dal niente

Month: August, 2007

I feel you, dudes

I just recently started watching Scrubs from the begining (which I find kind of backwards, since I live in North America yet the first time I watch it is in Asia).  And as I was going through the first 10 episodes, I couldn’t help but feel totally locked in.

Dr. Dorion’s experiences in the hospital are almost exactly like mine.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again– as much as Boston Hope and E.R. are famous, my hospital is actually a lot more like Scrubs.  People have personalities, they have character, and by character I don’t just mean strong people and weak people, or good versus evil.  I mean everything in between, and how characters are often two things at once: petty and generous, courageous and scared, hopeful and dispondant.

As I listened to the dialogues of Dr. Dorion and Dr. Cox especially, I wondered: who wrote this?  Who was able to go into my past and steal all those thoughts from my head about what I felt about things that go on in the hospital?  What’s his story?

If anyone wants to get an idea partly of what it’s like to be me, then check out Scrubs, season 1.  Maybe I’ll say more about the other seasons when I get to them.


Travelling:

I rather wish I could take people from back home out there to see things out there.  There’s just… so much going on.

It reminds me of an epiphany I had back when I was in college and CC first introduced me to black and white photography.  Up until that time, I’d imagine the world in color.  Comic books. Television. Pictures.  But when you start operating in black and white, things are different.  You can have a really, really colorful picutre yet if you were to convert that to greyscale, it would be the most boring thing in the world, no matter how complex the colors were.  Why?  Because black and white is a different frameset.  In my opinion, because you can’t rely on color, it increases the emphasis on composition and contrasts.

When I first started taking black and white photos on my old Nikon FE, they were terrible– they didn’t ‘feel right’ and I got the feeling that somehow my photos were different from everyone else’s at the photo club.

I got the hang of it eventually. But the point is– it’s a completely different way of looking at the world.  Even when I look around the world now with my own eyes, sometimes I see things ‘in black and white’, in the sense that I’m looking for contrasts.  Flashy colors sometimes catchy my eye but that’s no longer the only way that I can think.

Had I never picked up a roll of black and white film, I might’ve never known the world could be seen any differently.


That’s what coming out here has been like.  Asia, I mean.  And it didn’t have to be “Asia”, it could have been Africa as well.  Or anywhere.

It has been an exciting and, truth be told, scary experience at times, because unlike a camera that takes perspectives and freezes them in a picture, when one travels one is part of the picture.  This is a totally different beast entirely because I can’t photoshop it.  I can’t throw out the ones I don’t like.  I’m part of the perspective, I am immersed in the environment proper.  In that sense my education here, despite not being in a school, has been really fast by necessity.

It is so very different.  So very different.

I know I keep saying that as if that’s supposed to explain everything, and I realize that to the contrary it says nothing.  But some ideas, some really, really broad ones, are coming to make a lot more sense now.  Neitzsche’s idea of breaking down all valuations comes to mind– that everything you believe might be breakable down to it’s very atomic foundations, and if you tossed it all up the peices might land differently and you could have different values altogether.  And it wouldn’t be right or wrong– values, I’ve realized, really ARE beyond good and evil in many ways.

There are many things about the way of life out here that would be disturbing to North Americans like myself.  The flipside is that I now understand a lot more about asian imigrants who move to America, now that I see where they’re coming from.  In an odd way, I understand my family a lot better now– why the they do things that they do, they way that they do, and why they tried to raise their kids the way they did.  In some ways it was because of where they came from and how it was done ‘back home’– in some ways it was because they wanted to do it the old ways, and yet in many cases parents do what they do out of fear that their kids will have to go through the same sorts of rough childhoods.

I’m a pretty privledged person, I realize now.  That’s not to say that I live ‘better’ than people in Asia, though you could probably easily make a case for that in terms of social standards of health or economics.   I mean– I’m privledged in the sense that I wasn’t so terribly unlucky.  I have opportunities. I have choices.  There are people all over, North Am and Asia alike, who don’t.


The world is
so

BIG.

Tomorrow

Something i wanted to get to in my last post but didn’t find the way to steer to:

 

 

I sometimes ask people what’s the point of all that money, and they give me a reason that if they have more money, they can influence the world more and make it a better place.  I ask them why they need to buy this or that and how this makes them a better person, and they tell me: it all adds up that tomorrow, they’ll be a better person to make the world a better place.

 

For some people, I beleive them.  I once gave a pair of boxing gloves to a kid for free. I paid out of my own pocket.  The kid had anger issues; but with those gloves, he worked it all out, he sweat for it to stay and control and to learn a discipline under his own rules and his own criticism. Today, he is a better person for it.  The gloves were, in his case, really a tool, perhaps indespensible.

 

But how many other people just use tomorrow as an excuse to just not be that better person today? Now?

 

And before the person knows it, he or she’s got a wardrobe the size of a bedroom, a collection the size of a museum, a bank account the size of a small country’s national treasury.  DAMN, that must be ONE GOOD PERSON you must say.

 

…But who are we kidding?

 

 

 

Every little thing you get– make it worth it.  Now.  If you dare talk about tomorrow, make it a promise that you will not break.

Put your finger on it

I can’t quite put my finger on it just yet, but I feel that what I’m seeing out here is bringing me closer to what I’m ultimately supposed to do with my life.

It has something to do with the way the world works, this crazy place we call civilization, that varies from country to country and in fact even from town to town.

The minimum wage in Montreal is somewhere around 7$ Canadian per hour. I don’t know the exact number, it’s been a long time since I’ve sold my services for that low and in fact, if I were in Canada, I’d never work for that wage. At my current job at the hospital, I earn significantly more than twice that.

 

If you want to buy a pair of Nike shoes in Montreal, something off the shelf will typically cost you between 80$ (if it’s an old model) and about 250$ for something new. Say then, it’ll cost me between 6 and 12 hours of work to get from the cheapest to the most expensive model of runnig shoe.

 

Here in the Philpines, going into a department store you will be surprised that for the same amount of floorspace, ther are 6 times as many store workers (even if the store isn’t any more crowded than one in Montreal).  The reason for this is that these workers are all earning the Philipine minimum wage– on one hand, this wage is so low that the population is extremely tempted towards shoplifting (thus, hire more eyes to keep tabs on who is touching what) and on the other hand is that they’re so cheap to hire, why not?  Minimum wage in Philipines for a part timer is 350pesos per day. That translates to less than 10$ Canadian per day.

Yet, if you look at the price of a Nike shoe in the Philipines, the price rangest between 75$ to 150$.  The low end is only marginally cheaper than in Canada, and though the high end of shoes is half that of Canada’s, that’s because technical apparel isn’t that popular around here– what I mean is that the top model in Philipines isn’t the same as the top models in Canada, because there isn’t a market for athletic equipment.  People around here buy brands for the names, not the functions.

 

Now, I realize that it’s far from accurate to do an evalutation of buying power or cost of living based on running shoes.  But EVERYONE here who is rich enough to move beyond the 50peso flip flop is wearing a designer shoe.  And to earn minimum wage at as a part timer in a mall is already considered a great advantage over the lower class. 

Jump a few borders to Indonesia, and there you will find the spearhead of the world palm oil industry.  Palm oil prices are rising all around the globe– yet who’s making the money?  Farmers earn between 1 and 2 dollars Canadian per day, with that 2 assuming a really good day.

In these sorts of situations, there is an almost insurmountable divide between the lower and upper classes.  Whenever I look through the local papers, you read all these things about the Comeptition Bureau or whatever is the local equivalent– every Asian country seems to have it’s version of this office who’s purpose is to stimulate the economy and promote through the encouragement of competition.  But who makes this money?  Who gets in on all that?

 

We know who.  But that’s not important.  The question is, and this isn’t even a question of econmics anymore, but rather, of human connection: what are these people doing with all that money?

 

Let me ask you– if you became a millionaire, what would you do with that money?  Would you need more than a million? What if you had a billion? What could you possibly do with all that money in your lifetime?

 

People talk about investment and smart business practice, but what really is the goal of all this if not for the good of humanity?  There’s only so much good that we need to buy for ourselves. 

For the richest people, money represents money only– rich people have their money make money for them, at a certain point it is quite possible to live off the interest.

 

But for the poor, it is assumed that one can live off less than 200 pesos per day in Philipines, that’s being generous, and half that in Indonesia.  I don’t even have the numbers for China, but I think it’s irrelevant to assume that it’d be much better in the poorer areas.

Yes, it is true that there is a certain amount of scale involved– poorer countries tend to have cheaper food, and a lower cost of living.  But if you ask me, there are a lot of things that people shouldn’t have to do, and a lot of easy standards that can be maintained that never get implemented because of this idea that the scaling is ‘fair’.

 

There is this thing that we call ‘freedom’ which in North America translates to something very different from what is freedom in Asia.  Freedom in Asia in the peaceful countries doesn’t mean anything.  Freedom means you have the choice to either starve, or work 16 hour days in a factory or field, or both.

Freedom in North America, however, translates to opportunities.

Now, it’s not that North Americans all have freedom– they don’t.  There are poor areas in both the US and Canada that are so poor that people don’t have opportunities.  And it’s even closer to home than we may think.  Urban sprawling in Montreal has, for example, cut off the youth of Laval from any easy access to post secondary education, and even tougher access to university level education. THe alternatives are to move into the downtown area– but this costs a small fortune, one that must be paid either in student loans or through a part time job that makes the schooling itself that much harder.

Everywhere you look there are opportunities and choices to be made but the issue is accessibilty and the realisticness of making particular choices.

What makes the situation in Asia so different from that of North America is that so many areas are so much more limited than in North America– I mean, to the point where what would be considered an extremely difficult opporunity in Montreal isn’t even on the board as a highest possible dream in the slums of Tacloban or Manilla.

 

I often get into fights with people about this very subject. It is true– there is no price to happiness.  Anyone can be happy, that’s a matter of perspective.  And yet, there is a clear and present limit to opportunity– there IS a point where you are so poor that you have no chance of making it out of your caste, and there is a point where even if you knew how to be ambitious there are enough people on top kicking you down that it is, utterly and totally, impossible to change your fate in a society dictated by economics.

How does this happen?

 

There are a number of factors.  But the one that I’ve always tried to address through the years has always been the human root of it all. The individual.  The human.

Can we change the economy? Can we change the way that he world looks at the world? Can we make it look at people as people, and not just as sources of profit or representations of workforce for our goods?

 

In the end, the solution in my eyes has always been in the begining– the individual. To try and rein an economy sounds impossible, to try and steer a branded culture is futility defined.  But to change a person?  To try and make someone care?

 

That could be the more impossible task in the world– but it may also be easier than we think.

 

I can’t put my finger on it, but do you understand this feeling, this idea, that at the end of the day it might all be possible?

 

It will not change overnight. And in fact, generations will pass that never have these opportunities that I speak of.  But I know that at the end of the day, if the person I am is different from the day before “for the better”, then change is possible at the fundamental level.  This is the starting point.

Never be dismissive of the influence you have on the world!  Every little thing counts, which is why we must strive to be aware of the impacts of our actions, and the true costs of the opportunities we take forgranted.

Solar Powered

I wonder if it’s the heat, and it might be that I’ve been sick on and off for the past couple of days, but my sleeping habits are totally different in Asia and I wonder if it has anything to do with the sun itself.

Sunrise is at about 6:45AM, and sunset is about 12 hours later (at 6:45PM).  But once the sun is gone, it’s as if I have a timer set– about 5 hours later, I just run out of batteries totally and feel the need to go to sleep.  It was the same thing in Montreal, more or less– sun would set around 9pm or so, and I’d be getting tired around 2 in the morning. 

But around here, I’m not waking up any earlier for sleeping earlier. In fact, I’m waking up later than I normally would– In Montreal, sunrise would be around 6:30AM, and I’d wake up usually at about 7:30 or so. Around here, I’ll wake up at 8:30AM latest.  

 

In general, that means that what used to be me getting about 4-7 hours of sleep daily in Montreal has changed to about 8 hours or more while out here.  Where is all that extra sleep going?

 

(Maybe it’s going straight down the toilet thanks to whatever bug it is that I’ve got from the local water ๐Ÿ˜› )

Fear and Loathing

As I’ve collected stories from relatives and friends of family and friends of those friends over the past few weks, a few things emerge as themes in general from those who are happy and unhappy and both at the same time.  There are so many stories out there, that I didn’t even know about, that were all ludicrously closer than I thought possible!  Stories of love and loss, happiness, miracles, affairs, eloping, alcoholism, blackmail, drug abuse, jail, death… everything.  You have a dictionary on your shelf– every one of the words in ther could probably be used at least once if I were to tell you a story our family. (although, I still have a lot to hear)

A lot of living life turns out to be about not being too proud to turn around when you’ve gone too far in one direction. On one hand– I can tell you to go after your dreams and that with enough hard work, you can be whoever or whatever you want. On the other hand, I could tell you the complete opposite– be realistic, and know your limits.

Is there such thing as a universal truth? As an absolute “YES” or “NO”?

Perhaps. But a universal truth that is really, trully universal is so useless to us because it’d be too broad!  As to the small things in life, like those descisions of “yes” or “no”, as they get more and more specific the more difficult it becomes to know something that is “right” from “wrong”.  Perhaps we have to let go of such notions altogether.

I’m sort of coming to accept that there’s no such things as the “right” thing or the “wrong” thing for your path in life. I’m not taking about ethics or morals… I’m talking about destiny and all that.  What I mean to say is that, so what if you make a ‘wrong’ turn in life?  Doesn’t that add to the experience?

And yet, I won’t tell you to go out there, join a street gang, and get hooked on heroin.  If we could stereotype doing “wrong” things in life, I’m not saying to do wrong things on purpose for the sheer sake of experience.

But what I am trying to say is that perhaps we worry too much about the rationalization of future choices, as well as the rationalization of our past choices.  In short– sometimes we think way too much about the grand scheme of things to the point where we grow to fear and loathe the very freedom of choice that we should be taking advantage of. A gym teacher in high school, Mr. Needham, was one of my inspirations in life– he said back then “Good things hapen to bad people”, in the sense that in many cases it will seem as if bad people, through cheating, will leave the nice people in the dust.  But that was an observation.. the importance isn’t on what things (good or bad) will happen.  The importance is on who you are.

Be a god person, simply.

The thing is– you have nothing, but yourself.  Good things and bad things will happen to you, inevitably… but what is worse, the situation that is bad, or straying from your ideals to become that bad person just to skip out on a few bad situations?

In martial arts, we used to spend as much time practicing to take damage as we would learning to deal damage. Why? Because you have to get in the habit of learning to roll with punches, to take the hits, and (as Balboa so aptly put it) keep moving forward.

Eventually, a definition of ‘fearles’ changes from being the absence of fear to the ability to operate in spite of fear. There is a difference– the latter perspective, I think, is more mature– and the difference is that part of moving forward has to do with not only understanding the inevitability of fear but accepting that it is essential to the forging of true character.

I’m pasting a peice of article that T linked me too a while back… I’ve linked this on FB before but I never got around to inluding this for Xanga. I think it largely puts into words a lot of thoughts I have about the way life turns out in ways one didn’t expect, despite thinking perhaps in the moment that it was the end of the world.

‘You’ve got to find what you love,’ Jobs says

This is the text of the Commencement address by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005.

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots.

I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5ยข deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, its likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something โ€” your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss.

I was lucky โ€” I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation โ€” the Macintosh โ€” a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn’t know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down – that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me โ€” I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple’s current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I’m pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.

My third story is about death.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything โ€” all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope its the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma โ€” which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960’s, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Now, a lot of the article is specific to Job’s own business.  But forget all that stuff– the reason why I put that there is for the idea of connecting the dots.  When you’re on a dot– this little speck in a sea of white– if it were me, I’d be shitting in my pants. You can’t see anything for miles. You don’t know which way is the next jump.

For all those of you in hard times– these are just dots in the grand picture of things.  I don’t mean to trivialize whatever pain it is that you are undergoing, whatever uncertainty that is making you sick to your stomachs.  Far from it. My observation is that, on the contrary, every one of these dots, even the most painful, they are necessary to that grand picture of things… everything leads to something else.

You have nothing to do but to live in the moment. Laugh and cry, day by day.

And yet, this is not me telling you to simply relax.  Giving into fear in itself doesn’t make you a beter person. You have to find those higher levels. As life progresses from birth to death, what we have is a progression of sensitivity and connectednes. As a baby, on our two knees and hands, anything can fascinate us. “You can give a baby a chunk of cabbage, and it’ll be happy for hours”.  Why? Because that baby has never seen it. Any of it. It’s all new, it’s all fresh, it’s all new feelings and sensations and data.

As we get older, we lose our hearing, our bodies slow down.  We don’t feel the heat of the hottest showers anymore, we can tolerate spciy or bitter  food that would kill our younger selves.  We can sleep through any noise and we can step on nails without the points ever piercing our callouses.  We lose sensitivity, we lose connection.

Living a ‘good’ life is thus about fighting that loss of connection. The healthiest people are the ones who seem the most connected with the world around them– they are the ones who learn to live in their worlds and appreciate it. 

For some, being happy appears ‘easy’.  It almost seems natural to them.

For others, it seems very dificult.  Through expectation, through habit, and through big words such as ‘comfort’, walls are built up that restrict the flow of things, and hinder connection. 

But while for some people it seems harder than for others, that’s just an observation, it’s not a prophecy, it’s not a necesary truth.  Everyone can be happy. I’m not saying I always am, mind you. We all have our ups and downs.

But a large part of it has to do with coming to terms with the innate fears we have of being happy.  A lot of it has to do with that unknown which we convince ourselves that we don’t have to deal with. A lot of it has to do with what we think makes us happy which in effect is exactly that ‘comfort’ stuff that I was talking about, that makes us ultimately unhappy.

How then? What’s the secret?

There’s book sections in book stores about self help with piles upon piles of literature about how to fix your life. You can read ALL you want.

As a literature student– I’ll be the first to tell you.  Reading is only the start.

Next, it’s time to put on your boots, them boots which were made for walking, and go out there.

Ladies and gentlemen– I’m going to abuse my own quote.  Being in Asia, I can see 12 hours into the future of all my friends and family back in North America– and the future looks like the future.  What more can I say?

Who knows what it is going to be! 

Respect your fear, respect your self loathing– these things are powerful and paralyzing, but they are also the sort of tough love that we need to become better people.  It all comes from within.

Just go out there and do your thing! I’m rooting for you.

Thoughts

(Although the date of this posting may be later, this entry was written on August  21st, 2007 at 22:23 Singapore Time.  At this time, I’m exhausted, but in dire need of some release through writing, so don’t expect much coherence!)

Location: Singapore — A computer stall in Fort Canning YWCA

 

My tip to Asia began about 3 weeks ago.  And though it isn’t over yet, the hardest part won’t be leaving– it will be trying to remember all of the things that I’ve seen, heard, smelled, tasted– read: experience– in the past month.  And where to start?


Perhaps I should start at the begining, and that was before this trip even started. I had pretty low expectations of the trip. I mean, it’s a family trip– I hadn’t been on a vacation with my family in years and frankly I wasn’t sure that I could handle it.  3 weeks into it now, in retrospect, I guess I’m tougher than I thought (I haven’t gone insane yet due to near constant exposure to my family) and in many ways the whole scenario has been very different from what I thought it would be.

I’m not sure the term ‘culture shock’ really means anything.  It’s like this giant blanket all term that travelers warn the newbies about but which never can really cover all the things that you feel when it actually happens to you.  And it isn’t just panic, or fear– in many ways, culture shock is that definate sense of excitement and anticipation that makes it possible to enjoy something totally different.

And perhaps that’s what this is all about– something totally different.

Living on the other end of the planet in North America had me so settled into the way I was used to things. And I thought I knew things– really, I did.  And even if the only thing I knew back then was that I knew nothing, I would never know the extent of how little nothing really was until getting out here.

Do you know what I mean?

Have you ever experienced a situation where you were just so lost that you almost choked, because you realized you were holding your breath?

And that’s what it was to get to Taiwan, and to be surprised in so many ways.  Taiwan was the first destination on my trip and that in itself totally shook all my understanding of urban cities to the ground.  I can compare it to New York, I can compare it to Los Angeles, or Montreal, to any major Canadian or American city– and it would still be so incredibly different.  Everything from the way people decorate their homes and prepare their food (even though I am, myself, Chinese and raised as such) to how they drive their cars or dress or even how they walk in public, every aspect is misleadingly similar to the point that when you spot the differences, you find yourself amazed at how different things are even in their similarity.

And so when I was in Taiwan, I thought “Man, ASIA is so different from North America.”  And even that would turn out to be a shortsighted generalization– because Taiwan wasn’t Asia.  Sure, it was part of it.  But it doesn’t represent all of it.  And so it was that the next stop, Philipines, would again throw my world upside down.  And even more, different corners of the same city (Manilla) would show how one home, built like mansion with all the ammenities and then some that would put an American millionaire’s home to shame, would contrast totally with an appartment complex just at the other end of the same city where a cockroach scuttling just meters from my face measured the length of my hand, not even including it’s antennae. 

Take a plane, boat and a motor tricycle, and you end up in an island paradise called Boracay, every bit a club med catalogue that you’re walking through, which is only kilometers away from levels of porverty that I’d never seen before.  And then a trip back to the Philipines capital, then to the Tacloban countryside– where poverty was as bad as I’d seen, with a naked child, less than 10 years old, drinking out of a stainless steel bowl of rainwater which someone was collecting as it funnelled off of a cellphone ad’s canvas, propped up on bamboo sticks to make their home right against the wall of a building.  Walk a few blocks down and we arrive at Dynasty Square, a huge commercial complex owned by a friend of the family who I ended up playing badminton with at a friend of the friend’s baminton club.  All these friends and friends of friends are no strangers to underground dealings.  Topics of discussion were blackmail, bullshit and bribes.

And then Singapore– the first time in 3 weeks when I could accidentally swallow water from the tap while brushing my teeth and not worry about catching some sort of stomach problems.  Singapore, the country so small that I don’t even bother with the name of the city I’m in, because if I had I bike I could get from one end of it to the other in perhaps a day or two.  Singapore, where the pale people on the streets seem counterintuitive to the heavy sun, and honestly, I wonder where the country hid all the ugly or simply non-beautiful people.  (No really, how did they pull that off?)

So it is that Asia in itself is strange because with each jump, there’s been a shift of culture and of social end economic stances and statuses.  I’ve crossed between states and provinces in North America and I’ve watched all the movies, and none of that stuff phased me.There are differences from state to state and province to province, but never things as drastic as what I’ve seen in the last 3 weeks.

Maybe that’s what this is all about.  It’s about perspective, really.

When I felt I was losing my mind (and it did happen, a bit here and there) I found I had to hang out in a mall or something.  Some place crowded with so many people that I couldn’t tell the difference between here and Montreal.  Because, back in Montreal, I’d only go to malls alone to waste time– at least, that sort of isolation was familiar to me.

Otherwise, I’d find someplace to use a computer (as I’m doing now) and jump on the Internet, and try to get some words in with people back home.

 


… we are creatures of habit. And you know what, being away from computers for so long on end for days has left me with something missing.  I’d gotten so used to posting at least once per day that when it was gone, I felt like I had so much to say that I was going to burst. It wasn’t a good combination for me to be both away from a keyboard to record my thoughts and to be experiencing as much as I’ve been doing in the past 3 weeks.  Add in that I’ve been physically more inactive (no gyms that I can readily access) and that my diet is totally messed up (I just don’t know what I’m eating out here, and even if it’s good, I just don’t know enough about what I’m eating to know if I’m getting enough nutrition in the right balances that I need) and so I’ve needed to do things that I wouldn’t normally do just to get the energy out of my system.

Desperation has me writing by hand (I NEVER write by hand, except on exams because it’s so slow it hurts, literally!) and recording notes to myself on my MP3 player.  I’m in the bedroom of hostels doing calisthetics and boxing with my shadow to keep my body moving, it’s the old “gymless” JKD routine I used to do that feels ancient and inefficient, but it’s all I can put together.


But you know what– it’s not enough. Because if there’s one problem– it’s where this post begins. And that’s that I don’t know how to describe all the things that are going on here!! Really, I don’t!  I’ll try and try but the frustration at not being able to understand everything here better makes it that much worse when I think about sharing it with others.  It gets me worked up every time I think about it.


… being in a literature major, with a minor in philophy, and a strong personal interest in pretty much anything and everything, and considering myself a pretty open minded person….

… you know, I’ve read philosophy from all over the world.  German. French. Chinese. Japanese.  Indian.  Greek.  Whatever— the longer this list gets, the more ironic the result– that everything I read made only superficial differences to the way my brain works now compared to after simply spending a few weeks out here.

Is it ever possible to say that someone is overeducated?  At this point: my definate answer is no.  Overeducated for a particular purpose, perhaps– but one can never learn too much.  To say that one has learnt too much is to declare that one wishes that one didn’t know– and who could do that?  There is no turning back.

 


I was ‘right’ about a few things, even before coming on this trip.  All those things rougly approximated a central group of ideas:

“There are no absolutes,” or “This is only one way of looking at it” or “It doesn’t have to be this way” or “Anything is possible if you want it enough”


Never say Never, and all that.


Randome thoughts:

… Christ, can you beleive the size of that fucking cockroach?!
… you mean to say that this man has killed people, and he’s sitting in the same room having a beer as us, and this doesn’t bother YOU?
… my budget was 16000 pesos (a bit over 300$ Canadian) to buy a guitar of a particular level of quality, without a hard case… you’re telling me that I can get the guitar, the case, plus a set of spare strings, a strap, plus the electric pickup is built in with a tuner??  How the hell can it be that cheap??
… these toilets are like urninals, but they’re in… the floor…
… where’s the toilet paper?
… what do you mean, there was traffice because there was a dead man in the middle of the road? what do you mean, he wasn’t there because of a car accident?
… major transnat companies know people are poor, so companies like CocaCola make their ads out of waterproof canvas instead of paper posters– that way, the poor will steal the ads and patch (or, in some cases, create) their homes with the ads.  And that kid is drinking Coke, even if his stomach is jutting out from starvation.
… It’s the text messaging capital of the world, yet I see people walking barefoot in a foot of rainwater in a country where drinking the tapwater could put you in a hospital.
… government subsidizes 60% of the cost of the home if you are taking care of your parents (leftovers of a confucian dynasty), and an additional 10% if it’s your first home.  The remainint 30%, you can pay back to the government over the course of 30 years at an interest rate no more than 4%.  Oh, and your initial payment is only 10% down.
… where are all the police?  In some places, the police is just the most public of the gangs. In others, the police cannot be found on the streets, but behind the cameras that watch every street corner and mail you your traffic violations post-offence (those cameras can read your plates).
… for 2 Canadian$, I can buy the Best of Sandra Bullock collection on DVD9, high quality like the originals, which has every chick flick she’s ever made. TWO. DOLLARS.

 

 

…. this has all been rather disconnected in order folks, but thanks for reading!

When I get back to Canada, I promise I’ll try and organize my thoughts better. In the meantime, it felt good to just write.

 


… Don’t take these posts the wrong way.  I’m enjoying my time out here, genuinely– it’s just that it’s a lot to handle.  It’s like overdosing on sugar: i’m just trying to manage the inevitable crashes between bursts.

From Tacloban




Once again, since it’s been excessively hard to find a keyboard, thoughts (unedited) via MP3 recorder… enjoy!

I’m leaving Tacloban tonight, going to be heading off to Manilla, then I’m off to Thailand or Singapore (TBA).

Some quotes from the people around here:

“We believe there is no beer in heaven; thus we must drink it while we can here in the Philipines.”

“You don’t really have a choice. You either get robbed by the crooks,or the crooks. I mean, I don’t know how to say it– you have othercrooks, or you have the government, who are also crooks!”

Where Everybody Knows your Name

I’m in Tacloban now, the hometown of my mother.

Life here contrasts so dramatically from either Canada, Taiwan, or even Manilla– it’s crazy.  “Friends in high places” and “money” are the central themes, and to be honest, this place scares me more than a bit.  I’ve only been here for about 40 hours but the time I’ve spent talking with my family here about the political situation and social life in this corner of the Philipines simultaneously amazes me and warms my heart in some ways the way a good Indiana Jones film does, and in other ways, it sickens me and makes me angry.

I think the sights here are actually secondary to the people I’m getting to interact with.  I was in Boracay about 5 days ago and that was the most beautiful beach resort you’ve ever seen– Orlando is put to shame by it, quite simply. (Though I guess I don’t know anything about Cuba or Miami.) 

And yet only kilometers away from a beachside tropical paradise is stark poverty– taxi drivers squabbling over us tourists, offering us the 15km taxi ride from the harbor to the resort for 10 pesos per person (about 25 cents Canadian).  If you tip them a peso or two, their eyes light up.

There are a lot of things that are going through my head at being here.  One of the things that I’ve discovered about myself is that I can’t stand being served by servants– I’m used to waiters in restaurants, sure, but if someone is going to clear my dinner plate from the table at the home, or wash my laundries, or even get me a glass of water, or even just stand at the corner of the room waiting for any whim I might have, I can’t stand it.  My parents seem to be soaking it up just fine, and that really bothers me.  The term is ‘housemaids’ or ‘servants’, but for the wages they earn I wonder if the word ‘slaves’, with all the negative connotations, comes in somewhere.

When I grew up in Canada, I always heard stories about how rough it was to grow up in the Philipines and how schooling was so important back in the old country.  In some ways, this is true– an education has served me very well in North America.  But I don’t beleive for a second that the stress on education, at least, institutionalized education, is as important as they make it sound in the Philipines.

What matters here are streets smarts.  And friends, in high places.  I kid you not when I say that the amount of corruption I see here puts everything I’ve ever experienced, or even seen or read in fiction, to shame.  Hollywood might make gangs look big and badass, they might make the government look diabolical, but to be here in the Philipines you realize that Hollywood is really just makeup and lighting.

In the Philipines, the ‘bad guys’ and the ‘good guys’ are only a matter of context.  Case and point– my own family here has a number of, shall we say, ‘interesting’ ties with the underground, the aboveground (…the underground that operates in plain face of the law), the police and the government.  For example: My uncle came to pick us up at the airport, casually escorted by a pair of uniformed police officers.  Airport security, armed with what I’m not sure are M16s or M4s, they wave us past without running the metal detectors on us.

…  I have much to tell you all about when I get home– at this point, the most valuable thing to me is my notebook, stained with saltwater and sweat.  I’m not sure if I’d call this an adventure anymore so much as an endeavour…

… I’m out of time here but I’ll write more when I get my hands on a solid working english keyboard.  Stay safe!

This isn’t Madness, it’s Manilla!

… left Taiwan from Taoyuan international airport and arrived in Manila yesterday.  Luckily, Manila is actually colder than Taiwan due to the recent typhoon passing.  So right now, it’s like a humid hot Canadian day more than anything else.

More ideas will follow, but here’s a few ideas that contrast greatly with the way of life around here compared to Canada or Taiwan:

  • Airport guards carry rifles.(Who also have a bit stick, and a handgun)
  • Parking attendants (in malls) carry shotguns. (Who also have a bit stick, and a handgun)
  • Mall entrances are all manned by guards with metal detectors. (Who also have a bit stick, and a handgun)
  • People ride bicycles on the highways.
  • Tunnels (for cars) don’t have any overhead lights, because people keep stealing them.
  • Middle class people live in ‘sub-divisions’, which is like, mini ‘compound’ of residences with guards at the entrances.
  • Taxi tricycles use leaded fuel… which is illegal, but the drivers have been using leaded fuel for years which ‘doesn’t exist’ by smuggling it in through coke bottles. (So if you find a bottle of coke that doesn’t look like it’s got coke in it, don’t drink it!)

Apples and Oranges

It has been approximately one week since this whole adventure began.  I say adventure because to me, adventure implies a lot of unknowns.  A vacation is an escape from something familiar– an adventure, on the other hand, has less to do with escapism through the unknown and more to do with a seeking of the unknown.

And the marvelous thing about this whole situation is that the longer I’m out here, the more unknowns I’m exposed to that I didn’t know existed.  Does that make sense?

….. I’m having a real hard time writing. I mean, right now, I actually have time to post something, but I’m finding oddly enough that I lack the inspiration or the motivation or something.

I’m keeping notes out here of my travels, so maybe when the mood strikes me I’ll still be able to do it, but right now… nothing. Nada.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really excited about being here and I really want to share that with everyone… but I just don’t feel I can in writing. Odd, isn’t that…?

 

Maybe this whole experience is teaching me something about the limitations involved in language itself…