Yesterday I turned 23. It's the one time a year when I reflect on how much my life has changed over the course of 12 months. Every year I think to myself, wow it can't get crazier than that... But guess what? It does. With every increment of my age, I learn new lessons from life. Important lessons that will stay with me for a long time.
I'm older, but not wiser - in fact, my foolishness grows with each passing day. Being an adult doesn't necessarily mean that you have your life sorted out. Growing up should be a liberating experience. It means to be able to accept the things you cannot change, and live with positivity and gratitude. It means to learn whose opinion matters and whose doesn't. It means to break free from conformities and compromises. It means to be bold enough to live on your own terms and never apologise for it.
Thank you to every single one of you who has taken a moment of your precious time for this underserving fool. Your presence, physical and digital, were the best presents I could ask for. Your hugs, phone calls, comments, Instagram posts, text messages, tweets, video calls, Facebook posts and snapchats have filled my soul with so much joy and I am ever so grateful from the bottom of my heart.
In the midst of procrastinating, towards the end of a month-long period of intensive revision, I stumbled across a screenshot of my calendar that I posted on Facebook in 2012. It was a schedule for Paris Fashion Week. Incidentally, I put together all the show dates and times while procrastinating at a law internship, so that I could get back home and watch the live streams late into the night. Between writing up case briefs, I would fantasize what it would be like to actually be part of the fashion industry - glamorously jetting to shows in amazing outfits, being photographed by streetsyle photographers, meeting Anna Wintour... Finding this little gem of an itinerary made me smile. I had forgotten that I used to be so passionate and enthusiastic about wanting to be a fashion journalist. To my 18 year old self, this was routine every fashion month period. I didn't know how I would ever get there, but I just knew that one day I would. I believed it with all my heart and the universe conspired for it to happen. Lots of blood, sweat and tears were shed along the way, but my dreams came true.
So what happens next, now that your dreams have come true? Thankfully, life isn't a Disney movie. There isn't a happily ever after and rolling credits. You just keep dreaming. Today, I have bigger goals and aspirations. Again, I have no idea how I'm going to accomplish them, but I have a feeling inside that life will guide me down the right path. Never stop dreaming and believing, kids.
Photography & illustration by me.
I've only been alive for slightly over two decades, but even I know that life is just not that simple to follow a fixed pattern. How anyone can expect our existence to be so black and white is beyond my understanding. This isn't Stepford, it's the real world. The only thing that could possibly be so monochromatic is maybe this outfit, which I wore last month during London Fashion Week. You're probably wondering what the hell I'm on about, so saddle up, kids.
Over the last week, I've been hit with some unfortunate and unexpected reminders that fate is far beyond our control and it's gotten me to reevaluate several aspects of my life. Firstly, as I've said before, it's good to have direction, but you can't plan life in meticulous detail because you never know when she's going to throw a curveball at you. Secondly, I spend a lot of time trying to please others, but I really don't think it's worth the time anymore. Life is fragile. Life is ephemeral. I shouldn't be persecuted for doing things that bring me joy, satisfaction and a sense of purpose. I don't believe that there is only one way to live life, so no one should force their ideals onto others. I may make mistakes along the way, but hey, those are my mistakes to learn from. It really infuriates me to see bigotry, no matter the context. Live and let live. Try it. I'll guarantee you the world will be a much better place.
At the risk of sounding like a whiny, overprivileged kid, I begin my rant. Growing up in an Asian society can be suffocating in some ways. From a young age we're told to plan out exactly what we're going to be doing with our lives. Or rather, we're given a conformist template of how life is supposedly meant to play out (school, university, job, marriage, kids, retirement) and then are left to fill in the minor details of how these things are going to happen. Do you want to be a doctor? No? That's ok, you can be a lawyer instead. Well, for the lucky ones at least. The less fortunate souls already have their lives written out in detail and are required to comply with full diligence. Otherwise, what would the neighbours think? Gasp!
Isn't it just so ludicrous? In terms of professions, I don't believe there are good or bad ones per se. All jobs are there for a purpose, they just have to be matched with the right individual. Also, a job shouldn't be valued by how much it cashes out. Sure, go ahead and study medicine and become a doctor, but don't do it just because you want to make the money. Do it because you want to help people. Do it because it fascinates and amazes you. Do it for the right reasons. Without passion, commitment and enthusiasm, you'll never find fulfillment. This applies to everything else in life too.
God forbid should you choose to break free from one of the infinite societal norms and expectations by, let's say, opting out of attending university, choosing not to get married, or, even worse yet, deciding to pursue a dishonorable line of work (read: fash-uhn)... You do not want to piss off a strict Asian parent. Hell hath no fury like a narrow-minded father with an immense amount of pride and a huge ego. Take my word for it.
But I guess sometimes you have to venture into the lion's den and push some buttons in order to make a difference. You can't always give in to those who are obstinately convinced of the correctness of their own opinions, especially when these opinions have a negative impact. How can you help others if you're not free yourself, right? My family may be against my non-academic pursuits (photography, writing, this blog, etc), but I still do it anyway, despite the consequences. For those of you who still think I'm whining - I don't think I'm wrong in trying to break away from a backward way of thinking. Slightly modified, it's this same mentality elsewhere in the world that prevents 62 millions girls from receiving an education. Change begins with the small things and it's important to stand up for what you believe in. As much as we would like to try, not all of us can illicit a Malala level of change in the world, so why not start small? Be the change you want to see, right?
I'll see you when I see you.
A few days ago, after reading this article by Hans Ulrich Obrist, it struck me that I needed some time out to do something new, immerse myself in it and just be. A mini tech-detox, if you may.
Technology is an incredible thing. As time goes by, the rate at which we advance keeps increasing. And what is the biggest technological achievement by man, you ask? Well, the internet of course. In modern societies, we've almost become completely dependent on it. I wouldn't be writing this, nor would you be reading this without the intervention of the internet. Privileged children today are no longer being born with a silver spoon, but rather a silver iPad. Or something like that. The internet has changed us forever, for both the better and the worse. I'll be the first to admit that I love the internet and my life today would be shaped very differently without it. However, in recent years, studies are suggesting that it's altering our biological makeup. As a new generation of people who were born into the omnipresence of the internet are starting to enter adulthood, its impact on the human psyche is becoming apparent.
For one, it's becoming harder and harder to hold our attentions. If you pick a movie, be it from Hollywood or Bollywood, from about 50 years ago and compare it to a movie from the last 5 years, you'll find that the average length of a single shot has dropped from 9 seconds to 3 seconds. It doesn't sound like a huge difference, but it's clear evidence that we're losing our patience. The internet has allowed us to become efficient in so many ways that we're so used to getting as many things done in as little time possible. Case in point - I eat my meals while catching up on TV shows, edit photos on the tube, update social media while walking to class, plan what to wear in my head as I shower and reply e-mails on the toilet. In satisfying this strange urge to multitask whenever I can, I realised that I barely ever get the chance to really experience the present. Perhaps that's why as we get older, we feel like time passes too quick. I mean, it's already mid-February. Last I checked, it was April 2015 and I was enjoying the magic of London's spring. And before you know it, we're going to be celebrating 2017.
Another problem that the internet is causing is the fact that it's narrowing our access to realms of knowledge. It sounds counterintuitive, but it's true. Do you remember the lumpy, blue sweater scene from The Devil Wears Prada? It's similar to that. When you're online, from Google to Facebook, as random or thoughtless as your surfing habits may be, everything on your screen has been chosen specifically for you. Creepy, isn't it? Take a look at what Eli Pariser has to say, for a clearer explanation if you didn't get my odd analogy.
At its advent, the internet was a beacon of freedom. It held the promise of breaking barriers and transcending borders, to connect individuals to one another and make information accessible to all. Yet we've ended up trapped in filter bubbles, underexposed to all the possibilities awaiting us. This is definitely not good for individuals or societies. And especially not for someone involved in the creative industry. Creativity is said to flourish when ideas and cultures from different people are allowed to intersect - this is why more often than not you'll find that artists, musicians, actors, designers, entrepreneurs and so on tend to be based in a close-proximity cluster. It could be a neighbourhood (like Shoreditch), a geographical region (like the Silicon Valley) or even an entire city (like Mumbai). As our dependence on the internet snowballs, rather than integrating us with new knowledge, it's isolating us. If we're repeatedly being fed with recycled types of information, how are we expected to grow as individuals? It can only be done with proactive action.
And for these reasons I decided to spend a day in Hyde Park, away from the internet, collecting branches and visiting the Italian Gardens, Serpentine Galleries and The Magazine Restaurant. While it probably is beneficial to be efficient and streamlined in some aspects of our lives, we shouldn't forget to be mindful of the present moment, whether it's by meditating, enjoying a bath or simply focusing on the meal we're eating. And neither should we lose our thirst for experiencing new things outside of our comfort zones. So go pick up a few books you never thought of reading, or visit a place in your city you've never been to, and see how it refreshes you. I can tell you it's certainly more satisfying than hitting the refresh button on your browser.
Photos of me by Claudia Naomi
After a brief stint of overnight snow last weekend, the temperature in London took a dip and danced around the freezing point for the remainder of the week. It was only when I headed down to Victoria Park for a much needed dose of Sri Lankan chai (following several hours of mind-numbing lectures) that I realised how cold it really was. The West Boating Lake had partially frozen over.
My mug warmed my trembling hands, but watching life on the lake warmed my soul. Ducks, geese, seagulls and other waterfowl continued with their usual fanfare at a negligibly greater elevation than most days. They were clumsy little creatures, tripping and stumbling all over the place as they attempted to tread over slippery surfaces. I observed them silently as I demolished my brownie. The mallards seemed to struggle the most with every step they took, while the coots appeared condescending in their rooted positions. Only the wise swans knew it was better to stay out of the lake altogether.
As the sun grew in intensity, the smooth surfaces began to lose their solidity and move like satin again, creating ample opportunity for the cormorants to dive freely. I wasn't particularly sad at that point in time, but I felt like a weight on my shoulders too melted into the lake. It's important to learn how to go through life mindfully. Recently a friend told me that, "happiness is when you live in the present and let go of all your troubles, of negativity, and just enjoy the moment".
In today's hectic world, most people, myself included, spend too much time contemplating and worrying about future events and where life will lead us. During the time that's left, we reminisce what we think were better days or wish to change some regrettable action of the past. How many of us can say that we take time out to just be?
Overlooking the sparkling lake at one of my favourite cafes, I felt happy that frozen afternoon.
Shots of myself by Vanessa Low.
Wearing: Zara - Shirt, trousers, scarf // Topshop - Coat // Bally - Oriano sneakers // Givenchy - Nightingale bag
Pavilion Cafe is located in Victoria Park, Corner of Old Ford Road/Grove Road, London, E9 7DE, UK.
Contact: +44 (0)20 8980 0030