My experiences, Short stories & poems

Breaking the ice…

I dread first posts. I have a Livejournal that I’ve kept since high school, and every now and then I’d go back to my very first post and I’d inevitably cringe.

For the lack of anything better to say, seeing as how my day was nothing out of the ordinary, I’ll talk about why I’ve decided upon a life of writing.

I should mention that it’s partly because I have the luxury of pursuing the career I want, rather than be induced by circumstances to work the job that pays the rent. Chasing one’s dream is not an always readily accessible option. Often, it is a privilege that not all has the access to, but I have been fortunate enough to be able to afford that chance. For this, I am very grateful.

A career in journalism, as many have told me, is not an option one popular for its monetary benefits. So I recognise that I’m damn luck to be able to pursue a career that I’m passionate about, rather than be stuck at a nine-to-five job that means absolutely nothing to me. (I’ve done that. I felt less human during that time. Less me; less alive.)

Thinking back, there were a few moments that I can now say were signs that I might one day make a living by my writing. First sign was when I was in Yr. 6. I was studying at St. Catherine’s school for girls in Sydney, Australia and we were learning about poetry. The teacher had us write our own poems, and I remember enjoying being able to tell a story by putting it down on paper. My friends also enjoyed what I wrote, and I remember thinking how nice it was to be doing something I’m good at.

Later, throughout high school, one of my favourite things to do would be our essay exercises. I mean…favourite thing within the realm of academics. I was a nerd, and still am, but not that big of a nerd! At the time, especially in Yr.11 and Yr.12, I had such a hard time grasping the concept of different readings that could be applied to a text. Post-modernism, feminist, Marxist…what the hell?? But, I really enjoyed writing essays. To this day, I still use WAPTEEL to structure my essays? What is WAPTEEL, you ask?

What…is your topic?
Audience…who is your audience?
Purpose…of your essay?
Technique…used by subject matter to render a particular response? (EG. What technique was used by the text that makes it feminist/Marxist/post-modern.etc.?)
Explain…the technique.
Expand…on the explanation.
Link…to the next technique used.

Because I studied mostly history and English, I had many essays to write! And I would make a point of trying to make each one better than the last. I remember there was one essay that my teacher entered into a competition. It didn’t win, but it was “commendable”. The word meant nothing to me then, but it does make me smile now.

After graduating high school, (St. Clare’s College, Waverley) I was planning to apply for a journalism course at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). But for various reasons, including not having the grade required for the course I wanted, I found myself back in Hong Kong instead. Adjusting back to this fast pace metropolis, whose culture I no longer identified with, was no walk in the park. But that is another story altogether.

Upon returning to HK, the objective was to get myself in a university. So while I loved writing even then, that took a back-seat while I frantically tried to secure a spot in one of the eight (at the time) universities in HK. This wasn’t an easy task for most students to begin with, but with my HK permanent residency but lack of Chinese language skills…difficulty in getting a university to accept my application increased tremendously.

Fortunately, I was accepted into the BA (Hon) in History programme at Lingnan University, a course that would take me four years rather than three to complete. In retrospect, I am very glad for the one extra year. Because during my years at uni, I focused so much on perfecting my essays (a moving target to this day, by the way) that I forgot how much I loved creative writing. I’d started a story in high school, and I’ve always enjoyed writing stories, but that got brushed aside in my endeavour to write the best damn essays I was ever going to submit! In a way, my history degree taught me discipline, and it taught me the importance of being well researched. This time also allowed me to develop my creativity, which has helped me look for new angles on an everyday story.

In my last semester in my undergraduate studies, I took a course called “Writing Your Life”, a course on autobiographical writing. And one of the early assignments was to write a piece to be read aloud to the class, which should last about twenty minutes. I wrote about my journey from HK to Australia, and back to HK again, and how that affected my personal identity and the way I saw myself, and how others saw me. Some of the events I included in this narrative were extremely personal, and not something I’d told many outside of my closest circle of friends. Actually…I think only two of my friends knew exactly what was going on!

At the end of my story, during which I had to stop to cry for a moment because it brought back memories that were still hurting once I verbalised it, I found members of my audience crying as well.

I’m no sadist, I don’t enjoy making others cry, and I don’t like drawing attention to myself by way of a pity party. But to know that words I wrote could affect others suddenly made everything click in my head. I want to be able to write, and to write well. I have no plans to change the world, I’ll be happy if I can just change my own. But I’d be lying if I said I have no hopes of once again affecting my audience the way I did with my autobiography piece; but hopefully with deliberate intent rather than by accident next time.

Since that day, I’d been looking for writing opportunities. I worked for three months in media and communications right after I graduated, but found that the job, which involved a Wed-Sun schedule and 7am-to-5pm days (except for the weekend when it would often be 7am-to-8pm days) to be far too draining. Not physically, though the gruelling hours did take a toll, but it was also emotionally and mentally draining. It was like something gnawing at my soul. Certainly, it did not help that I practically didn’t see my friends for three months. I barely saw my parents and I live with them!

It didn’t take me three months of this tedium to know that this job wasn’t for me, and about six weeks in, I’d started sniffing about for other opportunities. And in October, I moved on to Fluid where I worked on the editorial team as an editorial assistant. I was responsible for pitching ideas for the ILoveSoHo website; then research, interview, take photos, write and finally upload the stories using the company’s CMS website. This was only ever going to be a temporary position though, and my time at Fluid ended in December.

At the start of 2010, after my trip to Sydney to visit friends, I came home to look for other opportunities. And towards the end of January, I started what was meant to be a three month internship, which evolved into a six month one instead, at Time Out Hong Kong. My experience at TOHK taught me heaps, both from actual writing advice that my editors would give me, and from pure observation. In the end, I not only worked on the editorial content generating pieces for the magazine and Time Out website, but I also got the chance to work with the sales and marketing team. I helped out with the 2010 Time Out Wine Walk, which was awesome fun, and I also got to contribute to the 2010 summer edition of Art of Dining magazine.

Now, I’m a student in the Master of Journalism programme at The University of Hong Kong, an opportunity that literally nearly had me fall out of my chair when I found out I’d been accepted. Despite tough-as-nails teachers and technical difficulties (video editing is not my forté), I am having the time of my life learning and gaining new experiences. I love my peers and am so grateful for my instructors.

I am under no delusion that life as a journalist will be an easy one, and again, I’m not setting out to change the world. But if I can change mine by doing something I love, I’ll be one happy bunny.



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