Eclipse

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Eclipse by Richard North Patterson was the book I finished this month. I actually started this a few months back but I was very busy so I couldn’t sit down to finish it.  It’s a very compelling book and very relevant to our life now.

This book really makes you ask yourself some tough questions. What price are we all willing to pay to maintain our lifestyle? How do we measure the value of human life? How do we balance business, politics, environment and people?

The book talks about a fictional country called Luandia. It was very well described and I can imagine the events as actually happening.  It is just so sad that a country who has rich resources would go to ruin.  You’d really think that the discovery of oil would help everyone in the country. However, as we all know, only a handful get to benefit from it.

The recent turmoil in the Middle East and Africa really highlights the fact that being oil-rich is no guarantee for progress and growth. Governments have a huge responsibility in putting things in order. Companies also have a responsibility to conduct their business in a manner that is respectful of the people and of the environment. These words are easier said than done. Relationships are complicated. Politics and business are complicated. There’s no easy fix. There’s no easy way.

It is very easy for me to sit here and blame governments, blame businessmen, blame criminals. But we all play a part. We’re all interconnected. One person alone didn’t cause the problems nor can one person alone solve the problems. But one person can influence the people around him. And they can then influence others. It’s like the concept of pay it forward. Let’s all pay it forward. Let’s all make small changes with our lifestyle. Let’s all be more mindful of how we use our resources. Let’s all call for clean governments. Let’s all support businesses that conduct their business in an ethical manner. I am hopeful that together, we can all institute change. These problems may not be happening in our own backyards but we all share the same Earth and protecting their part of the Earth is protecting our part as well.

 

I’m back! (Hopefully)

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I can’t believe it’s been two  months since I last wrote here.  It’s been a hectic November and December.  It’s a new year and hopefully, I can pick up the habit of writing again.

The last thing I remember writing about was the new job I found.  As I’ve said, it’s not regular so I felt that I had to take full advantage of it when work is available. Unfortunately, that meant I didn’t have much of a life the last couple of months since  I was always working.  I felt like I was even working more hours than if I did have full time work outside the home.  It’s kinda hard to stop when no one will tell you to stop.  I haven’t read a book in months.  I haven’t read any blogs. I haven’t tried new recipes.

I think it’s time for a fresh start.  Hopefully, I get to do the following:

  • Limit the number of hours I work (and stick with it!)
  • Blog regularly (I hope weekly)
  • Try out a new recipe every month
  • Finish a book every month
  • Get back to appreciating the simple things in life

This is a very simple list and I’m sure easily accomplished.  I just want to clarify, though, that I’ll do these things as long as I feel that they are contributing to my quality of life.  If I read a book just so I could say I did so but I’m not enjoying the experience, then that defeats the purpose of the list.  The list is a guide for me to enjoy my life as these are the things that I love doing.  If my interests change, then my list will change as well.

I hope this blog will continue to serve as an outlet for me.  I’m not really a great writer and I really feel small when I compare my blog to others that are so wonderfully written.  I just remind myself that I’m doing this for me, as a venue to express my thoughts.  I’m not trying to gain a following nor am I trying to make a career out of writing.  I am actually surprised that there are people who read my blog.  I am happy that some people take the time to ready my ramblings.  Thank you very much and I look forward to continuing on with you in this journey we call life.

Upgrades

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Apple launched the new iPhone last week and I’m sure there are thousands of people who can hardly wait to have their own.  I can appreciate how technology has improved over the years and the role that it now plays in our lives.  What I can’t understand is the compulsion that we have to always have the best and newest technology, whether we need it or not.

I’m willing to bet that only 10% of iPhone users need it in their lives.  Very few people need to be connected 24 hours in a day.  Very few people need access to the internet or their email immediately.  Most messages can wait.  In fact, we’re bombarded with so much information that we cannot fully absorb these and might even be missing out on the really important things because we are so preoccupied with superficial stuff.

I’m very much concerned with our consumerist culture which makes us want to buy, buy, buy.  Companies have fed this culture by developing products that make us want to acquire more and more.  And what happens to the gadgets that are still useful?  Trash.  So much trash is generated in the manufacture of these products and they end up being trash themselves in a matter of years.  Most of the gadgets can be considered consumable now and will be obsolete or have to be replaced in a few years.

Of course these gadgets make life more convenient.  But the lives that are being improved by these stuff are already easy and comfortable.  I would rather that technology be used to really help people whose lives are in dire circumstances.  But then there is no profit in that, no recognition, no fame.

But what if every person why buys an iPhone when they have a perfectly working phone, instead use that money towards causes that try to eliminate poverty, hunger, illiteracy?  I’m sure that money would be better spent and would really help people.  Isn’t it better to upgrade people’s lives than upgrade our gadgets?

I’m hoping that technological advances could be used for more practical purposes.  Hopefully engineers can figure out ways to protects crops from drought and flooding.  Hopefully they would find ways to bring clean water and electricity to remote areas that have no access to it.  Hopefully they would create houses that can withstand floods, typhoons, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Our lives are so comfortable that we forget that there are only three basic needs, food (and water), shelter and clothing.  Everything else is extra.

Disconnected

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It’s funny how we feel so lost when we lose things we have been taking for granted.

Yesterday, there was a strong typhoon that hit the country and plunged us in darkness.  Well, it wasn’t really dark since we lost our electricity around 9 am but it sure felt like the dark ages.

At least it was cool so we didn’t need electric fans.  We also have a gas stove so we had no problem cooking.  It made all of us think of creative ways of passing the time though.  I slept, read and baked.  The kids drew, played card games, and we also let them play outside for a little while.  I wanted to take a walk in the rain but the wind was so bad we decided against it.  There’s a big chance we could be hit by branches or bits of roof material and trash flying around.

We got our power back by 3 pm so we thought everything was back to normal.  However, our cable wasn’t back and we don’t have an antenna so the local channels have a very poor reception so watching TV was out.  We had internet after about 30 minutes but we lost it again at 7 pm.  And it only came back at around 12 pm today.  I felt so disconnected.

Electricity, TV and the internet are stuff we have everyday.  We take these for granted and feel so lost without them.  I can’t imagine how we could survive without these things.  Of course I know that millions of people in less developed parts of the world survive without these things but for us, it is unimaginable.

I don’t watch TV that much so I could survive without it.  But the internet is another thing.  I use it several hours everyday.  Even if we had power, it’s like there’s nothing to do on the computer without the internet.  I could’t check the news, check Facebook, and I couldn’t work!  And to think I’ve only been using it since the late 1990s.  Now, I can’t imagine living without it.

I guess we really do have to appreciate all the things we get to enjoy every day.  I’m lucky my family is safe and we weren’t really affected by the typhoon.  We were just inconvenienced.  Sometimes, we need to disconnect from our online lives and live real lives.  We have to build actual relationships and not just on social networking sites.  We also have to value our resources as we need these to support the lifestyle we are accustomed to.  Mother nature is still more powerful than us and we have to work with her and not against her.

 

Road to Happiness

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I caught part of an Oprah show last week and they were talking about happiness.  They featured the happiest city in the US (sorry but I forgot the name of the city) as well as the happiest jobs.

The mayor of the city said that they re-designed their city about 20 years ago.  They blocked the main street to vehicles so people can walk around.  They widened the sidewalks so people can hang out.  They built a lot of bike lanes and trails so people can bike, run and hike safely.  Everybody knows their neighbors.  Basically, they built the infrastructure for human interaction.  Of course it is still up to the people if they want to interact with others but studies have shown that it is through human interaction that we are most happy.

They also featured a person who worked at a toll gate just collecting payments.  She was very happy and enthusiastic.  She greeted all her customers warmly, wishing them well and just spreading good cheer.  You can see from her attitude that she really enjoys what she’s doing.  You can also see how the people she interacted with seemed happier after speaking with her.

Her attitude towards her work is really surprising.  I guess I’d never expect it from someone working at a toll booth.  Even Oprah said that when she passes through a toll booth, she always thought that that must be one of the dreariest jobs in the world.  I, too think it would be very boring and mechanical.  I forget that even in the littlest of tasks, we have the opportunity to make a difference.

We may think that happiness is directly proportional to how much money we make, how big our house is, how many cars we have, how many gadgets and toys we buy, but it really isn’t.  Most people who do have the money to buy all these things don’t have the time to enjoy them.  They’re usually working all hours and when they do go on vacation, they’re still thinking of work at the back of their minds.  Of course it’s nice to have all the trappings but I think it’s better to have what is important.  And I think what’s important are relationships.  Actual face to face interaction would bring us more happiness, I think, than all the gadgets in the world.  You may have everything but if you are alone, what good would that do?

Everyday, we have within our power to decide how our day will go.  Will we be kind?  Will we smile?  Will we be nice to our kids?  No matter what we do, we affect others with our attitude.  A little kindness goes a long way and a little smile makes everything seem nicer.  Let’s all take the road to happiness.  All it takes is a little time, a little appreciation and a little pleasant disposition.

 

Family Matters

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We had a grand reunion last Sunday to celebrate a couple of milestones.  It was my Aunt’s 90th birthday and my mom’s 78th (celebrated in advance).  It was great catching up with cousins overseas and other relatives.  Most of my aunt’s children are based in other countries and it was a major feat in logistics to have them all here to celebrate her birthday.  I haven’s seen some of my cousins in more than 10 years and it was really interesting seeing them again, with their children who are now grown up too.

Situations like this make me realize how important family really is.  As kids, of course our families are everything to us but as we grow up, we somehow lose sight of that fact and we decide that friends are more important.  I know when I was in a teenager and a young adult, I didn’t really look forward to reunions.  It was an event I had to endure and I couldn’t wait until I’m with talking with friends again.

Now that I have my own family, I’m starting to understand that family does matter.  I would like my children to get to know their distant relatives.  I now actually enjoy having conversations with family members and listening to their stories.

As they say, you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family.  In the same vein, they can’t choose us too and yet they still love us unconditionally.  They may disapprove of our choices but they will accept us.  No matter what happens, our families will always be there for us.  I guess this is why most people take their families for granted.  But they won’t always be there.  I was never close to my family, preferring to spend time with friends.  But I now find that I look forward to my sisters’ visits since my kids like playing with their cousins.  I also like hearing from them and catching up.

I guess I’m getting old.  Life is too short and we really should spend time building relationships instead of walls.  We may have differences with each other but we are family.

Holocaust

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I read the book, Holocaust by Gerald Green last month.  It was very poignant, powerful and disturbing.  While it was a work of fiction, I felt what it was like to live in Germany during those years.  After reading this, I am again reminded how fortunate I am to live in a relatively conflict-free area.

In school, we learned about the holocaust but it wasn’t in great detail.  I could never really understand how a whole nation could get it into their heads that they are the superior race and all other races had to be eliminated.  This book has really opened my eyes to the holocaust, both from a soldier and a Jew perspective.

The book gave some background into how relatively good people can be corrupted into changing their whole mindset.  How ordinary people look the other way when others are subjected to terror because they cannot afford to sacrifice their own way of life.  It also showed how much courage some people had and how they fought even if this would ultimately cause them harm or even death.

I don’t really know who to blame for what happened in Europe during those years.  On one hand you could say they the soldiers, the officers, the police, the people, had no choice.  They had to follow orders or else they would experience grave consequences.  On the other hand, how could you live with yourself, with your conscience knowing that even if you don’t directly do harm, by not doing anything, you are letting evil happen.  You could also say, what’s the point of saving one life, one family when millions died.  Like the starfish, it matters to that family.

I can understand soldiers killing soldiers during war.  But to kill unarmed, naked civilians, that is really unforgivable.  Their only crime was being born a Jew.  We have no choice into what family, country or religion we are born.  Why is this a crime?

It also amazes me how Jews would willingly follow orders and think the best of the situation.  It is very admirable but at the same time sad.  They are able so survive on very little.  It was mentioned in the book that you only need very little to survive.  But even survival was not an option for most Jews.  Very few fought back and most just accepted their fate.

After reading this book, I question why people seem to not have learned anything from history.  The bombing and shooting in Norway shows that there are still people who feel that others have no right to live.  I don’t think racial discrimination will ever be totally eliminated no matter how politically correct people try to be.  However, being a bit biased is yards different from killing innocent people.  We should all try to be tolerant of each others’ beliefs.  We are all different and we all have things to learn from one another.  Live and let live.

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