Sunday, July 29, 2012

A love story - Part 9

I moved out of my parents' home to stay on my own in my early-30's. My decision was based on an accumulation of unfortunate family events that spanned years. The final push came when I was told by my mother to share a tiny condominium room with my younger brother because my mother had unilaterally decided -- eerm, maybe not unilaterally, but also with my elder brother's silent consent -- that our family would upgrade to private property, with the monthly maintenance fee paid by me and (maybe) my elder brother.

I started plotting my move out. This was back in the early 2000's when a single Singapore citizen not staying with his/her parents (but renting a room from someone else) was a rarity. Potential landlords eyed me with suspicion and put up long lists of restrictions (e.g. cannot cook or at most only instant noodles, must not be out late at night, etc). Fortunately, a colleague took pity on me. She had learnt of my family issues the year before, when I often fell asleep at work due to insomnia caused by my parents endless middle-of-the-night quarrels over my younger sister's wedding banquet. She spoke to her parents and they kindly rented me their empty apartment.

Since I did not want to spoil anyone's Chinese New Year's festive mood, I waited until after the 15th day of the Chinese New Year to inform my mother of my plan. To put it simply, my mother had an attack of hysteria -- it was all about her. E.g. "We did not ill-treat you, how can you do this to me?", "What will the neighbours think?", "How am I going to explain to the neighbours?" It ended with her screaming/crying angrily and labelling me as “反骨” ["reversed bones", i.e. "traitor"]. I had observed my mother's past hysterics, so I was too emotionally numbed to be affected by her current show. In addition, only just a couple of years ago, my elder brother had angrily called me the same “反骨” ["reversed bones", i.e. "traitor"] when I refused to pool my CPF with his to help him achieve his condominium dream. [He pretty much demanded me to do it, without considering that I was unemployed and in the midst of depression at that time.]
My dad was awesome. For some unknown reason, my mother wielded power at home. My dad kept silent throughout the debacle. Then on the morning of my move, when my mother was away, he came out of his room to offer help. He looked at me with pride, told me in Cantonese that, "Moving out is good for you", and even gave me the thumbs-up.
Given the above dainty situation, I did not want to implicate anyone from my immediate or extended family with my move. In addition, I had to time my move during the window period when my mother would be at the market (that timeframe varied day-to-day depending on my mother's mood), i.e. so that she would not be present to kick-up a scene. Thus, I had to find people who were prepared to appear within moments of a phone call, and yet not probe too much, and would be discreet about the matter. A JC schoolmate of mine in the construction industry arranged a lorry to deliver my things. Now I only needed 2 men to help with the load.


Part 9 - 藕断丝连
[literally "the lotus root has broken apart, but its fibres still connect them together", i.e. "apart but lingers on"]

Sometime during the millennium year, AL was seconded back to Singapore again. The duration was not confirmed, but predicted to be a couple of years. Initially, he migrated to Singapore while 6Snoopys (now his wife) remained at her Hong Kong job. There was a couple of times when he contacted me to hang out. I kept the face-to-face rendezvous to a minimal, and when we hang out, we returned to being buddies.
Once again, AL took me as a confidante and shared with me about the problems he faced. As I had predicted, AL had a tempestuous marriage with 6Snoopys. The major issues that cropped up repeated were precisely the ones that I had highlighted to AL in my desperate bid to stop his marriage. Their differences over the major issues spilled-over into other menial matters of daily life.
In the early 2000's, when I needed help with my move, I knew instantly who I could count on. I asked AL. He promised me that he would bring along a friend (who turned out to be another of our colleague). With my friends' help, I moved out successfully without any scene at home. I thanked him (and my other friends -- if my memory didn't fail me) over a meal.

I started turning my rented apartment into a home for me. There was lots of stuff to be done. Recognizing the physical limitations I faced given my petite size, AL kept asking me if I needed any help (especially with the lifting/carrying things home) and came over voluntarily to help set-up my home. To cut to the chase, AL once again gradually began acting more like a boyfriend and less like a platonic friend. Finally he took action and brought eros back into our relationship again. In public, he would be very careful and discreetly check that there was no familiar faces around before he even held my hands. In private, we went as far as being totally naked with each other, but without sexual intercourse -- not that I did not want to, but AL refused to because he did not want to take my virginity.
I questioned my own (lack of) morals -- in knowingly being with a married man. I was not proud of my actions, but back then I rationalized to myself that men had multiple wives in the not too distant past, so what we were doing then wasn't that much different. I was willing to play the "concubine" role. I thought, "So long as I am with the person that I loved, and we are both happy, what does it matter?" Yes, I was so madly and desperately in love.
Some months later, AL's wife 6Snoopys quit her job and joined AL in Singapore. For a while, AL went missing from my life. Then he re-surfaced with lots of complains about his life with 6Snoopys. I missed him badly, so I allowed our relationship to continue. However, sometimes when we were hanging out, 6Snoopys would text/call AL and he would return home to her soon/immediately. Initially I thought that I would not mind -- after all, I was only the "concubine" (albeit one who is financially independent). After a while, it happened more and more often, and I began to feel jealous that 6Snoopys almost always had priority over me. Given my brush with depression, I refused to let myself fall into jealousy again. I began reduce our time together by staying at work for long hours and giving AL crappy excuses of why I was not available to meet up. If and when we did meet-up, we still indulged in non-penetrative sexual activities -- but with more resistance from me, which required more persuasion from him.

Gradually, I decided that I would have to end this relationship someday -- "Just move on. Don't fight with another woman over a man". A birthday gift from AL seared into my mind that he was too wishy-washy to make a tough decision that would temporarily hurt any party involved, in exchange for the long-term happiness of any other party involved. Thus, if any of us (AL, 6Snoopys, and myself) were to regain happiness in life, it would have to be me breaking the triangle.

That "someday" came in the form of a trip to France where SMS won me over. [Ok, I am over-simplifying this. Nevertheless, SMS is a different love story and it would take too long to write about it here.] When I returned from France, I told AL that we were over. He asked for a final hug and kiss, for the memories. I stiffened up, crossed my arms in front of my chest and refused to let him hug or kiss me. He went away looking very sad -- I felt torn too, but I was determined to move on.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A love story - Part 8

Here are some other pieces from my recollection. I am sorry, I remember these events happened, but I cannot quite seem to recall when (year or month) they happened. That is the problem when one does not have any children or some milestones upon which to mark the passing of time. By "children", I mean I know of friends who remember the year of events because they remember how old their children were at that time.

Well, as you can see, despite my intelligence, I have a somewhat broken memory system. Haha!


Part 8 - An overseas call and a walk in the forest

(A) An overseas call

During period before the millennium (1998 or 1999), I was recovering from depression. One day I emailed a greeting to all my friends. [I cannot remember what kind of greeting. It may have been a year-end greeting or something else.] Out of the blue, my mother answered a phone call one evening and insisted that I get to the phone. I gave my mother some bullshit that I was too tired and sleepy to answer the phone, she then insisted that I must answer it. She said (in Cantonese), "It is a man on the line. He said that it is an overseas call."

In those days, long-distance calls were very expensive. In my family, the attitude is that if someone is willing to pay the expensive long-distance phone bill, the call must be regarding something important, so one must not ignore the call. A man calling from overseas? I wondered if it was AL. Then I wondered if I should even answer the call -- I didn't have the guts to because I would not know what to say to him.

Finally after about a minute of hesitating and my mother harassing me to get to the phone, I got down from my upper bunk (I was the top-bunk on the double-bunk bed) and picked up the landline phone in the living room.

"Hello, this is SMS speaking. How are you?"

What a surprise! There was no reason for him to call me since I no longer worked at my second job. I was perplexed. Then I thought that maybe he needed some help/explanation on some work/technical stuff, as another staff from my ex-vendor ever called me for -- even months after I've left the job. No matter, I was just relieved that it was not AL on the line.

"Errrrrrr, I am ok", I replied with uncertainty.

"Oh, it is good to hear your voice. I was so worried. Your email sounds so sad," he said.

"Oh, is it?" I asked in surprise. I did not realize that I had sounded sad in my email. I thought that I was just sharing some of my general thoughts.

Then SMS went on to chat as per his usual self. And finally after about 10-20 minutes, we hung up. The interesting thing is, besides SMS, none of my other friends picked up on that sadness. Either that, or my other friends discreetly did not discuss the matter. Perhaps because SMS had gone through a divorce and an affair-that-turned-sour that he could pick up on the grief? I do not know. I only know that SMS seems to have a knack for reaching out to me and my hidden grief (even years down the road).


(B) A walk in the forest

Somewhere along the way, before the millennium Late in 1999, AL had another short business trip to Singapore. [I was not working at that time, so it was before the millennium.] Once again, AL contacted me to hang out.
I think I had almost recovered from my depression at that time. In any case, I was on the recovery path. By then, I had another of those interesting paranormal experience. It turned around my desire to die.
Since I was planning to join a social group for a walk in the forest of one of the water catchment areas, I suggested to AL that he joined us. I was in two-minds about re-connecting with AL and decided it was best not to be with him on a one-to-one meet-up. AL asked if we could meet up in another setting. I do not recall what I told him, but I know that I somehow declined his request.

We met the group and I introduced AL as "a friend". AL had discreetly removed his wedding ring. I think the group had simply assumed that we were dating. AL was his usual thoughtful and caring self, although we chatted very little (unlike how we used to be) throughout the walk. The walk lasted several hours. Initially, I went ahead and hung out with the kids in the group, leaving AL to mingle with the other members of the group.

Then we met some darker/slippery stretches where AL once again held my hands with our fingers inter-twined. At some points, he released some of my fingers and re-twined our fingers, but with his middle finger pointing upwards, rubbing the tip of his middle finger upon the palm of my hand. He did it several times. I was a blur sotong -- I had no idea then that it was supposed to be a hand signal, probably for "sexual intercourse". I think I even asked him why he was "tickling" my hand. When we were near the end of the walk, exiting onto the road, he let go of my hand.

I don't remember if we had dinner together thereafter. But I know that I went home (i.e. my parents' home) that evening. I did not go to his hotel room.


Recovering from depression was an interesting period. Somewhere along the way, I decided that I would do whatever that I had wanted to do since young.

E.g. I wanted to be a vegetarian since watching my chicken "friend" being slaughtered for a prayer sacrifice and a celebratory meal when I was a kindergarten kid. Thus, I became a vegetarian, albeit a "closet" one initially.

E.g. I always enjoyed drawing cartoons from young. Thus, I read the newspaper and spent some time drawing a cartoon daily or weekly. My mother was getting frustrated at this stay-at-home bum, nagging me, demanding why I was not looking for a job instead of wasting time reading the newspaper from cover-to-cover daily and drawing useless pictures. E.g. Once my mother was standing just outside the bedroom door fuming in silence, while I was drawing a cartoon on a makeshift table (i.e. in-bed breakfast tray) while seated on the floor. I turned around and shouted at her (in Cantonese), “莫吵啦!” ["Don't shout!"] She looked at me with a shocked and scared expression.

E.g. I knew at that time that I no longer wanted to be a career high-achiever. All I wanted was to be able to spend hours observing the world -- just like what I did as a child; watching rays of sunlight beaming through the air-well, the shadows on the wall dancing with each breeze blowing at the fallen leaves, at my paternal grandparents' Chinatown shophouse home.

[1990 or 1991. Air-well in the Chinatown shophouse, 
which I spent many of my childhood hours staring at]

I did not want to return to the Information Technology world before the millennium arrived. Too many of the I.T. jobs then were for the boring task of making systems safe for the millennium date transition. I decided that I might as well enjoy and celebrate the millennium, in case the millennium did bring the world to an end. I also made a promise to myself that if the world did not end with the millennium, I would save up enough money to have a roof of my own. Then I would rent out one room, and live my life as a frugal freelance artist (click here and here for related stuff).

[1989. 2 of the 4-page illustrated letter 
that I wrote to my then-BFF, 
which she subsequently displayed in her hostel room]

[1st-Jan-2000, My silhouette 
with the millennium sunrise as backdrop, 
East Coast Park, Singapore]

Monday, July 23, 2012

Canadian experience and qualifications

I met a fellow immigrant, let's call her JL, over brunch with a social group yesterday.

JL migrated from France about 2 years ago. She has worked as a Technical Marketing Manager in Metro Vancouver but has lost her job recently due to company restructuring. JL has several degrees (including an MBA) from European universities and lots of transferable skills. She has worked for MNCs and when she was based in Europe, she used to travel frequently to Asia for work. She speaks 3 languages fluently* (English, French and German).
*Note: By "fluently", I mean at almost native-speaker standard. I am not using the "discounted expectations" that Vancouverites often have when they complement foreigners (especially visible minority) as "fluent English speakers". This is the thing that PRCs in Metro Vancouver often do not understand. They are told by the ever-so-polite Canadians that their English is "good/excellent", even when they cannot understand the Canadian accent spoken at normal pace and vice versa (i.e. the Canadians have a tough time with the PRCs' Chinese/Mandarin-accented English). Thus, PRC immigrants have a tendency to complain of racism when they do not get a job, instead of recognizing a deficiency in their English language ability (especially spoken English). From my observation, the same is true of some Filipino immigrants who take pride in their "excellent" (but in reality, heavily Filipino-accented) English.
Over lunch, JL shared her frustration over the lack of progress in her job search. She has not had any success in finding an equivalent position as her previous job. Despite having many "informational interviews" with potential recruiters and having worked for a firm in Metro Vancouver, she is still advised (by the recruiters and others in-touch with the Canadian job-market) of the need for her to gain more "Canadian experience" and "Canadian qualifications". As JL puts it, when she looked at the course content of the short courses that some advised her to take, she felt that she knew enough and had enough related work experience to be the instructor at those courses. So JL felt that she was up against a wall -- one that prized Canadian experience and qualifications, and did not value the non-Canadian equivalent.
IMHO, PRCs who complain about racism in their Canadian job search should talk to people like JL. JL is a French/German Caucasian -- as "white" as they come. Yet she faces the same issues in her job search as the PRC immigrants. However, from my observations, many (although not all) PRC immigrants tend to cluster amongst their own kind and reinforce each other's perceived experience of "anti-Chinese" racism. Some of them even tried to convince me of this "anti-Chinese" racism, but I usually don't pay heed to their ill-informed conclusions. Note: JL is not the only Caucasian whom I've met who faced such job search issues.
I shared with JL that her experience was not unique. I offered to link her up with some friends (and I did), but frankly I don't know how much luck JL would have with her job search, ceteris paribus (i.e. keeping everything else the same). The norm here is indeed "the Canadian way, or the highway".

My point here is that "Skilled Worker" immigrants to Canada should be aware of this Canadian norm. Of course, not everyone would face such problems -- some lucky folks did land on professional jobs equivalent to their previous professions quite quickly. However, I have heard/met enough immigrants who aren't so lucky to know that it is something that a potential immigrant should consider in his/her S.W.O.T. analysis before coming to Canada.


If you should find yourself in JL's position -- being an immigrant in Metro Vancouver, Canada, or having lost a job due to no fault of your own -- here are some links that might be of use to you.

If you lost your job due to company restructuring or other valid reasons, you're probably eligible to claim EI benefits. It is important to apply ASAP (as soon as possible), and not wait until you need the money. I have a friend who had some difficulty with the paperwork because she had delayed her application for EI benefits. Fortunately, she settled it and received her EI benefits in the end. The Canadian Bar Association (B.C.) website gives a good overview with links to Services Canada for the actual details.

The federal government funds this program to provide career counselling and some funds to new immigrants to obtain Canadian jobs equivalent to their previous profession. There are various groups that handle this. I applied through MOSAIC at Grant Street (along Commercial Drive), Vancouver. My case is now closed since I have spent the entire budget on nursing related courses. The amount is not much ($1,500 or $2,300 depending on one's previous industry), but some "free money" is still good. In addition, one can get one's English assessed for free through them, so that one can have a Canadian paper showing one's fluency in Canadian English. Note: Those born-and-educated in Singapore are viewed as fluent in English and therefore not required to undergo the Canadian English assessment.

The S.U.C.C.E.S.S. B.C. Richmond office runs this project, which is funded by the government (I am not sure if it is funded at the federal or provincial level). The idea is to provide financial support to Internationally Trained Professionals as they go about getting employment in their field in Canada. One can obtain a low-interest rate loan ranging from $500 to $15,000 for training, exams, qualification accreditation/assessments, joining professional associations, books or study materials, and living allowance. Note: IMHO, applicants should exercise financial self-discipline with the loan granted. I am aware of someone who utilized the loan granted to him for unrelated purposes and then finding himself back in a "financially broke" situation.,com_mtree/task,viewlink/link_id,1222/

BCIT International Credential Evaluation Service (ICES)
Quote from their website: "ICES evaluates formal for-credit educational programs of study for people who have studied in other provinces or countries and determines comparable levels in British Columbian and Canadian terms. The results of an ICES assessment are provided in evaluation reports that are objective, consistent, and reliable."
Note: Fees are applicable for the above service. The fee charged depends on the evaluation needed to be done.

[Addendum on 27-Jul-2012: A friend mentioned this program to me.]
YWCA Metro Vancouver Mentorship Program for Women
You do not have to be a Christian to join the program. In fact, both the YMCA and YWCA in Metro Vancouver are social organizations, not religious ones. Quote from the YWCA website: "This free mentoring program for women in Vancouver connects professional female mentors with unemployed women aged 19 and over who are entering or re-entering professional or skilled careers. Mentees come from a variety of backgrounds. They are women who are starting their careers, returning to the workforce or newly entering the Canadian job market."

A love story - Part 7

Writing about my life brings up an interesting observation about the way memory works. It is not sequential. Often what is remembered vividly are stuff that carry strong emotional links. From there, related memories slowly trickle back.

So yes, I missed out on something that chronologically speaking should belong to Part 6. I will share it here instead.


Part 7 - Mr SMS intervenes

Some background information: This is the same Mr SMS whom I mentioned on LIFT's blog entry "Jessica's story". First off, let's drop off the honorific and call him SMS. We call each other by first name. Despite the differences in our background, I consider SMS my peer -- i.e. my equal. I got to know SMS through my 2nd job, he was based in Europe, working with the vendor managing/monitoring networks, while I was based in Singapore as the second-level regional technical support. Whenever there is a issue with a bank (our clients) in Singapore (and sometimes in the region), I would get a page from SMS or his colleagues to attend to the issue. [Yeah, those were the days when paging was commonplace, only big bosses like Directors or Chief-whatever-Officer would carry mobile phones.]

In late 1990's, after my final work-trip to Hong Kong, not long after his marriage, AL came to Singapore on a short work-trip. He contacted me and we met up for dinner after work. As before when we were office buddies, we had so much to share and talk about that we continued on past midnight without realizing the elapsed time (I think it was around 1+am). Then AL suggested that I stay over at his hotel room -- we were chatting over drinks at one of the hotel's restaurants -- instead of heading home.

When we got to his hotel room, we started were kissing and caressing each other, but this time AL paused and did not undress either of us. I was disappointed, things have changed, we could not go on as before. Thus, I went out to the balcony to have a breath of air, to break away from his presence for a while to cool down. I sat on the balcony looking down at the tiny cars running around in the night below -- that's how I take my mind off things; don't think, just switch to "observation" mode. AL watched over me from inside the room. After a while, he repeatedly persuaded me to get away from the cold night air and return to the room. He even came to the balcony to get me. I thought (and still think) that he was worried that I would jump -- and what an awful mess that would be. Anyway, I suggested that perhaps I should call for a taxi and head home, but AL persuaded me to stay for the night. We slept on the double bed. Nothing happened between us.

The next day was a weekend. I was about to leave for home when suddenly AL decided to make out again. Given my disappointment the night before, I resisted somewhat initially, but he was determined. His eyes betrayed his desire as he kissed and caressed me with fervour. Then I thought, "This might be the last time that we ever meet, so what the heck, let's go all the way." I proceeded to take off his top and he took off mine. We were about to proceed further when suddenly my work pager beeped.

I put on my clothes, checked with AL, and returned the page by calling the network monitoring centre. SMS was on-duty. Instead of coming straight to the point about what was to be done, SMS chatted with me over nothing of consequence -- about his growing up experiences, his swimming abilities and medals, etc. I found it awkward to interrupt him or to hang up since he sounded so happy and excited reminiscing his experiences, so I listened for about 5-10 minutes before asking, "So SMS, why did you page me? Is there a problem at any bank?"

SMS replied negative, he just called to chat. At which point, I told him abruptly, "I have to go, I have something to attend to" and hung up.

I turned my attention back to AL. He was fully dressed again. He had changed his mind.


Years later, when SMS and I were dating, I asked him about that page and phone call. Why did he page me out of the blue? SMS told me that he was bored as he was the only one on-duty for that graveyard shift. He decided to chat with someone in Asia (since it was daytime in Asia) and our international calls were toll-free given the company's leased line subscription. There were 2 persons from Asia that SMS especially enjoyed chatting with -- I was one, and the other was a lady at the Call Centre Help-desk (i.e. 1st-level support). Since the Help-desk was not working on a weekend, whereas the 2nd-level support was on-call 24x7, he decided to page me for a chat.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A love story - Part 6

My parents had a photo album of many couples' wedding photos -- friends/relatives who gave them a print of their wedding photos. Back then, each print of a wedding photo was expensive, so only the really good/close friends/relatives would get a copy.

From my early 20's, I started keeping my friends' wedding invitation cards, requesting for a copy of their wedding photos and collecting them. It was like my little treasure bag of happiness -- the collective happiness of my friends on the "happiest day of their lives". It fuelled my dreams that one day I would have my own family, my own children -- and that I could finally show my mother that it is possible to love all of one's children, even though a mother may have a preference for one child over another.

I still have that bag of "happiness", although I have trimmed it down due to space limitation when I packed for migration. In fact, I hardly open it nowadays since my idea of happiness has changed a lot from my 20's.


Part 6 - 我的爱人结婚了,但新娘不是我。
[My loved one got married, but the bride wasn't me.]

AL and I became pen-pals. [This was before email was commonplace. It was only later that we switched to email.] Somewhere along the way, I made AL promised that if he should get married one day, he would send me a copy of his wedding invitation and photo. Initially, he hesitated. When I explained to him about my little treasure bag of happiness, he agreed that he would send them to me.

One day, almost 1 year from my last trip to Hong Kong, the invitation arrived. While I had expected that the day would eventually come, I was still shocked. Just a couple of months before, AL had sent me a birthday gift via postal service! In my mind I thought, "It can't be. How could it be? Wasn't I fated to be with AL?"

I continued to throw myself at my job. If others had noticed a change in my demeanour, they did not say a word. Frankly, I think most did not notice anything. Most, but not SL. One day after I got AL's wedding card, I was at a hawker centre to pack a bowl of porridge back for lunch in the office. I knew that SL was walking some distance behind me, but I pretended not to see him. My mind was lost in thoughts over AL and his impending marriage. While waiting for the traffic light to change, I forgot that I was holding onto a bowl of porridge and it fell onto the street. SL caught up with me, asked if I was alright and if I needed to another bowl of porridge. Tears welled up in my eyes. I muttered, "I'm ok. Anyway, I'm not hungry", turned away quickly and hurried back to the office. Thankfully, SL left me to myself.

When I reached home that day, I decided that it was now or never. I wrote a long letter to AL explaining why even if he did not marry me, as his friend, I had a duty to share my views on why he should not go ahead with his marriage. I cited their major differences in view on important life issues.
  • Children: AL loved and wanted children. 6Snoopys (according to what he told me) was clear from the start that she did not want to have children. 
  • Finance: AL was mostly thrifty. He was willing to splurge only on major purchases like getting a home with a good location. 6Snoopys found him to be too thrifty. They often quarrelled over money.
Knowing that keeping his promise to 6Snoopys was important to him, I persuaded him that even if it wasn't for his own happiness, he should consider for his future children. I wrote in no uncertain terms - citing my parents - that parents quarrelling incessantly (e.g. over money) would hurt their children.

I sent the letter. The wedding went as scheduled. 3-4 months later, I received 2 copies of his bridal photos. Try as I might to imagine, IMHO, AL did not look happy in those photos. In fact, he looked much happier in many of the candid and/or posed shoots taken at work and/or social gatherings in Singapore. I began to think that perhaps this was a test of faith. Perhaps, something would happen and AL and I would be together again. I began to wonder under what circumstances AL and 6Snoopys would no longer be together. I knew that AL did not have the courage to break his marriage. Perhaps 6Snoopys would find someone else that she loved and demand a divorce? Or perhaps something bad would happen to 6Snoopies and AL would be widowed? I hoped that it was the former, not the latter, but I was willing to accept either situation. [Note: I am ashamed to admit it, but I do not want to lie. Yes, I had those awful thoughts. I am a human being with flaws.]

While still that job, I had one more work-trip to Hong Kong after AL and 6Snoopies were married. Needless to say, this time I buffered myself by pulling my then-best-friend (who was working in China then) to stay with me at the hotel. AL once again insisted on meeting up, so we had dinner as a group together. Nothing happened between us, but AL still had those forlorn puppy-love eyes when looking at me. Back in Singapore, when I watched 梁祝 ("The lovers") on TV one night, 吴奇隆 Nicky Wu's sad puppy-love eyes reminded me of AL. I cried so badly that my brother-in-law was kind of shocked.

梁祝 Butterfly Lovers


Recently, I watched the DVD of the movie "Spring, summer, fall, winter... and spring". [Click here for the trailer.] At the end of "summer", the old monk said ominously to the young monk who was about to lose his lover, 
"Lust awakens the desire to possess. And that awakens the intent to murder."
Spring, summer, fall, winter...and spring
[Note: The "lust, posession, murder" speech starts at 3:48]


This part is to answer asingaporeanson's question, "What happened at 28 years old? tell me leh"

The above happened when I was 25-27. I threw my focus on my studies (I was doing a part-time Masters then) and work. I felt that if I could not do well in my love life, then surely my career and/or other aspects of life would do better. After all, as they say in Chinese, “ 情场得意 ,财场失意。” [i.e. "When lucky in love, one would be unlucky in finances" and vice versa.]

Some major changes had happened at work. I had a new boss with vastly different goals -- I was ambitious, he was for status quo. When I was 28, a new job offer came with a job title that I coveted, and so I job-hopped. Looking back, it was the start of my downfall. I was not a good fit to my new work environment -- I had jumped from the private to the public sector. In addition, I hated being dumped with a death march project (with design issues at the tail-end of the SDLC!!!); on top of handling several other projects concurrently, and being responsible for around 20 systems (mostly on maintenance). I quitted after 6 months, since I had promised the job interviewer (my boss' boss) that I would stay for at least 6 months to give myself time to adjust. My boss' boss was disappointed with my departure, she had earmarked me as a high-flyer.

After leaving my job, I took a packaged tour to Japan with my parents. My parents quarrelled frequently and openly, embarrassing themselves and me throughout the trip.

I came back depressed. I got to where I wanted in my career but I realized that it wasn't what I wanted after all. (I thought then that) I met "the one for life" but have squandered my chance by my refusal to be a 小女人 [literally "little woman", i.e. weak and/or dependent woman]. I hated myself for having awful thoughts/wishes for misfortune to happen to 6Snoopys or her marriage. I hated living in a household where there was no peace -- my parents quarrelled incessantly -- but I felt that I had no choice because I could not move out without further drama.

I decided that there wasn't really much to live for. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), I read too many detective stories as a teen and I did not want to die looking awful -- it would not be fair to leave my parents with an awful last image -- and most suicides look awful. The only method was carbon monoxide poisoning combined with a moderate dose of sedatives (so as to look relaxed and not winching in pain), but I didn't have a driving license to rent a car, neither did I want to "spook" any friend's car. Thus I decided that the only way was spontaneous death -- sudden unexplained death. I prayed very sincerely to leave this world -- several times daily. And yes, I had various signs and symptoms of depression even though I was never diagnosed as such, simply because I was not clear enough of mind to visit a psychologist or psychiatrist.

A love story - Part 5

According to my mother's story of me, right from birth, I was a baby that cried incessantly*. As far as I could remember, I often cried as a child. No, "wailed loudly like a banshee" would be a more accurate description. Even as a toddler, even before others could understand my words, I remember that I hated being born -- I would rather remain in the baby paradise that I once dreamed vividly of.
*Note: According to my mother, as an infant, I often cried in the night, preventing the whole extended family from sleeping. Only my paternal grandfather was patient and tolerant enough to carry me through the streets of Chinatown. He would walk with me in his arms, until I calmed down and fell asleep. In case anyone is wondering, I was born at night, around the middle of the Chinese Ghost Month (lunar 7th month). I have no memories whatsoever of my time as a baby. But by the time I was a toddler, before I even spoke coherently, I already knew that I was the apple of both my dad's and paternal granddad's eyes. I was to learn later from my mother that my paternal grandfather had a special fondness for me because I was born exactly 60 years after him.
My crying antics (and sprouting black-coloured milk teeth) earned me many nicknames as a child -- most of which were from my elder brother, my mother and her siblings (i.e. my maternal aunts and uncles). In fact, my mother even egged her siblings (my uncles and aunts) on to call me names. Names like -- 黑牙齿 ["black teeth"], 大hum包 ["big cry-baby bun"], and 掺泥口 ["backhoe loader mouth"]. Whenever I cried, my elder brother would taunt me further. Calling me a weakling, etc.

Somewhere along my journey growing up, I began to refuse to cry -- at least not in front of others. [Well, to be honest, I wasn't 100% successful, but I tried.] I did not want to be seen as a weakling, to be taunted and bullied by those around me.

Crying in the rain
By a-ha


Part 5 - Hong Kong again

After I returned from my second trip to Hong Kong, I started out at my second job. I was part of a regional 2nd-level technical support team; with one colleague (SY) based in Hong Kong and another (TM) based in Tokyo, Japan. Our boss and the out-sourced 1st-level support were based in Singapore. The previous staff had left on bad terms with the boss and was gone before I started work.

On my first week, my boss decided that she had to send me either to Hong Kong or Tokyo the following week, to be trained by a regional colleague for a week. I prayed that it would be Tokyo, because I did not want to be be in Hong Kong again. Initially my boss had planned on Tokyo, since TM was with the company much longer than SY and therefore knew the technical stuff much better. However, TM was into partying, often came late for work and was deemed rather unreliable. Thus, my boss changed her mind and sent me to Hong Kong instead.

Oh, Hong Kong, again! Less than 2 weeks after I had left the place that broke my heart. I resolved that I shall be very discreet and not contact anyone from my previous company on this trip. However, on my first day in Hong Kong at the new office, SY and the other new colleagues were scheduled for a farewell lunch for one of their colleagues and decided that it wasn't a good idea to bring me along. [It was a relatively political work environment and they could not trust me since I was new.] Unaware that I had just visited Hong Kong recently, SY suggested that since they would be out for a long lunch, that I could catch up with my ex-colleagues or friends over lunch. Not wanting to "lose face" (because SY knew my previous company -- it was a well-known MNC with office in Hong Kong too), I decided to call my ex-colleague MS for lunch. I couldn't get her on-the-line and so I left her a voice message. Since I wanted to keep my resolve not to see AL, I did not contact him at all. The next thing I know, I got a return call from AL -- a very hurt voice at the other end of the line demanding why I didn't tell him that I was in Hong Kong. He was not available to meet me for lunch but he arranged for MS to show me around for lunch, and arranged to meet me for dinner instead. My resolved melted -- we met up again, picking up from where we left off once again.

When I returned to Singapore, I threw myself into work to forget the matter. I tried very hard to build rapport with my new colleagues and the out-sourced vendor staff. [In fact, I learned Singlish and changed the way I spoke with my vendor staff in an attempt to connect with them.] It was a challenging environment because my predecessor was on very good terms with them and I could tell from her visit to her ex-colleagues (when my boss wasn't around) that she was complaining about my boss and criticizing my "inability" to do "her job" well.

I think I tried too hard -- one new colleague SL thought that my paying attention to everything he said and my polite agreement/sharing of some of his areas of interest was because I was interested in him! [Errm, to be honest, he wasn't the only work-related person hitting on me from that job.] It sucked to be pursued by someone you don't care for and pining for someone else that you love at the same time. Frustrated by the unwanted attention, one night when we both worked late, I pulled the dirty trick of flashing my Mensa Singapore membership card in his presence. I knew by then that many Singaporean men cannot accept a woman smarter than themselves. It worked. He paused his pursuit for a period. That gave me some peace to grieve over my troubled love.

愛我的人和我愛的人 -- 裘海正
["The person who loves me and the one whom I love -- Qiu Hai-zheng]

A love story - Part 4

When I was in my mid-teens, my mother wanted to divorce my father. In the end, she decided to stay in the marriage because she felt that she could not raise the children on her own. I remember thinking to myself then that I would not be a weakling, dependent on a man for anything -- not even the welfare of my/our children.
[Note: That said, I love my dad. I had always been (and am probably still) the apple of his eyes. In fact, according to my mother, even before I was born, when my mother was pregnant with me, my dad was already especially fond of me because he considered me a "lucky baby" as his business picked up suddenly. IMHO, he is a good man despite the difficulties he had/has with life, his wife and children -- especially his wife (my mother). I think my parents' marriage is one where 2 hot-headed persons with strong personality brought out the worst in each other.]
During my university days, I met a female hostel-mate who proudly declared that her life goal was to be happily married, to be a good wife and (if they have children) mother. I remember wondering why she was attending university when she only had 小女人 [literally "little woman", i.e. dependent woman] ambitions in life. But I knew by then that I would probably never understand some people because we have such different lives.


Part 4 - 小女人 [literally "little woman", i.e. dependent woman]

I cannot remember the remaining days of my first Hong Kong trip clearly. What I remembered was that when AL could not be around, he would try to arrange for our other mutual friends/colleagues to hang out with me. E.g. On the day that I visited our Hong Kong office with WY's son -- since the Singapore software team worked closely with the Hong Kong software team -- AL was stuck in meetings the whole day. Thus, AL arranged for our mutual friend MS to show me around the Hong Kong office and introduce me to our Hong Kong colleagues.

For some time, we never talked about what happened that night. In fact, we pretended that nothing had happened between us. One evening (I cannot recall if it was some days or some weeks after my return to work in Singapore), AL suddenly broached the subject in the midst of our BBS chat over work. He asked how I felt. In my work-mode and with my well-ingrained 女强人 [i.e. "strong woman"] mindset, I "calmly" typed my reply that it was a mistake, and that we should forget about it and move on. Like a swan floating gracefully on the water, but paddling furiously underneath, I refused to let others (not even AL) see how I was struggling emotionally. There was a pause in his reply, given AL's usual BBS response speed. Then, AL typed his deepest apologies for what he had done and he promised to keep things a secret and never bring up the matter again. Some months passed and we went back to our usual office buddies relationship. AL still shared with me about the issues he had with his girlfriend (6Snoopys), as before.

About 3-4 months from that first Hong Kong trip, I tendered my resignation from my job, having received a job offer from a headhunter that fulfilled one of my financial dreams (at that time). What I did not expect was that my company required me to leave the office that day and paid me garden leave for the remainder of my notice period. I tried frantically to contact AL. He was busy the whole day with meetings. In frustration and panic, I left an angry message with his Hong Kong colleague, “如果他不打电话给我,他就永远找不道我了!” [i.e. "If he doesn't call me back, he will never find me again!" Note: The Chinese characters are an approximate of the Cantonese words used, sorry I don't know how to type in Cantonese.] Bad move -- some of my colleagues heard it, and I believed at least one (or more) began to wonder about the relationship between AL and me.

Anyway, in the evening, AL contacted me, asked how I was and if I had any plans for the garden leave. I told him honestly that I missed him and asked if I should go to Hong Kong to visit him. He hesitated for a while, then replied that he left the choice to me; if I came, he would arrange for everything and take care of me. Thus, after spending one more week in Singapore handing over my work (outside of office) to my then supervisor [because I was completing some leading-edge system architectural change at that time], I took my second trip to Hong Kong.

My goals for that trip were simple. I could not deny that I missed AL. I wanted to know how he felt about me, about us. I also wanted to find out the state of his relationship with 6Snoopys, since AL vented a lot of his frustrations over their relationship to me. AL arranged for me to stay at his recently acquired apartment (which was empty at that time) -- the one he bought in preparation for 6Snoopys to live together with him if/when they eventually get married. AL had to juggle his time between his job, me, 6Snoopys, and his own family/parents. Good to his word, AL took really good care of me, bringing me out for dinner, shopping, and entertainment. [As before, when AL could not be around, he would try to arrange for our other mutual friends/colleagues to be with me. E.g. He arranged for yet another mutual friend/colleague to send me off at the airport.] Usually he would asked me what I prefer, and since I don't really have much preference -- I only cared that we were spending time together -- he made almost all the decisions, big or small. I finally understood the joys of being a 小女人 (dependent woman) -- no cares, no worries, just enjoy spending life with a loved one.
This trip was also the first time that I shared a bed with a man that I loved. It happened ever so gently. One night after hanging out together for the day, we returned home and watched TV. After a while, AL said that he was tired and suggested that perhaps I should also turn in for the night. I looked at him and then at the bedroom -- there was only one bedroom fitted with a bed, a double-bed, at that time -- and hesitated. He then said that I could have the bed and he would sleep on the couch. He went to the bedroom to grab a pillow. I hesitated and then replied that it wasn't nice that he had to sleep on the couch when it was his home. Then he turned around (as he was in the bedroom) and assured me that it was ok. I thought about it, and then suggested that he could sleep on one side of the bed while I took the other. [After all, some of us young colleagues did that before when we all crashed overnight at one of our colleagues' home; nothing untoward happened.] He smiled and agreed. 
I got cold-feet and sat still on the couch. AL stood at the hallway to the bedroom and offered once again to take the couch. I didn't want to look like a fool who backed out on her words, so I bluffed him that I was ok, that I just wanted to drink some water before I turned in for the night. AL stood at the same spot, watched me drinking a glass of water, and said that he was waiting for me to get to the bedroom before he switched off the hallway light. I finished my water, put down the glass -- he said to leave it there and he would wash it the next morning -- and walked slowly towards the bedroom. I wasn't sure what to expect.
So there we were in the bedroom. I took the right side of the bed and he took the left. We each had our own pillow but shared a blanket. Initially we kept to our sides of the bed. After a while, without a word, AL reached over for me under the blanket and started caressing me. Slowly, he began to reach under my top and bra to caress my skin and breasts. Then he slipped his hand under my panty and fondled me. I told him fearfully that I wasn't on contraception. He acknowledged, and then took off our tops. Then we continued fondling each other, with our bottoms on, and he came. With each subsequent night, I became less shy of sleeping topless with him, until finally we slept only with my panty on and he with his briefs.
Towards the end of this second trip, while I was alone at AL's home, I snooped around and found out by chance that AL and 6Snoopys had a joint bank account. For those who don't understand the Asian mentality -- a joint bank account and a home purchased for life together meant that marriage was on the cards. I pretended that I did not know anything about the bank account and asked AL about his future plans with 6Snoopys. Suspiciously, he kept dodging the issue. It was not like him to not answer my questions candidly.
I knew by then that I was exceptional in some ways, and so I convinced myself that I would not fight with another (weaker) woman over a man. I told myself, "I am smart, I can be a woman of independent means. I can be a strong woman. I don't need a man to lean on."
I left Hong Kong heartbroken. AL and I agreed that it was perhaps better that we do not see each other again.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A love story - Part 3

Do you ever have vivid premonitory dreams that subsequently happen in your real life?

I do. I cannot remember when I first started having them, but I remember clearly that I had them during Secondary school when I was struggling to cope with life. That said, my vivid dreams often seem rather ridiculous when I dreamt of them, until the context upon which they happen appear in my life. One such dream I had in my early 20's was this.
I was in a couch with someone (I cannot see his face nor hear his voice). It was someone that I loved. We were sitting on the couch watching TV, at a mutual friend's home. Then we started making out on that couch!
If you read my comments on LIFT's "Adult Season Part 5: Jessica's story", you will note that I considered myself the Sensibility (Elinor Dashwood) part of "Sense and Sensibility" when it comes to love. Making out on a mutual friend's couch was socially unacceptable from my sensibility perspective and so I laughed the dream away, albeit I remembered it clearly because of its vividness and weirdness.


Part 3 - 牵红线 [Red string of fate]

AL and I was at the doorstep of our friend WY's rented apartment (and soon-to-be home) near Fo Tan, at Sha Tin, Hong Kong. AL was surprised that WY had left the entire apartment to me, so I would be all alone in Hong Kong that night and he wondered about my safety. Afterall, Fo Tan (Sha Tin) was considered an outskirt back in the mid-1990's. Before he left, he asked to use the toilet. While he was in the toilet, I got myself some water. When AL came out, I offered him some water. He took the glass, turned on the TV and sat down to drink the water.

We both sat on the couch and watched TV together for a while. Then AL stretched his left arm back on the couch, just above where my shoulders were. Slowly that arm fell down to touch my shoulders and lower. I let him do that. At one point, I turned to speak to him, only to find him facing me -- his lips only centi-meters away from mine. He leaned forward to give me a rather chaste kiss on my lips. Then he apologized for his impulsive behaviour. I told him that he didn't have to say sorry. Then he progressed to kiss me further and we started making out, while the TV was playing in the background.
Something strange happened to me at that point. It was like I was both in my body and popped out of my body, floating just above us. I was simultaneously having dual perspectives of what happened. The TV playing in the background, the friend's couch, the man I love -- it all felt like my vivid premonitory dream. Did it that mean that AL was "the one for life" for me? And thus I felt that it was alright to let things happen.
We did not go very far, mainly because AL was a gentlemen. To be honest, I enjoyed his kisses, caresses and humping. I also enjoyed giving him pleasure because I cared about him deeply. He dry humped me until he came. Once again, he apologized but I caressed the crotch of his culottes and kissed him gently to reassure him that I was alright with it.

AL stayed over that night. He slept on the couch while I returned to bed. Anyway, the next day he went home because he had a family gathering to attend.

A love story - Part 2

I shall start-off with 2 Chinese sayings.

有缘千里来相会, 无缘对面不相逢
Those fated will meet despite being 1000's of miles apart, 
Those not fated will not recognize each other despite meeting face-to-face.

Those with feelings will not be separated by 1000's of miles,
Those without feelings will not have any "action" even when sharing a bed.


Part 2 - A dream vacation

One day in mid-1990's, another colleague WY who had recently relocated to Hong Kong with his wife asked me to chaperon his child to Hong Kong that weekend. Both WY and his wife had recently started their new jobs in Hong Kong and they had left their son in the care of WY's wife's sister who resided in Singapore because it would take them time to arrange for their son's care and education in Hong Kong. However, due to some passport related paperwork, they needed to get their son over to Hong Kong urgently and WY's sister-in-law had just fell ill and could not make the trip. So WY proposed that I get an all expense-paid trip  in exchange for chaperoning his son for 1 week. That is, accommodations and airfare paid for, a few meals with the family thrown in, and an offer to refund me any expenses incurred in entertaining their son.
By then, I had a reputation amongst my colleagues for being comfortable with children (and the children are also comfortable with me), especially pre-schoolers. Besides being a patient playmate, I was also able to explain things in simple terms which the children can understand, and was able to be firm when necessary. [I think my work experience as a pre-school assistant teacher played a big part in this.] Plus, both WY and his wife trusted me, and their son had enjoyed playing with me in our past social gatherings.
Given the offer, I thought, "Why not?" Up until then, the furthest that I had travelled was Malaysia (both East and West) because I was thrifty with the aim to break out of the poverty cycle. So I got permission from my immediate boss, packed my bags and decided what I would do for the days on my own, when WY and/or his wife was available to spend the time with their son. So I contacted my best friend in Hong Kong, AL and another colleague MS. AL promised to show me around Hong Kong, especially since I and CML had shown them around Singapore. I joked with AL that I would finally get to meet his girlfriend 6Snoopys.

On the 1st evening, I had dinner with WY's family and they took care of their son since the weekend had arrived. WY decided to stay at the hotel with his family, leaving me to live in at the condominium which they rented and were about to move into. AL and I arranged to meet up to visit Lantau Island the next day. The other colleague couldn't make it, so it was to be AL, 6Snoopys and me.

The next morning we met up as arranged. I was surprised to find AL alone and he seemed moody. Anyway, he didn't want to spoil my vacation, so he put on a brave front and started planning our day. Here's where things began to happen like a cheesy romantic movie.

It was a nice sunny summer day, and we had a pretty good time, e.g. trying the famous local food such as 山水豆腐 ["mountain water tou fu"], and enjoying the sights and sounds. We went up the many steps to the Tian Tan Buddha, of course taking my pace since I was asthmatic. When we finally reached the top, it suddenly started pouring. We rushed to one of the side shelters around (and under) the Buddhist temple. There was another couple there and we didn't want to spoil their privacy, so we moved on to another side shelter once the rain became lighter. Just as we entered the other shelter, the storm poured on. We decided to sit and chat instead. Before long, I broached the subject of why AL was not happy. AL replied that he just had a really bad quarrel with his girlfriend and they decided to break-up. I asked him what the issues were and based on his replies, it was a mix of stuff but most importantly the same crucial ones that they had been quarrelling about for some time. AL looked really sad, there was not much I could say, so I pat him and gave him a light punch on the shoulder as we chums used to do in the past. 

Eventually the rain stopped and we continued our sight-seeing, proceeding to Victoria Peak. AL had cheered up, but I sensed that there was a change in the mood. E.g. When we were looking down at the city from an outcrop with a slight breeze blowing at us, AL stood really closely behind me -- he pretty much had me between the railings and himself with minimal wriggle space -- ostensibly to shield me from the cold mountain wind. I did not know what to think at that time. We were chums, so I felt safe with someone that I trusted. It also felt nice to be "wanted" again after my break-up with TL some years back. Thus, I let things be.

Later at dusk, we had to walk through a dark patch of pavement to leave the peak. That stretch was dark because some of the usual lamp posts were blown out. I hesitated because I was scared. After all, I had watched numerous Hong Kong TV series which generally painted an image that Hong Kong was an unsafe place. AL turned around, he realized that I was scared. He was about to hold my hand, but instead offered that I held on to his "canvas shoulder-slinged school bag". I did as told. As we went through the dark patch, I wasn't quite sure on my footing and eventually AL held my hand the rest of the way. After exiting from the dark patch, he continued to hold onto my hand and I squeezed his hand to acknowledged that I was ok with that.

At nightfall, we went to the famous Women's Street [女人街] night market at Mong Kok, although I was not into buying any knick knacks. We passed by a street of fortune tellers, and I found their rhythmic Cantonese enchanting. AL saw that I seemed interested in the fortune tellers, so he suggested that I got my fortune told. I told him that I didn't want to waste money on such stuff, so he said that it would be his treat. I told him I don't know how to negotiate the prices, so AL checked out the stalls and decided on one elderly man nearby. The elderly man asked me what I wanted to know. Well, I wanted to say, "Everything about my life!" since I didn't know where to start, but that seemed rather unfocused. Then AL suggested 姻缘 ["love life"] and asked if I minded if he listened. And I replied, "Sure!" [Note: All conversations here were in Cantonese.] The old man did his calculations and said that I would meet my loved one soon. I asked, "How soon is soon?" He looked at me and AL and then said, "Very soon. You will know." I was thinking, "Nah! I am NOT his girlfriend, lah!" I think I showed my face of disbelief, so when I decided to ask the old man something else instead, he humoured me.

Thereafter, AL sent me home. [Note: In Hong Kong, it is customary for the guy to send the gal home to the doorstep, given Hong Kong's crime and safety issues.]

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A love story - Part 1

I am going to share a love story about one of the 2 men that I've met in my life so far, with whom I was am willing to marry and have children. This is going to be a long story, split into parts (I don't know how many yet). I hope my readers will be patient.

I think it is time to share this story because recent events bring my thoughts back to the matter. E.g. The comments from 2 readers.
  • From Alan Heahif one does it 'because', due to social norms and 'age', then be resigned to a lifetime of social obligation, or the tedious consequences of relationship fallout;
  • From asingaporeansonWhat happened at 28 years old? tell me leh
[Btw, TGC, if you're reading this, you will know who I'm writing about. Please keep the confidentiality of the whole matter. Thanks!]


Part 1 - An office buddy.

Early 1990's. I first met AL at my first job after graduating from university. He was transferred from Hong Kong, together with the entire department due to a strategic decision by our MNC's head-office, given Hong Kong's handover to China in 1997.

We were IT folks working in the financial services industry, mostly in our 20's. Since it was my first professional job, I struggled with office politics. I was in the development team and AL was in the testing team. In particular, I had a lot of difficulty with a particular female colleague CML who was on the testing team with AL.
We were young and used to hung out to socialize together after work. CML was attracted to a good-looking colleague TL on the development team. Unfortunately for CML, TL fell in love with me and we had a brief (outside-of-office) romance. After a few months, I broke up with TL mainly because I couldn't take the social pressure and gossips from CML, and partly because I was ambitious then and I felt that TL was too "immature" as he lacked dreams/plans for the future.
I often worked late (often past 10pm, sometimes overnight) because I wanted to do well professionally. AL often worked late too (I think) mainly because he missed his girlfriend back home in Hong Kong and re-channelled his energy into his job. Many a times when CML made things difficult for me, and I would confide with her team-mate, AL. We also de-stressed by chatting with each other whenever his/my work overwhelmed him/me (although AL got upset over work much less often than I did). Since AL, his girlfriend and myself all loved the Peanuts comics, AL would often reminiscent about his girlfriend (whom we code-named "6Snoopys") with me -- they had met during their undergraduate days and stayed together since. I totally respected his commitment to his girlfriend and his steadfastness in love.

By mid-1990's, AL had an opportunity to transfer back to Hong Kong. He decided to take it up so as to fulfil his promise to his girlfriend that he would return to Hong Kong once he had spent a few years exploring Singapore. After AL returned to Hong Kong, we kept in touch through the office BBS chat system. He shared mostly about issues with re-adjusting to Hong Kong, the office politics there and his relationship with his girlfriend. I shared my usual doubts, frustrations and challenges at work and in life.

Up until then, we were good friends -- purely platonic ones.


If you want to know what they looked like.
  • TL looked like Leon Lai [ 黎明 ]. Yup, we used to joke amongst us youngsters at work that TL was our workplace's "Leon Lai".
  • AL had Nicky Wu's air [吴奇隆] and looks-wise was an average-looking version of Nicky Wu.
Leon Lai [ 黎明 ] - Everlasting Love [ 長情 ]

吴奇隆 刘诗诗 - 等你的季节
[Nicky Wu, Cecilia Liu - "The seasons of waiting for you"]

Monday, July 16, 2012

My teen visit to an evangelical church

I read with interest what Lucky Tan and LIFT wrote about Christian church recruiting new blood via school children. I am not surprised because I was aware of it happening, even back in the 1980's when I was attending a branded secondary school in town. I think that if they read about my first experience as a teen visiting an evangelical church, they may be appalled by the tactics used by these "fishermen of souls". Note: It has been more than 20 years now, so my memory is not 100% accurate, so please forgive the parts where I honestly don't remember.


I was in Secondary 2 or 3 (14 or 15 years old) at that time and a member of a squad of 20+ NPCC girls from my cohort. 2 of my squad mates had joined a Christian church located at a short bus ride from our school -- a Pentecostal church in particular, which was not deemed part of mainstream Christianity at that time in Singapore.
Note #1: At that time, mainstream Christians refers to Anglicans, Methodists, and similar groups, with Catholics being seen as a separate class on its own.
Note #2: I don't know if that Pentecostal church that I attended is in anyway related to any of the existing Pentecostal churches in Singapore. Anyway, whatever I experienced was in the past, more than 2 decades ago, so please don't anyhow slime the current churches or their followers, okay?
Before long, a 3rd squad mate was their new and fervent convert. Soon my 3rd squad mate and another of them invited me to visit their church. I was curious as to why my 3rd squad mate was such a fervent convert and am generally open to exploring new stuff, so I agreed to visit their church. Besides, IMHO, their enthusiasm in "saving more souls" was affecting the squad unity and causing unease to others in the squad.
Now what my friends didn't know was that while I was (and am still) not a Christian, I know the bible stories pretty well. As a child, I had a Christian aunt who gave my family 2 children's bible story books, covering the Old Testament (i.e. the Jewish Torah) and the New Testament (i.e. the conception, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ). For a long time, those were 2 of the only 3 story books my family had, so I read and re-read the books many times over. Thus, I was (and am) not some "ignorant/stupid idol worshippers" as some Christians like to label the Taoists and Buddhists during their worship sessions.
Upon arrival at the church, everyone seemed so happy to meet me and welcomed fresh faces. They started the worship with singing songs (accompanied by guitar, keyboard or piano, I cannot recall) and standing up doing simple dance-like movements (like in line-dancing). By then, a few of the church members started rattling off in tongue. Then the "good news" sermon started, i.e. repent and convert because the only way to salvation was through Christ. Then came the (IMHO, church branding) sermon which preached that their church was unique in its worship approach that appealed to the youths, and that other churches were old and staid and not carrying out Jesus' mission of spreading the faith by not changing with the times. Then came the "do not be swayed by other churches calling us a cult" pep talk, because -- according to the speaker(s) -- the others were jealous of the church's energy. In fact, they claimed that a proof of the church's energy and the Holy Spirit's presence was that their members were able to speak in tongue (glossolalia). Then they invited members to share their testimonies. Whenever a teenager shared about his/her challenge at home with parents who opposed the teen's church involvement, the members would rally support and shared that it's part of God's challenge, advised him/her to remain respectful of his/her parents but do not heed the Devil's call to leave Christianity, and cited other members' long journey in successfully converting their entire families. Then the teen would reaffirm his/her conviction to the faith.

Then we broke up into small groups. My 2 friends and a "seasoned" church member formed a group with me. If I remember correctly, they sat on my left, right and opposite facing me.* Firstly, they asked if I was shocked in any way by the glossolalia and reassured me that I would get used to it. While I did not expect it, the glossolalia did not scare me. [Note: By that age, I had some paranormal experiences (which I did not share with others about), so nope, I wasn't so easily scared.] They were surprised by my negative answer and looked somewhat pleased. Then they asked if I understood the good news. Yes, I said, I know about the Jesus Christ story. Then they insisted that it wasn't just a story, we even learned about this man/god in our history textbook. Yes, I agreed that this person existed according to our history text. Then they asked if I would convert to Christianity. When I said no, they were seemed surprised. They asked me why I would want to go back to idol worship. [In my mind, I was thinking why are they so narrow-minded to insist that "not Christian = idol worship"?] Anyway, they kept pressuring me with questions, especially the "A or B" type of closed-ended questions.* They did not expect to meet up with a tenacious teenager. Finally, after spending I think around 20min, when it looked like I was getting agitated by their questioning, they asked me why I was there. I told them frankly that I was there not because I wanted to learn about Christ; I was there because I felt that their 3 church members who were my squad mates were destroying the unity of the squad by their faith outreach activities in school. Thereafter, the "seasoned" church member left my 2 friends to talk to me. I left that church shortly after, never to return again. [Note: I did visit other churches later in life for various reasons (friends' invitation, friends' wedding, as a tourist, etc), but I am still not a Christian.]

When I left, I felt bad that I was behaving like a horrible guest. Nevertheless, I wasn't going to be peer-pressured into accepting something that I knew clearly in my heart that I did not agree with. It did not matter to me, that as they claimed, to accept the faith first and then with faith, things would happen and testimonies would arise in my life. Nope, not an iota. If they had known me better, they would have known that "testimonies" already arose in my life, regardless of my faith. I did not need to subscribe to any faith in particular for miracles and/or paranormal stuff -- big or small -- to happen in my life. Neither did I believe in joining a group whose definition of itself was by thumping down others (including other Christian churches). Finally, I knew very well from a bible story that Jesus Christ's death tore a temple's veil precisely because he preached direct worship to God, he did not say anything about his followers having to choose one church over another.


You will note that I have marked 2 asterisks above. These are the parts that irked me then, as a teenager stuck in that church discussion, which I could not figure out the reasons for my discomfort until after my brief dabbling in MLM (multi-level marketing) 2 decades later. In MLM, I learned some high-pressure sales techniques that were applied to subtly pressurize a client to go along with our "suggestions".
  • One is the use of group conformity by surrounding the client with 2 or more confederates (i.e. "Yes" men). That was what happened when we broke into smaller groups with my friends and the "seasoned" church member surrounding me.
  • The other is the refusal to accept an answer as it is. To repeatedly wear down the client's resistance by asking "A or B" type of closed-ended questions which paints a false dichotomy from which the client is  (mis-)led to choose.
Looking back, I wonder if my friends converted because they felt touched by faith or they fell victim to such psychological manipulation. Oh, by the way, the teens were expected to donate to the church. I am, however, not sure if the tithe was 10% or as they wish.

Loneliness vs Solitude

I have thought about writing about this common challenge for migrants for a long time. I have held back on it because it does not really affect me. But then, recent "reminders" made me decide to pen down my thoughts.


On Friday 6th July after school, I chatted with my classmate KS while she was waiting for her bus. In preparation for a busy 2nd semester, KS had sent her 2 children back to India to be care for by their grandparents. Now that our previous surgery clinical is completed, we have a few weeks break from clinical (i.e. we only have classes to attend in school) before the practicum starts (i.e. next round of clinical). Thus, our workload is much lighter currently and we have more "free" days. KS remarked that without her children around and with her husband working (8 hour shifts plus 2-3 hours travelling back-and-forth), she is not used to being alone and often felt lonely outside of school. She had been advised to do the same activities, that she used to do with others, on her own. Nevertheless, she still finds it a big adjustment and is not comfortable with going solo.

Last Friday 13th July after school, I chatted with another classmate D (from the other subgroup) while we walked to the bus-stop and she waited for her bus. D shared that she just got married a few months before she left The Philippines to attend the GNIE course. Her husband is still in The Philippines and she missed him badly. D faced some challenges in convincing her husband to relocate to Canada with her, and thus D had to cope on her own here. Coincidentally, D had originally arranged with KS to visit the CRNBC library together after school that day. However, KS did not turn up for class today, so D was undecided what to do that afternoon. Once again D brought up the issue of loneliness.
While D was sharing about her marriage, she asked me how old I was. To which I replied my usual, "Guess?" D guessed that I am in my 20's and advised me to date and get married soon, not to wait until so late like her -- only to be married in her mid-30's. I didn't tell D my actual age, just laughed away. Then D asked me if I have a boyfriend and if so, I should talk to him about getting married soon. I jokingly replied, "Hmm, which one?" and laughed.
On Saturday 14th July, I hung out with a new friend HW from PRC. HW and her family migrated to Canada and resided in Calgary, Alberta some years ago. She has already obtained her Canadian citizenship. Thereafter, her husband decided to bring the whole family (i.e. HW, hubby and their son) back to China because of the better job prospects there. Almost a month ago, HW returned to Canada -- this time residing in Metro Vancouver -- as the vanguard for her family's eventual return to Canada. HW asked me if I ever feel lonely. I replied her honestly, "No." HW then shared that she felt bored all alone. I remembered what KS told me 2 Fridays ago and suggested to HW to do the same things on her own that she would otherwise do with others. HW then said that it wasn't fun doing stuff alone. I told her that I found it ok, I would do stuff -- grocery shopping, going to the movies, etc -- on my own.
HW asked if I have any boyfriend or am dating currently as she wanted to introduce someone to me. I told her honestly that I was not looking and I will leave it to fate, citing “有缘千里来相会。” [i.e. "If fate decrees, those fated will meet despite being 1000's of miles apart."] She then asked me wouldn't I like to have someone to be with me. I told her honestly that I am used to “我行我素”, i.e. doing what I like, whenever I like. 

Anyway, the 3 persons above are not the only migrants I have met who cited loneliness as an issue. Even male migrants have complained to me about loneliness. Thus, I think that loneliness is an important issue that potential migrants should consider in their S.W.O.T. analysis when planning for migration.

In my case, loneliness is not an issue.

This is partly because I make friends/acquaintances easily. E.g. I became friends with PN after chatting with her at the Singapore Police Cantonment Complex while we were both applying for our CNCC (Certificate of No Criminal Conviction). E.g. I became friends with HC after my email application to be her tenant fell through. E.g. I became friends with JX (ZS's wife) and GC after meeting them at a job interview. E.g. I became friends with JL after I met her grandmother by chance because of a disruption in the train service. E.g. I became friends with HW after a chance meeting on the bus.

Another reason is that I recognize and feel that socializing takes effort. E.g. I agree with this blog which cited sleepover as a "cognitively demanding" activity. In some cases, the effort is either necessary (due to social norms) or worth the rewards. In other cases, I sometimes catch myself -- in the midst of a social event -- wondering if I wouldn't be happier being alone.

A major reason is that I am born an introvert. [Note: You probably wouldn't know from my professional interactions because I have learned to adapt to an "extroverted" world.] Often living inside my head is more important than what happens with the world out there. E.g. I enjoy talking to my soft-toys. [Yes, I am still a kid at heart!] E.g. I can spend the whole day surfing the internet and reading blogs, and still not be bored because I enjoy reading, analyzing and reflecting on matters.

Finally, I enjoy observing the world. I could while away the hours just observing the numerous mundane stuff around me -- especially if I don't have to rush off for appointments. E.g. I am actually fascinated by the shadows dancing rhythmically on the escalator steps in the video below.

[Note: Sorry about the horizontal tilt, 
I don't know how to rotate a video.]

Combined together, the above factors turn (what others would consider) "the pain of loneliness" into "the joy of solitude" for me. This has been true for me since young. In short, loneliness is not a problem for me. Nevertheless, I recognize that it may be a challenge for other migrants.