The New year awaits

As February 8 approaches, there is a strange electricity in the air. For East Coasters, it’s the fact that a winter storm named Nemo is about to sweep in and leave devastation in its wake. But for me, there’s another meaning to this day: It’s the first day of Chinese New Year (or Lunar New Year).

Chinese New Year is like Christmas and Thanksgiving rolled into one. It’s celebrated by the Chinese and its associated diasporas, as well as people in most of East and Southeast Asia (in various forms).

It’s a period of family gatherings, visitations, kindness, renewal, gifts and forgiveness. Lasting approximately fifteen days, celebrations centre around food and celebrating prosperity. Families but new clothes and clean the house. Children receive money in red packets instead of gifts (a much better thing to give, in my opinion). The atmosphere is jovial even if it is a little over commercialised.

The most important part of the new year is that families return to their hometowns for a reunion dinner(s). Some of these families see each other once a year.

It’s been four years since I have been back for CNY. I attend an educational institution that does not recognise CNY as a holiday and plus home is almost 10000 miles away. Nonetheless, that doesn’t stop me from missing joviality that comes with CNY.

But now, I’m not so sad about CNY anymore. Because CNY is about celebrating and appreciating your family. My family is still back home, but that’s just one of them. Here in New York I’ve found my other family, one filled by friends who have seen me through thick and thin. That’s the kind of family you don’t get very often.

I’ve found my family, here. And I’m not so sad about CNY anymore.

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Home

What is home?

Home is where I build my life.

Home is where I leave a part of myself.

New York is home.

Malaysia is home.

Penang is home.

London is home.

Europe is home.

Bangkok is home.

Where isn’t home?

What isn’t home are places that make me feel uncomfortable, resentful, unhappy and unappreciated. Home isn’t a place where you feel judged, resented, and destroyed. That isn’t home. That’s hell. And that can be anywhere. It can be the place you “come from”, it can be a holiday destination, it can be a work place. It can be a room.

Home is important. It is somewhere you can go back to. Never let home become hell

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What I’m thankful for

As people around the world begin celebrating the New Year, it seems fitting to go through the many things I’ve been grateful for. But I’m writing this in November – because we shouldn’t have to wait till December to be grateful; and I’ve never done this exercise before. I’ve never publicly discuss what I’ve been grateful for. It always seems so contrite, but my recent move to [another] different city has made me reflect on the tremendous changes in my life.

First, I actually got into university. That’s something to celebrate, no? My high school education leading up to the university application process was tumultous, to say the least. There were too many choices, too little preparation, too little information and too much immaturity (and very bad grades. oops). I had applied to dozens of [different] programs, in almost five different countries.   Eventually I settled on going to a liberal arts college in New York. It wasn’t an easy choice (for me, or my family), but looking back, I don’t regret a moment of it.

The second (and third and fourth) are all as a result of my new life at college. In 2009, I moved from Penang – a small island city in Malaysia – to Bronxville, a suburb in the New York City Metro Area. If someone had told me in high school that I’d be moving to New York, I would have laughed – I was terrified of big cities and hated Tokyo when I last visited (and NYC’s like Tokyo, isn’t it?!). I took my first train into Manhattan and was stunned (or as stunned as a jaded college student could be). I had my “Hiro Nakamura Moment” in Times Square, my first view of the sun setting over Manhattan, and for that I am grateful.

If someone had told me in college that I would be at the United Nations, I would have called them mad. But in Spring 2010, NY-Model United Nations (MUN) hosted its closing assembly in the UN General Assembly room. We sat in the main hall, at the delegates’ desk, where so many diplomats had been before us. It was an amazing feeling, and I took it all in because I didn’t know when might be the next time I’ll be in the same room again. *Also, pressing the “vote” button was way too fun.

I was grateful back in early 2012 when I returned to the United Nations compound. This time, as a delegate of an actual UN conference. My measly brain couldn’t express how amazed I was when I first flashed my badge and made my way into the ECOSOC building. It went haywire when I found out I had stumbled onto an actual planning session for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. I sat behind the delegation of Singapore – what great irony. Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine this would happen.

In November, I was grateful for having friends who have showed me what courage truly is. It was also in November that I felt extremely grateful as I stood in Gringotts. =D

This year, Obama was re-elected President of the United States. We (non-US citizens) may not understand the impact of such an act, but let me assure you that the position of POTUS affects all of us. But the November elections weren’t just stunning in themselves. It was in this election that the United States elected the greatest number of women, minorities and LGBTQ Congress(wo)men. It was a great inspiration to watch. Even if it was just in the United States, the result was a re-kindling in my faith in humanity.

And now, I have made my second move in my life – to London. And the realisation to even write this came when I had completed my morning jog up Primrose Hill. The Hill is the highest natural point in London, rising almost 230 feet above sea level. From there, you can see all of London’s skyline, from Westminster Abbey to the Gherkin (The phallic-looking Lloyds’ Tower). There, I realised that I’ve always been quite the ungrateful child. I never knew how to take compliments, nor did I accept gifts and help very well [if at all]. There was always problems with me handling assistance from others. But standing on Primrose Hill, looking over London, I thought, ‘How did I get here?’

And getting “here” was not planned. It was not predicted. Most of it was just happenstance. And it is by no means a solo-act. It is by the efforts of my family and friends, mentors and professors. I honestly believe that our successes are as driven by the people around us as it is by our own efforts. And I am grateful for all that. But perhaps what I’m most grateful for are two things:

One – My experience so far has taught me a valuable lesson, which has been re-iterated to me by several people but never learnt until now: If success sits on the horizon, your goal is to go as far as you can see, because once you pass the horizon, you will be able to see even further, and go even further.

Two – Of the many things my parents tell me, my father’s primary message to my brother and I will always stay with me. He likes to say: “Life is a marathon. It is not a sprint. Life cannot be completed quickly. It takes it time. And therefore, you should live life like you would run a marathon”. Never been a very good marathon runner (we’re a sprinting sort of family), I took it as a message to pace myself, to take time to recognise when things are too much, to take the opportunities when they arise, without losing your eye on long-term sustainability. If you push yourself too hard, you’ll see that soon you’ll lose your ability to go further, and that’s when you become lost. And you really don’t want to get lost. He likes to use this message as a response to the intense pressures we felt as children (from other people) to constantly achieve (academically or otherwise) and hyper-specialise.

Three – A dear friend recently sent me an inspiring email. She reminded me about the importance of doing things you love and believe in. She reminded me that if you do what you love, if you try your best, you will be much happier in life, and you will further than you can imagine. She reminded me that things can get tough, but we have to remember our purpose in life. I’m not talking about that overwhelming purpose in life, but just the little things, the short term goals, the medium term reminders of why you do the things you do.

I’d like to think that Dad and friend got it right. So as we move from 2012 into 2013, I’d like to think that I’m still moving, that my life still has dynamism in it. But above all, I’m grateful for the fact that a kid like me, from a small Malaysian island, could have such incredible experiences. And I’m grateful that somewhere inside me, I still have the capacity to dream for a better future.

So here’s to another year, but more importantly, here’s to the rest of our lives.

P.s. look out for the next post – it’s going to be PHOTO-TASTIC

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A letter from Generation X to its Parents

This letter was inspired by an email I received titled “A letter from a Mother to a Daughter” and Jasryn’s blogpost (here) on parenting.

Dear parents,

I want you to know that I love you. Even if I don’t say it enough.

 

When I don’t listen to you, it’s not because I’m being obstinate. Sometimes I just have to make my own mistakes.

 

One day, I hope you will be able to accept that we’ve elected Barack Obama as our President. He may be Black, he may be a liberal, but I think he will lead the nation right.

 

When I have my own opinions, sometimes I’m wrong, but most times I remember that it was you who told me, “be yourself”.

 

One day, I hope you will be able to accept that women are equal to men in all aspects of life.

 

One day, I hope you will be able to accept that women should receive equal pay to men.

 

One day, I hope you will be able to accept marriage equality. Because my best friends are gay and I really want them to be happy.

 

If I sometimes seem ungrateful, I apologise. Sometimes I want too many things that I forget what really matters.

 

 When we disagree on fundamental issues, please remember that you sent me to receive an education for a reason: Human progress.

 

If I seem uncaring, please give me time. I promise you that I’ll find my way back.

 

If I seem distant, remember those times when I was a child where you hid painful information from me. I’m doing the same because I don’t want you to be disappointed or worry.

 

Sometimes you wonder why I think I’m perfect. But please know that I am my harshest critic.

 

When you think how my generation can be so lost, so consumed by distraction, please know that you were young once too. Even if you don’t remember it. We all make our own mistakes. Because that’s how we learn.

 

Eventually I will find my way home. And that’s when the cycle of life is complete.

 

You did the best job you knew how to do. And I am forever grateful for that.

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The Shock of Harry Potter

So perhaps the title is a little bit misleading. But I am in shock, and it has something to do with Harry Potter.

Just two hours ago, I attended a conference on gender and politics in central London. It was held at the Australia House (home of the *surprise surprise* Australian High Commission), opposite LSE. The building itself was imposing enough, with its large cast iron and gold gates, cold, imposing granite and marble floors, high ceilings, chandeliers, and Victorian drapes. Adding to the impressiveness and *slightly* intimidating facade of the House was the fact that the Exhibition Hall was occupied by parliamentarians from all over the world, overachieving students and successful men and women from politics and the like.

There was inspiration at every corner during the conference. A nice lady who introduced herself as a politician (nice politicians do exist) came to say hi and made me a very happy camper.

What’s a lowly undergrad even doing there? I’m still wondering about that myself. But that’s a story for another day. Or, if you know why, do share your thoughts with me.

But returning to the building. Remember I mentioned it was large and imposing? It was also cold. And I was slightly fearful of the chandeliers falling on me. Especially when it was my turn to get up on stage to deliver my presentation. Nonetheless. I return home, set myself loose on the internet and decided to google images of Australia House. What I found was this:

This is Gringotts.

The Exhibition Hall was home to Gringotts Wizarding Bank. From Harry Potter. *This photo has OBVIOUSLY been CGI-ed but you get my drift*

I was in Gringotts. I ate dinner there. I stood at the [slightly less elevated] podium where Griphook (was that his name?) took Harry Potter’s key.

The week could not have been crazier. Scratch that. This April I thought life could not have been crazier. But obviously I was wrong. These moments definitely make me treasure my life and opportunities so much more.

I’m still stunned. Maybe the effect will wear off tomorrow.

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Help! They’re coming for me!

Beware of Images (bewareofimages.com) created a poster poking fun at intolerance and the anti-LGTBQ sentiment.

Sometimes, discussing “controversial” issues becomes too difficult. But regardless of whether you agree or disagree about gay marriage or homosexuality (in the U.S. and around the world) – which many people do, on different grounds –  the first step is to recognise that queer people walk amongst us. They pay their taxes, they go to your schools, they pay for insurance. They shop, they eat, they vote. They breathe the same air, drive the same cars. They contribute to the economy, they build a future for their children. They are doctors, they are soldiers, they are politicians, they are students, they are your daughters and sons.

They are all human beings. Just like you. If you believe in equality, in democracy and human rights, then there is no reason to be homophobic. Can you detect you’re in the presence of someone queer? Not particularly. Can you feel your society crumbling before your eyes because of homosexuality? No. Does it hurt you physically to be around queers? No.

Bill Clinton (in his address to the Democratic National Convention 2012) made it very clear that discrimination hurts human growth. The way forward in any society is the development and investment of human capital. Discrimination and intolerance limits the number of people and innovators who can contribute to growth. Human capital is almost the single most important investment any corporate, community and governing body can make. Develop your human capital and see your society grow.

At this juncture, it doesn’t matter if you “like” or “understand” the LGBTQ community. Much like women’s rights, the right to be with who you love is a human right. And if you are decent human being, you should respect human rights. Homophobia (as a major issue) is the racism of the 2000s. Just as we eradicate racism on basis of human rights, we should eradicate homophobia on the fundamentals of human rights.

You don’t have to be gay, bisexual, lesbian, transexual or queer to respect the LGBTQ community. You just have to respect each person’s fundamental rights. You can be a Christian. You can be a Buddhist. You can be a Muslim. It doesn’t matter.

You just have to be a decent human being.

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