HAPPY CHINESE NEW YEAR!!
This post isn’t related really to Lunar New Year but since it’s being posted up today i.e. the First Day of the Year of the Dog, then Gong Xi Fa Cai to all those celebrating!
I mentioned to Flo last night that I’m beginning to enjoy living in our new place not only because we’ve managed to make it our home, but also because I like our neighbours. Similar to the condo in which I grew up in, I’m getting to know the guards not just the main one at our condo, but also the ones at the apartment behind us.
I often use our back entrance to get to the supermarkets and since I usually go to the one on the right, it means that I pass through the carpark entrance/exit of a different apartment. I started about a week ago to smile at the guards (in a friendly way) just to acknowledge them since I pass by pretty much daily. Then yesterday they opened the barriers for me instead of me having to squeeze by the side, as I was going out and as I was coming home. It doesn’t take much to make me happy and their little gesture really touched me.
So this morning, as I was going out, I gave them some freshly baked Raspberry Brownies (recipe will be shared soon) since it must get quite boring sometimes sitting at their posts watching people come and go.
On the neighbour front, Flo and I have been incredibly blessed. There’s a young family to our right and a single lady with her French Bulldog to our left. In our incredibly small world, it turns out that JM and Fel are colleagues, and JM’s husband is colleagues with KC, our neighbour to the left.
With it being Chinese New Year, KC came round the other evening and gifted us with a box of beautiful Mandarin Oranges. I was planning to buy some for when we do our visits but it looks like I don’t have to now!
We were also given two packets of these Salted Egg Potato Chips by JM. It’s the rage right now, these and the Salted Egg Fish Skin which I swear, always seems to be sold out. ALWAYS! So much so that I question their existence.
It was really sweet to have been thought of and since I had little clue what to give to them this festive season, I decided to bake some fresh Ginger Cookies as gifts since that’s one of my popular seasonal bakes. I managed to make a third box which I presented to our security guard.
In other news – news that I haven’t touched much of late, I saw Adaline yesterday and we worked again on some imagery. It traced my food-related guilt back to disgust after an Unqualified told me that my body fat percentage was too high (it was within the normal range. I know now.) and back to when I was little and the petals of innocence that shielded me unfolded to reveal that I looked different from my Caucasian friends in our International school. I used to think we all looked the same, just that our hair, irises and skin differed slightly in colour. It was there that it dawned on me that my eyes were slanty, my nose less sharp, my face more flat. I felt so unpretty. But I channelled all that inwards.
It was during my session with Adaline that I was asked what I would have told me younger self. I would have told her that at 9 years old, what do your friends know of the world? What do they know of beauty? Don’t they know that beauty comes in multiple forms? That what is beautiful to them may not be so to someone else? And vice versa? That the essence of beauty is seen when you as a person possess qualities like compassion, love, thoughtfulness, generosity? And that it can be withered down when you have a heart of stone?
I would have said that even the most beautiful people may not be happy; that happiness is sought from the inside out. I would have said that not all words uttered are true, that yes, at your age, your friends are your world, but that doesn’t mean they know everything. They may however, know that putting you down make them feel better about themselves so rise above that. It’s normal to feel sad, to feel hurt, to feel like you’re worthless, but know that you are worthy of feeling beautiful, worthy of feeling happy, worthy of feeling enough. Because you are. You always will be.
In a few years’ time, you’ll have nice curves, you’ll have a better sense of how to dress, you’ll have access to make up. Right now though, just worry about how to be a human being, with real thoughts, valid opinions, and exercise kindness to those around you. The rest will come when it’s time.
Just like that, I felt as thought my 9 year old mind had shifted tracks. From one so focused on attaining her perceived notion of physical beauty, to one eager to discover how to harness her inner beauty. I know that it will take time to exercise the latter and nurture it to grow bigger than what I knew for so many years of my life, but it is a seed planted, and with time, I know it will well and truly come into fruition.
Tying in with this theme was a last minute request by a contact of Lesley’s for a sunken cake. She sent me a picture of one she had in mind and stressed that it was important I get mine to look almost identical as it was for a video shoot. “No sweat!” I thought. All I need to do is underbake the cake.
Only, after years of practice, I’d gotten used to having my cakes look all tall and risen. My first cake (above) was deemed ‘too perfect’ and then my second I underbaked, but thinking I’d underbaked it too much, I put it back into the oven and it subsequently rose, never to fall again. I ended up freezing that since it was in good shape.
I realise now how difficult it is to fail at baking a cake on purpose. I kept running to check on the cakes multiple times trying to gauge when best to take them out so that they’d sink just so, wondering if I should use more raising agents to puff them up so that they’d sink under their own weight after baking, wondering if I should keep opening the oven door, which I did time and again but didn’t seem to have much effect.
I was wanting to give up when I decided to try one last time.
I think I baked it slightly longer than I should have and had to physically help the cake sink more than it would have naturally sunk, but thankfully, I finally got the thumbs up.
It looks a bit more dramatic in real life with the sunkenness being less apparent in these photos. The company paid a fair bit for this ‘sunken cake’ (can you believe I even googled how to bake a sunken cake? To no avail of course!), which made me realise that what would have been ‘trash’ to me was their ‘treasure‘ – a reminder that our perception of beauty, or desirability, is not singular. Also, attaining imperfection is in itself, an art. This cake had to be perfectly imperfect to get the nod of approval. So yes, there is such a thing as being perfectly flawed.
Growing up, I always had the head knowledge that what’s most important, what is lasting, is the beauty within us – the values and beliefs we uphold, how we choose to treat those around us, how we choose to treat ourselves. I tried to practice this, but at the forefront, there was still the desire to want to look a certain way. My focus was still more on the physical.
A couple nights ago, I cooked a simple stir-fry for Flo for dinner to go with some brown rice and braised vegetables from Fel. It was a sweet and sour chicken dish cooked in a matter of minutes and visually, it just looked brown and yellow. I could have added in some red capsicums for colour but chose not to since there was already a lot of braised vegetables.
I took a picture for keepsakes before declaring that it looked ugly.
Flo took one mouthful of the chicken before his eyes widened and he asked “DID YOU MAKE THIS?” I said I did and he went “This is damn GOOD!!!“. He dug in for more before telling me that this now ranked amongst his top 3 favourite dishes cooked by me.
A dish simply made that looked boring to the eyes was a flavour bomb to the tongue. I’m no Michelin-starred chef so while I’d love to make pretty plates of food, my artistic capability hampers me from doing so. I try though, I try. This sweet and sour chicken dish however? I didn’t try so much. But it speaks to me once more that looks can deceive, and that substance goes beyond looks. Flo loved this in spite of it looking lacklustre and would certainly want to have it again. A prettier dish lacking in flavour wouldn’t have warranted that amount of enthusiasm from him and probably wouldn’t have been deserving of an encore.
I guess after all my faffing about, the bottom line here is that, through baking, cooking, and sessions with Adaline, the theme of the life lessons being thrusted onto me right now is that substance triumphs over the physical. It’s ok to want to look nice, to dress up, to feel confident based on looking nice and dressing up, but being human is more than just that. And recognising that I am not being judged solely on physical attractiveness is somewhat freeing.
I wonder where 9 year old me would be now if she had only realised this then…