Today I come home from work, weary, bitter, in pain, feeling as if the weight of the stifling heat and gloomy haze rested upon my shoulders. Are some people just naturally predisposed to be moody? At times like these I feel completely undeserving of life; family, friends, work, singing. Even if work has tired me out – why the negativity?
Do I like my work? Yes. It makes a difference, and quite directly too – I don’t need to weave my way through 5 layers of deductive reasoning to justify how my work is for the greater good for society. And so at the most superficial level of noble Gen Y aspirations, it is gratifying and luxurious. I also learn so very much about how the world works behind the scenes (central banking is, after all, the ultimate back-office role in the financial services industry) from angles I never knew existed, through the hours of pleasurable reading and research and interesting (albeit lacking, but welcome to developing countries) discussions. And best of all, there is room for so much change! To think that I’m in the position to contribute to affecting this change – and if I look closely – to affect this change myself, because change is not always about the big and visible things! Change doesnt have to be a glamorous announcement in the papers; change can be in writing, in what you say via phone conversations and meetings, in what you signal in collecting information from other people. There, now that’s about as specific as I can get without revealing too much.
Do I like and respect my colleagues? Yes – the ones that matter and that I see everyday, I daresay I do. I can safely say that in every one of them I can name at least a couple of things about them which endear them to me, or that I admire and respect. Warmth. Honesty. Intelligence. Humility. Genuine intentions to make the world a better place. Selflessness. Screeching laughter. Passion. The ability to not take themselves so seriously. Etc. the list is long but my thumbs are tired, thank you very much.
So there. I’ve dissected two of the most important questions. Money is another consideration of course, but when a girl has a roof over her head and a bed to sleep in, the luxury of not having to finish all the food on her plate, a car to drive, pretty dresses, a satisfactory phone and can pay her choir fees, and the ability to finish this list with a dot dot dot…there’s not much point in overthinking these things.
Maybe it’s generally because I’ve been deeply absorbed in the Anne of Green Gables series for the past fortnight… And what a joy it is to be lost in the wonderful characters and their love and life stories and landscapes, but what a downer it is to lift my eyes from my book and realise I am only Hui Lin, stuck in a city I feel absolutely no love for, but fettered by obligations and responsibility. Oh, how I long to escape. How I wish I was someone else. How unthankful I am.
I find that a big part of growing up is becoming more honest with myself and less honest with people.
Where I once simply flung a water bottle at my classroom wall in a fit of childish anger, I now question my right to be angry, because I am now aware I have a bad temper and conversations cannot be cut short with physical violence anymore.
Where being thanked as a good friend and confidant used to be such a girly honour, I now appreciate that I am an intolerant ass, and that being able to look like I’m listening to self-induced personal drama is such a valuable skill.
Where I once wrote in my university applications with misguided conviction about how enamoured I was with finance, I now accept new assignments at work with an enthusiastic front, then take a private moment to sigh into my computer screen and recognize that it’s impossible to be interested in everything.
As we grow older, prejudices, vanity, sensitivities, emotions suddenly become real and confront us. Then we get caught in an endless cycle of reconciling who we really are and what people expect of us just to be able to maintain peaceful relations. Character flaws have to be hidden, words swallowed. Nice things, insincere as they may be, have to be said…like apologies. It doesn’t always work though. People are more transparent than they think.
This must be why the older people get, sometimes the more unhappy they are. Adult socialising is so much about fashioning some kind of image, or trying not to offend someone, or reining in your natural impulses…and all this pretending is difficult. And so I think someone’s got it right in saying that being able to be yourself with someone is a perfectly good reason for being happy with that person. I used to wonder what that really meant.
But now I get it. Being able to be honest with both yourself and other people is a kind a freedom, and being free is being happy.
Here I am again, on the bus home for Chinese New Year. I dread this, I really do, and more so in the past few years than ever. Being at university for 3 years and inevitably having to skip CNY was a sweet escape.
The excuse I usually give people is the supposed awkwardness arising from the prying comical questions from relatives – “When are you getting married? Have you got a special somebody yet?” All that jazz. But as it happens…that’s not really the truth, but it’s sometimes just more convenient to give a run-of-the-mill, stereotypical excuse that people can easily relate to than go into the even more awkward business of explaining yourself.
Truth is, my relatives never really ask any of those things. Often the things that DO come up are very kindly enquiries after my health and my job (my grandmother, who until today insists on secretly pressing 50 bucks into my hand whenever my mother isn’t looking), excited stories about baking experiments or announcements that if I open the refrigerator I will find jelly has been made specially for me (my uncle, who
has muscular dystrophy (oops) walks with a limp from having polio as a child but still manages to pull off the most amazing feats, like baking and arranging for JB coach drivers to send goodies back to Malacca to my family), or really inappropriate jokes and roaring laughter from my impish aunts who have a wicked sense of humor. Yes, of course there is the odd instruction or two about my plans for marriage, particularly in relation to my choice of ethnicity (as is typical, albeit offensive, in a traditional Chinese family). But on balance my relatives are some of the kindest, warmest, most boisterous, albeit occasionally hapless, people I know.
So what is it?
When I was a little girl, I used to adore hanging with all my cousins. Our family is huge by today’s standards- my mom has 9 other siblings, and all together that makes a family tree that does not easily fit into a sheet of drawing block paper or exercise book page (trust me on this one). This also means you have enough cousins with the optimal age range and distribution to form a three-octave scale’s worth of cousins. So my similarly-aged four or five cousins and I used to have our own little cacophonous little clique, and we’d have a whale of a time watching (in hindsight, horrible) MVs of F4, comparing our new things, gossiping about boys, etc. Then we got older. We saw less of one another. We became our own persons, I guess. I made more friends, attended secondary school, got boyfriends, went to college, read new things, went to university for three years…
…and then POOF suddenly I’m 23, graduated and back home, sitting awkwardly on my grandmother’s sofa on the first day of Chinese New Year, full of new experiences and stubborn views, but with absolutely nothing to say.
You see, we’d grown apart. I’d been conscious of this all this time – when we were kids, every time it was my house’s turn during the Chinese New Year visiting rounds, we’d all run upstairs to my room and lock the nosy older boys and bratty younger girls out. But the procession upstairs gradually became less enthusiastic, less giggly, less immediate, and eventually stopped altogether. We also traditionally chatted in Mandarin. They spoke Mandarin fluently, but I went to a national school, spoke English at home, and scored measly 26%s in my Mandarin tuition class tests. My only incentive to speak (bad) Mandarin was basically to fit in with my cousins (and flirt with the cute guy in Mandarin class). And it was telling that my Mandarin deteriorated as I grew up. With this, added to years of disuse, there was nothing I could adequately say in Mandarin anymore.
So everyone suddenly seemed so far away, so involved in one another, so able to converse and gossip and laugh and giggle. Everyone except me, tongue-tied, save for the polite conversations, feeling like a stranger.
It is quite a gnawing, empty feeling. Especially since I know I don’t actively try and do jack about it – I miss calls and whatsapp messages (not intentionally or specifically), I don’t take the effort to try and reconnect, I consciously stay away from proper conversations and weddings because, just because. Because I’m a dysfunctional escapist who would rather run away than feel like I have failed and then try and start from somewhere.
I wish I could say “And then one day I found the truth of life and turned over a new leaf!” Or at the very least “And therefore we should abolish vernacular schools!” …but no. There is really no moral or insightful conclusion to this. It’s merely an explanation. Maybe one day when I’m done sorting out my perpetually hectic, disorganised life (haven’t you heard? being constantly too busy for the people who matter is the new Gen Y in-thing) I will actually start trying. Meanwhile, I’ll be grateful that I am on my way home to a home-cooked dinner at 10 pm with parents who were willing to wait to eat with me.
Nothing gives me more joy than losing myself in beautiful scenery. Sitting in front of a lake guarded by white-streaked mountains, writing a postcard. Absorbing myself in a painting, slowly taking in every flower, every bit of sky, every wisp of cloud. Passing by the endless rise and fall of the green, rolling hills overlooking lone clouds of mist hanging silently over a visible roof or two. But writing about these things – the landscape before my eyes and the ensuing one in my mind (heart?) – is always a struggle. There is never an adequate way to express such stirring contentment such that you would do the beautiful cause justice, and so my respite from this struggle is always the unfailing Virginia Woolf and Fernando Pessoa who do this so well.
Over this last weekend, during the journey back from bringing YKLS.Period to Penang, I realised that having nailed the last two runs of our show, the choir had done exactly what I constantly drive myself up the wall trying and often failing to do. Except it was not prose, but the resonant echoes of the beautiful hour-long song that is YKLS.Period, that was tirelessly sketching, colouring, bringing to life every blossom of spring, every golden beam of summer passing into the hum of autumn and then the hushed blue whispers of winter.
Realising this is fulfilling indeed, especially while we zoom down the highway and I look at the shadow of the trees pass and gently caress the luminescent edges of the moon; because this is all so beautiful, it deserves a story to be told to an audience, and we have found a way to tell this story in a language I am fluent at – voices lifted in song.
Christmas two years ago began with a rainy morning spent cosying up on the sofa, watching reruns of cheesy Christmas movies. Christmas this year, tonight, ended with a revisit of the Christmas stories in my favourite childhood bedtime storybook, treasured page after treasured page, vivid memories abundant, mug of spiced berry tea in hand, while TV Christmas movies played in the background. Yes, it’s been a happy Christmas indeed. To all a good-night!