Don’t love ‘because’

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I touched the loose peg gently, running my hands over the warm wood of the lute. The varnish was scraped and scuffed in places. It had been treated unkindly in the past, but that didn’t make it less lovely underneath.

So yes. It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect. -Kvothe (A Wise Man’s Fear)

I’m sure at one point in our lives we have heard or even uttered ourselves the cliched, curdling and sometimes vomit-inducing question: “Why do you love me?”

Contrary to your initial reaction, it’s not a fisherman’s wharf for compliments. Sometimes it comes from a place of insecurity and/or inferiority. Other times it comes from conflicting information between what is said, and what is done. Even still it can come from a misalignment between two people and their views, status or stages in their lives.

Of course there are many reasons why you love something or someone. But Kvothe is much wiser than John Legend, who sings “[I ] Love…all your perfect imperfections”. Well if you loved them, then that’s easy isn’t it? Get real JL, you don’t LOVE that your girlfriend is always late, or that she forgets your birthday, or is clumsy and crashes your brand new Ferrari. The marker for a deeper level of love, is to love despite. Think of it this way – the things you love about your partner: good looks, interesting hobbies, success and drive – loving these is normal. And where things are normal, it can be applied generally. As difficult as it may be to find that combination of things your partner possesses, how much harder is it to build a relationship together and then love someone despite:

“Would you date an attractive girl with a pretty face?”
“Of course, is that even a question?”
“Would you date a girl who plays video games and sports, and is musically talented?”
“Definitely!”
“Would you date a girl who is always cheerful and is always motivated to do her best?”
“Absolutely.”
“Would you date a girl with a big scar across her left cheek and a small gap between her front teeth?”
“Umm, I guess? It depends…”
“Would you date a girl with no ‘interesting’ or common hobbies?”
“Well, that wouldn’t be ideal…”
“Would you date a girl who sometimes is inwardly very sad about life, has existential issues and sometimes just wants to give up instead of pressing on?”
“Not really…”

Just to be clear, it’s not the flaws that keep us in love. It’s just that we are all flawed people, and to love someone despite their flaws is a true test. Also you don’t lord this over them either – that you’re so great and mighty – because that is not what love is. All great relationships are based on this principle. And it’s not one-sided so don’t feel inferior. Both parties love each other despite.

God loves us, and clearly we’re anything other than perfect. God isn’t waiting for us to become better people before getting to know Him. Likewise, we don’t need to get all our ducks in a row (or ‘set up one’s skittles’ for you old school Europeans out there) before committing to a relationship. It’s not about me, it’s about us.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
-Romans 5:8

Short Story: Sam & the Shoebox Tower

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As a young boy Sam fought with the other kids. They hurt him and he hurt them too. As the years went by Sam grew up -just a little – and decided he didn’t want to hurt or be hurt anymore. So he ran. Sam ran as far as the wind would take him, but he soon realized that it wasn’t the wind who held him back.

Sam had hoped that his feet would grow stronger the more he ran. Certainly his legs did and soon he could outrun the other children. However, as rough and calloused his feet got, they were always hurting from the debris on the road: pebbles, wood splinters, broken glass, metal dust and the smashed snail shells from crueler children.

So Sam sold all his meager belongings and when he didn’t have enough he stole what he could. With finally enough in his pocket, he went and bought a new pair of shoes.

The shoes were fiery red with a black diamond insignia and they catapulted him through day and night, eastwards and away from all the leering crowds. Sam ran until even the wind could no longer catch him and the sunlight, barely. Through the hills and valleys, through towns long abandoned, and bustling marketplaces alike Sam’s breath got shorter and shorter.

Finally one day, as Sam reached the City his feet started to hurt. Bewildered, he stopped and found out to his dismay that the soles of his shoes were completely gone. He took the shoes off and tossed them into the trash can, for he believed he had run far away long enough. He took the shoebox he had been carrying this whole time and sat down in the nearby park, staring intently into its emptiness, as if waiting for a new pair to sprout.

Some people walked past and looked at Sam in contempt. Sam had been running so long that he had almost forgotten this feeling. Almost and not really. More walked by, making rude comments. When enough people had walked by, enough days had passed, sufficient comfort was reached and adequate tempers rose, a small group of them stood from a distance in the rain and threw mud at him. Another group walked by and spat at him.

Not quite knowing what to do, Sam mixed the mud with the spit and he placed it neatly into his shoebox. After only one day his box was filled to the brim, so he prayed that no more people would come since he didn’t have any more space. What would he do with it? As soon as he opened his eyes the sun came out in full force. Sam left his usual spot and went to nap under the shade of a tree.

When Sam awoke, he returned to his spot to find that a miracle had happened. Someone had left him a gift. Inside his shoebox there was a brick. It was an ordinary brick. When it was cold, the brick became cold. When it was warm, the brick was warm. Again, in his confusion, he removed the brick and he laid it out before him on the ground.

Soon a new tirade assaulted him, with mud and spit complimentary. Again, Sam packed the shoebox and when it was full he laid it out in the sun and took a nap. Again, Sam awoke to a brick and laid it out so that it was touching the other brick on the short side.

Weeks passed, and Sam had begun building a wall. He discovered that if the people walking by could not see him, he would be left alone. However it was not yet tall enough so whenever he stood or when people walked off the pathway they saw Sam and began to hurl insults at him, among other things.

More weeks passed by and his haven became a house with circular walls. However as the weeks passed Sam became more weary of the attacks. Sometimes Sam really wanted to pick up one of his bricks and throw it at them. He wanted to smash their teeth in and bludgeon them into a pile of broken bodies. Sometimes, he wanted to smash his own head in with the brick. But he knew both options were not good. So instead he sat holding that brick until his knuckles went white and he pressed it tightly against his forehead. When he became numb and could feel no more he released the brick and set it on top of his wall.

One day there were raps and taps on his wall. Sam stood up, but he could not see  well because his wall had become so high. The knocks became harder and faster. Sam was annoyed but he knew whatever they were throwing wouldn’t get through his wall. But he was wrong. A hammer burst it’s way through and a curious man peered in.

Sam was afraid! He was trapped with nowhere to run. The man said hello and told him that he didn’t realize anyone was living in here. They spoke with each other briefly and then the man left. Sam had a mix of emotions, but in the end he repaired the wall and built it twice as thick at the expense of shortening his tower.

Then one day, the rain came down and didn’t stop. At first Sam was delighted to be refreshed. Then he became to grow worried as the water swelled up to his knees. He had built his tower too well – there was no hole or loose brick. The water filled up to his belly and now Sam began to frantically pound and push against his tower, but the walls were now too thick to budge. The water crept up to his neck and as a last resort Sam screamed out for help. But nobody could tell where the sound was coming from, even if they had cared to come to his rescue.

The flood overcame him and his head was now fully submerged, his last breath sucked into his squeezed lungs. Sam didn’t think of a way to escape because it was futile. He didn’t think of his loved ones, because he didn’t have any. He didn’t even think of the man with the hammer because he came and went so quickly.

Sam didn’t think of all the things he regretted doing, because he knew deep in his heart that he regretted everything he had done. Except one. In his final moments, Sam regretted never learning to swim.

We know too much and understand too little.

2017-01-25-20-26-02Knowledge comes with time. Understanding comes from thinking.” -Guru ML

Old School Asian culture often puts a lot of emphasis on results. That undoubtedly leads to a style of teaching and learning that leaves a child with a lot of knowledge, but little understanding.

If you read my last post, you learned that after graduating I was desperate to work and had taken on some menial tasks. I totally forgot that during this time I had considered tutoring. I went for an interview at a tutoring school (think ‘Brainchild’) in which I would tutor Physics and Calculus to high school students.

When I arrived, the interview mainly consisted of a trial run. He gave me a physics problem and asked me to solve it while explaining to him how I was doing it as if he were the student. I started from the fundamentals, emphasizing the main concepts behind the problem: Conservation of energy, free body diagrams, the fundamental equations and the principles behind them. Then I derived the necessary equations and solved while explaining why I was using this angle, or why this value was negative, etc.

The interviewer looked at me afterwards and told me that I solved it correctly, but I had taken too long. Parents send their children here and expect them to solve X number of questions in Y number of hours, and that they need to see improvements in their grades as quickly as possible. He told me to skip the explanations and go straight to the equation and assigning values to the variables and solving.

This went against my belief, as I had always taught students to understand the fundamental concepts and principles. I want them to learn and be able to apply these concepts in real life, not just get a good grade on their report card. I bid him farewell.

“If you are thinking, you are winning.” – Flobots

We know too much. In a world where convenience and efficiency is golden, and the internet has a wealth of information waiting to be mined our gut instinct is to dive straight in and pick out all those nuggets of knowledge. Aren’t we missing the point? Knowledge can be held in a repository like a library, a database, or a report waiting to be retrieved at any time. Understanding cannot. Thinking cannot be searched. What do you call a person who knows many things? A walking encyclopedia. That’s all it’s worth; two legs put on a set of 15 books. What do you call a person who understands many things?

And how many times have I heard people complain about how Google has taken the fun out of thinking? We call it the ‘Death of Conversation.’ Remember before everything was searchable, someone would have a question that bugged them for days:

“Do you remember if you get rid of windshield condensation by turning up your heater or turning on your AC?”

First comes the retrieval process, where you all wretch your memory trying to find that long lost data. Then comes the brainstorming stage where you exercise another part of the mind and come up with multiple theories. Next comes the debate where you duke it out with your friends about which one is right and the supporting rationale. Finally it’s the conclusion when you weigh out all the alternatives and decide which one is most likely. Sometimes there are even experiments to test out the hypotheses.

Nowadays this whole amazing, stimulating and entertaining process boils down to “OK Google, how do I get rid of windshield fog?”

Death to the conversation! Death to thought! -I digress.

This extends also to interpersonal relationships. At one point in my life, someone told me that they wanted to know more about me – in fact, everything there was to know about me: My past experiences, favorite movies and books, hobbies, colors I had dyed my hair and when, etc. However they committed a grave error. Knowing these things about me wouldn’t make them any closer. Even if they knew something about me that nobody else did, that uniqueness granted to them would be so fragile that it shatters upon the whispering of a few words to a receptive ear.

No, I would much rather have you understand a part of me first, than know everything about me.

“And I don’t really know him at all. I don’t know anybody, and nobody knows me. We spend our lives guessing at what’s going on inside everybody else, and when we happen to get lucky and guess right, we think we “understand.” Such nonsense. Even a monkey at a computer will type a word now and then.” -Xenocide (Ender’s game series)

Easy? You’re doing it wrong.

The words ‘A New Challenger!’ flashed across the screen. I was at Erin Mills Town Centre spending my fifty cent allowance playing Marvel vs Capcom 2 at the arcade. I was good at the game and rather snobby about it too so when my opponent stepped up to the console, I didn’t even turn to look at him. My eyes were glued on the screen – hands twitching in anticipation for the words ‘Ready’ to dissolve from sight.

It was time. My hands flew into a flurry, executing combo after combo with delightful precision. But something was off. Each time a smirk was forming from unleashing a devastating combo, I was stopped short by a chuckle next to my left ear. It was unnerving to say the least, but it didn’t throw me off enough to affect my game. After 2 flawless victories, my opponent spoke up for the first time. I expected a groan of despair or a statement about either my mother or private parts.

“Ha! Too easy.”

“Excuse me?”

“You want a rematch or are you done for today?”

“I’m sorry…?” In my confusion I turned to look at him, and this is where I’d like to write “and I met his gaze” except I can’t. The boy had no eyes, just empty sockets.

Look back at the past week. In fact, look at the past month, or years. Can you recall when things were easy? If I had asked, when were things hard you would jump at the question. Things never seem to be easy, and that’s a good thing. Many times, when you think things are going easy, you’re doing it wrong and everybody but you knows it.

Allow me to elaborate. Have you ever thought things were too easy? Things were too smooth? Did you have this unnerving feeling that it shouldn’t be this way? If you did, you’re on the right path. If you didn’t, then you need to pull the wool out of your eyes.

When I was studying for my Master’s degree, a fellow classmate came up to me and asked, “Is it me, or am I supposed to be doing something? I seem to have so much free time.” I felt exactly the same. I had more spare time than in any of my undergraduate years.

Imagine you were a new hire. You spend the first weeks lounging around doing nothing, thinking this was the easiest job ever. You read the documents they sent you a couple times over before becoming utterly bored by them. Then after a few weeks, the boss comes around and asks you what you’ve been up to:

“Not much, I’ve read the documents on policy and safety several times over now.”

“What about your training? Are you all caught up now?”

“Training? I didn’t get signed up for any training.”

“(raises eyebrow) You do know you have training to complete right? Why didn’t you look for me or the training coordinator?”

“Well I assumed that if I needed training someone would have come and told me about it.”

“I assumed we hired someone with a brain but I guess I’ll have to settle for half. Well, walk over to the admin building and get it sorted out I need you on the floor this Friday.”

“Sure. Where is the admin building?”

“Good heavens (editor’s note: paraphrased) boy! Have you not given yourself a tour of the place or taken any initiative?”

Why do I bring all this up? The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes when things seem easy, it means that you need to take a step back and find out what you’re overlooking. I was watching a video series on religion and the workplace (http://www.themeetinghouse.com/teaching/archives/2016/a-tale-of-two-kingdoms/). It made a startling point to me. That in the modern North American world, if I put Christianity and the workplace side by side, you’d go “yeah, OK. I can be a Christian at work.”. If I put it next to the Government, you’d go “yeah OK. I can be a Christian in the government.” If I put it next to a university, you’d go “yeah OK. I can be a Christian and a scholar.” BUT, if I put it next to a picture of say big Kim, you’d go “OK, now that’s a problem. Being a Christian in North Korea is not easy.”

However, the fact is none of those combinations are easy. There’s so much going on in the background that you might not be cognizant of, but it is definitely there. To be ignorant of it is dangerous. To be making decisions without realizing it, is dangerous. To change allegiance subconsciously, is dangerous.

The series talks about tension between decisions. For example, my beliefs tell me that I should be honest and patient but my job as a salesman asks me to be cunning and aggressive. Or, my belief tells me that I should always produce the best work I can, but timelines are so tight and nobody is really going to look at this in detail anyway. The fact is, you can never just choose one or the other. It’s a game of playing with the tension, but you have to understand that it exists in the first place.

TL;DR – things are never easy; check yourself.

Life isn’t about balance

You don’t need balance in your life.

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There is one main definition of ‘balance.’ It implies equivalency between parts. For example, the two sides of a scale have equivalent weight so they are balanced. A hammer is perched on the tip of your finger so that the sum of torque on either side of the fulcrum is equivalent. The number of a certain type of atoms is the same before and after a chemical reaction.

However, we always tend to say “I need balance in my life.” However there is absolutely no equivalency between the parts of our lives at all. What we really mean is that we need to shift our priorities so that we are not unhappy. But man, are we always unhappy.

I’d like to convince you that what you need in life is not balance, but progress.

There are many out there who are satisfied as long as the overall ‘positives’ in their life outweigh the ‘negatives’. They place the ‘Good’ on one end of the scale and the ‘Bad’ on the other and make sure the ‘Good’ is heavier. What I’m proposing is that you don’t even need to aim for a 51/49 split. You can be content with a 1/99 split.

Hopefully this analogy nails the hammer on the head: When I became a Master (yes that is the correct term to address one who has their Master’s degree) I immediately had interviews with the University Health Network a few weeks later. It was a great work place with a vision, with a position I was interested in, and was in the downtown core. I quickly made it to the third interview but then didn’t get the job. From there onwards things got dreary as I spent the next 6 months slaving away hunting for a job. Firstly a design job, then jobs I were interested in, then engineering jobs, then really ANY JOB! (p.s. the job I eventually got was amazing though). During this time of despair, I needed to make money. Well, I didn’t quite need money as I was living at home, but I needed progress. I needed to know that I was doing something to prevent my bank balance from continually dipping. I needed the silver lining; something to fill up my time when I had exhausted looking through the new job postings and sending out emails.

This ‘thing’, or dark place if you will, that I got into was online surveys. You can laugh, and you have every right to – a graduate with a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering and Master’s degree in Product design, with experience working in machine shops was flopped in his gaming chair, idly trading his opinion and hours of his time for ten cents a piece. I kid you not. I did surveys that paid anywhere from ten to thirty cents for 10-20 minutes of my time. I would get roughly around $20 a month. That’s 100-200 surveys and over 30 hours. I worked for $0.66/hr. I also attempted mystery shopping and online freelancing.

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But you know what, I didn’t regret it because at the end of the month I was $20 richer, and I had a confidence boost knowing that hey, someone is entitled to my opinion!

 In your life you will most definitely face horrible circumstances. You will be in places you don’t want to be, surrounded by people you don’t like to be around and doing things you’d rather not. The state of your life can change, but you can focus on progressing that state despite where you are.

Imagine you are a well-known dancer. You’re teaching classes, performing, and your life is progressing well. There’s some shows coming up featuring a few celebrities and you’re getting interviewed on the Late Show next month. Then you break your arm and you miss everything. In fact you miss the interview too because you had to rest in the hospital. Now you can do nothing but watch videos on YouTube and send emails.

When you’re discharged, it takes 8 weeks to recover, and after finally removing the cast you begin to start physical conditioning. Unfortunately your right arm is so weak you can’t pull off any of your routines. You start re-learning your moves using your left arm instead.

Eventually your right arm is almost back to 100% but you’ve been out of the game for several months now and the buzz has died. You’ve missed your chances and probably will never get the opportunity to break through again. You continue to practice and begin brainstorming creative new dance moves and choreographies. The end.

In this story, the state of your life has changed 4 times. You were famous. You were pitied and helpless. You were recovering and hopeful. You recovered but was disappointed. You were left behind but became motivated. In all these stages, you were progressing. Sometimes slower or faster, but you were always taking steps and you should take pride in that. It wasn’t about being broken, or being lost, or being hopeless. The story is about what you did during those times, no matter how small the impact. Don’t stop at doing your best, also identify what you’ve accomplished. Don’t look at where you are, look at the victories, no matter how small.

Instead of complaining about how bad it is at work, take some time to appreciate the things you’ve learned. You may feel like you’ve wasted a year working at a company that didn’t pay well and had a terrible working environment. Instead look at what you did gain from it. Did you network with at least one person outside the company? Did you learn how to make Pivot tables in Excel? Did you get better at Foosball from lunch time recreation? Did you make a friend? Did you learn how a CNC milling machine works? So what if in 2016 all you did was figure out how to  use Microsoft Project?

The bottom line is, you learned something and you’re better off now than you were before.

The Threshold for Goodness

We are all familiar with thresholds. Some of them we know so well that we can almost objectively measure its limits. For example my pain tolerance is higher than the North American average (which is one of the world’s lowest by the way). I can’t exactly tell you what my upper limit is because there’s such a wide variety of pain to feel, and honestly I have been fortunate enough to not experience most of it. However I can confidently tell you whether something will be painful or not if it’s something I’ve felt before. Getting slapped as hard as possible by a 180 pound man – no. Falling off my motorcycle – in gear, no, and without gear, yes. Overcoming constipation with brute force – very. In fact I think these are the times I shamefully find myself trying to make plea bargains with God. “Please let this poop come to pass, I swear I’ll volunteer more!!”

If you ask me what my anger threshold is I could tell you even better. I mean the point where you can’t contain it and blow up. It’s very high, but I know what things really set me off. Those I won’t share here. My enemies have enough ammunition already.

So then, if someone asks “What is your threshold for goodness?” Honestly I do not know how to respond. The line is blurred. There seem to be so many factors – what mood am I in, who am I with, where am I, what character judgment have I passed, am I in a hurry?

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I tell you a story now about what prompted this thought. Albeit a rather boring and uneventful story, bare with me as I unravel my reflection.

I was sitting in church. The pastor was speaking and the room was quiet. A man outside of the sanctuary was coughing. A rather terrible cough, the kind you know the man has been trying to hold in, but is forced to let out in a cacophony of throat-scratching bursts. It is intermittent, but goes on for quite a while. Some members subtly shuffle in their seats, obviously a bit distracted and perhaps slightly annoyed. The cough rings through the thick wooden doors separating us.

At first I think about why nobody is helping him. Certainly it is quite common for a member to fetch the pastor a cup of water during the service as I have witnessed on multiple occasions. The first few thoughts come to my mind:

  1. They don’t want to miss parts of the sermon
  2. They are sitting in the middle of the row and don’t want to have to shuffle past everyone else like the annoying person in a movie theatre who didn’t use the toilet before the movie started
  3. The coughing can be tuned out by them and is no longer a distraction

You notice that I did not include “They don’t care.” I do not think that is true. I believe every person in that room cared deep down, but for some reason it didn’t manifest itself.

Then obviously trying not to be a hypocrite I searched myself for the answer. All these possibilities came to me as reasons why I wasn’t getting up either:

  1. Since the cough was intermittent, it would stop and I wouldn’t have to do anything.
  2. Surely, someone else was going to get up and do something (bystander effect).
  3. I was timid. For whatever reason I felt like if I stood up people would look at me. Also I felt like I would be a fool if I got up and the man stopped coughing. These are both irrational ideas, but for sure I was feeling this way.
  4. For some reason I just felt stupid if I tried to do anything. Maybe it’s the unseen power of social conformity. Maybe it’s the human condition. But either way I knew I was wrong.

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” -Romans 7:19

It’s always a constant struggle. Why is it sometimes so hard to do a good thing, even when it’s so small? Why do we feel out of place, ashamed or embarrassed to do a good deed, instead of joyful?

You can look at it another way. It’s not just that you’re failing to do a good thing. You’re actually doing a bad thing. Most of us know the story of the Good Samaritan, but this verse sums it up:

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” -James 4:17

I commanded myself to stop being such a coward. C’mon man! Does it take this much reflection and hype to get a poor guy a glass of water?! But the past is the past now. I stopped deliberating and just decided, to hell with it (funny choice of words) and got up, went to the kitchen and boiled some warm water. Of course, when I went to the lobby the coughing man was no more. Was it all my imagination? Was he a spirit guiding me back? I left the water with two ladies and requested them to give it to the person who was coughing really hard. They looked at me and confirmed my suspicions – in fact, there was no coughing man here.

He had gone to the washroom.

I went back into the sanctuary feeling foolish at how much time and courage it took for me to do that. There are so many chances in life to do good. Sometimes we are prepared for it both physically and mentally, and sometimes we are not. Either way we should not shy away but be glad. Next time you find yourself struggling with doing something food for someone, make the decision to just do it. Maybe you’ll be late. Maybe you’ll even get rejected. Maybe the person needing help is taking advantage of you. Start somewhere. What world would we live in, when people fail and fear to help each other out?

“15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” -Ephesians 5:15-17

 

Touched on the train

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I felt violated. Two guys touched me on the train one late evening. It was a weekend and I was coming back from a volleyball game on the other side of town and had eaten with friends afterwards. It late, and I was catching one of the last trains home. Though at this time of night there were still copious amounts of people taking public transport, these weren’t the nice tidy people working late at the office.

With the crowdedness and busyness of people, the distraction of cell phone tunnel vision and my exotic foreign features a perfect storm brewed unknowingly.

Perhaps I could have brushed it off as an anomaly – after all “even a monkey at a computer will type a word now and then (Orson Scott Card)”. Unfortunately, it also happened to me multiple times on the bus and on the plane. This wasn’t madness. This was Singapore.

Situation #1: Train Wreck

I was holding onto the plastic grab handle dangling from the ceiling as the train smoothly stopped at a station out east. The doors opened and a flood of people rushed in. The majority of these people were Indian. Yes, this is extremely relevant. I had my earphones in listening to Shot to the Heart by Bon Jovi when I felt a presence. Something warm and fleshy pressed against my hand. Before I knew it, another hand reached and grabbed above me, cornering me. My PG-13 based-on-a-true-story dramatization is shown below:

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Yes those two guys grabbed my handle! I was aghast as you already guessed. As I stood there dreaming of how I was going to push them over at the next stop, I realized how ridiculously highborn I was acting. I felt intruded upon because I was using the grab handle under the false assumption that it now belonged to me. Mine! Get away! My mind shouted.

However the unchanging faces of the men despite my glares soon forced the realization upon me that they didn’t give two dimes about it. It really was nothing but a chicken wing to them. I soon admitted my guilt and let the flood gates of happiness overcome me. I’m actually not being sarcastic. I felt more community – you share what you have for those who need it. I mean, it’s not even mine to begin with, so why shouldn’t I be happy to let someone else keep themselves from falling over on the train?

I pointed out earlier that these guys were Indian, and that it was relevant. It’s relevant because I can tell that this is a cultural or social thing back home. Singapore has a very strong southeast Asian diversity – despite the fact that many of them speak English and adapt to life in Singapore, their retention of culture, language and tradition is even stronger than the Melting Pot of Canada. Growing up under the influence of your society impresses many things unbeknownst onto you. I was saddened to realize that North America brought me up to have such selfish thoughts.

Situation #2: Bus-A-Move & Berthing Planes

I’m sitting down. It might be the 30 minute bus ride to work, or it might be the 23 hours flying back to Toronto. Either way, I make very sure to stay within the confines of my imaginary box that extends logically straight and outwards from my seat. The worst is when I’m stuck in the middle seat of the flight and I’m being bombarded from both sides. Common questions that come to mind:

  1. Why do you have to take my arm rest when you have either the window to lean on, or the aisle to stretch?
  2. When you take my arm rest, why must you flare your elbows out and infringe upon my space?
  3. Why don’t you sit up straight so your legs aren’t angled outwards into me?
  4. WHY ARE YOU TOUCHING ME?!

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You know, some people just need more space. Long legs, larger frames, jacked biceps, afros, or clown shoes. Though my North American mind again wants to draw an invisible line between the two seats, I am forced to reconsider my perspective and share the territory to those who need it. This is how wars start right? Build a wall and don’t let them in?

Anyways, bless all those men who touched me in public places and made me feel uncomfortable. You’ve taught me a humbling lesson. Next lesson to master – being more physical in expressing myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Imbue a Ring IRL

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In any video game, a unique ring is usually one of the most sought after items. Thinking back to ol’ Diablo 2 days, those Bul Kathos and Stone of Jordan rings were awesome. And do you remember that attractive blacksmith Charsi with the charming accent who offers to magically imbue one of your items? Well, today I am going to talk about how to do just that in real life.

You thought video games weren’t real? Well you’re very wrong. Like any great art form, Charsi is but a mirror to humanity. You actually can imbue magical properties. I did it 6 months ago but it wasn’t easy. Looking back, here are the steps I think were clutch for getting this to work:

  1. The ring has to be made of a special material (or at least look like it). Some recommendations would be meteorite, obsidian, platinum, white gold, jade, tungsten carbide, adamantium or valyrian. In my case, it was black.
  2. The setting has to be linked to an intense emotion or event. Perhaps you pried this ring from the cold dead fingers of your arch nemesis (that guy who cut you off this morning). Maybe the Queen of England handed it to you, after you accidentally gave her this ring. Possibly the moment you caught a Pikachu is your capstone. For me, this event was when I was torn in two and the first piece was sent halfway around the world while my better half stayed put in Canada.
  3. The ring needs time to bond. Similar to a shardblade from  Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight series, the ring has to be in constant contact with you for a prolonged period of time. Sleep with it, shower with it, perform rectal examinations with it (A finger in the butt is worth two in the….?), and eat with it (in that order).

Soon you will discover that a simple piece of star metal can not only banish evil (kudos to Conan), but that you have actually given it magical properties. Yes, YOU! It was nobody else who did it. I shared with you in an earlier post (Sungei Wetlands – DO hold your breath.) about how I lost my ring. Well, lo and behold, who knew that my ring was soul-bound. I had been searching for it every day when I passed that area and about ten days later and many storms afterwards, I felt something telling me to go look behind some plants. I marveled at the scene unraveling in my mind of me actually finding it. How great would that be?

Guess what?

I was overjoyed. What were the chances? I had given power to this ring, over me. A simple band evolved into a symbol, and symbols produce a peculiar reaction in us:

A swastika is illegal to be drawn in Germany because of the power it holds over people. It invokes shame , anger and hatred like a Lvl. 10 Provoke spell.

William Wallace was a symbol of freedom and struggle for independence; he was not just a Scottish knight with a long sword. They proved they could kill the man, but they couldn’t kill his symbol.

This ring was a symbol of my relationship with my girlfriend Sharon. On one hand you could say there was no actual power in the ring – that our relationship status was in no way reliant on the condition of the ring – but you could not ignore the fact there was a perceived power from the ring. Power is nothing but perception, is it not?

Of course logically I knew losing the ring meant nothing. My girlfriend still loved me and I still loved her. If our roles were reversed I would say the exact same things she said to me. But somehow, this ring was given special powers by me and I couldn’t even take it away myself. I felt like I lost something, even though it was a symbol of the relationship. Though I still had the actual relationship the loss still felt very real. How many objects in your life have you imparted such power? For better, or for worse?

Anyways, I’m super happy to have found it! This episode reminded me of a touching moment in Rick & Morty, when Jerry is asking Doofus Rick about his R2D2 coin collection and he replies:

“You know, Jerry, I’m not gonna tell you that these will increase in value or even hold their current value. The truth is, you bought them because you like them. They have value to you. That’s what matters.” 

 

 

 

Sungei Wetlands – DO hold your breath.

“Often when you hold your breath, you find something breath-taking.”

-Michael Lam, the great guru

DON’T MOVE. A dragon has its back to me.

Dragon


HOLD YOUR BREATH. A venomous spider on a rail. A spiked hopper on a leaf. An outcast butterfly on the road. Flies on a piece of poo (no blog post is complete without me mentioning poop).

Insects


STAY STILL. A turtle surfaces from the pond as I sit down on the dock.

Turtles


Welcome to the Sungei Buloh Wetlands. A fairly secluded place at the North tip of Singapore by Kranji. It is a bird-watcher’s haven with ample observation pods, shelters, mains, etc. A host of local and migratory birds can be seen here and it was truly one place you could feel in touch with nature in Singapore.

I came here to dedicate this block of time to meditating, praying and making room in my life for God. I brought the Covenant EFC devotional, a book on the history of the church after the crucifixion, and a big bottle of H-TWO-OH. Literally, it’s a drink called H-TWO-OH.

In previous weeks, I had been having a really hard time with the stress and long hours at work (10-14 hours a day + 2 hours commuting), my health, and as someone recognized – my loneliness. I came to a tipping point and had a nervous breakdown in public one day. I felt like nobody was doing anything for me. All I heard were words and prayers, but I didn’t feel an arm around my shoulder, a hand to wipe my tears away, or a moment of someone’s time when I sadly searched for the three most important rings in my life that clattered and scattered on the pavement outside my condo.

But I was wrong and I knew it in my head. Those words, those prayers were something. I just refused to see it that way because of my doubt. I was asking God a question, but wasn’t sticking around to hear his answer. My life was too packed and too busy.

Something I heard at a sermon a few months back at New Creation church (paraphrased):

“When life is overwhelming and horrible things are happening to you, the Devil will turn to you and say ‘What are you going to do? What are you going to do about this?!’. I will respond, ‘nothing.’ Instead I will take a breath, have a seat and rest in the Lord.” – Joseph Prince

As I strolled across a bridge at the wetlands, I decided to stop moving. I stood there at the railing and stared at the horizon, yet somehow also staring at absolutely nothing as my mind wandered. 10 heartbeats passed. I slowly looked to my right and was rewarded with a surprising flock of Storks! Right there before me, hidden in plain view. Actually they were not hidden, but I was ignorant. I wasn’t searching, or even looking.

STorks

The longer I stood in one spot, the more patience I persevered with, the more I could see clearly. I spotted a couple of birds I took photographs of, which I think is impressive as I’m not a bird-watcher and I was using a simple P&S camera. The same is to be said about my spiritual life. Patience and perseverance in seeking God and not just being passive, in the knowledge that His plans are beyond me.

birds

Thank you all for your words of encouragement, support, and love. Thank you for praying for me, even if just once. Thank you for those who have shown me kindness, compassion and generosity without knowing that they were all shreds of a fabric I clung to in my turmoil.

“Be still, and know that I am God…”

[Psalm 46:10]

Singapore Night Life is Dead.

“You heard me. D-E-D, dead.”

Don’t believe everything you hear. Especially from me. I might as well rename this blog ‘Bait and Switch’ at the rate I’m going.

The photo on the left was taken from Kinki’s Japanese restaurant and rooftop bar, at the Marina Bay. In the photo you can make out the art museum with floral architecture, and of course the epitomized Casino (the surfboard). On the right is a picture at 1-altitude, one of the highest rooftop bars (63 floors) in the Central Business District (CBD) that has live music and amazing satay skewers.

But the night life is dead. Dead quiet. In the tornado that is busy Singapore, night life can be the eye of the storm. It’s what I’ve been searching for in this hectic country. Time and space alone to be by myself in the world. It’s what I miss so much about the Great Outdoors in Canada, and  I finally found it here. And it was so dead that it was refreshing.

The night life I’m talking about isn’t the bar or club scene. It’s not the scandalous Orchard Towers. Nor is the quaint yet bustling Clarke Quay. It’s the place literally close to home: Chinese Gardens (where I live). I had never gone to explore this place despite it being minutes from my apartment because my list of conditions to go were never met. It’s too hot. It’s too rainy. There’s not enough time. Too many people!

One evening though, coming back from the CBD it just felt….right. So about 9:30 or so I wander into Chinese Garden.

Breath-taking. I was alone. ALL ALONE IN SINGAPORE. No one to hear me if I slipped and broke my legs and one arm on the stone steps. I could be wailing in pain and bleeding out for hours. but I was outside with nature. In silence, I could hear all the animals composing a symphony that was both inspiring and intimidating; possibly a little bit fearsome too. I walked, alone, through path after path. I passed by the towers, the bonsai garden that was closed (top right), then to the closed tortoise museum and docks (bottom right). I felt rejuvenated. I felt like I found a gem in the sands of Singapore minutia.

Life is always trying to distract you from what is real. To take your eyes away from true beauty, and replace it with something false. To tell you that in this modern society, you always need to be connected, always busy, always doing something, always having fun and always happy. This is all poppycock and balderdash. You don’t and you won’t be, and that’s OK.

I walked into one building with a large flat pool of glassy water in the middle (top right). It was perfectly still, and perfectly silent. I stood there, trying to imagine the contrast from when this place is filled with people during the day, when SPLASHH SPLISH SHAZAMM PLOOP!! I almost jumped, but didn’t because I’m too cool for that. But my heart did, as I peered into the dark black water to see a school of Koi fish.

Eventually I decided to head home and that’s when I discovered Chinese Garden actually closes and they lock the gates.

Here’s a frog.

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ribbit.