It was late one night after a surprisingly productive evening. A reunion with an old friend over bowls of fat-laden-but-oh-so-delicious desserts in a historical building. The joy of friendship rejuvenated, of great food devoured, of grand atmosphere soaked in.
You know, only the drama-mama me can make a simple night out sounded so glamourous.
Anyway, I digressed. We talked about how lives had been for us for the past year. How certain things which seem so obvious to us but not so to other. How even the biggest amount of planning and faith could not overturn what fate has in store for us.
To say that my 31st birthday has been uneventful would be an understatement.
Contrary to previous years, of which I celebrated my birthdays with much fanfare, this year has been a departure from tradition. No big parties, no draft beer (on the tap!), no long guest list, no puking, no loud music.
Winter has truly arrived in Hong Kong. The temperature drops to around 10 degrees Celcius at night, and I am loving it.
I bought my very first mini oil heater. Apparently I would be grateful that I got it now before the stock runs out. As the warmth radiates out of its coils, I feel the warmth in my limbs. It is a nice feeling.
But do you know what is a nicer feeling? To feel the warmth in my tummy. Today, a friend brought me a tumbler of home-cooked sweet soup. I must have looked very contended, as she asked, “doesn’t that remind you of mommy?”. Perhaps not my mom per se, but it sure reminds me of family life. A life I have left more than ten years ago.
Then again, do you know what is an even nicer feeling? To feel the warmth in your heart. It is nice not to talk about yourself, but to be asked how I am doing. It is nice not to expect concern, but to receive caring words without needing to fish for it. It is nice, for once, to be the one cared for, and not the one who do the caring.
There are many junctures in my life when I am faced with this question. As I age, I realise I always come back to the same answer. The meaning of life is to find ways how to be happier. The search for happiness is an everlasting journey. The grass is always greener at whatever age you are at. Even in deathbed, you might think, oh, people in heaven must have life all sussed out. (After) life would be better, then.
And in the quest to be happier, men strive to define happiness. They buy not one, not two, but multiple cars. Same goes for properties. Every additional zeroes in their bank account equates to more contentment.
How about me? The last car I had was a 19-year-old relic of a Honda (I was 18 then) courtesy of my mum, and ever since I moved to Singapore, it had become old, scrapped metal. I have no house to my name, as I rent my way through my adult life. I detest checking my bank balance because, according to the men I describe in the previous paragraph, I should be a very sad individual indeed.
And yet, I thrive. I thrive in a way that few people will feel secure of. I take risks. I travel the world. I play my weekends. Hard. At work, I trod the paths less traveled. I challenge authorities, I debate traditional wisdoms.
And God knows I love my friends. My life, if nothing else, revolves around them. Making my friends happy make me happy. And that, my friend, is a chicken and egg question. Which comes first? No matter, because you gotta start somewhere. Either make yourself happy and double the joy by spreading it to your friends, or be the best friend a man can be to your friends and make them happier, and open your heart to their extended friendship.
I won’t be such a pompous ass to think that my definition of happiness should be yours too. Each person defines his or her values differently. Just don’t shoot me if you think I am a silly sod who is too idealistic for his own good.
Did you miss me? I miss blogging. No, unlike bears, I don’t hibernate during winter time. That’s because I am no bear. And I don’t care if you think I look like one.
Winter time is fast approaching in Hong Kong. It gets dark by 5 p.m., so it’s always good news for night owls like me. In the blink of an eye, I have been in Hong Kong for half a year. That’s six months. Six months of roller coaster rides, of successes and failures, of ruined plans and shocking surprises.
Just like the weather, when it gets cold, you keep your singlets and berms, and take out the jackets and scarves. So when life threw you lemons, you roll with the punches, keep living and be happy.
At the end of it all, a sweet life is made out of moments like these.
Over the weekend, two different friends gave me some advice over what essentially is the same thing.
Friend #1 told me, in the nicest way possible, that if I am to remain a part of what I am a part of now, I need to work harder to “fit into the crowd”. Otherwise, I am only setting myself to disappointment and disillusionment.
Friend #2 told me that I have many great things going on in my life, but there is one thing that I am lacking in … and if I am able to change that about myself, life would be near perfect.
Two pieces of perfectly sound advice over the same thing. And yet… I hesitate. Not that I won’t do it – it is not a question of if but when – but I do ponder if I am merely succumbing myself to the rule of the norm?
I know I am no exception, of course.
On another note, I found this very old song by é˜¿ç‰›… a truly meaningful song, one which still brought tears to my eyes whenever I listen to it.
I was reading some blogs recently when this post by Leon caught my eyes. I was particularly mesmerised by what he said here:
And I was then able to get used to my new ear stud and more accessories on me.. Even my family commented that the way I dress now is more trendy, bolder, more colorful than before… oh and much younger, or so they said..
That strike a chord in me, because that was exactly what my mum told me as well! So I commented:
Nice write up! Yes, starting up is the hardest part, but once you get into a routine, you will never look back. I had always wanted to write a post on my own transformation in the past two years… and your post just motivated to do that. Thanks!
And he replied:
Razlan, you should still write your story, I am keen to read about it
So here I am, thinking back over the years on how much I have changed.
I remember the days during my student days when I will wake up in the middle of the night, cooked up a storm and drank multiple packs of instant coffee to fuel my study period. Breaks in between lectures and tutorials were filled with “makan” session in canteens, often full meals by themselves. Oh, and the lack of exercise. In those days, the only exercise I could say I did was squash. Even so, during my four years in university, I played less than ten times, and never after I left the campus. In my teenage years, my mum was always onto me to exercise before I ballooned further, but I had always able to find a reason. Mostly that I was too busy studying and scoring As.
In my university days, I wore berms and shorts and jeans to school, so the fact that I was overweight didn’t really affect me. It wasn’t until after I graduated and reported to work for my first job that my working pants really threatened to kill me…. I had to go to the toilet a couple of times each day to release the pants cuff so that I can breathe. Could you imagine that?
So without really paying attention to my waistline, it expanded. Again and again I need to change my wardrobe, to the point that I always had to get the biggest pant size available in departmental stores, and even so it fits me too tightly for comfort.
So my feeble attempts in going to the gym started. First it was those community gyms managed by NTUC. I had a gym buddy then. Sam was very encouraging, but I mostly stuck to low-impact cardio and some weird machine routine that did little to build my muscle.
A year on, I joined the then Planet Fitness. Even so, my gym period would not last more than a couple of months before I lapse into inactivity. My weight will go up until it alarmed me back into exercising again… but it was a vicious cycle that I was stuck in for years.
The truth is, I love eating out and drinking too much. I didn’t put importance into my appearance nor a healthy lifestyle, even when at times, those facts sadden me and made me feel exasperated about life.
It wasn’t until early 2008 that things really started to change. It was by chance… in the form of a good friend:
Faisal: Raz, I need to borrow a shirt Raz: Okay, just look through my clothes Faisal: (Rumbling through my rack of clothes, looking incredulous) Raz, you need to change your wardrobe Raz: â€¦.
It was then I realised I have not bought new clothes in years. Because I always tell myself that I will get new clothes when I have reduced my size, which of course never happened. I measured myself at that time, and to my horror I tipped the scale at 92kg, and my pants measured 40 inches.
That was a turning point. I called up a friend whom I knew just signed up for gym, asked for advice, and signed up for one myself. I even engaged a personal trainer to get me going.
And so my regime started, and coupled with some severe diet, I started to shed off inches from my waist bit by bit. It was extremely hard work. I had to do lots of cardio, and not your regular walking-on-the-threadmill. And weight training was so new and foreign to me, the first couple of times were pure torture.
But I persevered… partly because I started to feel healthier and more confident about myself, and my friends started to notice the changes in me. I began buy clothes because my old ones were too baggy on me. I started going out more, get to know more people, experience things which I thought would not be possible in my old self…
Generally, life gets better. And right now, some two year one after the turning point, I am a proud owner of a 30″ waistline, tipping the scale at 74 kg. Of course there were moments I lapsed as well, but they are getting more and more infrequent now, and it is easier for me now to get back into routine.
The lesson? I am happy the way I am now, but I also acknowledge that I can improve further. I will not lament how much more fats I have to shed. And I will always pat myself on the back for a job well done.
The road ahead of me to get to where I want to be will be tough, but I guess I am ready for it.
About a week ago I returned to Singapore to pack up my belongings to be moved permanently to Hong Kong. In was an experience of joy and pain in equal measures, but I am glad I did what I did. It was painful to see your belongings – the equivalent of ten years of your life – being packed into nondescript boxes. Watching your life being reduced to mere piles of stuff has the effect of bringing unknown tears to your eyes.
The few days I spent in the sunny island of Singapore were also a flurry of appointments with friends, back-to-back. It was like… my farewells all over again. But the feeling was different. This is it. This is final. When I handed over my keys, I know I no longer call Singapore my home.
How do you even try to summarise ten years of your life into a list of ten? As I look back into my life in preparation for a retrospective moment as I marched into the unknown realm being 30, I spotted so many memorable moments, both big and small, worth mentioning in my list.
Yes, in mere hours I will bid farewell to the carefree gang of 20s (you lucky bastards!) and hope to be welcomed by the community of 30s. And yes, my life in the recent years have been colourful indeed, interwoven with beads of memory and strings of nostalgia made up of people, places and moments.
I thought it will only be fitting for me to blog my thoughts of my achievements in the past ten years of my life as my 30th birthday approaches.
Are you ready for a stroll down memory lane with me? Here goes:
#1 Coming to Singapore
Possibly the biggest decision I ever made in my life, and one that I have never, ever regretted. Yes, I did leave behind truckload of memories back home. But when the opportunity came knocking, offering me a chance for a better life in a country I never even dream of living in, I took a deep breath, took the plunge… and I never looked back. In a blink of an eye, I have spent ten years of my life in Singapore and grew up from a clueless young man to a slightly less clueless not-so-young man. I dare say my life would never be the same if I stayed put where I was in Malaysia.
#2 World Music Contest 2001
My life had always revolved around school bands. Without a doubt the pinnacle of my musical life was when, as part of the NTU Symphonic Band, I went to participate in WMC 2001 in Kerkrade, Netherlands, and emerged a First Prize winner in the First Division. After months of endless rehearsals, logistical nightmare (I was the band’s welfare officer) and fundraising effort, together with some of my dearest friends, I stood tall at the top of the (band) world. The feeling of being crowned a winner was truly euphoric.
#3 Getting a first class degree
I remember the endless nights when I braved the humidity and piles of lecture notes, trying to cram it all one month before the dreaded exams, in pursuit of something that even I myself have no clear idea of – a good degree. Truth to be told, I do enjoy studying. I enjoy stressing my brain into doing mental gymnastic and coaching my friends into understanding complicated algorithm. The day when my final semester results were announced, when I got my straight As and first class degree, was understandably the best day of my life. And as if that is not enough, I went on to do another diploma in a totally different field… just for the heck of it.
#4 Good career progress
After a month of frantic job hunting upon graduation (it was during the horrific SARS period when everyone was paranoid and the job market plunged), I landed my first job in a field that was totally unrelated to what I studied. My career kicked off in the recruitment industry in a small company which gradually expanded at dizzying speed, enabling me to literally sprint up the career ladder. Since then, I have dabbled in the conference sector, which saw good money but was wayyy too political, and then I was back in recruitment again but infused with the Internet. And now here I am in Hong Kong, paving my way to be a good web product guy. I have come a long way from the geeky mechanical engineering graduate who was hell bent on NOT being an engineer, to become a manager with a combination of knowledge and experience which, apparently, few candidates have. I call that a blessing.
#5 Staying on my own
Yet another decision I took which I have never regretted is to move out from a shared flat, stood on my own feet, sacrifice a big part of my income and rent a place to call my own. After years of sharing different abodes with different housemates, an opportunity came along in the form of a dirt cheap yet new flat in Toa Payoh, and I took it. Living alone has taught me a lot of things. Total freedom in building your home life comes with a price you might not be entirely willing to pay. But I learned, and preserved. And without these independent living, I would not be able to throw the endless small dinner gatherings and large birthday parties over the years.
#6 The Singapore Idol Fever
How could my list ever be complete without the mention of what was one craziest thing I ever done? What started as a past time watching Singapore Idol season 1 had quickly exploded into a flurry of late night blogging, furious debates on fandom rivalry, and eventually the birth of the official site of the first Singapore Idol, Taufik Batisah. Getting to know the man himself and running his fan site and fan club were no joke. Had it not been for a gang of die hard supporters, I would have fizzled out long time ago. After three years of toiling for the Fiknatics, I called it quit together with Cheryl and Shafik, my two BFFs whom, without TB.net, I would not have the blessing to be acquainted with. The three of us have sure come a long way from dabbling in that dreaded forum to be at where we are today. Aren’t you glad? I am eternally grateful.
#7 Losing weight
It started at the start of 2008, when a date commented how I need to change my wardrobe, and I realised I have not been buying new clothes since, like, forever. The reason was that I told myself I will buy new clothes when I lose weight, which of course never happened. So I signed up at the gym, got myself a personal trainer, and worked hard. Coupled with my various diet plans (some successful, some not), I achieved what I wanted to do – to stop being a dumpling only a 40″ pants can fit. Today, I no longer tip the scale at 90 kg, and I can wear jeans of 32″ comfortably, and at times t-shirts sized S fit nicely too. I shudder to think if I ever go back to the way I was. Don’t believe me? Check this out. This was taken back end 2007. How time flies.
#8 Falling in love
Ahhhh… the four letter word. What can I say? Everyone fall in and out of love at some point of their lives, me included. Perhaps I am more melodramatic than most when it comes to affairs of the heart. I have had serious relationships before, as well as pseudo-relationship (you know, the ones you thought you are in one but the other person don’t). Flings and dates came and go, and through all the ups and downs, I have learned what it meant to be in love, and to know what I am looking for in life. And I can proudly say that, when the right person comes along, I will know. I am not a perfect person, but I hope eventually someone will see the imperfect me, perfectly.
#9 Joining Singapore Men’s Chorus
As I look back at my blog entries, I was amazed by the number of times I said I can’t sing. The truth is… I can’t. Yet I made it through the auditions for the Singapore Men’s Chorus joining the stellar line up of bass singers. Though the SMC I got to know friends whom are very dear to me. Despite my short five months with the lads, I truly enjoy the time spent singing and dancing with them. I was sorely disappointed for not being able to perform even one season with them, due to my relocation, but the friendships we nurtured, hopefully, will last for life.
#10 Travel the world
After saving very hard during the first few months of my working life, I embarked on my very first holiday on my own terms – it was Bangkok – and the travel bug got me for good. Since then, I have been spending most, if not all, of my savings on traveling to places near and far. I relish the feeling of packing up for a trip, the journey to the airport, the facilities on the flight, and of course, the adventure in an unknown land where everything is new and foreign to you. Phuket was my favorite, having been there for seven trips in a space of 1.5 years, but nothing beat my winter holiday last year, when I spent three days at the magical Santorini, Greece. And yes, I will be back.
So there you have it, the ten achievements of my life in the past ten years. Do I feel proud of myself? I do. I would not have done things any differently, given a choice. Through my years, I have my friends and family to thank for helping me shaping the person I am today.
As I move into the unknown future of the 30s, I know things will be different and exciting at a totally different level. Life will pan out in ways I could not imagine, and the road ahead will be paved with bumps and potholes I can’t be prepared for. It could only mean one thing – an adventure.
Being independent means you study day and night to get good enough results to secure a scholarship for your own education
Being independent means the very first business shirt you own is the one you bought for the scholarship interview, and the one you still wear for years later
Being independent means putting up with staying in cramped dorms and with smelly neighbours at a god-forsaken place for four years, and not having a whole apartment to yourself
Being independent means your two legs are your main mode of transport, not a set of four wheels
Being independent means you go home to your family with nothing more than S$2 in your pocket, because you know if you tell them, they’ll worry
Being independent means you endure weeks enduring plain rice with luncheon meat and fried egg as you stretch your already-tiny daily budget of S$1.20
Being independent means getting As is reward enough for your own benefits, and not because your family needs to reward you for something that is not even for them
Being independent means you slog through your first month upon graduation trying to find a job because your survival depends on it, and not enjoying a long holiday like everyone else
Being independent means you wear your father’s office clothes when you do your attachment, and when you first go out into the working world (and get laughed at)
Being independent means you work hard, get a top degree from a reputable university, get a good job, impress your bosses, get promoted, provide for your family, travel the world, hang out with your friends, buy pretty things… on your own terms.
So stop complaining that you are being compared to me. You are NOTHING compared to me. You are given a chance to have a stab of being partially responsible for your own life, and you are throwing it away.