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Sand

My dearest Faith,

It has been some time since I’ve written to you here.

It continues to amaze me - how beautiful you are - when I look at you. Where we once beamed with the vitality of youth, there are now faint wrinkles and lines that chart the passing of time; and where I once marveled at how God could craft your face in such a manner that it attracted my heart so much, I now look upon his handiwork through the additional lens of experiences shared. I remember, you and I, such naive youths who had chosen to spend our lives together.

And by the grace of God here we are. We’ve braved so many sleepless nights together, cleaning soiled bed covers, sponging down fevers, or just being there because of our children’s need to snuggle. We often talk about how we await the day when we would have time together, like we once did when we were dating, and how we’d spend that time wishing we had our babies with us.

Time is flitting by so quickly, and the shadow of the inevitable makes us treasure the moments even more. I am so thankful to have known you, loved you and be loved by you. There’s this sense of helplessness as time slips out of our hands. I write on this blog to slow its passing, but there is little any of us can do, except to be thankful for the moment.

I thank God so much for you and how your presence in my life speaks of His goodness to me. I’m blessed to have shared this small finite slice of time in the sunshine with you.

Life in a Flash

It’s been a melancholy Christmas. A friend’s mother passed away.

The chapters change in our lives, and as Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything. The chapters of my life that have passed: friends getting married; having children. Now we wait. We wait as time extinguishes the lives of those we love. Our parents who held our hands as we learned to walk, our uncles and aunts who doted on us every Christmas, or whose red packets we looked forward to opening every Chinese New Year’s.

As we observe the time of grieving for my dear friend’s family, I ask myself, for the umpteenth time, why haven’t we gotten better at this? How do we prepare ourselves for the tough decisions: when do we fight an illness in pursuit of more time, and when do we pursue quality of time instead? How do we adjust the cocktail of emotions during our time of loss - less grief for times that could have been, and more celebration of having the privilege to have shared life together?

How did the angels sing “Glory to God in the highest, peace and goodwill to men” when they knew that this newborn baby Jesus would soon suffer the most humiliating and painful death on the cross?

In the magnitude of the moment it is not easy to step back and see God’s plan. It is not easy because to be alive is to drink deeply of the present, whether it is the depths of sorrow or the heights of joy; and somehow these moments gathered over time become a tapestry that speaks of the faithfulness of God, His undying love, and offer a taste of the abundant eternal life that takes us beyond - far, far beyond physical death.

Onward Ho

I turn 38 today.

Moments ago, I rode helmetless through the streets of Cambodia on the back of a motorcycle driven by a stranger who stopped me on the street as I was looking for a tuk-tuk. I just said “airport”, and he nodded and gestured me to get on.

Compared to many of my peers, I consider myself among the least travelled. I never felt the need to fly much apart from the necessary: college and work trips to the States, volunteer work in India and Myanmar, baby-sitting while Faith attended a friend’s wedding in New Zealand. We had our very brief honeymoon in Bali and a short family trip in Phuket, but I never got the travelling bug for leisure.

It is funny where life takes you sometimes. In the last two weeks, I’ve travelled to four different countries, all of which I’ve never ever set foot on. My first helmetless motorcycle ride as year 37 comes to a close, is an apt retrospective summary of the year past.

It was a little over a year ago when I left the public service where I spent my late twenties and early thirties. That period of my life cohered around a single mission of helping my fellow Singaporeans become more kick-ass citizens. Leaving that meant looking for a new mission work-wise.

I’m the catcher in the rye.

“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around - nobody big, I mean - except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff - I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

I’m Salinger’s Caufield in all his naive idealism, all his personal flaws and snarkiness; I am older brother to Phoebe. I’ve come to realise that being the elder brother has shaped me indelibly in who I am and what I do.

At Google I work on keeping people safe online, which when articulated sounds very vague and almost a little vain. Millions upon millions use the internet every minute, and someone’s got to got to make sure that they know the basics of online safety. Might as well be me.

Just this afternoon I spoke to a large classroom full of Cambodian youths, and drilled into them the importance of not using the same password for every online login. Maybe it’s not as heroic as performing brain surgery, but the connection with the kids (all of whom can’t remember their first time using the internet because they were born into it!) was something I could relate to universally.

It’s been a year of personal metamorphosis. From thinking as a public Singaporean servant, and shifting to a cyber-uncle extending the wisdom of the older, more benevolent age of the internet to the younger generation; a proud citizen of hot and humid Southeast Asia, learning to appreciate the dusty roads and letting go of the very Singaporean need to have everyone adhere to rules.

Learning to appreciate life, because it comes in so many forms I have never seen; and that in all its diversity, lies the handiwork of God in whom I place my trust as I make my way down this uncharted road.

We're the Planeteers, You can be one too

When I was working in the Public Service, I replied quite a number of letters from the public on the topic of foreigners in our workforce. I told them that while their concerns were valid, a diverse workforce brought together better ideas, skills and talents. But truth be told, it was all theoretical to me at that time. I had no idea what working in a diverse workforce was like.

In the last twelve months I’ve had the privilege of working with amazing people who hail from different office around the world. Mountain View, Dublin, Buenos Aires, Sao Paolo, Tokyo, Hyderabad and Singapore. This week was the first time we were physically gathered in the same location.

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We had such an amazing time. After so many meetings over late night / early morning video conferences, it felt so good to finally meet everyone in the flesh. There were so many intangibles that surfaced in our time together: we all shared a good sense of humour, and it was so fascinating to learn of each others’ cultures, countries and languages.

We learned that the word “banana” was audibly similar in English, Spanish, Portuguese and Japanese. We also learned that Argentina, Brazil and Japan all had a saying warning young children that playing with fire would result in them wetting their bed at night:

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It’s still very surreal to me that I’ve been blessed to work alongside my marvelous teammates with whom I share so much in common despite having such different origins. We were brought together as a team to help users all over the world make the internet a safer, better place.

That such a team exists is part of the magic of working at Google.

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12

I haven’t been very good at celebrating milestones. Today is our 12th wedding anniversary.

Last year, after making reservations at a couple of restaurants, Faith and I decided to eat at our nearby hawker centre, much to the consternation of my sisters, who thought I should be putting in more effort.

The year before that, on our 10th anniversary, we skipped celebrating altogether because we were taking care of Joshie who was one week old at the time.

This year, I saw a promotion for lobster at $1 at The Boiler and thought I should do something nice for once. Not being able to keep secrets from Faith, I told her where we were going and what food to expect.

“Looking at the pictures on the website, there’s going to be crab, lobster, corn on the cob…”, I said to her as I checked out the menu online.

“Corn on the cob! Yum!”, came her response.

I don’t know if you guys have ever experienced it: the moment you know that you married the right person. This was one such moment for me.

12 year anniversary

Dearest Faith,

Our 23 years together have been marked by so many of these moments where I sit back and marvel at the beautiful person you are. The time you showed such grit when you shared a tandem bike with me and we made it up that steep hill; or when you understood and didn’t judge me for the frustrations I felt when my parenting skills didn’t cut it. You have filled our 12 years of marriage with so many of these amazing moments where I thank God profusely for joining our lives together as one.

As our children grow and slowly become more independent of us, I am thankful that I have you by my side as we walk this next stage of our family-life, taking a more active role in serving the young people in church whom God has blessed us with.

You remind me constantly of how good life is; and how Christ longs to come into fullness of this - this life together which fills our cup to overflowing - with His bride the Church.

May our lives and our service reflect the spiritual and heavenly reality. May He have the pre-eminence.