Grief. (pt I)

TW // Suicide Attempt. Death. Abandonment. Psychological Abuse. Trauma.

This isn't fiction. This has been a topic that I tried to approach with as much grace and honesty. With honesty, that means mentioning things that aren't going to make people feel comfortable. It is difficult. I have kept actual names out of this in respect of their privacy and also the deceased. Everything that is expressed here, are my own perceptions and feelings, and should not be taken as facts, or any form of endorsement. If you have any depressive thoughts, please reach out to someone, and if you are currently experiencing a huge loss in your life, whether it's a failed relationship, a fallout with a friend, a death of a friend, and you have so many questions unanswered, please feel free not to continue further with this post. I don't want you to feel more hurt than you already are. You may return another time to read this when you are ready. 

And because it is a series of events that have taken place in my personal life, it would be impossible for me to have it condensed in one post. As such, I may be posting 2 or 3 parts of this topic that surrounds grief. While there are mentions of the fear of abandonment too, this story solely focuses on the stages of grief that I went through while coping 3 separate losses, all in which took place in the same week.

I knew Felix* only enough to exchange greetings when we passed in the university halls. I was the president of an English society and in the parlance of the time, fairly introverted. And I was insecure, too conscious, especially around people in general—species I found perplexing and more intimidating than lightning struck bright and sudden. All of which may explain my confoundment when he pulled me to a side to ask if I was all right while we were inside an International Students’ Society room. I’d just finished handling an event and I was exhausted.

He greeted me calmly. I remember the twinkle in his eyes whenever he spoke, he had a certain kind of gentleness he carried with him, the one that you knew you’d feel safe with. I recall the conversation like it was only yesterday.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

‘Do I look not okay?’

‘You just look tired. More than usual.’

‘I don’t know if I’m not okay either.’ 

Thus, whatever plans that he had, whatever work he was supposed to do, Felix laid it all down to talk to me. He wanted to make sure that I was feeling okay. He never mentioned that he had plans to go out with another group of friends for supper. He never told me of the time that he was having a difficult time with his family. He had to teach himself to be independent on his own, and all the struggles he was facing on his own, would become the root of both his compassion and his sensitivity to someone else’s hurt.

I was grateful for him, of course, and had a habit of thanking him for being him whenever we bumped into each other on campus. Each time I reminded him how indebted I was to him, he would smile and say it wasn’t a big deal, and that he was more happy to hear out a friend. Friend? Yes, he said I was a friend. I needed that. 

The last conversation we had face-to-face, alone, was in 2018. One night at Astaka, we were sitting on the benches that faced the campus field, it was empty and lonely. There were stars that night. They were shining bright. Out of nowhere, he spoke the words that anyone who has dealt with some form of depression, would freeze for a while.

‘Isn’t it so random how the most amazing people die so quickly?’

We talked about Chester Bennington, specifically about the song ‘One More Light’ by Linkin Park. Initially, the song haunted me, but it was also comforting. I would listen to the lyrics and it was almost as if I was listening to suicidal notes, an imagery of a candlelight flickering. Perhaps that was just the nature when it came down to Chester’s voice and words. He may no longer be around physically, yet his legacy leaves on. There is still so much of him that is very alive to this day.

It was strange. I remember telling Felix how tragic it was, that life seems so bleak, so short for a person so loved by the world. As I said so, I told Felix I knew that he was capable of great things, and that I couldn’t wait to see what the future held for him, and what he would be contributing to the world. Felix smiled and thanked me.

‘Can I help you, not to hurt, anymore?’

Each time I consumed a creative piece, be it a song, film, spoken words, poetry, instrumental… I can’t help but wonder each form of art is about a person who struggle with a sense of belonging, who is sad, depressed and dealing with issues they can’t possibly talk about. Or even if they tried, no one really cared enough to understand or be patient with them.

And I wondered then too, why, despite all the obvious cues, the social hints, we are never truly able to save a life. But I guess, what no one really talks about depression is that it is ocean deep. You learn to swim to shore by yourself. No matter how sharp the rocks are, or how they can cut you, you have to find the strength to get to shore. Because it’s scary. It’s terrifying to fall into the comforting familiarity of the harsh waves and the sensation of drowning. I told Felix, despite whatever pain we were both going through, I told us to hold on. He said he believed in good things to come. And I believed him too.


22nd September, Wednesday — I had known this amazing person since July, I still think of him as someone special. For the sake of keeping this individual’s privacy, I will not go into full details. But do understand that what I share, is solely from my perspective, and may not necessarily reflect on that person’s character and feelings at that time. I’ll call him Sean*. We had our time set aside for each other then, we would talk of the things that mattered to us. I was happy to be myself around him. Yet, we drifted. Maybe that’s not an entirely accurate way to put it. The words we speak, the voices we drown, the choices we make, the dreams we question, they each come with their own repercussions. To put it bluntly, what he did, hurt me. And I need anyone who is reading this to understand that, while it broke me, I still care a lot for this person. The times we had spent together were golden, a bit unreal. I wouldn’t have traded those memories for anything. Despite that, everything that we had said and done, I could forget nothing.

How was I supposed to?

And again, why would I want to forget the good things?

I was in tears. I was livid we ended things through a text. I didn’t want the conversation to end in a bad place, so I left my last text. I couldn’t continue on with the conversation because anger was going to take my stead. I had to save this friendship. Even if that meant not getting out the exact emotions I was feeling.


24th September, Friday — I received news of someone passing. We never talked much, but this individual would confide in me from time to time. Just how do you respond to a text when their sibling informs you they have taken their own life? It made my head spin. There was a lot I simply couldn’t comprehend. I thought of how differently I would feel looking at their texts knowing they won’t wake up anymore. Sad? I wasn’t sure if I was saddened. I hadn’t had any proper emotions since 22nd September.

I thought staying over at my second brother’s was going to cheer me up. I was wrong. He tried his best and cared for me like any older brother would. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t shower. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get up from bed without the pain in my chest. The worst nights were the ones where I would have vivid dreams of having conversations with Sean, where he’d say he wasn’t being himself, and that we’d talk again. I hated that I had to wake up, to be disappointed, that it was just a dream. But mostly, I was just terrified of falling back to sleep if I was going to dream about the good times we had, only to be slapped by reality that I was left behind.

It broke my brother. Not a single day went by where I wouldn’t struggle to breathe, get panic attacks, and cry. I would cry even whilst I was doing nothing. And it felt apparent at that time too, that I amounted to nothing. It’s something else to be hit by someone and getting hurt, and it’s also something else to have someone make you feel like the world, promise you that they would never leave you, only to leave you. And what difference does it make even though we still have each other on social media? What difference does it make for me to follow him, and him to follow me, now that we are just ‘strangers’? Because I already feel like I don’t exist. Maybe, I was the only one who wanted to feel seen. Maybe, it was wrong of me to reciprocate. Yet, asking myself now, do I regret any of it? I don’t have an answer for that. All I know is, it hurt then. Still hurts.


25th September, Saturday — On my way back to my apartment after what I felt was just me burdening my brothers with my presence in their home, I thought I was finally going to make it. For me, I was going to try to be strong, just for one day. All I begged myself was to not cry for one day. I needed to be strong. Then it all came crashing down. I missed a phone call. I couldn’t answer anyone in the state that I was in. Then a text notification came in, I froze. 

My friend, Felix, isn’t here anymore.

I wanted it to be a joke. 

I called up my friend. This had to be a joke. It had to be. I didn’t care how low it was to be one, but there was no way, a bright 26 year-old like Felix, who had huge aspirations, who inspired the people he encountered in life, has died. This must have been a prank someone thought of, and maybe Felix was just planning for us to meet up or something. But hearing the uncharacteristically quiet scratch of my friend’s voice on the line, I knew Felix had left us that day.

‘I thought you might want to know. He was close to some of us.’ my friend said. ‘Do you want to come to his funeral?’

‘I’d like to go,’ I replied.

The word sounded strange even as it left my mouth. Like? Why would I like to go to a friend’s funeral? Is that what I am supposed to say knowing a friend—a kind, bright and sensitive individual who was going places? I left my apartment room and walked aimlessly in the common area. I am told by friends that through texts, I seemed completely out of it. I don’t seem to remember what took place except people kept mentioning I was just not being myself. 

Even then, I was present at his funeral. I saw people weeping. Some didn’t. It was odd to be hugging friends that I had not spoken to in years. To be meeting up with former friends in a funeral. Why did we have to meet up this way, in the midst of a pandemic, on a cold rainy night? And the night felt long, I still don’t remember much of what happened. 

It was past midnight by the time I settled down in my apartment. Settled down, or so I thought.  I threw up whatever I had for dinner. Back in my room, the sight of my antidepressants made me sick to my stomach. As my anxiety grew worse, even the order that was present in my room soon became a disarray. My focus and vision both grew scattered so that it became a challenge to stand still. And I fell to the ground. Shaking. I was scared.

I mustered what seemed of my remaining strength, switched off the lights, and dragged my heavy feet to bed, forcing myself to sleep. The nightmare came, I saw Sean again in my dreams, and we talked happily. It shouldn’t have been a nightmare if we were still talking, but everything that felt beautiful then only turned to sheer terror for me when I opened my eyes. The problem with being in the care of a person consumed by their own pain and grief is that your problems can’t exist to them. In a weird way, you don’t exist to them. And so the neglect is ultimate. The abandonment is real along with the unfulfilled promises and loving words spoken carelessly. 

It’s not just the abandonment that hurts. It’s the post trauma that follows it when you have opened up to someone you trust. It’s waking up and checking your phone for a message that isn’t there. And the last exchange is still apparent. And you know, they have left you.

I was left behind.

I woke up screaming.

I felt as if the world used to laugh with me, hold me when I spent my time with Sean—no longer. Now the world mocked me. It was as if the world had shrunken away to leave a cold void around my skin, as if I had become detached from reality itself. It was dark. And then I asked myself the question I had been meaning to ask myself, but was always afraid to.

What if I just do away with myself?

What if I just swallowed every antidepressant and went to sleep?

What if I just don’t have to wake up anymore?

Because it sure as hell beats living.

But I can’t. 


I have a purpose in this place. But I wasn’t convinced either. I needed to reach out. I could only think of one person to call at that time, it was Sean. It was just a matter of time before I consumed those pills. I had them on the floor with me. I dialed his number, I was fighting back the tears, and I bit my lip so hard it bled. He didn’t answer. 

Second time. Nothing.

Third time. And nothing.

Did it matter if I called again? Because if he stopped caring, then who would? If he thought the best solution to go about parting with me was through texts, then did I even matter to him now? Did I matter to him then? I couldn’t just call him to start over this friendship. I couldn’t ask him to be here when I was at my lowest. And I started believing that I wasn’t good enough. But I still wanted to live, I still wanted to have hope. To breathe.

Now, let me tell you… there are times in life where you fall down and you feel like you don’t have the strength to get back up, you sort of put on a mask. A mask where you deny your vulnerable self the chance to breathe and cry. And it starts forming into a survival essential where you are from. It shuts your emotions down, it makes you more alert, more adept, yet more detached to compassion. I didn’t want to go back to being that. I was fearful of indifference. 

You know how when you have to pretend that all is well when it’s going downhill, and you head home, you lay down in your bed when the world’s no longer watching. You don’t have to impress anybody and you are yourself. Then fear comes in. You know the fear that you have as soon as you walk into the doors of your house? Or the fear that comes when you are leaving home and you remind a parent, ‘Please, don’t make them angry today. I don’t want to get hit.’ Yes, that. Maybe it’s a broken home. Maybe you are constantly walking on eggshells with your family. And it scares you. Maybe you are worried about what people perceive of you just from the first contact. You don’t know what they are talking about behind your back. And that fear paralyzes you. You feel as if you can’t do anything. 

Well, I told myself to call another number. And if the second person didn’t pick up, I wasn’t going to think anymore and kill myself. On the call, when Helen* answered, that soft voice that said, ‘Hello?’, that gentleness in Helen’s voice dissolved whatever stood between me and my sorrow. My torrents of grief were unleashed. 

‘I tried to kill myself.’ 

We spoke for about 3 hours on call, taking turns for me to cry, and for Helen to comfort me. With her, I felt safe, even though we were separated by a huge geographical distance. I found solace in the words she had to say. For it was through her words, I believe that she too, felt the pain that swirled in my brain, all the unfinished chapters I kept telling as if they held answers. They don’t. Helen said something along the lines that hurt people do things because their emotions are driving them that way.

‘All those things that hurt you, hun, had nothing to do with you at all… and perhaps that’s even worse. Because you know you did nothing wrong, and you are hurting. And these heartbreaks that you feel, hunny. They don’t get easier. The end of a relationship always hurts. And when you have to deal with other deaths one after another, it gets too much for you. You are allowed to cry. And no one should have to judge you for that. You have been giving too much of yourself to others, you haven’t saved any love for yourself.’

At that time I didn’t understand how Helen who had known me in less than a year, just virtually too, would notice that of me. 

‘Do you know how I know this? It’s because I keep my notifications on for you on Twitter. And see your every interaction with people. You give everything to others, putting their feelings first, validating them. It’s always yours that comes last. And all the hurt that you have been through, you still find the strength to forgive and let go. You still show love and care when everyone else would have found many reasons not to continue anymore. Because that’s who you are. You are so important. The world needs you, even if you don’t think it needs you. This world needs you to take up space. It needs you to continue showing understanding, patience, and love. It needs you to spread joy and bring a semblance of hope to those who have none. And whenever that voice tells you otherwise, it’s not true. That voice hates you, because it knows how strong and capable you are in this world. So, whenever you feel like it’s too much, that you can’t go on, please don’t keep it to yourself. You need a shoulder to cry on too when you’ve been carrying the weight of everyone else’s for so long. I love you so much, don’t kill yourself. You are needed here.’

Outside the apartment window, I could finally hear the wind rustling through the silence. It was hard for me to imagine that someone whom I have never met was able to comfort me with such intensity. I laughed inside, remembering those early days that had seen me rush out from my classroom to avoid being hit by my pursuers, grab a piece of wood for safe measure in case someone would hit me with a brick. I remember all the fear I felt for not being able to speak up, where the teachers never noticed the bruises on me. I wished, how I wished Helen was around then to keep me safe. But here she was now, miles away from me, believing in me and telling me that I served a purpose in this world.

I went to bed that night, finally smiling, even if it was a small smile.

(to be continued)

Ropes.

Finally, in a low whisper, he said, "I think I might be a terrible person."
For a split second, I believed him -
I thought he was about to confess a crime, maybe a murder.
Then I realized 
that we all think we might be terrible people.
But we only reveal this before asking someone to love us.

Why do I cry? Why are the tears flowing? This unexplainable pain in my chest, the tears that won’t stop its flow. Is it my fault? The curtains in the office, they look just as bare and blank as I am in my life. I hear the standing fan, it doesn’t try to pry into my thoughts for the voice inside my head, is louder. Am I not strong enough to adapt to this life where I was told since young, that it was I either I gave it my all or nothing at all?

So why am I on the verge of tears? In the office, no one sees, how could they? Their backs are turned behind me as they scramble to finish a monthly report. Meetings after meetings, quotas to be met. It’s not their fault either. We are all just good at pretending we are okay. These all-or-nothing achievement systems our societies had been promoting all along was supposed to make the world a better place for people to achieve their dreams. Instead, it seems to be an incubator for adolescent depression and suicide. I was led to believe that this belief of perfection was the only viable way for me to survive and it was cruelly adapted into me. But why should that even matter? I am an adult, I am supposed to have this figured out, right?

Right.

No, I can’t.

It’s hard. And I know perhaps this might be relatable to some, or not—either way, this is what I am going through. Perhaps some of you can find comfort in knowing that I am not perfect, that I do come with my own flaws.


Wednesday, 9.00 AM — I told my second brother that I didn’t return his messages sooner because I was hit by anxiety (again). I believe he set aside the things he needed to do to assure me. It was difficult for me just to type the words I wanted to say. Finally, I was able to come up with a concise text, “I don’t know exactly why, but if I must take a guess, it has been an on-and-off thing since I accepted this job position in a reputable corporation. I can’t help but feel the blame is on me because maybe, just maybe I am the one who is not trying to adapt? Or maybe it’s the added factor that I got accepted into a job during the pandemic.”

I further told him about my growing anxiousness regarding my vaccination appointment which would possibly fall on the same day in which I am supposed to handle a livestream video for my company. The fear of not being able to present for my task and to let someone else even manage it for a bit didn’t sit well with me, and there was the added stress of thinking that I have let the team down for being away… In truth, it wasn’t fair at all for me to blame myself. My chest was hurting at this point, one hand on my chest and the other on the keyboard, I had to force myself to tell my brother my fear of disappointing my team and how some days I felt distant from them.

What followed next was nothing but words of assurance and compassion from my brother. My chest still hurt, but somehow, reading what he had to say calmed me, even if it was a little.

He said, “Rather than thinking of failing to meet your team’s expectations, it is okay to make mistakes. Be more compassionate and patient to yourself. If you feel distant, why don’t you try asking them how they find you as a person in or out of work when working together with them?” And he continued on, “I do understand the feeling when your responsibility and things or events just overlapped each other. I would advise to give your team a heads up about it and have a contingency plan in hand. You have been working with them for quite a while now. I believe you can navigate them a little bit on how it’s supposed to run with much ease.”

Those three words.

“I believe you.”

Why? Why did my second brother have such faith in me when I had none for myself? How could he possibly hold so much faith in me when I have been nothing but a mess? Am I not seeing something in myself that he can see? Or perhaps, I am the one here with little faith.

I still didn’t quite catch what he said, and I couldn’t understand where he was coming from having such confidence in me. When I finally mustered some strength and had both hands on my keypad, I typed away and told him that one of the biggest things I had always struggled with anxiety is when things are sudden and changes its course. I even told him how it sounds so silly and childish, that because I am an adult, I should be able to know how to manage myself and my schedule… isn’t that right?

And I don’t think I was fully prepared for the question he raised next.

“Why do you really think it is silly and childish? And what makes you think that an adult can manage themselves 100%?”

I never thought about this. Have I not been giving myself enough grace, or was it the perfectionist in me that feared the unknown? And thus, my brother carried on, “From what I see or understand is that you have set your ‘if and then’ rules, in a manner such, ‘if I fail to manage myself perfectly, then I am an immature person and I contribute to the failure to the team as a whole.’

Unbelievable. Like he read through me. I agreed and he went on. “My next question would be, is it not okay to let loose then on the ropes that you grip so tightly and constantly? Whatever the rope may represent in your life.”

Now I’m not the most religious or spiritual person, but I am in my own ways, sensitive to certain things. But what my brother had allowed me was to question the ropes that I have been holding on in my life, and so I lamented.

“I look up to you, kor, mom, and dad. I always feel that somehow everyone else seems to know what to do in life, and I just don’t? Take mom for example, she is so good with accounts, and knows things about estate, property, etc. Dad knows how to deal and manage himself in an unfamiliar territory, even kor too.”

Perhaps what I said made perfect sense to me then. Isn’t that how it is though when we look at someone with our own perceptions? I could tell my second brother was incredibly patient with his worrywart sister, and so he asked, “What makes you confident and feel that way? Are you assuming from your stored information or having a talk with us personally and inwardly? If it is through your observations, does it really reflect on how the said person actually feels inwardly without you talking and understanding with them? Take for example, your friends have been observing you as a reliable friend that manages everything well, but they haven’t spoken to you and understand what or how you are feeling on the inside.”

That’s how it is though, isn’t it?

All of us. You, me, and everyone else. We only know what we think we know. I had grown accustomed to the image of “I can’t mess up or fail anything in whatever I do, otherwise I am a failure.”

With much love and patience, my second brother advised me to talk to my colleagues on their struggles with life. I considered, but I didn’t want to force a conversation with them either. My anxiety went down a lot and I managed to eat something. I didn’t want to fixate on a miscommunication that happened in the office, but I kept my brother’s word at heart.


Thursday, 3.17 PM – A miscommunication happened which caused me to have my storyboard idea to be half scrapped. I was frustrated as the idea was presented more than a week and the review came in late. That meant more work on my end, and at the very last minute too, just the day before a presentation. I took a leap of faith and voiced out my feelings to my manager.

Now, I wasn’t expecting her to take my side, to pity me, or anything. I just really didn’t want to bottle up my emotions. Because I trusted her too, I wanted to be honest with her. What I didn’t expect was her to really, listen to me, and tell me an incredibly personal story.

“Everyone should pull their own weight in the team, the final results will tell who puts in effort and who doesn’t. But life never goes the way we plan at all, especially not in this industry. And when you’re in the corporate world, you face all sorts of people. You might face people who are slow with instructions, the ones who get confused all the time… sometimes we think our efforts are wasted when we spend so much time trying to help them to understand our ideas, they can’t see it, it gets rejected. It hurts, you might think everything you did was for nothing, but what you had gained on your own, the knowledge, the skill, it stays with you—no one can ever take that away from you.

Anyway, you might think I’m not the one who stays up and prepares all these concepts and storyboards, that’s why I’m doing all the talking here… But what I am trying to help you to understand is that the corporate world is full of challenges. It can break us, it can make us stronger, how we navigate around those challenges is important.

Like you, I kept my feelings to myself. I handled things on my own. I wasn’t relying on anyone, did everything by myself, it overwhelmed me. I cried. I had a breakdown in the office, and I left in a sudden. The previous general manager had to call someone to find me, and they brought me back to the office to calm me down. A lot of things happened before you showed up here… and you know, slowly, it just got better when I formed my own team.

I don’t ever want you to feel that your efforts are not seen. I see your efforts. I see your struggles. I see your frustration. Understand this, I share how you feel, not as your manager, but also your friend. Don’t ever keep things to yourself. Even when I am being unreasonable to you, talk to me, tell me that I am being unreasonable. Because you are the person I hired. I saw something in you. So did our general manager. Does that not speak enough of your own worth in our eyes?”

Now… I didn’t know how or what to respond to her.

I was just, shocked.

I didn’t realize I had shed a tear too. One of the few moments I’m grateful for working at home so no one could see me cry. But you see, in that moment of all the hopelessness and loss I felt, assurance came to me when I least expected it. And I can’t exactly describe how it feels because you have to experience it for yourself—feeling like you are nothing and having someone to remind you your worth.

Suddenly, I recognized that these triggers or anxiety attacks that I was experiencing so frequently were exposing me to parts of myself that I may have yet to make peace with and fully accept. I realized in my feelings of “not being enough” that were coming up, that I had still some work to do on accommodating the parts of myself that did not feel safe and welcomed. That for those parts to feel welcomed, they first had to be acknowledged and welcomed by me.

What would I have changed when I was a child?

What would Lucid do?

A lot of my mental dissociation or anxiety attacks are connected to childhood wounds, tied to moments in my earlier development when my needs were not met. For me, I suffered not feeling safe and welcomed in the social spheres I entered. Even in family gatherings, gossips and rumours would spread, and the wound of alienation would soon spread to me. I lost a huge chunk of my childhood. I went through a period of anger and hurt myself. But now, things are different. I messed up.

Still, I will persevere.

If I can’t wake up at 7.30 AM, I will try getting up at 8.00 AM.

And that’s still something.

It’s remarkable.

More importantly, the conversations with my second brother and manager had opened the door for me to give myself some grace. Compassionately, I took a break from social media in the day. I made time to speak to my inner child.  I told her how much I care for her and how responsible I feel for her safety. I also assured her that she was safe within my body. That, today, I will reparent her and meet her needs; essentially, that she is welcomed here and everywhere she goes.

That she belongs and she is loved—especially by me.

So I say goodbye to the ropes, the ones that I’ve held on for too long, the ones that left me bruised and scarred. This time, there are no more ropes. Just hopes.


Someone gave me a tough pill to swallow. It's the same one I intend to give you. Please take a deep breath beforehand...
Breathe in...
Hold it for a couple of seconds... 
and exhale... slowly... ever so slowly...

Here's the tough pill:

You are not your pain, nor your shame, nor your grief, nor your trauma. You are pure, unconditional and unadulterated love. 

Your mind may scream and say it's a lie.
It's okay. Take your time. Like I said, it's a tough pill to swallow. 

You are loved. ♡ 

The path unwinding.

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

—Pele

I didn’t think I would have survived the first month in my new job as a content creator. In a lot of ways, I was excited but incredibly nervous of trying to find my place in a new environment where it was predominantly Chinese. In a lot of ways, I felt that I had to adapt to the situation but it’s also about finding that sweet spot that I don’t completely compromise my own personality and creativity. While I did struggle in the beginning to bring the change I wanted in the way a digital team to approach the audience, it’s worth to acknowledge that a lot of the great results I’ve seen in my company’s digital performance is due to the support I got from my Digital Manager, Videographer, Graphic Designer, and Technical Coordinators. A lot of my visions were able to brought to fruition with a digital team that had my back and in just a month, we are able to reach to more people and we are also engaging with more people than ever. A lot of this increase in social media traffic is a direct reflection of the team’s effort and dedication—a beautiful collective hard work that paid off.

Just last month, I had the opportunity to manage some livestreams with our collaboration partners to feature their wonderful recipes on our set. I think despite the shaky start I had with my apartment the day before I started this role, it has been fulfilling to get back out and engage with people face-to-face again. One of the biggest fears I had was really falling out of the writing community on Twitter, just because I had never been a position where I had so much influence over a person’s working schedule, so everything was new for me—to adjust to everything was something I had to face with a brave front (even if I was nervous). So far, I am glad I’m still in touch with my fellow writers.

I can’t help but wonder if this is the responsibility that comes along with being a leader. It’s also not just about passing on a job to a person and expecting them to commit to it, but it’s also building that bond with them and trusting in their abilities to understand your concept, and make it come true. I never wanted to come off as a dictator, and I made it very clear to myself that I would never treat a colleague the way I wouldn’t want to be treated. To see that I am slowly breaking out of my comfort zone and building meaningful relationships with my team where they are comfortable in opening to me about their own personal struggles, it’s something that I appreciate. Anybody could come to me for whatever they needed, and I would do my best to assist them.

Of course while it’s a given that every company has its own challenges where certain groups would have a bit of hard time in changing their mindset, I’ve learned that you can slowly convince people to change their mind when you share their concerns, but still stand on your ground and fully explain yourself. I think it’s so important that even with all the differences and unprecedented events, the company still must remain enthusiastic about the future.

One of the things I enjoy most about brainstorming with my digital team is the opportunity to interact with their own creativity on the set. It’s truly inspirational to see and feel their enthusiasm, even with how very much we differ from each other in approaching to social media contents, etc. I am so blessed to work extremely closely with my Digital manager who has good faith in me, the entire digital team, and technical coordinators (also known as Chefs in the company). I can work from writing storyboards, conceptualizing short videos, drafting advertisements, to promotional and campaign artworks. So why this all means the world to me because it is solid progress. I walked into this company with high depression and anxiety—the last thing I wanted to do was to use my mental health as an excuse to treat others poorly, do sloppy work, and to not give my all. I am a 24-year-old adult and I have been for the past years, and I am fortunate to be on a medication dosage that has been working well for me. I wake up early, drink plenty of water, listen to soul-soothing music, to help me get by the days to some capacity.

I know who I am as an individual. I refuse to let my mental health issues reflect who I am as a person. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since therapy, it’s the importance of genuine supportive friends and uplifting others as well. I’ve seen a strong resurgence in my mood and I’m much happier these days too, both of which struggled during my schooling years. My relationships with friends have remained strong, as much of the hard work throughout the pandemic has paid off… through all of this, I have been happy for the successes that they have achieved or are making its way to them.

I’m not entirely sure where all this positivity from me is coming from. What I do know is that I have a high level of faith in my friends and digital team. I’ve talked frequently about how change in constant, much of it is driven by how we interact with our surroundings and more importantly, with ourselves. My ability to embrace all that’s in front of me with a clear set of eyes and a keen sense of reality will be defining for my own path to success, short-term and long-term. As I embark on my transformational journey to write my next chapter, I have full confidence in you. Yes, you, the person reading this. Because together, we are going to achieve beautiful moments, even if our paths are separate.

I’m really happy.

Is it possible that the human passion for deep connection has something to do with the years writers spent crafting their literature—a nostalgia for the graceful conversations and shifting from topics to topics? Perhaps.

I am really happy. Do I have depression? Yes.

Am I really happy? Yes.

Right here.

Right now.

Maybe when you are reading this, I will be going through something else. But I’m really happy as I’m writing this now.

I owe an incalculable debt to many friends I’ve gotten to know better in the past few months. My interest to connect with strangers online returned to me this year around late March when, as a writer who had to work from home in a pandemic, I hopped on to Twitter to share my writing with others. Idly looking around at all the writer’s lifts and writer’s tags, then slowly learning to give feedback on others when their writing evokes something in me, I experienced a kind of epiphanal vision of a writing that would bring about genuineness and compassion to humanity. I resolved to devote myself to such the task.

Exactly when I started being open about my feelings, I started to feel love and support. And it led me to you. Yes, you, the one reading this now. While I have become accustomed to people sharing their ups and downs, I am still feeling extremely conscious about mine. Even so, I am still fascinated by the events and the conversations that form my life here.

Crowds. People, lots of them, there are also all sorts of them on Twitter. Communicating. Beyond the actual language barrier and cultural differences, there is also the complex unspoken language online. This language of implication often seems to be the case here, and it has the tendency to often make what you don’t say more important than what you do say. It’s a bit funny, fortunately I’ve been privy enough to notice subtleties.

But why I am telling you all of this? Maybe it’s because somewhere in the crowd, I saw you. You didn’t think I would, but I did. Just the same, you might have seen me when I was looking somewhere else. You see, I see your tweets as I scroll through the feed. I can see the words. Its meaning is left for me to decipher—to each their own imagination and experience.

Day after day come delightful discoveries: Hollis who has his soul on his Hong Kong beach, neon lights, and questionable life choices. Wrust putting on his suits and Billy’s around to love him. Robert is probably having ramen for dinner again, I wonder if he changes the flavours. Krys looks amazing as always with her hoodie on, I notice she really loves her teacups. Think the first Steve must be singing again as he drives his car and ponders on what’s for dinner (he’s also very proud of a certain rainbow keychain), the second Steve has a lot of work cut out for him, and he’s absolutely smashing it, I can’t wait to see him smiling. I really hope Vanessa’s bumble guy treats her with all the love she deserves. Scout’s probably having her beanie on like a thinking cap when she shares writing tips. Wes is sharing his wellness tips again, lovely, I always found them to be assuring. Kenny’s an amazing artist, very underrated too. Ah, that reminds me, I should see how Emily’s faring.

Xan has writing blueprints figured out, they have really nice handwriting, I hope they know that. Ellie’s interactions with anyone makes me giggle all the time. And oh, look! Kristy has shared another fun word of the day again! Is Whi and Biren walking down the streets in India observing the situation around them for their next post? I still don’t know how Maponi looks behind his shades—I reckon he has beautiful eyes though. I wonder, I wonder… Derrick is proud of his new playlist, I haven’t listened to it yet and I know I should. Eri should be so proud of herself for taking a huge step for a new chapter in her life. Meanwhile, Heather seems to be moving in a positive direction in taking a stand for herself, I know she’s strong to do it. Jess, ah well, she’s doing what she does best, being a mess and sharing vivid haikus. Rachelle, Mina, Richelle, Shruba, Alex, Nick, Brianna, Alice, Sam, Callum…

Ah, you see… there’s so many of you. I can’t count.

I’ve stopped counting the numbers of people who care for me.

Because they are all around me.

And they don’t have to assure me at all.

It is, I know, impossible ever to fully understand this complex nature of online interaction. Yet for the rest of my life, I have made a special point of checking up on these people and others to be sure they are all right. Thanks to writing, instead of seeing a single world—my own—I now see it multiply until I have before me as many worlds as there are these writers. Happiness cannot be measured, you see. It must be perceived. And to that, I say, “I’m really happy.”

You make me happy.

I hope you will see yourself with the eyes I see you one day. You’re such a beautiful human being. I hope you let yourself rest, don’t beat yourself up over past mistakes, over regret, and over everything your mind wants to destroy you. I wish I could remove all those demons inside of your head because you deserve to feel happy, to be happy. If you ever feel lonely, then watch the sky, because you know—someone, at the same time is watching the sky too, maybe feeling the same way.

I am glad you exist and I hope you won’t ever remove your own spot in this world. Maybe you don’t feel like you belong here but, Angel, then build your home here. I don’t want you to leave this world unhappy. I want you to live every little second, I want you to feel alive, I don’t want you to see yourself just existing. You deserve it. Whatever happened, it’s not your fault, the demons in your head recognize that you have a beautiful heart, they want to take it because they have never seen such beautiful heart as yours, don’t let them win. You’re not selfish for isolating yourself, but you deserve to talk to someone.

If you’re reading this, then please never forget to breathe and smile.

Lastly, I want to hear you echo these words…

“I’m really happy.”

…to yourself.

There's are plenty of you who have reached out to me in my DMs telling me about your life, opening up to me on extremely personal matters, letting me know what my writing has done for you, or how I have impacted you in some ways. I'm grateful, so grateful because you trust me so. It takes immense courage to open up to anyone, let alone a stranger on the internet. You are so brave, and I wouldn't want to let you down either. I'm not perfect, I will make mistakes. And I hope you know that you have made me a better person than I was yesterday. From the bottom of my heart, I cherish you.

Dear friends.

The last few couple of months have been incredibly rough, but also, beautiful. There is a light somewhere—and I’m choosing to focus on that light. If there’s one thing a lot of us struggle with, it’s believing that we are enough. For it’s hard to see one’s worth when the lows keep coming. Too often, we become our own worst critics. In every single thing we do, it’s never good enough for ourselves.

I don’t say that lightly because I am a perfectionist. There are times where I hold unrealistic expectations for myself too and treat myself as a miracle worker. Some mornings, or some nights, I still remember the simple mistakes I made years ago, vividly – and beat myself up for it. Though, it’s been much easier to laugh at them now than be sad about it.

So what I’m (constantly) trying to work on for myself, is to tell myself each day that “I am enough”. I want to give myself grace, while I give grace and benefit of doubt to others as well. Many times now, I let this false perception of perfection cloud my judgment, and allow it to dominate my life without much realization. But I have to change. Change has to start somewhere. It has to start now.

If you relate to bits of what I mentioned, I hope the few affirmations I’ll be sharing here will provide some comfort for you. While you read the words, maybe you can write down, or not—that’s okay too. You can ponder a while. Most importantly, I hope you can see that you have what it takes to write your story.

  1. Give yourself permission to create without inhibition.

In the way that feels natural to you, that feels good to you, that feels authentic to you, that feels true. Know this, it’s okay if your process or final product doesn’t look or feel or sound like everyone else’s. It doesn’t have to. In fact, it wasn’t meant to. The world needs what you have to create.

2. Allow yourself to ask what you want without holding back.

When your body is too tired to carry on, when your soul feels weary from the journey, when your mind feels exhausted—take control and ask yourself the question, what do you want? Then, answer it. And, every time, when the fulfilment of your answer outweighs the uncomfortableness that you are feeling in the moment—carry on. Don’t give up. Keep running towards that goal.

3. Surrender the stress, worry, and anxiety.

Lay it all down. You don’t need it. We yearn to have control over everything around us, but, often, as we clench our fists, holding onto the reigns of dominance over our work, lives, and situations—we find ourselves slipping. Instead of stabilizing us, our tight grip wears us down and causes us to fall from our secure vantage point of peace. And without peace, we cannot forge ahead with the clarity, wisdom, and grace that we need to accomplish our purpose. We need peace, more than we need control.

With all that's said and done, I hope you realize that it is never too late and you are never too far gone to choose what is good. Start wherever you are. Start in your doubt and in your fear and in your anticipation. Start in your worry or your excitement or your joy. Start wherever you are and keep going. Start with your first page.

Why you’re running out of time.

Over the past few months, I get questions from friends on how do I manage my time with the number of interests I hold and the amount of social groups I am affiliated with. Before I proceed any further, let me break down on what my priorities are — and you will notice how they are all related to each other in creativity and productivity.

Writing — Aside from my full-time job as a writer, I am working on my own novel project. Writing takes up most of my time and one of the few good things that came out of Covid-19 was the ability for me to work any time I wanted to. As long as I reached my daily quota ranging from 5 – 6 articles, that much is needed to get a day’s work done. At least 30 minutes is set aside for my personal project daily which includes (but not limited to) drafting, writing manuscripts, going through character developments, and sketching plot frameworks.

Reading — There’s a saying by Annie Proulx that goes “Reading is the finest teacher of how to write”, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s actually mandatory (though it doesn’t feel that way) for me to read a book or article every day. Other than improving my writing subconsciously, reading has given me an avenue to constantly question my thought process, my worldview, and my place in the world. Sparing time to read books on a particular subject aids in my thinking and ability to reason.

Gaming — Just as much as I write and read, gaming has been one of my favourite forms of escapism. I don’t game as often now to curb my addiction, but adding the interest to write game reviews have pushed me to game with a wider sense of purpose too. I am not just blindly playing a game for an adrenaline rush; it’s the sense of satisfaction I achieve completing the entirety of a game or 90% if not. I’m now monitoring my gaming hours and keeping it under control to a maximum of 3 hours a day. If I don’t game, that’s all good too.

Art — Art has been something I found tough to commit to given my main priority is my novel. The Art Discord server has been giving me inspirations to draw something once a month. They come with deadlines too, so that’s even better. One artwork probably isn’t a big deal for a month but it’s already a miracle for me to draw something.

Language — Language is something to be practiced every day. Even 20 minutes a day is better than nothing. I usually spend at least 30 minutes on Chinese. The days where I feel more confident than usual, I would try to complete a sub-lesson.

Why Do You Have So Little Time?

Now that my priorities are established, I want to reiterate that I am inactive on social medias, granted I am on Twitter and Discord but that’s also because I am using my laptop. I physically do not feel the need or want to use social media to engage in mindless debates and unproductive exchanges. 

The truth is we are all living differently. Some of us require more social interactions than others, hence would spend more time on our cellphones. There’s also the reality that very few of us are making real decisions like we should. A decision is a deal with your mind that no matter what happens, it has to be done. Therefore, when you say, “I should write”, you should immediately replace the “should” with “must”. Otherwise, your brain won’t take your intent seriously and it won’t “care” to help.

Trust me when I say that it’s not easy. Your mind really tricks you that the fun stuff is “more important” than your crafts. The hour you spent on scrolling Twitter, seeing a piece of “hot” thread, reading the tweets, seeing the vitriol expressed, and then sharing your own opinion? You could have spent that same hour in writing your book chapter or complete that manuscript you keep putting off for weeks.

It’s fundamental to understand that your willpower and self-discipline are two related traits that should be developed at the same time. Your willpower is the fuel of your actions. Your discipline is your ability to go past intrusive thoughts, comfort zone, and laziness. It requires consistent practice, so start small. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, it takes time, but giving up is not a choice.

But I Multitask, I Still Can’t Get Things Done

That’s because your focus isn’t in the right place. I learned the hard way that multitasking reduces my cognitive abilities. The human brain really only focuses on one task at a time. While the idea of multitasking is beneficial in some situations, it’s not ideal to incorporate that with important tasks. I realized my artworks and articles that had my full attention always turned out better than the ones I did while multitasking. Somehow giving all you have to a matter at hand improves its quality and your speed too.

I Don’t Multitask, I Still Get Distracted

Live updates on social media enables you to be on the current — and your workload piling and hobbies neglected. I won’t question your willpower but you can’t just train your mind to stay focused when it is in an environment full of distractions. Those YouTube tabs you have on your laptop? Possible distraction. Your phone notifications? Yeah. This is the one that should never disturb your attention. Turn off those notifications or switch it to silent mode, learn not to give in to idle texting because really, that can be done after your tasks. Social media apps too irresistible to ignore? I say delete. A bit extreme but if you are that hooked, that might be your saving grace action.

Careful, You Don’t Want To Be On Autopilot Mode

You don’t want to be just writing or reading just because you have to. You want to know why you are writing or why you are reading. You want to be mindful of the things that surround you. Mindfulness is something I’ve come to practice of late and still am learning to incorporate in my life. It’s nothing more than having a self-awareness, focusing your entire attention on the present moment. 

What I mean is, when you are writing, you are not thinking who is going to read what you wrote, you are not thinking about that nasty remark someone made about you, you are not thinking what are you planning to have for dinner. No. You are in the present. You are writing at this moment because you had thoughts of expressing yourself. Nothing else is in your mind but the words that are guiding your fingers to go with the flow and write on that piece of paper. 

It doesn’t matter what you focus on as long as your mind is in the present. Personally, I like to practice mindfulness in various situations: while I am washing the dishes, making a cup of coffee, taking a shower, or even reading. When your focus is prioritized on what’s happening now, you just naturally perform better in most of the situations. Of course you don’t have to take my word for it, but it doesn’t hurt to try. I’d really love to see you achieve things in life, little or big.

Good News, You Still Have Time

That’s all the more reason to make every minute count now. Until you let yourself be carried by your thoughts, immediate pleasures, fear, and pain, you will experience exactly what you “cultivate”. As the saying goes, “You reap what you sow” — It’s the universal cause-and-effect principle, every thought and feeling you experience and every action you take will kindle an effect. Sunshine or rainy days, that’s on you to decide.

Law and morality.

What makes a right ‘right’?

The concept of morality is relatively simple at its absolute core. It denotes conduct or duties based on what is right and wrong. Morality is considered to be the basis of character and is wrapped around ethics. Meanwhile, a law is the system of rules which a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and which it may enforce by the imposition of penalties. 

My question for the day would be “Has it ever crossed your mind if the law should derive authority from morality?”. Hold that thought. Do not think of an answer just yet. Just try to think of a culture. A culture that regards the law of the land immutable and absolute. People who have this common strain of thought rooted in them have a natural tendency to say, “The law is the law,” and “That’s just how law works. It’s the law.”

I don’t necessarily think that the laws are evil. They are often necessary and conducive to a well-rounded, civilized society albeit often contrary to good sense and morality. Is it safe for me to say that people typically regard human laws to be fundamentally disconnected from morality? Or perhaps, they do not always form an association between these two ideas.

I stand by the opinion that laws ought to conform to and be derived from accepted standards of morality, which ultimately springs from human nature and reason. This view is regarded as the Natural Law Theory, and has been an object of speculation by philosophers and political theorists for years. According to Natural Law Theory, all people have inherent rights, conferred not by act of legislation but by “God, nature, or reason.” 

We are taught since childhood to respect authority. We are told to respect our elders, our parents, our teachers. We are instructed to respect police, legislators, the legal system. We are taught to respect the law. But then, we are also taught how often the law has failed us.

We learn about the laws that made women property, that treated rape as a theft against a man rather than an assault against a woman. We read about centuries of legalized slavery, followed by a Jim Crow era that condoned rather than condemned heartless racism and brutal assault. Call it a thread woven through the fabric of our nation – all of the times that the laws have been wrong. Morally wrong, ethically wrong, and often based in ideology that is factually wrong.

Political leaders talk about making the world a better place yet will most likely seek practical expedients to achieve their political ends, disregarding what may be considered virtuous in any moral, absolute sense. Political leaders have, or at least should have, one objective: to uphold the welfare of the state, over which they have dominion. This, however, doesn’t come without a grievous cost.

I am of the belief that most political leaders have lost touch with their moral sensibilities, combining law with what is good, virtuous, or moral. They seem to believe that law dictates morality, though it ought to be the other way around. The law is not absolute; it is a human convention. Morality may likewise be of this nature but, upon reflection, it seems to dwell closer to human nature, passions and sentiments.

To be precise, I am not here to define any specific ethical or moral theory. It is not always clear what is moral and what is not. I am here to say, however, that before law and policy makers execute or contrive the rules of the land, they must ask if it conforms to some standard of morality, or if they find it in agreement with their moral intuitions. This, I wonder, if it is a question those in power often ask themselves.

Many laws from the past are now considered immoral and heinous – slavery, women’s rights and Jim Crow Laws, just to name a few. Immigration is a sensitive topic, but it seems fundamentally immoral to shoulder the blame on immigrants, especially if they’re law-abiding and educated. It’s the government that needs reform. To scapegoat immigrants is fallacious and rash. But only after the crime is done, and the immigrants have been discarded and shamed, will we, just like with slavery, understand the malignity of our actions? I do hope it does not reach that point.

The reality is that sometimes laws, like the people who make them, are simply unethical. Not all, but still quite a handful. It is an inescapable reality and the best that we can do is stand up against injustice when we see it, and do our best to be better in the future because – There are people who just simply love to use alleged criminality as an excuse to condemn others. 

To illustrate:

A man stealing deserves to be shot.

A woman buying cocaine deserves to be imprisoned.

A protester who trespasses deserved to have “Mace” sprayed in their eyes.

If such is the reality, then let me ask, “Where is the humanity in our laws? Where is the humanity in us? If we can truly turn a blind eye to tremendous injustice simply because our laws condone it, then what is the point of democracy, of free will?”

I neither condone violence nor do I condone illegal behaviour. But I will far more strongly condemn actions that fail to recognize people’s humanity. I’m not interested in descending into anarchy, but I do think that we must be vigilant of what’s going around us. And we must never, ever stop fighting against the laws that fail us, as many have throughout history.

Remember how we were taught to respect our elders? We can respect them, but that does not mean letting them disrespect you. Maybe you don’t have to respect that one old racist aunt who calls you names and insults your family members simply because she is older than you. Maybe, laws aren’t right just because they have been written.

In the end, the essential question still stands: 

Should law-makers and political leaders be strictly concerned with the welfare of the state, which may be achieved by any means necessary, or should they also concern themselves with the metaphysics of human morals, which often play a deep-rooted role in our psychology and spiritual life?

Undoubtedly, we are all still searching for an answer. Being human is a given. But keeping our humanity is a choice. Remember what St. Thomas Aquinas said? “An unjust law is no law at all.” It’s something to think about.

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?