Saturday, December 31, 2011

We think therefore we are

'I don't believe you have to be better than everybody else.I believe you have to be better than you ever thought you could be.' -Ken Venturi.

Isn’t that a good manifesto ? The whole idea is we must push our abilities beyond our own imagination possible.  Steve Jobs’ reality distortion field carried a positive  resonance to it when his engineering team had performed beyond their abilities. On the other hand, self deception or delusion carries a negative connotation. So when is a reality distortion not a denial and  how does  one put things in the right perspective?  How do we keep our reality in check? How do we know we are not deceiving ourselves into believing that we are doing fine ?  For those of us who strive to better ourselves, how do we keep a score card of our virtues and wrongs?  If we think we want to do something with our lives, how do we know if we are progressing on the right track?

We tend to agonize and brood about what has gone wrong. We must know that it is a waste of our energy by beating ourselves up for things we cannot change. “Should have” is such a meaningless phrase but how often we say that? When we are caught in a traffic jam, we kick ourselves for taking the wrong route, when we make a bad purchase, we invariably feel that we have made the wrong choice and when we sign up for a deal and a better one comes along, we wish we could have deliberated more and widen our search and consider more offers or promotions, the list goes on. We want to get ahead and maybe in the name of beating the system, we want to come out the winner. We get frustrated and become upset when our plans go astray or that things do not get done the way we want them to be done. If only we could just tell ourselves not to be too wound up and look at the bright side.  How about all the other times when things go splendidly, must we congratulate ourselves for making the right choices? I think not. There is no reason to gloat if we succeed and likewise wallow about all the “should haves or should have not” if we do not succeed. Ideally that is the case, I think.

Maybe we tend to place too much significance on the importance of being smart and being in control and ahead of others are part of the scheme of being smart thus we are only intent on making smart moves. I get my adrenalin all pumped up when I focus on a project as I find that it is only fun if  I immerse myself fully in a task. Striving on the right amount of stress can be fun but sometimes the challenge can get too oppressive that it is no longer enjoyable. Such occasions usually arise when I pay too much attention to the end result and not the process of executing the task. Whenever I play a game of tennis, I find myself hitting better if I only look at the ball and concentrate on hitting and not care too much about the score. A friend recently shared with me something she has learnt in her tennis game. Since tennis is a mind game, it is a tactical move to step up from the baseline when your opponent fails to execute his or her first serve. The reason is that the opponent may feel affected by your response and can become offended that you anticipate a weak serve. In his or her zealous attempt to prove you wrong , he or she may end up with a double fault.

Our minds can play tricks on us so how do we know if we are not deceiving ourselves or that we are in denial? It is a matter of  finding a balance  between humility and self-possession that gives us just the right amount of confidence to carry on doing what we have been doing and whatever we plan to do. We must believe what our minds are telling us otherwise we can become uncertain. Ultimately we should stick to whatever works. Each and everyone of us will have to find out what works   and  what  not for each one of us.

On Friday before we headed home, my office partner and I had a drink at the Pacific Coffee Company outlet located at a new shopping mall. The  thought for the day that was on display at  the Pacific Coffee Company store was a quote by Louis L’Amour: A wise man fights to win, but he is twice a fool who has no plan for possible defeat.

Bingo! Now I have another quote which seems to fit in nicely with what I have started writing this week. For every venture, we must know that we may have to be prepared for defeat. When one has dreams and high expectations, one can  be motivated to persevere with a view to succeed. However it is wise to anticipate disappointments. In exercising my professional duty, I often advise clients the possibility of a defeat as clients must know that in litigation, there will be a winner and a loser. Of course, clients should have realistic expectations of the outcome of a legal battle that they have chosen to be engaged in and must be prepared to face the consequences should they fail. That is often a difficult concept to drive home to a particularly hard core litigant or an obstinate client. 

My family decided to watch The Nutcracker the movie after an early dinner on New Year's Eve. Apparently the movie did not gain popularity as it did not appeal to the children nor the adults. I thought the cinematography and graphic were delightful even though it was not spectacular. Perhaps the Nutcracker story was not intended for children and the adults are too cynical to enjoy the story. Maybe life could be magical like the Nutcracker Story and that dreams could become reality. Does that sound like a good wish? I think it does. Meilleurs vœux!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Reality Distortion

When I read  “Steve Jobs” the biography written by Walter Isaacson, I became extremely fascinated by the term  “Distortion of Reality”, the phrase coined and intended for the visionary and icon, the late Steve Jobs who might not  have possessed  the best interpersonal management skills but all that was compensated by his ability to take art and  technology to the level which  his team would not have attained without his resolve and vision.

Steve has a reality distortion field. In his presence, reality is malleable. He can convince anyone of practically anything. It wears off when he’s not around, but it makes it hard to have realistic schedules,” said  the former Apple software engineer Bud Tribble who had adopted the  term  “reality distortion field” from "The Menagerie" episodes in Star Trek series to describe the phenomenon with Steve Jobs.

"The reality distortion field was a confounding melange of a charismatic rhetorical style, indomitable will and eagerness to bend any fact to fit the purpose at hand," said Andy Hertzfeld a fellow Macintosh team member . "Amazingly, the reality distortion field seemed to be effective, even if you were acutely aware of it. We would often discuss potential techniques for grounding it, but after a while most of us gave up, accepting it as a force of nature."

So often we talk about  how one must be realistic in one’s expectation and knows one’s limitations. Here is an icon  in every sense of the word believes that “Nothing is impossible” and pushed his team ahead and accomplish what they had thought was impossible and arrive at what they eventually produced. However the reality distortion field concept could inspire and challenge the individual into doing what he or she would not have thought possible thus bringing about positive advancement and innovation; it could also trick people into believing something that is completely untrue , in other words,  a lie  in which case  might  possibly bring about disastrous results that would not be of use and may even be destructive. We therefore must be aware that the power of our minds are capable of distorting reality in more than one way . At the end of the day it is with conviction and determination that one will triumph .

Art has been an area where one can freely express one’s perception of life and happenings around the world. As the saying goes: “ Life imitating art or art imitating life”. It is  commonly understood that the film makers produce movies which are in many ways reality distortions. I remember being told by a classmate that her strict dad would never allow her to go to the cinema and apparently he said, “ the moviemakers are mad and the movie goers are idiots.” Perhaps he wanted his daughter to stay grounded and not be influenced by what is depicted by the script writers after all life does not end like a movie script . Maybe he did not want his daughter to have misconceptions about life or distorted views of the reality. He must have thought that cinema was a mode of reality distortion.We were in primary school  and even then I felt that it was unthinkable to be deprived of movie going. As a child, I used to look forward to family outings to the cinemas and I would be in tears when my parents and I  could not  catch a movie as the tickets had been sold out.  It might sound trivial and me appearing spoilt that I should sulk when our movie trip was cancelled. I grew up watching movies and love the cinemas; movies take you places visually and emotionally and an enjoyable social outing. Movies and fictions serve our palates for fantasies and fantasies rarely become reality although some of the images and scenes presented by the film maker could bear some resemblance to real life and our experiences. But what my schoolfriend’s dad must have meant was : Movies are illusions and he did not want his daughter to be deluded or have a false perceptions of what reality was.

In films, the morality line may be blurred or re-invented. That is why we have rating for the movies so that the individual can take responsibility for what his or her child can watch.  In the world of cinema, lots of stuff are not factual and for artistic and creative purposes, even official history may be changed to suit the design and ideas of the movie directors and sentiments of the respective scripts. We watch films not in search of the truth, we sometimes watch films to escape from reality and be amused or find humour in the absurdities about life while at other times we hope to be inspired.  Bearing that in mind, why was my friend’s dad so adamant and insistent that  those who watch films were fools? Guess it is not easy to be a parent, you have no idea when a child can distinguish what is real and what is not. Video games are popular and can be addictive. I have heard about real people who find their “soul mates’ through playing computer games and getting to know each other through the characters they were playing as. Perhaps my school friend’s dad did have a point after all. We  cannot be guilty of  indulging in a little imagination  but sometimes the sheer mental force can  carry our minds so far out that the thin line between what is real and what is not  real somehow is displaced.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Reality Bites

These days television reality shows are popular. Apparently we cannot have enough of our realities that we must have television shows involving real people showing their emotions and behaviour in real time or time when the shows are being filmed. How real are these so called reality shows? And what it is that makes these shows appealing to the masses? The participants appear to be cool individuals who carry on with their acts and conversations as they are captured on these cameras. The heated arguments and the tension between people who are competing in a race or a game show are thus  captured and displayed publicly. Do we need to watch couples or friends or family members quarrel so that we know it is part and parcel of a relationship? These shows can make or break a relationship . It is a battle of wits and wills; most participants are not on their best behaviour when they are confronted with challenges which will ultimately determine the winner. Maybe the audience want to be reminded about how similar our needs are and we are not alone in our emotions and conflicts as it is all part of our human nature and how the world is  really about survival for the fittest.

A month ago, I watched the movie “ Tree of Life”, a meditative film where the story unfolds against the beautiful cinematography and the underlying themes about aging, life and humanity. The protagonist, Jack O’Brien finds himself a lost soul in the modern world and contemplates about the meaning of life as he thinks about his childhood and his parents. He thinks about his strict and authoritarian dad who is irritable and lives in regrets about not following his passion of becoming a musician and instead become an engineer. Jack’s dad tried to prepare his sons for a world he sees as corrupt and exploitative and he hoped to become rich by selling some of the inventions but unsuccessful. While Jack’s dad laments the course his life has taken, Jack’s mother is a symbol of grace who takes life in its stride as she grieves for the loss of one of her teenage sons. In between telling the ordinary story of a middle class family, there are stunning cosmic imagery that represents the beauty of the universe. I enjoyed the cinematography thoroughly.

As a young adult, I lacked the sense of urgency which was deemed a character flaw in our modern life. When I started working, I developed a sense of urgency as it was necessary in the legal profession to observe time line.  In order to avoid any undesirable consequences, whether it was to do with submitting and filing in court documents or preparation and completion of documentation for various legal purposes, observing time line was an absolute must. Although procrastinating a task is much frowned upon in terms of professionalism and efficacy thus best avoided, sometimes a delay could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Due to a delay, a client can sometimes find a better approach to his or her problems or reach an alternative solution or  by default there are  changes  to the circumstances of the matter. There may also be some occasions where the laws had changed whether by the legislature or through interpretation by the courts as a result , a postponement might work towards one’s benefit.

Reality sets in when it dawns on you that you have been caught in a race against biological clock, goals and contingency at every stage of your life,  day in day out you soldier on and discharge your duties and responsibilities whether they are related to work or your home.  You wish you could be in a time warp  which allows time to stand still for you to figure out what you are doing and  really want to do in your lifetime. Over the years, multiple tasks, some mundane while others more challenging and  mostly repetitious become an integral part of your daily routine and that is  when  you are  officially grown up.  There may come a time it is imperative that we feel we must get to do what we  really want to be involved in. By then we may have become so entrenched with what we are accustomed to doing and we are too afraid to leave our familiar grounds. I recently read John Grisham’s latest novel “the Litigators” where the protagonist decides to quit the top solicitors firm he was working with  and join the street lawyers. Maybe that only happens in fictions where all things will turn out well. Nonetheless you hear of success stories where people end up pursuing their dreams. All it takes is determination and conviction and self indulgence.

 As a rule we prefer to stay in our comfort zone rather than venture out in unfamiliar terrain. We prefer the tried and tested routes so did our parents and their parents. Being unorthodox is not safe and most of us are too afraid not to conform  for fear that we may make mistakes or decisions which we will regret. Perhaps the majority of us acknowledge that we are no visionaries so we stay in line with convention and try to lead a life worth living . Is  our lack of imagination attributable to the education system or our upbringing or social conditioning? Maybe. Most of us have been ingrained with the fear that if we do not have a  job, we shall have no money and may be shunned as pariahs so since young, we are expected to study hard and pursue a degree or qualification which will get us gainful employment regardless of whether some of us may be academically challenged. We tell the young ones  that if they do not pursue a qualification or some skills which are in demand , their future will be bleak. If only we could be brave and cast aside our fear for the uncharted and be benevolent and not beat ourselves about for not achieving material success , we may just have a faint idea about what we like to pursue. If only we could catch a breather amidst our daily grinds, we may have an inkling about what we like to take a chance upon. Hopefully with some conviction, we too may  follow our hearts if we choose to .

Friday, November 4, 2011

The World is Our Playground

It is uncanny when I  turned to a page randomly, the words which happened to cross my mind somehow sprang from an article or a fiction I happened to be reading . They are sheer coincidences but  they  reinforce the fact that what is on my mind is shared by many other individuals. There were times when I was internalizing a thought, I came across books which were about the very same theme I happened to be reflecting on . Perhaps it is law of attraction, you get what you are looking for. Perhaps we read what we think.

La Saone- Gray
I have been thinking quite a bit about how we can choose to be elusive and deluded about our situations and what we remember about the past might have been inaccurate. We have a tendency to reconstruct our memory and amend what we remember about the past. Here is a prime example: I had never thought of myself as a strict mother but apparently there was this incident my twenty year old remembered.  She was not allowed to go on a school trip during primary school because she did not do well in some school test. I subsequently jogged my memory and vaguely recalled that there was one school trip  where we had paid up and subsequently she had to tell the teacher that she would not be going for some reasons or other. I think it was probably one of the joint decisions I had to make with my significant other. On my part, I was relieved that she was not going as I had a tendency to become worrisome about my  daughters’ travelling on those buses which the school usually chartered for such trips. I worry about errant and reckless drivers and unhygienic food.

In one Proust questionnaire published in Vanity Fair September 2006 issue, Howard Schultz was asked this :  “What is your most treasured possession?”  Mr Schultz’s  answer was : “ My memories.”  Brilliant answer and how true. But what if our memories are faulty? I believe we all have selective memory, some more selective than others.

Two weekends ago, I was  in the company of  some of the friends’ from the past. We gathered at a post wedding reception held by one of our school friends whose son recently got married. The wedding took place in San Francisco in May and the post wedding party was held a few months later in the groom’s hometown in Malaysia. It was an interesting full weekend catching up with a few school friends. I am not one who becomes nostalgic and carry the notion that school days were wonderful. I think that was such an awkward age. Nonetheless we behaved as if time had not passed despite whatever  we had gone through and  experienced during all those years as  grown ups.

When I returned to my present life, I read "The Sense of an Ending" by Julian Barnes, winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize. At the beginning of the story, the protagonist Tony Websters narrates, “……but what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you have witnessed.”  I can relate to the sentiment after a weekend away with some nostalgic moments spent with some school friends. It is definitely a novel for grown-ups, superb prose, full of wit and complex undertones.
"The Sense of an Ending" explores memory and the story was told through the apparently insignificant life of a sixty year old man, Tony Webster whose life was basically average by his own terms. The calm of his life became unsettled when he received a letter from a solicitor who informed him that he had been left a small legacy by a woman he barely knew and the legacy included a diary kept by his good friend from school, Adrian Finn some four decades ago. Once in history class, the school master asked the students for a definition of history.  Adrian Finn’s answer was “ History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation." Apparently the  quote was from a fictitious French author whom Finn had made up. Tony Webster’s answer then was “ History is the lies of the victors”. Later on in life, he realized that history is the memories of the survivors , most of whom are neither victorious nor defeated.

Tony Webster  narrates “ But time….how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly”.  How true. So often we go through life playing safe by avoiding hurt,  loss and the unbeaten path  in the name of survival and self preservation. Webster had to confront the core of his character when he examined some letters he had written in his fits of spite. The book is exquisitely written and makes an insightful read. 
Another  insightful and brilliant novel I had recently read was  “ A visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. It is about passing of our youth, very cleverly written. The writer has employed a satirical approach to lives of the characters in the fiction. 

Not that I lament about the passing of youth and fragilities of life, I particularly enjoy reading novels which have been written on that premise. I am addicted to buying books as every book is a hopeful purchase. These days I find myself devouring the pages too quickly to accord the author justice. While I anticipate the joy and look forward to the day when I can take my time  to savour each and every phrase and passage lucidly put together by these writers, I suspect I may still not have enough time in the world to catch up with all the books I want to read. Meanwhile  juggling time between my work, chores, tennis , yoga,  social outings, chats, movies, books  and blogging keep my adrenalin pumping.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Happiness dot com

Beach in Brighton

In August , during a short trip to Hongkong, I read the book “Hector And the Search of Happiness” by Francois Lelord and pass it on to a friend whom I had recently caught up after losing touch for over two decades. The book is a delightful read, its writing is simplistic yet profound as it  gives a fair description of  human conditions and their behaviour. Hector is a psychiatrist and he treats patients who are not really ill but they are generally unhappy because they are dissatisfied with their lives. He sets out on a journey to find out about what happiness means. As he travels from Paris to China to Africa to the United States, through the people he meets, he makes up a list of his observations and theories about happiness .I guess what the author has propounded is nothing new but something we often overlook and need to be reminded about.

We want to be happy so we do everything possible to steer ourselves to happiness. We human beings are the seekers for happiness or stickers for happiness.  How do we define happiness?  I think happiness is an elusive term. In broad terms, happiness means bliss and contentment.  The antonym of happiness is sadness. But one can be not  unhappy nor sad so I feel if we can be neither unhappy nor sad, we should be happy.

If you start off a day feeling on top of the world and then some unpleasant incidents at work somehow tip you off balance, will you let the incident ruin your day or will  you brush it off  as you are fully aware that all these hitches are part and parcel of your daily life? Perhaps if one is a happy person or one is neither unhappy nor sad , one will not dwell into such incidents however if one is an unhappy person, the incidents may add on to the list of things which make the person unhappy. Could it be that a person is otherwise a happy person if he or she is not a perfectionist or less of a perfectionist? We describe people as the happy go lucky type if they seem to take things in their stride and hardly get anxious about anything and they are a contrast from those who appear to be anxious and worrisome all the time.  In a nutshell, people who have perfectionist tendencies would be the worrying type and they probably feel so goal oriented that they lose their perspectives. Perfectionists see the goal and nothing else and they are so concerned about meeting the goal that they cannot enjoy the process. They can be highly critical and only spot mistakes and  flaws and they expect nothing less than perfection so even “almost perfect” is seen as failure.

Beach Street, Penang
There are some people who are not perfectionists but they like to be competent and excel in whatever they set out to do as they experience joy when executing their tasks well. These people are high achievers who also strive for perfection but in pursuing their goals, they will be happy when what they have accomplished may be only close to perfection. Those who have perfectionist tendencies must realise that  we shall do better if we can see  how  pointless it is  to beat ourselves up much more and wallow in negative feelings when we have not achieved our goals.

Just like the word “happiness”, I find the word “perfection” another elusive term. A perfectionist will demand perfection in all things and it would mean uncompromising and will demand the best humanly possible efforts in doing things properly. Anything less than perfection is not good for a perfectionist. But what exactly is perfection? There is always room for improving and perfecting a piece of work and scaling to greater heights so what may seem perfect or good enough in the present may no longer be so in the future. I believe we will find joy if we continue to strive for accomplishments though they are not necessarily perfections whatever perfections may mean to us.Can we not chase after goals which we believe will make us happy without getting ourselves all wound up trying to achieve these goals? 

Sometimes we can be deluded about what actually makes us happy or the reasons for our unhappiness.  Happiness seems like a big word yet we wish everyone happiness on the commencement of a brand new year or on their birthdays. So we should not attach too much significance to the term. Of course we want to wish everyone happiness as  it is something everyone hopes for. How wonderful if we could think about nothing and we just carry on being happy or at least not unhappy.Needless to say, we must identify a few pleasures in life that make us happy otherwise our lives will be miserable as we go about our daily grinds.

As the metaphor goes, a glass can be half full or half empty. Let us say A thinks that a glass which is half filled with liquid  is half full while B  thinks  that the glass is half empty. Does that make B a less happy person than A or A is just a positive thinking person? Maybe.

Given a set of circumstances, it would be interesting to take a survey and note how everyone will view the situation from their own point of view. It is all a matter of perception from one’s personal experience. How we see things depend on our awareness and sensitivity but not everyone shares the same degree of  awareness and sensitivity towards a situation or a crisis. We tend to be attracted to people whom we find sharing similar outlook and humour so that we can form the synergy necessary to carry on with our lives. But ultimately we are all alone as much as we want to share our thoughts and views about the affairs and happenings in our daily experiences.

One’s perception can be a delusion to another person if the latter does not see what the former sees. However if we are open minded enough, we may just catch a glimpse of  another person’s perception and vaguely understand how it can be viewed in a different light because most matters are indefinable. Sometimes we may find that we are all talking about the same thing but in different words or we might seem to speaking about the same thing but we actually do not mean the same thing.

Quite often we try to describe what we experience but the others are not us hence they can never really know what we actually experience. So we are all alone in what we are experiencing as we all possess separate minds and unless we can get into each other’s minds we can never tell what we are experiencing are like what everyone else is  experiencing. As human beings we  experience love and loss throughout our lives but we will not really know the extent of joy or sadness each of us really feel. We empathize and understand each other’s sadness and happiness by measuring against our personal experience in the past . So we assume another person's sense of happiness based on our own experience and we also want to avoid unhappiness by trying to plan our future.

Daniel Gilbert, a psychologist wrote in his book “ Stumbling On Happiness” that how faulty our human memory is and we tend to imagine our future based on our current state of mind and he also wrote that our perception of happiness could be distorted.

Some people have moved from one job or a place to another thinking that there is a wider horizon and perhaps for improved earnings or greater control over the direction of their career path or their children’s future.  We all like to think that when we get there, we will be happy. We worry about the future. According to Daniel Gilbert, the Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, “The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future.” (page 4  “Stumbling On Happiness”) .  Apparently a particular part of the brain known as the frontal lobe which sits at the front of our heads empowers healthy human adults with the capacity to consider the future. So we have the ability to conjure our imaginary tomorrows. However according to Professor Gilbert, we could be imagining the future based on now.

When I was in primary school, one of the common topics for essays writing  was :
“ What do you want to be when you grow up?” It sounded like a trick question but it obviously was not. Maybe the teachers wanted their students to start thinking about their future hence the title of the essay. As a child, we only had our parents’ and teachers’ professions to emulate, the scope of our imaginary tomorrows might have been limited. How can a child imagine what he or she wants to be when he grows up? We get a chuckle if a child says he wants to be a fireman or one of those characters he watches on television and we will not take him seriously.

We cannot help thinking about the future. During our senior year at the middle school, my class  put up an amateurish mime based on the common theme: “ Where do we go from here? What are our dreams?  What do we want to achieve ?”  Now that I am a parent, I still do not have the answers. I do not think we must have the answers because the answers may be beyond us and I believe that we might not be able to get the answers right away or we may never even know the answers in our lifetimes.  Nonetheless we have to carrying on living and make the best of our lives and be meditative in order to strike a balance which I find a tall order in the modern world.

I feel compelled to quote the following words from the famous commencement speech by Steve Jobs, a visionary and an icon.

“Your time is limited so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, 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."

In his speech, Jobs also said, 

"Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future."

The full text of Seve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address can be found at the following links:-

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Early this month, I had three events to go to: a wedding of a friend’s daughter, a colleague’s dad’s funeral and a neighbour’s mother’s birthday celebration. The first week of this month kind of sum up three major events in life : Getting married,  growing old and death. They may invoke different sentiments and emotions,they are all celebrations of different points of life. How we feel about these events is very much dependent on our respective beliefs or  school of thoughts and of course our sentiments and state of mind.

Marina Wharf, Penang
The wedding ceremony was held on the beach. The wedding party was bestowed with sunny weather and clear blue sky so for all who attended the ceremony and the reception should  count themselves lucky to have weather that held since it had been raining cats and dogs for days just before the wedding. In Malaysia, the weather is either hot and humid or rainy or stormy. In the past month smog or haze had been our nemesis in this part of the world. I cannot recall if this is usually so at this time of the year. These days, the weather has become rather unpredictable. In his speech during the reception, the father of the bride apologized for putting the guests through the heat although he had tried to place more fans around the beach hoping to provide some cooling effects. The father of bride was emotional and it reminded me of the movie “ Father of the Bride” where Steve Martin acted in. For some reasons, most fathers are protective dads to their daughters and most girls are always their dads’ little girls. In recent years, getting married at thirty two years old is becoming common but not two decades ago when I got married at thirty-two. So if at all my late dad felt emotional, it must have been the feeling of relief that he could finally give me away. I would think of myself as ahead of my time rather than a late bloomer though I am indeed a late bloomer as in starting to take writing seriously or coming out of cinderella complex etc. At times I might have felt misplaced with people of my generation while I would fit in nicely with people a decade or two younger than me. I reckon when we speak about eras, we think that we are referring to specific age groups or people from certain period of time but some individuals in these age groups may transpose or transcend beyond their eras; so  maybe  there is no time line in reality.

The birthday celebration was a big bash where a neighbour diligently held for his mother who was in her eighties. The age of the woman could be a little confusing as Chinese believe that the digit  nine is a tricky one so when one is nearing the digit nine as in sixty-nine or seventy-nine, one’s age would be stated as seventy or eighty. As a result, the neighbour’s mother would prematurely age one or two years just to get ahead of the record kept by the universe. I think a birthday is always a good enough reason to celebrate regardless of whether one has reached a milestone or attained any achievements. It is a day to mark that one has gained another year of experience in life and it is an anniversary of one’s birth. I view birthdays as an event which is important enough to call for a celebration and I would not let them pass as another day. Whether or not we celebrate our birthdays with friends or alone, we must try to do something memorable or a least give ourselves a little treat.

As a rule, both weddings and birthdays are happy occasions and funerals are not. At a funeral ,the atmosphere is somber and sad as the living mourn for their loss and think about how they will miss the departed and how they will deal with the lacuna left behind by the absence of the departed. A Chinese funeral usually includes a wake, a burial and  church services or Buddhist  or Taoist rites depending on the faiths and religious beliefs of the respective families of the departed. Friends, associates and relatives of the departed  attend and pay respect to the latter and condolences to the family. In the sequel to the Chinese movie “非诚勿扰fei cheng wu rao (Do not disturb if not sincere) a movie directed by Xiao Gang Feng, invites were sent out by  the protagonist for a funeral party which turned out to be a farewell party for his best buddie who was dying from melanoma. One can imagine what a teary affair it is for all those who attend the party.

Ultimately, the family and  loved ones of the departed will have to find the strength within themselves to carry on and only time might heal the pain of losing the departed. Keeping alive memories of the departed may not be the best way but so often we tend to commit to our memory what we remember about all the things we had ever shared with the departed. Human brains have a tendency to distort experiences and events and so often we find ourselves reconstructing events of the past to the extent of romanticizing the departed.

We are fully aware that life is fragile and finite so nothing should matter yet everything matters. We remind ourselves that everything changes and yet nothing ever changes because it is often only a matter of perception and time and place. However transitory our life is , we cannot help thinking, scheming and   going about all our undertakings diligently. While we ponder how transient our existence is , we resolve not to compulsively feel forlorn about our failings nor become too attached to the people and  all things we hold dear to . I shall quote one of Andy Warhol ‘s muses : “ I never think that people die. They just go to department stores.” How wonderful if  it were true.


Friday, September 23, 2011

Regarding Beauty Part II

Identity and Fashion

Identity is fluid so is fashion but identity is considerably less fluid than fashion. Fashion can be a way  to express oneself but fashion is only responsible in expressing part of an identity of a person. However if one belongs to a certain faith or religion or race, one’s fashion is within the parameters of the dress code set for them due to their faith, race and heritage.

It is interesting how fashion constantly re-invents following changes in the global trends and progress of the human race. Often we find ourselves no longer like the same outfit which we used to think we looked good in and there are times I find that I no longer like to dress the way I used to dress. It could be due to the fact that the particular cut or design of the top or pants or skirt had simply outgrown the time or me and a certain style which once suited me somehow make me feel misplaced or that the dressing is not representative of me. 
I tend to believe that the substance of a person determines how one looks to a large extent although one’s dressing plays a small part in the overall appearance of a person. There are people who are very fashionable and there are some who are less fashionable. There are the discerning lot and those who simply do not seem to care much about dressing up. We each have our own palate and preferences so what we consider beautiful may not be acceptable to another. Some people can carry on with certain type of dressing while other kind of dressing go well with certain people. One’s physique may limit one’s preference for certain dressing but some choose to dress as they please. How one dresses may depend on one's jobs and areas of work one is in and for practicality. A particular style of dressing may go well with one at a certain age and may not depict well at another age. Simplicity is probably the best way to dress. Dressing up can be fun and it can be a demonstration of the kind of personality one is and also it is a representation of the state of mind of a person and his or her area of interests.

In order to look good, there is the whole works that go with it. We have to keep ourselves healthy and fit and in order to stay healthy and fit , we have to live well; in order to live well, we must eat sensibly, sleep well and exercise regularly. Most of us know that  living well means living in the present and one must  mind and watch one’s thoughts hence one’s words. We are who we are  not just through  how we dress but what we say and how we think.  Ultimately I feel that however we hide behind our clothings, we are who we are. Perhaps in order to create ourselves we have to find ourselves.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Regarding Beauty Part I



Last night I dreamt that I was amongst one of the many faces in a group photo. I do not know where I was, all I remember was that  everyone lined up for a picture; there were many of us so everyone was trying to get his or her face in the picture. It felt like I was in a tour group but as a rule, I do not like travelling in a group let alone joining a tour. It must be my recent trip to China. In August, my family and I visited some places near Hangzhou and there were seas of people everywhere, the China pavilion at the expo site, the train station and up on Mount Huangshan. I would have liked to see the photograph in my dream but I was already awakened by the house alarm.

Most of us are critical of our physical appearances.  We find ourselves too fat, too thin, too tall or too short. We look at photographs of ourselves and scrutinize and think that we should pose better the next time. Twenty something me used to smile in  a way to suck in the baby fat on the cheeks so that my face would look thin. LOL. Thanks to digital cameras, we can erase pictures which we think are not flattering images of ourselves. Why do we care about looking good and want nice images of ourselves? Is it because everyone is always critical of another person or vanity simply rules? Perhaps we all know how we look but we just want to improve our images and look our very best at least in our own opinion. Personally I am intrigued by faces; one can tell a thing or two about a person from his or her face.

Spring in Brighton
We had my in-laws’ family over and my daughters started showing the photographs we took during our recent visit to Hangzhou and Shanghai. I nearly freaked out when I saw candid shots of me looking tired and haggard and they were enlarged as they were screened on smart television screen. Goodness when were those picture taken? And why did the pictures appear to take longer than usual before they moved on to the next one? I nearly grabbed the remote control to fast forward those shots. While beauty is subjective and personal, I note with fascination that my in-laws seem to have this fixation about double eyelids and single eyelids. They would look at the photographs taken of my daughters and observe how in some of the photographs, my daughter who has my single eyelid eyes appeared to have double eyelids ( I would conclude that  they must  think double eyelids look better). I know of friends who had gone to the surgeon and transform their single eyelids to double eyelids. Since beauty is personal, so do whatever one needs to do to make one feel confident. 

Brighton in April
I have a hair stylist whom  I have grown to be reliant upon and I find him funny and enlightening in terms of his philosophy and outlook about life. I have this fear that one day I ask him to change my hair style and in view of my request for a certain hair style , he may end up asking if I am at the wrong place in the sense that in order to attain the desired makeover, it is my face that needs changing and not the hair . Of course he is not mean like that, he sometimes gets a little frustrated that his clients are often unrealistic and when a client goes up to him and ask him to do a certain hairstyle of a celebrity, it would seem that the client has no inkling if the hairstyle would have suited him or her . Of course texture of the hair is the other deciding factor as to the kind of hair one can wear. By trial and error, we all know that what works for others may not work for us and vice versa.

Even if we like to think that we are not affected by how others might perceive of us, for those of us who care about aesthetics, we tend to care enough about our appearances to the extent of borderline obsession. There are always people who will judge the others, we would rather not attract their attention and if at all we have somehow caught their attention, we would like to be admired and not be criticized upon. Perhaps that is what co-existing in a society or a particular network does to you.

If one feels good about oneself, one usually looks attractive as he or she glows with self-confidence and contentment. So how do we feel good about ourselves? I need to be productive and constructive in order to feel good about myself. While I try not to have unrealistic expectations about my abilities, I feel good when I get to do things I enjoy and do them well. But then most of the time, we cannot control our circumstances and we have difficulties breaking free of another’s expectations and our responsibilities that come with our roles as a husband or a wife , a dad or a mother, a colleague, a friend and whatever positions we are in. As I age, I feel the least we can do is not to feel too bad about our failings, we must refrain from thinking about  “should have” or “should have not” in terms of decisions we had to make along the way. The thing is we should all be kind to ourselves and others .  Often I find that  our emotional state of mind  will somehow reflect on our physical appearances particularly through the faces we wear. Our fears, our worries, our anxieties along with our laughs  and all kinds of facial expressions will ultimately become our facial lines hence some have more laughing lines than others. Our faces not only show the kind of mental or emotional states we are in, they definitely carry our personality traits so if one is generally a worrisome person, he or she may look sad in the long run. If a person is vindictive, frustrated and has anger issues, he or she will grow old looking mean and grumpy.

Some people have the innate ability to hide one’s true feelings and assume different personas in front of   a different set of audience. You may think it is hypocrisy but  quite often it might be a matter of necessity and it can be good for the soul. After all our thoughts and feelings are fleeting. It is an art to be able to empty one’s mind and focus on the task at hand hence as modern living gets tough, meditation and yoga retreats are being popularized. It is always best to wear a happy face even if you have a bad day; if you wear a smile, you may somehow rid of the terrible day you have  had as you just want to shrug it off by thinking all the happy stuff that make you smile. My elder daughter had to take her first ballet examination when she was five years old. I told her that if she ever made a slip  in front of the examiner, she just had to keep smiling. The principal of the ballet school later told me that my daughter did very well despite the fact that she tripped. She flashed her gorgeous smile as told.

There is a famous quote of Oscar Wilde:
A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction.

Does it mean that a man clearly shows his true self and that his thoughts and emotions are easily read on his face whereas a woman can hide her true emotions? Perhaps that is  quite true for some but not for the others. I have a little theory of my own. Maybe despite the different waves of feminism and the efforts striving towards gender equality , men are still expected to succeed and  they tend to measure success in terms of money, status and fame. Perhaps  a man  inherently finds that he has not reached his targets and goals in life or that he must constantly scale to greater heights. When a  woman is down, there are ways to cheer her up.  Maybe just  maybe most women know how to cheer themselves up. Accessories and books work for me hence a pretty shawl and a stroll in Borders or Kinokuniya book shops are pleasurable . A coffee with a friend , a walk or some yoga or  a game of tennis are sources of pep boosts. Those of us who enjoy a glass of wine or beer every now and then know that  a little spirit or alcoholic drink may lift one’s spirit momentarily but too much booze will bring adverse effects and makes one feel sick.

In a good sense, women are like chameleons and they tend to re-invent themselves in order to adjust their personas to fit into the different roles they land themselves in or the multi dimensional complex beings they have grown into. By innate design, men appear to be egoistic and at times overly self-confident or at least some men behave that way as  they throw their weight around : they are who they are, more transparent seemingly. Does that mean men are less vain or that they are more secure about their appearances? Hardly.  It is not that these men do not care how they look, they probably are  too macho to show that they care about what others think though in reality we know too well that vanity rules. If only we could convince ourselves that appearances are superficial and we are only mortal beings. Ultimately most of us only want to look as good as we think we can be. Fair dinkum?

Hongchun ancient village outside Huangshan city

Monday, August 8, 2011

Parallels and Triangles

What is it that I cannot stand most about a person? Righteousness. Yes self righteousness. I remember acting all self-righteous when I was in my early and mid teens. I feel bashful reading through the journal I kept during those years. I was often critical of the society and hypocrisy in general ; looking back, I cannot remember what my disappointments were. I wonder what kind of issues I could have raised as a student council representative for my class. They must be matters relating to the welfare of the students. Probably nothing could be inconsequential then.

Southampton Wall

I was at the stage of configuring concepts, thoughts, ideas about how an ideal world should be or how people should behave. How naïve, immature  and unrealistic I must have come across. Throughout the years of growing older, I gradually learnt that one cannot control how others should behave and say the things we want to hear or act the way we would like them to ; we must come to realize that the only way to get through a day without getting ourselves all worked up is not to expect how others should behave and not to be disappointed when others do not give the response we expect from them or behave in an irreverent manner.

How often I have to remind myself that I must not concentrate on the smaller specifics and in the process lose out on the larger perspective of things in general. I find that my thoughts are volatile; somehow every thought counts and how one thinks at one moment will lead to the next thought at the next moment and if I do not watch my thoughts or words, my whole perception of a situation or the actual state of affairs  can transform at a moment’s notice. The atmosphere around me can turn good or bad in a matter of moments if the wrong words are uttered . I try to watch how I say things and too frequently there are slips and ambiguous expressions. When I have ambivalent feelings and views about things, I should become hesitant but there were times I had moved ahead ( foolishly you might say) without caring about the consequences that might follow. If we are with the people who possess the same dynamics, there will be very little or no misunderstandings and even if there are some misunderstandings, they can be cleared up and there will be no serious conflicts as these people will be understanding and try to minimize the blunder or attach minimal importance to the messages you might have unwittingly conveyed without meaning them or whatever errors you have made will not be magnified, in other words there are no repercussions nor hard feelings .

As we know whether a glass is half full or half empty depends on the outlook and attitude of the person looking at it and the outlook and attitude of a person may involve personal pride, one’s preferences, prejudices and moods at the time. There are always people who appear to set very high standards for themselves and for others, as a result, they will be difficult and almost impossible to please. Unfortunately these people will not only harp on their own mistakes, and be hard on themselves, they will also thrive on your failings, your imperfections and your flaws so much so that you find it necessary to defend your dignity by justifying your limitations and when you do that, they think you must be in denial of your inadequacy and shortcoming. At moments like this, you wish you could walk away.

As humans, we are mortal beings who have similar needs  yet we can behave quite differently due to our respective upbringings and backgrounds. Whether we are men or women, we often interpret one’s actions and non-actions according to our perceptions hence we get responses which do not synchronize with what we might be accustomed to. If we choose to find faults with such responses, we may miss the woods for the trees and as a result, there will be grudges and we wonder  and sometimes lament how we get to where we are. When two inconsequential parties are not on the same page, their conversations either come to a halt or run parallel or become entangled in more misinterpretations. If we are courteous , we will not attempt to correct the others even if we do not agree with what we hear bearing in mind that we are not sure if we clearly follow what is being said and understand what they mean. After umpteenth attempts, we resign to the fact that even with constant pounding and drilling, some people will not change their responses just as they will not change their perspectives of things so we either  adapt, accept the way things are  or free ourselves from having to confront the same disappointments over again and again.

Some people leave others alone while some people do not. The latter category consist of those who deem themselves qualified and have a tendency to offer unsolicited guidance and opinions about your plans and interpret your intentions regardless of whether you ask them to. These are highly intelligent people but you only wish that they would mind their own business. Are they trying to tell you that they know better?  If only they could read your mind : “ NO COMMENTS PLEASE”. If  one is fortunate enough to meet like minded people, one should count one’s lucky stars. On the other hand one may learn a thing or two from those people who  have dissimilar values and opposing views. However it is more often than not counterproductive to  deal with people who do not support our sentiments, moves or views save and except when one needs a sparring partner to exchange views and debate issues.

If everyone is allowed to run his or her own course of life without any interference  unless he or she asks for such interference, there will be peace on earth. But you might argue that sometimes one needs an intervention and the others might feel that they cannot sit on the fence so all of a sudden, his or her life has been intruded upon and the people who has initiated the intervention will have to justify that they are only acting in his or her  interests . Situations may improve with or without such interventions. Perhaps in an ideal world, everyone should be given a free hand to walk through his or her own journey in his or her own way.  When one party tries to dominate over another party, there is bound to be insubordination and on a large scale, when one group tries to preside over another, there may be mutiny and rebellions. If only we could understand that everyone has his or her own journey to contend with and often each and every journey may appear separate and distinct yet they are similar in a parallel fashion because we all have our personal baggage or concerns, burdens and benefits to manage along the way. Interestingly, the synonyms for parallel are : similar, equivalent, corresponding, analogous, matching and comparable.

Recently I attended a church wedding where the master of the ceremony told the newly weds that the man shall lead and provide the spiritual guidance while the woman shall submit and follow and both the man and the woman will be walking towards God together. Apparently the couple must picture this:
Southampton city

The groom and the bride as husband and wife are in a triangle and they would both walk towards the tip of the triangle which will be where the creator is waiting at the convergence point.  The same message was repeated by the father of the bride when he gave a speech at the wedding dinner reception. While I fully appreciate that everyone is entitled to his or her own beliefs and faiths, given the backdrop of the 21st century, I find it most unsettling to hear about how the husband will be the head of the family and provide the spiritual guidance and the rest will follow.

I should not comment since I am not in the position to do so  where a leap of faith is concerned. Perhaps what was said during the wedding was intended to be a metaphor only. Irrespective of faith and religion, I feel that a man and a woman who are wedded to one another must be on a par in a marriage as one person is as good as another . All of us have our likes and dislikes, our preferences, our prejudices, our comfort and discomfort zones. If we regard life as an ongoing process where each and everyone of us has our own issues, conflicts to bear and follow through and overcome in our lifetimes, all we could hope for is a little understanding and appreciation of our imperfections  and given a chance we can provide each other the space and support we all need to live our circles of life.

What  an idyllic world it would be if and only we knew how to live side by side with each other's idiosyncrasies and remember that everyone is entitled to an opinion or no opinion and  our views and perceptions must  change from time to time to allow for reinvention ..........C’est la vie !