Fighting with Intention

I didn’t know how much grappling meant to me until this happened…

I know, I know… I’ve advocated for grappling and brazilian jiu-jitsu for years now, so why would a belt promotion ignite overwhelming feelings?

My first graduation day in 5 years

If you’ve followed my YouTube and social media journey, you’ll know I truly enjoy documenting life events. That was precisely what I was doing during Gracie Barra Playa San Juan‘s graduation day, laying low (literally) in a corner, filming the day away. Did I expected to be graded? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a tiny hope that I would finally get my first stripe!.. but no, I didn’t expect to be graded. So, when Professors Oliver and Rodrigo called me up, I was genuinely surprised and, if I may be honest, excitingly uncomfortable. My Spanish listening skill is currently my weakest. However, I wanna think I’m good enough with contextual understanding, no matter how slow I process the spoken sentences 😅 Before I knew it, something in me stirred and touched the eyes, the windows of our souls. Professor Rodrigo was sharing with our team that I’ve been training for 5 years and never been graded. There’s been a lot of moving around, yet I kept showing up, kept training, in spite of very difficult times. Then he said something that moved me deeply – this belt may be blue but her heart is of a black 🔵

During these seconds, this thought hit me…

“f*******ck, I’ve been “fighting” for so long”

That was immediately followed by a deep surge of gratitude. Grateful to finally break out of survival mode, thankful to have options, and ultimately relocating to Spain, making Gracie Barra Playa San Juan my home base.

If you’re new here, allow me to give some context to the dramatic 2 minutes of my Saturday morning. It will also give clarity on how “training for 5 years” is not exactly regular weekly physical training x 5 years, and how this moment was tied to my emotional state.

🥋 How it started

5 years ago, I left my second marriage and moved from Dubai to Spain. That same year, I started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) at Gracie Barra Alicante, a 20-min walk from Pavigym HQ, where I used to work. Traveling was a big part of the collective work profile. That allowed me to train at a lot of jiu-jitsu academies, like Dubai, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, Thailand, and Hong Kong. Waves of gratitude would hit me, prompting thoughts like, what have I done to be so lucky, to be able a wandering white belt learning as I traveled. This is also the reason why I didn’t dare ask anyone for grading, I was never living anywhere long enough to be at one academy.

In the height of momentum (well, perceived momentum 🤷‍♀️), life threw a curveball. 4 months after I started BJJ, I was admitted to the ER in Alicante flagged as critical condition, and diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, an aggressive type of blood cancer.

I don’t want this to be a repeat of my other posts, so if you’re interested in catching up, I’m linking my chapter of the diagnosis, treatments, the bone marrow transplant that increased my chances of survival, thanks to an unrelated bone marrow donor, and my experience in martial arts since 2005.

🤼‍♀️ Grappling on and off the mat

It’s been 5 years, 13 moves, 3 countries, and thick folders worth of paperwork since my first cancer treatment. My quest to keep learning and training on the mats got interrupted multiple times by chemotherapies, getting sick from being on immunosuppressants, relocations, and the big one that affected everyone – the gym closures due to the global Covid pandemic. Like so many people around the world, I was grappling with major adjustments in health, logistics, and loss.

🍃 Being healthy is hardly ever a black-and-white matter, our pillars of wellness are deeply interconnected – all it takes is for one going out of bounds to cause chaos to the whole unit. I’m refraining from commenting further on the life-altering changes as a result of Covid and the pandemic measures. Like yourself, each of our experiences has been different. You and I can only speak for ourselves. Among life adjustments, my perspective on health underwent a total revamp. That switch started with understanding past events and their impact on how trauma is stored in my body.

Two books I highly recommend you explore on the topic of trauma are The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D. and When the Body Says No by Dr. Gabor Mate 📚

I learned at the age of 32 that my nervous system has been primed to stay in fight or flight mode since I was 13. What I thought was a pursuit of self-defense knowledge from martial arts turns out to be my pursuit of self-forgiveness and self-understanding. This may sound odd to some of you but I actually feel the most calm when I’m on the mat sometimes, in spite of my body betraying me often #workingonmyfitness 😮‍💨

✋ Hold up, “calm”? Did I say “calm” and “grappling” in the same context?

Why, yes indeed! What I mean in that context of calm is being in a state of alertness and awareness. Training in an activity that requires non-verbal communication, reading body language, anticipating opponent’s reactions, strategizing your own responses, and juggling between technique recall and intuition, all while feeling like you’re being bulldozed, is somehow satisfying for my suspected ADHD brain and processing-in-progress trauma issues 😂

💫 Beyond the mats (and off the pole)

This one time, in BJJ class at a gym in Hong Kong, I remember feeling so grateful to wear a face mask… because I was trying hard AF not to let out a full cry 😷🥺

It was about 6 months after the bone marrow transplant and I had just got my 3rd surgical catheter removed from my chest. 10 minutes into the warm-up drills, I was panting so hard that I was worried about getting panic attacks again. During the positional sparring, I full-on gassed TF out, and I was on my back the whole time with my neck sore and core muscles burning. It reminded me of how a simple, knee-grounded lunge stretch got me shaking like a leaf, 20 days after I was discharged from the hospital. So there I was, sheepishly indicating to Alberto that I need to rest, fighting hard against the tears aching to disperse from my eyes as I sat out the rest of the class. That mixed bag of feelings included disappointment, anger along with impatience to feel competent again, whatever that meant at the time 😤

Around this same time, I started working with another clinical psychologist. I trusted her to trust me, that I can handle what comes from her taking me further and deeper in our sessions. Reflecting upon that decision, I see the pattern of seeking challenges despite knowing on some level, I may not have conditioned myself enough. The pattern of thinking there’s always something I’m not good enough to deserve anything. So I fight, I do the hard things, I ask the tough questions and I deal with the difficult emotions.

👀 Do you see the state that my nervous system was more used to than not? We seek what’s familiar, even when they are not good for us.

The interesting thing I discovered was that my intuition was working FOR me this whole time. Through the physical practices of pole dance, freestyle movement, and martial arts – I created a container where I can process and express myself without words. It isn’t about the fancy, schmancy highlight reels of movement practice, the badass slaying showcase of pole dancing, or the gritty-lit snippets of martial arts. It’s the lessons we integrate with self-actualization beyond the mats and off the pole. More likely than not, we already know the power we have within but may not have the courage (yet) to embrace it. We can fight to heal, when that fight is done with intention.

🌀 Re-born with purpose and intention

It’s much easier to travel the world than to journey inwards with curiosity, courage, and compassion. It sounds cliche – going through something like cancer, gave me full permission to hit that reset button across the board. In medical terms, a patient goes through day zero as they finish a week-long round of intensive chemotherapy and prepares for the bone marrow transplant (also known as stem cell transplant). A patient like myself was considered to have started a new cycle of life, the old bone marrow completely wiped out by chemo and new life transfused with the donor’s stem cells. Yesterday, I turned 4 years old since my rebirth 🍃

Today, my purpose is no longer just about me and my fight but what I can do to support others. They may be in a position I once was in, a teenager facing rape, unwanted pregnancy, attempting to take their own life – or someone affected by cancer, or someone chasing (and achieving) accolades yet feeling a lack of true purpose and validation, or someone who’s going through a difficult time adjusting in life. Practicing mindfulness from intentional actions makes them a whole lot more meaningful.

Back to the topic at the start of this post, I’ve been advocating for a jiu-jitsu based non-profit called Tap Cancer Out since my chemo days. Its founder Jon Thomas inspired me to think that all of our efforts count, no matter how small. During our first call, he even encouraged me to go ahead and fundraise however I can, regardless of using the TCO name. It’s about why we do what we do. I developed a lot more respect for him and his act of true altruism, rather than some organizations whose true intention is to market their brand disguised as “fundraising for a cause”. I align with the value of authenticity ❤️‍🔥

There’s more from my mind map of purpose, perhaps I’ll share them another time. Is that something you would want to read?

If you’ve read through to this point, I appreciate your energy and curiosity. I hope you’ve found the links I included in this post helpful, I’m glad you’re here 🤗

I’ll see you on the mats somewhere, on Insta or come hang out with me on YouTube where I’ll be posting more.

👉 Meanwhile, I implore you to join me in fundraising with Tap Cancer Out for cancer research and families with children with cancer. This campaign Global Grappling Day enables anyone outside of the United States to participate. You can find the fundraising page here or insert this url

There are many ways you can support – donate, share this story and donation link and/or organize an event with your academy! Here’s what Fabio at Tempo Jiu Jitsu and I did in Hong Kong last year, in collaboration with Mike Powers from Hybrid MMA, Caique Loyolla from SHBJJHK and Kowloon BJJ.

👋 Live well and true, my friends.

Intention Changes Motion and Ownership

You know how it takes time to warm up a conversation sometimes, especially when the topics are heavy?

There’s mindfulness in the words we choose, the tone we use, our body language congruent with our intention and even giving unplanned space where necessary. Being aware that we already know how to do this intuitively can help us applying these skills to other aspects of life.

When we know our intentions, the perception of effort changes. The term “effortless” becomes subjective depending on the individual.

Whether it’s warming up the musculoskeletal system or overcoming the psychological barriers, it takes 2 things to practice this:

  1. Slow down
  2. Listen


What is the “main event” that we are preparing for?

Are we mindful of the movement selected as preparation?

How do we feel right now?

Does the body feel as good as “the other day”?

If it feels worse, might it need more care, more time today even though we’re doing the exact same prep routine?

What do we need today and how can we address that need?

Moving from structured labels can feel restricting sometimes

My thoughts were not “I have to move like a yogi” or “I have to move like an animal flow-er” , “Am I doing this right?” , “Do I look stupid?”

I am moving the way I needed to that day, I am not moving the same way someone else moves in THEIR bodies. Maybe it looks effortless to some eyes but it certainly wasn’t effortless to me. Then again, where we perceive effort here would differ. While some predict the most effort would stem from lack of flexibility, my effort was actually in staying connected to my breath throughout the sequence. Looks can be deceiving varied through the eyes of the looker.

This could probably be applied to life (I love observing analogies) and there’s plenty to apply within the scope of physical wellbeing.

Simply put, movement preparation selection used for kickboxing are not going to be the same for powerlifting.

FUN? Yes, it needs to be fun, however fun looks like to you.

I’m a sucker for routine YET I get bored when I don’t feel challenged.  Doing the same warm up and movement prep routine for every single physical activity is absolutely not my jam.  I’d find myself checking out even before my heart rate warms up, when I really want to be checking in.

This took reflection to understand what works for me – and that is, I need to be engaged in whatever it is I am doing, and which “trick” I can use for the day. These “tricks” can be like themes but largely, they are skills.

Skills of nurturing our curious nature, broadening perspectives, training mental agility, practicing mind & body connection and accessing playfulness.

Perhaps I do the exact same movement sequence 5 days a week but my “main event” are all different (3x heavy lifting and 2x Brazilian jiu-jitsu).  During the heavy lifting days, I move with the task of slowly increasing load using tempo and range of motion.  During BJJ days, I move with the task of fluidity and breath.  

Intention changes the motion, just as it changes those conversations we need to warm up for.

We’re learning we can shape our brains in more adaptive and beneficial ways by cultivating healthy habits of mind…When given a challenging situation your brain hasn’t encountered before, it can reorganise and restructure to respond to that situation. The more often your brain is exposed to that new challenge – like learning a musical instrument, for instance – the more it reorganises and makes that path more established…Our brains are constantly being shaped wittingly or unwittingly – most of the time unwittingly….We’re raising the possibility to intentionally training our brains to improve well-being.


 (Disclaimer: I am NOT saying “forget experts”! I work with them and learn from them, they are highly valuable to me. I’m saying NOT to dump the responsibility for ourselves on someone else just because they are the experts. We have to take ownership over our own growth, which means actually seeing an expert for some folks)

We become de-conditioned, muscles atrophied.

Fortunately, if that is the case, these “muscles” can be conditioned again.

Vulnerability As A Girl

I could not be vulnerable with women for similar reasons as why many men won’t be vulnerable with women today- risks of being attacked, judged, penalized, emotionally blackmailed, rejected…

I didn’t grow up with sis or female friends where I felt comfortable being vulnerable with, my Mom & I didn’t have the kind of relationship where “talking” is a form of bonding (instead of fighting).

Like many, vulnerability got me burnt.

It was highly difficult for me to trust girls, particularly white girls, after her.

Learning how to be trust someone was F*****G hard.
Learning how to trust myself, was harder.

This is an important skill I wish I learned earlier.

Like any skill, it takes practice to use a tool.

Time & effort sharpens use of a tool.

Like any tool, if you keep bringing it to the wrong setting, it doesn’t work.
No matter how much you wish it, a hammer will not fit a screw.

What I learned :
1. Be vulnerable with myself FIRST
2. Understand how I want to be supported
3. PICK YOUR PEOPLE (not every one is capable or ready to support you)

One of my many mantras:
If I ask of someone to take risks with me, I need to trust myself to handle it for the both of us, and vice versa.

This is likely the reason why that when I DO get lucky & meet women who I can be real with, I treasure those connections.

The action behind @mentalmusclemafia is challenging for my spirit, as it feels like it’s just taking beating after beating from despair of external resistance.

But it’s time like this where a session makes it all worth it #HopeOfHumanity

We ran a group with all women this time, Thank you @aileenjwong@iris.avalee@shshboom for honouring honesty & safety. Mi socio de mafia @tiarahoquee te aprecio mucho

We’re running the next circle with all men on the 28th of Nov in Hong Kong

If you and I have not been chatting about this yet, and empowering men sounds like something you want to stand for – get in touch ❤️‍🔥

Own Your Changes

The pole move in the video below is commonly called a Brass Monkey deadlift – deadlift meaning there’s no kick ups, hops or swings for momentum during a vertical lift with control from liftoff to re-gripping of pole, with straight legs

Since I stopped training pole fitness tricks, my strength had significantly dropped for pole, including this used to be one of my go-to movements

If my goals for pole were the same as it was 10 years ago, I would’ve prioritized training today…
but my goals are different now.

Our lives change as we evolve, so would our goals. It’s ok to accept them, even when change is hard.

Daniel Rosenthal Photography

The attempts post-cancer were messy struggles, “just getting up” is not the same as Owning The Movement.

I felt strong around 6 weeks ago to try them again, earned a few reps and treated myself to silly happy hops.

It means jack to anybody else but that ain’t the point.

It’s ok to let go a small part of what makes the big part of you, temporarily or longer, so you can focus on the ever-changing life priorities, it doesn’t change who you are.

Your response to change, at the core, is a make up of who you ARE.

Take ownership of the journey.

Beginners Mindset

The beginner’s time is so underrated…

I hear this often:
“I can’t pole dance, I don’t have the skills!”

Me as a teacher:
“That is ESSENTIALLY WHY my job exists 👀 “

But also:
“Of course you don’t know how to do something BECAUSE you don’t have the skills! If you want to, LEARN”

Can this be said about self-actualization?

I spent my academic years in Chinese school up to age 12 in Malaysia, we were taught how to memorise like a bawse but give me open interpretation like a book essay, I almost failed Eng. Lit. my senior year in an American high school.

My brain couldn’t compute why I was asked to write my thoughts on a book whose thoughts were clearly documented by the author. If you were an immigrant like me having to change your entire system of learning academically, I feel you ❤️

Whether it’s pole dancing or English Literature, salsa or intimacy…etc, we HAVE to explore different methods of learning.

Why do we have to be good in things before the learning attempt?

Why do we newbies expect competence in skills that take a master years to arrive at a level of comfort to even be called a master?

What happened to our nature of play? Of curiosity?

Since when have we spent our practice hours shaking our heads in frustration a hell lot more than shaking our assess in fun?

Through projects like developing what I want @tacklingminds to encompass in resilience and @mentalmusclemafia in emotional fitness, clarity is gained at the speed of an inchworm BUT… it is movement, and likely the pace I NEED.

Like our bodies, our brains need time to process and adapt.
Spiritually speaking, so do our souls.

Seek a teacher who never forgot how to he a beginner, it IS part of YOUR experience.

May I invite you to OWN the beginner’s time?

A beginner in Pole Dancing?
A beginner in Weightlifting? Movement Training? Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
A beginner in honest conversations?
A beginner in listening?
A beginner in cultivating empathy?

AMAZING. PROPS to starting and enjoying LEARNING & LIVING.

Stay Curious, My Friends ❤️‍🔥

Image by Lululemon Malaysia

Floor Movement: An Interview

Video Courtesy of DIVA CHANNEL NET Hong Kong

Charlotte Tsui

Senior Editor


The Beauty Inside:為情緒尋找一個出口,面對不幸,她以舞蹈表達痛楚!


Movement is my perfect language

  編者第一次注意到Emily是在instagram無意中掃到她的短片,她沉醉地聽著音樂,用舞動著身體寫出「香港」 兩個字,當時剛好處於社會混亂的狀態,她的肢體動作好似包含了千言萬語。成人世界總有難以言語的情緒,對Emily來說,跳舞就是表達自己的最佳語言。在亞洲女生很難有地方可以宣洩自己的Sexuality,鋼管舞對Emily來說,就是一個重要的渠道,用肢體演繹出平時不敢表露的自己。不介意其他人的眼光,留片刻給自己,卸下防備,盡情地抒發。



  生病初期,身體的不適讓Emily感到無力,面對醫生的藥單和治療方案,她只能點頭默許。期間的辛苦,讓她只想沉醉在嗎啡的昏沉之中,她說:「 The more sober I am the more anxious I am。」 








  看到Emily instagram跳舞和運動的片段,若非知道她的情況,根本不會想到她處於癌症康復期。與編者想像的一致,她的確很堅強、樂觀,即使在醫院的等候時間,她也能找到自娛自樂的方法,在病房內隨心起舞。可是面對癌症,她也經歷了迷失、不知所措的情緒。比起堅強、樂觀的性格,更重要的是了解自己,她嘗試了解自己的病情,了解服用的藥物,為身體的狀態找到答案。在情緒方面,她也向心理醫生求助,讓她受到情緒困擾時,能解讀自己的情緒,也知道如何應對。堅強不是與生俱來的,它是在受傷後,了解自己,慢慢結出的痂。


Photograph、Video/Daren Cheng

Graphic designYeeChing Lee

Video Editing/Daren Cheng、YeeChing Lee

Location / TRYBE HK

Original source:

One Thing A Day

One Thing A Day” produced by Egill Bjarki, part of the series “The Human Experience”

“The Human Experience is a web based series, focusing on the complexity of the human condition. What is important to us, how we reach other people. Where we find success and how we deal with failure. Stripped down, simplified, down to the core, we attempt to tap into the human spirit.”

Months after my bone marrow transplant, I was flooded with excitement of feeling energy return to my “new body”. The struggle was real though, as my soul seemed to recover way quicker than the matter we call our bodies.  The video will help you understand a lil why some folks, me included, have suicidal thoughts when things FELT really rough… but also, why we’re still here. 

Allow me to expand.

With every session I got carried away and went “hard” on, about a minimum of a week was required to recover. The tug of war in regaining whatever control I can remains until today.

Has there been a difference?

Why, yes. I don’t feel as addicted to control.

I had learned that control is an illusion, and that acceptance propels me forward on the path of healing.

While it may seem odd to put addiction, control, illness and a pandemic in the same setting, I see a clear link that many of us are addicted, in relevant context – the gym, whichever discipline your center hosts.

Have you started to question your priorities? Your life’s mission? Your purpose? Why you deem your boredom as displeasure? Why reflecting seems scary? Why change seems daunting? Do you truly want things to go back to the way they were? Are you even the least bit curious or excited about learning what you’re really made of?

These questions are the reason why I love living. 

Not surviving, but LIVING.

The little things that make you feel in love with life, do more of those. 

Just one thing a day 💓

A Diagnosis-sary at 2 Years

4/4/2018… the date I was diagnosed with blood cancer. 

If you know the Chinese superstition about the number 4, it pretty much means “die die” to the sum of 8.

Today marks 2 years since my life went into its own kinda lockdown.  Social distancing, cleaning everything, mask wearing.. what most are practicing today during this pandemic… has been the new norm for cancer patients like myself.  We ain’t as bothered about isolation, staying home, not being able to do what we normally do NOW… because we’ve had quite a bit of practice.

emily lola tan pacific place hong kong
A Day in Life with Emily Tan by Pacific Place Hong Kong

Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that I may come off as being insensitive to those who haven’t experienced anything life threatening before, having a low threshold for stress management.  I just wanna tell you to hang in there. It’s something I tell myself all the time… but also…

…couldn’t help it #ToughLove #RealTalk

We’re gonna be a lil different coming out of the crisis peak, and it’s gonna be all about how you heal, how you recover, how you adapt to your new norm… because trust me, this will affect you one way or another. Here’s a good piece of reading about shifting your mental state to accept your new norm from this pandemic.

But seriously, hang in there.

Tough times don’t last, tough people do. 

I can’t wait to meet the new you coming out of this. 

For a cancer diagnosis-sary, instead of posting a photo of my “cancer look”, (yeah, some folks think I’m outta the woods when I’m far from it, just because I’m no longer bald), Imma post this video of me living in the moment.  Despite anger & hurt being in a household throughout this quarantine where I’m not wanted, I choose to channel that energy to my ratchet self. 

Yup, I take myself reeeaaal seriously


Choreography by @thealiyajanell I learnt off her tutorial on @fullouttv . That QUEEN has been a FORCE for me.

F*** the Movement Rules

You know how we sometimes feel paralysed by the surmount of unpleasant chatter between our ears?  The state where visualising a way out of that tunnel seems daunting, hopeless, filled with self-doubt?

The cocktail of music and movement has been my red pill (Matrix movie reference).  The need to unplug from the Matrix of self-imposed disappointments supersedes the appeal of remaining in the comfort of anxiety.  

Struggles come in various shapes and forms for us all.  While comparing unfortunate events with others is not served as an invalidation of our challenges, the perspective gain can certainly help us reframe our situations.  

Emily with a Prudential Campaign

My movement choices reflect some of my mental struggles.  Like how Brazilian jiu-jitsu develops critical thinking ability, how pole practice deepens self-love, how movement stirs up curiosity for experiments and how dance expresses without words.

Because sometimes, I just don’t have the words to describe where I am in the quantum world.  The right music, dance and mindset become a conduit for co-existing words like fear and gratitude to be sensed in movement.

Now, is there a “program” to follow? A “choreography” to memorize? While I love me a good program and a juicy dance choreography, it is paramount to train our creativity within our practice.

When it’s YOUR practice, who says you gotta follow “the rules”?

The rules of pointed feet
The rules of poised hands
The rules of looking sexy
The rules of attire
The rules of fierce music
The rules of dancing for your man/woman/sex robot
The rules of fixed sequence
The rules of intentional steps
The rules of maintaining balance
The rules of expected aesthetics

I got one life, in fact, I got another chance.
And time abundance can be deceiving

When it comes to a movement practice that is nourishing for your soul, f*** the rules

Especially if the rules make you feel:

– restricted from being self conscious
– chained from expectations
– undeserving from people pleasing
– guarded unnecessarily from lack of self acceptance
– frozen from fear of failure

Hang on, am I talking about about pole,
Or am I talking about life?

You can watch someone from the surface
Or you can search for understanding

Ultimately, how we choose to experience the moment now, is what we have to reminisce on later

A Lonesome Christmas

Don’t worry, this ain’t no Debbie Downer post, unless you make it one 😉

Christmas means something different to each of us, many don’t even celebrate this holiday. Whichever special day you celebrate throughout the year, you might still be able to relate.

The first things that come to mind about Christmas is being home with my parents and siblings.

One of my memories were when I was around 17 years old, after having baked a Red Velvet Cake on Christmas Day, gift sharing with the family, and actually left that night to go clubbing. I realized later how that might have made my Mom feel as my parents had been divorced for years at that point, and my brothers were probably gaming as usual that night.

I took Christmas for granted. In that sense, I took the important things that revolve around the holiday for granted.

10 years ago, I got up early for some holiday cooking. (I had started to do that over Thanksgiving and Christmas since we left America.) That Christmas morning, I borrowed my buddy’s kitchen that hosted a proper oven, to prepare Christmas brunch and bring them over to Grandma’s for the extended family after church.

About 8am, I felt an odd stab in my gut. As I was wondering what that was, my cell phone rang. As I looked at my dad’s name on the caller ID, my heart sank.

You see, my Ah Mah (Grandma), whom I was living with, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 72. Being the strong-willed devoted Christian that she was, she managed 2 harsh years living through that battle, more than what the doctor had predicted. 6 rounds of intensive chemotherapy and 20 rounds of radiation therapies for a woman in her 70’s is rough AF… her body eventually got really tired. She was finally relieved of that pain on Christmas Day – this day, a decade ago.

A major reason why I felt so much for my dad upon my diagnosis. He spent his mother’s last moments broken-heartedly trying to feed her, so she may sustain her strength, and then having to bear the thought of his daughter…

That woman was a bloody warrior, and so is my dad – I’m so proud to have come from that lineage of toughness.

Every Christmas since, I have a one-way conversation with Ah Mah, whichever city I was in. To reminisce the times we spent praying together, prepping dinner together, eating peanuts while she complained about my Ah Kong, and our talks about God. She had lived through so much hardship even after grandpa passed, including having suffered further injuries, limping made worse when she was shoved and robbed right in front of her house. (Yup, there are bullying assholes who do that to elderlies. I mean, seriously, a limping old woman is not gonna chase after you, did you really need to shove her to the ground?)

Ah Mah was the one who held her three sons together along with each of their families. Things were unpleasantly tensed and dramatically different since her passing. We just never really celebrated on Christmas Day the same way anymore, or any Sundays and major holidays. My cousin and I barely manage to keep some form of family gatherings going, mostly attended by our generation of cousins and friends. Since both of my brothers had moved back to America and me not having been in Malaysia much for Christmas since moving to Hong Kong in 2013, the tradition of Christmas and being with my immediate family became a scarcity for me.

Along with my female cousins and aunts, I had a hard time helping with the dressing of Ah Mah in her best clothes for her departure. She was the grandparent I was closest to and last of my grandparents to go. She was a mother figure I assigned as since the return to Malaysia, and I still mourn her today. I documented what I could for our family and relatives who live abroad. This was that…

This Christmas, the gift is clarity. A void I’ve felt for the longest time, exacerbated by this holiday season, is that I miss being physically closer (MUCH closer) to my parents and my siblings. To give you an idea, in the past 15 years, I’ve been in the same country as my Mom 5 times. 3 of those times were after cancer. (We just don’t come from money that way.) Between my parents, siblings and me spread out over 7 cities may sound all “worldly” and shit but honestly, it gets pretty fucking lonely for all of us.

I’m done with that.

To be put crassly, I miss the shit out of my family, and long to make one of my own.

The decade and a half of prioritizing career.. “work”.. resulted in family being taken for granted. In a way, I knew I wanted that to change but I was SCARED to face the heavy emotions that come with LOVING HARD. I distracted myself with busy schedules and chase of achievements.

FFS, it took me having cancer to REALLY wake the fuck up and bust outta this matrix.

Christmas 2018, I felt violently sick, ugly, isolated, anxious, depressed and suicidal in the hospital. The joy I clung on to was that my brother Andrew chose to spend 2 months with me in HK, came to see me on Christmas day bringing lil’ Christmas snackies from my beloved friends. It was a “normal” day in the isolation ward, that ended with a small volunteer carolling group who went around the ward spreading some holiday spirit to us bone marrow transplant patients.

I felt like an alien watching them through the room’s double doors, the sound of their singing non’ but 6 feet away from where I sat on my 2.5 feet wide bed, yet muffled and distant. Bless their giving souls.

All I wanted last Christmas was to not be in the hospital on Christmas Day this year. HE listened.

I wrote this post at a Starbucks, in one of the safest and cleanest countries in the world, not shivering my ass off in an air-conditioned hospital during a cold Hong Kong winter, not fighting off fevers, hives, nausea and pain…. admiring this sunrise…

Why is this a lonesome Christmas?

Because I’m nowhere near my parents, my siblings, my best friends and my special person. No “at least…”, no “just be grateful...”, I’m facing the fucking truth of how I can’t help feeling lonely.

I vow to never allow myself to be in this situation again.

If you had stumbled upon this post for whatever reason through this holiday, thanks for giving this read some time. How lucky WE are… to be alive, digitally connected, and to experience all kinds of love through this concept of time. To those who are also spending Christmas alone, duuuuuuude get yo’self caught up with these stand-up comedy Netflix specials – Deon Cole “Cole Hearted”, Tiffany Haddish “Black Mitzvah”, Wanda Sykes “Not Normal”, Michelle Wolf “Joke Show” and Cedric The Entertainer’s show!

aaaaand get back to making memories count with the people you love, while we’re all still around.