#87 of bento and train ticket refund

M and I initially planned to stay on Green Island for 3 days. Unfortunately, there were some changes to the weather conditions and the wind became really strong on the third day. The strong winds made it impossible for the ferries to sail or planes to fly. So effectively, we were grounded on the island and there was no way for us to leave the island on that day. The wind was forecasted to remain rather strong the day after so we could only leave the island on day 5.

As a result of the change in weather conditions, we were forced to change our travel plans. We had to change our flight booking from Taipei to Singapore and we also had to make new arrangements to get from Taitung to Taipei. Initially we planned to take the train on day 3 and we had already printed the tickets. So we tried to buy train tickets at FamilyMart for the trains scheduled to depart 2 days later. There were numerous people who were lining up for the one multi-purpose machine to buy new tickets and get refund for old tickets.

As we were waiting in line, the cashier commented, “There were many people this morning who came to get a refund for their train tickets. The processing fees collected this morning for the refund for the train tickets are enough to buy a bento here.” She paused and pointed at the empty shelves where the bentos should be. “But even if you have money, there are no bentos because there is no ferry.”

It was a humbling moment for us and we were reminded that money can’t always get you what you want. So in such situations, when you can’t get what you want, you got to learn to love the things you got. Humans are resilient and are capable of surviving on less.

In the end, there were no train tickets left to take us from Taitung to Taipei so we had to purchase plane tickets instead. Buying plane tickets at a convenience store, what a uniquely Taiwan experience it was.

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#86 the car rental on green island

M and I took the ferry across the Pacific Ocean from Taitung to Green Island. Weeks before the trip to Taiwan, M had informed the Minsu owner that we would like to rent a car on Green Island. The alternative to car was scooter and neither of us was confident enough about riding scooters in Taiwan.

When we reached the jetty, we saw many people holding signs displaying names and we searched for the person who was holding up a sign with our names. After a short while, we found our guy and he checked with us again if we wanted to rent a car or a scooter. When we told him we wanted to rent a car, he said, “Do you know how to drive?” M said yes and the guy showed us the way to a car and gave us the car key. He added, “I will be driving in front of you towards the Minsu. Just follow my van.”

We were rather surprised by how casual the car rental process was on Green Island. M’s International Driving License was not even needed in the process. What also surprised us was how much trust people have in one another on the island. Right before our snorkeling trip, we asked the instructor if there was a place for us to put our car key or if we should just bring the car key along into the waters. The instructor replied, “Oh, just leave the car key in the car. Nobody would take it.”

After this conversation, we began to notice how the locals just left their keys on their scooters on the streets. On the first day, we still bothered to lock our doors every time we got off the car. After some time on the island, we stopped locking the car doors.

On the last day, we asked the Minsu owner how we should go about returning the car. He said, “Just leave the car and its key at the jetty when you are about to take the ferry. We will get it later.”

On this island, somehow there is a very high degree of trust and people seem contented with what they have. Is that the face of happiness – when you are contented with what you have and you are not hungry for the things that you don’t have? It can also be that maybe on an island as small as green island (17 square kilometres), there is no room for petty thief. After all, where can a thief go with the stolen scooter or car? He/ she can’t leave the island with the stolen vehicle and there is nowhere for him/ her to hide. Whatever the reason may be, it is such a nice feeling to experience going around without worrying about petty thief. We were really carefree on the island. How much I miss the island and its people. How much I miss trusting strangers.

#85 fight for your right

“I’ll play my fight song and I don’t really care if nobody else believes ’cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me.” – Rachel Platten, Fight Song

Lately, I have been thinking about the price of harmony in a society. For a society to stay harmonious, does it mean that many members of the society have to shut up and stay silent? And is a silent but harmonious society what we really want?

The problem with a society like this is that its people would be afraid to speak up and fight for their right. People don’t want to start a controversy. In particular, the voices of the minority would be drowned out. According to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, our human rights include freedom of thought and freedom of expression. When we censor our own voices, we are essentially forsaking our freedom of expression. Is there an institution that mandates our self-censorship? Or are we censoring our own voices out of fear of destabilizing the existing harmony in the society? Why is a seemingly harmonious society so desirable?

When a person fight for his/ her right in the society, it will, more often than not, result in dissonance. People may agree or disagree with him/ her but more importantly, it allows meaningful conversations to take place. Sometimes controversies are what societies need in order to move forward. With all due respect, progress can only come about when people push the boundaries. In every historical time point when boundaries are pushed, some people in the society would feel uncomfortable that the status quo is challenged. But look at how far societies have progressed because of all these dissonances. Examples include the civil rights movement and women’s suffrage movement.

I am not saying that we need to start a revolution and change how things are run. What I am trying to say is that we need to exercise our right to fight for ourselves when the need arises. After all, if you don’t fight for yourself, who else will?

#84 uncategorised

“This is not part of my job.”

“This is above my pay grade.”

“This is not what I am paid to do.”

Last week I attended a NUS Chemistry Alumni dinner which was held at the Fullerton Hotel. The dinner was fully paid for by a benefactor and donations made by the guests were given to the alumni fund to help Chemistry students who require financial assistance. At the end of the dinner, the organizer, who is a professor at the NUS Department of Chemistry, said that she thought that since it was the 88th anniversary of the department, it would be a good idea to get the alumni to come together. She also said that organizing this event was not part of her job but she wanted to do it.

Recently, I have been wondering what motivates a person to do something that is not part of his/ her job scope? Is it part of a strategy to gain visibility? Or is it part of the legacy that one wishes to leave? Or is it simply out of goodwill? What does she want to get out of it?

When I examine my own motivations for going the extra mile both in the personal and professional settings, I find that I am motivated to do so because of the story that I want to write and the legacy that I wish to leave. Self-development is something very important to me and I am looking for ways to challenge myself, to learn new things, to put myself out there and to simply have a great time. Just like what I told D 2 years ago, I “just take the chance when it swings by and go with my feelings” and “weighing the pros against cons is not my style”. I don’t know if I need a better decision-making matrix but so far, I seem to be moving forward at a reasonable pace.

I can’t control how others may perceive me or what they think of my motivations but I must be sure about my own motivations. I should not allow external factors to influence what I think about my own motivations. It’s a great story so far, keep it rolling.

#83 the animals in the farm

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” – George Orwell, Animal Farm

I have been thinking about the concept of fairness lately. In an organization, leaders may proclaim that they are fair, in other words “all animals are equal”. They may say no one member is more important than another and everyone is treated with respect and dignity. They may say it is impossible for work to be divided equally due to the nature of the job but what has been done is that roles and responsibilities are delegated fairly in the best possible way.

But fairness is neither just a concept nor just a lofty ideal; fairness is implementation. In order to claim that you are fair, you must show that you are fair. And the opposite of fairness is biased and privileged treatment and favoritism. Yes, I agree that people are different and they have different capabilities and aspirations. However, there must be a certain expectation that every member of the community is expected to fulfill. Expectations cannot differ from person to person.

The issue that I have here is not about unfairness. In certain organizations and societies, unfairness is the norm – some people are simply entitled to more because of who they are. For example, in China, people whose families have powerful connections find it easier to find a job with good prospects as compared to the others. What I find problematic is that some organizations and societies claim to be fair but they are actually very unfair. And because they feel that they are fair and that they have always been fair, they become very defensive when people accuse them of unfair treatment. “We do this for everyone as every member in the team is of equal value,” they often claimed. But the problem is that the actions do not reflect the values and there is a discrepancy between the intentions and actions.

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others. The qualifier, or the considerations that give rise to privileges, is unspoken on paper but often talked about among members of the community. If this is the reality of the situation, then members of the community are left with two obvious options: 1) you find a way to acquire the privileges and join the ranks or 2) you find a way to fight for fairness in the community. How will you choose? What kind of person do you choose to be? What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind in this community?

#82 the anatomy of trust

Recently, I read Brene Brown’s new book called “Braving the Wilderness”. In the book, she discussed about “common enemy intimacy” and why the friends whom we gossip with are not our true friends. She acknowledged that it is easy and convenient to fall into the pattern of talking bad about someone or something in common just in order to hotwire a connection. Although such actions bring people closer together, she argued that such connections are superficial and short-lasting.

I get what she is trying to say. Sometimes we are looking for things in common to talk about so as to establish relationships in a new environment. There are topics that are readily available – the common experiences, the people whom we know, the e-mail circulars, the whatsapp chats etc. It is easy to get together to discuss, to read between the lines and analyze the information that we have in common. It is also easy to share or over-share information that is not yours to share in order to “win trust” and “fit in” with the group.  When scrapped of all these information, will you continue to stay connected to these people? Or do you only bond with them in this environment? Will you stand up for these “friends” in times of conflict? How much are these friendships based on “common enemy intimacy” worth?

Brene Brown also brought up a very interesting point in her book. Today the world is increasingly polarized and we find ourselves only hearing echoes of our opinions. Even though we are only hearing echoes of our opinions within our factions, people are not really connected to one another in the factions – people are lonely even among the like-minded folks. Why so?

I guess it goes down to the social glue – what binds people together. If relationships are built based on common enemy intimacy and the idea is that you are either on our side or on their side, connections are fragile and superficial. Maybe someone has something insightful to contribute to the group but he/ she is afraid to be the dissenting voice. We fear losing the sense of belonging no matter how superficial that is because to belong somewhere seems like a better option than to belong nowhere. An environment where most relationships are cemented based on common enemy intimacy is hostile and unsafe and that is certainly not where I want to be. That is certainly not where I can grow as a person.

I am not sure how possible it is but I don’t want to build relationships based on common enemy intimacy. Maybe I cannot change the bigger environment but it may be possible for me to build a micro-environment that is safer and friendlier. I want to establish connections to another human being by being genuine and by caring for his/ her well-being. Is it possible to do so in a workplace setting?

faces and places (Jul – Sep ’17)

” Things get broken and sometimes they get repaired, and in most cases, you realize that no matter what gets damaged, life rearranges itself to compensate for your loss, sometimes wonderfully.” – Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life

One year ago, this was a very difficult time for me. There were moments when I could not see beyond my circumstances. There were also moments when I felt that there was little joy and meaning in what I was doing. One year later, I will not say that things are all good and rosy but with Mervin as a constant in my life, I feel like I could ride out any storm that comes my way. In the last three months, we did a lot of things together. We have both met the families, we have shown up as a couple at “official” events and we have travelled together. He was also there when I needed a listening ear and he have been supportive of my job, decisions that I make and my priorities in life. He is attentive, easy-going and indulging. I am so glad to have found him and I look forward to many more adventures ahead!

On the work front, many things have happened.  I have also learnt a lot about teaching practical lessons and carrying out the various non-teaching duties that are essential for the smooth operations in a school. I have learnt to remind myself to do what is required of me and to be less bothered about what people may think of me. I hope that despite the circumstances, I can remain true to myself, be confident of who I am and stay passionate about my job. It does not have to be a big fire of passion but as long as there is something burning, I am cool with it. My job does not entirely define me; my job is simply a part of my identity. Believe in yourself kid, you got this.

03/07/17

I went to Timbre+ with Mervin on a Friday night and that was one of the best nights out that I had in Singapore. I love the vibes of the place, it was casual and relaxing. That was also the night when we celebrated Mervin’s birthday in advance. We had fried food with Norwegian cider and local beer while watching the live performance by a band. I remember the calamansi beer tasted rather funny and we had a good laugh about it. It was also the first time I heard Despacito and I quickly became addicted to the song. We tried to request for “Something Just Like This” by Coldplay but the band did not pick our song. Oh well, there will be a next time!

06/07/17

July 2017 was an important milestone for me because that was when I became a full-fledged teacher. On the day of the convocation, Mervin met my family for the first time. That day marks the start of new beginnings and adventures. As I have said to a friend on that day, I am now stepping into the territory of unknowns – I have no idea what lies ahead and I have no idea what is the standard operating protocol (SOP) in many things. But I hope that with a determination to stay true to myself and ample support from the amazing people in my life, I will grow up to become a responsible, reasonable, thinking and loving adult who is able to sincerely teach, nurture and mentor young minds. I also hope that when things get challenging in the days to come and I feel like giving up, I will look back on this day when everything seems possible and regain my strength. In theory, I want to do this and that but in practice, I am very far from what I want to do and where I want to be. What exactly is stopping me from doing what I want to be and believe in what I am doing? Is it the environment or is it just me?

29/07/17

On this day, Mervin and I visited the National Gallery to see the Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition. It was his first time in the National Gallery. I am really happy that he is willing to do things that he usually won’t do for me. 🙂 We attempted to study her art pieces and take some nice photos while we were there. We went on a Sunday so there were too many people and the lines were horribly long. In comparison to her exhibition that I saw in Helsinki in Dec 16, the exhibition in Singapore lacks information about the artist. That was rather disappointing because people come to take Instagram-worthy photos but they don’t know who the artist is, why she does what she does and what makes her special. The exhibition in Helsinki was comparatively a lot better and more informative and I gained some understanding of Yayoi Kusama through that exhibition. Through the information provided in National Gallery, we could only gather that she is an artist who likes polka dots and is rather eccentric. However, it was not clearly articulated that she was suffering from mental illnesses and painting was her way of running away from her hallucinations, or in her words, obliterating herself.

06/08/17

Mervin and I quite enjoy the outdoors so we have been hanging out in the nature reserves and parks on some weekends. Together, we have been to the Treetop Walk, Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Kranji Countryside and I look forward to exploring more places together. I have not been to the Treetop Walk since I was in Secondary School and it was nice to see that a lot has changed. It was also nice to see that there are many Singaporeans who also enjoy spending the weekends closer to nature.

09/08/17

My aunt managed to get NDP tickets for us so Mervin and I went to watch NDP 2017 with two of my aunts and my uncle. It was quite a nice hangout before and after NDP and it was nice to see that they got along very well with him and they even invited him to my nephew’s baby shower for the coming weekend. This is an unknown territory for both of us but I hope that with enough love for each other and sufficient communication, we can have an adventure together. NDP 2017 was quite nice, I especially enjoyed the performance put up by the drones and, of course, the fireworks. Here is a happy picture of all 5 of us.

27/08/17

We went to celebrate Mervin’s sister’s birthday one Saturday at Sushi Tei at West Coast Plaza. It is interesting to think that they have become familiar faces over the course of 2 months. Things are moving quite fast for the both of us. The food was good, we had plenty of sashimi and sushi. We bought cakes to surprise Anger and she seemed to have a good time that evening. 🙂

03/09/17

Over the long weekend in September, Mervin and I flew to Surabaya. We spent very little time in Surabaya and we spent most of our time in the countryside. Marman and Ahmad came all the way from Yogyakarta to guide us for 3 days. It was an intense but fulfilling trip with plenty of adventures. On the first night,  we woke up at 11 pm and we went to climb the Ijen Crater at 1.30 am. It was my first night hike and it was quite an interesting experience climbing alongside so many more people. The blue fire was quite a sight and the overpowering smell of sulfur was real. On that day, we also visited the Madakaripura Waterfall and it was quite an adventure to get there. Our driver got a bit lost, then when we were there, we had to take a motorcycle ride, cross the river in slippers, walk under waterfalls and climb on slippery rocks before we got to the waterfall. The sight was simply majestic and gorgeous and it reminded me about how small humans are through the lens of Mother Nature.

On the next day, we woke up at 230 am and went to watch the sunrise over Mount Bromo. Here is a happy picture of us at the sunrise spot. After that, we took a jeep, then rode a horse and climbed the steps to see the crater of Mount Bromo. I never knew that the crater was so loud and it sounded as though a fighter jet was right over our heads. After visiting Mount Bromo, we went to Prigen Safari which was an interesting experience as our car just drove into the safari and the wildlife, including the lions, were free to roam around in the safari. I wonder how they stop the lions from eating the zebras. The zebras were among the most aggressive and they came very close to the cars in an attempt to be fed carrots. After that, we went for a nice Javanese massage and it was also interesting to experience a communication barrier with the masseur. But I am glad it all worked out fine.

He is a spontaneous, easy-going and caring travel companion. Can’t wait for our next trip together. ❤

18/09/17

My brother left for his Masters programme on a Monday evening. We went to send him off at the airport and I remember I was so tired that day. Even though sometimes he says/ does things that sort of annoys me, he is still my precious kid brother. I hope he will have a fruitful and enjoyable postgraduate experience in London. Till we meet again in December. 🙂

21/09/17

I attended two Chemistry-related courses in September. It is always nice to catch up with the fellow Beginning Teachers and hear about their eventful school experiences. It is hard for me to comment on the sharing. On one hand, I find the sharing very interesting and I will very much like to have such interesting and thought-provoking lessons. But there are time constraints and other considerations (e.g. priorities in a classroom). I also sometimes wonder if such projects are contrived. Nonetheless, I think that it is important as a fraternity to continue to experiment with teaching methods and strive to diversify the learning experience for our students. In doing so, we also become better and more skillful educators ourselves. Hopefully in the near future, one of us will be sharing our innovative teaching practices within the teaching community.