Category Archives: passion

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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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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Code Red.

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Be a game changer in your own way. You don’t have to change the world. You can start with yourself first.

  1. Remember you don’t have to win every battle. Sometimes in defeat, you gain more than in victory.
  2. Be assertive. You will never need to raise your voice.
  3. See the bigger forest, don’t focus on one tree.
  4. Always extend an olive branch, even to your enemies.
  5. There are no enemies. Just teachers.
  6. Share. Share your love, your energy, your wealth, your joy.

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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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I Know What I Did This Summer.

 

I spent half a day wandering in the old and new towns of Zurich. I could not recall the steps I took as a young girl, but I remember the Town Cuckoo Clock vividly and its minute of fairytale chimes. It interested me more than the Rolex watches my colleagues were oohing and aahing over. I didn’t manage to find it this time, but such is life. I strolled to the lake and saw 20-year-old me flash before my eyes – cycling gleefully, and stopping halfway round the lake when my short legs gave way to fatigue. I had given up on my quest to cycle a full round. It amuses me how aware I am of the limits of my body.

And so I bade farewell to Zurich and embarked on my train ride to Bregenz – my first Austrian foray – the land of Mozart, Strauss and Sigmund Freud. Allow me to share three insights from my trip.

#1 You don’t have to be an opera virtuoso to enjoy opera

I strongly recommend including the annual summer Bregenz Festival (Bregenzer Festspiele) in your bucket list of things to do. Here, I caught the famous opera-on-the-lake performance of Turandot. In the face of awe-inspiring beauty, there were twelve times when I experienced a tear-filled, overwhelming surge of emotions. Notably, the sun setting behind the stage, those cinematic moments when the stage transformed itself, and when the water merged into play. For fear of spoiling the experience for you, I will share no more. You have to see it for yourself.

#2 You don’t have to love The Sound Of Music

I was all too prepared to annoy the hell out of my travelling companions as I “doe, a deer, a female deer” into “the hills are alive~~~” on the 12 hr 20 mins plane ride from Singapore. Surprisingly, it was the last thing on my mind during my time in Salzburg. I was completely distracted by the ubiquitous musicians – I bump into one at every turn of the corner, every platz, every street. Young students, old souls. I drowned in their concertos of love and longing, of pain and suffering, of hopes and dreams. You do not need to go on a touristy Julie Andrews’ tour. All you have to do is have an open heart and listen.

#3 You don’t have to love skiing

Snowcapped alpine terrains are splendid on postcards and even more in person. But for someone who doesn’t ski or suffer from acrophobia, summer lovin’ in Innsbruck and its laidback vibes proved to be a lot more relaxing for a workaholic like me.  I spent my afternoons downing Aperol Spritz (my new BFF), chatting with friendly locals, and laughing at how we tourists must have annoyed the locals with our boisterous chatter and clicking cameras. It was then when something stirred inside of me. We are all human, and we have the same needs. Why can’t we just get along?

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Summer LOVIN’ 

I fly therefore I am. Escapism has always been my philosophy. And no matter what you say, it has kept me sane (or insane). Whatever works.

Spread my wings and flew to Zurich. It has been 21 years since I last visited this garden city. I remember celebrating my 20th birthday there with my Singapore Airlines Team 2A colleagues. They gave me a green Swatch watch. It is still kept dearly in my box of memories. People come and go. That’s the promise of magic. It is also the reason why I embrace each new encounter.

Your face makes me smile. I feel like we have met before? Otherwise why would our paths cross again?

You have to earn it. Even memories. Don’t ever feel entitled to anything. That will one day be your first downfall my friend.

The world is big enough. Leave the bullies behind. You will be surprised how quickly you would forget the hurt. Our hearts are meant to beat for love, not anger.

This is why I travel.

 

 

 

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