Letter #8

I saw a couple on the train today. There was nothing special about them, to be very honest. He was in black gym shorts and a loose shirt, typical of the boys in humid Singapore. She was in a white dress and a blue cardigan, a modest outfit but nondescript nonetheless. They would have been easy to miss, had my senses been distracted by a book or a podcast as I usually am while travelling.

In that moment though, they had my attention.

Some people are discomfited by public displays of intimacy. I however enjoy them, not in a perverse way, but rather that in the hustle and bustle of my life, they are an unexpected reminder about the wonderful connections between people. A mother cooing to her baby, a friend leaning in for a whispered secret; these strangers were in their own worlds and I am happy enough as a spectator.

He had his arms comfortably around her waist. Even though all I could see was his back, I sensed that his eyes were closed, as hers was. The two of them seemed oblivious to the pressing crowd in the town-bound train.

The girl’s arms were wrapped tightly around the neck of the guy, her head buried deep in his chest. I wondered if she was inhaling his scent, the way I do with Justin as if with each deep breath I can hold on to a little more of him.

As the train slowed to a stop at the Cityhall station, she looked up and smiled. He bent down for a kiss. Nothing inappropriate, just a quick peck.

And just as quickly as it happened, the magical moment was over. She bent down to pick up her bag, at the same time he fished his phone out of his pocket. Not two seconds later, she had also taken her own phone from the bag. Unconscious habits, type type typing away. The two of them stepped out of the train, one in front of the other, almost as if they were strangers that happened to share the same space. Where hands and eyes were locked in embrace moments ago, they were now busy with something else altogether.

 

Letter #7

Dear Mom,

My tattoo started a conversation.

Last night, you caught a glimpse of it as I was changing out of a dress that you were going to alter. I guess it was naive to think I could hide my body from you. We share too many intimate moments.

I had my defence ready – I was an adult; it is only a small, inconspicuous one; everyone has one nowadays. But what I really meant to say was getting a tattoo was not an act of rebellion. It was a way of reclaiming myself, a simultaneous act of strength and solace in the wake of the madness that is 2016.

I told you how your neediness was smothering me. It was callous, but I couldn’t lie anymore. For all my talk about inspirational women, girl power and what not, I wanted my mom to be someone I could emulate. I wanted you to show me that our worth is not valued by the perception of others, even if I already knew that in my heart.

It was an hour of verbal diarrhoea. I took my glasses off, partly because they were foggy from my tears, but mostly because I could not bear to see how my words cut you. I paced the room, back and forth, up and down, because if I kept still for one moment my thoughts would collapse as easily as a house of cards. I gasped for air between words.

You were mostly quiet through my tirade. After the whole episode, you told me you loved me no matter what. I was confused. How could that be your only response, when I had pretty much just said you were not enough? In that moment, I truly appreciated the depth of mama bear’s love for me.

There I was, being selfish. All I could think about, all I could say, was me me me. I felt this, I wanted that, I need you to be like this. Yet all you wanted was for me to know that I was loved, regardless my thoughts of you.

It was never your own need that you cared for. It was your way of protecting my fragile ego. In that moment, I realised that while I was resenting you for your lack of courage, you were the one who has all the grace.

Letter #5

I think I cursed myself the moment I announced to the world that I wanted to be a writer. I set an expectation, and then worried that I was not good enough to meet it.

I have all these words in me, but I hesitate to write them. I want to write about that old man in the train, fingers clutching a pink backpack that is entirely incongruous to his neat button down and sensible black shoes. I want to talk about the little girl next to him, pigtails slightly askew after what I guess was a busy day at school. She is chattering on about something, face plastered to the glass even though there is only black in the underground tunnel. The old man is clearly inattentive, but his affection for the girl cannot be denied. It is in the way he places a protective handle gently over her when the train jerks to a sudden stop.

I want to write about the Bangladeshi man who sits tentatively on the edge of the seat. His clean but worn buttoned-down shirt, frayed jeans, and dusty sandals peg him as a worker. The hesitation is all over his face. He knows he has to be the first to stand up if someone wants a seat. Despite all the campaigns and reassurances, he is aware of the prejudices. Skins make statements. He scrolls through his phone, an almost prehistoric Nokia that displays only monochromatic colours. Is he reading messages from his family, or work notices from his boss? His face is a blank, and I cannot discern a thing.

And there is more. I want to write about how the wind brushes my face when I cycle. How it caresses my cheek, but only if I keep moving, moving. About the sun that warms my skin, just enough to leave an odd tan by the shirt line, but not enough to burn. As a child, I used to go down the slopes in a free fall, legs off the pedal as the ground rushes up to meet me. Now thrill is replaced slightly by caution, and I grip the brakes just a little to slow the wheels. As I cycle along, well paved roads give way to gravel. The way is still clear – after all I am not the first traveller along the path and I am far from the last. But it is clear that I am out of the city. The trees along the way are no longer planted at  deliberate distances. They are unruly, a hodgepodge of species that came together to create a patchy ceiling that filters sunlight in uneven bursts. The crickets are calling. Their cries are distinct, even through the gaggle of school children that rides by me. Don’t they only come out at night? The bicycle bumps along the unpaved roads, a city bike not meant for the roughness.

And I am a city girl, unprepared for the vast unknown.

Letter #4

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A list to close 2016:

  • Find your strengths, and accept your weaknesses.
  • Settle into a job that you love. Apply and apply. Don’t take rejections personally.
  • Start on the newsletter. Write an article. Have at least 4 pieces to edit by January.
  • Have an honest conversation with the boy. The time for pretences is over.
  •  Tell my parents that I love them. Accept that they are fallible  creatures, as are you.

2016 has been one heck of a year.

Just a few brief months into the year, I have had to learn to take charge of the chaos that is life, even as I realised that I was not ready to release the reins of childish ignorance.

One thing that I am certain though, is that I cannot go through my days with bated breath. I will not mar good days with the worry that bad days will inevitably follow. They will come, without a doubt. But I will handle them with my head held high. Deep breaths. Take the plunge.

I will do all things with guts, and with grace.

 

Letter #3

Dear friends,

First of all, thank you for being the weirdest, most mismatched group of people there is. Look at us, no longer 18. No longer looking at the world as if we are invincible, as if our biggest problem is a bad grade on a chemistry test. We have seen each other through heart breaks and sleepless nights, and even as we brace ourselves for the next phase of life, I am glad to have the eight of you as my constants.

I have so many wonderful memories of us. Remember how we all used to buy chicken rice in school, and the auntie has a code name for all of our special orders? Remember the time we went to Sentosa and took a thousand and one photos? Remember the time we sat on the lawn outside Marina Square, and played the nastiest game of Shoot Shag Marry? Of course you do. We talk about all these things all the time. We are barely 23, yet we have already become old folks nostalgic for the past! But it is okay. I love these conversations, even the petty bickers and snide remarks that are almost inevitable in our interactions. See, I told you this was a mismatched group.

To Lorraine, thank you for trusting me to be your girl friend. Its scary how alike we are, regardless in our good (our independence), our bad (our insecurities), or our weird (stop creeping on our friends’ girlfriends!). I have to admit, sometimes I get irrationally envious of you because you seem to have everything going on for you (I know I know, that’s why I said irrational). But then I know for a fact that you deserve all the good things in your life, because you hustled hard for them. So go win at life, my fellow prata-lover. You can count on me to be your go-to girl always.

To Cliffton, I will always treasure our ability to make things awkward for everyone. That is one dynamic that not many friends can claim. But seriously, thank you for entrusting your ambitions to me. I fully understand the fear of stagnating, of going through the motion because that is what is expected of you. But trust me, you are never going to be one of the settlers. You are going places my friend, with that perfect mix of drive and gentleman manners (yes, I am admitting it). Have fun, dream big, and stop asking me if I am okay!

To Sean, thank you for being the unexpected sounding board when I was going through a strange period in my life. Conversations with you often feels like there should be an indie music soundtrack playing in the background – they are often so honest that it feels straight out of a movie scene, if it makes sense. I hope it does. But anyway, don’t worry if life is not going as planned. Take a deep breath and enjoy where you are now. As long as you are always moving forward, you will be more than just fine.

To Jem, I love how our friendship is defined by two memories: me hogging a sleeping bag, and you busting your sides laughing as my fishball rolled away. I love how we can switch from utter gibberish like side eyeing OLs, to mature discussions about growing up, all within the span of one conversation. It is a relief to have someone who understands that exuberance can coexist with stillness. Your twinkle friend would like to thank you for showing her that you can be loud and full of nonsense, and still appreciate the value of quiet moments alone.

To Kent, you are always so much fun to be around. You teach me never to take life too seriously. Heck, to not even take myself too seriously. Perhaps I will never be able to understand your other world of parties and bro-hood, but thank you for still making time for these un-cool bunch of kids. I look forward to the day when you tell me girl number whatever-it-is is also girl no-more-numbers-after her. And look, I may tease you for it, but you are always welcome to take a bite off my food.

To Koi, strangely enough, it is you of all people who get two of my biggest pains. The first is all the aches and bumps of a long-term long distance relationship. And second, the regret of not attending a college overseas. You understand the feeling of yes, these decisions were right in the long haul, but no, the pang of wondering what could have been otherwise never quite goes away. In any case, I hope the Canadian experience is every bit as wonderful as it seems. Can you feel my jealousy from the ten thousand miles away?

To Chun, first things first. Happy Birthday fellow October baby! I am glad to see you figuring out what kind of person you want to be. You have come a long way, although you will always be an oddball, that’s for sure. But even as people come and go from your life, I hope your faith and values will keep you steady. Stay brilliant, stay humble, and I am incredibly excited to see what that brain of yours will accomplish in the coming years.

To Ben, I love your approach to life – mellow yellow about most things, but you also have the capacity to get shit done. You are such a genuine person and that authenticity is something that I really respect. It has been wonderful seeing you around school, just because the anxieties of being in university still gets to me and it is such a relief to see a familiar face. Even though you always miss the group gatherings, know that you are always very much missed!

So friends, here is my birthday letter to you. In the same way that some people always get a little drunk on their birthdays, I always get a little emotional. But hey, you know you love me anyway.

Letter #2

04-loveDear love,

When I first had the idea to write letters for the people I love as a birthday project, it was almost intuitive that you topped the list. I know I always scorned the cheesy dialogues in movies, and tease the people who have no restraints on their outpouring of affections. But in this old-fashioned method of communication, it somehow feels apt, don’t you think?

Someone asked me recently if it is possible to love more than one person at the same time. I said yes. I believe love is not finite; it just takes a different form towards different people – family, friends, first love, for-the-rest-of-your-life love. But here is the thing, you are a little bit of all of that. The thought of this is overwhelmingly scary. Humans have a fight or flight response when faced with fear. Perhaps this is why I am always oscillating between holding back my affections in preparation for the crash and burn (flight), and asking crazy questions that feels as if I am trying to  antagonise you into admitting that you want out from this relationship (fight).

I know I love you. I know what I love about you – the way you are so incredibly kind, finding room even for strangers in your prayers; the way you give you all in work that you have committed to; the way you laugh and smile, and dance and sing to nonsensical made-up songs. As I turn 23 however, I am also more rational than a hormone-driven teenager. I know we are imperfect beings, together in an imperfect relationship.

In an ideal world, you would know THE one when you see him or her. I am not sure if I have ever read you one of my favourite short stories by Murakami: On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning. In it, the protaginist walks by the girl who should have been the perfect girl for him. Yet he does not stop. Because how was he to know? How was he to know for sure, that this nondescript looking, messy- haired, all-around average person of a girl was his 100%? As Dev so aptly sums it up, “No doubts, no fears, nothing? Come on”. How do I know if you are my 100%? But damn, am I going to let that uncertainty cloud the amazing moments we share. 

Sure, we don’t get to take vacations. We barely have 50 photos of us in all. We spend more time apart than together in a year, and even phone calls are a rarity for us. But what we have is afternoons spent on the couch, legs entangled, eyes not on each other but basking in the warmth from each other’s body nonetheless. We have moments in the kitchen, stealing bites of the food that we cook together (mostly me ahem), laughing at our lack of domesticity. We have long walks to nowhere, sweaty hands clasped tight, you laughing at my non-existent sense of direction even as I defend myself in futility. We have good morning and good night texts; ’are you okay’ and ‘how’s your day’ texts; interspersed with silly gifs and stickers that have me sniggering at my phone during the most inappropriate moments. We have kisses and hugs that neither of us wants to pull away from, even if that means we are perpetually late to our meetings. But most of all, we, or at least I, have the comfort of knowing that no matter what happens, I can thank my lucky stars for letting me meet someone so 100% worth any future heartaches.

So there you go, my honest feelings. I am terrified. I am so terrified that it keeps me up at night sometimes. But I am also incredibly excited that you are travelling through this madness of a world together with me. Thank you for being here for near a quarter of my life, my lover boy.

Letter #1

inspire

Today marks a month that I have been a teacher. It is funny, because I have never thought of myself as capable, or even interested in teaching. Yet standing in front of the class is strangely one of the most natural things to do.

During the weeks of unemployment, I was plagued by the fear of getting stuck in a mindless, meaningless chore of a work. I refused to apply for certain positions even as the frustration of doing nothing mounted each day. In a class however, with all the expectant faces turned to you, this fear transforms into motivation – motivation to equip my students with all the skills and thoughtfulness they need as they figure their way forward.

Truth be told, I am barely qualified to teach. No accolades, no experiences, a graduate whose certificate is so fresh you can almost rub the ink off your fingers.

Oddly enough, it is perhaps this sense of uncertainty that binds the class and I together. The primal instinct is not to exploit each other’s anxieties. I could have smoked my way through lessons because students wouldn’t know better anyway. Just as likely, they could have pounced on the first timer who probably has never handled unruliness in the ways the experienced faculty would have. Instead, the instinct is to empathise. I try to understand when they are confused, tired, or worried. In turn, we share a laugh when I stumble, and they offer reassurances when I hesitate.

In class today, the task was to craft a purpose for a commemorative speech. A simple, straightforward task. As the lesson neared its end however, the conversation moved to people whom we have loved and lost, whom with every celebration about their lives will inevitably be tinged with lingering sadness. We joked about how the class is becoming a therapy session. A student cried as she talked about her grandfather, her hero. I shared about Ah ma. Tissues were passed around, and hugs were given freely.

In that moment, there was no teacher- student. Just people. Just people who have been through universal experiences. And I don’t think I would have found this sort of intimate connection in a cornered off cubicle.