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31 December 2015 @ 04:13 pm
This post ends a rather mixed year. I won't be doing a lot of the traditional things I normally do on new year's eve - the midnight run, a watchnight service - because, well, it's been a tiring and draining holiday season. But as usual, I present my summary of 2015, reflecting on all the crazy things that have passed, with my yearly soundtrack thrown in.


1. I survived another year at work - After collaborating on a book at my workplace, this year I was tasked to overhaul an intranet system. The lack of familiarity with anything IT, the sheer amount of content and some internal disagreements meant the whole project almost killed me. It also marked the first time I clashed with my boss, and it's very likely I'll be leaving this job as a result. But most importantly, the experienced gained will hopefully help me be a better, more effective person.

2. Started trading - Singapore's still experienced a bit of good growth compared to neighbours this year, so I went forward with plans to find more diverse sources of income. I made my first share purchase and started investing in the stock market - two years after I got an account. The first dividends started showing in September. They're really small (S$28 every two months), but it's a bit cool to see passive income flowing in.

3. Camping overnight in the jungle - In May, S/J and I camped in Kuala Koh, Kelantan, Malaysia for two nights with a guide. In the flood-devastated rainforest, with elephants crashing through the trees, tigers roaring, and the rain messing everything up, was the typical 'man' experience. It was the army field camp I never had. The most amazing thing: I didn't die, I didn't get food poisoning. Just some leeches. That whole expedition has taught me to spend some night sleeping outdoors with the stars at least a few days a year.

4. Spain - The highlight of the year was the 17-day backpacking trip I did in late November with SM across southern Spain. We visisted Cordoba, Seville, Granada and Madrid. We wandered into isolated little towns, sat by a river as ducks surrounded us, hiked through a gorge till we crawling on our knees and saw some really great art in Madrid museums. But this trip is a milestone because I've finally set foot in Europe, and SM and I managed to spend more than 2 weeks in close proximity without murdering each other. Which brings me to..

5. One year with a cool lady - And we haven't killed each other yet. I've learnt not to think so much for myself, to give and take (especially when it comes to faith), to compromise and to let go. God willing, there'll be many more years ahead.

People/ Groups:

6. Work colleagues - When work gets tough, it's the good people at work that see you through. There were so many, it's useless listing them all out. The people will be the only thing I'll miss when I leave for newer pastures.

7. Team Dinosaur continues to defy age - Following up on last year's running milestones (i.e just existing), the dinosaur team sort of condensed to five people this year: Kewen. Chun M, Roy, Nic and myself. This year we outdid ourselves and took part in 3 races, the most ambitious was the Mizuno Ekiden relay. It was our first time running a Japanese-style relay, and the heat slayed us. But five years after graduating, we're still going strong. Or at least, seasonally strong.

8. The knowledgeable people at the Reddit SCW thread - After doing research on last year's Turkiye trip, I continued to follow developments in the troubled regions of Southeast Turkiye, Syria and Iraq. The Reddit thread on the Syrian Civil War has been especially helpful in terms on giving me a less pro- and anti- west view of all these crazy things happening. Reddit still is quite a sausage fest (too many guys), but the info on culture and geo-politics is very high quality. And it's taught me a thing or two about not just cherrypicking what I want to believe about current affairs.

9. Pat - Who would've knew that watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty over 2 years ago would kickstart such a profound change in life for all of us present? But Pat's has been the most inspiring: holding down a full-time job, learning a musical instrument, studying four languages and still doing mad things like visiting Russia on the sly. Here's to hoping next year we can all be as brave as you!


10. Volunteering again - I had a short stint (4 days) volunteering as a media liaison during the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games in June. It felt nostalgic interacting with players and media. But it will likely be my swansong. It's time to move on.

11. A project to understand a crazy war - This year I tried to help my countrymen understand what's going on in Syria and Iraq by raising issues as a personal project. This included translating videos and summarising them. The end goal: hopefully prevent people from joining extremist groups and travelling overseas to fight (although this project is still very academic). As a personal project, it doesn't sound like much, but maybe next year if my interest holds, I'll have something more substantial.

12. Breaking the 40-minute barrier - In March, at a quiet competition along the new Punggol waterway, I finally broke the 40-minute barrier for 10km. In the flat terrain, pacing a national runner, I ran 39:17, a massive improvement on my personal best. It's taken me about 6 years to finally go under 40, a symbolic acheivement akin to breaking the 10-second barrier in 100-mtre sprints. It's very ironic that I did this training and working, and when I'm nearing 30 years of age. But good things surely come for those who wait.

13. Visiting the Alhambra in Granada - The culmination of my Spain trip was spending an entire day at the Alhambra, the hilltop fortress-palace built by the Nasrids when Spain was still under Muslim rule in the 1300s. As a UNESCO World Heritage site, it didn't disappoint. It's a place where you stare at the art and wonder: what superior civilisation could produce something so beautiful? I'm both privileged and humbled to see the talents of a culture long gone. One thing off my bucket list.


14. Preparation for the Next Life (Atticus Lish) - This melodic novel is a love story between a PTSD-scarred veteran and a Uyghur illegal immigrant. They're probably the most unlikely couple in modern fiction, but the thing that bonds them is staying fit. It brings up all the contemporary Western issues: unending wars, the effect of these wars on Americans, the warr on terror and refugees and discrimination against Muslims. Would love to see this being made into a movie.

15. Wolf in White Van (John Darnielle) - Brilliant novel told in reverse about a disabled guy who's dealing with the deaths of people he only knew through a game he created. This book brings back memories of games I used to create: words on paper, people taking turns, stretching out over years. The moral of the story is that sometimes people - players and moderators - take roleplaying too far.

16. Demon Camp: A Soldier's Exorcism (Jennifer Percy) - I'm not a great reader of non-fiction, but this book blew me away. In an account that threads the thin line between creative non-fiction and storytelling, Jennifer Percy examines and interviews a veteran soldier named Caleb Daniels, who believes the cure to the PTSD he sustained in Afghanistan is a spiritual exorcism. It blends religious mania and fanaticism with male pride, with actions (if they're true) are insane and terrifying.

17. Wynne's War (Aaron Gywn) - Yet another book of fiction about the war on terror, Wynne's War is a western set in Afghanistan. A horse-trainer is tasked to teach some Americans how to ride horses into the mountains to fight insugents. But what he doesn't know is what they're after, and this forms the great conflict in the story. Well-researched and riveting, and it ends with a literal ride into the sunset.

18. How does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun? (Doretta Lau) - It's been a very disappointing year for short stories. None of the collections I've read stood out. Except this one. Which I bought on the quirkiness of the title alone and read while in Spain. An Asian-Canadian's take on love and relationships, all the more familiar because most are set in Vancouver which I've visited. The stories are weird and varied - a reality TV star leaves her husband-to-be at the altar, only to realise the next day that her mother has married him; a guy balances his job as the circus freak while trying to evade his girlfriend's demands for marriage; and five misfits name themselves after Asian stereotypes as they deal with being bullied in real life.

My Soundtrack for 2015 (Music)

19. When Angels Fall, Breaking Benjamin - BB is back! I love their guitar riffs and solos, and crazy screaming vocals. They herald an era of rock music that's mostly gone or immortalised in CDs. Their new album kept me company on those long nights alone in the office.

20. Apollo, Astronaut - My taste in EDM oscillates between vocally harmonious songs and rhythmic electronica. This falls into the latter. I first found this while watching a AMV, and listening to it feels like falling and swirling through the stars.

21. O what victory in acheiving martyrdom! (Arabic), Ajnad Foundation for Media Production - In the course of doing research on Syria and Iraq, I've come across a lot of ISIS material, including their music. I've come to the conclusion that ISIS media division (Ajnad for Arabic speakers & Al-Hayat for all other languages) is probably more sophisticated than most media companies. Their nasheeds (Islamic songs) are very high-quality and haunting. The fact they're so catchy that they stick in my mind months after I listen to them gives m a clue as to why so many people from my region are willing to fight for them. So while it's a bit crazy to put one of their songs on my list, it's here to emphasise the subtle pervasiveness of this truth: the most evil peple produce the best music, just like the Nazis did.

22. 10000 reasons, Matt Redman - This is a Christian song I heard at Qinyao's wedding that stuck with me. On the list for no other reason than indicating that maybe I'm slowly ocercoming my resistance to listening to Christian music.

23. Hold, Dabin (featuring Daniela Andrade) - This year is a year for melodic dubstep, when the genre has finally come of age. There've been great experimental artists that I've heard this year like Seven Lions, Adventure Club and Gemini. But by far my favourite is this masterpiece by Dabin. The mix is sublime, and Daniela Andrade can really sing! The song reminds me things might not be so bad after all. This makes it my song of the year.

24. Stay Alive, Jose Gonzalez - First heard this on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty soundtrack. It's an anthem to surviving the working life, and yet trying to reach those so-called unattainable dreams.

Thanks for reading! See you all in 2016!