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this season: simplicity

This Christmas, I keep finding myself returning to the word: Simplicity. So that led me to the work of Leo Babauta – one of the world’s top 25 bloggers and his latest e-book offering, ‘focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction‘. I haven’t finished reading it yet but so far, these are what resonated with me:

  • It’s not that ‘less is more’, but ‘less is better‘.
  • We’ve come into this Age (of Distraction) without being aware that it was happening, or realizing its consequences…while the opportunities offered by the online world are a good thing, the constant distractions, the increasingly urgent pull on our attention, the stress of multitasking at an ever-finer granular level, the erosion of our free time and our ability to live with a modicum of peace…perhaps we didn’t realize how much this would change our lives.
  • Because we’ve created a new lifestyle very rapidly, and I am not sure we’re prepared for it. We don’t have new strategies for dealing with being connected most of the time,we don’t have any cultural norms, nor have we figured out if this is the best way to live life. We’ve been plunged into it, before we could develop a system for handling it.
  • Being connected all the time, being part of this constant stream of distraction, is an expectation that society now has of us. And going against that expectation is immensely difficult for many people – it requires courage…How did this happen? When did we opt-in to be a part of this? There was never a time when we agreed to these expectations, but they’ve evolved rapidly over the last decade or so, and now it’s hard to get out.
  • It’s not technology we should be afraid of. It’s a life where we’re always connected, always interrupted, always distracted, always bombarded with information and requests. It’s a life where we have no time to create, or connect with real people.

My own thoughts? Guilty as charged. I too have fallen prey at times to the constant need of staying connected and the need to keep up with what’s happening ‘out there in the real world’. Yes, that can be exhausting sometimes.

I also know I am not alone in this. Even though I run the risk of generalizing here (and I do acknowledge that is NOT always the case) I’ve observed that especially in our Singaporean friends when they are here for a visit. Even while on holidays, many would often bring along their laptops to check their emails (so that they won’t be inundated with emails when they return home) or they would be constantly checking their mobile for text messages or missed calls or going online etc. Or they would be feeling guilty for being away for work. So they are on holidays but obviously, part of them remained behind with all their work, ministry or personal commitment. And I wonder how many of those expectations are self-imposed.

Perhaps we all need to learn: i am not indispensable. the world can and does revolve without me. take a step back so others can step in and do the job. i don’t have to be there always. it is ok to be ‘un-contactable’ sometimes. being can be more enjoyable than doing. i don’t have to know what my friends are doing all the time. nothing beats a  face-to-face conversation, a hug and a hand-written note, anytime.

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this moves me…

Things have been pretty rough at home here and with the family back in Singapore. Then I read this news and teared. Perhaps it’s time for me to be reminded that just having life itself is the best gift one can ever ask for sometimes.

a tale of two cars

Remember the hailstorm that hit Western Australia recently? On March 22, we were holidaying in Phuket when we heard the news on CNN but didn’t really think much of it then. After all, Western Australia is a big state and Perth is just a city within it. The reality only hit us when we were trying to confirm our pick up arrangement with Mish when we fly home from Singapore and received this message from her on Facebook:

“We had a MAJOR hail storm last night. Golf-ball sized hail for 15 minutes. The front windscreen on your car is damaged–not broken–luckily. There are dents on your bonnet and damage to the plastic trimming on the outside of your car.

I will keep you posted. Hope that you’re having a good vacation. Further, at this point, there’s no way that I can pick you up from the airport with your current car. So, you’ll need to get a taxi or have another friend pick you up. I could see if I could borrow someone’s car. Let me know what you’d like me to do.”

Here’s how my car looked like after the hailstorm:


And so we had the windscreen replaced last Saturday. Most car repair companies have a long queue after the storm as there were literally heaps of cars waiting to be fixed in one way or another. Thankfully, I knew a student whose father owned a car repair shop and managed to get a good deal and prompt service.

On a brighter note, here’s CS with his brand new nifty Hyundai Getz he’d bought to embark on his new career as a driving instructor. It’s going to be exciting!




An apple a day keeps the doctor away? This better be true if you are living in…

Can you imagine living in a country where if you are admitted to the hospital, the first thing they do is call your medical insurance company to see if they would cover whatever expenses you will incur?

Or losing your baby girl because the nearest hospital you drove her to wouldn’t treat her because they were told by your medical insurance company that since they are not part of their network of hospitals, the hospital will not be paid any medical costs at all. Consequently, your baby girl died when she was finally treated in the ‘approved’ hospital under the medical insurance scheme.

Or having to pay USD200 for an inhaler when it’s being sold for USD0.05 (yes, you read it right) in Cuba?

Or being denied medical treatment recommended by your doctor because your insurance company won’t pay for it on the premise that it is ‘experimental’ or ‘unnecessary’?

Or being bundled up in a cab (still in your hospital gown) and dropped off at a homeless shelter because you couldn’t afford the hospital bills? As if you were just some piece of garbage to be disposed of?

Or becoming bankrupt in your 50s from huge medical bills (even though you are insured) because your husband have had heart attacks and you were diagnosed with cancer? And so you ended up having to sell your house to pay the bills and move in with your grown-up children in their home…

Fact or fiction? Unfortunately, the above are all real-life stories hailing from the Land of the Free – The United States of America where believe it or not, universal healthcare is a myth.

Last night, we were left astounded after watching Michael Moore‘s ‘Sicko‘. And I finally understood why my colleague Mish the gentle giant from America is determined to never return to her home country until universal healthcare plan is established for every American. So grateful that we are covered under some form of universal healthcare scheme where we are now and where we came from.

a father’s letter to his daughters

I came across this while news-surfing today. It’s Obama Barack’s letter to his daughters explaining why he ran for the presidential office.

‘What I Want for You — and Every Child in America’
By President-elect Barack Obama
Publication Date: 01/14/2009

Dear Malia and Sasha,

I know that you’ve both had a lot of fun these last two years on the campaign trail, going to picnics and parades and state fairs, eating all sorts of junk food your mother and I probably shouldn’t have let you have. But I also know that it hasn’t always been easy for you and Mom, and that as excited as you both are about that new puppy, it doesn’t make up for all the time we’ve been apart. I know how much I’ve missed these past two years, and today I want to tell you a little more about why I decided to take our family on this journey.

When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me-about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn’t seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.

I want all our children to go to schools worthy of their potential-schools that challenge them, inspire them, and instill in them a sense of wonder about the world around them. I want them to have the chance to go to college-even if their parents aren’t rich. And I want them to get good jobs: jobs that pay well and give them benefits like health care, jobs that let them spend time with their own kids and retire with dignity.

I want us to push the boundaries of discovery so that you’ll live to see new technologies and inventions that improve our lives and make our planet cleaner and safer. And I want us to push our own human boundaries to reach beyond the divides of race and region, gender and religion that keep us from seeing the best in each other.

Sometimes we have to send our young men and women into war and other dangerous situations to protect our country-but when we do, I want to make sure that it is only for a very good reason, that we try our best to settle our differences with others peacefully, and that we do everything possible to keep our servicemen and women safe. And I want every child to understand that the blessings these brave Americans fight for are not free-that with the great privilege of being a citizen of this nation comes great responsibility.

That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something.

She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better-and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It’s a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be.

I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much-although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.

These are the things I want for you-to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure.

I am so proud of both of you. I love you more than you can ever know. And I am grateful every day for your patience, poise, grace, and humor as we prepare to start our new life together in the White House.

Love, Dad

week in our life: 05.11.08 (Wed)

Barack Obama is officially the 44th President of the United States. A political unknown until four years ago, who would have thought this man could, one day, become one of the most powerful world leaders? Today, America took a giant leap in the pages of history. Can you imagine being one of Obama’s daughters and watching your Daddy from the sidelines win this insurmountable task of running for presidency when no one else has succeeded before? What a powerful message of courage!

I am reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words in 1963:

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!”

Today, that dream has become reality.

week in our life: friday photos + words

The blooming roses outside E’s office (photo background) are such beautiful evidence of spring…

This entire week, a student club on campus had been raising awareness of the ‘anti-poverty week’ through a series of activities. One such activity was a nightly ‘sleepout’ where everyone is encouraged to put themselves in the position of a homeless person by sleeping on campus. The above photo is the scene this morning – final sleepout of the entire week.

I participated in the sleepout last night. Admittedly, my initial intention was to support the students rather than the cause; secondly, I was curious to try sleeping out in the open. However, at the end of my ‘homeless’ experience, I walked away with a precious insight…

It dawned upon me that Jesus (gasp!) was a homeless person too…In fact, he once said of himself ‘foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head’ (Matt 8: 20). Jesus became homeless when he began his ministry in the last three years of his life. Did he ever miss the comfort of his home; the warmth of his bed? Did he ever have to sleep in the open with his disciples when there weren’t any homes available in a town they visited? I am sure he did; thus the above statement he made. I could imagine there must be times when Jesus was weary from his constant travelling and was homesick. Yet, that human longing never stood in the way of him going to the cross for our sins. Yes, Jesus was homeless for my sake and your sake…

Once again, I am floored by my Savior’s love for me.


found!

For those who used to visit us, you would know about our Malay neighbours and their 3 beautiful cats – mother (Fifi), son (Koko aka the ‘bouncer’ cos of his massive size) and daughter (Kola aka the ‘manja’ one who enjoys a good scratch or two).

Ever since we lived there, it was a usual sight to see the cats lying outside their house when we were back from work. Sometimes, Koko and Kola would follow us inside once we opened the door and wandered around our house. And once they were done ‘exploring’, they would lie quietly beside the door to be let back out again. They became our pseudo-pets since we never got down to having our own dog except when we found Suzy the stray 3 months before we left for Perth.

Four years ago, Kola disappeared and despite search efforts by the family, she was never found. Days turned into months and soon it became apparent that we would never see her again.

CS was online the night before when our former Malay neighbour shared with him a great piece of news: Kola had been found! We still do not have the full details of where and how she was found but it was good enough to know that Kola is found! We can imagine how everyone back home must be overjoyed! To be reunited after missing for four years…Shariza, thanks for sharing the news with us! And please let your Dad know that we are so happy that Kola’s back and send him our regards. Now we can’t wait to see Kola in our next trip back.

last cups brewing…

Starbucks to close 61 Australian stores

[From Yahoo news] “International coffee chain Starbucks will close 61 Australian stores within days, shedding 685 jobs as part of a strategy to slash underperforming outlets and boost profits.

Twenty-three stores will remain open in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney and surrounding areas after the closures this Sunday, an official statement from the company said.

Starbucks opened its first Australian store in Sydney’s Hyde Park in July 2000. It currently has 85 outlets nationally, including in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, South Australia and Tasmania.”

Faithful readers of this blog will know by now that I (E) am a Starbucks fan. It was never about the coffee though lest you coffee connoisseurs go tsk tsk on me.

You see, I love Starbucks for the memories it evokes in me whenever I stepped into one of their ubiquitous outlets. I think of the guy who got me started on this love affair with Starbucks – Doug Frederick, a fiercely patriotic Canadian whose only weakness for anything American is Starbucks coffee; a great youth pastor whom I had the privilege of sharing many great lunch conversations at Starbucks Liat Towers. I think of Becky, now missionary to Japan, who I had no qualms of asking her out for a drink @Starbucks, no matter how late it was. I think of the ‘usual suspects’ who often asked us to bring them to Starbucks @Changi Airport so that we could hang out all night. And of course, I think of the life-changing moment @Starbucks City Hall where the love of my life re-appeared hours later we departed from there because I had prayed that ‘God, if he’s really the one, let him come back’; and so the courtship began and still continues to this day.

So I am sad at this latest news of Starbucks Australia and suppose my wish of a Starbucks Perth is unlikely to come true in the near future. Undeterred, I shall wait in hope.

P/S: Thanks for the Paris Starbucks mug, Yan.

Beyond Appearances

Honestly, I had the ‘Simon Cowell’ look when I first saw Paul Potts: oh no, another ‘William Hung’ in the making?! And I thought the judges were going to have such a good time blasting him afterwards. Little did I know; narrow was my perception.

When he opened his mouth to sing, I vividly remembered having goosebumps almost instantaneously. I hardly understood a word he sang except that it was an oft-heard opera tune. But the passion he exuded was palpable; the feelings he emoted were raw. I was awestruck, dumbfounded but most of all, ashamed. For I had judged too quickly by outward appearances and thus, dismissed him away too quickly as well. He had me in tears by the time he finished. [Note: By the way, Paul went on to win “British Got Talent 2006”, sang for the Queen, and recently released his first album “One Chance”.]

And he set me thinking. How many ‘Paul Potts’ have I dismissed away in my life? Simply because they didn’t measure up to my standards; fit into my mould; live up to my pre-conceived ideas; have impressive credentials etc.

Contrast that with God’s perspective. “The Lord said to Samuel:’Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him.The Lord doesn’t make decisions the way you do! People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at a person’s thoughts and intentions.'” (1 Sam 16: 7)

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