Category Archives: Life

The Art of (Not) Giving Up.

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My six-year scholarship bond with my company ended 11 days ago, on 31st March 2017. I looked back at the past six years with fond memories: of new found friendships, of self-discoveries, and of surprising achievements. There were several painful experiences, of course, but as with all wisdom of hindsight, I am now able to focus on the benefits of those unpleasant moments. I finally understand how it truly feels to run a marathon and see through it from start till the finishing line.

Now that it is over, I can finally admit how I almost surrendered, several times in fact, and was determined to break the bond. You will find the following account of my biggest meltdown, rather amusing, but I assure you that at those moments in time, it felt like the end of the world. And there was no way out, but to give up.

Breakdown #1/100:

2013, with slightly more than three years to the end of the bond. I drove to work in tears. I arrived, carried my two heavy bags, and instead of walking towards my office, I marched (tears streaming down my face) in the direction of our legal office. I knocked on the glass door of the Head of Legal, and sobbingly I said, ” I want to break my bond. Please calculate the penalty I need to pay please”.

Frankly if I were her I would have burst out laughing at this pitiful sight of an adult woman clutching on to her two seemingly overweight bags filled with documents, files, rubbish and a laptop, mascara streaks down her morning puffy face. I would have sent this baby to a doctor.

But she did not. She replied calmly, in a neutral tone, careful not to show too much concern, that she would check on the terms and conditions of my bond agreement and would get back to me within the day.

I thanked her, with the tiny bit of dignity left, and walked back towards my office, feeling even more wretched. I was really disappointed in myself for surrendering the white flag at the half-way mark. But I could no longer lie to myself that I was happy in a corporate environment. I am a free spirit, I should fly. Well, at least that was what I strongly believed in then.

Later in the day, I was told of the amount I was liable for breaking the bond. It was slightly around $600K. I immediately embarked on a quest to raise this sum. I was going to:

  1. Sell my studio apartment.
  2. Sell my car.
  3. Empty my savings.
  4. Take up a loan.

I would be left with nothing, only debts. But at least I would be free. Freedom is priceless.

It was a good plan.

It was a terrible plan.

What do you think? What would you do?

Well, you know what I did.

I walked shamefully into the legal office a second time, all my shreds of pride down the drain, and I apologized to the same Head of Legal for creating a scene that morning, and for wasting her time. “I don’t have the money to pay the bond. So sorry. I will continue to work till the bond ends”, I said, looking even more pathetic than ever.

I gave up twice in a day. First time, on my job. Second time on my gungho declaration to break free.

Epic failure, one would say.

Fast forward to current status. Bond is over. And I did not leave my company. I actually do enjoy chasing targets, building a team, having something to wake up for. I am proud that I have a job that gives me satisfaction in all its victories and defeats. Work is still (very) tough, but I am grateful for the many character-building opportunities I have been given. And all this, is priceless too.

It is ok to give up, you know? We are too hard on ourselves. A wise man told me that the usual “I must prove myself” pressure should no longer be that urgent at my age of 42. Moral of the story, things do get exponentially better. Allow yourself to be surprised. And once you’ve scaled a mountain, no one can take that away from you.

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The Art of Being A Woman.

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I am not a feminist. I don’t even know what it truly means to be one. I grew up in an environment where I could be as formidable as the boy next to me, sometimes even more powerful.

In my primary school, the girls outperformed the boys. The top three in standard were always girls. I was one of them.

In secondary school, I immersed myself in an all-girls convent. St Nicholas Girls was one of the nine SAP schools who offered both English and Chinese as first languages. The elite special top 7% of students. And I thought to myself, I had to be in the best company. I had to learn from the best. That was the only way I could break out of my poverty. Yes I was already reaching for the stars at the age of 12.

Then I went to Hwa Chong Junior College and to my horror, my classmates were way smarter than I was. In particular, the boys. It was true what they said: men, they blossom at their own pace. and more often than not, later than women. I was in awe of all those intelligent boys I met who seemed to excel in everything they do, effortlessly, sans drama.

I also fell in love for the first time in my life. The once-in-a lifetime-LALA LAND-kind of love. We shared the same locker. He gave me a bunny on Easter 1992. I fell ill. He went to the doctor with me. I moved. We shopped for a bed together. We held hands. I almost fainted. We never kissed. We did not know how. He left me for another girl. I snipped off my long hair to show my pain. He did not notice. I cried.

But we are equal. Always. We bear the same rights to love. We fight on the same battlefields. We suffer the same fall. We celebrate victories the same drunken way.

And so this is what I learned from the men in my life.

Don’t bitch, just work. Don’t talk, just do.

Don’t think. Live.

Don’t think. Love.

I am a much more competent and confident woman, because of the men who left and the people who stayed in my life.

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Stars They Are Just Like Us.

I wake up. A yellow bird is singing her lungs out. The same one that has been singing every morning at 7am perhaps? In any case, I enjoy her rendition of peace.

Then I realized the music of the waves became more pronounced. I see. Yellow bird has stopped singing. She is probably off stretching in the gym. Her regime is flying.

I make myself a cup of Japanese drip coffee. In the not too distant sea, a cruise ship has docked. My mum has returned from her Penang trip I smiled, thinking to myself how independent mum is and how I rarely need to worry about her being lonely. Even though she has lived alone for the most part of her adult life. The two men in her life did not deserve her company. One is my dad. And the other one is too insignificant for me to hate. Men simply leave, when they recognize that no matter how much they abuse you, you are not going to fall. My mum is used to abandonment and neglect. Her mother did not pay much attention to her as well. It is natural I guess, when you have too many children and too little money. Maybe that was why my mum married my dad when she was only 21. And then she had me a year later. Baby Sharon. And then dad left. And she left me too.

How did my serene morning bring me back to my not-so-happy childhood? The fact is, I was too young to be affected or unhappy. I knew I did not live with my parents. But I did not know the difference anyway. There was no comparison. Yes, I saw my friends with their papa and mama. I found it sweet of course. But er..no thanks, I can tie my own bata shoelace. And no no, I prefer to carry my own school bag thank you very much. I am proud of my heavy school bag, overloaded with textbooks and workbooks, every page scribbled with my curious remarks. I was not unhappy. I had many friends whom I love chatting with. I told them I had super powers. I could move things. Like a leaf. I could also command rain. I could do that if we wanted to skip PE class. My friends said yeah do it do it. And I focused with all my might, closed my eyes, and shouted the magic word “LEAF”. Why “leaf”? The word just came to me. It was not premeditated. I guess I was thinking of “LEAVE”. A word that would have made more sense to any psychiatrist, since my parents “left” me.

It did not rain, as I commanded. My friends were so sweet, God bless them. They told me maybe I did not have enough energy as that was before our lunch break. I said “yea, let’s try again after I have a bite. ”

This went on and on. Day after day. Slowly, my friends drifted away from me. And I asked the sky (I had no doubt God lived up there), why did my superpower leave me too? I am losing my friends. God replied, “Find your other superpower, you have many.”

I found it not long after. I realized I could make my friends laugh quite easily. I started to tell jokes and reenact scenarios of my life, all of which I made up. And I soon became the class clown, and I was popular again.

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How To Really Enjoy Niseko, Hokkaido

Four fabulous tips from a first-timer.

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1. Don’t Rush

There is a reason wise men say do not “tread on thin ice”. Not only will you stumble, fall and maybe drown – often uncontrollably and in the most unglamorous fashion – you may end up doing all three in front of the ultra cool ski coach you were trying to impress. Hence, stroll. Don’t rush. And never ever tell the ojisan and obasan at my favourite cafe in Niseko (IF Cafe) to hurry with your orders. Every drip of coffee, every pot of creamy pasta sauce, every dollop of mascarpone cheese topping is prepared from scratch and with love. こだわり (Kodawari): The one word you need to know when it comes to Japanese culture.

2. Don’t Stinge

Niseko is not a place (in my unhumble opinion) to travel on a budget. To fully profit from your stay in Japan’s #1 premium ski resort , stay in one of the swanky hotels at Grand Hirafu, preferably one with a view of Hokkaido’s spectacular backcountry and the breathtaking snowcapped Mount Yotei. Many hotels are merely a few hops away from the slopes – perfect for the serious skier. If you are a beginner like me, enjoy standing tall and proud in your ski gear, because you are about to fall flat on your face right in front of kids who have just completed their double-black runs. Don’t forget to pamper yourself with world-class concierge service, one that arranges everything from best cheesecake and coffee deliveries to ski/snowboard/snowshoe hikes, onsens and dinner reservations at Rakuichi.

3. Don’t Grumble

Things will go wrong. Murphy says so. My flight to New Chitose Airport was cancelled after I waited for six hours, no thanks to the heaviest snowfall in 50 years. All flights to Sapporo were fully booked for the the next three days. I had to fly to Hakodate, and take a three-and-a-half-hour taxi ride that cost JPY62000 (approximately S$770) before I finally arrived at Niseko. You might have read about how groups of Chinese tourists had clashed with Japanese policemen and caused riots due to the flight delays. If only I had the chance to share with them how we could all deal with immense frustrations by singing. I serenaded “let it go~let it go~”, followed by “let it snow let it snow let it snow~”. It worked. Even if it was annoying to my fellow travellers.

4. Just Ski

It is as easy as ABC. Really. Get a competent coach. I had two – my godsons, Ethan (13 years old) and Kiefer (10 years old). Watch how gracefully I skied.

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#LondonIsOpen

#1 Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

I was thrilled to be in London a week after its 30th July premiere. Alas, I was not able to get a ticket to the play as they were all sold out for the next 12 months or more. Nonetheless, I bought the book and loitered around the Palace Theatre – just in case I catch a glimpse of the famous trio. I did not. But I bonded with many doppelgangers.

#2 West End is mind-blowingly inspiring

Catch The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Beautiful: The Carole King Musical. West End reminded me of my lifelong ambition – a theatre usher. More importantly, it showed me how “sometimes when things do not go your way, you find something beautiful.” #CaroleKing

#3 The Breakfast Club at Soho is awesome

Order the blueberry pancakes and chicken waffles. And while you are at it, try the Sloppy Cow too – you will not regret the food coma after. Goodbye Size 34, and hello Happiness!

#4 The British Museum

I spent the whole afternoon peering over mummies, false doors and ancient stones. At the end of the day, I decided I needed to see Egypt and the Nile with my own eyes.

#5 Spuntino

Please make sure you stop there for lunch, tea or supper. The sharing concept enables greedy people like me to try everything that sounds yummy, and I mean everything. For people who wish to exercise more self-control, do not miss the pulled pork slider, truffle egg toast and key lime pot.

#6 Covent Garden

Sit in the courtyard, sip your wine and listen – or even better, dance – to live music. It’ll connect, heal, and bridge the distance between you and the musicians. In that instant, you’ll resist the trap of growing up, when you no longer have fun.

#7 Liberty

Not the statue, but the institution – my favourite shopping mall. It has class. It has space. It isn’t cluttered, nor does it over-sell its goods. Sad to say, I have not found its equal anywhere else in the world.

#8 Design studios by talented fashion graduates

I was never schooled in arts. I am a science student through and through. Yet my obsession with a word, an image, a story, a romance, makes me a tad too dramatic for my travelling companions. But I do think the world needs more people like these artistic young adults, who express their passion through art. More art, less violence.

#9 Monmouth Coffee Company

Who says you can’t find good coffee in London? ‘Nuff said.

#10 London is open

There are many doors. You just need to have the courage to open and walk through them – opportunities are waiting. Seize them.

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Nothing Matters 

Life is too unpredictable. If you don’t laugh now, when? Celebrate a life well spent, some gave their all to public service some gave their all to nurturing their families. Some changed the world. Some made people laugh. Do whatever you can. That’s all. In the end, #nothingreallymatters #cestlavie #prayforhumanity (📷#leicastoresg)

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If You Only Have One Night In Budapest

“If all they were meant for was to teach you how to love again, then it was worth it. Some of the best adventures are meant to end” –Erin Van Vuren.

Many people told me they went to Budapest for a day trip, enroute to Vienna or Prague. So I thought to myself, I will just spend a relaxing night there. Big mistake. Not only did I extend another night in Budapest, I cried when it was time to leave. Here, I found my castle in the air. At the end of 48 hours, it had overtaken Paris and Amsterdam to become my favourite city in Europe. Some things, like love, you just cannot explain. Everything in this Hungarian capital agrees with me, but most of all, its quietude soothes even the most battered of souls, and its informality makes one feel right at home. I think this is why art exists. Suddenly you are reminded to love yourself again.

The best way to explore this city of surprises and wonder is by walking. So abandon your pretty but impractical summer sandals, and throw on your most comfortable sneakers, unless you want to have blisters as big as your toes. If you only have a day in Budapest, here are my top three recommendations.

1. Stay at Hotel Moments

Collect your beautiful moments here at this stylish boutique hotel situated on the iconic Andrassy Avenue. In all my years of travelling, I don’t think I’ve seen hotel bathrooms as spacious as theirs. And as their name suggests, the staff seems bent on making every moment of your stay Instagrammable — you will find yourself enveloped by their warmth and gracious hospitality. Take a left turn and stroll along Andrassy Avenue. It’s a pretty long stretch, and you may just find plenty of reasons to make Budapest one of your fave cities too.

2. Eat at VakVarju (Blind Crow)

You have to order the BBQ pork ribs (Hungarian-style of course). You will never eat another anywhere else again. And if you love a red wine with strong character, you must savour a bottle of Ordogarak 2011.

3. See the whole of Budapest from Castle Hill

Explore Buda Castle. And then watch the city transforms into magic, as the day turns into night. From the top of the hill, you hear the melancholic strings of the violins, you see Baroque beauty, you drink in the sunset, you exhale love. You would not want to leave. I sat there from 8pm to just a little past midnight, lost in Middle Ages dreams.

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