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.
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!
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.
How about a makeup-free, ootd-free picture at a local village? That kid though haha
The minute I ended my final year in high school, I started putting on makeup.
I had this vague idea of what beauty was at the time. It’s the gorgeous glossy hair, perfect glowing skin, slim body, upright posture, big doll eyes, put-together clothes, perky boobs and perfect teeth. I aspired to these things. They were all so beautiful to look at. That was more than 10 years ago.
Today I still aspire to these things. I won’t lie. Of course. I’m a woman living in an era where appearance speaks volumes, and physical beauty is and always will be an eternal obsession for us. As much as I say that I do all these things for health – the exercises, the healthy food, the rigorous skincare routines – there is still a level of vanity attached to them. But as much as these things are still prioritized, to a certain extent it no longer means as much as it did for me once upon a time ago.
Life, as it turns out, has subtly shaped my mind to alter my perception of beauty over the years of joyful, painful and liberating experiences. And so this is what beauty means to me today, at the age of 30.
Beauty is your eyes that never fails to light up against life’s dim realities. Beauty is the freckles you collected over all your many beautiful adventures in the sun. It is the smile you have on your face when a man tells you he adores you, and it’s the tears you shed when someone you love walks away. Beauty depicts itself through your pursed lips as you get up again when life brings you down. It is your crazy hair after a swim in the ocean, the runny eyeliner after a crazy sweaty day in the city.
Beauty is when you love someone/something sincerely, and even the eye bags when the same thing keeps you from sleeping. It shines the most when you have happy thoughts, when you choose to not resort to always have something bad to say about others. It’s that beam you have when you finally achieve your dreams, and the wrinkles that follow to mark the passage of time you’ve been through.
And then, beauty occurs in those moments – when you are laughing hysterically at life’s funny predicaments, when you cry in the car because sometimes you feel lost, the wide-eyed gaze you have when you witness something magnificent, and even the scars and bruises you have on your body of all that you have physically experienced. Beauty is having patience. Beauty is having faith.
Beauty, is kindness.
And so as I begin my next decade, I hope these realizations would arm me in defining my own beauty in the years to come. Yes, I still do Google ‘Megan Fox’ for some inspiration because come on, we're all human, but hopefully I would keep focusing as much energy to appreciate all those other things that make a person beautiful.
Me at 12 years old. Why don't I have eyebrows?
It’s bootsoverbooks.com’s birthday month! It has been 7 years (surreal), and it’s one of my great loves. Over the years it had given me sanity (it’s basically my unpaid therapist), and a lot of other people the delights of (hopefully) entertaining reads and laughing about topics that would otherwise be bummers in life.
As a little celebration, I’ve compiled my personal top 10 favorite entries over the years and I’ve explained why. You can click on the title to read the whole entry!
Here’s my biggest accomplishment for 2016; I learned how to replace my toilet seats.
Yes I did other things too. I learned how to do a yoga headstand unassisted, I climbed bloody Mount Rinjani (photograph), I lost all my ‘baby’ fat (my Mom lied, I was not cute at all and looked like blubber. But thanks Mom), I got a work promotion, I learned to make curry and I now know five extra Mandarin phrases (which includes “I’m tired”, and that is seriously important). But for more reasons than one, learning how to change toilet seats tops the list.
I learned how to change toilet seats because a guy taught me. And so of course it was no longer about just learning how to change toilet seats, and my 2016 becomes admittedly, undoubtedly and thematically about another person. And before you deduce this as a pining write up about what used to be, I will tell you why it is not and why this is important.
It is no secret that whether we like it or not, our lives are highly impacted by the people we meet along the way. I had always been a believer that you meet specific people at a specific time of your life to teach you specific lessons, and this one was no exception. And because most of my year had revolved around another singular person, I can’t possibly dissociate my personal development of 2016 from this story.
It was somewhat a chance meeting and the minute it happened I knew it was going to only get bigger. Each of us would probably have had that experience at least once in a lifetime, meeting someone that was rather unconventional than the usual but the gut feeling stayed and comfort kicks in anyway. It was the timing, too – I had just came out of a long exhausting dwindling road of a complicated relationship, and 2015 was mostly focused on my Dad being sick. In many ways I was bruised and battered, and in came a new being who turned my life around.
Through this relationship I had learned the big milestones. I had been so used to taking care of myself, and the aforementioned past relationship had given me severe trust and reliance issues. I slowly again learned that it was okay to let someone else take care of your sometimes, that it was not shameful to expose your weaknesses and vulnerabilities and to let others into your life even if you don’t think it is all that pretty to share. Most importantly, it is the self-elevation you get from the other person that must be truly valued. I did so many things I thought I was not able to do from sheer encouragement alone – from changing toilet seats to climbing Mount Rinjani and so many other things in between.
As I sat by myself in this last leg of 2016 with the empty slots that used to be his space, I measured the things I have learned this year and realised that I have all but forgotten to be grateful. People come and people leave, but while they were there I must have gratitude. A man can be sincere and kind and expect no return, and although I had trouble believing this before, I do now. I remember a distinct moment when I was watching him cook me a meal in the kitchen and I was wondering if that would last, if he would stay and if I was doomed. Alas, here we are.
2016 has been gracious. It was both happy and sad, but as always I learned most about myself in the presence of others. I achieved a lot of physical milestones but more importantly were the spiritual ones – I was brought to life again in many ways and believed a lot more. Knowing another soul will teach you more than any book will ever do, and this person who came from a different culture and background had opened my eyes to so much more, whether it was intentional or not. It is easy to be comfortable in life as you know it, but to step into something new, something different than what you had ever known will always be one of life’s greatest adventures.
So perhaps it is rather shameful to say that a year was mostly about a man. Perhaps. But perhaps the real shame lies in not recognising this gift, the lessons a person brings when they come along into our lives, adding values to change the way we see this life and the world even for just a little. And that for me is the biggest lesson 2016 has taught me.
One day, a long time ago, a friend of mine was assaulted and as I went to visit and asked her the details of the incident, I proceeded with my next question. “So was he Malay/Chinese/Indian?”
To which my friend answered, “Why? Why does it matter?”
Why does it matter?
This little scene in my life will then proceed to become one of those small occurrences that passed me by, unnoticed by my own self but undoubtedly making a huge impact on me later on. Perhaps I was only asking to help myself further visualise this human being that assaulted my friend. But perhaps, it was also my subconscious mind showing the effects of many years being exposed to direct or indirect projection of racial profiling within the community I grew up in. I would later learn that it is really quite simple – a reliable friend is a reliable friend, a criminal is a criminal and a good man is a good man. And you’re a silly person to think that these are all subject to skin colour or how they like their rice.
Many years ago I was on a college field work for two weeks, somewhere off the grid in the harsh outback of Australia. We were assigned to a partner for the whole two weeks, and mine was a tall gorgeous Australian girl, with lovely freckles and brown hair. I dreaded this at first because we rarely talked in class and it was impossible to imagine spending all that time with just this girl in the middle of nowhere, with just a map, packed sandwiches and rock samples. I’m sure she felt the same way too. There I was, an Asian girl with a hijab, a frame small enough that I could possibly be eaten by a kangaroo, and she probably saw some suicide bomber on CNN that looked like me. I mean, what can we possibly relate on?
You could probably guess how this story ends. I eventually learned, after days and miles trekking together, naps by the railway tracks, lunches under the trees, freezing wet and caught in a storm by the roadside and getting sunburned beyond repair, the simple fact of it all; we are not really that different. We tell each other stories about our lives, and amidst the cultural and religious differences, here is what I understood. We love our family the same, we both get broken hearted the same, we both share humour over the craziness that is life, we both had hopeful plans for the future, and most of all, we both just want a joyful, content life. I was just there for my degree credits but as usual, life sneakily decided to teach me other things as well.
Over the years I would meet people and experience the unfortunate discomfort of being racially profiled, because of the way I look or the way I dress. Such is the reality of the current world we live in. We often fear or hate things we don’t understand. On rare occasions I even find myself slanting towards this attitude, and immediately tell myself off. Such is the reality of a flawed human being sometimes.
But then, occasionally you come across wonderful revolutionary people who understands the emphasis of character beyond what is physical. These people become friends, loved partners, trusted colleagues, even family. They would remind you that by the end of the day it is the connection, the meaningful relationships, the shared life aspirations and the happiness we bring to each other’s lives that would actually count. Those are the things we’ll reminisce when we’re eighty and watching the sunset from the balcony of our beach house (oh God I want a beach house).
Happy Ramadhan to those celebrating.
In about one week I’ll turn twenty-five.
Twenty five. 25.
I don’t think I deserve to be 25 at all. In my mind I am still a big fat baby. When I was in high school I looked at my twenty-something year old relatives and thought that they were such grown adults who seemed to know exactly where their lives are headed and what they wanted to do. I sit in my room right now, in a rented apartment, and I think about that night I sat in bed and wrote resolutions on what I will accomplish as I turned 24. That was a year ago? Wow.
What’s different since a year ago? Well some things remain the same, like my obsession with Coldplay, my thoughts on flat shoes (shouldn’t be worn in broad daylight) and my fondness for movies and my love for my family and friends. I still like Harry Potter books, I still love cooking and I still would like to go to Iceland.
But in a year, so many things have been so different. I travelled more. I backpacked across Vietnam with a bunch of amazing people, and saw so many amazing things. I swam for the first time with turtles and sharks. I finally got involved with charity instead of just talking about it, and I loved the feeling that I am actually making an effort in trying to make a difference in the world. I discovered a new dimension with my family, from which I learned that the true essence of being a family is being able to pull through the bad times together and come out of it with more love for each other. After all, what is life if it is not with a family? Subsequently, this has also taught me a thing or two about men and relationships. It's not just about being consumed with the idea of finding a guy, any guy. It's about Mr Right, not Mr. Right Now (but of course, if they both happen to be the same guy, well then more power to you LOL).
My twenty-fourth year has also showed a phase change – everyone seemed to be getting married and making babies! To tell you the truth, I was a bit taken aback by all these changes, and frankly a little pressured at first (especially at weddings. Why won't these aunties give me a break??), but with time I have learned that everyone has their own timing for everything that happens in their lives. There is no point comparing your life to others because they are never even for a second similar. We don't have the same time graph. Birth, death, wealth, hardships, we all have our own schedules for that. Everybody has a calling in life, and thus nobody should be judging anybody else about how their lives have turned out.
Some things remained the same, and some things have changed, but some other things seem to still be in progress. I am still in the process of figuring out my path. Some days I look around and it seems like everyone knows exactly what they’re doing, and I am still pretty clueless. I am still planning my travels for the next few years – hopefully I’ll get to see the world a little bit more. I am still learning the curves of financial planning. I am still trying to become a better Muslim. I am still very excited about what life has in store for me. I hope I get to live my dreams and take my family along with me for a great many years, and grow old happily, spending my days on my front porch with a view together with my husband, sitting around laughing with my high school girlfriends like we always do, going for weekend trips with my bunch of friends, doing something I absolutely love for a living, having firm feet on the ground on my faith and religious beliefs, joining charities and changing the world.
And of course, I hope I'll eventually have a really nice record player with all Coldplay songs on it.