C C Z H

Category: Life

Hope

And above all, believe. Believe in the strings of fate that wind so tightly around your destiny. Trust that they lead you in the right direction. Believe in the possibilities that flutter amidst descending space. Embosom them, and water them to fruition. Believe, for life is but a conflagration of past mistakes. Believe, for life is finite, yet infinite. Words may cut, and expectations may waver, but true hope is unyielding. Press on, my friends.

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Beautiful

“Everything beautiful has a mark of eternity.”

It rained the other day, a few miles into my weekly bicycle ride. It was eleven at night, and the moon hung dreamily amidst twinkling stars. My hopes for a passing shower were quickly dashed, for the heavens soon opened up and unleashed its fury onto me. Being the intrepid, reckless soul I was, and indeed, unwilling to waste any more time, I foolishly decided to set my course for home. Adjusting myself, I put on my cap and pedaled away.

The frigid wind whipped against my torso, each gust leaving behind a trail of rainwater on my shirt. My clothing proved to be inadequate at providing insulation, for water seemed to weave its way past the interwoven fabric effortlessly. My damp attire was akin to a layer of frost, ruthlessly biting at my bare skin. The exertion of continuous pedaling soon got to me, for my muscles bulged and throbbed in contempt. They weren’t ready for such levels of intensity – then again, neither was I. Droplets of water clung onto my lenses, clouding my vision. The headlights of passing cars danced like fireflies before me, each emitting a faint, blurry glow. Frantic groans were emitted by my tires as they struggled to find traction on wet tarmac – a wrong move then could have had fatal consequences.

A final hill was left for me to scale, one that ended mercilessly with a sharp turn. I stood upright, throwing my full body weight into each turn of the pedals. At the peak of the unforgiving slope, my head spun with must have been an intoxicating concoction of adrenalin and exhaustion. I sat back, allowing gravity to do its work as I accelerated downhill. There it was, the godforsaken turn, mere meters away from me. Reaching for the brakes, my fingers slipped, brushing in vain against the metal lever. You know the clichéd description of how time slows to a crawl in times of danger? Well, it did. I imagined how depressingly comical it would be to find my crumped body against a tree and how ironic it would be given that I was the one who planted it. Somehow, I managed to engage the rear brake, leaving a streak of burnt rubber behind me. I wrenched the handlebar to the right, and an arc of water erupted from the base of my rear tire – all before I came to an abrupt stop.

Leaping off my bike, I took a moment to catch my breath. The rain had subsided, much to my irritation, as I had just made it home. The dark clouds that hung so ominously above me dissipated, revealing the gleaming moon. It was a full moon that night, and she gazed cheekily down at me, as if mocking me for my impetuous antics. Now, I could go on and talk about the fragility of life and what I have learned from my misadventure – but that would be an unfitting end to what was, quite simply, a beautiful experience.

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Tabula Rasa

Hello there, my friend. You look troubled. I haven’t seen you smile in a while, and even when you do, it always looks awfully forced. I’ve always remembered you as a worrywart. Constantly pessimistic, you’ve always had a bleak outlook on life – one that’s unnatural for a man of your tender age. They say eyes are windows to one’s soul, yet emptiness crowds the caverns of your ethereal pearls. Your skin too, bears the pungent scent of defeat. Just a year ago, you were a confident individual, one who rode clouds and surfed wind. Your heart was light, and ready to love. You trusted, perhaps too much, but your open heart served as an open invitation for others to enter your life. They did, but alas, they didn’t stay for long.

Worse still, it was probably your fault. You tried to build towering friendships, but you forgot that such heights are only achievable with solid foundations. Your towers thus crumbled, carrying your lofty dreams down with them. Worry not, though, for comfort can be found in an ordinary life too. Worry not, for it’s never too late to begin again. Pick up the pieces of your shattered heart, and put them back together. You might never be the same person as you once were, but it’s okay – at least you’ll be whole again. Embrace the seams where your heart had once split, treasure them, and wear them proudly. Let them be a reminder of how much you’ve survived, and how far you’ve come since. Worry not then, Cedric, I’m sure you’ll learn how to love again.

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Twenty Sixteen

“You know, Prince Zuko, destiny is a funny thing. You never know how things are going to work out. But if you keep an open mind and an open heart, I promise you will find your own destiny someday.”

I would be lying if I said I didn’t have big dreams coming into 2016. After all, it marked the beginning of a new chapter of my life. I felt apprehensive going into my first year as a college student, but at the same time, excited. Fresh starts are a rarity once you reach a certain age, and this was one of them – a chance to leave my quiet secondary school years behind and add width to my tiny social circle. Many had told me that my college wasn’t a place for the soft-spoken, so I attempted a mass culling of my supposedly undesirable characteristics – most notably, my crippling shyness. It worked well in the beginning, but I quickly grew weary of being the loud, outspoken kid I never was. Which brings me to my point – if i were to sum up the entirety of 2016 into one word, it would be…

ACCEPTANCE

Looking back, it was foolish of me to believe that I could model myself after societal norms. There’s no perfect sculptor, and indeed – there’s no perfect sculpture! In sacrificing my authenticity, I’ll only be attracting those who value who I’m not. I was never going to be able to keep up the act forever, so why put myself through an emotional purgatory? In accepting myself for who I am, a reserved, unassuming, whimsical boy, I drew in those who truly appreciated me. No surprises then, that these are the people who stayed.

Furthermore, I’ve learnt, this year, to take a step back and let nature take its course. There are many things in life that we can control, but happiness isn’t one of them. We can fight for it, yes, but there’s never a guarantee of its arrival. Genuine happiness is elusive, it comes and it goes. It flows along the strings of time, visiting us when it deems us worthy. We don’t find happiness, it finds us – but only when the time is ripe. And when happiness does knock on our doors, embrace it. Welcome it with open arms, and embosom it until it takes its eventual leave.

You can’t end a year without giving thanks, so here’s one for those who stayed. For my true friends, the extraordinary individuals that I have had the privilege to cross paths with. As per my wish, my social circle was indeed widened! Yet, friendships are never about numbers, as they’re measured in expreriences. The value of friendships isn’t strictly quantifiable, no, but I believe that there’s a certain weight to love – our hearts being the only fair judge of its magnitude. Thank you, my dear friends, for blessing me with more love than I deserve. You filled my soul with a superabundance of warmth – warmth that envelopes me, and lulls me to sleep every night. Like stardust, you illuminate the path before me, making sure I’m never lost in my journey. Here’s to more unforgettable experiences ahead of us, each being better than the last.

Of course, I’ve tried to remain positive throughout this post, but I cannot deny the fact that 2016 was a year filled with adversity. However, I’m inclined to believe that there’s no meaning in always keeping to calm waters. It’s only when we attempt to weather stormy seas that we truly find magic. The treasure chests we’re looking for, they’re never going to be within arm’s reach, are they? I’m glad I took risks this past year, though only a few of them bore fruit. For even if I didn’t manage to find what I was looking for, it would at least be step towards finding myself. And at least for 2016 – I think I did. Happy New Year, all. May the new year bring us new dreams, and may we all be blessed with the strength to chase them. May we all fill our books of life with wonder, and may our loved ones be there to write alongside us.

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New Beginning

Walking past my study room, I couldn’t help but take a second glance at the bookshelf. Once filled with books and files, it now stood naked, stripped of its papery clothing. Four years worth of study materials now lay happily in their new residence, the dumpster. The afternoon spent clearing these was a bittersweet one, for it struck me that I was closing a wonderful chapter in my life. Once a Josephian, always a Josephian, they would say. Though true, it pains me to have to say I’m no longer an active member of that beautiful community. An Alumni Membership card is all that’s left to remind me of SJI and how it’ll always leave its front door open for me to come home.

Failed Chinese assignments, undone Mathematics worksheets and English compositions adorned with congratulatory stickers, each and every one of them brought back a torrent of emotions. One assignment in particular, a History project in which we were to design a poster, sent me into a laughing fit so intense, liquids were expelled from every orifice in my body. I never knew Stalin was into K-pop. Apart from a few obsessively neat handwritten notes, everything else was shredded and packed clumsily into eight plastic bags. Arranging them in a row next to the refuge chute, I took a moment to bid them farewell, before sending them plunging into the pungent abyss.

That was it, another page written, another chapter closed. I like to think of my empty bookshelf as a newly-emptied backpack, shorn of old weight, I’m now free to embark on a new journey. Sure, Junior College life seems daunting, but I walk towards it with my arms open, eager to embrace the challenges it’ll throw at me. However, for every step forward, I’ll always look back for a brief moment to remember where I came from, and to see how far I’ve come since.

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Graduation Night

Satisfied that I have done my utmost best in looking acceptable for the night’s festivities, I strode confidently into the hotel lobby. Unfortunately, my newfound confidence was quickly punctured. In the presence of hundreds of dashing, muscular young men with their flamboyant haircuts and tailored suits, I felt woefully inadequate. My small frame coupled with my slightly oversized blazer did nothing to help my average appearance. Regardless, I was determined to make the most of the night. Waiters dressed in tuxedos swept around the area, offering drinks to Josephians who were beginning to sweat profusely. Tropical weather and suits do not go hand in hand. Resisting the urge to ask for a Martini, “shaken, not stirred”, I opted for a more conservative glass of Coca-Cola.

The ballroom was not large, however, with its crystal chandeliers, adorned walls and carpeted floor, it did have a classy charm to it. Our class had an extremely low attendance, just a little under half of decided to show up that night. The handful of us who did attend were allocated two tables. One of which was taken by the class jocks, and the other by my closest friends. I would not lie and say I have never wanted to be a part of the jock clan, but I always bear in mind who are the more important people in my life. No surprise to which table I elected to have my dinner with, is there? Dinner was only due to start in half an hour’s time, so we were advised to abuse the provided photo booth in true Singaporean fashion. Long queues and free photos, what’s not to love about that.

Hallelujah, the announcement for dinner finally arrived, high time for me to fill my groaning belly. The carnivore inside of me advised me to skip the salad bar and dive straight into the main course which consisted of various meats. Beef Rendang, Boneless Chicken and Cheesy Ham were accompanied by an undersea ensemble of Smoked Salmon, Champagne Prawns and Grilled Dory. After filling my plate to the brim, I shuffled back to our table to begin my refueling process. Four plates and three belt adjustments later, I was confident that I had a full tank. Enough of food going in, it was time for words to go the other way. Quiet small talk quickly erupted into boisterous conversation, where insults and complements were thrown about in equal measure.

Following the dinner was a prize-giving ceremony, where winners were honored, or in this case, dishonored with titles ranging from worst haircut to most likely to end up in jail. To put in bluntly, awards such as these are designed purely for the self-pleasuring of more popular individuals. Nevertheless, my applause was rather genuine, for some surprises were seen. In between the rather half-baked magic performance and other games, we went hunting for good photo spots. Clad in our suits, we arranged ourselves in unflattering positions, all with the intent to fill up our Cameraman’s memory card.

I have always wanted to win a prize from a lucky draw, no matter how small it might be. Alas, I have never had that experience. This night was no different. We stood, arms interlocked as a school to sing the rousing anthem “Saint Joseph’s Call” before calling it a night. Pockets stuffed with photographs and shirts full of sweat stains from exchanging hugs were common takeaways for the majority of us. I glanced around at my friends around me, and a warm, bubbly feeling started to rise within me. How blessed I am to have these wonderful individuals in my life.

Thank you, Benedict, Bryan, Ryan, Ryan, Alagu, Kaushik, Magil, Andrew and Sean (and many others not present that night) for being responsible for some of the sweetest memories in my life. And for some, always being there for me, inducing crazed laughter from me, or as a listening ear when I am feeling down. There are only so many ways I can express my gratitude, but as of now I offer these two words. You “Sexy Malacans”.

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Holidays

I woke up in a puddle of cold sweat, rolling over hastily to check my alarm clock. The dull LCD screen proudly displayed in dull, red numbers that it was half past nine. A wave of panic surged through me, my fingernails digging into the soft linen. What subject is the next paper on? How much content do I have left to cover? Then, as quickly as the panic attack started, the heavens parted and the light of realisation struck me like a rainbow would a pot of gold. I was a free man.

I somehow found the determination, with all credit going to my bladder, to get out of bed. I staggered to the toilet, each footstep thudding loudly against the smooth marble floor. My internal autopilot was able to handle the back and forth motion of teeth brushing with relative ease, with only a small dollop of toothpaste foam landing on my belly button. Every strand of my hair seemed to be trying to escape my scalp, each standing on end, forming what seemed like an inadequate afro. As I had learned from past experience, a handful of tap water does wonders in extinguishing their escapist tendencies.

Following an underwhelming breakfast which consisted of a cup of Milo and a dry biscuit, I plopped my bottom down on my study room chair. My stomach was groaning, seemingly dissatisfied at my poor attempt at pleasing its hunger. Trust me, if I was half of a cook as I am a sleepyhead, I would make sure the vast mother lode of ingredients in my kitchen would not go to waste. Remind me to place a poached egg benedict and a triple diffused blueberry-saffron tea at the top of my to-cook list once I learn how to cook more than a pack of instant noodles.

As I searched relentlessly albeit fruitlessly for a television channel that was even mildly interesting, the date on the menu caught my eye. It was the sixteenth of November. Three months of glorious holidays lay ahead of me, but my emotions were mixed. Three days into three months and the thrill of freedom had already begun to fade. Here’s to a better tomorrow, hopefully one that starts with a poached egg benedict and a triple diffused blueberry-saffron tea for breakfast.

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Graduation

“You can take a boy out of SJI, but you can never take SJI out of a boy.”

Midway through the “Saint Joseph’s Call”, I caught myself glancing at the people around me, at all those youthful boys pouring their hearts out in song. Then I looked at my classmates, the fine gentlemen that have journeyed with me through this phase of life. Our arms were interlocked, and our palms were cupped firmly on each others shoulders. A certain fire was in our eyes, a strange one, for I could see neither blazing joy nor simmering sadness. I looked to the big guy on my left, and our gaze interlocked. In that precise moment, time slowed, for in his eyes, I had finally found the answer to my question.

I often find that I’m not good at expressing my emotions, and as such, I was sure that shedding even a single tear during the graduation ceremony was beyond me. However, the night before the big day, I lay sleepless on my bed. An indescribable feeling was drowning me, but I just couldn’t put a finger on what exactly it was. Was it excitement? Not really. Was it fear? Most definitely not. As I lay there with my gaze directed firmly at the bare ceiling, I felt sick to the core. I was expecting myself to feel miserable, for having to leave my beloved classmates, and indeed, I did, but there was something I felt that wasn’t quite right. This stray thought remained embedded in my sub-consciousness, for I failed to find the key to this enigma.

As I waltzed into the starkly lit hall early in the morning, I greeted, and was greeted by many with a warm smile and a genuine hug. Words of congratulation and goodbye seemed to hang on everyone’s lips. The ceremony began in typical SJI fashion, in thanksgiving prayer, then it proceeded full swing, the details of which I am not inclined to go into in specificity. Then came what was the defining moment of the graduation, the singing of the song I mentioned earlier, “Saint Joseph’s Call”. As I mentioned, when I looked into the eyes of the big guy on my left, I found the answer to what I was feeling, and indeed what many others were feeling as well.

We’ve grown so much over the years, learnt so much, been through so much. We’ve seen each other evolve, from little boys to true gentlemen. When I sang that song, the memories came back in waves. This ceremony, it was a mirror of the orientation camp all those years ago. The same song, the same people, the same good friends. Everything I’ve been through flashed past, all the laughter, tears, fear. All these priceless stories, they were on a page that was about to turn, turn to a blank page, where more stories were bound to be written. These were no longer friends, we were a family, and to say goodbye to a family member, hell, it isn’t going to be easy.

So what is it that I was feeling? Pardon me for being clichéd, but it was neither joy nor sadness, it was disbelief. I was on the verge of being uprooted from the place that I had grown my roots so deep, and planted in a new garden to start the process of growing my roots all over again. I was about to leave the comfort of my home and venture bravely into the unknown. I was about to say goodbye to my brothers, who I see almost every day, and whom I have grown to love dearly. The realisation hit like a sledgehammer, knocking the wind clean out of me.

Then, to my greatest surprise, I shed a tear. A single lonely tear. It slid slowly down my cheek, and I felt its comforting warmth. Quickly wiping it off before anyone noticed, I joined the thunderous applause that resounded through the hall. And no, the tear was not out of fear, but rather because I can’t bear to leave this beautiful family.

My moment of self-discovery didn’t last, though, as we had to go on stage to receive our graduation papers. As I walked towards the guest of honour, I had the widest smile on my face, and when I was before him, I gave the firmest handshake of my damn life. Keen to return the favour, he duly obliged by giving me a squeeze so hard, it just fell short of hitting the “make you squeal like a pig” level.

Before long, the celebration drew to a close, and the last moments of our official Secondary school lives were spent frantically looking for our friends and teachers for Instagram-worthy photographs. I was one of these people. First up was a throwback photo with my Secondary One Classmates, who have changed so much. Having their arms slung across my shoulders certainly brought back sweet memories. Having found the people that mattered most to me, giving them a warm hug and taking a solo photograph, I straightened my tie and walked out of the hall, into the radiant sunshine.

ORA ET LABORA
JOSEPHIAN 2012-FOREVER

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