When I think about how my life has progressed from exactly one year ago today, I am immediately in awe of how a year can change so much and put you in an entirely different lithosphere. On this very date last year, or to be exact, on the 12th October 2016, I found myself in the middle of a Malaysian jungle doing one of the things I love most – geology outdoors under the sunshine surrounded by beautiful, virgin greens. When I was a child I would watch National Geographic and daydream about becoming a research scientist (or a bug scientist, to be exact. What a nerd.) exploring the wild. Now, in a way, I was doing exactly that.
But the thing that you couldn’t see through all my exciting pictures in four-wheel drives and adventurous mud-scraped knees was that about a few days before that, on the 3rd October 2016, somebody that was extremely dear to me, and I, had decided to part ways. And so it was a strange paradox, as I found myself standing in a elephant's footprint in the middle of nowhere with the sounds of the wild wailing through the forest, literally living a childhood fantasy, while also experiencing what was easily my saddest point that year.
Today, on the 12th October 2017.
I had finally had some time to process the whirlwind of the past month. Last week, today, one of the most important events in my life (only second after discovering the banana-peanut butter combo) happened. I had a book published. I had always loved writing. I wrote when I was a child because it allowed me to live a bigger life in my own mind. I was just a normal kampung girl from the North, but when I wrote I was the girl who joined the circus or did magic or travelled while eating cheese (cheese seems to be a lifelong obsession as you can see). I wrote as an adult because it helped me cope with my anxiety – when I struggled with some things in life or felt overwhelmed by my own mind, writing is one of the only few things that can calm me down.
Today I saw my book on a bookshelf near Aziz Ansari's book (that hilarious guy from Parks and Recreation).
Again, it was a strange paradox. Aside from the fact that the past month had been supremely stressful both personally and professionally, I was also experiencing one of my most intense bout of anxiety. You see, the book I wrote wasn’t just a book for me. It was two years of literary therapy, and like any therapy it was also excruciating as it is a relief. The idea of sharing a story I am so emotionally attached to, free for anyone to consume and judge, was terrifying. I had trouble sleeping just thinking about if it was all a big mistake or the work was even good enough, or if it was going to be misinterpreted into something it's not, etc etc.
But when we launched the book I was surrounded by family and friends, those who had seen me through awful moments and good ones such as this. It reminded me how lucky I am to have them. I have had them all my life but sometimes, when things get hard, I forget how lucky I am to have an amazing support system.
The book launch wasn’t amazing to me because I published a book. The book launch was amazing to me because it woke me up to realise that all my life, I had never been alone and I was always loved and supported.
Notice that there is a pattern to both of the stories from today, and that story from exactly a year ago.
Sometimes, when life throws its occasional curve ball and cause us hardships, it is easy to be consumed by it. It’s human nature after all. Sadness or negativity is always a lot more intense and stubborn compared to happiness. But if you scrutinise your situation of upset closely, you will realise that there is always, always, always something to still be grateful for. There is rarely a time when there is absolutely nothing to be thankful of.
It’s one of those things that make life such an amazing experience. In every kind of hardship there is always some kind of ease attached if you find it. I think it is deliberately designed that way so that we will always have a choice on how we view things, whether to be absorbed by the challenges or to find something positive in all of them.
Life. It’s a rather well thought out little mystery, isn’t it?
PS: And not to forget some avid readers I met at the launch. So nice to meet interesting people!
A deer's footprint inside an elephant's footprint, probably during their joint feeding frenzy. Picture taken this time last year.
In the wake of my father’s recent triple bypass surgery, I was surprised to find that it brought a myriad of wonderment. One was while I was torturously waiting for his surgery to end, sitting in the waiting area of the ICU, the cold metal chairs doing nothing to comfort me. At a desperate attempt to distract myself from the 5-hour wait, I started eavesdropping to other people’s conversations, those who were sitting around me also waiting for their loved ones.
There was an elderly lady, sat on a wheelchair and chatting up to another stranger. She told the stranger that she was waiting for her husband, who was in a critical condition following a recently diagnosed lung-cancer. She had been sitting there for the past few days. She didn’t want to leave in case her husband needed her. She was 70-something years old. They had been happily married since she was 16.
Is there such a thing as a happy marriage that could last that long?
My personal answer to that is hugely dependant on what is happening around me at that point of time. At this phase of my lives, I am cornered by a variety of stories from a variety of married people I know – family, friends and colleagues. Gone were the days where my newlywed friends were thoroughly excited with the prospect of just gotten married. There are less selfies wish the hashtag "#happycouple" (Thank God). They are now phasing out of the honeymoon years, and with that came the hard slap of reality.
Some were starting to realise that it takes a lot more work than they anticipated.
Some were even more sadly, ending in divorce.
Some were just downright unhappy, but is probably going to settle for just that for a very long time.
But then there are also the ones with a pretty great thing going on. For some friends I know, getting married seemed like the best thing they could've ever done for themselves. My parents, for example, have been married from almost 30 years and I don’t think they could live a day without each other. And how about this elderly lady in her wheelchair in the ICU?
Unfortunately for me, what supersedes my fear of being alone is my fear of being in an unhappy marriage. It is therefore that I often ask myself – is it worth the trouble of risking it to see if such a thing as a long, happy marriage does exist?
Eventually, as I concluded my thoughts about it, I figured that the answer might be this; like everything else in life, anything is possible. A good long marriage is possible, and a bad long marriage is also possible. And like everything else in life, the resultant is highly dependent on our actions towards it. Perhaps all we need to find is a little bit of faith and little bit more bravery.
When I see a Facebook relationship status that says ‘It’s Complicated’, I scoff.
It’s because I don’t think a relationship can get any more complex than one that is of a family tie. If there is one thing I do not like about growing up, it is that as you grow older, the relationships you have had since you were a kid tend to grow too, usually into something even more complicated. I once had a conversation with a middle-aged woman, who told me this – “Kids, when they’re young, you’re physically exhausted from looking out for them. When they grow up, you’re emotionally exhausted. Given a choice, I would pick the former every time.”
A family can be either a blessing or a test. Sometimes, they’re both. But either way, it’s a good thing. Loving a sibling, for example, is the strangest thing. You would kill them but you will also probably kill for them. There are days and situations no one else would understand except for your own family. Similarly, in most cases they are the last ones to leave, if ever at all, when things go bad. But unlike spouses, or friends, you don’t get the luxury of picking who gets to be your parents or your sister or your brother. What you end up with sometimes are people who you love but are also the complete contrary to who you are or what you like. You either love or hate a boy, but with a family it teaches you these things; that it is possible to love so damn much and dislike at the same time, there is such thing as having hope while being disappointed, and feelings don’t get as genuine as wanting somebody in your family to have the best that life can offer.
These things act as great training ground for when you go out into the world. With other people, you can choose who you keep. But families, especially ones where everybody has grown with different personalities and motivations, will train you to accept. Not everybody fits into your small little box of ‘required’ lists, but you learn to accept them all the same. The patience to be a companion through life even if you don’t see eye to eye on things. The obligation to push your way out of anger and help because of this connection you’re blessed with. The understanding that it is no coincidence that this person is your brother and that person is your aunt, and that everything was part of a meticulous plan to teach us, show us, something.
When I was younger I had friends whose families went through a great deal – divorces, fathers having affairs, disabled siblings, early deaths. I used to watch them and thought to myself that I was lucky to have such a perfect family. As I grow older, I realised that there is no such thing as a perfect family. A perfect family requires perfect people, and newsflash; nobody is perfect. Later I came to an even bigger realisation. It is never meant to be perfect anyway. In fact, it is one of the great big tests in life, and how you tend to these relationships will determine whether they will be your saviour, or your curse.
I’ve always found myself attracted to people and things that I feel understood me. I like certain kinds of music and certain kinds of books, and I like talking to certain people who sees the world in a certain kind of way. I guess I am doing what everyone else is doing too – we strive to be understood.
Essentially this is what everybody wants for themselves. A black sheep of a family is called a black sheep because nobody else understands what it is like to be him or her. You find soul mates because you have ‘chemistry’, and ‘chemistry’ is for me, just a fancy word for two people who get each other despite the differences. We value friends who we feel have the ‘same wavelength’ with us. Musicians write music and thinkers write books, all for this very same reason.
The older I get, the harder it is for me to feel like I am understood. In school we all wear the same uniform, in college we all want to graduate. But once real life begins, everybody disperses in a million different directions, with our own goals and outlooks in life. Some of us want to achieve a certain career goal and off they go, with their weekend work ethics and million-dollar aim. Some of us just want to get married as quickly possible and off they go, having ten kids before they’re thirty five. Some of us just want to leave home and travel the world, and off they go with their postcard-perfect pictures. Some of us find the life questions a bit too baffling and we take our own sweet time to figure them out, until we’re ready to get to the next phase, whenever that may be.
Unfortunately we live in a community where instead of being understood, we are forced to understand and comply with a set of rules, set by the common community. If you dream too big your feet won’t touch the ground. If you’re bad at maths, you’re probably stupid as a whole. If you don’t have it all figured out by a certain age, then you’re wasting your life away. If you see the world and life differently, then you’re wrong. We keep listening to these sentiments all the time, and yet it never occurred to us that if we’re all meant to think and feel and want the same, wouldn’t we be made as robots instead of people with independent thoughts?
I used to panic whenever I find myself not quite on everyone else’s timeline, or not really understanding things that other people seem to have already figured out. I felt like in my position, predicament and troubles, nobody understood me. Then I realized that if I wanted a solution, I would have to be a part of it. So instead of demanding people to understand me, I tried to understand other people first (it’s not easy though. People are complicated, I’ve come to realize). Their problems. Their life goals. They way they look at life. If I understood people, maybe, I’ll get the favor returned.
Sometimes before I go to sleep I will randomly remember things I have done in the past that are so outrageous and I would cover my face with a pillow and wish I could punch those memories out of me. A worse case would be if I have pictures to remember them by. Like becoming my Mother’s fashion victim in the 90s, where she would dress me up in suspensions or a scarf with mismatched shorts, and how about those God-awful haircuts? I accidentally cut the tip of my sister’s finger off during a bicycle accident. I almost killed my baby brother because I was experimenting whether he would float if I place him in a filled bathtub. I ate weird seeds because my playground friends told me they were ‘magic fruits’. Then there was a phase where I thought I looked good dressing up like a boy throughout high school, and I let my Dad pick out my shirts. I strutted around with extra large shirts which I thought looked fly and flashed my horribly cut mom jeans.
And if that wasn’t enough, there’s the prom. Oh dear Lord the prom. I can’t believe I walked on stage in that Tarzan dress! I vividly remember that in that moment, I thought that the only way I could look even better was if I paired that dress that made me look like Tarzan’s wife with some blue and green eyeshadow, orange blusher and coral lipstick. And thick glasses. And sang some dodgy S club 7 song onstage. And my Dad thought I looked fabulous. God bless him.
Then there was college, where I did even more dumb things. My roommate and I decided to take pictures of ourselves posing around the house, with terrible hair braids and spotty makeup. We looked like the hippy chicks who got locked up in a makeup drawer. Then I went to field trips where we didn’t get to shower very much for weeks, so in all those pictures, I looked like I just got out of jail. I also spent money I didn’t have on a shirt that was also worn by Paris Hilton (what was I thinking? Who wants to dress like Paris Hilton??). I went swimming in the sea at 3 in the morning, which my parents would’ve killed me if they ever find out. I stalked a guy because I thought that was the correct thing to do if I wanted to make him notice me.
When I tell these stories to my friends at the office, they are amused because they think that my life is filled with ‘Oh God Why’ moments. But the truth is, I think we all experience those things growing up. You either choose to embrace them and laugh them off or you could cover your own face with a pillow. Either way, it’s pretty important to know that if it weren’t for those things, you wouldn’t be the way you are now. At least for me, I now know that babies don’t float and you should probably try to not get fashion advice from your Dad who wears only brown-colored shirts.
My brother, center, who became the object of my 'floating baby experiment'.
My mother's legendary suspenders in action.
My parents' house - the front lawn. Great place to hang out in the evenings.
My parents circa 1998.
Yesterday I spent the whole evening sitting in my parents’ front lawn watching them do some gardening. It was a cloudy evening and my parents loved gardening during the holidays, especially when the kids are around and they could brag about their latest plant addition.
On this particular evening I noticed something. They have aged . I had been too busy growing up for the past 24 years that I forgot to see that they have grown older too. My dad used to be thinner and more sinewy, now he has a belly and tired wrinkles around his eyes. I used to always admire my mom’s hands. She had long skinny fingers and elegant elongated nails. Now they looked different.
No matter how old I get, or how much money I’m making at work, or what kind of hard time I was going through, something remains the same. At that particular evening as I sat there in my parents’ lawn, being in their presence, I realized that I have never felt safer. Everything always feels better when you’re home. Life can be a real shit bag sometimes, but when you’re around people who loves you the most, you know it’ll all be alright. It’s true, you know. My mom pointed out that if you want to find a man, find one who makes you feel safe as much as your parents do. Now that is a hard task.
Sure, I’ve had my fair share of the teen-rebellion phase. But over time I have realized that the key to understand them is that parents are just like us, only older. They were once like me and you. Imperfect, but with good intentions. The only difference between us and them is that they’d have given everything to make sure we’re okay. How much are we willing to do for them?
Fishing with the clan at the small creek behind our house. Mom and Dad already exhausted and somehwere beneath the trees.
When you’re 23 and living it you would usually have three strings that are tied to your waist and pulling you from different directions; work, social events and relationship drama. And at these moments when everything gets a little too much that you feel overwhelmed and start eating ice cream from the tub, you’ll stop yourself short and begin to think, ‘how the hell did I end up here?’
I say a quick fix would be to eat good food with a really good friend, but if you’re looking for an even better luxury, you should go – and no, I’m not about to say go for a holiday in the Capri Islands – home. ‘Home’, is probably the second best word after ‘love’. Sometimes life seems to grab you by the hair and drag you along everywhere, but all you should always do is just get up, dust yourself, and just go home.
Home might mean differently to other people. For some it might mean going to a loved partner, going to a loved mall, or even going back to your singleton apartment with a pet. But for me home is 250 km away from Kuala Lumpur where my parents live. Where before it all began, it was just me, Mom and Dad and my three other siblings. I define ‘home’ as a place that never changes even when the world does.
Never mind the fact that some of us don’t get along with their parents, some of us only have single parents or some of us only have brother and sisters left to remember their parents by. But the blissful truth is that your family – they were the ones who love you first even before anyone else had the chance to fall in love with you. It’s funny how in your present life you spend so much time running around the city trying to make a boy fall in love with you, or trying to impress friends, and you forget that you have a string of people who already loves you on the first day you arrived into the world.
So everything screws up, and things are piling up in load of shit, just go back. Go back home.