2013 was a great year. 2014 is going to be even better, and i say that with founded optimism that is almost foreign to me.

my only goal this year is to make a change – but not for myself.

I read this post yesterday about Privilege, and I thought about my own bubble of privilege that I have been born and raised in.

I was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, by a dedicated, caring family comprising of two parents who work as general practitioners, two grandparents whose love for me knows no bounds, and an aunt who is always constantly bringing me and my sister food and conversation. That, by any extent, is a privilege that money cannot buy.

But my parents gave me an education, a very expensive education – all the way from kindergarten to the present. They’re still providing me unquestioningly, despite my having worked for two and a half years, with an education even fewer people in this world are afforded the opportunity to have: an Ivy League education. And to what end?

More than ever now, especially during the height of the holidays, I feel an overwhelming need to do work that has heart. By no means am I privileged enough to stop working for money and volunteer my services to do good for others, but when I think about my future career, it needs to have substance, a cause and an end goal that will result in the better health of those who do not have adequate access to healthcare. To think that I’ve spent so long vacillating between a whole smorgasbord of career choices, when I think I have finally found my elusive knight in shining armour at long last: public health is The One.

I am determined now to make full use of my privileged upbringing and education; and if anyone thinks derisively of me for choosing an atypical career path or having lofty goals, then so be it. I cannot afford to let my privilege go to waste.

“In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June.” –

Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway

A grotesquely hot summer’s day, the hottest ever recorded in seven years in Britain. The air was consistently thick, a dense wall between my being and the rest of the world. Still, it did not prevent me from tarrying in the cobblestoned streets of this luxurious city I gave so much of my life and heart to. The last time I had been back was three years ago; but then, I had not been away for long enough to miss the city so.

Summer: a season of erstwhile freedom and a temporary erasure of problems. Is it the heat, do you think? It’s far too hot to think, I think. The crowds had swelled in enormous proportions since the last time I was there.

I spent one morning in Hampstead Heath with my family. I walked past George Orwell’s house, a red bricked unassuming home one could imagine him living in all his macabre gray tones. I also walked past many benches with poignant messages inscribed. Of the many I walked past, one particular pithy message struck at me:

“Always and in all ways”

I am a maudlin fool; I love stories, and I love hearing and reading stories. London is full of people laden with untapped stories and horrifically repressed emotions. Keep calm and carry on, they said in 1939, and many times thereafter. British sensibilities are oft underrated.

It was so ridiculously easy to live here and become subsumed by the city with all its bright lights, neverending stream of straight-faced people, the schizophrenic weather, the boring snacks, and the brown jackets. So easy.

today i felt the weight of the world on me. i wasn’t sure why, but i felt like i didn’t want to be me anymore. my friend mentioned it was probably anxiety. i felt like hannah horvath from season 2 episode 9 of Girls. so much to do, so little time. i, however, stopped short of counting and abrading my eardrum with a cotton bud.

i felt overwhelmed by the company of people. i left work, and i ran as fast as i could toward the sunset, until my legs felt like jelly and i could take no more. my shoulders became lighter, my posture slightly straighter.

where am i going? what will i do? will i like it? what promises do these new lands hold?

what an exhausting but exhilarating ten days it’s been. i fear that only extremes in emotion can compel me to write. does this mean i have to subject myself to feeling all sorts of things in order to put anything to paper? probably. i’ve travelled to east malaysia (for an intensive group adventure), to kuala lumpur (for the elections) and back to singapore (so i can feed myself).  adventure caving is a lot more dangerous than the name suggests. climbing up sheer slippery rock walls in wet caves is apparently my unexpected idea of fun. i have a terrible phobia of heights, even small ones like when a person hangs a few meters off the ground like i did in a dark dank cave. i felt it even more when we scaled to the top of gunung api to see the mulu pinnacles. climbing down a sheer mountain complete with jagged limestone rocks could have resulted in a lot of pain. i tore my special edition olympics 2012 tights. boo, materialistic me. the jungle has no mercy on the world of material. i would do it all over again.

the jungle allows the mind of a person to expand into vast spaces that were never previously traversed in the city. there is no internet, limited electricity. sometimes i entertain the thought of severing all connection from the city and the digital world. what a burden the city can be: the incessant chatter of mindless talk, the pressures of finding oneself, the glare of urban uniformity. it was lovely sitting alone by the river engulfed in complete darkness. i have never underestimated the importance of alone time; for everyone who does not allow ten minutes a day to digest the day, i highly recommend it.

for there has been a lot on my mind lately: leaving this country, planning trips home, trying to craft some sense of stability into these cagey times in my country, leaving my new old friends behind, going to see r on a more permanent basis.

in the jungle i came across a hairy, hairy caterpillar with long, white hairs and a chunky red body and a speckled head. i wondered what kind of butterfly such a beautifully repulsive creature would turn into. i wondered also if the caterpillar knew what it was going to become. does it? how does it know when to wrap itself up in a cocoon?

maybe it doesn’t know, and it just goes with the flow, or something to that effect in a lepidopteral fashion.

as i looked at the grotesque disproportionate creature, i thought to myself: nothing stays the same forever.

As a first time voter, I am genuinely excited about the prospect of queuing up and heading to the polling stations tomorrow morning. This is the first mark that I am going to make in steering Malaysia’s future. How exciting is that? However, from what I have heard and read, that might not even come true: how do we know that our votes will even get counted? How do we know that anything that has been promised will come to fruition? We don’t. Janji ditepati? I think not.

People haveasked me if I am registered to vote this election. “Of course!” I answer. Theaudience in question generally seemed surprised because I haven’t been around much in the past seven years, and I am not like some of my friends who are extremely passionate about politics. I dislike talking about politics and money; subjects that make the world spin that much faster. I am like much of the silent majority who have not taken politics to social media: I stand and I watch and I make up my mind on the sidelines. But, unfortunately, as Aung San Suu Kyi said, “even if you don’t like politics, politics will come to you.”

People have also immediately come to assume that because I am young, I must be for the opposition party. And how I believe in Change, how I believe that Change isn’t always a less calamitous situation. I am no stranger to that concept. I believe in Change, this mysterious, terrifying concept with neither head nor tail. None of us knows what lies ahead should the opposition win. There are no clear policies that have been laid out on either side, which I find quite disconcerting. In a country riddled with filthy politics, I find it difficult to believe in the coming of a just and Rakyat-centric government regardless of who wins and who promises what. I believe that we have seen and heard it all, so it is time somebody carried out some of his or her promises to the people.

I also find it terrible and shameful that friends have split because of politics. Those who vote for BN are afraid of Change, believers in peace and stability. Cowards, some say. Am I any braver for voting for the opposition? No, I don’t think so. But I believe, like many others, that my vote can catalyse an avalanche that will cause the incumbent ruling party to wake the hell up and start seeing that the situation cannot continue as it is. My belief is that Malaysian political integrity has sunk so low that whatever imminent change is upon us, must be brighter than the present. Our votes are possibly the only thing that can cull these malignant tumours of greed that have spread within the incumbent party.

I am voting tomorrow for the opposition not based on my trust in the candidates of the opposition party (that is another story), but because voting for them would mean voting for a less sullied party, a party who can still claim to do right by the Rakyat because they have not yet been tested. Is it the right thing to do? I think so. Everyone deserves a fair turn. Give them a chance, as my eighty-five-year-old grandfather says. Fifty-six years is far, far too long to have sat on one’s laurels and gathered gold at one’s feet.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

I have quixotic, almost crazy notions about the future of this country: unity, integrity, the absence of racial and religious politics that is unique to only Malaysia. I don’t know if any of those things will come to pass in my lifetime, but collectively, we could try to make it happen. Despite having spent the last seven years abroad, Malaysia is still the only place I can and will call my home. I cannot envision another country I’d be prouder to come from. I am not proud of our government, but I am proud of Malaysians, and I have faith that the majority of us will do right by our nation tomorrow by voting wisely and peacefully.

i woke up today to a flurry of whatsapp messages mostly beginning with “BOMB EXPLODED AT THE BOSTON MARATHON. IS R OKAY?” thank god, nothing happened to him. he was at the 5k race a day earlier, where i had made fun of him for paying $45 to have the race over in an instant.

marathons are tests of the human spirit. it has always been the traditional pinnacle of endurance racing. the ancient greeks began this noble race, and now, a despicable tick in our modern civilisation has desecrated its name. i cannot imagine having to flee for your life after running for four hours at breaking speed. nobody should have to live to see such horrors before them. no runner should have their limbs severed after completing one of the oldest circuits in racing history. no spectator should have to be injured for the love of friend or family. nobody should be robbed of a normal life as unexpectedly as this. has humanity always been this mad? i think so. i have always thought so. in such dark times we look to each other for solace; for where there is evil, there is also good. the good will always outweigh and outnumber the evil.

The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now
mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.

– J.R.R. Tolkien

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