Jan 31, 2013

Here's a challenge for anyone who's bold enough.

Perhaps my whole recent fascination with talking to and learning from strangers started at the Experience Yale-NUS Weekend, where I met people from so many places and learnt so much. Julia Versel gave me a little souvenir from Senegal. Kishin told me about the symbolism of sakura for students and how it changed from representing the start of school to representing graduation (because they used to flower in April, but now they do in March). Shrabya gave me so much insight into life in Nepal. Rohan talked about IIT. I felt immersed in a buffet of cultures and personalities and worldviews and accents. It was so incredibly colourful and I really enjoyed just having a tiny glimpse into the lives of others.

A few days ago, at Subway, I saw this girl with cute printed pants who spoke in an interesting accent. Italian, maybe? European for sure. I really felt like asking her where she was from, but she was busy talking to the Subway person, and I regretted not jumping at the chance when I had it. So I decided that I would hold a conversation with the next foreigner I saw, and learn.

So yesterday at work, as I was walking back from buying Jared lunch, a guy came up to me and asked me where the bus stop out of UTown was. I was walking in that direction, so we decided to walk together. Along the way, I found out that he had just gone for an interview to do his PhD at NUS. Turns out he also used to teach driving theory and stuff. (He was local, so I hadn't fulfilled my specific goal, but the aim of meeting someone new was achieved!)

Then later on in the day, I saw a guy with crazy long frizzy hair sitting in the sun. I mean, it was a HOT day. I was like, what?! So I went up to talk to him. Turns out he was from London and was a biomedical science exchange student from King's. We talked about things like London and Singapore and the architecture in both cities and the ideal pace of life and Chinese characters and how he got his nickname. In the sun.

Today, after my driving lesson, this guy who seemed like an interesting person to talk to sat next to me on the bus. I decided against starting a conversation with him at first, so I took out my earphones, but as I was beginning to regret my decision he took out his earphones too. Oh well. As we got off the bus, he made a little comment to me, too, which hinted that he was the friendly sort. I was really regretting not at least finding out a bit about who he was, at least. But then we both happened to be waiting for the same train, so I went up to him. Turns out, he's doing his PhD at NTU. He was from India, somewhere near Calcutta, and had graduated from IIT, so we talked a bit about 3 Idiots and stress and the mugging culture in Asia and stuff. He also introduced me to the iTunes Match, an app that's going to be incredibly useful for me, since my phone's only 8GB.

So here's the thing. A lot of Singaporeans are pretty reserved about talking to strangers, or they feel weirded out when a stranger attempts to make light conversation with them. Why? It's so unfriendly. We're all curious about people, aren't we? Aren't we curious about the person sitting next to us - what's going on in her life now? What are her opinions on things? How would things be like in her shoes?

So I'm setting a target for myself in February: hold a conversation with four strangers. Find out a bit more about them and learn from what they've seen or how they think. This doesn't include strangers at events where everyone's a stranger and everyone needs to make friends, like at camps or at the theology school prep classes which begin in mid-Feb. This would be someone I meet on the street, someone who's also waiting for the bus, someone in the lift or who's queueing at the same stall, someone who's sitting in the sun in the heat of noon.

And I encourage as many of you to join me in this challenge! Don't forget these new people you meet, too. Remember how the conversation went and how much you learnt from each other and the spilling forth of ideas and views. If you're living in a country where talking to strangers isn't uncommon, then raise the target 'quota' or raise the standards!

If you're reading this and you decide to take part in this with me, let me know! :)

Where to go if you've got 3.5 days in London

Jackie's going to London for a short while and I was going to write him an email with a list of the places I really enjoyed when I was there last year. Then I wanted to attach pictures to the email, and then I thought, why not share it with others who might want to find out more?

Okay. So for those of you who don't know, I went to the UK on my own for a month last year, from October to November. I went to Oxford, then central London, Edinburgh, Coventry (Also went to Stratford-upon-Avon and Birmingham for a while) and finally Barnet (where I also spent some time travelling back to central London). I stayed with friends (or parents' friends, or friends' godparents) and I had my friends who were studying in the universities around the area to take me out and stuff. There was Sarah in Oxford, Geraldine and Jia in London, Christabel in Edinburgh and Jaslyn in Coventry. I stayed in a vineyard and visited 12-century churches, crashed lectures, got lost in the woods very often, went to church... and I have yet to do a proper post about my trip, but oh well. This is more urgent.

Okay, Jackie! Firstly, here's the London tube map. You need to get an Oyster card to get around - you can get one at the tube station when you arrive at Heathrow.

I'm going to do parks first, because I really enjoyed them. Being a city girl in a place that's 30 degrees or more all year round, walking in the woods in the nice chilly weather was heaven to me. Okay, fine, that was in autumn and it's winter now so they'll look very different, but still. Whatever.

1. My personal favourite: Hampstead Heath! (Tube: Hampstead Heath - Zone 2, Overground)
Okay, it probably looks extremely different now, but when I was there it was beautiful. Could have spent the whole day there if I had the time. It's great for a morning stroll. 

2. Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park (Tube: Queensway - Zone 1, Central Line)
I absolutely loved the Swan Lake, of course. We fed the squirrels around the area too. It's lovely that they don't run away from you immediately like they do in Singapore. Until I went to London, all I had seen of a squirrel in real life was its tail.

Okay. Keeping in mind the fact that Jackie only has three days and they're already partially taken up by other things, I guess two parks are enough. I did a lot of walking around in London, and Little Venice was quite pretty too. I also got to take a quick look at the Royal College of Music, Imperial College London and King's - and walked past UCL - but didn't get to crash any classes.


3. St. Paul's Cathedral (Tube: St. Paul's - Zone 1, Central Line)
The reason I wanted to check it out was because John Donne was Dean there once, but that aside, it's magnificent. And huge. It costs quite a bit to go in, though, so I only stayed outside. One day when I've got a bit more money I'll go.

4. Westminster Abbey (Tube: Westminster - Zone 1, Circle / District / Jubilee Lines)
Costs a little more than St. Paul's to enter, so I just stayed outside and checked out St. Margaret's Church, which was right next to it. Wasn't able to catch their services or Evensong sessions either :( But dang, it looks amazing.

By the way, if you're planning on visiting a lot of the attractions where you need to pay to enter, check out the London Pass - it might save you some money!

If you visit Westminster Abbey, you've also got Big Ben and and a view of the London Eye right there, and the Horse Guards building is very close by.
A cute conversation I overheard:
"Daddy, is he a horse-man?" "No, he's just a man." "...Really? :("

5. Southwark Cathedral (Tube: London Bridge - Zone 1, Jubilee / Northern Lines)
I did most of the church-visiting in Oxford anyway, where they were incredibly old and beautiful, from the stone walls and engravings to elaborate statues and stuff. But Southwark (pronounced suth'-urk) Cathedral was free, so I had a look. It's a lovely cathedral, too - not huge, but beautiful all the same. Shakespeare and Geoffrey Chaucer used to attend services there, and John Harvard was baptised there.

From the Cathedral, it's also really easy to get to Borough Market, and London Bridge's right there. The Tower Bridge and the Tower of London are also only a short walk away.

In fact, the day Geraldine took me out, we didn't take the tube at all - we walked from King's Cross to her school (King's), which is near Temple / Charing Cross Station, I checked out the British Museum and a bit of Leicester Square while she had lessons, then we went to St. Paul's, and then walked down London Bridge and went to Southwark and all. It's very walkable.

Museums, anyone?
6. The British Museum (Tube: Tottenham Court Road / Holborn - Zone 1, Central Line and more)
Rosetta Stone, y'all. I mean, yeah, it's just a stone, but still.
Well of course. It's bloody amazing. I loved the mummies sections and all the statues and hieroglyphics and EVERYTHING!!!

7. National Gallery (Tube: Charing Cross - Zone 1, Northern & Bakerloo Lines)
Uh, the 'Healing' banner isn't a part of it. My host parents were conducting street healing!
Also amazing, right at Trafalgar Square. The paintings were amazing. Diego Velazquez. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Peter Paul Reubens. (And no, I'm not an arts person. I just say 'this is pretty' and 'this is not pretty'.)

Theo also wanted to visit the Tate Modern, which is near Southwark / London Bridge. Visit if you like modern and contemporary art!

Other awesome places:

8. Hamleys!!!!!! (Tube: King's Cross - Zone 1, Northern Line and many more)
So it's a toy shop. So the only thing I bought was a packet of sweets. But it's the most amazing place. You could be feeling all gloomy and step in and be a fascinated kid all over again. It's the atmosphere. The people who work there are so full of energy. Theo, Jia and I were trying to guess how much caffeine they had to inject into themselves every morning. We speculated that there's probably a room with piles and piles of coffee, because they'll definitely need a recharge every few hours. The guys show off the toys by tossing the frisbee to you or driving a toy car up the wall next to where you're standing. They're freaking high. It's amazing. There is no pocket of air that isn't infused with life. The place is...a nuclear bomb. Shockwaves and shockwaves of enthusiasm.

9. Camden Market (Tube: Camden Town - Zone 2, Northern Line)
I guess you can kind of liken it to Bugis Street, a little. Cute cheap clothes, souvenirs, cheap food, nice lively market-ish atmosphere. I went back twice. Liked it a lot! It's not as cramped as it is in Bugis Street, and of course, the weather is a lot lovelier.

10. And, of course, watch a play / musical!!!!!!!!
Theo and I caught One Man Two Guvnors - it was really hard to get the thick accents, but it was enjoyable all the same - and I watched the Phantom of the Opera when I was staying in Barnet, towards the end of my trip. Phantom was awesome.

Don't get the full-priced tickets - Leicester Square is full of little shops that sell tickets at half-price (or around there, anyway, but basically they're a lot cheaper). I watched Phantom for 40 pounds for a dress circle seat, and One Man Two Guvnors for 35 pounds in the stalls! Be sure to walk around and compare the prices and seatings between half-price ticket stores, though. One guy said he only had an upper circle seat for 40 pounds, and the next shop I went to gave me the dress circle seat for the same price.

Okay. This post has taken up an incredible amount of space thanks to all the pictures, but I'll briefly go through a few other places.
Leicester Square (pronounced Lester Square) is a pretty cool place to visit; I like the atmosphere. There's also an M&M's World there if you're interested.

Harrods is pretty cool. The expensive adult stuff didn't appeal to me, but I loved the kids' sections. There's a Toy Story section! I took a picture with the life-sized Woody figure. The huge bears are pretty cool. Okay, more than the kids' sections, check out the Halycon Gallery. I fell in love with Lorenzo Quinn's work. Hand of God, What Goes Around Comes Around, Give and Take, Force of Nature, Gravity..
Hand of God - Lorenzo Quinn
I also paid Covent Garden Market a visit. Again, I like the atmosphere!

And then there's Oxford Street, of course... Theo and I made the huge mistake of spending too much time there. I mean, we made three short trips there. We should have spent the time doing a whole lot of other things. Like, I didn't get to visit Shakespeare's Globe Theatre!!!!! (At least I got to go to Stratford-upon-Avon later on in the trip. Lovely town!!) But Oxford Street's cool too - have a look at Selfridges and the big H&M buildling... and check out the insanely cheap Primark. And maybe you'll pass by the perfume shop guy. The guy that hands out free perfume. Don't make the mistake I made of being a shy Singaporean. Go all out for it, man!

Go to church for a service if you can! Whether it's Evensong or Sunday morning worship. Geraldine and Jia took me to Hillsong Church. They have their services in Dominion Theatre on Sundays, but from Mon - Sat, We Will Rock You plays in the same theatre. 

Okay. Jackie, you definitely can't see all this in the time you have there. But try! Does anyone else have any other suggestions? Did I get anything wrong?

Jan 29, 2013

A couple of quotes

I would never trade a question for an answer...I can't really see the long term profit.
Answers, as I see it, are useful to have around, but kind of boring too...I mean, they don't seem to participate in the ever-transforming dance of the whole universe, as we are; sticking with them means you lose out on most of the fun.
Reality can change as easily as the way you care to see it. An answer, static in nature as it is, refers to one frozen snapshot of that reality. Its value can only go down. Today's treasure could be tomorrow's garbage.
- 'A day at the park'


And nothing but scenery, that view of the meadow in October, returns again and again to me like a symbolic scene in a film. Each time it appears, it delivers a kick to some part of my mind. Wake up, it says. I'm still here. Wake up and think about it. Think about why I'm still here. The kicking never hurts me. There's no pain at all. Just a hollow sound that echoes with each kick. And even that is bound to fade one day. At Hamburg Airport, though, the kicks were longer and harder than usual. Which is why I am writing this book. To think. To understand. It just happens to be the way I'm made. I have to write things down to feel I fully comprehend them.
- Norwegian Wood

Death exists, not as the opposite but as a part of life.
...Death exists - in a paperweight, in four read and white balls on a pool table - and we go on living and breathing it into our lungs like fine dust.
Until that time, I had understood death as something entirely separate from and independent of life. The hand of death is bound to take us, I had felt, but until the day it reaches out for us, it leaves us alone. This had seemed to me the simple, logical truth. Life is here, death is over there. I am here, not over there...
Death was not the opposite of life. It was already here, within my being, it had always been here, and no struggle would permit me to forget that... In the midst of life, everything revolved around death.
- Norwegian Wood

Jan 27, 2013

Rev. Paul Scanlon

I was watching his sermon at my church online from home, so I managed to type out some of the things he said, and it was a really good message, so relevant to me. I want to share some of the things he said here. Not word-for-word quotes, because I don't type that fast and I only decided to type some of them out a while after he said the stuff, but the general ideas are there, and they're great. Basically, it was about how some of us just sit around, fearing that our decisions might not be what God wants for us, waiting for God to give us some kind of a sign before we move on.

"And God would say, why would I have given you all those unique talents and abilities... only to have you sit around when you're older, saying you're waiting for Me to give you a sign? Why are you acting like the blessings haven't already come?"

"Steps precede guidance. If you're looking for guidance, do something."

"Some people keep asking, "What would Jesus do?" Well, I'm not Jesus. Jesus made me my own way, with my own personality, my own quirks...
That's how some of us think God guides our lives, like we have no opinion, no say, like we're a robot... sometimes the will of God is a multiple choice, and God doesn't care which you choose...just get used to making your own decisions. Motion is key.

I can't find my way along the roads a lot, so I have a GPS to guide me. The GPS only speaks when it needs to, and I could be driving along a road for two hours, and the GPS doesn't say anything. I pull over looking for some reassurance that I'm right, but the GPS never says "You're doing great" or anything. It only tells me when I need to make a turn. And we always think, God, say something! And God says, don't worry, chill out, I know how to get you where you want to be. And even when we take a wrong turn on the road, the GPS just redirects you to where you're supposed to be. Everyone takes wrong turns. God has planned for it. If you took a wrong turn with the right heart, God can bring you back. God is drawn to motion."

Who will take a day off to sit with you in the sun

In JC, there was this friend of mine in the Exco. I haven't spoken to him properly at all since we left school, but we were kind of close once - I shared some of my stories with him, and he shared some of his with me. People used to say he was cute, and one day he said "But being cute is useless! I want to be hot!" #randomsidetrack

Justin wasn't my closest confidante, but the little stories mattered, and he was there for me when all I needed was strength. Like the time just before our final camp activity when I broke down at the staircase, feeling nauseous, worried that I might not be able to participate, and he told me that everyone was proud of me, and that I was going to do this well. And the time he physically supported me even as he himself shouted in pain. And all the moments he made me let him take over my duties.

Anyway, one certain memory will always remain vivid as day. It was the Teachers' Day celebrations and I was a wreck. Crying at assembly. Crying at the bleachers. Staring at my phone. Pauline skipped a free lunch just to accompany me, and my amazing foster siblings tried to lift my mood at Vivo. When they left, I called Justin. I said that I was feeling like crap and I wanted him to come and take me somewhere, anywhere, just to lie down and forget. He said "okay I'll be there in half an hour."

While waiting, I called Weiliang and sat at the amphitheatre on the top floor, sighing about our problems. He made me say "life is good" enough times to start smiling again. Then Justin arrived and insisted on carrying my bag and said he knew of a pretty place a short distance from Vivo.

So we walked and walked in the 3pm heat towards Keppel Bay and I ranted myself dry and he didn't say a word or offer any advice - all I needed was to get it out of my system. Then we found a pavilion and I turned on some music and we took benches on opposite sides of the pavilion and just lay there. For about an hour. Not saying a word.

And then in the late afternoon we moved to a little grassy field nearby. From there we could see the sun set without any obstructions at all. It was lovely. We just sat there in the prickly grass, exchanging a few words every five minutes, soaking up the quiet and the calm.

We barely did anything that day, but it still remains such a precious memory. My mind has been at war with itself a lot recently, and so often I wish I could escape into a field and lie in the morning sun and feel myself get lost in the atmosphere. So often I wish I could simply call a friend up whenever I just needed someone to be there, whether or not we'd be having a chatty dinner or simply sitting in silence for hours. I wish I had a close friend who understood the beauty of quiet, simple companionship, and who would escape from time to time with me.

I know I'll find that family again soon, and I wonder if he'll be the new guy I'd call, or her, or him for a down-to-earth chat about how life sucks, or him to simply lie down at the rooftop garden with me.

I look at various things now, like his insane laugh and her spontaneity and his loud lame remarks and the her I've always known, and wonder if I'll still miss that about them in ten years' time. I wonder if he'll put his arm around me and call me his sister, or if she and I will have our HTHTs late into the night in each other's rooms, or if he will become my fellow warrior in Christ or someone who will continually inspire me.

Till then, I'll be looking forward to the next time I get to lose myself in a morning field with a friend with whom I share a comfortable silence; with whom I have the reassurance of love.

Jan 26, 2013

So she ran away in her sleep

And you think, shit you, you learnt this lesson two years ago. Can't expect anyone to be any more like you.

When she was just a girl
She expected the world
But it flew away from her reach so
She ran away in her sleep
And dreamed of paradise
Every time she closed her eyes

When she was just a girl
She expected the world
But it flew away from her reach
And the bullets catch in her teeth
Life goes on, it gets so heavy
The wheel breaks the butterfly
Every tear a waterfall
In the night the stormy night she'll close her eyes
In the night the stormy night away she'd fly

And dream of paradise
She'd dream of paradise

And so lying underneath those stormy skies
She'd say "oh, I know the sun must set to rise"

This could be paradise

I'll tell you a story about friend-love

I want our Hello / Good-bye hugs to be a few beats longer than a casual friend hug 
But never so long that it becomes a lover's embrace.
And if we were to be sitting on the same couch watching a movie
I might lean my left arm just a little bit against your right arm
But never would I put my head on your shoulder or try to hold your hand.
Because that would be weird.

(I think I am in friend-love with you)

I came across this post a while ago, and shared it on Facebook because I thought it was insanely sweet. And sad. I didn't really understand it, though, and never thought I would. Didn't think it was possible to feel something not just between the lines but both sides in full; anything more than a close friendship with someone who was only a friend. I just thought it was meant to be exaggerated. Not so realistic. But I knew someone who understood it very well, and I found it weird - an emotion I had yet to fathom.

It's funny when you think of a friend, that you think of as nothing more than a friend, and with whom you want nothing more, and you realise that words somehow seem inadequate to describe how you feel. Or that you'd rather not try to explain it, because it will always, always, be misunderstood. You don't know why you seem to enjoy his hugs more. Or why you just want to have a pointless chat, or you just want to hear his voice on the other line. It doesn't need to be a deep personal conversation; just a reassurance that your pal's virtually right there. Or why when things get more sombre it's suddenly bare, heart-to-heart, and everything else simply falls away. Why missing him takes all of one day. Why you like it when he pats your head. Why a simple comment stabs. Even if this friend isn't one particularly close to you, or one with whom you never run out of things to say. Why you absolutely love it when he speaks his heart, and you somehow remember it more clearly than other similar chats you have with other friends. Why he seems to be able to lighten your mood in all of two minutes, even if he isn't very tactful at doing it. Just being there. Why even when you're unhappy with something he said, his nervousness shows in the cracks and it just makes you want to smile.

I should definitely stop here, because I feel myself beginning to exaggerate already, and I know this has a huge potential to be taken the wrong way, but it's nothing like that. Maybe this is what people mean when they see their friend as a brother or sister.

Right now, I'm in the kind of mood that tells me it's time to go to bed and spend a long time swimming around in a sea of melancholy in my head.

Don't we just love crashing into walls?

How we seem to have an innate aversion to what's good for us. To rules, to advice, to anything that someone says you should do for the better. We refuse to take refuge on dry land; we subconsciously find ways to plunge into the deep. We want to drown. We want to feel that adrenaline rush, that hopelessness, the stab of fear.

I have a friend who lives my life. She is me, and I am her, in the sense that we somehow have such stunningly similar experiences, and saying that we can relate to one another is an understatement. We lead parallel lives.

I tend to run into walls a lot. I don't think I do it deliberately, but sometimes I'm pretty sure my heart is attracted to pain. This friend of mine, we grew up together. She has always been the stronger one, but the pains of being eighteen sometimes prove too overpowering to bear.

Today, she found herself being shoved against a wall - one of those walls that make you love to hurt.

She pushed herself away.

I love her for that. I love her for how much I can rely on her for everything. To hold my pain, to understand every nuance of emotion I try to describe. And you might not read this, but please know that I love you. We tell each other about the people who enter and leave our lives. I'll always have you by me, and you'll always have me. Never leave me.

Years from now we'll still have our endless chats and hysterical laughs (remember the time we both happened to laugh and slap our thighs in exactly the same way?) and crazy inside jokes when we bring up certain guys' names from eons ago. Decades on, we'll be talking about families and kids, looking back at our own school lives.

Don't know what I'd do without you.

Jan 25, 2013

The cultured superstitious

We look at ourselves in the year 2013, all big and new and grown-up, and think we're so much more enlightened than the people in the past. We know so incredibly much about the Earth and the workings of the universe now, and we can even form speculations about behavioural natures, whether it's with regard to ourselves or animals or God, imposing on everything else what we call rationalisation. Advances in technology have brought us so far. All those people before us, all their weird superstitions and dubious medical practices, we've moved on from that.

The truth is, we're still very much steeped in superstition. We've just replaced the word with "theory" or "concept" or some long scientific term. Something that's backed up with opaque terminology and years of research. We think we've mastered the workings of the world, but we still know practically nothing. We're just as superstitious. Maybe we're all wrong about everything.

Jan 23, 2013

Experience Yale-NUS, again

So, when Dean V told us about the idea of a Mystery Internship - where they find out as much as they can about us to determine where we should go, and they don't let us know where that is until the day we get on the plane - there was a short pause, and then everyone clapped. And people gave comments like "It should be somewhere we haven't gone before"and "It should be a place where we can't speak their language".

 And this is why I love Yale-NUS.

Had an utterly exhausting and incredibly amazing experience at my second Experience Yale-NUS Weekend - this time, helping out as a student intern. The American students arrived on Thursday, 1.35am, and from Thursday to Monday I got between one and a half to three hours of sleep per day. Ran around. Got to pick up people from the airport. Had great conversations with people from L.A., Texas, Turkey, Senegal, Nepal, India, Japan and more. They were all so excited about being in Singapore and trying stingray and chilli crab and all the "local food".
Gardens by the Bay!

I'll post better pictures of all of us when the other students post theirs up. On Thursday at lunchtime, when the kids were all jetlagged but still excited, we took them to a comfortable cafe because we thought they'd be too tired and uncomfortable to try local food just yet. And they were all like, "What's the most local dish here?" "Can we go and get something more local on our own?" "Will we get to try local stuff later tonight?"

I love how everyone's so adventurous and curious and excited. But maybe that's why we're all here.

Here's just one of the many amazing people I met at the weekend - Julia Versel from Senegal. She's really the sweetest thing and it was so nice having her around. I really hope she takes up Yale-NUS's offer; I have a feeling we'll click fantastically in school.

And here's Tuktu from Turkey; also extremely sweet, sincere and warm, and who also happens to be a concert pianist! Had some lovely chats with her and I love her views. 

Here's Kishin from Japan, whose hobbies include doing DJ mixes even though he does prefer chatting with friends in a quiet atmosphere to the noisiness of a club, and who made this super creative awesome pair of shoes using traditional Japanese socks (tabi). Everyone can't wait for him to sell them. He'll become famous. I sent him off at the airport and we spent half an hour standing around a giant globe talking about places like Eritrea and Yemen and this interesting island called Iturup which is "occupied by Russia but claimed by Japan".

And here's Shrabya from Nepal! My dad loves Nepal, but I've never been there before, and I learnt so much from him. I'm so fascinated. Can't wait to go there one day.

Also, shoutouts to other people I had great conversations with, like Belinda Lei, Feimei Zeng and Rohan Naidu!

It was a fantastic four days. Everyone had so much personality. (Shoutout to Jolanda Nava, Kelsi Caywood, Bernard Stanford, Akash Salam, Stephen Turban, Katie Zheng, Maggie Schumann, Luke Heine and SO many more - it was so fun having all you hilarious and fun-loving people around, and I'm so glad I met you all!) It was great meeting all these enthusiastic, excited, driven and adventurous people, who shared my concerns and hopes for Yale-NUS. And SMART people, like Jungo Kasai whose English is self-taught and who picked up enough Chinese to be able to converse in the language in the short span of 2-3 weeks. I'm really thankful to have been a part of it, even though I was extremely tired and very very blur at times, causing a lot of trouble and frustration to everyone. It's amazing to see the kinds of people Round 1 brought in, and I can't wait to meet the admitted students of the next two rounds. 


one of those mornings

Your heart pumps like you haven't slept and just drank three cups of coffee on an empty stomach. You feel like you could drop dead any moment, but you can't go back to sleep. You can't be bothered to rush to school. You want to stroll at your own super-leisurely pace, because your heart is weighing you down. You can't explain it and you have no idea why, but your heart just feels so heavy. You don't feel like talking. You reply everyone in a soft, tired voice. You don't feel like sitting up straight. You're a sad slushy blob. All you want to do is lie in some nice sunny field and soak in the happy rays and feel your gloomy tunes seep into the soil and have someone to hold. You're surrounded by good pals, yet feel so alone. Your heavy heart yearns for somewhere far away and just one friend, a friend to lie in the quiet of the morning with you, not to say a word.

Jan 12, 2013

I found a tidal wave begging to tear down the dawn

Ruo Wei introduced this song to me when I asked him if he knew any good songs about perseverance - I was writing farewell cards to Rachel and Geri when we were about to finish our internship at Crescent last March. I fell in love with that particular line the moment I heard it, and now it's my Twitter profile description, my Whatsapp status, my blog title. I wondered why some people didn't get it and thought I was just trying to act cool with some chim phrase like that, and then I remembered that not everyone had the privilege of being a Literature student. So here goes (I'm not going to do the whole song, just that one line)...

I found a tidal wave begging to tear down the dawn

This song uses swimming as an extended metaphor (or conceit) for the process of struggling through obstacles in life. Why swimming? Well, it's a lot harder than walking, because of the density of water. You need to get from one place to another but it seems like the water is always holding you back. The water just makes you wish you could simply lie still and let the waves take you, akin to the pressures of life that make you wish you could just escape, but then you'd end up somewhere you don't want to be. It's tough, but you have to endure and get through it.

Dawn is the first appearance of light before sunrise. Daybreak. The end of night. Daybreak is the first sign of hope after a period of darkness.

A tidal wave creates an image of a surge of water - now, seawater's not a very pleasant thing in this song; here you are trying to swim out of your obstacles with all the pressure coming at you hard, and now a huge wave of water wants to take you down. You could, very possibly, drown.

A tidal wave - a huge surge of obstacles - they come at you during a period of darkness, and the wave threatens to wipe out any hope of light to end it all. Like the light at the end of a tunnel - you're surrounded by darkness, waiting for that hint of light, when something comes and blocks out the hole at the other end, so the light will never come.

"Begging" personifies the wave. It suggests that the wave isn't a random force of nature coming along - it's there with a purpose. It has a strong will to take you down, the will of a desperate person. "Tear" is also a part of the personification - it doesn't want simply to block out the light of dawn in darkness; it wants to rip apart the very first bit of hope.

"I found a tidal wave begging to tear down the dawn" - I've been swimming in a sea of darkness, unable to find my way with all the pressure of the water getting to me. My muscles are aching; I've been swimming all night, and I'm just looking for the hint of day. This sea of obstacles is dragging me down. I need to plough through the mess. I can't find my way. I need some light. Then this massive wave comes along, the very last straw, that threatens to take out all my hope.

I found a tidal wave begging to tear down the dawn
Memories like bullets, they fire at me like a gun
I swim for brighter days despite the absence of sun
Choking on salt water; I'm not giving in
I swim

Jan 11, 2013

To a girl who's bold

To Anthea Wang, and all the other teenage girls in the world

I just read a Yahoo! article about you, and decided to look you up on Google more. I'm not a creepy stalker; I am sensitive to the beauties of everyday life, and I see the most beauty in a person's story.

I'm only a little older than you, and I just wanted to let you know that I think you're a very strong person. Sometimes we give in to things, and we think that when people praise us, they don't really know us - they haven't really seen us. Sometimes we see the worst in ourselves, and believe things that are not true. I hope that when you read what I have to say, you won't think I'm one of those people. I hope this post encourages you a little, and I hope you realise that I'm not one to write something if I don't fully believe in it.

I think you're incredibly strong, even if you think you might not be sometimes. You're strong to choose to stay true to yourself, even if it isn't what seems to be what others want for you. You have your values and you choose to stick to them, even if you feel pushed. And even for something like choosing to defer your O's - it's a bold decision you had to make, and there must have been a lot of pressure to go either way, and I'm proud of you for being able to withstand that. To have thought about it and made a decision, despite all the arrows from both sides, whether from others or from yourself. Sometimes we think through things elaborately in our head, and it's frustrating when people think you made the decision rashly simply because you're a little girl. I know how it feels. I know how it feels when people belittle and dismiss. You held your own, and I'm proud of you.

People say things about us sometimes that make us question ourselves - whether it has to do with our looks, our values, or our pride. I want to say that I think you're really pretty. Not in the 'you're beautiful the way God has made you' way, but I genuinely do think you were born with a beautiful face. And what's even more important than one's physical appearance is the aura that a person radiates. When you're genuine and happy and comfortable with yourself, it's very evident. When you're confident enough of yourself to reject what others say about what you need to do to look better or be more popular or gain attention, it shows in your aura.

I'm going to make a pretty bold comment - I think the Kpop industry has reached its peak, and it won't be too long before it slowly, but surely, fades away. Yes, it's sleek, full of hot guys and cute girls. But they're pretty much all the same. Music is about expressing who you are, showing what life has made of you and connecting with others in a way that transcends language. Music is the song of the soul. It's individual and raw. Unfortunately, the Kpop industry, in my opinion, is a lot like a factory line. They make you who they think people want you to be, and you are hardly your own.

I'm glad you recognised that, and rejected it.

This sounds cliche, but I really want you to understand it, because you helped me understand it: Everyone is beautiful precisely because of who they are. Everyone has had different experiences and struggles. Everyone has a different personality. When someone tries to make you like someone else, or to make you fit into a certain mould, you lose a little of your uniqueness that people find intruguing. It's like pruning a tree. When you try to shape it to look like another tree, the bit that was uniquely his falls off, and he becomes another one of 'em. It's precisely the uniqueness that makes a person intruguing. No one else has had exactly the same experiences or personality as you, ever, and the things about you that are different from everyone else is what people find fascinating. A perfect, altered, beautiful face is a pretty object, but forgettable - one of the rest. An unconventionally beautiful face with a sparkle of uniqueness is intriguing. Don't you agree?

You're young, and there's so much ahead of you. I'm sure you discovered a lot more about yourself through this experience, and I'm glad you went for it too. It was, after all, an experience that very few had the privilege of getting, and self-discovery is priceless. I'm sure you've discovered how strong you are capable of being, too, and how the journey of strength will be lifelong.

I personally took a gap year, which means that I decided to go into university only this year even though I should have started last year (I graduated from JC in 2011). A lot of Singaporean adults think it's a stupid and useless thing to do, because I'm wasting a year - one year's worth of a university graduate's working salary does amount to quite a fair bit, and I'm giving up all that money just because I'm choosing to go to a brand new university that only starts in 2013 - also a risky move. But I've been making good use of this time - I've taught at two schools, waitressed and spent a month travelling in the UK alone; I'm interning at my university's office and giving lots of private tuition; I'll be going to bible school before university. Have I made use of the time productively in terms of money-earning? No. But have I gained a lot in immaterial terms? Definitely.

The experience I gained was priceless. I guess I saw a bit of a similarity between us in the sense that we both took a break from school to do something unconventional; adults may think it's impractical, but we've gained so much from the experience. Never, ever doubt that.

I want to say that I think you're a beautiful (I truly mean it) and strong person, and I can tell you've matured a lot in your thoughts. I'm happy for everything you went through, the amazing and the terrible. It's an experience people would die for, but through it all, you stayed true to yourself and learnt a lot. Thanks for your story.

If you happen to want to talk to me a little more, you can email me at karenhowenee@gmail.com :)

Overthinking Shitting

(In response to Sau's Overthinking Hugs)


So my tuition tonight just got cancelled, and I was thinking of meeting Theo after work instead, so that I could go shopping with Sumay tomorrow. But I decided not to meet him tonight in the end because I felt like shitting, and I don't like shitting anywhere outside home. Don't like doing number twos in public places. And he was like, but you're going to be living at Yale-NUS for the next four years! And I'm like yeah...I was thinking of making trips all the way home when I need to shit in the future. I have this phobia of my hair and whatever smelling gross. Like, if I shit I HAVE to bathe.

Side note: Yesterday at work they had these leftover Starbucks coffee carrier thingies. I thought they were really pretty so since they were going to be thrown away I took one home and made it my own! :D

Crescent, the O's, and pride

At around this date last year, I was teaching at my alma mater with Geri and Rachel Louis, calculating Sec 4s' 'O' Level scores and completing that Powerpoint presentation to be shown in the hall before the release of results, to make sure everything was right. It wasn't that significant to us because we didn't know many of the students from that batch, but it was still fun to know that we were looking at these girls' results while they were probably freaking out in panic somewhere.

Didn't go back this year, but I sure miss that nerve-wrecking, nail-biting excitement. Every year, the news stations come down, and we know we're tops again. (Together with St. Nick's. I have nothing against St. Nick's. The friends I have from there are absolutely amazing.)

Every year, they talk about our average score of 9-point-something and how we're a Band 1 school yet again, and every year we cheer and laugh and for a moment, we forget our own nervousness, and just bask in our pride for the school.

I guess I'll miss that, whether it's for the O's or A's. Sitting in the hall hearing your friends' names being called on stage and just feeling so proud of them. That crazy excitement. Insane tension. Just a tsunami of all the emotions in the world in one auditorium.

This year, the Straits Times posted three pictures of Crescentians crying upon the release of their results, with the caption " Disappointment and tears flowed with the release of 'O' Level results at Crescent Girls Secondary". (Yeah, for the record, it's Crescent Girls' School!) It sparked a huge rage among Crescentians, present and past, and they started ranting on Twitter, Facebook etc, because people felt it was an invasion of the privacy of those whose crying photos were posted without their permission, and it portrayed us in a pretty negative light. I mean, one happy photo and one sad photo, fine. But three sad photos? And apparently the other schools' photos had everyone smiling and all.

So anyway, it sparked an outrage on social media, and apparently someone emailed a teacher, who called the Straits Times, who took the photos down and replaced them with happy ones (The happy ones are so nice; why didn't they use them in the first place?), and corrected the name of our school.

In response, people who weren't from Crescent tweeted things like "Looks like the girls from @CrescentSoFly showcased the power of social media & made @STcom change their photos. Not bad. #OLevelResults" and "I'm not from @CrescentSoFly but I find it cool that those girls were so united and civilised even when fighting for themselves. #Impressed".

Yup. I didn't get to witness all this first-hand because yesterday was an insanely hectic day at the office. Left the workplace at 11pm. Credits to this junior who blogged about the entire thing!

But yeah. I'm just really proud of this school, and so glad to be able to call it my own. I'm proud of the unity and how we all stick up for one another. How the school has brought us up, how we sit like guys and change in class, how we team up. I remember when I was in Sec 4, the Council tried to introduce a new cheer to replace our old one ('Give me a C!'). My class and those around me decided that it was a stupid idea, and refused to cheer to show our disapproval. We never heard the new cheer again, and the C-R-E-S-C-E-N-T cheer stayed.

I'm proud of how the school brings us up to be gracious, yet persistent, and never to settle for anything less than the best of ourselves. I'm proud of the culture of love and selflessness. I've had friends who gave up their lunch breaks just to be with me when I was down, even if I wasn't close to them. I'm proud of our integrity, and the nurturing love. Secondary school is a time where we all fall, but we knew we were all falling together, and so we shared that understanding and helped one another get through our own tough times. I'm proud of my Crescentian friends, who have gone on to pursue bright paths, but who have all remained big-hearted, gracious and sincere.

Jan 9, 2013

Still Nineteen

Was editing my Blogger profile and I can't bring myself to say I'm twenty. Not yet. Twenty's too big of a jump. It screams "No longer a teenager! I'm all grown up and independent". Twenty is one of 'em slim girls with long straight brown hair and shades walking down Orchard Road in her spaghetti top or bodycon dress and heels too high and who have that aura of confidence and beauty about them. Or maybe that's twenty-two. Or whatever. Twenty doesn't portray an enthusiastic chubby babyface who doesn't like makeup or heels. Twenty is a big number. What the heck, I'm J4!!!

Nineteen's a nice, safe number. I'm the senior teen, but still in that comfortable zone. Oh, I'm nineteen. Forgive me when I do stupid things on my internship; I'm all fresh and new. Oh, I'm nineteen. Old enough to be like a friendly tutor / guide to my tuition kids who can relate to them, and not old enough to be someone they don't feel like getting close to.

And girls in Singapore usually start university when they're nineteen, not twenty. And if you're American or British or Australian, you're in university at 18! I'm on a gap year and that's like a break from life. Like I halted time and age for me, and then I'll start university with all the other 18- and 19-year-olds; we're all on the same level.

Maybe it's because I'm on a gap year that time seems to have paused for me. I did a lot of stuff in 2012, but there has been no school year / academic calendar to keep time in check the way I'm used to. Whatever the case, I've got a lot of time to get used to 2013. I'm not prepared to take the '1' out of my age just yet.

Feeling thankful

Today, all of a sudden, I felt really thankful. Not the usual thankful-that-I'm-living-in-Singapore or thankful-I'm-alive stuff, but something a little more tangible.

I'm thankful I've been so protected, always surrounded by nurturing and loving people, growing up in schools that taught me how to love and live. But I'm even more thankful that I'm not ignorant or oblivious to others who haven't been as fortunate to have grown up in such enriching, positive environments. I've got friends in schools / classes where bullying and wrist-slitting are common, fifteen-year-olds sell condoms or offer finger f**ks for $5, Sec 2s are in boys' homes... Even in my church, I've got as many friends from ITE as from JC (excluding those from NUS since I met the NUS CHC group recently), and I realise how blessed I am to never have had to worry about not making it into the Express stream or to JC or university. It's a reality, and I'm always humbled when I think I could have been born into a different family and have been less lucky in my exams, ended up in an environment that was less enriching. I would probably have turned into a very different person; I'm not that strong.

Thankful that I grew up in a little neighbourhood primary school with some great teachers and amazing friends. Mdm Beena and Mrs Foo are the two teachers who impacted me the most, treating us kids like young adults, giving us issues to ponder about. I remember how I was the only Chinese girl who spoke English at home, and all the Chinese girls in my P6 class sat together for recess, and when I went to the table they'd all immediately code-switch from Chinese to English. And I loved my P4-P5 clique, where I was, for a year, the only Chinese - the things I learnt and the festivals my friends invited me to were always eye-opening, and they always treated me with so much warmth.

Thankful that I spent my preteen years at Crescent. Secondary school is usually a time of rebellion, but in Crescent, that energy is usually translated into insane enthusiasm and the warmth of a family. We had our own share of fun, and I'm so glad for the experience of a girls' school. Thankful for the teachers who pushed us so hard, for really value-adding.

Very thankful that I somehow do well for the major exams, despite not having to slog it out. Maybe it's the whole work-hard-play-hard thing; I only thrive academically in panic, and when panic sets in, I really start working hard. But the rest of the time is spent on everything except studying, and I'm glad that I haven't needed to be a slave to Singapore's education system in order to score well.

So thankful that I never had to worry about not being able to make it into a university. The JC system isn't for everyone, and I've got friends who were really worrying about not being able to make it into a university at all. People with the money have the option of going overseas if they aren't able to make it to the course of their choice here, but most don't, and for them, it's local or nothing. I'm not too fond of the mugging culture in the universities here either, and wanted to go overseas to really enjoy my university life. (But Yale-NUS came about, and I'm not looking back!) But really, in Singapore, they push you into a mould that might not necessarily be right for you. I've got friends who really suffer as a result.

I detest the stigma that my friends feel they're branded with as a result of this. Just because they're in the Normal stream, or they didn't make it to JC, or they didn't do well in the really difficult Singapore-Cambridge GCE 'A' Levels, they feel like they're a shame, they feel dumb, they feel undeserving. Put them in just about any non-Asian country in the world, and they'll probably still come out above average.

Look at the Singapore Institute of Management, which hands out degrees from the University of Buffalo, University of Sheffield, University of Manchester, U of Sydney, Warwick, and more, which definitely aren't bad globally. And yet, if you're in SIM, it usually means you scored too badly to make it into the other Singaporean universities. I hate the stigma. It's always about how many As you got, what course you're in, and all that, and the whole culture makes people feel like that's what their worth is based upon.

Oh, this turned into a rant. Anyhow, I'm so thankful to be given so many great opportunities to the extent that I take them for granted sometimes. I'm so thankful to be blessed academically - not doing unbelievably well, but well enough not to have had to worry about whether or not I can make it to the express stream or JC or university. And I'm thankful not to be ignorant to the circumstances of those who are not as blessed academically or financially, because I've got a lot of friends who don't even know anyone who come from a different socioeconomic background. People whose circle of friends are all from Medicine or Law, who aren't close to anyone who lives in a HDB flat, who think not owning a car in Singapore is unheard of. It's ridiculous.

Also thankful for my family and how I've been brought up. In a family of scientists, I'm thankful that my parents also constantly exposed my brother and me to the arts, taking us to all these plays and musicals. I'm thankful for the fascination for the sciences that my parents have given me, and yet how they've never pushed me to take a path I don't want. (In fact, maybe they should have pushed a little more.) I'm thankful that my mum kept telling me to take a course that I wanted - back then, I was bent on Literature - and that the jobs would follow somehow. I'm thankful that they never really pressured me to study hard. I'm thankful for their big hearts - my friends say my parents are really nice - and how they've passed a little bit of that compassion and kindness on to me. Thankful that Mum grew up in a very poor family, and Dad loves taking his schoolkids on overseas CIP trips, and that they both constantly remind my brother and me to have a spirit of generosity, love, and gratitude.

Jan 4, 2013

In the spirit of Charlie

Dear friend,

I'm writing to you because I need to tell, but I don't know who to go to, because everyone expects me to have a set opinion or at least have made up my mind about stuff. The truth is that I don't know, and I don't want to think about going left or right anymore. I just miss certain times and things, and sometimes the memories, memories of our secret moments and just curling up beside him and our first kiss and the times when he said I was beautiful, they creep into my head and I don't want to let them go. Or when we linked arms and I kissed him on the street and it didn't matter.

People ask me if I really like him, if I'm sure, if there's a future - why do I have to be certain about everything? Is it okay just to float in between and not be sure? I know they want to help, but making me speak out with certainty what I don't know for sure isn't comfortable. Neither is trying to make a decision. Either option makes me want to run away. It's just the memories and his kindness and how much he cares. And how sweet he is. He doesn't deserve to be let down time and time again.

College is just around the corner, and I'll have to go, but something tells me his heart might choose to stay put. If only he could forget me, things would be easier. In college they expect you to be all grown up and mature and independent, but people don't realise that when it comes to issues within, sometimes we're at a complete loss, and maybe it's okay. Why do we have to make things black and white? Can't we float in the middle until things come to a conclusion? At a place that's comfortable, and there will always be that look in our eyes that say we share something between us that's special. And the smile. And if things go where they shouldn't, the tears will come and remind us.

I don't know. I don't feel like thinking about it anymore, and I don't want to make up my mind anymore. I just want him to know he's such a special boy who deserves to protect his lovely heart.

Love always,

Jan 2, 2013

The weight of a promise

"...God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, "If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their miss and return to Egypt." So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea..." Exodus 13:17-18

Sometimes God goes about a terribly long-winded route to take us places, when we feel He could have just given us the blessing sooner, without having to go through a forest of crap. But isn't it amazing that sometimes He does it because He knows our weakness, yet loves us so much that He will not even give us a chance to fall away from His promised blessings? That even if we rebel against Him and try to run away, it won't stop Him from leading us to where He wants us to go. 

I feel this speaking to me in a very powerful way, especially in the midst of all this, after weeks of mental turmoil. 

Thank You, God, that you know I'm weak and rebellious and full of doubt, just as the Israelites were, yet You won't let go of the blessing and legacy you have promised for my life, the goal You have placed in my heart.