May 28, 2014

Got plans? Don't bother.

I have just left Toronto and am on my way to Michigan. I was supposed to take a long train ride that included a 10-hour stop at Buffalo, but right at the last minute I got a train switch, and I'll be arriving a day earlier than expected. Because it was so last minute, I only had the time to collect my first of three train tickets for this trip, and everything's kind of crazy. I have to find out how to cross the border on my own, before transferring to the next train. I have to get my refund at Detroit, somehow. I have to hope that the other station gets the memo so that I can get my next two tickets, because I have no itinerary for my new trip. I have to find a place to stay. I've emailed the person I'm supposed to be staying with tomorrow, and I really hope she gets my message while I still have wifi.

Yesterday, after a really nice dinner with Bryson (we're now 21 and on the other side of the world!!! 14 years ago we were 7 and table-neighbours playing with his stationery in class and getting caught), I was at Finch station and I was like, "okay, now I just need to text/call Zach to let him know to pick me up from the other station in 20 minutes." And then I realised I only had his Singapore number in my phone, not his US one. How stupid could I get.

Now, I had a host of options that would've cost me a little. I could've turned on my mobile data to Whatsapp him / look through my email for his number. I could've walked to a shopping centre to get wifi. I could've taken the train to the nearest stop, and take a taxi from there. But I made the stupidest and most expensive decision - to take a taxi from where I was - and it cost me $35. The meter was rising by the second; my heart was sinking into a pit. And I was like, "C'mon, Karen! Be strong! Make the best of this! Make it worth your $35!" so I talked to the driver and asked about life in Ethiopia and his kids etc. He had this habit of practically shouting, and it made me a bit nervous sometimes, but it was hilarious.

And so I don't know where I'll be sleeping tonight, but I tell myself not to worry. Things will find their way home.

(I got lost recently, and ended up wandering close to a neighbouring town, but hey, I found my way home. Even if it took an hour of wondering where the heck I was and following random bike trails and crossing a train track over a river oh freak my heart was pumping like mad.)

I'm more chill on this trip than I should be. No researching (I'm so lazy), no Google Mapping places I want to go, no looking at the next day's plans until the night before. In Toronto I found a lot more joy in seeing how people lived - checking out Zach's school and his dad's ice-cream shop and watching a movie with Zach and Nik in the basement - than in going to all the touristy places. I enjoyed just walking the streets and taking public transport. Musing at the shower knobs and car door locks - it's in the little things. There's a big part of me that's all FOMO (fear of missing out), but I'm trying to keep it down. The first thing Fang Jiunn and I will do in Chicago is catch Maleficent, and I really really REALLY REALLY want to watch The Fault In Our Stars when it comes out there too. Mm. Go to the theatres, do normal people things, grab a sandwich, cross the road - it's not the big touristy stuff, but the everyday living, that tells you the most about a place; that is the most diverse, yet connects you with its people.


I've also learnt a couple of other things on this trip in the past week, the biggest one being it's all in your mind. Long lonely rides make my mind wander, and wander into bad places. I'm afraid of my own mind, and I hate thinking, because I spiral down a well and it's very hard to get out. But how you feel is entirely up to you. You can have a shit day and people can be annoying, or you can have spent $35 unnecessarily, or you can be dragging yourself up a long flight of stairs with 15kg on your back, but how you feel is entirely up to you. You're responsible for appreciating the things in your life, simply because you are alive. I have learnt to escape to a different environment if it helps me escape negativity. I have learnt to just brush it off: "yeah, whatever". It's not as easy as it sounds, it takes some force, but it's necessary. Do what it takes to stop being focused on your little self - talk to a stranger, get some coffee, sleep. Sleep works magic.

Adding on to that, how something turns out in the end is also entirely up to you and your words.

Simple enough. Your life is in your hands. You have all control. Unexpected things can happen along the way, but it's up to you to take that and make it a tool.

I used to dislike it when people asked me how an experience was, because having to put a word to it reduces it to that word. Nepal? Half a day of walking uphill, only to go downhill again, and repeat it the next day? My Nepal trekking trip highlighted for me the futility of all human activity. But there were also some irreplaceable memories - hot lemon drinks on mountaintops, bathing in cold water in the freezing weather, playing card games with Mark and Chin Wei. When people ask me how it was, I say "interesting". But it's up to me to put down more words so that my memories don't get reduced to that.

And that applies to this. An experience could've been terrible, but it was still an experience not worth wasting, and it's up to my words to concretise the memory - and manipulate it, if necessary. The worse an experience is, the more interesting, impactful and valuable, isn't it?

May 20, 2014

If I Die

19 May, Detroit -> Toronto, plane sways from side to side as it climbs through the air 

If I die, maybe it would be on the Singapore news. Karen Ho, just turned 21, 6As, Yale-NUS pioneer, what a future she could have had ahead. The media might interview my friends, and they might describe me as a person with a beautiful, loving heart, a heart focused on others. Maybe when my good friends hear about it they will cry, and rush to talk about what a nice person I was, in three words or fewer, to the news.

I urge you to know me beyond that. If you know me well you'd know that I wouldn't view my death as something tragic. If we were fishes, I see death as simply moving from one fish tank to another - from the realm of the world to one we cannot yet see. Another phase of life, like leaving secondary school for JC. I urge you to know me beyond my character traits. Understand my thoughts, my worldviews and philosophies; why I came to my conclusions about life and God; how I hurt and reconcile. Because my writing and thought processes are immortal. And you'll see that there's no cause to cry at all.

May 19, 2014

Sau's List Of Ten Things


Will blog about my birthday when I can - rushing to prepare for my trip to Toronto and the States now!!! IN A FEW HOURS IN A FEW HOURS IN A FEW HOURS

May 17, 2014

wei liang

I will skip the usual birthday greeting because I’m sure you’ve heard enough from me, and I will go straight to the point because I think that’s what is important. How long have we known each other Karen? Hmm, four years and counting if I’m right. The first two years in JC, you were someone in need of help and advice. You were filled with emotions that often were out of your control. You would put it down in words that described your situation and feelings. Truth be told, I was worried for you but I’m glad we opened up to each other and I hope that through your sharing it with me, you felt better.

(haha, i still am that girl, welly. up till extremely recently, i was still that teary needy girl whose emotions were too much to handle. always in need. but recently i have become less dependent somehow.)

After graduation, things started to change…you got out of your existing problems and you started to mature even more. The amount of things you have done for the people around you are just countless. But such accomplishments and achievements don’t define who you are. The Karen that I know now is so different from the Karen I knew in JC and I am so proud of you now. A few weeks back, I was on my bed reflecting about life when I decided to stalk your tumblr (I do it pretty often to understand how life has been for you). (aww welly!!!!) Scrolling through the entries, I felt a deep sense of connection with your words: the feeling that this article spoke out to what I was feeling at that point in time. That was when I realised that whatever you blog is actually helping people express their feelings in words. Maybe you developed this ability through your experiences or innate talent but what I wanna say is that the Karen right now is never about herself anymore, but about everyone else around her. You have become a lady with such a big heart, always wanting to help people, especially problems with the heart. Your ability to express feelings and emotions into words have greatly helped those around you look for answers and closure. Karen, you have a way with feelings and words and I’m thankful to you for expressing them with such accuracy, for I’m not able to do it. I hope you will continue using this talent of yours to help the people around you. Happy birthday to you once again! God bless. 

 Welly, I typed out your letter because I never ever want to lose it. Right now I don’t know where your birthday letter to me last year was, and that makes me so sad because I remember it was the most touching letter I had ever received. dammit. Thank you, Welly. Your words mean so much to me. I’m so thankful to know that even when I wordvomit-rant-don't-bother-type-whatever-because-rage-and-emotion you feel a connection with my words. This is all I want to do with my life. To write in a way that helps people feel like their hearts are relieved too. Like someone knows, too. Welly, thank you. Thank you. I have changed less than you think, or rather, in different ways than you think. But I am still your dear friend. Love you so much.

On that note, Yale-NUS is sponsoring me to go for a summer creative writing course at the University of Iowa. I'm so pumped, because Iowa's graduate writing course is pretty much the best in the world, and it was / maybe still is my dream to do my Master's there. I haven't done any serious creative writing in a very long time. Since before I started college, I think. What has happened to me. Next semester I'll be taking a nonfiction writing course by Prof. Hemley, the director of my school's writing program, who previously headed the nonfiction writing program in the University of Iowa. We'll see if I emerge from it a stronger writer, or jaded and too scared to try anymore...

I'm excited. I haven't had the time to really write in such a long time.

Anyway, so I'll be in Iowa in less than a month, and before and after that I'll be travelling around Canada and the States. Excited!!! Will upload my photos on Facebook!

May 15, 2014


I couldn't bear to take my stuff off the walls until the last minute. I took a billion pictures of every single thing on my wall and it was never enough. I took down a couple of posters and the empty space glared at me. Couldn't do it. Couldn't do it.

Now all that's left on my walls are the glow-in-the-dark stars and lanterns, because I can't reach them. I went to sleep in what felt like a blank foreign liminal space and it made me afraid.

As long as my guitar's still here.

For the longest time I haven't been ready to tear down my room, my favourite place in the world & my refuge. Now that it's almost completely depersonalised I don't feel like staying in it anymore. But I'm ready for a new room. No more old photos on the walls; I bought a book that transcribed Neil Gaiman's Make Good Art speech and I plan to tear out the pages and put them up. Also, no more bed next to the window. It's going to be really different.

I'm going to be really different. For a long time I wasn't ready for juniors. This year passed really quickly and there wasn't time to breathe and reflect. But I'm ready now. I'm ready to close the year and go for a fantastic summer trip to the States and take time to be with myself, and come back a completely different person. Come back refreshed and new. Hang out with new people. Let no one make any assumptions from before.

For the first time in my life, though, I'm ready to be a year older. 21's a big number, and it sounds like independence, like knowing what to do and having certain set worldviews that emerge from your wealth of youth experience. I've never felt ready for any of my birthdays, because I never felt big enough for the number. But now I realise that you don't need to be anything, and you definitely cannot expect yourself to have anything set in stone; all that's important is that you've grown. And I've definitely grown and gained tremendously this academic year. My thought processes have been challenged and shaped right to the core, and I'm a very different person now from when before I started school. My opinions have become more nuanced and I'm far more aware that there is so much I cannot be certain about. And I also realise that what I think I believe is not necessarily what I really believe. Our declared values might just be what we forcefeed ourselves, a defence mechanism because we've gotten hurt, as a result of actually very different fundamental expectations. You say you don't expect anything from anyone, but maybe it's just a mantra you repeat because you've gotten hurt too many times when people didn't do what ought to be. And you realise why you still get hurt despite what you think you believe.

Anyway, I have learnt a lot about myself this year - in fact, it's been more of a deconstruction than a building-up. And I know that my worldviews will continue to change, and I'm excited for that. To constantly empty the furniture in my mind, to renovate and fill again, not necessarily with entirely different designs, but definitely more refined. And that's why I'm ready to be 21. I accept that I have come a long way this year, and that there is no end to reach.

ridding the walls of me

taking all my post-its etc. off the walls and compiling them into a notebook.

evolution of myself in the past academic year


May 8, 2014

the imperative to record

My memory is crap, and I usually feel like I have to record down everything that happens, whether it made me happy or it was a painful experience, as long as it was significant. But I don't know. There are things I don't feel like recording anymore. Things that I'd rather put somewhere beside or behind me, quietly acknowledge somewhere inside me that it happened but just move on like it didn't. Things that I might need to keep in mind for the future, too, or just really good encouraging reminders. I don't feel like writing it down because I don't want to have to conjure it all back up; it isn't pleasant. Or sometimes because I'm lazy (it can take so long, okay.) But I know if I don't record it I'll forget it, and so it won't always be beside or behind me, a place where I can find it again. Am I being irresponsible to myself?

In my attempt to store but laziness to store properly I end up putting everything in bits and pieces all over the place - three different journals, how many blogs, my phone - and blah. It's all scattered and disorganised.

May 6, 2014

(It's funny: at first they can't stop talking about it, but as time and things progress they don't want to talk about it anymore, the memories too precious, too close to the heart, something to smile about but not to reveal past the lips.)

May 3, 2014

on missing people

"Missing someone gets easier everyday. Although you're one day away from the last time you saw them, you're also one day closer to the next time you see them."

damn, words of wisdom cecilia

The 3 biggest things Yale-NUS has taught me

1. How to love more. 

Top of the list. I've said it a lot, but today I came back to find a bag of cookies at my door. Yesterday someone left me a Kit-Kat and ganbatte note for the Japanese exam. People here are so full of love and consideration, of grace in their speech. Whether it's the crazy birthday surprises or Tiff's huge-scale thank-you dinner with the construction workers building our school; whether it's in the way that about 20 of us or more signed up for a first-aid course after a dear classmate had a seizure; whether it's in the post-its people leave on others' doors, how they pay for other people's laundry to dry when they've left it in the washer too long, I continue to be inspired to love more every day, within my social circle and far beyond.

But even as I learn how to be more loving, I've also learnt:

2. How to really think about what you believe in, and stand for it.

Being loving and accommodating doesn't mean compromising on your beliefs. Someone once told me "you're the person who is the most critical of your position in your faith that I know". Here I continue to be challenged by myself, what I learn, and those around me. And it's in a very good way. People respect you when they ask questions; they want to know, too. Whether it's about the presence of God in tragedy (link to a blog post I did before college - I could write so much more about it now) or about my view on homosexuality, I enjoy these conversations. I enjoy relooking my own stand and refining it, so that I emerge more nuanced in my opinions, and much more able to explain what I believe in and why.

And, even as we air our views and strive for the best in ourselves:

3. To always be humble. 

No matter what you can do well, someone can do better, and many people can do much more. And even if you're fantastic at something, you always have something to learn from others who might not even be as good as you in it. Here, it's largely not about talent, although so many people have so much of it. It's about passion, initiative, the want to jump in and learn. Even if you're terrible at it. And that is a real inspiration.

The amount of initiative taken here is even more than all that has flourished in this school. Big things are very, very doable, as long as you have the initiative and perseverance. If what you want to see here hasn't been brought about by anyone else, it's up to you to get it done (and the school provides so much support whenever you need it). Nerf gun wars. Liaising with international companies. Ukranian dance for goodness' sake. Going on overseas MUNs even without any professional training. And the boldness and creativity people have here always remind me of how much I have to grow, too. A few of my friends are getting funding to cycle from Singapore to Vietnam over the summer. I had a friend who pretended to be a reporter amidst the protests in Thailand so that she could interview people and get close to the heart of the action.

These are big lessons, and the school was right - the biggest things you learn in college are outside the classroom. I'm proud of the culture we've created - it's not perfect, but it's definitely beautiful - and I hope these lessons remain an integral part of the Yale-NUS culture.