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Rundown

It’s a five-minute distance between the trains and where I work, but most of the time the walk feels thrice as long. I am much too easily tired these days. July was hot and winding, August long and ominous. Everything made landfall early September, it feels. Like waves ceding to gravity ashore, everything found their culmination and resumption at the cusp of the month.

Writing has been increasingly difficult. The span between arriving in Sydney and this moment on my bed feels like a bottleneck: plenty of stories wanting out, none making it through.

There is so much to tell. About the plane trip – the plane trip was an exercise in switching off. It took all of eight hours or so to remind myself I was on holiday, not a project. Forget the deadlines, my heart bent against my subconscious. Forget, forget.

I want to tell you how Sydney looked from the windows as the train pulled in. The absence of shiny skyscrapers bled disappointment into my ignorance. I was so quick to write things off, to make false sweeping generalisations about the metro’s Saturday morning streets. The following day, after frolicking at the Botanical Gardens and taking a dozen selfies by the Opera House and ferrying past the Harbour Bridge, I knew I was unraveling. I want to tell you how I warmed up to the city I previously had little interest in visiting, apart from Hillsong.

Sunday looked like a this: a walk from Sydney Central down to the Harbourfront, then back through Chinatown all the way to Redfern. Monday, Conference Day One: striking conversation with two latecomers, and finding friends for the rest of the five-day event. Tuesday, the eve of my 24th birthday: I laid curled up on the upper bunk in an eight-girl dorm, trying not to wake a soul.

Saturday, the day after the conference, the evening after seeing the expanse of the Blue Mountains: a fellow traveler from Bristol and I shared conversation through the lavender-orange-violet haze. We talked as it transitioned to navy, dotted with constellations, as it deepened to black while we sailed on the Parramatta River.

When I landed back home, I said yes to everything, everyone. We took long bus rides and tried new coffee and discussed books being read. We swam in Olympic-sized pools and partied past the last trains, before watching the last buses pull out. We devoured pulled pork barbecue sandwiches and bacon in poached eggs. We attended seminars; laid out blueprints for the near future. We rode bikes till our legs hurt and beyond. We rehearsed dance numbers and practiced harmonies, and traded jazz and sleepy songs like prayers for strangers. We assembled paper directories and gave out hugs.

Last Saturday, I burned the side of my finger working the spout of a coffee machine. The pain was searing, but not nearly as loud as the bliss over making cup after cup of crap coffee (that I was convinced would eventually improve). The next day I visited the place of my old high school. Most things at the MTR station remained in place: the 7-Eleven, Dr. George’s Clinic, the benches. I stopped where the mall ended, then made all the turns and exits to find the cafe I had read about.

I want to tell you I’ve been feeling loved, and valued, and also sometimes shunned and inconsequential. I want to tell you it’s been wonderful feeling blessed, but that even in blessing Jesus reminds us we already have Him, the only One that could truly fill us bottom to brim.

There is so much I want to say.

This morning I walked from Central to Sheung Wan, alighting a stop earlier on the train just so I could while away time in motion. Going home, I walked from Sheung Wan to Central. From IFC I took the longer route underground, from the Tung Chung Line to the Chai Wan Line, instead of crossing the bridge to Central station.

I am tired not because I walked all that length; I walked all that length because I am tired and distance is relieving. When the journey is short my mind travels farther; it takes a lot out of me to stop and forget, forget. When I travel longer, my mind sojourns in tandem with my feet, and I am where I am.

When I am moving, I push against the walls of my lungs. I heave out of its greatest capacity. I want to tell you a story, but first I want to breathe. I am much too easily tired these days, but it could equally be that I am just as forgetful of the moments I am filled with energy. The moments I am not the least bit conscious of the self that is fully engaged, and living.

Of Water

The last time I went for a run was two or so weeks ago. I’ve been out of shape; it took me longer to cover half the distance I used to run at a shorter time. It was evening, and by the end of boardwalk I was exhausted, so I slowed. Kowloon’s evening skyline lit up the distance. Below it, the inky harbour laboured.

I love the water. I love the way the ocean sounds when it folds upon itself, the way streams articulate the beauty of quiet and rivers give sound to might and strength. I love the water for the life it gives, but since it happened I have to remind myself that water, also, takes away.

As the harbour caught highlights and wave crests gave form to the sea, I was reminded of a good friend I haven’t thought of in a while. Could you say one has been robbed of something they have willingly relinquished? Is there a separate heaven for those who fought their demons the best way they knew?

Memory is sometimes kind enough to let us forget. I don’t think we were designed to recover by bearing the full weight of truth. It strengthens us, yes, but it is in its suspension that our muscles relax, and we inch forward, and we move on.

Beautiful, beautiful water. Damning power.

Over half a year had passed since that messy appointment at the salon, and I saw this friend again. We hadn’t been face-to-face in years.

In the dream, we were in corridors that weren’t very bright or very dark. I called the place a labyrinth, and there we talked as we walked, catching up on life. I did a lot of the talking, answering questions I no longer remember, and asking some of my own. We knew where all this talk was going, but of it we said nothing.

Eventually we came to a hallway with a green door at the end. I did the first thing I do when I try hard not to cry: I smiled. I also turned my gaze toward everything else in that empty hallway – the white walls, the white ceiling, the floor. Everything but him.

As we neared the door, he smiled and said ‘I’m okay now.’ I must have started to cry then. ‘Are you sure?’ I asked. ‘I’m okay now,’ he nodded. ‘I’m okay now.’

I woke from that dream knowing I was going to take it for what it was. Could you say something has been taken from a person when he willingly gave it away? There is so much I don’t know, but of the little I do, it is that he is okay.

It’s been a while since I last went for a run. Longer, even, since he had gone. I miss him. We all do.

There is, reportedly, a good cafe near the high school we used to attend. Next to Olympian City 2, apparently. The last time I visited was with two friends we both shared. Now that I think of it, I wish he had come along.

I’ll check it out one of these days, just because it’s getting good reviews. It’d also be nice to do new things in a place where dust has accumulated, if only in the storeroom of my memory.

And while I’m at it, I’ll try not to recall so much.

It’s not that I want to forget. It’s just that much weight has already lifted with forgetting, and my muscles have relaxed, and I have been inching forward. He is okay and the labyrinth is no more. Memories have sunk to river beds like anchors, I am the vessel, the rope has been cut.

& Other Stories

I fear forgetting how to write. A couple of stories hum in the pipeline, waiting like children in a Charles Dickens novel waiting for porridge. This isn’t a priority, the way a poet friend’s foreword is a priority, the way tales about Sydney are a priority, but if I don’t begin again some place I fear I will forget. This here is written in hopes of not forgetting.

*

Tonight rain poured without inhibition, as though the skies were done holding it all together. My flats, a glittered, golden pair reminiscent of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s daughter’s in that scene at a party, turned into boats of pavement water, my toes sloshing in disdain with every step. From Sheung Wan I made it to Central where a good friend of mine and I had dinner, gracing parma ham and cheddar on thin crust with stories of music, hostels, fishing and sinking ships. It feels nice turning around to find a pal on the same boat, rocking with the same questions you are.

Last night was humid, the air wet with terrible Viber connections and the other end of the line due for a hug. It is people, more than places, that fuel all vain hope for teleportation to be a thing of reality. Rooted on my spot by the streetlight, I could only listen to desperation – frustration turning to question turning to justification turning to determination. Just a few days ago I listened to a similar story play out in different colours: wondering turning to clinging turning to admitting turning to relinquishing. In both threads were a vein of hope. Maybe, if only, just maybe.

*

Atop the IFC tower a few weeks ago, peach beer by our ankles, a girl friend and I brewed a plan with one objective: to be able to say that “we tried.” For two months we would do all sorts of crazy things, things that don’t even cross our minds inebriated – nothing shameless, but neither anything that either of us felt were ‘our style’ – to affirm suspicions about the chances of finding love in this city, known also as, in the words of another friend, a Wasteland. Just two months, by which we mean eight weekends: enough for a speed date, a blind date, a setup…

We forgot about it the next day.

*

After work this Monday, a friend divulged contentment in single-seat boarding passes and the basic need of being by one’s self. It would be lovely for a surprise seatmate to fall from the sky, but until then the view from down here remains just as exquisite. Until then, the questions and reveries and all of life’s mysteries make for entertaining company.

*

We shift and shuffle between stories. We feel our way about, attentive to outlines for the next possible tale we’ll tell over chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream, over terrible Viber phone calls and disjointed Skype dates. We are equal parts occupied and expectant, our days brimming yet available, packed yet with room. For one, it is about being there, as good friends do. But it is also, hopefully, in order for good friends to possibly become…

For another it is about leaving without regrets, if it means fighting to the end.

Others take apart the threads. Disassemble what happened and move on from it not empty handed.

And others linger by the shelf, convinced a story is done, but not enough to walk away.

In the words of one of these girls, we believe in Soon. But we also believe in Here, and Now, and in the presence of a warm body or words on a retina display. We believe in Better; we also believe in Good, With Potential.

We hope.

And we wander. Not aimlessly, I would like to believe, although perhaps a little recklessly. A little less cautiously than would do us good. A little farther off the path of certainty.

We shift and shuffle, in and out of stories, content and expectant both.

And maybe not for long, but maybe long enough for us to grow accustomed to it. To be comfortable by one’s self, and comfortable hoping. That would be a sweet, sweet spot, the kind that would welcome disruptions from the sky in no eager manner. In no strained rush.

The kind that would look over at the empty seat next to them, then back at the passenger standing nearby, and say ‘hello.’

Void of expectation. Filled only with welcome, and wonder.

Already Taken

Someone who inspires me to be a better version of myself.

Nay, someone who inspires me not just to be better, but to want to keep growing. To never stop moving forward for as long as my lungs continue to draw breath. Someone with a passion for life and living that cannot be contained, that all who encounter him come away changed in some way. Even if only just a little. Someone who keeps me on my toes. Not to earn his love, but because that’s what incredible love does: it embraces all that you are to the point that you couldn’t help but want to be more. To live more fully. To give more.

A good listener. Someone who knows how to connect. With whom you have room to move, to ponder. An unassuming soul with whom you could freely share in world’s wonders – yes, quite like the way children do. With whom you could question and conclude, and eventually be content with questions alone. Someone who takes a genuine interest in what moves you, and is unafraid of letting you in on what compels his days. What fuels him to do what he does.

A leader. Someone with a vision for his time on earth. Whose dreams border an expanse far beyond his own comprehension, not because he is truly amazing and knows it, but because what – Whom – he lives for has called him to it. Yes, he is well aware of his calling, and will live for nothing less. Someone who knows his Maker, and lives to make Him known.

What crazy adventures we’ll have as a team! I thought, lost in reverie.

And then God said, “Johna, it sounds like you’re describing Me.”

*

It rained the evening of a good friend’s dance recital. I was on the bus, feeling every inch spent from work, listening to Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow’s ‘Collide.’ The windows were a waterfall.

Let’s roll the dice, one more time, take a chance on love again tonight…

Songs do the craziest things to my imagination, but that is probably why I indulge them. I wondered, then, what’d it be like to encounter love again. I don’t believe it will be effortless, but neither do I believe that we need to put up a front for something true and real. On such few occasions do ‘be yourself’ apply so literally; meeting somebody new and being their friend is one of them.

This is how I picture it: we will shed all pretensions of being impressive and having it all together, and just be. We will be strangers and not pretend otherwise. We will ask questions and go through particulars, because how else do you get to know a person? Hopefully, it will feel like the most natural thing in the world. Void of consciousness. Entirely forgetful of the fact that neither of us are doing this for the first time, but that it’s the first time in a long time that introducing ourselves does not feel like a chore.

And we’ll sit there, at first unaware of how easy it feels to be with this person, and then later marvelling over the fact of it all.

With him, I could just be, and likewise him with me.

Then, getting up from my seat, pressing the bell to alight at my stop, an interruption cut the closing chorus of Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock:

“Like the way I enjoy being with you, Johna?”

*

I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to an Easter Sunday service with this much excitement. April had been a dark month for me, and there was nothing like celebrating Christ’s resurrection to lift me out of my selfish mood swings. (Still a selfish motivation, I realise…)

I was in high spirits that morning, donning a printed black-and-white skirt with my favourite patent kitten heels. ‘Oh, happy day, happy day,’ I hummed to Tim Hughes, ‘You wash my sin away…’

And then, in what I consider to be playful banter with my Father, I thought: “What if I meet him today, Lord!” Plays to be prepared.

The funny thing is, I did.

At worship that morning, they performed a new song to celebrate the occasion. Because we hadn’t heard it before, we couldn’t sing along, but soon it didn’t matter. The words just did their thing and stirred:

“Calvary
Covers it all
My sin and shame
Don’t count anymore

All praise to the One
who has ransomed my soul

Calvary covers it all.”

In that moment, romanced by my Saviour, I had no doubt about it. My soul was to die for…not out of anything I have done, but because of all that He is.

Crazy, I know. What truth!

The truth that I was, and have always been, already taken.

*

A good friend of mine, the beautifully talented Kaye Matriano has penned a song whose title inspires that of this post. It’s called ‘Truth Is, You’re Already Taken’ – give it a listen over here. :)

Look

I tried to write about God once and found it incredibly difficult. I don’t believe it had anything to do with my faith being personal; nowhere else do I mine writing material as deeply as I do with the personal. For a while I feared offending some people, but then, even Jesus came to wield the sword. So I tried, but it all felt a little contrived. God wasn’t someone I could write about.

Looking back at those times, I realise I couldn’t write about God because I did not know him all that much. What is known is always personal; what is merely subscribed to is generally superficial, intellectual. Unlike everything else I try to put pen to paper for, I was writing about God from my head, instead of my heart. I could not write about him from my gut.

They say that when you go through difficulty, God is probably trying to get your attention. This makes sense; I don’t think one needs to be a Christian to start seeking divine help and solutions beyond the physical world when things start to go wrong. But what happens when you turn your attention toward God and still the throbbing doesn’t stop? When the loneliness refuses to ebb, and your pain finds no relief?

Last month, I had a strange bout of moodiness that stretched far longer than normal. For weeks, I felt only dispirited, my body a strange weight I had to carry, and my mind, a source of agitation I did not want to face. I’ve dealt with debilitating loneliness plenty of times, loneliness so strong it feels like a glaring white room in your head, but this was different. This was a musty, grey basement, from which I could only see the door open a creak on occasion before swinging back shut. It was excruciating, the kind you couldn’t even numb because it was of your head, not your body.

What I couldn’t understand most, though, was why I was going through it. Nothing bad had happened, and for this I was – am – grateful. There was no cause for worry that was new. Still, the moments crept by. It was the littlest actions that were the most difficult to do. Simply bearing the passage of time felt like a burden, like every moment of the second hand on the clock bore pain and relief.

To say that God held my hand throughout that difficult season would be to lie. If he did, I did not feel it. If he did and I felt it, I would not have been depressed for that length of time.

One thing did get me through, though, and it was music. Just songs. I clung to those songs and their words like an addict did a drug. I know this only because, midway into the phase, I grew increasingly anxious about my reliance on plugging in my earphones to get my fill and hold it together. It sounds dramatic and ridiculous, and I wish I could say that God, not music, were then my lifeline. But it was. I would have lost it otherwise.

The songs that brought calm were ‘Stay & Wait’ by Hillsong United, as well as ‘Christ Is Enough.’ Every day, on loop, for most of April. They were not God, but they reminded me of God. They were not Jesus, but they reminded me of his promises. I did not see how things without a clear cause would solve itself, but for that long, difficult stretch, the songs were enough.

What happens when struggle is prolonged without clear cause or reason, and all you have to turn to are songs that remind you of the God you wish would rescue you?

I think, it teaches you where to look.

Like desperation narrows your vision down to that which would bring relief, so did the pain seem to bring into clearer focus whom you really need. It lets you learn to let go of the need to be rescued and directs you straight into the heart of the rescuer.

I don’t know how it happened, but come the close of April, the muslin cloth on my moods gradually lifted.

I think, life works in ways that bring us to look at our maker. I remember a random morning in the past year where I woke up without the help of an alarm clock, and in my head was an idea articulated with rare clarity: that our knowledge of God is uniquely shaped by the wounds and holes in our life.

Just as joy and contentment and abundance all plant in us a deep sense of gratitude and reverence for God, so does suffering and sorrow, pain and lack give us a different appreciation of him. In everything, God leaves a print of his hand working in our lives, in the moments that feel small and painfully inconsequential. He is there, stretching and pressing on our character, working on us and with us as we slog through the mud.

I used to think that surely, there is more than just knowing Christ. That simply knowing Jesus is not the end-all, be all of life.

I couldn’t be any more wrong.

What else is there than knowing Christ? What else is there apart from meeting your Maker, beholding his love, knowing him with an intimacy that is uncomfortably and desperately and liberatingly excessive and deep?

I think, deep down, what we want as human beings is simple. We want safety and security. We want to be known and seen, to be loved without fail.

We want what we were made for: heaven. To be in the presence of the One who created us. We were made to dance with glorious gallops of the heart, in the presence of a father who ultimately delights in us and loves us enough to allow some things to happen, to work his way in us and be with us through it all.

And by getting us to look at him – to know him – God gives us these very things, and more.

Knowing this does not bring me happiness, per se. It does not promise me perfection, fully assure me of safety and guarantee security.

But it tells me something about how we are meant to live in this world.

I will not always believe this or remember it. Stretches of indescribable, unbearable sadness will come, and so will other things that befall a life.

But I will know where to look.

Worst case, he’ll probably direct my gaze with the help of a song or two. He knows this is how I cope.

Hopefully, I’ll know how to write about him afterward.

Bloom

Do you know that feeling you get, watching the world move on its own?

The one like meditating by a river, breathing to the water’s flow. Where the moments inch away like scales that undulate on the surface. There is no urgency in the current, just movement resulting from certainty in its nature: time moving like a river because that is what time does. Do you know that feeling you get when you discover a thing or two on how to be – how to live in this world wholly you?

Do you know that feeling you get when things begin settle into an indefinite calm?

Where it’s as though the cocoon you’ve been wrestling so fervently against has finally begun to budge. The fight turns to quiet, and then the sonorous choir of cicadas fills the space. And before you know it you are drunken with dew, enamoured by the gradual seeping of watercolour into the dark, far ahead. There is more, you begin to see. There is elsewhere, and now you can let go. Resist less. Become.

Do you know that feeling you get, looking at the world and realising there is nothing you can take away from it?

at this lifetime and knowing there is nothing you can carry with you at the end?

then back at your hands, and realise that neither is there anything the world can take away from you?

The feeling that you are a whole being, full with the seasons, full when fruits ripen and when branches string thin. Full through loss and heartbreak and lack and pain, full as you run your hands over the holes, the vacancies, the parts of you that long to be filled; recognising that they are as much a part of you as the ones that hold you up?

Do you know the feeling you get when you concede to a wholeness that is yearning, and learning, to flesh itself out?

I don’t. These feelings, they’re new to me, and I welcome them like strangers I look forward to calling family.

IMG_7813

Shots

It’s important to clarify what’s in a drink no matter how good it sounds on the menu. When my best friend, A. and I came across mano’s barista special, we went ahead and got it. I suppose you couldn’t get any more one-of-a-kind than to be named after the place serving it, in this case a cozy little restaurant called Mano, on the ground floor of The L. Place, in Central.

What I pictured was a typically-sized cup of joe with a surprising ingredient or two. What we were served was a 30mL shot of expresso (I’m not very good with measurements, so this is a guesstimate).

I admit, I was a little disappointed. I was looking forward to my Saturday afternoon fill of coffee; an espresso shot was only barely going to cover that fill.

I consoled myself with the reminder that it was, at least, the restaurant’s exclusive. It could only be good, was my wishful thought.

The shot came with cream, cinnamon and lemon, and sugar on the rim. Interesting.

At first sip, it was alright. Very sour, very strong, but of course, it was an espresso shot after all. I was grateful for the cream on top, thick and rich, although it was only comfort to the lips as the coffee managed to filter through separately, bitterly. The sugar also barely helped.

Thankfully, albeit the tiny amount of coffee served, mano’s barista special allowed for some two, three sips – unless you dunked it all in one go, which I’m glad we didn’t. Not after we decided to stir the entire concoction, which apparently was what we should’ve done at the beginning. (Of course, Johna: that’s what the spoon was for!)

Then on, it was magic. Mano’s barista special turned out to be a rather decadent cup of coffee, strong and bitter but also thickly creamy. The tones of cinnamon were an aromatic kick, and the sugar perfectly complemented the sour keys from the lemon. For a cup of so few ounces, it offered quite the orchestra of flavours.

Having tried it, I can no longer say I regret the order. Mano’s barista special was an experience in itself, and for that I’m grateful. I used to wish The Cupping Room served their cappuccino in larger cups, but recently I’ve noticed that their current serving size is perfect – you’re filled at the end, and satisfied that every sip was as good as the last. I’m starting to be convinced that some things are indeed better contained and, in some ways, limited to only so much: you savour and enjoy them more that way.

That’s what mano’s barista special was like: a brief symphony of flavours in a single shot of espresso. Pay attention when you drink, or you’ll miss the music.

I have to say, though, that in all of my little coffee adventures – which have yet to expand beyond the city – this has got to be the most I’ve ever shelled out on a cup. Mano’s barista special is HKD60.00 plus service charge – pricier even than Cafe Loisl’s Viennese iced coffee! (Which also comes in a cup far taller…)

But because it was as good as it was, I’m not going to complain. As I said, we should’ve clarified what we were getting before we went ahead and got it. All things considered, it was a good and pleasant surprise – especially given that, when it comes to coffee, A. and I will take a good, pleasantly surprising cup over an unremarkable – or worse, a disappointing one – any day.

Waterfall

This morning, I put on my running shoes to try my luck against the rain. We’ve been wading in spring showers the past two weeks. The season’s been a drawn out night before the summer dawns, and I’m getting restless. The first evening it poured was a reprieve, a reason to stay in and rest. The second was a welcome excuse, but by Day Three my muscles felt like they were beginning to atrophy. I wanted to get out and exert myself and heave lungfuls of air for long stretches, but it continued to rain and so I didn’t – couldn’t.

The skies were dim when I stepped out, and that made me glad enough. ‘First day of light in a long while!’ I might later caption on Instagram. The air smelled of watered soil and cement, a scent that almost always brings me back to primary school, where semesters often opened with a little rain.

A light shower began to fall. I walked toward the park, cocking my head left and right and pulling my arms back for a stretch. I could still run in this. Hopefully it doesn’t rain too hard. If it does, well, I haven’t played in the rain for a while.

There was that one day in the spring of ’97. Waiting in the park to enter the campus, a bunch of us huddled in covered grounds as a light drizzle turned into deluge. We watched in dry button-downs and navy skirts as pellets of rain recoiled against the concrete, and soon a hundred thousand collisions were turning the park into a valley of fountain mounts.

Some rowdy schoolboys ran out, and then back, shaking their dampened selves among other irritated children. These boys were cool and they knew it, the pack you’d label troublemaker, and they embraced it. When we thought they were done showing off, they did what they did again – and this time, did not return. We watched with a little shock, and a little curiosity.

What was it that compelled us to follow them? I do not remember how many we were, but I wasn’t alone; it was something I’d have never done myself, a good student.

Perhaps it was the draw of trouble. Perhaps we had arrived in the park too early, and I was getting restless waiting. And the covered grounds were getting crowded. And kids continued to shuffle in with their wheeled schoolbags.

Perhaps it was knowing I had never done it before, that if I would later be reprimanded, who could blame me? It was pouring hard, even an umbrella couldn’t save you. Raincoats and gumboots were failing desperately.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

And so we struck out.

It was silly and wonderful and frightening and fun. I’d never felt so terrible and brave. Water soaked into my uniform and undershirt. My ponytail clung to my face at once and leaped into the air the next. There were puddles in the ground that we couldn’t see until they splashed, and soon we could no longer tell the difference between water from the sky and water from the ground. Soon I could no longer see more than the figures of my companions, could hear no more than the sound of a waterfall, and laughter, the sum of wonder ringing as hard as the rain.

My teacher frowned as I sat at my desk an hour later. All I could do in response was look every bit as apologetic as I didn’t feel.

I watch that afternoon from a seat in the covered grounds. From the safety hut of dry shirts and crisp skirts, I see a typically prim and proper six-year-old let loose and take delight in the rain. I recall this and share in her little girl joy.

These days I have been thinking a lot about being a child. In no other season of our lives do we know how to take the world for what it is, and do so willingly. I still believe that we never stop being children, even as adults, but I do know we stop being good at it at some point.

The past months or so have been trying. At 23, I find that one of the most difficult things to admit to myself is disappointment. When things don’t work out, I rally enough explanations to defend the failure. When plans don’t fall through, I gather a dozen or so reasons to justify resulting alternatives. I try so hard to be okay with things that aren’t okay, and because of this I have gotten quite good at sharing a table with dead ends and lost causes, ever hopeful that things will turn around.

And while this, I believe, is true – things do turn around – I realise that it is only as soon as I take things for what they are. Not what they still, possibly could be.

The past month or so have been shaking me loose. Prying my fingers off of what I think my life should be like, and making room for how it truly is. At 23, one of the most difficult things you can do is step out of the path you have been paving, and have faith in yourself enough to carve out a new one. A totem thought I have been carrying around with me like hope is the truth that what was, isn’t all that. What is, isn’t all there is. And there is so much more to what’s yet to be.

It’s been difficult and humbling, but I cannot deny that it has also been liberating. I am often told that I am still young, that I have time to discover my place in the world and should be in no hurry. But perhaps our place is not fixed. Perhaps for as long as we are here, meeting our purpose means finding new ones along the way, and we ought to be open to things not working out – so that other things may.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Before I could even cross the street to the park, the rain had begun to fall in sheets. I could still run in this, I thought. I could work out a sweat till I could no longer tell the difference between water from my pores and water from the skies.

But I could just as likely slip, and fall, and be kept from running for a longer stretch of time.

Not this time.

This gray morning, I made my way home a little disappointed.

And it was alright.

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Sweet Laos

My mom and I have been on a Southeast Asian coffee spree lately.

After two lunch dates over Vietnamese pho rounded with drip coffee, we found ourselves enjoying a light dinner at Bolaven Specialty Cafe, located on the ground floor of AEON Kornhill.

The coffee chain is Malaysian, originating from Langkawi, although the beans they source are planted and harvested in southern Laos, from the Bolaven Plateau.

I had a cup of hot Laos coffee, while mama had hers cold.

These, explained the friendly barista, are made from naturally sweet Laos coffee beans. The only other ingredient in the cup is milk, and from my understanding, it isn’t even condensed milk, the way the Vietnamese does it.

I rather liked it. More than Vietnamese coffee, I’d say. The coffee is strong, yet tempered by the milk, with its citrus base lending the sweetness.

Interestingly, the cold version of the drink doesn’t come with ice. It’s so that the flavour doesn’t get diluted, explained the barista. Served in the same-sized glass, the ‘iced’ coffee is mixed with milk in a fridge-cooled shaker.

True enough, it tastes just as good as the hot version.

By the way, that’s ground coffee you see on the rim. This is how I’m sure that, indeed, the sweetness comes from the beans themselves.

Vietnamese Drip

On Labour Day, my mom and I dined at La Taste along Stanley Street, Central after a three-hour hike to Tai Tam Reservoir. A coffee lover herself, mama said they served a mean cup of Vietnamese drip coffee. I realised I’d never had Vietnamese coffee before.

Vietnamese coffee, as I would find, has a different type of fullness to be enjoyed.

With caramel-infused cappuccino, for example, you get different layers of tastes and textures in a more or less ordered sequence: first the lightness of foam, then the milky coffee body, and finally the sweet, caramel finish.

With Vietnamese drip, you get a full-bodied collision of strong flavours all at once: the bold sweetness of condensed milk against the bitter-sour, watery coffee.

I loved it. The drip contraption aside, it doesn’t seem like the kind of coffee you run with on the streets, en route to work or an appointment. Vietnamese drip coffee is the type you sit down to, and wait for, and whose flavours demand a bit more attention to savour.

I liked it enough that the thought came to me in passing: is this the next type of coffee I’ll be on the lookout for?

Twenty-thirteen was a year of mocha for me, and in 2012, my best friend A. and I successfully rounded up our favourite cappuccinos.

Funnily, the following public holiday, mama and I went for Vietnamese again. This time it was Nha Trang, near One Island East. Of course, we had their Vietnamese drip.

And less than a week since my first taste of this Vietnamese affair, I find myself with a reigning favourite.

Looks like my search has started sooner than I thought.