2014 has been a different year for me. For the first time in 12 years I was truly unemployed, without any form of income (I had worked through my uni days and also during my first 2 years in Mumbai). Initially, I fluctuated between states of restlessness/sense of worthlessness/fretting over money and “Eh, I actually have the luxury of doing nothing, anything and/or everything.” Things started improving when PJ (finally) got me a sub-card, helped to offset a chunk of my recurring expenses/responsibilities in Singapore, and when I finally got my act together to work on a few projects.
“What do you do everyday?” is a common question I get. I wish there’s an inspiring response like, “Helping to end poverty in India.” The truth is nowhere close, unfortunately. Random activities like reading, cooking, volunteering, Instagramming, playing with my cats and plain-old-bumming-around occupy my time. That said, there were some noteworthy events and here’s what I think I’ve learned in 2014:
1) Thinking about it is hard, doing it is easy (or easier).
I’ve been volunteering for the past 2 years, mainly in HR matters and working directly with the beneficiaries. When CORP (the NGO I primarily volunteer with) offered me the chance to manage a fundraising campaign that will last from Jul 2014 to Jan 2015, I was riddled with self-doubt and fear. “Can I? Should I? Do I want to? What if I fail? How do I even manage?” were just some self-defeating questions. But once I decided to take it on, after rationalising that this project is a very meaningful one, I realised, hey, it’s actually quite manageable!
You might already know that this campaign centers around the 2015 StanChart Mumbai Marathon. Using the marathon as a platform, we are raising funds for CORP’s young children’s food programme by selling charity running bibs and encouraging individual runners to fund-raise for us.
Apart from managing this campaign, PJ and I are both running (a short distance) and fundraising. Learn more and support us at: http://www.unitedwaymumbai.org/scmm-fundraiser-3783. Thank you! :)
2) The secret about volunteering: You might think you’re the one giving, but you’re really the one receiving.
For a while, PJ and I gave computer lessons to children with hearing disabilities. One day, only one computer was functioning so PJ proceeded with the lesson whilst I
slacked engaged other children. Some of them asked for a pen and paper, wrote down the English alphabet and started signing fervently to me. Oh! They were teaching me sign language! After they patiently walked me through the 26 letters, everyone was all smiles and I was left extremely touched. As much as I want to teach them computer skills, they want to teach me their language, too. These children have given me something that will remain with me forever – their generosity (and 26 letters).
3) “And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. I shake it off, I shake it off.” – Taylor Swift
One of Dharma’s Instagram photo was re-posted on a popular cat account in March, resulting in a spike in Dharma & Greg’s followers. I soon realised that with “fame” comes criticism. The photo that popularised D&G was a cute but unflattering photo of Dharma looking SUPER FAT (it was a bad angle. she’s really not that fat). Some random strangers started slamming me for being an irresponsible owner, allowing her to become obese, endangering her health etc. I was really upset that day and the hubs and friends had to comfort and encourage me to tune out the noise. A couple of months later, I posted a photo of Greg curled up (very happily) in a plastic bag. Again, I received angry accusations of putting my cat in a life-threatening situation. Seriously…?? This time, I was calmer (I think) and spent time addressing people’s concerns carefully. I am now more mindful of what I post, but I also recognise that it’s impossible to please everyone. If somebody wants to take offence at an innocent cat photo, he/she will. Fortunately, the cats also have a group of very loyal followers who would speak up for us and frequently tell me that pictures of D&G bring them a lot of joy. Yay :)
4) Sometimes all it takes is just one positive voice
“Wow. You published a book??” Truth be told, it’s simple. There are several online platforms that allow you to create, publish and distribute a book with just a few clicks. Anyone can say, “I published a book!” today.
I first experimented with lulu.com, published an expensive hard-copy book, did zero publicity and then slacked off. Oops. One day, an Instagram follower from Singapore bought the book from lulu.com and gave me very positive feedback. I was so encouraged that I revived the project, used the more popular Amazon’s Create Space, and published a (more affordable) photo book ‘Purrfectly Content: Fuzzy Little Insights to Kindness, Happiness and Peace‘ on Amazon: http://amzn.com/1499356951. If you have already gotten a copy, mew mew (that’s “Thank You” in cat language).
5) Never stop engaging, exploring and wandering
Through engaging new-found friends, acquaintances and even strangers, we experienced many “firsts” in 2014, such as pigging out at eateries where only the locals go, participating in Indian festivities & weddings, and getting a glimpse into the life of the old rich of Bombay.
With more time on my hand, I’ve also been exploring the neighbourhood, stumbling upon street art, new cafes and cute shops. PJ and I have also been exploring other parts of Mumbai together, making us realise there is so much we haven’t explored! We’ve barely scratched the surface of Mumbai (and India), and will try to cram as much as we can in our final 3 months here.
6) Keep an open mind
Each time PJ chanted, “I want to go Old Delhi and have street food!”, I might have made a face. Who wants to go Delhi, the infamous rape capital of India, where women can’t walk alone on the streets after 7pm and the people are rougher (than Mumbai)? I had been to Delhi twice already and never liked it. Two weeks ago, we made our third trip there, visited Old Delhi for the first time and I was pleasantly surprised. Old Delhi was buzzing, filled with delightful street food, old rickshaws and other quaint sights that would make any photographer go weak in the knees. At a roadside store, we (bravely) stopped for breakfast and was joined by an uncle who enthusiastically explained what our dishes were. The store-owner and his crew also gamely posed for photos. Along the way, people were friendly when we asked for directions. Even the rickshaw guy was polite when we bargained over the rickshaw fare! Old Delhi gave me a different perspective and reminded me that it’s important to keep an open mind. Had I put my foot down and refused to visit Delhi, I would never have been acquainted with this charming side of Delhi.
7) With a sub-card comes responsibilities
You would imagine that a sub-card is all fun and shopping, yah? Not entirely. PJ now conveniently outsources most travel arrangements to me because “just pay with my sub-card”. I’ll be responsible for researching and booking hotels, air tickets and car arrangements, and occasionally planning the itinerary. I’m relieved to say we’ve had great holidays in Udaipur, Agra, Ladakh, Jaisalmer and Dubai (I was mainly the Dubai Mall guide :P) this year.
8) Don’t dig your nose at an altitude of 3,000m #truestory
My second favourite place in India is Ladakh (obviously Mumbai is going to take first place). Clear blue skies, beautiful weather, warm people and delicious food; there’s nothing to find fault with. Except, maybe, the high altitude and thin air. PJ really suffered from altitude sickness for the first 3 days whilst on my last night I experienced an 1-hour nosebleed (triggered by you-know-what. See heading). VERY scary. At some point I thought I might just pass out from all that loss of blood. In spite of that, I love Ladakh and raved so much about it that an online magazine picked up my blog entry and republished it on their site: http://magazine.tripzilla.com/tour-ladakh-jammu-kashmir-india/15489.
9) India is a huge country. The Taj Mahal is not near Mumbai. Also, must visit Agra Fort in addition to Taj Mahal.
In an earlier post, I’d explained that The Taj Mahal is nowhere near Mumbai. It is in Agra, part of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and is a 2-hours flight from Mumbai to Delhi and a 5-hours drive thereon. In Feb, PJ’s parents came up for a visit and we finally made the pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal. Perhaps it’s been too hyped up and I was expecting to be wowed upon first sight. Yet all I experienced was, “Hmm… just like that, ah? A semi-white building. Why so crowded at 7am??” Instead, I found the Agra Fort much more charming. But hey, I can finally say, “I’ve been to India!” because, apparently, if you’ve not been to the Taj, you’ve not been to India ;)
10) Bring your parents out whenever you can. After all, they brought you out whenever they can when you were just a teeny tiny being. :)
Not working meant my time in Singapore (whenever we return for PJ’s work) was completely freed up and I got to spend a lot more time with my family this year, especially mum. I’d managed to accompany her to most major visits to the hospital, brought her out for meals and excursions. She would often protest and say, “Huh, what’s there to see? Why waste money?” but during every outing, I know she’s enjoying herself. On her birthday, I brought her to River Safari and a birthday badge was given to her. To my surprise, she happily pinned it on, beamed whenever a zoo staff wished her ‘happy birthday’ and replied “Tankeww” in her cute auntie-English. It’s like she’s a little kid all over again.
Looking back, sometimes it feels like I’d barely done anything and I wish I’d done more. More volunteer work, more yoga, explored more, cooked more, learned more… Other times I take comfort that this year has been good. I’ve been contented (for the most part), healthy (when I eat well, do the bikini body guide workout and go running), and did things that I truly enjoy. It is good enough.
I hope 2014 has been good enough for you, too.
Happy new year and may you be safe, be well and be contented in 2015.