do i have nowhere else to go

if this was the year that i was supposed to stop doing things that made me unhappy, then it begs the question

why am i still here?

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an ode to NYC and what SG will one day be

took a stroll from clarke quay to bayfront the other day and seeing an american couple with the downtown backdrop suddenly reminded me of new york and the above track which was once a mainstay in my “top 25 most played songs” playlist on my ipod classic (30gb). with jay-z taking everything away to tidal i had to rely on a makeshift coachella live version (that didn’t have the iconic alicia keys singing but bridget kelly had a good take nonetheless) for my throwback.

its surprising that i didn’t even once listen to the track as i walked down one avenue to another last summer while i took in the towering, eclectic landscape that new york offered. probably because ultralife was on repeat all day (no regrets about this though). i realise how incredibly lucky i am to have even had the chance to spend 4 days in the big apple, looking down at the streets from the empire state, talking to laura osnes, seeing colbert live and so much more. and it was hardly enough time to even cover manhattan properly. those 4 days (spent with incredible company and preceded by a lovely boston stay) reinvigorated some of the fraying reserves in me. in the lights of times square and the noise of the footsteps and dynamism of the architecture i felt the boundless opportunity and hopes that the city had to offer. i felt excited for life and for uni and i bought that back to sg and seized on it the best i could before it dissipated in the face of withering realism but in those spirit-fuelled two months after my return i decided to join RAG, took on a module i had a genuine passion for (though i was supposedly unprepared for it), joined things i probably wouldn’t have had the guts to otherwise. in many ways it does feel like a continuation of what i used to do but heading into 2018 with the idea of consolidation and focus, perhaps the drive to go big will see some tangible results.

osnes!!!

really the best day of the year or of my life in recent times

jay-z in his song acknowledges, with inspired lyrics and a genuine love for his city, the wonderful things that NYC has to offer but he doesn’t shy away from the truth about some of the pitfalls people get themselves into in the third verse. in the album track listing he even says:

What sticks out to me about the record is the aspiration and hope—that there’s a place where you can become something. But you have to be aware that there’s a downside to living in New York, or any major city. You can get sidetracked and swallowed up, which is why the third verse is the way it is. I’ve seen it happen so many times. But if you can overcome the trappings, you can be successful. Hit records resonate with the broadcast audience. The inspiration in that record connected—all over the world.

and by no means is new york a perfect place – homeless people at street corners, workers not getting paid enough for the work they do, barely getting on by, gentrification and so much more. no city, let alone country, is perfect. but only through tacit acknowledgement of those issues can people embark on the road to resolving them. i’m no specialist in american politics, let alone new york city current affairs but i do sincerely hope that things are being improved on those fronts (just as crime rates are now the lowest in any US city).

but what i find fascinating is the fact that new york even today stands as the main beacon of opportunity and a better life in america. new york is a cultural icon, the goliath among cities… asian cities in particular leave something to be desired on this front, even though places like tokyo and bangalore are lovely, multi-faceted cities (haven’t been to any chinese cities yet but i’m sure that places like shanghai, guangzhou more than qualify). maybe its the image that is portrayed to the rest of the world. i’m not sure what exactly it is.

but looking at singapore as i often have ever since coming back last year, i see in place everything that makes new york the icon that it is. yet i wonder why so often people only see singapore as a stepping stone to some place else. not the endpoint or the destination that people aspire to. why can’t singapore be in that echelon of cities. not a replica of new york (and most certainly not possessing the flaws of other cities) but a place that holds its ground in its own right. maybe there is a need to tweak the culture narrative surrounding singapore – to have more anthems from the jay-zs and alicia keys of sg, to have our identity shaped mostly by the people rather than from the top down (this of course is an enormous task, starting with engaging people on the importance of said culture in life and not just success in the economic sense), just to list a few. maybe there is a need to heighten a “borough”-esque pride in the clementis and yew tees. and of course i’m in not position to know how all this fits in with the larger central planning concept that has seen singapore through the unpredictable tides of the past 50 years.

yet i do know if we don’t seek out this larger vision of singapore taking its place on the world stage and pledge a deep commitment to it going forward, we won’t be maximizing the full potential of what our city-state has to offer. from gardens by the bay to f1, we’ve taken baby steps to that future but more has, and needs to be done. and it has to start from the grassroots up for that is the only sustainable way. and even though the possibility of failure in such an undertaking is immense, we have to be able to break our risk-averse mold and give it a shot. whatever that does come out of it will help us grow in a way that gdp stats will never be able to encompass.

and so as much as i want to go back to new york, boston and paris and live and work there for a few years my heart will always call me back home – to take singapore to that next level. i hope that in the next few years the concerns of day-to-day living do not shadow and gnaw away at this dream of mine. sg can be so much more, and it will.

 

 

a new hope

as this year draws to a close, i feel terribly directionless and not who i once was. granted this has been an incredibly freeing year – endless travelling to new cities and places, joining university where one can do anything and be anything (which often comes at a cost of no commitment, a problem i’ll expand on some other time), meeting new people and feeling the rush of endless possibilities out there.

yet in all this freedom, i’ve forgotten the one most important thing: others before self. i’ve forgotten that while all these experiences may be great and soaking it all up can make you feel at the top of the world, these are nothing but privileges. doing everything that i am is a privilege. dreaming about the things that i am is a privilege. there is nothing inherently wrong with doing any of those.

but when you forget about what you stand for at your core, when you stop thinking about the others who don’t have such privileges, when you don’t sacrifice for the betterment of someone else, then houston, we have a problem.

a couple of people have asked what i want in the year ahead and for the first time in a long while i do not have a coherent answer to that question. for years i’d have planned out some set of goals, created a word document with a one-world title that would guide my next 365 days. but this year there was none of that. it’s all been about checking things of a list and getting things done. something to do which would lead to something else.

i thought i wouldn’t have an answer to that question but little did i know it was lying there the whole time and i’ve simply blindsided it.

i need to go back to being who i once was. i need to just simply be me.

i watched wonder a few days ago and two statements hit me like a brick:

“when given the choice between being kind and being right, choose kind” – this was one of my guiding quotations from days of secondary school past but after two years of “do it once do it good” and “make it happen” and a year of being surrounded by an incessant amount of “me”, “myself” and “i”, perhaps i’ve forgotten what means to be kind instead. a shortage of time (i mean literally everything runs on a schedule now in life, the kind of clockwork i hoped to once avoid) exacerbates the situation creating an endless cycle of anger (anger that i once promised never to indulge in, no matter how righteous it was – except while going for runs heh), pain and stress. i hope to rediscover what it means to be kind. and to that end i’m going to free myself for the people i love, because if i can’t offer that time then what use is anything else that i have. i pray that i’ll find this spark once more.

“it’s not enough to be friendly. you have to be a friend.” – this one hit hard. it reminded me of all the times where i could have done more but didn’t. i thought it was enough but it never was, i never really truly was a friend. i’ve always hoped to avoid conflict in life, be the middle guy and live in between everyone but i’ve realised that unfortunately this is not the way things work in the real world. people are always going to ditch you for someone else, and at the end of the day you have to take a stand. you have to stand for something or you fall for everything. i’ve never really stood for that something. and it hurts to know that i didn’t more but that will change this coming year. i owe it to them, them and them to be better.

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kindness, acceptance, love – i need to remember all of this. if this ^ is what i want to achieve some day then i have to remember that, i just have to.

the past few months, and in particular the past few weeks, while progress has been made conquering old demons once and for all, the anger that pervades me leaves something to be desired. dissatisfaction, temper, grouchiness: everything i’ve never wanted to be is everything that i am now. that needs to change, and fast.

no road is smooth-sailing and nothing works out the way one imagines but if i can’t even begin to try then i’m not making anyone proud.

i have to be better, give and don’t take. celebrate every day like a birthday / good things come to those that wait up / but don’t wait to jump in too long. no more waiting, just all in. i hope you learn to make it on your own / and if you love yourself, just know you’ll never be alone / … and (above all) when you get it all, just remember one thing / remember one thing, that one man could change the world.

it starts with me.

“It was only when I began to travel, and look and live beyond my home that I understood my responsibility to others. I realized how sheltered I had been, and I was determined never to be that way again. I have never understood why some people are lucky enough to be born with the chance that I had, to have this path in life. And why across the world there’s a woman just like me, with the same abilities and the same desires, same work ethic and love for her family, who would most likely make better films, and better speeches — only she sits in a refugee camp. She has no voice. She worries about what her children will eat, how to keep them safe, and if they’ll ever be allowed to return home. I don’t know why this is my life and that’s hers. I don’t understand that, but I will do as my mother asked, and I will do the best I can with this life to be of use.”

rise, rise, rise.

recovery and collapse – rinse and repeat;

I haven’t been feeling myself lately. It’s starting to feel like that familiar cycle again and I really don’t know how much longer I can handle this. Just painful to cave over and over again, and then feel hope and rise and march on, only to collapse once more. Rinse and repeat. At some point you wonder, is authenticity of awfulness better or the desire to be more? Right now, the answer is firmly the latter but can I hang on longer? I’ve asked this same question before and maybe I do know the answer.

And it sure doesn’t help when it feel like everyone hates you. Deep down, a strong deep-seated hatred. Irrational it may be but boy the energy that it sucks out from daily life is immense. There’s just no room to do anything after… Maybe that’s why I feel so drained everyday, no desire, no drive, just nothing.

Fighting all these thoughts, all these demons, its exhausting. I wanna get better but the road is long, winding and painful. All I ask for God is the strength to pull through, to not lose hope, to always believe in the future that I know can be mine.

I can be more. And I will. Somehow, someway.

For the ones above, for the ones around, for You, for me. Deshi basara.

waking up slow.

I should be writing my essay right now. But instead here I am. Because where else would I be?

Nowadays, I realize that it is the small things that crumble the shaky foundations that I have built up. I’m not anywhere near being who I want to be, and that’s fine. But it is he small, stupid mistakes – knowingly or unknowingly – that completely take the wind out of my sails of progress. I just collapse. And I don’t do what is right to resolve matters, instead just scampering around to escape when the easier – better – solution lies just there for me to take. I just hope, and hope is all I can do after a certain point in time, that things aren’t as bad as I think that they are and that that there will be a day in the future where I won’t be so affected by the slightest of problems. That I will respond better to adversity. That I will just be a better person all round.

But that day is still far as clearly evident. That said, slow and steady baby steps toward that ideal is all I need to muster for now. Just have to hang in there with whatever it is I got.

Hope may ebb and flow, but I hope it never leaves me.

Back to Home

“Well—I have to say I personally have never drawn such a sharp line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as you. For me: that line is often false. The two are never disconnected. One can’t exist without the other. As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing best I know how. But you—wrapped up in judgment, always regretting the past, cursing yourself, blaming yourself, asking ‘what if,’ ‘what if.’ ‘Life is cruel.’ ‘I wish I had died instead of.’ Well—think about this. What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? What if the pattern is pre-set? No no—hang on—this is a question worth struggling with. What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can’t get there any other way?”

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

The past few days have reopened wounds of the past that I’ve sought to heal. These are wounds that are self-inflicted. Brought about changes to my personality that I thought would bring me to the worldly version of the “promised land”. It took repeated blows to what I truly held dear to my soul for me to realize what I was chasing was nothing but a vapid joke.

And yet somewhere over the past year and a half or so I’ve found that the distance I’ve put between that old self and who I am now becoming smaller than before. Pinpointing with accuracy where that slow beginning of a U-turn took place is difficult. The foot is on the break but I don’t know if I can stop in time before the crash.

And so I often find myself questioning whether it matters who I was or, who I am now at this point in time, or is what truly matters the destination you are headed to – or at least trying to head toward with every ounce of energy.

What defines me? The intention and effort, or the outcome?

Questions swirl, and I feel disheartened by my slips and trips. By my being unable to fulfill the promises I make to those around me, and to myself.

But I refuse to give up. I refuse to cow to what is easy.

I will stay and fight this fight for as long as it takes.

Even if I never win, I will stay.

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Complexity x Civility

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In recent times I began to wonder if it’d ever be possible to have a civil conversation again. Without getting swept away by one’s emotions and personal investment in a issue – to truly argue and reason your take on it without being presumptuous that your view is the only one that is right. So correct that even engaging is off the table.

Over the past week, I’ve become convinced that that it is not only possible but can certainly become the way of life if only we started by making a conscious effort to do so. In the discussions that I had, mostly at 4-5am in the morning, there was not a sniff of condescension or disregard for another person’s view and whenever things veered off discussion on the subject matter itself on hand, it would be quickly be brought back. And whenever someone wasn’t aware of the lowdown on certain topics, there were no remarks about someone’s ignorance. Instead, what followed was a genuine desire to explain things in the most factual manner possible that would allow one to form their own take. And best of all, people didn’t attempt to cover up what they didn’t know but honestly admitted that they didn’t and sought information to fill in the gaps.

I was stunned. But more than that, I was hopeful. That if we could do this on a small scale then just as it is in computing, we can scale it up.

More often than not, we see things from a very skewed perspective because it’s the exaggeration that drives people to consume media. If everything were objectively considered, that “excitement” wouldn’t be there. Stories of gridlock, apathy, ignorance – these aren’t the mainstream. A good part of us are willing to reach out and learn, and to find that middle ground. Now that does not mean to give up your views, but rather to subject it to moulding by subjecting it to alternate views and constructive debate instead. And is that possible? It sure is. It’s easy to go extreme, to let passion consume you, but it takes a lot more courage and tenacity to go for that tempered, more assured and united approach instead.

And in it, the complexity of humanity is revealed. It’s not binary. There’s infinite shades of grey in between that all of us fit into. It’s appreciation for that individuality, and collective whole that will make us who we are.