There is no war in love

I’ve been thinking of home lately. Not my parent’s home here in New Zealand, but the old one, my first home back in China, and even the one before then; the home my grandparents first lived in.

Taking me back to their home gives me a sense of pride in the midst of all my failures.

Lately, my senses have been dulled and worn down by the pain of heartbreak, by the shame of self-pity, and the doom of seeing no way out.

But when I think back to where we came from, I am reminded of the strength that existed before my time and which will always be a part of me.

My grandfather saw his neighbour gunned down next to him.

Waking up in a world full of uncertain tomorrows made life more sweet and precious. There on the sidewalk, with the blood of his neighbour’s son, uncertainty crafted his strength.

As the oldest, he raised his sisters from the poor to the strong. He was a strict man, a gentle man, and a practical man. He wouldn’t have spent his waking hours wallowing in self-pity. One hour of pity meant one less day of food.

He knew the difference between love and war.

War was hunger, getting shot at and families parting.

Love was in my grandmother. Taking care of her, looking after her, giving her a better life.

He did not see war in love, even after my grandmother had a stroke that forced him to give up his love of travel.

He cried when he had to give it up. But he cried harder when he almost lost my grandmother.

He was strong in this kind of way. Strong enough to know what was truly important.

Yes, he is still alive. Still, after all these years, there is a twinkle in the corner of his eyes, a gift from the universe for his unwavering optimism. That is the only thing I have inherited, his twinkle.

A few months ago, my mum told me that the twinkle in my eye had gone. How sad that made me feel, to have lost the one thing that connects me to my grandfather’s strength.

But what existed before will always be there. Although faded, weary and momentarily hidden from sight, a little spark, a little patience, will ignite it once again.

There is no straight path out of a broken heart

I thought that sadness was something linear, like the passage of time. That it would decrease as the weeks went by and I would feel better each day.

I thought sadness looked something like this:

Sadness graph - A linear line showing how sadness decreases over time

But the more I got to know sadness, the more it looked like this:

Sadness graph - a spiky graph that shows sadness zigzags up and down

A zigzaggy shape, with spikes that go up and down.

Sometimes the sadness builds up to extreme anger, then dies down again. Like a broken heartbeat.

It’s strange to think that time heals everything when time and sadness don’t move in the same direction.

Time moves forward. Sadness moves up and down.

Time wants me to get up, go to work, eat lunch, catch the bus.

Sadness wants me to stop.

Time says it won’t wait for me.

Sadness wants me to go to his house, knock on his door and beg for an apology.

Time says I don’t have time for that.

Sadness wants to go back in time.

Time knows it can’t go back.

Sadness argues that he still cares.

Time proves that he doesn’t.

Sadness lives in fantasy.

Time lives in reality.

Time forces me to do the things I don’t want to do.

Perhaps that’s why they say time heals everything.

It’s a force against my bad judgment. It’s the pull of linear events that interrupts this rumination.

It’s the moon to my tide.

Before today, it terrified me to find that there was no straight path out of a broken heart. The way out was fraught with thorns and fallen branches. One step forward opened fresh wounds. One misstep took me to a dark place. In the midst of all the pain, the path left behind, became deceitfully safer than the path forward.

As I was contemplating which path to take, time showed up and whispered to me:

Hope is in the future, pain is in the past.

So fixing on the road ahead, I took one step forward and saw a faint light.

It is not much, but it is where I am, in my journey out of heartbreak.

The friendship pact

The friendship pact is one of those promises that you make with your friends about the future. That wherever you are, whatever time of year it is, you pick up your bags and meet at a designated place for that year.

My Dad has a friendship pact with his University classmates, and every year for 40 years, those who can make it, and those who are still alive, come together, from wherever they are in the world, some in America, some in New Zealand, to honour this pact.

Only one classmate out of the 20 or so classmates will never be able to make it to a reunion. He was shot dead in the head for poisoning his neighbour.

Last year, my entire family got a chance to attend this reunion in China. To be honest, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. I was more excited to see Shanghai and Hong Kong, the big, modern cities, rather than the local destinations that we would be meeting at.

But as always, low expectations turned into pleasant surprises, and this local destination became the highlight of my trip.

As soon as we arrived in Sanming, China, and my Dad spotted one of his classmates waiting by a post, he transformed from “an ordinary Dad” to an animated, loud schoolboy, exuding life and vibrancy. One by one, as more of his classmates found each other in the crowd, and embraced, there was an excitement in the air that brought this little town to life.

They talked in furious frenzy, from the platform all the way to the train ride to our hotel, until the train staff had to tell them to keep it down.

The intangible happiness that their friendship brought, was something that could not be mirrored on our solo trip to Shanghai or Hong Kong. Bustling and crowded as these modern cities were, there was only a surface-level of enjoyment that washed away after a few nights spent there.

The places that we went to at this local destination was truly magical. For one of our activities, we bamboo rafted across the lake. We were surrounded by boulders taller and bigger than skyscrapers so we had to crane our necks to take in the whole view. One of my Dad’s classmates burst into song, and the melody traveled across the boulders and echoed around to the back and the front of our pack.

Another of my Dad’s classmates caught a fish in his hands and he stared at it in wide-eyed wonder, like a schoolboy who had caught his first catch of the day.

Left and right I caught glimpses of these rare expressions that brought warmth to my heart. Whether bamboo rafting, or squeezing through narrow caves, there was an energy all around that was so special that I wish I could’ve put it inside a treasure box and carried it back home.

Our last night ended with a performance. The room was booked and the stage was set. As the youngest member there, my task was to play the drum roll while everybody else passed a bag around. Whoever it landed it on when the drum roll stopped, would have to go up on stage and perform. This was a case of anxiety for everyone who was nervous about performing, so the bag got thrown around like hot potatoes.

But when the “unlucky ones” got on stage, they performed beautifully. There was Chinese folk dancing, ballroom dancing and singing. Someone else had a go at playing the drum and somehow the bag landed between my sister and me, so we had to go up on stage and perform. Unlike the others, we had not prepared for our act, so we chose to sing Avril Lavigne’s Complicated, a horrible choice because our voices shook while we tried to sing the fast-paced chorus. I was also wearing large bathroom slippers, so they were protruding out from the velvet stage.

Since that day, I have brought back with me the memory of that trip. Those memories were locked in my mind, but now I’ve opened the lock and let them out. Instead of wishing to belong, I have made plans with friends to share experiences together. Instead of planning in my head, we have been planning together. Instead of talking, we have been doing.

My friends and I are going to Japan in November, and then South East Asia next year. And then mid next year, we are hoping that we can all make a permanent move to a new country. We are helping each other save money for these trips, by introducing each other to part-time jobs that we can do outside of our day jobs. We are sharing a common goal and most importantly, we are doing it together.

Our friendship pact is just beginning. But I hope that it will grow old with us, just as my Dad’s did.

Speaking from the heart takes time

Last week was the first time I had told the man who broke my heart how his actions had affected me in silent ways.

Everyday, I would get up fearing the world and the perfectly beautiful strangers around me. Everyone seemed to be loved by somebody, and I hated seeing it for fear that it would cast a shadow over my own unlovable self.

Until the past week, I had kept silent, letting my emotions fester in their own pit of agony, with the occasional outbursts of anger. At work, I made multiple mistakes, was distracted and always zoning out. I carried myself around with as little energy as I possibly could, retiring to bed early and waking up late.

Truthfully, I was ashamed of being sad over something that wasn’t real. I questioned why I was angry, even told myself that I shouldn’t feel this way. I never told my friends or family how deeply it cut. Only downplayed my sadness.

Whenever I spoke to him, it was always in a friendly manner, as if I had to appease him for some wrongdoing I had inflicted.

Sometimes, my anger would come out, for small, petty things, like when he cut our meeting short, or if he seemed bored or inattentive.

This gave him the impression that I was always a temperamental person and only confirmed his decision about me.

I was afraid that confronting him would only make things worse, that I would lose him forever. So I always apologised for my short outbursts.

In truth, I was deeply hurt. Just kept pretending. Not knowing where or who to turn to.

But last week, the fear of losing myself to anger and sadness became far greater than the fear of losing him.

So I spoke out.

It took me many tries, a few angry starts, but I got to the truth in the end.

I told him that I had suffered mentally in the past few months by pretending that I was ok. I told him that time doesn’t heal wounds, only covers them. I told him all the above I have just mentioned here.

And then an unexpected thing happened.

By giving a voice to the shame I had felt for being in love, my anger and sadness melted away. Like watered-down glue, they peeled away from me and stopped lingering in the open wounds of my heart.

I started emerging from the brain fog I had been feeling for the last few months. I started caring about my work, my dreams, my goals, my life.

I am still tinged with sadness, but it is not the anxious kind that needs to be tended to straight away. It is more a calming sadness. A sadness that knows it needs not do anything. A sadness that knows that in time, it will heal. But this kind of healthy sadness only comes after speaking truthfully.

I have realised that speaking from the heart is necessary and always takes time. It pays off if the person on the other end is willing to sit there and listen to you patiently, without rushing you in any way.

But he is not that kind of person.

Even though I would still like to talk things through, I am not holding my breath.

I am excited for the future, humbled, and most importantly still not cynical of love.

Kayaking on top of a dormant volcano

Every morning, to get to work, I drive past a lagoon. At exactly 8:00 a.m the surface of the lagoon is 180 degrees, flat and calm, producing a mirror-like effect.

I’ve driven past this lagoon at different times of the day: 8:15 a.m, 9:00 a.m, 12:00 p.m, and 5:45 p.m, but at no other time does the surface look as close to a mirror than at 8:00 a.m.

This is the lagoon’s magic hour.

From the road, you can easily glance at the lagoon and become mesmerised by it, forgetting that you are driving during peak traffic hour. For this reason, I’ve stopped driving the car, and take the bus to work instead, so that I can watch the lagoon as the bus drives by.

The history of the lagoon belies its calm surface. It is the product of a volcanic eruption, 28,000 years ago, forming a deep crater that extends unseen below the surface.

Of course, it’s dormant now, so it’s pretty safe to swim there, but I wouldn’t go down too far.

A body was once found by the edge of the lagoon, at 8:30 a.m, half an hour after the magic hour.

For this reason, I only go to the lagoon a few hours after 8:00 a.m, when the surface no longer resembles a mirror and the tide starts to move in and out.

There is a bank halfway around the lagoon that slopes down into the waters. This is the only way to get your kayak into the water.

You have to park your van there and carry the kayak out of the trunk, then push it gently down the slope until it rests in the water.

At this time of the day, the waves slosh around the basin, and seagulls line up in rows, bobbing on branches. Once or twice they dive down to catch some unseen creature lurking beneath the lagoon. 

I do a few laps around the lagoon, then when I feel tired, I park the kayak in the middle of the lagoon, rest my paddles to the side, and let the tide carry me whichever way it’s going.

If you are brave enough, you can also bring a book along to read. But this is only if you are not afraid of getting your book wet.

I suggest bringing along a copy of “The Lost World” by Arthur Conan Doyle because then you can imagine that you are really on an adventure.

This makes me sound so adventurous, but really, I’m not. I just like the sound of the birds, the crisp evening air and the tranquility of being alone on the lagoon. This is perhaps the perfect hour for writing a novel or getting some reflective thinking done.

See? That’s the power of this lagoon. Every hour is a magic hour for something to happen.

You can read more articles from me on Medium. If you are are Medium member and you like this post, please give ma clap! 

Books should make children feel powerful

The fondest memory that I have as a child was listening to my teacher read Narnia.

Every afternoon at exactly 2:00p.m. we would stop whatever we were doing and sit there and listen.

If we were loud and boisterous one moment, we were quiet and in awe the next.

I was a playground junkie, I loved playing tag at lunchtimes with my friends. We would take over the entire playground with our shouts and running feet, but whenever it was 2:00 p.m, I would sit there on the carpet, arms crossed and turn silent.

I still remember quite clearly why I loved the book. It was the feeling that it gave me. I could see the images running through my own head as if they were scenes in a movie. Images of a boy running away from a witch, dropping down into a black hole, of children being tied to a tree and a mysticism that surrounded the whole story.

That was how my nine year old brain interpreted C.S Lewis’s words. I saw them as pictures and felt them, and no matter how many hours had passed, they stuck to my mind and imprinted themselves like memories.

As I grew older, into my teen and young adult years, I realised the power that stories gave to me.

They got me out of bed and made me run up a hill. They made me teach myself skills when I didn’t think I was smart enough. They made me see a different side to me when I didn’t believe in me. And they made me realise to always, always cherish the parts in yourself that you hate. Because somehow, miraculously those faults always turned out to be the one thing that gave you your greatest power.

I discovered that stories were the constant anchor I held onto during transitional moments in my life. They gave me a moment to pause and catch my breath before I was strong enough to swim back to shore.

Nowadays, I feel a tingling sensation course through my body when I find myself in the right section of a bookstore. It’s as if the excited nerves in my body are greeting an old friend. And all because of a book I listened to every afternoon at school.

The rain and I

Sitting here on the couch today, I’ve made a decision not to sell myself short.

I’ve decided I’m going to stand up for myself when other people say “you’re not good enough.”

I’ve decided to say “yes, I am.”

I’m no longer going to please people as if my life depended on it.

These past few days, I’ve seen a change in my habits. I no longer procrastinate, I stick to the things that I say I’m gonna do and I am more disciplined than ever.

I have become this way not because I am strong or successful, but because I have failed.

I have failed and realised that I didn’t want to diminish myself anymore.

Today I cried buckets and buckets of tears. Today, the plan that I had set into motion didn’t pan out.

But that’s ok, because when the rain speaks, nothing else can be heard. It’s just the rain and I. Stripping away all the inessentials.