The special walk

I was proposed to about fourteen days ago, on a bridge above a canopy of trees, in Singapore, in the rain, while on a day hike. It was apt since we both love the outdoors, greenery, hiking and it was one of our first hikes together in Singapore. Since then, we’ve gone on longer hikes in New Zealand, Canada and Norway, in the rain, under the sun and in the snow. We’ve made many good memories while on those hikes that’s for sure.

There are so many memories and thoughts that I’m struggling to put this in a blog article read by people who do not know us and hence, the lack of context. For us, getting engaged is a milestone in our lives after five years of living together, but it does not change many other things. Commitment is above any law and it is what holds people accountable to something. However, that said, I grew up in a more conservative culture whereby couples who live together should be legally married and there is still a slight stigma for women who live together with a partner, without getting married or an indication of that happening in the near future. So this was definitely good news for my parents too. They did find out about this earlier than me…when M asked them for permission and blessing before the proposal.

Tradition aside, it is also a goal for many women – to have their very special day, being a princess (although sometimes, we probably do not stop being princesses…). Thanks to all those TV influences – both Western and Eastern, what we are brought up with and societal mindset. Many women see that [getting attached or married] as a part of their value or self-worth.

Coming back to simpler and happier thoughts, hiking and our journey so far which cumulated to the day of being proposed to. It was definitely a special moment which seems more important than signing any legal document. The first few hikes we had as a couple in Singapore and later brought us on many other adventures.

The adventures we had together were great experiences which brought us closer as partners. Multi-day hikes are a great way to bond for sure, when you are ‘bonded’ together for that number of days and nights…

There are so many memories and stories to tell around each hike, adventure and experience we’ve had together. Although we’ve had some bad ones too, just like any other couples, I think it takes work from both parties to work out any issues.

Some things I’ve learn so far after being in a good and healthy relationship. We may not be perfect at doing this yet but a relationship is a learning journey.

  • Do not leave issues as they are. Work them out and find a middle ground if there is and then move on.
  • As partners, we need to lift each other up. From simple things like sharing domestic chores to something more emotional and mental.
  • Listening to each other. Really listen. This is so important for any form of relationship – friends, colleagues, family…yet so tough. Many people listen ‘shallowly’ and jump right off to what they want to say. I’m more aware of this now, but still room for improvement.
  • If there are deal breakers in the relationship, learn to say no and break away as early as possible. Life is too short for staying unhappy for too long.
  • Learn to discover and travel solo first before travelling with your partner. Find that space, peace and happiness within yourself as you should not rely solely on someone else to make you happy.
  • Mutual respect, honesty and trust form the basis of a healthy relationship.

We are so alike in so many ways that it is easy for me to be my weird self. I don’t think there could have been another answer to the proposal other than, yes.


The season for love: is everyday

To think that Valentine’s Day was actually the day we started dating officially. We celebrate our anniversary with at least 60% of the adult population. The day which I’d received chocolates and flowers which gave me such a thrill. That was about five years ago now. While back then, ironically, we probably didn’t know each other as well as we do now. That said, we still learning about each other, but perhaps not so much of a ‘steep learning curve’ now.

While Valentine’s Day is when couples remember to date each other perfunctorily, it should also remind us that gestures of love should continue throughout the year, everyday. It is rather much like an observance of International Women’s Day, World Friendship Day etc. They aren’t something we celebrate for a day but rather, for reflection of achievements and the journey to come. I’m sure many would agree.

I celebrate the time and attention from my partner. The gift of time and attention are priceless.
On the other spectrum, I value the time I have to myself too. Time and space to develop personally.
I appreciate that my partner shares household chores and has a gift for ironing.

I still love the flowers I’d received at the office today. They are sitting pretty in a vase on our dining table now.



How the Differences in Your Relationship Can Be Gifts
Jumping into a conclusion stating that there is a problem in a difference was on a different context can be a difference. Without hearing the context with which it refers to and saying it is a problem can easily rile some feathers.

Communication in modern society has gone to crap

I agree with some of the things in the article on some forms of communication best kept face-to-face or somewhat more personal. Of course, technology can still be effective for some forms of communication but when a deeper level of communication is required, this might not suffice until it takes on a multi-platform and alternative approach.

With modern technology or not so modern now, we tend to rely on communication over devices which can sometimes not fully express what and how one feels. This, I feel is inadequate in maintaining a quality communication between various forms of relationships. What happened to intimacy? What is wrong with wishing for a deeper relationship?

This is why I feel we should reach a high state of consciousness to do without the need for all these low-level human need for communication and intimacy of thoughts.

How work and relationship help make me a better Buddhist

We tend to think we are infallible creatures sometimes and I admit to being too complacent at times.

Things that happen around us teach us something. Calling and describing myself as a Vajrayana Buddhist does not make me a practising Buddhist. It is difficult to practise in today’s world of convoluted meanings when not everyone of everything is what they are or it is.

Dumb down work

A job or role which requires strategic thinking can sometimes be stressful for a Buddhist. We are required to think in the shoes of peers or trying to oust the competitors, staying ahead of the game and these can sometimes cause cognitive dissonance.

Talking or approaching someone could be a simple task or matter. However, when one has to be mindful of who we talk to in an organisation so as not to step on the boss’s or assistant’s toes, it becomes a little too much of a silly game in which everyone is playing a game of power and they fear losing that power.

There has been a couple of times when I just wish to get things done and did not think about that. Of course, I made the mistake of stepping on someone’s toes in the process.

That was a lesson for me in humbling myself at work so as not to become a person who would become fearful of losing some ‘power’. It does not matter at the end of the day and I remind myself of ourselves and our problems in comparison with the vastness of the universe. Us, our work and our problems will appear minute and insignificant.

I wish to think simply at work instead of having to think about what another person might think too. I feel that conducting oneself with compassion and respect for others should be sufficient as a human being. That does not diminish a person but those qualities will make a person whole and I realised that one’s approach with others will change the tone of the conversation or communication.

Work should not form the essence of one’s life. Instead, the application of a good philosophy on living at work will help one get some perspective on life.

Relationships and learning

A relationship is still strong, albeit some arguments if we are ready and willing to look at ourselves from another perspective and correct ourselves. It should make us better persons. If not, please reconsider the relationship.

In my relationship, I realised through some disagreements that I carry similar traits from my mother when it comes to feeling wronged. Those are the same traits which I have been trying not to adapt from my mother and I thought I wasn’t like that.

Until an argument with my partner. I realised that I might have adopted the same tainted mindset. Knowing that and unwilling to accept that caused some dissonance. That was a realisation for me as I’d always thought that I would not be like that.

Seeing that made me a little uncomfortable with myself and how i have the incorrect views of the world. If i could press a reset button, i would. I would restore to the point prior to the argument and catch myself before seeing myself fall into an ego trip. Admitting to it made me lighter and happier. It helped me get my bearings back onto the better path in my journey. There was some pain in realising that of course.

That said, there’s a long way to go for me in applying Buddhism to my life.

All of that. One simple lesson. Listening. That helps one take the focus of oneself and give that attention to another being.

 Love, Ali

Notes to my sixteen year old self

More than a decade from sixteen, I wonder on hindsight, how different my life would be should I have done or not done certain things.

Sixteen was the age after my Cambridge examinations. I was at the crossroads of my life. Would my life be different now if I’d made some decisions? What would I tell my sixteen year old self if I meet her?

The choices at sixteen include selecting a major or a course which might determine one’s career. At that time, I was asking my parents to let me go to a foundation college in Australia where I could progress into University.

Understandably, trust in a fun-loving teenager ranked low at that time. On hindsight, that might have been due to budget considerations too. Assuming that this option is out of the equation, my note to ‘younger me’ would most likely be:

1. Volunteer for a cause
Be it for the environment, animals or children. Take the chance to grow and develop yourself. This is the time when energy is more abundant and experiences can help shape one’s career too. Enrich your life, throw yourself into useful activities, meet other positive individuals.

Cultivate a passion which makes you feel good and also benefit others. Learn a skill like growing edible gardens, signing up at the museum and learn how to be a guide or ambassador for a part of heritage (students usually get privileges on fees or may be free), be part of policy making (joining Grassroots or community centres as a start towards nation building).

2. Give it more than a 100-percent 
Given my propensity to spend more time playing or hanging out with friends, without doing anything constructive, I’d spent less time on my projects which I should have.

I made up for this during my Masters programme in Melbourne Australia but I feel that I should have made more effort for my Diploma in Mass Communication.

3. Embrace your family and you’ll be pleasantly surprised
I was at a more rebellious stage, breaking curfews and hanging with company which might not all be good.

I come from a strict Asian household with authoritarian values, much like Singapore during the founding years. Being brought up by parents with similar values can sometimes cause some friction especially when the teenager wishes to be heard and has been exposed to some Western culture. My mom used to make me do assessment books which were at least two or three grades in advance. Her temper was quick when I was growing up. She worked 5.5 days at a leading Japanese bank in Singapore back then, as the Head of Bills and Settlements and also led the dealing room operations. Stress level was probably higher and that was expressed in managing a playful daughter.

Spend more time with your family, get to know your parents as people and friends besides them being providers and disciplinarians. This will be difficult. However, you will not regret this. Your family will be the foundation of your life’s journey. They love you unconditionally and you will see it in time (if you don’t already).

I did not know my mom was a hippie until I had some closure with her when I returned from my overseas study. I missed my family and I communicated a lot more with them when I was overseas. I grew closer to them after I returned.

My mom was a fan of woodstock and Creedence Clearwater Revival among others like Three Dog Night and Beatles of course. I was so surprised to learn that only after so many years with my parents.

My father was a boy scout and an avid photographer who used to have his own darkroom. I hardly communicated with my father when I was growing up as he was working hard and also at a bank. He was Head of Card Operations at HSBC Bank for most part of his career in addition to American Express and Standard Chartered. He was posted overseas and after his stint at HSBC, he joined Bank Danamon in Jakarta which meant not seeing my dad until the weekends or sometimes fortnightly. I’d always thought of him as stubborn, unwilling to listen and too traditional.

Now, I wish I have not wasted all that time resenting my parents. My father is the best father in the world (for me). I would not ask for a better father and the only man who cares for me unconditionally. My sister and I would joke now that my father has made it difficult for our boyfriends to live up to that standard.

4. Take your time in dating or love
I was only allowed to date officially at the age of seventeen. Even so, my parents were strict and there were many limitations.

Right so too. I had my heart broken with my second boyfriend. The worst heart I could ever imagined. I sobbed so hard at midnight in my mom’s arms. I couldn’t breathe and it was probably the first time I felt a physical pain in my heart. I thought I would break.

However, a pilgrimage trip with my family to Sikkim not long after refreshed my system and I was over the hurt.

Falling in love and enjoying the attention was like a sport. I could have discovered so many other things about myself if I weren’t dating in a long-term relationship at the age of 20 to 25 years old.

Instead of running headlog into a relationship and feeling insecure about physical beauty, learn to love yourself first. Understand what motivates you, inspires you and energises you. Volunteer for an overseas experience with other young folks. Take the chance to build lives for others while developing your character. That is what makes one beautiful.

Not your dress size or whether you compare with other girls. Chase after your passion instead of the attention of boys.

Have a relationship with yourself and the environment.

5. Save money for that big travel trip
Yes, this was probably one of my biggest mistakes. Not saving my money for a big trip before working.

Instead of spending your money on useful TV media products for slimming and on those Roxy jeans and apparel, save up for that big backpacking trip around the world. It will be difficult to take a long journey when you’re working.

Moreover, the independence and experience of travelling alone or in a small group can be liberating. I made my first solo trip only when I was in Australia at the age of 26 years old, after my 5-year relationship ended.

Take a long trip, go hiking and learn about other cultures, environment, learn to appreciate and count your blessings. Feel richer in experience albeit poorer in your bank. You’ll earn your money again when you start working. You’ll also find that your contribution towards the team at work may also be different when you have experienced more in life.

6. Stick to your sport 
I used to play tennis at school. I am now rusty, having stopped the game for close to a decade. However, staying active and knowing that you still have game or coordination builds confidence and also in your movement.

It is also a good way to build a strong body and mind. With tennis, you will also get to meet others in the game or socialise in a sport setting.

Take up dance or gymnastics like what you have always wanted. Talk to your parents if piano isn’t your thing and you prefer to express yourself through movement. Don’t wait on it and give up piano at Grade 6 when the passion isn’t driving you anymore.

7. Above all, own your life and do not feel that anyone owes it to you. Be thankful for what you have, do what you can to improve your life and help others grow too. Put aside any resentment and it grows into a monster when you are older, which can be more difficult to eradicate. Learn to love others and respect the views of others instead of being right all the time. Remember that the universe is large and some things we feel which are important are actually really insignificant in the scheme of things. Let it go and be happy instead of being right all the time. 

These are the top few things I would tell my sixteen year old self if I had the chance. Since I don’t, I hope this will be useful if I do have a daughter or a child.