You might not have been my first love, but you were the love that made all the other loves irrelevant.
-Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey
I’m often reluctant to tell people that I write fantasy. They tend to assume I’m some kind of pot-smoking, easy-go-lucky, anything goes kind of person. The reality of who I am couldn’t be further from that.
Growing up, I had a rich, active, fertile imagination. But like many Asians – I grew up in a structured, traditional and practical environment that didn’t give me much of an outlet for my intuitive side.
To be honest, I’m still struggling to find a proper outlet. Thankfully, I’ve found people more appreciative of my hyperactive imagination since I’ve gotten older.
Ever since I was a kid, I would look up at the stars and wonder where my place is in our big shimmering universe. Being out in the desert at midnight, going to an observatory, searching for planets in the night sky – these are things that make me feel that childlike wonder of experiencing something so grand, so powerful and so HUGE.
For years and years, I studied astronomy and astrology. I’ve even done a gazillion birth chart readings. I enjoy it. Each natal (or birth) chart is unique. Each time I take the time to look at one, I know I’m staring at a map of how the stars were aligned when you were born.
How wonderful. How beautiful. How special. How SPECTACULAR.
Since coming to Japan 2 years and six months ago, I abandoned my creative life in pursuit of more practical matters. I held down a very structured job, found it somewhere in me to be a role model for young people as well as found some semblance of success. But somewhere inside me – something has been screaming and yelling at me.
I thought age had slowly wiped out my imagination. But no – I had just buried it to deal with practical day-to-day matters. And now, after such a long hiatus, I return to the creative life. I’ve started writing the sequel to a fantasy book that I finished some three years ago. It’s based around Asian and indigenous folklore, myths and legends – which is why a predominantly white and male publishing industry wasn’t quite interested in reading it.
Haven’t you heard – brown chicks don’t write fantasy? You should stick to writing about post-colonial crap, women’s issues and domestic violence.
In addition to my weekly solo date, I’ve also decided to buy myself a present a week. Last week, I finally received the Rider Waite Tarot Deck in the mail. I ordered it off Book Depository and boy am I glad I did it.
The moment I opened the deck and shuffled it, I felt an incredible intuitive connection that I just can’t describe with words. All those years of studying astrology, astronomy and world religions all just neatly came together to help me understand the cards.
I’ve done a few readings for myself and my friends and just wow. Wow. The vibe, the energy, the flow, the messages. I didn’t expect it to feel so natural, so instinctive, so accurate.
Now let’s get this straight – I’m not some kind of physic, fortune teller or oracle. Perhaps some others have it in them, but I’m not one of them. I’m not interested in doing future predictions – never have been and never will. I don’t have some crystal ball and I can’t help you with the lottery numbers for next week. If I could – I’d help myself first. DUH!
But I am naturally empathetic. From a young age, I’ve been able to pick up on people’s vibes and energy easily. Astrology and tarot give me the tools with which to narrate all my (and other people’s!) crazy feelings.
I know it’s a little unexpected and a different direction to the stuff I’ve been writing till now. So I’d like your support as you join me on my tarot journey. I’d also like to thank my good old friend Charmaine Yam for encouraging me to write this blogpost despite my own reservations.
It is my hope that tarot and astrology will be able to offer you as much wisdom as it has offered me and my friends.
Till next time – trust your gut, listen to your head and follow your heart.
In my last post, I discussed how many Asians are reluctant to openly express their opinion in a public space. After a super long hiatus (work’s been crazy busy!) I finally sit down with my good friend Charmaine Yam for one of our regular chats.
Dipa: What’s the biggest difference between how people from the west and the east give their opinions?
Charmaine: I’ll talk about Chinese people since that’s my background. I think in the work setting, people are concerned about ‘face’ so they think before they speak. They usually think about the ramifications of saying something critical about another person in public. They’ll either give feedback in a logical way or give feedback in private. A sense of hierarchy is very much present in the east.
In western culture, there is a big emphasis on free speech. Everything is more equal and there is less of this hierarchy. You’d still speak quite freely between boss and employee and grandparent and grandchild. It is encouraged in Australian society to be more outspoken as that’s considered more dominant and powerful. People don’t really think about ‘saving face’ in Australian culture.
Dipa: What are some of the drawbacks of this ‘saving face’ business?
Charmaine: I guess it might make some interactions less transparent. Especially if you fear too much that you might offend someone in public because they’re higher up in the hierarchy. You never quite know if what someone is saying is what they think or if it’s the acceptable thing to do. It’s a big thing to speak up in eastern society.
If you do, you better be someone who matters or who makes sense – or you’ll lose face. Interactions may be less genuine cause there are boundaries regarding what is acceptable and what is not.
Dipa: What are some of the advantages of not always saying what you think?
Charmaine: I think if you’re someone who watches what they say and is smart about it – you are a more thoughtful person. If you’re an idiot who says what you think and feel – then just think about the potential conflict you can cause. You just come across as intolerant. It can be offensive, too. If other people are observing that – we make judgments about the person who is saying those thoughtless things, too.
If you’re thoughtful about what you say – it’s more meaningful and you’re saying things with a purpose instead of just saying what you feel at the time.
Dipa: What’s the solution – what would you describe as a happy medium?
Charmaine: You have to think about whether this is the right situation or the right audience to say it to. You should also as think about the consequences of what you’re saying. You should frame your criticism in a way that’s helpful. It’s not helpful to frame it in a negative way – because anyone can criticise about anything.
However, people shouldn’t be prevented or pressured to say something about something they feel strongly about. If you are comfortable about voicing your opinion, you just have to stand strongly by it.
We Asians are often stereotyped as shy and afraid to speak our minds. When asked for our opinion in a group setting, many us say nothing. This leads some westerners to believe we don’t have opinions. When we do voice our opinions, we sometimes only say positive things – leading others to think we’re being dishonest.
I know the terms ‘west’ and ‘east’ are really broad and could apply to just about anyone, so I’ll stick to my own experiences as I tell you my opinion on this delicate matter. I’m a born-and-bred Singaporean currently living in Japan. I completed university in Australia and Israel.
Here are my thoughts on why we Asians are so reluctant to openly say what we think.
In western societies, the individual is often the basic unit of society. In Asian societies, it’s usually the community. Openly saying what you think and feel doesn’t just reflect on you – but also on your family, school, company, friends etc etc. It’s why people don’t always blather on and on and on. They know their behaviour reflects on more than just themselves.
The best advice anyone ever gave me as a teacher is to ‘praise publicly, scold privately’. I live and die by this adage, even when I’m not in the classroom.
Criticising someone to their face in a public setting in an Asian society is considered humiliation. In societies where community comes before self, openly giving negative feedback in front of one’s peers is damaging one’s reputation in the community and opening the floodgates for others to do the same.
Not good. Not good at all.
Yes – you think you have the right to say what you think and feel. But do I actually have to listen? Yes – you are voicing your opinion, but what solution are you offering? What contribution are you actually making to this conversation? Are you just going blah blah blah because you feel entitled to?
So you still feel entitled to keep talking? Alright, then. Just hold on a second while I get my earplugs…
Oh, I’m sorry – do you think that’s rude?
Speaking of blah blah blah – do you mean what you say or are you just saying whatever and have no intention of actually following through? You can bang on and on about what you believe in – but are you actually acting in a way that is in line with what you’re saying?
If the answer to that is no, then keep talking cause clearly your words are cheap and no one needs to believe them anyway.
If you didn’t already realise, we Asians do have our opinions. In fact, I just told you mine. Just because we don’t advertise what we think in a public forum doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions or are intentionally being dishonest.
For me personally – praise publicly. Scold privately.
In the past two years and five months, I’ve taught thousands of students. I’ve watched some of them grow and mature. Others I’ve only met a handful of times. One of reasons why I’ve enjoyed teaching so much is because it forces me to learn everyday. There’s always something to learn. Something to perfect.
And of course, the questions you get from your students. Every single day without fail, a student will ask a question that forces me to think about how to answer it in a way they can understand. Or figure out a way to get out of answering it all together.
Yo, you too young. Hmm…
But today, after a three year hiatus, this teacher finally returned to the classroom as a student. After so many years of sitting through so many classes – it is only now that I understand how to take responsibility for my own learning. And this year I’m finally going to buckle down and focus on something I’ve wanted to do for a while.
Pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). There are five levels and each level tests blah blah blah. Long story short, I’m aiming for N3. To do that, I have to study Kanji. Oh dear lord, why in the world do they have to be thousands characters. Oh and I have to remember all the different readings, too.
El padre, el hijo, el spirito santo.
In today’s lesson, I learnt about the four main types of Kanji categories.
These are derived from the sketches of the pictures that they represent. It’s often used to describe basic nouns. There are about *gasp* 600 of these – most of which are taught in elementary school. They aren’t particularly difficult to learn – but unfortunately they only represent a small percentage of modern characters. Boo hoo.
These describe concepts like – up and down, above and below etc. Again – a small minority of characters.
This consists of the above two or more elements. Each of which contributes to the meaning of the whole. Confusing stuff. If you don’t get it, neither do I. I’m still trying to get my head around it.
So this one is the LARGEST category – making up around 80 to 90% of the characters in the standard list. This consists of one element that roughly expresses meaning (usually called the radical), and another element that represents the pronunciation and often also the meaning.
A lot of people – including native speakers of Chinese and Japanese – describe learning Kanji as difficult. Of course, I agree. Having to learn thousands of characters isn’t going to a trip to Charlie’s Chocolate Factory. But then again – nothing in life truly worth having and knowing actually comes easy. And if it does, you probably can’t appreciate it anyway.
Long story short, if I can teach thousands of students and live to tell the tale – learning Kanji is no different. All it takes is a lot of patience, hard work, consistency and coming back to it everyday till I’ve mastered it.
Wish me luck. There’s a long journey ahead.
You might not have been my first love, but you were the love that made all the other loves irrelevant.
-Rupi Kaur’s Milk and Honey
I love owls. They’re regal. Independent. Solitary. Nocturnal. Mysterious. Beautiful. I wouldn’t call myself an animal lover. But owls – they’re just so special to me and I can’t quite describe why. I’ve always admired them. If you share similar sentiments – or just love animals – you really must go to Forest of Owl Cafe in Tokyo’s Akihabara.
Akihabara is not the kind of place where I go to out of my own volition. But boy was I glad I finally made it there. The rules were simple enough.
It’s a pretty popular place during the weekends so I made a reservation. It costs 890 yen (US$8). You get to stay for an hour as well as order a super delicious drink from the fancy vending machine. From the moment I walked in to the moment I left, I couldn’t escape the continuous over exaggerated chorus of ‘kawaii’, ‘kawaii’ and ‘kawaii’. Everyone kept saying it and saying it and saying it.
URGH!It’s a very popular place with the Instagram crowd so I couldn’t help but laugh as people tried to snap photos with the independent bird that refused to keep its head still or do as asked. We humans should know better than to ask a wild animal to act like a soft toy.
But still – we keep trying.
It was also harrowing to see such a dignified, proud and solitary bird all tied up and grouped together for human social media amusement. Having said that, the owls do seem well-cared for and the people working there do seem to love them.
Owls. They’re so silent. So intense. So observant. When you manage to catch its gaze, it just stares at you and into you without blinking – seeing beyond your exterior and right into all your hidden secrets.
While everyone else seemed to have no difficulty reaching forward to touch one like it was a cuddly soft toy, I was actually aware that the owl belongs out in the wild night. It unnerved me to actually touch one. When I did, I was surprised to discover that its super soft.
Ah, my super soft, incredibly wise and ultra independent friend – perhaps one day I’ll be lucky enough to see you out in the wild, where you belong. But till then – this city girl will just have to settle for seeing you in an Owl Cafe.
I love my job. I’m glad I do it. Right now – I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. There’s a sense of fulfilment that comes from doing this work that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. Growing up, I was raised to believe that with education all things are possible. I enjoy teaching because it’s a two-way street. My students have taught me more in the past two and a half years than I have in my whole life.
Nevertheless, here are some of the things I wish I knew before I became a teacher.
In my first year as a teacher, I lost my voice once every two months. It was awful. I would wake up in the morning unable to speak. I had no choice but to call in sick. Sometimes, I even rocked up at work without my voice.
These days, I have a very strict regime of drinking mint tea every morning. I also sip on warm water throughout the day. If I have a full day of lessons, I suck on throat candy during break time. To soothe my vocal cords, I sometimes drink a concoction of honey lemon with warm water in the mornings.
You will spend A LOT of time on your feet. Forget about sitting down. There’s no time for that. Thankfully Japan has an indoor/outdoor shoe policy that allows me to wear my super comfy memory sole Sketchers sneakers at work. If your workplace requires more formal attire, I recommend Dansko shoes. They’re the best.
If you come home with super tired feet, elevate your legs above heart level as you would if you had a sports injury. It’s a lifesaver.
I’m generally an empathetic person. I care about my kids. I want them to do well and succeed. But in this job, you will hear many sad stories. All the time. Kids will tell you all kinds of things. Parents will do the same.
People constantly ask me for advice about what to do. Unfortunately, most people don’t want to hear the truth about their parenting style or the real reason for their child’s behaviour. Love with your heart, but listen to your head when making decisions. Don’t take on other people’s issues as your own.
An unhappy teacher can’t teach anything.
You may not place a lot of importance on the way you dress, the way you carry yourself and the way you behave. But kids do. They watch you. They notice things about you that you don’t. You’re setting an example whether you like it or not. Set a good one. And don’t tell them to, “Do as I say and not as I do.”
Kids don’t understand that. And quite frankly – neither do I. We cannot expect kids to know how to do things that we don’t.
In Joe Cocker’s N’Oubliez Jamais, he sings, “Every generation has its way.”
It’s true. Don’t even bother telling them about, ‘during my time’ or ‘my parents were…’ or ‘I’ve been through worse’ or ‘one day you’ll understand’.
They won’t get it. We didn’t either. So might as well swim with the tide as opposed to go against it.
Being a teacher is a lot like being a parent. Past the age of seven, most kids see their teachers way more than they do their parents. I’m not perfect. I do my best for my kids each day. I mess up, sometimes. It’s a tough job – raising kids.
But I love my job. I really do. I wouldn’t do anything else.