Marie walked onto the stage. She was a woman in her late thirties, and from the outside eyes, she was just like you and me, wearing glasses with black frame, having straight, black hair that rested on her shoulder.

With eyes looking down on her paper, Marie said, ‘I would like to first give a disclosure: I’m not condemning the Indonesians. I have forgiven and moved on. But this is my story of growing up in East Timor, and how I became a refugee here in Australia.’

She looked at us expectantly. The crowd sat in silence, with occasional whimper of children echoed in the auditorium hall. She began again, ‘I grew up in East Timor. When I was nine, the Indonesian military attacked us. Bombs were dropping. I was nine, and I was no stranger to seeing decomposing bodies on the street, sometimes with bullet wounds.’

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Author’s note: I wrote this in a sheer spontaneous response to an e-newsletter from the Unimelb: ‘What do you wish you had known?’ Considering that yesterday was probably my last class ever in university (I am planning to do an internship alongside with my thesis next semester), it seems apt to write this.

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There is a reason why Malcolm Gladwell called ten thousand hours the magic number for true expertise. It’s simple: the more hours you put in doing something, the better you get at it.

I didn’t really believe it.

For something that as simple as writing, yeah, maybe. I mean, the only variable that influences bad or good writing is yourself – your creativity, or whatever you want to call it. Being good at other things requires mastering more variables than you can imagine.

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This semester was my weirdest so far.

I have two contact hours weekly and another two contact hours biweekly. I am supposed to meet with my thesis supervisor for one hour for every two weeks. That’s all.

But I have been in a state of busyness that surpasses all my previous eight semesters of uni.

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It’s weird that I don’t feel weird to come home to an empty apartment. On the contrary, I feel like everything’s still the same. My teal kettle was where I left it – there on the left side of the couch with my seventeen-hour old cup of Japanese green tea beside it.

I put my keys on the wooden bowl on top of the shoe cabinet, dumped my bag on the chair, reached my kettle and reboiled the water as it was still half full. I changed my clothes. I threw away the old tea bag, rinsed the cup a little bit and reached for another tea bag. I then collapsed on the sofa and turned on the TV. Just another day. Just another routine.

Everything’s changed though. Well, not everything. Something has. Today is the second day of me living alone. I’ve lived alone before, for approximately ten days when my sister went home for the holidays. This time, she went home, but she wasn’t going back to live with me.

She got married.

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In the final months of graduating my Bachelor’s degree, I have contemplated to do an Honours’ year. The downside to this was I had to do a thesis, and at that time, I totally detest research.

Fast-forward three years and I find myself choosing, voluntarily, to do a minor thesis. These past seven weeks, I find myself being stretched considerably. My boyfriend said, and I quote, ‘This is the first time I’ve seen you being workaholic.’

Considering that this was just the beginning, I shudder. But I realise something else about myself: I actually quite enjoy the journey (thus far).

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1. Money is not the most important thing. Spend it when you can, with moderation, and enjoy life once in a while. Oh, and never spend what you don’t have.

2. Family is the most important thing. Dad always drills the lesson of ‘three is better than one’, and us three daughters are (too) close to each other.

3. When it comes to your friends asking to borrow money, either give it to them completely or don’t. Money is such a sensitive issue; it will ruin your friendship in the future.

4. Education is important. Or, in my Dad’s words: ‘As long as I can still provide for your education, go attain one, as high as you can. Money can run out, but knowledge enables you to make money again.’

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In a conversation earlier today with my close friend, I said this to her, ‘Good people make mistakes too.’ I was not trying to cover for the mistakes that people did, but at that time, I was thinking of what someone else told me, ‘Everyone is a good person, only if you wait long enough.’ So I said that to her.

But I think so. Generally speaking, I think everyone is good. Or probably. No one’s born evil, right? And deep down we all have this kind of morality where we want the greater good. Yes, we are selfish, but overall we are good. We are nice. Or nice enough.

Some hours later, I’m thinking about that sentence I said to my friend, and I’m thinking about it when I’m reading a book about writing. In the chapter titled, ‘Characters’, the author said that we ought to spend a lot of time in the head of the characters we create – what’s she like? Why’s she behaving a certain way when her coffee’s spilled?

And while reading that paragraph, I remembered something else that someone told me sometime ago: we always judge ourselves with the inside context, we always judge people based purely on their action.

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Some years ago I did something I truly regretted: I upgraded my 2009 MacBook White operating system. I was not an upgrader. In fact, every time a new upgrade system was available, I would always dismiss the notification, because I know it would eventually lead to the slow death of my faithful laptop.

That day, though, I decided to give it a try. And yes, my Mac slowed down immediately. I tried to resurrect it by replacing the RAM, but eventually I have to face the truth: my Mac is never going to be as fast as before.

Thing is, you need to be careful with upgrading, and this lesson is transferrable to life.

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I see myself as a writer, and occasionally I tell others that I am a writer. Or, more precisely, I tell others that I write. I mean, telling others that I write shows I can produce good writing or bad writing. Telling others I’m a writer means that I should have written well, which I probably have not.

Anyway, considering myself a writer, I decided to go to the Melbourne Writers Festival. Last Sunday, I dragged my faithful boyfriend (because Sunday is our date day), and we sat down on one of the seminars titled, ‘The World According to Short Stories’.

One of the speakers, short-story author Paddy O’Reilly, said this:

How we read people tells so much about us than how we behave.

Yes, it does.

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