In the beginning, we all sort of thought that the Restricted Movement Order (RMO) due to the current COVID-19 pandemic was going to last only for a little while. Well, that was what most of my friends and I thought anyway. But it has been almost 3 weeks, with no real sign on what it might look like in the near future. Everyday the news posts something terrible - someone is dying somewhere, the death rate steadily increasing, people are struggling with the shut down of small businesses and loss of employment, the healthcare frontliners are struggling to make ends meet with the lack of manpower and proper safety wear, and the government is desperately grasping to manage everybody and everything.
On top of that, a quick glimpse into the social media world and you could see what this survival-mode has truly unraveled - all emotions are amplified. We are getting angrier than usual, internet bullying more than usual, criticizing more than usual and are more desperate than usual. I find myself feeling exasperated seeing social media ‘celebrities’ struggling to be relevant during these trying times. Unfortunately, selfishness is also extremely liberated while we are all confined within physical walls.
So what can we do, us sitting at home, jaded and waiting? Eventhough we’re not frontliners, revered philanthropists or charitable millionaires, isn’t there something we could do to help this situation? Each person has the power to make a difference, and although they may be small in comparison, understand this - our acts create a ripple effect. They pay it forward, and whatever energy or contribution you give out to this world will carry on ahead and beyond into other things.
So maybe to start, we can all ease up on polluting the social media space. See something or someone you don’t like? Then don’t give it/them anymore attention that you don’t think they deserve. Remember that attention is power - making something ‘viral’, whether it is a good or a bad thing, gives it power. If you disagree or disapprove of something, stop commenting or retweeting or spreading it around (unless of course, it requires the intervention of authorities). Stop giving it power.
Next, how can we directly support the good cause against COVID-19, while sitting at home? Here’s an obvious thing; LISTEN TO THE AUTHORITIES. Doing that alone is already a contribution. You’re helping control the situation, not spreading it around, and not adding to the number of nuisance the authorities has to deal with. Isn’t it amazing to think that just by complying to the current law, we’re actually assisting in a big way? On the other hand, not cooperating or thinking that you’re the ‘exception to the law’ immediately makes you a dick. So there you go.
Thirdly, let’s talk about financial distress. A lockdown equals small businesses shut down, and people in services (your cleaning lady, the masseuse, the local handyman etc) are not able to make the usual payroll. There are people who are financially struggling to make ends meet at this time, and I don’t need to tell you these things. You read about people not able to afford meals and baby formula everywhere. So let’s contribute, even if it’s RM10. More if you can afford it. Imagine this - RM10 is hardly noticeable by you sometimes, but that could mean a meal for an entire family somewhere else. So please donate. Cut your makeup budget in half. Maybe you don’t need that steak dinner this month. If you really, really, really can’t afford to give financial aid, here’s something else you can do - spread the awareness! Share information on donation outlets in your social media and within your family/friends. This is so much better than doing nothing at all.
And lastly, when ordering our food takeouts, let’s try our best to order from local eateries and businesses. They are being hit hard by this as the purchasing power plummets, so since we’re all ordering in anyway, why not support them while we’re at it? The same goes for fresh produce - get your fish, meat and vegetables from local vendors if you can.
Let’s help each other. Let’s do SOMETHING. Aren’t we sick of not doing anything? Often we have a tendency to not feel like we’re responsible in helping our community, but we are that community! We are part of it. So let’s spend our energies on the positive things, and not only will that contribute tremendously, it will also lift our spirits and chins up during this uncertain time.
Who would’ve known that the time would come when we find ourselves in the middle of a full-blown pandemic spread across the entire globe? It’s a worrying time, and if you’re in my part of the world, the government has issued a Restrictive-Movement policy (a mini lockdown, if you will) which basically means that for the most of us, we’re all asked to stay inside our homes and practice social isolation. Think about it; when was the last time you were asked to stay indoors for this long, with minimal social interactions? And the second thought that comes to mind, despite you trying to convince yourself that you could’ve had it worse or be sent to war or be sick yourself, is this - good God, what the heck am I going to do for two weeks at home???
Look, I don’t mean to brag. But if you ask me who is the best person I know to ask about how to be a hermit, I’d put my own hand up. And my family and friends would probably point their fingers my way, too. Given this rapport, here are some suggestions for you to perhaps venture into once you’re sick of doing all that obvious stuff (i.e. Netflix, stalking your neighbors with binoculars, napping).
1. Spring Clean - physically and digitally. Confront the secret hoarder in you. Donate away clothes that you haven’t worn for the past year. Clean up your inbox/digital storage on your phone and computer. Mentally, cleaning these stuff out helps clear your mind too from feeling as though you’re stuffed, suffocated and imprisoned in your own home. Physically, you’re not moving alot these days, so this serves as a great activity/workout too.
2. Research & Plan a Trip - So that by the time all this clears up and you can finally travel again, you’re pretty much all ready plan-wise! In my experience, planning long-term travels usually takes a lot of time and energy, so now is a good as time as any! Where do you hope to travel to next when this all blows over?
3. Try a Makeup Tutorial - The crazier, the better. It allows you to be creative while at the same time learn some new tricks of the trade. Fact: physical makeovers do have a rejuvenating affect, and it’s time you make full use of your arsenal of makeup at home (don’t lie to me. I know you have 6 lipsticks at least)
4. Work out online - 30 mins a day is sufficient to get your heart and body working from all that couch potato-ing. I’ve enlisted some free online workout videos that I’ve tried previously and loved, see below.
5. Read That Book You Have That You Always Said You Were Going To Read But Never Did
6. Check Out Online Blogs - No, I don’t mean the shopping websites. I mean the lifestyle blogs that have fun and interesting articles and new recipes to try. My list of blogs that I really enjoy is below.
7. Meditate - Meditating actually requires a bit of practice, and although it seems pretty easy to do, you need to train yourself consistently until you’re used to it. But why the hell do we meditate??? Because, Nancy, quieting your mind and giving it some space to settle makes for a healthier, calmer and grounded you. I enjoy meditating on the floor in the mornings or right before bed time as it helps with anxiety. You can try it at different times of the day to see what works for you.
8. Try New Recipes - You’re stuck in a home with a kitchen. You need to eat. You have a lot of time to spare. Here is that golden opportunity to try great new recipes, especially those that take a little bit more TLC. And remember all those cleanse/detox stuff you said you always wanted to try but never have the time? This. Is. The. Time.
9. Long Video Calls With Loved Ones - Although in physical isolation, do NOT forget the human connection we all require to keep sane. Thank goodness for the age of video calls. Keep in touch with your family who might live miles away, and check in on your friends.
10. Sketch Something - Or rather, embark on something creative. It might be writing, or designing a photo book, or finally starting on that blog you had always wanted to. You’ll be surprised with how much productive time you can spend on these things.
Awesome, Free Online Workout Videos You Can Try (on YouTube):
1. HIIT by Liv Lo (High intensity, super quick, will get you sweating like crazy)
2. P90x by (Total body, with minimal equipment)
3. Tracy Anderson (She’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s trainer, y’all. Nuff said.)
4. Make your own dance party with your Spotify mix
Blogs That I Enjoy And Would Recommend:
1. Bootsoverbooks.com (I mean, d’uh)
2. Goop (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. It has tons of interesting articles)
3. Migrationology (food and travel. I use it as a reference all the time)
4. Cup of Jo (Great for Moms especially)
5. Poosh (The visuals are really great)
When in fact, in can be the very foundation of a massive improvement and shift in our lives. So the first rule is; make resolutions that are measurable. Enough of the generic ‘I want to be more positive’ or ‘I want to be healthier’ or ‘I want to cut out toxic people’ – no, no, no. What will you actually do? Quit Twitter? Stop drinking sugared drinks? Enroll in a night class? Block someone on social media? You have a higher chance of pulling through your resolutions if they are quantifiable, because that means you can always do a periodic review by measuring these goals.
Here is my list for last year, and how they have worked out. I wrote about these intentions in early 2019, which you can read here.
This year, my resolutions revolve around enrichment. I think we all have a habit of slowing down learning as we get older, so to avoid that, I would like to read at least 30 minutes a day, enroll in a workshop or two (I’ve already enrolled in Masterclass!), take my next French exams and complete my ‘Cooking The Entire Cookbook’ challenge.
I have, and always will love to play! So hopefully 2020 will continue seeing me do them – a few new places to travel to, horseback riding on weekends, a major long-distance hike (although I haven’t decided where), and a fun solo trip somewhere exciting (location? Ideas, anyone?). My focus is to just enjoy it all. Enjoy everything while they last. For the past few years I’ve learned that when you leave a lot of space for of a lot of possibilities, life tends to pleasantly surprise you.
What are your intentions for 2020? I hope we all have an exciting, healthy, fulfilling, joyful year ahead!
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.
Here's a picture of me, 1 week before my birthday at the stable after a
riding lesson, sweaty, stinky, dressed very meh, and having a good time.
Every year I’m excited to celebrate my birthday. No, not so much about the superficial aspects of it (gifts, parties, vacations), although I must say that I love the get-togethers and birthday cards and face product gifts I never knew I needed, as well as the annual birthday trips I always have as an excuse for more travel. Also not too excited that the eye-bags are becoming more resilient than ever. But more than that, I’m excited because hey! Another year has come to dawn, and I get another chance at time. Not everyone is privileged to have lived another year.
But as glad as I am for another self-anniversary, I must say that this time around, I experienced some anxiety. I woke up earlier this week with a slight pang in my chest. I wasn’t sure why, and I carried on with the day trying to ignore it, but by evening it just wouldn’t go away and a friend of mine advised that I should probably want to look into it.
So I did.
And here’s the thing.
Sometimes, as you grow older, you experience some episodes of self-doubt. You start having doubts about;
1. Your life choices
2.Your reaction to things that have led your circumstance to become what it is today
3.The people you let in and let go
4.The decisions that you have made that changed your life in a big way
This happens regardless of who you are, whether you’re a successful force with a million achievements under your belt, whether you’re married or single or divorced, or just a regular Joe/Jane who has lived through everything according to plan. Actually, even your plan becomes a source of doubt. Was it the right plan? Is it still the right plan?
And this becomes especially true if you have chosen to go down a more ‘unconventional’ path, i.e. making choices that is not exactly normal within your familiar society. Living down this path can sometimes be a pretty lonely journey.
For the bigger part of my life I have always accepted the idea that I am, and always have been, a little strange. I don’t mean this in a good or bad way. It is what it is, and so far I am happy just the way I am and have accepted the shortcomings that come with it. However, it does not mean that I don’t have moments of self-doubt. These moments are best visualized as a small, tiny voice in my brain that would squeak against my own self-esteem.
I am aware that unlike 99% of my girlfriends of my age, I have no children. It’s a conscious choice that I have made, which I feel is best for me at this point in time, right now. But by the time you feel like having offsprings, maybe your eggs would’ve gone extinct, and it will be too late and you’ll miss out on the joy of raising a family, says that self-doubting squeaky voice. I enjoy traveling and I don’t mind the money spent for these experiences as I think they are crucial to my fulfillment. You should’ve spent your money on real estate and investments like a responsible adult, it says again. I try my best to give back to the society in whichever way I can. It’s not enough, and you know you can do more. I am a hermit writer who would rather spend my weekends finishing manuscripts than going out to meet people. In the end you’ll die alone in your apartment while choking on a dumpling. A relationship I have failed to make work. You’ll never love again. Not like that. I don’t believe in settling for less, or rushing into things just because I am scared of being lonely. Please refer to the dumpling-choking loneliness stated above.
I suppose in many ways, an upcoming birthday becomes a physical reminder of these decisions and choices. It is true that we should live life with minimal regrets and that we should not dwell so much about the past, but here is when realistic Amal would like to stop you; that’s a great notion, guys, and an amazing ideal, but let’s face it. What kind of a person doesn’t have these moments of reflection and occasional self-doubt? It is completely normal to experience these, and it is completely okay too. Don’t let any generic motivational Instagram account convince you otherwise.
However, I do believe that there is good that can come from these ‘episodes’. Sometimes, it provides you an opportunity to really re-evaluate yourself and your life. What can the past teach you for you to be better moving forward? I doubted some of my past behavior that may have caused others pain. Then maybe looking forward, I could try to change and improve these aspects of myself. There were some decisions I could have done differently. And guess what? I can. As long as there is life then there is always a chance to try and fix things or start over or change plans.
The best thing about birthdays is that it’s a wake-up call to tell you that despite everything that you’ve done or has happened, you’re still privileged with time to do something about them. And if you like who you are right now, you’ve got your past to thank for that too. The you now is the result of every damn thing that has happened to you, either formed by your own decisions or carved by circumstances that have befallen you.
In the words of How I Met Your Mother, “it’s never too late, Barney”. That's what birthdays are for - to remind you that there is still time, and it's not too late.
What the heck is feminism? To be honest I wasn’t completely familiar with the term until much later in life. Although I had been somewhat exposed by that mindset thanks to my parents and school (I was in an all-girls boarding school for 5 years), I had never quite heard of the term ‘feminism’ when I was younger. And then, as time went on, I began discovering the many interpretations of this term. Madonna said we should all free our nipples. Social media seems to define the epitome of feminism as a woman who has her own business empire and produces a lot of generic self-love advice. One of my girlfriends said it’s the point in life where you no longer need a man except for their sperm. One guy in office said feminism is terrifying because when women rule, everything would just spiral into an emotional-driven hell.
I don’t know. I guess different people have different perceptions and definitions of feminism. For a lot of us it’s not all that dramatic – feminism is just a mentality we aspire to achieve where women can live in an environment where we are allowed to be who we want to be – and that’s pretty much a broad definition with many contexts, depending and your socio and economic background.
But I am intrigued to talk about what it means to be a ‘strong woman’, in today’s society. One day I was enlightened (and by enlightened I mean that a friend shared with me a link on the internet) with a review of one of my books, of which a reviewer had said that the protagonist sounded like a weak girl who needs to ‘wake up and stop being sad’. I was a little taken aback by this. In my writer’s mind, I never wrote the character within the vicinity of ‘sad girl’. She was just a normal girl who was trying to reflect on the process of being sad about something that happened in her life. Being sad was her transient state of mind, but not her entire being.
It made me think about how we sometimes choose to see and define 'strength'. Often, there is this idealistic view that being strong means that you physically look like you’ve got your shit together, you kick a man to the curb the minute he breaks your heart, you post a positive caption on Instagram every so often, you’re financially stable, you’ve got your own business and four kids and a handsome husband who all live in a gorgeously decorated house, or you’re single and say stuff like ‘#livingthelife’ and ‘#singledontcare’.
I’m not saying these things are bad. In fact, these things are good. These are all positive outcomes, after all. But what these also do sometimes is that they contort the dimensions of the idea of 'strength'. They also instil the subconscious mindset that anything other than that is not a strong, empowered woman. A strong woman shouldn’t look like she isn’t dressed to take over the world. A strong woman shouldn’t feel sad and hurt and vulnerable. A strong woman shouldn’t express herself other than something uplifting. A strong woman shouldn’t be okay about wanting to live a normal average life and must always want more, more and more. A strong woman must never feel like she needs a partner in her life.
In other words, a strong woman should never feel human.
It’s a dangerous bar that we’ve raised for ourselves. When strength is equated to being invincible, it becomes an impossible pursuit. When you pursue something that does not exist, you’ll never feel enough. And when you never feel enough, that’s when it all goes downhill – you begin to feel defined by the materials that you own, you allow yourself to settle for less, you repress your emotions to the point of depression, you feel ‘beneath’ others who seem to have more success than you do, and you start feeling lonely and lost. A lot.
What I’ve learned so far, through myself and so many other women around me, is that the real meaning of being a strong and empowered woman begins with you being okay with yourself. Acknowledging your flaws, admitting that you feel overwhelmed, recognizing that you’ve done your best within your means and putting a stop on comparing your life to others is the first step of being empowered. Accepting and loving yourself is empowering. Living your life through standing up for your own worth and according to what you want out of it is strength.
I'm saying all these things as though I've got it all down to pat, but of course not. I have my days when I don't feel great about how I look, when I don't think I have tried my best, when I feel like I'm not good enough for someone and when I feel like my life blows in comparison to that other girl on Instagram. It's work in progress to try and be better at these things. But I do believe that by trying to be a great, amazing, human example of what a woman is, you are actually making a significant contribution in building a progressive conversation about women’s opportunities and biasness in our society.
More of that, and less of just shouting from the rooftops angry, generic ‘feminist’ slogans without even understanding what they really mean.
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?
Please note that this is the ghetto, uncensored version of my article in NST this month. You’ll notice the similarities.
I’m not sure if it was immediate or gradual. Though when I think about it, the natural course of episodes in life are usually what leads to a change or shift within us, most of the time. So perhaps this was one of those things.
Towards the end of 2017 a few episodes happened. There was something sad, which for some reason fuelled my incessant restlessness. But then DUMPED was published with wonderful reviews, which catapulted my bravery to keep on experimenting with writing and my writing process. I turned 30, which was a hard reminder that really, time flies extremely fast, so if I want to do something, this is about the perfect time to start and no longer stall.
And so the combination of these things was the start-up of 2018, or what I would call “They Year When I Said Screw This And I Will Do Whatever My Heart Wishes”. This isn’t to say that I haven’t done this in the past. Of course I have. But to be honest, I have always done them will a little hesitation and a lot of reservations. This time around, I really did just throw caution to the wind and went for it.
For some reason, this year I began to have a lot of change in mindset on the way I have been conducting my own life. I don’t want to sound like a grandma, but truly, with the years that have passed I have come to be a lot more accepting of myself and my circumstances. I felt a lot less desire to ‘fit in’, or, in a more extensive elaboration of that phrase, a lot less urge to try to become someone I am not. It is enough to know who you are even when others don't get you, and truth be told, people who truly love you will be just be accepting and loving of you even if you're slightly wired differently. I am also a big believer that everything happens the way it is supposed to – and for now, everything has conspired for me to be in this position of financial advantage, minimal commitment, creative freedom and a lot of access to do what I would like to venture into.
And so I decided to grab this window of opportunity by the balls (excuse my French), and I’ll tell you what this means. It meant that I packed my bags and took a long, long leave from work to travel and write. Then I came back, and off I went again. Then back, then off again. I was always going going going. I went to eat pizza in Naples, I took long walks around Paris, I climbed the Annapurna Base Camp, I got lost in Meteora, Greece, I had the best sushi of my life in Tokyo, I explored Barcelona, I went diving for my birthday, and I was on a stranger's motorbike zooming across the paddy fields in West Sumatera. I spent a lot of quality time with my family and friends, a further catalyst to a stable emotional well-being.
Then I began taking kickboxing classes, because why the hell not?
I bought a pair of roller blades and learned how to do that (and failed), because why the hell not?
I learned how to make the perfect roast chicken, because why the hell not?
I took up French classes (with exams, mind you), because why the hell not?
Doing these things, traveling everywhere, meeting many new people, learning new things, exploring new territories… it has been so beautiful and exciting and inspiring. It inspired me to keep writing my column, and of course it inspired me to finish my second book. But most importantly, it is that elevated feeling that I am the woman living the life I had always dreamed of when I was a little girl. It is the freeing feeling of succumbing to the life that has been given to me, instead of always contemplating why I am cut short of other things that other people are having. These, for me, are what make my happiness.
I won’t whitewash this and say that I am always 100% happy and grateful. That’s impossible and frankly, the kind of impression that I despise giving other people. Having a good year doesn't mean I don't have days where I wish for more or have heartaches. Some feelings stay the same, some days feel a little bit lonely, and some of us fell sick, lost something, with plans falling through or families in great ordeal. In this day and age that we live in, it is inevitable to ‘stumble’ upon pictures of an ex being happy without you, or some other girl who seems to be living a life of great outfits and great fun without needing to have an actual job like the rest of us. But I would confidently say that in 2018, I have been complaining a lot less and living life a lot more than I did before relatively. 2018 feels full (the same can’t be said about my savings account unfortunately. Travel and hobbies really drain your pockets man. But the way I see it, money can always be replenished. Time, however, cannot.). My time feels full and unwasted. My heart feels full.
And in the end, isn’t that the most important thing? And also, why haven't I approached life like this sooner??
Happy New Year everyone.
Good Lordy Lord it’s another birthday again. My thirtieth year had been such a whirlwind! I kicked it off last year with an unforgettable diving trip in Sipadan with my best friend, M. And after that, it was just a fast-paced blur. There was a book launch, I think… I remember reading pages from my book in a bookstore, and there were family, friends, press and readers. We laughed a lot. It was a beautiful event. And then something sad happened. That wasn’t great. Let’s keep that for another day. And then M got married, and I was so happy for her. And after that was a series of hardcore traveling, almost back-to-back, something I never thought I’d ever do, but I did. I took a month off and went to Lyon to hang out with some friends, then to Amalfi, Pompeii, Barcelona, and finally Paris on my own. After that I went to Japan, and later on for a seriously amazing, indulgent trip all around Greece in a rented car.
All the while, I wrote my second manuscript for a second book (hopefully), and I continued contributing to New Straits Times on my column. Dumped continued to be one of the bestselling books for a few months, and it gained amazing reviews by press and readers. I also started learning the ukulele, took a French language course and tried to master the art of roller skating (still trying). And then I began to train for something physically major happening in September, which you’ll know about soon enough.
And before I knew it, it’s July again, in a whole other year. Another birthday has arrived.
When talking to friends or people my age, we find that one of the challenges is how to keep things interesting throughout the whole year. For the most of us, it’s a lot of work and too little play, because it seems like ‘play’ takes too much money, effort and time – things that we don’t always have at our expense.
This time around, I thought that it might be fun to share a few tips and tricks on how to consistently keep a whole year interesting. Some are big things, some are just small actions, but I think all of them have the capabilities of boosting my mood and getting me out of a rut of work days and office hours and life chores. Maybe these are the things that you do, too!
1. Do something completely random
And I’m not even talking about big random things like buying a sports car or getting a Fitbit you’ll never use (I’ve seen too many examples of this). Honestly, sometimes all we need is a little re-invention to feel invigorated. Even as little as going to the ice cream parlour and buying an ice cream flavor you normally wouldn’t go for. Or trying a new restaurant during lunch time. Or wearing a completely different style than your usual, even just for a day. These things sound small, but they really do wonders in getting you out of your mundane routine, especially if you’re pressed for time.
2. Get creative
No matter how NOT creative you claim yourself to be, venturing into something that requires your right brain’s full focus is an easy way to de-stress. That’s actually one of the reason why I began learning to play the ukulele. You get home after a long day at work, and you have 30 minutes before you need to sort out chores etc etc. What do you do? Pick up an instrument, play while enjoying a drink, and after a while you’re completely in a whole other mood. I find that this works even better than just getting home, slumping on your couch and watching TV. If music is not your thing, then perhaps painting, sketching, journaling or even a jigsaw puzzle would float your boat.
3. Try something that makes you a little uncomfortable
In simplified terms, try something that is not your usual perspective. If you're a city person, how about a weekend at a very remote kampung with none of the usual comfort items you're usually attached to? (air-cond, WiFi, fancy restaurants). You'll be surprised how a small change in views can give such an interesting boost in life. Or attend a class of a sport you've never even thought of trying. Last month I tried Muay Thai Kickboxing, something I never thought I'd attempt because it always seemed so violent. But I did, and it turned out to be such a good, different experience (also I got to punch people, which was a great anger-management method). If you've never tried travelling solo, then how about that? Or joining an organised charity, or checking out a religious ceremony that is not your faith, or attending a live band performance...
4. Find fun friends
This is important, You are who you hang out with, and if you're spending time with dull people who are exactly the same as you are, then expect to never get out of the rut in or learn anything new. Negative people (who always have an excuse to not do anything interesting, who always have something bad to say about everything) is a complete no-no too. Instead, get the ones who different from your cultural background so you can always learn something new. Forge relationships with people who are excited about life, and would encourage/accompany you to try new things, like training for a half-marathon, doing a group cleanse or even plan an all-girls weekend getaway.
5. Learn a new life skill
I once worked next to an 50-something Australian guy at work, who told me that "you are never too old to learn a new skill". Sadly, a lot of us feel the opposite. Come the 30s and beyond, we begin to have less interest in learning anything new. And this is such a shame because self-enrichment is such a gratifying feeling, especially when you're older and life begins to feel a little bit too plateau. And life skills doesn't always have to generate money. It's not always about the money, you know.
I recently signed up for a French Language course, all motivated by the thought that someday, I'd be able to watch a french film without subtitles! And maybe somewhere along the way it can help amp up my resume, too. I also have a friend, a mother of two, who attended watercolour painting classes, and another one who's learning to be a yoga instructor,,, there are just endless lists of new skills you can learn out there!
A few days ago, I found myself sitting on some rocks high up the hill, in a place called Meteora, in Greece. Meteora is a place famous for its monasteries perched high on top of rock pillars, isolated from the world. The monasteries were built by hermit monks during the height of the Turkish occupation of Greece, in hopes that they will be unbothered there.
During sunset these rock pillars stood high, looming long shadows wrapped by the rays of the setting orange sun. To say it was beautiful would be an understatement. I sat there, across these monasteries facing the sunset, thousands of miles away from home, and I was in place where I didn’t know anyone and no one knew me.
Did I know I was going to be in Greece? Not until two months ago. In fact, I had no plans to even go to Greece anytime soon. But FlyScoot (which is an Airline, previously known as Tiger Airways) gifted me with free tickets and so there I was, perched on a mountaintop somewhere North of the Greek lands on a Tuesday evening. Talk about random.
But then again, this year has been all about random. I made a pledge during the New Year (which you can read here) to dedicate 2018 to just being spontaneous with minimal plans. Anything is possible, I told myself. And just like that, it seemed like everything around me began to conspire to make this resolution possible – I got free tickets to go anywhere I would like (which I will forever be thankful for!). If that’s not some kind of miracle, I don’t know what is, sugar.
Now, back to me sitting on top of the mountain at the monasteries.
During the hours of just sitting there watching the sun go down, I began to think about how I had no idea I was ever going to end up there. If you asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t have guessed that I would be there, in that specific circumstance of my life and in that exact state of mind. Some things were going well, and some things weren’t. And yet, despite the lack of idealistic perfection most of us like to dream our lives could be, I was happy.
I think one of my bigger struggles in life is to understand that life is a journey, and not a permanent residential stop. I mean, I understand it conceptually, but applying it is different altogether. This is why it gets hard for me to let go of people even when they have passed their dues, and why I get really melancholic when I reflect on passing time I’ll never get back. On moments like those on the mountain I would think about how sad it was that some things in my life are gone and only the memories will remain. And this will happen in the future too – our health, parents, beauty, friends, spouses… nothing lasts forever.
But I suppose what has changed is my acceptance of it. One of the biggest blessings of growing older is that you begin to understand that nothing is permanent in this life, and that the only change to the whole situation is how you embrace it.
Maybe happiness isn’t really about having things forever. Maybe happiness is about knowing what is there when you have it, and never taking advantage of these wonderful things, people, chances and experiences, while they last, before they are gone.