At the end of purpose

Sometimes we get so charged up, energised, revitalised by the grand idea of having a purpose in life – to be that trailblazer, that history maker – that attaining it is equivalent to being elevated to a state of Nirvana, finally walking free from the shackles of a mediocre life.

Ok, so we slog our way through the hierarchy of life, pick up a few titles, make a few more friends, spearhead a few more projects, and finally when the horizon of purpose is within sight, what next?

Why is there such allure associated with achieving my purpose in life? Does that justify the past mistakes that I had made? At the end of it, could there be more? Or does everything come to a standstill?

Realistically, life spans around 80 years, and it’s not a terribly long time. How we choose to live in the interim transition on earth, doesn’t offer us too many opportunities at resetting the clock. In other words, life is pretty serious business. The sum of our day to day choices add up with ramifications or rewards to come in the future, which makes wisdom such a prized gift in the tumultuous, unpredictable times we live in.

Taking a stroll around the central business district at noontime, I see office folk decked out in formal wear, high heels clicking past me, cakey makeup melting in the humidity, cacophonous gossip filling the still warm air, love handles brimming through the structured fabric of blogshop dresses, clanking of cutlery from the washing area of the food court, the frenzy to finish that meal before the lunch hour was up.

Processing all these sights was quite a handful on a hot Monday afternoon.

Honestly, a rat race still surpasses a hamster riding on a wheel. At least the rat has a destination; the hamster’s displacement is 0.

There’s gotta be more to life that what meets the eye. Stay tuned to more insightful snippets.

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Yoga Vibes

This fitness class frenzy started off with an invite from a friend to Spinning Class. Spinning is indoor cycling to the tempo upbeat music, with an instructor blaring through the mike with motivational cliches to keep pumping. Not particularly mood-lifting after a tiring day of work.

But that effort paid off. For the next week, my clothes seemed to fit better, and my legs looked nicer. In a way that my usual jogging sessions failed to attain (But to clarify, I was never a serious runner, by running, I meant intermittent sprints in between lengthy strolls). I thought, maybe I should check out some Yoga classes, cos I heard that you learnt to stretch muscles that are out of reach (from the usual fitness activity like running).

I have a colleague that recommended Yoga Movement cos their packages were cheap and the ambiance of the studio is pretty, and to top it off they were having a promo.

Hot core and Bikram lessons were really fun. I got to stretch so many parts of my body that I never thought were humanly possible. There were some poses which I stumbled over, especially those that involved balancing on one foot on tiptoe while maintaining a fancy pose at the upper body. The end results were fantastic. I really liked the way my legs looked the next day, and that perspiration really served to rid the gunk from my pores. Maybe that facial can wait.

I’m definitely all pumped up for my next classes. Thinking of trying out power flow, where I will get to try handstands and other gravity-defying poses. And of course, a fitter body, which the mirror will thank me for my presenting me a more toned version of myself.

Not forgetting the cardio staple of running which I have been at since 14. Man, it has been more than a decade since I started running. I guess I better keep my stamina up and stop all unnecessary self-declared sprint breaks. Maybe I should just get a running buddy, since it’s such a boring sport.

Beautiful Myanmar Part 2

Let me whet your appetite for more of Myanmar with this guacamole dish. We were abundantly fed with avacado since it’s so plentiful here, and it’s so fresh and good!

Vast views of coffee and orange plantations growing on the hills unfolded before our eyes. They were neatly demarcated according to family territorial borders. From a distance, the adjacent land plots looked like a patterned quilt draped over the mountains. We crossed paths with the village kids, fascinated with our camera gear. After some coaxing they reciprocated with a slight smile and a peace sign for a pose.

One of our rest stops was at a local hut, where we were served sweet glutinous rice and hot tea. The portrait of Aung Sung Syu Kyi took a prominent place in the living room, earning a rank almost equivalent to that of their ancestral alters. She is widely revered as a Burmese national hero – someone who relinquished a comfortable life in the UK, to pursue a cause of democracy, to liberate the nation from Junta oppression. I’ve always admired people who have convictions of steel, who stay steadfast in their beliefs despite currents of opposition, to make a vision a reality.

The trekking journey brought forth sweeping views of wild flowers,

less-trodden trails of old railway tracks,

indegineous women in traditional clothing ,

chilli farms painted bright red in the glory of the harvest season.

Dandelions were in full bloom, their petals dancing away with the wind.

Oxen grazed in the plains.

Night began to fall and temperatures began to plunge. There is no electricity source in the mountains of Kalaw, other than sporadic solar panels that lit the lone light bulb in the hut with a weak glow for a few hours. The toilets- essentially makeshift shacks without roofs- had no lights so we had to shower up before dusk. I remember taking the quickest baths in my life in Kalaw- stripping in the open-air bath and throwing the frigid water over my body, drying up, and making a quick dash back to the hut.

Our Hut
The Shower Shack

From Kalaw, we also crossed Inle lake via speedboat back to the bus station.

 

I saw how people established their livelihood by the lake – housing settlements were built along the Bank. Oddly enough, they did their laundry, fished, and obtained plants like the water lotus (fibre from the water lotus is used to make fabric), from the same lake.

We boarded the bus back to Yangon to spend our last day in Myanmar.

Temperatures were back to tropical. We visited Shwedagon Pagoda, an icon of Myanmar and the grandest Buddhist architecture the country had to offer.

Shwedagon Pagoda

The entrance fee of 10 USD was a tad pricey. Admittedly, I’m not particularly intrigued by Buddhist history and culture. It was more of a checkbox to be ticked when you visited Yangon. We strolled along the roadside marketplaces, where raw fish was peddled out in the open on the floor, with the fishmonger lady trying to swat away the hovering flies. Avocados and fresh produce were sold out in the open, and housewives were haggling for better deals. I always like to bring a piece of a country back home, in the form of ethnic fashion. I tried, without success, to hunt around for their traditional wrap skirt.

Through this trip, I experienced how a different way of life was being led, and how a different definition of happiness was written. The joy of reflective meditation while trekking in the solitude of hill country, away from the bustle of city life. May Myanmar never lose that rustic charm, even as she begins to open her borders to the outside world.

To better days ahead (:

Beautiful Myanmar Part 1

With that severe lack of work-life balance in Singapore, we are perpetually fixated on the next vacation to tide us through work blues. I had the privilege to travel to 8 countries in 2017. A very special year for travelling indeed. Well, this post is dedicated to my trip to Myanmar.

They’ve been known to be an insular country, but to really know a country’s culture, landscape and people, you’ve gotta go there in person and immerse yourself into the life there first hand. Put aside the pre-conceived notions that media reports on the Rakhine crisis seek to shape. Walking along the streets, you will not see soldiers in military garb, or pro-democracy protests clogging up the streets. Yangon was pretty peaceful. Grab functioned perfectly, bringing us from the airport into the city.

The roads were jammed up with cars. While I was deep in thought, absorbing the sights and sounds of the city through the rear windscreen, a knock on the car door nudged me back to consciousness. And there was a man peddling jackfruit and pears in the middle of a traffic jam. Very interesting. Politely declining the offer, we set off into the city, where we spent the next half of the day loading up on carbohydrates at Rangoon Teahouse, where we had a taste of Burmese-Western fusion food. The place was humming with conversations among expats over lunch, glasses clinking, cash registers ringing. We indulged in good comfort food-  the briyani and local milk tea, before making our way to Sule Pagoda in the scorching midday heat.

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Carbs and more carbs 

Yangon’s a lot less humid than Singapore, which makes travelling on foot more pleasant. We took off our footwear as a gesture of respect before entering the temple compound. It was a blinding lot of gold for my eyes to take in, with the blazing sun hung high in the sky, and intricate Buddhist architecture and towering spires bathed in gold.

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Sule Pagoda 

After that, we made our way to the bus station, where the overnight bus would take us to the Inle region for our hike.

Their bus station was teeming with backpackers, scrambling to clean up for the day. Charger ports had plugs cables streaming out for a last minute battery top up.

Our first taste of original Burmese food, was during a food stop 3 hours into the bus ride. We had Nanjitoth, some kind of local Mee Goreng. I had some noodle soup that I hastily ordered in my famished state, and found out later that if could very well be pig skin broth. *gags*

Aroused from my sleep a few hours later, I was told that we had reached Kalaw. The bitter chill stung me out of my drowsiness the moment I got out of the bus. I only survived the trek to our hotel because of my down jacket. Squinting at the GPS screen and rustling along the gravel path in pitch darkness, gave me an odd sense of satisfaction, that I had attained ruggedness.

As with most tourists, we made it a point to wake up at 5 to catch the Kalaw sunrise. The Ombre tones painted a beautiful start to a day.

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The pine trees with acorns were a pretty sight to behold from our dining area. Here’s me striking a pose with the pine trees as a backdrop.

pine tree

We started our cafe-hopping adventures, first at a a vegetarian cafe that served wonderful guacamole, bruschetta and chai tea cake.

bruschetta
Bruschetta 

Guacamole will feature in many of our meals I will describe later, inspiring me to  replicate that flavor back home. Dinner was at a cozy cafe New Simple Life. They served wholesome homemade Chicken Spaghetti and pumpkin soup with a drizzle of olive oil, made from produce from their backyard farm. If there was one thing they benefited from British rule, it was the Western recipes they had inherited while serving their colonial masters.

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Pretty flowers outside New Simple Life 

We started the trek into the hills of Kalaw early. The terrain was slightly rocky and uneven. I immediately regretted not getting a proper pair of trekking shoes. I thought I would just wear a pair to throw away since the road was going to be muddy. Well, it felt as if my worn-out Asics were on the verge of falling apart with the grind. The universe sure does not put a premium on ignorance, for a first time trekker. I kept my eyes on the ground because the uneven terrain was hard to manage. Thankfully,  the lunch of Chapati and Guacamole, revitalized my senses for the rest of the trek.

 

Night Visions in Bali

I had just gotten back from Seminyak, Bali, last evening. Missing the dreamy pace of life, relishing creamy avocado poached eggs with spinach and hollandaise dressing, complete with purple sweet potato chips and avacado hummus, overlooking rice padi fields in the midday sun, watching random Australians sauntering by the roadsides in bikini tops and sarongs, watching from a second-story al fresco bar top seat.

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Yum Yum Yum Avocado 

Beautiful view, peaceful state of heart. A wonderful setting to spend alone time with the Lord, telling Him what’s on my mind and writing down the thoughts I get in the spirit.

It had been a long drawn half a year, and this break was a much needed recharge mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Sitting by Kuta Beach at night, and watching the powerful waves lapping up the shore, with a majestic roar resounding each time the ocean brought forth a fresh tide, this thought was dropped into my heart.

“No regrets, simply because You’re here.”

Just soaking in, and understanding the significance and power, of His presence, made every uncertainty, doubt, mountain, melt like wax. Yes, I borrowed this metaphor from the Bible. Things have never felt so clear, and uncertain, at the same time.

Looking back at the things I had journalled, I recount the Lord’s faithfulness in my life, how he had answered my prayers, and how I am walking in answered prayers, so comfortably and organically, that I forget to thank Him for them. It has been a beautiful, colorful journey, filled with emotion, tears, joy and grace. A wonderful tapestry that keeps on knitting and unfolding till the end of time.

Walking with You, Jesus.

Ending off this post with light-hearted food pics. Bali, I’ll be back.

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Awesome Green Tea Latte by the Koop Roaster and Cafe 

Here’s a time lapse video of my barista hard at work.

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Can’t get enough of the quaint charm of this cafe 

Stepping out

I’m so happy that I finally made the first step of taking voice lessons, something I had been putting off for the longest time. Baby steps are always the most monumental. They kick start the route to your destiny.

So here’s my scorecard:

Voice scorecard

Thank You Jesus. You gave me the courage to step out and pursue what I love, and to hone it from glory to glory. I always had doubts about serving in worship in the kids ministry. So many times, I had wanted to throw in the towel, call it quits and just get on with life. Perhaps, walking with the Lord gave me a clearer picture on what He wanted me to do with my life. Sure, we all have choices, and their resulting consequences. But I’ve made enough mistakes in life and I don’t want to risk another, and I just want to hear what He thinks I should do, before I set my heart on something.

The vocal studio was tucked away in a dingy corner of an old mall built in the 80s, opposite a tattoo parlor. Somewhat discordant for a music school, but that sense of coherent wholeness was the confirmation that I was doing the right thing.

I’m suddenly brought back to the topic of work. Voice lessons allow me to take my mind off something that has gotten rather unpalatable lately. Office politics, complicated situations, you get it. I don’t want to get all conceited and over-confident that things will be fine if I put in my due diligence. In life, there are things that just don’t turn out the way we had expected, and we all find a way to make lemonade out of the lemons. Closed doors speak of redirection. Rejection speaks of the elimination of possible routes that would possibly lead to nowhere in the future. It takes courage to have visions of the things that we cannot see in the here and now, and the faith to believe beyond sight.

 

Love is sure hard to find

No idea when this space had become an outlet to chronicle my dates.

I went out with someone exactly a week ago. He is small sized, very intelligent, funny, a little unkempt with blackheads and a slight beer belly, Very direct, sharp, open, very cool, decisive. That slight ego of his, and intuition. Sexy stuff.

So, yeah he was opening up about his family – he said a lot of stuff, and I was absorbing it all. Very interesting, very witty. He could debate about political science topics, talk about his job, colleagues, church friends, family, background, and the girls he had gone out with. The conversation went pretty smoothly I remember. He probably thought I was smart and knowledgeable, slightly bitter and caustic, guarded and defensive- skirting topics which I felt I was not comfortable to share, like my relationship with my sister.

I believe he tried to make a connection by asking me about the details of my life, but he just did not feel it. My curve-ball tactics at dodging uncomfortable topics, the inability to be open and vulnerable about them, probably left him feeling that I was more of a colleague, a friend, than someone who he could share his heart with. I was cruising along in my default conversational mode, unaware of how he felt. Yes, I missed it. There I was, unwittingly enchanted by his beautiful soul and not revealing it, and there he was, growing more detached by the minute, yet not showing much trace of it.

He did not feel that special connection or vibe that comes by opening up, sharing my true emotions, experiences, fears, family; basically someone who is real, open and willing to be vulnerable.

I perfectly fine with that, but I just needed time. He didn’t give me that chance to be real with him. Honestly, all I needed was time.

By nature, I am an extremely sensitive, emotional, sentimental person who forms emotional bonds very quickly and strongly. Being strong to counter the forces of sadness by putting on a facade, is akin to an armor, a breastplate of sorts, to protect my fragile heart. In a cold lonely world, that’s the only way I know how to survive the storms; seek refuge in that little fortress in the form of my achievements, friends and travels. I don’t know a lot, but I know this has helped me survive. I just need a second date to share my heart.

He did not know that.

Reflecting on this lesson, since a first date is somewhat of an interview, it’s the only chance to make an impression with someone who could possible be your soulmate. Unnatural as it seems, on first date with someone you had met online, I guess you have to be open about your life story and put some tangible emotion in the stuff you share, such that the other person can feel that openness.

Yes, I have to admit, I was sad. He had ghosted. Rather abruptly actually, because his last text was an open-ended question.

I’m not sure if I will ever see him again, but one thing I’m sure of, I really do like him, but I’ll never get the chance to tell him that; not that it even matters to him, but at least, let me be real with myself for liking him.

 

Always 2011

In a loveless world that spins around KPIs and errands, watching a romantic film can help rekindle that dimming hope that your lover is somewhere out there. If only our love stories could be so intricately scripted with a shower of gold dust from heaven.

When I was younger, I had dreams of marrying this wonderful specimen of a prince. I would spend pockets of time looking at my future wedding gown on pinterest, mostly off-shoulder ones with an A line train, duchess satin, with a veil and a tiara. Yep.

So year after year passed; no one seemed to have appeared.

So, I started using a dating app, in hope that one day, something magical would come out of it.

Honestly, it has been a lonely, cold journey of finding love.

I never knew that true love can be so elusive, rare, and precious.

In this season of a love drought, I chanced upon this Korean film, Always.

An intricately-spun love story between an ex-boxer and a blind telemarketer, couldn’t be further from a fairytale. Two poor folk, with issues threatening to tear them apart, eventually find a way back into love. Despite the complicated web of circumstances and fate.

So Ji Sub. Han Hyo Joo.

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I guess when you’re in love with someone who picks you, that’s the most beautiful kind of love in the world.

There was this scene when Hyo Joo, an ex-sculpture student, attempts to ‘see’ Ji Sub, by trailing her fingers across his gorgeous face, and absorbing the image in her head. That moved me to tears. Had not cried so hard at a film scene in a really long time.  And when you fall hard in love, words take their place and fade into the backdrop. You love him by opening your legs and letting him come in hard and strong, exposing all vulnerability because that’s the only choice your heart can make.

Watch this if you’re bored of high school idol romance dramas, or you need to hope again, that true love, albeit imperfect, exists.

And also, if you’re looking for love,use a dating app, cos real life ain’ a script out of a Korean Drama.

You are your own scriptwriter.

A Father’s touch

Having been brought up in a relatively conservative Singaporean Chinese family, love is rarely expressed through hugs, and ‘I love you’ is rarely verbalized. If it has to be, it often carries a tinge of restrain.

I have often had misunderstandings with my father, largely due to differences in our personality and outlook of life.

I have always entertained thoughts of moving abroad to create a life of my own, not just to get a respite from the typical rat-race Asian way of life, but also to experience and immerse in Western culture, which has fascinated and enchanted me deeply. I love the way how a white guy can approach you in a cafe just to strike up a casual conversation just because the the flowers look gorgeous in full bloom, or that he thinks your dress is pretty, with no strings attached. Okay, my fascination goes beyond such superficial points.

Bottom line is, I want to work abroad and I need to learn to take care of myself, be independent, cook and do laundry myself, and even be my own handyman and plumber if the bulb blows or if a cockroach flies through my window. And yep, practice begins right at home.

Yesterday, my bulb had blown and I thought to myself, “Time to fix the bulb yourself”.

I dragged the ladder out of the storeroom, got my father’s help to steady the ladder and support my back as I gingerly unscrewed the two spoiled lamps, handed them over to him, and replaced them with the brand new ones. So he was there to Quality Control (or rather, Quality Assurance) the whole process, my first attempt at a seemingly easy task, aged 25.

A father’s touch. It reminded me of the time he taught me to ride a bike. He steadied the bike seat and had my back, and gradually let go as I tried to focus on cycling straight, wobbling hopelessly from left to right till I finally found my balance to cruise ahead.

He has been doing that ever since in life, supporting me, through the heartbreaks, the trash dates, the happy times, the peaks, the valleys, and has never let go.

I have never doubted his love for me; I don’t think he would bear to let me go, even when the time comes for him to walk me down the aisle.

Here’s a post for you, Dad. In honor of Father’s Day, in a week’s time.

I love you.

We may be very different in the way God made us; our views, our temperament and personality. But your unconditional love for me has made me understand that a Father’s love is something very special and to be cherished, beyond any kind of romantic love any guy can give me, or will give me.