C C Z H

Category: Reflections

Strategy

I’m always remembered by my childhood friends as a shy, awkward chap. One who keeps to himself and tends to shy away from crowds. I always had trouble making friends, as introverted people usually do. My passive approach to friendship probably made me seem distant, or even unapproachable. Despite all this, I’ve held many posts over the years that are more commonly associated with extroverts. I’ve led orientation groups, prayer circles, and even counselled dejected individuals who struggled to find the strength to fight on. Many tell me that I have an incredible sensitivity to emotions that few possess. I’m not sure about that, but perhaps that’s what landed me all those opportunities. A decade later, however, not much has changed. I still value time alone, away from the swirling chaos around me. Waves of insecurity and discomfort continue to drown me whenever I’m in a group setting. Most of all, I’m still very much an introvert.

My new year resolutions haven’t changed much either. At the start of every year, I’ll still promise to change for the “better”. An elaborate plan would be crafted before the start of every academic year, one which would hopefully push me towards the lofty highlands of popularity. In hindsight, popularity was never for me. I simply lacked the appropriate character traits to achieve it. A small, tightly-knit friendship circle – that’s what suits me most. Upon making that realisation, I tossed my fallacious aspirations out the window, and opened my arms to the tender embrace of freedom. In trying to be what I wasn’t, my wings were clipped. It’s a miracle how something as simple as adjusting your expectations can change so much in your life. I espoused the introverted side of me, and learnt how to love myself for the cloddish man I am.

The game of life is a tricky one, for it’s easy to go off course. Like sculptors, we all have different ideas when it comes to carving the perfect image of ourselves. Some of us pursue popularity, while others might chase material wealth. It takes courage to fight for our dreams and aspirations, but it takes even greater courage to accept that we sometimes choose the wrong paths towards them. The key, dear readers, is to play the game of life according to your strengths. If you’re a quiet, unassuming person like me, seeking countless friends or unrivalled attention may just be out of reach. On the other hand, the insights you acquire from being a silent observer might make you a priceless advisor! Knowing who we are and what we’re capable of, that’s the secret to success. Of course, everyone has their own definition of success. But if yours is simply to be a happier person than you were yesterday, the course of action I described above might just be the perfect first step.

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Taciturn

“Nowadays most men lead lives of noisy desperation.”

Still air hung like a wet blanket over the crowd as he patiently awaited their response to his joke. His fists, sweaty and cold, were clenched in anticipation of manic laughter. After all, the lead up was executed to perfection. Yet, despite his best effort, the wet blanket was never lifted. The vexatious silence didn’t last long, however, for normal conversation resumed as soon as he slid back into his chair in defeat. He lived for their laughter, and fought for it whenever he had the slightest of opportunities. Deriving comfort from attention may be an unrewarding pursuit, but it’s one he called his own. Attention fueled him, yet it also hollowed him. Once he had tasted the sweet milk of affirmation, he always craved for more. It was never enough – and sadly, it never would be. He would always try desperately, in a vain attempt to break the surface of his sea of sorrows. Alas, the water level would always rise faster than he ever will.

I was never really an avid attention-seeker, for I was, and still am, an introvert. I treasure quiet solstices, away from noisy summer, and remain reticent about my personal affairs. Therefore, in the race to be the most popular individual, I am very much a non-player. If there’s one thing that changed from when I was younger, it’s how aggressive my peers are in increasing their social standing. The passive stand that I take in the rat race that surrounds me thankfully allows for a more neutral point of view. It is only when you withdraw yourself from a fight, and view it from a distance, that you can truly appreciate its magnitude. Through my untainted lens, I see friends clamoring over one another, using each other as springboards towards their own social success. I hear slanderous words being exchanged in the shadows, hidden away from the truthful light of day. I taste the metallic tang of spilt blood, pouring incessantly from ruthless stab wounds.

I’m not one to sugarcoat my words, and there’s simply no word to describe the situation other than disgusting. Craving attention and affirmation is one thing, but to betray your own morals to acquire it – that’s entirely different. Does using someone as a mere stepping stone towards achieving your goals really make you a better person than them? Does the notion of being a God amongst men, with thousands of underlings at your feet really excite you? Pardon my distress, for I usually try to maintain a calmer tone whilst writing. However, this issue is of particular importance to me, as I was once a victim of the wretched acts described above.

Putting aside my inability to comprehend such individuals, let me offer up the insights I have acquired after a year in college. However clichéd it may sound, I’ve now fully understood the significance of quality over quantity. I’m glad to have found friends that truly are quality, and they’re the reason why I hang onto my own life so dearly. I’ve also realised that the only way to obtain elusive happiness is to be content with what you already have. And this is to my dearest friends, those whom my little heart treasures and beats for. Never worry, for I won’t ever trample over you for the sake of climbing a ladder that doesn’t exist. I won’t betray you, or spread falsities to curry flavor towards myself.  After all, men that chase this broken path would only ever find themselves arriving at one destination. Not the glorious throne that they had envisioned, but rather a stool of thorns that they’ll be forced to sit on for eternity. An excruciating, and everlasting reminder of their shameful past.

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Together

I could feel my thumb throbbing as I penned down the final sentences of my essay, providing what was hopefully a fitting conclusion to twenty-one pages of crazed scribbling. I’ve never been a quick writer, for I always favoured precision over speed. However, to complete the grueling History paper within three hours, I had to throw my practice out of the window. A metaphorical one of course, though I wish there was a literal window – through which my script would follow in my escape. Three months ago, when I sat for my first History paper, I fell two pages short of completion. Three months later, though completion was secured, the same lack of confidence overcame me as my script was collected. Though unsettling, I’ll won’t let this issue ruin the three weeks I have to enjoy before receiving my results.

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.”

The weeks leading up to the promotional exams were tumultuous times for my weary soul. Academic vigour and insecurity, coupled with the stress of disintegrating friendships, filled my plate with more than I could handle. The issue was further compounded by a lack of sleep, which often left me irritable and disgruntled. Furthermore, a mere three days away from the examinations lay my birthday. People often write off the importance of birthdays, saying that they’re mere opportunities to satiate the celebrant’s desire for attention. That may be true, but birthdays, at least to me, hold far more meaning.

A birthday celebration reminds people that they mean something to others, and that they’re appreciated. Life can be lonely, and affirmation can be a painful pursuit. What is wrong with sprinkling a little love unto someone’s life? You never know the difference it could make. It’s safe to say that I didn’t expect a party. After all, with the examinations being a hair’s breadth away, time was a valuable commodity. Imagine my surprise when balloons were thrust into my hands and a cake set before me. Holding back tears of joy was never so difficult. Thank you, my dear friends, for a memory that’ll always have a big place in my heart. This, however, was only a brief respite from the storm that was to come.

Having trudged through the year with as minimal an effort as possible, the enormity of the situation in hand struck me like a sledgehammer to the gut. I had to compress and devour an entire year’s worth of content in three days. Glancing through the required knowledge was already a challenge,  much less committing them to memory. I chugged black coffee by the gallon in valiant attempts to keep awake, and snacked till my belly cried for mercy. Some lose their appetite when they’re stressed, but in my case, anxiety only serves to whet it. Yet, as quickly as the onslaught on my well-being began, it ended. The effect of having the entirety of the examinations over the course of three days is that there’s no time to ponder over previous papers – you’re whisked on to the next before you can even blink.

Despite the overwhelming odds against me, the journey was never lonely. My schoolmates gave me the emotional support I needed, and the physical tokens I craved. They were the pillars that kept me from crumbling, and still are. If I was a seed when I first started my college education, I’m now a towering tree. Their support is to me what water and sunlight is to plants – desideratum for growth. These are the people that I’ve grown to love and treasure, and I hope with all my heart that we’ll always remain as united as we are today. The race is lengthy, and sometimes even torturous. The light at the end of the tunnel might seem beyond reach, but I’m sure we’ll finish strongly and as one, no matter how this story might end.

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Unalloyed

It was half past nine, and the city was a coruscating kaleidoscope of colours. The sky was streaked with grey clouds, providing me with the daunting prospect of rain. Donning my pullover in anticipation of bad weather, I strode onwards, weaving my way through the crowd. Glancing around, I noticed a myriad of different emotions plastered on the faces of passers-by. Some bore happiness, and others bore anger. Some, to my horror, bore an expression of utter defeat. Their eyes seemed glazed over, their backs were hunched, and their gait was most accurately described as begrudged shuffling. Seeing those dejected individuals brought my own troubles to mind.

The academic struggles over the past months have left me exhausted, maybe even enervated, from a lack of rest. Friendships too, have been a source of distress. Unlike the more innocent years as a primary and secondary school student, the people around me are not half as easy to read. They disguise their thoughts about others, all while hiding gleefully behind their masks. It almost seems as if they have a different mask for each person they meet. Eager to put forward an ideal picture of themselves, they sacrifice what – at least to me – matters most, authenticity. If everyone strives to be humorous, intelligent and witty, there can only be one outcome – an uninspiring pool of homogenetic teenagers. Then again, these people are the least of my worries.

My friends, well, at least who I think are my friends, they are the source of my perpetual distress. While some of them, albeit the minority, make their thoughts about others blindingly obvious, few share their refreshing openness. Most continue to treat even their mortal enemies with indifference, for fear of burning their bridges. What I fail to understand is why they would save a bridge, or even construct one in the first place, if they know that it’s never going to be crossed. True, maybe keeping our options open is intrinsic to human nature, after all, why rule out the possibility of reconciliation? Yet, such behaviour would always be a sign of indecisiveness. And such indecisiveness is fatal, especially if those that care about you are on the receiving end.

I value my friendships, more so than many of those that claim to be genuine. I dare say that I give my unrestrained affection to those whom I feel deserve the commitment. Yet, when I’m unsure of the sentiments of the opposite party, it’s impossible for me to make a substantial investment, be it measured in emotion or time. It may seem cold and distant to be referring to friendships as investments, but is a one-way transfer of love and energies really considered a friendship? It would be alarming, not to mention selfish, if you, my dear reader, veer towards the affirmative. Negative past experiences aside, if I cannot ascertain the fidelity of the people I surround myself with, I’ll always be on the losing end.

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Destiny

Maybe it was a sudden rush of blood to the head, but in the space of minutes, I found myself abandoning my breakfast and rushing out of the house. Whilst devouring my pancake, one with a big paunch, no less, an advertisement caught my eye. There was a university fair in town, an it called for the attendance of bright prospectus. Now, it’s a little premature to be callling myself a bright prospect, but being the curious soul I am, I felt it was worth a trip. A black tee-shirt and red trousers, accompanied by my monotone glasses, satisfied my innate desire to look academic. And so I was off, seemingly on my way to discover what the future held for me.

My dear friend Ryan was my company during the adventure, but unlike me, he came with a clear purpose in mind. I was a wanderer, drifting through the exhibition hall, gawking at the flashy posters and suave presenters. Ryan, on the other hand, had the aim of a sniper, taking down his targets with speed and precision. He ended his shift with a gargantuan stack of brochures and answered questions. On the other hand, my only takeaway was a pair of sore legs from standing idly. Maybe I could attribute my disorientation to a lack of prior research, but that would be too shallow an analysis. As I left the crowded hall, I took some time to reflect on the past hour over a cup of tea.

The first thing that struck me was the poise and fearlessness of the crowd. The fresh-faced college graduates had an air of confidence surrounding them, actively engaging the exhibitors with questions after questions. That being said, it was rather alarming to see that a significant number of the parents present there were not accompanied by their children. It’s a rather substantial decision to leave in the hands of parents, isn’t it? The fascinating crowd aside, it struck me that even at the age of seventeen, I had no clear plan for the future. Sure, I had a university course in mind, even two, perhaps. What I lacked, then, was an idea of how to get there in the first place.

This brings me to my previous post, in which I promised myself that I would continue to dream big. As I took my penultimate sip of Himalayan Tea, a cruel realisation descended upon me. It wasn’t a lack of required knowledge that left me eager to leave, it was quite simply, a lack of confidence. I was so awed by the elite universities around me, I forgot that it was still within my capacity to be one of their students. I wrote myself off, hid meekly, all based on the misguided notion that I wasn’t good enough. That I wasn’t of a similar caliber to the brilliant, sparkling individuals around me. A sigh escaped from my lips, and I sunk into my chair, ashamed of myself. I pledged to dream bravely, yet I was shying away like a coward.

With newfound drive, I rose from my chair with a triumphant roar, only to scuttle away silently, with the eyes of befuddled diners trained firmly on my back. I strode into the exhibition hall with my chest puffed out – only slightly, so as not to appear overly conceited. And boy did I ask questions. I ran around with glee, seeking my future and crafting new plans with my newfound cognizance. Destiny, they say, is forged by action and not fate. The threads of my destiny, I’ll spin them myself. Never again will I be limited by my own fallacious expectations. The stars are in the heavens waiting to be touched, and the assembly of my rocket ship? It begins today.

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Dreams

As I lay down my pen, the waves of desperation ceased. I stared blankly at the ten sheets of paper before me, and the illegible handwriting that embarrassingly adorned them. The scribbles seemed to be dancing, or more aptly, struggling to leap off my answer script. Disappointment should typically follow failure, but instead, I felt a strange sense of calm overwhelm me. I lay back, and for the first time in two hours, lifted my head. Specks of light darted round my vision, very much like crazed static. Maybe the gravity of the situation didn’t sink in, or perhaps, worryingly, I performed to a satisfactory extent. An extent which lay within my flawed expectations.

When I was a younger, more impressionable individual, many would ask what I wanted to grow up to be. My answers would mirror my genuine belief that success and greatness would, without doubt, find me. As I aged, my dreams shifted sorely from the realm of fantasy to the realm of possibility. Exposure to the often cruel realities of life punctured my confidence and naivety. The skyscraper that I thought I was building? It would apparently never reach its completion! My responses to that question are now carefully worded, so as not to invite any unwanted skepticism. After all, why promise what I may not deliver?

The point is, all this deeply saddens me. Why am I now afraid to dream? Touching the sky should be a relentless chase, not a discarded afterthought. It struck me there and then, as my script was being pulled from my shaking hands, what was running through my head. It was a little voice, whispering from the depths of my soul, telling me to press on. To never surrender to the circumstances, or the popular opinion. To chase the stars, and fight bravely. To give my all and fulfill the promise I made as a child, that I’ll be a great man. To know everything would work itself out eventually, as it always did. For I should dare to dream, and always should. I owe it to myself.

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Papa

The sky seemed to be split in two, one side splashed with violent orange, and the other a soothing shade of purple. I sat alone, book in hand. Ants may have been exasperating companions on the rotting wooden bench, but I tried my very best to ignore their inescapable presence. Pardon me for my constant trips down memory lane, but the picturesque scene brought to mind my second ever blog post. Almost a year ago, I visited the Chinese Gardens with a bottle of Perrier, in search of a quiet place to reflect. This sure fit the bill, despite the park in which I was spending my evening being on the opposite end of the island. With pleasant breezes and cricket calls enveloping me, the stage was set for a beautiful sunset.

As the sun began to make its way to bed, I closed my book. Darkness began creeping in, like outstretched arms they hugged the landscape, their inky embrace driving the last strands of light away. Finally, the glistening sphere disappeared into the hills, a cue for its paler counterpart to rise. Now, I could go on into a cheesy paragraph, questioning why the light didn’t put up more of a fight, but that would be a monumental bore. Instead, let me end my story here and move on. After all, a second post in two days is deserving of something special.

I know Father’s day was yesterday, but let me take this opportunity to thank Papa again for all that he has given me. Thank you Papa, for being the man I aspire to be. Your strong beliefs and moral values that you have imparted unto me will always hold a big place in my heart. Thank you Papa, for never hesitating to tell me if I’m being a toot. Honesty hurts, but only those that love you can bear to speak the truth. Finally, thank you Papa, for being one of the few people who can both tolerate my incessant rants and provide invaluable advice thereafter. I may not show it, or say it frequently, but please know that I love you. I love you much more than you know.

CCZH

Lighthouse

I’ve been reading many poems recently, all while sipping on a piping hot cup of green tea. As pretentious as it sounds, I’ve really come to love these little pockets of time away from the vigours of academic work. A good poem, as I found, is very much like a good meal. It fills you up, and leaves you warm long after. And like any good meal, it’s not meant to be rushed through. You savour it, word by word, rolling it around your head, getting every last bit of meaning and feeling out of it, before swallowing it with a triumphant gulp.

Another observation I made in my virgin months as a college student is the blistering, or should I say, alarming rate in which my schoolmates are finding partners. The obvious blow to my self-esteem aside, it makes me wonder what it feels like to have that special someone in my life. I think it’s truly a blessing, and a great honour, to have an individual willing to make such a huge commitment to you. It’s an affirmation of the highest order, and one that should never be taken lightly. Maybe my time hasn’t come, for I’m still chasing the stars. But regardless of the final outcome, I maintain that it’s infinitely better, as Lang Leav said, to love who we want rather than to love who we can.

Unable to contain my joy, a beaming smile spread across my face. At that precise moment, I realised what a blessed man I was. I am blessed to be able to call these people seated around me, and indeed many others, true friends. I am blessed to have family members that love me unconditionally, who support me regardless of my decisions, and who are more than willing to guide me through the maze of life. I am blessed with the gift of education, to be able to fill my mind with knowledge that will enable me to make my mark on this world. And above all, I am blessed with the gift of life itself, to experience this wonderful universe from my little perspective.

These months have been tiring ones, filled to the brim with trials and tribulations, heartaches and disappointments, with only the occasional ray of light breaking the dark clouds. Bathing in the waters of negativity, I struggled to keep afloat. That is till I stumbled upon my old blog post. It was a timely reminder of the treasures I already possess, and it gave me renewed strength to forge bravely onwards. I often get comments that my blog posts can be sombre, or maybe even a little dark, but this one post is akin to a lighthouse. It guides me safely to shore, no matter how rough the seas, and always without fail.

Malacan is a term that I proudly bestow upon my closest friends, and I’m happy to say it’s these Malacans that keep me grounded. In a cut-throat, sometimes even barbarous world, they are my pillars of support. It may sound clichéd, but I trust and know that they will always have my back. I met some of my secondary school friends over the past week, and to see their youthful faces, and hear their unrestrained laughter again, it sure brought back more than a few fond memories. Seeing them stuff their faces with pizza, and twirl in the evening drizzle, I couldn’t help but smile. And as I sauntered home, brimming with elation, I thanked the moon. I thanked her for what I have, and for what I have yet to call mine.

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Desire (Part 2)

They say great men never leave unfinished business. I dare not say I’m a great man, but I can promise to finish what I started four months ago. The first part of Desire chronicled my rather ambivalent approach to life in junior college, and the second, which will soon follow, will offer a hindsight to my rather gloomy prognosis. Now that I’ve been a post-secondary student for the better part of a year, I can confidently say not much has changed since the golden graduation badge was pinned on my collar.

The personality test administered on me during the first week of school indicated that I’m a thinker rather than a feeler. In essence, the seventy multiple-choice questions that I answered over the course of an hour concluded that I follow my head rather than my heart. Excuse me for being distrustful, but I beg to differ. As much as it seems untrue to those who don’t know me well enough, I’m very much a people person. I love forging and maintaining close relationships with those whom I feel are worth the commitment, and I decide their worth not based on the material benefit they can bring to me. I love people for who they are and how I feel about them, my heart ruling strongly over my head.

What was bothering me then, you may ask. It was the friendships that were simply not to be. I am sure most of you had someone in your life that you thought were the one, but your relationship could not stand the test of time, or the test itself revealed certain incompatibilities that ended it. Similarly, you might have had someone you were dying to be friends with, but the opposite party did not share your enthusiasm.

These words, though written a full four months ago, still stay hauntingly true. In a short span of time, I’ve met plenty of people, some more deserving of my love than others. Attempting to love everyone is a noble pursuit indeed, but at times I doubt even God has the heart for that. At the same time, there are those who possess magnetic personalities, drawing all to them much like how a lamp would attract flies to its comforting glow. Friendships never come easy, and at times, they are nigh impossible to attain. As a firm believer of quality over quantity, all I hope for are people whom I can share a meaningful conversation with over a nice meal. Friends who will always have your back and be there for you at their own initiative. That, above all, is what I hope to find in my two short years as a college student.

“If I miss you, I’d stay back for three hours for us to conveniently go home together and say that I had work to do when in fact I spent the time counting the hands on the clock. If I realized that you were feeling down I’d take time to pen a short letter of encouragement or bring comfort food for you in the pretense of bringing it for myself.”

For confidentiality reasons, I won’t disclose the source of this beautiful quote, but I’m highlighting it as it struck a chord with me. A wide smile adorned my face as I was reading that post, and I carried those pleasant thoughts to bed. Those two simple sentences represent the epitome of a good friend, one that loves you unconditionally and cares for you without seeking acknowledgement. If you, my dear readers, have such a friend, I implore you to repay the silent sacrifices made for you. You might not think much of it, but a word of appreciation goes a long way. For all you know, that might be the first step in establishing a lifelong friendship.

CCZH

Blue

The pedestrian light turned green, signaling to me that it was safe to cross. I didn’t move an inch. Standing in the midst of a steady midnight drizzle, I was lost in my thoughts. A countdown timer soon joined the lonely green man, maintaining a steady rhythm towards zero. Snapping awake, I realised I was much too late, for the green man had already vacated his position for his red counterpart. A curse word hung on my lips for a second, but I resisted the urge to release it. Foul words are best saved for foul people, therefore the situation did not warrant its use.

I took a second to picture how laughable a sight I must have been. The Honda Civic that just blazed past must have, for at least a handful of seconds, been a vessel of sniggers. Pressing the tip of my floorball stick against the metal button, I readjusted my stance in preparation for another arduous wait. The green man sure takes long breaks in between his shifts. I like to think that we are our own best doctors, as only we can diagnose emotional sicknesses in ourselves. Not all illnesses have to be physically debilitating, after all. It is possible to have runny sadness, for example, or projectile infuriation. Worse of all? Chronic insecurity coupled with a bad case of self-doubt. Based on my five seconds of self-analysis, that was definitely what I was suffering from.

The smell of rain has always been a favourite of mine, but the same cannot be said of thunder. I used to fear heaven’s rock concert, cowering beneath my blankets at the mere sight of lightning. As the number of candles on my birthday cakes grew, so has my love for thunderstorms. What was once an jarring, ominous refrain has become a soothing chorus. Whenever lightning strikes, I retreat into my room, where I’ll always have a good book and a cup of green tea for company. As I finally crossed the road to my flat, a thunderstorm was all that I was praying for. I could always use some quiet reflection time, but that Monday night called for it just a tinge more desperately.

This last week, I find myself smiling less and sleeping more. Whilst additional sleep is typically regarded as beneficial to your well-being, the same cannot be said when the shuteye is carried out during curricular hours. Finding the same innocent joy and excitement in going to school now seems impossible, much unlike the first weeks. As the wind of change dies down and the dust settles, it is up to me to sweep up the remnants and sort out my life. From the very beginning, I’ve had my reservations on many of my decisions regarding my post-secondary education. I won’t elaborate on them, but I can promise that I’ll make the best of what I have now, for better or for worse. I hope to rediscover the love I had for school, and I’m confident I will soon. Moods pass quickly, and hopefully the dark clouds that loom over my head will too. Light will come. I’m sure of it. Till then, here’s to a better week ahead.

CCZH