The magic is all in the preparation

Since three weeks ago, I have been working a second job to fund for my trip to Japan.

My goal is to reach $1000. That’s how much spending money I’m giving myself for the whole trip.

It’s not that I don’t have $1000 saved up, it’s just that part of the fun of this trip has been the preparation: meeting up with friends over the weekend, planning our itinerary, taking photos for our International Driving Licences and now, working casual jobs to fund for our trip.

In the past 4 months, I have been catching up with my friends about once a week! That’s a lot for me.

I have learnt a lot about my friends in these past four months. I’ve learnt that they’re thoughtful and interesting, that they make me laugh, especially with their stories. I’ve learnt that we are different, yet the same, and I know that I am going to have a blast in Japan, because of the people I will be going with.

The magic is all in the build up to the trip. These moments with friends are special. That’s why people say the magic is all in the journey. Now I can’t look away for fear it will end in a blink.

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.

The secret book club

Since things haven’t been turning out as I had hoped they would, I’ve a little more spare time on my hands. So I decided to do something a little unusual today.

I placed an ad in the local newspaper asking for kids to join a book club.

Now I don’t know how well or disastrous this will turn out, or whether anyone will even respond to my ad, but I thought it would be good to at least do something to encourage kids to read.

I used to work in the library, and during my time there I read to kids, and did lots of fun activities with them. The most memorable moments were when the kids would come up to me and talk to me while their parents were exhausted and napping on the couch.

I remember with joy when a little four year old boy came up to me and we had a full on conversation about everything you could ever talk about on the planet. He had so much to say and I was really surprised by how well he could hold a conversation.

I even made a little friend while I was working there. To this day we talk on FB once or twice a year. Our conversations are quite brief, I don’t think she can stay on FB for long, but I actually think it’s quite funny that once or twice out of the blue, I’ll see a message pop up and it’s from her.

Anyway, wish me luck. I really hope this book club thing kicks off. I guess what I’m really looking forward to is seeing some of the kids make friends with each other and have huge smiles on their faces.

Finding treasure

I knew somebody who knows of a place to look for gold. Somewhere up North. The first time he contacted me, he was already there, bent over backwards under the baked sun, scanning the ground for gold. He used a tiny piece of equipment, the picture he sent me wasn’t too clear, but there amongst the sludge of grime and dirt were specs of gold. It wasn’t much, he grunted.

Later on, he showed me his collection of gems. Emerald, pearl, and sapphire. I even got some for my birthday. Not the store-bought ones that people give each other on special occasions, but the raw ones. Tiny, tiny stones. And he even proved to me that they were real, with that little equipment of his that buzzed when it touched genuine stone. He knew his stones. Even his last name meant stone.

I thought he was either a con man, or a black market dealer, someone who shouldn’t be trusted.

But I didn’t know anybody like that, so I found him interesting to talk to.

I uncovered facts about him. He was a loner of sorts who travelled around the world, but he could carry on a conversation with ease and make someone feel as though they were being listened to.

I taught him what a metaphor was by giving him a rose.

Some time later, when I came back from my trip overseas, I found him alone and sunken. He wasn’t the same person anymore. He lost his attentiveness, his soft-spoken voice and his sense of curiosity about people.

Genuine stone never loses its shine, but this stone lost his.

The trouble with using an equipment to find treasure is that sometimes machines can get faulty or stuck. He had scanned his equipment over the piece of ground, and it had passed over the single most biggest treasure he could have ever found, and it didn’t buzz.

Sometimes there are no easy ways of knowing when we’ve found our treasure or when we’ve lost it. I often wonder, where did that person go? The one that bent his back looking for treasure under the hot baked sun. He no longer does that anymore. Instead, he sits there on the couch, watching TV, letting other people find his treasure.

The treasure seeker couldn’t even see the gold that was right in front of him.

Stones are put under pressure to see what they are made of.

A letter to the universe

At some point in my life, I began collecting diaries. I believed that if I wrote down the things that I wanted to achieve, then I’d be putting my thoughts out to the universe and somehow they would come true. It was like writing a letter to the universe. That’s why I own 30 diaries and counting.

But when the universe was busy reading someone else’s letter, I grew complacent and made a few mistakes. It all began when I started daydreaming about becoming a writer. I’d spend evenings working on my writing skills and mornings working on work. I thought I had a good balance going, but then came the big complaint at work.

An email came through just as I was about to go home. A few words in and my heart sank. Disappointing, she had commented. For the next few days, everyone tried to find out how I had made those mistakes. Stupid, really, it was just a lack of common sense. But it had a domino effect. Every small mistake I made was now viewed as a big mistake. I didn’t even trust myself anymore.

That was when a friend invited me along to a science conference by Michio Kaku. I’d never heard of him before, but I thought I’d give it a go. I was glad to spend my thoughts away from my mistakes and enjoy being in the company of my good friend.

Michio Kaku looked like a Japanese Einstein. He had the iconic, shoulder-length white hair and he was no doubt, just as smart. He talked about all these big ideas: the universe, string theory, Elon Musk’s BFR and the future of mankind. A little stab of panic rose in my chest. Was everyone this smart?

When he opened the floor for questions, the intelligence in the room was overpowering. “What happens when muons bend and time slows down? What happens to the junk in space? Can we download our data into avatars, and what is a soul?” were just some of the big questions directed at the mighty scientist.

Somehow, someone in the audience struck up the courage to ask Dr. Kaku a ‘slightly unrelated science question’: “Dr. Kaku, how did you sustain your passion long enough to carve out a great career?”

This peaked my interest, because I thought it had some relevance to my life.

The mighty scientist seemed to love this question. He himself had asked it many times before, to the 300 scientists he’d interviewed on his radio station. He began by telling us about the ten year old story.

He said that all successful scientists began with the ten year old story. It was the age when they received their first telescope and saw the night sky for the first time. They remembered the feeling of joy at seeing something so vast right before their eyes. Remembering the joy, was what sustained their passion throughout their career.

At the end of the talk, my friend turned to me and said, “See, you don’t need to have common sense to be successful.”

I nodded. Three hundred scientists can back up his sentiments.

The thing is, I keep trying to be like someone else, but in the end I always fall back into myself. Like stars collapsing in the universe, that’s when we shine the brightest.