Australia: 10 months

Time flies.

I just passed my 10-month mark two days ago.

I think I can tell that we’re starting to move on from late winter now towards early spring. Although Brisbane winters are mild, I had to learn how to cope. Nonetheless, give me winter over an Australian summer any time, especially in a house without air-conditioning (nor with a heater for that matter).

When I first arrived, I was sort of counting down to my next trip back to Singapore (which has been rather frequent, I must say). Six months in, however, I felt more-or-less adapted. Now, I enjoy every day I spend here.

There’s plenty of time to ruminate and reflect here, and the mindset change happened when I decided that I can’t spend all my life counting down to the next life stage.

When I was in primary school, I couldn’t wait to be taking the nine subjects in secondary school, including the cool stuff like history and geography, instead of the boring old four.

When I was in secondary school, I couldn’t wait to be sitting in junior college lectures, as a refreshing change from the usual classes in classrooms.

When serving National Service, everyone counts down to the last day.

For the first couple of my undergraduate years, I was counting down the semesters to graduating. In fact, I mentally divided them into half-semesters so that they would seem to pass by more quickly. I wanted to get out of school to start working.

In grad school, who doesn’t count down to the day when you hand in your thesis?

And I was counting down to the wedding mostly because I had forcibly stuffed my anxiety of organising such huge events into a corner of my mind, and keeping anxiety stuffed is mentally draining.

Imagine it going on: counting down to the day your child gets born; counting down to them growing out of their terrible twos and threes and angsty teens, to them graduating and getting a job; counting down to retiring… So I’ve told myself: this counting down has to stop.

If nothing fatally unfortunate happens, I can expect to live to 70 at minimum. The Economist recently ran an article saying that many of us would probably live to 120. Nonetheless, it’s a finite number of years. I’m already 33; to wish away the days of my life, just so I can escape the things I don’t like about today, would be foolish.

Whenever I’m in Brisbane, I have ample time and leisure to reflect about life… Something that in recent years I haven’t been able to do properly.

What is important to me? What are my priorities? What do I want to be when I am lying on my deathbed?

This overseas fellowship was supposed to get me to network with other researchers, come up with new ideas, learn new skills, etc. I’m actually surprised that in 10 months I really managed to do some of all of that.

But I think far more consequentially is that I have learnt to truly live on my own (e.g., cook real meals), and also had the space and time to contemplate, not just about science but also other things. I’ve regularized my life: meditation practice, work patterns, etc. These are not the things that my fellowship programme cared about, but I know they will be the things that really matter.

I had been reluctant to leave my secondary school and junior college. I found my National Service to be a fulfilling time, when I was serving others instead of serving myself (as a student). Towards the later half of my undergraduate life, I was no longer counting down; if I did, I wouldn’t have signed up for postgraduate studies.

These days, I am no longer so jubilant before my short trips back that I find it hard to concentrate at work, and also don’t feel quite so reluctant to leave Singapore because there’s the upside of getting back to quiet times in Brisbane.

When some folks heard I was going to Australia for two years, they made the jokes about not wanting to come back. I pooh-poohed them.

I still look forward to going back to Singapore, come October 2017. Just that I also know that I would miss this phase of life when it’s over, as I did with the others.


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