When giving is NOT buying

I love Christmas. It’s a season of hope, renewal, love, inspiration, joy and contemplation. It’s about giving and sharing.

Being in Beijing, well in a country which originally doesn’t really have anything to do with this celebration or meaning, it has definitely a lot to offer. The lights, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, billboards, jingly decorations and snow man portray nothing of any sort of the birth of Jesus. This is definitely not surprising coming from a City where there’s not a single sight of a standing church.

Unlike in many western countries, where the smell of mulled wines, cookies, waffles and bakeries lurking in the winter air, the Chinese smell OPPORTUNITY in the air, well which is literally translated into MONEY. Whether it’s the money-burning shopping spree from the consumers or the cashing-in sound of the register, it spells ECONOMY.

This is unquestionably a trend of globalization, no? One World?

This is purely an excessive crapload of commercialized and propagated consumerism. People just want to find reason to buy. Oh, Christmas Sale? People can save thousands on this season? Listen, people save when they DON’T buy what they DON’T need.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of giving, especially to our loved ones, but not the twisted and manipulated picture painted by greedy corporations. We shop for months, getting into debts, rip apart the packaging one morning, forget it the next day and chuck them in the closet and shelves collecting dust. Do we need more cluster? C’mon it is about giving, or buying?

The focus here is certainly on buying not on sharing.

Christmas is NOT about wish-lists, shopping, overconsumption, frenzied malls, consumer debt, environmental waste, excessive fancy wrappings, and bunch of endless needless stuffs that goes with it but it is the time for family, friends, eating cookies, laughing at each other, gossiping, tightening bonds, reunion and reconciliation.

Giving can be in many forms, with a little thought and creativity; we can give our loved ones gifts which can leave little footprint to our environment but large footprint to our hearts.

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2012 my dearest ones!

Thank you 2011.

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Inconvenient Truth

The most profound thing that I’ve discovered and learned in 2011 is trying to define “truth”.
For this discovery, I’ll have to thank my collection of experiences for the past few months. It’s never a question of Black or White to begin with. Let’s put it in a very bleak clarity, that truth has NEVER seemed so far away.

Before I proceed further, I find it essential to stress that there’s a difference between trusting and accepting THE “truth”. Trust to me is a fundamental faith that involves a reliability that we have for a certain source or person. Trust can be harnessed with time.

Truth for example reveals the reality of something. It brings precision and transparency, the yardstick we use to identify our moral correctness or righteous consistency.

Being an engineering student requires us to work with pure hard facts. You can’t defy F = ma or E = mc2. We grew up with utter scientific proven hypotheses and figures which have been used and generated over the past centuries. From these theories, innovations are made and new technologies are discovered. My curiosity on science and technology has then been substantiated when I know I want to be part of a solution – ideas being transformed into reality.

Of course in practical, it sounds too good to be true. There are always limitations and constraints and it is our job to link scientific discoveries and their subsequent applications to human needs.

Engineering ethics aside, my curiosity on social behaviors and code of conduct has intensified over the last years. I try not to impose myself to seek for the cause of social unjust whereas I’d prefer to look for answers. I’d like to think that as much as we’re bumping up against “harsh reality” such as wars, economic crises, inflation, depression, suicide bombing, famine, HIV, climate change, peak oil, natural catastrophes and things will only look bleaker as we head into the future, there’s a tinge of hope that I can hold on to.

But there’s no instant solution without knowing the roots of the problems. I’ve figured that it’s more important for us as a society to first question ‘WHY’ are all these happening around us.

And then I start to question myself how important are all these projected truths to me?

I’m filled with doubts and finding it difficult to accept certain ideology, habits and practices.

Something reminded me again that it’s doubt that drives a man onwards. All these barriers that are dividing society bring so much agony and tension amongst people.

We are disrespecting the planet, squeezing and exploiting till the very last drop of natural resources it could offer. An egocentric society which focuses on affluence and power, security and possessions just to keep the flow of economy sounds senseless to me.

Our economic indicator portrays obsessive figures on our development and progression, but people forget about the true value of our Earth’s assets, which we can get for free.

The national pride, competition, history, and stereotype wipe out human beings’ common goal which is the pursuit of happiness and love.

I’d like to bear in mind that no matter how heart breaking and bitter the situation and system is, I’ll consciously remain optimistic and cling to the hope for a holistic, sustainable and renewable world. That’s my hope for 2012. Change. Less equals to more. < = >

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PS: This blog post is triggered by the death of Kim Jong Il. Cheers to our fellow comrades!

The “Popcorn”

This is Yungang Cave, 1500 years old.

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A place with 51000 Buddha statues and statuettes.

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A 6-hour train journey from Beijing to Shanxi province…

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Damn the 2 full bags of POPCORN in Datong, we missed our train back to Beijing and ended up seating in front of the toilet. 🙂

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A place, where the friendly local delicacy is rabbit’s head has brought thousand smiles to our faces…

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On the other note, chapter two has unfolded…

Thank you for everything. *love*

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Words without borders

It was on the 13th August I stepped my foot on Beijing’s soil as a first timer. I know my merely 2.5-month’s observation and stay in Beijing will not justify my whatsoever opinion I have for this city. As superficial as it might sound, as an ‘outsider’, my instinct urges me spit it out before my intangible time here vanishes.

Oh boy, my very first impression for city was: this place seems to have undergone an extreme makeover. It is nothing new to mention that the economic development that has taken place here is simply jaw dropping and deservingly admirable – modern high rise buildings, shopping malls, and more skyscrapers mushrooming like hotcakes. Almost all families own electric bicycles, motorcycles or even cars; walking seems to have become a lost art. People are inseparable from their latest electronic and mobile devices.

Children and teenagers are losing their competency of mingling with people as a result of the implemented “one child” policy. Growing up in an environment where absolutely no one knows who their neighbors are and people are busy minding their own business shuts them off from the social institutions completely. Kids’ best friends are television, brand new toys and I-pads. Going outdoor seems alien to them.

It would terrify parents today if their kids start playing mud and throwing stones, as kids these days are destined to get themselves ready for good scores in the upcoming test or an interview for a kindergarten’s enrollment. While internet and technological devices are booming, there’s also no need for local or public libraries. As kids and adults in other big cities are privileged to borrow books on a wide range of subjects, local bookstores are equipped with textbooks, college entrance exam preparation guides, or various electronic handheld devices called ‘study machines’.

And as the kids’ main purpose of life is studying, the adults now have more free time on their hands. Most seem to fill this time eating and drinking. Food is unhealthy and rather expensive, yet restaurants are always crowded. Karaoke clubs, pubs or “Mahjong” is in the next agenda and often till the following morning.

Though some people confide that they find such dinner parties unwholesome and meaningless, but they go anyway, as they do not want to stick out or become a social outcast.
Adults no longer can identify what are the activities available to spend quality time with their kids apart from shopping malls, since their kids are the happiest when are showered with brand new toys and gadgets.

I found a great difference in the use of spare time between the place I grew up, Hamburg and Beijing. People might think that life would be more monotonous in the west, where people live further apart from each other.

Activities in the evenings, where people mow their lawns, wash their cars, jogging, go fishing, baking, gardening, play sports, read books, or develop various personal hobbies such as in music or art. Things that I take for granted, such as hiking in the wild, visiting local museums or libraries or going to the park, are rare excursions in Beijing apart from the local tourists or senior citizens. Even the China’s literary culture such as calligraphy and ink painting are losing its ground amongst the youngsters.
The cultural landscape here, especially in emerging economic areas, is a wasteland that cannot be concealed even by the glare of red-hot economic development.

I couldn’t escape the feeling that its newfound economic prosperity seems to be defeating the purpose of improving standards of living.

Can this constant fear that people have of not securing enough wealth and possessions which is the sole driving force to this economic development and prosperity in material life be called progress?

If people’s hard-earned money is spent on wasteful eating, artificially engineered food, unhealthy drinking and ear deafening Karaoke clubs, can this development actually be called progress?

If a society can allow a 2-year child bleeding in road after being run over by two different vehicles and then ignored by 18 passersby and later found dead, can this development be called progress?

If human beings are denied from the very basic of nature’s essential, namely clean fresh air and water, can this development be called progress?

We are what we do and eat.

Twenty years from now, what will we be doing?

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Love Affair

There are some days when we’re awake, there’s a great gush of contentment that kicks in, bringing in a big broad smile to our face to welcome our day.

Today is one of those days where it feels so natural to think simply and presently. There’s no smog, no rain, solely the goodness of sun throwing incredible beauty to its vicinity on a cold autumn Monday morning. I felt nothing but gratitude for being alive, for seeing the sun shine again. It’s clearly a reminder that the sun will always shine again no matter how big the storm or particularly SMOG it might be.

On a day like this, it’s easy to see how we forget to stay present, be happy, and reacquaint ourselves with trust and faith – things that were once a natural part of us.

It is the joy of smiling for no apparent reason, and yet for thousands of reasons.

I breathe. I give. I receive. I love. I am loved. I am healthy. I have fresh food. I’m present. I’m excited. I’m trusting. I’m grateful.

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I’m falling more and more for this city bit by bit.
I fell in love in Beijing.

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I LUB YOU, MIIIIIISSSSIAAAAOOOOOOOOOO says my lover.
She’s a two and a half year old girl, Ping. I’ve been home staying with a Chinese family for almost two months now. This family has been so kind to me.

For years, I’ve learnt that giving is purely a personal selfish act to grant me keys to my contentment and happiness. The more I could give and offer the happier I’m – which is only partially true. In other words, I’ve came to realization that, being in that place of receiving where we can validate the giver’s blessing is one of the greatest gift one could ever have.

Whenever I feel that I’m unable to receive, I’m reminded that I’m actually denying someone else the pleasure of giving.

This totally makes sense!

I’m counting my blessings, on every single day!

Energy

I swear in no time I can beat Josiah Ng on velodrome and have thigh as thick and strong like his. This is all thanks to my daily cycle to work and getting around here! NO rule to abide. Just GO and make sure be FAST!
Well I do have a choice. It’s either I choke myself on a 30-40 minutes packed in like sardine bus ride smelling men’s and women’s armpit, bad breath plus FART for bonus OR choke myself on a potentious deadly bicycle ride inhaling a mouthful of toxic fumes. It’s obvious I’ve chosen the latter. Sounds exaggerating? NO!

You can give me the lousiest bicycle; I will still choose the latter.

Dear Beijing,

The capital of the most populous nation in the world – CHINA which consist of 20% of the world population; 1,3 billion of almost 7 billion people! You made me perplexed. Damn you Chinese. Left, right, front, back, north, south, east, west people are flooding everywhere. Tiananmen, the biggest square in the whole wide world is filled with Chinese. The “Wai Laos” are sunk deep deep into the sea of Chinese people!

Your development pace is too fast for me to grasp, your pollution intoxicate me, your consumerism soars like an eagle but your ethic which is sinking down the drain is utterly disgusting. Your intensity left me bewildered, lost in translation.

As a traveler, our ability to adapt and adopt to the local environment is one of the most essential element that keep us going and longing for more. The constant challenges, culture shock, peculiar food, faces, custom, colors and energy level that flow in every city differs so greatly and THIS is exactly the attraction and the whole point of travelling.  Seeking for something NEW. Therefore, in any case the objectivity of our perception needs to be reminded and refreshed in order to enjoy and infuse into their locality.

And discovering Beijing has been one of the most delicate I’ve ever experience. Unlike populous country like India which I dearly heart, Beijing has a very different historical background and philosophy which I find it interesting but difficult to digest.

It’s like me telling you Mahatma Gandhi versus Mao Zedong.

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This whole era transition is happening too quickly that there’s no one could ever define and sum it up in a few words. The core of this underlying dogma is infinite. As I went through the history books of China, browsing through paragraphs to photographs, I felt chills down my spine.

I’ve spoken to people about my confusion and sought for a better explanation from both Chinese and outsider. What left me in standing in awe has to be the siding of different parties and their ideas of  their personal iconic heroes!

Well it’s none other than Mao Zedong versus Deng Xiaoping in this case.

We’re not even bringing the history back to the fall of Ming Dynasty. The corrupted institutions where people were blinded with greed and power have never changed ever since, and here I question myself today what is our human common ground?

We are all running after security, comfort, power, and fame you name me? Well, probably politics are never meant to be understood, it’s just a dirty monopoly game where the goal of is to monopolize and marginalize!

I’ve came to an edge when my neutrality has reached to a point of nauseate just by having a slight thought of it.

At the moment, I will just sit, enjoy and watch the time passes while listening to Bare Necessities and anticipating the arrival of my empress and emperor.

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Let me present you my Beijing, Mom and Dad.
Love,
Daughter

Shire

‘I receive your love and I give you mine.
“Not the love of a man for a woman, not the love of a father for a child, not the love of God for his creatures.
“But a love with no name and no explanation
‘Like a river that cannot explain why it follows a particular course, but simply flows onwards.

‘A love that asks for nothing and gives nothing in return; it is simply there.

Aleph – Paulo Coelho

Aleph

I left Hamburg on the 19th of July, so many things took place. I’ve been travelling around and I’m sitting now in my office in Beijing sipping a cuppa Chinese tea and munching Chinese flat bread 7 in the morning listening to Times like These from Jack Johnson. Pure bliss or what?

Exactly 2 months passed by, I went to a desert and a zoo, fed monkeys and a horse, saw a volcano, pandas, lemurs, tasted horse cheese and milk, scorpion and drank airag, traveled with all means and sort of transportations including a tricycle (shit, it was hard to ride) a horse and a camel, slept under a blanket of stars, met and still meeting people from all over the world, all these seem so surreal when I’m airing them in past tense.

Honestly, till today I can’t seem to find the right words to describe my summer break. It’s so bizarre and full with surprises. Things I’d never expect to happen, well came about. From Indonesia to China, then to Mongolia, and back to China again, the faces, the smell, the taste and touch of every country is so damn mind boggling.

Indonesia stole my heart in a very subtle way, the people; they are so warm and genuine. The Balinese, fellow travelers, arak, our little bungalows, paddy fields, the scenery, the right and crazy moments, the music and laughter. Lovely gifts!

I heart Mongolia. The anticipation to be in the Trans-Mongolia train has paid off and I can proudly declare, if I die today, I’m a happy person! The GER, Russian van, the Gobi, the sunset, the vast clear skies, the shooting stars, I can throw out words endlessly just to describe the beauty of this emptiness, nothingness, quietness, remoteness and simplicity but we’d not fathom until we experience it ourselves. It’s our existence and living at that presence counts.

I stumbled upon a beautiful excerpt this morning, called the motto of Alchemy from none other than Paulo Coelho: Solve et coagula “Concentrate and dissolve”. It says.

Perseverance is not the same thing as insistence.

There are times when battles go on longer than necessary, draining everybody of strength and enthusiasm.
A prolonged war finally destroys the victors too.
We must know when to insist, and when to withdraw our forces from the battlefield.
Solve (dissolve) means: time to rest
Coagula (concentrate) means: time to act

The two worst strategic mistakes are: acting prematurely and letting an opportunity slip!

So, are you an alchemist, love?

Travel Bug

Germany-Malaysia-Indonesia-China-Mongolia

Hamburg-Kuala Lumpur-Shah Alam-Ipoh-Melaka-Denpasar-Kuta-Ubud-Yogjakarta-Solo-Beijing-Ulaan Bataar

I can’t believe that in merely less than a month, I’ve traveled to all these places. Darn, I’m bloody happy!

I can’t believe I was in Ubud with bunch of lovely happy people, paddy fields and c’mon it’s UBUD, say no more!

I can’t believe I was in Borobudur, Prambanan and I love the Indonesians! I miss their guitar, singing, food and everything!

I can’t believe that my dream to hop on into Trans-Siberia Train came true!

I HAVE TO SAY THIS!

FUCK! I’M FUCKING LOVING MY LIFE!

30 hours from Beijing to Ulaanbataar.

I was ecstatic and still is.

Gobi Desert, Horse and Camel Rides, GER, surprise me please.

THANK YOU LIFE!

Homecoming

This thing has been bothering me for quite some time.

One of my many missions to accomplish in this trip back is to learn how to open up with my family. This might sound crazy but I’ve never actually shared with my family before, what I want to do and want in life. From my past experiences, my family hasn’t been really happy with my impulsive behavior and “little surprises” I’ve thrown to them. Each time I announced my ‘little project’ to them, it’s like a whole bloody deadly bomb that I’ve just placed in front of them.

The delivery of my every “masterpiece” failed every darn time in the past. To keep me sane, this has got to stop. I totally understand that Asian family has certain values that need to be respected and condoned. I can’t be doing whatever I want to do without having a tiny bit of support and understanding from my very own family. To be politically correct, I need a bloody approval from my family desperately.

So, my task is to present them my master plan. 😛

I know I’m not the most diplomatic person to begin with. I’m emotional and start losing my head when I can’t fork over my thoughts and when people start doubting me. I’m a bloody stubborn species. Once decision is made, I’ll stick to it. Try to change me, you can almost forget about it.

Sounds like an ungrateful monster? Sorry mom, dad, sisters and brother, I’m just the black sheep of the family.

Again, I understand that it’s hard for them to digest my decisions and actions which might seem bizarre to them.

But why to them in fact to everyone, one cannot make ANY difference in SMALL scale.

Why must it be the ‘I believe in making changes in BIG scale. Only THAT can change the WORLD. Only when you are someone prominent, rich and famous, you will have all the attention of the world that worships you as an idol.

I’m not even talking about changing the world now, people.

I’m just trying to play my tiny weenie role, on the things that I’m compassionate about. I just want to share with you the pieces of information I have which led me to these decisions.

I’m not even trying to change the way you think or want to be a smarty pants to preach to you about the whole energy, ecology, equality and economy system. I just want to share with you the consciousness that I have in order for you to see for once the perspective through my eyes.

Why is it always that if you can’t change the system why don’t you just be an obedient little girl and follow the crowd thing?

Why do you need to doubt me by asking, so what have you done so far?

Why do you choose to ignore because you feel that making small differences doesn’t matter at the end?

Why is it always a NO WAY OUT situation? So are you telling me that I’m doing is in vain baby, the world is going to end soon anyway, people are killing each other, oil is running out, trees are dying, global is warming and yada yada…?

SO, does it mean that now that if I’ve failed to convince my family, I can forget about making ANY differences at all OUT there?

Man in the mirror people!

Start from yourself.

To the children of the world, and those not as yet born.

I will try my best to speak up for you!

Cheers!

Sail away

I’m sitting here in my room that I’ve lived for almost 3 years, now empty as it was before. I have this tinge of melancholic feeling that I couldn’t really figure out yet how to describe. As I ran through my belongings, packed, unpacked, unpacked and packed again, I realized how much I’ve grown and changed as a person. The person I used to be, the things which seemed to be so important to me back then have awakened no interest to me anymore.

It’s hard to depart with certain things. They bring us back to the memory lane and the reminiscence is limitless. It’s like a catalyst. It triggers you, it says to you aloud shouting, “Hey you! You remember me? Remember you used to………? I’ve missed you!”

I’m left with none other than these three choices, to donate, to discard, and to dock after mulling them over for almost three days. Believe me, it was the longest 3 days, ever.

Donating is pretty easy, books, clothes, food basically anything which can bring benefit other people fall into this category. Let it go, let these things do its duty, let them be useful to other people I thought to myself. Why hold on to things which you know you’re not using it but keep wondering to yourself what if IN CASE you might somehow or rather, potentially need it ONE DAY?

Screw that ONE DAY; I want that you be useful to other people TODAY.

So these things were happily channeled to Oxfam and an Orphanage for charity.

Discarding is disheartening. It’s unbelievable how much of courage it took me to shake things off my hands. Again, if I don’t I’d never have enough space to fill in the imminent undertakings.

Docking takes strength. You need energy to restore and care to conserve them.

This is Life. Every day we are making these three choices.

Looking back, I’ve got to admit that I am glad of every decision I’ve made so far. I care that today I must live my life with all that I can give for the passion and people I love most.

I was taking a breezy night walk along my favorite area of the city with a friend earlier. We passed by my favorite bars, restaurants and coffee shops. I can’t help but have this huge sense of gratefulness and tears swelled my eyes. I love this city. I will miss this place and the people.

Thank you Hamburg!

PS: Happy Birthday Madiba! I dedicate this to you. 46664 will always be remembered!

It doesn’t matter I’m poked thrice today! Thank you Blood Bank Hamburg for the compensation, at least my pain wasn’t in vain.

A song entitled Hamburg, my City. Some sneak peek of this lovely city. 😀