2015 in hindsight

Be careful what you pray for. As I’ve learnt over the course of 2015, God and I had very different ideas about how my prayers should be answered.

Almost everyday in 2015 I prayed and asked God for wisdom, strength and courage to deal with whatever came my way. Over the course of 2015, God has brought into my life people and circumstances that’s brought me exhilaration and pain, comfort and discomfort, love and angst in equal measures. It was only when I listened to Brene Brown’s talk with Tim Ferris that I realised these were all meant to be opportunities for me to grow in precisely the things I asked God for. We need courage to get out of our comfort zone. It’s natural to experience fear when we choose to be vulnerable. Discomfort and courage, fear and vulnerability are meant to co-exist.

Reflecting on how I went with the goals I set for myself for 2015:

  • Think as much about what I don’t say as what I do say

I’ve found keeping this goal a huge challenge in the past year, especially in the context of close relationships. In the process, I’ve learnt that I need to listen to and just accept what’s been said at face value, and not to subsequently over-analyse or colour the words with my own judgement or ideas. I’ve had to eat humble pie and acknowledge I’m not as objective as I believed myself to be.

  • Slow down

God took my word for it and literally forced me to achieve this goal when I fell very sick in late February and later broke my left arm in late October. Being forced to physically rest for the last two months of 2015 had given my body a chance to recuperate from all the sports I’ve been doing in the earlier part of 2015, allowing certain worn body parts to heal and others to reset.

I unwittingly fell into a wee bout of depression in mid to late November, which was probably the cumulative result of a lack of physical exercise, my body missing the familiar regular surge of endorphins and putting up with the smog in Beijing. The cloud lifted on 1 December when I got back on my beloved bike for the first time after six weeks and rode to the office. And it hasn’t returned since.

Being forced to slow down has forced me to confront many of my cherished values and beliefs and reassess my priorities. It’s also taught me to be careful about what I ask God for. He’s usually given me exactly what I needed, not necessarily what I asked for.

  • Regain control of my finances

I could either take the glass-half-full or glass-half-empty view about how I’ve done with this goal. By mid October, I had every occasion to give myself a pat on my back. I’d paid off 40% of my credit card debt, and was on track to pay off a further 20% by the end of the year, leaving 40% to be cleared in 2016.

Then I broke my arm.

Even though my employer’s insurance policy covered 99% of the medical costs (praise the Lord because the hospital bill was a six-figure sum in renminbi), I still had to pay a gap and for scar management medication with my credit card. It’s such an irony that by achieving one goal, I’ve had to take two steps back with another. But it’s silly to put a price tag on one’s health. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have received excellent medical care at Oasis, my employer’s financial support, the care and support of my dear colleagues and friends in Beijing and God’s miraculous healing power.

Looking forward – 2016


I’ve discovered and listened to a myraid of podcasts since getting an iPhone 6 last February. It’s incredible how much I’ve learnt and how my life has changed just listening to podcasts while cycling to and from work and jogging.

In formulating my goals and resolutions for 2016, I’ve been particularly inspired by these two podcasts:

Considering past events and my track record for 2015, I’ve decided to keep my list short, simple and sweet, broken into actionable and measurable items:

  1. Regain control of my finances

Obviously…. since I didn’t manage to achieve this goal last year, it stays on the list. Nuff said.

2. Improve my physical health and fitness


2.1) Limit coffee intake to one cup a day.

This is something I’ve been consciously working on in 2015. I managed to reduce my daily coffee intake to one cup or none during the summer and autumn months, but increased to two cups when the weather got colder and the days became shorter. After breaking my left arm, I’m again seriously considering quitting coffee altogether as I’m concerned about its effect on my body’s ability to retain calcium.

2.2) Train towards doing my first triathlon (sprint) in September.

I’ve just subscribed to the Beijing International Triathlon e-newsletter, so I can get an email when registration opens.

3. Write something everyday

The aim is to get into a habit of practising my writing regularly. Since I started journalling a couple of months ago, I’ve found it easier to find inspiration for my blog and experience less writer’s block. It has also helped me overcome my perfectionist tendencies, and get something down on paper/computer screen. Self-editing has always been a challenge but it’s a necessary skill if I want to grow as a writer.

3.1) Journal everyday.

3.2) Write a minimum of one blog post a week.

3.3) Finish writing my second novel by end of 2016.

I end this post with a reminder to myself and to all of us who’s set New Year’s resolutions….

“And now you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

– John Steinbeck –







Click here for some background reading.

Waiting to be discharged

Instead of staying in hospital for two days as I originally anticipated, I ended up staying five days. I was kept in hospital for a day of observation after my wound was closed four days after my operation.

My stay at Oasis was generally very pleasant. I was one of three inpatients so the wards were quiet almost all the time, bar the muted sounds of nurses and doctors going about their work. The nurses got used to me shuffling out of my room and wandering aimlessly around the floor three to four times a day, getting my daily dose of exercise. I enjoyed my daily chats with the physio as he checked my progress and gave me more exercises to do with my left hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder.

Despite all this, it became general knowledge among the staff at Oasis and the friends I kept in touch via WeChat that I was desperate to be discharged. After months of exercising outdoors on a daily basis, being cooped up indoors for five straights days, even in conditions much better than my own apartment, felt like imprisonment. The temperature dropped drastically the week I was hospitalised, so the nurses were justified in denying my daily requests to go outside for a walk, especially before my wound was closed.

I’m a firm believer that God allows everything happens for a reason. In addition to a broken forearm, I was also nursing a cold while I was staying at the hospital. In fact, it was this same cold that fogged up my brain when I fell off my bike and broke my arm. If I’d just stayed home and nursed my cold that day, I’d still have an intact left forearm. If only I wasn’t so restless and easily bored…

Surviving in the real world

Free from the cast, at last!

I was elated when Dr Miia announced I was well enough to be discharged from hospital on Friday morning, five weeks ago. The nurses were amazed at how quickly I changed out of my hospital gown into my own clothing without their assistance.

On the one hand, I was happy to finally be going back to my own apartment, sleeping in my own bed and regaining my freedom to roam aimlessly outside whenever I felt like it. On the other hand, the physical weakness of my left arm was a constant reminder that I’d had to make certain adjustments to my living habits to get by as much as possible with the use of only my right hand.

Here’s a list of bits and bobs that helped me get by in the real world:

Kipling Keiko Crossbody

An impulse purchase at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to replace another broken Kipling bag, it turned out to be my lifesaver. I never appreciated compartments, smooth zippers and practical design until my life literally depended on it. It was big enough to hold my purse, keys, Iphone 6, headphones, office access card, transportation card and my compact cosmetic bag, yet small enough so I couldn’t overload it with things that were non-essential and overload my left shoulder.

Transportation mobile apps

Didi Chuxing 

Uber’s strongest competitor in China, Didi’s affordable fast car  (快车)  services have been my lifesaver when I’ve taken a little longer getting ready for work and needed a ride to the office. The 15-minute ride from my apartment in Dongzhimen to Beijing Fortune Plaza typically costs between RMB 8-15, depending on traffic and weather conditions and the time of the day.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: Only accepts WeChat Wallet
Enter a caption


Shenzhou is the app I turn to when I can’t get a ride with Didi. Shenzhou provides chauffeur-drive cars and employs their own drivers so naturally their services are much more expensive. I started using their services when they launched the introductory offer of getting an extra RMB 100 for every RMB 100 credit I transfer into my Shenzhou account. That offer ended in September, but they still give you RMB 50 credit for every RMB 100 you transfer into your Shenzhou account.  But as I was telling a friend, when you desperately need a car to take you home on a cold, rainy night, money becomes the least of your concern. It’s reassuring to know that even if I miss the last bus, taxis are scarce and no one’s responding to my Didi request, I can always get a Shenzhou car to take me home.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: WeChat Wallet, Alipay, Jingdong Wallet, debit and credit cards issued by China banks.

Food ordering app

Baidu Waimai

Cooking was out of the question for the first week after I was discharged from hospital. When I didn’t go out to eat, I ordered meals using Baidu Waimai. They have a huge range of restaurants, provide discounts if you pay by WeChat Wallet, Alipay or Baidu Wallet and often waive or charge a meagre delivery fee (RMB 5-7). If the food was delivered later than the time they originally estimated, they refunded 50% of the price of the meal.

  • Chinese only interface
  • Payment method: WeChat Wallet, Alipay and Baidu Wallet

a letter to my body

On my first 100+ km ride to and from Pinggu
On my first 100+ km ride to and from Pinggu

To my beloved and recently battered body,

I’m sorry I haven’t been taking good care of you. I’m sorry for not paying attention to your warning signs, instead pushing you over the limit.

When I signed up for the 140-km ride to Huairou with the usual bunch of local cycling fanatics, I should’ve known better than to go out on Friday night, indulge in cocktails, going to bed at 1 am and waking up at 6. You were pleading me for more sleep, but I ignored you because my desire to cycle was stronger.

It’s funny how the brain works sometimes. I remembered you, my body, completing three long-distance rides in July, and for that reason, I was convinced you were able to repeat the same feat. I conveniently forgot that after a three-week break, the endurance and strength you built up in July had seeped away and your muscles needed to warm up. I pushed you hard so you could catch up with the guys going at 30+ km/h, and in the process, I pulled a muscle in your right leg.

You gave me hell from that point on. Initially I thought it was just a cramp that would go away, and I continued cycling like I was completely fine. You kept telling me to stop by increasing the pain I suffered the harder I rode. I only got the message when the ‘cramp’ did not disappear after constant massages and rubbing for an hour.  You forced me to abort the ride and find a taxicab to deliver me and the bike home.

For the whole of Sunday, you decided to totally expunge everything I ate in the last 48 hours (at least that was how I felt). I couldn’t even have a drink of water without feeling the need to go to the loo. The details are too gross for a public blog, but needless to say, you were completely focussed on the one and only task for a day — ridding yourself of everything that’s been clogging you up for however long.

Being apartment-ridden gave me a lot of time to think about you, my body, and how I’ve been treating you over the years. It’s taken me years to accept and love you as you are, even though everyone around me says you’re beautiful. I abuse you daily by sitting for hours in front of a computer, checking my smartphone constantly, walking and sitting with bad posture, wearing high heels too often, eating unhealthy food and drinking too much alcohol.  I’ve subjected you to gruelling diets and insane exercise regimes for the sake of my vanity.  And I’ve never been 100% happy with you.  I always wished you were 5 kg lighter, your proportions were better…..the list goes on. It’s no wonder you revolted last Sunday.

Now I’m so scared of pissing you off, I’ve been ruthlessly choosy about what I put in my mouth, cycling to and from work at a reasonable speed and getting as much sleep as I can. Because I need you, my dear body, to be in tip-top shape for my upcoming trip to Zimbabwe.

Trying to treat you better, 





how I fell in love with cycling



Riding a bike is great. It saves temper, time and money. You glide past traffic queues, arrive early feeling fit, and get 300 miles per gallon of coffee. It puts you in direct control of your resources.

– page 6, The Bluffer’s Guide to Cycling

I can’t remember my precise motivation for taking up cycling 18 months ago after not cycling for over almost 30 years. My first memories of riding anything with wheels was  cruising along the dirt road on a tricycle outside the family bungalow in Sarawak.  Even at the tender age of 4, I’d mastered speeding and failed miserably at braking. Most of my kiddie rides ended up with the bike lying sideways in a bush and the skin of my knees peeling and bleeding profusely.

My second lot of cycling memories were in Singapore. I remember being 12 years of age and riding a rented bicycle in East Coast. I also remember emergency braking behind my brother’s bike when he suddenly stopped, losing my balance, falling and scraping my knees just as I did when I was 4.  I felt extremely self-conscious walking home that evening while people stared in mild horror at my bloody kneecaps.

Considering my pathetic history with bikes, I was quite unprepared to fall hopelessly in love with cycling in, of all places, Beijing. When my friend left Beijing, she insisted I take her Giant bicycle which came with detachable front basket, 3 gears and a sturdy lock. When I told her I’d forgotten how to cycle, she insisted that I’d relearn it within minutes of climbing onto the bike.

I put off picking up the bike for as long as I could. In fact, I waited until Sottie’s absolute final day in Beijing. It was the coldest winter day in Beijing for decades. The temperature hovered between -10 and -15 degrees Celsius as the winds howled relentlessly.

My first bike ride in 30 years was around 10 km and took 3 hours. I stopped plenty of times at oncoming traffic and fell a couple of times. It was baptism by fire. After that first ride, nothing phases me anymore. Except cycling on slush, which I’ve done in my stupidity and regretted for a long time afterwards.

18 months on, I’ve lost my friend’s Giant bike to a thief, gotten myself a Merida Duke mountain bike and fallen hopelessly in love with cycling.

Beijing vs Hong Kong

ImageI’ve been having quite a few conversations with my friends in Beijing about moving to Hong Kong. It all started a couple of months back when I was chatting with my colleague in Hong Kong about staff turnover in our team. She said they were having trouble finding a replacement for a colleague who’s finishing her secondment in Hong Kong end of March, so it’d be great if I moved to Hong Kong and took over her projects. I’d be closer to our department head and much closer to getting a promotion in the near future.  Because I didn’t see it coming, I was taken aback by her suggestion and gave a wishy washy answer that she interpreted as I’m open to moving to Hong Kong in the future.

I was in Hong Kong for 2 days this week for some meetings and training.  Less than 24 hours passed after I touched down in Beijing before my Beijing supervisor informed me I was going to Hong Kong again in early April for a regional meeting.  My colleague was over the moon while I sulked after hearing this news. 2 trips to Hong Kong in less than 2 weeks! I couldn’t help wondering if this was all part of my colleague’s ploy to get me to transfer to the Hong Kong office.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always enjoyed my previous visits to Hong Kong, be it a visa run or a work trip. The humidity is great for my skin, my friends there always take me to the best places to eat and drink, the shopping’s great and it’s nice to get unimpeded access to Facebook, Twitter, BBC and whatever website’s blocked in China.  I’d even think about moving to Hong Kong 6-7 years ago, but ended up in Prague instead.

After Prague, I moved to Beijing in late 2010.  In the past four years, I’ve seen more and more colleagues and friends leave Beijing for Shanghai, Hong Kong or their home country, citing the capital’s increasing pollution as their primary reason to move.  There’s been days when I’d wake up, look out the window, see nothing but a greyish/brownish shroud and start entertaining thoughts about leaving Beijing. These thoughts would grow in urgency if the pollution persisted for more than two days, probably because I start getting depressed after not seeing the sun for a while.  And just when I’d decide I’ve had enough, the wind would blow, the rain or snow would fall, transforming Beijing into this:

2013-09-05 17.49.19


Then I remember everything I love about living in Beijing: cycling on wide cycling lanes, Chaoyang Park, great hiking up the Great Wall, straight-talking, down-to-earth and nutty locals, the hutongs, my interesting, off-the-wall expat friends, politics, history, culture….

And my thoughts of leaving Beijing would once again be shelved into the deep recesses of my consciousness.

Hong Kong will just have to wait another day.