My Brother's Return

Lessons on communication, money, responsibility and self care.


6/26/202314 min read

brown and beige welcome area rug
brown and beige welcome area rug

Last week, I didn't get the chance to write much because my younger brother finally returned from China after being stuck there for over three years due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

It had been an incredibly challenging time for him, being alone in a foreign country for work, despite having some prior experience before the pandemic struck. He had to face the difficulties without any support, especially during the COVID period when he also had to deal with his newborn daughter's lactose intolerance and wife's postnatal depression.

My brother and I have always had a complicated relationship, with differing views on life. He tends to be more of a spender, while I lean towards being a saver. Despite our differences, I truly admire his courage to work in a foreign country and his ambition to climb the corporate ladder.

His resilience in facing challenges head-on made me reflect on my own fears and encouraged me to push my boundaries.

Given his reserved nature, I was pleasantly surprised when he opened up to me about his situation. It seemed as if he had been holding so much inside that he couldn't contain it any longer.

Out of respect for his privacy, I won't delve into the specifics, but I can say it was a challenging ordeal. Witnessing his vulnerability reminded me of the importance of creating a safe space for loved ones to share their struggles. I realized that offering support and being there for someone in need can make a significant difference.

While I wanted to alleviate my brother's challenges, I recognized that one can only truly overcome their struggles when they are willing and motivated to do so. I learned that it is essential to offer support and reassurance, but ultimately, individuals must find their own path out of difficult situations.

All I could offer him was my assurance that I would always be there to help if he needed it, and my sincere wishes for the best.

As bystanders, we often think that problems can be easily solved, not fully comprehending the emotional attachments and complexities in others' lives. If everything could be resolved logically, we wouldn't be human.

We are creatures driven by emotions, where logic sometimes fades in the face of strong feelings like fear, anger, love, and hate. We can often be our own worst demons. Understanding the emotional aspect of human existence helps us approach others with empathy and compassion.

With that said, this article aims to share the lessons I learned during the week I had spent with my brother. So, let's dive into it.

Vulnerability Doesn’t Always Connect

Having previously experienced the power of opening up about my own vulnerabilities, I believed that it would enable me to connect with my brother on a deeper level, especially since he had entrusted me with hearing about his struggles.

Unfortunately, my approach didn't have the desired effect and ended up backfiring.

It turns out that it's not uncommon for some of us to be so consumed by our own problems that we find it challenging to genuinely listen to and empathize with others. As a result, we may feel unsure about how to react, leading to discomfort in the conversation.

This is what happened to my case with my brother. He had too many things on his plate and he was not ready to listen to other people’s problems as he felt he had a responsibility to solve them.

Therefore, it's crucial to recognize that there are alternative ways to establish connections. Above all, it's essential to reach out and let others know that we're always there to listen without judgement when they're ready to talk.

I have delved into the topic of personal vulnerability and its potential to foster deeper connections. I have also explored the fragility associated with embracing vulnerability. If you're interested in learning more about what I've discovered regarding personal vulnerability and its impact on communication, I encourage you to explore my articles on the subject.

I Am Cheap

I had always prided myself as someone who is good at saving money. A minimalist and the best deal guy. I still remember how I spent hours and hours trying to look for the best deal in setting up my personal PC.

However, I've come to realize that it's not just about being frugal; it's about being resourceful and making conscious choices. As Ramthi mentioned in his podcast, if multiple people have pointed out that I am cheap, perhaps there is some truth to it.

In the past, I would prioritize price tags over the overall experience.

Even when I wanted to treat my parents to a trip, I would search for the cheapest hotels and tickets. While we covered the expenses for accommodation and travel, my parents would insist on paying for all the meals, even though we could have paid for everything (we have the money) to make the experience for them even better.

We were also hesitant to order alcoholic drinks for them, citing health concerns, but the reality is that we often found them expensive, particularly at restaurants. However, my perspective has started to shift recently.

I've realized that life is too short to be stingy all the time.

While it's crucial to be financially responsible and avoid living paycheck to paycheck or relying on credit, I've realized that money is a tool for creating happiness. It should be used to enhance positive experiences rather than serving as an identity or simply being hoarded.

Some experiences are time-sensitive, like fulfilling our parents' long-held travel aspirations or taking our children to Disneyland before they outgrow it.

There are moments that require us to loosen our purse strings and dive into unforgettable experiences.

For example, when my brother treated us to the Wings Of Time show, it turned out to be a heck of a show that I would have missed otherwise. My eldest was so blown away by the show that she kept talking about it late after. Thanks bro!

It reminded me that sometimes spending money is worthwhile, even if it goes against my penny-pinching tendencies.

However, I must admit that it can still be challenging for me to spend on things that I don't find personally worthwhile, such as dining at expensive restaurants with average food when my dad's cooking is often just as good or better.

Nevertheless, I've made plans to treat my parents, in-laws, cousin, and her family to a cruise trip. It promises to be a fun experience. Although we initially suggested the idea to them, my parents declined, feeling that they had already inconvenienced others by asking them to care for their dog during their frequent travels this year.

So, we have tentatively decided to postpone the trip to 2025 when my youngest will be five years old and can participate in most cruise activities.

By then, my cousin's newborn will be older and less of a hassle, and hopefully, the dog will no longer be with us. Well, that's just a humorous thought, but it shows my willingness to adapt and plan for the future while still considering the needs and concerns of others. ^_^

Thrifty Hacks

So-called expensive experiences can actually be made more affordable, and my younger cousin taught me this valuable lesson.

It doesn't mean we have to completely avoid expensive restaurants; there are ways to enjoy the same experience at a lower cost.

One trick is to steer clear of those tempting combo meals.

Sure, they may come with an array of dishes, but let's be honest, we often end up with a mountain of food we don't even enjoy. Instead, opt for ordering à la carte. Take, for example, the time we had Hokkaido Ramen Santouka at Clark Quay Central.

I fell for the allure of the deal and ended up paying more for things I didn't really want or need. Plus none of the side dishes are even good. The only saving grace was the noodles themselves, which I could have enjoyed at half the price.

The key here is to order exactly what you want to eat and avoid the unnecessary extras.

Combo meals often come bundled with items you're not interested in or dishes that the restaurant is trying to push out.

It brings to mind the time I treated my parents to Putien (a chinese restaurant). I thought ordering a set for four would be the way to go, and it ended up costing around $200.

Had we selected a few of our favorite dishes, ordered more rice/noodles and focused on their signature specialties, we could have enjoyed a more fulfilling meal for less than $200.

Not only would our bellies have been happier, but we would have savored the food even more and still enjoyed the quality service provided. My parents would have been happier too as they kept lamenting about the high price that doesn’t even fill their stomach.

So, remember, a fantastic dining experience doesn't have to burn a hole in your wallet. By being selective and ordering what truly appeals to you, you can enjoy the best of what the restaurant has to offer without overspending.

Plus, your parents will be even happier with the experience when they truly enjoy the food and appreciate the reasonable price tag. It's a win-win situation for everyone's taste buds and wallets!

I Need More Exposure To New Things

baby with pacifier in mouth
baby with pacifier in mouth

I've come to realize that I need to expose myself to new experiences more often.

I've grown comfortable with sticking to my plans and avoiding crowded tourist locations. Stepping into unfamiliar territory with throngs of people increases my stress and discomfort levels. This isn't ideal because it hinders my ability to react optimally when things don't go according to plan. I find myself easily fatigued in such situations.

To become better at handling stress, I understand that I need to frequently put myself in similar challenging situations and gradually build up my tolerance. By doing so, I can learn to respond more effectively, avoiding fear, anger, or even being paralyzed by the stress. It's a way to develop resilience and adaptability.

I vividly remember a frustrating experience we had while searching for the Ora hotel in Sentosa, where my brother was staying. Many pathways were blocked due to construction, and Google Maps seemed determined to lead us in circles towards those obstructed areas.

In hindsight, it would have been wiser to contact my brother immediately for advice instead of blindly going around in circles like a group of lost mice.

Another instance that comes to mind is when we were trying to reach Beach station for the Wings of Time show. The queue for the monorail resembled the Great Wall of China in length.

We would have endured the wait if my cousin hadn't taken the initiative to look for an alternative. We hopped on a bus shuttle instead, and within 10 minutes, we had reached our destination.

These experiences have taught me valuable lessons.

They've shown me the importance of seeking assistance when needed and being open to alternative solutions. By embracing new ways of doing things and taking the initiative to explore different paths, I can navigate unfamiliar situations more smoothly.

There is indeed so much to learn from these encounters. Each one presents an opportunity for personal growth and the development of skills that will serve me well in the face of future challenges.

So, instead of shying away from the unknown, I'm ready to step outside my comfort zone and embrace the excitement and learning that come with it.

More Autonomy

I've come to realize that I need to cultivate more autonomy in my life.

I tend to be a follower, always waiting for others to provide direction and guidance, particularly in unfamiliar situations.

Whether I'm in a bustling mall like ION Orchard or exploring a destination like Sentosa, my default response when asked about directions is often, 'I don't know.'

If I were to venture out alone with the children, I would feel compelled to do more research and preparation. But when I'm with others, I often assume the role of a companion, expecting them to know the way and make decisions about our destinations.

This has been the default mode of travel for my wife and me. She has always taken on the responsibility of planning, researching, and acting as our personal GPS. It places a significant burden on her to get everything right.

I am so privileged to have her in my life.

Moving forward, I am committed to taking initiative and shouldering some of the planning responsibilities for any trip. I understand the importance of doing my own research on how to get there, where to go, and what activities to engage in.

By taking an active role in gathering information and contributing to the decision-making process, I can alleviate the burden on my wife and enhance the overall travel experience for both of us.

This shift towards greater autonomy is not only about lightening the load for others but also about empowering myself. It's an opportunity to grow and become more self-reliant, developing my own knowledge and understanding of the places we visit.

With a proactive mindset and a willingness to take charge, I can ensure that we make the most of our adventures and create meaningful memories together.

So, from now on, I am determined to step up and make a conscious effort to do my part in researching and planning for our trips.

By embracing this new approach, I can contribute to a more balanced and fulfilling travel experience, where we can explore and discover together with a shared sense of autonomy.

Speak No Evil

woman in white crew neck t-shirt
woman in white crew neck t-shirt

I've realized the importance of keeping my mouth shut when I don't have anything constructive to offer. Instead of providing helpful recommendations or valuable input, I often default to saying 'I don't know' or making unhelpful comments.

This tendency becomes evident in situations like when we were struggling to find a place to eat in Sentosa late at night, around 8:30 pm when most shops were about to close.

Instead of taking the initiative to research and suggest a suitable dining option, I made a comment about getting a cake from Twelve Cupcakes as a substitute for dinner. Not only was this suggestion unhealthy and far from a proper meal, but it also injected negativity into the group dynamic.

My parents started to agree with the absurdity of the situation, and the inclination to settle for cakes and return to the hotel only made matters worse. Again, in hindsight, I should have kept quiet or, even better, motivated the group and assisted my brother in finding a proper dining place.

Although we eventually managed to find somewhere to eat, I couldn't shake off the feeling of guilt for my behavior and its impact on the overall enjoyment of the meal. It was a missed opportunity to contribute positively and support the group's efforts in finding a satisfying dining experience.

Moving forward, I am committed to being more mindful of my words and refraining from unnecessary comments when they don't add value or help the situation.

I understand that silence can sometimes be more powerful than thoughtless remarks. If I don't have something constructive or beneficial to contribute, I will focus on motivating and assisting the group rather than exacerbating any challenges we may face.

Communication Styles Can Vary Vastly

When I was messaging my brother, I expected an equal level of engagement in our conversations. So, when he responded with one-word or short messages, I would automatically assume that he wasn't interested in talking, frustrated with my messaging style, or even being rude.

One incident that stands out is when we agreed to visit the SEA Aquarium together and planned to meet at a certain time. I tried providing him with details on how to purchase tickets, the prices, and even updates on our location.

However, I received no response at all. Later on, he suddenly informed me that they had decided to enter the aquarium immediately.

I was still on my way there and replied, but there was no reply from him at all. He didn't even explain why they had changed their plan. I felt left stranded and experienced a surge of self-righteous fury.

Despite not feeling well, I had made the trip to spend more family time with him. Fortunately, Niki decided to take urgent leave and accompanied me on the trip.

For hours and hours, I held onto that negativity until I met my brother again a day later. To my surprise, he was completely nonchalant about the situation. It turned out that his daughter had been experiencing constipation since the morning, which made things difficult for him. He had to carry a crying baby throughout the day while still trying to make the most out of their aquarium trip.

I came to realize that his communication style is simply different from mine. He prefers concise and to-the-point messages, using messaging primarily for questions and answers rather than casual chat.

I discovered that his wife follows a similar pattern in her communication style as well. It occurred to me that this could be influenced by Chinese culture and its way of communicating through messaging media.

This experience has taught me a valuable lesson about the diversity of communication styles. Just because I am accustomed to a particular way of communicating doesn't mean that everyone shares the same approach.

I now understand that my brother's short replies were not meant to be rude or dismissive, but rather a reflection of his preferred style.

Moving forward, I will strive to be more mindful and open-minded about different communication styles. I won't assume that others are disinterested or frustrated simply because their responses differ from what I expect.

By embracing this understanding, I can strengthen my relationships and foster more effective communication with the people I interact with, even if our styles may differ.

Pacing Myself for a Fulfilling Experience

brown wooden blocks on white surface
brown wooden blocks on white surface

Engaging in new and different activities can be exhilarating, but it's essential to remember the importance of pacing oneself.

Throughout the week, I made a concerted effort to join my brother and his family every day, ensuring that we cherished every possible moment together.

It led to numerous experiences I would never have had without his involvement, such as dining in upscale restaurants, spending a night at a Sentosa hotel, indulging in local attractions (never paid for them before), and even window shopping at ION.

These experiences expanded my horizons and opened my mind to new possibilities.

However, they also disrupted my usual daily schedule, causing late nights, extensive travel, and exposure to crowded places. Consequently, I became completely exhausted and eventually fell sick, unable to post any articles as I had planned.

I've come to realize that while my intentions were good, it's crucial to find a balance and pace myself accordingly. Falling ill doesn't benefit anyone, and in the end, my sickness prevented me from sending my brother off at the airport, leaving me with a sense of regret.

Moreover, some of the experiences we had could have been even better if I hadn't been so exhausted.

Thankfully, my wife recognized the toll it was taking on me and took urgent leave to accompany us to the aquarium when she learned that I was initially planning to go alone with the kids instead of with the group as originally intended.

Her thoughtfulness and amazing support ensured that our girls had a far more enjoyable experience than they would have had if it were just me. Love you baby.

I also couldn't shake the feeling of unfinished work that kept nagging at me. While I managed to write every night, I wasn't able to post any articles because I was working on a massive piece.

In retrospect, if I had taken just one full day to rest at home and post a short article, it would have created a more balanced and fulfilling overall experience for my brother's stay.

This experience has taught me the importance of self-care and finding a harmonious rhythm when exploring new activities. It's crucial to listen to my body, manage my energy levels, and ensure that I allocate time for rest and reflection.

By doing so, I can fully enjoy the moments I spend with loved ones, make the most out of new experiences, and still attend to my personal responsibilities. Ultimately, finding the right pace ensures a more fulfilling and well-rounded journey.


I am gladful that my brother is back safe and sound with his family.

His returning had provided valuable lessons and insights that have reshaped my perspective on various aspects of life.

I learned the importance of creating a safe space for loved ones to share their struggles and the realization that offering support and being there for someone can make a significant difference.

I also discovered the need to strike a balance between being frugal and enjoying life's experiences, recognizing that money is a tool for creating happiness and should be used wisely.

Furthermore, I realized the importance of exposing myself to new things, cultivating autonomy, and being mindful of my words when they don't add value.

Lastly, I gained an understanding that communication styles can vary vastly, and it's essential to navigate them with empathy and understanding.

Thank you brother, I truly hope that you will be safe and happy with all your issues resolved eventually.

With love.