When I didn’t do well in my O levels, my form teacher gave me a look of disdain while passing me my result slip. I was told I was doomed because of my 20-over aggregate.
When I decided to drop out of my polytechnic studies in order to pursue design, I was told I wouldn’t have a future.
When I decided to go independent as a designer, I was told I would fail. My odds were doubled when I told people that I wasn’t going to allow phone calls if they wanted my design services.
In between and all around these events, my entire life has been filled up with people trying to step on me and my dreams.
I have a perception of myself, that I am weak. I cry at the slightest trigger, I really don’t like confrontations even if I was being bullied, I hate to ask for help, I am a perpetual worrier about everything and of course, it didn’t help me that I was constantly told that I would fail.
I frequently hide at home and I ask myself, “why am I so weak?”
Last week, there were two small but defining incidents in Vietnam.
1. I passed by a street stall selling Banh Mi and I sympathized with her because it was cold and she looked tired. I went over to buy a sandwich and a coffee she persuaded me to drink, but when I was paying the bill, she charged 120,000 dong for them. Typically the cost for a sandwich or a coffee is about 20,000 dong each, even in restaurants, so I was overcharged by 300%.
I went back to my hotel room and I cried my heart out. No, not because of the money, of course, but it was an accumulated, overwhelming sense of injustice. I’ve always tried to be kind, gracious and empathetic, but people seem to like taking advantage of that.
2. I had dinner at one of the restaurants at Hoi An, and I gave this young waitress a considerable tip. Her eyes lighted up and that made me happy. While getting out of the restaurant I was thinking to myself, how nice it would be if I could have enough money to be giving some to everyone that needs some light in their eyes. And in the next split second, I stepped on a small slippery slope and fell right on my face.
I honestly wondered what did the Universe have against me. Is it wrong to think of giving people money just to see some light in their tired eyes?
I could have said, to hell with being kind and I think most people would have understood. For it is not only these small events but an entire chain of events in my life that makes me wonder repeatedly why do I even bother.
But ironically, these two small events made me rediscover faith in myself, and to a certain extent, humanity.
Because even after I have this fat bruise on my face, right hip and hand, even after I felt stupid after the expensive street sandwich, I continued to smile and be nice to everybody who interacted with me or would give some some eye contact.
I am grateful, because of the way I fell, I know very well I could have half of my face ripped off, I could have had a broken right wrist and maybe a broken hip as well.
I somehow felt that the street-stall owner probably needed the money more than me, and it is her burden to live with, not mine.
I realised that, in spite of all the discouraging events that happened in my life, I have never stopped believing in my ideals.
When the going gets tough, I mope, I cry, I feel depressed, I hide, but never once have I come out of it thinking, to hell with my ideals.
I have had people telling me I was ridiculous, delusional, naive, stupid, but never once have I wanted to be who I am not.
I *could* technically accept status quo in everything, including perceived reality, make smart work-arounds, learn to harden my heart and be detached. I could continue as a travelling designer, earning the rates a good designer would command, live in luxury resorts, save up some money and live happily ever after. The world’s problems are not mine.
Why on earth should I bother with trying to make my dreams and goals come true? Why should I continue believing in a humanity that can be better?
Why would people like Aung San Suu Kyi or many others before her, chase a seemingly lost cause? Why didn’t these people take the easy way out?
Why don’t I take the easy way out?
I didn’t, I don’t and I can’t because I truly cannot understand what is the meaning of life if I allowed myself to cruise through it. Is life making our own existence feel comfortable and that’s it? Like just to survive, try not to allow ourselves to slide into any poverty or pain and that’s it?
The logic behind that line of thinking doesn’t make any sense to me. And if I cannot make myself believe that simply surviving makes life precious, then I can only feel very sorry for myself and my parents – that having to endure all the pain, suffering and tears is the only way I could live my life.
I feel really sorry for my parents most of all, because I wish they could have a daughter who would just be happy with a comfortable job and let them enjoy their old age comfortably. Instead of making them worry for me when I suddenly go off travelling to find myself, or when I have to endure tough times and end up being sick and poor, or when I genuinely think I can make a difference to the world (which means most of the time getting perceived as delusional).
All those times when people tell me what I am aiming for is impossible, I could have listened to mass, experienced advice and accepted it.
But because I have my own version and complicated calculation of probability – I have become the person I am and have built the career I had.
If I listened to these people, I would have chosen to lead an in-authentic life, been really unhappy and bitter and just add to the existing statistic of bitter people in this world.
I can be discouraged, disappointed and depressed, but I am never bitter.
There come the very late realisation, that despite me still being a crybaby and still afraid of any sort of confrontations, still having to hide under my sheets when things get tough but I have one strength that has passed the test of time and faith.
I refuse to sell out and I refuse to stop being kind. I have this suspicion I never would. Because a life like that, isn’t worth living.