1998 Wrapup

Has it been another year already? What a year it’s been! This was a year of fabulous memories, hard knocks, being taken down a peg or three, and at the end of it all, I feel more alive, energised, and centered than ever before. I also have a new rule (3 actually) to live by: 1) Show up; 2) Tell the truth; 3) Don’t try to control the outcome. Trust me, it makes life a lot more fun and a lot less stressful.The most important news: I’m finally a free man! I was discharged from the Singapore Armed Forces on May 17th 1998, after an excruciatingly long (but still cushy by most standards) service of 30 months. First chance I got, I left the country…more about that in a bit. I do believe that the only time I’ll ever put on an army uniform again will be for a costume party. Amen.

This was a year of travelling. I spent almost ½ of the last 12 months abroad. In January, I went to Cambodia for almost 2 weeks. Amidst sporadic fighting between nationalist and Khmer forces in the north, I still managed a rather uneventful, and very awe-inspiring time at Siam Reap where the Angkor temples are. I strongly suggest visiting the temples sooner than later…it’s fast becoming commercial, and tourists are already beginning to overrun the place. There is nothing like these temples in the world. Phnom Penh was like a time capsule of Asia in the 50’s and 60’s, the only aberration being the abundant mobile phones. Battambang is a small town in the northwest of Cambodia, with an interesting mix of war-torn French colonial buildings, and the odd scattering of newer, quickly thrown together 60’s style architecture. The town used to be a Khmer stronghold…and a center of timber and ruby smuggling across the Thai border. In any case, it was certainly an eye opener. I was fortunate enough to have Oscar as my guide…he having already spent almost 3 years in Cambodia by that time.

In May, right after I got discharged from the army, I spent 10 days in Bangkok, before flying off to London. Very few people knew I was leaving, and fewer knew when I was returning (myself included). I only had 2 suitcases with me, and enough money to last a few months. I had intentions of moving permanently to London, find a job, settle down with Oscar, and using London as a base to explore the rest of Europe. Before I left, I had organised a few interviews with the big boys of strategy consulting, but the interviews were grueling, and I guess I didn’t make the cut. It became clear as the weeks passed that finding a job in London was not going to be easy. After the first 3 or 4 months, I was almost ready to take on any job I could find…forget the grand dreams I had. I was fortunate enough to have my aunt’s flat to live in, and friends’ to crash at when it got too crowded at my aunt’s in South Kensington.

In the meantime, however, I had an absolutely grand time in London. From Pride in June, to Summer Rites in August, from Oxford to Bath, Cornwall and Brighton, it seemed like a never-ending parade of places to visit, people to hang out with, and festivals to attend. Soho Athletic Club, Heaven and Trade were my three most frequented venues. Imagine waking up at 4am to go clubbing! Initially I thought the Londoners were crazy to do that, but I found myself in the same routine before too long. I could navigate Soho blindfolded by July. I also made some new friends for life, and they were the ones who kept me sane and healthy. Forever grateful will I be to them for being there when I needed it. You know who you are. I also had a constant stream of visiting friends who kept me updated on the gossip at home, and kept the homesickness at bay.

And then it all came crashing down. Oscar, the man I’ve been waxing so lyrically about arrived, and I found out that I had to add him to what’s becoming an almost embarrassingly long list of failed relationships. I was devastated to begin with, but within every failure, there are lessons to be learnt…and boy did I learn. Coupled with being unemployed for what was almost half a year, and running very low on money, you can imagine what it was like. The best option for me was to leave London…a bit browbeaten, but in many ways a wiser person.

Back in Singapore, I started working part-time at Guardian, a retail pharmacy. I work most evenings and almost every weekend. It left my weekdays free, and my social life starts after 10pm most days anyway…so it was a great lifestyle. Most importantly, I’m spent lots of time with my best friends here…people I respect tremendously, and from whom I derive disproportionate amounts of fun and pleasure being around.

I was also busy helping to organise Singapore’s first AIDS Conference, which was held on the 12th of December. The Minister of Health officiated, which was a big step in the getting the government to respond in a much more public way to what’s becoming a public health problem. We’ve achieved some milestones with Action for AIDS this year, and I’m very proud of the work I do with them. I’ve found myself back in the thick of AIDS activism since returning here in November, and it’s great! Earlier in the year, I organised a series of wildly successful parties at Zouk/Velvet Underground, which proceeds went directly to Action for AIDS. Not only did we reach thousands of men with the message of safer sex, we also raised a significant amount of money. I also cemented a reputation for being the WildChild of party throwing. Long live sequins and glitter. My next project after the AIDS conference is to develop and conceptualise our AIDS campaign for the whole of 1999.

This was the year I learnt to be comfortable with uncertainty….my life has always been smooth sailing, one phase leading effortlessly into the next…always going according to plan. For once, everything did NOT go according to plan, and initially, I felt lost, directionless, and very perturbed by that. Here I was, finally a ‘free’ man, with no more obligations, free to be anywhere I wanted, do anything I pleased…and yet with all the planning and effort I had put into my career and relationships, nothing seemed to be going right. Welcome to reality. But my perspective shifted after some soul-searching, and instead of fighting uncertainty, I now know how to embrace it, allowing it to show me opportunities I never saw before.

Now that I’ve found my dream job at EDB, life is even better! It allows me to draw from my pharmacy education, as much as it will expose me to the world of big business. I’m really psyched.

At to top it all off, I just returned from Sydney. Mardi Gras this year was absolutely incredible…in many ways better than the one I went to in 1997. More about that in the next journal entry…with pictures!

Stay tuned.