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Story behind the song: At the crossroads of my life, a Beautiful revelation

by Ethel Yap | 25 September 2017, 5:25 PM

Beautiful was written in the final months of my time in London. Upon finishing my Masters, I had to choose between staying in London or going home. Both options seemed to hold opportunity and uncertainty in equal measure. I felt torn between the two and could not determine which would be the better choice for me. I was at a crossroads.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

During this period, I spent a lot of time meditating on this verse, which eventually became the scriptural basis for Beautiful. At this time, I also wrote the acoustic guitar parts for the song. In God’s way, the music and the lyrics came beautifully together – the song resonated and proved incredibly relevant to what I was experiencing in my life at the time.

I soaked my life situation in constant prayer, and as God closed certain doors and opened others, I found myself returning home. Two years later, Ecclesiastes 3:11 became the theme verse of my wedding.

In hindsight, I’m now certain my marriage would not have happened had I remained in London, as the isolation and weariness of long-distance courting had been jeopardising my relationship with my then-boyfriend.

Upon my return home, God miraculously orchestrated many events that enabled me to get a headstart in my career that I could not have predicted or planned. This two-fold blessing reassured me that God does makes everything beautiful in His time.

When I sing this song now, with recent global events shaking up the world, I find it has taken on new layers of meaning. In a time when so many senseless, terrible and unexplainable things are happening all around us – and we feel like we’re just groping around in the dark – I cling all the more resolutely to the belief that God will make everything beautiful in His time.

It’s my hope that listeners can draw strength from this too.


Ethel is launching her EP with a special concert on 29 Sept, with shows at 7pm and 9.30pm, at Practice Space @ 54 Waterloo Street. She’ll be backed by a full band and will be sharing the personal stories behind each of her songs. Tickets are now available!

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It’s Christmas! So what?

by | 11 December 2017, 6:40 PM

If you ask most Christians what they think Christmas is about, I’d wager the answer would sound something like “a season of thanksgiving” or a “time for joy”.

People who aren’t Christian might also say something similar about The Christmas Story – and it’s usually pretty accurate.

That famous story is quite perfectly summed up in another famous verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Christmas in all of 24 words.

Maybe you know the details: About 2,000 years ago, a baby boy was born. But not just any baby. This one fulfilled all of the promises God had given to the world: That He would be miraculously born to a virgin, in a little town called Bethlehem in Israel. He would be called Jesus, which means “He saves”.

This Son of God had to be born a Son of Man because only in the flesh could He be sacrificed to pay the price for the sins of all men, paving a way to reconciliation with Father God. He saves.

Christmas is the day when hopeless humanity — mired in sin and doomed to die eternally — was offered a saving solution by God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ’s birth and eventual sacrifice on the cross.

If we as Christians truly confess, believe and accept that Jesus is Lord – then our lives would change, following Christ with all our hearts. We’d grow to be more giving, gracious and full of gratitude. Honouring His love and sacrifice, the spirit of Christmas would be an everyday thing.

But the truth is, many Christians don’t look like that. And these are all qualities quite foreign to Singaporean culture itself.

You need only to look at the vitriol online these days, the self-gratifying hate at Annie Ee’s victimisers, or the thankless, quick-to-complain nature of many Singaporeans to see that as a nation, we don’t do Christmas very well.

So many of us have settled for this way of life: We criticise, we quietly dissent and we strive as the fear of losing out kills off love for our neighbour. We spend all our time buried in work, increasingly numb to the possibility of true purpose.

Whether we know it or not, our souls have an innate longing for all that is higher.

And fair warning for the few of us who’ve “made it” in this world – life is good until it’s not.

It’s harder for the comfortable because worldly pleasures can entrap and blind. Our culture of comfort dulls our hearts for the grander things of God.

Truly, whether we know it or not, our souls have an innate longing for all that is higher. But many of us are conditioned to spend our lives pursuing hollow happinesses, only to wake up one day in bed and see the desperate emptiness of things – and that’s if you’re fortunate!

So, be fair to yourself. Look deep into your heart and sincerely weigh if beyond all the stuff you’re amassing – you have a constant peace, hope and joy.

Think now about this “spirit of Christmas”. That tangible air of thanksgiving and joy you feel and anticipate annually? That excitement for something different – something almost magical?

That’s just a small taste of a life spent as God’s own child. It’s a fraction of true joy that even a dulled heart feels.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, you don’t have to wait until you’re at the end of yourself to see truth. That’s time you don’t have to waste – and you really don’t have time to waste (Psalm 144:4).

Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). He offers the gift of salvation. He holds joy out in His hand, joy that doesn’t fade when hard times come. He gives peace that is better than any kind of security the world puts out.

Don’t shortchange yourself in this life – where you will spend eternity is at stake.

If you feel hopeless – perhaps even disillusioned by religion – I want to tell you that a relationship and life with Christ is the only hope for a better world (Revelations 21:4).

Don’t shortchange yourself in this life – where you will spend eternity is at stake.

This Christmas, don’t be cheated of what you could have, celebrating for just one day when there’s an eternity worth dancing over!


Here’s how you can accept Jesus Christ into your heart through a simple prayer of faith:

“Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. I am ready to trust you as my Lord and Saviour.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Saviour. Amen.”

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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An arts festival with purpose: Make room for the displaced this Christmas

by Jonathan Cho | 11 December 2017, 1:53 PM

Places are significant. Whether it be an actual physical space like our homes, a seat at the dinner table, or something less tangible like having a place in someone’s heart, we all appreciate it when people make space or hold a place for us.

“Having a place” reminds us that we belong, that we are of value. Yet the reality for some is that by circumstance, they have little or no reason to believe that they carry such inherent worth or significance.

I’m reminded of the people groups that many of us have come to expect to read about in the news – those who float about at sea in desperate hope of finding a place to take refuge, or those who get pushed about across countries/regions with no place they really belong.

Closer to home, my heart turns to the displaced and the destitute, who often find themselves outcast in society, with no place to call their own and nowhere they can really feel welcomed.

Jesus entered a world that had no place for Him, and His first sight of it was dark, dirty and definitely not welcoming.

That experience of exclusion is something that many of us can identify with on different levels and for a variety of reasons. When we experience this alienation from the community around us, that unshakeable sense of being inconsequential and non-existent – it can feel like we count for nothing at all.

In Luke 2, we read the story of a person who had every reason to feel inconsequential and non-existent, even though that could not have been further from the truth.

In the story of Jesus’ birth, we learn that when He first entered our world, there was no room at all for Him: “And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son [Jesus] and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

Jesus entered a world that had no place for Him, and His first sight of it was grim to say the least – dark, dirty and definitely not welcoming.

The darling of Heaven, the very Son of God, left His place in the heavens to enter a world which had no room for Him – the brutal reality and ordinary pain of the human condition. God the Father too, was also willing to let His only Son be born into these conditions, almost as if to tell us that He doesn’t mind the brokenness of our fallen nature and lack of room that we have for Him.

The beauty and good news of the Christmas story is that someone significant willingly gave up His heavenly place and lived as a man who had “no place to lay His head”. 

Whether it be a physical manger or the equally dark and dirty conditions of our hearts, it seems to me that all Jesus wanted was to enter into our lives and to have a relationship with us. Places are significant to Him, and however small the room or the place in our lives we’re willing to give, He will take it – because that’s what He came for.

The beauty and good news of the Christmas story is that someone significant willingly gave up His heavenly place and lived as a man who had “no place to lay His head”. Not only that – He also took our place and died for our sins, so that by this sacrifice and our belief in Him, He could give us a new place in His Father’s house.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3)

He just wants to be with us.

This Advent season, I am reminded of the sacrificial, unconditional love of my Saviour and His desire to lift up a people who often find themselves feeling insignificant. He gave us dignity and worth – He gave a place in His family, although we did not deserve it. Would we do the same for others?

I have resolved to take on His example: An example of place-making for the people around me who may feel as if they have no place in this world, whether it be the vulnerable in the community, family, friends or just anyone who needs a place to call home – anyone who feels like an inconsequential, insignificant placeholder.

The Placeholders team preparing a floor mural for the festival.

In doing so, I have found my place in a community of people working to do just that by putting together an arts festival called Placeholders, which will be held at the abandoned building over at 10 La Salle Street.

Using the convicting nature of art to explore and surface issues of displacement amongst the poor and needy in Singapore, festival goers will also discover how a simple act of making room for someone can possibly change a life.

Jesus gave his place in heaven to take our place on the Cross, so as to create a place for us in His Kingdom. By the life He lived, we are always reminded that we each have inherent value and significance in His eyes – and that we too should see those around us through His.


Placeholders is an arts festival that seeks to engage the community to reflect on what it means to make place for marginalised individuals and families alike, particularly during the Christmas season. All are welcome!

Date: 16 & 17 December 2017 (Saturday and Sunday)
Address: 4 & 10 La Salle Street
Time: 10am-9pm

For more information, please visit their Facebook page and Instagram page.

The Festival is partnership between Bethesda Frankel Estate Church and New Hope Community Services, a voluntary welfare organisation working with displaced families in Singapore. All proceeds raised from the event will go towards the Kampong Siglap Lifeskills Training & Retreat Centre, an initiative by New Hope Community Services which provides shelter for these displaced families.

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Hope for anyone who is suffering

by | 8 December 2017, 6:55 PM

In May, my friend’s dad met with an accident that resulted in the amputation of both his legs to save his life. As he went through such a difficult time, what hope was there for him in this situation, if any?

Christians tend to tell others that Jesus is the answer to almost every situation one can think of – which becomes annoying if overused, I admit.

And as a second-generation Christian, it’s sometimes hard to take the perspective of a non-Christian and there are some aspects I will never fully understand. Having said that, this is an attempt to offer hope in the midst of human suffering where there seems to be none – to me, hope really does find its place in Jesus.

Stay with me on that one.

HOPE IN THIS LIFE

I think part of the frustration arises from our failure to effectively communicate or understand what “hoping in Jesus” means. It doesn’t mean that problems mysteriously disappear, or suffering ceases immediately. This is not, and has never been, what the Bible promises.

Jesus doesn’t “solve” our problems by stepping in to fix the problem here and now, which is frustrating, I know – but enduring suffering is also the narrative for much of the Bible, even in the Old Testament (Psalm 12, 13, 42 – among others).

This is also true for Jesus Himself – long before His birth, the prophet Isaiah spoke forth His coming, proclaiming that He would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

Having experienced the pain of suffering Himself, Jesus is able to empathise with the needs of those who are suffering.

Hence, having experienced the full weight of suffering Himself, Jesus is able to empathise with the needs of those who are suffering – every single shred of pain ever felt. As it says in Hebrews 4:15, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses” – Jesus likewise experienced every degree suffering as a fellow human being: Loss, separation, condemnation, physical agony, grief.

In the loss of a dear friend, Lazarus (John 11:14), Jesus wept in an honest expression of sorrow at the reality of suffering and death (John 11:35). He knew that He was about to raise the poor man from the dead, but it was watching the people who didn’t, the ones He loved who suffered in the wake of death that broke His heart.

This is why Jesus is the hope in this life for those who are in distress – having entered this broken world and endured suffering, He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4) and peace (John 14:27), who walks alongside those who are hurting.

HOPE IN THE LIFE TO COME

When tragedy strikes, one might believe that his or her suffering is meaningless, or that it results from bad luck (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3). Another common belief about suffering is that it is retribution for a person’s deeds (Job 4:7-8).

In light of eternity, however, ultimate hope in the midst of suffering is found in the gospel, without which all relief is temporary and all suffering is meaningless. This hope is one that humanity can reach out and grasp onto – the hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who died for all who have fallen short of God’s perfect standard of holiness (Romans 5:6).

Through this great act, not only did God Himself experience suffering, He also overcame it. All this is possible only because Jesus’ blood on the Cross satisfied God’s wrath for all the sins of humanity – hence those who trust in Him no longer have to take the punishment for their own sin.

Every sin was laid upon Him; He died for you and me. But as He was raised to life again, in Him we have new life and a new hope.

For it is Christ’s love that fuels our passion and motivates us, because we are absolutely convinced that he has given his life for all of us. This means all died with him, so that those who live should no longer live self-absorbed lives but lives that are poured out for him — the one who died for us and now lives again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Consequently, those who are suffering can take comfort that not only is God moved by their suffering, but in His mercy, he has provided an escape from it.

This is why the Gospel offers a different perspective on suffering, contrary to worldly wisdom. It doesn’t discount human suffering as meaningless and hopeless, neither does it say that it is a person’s just desserts – instead, it offers redemption for a person’s suffering. This redemption is the offer of a restored relationship with God – being reconciled back to Him.

In the future when Christ returns, He will wipe away every tear, putting an end to death, mourning, and pain.

Hence, with the Gospel, worldly suffering now contributes to a person’s joy and hope in a greater meaning in life – with the reconciliation to God also comes a future hope, where those who trust in Him can look forward for a world with no more pain.

In the future when Christ returns, He will wipe away every tear, putting an end to death, mourning, and pain (Revelation 21:4). When this happens, the curse that entered the world through human sin (Genesis 3:14-19) will be reversed – creation will be free from its brokenness (Rom 8:20-22), and God’s redemption plan for our current broken humanity will be fulfilled.

If you’re experiencing a time of suffering, it is my hope that God, in His mercy, will use it as an opportunity where you may “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), and come to trust in Him – He delivers those who trust in Him from suffering, to await a future where suffering is no longer a reality.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Megachurches and their extravagance: How much is too much?

by | 7 December 2017, 6:07 PM

A few months ago, my friend told me he wanted to change Church. One of the reasons he gave was because he disagreed with how the Church was spending money.

“Why do we spend so much on building Church facilities and running extravagant programmes when we could use all that money to benefit the poor instead?”

Surprised by his question, I quickly replied, “I think it adds to the experience. A good atmosphere leaves a good impression on people, especially for those who are visiting the Church for the first time.”

But he was unconvinced, and so was I. My own reply sounded like a first world justification in contrast to his altruistic concerns.  Providing for the needy seemed like the “better”, and perhaps “correct” answer. 

Hillsong is one of the most well-known megachurches internationally. Hailed by the media as a “successful global brand”, it ushers in hundreds of thousands of service attendees worldwide every weekend, regularly produces chart-topping albums and conducts sellout conferences. A recent article also states that Hillsong has a $100 million annual revenue. Tax free to boot!

With a huge wealth of funds on hand, it is no wonder the public and media are highly interested in how Hillsong spends their money.

Just last month, I attended my very first Hillsong Conference – the Hillsong Worship and Creative Conference. As I entered the Baulkham Hills campus – where Hillsong originally started out – I noticed a beautiful outdoor market right outside the main conference hall and let out a soft “wow”. Later on, our hosts introduced it as “The Marketplace”, where people could hang out after the conference for late night fellowship – food, live band and a barber included.

The auditorium also had me floored. There was a translucent fabric draping over the stage, acting as both a curtain and a screen. A looped video of a rainforest was projected onto it. After a while, I noticed there were crew members walking on the steel-framed platform above the auditorium scattering leaves at random intervals for a full immersive experience.

A performance during the Hillsong Worship and Creative Conference. (Photo courtesy of Hillsong Church)

And if that wasn’t crazy enough, the stage lighting was incredibly stunning during praise and worship. The visual effects came together nicely and added to the whole experience.

There were theatrics involved in most of the sermons preached – be it bringing a dog up on stage, wearing an astronaut suit or displaying treasure boxes to drive home a point. The crowd was constantly entertained; it was nothing short of amazing.

One of their designers mentioned in a co-lab session: “Just because it’s Christian, doesn’t mean it should be second best.”

They definitely weren’t kidding about that.

In 2 Samuel 7:1-2, the Bible records King David’s decision to build a temple for God. To this point, following the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, God’s presence was resting in the ark of God – where the tablets holding the Ten Commandments were stored. The ark was kept in the Tabernacle, a huge tent that could be put up and taken down easily as the Israelites moved towards the Promised Land.

“Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” (2 Samuel 7:1-2)

At this point of his declaration, King David had just reclaimed possession of the ark, as it had been stolen by enemies. He placed it back in a tent, but decided it wasn’t reflective of his love and reverence for God. This temple, he decided, “must be exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorious throughout all countries” (1 Chronicles 22:5).

And so King David set aside materials of gold, silver and precious stones, assigning his son, Solomon, to build the House of God. The Bible states that the Temple was so grand, its inner sanctuary was completely covered in gold.

Talk about extravagance.

In a response to the grand gesture, God reminded his people that He doesn’t need a temple – or extravagance – but He saw King David’s heart and accepted his offering as a form of worship. His only condition was that the nation be faithful to Him (2 Samuel 7:5-7, 1 Kings 9:3-9).

I understand my friend’s concern. It doesn’t seem right for Churches to look “expensive” and “extravagant”, because stewardship of money is important. But I think the more important question is: How does this align with God’s will?

In Luke 16:9, Jesus said, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

The Bible is clear that good stewardship is not about the amount we spend or save, but how that amount will impact a person’s eternity. At the end of the day, you can’t bring any money to heaven – you bring souls. Money is simply a tool, a resource, to reach that goal.

Granted, giving to the needy is one of the most direct ways of reaching out to people, but this form of giving isn’t the only way of showing Christ to the world.

I remember feeling moved and inspired as I sat through the 3-day Hillsong conference, and experienced for myself the hearts behind the extravaganza. Every single “performance” – be it the songs, stories or sermons – was geared to one obvious direction: To reveal Christ through beauty and excellence.

If spending some money brings people one step closer to Christ, it’s all worth it.

In their own words, the team was “gathering all artisans to explore our calling, respond in worship and create with beauty, to fulfil Jesus’ Great Commission.” The Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

In her sermon, Cass Langton, Creative Director of Hillsong Church, expressed it like this: “The Church needs artists to help the world see clearly what we feel vaguely”.

You see, the performances you see in Churches aren’t just a show – they’re worship. They’re outreach.

It’s understandable why people might look at the glitz and glamour of megachurches and be skeptical of the unconventional form of impacting someone’s life. But as Paul said “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

If improving facilities can attract people to Church, if performing a play can communicate the Gospel more effectively, if spending some money brings people one step closer to Christ, it’s all worth it.

After all, people are always worth it.

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi loves to eat. Except for peas, egg yolk, cucumbers, livers, intestines. Among others. She also happens to be a writer.

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Whether it’s about Beaunite or ban mian, why you gotta be so mean?

by | 7 December 2017, 12:54 PM

If you came to this story through social media, you’ve probably also read about the Annie Ee case, the ban mian auntie, or the group of Singaporean teen girls called Beaunite.

Less than a week ago, a K-pop group consisting of a bunch of Singaporean teens calling themselves Beaunite posted a video introducing themselves. Cue the flamethrowers.

While the original video was quickly deleted, the sound of hate continues to echo. The video was reposted for everyone’s consumption. Threads have been formed to flame them. Response videos have been made to roast them.

Comments on one of the reposted Beaunite videos on YouTube.

We know that the video wasn’t anywhere near the standard you’d expect from a professional K-pop group. And no, we don’t know what their motivations might have been; but even if the video was done in the name of fun, would it warrant the degree of flaming and shaming they received?

Why do keyboard warriors have no qualms in trolling these girls, many of whom would be secondary school kids? And not merely riding the wave of hate, but making money off their response videos? One hater (sorry, we won’t provide the link) has already clocked up more than a 100,000 views on YouTube; by our estimates, that could be worth more than $200 in ad revenue.

Profits from put-downs, dollars for damnation, gain off gripes. How many teenage spirits can you step on to gain fame and fortune?

It’s the dark and rude underbelly of the Internet – the comments section. This happens even on the most innocent of articles. In an interview with Madam Leong, aka ban mian auntie, netizens in the comments section were debating which “God” she was referring to. Needless to say, it spiralled into a whole name-calling fiasco.

Looking for the ugliest of Singaporean humanity? Search the Web.

It’s funny, because when I walk around town, take a bus or train, or eat at the hawker centre, most people seem to lead pretty undramatic lives. There’s no real evidence of this depth of hate. But you never know if the person beside you on his phone is posting yet another comment, throwing more kindling to the fiery pit of hate.

Take the Annie Ee case for example. An appropriate initial response – being appalled by the evilness of another man – somehow escalates into equally evil responses.

We are so happy to express anger.

There’s a strange power in anonymity. The fact that we’re hidden behind a computer screen and online alibi seems to have emboldened us to say things that we would never say in real life.

Anonymity seems to give people the freedom to reveal the true nature of our thoughts. It’s scary.

I’ve encountered it personally IRL. Some years back, after a camp I’d helped to plan, we put out an anonymous survey form for feedback.

The response that we got was disheartening. With the guarantee of anonymity, some of the respondents wrote the harshest words I’ve ever heard or read in such a setting.

I could’ve spent my time better somewhere else. Hated the games. One of the worst camps ever.

Would they have said those things if asked face to face? Most likely not, at least not in that manner. We definitely didn’t hear it from them in person.

It seems the Internet gives all our worst impulses just what they needed to thrive.

We’re so good at waging war. Now I wish we’d learn to wage peace.

If someone has a differing opinion or take on an issue from us in real life, we might feel frustrated. We might even have a robust argument about it. But we’d also see that person as another fellow human with valid human emotions and thoughts, instead of just an object for us to mock and scorn.

We seem to be able to hold more space for empathy and understanding face to face than on the Internet, where every comment box becomes a conquest, a battlefield where we have to take sides. Or a blanket party to join.

I once read on a blog that the “contentiousness for the sake of being contentious (is confusing). No great wars were fought over the virtue of fighting. No epic debates were waged in defence of argument.”

We seem to have lost all ability to empathise, to show mercy and to have compassion. We forget how to be kind. We spend hours and hours on the Internet waging war after war after war.

We’re so good at waging war. Now I wish we’d learn to wage peace.

 

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Article list

Story behind the song: At the crossroads of my life, a Beautiful revelation

It’s Christmas! So what?

An arts festival with purpose: Make room for the displaced this Christmas

Hope for anyone who is suffering

Megachurches and their extravagance: How much is too much?

Whether it’s about Beaunite or ban mian, why you gotta be so mean?