Monday, December 28, 2015

The Writing Challenge: Post 1

Oh boy, this is harder than it sounds. My New Year resolution is to start a writing habit. I will wake up at 6 am every Tuesday to write at least 250 words. As a start, I committed to only do this for the next four Tuesdays.

Today is the first Tuesday. Although I knew that I had to wake up earlier today, I still slept pretty late yesterday. I know, I know. Curse my lack of discipline! To compound the issue, my 3-year old boy woke up in the middle of the night asking for Mama. So of course I had a problem waking up early this morning.

So as the alarm started ringing at 5:45 am, it was with Herculean efforts that I managed to wake up. By the time I woke up, it was 6:45 am! That leaves me only 15 minutes to write! ‘Cos by 7 am I need to get ready for the day, so that I can call my kids up to get ready for their day by 7:30 am.

Just as I was ready to write… my little boy woke up again! This time to ask for milk. Why oh why is it so hard to even ask for a little time to do this!

So I made milk for him and scrambled to start writing on my laptop. Thankfully I only made a commitment to write 250 words every week. So I am now at at 243th word. It is still going to be a success!

Lessons learnt from this episode:

  • Have the discipline to sleep early if you need to wake up early
  • Be prepared for anything that can happen
  • Start small! By committing to only write 250 words a week, I managed to create a success for myself! Small successes will sustain me to the next successes. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Resolution for 2016: Get into a writing habit

Good morning! Today, I woke up at 8am in the morning with one clear thought in my mind. I will get into a writing habit in 2016.

I have a “love-hate” relationship with writing. On one hand, I love words, and I really love books. I have fantasized about being a writer or a blogger so many times. Yet, on the other hand, when it comes down to really writing something consistently for a long time, I flounder. I have started and stopped blogging for so many times now. The usual excuses – I do not know what to blog about, I do not have enough time, I don’t know why I am doing this in the first place.

For 2016, I will try my best to ignore all these confusing signals in my brain, and just focus on writing. Focus on one topic at one time, and just concentrate on getting at least one coherent post out at one time. 

I have a specific goal. Every Tuesday, I will be at my computer at 6 am to bang out at least a 250-word article. It can be on any topic at all. The focus is on developing a habit. As for why only once a week, and why only a 250 word article, I am trying to start small. I am trying to show to myself that I can do it. So if I can achieve this goal consistently for at least a month, I will celebrate. I will buy myself a little treat.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Go Travel!

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” This is a quote from Saint Augustine that I find to be really true.

I love travelling. I really do. I am addicted to it. I go for a trip, and no sooner after that, I start planning for the next one. I keep some of my trip photos on my handphone, and every now and then, I will take them out to savour them. I find myself day-dreaming about my holidays once in a while too.

When you travel, you appreciate how stunningly beautiful the world really is. There are so many beautiful sights in the world, just waiting for you to discover them.

One of the most beautiful places on Earth that I have been to is Hawaii. I went there during my honeymoon. When we were there, we visited this snorkeling bay – I forgot its name. But I still remember that it was a bit hidden from sight, so we had to look for it a while. When we turned the corner, we suddenly saw it from a high vantage point. The water was glorious, with shades of blue and green, twinkling under the sunlight. The bay was a perfect half-moon shape, nested among the mountains. It painted such a marvelous picture. It was really Mother’s Nature at her very best.

Travelling is also about spending time with your friends and family, creating beautiful and fun memories together.

When I was young and single, I travelled mostly with friends. Nowadays, I travel more with my family. Sometimes, it can be just my husband and my two kids. But sometimes, we will travel with my extended family, including my parents, my brother and sister, and their kids.

Recently, we just came back from a marvelous trip Down Under, to beautiful Melbourne. There were 8 adults and 5 small children in our trip. We rented two vans, and went on a self-drive tour to the Great Ocean Road.

The kids all wanted to sit together in one van. So we let them do that, with two more adults accompanying them (excluding the driver). We took turns to be the accompanying adults.

When it came to my turn, with so many little children in the van, and going on a driving trip that take hours to reach the next destination, I thought that things would be simply chaotic. I armed myself with sweets and chocolates to distract the kids if they start throwing tantrums.

To my surprise, we had such a fun time in the van! The kids invented this show called the “Cloudy Show”, with one of their soft toys as the central character. And then they took turns role-playing “Cloudy”, saying a lot of nonsensical and hilarious things. When I think back, this remains one of the funniest memories of this trip.

Of course, one of the best things about travelling is that it gives you an escape from your day-to-day lives. Everyday, we have to manage many timelines, and stakeholders. Our to-do list keeps getting longer and longer. We have to multi-task in so many different things that we feel like an eight-legged octopus. Unknowingly, the pressure adds up, and we feel like rice being slowly cooked in a rice cooker.

Travelling is like a big escape from this pressure cooker. And the best part of it is, just planning for a trip brings a lot of joy. Studies have shown that actively anticipating a vacation can deliver doses of pleasure before the trip itself.

And what about the actual you feel when you are on the trip? When I travel, I am usually in the most joyous “holiday mood”. Even the most ordinary things can become unusually fun and exciting.

For example, on my recent Melbourne trip, we had a bit of time in between our planned itineraries, so we made a pit stop at a beach. The beach that we stopped at was “so-so”, not as beautiful as the ones in Thailand or Indonesia. The weather was cold by Singapore standard – it was Spring time in Melbourne, about 10 – 15 degrees. It was an impromptu pit stop, so we were not in attires suitable for beach play. So the conditions for enjoying the beach were not there.

But all of us – from the old to the young – were in a joyous holiday mood. The young ones led the way. They picked up little stones that they found on the beach, and started to throw them into the water. As far out as their little arms can throw. The adults started to follow. We then stood at the edge of the beach, waiting for the waves, and sprinted away just as the waves were about to hit our feet.

We had such a wonderful time at the beach. It would not be possible if all of us had not been in this mood of having fun. On an ordinary day, the “mum” in me may be nagging at the kids for getting their hands dirty, or accidentally making their clothes wet. But when I am on a holiday, I become more relaxed about things like that. How I wish I can bring this “holiday mentality” back to my day to day lives so that I can be more relaxed and joyous all the time.

So in a nutshell, I really love to travel, and I would urge all of you to go travelling as well. It is really a wonderful activity that can bring the people that you love closer together, and you can create such great memories together. As research has increasingly shown, experiences bring people much more happiness than do possessions. So the next time you have the urge to buy something, don’t. Instead, save up the money for your next holiday trip. It will give you something great to look forward to, and you will have a wonderful time on your vacation.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chase the Rainbows or Smell the Roses? It's your choice

“The future is yours to make. Chase the rainbow. Go for it.”

This was a caption that went with a beautiful picture. Someone had sent Prime Minister Lee a picture of the Gardens by the bay - two domes and a spectacular rainbow arching over them. He posted the picture on his social media. On facebook, he got 55,000 likes, on Instagram, 10,000 likes.

I read this anecdote in Straits Times last month, during the election fever. It was one of those election sound bites, but it struck a chord with me.

Many of us are at the age where we are chasing rainbows now. Some of us left our home countries and are now in a foreign land, chasing for a better future. Some of us are chasing after the next promotion, or our dream job.

There is nothing wrong with chasing after your dreams. However, all this “chasing” leaves me a bit breathless at times. I think we need to strike a balance. We can chase our dreams with all our strength and energy, but we should also take the time to smell the roses on the way.

At this point I would like to share two distinctly different stories. The first is about a bull, and the second is about a fisherman.

There was a bull called Ferdinand, who would rather smell the flowers than fight in bullfights.

When he was young, he did not enjoy butting heads with other young bulls. He would rather just lie under a tree smelling the flowers.

Ironically, when the calves grew up, Ferdinand turned out to be the largest and strongest of the young bulls.

All the other bulls dream of being chosen to compete in the bull fight in Madrid, but Ferdinand still prefers smelling the flowers to fighting. 

One day, Ferdinand was stung by a bee. He ran wildly across the field, snorting and stamping. Some men saw the bull, and felt that he had great potential as a fighting bull. They renamed him Ferdinand the Fierce and took him away to Madrid.

All the beautiful ladies turned out to see Ferdinand the Fierce fight. When Ferdinand was led into the ring, he saw the flowers in the ladies hair. Instead of fighting, he lay down in the ring, and smelt the flowers.

What does this story tell us? Ferdinand had lots of potential as a fighting bull, but he chose to lead an easy life. He was contented with just lazing around all day, smelling flowers.  

What a wasted life! You may say. Or is it really?

Let me tell you a different story now about a Fisherman.
There was a MBA graduate who went vacationing by the beach. One day, he met a Fisherman who just came back from his fishing trip. The Fisherman was lazing by the beach, enjoying a leisurely morning.

The MBA graduate saw that the Fisherman had a basket full of yellow tuna.

“What a great catch!” the MBA graduate said. “How long did it take you to catch it?”

“Oh, only a few hours.” The Fisherman said.

“Why didn’t you stay out longer?” the MBA graduate asked.

“I have enough.” The Fisherman said simply.

The MBA graduate scoffed. “Why, if I were you, I would stay out longer, and get more fish. I will then sell the fish, and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. Eventually, I will be able to buy a fleet of fishing boats. I will then expand my business until I can open a factory selling canned tuna. I will move to the city and run my expanding enterprise.”

The Fisherman asked, “How long will this take?”

The MBA replied, “10-20 years”.

“But what then?” asked the Fisherman.

The MBA graduate laughed. “Why, by then you will have millions. You will be able to sell your factory and retire early. You can then buy a home by the seaside, and laze around the beach the whole day.”

I have just told you two distinctly different stories. If you put the two stories side by side, what do they tell us?

Chasing the rainbows is well and good. But sometimes we have to remember what we are chasing after.

I must confess that in real life, I am more like the MBA graduate than the Fisherman. 

I feel that there is nothing wrong with being the MBA graduate. When we are young and still have a lot of energy, we should chase after our dreams, and achieve the best that we can achieve in life. But at the same time, I feel that there is great merit in remembering the Fisherman story. Sometimes, the more we get the more we want. So we end up in this never-ending chase for success.

The key to all this is balance. Chase the rainbow, but remember to smell the roses on the way. Enjoy yourself while you strive for your best! As the saying goes, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

At the end of the day, we all make our own choices. If you want, you can be Ferdinand the Bull, or the Fisherman. Take each day as it comes. Be more with less. Or, you can be like the MBA graduate, and take the advice of Prime Minister Lee. Chase after your dreams with all your energy.

Chase the Rainbow or smell the roses all day? It’s your choice. Just remember to choose wisely, and strike a balance between the two.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How have you been?

Good morning, blog!

It has been quite some time since I blogged. I have been busy. Extremely busy.

I have taken on a new commitment. As we all know, we only have 24 hours in a day. With this new commitment, which is already supposed to be less rigid in its demands on my time, I find myself even more time-stretched than before.

I suppose that’s a good thing. I find that sometimes having less of something makes you value it more. The less I have of time, the more I value it. It is like a patient with terminal cancer. If the doctor says you only have one year left to live, you will value time and your life like nothing before.

So nowadays I find myself allocating my 24 hours very carefully.

Someone once said that time is like a rubber band. It is elastic. If you really want to do something, you can squeeze out some time to do so. So it is more important to know what you want to do, than whether you have the time to do it.

For me, I wish I have more time to blog on a regular basis, while keeping up with my other commitments.

In the meantime, do put up with my irregular blogging for now!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Exploring Punggol on Two Wheels: A Perfect Birthday!

For my birthday this year, I mooted the idea of exploring a part of Singapore we are unfamiliar with on two wheels to my husband. 

With an ever expanding interlinks of park connectorsSingapore is fast transforming into a city that is really accessible by bikes. The only drawback is the weather, which is hot and humid. Still, there is much to be enjoyed by the amateur biker if you choose the right time and place to go. 

For our first adventure on two wheels, we chose a very simple route to tackle: The scenic Punggol Waterway and the roads surrounding it.

We started our route from The Punggol Settlement. This is the go-to place for foodies, with its crop of restaurants overlooking the sea. There are now only two bike shops in the area, at both ends of the Punggol Settlement. However, the bikes they offer are in tip-top condition, probably because most of them are relatively new. 

Punggol is a housing estate in the north-eastern part of Singapore. It is a relatively new town that was set up as part of this plan by the Gah-men to de-congest the older housing estates such as Ang Mo Kio, Toa Payoh or Bedok. To incentivize Singaporeans to move to this new town, the government put in much thought and effort into the planning and development of this estate.

Punggol Waterway refers to the man-made water canal that runs through the heart of the estate. It actually connects up two reservoirs at its ends. Along the waterway, there are cycling paths that offer serene and scenic views, along with nice touches such as beautiful bridges and resting points. 

There is something incredibly nice about exploring unknown places on two wheels. The cool breeze on our faces, the feel of the wheels smoothly gliding along the road, and the companionship of my loved one all makes for one great experience. Add to that the scenery before our eyes, and it really makes for a perfect day.

While cycling, we also had time to admire the new town that is literally being built before our eyes. We marvelled at how Singapore is fast changing and becoming more beautiful by the day. We gaped at how gorgeous HDBs are becoming! It is truly waterfront living at the fraction of the price that people in other countries will pay. 

After two to three hours of biking around Punggol, we decided to call it a day. We wound back at Punggol Settlement, returned our bikes, and proceeded to a nice restaurant to have our dinner.

All in all, a perfect birthday! Kudos to my hubby, who is always the one with the great implementation, while I come up with the funky ideas. We make a perfect team! :)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Stumbling upon myself on the internet

The other day, while randomly surfing the internet, I stumbled accidentally on myself.

To be more accurate, I stumbled on an old blog that I created in 2011. It was a mummy’s blog that I created just before my first pregnancy.

Wow, did it bring back memories!

I read about my hubby and I going for a “babymoon” before our baby popped, my delight at starting my four months maternity leave, and funny moments like the time that my baby pooped on me when I was trying to bathe her.

It sure feels good to go back in time and read about all those significant moments!

It is times like this that I feel torned. Blogging is a great way to pen down your memories. Although I journal in notebooks sometimes, I find that I tend to not write very coherently. Only when I sit down properly in front of a laptop do I write in a more disciplined manner. In this way, I get to properly put more my memories down in words.

However, at the same time, I am still very conscious that this is a public domain. Should I be writing so much about myself in a blog?

Haha, I suppose that is the age-old question that bloggers all over the world struggle with.

Do you have a blog? If so, do you struggle with this issue? How do you deal with it?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Connie Talbot: Still Chasing the Rainbow

Do you remember Connie Talbot? 

She was the gap-toothed 6 year old kid who melted hearts when she sang the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow in front of Simon Cowell in Britain’s Got Talent. That was in the year 2007.

Recently, I went on a road trip to Malaysia. My sister lent me some CDs to entertain us on the long journey. One of the CDs was the album Over the Rainbow which Connie Talbot produced after the show.

Not having listened to Connie Talbot for well over 8 years, I was blown over by her singing. I showed the album cover to my kids and explained that this little girl who sang so well who was just a few years older than them (then). They were really impressed, and asked me to play this same CD over and over again during the trip.

After returning from our journey, I was curious what happened to Connie Talbot 8 years later. Is she still singing? Did she grow up to become a very different girl?

So, I went to google her.

This is what I found.

She was all grown up and so beautiful. The wonderful thing is she was still singing and producing albums. In fact, she has attracted over a billion views on her Youtube channel.

What was amazing was that she mentioned in interviews that life has not changed so much for her after she became famous. She seems to have extremely good family support in terms of helping her achieve her dreams. Her first album was produced in her Aunt’s home. Till today, she has no management company, and her mum and dad help her manage her bookings.

Way to go, Connie! You are an inspiration to all those who are striving to achieve their dreams.

I believe that success means 1% talent and 99% hard work. While talent gives you a head start in life, it is your attitude which ultimately determines if you will succeed or not. More importantly, we should all have fun and laughter while chasing the rainbow of our dreams.

Connie's performance during Britain's Got Talent in 2007

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Respect for Sheryl Sandberg: Resilience in the Face of Loss

I have not read the book Lean In. However, due to the popularity of the book, I kind of knew what it talked about. It was written by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook who seems to have it all - a great job, a super supportive husband and a loving family.

One month ago, Sheryl Sandberg’s husband died in a freak gym accident. He was only 47.

Can you imagine how the world changed for Sandberg?

In the book Lean In, Sandberg attributed much of her own success to having a partner that was willing to share her load. He was her equal 50-50 partner in every way.

Imagine in one sudden swipe, Life totally erased this man from the face of the earth. If I were Sheryl, I would have been devastated.

However, Sheryl has displayed her strength and tenacity in the face of sorrow. She has revealed her anguish and grief, and how she has been coping with death, in a series of personal Facebook posts.

“Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the s*** of Option B.”

This was how she put it in one part of her post.

I have only one word for Sheryl – Respect.

Respect for how she openly shared her grief to the world, and by doing so, revealed herself in all her vulnerability. Respect for how she is coping with the “new normal”, and how, in the face of it all, she can still feel so much gratitude and love. Respect for her attitude, where she can face up to the brutal reality and declare to the world that she will “kick the s***” out of it.

While we learn from how she deals with the tragedy, it also brings to mind that we should appreciate what we take for granted every day. Appreciate your husband and your loved ones. Spend time with them. And make the most of each day that you spend with them.

Here is her honest facebook post to mark the 30 days of her beloved husband’s death. 

Today is the end of sheloshim for my beloved husband—the first thirty days. Judaism calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.

A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do.

I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well.

But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.

And this is why I am writing: to mark the end of sheloshim and to give back some of what others have given to me. While the experience of grief is profoundly personal, the bravery of those who have shared their own experiences has helped pull me through. Some who opened their hearts were my closest friends. Others were total strangers who have shared wisdom and advice publicly. So I am sharing what I have learned in the hope that it helps someone else. In the hope that there can be some meaning from this tragedy.

I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.

I have gained a more profound understanding of what it is to be a mother, both through the depth of the agony I feel when my children scream and cry and from the connection my mother has to my pain. She has tried to fill the empty space in my bed, holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep. She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine. She has explained to me that the anguish I am feeling is both my own and my children’s, and I understood that she was right as I saw the pain in her own eyes.

I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was “It is going to be okay.” That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, “You and your children will find happiness again,” my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good” comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?” When I am asked “How are you?” I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear “How are you today?” I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

I have learned some practical stuff that matters. Although we now know that Dave died immediately, I didn’t know that in the ambulance. The trip to the hospital was unbearably slow. I still hate every car that did not move to the side, every person who cared more about arriving at their destination a few minutes earlier than making room for us to pass. I have noticed this while driving in many countries and cities. Let’s all move out of the way. Someone’s parent or partner or child might depend on it.

I have learned how ephemeral everything can feel—and maybe everything is. That whatever rug you are standing on can be pulled right out from under you with absolutely no warning. In the last thirty days, I have heard from too many women who lost a spouse and then had multiple rugs pulled out from under them. Some lack support networks and struggle alone as they face emotional distress and financial insecurity. It seems so wrong to me that we abandon these women and their families when they are in greatest need.

I have learned to ask for help—and I have learned how much help I need. Until now, I have been the older sister, the COO, the doer and the planner. I did not plan this, and when it happened, I was not capable of doing much of anything. Those closest to me took over. They planned. They arranged. They told me where to sit and reminded me to eat. They are still doing so much to support me and my children.

I have learned that resilience can be learned. Adam M. Grant taught me that three things are critical to resilience and that I can work on all three. Personalization—realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word “sorry.” To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault. Permanence—remembering that I won’t feel like this forever. This will get better. Pervasiveness—this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.

For me, starting the transition back to work has been a savior, a chance to feel useful and connected. But I quickly discovered that even those connections had changed. Many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why—they wanted to help but weren’t sure how. Should I mention it? Should I not mention it? If I mention it, what the hell do I say? I realized that to restore that closeness with my colleagues that has always been so important to me, I needed to let them in. And that meant being more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be. I told those I work with most closely that they could ask me their honest questions and I would answer. I also said it was okay for them to talk about how they felt. One colleague admitted she’d been driving by my house frequently, not sure if she should come in. Another said he was paralyzed when I was around, worried he might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing. One of my favorite cartoons of all time has an elephant in a room answering the phone, saying, “It’s the elephant.” Once I addressed the elephant, we were able to kick him out of the room.

At the same time, there are moments when I can’t let people in. I went to Portfolio Night at school where kids show their parents around the classroom to look at their work hung on the walls. So many of the parents—all of whom have been so kind—tried to make eye contact or say something they thought would be comforting. I looked down the entire time so no one could catch my eye for fear of breaking down. I hope they understood.

I have learned gratitude. Real gratitude for the things I took for granted before—like life. As heartbroken as I am, I look at my children each day and rejoice that they are alive. I appreciate every smile, every hug. I no longer take each day for granted. When a friend told me that he hates birthdays and so he was not celebrating his, I looked at him and said through tears, “Celebrate your birthday, goddammit. You are lucky to have each one.” My next birthday will be depressing as hell, but I am determined to celebrate it in my heart more than I have ever celebrated a birthday before.

I am truly grateful to the many who have offered their sympathy. A colleague told me that his wife, whom I have never met, decided to show her support by going back to school to get her degree—something she had been putting off for years. Yes! When the circumstances allow, I believe as much as ever in leaning in. And so many men—from those I know well to those I will likely never know—are honoring Dave’s life by spending more time with their families.

I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds.

I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, “But I want Dave. I want option A.” He put his arm around me and said, “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.”

Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A. As Bono sang, “There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love.” I love you, Dave.