There was a time…when I was really concerned about being “popular”.
No, not that “popular” kind—I had no interest (okay, maybe a little) in becoming one of those self-proclaimed social elite you find in high school with the fake smiles, who dominate the hallways with their posh bags and newest boyfriends. But I, like any other normal teenager in the world, wanted to have friends. Lots of friends.
My desperation for popularity spiked when I moved from Singapore to America. I was suddenly thrust into a new environment. Gone were the dark-haired and yellow skin-toned kids in uniforms who looked similar to me. Instead I was surrounded by tall, mature-looking Caucasians with big eyes, well-defined eyebrows and boobs, thick eyelashes, and fashionable clothing.
As you can imagine, I, with the jarring Singaporean accent, the nerdy glasses, the second-hand clothes, socks and sandals…felt incredibly out of place. And suddenly, I was hit with a panicked fear that I would never make friends.
My absolute nightmare was having to sit by myself at lunch. Or having no partners for a project. Or standing by myself during P.E. For the first few days, I did not even dare to eat lunch at the cafeteria. I hid outside by myself and pretended to be engrossed in a book, stomach growling, praying to God to give me a friend—any friend.
Anyway, I did end up making friends. One friend led to the introduction to yet another new friend, and soon I had my own regular hang-out group. I was happy—because I had people who liked me, people to keep me company and to show others that I am not friendless. But we moved on from middle school to high school, and I lost touch with most of them. Instead, I found yet another posse of friends. And the cycle continued on my transition from high school to college.
Fast forward to now. I look back, and I realize that I have made many, many friends. But because of distance, time, and diverging interests, I’ve also lost many, many friends. That was when I realized that when it comes to friends, what makes them lasting friends aren’t their companionship…but something much deeper than their physical presence.
I’ve discovered one thing about my old and remaining friends—all of them share the same faith and vision as me. All of them are people I pray for, and people who pray for me. Perhaps, the reason we can stay so close together is because we always somehow keep each other in mind through prayers.
I don’t seek popularity anymore. I noticed that change in me when I moved from DC to Los Angeles to attend a college I have never even visited before. The old me would have been terrified, once again because I didn’t want to be “alone”. But this time round, my key concern was just finding a good church.
Because I’ve realized where my community is—the church. In fact, I found my closest friends in the fellowship I am in right now. And I’ve come to see them not just as friends…but as travel-mates. These are the people who continue to give me strength, encouragement, and joy; the people whom I will keep in my prayers for as long as I live.
Now, that being said, let me put some concrete faces to all the people to whom I feel connected here in Southeast Asia, both old and new friends. Tonight I once again attended my Singapore church’s weekly bible study group. A significant day, so I baked a lovely pumpkin cake for them:
I couldn’t take a picture fast enough. My hungry friends tore into it before I could take a good one. It was awesome: a spiced pumpkin cake made from freshly pureed pumpkin, speckled with grated coconut, raisins, and chocolate chips.
Now, let me introduce my friends to you.
First of all, dear Hui Jun:
She is the leader of my bible group here in Singapore, and one of the people I really admire the most. She is vain, loves Korean dramas a bit too much, and have suffered a major break-up—and she is not afraid to talk about it. Her honesty is refreshing, her sincerity touching, and her patience and grace worth emulating.
The sensitive, good-natured Rachel:
This girl is like the human version of a cute Japanese anime bunny. She is incredibly affectionate, the kind of friend who would cry harder than you when you are down.
The amiable and big-hearted John:
John is a big softie. Just watch him play with the kids. It’ll put a smile to your face. He’s also really sincere and genuine. Sorry ladies, but he’s taken. By the above lucky Rachel.
The spunky and boisterous Mei-Er:
You will never have a moment’s peace and boredom when you’re with this hilarious girl! She will make you double over with laughter with a single facial expression. But at the same time, she can be pretty shy. She also has a pretty rough background…but endures all hardship with grace and humor.
Let’s smirk with the wryly witty and easy-going Vilon:
This seemingly silent and brooding guy is a box of hidden surprises. He’s got a fantastic palate, is incredibly smart, and will charm your socks off with his dry humor. Sorry, but he’s not available either…his heart belongs to Mei-Er.
Now say hi to our sweet and lovable Micki:
The youngest in our group, she is forever smiling. She’s got the kind of face and personality that makes you warm up to her immediately. But despite being the youngest, she’s also been through quite a few sufferings that makes her passionate for the Lord. She’s petite, but don’t ever underestimate her strength and endurance!
And then there’s Wei Ming:
He is a new member to our group, so I actually don’t know him too well…but I like him already. Not only is he gentle and soft-spoken with an open face, he also bought me lunch last Sunday (a bowl of century egg porridge). What can I say? The way to my heart is through my stomach.
Last but not least, Yong Jie:
This guy is one hard-working bumble bee! I always see him helping out around the church, with the same cheerful grin on his face. This is a bad picture of him and he might kill me (probably still smiling) for it, but he’s an incredibly nice guy!
You might be thinking: Why the heck is this crazy Sophia showing me pictures of complete strangers? Where the hell is the food?! Not to worry— good food will come. But I just wanted to put real faces to the group of people I always gush about. As I briefly mentioned in this post (and a few others), these are the people who played an active role in my recovery. These are my friends, my travel-mates: people with whom I’ll always keep in touch, people who will always hold deep sentiments in my heart.
One of them also put good food into my stomach. Hui Jun invited me out for linner (lunch + dinner) today. We went to the food court at Raffles City:
You don’t need to go around looking for good restaurants in Singapore. Just hop into any food court you can find, and you should be able to fill your tummies with a wide array of Singaporean local food.
Singaporean food court is nothing like American food courts—you don’t see fast food chains and overpriced crappy fare—just fabulous, fresh, high-quality food. They are usually rather cheap, too.
The only problem here is: How the heck do I choose what to eat? There are so many tantalizing choices! It was a tough decision for sure, but I finally decided on a sizzling claypot hor fun:
Hor fun used to be one of my favorite dishes in Singapore. Um, I have not had this in like 8 years or so. Thus, I am in no place to compare this to the other hor funs. But one look and sniff at this wonderful dish, and I wanted to kick myself for ever being afraid of this dish.
Hor fun is thick, flat rice noodles that have been stir-fried, then cooked with a medley of meat and seafood with a thick, flavorful gravy. It is absolutely carbtastic—a carbphobic’s nightmare. But oh, so freaking fantastic!
Because the hor fun (flat wide rice noodles) is fried in some dark soy sauce first, it retains the flavors of “friedness” (if that makes any sense), while still being slippery enough to slurp up because of the thick, viscuous, smooth gravy. The gravy itself tastes like an intense seafood broth—except instead of being liquidy, it is heavy and sticky.
Mine came with some pork, shrimp, squid, a fried egg, and some veggies:
I don’t care if you’re on a low-carb diet—throw all carb phobias aside for this dish, because it is freaking worth every damn net carbs and fat grams and calories.
And besides, it comes in this really cool claypot with a side of pickled chili:
How can you say no? This dish has everything! A one pot wonder! Look at how happy I am! And how huge that pot is. It’s bigger than my head!
Hui Jun ordered sweet and sour ramen hot pot with fried spicy chicken cutlet (chicken tonkatsu):
The neatest thing about this hot pot? It really is served hot, with a real flame that keeps the pot warm for quite some time:
The sweet and sour ramen had some crabmeat and vegetables in them, and the broth was sweet and sour (duh) with a spicy undertone. It was refreshing and flavorful.
The chicken was awesome—crispy with a great spicy kick, though I could tell it wasn’t exactly a high-grade chicken meat. But that’s why it’s battered and deep-fried, I guess.
My belly was aching after finishing every last slurp of that hor fun noodles, but Hui Jun was not done. She started craving something sweet to cool off her spicy lunch, so she ordered a durian ice kachang to share:
Ice Kachang is basically an overlarge snow cone with different flavored syrups, sweetened condensed milk, sweet red beans, and jellies. Ours came with pureed durian on top.
My favorite part was the durian.
We then went out for a short walk. Raffles City is just a stone’s throw away from The Esplanade and the Singapore River. The Esplanade is a major theatre center in Singapore; it’s where you go to watch shows ranging from international Broadway musicals to ballet recitals.
The Esplanade is that big dome with spikes which you see behind us. It’s also called The Durian because its spiky roof looks like a durian.
As for the Singapore River, it is not just a river. One can say Singapore wouldn’t have become this flourishing nation without this river, so central to trading, commerce, culture, and yes, even the British and Japanese occupation.
Here’s a trivia for you: the Singapore national symbol is the Merlion, a half-lion, half-fish (Psst. It’s right behind me, that white water-sprouting object).
It’s not a real creature, of course. Just a representation of Singapore, because Singapore comes from the Malay word Singapura, which means “Lion City”, and the fish part of it represents the significance of Singapore being an island surrounded by the sea. As I said, the Singapore River was a central element to this country.
This post is turning out to be super long—but I need to share two more precious travel-mates I have met, this time only recently. You’ve already met Valerie Choy:
I spoke about her and our first meet-up on my last post. Well, one meet-up wasn’t enough, so I met her again the next day! But this time, we were joined by another fellow sister in Christ, Grace from Grace Points:
This sweet, delightful girl came to Singapore for a short vacation all the way from Penang, Malaysia. What awesome timing! I just knew we had to meet up!
Grace is a young seminary student in Penang. She’s incredibly smart—she used to be in medical school, but gave it all up to obey the calling to serve the Lord in full-time ministry. I am in utter awe and admiration of this incredible young woman—giving up one’s study to serve full-time is not an easy thing to do!
The three of us met at Vivocity again, but this time, at a little cafe bakery called Cedele:
Cedele is a chain bakery/cafe/restaurant in Singapore that makes awesome, fresh and organic soups and sandwiches. I gave Grace a few options, and she chose this place. Good choice!
I ordered the roasted chicken and chutney on pumpkin bun:
Roasted chicken, plum chutney, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato on fresh-baked pumpkin bun.
The ingredients are SO fresh. The flavors just pop in your mouth. The pumpkin bun was subtle in the pumpkin flavor, a tiny bit of sweetness, but still savory. And I was so relieved that the chicken wasn’t overcooked, as it usually is in other chicken sandwiches.
I also ordered a side of curried pumpkin soup:
AMAZING. Totally satisfied my pumpkin fetish. And with a rich, intense curry flavor that only amplified the sweetness of the pumpkin.
Where was I? Oh yes, travel-mates:
We’ve only just met in person. And we might not see each other again for a very long time, or possibly never. But they’ve already left an indelible impression in my heart. We’ve been through the similar battle of an eating disorder, and similar recovery stories and victories through our faith. We all share a passion for God, and for other fellow ED-sufferers. And that makes them travel-mates in my book. Because I know I’ll always keep them in my prayers.
Question of the Day: Have you found your travel-mates? The kind of people to whom you are connected no matter the distance and time apart? Where does your community lie?