I had a cousin who died at the age of 20.
She was born with an auto-immune disease, and the doctors told my aunt (her mother) that she was not going to live past her early twenties. When we were kids we used to play a lot whenever there was a family get-together, and we had so much fun riding bikes, playing with my grandparents’ animals and running around the house. My aunt never told her about what the doctors said, and eventually she died in my aunt’s arms at the hospital.
Truth be told I don’t think about her a lot anymore, but once in a while I do, and when I do, I often ponder about the idea of knowing when you will die. How did my aunt feel over the years as my cousin grew up and she was inching closer to her death? It must be terrible, living with that secret and not letting her child know, if only to allow her to enjoy whatever little time she still had.
Well that’s a rather morbid introduction to this post.
It’s actually weird how everyone dies but no one of talks about it very much. When I was in Istanbul I went to a museum where there was a depiction on how the scholars during ancient Turk used to wear a large white turban on their heads. The turban, as it turns out, was also the exact same white garment that will be used to wrap their own bodies for burial when they die. How morbid, I thought to myself as I saw it, to be walking around everyday with the reminder of death over your head.
But I did wonder, does thinking about death make us live better?
I guess the realisation that you will eventually close shop whatever your circumstance may be does put certain things in perspective. What’s the point of being sad for too long? Whether you spend most of your life feeling sad or happy, you’ll die anyway, so you might as well be happy. There. That was pretty straightforward, wasn’t it?
This year had been a busy year for me. In early 2018 I hit a turn in my life and it had somehow kicked off a streak of travel adventures, and it had not slowed down until now. So 2019 has been mostly going around the globe doing what makes me feel content because again, we’ll die anyway. So why aren’t we doing the things that make us happy? I saw a lava flow during sunset in Hawaii, I was naked with a grandma at an onsen in Japan, and I finally saw John Mayer at a concert after a decade of listening to his music almost every week. In Bangkok, I found out that I quite enjoy friend fish heads. I went for a solo trip in Bali where all I did was sit at vegan cafes to write. I went for a yoga retreat in Cambodia. I climbed the Rakaposhi Base Camp in Pakistan and stood on a glacier. I had terrible food poisoning in India (which was a shitty experience, but now it’s an experience I treasure because it taught me to not eat strange clams). I took my parents for their dream trip in Turkey and got to watch them enjoy it so much. I don’t have everything in life, but for all these opportunities to see the world and write about it, I am so extremely grateful to accept and enjoy.
Now that we’ve gone through the insta-glorious moments of 2019, let’s talk about the not-so-great moments. Of course there were those. Sometimes these are the price you pay when you love others, when you try to reach for a dream and it doesn’t quite turn out the way you wished it would, when you wear your heart on your sleeve, when your parents get older, and when circumstances disappoint you. I want to be specific, but in respect to others in these stories, I can’t. But suffice to say that what I’ve learned is that by the end of the day, you’ll regret not doing the things you wished you did. Again, we’ll die anyway. So what’s there to lose? Live and love in your own terms. There will probably be lots of tears and struggles, but if you’re sincere with your intentions it will all be well and good, one way or another. At the very least, you’ll be glad you tried.
Every year I make a point to learn or try 5 new things, and this year is not an exception. I continued with my french classes every week, I took a horseback riding course at a nearby stable, I started a bookclub which died halfway due to time constraints on my side, I began the ‘Chrissy Teigen Cookbook’ challenge where I tried to cook the entire cookbook for 1 year, and I started writing a third book which is a lot different than my previous books. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by my own restlessness, but I’m a lot happier when I feel my time is full. For me, idleness can sometimes be the door of doom that triggers the feeling of dullness and emptiness. Not to mention, the clock is ticking (to when you get old and die)! If you want to do something, do it now. For the most part, there is never a better time to start. (note: I say this like I’m an expert, but the truth is there is a number of things I hope to do but haven’t gotten enough balls to just yet. But I’m trying!)
This year has been a pleasure to also watch my family and friend go down their own paths in life. Some had a terrible year in 2018 with separations, deaths and illnesses, so 2019 has been like spring to them - new chapters, new beginnings - it’s always great to watch people you care about awaken this way. I admired my friends who are busy mothers but have found 2019 to be a liberating journey towards a healthier lifestyle, great friends who found great loves, and my family has had a wonderful year together.
What are your intentions for 2020? Thank you to those who wrote to me and told me about your lives. I found them inspiring.
2019 picked up as quickly as it came. It seemed like a pretty busy start for pretty much everyone – lots of my friends have begun to have school runs (only a reminder of how fast time flies and how quick children grow!), and for me I had my second book launch to sort out, and yet another travel plan to kick start my new year. Amidst the chaos, I seemed to have less time to do my favourite thing come each new year – making New Year Resolutions.
For as long as I can remember, I have always loved making New Year Resolutions. There is just something about the turn of every 365 days, that allows me to physically calculate my milestones; for some reason this makes me feel assured that I have done something with my life. It’s the control freak in me that loves to know how far I’ve come and plan what else I’d do in the future.
This year, instead of making a list of things I plan on doing, I am making a list of things I need to improve on with myself. I’ll consciously make efforts to try and work on them this year, but won’t put up a measurable expectation.
First of all, I definitely, definitely need to learn to become more financially savvy. Last year’s travel-mindlessly-without-a-care-in-the-world actually did put a dent in my wallet. I have no intentions of slowing down this year, but I certainly know that I can work out better ways to make that lifestyle more sustainable. Being a responsible adult (blergh! I’m an adult boo-hoo) also means that I now have to be more mindful about where the $$$ goes, and although investments, trust funds, savings and stuff had been and always will be a bore to me (as do most adulating things), I know that I need to think about them eventually if I have hopes of financial freedom (as we all do, no matter who we are).
Secondly, I wish to improve my relationships with others. I am fully aware that I have an amazing support system any girl can ask for. I have supportive parents and siblings, friends who genuinely care about me, and colleagues who are constantly helpful (believe it or not, I’ve never had a terrible boss!). Unfortunately, I do notice that as I grew busier, I sometimes forget to nurture these relationships. I firmly believe that my quality of life is determined by the quality of my relationships, and so looking forward I want to make conscious efforts to stay connected to people I value the most. For example, a friend noted that I tend to ‘fall off the grid’ sometimes and not reply to text messages, and/or fail to show up to gatherings (admittedly, this happens a lot when I’m in my ‘writing cave’). I would like to show up more for my family and friends.
Thirdly, I want to challenge myself to stop gossiping altogether. Frankly I don’t do much of it anymore these days, but there was a time last year when I was conscious of the fact that I was indulging in some bad talk over others’ and their choice of lifestyles. Oprah says that gossiping is just an exhibition of your own low self-esteem, and Oprah is my gal so let’s try to have none of those this year.
The fourth thing I want to work on is of course, my third book. I’m pretty sure I can guarantee that we won’t be seeing a new book from me this year. Although I’ve begun to work on it, I foresee that it will take a long time to finish, as I am quite happy to really indulge in it for as long as I can this time around. It’s a new territory I’m excited to work on!
Lastly, I would like to put myself in more unfamiliar situations. The thing about growing older is you tend to want to become a social hermit; you’d want to stick around with only things and people you’re familiar with. Which is great, but over the years I’ve realised that being more adventurous and delving into unfamiliar territories are what kept my life more exciting and inspired. So more conscious efforts to try new and unfamiliar things in the future.
How about you? What are the things you’d like to work on come this new year?
Contrary to last year’s New Year’s Eve of friends, a rooftop balcony, KL fireworks and a throng of partygoers trashing the city centre streets, this year I spent my New Year’s Eve with my family, had hamburgers for dinner, and clocked out at 10 pm. I didn’t even get to harass people on Twitter about their New Year’s Resolutions before I passed out.
But no, last night wasn’t at all a summation of what 2017 had been. I would admit, 2017 started kind of shitty for me, but it began to climb uphill from there to become one of the most prominent years of my life (so far). In short, I really did underestimate 2017 before it began, and it ended up as the most wonderful blessing. But not without its own supply of challengers, heartaches and new things to learn, here are some highlights that I acquired throughout the whole year.
Maybe you can relate to some of them too!
1. When I got my book publishing contract
Hey remember that time when you won the lottery? This was so much better! On the day I received an email from MPH saying that they would like to offer a publishing contract for my manuscript, it all felt surreal to me that I took days to process this information. I was happy, nervous and frankly, scared. I didn’t know anyone else who was a writer, and I did not even intend to publish the manuscript when I first wrote it (I write a lot, but mostly for my own indulgence). It was very hard to keep this exciting news under wraps for months, and I told only one other person about this. I kept it a secret because of my own insecurities – what if it didn’t turn out as I expected it? What if it all turns into a massive disaster?
2. When I became a NST columnist
I know we all envision Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City when we think about the phrase ‘newspaper columnist writing about relationships’, but I’ll have you know that I don’t own a single pair of Manolo Blahniks. Nor have I dated 50 guys like she has. On the first day my first column came out, I went to buy my first newspaper in I don’t know, ten years? Writing for New Straits Times was a huge career milestone for me, as I knew it was my first big writing profile. Before this I had only published in my blog, but writing for a paper requires a certain finesse on content, opinion projection and message. My first column came out in February, and we are still going bi-weekly strong today!
3. When I saw Coldplay in concert
Yes, I know for some people this is probably nothing. But my goodness, Coldplay! There’s a backstory to this. When I was in college I used to listen to them almost everyday (and I still do). I memorize almost 100% of all lyrics of all of their songs. On my final year in college, Coldplay was having a concert in Perth near where I lived at the time, and I badly wanted to go. Unfortunately I was a broke student (even with 2 part-time jobs, mind you), and I couldn’t afford the tickets. Finally seeing Chris Martin playing a Martin D28 guitar live actually was part of my bucket list, and any year where I get to tick off something from the list is a good year for me!
4. When I realised that dreams have a price
People tell you this all the time, but it isn’t until you actually experience it that you’ll know what it really means. Along the year I found myself multitasking most of the time – I had a busy full time office job, and at the same time I was editing my book, writing for my NST column, making sure the blog isn’t first-wifed, and I was also writing the second manuscript. As a consequence there was a period where I did not have a single vacant weekend for 2 months straight, and I did not manage to see my family or socialise as much as I would like to. But despite the craziness, there was the strange self-indulgence in spending time doing something you really love, so there wasn’t any complaining either. I suppose the lesson here is everything has a price, including and especially, dreams.
5. When I got a new nephew
Nope, I still feel the same way about kids in general, if you’re thinking that having nephews have turned me into a motherly Mama Bear. But I can proudly say that I can now hold a baby in a safe, HSE-adherent way without having panic attacks.
As long as they don’t pee, poo, barf, snot, salivate, or make any general screaming noise.
6. When I turned the big 3-0
Newsflash: When they told you that turning 30 is dreadful, they are LYING. Turning 30 is the best thing ever!
To be honest, when 2017 began and I realised my 30th birthday was approaching, all those social context of fearing ageing really got to me. I didn’t feel like I was ready to be a full adult yet! Okay, I still don’t think I’m ready, but the good news is this time of life is a great place to be. Personally, I have never felt better in my own skin or happier with my own body than today. I think this self-assurance projects itself in how I perceive my worth, my relationships and how I carry myself compared to when I was, say, 22. You tend to care less about what others think and more about your own happiness and creating the life you want to live, and it is the best feeling ever, truly.
Everyone ages, but not everyone ages well. Be conscious of how you experience your years and how you use it to benefit you.
7. When I went underwater at my own backyard
As a birthday gift to myself, my bestie and I went for an almost a week diving at Sipadan, Malaysia. Hailed as one of the most beautiful diving sites in the world, I shamefully admit that I had never visited it once even when it’s in my own country. It was everything I hoped it would be, and I came back darker and happier.
It was also my last hurrah with M before she got married. And to note, M getting married was also a highlight of my year. I was so absolutely happy for her. It was also one of those rare occasions when I didn’t hate weddings.
8. When my book launched, and all the reactions that followed it
You’d think it was all excitement and a big hurrah, but prior to the launch of the book I experienced one of my most intense bout of anxiety. Fully aware that people can be mean, the public can be judgemental and that dreams can crash in failure, I was so afraid that something that means this much to me can or will backfire. After all, literature is a form of art, and like other art, I know for a fact that it will not please everybody. There was always that fear that something you love might not be good enough, and this haunted me for months.
But so far, the reception for the book has really exceeded any of my wildest dreams for it. Last month it became the National Bestseller, and to this day I still feel that it was surreal and mind boggling – what?? (slaps own face)
Furthermore, looking at all the feedback and pictures of people enjoying the book on social media has made me feel so overwhelmed with joy. There was a girl who wrote to me and said that the book helped her healing process through some of her own hard times, and I thought that was just pure magical. It has somehow, unintentionally or otherwise, allowed a stranger help another stranger. That truly meant more to me than any best-selling list.
I guess what I learned throughout this entire process is that if you have a dream, however small or extravagant, go after it for yourself, not for anything or anyone else. That way, however it turns out, the satisfaction will always be in the journey rather than the material targets of it.
9. When I took charge of my own health
It’s not easy at first, folks. Not when a lot of people around you are eating and drinking junk nobody really needs. But I’ve learned a few tricks this year that might be helpful; 1. Eat meals with people who also eat healthily, so you’re not tempted 2. Chill with the change. Don’t drastically try becoming a vegan or starving yourself, because dude that will never work ever 3. For God’s sake, EXERCISE. Find something you enjoy and find friends who enjoy it too! Your body is built to move, not slouched on a couch watching Stranger Things. You’re not 20 anymore and you won’t get away with that for very long.
10. When I learned what it takes to have a gratified heart
Oh, 2017. You broke my heart and then you built it up again, bigger than I ever thought possible. I have struggled to find the fine line between not giving up and learning to let go. Because I had always been somewhat attached to the philosophy that you just don’t quit on something that means immensely to you, this sometimes makes me too stubborn and too hopeful.
This year is a big year for my heart too. I learned that when it comes to matters of the heart, you should always do everything wholeheartedly, and love to the best of your ability. Don’t be too obliged by your ego and especially fear. Be fearless when it comes to the matters of the heart. So that whichever way it turns out, you’ll always find it easier to find peace and acceptance, and you’ll never have any regrets. Regret is one of the most painful things you’ll have to endure, if you’re not careful.
To be honest, after all that racket, I’m all set and ready to venture into 2018! What does your 2018 plan look like? I’m looking at a year of a lot of traveling, fitness, working hard and even more laughs. Lots and lots of laughs.
Happy New Year and I hope we all find what we’re looking for. And more.