Late night thinky-thoughts (aka the assault of grief)

It’s 12.13 a.m. so really I should be asleep.

But I made the real bad decision of doing some life admin and going through my personal emails to clear them, all the way from the back. Started with my ‘Personal’ tag (yes I file my personal emails) and suddenly remembered that people used to email their loved ones updates about their lives and travels.

Reading past emails was fun, except when it got to the part where they started to document my father’s descent into illness and eventually death. And then emails started popping up about estate management. The real niggly part about death is when there is administrative work.

Anyway. Tearing up started giving way to full-on, body-shaking sobbing. Which to be honest I haven’t done in years. I used to be a huge crier – and I still do at 99% of shows I watch and like 50% of commercials – but when it comes to IRL personal stuff, I haven’t cried in years.

I like to think I’ve picked up my grief, placed it carefully in a box, and covered it up, storing it in an attic where no one goes except when one really goes looking for the past. It’s good this way – most days I walk around the house, knowing the box is in the attic but understanding it needs to sit there, gathering dust; and some days I can climb up the ladder and open the box if I want to, dust be damned.

But on the days you least suspect it, your attic collapses into your house and the box cracks open and dust is everywhere like ashes and also the box is alive and full of tentacles and coming for you and then slapping you in the face. That’s what it feels like.

It’s just been Qing Ming Jie so I just visited the columbarium. But while it was good to have that dedicated time thinking about our shared loss and what we still have in our shared lives, it was still routine, a part of the life we now lead. We light joss sticks and talk about my niece; we walk into the air-conditioned segment of the columbarium (cos that’s what mum paid for) and we notice the newcomers; and we talk about those who have died young.

But you see it doesn’t really work when your calendar locks in a date for grief. The box refuses to open. It’s just life – so much of the rituals of death are about life.

I haven’t really thought about my grief in any considered way for a long time. I wanna say it’s a feeling I always remember, but it really isn’t. But every time I get caught off guard by it, I always realise how much of it still lives within me. Maybe not suppressed, but dormant.

Guess it’s time to change my metaphor. It’s more an active volcano, a rupture in the earth – plus the ash part still works. Nothing to do now but sleep, volcano, sleep.


Self-care 2016

If I have a goal for 2016, it would be self-care. It’s not as if I’m not good to myself. Oh, I’m plenty good. I let myself watch a lot of television, eat a lot of good food, drink wine, sleep a decent amount… I’m not too hard on myself and I indulge once in a while. But I think a huge part of self-care is looking long-term – when you do that, loving yourself isn’t about indulging but about abstinence.

Have you ever really wanted to eat that carbonara, that choc lava cake, that packet of chips, KFC chicken, and in that brief moment – that immediate minute you get what you crave for – it’s crazy good. But then soon after, you feel sick and you regret having chosen the thing that’s not only bad for you physically, but you realise you don’t actually want/like that much beyond that moment.

I’ve been having a lot of those moments recently. The trajectory from the whole ‘life is short, heck it’ to ‘man, I really should not have done that thing.’ And so my goal for 2016 is self-care.

To take care of my body. Not to feed it junk and use it well. Exercise more. Drink more water. Eat more fruits. Sleep at regular timings. Be good to my health.

To take care of my mind. Same, not to feed it junk and use it well. Read regularly (see: reading challenge 2015 that I definitely did not finish and am now renaming it reading challenge 2015-2016). Learn new things actively and all the time. And not allow work and its (mostly) unnecessary stress take over.

To be responsible and accountable for my behaviour. Do my chores and do them immediately. Be the best person I can be to the people around me all the time, and not just when I need to be.

As I read somewhere recently, a huge part of self-care is taking responsibility – for who you are, what you need to do for others and yourself, and just life and adulting in general. Are you paying for bills? Are you buying your groceries right? Are you cleaning regularly? Do one good thing just once, and it will follow. It will all follow.

And last but not least, be harder on myself in the important ways, and easier on myself in the less important ways. Didn’t do exactly what your boss wished? It’s fine. Forgot to do this urgent thing for your client? It’s fine. There will be mistakes at work, and holding yourself up to an impossible standard of perfection is just unhealthy and unnecessary. Yes, having high standards and priding yourself on them could be an important part of who you are. But ultimately at the end of the day we gotta learn to let go. Especially of work-related things.

But be harder on myself by not giving myself excuses or simply giving in to what feels good. Didn’t run this week again? Not fine when it’s a pattern of behaviour. Eating that bag of chips while watching television? Not great for you.

I guess at the end of the day it’s about having your priorities right. And self-care ranks one of the highest on our resolutions list.

A list of rather random things I’m thankful for

It’s thanksgiving season again, and while I’m not in americuh this year, I find that I’ve had a rather fruitful year. And as always, very many things to be thankful for. And because I like making lists, here’s mine. 

  1. Because work has taken up the bulk of my life, the first thing I’m thankful for is my great job. Honestly I do love my job. I complain about it a heck load cos I’m a complainer I think, and also clients are challenging, but I do love it. I am thankful that I’ve been able to apply myself in ways that I enjoy and fit my personality. I write a lot, mostly. And I think a lot about what works in the media environment. And I am creating content. I am thankful that I’m at a company that prizes its people and recognises them as individuals and for their effort. And last but not least, I am thankful for the friendships I’ve made at work. From bosses I share chilli wantons with, to people I want to be like in ten years, I think enjoying my work has a lot to do with the people I see every day. I am also thankful that my office is yet another great example of how female bosses and a female-dominated environment are great and not at all bitchy/catty/micro-managing/petty or any other accusations we often hear. Suck it, patriarchy. 
  2. Buses in an age of frequent train breakdowns. Also long bus rides. 
  3. The Humans of [insert country/group here] trend. I absolutely love all the stories we hear where we can either relate to or see a whole other reality we would never know. There’s just so much humanity in sharing stories, picking out the extraordinary in ordinary people, and that spreading of positivity that crosses national and other boundaries. 
  4. Having the means and appetite for travel. This year, I’ve been to Batam, Bali, Rawa Island, Vietnam, Myanmar and will be going to Sydney. Sounds like a long list, and every single trip has been a time of reflection and together-ness. Traveling is so great because you’re placed outside of yourself for a while, and we all need that. I’ve never needed a vacation more than I have this year when work was particularly bad, and relishing that sense of freedom is sweet. 
  5. Speaking of travelling, being able to travel with my best friend/photographer for six weeks. Believe me, that will transform any normal person’s extremely non model like inclinations. Traipsing around the edge of the world with one other person is pretty epic, and nothing could come close to it. 
  6. Pride & Prejudice. I will never tire of it. I forgot just how entertaining and funny the book was, until I was re-reading it recently. So, thanks Jane Austen. 
  7. The Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes. Exactly. The MCU. I’m thankful for the intricate tapestry of stories created by the amazing writers in the Marvel world. Though you know what I’m not thankful for? Joss Whedon’s strange idea that the most interesting Black Widow storyline is about who she makes out with. I am however excessively thankful for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s the Pacific Rim of 2014. 
  8. Pacific Rim, the pinnacle of 2013. 
  9. Whatever forces (capitalism mostly?) that impelled the Burmese military to finally hold free and fair (mostly) elections. 
  10. But not so thankful for capitalism itself. 
  11. The view of Marina Bay Sands when cirque du soleil is in town. I mean, amazing. 
  12. Code Name Verity. I think about this book a lot. 
  13. Healthy and cheap eating options. I wish healthy eating and environmentally responsible behaviour were more affordable, especially for the less privileged. 
  14. Greater diversity in representation. One of my favourite things in the world. 
  15. Michael B. Jordan. I mean, right. 
  16. NGOs and social enterprises. Let’s give a shoutout to these guys. The more I work in a corporate setting, the more I want to work in a non-profit. 
  17. Mobile technology. Say what you will about mobile phone addiction, but mobile technology is one great way for communities across Southeast Asia to uplift their living standards and bridge the digital divide. It’s also how I’m typing this post on a moving train. 
  18. Parents. How great are they. 
  19. Muscle aches and the strange sense of satisfaction and tendency to complain-boast about them. I love a good muscle ache. 
  20. And because I’m a sap, I’m thankful for all the people who care about me enough to scold me for not taking care of myself, nag at me, help me do things I don’t wanna do, be patient with me, forgive me, and listen to me. Though I may not always know it, I do, I do so ardently thank you. 

The universe is wonderful and weird and I would never have an exhaustive list to be thankful for, ever. 

Happy thanksgiving loves. 

Oh, the places you’ll go

It’s been a while. Writing doesn’t always come easy now as I write all day at work and just want to come home and absorb. It’s been nine full months of being a gainfully employed adult and that’s almost nine months of experiencing just three states of existence: working, sleeping and riding public transport. Far and few between are moments where I get to really sit back and examine what I’m doing. Gratification comes from work-related successes: pulling off a media event, getting coverage of my press release, being in a good place with my client, etc. It’s hardly cosmic, and these achievements will never matter beyond my sphere of work, but it’s something.

It’s interesting because one’s career is so important. What we do has become who we are. You’re a teacher. A banker. An engineer. An artist. We know full well it’s never the sum of a person, and yet we go around introducing ourselves as such. It’s the first thing we ask when we meet someone new. On some level, it is important – it’s understanding what a person spends most of their life doing and thinking about. And yet, who you become at the end of a 12-hour day when you’re tired and out of time for bullshit – perhaps that’s the most important version of you yet.

Who do I want to be? Who do you want to be?

I come home spent and ready to go to bed. Of course my working hours are not half as bad as some of my friends’, but work does take up most of my life. It’s been a good nine months, and I’m glad I still want to show up every day, but I also need to systematically build a life of something more. My goal for 2015 was to get to work, be financially independent, and gain experience. This will continue to be the bulk of my life for the rest of the year, but I also believe it’s time to get off my ass.

I need to exercise more. Start cooking again. Eat healthily. Actually be socially engaged. Go out more. Mingle more. Volunteer more. Donate more. Think more. Write more. Learn more. Read more. Reflect more. To become a full human being again ha. Not that I have work to blame for not being one.

It’s strange to be in a space where most of my friends are working. When we come together, that’s all we talk about. When I meet up with my fellow comms graduates, it’s like meeting a Singaporean when you’re overseas; you’re finally able to speak Singlish and someone will understand the nuances. We once spent an entire session listening to a girl unload about her communications job. It’s a pat on the back. It’s a reassuring nod. We get it. And that’s rare – for some groups, I can go on about my job, but they will never truly understand what I do and the mini battles of every day. And that’s the same of me for other fields. Will I ever truly truly understand banking? Or trading? Or forex? Shh, don’t tell my finance clients.

So many spheres of life. So many different paths. I love seeing where everyone is and where they’ll end up. There’s so much potential in youth and it’s just like that Dr. Seuss quote:

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And you are the one who’ll decide where to go.

But of course, at the end of the day, the places we’ll go is not merely about the employment paths we walk. It’s about choosing the kind of life you want to lead and the kind of person you wish to be. Make no mistake; it’s always a choice and we wake up every day making that choice. Just as we shouldn’t let our schooling get in the way of our education, we should not allow our success to get in the way of our greatness.

With each passing year, we are sure each year that it’s the time of our lives. And I think it always is. There’s always something. But now is truly the time we’re bursting with potential. Each of us a fruit. And I look forward to ripening and being remade.

P.S. Another few reading challenge posts coming up soon.

Being gainfully employed

It’s a rare moment of quiet in what has been a rather insane month.

For the uninitiated, the new year really ushered in a new life for me as I’ve begun working! I thought I would write an update about how arduous and nerve-wracking the job hunt process would be, but I was privileged to have found a suitable job in a short amount of time.

I was ganchiong as always so I started searching passively around August. With each application, I dreamt up fantasy scenarios of loving that particular company and excelling at the job description publicised. But most media companies had to hire someone quickly and my graduation date was December. It was easy to lose steam when sending applications to most places was like sending letters using the British Royal Mail: you’d probably not get a reply (in the latter’s case because the other party has not received it and in the former’s the other party doesn’t care.) But I started gaining some momentum around mid October, went for a few interviews and tada secured a fantastic position! As I said, super super lucky.

I’ve always wanted to work in the media and its peripheral industries, and those were the sectors I went for in my job search. It’s weird really because I never tried outside of those industries, and barely even considered it. I’m not sure how and when I had such an affinity with the media. Tried publishing, social media, public relations and broadcast media, and they all had their perks and disincentives. They are all super different actually, but they have a low salary and terrible hours in common haha. But ended up back in PR.

It’s awfully strange to think about how 15 year-old me decided I wanted to pursue a career in journalism, and now I’ve ended up on the other side of it: public relations, the oft-enemy and sometimes friend of the journalist. My relationship with PR has been like that of a girl who first flat-out rejected a guy, eventually decided to give him a second look, made friends with him casually and then finally realised being with him could be infinitely challenging and rewarding.

I still don’t know if this guy is The One (but of course I don’t believe in that concept), but I’m very happy with my decision to try it out.

I think ultimately my decision to try this company and position out was fueled by the very same thing that has driven me these few years: a hunger to learn. So far, I really have been thrown into the deep end, and to tell you the truth, I’m loving it.

I’ve been put in a job where nitpicking on grammar and formatting is a company characteristic, and there’s a nice balance between writing alone at my desk, and being social with people and anticipating their needs. I fit in. Which is so great.

I’ve always believed that we should make our passions our careers. That’s 15-year-old Ning speaking with the idealism of a doe. And I still believe in that; I’ve been accused more than once of being idealistic. But I think passion is a tricky thing to pin down. There are few passions in the world, and humans are really so much more complex than being in pursuit of one thing. It’s also, of course, a highly privileged concept – that we can choose what we wanna do in our lives. So, while believing in the importance of passion, and believing in liking your work, I also believe that you don’t have to make your passion your career.

But I’m very glad that ultimately, I am liking my work. I want to be there everyday, and I now think that’s the one criterion you should use when you’re searching for work or deciding whether you wish to stay in a job. Do you want to be there the next day?

Other than the content of my work, I’m just so happy to be gainfully employed, to be earning money, to contribute to the household, and to start saving for my future. Money is an awfully empowering thing. Don’t trust anyone who says otherwise.

The month has also been busy because I’m still working on The Swan Project with my very lovely project mates from last semester, and we have a lot of exciting stuff going on. I’m sometimes sad that I haven’t been able to fully participate in their work because of my schedule, but I’m so glad I’m still a part of this team. The Swan Project is a movement to help transmen and transwomen in Singapore. I’ve learnt so much and made so many great friends on this journey, and I hope more people in Singapore gets to see how lovely these human beings are from my project and elsewhere.

As I transition into working life, I am so so aware of how busy and tired people get. I am trying, as best I can, to hold on to the other things in life. To make sure I am being productive and reflective outside of the context of work. Because, as much as money is awesome like I mentioned, it is also not enough.

One needs to expose themselves to worlds outside of their own; if not, we could become so narrow-minded and self-absorbed. We need to always remember to live a closely examined life and remember that the world doesn’t end at your doorstep.

PS. Speaking of which, I am also trying my best to continue reading (cue The Reading Challenge 2015). Next review coming right up!

Culinary Shenanigans (and an afterthought on love)

Hi, so, as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve taken up cooking as a finally-dude-you-need-to-learn-adult-things and my-family-needs-me and hey-this-is-kinda-fun thing. It’s mostly really simple stuff involving simple steps. While I follow some recipes online for things I absolutely do not know how to prepare, I mostly wing it and end up being too lazy to follow a recipe through. Cooking has turned out to be rather fun, and I am not half-bad at it! Though I am not gonna be sharing recipes or YouTube tutorials any time soon, I have decided to take this as a small victory for myself. After years and years of writing ‘Learn to cook’ on my resolutions, I’ve finally taken the proverbial bull by its horns and turned it into beef, though not literally cos I still have not forayed into much meat cooking. And because we live in the age of the Internet, what else should I do other than share my win with you? So, in what is finally a post of too many pictures instead of words, here are some of my masterpieces muahaha.

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I started with pasta cos it was one of the only things I’ve ever cooked before. I used honeyed ham and asparagus, mixing cream and tomato sauces. It was all very instant and doesn’t take a rocket scientist, but t’was cooked with love for my loved ones.

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Then, with the help of my love, I cooked my first Asian dishes – kai lan and steamed prawns. They were too salty but what is life without salt?

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Under my mom’s guidance, I made one of my favourite vege dishes – long beans with egg. Looking at this picture makes me miss this dish already. Maybe tomorrow.

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Prepared this sweet potato ginger soup for my co-pilot’s birthday.

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I had to learn how to cook fried beehoon because it was one of those family things. All members of my family loved it, and I thought this was a good way to greet them as they returned home from work. It turned out pretty well, if I may say so myself! As usual, cooked it with help from my love.


Finally, this is a shot of today’s lunch. Microwaved potatoes are about the simplest meal ever, and I will be having more of it from now on. I also burnt my eggs.

So, I’m no culinary genius. But I’m really glad I decided to get my ass together and learn to cook, cos I’ve had a lot of fun. Time to tackle the next thing on my yearly resolution list?

An afterthought: 

There was once when I was cooking that I became overwhelmed with the domesticity of it all, and couldn’t help but wish that my dad could have tried my work in the kitchen. Part of me will always regret that he never got to try it, and that he will never be there for a bunch of other things that are important in my life (graduation, wedding, kids) as well as the little things of the everyday. Sometimes I get so drowned in grief for him that it’s like my whole body is wracked with all-consuming despair. But, other times, I know that at some point grief becomes a decision to be damaged. You can make the decision to… live. Live for the people who are still around, and love them because you deserve it.

And I think that’s the thing about love. Love makes you wanna do things for people, but we always get caught up in the endless cycle of life and sometimes are too entangled in ourselves or too exhausted to love through action. Next thing you know, the person you love is no longer there cos life is fleeting and a real bitch. Loving a person opens you up to possibilities, it gives you an instinct – to be better than yourself, to make effort, to build something together. But as Audrey Hepburn said, love is a muscle. It needs constant work. An instinct is just that; love is insufficient. It needs to be practised, nurtured, cultivated.

I might not be able to cook for my dad, but I can cook for my family every week now, and I hope to continue doing that for a long time. Dear reader, what might be one little thing you can do for others out of love, and why aren’t you doing it?


Got home from my travels a little more than a month ago, and perhaps I’m still feeling somewhat drunk from the European air because I’ve barely even traveled out of my house in this past month. Reunions with friends and acquaintances bring up the inevitable question of “So, what have you been doing?” And for the first time in my life I can and do say “Nothing” with a gleeful smile. While my ease is not a facade, it is sometimes interrupted by moments of uncertainty, self-doubt, and the worst bedfellow of transitions: envy.

The past month has been the month of commencement, convocation, graduation, and happy people donned in their blue/black robes climbed all over my Facebook news feed. While scholars warn us against investing too much meaning into Facebook posts, and I am fully happy with my ungraduated status (with one more semester), I can’t help but feel a little left out of the excitement, like a train has just pulled out of the station and all I did was glimpse it.

Graduation is an interesting milestone, and it might not mean much to people apart from really great photos, but I think it is important. Learning is important. Mastering a discipline is important. Staying in one place and working hard enough are important. And I think the most important thing is transformation. I wonder how many people can truly say they have been transformed by their education?

I guess the truth is I’m not done in my process of seeking transformation. I still look for that moment of inspiration where we have a particularly good debate in class about the relationship between photography and the enlightenment, and I think to myself: yes, this is why I attend school. Or when we are pushed to think about the politics behind ordinary life, or how things come to mean what they mean, and who benefits from that, who suffers. I still hope to learn something, even the slightest of things, before learning suddenly stops becoming the ultimate goal.

At the same time, I am terribly excited to go on the job hunt. Friends have reminded me of course that it is exhausting and my excitement can run out very soon. I know that I haven’t really had much real-world experience, but I hope that I can prove to myself and to the world that I will be able to love my career and have it be a part of my life that goes beyond a paycheck.

PS. In the meantime, I have been learning how to cook via online recipes, my fuzzy memories and winging it. Some of my friends have marveled at this, and most probably think it’s a fad or something, but in actuality, I always kinda thought it was rather pathetic that I didn’t know how to cook at 22 years old beyond instant mee. It was always included in my new year’s resolutions, so I figure, it is time for me to catch up with my friends and learn this life skill. And while I am still in the very beginning stages, I must say I was pretty proud of my sweet potato ginger dessert soup.


The thing about being educated on social issues is that you’ll feel somewhat like a pariah.

Suddenly a switch has been turned on and everything matters and everything is problematic and so many things people around you do kill you inside because they are part of perpetuating an unhealthy, unequal or discriminatory cultural consciousness. And suddenly every little joke or comment or sweeping statement your close friends and family make causes you to cringe. And suddenly you see the way people’s choices have been socially conditioned and you want to scream at them to please exercise more imagination and question all their assumptions and critically engage with the world and popular media and just see the things that are plain to you.

You can’t help it; you have to point things out. Don’t use the word slut. Please don’t say all women can’t drive. Or can’t be good bosses. Or that Malays are lazy. Or that Indians are all out to cheat your money. I don’t think it’s in men’s nature to cheat. It’s not the girl’s fault for being raped. What the heck do you mean you are all for gender equality but you’re not a feminist?

And you feel like a pariah because you can’t point these things out without being a downer. Cos you’re not trying to look for an argument. You’re not trying to notice these things. You want to enjoy yourself, have a conversation unrelated to social structures. You’re trying to have a family dinner! But here it is: the products of a structurally problematic society pervading everything and everyone to nobody’s fault.

And suddenly you’re outside of it. You cannot enjoy the jokes made at the expense of someone; you can no longer indulge in the internalised misogyny/racism/classism etc. of all the people around you.

The worst part of it is not the fact that people think you have no sense of humour. It’s more of the fact that your friends view it as some quirky little new Cause you’ve taken up. Oh it’s just your thing! Feminism is her thing!! Any semi-passionate and logical thing you say becomes characterised as: “the feminist speaks.” Some rant. So cute. Which is the worst thing because uh it’s not my thing? It’s everyone’s thing? Please tell me now why you don’t wish for equal rights for everybody? Another reaction is that “not again” eye roll where your friends let you know how much they’re indulging your inability to go with the flow by letting you talk but not truly listening.

The truth is that being socially educated on issues is difficult because you’re combating an invisible poison, like the air that everyone breathes and does not realise have an effect on them. And all the friends and family I’ve mentioned are not evil people. They’re good, decent people. The real enemy of injustice is the unquestioning, unthinking individual.

This whole post stands at the risk of sounding too moralistic, but I’m merely trying to document my everyday experience.

I believe I will always be fighting and all I can do is pick my battles, celebrate battles won and keep the war in mind.

I will never tire of sunsets and water bodies.

This semester of school is a particular salad bowl of Friday nights in school, meeting the best people too late, thankless work, overcoming, realising, discovering, learning, and defining. It’s odd, really.

A lot of things have changed in the past year and I’ve changed together with it. In all my life (granted, not a very long one), I’ve always thought I am this one person and I barely ever change. I want 2 kids; I’ve always wanted 2. I want to write and I have wanted to write since I was 15. There are certain things that I’ve always believed in: that you should strive to make your passion your career or your career your passion, that no matter what family will always be your warmest circumference, and that nothing about you matters except the difference that you make.

I guess the general framework is still there. The broad strokes. But I have changed. And much like typical plot points in a well-constructed series, these changes have both origins and effects. A lot of this year is just me trying to figure out who I am again, and that’s a really strange process. A lot of this also comes as a result of final-college-year reflections, of us trying to answer the questions of what we do by first figuring out who we are. But if we’re always changing, always becoming, then how do we ever know who we are (at the risk of sounding like a 14 year-old trying to sound philosophical)?

At my birthday celebration with my exchange friends this year, we spent half the gathering talking about the future and jobs and school and work that we continually depressed ourselves. It was in such stark contrast to the light-heartedness when we were in the states. What a difference a year makes. But, of course, we’re already 22. We shouldn’t drag our existence into prolonged adolescence. It is time to grow up, isn’t it.

“It’s the oldest story in the world. One day, you’re 17 and playing for someday, and then quietly and without you really noticing, someday is today, and then someday is yesterday, and this is your life.”