you don’t want to be… In their mind, it is set because they are fearful.


Now imagine if you told them and they knew that you are going to do great, they probably wouldn’t tell you that you will fail. This holds true for me with an Asian background myself. I can see why as our parents, they were coached from an era of Asia where they didn’t get a lot of chances in life. So their mind is pretty much set that, you only get one chance in this life. 


If you don’t make it, you don’t make it.


A day before I packed my things to begin my career as a writer, a friend told me, “Why would you quit a sales job that could’ve given you everything just to be a writer? You can’t possibly make a living as a writer, no one ever survives being one. You won’t make it.” 


I remember looking straight at her in the face, I wasn’t smiling. I just said, “All I am hearing is you telling me what I cannot do. You’re not telling me what I can do. You’re not giving me a solution about how I can accomplish to be a writer. All you do is spend all your breath telling me what I cannot do and how I am never going to make it. What are you doing with your life?”


I didn’t see a reason to continue the conversation.

I didn’t want to have a person who constantly tells me what they think I can’t do.

I turned away from her, right there and then. 

I never looked back.


There are so many people who are going to tell you your limit. They don’t even know you. Only you know your limits, and you know that by taking action. If you just keep doing what you keep doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’ve been getting. I guess it’s fine if you’re okay with what you’ve been getting, then by all means, carry on. But if you’re not alright with what you’re doing and what you’ve been getting, are you really not going to do something about it?


When you consider your fears of writing out of your comfort zone, ask yourself: Does the thought of not being to do what you love hurts you? Are you going to regret not doing this? In one year from now, will you wish you had written something? Or when you are on your deathbed, will you be alright with the fact that you didn’t step out of your comfort zone and do the thing your heart so desperately wanted you to do?


And if your answer is “Yes, I’m alright in giving up my dreams,” then I will have to ask, why are you still reading this? Because you haven’t given up. You decide what’s important to you and if you honour that or not. You decide if you are a writer.

Death is permanent but I…

I hit the rock-bottom for the past few months. This blog post is something I debated on writing. Who knows, maybe I will delete this in an hour later, or maybe it will overstay its welcome here. Either way, it is a good place to vent.

I hate life.

Regardless, every day I search for reasons to make life worth living. Being able to make it through the next day and see the sun rise, that is sufficient. I am still learning to choose life, each day, instead of death.

You are just as lost. You are not sure why you are reading this either.

Maybe we are just in the same boat.

Just maybe.

Perhaps it is with the idea that everything I experience is temporary, therefore the pain I feel should come to an end eventually. Naivety at its best; a mask for optimism, some might say. What else is temporary? 

Everything.

Does it not make you question why we tell someone we are having a bad day, but not a bad life? If you have a bad day, it finds its way to halt. Light is only significant in contrast to darkness. Comforting one’s self by saying without the bad days, the good days wouldn’t be quite as sweet. 

Such cliché. Cliché but, I find myself gravitating towards it.

Maybe I quite fancy the idea of life not being sweet all the time and instead, of it concerning itself in finding balance in the many flavours of life.

I cannot predict the future. I cannot simply foresee the arrival of the better days to come for me, my inner peace, my soulmate, or life-changing encounters. I don’t even believe in soulmates. Having said that, I know the only way to know when that day comes is to experience it. And to experience anything at all, I need to be alive.

While my thoughts and feelings are still in place, I appreciate that I can see the world change around me while I am still breathing. Time is simply a measurement of change. The clocks measure the sun’s position in the sky. The days of the year measure how far the earth has traveled around the sun, and our age measures how many of those full rotations I have been alive for. Time stops for no one, and neither does change. In other words, while I am alive, change is the only thing I can be sure of.

If that is not hope, I don’t know what is.

I do not wish to think that my life as a former victim of mental and physical abuse is not worth living because of the situation I am in.

The only thing I can help speed such change is by changing my perspective. When I was 14, I felt an overwhelming disinterest in life. I thought about life like this: we are born, if we are lucky, we go to school, we go to school some more, we get a job and maybe continue to go to school, find a career, maybe get married, have a family, they go to school, we work until we are too old to work, and we die.

Maybe we die before one of those “milestones,” and maybe we will be missed. Regardless, one day we will die, and eventually, the world will cease to exist and none of this will matter any longer. I was indifferent and numb to the idea of death and saw no point in participating in life as I thought I knew it.

If I had ended my life right then and there, I would never have discovered what I know now.

Flash forward, I’m in a different city making a living as a writer. I have accepted that deep down I believe that nothing matters, but my perspective has shifted.

If being alive and not being alive matters equally as much to the universe, then my presence is just as significant as my absence. I realized that life, in itself, is significant. I have one shot at this whole being alive thing, and it would be rude of me to throw it away before my time is up. And if ultimately nothing matters, does that matter?

That just means that there are no rules — anything can matter, and I have the freedom to decide what matters to me. I do not believe there is a meaning of life. I believe there are many. And I believe that they are not set in stone, they do not exist already for me to find, they are for me to create.

Once I realized that I cannot find meaning, I stopped looking for it and started inviting it. I began saying yes to things outside of my comfort zone. I started making conversation with strangers. I started doing things that I wanted to do, despite the opinions of the people around me. I started caring about myself. I began to value life, in all forms. I came to realize how strange it is to be alive, in the first place, but how wonderful it is to share this oddity with millions of other living people at the same time.

This is not to say that I am always happy. No one is. I have days where I feel lost, insignificant, tired, stagnant. I do not always feel a sense of purpose. And that is okay. In those times, I just remind myself that no one really knows why I am here. I simply am. Maybe I don’t hate this life after all.

Back to writing.

And Virginia Woolf said,

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.

Writing for the most part, to me, was both delightful and stressful. Thankfully, the delight outweighed the stress. I have this strong love-hate relation with writing where constant merry-go-round of inspirations coming in and out have compelled me to confront what it means to be a writer. I could be a content writer, a journalist, an author, a blogger, and that still makes me a writer, regardless of what people have to say. Each piece that I’ve put out is a form of expression and if it makes people feel some time of way about it, it is art in its own right.

Though I love writing and started out with reading fan-fictions for ideas, I never got into writing fan-fictions but I did enjoy hearing the stories that my peers wrote for their own pleasure. College was memorable, I met people who would write for plays, songs, and poetry. I would sit with these people for hours, see their expressions as they describe their characters, the flow of their stories, and we would then write about anything our imagination brought us in that moment. It was beautiful to be able to not care how absurd the stories sounded and how they wrote it.

Yet, the more inspired I was, the more fearful I became. As I grew older and started making a living as a copywriter and web content writer, I have been more conscious in what I have written. This too, falls back to my current work-in-progress, Yung & Jess — a coming of age story where the protagonist, Yung, who is struggling to fit in a world of not only prejudice and firm standards, but even serious legal sanctions as she falls for a woman named Jess. This friendship turned into romance creates a love and longing between these two individuals, one that is genuine and earnest, especially when their inclination and acts are deemed `unspeakable’, and Yung’s future, career and family ties can be at stake.

I would like to be clear on the path that I am with as I write this book, but there’s always a fear at the back of my mind fearing the readers will not understand or think there is no direction in it. Ironically, I am also terrified at them understanding it and being able to encode the messages behind certain paragraphs that hold my deepest of emotions. To a certain extent, I believe each writer have dealt with these feelings where we write from experiences, but not exact experiences. I have too many unwritten stories and while some managed to be on paper, they bring back unpleasant memories of my trauma. Pieces that I have written at 4.00 am in the morning, in the darkest times of my life, where my fingers came to life and typed words that were breathed in with vehemence; where I my tears would drip on the keyboard and I was relieved towards the end.

Now when those scenarios replay vividly in my memory, I realize that I was in such a dark place and I still am, but writing gave me a voice, it became the voice I was looking for in my state of brokenness and emptiness. More importantly, the old pieces of writing allows me to reflect on myself and remind me how far I’ve come. I have gone through a lot, and I will continue to face adversity and keep thriving. I’ll laugh at the scars and bruises and smile later on when I am healed. To say the least, I look forward to this journey in writing my book, Yung & Jess.