To shop or not to shop…

Towards the end of 2017, I’d set up a moratorium on shopping, temporarily banning myself from buying anything considered a luxury rather than a necessity for the entire year of 2018. Now almost 6 months into the moratorium, it’s been an interesting journey of discovery about myself and others.


I received a gamut of different responses ranging from shock (“What! No chocolate! No ice-cream! How to survive?”, to which I gleefully, probably shamelessly, asked for their generous donations) to disbelief (“You sure you are going to be able to stay the course?”, to which I would humbly agree that I do not know if I would survive a year) to skepticism (“I am sure that you are not going to be able to stand it”, which only strengthen my resolve to prove them wrong) to cheers of support and encouragement to curiosity (“Why? Money not enough?”).

My own brother’s response was the one that stood out for me – he was happy and excited, because he finally now had an opportunity to buy a birthday present for me that I would want and would appreciate now that my self-gratifying credit card swiping tendencies (or capabilities depending on how you saw it) were being curbed significantly. No more head scratching because I would have beaten him to getting the “next big thing” gadget or plaything for myself. Problem solved! No more headache!

Two days after I’d published my post and publicly swore off shopping, I realized that in my exuberance, I had overlooked my plans to buy a good underwater camera for my dive trips and should probably have waited till I got around to it in the post Christmas sales before making that oh so public declaration! I was sorely tempted to break my moratorium or suspend it but I stayed the course (albeit very miserably) even in the face of a dive trip in early January.

Thankfully this sad state of affairs did not last long. The universe found a happy marriage of crisis and opportunity: enter said brother mentioned above happily to the rescue and I gratefully (truly, deeply, verily!) received my birthday gift of a TG5 and underwater casing. And I had to relearn a lesson on patiently awaiting my gift where once upon a more consumeristic time, I would just have reached for my credit card and done the retail exercise of swipe and sign for instant gratification.

Other family members and friends who had read my blog post were also lovingly opportunistic in topping up my stash of alcohol (which some might argue is a necessity and not a luxury), chocolates and ice cream.

I surprised myself with the number of times I managed to hold back valiantly from buying something. I was very consciously steering clear of temptation: throwing all those glossy sales and promotions mailers and catalogues I receive in my mailbox into the recycle bin without nary a glance, unsubscribing from marketing emails, not thumbing through the in-flight sales catalogue on my many business trips, and staying away from malls, especially from techie shops, and from online stores.

And whilst I thought Technology and Gadgets would be my weakness, I have not caved in that area (probably thanks to my brother for satisfying that craving!).

Shoes. Shoes turned out to be my Achilles heel (no kidding!). When my boots had fallen apart and could not be repaired and the cold winter dragged on during my business trips, I decided that boots were not a luxury but a necessity. So on my next business trip, I made a pit stop at a shoe shop with the good intention of just picking up 1 pair of boots. I was not to prevail. The near starvation diet of no shopping unleashed a pent up hunger and impulse the moment I stepped into a shoe shop for the first time in 5 months. I am ashamed to admit that I ended up buying more than 1 pair of footwear: The bodycount? 3 pairs of boots, 1 pair of slinky heels and a pair of ballet flats. In my defence, the designs were beautiful and they were very comfortable … … okay, fine, I admit I caved!

So overall, sans shoes, I did shop (and spend) a lot less, focusing on using up my spare (or excess) inventory of stuff and buying only what I needed when I was down to the last bottle/box/set (which has only started to happen recently).

And there was a ripple effect. Challenging myself to think more intentionally about what is truly needed and what is excess consumption did impact other aspects of my life besides shopping. I was more intentional in my choices when I dined out or went grocery shopping. And when stuff broke down, I tried to repair it. Well, operative word was tried. When the coffee machine broke down a few weeks ago, I did ponder for all of 5 minutes if being able to make a caffe latte at home was a necessity or a luxury… I concluded “necessity” and promptly went online and got a good deal with a discount of 52% on a new machine. Okay, so maybe I do need more work on keeping to the shopping moratorium, but you have to admit, a future without caffe latte might be pretty dreadful…and there was no harm since there was a discount no?

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When we know we’ve got it right

Children don’t come with operating manuals, how often have we heard that? I often wonder if I have gotten it right in how I love, guide and discipline my children. And the worry that one would only really know the answer many years later does keep me awake at night, especially after I have had to make some tough choices to dole out tough love.

On the Sunday that just passed, some of the seeds of parenting sown over the years sprouted and early buds revealed of the young woman that my eldest daughter might eventually become.

We were walking from the church to the food centre across the road. It was raining and I had only a small umbrella, descendants-of-the-sun-btsso I put my arm around my 15 year old and huddled close to her so that we would both stay dry. Unlike how some teenagers are known to behave with their parents, she did not push me away embarrassed of my affection. Instead she laughed and joked that we must just look like a parody of a scene from a popular Korean drama called Descendants of the Sun (according to her it’s called the “Umbrella scene” – duh!).

And when we got to shelter and were walking around looking for a quick snack, she slipped her arm around my arm and we walked arm in arm along the corridor of the shop houses. She told me then that she had been worried about me for a few weeks now as she has noticed that I have been working very hard and keeping late nights whilst taking care of her, her sisters and my mother, all the while nursing a cold.

My heart swelled with such pride, joy and love in that instance and I was close to tears. I was hugely comforted in the knowledge that all those hours of care and love, discipline, nagging, chiding, coaching, guiding, sacrifice over the years have been worthwhile. She will be ok, nay, not just ok. She will grow up to be a wonderful young lady with much goodness to share with the world.

I can’t wait for her to turn 18, when I have promised her to go clubbing with her. That’s less than 3 years away. I hope that her arm will still be linked around mine then as it was on that rainy Sunday as she walks arm in arm with me proudly onto the dance floor to boogie the night away.


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Doing this for 5 minutes everyday could make a difference to your life (and this is not a spam mail)

And I am not talking about a new diet, supplements or exercise regime.

3 weeks ago, at my team’s off-site meeting, we each received a gift – The Five Minute Journal. Normally, I would politely receive such a gift, privately roll my eyes inside my head, bring the book back and chuck it to one corner somewhere to gather dust for all of eternity. And if I were browsing at a book store, I would never have picked up something like this, thinking it too much of a gimmick or band-aid self-help.

This time around, for some reason yet unknown to me, the universe conspired and I felt compelled to open the journal and look through it. I read through the first few pages that explained the philosophy behind the design of the journal, which I do get, because I do coach others in the work I do using similar principles.

Essentially, The Five Minute Journal ask for one to take a brief amount of time every morning when one wakes up to reflect upon 3 things that one is grateful for, plan to do 3 things that would make one’s day a great day and give oneself a positive affirmation; and at the end of the day at bedtime, to take another brief moment to recall 3 things that happened to make the day an awesome one and to reflect on 1 thing that one could have done to make the day even better.

I wondered to myself how this would make my life better, I was skeptical because I am generally someone who already does spend some time everyday thinking about things that I am grateful for and plotting to make the day a wonderful day (as you would know from my blogs about grinning madly on my regular morning runs).

20180518_102909.jpgI decided no harm giving this a try, since I am already sort of doing something similar in my head as I went about my day. And so I began and have been at it for slightly more than 2 weeks.

And something magical did happen – I noticed that I was actually a lot calmer and happier over the past 2 weeks, less irritated by my kids, and I learnt a few surprising truths.

The first learning is that there is power in the written word.

Sure I am generally a grateful person and would spend a little time everyday as I went about my day feeling grateful that I am alive and well and that I have my kids with me. And I do often think back to what I have done in the past few hours or a few days earlier in the week, picking out from the streams of memory what was surprising and what made the day wonderful.

Writing down these thoughts took it to a different level of awareness. It crystalized my thoughts and made it tangible. And because it was tangible, I could read it as I wrote it, bringing the things I am grateful for closer to my truth. It also meant that I could start to see patterns in my reflections over time – What was common? What was universal? What might be new? What might have changed? What might have been discarded?

The second learning is that it is so hard to write a positive affirmation about oneself.

I think this holds true for most of humankind. This was my least favourite part of the journaling and something I was always tempted to skip and if not, to just write something cursory. And as I wrote my positive affirmation to myself, I often felt a twinge of guilt – as though it was a bad thing to say (or in this case, write) something wonderfully positive about oneself.

The third learning is that little changes to one’s life made consistently over an extended period of time really can make a noticeable difference in a short amount of time. And little changes are a lot easier to make and to have stickiness in them.

In the course of the two weeks, I saw that I was consistently grateful for the same 3 or 4 items with a few other items of gratefulness popping up once in a while. Reading back, I was also able to pick up the things that I did not mentioned I was grateful about and that in itself also revealed to me my frame of mind and how I prioritized.

The net effect of these little changes to how I reflect has been profound. The children’s antics and bad behavior at home fazed me a lot less. And in dealing with the children and meting out discipline, I was a lot calmer. And whenever life threw me a curveball at work or in other matters, I was a lot less stressed and upset and recovered my footing more quickly to focus on dealing with the issues. It was a butterfly effect that rippled beyond my own physical existence to those around me too – not just my kids and family and friends but even to the random strangers I bump into on the streets.

So I would invite you my friend to do the same: spend some time reflecting and planning your day in small and meaningful ways and more importantly, write these reflections down. It’s 5 minutes of soul food that you individually and our society could collectively do with.

Posted in ATM = Always Trust Magic!, Parenting | 1 Comment

My resolution in 2018: a shopping moratorium

I came across an article in the NY times yesterday titled: My Year of No Shopping. In the octave of Christmas, as I spent the week reflecting on the year that is almost gone and the pregnant promise of a New Year, I found it refreshing and thought provoking. It would make a great New Year resolution, I thought to myself; though I would be honest to also say that generally I am not a big fan of making New Year resolutions. I have actually never made one.

The reasons and the benefits mentioned in the article resonated with me and I wondered if I could put a moratorium on shopping in my life and for how long would I be able to last? Whilst I am not a die-hard shopaholic, I do like to buy stuff, motivated on both ends of the continuum between prudence and impulsivity. Friends know how much of a weakness I have for gadgets and trying out new-fangled techie toys (well, a shout out that you know now that I am not buying that stuff, do feel free to be generous on my birthday!!!).

So to get the ball rolling on my No Shopping year which I plan to start now (who says New Year resolutions have to start on New Year’s Day after all), here are some of the boundary lines that I defined to help me decide what falls into the no-shopping zone and what lies outside:

  1. Daily necessities will still be bought – groceries and household items necessary to maintain a clean, simple and healthy life. No luxuries though – which means for example, no chocolates, (gasp!) no ice cream and no alcohol (though some might argue that is a necessity) among other things, save for special occasions.
  2. Clothing items, bags and shoes will be bought to replace those that have been damaged on a need to basis. Excess clothing, bags and shoes will not be replaced when they are damaged. For example, due to my marathon training this year, I actually have 3 pairs of running shoes (i can see a few eyes rolling) which I will wear down to 1 unless I intend to run another marathon in which case, I would likely maintain 2 pairs of running shoes.
  3. Absolutely no purchase of jewelry items or watches.
  4. Absolutely no new techie toys. And if things break down, fix them where possible.
  5. Kickstarter and other crowdfunding projects are off-limits (which means no new board and card games – another pained gasp there).
  6. Absolutely no new physical books and kindle books – borrow them from the library instead and if I want to buy a book, visit the second hand bookstore.
  7. No new cosmetics and perfumes to be purchased save to replace my basic daily make up items and my regular perfume when they run out.
  8. At least half of the gifts I would have bought for friends and family will be replaced with either experiences (e.g. gift of time that leads to priceless memories) or items I make.
  9. Things I buy for my children will also be reduced to replacing items that are needed or buying new items that are needed.

As I bid a temporary farewell to consumerism, I thought about my last purchases: 3 bottles of yuzu sake as gifts for a lovely group of friends and a bottle of duck fat for roasting potatoes. Geez, now I wish I had done more luxury stockpiling before I made the commitment to this reprieve! Anyone taking bets on how long I would be able to hold out for?

Posted in Environmentalism, No Shopping Year | 2 Comments

A Monopoly of a holiday

In December, if you were in London and came across some Chinese kids standing under road signages having their pictures taken with no apparent tourist attractions in sight, that might have been us.


At our family holiday in the UK recently, we layered on a Monopoly challenge over the 8 days that we were spending in London: namely to get to all the places listed on the Monopoly board in the UK edition and take a picture with a road signage there (a friend whom I shared the holiday plans with said to me that was so absolute geek!).

If you counted only the property pieces (those coloured squares) and the 4 train stations, it would make for 26 stops. For good measure, we decided to also see if we might find Go, Chance, Community Chest, Go to Jail, Free Parking, Jail, Water Works, Electric Company, Income Tax and Super Tax which would bring us to  total of 36 stops.

It proved to be at times good fun and kept the kids occupied looking out for road signs as we traversed the streets of London. On our walking tours, sometimes to the consternation and sometimes to the amusement of the various guides, we would run off on a tangent to get a picture as we spotted a road sign before running back to rejoin the group.

At other times, it was challenging and tiring – to get to all 26 stops at a minimum did require a fair amount of walking, including up and down the stairways of some of the older tube stations in London.

It took some creativity and courage on the kids (and my mom’s) part at times. For example, whilst sitting on the Original Open Top bus passing Knightsbridge, my mom came up with the inspired idea to take a picture in front of the Guess shop with their iconic question mark to capture our stop for Chance on the board. One of my kids approach a Policeman for a group shot complete with his London Police hat, thus ticking off the Go to Square corner on the board (without us thankfully having to do so).

Along the way, we got to learn about London in some very interesting ways that were thoroughly local and absolutely geek. For example:

  • That this is apparently a very popular activity for stag nights with bachelor parties attempting to drink a pint (per person) at a pub at every stop on the board.
  • There is actually no Bond Street in London. There was supposed to be one (and it was briefly called Bond Street) but it subsequently was renamed Old Bond Street when a New Bond Street was also laid. There is however a Bond Street in Stradtford (but this was not the street upon which the relatively upmarket green property square was based)
  • Vine Street seemed initially to be a really odd property piece as it was a very short and narrow street with no establishments on it, making us ponder why it would be on the board. It once had a major Police station on it that was one of the busiest in the city, making it apt for the legal theme of the Orange set of properties.
  • Whilst there is a Marlborough Street in London, given St James Palace being on it, this royal street was not the one referenced in the game. Instead, the street that it was based upon was Great Marlborough Street which had a Courthouse (again fitting the legal theme of the Orange set of properties).
  • The Angel Islington was not a street but was an actual building called the Angel that was on the intersection of Islington High Street and Pentonville Road, And thank goodness when we went there, the building still exists. And it is the only building referenced on the board (and was where the deal to produce the UK edition of the game was discussed and agreed in the mid 1930s).
  • Old Kent Road and Whitechapel Road were not ordinarily streets that tourists would visit and were a little off the beaten tourist path and gave us a local flavor of the city.

So did we succeed in becoming the Monopolist of London? We completed 29 stops including all the properties, all the train stations, Chance (Guess icon), Go to Jail (photo with a London police officer) and Jail (Tower of London and the Clinks). I think it’s game over and we are done! What do you think?

Posted in ATM = Always Trust Magic!, Parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

6318 days left … how am I doing on my living list

290 days since I took stock of how many days I have left till I turn 60. 289 since I published my “bucket list”. Actually a more apt name for that list might be “my living list”, considering my focus and intention has been on living life more fiercely to the fullest possibility doing things I want to do before I get too old to do them.

So how am I doing on my living list of 33 items?

  • Get a tattoo (done in March 2017)
  • Publish a book (started writing)
  • Publish a cookbook
  • Take a powerboat license
  • Learn to speak basic Spanish, Portuguese, French, Cantonese and Japanese (been learning Spanish and Japanese)
  • Learn sign language
  • Log 1,000 dives (941 to go!)
  • Spot a whale shark while diving
  • Swim with manta rays (Bali in May 2017 and it was awesome!)
  • Swim with barracudas
  • Swim with dolphins in the open ocean
  • Skinny-dip off a boat in the open sea under a full moon
  • Jump off a plane (strapped tandem to a skydiving instructor)
  • Get to Mt Everest base camp
  • Complete a marathon (I did it on 3 Dec 2017!)
  • Kiss someone on top of the Eiffel Tower
  • Kiss someone on top of the Empire State Building
  • Travel overnight on the Orient Express
  • Cruise to Alaska
  • Visit the Grand Canyon
  • See the Northern Lights
  • Sleep in an Ice Hotel
  • Have dinner at an oasis in the desert
  • Go cross country horse back riding
  • Samba in Brazil (preferably at Carnival)
  • Stay overnight in an African safari
  • Take an RV holiday
  • Visit all 7 Wonders of the World (3 down 4 to go)
  • Make a pilgrimage to Lourdes
  • Make a pilgrimage to the Porziuncola in Assisi
  • Help build an orphanage
  • Help build a library
  • Fall in love (again) (in addition to divine intervention, a dash of courage probably needed…)
Posted in ATM = Always Trust Magic!, Bucket List, Living List | Leave a comment

My “the Suitcase must Die” year – I am so glad 2017 is almost over.

In November, when I was reviewing the best suitcase to buy to replace one that I had to throw away, I came across this review where suitcases were tested to destruction. In their “ultimate Suitcase Must Die: Tough Test”, they kicked suitcases from a height of 1.5m to the ground (aka the Sparta kick), took a 10-pound sledgehammer to work on each (aka the Hammer Attack), got a 150kg guy to take a walk over the cases (aka The Stomp) and finally, dropped a car onto the already battered cases (aka The Car Drop) which seemed like a test that no suitcase could live to tell the tale.

suitcase must die

As I watched the videos of the case carnage in gleeful laughter, I thought to myself how 2017 felt pretty much similar – a battering year for my girls and I. And now, we stand at the threshold of a new year with just 4 days left of the old year, somewhat battered but still alive and carrying on (incidentally, by the way, some of the suitcases did survived the carnage pretty well). And I am truly grateful to have survived and am glad that the year is almost over.

And whilst 2017 was a battering year, I think it was also a defining year. Cliché as it may sound, I do subscribed to the mantra “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. And I think my girls and I will at some point in our lives look back at 2017 as one of those inflexion points in our lives that has shown us how we can be resilient. I hope that in future battering years (and I can be sure that there will be a few more round the corner), we will look back at this and draw strength from the fact that we have survived and we will continue to be able to survive. And in fact not just survive but thrive.

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The journey to my first 42.195km


December 3 2017. 10:38 am. I crossed the finish line, completing my first marathon, 5 hours 48 minutes after I started the longest run of my life.

Family and friends applauded the accomplishment with many asking me what’s next (the simple answer: Everest Base Camp) including if I would run any more marathons (the simple answer: maybe).

The harder question which I have been posed and which I was also asking myself was what were my emotions and thoughts during the run and as i crossed the finish line. I am still struggling to put words to answer 4 weeks after.

Words seem blunt and woefully inadequate in lending themselves as a means for expressing my thoughts, particularly given the emotional road I have traversed the past few months.

For the journey did not begin at the starting line on an early morning of December 3 but much earlier in March, and was infused in the 9 months since with optimism, hope, bravado, joy, friendships, social experiments, anxiety, a wedding, 2 deaths, love, a few injuries, heartbreak, stress, pride, doubt and faith.

The genesis for my virgin marathon was the death of a person in March. It triggered me to take stock of my life and draw up a list of things to do before I get too old/die, including to run a marathon. And I thought it would be particularly poignant to do so in 2017 at 42 years of age (42 km at 42 – guess you can’t take the marketing out of me!).

I started training in optimism in March, as I started opening myself to meeting people and dating. The coincidence of the two led to a friend thinking that I had not really signed up for a marathon in all seriousness but was using that as a conversation starter! She eventually realized I was serious about a week before the marathon!

Running did lead to some new friendships as kindred spirits found each other across the universe of random strangers. I made new friends at work joining a weekly running group. And as I prioritized running over dating, a few guys did contemplate joining me on my runs as that seemed to be the only way to find time with me in the midst of an already very packed calendar!

I blacked out whilst on a run in June. Fearing a stroke or heart attack, I went to the hospital to get checked. An echo and 3 days of observations later, I was released and got back on the training schedule under the watchful eye of a running buddy who has since become a great friend.

A wedding in Copenhagen led to some great training runs overseas in a cooler climate and the chance to have the Little Mermaid to myself. My running guide in Copenhagen even pointed out running routes that were popular with runners looking for a romantic running partner!

August to November were months of deep trials. At the point when marathon training should be kicking into a higher gear, my ex-husband passed away, one of my kids was dealing with milestone exams and I had a sudden change in my role in Microsoft. I was also limping badly from a deep muscle inflammation that made running painful and near impossible (and I stopped running the month before the marathon in desperate hope that the muscles might recover in time).

Each of these events eroded away at me as they swept like waves one after the other over me. November 21 – I did not feel like I had it in me to run any more both physically and emotionally. I did not think I had it in me to show up at the start line.

Then on the morning of November 22, I picked my sorry self up and went for a run. It was not my best pace. I hadn’t run for 3 weeks. But the muscles were healing and I was doing much better. I stopped at 10 km even though I felt like I could do more as I did not want to cause re-injury with a few days left to the big run. Completing the marathon was going to have to be a leap of faith with such light training (stationary bike cycling to keep up the cardio) in the past few weeks.

When I walked into the holding pen on December 3 at 3:30 am, I was not sure if I would be able to make it, how long I was going to take or how long I was going to last for that matter. All I could do was start and hope that stubborn determination would keep me going. I guess that reflects life to a large extent. We can sign ourselves up for all sorts of grandiose plans and ambition, but we really do not know if we would be able to see it through to the end until we eventually get there or fail/die trying.

Continuing on that thread of thought, as I now look back on the run, it did seemed to have been a compressed mirror on the emotional ups and downs of my life thus far (did I not already mention 42 km at 42?).

The first 15 km was easy enough and I was able to run well, enjoying the crisp, cool morning air. By coincidence, the first 10 km took me through my childhood haunts, including my Primary school, my father’s offices, the places where I hung out as a little girl as well as places where I had spent time with my ex-husband and our girls in happier times. To some extent, the first phase of the marathon reflected the innocence, freshness and unbridled ease that I was fortunate to enjoy as a child and in the first few years of my marriage.

The next 5 km proved challenging, and eventually I slowed down after the 19 km mark and it gradually became a slow grind for the next few kilometers. But I kept going, focusing on putting one foot after the other, no matter how slow I was. Cramps started setting in but I refused to stop completely, afraid that I would not continue once I stop. And that was how I had lived pretty much every day of my life in the first 2 years after I walked out on my marriage, dealing both with heartache and an acrimonious, bitter divorce.

At the 22 km mark, I felt like I could run again but in brief spurts, alternating between a brisk run and a slow jog for the next 13 km. That seemed to mirror the following years after when I was trying to walk out of the shadows of my failed marriage, sometimes catching the wind in the sails and moving forward and sometimes, turning a corner only to be seized again by a moment of deep sadness or frustration as I continued to grapple with my divorce proceedings and eventually the news my ex-husband’s cancer diagnosis. People along the way cheered for all the runners and gave us a much needed lift in spirits, reigniting the determination to keep going, reminding me of every person I knew who had kept me going in those most challenging times of the past few years.

At the 36 km mark, there it was, the bridge unfurling in front of me. A daunting incline that had to be surmounted under the now hot morning sun before a run downhill to the final flat stretch of run to the finish line. It was there that I came face to face mentally with the heartbreaking and distressing events of August to November that had almost knocked me over. And as I had crested those events in my life eventually, it was stubborn doggedness that pushed me to the top of the bridge.

Most people would have thought the downhill would be a welcome reprieve. Well, it was a bittersweet one. After 37 km, tired muscles would be in pain running uphill or downhill. And every step downhill was more punishing on the hamstrings and gluts even as gravity lent a hand to tired bodies and minds. And I thought how oddly that was also the case in the aftermaths of my ex-husband’s death in August – cushioned by family and friends even as the deepest of sadness was ebbing away but how the heart continued to ache in those days shadowing.

And finally, before I knew it, I found myself on the homestretch in the last 4 km, tired but looking forward to the finish line where my children and mother were waiting for me, there was a fresh spring in my step and a renewed energy. I picked up the pace, determined to finish well and strong. And then I crossed it, seeing and hearing my kids cheering me on as I passed them just 5 meters before the line.

It was an emotional finish reflecting not just on what I had just put my mind and body through in the last 42.195 km, but what I had gone through in the past 42 years (and especially the past few years and even more specially the past few months).

Those last 4 km, I hope, will be a still distant event in my life’s future. And when it finally comes, I hope it would be indeed a strong and good finish in the celebratory company of loved ones. Definitely, no matter what life will continue to throw at me, completing this marathon has given me a deeper appreciation of what is meant in 2 Timothy 4:7 – I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

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With Light Would Shadows Be Cast


Photo credits: Tan Kai Foong

Last week in the early morning of November 14, Emily graduated from Primary 6. I attended the graduation ceremony at her Primary school and was as usual quite the emotional parent, dabbing my eyes as I watched her go up on stage to collect her graduation certificate. In the twinkle of an eye, my second child has grown from a scrawny tiny Primary 1 child to a beautiful and confident Primary 6 tween. Where did all the time go?

I was truly deeply happy and it felt like sunshine had finally broken through the clouds of the past few months and was beaming into my life once again.
And yet with light would shadows be cast.

Driving back to work (as the Primary 6s stayed in school to celebrate with their younger schoolmates), the shadows of sadness at what could have been a more complete celebration washed over me. Sadness that I had shut out of my life for the past few weeks and I felt the aching loss once again of my children’s father and of what could have been a different life given different choices and circumstances. I was not just grieving the death of a man, but also the death of potential and what-could-have-beens.

I was surprised for I had not experienced such deep sorrow since his funeral on 3 Sep, indulging only occasionally in a few tears that wet the eyes. The feelings were however more complex. Sadness that was not alone but mixed with joy. And joy that was tinged with sadness.

And the words of Osho came to mind: “Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That’s its balance.”

And so it dawned (pun not intended) on me that to have the capacity to feel intense joy, one must be prepared to also have the capacity to feel intense sadness. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow. The intensity of one emotion matched by the intensity of the other opposite and equal emotion (a Newtonian-like 3rd law of emotion perhaps – sorry, that pun I could not help but intend!).

Numbing myself in the past few months hadn’t just led to my losing the ability to write (as I shared yesterday), but it had also striped me of my ability to feel truly deeply madly joyful and happy.

With the knowledge now that every spoonful of joy I choose to partake would come tinged with sadness, I look forward to savouring every sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami drop of life that comes my way. How else would one be able to live truly deeply madly without both the shadow and the light?

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Numbing Silence (or the reason I had writer’s block)

It’s been almost 3 months since I last posted a piece of writing on my blog.

Given the tumultuous events in August, one can be forgiven for taking some time off.

Initially I thought the reason I struggled to write anything meaningful in the past few months was because I’d been taken aback by the surge in readership and the outpouring of heartfelt emotions in response to my last 2 blog posts. I was truly touched – some told me that they had read and re-read my blogs in the past few months because it touched them and inspired them. Others told me of how they had come to tears reading my blogs (including a few brave men who were not afraid to shed some tears). The depth of the emotional chords that my last blogs struck took me by surprise.  How was I to follow on from that? It felt daunting and words were not forthcoming.

I now realized it wasn’t exactly that. The magnitude of the challenge has never daunted me in the past and would contrarily probe me to rise to the occasion. So why should it now? As a near and dear colleague had astutely said to me at the end of a team-building karaoke session recently, I would pick up the mic when everyone else passed because I could never resist a challenge (and she was right as I did get into the action performing a fast and furious rendition of “Ice Ice Baby” when I was not even much of a rapper to begin with).

My writer’s block happened and persisted because I stopped allowing myself to feel deeply. Unknowingly, unconsciously, soon after my ex’s funeral, I’d numbed myself in order to focus on supporting my children through the weeks post and to be able to focus on my work. I probably only allowed myself brief snatches of moments to be “not okay” before soldiering on again, moving forward in the fog of sadness.

I know that now because I recently in the last two weeks started feeling intense bouts of sadness, because I (initially unconsciously) allowed myself to indulge in intense spoonfuls of joy (sadness and happiness are after all just opposite ends of the same tree if you have come across Osho’s quote). And the words and cacophony of inspired thoughts came cascading after.

To write I suppose is thus to feel. And you can’t write without opening your heart to the gamut of human emotions both the good and the bad, the joy and the pain, the light and the dark.

And so today, I write once more. And I trade numbing silence for heartfelt writing. Bring on the waves of emotions crashing on the shores of my consciousness and write on!

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