What lies at the centre of your experience living abroad?


The first time I experienced loss was the loss of the feeling of autonomy. The dormitory unit I am currently staying in is a place of residence – and I am constantly reminded of the fact that I am living on borrowed land and my existence is merely a temporal state of being. I have to write forms to inform the dormitory manager when and why I am staying overnight elsewhere, or am on leave. I have to account for my actions on a daily basis to strangers who only care whether I can clock in the hours at work on time. But back at home, I can always come back from wherever I am to my family, and that’s my home; I have roots here. And I don’t have to account for my actions (not to strangers) as much as long as I reach home safe and sound.

The second time I experienced loss was when I started realizing conversations I have with my family and friends are dwindling down as common experiences start to diverge. There are many things I want to share with my friends and family – but the realization that the other party is no longer able to relate to my experiences anymore keeps me from sharing them at all. Doing so merely served to drive me further into a state of loneliness and isolation, and many times I have cried and grieved so hard over the loss of this commonality, the loss of cherished friendships and the loss of shared time.

Such changes – moving on – is an inevitable process regardless of whether you are living abroad; but somehow living abroad tears you violently and abruptly away from the life you have back home – like tearing off a strip of sticky tape from a wall that it’s been stuck to for years only for it to be pasted onto another. The original wall will have been left with strains and marks from where that sticky tape has been torn from, and that piece of sticky tape can no longer stick as well as it was before on anywhere else.

This brings me to the next biggest loss I have experienced when I am here – the loss of self. I mean this in a good way, really.
I am stepping into another version of me. Living abroad has taught me a lot of things about life in general. As seasons changed, I felt like I was also shedding a part of myself – the one who kept holding onto her past and refuses to let go. Old perspectives, values and beliefs were altered and renewed. Perhaps I am offending many by saying this, but in a way, when I was back home, I could not think or see clearly the direction I wanted to go and was always moving in the direction of what people want and expect of me. In the pursuit of not letting others down, I let myself down the most.

However, when I came to Japan, I was able to rethink my priorities. I had space to understand and develop myself a lot better.

For example, I realized my drive to succeed in the past was largely because everyone around me (especially my family) wanted me to. So I worked hard. And for a while, I got jaded because I didn’t know what I was working so hard for and why I needed to work so hard for. When the people here asked me in an interview what I wanted to be in five years, without hesitation I replied, almost in a mechanical way, that I wanted to work up the career ladder and become a general manager some day. Now, reflecting back on that day, I regretted saying that. Because, no, I don’t want to be some big shot manager, or some high flying executive chasing after the high life, flying on business class from one country to another, affording no time at all for my loved ones. I don’t need a lot of money – I don’t buy a lot of things. Neither do I crave for prestige or fame – the constant feeling of being watched and judged was what drove me to depression when I was young. I don’t crave the fine life – I feel uncomfortable in such settings. I don’t need power – what is so great about having people fear and follow you anyway?

What if I am okay with making just enough money to get by?
What if I am okay with not pushing myself to the limit to gain that 1% more in my performance appraisal?
What if I am fine with mediocrity?
What if I am perfectly happy with being at home working on the illustration book(s) that I have always wanted to publish?

The one thing I treasure – the only thing I need – is time.
Time for myself. Time for loved ones. Time for personal rejuvenation. Time for reflection. Time for learning. Time for creating new experiences.

Why should I be ashamed of having such thoughts?
… Why was I ashamed of such thoughts?

There were many things I have loved and lost in Singapore.
There are things I will continue to fight not to lose in Singapore while I am in Japan.
There will be things I will lose while I am in Japan.
That is what I have come to realize about life after working abroad.
We deal with it on a daily basis without us knowing it.



Infallible faith – something to hold onto

I’d actually written this 2 weeks ago, typed in my phone late at night when it was hard to fall asleep. If I could recall clearly, I was feeling quite jaded with my life then (as usual). School has made a habit out of me. Every 3 months, I would push myself and work extremely hard for a few letters on my transcript. And by the end of it, I’d feel like a part of me is missing and I need to do a little soul searching in order to get myself back. Yesterday, I reread what I wrote 2 weeks ago, and I decided I should add onto that and post my additional thoughts on them:

7th May, 1.47pm

“In life, there are some moments that will hit you like a hard slap on the face. Then, this wave of sadness washes over you as you replay your life and realise that you’ve come so far, did so much and still, you find that there’s not really much that you have accomplished with your life.

Maybe the book is right. I’ve been reading a book titled ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’, and in it, there was a part where someone tells Charlie, the main character in the story, that every girl is hoping for a man to give her a purpose in life.

When I read that, I felt peeved – not because that person in the story seemed sexist to have said something like that, but that to a certain extent, I don’t think he was that wrong to have said such a thing. And I resented that.

Purpose. What’s the purpose of my life, I asked myself then. I couldn’t find an answer. And it was in line with what I have been feeling lately. These days, I’ve been feeling lost. “Disillusioned” is a word I keep hearing from my friends whenever I talked to them about it.

“Everyone feels like that, it’s very natural,” my friend said, “but I think, had it not been for my faith, I would probably feel as disillusioned as you,” she said. If it were me in the past, who has grown so sick and tired of overzealous religious persons preaching that the slightest mention of religion would get me sick with contempt, I would have called her out for what she said – How dare she use her faith as an attempt to judge me and put herself on a higher moral ground!

I would probably think something like that. But instead, I sat there in silence for a moment. I think she might have thought she had offended me because she said something after to smooth things over. I didn’t hear what she said because I got caught in my own thoughts. But slowly, I nodded my head and agreed with her. “You’re lucky to have faith,” I admitted.

To be honest – and I’m saying that because I am almost never fully honest with myself – I envy people with faith, with their hopes and dreams still in tact and infallible, because they have their faith to pull them through.

I always wanted to have something like that. A conviction so strong that nothing can shake and sway me from where I stand rooted. I always wondered what that’d feel like, and what it takes to have something like that.”

Here is where I stopped in the memo, and this reminded me of an online chat I had about a week ago with an ex-colleague of mine online  (I knew him from my one-month internship stint last December), who has a huge appetite for philosophy and theology.

Upon hearing that I was agnostic, his interest piqued and he called out for a discussion to better understand what my thoughts on religion are (and I suspect, he had hoped he could convince me to convert; Again, I think if it were me in the past, I would have violently object to such a discussion and steered clear away from him in the future. It astonishes me to see how far along I’ve grown over the years, and yet I am still so inadequate).

**Disclaimer: I understand the topic on religion is very sensitive, and I respect that everyone’s views and opinion on it may differ. I’m not seeking to offend anyone, or cause anyone to fight, or sway anyone into one religion or another. Neither am I asking for an answer, because I know there are just some things in life that will have no absolute answer and should always be left open so that one can grow and develop in their own way, and not make the mistake of looking at life with a tunnel vision. If you can accept that with an open mind and be able to resist that urge to air your thoughts out solely to persuade someone to agree with you, then you may read on. If not, then please understand why your comments will not show up in this post.

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Remembering the small but big moments

Two nights ago, just before I slip to sleep, I recalled a memory I had of an old couple I met when I was touring in Korea two years ago. It felt strange because I wasn’t the kind who recall things or events clearly. But I remembered that encounter I had with them in detail – or at least in more detail than I would have with any other memory:

I was travelling with two other friends, and was lucky to have a Korean buddy take us around. His girlfriend had helped us book an apartment at a condominium for a couple of days while we were there. I remembered the weather being slightly cloudy, or maybe it could have drizzled a bit. Right in front of its main doors, there was a statue of a hand, as if it struck out from beneath the ground and was reaching out for something. The staff wore black formal suits and I remembered thinking that the male staff looked very smart in the suits. We were in Busan, and the air smelled of the sea.

While we waited for our Korean guide to help us check in and settle other administrative matters, I looked around and couldn’t help but notice curious stares directed at us. Everybody in the lobby was Korean. So I guessed it was because we were foreigners, and the condominium apartment wouldn’t have been accessible to foreigners like us. They were probably wondering what on earth were we doing there, like a bunch of donkeys trying to blend in with a herd of horses. As I combed the lobby with my eyes, there was an old lady seated at a couch nearby who was looking at us. She didn’t look away like the others did when I looked straight at her. Instead, she smiled.

She gestured for us to come forward. I was puzzled at first and turned to Sarah, who was the only one among us that could speak Korean. Sarah caught on and pointed at us. Speaking with our bodies, we “asked” if the old lady was referring to us to go to her. The old lady nodded her head and gestured even harder, urging us to come. Cautiously, slightly taken aback by the sudden request, and wondering what to do with the language barrier, we went forward. “Oh my god, what does she want with us? Oh no,” we mumbled to ourselves.

When we approached her, she started to speak in Korean, and I could only make out a few familiar words (thanks to Kdramas).

“You guys don’t look local, are you guys Korean? (We shook our heads) Where are you from?”

“We’re from Singapore,” Sarah replied. The old lady’s eyes lit up and she spoke faster with more enthusiasm.

“Oh, I’ve been there before! (At this point, Sarah was translating for us) My husband and I went there lots of times because he has business there.” I was just nodding along, as if I understood every bit.

“I see. Is it fun?” Sarah asked.

We were all expecting a polite reply; The kind most strangers would reply with. Things like “Oh yes, it was divine.” or “Oh yes, it’s a beautiful country.”

Instead, she let out a frustrated sigh with a frown, “Oh, it’s not interesting at all! It’s really boring!” Her refreshingly honest reply got us all laughing. She started talking about our weather and really bad fashion so there wasn’t anything to buy from there. And just when we thought the conversation has ended, she switched the topic and talked about our health. She used to practice Chinese medicine and knew a bit of acupuncture, something about pressure points on the hand which Sarah could not understand completely.

She told us that she noticed us from afar and from our faces, she could see that our health wasn’t doing so good. (At this point, I was wondering if she was about to sell us some Chinese medicine. I looked at my other friends and I could tell they were thinking the same thing.) We simply nodded.

Turning to me, with a worried expression on her face and raising her tone for emphasis, “Oh~! Your body constitution is the weakest among you three!” My two other friends laughed. And as soon as Sarah translates that, I went “eh.. EH?!?!”

Without any notice, she took my hand gently, like a mother would with her child, and started talking about pressure points again. Sarah wasn’t completely sure of what she said, but the old lady went on anyway, thinking we could understand. Something about heart or the liver, Sarah was trying her best to make out bits and pieces of what she was saying.

Then, I guess the old lady figured the only way was to show us. She pressed her finger on a point on my hand, where the joints of the thumb and index finger meet. It was painful at first, but as soon as she released it, I felt a strange calming sense of pleasure, if that was even possible.

“If you keep pressing this point, your health will improve,” the old lady said. We all followed and went, all bright-eyed, giving enthusiastic responses, “Ohh! Wow! Whoa!” At this point, I thought we were acting like kids.

My Korean buddy joined us, wondering what all the fuss was and why we were all crowding a poor old lady. We updated him on it, and he started conversing with her for a bit. Then came an old man. It was her husband and he spoke fluent English with a slight British accent. He had the presence of a successful businessman. In a suit, he stood with his hand in his pocket. Yet, his stance was not of arrogance. He was firm and collected. Such presence, I thought. Calmly, he spoke. And somehow you knew he spoke every word with careful thought put into it. He, too, talked about his experience with Singapore (“… It’s so boring!” the old lady chided as soon as the word Singapore was mentioned). I couldn’t help but think they were an adorable couple.

They seemed like two different individuals – one is warm, kind and honest. It feels like there’s still an inner child in her who’s still seeking adventure. The other is strong and silent, like a tree, firm and dependable. Yet, here they are, spending time together. I wondered if they had children. It seemed like all they have are each other, and that’s okay, because they have each other. And I thought that was rather sweet. Without a word, I watched him help her up from the couch with care, and gently held onto her arm. She looked like she didn’t want to say goodbye. But we did so anyway, and went to settle down in our apartment.

I didn’t tell my friends. But for the rest of that day, I couldn’t help but think of the old lady from time to time, like how kind her eyes looked when she smiled, how nice she is to strike up a conversation bravely despite knowing the language barrier, and how her love seemed so simple and sweet. Though it was a short and simple conversation, I felt like I was allowed a small glimpse into someone else’s life. I don’t know just how to describe it completely, but perhaps it was this sense of ‘unity’ that overwhelmed me – I felt her happiness in that moment. It almost seemed like she wanted to share a bit of that with my friends and I when she decided to strike up a conversation with us that day, and consequently, I was happy too.

It warmed my heart. And I couldn’t help but think how nice it would be if people were less afraid of each other, pass on a smile instead of a frown, and be able to strike up random but genuine conversations with each other, despite the differences.

I think I’ve forgotten about that for a while – that we are actually capable of touching someone’s life and pass on happiness with just a small and simple gesture. Amidst the hectic pursuit of success, I’ve grown skeptical and cynical about people in general. I became disenchanted with everything around me. I kept people at arm’s length away from me because I thought to turn my back on the world before the world turned its back against me. Indeed, it seems I’ve lost and missed out too many things along the way.

But somehow, two nights ago as I laid there on my bed waiting for sleep to happen, as if I’ve received a spiritual touch of some sort, I remembered the old lady. I remembered that moment of pure happiness, and that I was capable of being happy for someone else even if I might not be on my own.

Maybe it was nothing special for the old couple, they may have long forgotten what we’d looked like, or that we even met at all. But I’d like to remember them for years to come because as cliche as it sounds, they gave me something really important, and I want to write this down so that I won’t forget again. That, and I also want to share this moment with whoever stumbles upon this blog, and I hope this’ll make them take a moment to remember those moments again.

And I do hope that wherever that old couple is right now, that they are healthy and happy. I wish for only good things to happen to them. I really do hope so.

Travel often. Meet lots of people. Share your stories. Make connections. Be bold. Be nice. Be good.

A simple reminder


Always Remember Your Passion

To the Future Me:

Do you still remember how much you love media and communication?

The first day you started school at the polytechnic, you told yourself to just do your best and never looked back ever since.

Do you remember how you would sit in front of your computer trying to do your best at design…
And hours will just fly by without you feeling tired at all?

….The euphoria you got when something in the group just clicks and ideas started to snowball one after another?

… That exhilaration and rush of self-satisfaction you got when you finished writing or designing?

… That flash of illumination when you thought of something big?

… That feeling like you’re in control when you were managing a campaign?

Sure, it hasn’t been entirely good to you. But it makes you happy most of the time. You always relish a challenge and it was always giving you new ones to achieve greater heights. You change things and it changes you too. That excites you, doesn’t it? I hope you never forget these feelings.

And if you were reading this to yourself, and all of the above feels remote to you… I hope you will be able to recall how much you love doing this… How much you lived and breathe this during your youth. And through this, I hope you gather strength and courage to keep going. To keep believing in yourself no matter what obstacles you may face. Don’t let anyone diminish your flame of passion and hope.

Yours Sincerely,

22-year-old You.





Note to Self ID#129081: Living with Regrets


Everyone has them.

Some of them you wished you had said or did things you didn’t do. Sometimes, you wished you didn’t do the things you did or said the things you said. All the possibilities running through your mind. Maybe, maybe things would be different. Maybe things wouldn’t have to be this way. It could have been better. You could be happier. Things wouldn’t have to change. Maybe you could have done so much better if you hadn’t made that stupid mistake. You wouldn’t have to have this knot in your heart.

But that’s it. You’re always going to left wondering.

And nobody really knows if it would really turn out for the better if you hadn’t taken that step. What if things turn out worse? Have you ever thought of that possibility? What’s done is done. Forgive yourself and let it go. Stop ruminating. You did your best and make what seems to be the most appropriate decision at that point of time. You did your best. But hey, shit happens sometimes. You shouldn’t beat yourself all over it for trying your best. Mistakes are there so you can learn and grow. We can’t go through life making all perfect decisions. Some people take pride in never making mistakes. They hold it to the utmost regard. But they are almost always the most uptight people I have ever known.

I’m not saying: that having that sense of responsibility and taking the time to research in order to reach the best decision is wrong or bad. In fact, I think it’s a good habit otherwise you’ll just be banging into walls unnecessarily everywhere you go. What I mean is when things don’t turn out the way you wanted it to, that you’ve to learn to take it in your stride and learn to be comfortable living with regrets, and not let them get you down any more than it should. Cry, then brush yourself off and learn from experience. And tomorrow, you’re going to be a better man than yesterday.

As I quote from the show HIMYM: “If the eggs are already broken, might as well make omelette.”

Life’s a harsh teacher as it is already. So there’s no need to pump up the pressure even more by being harsh on yourself too. Because if even you are harsh with yourself, then who else would be nice to you? Only you can control your own thoughts and actions.

So heck with it, might as well be happy.

… and I end off with a little remake of an old work of mine as a little note to self:

My toast to the Media Ghosts

Just moments ago, I read a tweet from a friend who’s currently working as a copywriter. She felt sad that nobody really reads what she writes and that she felt like people were just passing her by.

Yesterday, my friend told me that a group of  people have set up a group to bash people working in the industry. He used to work as a journalist, and felt enraged by the actions of these stuck-ups who think they know better.

Back when I was still working in a well established advertising agency, I’ve got to witness first hand the kind of abuse the workers had to go through everyday. They were all overworked and exhausted. Clients would call screaming over the phone, expecting and demanding so many things to be done within a short frame of time. To them, it’s just a few sentences made in an e-mail, most likely in the late afternoon just before they end their work: “Make these copy changes, move the logo to the right by 1cm, change the colour of the borders, move the globe slightly higher, I don’t like the colour of the rocks, can we do something about that and oh, I don’t know, maybe reduce the opacity of the background just to see how it looks. I expect the revised visuals when I open my mailbox tomorrow morning.” All it takes is probably an e-mail to do the job, but for the creatives working on this, it meant hours of staring in the computer until the wee hours of the night to make sure that visual is in their mailboxes the next morning. And clients never thank us: because we pay you to jolly well do what we say and do your job right.

I mean, I have known all along that there is no perfect job and that you’ve got to make sure that your passion is enough to sustain you. But at that time, it was like harsh reality had smack me extremely hard on my face. You never really know how bad it could be until you’ve experienced it for yourself. It shot through my body and weighed me down like a ball and chain. Almost towards the end of that period, I remembered I survived the week laughing and crying. One moment, I’d still be smiling at one of the creatives as she vented her frustrations on me, then breaking down in tears the next in the last cubicle of the female’s toilet. At that time, I felt like some part of me changed and I was, quite frankly, never quite the same again.

For a while, I’ve thought hard about what I most would like to do next in my life, I mean, besides doing media and communications. Questions like: Will I be able to adapt well  if I continued on with media? What else can I do besides this? Do I love anything more than media and communications? popped in my head.

I weighed my options. And for a while, I tried them out. But ultimately, I made the decision to go back to studying media and communications. People around me scoffed and belittled me whenever I tell them I’m studying the course, throwing all sorts of discouraging comments like they know any better.

Oh, it’s easy to score. That’s why you chose it right? It’s super easy to study for it.

What can you do with that kind of a degree? You can’t make it big.

Why do you want to study in that course for? Anyone can do it.

I’m not going to lie. There are certain degrees of truth to all of it. But I am even more saddened at the fact that this is exactly the kind of attitudes people hold towards people within the industry. Let’s face it. Nobody will really understand the blood, tears and sweat that goes behind every word in an article, every pixels or second of an advertisement, or every detail of a PR event. Nobody. Not unless you’re immersed in it yourself. Nobody appreciates what we do, and certainly nobody outside the industry will thank us for doing our jobs well.

From the PR side, we’re seen as propaganda. We’re like the ghouls whispering the devil’s words to the gatekeepers, who are no better as they would then translate and distribute these words to the masses. Or the devil itself that gives people the illusion of free choice. From the advertising side, we’re seen as annoying salespeople who leverage on people’s psychological weaknesses to sell products and services that people might not even need. From the journalistic side, we’re seen as puppets to make the people think what the puppetmasters want them to think. On top of that, most people would think the people working within the industry have no moral ethics or have poor characters.

So why?

Why do we do the job anyway, knowing people aren’t going to thank us for it?

For money? You’d be surprised to know how little the people in the industry are paid for the amount of work they do.

For prestige? Heck, no. Probably only within the industry itself.

For recognition? I never knew that one of my ex-colleagues won a Clio award for an advertising campaign until I was searching on the Clio website for academic research. That’s just about the amount of recognition you’d get. And it was only because he was an ex-colleague of mine that I recognised his name. Not even a picture to remember him by.

… then for what?

We have no other choice but to do it? Maybe it’s one of the reasons.

But as cliche as it may sound, i think for most of us, we actually like what we do, and this passion is what sustains us more than the money. It was something I could tell whenever I ask them what they like about their job. Simply put, they love what they do even though they probably will never gain any recognition or appreciation for a good job well done. Will I be able to keep holding on?

“… So,” I asked one of the creatives over lunch, “…why are you still sticking around?” I asked.

“… it’s damn annoying for the most part. But… I don’t know, everyday, there’s always something new. I get to work with other creatives, one of the bosses is a brilliant guy full of ideas, brainstorming and coming up with ideas that clients approve of is like hitting the jackpot, and oh, bitching about our clients together…”

At that time, I thought I saw a sparkle lit up in the corner of his tired eyes.


p.s: I’ve renamed the title, courtesy of Sufian, a title very appropriate for this post. Let us celebrate. All of us. You know who you are out there. (:

Rant ID #1209154

Money vs. Passion.

Must it always be considered as a dichotomy? The reason for today’s topic is because I just had an interesting chat with someone, let’s call him A. Just a few short exchange of sentences and you could immediately tell that we’re extremely different individuals with very different mindsets.

To him, earning money is of utmost importance regardless of whether he likes the job or not. He prides himself as being very practical – working as hard as he could to achieve a certain salary level so that he could retire early and enjoy later. His ego and pride, to me, seemed like it was largely dependent on how much he can endure and tolerate. Because he believes that those who enter into professions based on their passion (and not for money) are, as I quote, “immature, spoiled individuals who does not know the meaning of ‘endurance’.”

I, on the other hand, believe that loving your job and taking pride in what you do is important when it comes to considering a profession. There needs to be colour in my life.

“So even if it means you’re going to spend the rest of your life earning $2,300, you’re fine with it?” He asked with a condescending look on his face.

I admit, no. I don’t think I can tolerate earning that amount of money in this society for the rest of my life. But realistically speaking, it’s almost impossible to work your whole entire life with the same salary. Moreover, when your heart is in it, you would naturally do things to improve yourself and give your best in everything you do because you enjoy what you’re doing. What’s wrong with doing something you love and getting paid for it? I’d say that’s a pretty good deal to me. And quite frankly, it’s impossible to retire early unless you work like crazy and earn more than $10k/mth by the age of 25 onwards. Or maybe scrimp and save like crazy. Either way, it doesn’t sound practical to me. When you centre your whole life around money and can only make yourself happy with material goods instead, that’s when I start feeling a bit of pity and sorrow for the other person. But then again, that’s just me. I mean, that just shows how different human beings can be, because I can’t seem to relate to that line of thinking, but well, I can’t force people to think the same, so: “开心就好。(Just as long as you’re happy, do whatever you wish.)”

Bah. End of rant.