Friday 3 January 2014

A Year in Review

It's 2014. 2014. We're nearly as close to 1980 as we are to 2050. Just let that sink in for a bit.

While our inevitable spiral towards the great mystery that is the future continues, I'd be amiss not to at least least a few words on the year that was. It's always hard looking back on a year and judging it either wholly good or bad. Each year seems to flash by in but a second, and yet when you examine it in its entirety, you see that there actually was a lot crammed in there! So while there may be great sadness, there will undoubtedly be great joy as well. And even if it were all terrible from January to December, as you know from my previous posts, hardship is what builds you as a person, and it is in those hard years that you truly live.

Last year I feel I did not truly live. There were moments of wonder and new beginnings, but for much of the year I felt dormant. Not happily content, but just… as if I was barely existing. Drifting from one experience to another, with hardly a notable moment between.

This year, that is changing. I didn't even wait for New Years and its cliche resolutions; I started at the end of December. Focus. Motivation. Happiness. I know it sounds like a tired routine from a freshly-brainwashed optimist, but I've already felt a change. I was lying in bed one night and I saw it all roll out before me. My life. Before me as I stared up into the dark ceiling. Each day ticking away. Tick. Tick. Tick. Every second closer to my death. You can't change it. As they say, death and taxes. In that very moment I was scared. Like I was on this terrifying rollercoaster (I love rollercoasters, but the very thought of this one was spine-chilling), that I could neither stop nor avoid. Every moment in my life whizzing by as I sat on the seat, screaming until the bitter end. I was not afraid because of death, but because of how I was merely a passenger in my own life. Watching it tick tick tick away as if it were on a petrol metre just beside me. Each day sitting around doing nothing, another tick of the pump emptying into oblivion.

Scary. It's hard, but I'm changing this. Breaking habits and stopping the negative thoughts that come with living in such a dormant state is certainly hard, but I'm doing it. I don't want to look up and see I've reached the end of the roller coaster, and feel that sadness I know will come if I look back and see I've never really taken part in life.

The Winner's Bible. I've been reading this book, and I'll tell you what, it's one of the most intense and amazing books out there to help you out if you're feeling anything like I am. I'm about a third through, and already I'm waking up feeling more and more focused. If 2013 was the year of absence, then I know 2014 will surely be the beginning of the lifetime of experience and happiness I know I'll find.

So what of 2013? Highlights would definitely have to include my trip to Singapore. Sports victories. Dates (those which didn't work, and those that… did). Getting on TV. Making new friends, even if it meant saying goodbye to many who I realized weren't. Kittens and all their trials and joys. Probably just as many that I've forgotten as well.

Well, here's to a great 2014. May it forever be the year I re-began my life. I hope it brings as much joy to you as it already has to me. There's something about a New Year that says you can do anything, be anything and no matter what happened last year, there is always a new day...

Monday 28 October 2013

Travel Bug

Have found myself day dreaming about my time in Singapore the last few days. Well, that and actually dreaming about it. The last few nights have been filled with dreams of booking flights and faraway countries, like Egypt and Japan. They're very detailed; in some I'm even clearing traveller's cheques and paying for taxis. It's clear to me now that traveling really is a huge passion for me.

If I try to pinpoint why, it comes back to that whole idea of just being somewhere completely different. Of that strange mix of fear and excitement and enjoyment. The more I think about it, my last day in Singapore was probably one of my favourites. I had nothing planned, and was merely killing time until my flight in the evening. Walking down the streets, I had no idea what I was going to find. And then suddenly, I was in this massive mall, where people frequented and lived their lives. Something I would've passed by otherwise. It really felt like a dream, where the world just keeps expanding in front of you, and you drift through, not quite sure how you got to the place where you are, but seem to both know, and not know, your surroundings.

The last few weeks have been really good for thinking about where I'm headed now. I'm nearly 23. Just thinking about the fact it'll be 2014 soon boggles me. I've recently started my own business. I'm thinking of moving out. Girls are now on my radar. I'm seriously thinking it's time to fly the nest and beginning more of these adventures, which are now occupying more of my headspace than a simple, fleeting pleasure would.

It's daunting of course. I wouldn't just be leaving my comforts behind, but also my best friends. My family. But it's got to happen sometime though.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Community of Convenience

I've struggled with this post in various forms over the last several months, to tell the truth. Each time I've held back on pressing the post button, as something sounded too harsh, too world-weary. Too... honest. But tonight, it feels right. Like I've had a change in perspective. Or maybe I'm just not giving as much of a crap as I normally do. A bit of honesty can be a relief, but also a dangerous thing. Regardless, tonight I am going to write about the Blog Roll's topic of 'community', and tonight I'm going to press that post button and forget about it...

Singapore definitely has had a major impact on my life. Being in a different place, with different people, different problems, it gives you excellent perspective on your life. For pretty much the entire start of the year, I was fretting about what I was doing with my life. That I hadn't done anything with my life, especially in this year. When you're stressed, it consumes your life. Having such a major experience away really did calm me. Not only did it tick the box of having a worth-while experience this year, but it gave me a break from the stresses back in New Zealand. This in turn, has allowed so many more emotions and new ideas to enter, and really helped me start to get my life back on track.

This new-found perspective has really helped me examine parts of my life. What do they mean? Are they important? Which brings me to my thoughts on "community". As I mentioned, I've dabbled around it previously, but have never felt right about what I've had to say. Now I can look at it for what it is, and without struggling against it, I can finally call it as I see it.

"From Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia - Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a small village that shares common values. A community is a group or society, helping each other."

I'm going to come straight out and say it: I'm not part of any community, nor have I truly been part of a community, ever in my life, for very long. Sure, I belong to my city's community in the first sense of the term. Feeling a part of a group or society who is there for you, however - belonging - now that is a concept that is still estranged from me.

I believe we as a people, are a community of convenience. A lot of this ties back into my post about how we know we really love someone, which if you haven't read, you should, as it explains a lot about my views on what caring actually is. When things get hard, who really is left standing around to have your back? To be there for you? I know I'm bitter, but community means one thing for me: isolation.

You know that saying? You can feel most alone when surrounded by many people? That's how I feel. Being in a community for me is a chance for a "social unit larger than a small village" to consistently let me down.

I've not hid the fact from most people that I've not had an easy past few years. Heck, how am I special though? I know lots of people, friends, relatives, who are going through the exact same thing. It's called life. Quite often it sucks. Sometimes you get driven off-road. Sometimes your car then breaks down off said off-road. And sometimes you then get struck by lightning while trying to change the tires. Life is hard. Having someone there for you, who knows just how much life sucks is what community is all about. I know it may sound a bit boastful, but I'd like to think that every time someone has needed me, even if they didn't know it, I've been there for them. I had a friend commit suicide when I was younger. It really hit me for six, and I've never felt a bigger sense of regret in my life. That thought I maybe could've done something. If only I'd said something. If only they knew I was there for them. Whenever someone is down, whether I know them well or not, I always tell them I'm there to listen. It's not just the big things though; I turn up to your parties, not just because I like you, but because I know how it hurts having no one turn up. I reply to your texts and say hello to you when I see you because I know how it feels to be ignored and unimportant.

That's how it should be. That's my idea of community. Helping each other. Wikipedia agrees with me (and I swear I didn't edit it just to prove my point haha). Not just when it suits you, but often when it doesn't suit you at all. Often however, I feel like I'm a community of one. Once upon a time, I used to go to church. I used to be in a tight-knit group of people who would meet up each week, quite often more frequently. You'd probably call it a community. Every birthday, I used to go out and buy a $20 gift for that person. Something they'd enjoy. I'd help out decorating cakes for them. Not for praise, but because I wanted to show them how much they meant to me. For my birthday, I had a family emergency. I was probably the lowest I've ever been in my life. I tried reaching out to the people I'd think would understand the most. For my birthday, I got told they were too busy. For my birthday, my community let me down. Someone I hardly knew on Facebook was the only person who showed they cared.

I wouldn't say I'm part of any particular community now. If I had to pick something, I'd say my friends were the closest thing I have to feeling that sense of community. And even then, I feel just as isolated at times as if I were alone. Now I'm not going to get into the debate of online interaction versus real life, human contact, but when you're feeling alone, Facebook and social media can be such a degrading experience. A community at your finger tips, and still, you're no closer to that sense of true belonging you desperately crave than ever. I've lost count of the number of times I've asked people if they want to catch up. To be a part of my community. I feel like a fisherman, sitting on a pier, with lines dangling over the edge. You see a little nibble, and you wind the line in, only to find the fish have eaten your bait, and you're still no closer to anything meaningful, and you begin to wonder why you even bother with such an empty pastime. Only, the fish don't know any better. They're just hungry. Friends on the other hand...

It's been so long since I've had any meaningful contact with most of my friends, that I've begun to become far more introverted and I wonder whether you can call them friends at all, outside of that little plus avatar symbol on Facebook. You see parties you're not invited to. Fun that was had without you. It's all another person. It's an updated account of isolation and a painful reminder of how far a community can actually be from its true definition.

Which brings me back to my belief that communities are those of convenience. When people need me, I'm there for them. I've stayed up until all hours helping people with their problems. Done things not at all in my interests. And yet whenever I turn around, to see who has my back, I see people asking how long it will take, or telling me this week isn't a good time. Or the next week. Or the next... I know others feel the same way. That's not community. That's a 'me' society. And that's why I honestly believe I've never been in a community in my life. As terrible as it sounds, the word means nothing to me. In fact, I'd go so far as to say I dislike the definition. It's a lie people tell themselves to shelter them from the cold truth that most of the people in your life aren't going to be there for you. To me it means isolation. Hurt. Being let down. No, I'd much rather stick to being a community of one. Where I help people, but I don't have that expectation I'm going to be cared for when I'm low, or that people will treat me as I treat them, or even at least return the affection I feel for them. It's hard writing down what a callous person I guess you could say I am in some respects, but 'community' is what it is, and I'm not mad or angry. I can't change it any more than I can change the weather. I can recycle and turn of lights to help reduce climate change, but in the end, I'm just one person and it's not up to me. But saying we're part of a community is false, when in my experiences, the people around me have acted far from what it truly is. Let's call it a biosphere and leave it at that.

And with that, I press the post button, much too glad I got all that out of my system. I can now delete the other several draft of this topic I have clogged up my blog list.

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Intention of the Reinvention!

It may sound a little egotistical, I but I really like myself as a person. I mean, that's a sentence which shouldn't really have a negative connotation, but it does. The world certainly would be a better place if more people liked themselves! So the idea of reinventing oneself is a tad extreme for my liking. I see it as... working on a custom car in your garage. You've got a great old car, but you tinker away on it, restoring it, improving it, making it into the work of art you really want to cruise around the coast on, top down and music up. I rarely think that you're so fundamentally flawed that the only way to move forward is to completely reject the majority of things about yourself and start afresh.

Other than periods I've had of major improvement in my life, there has only really been a single time where I can honestly say I've 'reinvented' myself that I remember. It must be noted also, that I don't mean in any way I'm perfect or beyond major improvement - in fact I'm a wholly flawed individual who could probably do with a bunch of serious life changes - and it comes back to my perception that to like yourself and state so, can be seen as a tad egotistical. Maybe it's the ol' New Zealand tall-poppy syndrome? Who knows...

When I was a kid, I was amazingly shy. I had few friends (I would probably say I only really had one, best friend, until I was a teenager) and was bullied seemingly everywhere I went. It sounds dramatic, but I really did have a hard time at most schools I went to; this led to the often bewailing of "Why does everyone hate me?". I had low self-esteem, was overweight and to cap it off, I started going bald at 14 and growing a full beard at 12. I loved myself as a person, but as a kid, it's hard to like yourself when no one else seems to. You even get settled into the role of "I'm here to be the unpopular guy" and you find yourself falling into the similar traps, actions and habits of someone who is seen as annoying and disliked. This, of course, perpetuates the problem and you soon devolve into a never-ending cycle of adolescent misery.

Cue art school. I was fresh from high school, and the brochure for the school made it sound as if it were speaking to me. Individual creativity. Friendly environment. The first week of art school I'll always count as one of the best of my life. I can't remember a huge amount of it now - it was nearly a decade ago - but I'll always remember the first course. It was in a giant theatre, and there were long tables along it, packed with new people. I knew no one, and I could feel the fear growing inside me. There was a girl next to me, who smiled, before returning to her work. I said nothing.

Then, without warning, something clicked in my brain. I still don't know where the clarity came from, or how it came to be in my young, muddled head, but it told me to stop. Stop being shy, stop continuing this isolated path. I remember looking at the girl next to me. I didn't know who she was. She didn't know who I was. I could be anyone. I can be anyone. I could, even if it were fake for now, be the person I knew I wanted to be. My voice was trembling, but after a few moments, I said hello to her. Her name was Hannah. Then I asked another person their name. His was Charlie. By the end of the week, I was no longer shy. I was the (mostly) confident, well-liked guy I wanted to be. Just like that. It doesn't seem like much, but looking back on it now, it still completely boggles me how something so simple as saying hello to someone, could change my life so dramatically. Just a change of thought to the cliche 'new place, fresh start'. I faked it for a while - and even afterwards struggled with reconciling what was more real, my old shy self, or my new confident self - but over the years, I grew with confidence, to the point, where I am no longer gripped with fear in new situations or when faced with new social encounters.

I'm still an introvert at heart. I don't think I'll ever be that guy who loves public speaking or feeding off peoples' energy at parties. But that simple reinvention of my thinking was undoubtedly one of the more profound moments of my life. I'm still fairly chuffed my younger self was able to come up with such a monumental decision! Without it, I wouldn't be the man I am today.

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Things I Learnt in Singapore:

So, thought I'd throw in a second installment of dissection of my Singapore trip, this time with a bit of humour, and (gasp!), imagery thrown in. Who knows, I might do a Peter Jackson, and draw it out for a trilogy with a behind the scenes DVD special.

Last post we discussed how traveling can change your perspective on yourself, your life and what matters to you. This post I'll ask, what did I actually learn from my time in Singapore? Well for starters, I can tell you that poorly-hydrated, fairly pale, New Zealand guys, don't really mix with the Singaporean heat, as made evident by my early exit from the first day of the frisbee tournament with severe heat stroke. Lesson learnt. Sun hot. Bald heat need big cold. With that kicking us off, let's journey forth into a wonderous place, where I share what I learned in my travels... *Cue reverberating harp echo*

1. Malls. Singaporeans really like malls. No, like REALLY like malls.

Coming from my town, where there are only two malls, both with a single foodcourt and the old, familiar shops, and both far out in the outer suburbs, nothing could really prepare me for what appeared to be utter insanity in Singapore. The first time I got lost (I can assure you, it was only the first time of many) was actually in a mall. Well, you could say it was several malls. I walked for hours, all without seeing sunlight, all inside a series of malls. There were big malls, small malls, there were malls that linked the bigger malls together. There were even trains to more malls. I managed to find my way out, after 2 long hours of struggling to escape my mall-ish hell. What should await me when I emerged into the humid heat of the Singaporian street above (which, I might add, was several kilometres from my starting point!)? Why, the entrance to another mall of course!

Now, it's not a bad thing. I'm all for malls. Especially in the heat of Singapore. But when your malls begin to have little malls inside them to merge larger ones together, and when you can walk for hours without seeing any natural light, well, I think you may have a tiny mall problem. It doesn't just stop there either! I went to the hospital alongside a team mate who had dislocated his shoulder. While waiting for him to wake up from whatever procedure they'd conducted, I went in search of food. "Cafe on Floor 3!" I was told. Making my way up the stairs, what did I find. There was a mall inside the hospital. Shops, foodcourt, a fountain of some sort. I swear I'm going to wake up some night in the near future, with a cold sweat, a nightmare of getting lost in endless malls fresh in my mind.

2. If you're a taxi driver, road rules are optional.

It wasn't until I was being driven, a few ticks over the speed limit, down the middle of two lanes, with the driver beeping another driver off, while he was drinking his water bottle and using his iPad to tell his taxi friends where he was going so they could meet for coffee, that I began to understand that taxi drivers in Singapore are slightly different to those in New Zealand. Red lights were ignored. Tires were shredded. I'm sure there was some nitros involved in there somewhere. Having many of the main streets barricaded off for the coming Formula 1 probably didn't help.

After a while you get used to it, and even more than a bit involved, often getting disappointed when drivers didn't squeeze through red lights when there's a gap in the traffic, or when they don't turn the corner like a rally car. It's probably not that bad, and more likely a result of them trying to speedily get me to my destination so the unending rambling of how many times I've gotten lost can finally end. Plus the fact my accent kept messing with their heads. Every time I'd say "How's your day been?" they'd reply with "Why are you asking about my driving? I'm driving you to where you need to go!" and then look at me strangely.

3. If it hasn't rained already in the morning, you should be worried.

Singapore had the heaviest rain I've ever experienced. On day three of the tournament, we were playing up to our ankles in thick mud, often with a few inches of water on top of that. Each step was a struggle. My shoes are more or less ruined. They stunk so bad, I had to declare them to customs, and just to get them in my suitcase without fouling the rest of my clothes, I had to triple bag them and seal every inch with tape. I imagined that when the custom's officer opened them back in New Zealand, it'd be akin to that scene in Indian Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the Nazi's open the Ark of the Covenant and their faces melt off. They were that bad. Not to mention they gave me a rash, well rather, the mud.

Although locals said it was unusual, it seemed to rain heavily overnight or in the morning, before turning into a cracking day. Those days where it didn't, you'd better have a raincoat for the afternoon. At least umbrellas are useful in Singapore, for both rain, sun and pulling yourself out of mud! Scarier still were the aforementioned taxi rides. Imagine those drivers, but this time in torrential rain, and in each instance, their wipers seemed to be going just that bit too slow to wipe the waterfall of rain from the windscreen, making for an... exciting ride.

4. Everyone speaks English. Until you need directions.

I love Singapore. I love the people of Singapore. But seriously, they are really bad at giving directions. "Just cross over" means something along the lines of needing to take a 30 minute walk, probably across a canal somewhere. "This train goes to X" usually means, "This train doesn't go to X". Sometimes you have to laugh and go with the detours, even if they take upwards of a few hours. Everyone tries to be helpful; it's clear they have no idea where you're asking to go, but still want to point you in a direction anyway. It's hard to get angry at that.

In fact, the only time I got angry during my adventure, was right after I dropped my team mate at the hospital. I was in my studs, I was tired, sore and dirty. After waiting in line for a taxi, I told him where I needed to go. Unlike New Zealand taxis, taxis in Singapore don't have GPS. At least not in any of the cars I rode in. You're relying completely on the knowledge of the driver. Had I known that, I wouldn't have left my cellphone, map and good humour back at my room. After circling around for what seemed like a lot of money, the driver pulled up to an apartment block. I was told this was my destination. Glancing up, it certainly did look the part. Same height, even had a playground in the middle! The colour was a tad off, but hey, I'm colour blind, so what authority am I?

Yeah, you guessed it. It wasn't the right place. Was barely the right suburb. The apartments just happened to have the same design. After realising I was truly lost without any way out, I tried to make my way around the block. Surely the driver dropped me somewhere in the vicinity of the place, right? I walked and walked (which took forever on account of my grass shoes), and after much effort trying to flag down a taxi to lodge a complaint (which was in turn met with angry beeps and swerves), I lost my cool. Okay, I full on had a tantrum on the sidewalk. I needed to use the bathroom, and no one would let me use their toilet without buying stuff. No one had a map or knew where I was. After a hard stomp in what I thought was the right direction, an old lady finally told me I was about 20 minutes from where I needed to go. Dejected, I finally found a police station, which pointed me in the direction of the MRT. I finally get to the station, and a train is about to leave. I see a guy at the door. "Hey! Does this train go to Queenstown?" The guy looked at me in the eye and said "Yes." I jump on the train. The door slam shut behind me. "Oh wait, no! This train doesn't go to Queenstown." He turns to me and shrugs. I get taken 10 minutes down the track. Resisting the urge to slap someone with my umbrella, I finally, somehow, make my way back to my room and let out a gutteral howl of despair. The worst thing was that I'd tried to do something nice by seeing my friend to the hospital, and in turn, I'd been stranded in the middle of no where for hours. Which leads me to the 5th thing I've learnt in Singapore...

5. If you think you know where you're going, you really don't.

I ran out of money fairly quickly in Singapore. Not from shopping. Not from food. But from transport. I could take the MRT into the city, but then I could never find my way back to it. By the end of my trip, I was an expert taxi flagger. As I've mentioned in my previous post, taxi fares are actually fairly cheap over there, so it just goes to show how many times I was flagging a cab down. For me, an extra $5-8 was well worth not getting lost for another few hours.

There were a few times I decided that I was confident enough to forego a cab, and make my way back to the MRT like a big boy traveller! Yeaaaah, no. One time, I literally went around in a huge, hour-long circle, which encompassed overpasses, underpasses, malls (of course) and several parks. And that was several days into my trip!

When I first got led to the MRT subway by my team mates, given a transport pass and told "Best o' luck!", I really did feel like that dog above. Yeah! Let's go to City Hall! I don't know why, I don't know where it is, and I don't know how long it'll take, but that's where I've been told to go! Yeah! By the end of my trip, I had getting less lost down to an artform. If I just stuck to the area I'd been to a dozen or so times of course. Because each time I ventured out of that area, and thought "Hmm, that looks like a familar entrance to a familiar mall, and possibly the MRT", well it turns out I was wrong.

6. I would probably get obese and broke (perhaps in that order) if I lived in Singapore.

Traveling budget aside, my gosh, the food in Singapore is amazing. Foodcourts with local cuisine (think in some cases, anything from noodles, to frog porridge) are good and cheap, but not really my thing. Mall foodcourts and restaurant clusters however, are. They have chilli cheese popcorn. Chilli. Cheese. Pop. Corn. I was walking around the mall, my hand and mouth covered in yellow cheese dust, and I'd only just begun my culinary expedition! Sushi, Indian, Thai, Steak, Seafood, Western, Eastern, Southern, Northern! So many choices. In a way I'm glad I left when I did. With the tournament over, it was only a matter of time before the nights of deep fried ice-cream, deli sausages and mixed grills caught up to me.

So I'll leave my experiences there for now. I've learnt a lot during my time in Singapore. Mostly about how much I love the place, and most definitely more than I've remembered to write here. I hope this little insight into my time away has amused you, and maybe even inspired you. If this is my last post on traveling, I'll let you with this: do it! Traveling is such an amazing experience. You meet crazy characters, experience wonderful things, challenge yourself and your perceptions, and you learn a whole lot. Even though I'm almost certainly a travel-newb, even in Singapore, I feel I've grown so much. It seems crazy that one can mature from simply being in a different place, a different time and different culture, but it's true, and for that, I urge anyone who wants to feel that rush of experience to go out and enjoy it for themselves!

Sunday 18 August 2013

Wanderin' Perspective: A Singapore Trip

My parents think I'm mad, maybe a little strange sometimes; I'll be on the living room couch after a long day, (usually in a dishevelled state from a hard game of frisbee) in that peculiar state where you're tired enough to fall asleep where you sit, but also so tired that your legs are too lazy to carry you upstairs to your comfortable bed. Instead, they vehemently persuade you that the couch, perhaps a foot too small, and a bung spring less comfortable, is a far better place to crash for the night. The television is blaring, but the power remote is oh so far away... I'll just close my... eyes...

And yet, through your drooping eyelids, you can still see the flashing antics of E! News or reruns of Friends. Argh! If only there was a place I could get some peace and darkness! Committed to making my night's sleep as unaccommodating as possible, I push through the discomfort and try to sleep in the last place I probably should be sleeping, on account of the numerous times I've awoken from that couch with a sore neck or bruised back. The last obstacle in the way is that darn tv! Parents are asleep. Getting up to fetch the remote would surely result in my cognitive arousal. Fumbling in the darkness under the accursed couch, I find something - the Sky remote!

Now I could switch it off. Mute it. For some reason, I never do any of those things. If I had any sense, I'd have just walked 30 seconds up the stairs to bed in the first place. No. I always find myself turning to one channel. Real Good Life TV. Up in the stratosphere on Sky channels, I'm sure no one watches it. You see, it's a radio station. Just a black screen and voices coming out. However, it's a Chinese radio station. I don't understand a lick of what they're saying, and I'm not sure if I want to. There's just something easing about listening to some far away place, some distant culture. Something different. They have their own thoughts, their own dreams and problems. Your mind tries to fill them in. An effective wall of pleasant white noise.

So my parents will often walk in on me at 5am, 6am, sometimes if I get that pesky middle spring to rest juust right, maybe even 7am, with the television blaring Cantonese radio, me fast asleep.

That's how I felt walking around Singapore the first night of my stay there. It was as if I was alseep and awake, all at the same time. I felt like I was just a mere visitor, a spectre, walking amongst the people there, observing and invisible. Back home, I understand what's going on. I'm the centre of the universe. Nothing is foreign. But here, stepping out into the dimly-lit streets and smelling the burnt offerings for the Day of the Dead, it was exactly as if I was back on that couch.

I stayed in Singapore for ten days. Without question, Singapore is a strange place. Everything is warped there, most certainly, units of scale. A "long way" was a 10 minute walk in one direction. An expensive taxi fare was anything over $10. In New Zealand, you're lucky if you can go around the block on that, let alone a half-city crawl as it was in Singapore. And yet a cheaper abode in Singapore would be in the $400-500K range.

In that sense, and many others, traveling does give you a rare perspective into not only the lives of others', but also your own. Foremost in my mind, was how grateful I was for everything back home. When taking a wrong turn can lead you to getting lost for more than a few hours, you learn to appreciate the staleness that you thought your life back home had become. The excitement and the full-nature of traveling is amazing, and something everyone ought to do at least many times in their life, but it must be said that simply coming home and finding your room, still as ever, with its familiar smells, feeling and sights, is something very satisfying, and those who have traveled will understand. It's not that you're overwhelmed by your experience, or that you disliked the impact of your wanderings, it's just something unwritten that fills you with peace, and you learn to appreciate that simply because something is not exciting, does not mean that it is any less "good" or "bad" than something that is.

I know I sound very philosophical, but you can't help be changed by such an adventure away. As with all experiences, even if they're meant just as fun, enjoyable encounters, they do have an impact on you. You brush by them, and they brush by you. Especially when you've traveled as little as I, you do come back with a new perspective on things and see the world around you in a new way. In that sense, your adventure has not ceased, but really, continued.

On the flight back, I got very misty-eyed over seeing my home's lights peaking through the clouds below. It's where everyone I've ever loved was met. It's where almost all of my best memories have been. And even though the ground shakes, the wind blows and bus drivers are grumpy, it's my own home. My trip to Singapore was the longest I've been away from my family, indeed, it's the first time I've even been out of the country on my own, so I'm not ashamed to say I missed them a lot. Sometimes it does take a while away from what's closest to you, to truly recognise just what they mean to you. And that's really what traveling does: it gives you an amazing perspective on what life is, abroad and at home. Sometimes it does take going halfway across the planet just to realize what you feel in your own heart.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

Sometimes I Lie...

It's been a stressful week, so I felt compelled to write something. Between booking flights and accommodation for a stay in Singapore later this year, the super storm which has partially destroyed my house, the stress of kittens, rabbits, cats and then taking care of myself, and the clincher of lady-issues, you could say I've have my plate full.

The funny thing is, if someone were to ask me how I was doing, and not just this week, but in general, I'd almost always reply "good", sometimes "fine". Some friends would get more of the story, but for the most part, I will shrug off any opening to peek out from behind this facade which has formed to actually share the truth.

I'm not alright. Far from it. And yet I still can't bring myself to tell the truth. The truth that the perfect white lie that I pass off to people as we swap pleasantries is a macabre fabrication to disguise the hurtful reality. When the moment comes, I swallow that pain, that inner turmoil, and after a while, it almost becomes a feeling of accomplishment. That I've somehow gained a place in the leaderboards of silent suffering and its macho companions. Even as the weigh pushes down on my heart - and really, that's exactly how it feels; a heavy weigh that lingers in my chest, slowing my every move to a crippling halt - I somehow feel a strange joy in that I was able to fake my happiness, as if it brings me closer to the real thing.

It doesn't. If anything, it draws me ever away from being happy, and isolates me in my own private hell. I'm tired of regurgitating the same tired lines of what work I'm doing, how my plans for the year are, if I'm excited for some upcoming event. Sometimes I just want to scream the reality in peoples' faces. Scream that no, I'm not finding work easy because employers don't even reply back. That I'm not excited about the coming week, because the last several have frankly been shit. That sometimes I question my existence and role in this world, and the direction I'm headed. If I'll find that happiness I so easily conjure. Behind my nodding eyes is this pain, and each time I swallow it back down and act completely unaffected. The shame I feel. If I told. If I shared my reality. The ignorance I know that wouldn't understand. Or would try to and make things worse.

The storm has at least brought some comfort, even if it's morbid in a sense; the tree out front has crashed into the garden, wiping out half of it. Two stories of hardened bark and tangled branches. It's like a once great monolith, now left to linger in the sands. Its wrinkles and grooves withstood decades of life. And then just like that it all was too much. The wind was too strong. It's root support not deep enough. Just a little tip and there it lies in the soil, a metaphorical reminder of the lives we live. I've been hacking away at it for several days now, with just a $1 saw, a hatchet and a sledge hammer. I can relate to the tree. I wonder if it is lying there weeping for itself. As it watches silently as it is taken apart where it once stood so proud. I feel bad cutting its branches. Some of the twigs still believe they're alive and reach out to the sun, not knowing they're already doomed. In a way, it also makes me feel a bit better knowing at least someone out there is having just as bad a day. And then it's just a pile of splinters, bark chips and sap, and I've got not a friend in the world who can share the pain.

Saturday 13 April 2013

The Weird and Wonderful World of... Flirting?

If you've ever had the displeasure and wholly uncomfortable experience of me hitting on you (and being pretty much sober for my entire life, I can say I recall it's a fairly low number; also, although me flirting with you may feel like hitting a brick wall, I do mean "hitting on" in the metaphorical sense), it's no secret that on a scale of zero to ten, my flirting skills have hit rock bottom and are digging for fossils. Which is great, as I've always had a fascination with palaeontology! Not so great for dating...

I'm not going to give you a history of my love life, to spare the shame of my ex's, but perhaps I'll share some anecdotes which have shaped my understanding of this most curious social interaction: "flirting". Get ready for lots of probable misinformation from a flirting-newb, completely skewed by my experience as a male (which I'll have you know is a completely different experience from being female I'm told). Aw shucks, let's be honest - it's a hashed-together post so I can moan about how hard flirting is haha... and yeah, it's a bit long. Lots of whining...

Flirting is hard to define. It's not really getting to know someone. That's a part of it, but when you get to know someone, it could be a completely non-sexual encounter, between two friends perhaps. Flirting really is probing that tentative area between openly saying you like someone and feeling that secret attraction to them; it's a scavenger hunt for that mutual spark, using such tools as wit, humour and flattery, where you let the other person know you're interested, but it's light hearted enough to allow for sufficient bail out contingencies. Sometimes you get rejected - or worse - but sometimes you find that connection and get a response back. Most times, at least for myself, you aren't quite sure if the other person is flirting, if you're getting a response back, or even if you yourself were flirting at all!

It perhaps wasn't until a year or two ago that I really even thought about seriously flirting with the opposite sex and trying to get dates (which is, I feel, a bit different from simply flirting, even if they are connected). I was very shy and not at all confident, so before I was even near a girl, I was already thrust into a confusing predicament. You always hear "Just be yourself!", which is great if your usual self is a charming, handsome so and so. But what if you're not at all versed in the ways of the female? Then you have to fake it. And that has been one of the major sticking points for me and being successful in flirting: it's a game, and not one I really want to play. You create interesting points, you thrust the metaphorical peacock plumes up and showcase your intellect and wit and make the other person feel engaged, in the hopes you can decipher if they're interested, and hopefully take it from there. I can be suave and charming in my own time, but around girls I'm a mess. As little time I can spend in that terrifying situation, the better! That's the real me. Girls don't want that (well from my experience anyway), so for me to be successful at the game, I already have to achieve some sort of deception, and give off the pretence that I'm calm and collected, which compared to the lies some guys spin when flirting, is light. Should we go around, telling guys and girls we're miserable or if you're shy, walk up to them and grunt while shuffling your feet? Of course not. But you cannot deny that the search for that attraction - this interaction we call "flirting" - is a game, and a game based on grandiose illusions and deceptions to beguile the other person into thinking you're amazing and desirable at that! Most of all, the game is entirely unavoidable if you wish to ever know truly if someone else is attracted to you.

So it's hard for me to flirt. Not every girl is going to be attracted to me. And yet the very premise of flirting is that you're trying to tar each girl with your brush (that sounds increasingly rude!), in the sense that you don't care if she's interested, you're going to probe for that spark anyway! And how do we make sure we're not dashing our hopes prematurely by not being what the other person wants? We present this edited version of ourselves. We use tactics from dating books, like not doing instinctual stuff like buying her a drink, or giving a compliment and then an insult. From the start, they're seeing a false person with a false way they act, and you're deceiving them and at the same time, lying to yourself. It's a wholly unsavoury affair. I don't like deception, and when it comes to girls, I'm not all that good at it, so already the flirting game is set against me.

To first even be successful at the game, you have to believe that every girl could be interested in you. That's the main reason why I didn't start flirting with girls until recently. I had low self-esteem and never asked any girls out for the simple reason of "how could anyone like me?" I wouldn't know if a girl liked me if she slapped me in the face. Literally. *Anecdote alert* I was a young lad at my aunty's birthday party. All the young kids were left to their own devices. This one girl kept slapping me. All I could think at the time was "It hurts... it hurts so very much...". It was probably the meanest a girl had ever been to me. Then she kept making me chase her behind the garden shed during our game of tag. Once back there she'd stop and start breathing heavily with silky eyes. Of course my natural reaction was to tag her and run off. A decade later I know that the girl was angling for a kiss (that naughty tart!), but I'm still more or less none the wiser to whether a girl is making an advance at me or is interested. That was obviously from before I knew girls even existed as a species, but in the years passed, there have been times when girls have perhaps been interested in me, and yet I felt so undesirable, that I never ventured any further with them.

Now I'm a bit more confident. I feel like I could be liked, even desired, by the opposite sex. I still suck at flirting though. I'm just not a great player of the game and in the end, I still do tend to let regrets of not asking girls out or going up to say hi slip through. Not because of the fact I feel that I'm inadequate any more, but rather because it really is a complex social interaction which I know I'm not fully versed in! Who really wants to watch me bumble through lines and dialogue that I'm not even sure is what you're after. Which begs the question, if a girl likes you, why can't they initiate?

Guys have assumed the hunter-gatherer role in the world, handed down from generations and generations of jabbing woolly mammoths to death to prove how they should get all the breeding rights. Our role, whether we're good at it or not, is to forever chase the things we want. And the majority of females are happy to be chased. Nay, expect it. It's not right or wrong, it's just how courtship has worked for the last... forever. Girls don't make the first moves. I've heard of rare cases where girls have. It's so rare, they even made a movie out of such a strange idea (if you've ever seen Leap Year, I pity you, as it's probably the worse rom-com I've ever seen, and I was forced. to. watch. every. frame). It'd be so nice to perhaps just be sitting there and a girl walks up to me and begins flirting with ME. And not only that, but make it obvious. Not in the strange, overpowering way, but complimenting my shoes is not going to make me automatically think "Ermehgawd! She's flirting with me!" So don't just sit there, thinking perhaps you're attracted to me (c'mon ladies, you know you're out there... okay, I'm seriously just kidding right now). You're scary! Flirting is hard! Guys like me aren't that good at it! I don't want to deceive you by acting like I'm super confident and wow you with my flirt skills! Why don't you try it for once...?

The exception is older women. I bet you're interested in why I, an innocent young man such as myself is embroiled in such nefarious affairs as flirting with older women? Well because ever since I've become more confident, I've been beating them off with a stick! Seriously, it's as if they've got a radar in their brain for guys like me! I don't even initiate (imagine my fear with a girl my own age, let alone a world-worn battle woman with wrinkles and distinction and all that). They leave nothing to the imagination. Normally it'd be great. I mean, they're female. And they're making the first move. And what's this? I can understand that they're interested in me? And they don't care that I'm not super confident? Whaaat? However, I kid you not, almost every mature woman who has hit on me in the last year has been married, engaged or at least had children. What's up with that you scoundrels? That's where flirting gets tricky. Technically flirting is harmless. You're finding out if you like each other. In the case of the male population, we liked 90% of all girls. It's nothing the other person doesn't already know. No harm no foul right? And yet it still feels morally so very wrong. For me, I won't go there. Even if I knew it wasn't leading anywhere, I still wouldn't go there. That's the grey area with flirting where I believe it's still a good rule that you have to be single. I mean, I certainly would feel insecure or sad or whatever if my wife were flirting with another guy. Although you could argue about trust and all that. Still, it's an area of flirting I won't go.

And thus it is my forever torment. Getting hit on by married women who are off limits, or not flirting with girls who don't flirt with me either. Awesome. So in conclusion, today we have learnt that my love life still sucks and that flirting is hard for me. Sob. That said, watch this space. Flirting is all about confidence; confidence in myself and now, confidence in my romantic skills. I guess once I exercise the "flirt muscle", perhaps even my fears of being terrible as a flirter will too dissipate as my past insecurities have. Will there be a Flirting Part Two: Steven Gets 'Game'? Who knows! Stay tuned...

Saturday 16 March 2013

Matters of the Heart

At the risk of having all my posts sound rather cynical, I am going to attempt to dissect this strange feeling humans sometimes get, called "love".

Why cynical you ask? Well, because I believe this "love" business is bandied around far too often. *Insert audible groan from reader on finding yet another pessimistic entry* Bear with...

The question is 'How do you know when you love someone?'. The answer is far from simple. Ask someone 'Do you love this thing, this person, this place?' They may reply 'Yes' or they could reply 'No'. But ask them 'Why' they love that thing, or 'How they know' they love that person, or even 'What' is love, then the answers become much harder to find. To answer how we know when we love someone, you have to first answer what your definition of love actually is.

So, what is love? Is it the tingling of butterflies in your stomach when you see someone? When you want to be with that person every second of every day? Saying 'I love you' to them? For me, my definition of love is probably not best explained in a sentence, but more an example. Whether you believe in him or not, the example of the love God shows for his creations is by far the most fitting definition of what I think love is. He takes these broken creatures and puts them in paradise, but doesn't try to control them, even when they ruin it all. They betray him. They kill each other. They reject him and ignore his presence. If it were Sim City, you'd have already started sending tsunamis and hurricanes to destroy everything before reloading. For all their flaws, all their sins, whatever they've done, God accepts them back. To you, it might just be a silly story in a very long book, but whatever God is to you, it can't be denied that this is some serious love.

If I was to put this into a sentence, it'd be the ability to accept and forgive someone for all their flaws, no matter how it hurts you, and to strive to make them the best they can be, and expect nothing, absolutely zilch, in return. That's my definition of love.

I was reading an article a few weeks ago (Link - Warning, some foul language) on how the world only cares what it can get from you. It's a sad thought, but in many ways, it's true. In a crude comparison, let's look at sports. Not at all about love, but a good metaphor for why I feel "love" is often misused.

Let's say you're brilliant at a sport. You're in a team. You help win games. You're invaluable. The players like you, the captain likes you, you feel like THE man. You get invited to every party the team has. They don't force you to substitute during a game. It's great. Now let's see that same player, but this time, he's terrible. Can't play too well. Lets the opposition get the better of him. Maybe he's injured? He may be a great guy (or girl), but boy can't he play sports. I've had the pleasure (or displeasure depending how you look at it) of being both of these players, sometimes all in the matter of a month!

When you're winning, everyone wins with you. When you lose, you lose alone. The second player has ceased being useful. He knows he might get invited to a drinks or two, but every time he drops a catch, or gets out, or misses a hoop, he knows there's someone on the sideline at least thinking they'd be better off without him on the team. It's simply gotten too hard to let the fact he is terrible at sports right now be acceptable due to the fact he's a nice guy.

'What does this have to do with love AT ALL?' Well, I'm fortunate enough to have a few friends and to know many people in my life. Some I could say I love, some would say they love me. But is it true love? Is it that love I describe above? That Godly, pure love? As a guy, I've been told you don't really have true friends. You have other guys you hang out with and do mutual activities with for a beneficial goal. You may meet with them for a drink. Go play a sport with them. Do a hobby. You're useful to each other. You're there to make sure the other guy isn't drinking alone. Or so that he has someone else to hit a tennis ball at. Or to pick them up. You don't even have to truly like one another all too much if you're really desperate. This may differ for women, but as guys, it's all about the pretence and the avoidance of actual emotion.

What if, just like our poor sports player above, things become harder? I've had friends do it to me, and I've seen it happen to others. You get divorced. You feel depressed. You get dumped from your team. What was once a pleasant mug of beer together instead turns into "feelings" and "mushy" stuff. You're no longer useful as the beer buddy. Your friend is sitting there all sombre and screaming inside his head 'My Lord! You're getting your flaws all over me and it's icky! Stahp!'

So, after this magnificent detour, what I'm getting at is that people may say they love you, but that their definition of love isn't always, if at all, really what it should be (at least by my definition of love). I've had many people say they love me, and I've told many people I love them. But the number of times I've actually experienced that true, Godly form of love which I feel is the purest definition of the term, is very rarely indeed. People may surprise you, but before you say you 'know you love someone', be sure it really is "love". It may very well be the 'I love you, but to a certain point', in which case, can it really be defined as love at all? In a way, there may very well be no people that you really love, or who really love you. A horrific thought. And yet how many people do you know would truly accept and forgive your flaws, and even when times got tough, when you're dropping every proverbial catch and losing all of life's matches, would still stick by you, even if it was to their every disadvantage? For me, the pool would probably be very small indeed, if at all existent. And if I was serious with myself, the number of people I would put myself on the line for to such an extent would be less than I'd like to think.

So now that you know what my definition of love is, and how I got to it, you know my answer to how I'd know when I love someone. When my wife is bloated and screaming at me in a hormone ridden rage from pregnancy, and demanding some obscure food at 3am, and I do everything she asks and do not care, and still somehow find her beautiful, that's how I know I love her. When my friend is crying on the phone and I'm tired after a long day, and it's been such a long call you get that sweat build up under you ear and you have to change sides, and still I listen and am perfectly happy to for another hour, that's how I know I love them. When I forgive someone their faults and accept them no matter what, and I do it all without expecting some pay off, no matter how many "catches" they drop or times they put me out, that's how I know I love them.

Saturday 8 December 2012

Your Best Friend

As I sat here, bleary-eyed at 2am from a full day of cricket, frisbee and adventure, I was pleasantly surprised to see that a new Blog Roll topic had been posted - A letter to yourself 10 years ago or 10 years in the future. It's been a long time, no write, so despite the late hour, and my body's inside voice whispering "Sleep! Sleep time!", I think there isn't any time better than the present to get stuck in to it.

However, it's probably not advisable. 10 years ago... phew, that would make me nearly 12. There's a lot of dark memories and emotions that lurk back there. Most have been captured and placed carefully in a chest, buried somewhere deep in the sandpit of my mind, nary to be looked at except for the odd peek or prod over the years. A couple of you may know the reasons, most probably won't, but my early teen years weren't the happiest nor the fondest to look back on.

To be honest, I kinda feel sorry for that kid back then. I think instinctively we all feel sorry for our younger selves. They represent an innocent place. A sweet, pure place before we all grow, lose that magic fervour for life and get corrupted and abused by the world. The innocence and blissful ignorance seems so pitiful, but at the same time wondrously special and unique. It only happens once in your life. Once you are aware of the world, you can never go back. Your younger self is the embodiment of the passage of time and the gift of knowledge, which cuts both ways in giving enlightenment, but also stealing your childhood away. Your younger self is what you've lost.

I feel especially sad for my younger me, because I know what the next few years have in store. And not just that, but because even if I could, I probably wouldn't change the course of the coming years. They hurt. They ushered in the end of my childhood. But they made me who I am today. Looking back writing this, it almost feels like I'm offering him up as a sacrifice while I stand idly by. It's hard, but I know in the end, it all comes right. We can't stay innocent forever, and upsetting as it is, we all must lose our purity in a sense.

I was bullied from a young age. I'd probably even go so far as to say I've been bullied by various people from various vocations to this very present day. It never stops hurting. As a grown man, all my competitive instincts are telling me to write down that it doesn't, but the truth is, it never stops hurting. I've learnt to cope, ignore and grow a thick skin, but it affects you. Maybe you don't get sad or angry any longer, and maybe you even begin to realize that it's not your problem, but the bully's (I indeed spent a good portion of those 10 years blaming myself for the bullying), but it still affects you. I'd say being bullied is like being attacked by shovels. Saying it, it's actually kind of funny, but probably accurate. The shovels dig little holes inside you, taking bits of you out that were good, and replacing them with hurt. Over time, the holes get bigger and bigger until they make a great, deep hole. After that, if you make it that far, the shovels go in but they don't have as much of an effect. But they're still there. They never leave. They're always with you, somehow, some way, even if it's only in how they've altered your life, a sick reminder of how lost little boys and girls can forever brand you with their mark.

For me, being bullied left me with a profound sense of being entirely alone. Even to this very day, I feel that sting often. I remember one instance very clearly. I was sitting at assembly on one of the seats at the back. One of the kids kept looking back and laughing to his friends. He finally turned to me and said I was a loner. Looking back now I almost laugh at how silly it all was, and it's painfully clear why the boy felt the need to degrade others to feel superior - I play in the same cricket league as him now and he barely reaches my armpit. I feel sorry for him just as much as I feel sorry for 12 year old me back then. But the shovel still went in and with it comes a ripple effect. And with a ripple effect comes habits and experiences and deep-rooted emotions that even my now mature and rational brain struggles to root out and placate.

Bullying wasn't the sole part of my struggles as an early teenager, but it was a large part, and not having friends and the feeling of being isolated made the other strifes harder to cope with. So if I were to say anything to an 11 year old me, it wouldn't be long, and it wouldn't ruin all the hurt and joy and adventures and sorrows of the coming years. It would say only one thing: You are not alone.

I had a best friend when I was small, but unfortunately moved away from him, so for the most part, my childhood was friend-less and with none occupying that title of "Best Friend". I still try to this very day to make that connection with someone, perhaps as a way of fulfilling that little boy's dream and showing him he is loveable and worthy, despite the jeers and the bullies. Sometimes when I'm close, the little kid inside stand up and goes "That's not right! You're a loner! You don't have any friends!" and no matter what my rational brain tries to argue, I tend to push more friends away than I'd care. So maybe me in ten years needs to send present me a letter too, because I'd tell that little kid he does have a best friend. One that he'll never lose. One that will never call him a loser or put him down. The one friend who will never abandon him and who will always understand him...

His best friend is himself.

So don't think you're alone. You've had me there the entire time and no matter what, you're gonna turn out great and despite the hate you've shown me over the years, it's not your fault and I still love you. Oh, and you're going to go a family friend's party when you're older. A girl is going to be hitting you; it means she likes you. Then she's going to take you behind the shed and attempt to kiss you. Do NOT run away this time! Geesh...

And that'd be all I'd write. Maybe I'd listen to me. Maybe I'd think I was just B.S.'ing. But at least on those days where it was nearly all too much, maybe I'd know in the back of my head that I had a best friend who was there for me. And maybe it'd make those days just a little bit more bearable.

Phew! That was hard. With that, I think I'll stop prodding the thing in the chest, load the sand back on top of it and leave it until next time.