A cup of coffee

It is a dark and rainy Monday in Singapore, perfect weather for sleeping in. Lazily I crawl out of bed, go through my usual routine of checking for any important late night messages. Here it comes, wait for it—waaaah the rain! #sgflood

I look out my window, its face wet with tears. Vaguely I just make out the shape of the housing flats out yonder, no doubt that this torrential pour was going to last a while. Feeling thankful that I have no immediate need to leave the house, I head down for breakfast.

Baked beans on toast, a simple and ordinary breakfast for a dull and grey day. Nothing too special for a day that starts the week. But I am not one to settle for ordinary. What makes a rainy day better? Hot drinks for sure. I have an array of different teas collected over the year but none quite seem to satisfy my snobbish cravings for something different.

Coffee? I’ve firmly rejected most offers for a cuppa joe throughout the years, never quite understanding how anyone could survive the bitter taste. Still, there’s a jar of instant coffee I bought recently just so I could add a little into a cheesecake, recommended by a cousin who only has good tastes.

Curiosity killed the coffee rebel in me. Just half a teaspoon to try. Just half a cup.

The bitter smell of coffee wafts through the air as I pour hot water into my cup. My grandmother’s favourite smell. I’m surprised it doesn’t summon her into the living room. It may bitter, but surely this is the smell of good coffee.

I take a sip. Wait, this isn’t too bad? Another sniff, another sip. Could add sugar if I wanted it sweeter. Strangely, I’m not in the mood for sweet. I start to dream, I start to think: what is it that makes this coffee different from other coffee?

Suddenly I see leaves sprouting around me. Ah, it’s that green of coffee beans, the smell of real coffee. It’s not about the caffeine, it’s the experience of aroma, an understanding of that very place this coffee has come from. Is this what it might be like walking through a coffee plantation?

Back to reality, a cup of dark brown staring back at me. I’m appreciative of this little tonic. I down the last of my cup.

The rain begins to let up and hugging the last remaining warmth of my cup, my little adventure fades to an end. Am I a coffee convert? No, not yet. I’ve still a ways to go, though more likely than not I’ll open that little jar of sunshine and go on a journey once more.

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2017: Depression & My Best-Worst Year Yet

I went into 2017 depressed, crying, feeling dead and yet alive. I won’t mince words—it was terrible. I started pulling away from activities I loved, began isolating myself not just from people I really cared about, but people who really cared about me.

The feeling of legitimately wanting to die is not easily understood by those who have never been through it. I still remember quite clearly crossing small roads and seeing a car pull up. As if time suddenly slowed down, the world became a blur and what few seconds I had seemed like an eternity, the terrifying question of whether to stop or push forward floating like a gentle whisper across my mind…

Gritting my teeth, I’d tell my feet to keep walking. I’d try to reason with myself: What use would it be to get hit on a small road, where cars drove under 40km/hr? Then came the horrifying realisation of how badly I wanted to die. More tears. More crying. But no, it must stop, I had places to be, things to do, people were counting on me. Suck it up. I did. I had to. But it didn’t help.

I didn’t stop there. I continued thinking about death at traffic crossings, the most effective way to die, the best places to jump from. I crashed, turning into someone I was never meant to be. I’d say hurtful things intentionally just to get people away from me. I wanted to be hated, to be alone. Then maybe when I felt there was nothing and no one left for me, I would find more peace in choosing to die.

Eventually I went for counselling, quit my job and took some time to reflect on life and build confidence in myself. And I know, I’ve come a ways away from where I used to be. I may not be in the best of situations, sitting in my room typing this out with only my left hand while my right hand lays limp in a cast by my side, but I know I’ll make it through these last few hours of the year. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God I’ve made it through.

When I think back about all I’ve been through, I still cry. I can’t believe I went through all the pain I experienced and still managed to choose life over death. It was so hard, yet by the grace of God I somehow made it.

I’m looking forward to 2018. Although it might be difficult, I’m sure it can’t be worse. But I know that there are others who might be like me, who are going into the new year sad, depressed, even suicidal.

I won’t tell you that it’ll be alright, that you’ll be okay. I know better than anyone that it doesn’t feel that way, and that’s not what you need to hear right now.

So I’ll tell you the things you need to hear: Your life sucks. Whatever situation you’re in sucks. That person bullying you? They’re a b*tch. But you can be better, you can be stronger. Don’t give up, don’t lose, not just yet. If you don’t believe you’ll make it, I’ll believe for you. Because I did. I made it. Through all the sh*t. It wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you that. But worth it? Maybe, if the experience can help save another life like mine, definitely worth it. I didn’t learn nothing from all the pain and maybe you can learn something from it too.

But if you give up, that’s it. You gain nothing, you learn nothing. Once you quit, you’re left with nothing.

For myself, I’m glad I kept going. I’m finally reaching the end of the tunnel, finally seeing the light. But if you’re still stuck in your tunnel, keep walking, find someone who can see through the darkness to guide you. I guarantee, someday you’ll see the light, shining and more brilliant than ever.

Setting Goals for Learning Japanese

Before getting started on anything, it’s important to know what you want to achieve through this learning experience. Do you want to understand the language and be able to read and write? Or do you just want to learn conversational Japanese? Different methods should be employed based on the outcome you hope to achieve.

For example, if you wish to focus on reading and writing, you might want to get a textbook such as Genki, Minna no Nihongo, etc. Learning how to read and write basic characters of the Hiragana and Katakana chart will be foundational before moving on to grammar points and picking up a few Kanji characters along the way. I once took a preparatory course for JLPT N1 (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) and the focus was mainly on learning words and reading comprehension passages. I learnt a lot of grammar and can read more kanji characters than before, but because I hardly got to practice speaking the language, do find myself at a loss for words at times even though I completely understand a question posed to me in Japanese.

On the other hand, while still beneficial to learn Hiragana and Katakana, if you want to learn conversational Japanese you have the option of listening to audio lessons in Japanese. Japanese language schools also offer conversational classes which are likely less intense than one preparing you for tests like the JLPT. You can also look for conversation groups around your area (usually called “Nomikai”) where native speakers gather to exchange language knowledge e.g. native Japanese will come to learn English, and native English speakers will come to learn Japanese.

Of course at the end of the day, you will have to learn a bit of everything. However, not all resources are created equal. Where one textbook may give you comprehensive knowledge on grammar, another may prove more useful in giving you the tools needed to carry a simple conversation. It’s important to remember what your true objectives are because each resource often provides different materials for a specific outcome. Bearing your main objective in mind, do some research to find the learning method most suited for you.

Japanese: The start of a series

Today I was chatting with some friends and they happened to ask some questions about learning Japanese. To my surprise, I realised that I actually know quite a bit. People actually saved the links I provided and noted down the apps I thought were useful. I’m bragging a bit, but I honestly never thought I know that much about learning Japanese. It’s funny that I actually feel useful for once *laughs*.

Given the above situation, I thought maybe others might find it useful if I gave reviews of the textbooks and apps I found useful while studying. There are quite a few good resources, and some are free too!

So as mentioned in the title, I will be starting a Japanese series on my blog to share some tips and resources to learning Japanese. I hope that it will help make things easier for those studying Japanese and by teaching them what to look out for and knowing which resources might work for them.

The need for self-care

Three-and-a-half months ago I turned in my resignation letter, telling my company that I would be leaving in two months. I knew, and everyone else did too, I needed a break. I needed some time off to myself, not just to do the things I wanted but more importantly, the things I needed.

I’ve had at least two and a half years in youth ministry, not just at work but also in church. Youth ministry is a myriad of relationships, emotions and unresolved issues. Adolescence is a trying stage, and growing up is never easy. Meeting up with youth and planning lessons week after week is no easy task on it’s own. Add emotionally unstable teenagers and you know it’s a nightmare waiting to happen – falling in love, breakdowns, fights with parents, running away from home, and the list goes on. I was never someone who knew how to deal with relationships and issues, let alone someone trained for counselling. I didn’t know how to deal with, or how I should deal with the problems of others, the things that I heard.

I was trying to take on too many problems that weren’t my own when actually I had so many personal things that needed to be settled. When I think back on all those years and months it still hurts, but having had the time to enjoy my time and do the things I need, it doesn’t hurt as much.

I always thought that things like going out and eating good food, or watching movie were the things I needed to make me happy. That because I didn’t have time to do those things as much before, I was beginning to feel depressed. That maybe I wasn’t having enough fun in my life. Doing part time studies for work meant missing out on gatherings, fellowships…I felt left out. While it is necessary for us to have some relationships, the things I needed most were far more simple: going out to the supermarket to buy my own shampoo and toiletries, managing my own meals so I eat healthier, clearing out the stacks of papers and books in my room… All these things were basic things I needed to get done in my life but I wasn’t doing them.

Oftentimes when I’m busy, I put off the things I need to do in order to do the things I want to do. The time off really gave me the opportunity to find a balance between that and I think that in all this, God has been good, in the sense that I get to take my break and can still get back to real life after I’ve rested enough.

It may seem boring, but remember to do the things you need. Drink a glass of water, take a walk and stretch those muscles if you’ve been sitting at a table all day, go pick up the meds you need if you’re sick, see a counsellor if something is bugging you. Whatever it is, remember that you should be important to yourself too. Take care of yourself out there!

For the first time in a long time

Today I looked in the mirror and asked myself, who am I really?

Slightly over two years ago after coming back from studies in Melbourne, I felt God calling me into full time ministry and was lead into to a job in that category. It must have been a miracle because the year before, God told me to scrap all the plans I had and to trust that He would give me a job. I trusted, He provided. I truly believed that I knew what God was saying and believed that no matter what the circumstance, as long as I followed, things would be okay.

Now two years later, I’ve turned cynical. What should have been a gift was more like a curse to me. I doubted that I could hear God, that I could trust that He was telling me things. It was easier to believe that the visions I saw were just hallucinations, that all those times I was given specific words speak or actions to carry out were just coincidence. Such things were crazy talk. I just wanted to be a “normal person”. I just wanted to be left alone.

But God hardly gives up on anyone and out of habit, I’d continue asking trivial questions about my life and He continued answering them in a non-trivial manner. He is annoying like that sometimes, though there is nothing wrong with it.

So today, as if forgetting I wasn’t unhappy with God at all, I dared to ask who am I really? Was who I was two years ago even real? Can I really trust You?

Then God reminded me again, I am who I am, read My word. After enough dallying and enough prompting, I gave in and let God do something I haven’t done in a while. I let Him give me a very specific page of the bible. Just because He wanted to and because He can. I flipped the pages and found myself reading Exodus 35.

It started out feeling quite dry but as I got to the end, I suddenly found myself getting excited about the passage. I went back to earlier parts I merely glossed over and read again with more focus. I felt like I really learnt something worth getting hyped about. Fine, I don’t really want to take the time to write it out but it’s something worth noting down and maybe sharing it on a blog no one reads.

I opened my laptop, logged onto wordpress, clicked on the “write” tab. Suddenly I was taken back to my time in Melbourne. I remembered sitting on my bed with a similar bible (the original was given away), doing my bible readings, getting excited over simple things, just being in wonder and awe of whatever God had inspired me with that day. I wondered, why did I stop feeling this way?

Then it hit me, I had been too obsessed over whether or not what I had interpreted was right. I cried.

Don’t get me wrong. My church friends and colleagues are nice people. But when you’re in a job surrounded by seminary students and bible college graduates, and peers who are in-depth bible fanatics or preaching in service, you start to think you should put a bit more effort into researching what you read. Worse still, I was taking classes on the side for a licentiate in christian ministry studying not just books of the bible, but items under Christianity one might find only in the text book of a seminary student.

Reading the bible alone felt insufficient. There were so many things to consider – bible commentaries to give more depth, finding out the original greek or hebrew word because translations aren’t good enough, one day I’ll learn greek or hebrew and read the original text. I felt that whatever I knew was never good enough. I thought what I felt inspired about might be historically inaccurate. I was caught up in the nitty gritty.

Looking back, it was ridiculous. All of it. I tried too hard to fit into the culture was in and in the process traded my own culture, which was perfectly good in its own way. And I think that’s what God was trying to show me. That that version of me was the person I lost but thankfully, now found again.

I need to continue reading the bible believing that the extra fluff isn’t important, but having God is all I need to inspire me.

Late night musings

Sometimes, one is simply inspired to write. Sometimes, one is not.

Given the number of articles, long or short, that I have to write for work, I wish I were more motivated. But in times of dryness, one simply stares at their laptop screen, longing only for words to magically appear. Eventually, swishing the keypad up and down. It is simply a way for me to satisfy my ADHD, it is a longing to be physically occupied. For my mental state seems so empty and devoid of understanding.

Click. Click. Click. Give me something to think. I need something to say, something to believe. At least in this moment, I must believe that this is worth something, that there is some meaning. The internet can be far more empty than you think. I sit and start questioning things that maybe I shouldn’t think. How pointless, how meaningless is my life worth living?

And so, fire away it does like a gatling gun. Tat-tat-tat-tat-tat. My thoughts transcend my mind, are born into reality, becoming an instant weapon. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. The sound of my keyboard, words dancing away. A dream, a song, yes this is what I’ve been fighting for. These words I’ve longed to say, they’re hidden no more.

I step back, proud of my masterpiece. Not bad for a mind gone mad. But no, I look up and see my enemy standing proud and unscathed. How can it be? Alas, 2AM too late and my mind wanders back to bed. The tale for tonight must end here, but perhaps I will win my battle tomorrow with a fresh mind instead.

Well. Fine. I’ll do it.

EDIT (26/02/2017): Clearly, I don’t finish what I start

As much as I suck at writing and hate doing journalling (and will likely drop this eventually), I figure it’s about time I started publishing this. Today I finally realised how difficult the passages in the daily readings of the Trackers are and so as a challenge to myself and an encouragement to them, I shall SOAP as much as possible.

…I have to read the journals of my Trackers anyway so might as well be open about it. Vulnerability is welcome in this team, you know? Yada-yada and all that jazz.

Scripture
Today’s passage was Amos 1-2. Ooh. Scary. Not because of Amos Yee, but to put it bluntly the start has been very dry; one of those minor prophet books no one ever preaches from. Plus, chapters 1-2 are accusations against Israel and all her surrounding nations. Yikes.

Observation
Amos starts out by accusing the other nations of their sins and states that fire will be sent down on their walls and fortresses. He then ‘ends’ his accusations by addressing the sins of his listeners, Israel. Interestingly enough, this accusation is longer than any of the single accusations given against other cities.

Application
Sometimes we are quick to see the surmountable sins of others before looking at our own individual sin. While it may seem like everyone around us is full of guilt and we could be nodding at each accusation. That is, until it is our turn to receive judgement. Having been caught up in what others are doing, we fail to see our own flaws and how we should be acting rather than concerning ourselves with others’ affairs.

Prayer
Dear God, thank you that you are willing to show me my flaws and what I’ve done wrong. Help me to put away my pride that I may not boast in how I am better than others, but to acknowledge that I am just as much a sinner as anyone else. Forgive me for my trespasses as I forgive those who trespass against me. All this I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

 

Icarus flew too close to the sun

Icarus thought the sun was his happiness but he flew too close and got burned…

…not really. But recently I picked up my old lit book and started flipping through its grim, brown pages and begun seeing things my 15 year old mind was never capable of comprehending. The more I read through Fahrenheit 451, the more I appreciate the story, the characters, how much depth there was in them. Perhaps it is because reality has finally begun catching up on me and I see even more of Bradbury’s dystopian society in our world today. 

And suddenly, the thought that books in that world may have been a symbol for much more – values, morals that we once held to, simply burned and tossed out, deemed insignificant, that they could never be anyone’s happiness.

I’d like to think the world campaigns for equality, that everyone should be allowed to do what they want. But the hidden agenda behind most campaigns these days is the unraveling of the fabric of society. Morals are gone, insanity is abundant. The next thing you know environmentalists will be campaigning for all books to go electronic (I never seem to get through e-books, probably something to do with the screen lighting).

Still it’s a scary thought that Bradbury predicted this almost 70 years ago. I wonder, when I’m 70 years old will I see what I think I’ll see?

Even When It Hurts | My depression 

  
I know I’m supposed to be setting a good example and stuff but well, I figure most of the people reading this will be my closest friends anyway. It’s part of life and for me, this is real.

I didn’t really want to talk about this because it’s pretty depressing and gross stuff and I always thought that it would just go away after a while. But the darkness never lifted and I’m still torn so I await the day my cloudy eyes shine once again.

Tonight I went out for dinner with the cousin and honestly had one of the best nights I’ve had in a while. Just tried to put all my cares aside. Dinner was great, had ramen at Sanpoutei. The tsukemen which was great. I like the noodles a bit softer for Tsukemen cos when you dip the noodles in, they don’t get a whole lot softer like typical ramen which sits in the soup for a while.  

 
Also had some fried chicken. FRIED CHICKEN! That’s definitely one way to perk up your day. CNY clothes+shoe shopping was very successful and so I was generally quite happy.

Then I got home and because mum has been worried about me and been like, “We need to talk,” and blah so I told her about stuff that’s been happening and then it all just started coming back and I didn’t want to talk about it anymore so I went back to my room. But mum kept texting me anyways so everything really came back and there are things I remember even more clearly now that it’s back out and I hate it. I feel so upset and I’m just crying. For a moment, I felt like I might have understood why people cut themselves. You feel so much emotional pain that you need the physical pain to distract you from the hurt before you go insane.

No, I didn’t cut myself so don’t worry. I just made an emo instagram post and started writing this post which you’re reading now.

I can’t share everything – privacy issues and stuff so this is just what’s been happening concerning me stuff.

After all the stress with church stuff and work stuff, I think that was when my hair started dropping out. I don’t think anyone in my family took me seriously when I said that but it was pretty freaky. I’d run my fingers through dry hair and a whole clump would come out and when I woke up in the mornings I’d find this whole nest of hair on my bed. And that’s without knots in there. Gross much but I had to go on with life. My parents brought up a number of things like shampoo and not enough nutrients (which I’m supposed to be notorious for) but I felt like it wasn’t working. I’ve been using the same shampoo for over a year now so I was quite sure that wasn’t it and got quite annoyed at them continuously pointing out expensive shampoos that help with hairloss.

Nutrition wise, I tried taking some leftover vitamin B complex as well as some iron pills which I had neglected over December. Hair fall decreased for like a day or so and I was temporarily relieved till it started dropping again.

I’ve also been sick on and off the past two or three weeks with my throat hurting bad. Went around three weeks ago to the doctor but didn’t really get a lot better. Anyway, I had a fever on Wednesday night and yesterday morning so I just took it as an excuse to finally see the doctor. Good news is he said my hair won’t all fall out but it IS thinning. Take more vitamin C and B as well; double the usual amount cos I need to put back everything I’ve lost.

At least regarding my health, I feel a bit more reassured now. But I’ve been listening to “Even When It Hurts” by Hillsong the past two days and tears began falling out without me even knowing why. I haven’t cried like this for over a month but now I know; it’s because these wounds haven’t turned to scars yet. You don’t just look at them and remember how you got them. Yes, they still hurt and all along I’ve simply pretended not to care. I’ve simply pretended to be alright. But I’m not and I hope, that’s okay.

Thanks for reading.