cemetery

I saw a cemetery from the bus this morning. It was along the way somewhere I’ve also never been to, but decided to go to this morning on a whim. The cemetery was a few meters from a military air base. If it had been a luckier day, I might have seen a plane fly by. It was on a rolling green terrain and sat in the midst of a plain that was blanketed with just the view of the sky. I almost wanted to go down.

There wasn’t any sun as the bus ploughed the empty road – and I was far out from places I’m familiar with. Honne’s Warm on a Cold Night album played over and over my headphones. Finally, I was going out for my soul.

Advertisements

30

It’s been a long while since I last made a conventional blog post, so I thought something for my birthday this year would be apt. I turned 30 exactly a week ago. Work was extremely busy that it feels like it’s been two weeks since my birthday. It was tiring, but in a good way. On the day itself, I had dinner with April and her boyfriend and didn’t even blow any candles. Lost my phone after dinner for awhile, but this is Singapore and nobody would bother on a Sony Xperia (as Ray said when I recounted it to him). Needless to say, I found it after.

I’m not really one for grand celebrations, and I was truthfully pleased with how my birthday went. I decided to celebrate this year by sponsoring a medical mission in the Philippines. It isn’t as noble as it sounds, I sent the money and that was all from my part. My dad and brother generously made time to make it special. When my dad sent me the photos, I was shocked, but amused, that the external organization my dad usually volunteers with for his medical missions, had printed a huge photo of me with a “happy birthday”. It looked like a mediocre political campaign. But there was nothing mediocre about it. Aside from the free medicines, my dad made sure to buy a lot of food for the local community, a cake complete with a family joke dedication, and even provided ice cream for all the kids in the area. As he recounted to me how the mission went, it made me happy that he was doing something that made him happy on my birthday – volunteering. As for me, I asked Swati to come and help at a local soup kitchen in Singapore a day before my birthday. We were dressed in the most unglamorous way and had breakfast together in an unplanned cafe. Quite different from how we usually celebrate each other’s birthdays – dressed up with a lunch or dinner booking at some fancy restaurant. We ended that day with me randomly bringing her for plant shopping, and we both went home with several pots of happiness. I had other little celebrations with a couple more friends, and was extremely humbled and happy to receive two paintings of myself. It flattered me that Mabel and Yeshi knew exactly how I wanted to be captured – looking away.  The other messages I got from my genuine friends across time and miles were what made my heart even fuller. That was all that mattered, it was a good birthday. Nothing monumental, neither forgettable, just a collection of the little joys in life that make me grateful. Oh, and about those life goals on my new year post, I didn’t say it there but one of my goals for this year was to find a job I’m passionate about. That’s what I’ve been busy with for the past 4 months. On the other hand, going down to 50 kg has still been rather elusive.

Despite all the joy, I was also reminded of how our life is but an interim of existence. Two people I knew passed away a few days shy from my birthday. As much as I’m thankful for the things that make me happy, I’m glad life still sends me reminders of how important it is to stay true to what matters whenever I forget.

And of course, I can’t skip on recounting that on my birthday, a butterfly flew right into me. If that was you trying to surprise me Inay, you certainly gave me a jolt. How could I ever forget you? I didn’t. Thank you for visiting me too. 🙂

 

love

I’ve always been evasive when I write about love, if not metaphorical.  It’s probably because it’s both my greatest strength and weakness.  Somebody asked me one day what my strongest motivation in life was.  And I came to the conclusion that it was love.  It sounded so cliché at that time and I kept it to myself – because to me, people wouldn’t understand the depth of what I mean when I say that.  That it didn’t mean I was in love with life.  That it meant during my lowest points, it was love that saved me.  Even when it was love that threatened to destroy me in the first place.  That I consciously take care of my friends out of love, even when sometimes it’s easier and fairer to let go of them.  That I am capable of inflicting much more pain on people who have inflicted pain on me, but I stop myself out of love.  That my head and heart can sometimes be full of darkness, but I never let it out because I’m scared people will not be able to love me if they see that side of me.  That I try my best to appear like the love I have in my life is enough, but the truth is I crave for a love that I might never find because I’m a complicated wreck brimming with an excess of intense feelings and emotions.

I’ve rarely prayed or wished for love, because I always assumed the universe already knew that was what I wanted the most.  It felt so self-serving to have to repeat it in some form.  I’ve gone through so many painful lessons in love now but even during the most heartbreaking ones, I’m always amazed that even after promising to completely shut love out of my life, it always somehow finds a way to come back.  It comes back to remind me that it’s what gives my life meaning, whether that love soothes me or hurts me.

mother’s day

I’ve been completely conscious of the fact that it’s currently April.  Yet a separate consciousness of me which keeps track of important family milestones was preparing for Mother’s Day this weekend.  The mistake only dawned on me when I decided to check for the exact date, wondering why there hasn’t been enough fanfare for it on social media.

I’ve honestly been so busy lately that I’ve been thinking of you less.  It’s not an excuse but simply a fact of life that I’m living through.  There is a glut of things I have to figure out in moving forward in my life, and it leaves less time for my mind to wander.  But you broke into my consciousness the night after my job interview.  At that time, I hadn’t known that I would get that job.  I had a vivid dream of the two of us, walking along a road I used to drive for you.  Whenever you wanted to buy something for the house, when you had to go to your office, when you needed to go to the hospital.  I was struggling to carry you behind my back.  Not because you were too heavy, but because in my dream you were paralyzed from the waist down.  I was scared I would drop you and cause you harm.  It was the same fear I had watching you at the hospital bed one Christmas day, fully aware that you were dying.  Yet while in the hospital your face wore a permanent grimace from all the inflicted pain to ironically keep you alive, in my dream you were smiling and even cracking a joke about how you could still flail your arms.  Desperate to let you know, I kept telling you that I love you.  In that hospital bed, I don’t even know if you remembered me anymore.  But in my dream, you told me you knew.  “I know”, with a smile.  And that was the point I woke up.

You may not be on my mind the whole day.  But you’ll always occupy my heart, whatever that construct is.

254808_10150257795820813_5103514_n.jpg

 

I fished out this photo from Facebook but I was hoping I could get the higher resolution copy.  I opened my old hard drive and was disappointed to see that the one I brought here only goes back to 2012.  This was in 2011, and that older hard drive was something I had left behind.

heartbreak

Heartbreaks can take many forms.  It can be in a dark parking lot, sobbing inside a car in the arms of your newly minted former lover.  It can be in a bedroom, surrounded by messed up bed linens with a liter of dried-up tears.  It can even be a crisp sheet of paper, explaining a regretful decision and nothing much else.

For me today, it was inside the room of my boss for a year and my professor for 4 years, explaining to him that I had decided to move on from research after he had just surprised me with a meeting to tell me about an opportunity to continue working with him.  I wasn’t prepared for that conversation, and from his face I figured he wasn’t prepared for my answer either.  I had thought about this decision over and over, ever since I had accepted my current position.  I had imagined it in my mind, how I would rebel against the impractical decision of not renewing my contract even if I did not have a new job to move to.  I was sure of that decision, at least that’s what I felt.  But in that moment that I struggled to explain to him that I felt I wasn’t cut for research, I backtracked internally and wondered if I was committing a mistake.  If I really wanted to leave the wonderful family and friends I found in my labmates, and if I was really destined for more and not merely blinded by the infamous millenial propensity to keep looking for greener pastures.  As I looked at how my boss slumped into his seat when I said I had made up my mind, it occured to me how much I had grown to appreciate him and this place.  The same place that I felt tormented my mind and my soul.  The same person I felt could have done better in guiding me during my PhD.  I reminded myself that it was natural to feel this wave of nausea, it was something I had to get over and done with.  Life is a long stitch of impermanent situations.  I was grateful, but it was time to go.  I just didn’t expect to tell him today.  I wanted to tell him so many things, but the thought of him having had gone through so much better students leaving him stopped me.  He’ll find someone much better.  I walked out of his room apologetically in a daze at how life would throw me this curveball on the day of my first serious job interview.

On the train ride going to the company I had been recently pinning my hopes on as my ticket out of academia, instead of going through the material I had printed out to review, I found myself opening the email attachment with my book manuscript about my mom to stop myself from repeating the conversation with my boss in my mind.  The publishing house I had submitted it to had not replied either, I had been banking on the promised “within 3 months”, but it’s been several weeks past that.  I read through a few pages and stopped right before I teared up.  It would take a couple of minutes to clear off red eyes.  The last thing I wanted to do was show up for that interview looking sorry.  Strangely, it brought me a calming wave.  Knowing how my mom would have handled the wreck of nerves I currently had (she wouldn’t have shown it the slightest), I told myself out loud “I am my mother”.  A couple of times.  I thought there was no one beside me on the escalator, until a man walked up past me.  I guess he knows who I am now.

I arrived a few minutes too early at the place so I bought a cup of tea at Starbucks and found myself seated in between a guy reading about batch chemical reactors and a girl with her color palette spread out as she lay-outed a website.  Impeccable timing for my life choices to haunt me.  This is happening, I would just have to deal with the consequence of my now verbalized decision.

Including this heartbreak.

grandpa

photo6080195806230587364I’m trying to remember you, before we both became much older and much recent.  And I realized, I’ve never really talked to you.

Ama always used to say that I was your favorite over my brother.  Whether it was because I looked more Chinese, or because I was born on the year of the Dragon, it was an unearned favor.  Perhaps it was an entirely different reason.  Most of our photos together were from a time I remember distinctly, yet they were long ago – before I reached eight.  Looking at the photos often helped as I have always been fond of dusting off old albums and reminiscing every photo on lazy summer days, but I remember those moments for other things more than you.  As a young girl then, I remember them for the adventures with Tita Anna, for the ribbon spaghetti of Mama Mila, for the hotel swimming pools and private club tennis courts, for the chandeliers and the fiber optic lights in your living room, and for whatever else imprinted memory of that period.  They are several but they are limited.  If I think about that time, my memory of you is often at the periphery, constantly smiling, constantly looking, but with little words in between.  For many reasons I have understood yet not completely comprehended, for they matter not much to me today, we had even less memories as I grew up.  When age gave me the knowledge of social classes and social structures, the consciousness of something atypical about our granddaughter-grandfather relationship became apparent. Being an introvert and a shy person, I often retreated behind my parents’ shadow whenever we had family dinners.  Yet I remember you as nothing but a smiling and kind grandfather.  As a person of opulence and wealth, yet a somewhat separate entity from what I considered family.  I probably would not have drawn you had I been asked to draw my family in school.  You always looked on me with kindness and happiness, yet you were unlike Lolo who would constantly rave and brag about my academic achievements.  You, on the other hand, often held your silence.  I wondered if you knew exactly what I do, or what you thought of it.  I took your smile as an approval.  It’s unlike me to start conversations, but when we both got older, I tried a little bit more.  But I don’t think we ever got past much of the mundane things, my brother was much better at it.  Yet I always had a lot in mind, perhaps you did too.  Maybe we both weren’t fond of small talk and knew the more important things to talk about were things better left unsaid.  WhatsApp Image 2018-02-21 at 8.50.02 AM

When Inay was slowly passing away, I saw how much more time you devoted for her.  During her wake, you were an old man who wasn’t expected to sit so long in a memorial chapel, yet almost every day you went.  You sat right in front of her casket, never complaining of anything but simply grieving the reality of losing.  It was after this period that you talked to us more, constantly reminding us the importance of prayer and family – things we never even talked about before.  You’d always surprise us every single visit, getting up after long bouts of being unable to rise from your bed, just to join us in a meal and tell us with no end how our presence made you so happy.  Always. Repeatedly.  I’m thankful to my dad for always prodding us to do more.  To sing you Christmas carols and go to Church with you together.  If it wasn’t for him, these memories before you passed away would have never been possible.  Inay understandably never encouraged us to do anything for you.  Regretfully it was still a little time for me, as I was already based in Singapore.  Those times were sparing, squeezed on days before or after reaching the airport, and rushed on the limitation of distance, time and the reality of traffic.  There are many little things I remember about you, like your perennial glass of Coke Light, your habit of wearing polos most of the time, and how you rolled your “r” whenever you said my brother’s name.  Yet I know most things about you will be best remembered by Mama Mila and Tita Anna.  The other things that I know of you, I know from other people.  Things that happened in the past, things that were unknown to me as they happened, things that I will never understand, but things that will never change what you mean to me. While some of those are difficult to fathom and could betray my respect for you, I would rather accept the kindness that I knew of you.  If it was part of all the good you did in this life, I hope you know that I recognize them as such.  That I learned what I could from you and will take those lessons with me to do better in this world.  For all the other pain you caused, I can only pray you’ve asked for pardon and that they’ve forgiven you.

photo6080195806230587363It’s funny how people often look the same to us, no matter how much time goes by.  But memory is sometimes a treacherous thing, they lead us to beliefs of suspended time and limitless opportunities.  You simply became much too older, there was no denying it.  I am grateful for having had the opportunity to witness still a substantial part of your life – to be part of your legacy in this world.  Whenever people tell me I look Chinese, you’re always the reason I give why.  Thank you, Grandpa.