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This is the second day of the Chinese New Year. I have paid my respects to all my elders yesterday so today I am free. My older son, Caleb, was my driver for the day. I started the day with lots of money in my bag, and oranges, but ended somewhat poorer. You see, you actually put money into red packets ("angpows") and give them away at these visits. The oranges? Well, they are exchanged, so you may end up with more. But, it's alright. You do get to make some people very happy, not least of all, the children.
Traditionally, businesses usher in the new year with lion dances to the rousing beat of cymbals and drums. It is supposed to bring in good fortune and chase away bad luck. I was at Ngee Ann City this afternoon and saw the performance in the atrium, together with five floors of shoppers. The atmosphere was electric. In any other Asian country, there would have been firecrackers too, but not here. More than fifty years ago, a fire gutted a residential area and it was blamed on firecrackers. Since then, the government banned firecrackers! I am not complaining. It's quieter now.
In the Korean drama series oddly translated “Marry him if you dare”, Na Mirae travelled back thirty years from the future to that "fork in the road" point in her life when she had to pick between two suitors. She felt she had chosen the wrong man and is now back to change things. At some point in our lives, we have all wondered how things would have turned out if we had chosen differently. Our story is the result of our choices. I say, choose wisely, commit to your choice, then do all you can to make it work.
Can we turn life's little inconveniences into opportunities, opportunities to grow, to have faith and to trust? What if we lose (howbeit momentarily) our modern conveniences? Will we throw a fit and complain that it's not fair? What if, instead of grumbling about what we lack, we are instead thankful for what we have? We have little control over what happens to us, but we have almost full control over how we respond to our circumstances. Today, I refuse to be a victim of my circumstances. While I still have control over my thoughts and my feelings, I choose optimism.
Today is the first day of work for me after the Chinese New Year break. The conversation at work centres around the government's announcement in the media to cut subsidies to independent schools to - among other things - "level the playing field". Every school is a good school, they say. We should not "encourage elitism". Independent schools like ours are already getting the best students, so why should we also get the best facilities? In particular, we should not have air-conditioned classrooms. Huh? Do they know how hot it is in the afternoon? Those people work in air-conditioned offices!
Someone says the wisest people are not the ones with the most years in their lives, but the most life in their years. So how do we put the most life in our years? By making every moment count? Count for what? Maybe what Annie Dillard says about writing in The Writing Life is true about life: “spend it all, play it, lose it all, right away, every time... give it, give it all, give it now.” So what do we do about life? Pursue it. Hunt for it. Our goal is not to live long; it’s to live.
Eric Maisel, in “A Writer’s Space”, says the idea of space is not external but an internal construct. It’s not a just quiet room, but also “mental health”. “Writers are seeking a sane inner space as well as calm external space so we can start and maintain a steady output.” We all need to cultivate a calm, quiet interior space so that we can create from this space wherever we go, as it is always right inside us. This is the room that I must cultivate inside me, so that I can write even in a crowded place.
It's the seventh day of the Lunar New Year and I have pineapple tarts coming out of my ears. I caught bits of the winter Olympics opening ceremony at Socchi, the part where they lit the Olympic flame and the fireworks display thereafter. Despite the report of one of the five rings not happening as planned (which I didn't see on telly) I thought it was quite spectacular. That one glitch can be forgiven. It's part of being human that despite our best efforts, things can still go wrong. The rest of the show more than makes up for it.
Life in our society is very complex. Our gadgets keep us constantly in touch with people, most of whom don’t matter to us. Because of the internet and telecommunications, we have to cope with an ever-widening circle of contacts. Today is Sunday, and this morning alone, I received five e-mails about work on my mobile! We are so contactable that it is difficult to draw the line between work and home. By being connected to an ever-widening circle of contacts, we are spending less time with those few who really matter – our family and close friends.
The media and the internet have turned information into a commodity. The abundant flow of information has very little to do with those to whom it was addressed.Most of our daily news consists of snippets of information that give us something to talk about but cannot lead us to any meaningful action, as we are not required to respond. Someone has called this “Plumbing the shallows”. This is not good. We can be lulled into passively receiving ideas and information without sieving the facts from the imagined, and the serious from the trivial. In other words, we become dumb.
This afternoon I went to the hospital for my medical appointment. I have been seeing this rheumatologist for about two years now and was never sure if her diagnosis was right. I was first referred to her when I had an outbreak of what I thought was hives for the second time in less than twelve months. The skin specialist said it was vasculitis. The GP scanned my blood test results for the previous ten years, and saw a worrying trend of very high ESR (Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate). The rheumatologist tested me for Sjogren's Syndrome, but the tests were inconclusive.
Sjogren's Syndrome is an autoimmune disease where the lymphocytes attack the glands of the body. The symptoms include dry mouth, dry eyes and dry skin. The rheumatologist said that it is difficult to diagnose SS and just because the tests are inconclusive, it does not rule out the disease. She prescribed hydroxylchloroquine. I was also not convinced that the pills were necessary. Late last year, I told her to reduce my dosage, as the ESR had gone down to 39 from a high of 60. Then yesterday, the ESR was shown to be 50! So I really do have SS!
We were scheduled to brief the new students on the subject Geography in a one hour slot to be shared with History, but an administrator took away the first 15 minutes. Then the History teachers came on. I grew anxious as they went past 35 minutes. When we finally came on, we had only 15 minutes left. I began by saying, "We have a problem: we have to tell you in 15 minutes all about Geography... But, we are used to disasters. Even when the ground shift beneath us, we stay cool!" There! We had them right from the start.
Michael Schumacher's manager says, "The important thing is not the speed of the recovery, but that Michael's healing process progresses in a continuous and controlled way." Schumacher has been in intensive care in Grenoble University Hospital since his Dec 29 skiing accident. I have learned something about healing after I sustained a shoulder injury in June last year. For a very long time, it looks like it's not getting better, until a few weeks ago. I believe the body heals itself, but we cannot rush it. If Schumacher is healing, it is good enough even if it takes another year.
The Earth is not a safe place, and I am not talking about people. I'll save that for another day. Many natural forces are arrayed against us, from invisible forces in the air to earth-shaking tectonic activities beneath our feet. Just last week, extreme weather in North America and the United Kingdom piled thick layers of snow on to the eastern coast of North America and low pressure systems cause flooding in many parts of UK. The Thames breached its banks. The jet stream has changed its course and there is no end in sight to this bleak winter.
Yet I understand that all this is cyclical, and it is a means by which the Earth constantly seeks to return to equilibrium, to a steady state. When there is extreme cold in one part of the year, somewhere later in the year there will be extreme heat. When there is too much moisture in one part of the world, there will be places that suffer drought. Extremes beget extremes. If we can maintain moderation, we will not have to cope with the consequences of excesses. Isn't this true even of human behavior? We should strive for steady state equilibrium.
When term started on January 2nd this year, the air-conditioner in my office was not working. We put up with the heat and stuffiness. They got it fixed only last Thursday, February 13! Then yesterday, the water pipe in the mains broke! The email says they will need "some time" to fix it. In the mean time don't use the toilets and the pantry in this block. The number of people affected? Two thousand! The canteen also has no water and they serve food to more than three thousand! And outside, the haze is back! OK. Back to work.
I started the morning worrying about the future.. what should I do if they retire me by the end of the year? Yes, I have this property that I own, and it is fully paid up. This will be my war chest. I could sell it as a last resort. But will I have enough to support two people? For a fleeting moment, I even thought it would be better if I didn't live too long. Then there will be money enough to support those left to carry on. These thoughts terrify me at times. I am 62. Retirement age!
The water pipe is still not fixed. We have to go to the new block to use the toilets and to get drinking water. Sandra, the Geography teacher, dropped by my desk after class. "The lesson today is on development. We discussed what life is like is less developed countries with lack of access to water and sanitation!" I need to go about three times in the day - to toilet, I mean. Each time I would also take along a jug to refill - with fresh drinking water, of course - and I would announce, "Going to the well. Anybody needs water?"
E-mail from the vice-principal: "The Estate Office is working round the clock with PUB contractors to try to resolve the leaking pipe problem; however, the problem seems to be more severe than expected. The problem has now been escalated to a higher level for resolution." Huh? You mean, you did not take it seriously the last three days? Or, you re-classify the situation and raise its level of urgency so that it is deemed serious enough for "resolution"? I assume you are going to fix it? There is such a dire need for plain-speaking these days!
We were at Canal Rocks, Busselton, Western Australia, to watch the day end, not expecting much. It turned out to be most spectacular sunset I have ever seen. The brilliant hues of the remains of the day shifted and changed as the huge red ball went down. The swirling clouds were lit up by various hues of yellow and crimson and parts of the sky looked like it was on fire. The huge expanse of unobstructed sky became a canvas of watercolors. Beneath this, great foamy waves continually crashed onto the rocks, adding sound to the resplendent display of light.
I don't believe this. They fixed the water pipe. Yay! Then, this morning, the lights tripped! You see, when they fixed the pipe and the water started running, some taps in the Gents' toilet were not turned off. This did not happen in the Ladies'; only the Gents'. So, the toilet was flooded, and the circuits tripped! All things considered, it was a rather uneventful day. There was also a flood of emails concerning the coming Founder's Day celebration at the end of the week and Track and Field in another two weeks. Are we busy or what? Ah well...
How many ways can you measure time? For a start, I think you can measure time by colours. The beginning of the year is the bleakness of blue and grey. This gradually turns into hues of pink and vermillion. Then there is the warmth of red and green, which slowly fades out to yellow, brown and gold before ending in dreary blue, white and grey. Regardless of which climatic zone we are in, the different times of the year has more or less the same effect on our mood. We are shaped by time even as time shapes our mood.
"I wear the day well, so that when it reaches you, you can enjoy it." I think it was Sonia Sanchez who wrote this haiku. It can be interpreted to mean I live my life in the present well, so that future generations can enjoy the world in their time. I can do this by helping to maintain or promote peace, freedom and equality. Or, I contribute to economic growth, environmental conservation or social development. Even if all I do is live my life responsibly, and not cause hardship or unhappiness for others, I think I wear my day well.
It has been more than 27 days without rain. This is unusual because we are along the equator. We are supposed to have an annual rainfall of more than 2,000mm evenly distributed throughout the year. In December, the rain was relentless, as we received the full fury of the North-east Monsoon. Then, about a month ago, the rain suddenly stopped, and there has been no respite from the dry spell, except for a slight drizzle one afternoon. The grass have all turned brown. Trees are shedding their foliage. The water levels in the reservoirs and ponds have fallen.
I was supposed to have gone on a familiarization trip to Riau last weekend to see how the Indonesians' forestry industry is carried out in a sustainable way. It would include a visit to a paper mill. That was the plan a month ago. Then, two weeks before the tour, we were told it was to be re-scheduled. In the days to follow, we have a haze situation. There are now more than a hundred hotspots in Riau from burning of forests in the dry weather. The PSI shot up to 78. Presumably, that's why the trip was cancelled.
A fisherman washed ashore on the Marshall Islands in January. He claimed he had been drifting for thirteen months. At first, they called it a miracle. Then, there was skepticism that he could have survived the elements at sea for that long and emerged none the worse for the ordeal. However, his story checked. A fisherman was indeed reported missing at sea in Mexico in November 2012. Being a seasoned fisherman, experts say it is possible he had survived at sea like he said he did, eating raw fish and drinking fish blood. Is it no less a miracle then?
Today, we celebrated Founder's Day. In his speech, our Guest-of-Honour, an alumnus, made the point that things will not always turn out the way we had planned. He recalled that early on in his career, he appeared before the interview board for a government job. Among the panel of interviewers was the founder of our nation himself. He was in awe of the man. Mr. Lee asked him pointedly, "What is your long term goal?" He was stumped. Some time passed before he answered, in fear and trepidation, "I have no long term goal." The interview was over.
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