Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Black Light

The start of 2013 has been especially lugubrious.

We started the year learning to get over a bumpy patch in our relationship. It was so draining, and that annoying voice in me kept reminding me of all the reasons why I'd always thought I'd be better off alone. But we came out of it rather well, if I may say so myself. Still, you know how it is. When you're in the thick of things, you can't really see the forest for the trees.

And then all these other terrible things just kept happening.

Friends being lied to/cheated on
Politics at work
E's ex-student's bf passed away in a terrible accident
A's friend passed away in another accident
My friend lost her twins

How's all that for a little perspective?

Then again, I've also recently had a few friend getting married, giving birth, and getting engaged (congrats Kev and Chezza!). And I am still terribly proud of E and I for being able to communicate through adversity. It's hard to remember to be thankful though. It's hard to treat the tragedies as reminders to better our lives; to seize the day and reach out for the things you want now, today. All too often, we festinately leap into the atramentous waters reaching for a familiar abyss. 

I think all we can do is to keep trying. And even if we stayed still, we'd soon see the light that smothers the darkness. Time sweeps the good and bad pass us like the dusting of sand across the desert.

Carpe diem. Carpe noctem. Carpe vita.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2013

And so it is. Time never stops and the world doesn't stand still.

I had a thought the other day about time difference. Isn't it strange that you can so easily travel to another country and gain a day? You would have lived those hours - the seconds and minutes and hours ticked by with utter certainty - but time would have been returned to you. If we all travelled kept travelling to somewhere where we gained time, would we in some way have cheated time?

2012 is a year I will never forget. More specifically, June 2012 is a time that will forever be etched in my memory.

In June 2012, my mother had a stroke. I know she's still with us and there is still a chance for recovery, but allow me to be realistic instead of showering me with words of comfort. I have lost the person who loved me unconditionally my whole life. No longer can I step out into the world without fear because she isn't there to catch me anymore. No longer can I unload grievances without judgment. I regret that I can't share the rest of my life with Mum. I regret that I didn't spend more time with her. What I know and have in my heart is this - Mum and I have an amazing relationship. We love each other like crazy and we both know it. For the rest of my life, I will have to be content with that. Maybe it's enough, maybe it isn't.

In June 2012, I got involved with a man. This man gave me hope in life and love. This man gave me strength. This man made me laugh on days when darkness all but consumed me. This man made me want to try. During the worst time of my life, this man was my light.

I can't say whether the year has been good or bad without desecrating the memory with/of either. So all I will say is that I will never forget 2012.

Welcome 2013. May the next 365-and-a-quarter days be filled with good memories and things to be thankful for.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Around The World And Back

Well, not really. But we did do four countries in 24 hours.

I don't think I have been more stressed out about a trip. It wasn't that E was making things difficult. It was all me. I am not used to planning every bit of a trip because I'm more of a walk-around-and-get-lost kind of tourist, but I really wanted to make sure everything was done because I wanted E to have a good time. Also, I was trying to keep things within our budget. FYI, the bf now thinks I'm a mean little woman who can't stop calculating the cents.

Our first stop was Sapporo, Hokkaido. E had never experienced snow so I thought it would be a good way to start.

If only we could get there.

Our Air China flight to Beijing (then a connecting flight to Sapporo) was delayed by three hours due to bad weather in the Chinese capital and that meant we would miss our connecting flight. When we got to Beijing, we had to wait forever for our bags to be out. After that, we headed to the Air China counter for them to re-route us on the next available flight out. Since they only have one flight to Sapporo daily, we had to consider other options. The best one was another Air China flight to Seoul, and then to Sapporo via Korean Air. Despite the additional transfer, E was chirpy when he saw the fantastically new plane and in-flight entertainment system Korean Air had to offer (and the pretty attendants, yes).

So there - 21 hours of travel, four countries (including Singapore), and we finally arrived in Sapporo.


SAPPORO

The train into the city was a breeze. Once there, we were greeted by streets covered in powdery white snow. I reckon E was too cold to enjoy the snow, which was a wee bit disappointing, but now he can say he has seen snow and it was with me!
I'm going to skip pass the shopping bits, but you can go ahead and (correctly) assume that we did plenty. After all, Japan is famed for offering up superb designs and quality. And E is a renowned shopaholic.

For me, the best time in Hokkaido was when we ventured out of Sapporo city to Hoheikyo Onsen. The scenic drive there, the amazing hot spring, the view while you soaked up natural minerals and the sight of forests and mountains... It was breathtaking. We got to nap there after lunch before taking the free shuttle back to the city - lazy never felt so good.

Other Sapporo highlights:
- Building snowmen with E
- Those incredibly delicious crabs we had
- Our pathetic attempt at a snowball fight
- Standing out on the street together, watching the snow fall, and just holding hands


CROSS COUNTRY

With the JR Pass we bought, we were able to travel from Sapporo to Kyoto easily. Only downside was the travel time (12 hours -_-), and the fact that we had to change trains three times. Having to worry about missing the next train was NOT fun. That said, E was always reassuring and somehow he managed to calm the worry wart in me.

The weather and landscape changed almost abruptly as we travelled south. In the beginning, we saw white powdery snow that fell and gathered in too many inches. Everything was covered in a stark lightness. It was as if the heavens had descended and the clouds were at our feet. We blistered passed tall and majestic trees that were mostly bald, but bore the fruits of the season on their arms - like cotton in full bloom. Branches, rooftops, and mountains - nothing escaped the graces of the descending whiteness. All around us was a willing resignation to the snow, which eventually covered everything like icing sugar being dusted on a cake.

And then, almost suddenly the whiteness gave way to greens and blues and browns. As if awoken from a brief nap, Nature spilled its colours onto the trees, rivers, and stunning mountains in the distance. There were always mountains in sight (I loved that); some snowcapped, others with their peaks blurred by clouds. The white and grey fluffs hung low around the mountain peaks with such a heavy tangibility, much like a pregnant promise to the land. Perhaps this is why people scale mountains. Aren't these giant mounds much like stairways to that mythical place where earth and heaven meet?


KYOTO

Our hotel was most thoughtful. They served guests free hot noodles every night, and that bowl of pipping hot goodness was the perfect welcome. Yes, I did go back for the noodles the next night.
 Because we were near the main train station, everything we passed was very modern. I loved that we were so near trains and buses, but I wanted a little more culture in Kyoto. We didn't have a lot of time in Kyoto, so we decided to make a couple of temple visits, and then balance that out with some shopping and city explorations over the three days.

We saw Fushimi Inari and Kinkakuji. I preferred the former. I loved that there was a trail you could take to get farther up the mountain (in better weather, we probably would have attempted it), and I really enjoyed walking the little streets around the temple. The sight of mountains in the distance also contributed to the experience. The juxtaposition of modern life against a backdrop of nature isn't always my favourite postcard picture, but somehow the little towns in Japan make things look... unintrusive. Perhaps the Japanese have the secret to striking the right balance.
Bus-riding and walking around Kyoto was very gratifying. It was a completely touristy thing to do, but I really enjoyed the experience. Again, maybe it was just because I had the right company.

Other Kyoto highlights:
- E singing Teriyaki Boyz's Tokyo Drift
- Yoshida Steak House. Awesome meat. Bit harsh on the pockets though.
- Geishas who walked really fast
- Garb provided by the hotel
- Hotel's rooftop onsen


HAKONE

This was supposed to be our nature stop. We were going to see Mount Fuji and all that. We bought a two-day transport pass for too much money and were going to take the train, the tram, the cable car, and the ropeway to get to Lake Ashi.

But none of that happened because it rained like a bitch the next day.

I have thus convinced myself that the ginormous snowcapped mountain we saw on the way to Hakone is Fuji and that I haven't missed much. Whatever.
Hakone highlight:
- Big hotel room with a hot spring bath on our balcony


TOKYO

The last time I was in Tokyo, I remember I wasn't exactly dying to do much sightseeing. The roar of this big city can get a little overwhelming, especially since we were staying near Shinjuku Station; with millions of commuters daily, it is the world's busiest train station.

E wanted ramen so I found one and we somehow managed to find our way there. Menya Musashi, aka Ramen Supreme, was sinfully good. E could not stop slurping and making yummy noises. The flavour in the broth was so rich and tantalising. My dipping noodles came with a sauce that was out of this world too. E and I both loved (everything) the handmade noodles that carried the signature tastes so well. It helped too that the restaurant had a really authentic local feel about it. The servers were energetic and broke into cheers and chants often. Ramen will never be the same again.

It was our good luck that we managed to meet my friend, Danli, on Christmas day. She brought us to a beautiful and interesting district - Naka-meguro. This little gem has so much charm, you'll be bowled over by it. That evening, Danli brought us to Tsukishima for monjya and okonomiyaki. I know what you're thinking - what is monjya? Honestly, I have no idea. It's a big mess of ingredients, but it's SOOO GOOODDD!!!

Mindblowing food, new discoveries, and great company - a splendid way to spend Christmas!

We got back to the hotel at about midnight and started packing since we had to leave the hotel by 5am. I wish we had more time for the food and more, but I had to surrender custody of E to work by the 27th.

Other Tokyo highlights:
- E pulling me towards him at Naka-meguro, looking into my eyes, and telling me how he likes the area because it's so romantic *swoons*
- Meiji Jingu
- Shopping in Harajuku
- Dumpling shop on Onden Street we discovered by chance
- Urban trekking
- Tokyo Banana hunt
- I bought a Fujifilm Instax 8!

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E and I kept talking about how amazing the service is in Japan. How long will it take for that kind of standard to reach Singapore? Unfortunately, it isn't quite the kind of problem you can solve with an airticket.

My favourite memories - whenever E and I share something nice (food, view, etc.), we'd turn to each other, and just smile/say that we love each other. I so cherish our little moments like these and I pray that the rest of my life would be feverishly peppered with them.

E's favourite memory of Japan? Probably the bidets in every toilet.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Swim Free

Is there really nothing more we can do except to petition, don t-shirts, and post our opinions online? It's perfectly clear that the dolphins won't be released and despite thousands speaking up, nothing is being done and it's maddeningly frustrating.

To me, abducting an animal from its natural habitat and training it for profitable gains is rather akin to poaching. After all, it is taking something that doesn't belong to you; bar the fuzzy laws that make the dolphins' capture legal or not.

We humans really do have a way of making excuses for our tragic behaviour.

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From the RWS website - click on the printscreen pictures below to see them full-sized. Sorry, but they don't quite fit into my template's frame.


The Marine Life Park (MLP) is not a dedicated marine biology research facility, and never will be. MLP's primary concern is turning a profit and no amount of PR drivel can change this. To accept that MLP's objective of capturing, training, and transporting the bottlenose dolphins to the Park is to further understand them, is like believing the murderer who tells you he shot someone because he wanted to find out if a bullet travelling through the body would be deadly.


Right. We cannot judge whether it is better to be imprisoned, or free - really? This is the kind of statement they are allowed to get away with? It's appalling.

And oh, "positive relationships and interactions with humans" are essential to the survival and well-being of the dolphins? Only because they are in captivity.

Perhaps this thing about the frozen fish is true, but it really doesn't change the fact that the animals belong in, and have thrived on their own in the wild. Scars, they may have, but there's a reason why we call it the ecosystem. A system that, if I may remind you, is being screwed up by us humans.

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I could go on and on here, but it's too depressing. I know there are many other instances of animals being captured. Some critics out there think people are so vehemently protesting the dolphins' case is because they are generally well-liked animals, but I may never be able to understand the need to cage up wild animals.

I truly hope that our world would grow a heart.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Hard Work

I've always believed that education is not, and cannot be, confined within the four walls of a classroom. The mind can only be broaden through experiences like the gathering of knowledge, meeting of people, and exploration of new territories. In that aspect, I think my job is awesome because it gives me the opportunity to contribute to an existing educational system by opening students' eyes and minds to the world.

There are times when the job is awfully satisfying. Sometimes it is the feedback from a teacher, but mostly, it is when I see the kids' eyes light up and they gasp in collective awe at a new spectacle that they have never experienced before in their lives.

So often though, I meet clients who are demanding beyond reason, and teenagers who expect to be coddled. It's frustrating when nothing you do seems good enough for them. From the planning to execution stages, things are expected to go seamlessly without a hitch. Whatever is asked for has to be delivered, even when it isn't in the original requirements to begin with. My colleagues and I have so often been treated as butlers and porters, expected to jump at every command and serve. When things don't go as planned (which it sometimes does because so many parties are involved), we immediately take steps to rectify the situation but it's never good enough. So many times we have had demeaning comments thrown our way, and our answer always has to be a bright smile.

I do sometimes wonder if this is because we are working with Singaporean schools. Miscommunication happens with vendors and agents overseas too of course, but they are seldom so quick at the blame game. Perhaps I'm lucky enough to work with some who have not only been accommodating, but have been willing to work with me to amend programmes due to last-minute requests from the client. I do understand that there will always be late items to be added and such, but surely there is a better of way dealing with it than lashing out at the very people who are helping you make something happen?

I have met so many educators in the past few years. Many are sincere and so earnest that you cannot help but want to go the extra mile for them. Others though, make me shudder at the thought that they are teaching our future generation. Do we, as Singaporeans, expect to be spoonfed so readily that we have forgotten how to do things ourselves? Are we so impatient for our own needs to be fulfilled that we are blind to the efforts made by others to assist us? I only really hope that I haven't become this way.

Teenagers in this 'strawberry generation' as well, have become so... entitled. The attitudes and close-mindedness of some students surprise me, but at the same time, it makes me glad that they are out there seeing something different and learning something new. I have seen many teenagers' culture-shock moments, but they do eventually come out of it a better person (in my humble opinion) as they accept and take in the things around them. The problem is, some don't want to. They don't want to talk to people. They don't want to do things for themselves. They don't want to learn about and understand a different culture. They just criticise, complain, and be miserable. They are so resistant to the possibility of something different and are not willing to consider a life different to the one they know. All they want, is someone to attend to their every need and make them comfortable.

It's so tiring to be at work's beck and call all the time. Why, oh why do our lives revolve around work? I don't want that kind of life. I want my life to be about me and the things I care about; what I do is only a part of that, not the defining whole. I so wish I could cut work out of my life.

I realise that my problems are no tougher than any other working person's. I just don't know if this negativity would find me everywhere. Perhaps I just need to be more patient, or get better at letting things go.