Life is like riding a bicycle

Life is like riding a bicycle

Source: Tumblr

Ironically, I don’t know how to ride a bicycle. But you get the gist, right? (Don’t worry, it’s on my bucket list – I hope I have the opportunity to tick it off in the very near future!) 

I can’t believe that we’re already about to wrap up week 3 of uni – which is, if you think about it, almost a quarter of the way through the semester. I can hear the resounding WHAT?! in the room. Yes. Time sure flies by very quickly. #statingtheobvious

This week has been a very busy week for me, and I think it’s only going to get busier from next week onwards. I’ve been spending a lot of my time and energy refining resumes, writing cover letters, researching, and answering application questions for a number of graduate programs. Deadlines are approaching and (as usual), I’ve fallen prey to the wicked temptation of Procrastination. But it’s time to face reality, and right now, the reality is that I have to keep moving forward. Luckily, now that I’ve gotten the ball rolling, it’s definitely starting to feel easier and less stressful. That first step is never easy!

This one is going to be a short one – but I wish all my fellow final year students the best of luck! :)

Mid-week inspiration

You get in life what you have the courage to ask for

Source: Tumblr

I love this quote. And not just because of the pretty typography and watercolour details – though admittedly, that definitely played a role in piquing my attention during one of my Pinterest browsing sessions.

There are so, so many quotes out there. Quotes from writers, poets, celebrities, philanthropists, business people, world leaders… to your average Tumblr teenager. But there are only a handful that seem to speak to you directly. And for me, this is one of them. These are the right words, at the right time…

What are some of your favourite quotes?

We run this town

Sydney Tower

One of my New Year Resolutions for 2014 was to incorporate running into my week. However, the problem was (and always has been) that I’ve never particularly enjoyed running. How can I describe my antipathy towards running? Well, at best, running feels like a pesky chore that admittedly, gives me a sense of accomplishment when I’m finished.  At worst, it feels like some kind of self-imposed hell and, running through my mind on loop is why-am-I-doing-this-what-am-I-doing-I-can’t-breathe-maybe-I-have-asthma-no-my-legs-are-about-to-collapse-beneath-me. Back in Year 7, when my P.E. teacher asked me if I was a ‘runner’, I responded with a look of mild shock. Me, a runner? Are you kidding? Later on in high school, I did go through a running phase though. I went for a run every morning before school. But no, I never found it fun or relaxing. It was a chore. Now, the running I do is mainly on the treadmill at the gym and I spend the time either glued on the display, anticipating the end of my short (but sweet – or at least I tell myself) obligatory run, or praying that no one steps on the treadmill next to me, because we all know that really means. Race time.

So after a few half-hearted attempts at running over the last couple of months, I finally decided to join a friend at the Nike+ Run Club on Monday and attempted the beginner’s 5k.  As we ran through the Royal Botanic Gardens and down Mrs. Macquarie’s Road, passing Lady Macquarie’s Chair, I savoured the fresh sea breeze and the scenic views of the harbour at dusk. Who thought running could be relaxing? The first 3, pushing to 4 kilometres were surprisingly comfortable. I could breathe! My legs weren’t complaining! Maybe I am a runner after all, I thought. But then came the last kilometre. Suddenly, everything felt uncomfortable. I was huffing and puffing as we ran up and down the small slopes along the shore. The soles of my feet were on fire. My whole body was heating up. My legs wanted to fold under. And the fact that the last stretch was down the length of Hyde Park and back along its diagonal made it extra painful. There was no hiding – I was completely exposed here. It started to sprinkle a little. I winced. Getting wet was not part of the plan. Then our run leader told us to sprint the last couple hundred of metres… and so I mustered the little energy I had left, picked up my jelly legs and ran for my life to the finishing point. And I completed my 5k run!  

I limped back to the meeting point with my friend and sister, feeling mighty proud of myself. I did it! This is the longest distance I have ever run before. In my life. And I have to thank my friend for providing moral support and reminding me to keep running, as slow as I need – as long as I don’t stop and walk.

We generally think of running as a solo activity, but it’s quite a different experience when you do it as a group, sans earphones and the playlist of workout-only, trashy tunes. There were close to a hundred of us on the beginner’s run I believe, and even though we did not know each other, a strange sense of camaraderie is formed when you participate in a group run like this.

And while I can’t say that I love running (yet)… I do love the feeling afterwards. Running really does give you a sense of empowerment. Every little challenge you conquer reaffirms the entire mind over body philosophy. That you are capable. You are stronger than you think.

Maybe, one day I will grow to enjoy running – who knows?

Recent Reads: Gone Girl and Dark Places

gonegirl_darkplaces

1. Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)

Gone Girl begins with the sudden disappearance of Amy Dunne on her fifth wedding anniversary. Her husband Nick becomes a prime suspect when the local detectives and the small community learn of his financial dependence on her and her well-off parents. Moreover, his stoic appearance and calm composure on camera is interpreted as a clear image of guilt. As the story unfolds, the narration alternates between Amy’s diary entries from the day she meets Nick to Nick’s present-day accounts after his wife’s mysterious disappearance. With each chapter, our sympathy and allegiance shifts between Nick and Amy. What is the truth? But it turns out that the truth is never quite so simple, and nor does it bring us any comfort. The characters are dangerous and deranged, and their behaviour is disturbingly narcissistic and sociopathic. Yet, Flynn manages to allow the reader to feel a strange sense of empathy towards them. Beneath their deep flaws, there is something about their behaviour as a couple that evokes a visceral response – there is an element of raw humanness about it.

I think that by setting the story in a small, dying Midwest town, Flynn appears to give another reason for the deep flaws of the characters. The economy is down and jobs have been lost. Everything has been ‘hollowed out: businesses and investment, the natural environment, and even morals. The ‘wasteland’ in which the characters live in is a place devoid of any real purpose or meaning.

Gone Girl was a very interesting read and even though I usually stay away from the mystery/crime/thriller genre (no, not for any particular reason), I found it very enjoyable. Definitely a page-turner and well worth the hype.

2. Dark Places (Gillian Flynn)

Libby Day, the sole survivor of a horrific family massacre during her childhood, has been playing the role of victim throughout her life. She has lived off the donations made by well-wishers over the years, but as her funds are beginning to dry up, Libby reluctantly accepts an invitation from The Kill Club, a hobbyist group who are obsessed with crimes. The members are convinced in the innocence of her elder brother Ben, and encourage her to gain emotional closure. Their fervent belief in Ben’s innocence leads Libby to question her own testimony – one that provided the damning evidence that sent Ben to prison. Slowly, with the support of the Club, Libby reconnects with people from the past to recreate the events of the night that would change her life forever.

Like Gone Girl, Dark Places relies on different voices, alternating between present-day Libby and the events of 1985 from the main characters. I think that this is probably Flynn’s strongest writing talent – the ability to weave multiple narratives and perspectives together to create multi-faceted characters and a sense of ongoing suspense. Also, in dealing deftly with complex themes such as class, poverty and grief in her writing, Flynn paints an incredibly sympathetic picture of a single-parent family struggling to get by.

Having read Gone Girl first, I must admit that it took me a while to get into Dark Places. I just couldn’t connect with the characters or the setting. Maybe because (if I recall correctly), the fourth wall isn’t broken in Dark Places. However, now that I have finished the two, I think that Dark Places is a little bit better. The social commentary that runs throughout the story and the ending (oh, such a surprise, but so touching) really did it for me.

***

Looking forward to the 2014 film adaptations for Gone Girl and Dark Places now! :)

Good bye, summer break

e352384dc44ab02357ccdc67e00d170b

Source: Pinterest

I feel that this post, published at the start of the summer break, was written just yesterday. How did three months fly by so quickly? There are days when I realise I’ve forgotten to cross off any dates on my calendar for a week. 2014 has its foot firmly on the accelerator, and is zooming by, leaving me shrouded on the roadside in dust and smoke. And now that uni is starting in less than two weeks, I can’t help but focus on what I’ve achieved, or rather, failed to achieve over the break.

Maybe I wasn’t as productive or as innovative as I could be with my time. But does that make me a ‘loser’? Sometimes, it does feel that way. Partly because it’s far too easy to get caught up in comparing ourselves with other people. And even when we are completely aware that we are trying to live up to someone else’s expectations, live someone else’s life – rather than our own – nothing really changes. Because we have a tendency to focus on the bigger, ‘glitzier’ experiences. When someone asks us What did you get up to?, we automatically devalue and brush aside the day-to-day and more mundane life experiences. Instead, a little part of us wishes we could talk about something like travelling across three different continents, completing a much-coveted internship, or something bold like volunteering in a developing country. 

I am, by no means, trying to promote or condone a particular lifestyle or set of ambitions and goals. I simply think that a lot of the time, we have become so removed from the actual experiences themselves. Rather than focusing on the various opportunities for personal development and the valuable life lessons that entail these experiences, the emphasis is often wrongly placed on the presentation and packaging of these experiences. I talked about this in my earlier post on social media. We spend so much time thinking about how we can frame these experiences in a particular way and in a particular aesthetic. The direct corollary to this is that we have a broad platform for comparison. It’s no longer through the spread of gossip via a third party, like the way Mrs. Bates waxes lyrical about the virtues of Jane Fairfax in Emma (couldn’t help but include an Austen reference!) – it is direct and immediate, whether it be in the form of a Facebook check-in, an Instagram picture, or perhaps even a LinkedIn update. We have become more sensitive towards the way we are perceived by our peers. Alain de Botton terms this ‘status anxiety’ – giving shape and form to that often far-too-familiar feeling of personal inadequacy when we find ourselves envying (or questioning) the success achieved by someone. And not just anyone, but most importantly, someone who could just be us. Our peers. 

Comparison is the thief of joy

Source: Pinterest

This quote really succinctly describes how I feel at times. The more we compare ourselves to others, the more miserable we are likely to feel. We gradually lose our sense of self-worth because we become so obsessed with the value we believe others confer on us. But we can choose to lead our own lives. We can choose to be happy. :)

P.S. I’m not sure why my recent posts seem to be going down the ‘self-help’ direction. More variety in the weeks to come, I promise!

Happy Valentine’s Day

funny-valentines-day-cards-dictator-ben-kling-1

funny-valentines-day-cards-dictator-ben-kling-7

tumblr_mhhj13sOzd1qz5uc4o1_500

tumblr_mhin9mTrPq1qz5uc4o1_500

tumblr_mhio6i6tCk1qz5uc4o1_500

tumblr_mhwmpuovfn1qz5uc4o1_1280Loving Ben Kling’s nerdy VDay cards.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! It’s easy to get a little too cynical about Valentine’s Day – yes, it is a a bit of a Hallmark day, and yes, we should be spoiling our loved ones every day of the year. However, it doesn’t need to be about the grandiose romantic gestures – we can simply use today to take a step back and show our gratitude to all the important people in our lives. Also, don’t forget to spoil the number one person in your life – YOU! :)

The Innovation of Loneliness

The title alone is interesting. When we think of innovation, we tend to think of progress – progress in science, medicine and technology. It’s a word with positive connotations. But loneliness? It’s a word hardly associated with anything positive. And how can loneliness innovate?

The video provides an interesting sociological analysis of social media, and attempts to answer a rather troubling question: What is the connection between social media and being lonely?

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic because it’s something I have some strong opinions about, and I guess when I came across this video last week (well after its viral phase in 2013), I felt sufficiently inspired to write a post on it.

Social media has become such a big part of our lives, and the strange thing for many 20-somethings is that we can lucidly remember a time without social media. A time where we didn’t need to make life announcements on Facebook, mundane comments and rants on Twitter, and pictures of our lunch on Instagram.

Social (Me?)dia 

So let me go into my own experiences with social media. For me, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram form the big 3 of social media.

Facebook is something I use daily, but compared to the other two, I am more of a passive user. I don’t think I’ve posted a Facebook status for probably two years, and I generally scroll down my News Feed to find out what everyone is up to. I rarely post anything on my friends’ walls, and I don’t upload any photos onto Facebook. I do wish my friends ‘Happy Birthday’, and I use Facebook Messaging a fair bit, though mainly because some friends don’t want to pick up their phone to text me. Jokes. It’s pretty good for sharing links and files. The MSN of 2014.

On the other hand, Twitter is pretty much where a lot of my verbal diarrhoea goes. And for me, that’s always been a key attraction. I remember explaining to a few friends what Twitter was back in 2010(?): ‘It’s a place for you to write Facebook statuses but without the ‘popularity’ factor –  you can be perfectly content not being retweeted/liked/replied’. I also use it to read articles on current affairs/news/opinion.

As for Instagram, it’s something I do check quite frequently. I post regularly (but not really frequently) pictures of food, coffee, scenery and life experiences/events that make the cut. Everything about Instagram is filtered. And not just our addiction to filters that promise to bring out our inner photographer. It’s a ‘filtered’ representation of our life; a facade that we present to our friends (and the world). And I openly admit this – Instagram can be a source of self-validation. I post to share snippets of my life and also, to get likes. (Does anyone else admit this?) It feels good! But to ‘earn’ (and I use this word very loosely) these likes, I am acutely aware that I often frame and package my experiences in a certain aesthetic, one that others (first and foremost) as well as myself find appealing. What’s worse, is that sometimes you can’t help but think that some experiences may be pursued for the sake of sharing. Will I enjoy my lunch at a cafe which has been the talk-of-the-month any less if I don’t post a picture of my lunch and the shabby chic (and sometimes, just shabby – admit it) decor? Probably not. But there’s something admittedly exciting about sharing that with your friends, letting everyone know that you are hip enough (and yes, by using that word, I’ve proven that I’m anything but that) to eat a cafe where you can’t actually pronounce the dish you are ordering (no, it’s not quinoa – I can pronounce that) and you’re not even sure whether the unknown ingredient is a vegetable, type of French cheese, or a spice. #thestruggleisreal

The video 

Well, let’s get back to the video. One of the key points raised is that social media has resulted in us sacrificing real conversation for an instant connection, and choosing quantity over quality when it comes to relationships with others. And this is in part due to the nature of social media – it facilitates instant ‘connections’ after two clicks, rather than meaningful relationships that are built over time. Another point is that social media provides a platform for us to present the best version of ourselves. We can labour over the correct working of a text or email (something we can’t do quite as well in real-time face-to-face conversation). We can deliberate over which photo is the most flattering and perhaps, the least self-conceited (you know, the selfie that doesn’t look like a selfie). And most importantly, social media promises us that we’ll never be alone. We’re prompted to share what’s on our mind and to upload our photos for our friends to see. We’re given a voice. Our philosophy becomes: “I share, therefore I am.” 

My thoughts 

I do agree with the general premise of the video. We are forever building our profiles, choosing on the most desirable facade of ourselves to present to others. And yes, we as human beings do have an innate need to be ‘heard’. Social media certainly recognises this vulnerability. Personally, I do have a tendency to overshare on Twitter. And sometimes I do want my Instagram feed to follow a certain aesthetic. But does social media make us somewhat less ‘real’? I disagree. We don’t live exclusively online. We may already have slightly different ‘personas’, depending on whether we are out with friends, or at work. Perhaps our online profile is simply another ‘persona’. At the end of the day, to the people who do matter to us, we are who we are. I don’t think social media is capable of changing that.

And as for the other question on loneliness, I’m not sure using social media will fast track us to Eric Carmen’s ‘All By Myself’. Social media definitely has its value in enabling us to keep in touch and stay connected with friends and family in real life. It doesn’t prevent us from forming meaningful relationships with others. The onus will always be on us, not social media, to take the initiative to build a relationship with another.

I do have some pet peeves about social media though. Sometimes, instead of simply asking someone how they are, we make reference to what they’ve shared online. Oh, I read your tweet the other day! I saw your Instagram post! Your snapchat last night was hilarious! Social media becomes a crucial dialogue filler. We expect others to be up-to-date with the details we share online.

Another one is when we start to compare ourselves to other people. We claim that we are ‘depressed’ when we see friends (in the Facebook definition of the word) checking in at airports around the world and Instagram posts of holidays in Europe. But are we really ‘depressed’? I think it’s envy. But we’re unwilling to admit it. The problem is that we don’t realise, or are unwilling to acknowledge that each and every one of us strives to present our lives in the best way possible online. That idyllic picture in Santorini may only a snapshot of their life. It’s by no means, a true portrayal of who and what they are. It’s a picture. That may have only become a thousand word fairytale through your ever-so jealousy-driven and far-too-vivid imagination.

I think we just need to take everything we see on social media with a grain of salt. We often choose to present the best version of ourselves online. Well, so do others. :)

Sunday Loves

I love Sunday. Sleeping in, brunch, staying in my pyjamas for as long as possible, curling up with a good book, listening to music, relaxing and rewinding…

Today, I’ve been loving: 

Priscilla Ahn – ‘Dream’

A few weeks ago, a friend recommended Pandora for finding music. Turned out that I had signed up for it a long time ago, well, long enough for me to forget my password. Now I can’t get enough of it – especially the Joshua Radin radio station, which I’ve been listening to almost every day. I love listening to it while catching up on the blogs I follow on Bloglovin and drinking a nice cup of tea. Through the Joshua Radin radio station, I discovered Priscilla Ahn and this song:

 

I’ve been listening to it on repeat lately. It’s hauntingly beautiful; the kind of song that makes you want to stop what you’re doing and close your eyes. Because that’s the best way to enjoy it.

A Beautiful Mess

I’ve been reading a lot of lifestyle/interior design/home decor/cooking blogs lately, and this is one of my favourites. I’ve also been loving Design Sponge and Decor 8. So much inspiration for my future home (whenever that may be…)! I think I need to start using Pinterest…

Blue Jasmine

blue_jasmine

Cate Blanchett. What more do I need to say?

The Wolf of Wall Street 

TheWolfofWallStreet

Three hours of debauchery. At one point in the film, I was disgusted by what seemed to be an ode to wealth and status, a not so subtle attempt to glorify greed and justify psychopathic behaviour. The film could have benefited from a tighter plot and more drawn out characters, but overall, I did quite enjoy the film. I do generally enjoy Wall Street films though. The acting was superb. (Oh, Leo.) And I didn’t even realise Margot Robbie was from the Neighbours! It was only after I looked at the cast carefully did I remember who she was… though my only recollection of her is in school uniform. 

Baking

I found a good cinnamon teacake recipe so I decided to try it out! The prep wasn’t too difficult, though I did find creaming the butter and sugar a little messy. As it was baking, the kitchen was enveloped with the warm aromas of cinnamon and butter. YUM. The cake was quite delicious indeed. Although I probably should have made it earlier in the day, as eating cake late at night is probably going to be very unforgiving… on my waistline. But that’s why I have a gym membership, right?

Australia

Happy ‘Straya Day!

What are your Sunday loves?

Recent reads: Crazy Rich Asians and Without Reservations

steinbachkwan

One of the best things about being on holiday is probably having ample time to tackle that to-read list. And indulge in some light reading. Joyce, Hemingway and Proust can wait, right?

1. Crazy Rich Asians (Kevin Kwan)

Yesterday I started and finished Kevin Kwan’s popular debut novel Crazy Rich Asians. It provides a satirical glimpse (and my, what a glimpse!) into the lives of three ultra wealthy Chinese families. In this world, haute couture, chauffeured Rolls Royces, private jets (equipped with state-of-the-art yoga studios) and impromptu getaways to private and secluded islands are part of the everyday. However, beneath the opulent displays of wealth and tradition, we see a world of hypocrisy, competition and vanity.

While laden with stereotypes of those within the Chinese diaspora, Crazy Rich Asians breaks many of the western stereotypes of Asian men and women. None of the characters are sidekicks – they are leaders in their own world, and play by their own game.

I thought this was quite an interesting read. Think Downton Abbey meets Baz Luhrmann. I thought of Downton Abbey when I read of the aristocratic lifestyles of the upper echelon of Chinese society; a hierarchal society that is driven and shaped by tradition, romance, ambition and desire. Maintenance of the status quo is of utmost importance, but only possible with treachery, gossip and dishonesty. At the same time, Crazy Rich Asians is vividly flamboyant in style and content. Its dazzling, over-the-top descriptions of the characters’ lifestyles borders on the unrealistic and it has the glitziness and exploding fireworks (both metaphorically and literally) of Luhrmann’s films.

2. Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman (Alice Steinbach)

I finished reading Without Reservations a few days ago. It has been on the to-read list for a couple of months now, ever since I did some research into good travel fiction/memoirs. Travel fiction/memoir is easily one of my favourite genres – if you don’t have the opportunity to travel right now, the next best thing is to travel vicariously through someone’s writing, right?

Without Reservations is a travelogue of Alice, a divorced fifty-something journalist who spends a few months travelling solo around western Europe. Although she is very much an ‘independent’ woman in our understanding of the word – having always made her own choices and financed her own lifestyle, she chooses to embark on a journey to discover her independent identity – one that is not defined by her role, or the people and things around her.  Alice seeks answers in Paris, Oxford, Florence and Venice, and along the way, falls in love, befriends people of all walks of life, says ‘YES’ to new opportunities and experiences, and develops a deeper understanding of herself.

I really enjoyed her writing. Maybe it’s because of her background as a journalist, but I felt that even though she was writing about herself, her experiences, and her reflections, her voice never came across as too strong or too self-absorbed. We get a good dose of her own musings, but also some simply but beautifully written descriptions of her surroundings and the people she encounters. I think I will reread this in a few years!

2014 Resolutions

I’ve been thinking long and hard about whether I should write a post on 2014 resolutions. The cynical me often finds New Year Resolutions to be lacking in any real meaning, and merely a ritual of self-gratification. I mean, we’ve all heard it before. We can make a change in our lives and set new goals any minute, hour, day or month of the year. Also, writing a checklist of vague or otherwise overly ambitious (read: borderline unachievable) goals and actually working towards these goals and accomplishing them are two completely different things. And here, the first thing that springs to mind (my mind, at least) is Bridget Jones’s Diary: ‘Resolution #1: Obviously, lose 20 pounds’. But how exactly do you plan  to lose the 20 pounds (9.07 kilos)?

Before you know it, summer is in two weeks and all you can think of is:

BJD - a little bit fat

But then I thought about it. There’s nothing wrong with the possibility of falling short of achieving your resolutions. It’s really more about the process and the experience of working towards those resolutions that counts. Fearing that sense of shame and disappointment come December isn’t a reason to not make resolutions. Because after all, contrary to what we often lead ourselves to believe, resolutions don’t have to be static. Over the course of the year, while we’re working towards the goals we had in mind, we might come to the realisation that increasing our level of fitness and eating healthily is more important than simply losing 9 kilos. Well, what I’m really trying to say, very inarticulately (oh dear, another Bridget Jones’s Diary reference…), is that New Year Resolutions can simply be taken as a guide as we strive towards whatever we believe will make us happier and more fulfilled individuals. They don’t have to be goals that fit neatly over 365 days, starting from the 1st of January. Instead, resolutions can be a way for us to better understand both our medium to long-term aspirations, and who we are.

So, in no particular order, my New Year ‘Resolutions':

1. Make the most of my last year of university.

2. Add more recipes/methods/techniques to my cooking repertoire.

3. Maintain work/life/uni balance.

4. Incorporate running into exercise routine and train towards a 5k+ (timed) run. Also, continue to exercise regularly and follow a roughly 80/20 rule when it comes to food.

5. Be more open about new experiences, ideas, and people. Say YES more often!

6. Find beauty in the everyday.