From Strangers To Friends Over Coffee

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The other day, a friend of a friend sent me a private message on one of the social media networks, that went something like this—a condensed version of it:

“Hi, we’ve never met, but X speaks highly about you, especially you as a writer.

(ed: Cue my self-conscious-self thinking “oh, gosh, X is delusional”.)

I enjoy your blog and I’m curious about your personality. I’d like to get to know you better.

Would you like to have coffee sometimes?”

Despite my self-consciousness (yeah, yeah, I hear some of you laughing in disbelief), I enjoy getting these kind of invitations from ‘random’ strangers. This blog has been responsible for my making friends with some writers, a film director, photographers and people who are enthusiastic about life in general. Some I have met in real life, and others—separated by half of this planet—I have yet to meet.

People need to do this more, you know, just asking out selective  “random strangers” you find interesting, for coffee. You never know where a coffee meet-up might lead.

And speaking of coffee, I have been indulging myself in taking some pretty coffee and cafe pictures. Here are some of them, from recent trip to Hong Kong and around Jakarta.

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Cupping Room, Hong Kong

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At Cafe Corridor, Hong Kong

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Koultoura Cafe, Jakarta. Those mini Eames chairs finally arrived (from a friend).

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Another perspective of previous shot, with my belated birthday present – love the personalised note book and “diamond” birthday card.

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So, how about it—you and me, over coffee?

On The Supermodel Cat

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I always grew up with a dogor dogs, I should say. Even to this day, Dad still keeps at least three dogs around the house. As such, I was always a dog person (still am), and never consider myself a cat person.

I have always been an animal lover, with the exception of anything that crawls on their stomachs, (Do we count ‘men’ as ‘animal’ too? Then I like them too, yes, I do)  I have a particular soft spot for dogs, and in the last few years, cats, prompting me to pet them whenever I see one; stray ones too.

I can’t recall when I started to like cats and take a great interest in them. I suspect my best friend, Miss L. indoctrinated me over the years with her knowledge of cats; how they, unlike dogs, are not so needy, that they’d refuse to play with you even if you want to.(“Play ball? Me? I am not a dog.”) Or how they treat their masters like…staff. Unlike dogs. (Ever seen how a cat fetch a newspaper for you? No? Exactly.)

I started paying attention to cats; from their types, and colours and behaviour. And I seem to attract them too wherever I go to, them leaning and purring on to my feet. I attract kids too on a totally unrelated note. (If only I attract creatures of the opposite sex like I do with these).

One particular cat I have been very fond of, goes by the name “Patch”, a Calico (tricolour) cat, whom I have been lucky to ‘see’ through the eyes of my friend, T. The Indonesian Javanese believe that a tricolour cat brings luck. If the photos and stories are anything to go by, Patch sure has brought luck and joy to her owner.

I saved many of her photos T put upmostly on his Instagram/Twittercreating quite a collection. I had a folder once on my iPhone labelled “Princess Patch”, and I took a screen shot of these once to send to T, with a note:

“Your girl is a supermodel”.

“That’s my girl!”, he said.

And she loves her Macs…well, his Macs actually.

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Princess Patch

Sadly, after being ill for some time, Patch is no longer here. She passed away last night, crossing that rainbow bridge to kitty heaven. She’s no longer in pain, at least. I felt my eyes welling up when I found out about it, while queuing at the grocery store last night after an evening session at the gym. Maybe it’s because I know how much she meant for T, or maybe the fact that I will no longer see her pretty face on T’s Instagram. Whatever it was, I felt that pang in my chest; I felt the loss. (And again, feeling my eyes welling up as I type this).

It’s funny how I become quite fond of her, never having met her. Maybe it’s the way T captured her, and her emotions showing through all those pictures. For whatever reasonjust like her owner, through his creative work in moving words and imagesPatch touched my life.

I guess, as I have found out recently, when something or someone touches your life in a way you never thought they would, bringing joy into your life, you feel that hollowness when they leave. That heavy heart-felt as you think about them being gone. And then, you smile, thinking of how they are in a much better place right now, while recalling all the happy memories they brought to you.

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My favourite picture of Patch, as my iPad wallpaper for the last two years. Isn’t she a beauty?

Farewell, Patch. I hope they have warm toasty Macs where you are now. You are dearly missed.

All photos are courtesy of @Tetanus

Notes On The Cusp of Another Birthday & The Lunar New Year

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I recall a trip back in 2010, where my sister and I, along with another friend, travelled through the USA for two weeks straight, starting on the West Coast with Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, before we flew across to the East Cost to visit New York City. While we had a great time then, I recall by day 10, we were missing home. All of us. I even recall one of us saying, “Dammit, I want Nasi Padang!”, and we were eating great food, mostly of Japanese or Thai food in the States. (What American cuisine?)

Right now, I am hitting that same point—currently on day 10 of being away from home after travelling through China, and now in Hong Kong—I am missing home. I had a great travel companion during the first of this two-weeks trip exploring Hangzhou and Shanghai, where we built our itinerary around the food we will eat. I recall towards the end of the China trip, as we sat in our comfortable hotel room, after walking around the whole day, in our three, sometimes four, layers of clothes, feeling the cold air on our faces—we both said how we miss home. Or perhaps, we missed the people at home.
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I did try to change my flights to come home earlier, perhaps on the night before the Lunar New Year, tonight that is, to surprise my parents. Alas, travelling at this time of the year, out of Hong Kong, there was no chance.

Ironically, I planned this trip to get away from home for my birthday, that coincidentally falls on the same day as the Lunar New Year this year. My parents were not exactly happy that I did this, as understandably it’s that time of the year where family gather for the festivity. The last time I was away for the Lunar New Year (and also my birthday) was back in 2012, during my sabbatical, in which I spent the time in Sydney with my sister, brother-in-law, and my niece. Mind you, Sydney felt like home; it still does in fact.

But here I am, on the cusp of another birthday, away from home. I wanted to get away from the extended families’ well-meaning wishes for the Lunar New Year—that may this be (again) the last year they hand out the red-envelope to my single-self. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all the wishes (and hey, extra pocket-money is always a good thing!), but I wanted to celebrate this year’s birthday differently, creating special new memories.20140130-170903.jpg

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In a way, I have done so. As I looked through my Instagram feeds in the last week, with pictures of food and sceneries from Hangzhou, Shanghai and Hong Kong; the copious amount of Chinese Hot Pot and Xiao Long Bao (steamed pork dumplings), or coffee shops I discovered in Hong Kong, as well as slices of life from all these places, I feel this sense of…joy. That sense of discovery one finds while travelling.

As I reflect on the last year, of 2013, and The Year of Snake, I have nothing but feeling of gratefulness. I never thought I’d get to travel that often in the last year, while holding a job after the sabbatical—there was a trip to Hong Kong and Macau at the start of the year, Bangkok in May, Bali in July, Penang in August, Bangkok again for a work related trip in October, Singapore in October, and the ultimate diving trip to Raja Ampat in December. With the exception of Hong Kong, Bali and Singapore, all others were of new places.

One thing in common, none of those trips lasted more than a week, or 10 days at the most.

I am not only grateful for the experiences of new places, but also for the new people I cross path with; new acquaintances and friends. Not to mention friendships being rekindled that grew into something deeper and more meaningful, along with the lessons that came with them. That human relationships factor is perhaps the one thing I treasure, year on year.

It is strange how when I started this post, I felt a tinge of sadness for missing home. A little sense of loneliness too, if I am being honest. But now, I am smiling, just thinking back of those trips I did in the last year, and the people I met, not to mention the things I have learnt at work, trying to ‘modernise’ our family’s retail business. It has been a great, great year. (And it goes to show what writing can do to one’s mood. I need to do more of this. Or so I say every time…)20140130-135010.jpg

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Now, if the fortune tellers are right, apparently, this coming year is a pretty good year for us of Sheep zodiac, especially when it comes to ahem, ‘love’.

Whatever happens, I am going to make the most of this coming year. One diving trip is planned in August, to see the whale sharks, in Nabire. But for the rest of the year, as far as travel is concerned, I haven’t really planned anything. And that’s how I pretty much roll in the last few years.

I’ll be celebrating the Lunar New Year and my birthday quietly in Hong Kong with a few friends. But I must say, I am looking forward to head home on Sunday.

Here’s wishing a great 2014 and more prosperous Year of Horse for everyone, filled with great health, love, and laughter. Because, hey, what else do you really need in life, right?

Gone Too Soon: On Dealing with Deaths

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I have just come back a few days ago, from one of the best trips I have ever done in my life; a diving excursion to Raja Ampat Islands (in West Papua, Indonesia), one of the diving meccas in the world, living on board a phinisi (sailing ship) for six days and nights, in which all I did was eat, sleep and dive with 12 others. There was not a day in which I did not utter the words “Thank you God, for I am blessed to experience this”. A short vacation (after a vacation) followed in Makassar, South Sulawesi with a couple of friends.

But, this post is not about the trip–that will come later. This is about what happened after the trip, in what I can only describe as a roller coaster of emotions. A high from last week, to a really low point today. And the only way I can think of right now to deal with it, is to write.

Fragmented thoughts as they may be.

* * * 

I was awake at 4 in the morning, in a hotel room in Makassar, on my last night there. I felt the need to check my Facebook feed for some reason.

I scrolled down the newsfeed and midway through it, saw a status update from one of my good friends, mentioning Rio, an ex-colleague from the bank I used to work for; Rio has passed away from a stroke. He was at work when the stroke attacked.

I was shocked and saddened by the news. While I was not close to him, he was one of those gentle, and kind person, a “teddy bear”—physically, he was huge, and sadly, I suspect his obesity contributed to his stroke. He was one of those people who taught me a lot about credit card fraud risk during my role in risk management, and was always helpful to everyone in the office. He was recently married, and I knew from his Facebook updates, that all the money he received from the wedding (as gifts in weddings in Indonesia) were donated to a charity. I could tell he was so much in love, and so happy with life.

A man with a big heart who died at a young age of 35. I felt the loss, shed some tears and sent a prayer to him. I wrote something on my Facebook update to say how I felt about him. 

Mostly, my thoughts went out to his newly wedded wife. I had to, even if he’ll never read my message. 

 * * * 

When Steve Jobs passed away, I wrote a tribute post to him. Not long after, one of the editors I used to write for, wrote his monthly column, along the topic of why people publicly expressed their condolences on Steve Jobs death, as if he was (suddenly) everyone’s best friend. He even mentioned that some people went as far as writing a blog post about him—I could only assume he was referring to me. Was everyone genuinely emotionally attached to him, personally? Or was it a case of trying to appear “cool”?

The thought stuck to me for sometime. I was emotionally attached, despite not knowing Steve Jobs personally. But I couldn’t articulate the reason behind it. At least until a few days ago.

On the last day of the diving trip, out in the sea, I heard the news about the actor Paul Walker, who died from a car crash. Many friends tweeted their condolences; one friend was clearly devastated from the stream of tweets she posted.

I never did tweet any condolences.

Then a few days later, which was two days before I heard the news about my ex-colleague’s death, the great and legendary Nelson Mandela passed away, at the age of 95. Almost everyone I knew was tweeting “RIP Nelson Mandela”, or something alike. Again, I never did tweet or update my Facebook about his passing away.

The same editor, who happens to be on my Facebook friends list, posted this, peppered with sarcasm, which to some, may appear insensitive:

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But I could actually see his point, that maybe, just maybe, some people state their condolences to appear “cool”. Maybe. Who knows.

For me, I never felt the emotional attachment to Nelson Mandela, despite acknowledging he was one of the greatest men ever lived. Likewise with Paul Walker, despite my admiration for his looks, talent and kindness. I was surprised like everyone else at the news, but I didn’t feel the emotional attachment that would lead me to tweet or update my Facebook with condolences message. I didn’t feel the need to.

I told one of my good friends, who I was travelling with, on my editor’s comment, including on the topic of Steve Jobs. And the penny suddenly dropped after what he said:

“Steve Jobs touched some people’s life through his work. While Nelson Mandela, for some of us, especially in Asia, did not. We didn’t quite feel the impact of his work on anti-apartheid, at least unlike those say, in Africa and other parts of the world.”

Touching lives.

With Steve Jobs, my life was profoundly affected, through all my Apple gadgets. My first laptop computer was a Macintosh. I love my current Macbook Pro, iPad and iPhone. My life changed for the better because of what those tools do.

And hence, I understood my emotional attachment when Steve Jobs passed away. I may not have shed some tears, but I felt the loss that I needed to write that tribute to him back then.

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As if there wasn’t enough news of death in the past week, I was awake, yet again, at 2AM last night. And again, I felt the need to check, this time, my Twitter feed. I was dumbfounded when I saw a tweet that said, one of my friends from TEDx Jakarta volunteers team, Ical, has passed away. He was found dead in his dorm room, in Delft University, where he is completing his postgraduate study, on a scholarship. (The cause of death is yet to be confirmed as I write this).

I couldn’t believe it. A quick chat with our mutual friend who lives in Netherlands, confirmed that it was not a prank.

Tears were rolling down my cheeks as my memory started playing scenes from the past with him in it. I only knew him during those couple of years volunteering for TEDx Jakarta. But I remember him fondly—10 years my junior, a good looking boy with a bright future ahead. Smart and intelligent. One who loves Star Wars so, so much, that he came to the last TEDx Jakarta post-event party, before he left for Delft University, in his Darth Vader outfit, complete with his lightsaber, which he did let me play with.

We would talk about Jakarta’s nightlife; him, currently at the stage where I was 10 years ago, hitting the clubs partying. We’d talk about Apple and its products, and how he is an Apple-fanboy, yet he was using a Windows based phone; I teased him about it the last time we spent the weekend as a group at an ecolodge for a TEDx Jakarta meeting.

I remember fondly, how he said, that when he finally meets a girl who loves Star Wars as much as he does, he’d marry her (or something along that line). He did and I could tell he was so in love with her, long distance relationship and all.

I remember how he already thought of what songs he would have on his wedding during one of our drives back to Jakarta from that weekend. (I wish I can recall the song, but my memory fails me right now). This was the 22 year-old self of him. When most guys at his age would not even think about weddings or marriage.

I later found out he was an Aquarius, just like me. That probably explains his romantic side of personality.

I fell asleep somewhere between two and four o’clock in the morning, and woke up again at six o’clock, thinking it was all just a bad dream. I felt the loss, much, much more than I thought I would. And so for the rest of the day, in my own way of dealing with the loss, I sent various tweets and writing my condolences on his Facebook page, as well as looking at photos with us and the team.

The day felt heavy. I was teary for the most part.

When a friend texted me and say that “he is in a better place, an infinitely better place, where there is no need for TED Talks, and where no tear is or needs to be shed”, I broke down. Again.

And so I deal with death the way I know best. I cry. I write. And I cried some more whenever I thought of him today. Until someone from the team tweeted, that she giggled when she thought of how Ical would be planking up in heaven—planking pose was his signature style. He’d do it anytime and anywhere in the world he could, just for a photo.

Rest in peace, Ical. You have no idea how much you have touched my life in the brief time I got to know you. May the force be with you.

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As I end this, I can feel the tears welling up. Too many people were gone too soon in this past week.

And I still ask, God, did you need that many angels in this past week, that you took away so many good people from this world?

Coincidently, someone actually asked on Twitter, as the ship docked to land from the diving trip:

“If you die tomorrow, would you die happy?”

I replied, with the thought of the diving trip I have just completed, and feeling grateful over everything that has happened to me in the last couple of years:

“Yes, I would”.

As Christmas is fast approaching, let’s remind ourselves, that life is short. That we ought to appreciate all the things that make our lives worth living.

Because in the end, everything is transient.

The Face Behind The Words

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I had guessed—or rather, wished—that the “handmade” gift he had mentioned before we met, would be what I am holding in my hands right now.

You know that giddy moment when you discover what you wished for, came true?

That.

I shrieked with joy when I saw what’s inside the envelope, that I almost jumped at him, for a big hug, later which I did give (and get) as we bid farewell.

I could feel my heart swells as I read those words he penned years ago, appearing before me as I lay there in bed, my hands flicking through the pages eagerly, savouring each word.

That one Saturday was, indeed, one of the most fun—and intellectually stimulating—16 hours of my life. To say that I didn’t want it to end, is an understatement.

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Thank you, you. For those words now no longer belong to a faceless name.

Writing Reignited

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In an attempt to write more, you might see here, in this space, stories about characters I may have created in my head, or ones I meet in real life.

While you read these, dear readers, whatever you are thinking, could be true.

Or not.

And I don’t have to explain or confirm those thoughts—although I might at my discretion—for I write here, first and foremost, for me, myself and I.

To those who have (recently) inspired me to write more, thank you. You know who you are.

On The Struggle and Reasons To Write

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“Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

― Kurt Vonnegut

I have been thinking a lot recently about my writing process, or more like the lack of writing on this site.

Case in point: four months went by without a post since I wrote my birthday note this year—I write one every year as a self-reflection moment—despite having travelled to Hong Kong and Macau in January, as well as Bangkok in May. Oh, and another trip to Bali in July. Did I also mention I have a day-job this year? All things potentially as stories I could easily share on this blog.

The truth is—and I have talked about it on this blog, here, and here— is that I often struggle to write.

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It’s not that I don’t have anything to say. Even when I am quiet and alone, there will be many conversations happening in my head; maybe on stories I read on the news one day, or strangers I meet  on the street. All these ideas that I have bubbling up in my head, along with the noises that come with them, all the while with me saying “that’ll make a good post on the blog”

But yet, I often ended up with nothing here for months.

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I recently read a piece by Cheri Lucas Rowlands, “On Writing (and Evolving) Online”; I am big fan of her blog and religiously read every single one of them whenever I am notified of a new post. She discussed in that very thoughtful and well-written piece, about how she, and other writers (her husband Nick and another blogger, Miranda, linked within the piece) feel when it comes to writer’s block—struggling to write and experience “lapses of drying up”—as well as the struggle to find an “online presence”.

The piece resonates with me on my struggle in writing here, and in finding an “identity” within this space, my own blog in which I started as an outlet for all sorts of thoughts, often fragmented ones. I never used to care too much about what I wrote here: random notes about what I got up to on the weekends, new people I met, and oh..yes, about past lovers, many who actually inspired me to write—though I suspect I was sending a cryptic message for those who were reading. (Ahem).  I didn’t care too much about letting my emotions out there, and be vulnerable; I didn’t think anyone else would care too.

Later, as I write more here, especially in the last couple of years, I thought about my “identity”. Why do I write here? What’s my blog for? Should I specialise in a topic? Travel? Motivational, how-to inspiring pieces? Creative writing?

I still don’t have the answer. 

I am lucky that I have at least one loyal reader, who despite hardly commenting on this space, he would always say something positive and encouraging after he reads my post (*waves* Hi Gav!) I know there are other people who read my writing. At one point during my sabbatical in 2011-2012, someone wrote to me and thanked me for giving them, through one of my posts,  the courage to pursue their dreams. That, is probably one of the highest compliment I have ever gotten from writing here. 

Knowing that I do have readers, I consciously strive to write better. I used to write my post at first go, and publish immediately. These days, I’d draft a post, proof-read, and rewrite a few times, sometimes letting it sit (and at times forget about it) before clicking that “Publish” button. I’d read the published post and then, more often than not, I’d still spot the grammar or spelling mistakes. (Sigh). As such, one post would take much longer than I had intended, and with time these days filled with work and exercising to de-stress, writing here has taken a backseat.

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I was always reluctant to purchase a Moleskine notebook for fear that I would leave them sitting pretty on the shelf, unwritten, as they seem too nice (and expensive) to be written on with my emotional spew. Not to mention, I have many other blank notebooks I need to fill in. Yes, I am notebook hoarder.

While I have had other notebooks to write on, and I have been writing on notebooks a lot more since I took my career-break, I have always wanted a Moleskine. I wanted—no, make that, needed—the motivation to write better. So I bought a black hard-covered lined Moleskine earlier this February.

The Moleskine did, and still does, make me want to write more, and better. Almost everyday, I would find an excuse to pen my thoughts on those crisp paper; notes on daily happenings, musing on the latest crush, as well as my struggles this year getting back into the working everyday after 18 months freelancing and gallivanting during my sabbatical. 

I commented on Cheri’s piece—all the comments on that piece are worth reading too with so many interesting thoughts from other writers— in which I mentioned how writing in my Moleskine, as the only space where I can write freely and privately, has allowed me to sift through the many thoughts I have, and selectively share some of them here on the blog. While I will try to make my writing here useful for others, there are times, like lately, when I like to experiment with my writing, be it on fictions, random wordplay, or anything that made my heart sing.  

“I realize…I’ve approached blogging in the same way. As if I’ve no longer given myself room for error, growth, and change, at least publicly. But I sense, more and more, that not writing creates unwelcome holes in my own narrative that I weave, and even if I’ve nothing to say, or feel uninspired, I should still write.”  – Cheri Lucas Rowlands, On Writing (and Evolving) Online

 

I too, did not allow myself room for error, growth and change, by not writing freely here. But I have recently become more comfortable to let go, and just write, even if those were pieces, mostly first drafts, that I found as I browsed through my digital notebook archives. 

I know I will hit a wall again where I’d stop, and go for months without writing here, as I experience my own lapses of drying up.

But I just know I need to keep on writing. Even if I am writing just to please me.  

And that, for now, is a good enough reason as to why I write here.  

 Image by: Veny Lai