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.

My catharsis

Like the ending to a Shakespearean tragedy, the drama in the last 6 months of my life has drawn to a close. I am in the third Act of this particularly gruelling scene, and I am experiencing a kind of catharsis that I thought would never come.

At the height of my pain, I was rejected twice: first by love, then in my career.

Driven by a need to want it all, I can’t help but compare myself to all those tragic, Shakespearean heroes who I read about at school. I thought they were so silly and dramatic for causing their own demise by pandering to their egos.

How naive I was to think that I would never fall trap to this kind of thinking. My ego, my pride, my need to be right, has gotten me into so much trouble. It has hurt me more than it has helped.

So, on these pages, I’m reminding myself of the vision that I have always had for my life.

In the back of my mind, I have always envisioned myself as a writer of children’s books. I would start the day early and sit by my window, writing a few pages before the rest of the world woke up.

I don’t need to earn a lot or travel extensively. I am not an expensive person, but someone who prefers the simple life.

I know of two people like that. An elderly couple who comes to the studio where I work. The wife writes, and her husband markets her books. He has the most soothing voice I’ve ever heard, the voice of someone who has found his meaning in life and is at peace.

They are an arm’s reach away from me, but a lifetime of dedication away from where I am.

I now know why good things don’t come to me suddenly. When they do, I become afraid to lose them, grabbing at their strings, and diminishing myself to half the person that I am. Good things come to me slowly, so that through the process, I gain confidence without losing who I am.

Lately, I’ve stripped myself bare of all the things that weigh me down, so that I can recognise the good when it arrives in front of me.

The good that is my family and friends.

Also, I am getting ready for my trip to Japan in a few months time. And I am really looking forward to it.

Let’s hope that the next 6 months of my life will start to resemble a Shakespearean comedy, or a Shakespearean love story, minus all that tragedy.

But we all know that’s not how life works. We get the good and the bad. For now, I’m bruised and sore, but enjoying the good that has landed on my shoulders before it flies away.

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.

Wandering without a religion

People always find it strange when I tell them that I don’t have a religion, as if I should’ve been born with one, like the hair on my head, or the skin on my back.

All I can say to them is that I never came with one. My parents aren’t religious, but they’re not atheists either. I always have to add in this last part as if not being religious automatically classifies us in opposition with whatever religion people believe in.

But from time to time, when I feel lost and out of my element, I have yearned for the guidance and support that people in community groups receive.

And the question that sometimes springs to my head is: How do I belong? Where do I belong if I don’t belong there?

Over time I have discovered that I belong in libraries and bookshops, in the comfort of an author’s words. Whenever I need guidance, I turn to books for advice and in them I find solace.

Who’s to say that reading isn’t a religion in itself, when it’s brought me great purpose and taught me how to have an open mind?

Wandering alone in the dark, I found my religion in their words.

Maybe this is why we read, and why in moments of darkness we return to them: To find words for what we already know. ~Alberto Manguel.

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.

The stutterer who writes

The way I speak is different to the way I write. When I speak, I stutter, and feel like such a grown-up fool. I’ve tried to talk slowly, but busy people look at me uncomfortably, and try to hurry me along.

When I write, I also stutter. But a blank page is more patient than a person, so I let myself stumble and play with the words before I get it right.

You might be a stutterer like me, but in a different area of your life. You might stumble in your relationships and fall down many times in your career.

But don’t worry. The stutterer in you is searching for a place to flourish.

Tomorrow, when I return to the place of Impatience, I’m going to remind myself that there’s a blank page waiting for me to shine.

Call of the wild

A few months ago, I had the most epic apocalyptic dream:

I was vacationing on an island, with my mum, dad, and sister, when a huge tsunami swept everyone away, leaving only my sister and I clinging onto the balcony of our hotel.

When we looked around, we saw a giant crocodile statue wrapped around the entire hotel building.

Except that it wasn’t a statue, it was a real crocodile.

And it wasn’t just any crocodile, it was a giant, prehistoric crocodile.

So my sister and I made our way slowly down the building, trying not to disturb the beast, when we noticed something interesting.

Tucked away underneath the foot of the crocodile was an old box. We opened it and found an old casette player and a tape inside, so we played it.

A man’s voice crackled:

“Mayday! Mayday! This is M.C. Mcdonell. I’m on an island, and there’s been a huge tsunami. I’m the only known survivor and there’s a giant crocodile wrapped around the hotel-”

The tape stopped playing.

We all stared at each other.

“You mean to say,” my sister said, “that this has happened before?”

“I’m afraid it’s happening again.”

And that was the end of my dream. I really wanted to know what happened next, but I woke up and never got to finish dreaming.

So I went on a dig down at the library to satisfy my longing for that dream-like apocalyptic feeling.

And there, right in front of me was an old classic, rewrapped and rebound in new. I’d never read the book before, but there was an image of a prehistoric beast rearing its head on the front cover.

It reminded me of those old adventure movies I used to watch, like Indiana Jones, and The Mummy, and it had the faint whiff of my dream, so I stood there in the middle of the library, reading the first few pages:

For it is only when a man goes out into the world, with the thought that there are heroisms all round him… that he breaks away from the life he knows…and ventures forth into the twilight mystic land where lie the great adventures and rewards.

Which is why, in following the author’s advice, I ventured out, or rather, up, onto a mountain, 50 metres above ground, with Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World in my mind.

So next time if you have a dream, answer the call of your dream. It might lead you to discover one more awesome book and if you’re willing to follow it, it might lead you to the next part of your adventure.