As I watch the sun literally and figuratively set on 2019, I’m compelled to write a retrospective on this last decade. My sister and Darryl Kang have both written poignant, personal messages I don’t hope to top, but Georgina takes my the cake for her brutally honest and beautiful post last Saturday.
It feels like a monumental task, so I’ve brewed a cup of coffee, got the computer chair set to its optimal position, and am wearing my thinking hat. Which is one of the hats I always wear.
Back to Australia 🇦🇺
The 2010s coincided almost perfectly with my family repatriating from Singapore to Australia. We were all over the place for much of the 2000s: I was studying in Adelaide, then the family moved to Kuala Lumpur, then I came back to study by correspondence during my mum’s final years, then we moved back to Singapore, then my sister and I were back in Adelaide part time for studying, and my dad continued to be based in Singapore. My PayPal account listed 19 addresses.
I still remember the call from my dad while we were preparing for exams in Adelaide that he was being transferred back, and that our return home to Singapore for that Christmas would be for the last time. I knew the time would come eventually, but severing the last connection to what I considered my adopted home was heartbreaking. I didn’t want to go back to Australia; all I knew about it from infrequent trips to visit family was it had awful internet and was so far away from everywhere else.
Little did I know that it would be the best thing that happened to me. Moving back permanently to Australia, in this case Sydney, helped us to mentally and physically regroup for the first time since my mum died and we’d all lost a bit of purpose. I had been feeling adrift and depressed for a long time by this stage, with no real base anywhere or sense of direction.
And while Australia does have Turnbull’ian internet, I’ve loved living in Sydney. It’s expensive enough to make Singapore look cheap now, but the people are friendly, the coffee and food are incredible, the work culture is more relaxed, most of the year the weather is beautiful, there are so many natural wonders to explore, and I feel safe. And with a large influx of Asian businesses and people in the time we were away, most of my favourite treats can be found here.
(I’d started drafting this post a few months ago, so what I’ve said about safety may have been rattled a bit. Here’s hoping Australia gets it political act together in the 2020s).
Admittedly compared to Singapore, I’ve felt the most at home since we moved to Chatswood, given its strong Chinese community, dense apartment building blocks, and abundance of Asian food. But it’s also closer to the Sydney CBD than where we were before, and I love the little home Clara and I have built together.
In many ways this retrospective is as much a tribute to what Australia has given me since we came back here. I’m not sure if my long-term future is still here, but I’m grateful for what I have here right now.
Overcoming shyness and social anxiety 📚
I like to think I achieved a lot during the previous decade: caring for my mum, graduating high school, starting university the first time, getting my first paid IT gigs, baking my first scone. But breaking out of my shell was not one of them. If anything my social anxiety was worse by 2009 than it was in school in 2000. It was crippling in so many ways, from not being able to open the front door without my heart racing, to the paradoxical need for human interaction but avoiding social situations for days at a time.
I’m still a bit like this. Being an introvert does mean I need large blocks of time for personal projects, and mental recharging. At times I do still feel pangs of anxiousness when I’ve spent too much time talking with people, requiring a quick trip to the bathroom or a breather outside; introverts know what I’m talking about.
But with help from my new Australian friends in Sydney, and forcing myself to make social interactions a routine, I no longer feel debilitated by it. I struggled with this as a teenager, but I’ve also finally given myself permission to excuse myself from loud New Years parties and other events I hate. Life’s too short to pretend to enjoy things you don’t.
The 2010s were the first time I questioned the specific infocomm role I’d end up in, for the better. In school and university I picked up software subjects, fully expecting to graduate a software developer. I was for my first few jobs, most recently as one of those short-lived devops people, but I realised I was spending more personal and work time doing technical writing and tinkering with virtual machines rather than writing code. I’ve been happier since officially shifting to doing those, and I’m less stressed despite having a steeper workload.
This decade was also when I met a startup entrepreneur at my alma mater, who was teaching a cloud infrastructure subject. I asked him if he was hiring after the class, and a year later he not only remembered me, but offered me a job. It’s now been the longest I’ve ever had, and I love the team and the system we’re building. It’s also offered me a chance to travel regularly to meet clients, to work in the San Francisco office whenever I want, and to present at conferences overseas.
Funny story, I missed my graduation ceremony at UTS because I was in a Kinokuniya opposite Bryant Park in New York with my girlfriend on paid leave. If I read that sentence as a teenager, I would have scarcely believed any of it. ♡
Incidently, if you’re up for an enterprise-grade cloud that’s more robust, easier to understand, and cheaper than the ones you know, give OrionVM a try :).
For all the family medical drama and pain my sister and I grew up with, we were extraordinarily lucky that my dad’s job let us travel the world. And I knew that I’d want to keep doing it when I moved out and was making my own income. Shiny possessions and grand homes be damned!
But somehow I had a mental block to doing it once I had the financial means to do so. I didn’t think could cut it in foreign country, whether it be for the language barrier or even taking the first step to booking tickets and accommodation. And when I’d get close to finally preparing, self-doubt and a weird feeling that I didn’t deserve it would sweep over me, and I’d cancel.
Clara and my job have both been so great for this. Clara’s working knowledge of Japanese has let us wander around all the places I’d dreamed to, and her Cantonese helped in Hong Kong! I’d promised my mum I’d go with her to the Met in New York once she was cured, so Clara was gracious and nice enough to make the trip with me and hold my hand when I got wobbly. It was also unreasonably fun to show her around Singapore which I’m lucky to still be able to go back to every couple of years.
Along with these we’ve also ticked off Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose/Silicon Valley, and Los Angeles. Hopefully we’ve only just begun.
FreeBSD and NetBSD 😈
This may seem like an oddly-specific thing to include here, but bear with me. My origins with the world’s greatest operating systems date back to using them on PowerPC Mac hardware, where I could never quite get Yellow Dog Linux working properly. Since then I use them wherever I can; NetBSD on my vintage hardware and virtual machines, and FreeBSD on my file servers, hypervisors, storage arrays, and even this blog you’re reading. In this decade I also started using them professionally.
These OSs have helped me so much in my career, but just as importantly the BSD community around them have been so welcoming and supportive. AsiaBSDCon 2018 and 2019 in Tokyo were wonderful conferences to meet the people who I’d tweeted and seen their names in manual pages.
This is another random one, but speaks to something more generally. Okay it doesn’t really, but I’ll force the point.
I loved old school European hats like the beret growing up, but our school uniform had a hat so they were therefore uncool. Then just as I graduated and I felt I was able to wear them, hipsters starting owning them and I didn’t want to. In the 2010s something finally sparked in me and I stop caring what others did or felt when it came to delightful headgear.
My daily wear now is one of many Italian Flat Caps I adore, though I’m also partial to Ascots, Newsie Caps, and Chullos for the winter. I started the decade with a single hat, now I have more than a dozen for every occasion and colour I need.
Incidently, it’s why I also have a pink backpack, anime badges, and maintain my mismatching socks. In social circles and the outside world I’m fairly reserved but I’m happy that I’m comfortable having these on my person.
I’ve left the best to last. But where do I start talking about the greatest thing that happened this decade, especially given I’ve said so much about her already.
After my dear friend Vadim registered us both in the anime club and I first met this fascinating, shy Cantonese girl the first time, I knew with absolute certainty I needed her in my life. I’d be keen to hang out with our anime club friends, but I’d especially look forward to it for her being there.
Our fate, for want of a better and less cheesy word, was sealed when she gave me a goodbye hug after class, and neither of us wanted to let go. We tweeted and got to know each other over the course of more than a year, including goodnight tweets which became a regular evening tradition. Eventually I worked up the guts to ask her out in the most embarrassing way conceivable, and she agreed. We met at Happy Lemon at lunch, and talked till they closed.
Her interests and mine overlap to such a degree it’s almost scary, and where there are differences we’ve learned from each other. She’s also an eager travel companion, and her organisation skills have meant I’ve come to rely upon her more than I care to admit. She’s quite literally everything I could have ever asked for.
The entire decade could have been a radioactive disaster, and I still would have felt better off had it been for meeting Clara, and her saying yes. Romantic words are hard. ♡
The sun has now set on this year and decade, and so it has on this post. I’m not sure if I’ll be blogging much more today, but if not, I wish you a Happy New Year and all the best.