Last month, I celebrated a milestone birthday. I am the opposite of those people who would want to throw a massive party on their birthday, but I also am not one of those who pretends that I don’t care about my birthday at all. I like to do something to mark the day – if it’s a weekday, just a nice dinner with the family and cutting a cake is enough. I usually use the day to reflect on the year and how I’ve grown.
For special birthdays, I’d like to do a little more. Perhaps, if we hadn’t been in the middle of a pandemic, I might have considering inviting a few close friends home, but V and the kids have been pretty isolated and I didn’t want to risk their health.
One of the things I’ve realised I love to do on my birthday is go to the beach. This year, though, the Hong Kong government had shut public beaches, and so we stopped going. For my birthday, though, I decided I would break the law.
To do this, I decided on the more modest Silvermine Beach Resort on Lantau Island. Although the Gold Coast Hotel in Tuen Mun would have been a more luxurious choice, it is attached to just one beach, and I wanted to hedge my bets. Lantau has a lot of beaches, some more secluded than others, and is home to my favourite beach in Hong Kong.
I’ve heard mixed things about Silvermine Beach Resort, but it’s well located, right on a beach, a short walk from the ferry and the town centre. It turned out to be decent, the rooms were clean, even if outer area was a bit dated. There was an issue with our flush that never quite got resolved, but other than that we were very comfortable. The biggest surprise was that there was no lift; although there were only two floors, it was a bit of a trek with luggage. The nicest surprise was that we could fill up water at the end of the corridor instead of asking for plastic water bottles.
The “birthday package” came with breakfast, dinner and cake. The cake turned out to be a disappointment, dinner was pretty good (although the staff was clearly rushed off their feet) and the breakfast, although not the usual scrumptious spread, was surprisingly satisfying.
We managed to get a lot done over two and a half days. The first evening, our old helper joined us and we had tea overlooking the beach while the kids played at the water’s edge. It turned out that beach closure meant no life guards and the shark net area was closed off, but there were a few people there anyway.
I had a call with my college mates. We had had a big trip to Cebu planned this year, which has been indefinitely postponed due to Covid-19. Instead, we have ended up with a new tradition of a collective birthday call, which means we see each other more than we ever did in the past.
The next day, we headed to Tai O, where I was determined to give the kids a chance to see the famed pink dolphins which had reportedly resurfaced due to the less marine traffic during Covid-9. Alas, we were thwarted again, and I’ve had to admit that we’re probably going to have to resign ourselves to the fact that the kids will never see them (V and I have great memories of seeing a mum and baby pair ages ago). Anyway, it was a nice boat ride.
We wandered around the village, bought souvenirs and ate a seafood lunch before heading back.
Now normally, this would be considered a morning well spent, and we’d spend the afternoon napping in our rooms. But, nope, I had one more item on the agenda to tick off.
I had to chill on my favourite beach, even though (according to V) we had a perfectly good beach in front of the hotel. But there are beaches, and there are beaches.
So we stopped off en route at Lower Cheung Sha beach, which had more paddle boarders than I expected. Although we got there around 2 pm, it was a beautiful cloudy day and we spent a good couple of hours bobbing around in the water and making a sandcastle. The only sour note was that in our attempt to stay away from the crowds, we landed up in a rocky patch and I gashed my knee quite badly.
We got back in time to shower and have a bit of a rest before heading to our favourite Mui Wo restaurant The Kitchen, for some of the best pizza I’ve tasted in Hong Kong. Bonus: there was a friendly labrador at the table next to ours.
The next morning was spent at the beach, with little schools of fish swimming around us. A big McDonald’s lunch for the kids and a tasty shawarma for us, before we headed back on the ferry.
I feel really privileged to have been able to have pretty much the birthday I would have wanted. I had started off the weekend having dinner and drinks with my two closest friends here, so that was nice too.
Overall, it was the break all of us needed; we’re so lucky to have many islands to “travel” to.
This birthday was probably my worst birthday in memory.
My illness in September never quite went away. For over a month, I’ve had a stomach upset that’s just … there. I’ve been existing on the blandest, most basic food possible. Thankfully, Hong Kong knows how to do this food well.
Initially, I enjoyed the weight loss that came with this, but now I’m fed up. The idea of never eating anything spicy, or just so little food, for the the forseeable future, kills me. Not to mention the timing – I am scheduled for a trip to India, which means not only would I have to stay away from all the food that would otherwise have been the highlight of the trip, but I would be in mortal fear of coming down with diarrhea in India, as I am prone to at the best of times.
The most depressing thing was being told a day before my birthday that my test results came back negative for infections. You’d think that would be a good thing, but I was hoping something would be detected so it would be easy to prescribe something targeted to knock it off.
Now, it’s pretty much a guessing game of dealing with symptoms. I actually teared up at the doctors. Fortunately, he’s sympathetic and tried to give me something to help the symptoms.
I’m not a fan of a big shebang on my birthday but I was scared to even eat my own birthday cake. I allowed myself a can of coke because that actually calms my stomach, though it’s not something I want to live on because that would undo all the weight loss that is the only silver lining to this whole saga. Okay, and my facialist said my skin is much better. Obviously, on a diet a congee. Meh.
Oh, and I’m now an expert at dealing with shit. I mean literally. I have done a stool test once in my life as a child and have avoided one ever since. Just the logistics of collecting poo – a substance I should have made my peace with considering how much of my life is spent dealing with it – kill me. But just when you think you can only sink so low, you realise, there’s a bottom under the bottom and this one involves scooping excreta of the solid kind.
Because of course when you need to collect poo, your body goes into panic mode and it refuses to come. As if you hadn’t spent every second hour on the potty these past few weeks.
We had booked a body check – at which I discovered I have slightly low blood pressure (and I am now convinced it’s a PMS thing) – and I had been firmly said I was not going to do a stool test. But then I decided to do it, considering that is my main problem. Then my gastroentrologist asked me to do another one.
Meanwhile, Mimi has fallen ill with similar symptoms – three times in the past month – and we had to do a stool test for her to.
So I’ve basically been carrying shit in little bottles here and there. This is my life now.
So, yeah, I had not agenda on my birthday except to not spend it primarily on the pot, and for that I have the gastro to thank.
So what do I want for the coming year? For my gut to get it’s act together.
Long ago, when a grey cloud seemed to be taking over Broom’s life, I commented on her blog that she needs a patronus. And she said her patronus would be an island, I forget where. But I remember thinking, a patronus should be animal, not a place.
But now I know a patronus can be a place. It can be a stretch of beach not that far from home, nothing fancy, the water temperature just right, the waves not too choppy, the sound of the wind and the squeals of your children, with a buffalo strolling by for good measure to show you how it’s done. It’s a place that can literally wash your worries away.
My patronus is Lower Cheung Sha Beach, Lantau.
This has been the year – dare I say it – when things settled down.
The job is no longer in the honeymoon period. People get on my nerves, my boss gets on my nerves sometimes. But I like the job. I enjoy it. The people I can deal with, even if they make me roll my eyes. They’re not the worst.
The wisdom these days is that you need to learn to cope with situations. True, you can’t run at the first boo. But sometimes, you need to get out. Cut your losses and run.
That’s what I did with the teaching gigs. My principle with work is that I don’t get out before I have something else lined up. Which can take time and is stressful, but I need an escape route not a new situation to fester in.
And yes, I was lucky. But also, I kept at it. Sometimes applying to jobs was so painful, I eased off, and sometimes V edged me back in and I hated him for it, but it had to be done.
But I do feel like I have the job that is the best fit for me. And I thank my stars for that second chance every day. Okay, every other day.
The job helped me calm the eff down and the extra money helped V calm the eff down and that helped our overall situation. Ironically, I work longer hours, I work public holidays, I have less time with my kids and it’s not ideal. But the time I have, I’m not in a mindfuck and that matters.
One of the girls I met on the first academic conference I ever went to wrote a post about how regardless of whether she ends up working at a make-up counter after her PhD, she did a PhD because she wants to be a philosopher, and that’s what she will be regardless of her actual job. That’s the way I’m coming to feel too. I know people in academia won’t see it like that – that you can’t be a thinker unless you’re surrounded by people who are paid to think. And I get it, academia is different, I don’t deny it. Different good and different bad. Too much for me, I guess.
I have been told that 40 is the best age. My colleague told me that 40 is the year you stop giving a fuck. The fucks I give have been slowing to a trickle – literally, ha! – but I still get riled up by people and situations. There’s definitely an element of ‘this is me, take it or leave it’, not quite the full on aunty quality of saying the first thing that comes out of your mouth not shits given, which I don’t necessarily want to be, but there’s only so far I’m going to change. I can also spot people’s defensive BS a mile off and it just makes me shake my head that people older that me still have stupid hang-ups, still trying to be too cool for school by being a bitch.
I’m not quite 40, so I have some way to go, but I’ve stopped caring. I have more grey hair and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to dye it, though I still occasionally want to get some cray hair colour, so I’ve not grown up enitrely.
I think I’m better at staying alone. I look forward to being alone. Because I’m not.
I recently celebrated a milestonish birthday. Let’s just say it didn’t end with the big 0, but halfway there. My group of girlfriends were meant to mark this momentousish occasion in Bali, but alas a volcano foiled our plans. So we were left to our individual celebrations.
It turned out my sister-in-law and nieces were to be here during my birthday. So I had a readymade plan. My birthday weekend commenced in Disneyland, which I am only a little ashamed to say I love. Considering we were going back after a couple of months, we really should have bought an annual pass (as V could not stop grumbling). However, I could not deprive the kids of the chance of seeing Disneyland with their cousins. It turned out to be the best possible weather, a little overcast with a hint of cool and no rain, and strangely, a lack of crowds and queues. So even though the nieces covered very little on the half day they were there before us, we covered a lot together on Day 2, thanks in no small part to what the sister in law referred to as my Disbey dictator tendencies whereby I marched everyone around in a predetermined order. As usual, from Tw moment I met the nieces, I became the Pied Piper with three children hanging off me at any point.
Also, thanks to many not-so-subtle hints, V got me the coveted mouse ears as a birthday gift. Alas, there is no being an adult and laying claim to the ears when there are kids around. My precious ears were appropriated almost immediately by Mimi who decided they were hers and what’s more, it was her birthday (the whole thing about having her birthday last is not going down well with the Meems). Then, oldest cousin Lala had her turn, and I only got to wear them before bed at night. Harumph.
However, I highly recommend them. At one point, V was arguing with me and he just gave up and said: “I can’t take you seriously in those ears.” Honestly, the Israel-Palestine conflict could be resolved if Netanyahu and Abbas donned a pair. Anyhoo, I digress.
The night before my birthday, I went out dancing with the sister-in-law, the bestie in Hong Kong, her sister-in-law and another girl who was scandalized by our behaviour. I have not been dancing and/or to Lang Kwai Fong in ages, but I got into the spirit of things quite quickly. One lychee martini helped speed up the process, which then had to be slowed down by an enormous bottle of mineral water and fries. Let us just say that we got home at 3.30 am.
Even more astonishingly, we actually woke up and went to the beach at 9.30 am, the day of my birthday. There was a typhoon in the Philippines and the waves were crazy rough but we had a lovely time nevertheless. Nothing like four munchkins collecting ‘special sand’ to rub over your legs to make you feel special.
V went out of his way to get me my desired very chocolate cake from Agnes B, which has been polished off at leisure all week. The candles however were blown out by Mimi and Nene.
The day ended with a huge pizza dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. We got a table overlooking an ice rink with extra space for the kids to move around though Nene still pissed off a neighbouring guest by bumping into her chair and thereby stressed me out. And then Nene slammed his finger in the toilet cubicle door. Oh well.
I have to say it was a lovely birthday. It has been one hell of a year emotionally. On the one hand, the PhD was going swimmingly, until most recently when I had a dreadful fall down to earth. On the other, the marriage was going not so swimmingly, but in the last month we seem to have simmered down and dare I say, made our peace? I feel like I’m finally getting off a rollercoaster and not a moment too soon.
The other day Benji was lying on top of me and V said: “He’s almost as big as you.” This is not exactly true, but yeah, he’s a tall kid and he’s gaining on me and last week he turned four.
(I still cradle him in my arms sometimes and we pretend he’s a baby. Not that often, but more than Mimi would ever let me.)
We had decided that we wouldn’t do a big deal for his birthday, but as the date drew nearer, a plan started taking shape in my mind. We had planned to take Benji and Mimi to a nearby indoor playground (the kind with a jungle gym of slides and those balls to crash into) as a treat, so I decided to invite the two kids Benji has been having playdates with. The playroom is the mall near their school and there’s a pizza hut there, so we could have lunch together. I asked the mums and they were game for it.
It was the simplest and most effective celebration. I didn’t really do a thing, not even make a booking, which resulted in mild panic on the day itself. But it was fine. While heading to pick up Benji from school, I went up to the playroom and bought entry tickets for all of us (small heart attack when I saw the playroom was super crowded – I think a kindergarten had booked it for the morning) and reserved a table at Pizza Hut. This made me a tad late in picking up the kids, but that turned out to be a good thing because I was stressing about this one kid that we hadn’t invited, and by the time our kids got their shoes on, most of the others had left.
Pizza Hut lunch was a good choice as it’s easy to get something to suit everyone. The kids were fairly orderly till the end, and anyway the restaurant wasn’t super crowded.
The kids had a ball in the play area afterwards, though the mums were flagging. Mimi overextended herself had had a meltdown, which was the only false note. I had picked up some books at a sale, which I used as giveaways along with stickers.
Benji’s school allows us to send a cake to be shared with the class, and I had planned to do that, although it was proving hard to locate a nut-free one. In the interim, Benji started saying he didn’t want me to send a cake to school. I was concerned that this was an exhibition of not being willing to share, and while there might have been an element of that, underneath it all I detected a reluctance to be the centre of attention.
After trying to convince him and getting scolded by V, I finally explained the situation to the school. Benji’s teacher later told me that Benji didn’t want to talk about his birthday much but they did sing for him. I witnessed a mum wishing him and him going: “Why is everyone wishing me?” with a sheepish look.
I see myself in him. It was only when I was twenty-something that I looked back on my childhood birthday parties, the ones my mum took so much trouble over, and realised I had not enjoyed them all that much. I was stressed out, and the only lucky thing is that my sister and I shared a party. I think I enjoyed the later celebrations which were something casual like a movie or a sleepover with a smaller group much better. In my twenties, my boyfriend would harangue me into having a combined big do for our birthdays and the final straw came on my 20th, a party that was according to me in my self-consciousness and stress, a disaster. Now looking back, I don’t think why I felt my life was unraveling because people refused to dance, but that’s the thing about me, I’m hypersensitive on my birthday and an anxious host and these two things are not a good combination.
But this is not about me. Rather, because I can understand a person not wanting to be the centre of attention, I can see the telltale signs of stress in my child. I noticed it last year before his big party, though he had a good time in the end. Benji’s school principal told me her oldest son was the same and she hadn’t realised until much later that he did not enjoy the big dos.
So I did this one thing right I think. My son will have the birthdays he wants, which thankfully are within our purview to arrange. He had a lovely time playing with his besties, and opening his presents and cutting a cake at home later. We sang happy birthday to him three times because I couldn’t get the video recording right. We skyped with the grandparents. The weekend before V’s brothers-in-law Benji’s uncles landed up in HK as part of a boy’s trip and they showered the kids with attention and presents before they left. So he was surrounded by cars and transformers and superheroes.
As this blog reflect, I’ve been busy. Crazy busy. The busy that started the term never ended. Well, I had a brief respite, but then mid-term happened with presentations due and it all got crazy busy again.
It’s hard to describe what I’ve been so busy doing (and I am aware that I’ve used the word ‘busy’ too often). The short answer is that I took on too much coursework. I figured that I’d be better off finishing the coursework requirement (i.e. the mandatory number of courses I’m supposed to take) early instead of pacing myself with one per semester, and so I took two, without realising that the Graduate School was going to pre-register us for another series of courses, which though not intense still require my physical presence in the classroom.
And I also have to act as a tutor for another course, which requires me to do a certain amount of prep. Hong Kong students are not vocal in the classroom, or at least not in my classroom (though I’ve heard this is a generic problem, and I’ve witnessed how even the most engaging teacher has a hard time getting a word out of students) and a tutorial is meant to be about ‘discussion’. Luckily, the students present for half the course, but then I still have to while away the other part. Next time around I’m going to give a little spiel on how they must talk or else, or make class participation a part of their grade. It’s seriously frustrating how they never raise any comments on other people’s work or even read the goddamn reading. It does not bode well for a future as a teacher, though I’ve heard that this is culture-specific.
Right now, we have to give everyone a pass because there is a huge political confrontation going on and at the start of the semester many students were out in the street protesting. Which I respect them for, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I think right now they’re just getting away with not reading for class. Was this the case in India as well? These were undergrads. Somehow I feel that these students have so many more resources – hell, we never had tutorials as undergrads – and should be grateful and take advantage of them, but instead as I suppose is to be expected, they take them for granted. I’ve got some positive comments, but my general impression is one of apathy. Gah.
After the one drinks get-together, I’ve not done much socially with the other students. Though not sure they’re doing much socially with each other. Some have gone to the protest site together. One guy invited us all to a football game but I couldn’t go though I would have liked to. There was a dinner after a symposium that I skipped. In the end though, I’ve stopped caring because I’m too busy. Also, I realised I’m not the only isolated soul, and in some ways I’m more connected because I go into office fairly frequently and do the odd chit-chat.
I still have an ambiguous relationship with the foreign girl. I think she could be cool if she wasn’t so academically activist in her views, but more to the point if I didn’t get the sense she’s only friends with me when there’s no one more interesting to cast around for. Like the other day, she pretty much ditched me for a girl with cooler (green) coloured hair. I don’t know whether to be outraged or amused.
In between, the marriage hit a low and this combined with the general fatigue made me hit and all-time low. I decided I was properly depressed and just gave up – on the marriage, not the PhD. The studies were the one thing that was keeping me sane because I was too busy to over-contemplate the ruins of my relationship.
The birthday was coming up and I decided to just skip it. I wanted to wallow in my misery on my own.
Then suddenly the husband twigged that he had gone too far and decided to give me a break. I have to admit I’m still skeptical and on my guard, but at the moment things are looking hopeful. Though one never knows how long any such period will last until we descend into the warzone again. I’m not sure I can ever go back to the person I was in the relationship, but this respite shows me how draining constantly having someone on your back can be (now that I don’t.)
Part of the reconciliation was that I decided to have a very small birthday party at home. I had been wanting to invite the fiance of a friend home for ages so I called them and another couple. V went all out and cooked up a storm. My helper E commented this was the first time she had ever attended a birthday party for me, and it’s true. I’ve never really had people over. Benji instead of being his usual reticent self was a bit manic. Mimi ignored the guests because I suspect she’s afraid of one guy in particular simply because of the way he looks.
My most recent frustration is a class I’m taking on Kant. It’s a very small group, to the extent that it’s more like an interest group than a class, and therefore the discussions are really random and ad hoc. Which would be great, but either the comments are too detailed or just vague and what I want is like a clear eluciadation instead of rambling when we haven’t grasped essentials.
Also, everyone in the group is firmly in the Enlightenment humanistic traditions, when I’m in the postmodern poststructuralist era whereby the very notion of sex is up for question, and apparently this is a radical idea to some people. Which I know it is, but this is a philosophy department for God’s sake. I made the mistake of unbiting my tongue and airing some views and was firmly corrected by professor in charge. Gulp.
My most recent gripe is organising my schedule around a presentation for the class, only for the class to be cancelled the afternoon of the presentation, and then rescheduled to a most inconvenient time. I’m still seething. Argh!
This is my last post under Weverb12. I really enjoyed participating in this initiative, the prompts largely did get me to reflect on various aspects of the year gone by and brought into focus some things that I might not have noticed otherwise. It also provided ready inspiration for blogging, so yay to that. I also found myself reading the posts of other participants and some of what they wrote made a gentle impression on me. I must thank the people behind this effort who created a nice-looking website and thought up the prompts.
I think it was Sangitha who proposed (or at least that’s where I first came upon the idea) of coming up with one word to crystalise what one hoped to achieve in the coming year. I do make resolutions (I notice this word is going out of fashion, with people calling it by any other name, which I find very amusing) and setting these targets does go a small way towards making change in my life. This year my resolutions were a number of small things – maybe too many, I probably should have stuck with just five – and I’m happy to report that 10 days into the year I am putting some of them into practice.
So, on many days (if not all) I have forced myself to get out of bed earlier, especially if I’m just lying there tossing, even if it means rising at 5 am like I did this morning. When this happens, I do a bit of pranayam. And I get more time with the kids. I have also reduced my chocolate intake. I have signed up for a kickboxing class during my lunch hour (though turns out I’m on leave a couple of times its held), admittedly due to peer pressure from colleagues. I’m not sure the momentum can be maintained but eating less chocolate for 10 days means 10 days worth less of fat on my bones, so I win no matter what right?
I can also already see that biting my tongue is going to be the hardest and most crucial resolution. If I had to pick one from them all, I guess it would have to be this, and this is also the one I’m most likely to fail at.
In the spirit of this prompt, it might be useful to pick one overarching goal for this year and I’d like to use the one word format. My word for this year is “peace”.
I need to learn how to keep the peace more. To speak mindfully, thinking about whether what I am going to say really needs to be said and also to consider whether the other person’s motivation might be different to what I intuited at first. To do this both at home and in company. To distance myself from people if they are too annoying. To embrace doing things on my own. To take my job lightly while still doing the best I can. Basically to do what it takes to maintain my mental and emotional equilibrium.
What did you, as an individual, let go of to further the greater good this year? sacrifice [GROW]: This post is part of Weverb12
I’m very tempted to say “time” again, but that would be boring, so I’ll say what I tried to do and which I hope to do more of which is “bite my tongue” aka “don’t rise to the bait” aka STFU.
I used to think it was important to put my point across. I learnt that with one’s extended social circle this is not true. Most people really are too dim-witted. It is actually a waste of breath. It is more effective to walk away and if possible roll eyes in private or, if not, roll eyes there and then but still walk away. Smirking is allowed in both cases. Come on. Sometimes one even gets one’s point across while doing that. Sometimes silence and retreat makes people wonder what was wrong with what they just said and, maybe they will figure it out for themselves. If trapped by say dinner table or being on a boat, go with “hmmm”. Don’t attempt to argue beyond the intelligence of random people. Do not expect random people to have read anything. Etc.
I must have done this somewhat effectively because rude guy at New Year’s party actually asked why I wasn’t arguing with anyone on Facebook anymore. I was so tempted to say “Because you’re all morons” but I gave him a collected “I don’t have the time.” He persisted though. He was/is very annoying.
However, smiling serenely in not-so-polite society was not my big contribution to the greater good in 2012, because I already started doing it in 2011. Rather, I felt I needed to apply some of these techniques to my relationship with V.
Not because I think he’s a dimwit. But because I think he shoots his mouth off at me to let off stress. One of the epiphanies I had recently was that given that he is stressed out at work, I need to pick and choose what I go to battle with him on. This should be obvious I know. You can roll your eyes at me.
I’m pretty sure I haven’t and probably never will reach the saintly heights of ignoring him when he is picking on me personally (partly because I realised I have been internalising his messages and it’s fucking me up) but if he is doing something minor that I find fault with, I shouldn’t be pointing it out. If I’m honest, a big reason I point out his flaws is because he’s so quick to point out mine. But apart from that making me a bitch, this is not the time to be doing tit-for-tat. I also caught myself ranting at him in reaction to some bigoted statement he made which I knew he doesn’t believe (because all his actions are the opposite of it) but just wants to piss me off and/or release stress by talking nonsense. If it’s the former, I’m better off ignoring him and if it’s the latter, I need to let it go for now.
This was one of my resolutions last year and I made some progress on it. But I need to do better in the coming months. In the immortal words of Bridget Jones: Inner Poise.
This is a typical one. Thou shalt not procrastinate. Themore time I have on my hands, the more I jump from one task to another. I callit multi-tasking but it could well be ADD. I need to make myself finish a taskat work before clicking another window.
Like the religion one, this one is a not a priority. Justsomething to keep in mind. Going by my activities of the past day, however, it’s not off to a good start.