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  • A.K. Lee

19 Things I Am Grateful For

While 2019 has been an eventful and a somewhat stressful year, I would like to look back and think about what I am grateful.

1. My loved ones and I are healthy

This is the most important thing to be grateful for in any year. The state of the world is, shall we say, pretty damn fucked up at the moment, so having our health is a small blessing.

2. I moved to a new apartment

I moved into my new place in June, and in six months it has become a home. I love that it is fairly quiet around here, and that I have a little gardening space, with a place for me to enjoy tea in the morning. I love my oven because now I can bake, something I have missed sorely for over a dozen years. I like the gym (though I should go more often) and the pool is a delight on hot days.

3. I learned new recipes

I have always wanted to bake bread, and now that I have a reliable oven, I have tried my hand at baking peasant bread. Results haven't been consistent thus far, but I will persist! The scent of homemade bread fills the house with something wholesome and warm. Something else I always wanted to try but never got around to was making my own pickled cucumbers. I thought it was impossible to pickle food here in Singapore. Then someone directed me to simple Japanese pickles and I have been indulging my love of pickled cucumbers since.

4. I watched WWE Live

If you follow my blog or my newsletter, then you know I love watching pro wrestling. Hence, when I had the opportunity to watch them live, I grabbed the chance and splurged on a very good seat. I attended alone and had great fun with my fellow fans. There is nothing like a live performance put on by some of the best athletes in the world, and it was clear they were having fun, which added to the overall enjoyment of the show.

5. I took a photo with a celeb crush

I never, ever thought I would meet Samoa Joe. Ever. He is one of the finest entertainers to ever grace the squared circle; listen to him cut a promo and you would understand. When I saw on his social media feed the Hello Kitty plane he was taking to get to Singapore, I had to make a decision if I wanted to go to the airport to meet the WWE roster and crew when they arrived. After some internal struggle of not wanting to be that kind of fangirl vs actually seeing people I admire, I went to the airport. I was wearing my favorite JOE shirt, I was right in front of the exit, and Samoa Joe was the first out - so I got a picture with him and that made my year as a fan. (For the record, he is very pleasant, very lovely to fans, and very handsome. I definitely want to meet him again.)

6. Some of my favorite celebs shared great news

This year has been the year of great news for celebs I admire. Early this year, Roman Reigns (real name Joe Anoa'i) announced the remission of his leukemia. Then, Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch (Colby Lopez and Rebecca Quinn) got engaged, and the day after the announcement of their engagement, Becky's mentor Finn Balor (Fergal Devitt) stunned his fans with photos of his wedding. Then, the revival of Pinter's Betrayal starring Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox and directed by Jamie Lloyd received rave reviews in London and New York. The play brought a light back into Hiddleston's face that I haven't seen in a long time, and I am very happy for him. Then, Missy Elliott released a new album (Iconology), drawing in tons of younger fans, and I am so delighted for her - she is a positive force and a genuine titan in the music industry.

7. I rediscovered an old hobby

I used to love putting together jigsaw puzzles. Unfortunately, there's only so much wall space in my house, and I stopped making them. Recently, however, I remembered that there are apps for jigsaw puzzles, and I have jumped right back into this hobby. It's almost meditative once I get into the flow of putting a puzzle together, and it's something that calms my mind down and helps me tune out from all the stimuli around me.

8. I bade farewell to a calling

I returned to teaching this year and I have reaffirmed a fact that I have suspected last year: what love I have for teaching has faded. I don't hate it, but I found myself drained of energy; teaching took almost all my spoons and left me barely functional by the end of the day, every day. It's bittersweet, because I do believe in the value of good education, and I do appreciate the small moments when students 'get' what I try to convey, but this is not my path for now. I am grateful to know this because it saves time and emotional effort. I knew this career was not for me when I quit a few years back, but I returned as a substitute. It was fairly manageable at first, but this year has been especially challenging. Rather than struggle on in something that I will grow to hate, I have a second chance to walk away with minimal repercussions.

9. I am more active in my writing group

I highly recommend finding like-minded writers that you can be honest with so you can push yourself in the development of your craft. At the moment, I'm a member of the Singapore Writers Group. It's a friendly group of novice writers at different stages of our craft. I have benefited from the feedback received from my fellow writers, as well as learned how to critique others to help build them up. From 2020 onward, I will be contributing to the SWG website; we hope to provide an avenue for current members to share their writing, to provide resources for novice writers, and to truly build a writing community.

10. I can grow houseplants

Years of plants dying on me made me believe I had black thumbs when it came to gardening, but now in my new place, most of my plants are thriving. Turns out it's the sunlight that I didn't have in my old place, but in my new home, they get plenty of afternoon light - which leads to its own problems, of course. Nonetheless, I have revived nerve plants and succulents, successfully transplanted cuttings, and my mint and tomatoes are growing well. I can't say I have green fingers yet, but I am fairly certain I don't have black thumbs!

11. I worked with new collaborators

Last year, I wanted to work with friends whom I haven't worked with before, and I did so this year. Some wrote guest posts on this blog while others reviewed books; I am currently collaborating with friends on paid projects. Writing with my friends has given me new insight on my own writing strengths and weaknesses, while my friends had a chance to share their writing and reading experiences.

12. I went to my favorite dessert place in the world

There is a dessert shop in the old mining town of Jiufen, Taiwan, which sells handmade taro balls and sweet potato balls, served in sweet mung bean soup. The shop is located up a steep flight of stone steps leading to the primary school. I was first taken to the dessert shop by a Taiwanese friend in my early 20s and every time I visited Taiwan, I would make the half-day trek up to Jiufen just for this dessert. The view from the back of the shop is breathtaking: on a clear day, you can look out over Keelung harbor and the ocean. This year, I wasn't expecting to go to Taiwan at all, but my husband and sister-in-law surprised me with a trip. Everything tasted as good as I remembered, and the weather on the day we went was one of the best days all week, so we had the best possible view.

13. I got to visit my favorite bookstore one last time

Every writer has a favorite bookstore or bookshop that they feel most at home in. Mine is in Taipei, Taiwan - the Eslite 24-hour bookstore at Dunnan. Something about the layout and the atmosphere present in it relaxes me completely. Unfortunately, their lease is up, and they would be closing in the middle of next year. As mentioned above, I hadn't expected to have a chance to visit Taiwan at all, but I am very grateful to have got a chance to visit the bookstore one last time before it closes. I would've regretted not being able to say goodbye to it.

14. I made new friends

While I do resent social media's persistent assistance (say that ten times fast) in my procrastination, I also appreciate that it has led me to meeting funny, insightful, and empathetic individuals, many of whom I now consider friends. We generally share a few interests in common, but more importantly, we have a desire to learn from one another in different ways. While it will be difficult for me to ever meet all the friends I've made online, I'm glad that I have social media to connect with people whom I have grown to treasure.

15. I held actual skulls

I went to the zoo one weekday morning and a zookeeper let me hold the skulls of a juvenile lion, a leopard, and a cheetah (all died of natural causes). She explained how they were different and why, but frankly all I could think of was "BIG CAT SKULLS! IN MY HANDS!" It was awesome.

16. I attended Mayday's concert on Christmas Eve

Mayday is a Taiwanese rock band and this is their twentieth year as a band. I've always loved the energy of their live shows. Getting to go to one in their home country on Christmas Eve, singing together with 25,000 fans in a baseball stadium, watching fireworks? Priceless.

17. I interviewed creators

Creating isn't easy. Talking to other creators keep me inspired and motivated to keep making things. It's always fun to learn how others do what they do, and I've picked up some tips and tricks. One major similarity I have discovered among all the creators I've chatted with is that they find joy in the act of creation, and the hard work or diligence or frustrations that come during the process is part of the joy. And that's what I have to keep in mind as I go into 2020: to keep finding joy in creating.

18. I meditated (sort of) more often

The practice of meditation doesn't come easily to me. My brain doesn't like not-thinking: I am constantly coming up with plots or characters or bits of dialogue or running over lists of things to do, even when I am ostensibly resting. I learned how to meditate from a master a few years ago, shortly after I resigned from my full-time job, but I haven't been consistent in my practice. This year, I read a book on Zen Buddhism in Chinese, and it mentioned that zen isn't about sitting still for days, but finding stillness in our daily lives. I find myself meditating more when I tend to my balcony garden. My mind is focused entirely on the moment, and I stop thinking about everything that isn't here and now. It's a form of meditation to me, which I hope to expand on in 2020.

19. My husband and I celebrated 10 years of marriage

Ten years. No arguments, occasional bickering, frequent laughter, constant support and love. Here's to many more years.

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