Don’t Date A Girl Who Travels

This article has been making its rounds;
naturally, I had to give my two cents’.

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Don’t date a girl who travels. She’s the one that turns up at a friend’s birthday party in hippie pants, dirty Timberlands and dragging a backpack because she only just came back.

And perhaps she might have the potential to look more beautiful, but she’s not going to shell out big bucks on a nice wardrobe and skincare when nobody’s going to notice how she looks when she’s ziplining across a gorge or jumping out of a plane.

Don’t date a girl who travels because she has no clue where the best sales are in town, or which new DJ is playing at which new club, or what gigs are happening this weekend. Instead, she’ll know useless information like when Rang De Holi is taking place in India, or Songkran in Thailand, or which months are best to view the aurora borealis.

Don’t date a girl who travels. She won’t have a steady income, and she’ll be a scrooge about spending, especially on herself. Worse still, she’ll be impractically generous with spending on experiences and family and friends.

And yes, she will even make ridiculously stupid decisions like turning down a job that offers her twice the amount of pay, just because it isn’t something she’s passionate about and/or doesn’t allow her enough time to explore.

Don’t date a girl who travels if you can’t stand being surrounded by her contagious zest for life and infectious spirit of positivity. You’ll never understand why she’s happy all the time despite having so little in life.

Don’t date her and talk about dreams that you aren’t even making a real effort to fulfill, because she’s been there, done that; she knows exactly what it’s like to have a dream and then drop everything in crazy pursuit of it.

Don’t date a girl who travels if you can’t deal with the way she’s so fickle minded about everything, sometimes needing to plan things in advance, and yet other times so spontaneous. She will never have a pattern that you can predict, and you’ll never really “get” her.

Don’t date a girl who travels if you can’t face the fact that she’s always going to crave the mountains more than she craves you, that she would rather spend the weekend hiking than staying in watching television with you.

Don’t date someone like that if you have a hero complex and need to boost your ego through saving the needy damsel in distress, because she’s way too independent and capable of solving her own problems to ever really need your help.

Don’t date a girl who travels because you’re probably not going to see much of her. She won’t drop all her plans for you. She won’t arrange her flight schedules around dates. She won’t sit by the phone waiting for you to ask her out. She’s got a life of her own.

Don’t date a girl like that because when she is around, when she is with you, when she gets the opportunity to do so, she will love you 100%. She will shower you with kisses and affection. She will embrace and cherish every moment with you. She will let herself feel without fear of being hurt, she will invest her all, and she will throw herself into loving you, because she knows that life is too short to play games or hold herself back or have regrets.

Don’t date a girl who travels, because gawd, she’ll want to share all of life’s beauty and wonders and adventure with you.

And if you do fall in love with one, god bless your soul, because your life is never going to be the same again. Bless your body, that it may be able to keep up with that level of excitement and adventure. Bless your mind, that it can continue soaking in all the wonder that you’ll share together. But most of all, bless your heart, that it doesn’t burst with all that love you’ll naturally feel for someone so amazing as the girl who travels.

5 Reasons Why Travelling Isn’t Just About Reckless YOLOing

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In the last year especially, there’s been an explosion of articles persuading each and every one of us to drop what we have and just get out there and do it. Travel. Some of them are so inspirational and so motivational, all we want to do is march into our boss’s office, throw that pile of work on their desk and say, “You know what? I quit. I’m gonna travel the world. Hmph!” and then stride out of there with our head held high, smirk on our faces, knowing that life will never be the same again. It’s going to be amazing and wonderful and exciting and– because, well, YOLO, and I’m darn well going to make the best of it.

These articles even tell us how we should be travelling. Oh, the best plan is not to have a plan at all! Just get yourself to a place (in fact, maybe standing at the airport and randomly deciding where to go is the best way to decide), then explore the shit out of everything, follow strangers you meet, go crazy! Advice like this has promoted a kind of reckless mentality in which one flings all caution to the wind, ignores better judgment, and just, does whatever one feels like. Because you can. And so you should.

I’m a bit worried about this kind of thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for travelling. It is and will always be the best thing I’ve done with my life. I saw my first black swan at age 2 and I thank my parents for introducing me to a world so different from the one my peers knew, such that when they were studying hard for PSLE, I was roasting marshmallows in a bonfire next to a babbling brook in the middle of a dewy forest in New York.

And I absolutely think there is something magical about how a chance encounter with a stranger in a teahouse in Tibet can lead to dancing with the locals to Chinese propaganda songs in the middle of a Liberation Square, no doubt about that.

But you have to understand: You can’t throw all caution to the wind. You can’t do everything you want just because. Travelling is a rite of passage for the young that I firmly advocate, not because it’s the only time you can do what you want and get away with it, but frankly quite the opposite – it’s when you’ll be forced to be completely responsible for yourself, and make some tough, grown-up decisions, like:

1. Choosing priorities
Yeah, you’re young and invincible. You can do everything. There will be one million places that you’ll want to visit, each of them beautiful and magical and life changing. You will be less of a person if you miss out on even one of them. It’s going to be the one that people will talk about for ages and you will regret forever that you missed out that one.

I’m sorry, but Reality Check: You’re never gonna do it all. I’m afraid you’ll have to pick and choose some based on the time you have, the resources available to you, the practicality of transport, safety, and yes, sadly, how much money you have. Yes, I hate to break it to you, but you are bound by the same limitations as the rest of us. And it’s a good thing; because you’ll pick up the infinitely useful skill of prioritising, of being able to weigh merits and come to the best logical, practical decision that you can still live with. A skill that’ll come in handy not only in the workplace but for the rest of your life.

2. Choosing value
Crazy public bus VS high-speed train or flight… Crazy public bus will win, every time. I mean, what you would give to be squashed with sweaty strangers shoving their crotches in your face, right! It’s an experience! Besides, it costs like a quarter of a flight! Yay to savings!

Alright, do it once. Take that photo of 30 people balancing on top of the bus. And then realize there are benefits to shelling out a bit more money and getting a more advanced mode of transport, not for luxury, but because it’s safer, or it saves you time, which you can spend recuperating before a trek or exploring the town to look for good accommodations as opposed to reaching a place absolutely knackered and having to settle for the first shady shack you see just so you can crash.

3. Choosing tours
It’s like the most offensive four-lettered word you could ever utter to a backpacker:
T-O-U-R. No, they’ll adamantly refuse, no day tours, no guides, no travelling with other people, I want an adventure, I can do this on my own, with my trusty Lonely Planet guide.

Well, you’ll discover the benefits of a guide on a hike when you’re unconscious after having fallen down a ravine. And you’ll never read the story about how his family was tortured by the enemy in your guidebook. You might not find out how the locals really think about what’s happening. You might not know that they’re facing the same issues in Eastern Europe right now. And you might not discover that secret spot even Lonely Planet doesn’t know about. (*Gasp! No way!*)

There are loads of benefits from travelling with others or on tours. Again, it’s up to you to weigh the pros and cons and come to a decision that suits you. But just don’t be so quick to toss it out – there’s plenty you could learn from, yes, even a tour.

4. Choosing plans
Somewhere down the line people started looking at you funny like you had herpes if you said you already planned your itinerary. Go with the flow, they say, make plans to break them!

Yeah, we want to live in the moment. When I once said, “What about all that money I’ll owe the bank? Oh, you know what, I’ll just worry about that later,” my friend from Philly congratulated me on successfully sounding like a true blue American. What is this avoidance of planning for the future? Well, guess what, tonight we shall not feast, for tomorrow we shall not die. We’re not gladiators.

You can’t just decide on a whim to go canyoning in winter, just like there are places where you can’t go snowboarding in summer. There are just some times that are better for visiting certain places, and you would do so much better to adhere to these, like avoiding China during the Golden Week, for example, or certain more politically passionate countries during their governmental elections. Plans are good. Plans can keep you alive.

5. Choosing people
This isn’t just a PSA for being wary of strangers. Oh I’ve been crazy stalked, harassed, molested, whatever. Sometimes you just can’t avoid it. I’d like to think it’s a far harder lesson to learn to still be able to want to trust people in general, after having experienced acts of ungraciousness, aggressiveness or violation from people.

But even with the fellow travellers you’ll meet on your journeys – some are worthy friends for a lifetime, others perhaps only for a nighttime. I’ve had some really meaningful connections I’m always still thankful for, and they definitely were not formed waking up the day after a rave in a random fellow’s bed – or barn, for that matter. What you do with the people you meet is entirely up to you, but don’t miss out on the real friendships you could form. Because even when you’re done with traversing the world, these will still mean the world to you. <3

I’m Singaporean, lah!

In this article, one of my fellow countrymen says she doesn’t feel proud to be a Singaporean. “Everyone here is so small minded, everyone here is so submissive, everyone here don’t know how to think outside the box, no one here is creative, everyone here just thinks the same way, full of the same rules, and it’s too rigid for my taste,” she said.

All that sounds like to me is a girl with a serious superiority complex. It’s simple, really: She thinks she’s better than everybody else. She’s open minded, aggressive, creative, an independent thinker, a leader – clearly, she’s different. But, she doesn’t realise that if more Singaporeans were like her, I too, would not be proud to be a Singaporean.

No, no, I get it, really I do. I’m different.

I was just telling my friends the other day that I was sitting in a bistro with a bunch of strangers (locals) I had just met, and how much I struggled being there. I struggled with trying to “get” their conversation, which was pretty much the usual dose of lame slapstick jokes Singaporeans are fond of. When I realised I had started faking laughs, I excused myself and left. I just couldn’t continue.

A part of me longed for witty banter, something clever, and challenging… I stopped myself right there. Oh no, you didn’t, I chastised myself. Did I think that their conversation was “lower class”? Did I think it wasn’t “good enough” for me? Actually, I realised, no. Instead I felt a surge of jealousy. I wish that I could “get” it. I wish I could be happy with that. Yet I was very aware that I thirsted, not necessarily for something more, but something different. Just a different kind of conversation, a different kind of humour.

I’ve noticed this pattern all throughout my life. When I first started school, I only spoke the Queen’s English, and in proper, grammatically correct sentences, and was very conscious of the way certain things are pronounced, like “won” is really “one” and “almonds” are more “armen” than “elmen” (why my father felt it was important I know these things is unclear to me).

This alienated me from most of my classmates in my neighbourhood school. I felt like an outcast. I never knew that even growing up in the same country, would language and culture be such a huge barrier to my developing a sense of belonging here. So in that moment, at aged six, I made a choice. I would have to learn to adapt. I picked up Singlish on my own, from scratch. I learnt to drop articles and pronouns in sentences. I tried to listen to Mandarin songs because my friends did. I ate fishball noodles and mee soto with my friends in the canteen, although most of the time what I really wanted was a Coney dog (note, this despite me never having ever been to Coney Island).

Thankfully, in Primary and Secondary school, I had a bunch of really great friends who would translate everything for me, pretty much the way we would for ang mohs visiting Singapore. But even then, as I sat there watching them talk, I would envy the easy, flowing conversation. I wanted to be a part of it; I wanted to feel like I belonged. But even as my Singlish got more “powderful”, I still felt like an outsider.

As I grew older I noticed my accent becoming more distinguishable. So many people have asked me where it comes from, assuming I’ve lived abroad. My answers have included “American television” and “my dad” and “pop music”, but in all honesty, I don’t know what to put it down to. My theory is that as children we pick up sounds we are exposed to that we like, and imitate them.

Sadly, this again alienated me from people who felt I was “being fake”, that I was putting on an accent in a bid to sound more “atas”. To counter that, I think I’ve put in enough effort over the years to earn myself a “Most Improved Award” in sounding Singlisher – just ask my colleagues. But it’s a constant challenge; I’m always cognizant of how I’m sounding. Occasionally I slip, and it goes back into default American-British mode. It helps a lot to be in the company of Singlish speakers, because it helps me imitate them and sound like them.

But I’m proud of Singlish. I’m proud of not only the fact that we have developed a language that can rightly be called a language on its own, even if it borrows words from various languages, but also, I’m consistently amazed at how brilliant it is. Let’s face it, we’re a lazy people, we don’t even speak with much modulation or intonation. So, talk so much for what? Say so long for what? Got money take? Anyway, in this country, who got so much time to talk so much? Cho kang lah!

If anyone thinks Singlish is easy, they are so wrong. There are so many layers and complexities to the language. Have you ever tried explaining to someone how “Can lah!”, “Can meh?”, “Can hor?”, “Can, not?”, “Can, leh!”, “Can, seh!”, “Can, sial!” differ and the different situations in which you deploy which?

That said, Singlish is just one part of our culture that I’m proud of. I’m also proud of what a brilliant idea it was to build HDBs to solve the squatting crisis in the sixties. (Note: Even now, I am very conscious that it should actually be “HDB flats” and not actually “Housing Development Boards”, but Singaporeans say “HDBs”!) Whomever invented pepper crab and salted egg crab (and sambal stingray and ohluak and satay and nasi biryani and roti prata and…) deserves a Nobel food prize. And I love how much greenery there is in Singapore everywhere you look, even if it really does not explain why we are all myopic.

I love so many things about Singapore and about being Singaporean. This will always be #home, #truly. Even if I will never truly belong here. Even as I continue my search to find a little corner of the world I can truly feel I belong.

But I am certainly not better than anyone else. I’m just different. I hope this girl gets a dose of reality. I hope she manages to get out into the world and find herself in difficult situations where she’s completely stripped of all her comforts and that she gets to meet a gazillion people who are so much more brilliant than she’ll ever be. I believe the lessons she’ll learn in humility will make her such an amazing person that I will be proud to call my fellow Singaporean.

10 Things All Post-Secondary Students Should Know

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Published in t’s magazine, December 2013 issue

 

Yay! It’s over! Your first 10 years of formal education are done. You’re standing at the threshold of a new beginning. It starts with choosing a poly or JC, and choosing what you’re going to be studying; but really, it’s about making the right choices for yourself to get to where you want to be. There’s a ton of advice available out there, but here’s some we think might be especially important and relevant to you right now, in sort of a Life Hack: Student Edition.

1. Give yourself room to grow

We considered doing up a table of comparisons between typical poly life and JC life to give you a better overview of what youo might be “getting yourself into”. But you know what? Your life should never ever be “typical”. Your tertiary education life will be what you make of it; choose the place that will best allow you to explore what you love, who you are, and who you’ll become.

2. Give everything a chance

That group member you just want to slap. That assignment that seems too difficult to do. At some point you’ll start to realize that life will throw you some lemons – and what you make of them will shape your character for life. It’s a learning journey, and it can get quite difficult, but stay open-minded. Difficult situations have a way of turning into life lessons, and they might even surprise you sometimes. Even that group member.

3. Find your identity

The next few years will probably be a lot about experimentation and finding out who you are inside. But so too, on the outside. Will you look back on your time in poly and wonder what the hippopotamuses you were thinking when you wore that [‘obiang’] article of clothing here? Some of us get excited by the freedom to express ourselves through our dressing; others are thankful to not have to decide what to wear on a daily basis. It’s your (wardrobe) choice.

4. #onlyyoucanmakeyourschoollifeepic

Sometimes we forget that school isn’t all about studying and books and grades (yes, we’re sure it felt like that this past year especially!). Now’s the time to discover the person you want to be. Sports, arts, leadership roles, camps – these are the opportunities to develop some of the most essential life skills and grow as a person. Don’t give yourself the excuse that you have “no time”; you’ll only be preventing yourself from having the most enriching experiences ever.

5. Go with the flow (Or, It’s ok not to know what you want to do right now)

You don’t need a set plan right now of how you want to get from O level cert to PhD. Life isn’t about “Okay, so I’ll pick this course, score A’s, apply to NUS, do my Masters…” It’s okay to not know what you want. It’s okay to try out what interests you. It’s okay to choose the strangest-sounding elective that might not boost your resume but teaches you something you didn’t know before. So allow yourself to explore. Take classes you have no clue about, even if you won’t “score”. Who knows, it might open your eyes and change your life. It might even be your calling.

6. Widen your social network

Yeah, you might have been BFFs over the past four years and you might not see them that much anymore if you choose different courses or schools. Be cool with that. Don’t let your choices be dictated by a need to stay close to your current friends. Trust us, you’ll go on to meet a whole bunch of amazing people, and keep your old friendships. And you’ll be grateful for that network especially when you start working!

7. Get out of your comfort zone

When you start seeing your tertiary school life as one humungous adventure on which to explore and discover, you’ll start seeing incredible opportunities you might never have again. Take advantage of them while you can. So you’ve always been into football. Do something else now. Study French. Pick up dragon boating. Scale a mountain. Teach village kids English. The opportunities are endless. Just don’t say no. 

8. Don’t be afraid

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to look stupid in front of an entire lecture theatre of students. Don’t be afraid to approach your lecturer. He doesn’t think you’re an idiot like you think he does. In fact, he’s going to be your mentor, guide, tutor, confidante, life coach – make use of that kind of support and guidance. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to fall. It’s all part of learning, and that’s what school is all about.

9. Experience everything

Take up a research programme during the semester break. Do business development for your club. Organise events for the student body. Secure the internship that you want. Take part in competitions. Attend talks by industry professionals and don’t skip the awkward networking. Cheer yourself hoarse at every camp. Go overseas on study trips, exchange programmes, community projects. In the ‘real world’, grades matter a lot less than experience. So study hard and do well, but gain as much experience as you can.

10. It’s your life

Yep, like it or not, this is your transition into official ‘adulthood’. Your life is your own responsibility now. Pick up good study habits if you haven’t already. Learn to manage your time well. Have a budget and stick to it. When things hurt, learn how to get over them. Don’t let the next two or three years just be an extension of the last 10 years you’ve had in school. Let it be a fresh start. A new, exciting, sure-to-be-epic adventure you’re embarking on.