The Opposite of Good Luck is Not Bad Luck

I know what you’re thinking. What in the world am I even saying?

I had a heated discussion about luck with my friends today and a bunch of things can happen in your life and you know; saying stuff like “that was so lucky” or “my luck was so bad today” is very commonplace. We’re an Asian society, we thrive on this sort of belief and gleeful rhetoric.

Also, my wallet was stolen today. I left it on the heart of a tabletop and looked away for ten seconds while standing one meter from the table.

When I looked back, poof, it was gone. I checked everywhere, asked everyone and even ran to the (male) toilets around the area to search the cubicles but what up, the wallet was gone.

I wasn’t especially devestated, but who wants to lose their wallet, really? To replace an IC costs 100 dollars the first time round, and every bank card had to be deactivated for good measure. Understandably, my parents weren’t impressed and gave me their own piece of mind.

It hurts to lose things. In that ten second window, what seemed to be a minor lapse in judgement turned into something massively saddening. Unlucky, it may be and in life unlucky doesn’t seem to listen to your excuses.

And then my brother came back and told me that he had gone to Mcritchie Reservoir to run. In all his teenage ignorance, he somehow managed to leave his wallet and handphone on an unguarded bench, trained for an hour, and came back to an intact handphone and wallet. One hour! And not even the monkeys shared a remote interest in his wallet. Given all the factors surrounding his amazing story, I gave him a pat on the back and told him, you were lucky today man, I took all the luck in my situation and gave it to you.

So what’s the deal here with all this random wallet-abandoning banter? What I’m trying to say is, that the same phenomenon that causes a wallet to be stolen after ten seconds is the same thing that keeps a wallet intact after being left unattended for one hour. In other words, good luck and bad luck share the same parents, and that is of unexpectedness. It pays no heed to our emotions or expectations, but just happens.

So when the word “luck” is used, it basically points to when something with a low probability of occurrence happens. Winning a lottery ticket, getting your car scratched, spotting the right questions for an exam, being diagnosed with terminal cancer despite maintaining a healthy lifestyle; anything to do with low likelihoods and terrible odds being realised pretty much is what luck seems to point at. The moniker of “good” and “bad” is a human rendering of this situation, and the way we as people perceive situations as helpful and prosperous or harmful and detrimental. These two are only opposite if you think it is, and so in a pure sense, still mean the same thing.

So, what should be the opposite of luck? The opposite of luck is basically no luck. No luck is when you’re running late and the bus application tells you 6 minutes and the bus really comes in 6 minutes, or when weather forecasts comes true or when your phone screen stays intact after the first drop. That’s no luck, where something you expect to happen, happens without you feeling exceptionally good or bad about it. And from there, you go on with your life, sans comments, elation, or regret. Sounds fun, doesn’t it, to live a life where everything that you expect to happen, happens?

But what is a life without comments, elation or regret? What is a life without a tinge of luck? What is a life without bizarre happenings and strange occurrences? What is life without the good and the bad? And most importantly, what is life without the courage to pursue luck? Without the thirst for opportunities, the anxiety that comes witht the overwhelming possibility of failure? Without the deep longing for just one more chance? It would be a life void of irrational choices, brave discovery and purposeful mornings.

Embracing luck is embracing life, every last dying inch of it.

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You Can’t Solve the World’s Problems in One Night

You can’t solve the worlds problems in one night. There’s just too many, too many, way too many.

You may want to solve them, but that’s quite a different thing as opposed to actually solving them. You stay up restless, looking up on people’s lives, watching self help videos, falling deep within the clutches of a Wikipedia black hole. You send a desperate text, comment blindly, let slip somethung you shouldnt have. And for what? So you can prove to yourself that nothing happens? Or that it gives you hope that something might? Or perhaps you can fall into another bout of deep askance as to the meaning of your existence?

For what? Perhaps it is for the moment of rediscovery. We all need that don’t we? That moment where you look up and feel truly happy, so happy in some sort of drunken stupor, eyes glazed over, stomach turning over in contentment. You have discovered something more. Why not tonight? Why is it that the darkest depths of the night always prove themselves to have nothing more, than darkness itself?

But let us remind ourselves, that the darkness is what makes the light, that the valleys are what stands between towering mountains. There will be light, you may just not be in it yet. Sleep easy, don’t you?

Sleep easy, for your time will come when some of your problems are solved.

Sleep easy, for even if your problems are never going to be solved, navigating through the night will not get you any answers.

Sleep easy, and dawn will come soon.

Tackling the Notion that “华人应该讲华语” (Chinese should Speak Chinese)

I was at a table surrounded by a lot of my Mother’s friends. She seems to make a lot of friends and they can congregate even when we’re overseas. These friends come from various backgrounds due to her field of work, and many were multilingual and knew a bit of English even if it wasn’t their first language. So I went about as the awkward tag along son and tried talking a bit in slow, carefully pronounced sentences and articulating myself as concisely as possible.

One of her friends asked if I spoke any second language and I replied that I did speak a bit of Chinese, or Mandarin, should you want to get technical. She asked me what I meant by ‘a bit’, and I told her that it simply meant I could speak low level conversational Chinese, but did not possess the ability to write or read Chinese fluently.

The said friend was taken aback, and with a furrowed brow, remarked that it was strange, for shouldn’t I, who descended from a Chinese lineage, be able to navigate the language as if walking through my own home? And yet I couldn’t even form a proper sentence without sounding like I had just shoved my mouth full of potatoes? (Of course, she expressed herself differently but the point brought across was the same).

Here’s the truth, when it comes to navigating this “mother tongue”, I often feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway. I’m on this sad raft in the middle of the vast ocean and my only companion, the lone volleyball has already left me and I’m really really lonely. Everytime I’m forced to speak conversational chinese I’m blatantly awkward and misuse a lot of the words that fall out of my mouth. I feel like a rusty car whose gears are about to pop out and give way under some sort of lingual inferiority. I failed most of my mother tongue exams and the only reason why I didn’t drop to CL(B) was because my parents insisted that I carried on with it under the above argument.

I accept that I’m a horrible user of the language, and if someone came up to me and provocatively intoned that I was lousy, virtually ununderstandable, that my pronunciation was really off, more off than William Hung’s American Idol audition and proceeded to communicate through hand signals, I wouldn’t take too much offence. Truth is truth, I’m just not good at this mother tongue business.

What I do have a problem with, is when the idea that “Chinese should speak fluent Chinese” starts to rear it’s ugly head. One of my close friends had prompted me with the exact statement a few weeks back, and it made me realise how rife this mindset is. When you can’t speak your mother tongue to a desirable standard there will always be this sort of judgement passed, and in the unfortunate event that you try, people silently snicker at you in sheer ridicule. Gosh, I’m left thinking, What have I done? Why did I even try?

I urge people to get it out of their heads that poor mother tongue comes from a conscious rejection of our ancestry, which by and large is magnified into a rejection of our very selves. When people tell us that “you’re a Chinese, so why can’t you speak proper sentences,” they say so with the assumption that we have wistfully rejected the opportunity to speak great Chinese and immerse in our own heritage. It is as if we had a conscious choice, when in fact no such choice was ever presented to us.

What do I mean by that?  Like a retired boxer down with Parkinson’s, I remember how I was second in class for Chinese back in Primary one. You would not imagine this to be a possibility today given my weakened state, my Chinese prowess groaning and twitching violently, dreaming of the knockout blows of the past. But somewhere out there, certain influences played out in my life. Less and less Chinese was spoken everyday due to the friends I chose, the shows I watched and subsequently the failures I faced. To consistently do badly for Chinese as a subject took a particular toll, because the scolding culture which started from my teachers gradually spread to my parents. Day by day, I started to malign the subject and hence the language, like how an army sergeant singles out a sloppy recruit. It was this subtle degredation that led to a vicious cycle. The more you suck at something, the more you blame it for pulling you down, the less interest you have in it, and the more you’ll suck at it. This played out daily, unbeknownst to a younger me, and wore me down like waves pounding against a rock. There was no one day when a genie came out of a bottle and asked me if I wanted to be serious about the language. There was never a single choice, only a series of seemingly unrelated events that led me here.

At this juncture I need to draw attention to how environment rather than conscious choice dictates much of our linguistic abilities. This isn’t just true for Chinese, but for every other language that takes years to master. It is also wise to take note of the term vicious cycle in your rendering of this issue, where less begets less and one is unknowingly tumbled into an abyss of mother-tongue illiteracy. Likewise, if you had the right environment, unwittingly made the right friends, watched the right shows, read the right books, you may constantly excel at Chinese, gain the confidence to speak and write more Chinese and hence become proficient and be the “ideal type of Chinese” the world wants so badly for you to be.

So as a sound reply to the notion that “Chinese should speak fluent Chinese”, I’d want to disband that theory. All the above phrase gives us is a new, nascent identity; that of a castaway, an abberation from the norm. Through silent laughter and subtle ridicule, it makes it that much harder to even try and by oversimplifying the learning process through such generalities, it disrespects our efforts, or assumes that we put in none. But look, all is fair if we can deal with it, and though it may seem sad that we may have lost part of our “heritage”, it is not for anyone to point fingers as to whose fault it is, and certainly not up to anyone to dictate how sad we should feel about it, or assume that we are sad at all. You have to understand, that the fault lines run way deeper than meets the eye and see this problem as a collective whole, and not one of the mere individual.

The label that those that speak poor Chinese are “less Chinese” than their fluent counterparts is hence a flawed ideal. I believe that all of us are on the same journey of learning and discovery. We have to recognise that not everyone had the same opportunities, and people should not be judged for that. We may be on different levels of aptitude but in little ways, all of us are trying to be a better version of our previous selves.

Doing a lot of travelling recently has pushed me out of my comfort zone and I’ve been speaking a lot more conversational Chinese. Blogging about my travels, I had to add Chinese Pinyin (simplified) into my keypad and slowly but surely, I’m learning how to integrate this language, bit by bit, into my life.

So what did I reply my mother’s friend? I simply told her that my environment has brought me to this point, but at this juncture, I will still try to learn, listen to Chinese Songs, reply more in Chinese and try not to look so much at english subtitles. It’s these little influences, rather than the notion of a “Chinese speaking Chinese” that will define what language comes out of my mouth 🙂

What About Sports Camp?

Sports camp was in full swing and a lot of things were happening in a very packed course of time. There were basically 14 hours of activity in a day, tightly scheduled, back to back with very little rest time.

The people you meet in such camps can come in all sorts because every faculty, every type of university student seemed to feature. It isn’t like science camp or Christian camp where a certain type of personality may be observed. I guess that was interesting, and what was more interesting to note was that the girls were all 2 years younger. Though people always say that “you can’t sense the age difference,” I’ll have to disagree on that. I just found the age disparity glaringly obvious from the start in the way I see my JC friends now as compared to the girls in my OG. I’m glad I can see such differences because it just shows I may have matured (albeit only slightly) while in national service.

Another thing I realised was that there was no way army was going to leave our system anytime soon. It’s the tragedy of shared experiences, that guys would invariably start talking about their army stories to ice break among themselves. It was a pity because it only did half the job of bonding everyone since the girls are always left out and generally nonplussed over such rhetoric.

To gel it all together, what made me think a little was a question I was asked by someone whilst we were night cycling. We were riding beside each other when he asked me whether I “had my eye on anyone”, and whether I had a “game plan”. It wasnt an entirely unexpected question but I had to think a while about it. I think this sort of theme is always at the back of everyone’s mind coming into the camps, and for all we know people actually head into these camps with the plan to find someone out there. But I guess I’m not that sort of person, and I’m confident enough to say that most people share my mindset. We come to these gatherings to merely make friends and have fun, to tire ourselves out and test our limits. The notion that camp is one giant matchmaking session has to be disassembled. You don’t need a matchmaking session for the best things in life. If it’s right then it’s right. I feel that things should happen naturally, and I’m old fashioned that way.

So how was camp for me in the end? It was great. I guess I was really quiet and pensive at times but that’s just me, taking my time to warm up to people and being way more talkative on alternative platforms like this one. I wouldn’t blame myself for anything, it’s just a preference. The times that I did get talking I realised that the people that I was about to share my Uni life with are just genuinely nice and ineffable people, both in talk and in action. They’d ask if I was thirsty, offer me help in many aspects and weren’t shy to speak up or stand up for each other.

The group leaders (our seniors) were a really charismatic and humorous bunch that did a good job in holding everything together. We established our identity in being the most lepak OG and just lazed through everything without protest from anyone. It was all cool and thats what I had to admire about the whole process.

So there we have it, my first experience of uni; fun, tiring but more fun than tiring. If this is the foreshadowing of my uni life for the next four years, then I’m more than happy to accept it.

Thank you, OG Rampage, for an insane 5 days and may we all keep in touch!

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Death of a Child

“Dad, there’s nothing under the bed”
I’d tell him as he towered over me with hands
Raised above his head, imitating something that
Doesn’t exist.

I’d take off my 3D glasses halfway through
The movie. I tell my friends there is nothing
Fascinating. It is what is known as an
Optical illusion

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After studying I walk past the Novena underpass.
I ignore the uncle singing a Christian tune
For I think he has enough and in fact
More than enough

“There’s a shortcut through that bright alley,
Dear,” I’d tell her, as we avoid our usual route
Through the dimly lit park, alive with the crickets’
Noisy chirps

.

We won’t be meeting, I text her a few months
Later, that a text is all we need. I can see
She is upset but I know for sure a breakup text
Seals the deal

“Forget about the taste” my friends will tell me
“Whisky is only good when chugged” and so
I listen. As glass after glass goes down, I start
Seeing the stars.

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On Turning 21

Today is the first day of my adulthood. At least, what is commonly known as adulthood.

When it comes to writing, to write about yourself is often the hardest thing to do. The same way you can only see yourself through a mirror or in pictures and videos, you can never discern the person you are from any other perspective but your own, and it is this perspective that often cripples an accurate judgement of self. What people say about you or what you see in pictures and video is really just a distorted version of yourself. So yes, writing about myself right now is really tough. But I owe it upon myself on this day to at least try.

So to start, you have to know that I had not celebrated my birthday for the past four years. Ever since I was seventeen I had been overseas in some way or another, whether it was family or Army. I never really bothered to host a party or anything after I was back and so my birthday went largely unacknowledged for the whole time, only put out in words on a social media post or a casual “oh your birthday past already right?” remark.

Though I would be in Singapore for my 21st, I didn’t want that to change. I believed that birthdays didn’t really mean much, that the celebration of self should be a daily affair, played out subtly and comfortably. I only intended to invite my four close secondary friends and my family to my house with a small cake and some simple food. I never intended for anything great though my friends had been pushing for it.

So when the day it came, I could sense some stirring in the air, that there was something that was going to happen that I was not entirely sure about. There was a lot of wasted time, a lot of dragging me around and I started to think that there may be something going on. I was spending way too much time outside my house and not doing enough inside. My friends assured this was so I could rest as the birthday boy but heck I wasn’t born yesterday. Something was up.

As I was led to my own home, I was (unsurprisingly) blindfolded by Ee Wei and Clement, led into the comfortable space of my living room. As I felt the warm wooden flooring on my feet and some mumbling all around I began to suspect that perhaps everyone was here. I’m totally not ready to face this was really all I could think.

And so with that, the blindfold was taken off.

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Thanks for these bros for organising. Clement and Wang Ren for grabbing everyone and Ee Wei for distracting me though you just had your very own celebration yesterday. (Missing Lin Kyaw!!) Really touched by you guys and I’m confident that no words I type can really justify the love I’ve felt.

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To my family, Grandpa and Grandma, Brother Jaren, Dad, Uncle Pang Liang and Aunty Suzanna as well as cousins Jessica alongside Luke and Alexia. Thanks for being a big part of my childhood and path to where I am now. Thanks for taking your time or going through the trouble of organising this. A big thanks as well to Elsa, our helper, for taking care of every small detail of this party. Also to the woman who isn’t here but planned this all the way from Japan. Thank you mum, for having so much faith in me all these years and letting me do the things I love. Could not have been the person I am today without any of you guys!

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To my extended secondary school friends, thanks so much for sticking with me though the years. Whether it’s in the classrooms, playing poker, talking for hours about the years that have passed, I’ve never had a dull moment with you guys. As Ee Wei put it, “spending the entire weekend together really reminded me of the good old days”. They are days that will never fade away thanks to you guys.

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To my JC friends that have come from every facet, be it track , house council, my form class or friends of friends, I’m so thankful you all made time to come down. JC is the sort of place where a lot of hi-bye friends are made and I’m just glad that it wasn’t that way for most of us. You guys have made those crazy two years a lot more bearable and for that, I am blessed.

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Army friends! You guys are seriously one of the few people on this earth that I can just say anything and everything to and laugh along to the strangest and most visceral memories, knowing that none of us would judge the other for it. I guess thats the beauty of such tough experiences, that it has bounded us closer together. For that, I’m so glad you guys were here to spend this moment with me and I really wish you all the best in you future endeavours, and hope that we won’t only be seeing each other during reservist!

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And lastly, I want to thank my brother Jaren for getting this card. I’m a words person and so reading through the entire card the next day made me really touched and excessively moved. Everything that had seemed so unreal was suddenly and violently anchored down by your kind words and it led me with excessive speed, straight down to earth.

Thank you for coming and thanks to those that had wished me as well. It really made for a special day in an age where special days are becoming so hard to come by. To say I am touched would be the ultimate understatement.

Thank you, and I hope to see everyone soon 🙂

Feels Like a Coming of Age

University is about to start, and I am about to embark on my first university camp. Feels unreal? Yes, it sure does. After being away from the reality of studies and civilisation for two years, it sure doesn’t feel like this is actually happening.

A good portion of the last two years have been spent listening and carefully analysing the stories and advice I’ve heard pertaining to this strange place called uni, one that I was semi-glad I had no part to play in. I guess every negative story I heard I just conveniently amplified so that I’d feel less sorry for myself whilst in the army.

But now it’s time to get a move on. Time for me to cling on to a different set of life values and work ethic, make new friends and have a new set of life challenges slapped upon myself. It’s time to grow up and do what I want. Hopefully this will ring true in the course that I’m going to. Even if it doesn’t, I hope I have my own way of adapting. I hope army has left me with at least that one attribute, the power to adapt.

The empty feeling of anticipation is strong yet based on very little, for I have no experiences to speak of yet. I start on a clean slate and am eager to remove any preconceived notions and burdens. I think of myself four years ago, walking with my secondary school friends at the CBD area the day before JC orientation. The water of the Singapore River was calm and we gazed into it, letting it wash away the burdens of yesterday, wash away any doubts we had about ourselves as we welcomed this new phase in our life. We did this while standing beside the friends we knew would remain with us nevertheless, and it felt so right.

I’d like to think back at that moment as I stand on the edge this transition. Think back at how we cannot stand still in life. That like water, what seems to be staying still is actually in constant, subtle motion. Phases will pass and people move on, but alas, I hope that the people who have journeyed with me will keep me constantly reminded of the things we did, and that I can look forward with confidence to the things I’m about to do.

With that, here’s to an (hopefully) amazing time in university 🙂