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Old flames

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50m breaststroke 0:?? (gold)
100m breaststroke ?:?? (gold)
50m freestyle 0:?? (gold)

50m breaststroke 0:49.5
100m breaststroke 1:50

50m freestyle 0:36

6 Apr 2013:
50m breaststroke 0:49.1

27 Oct 2013:
50m breaststroke 0:47.26
100m breaststroke 1:46.93
50m freestyle 0:35.09

17 Nov 2013:
50m breaststroke 0:46.02
50m freestyle 0:34.81


* * *

I started swimming regularly again around the beginning of 2011, what with all that free time in between jobs and not knowing what else to do with myself. That respite helped me to regain some stamina, which I had lost over the years — I could barely swim a few laps continuously, and only on the breaststroke. By April 2011, I had pushed myself to 60 laps, before exhaustion and pain took me out.

Soon after, I found another job. I continued swimming but only sporadically because I could not sustain the interest. Instead I did a lot of yoga, finding comfort in the meditative practice as I tried to regain my footing in life. I also did some modern dance but stopped after some months because I just couldn’t remember the moves and it just wasn’t me. Trying to stay ‘busy’ and distract myself from less happy thoughts, I picked up Muay Thai next, which I still do, as well as roller-blading on weekends.

Perhaps it was the excitement of the London Summer Olympics in July-August 2012 that got me thinking again about regaining my old form. I was already looking out for adult advanced classes but the only coaching available was one-on-one. Then a friend from diving, who is also a part-time swimming/first aid/scuba-diving instructor, started a small adult class of 4 for mixed levels in October. We worked mostly on fine-tuning techniques, and it improved the efficiency of my strokes significantly.

On 1 January 2013, I completed 100 laps of breaststroke. It was surprisingly easy and marked the start of a very productive year in the pool :-)

In late February, there was a call for swimmers to participate in the annual inter-agency meet. I signed up, with much trepidation, for a single event — the 50m breaststroke; I couldn’t yet swim the freestyle comfortably (which frustrated me greatly), much less sprint a whole lap without possibly just dying halfway. I submitted a personal best of 0:52, which was the third fastest time in 2012 for the Women’s Veteran category. So I figured I wouldn’t do too badly, just as long as I didn’t come in last! And that, was my very simple goal for the meet. Heh. And I had just 1 month to train.

So I swam, almost everyday. There were a couple of group training sessions with the team from my agency — 5 guys, one of whom used to be a school swimmer. He had been participating in the annual meet for several years and was in his mid-40s. And, he was still fast enough to win races. Wow, huh. There was a former national swimmer and a dragon-boater who had also competed in previous meets. The other 2 were new to the agency and the annual meet, like me. A sixth guy who swam the year before, was a no-show as he was training for a biathlon.

On the morning of the meet, I languished for almost 3 hours before my event was called. There were 10 entries for the Veteran Women’s 50m breaststroke and I was scheduled to swim in Heat 1 with last year’s winner, a former national swimmer. By then, I was thoroughly worn out by anxiety. The resulting hyperfocus narrowed my field of vision and blunted my sensory perception — I remember jumping in and surfacing and not seeing anyone… ???… !!!!!… okayyy… and swimming in this strange vacuum of sound. I also remember fighting to hang on past the 25m mark, the ragged gasps for air, and the awlful, awlful pain as I struggled to keep kicking and pulling, even as I weakened rapidly. I finished second in 0:49.1, more than 5s behind the leader. But I didn’t know yet if I would get a medal; I managed to beat Heat 2’s winner by 0.88s for a silver, and was only 1 of 2 who swam under 0:50.

Winning a medal — and the silver — ignited the Arian in me. I was amazed that I had improved on my time of 0:49.5 back in 1988. Wow. This gave me the momentum and motivation to continue swimming. I knew that I could do better and I was already thinking about the next annual meet.

There was no turning back from then on. Half a year later, I went on to swim in 2 more races and picked up 2 more silvers, 1 bronze and 2 golds.

But even as I made steady improvements in my times, I realised just how slow I was when I was younger! No wonder I didn’t get far! Laugh. I blame it on poor technique and lack of mental preparation before races.

Of course it’s been harder in some ways. The challenge is mostly physical. I am more than twice as old, and the body takes a long time to recover. As a working adult, I can’t train as much as I would like, though for someone who needs to work for a living, I’ve been really fortunate to be able to spend as much time as I have at the pool.

But, older, wiser and more self-reliant now, I’ve been proactive about getting back into competitive swimming and looking for races to gain experience. While my parents were happy about my swimming, their support stopped there. Come to think of it, I am now the same age as they were when I swam in my first school meet.

The internet has made training videos and other useful resources really easy to get hold of. (Thank you, internet!) Regular yoga has given me better breath control, flexibility and body intelligence, which help with fine-tuning technique. It also doesn’t hurt that I can afford nicer gear (grin) and regular massages which loosen tight muscles, and help with recovery of overworked bits.

In a way, I’m resuming ‘unfinished business’. I stopped competitive swimming after the first year of junior college. The swim club wasn’t particularly active and since the girls’ relay team didn’t have enough swimmers, it wasn’t possible to continue participating in invitational meets organised by other schools. My JC was also more known for its track and field. Not surprisingly, it didn’t have its own swim meet. But what really annoyed me was how this reared its ugliness in our Physical Education teachers’ disinterest in the weekly PE classes if it was swimming or even gymnastics, both of which I enjoyed. Quite a number of swimming classes were cancelled because of rain but when it was time for running, we were made to continue!

While I could have continued on my own, I didn’t know how and was too shy to ask around or grab the few opportunities that did come my way. And, with the A-levels looming and important life-changing decisions to be made, my depression also got worse and I became more withdrawn.

When I finally got into the University, I joined the Lifesaving Club and being in a team again was good. I can’t remember when I stopped but there were many distractions — the online community and gaming.

I’ve always thought about racing again but didn’t think there were opportunities for older non-elite swimmers. I had missed the one window to explore my potential and I thought that was that. Well, it’s certainly a case of better late than never!

I don’t know if I could have gone back to swimming much earlier (read: younger and stronger). Who can say, eh? In my 20s, post-graduation, certainly not. Work kept me occupied and I was in a relationship that went nowhere and I was mostly in a rut. Sigh! In my 30s and newly single, I was just coming to terms with the earlier wasted years, doing things I would never have done, enjoying new experiences, people and places, and finding myself. Along the way, I fell back into a rut again. What can I say, it’s a nice and cozy rut. Grin. I was also gaming, too much. I did start getting more regular exercise though — yoga, mostly.

Then the mid-life crisis sent me rock-bottom. It took a while to sort out the mess and work on unresolved issues. But life is okay again — the rut still looks mighty cozy but I’ve learnt to climb out more often. Baby steps.

I haven’t been this passionate about something for a really long time, and I’ve certainly not sustained an interest for as long as I have (me and my short attention span). Having a goal to work towards, to know what it feels like and what it takes, has made me think about the other things that I would like to do, and to improve my life. I like to think that I’ve swum my way out of the rut :-) Getting back into swimming has meant I’ve less time and this has forced me to be more selective and thoughtful about how I spend my time. I’ve started reading again by setting aside proper pockets of uninterrupted time. And I’m writing regularly once more. As the writers will tell you, practice is important, and never stop writing. Swimming is also helping me to manage my anxiety and confidence issues. So hey, many birds, one stone. What’s not to love? ;-)

Honestly, I don’t know how long I’ll be doing this. It’s certainly taking up a lot of my time and energy. I suppose for as long as the flames are alive, or until some other goal drives me in another direction…

Wherever my dreams shall lead me :-)


Written by The Intimate Stranger

December 31st, 2013 at 11:59 pm


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“One of your main concerns in life is having a partner, and that need may sometimes outweigh all others in your life.”

~ Pluto in the Seventh House

“For you, having a lover or close friend at all times is critical to your emotional expression, and without one you may feel emotionally sterile. Your partner will help you communicate your emotions to others, aiding you in getting across messages that you find difficult to express. The longer you pursue a relationship, the more self-aware you will become. Your partner will teach you about aspects of yourself that you did not understand and bring you to a high level of emotional self-understanding.”

~ Moon Opposition Ascendant

I watch every year as it passes.

And I count every year passed.

It’s now ten.


* * *


Mum reminded me a few days ago that the dog is already 10; or 70 in human years, as they say.

I reckon he probably has about 2 to 4 more years with us.

He won’t be the first to leave us; but it never gets easier.

I think it will be harder this time.



Written by The Intimate Stranger

July 31st, 2012 at 7:12 am


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(Once in a while, someone says something, and it sets me off. This is one of those times.)

He said he wanted to see other women because he had to know if there was someone ‘better’ out there.

This, coming after 6 years.

And conveniently, there was already someone else waiting eagerly in the wings. Pretty. More engaging. Talks a lot more. Positive. More ambitious. Knows what she wants (oh, I bet she does.) Richer and lives in a landed property (yeah, I was kinda strapped for cash all the time because I like to share, if you get my drift).

All this, in his words.

So, there – the brutal truth?


* * *


(Once Upon A Time…)

He had talked to me about “Chasing Amy” to explain how he felt about how one could know there isn’t someone “better out there” unless one went and looked.

Except the movie isn’t just about knowing whether there could be someone else out there; “to not limit the likelihood of finding that one person who would complement me so completely.”

It is about finding true love. Whether I am better, or rather, am not, is not the issue. Neither is whether there is someone else out there. He still seeks, because I am not “the one”. If I am not, asking me to consider a non-exclusive relationship when he already knows, is just cruel; if I am not “the one”, he should just say so and let me go. Let me not suffer the indignity.

I have thought of “widening my horizons” too. But I never did venture forth, because my heart tells me that though he is not the best, and there are surely other “better” men, he is what my heart wants. And I could not bear to hurt “We” by testing the robustness of my belief. And I know, somehow, that he would not have taken me back if I did take that first step, as he has now done.


* * *


I could never be with someone who wanted me just because I was ‘better’. (Oh, I know I am; and I also know that there will always be ‘better ones’ out there.)

I want to be with someone who is willing to give up all the ‘better ones’ because he loves me and just wants to be with me.

I want someone who will make that sacrifice for me.


Written by The Intimate Stranger

April 10th, 2012 at 7:06 am

Posted in once upon a time

11 September 2001

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I remember coming home from work, and going straight to my room, and turning on the computer and TV — as I still do, except I don’t have a TV in my room now.

I remember seeing on the Channelnewsasia news ticker at the bottom of the TV screen that a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers.

I remember thinking that maybe I had read the words wrong, what with most of my attention on the computer — it just seemed too bizarre. But those same words ran across the screen, again and again, and again and again.

I remember thinking, as more detailed reporting streamed in and the dreadful video coverage was played and replayed, and replayed, and the reality and implications of all this sank in — was war coming?

I remember thinking then, only that I wanted S (the then Boyfriend and the now Ex-Communicated) to be by my side.

I couldn’t imagine living in a changed world without S.


* * *


My world did change, in just under a year later.


* * *


It has been 10 years since 9/11.

And just over 9 years without S.

The world has changed in many ways. So has my life — and yet in many other areas, it has remained unchanged….

And you know what? It wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be.


Written by The Intimate Stranger

September 14th, 2011 at 12:09 am

Posted in once upon a time


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Circa February 2008:

That first touch…. the mild shock of sun-scorched skin pressing in on the moment; palm to palm (not so holy afterall — not with one such as he); knees slowly caressing bare skin (under the table, away from oblivious eyes); arms entwined as bodies moved as one (fire, walk with me); skin on skin (his on mine).

“So, do you know what you want in your other half?”

“Maturity, conversation,” The Comic said, without hesitation. “And physical compatibility.”

Ah. But of course.

I can’t remember my own response to that question, but I do remember not being very sure what I wanted then. (No surprise there.) Or at least, the words did not come from my heart.

How things have changed since then — the flood of words when another asked me just a month ago; words that I barely thought about before letting them fly; words that made him laugh at some point.


* * * * *


I’ve never been one to touch another person. (Though I’m a frequent dog and cat molester. Heh. Heh.)

It’s simply not in my nature to, I think. Though on rare, very rare, occasions, I’ve been known to accept or proffer a hug. I remember those moments — when emotions had the upper hand (ha-ha) and I just went with the flow.

I don’t generally like being touched either, though I’m fine with (or tolerate) accidental brushes and unintended physical contact — again, this is generally speaking. One of my pet peeves with the latter is strangers (always the women; with men, it’s not a peeve — it’s a potential assault case, that is, the writer goes into Xena mode) who literally rest their breasts or tummies on my back while waiting in queues. (Tell me you haven’t experienced one of those!)

This is why I rarely go for massages. I don’t care how cheap it is in Bangkok or wherever. I can’t bear being touched by the ‘wrong’ hands, in particular, hands that feel and move like mush — mindless mush.

This is not to say that I don’t like being touched. I do, very much actually — but because I’m sensitive to touch, it matters a lot what and who is touching me.

The two women I go to for my facials have good hands, and I often drift off to sleep during the sessions. Not coincidentally, I like them as people too. When I was deciding on the tattoo artist who did my second, it was very much about the comfort level. And he does have a very light touch. So, though he was a relative newbie when I went to him, I took a leap of faith. I’ve been following his work since then, and in the last couple of years, he’s produced some pretty amazing stuff :-)

Come to think of it, I’ve never thought very much of the Ex-Communicated’s hands. I didn’t not like them; I certainly liked having him hold my hands though that’s more to do with emotional attachment. But I never thought they were particularly, well, interesting. Oh well.

Have you ever observed doctors’ hands? I like looking at them, very much. I won’t venture so far as to say they have ‘kind’ hands but doctors’ hands do move differently — deliberate, confident, graceful, almost as if they have a mind of their own and are not mere appendages. (Ehhh, is this going to raise hackles again? Heh.)


* * * * *


I had proffered access to a document on my iPhone as he seemed particularly curious about an itinerary that I had trusted my travel buddy to plan almost entirely. (And really because he had also shared something personal on his iPhone earlier.)

He slid his fingers under my phone, touching mine — just barely, lingering for a while longer, before taking the phone.

Later, as I held up his work document with both hands and pointed out a grammatical error, I remembered my surprise when he slipped a hand effortlessly under my right forearm, and traced the sentence in question.


* * * * *



I do like touching babies’ hands.

There’s something about the slightly curled up fingers and softness that is so inviting…. like a pale budding bloom…. untouched by life as yet.

Babies’ hands are the promises of tomorrows and new beginnings.

Hope — we could all do with a little more of that.


Written by The Intimate Stranger

April 1st, 2011 at 3:42 am

Cinderella’s shoe

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Circa 1 April 2004….

“Do you believe in The One? Or do you believe that there are more than one The One out there just waiting for you to chance upon one (or even more than one) of them? Or is it that these few are only potentials, and that at any one time, there can be just The One – the way The Child of Light and The Child of Dark ‘moved’ from body to body, in David Eddings’ Belgariad? …… I don’t know if there is one, or two, or three, or more The One out there. I just know The One is someone so special, you don’t need to think it through from A to Z. He is the missing piece in the puzzle, and when you finally find him and receive this missing piece into your life, you will be complete.”

- Intimate Stranger. 2 August 2002.

Perhaps, there is really never more than one The One. Perhaps, we just get so tired of finding or waiting for him that we settle for the next best, and make believe that he is one of the few. Or, for some people, they simply do not believe The One exists.

SF likened it to finding The Right Shoe amongst the myriad possibilities. Sometimes, you find a pair with the design and colour you want, but not the size. Sometimes, you settle for an incredibly comfortable pair of pointy-toed shoes, even though the colour is not quite you, because you think this is the closest you will ever get to your checklist for The Right Shoe. And so, you stop looking, and you stop listening to the faint aches in your chest. Sometimes, a seemingly perfect pair of shoes could give you a callus which you choose to ignore, but you choose to put up with the vague discomfort, and soon, you do not even notice the thickened skin. (Everyone saw the calluses on my feet. Everyone. Except me.)

Someone said that believing in The One was a cop-out, because of our fear of making the wrong decision, of finding ourselves with The Wrong One. On the contrary, I believe it takes Courage to believe in The One. Because even if your paths cross, you might miss him if you do not have the faith to believe in yourself. And because, you might not even find him in this lifetime.


I walked towards the windows in the room she had called ‘home’ the last 3 years, drawn by the bright afternoon light streaming in, illuminating a path through the handful of scattered belongings she had returned to pack up and move to her new home.

Perhaps in the dusty recesses of my fuzzy memories, I remembered having stood at that window a few years ago and looked out at the lone privately-owned apartment in her backyard.

My eyes rested on the petals aglow in reds and yellows, hovering over the sparkling blue of the circular pool — just like in the picture I had googled after he told me where he used to live up until 5 years ago.

“What is that building over there?” I asked, after a moment’s hesitation.

“Oh, it’s some condo — Hibiscus Heights.”


And more unspoken questions flooded my mind.


I realised during one of my idle moments when the mind wanders down drafty hallways and ventures into forgotten rooms, that they are the same age and share the same horoscope — except the first was born 19 days earlier within the same month (he of the misfired text message).

They even have a similar built and height, but the second works out and so is slightly more bulky than scrawny (heh). And both have that almost jaunty gait. But the second has stronger facial features, and dare I say it, such pretty eyes — eyes that I can’t stop looking into and will surely find myself drowning in soon enough. Yet, something in those eyes is strangely familiar — that same burning intensity that I remember from once upon a time, and had fled from (though for an entirely different reason)….

And like the first,  he likes his movies too, and we never seem to run out of things to talk about.

They call this chemistry, don’t they?

How strange this is all turning out to be….

Written by The Intimate Stranger

March 24th, 2011 at 1:22 am


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I’ve been telling friends that there is no more reason to write regularly on the blog – been there done that, plus I’m busy with life. But I thought I would just keep the blog around for the occasional brief post and because I have no compelling reason to shut it down.

I’ve found the reason, and the need, to start writing again.

Welcome, whoever you are who’s still reading.


Just got off the phone with SF. It’s way past midnight now, just after 0200 hours. It was one of those long phone calls I used to have with my girlfriends – just talking about our day and life in general; reflecting on recent and not so recent events; looking back at old memories with the benefit of hindsight and new eyes.

These late night phonecalls are a rarity at our age (at least for me), what with having to wake up for work the next morning (I had a nice afternoon nap and I’m on leave the next day) and needing more sleep in general.

But there’s something about late night phone calls in the comfort of your room, when the rest of the world is asleep. As you walk down the silent hallway of your mind, doors previously closed start to open as you pass them. And as you look into each room, you sometimes see things that weren’t there before….


I’ve always thought my parents didn’t bring me up as well as they should, though to be fair, my physical needs and education were adequately taken care of.

Many things however, such as social skills and just getting through life, had to be learnt outside the home through my own experiences, from books and movies, and from friends. That didn’t always work out well and I would stumble many, many times – too many times.

I sometimes wonder what I would be today if I had not missed out on certain experiences and opportunities as a teenager. I was good in sports and could have been a swimmer/athlete…. I was also good with words and could have developed professionally in that area….

All that is water under the bridge now. And I certainly don’t feel my parents owe me these alternate realities. They’ve made sure I was fed, clothed, sheltered and educated. But in many ways, I was left on my own to grow as a person. Whether or not my parents had neglected to cover all their bases with the children, the fact of the matter is that sometimes, they were simply unable to fill all the gaps because they themselves were lacking in those areas and wouldn’t have known any better.

As the years go by, the distance between me and my parents widens incrementally. We still talk of course but it becomes harder to identify with each other’s lives and who we – or rather, I – have become.

I think that’s why my mum doesn’t like SF. Call it jealousy or what you will. Mum thinks I listen to SF too much and I spend too much time with her.

You see, my mum doesn’t know the face in the cradle anymore.

I am the stolen child.


My friends were waiting for me to wake up from general anaesthesia.

J had his first look of The Ex and there was an unspoken dislike. We had also just started dating for a couple of months then.

Many years later, in the immediate aftermath of the break-up, A and R thought I should re-think my decision and speak with them first, if not let them speak with The Ex first. J, on the other hand, told me in not so many words that The Ex was not to be trusted.


I used to be ‘very quiet’. I still am described as such though it’s nowhere as bad as before. I don’t remember how bad ‘bad’ was though, but I do also remember there were stretches when I was more vocal.

It’s amazing how The Best Friend continued to engage me during my ‘very quiet’ phase when she first knew me. Most people would have given up talking to a wall within 5 minutes and walked away. Most normal human beings anyway. Heh.

I think if I expressed myself more, I would be a less frustrated person. And so would my friends. Laugh.

Written by The Intimate Stranger

October 13th, 2010 at 3:54 am

Once upon a time

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Tan Jia Cai Restaurant at Beijing Hotel, 25 Apr 2010


Here’s a confession.

I check out the Ex-communicated once every few months, or longer, over Facebook. No, he’s not on my friends list. And no, neither he nor I have attempted to ‘add’ the other. I’ll’d be surprised if he did – him being who he is, or rather was; I really can’t speak for who he is, now.

I heard from J some time ago that he has a kid. J’s wife is a colleague of the Ex-communicated’s sister. I understand that they are quite close, or rather were; I really can’t say what the situation is, now.

The latest profile photo of the Ex-communicated has him holding up his young daughter. I really can’t tell how old. I don’t have children nor take much notice of them. The little girl is rather cute though, I’ll have to say. Meanwhile, the Ex-communicated has aged. We all grow older – and old – of course. I know that.

But the thing about all that is, change. Situations change, people change, lives change.


My mother was never one of those – you know, the ones you hear about and raise your eyebrows or drop your jaw – who harassed her daughter to get a boyfriend and get married. I actually think my mother is simply torn between wanting all that and yet fretting her three daughters will get married to the wrong man. (Now, did that raise a few eyebrows? Laugh.)

So no, I never did have that sort of pressure from my mother. Neither did I have it from the mother who was not mine – because she was busy harassing her son to get another girlfriend and get married.

Yes, really.


How far my path and your path had diverged.

It was strange looking at your future, so different from my now.

And I realised that it was because it was a future I never could see myself in while we were together.

Written by The Intimate Stranger

June 7th, 2010 at 11:42 am

Posted in once upon a time