1. The Turkiye trip - Acheivement unlocked! 16 days backpacking with one bag, eating with the Turks, attempting to speak Turkish, visiting Muslim and Christian shrines. All done for a grand total of S$2000. Travel buddies Ants, JY and I agree that we'll be talking about this for years.
2. A book at work - Less of a milestone and more of a painful rite of passage. After more than 1.5 years of work, on November 28th, I helped to publish a commemmorative book for my company's 50th year anniversary. Over the course of doing this, any of the experience of self-publishing last year got blown out of the water, as this project morphed into a five-figure monster that involved the president of this country, numerous photoshoots, sleepless nights and at least two people getting fired/ not having their work contracts renewed. My bosses got most of the credit, but even then, the response to the launch of the book was tepid: once in a while someone asks where to buy it. But I shouldn't complain. I'm glad I got out of this alive.
3. Second attempt at teaching the Bible - Still not sure on this, but in August I was asked to teach some youths in my church about the Bible. So I dusted off some notes and took several sessions. I did this before at my former church, but I would like to think I've learnt from my mistakes. I'm more careful with absolutes, careful not to dictate things but still emphasising the need to read properly before making an interpretation. Since the subject matter is heavy, I try to be open-ended. The most fun I had in a church-setting for a while, especially after a lacklustre year of missed expectations at church.
4. My grandmother - In quiet moments, I realise I do miss my grandma after her sudden passing in September.
5. Project "TR" - The anthology that was to be a follow-up to a book of short stories me and some writers self-published last year got off the ground in May, and was finally completed in November. This new group, however, has taught me the very meaning of patience. In part because I spent most of the time dealing with two people with equally strong characters (one apparently has asperger's, making him brilliant but arrogant sometimes). Great writers to hang out with though.
6. Team NUS Dinosaurs - Not seniors, but dinosaurs. This is the year the fruit of several years of patient training and waiting took off. As word that more seniors were training back at home base spread, eventually enough of us gathered to form a training group of our own. So while I spent most of 2013 training alone, this year I've had the privilege of being in the company of old and new friends, an entire sub-division of working adults trying to get back to race fitness. After a year of mooting the idea, we'll be runninbg our first race as dinosaurs in February 2015.
7. The Saturday morning MR running club - Mostly it's just me and Kewen. But extra points go to all the random people who join us once in a while for a 10km run around McRitichie Reservoir on 7am on Saturday morning. We've had some national athletes (whom we didn't know were nationals), dinosaurs and strangers. Because if you're mad enough to wake up at 5am on a Saturday to run around a jungle, you deserve to eat any buffet lunch you want afterwards,
8. Pasir Ris east writing interest group - Just 3 people, but thanks to them I'm still churning out stories. A well-needed lifeline for my written work in a very quiet year.
9. That 19-hour bus ride - From 5-6 November, Ants and I took a 19-hour overnight public bus ride from Fethiye to Sanliurfa as part of Turiye trip. It was cheaper and more direct than taking a plane. On the trip, we saw mountains turn into forests and then into plains and finally desert. Thanks to our great bus attendant Yildrim, whose English was limited to numbers, we had unlimited orange juice, water, tea, lemon-scented colonge, Turkish TV and jokes about how 'Arab' we seemed to look.
10. Being the replacement - This year I was the 'replacement runner' for many of my friends. I took their place in whatever races they couldn't run because of injury, work committments or family issues. This ironically meant I had a free pass to the two biggest races of the year - Sundown and Army-Half. It's strange to be at another person's beck-and-call, and to adjust training accordingly. And an error in overestimating my ability led to me crawling on the ground with vicious cramp at Army-Half. But still: worth every bit.
11. Helping some Canadians - Cementing my relationships with friends and family from Vancouver and Calgary, I'm increasingly enjoying hosting them. I had an awesome day at East Coast with a cousin, and hope to host a good friend in January 2015. In an era where kindness seems like an afterthought, I hope I can be hospitable to them like they were to me. (So, Vancouverites I know, if you want me to host you, email me!)
12. Hiking the Rail Corridor - Over two Sundays, Simin and I hiked the most of the Rail Corridor trail, tracing the old route Malaysian Railway trains took during the glory days of rail travel (or up until 2011). Ducking mud and potholes from Tanjong Pagar to Kranji, the Rail Corridor is at the moment the only cross-island offroad trail left in Singapore. Great trail, great experience, great company.
13. The People in the Trees (Hana Yanagihara) - Best. Novel. I've. Ever. Read. Long and fantasical, it's supposed to be loosely-based on the experience of an anthrolopologist who finds a lost tribe on a remote island and the source of their longevity. It's part fanatiscal, part a thoughtful exploration of ethics. If you had the key to immortality, woiuld you reveal it to the world in exchange for fame and riches, knowing you could ruin an entire civilisation? As a sociologist who has doubted anthropology, I was hooked.
14. The Golem and the Jinni (Helen Wecker) - In 1800s New York, two spirits in human form - a Golem from the Jewish Lower East Side and a Jinni working for Syrian immigrants - meet. This amazing premise spans continients and delves into both European Jewish history and North African folklore. While it doesn't explore a lot of deep issues, the key theme in the book reflects its title: the most unlikely people can become the strongest friends.
15. Redeployment (Phil Klay) and The Corpse Exhibition (Hasan Blasim) - I put these two together because they're mirror images of each other. Both short story collections are about experiences during America's war in Iraq. The lovely prose takes flight when it confronts some of the most insane and crazy subject matter: a rabbit that signals the death sentence of a pair of hired killers, candy as the only way a chaplain can talk to his soldiers about PTSD and more. Phil Klay's Redeployment also has the best and most riveting opening line I've read theis whole year: "We shot dogs."
16. Cinnamon and Gunpowder (Eli Brown) - This Jack Sparrow-ish novel centers around a chef who gets kidnapped by a fearsome female pirate queen, and forced to cook to survive. Even though I'm not a fan of pirate stories, I read this to see what the protagonist (the sarcastic chef Owen Ridgewood) would conjure up with his limited resources at sea. It's both a novel and a cookbook for dangerous situations. I'm still wondering whether it's really possible to make yeast on a ship that's not been to land for 3 weeks.
17. Rock Springs (Richard Ford) - I acquired and reread this book in February. This was the book my first creative writing teacher, Professor John Young, told me to read to improve my writing. After my second reading, I can safely conclude that this book is a great example for the most basic techniques of short story writing: strong characters, unique situations, tough settings.
My Soundtrack for 2014 (Music)
18. Come and get it, Krewella - The drama of their bandmates suing each other notwithstanding, they produce really good EDM music. I liked this song because it sums up the aggression of a competitive life, driven by endless training and late nights. You just want someone to challenge to make it all worthwhile.
19 Shine, Benjamin Francis Leftwich (remixed by Kygo) - I've been listening to this subset of EDM called chillstep, and Kygo is its pioneer. I listen to this when I needed calming down - after runs on the MRT, walking home alone, before hikes and deadlines.
20. It's a longer road to California than I thought, The Wind and the Wave - Beautiful song about the uncertainity of living life, maybe with or without someone. I mostly remember this song for the mellow feeling it first gave me while listening to it on the rolling hills outside of Mersing in Malaysia.
21. If so, Atlas Genius - The travel song. I had this on replay on my long bus and plane trips, and like the music video for this song, I imagine myself cycling through a thousand places on a thousand journeys. Because daydreaming is good.
22. Silk, Giselle - Not strictly a 2014 song. But a great song to relax to. (It seems that I've abandoned my love of hard, melodic rock this year. But well, we'll see if it proves just to be a blip).