BY the time this article is published, I will be counting down the hours until I say farewell to China, a country that I have called home for the past eight months.
It took me three years for me to pick up the courage to get myself here. Enrolling myself at a school of Shaolin kungfu was an absurd idea, and that was why I knew it had to be done. My mother, as all mothers with good sense would, went ballistic. She still thinks I'm a loony, but she loves me, and I won't be surprised if she even boasted a little to her family about my exploits over Chinese New Year.
My departure will be bittersweet. I'm looking forward to seeing friends and family, and to give my body time to recuperate. On the other hand, a place like Maling Shaolin Kung Fu Academy has a certain magic that is hard to let go of. I have seen people transform here, in body, mind and spirit, myself included. It's one serious life-changing wonderland of pain.
Last week, I posted online a video of my experiences here, with the intention of sharing it with friends. It somehow turned viral overnight. I have now come to know of a community of support back in Malaysia way larger than I could've ever imagined. It not only boosted my morale in my final days of training, but it is also giving me something else worth coming home to.
One lesson I have learned in kungfu school is the act of staying present. In a physically demanding environment like this, all it takes is one second of my mind drifting somewhere else to put myself or others at risk of injury.
Staying in the moment helped me to embrace physical agony, knowing that it will make me stronger. Staying present helped me with my stamina training, running a quarter marathon once a week, putting my energy into getting one foot in front of the other.
Meditation was not one of my strengths, but in the few moments when I felt I succeeded in it, I was in complete sync with my surroundings. It put me in my place as a speck in the universe.
Another thing I picked up was the importance of doing things that make me happy. There was never a day when I got up from bed and not acknowledged where I was waking up in. The reality of me being here floored me every single time.
But the most important thing I learned was the relationship between the act of staying present, and doing what makes you happy. It is possible to be able to achieve one without the other, but the marriage of both is an addictive experience. Working in the same company for nine years before this was great, but I did wonder a lot about other things that I was passionate about, posing a hindrance in getting work done on time.
On the other hand, at kungfu school, despite facing a new seemingly insurmountable challenge by the hour, I knew that I did not want to be anywhere else, doing anything else. My happiness stopped me from checking my watch to see when a class was done, and to stay disciplined and thorough with the tasks at hand, allowing me to excel as a student, which made me happy - a cycle that kept me sane in this crazy place for eight months.
I can't imagine how many people out there are doing things just to pay the bills. I have friends who clock in their office hours and when I see them, they tend to be tired or stressed and don't have much to talk about, apart from the rigors of their job. Then I have friends who do what I swear they were born to do... some of them freelance, start their own businesses, or have just decided to take routes less taken. When I speak with them, even on their bad days, they seem to be perpetually excited about things, are observant and engaging, and laugh a lot.
I suspect these friends have figured something out much earlier than I have. I am grateful to be able to look up to such individuals, providing an affirmation that once I return to the 'real' world, it is still possible to stay present, and stay happy.
It will be strange to no longer need to think about saving up for Shaolin kungfu school, as I have since it was suggested to me one fateful night in 2010. My best friend told me that this only means that I need to create another goal for myself. Heaven knows what could possibly top this one, but I have a hunch it is indeed out there, waiting for me to say 'Why Not?' once more.