“To whom are we beautiful as we go?”

I keep remembering the summer night
And the conversation breaking up the mood
I didn’t want to tell you you were right
Like the season changing, oh, I felt it too

The heart of life is good.

Sometimes it still feels strange, this long stretch of surprisingly calm days. What happens to a person when she is no longer defined by her bad days and motored by long-embedded tangible sadness? These days I linger in the in-between of feelings, fluctuating between restlessness and ease. There is a calmness in my day-to-day, yet sometimes it feels like there is a storm that is slowly, steadily brewing inside of me. I am, like always, neither one nor the other. In-between.

Why does it feel harder to write lately, now that I spend more days feeling happy instead of despondent?

Two nights ago at 3 AM, I received text messages from Third Bro, who was suddenly overly concerned over my near-future. “Have you gotten a job offer?” He texted. “No, I’m waiting to hear back in June. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll do the needful,” I responded. “Don’t wait,” he chimed in, “Apply now.” I stopped replying, letting him assume I’ve gone to bed.

I woke up to more messages from him, listing several names of agencies and companies in Singapore. I know he means well, I know that, but… what is this? Why? I grew increasingly furious and annoyed as the morning progressed and just before noon, I’d submitted my resume to two environmental companies, both based in Malaysia. Funny, months ago I moped, worried, and lost sleep over starting this process and now: uploading resumes and clicking Apply like it’s no fucking big deal. I texted him to let him know what I had just done, hoping he would then drop this topic because even though I appreciate his good intentions and genuine concern – I’ll play by my own rules.

His insistence that I ought to focus on job opportunities in Singapore annoyed me, even though I’m well-aware of the pros and perks behind that. But I… you know… I’m tired of being a foreigner, feeling like one. For the past six years, I’ve played this role: the outsider, looking in. No matter how well-adjusted I am to the life here now, I am an outsider. The sense of belonging, until now, just doesn’t feel the same. Down to my bones, I am Malaysian. Now I want to plant permanent roots.

I’ve been asked several times why I’ve no intention to work here in the States, and now I feel like I’m about to be grilled about opting for Malaysia over Singapore. A Singaporean classmate I spoke to just the other day nonchalantly commented that Singapore is “a developed nation in a developing region” – I agree, and I’m happy that she’s part of a country that is socioeconomically sound with high literacy and have met its basic needs. I know we’re neighbors, which makes whatever that Malaysia lacks even more obvious, but I am not ashamed of where I am from. I am frustrated at the realities yes, but I look at them as challenges – if I don’t fight for the kind of life and country that I believe we are capable of, can I answer and live with myself?

What frustrates me a great deal at the end of the day, I think, is the fact that few people seem to understand that I don’t value the culture of material wealth in the same way that they do. They can have the fanciest toys in the world if that is what they desire, but they need to respect that my desires don’t align and constitute with theirs.

I am not moved by these things; they don’t speak to me in the same way.

These days, I am mostly just exhausted by the restlessness in my heart and the loneliness that I continue to wage a war against. These days, my life here feels like a half-life; I exist and make the best of it, but I am mostly unfeeling. I can’t touch happiness in the same way that I used to when I am by myself. Solitude is still something I value immensely, but some days it feels like self-isolation of the worse kind. What I wanted at twenty-two… the irony, what I would give up for at almost twenty-four that I am now. Because life is short – shorter than we imagine – and as it is and even if we don’t mean to, we spend a bulk of ours wasting them away.

At the end of the day, the one with the most toys still… dies.

All this richness and then what? So what?

I think about God often these days and I find myself shamefully lacking. I haven’t lost sleep over this, but I can’t shake it off so easily like I used to. I am deeply affected by the recent shooting of three young Muslims in North Carolina; the husband was my age, how crazy is that? In all of their photos, they are in love and content with life. They do good, noble things in their community, for their community. They uphold their belief by serving God and their roles by serving their community.

What have I done for myself and others? For God?

My sister once wrote, “Everyone talks about God and it is rich. They cry, they break and they kneel. But I am so detached. And so unsure of why. When I look I don’t see, what I hear I don’t absorb. What I feel I simply can’t reflect on. Everything fucking moves in slow motion. Everything I feel I’d rather not – everything I do I wish I hadn’t done. What’s going on? How can one person so convinced that she has found her direction end up so misplaced?”

But it is this last question she’d posed that shakes me, ever-restless and uneasy;

“Why is it that I do a lot to find God, only to find myself almost Godless in my heart?”

You can have all the toys in the world, go ahead and have my share too. Because I… I think I need to be on a quest to save my soul. To whom are we beautiful as we go?

Does anybody know how to hold my heart
How to hold my heart?
– Sara Bareilles, Hold My Heart


2 thoughts on ““To whom are we beautiful as we go?”

  1. Hello there Jandoe…it’s me again. Like I mentioned in my last comment I’ll keep reading what you write because I find your writing so interesting and engaging. In this post, you sound melancholy….you are young, you are smart, your options are wide open and you are about to graduate from Stanford! Malaysia or Singapore….regardless of where you are destined to be…any country or organization will be fortunate to have you! Of course I have a sentimental reason to vote for Malaysia! Good luck…not that you will need it in the job search but for finding where your heart wants to be.

    1. Thank you so, so much Mitta for your kind words (again!) and well-wishes :) Definitely need the luck and worry not, the game plan is to head back home – I’m still calling all the shots about my near-future and I really want to be home for at least the next five years. Where the heart wants to be might be a different story as time goes on, but for now – home it is :)

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