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The New year awaits

As February 8 approaches, there is a strange electricity in the air. For East Coasters, it’s the fact that a winter storm named Nemo is about to sweep in and leave devastation in its wake. But for me, there’s another meaning to this day: It’s the first day of Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year).

Chinese New Year is like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one. It’s celebrated by the Chinese and its associated diasporas, as well as people in most of East and Southeast Asia (in various forms).

It’s a period of family gatherings, visitations, kindness, renewal, gifts and forgiveness. Lasting approximately fifteen days, celebrations centre around food and celebrating prosperity. Families but new clothes and clean the house. Children receive money in red packets instead of gifts (a much better thing to give, in my opinion). The atmosphere is jovial even if it is a little over commercialised.

The most important part of the new year is that families return to their hometowns for a reunion dinner(s). Some of these families see each other once a year.

It’s been four years since I have been back for CNY. I attend an educational institution that does not recognise CNY as a holiday and plus home is almost 10000 miles away. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop me from missing joviality that comes with CNY.

But now, I’m not so sad about CNY anymore. Because CNY is about celebrating and appreciating your family. My family is still back home, but that’s just one of them. Here in New York I’ve found my other family, one filled by friends who have seen me through thick and thin. That’s the kind of family you don’t get very often.

I’ve found my family, here. And I’m not so sad about CNY anymore.

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Home

What is home?

Home is where I build my life.

Home is where I leave a part of myself.

New York is home.

Malaysia is home.

Penang is home.

London is home.

Europe is home.

Bangkok is home.

Where isn’t home?

What isn’t home are places that make me feel uncomfortable, resentful, unhappy and unappreciated. Home isn’t a place where you feel judged, resented, and destroyed. That isn’t home. That’s hell. And that can be anywhere. It can be the place you “come from”, it can be a holiday destination, it can be a work place. It can be a room.

Home is important. It is somewhere you can go back to. Never let home become hell

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What I’m thankful for

As people around the world begin celebrating the New Year, it seems fitting to go through the many things I’ve been grateful for. But I’m writing this in November – because we shouldn’t have to wait till December to be grateful; and I’ve never done this exercise before. I’ve never publicly discuss what I’ve been grateful for. It always seems so contrite, but my recent move to [another] different city has made me reflect on the tremendous changes in my life.

First, I actually got into university. That’s something to celebrate, no? My high school education leading up to the university application process was tumultous, to say the least. There were too many choices, too little preparation, too little information and too much immaturity (and very bad grades. oops). I had applied to dozens of [different] programs, in almost five different countries.   Eventually I settled on going to a liberal arts college in New York. It wasn’t an easy choice (for me, or my family), but looking back, I don’t regret a moment of it.

The second (and third and fourth) are all as a result of my new life at college. In 2009, I moved from Penang – a small island city in Malaysia – to Bronxville, a suburb in the New York City Metro Area. If someone had told me in high school that I’d be moving to New York, I would have laughed – I was terrified of big cities and hated Tokyo when I last visited (and NYC’s like Tokyo, isn’t it?!). I took my first train into Manhattan and was stunned (or as stunned as a jaded college student could be). I had my “Hiro Nakamura Moment” in Times Square, my first view of the sun setting over Manhattan, and for that I am grateful.

If someone had told me in college that I would be at the United Nations, I would have called them mad. But in Spring 2010, NY-Model United Nations (MUN) hosted its closing assembly in the UN General Assembly room. We sat in the main hall, at the delegates’ desk, where so many diplomats had been before us. It was an amazing feeling, and I took it all in because I didn’t know when might be the next time I’ll be in the same room again. *Also, pressing the “vote” button was way too fun.

I was grateful back in early 2012 when I returned to the United Nations compound. This time, as a delegate of an actual UN conference. My measly brain couldn’t express how amazed I was when I first flashed my badge and made my way into the ECOSOC building. It went haywire when I found out I had stumbled onto an actual planning session for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. I sat behind the delegation of Singapore – what great irony. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine this would happen.

In November, I was grateful for having friends who have showed me what courage truly is. It was also in November that I felt extremely grateful as I stood in Gringotts. =D

This year, Obama was re-elected President of the United States. We (non-US citizens) may not understand the impact of such an act, but let me assure you that the position of POTUS affects all of us. But the November elections weren’t just stunning in themselves. It was in this election that the United States elected the greatest number of women, minorities and LGBTQ Congress(wo)men. It was a great inspiration to watch. Even if it was just in the United States, the result was a re-kindling in my faith in humanity.

And now, I have made my second move in my life – to London. And the realisation to even write this came when I had completed my morning jog up Primrose Hill. The Hill is the highest natural point in London, rising almost 230 feet above sea level. From there, you can see all of London’s skyline, from Westminster Abbey to the Gherkin (The phallic-looking Lloyds’ Tower). There, I realised that I’ve always been quite the ungrateful child. I never knew how to take compliments, nor did I accept gifts and help very well [if at all]. There was always problems with me handling assistance from others. But standing on Primrose Hill, looking over London, I thought, ‘How did I get here?’

And getting “here” was not planned. It was not predicted. Most of it was just happenstance. And it is by no means a solo-act. It is by the efforts of my family and friends, mentors and professors. I honestly believe that our successes are as driven by the people around us as it is by our own efforts. And I am grateful for all that. But perhaps what I’m most grateful for are two things:

One – My experience so far has taught me a valuable lesson, which has been re-iterated to me by several people but never learnt until now: If success sits on the horizon, your goal is to go as far as you can see, because once you pass the horizon, you will be able to see even further, and go even further.

Two – Of the many things my parents tell me, my father’s primary message to my brother and I will always stay with me. He likes to say: “Life is a marathon. It is not a sprint. Life cannot be completed quickly. It takes it time. And therefore, you should live life like you would run a marathon”. Never been a very good marathon runner (we’re a sprinting sort of family), I took it as a message to pace myself, to take time to recognise when things are too much, to take the opportunities when they arise, without losing your eye on long-term sustainability. If you push yourself too hard, you’ll see that soon you’ll lose your ability to go further, and that’s when you become lost. And you really don’t want to get lost. He likes to use this message as a response to the intense pressures we felt as children (from other people) to constantly achieve (academically or otherwise) and hyper-specialise.

Three – A dear friend recently sent me an inspiring email. She reminded me about the importance of doing things you love and believe in. She reminded me that if you do what you love, if you try your best, you will be much happier in life, and you will further than you can imagine. She reminded me that things can get tough, but we have to remember our purpose in life. I’m not talking about that overwhelming purpose in life, but just the little things, the short term goals, the medium term reminders of why you do the things you do.

I’d like to think that Dad and friend got it right. So as we move from 2012 into 2013, I’d like to think that I’m still moving, that my life still has dynamism in it. But above all, I’m grateful for the fact that a kid like me, from a small Malaysian island, could have such incredible experiences. And I’m grateful that somewhere inside me, I still have the capacity to dream for a better future.

So here’s to another year, but more importantly, here’s to the rest of our lives.

P.s. look out for the next post – it’s going to be PHOTO-TASTIC

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On being alone

Reykjavik, Iceland

Why do we villify being alone? Being alone is constantly being associated with being anti-social, unfriendly and depression. Being around people means sociability and is the antithesis of being alone. But that does not have to be the case. One can be social while appreciating what it can be like to be on your own. I think being on your own gives you a great sense and ability of being independent. That’s not to say you should be on your own all the time – that doesn’t really help one with the ability to live in the world.

I’ve done some of the greatest things alone: Visited Iceland, France and England, wandered about the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, discovered amazing Viennese hot chocolate and taken pictures that capture a thousand words. Being alone allows you to appreciate the people you have in your lives. =D

But overall, here’s a friendly reminder about the little things in life: You, Me, and Charlie 

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Hundred Years

Watching the next generation grow up.

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