love, travel

Mil gracias, mi Buenos Aires querido

 

Hola to the dear city that I’ve spent the last year with,

Wow, has it been a year since we have been together? Time flies, it really does. In the blink of an eye, I will be packing my bags and trotting to new territories, leaving you and a ton of great memories behind.

At this very moment, I feel like my heart is thrown into the washing machine that is spinning with a mixed bag of emotions. I’m a little sad, confused, nostalgic, hopeful, grateful, all rolled into one. In fact, I’m at a loss to how I should start writing you my message of love and gratitude since I have a zillion and one thoughts darting through my head now.

For a start, I’ve never liked penning farewell letters. In fact, I hate it. They always make me feel overtly sentimental and unnecessarily sad, because they make the imminent departures real. Although they always say that a farewell is never truly a farewell and endings are never truly endings, we all know that a moment can never be fully replicated or relived. To all extents, this chapter of our lives will have to close before new ones can open.

Then again, there is an indescribable beauty in writing heartfelt letters, especially ones that honour the time we have spent together and celebrate the experiences we have shared in unity. It’s no secret that I have always valued honesty despite the vulnerability, authenticity over pretenses. And because you have given and taught me so much more than I can ever imagine, I choose to spend this rainy afternoon plonking myself down at the kitchen table pouring my heart out to you. Just because I have so much to thank you for, just because I want you to know.

People always say that love is unexplainable and illogical. To that, I can definitely verify. Years ago as a young and impressionable 18-year-old teenage girl, my eyes landed specifically on you when I was curiously scanning the world map and daydreaming how the universe out there was like. I promptly read about your stories, your cultures, your myths and your ways of being. I even had friends who spoke to me about you (I know, what are the odds? I mean, you are so crazy far away from where I was living then).

For or against me, I had always held true to the spirit of pure, young and irrational love. I told myself then that I was going to make my way to you one day. I had no idea what you could bring to me, I had no idea why I felt the way I did. The thing is, I would probably never know until I actually make my way to you.

Of course, I took a big detour to reach you almost 2 decades later. I was distracted, lured by other lofty ideals and was experimenting with other things I had encountered along the way. But you know what they say about love? You can’t fight it. The universe sends it to us time and again, and we eventually accept what we are meant to embrace. Many moons later, I found myself finally in your arms.

When I first got here, I had no idea what you could or would give to me. I let things happen and quickly fell into your whirlpool of offerings. And you, indeed, gave me an unforgettable mishmash of experiences –  lessons of love, sorrow, joy, grief, etc, all intrinsically juxtaposed into one big bowl of rojak. You taught me to love, to laugh and of course to cry (buckets!!) In essence, you taught me what it is like to live life day after day, savouring what it is like to be human.

One of the biggest reasons why my stay with you for the last year has been so invaluable is because you taught me so much about people, love and relationships. You graced me with memorable chanced encounters, all of which have one way or the other helped me redefine what loving bravely means. In this journey, I am slowly beginning to understand how love can perhaps, truly exist with no expectations. How love can perhaps, truly be unconditional. How love can sometimes mean drawing boundaries. And how love can sometimes be painful now because it contributes to a bigger ideal down the road.

I am still learning, but you have given me so much courage to bravely love in the manner I believe.

Not surprisingly, I have met people who have stirred my heart in one way or another. Some stayed and the relationships strengthened. Others came, lit up certain days in my life and departed for one reason or another. I used to feel really heartbroken when people I treasured had to go. But I’ve learnt that when we truly love someone, it’s not just about our journeys, but also about theirs too.

We might have had created an adventure together, but we were not ready for each other yet.  Love is not just about possessing. Love is also about letting you go.  

A lot of older relationships got redefined too. Similarly, some people stayed while others went. Beyond the pale aching heartache, I remind myself that their journeys are important as mine – it’s not just for me, but also for them.

However, the biggest relationship I’ve learnt to embrace and be in with is indisputably myself. I am finally beginning to learn what loving myself means, what taking good care of myself is, how drawing boundaries is not a sign of selfishness but self-love. How not to let historical pains of abandonment and doubts of self-worth dictate the choices I make today, how to keep risking and reminding myself to remain vulnerable going for what I want in life. Day after day, I remind myself to live fully in the present embracing all of the person I am at every single moment. It is a constant choice I make and having that choice is beautifully empowering.

Beyond all that, nothing, absolutely nothing, can replace the biggest gift you have bestowed me by far. Centuries ago, you created a beautiful dance through bleakness, poverty and hope in the ports of your city and promptly called it Tango. Today, I got the privilege to catch a peek and learn what it is like to live life dancing through the eyes and spirit of Tango. To embrace the sense of vulnerability, to connect with a complete stranger, to be open in our hearts and emotions, to keep dancing even if things aren’t going the way we intend for them to be.

Through Tango, you gave me a big slice of your heart and soul.

Through Tango, you taught me to live and love through life’s unavoidable ups and downs.

Through Tango, you taught me how to waltz through my days in the most dignified and elegant manner, regardless of circumstances and situations.

Through Tango, you have taught me about strength and vulnerability, about connecting and letting go.

You see, I have always been the quintessential (secret) romantic. I still love fairy tales and happy endings (Who doesn’t? And if you don’t, my dear, life doesn’t have to be so bleak. Why don’t you give yourself a chance and trust that happiness is your calling?)

Through dancing, you have taught me how to embrace my insecurities and to accept me for being me. Through dancing, you have also taught me how to respect people who are willing to display both their strengths and fragility – it takes so much courage to remain delicate in a sea of unpredictable conditions. Their willingness to show that they are human and aren’t omnipotent captivate me.

Oh, and you also taught me how to trust. Wow, I don’t even know where to start for this. You have taught me how to trust so much. Granted, you have taught me when to be careful but it’s never about losing trust. Trust is a choice. If we choose to trust, there is nothing else to fret.

I guess you have taught me that despite the trepidations we have met and will definitely still experience in time to come, embracing what we truly believe about the world we are in and people around us are all that matter.

To be fierce in my beliefs, to be grounded and rooted in my desires, to trust that my visions are worth living for. To love bravely and to be stubborn in my deliveries.

Buenos Aires, you have very unexpectedly taught me about faith, hope and the beauty of humanity. You reminded me how much stronger than we think we are, and how letting go of the fear of losing liberates us to fly.

One of my closest friend whom I affectionately call as Buddy (yes my dear Brenda, hi if you are reading this), has this quote from Mother Teresa as her favourite:

“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.”

I think I am beginning to understand its essence. Vulnerability and strength can co-exist.

More importantly, we have made the choice that we will rather be vulnerable than be broken.

To the dear city who has nourished me to the woman I am today, trust that I will miss you very much. At the same time, you also know that I will be back to you one day; I just don’t know when yet. But we stay close in hearts and trust that the day will come.

Till the next time we meet, stay loving, resilient, fragile and classy. You will always have that special place in my heart, and I will always be saving my love for you.

Te doy mucho amor, abrazos y besos. Voy a extrañarte, muchissimo ❤

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inspiration, life

It’s time to make space for more creations

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Gorgeous sunset over El Calafate. I realised I haven’t had the habit of sharing my travel photos. Since I am going to be moving around again real soon, I thought I should get started on sharing some travel stories. Here’s presenting to you, La Patagonia in the south of Argentina.

Buenos Aires has been crazy humid these days. Yes lovelies, it’s summer here. In some sense, it reminds me of the familiar weather back in Singapore – the warm and comforting heat, the impossible humidity, the lazy afternoons perfect for napping like a cat. I’ve always preferred sunny days to the bitter cold, so I’ve been thankful, really thankful 🙂

This city is also beginning to feel like second home to me. I’m getting to know the streets better, moving around with more surety, learning more about how things and people work, and am getting increasingly comfortable with my still-limited-but-survivable linguistic abilities. I’ve found my little nook of comfort after being here for a year, and it feels nice to be in a routine of sorts. The sense of familiarity is assuring.

It will be great if I am looking to settle here, but the thing is, I’m not. I’m definitely happy that I’ve come so far in this journey and have found my space in this big city, but I also know that I’m not ready to call it home anytime soon.

The reason is simple – I have yet fulfilled what I had intended to do when I first set foot to this part of the world, 15872 km from home. Armed with the initial desire to explore new territories and embark on a journey of discoveries, I ended up staying primarily in Buenos Aires because I fell in love with the dance, Tango.

It has been wonderful so far. I’ve had amazing times, created beautiful memories and formed memorable connections. Truth be told, I really like my life here.

However I also know that I can’t be feeding off Tango day after day. Yes, Tango has become a big part of my life, but like I’ve said it, it’s a part, not all of my life. Things would have been very different if my life goal is to become a professional Tango dancer. But nope, it is not.

With that in mind, I recently gave myself a deadline to leave Buenos Aires and continue from where I had left off by March this year. Yup, that’s only a month away. The journey beckons and I should really keep going.

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The speechlessly impressive Perito Moreno. The glacier itself is already the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water. Tons and tons of water out there.

I initially thought that this decision will excite and energize me no end. However, the inverse occurred and it very unexpectedly made me sad. That is weird, isn’t it? After all, I chose to go and no one influenced my decision to do so. So why do I feel such conflicting emotions? I was struggling to comprehend my mixed bag of emotions.

Over lunch the other day, I told my friend that it’s funny that I am already missing Buenos Aires so much even before leaving the city. I already miss dancing Tango into the wee hours of the night, walking out of the milongas with the first strands of sunlight brightening up the skies, the chanced magical connections from random dance invitations, the addictive artistic immersions, the Porteño way of life, the afternoons at charming cafes, the pockets of quietness I get to spend with myself, the support system I have built here.

These days, I have been forlornly counting down the number of days I have left here. Each day that passes fill me with a little more melancholia and nostalgia. I feel like I am painting a picture for the grand exit, one that is filled with poignance and I am not looking forward to it.

I have been hoping that time will stop so that I can extend this moment for as long as I can, trying to grasp time that is slipping through my fingers and desperately clasping on to it so that I don’t lose it further. Obviously, the results hadn’t been optimistic; no one in history has ever suspended time.

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My favourite photo of the series – the classic penguin pose 😉

It’s also eye-opening how this one specific example turns out to be a stark reflection of how I habitually always focus on the impeding loss of things.

I don’t want the good things to finish. I am obsessed with endings.

I fear letting go.

More often than not, we have a tendency to irrationally cling unto things even though they no long serve us. It doesn’t matter if we still truly want them or not, or if they are still creating values in our lives. We are too consumed by our fear of losing the sense of predictability these familiar things bring.

As a result, we hold on to them even tighter. We prevent new things from entering into our lives. In fact, the latter idea is discomforting.

It’s not that we fear new experiences. Rather, we fear the unknown outcomes these encounters might bring. We aren’t sure how they will affect and impact our lives. After all, we human beings are fundamentally creatures of comfort. We resist change more than we admit it.

I realised how often I have been operating from this mindset of scarcity. My focus has always been about losses rather than possible gains.

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With swag on the glacier *flips hair*

I first learnt about the concept of scarcity from the famed personal development guru, Stephen Covey. He mentioned in his popular book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, that operating from the mindset of scarcity means that people believe that there are only limited and finite experiences and resources in the world for everyone to have. Aptly described by him, these people “see life as having only so much, as though there were only one pie out there.”

As a result, we hold on to things that we believe are the best we can get. Well, better to hold unto what we have now than risk getting nothing later.

For me, I know this belief is a result of how I was being brought up. Coming from a comfortable but risk-adverse society and a middle-class Asian family, the values I have been ingrained since young were about contentment and saving for rainy days. Radical dreams or making bold moves that could rock the stability for both my family and myself are often frowned upon. People like me are often regarded as naïve, immature and hopelessly idealistic.

I also came from a place where collecting material stuff is a representation of a successful life. The more we own, the more successful we are. Possessions become a validation of self-worth. And losing possessions is associated with failure and regression.

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Hiked up Cerro de Los Tres in El Chalten to catch a peek of the Fitz Roy mountain along the Andes!

I used to cling on to my possessions. I used to cling on to the money I had saved. I used to cling on to bad relationships that were no longer serving me. I had clung on to all of that not because I knew they were good for me, but more because I feared losing them.

But what exactly did I fear about letting them go?  How was not having those things or relationships making me less worthy as a person?

Looking at it critically now makes me realise that my belief was really, rather silly. Instead of exploring the vast space out there, I myopically chose to squeeze myself into such a tiny box that left little space for maneuvering.

Along with that, I had also lived my life assuming that contentment and settlement are the same things. Meaning that in order to feel contented, we should never ask for too much out of lives.

Not that it is wrong. But other than that being the perfect formula for mediocrity, it is also the perfect excuse for telling ourselves that we aren’t deserving of anything more than the regular average Joe.

For example, I always had a self-imposed imaginary ceiling and crossing that boundary made me feel embarrassed or even guilty. The conversation in my head often went like this, “C’mon Jane, you should know your limits and be content with what you have.”

I actively limited what I felt I was deserving of.

Now I’ve come to see that this mindset lacks integrity for personal growth and development. We deserve so much more out of our lives.

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I went on to Bariloche from El Calafate and caught this gorgeous sunset at Cerro Campanario one evening. It is reputed to be one of the top ten places with the most beautiful sunsets in the world.

I’m not advocating that we become ungrateful pricks who are constantly unhappy with what we have at any point in time. Instead, I feel that we can keep aiming for greater heights and still be content with what we have today. There is no direct co-relation between the two ideas.

In my years of career training my peers and ex-colleagues, and having conversations with close friends about dreams and aspirations, I’ve noticed a similar trait in almost all of us – we have this deep fear of having bigger things in life. In fact, we secretly feel that we aren’t worthy of these bigger things at all.

On the surface, we may look really confident and preach that a life well-lived is the most important.

But when push comes to shove, we abruptly lose our voices. For ourselves, and to ourselves.

We end up clasping on to what we have at the moment, convincing ourselves that this is the best that we can get. Or we keep postponing executing that grand plan of ours with a zillion and one excuses, eventually settling for the same life we dissed because “circumstances did not allow me to go for my dreams”.

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The impossibly crystal clear lakes. Water is also drinkable, au naturale

We get to be right about being unworthy of bigger things. We end up being victims of ourselves.

Moving away from the mindset of scarcity to one of abundance is a subtle but big step for me – it creates a huge shift to how I see, perceive and do things.

According to Stephen Covey, a mindset of abundance is the direct opposite to a mindset of scarcity. People who live in abundance believe that “there is plenty out there and enough to spare for everybody. It opens possibilities, options, alternatives, and creativity.” There is no competition, only sharing.

I super love the idea. It totally resonates with my dream of a world built on love, compassion, generosity and acceptance.

In fact, it has given me the courage to believe that whatever that comes my way will eventually turn out to be good. I only need to keep trusting myself and believing in what the universe sends me.

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Bariloche is peppered with cute and charming artisanal microbreweries. I really love this one I went to on my last day, Cerveceria Blest.

With the imminent departure from Buenos Aires, I’m not sure what I will experience next but I definitely know what I am going to leave behind. And even though that thought is daunting, I am aware that if we constantly allow fear to hamper all the things we want out of our lives, we will never live out of the box of scarcity. We will just always settle for second bests.

The more we keep doing something, the more it becomes a new normality. The more I keep doing the things I fear, the more the fear dissipates.

Breaking boundaries is discomforting, but not unattainable.

And if our desires are greater than our fears, nothing is impossible to conquer.

Time to enjoy the ride and keep watching this space, my dears *kisses*

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Off to new territories!

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