Warning: This piece is entertaining, educational and inspiring. Allegedly. Read on at your own risk.

Alrighty folks. It has been a year since I relocated from Australia to Vietnam. Obviously, a lot of shit has happened and I won’t be able to cover them all. So I am only going to address a couple of things that took place in the past 12 months of my life.

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The State Parliament of Victoria does have a pretty nice front view.

First on the chopping block must be why I didn’t stay longer in Melbourne.

Let me just go ahead and clarify that when I left at the end of August 2016, I was in full confidence that I’d be back in February 2017. I’d submitted or planned to submit more than one scholarship applications (admissions were guaranteed considering my scores and the courses I applied to). I only needed one application to be successful. The odds seemed good enough.

So I left without arranging a graduation ceremony. Partly because I never liked those, partly because I believed it wouldn’t be my last stint at tertiary education. I stayed until the second last day of my visa, to take care of my businesses and make sure everything was in proper order. There were still people who needed my help, until the last minute. On a cold night, after some frantic last-minute packing (hey we’re all guilty, don’t pretend otherwise), I scuttered off with a couple of close friends to the airport, waved them goodbye and flew home.

At first, life was quite nice. Got to eat some nice (and more importantly, free) food. I was pretty burnt out already, so some months with my literal fam would do me good. And they did.

Then came November. That god-awful November.

All three scholarship applications I submitted were rejected, one shortly after the other.

Imagine you come into a restaurant and order steak. After waiting for 10 minutes, the waiter tells you that the restaurant has run out of steaks and asks if you could have pasta instead. Begrudgingly, you agree. Then another 15 minutes goes by and the same waiter comes again. Sorry we are out of pasta also, will you have a salad? Almost pulling your hairs out, you consent. And then 5 minutes later, the restaurant manager comes out from behind the counter and asks you to leave, because “Sorry, but seems like there is no place for you here anymore.”

That’s what it felt like at the time.

The nightmare of 2013 was coming back in full force. But by now, I was much more hardened in dealing with unexpected outcomes. To be honest, I was more surprised than disappointed. I thought the portfolio I built up made me a strong enough applicant. I spent a couple of days to absorb the fact that I wouldn’t make it back to Australia, not at least anytime soon.

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Not seeing this familiar sight anytime soon.

Once reality had set in, I set out (heheheh!) to consider my next move. That didn’t take very long because let’s face it, my options were limited.

So, the working world.

The prospects of a job didn’t look too good. When I started my Bachelor’s degree, finding employment was not really a top priority. To me, university was more about the intellectual pursuits (yeah I was young and foolish enough to believe that). So I delved into obscure and unemployable areas, like political philosophy, politics and philosophy (they are different, I swear!).

Now, Marx’s historical materialism or Hobbes’ theory of state or even knowledge of how Augustus maintained his reign wasn’t of much help in seeking a job. Nevertheless, I persisted. Polished up the CV, sent out a couple of job apps, reaching out to potential hirers. You know, usual things a fresh graduate might do to get a job.

A few offers came along the way, much to my surprise because frankly, I wasn’t in full force in my job hunting. Among them, one was particularly interesting. So I took the job in the non-profit sector and moved to Hanoi (side note: I had never been to Hanoi before).

The first day in the capital was fun. I remember going to the nearby supermarket to buy settling-in stuff. It was only until I stood in a tea aisle that I fully comprehended the profound implications of the choice I made.

I was alone.

I. WAS. ALONE.

Which means I now had something I have always craved (along with wine and gelato).

Freedom.

I had freedom. I was free.

The realisation was both exciting and terrifying.

Since I have (almost) perfect control of my life, I have nobody else to praise for my success. The flip side is, in failing, I have nobody but myself to blame.

(Side note: I summarised my experience living in Hanoi here. While you’re on Quora, sign up and follow me too.)

I have always prided myself on being a voracious reader and one thing I gathered through reading from various wonderful people is that all successful folks are excellent at discipline. They are in control of themselves and consequently of their own destiny. I wanted that. So I set out to learn some good ol’ discipline but boy was it tough. Living alone means only having only myself as both enforcer and motivator. Change must come from within.

What I have been trying to do is establish a routine, one that suits me and I will follow consistently. I understand no matter how trivial, habits can make or break me. I have made some headway with the morning part, being able to wake up early (on most days!) and work on myself. Because another thing I have come to understand is it is the hours outside of the regular job that will determine what I can become. I know I can be so much more, but it will only happen if I put in the work consistently. A war is not won overnight, but battle by battle. A marathon is run inch by inch.

I have also learned to be ruthless with myself in the process. If something does not make me a better person, I refuse to do it. If somebody takes up too much of my time in a non-meaningful way, I cut them off. Yes, I probably have pissed off quite a few people (including myself) but hey, it’s my life and I’ve only got one of those. So go figure. Of course, I don’t mean flipping people off, but you can actually turn down invitations politely and in advance. And you don’t have to explain yourself to other people. Nah, life is too short for that.

People ask how I have been. The truth is, I have been uncomfortable, and I mean that in a good way. How I see it is, comfort breeds content, content breeds complacency and complacency is among the greatest downfalls of man, for it hinders progress. It is discontent that fuels passion. I try to put myself in unfamiliar situations, ones that demand decisiveness and resourcefulness. “Throwing myself in at the deep end” would be the appropriate expression. The more terrifying it looks, the deeper I delve.

I realise my approach will probably catch some flak. “But you don’t sound happy!” “How can you be happy if you are not content?”

You know what I say? To hell with happiness, to hell with it.

If I wanted to be happy, I would have stayed in Saigon, got a comfortable job, pat myself on the back and be content for the next 40 years. That was and is totally within my ability, I don’t doubt it. But no, I chose discomfort. Because I understood that it is only in discomfort that I can grow.

Let me take a moment and file a disclaimer to say that this is my approach to my life. I recognise that it does not suit everyone and I am certainly not recommending it for every person that reads this. This way of life is regularly mundane, often tiring and sometimes brutal. It will always be another climb. Another mountain. Another conquest. Comfort is momentary while discontent is permanent.

Word.

But again, discontent is what drives passion. And passion is what drives a person forward. Like a candle in the night.

I recently came across a question that read “What is your magnum opus?” 

I posted a piece of writing I wrote a long time ago, thinking that in terms of literary quality, it makes me proud the most. But now I understand that my life’s masterpiece must be myself. I am my greatest work. am my longest project. I will keep pushing my limits.

Oh, in case you didn’t know, let me just take this paragraph (and the next couple ones) to explain my job. I am currently working for an NGO called Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, whose focus is children in crisis. We serve street kids, kids at risk of being trafficked for labour or sex, and victims of human trafficking. (If you are thinking about donating to an NGO, please please please consider us. We do great work!) I work in the Communications and Fundraising Team, handling grants and reports. Basically, I write reports to foundations and organisations that give us money, and write grant applications to seek new funding. I collect data from staff who run the activities, compile them and put together nicely-written, nicely-formatted reports and proposal.

As you can tell, a lot of writing is involved. Alas, writing is not the difficult part. Collating different types of information is. I often joke that I am a beggar for info, but there is a degree of truth in that. Much of my time is spent hassling other folks for that piece of data I reallyyyy need to produce a good report. A story, a detail, a number. By now, I’d like to think they have grown familiar with my hassling and some, even fond of it (well a man can hope!).

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Sometimes I get out into the field too. Then I curse the sun and quickly get back inside.

If you are wondering then yes, I am liking this job. I do what I like. I do what I am good at. It is legal, it helps other people and most importantly, it pays. Both in money and in other things. Honestly, I’d be hard pressed to find a more suitable position elsewhere. So yeah, I am satisfied with my current work. Of course, there are professional challenges (hey, it’s my first job after uni in a sector I’ve no prior experience with), but I genuinely enjoy these challenges. I still remember finding out my grant was approved for the first time. It felt surreal, for I couldn’t really believe that I have done it. I wrote the application within a week, after three weeks at my new job. I really was fortunate enough to have support from others, so they have my gratitude. The grant wasn’t even that big monetarily but to me, it was, because it tells me that I am doing it right. That I am on the right track. That I am becoming the best version of myself. Besides, first blood always tastes better.

I read somewhere on Quora that your goal in life should be something you can’t be born with. So money, fame, happiness are out. Yes, even happiness, because many of us were born happy. Instead, our objective should be something that takes effort, time, and sweat. Preferably a lot of those. This way, we are poised to achieve eudaimonia, which is the ancient Greek term for “a fulfilled life”. Byproducts such as happiness, money or fame will show up along the way, but they themselves can’t be the end goal.

Life is so short, shouldn’t we try to do something remarkable? – Me

Now that I have mentioned it, let’s stop at Quora for a moment. The site is definitely one of last year’s highlights. I had joined sometime before but it wasn’t until late 2016 that I actively participated in writing answers. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop indeed. I have learned so much, the most notable probably being becoming more emotionally mature. Reading answers from various writers who are considered knowledgeable on the subject has been enlightening. I have come to understand that in romance (and in life too), nobody owes me their time, attention or affection. Everything is voluntary, not obligatory. In other words, I ain’t owed shit. I also learned that it takes more than just attraction for two people to start a relationship together. Compatibility is what matters, and the term covers so many aspects, including but definitely not limited to mutual romantic interest.

This philosophy on romance has freed up a lot of my mind and time. And saved me a lot of headaches as well. Still on the quest of finding a quite secure and emotionally mature person with whom I enjoy spending a considerable amount of time hanging out though. I am truly not sure if I’ll be dating in the short future, but still, excited to see where this goes. Low expectations but high standards, I guess.

Also, massive shout-out to mature folks who handle uncomfortable situations with grace and empathy. You guys are cool, I want you to know that.

For this next year, I shall keep on working on myself. Probably try to lose some weight because I want to enjoy nice food for as long as I can. Probably travel a bit too, as I haven’t done much of that. Probably start building a personal brand, because I think I am an awesome person and more people should get to know me. It is going to be another year of pain and success, and I pray that I find the strength to thrive in it.

Well, it was hard to pack the last 365 days into over 2000 words, but hey, I tried. Told you it would be entertaining, educational and inspiring. Allegedly. Please don’t sue me.

This last year has been painful and thus enriching. And it is just the beginning.

I shall stop here. See you in probably the next couple of months. Gotta write something worth reading or do something worth writing. Yes, I stole that adage from Benjamin Franklin. Sue me.

Ciao ciao.

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Marvel at my brilliance. Or the sun’s. Either is fine by me, really.

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Photo credit: Jacques Ferrandez

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.

I was thinking of a gripping sentence to start the book review but ultimately went with the first line itself. This is simply one of the best opening lines I have ever read (besides that of 1984, of course). Excellent way to start a novel. (Side note: This is a very interesting read on The Stranger‘s opening line alone. I’d urge you to spend a few minutes to read it).

And thus I embarked on a riveting read by Albert Camus. The novel is rather short in length, but it is exactly brevity that gives the work such a profound impact.

[SPOILER ALERT, READ ON AT YOUR OWN PERIL]

The first time I read The Stranger (L’Étranger in original French) was without a lens. I did not know who Camus was, what he stood for, or what genre the novel fell into. As such, to me, it was a story of a man whose mother died, and he has to make a journey to attend the funeral. Then he meets someone, goes on a vacation with a group of friends, shoots a person 5 times, goes to trial and is sent for execution.

That’s essentially it.

I am serious. If you read the novel without a lens, you would arrive at the same conclusion. A bland, short and inexplicably weird read.

Thinking that there is no way The Stranger deserves the praise it has amassed over the years, I decided to read it again, this time with a lens. To be able to do so, I did some background research and learnt some interesting things.

I learnt that Camus was a proponent of absurdism. Very briefly, it is the school of philosophy which postulates that as much as humans try to find meaning in their lives, they can’t. Why? Because the sheer amount of information, both known and unknown, makes certainty impossible to obtain. The conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life and the human inability to find any is called “the Absurd.” We want to make sense of the universe, but the universe itself has none.

Wearing the lens of absurdism took reading The Stranger to a completely different level.

For starters, the protagonist Meursault is strangely and overly indifferent. His aloofness is simply remarkable. The coldness is shown on various occasions in the first few pages when Meursault’s mother passed away. Although the story is told through the first-person perspective, we are never once shown how he felt about her death for Camus only provides us with a description of his detached behaviour. He expresses no grief whatsoever. Let us revisit the first few lines of the novel:

Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure. I got a telegram from the home: ‘Mother deceased. Funeral tomorrow. Faithfully yours.’ That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe it was yesterday.

I mean, who is not at least sad when their mother dies? That should have sounded the alarm in the first reading, but somehow it didn’t. The response is completely devoid of emotion. The telegram, as a means of communication, doesn’t exactly help either. Not a phone call or a visit in person, but a telegram. The human touch was absent; technology has taken its place. What’s more, throughout these lines, the main character seems hung up on the exact date his mother died. He debates himself whether she died the day the telegram arrives or the day before. That takes top priority.

Meursault’s nonchalance carries through various events following his mother’s death, many of which should have provoked at least a trace of emotion.

There is the off-handed comment of a home nurse during the funeral procession that reveals his inner thinking.

She said, “If you go slowly, you risk getting sunstroke. But if you go too fast, you work up a sweat and then catch a chill inside the church.” She was right. There was no way out.

Of course, the nurse was talking only about the heat. But Meursault’s following remark was entirely something else. “There was no way out” could easily imply the burden that is the human existence which will ultimately lead to death. The sun is the manifestation of human life and the heat is that of death. Only death is inevitable and inescapable. One way or another, it’ll get you.

Since we’re all going to die, it’s obvious that when and how don’t matter.

So yes, human existence is pointless, because we all die in the end.

Another instance that shows Meursault’s apathy is his short conversation with his lover Marie:

A minute later she asked me if I loved her. I told her it didn’t mean anything but that I didn’t think so.

Like seriously, who is this guy? Does he even understand how emotionally packed Marie’s question is? (Protip: he doesn’t). And according to him, love doesn’t “mean anything.” This signals his (forming and still primitive) belief that life is meaningless.

Towards the very end of the novel, when Meursault knows he will be executed for the murder of the Arab (told you there will be spoilers!), he has some kind of epiphany:

As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself—so like a brother, really—I felt that I had been happy and that I was happy again. For everything to be consummated, for me to feel less alone, I had only to wish that there be a large crowd of spectators the day of my execution and that they greet me with cries of hate.

Meursault has finally come to terms with the fact that the world simply does not care. Our existence is pointless, and so are all of our endeavours. There is neither rationality and order. It is only through accepting this fact that we can find a modicum of solace.

There is so much more to The Stranger that I have not touched here. The heat, the court case, the crucifix. But all in all, everything goes to support Camus’ idea that the universe makes no attempt to assign meaning to our lives and we will spend our lives futilely searching for such meaning.

I really liked how Camus seamlessly weaves his philosophy into such a short novel, how he takes care of the little things and how he packs in so much symbolism. The entire novel is absurd. Meursault is truly a stranger to his own existence and to the universe, failing to find meaning in neither.

To paraphrase what the child said to Neo in The Matrix, there is no point.

To sum up, the novel is a close, critical study in man’s futile quest to find rational meaning in an irrational, meaningless universe.

If you want to find out more, read The Stranger in its entirety. Pay attention to the little details. I promise you will be pleasantly surprised.

Peace out.

SE SG

(Finally I found some time and (more importantly) will to write)

Today’s topic is going to be slightly tougher to dissect and digest, but I will try to do it justice.

First, some background stuff needs to happen. It is critical to familiarise ourselves with two concepts: self-esteem and self-growth.

Self-esteem is, to be very concise, the opinion you have of yourself. If you want the longer, more proper definition, here it is:

Self-esteem is a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of their own worth. It is a judgment of as well as an attitude toward oneself. Self-esteem includes beliefs about oneself as well as emotional states. Synonyms are self-worth, self-regard, self-respect, so on and so forth. – Adapted from John P Hewitt, Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, Oxford University Press (2009).

That’s a lot to unpack and I am quite sure you prefer the shorter definition. But anyways, self-esteem reflects confidence in one’s own worth or abilities. The concept occupies a central place in the discipline of psychology because it possesses arguably the most potent influence over a plethora of activities and outcome, be it academic success, professional behaviour or satisfaction in relationships.

A person who has high self-esteem is comfortable in their own skin. Simply put, the world can’t shake them because they know who they are and they are secure about it. They believe they are good and they need no one to affirm their belief. On the other hand, a person with low self-esteem constantly engages in self-doubt, insecurity and sometimes even shame. As such, they think lack the personal, unshakable belief that they are good in themselves.

The second key concept for today’s analysis is self-growth, which is relatively easier to grasp. Self-growth is the development of oneself in various aspects, ranging from positive life skills to ideas to creativity to knowledge. Basically, anything that enhances the quality of an individual and makes them a better person.

Alright, now that we have waded through the gritty itty part, let’s dive into the juicy bits.

Are self-esteem and self-growth contradictory?

I mean, one can argue that the two concepts oppose each other. If I am comfortable with who I am, why do I need to become better? And if I indeed strive to become better, it is my own insecurities that drive me?

To deal with this issue effectively, I shall introduce you to the following 2×2 matrix:

 

High self-esteem

Low self-esteem

Want self-growth

Confident in one’s own worth, but understands that it can be improved. Seeks to improve to earn external validation. Usually bitter.

Doesn’t want self-growth

Arrogant, refuses to grow. Usually toxic. Low opinion of oneself. Self-condemnation.

 
The table above outlines cases when these two concepts interact in one person, and the results.

Let’s begin by taking a look at the top-left quadrant, which is a really great outcome. A person who has a high sense of self-regard and works towards their personal development is doing very well for themselves. It is critical to note where their motivation to better themselves comes from, because this is the distinguishing feature. A person in this group understands that they are good (high self-worth). But more importantly, they understand that they have the potential to become better, and they will be doing a disservice to themselves not to do so. Nobody can tell him or her that they are not good enough, but they are also aware that they can develop into a better version of themselves. They owe it to themselves to maximise their potential. Their self-regard and desire for self-growth are not in conflict with each other, but rather complement each other. Really, these people are on the path of self-actualisation, because they have a strong self-belief and also the will to be better. A typical line that you will hear from this type of people: “I am already great at [insert aspect of life], but I still need to find ways to improve. What? It’d be a crime against myself not to want to grow!”

1

Moving to the top-right quadrant, this is a bit trickier to analyse. An individual with low self-esteem has, by definition, a low opinion of themselves. They often think and believe that they are not good enough. Since they themselves cannot provide assurance, they often seek validation from external sources. Essentially, they need someone else to them that they are good. And they do try to improve themselves, but they do so only to continue receiving that dose of affirmation of another person. Keep the goods comin’ in, you know. Their betterment is a means to the end that is the elevation of their self-esteem. These people are in a precarious position because they heavily depend on others, living in a constant state of insecurity and susceptible to manipulation. Their desire for self-development fuels their desire for praise from others, and that sure is neither healthy nor sustainable. Tend to be bitter and overly critical towards self. Typical line: “Hey, I have improved in [insert aspect of life], do you think that I am good enough now and if not, what must I do to make you say so?”

2

Going down to the lower row, let us dissect the folks on the left first. These people think highly of themselves and fall victim to their grand self-opinion. Because they believe they are good enough, they do not seek growth. This arrogance may or may not be unfounded, but it is damaging in the long run all the same, simply because refusing to grow means not being able to become what one can become. It is denying oneself the opportunity to become the best version of oneself. That is already an undesirable outcome, but what is more dangerous is that with an I-am-already-good-there-is-no-need-to-get-better mindset is that as the world progresses forward, the person will be left behind. When people are running and they ain’t, they lag behind. And when they realise that they need to change, their high self-regard acts as a barrier, preventing them from seeking to improve and turning them into toxic individuals. Conceit is perhaps among the deepest pitfalls of man. Typical line: “I am already good at [insert aspect of life]. I am not going to bother to improve.”

'For some reason, people tend to view me as arrogant, despite my superior virtues and academic aptitude...'

Last but not least, those who find themselves in the bottom-right quadrant are in serious trouble. They do not believe in themselves and they don’t try to become better. Essentially, that’s a very deep pit to crawl up from, especially when the ladder is shaking. The trapped individual has little confidence in their own worth and abilities, yet lacks the will to enhance who he or she is as a person. The two concepts tag team to drive that person to the ground. They wallow in self-pity. Typical line: “I suck at [insert aspect of life]. I see no point in trying to improve because I will always suck at it.”

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself. . .feel sorry for those who have to work with you!

I have condensed the analysis above into the second 2×2 matrix below:

 

High self-esteem

Low self-esteem

Want self-growth

You are doing fine. Keep it up. Aim for growth, but not to hear praise from others.

Doesn’t want self-growth

You are not as good as you think you are. You are fucked. Try to unfuck the situation.

 

Note: the table and this piece deal rather in extremes, only to highlight the general possibilities. It’s probably more like a spectrum in real life. But this topic requires simplification and as a consequence, generalisation.

All in all, self-esteem and the desire for self-growth are very important to being a functioning adult. The ways they interact produce different outcomes that can determine a person’s approach to life. I have not discussed ways to improve self-esteem and personal development because that would make this piece too long. But I hope that I have provided you with a brief overview of how these qualities play with and against each other.

What to do with that knowledge, I shall leave to you.

Ciao.

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Alrighty folks.

I have just completed a 30 Day Challenge where I would write every day for 30 consecutive days. More on 30 Day Challenges here

Some of you might jump the gun and roll your eyes and exclaim “But you already write a lot, that’s barely a challenge.”

Let me correct your assuming asses and tell you that it was truly a challenge.

First off, doing something every day over 30 days is tough. Maintaining commitment over a period of time, however small, is inherently demanding. That’s the whole point of 30 Day Challenges anyway, but I’ll get more into that later.

Days 1 to 8 went relatively well for me as I always had the time to sit down and write a small piece. I assumed it’d be a walk in the park.

But on Day 6, I was busy as something unexpected came up. It took me a huge chunk of time AND energy to resolve that by almost the end of the day, I was extremely fatigued, both mind and body. I stared at the computer screen for 15 minutes, unable to summon even a modicum of willpower to think and write.  By 10PM, the page was still impeccably white. 

“Ah fuck this”, I thought. “Let’s just call it a day and go to sleep. Why need I bother with this shit?”

Then suddenly I remembered the reasons why I was doing this challenge.

Commitment.

Persistence.

Discipline.

The point wasn’t to write when I can. It was to write when I can’t.

That’s what this whole thing was about.

Incrementally building a habit.

Enhancing willpower.

Stop coming up with bullshit excuses.

With that train of thought, my mind suddenly activated.

More ideas came rushing in. It was like opening a floodgate and allowing myself to be completely submerged.

I wrote voraciously, like a hungry vagrant gorging on the stale bread the bakery had thrown away.

Like a thirsty nomad gulping down precious water in an oasis.

Like a flame devouring the slim dried wood branches.

Words were quickly filling up the page as I wrote through the night.

The next morning, I was, in a way that’s still largely mysterious to me, changed.

So I kept writing.

Until day 17 or so, when I experienced another profound shift of perspective.

I was starting to dread writing by then. I considered it a chore, a burden, a bore.

Then I took a hard look at myself and asked: “Am I writing stuff that truly matters to me?”

The answer I got back was a weak “Yes”, which I know too well translates into a resounding “No.”

So I started to change my thinking. I began considering writing as a way to let my deepest and darkest thoughts out. And very coincidentally, I was going through a rough phase with some fucked-up shit.

Again, I opened the floodgate.

Out came the damned thoughts. Violently and unstoppably, like hot lava flowing from a waking volcano.

I realised that this was the opportunity to be honest with myself.

No holding back.

What ensued was a thorough examination of my feelings, desires and fears. The page became where I freely articulated everything that had been caged in my head.

The result was incredibly liberating.

At that moment, writing became my escape vehicle that put away my thoughts and helped me re-focus with a clear rationality.

There were even days when I wrote some poetry. It all sucks because I am a huge failfish poet, of course, but that wasn’t the point.

I felt freer every night after I’d finished writing. I’d wake up the next morning with a bit more space in my mind, which I then used for other mentally consuming matters.

Now that the challenge draws to an end, I have the chance to look back at everything I have written down.

A lot of it is confusing and entangling.

A lot more is dark, grim and sombre.

Which only means that it was a good thing that I unloaded all of it.

Moreover, I learned that momentum was a powerful tool.

Once I have done it for a couple of days, I tried to keep it the streak unbroken. I kept writing. On days that were more heavier than others, I still managed to write something down.

A baby step a day goes a long way.

And that’s pretty much the focal point of any 30 Day Challenge I guess.

The gradual building of habit and resilience.

Well, I am thankful I caught onto it and managed to finish one challenge.

I’d anticipated this month to be quite packed, and thus I have elected to finish the 30 Day Reading Challenge next. All I have to do is read for at least 30 minutes a day for 30 days straight.

Sounds simple and easy right?

I am through Day 10, and I can tell you that it is simple, but it sure as hell ain’t easy.

But I will trudge on, for I believe I will come out a better person at the end of the challenge.

Keep on keepin’ on.

Ciao.

P.S: If you are looking for a 30 Day Challenge, this link offers some great suggestions. Have fun. 

 

 

 


This post originated from a question on Quora: How can someone forget their first love and move on in life? As I was writing up the answer, I thought it’d be better if I made it a standalone post of my own. 

first loves

We were young. We fucked up.

That’s essentially my answer nowadays when enquired about what happened with my very first love.

You know, the thing that’s believed to mystically stay with us forever?

Well, I happen to believe in the myth. At least to a large extent.

The reasons vary, but I believe most can be traced back to two factors: the devouring intensity and the brief lifespan of it.

First love is an extraordinary sort of fever that consumes us. And we offer ourselves willingly.

Bar a number of people, most of us had/are having/will have our first love at a young age, often during our adolescence. The time when our hormones were raging and we just stepped out of childhood was probably the (relatively) worst time to fall in love.

We weren’t emotionally mature. Hell, we weren’t even physically mature to undertake such a monumental endeavour like love.

But love happened to us all the same. And at that tender age, everything around us was amplified through a gigantic magnifying glass.

The first person who stole our heart is no exception.

A brief “Good morning” text lifts our mood the entire day.

A slight touch of the hand put our heart on fire.

Even being in the same space with them without talking to each other can be exquisitely suffocating.

I know because I have been there.

Pure passion and no restraint, we romanticise love to the point of absurdity. But it was exactly that absurdity that bound us and made our heart scream with excitement.

Take a look at John Clare’s poem “First Love”

I ne’er was struck before that hour
   With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
   And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale,
   My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
   My life and all seemed turned to clay.
And then my blood rushed to my face
   And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
   Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
   Words from my eyes did start—
They spoke as chords do from the string,
   And blood burnt round my heart.
Are flowers the winter’s choice?
   Is love’s bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice,
   Not love’s appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
   As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
   And can return no more.

The infatuation was palpable.

We do crazy shit for our first love.

I did crazy shit for my first love.

Like waking up at 6AM, travelling to the airport and waiting for close to 2 hours just to be the first person to greet her. And yes, I made an improvised Hello sign with her name on it too, bonus points for dramatic flair.

On another occasion, I made a mixtape for her from scratched. The whole shebang. I put together a list of songs. I designed the CD and the cover. I found a place to burn the CD and put everything together. Contacted someone to have it delivered to her too.

I was barely eighteen at the time.

Ah, the lengths we go to for love.

Rapper 50 Cent says in one of his songs: “I love you like a fat kid love cake.”

Have you ever seen a fat kid who loves cake?

It’s the kind of unequivocal, unrelenting and unquenchable sensation that best describes how it feels like to love for the first time.

(For the record, I am fat. And I love cake. Cake ftw!)

It was the immaturity, the audacity, the recklessness that keeps us going. We happily hold the torchlight that always burns bright as day, even if sometimes it scalds our hand a little bit. The emotional intensity can be intoxicating and addictive, considering this is the first time we’ve come to know it.

We are carefree with our first love. The whole world just doesn’t matter. Nothing else but the person matters. It is this time that I believe one can be truly drunken with love. Our peripheral vision gets narrowed down into the size of a body frame. At the first kiss, we feel like we are going to explode. Again, pure passion and no restraint. First love is a special thing, and there is no denying it.

The second reason why first love stays with us for so long is its early demise.

To this date, I have rarely seen a first love result in a happy ending. Most of those didn’t even transition into a long-term relationship. At the risk of over-generalising, I’d go so far and say first loves are ephemeral and it often takes an incredible amount of effort AND luck to make them not so. Note: I am not condemning all first loves to certain, inescapable doom. I am just saying that the probability of high school sweethearts living happily ever after is strikingly low. And no, I have little empirical data to back that up. All I have is this quote:

Did I think he was “the one”? I’ll never know. At sixteen, everyone is “the one.” – K. A. Tucker

The problem lies with amplification. When things are good, they are heavenly good. When things are bad, they are, well, pretty fucking bad.

At the beginning, we are with each other and only with each other, there was no worldly needs involved. However, when the young love is put through the trials of life, things get rocky very quickly.

We are often too dazzled by the light that we forget it is blinding us.

A silly mistake can turn into an ugly fight.

A small obstacle can be seen as insurmountable.

A seemingly trivial matter can swiftly put an end to things.

As I have written, first-time lovers often lack the emotional capacity to handle challenges with maturity. I should stress that the death of first love is often due to neither party’s fault. We just suppose that everything is going to be perfect forever because we have found our perfect soul mate. So when an imperfection turns up (often out of the blue), we have no clue how to deal with it, and how to deal with it together. We mess up.

I partly agree with Benjamin Disraeli’s claim, that “the magic of first love is our ignorance that it can ever end.” Except I’d swap magic for tragedy. That’s more accurate. The dream never seems to end, until one day it does. Because the foundation upon which it was built was not quite than concrete and sustaining. As we mature and experience hardship, first love seems too perfect, too good, too unrealistic. We get the feeling that it is perhaps near inevitable that our first love had come to an end. We realise that it didn’t work out because much of it was due to our own fabrication.

This may sound oddly out of place, but I found this quote from the TV series Westworld to be extremely appropriate to describe the situation:

These violent delights have violent ends.

And to think it originally refers to Romeo and Juliet, it makes even more sense.

But it is precisely because of the way first love often ends that it stays with every moment of our waking life. We forged a close bond, experienced many unforgettable memories, and fell apart. Now we look back, with fondness and nostalgia, to when we were innocent once, when the whole world didn’t matter, when we felt invincible with the other person by our side. And it is impossible to ever love like that again. The only thing we can do is live on.

That’s what happens with your first love. It carves a hole in the muscle and fiber, so that you have no choice but to wear it like a birthmark.
—Rebecca Tsaros Dickson

The first flame always burns the brightest. Even if it is short-lived. Especially if it is short-lived.

Which brings me back to where I began.

We were young. We fucked up.

__________________________________________________________________________

That’s probably the end. I’ve gotta get back to prepping for work. That report ain’t gonna write itself.

Ciao.

Sooooooooooo I have been in Hanoi for one week.

Last Sunday, as the sun crept on the horizon, I said goodbye to my literal fam, scooted off onto a plane and hopped to Hanoi. Things were a bit surreal but anyways, by mid day, I found myself embracing the cool and slightly foggy air of the capital. Settling in was about as tough as I expected. I do have 2 very good friends who have been extremely hospitable and welcoming and I can thank you enough.

The past 7 days have been incredible, and I don’t use this word lightly.

I needed to manage living on my own, taking care of the most trivial of things such as getting cleaning equipment and ordering stuff. Then there is the eternal question of what I should have for breakfast. Boy, that is a tough one to decide. But I have to make the decision anyway. Freedom doesn’t come cheap.

The new job has been frighteningly exciting. There is just so much to learn. Soooooo much. Everyone around me seems like they already know what to do, which puts me even under greater pressure. Nonetheless, I consider it the (near) perfect opportunity to challenge my own capability. And I’ve been taking it in stride so far (I THINK!). Much of the work is in my alley (or in the one next to me). Also, my colleagues have been greatly generous and supportive, which is a huge plus. Everyone made an effort to make me feel welcomed.

And suddenly, I’ve got some free time after work. Again, I have to decide what to do with it. The burden of choice couldn’t be any clearer. So I chose to read more work-related stuff, some fiction and also tried on some chess. To be honest, I haven’t seen much of Hanoi, but I will soon.

All in all, this is a huge upgrade compared to my university days. There are like a tonnes of different things to manage. Rent, work, side work, social life, personal life, etc etc. Sometimes I am already at a loss of thoughts, because there are simply too many choices waiting to be made, and too many things to worry about. But I am not complaining because that’s what I wanted.

A clean slate.

A new environment.

A trial.

I was getting too comfortable. I wasn’t pushing myself enough. I wasn’t growing as fast and as much as I’d like.

So I said “Fuck it, let’s do this!” and moved away from the burning sun of Saigon and into the frosty embrace of Hanoi.

Was it the right call? I don’t know. I hope it is. I am trying to ensure it will be.

Will I manage to get through? I am not 100% certain, but I am confident that I will.

No matter what, I will trudge on. Or crawl. I will move forward.

TL;DR: Am still alive. Life is tough. Enjoying the challenge.

Anyway, it’s time to get back to work. Next week is gonna be craaaaaaaazy.

Peace out.

cropped

Egg coffee. Might have been better if served hot.

Hanoi, a chilly afternoon contemplating life and choice in a tiny crowded coffee shop.

 

Preface: Every week I choose 1 word given to me and write about it. You can leave your word in the comments and one day you’ll see it here, I promise.

yuanfen

Yuan (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ) or Yuanfen (simplified Chinese: 缘份; traditional Chinese: 緣分; pinyin: yuánfèn; Vietnamese: duyên phận), “fateful coincidence,” is a concept in the Chinese folk religion describing good and bad chances and potential relationships. It can also be translated as “destiny, luck as conditioned by one’s past,” or “natural affinity among friends.”

The concept is deterministic, meaning it implies that the meeting and coming together of (usually) two people has been predetermined by an invisible universal force. It is important to recognise that this pre-destining does not come from a godly entity, but rather is attributed to the universe, which is often among the strongest cosmic forces in Eastern thinking. The pulling force is credited to the deeds done by the two people in question in their earlier incarnations. The current life being affected (or even determined) by the previous births is also another popular idea, resembling Buddhism’s karma. However, yuanfen is interactive rather than individual, it focuses on the bond shared by two people. The idea is that the couple have had to go through countless (or at least an enormous number of) lives on this earth to meet in this current life, out of 7 billion other people. So the meeting didn’t happen by chance. It was predestined.

Personally, I sorta believe in the concept of yuanfen. I mean, for two people to come across each other and come together as a couple, some degree of coincidence has to be involved. Not to mention, “we were fated to meet” has a nice romantic sound to it. Have you ever met someone with whom you just instantly “clicked”? You have no idea how you could have stumbled onto each other in the coffee shop one sleepy Monday morning, struck a brief conversation as common courtesy and it sort of just took off from there. All of the sudden, you found yourself inexplicably drawn to the other person, their smile, their smell and their quirky tics? Well, that “click” is the sound of the universe bringing you two into each other’s lives and pulling you closer to each other. We can say that yuanfen is in play. 

But my belief stops right there. Yuanfen might have been the reason we met, but it isn’t the reason we are still together. Because guess what, fate can’t do shit when it comes to commitment. While falling in love can be a fateful coincidence, there is nothing coincidental about staying in love. It’s a choice, made every day by the (usually) two parties involved. It is probably one of the toughest endeavour a human being can ever hope to accomplish: to nurture and flourish their relationship with a partner. Yuanfen plays no part in this. 

Actually you know what, I am not so sure any more.

You see, I am at a crossroads.

I wanted, sometimes so desperately, to believe that as long as two in a relationship choose to commit, they will stay in that relationship. That’s the hopeless romantic in me speaking, trying to believe. Love trumps all. 

But if the conversations I have had over the past couple of weeks were any indication, life isn’t a movie. Love doesn’t always conquer. Sometimes, it succumbs. 

I am at the age where a lot of people I know are in stable relationships and looking toward to marriage with The One, while also a lot of people I know are having problems maintaining their relationships. 

It pains me to know that a dear friend of mine is seriously considering ending her relationship, because she and her boyfriend can’t work out the future. They have tried many times, but no, life wouldn’t yield. And it’s no fault of theirs. Life was just being a bitch. 

 A case of “having fate without destiny”, so to speak. A couple who was fated to come together, but not destined to stay together. The two people met by chance, were drawn together by the will of the universe, and now seem to be broken off by nothing other than the will of the universe itself. 

So it seems like yuanfen does play a part.

Where does that leave us then?

Do we even start a relationship with someone we effortlessly click, even if we can’t know for sure that all the efforts we are ready to put into the relationship will mean something in the end?

Honestly, I don’t know. And I am terrified to find out.