Your Planet, Your Choice

Here’s a thought: in the years to come generations and generations of our kind will come and leave this planet till that one day. The one day that the world ends– rumour has it this will happen through the opposite of the Big Bang (the most prominent theory for how the universe began), they call it ‘The Big Crunch’, where all the matter expanding outward at the edges of the universe is being affected by our universe’s gravity which will eventually cause this expansion to slow to the point where it halts, and begins to contract instead. This contraction will bring in all of that material– planets, stars… everything; then finally, we’d be left with the same conditions that the universe had before the Big Bang where all the matter of the universe is condensed into an infinitesimal point. And that’s the day we bid farewell to any of our kind.

The thought of this one day is actually tremendously terrifying, except it appears a little distant and far away; some are convinced it’ll happen so many generations after us, it’s effortless to be apathetic toward the idea.

But recently I’ve been reading How to Run the World by Parag Khanna, another one of my non-fiction reads and in Chapter 9 titled “Your Planet, Your Choice”, he discusses what we call the ‘ecological debt’ as a result of our mindless pursuits for material returns and tangible rewards. He discusses the importance of measuring income not just in GDP terms, but also weighing a nation’s health and environmental stress factors; or a standard for calculating the carbon emissions consequences of deals between firms that regulators could use in determining the legality of mergers. He acknowledges how this appears to be hard work, but the key, he says is we should know better than to live behind the lies of numbers divorced from the ecosystems. I personally find it difficult to feel strongly about the ecological damages we inflict because the implications that has on me appear bearable; but this is simply a classic example of our inability to look further into the future to make informed decisions.

This year with my Youth Corps Singapore project team, we embarked on a environmental project advocating and researching extensively in this area. From the initial obligation and curiosity that the choice of this project came with, the experience transformed into a realisation that, in Khanna’s words, “a hero (for the environment) is someone who realizes that simple, individual steps matter as much as high-level negotiations and the latter is, in fact, meaningless without the former.” We like to push the big problems to ‘big people’, as if they are the most important stakeholders and most influential powers– while this is valid in some occasions, it’s not in the environmental debate. I suppose the idea that we should constantly advance as a planet and not as individual states, countries, nations, nation-states and whatnot is a difficult one to grasp, because it’s simplest to relate to those closest to you and think from our narrow view of what matters, or not. But I remember it vividly when I read the President of Uruguay’s expression that “We can almost recycle everything now. If we lived within our means, by being prudent, the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed. Global politics should be moving in that direction. But we think as people and countries, not as a species.”

I find the notion that ‘the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed’ promising and I’d like to be a protector in playing my own part– so just as I promised and completed the #50cans Campaign (found on dosomething.org), this holidays I shall challenge myself to the De-cup your Decaf Challenge (found on http://www.carbonrally.com/challenges). Here’s to playing our own part for our planet!

Close to Home Complex

I realiseIt’s been a week since the last time I published anything; for this past week I’ve been reading more than writing and trying to make sense of some thoughts that have lingered on my mind for more than a while. And finally today, I check in from a Starbucks Coffee outlet closest to home– you know in the past year, I’ve barely stepped into this place more than twice though it’s definitely the most convenient Starbucks outlet to my home, there’s no competition; it’s a strange aversion that has made me choose to travel far, to go the distance, just for a cup of Starbucks Coffee that really tastes similar, if not identical, to the coffee this outlet serves. I think this is because of something that I shall call the Close to Home Complex. It seems that whenever I want to enjoy myself or find some kind of getaway, or go on an adventure, an escape, I yearn for it to be as far from home as possible. It’s an illusion that I try to create for myself: that I’m out of my comfort zone, away from my security net and my humble abode is miles away from wherever I head to, as if it’s only then that I can truly takeaway new and refreshing experiences.

But recently, I see that sometimes the best lessons and sometimes the most valuable ones can be learned close to home.

I was thinking about the ups and downs that my family has faced together this year, the pleasant surprises or the not so pleasant– they had a way of revealing the crack lines in my family’s relationship I once imagined to be perfect. I preferred to believe that my family was void of all the realistic portrayals of marriage and family: those with betrayal, unhappiness, arguments, fights and suspicions; to believe that we were special, or different. And while my stand on that still holds, this year I think I’ve slowly come to terms with accepting the imperfections in our relationship and I’m learning to love us the way we are. I think the family I thought we were was more of a dream that I hoped we were; but witnessing what I have in the past year and especially in the holidays where we’ve spent so much more time together, I now see that the kindest of people and people who love each other greatly, can still hurt one another, deeplyI guess I only learn this more clearly now because it’s been months since my sister left– with her departure, and the lack of a security net that once allowed me to remain oblivious to happenings around the house. It’s also only at this point that I realise the kind of protection she has so silently provided me. (Thanks sis)

Seeing that these valuable lessons have been taken away from the people closest to me, it appears that I could possibly start learning from myself more often. Amongst the articles I have been browsing day and night recently, I have chanced upon a series of Mommy Bloggers (yes, it’s actually a profession you know), each talking about their experiences raising children and the lessons they have learned from their children. These reminded me of the lessons I’ve learned from my students and juniors– they always had a way of making me reflect on my childhood and what I was like when I was younger, or the things I have been through. The two articles that remained etched in my memory are these posts on PSLE:

http://www.lilbluebottle.com/your-psle-score-does-not-define-you/

http://4malmal.com/2014/11/27/my-take-on-psle/

The lesson that PSLE, our first standardized test teaches us, for example, is the very nature of the assessment defines little of us: it forgoes the other things we are made of like personality and preferences, the kind of choices we make and the person we want to be. I occasionally question if I consciously act upon this lesson I have acknowledged for a long time now. You know the same way mothers learn from their children’s experiences, we can learn from what we were like as children. It’s strange to say it like this, but it seems we continuously learn and relearn the same lessons, though in different forms. But weirdly though, we take a while to make sense of the lessons that our past can teach us and even longer to actually act on these new lessons learned when it is only with these reflections that we continually lead lives we prefer to be living and keep being better versions of ourselves. It’s like reading a story about someone else’s life allows you to see valuable lessons clearly but less so than when you try to learn from the story of a life you supposedly know best, your own.

So with the ‘me’ time I have enjoyed this week and reading I’ve done, one of my first lessons: to learn from myself and those closest to me.

Of Elderlies and Escalators

timelessThis afternoon I find myself in my favourite Starbucks along Orchard Road; I love it because through the completely transparent walls along the street, you get the a panoramic view of the quaint end of town and with half the bustle from town, there is a delicate balance between the crowd of expatriates filling the store with their thick French accents and a kind of peace that’s hard to find in this area. With the scent of my warm coffee in the air and the rain pouring incessantly outside, I enjoy the beautiful jazz playlist as I type this one. The holidays have granted me sufficient sleep and ample time, so I’ve been a little more observant and conscious of the people around me in public because I now have the energy to offer attention to the little actions of strangers around me. I have the time to be reading more books and articles, looking around and thinking about what others may be thinking, to reflect on the lessons I’ve accumulated from my experiences earlier prior to now and most of all, to sit down occasionally as I go about my day to open my laptop, and document them as I am now. And today, I’d like to tell you about the Escalator Analogy.

So, imagine that the forces of the world as the mechanics of an escalator (a humongous one that fits thousands of people on every step) and all of us, passengers taking a ride on this escalator. The escalator moves at one certain pace, it’s fixed based on its mechanics– the physics of the gears, the belt that pushes it along and the materials that have come to make up what it is. We have little control over the escalator, only the management and the engineers I suppose, may control the mechanics of this escalator. The rest of us, just passengers. While we cannot control its pace, we control what we do on it or how we approach it. At this point, I’d imagine that the same way different people respond to this pace in which the world takes us, some choose to take the right aisle and rush right ahead to be on top, while others take the left and patiently wait. There are cautious ones who grip onto the handle as the escalator moves along, as if without it, the sense of insecurity one has would come to consume him and there are those who’d push and play on the escalator, almost fearless. With this very vibrant escalator community I hope you’re imagining, I try to imagine where in the escalator I am and what I’m doing exactly. That, I’m not too sure yet, but for the holidays, it looks like I’m on the left.

To complete the analogy I’d like to have the spotlight turned unto those entering the escalator– there are some who run towards and enthusiastically come upon, those who walk with the flow from a distance and calmly enter, and then there are those, who hesitate– who are fearful.

And amongst those hesitating, is the elderly. I turn the spotlight upon them not just because of the recent close encounters and reflections with those older than me (from family to the beneficiaries in Sunlove Home), but also because I recall that someone once told me that for the elderly, one of the scariest daily experiences is taking the escalator. Because they are unfamiliar with this new technology: the way this staircase-like metallic machine moves at the pace in which it wishes and is supposedly able to support the weight of so many as it moves along. They are skeptical. Beyond that, they are terrified for the experience of taking that one step onto the escalator itself is the most heart-stopping part of this daily routine. I’ve watched as crowds shuffling toward the escalator at MRT stations mostly on their phones, or some kind of device, and others preoccupied by their thoughts as they walk robotically in an orderly fashion; but all stop momentarily because of an elderly with the above-mentioned fear, hesitating. Those who ignorantly let out disgruntled moans or respond with annoyed glances sometimes almost disgust me; and when I am among them because I’m too caught up in whatever else I may be doing, I find myself the most irritated at my distracted and ignorant self in the next second.

I imagine how frightening it would be for me in a good 60 years when the simplest of technology to the youthful masses would become a routine I would fear in my daily life, or how abandoned I may feel for the lack of compassion that I may come to face from those who take for granted a simple, almost mundane chore that I, on the other hand, see as a nerve-wrecking challenge.

It’s the beginning of the week and I’m glad to have myself slowing down every couple of days this holiday to enjoy time alone at places I’ve always wanted to spend time reading, writing or just thinking at: to name a few, last week I found myself at Group Therapy Cafe, Rochester Mall and The Metropolis Starbucks, the RGS DnT Lab and at Botanic Gardens Food for Thought. I feel like I’m crossing off a very long ‘Want To-Do List’ that has been accumulating through the adventures and exploration every holiday for the past few years– this time, with the luxury of putting part time jobs out of the way for once and focusing on the people around me.

Blessed on 23 November

23 NovemberThis one’s about the weekend that slowly comes to an end tonight– I’m writing about it because I’d like for this overwhelming feeling of love and bliss to sink in for a bit, and be documented by my writing so I’ll remember for a long time to come.

For a couple of months now, I have been going to church with my maternal grandparents, hoping this would grant me more time and shared memories with them. I’m not Christian; but in my attendance to this congregation of Hokkien-speaking elderly providing support for one another, I feel like I’ve come to understand my grandparents a little bit more. And today was yet another Sunday where we dutifully attended church. This day at church was special because at the beginning we had arranged with my sister so have her skype me so everyone in church could talk to her– it’s a small group that loves teenagers and they adore my sister’s lively aura you see. Seeing the life breathed into my grandparents and their friends in having the thrill to speak to a virtual version of one of their favourite teens around, was a good way to start, and the rest of it went as usual but it was good to be back here with my grandparents after three weeks of MIA because of various weekend events.

Following which, we had lunch where my paternal grandfather came along. I see him quite little (just because, I’m not sure why) so it was a blessing to be in his company after weeks of not seeing him. The special memory we made together today would be buying new slippers and I don’t want to forget that for a really long time because we barely have shared memories of any sort. In this time that I’ve been going to Sunlove Home regularly, I think my Hokkien has improved, at least by a bit, and that comfort it grants me in communicating with my grandfather was heartwarming.

Today is also tremendously special because of my parents taking a break– first, my mom and I went shopping. I must emphasize the minute amount of time we have spent shopping together since my sister left for exchange about 3 months ago because we both got so busy. In fact, I haven’t really shopped for a long time because while my sister was around, she was the one buying all my clothes and shoes amidst her own regular online shopping. So the day was special because we went shopping; and I felt like a little princess in the company of my mom. Also, my dad and I watched Big Hero 6 together. I’m not sure he’s that fond of movies but in the past 3 months since my sister left for exchange, he has become my substitute movie buddy and watched at least 2-3 movies with me. I remember not enjoying this once when I was younger: I thought he laughed too loudly in the cinema, asked me too many unnecessary questions and often took away insights I couldn’t relate to from movies. But increasingly, I’m learning to treasure this time that comes once in a blue moon and be thankful for the break that he is taking from his busy schedule.

Mm, with that, today has hands down been the best weekend in a long time and the family time it has allowed for me will continue to bask my heart with warmth and love for a longer time.

Well-spent, Or Not

as long asIt’s been about a week since our official school holidays began– this long awaited year end holiday has finally come, and in this highly anticipated period of the year, how’re you spending your time? I wanted to write about what I’ll be doing for the holidays, because beginning with the end in mind often works for me, when I came to realise that I’m not doing things that are too different from my previous few holidays: my June Holidays was characterised by community service and the last year end holiday was full of new experiences and reflections.

When given the luxury of time as we are now, we are often at a loss of how to ‘best’ make use of this time (as if there were some criterion, or as if we didn’t want to let the future us down). I think about 2 months later when school reopens and the holiday has gone by in a flash and what I would like to be saying about my holiday– “It was good”, “It was well-spent”, “fruitful”, “meaningful”, “a great break”. And I also think about how I don’t want to be part of the (often) majority replying, “What holiday?” as if this highly anticipated privilege was all but a lie. Though it seems for many around me that the most characteristic of any school holiday is an overseas family holiday trip, I’ve had to work around a new definition for how I use my holidays because I haven’t actually gone on a family holiday for about 8 years or so– which leads me to find new meaning, if not purpose, in this luxury of time we have been given.

In the past couple of holidays since I turned about Y4, the new constants in my holidays have been:

1. Family time, where I find time to deepen the friendship with my family members and share more memories with the extra time I can make for them.

2. Adventures, where I find solidarity in being at places I find infinite beauty in and try to immerse myself in experiences I rarely have the time to enjoy in school: from gallery hopping to cafe hopping, and being in the city (which is practically my favourite place) or finding the most quaint corners in Singapore to lose myself in.

3. Service, because I often believe in being part of things larger than ourselves and humbling oneself with the experience of service– heightening empathy and gaining new insights and lessons every time.

4. Catching up, which is essential for the extrovert side of me considering the little time we get to make for social life outside school on normal school days.

5. Exercise, after all, health is our most valuable asset.

On top of this list this holiday, I’ve got reading and writing to be doing so I’m looking forward to how this holiday continues to be an extravagant experience as a whole for me. When people ask me how they should or can better spend this holidays, I feel there is some sort of a misunderstanding. There is no absolute answer to the perfect holiday or no formula to a meaningful one– it’s more about the little things you hope to have in your memories, or the things you’d like to be doing where time permits. Last year, I started taking dress making classes for a while and also went on a knitting craze, so maybe trying to learn something new and something that’d make your heart beat a little faster could be an interesting way to start if you really have nothing to be doing.

But if not, as long as you’re doing what you’d be happy recalling as this holiday comes to an end later, it would’ve been a holiday “well-spent”.

I Take After

I Take AfterPeople say I look like my dad, but you know there are so many other things that we share in common but people don’t see. We have the same temperament, the one that makes me impatient with people I can’t seem to express myself to; we share the same difficulty of articulating our feelings, I think that’s why sometimes I fail to show my friends how much they really mean to me and we share the same determination, I like to think that I took after him in the way he is driven by the purpose of building a home for his family to work long hours everyday– the same way I am driven by the causes I believe in, he is by his family.

I have been spending more time with my family recently because of the very cosy space we have temporarily moved into. Any conversation in this space is heard by all and often, commented by all. So it leaves us talking and discussing so much more than we used to, leading me to be reminded of the things about my parents that I seem to have forgotten in time or taken for granted– the lessons they have taught me and the person they have led me to become.

You know my mom is the most beautiful and capable woman in my heart: a kind of hero that has strived to make my everyday filled with joy and comfort. From the time I can remember, she has taught me my first words and listened to me patiently as I recounted my day (I still have that habit today). The warm hugs and consoling strokes on the head have never failed to bring comfort to me in my darkest of times, and I will never forget the times I came home crying in her embrace. There are also times when I give myself immense pressure: times like this, it’s like she can tell what I’m thinking just by looking at me so I can never lie to her. But then I am thankful, for the days she could tell I had sadness bottled up in me but didn’t ask when I requested so, because that must have been so much more difficult than just probing for an answer I would’ve ended up giving her anyway. She has taught me to love unconditionally and to be patient. In the way she treats the people around her (whether it is her friends, or her family), and because of the times she has made decisions often with everyone’s happiness and harmony in mind, I am constantly inspired to be loving to those around me in the way that she is. The most important lesson I constantly learn from her, though, is to take care of myself. To have me sit down over a cup of warm coffee in the mornings before going to school or go out for a movie with her (although she sleeps in every movie), she’d do anything.

And my dad– besides the many things I share in common with him, he has taught me about strength and belief. I grew up in a pretty secular environment because my parents are believers of their children having principles for themselves and learning about religion before making their choices as we grow up. While allowing me to be my own person, in the times where I want most to give up or need the most courage, my dad has always used his physical presence to bring me strength. This is extremely special because my dad is a very busy man who works beyond just everyone’s usual 9-5,and so any kind of time he forks out to be with us, I try to immerse fully as if it were eternity.

So there, this holiday I am reminded for the lessons from my parents that have come to make me who I am today.

All It Takes

all it takesEvery holiday, a significant amount of time is kept aside for the friends that I’ve yet to meet in weeks, months and sometimes even years. These holiday catch ups with the primary schoolmates, the friends I made from strangest of places or the ex-colleagues whom I have so fortunately created a bond with, have long become tradition. And today I thought I’d write about this tradition because the sustainability of friendships as such sometimes feels like a daunting accomplishment for me until I actually achieve it. I guess it’s only when you manage these catch ups that you find out that all it really takes is any sign of concern and commitment to rekindle friendships.

For those I have shared conversations with in the recent days, I have shown to them the-very-creative-thing-I-did-to-my-diary (or so I call it). And this creative thing has seen the planner in me categorise my weeks and attach lists of people I have slowly contacted in time– primary schoolmates, juniors, seniors, family and people from school. So there, this week has been the week for primary schoolmates– meeting two of the best friends from primary school has been refreshing and a great start to this holiday I intend to use well before we officially turn Y6 and face impending terror that others speak of in light of the A levels. In these conversations and catch ups, I sometimes feel like we make friends with our old friends all over again after not meeting for years because of how either (or both) of us have changed so much in the span of time. But I read somewhere that the powerful thing about long lasting relationships is the ability for friends to understand and love, if not just accept, the people we have become over and over again as the tide of time pushes us forward. So I suppose this constant rekindling of friendships makes me cherish this powerful ability I continue to share with my best primary school friends.