As someone born and raised in different countries, who resides in a country I didn’t grow up in, and who’s been on extended travels, I’ve been fortunate to experience living apart from my family and my comfort zones. While I often highlight the desirable aspects of life in these different places, I never realized that I could be painting a rather inaccurate picture of these experiences to a third party—until I came across an interesting read online, written by someone who’s gone on a University exchange trip—beckoned by promises of incredible fun and exoticism of foreign lands, as painted by fellow University-exchange-trip alumni—and not entirely loving the experience.
I would like to refrain from directly linking the article in question, but would like to be entitled to give my two cents’ worth, even if it means cowardly hiding behind the security of a computer screen and avoiding being embroiled in an episode of cyber-debates.
I never realized that by emphasizing on bright lights and happy things could give those unfamiliar with such an experience the impression that everything would be more or less fine and dandy if one were to move across continents and try to live in a place so obnoxiously different from what he or she is used to. Granted, not everyone may be unable to decipher the trials and tribulations between the lovely pictures and excited blog posts, but I believe travel has been far too romanticized and exoticized.
As of late, this quote has been tossing and turning in my head a whole lot--“Your career should be an extension of who you are and what you love.” A search around the net turned up indefinite results as to the origins of this quote. Nevertheless, as idealistic and clichéd as it sounds, I believe it’s the most fundamental thing anyone about to enter the workforce should harbour in his or her heart. Even though the saddest part is that this often gets brushed aside as being “too idealistic” and “unlike reality”—I believe if we actually believed the contrary to these two common reactions to the quote in question, we’ll excel more in doing what we actually love instead of being focused on “reality.”
For sure, time is of essence when it comes to building a career--although I am no expert in this area, there seems to be that window of several years that allows you to jump ship without significant or dire consequences. After that window of several years, there seems to be a general consensus that you better buckle down to “reality” if things aren’t going the way you hoped while you’ve been running after that dream you’ve kept in you—to do what you love instead of embracing “reality.”
The past month has been such a whirlwind, as evidenced by my long absence from this space. Time has flown by (and is still flying by) as usual and even though I know I should embrace the moment and not fret too much about what may or may not come, I can’t help but to jump to two months ahead—I already have a list of all the things I’ll miss about this place. Granted, every country has its pros and cons and like my dear mother recently commented, there is no “ideal” place on earth. Regardless, we live in a universe governed by nature and no human can escape the forces of the almighty Mother Nature. The grass may always be greener on the other side, but when you think about it what you have isn’t that bad after all. It’s our innate craving for novelty, our tendency to fall into a state of absolute boredom from routine living that convinces us that the grass is always greener on the other side. As aforementioned, and as usual, my mind can never only live in the moment without jumping multiple steps ahead and envisioning situations way ahead of the moment I’m in—nevertheless, there will be so many things I’ll miss about my experiences here and the following list is only a part of it.
Taiwanese mangoes. Mangoes are for sure one of my favourite fruits. Don’t be fooled if they’re still very green—they’re probably already quite soft, quite ripe and oh-so-yummy. They’re usually a quarter or a third the size of the other type of reddish-orange mangoes you see here, and they taste quite different. Taiwanese mangoes have this bite to them that other mangoes don’t, are more (superbly) fibrous and are sure to improve bowel movement by a thousandfold. Be sure to peel the mango skin instead of trying to cut through the tough fibre. You probably have to make a small incision at the top of the mango before peeling. And don’t even dream about eating these mangoes without being armed with some sturdy dental floss.
I have been: floored, broken to pieces, risen through the troposphere, stratosphere and mesosphere, revisited past lifetimes and looked into the future, gone on journeys to far-flung places and back and basically had one of the most amazing experiences ever last night, courtesy of This Will Destroy You and their wonderful opening band, 8mm Sky.
Yesterday’s show was one of the most punctual that I’ve attended but I won’t take my concert experiences as a good gauge since I am no concert connoisseur. It’s always interesting to people-watch before, during and after concerts because I like to wonder about all our similarities, differences and the one thing that’s binding us all together during those few hours—our love for the same music, and finding some connection with the same music, no matter how similar or different that connection may be.
I won’t attempt to write a review of the show although I still like to bask in the fantasy that I’ll someday be qualified to write reviews—but I’ll attempt to put to words the otherworldly journey I experienced.
What does it feel like to have your past, present and future flash past in front of your eyes as you allow the music to seep into every crack of your bones? Every time the band begins on a new track, the image in your head builds slowly up. You get transported to days, months and years before. You revisit events that you’ve avoided re-visiting all along, as though you were in those very moments again. You put your fingers in front of you and they are your fingers, but they aren’t your fingers because you know you’re already a different person now. But why, why? You’re going back in time.
Thanks to pure coincidence and many blessings, aside from getting to spend precious time with my father—which I am eternally grateful for, no doubt—I found myself indulging in a few days of luxury last week at a hotel I could probably never afford for at least the next half of a decade. To think I used to think little of the immense breakfast spreads at such hotels because I could never stomach so much food that early in the morning, and because I never paid attention to the importance of breakfast all those years back.
Talking about coincidence—to top off the Dad of yours truly being in town for a business conference—I found kpop groups Exo and Girls’ Generation breezing past in front of me as though it was the most normal thing ever. The night prior to our last day at the hotel, we found a significant number of people—mostly teenage girls—waiting outside. Curiosity led us to find out they were waiting for a kpop group. Soon after, with some help of beloved Google, I found out there was a kpop concert scheduled for the next day at Nangang Exhibition Centre.
Keep doing the same things and they’ll become stale. Boredom becomes synonymous to the monotonous activities you keep engaging in. Keep staying the same and you’ll become stale. You’ll be stuck in the same spot while the world hurtles forward. Keep doing the same exercises and your body gets used to it. Your muscles remember and the exercises lose their effect. Dieters and athletes hate plateaus. Relationships fizzle and fade when the people in them never change and the elements of the relationship never change. Keep staying in the same environment and the lively walls will soon become grey, heavy and suffocating. Businesses wane when they don’t change in the right ways. A fencing coach once taught me: “Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” The key to not being stuck in the same rut year in and out is to seek challenges. Miss the opportunities you can afford to miss, but never pass up on those that have the potential to change your life in all the right ways. How will you know if they’ll have such a potential? Take the risk and make sacrifices where necessary (and not harmful). Take the plunge. Take that leap of faith. Because you need fresh air. You need a different horizon to look out into.
If I were the education minister, I would implement Women’s Studies (or Gender Studies) as a compulsory class in either elementary or high school. Although I’m able to foresee the immense number of opposing views this will get, I still believe fervently in exposing children (or teenagers) to feminism at the earliest age possible. I’ll leave educators and psychologists—they obviously have to be feminists too—to determine the appropriate age to integrate such classes into the compulsory school curriculum.
Ideally, we will be able to re-construct our deep-seated gender roles and eliminate intersectional discrimination. It’s quite obvious that in reality these will not be happening anytime soon, if it were to happen at all. While I have hope that these will be possible in the future, I’m certain it will not be happening in the next few decades.
Before anyone is already turned off by this post so far, thanks to the bad rap attached to feminism--think militant aka bra-burning feminists of yesteryears—which I am not ridiculing, such methods might have been applicable to that time and place and since that time but place has changed, those methods are definitely inappropriate—here are some very important things to note about feminism (These points aren’t exactly original, however they’re what I believe in, what I’ve deduced from experience and from my engagement with feminist discourse of various forms):
I regularly earn myself grimaces and looks of bewilderment from peers in my particular area of study when they find out I’m taking senior English classes and loving them. Most are glad to have seen the last of their hundred-level compulsory English classes. Many remain disinterested in (still) lesser-known fields like Gender Studies. (I have to highlight that Gender and Women’s Studies are extremely interdisciplinary fields. Read more about why you should take a Gender or Women’s Studies course.) While I cannot say that other non-humanities majors share the same views as the majority in my faculty, there are still many non-believers in the humanities within and outside of academia.
Although I owe a big part of my love for English literature to my parents for creating a book-loving environment for me since childhood, my appreciation for the humanities goes far beyond loving to read. Even though I don’t hold any disdain for those not actively engaged and invested in the humanities and I am thoroughly sorry for coming off as condescending, I feel that not being actively engaged and invested in the humanities propagates inadequacies in holistic and profound thought. My point is that engagement and personal investment in the humanities is essential in understanding and engaging in social issues.
Thanks to one of my lovely closest friends who shared this video with me, I had the fortune to come across this footage of the otherworldly and enigmatic Marina Abramović during her performance of ‘The Artist is Present’ at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In ‘The Artist is Present’, “visitors were encouraged to sit silently across from the artist for a duration of their choosing, becoming participants in the artwork.” There’s also a wonderful tumblr that documented the performance (or a very important aspect of it, at least). View this flickr stream for wonderful portraits of the performance. Admittedly, I am only finding out about this extremely belatedly—this performance piece was done in 2010. Nevertheless this particular footage left me breathless, emotionally drained and entirely transfixed by the silent yet mind-shattering raw emotion that develops between the artist and participant and spreads to every inch of the room. To augment the intensity of the performance, Ulay—whom Abramović had not seen in more than a decade after their separation while on a spiritual journey at the Great Wall of China, following their relationship which spanned more than a decade—shows up without her knowledge. My mind went on overdrive at this point, with all the possibilities of the happenings inside each of their heads and wondering what each of them could be thinking. I love such moments when art (of any form) plucks you right out of mundanity and steals your breath away. Read more about her in this brilliant interview by The Guardian.
As a Singaporean at heart I found this article “Wealth Over the Edge: Singapore“ in The Wall Street Journal quite thought-provoking and interesting. For the first part of the article, writer Shibani Mahtani underscores the exorbitant wealth flourishing among the richest in Singapore. This isn’t new information, with Singapore recently making headlines as the country with the highest concentration of millionaires per capita according to the World Wealth Report 2012. If all this richest-in-the-world talk is setting alarm bells off in your heads like it did in mine, be somewhat heartened (but not quite) that the article also highlights that “Singapore’s “Gini coefficient”—the best-known economic measure of income disparity—is the second highest in the developed world.” To my knowledge, the article is right that “signs of unhappiness are multiplying.”
To say the least, Singapore means so much to me but while I believe it’s a great, prosperous young country for the fast-moving, affluent, well-educated and elite young, it’s not a place for everyone. I acknowledge that I’ve just made a heavily loaded comment but lest I write a novel justifying why I believe it’s not a place for everyone, I’ll settle with the fact that the fissures have long been present in the paradisiacal crystal globe of a city-state. The cracks and crevices will only grow deeper with every progress in prosperity and neglect for those hanging on for dear life at the other end of the spectrum—those who have been marginalized and do not have access to the same opportunities as others thanks to social constructs. The struggles of those caught in the middle with little room for progress yet are a little more “fortunate” than their compatriots in the lower rungs of society—are irrefutable, and I know this from having experienced it first-hand.