Public Enemy #1: Self-Improvement

Winston Churchill Quote

I had forgotten how many people hated me until the late Winston Churchill reminded me.

Everybody talks about making friends, but whenever I do, it seems that I make at least one or more enemies. Every single time. By having any values or morals, you create a distance between you and other people. Distance – I’ve found, is good. Every time my friends or family stand up for me, they make enemies for the sake of me. Strangers that have stood up for anyone risk being ridiculed or scorned by others whose values don’t align. Sometimes it also means leaving people that affect you negatively and calling your loved ones out when they do something wrong. But hey, if they truly respect you, they’ll come back. They may hate you for awhile, but Arnold Schwarzenegger was always true to his word.

Definitely risky business.

But that goes to say that anything that’s worthwhile is hard. Yes, you may have talent. You may have lots of money. But without actually applying yourself, you haven’t really done anything. You know who are the only kinds of people who don’t seem to make mistakes? People that do nothing. Zip. Nada. And that in itself, ironically is the biggest mistake that you can make. There is a fine line in patience and waiting to make the right move and there’s just procrastinating.

Winning the lottery is just as hard (if not harder) than good old-fashioned hard work. The odds are always against you, at least a million to one. Selling your body (some people call it renting) or dealing drugs is fast money, but it isn’t easy money. This is where misconceptions start to build. It’s not exactly smart to trade in your health and safety if you’re no longer alive or well enough to enjoy life. I don’t know about you, but who wants to live in constant fear of being murdered? But they’re prostitutes. That, they may be. Just as that almighty famous quote from Batman Begins:

It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you.”

Well, to the naked eye, perhaps. But then how much do we see what everyone does? We all eat, we breathe, we bleed. But would we really call ourselves bleeding-breathing-eaters? And we have to remember that we are very much responsible for the predicaments that they’re in. One of my very good friends since I’ve known since my freshmen year of high school asked me at university one day, “What if there was no prostitution?” I just couldn’t imagine it. I said, “There can’t be. There can never be one. There’s just too much demand for it.” 

Though we may not directly contribute to the situation, turning a blind eye certainly doesn’t help. It just enables the problem to carry on, like a cancer to eat away at the flesh.

I know that I’ve turned a blind eye more than a couple of times in my life and every time I’ve been ridden with guilt. Now I can’t do anything about those things now. But I can change what I do now. I can choose to make a stand.

Just like this blog, my writing, with everything I do – I’m a work in progress. What about you?

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The Beauty of Things

After reading this post by livelytwist on A Holistic Journey, talking about the beauty of things and being enlightened by many of the comments left after the article was published, I was inspired to write a post of my own. Obviously, my perspective is from a somewhat inexperienced (most likely a kidult or someone still seemingly going through an extended adolescence) mind and eyes.

So what exactly is beauty?

Picnic. Pretty ugly.

“It’s supposed to be about inner beauty,” one of my friends in middle school chimed.

I chuckled.

Well, she had a point you know. That gooey caramel, nuts and wafer all mixed together. Simply delicious.

The Picnic wrapper, though shiny and inviting is useless to me without containing the goods. In fact, if you gave me an empty Picnic wrapper, I’d look at you quizzically and wonder what you meant by that. It’s empty.

Everything is just packaging. Wrappers with pretty lettering. Of course, some people are blessed with being full of delicious caramel, nuts and wrapped in a shiny red and yellow wrapper. Others are just empty wrappers. Some are empty Coke bottles. Some are half full and half empty. And some, are just ‘ugly’ Picnic bars.

A comment I left on the piece: true beauty radiates. You cannot filter true beauty. The things you choose to do and the things you choose to say aren’t always direct reflections of you, but they do make up a lot of how people perceive you. It’s more like the things you think, don’t do or the things you don’t say that are probably more accurate in describing your character.

A person that abuses a child is not beautiful. A bully that shows no remorse for their actions is ugly. A boy that struggles to make a living, yet looks after ailing animals, has not only done a beautiful thing but is full of compassion. A lady that smiles at you and genuinely wishes you well is a beauty.

They say eyes are the windows to one’s soul. I believe that to be true. If you look closely into a person’s eyes, you can tell whether they harbor good or bad intentions. Kindness glows. When was compassion the new black?

Take a bite and you will understand true beauty.

So Money Can Buy You Happiness

Having money doesn’t make you happy. Remember this? The conversation with the jovial taxi driver and how he was looking to leave the country because of rising taxes and costs of living?

And this TED talk: money can buy you happiness.

They’re both right.

But how? The reason is simple. Having lots of money (i.e. hoarding it like the infamous tightwad, Mr. Scrooge from A Christmas Carol) absolutely does not make you happy. How could it? A lot of money doesn’t have any real value. Sure, you could fold it up into a paper crane or you could melt the nickel in coins and mould it into a small figure. Yet, money can’t hug you. It’s inanimate. Your bank balance is really just a number on a sheet or screen until you do something with it.

It’s what you can do with the money that can make you happy. You can buy nice things (depending on what nice means to you). So money has the ability to make you happy by being a mode of exchange for goods and services. But you will be most happy when you are able to impart some of that happiness onto others. That’s right. I’m talking about the warm, fuzzy feeling.

One day, you may come to realize that you will die. And you don’t need to be a statistician to work out the probability of dying is 100%. Nothing more certain than death and taxation, they say. So whether you go to Heaven or Hell, you’re not really going to take all that money with you.

Take a look at this graph:

And now inserting some of my general geek authority on how money and happiness are correlated – why isn’t it a straight line? Why does it bend a little? Well, that’s because there are other factors.

Perhaps the Hollywood caricature of the rich, lonely heiress in the Britney Spears’ music video, Lucky isn’t too far from the truth. That’s not to say that all rich people are lonely and unhappy. There are probably far more who are poor and unhappy, because of the increased exposure to crime, illness and other negative socioeconomic factors that are tied to having fewer resources.

Other factors like your experiences growing up, social relationships, and traumatic events shape your happiness. You can’t possibly expect someone with AIDS as a result of rape and winning compensation to always be smiling. It’s just not that simple.

What we do know though, is that there is inequality with the way money is distributed. We can’t really change that as an individual on a global basis, but eventually with enough drops, a bucket can be full of water. And don’t you just like that warm, fuzzy feeling you get inside from helping someone? Well bud, you’re selfish. But that’s okay. If, by being selfish, you end up helping someone along the way then that’s okay.

As long as you’re happy, I’m happy.

You Will Never Be Me

And I will never be you. Please do not compare yourself to me, or anyone for that matter. It is true that in this world, we are always constantly comparing ourselves to others – is she prettier than me? Could I ever be someone like that? I wish I was as rich as that guy. A lot of the time, it’s necessary for commercial competition, but in terms of personal success, there is simply no reason to.

Because you will never be me.

Well, actually there is one person that you should compare yourself to and it isn’t some deity or some celebrity. It is you. It only makes sense to gauge your current failures and successes with those of your past. That’s not to say you can’t learn from others – but you will never own their personal stories.

Yes, I am Asian. I am female. I struggled as an unemployed graduate. But I’m not representative of every other Asian female who has struggled with being an unemployed graduate. Nor am I trying to be. I’m just one person.

Regardless of how well you write and what critics say, you will never be the Harper Lee or even Stephen King. You could get plastic surgery to look like your favorite popstar, but you did not live through their tears, laughter and fears. In the graphic novel, Battle Angel Alita, the female protagonist sees to restoring her friend, but comes to learn that it is futile since she is no longer the friend that she once knew without her memories.

So what if that guy earns a million dollars a year and you earn $30k? You were never that guy. And everything is relative. Remember you were a broke college student a few months ago? I’d say you were doing quite well for yourself.

Being caught up in someone else’s web is something that impedes personal growth. So how are you doing?

Falling Is Good For You

You have to fall in order to get back up. Well, actually there is another way you could get back up, and that’s from lying down. But either way, getting up is a conscious decision that you make because you want to. It means that you still have mettle left. You could choose to stay down, but that would mean defeat. When you give up, you’re settling. In order to be truly successful, you have to fall and get back up.

You only learn when you fall. As my maths teacher said, “It’s good if you get it wrong, because then you’ll remember it.” You don’t quite learn things from getting things right the first time round. There’s no reason to. It’s only when you do something wrong, you feel something and want to change it. I recently took up the challenge of relearning how to rollerblade again. You don’t learn anything from clinging to the sidelines. You don’t learn anything from not letting go. You learn from falling. You learn how to better your technique and how not to fall. And that, my friends, is a lesson worth falling for.

Falling is only failure when you accept it as such. Another maths teacher told us at our leaving ceremony that, “All this too, will come to pass.” When you’re experiencing something in the present, you tend to lose perspective of the bigger picture. Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates.” I say, “Life is like a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle.” What you’re experiencing as you fall down is pain – like Family Guy’s Peter Griffin holding onto his knee and hissing like a snake – but it is only temporary. You’re failing to see the other 999 pieces of the puzzle – some you have already filled in, others till waiting to be filled in. It’s a lot like Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity: courting a pretty woman for an hour feels like a minute, and burning your finger on the stove for a second feels like an hour.

I am a heavy believe of destiny. Everything happens for a reason, though that reason may not seem so clear at the time. The scars you gain from falling are quite possibly painful reminders of the past, but they are also medals of wisdom. They are what make us who we are. Only in times of darkness, do we actually grow and mature. That is why age doesn’t always correlate very well with maturity, since it is our life experiences that shape us into who we are.

Lessons My Math Teacher Taught Me

This is a special post dedicated to a teacher I was lucky enough to have in high school. Sometimes you’ll meet people who will go above and beyond their call of duty, and she was definitely one of them for me. It was really a stroke of luck that had me landed in her maths class, though it didn’t seem like it at the time. There were rumors that said she was really nice. I was hoping she was.

What I found was a different type of niceness. In the first two weeks, a couple of girls had already asked to switch to another class from hers. It was really quite a shame because if they had stayed longer, they would have gotten to know her true intentions. In retrospect, I only realized this much later and I grew to appreciate what she had taught us as a class and as person. For the record, she did teach us maths, but she also made us aware of greater social issues and practiced what she preached.

Here are just a few things that resonated with me through all these years:

Fun is culturally defined. This is one I will probably never forget. She mentioned once a story about a woman who shipped some soft toys to a third-world country. “They breed diseases! You’re going to make them sick!” she said. “The children there are perfectly happy playing with sticks and running around.” I thought this was an interesting point, even though the class laughed at the woman’s well-intentioned but bad act of generosity. Sometimes people don’t want or need what we think they want or need. A lot of it behind that kind of thinking is fuelled by commercial advertising; a culture of materialism, rather than actually responding to people’s needs.  

Tall poppies ought to stand tall. Now during my time at that high school, there was a push to bring underperforming students up to the average level. That came at a cost. Students who were doing extremely well weren’t really encouraged to do more than the expected level. My maths teacher decided to take that into her own hands and she pushed her younger students to sit the national exams, as well as mentoring us for the scholarship exams. She was a classic example of a tall poppy herself. In my final year with her, I learnt that she had gone to an all-boys school to study mathematics and science as the only female. She did that in order to study engineering and become a female engineer. At the time, there were very few and she was one of the first.

Giving is much better than receiving. Our teacher would whip us up a great end-of-year-lunch as a class. She did this every year we were there. She didn’t have to. In fact, a lot of teachers didn’t. She would spend her own time and money to make sure we had something fun to look forward to each year, without expecting anything back. I actually passed the scholarship exam in my last year, after failing the first time. I sent her an email thanking her for helping me get that result. You know what she said? She told me that the results were because of my hard work, refusing to take any credit for it. I think I almost cried when I read that.

Peace and corruption are two sides of the same coin. As you probably could already tell, she was a very anecdotal person. She actually bought a stack of postcards to class one day and asked us to sign them if we wanted to. They were actually petition cards to stop landmines. Remember, landmines were initially created for the purpose of destroying unwanted visitors. Another time, she was talking about peace corps in East Timor. She pointed out how they would go back to their tents with well-cooked meals, yet the people around them would get very little supplies. I guess they hadn’t learnt about that last lesson.

Seize the opportunity. Again, another story from the wise woman’s mouth. She knew a man who could now afford to be flying around on business trips, although he had been detained once. In prison, he actually learnt to speak other languages through the people he was around. As a laid-back teenager, I didn’t take that piece of advice too seriously. Nowadays, I’m much more aware of the time that I can never get back. We also reap what we sow. Putting the two together, I can definitely see now that I’m working towards a greater me.

I guess all I really wanted to say was: thanks a lot, Mrs McHardy.