Celebrate 2014

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This time last year, I celebrated 2013 and as usual (like every other 31 December of any year), it was naturally a time for reflection and resolution. Strangely, we have transformed the time taken for the Earth to make one revolution about the Sun into the arbitrary time upon which we list down ‘Things to be Better At Next Year’ or ‘Things I Am Thankful for this Year’. In some senses, it is the doing of our human nature that instinctively find comfort in having some form of pattern to rely on. Some order that we require to check back and look for milestones in our lives, because we are so dynamic we can barely handle it. But 365.25 days isn’t that big of a deal when you realise how gradually we’ve been changing and benefitting from our experiences throughout the entire year; every day, every moment, every special person met and every conversation.

Sometimes our overemphasis on the yearly countdown, smudges the memories of the little things we fail to appreciate along the way– the time my mother consoled me after a hard day, or the evening I spent having dinner with a senior who returned to bring takeout for me; it is difficult to immortalise these powerful moments with impactful people if we only do check backs and reflection every 365.25 days. (This is why I have a blog.)

But with that said, I suppose celebrating every year’s experiences as a whole has it’s pros. Days ago, at the Halogen Foundation NYLA 2014 Award Presentation, I was once more handed a mic, given a stage and presented an audience with their listening ears. The attention empowered me to once again stand before a group of people and share my thoughts and feelings. This time the subject at hand was an overview of the greatest achievements in 2014 and the value we would like to hold close to our hearts onward 2015. In sharing this toward the end of this year, it was refreshing to recap the milestones of the year (in order to decide my ‘greatest achievements in 2014’) and at this point, I’d like to present you with a compilation of these milestones:

February | Working closely with Project Cats in Hats 

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February| Championing our cause to support Room to Read, Singapore

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March| Dramafeste

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March| Being in Interact

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March| Housecomme Camp

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May | Pulling off our Cats in Hats Room to Read Initiative

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May| Being part of Raffles Runway 2014

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May| Watching my outfit on the runway

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June| Going on the International Understanding Trip to Cambodia

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June| Meeting these people in Youth Corps Singapore who would soon become family

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July| Shaving for Hair for Hope with my Dad

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July| Being ‘World Change Agents’ alongside others from Blessings in a Bag

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August| Learning to let go while celebrating how far we’ve come

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August| My First 15km

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September| Getting to share my experience with fellow Aspirants

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November| Returning to the City

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November| Somewhat Successful Class BBQUntitled23

November| Returning to Singapore Writer’s Festival with the favourite girls

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December| Delivering our project at Vietnam Environment Administration Building

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December| Celebrating with this team and my favourite people in Vietnam

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December| Celebrating Christmas with the ones who’ve stayed on for years (and counting)

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goodbye2014For these experiences I have invested in this 2014 and for the people who’ve crossed paths with me in this fateful year, thanks for making m who I am today. Thanks 2014, for coming by and allowing me the time and privilege to enjoy these moments. Here’s to a great 2015!

Secret(ly Confused)

familyphotofromchristmasThis evening I am in The Colony @ SCAPE, on one of the orange seats with odd-shaped holes that form an abstract piece on every backrest. Sitting cross-legged, waiting for time to pass before the Halogen Huddle at 7P.M.. The white circular tables are arranged sparsely apart and on this Boxing Day holiday, the crowd is small– every one of us strategically spread out across this room, each taking one table on our own. It’s comfortable, there’s some kind of silent respect toward one another’s personal space and the Wi-fi is strong (that pleases me). I’m browsing our family photos from the recent Christmas family gathering, feeling infinitely thankful to be blessed in the company of family members who make it a point to reunite every Christmas to share one another’s ups and downs, play games and do our own Secret Santa arrangement simulating some kind of prize presentation ceremony, just the way we like it.

With that said, for today, I’d like to tell you a secret. To make this clearer (and possibly to manage your expectations), I feel the necessity to first explain that I am actually one with little ‘secrets’ (or so I’d like to think). For strangers that I’ve met for the first time, it only takes a warm smile and a genuinely-interested vibe to keep me talking for the next ten minutes or so. And if you ask the right questions, the rest is a breeze and we could be talking for days. Or months. So when I say ‘secret’, I’m not actually referring to something incredulously confidential that cannot be spoken to a single soul till the end of time, but something that is essentially, close to heart. And hence, as I write this and you read: I don’t require the promise of sealed lips, but of open minds. Here goes, today’s is about family.

My family has been a constant for me throughout my life: made up of unbeatable cheerleaders who brought me the support I needed in every milestone of my life, I have always managed to count on their advice, presence and love. I remember as a 7-year-old in primary school, I had my birthday celebrated in my classroom one day before the special day. There was an elaborate surprise: a colourful mermaid cake, little goodie bags, and the presence of my mom. Of course, like any flawless surprise, everyone else was roped in– my teachers and classmates had long been kept in the loop. Then years later when I was about to graduate from primary school as a 12-year-old: just as I thought there would be no way my parents could pull off a birthday surprise for me again, I am brought to tears by all my favourite schoolmates gathered downstairs my house for another surprise yet. Just like that– time and again, like an expert birthday party planner, my family has managed to make me feel like a special little girl as I was growing up. For that, I am incredibly fortunate.

In the recent years, things have changed: my family remains a constant, but in a different way. They have accommodated my short temper, my mood swings and the flaws of my personality as a teenage girl. As I scrambled around with the excitement of this thing called “passion”, they followed quietly behind me ready to cushion me on the days I fall. The days I cry from exasperation and the times I ’emotionally ventilate’ over a tub of ice cream, they give me the space I need and I’ve came to learn that it’s in itself, a form of love. With the realisation of my evolving self and their dynamic love shape-shifting and transforming to embrace me, I have come to appreciate the family days that we still get to share amidst their busyness (and business). For a while, every time I talk about this powerful love I shared with my family, my voice would shake and my hands would turn cold. It was overwhelming: the perceived flawlessness.

In the recent months, things have changed: my family remains a constant, but I have learned new things about us. Maybe it was the recent fiction book that I read or the lesson from a show I recently watched— I have been piecing together the pieces of my memory that form the flaws of my family, and learning that I’m not special. I’ve been sieving through my memory and learning that these incidents I once cast aside as ‘exceptions’, were patterns. And that these patterns are only proof that people who love each other, can hurt each other too. Just like the friends that I have made in my life, just like the people who’ve confided (if not, cried) to me about the troubles they face at home, I have my own. I’m not special. The family who remains my support group in the strongest form, I have learned, is more sophisticated than I’ve always wanted to believe: amongst us we share a whole array of flaws, or imperfections that make us less than the ‘good’ people we strive to be.

I feel like a silly 5-year-old for having once thought we could be perfect. (Perfect is such a stupid word)

It is expected of me to love unconditionally and look beyond our flaws, or differences. It sounds a little like choosing oblivion, but I’m not sure: because if being family and loving someone is about wanting to tide through thick and thin, and become better people together, then is it not the flaws that we must first come to terms with? And what comes after ‘coming to terms with’, trying to change a person? Who am I to anyway. 

It’s not easy to be writing this one and I apologise for any incoherence, but thanks for reading with an open mind.

Can You Imagine?

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Can you imagine, if we had all we wanted—the things we keep saying we are short of, we finally had it all? If we had all the resources, money and time we needed; the success we wanted: we are wearing the clothes and shoes we want to, going about our days doing what we loved and everything was as close to perfection as it could ever be—if we were sufficiently satisfied. We would be ready to prioritize the happiness of others over our own, the needs of others; that’s where we would put ‘fun’ above ‘fast’ and pick ‘inspire’ not ‘ignore’.

Where this impossible becomes possible in an alternate universe, here are the additional amenities I would fight for in our society:

Elderly Listening Centre

I have concluded from sometime ago that above everything, what the elderly of our society really wish for is a listening ear—people to listen to their stories, hopes, dreams; the challenges they’ve overcome and the things they have done with their every day. So we should have an Elderly Listening Centre, where strangers would do walk-in volunteerism whenever they felt like and elderly could stream in to buddy up with these volunteers, who would listen to them, and learn from the treasure they can offer with their stories.

Music MRT Rides

I once imagined that the one way to rid of earpieces acting as an evil invention to shut out the rest of the world and make us all oblivious, we should have music playing in every MRT carriage—each one a different genre and soundproof. Based on the market survey conducted over the course of a year, carriages are allocated to the different kinds of music and tracks are volunteered and compiled, ready. So as we go about our day, we do so with the choice of entering a ‘Jazz Carriage’ or a ‘Country Pop Carriage’ Of course, to cater to those who just need to sleep soundly in a silent carriage, there would be those with no music playing. This way, we can all enjoy the same tracks when in the same carriage, we could even dance together.

Gossip Gangs

There is a need to control gossip: the rumours that fly invalidated and the lies that spread like wildfire for no good reason. Healthy gossip is fine. The root of the problem is the gossips, who can’t help but talk and care more about talking non-stop than about speaking truth. It’s a habit that can’t be controlled, it seems. So a controlled space should be created where they may talk non-stop and have each other take them seriously. That way, we could save the rest of us from the unhappiness or unnecessary disputes that arise from the lies they speak. So there, let’s give the gossip gangs a controlled space—a fancy room of sorts maybe.

Can you imagine? When we would be ready to prioritize the happiness of others over our own, the needs of others; that’s where we would put fun above fast and pick inspire not ignore. I’m still waiting.

Presence As Presents

Christmas 2014Before we begin, thanks to these ladies above who have proven to be here for the long haul with our 3rd annual Christmas Party and counting, since the time we’ve been declared OM teammates, to the time we’ve become champions in our hearts time and again and to the time 2 of us graduated and we continued to be there for each other. Merry Christmas from us!

I guess one of the good things about having a blog is that it helps you keep track of the milestones and the thoughts, so I get to find out what my thoughts a year ago were like and see how they’ve changed: this time specifically, my views on Christmas. It seems last year I had little to say about it, besides that it was like a checkpoint for reflection– to consider the importance of goodness in our character and how that has turned out for us in the last 365 days, concluded in the question of whether we had been ‘naughty or nice’. This year on the other hand, thanks to the recently concluded Merry Marathon 2014 along with the Camp Win 2 experience, I have found new meaning in Christmas.

This is about the importance of presence as presents. 

Merry Marathon 2014 was a community service marathon to spread the Christmas spirit to the elderly of various nursing homes and senior activity centres over the course of two days and to bring cheer to the streets of Orchard with a flash mob and a ‘merry walk’ consisting of caroling and free hugs: with the strength of 50 odd volunteers and infinite energy, the implications of the random acts of kindness through the marathon was magical. There was a compounded effect from the simple deeds that were committed (from the Christmas dance we practiced tirelessly to the carols we sang at the top of our lungs) because of the spirit of the season being translated into presence. At the old folks’ homes and that for the intellectually disabled, there was a joy that came with the sight of unexpected strangers clad in bright orange handing out presents for reasons they knew little about. The spontaneous grand entrance was later followed by hours of interaction– of sitting side by side to share conversations, even the more superficial ones counted for something and finding out their favourite food, favourite sport, song, colour brought us to a new level of friendship every time. In my attempt to put reason to this seemingly unexplainable happiness we brought to them with a simple thing like presence, I considered every other day they led in these homes in the company of the familiar faces called ‘nurses’ and the mundane chores that (ironically) brought rhythm to the day that would otherwise be spent sitting at their seats waiting for time to pass.

Camp Win 2 was a half-day camp with station games and prize presentation designed for the intellectually disabled children, organised and led by the very capable Project WIN team. Project WIN (WeINspire) is a group of 7 fellow batchmates who believe strongly in integrating this marginalised community into mainstream community as much as possible by organising activities from sports, arts, music for them and by erasing myths about them by engaging volunteers. Every volunteer was paired with a buddy to befriend and take care of throughout the course of the camp meant to have them enjoy the Christmas-themed activities. In the communication with these children or teenagers with special needs, there is a different cap to wear: every child, a different way of expressing themselves and a different kind of passion that will tug at their heartstrings– the objective of this cap is to understand that, and discover these perks, one by one. In learning more about my buddy, I had the opportunity to interact with other caregivers (consisting mostly of parents and helpers), and I realised how the presence of volunteers like us impacted their lives. The integration is only possible with the company of other people who believe in them, people besides their family, people from the ‘mainstream society’. With our presence, it means faith restored in their caregivers whom I have so much respect for, support for these caregivers and for whatever it counts for, it means a breather for them, just for a bit. I suppose sometimes we don’t realise that our presence could benefit someone else besides the one we are actually physically there for.

In translating these insights about presence from the two fruitful experiences in the last 4 days, I’d like for this Christmas to also be about my presence in my family: in how I tame the party girl in me and find time for the home, and in how I diligently find time to be with my grandparents. In the reunions and gatherings, isn’t that what Christmas is essentially about? 

Here’s Merry Christmas from me to you! 

The Case for Migrant Workers, #Illridewithyou

the case for migrant workersToday after a long day of travelling from one nursing home to another to spread the joy of the Christmas season at Merry Marathon 2014, I had a 1.5 hour bus ride back home in a cold, chilly and empty bus. My neck was aching from the terrible posture in which I napped and later my legs hurt from walking to and fro deciding what to have for dinner in Clementi; to bring it from worse to worst, I took away a packet of piping hot Kway Teow for my mom before I boarded the bus which would bring me home in about 20 minutes. On the bus, as I stood, I had one hand grabbing onto the handle above me and another with the noodles I try to keep away from everyone else with much effort. I was dozing off, struggling to keep my balance. At this point, one of the countless migrant workers also on the bus with me tapped me on the shoulder and offered me a seat. And when I refused, he insisted. 

I can only imagine how exhausting a day he must have had and the kind of conditions in which he worked: sweltering hot sun before the pouring rain this evening, menial labour and back-aching chores. With this in mind, the kindness he displayed was touching. And it made me wonder, “What exactly makes us so different?” Is it really the skin color, or the attitudes; the behavior, or simply the profession? Whatever it is, it’s nothing. It’s nothing significantly distinct enough to make them deserve any less respect or dignity than Singaporeans deserve.

I understand the woes: the ones derived from the controversial Population White Paper, the open door immigration policy that invites migrant workers to fill the jobs that have now been referred to as ‘the ones that Singaporeans don’t want’. We fear increased competition, not just for jobs but for housing, necessities, space, amenities just to name a few; and fundamentally, we fear change. In an article by Devadas Krishnadas, he calls for Singaporeans to stop supporting the phenomenon of xenophobia disguised as nationalism and I would very much like to echo that. I notice the way I avoid eye contact, I walk more quickly and have a subconscious sense of distrust as a ‘defense mechanism’ toward migrant workers; not only because of the stereotypes I subconsciously subscribe to, but also because of the way these migrant workers are a physical representation of the arguably ‘wrong’ policy that we have learned to direct our unhappiness or mistrust towards. It’s irrational. The increasing number of migrant workers to support our growing infrastructure and speedy development to remain competitive is a reality that will proceed regardless of how we treat these migrant workers, and it is only part of humanity to treat fellow human beings with the same amount of respect and kindness as we would to our fellow Singaporeans.

A way to look at it is to realise that the bigger picture is about creating a better Singapore, a country that is better for all, including the world and ourselves. While the government continually improves its policies to better serve its citizens and juggle the tradeoffs of inviting more foreigners into our limited land space, it makes sense to me to give them time. I sometimes feel that we expect our government to be perfect just because of their high salaries and perceived omnipresence. In the words of Krishnadas, “it has become a national pastime to blame the Government for any inconvenience or social discomfort” based on these two premises. As citizens, it remains our responsibility to live out the pledge of standing by Singaporeans “regardless of race, language or religion” and in creating the vibrant, loving and accepting community we want to be. I look at Australia and #Illridewithyou— I am infinitely envious. The love and acceptance (not tolerance) that is displayed and the generosity in protecting fellow human beings regardless of nationality or religion is heartwarming.

It has become a personal aim to understand, if not serve, and learn to empathise with this marginalised group in our community beginning with listening to their perspectives and being open to their culture. Here’s the case for migrant workers, and my take – #Illridewithyou.

A Maximalist Post on The Silly Question

Recently at a Spoken Word Poetry Performance, I learned of a new form of poetry that was created called “Maximalist Poetry”– where as much as possible is said, whatever that comes to mind is performed in whatever way, however extreme. The idea, I suppose, is to speak one’s mind without bothering to sharpen the blunt edges nor perfect the nitty bitty details. And so tonight, as my mind fails to put my point across as perfectly as I would initially attempt to nor as precisely as I would usually ensure it to be; here’s my maximalist post on the dangerous question we ask. 

There’s a dangerous question we ask. It’s silly. A silly dangerous question we ask when we try to get to know someone new or when trying to assess the kind of person someone is; while we attempt to decide how best to hold ourselves before a person or in the split second we try to think of the “answer that this person secretly wants from me”. When you first meet a young adult, “So, what do you do?” I read in a TIME Article that we create our own conclusions based off stereotypes about a person’ profession within the first couple of minutes of meeting a person. These conclusions then shape the interaction that follows in the next few minutes, or more. That’s silly.

Some time ago, I wrote on Post Script about the uncertainties of our decisions, about how we never really know, or never can be sure. Ever. This is because we are ever-changing. It’s cliched but true, and it would be foolish to think otherwise, or to believe that we can be sure. Because we can’t. How is it, then, that the stage in our life that we are at now can completely define the kind of person that we are? At 25, my profession will only be a fraction of the kind of person I am– the complete picture would require an understanding of my past, my hopes for the future and so much more about my present. If you meet me when I’m 25, don’t just ask me for my profession. Ask me about my favourite movies, songs; about what I love to do and who I am in love with, allow me to share with you the things that evoke the deepest of emotions from me.

To try to understand a person through this one small piece of information is dangerous— not only because of the above mentioned inaccuracy, but more because of the culture that we are encouraging. Society defines success as the monetary value of a person; in other words, his or her profession. We put a label on a person and define each other’s worth based on how much we can earn, or how much ‘meaningful contribution’ we can make to society. But there’s so much more. There are our thoughts, our opinions, perspectives, experiences– by ignoring all that, we subscribe to the idea that our sole purpose, the sole meaning of our existence, shall be the work that we do. This mindset is the reason for the many depression cases we get every year, the countless suicides that no one wants to talk about and the silly little thing that Asian families argue about. I wish it would stop. We have to realise this danger. It is time we believe in luck.

There is a constant debate over ‘fate or freewill’, the truth we have to accept is that there is both. They come in varying proportions every time but we have to acknowledge the looming fate that controls our circumstances, the situations that allow some things to happen and others not to. In believing in luck, something out of our control, we learn to turn to a less idealistic (maybe less beautiful) reality; one with more truth. We can stop allowing ourselves to believe that everyone is given absolutely equal opportunity and leave all the decisions that landed you in the position you are in, the profession we end up committing to is your fault because you chose. You know in some situations, you had no choice.

So next time maybe if it could be helped, perhaps you know, we could ask a different question.

Here’s to speaking my mind the way it speaks at 1123PM into the night: good night!

On Vietnam

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Cross-legged on my seat, my neck is sore. The airplane experiences little turbulence as we arrive at the midpoint of our return flight to Singapore and the air stewards are walking briskly up and down the aisles with trays in their hands. There is a strange longing feeling that comes upon me, one that excites me at the thought of seeing my parents, my brother and the familiar sights and sounds of the place I call home once again—I sometimes wonder if I will ever arrive at the day my family doesn’t await my return from a foreign land in the airport, the day where I am not greeted by the sight of them waving from behind the glass panel as I pick up my luggage. I don’t think I want that day to come. Ever.

While my memories from this trip remain fresher than they ever will be, I thought I’d write about how the trip went—what I saw, heard, experienced and how that made me feel. Earlier in the middle of this year, I had written about the people I went to Cambodia with and what the Cambodia International Understanding Trip was like for me. This time, on Vietnam.

This 6-day service trip with Youth Corps Singapore was one characterized by freedom. The spirit of the team: determination. 7 out of the complete team (of 8 members) embarked on this trip alongside 2 mentors who have given us the fullest of support from the beginning of our Youth Corps journey. In the company of my reliable teammates, all of whom are seniors I admire for different reasons, my first time in Vietnam has been filled with discovery. With teammates who have been regular travelers, I was in extremely good hands with regular ‘are you okay’s’ and in between working on our service project, free time became our exploration time—every one of us armed with our wallets and pullovers, sweaters, winter wear and each other; trodding shoulder to shoulder on the streets of Hanoi. Every decision was left to our own consensus: what to eat, where to go, what to do first and next, later or now, together or alone. I appreciate that freedom, which for me was extraordinary relative to any other overseas trip I have been on. In every try and ‘ok let’s just go!’, the tingle in me was fueled by excitement (possible only because of the security the company of my teammates gave me).

I don’t want to forget the sights and sounds from our walks through the city. The short buildings that made up their cityscape: every one of them, their paint fading from the constant showering with rainwater. The LED lights that outlined their signboards and KTV Lounges side by side, stretching limitlessly throughout the roads– you can’t help but wonder how they survive with such massive competition from one another. Amongst them, the cafes are countless: reminding me of Starbucks and the outlets various set ups, each cafe is out to entice with their frosted windows, warm lighting and hipster-font signboards. The roads, with piles of litter collected by the side every 300m, narrow thanks to the roadside ‘hawkers’ selling fried food, warm hotdogs, bananas, amongst other vegetables and edibles. Cool breeze greets our faces every step of the way accompanied by fumes, fighting to make you cough. Locals know this well, wearing colourful, decorated masks they scan our attire with their eyes and their quizzical looks tell you they’re trying to figure out where you’re from. You feel uncomfortable by the interrogative looks, but just for a millisecond before you know it, you’re distracted by honks from behind you, in front of you, left, right– they’re everywhere. More than cars, there are motorbikes (or ‘scooters’, they call it) that squeeze in between one another, as if they’re in some kind of race to get to wherever they’re going to first. The honks all sound different, some stop at one, others two, and the creative ones put a little rhythm to it. It is habit for me to think that honk was equivalent to an expression of anger, but in the space of Hanoi it seems to be otherwise– the honks are just a greeting.

As for the service experience, I wish I could express sufficiently the turning points, ups and downs that the Youth Corps Team has experienced and the support we have so fortunately received from our Vietnam Youth Leaders, with whom we worked closely. It is my first time working on an environmental project– one that requires the understanding and empathy toward the ecological impact of our actions, and the inspiration provided by those in the team who have had related experience was instrumental to my contribution. Our project was very much about habit change, about changing the mindsets of people such that an intrinsic force would hopefully drive them to commit to actions that would mend for the ecological debt of urbanisation. The challenge in that was introducing new concepts to possibly already existing ideas so that an action would become more than ‘encouraged’, but more of a responsibility experienced by one. Still trying to put together how I feel about the service aspect of this journey but for now, this is what I’d like to freshly imprint through a blogpost so as to immortalise these observations.

Plane’s landing, got to go. 

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