This year, I turn 25, which means that according to the Lunar calendar, I am turning 26 years old in the Year of the Dog. Over the past few years, with the rise of YouTube and social media, I’ve seen plenty of memes and viral videos that talk about nosy Chinese aunties and uncles who only have the same few questions to ask every year (of which most are unpleasant). I’ve never really been able to relate to them because I was raised in a strict Asian household (think no-boyfriend-till-you-start-working kind of strict), but now that I’m actually working and living on my own, these questions seem to have taken a life of its own, and are quite literally the only thing I’ve been hearing over the past few years. That, coupled with the fact that I’m home again has given me plenty of time and space to reflect on how everything, including myself, have changed.
1) “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” – Kylo Ren
Being home has always evoked a deep sense of nostalgia in me, and I start reminiscing on the good and the bad every time I’m here. There are certain corners of the city that bring back vivid memories, and some tastes and sounds take me back to a part of my life I try hard to suppress. For some reason, these memories don’t bother me in the slightest when I’m home in PJ, but every time I’m in Kuching, it’s like a floodgate of unpleasant memories have opened up, crushing me under its sheer weight. This trip back home has seen my past come back to haunt me in many ways; taking the shape of an ex, a bad childhood memory, and love lost. Through all that, Kylo Ren’s words keep echoing in my mind, “Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to.” It’s during these times that I realise one thing: that I have enabled my life in PJ to become my only escape from these bitter memories.
2) Everyone’s going to have something to say
When I was growing up, my metabolism was amazing, and no matter how much I ate, I never grew much, except in height. Every Chinese New Year, I’d meet relatives who fly in from different parts of the world, who look at me in disbelief and ask questions like, “why are you so skinny? Do you not eat?” or even those going as far as saying, “You look so unhealthy. Skinny is not pretty.” I never let that affect me too much growing up, because I knew I couldn’t do much about it. When I was in university, I brought up the topic of going to the gym to my mum and she even asked, “Why, so you can lose more weight? As if you aren’t skinny enough already.” After more than just a few futile attempts of convincing her that it wasn’t to lose weight, I gave up and went to the gym anyway.
Ever since I moved to KL though, my lifestyle has become more and more sedentary. Working at an advertising agency (in the field of social media, no less), is crazy – the hours are long and you hardly get any time to take care of yourself. Some nights, I work till midnight working on pitches, and mealtimes are irregular, to say the least. On weekends, I work on freelance projects to earn some extra income, so this has resulted in me putting on a couple of pounds in the last few years. This trip home, all I’ve been hearing is, “You’ve gotten fatter” and “Don’t you control what you eat?” Through all this, I’ve learned that family is, and always will be, the most insensitive people; your harshest critics. I’m trying to not be fazed by this, because people will always see what they want to see, and you know yourself best – no one has the right to make you feel inferior without your permission.
3) Everything I thought I knew was wrong
I’ve been living with my boyfriend for the past year or so, and suffice to say, we’re almost like a married couple now. Truth be told, I have never imagined our relationship to head anywhere else but marriage, but with the sudden influx of “when is it your turn to get married” questions from our relatives, it’s made me ponder about whether or not marriage is right for me, and how I’m expected to know if he’s the man I should spend my life with. You see, I grew up in a less-than-conventional household, where my parents have always been at odds with each other ever since I was born. They separated when I was 13, and have never really been able to patch things up for long, even up till today. Although I grew up feeling resentful of this, I always had a vision of marriage that was untainted and pure – until I came home this Chinese New Year. Observing my family through a different, more grown-up lens has opened up more questions about marriage and relationships than I’d hoped to have, and I hope to be able to regain clarity soon. Where Yang and I will be headed to next in our relationship? I don’t really know, but only time will tell.
4) It is entirely possible to outgrow your hometown
I’m not sure if this is a symptom of living in a small town, but being out of Kuching has made me realise how much I’ve changed – I no longer want to indulge in discussing about people and what they’re up to, and instead, I value the friends who are willing to spend their time talking about the more insightful things in life; like religion, and life’s purpose. I’ve also learned that you can take the girl out of the high school drama, but you can never take the high school drama out of the girl – because all I’ve been hearing over the past few “catch-up” sessions is third (and even fourth)-hand information about people’s private lives. I’ve also realised how different I am today compared to the person I was two years ago; my outlook on life has changed drastically, and the experiences I’ve gathered over the past two years has moulded me into an entirely different person from who my parents were when they were my age. To a certain extent, I feel like I’ve outgrown my hometown, and I feel like an awkward outsider every time I’m home.
5) Some things never change
That being said, the one thing that keeps me coming home is the few friends and family I hold near and dear to my heart – the ones who were there when I was sick and suffering, and during the happiest times of my life. They are the people who keep me sane in this sleepy breakfast town.