In Life, In Love & In Death

I believe that the greatness of a man lies in his capacity to love. It lies in his willingness to empty out himself for the sake of his beloved.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew loved his wife immensely. I teared seeing him leave those two last kisses upon his wife’s face as she lay in the casket at the Mandai Crematorium.

And, he loved Singapore. Loved her to the point of giving his all; His time, and talents to building this nation. And for that, I will always have the utmost gratitude and respect for him.

“This year, Singapore turns 50. Mr Lee would have turned 92 this September. Mr Lee entered the hospital on 5 February 2015. He continued to use his red box every day until 4 February 2015.”

I simply have no words, because no amount of stellar vocabulary can measure up to what this man has done for my family and I, for me to be able to live till now and not having to quit school like my mother had to in order to support her family, for me to even be able to have struggles about things like what to study (and not whether I could get education in the first place or not) and which dress to get on a blogshop, to not have to freak out once the night falls, to be able laugh without fear of the future and especially to be able to love immensely.

I turn 22 on Sunday. I’ve dreamt about turning 22 and being happy and free and lonely in the best way since Taylor Swift’s song. I thought about it upon his passing, upon grieving for the past 48 hours… and I am happy and free and lonely in the best way. That dream already became reality because I was born and raised in a lifetime I was blessed enough to meet LKY and feel the change of his lifelong work in terms of the beautiful home called Singapore.

We all think we’re going to be great. And we feel a little bit robbed when our expectations aren’t met. But, sometimes, our expectations sell us short. Sometimes, the expected simply pales in comparison to the unexpected.

You gotta wonder why we cling to our expectations. Because the expected is just what keeps us steady… standing… still. The expected is just the beginning.

The unexpected… is what changes our lives.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m gonna survive the challenge I call myself.

I’m one of those kids who are insanely optimistic and I try very very very hard to keep a positive outlook on things. Looking at the world in a cynical way has proven to have only gotten the best of me, and negativity is one of those things I find that causes everything else to spiral. I’ve spent a good amount of my teenage years growing up in pain and hurt and regret and negativity and pessimism and basically I’m still surprised I’m where I am now.

I’m pretty sure it was a time for me to rebel – against my parents, my teachers, my classmates, and obviously, against myself. Constantly questioning my own self-worth against that of the world, asking myself if I were enough for anyone at all, and then crying because I thought I knew the answer to that and then slowly but surely destroying my self-esteem to a level I thought I could never rebuild again. I hurt people I never expected to hurt, and I felt broken beyond belief. I was ashamed, I was guilty, and I felt like I would never be able to let anyone else in again.

In Social Work most people are bright and happy, because we have and want to be bright and happy. We have to let ourselves embrace this profession that espouses embracing other human beings who can be vastly different in terms of personal values and beliefs, physical attributes and mental capacity, stepping into their shoes and seeing things from a perspective that demands for us to seek the goodness in things. In essence, we have to love them, and before we can love others we must first learn to love ourselves.

On that note, the act of studying social work has changed me in ways I will never be able to measure, and it is constantly changing and refining perspectives in a manner I never thought would be possible. I dwell in the understanding of how broken the world is at 3am in the morning, wondering why I have friends who feel deeply that we cannot let gay people be who as they are (why they even have to see the need to constantly be talking about how being gay is perfectly normal when straight people don’t have to say anything), or why there exist people who capitalize on the misfortune of people, and even why the Internet has bred a community of people who are unforgiving and constantly shame people who have done something wrong publicly (and ironically, are people who support the Yellow Ribbon Project, what a joke). I wake up the next morning, knowing that I have to get up, because I would like to serve people who want second chances and people who are discriminated because of who they love. It’s still pretty surreal how I ended up in social work. It’s also not easy to explain the important changes to my values and beliefs that have been a result of simply being a student of the profession. Post for another day. This paragraph was totally irrelevant maybe. But I have grown and matured a lot as a person simply by training to become a social worker. That it’s always about perspective, to always seek goodness, to always empathise, and to listen more than you speak.

And that is scary, because sometimes it feels like it’s like teaching an old dog new tricks. Even if I am only 22, I have learnt many things before training to be a social worker.. what the world sees of me and how I should be expected to behave, or patterns and distinctions I have already established that I’m not sure if I will be able to break. Can I actually use these things I learnt in my own life? Is that even possible? For me to break out of my old patterns of communication and be able to feature that in my own life and relationships? Much less with clients? Self-doubt keeps creeping in occasionally, and my social worker self often creeps back in telling me, self-doubt is alright. Just pick yourself right back up, you can do it, grades are grades… you will be fine.

And I wonder if I will really be fine.

To travel the world & seek grace in all

Finally completed my exchange report during recess week, thought I’d post it here. I didn’t write about some things (like growing in my faith and boys and other stuff) because it was sort of an official report about my learning and experiences, so I couldn’t write about it much. Don’t think I ever will though hahaha. Enjoy my lame report + lack of beautiful vocabulary 🙂


Oxford
Travelling solo in Oxford

“Do one thing that scares you everyday” was a quote that guided my actions while I was on exchange. The exchange programme has been nothing short of valuable learning opportunities with every train I missed, every meal I tried to order in a language I couldn’t speak, every tiny island I travelled to without any company and every single person that has crossed my path in the entire 5 months I was away from my most comfortable comfort zone called Singapore.

As an individual, one of the most beautiful lessons I learnt was about valuing the perspectives and attitudes I held and discovering a side of myself I had never seen before. The global outlook and open-mindedness I had brought with me served me extremely well, not just in being able to be more accepting of cultural and systematical differences, but also in being able to connect better with people. I was surprised to see myself being so much more outgoing than I usually was in Singapore, that I was able to connect really quickly and really comfortably with new friends and I could even talk about things with some of them as if I had known them for years now.

Certainly a practical lesson would be growing in my independence as a young adult. While I had my opportunity to stay on campus in my first year in NUS, it was an extremely different experience from the beginning of my exchange programme. I had gone on exchange not knowing anybody from Singapore who was going, and so right from the start as soon as I arrived in Sweden, I could rely on no one but myself to do everything, from moving 2 backpacks and 2 luggages uphill alone, shopping for groceries and learning how to cook my own meals, to attending social gatherings not knowing a single person there and even travelling in Croatia for a week all by myself… the initial period was a difficult experience, but I knew I would grow in terms of mental resilience (perhaps even physical strength and in my cooking skills as well). In fact, I was thankful to not have known anyone from home during that time, because it really pushed me out of my comfort bubble and forced me to branch out and connect with people I never knew I could connect well to. A few of my biggest treasure finds were fellow exchange students from the Netherlands as well as from South Korea, with whom I had the loveliest time sharing life and travelling with in the course of my exchange.

Paris
Me in Paris with the Eiffel Tower, photo taken by my Korean friend Seung Min whom I travelled with in Paris for 9 days

The most amazing experience I would say the exchange programme has to offer would be about meeting new people. It was about developing new perspectives and growing in empathy from the many opportunities I had to interact with people who came from a multitude of cultures and brought with them experiences so different from my own. The exchange programme has taught me the most amazing things about human relationships I will never be able to learn from textbooks and readings, about the human heartware that shapes our attitudes and behaviours. I have learnt how to live with the worst of others, and especially the worst of myself. It has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to evaluate my personal self in line with my professional values as a social worker-to-be from a completely different lens in a completely different cultural situation away from typical norms. It was also about creating opportunities to talk about anything under the sky, from debating the importance of history, explaining the essentiality of social work and sharing our nation’s struggles, to discussing the most sensitive of issues that the world battled with today, having a conversation about religion and faith with non-religious friends who were not narrow minded but were simply curious and teaching French and Japanese friends who wanted to pick up Singlish. Many of the people I have shared such beautiful conversations with are friends I knew I could keep even as we returned to our home countries, because for the short time I was in Lund, they were the closest thing I had to home.

Nozomu Christmas
With Nozomu from Japan at a Christmas dinner party in a Swedish friend’s home
Laura
with Laura from the Netherlands in Copenhagen

Education, not studies – understanding the difference came through very well in my experience of the Swedish education system. From discussing the Swedish social policies (in the midst of their national elections!) and learning the Swedish language, to looking beyond IKEA and everyday food and exploring unfamiliar territory of design in Scandinavia and eating insects for sustainable eating, the variety of courses have really helped me understand the meaning of education. I could be taking a course that was seemingly irrelevant to my own major, but the culture of the classroom and exchange with other students have allowed me to realise the intricate details in each course that continued to relate to my understanding of the social world. Knowing how Scandinavian design was shaped early on to reflect a democratic ideal that the world lacked post-World War II and design continues to be grounded in values that advocated for the betterment of people’s lives has allowed me to extend my understanding of ‘quality of life’ to more than just knowledge in the social science disciplines. Given this example, taking on a different discipline has challenged my personal paradigm as well as my professional values. Particularly, picking up a new language has never been easy, as I have done so with learning Korean for 2 years in my time in NUS, because it is more than just learning to communicate with others in their language; it is also about picking up the nuances of their culture, embracing their version of the world and connecting with the locals on a different level compared to me not speaking their language. Being one of the few Singaporeans taking a higher level Swedish language course I got to meet and connect with classmates who came from everywhere else in the world, and got to understand about their cultures and nuances in their native languages that I would otherwise not be able to know of.

I have always loved travelling, and embarking on the exchange programme has given me the privilege to be able to do so to expand my horizons as a global citizen. I felt that it was important that I travelled with the mindset that I wasn’t there to just play or have fun, but to challenge my boundaries, engage with locals and open up conversations while still having some scary fun by doing things I never get to experience in Singapore and overcoming my fears (e.g. of heights! I was the most excited of all my friends to try skydiving, and I still don’t know why!). I found that there was so much this beautiful world had to offer me, and so much I could offer to the world in the capacity of a global learner, a Singaporean citizen and a new friend to strangers.

Skydiving
Skydiving in Hungary – I must be crazy (as usual)
Amsterdam
With fellow Singaporean exchange students I met in Lund in Amsterdam; moments after we took this picture we realised we had got off one stop early and missed our subsequent train transfers as a result ;_;

I took away with me an immense amount of gratitude, that as I began to embark on opening up my heart to bigger and even crazier ideas and perspectives, I also began to appreciate the beautiful country I call home even more. Living in a city that was starkly different from where I came from, travelling through cities that had unique cultures and people to offer, I went into each experience with an open mind and came out in the end realizing that my own home country is one of a kind as well. I am blessed to be able to have the privilege to leave home and go to a foreign country 6167 miles away to be exposed to these experiences, to be able to give back to the world I have learnt so much from, and to return home as a more mature individual and social worker-to-be with much more knowledge, empathy and understanding to give back to Singapore.