Author Archives: Sandra Foo

Lifting the (dis)enchantment

Well.

It’s been a hot minute, hasn’t it?

Alhambra, Granada, Spain: The symbol of everything that was made clear to me in 2018

Without meaning to overstate the obvious, I have been unusually absent from this site for much of the year, and what little writing I did has been kept private for the time being, until I am comfortable releasing it for public consumption. However, after being thoroughly surprised by the volume of traffic this site still attracts, I decided there was no time like the present to try and get back into the swing of things by rekindling my own presence here with my annual end-of-year stock take.

The fact of the matter is that I have not only been absent from the blogosphere, but from life itself as well. With this year being one great big tangle of tribulation and upheaval, I saw it as an opportunity to take a good, hard look at my surroundings and do a spot of much-needed and long-overdue housekeeping.

First, and perhaps most painfully obvious, of all, my social life had ground to a deafening halt. While this was something that had been set in motion almost two years ago, then gaining momentum last year, it really went full tilt this year — the result of a combination of events that sent me down a very long and pitch-black rabbit hole that ended in a blinding flash of drastic, yet liberating, decisions.

I was, essentially, back to being the social outcast that I had started off as when I first moved back to Malaysia in 2008. The social circles and ensuing lifestyle afforded to me were the byproduct of a career that was built on fostering relationships with such circles, and even after I left that career to dabble in business, I was able to retain many of these relationships, especially the ones who genuinely left an impression on me and inspired me in some way.

And then the social media bubble formed, and it literally drove everyone insane.

Fast-forward to 2018, and I realized that I had allowed my own consumption of social media to dictate my life in certain ways that left me with feelings of deep disenchantment and self-loathing. It also didn’t help that April had come and gone, and I was further away than ever from my dream of finally leaving this country and settling down in relative anonymity. All this brought on a sense of failure that led me to decide that if I wanted that anonymity again, I would have to create it for myself. And so I isolated myself from society, cleaned up and locked my social media accounts, and became a virtual hermit, emerging only for a very select few friends, and speaking to almost no one except Dani.

While this may seem, in the grand scheme of things, like an insignificant, if melodramatic, approach to my existential crisis, I found it to be completely necessary. It allowed me to take a giant step back and evaluate what I wanted and didn’t want in my life, and it gave me the kind of introspection that made me realize I had come to hate what I saw, both in the mirror and around me, and I needed to remove myself from the equation. Lending further proof that I had made the right choice is the knowledge that, despite my very pointed self-imposed exile from society, the rumors and speculations continue to make their rounds, which in turn has retaught me two very important lessons.

Selective support. People will support what you do as long as what you do falls in line with what they think to be conventionally right and socially acceptable. To this day, people question — both to my face and behind my back — my decision to pack up my life and start afresh in a new country with the only man that I can ever see myself doing it with. And because they will refuse to see any reason I give as anything other than a silly excuse, I have ceased to explain myself, and chosen to let sleeping dogs lie. I am fully aware that my relationship will never fall within the dictates of polite society, and my only consolation is that I never told anyone the real, unabridged version of how my relationship has turned out, so nobody truly understands enough to deem it fit for polite society. This leads me to the second lesson:

Silence = GOLDEN. Nothing brings peace of mind more effectively than keeping everything you do as close to the vest as possible. The two most frequently-asked questions I’ve heard this year are “Where have you been?” and “What have you been up to?”, occasionally prefixed with “So-and-so was asking”. And while my first instinct was to blurt out everything that had happened to me this year — I could shock you with the details of the things I have done and been through — the little part of me that savored the enigma of self-preservation and feared the vindictiveness of gossip gave the answer “I’ve been away”. Not only does it rankle, but it also helps to stave off responses along the lines of “Oh, but why?”

And this leads us to today, the last day of what has been an extremely difficult year, which is not to say that it did not yield any positive outcomes. My relationship reached a significant milestone this year: we hit the fifth-year mark, and even though we are currently in different countries, we are more committed to each other than ever, and in more ways than one. I also know now, with absolute certainty, the kind of life I want to live, and what I want to do with the remainder of my days, and even though I don’t see it getting any easier from here, I do believe that it will get better.

So farewell, 2018. You were one hell of a cunt.

An endless summer

There was no end to the summer of us
Even when the rain set in and the winds took hold
All we saw was the sun

“Time heals all wounds.”

It’s something that I’ve heard and read everywhere, over many years. While I don’t doubt its legitimacy, as I’m sure it came from a place of experience, and I’ve been able to grasp the concept of it, I never truly understood its process, until today.

I used to think that Time heals us by letting us wallow in our misery, commiserate in self-pity, and indulge in whatever self-destructive practices we feel necessary, until we wake up one morning with the miraculous sensation of having gotten all that pain out of our system. But over the last two months, I’ve come to realize that Time doesn’t heal us — not in the way that we expected it to.

These last two months — 9 weeks, to be precise — have been simultaneously some of the most difficult and most illuminating of my life; in some ways, even more so than the year that was Empire: Lebanon. The first week was, for obvious reasons, the most difficult, and it was during that time, followed by the second week, that I fully allowed myself to wallow and commiserate. But then, once the sheer exhaustion that came from it all took over, and I was finally able to get a full night’s sleep, I knew that come hell or high water, I would have to find a way to get my life in order again.

This is the part where Time, in its infinite wisdom, works its magic to help us heal. Two weeks after my initial descent into self-destruction, we were finally able to talk to each other like normal people again, only this time, we had the reality of not actually being in a relationship to stop us from falling back into old habits and old arguments. And after those first two weeks of virtual silence and careful small talk, we both acquired a new level of mutual respect, understanding and undeniable love that made us realize that if there was one thing above all else that we wanted, it was to be together.

A year ago, I wrote an updated post about what it felt like to be in a long-distance relationship, based on the expectation that we would be together again very soon. In the seven weeks since we renewed our resolve to make this relationship work, the concept of a long-distance relationship has shifted drastically. Where once the premise of being in a relationship like this was just patience and suppressing any insecurities, our dynamics are now centered on actively doing what needs to be done, for however long it takes, in order for us to one day be in the same country again.  And as difficult as the last seven weeks have been, they have also reaffirmed our commitment to each other, and to the goal we have set for ourselves.

And that is how Time heals us. It allows us to be sad for a while, and it gives us the space we never even knew we needed, in order to clear our minds, assess our options and reestablish what we want to achieve. Then, once Time knows we are ready, it opens our eyes and shows us its endgame that we were always meant to look out for.

Ten years later: Stalemate

Larnaca, Cyprus

It has been a recurring theme in my life over the last year and a half, slowly gaining momentum until today, when I can finally, truly say this: I have come full circle.

Exactly 10 years ago today, I stepped off a Singapore Airlines plane, angry, bitter, but hopeful. I had come back to my home country, entirely against my will, yet somehow driven to do so: I had been (literally) abandoned by a man who had walked out my door one very normal day and just disappeared from my life the next day, without so much as a pour prendre congé, and I was also unable to find paid work that would help me stay on in a country that I had always thought of as my refuge. So I had finally thrown in the towel and decided to move out of the U.S. after I acquired my TEFL Certification to teach English, and even though my parents never said it out loud, they were relieved I was coming back, if only to save themselves the humiliation of having an unemployable daughter in an economically unsound country.

My return was not without its caveat. As I packed up my apartment in Buffalo, then Boston, and made arrangements for my personal effects to be shipped back to my childhood home, I swore that I would not become one of those kids whose ‘life abroad’ meant getting a degree from a foreign university. I resolved to come back and regroup, grow up, and learn everything I would need to know in order to find my way out into the world again — and all within 10 years. So I gave up the life and the people I had loved in the U.S. for nearly five years, and came back to Malaysia, my parents, and a handful of friends whom I still had here.

But that was 10 years ago — a full decade during which I changed jobs more times than I would have liked to admit, dated and slept with men whom I now pretend don’t exist, and ran around in social circles that mutated before my very eyes. And with all three categories — work, relationships and friends — I realized that I would never quite fit in. Oh, I discovered what I was good at professionally, I made some great friends who have lasted nearly as long as I’ve been here, and I met someone who would turn out to be my greatest love, but I knew that the life I had here was never going to be the life I truly wanted.

And so, over the last four years, the seed that I had planted in my own mind began to grow, and for a while it seemed as though everything I had thought about, talked over and cried for would really come to fruition. I thought that for once in my life, something I had planned for could really work out the way I wanted, and better yet, it could all happen with the love of my life by my side. But if there is one thing the last 10 years have taught me, and that I should have remembered, it’s that nothing ever works out the way I planned it to, especially not when the stakes and expectations are so high that I’m at constant risk of losing everything.

So here I am now, 10 years later, full circle: still in this country, still angry and bitter, with only a handful of friends whom I’ve somehow managed to keep, and having failed to keep my decade-old resolution of finding my way out again. My only consolation is that despite being only 23 years old when I made that resolution, my feelings about it have not changed; if anything, they have been further intensified by everything that I have seen, everyone I have met, and all the lessons I’ve had to learn in this decade. And as I look at the coming months, I can only hope that in the face of so much loss, there can only be that much more to gain.