Crossroad, again!

I found myself at a crossroad again! I will graduate in about one and a half months. I keep telling myself: “No big deal”. The reason is factual and simple. Everything must come to an end, good or bad. If good things come to an end, you feel sad and naturally reach out for more. If bad things end, a big sigh of relief.

I found myself reflecting more often. Possibly due to the fact that I just have a lot of time on my hands. Classes are over. No more part-time job (definitely not something I am looking forward to). But all in all, reflection is much needed and perhaps necessary before the next step.

So looking back, what have I achieved in the last 4 years or so? I found myself in a better state of mind. I have a girlfriend now who is extremely loving and moderately aggressive when she needs to be. 4 years ago and she would not have caught my attention but you know, things and people change & I am very glad that I got to know her. If you ever read this, I love you!

I realised that theatre might not be an appropriate avenue for me to make an impact in the world. I do not know what exactly happened, the only thing I know is that while I like theatre as a form of performing arts, it does not quite stick. People are mean and the environment is suffocating. But I am glad that I decided to see it through, even though it did not amount to anything. Or did it?

I carved out my niche within the field of construction law. I am no lawyer, no surprise there. However, I did learn that I like to think about the law, the problems that the law presents and  the pursuit of questions that sometimes command no comprehensible answer. From what I learn from the pursuit of theatre, probably I should see this through? till the end?

I am pleasantly surprised with the new people that I met, the new relationships and the old ones that I tried to forget but never quite managed to. I feel more comfortable in my own skin, of being who I am and how I would project myself onto people around me. I feel happy that at this juncture of my life, I constantly find help from people around me when I need it, be it professors, mentors or strangers I never meet. Something to think about and to pay forward.

The above would definitely not be possible without a certain degree of success in understanding myself. I found myself calmer, more down-to-earth, yet less excited when exciting things happen. (Un)lucky side effect of maturing, who knows?

The purpose of this blog entry is simple. To ground myself and to find my bearings. Things might not be easy and should not be (Do not pray for an easy life. Pray for strength to endure a difficult one). But looking back to the years of 2013 and 2014, I find myself in a familiar situation: at a crossroad with different paths with destinations that remain unknown. Perhaps, it is a good thing. Just like what Prof Lim said: “You are young. You have a whole life in front of you. Should not and probably do not settle. Go explore!” I think I will.

The only difference is that I am now more matured, calmer, with some savings and the willingness and determination to open that oyster. Those are things that truly matter perhaps. I do not know. ‘You can only connect the dots backwards’. This hints at a blog post after law school. Definitely.

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On Emotions

“’You’ve got to find what you love,’

“And most important, [you must] have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

Steve Jobs, 2005

On the first day of Roots and Wings Seminar 1, I made the commitment to learn more about emotions. The commitment, unexpectedly, leads me to discover things that I thought that was not possible or that I knew but simply forgot amid the hassles and bustles of every day’s life. These guiding principles are often no so obvious to people at first glance, so easily missed by so many of us. Unfortunately, we are so in need of understanding these principles that we are often blinded without them only tragically not knowing what we missed and needed.

Emotions are truly complex. We are often told that we should be happy, that we should avoid being sad. These are completely not true. As a human being, we need all these experiences to form part of human being’s tapestry. We do need to those negative emotions to appreciate the positive emotions; there will be no positive if everything is positive. The problem lies in the fact that we see negative emotions to be something that will be always is with us no matter when we experience them, either yesterday or 10 years ago. Furthermore, we develop this complex, unrelenting relationship with the negative emotions – we internalize those negative emotions as our very own thoughts. Remember those cringe-worthy moments? I do too. And I would go one step further suspecting that we do not remember exactly how we felt at those moments but we for sure remembered how badly we think we had appeared in front of other people. That is not healthy emotionally and these are things that we often forgot.

Emotions does not only dictates how we feels about our lives but also do provide us with a sense of directions where we are going to become as we mature. These are things that I had learned while contemplating about emotions. In schools, we are not taught to pursue what you love, to let emotions guides you but to conform. Indeed, if we and our careers are all guided by negative emotions, we would all become evil scientists or crooked businessmen. So to avoid that, we stick to learning the same subjects in school, no matter we like them or not. But we did not ask ourselves what if our lives and careers are guided by positive emotions. To be fair, positive emotions are incredibly transient in nature; they come and go faster than you can sneeze. However, what if we put in the hours and efforts to regain our abilities to connect and heed our own emotional advice, to listen to what our emotions have to tell us? I believe that what Steve was trying to say by ‘follow your heart and intuition’. Indeed, we have to be friends with emotions once again, not feeding them prescription drugs to make both of us happy, but to kindle and learn to feel what we feel again, and not what we think we should feel. And I think that is a truly powerful thought.

LKY
I knew the day would eventually come but chose to ignore it for reason of sentiment. Like a child who tries to forget that school holiday is only 3-month long. The only difference is the former is a lot more bitter and harder to shallow.

What must be said of Lee Kuan Yew that has not been told? To simply quote his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong: “To many Singaporeans, and indeed others too, Lee Kuan Yew was Singapore!”

I was burdened with a heavy, grieved heart. Never have the honour to have a conversation with him, all I know about him is through books, videos and especially the Singapore I am living in.

Born and raised in two different countries, one of which is Singapore, I know how privileged Singaporeans are to live in Singapore and to have Lee Kuan Yew. It does not mean that I agree with everything he said or did, but I know too well that’s the price we must pay for what we got back in return. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, only hard work. And there’s a courageous man who was willing to pay that price to lead a whole nation from days of darkness to where it stands today, strong and undeterred by the challenges coming its way.

As a friend of mine, whose talent lies in speaking her mind so eloquently and beautifully, has written: “It’s impossible to grieve a politician without politics, but I wish we could. As the apolitical scum that I am it’s not the politics or even the legacy that I think about first, but I’m thinking about what I usually think about whenever anyone dies. Reminded of our mortality, I guess. That people die. People can be great and do great things and in that they seem immortal to us, but they really do die and that is very sad.”, I felt resentful at life. Very much. But I also believed he had lived his life with little regrets, in exchange for a successful Singapore, and for that alone I would rather like to celebrate his life.

Upon hearing of the devastating news, I strangely and deeply moved. My instincts tell me that I am not the only one, that anyone, Singaporeans and foreigners alike, who could see how far we had progressed as a nation, will feel likewise. I can’t help but notice the resemblances between our national mourning and the Chinese mourning of Mao Zedong, or the Vietnamese mourning of Ho Chi Minh. It’s not hyperbole to say that you are Singapore’s founding father – the title which is in no way an exaggeration in the light of your legacy.

Without you, without Singapore, I would be a different man. I hope you find peace in the afterlife, though I know you really did not believe in one. But at this moment of final parting, my heart is heavy with sorrow.  

Lost

I have always been feeling uneasy about being lost and have always tried my best to get my bearings. Yet again today I felt so lost than I could not do anything, or rather I felt a strong sense of irrelevance in whatever I do. Nothing I do will help me to know where I am and what directions I should take. In fact, the matter is so serious that I do not even think that talking to someone who is supposedly of experience than I am, for example, my mother, will have any effects on me at all. Deep from inside, it appears to me that this seems to be an one-man quest, even though I am not entirely sure what the quest is all about.

To a certain extent, I have felt lost for a long time, but not until recently, the necessity of being so. In other word, I enjoy being lost, now knowing what to expect and even to some degree, even not knowing what I am doing or what I really want.

The problem is I have spent so many years of my life in classes I don’t like a bit, possibly to the extent that being present in one of those rooms at those moments can be of enough suffering for me that I can easily earn my rightful ticket to heaven gate in the next phrase of my life. I really meant it. I so don’t know why I was spending time with chemical formulas or physical equations that I will never ever again see in my life. I start to feel too damn well the curse of modern mass education.

But then, there are classes I really enjoy. There are classes I love so much, that given a choice, I wouldn’t think twice before taking it again. Don’t get me wrong – those classes aren’t easy-to-score – in fact, many are so difficult and intellectually challenging that they turned people away at the sight of the course description. I, being lousy self at scoring in school, never really achieve anything that will do my parents particularly proud. You must think I really enjoy it. Quite the opposite again actually – I really struggled my way through it. I shed tears and sometimes blood (once the giant block of backdrop crushed my big toe!) But again, given a choice, I will do them all over again.

You probably think why I am such a illogical and irrational thinker. I don’t know actually. I was too often being criticized as being too practical. I don’t daydream. Ever. But then, why do I become such a completely different person when it comes to theater and the absolutely absurd idea of pursing such ‘useless’ profession?

There is one thing I’ve come to know for being notoriously irrational and at times absurd – love. I think I love theater that much that I am prepared to go the extra miles with it. The idea of giving up has never crossed my mind! A blessing or a curse? I guess both!

At this point, you might have probably figured out the purpose of this post. I was scared and lost and in need of reassurance. This post did exactly. And here’s another thing if you haven’t figured it out by yourself yet: I don’t really need other people to tell me that I love theater, I just need to be quiet to listen to the soft, inner voice inside of me which has always been there throughout but been drought out in the face of fear and uncertainty. I just need to get in touch with it. AGAIN.

To end off, I would like to leave you with a thought. As I always do when I feel lost, I read. Read to seek help from people who have probably been in where you are right now, to see what they did. For that matter, Mr. Brian Connor’s blog is always a safe choice. I have what he wrote below might assure and inspire you like it did for me:

The most important thing I’ve learned in the course of my career – indeed, some might say the only thing – is that our species has a deeply seated need to create and to deny that need is not a good idea. In contrast, making an environment in which such creativity flourishes, as it should, naturally, is not simply a good idea, it’s pretty much top of the list of excellent wheezes.

I was heartened to find my finding verified by one of the few writers I can think of who manifests that curious quality one might term wisdom. A letter he sent expressing the sentiment of the previous paragraph, but doing so a lot better than I managed, a lot more wisely, can be viewed at Open Culture and my heart sings when I read it. I hope yours does too.”

And if that is not enough for you then maybe a quote from a man who, according to Mr. Connor, managed to do it a lot better than he did, will enlighten us both equally:

“… Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow …

 

Start strong, stay steady and finish well!

Today seems like a productive day for me. I cleaned (swept and mopped!) my room, did my bed and washed (of course with the help of my best friend: the washing machine) my high-as-myself pile of clothes. In addition I cleaned the study room, where I will spend most of my awaking hours in the next 3 weeks ( I hope!), threw out some trash that unexpectedly turned out to be delightful toys for some old custodians, which in return made my day so much more meaningful than in anyway I could expect out of those things. You will be amazed by how small things that we threw in the bin everyday can be a delight to other who are less privileged than you are. Little effort that can go a long way always brings the most pleasure. I am also gratefully humbled by how lucky I am.

“The last few days had been very productive” is actually an understatement. Of course, at the expense of many sleep hours and (hopefully not) a few years off my life. I have been trying too hard, way to hard to accomplish so many things in such a short amount of time. (OK! Maybe it’s not as good an idea as it sounds!) I have a itch throat that can turn to sore throat and fever anytime which will pretty much kill me because finals are just around the corner.

The reason for the title is, that phrase was repeated to us time after time  by then the principal of my high school. I brainlessly remembered it, thinking that I will forget it as soon as I finish high school. Apparently I did. And didn’t. I did because I couldn’t recall the last time when I actually said the phrase to someone, or even thought about. I didn’t because it came back to me when I did need it most. I find it extremely intriguing, yet am unable to describe how much the education in early years of adolescence had defined for who I am today. Dare I say, I was from a good, if not outstanding, high school.

As I was saying, the phrase came back when I needed it the most. I am almost exhausted. I am out of battery and in need of a full recharge soon (btw, the recharge is already booked and it’s pretty exotic!). The question is how to get from now to that red ‘X’-marked 6th June on my calender. The title serves as a good reminder for all of us, having finals or even working, that we need to end the race well. There is no point in ending with a failure.

In fact, the phrase reflects what we were taught by a Methodist institution. I particularly remembered one Biblical verse: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” The phrase resonates with me on a deep, personal level. It goes beyond the context of Christianity, and sheds light on a truth that is deep-seated at the core of my belief which my procastinated-self always fails or refuses to recognize. As people say, “hard work will always pay off”. Or according to one of my friends, if you work hard, you will be fine 80% of the time. I know, ‘always’ means 100%. But having to make a judgement call, I would definitely go will 80%. Not because it’s a safer choice but before it’s more realistic and it won’t give false hope.

Some of you might not be happy. Luckily, I find the saying incomplete and I happened to find out the missing portion. Here how it goes! “If you work hard and be KIND, amazing things will happen!” Now it’s complete and true.

Speaking of being KIND, I find myself reaching out to more and more people last week, from my friends, to people I met and talked to for the first time and even to strangers to whose days have been so lots better because I simply smile. Sometimes, a little effort that can go a long way.

The first college summer and a brand new Year 2 is coming, let these lines be as my compass of  my actions. Work hard, but more importantly, be kind and help people. As I will be embarking on countless social initiatives,  be it to help the poor in developing countries, or to better the lives of those marginalized individuals in Singapore, or to use arts and theater to make the world a better place, let these words ring true to its meaning.

“Happiness is much greater when shared.”

First two questions of 2014

This post is my my first post of a (lunar) new year. Well, I am doing OK! I just fully ‘recovered’ from a week-long break in the chilly weather of Hanoi, from drinking as much liquor as if that week-long breakaway was the only chance for me to consume this mind-numbing but happiness-inducing liquid. However, to be very honest, that was very much needed holiday. It marked the end of the my first semester I spent in (old) Singapore as a (new) college student in a (relatively but arguably new) environment.

I have to admit that I am so inspired by one of my friends’ blog that I decided to write something. You can check out his great blog here: http://gkhuyen.wordpress.com/. We were not exactly close or very understanding of each other – the fact that puzzles me no end ever since I discovered his blog! We are pretty much the same, I mean, we ask the same questions and shared many thoughts that are not possibly, or preferably, expressed verbally. We shared this need to write to express ourselves. Hence, the more I think about it, the more  baffling it feels. Anyway, in one of his blog post recently, he wrote that he was asked two questions, which he found joy in answering them. I really like these two questions. These are two great main points of a long post you are about to read:

First, what has ended or is ending?  

Well, it is really hard to say definitely what has ended and what is ending. But there are a few things I can say with much confidence. My first four of many years of living and growing up away from home has ended. If there is anything that I will remember for the rest of my life, it is probably these 4 years. I know that I sound so corny when I keep repeating the phrase “I would not be where I am today if not because of those four years!”, but I really wish I could find an more elegant way to put it! All the friendships made and fostered, so many memories no matter how tear-jerking or embarrassing they were, all become indelible in my mind. I have grown up so much, to the extent that by looking at the photos of myself just 4 years ago is more that enough to make me so embarrassed, but at the same time, ironically, elated to see how far I have gone and excited about the long journey ahead.

My (almost) a gap year in Vietnam has ended. Everything passed by in a blink of an eye, from the euphoric thought of spending Tet with my family and my grandparents, the horrifying night of IB result-releasing and many sleepless nights filled with broken hope, tears and unfailing dreams afterwards, to the God-sent email notifying the awarding of ASEAN Scholarship while we, as a big family, are spending the summer getaway somewhere miles from my hometown, all passed by in a whirlwind of events. If anything, I would remember that I have spent some quality time with my parents during the 9-month break. I have learned to listen to the things that they had always wanted to tell me in person during those 4 years I spent abroad (short month-long breaks in between didn’t help since we were so often carried away by so many things, like visiting my relatives or summer getaways at pretty exotic beaches). I came to understand them much better than I ever did, and also allowed them to see for themselves who I had become as as a result of years spent aboard. There are so many father-son talks and mother-son moments that I could not remember, but one thing for sure, I know that I have grown up, not to the extent of a ‘man’ like my dad is right now, but a grown-up, who is fully capable of thinking and acting in a thoughtful and rational manner required of any man entering his twenties.

On that related note, my teenage years have ended. If I choose to take one thing to carry away from teenage years into my twenties, it would undoubtedly be my discovery of what I would continually work on and love for the rest of my life: theater. From the wonderful friendships that still last, things I learn about the meaning of theater, about the possibility of theater as an agent of changes in many developing countries and above all, the fulfilling, long-lasting  sense of meaning while I still  breathe and live. I am not sure whether I can be as half successful as I always want to be in the aspect of future career, but I know for sure that I will not find meaning in anything but theatrical works. As Khuyen has aptly put it (Sorry my friend’s name is Khuyen): “As we grow up, we continually piece together our experiences to create coherent stories for our lives.” Here is what I have stringed together so far: “Theater opens my eyes and heart to see what others see, to feel what the our eyes fail to see, and to act as if our hearts can see and feel. My heart tells me to become a theatrical director, for neither the glamour nor fame interests me, but the genuine love of human beings and to answer the questions of what it means to be a human in our world!”

Now to the second question: what is beginning?

The second question appears to be so much harder than the first, not only because writing a lengthy 933-word answer has put you to the limit, but also the fact that the second question brings to mind so many thoughts, specifically uncertain thoughts about future. Yes, I know maybe I was too much ahead as a result of over-thinking, but you have to admit that it would be so much more certain and reassuring to look back on things you had been through or done than looking forward through the misty clouds of future doubts. I would dare to put forth a few thoughts, though, about how I hope or think the future will unfold.

I know that my friend will agree with me on this, that the first slow half of 2013 has stagnated me a little. It allows you to lazy the whole week away, just lying in bed and that’s about it! It allowed you to slow down, to observe, to free your mind of mundane realities and most importantly, an opportunity to reflect about what and who you have become as a result of your choices in the past.

A new season of life is beginning. I am now able to do what I always wanted to do: “To find my way to pursue my dream”(concurrently with attempting to earn a double major B.A. in Projects Management & Theater Studies and  from one of the top 25 universities in the world (Mom and me agreed to disagree on that!). I cannot say with certainty that I will succeed in life but by far, I think I cannot fail so badly and that IS really reassuring. To a certain extent, an ACS education and (hopefully) a B.A. from NUS will serve as a platform for me to strive for better things and if, only if I have something firm to fall back on. In the face of adversity and uncertainty, it will be too presumptuous of to say anything I have not yet possessed. But I really do hope that I will achieve what I am set out to.

A few days back,  I re-did my room decoration. To me, it meant a lot since I spend a lot of time in my room and I will be there for 3 and a half year more so rather make it an inspiring room – a space for creativity. I bought a few lamps, a painting and a some bed-side table decoration. However, there is one thing I treasure the most – it is actually a print-out of my personal statement. It is actually a set of personal believes that I was, am and will be always holding firm to. So to end off this rather long blog post, let me post it here as a reminder for myself, not only in 2014 but for the rest of my life. You are welcome to read it, and feel free to take away what you think is relevant to you as a person or things that you think can make you a better person! So here it is:

“I will wake up each morning believing that the day worth living and there are many exciting things await for me ahead. I will remember that paradigms can be shifted and the way we see the problems is the problem. I promise to be proactive, whether it’s work, love or personal passion. I vow to remember my dreams, to plan ahead and prioritize in order to achieve them. I vow to help others love life , to have the patience and tenderness that life demands, to speak when words are needed and to share the silence when they are not, to agree to disagree and to believe that we can all be winners in life. I will remember to reflect and rejuvenate, to sharpen my saw. Finally, I am not a product of my circumstances but the product of my own decisions.”

FAREWELL!