A Gathering

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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Birthdays are an indication that time is passing. With endless time, nothing is special - days are limited to make each one precious (I believe this is an adapted version of a quote from Mitch Albom's Time Keeper). And for me, turning a year older serves as a reminder for me to actively make the rest of my life count. 

As mentioned in my previous post, I've always struggled with the significance of birthdays - does it truly warrant such attention and what exactly are we celebrating? Every year on my birthday, I have always been extremely blessed to have friends and family that make me feel extra loved. However, turning twenty one is supposedly momentous and I wanted to do something myself to celebrate the relationships and life I'm so grateful to have. I thought pretty long and hard about how I wanted to commemorate it. 

For the longest time, I was all set to have a charity bake sale - the idea of being able to spread some sweets around for a good cause in the name of turning twenty one seemed perfect. However, I scraped the idea as I didn't feel up to it, especially considering how my birthday falls in the middle of the school term. Eventually, I decided on a small get-together with a couple of friends - to have dinner and catch up. I couldn't accommodate every single one of my social circles, but please know that I truly appreciate every person that has been a part of my life (do refer to my previous post hahaha) and I would have loved to host a lot more people. 

But to those who were present, thank you so much for taking time off your Friday to be with me, for acceding to my request to donate to Garfield (a stray office cat I developed a bond with during my time working at Pets Magazine) instead of bringing a gift, and just really, for being a huge part of my life. Here are some pictures from the cozy night. 

I was not allowed to bake my own birthday cake... so I decided to leave my mark by accidentally leaving my thumbprint on the bottom right hand corner of the one I ordered... oops. 

My favourite juju; thank you for sticking by. I will never regret kicking you in the pool twelve years ago. 

Chris; of nonsense chats and stuffing ourselves silly since secondary one, but more importantly, of heartfelt conversations.

Ragini; for going through thick and thin with me since secondary school, and for being someone I can always turn to for comfortable conversations and advice.

Priya; of intense craziness since secondary three and for being someone I can speak my heart out to. 

Mel; for inspiring me with your confidence and humour, and for never ever failing to make me laugh.

Tanny; of low maintenance but always-steady friendship, you are a true gem.

Time for a laughter intermission :') 

Habitat; thanks for tolerating my Skype no-shows and poor cleaning abilities, but most of all for genuine conversations and laughter that will last a lifetime. 

Ben; for being the guy version of myself (this is definitely a compliment, by the way) and for maturing from your irritating secondary four self. 

Ailica; of quiet confidence and strength but also outward thick-skinness  - you amuse me all the time.

Gaby; for inspiring me with your creativity and ability to take risks against conventional rules. 

Chris & Mel; of genuine love, care and concern - you two inspire me to no end. 

Kaiwen & Huiting; of rare but familiar comfort, laughter and fun among the noise and pressure in the school environment.

Jasmine; for re-entering my life, this time with newfound meaning, presence and love. 

Crossing the chasm; of instant get-alongs and a pretty terrible working experience (sorry!) but thankfully of true friendships. 

Van; of brown bears and fake-annoyance, but more importantly good conversations and genuine support. 

Joel; of personality tests and twice-a-year meet-ups, I'll never forget how you were able to guess my personality type within just one hour of getting to know me. 

Kelvin; for covering my weaknesses, a good working relationship and honest talks about the future.

Bev; for going through one of my most crazy life experiences with me and being a real friend through it all. 
Sherrine; for being a comfortable friend that I got the opportunity to know through Bev - thank you for being so welcoming.

And thank you

Jx; for showing me what it means to love, for teaching me how to love, and for being the one I love. 

So incredibly blessed.  

And here's to those who couldn't make it down because they were miles away from Singapore. Sarah, Shermaine, Phionna, Wang You, Swan, Tiffany, Rae-nyse, just to name a couple - I definitely felt your presence and I hope to see all of you soon. 

Of course, although my family was not present for the gathering as they wanted to give me space with my friends, here's a special shout out to them for being my greatest pillars of quiet support, being for me every step of the way. From my dad always placing complete (and sometimes overboard) faith in me, my mom's outward acts of service and nags out of genuine care and concern for me, and my brother's ability to inspire me just by being his wise, logical, but funny self. I am nothing without them, I really am. I love you, fam bam. 

Here's to another 21 years and a whole load more. Gee, what a pensive expression. 
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Twenty One

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

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Life works in interesting - or may I call it, magical - ways. I don't really know what "fate" means as it has always felt like a far-off concept pertaining to something supernatural, but on occasion it can sometimes be the closest explanation or feeling I use to reason out why some things just seem to fall into place perfectly.

And that's what happened on my twenty-first birthday two months ago. On the actual day, I really wanted to minimize social interactions as much as possible and take some time alone to be with myself - to reflect about the past twenty years of my existence, and hopefully to pen down some thoughts along the way. (Yes, I'm someone who actually makes plans to consciously get into a pensive state of mind.)

Following my usual theatre studies lecture on Wednesday mornings, I made my way to Atlas Coffeehouse along Bukit Timah. The area gives off a warm, familiar feeling reminiscent of secondary school and junior college times (I somehow frequented places near Botanic Gardens MRT station a lot in the past), and the cafe hits the spot in terms of balancing a chill yet buzzy vibe. It wasn't a full house that day, but the space was reasonably filled. Despite the crowd, there was a certain calmness to the chatter - everyone felt pretty laid back, and I could still clearly hear the slight dissonant melody of Twenty One Pilot's Stressed Out over the speakers.

We used to play pretend, give each other different names/ 
We would build a rocket ship and then we'd fly it far away/
Used to dream of outer space, but now they're laughing at our face/ 
Saying "wake up, you need to make money!"

"How apt," I remember thinking. But no - this isn't going to be a post about how the practicality of life seems to catch up with us and strip us of imagination and happiness as we grow older. I'm a strong believer that you can still carry the idealism that we all had as kids with you in life - it's really not a bad thing, and it's not ignorance either. Who told you that you can't build rocket ships now? I could go on about this topic, but let's leave it for another day. I thought the song choice was apt simply because it was one that signified the changes that come with growing up, and well - it was my birthday and turning twenty one is supposedly momentous.

So I took out my brown Muji notebook - the one I've kept since junior college, the one that contains much of my deepest thoughts and random doodles, the one that I turn to to write in a non-structured manner -  and tried penning down some thoughts. However, as I chewed on my soba noodles and took a sip of my hot chocolate, I didn't feel particularly energized nor inspired. I have always struggled with the significance of birthdays because to me it has always felt like any other day (albeit with slightly more attention, and for that I am blessed). It does seem awfully lame to force fit some learning points out on this "special" day just because. Yet, so much weight seems to rest on how you interpret your life on that day.

What's the point really? I closed the book and left the cafe. Relax, Li Yin. And so I decided to take a little walk at several familiar haunts. I walked past Island Creamery, thought about the people I shared ice cream with; walked through Botanics, thought about the picnics I had and frisbee games I played (oops - I mean watched); took the MRT to Serangoon, surrounded myself with the sights of the hood I used to call my home; and made my way to Sengkang.

And just a couple of steps after I exited the MRT gantry, I saw a face I recognized - one that isn't that familiar, but one that has stuck with me for many years. It belonged to my primary four form teacher, someone whom I've been trying to reconnect with for many years. She was the person who saw so much potential in me back when I was uncertain of myself, she was the person who made her students write journal entries - which opened my eyes to a whole new world of writing for writing's sake, she was the person who accompanied me for various additional enrichment programmes the school sent me for, she was the person who believed that I could write a book - and congratulated me afterwards with a handwritten card even when she was no longer my teacher then. "I look forward to reading more of your stories in the future" - it was simple, sweet and still impacts me today.

Somehow, she was able to recognize me instantly despite almost eight years of not seeing me in person. The moment was truly amazing, and I gushed, "I'm so happy to see you!" Because well, I really was. She's honestly someone I always wanted to bump into but never did - and I couldn't visit her in school because she no longer teaches there. We chatted for a bit, not without her reminding me multiple times that I "didn't change at all" in terms of my outward personality. As we parted I just felt an immense sense of joy and gratitude.

Every birthday, I write about how thankful I am towards the people who've stayed by my side in life. And I definitely do still feel this way for sure.

But this birthday also showed me that the person I am today has actually also been shaped by so many people I've been lucky enough to cross paths with, but don't necessarily keep in touch with. It is inevitable that not all of them can remain a constant presence in my life due to circumstances - and that's okay. It's perfectly okay. It is important, though, to realize how much they've made a difference on my life and I just hope that the person I've become, or will become, does justice to all these amazing people.

And bumping into my teacher on my birthday this year really reminded me of this - that I should strive to the best person I can ever be, for myself and for everyone who has ever seen something in me, no matter how small or however long ago. From the brief interaction with my teacher, I could tell that she genuinely still cares about me, and that she's proud of how much I've grown. I just hope that I managed to convey a sense of gratitude as well, so that she knows how much she has positively impacted my life.

I truly can't properly describe how happy I am to have bumped into her. That's fate yo. Even though it's such an intangible takeaway, I'd consider myself to have received the best birthday gift that day.

To end off, here's a selfie I took on my birthday morning on the way to school - thanks Papa Yap for tirelessly driving me around every day without fail. At the point of this photo being taken, I didn't think that my day would play out so eventfully. Thanks universe. :') 
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