Alethea (@helloalegator) is someone that has never been shy about exploring the things that bring her joy. Always up for a new adventure, Alethea approaches any interest she sets her heart on with boundless enthusiasm. She shares how some of these experiences have recently been integral in helping her achieve balance in our hectic world and (unexpectedly) even helped her grow closer to her in-laws.
You’ve described yourself as a bit of a hobbyist of hobbies, tell us a little more about the time you’ve been dedicating to pottery recently and what effect that’s had on you.
Ask my friends and they’ll tell you that I’m a person with plenty of interests. I’ve been accused of starting too many projects and running out of steam before I complete them. I attribute this to a lack of discipline for things I don’t consider a priority so I’ve been working on this lately.
Pottery, however, was something I didn’t need to will myself to do. It was, and still is, something I look forward to doing every week. I started class hoping to create functional pieces such as cups, plates and bowls but I ended up falling in love with the process and craft. Wheel-throwing, to me, isn’t something you can rush.
Every session is a challenge for my very impatient self. If I’m rushed for time or distracted, it will show. If I get progressively more frustrated towards the end of class, lagi* worse. I like how demanding it is of my attention, especially in this multitasking, hyper-distracted world. It’s a weekly three-hour digital cleanse. Fun.
*Lagi: A Malay word that is used to describe something that is more or greater than usual. It's a term that's commonly used in Singapore colloquial english vocabulary, or as it's more commonly known, Singlish.
Many of us are familiar with disappearing into a book, but a recent read of yours has not only led to profound realisations but even helped strengthen ties with your family. How has this come to be?
The latest book I read was a rare impulse buy that turned out to be beautifully serendipitous. Typically, I research the heck out of reviews before buying a book. However, while I was shopping for a cookbook for my cousin-in-law, I carted out Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s The Mountains Sing for free shipping. No regrets.
Reading The Mountains Sing was harrowing for several reasons. Firstly, it was as devastating as most stories on war and suffering are. Secondly, it was painfully glaring how little I knew about a war that happened fairly recently (ended 1975) and took place in a country so close to us.
Finally, it was a war that my husband and his family went through. Until the book, I’ve heard bits and pieces of their turmoil (my husband and his family are Vietnamese refugees that were rescued by a German ship while they were out at sea), but nothing prepared me for the daggers of abject loss and despair that the book bedevilled me with.
Up till now, I’ve had a fragmented relationship with my mother-in-law; she’s a matriarch that ruled her family with an iron fist and traditions as the law. But The Mountains Sing helped cast a new, softer light on her. It helped give some context to her achievements. Not only did she single-handedly feed her family by selling contraband items in the black market (her husband was imprisoned by the Northern Vietnamese for fighting for the American army), she earned enough to pay for not one but three chances to flee Vietnam on a boat. As stubbornly iron-fisted as she may still be, she’s a freaking badass.
I hear you are in the midst of making plans for a trip to visit your husband’s family. You must be looking forward to that!
Yes, it’s been two years since we last saw them and my heart aches a little whenever my sister-in-law sends us photos of her children. They’ve grown so much and I am painfully aware that my rudimentary German will no longer cement my stronghold in their hearts as their favourite aunt. In a desperate attempt to rectify this, I’ve been cramming two years neglecting my German lessons into the two months prior to our flight. Wish me luck. Or viel Glück.
We often rush around and overlook how little things can help make us feel better. You’ve made a commitment to being mindful about these things. Tell us more!
I’ve recently started incorporating small habits that I consider to be good into my daily routine. I’ve started making the bed (yes, I never, ever had the habit of making my bed; don’t judge) and a simple end-of-day stretch before getting into bed.
I also find that focusing on the things I am grateful for always help me put challenges in perspective. Life is so much shorter than we think it is. When in doubt, I believe in focusing on enjoying the present - Go squish your cat, rub your dog’s belly, go for a walk, text a friend, order an ice cream, get two scoops, watch a Studio Ghibli film, watch five.
If you are a fellow unabashed hobby enthusiast that's interested in books, food, all things culture and heritage, plants, pottery and cats, follow Alethea on Instagram to keep up with her explorations and be blessed with snaps of her sweet (and sometimes crazed) cat Emma.