Coping Mechanisms

For a period of time when i first started school, I was known by my peers for disappearing from campus for days on end even though we were right in the middle of a busy semester. Every time I saw them, it would appear as though we hadn’t met for months. Truth is, I did come for classes (at least those that required my attendance) but I had begun to develop a penchant for skipping school on a whim.

There are mornings when you roll out of bed before your alarm rings and you’re naturally ready for the day’s torture. Then, there are days where even though you retired to bed early, you rise as if you haven’t slept and every inch away from your bed makes you want to burst into uncontrollable tears. Whenever I feel that way, I roll away from my responsibilities and transform into a burrito that’s incapable of dealing with that day’s worth of cruelties.

I’m not escaping reality. I’m coping. As much as I may sound like an irresponsible 5 year old when I take these unapproved absences from school, I believe they make me stronger. Find a way of coping. Even if it’s unorthodox, mildly irresponsible and occasionally involves white lies, find one and stick with it.

I’ve recently been trying out detachment and it’s been working out reasonably well. Unlike school days, I can’t roll away from my corporate responsibilities the way I want to. So after days of commenting on weather and falling into bouts melancholy, I’ve come up with a new way of dealing with the hard punches and brutality life tends to throw at us.

Blue Skies Out, Grey Within

Making use of the lunch hour I have to deposit some of my thoughts because it feels as though my chest is bursting from the weight of something I cannot define. There’s a little time left, but so many words to say and the blue skies continue to reign over the side of the world that’s separating mine by a grey glass window.

I wonder why I’m so melancholic today. Maybe something’s poisoned the air I breathe, or the toothpaste I used to brush my teeth. Whatever it is, there’s a strange sense of sadness that’s plaguing an otherwise beautiful Tuesday afternoon. I’ve been observing the skies through the small blocks of dusty windows and they’ve never been so sunny and blue. Yesterday, while my spirits were higher, the skies poured with relentless rain. Today, it seems they know I’m out of sorts and have sent the fluffy white clouds and clear skies to my aid. Sadly, everything seems to be a form of mockery when viewed through meaningless windows.

Oh melancholy, go away already. I don’t welcome your stay. Find someone else to exasperate.

Love Like Hot Chocolate

I must be the luckiest intern in the world because the hot chocolate that happens to be a staple in the office pantry tastes like a vacation in Europe (not that I would know since I’ve never been there). It dispenses from a futuristic coffee machine that sits beside the sink, with possibly a hundred different buttons and a million variations of coffee to suit the needs of the fickle. It’s a pretty noisy machine, because when you finally find the right button to press (the one that says “Hot Chocolate”), it makes a horrific rumble and terrifying roar before a deep dark liquid pours out below.

It’s a very intense thing. Drinking hot chocolate. It smells like heaven and it looks like heaven…but it’s burning like hell. You can’t resist it though, because although you know it’ll scald your tongue and make you blister, you cannot resist a taste. Just a small sip. But the moment it touches your tongue, there’s no going back.

What does it taste like? A million different pralines melted and mixed with only the milkiest milk in the world (Milkiest milk…like sweetest sweets and saltiest salt). It’s bloody hot, but at that moment, you don’t even care. All you want is to taste the creamy sweet taste on your tongue and the smooth silk down your throat. There’s nothing like it really. Quality hot chocolate is like a pool of warmth, happiness and joy—it’s divine.

But wait a minute. After the third, or maybe the fourth gulp, you realize that the fifth tastes a little different from the rest. Perhaps the chocolate has cooled too quick in the stale office air. Perhaps it’s been tainted. Oxidised? There’s something a little off about this mouth and you cannot really tell why. You risk another sip, eager to know if it’ll taste the same. There’s a little too much chocolate at the end, you can see it clinging to the cup and marring the taste. You look at the cup in scorn and in disdain. There’s no way you’re drinking this last mouth, so you tip the cup and empty its contents into the pantry sink, the dark brown liquid staining everything in it’s way.

There’s no love like hot chocolate. Love me like hot chocolate?

Do Rabbits Dream?

Despite not being pet lovers, my family has had it’s fair share when it comes to the variety of creatures that have had the fate of crossing our paths. When the lohan fish with its big forehead and promises of prosperity rose to popularity years back, my eldest brother brought home one. An odd creature it was. Not particularly engaging, and not a crowd pleaser considering how it was neither cuddly nor furry.

When the fish grew tired (or when we grew tired of the fish), someone did something to get rid of it. I cannot remember if we gifted him to a particularly superstitious relative who believed it would bring good look, or if we let him go in a condominium fish pond. Either way, the fish left—it was meant to—one way or another.

The second animal that entered our family doors came in on two feet. It was infinite times furrier than its predecessor and received endless showers of love while it was a baby. Well, babies. We had four chicks. Two female and two male. But as they grew from tumbling yellow balls huddling under a book lamp for warmth into fully developed roosters and hen that cocked and laid eggs everyday, fate had it that they would, too leave us. It wasn’t just the complains from neighbours (who by the way, took our eggs) when the chickens roamed freely in our backyards during the day. Neither was it because one time, a female fell sick and the helper had to feed it human medication (diluted paracetamol). It was just that someone did something to get rid of them—I cannot remember who and I cannot remember how. I only know that one morning, the roosting stopped and so did the eggs.

In between, I had a heart-attack hamster and a tumour hamster, both of which did not last very long. Until one year, my brother came home with a cage so huge it was fit for a dog, but with no dog inside. Instead, a grey ball of fur huddled in the corner, scared out of his wits.

My parents were never supportive of pets. We were never responsible nor attentive enough to deserve one. Most of the animals that were fortunate enough to make their way into our homes entered with lies. A “birthday present” or a “forced gift”. But true to his character, my second brother dropped the cage squarely within our porch and proceeded to announce that he had adopted this bunny, because his owner (an acquaintance) was leaving the country.

Despite her vehement protests and continual efforts in trying to get rid of him, the bunny slowly crawled his way into my mother’s heart. So today, while he stood on the vet’s table shivering from fear, I wondered what life would be like if it didn’t have him in it anymore. During the four years we’ve had him, he’s only been to the vet twice. Today was the third and suddenly he seemed much older than I know.

Do bunnies have dreams? Does he ever wonder what it’s like to run unobstructed, through miles of green fields and have hundreds of females by his side? Was he trying to head somewhere when he left home the day we forgot to shut the gates tight? Did he return because he agrees that there’s no place like home? Sometimes I wonder what goes through his tiny bunny brain when he sits in the car enduring one hump after another. It must feel like a giant earthquake for his tiny bunny body right?

We always thought love would grow and blossom after time. We’re not pet people by nature, but we’re not heartless too. I have to admit, your lack of affection and inability to withstand cuddles and pick ups didn’t help build the rapport we needed, but in the end, we still learned how to live together. There’s no great love, but there’s familiarity. There’s no inseparable pet-owner relationship, but there’s comfort in knowing that every day, after the endless work hours and the tiresome commute, we’ll come home to your big orange cage and the sound of scuffling feet when you come begging for treats.

I think what I want to say is that as children, we’re doe-eyed and hopeful. We naively believe that love will magically grow when fluffy animals are brought into the game. But when we become adults, we understand that love is not something that can be forced. Time cannot build love if it is not meant to be. The good thing is, we also have the capacity to understand responsibility and take comfort in knowing that some things are not as great as love, but they’re pretty damn great in their own way too. The amount of familiarity, routine, and heartwarming constants a tiny bunny can provide, is in it’s own way, a different kind of love that at the end of the day, make the vet trips, the surgeries and the endless poop cleaning worth it.

The Right English?

You can write every day, but still miss writing. You can struggle to put thoughts into words, but still want to do it anyway. That’s me now, struggling writer, mentally blocked, physically dormant.

Throughout my years in university, I’ve changed aspirations countless times. In the beginning, without passion, it was lawyer. Then, when that unrequited love ceased it’s non-existent fire, the thought of wanting to be a writer exploded in my head and slowly seeped out through the tips of my fingers. It brought me to places. Magazines, restaurants, fashion boutiques. But when that flame sizzled, I hopped from one plausible profession to another: PR representative, advert copywriter. software developer, content strategist.

Learning is a dangerous thing. The more you learn, the more you realise you need to learn. School opened my eyes up to the things I could achieve, and the people I could be (which is also why I’m having an existential crisis now). Work made me understand that even if you know for sure that there are some things you’’ll never want to be, you will sometimes be pushed into nooks and crannies that require you to try everything. I guess that’s why people change jobs all the time and find the courage to fill in shoes they’ve never walked in before. Everybody learns, all the time. It’s pretty scary at first, but soon enough, everything will fall back into the monotonous hum-drum that we will too soon get used to. 

The company I’m working at is (technically) a US company based in Singapore, with a mainly US customer base, which is also why I’ve been forced to write in US english despite having been taught that the it was always s, not z, my entire life.  Now, I feel the pain. English spelling is very different from American spelling. I used to think that it’s just a few Zs replacing Ss here and there, but sometimes it’s also the lack of alphabets and sometimes, it’s me losing my sanity. 

Also, today, I realised I want to be your friend again. To be okay with stealing your handwriting, your ideas, without being sued for plagiarism. So, as the determined, stubborn and extremely fickle human bean that I am, I will worm my way back into your heart. Even if it means wrapping my fists round barbed wires while I’m at it. Funny how I’m the one trying to take down the wall I was hell bent on building just a few years back.

Oh, I still don’t know what I want to be in the future. I kinda feel like a 5 year old again. I guess that’s what working does to you. It pulls you away from reality (because reality stinks, and you want to escape it) and you’ll slowly find yourself falling through the clouds and the stars again. You will slowly begin to remember that you can actually be anything you dream of. 

The Hardest Goodbyes Are Those You Never Get To Say

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I always saw myself as an efficient writer. Not particularly fast, but always fast enough. This however, took days to put together, and came out in bits and pieces. Sometimes it would be a blurb filled with anger, blaming life for slicing you away from me like hot knife to butter, other times an iteration of certain memories we shared—as though penning them down served to keep them alive a little while longer. But finally, it’s written. Shoddily so, but written and uploaded into the depths of the Internet so if Wi-Fi and Google translate exist in heaven, you’ll get to hear it in Hokkien and know for a fact that beyond the scolding, the shushing and the strict dietary restrictions imposed, we love you and miss you. So very much.

I used to think that death was scary. That the feel of cold lifeless flesh against warm skin would be blood chilling and make your hair stand. But in the moment I was atop you, foolishly compressing your chest while life faded away, I wasn’t afraid. Not of you at least. I used to think that we shun death because we’re afraid of the dead coming back alive or bad luck hopping off a limp lifeless body in search of healthy living host. But in reality, we run away because the mind cannot comprehend a sudden lack of constant in life. It is the embodiment of change and a permanent loss that cannot be replaced.

I won’t forget the way you never failed to sort the post when it came, making it a point to personally hand us every letter, no matter the time of the day. Neither will I forget the way you would playfully tickle the soles of our feet when the sun rose and shone through cracks in the window, to which I wished I had responded with smiles and not annoyed groans. They said you were born a little less because you behaved a certain way, but what they didn’t know was that the less made you more, and it is a more that I will cherish every single day. I will miss the way your laughter sounds and the way your your grey hair curled. I will miss your crooked right leg and the way it made you hobble. I will miss all the lesses the world saw and the mores they didn’t.

I’m sorry we didn’t get to say goodbye. That while your kidneys failed and your b.p. soared, we were so caught up in keeping you a little longer, we didn’t realise you were already slipping away. I’m sorry we never let you have whatever you want, thinking that there would be a time for that. A time for that and a time for us to properly tell you how much we love you and have you say it back. You left our lives so suddenly it feels as though any moment now, we could actually have you back.

I’m not ready to let you go. Walking into your room deals me a huge punch in the gut and seeing your favourite dialysis pillow reminds me of the many times you asked if I could send you for treatment, but I was too slow to comply. We still had countless chances to watch the TV together. We had thousands of dining table dinners and millions of hair perming sessions for the Lunar New Year. We had a whole life together. Then suddenly, we didn’t.

I never understood death, our only encounters happened too early and to people too far away. Not until I found you lying on your bedroom floor did I come up close and personal to the concept of dying. I will probably never fully grasp the idea of losing something I’ve been so used to having and it’d probably take the full course of my life for it to sink in and fade away. But thank you for the amazing memories, and I am glad and extremely thankful that during your final moments, I was there beside you to hold your hand.


My aunt collapsed on Monday night and was pronounced dead when the paramedics brought her to the hospital 20 minutes later. She was found lying on the floor beside her bed in severe distress while we tried to resuscitate her. My aunt was born with an IQ lower than the normal standard and required the care of my mother and her other siblings to get through every day life. She lived with me for as long as I could remember and was part of my life in a significant way.

She suffered from renal failure and required dialysis 3 times a week—which gave her the chance to meet all her siblings as they ferried and picked her from the dialysis centre on rotation. She remained jovial, upbeat and led a happy life throughout the treatment and never once complained, lamented or refused treatment. No matter where she is now, I’m sure God (or whoever is up) there has a special place for special people like her and that she is no longer suffering. We love you, Swee Yi, and don’t worry about the letters now, CY’s got it covered.

It Was Good While it Lasted

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You weren’t my first, but you were there when I needed you most. And even though you didn’t come with brown leather seats or a wooden basket like I hope you would, I thought your mediocre looks and your unpolished frames would deter other suitors from swooping you away. I guess I was wrong.

The last time I saw you, we chastised your thin rubber wheels and your loose steering. Daniel was singing a line from a song I never knew existed, mocking the way I swerved dangerously from side to side when we were together. “I can ride my bike with no handlebars, no handlebars, no handlebars.” Later I would know that it was by the Flobots and it was one hell of an irritating tune.

You left for work with him one morning, with me holding faith that you’d shorten his morning journey by a good twenty minutes and that you’d be patiently waiting for him when he returned at dusk. Yet when he called and muttered “I can’t seem to find her.” I wasn’t very much surprised. People had warned me about how easily good rides were taken from them and a particular one had ended with the good fellow riding home with a missing leather seat just minutes after he had sought company in her beauty.

But what I cannot comprehend is why you left us with nothing to remember you with. Not a lonely wheel locked to a metal bar, nor a frame left bare without it’s tires and steers. You were gone. In your entirety. Even the fire red chain lock we purchased the same day we got you, hoping to keep you safe, was taken. Granted,  it worked more like a talisman than a shackle, but even today, we still keep the keys.

We never got to mastering the art of having you carry us both on your feather like frame, neither did I get to snap a photo of us on our last day. And even though we already set the price your future buyer would pay when we had to leave you, the good luck didn’t really work that way.  You were gone. Just like that. With nothing left for us except a hazy memory of you down the uneven bricked lanes.

P.S: Cousins, brothers and sister-in-laws, spare me the nagging and keep this from our mother/your aunt. Said bicycle will be replaced soon and she’ll be none the wiser.

Surrender

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There are days where you feel invincible, days where you feel as if the mere tipping of your toes will hoist you high enough to pick a star out from the night sky. These days, everything you do is adequate. Even the mere act of breathing makes you revel in the fact that there’s so much you can do, will do and have already done that you will one day compile into a heaping list that’ll give meaning to your existence. Days like this, you wish will never end.

Then there are days where you feel like a sail boat on windless sea. Days where hours spent relentlessly working amount to nothing, like scribbling with white ink on white sheets, like dusting cupboards during dry storms. Days where you try so hard but get no where. Days where light blinds and darkness suffocates.

Sadly, today is one of those.

I don’t have pearls of wisdom or words of comfort because most of us have these days that nothing can turn around. Reassurance stings like swabs on wounds and advice falls like bitterness at the back of tongues. Bad days remain bad despite all the good in the world.

But it’s alright, because like everything else, days too shall pass. Good ones, bad ones, they’ll all fall into the valley where we’ll forget to pull them out for scrutiny so even when we look back, we look pass them, through them, away from them as if they never even happened.

So just hold on tight and keep your knees a little too close to your chest for comfort. Let this bad day reign over you, will it away and celebrate its passing. Oh, and admit defeat. The earlier you surrender, the less it hurts.

Image credits: Daniel

Patience

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After surviving the busiest September of my existence, my body has decided to collapse upon itself like a flimsy scaffolding after an episode of particularly harsh rain. The month has been filled with endless nights spent fulfilling my commitments to both work and school, with a little bit of personal fluff vying for my attention. In just September alone, I’ve conquered 4 quizzes, 3 assignments, 5 writing jobs and a wisdom tooth operation. Oh, and my brother got married.

It’s actually astonishing when you actualise your potential and realise how much you can achieve in the shortest amount of time. I feel euphoric, almost arrogant when I look back and it hits me that I’ve done more than I could ever have. It makes me want to leave everything behind (sleep especially) and sprint towards the finish line so I can feel the adrenaline of being suffocated under stress and the mental applause that rings in my ear.

Yet while the sense of accomplishment and the confidence boost still courses within my veins, I wouldn’t do it again. It’s one thing knowing how much you can achieve when you push yourself beyond your limits and actually doing that every single day. Now that I know, I look back and pat myself on the back almost parent-like, appreciating the determination and tireless nights. But wanting a repeat performance of that? I think that’ll take awhile.

My mother is most annoyed with me when I come home triumphantly waving a 75 mark test paper in the air, carrying it as though it’s a plaque of honour. I’m always contented with being moderate. I wear a smile on my face and a badge of gratification upon my chest whenever I feel as though I’ve done well enough. Not amazing, but well enough. Yet to many, enough translates into a state of perfection they can never reach.

Patience is a virtue. Life is short, but it gets shorter when you’re too caught up with achieving a level of productivity society does not appreciate. We will never be fast enough nor good enough to meet the standards of everyone. So since we won’t be achieving perfection any time soon, why not slow down a little and take things in our stride? We’ll get to being enough one day, but this journey isn’t a race so take your time to enjoy the road. It makes finding the best of you a little more interesting and a whole lot easier.

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P.S: I am trying to create a page where I can share images unabashedly with you guys, but I’m still working on it. It’ll be up soon!

The Day I Went to a Cafe

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I never liked cafes. It makes me uncomfortable in a way that I can never fully comprehend, almost like being trapped in a glass chamber under heavy observation. I think it has something to do with the rise of indie culture and how people in cafes are always dressed in an artificially laid-back manner that sets my skin on fire. Intentionally comfortable dressing that looks comfortable but actually isn’t. I don’t like the indie culture very much.

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Yet on a rainy afternoon, amongst hectic schedules and intense editorial meetings, I found myself walking into Loysel’s Toy, looking for something I wasn’t sure if I was going to find. But my shoes were wet, and my shoulders heavy. For once, the scent of fresh brew and the clinking of cutlery seemed inviting.

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What was I trying to look for? I don’t really know. Perhaps it’s the budding of first loves or the reconciliation of lost ones? The serenity on the faces of coffee drinkers? Or the fluster and frenzy of the servers hurriedly pulsing black liquid into the bellies of white mugs? What do you look out for when you’re sitting upon wooden chairs and eating upon wooden tables? What captures your attention and gives you a reason to stay? The food wasn’t sublime, it never is and never will be. But yet there’s a strange attraction that cafes have that keeps the seats filled and the coffee cups empty.

I don’t like cafes, but I keep going back, only to be left more confused every time.

I don’t like cafes, but I do?