Friday, February 19, 2016

39 random lessons in 39 years

Here are some random life lessons I've learned before hitting the big four-zero. Readers are strongly encouraged to share their agreement or disagreement of them.
  1. Wealth and education don’t buy you class and human decency. A good role model or mentor does.
  2. Love doesn’t conquer all. Respect and compassion do.
  3. If there is one skill you need to master, let it be communication. It’ll get you through many life’s challenges.
  4. Do not advertise how much work you’ve been doing. There are others who are as hard working, if not more. They just don’t say it.
  5. Do not boast about how much you have contributed to society because there are many who have done more without turning it into a Nobel Peace Prize nomination speech.
  6. Do not publicise how much someone owes you. It is utterly distasteful.
  7. Let other people sing your praises. The tune is nicer and it sounds better.
  8. Activists can be the most narcissistic people in the world. Many don’t do it out of altruism but because it makes them look good. You’ll know when they can’t resist publicising their deeds, often in subtle manners.
  9. Do not let your guard down whenever you’re with your boss. Remember, you’re being evaluated at all time.
  10. Losing your virginity before marriage is not the biggest deal. Neither is infidelity. There are far more important things in life to worry about.
  11. Obtaining a higher education is optional. It doesn’t teach you about life and moral.
  12. Practise your religion not out of fear or societal pressure, but out of conviction.
  13. If you haven’t smoked yet, do not start. It is a stupid addiction that only benefits the tobacco companies and the rest of the institutions affiliated to making them thrive.
  14. Do not make others look bad so that you can turn out to be the hero.
  15. Keep your promises. Your credibility depends on it.
  16. Every family has a dark story. Yours is not unique.
  17. No matter how high you’ve climbed, stay grounded. Humility is a virtue that will earn you more respect.
  18. Respect all member of the working class. No one will miss you if you go on strike but they will if the garbage collectors do. Teach that to your children.
  19. Beware of those who talk a lot. Action speaks louder than words.
  20. Not everyone wants to hear the truth. Some truths are better left untold.
  21. Just because someone isn’t friendly to you, it doesn’t mean they don’t like you.
  22. You don’t own anyone, not your girl/boyfriend, spouse or children. Every human being should be free.
  23. Marry someone who understands and respects your individuality. You’ll know if the person allows you to speak your mind and have your space.
  24. Nothing is too silly to learn. Learn as much as possible. All the little skill you think you’re too good for will lead you closer to independence and empowerment.
  25. Don’t bother asking what romantic love is. You’ll never really know and you’ll still be asking after you thought you’ve found it.
  26. Being feminine does not make you a lesser feminist. It just makes you a pretty damn sexy one.
  27. The greatest thing you can give your children is their independence. Don’t mollycoddle them. Let them learn and take responsibility for their mistakes. You won’t be there to protect them forever.
  28. Help your family and closest friends first before you help others. Otherwise, you’re just a hypocrite.
  29. Getting old is a bitch and you never know when it’s going to bite you. Use sun screen and anti-ageing products even before you think you need them. Oh, and eat well and exercise, exercise, exercise.
  30. Never give up on a chance to travel when you can. You may never have that chance again.
  31. Smile a lot. It will get you out of many ugly situations.
  32. Have a brutally honest discussion with your potential spouse. Having children, fidelity, religion, finance and care plan for your parents are at the top of the list.
  33. Learn to say no and teach your children to respect that.
  34. People cheat for many reasons. Often, it’s not because they want to hurt you.
  35. Having strong principles is good, but having wisdom is better.
  36. Don’t be too eager to bad-mouth someone. You never know what the person you speak to will do with the information, or think about you.
  37. The wild animals you see at the zoo, circus or performance show are being taken away from their natural habitat, held in captivity, and used for our entertainment. Stay away from them.
  38. When in an emergency situation, check whether there are any security threat to you first before going to someone’s aid. You’re no good to anyone if you’re injured yourself. They teach you this in first aid.
  39. Private hospitals are not better than public. They only seem better because most people you know do not seek treatment in public hospitals.
This was first published here

Who is your moral compass?

Many believe humans are born essentially good. I, on the other hand, believe otherwise because if this were indeed true, the notion of religion would have been unsuccessful and laws, unnecessary.
Religions such as Islam and Christianity purportedly came about because God, sickened by the mess created by human beings, sent His messengers to propagate values to make us better.
Laws on the other hand, were created by societies inhabited by flawed human beings to regulate our behaviour towards one another.
Unsurprisingly, a few hands were raised, some of which belonged to decent-looking men who will one day defend justice.
Whether we call it religion or law, we can agree that some sort of a moral compass is needed to help us make daily ethical decisions and actions.
As society evolves, we entrust different institutions and bodies to be our moral compass, knowing that in the absence of them, society will become chaotic or despotic.
We elect or select individuals who distinguished themselves for their outstanding character and moral standing to work for these institutions, hoping that they will do the right thing in the face of wrong.
Governments, judges, law-makers, teachers, parents, journalists, religious institutions, and civil society are some of the moral compasses in a civilised state.
The sole purpose for their existence is to preserve the dignity and integrity of human beings, to ensure the betterment of our society. Nothing else.
Perhaps the ones carrying the heaviest responsibility as a moral compass are parents and teachers because they tend to be a child’s main person of contact in the latter’s formative years.
My curiosity of what teachers are teaching in Malaysia led me to look at Moral Education taught in public schools.
The Education Ministry sums moral up in 36 values. Many of the values are extremely good but they become problematic and superficial due to its simplistic understanding and application in Malaysia’s complex reality today.
Here are some examples.
Believe in God is number one on the list of values. All well and good if you believe in a God but if you don’t, does that mean you are immoral?
What good would it be if I believe in God, but I steal from the poor to become rich?
Let’s look at family values; love and respect thy family. How do you think most families would react to having a homosexual or transgender child?
Are they still expected to love and respect the child for who they are? It seems not because Moral Education teaches young Malaysians that they should accept, respect and practise their family traditions and beliefs that have been inherited from one generation to another.
So if a family views homosexuality as going against tradition, homosexual Malaysians should live a lie and suffer in silence in order to uphold moral.
It seems that our Moral Education would have us believe that maintaining family image is a duty far more important than showing love and compassion to our family members.
Another value speaks of patriotism, explained as love, loyalty, pride and obedience towards our King and country. It goes as far to say that we should do everything, including giving up our lives to serve our country.
I do love my country and I will do everything I possibly can to make it a better place. But in reality, the moment I say anything remotely critical of how it is being ruled, I am perceived as unpatriotic because in our national context, patriotisms means blind love.
Kudos to the Ministry of Education for teaching human rights and democracy in Moral Education.
For the former, only children, women, worker, person with disability and consumer’s rights are highlighted while senior citizens, indigenous people, minorities and other marginalised groups of people are rarely touched upon.
Fundamental values such as non-discrimination and equality are only taught at the surface without genuine interest in promoting real understanding of what it means to be fair and equal.
The chapter on democracy speaks of respect for the rule of law and fundamental liberties such as freedom of expression, religion and association which all came with the caveat that they should be practised within the law and constitution.
What happens when laws are made and upheld by bad people?
When we look at the Moral Education syllabus holistically, we will notice that it scratches only the surface of what it truly means to have moral.
My problem with this is not its simplicity because simplicity often serves as a good baseline for further critical discussion.
The real problem is how Moral Education is being taught and how it does not really provide a sincere space for dissenting views, particularly for those who may not conform to the expected norms of our society.
Unsurprisingly, the curriculum has already attracted outrage from certain quarters of the community, accusing it to be useless as they are taught through rote-learning, rather than critical thinking.
Now we have a glimpse of what children are taught in schools, it is not surprising that we are in the mess that we are today.
It seems our nation’s morals are judged and measured by dogmatic and authoritarian views, one which focuses more on obedience, duty and loyalty rather than by the number of moral compasses we have; people who will stand up for what is right and fair even when it is difficult, frightening and unpopular.
For those who ask what is right and fair, and who decides, please look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There lies some of your answers.
A fundamental question this nation needs to ask today is, “Who is our moral compass?”
And more importantly, who, amongst us, will dare to stand up and answer, “Me!”? 

This article was first published here.

Nine reasons why you should travel solo

When Mom knew I was travelling solo to Phuket for two weeks, she immediately thought my marriage was on the rocks. She gave me a bewildered look when I reassured her that I just wanted some time on my own. After about a minute of silence, she finally said, “I still don’t understand what’s going on.”
I rolled my eyes and gave her the something-your-generation-would-never-understand look, and hoped she would leave it at that. Luckily, knowing too well her disapproval has often escaped me, she didn’t pursue further.
Mom wasn’t the only one who found it odd that someone should choose to travel alone. While in Phuket, I received puzzled looks from the hotel receptionist to the taxi driver, when they discovered I was alone.
A tour guide felt sorry for me when I had to take a photo imposed by the tour company, while everyone else was accompanied by their spouses, children or friends, that he kindly offered to stand by my side despite my polite protest. I now possess an over-priced photo of me and a stranger.
Travelling solo can make you feel extremely self-conscious, because you are convinced that everyone else thinks you’re a loser. I am not sure that is quite true anymore.  There was a woman who spent five minutes cajoling her two infant daughters, who had decided to throw a tantrum of epic proportion into silence, while I looked at them with amusement. Embarrassed, she turned to me and said, “Look what I have to put up with.”  Another man grudgingly complained about his teenage children, who apparently love leaving things behind, for him to pick up at every single holiday destination.
My friend, Lim, spent three years backpacking solo across the world. She recalled a life-changing incident, while hitch-hiking in Sivas, a city in central Turkey. Determined not to spend any money on transportation and accommodation, she fashioned a tent out of cardboard at a community garden during nightfall. What was presumably an illegal act had inevitably caught the attention of onlookers. But after finding out that she had no money and was leaving first thing in the morning, they left her.  Minutes later, a family came and offered her shelter in their home.
Just as they were leaving the garden, the police came after being tipped off by a local. The family stopped her from being arrested, by claiming responsibility for her. They fed her and took her to a wedding the next day.
When asked what the best thing about travelling solo was, Lim answered, “Restoring my faith in humanity.”
Not many of us will be lucky enough to experience what Lim had in Sivas, but for me, travelling solo has forced me to become a better version of myself.
Here are nine achievable reasons why you should travel solo. You’ll see that many of the reasons are inter-connected but for the purpose of clarity, I have separated them.
1.            You learn to swallow more than just salt water at the beach
If you are arrogant about your independence and ability doing to do things on your own, travelling solo can teach you a thing or two about humility. There are times when you are forced to acknowledge that you can’t do it all, you’ll need help from others and this makes it a humbling experience.
When I was on a tour to Phi Phi Island, I learned to swallow my pride by asking a couple to allow me to park my bag beside theirs, as I didn’t want my valuables to be left unattended. Although the request was simple enough, it was difficult for me to ask because I felt like a total loser.
By doing this, I acknowledged I am not invincible and accepted that there will come a time, when I will be at the mercy of a stranger’s kindness and that would be perfectly fine.
2.            You discover that the only comfort zone you’re in is your cotton knickers
I have been quite happy with a stable job, a few close friends, a husband and two cats but it has made me lazy. Making conversations and exchanging pleasantries with anyone outside that niche, is an insurmountable task. I may be an introvert but I’ve also discovered that I have missed out on some potentially meaningful social opportunities out of sheer laziness.
Of course, it is easy and effortless to socialise with your close friends because they already know you and understand all the nuances that come from your single grunt, sigh or silence. But when it comes to new acquaintances, it is a different ball game. The longer I shun away from socialising with new people, the more my social skills have suffered.
When you travel solo, you’re forced to get out of your comfort zone. You find yourself having conversations with strangers because let’s face it, being alone in silence for a whole day can get pretty boring, no matter how much you love to be alone.
I had an enjoyable time chatting with a guy from Hong Kong on a scuba-diving trip, and my Thai canoe paddler when I was in Phuket recently. I must admit that it was a little difficult in the beginning, as I struggled to piece together a decent conversation but it got better once I got used to it. 
3.            You learn to economise and discover that money doesn’t buy you the best experience
Travelling solo can be expensive because there is no one to split the cost of your hotel room, transportation and food with. If you run out of money, you’re on your own.
On my fourth day in Phuket, I discovered that my cash was depleting dangerously fast and I still have ten more days to go. I quickly learned to economise by taking the local bus to get around instead of a taxi or “tuk-tuk”. Travelling like the locals also means I was subsequently forced to adopt the local temperament – patience, lots of it.
One day, I waited for close to an hour for a bus to Phuket town. While waiting, I had the pleasure of talking to a Scottish woman, who has been commuting between Glasgow and Phuket to visit his son in Phuket. I gained so much information about Phuket within that hour and in the end, when the bus arrived, I enjoyed another delightful hour of riding through interesting roads which I would have never experienced if I had taken a taxi.
4.            You slow down and enjoy being in the moment
Because you are alone, you are not answerable to anyone. You’re free to go wherever you want, and at whatever time you want. You don’t have a child who needs to rush to the restroom, in the middle of a cultural performance. You don’t have to leave the beach early because your husband is not fainting from the heat. Your best friend who gets cranky when everything is off-schedule, is left at home cursing you every single day you’re on holiday.
I really took the time exploring Phuket and it was such a welcoming change, from the hectic life in Kuala Lumpur. It was one of the most liberating moments I have felt in a long time.
5.            You welcome your inner-voice and wave goodbye to the gossiper in you
Working in a team and living with someone, can only mean you’re constantly surrounded by noises. There had been times when I felt there were too many noises in my life, which were clouding my thoughts and ability to listen to my inner-self. Travelling solo allows you to get rid of those noises, leaving you completely alone with your thoughts.
When I am with my girlfriends, we tend to gossip or make fun of strangers together. When I travel alone, I am forced to resist the temptation of saying something nasty about someone, else because there was no one there listening.
6.            You are amazed by the courage you never knew you had
Lim said that one of the best things about travelling solo is doing the things she would not normally do, when she is travelling with someone else. It is all about stretching that courage bank and crossing boundaries. She has been couch-surfing, hitch-hiking and camping throughout her journey, and she wouldn’t have done it if she were to travel with someone else.
7.            You find out whether being truly single is your thing
Spending two weeks alone can really give you a perspective, of how it feels like to be truly single. There’s no one to share that breath-taking sunset you saw at Phang Nga Bay, or the best tom yam goong you had.  You have no one to depend on when you’re sick, or rub sun block on your back.
If this is something you can live with when you’re fifty, and all your friends are too busy celebrating life with their families, you’re set to go. If not, you might want to re-evaluate that relationship phobia you always have.
8.            You realise your family and friends mean more to you than you care to admit
Travelling solo makes you appreciate your family and friends more. You never thought you would miss them until you’re without them. By my second week in Phuket, I began to wonder why I had felt the sudden urge, to get away from the people I love. Of course, I would never regret my decision to take that trip alone, because I wouldn’t have come to that realisation otherwise.
I know there will come a time when I will feel that urge again, and I will likely succumb to another solo trip because I know it’ll bring me to my final reason.
9.            It brings you closer to home. – April 23, 2015.

This article was first published here