9 things I like to tell my brother on his 18th birthday.

To my little brother of 18 years,

Happy Birthday. June 30th will always be a special day for me.

I remember 18 years ago, on this day, I was running around the hospital announcing to all our relatives I’ve become a big brother (大哥). I was nine, oblivious to the responsibility that title would carry in the years to come. That was the least of my worries; a new member has joined the happy family.

I always smile to myself when I recall your kindergarten years; you were always so cheerful and chatty. Extremely chatty. Telling the whole family what happened in the day and although none of us were really listening, your infectious liveliness sparked cheer in all of us.

Did I forget to include your insatiable appetite?

Did I forget to include your insatiable appetite?

So much more to say: movies with 二哥 during the school holidays, the school bus bully, “your friend” reliably giving things for you that you weren’t allowed to buy, the box of pineapple tarts you unknowingly finished in an hour. I hate to say it, but it happened so fast. Sometimes I wish I had all those moments on camera, so I can relive them one more time.

Bros over hos.

Bros over hos.

So here you are now, on the cusp (I know you like the word ‘cusp’) of adulthood, the peak of your youth (they’ll tell you that again on your 21st). Your future, albeit hazy (too soon?), seems bright and yours for the taking. And rightfully so.

And yet, the journey’s just beginning. You’ve a lot to learn, still. I might just be a little ahead in this journey, and instead of being the reliably naggy 大哥 you’ve come to love, I decided to pen it down and hopefully you’ll come to this page from time to time.

Here’s 9 things you should always keep close to your heart:

  1. Follow your dreams. Wake up every day looking forward to working at your goals and dreams. Don’t live a life of “should’ve”; live a life of “could’ve and would’ve”.
  2. Communicate. Pride can sometimes be unnecessarily crippling. Speak out your feelings and thoughts, remove imaginary barriers and engage in honest discussion. If you don’t agree, ask and point out why. Most of the time, you can learn from the other side of the coin.
  3. Be proud of making mistakes. Mistakes are learning points, and you can only get better after making one.
  4. Learn to adapt. Sometimes, we are thrust into situations we can’t avoid. Embrace the surroundings and make the best of it.
  5. Spend more time with the family. No, looking at your phone whilst at the dining table doesn’t count. Soon enough, you’ll be doing National Service followed by attending university. When that’s done, I might already have started my own family, with the two of you bound to follow suit. Let’s treasure the time we have with Papa, Mama and 二哥 now.
  6. Play hard, work hard. I didn’t need to tell you the play hard bit actually.
  7. Never crumble under pressure. They say people are like teabags, you never know how strong they are until you put them in hot water. Perform under YOUR best circumstances. So what if you fail? Refer to point 3.
  8. Never forget the family is proud of you. We will always support you in whatever you want to do. And we’ll always be here if you have a question or just need a resting place.
  9. Love yourself, more than you can love anyone else.

Life beckons. But you’ll always been my little brother, who always happily tells me how his day went, in the cutest way possible.


Your 大哥

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The negativity of it all.

We Singaporeans are an unhappy lot.

No, it was not the Gallup survey that jolted me to write this post; I am not one to believe in labels. A partial yes to because I listen to my family’s, friends’ and fellow Singaporeans complaints on a daily basis.

I was inspired after seeing how a blog post complaining about Singaporeans complaining was the most shared-about link on Facebook during the recent haze situation (read: “Dumb and Dumber Singaporeans Reactions to the Haze“). I want to believe the author’s good intention was to hold a self-reflecting mirror against the ugly side of Singaporeans, but I fear he/she was just ranting against the ranters. Just look at his/her choice for a title.

Photo credit: 9GAG Singapore

Photo credit: 9GAG Singapore

Are we really unhappy? Sure, we complain a lot. But I think everyone needs a stress outlet. An emotional unload is much better than plotting someone’s death. But are we complaining too much?

I read an article in The Straits Times many years ago on the complain culture in Singapore. The author theorises that it is the deeply ingrained Asian teaching of humility that causes us to complain so much. Makes a bit of sense: You’re better off showing your shortcomings than flaunting your achievements… right?

If your company finally recognises the hard work you put in with a fat 10-month bonus, you’d hardly be taking a photo of your bank statement and sharing it on Facebook. What if the reverse were to happen? Coming in on hard times, your company decides to cut your salary by 10%. Your reaction? I’m sure the world will be the first to know, for at least a week.

But what does all of this unconsciously do to you? You guessed it: you’ll undoubtedly be miserable. All you’re exuding is unhappiness, I can’t see how you can be happy. You are what you speak. Somehow, humility can be a double edged sword.

Grumpy Cat.

Here’s my theory: A large number of Singaporeans react more strongly to bad news than to good news. Watch:

  • COE prices hit record highs: National uproar.
  • COE prices experience sharp declines across the board: *no reaction*
  • ERP raises by prices by $1: A death curse to the gahmen every time you hear the beep.
  • ERP slashes rates during school holidays: *no reaction*
  • Boss comments on your mistakes: Your boss doesn’t know anything and doesn’t deserve to be where he/she is.
  • Boss compliments your work: *no reaction*
  • Someone cuts you in traffic: Every fiber in your body wants to cut him back.
  • Someone gives way for you to cut him: *no reaction*

True story right?

So here’s my proposal: Reverse that. Over-react when something good happens; shouldn’t you be doing that? Good news doesn’t come by as often as anyone wants.

Bad news? Well, you could a) cast it aside and focus on the better things in your life, or b) try to make the best of a bad situation and learn from it. It’s a win-win situation, I’m telling you.

Examples you say?

The recent haze situation made me fall ill, but I didn’t go blaming neighbours and being miserable. Instead, I reveled in 9GAG Singapore‘s reliably good antics on the haze, proposed for friends to crash over at my place to watch Game 7 of the NBA Finals (every cloud has a silver lining) if gahmen were to issue a stop work order and warmed my heart when I saw this video.

COE prices went up? Good, take some of that saved up money to go to the Maldives. MRT delayed? Good, more time to complete level 4,830 on Candy Crush. Phone ran out of juice? Good, your boss can’t contact you for a valid reason.

Photo credit: hungrygowhere.com

Photo credit: hungrygowhere.com

Also, never forget the everyday, small things in life that make YOU happy. Your mom cooking your favourite dishes. Having a drink or two with your friends. Watching your favourite team win. Being able to listen to your favourite music. The trains arriving every 2 minutes. That cute guy/girl checking you out more than once. Being able to have all these at your doorstep: Ba Chor Mee/Ba Kut Teh/Chicken Rice/Char Kway Teow/Roti Prata/Nasi Lemak. A round of DoTA. A KTV session. Sunday brunch. An episode of The Noose. Saturday badminton sessions. A good glass of wine in good company. I could go on forever.

You will only have a bad day if you let it.

Happiness is a choice. Choose happy.

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