It’s easy to write 2020 off as a year where nothing happened except pain and suffering. And indeed, this post isn’t to flaunt whatever joy I experienced or to woe-is-me the tragedies. But having to sit down and really contemplate the opportunities I’ve been given, through sheer luck, through privilege through the love and support of those around me, reminds of me to truly be grateful. Even if some things didn’t go to plan, even if I failed in some aspects, the fact that I’m here writing this, alive and well, has always been cause for celebration. And what more so with this year, being the year that it was. (2014 – 2019 resolutions here)
Another year older
My 2020 birthday was a little different to last year. I celebrated it with three other January babies, alongside some close friends and acquaintances. I’m fairly sure the last time I threw a party for myself was 7 years ago so this slightly bigger affair was a nice departure from what I would normally do. Who would have known at the time that flagrant parties would stop becoming a thing for the rest of the year.
Where there was newness, there was also tradition. Now for the third year in a row, I was able to spend part of my birthday climbing a mountain. I did this my leaving my own birthday party early in favour of five precious hours of sleep before heading down to Yamanashi Prefecture to conquer Momokuroyama. All in all a very frosty and memorable expedition, made better with some homemade brown rice onigiri.
Ushering in the rat with friends and family
The saying that hindsight is 2020 has never been more true. I’ve looked back countless of times this year and the amount of gratitude I feel that we were able to make the trip back home to see family keeps increasing. I ate my weight in my favourite home dishes – kai see hor fun, Ah Ma’s jiew hoo char and all of the salty Chinese New Year snacks. I went to the gym with my godbrother and also visited LitBooks, my favourite book shop in the entire world. I saw my parents and brothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts.
Best of all, I got to bring Emi home and show-off all of the places I grew up and all of the people who helped raised me. Looking at your backyard with new eyes, interspersed with the seemingly mundane but incredibly precious moments with the people I care about, it made me feel like I never left home.
With all of the time spent indoors this year, I was able to devote myself to reading again and rediscovered my love for manga. I’d love to spend a bit more time unpacking some of these in another post but for now, below is everything I’ve read this year, with my favourites underlined.
- A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara
- Taiko – Eiji Yoshikawa
- 5 Centimetres Per Second
- The Culture Map – Erin Meyer
- Kokoro – Natsume Soseki
- May 13 – Kua Kia Soong
- Moon Palace – Paul Auster
- Men Without Women – Murakami Haruki
- Dr M: Apa Habaq Orang Muda – Chedet Matrodi
- The Malay Dilemma – Mahathir Mohamed
- Penumpang – Fee Anyau
- Bakuman – Tsugumi Ohba/Takeshi Obata
- Juuni Taisen – Nisio Isin
- Tokyo Ghoul – Ishida Sui
- Hajime no Ippo – Morikawa George
- Rabbit Doubt – Tonogai Yoshiki
- Judge – Tonogai Yoshiki
- The Promised Neverland – Shirai Kaiu
- Demon Slayer – Gotōge Koyoharu
- MONSTER – Urasawa Naoki
- Alice in Borderland – Aso Haro
- 100 Nichi Go ni Shinu Wani – Kikuchi Yuuki
- Uzumaki – Ito Junji
- Assassination Classroom – Yūsei Matsui
Career and new beginnings
The work I was able to do last year with Rugby World Cup in Japan was truly inimitable. Coupled with the day-to-day of working at our group’s largest revenue-generating hotel globally, it felt like I was getting as close as I could to the core of our business. It really seemed like 2020 was only going to keep going up from there, with the role we would play in the Olympics and with my promotion into a newly created Digital and Content Marketing Manager role.
Once again, the opposite happened. The hospitality industry took a tremendous, unprecedented hit due to coronavirus and the lack of global travel. Japan, which had enjoyed unbelievable growth in tourism was now hitting all-time lows. At the hotel, we experienced a very difficult first few months of 2020, with job uncertainty, safety in the workplace and the overall incredibly demoralising feeling of looking out into the lobby and seeing no one there.
I’m not sure how but right in the middle of it, I managed to secure a new opportunity in the same specialisation but with the automotive industry. In this role, I’ve been able to connect with some truly brilliant minds from all across the globe, while working, leading and supporting a fantastic team. At the same time, the role came with it’s own mental health challenges due to toxic behaviours in the workplace. Some day when I’m ready, I’d like to be open about it. But right now, things have taken a turn for the better and I’m feeling much more comfortable with where I am.
Nature really came through for me this year. It has been my solace for a lot of my adulthood but 2020 saw many a hikes as a naturally socially-distant activity. Some cool peaks I did this year will be detailed in a post coming soon!
Place to Grow
I had some downtime for a few months in the middle of the year, which I spent supporting Place To Grow, a 100% volunteer-led nonprofit that strives to connect and inspire a rising generation of leaders in disaster-stricken Tohoku communities. There would normally be a whole lot more face-to-face time but naturally things were online-based this year. Yet despite feeling serious Zoom fatigue when it came to work, it was oddly comforting to connect with new people on an entirely different topic, all of whom were motivated to still what they could to support disadvantaged communities. One of our successes of the year was organising the pub quiz to raise funds for our 3-day cross community festival, Santa Soul Train. After a bit of a break due to drama at work, I’m looking forward to supporting Place to Grow in 2021!
Back to School
With all of the new indoor time, this year seemed like a good year to learn new things. I was able to stay fairly consistent with my Japanese lessons until my new job started taking its toll on me. I also took some online courses for personal finance and to brush up my knowledge on Google Ads (tangentially work-related). I also enrolled myself in a few workshops at Temple University. The courses which took place in-person on campus, really evoked a sense of nostalgia and comfort in being back at a formal education institution.
Travel in Japan
It’s a miracle in and of itself that I even have anything to write about my travel this year. We’ve mostly stuck to close to Tokyo type destinations that we can get to via car or public transport that isn’t too taxing. I was able to visit Chichibu, Ajiro, Kawaguchiko, Narita and Tohoku’s Aomori and Sendai, thus ticking off an additional 4 prefectures from my 47 prefecture challenge (Currently 19/47).
Muay Thai ft all of the home workouts
Last year, one of my wishes was for me to make Muay Thai more purposeful for me and to find a road I could follow with it. With the pandemic, I ended up taking over six months off Muay Thai out of safety considerations and also as my gym closed during the state of emergency period in Tokyo. One small upside to this is I became very self-reliant with developing my own workouts. What I once used to detest has now become a daily staple for me, and I’m proud of my independence and self-determination to basically workout from anywhere.
When things began to ease up, I enrolled myself in A2ko sensei’s Kick Out Instructor course, a cardio-music hybrid lesson with strong martial arts foundations. I really looked forward to it and felt excited that this could be what I needed to formalise or achieve something in this sport that I’ve dedicated so much of my time to.
In complete honestly, it’s been one of the most challenging things I’ve taken up this year. This is probably due to a combination of pressure I’ve put on myself to succeed, underestimating the importance of a good command of Japanese when undertaking a 100% Japanese course (real duh moment for me here) and coming to terms with the fact that while I love Muay Thai and kickboxing, teaching a cardio-music hybrid of martial arts might not be for me. Right now I’m trying to shift the goal to simply enjoy the process of understanding my own movement, and applying these skills to my own technique.
Cooking and healing
My gut health has always played a pivotal role in my overall well-being. Through stresses, becoming more in, I’ve been able to establish a rough pattern of what works for me and what doesn’t. Despite all of the challenges that have come with the pandemic, extra time at home has given me the freedom to cook at home and focus on what I put in my body. How polarising it has been compared to 2019 is almost funny, going from cooking maybe 10 times in a year to at least five times a week.
If you’ve made it this far into my writing then congratulations! Here is a little easter egg for you that I’ve kept mostly away from social media. For all of the dumpster fires 2020 has brought to my doorstep, the one infallible truth is that something so incredible did happen to me, that it would negate everything else. I got married this year to my human, my sparring partner (read: punching bag), and lifelong co-adventurer. Whether our travels take us to overseas to Malaysia, to countryside Gamagori or to neo-Tokyo as we binge watch yet another dystopian anime series, I’m so happy, lucky and blessed to have you with me and the home that we’ve moved into together. Special thanks to Dan who was our photographer of the day also.
The end of year period in Tokyo typically quietens down as most of our foreign friends take leave to head back to their respective countries. This hasn’t been possible, so a small group of us banded together for a Christmas Eve feast hosted by our friends Dan and San. On the 25th itself, we invited a close circle to our place for a mini-celebration in which we also celebrated Akari chan’s day of birth! Time together with people has been scarce this year, so these little moments have really helped us feel a sense of community. The lead up to both of these parties where we were experimenting with Christmas cooking was just as fun also.
When I started penning this post, I wasn’t all that confident that there would be much to say. Several weeks of thinking and many hours staring at this document, I’ve now come to the end of an almost 2,000 word post, actually eclipsing the word count of my 2019 recap. So much has happened, both in my limited time in the outside world and in my space between these four walls. Rather than ask for too much or potentially jinx all of us, the only thing I wish for in 2021 is for continued health and safety for my friends and family. Everything else is secondary, everything else after that will just fall into place.