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Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Time to Rest

It's been exactly one week since our family took a brief respite from everyday life in Singapore for a five-day holiday. Just one day before our trip to Tioman, we sent an SMS to our neighbour to help us collect the newspapers and to help keep an eye on our home. To that, she keenly observed, "Wow, your family goes overseas very often!" Her comment is true; afterall that was our fifth trip overseas this year. Don't get us wrong - we are not among the most affluent families in Singapore; and this post is not meant to brag about how many times we go overseas. On the contrary, this post is meant to convey the importance that we place on taking time off from our work. As such, of the five trips this year, three were to Malaysia (by car), one to Indonesia, and only one "big trip" to Australia.

Sue and I love to travel. We are exhilarated by the sights and sounds of a different land. We enjoy the natural beauty of a country's scenery. We love to imbibe the culture of a place, and understand the history of its people. And the educator in me always looks out for things to share with my students - one favourite being about how the Hollocaust affected the people in Dachau, Germany, and another about how fragile tensions are between North and South Korea. Travelling does that to us - it provides a fresh perspective on situations and mindsets. I believe I have been greatly enriched by the numerous places I have visited - and that's why I love to travel.

Travelling is also important for three other reasons - rest, renewal, and reconnection.

The few months before our trip were among the most tiring in a long while. Sue and our son Z were down with Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD), and it was physically and emotionally draining taking care of them. In addition, I was busy with Poly Forum 2011, as well as serving the country just like all able-bodied men in Singapore - serving my yearly National Service commitments. And that was just what I had to do during the so-called "holidays". It did not include the time spent just before - marking and completing the exam processes, a period dreaded by most educators. I truly needed to rest.

Sue was also drained. She had just completed a whole season of counselling, and her tuition classes were building up to the crescendo of the year-end exams. That did not include taking care of Z during the times when I was working. Coupled with the physical and emotional tiredness from HFMD, she too needed a break.

When we got to Tioman, it was as if we had arrived in a different world. There was no need to mark scripts, there was no need to think about crafting new student assignments, there was no need to counsel students. All we had around us was the sun and the sea, as well as the delectable seafood meals each night at the lovely Chinese restaurant by the beach. While we received news from Sue's parents that mainland Singapore was experiencing thunder storms everyday, the weather in Tioman was instead characterised by hot sunshine with almost no clouds in the skies. That was truly a metaphor of the different world we were in.

The change was evident in our son. He had just begun the journey of walking unaided a few days before our trip. In Tioman it seemed as though his feet were injected with a breath of new life. Z began walking all the time - along the paths, on the grass, on the sand, in the sea... Our son thrived in the fresh independence that walking brought. And because of his love for nature, he was now able to stop any time he pleased to enjoy the things around him; occassionally picking up an interesting leaf or two, and stopping at the bridge to admire the lovely little river that meandered to the sea. To the casual onlooker it was probably a strange sight - two adults clapping their hands and gesturing to a tottering little infant. "Z, over here!" One of the curious parents might have exclaimed. "This way, Baby," could have been the call of the other equally strange adult. I cannot fathom why I ever worried that our son would be a slow walker.

Tioman was also lovely because it cost too much to use the Internet. Sue and I do not like to be "connected" when on holiday. We don't like to watch the TV or to surf the net. We do, however, love to read. One of our most animated discussions is always about how many books to pack for a trip. "Dear, do you really think you'll have the time to read this book as well?" I would ask. "Of course," she would reply, adding the book to the 20 others she had already packed. I exaggerate of course. To set the record straight - Sue does not bring 20 books for a 5-day holiday!

Reading, therefore, has become one of the staples for our holidays. Through these books, we have learnt many new things about parenting and about life. We have also been provided with fresh perspectives which help us to recharge and to renew our emotional and mental fuel tank.

Equally important has been the act of reconnecting with each other. During our day-to-day lives in Singapore, so many other issues interfere with the connection we have as a family. Holidays are a great time for us to reconnect with each other - to play games and enjoy the precious moments spent with each other, to talk about the things that really matter, and to chart directions for the future. It is also important to reconnect with God - something that is not always easy during our busy everyday lives. Holidays facilitate such an interaction, as they provide us with a break from our mundane lives, allowing lots of time and space for reflection and reconnecting.

Only one week has past since our last holiday, but already the sights and sounds of Tioman seem to be of another world. I suppose that's how the children in C.S. Lewis's Narnia must have felt after they returned from a visit there. I am reminded of a request that Lucy made at the end of the book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. "Please Aslan, before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do, make it soon." Unlike Aslan's reply, which indicated that she and her brother Edmund would never return to Narnia, I am hopeful that I would be able to make another trip to my Narnia in the near future.

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