2015 in review: A tribute to friends

So, Facebook did a pretty bad job at summarising my year. Started with a photo of home-cooked dishes and ended with a photo of a friend posing with a bunch of fried dumplings in Shanghai. I thought I’d do a better job of putting things in a nutshell.

Hell, of course I would. It’s my life.

2015 has been eventful. Probably the most eventful year in my life. Yeah, no kidding, that’s how uneventful my entire life has been this past 33 years. Not that I can remember whatever happened between ages 0-3. Probably a lot of breastfeeding. And crying. And being absolutely untainted by the shit that humanity has on offer.

This year started with a trip to the gorgeous Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan province where I got to see some amazing scenery, do some breathtaking (literally) treks through the mountains and experience a bout of seriously fucked up stomach flu. Quite a shitty way to spend New Year’s Day.

The next destination was Chengdu, for work. Having left my job at the magazine in December, I had to go freelance for a few months, and this trip was for Shangri-La’s in-house travel mag Inner Circle. Food was pretty rad, and the trip to a well-loved local hot pot joint left my stomach churning for 24 hours. Yup, another shitty (again, literally) experience. But on the whole, it was an interesting trip.

I returned to Yunnan province a couple more times, to Shaxi, Dali and Xishuangbanna, for leisure and work. Trips out of Mainland China included New York, the Bahamas, Hong Kong, and back home to Singapore to cover the SEA Games.

But 2015 wasn’t defined by the record-breaking number of stamps on my passport within a year. That’d be too frivolous.

It was a reminder about friends, family and death.

Grandma passed away this year. And with her passing I have developed a perhaps rather unusual fascination with death. What happens after the lights go out? Does science or religion have the last laugh? Is there a heaven and hell? Do we become one with the cosmos? Will we find Matt Damon in an ethereal library bouncing off the shelves?

My cousins were gently massaging her legs when she slowly drifted off into the other side. Grandma had almost everyone by her side when she left. Apparently the last thing she asked was whether the operation that one of my other cousins (who has cancer) had to go through went well. Caring till the very last breath. That’s Grandma for you. This entire episode reiterated that family ties run a lot deeper in our sense of self than we often like to believe.

On a lighter note, I got another poodle this year. Her name is Inca, named after that Chihuahua-Maltese mix my former Aussie housemate has. She’s absolutely endearing. But then again I think all dogs are. There’s this beauty to their simplistic way of life – sleep, eat, play, eat, sleep, play, eat. I love staring at Inca play because I get this sense of innocence and ignorance, things I’d love to have  in abundance but cannot afford to.

Last but not least – friends. I can’t imagine how anyone can go through life without such people. I’ve made a few new ones in Shanghai while a good number of my pals from Singapore have, fortuitously moved to Shanghai too. They keep me sane. They keep me centered. They remind me that sometimes I’ve drifted too far from the safety of reality – I have a penchant for deliberately detaching myself from worldly issues and asking questions that hardly anyone sees the need for.

I recently found out that one of my friends is suffering from cancer. Grandma’s death had already taken a chunk out of me this year and I reckon this news hit apathetic Alywin a lot harder than it normally would have.

I had just seen him earlier in June when I was back in Singapore. We shared a toast. We talked about China. He looked well.

Five months. That’s all it takes for things to go to shit. Again I was left questioning myself. “What would I do? What would I feel? What would run through my mind if the doctor told me that I’ve got cancer?”

Honestly, if things got really out of hand and treatment would mean putting a near catastrophic financial strain on my family, I might just hit the reset button myself. I don’t believe anyone should suffer for me. Not ever since that psycho Major from the army made my entire platoon do 50 push ups because I wasn’t wearing a digital watch during training.

Besides, we were all born to die. Death is inevitable. Cancer is not a death sentence – it’s just a means to an end, one that seems to be becoming all too common these days.

These days, I use death to remind myself that the clock is ticking. It’s surprisingly hard to be constantly motivated by such a reason. Perhaps we humans are just naturally conditioned to be so, as if procrastination is the default setting the mind has been rigged to revert to.

This friend is better now. It looks like this year will end on a good note after all, and I must single out a particular someone for her simple heroics.

Lina, as we normally call her, should have a meme made in her honour. You know, the one with the words “Faith in humanity restored!”

She had set up a private Facebook page to keep all of his friends in the loop about his battle, constantly posting updates about the situation. I don’t know if any of my friends would do that for me, but he is lucky to have Lina as a friend.

And humanity is lucky to have Lina as a human. We could certainly use a few million more such Linas in the world to mitigate the damage caused by people like Martin Shkreli, animal abusers and ISIS.

Friends are important in life. Friends like Lina are a surprise bonus, like when you drop that coin into the machine, hit that button, and get greeted by a giant, flashing JACKPOT alert.

So, yeah, friends are awesome. Cherish them. Cherish your family. Cherish your pets. Whatever it is that you hold dear.

Perhaps it was rather apt that I got to interview a ninjustu instructor this week and discovered that the martial art is really not about throwing shurikens, performing kagebushinnojutsu or flying from tree to tree.

“Ninjutsu, really, is all about being yourself. Being happy. It’s that simple,” he said.

To all my friends, thank you.



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