Ubuntu Means You’re Never Alone

17917635_1345767512186949_7046783093609134200_o

Rustic chairs, wooden tables and bricked walls; there are Singer sewing machines bordering the sides of the café and the familiar whiff of caffeine embraces us mid-day. Murmurs of different languages (mostly Korean) blend into one as relationships of all sorts are deepened this Sunday afternoon – there are lovers, friends, sisters, colleagues and families. Right here, right now in this instant, we share this space and this moment. Imagine the possibilities in this instant where strangers are brought into common space so that for once in our lives when our steps are in sync, our breaths in harmony, paths crossed. This piece is about how moments like this one string together one after another in our lives as testament that we are all connected.

Waves of inspiration from an ongoing online self-compassion course brought me to my recent read, The Book of Joy by The Holiness the Dalai Lama, His Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams. The insight exchanged by two most influential spiritual masters of our time affirms that the distractions of our secondary differences are just that, distractions. The secondary differences that are our nationality, ethnicity, race, gender or how we look and speak; differences that disappear when we don’t only look at a person but experience the person. These traits we think define and divide us are distracting us from the truth about unity in our common humanity.

Consciously blinding the secondary differences, what is left when we look at one another is the same human body, human brain, human heart; the same human frailties and vulnerabilities. Lending from the Archbishop’s wisdom, Ubuntu is a South African ideology that recognises our solidarity in humaneness. Indeed, where we stop comparing and competing our suffering and struggles against each other, we realise there is no ‘harder’ or ‘more stressful’, there is just ‘hard’ and ‘stressful’. We share the same fundamental desire to be joyful and avoid suffering, an innate pursuit that transcends what tries to separate us. In truth, we are together, each living out the same human experience that is imperfect, winding and impermanent by nature.

In the words of the Archbishop, “A person is a person through other persons” and no story we tell ourselves about how we came to be is a story with a single character in isolation. Each of them with the imprints of many others. Who we are is constantly tried, test and affirmed or challenged by those around us, each contributing to the moulding process that makes us us. It is the strength of the secondary differences that it sometimes takes a major disaster for followers of different faiths or people from different countries to come together and see that in the end, we are all human brothers and sisters. The Holiness the Dalai Lama describes the antidote as “a sense of oneness of all 7 billion human beings – irrespective of our beliefs, we are all the same human beings who all want a happy life.”

Growing up in a culture where independence meant going alone strong and armouring up against vulnerability, the true internalisation of Ubuntu starts with greeting my big human family. It starts with the recognition of our interdependence – unlearning the modern trance, the relentless march and the endless comparison and competition. Martin Luther King Jr puts it rightly that we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters, or we will perish together as fools. I am mindful of the suffering that humanity takes the toll of collectively today – the refugee crisis, the rising suicide rates, the political amnesia that hurts us; all of which that is reason for us to grieve. There are, though, more reasons to celebrate, as we are 7-billion strong in our capacity for love, great devotions and courageous pursuits.

Advertisements

Celebrate 2016

2016-last-day

Culture Espresso sits at the junction of 38th Street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan, New York City. Seated at a high stool before a marble table facing the full-length glass panels that surround this café, I’d like to think I’ve found the New York equivalent to the Delfi Orchard Starbucks where I have incredible memories I hold dear – the pace of footsteps has significantly decreased at this junction, population density even more so. The fireplace exits of the residential bricked-buildings create uncanny symmetry across the street and most of the remaining stores remain closed. This is the street that awakens naturally; as opposed to the ever-awake Broadway Avenue where lights and sounds are no less than a sensory overload. This is the morning of the last day of 2016 for me, there is a playful sense of victory as if I’ve ‘bought an extra day’ by spending countdown in America. That aside, this piece is in reflection and celebration of the year that has come and gone.

I guess you can say this was my gap year. If you’ve heard this story before, please skip this paragraph completely and go to the compartmentalized lessons I have attempted to draw from the countless, precious experiences and people from the year. Awaiting to read Occupational Therapy in the University Sydney, I only commence studies in March 2017 (departing for Australia in February). A vastly different new normal from the one I have imagined while I was studying for ‘A’ Levels, I never expected to take anything more than an 8-month break nor leave this country that I feel deeply connected with. In my family, we don’t call this a gap year, the word is almost taboo – it comes with connotation of too much uncertainty, even a ‘waste of time’. There is a slippery slope projection into the future that comes with the idea of a gap year that ends with my retirement alone and failing in my career. Of course, I respond to the ridiculous ‘timeline of life’ that we too often subject ourselves to with more laughter than pressure. (For now, at least.)

There is immense importance in the stories we tell ourselves: they reflect certain principles and beliefs we hold dear and sometimes act as reinforcements to our character; other times they can mislead us or contribute to a narrow-minded conviction that it’s ‘our way or the highway’. The only antidote is non-stop learning. My WordPress pieces have often attempted to achieve that balance in separate pieces, but for my series of ‘Celebrate (insert year)’ pieces (see Celebrate 2013Celebrate 2014 and Celebrate 2015), they have more often been about the former.

Uncertainty and Learning

slide01slide02slide03The ‘A’ Levels, in theory, is a series of exams that lasts no more than a month and a half. It is widely accepted that the implications are felt even before the month of exams commences – they say ‘It is not about the outcome, it’s the process.’ Now though, I can vouch for the anxiety that persists even after the series of examinations. Like a knot in our hearts, the tendency to place the worth of the years of hard work in a single result transcript is tempting; the social construct has it so. The first important lesson from the beginning of the year, then, was to forgive ourselves and unlearn what we have learnt about self-worth growing up in education characterized by paper chase and portfolio-driven assessments.

More than ever, I miss dearly the structured environment for learning that I have been blessed with. The unchartered terrains of internships in Raffles Hospital then in Early Childhood Development Authority have been space for self-discovery and continued learning, a legacy left behind by being in the Raffles Programme for 6 years. Persisting from July, is the space of Healthcare Scholarship and a Giving Week Stint raising funds for the Room to Read Global Organisation at the end of this year was very much dedicated to the appreciation for quality education that was an immense privilege. As I exit through the Rafflesian gates, I find myself in spaces where learning opportunities are abundant but must be actively sought after. I continue to craft the questions and revisit them out of habit but answers are no longer found in a single conversation with an inspired educator and knowledge-hungry peers, they are found in the processing of numerous sources and days of research. A newfound appreciation for the community of learning and excellence has found me visiting my alma mater and Junior College countless times across the year, each time rejuvenated by the unconditional love and desire to inspire of the teaching and non-teaching staff.

In face of the uncertainty post-Junior College that people don’t talk about enough, there has been necessary reading and reflection on solitude and being my own person, an idea not unfamiliar but necessitated only in this year.

Gratitude and Giving Back

slide10slide11In Junior College, I was always reminded that grades matter, but who you are matters more. The privilege of crossing paths with Halogen Foundation Singapore and Youth Corps Singapore was the constant source of this important reminder. Built on a foundation of educators and of family, who believed that I was worth a whole lot more than my achievements and that my achievements were simply reflections of more important values that I possessed, I owe my resilience today to these people. I used to negotiate for a gap year to devote time to not only the abovementioned learning, but also to the service I hoped to give back to these people and communities.

I am incredibly thankful for these spaces that have continued to embrace me in spite of my formal departure and regardless of my absence while I was a full-time student. The opportunities I’ve had to represent teams or causes larger than myself have continued to reaffirm my belief that nothing important gets done alone, and together, we can do great things.

In one of my favourite reads in the world, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, I have learned of the ‘culture of scarcity’ that has plagued us. We never find anything or anyone enough, including ourselves. The time never enough to accomplish our tasks, the resources never enough to go around (so we ‘must compete’), the recognition never enough to feel worthy. In the past, shame was a two-person affair, at least. Today, we learn to do it all by ourselves – we convince ourselves we are not enough (not skinny enough, not smart enough, not capable enough). In a lifestyle of service, I have learned to be more empathetic, mindful and compassionate – these practices central to the person I want to be. This keeps me focused on personal development and being thankful. This is the antidote I have found for scarcity. Remember this: the opposite of ‘scarcity’ is not abundance (because abundance suggests excess); the opposite of ‘scarcity’ is enough.

Still learning from each volunteer I work with and still immersing with every partner in service, my perspective of the world is constantly recalibrated in a way that reminds me that we are all global citizens in a place so much larger (both physically and metaphorically) than ourselves. Only when we engage with the world around us from a place where we believe in enough, will we find joy.

Wholeheartedness

slide04slide05slide06slide07slide08slide09I mention in my earlier piece on Wholehearted Living about the concept’s principles. The idea, in a nutshell, has it that we find peace with the earlier mentioned culture of scarcity so that we can meaningfully engage with those around us. This has been a struggle that surfaced in this year relatively distant from the tight-knit communities I have found strength from. In having to actively reach out and be a part, there has been self-doubt and no short of self-assessment about the person that I am.

The challenge to living with wholeheartedness is that we often lack courage to be who we are bravely. It makes us vulnerable to a point of discomfort. In the month where I investigated the issue of suicide prevalence and the roots of depression, it was painful to find that we have created a society where so many cannot feel okay being the person that they are and even more so to have these thoughts of self-doubt find resonance within me. I am still practicing. On this road of self-compassion and mastering vulnerability, I owe thanks to the closest of friends who truly, truly love me not regardless of my flaws but because of them. It is because of the genuine company of people like you that I am slowly learning to believe that people, in general, are always trying their best (and so am I).

Daring Greatly

slide12slide13slide14slide15

If you’ve heard my quote the Man in the Arena Speech by Theodore Roosevelt before, you’re welcome to skip this paragraph. Here goes – it is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Ever since I’ve fallen in love with this quote so telling of true bravery, I have newfound courage to pursue feats, tread untrodden paths and take calculated risks. If I played word association with the phrase ‘Daring Greatly’, the outcome would be: Strong Mind Fit Body, Empathy Taskforce, Dreamcatcher and newspapers.

  • Born from a dream to bring neighbours together for functional fitness, Strong Mind Fit Body is today, a budding social enterprise that works extremely hard to create meaningful experiences to impart strength training awareness and promote inter-generational bonding. We believe that together, we can build a nation that is unafraid to age. With Champions and Fit Elves, like those who helped us pull off the biggest event of the year hitting at headcount of more than 200 at SMFB Christmas Special, we believe so more than ever. If you’d like in on our better tomorrow that we commit time and energy to work towards, please let us know at SMFBgeneral@gmail.com or apply to be a Champion (regular volunteer) at bit.ly/SMFBchampapply
  • Before Youth Corps Singapore’s first Empathy Taskforce was formed, we pulled off a Human Library surrounding the theme of service and giving. Today, we explore various issues of concern by curating programmes that bring life to the Red Box and inculcate empathy in our fellow peers and Youth Corps members. There are immense opportunities that lie ahead in what we can do. This year, peppered with uncertainty and surprises for us, I am thankful for how whenever I look at these teammates that I’ve only gotten to know for less than a year, I always always know that we can do it.
  • Dreamcatcher, a camp for a Primary 6 cohort on imagination, creativity and problem-finding/solving was an opportunity that I stumbled upon. Setting the record for one of the most enjoyable camps I’ve experienced (along with the Youth Corps Induction Camp), being Camp Captain was no less than a privilege. Reflecting upon this experience, I owe immense thanks to the 56 strangers-turned-friends who earned my trust from giving their best to create an experience that we can today, call our collective masterpiece. Thank you for reigniting hope for me in a time that was trying. They say house is a building and home is a feeling; the way we lead the camp shoulder-to-shoulder felt like home.
  • Finally, newspapers. I started a record of social and traditional features of my face, story or reflection pieces I have once written – when you have your opinions and thoughts rewritten that many times or quoted (sometimes out of context), you start to learn the diverse standpoints that each site has and these features are about anything but you. As an individual, I have found to represent something other than myself in these media features. Still undecided about some of these articles, I am certain of the gratitude I have towards those who have stood by me and kept me grounded to the person that I am amidst razzle dazzle. Thank you, also, for appreciating my WordPress pieces as I articulate my thoughts and self in pursuit of clarity and authenticity.

My cup of latte is three-quarter full and the latte art on the surface is long gone, whatever remains is bittersweet. The espresso stronger than the milk, the aftertaste of caffeine lingers. Here’s to a beautiful last day of 2016; where we aren’t closing a chapter, and the adventures are truly only just beginning. Happy New Year, may this (actually arbitrary) time for celebration and rejuvenation also be one of reflection for us all; where we ask important questions like What have I learned about myself and the world around me in this year? How does that change who I want to be in 2017? and How do I get there, what kind of choices can I make? It is a pity if we live in constant inconsistency with who we hope to be and what we hope to be doing, where we “claim to believe in something but constantly act otherwise” – let’s live in a mindful way so we can never say this about ourselves. Carpe diem.

On Mindfulness

merry-christmas

On board a plane heading to New York, it is the morning of Christmas Eve. Sunshine peeks through the window left slightly ajar; from here, the clouds are stationary and everything seems small. The aftertaste of a tall Starbucks Java Chip Frappuccino lingers in my mouth and my throat silently protests from the careless meal decisions I’ve made in the past few days. The comfort of the window seat allows me the wealth of personal space, away from the movement (and distraction) along the aisle. This piece is on mindfulness: a practice that significantly maximizes the joy we experience and allows us to create a ‘quality world’ in which we, each, make choices that allow courage, compassion and connection.

The precious time away from the hustle and bustle of Singapore’s busyness travelling from Hong Kong and now America, has made space for the practice of mindfulness, that is, paying attention intentionally, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. This holiday I return to the digital detox – time I would otherwise spend scrolling mindlessly through phone applications or unanswered messages is now spent being present. The consequence is as if a veil over my consciousness has been lifted, allowing a hyperawareness of the breeze brushing by my hair and the occasional fatigue in my neck (from looking at my Macbook), toward the sound that plane makes as it travels at 575 mph and the overwhelming privilege of being in this seat at this point. The constant race against time has come to a momentary pause: there is now time to just people-watch. We have enough time – no need to plan days ahead and cram meetings with phone calls or errands in a single day; enough time to notice the boy in glasses returning to his seat and the lady behind him proudly donning her Mickey Mouse wizard hat. There is a brunette at the other end of this row dozing off as she browses a magazine from the Airline and beside her, navy blue nails has been scrolling her iPhone 6S for a while now.

‘Selfing’ is a word some use in the context of mindfulness for referring to how much of our time is spent on “me, myself and I”. It is the judgment that sets in from our observations of the present moment and the necessary link we draw between these observations and its implications on me. A dangerous but prevalent practice that brews our sense of entitlement and feeds the ego that believes we are special. It gives strength to the director of the movie where you are directed in the spotlight. To ‘selfing’, mindfulness is the antidote. The practice shows you that it is not all about you – the lady you walk past when you trip over nothing is lost in her thoughts, not laughing at your clumsy stumble; the man in the immaculate suit hasn’t looked at your outfit once and the lady with beautiful red hair is not chuckling at your messy hair.

The concept of a ‘quality world’ is adopted from Dr. William Glasser, the author of Choice Theory. He asserts that we, each, have a personal ‘quality world’. In this projection of our imagined future, we visualise a state of being where our aspirations fulfilled and desires met; this differs slightly from person to person albeit our common innate hopes to live and love with our whole hearts. Our everyday choices and actions, then, are shaped by this image in our heads – we invest in the relationships we believe will contribute to the ‘quality world’ and we are constantly in search of avenues where the attributes of our ‘quality world’ will flourish. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, my recent re-read, leads me to believe that if we were to compare our ‘quality world’ with any others’; we would find the desire for courage, compassion and connection taking different forms. In her books, she expands on these as the ability to engage with others from a position where we believe we are enough and present ourselves in our most authentic form. How else might we create this ‘quality world’ until we abandon the lens that appreciates each moment only through comparison? How else, unless we embrace who we are regardless of how we are in comparison with others.

The greatest challenge I continue to face in this practice of mindfulness is to let your judgements roll by. It is immensely important to allow them to pass and simply observe the present moment as it is. Brene Brown gives a name to the talkative and judgmental voices that are quick to respond to a bout of shame – gremlins. Gremlins exist to defend us against the fear of disconnect we experience when we are ashamed that we are not enough, when we hustle with worthiness. We wouldn’t care less about what others think if we truly believed that we were enough. I’m still working on that. Mindfulness would require that I can enjoy the moment and how it is, just for the way it is; rid of comparison and without looking through a lens of scarcity.

My self-talk reminder remains on loop – “Be kind to your wandering mind, it is normal to have to return to the present moment again and again.” We all want to be brave and live wholeheartedly, where we have the courage to be ourselves wherever and whenever. Mindfulness will take us there.

Merry Christmas to you as well!

Home, Truly

singapore

This morning, donned in our Lift Stronger, Live Longer T-shirts, my siblings and I represented Strong Mind Fit Body at the Jurong Spring CC National Day Celebrations. To see throngs of people dressed in red and many others waving their Singapore flags in one hand, holding onto their children in the other, I was reminded of why I love this country. Timely, given the National Day Celebrations, this piece is in memory of Singapore’s 51st birthday:

Most thankful: For safety and security

singapore2

I strongly believe that we find value in the present not only with our memory of the past but also because of the potential that the present holds for the future. We treasure today not only for its connection with yesterday, but even more for the tomorrow that it makes possible. We are in an age of even more opportunities than ever before, even more possibilities – the trend of start-ups and of social enterprises, the increasing interest in volunteerism and the message we sell of “pursuing passion”; all of which, are about dreams becoming reality.

This deeply empowering possibility for many of us come as a privilege thanks to the backdrop of security. Granted, there is an overwhelming invasion of new threats that know little boundaries (think computer science developments allowing hacking or the latent weapon in ideology). Let’s be careful, though, not to crowd out appreciation for the safety that we otherwise enjoy from our day-to-day lives regardless of socio-economic backgrounds (which is rare elsewhere in the world).

Personal freedom, thanks to some extent of assured security and safety, frees us from the less important decisions like what you can wear, what time you can stay out till on the streets, how to get home late in the night and which parts of Singapore you’d feel comfortable in. The time we save from making these menial decisions, then, can be spent on these more empowering considerations like “what kind of difference do I want to make?” and “where do I see myself in ten years?”

Most concerned: For harmonious diversity

singapore1

Visits to the National Museum of Singapore have etched our illustrious history (in spite of being a young nation) dating back to the 18th century, in my mind. With the power of context, I am even more appreciative of the diversity and identity that we build on in present day. Consider the friction that comes in everyday interaction with people we consider ‘different’ and multiply that many times as you play out Singapore’s stories of natives coming together to build the Majulah Singpura mantra that we believe in today.

This afternoon, I watched the film The Provision Shop by Royston Tan. Set against the backdrop of an old provision shop, the show explores social interactions and relationships in our local community through a microcosm. It unpacks the tensions that are arising in Singapore as a result of increasing diversity – with the influx of foreign workers and international students. It reminds me of my understanding earlier that our choice to anger against these people, who ultimately came to Singapore for purposes in their lives not so different from our own, is because it is always easier to vent frustration to a human face (the tangible results) rather than an intangible policy. It is simpler to cumulate group-hate for a character that is symbolic of a threat rather than critically analyse the words in the policy paper that has opened up these possibilities.

I had earlier written about race in Singapore and our pioneer’s hopes for the crux of the Singapore spirit to lie in maintaining harmony regardless of differences. These principles of harmonious diversity and embracing differences can be applied to all if we learn to see one another simply, as human beings. It is silly to make individuals’ lives worse off when they are but innocent responders to opportunity. The domestic workers who are increasingly the guardians of our old or the labourers who work under the Singapore heat for the buildings that become our offices; the expatriates developing companies that bring in incredible revenue for our economic development and the international students bringing diversity to the classroom that we so often complain about the lack of (diversity)– are they not as much a part of the Singapore Story as we are?

We say it in the pledge (“Regardless of race, religion and language”) and we sing it in our favourite National Day songs (“There is comfort in the knowledge, that home about its people too.”); but where is the consistency if we have yet to learn to regard all who are found on this land family and to make them feel as at home as possible.

Amidst the celebrations in this time, perhaps it’s time we ask – “What kind of Singapore might we want to be?”

singapore3

This month, I am counting my blessings in this very space – thankful for the people, the place and the spirit of this nation. I have so much optimism for what lies ahead and hope in the people of this place. This is home, truly.

IMG_9094t

What’s in a ‘Home’?

home

The morning smells of rain, like the aftertaste of what was torrential earlier. Walking home from the train station (a practice that has replaced the rushed bus rides since the intentions-based year began), the patches of soil bare from grass are moist and they line the familiar pavement that leads me to home. I grew up in the Clementi neighbourhood – learned how to walk and talk, attended kindergarten then primary school, made the closest friends, had the most childish fights; all in this vicinity. I recognize the faces, the buildings. The new Build-to-Order flats replacing what used to be big patches of green grass do not erase the memories once shared in the greenery. Easily, this is where I would relate to most closely as ‘home’.

From experience in Sunlove Home, conversations with the older generation never escape ideas of “what it used to be like” – with respect to neighbourhoods and ‘home’, then, it would be about the kampong spirit, the gotong-royong heart for one another. When we first embarked on Strong Mind Fit Body, hoping to ride on Housing Development Board’s Good Neighbours Project funding and foster neighbourliness, I was excited to actively uncover the kampong spirit that I believed to remain regardless of evolving infrastructure, of changing times. The excitement remains with every functional fitness session as we share stories and have conversations. I am reaffirmed that we still care for one another and that the gotong-royong spirit persists.

Days ago, I enjoyed an incredibly moving production by the local W!LD RICE Company titled “Geylang”. As part of the Singapore Theatre Festival celebrating the Singaporean flavor in more ways than one, this one was about the preservation of heritage and the comfort of the neighbourhoods that we call ‘home’. The key plot was centred around a modern-day ‘redevelopment project’ by an architecture firm hoping to uplift the entire old Geylang Serai and replace it with new infrastructure. A ministry, named “MYID” in the play, was supporting the project that was still in its planning stages and the architecture firm was struggling, trying to convince old tenants to move out from their stores.  Especially heartening was the scene where the residents of Geylang, spoke up for their memories in Geylang Serai in front of the MYID Permanent Secretary. They had stood in unity in spite of differing racial backgrounds, dialect groups, livelihoods and demographic altogether. With tears in their eyes and an indescribable passion in their pleas, they had found the basis for their sense of camaraderie in the common spaces they had shared within Geylang Serai and the gotong-royong spirit that they had lived out in the neighbourhood for decades.

At times, I find the distracting pace of our lives and the endless pursuit for financial security masks the still existing kampong spirit that we envy the older generation for. I believe where the situation calls for, we will stand together and fight for a place we consider ‘home’, alongside neighbours we consider family. It is the safety and comfort, the familiarity and the memories of these common spaces that create attachment. Yet, our attachment is silenced and we coax ourselves to be less attached so we can let go, giving way to ‘development’.

My latest read is A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, a story of war-torn Afghanistan and the slow progress in women empowerment slowed down further by the domestic crisis. History lessons about how superpower intervention prolong existing conflicts and the numerous push-pull factors for religious ideologies to fuel armed conflict made the read ever engaging, a page-turner round every chapter. The tale ends with Laila’s visit back home to Kabul – she reminisces “what it used to be like” and the memories that made her ‘home’ have a special place in her heart. There is unspoken sadness at the changes made to her ‘home’ in the years that she has been gone, how the places she once knew like the back of her hand were no longer existent and how the memories seemingly faded along with the landmarks. The reality reflected that “war, hunger, anarchy and oppression (can) force millions of people to abandon their homes and flee” (in the words of Hosseini himself). They turn into refugees and remain helpless to their homes destroyed and to the changing landscapes of where they consider ‘home’.

Juxtaposing their harsh reality with ours, it dawned upon me that we were changing these landscapes by choice. In the play “Geylang”, the MYID (representing the government body responding to what society appeared to need) was pushing for the ‘redevelopment project’ to be realized. Eventually, the play ended with the residents’ collective pleas and the Permanent Secretary whispering his response to the architecture firm head. My take is that the play was left intentionally open-ended to provoke reflection from the audience about what our answer would be. To what extent would we allow our heritage and landscapes to be wiped clean in the name of ‘development’? And would we consider the possibility of having the ‘old’ and ‘new’ coexist? The choice is our privilege and the least we could do is to exercise it with care.

home2

My Superhero is My Mommy

mothersdayy

As we welcome the afternoon after family morning, I feel liberated to be in the most casual of ‘smart casual’ and my hair in a ponytail (instead of the newly-required company protocol to pin everything up). Seated on the marbled seats in Tanjong Pagar station, the familiar “Please mind the platform gap” and incessant beeps that precede the clumsy closing of doors remain clear despite the Chinese oriental music playing in my earpieces. Today’s thoughts, fit for the occasion, are about how blessed I’ve had to have won the Parent Lottery.

From March, the efforts and commitment dedicated to Strong Mind Fit Body have culminated in no less than a rollercoaster ride of emotions and challenges. None of which, though, would have been possible without our superhero mommy. From the endless list of logistics that gets ‘refreshed’ periodically to our uncontrollable mood swings, my mom has had to deal with all of it, no discounts. This uphill battle that we so often brand as a “pursuit of passion” has been a microcosm of the story of our lives – a story we are blessed to live and breathe.

Opportunities and leaps of faith come hand-in-hand with fear. At times, we forget that behind the pat on the back for courage or the word of praise for affirmation, is also fear in our mother who loves us too dearly to watch us get hurt. I like to tell the story of the many chances I have taken to make ‘unconventional’ choices: that I worked part-time while studying to pull weight in the family, that I volunteer fervently and that I pursued my interest in fashion bravely. So often, I leave out the difficulty in being the mother of a child with so much she wants. In retrospect, it is an unimaginable level of challenge to have said “yes” to all my pleas – to trust a ditsy 18-year-old’s choices over and over, to let me make my own mistakes or to watch me cry from learning difficult lessons, resisting perfect timings for “I told you so”s.

My mom has picked up infinite new skills in order to support the family – from a bubble tea concoctionist to a beautician, to an office administrator. On top of that, her full-time job is keeping the household in place. At home, she is the mediator, the peace-maker, conflict manager, the housework queen and our source of joy. Volunteering with underprivileged children from difficult backgrounds has so often reminded me that this beauty of a mother is truly a lottery that I have done nothing to be entitled. Yet, so much of who I’ve become (the capacity to love and the courage to be) has come from my mom’s nurturing disposition from as early as I started to remember things.

On this special day, I quote a 4-year-old who bravely spoke in a mic during the 2015 Superhero Me Festival – when asked “Who is your superhero?”, she said shyly, “My superhero is my mommy”.

Thanks mommy, you’re who I want to be when I grow up!

KICKSTART with Strong Mind Fit Body

IMG_6182

This evening, I am seated by Bukit Gombak MRT – this adjacent carpark sees an incessant flow of “L-plate” drivers inching in and out of the carpark; once in a while, a manual car stalls and a queue forms quickly. The upward slope into the carpark is a tricky one, I would know. There is a quiet breeze that makes this spot particularly comfortable and today’s reflections are about a community project that has recently gained traction. The adrenaline from our three-hour back-to-back functional exercise sessions remains pumping in our veins though two days have already passed.

Strong Mind Fit Body is the brain child of my sister – passionate about exercise, her dedication to fitness as a means of empowerment could inspire anybody who carefully observes her lifestyle that amplifies her convictions. She has taught me to view exercise as a tool for empowerment. In her words, “anyone, with a strong heart and a healthy body, could lead a happy life”. With the privilege of our month-long holiday after graduating from Junior College, she made sure to have us all hit the gym at least every alternate day and to make smart food choices in the supermarket. My story with consciously leading a healthy lifestyle after I’ve left school really began from there and I am so so thankful to have learnt these lessons from her. Today, I alternate between running and working out in the gym (with the convenient ActiveSG FREE Membership) three times a week. The increased strength and fitness, indeed, gives me confidence to commit to other commitments I find meaningful.

The Strong Mind Fit Body project is currently funded by the Housing Development Board’s “Good Neighbour Project” that awards projects that fulfils the criteria of fostering neighbourliness in the community with a $1000 grant. Additionally, the project receives strong financial and moral support from our Residents’ Committee at Bukit Timah Zone 4. In promoting the adoption of functional exercises as a means of cultivating a healthy lifestyle, it has also been important to us that we use it as a means of bringing the Clementi neighbourhood in which we grew up, together. The movement is one that is inclusive exactly because of the accessibility of the type of exercise that is promoted – functional exercise rides on the idea that anything found in our daily lives can be converted into effective and safe exercise. In the future developments of the community project, we have hopes of reaching out to the MINDS community and the St. Luke’s Eldercare: both of which are within our neighbourhood. It is exciting to think of the possibilities we can achieve when driven by good intentions, big dreams and support from people who believe in our cause enough to invest in it.

From the proposal writing meetings of February and late night discussions at home since March, we have come a long way. In no more than a month, we conducted two engagement sessions to introduce the concept of functional exercise to neighbours, volunteers and our own family – one titled ‘The Dynamo Series’ and another titled ‘The Chair Series’. As their names suggest, each made use of a simple household item that was converted into a tool for exercise. Thanks to the valuable feedback accumulated from these engagement sessions, we were able to put together a decent anchor event last Sunday, titled ‘KICKSTART with Strong Mind Fit Body‘. This event saw a little more than 25 sign ups from neighbours who were inspired by the idea of a ground-up initiative by neighbours, for neighbours and from May, we expect to gather every two weeks for regular functional exercise sessions.

The execution of this project, though, has been no less than turbulent. The countless liaisons in order to obtain sufficient funding, meet with the Residents’ Committee members for more resources, or to pitch to suppliers to obtain partial sponsorships wherever possible only constitute the rollercoaster ride in the financial aspect of the project. I vividly remember the night my sister and I sat down for our first ever “team talk” – then, we had been at two-person team for a while, both cracking under the weight of our countless responsibilities. And memory of the morning my family came together in front of a whiteboard in the kitchen to list out responsibilities will remain clear as crystal for a long time.

Our dreams remain big, fire burning in the belly and the execution of the ground-up initiative remains an uphill battle. Cheers to the challenges that lay ahead, we’re ready!

Find out more about our project at bit.lyl/strongmindfitbody or email me at shermaineng_1997@yahoo.com.sg.