Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Last Day of 2014

Driving to work this morning, on the empty roads under the blue sky with the occasional white fluffy clouds, I thought about what a year-end this has been. It’s my fourth year-end in Australia, and my best so far.

In Dec 2011, fresh in Australia, I was starting a 12-month contract with a company on the other side of the city, driving long distances, and not really sure what the future held for me – in both work and life – here in Australia.
In Dec 2012, I was at the end of that 12-month contract, and was under high duress due to the mega project I was working on.
Dec 2013 saw me searching for a job after second 12-month contract came to a premature end due to lack of project funding.

And here I was now, end of 2014, I have a permanent job, work that I enjoy in a company close to home. I now have a little boy at home, a social life and house that has matured over the time we’ve lived here, and an exciting year to look ahead to.
I might not work out as frequently as before, but I still put in an occasional session here and there. And I cook regularly now, I’ve just made my first loaf of bread (with a breadmaker) last night, and having the permanence of a job and income just takes away a lot of insecurity and transience out of the planning for the future.

I’ve had year ends in Malaysia, Singapore, Germany and Australia. And who knows where my year ends in the future will be? If nowhere else but Australia, I would have already have lived a life well-lived. I have already experienced much – yet there is much more to look forward to. And that’s how I’d want my year to end: to look back with content but to look forward in anticipation.

2014 has been full of ups and downs – as with every year – but looking further back at the last years since we moved here to Australia, we’ve really come a long way. There’s so much to be thankful for. And so much more to be thankful for in the future.

There’s a dinner party with my family and parents and friends to bookend the year with tonight, and launch us cheering and toasting into 2015. And what a year that will be: my first full-sized mega project for this company, and my MBA class starting in just under two months’ time. It is about to get really awesome. At the end of 2015, I will have some really awesome experiences to look back on. And it all begins in just a couple of hours.

It’s a “well done” for 2014; your job’s not done yet (it should be really done), let’s get ready for a Truly Awesome 2015.

Have faith, Be Brave, and Soar Away. :)

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Standing at the Edge & Peering Beyond

We only have 70, 80 of we're lucky, 90 if we're really lucky, years on this Earth. If we're lucky, we're born in one of the better countries in the world, healthcare is good so all of our health needs are met when we're young, and we grow up in a emotionally stable supportive home, where we learn to value ourselves and trust in our own abilities to engage with the world out there, and overcome any tough situations that come our way. We get a good education and then a job, find a partner we love and build a family and recreate a safe, loving, and supportive home for the little ones.

Still, we have 70 maybe 80 maybe 90 years on this Earth. How then, are we to live our lives?

We could live in the country we're born in and are familiar with and succeed within that environment. Many people have. Others move to other countries, and build another life there and thrive in that new environment. Still they have a good life, and live 70 maybe 80 maybe 90 years. 

Life, if you've noticed my repeating it, is short, and before we know it, we've gone a long way through those 70 (or 80 or 90 years). We want those years to be filled with good memories. Time well spent. A life well lived. 

But what is time well spent, a life well lived? For some it's charity, helping other human beings. For some it's to serve a religious calling far beyond the temporal lives we have for a purpose that is aligned with their beliefs of eternity.

Perhaps another not invalid way to live life is to have multiple experiences in life. Good experiences of course but also varied and deeply meaningful. Living in different countries, experiencing different worlds within this same one world, immersing oneself in completely different environments to embrace the rich varieties that different cultures and continents overflow with. 

We might not all be rich and drive million dollar cars and live in houses or even apartments with a view over Lake Zurich or Sydney Harbour, we might not even have the opportunities to ever live the neighbourhoods we were born in, but if ever the opportunity does come, I wish for all of us to have the courage and the self-trust to straighten our backs, stand, step up and reach out to hold onto that opportunity, not knowing where it will take us, but believing that no matter what happens, we will all be the better for it, because we have dared to believe in ourselves and our abilities to overcome it all.

Right now, on the plane back from Zurich to Bangkok, I don't know yet what will happen once I arrive back in Melbourne. Maybe the routine humdrum of daily life will make me forget the dreams and possibilities I've seen the last one week in Europe, maybe I will snap out of my infatuation with Zurich and Europe in general and laugh at how silly and childish I have been been to dare tell Rolf of my idea to move there in two years' time. Two years is a long time and after two months, two weeks or even two days, I might not want this dream anymore. But at least I have had this one week, where I have stood at the edge of my own universe  and peered beyond into another world, another life, another possibility for the future. And have been so enriched and filled with wonderment of the possibilities there are out there for another type of future, another type of life.

It has been a deeply meaningful week and one I would dare bet would prove to reverberate across many more years of my life to come. How thankful and blessed I am for what I have experienced these past few days and how pregnant with amazing possibilities the future now holds.

Once again, I can truly say I love my job, and I love this journey I have traveled so far; I love my life. 

Have faith, be brave. And soar. 

AC, 22 Nov 2014, Thai Airways flight TG971 from Zurich to Bangkok. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Perhaps Someday Again

Debb e-mailed me from Holland this morning. She had settled into her old job there, and she was going off soon for a 10-day trip to Greece and Turkey.

Her life now reminds me of the life I used to live in Germany. The romance of living in a foreign city in a foreign continent, the wonders of getaways to see new sights -- and yet, having now lived through it all before, I know there's also the loneliness of solo dinners, the emptiness of a tiny dark apartment in a quiet city.

I'm now a fair way away from Greece or Turkey. But Greece, Turkey, Munich, the whole of Europe -- they will always be there. I can go back anytime. 

I don't know for sure, I told Debb, but I hope I'll go there someday again.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beginning of Another Journey

Running makes the week go by faster. This morning I completed my third run after a prolonged furlough. It certainly feels good to be up early, and get my body moving again. (More accurately, it feels good post-workout.)

And just like that, it’s already mid-week. Winter feels like it’s well and truly over now, with the temperature breaking 20 deg C for the next few days’ forecast. And with the higher temperature, there’s more sunshine as well, and light blue skies. The world feels changed once again.

Sitting here in the same office as the past seven months, work is still unchallenging, but I now realize the benefits of a short commute to work. It frees up a lot of time, energy and petrol money for other rewarding uses of my time, chief among them: spending more time A.

Spending more time with your kids when they’re little – add that to the list of things that most  never do enough of (others: eat healthily, exercise, save for retirement, etc). I’m trying to maximise the benefit of the hindsight of others.

Another reason to be thankful for my dull job now: after attending last night’s MBA preview talk, listening to the current students, I realized how much effort working full-time and studying part-time will require. And there probably isn’t a better job than the current one to be a backdrop to my MBA. So I’m not going to rush into a big change for now, at least till I complete the MBA program.

Less busy job + flexible work hours + easy-going boss + short commute to work + no work travel = more time for family & part-time studies

I’ve been wanting to complete a MBA program for the longest time now. Back in 2004, I started a part-time MBA course in Singapore, only to withdraw to move to Germany. Ever since then, it’s been one life change after another. Perhaps it’s finally now time to settle down, dig in, and actually do it, 9 years after I first started.

Last night, before I left home to drive to the course preview talk, I felt a tinge of excitement – and just a little bit scared. Once again, it felt like the beginning of yet another exciting journey. Can’t hardly wait. :)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Loneliness at Home

I have been feeling lonely lately.

I feel lonely cooking dinner alone,
eating half of dinners alone
and washing up alone.

Then after washing up,
sitting in the living room alone.

Then it’s time to sleep already,
and next day repeat the same.

-- I wrote to C via Whatsapp this morning.

I didn’t blame her, I said.
But I am deeply lonely... I’m not  someone who enjoys being alone.”

I had been hoping to spend time with C after dinner, but lately I’ve noticed that’s not been happening at all.
After dinners, she left me alone to do the dishes while she went upstairs to shower.
After her shower, she had to read up for work or she wanted to sleep early.

And so we “run into” each other over dinners or breakfasts, exchange some brief words, and then we were off – each heading our own separate ways.
We went off and did household chores separately, or went to work separately. We even spent our evening leisure time separately.
On weekends, we went to the city together, but as attention was focused on A, we hardly really listened to each other anymore.

Perhaps it’s common for new parents, as Win said.
Yet while that reminder was reassuring, it does little to lessen the isolation and distance.

For now, I am resigned to lowered expectations of C’s company at night. It’s time perhaps to plan my own activities.

I just hope that doesn’t bring us even further apart.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Relationships Are Hard

After a small fracas during breakfast this morning escalated into a major brawl this morning, I arrived at work and googled “How to deal with passive aggressive spouse” and  “husband feels neglected after baby”. Whole lists of very well-written advice sites from psychiatrists and counsellors, and parent forums showed up. As I read, I thought to myself: I don’t mind if she doesn’t have much time for me, I just wish she’d stop being so critical of me, and show more appreciation.

This morning’s fight was nasty because for the second time, we fought in front of A, and poor little thing that he is, he was terrified. He was so terrified that when I dropped him off at the childcare this morning, he didn’t cry when the carer Kim took him over from me. Poor thing, he must be afraid of his father. Have decided that after work today, I’ll go fetch him right away instead of going home to cook first and leaving him there longer. His emotional state is far more important than saving a few dollars – we’ll eat takeaway tonight instead.

New house rule: no more fights in front of the kid(s), it affects them more than we realize. Sigh. Can’t go back in time and undo what’s done, but if I learn something from this morning and avoid future such mistakes, there’s at least some saving grace.

The good news is that fights like these are not uncommon in marriages. There are always bound to be disagreements. But I do have to learn how to better control my psychological state and not allow negative thoughts to fester and escalate quickly, and act out my anger. And I have to learn how to react – and not react – when I get criticised, under-appreciated or sandbagged. And I have to be calm and patient but assertive to point out my needs and the need to communicate more, not less.

And in a year rife with bad news already, a news alert message just came in on my iPhone that actor Robin Williams has been found dead.

It wasn’t the first time that the argument has escalated quickly, and as with the first time, it was not the original spark of the argument that was the problem. It was our responses to the argument. I wanted to resolve it by talking it out, C wanted to avoid talking altogether, and retreat into the defensive mode of thinking she should self-censor and tiptoe around eggshells with her words lest she say something “wrong” again. Her reticence and silence – during what to me was a critical time – drove me crazy – to me, it was a refusal to apologize for a trivial mistake. In my anger, the past similar incidences appeared to be a pattern of sustained critical behaviour towards me. And thus it escalated, often explosively.

The lack of time this morning didn’t help – C was rushing to work for an early morning training, and didn’t feel she had time to talk; I was feeling that a kind word could’ve only taken five seconds, or she could’ve said that we’ll talk tonight instead. Either one would have been far far preferable to the silence. Regardless of that, I have to realise it could happen again, and I need to be prepared for that, and react differently the next time else it would continue to escalate as it did before.

We all make mistakes, and relationships are hard, no matter how old we are or how much experience we have.
Life is not about avoiding making any mistakes; it’s about how we respond when we do make these mistakes, and how we recover and learn from them in our ongoing journey of self-regeneration, course corrections, personal growth.

I just texted C: I love you, I’m sorry about the fight we had this morning, let’s rebuild our marriage.

Far from perfect, I am still very much a student of life itself.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Micro Improvements

Taking a trip through my past August blog entries, a common theme seemed to follow through the years: boredom. There are no big events in August, no celebrations, no public holidays, and since moving to Melbourne, Augusts are also filled with cold & grey winter days.

Lately at work, things have slowed down to a crawl. It might speed up again suddenly, but there’s nothing particularly exciting on the horizon. Thursday afternoons are anyway also the nadir of office productivity, so this isn’t particularly surprising. Just half an hour more, and I’ll shut down and pack up, finish the day and earn yet another day’s worth in my monthly paycheque. So there’s that.

Life lately has been a whole lot of settling in: I am settling in how things are done at work. The erratic decision-making and sudden direction-changes are now just business as usual, at most they elicit some shaking of heads and resigned acceptance. 

At home, I am settling into the breakfast-dropping A off at childcare-picking A up at childcare-cooking dinner-reading on iPad-sleeping routine.  In a wide variety of tasks, I am getting better – be it changing diapers, vacuuming the house, cooking, creating work Wikipedia pages, even starting an investment account with an index fund. 

These are micro improvements, ground out by sheer repetition of tasks, borne out by consistently maintaining the routine. Therein lies my frustration: routine. While necessary and even essential for any life, the staid monotony of doing the same thing day after day, week after week is hardly inspiring. 

It’s easy to get worn down, allowing the boredom and frustration to fester and drag down one’s spirits, the gloom demotivate and disenfranchise the mind, ultimately lowering down overall productivity in everything that I do. Morale and motivation – they’ve always been the key foundations of how productive and efficient I am.

There are some personal projects to start myself on that could jumpstart the creative juices – enrolling in the MBA, seriously searching for an investment property, planning the year-end holidays. But the quickest short-term improvement I can do is to run again, after that long furlough. Just a short run tomorrow, literally inject adrenalin and endorphin into the system. Ok – for now, let’s go home and cook dinner.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Life is a Topography

Coming off a much better weekend than the previous two, it’s good to be more cheerful once again. The sunnier weather is a godsend, as is the recovery from the flu. Speaking to Mon by phone last night, I realise that we’ve also been settling into the new routine of C going back to work, and having A at childcare three days a week. “The hardest part is over,” Mon said, meaning his recent taking over of a business. He might as well be talking about our new routine.

“Life is like topography, Hobbes. There are summits of happiness and success, flat stretches of boring routine, and valleys of frustration and failure.” ~ Calvin & Hobbes

Coming out of a recent valley, entering into a flat stretch feels like a victory in itself. In the meanwhile, I am seeking more summits – investing in a city centre apartment, enrolling in a MBA course, securing a new job that I enjoy. Sometimes at age 37, a family man like me needs to be reminded that there are still great goals to achieve in life. Many more of life’s adventures await me, and I shouldn’t settled into a cycle of complacent contentment. There are more places to visit, new areas to grow in, and along the way there will be life’s little surprises – not all of them pleasant, but certainly each one part of the overall topography of life.

It was a tough past 2 weeks (flu), and it’s been not the most fun 6 months (this job), but we got through them, and we can put them behind us now. 

Forward -- ahead -- the rest of 2014 -- that’s where my energy, attention, passion and focus should lie. 2014 is no longer young, but it is not over yet. Let’s make something awesome out of the rest of the year.