26 plus 1.

October is drawing to an end and in less than 30 hours I turn a year older. If I were to sum up the past year, I’d say it has been my best year yet. I felt afraid when I threw the towel and left an extremely stable job. I went ahead anyway telling myself “it’s now or never.” I left to Melbourne for a month. Tried to find work but couldn’t with my visa, decided to use the time to meet people and get myself out there, met a dozen of people through couch surfing events, spent the days tiding the sister threw her finals, decided on taking another leap of faith and applied for a 6-month working holiday visa to New Zealand. On hind sight, that impromptu decision one evening has turned out to be the turning point of my life. I got back home in December, celebrated my overdue birthday, booked my tickets for the much awaited one-way flight, tried to prepare myself for the upcoming months on the road and left on 16 January 2015. I left the comforts of home, familiarity, routines, expectations, everything. Everything behind and decided to pave my own path to thread on. 125 days later, I returned home having built a new me and, rather unexpectedly, a new relationship.

I wrote this on 31 May 2015.

Today marks 9 days since arriving home to a life so much slower after 125 days of calling the road home. So many emotions fill me as I sit here trying to encapsulate this adventure in a few words. It feels impossible to settle for a single word to describe this journey. But, the quote “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” sums it all up pretty aptly.

Travel these days have, unfortunately, been glamourized to being about snapping the perfect instagram worthy shot, being able to change your Facebook cover photo to an epic one and, not forgetting, the spamming of check ins everywhere and anywhere the feet goes. To me, travel largely remains all about the experiences I have and, more importantly, the people I meet.

So, this journey of mine, it’s a tribute to all the people I met – the ones who have touched my soul, moved my heart and reminded me how grateful I should feel to just be alive.

Even now, nearly 160 days since, I do not have a word to encapsulate my adventure. Some days, I recall my stories like they have just unfolded hours ago. Some days, I feel like the stories are distant memories at the back of my head. Some days, I feel like I am my own superstar for having had the courage and strength to go forth with this journey. Some days, I know this is just the beginning. Beginning of so many more adventures (with you)!

I lost many things. First and foremost, needless to say, my depleting finances. Friendships that grew apart with the distance. Countless family functions that I missed. The distance, the time difference that strained us. Emotional upheaval when days aren’t even the least bit rosy and you cannot hold it together anymore, you just end up breaking down. So many such days. You question why you even begun this journey and cry yourself to sleep with empty hope that when the sun rises tomorrow things will get better.

But, I gained so much more. So much more. For a person who grew up in a nation that is a city, the country life experience with Sheryl opened my eyes up to alternative lifestyles. The cell at Napier Prison made me appreciate all the luxuries I lived with for the past 25 years. The struggle to feed myself thrice a day was so real. The stay with Rivka and her husband opened my eyes to what marriage at 50 looked like. Northland travels and all the misadventures that followed suit reminded me there are always going to be some things that are never within your control as much you want them to be. And, the only way out is to go with the flow. The stay at Linda’s lovely home in Hamilton showed me first hand the struggles of a single parent. The 4 days in Te Puke finding work were the lowest point of my adventure. Sitting in the carpark lot of Pac N Save calculating how many dollars I could spend each day to tide myself through till I get my pay is still fresh on my mind. For someone who never worried about finances, it struck me then how important it is to spend within your means and how every dollar actually counts. The next 3 weeks of work in the kiwi packhouse was just mundane physical labour. Food, work, sleep. That’s all that life revolved around. And, then came the best days of my life. I met the kindest souls, in the names of Simon and Darci, and felt like I belonged somewhere for the first time after a very long time. I could not have asked for a better end to my NZ adventure. Soon after, I bade NZ a goodbye and see you soon, spent a week in Sydney and got home on 23 May 2015.

It has been 5 months since I got home. The tears and struggles of my travels made me so much stronger than I can ever explain or quantify. The happiness that I draw from the simplest things in life now feels raw. The lonely days moulded by independence further. I value all the relationships I have now so much more. It took a while, but I now hold a job that gets me up and going every morning. I no longer have to sit through meetings that I cannot value add and churn out meeting minutes by the hour. I have friends who I trust more than my life with. I’ve got my sister flying in tomorrow. And you; the happiness and colour you add my life with is unlike any other. So, thank you for inevitably moulding me into a better person with your patience and silent love all these years.

Thank you for allowing everything to fall in place after 25 years. My 26th has been the best year yet and I cannot wait to see what my 27th is gonna bring with it. All I wanna say is, let it begin! Till, 27 plus 1.

On riding pain with happiness.

 

A couple of days back a 58-year old woman told me this.

“That was a bad year. So much had happened and then my dad died in November. So in December, I decided to throw a party to turn the year around. I needed an occasion to celebrate so I decided to marry Richard. We had been living together for 7 years, so it was just a matter of signing some papers.”

It struck me then. Sometimes, the only way to ride pain is to allow yourself to be happy (again). Pain takes ages, if at all, to feel less raw. But, happiness, needs less than a split second to hit you and for you to feel euphoria.

Your grandparents can pass on within a space of 3 days. Your dad, who has been the sole breadwinner for over 30 years, can pass on after being admitted just for pneumonia. Your brother who was on the flight back home for the holidays can go missing without a trace. Bad things happen to people all the time. That is just the way life unfolds.

It might be incredibly hard, but try and look beyond the pain and tears. Happiness may lie just around the corner. So, don’t be too quick to let the pain engulf you. After all, you never know where your next happiness is going to come from.

Let’s ride pain with happiness, shall we?

 

On returning home.

 

I just got back from a shoot with a local production team who wanted to feature me for their episode on couchsurfers and to gain insights on this alternative way of life/travel. We managed to touch on a couple of interesting topics and that set me thinking. Hence, this post.

People outside the travelling community think travellers have it easy in terms of relationships. We are expected to make friends and lose them within a blink of and eye and, and be okay with it. But, to be honest, it’s not. It’s not easy to return back home when you realise everything has probably changed. Your best friend got married, another gave birth, a relative passed on, acquaintances have ended up being best of friends while others have just drifted apart. So many things have changed, all at once.

That nostalgia of returning home, as sweet as it tastes, is also bitter. We leave the comfort of home with such confidence, to conquer the world and see everything around us in our coloured lens and form our take on life. Yet, when it’s time to return home, we curl up into a cocoon and feel anxious. We try to recall familiar sights, smells and sounds to feel at ease. But what if, the kitchen doesn’t smell of the usual spices that used to float all the way up to the rooms with? What if the view out of your window has changed? What if the rocking chair you sat on to read started squeaking just a bit louder and dad has decided to get rid of it.

It’s scary.

But, this transition will be okay. I keep telling myself that.

On goodbyes.

Taken at Gold Coast, 2012

Saying goodbyes to familiarity is never easy. Be it to an acquaintance turned friend or friend turned lover or lover turned ex, it’s gotta be done. We’ll keep replaying the happy moments in our minds, we’ll choose to think less of all the hurt and convince ourselves that there was more happiness than pain. But, we owe it to ourselves to keep moving forward. We cannot keep holding ourselves back and worry about where our next goodbye is gonna come from. So I guess, the trick is to think of goodbyes as a good thing; rip off our old skin and start again.

After all, you need to turn away from the past, and face the sun boldly to let the shadows fall behind you.

We are all the same.

We hardly say what we feel and instead choose to suffer in silence.

We constantly drum into ourselves how selfless that is.

We laugh when we hurt, to mask the pain and the tears.

We say we’ve moved on but we’ve barely wrapped our head around things.

We fear rejection so much that we rather suppress our dreams.

We short change ourselves more often than not without realising our self worth.

What have we become?

People seeking acceptance or just a bunch conforming to ‘norms’?

Essentially, we are all the same.

Fragile beings cut out from the same fabric.

Searching for breadcrumbs.

Glad I decided to spend the day, despite being sick, reading Marcella’s Purnama’s new e-book, Swimming with the Sharks.

I’m a sucker for honest writing. Fancy anecdotes that are written to glamourise are immediate turn off for me. So, Marcella’s writing really resonated with me especially since every word of hers was like reading my life-story.

It has been close to 3 years since I graduated from the most prestigious university in Singapore. And all the days I spend at work, in my previous and current job, has one thing in common. I am counting down to the moment, I can pack my bag and scoot off from my desk. The corporate world is so freaking overrated, I’m like “why didn’t anyone ever tell me?!” I envisioned life post-graduation not to be a bed of roses. But, also, not a prison cell. I thought days post graduation would spell freedom, happiness and importantly, choices. But, the harsh reality I’m being greeted with on a daily basis, is quite the opposite. I don’t have many choices. Definitely not more than what I had back in varsity days; go to lecture, or continue sleeping, pretty much summed my 4 years.

As for my passion, like most Gen Yers, I’m still figuring it out. Or rather, as Marcella says I’m hoping to rediscover it. I’m still in the midst of searching for those breadcrumbs while I lay out the past 26 years of my life before me. I’ll be glad if I find it in the next 4 years since my Director has told me by 30 I should have it all figured out. Not sure what he means by that. But, let me at least ‘try’ and work towards that.

Has anything changed since the day I attended my graduation? (Sorry, I didn’t actually attend my graduation but I’m sure you get my point.) Yes. I know I’m not corporate world material. I know given my 40 hour work-week, I probably only spend 10 or less hours, actually working. I know I would rather work as a travel blogger for free than get paid handsomely for a job I don’t enjoy. Yet, what I don’t know outweighs what I do know and it scares me beyond measure every waking minute of my life.

The road ahead is rather long and bleak. But, I’m just glad, I’m not alone.

Thank you, Purnama, for the reminder. Again.

Our coloured lenses.

“Sometimes a shift in perspective just makes you see what you have lost.”

Often we get so drawn into seeing the world through our own coloured lens we tend to forget we have our glasses on. We are trained from young with a particular school of thought, beginning usually from morals taught within the 4 walls of home. We are taught in school of deviance and of how discipline is used to tackle those issues. Cultural practices and beliefs shape our thoughts and also, peer influence. So, the next time you say in a passing “that’s definitely the way to do it”, do think twice. Is that the only way to do things? How do people on the other side of the world do it? Is it norm to them or considered deviant behavior?  Give it some food for thought. You’ll be surprised.

Travelling makes me experience this almost all the time. I met a Scottish girl who says she can count the number of days in a year she has the Sun shining down on her. I met 2 French girls who said Australia weather was too humid for them and it made their skin flaky.  I shared 2 nights in a 4-bedder dorm with a Dutch guy who said he has grown sick of unpacking from a luggage bag and staying in 5-star suites for days. He rather have 3 tees stuffed in a backpack and sleep on an air mattress and have real conversations with people instead of bellboys. It’s funny how sometimes we get so caught up chasing dreams/things that once we end up there, we realize “hey, this is not what I signed up for.” So, spend time collecting experiences. That’s something no one can ever take from you. Fraser island tour costed me over AUD 700 for 3 days; but waking up at 5.30am to see sunrise with 4 other strangers was definitely well worth it.

What are we really rushing for?

This is a late post of my thoughts on Monday as I unwillingly dragged my body for a late afternoon meeting despite being deemed medically unfit for duty i.e. on MC. 

Rat-Race

I had just gotten back from my recent (first real) trip of the year on Sunday evening. I tried to talk myself into being all excited and hyped up for the final lap/month at work. But I guess, the thought alone caused my body to give way. No prizes for guessing there.

It was a different experience getting to work at that hour versus the usual morning peak hour squeeze – the silent, expressionless faces either still in zombie mode or.. in zombie mode. But then I realised, even at 3pm people were still rushing. Everyone seemed to have an agenda at hand. Be it a coffee run fixed or a shopping appointment, everyone just wanted to seem to be in a rush. Have we begun to think we only end up successful when we are/appear busy that sub-consciously we end up rushing everywhere?

It’s like as if we are running towards a final destination. Do we know what we are running towards? Others seem to know what they want but, do they really do? Then I began to wonder is it just me, misreading all these people? Or, is it just a Singaporean way of life? Or, is it an Asian culture?

Vietnam was crowded. But it didn’t feel claustrophobic. It suddenly feels suffocating to be back into this rat race.

I think I will just plan my next travel and do up some posts on my previous one to feel better. Bleah.

Monday’s thoughts.

1. I’ve learnt I’m quite a pessimist realist at times. We were caught in traffic for more than an hour and ended up getting to the airport barely 30 mins before the sister’s flight. I was dead sure she won’t be allowed to get on the plane. But, thank god, she was allowed to literally run and jump into the plane. It could have been partly due to the kind-hearted Jetstar service staff who allowed her to check-in. Or the fact, there was another group of passengers who were also late and had just checked-in. Whatever the reason being, a rule was bent. So, moral of story, just believe. You will free yourself of undue stress and worry. ‘Cause after-all they say, worrying about things beyond your control is pointless.

Speaking of running late, here’s an article on punctual people.

2. The working world sucks. I experienced that twice just today alone. People are just waiting to fire at you at every opportunity they get. Especially so, when your back is turned towards them. It makes me re-think the type of organisation I wanna work in/for. And it is true, people can make or break an organisation.

3. There is such a thing as a quarter century/midlife crisis. I really don’t know what I want to spend the next 30 years of my life doing. It feels like such a long time but is it, I wonder.

4. The years spent in school are the best time of your life. I know EVERYONE says this. But seriously, you will never understand this till you experience this first hand. I did today. When the nostalgia hit me as I drove through the campus that was home for 4 years. #ohthegoodtimes #carefreeyouth #youngandwild

Au revoir 2013.

married_greener_grass_750

People always say the grass is greener on the other side. But, I defer. I tend to believe that it depends on which side you water. These day I’m starting to pick out just the positive aspects of a situation and keep going. Past week has been quite bleak. I know I cannot keep going like this and expect miracles to happen or a door to open. So, I’m just gonna do my best in whatever that is left for me in this and move on to ‘greener’ pastures.

It’s human tendency to keep wanting to acquire more when basic needs are met. There is nothing wrong in that. It keeps you striving for better and challenging yourself. But, remember in the pursuit of reaping more benefits make sure your soul doesn’t get ripped off. Essentially, you are what you are. You are not defined by your job title, pay scale or promotion package. Greener pastures may not necessarily spell happier grazes. So, take stock of your life on your own accord.

Achievements for 2013:

– 10k run

– Solo travel

– Skydiving

Mantras/Goals for 2014:

– Travel more. That’s a given.

– Sign up for a overseas volunteering mission.

– Continue being a traveller rather than a tourist.

See you in 2014!