A Barnacle No More

I used to hate the question, “What are three adjectives you would use to describe yourself?” – I would ask: “Asian,” does that count? What about “short?” “Left-handed?” I talked to friends, phoned my mom, asked my teachers …everyone else could describe me in various ways, but I could never do it myself. Why? The simple explanation: I didn’t know who I was.

A couple years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you a single thing about myself. However, if you were to ask me the same question today, I would be able to tell you in an instant that I am:

  • Determined
  • Passionate
  • Organized
  • Responsible
  • Driven
  • Rational

I am still (obviously) Asian, short, and left-handed but over the years and across continents, I have grown into someone empowered, independent, and confident. I am extremely proud of who I am and the person I’ve become.

AND YET (yes, here is the whole meat of the story) …and YET, when it comes to situations where my decisions directly affect the lives of other people, I am constantly at a loss. I know what is right for myself, but I still struggle. I don’t like closing doors and can never bring myself to do so. I don’t know when to invest in relationships, or even, when things are not black-and-white terrible, when to leave.

Some of my struggles, I know, are born entirely out of fear. Fear of loss. Mind you, I used to be much worse. In all those years where I couldn’t have listed a better adjective for myself than “Asian,” I was also incredibly clingy and emotionally dependent. I was like a barnacle, stuck to the side of a ship that I had no control over.

Yup. That’s me. (And all my fellow barnacles).

I’m so much better now but even still, the fear of loss haunts me. We could psychoanalyze this, attributing it to my parents’ divorce and certain events that happened during key developmental phases of my childhood but knowing why doesn’t help. Knowing that it exists does.

In the past, I’ve found that walking away from relationships that don’t serve me anymore is one of the hardest things to do, whether it’s from ex-friends, ex-significant others, or even people I don’t really have any obligations to. Many equate a fear of loss to a fear of being alone – but alone, I am okay with. I love being alone (hello, Netflix and peanut butter by myself). In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that my fear of loss is borne out of not wanting to be wrong about someone. I pride myself on being able to read others well and I hate when life throws me for a loop when others don’t turn out the way I pegged them to.

I’ve progressed enormously from barnacle to ship captain, but maybe it’s time I progress even further. Maybe it’s time to turn into a pirate (please, just don’t tell my mom). Perhaps I just need to accept that I can and most likely, will be wrong about others and assess the situations in my life objectively. Make those who don’t give me the energy I deserve walk the plank. Stick those who don’t deserve me into the brig and close the door forever.

Death to all who oppose me! (Pictures of female pirates are ridiculously hard to find).

Death to all who oppose me! (Pictures of female pirates are ridiculously hard to find).

A great plan on paper, right? Now, to carry it out.

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Leaving Dreams Behind

In middle school, you would get a gold star for dreaming. For saying things to your teacher like: “I want to be the President of the United States!” or “I want to be a firefighter!” Dreams were encouraged, allowed, and rewarded. And so we grow up listening to the words of others, drawing inspiration from key historical figures like Martin Luther King– I HAVE A DREAM– and not-quite-so-historical figures like your mother, who always dreamt the biggest for you– You will get an MD-PhD, create your own practice and become a millionaire. (Ok, Mom. Keep dreaming, LOVE YOU).

But the dreams of others are no comparison to your own. Have you ever known what it feels like to have a dream that consumes you? That occupies your thoughts so much so that even when you’re occupied with other things, it lies pulsing in the back of your mind? It’s okay to dream, it’s good to dream, you get a gold star to dream, but when does it become time to leave that dream behind?

In my experience, there is a needle-thin line between dreaming and simply being unrealistic. When your dream involves you and ONLY you- dream on, I say. Get that job you’ve always wanted. Start the exercise routine you’ve had saved on your computer for the last three years. Paint your room a rainbow color (#lovewins). But when your dream stands on the decisions of others — maybe you want a family, maybe you’re wishing for a friendship with someone — you can’t just chase your own dream with disregards to the other people involved. The reality is that only a handful of people, of all the thousands that you meet during your lifetime, will be willing to align their dreams with you. And most likely, these people will either become your best friend or your soulmate.

But sometimes- most of the time, probably- you realize that dreams, well, they’re just dreams. And some dreams are just not meant to be fulfilled. I’ve always dreamt and continue to dream that the people I love will love me back. That the people I’m kind to will afford me the same energy. That the world is full of great people that will treat me with respect. But truth be told, these dreams rely almost solely on the actions of other people and as much as it pains me to say this, many such dreams of mine have ended up crumpled and discarded like used paper towels. Leaving dreams behind is hard, especially when you’ve dedicated time and effort to them, and honestly, it’s even harder to keep on dreaming afterwards. But through it all, I will never stop. I can’t. I refuse to. Every dream that lies broken on the ground will always be replaced by a new one, a better one. I choose everyday to believe and I won’t let the world make me hard. I want that gold star and I’ll get it– you just watch.

The Art of Free Falling

Being unattached is something so many people crave: to be free of commitment and responsibilities, to have the agency to move whenever and wherever you want, to not let the things you own own you (#fightclub). What people don’t realize, however, is that, like anything else, the things that grant happiness also tend to come with a side of perpetual sadness.

One of the biggest things that I’ve struggled with most in the past few months is the overwhelming feeling of transience — the feeling that I’m sliding headfirst down a cliff, managing to grab hold of a few roots here and there, but never being able to completely break my fall. My life this past year and for the next couple years to come has been and will continue to change at a breakneck speed. And while I am overjoyed at the opportunities I’ve been given, I just wish life would slow down a little. More than anything, I want to enjoy the smell of the roses and spend a little time staring out over the ocean as the wind whips in my hair. I want to enjoy the feel of the air on my skin and feast my eyes on the sight of a colorful butterfly flying past. I want to be able to say, “I’m here to stay and I won’t leave anytime soon.”

But I can’t. Every time I try to grab ahold of an anchor, I find myself falling again. When I came to Singapore in June of last year, I was falling at subatomic speed. Life had swept the rug out from under me post-graduation and I arrived in the Little Red Dot friendless and unsure of why I had come. Nine short months later, I’ve done a pretty great job of rooting myself, creating a life here for myself, complete with friends I treasure and people I love. But of course, life is bittersweet in the worst ways and with my return to the US in a couple months, my roots will have to be dug up once again and I will have to give up everything I worked so hard for here.

But how do I do it? How do I act? How do I feel? How can I hope for meaningful connections with the very people I’m leaving behind? Virtually every interaction I have now reminds me that I will be leaving. While a part of me wishes that I could have gone through this year friendless and alone so that saying goodbye would be easier, the other part of me knows that my life has been forever changed by the people I’ve met and I wouldn’t give that up for the world. I guess it’s a mark of how attached I’ve become that I must wrestle with the looming feeling of goodbye every couple weeks.

You know, maybe the key to falling isn’t to try and break your fall at all. Maybe the key is to simply let go and try your hardest to be unafraid of what’s coming — to have a tiny bit of faith that the people you’re keeping alive in your heart will do the same for you — to know that your sadness is not yours alone, but shared by the people that you love. And if you can manage to do all of that, maybe falling won’t be so terrifying after all.

Singapore: Little India

A new taste of something old. 

Many people come to Singapore just for a short while: a day, two days, or a week at most to sit around, drink the Singapore Sling, and take selfies over the infinity pool at  Marina Bay Sands. But Singapore is so much more than that. It’s a carefully constructed, fragile, yet stable, blend of multiple cultures, religions, and races.

If you have a chance, be sure to visit some of Singapore’s local neighborhoods (Chinatown, Little India, Tanjong Pagar, Serangoon, the list is infinite!)– and then maybe, just maybe, you’ll start to see what lies beneath the glittering, sterile surface of the Little Red Dot.