Vanity Wipe Part II: the How’s

In the last part of the Vanity Wipe series, we’ve gone through some reasons why vanity should be wiped out, or at least smudged to the best of our ability. Not only might it stand between you and mastery, caring excessively of others’ opinions (whether consciously or unconsciously) might lead to you waking up wide-eyed at 5AM twenty years from now, breaking a cold sweat because you have no idea who the person in the mirror is. (Read it more in-depth here).

So now you’re ready! You have the sponge in your left hand and gel in the right, ready to wipe this beast of a pest out of your life. I’m grateful for your enthusiasm, but maybe hang that sponge up and put your shower gel down for a moment. Bring out a comfortable hammock, and some mju because we might have to sit down and think… for quite some time. Because you see, in order to wipe out vanity, you need to figure out what will inherit its place first.

Like I said in the previous article, vanity is here because it benefits us. It gives us a sense of self-worth, albeit from other people. So before you think of going off life-support from applause, think first of what nectar your life will be absorbing next. The best answer, as anyone who has had some casual brushes with self-help books know, is to get that love from the well of our own hearts.

And as anyone who has tried could testify, getting approval from your own damn self is capital-h-a-r-d-HARD! However, before you kick off the sponge and shower gel to the corner, and storm off the bathroom accompanied by ugly sobbing, let me just say, it’s hard, but not impossible. It might take quite a long time (and I’m saying years and years of exploring, analyzing and making heaps mistakes), but it’s indeed achievable.

When Descartes realized his education was built upon false hand-me-down knowledge, he dedicated years of his life to examine all of his beliefs and put them back in (or out) one by one. That’s dedication for ya.

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Source: The School of Life

Start now. Begin observing your own actions. Ask yourself what you think about certain controversial issues.
“Do I agree with the current political discussion?”
“Is white skin the ideal beauty standard for me?”
“Do I find fit people more attractive?”
“Should pineapples be allowed to be put on pizzas?” (they should definitely not, just FYI)

Examine your beliefs and likings from topics as big as world politics to something as small as liking thin paper as opposed to rough paper, and anything in between. Then ask yourself, why? Why do I find people with six-pack abs better than a whole belly? Why did I spend 200 bucks on a plain white T-shirt with a five words on it? Why does thin paper feel so much better than rough paper?

Also ask yourself, would I still like people with six-packs if I could not show them off to my friends? Would I have bought that expensive T-shirt if no one could know about the brand or price? Would I still like thin paper if everyone around me hated it? Asking yourself thus can hopefully make things done for the sake of vanity visible. After seeing it for what it is- a mere trick to get the world’s attention- you should ask yourself further, of other reasons you might want to continue doing it. If the only main reason is applause, I’m sorry, buddy, but it’s time to put on the brake. It’s better to make space for what you genuinely enjoy than crowding your hours and headspace with mere attention-seeking actions.

Let me give you an obvious heads up, it’s going to be very unsettling, to say at least. I mean, when you question an activity that is central to your identity, it’s a discomforting experience, for sure. I used to think of myself as a visual art hobbyist, occasionally producing a sketch of a white nose here, a watercolor of waterfall there. During the questioning period, I suspected I was producing sketches, not because I enjoyed the ordeal, but instead because I wanted to get the attention of my perceived social media “followers”. Nothing to distinguish yourself among the rest like showing you’re a sensitive artist wanna-be, you know?

So I took a break from drawing/painting to really ascertain if I liked the craft for the sake of the craft, or for vanity. More than a year later, the dawn finally broke. I came to conclude that drawing added another dimension (pun-intended) to my existence, and it’s worth doing even without the “likes”. So I grabbed my old 2B pencils and began sketching squiggly faces again! The paintings probably have not changed much, but the painter is newly-colored with self confidence and a tad of detachment from public opinion. Whatever people may say of my craft, I know for certain now that I enjoy the brow-scrunching concentration needed to draw a straight line, the soul relief from heaping bold colors on top of one another, and the mind-blowing capacity (or more realistically, the hair-pulling frustration) to realize what’s in my head.

Now, it’s time for you to embark on your own journey. Again, the journey will probably take a lot of time and energy, but believe me, it’s worth it. This will be the foundation of how you’ll judge EVERYTHING from now on.

Would you rather be a dandelion swept left and right by the winds of public opinion, a swaying body devoid of soul, going where the current tells you, or would you rather be a willow seed, toiling for nourishment under the soil for a period of time, but end up growing on your own trunk, with healthy roots and ability to withstand the blowing storms?

This is also where the world outside, including and especially the fictional world comes in handy. When you know of a story- whether a piece of gossip from a celebrity magazine, the backstory of the much celebrated batman, or a piece of philosophical thought from some major thinker whose name you can’t pronounce- ask yourself, what do I think of this issue? Try to draw the parallels and contrasts between your life and the lives you know of. If your memory is not to be trusted, as most youths’ are, try out journaling. It’s an excellent means to maybe learn to express yourself better, and also make sense of what you are and what you want to be!

Now, the solution above might work for people who have little clue of what they like doing, but how about those for some reason, (most of the time embarrassment) dare not do what they would like? Well, here are some things that have helped me (and believe me, I’ve done some pretty embarrassing stuff):

  1. build a support system:
    it’s hard to go through the world alone, like a young bald bird, cold and flightless. Again, we are social animals, and we DO want approval from others. As Bertrand Russell put it:

    Head, Alfred Ernest, b.1923; Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
    Painter: Alfred Ernest Head 

    “Do not attempt to live without vanity, since this is impossible, but choose the right audience from which to seek admiration.”

    The trick here is to choose whose approval you want. I am fortunate to befriend some people of the same values and so have benefited from their strong trunks through the storms of public opinion when mines are too feeble to withstand the rushing torrents. Seek out people with the same values, befriend them, and validate yourself with them when you’re unsure.

  2. Think about loss:
    yes, pretty morbid stuff, and a good morning to you, good sir!
    People of all ages have realized the danger of being attached to our possessions, as Seneca, a rich statesman frequently slept on the floor in a poor house just to assure himself that he could survive even without his riches and influence.
    Power corrupts, ‘tis true, so try to imagine yourself without the power -and power here can mean anything that makes you feel worthy: your appearance, riches, fame, heart or brain- will you survive? If all the wars in the world taught me anything, it’s to distrust a charming man with a toothbrush mustache, but also that humans are capable of surviving so much loss and grief without losing hope.
    No friend? I can find some more.
    Money got burnt? I only need some for basic survival anyway.
    Getting disfigured? My wit will still be intact.
    Everyone hates the sight of my face? My dog still loves me.
    Losing my wits due to schizophrenia? Well, I won’t remember it anyway.

    memento-mori-18
    Photographer: Kevin Best

    If you want to top it a notch, go all the way to the silky road where we will all end up in: death. I’ve written once about the benefits of visualizing death (read it here), but here’s the gist. Nothing is worse than death. It’s the end of your life, most likely forever as we know it. The riches, fame, or knowledge you have earned will be worth nothing in the face of death. The true but often neglected fact is, you will die one day. So why not do this one thing you have always wanted? Will the opinions of irrelevant people matter when you’re gasping your last breadth? I suspect not.

  3. The “I’m going to do it even if all these people will hate me” game.
    I came up with this game when I was unwilling to perform a pretty suggestive hip-thrust routine for fear of seeming improper, though through my thorough research it’s the most effective workout for butts in the gym. I had had an internal debate for days and days, until one day, I flat-out asked myself, “Say you do it and all these people end up concluding you’re an improper pervert, but you have amazing butts, what then?” The answer was obvious. It’s time to thrust, thrust, thrust. No one commented, and the weird coach still talked to me occasionally, so I guess I over-dramatized everything after all. Take note though, this game will only work if you have a clear purpose behind what potentially embarrassing thing you are about to do.
  4. The 5, 5, 5 question.
    Now before you let the fear of public opinion scare you from doing a certain thing you’re sure you want to do, ask yourself, “Will this matter in 5 minutes? 5 months? 5 years?” Most of the little things we are embarrassed about, like getting caught speaking to ourselves in our helmet, or having a slip-up during a presentation, or voicing the wrong views with confidence, are erased from people’s memories the minute after it happened. Even if it’s shocking, people rarely stay shooketh for 5 months, much less 5 years from then. Think back to something embarrassing you’ve seen a stranger done. Can you recall the face of the stranger? You can probably recall the details of the event, but the stranger’s face will most likely be left blank in your memory. You should take comfort that this also happens with other people. What’s the big deal if you tripped, slipped a half-eaten donut to the ground, picked it up and continued savoring it? The people who have seen it probably only remembered you as the disgusting donut dude, but not your face!

So there you go. Now, pick up that sponge, squeeze some gel and scrub, scrub, scrub away!

Vanity Wipe Part I: Why Wipe it out Though?

“Be your beautiful unicorn self!”

“I don’t care what people think! I am who I am.”

How many times have you said, posted, and shouted this into the void of your heart yet still find yourself affected by people’s comments at the end of the day? As much as we want to embody the cool-hippy-I-don’t-give-a-flying-frick attitude, we often find ourselves hurt by other’s indifference or hostility towards us; or feel elated when people agree or even admire us. A good example of that would be an edgy youth posting “I don’t need others’ approval.” online just to get the rush feeling of acceptance when others like this status.

To put it more simply, we, more or less, crave the acceptance from others around us.

To crave acceptance or even admiration from other people is called vanity (as opposed to pride). In Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen made a very clear distinction between the two.

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Jane Austen, author. (Credit: Wikipedia)

“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others thing of us.” ~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.

Well, you’d say, that’s good and all because if the peer pressure is for the good of the society, then it’s not a bad thing. For example, rich people might be pressured into charity which means well, more money for the poor. Some Berk Sloy kids might even be pressured to finally spend 10 minutes a day in a rational manner and realize they are Berk Sloy for no good reasons.

That’s good… isn’t it?

Well, not really… because:

  1. Vanity is not honor. 
    when you do something solely (or mostly) for the sake applause from others, it’s not “real”. You might think it’s honorable for a rich woman to donate to charity, but if she’s doing it for the applause of her social media followers, then that’s not honor, that’s just vanity. The same rich woman, had she done the deed because her conscience told her to would have been honorable. Vanity needs applause while honor does not. You might ask yourself, well, what’s so wrong about doing something for applause (*side-eyeing Lady Gaga)? If you are in the habit of doing that, you’ll one day end up with a mucky sense of self no matter how many good things you have done. They will feel hallow because satisfaction comes from doing what you believe in. And to believe in something takes a great deal of deliberate thinking, feeling and comparing on your part until your heart and mind see the decision as right for the sake of being right.Cambodia has witnessed a rise in volunteerism. As long as you have a long experience of volunteering, you are deemed as cool in the eyes of younger people. They aspire to help the community also, but how many of these volunteers would still do the dirty work if they couldn’t talk about it or post it on social media? If the whole society is against volunteering, how many would still do what they do? I imagine it won’t be much.
  1. Vanity leads to mediocrity and rarely mastery.
    Vanity can give you application but not real “taste”. Some people, especially artists and volunteers, grow more and more discontented in their work because they are doing it for the society, for the likes, or for the needy instead of truly enjoying their craft, instead of working for the sake of enjoyment from their work and creation. That means you can be good at something, but probably never master it or derive the most satisfaction you should have gotten from it because you might not like it that much after all.How can you develop a real “taste” that truly makes your craft unique? Well, that needs a lot of love from your part.To master something needs commitment and hours and hours of hard work to achieve a certain vision, and in this age of easy likes and admiration from the online community, I feel it’s hard for someone without maximum love for their craft to break out of mediocrity.

    Take, Vincent Van Gogh, for example. Though his work is celebrated all around the world today, he was a nobody, well, a broke nobody during his life time. His paintings were seldom recognized, and his family was pretty much opposed to his decision in being an artist. If he had succumbed to vanity and social pressure, he might have been able to provide for himself comfortably as a commercial artist (the modern equivalent of a graphic designer perhaps) or an art dealer. However, he had a better vision, a vision of colors that he lived and died for. The extent of love and beauty he found in his craft (even when the world was indifferent to it) is truly shocking in this collection of letters to his brother.

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Vincent Van Gogh, aged 19. Photographed by Jacobus Marinus Wilhelmus de Louw.

“[…] and I also have nature and art and poetry, and if that isn’t enough, what is?” ~ Vincent Van Gogh, Ever Yours: The Essential Letters.

 

Might I emphasize the fact that he was living on a shoestring budget that was mostly sponsored by his brother (an act which plagued and made Vincent guilty his whole life). Again, he could have abandoned his particular style of art, and embraced the commercially-prosperous popular style (which was more realistic) at the moment because he could pretty much draw this at the age of nine. NINE!

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The Dog – 1862. Made when Vincent was nine years old. (Credit: WikiArt)

Had he embraced the public opinion’s of what constituted a good painting, he would have had Vincent the realistic and well-off painter rather than Vincent Freaking Van Gogh, the master of impressionist colors.

  1. Knowledge vs. wisdom.
    To be very susceptible to the opinions of others around you means you are less likely to dare to break off from the norms even when it’s necessary. And I’m not only saying this to old conservative people, I’m also side-eyeing, you, the young millennial who thinks you are untouched by social conventions. You might think you’re not controlled by Khmer society, but I bet you are more or less affected by western standards: 6-pack-abs, traveling, entrepreneurship, environmentalism, yoga, fitness, tanned-skin, art-loving. Ring a bell, anyone?I’m not saying you shouldn’t be into any of this (God knows I’m like half of these already myself), or that to be inspired by an idea is bad. No. I’m just saying that you need to take a closer look at your desire to do these things. Have they been sufficiently digested to make them your own, or did you adopt them because you thought it was the right thing to do (because westerners are doing it)? For that’s when knowledge and wisdom depart. Knowledge is merely knowing something whereas wisdom is something you get by reflecting and digesting the knowledge you have gained. Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin puts it very clearly by saying:

    51ewf4mndml-_sx403_bo1204203200_“Even when what [beliefs] has been handed down is true, it is not your truth. To merely accept anything without questioning it is to be someone else’s puppet, a second-hand person. Beliefs can be handed down. Knowledge can be handed down. The goal of philosophy is wisdom. […] Wisdom requires questioning what is questionable. Since everything is questionable, wisdom requires questioning everything. That is what philosophy is- the art of questioning everything.” ~ Daniel Kolak and Raymond Martin, The Experince of Philosophy 

    “The cool white people are doing it; therefore, I must also do it.” That’s as bad as “My parents have done it; therefore, I must also do it.”

  2. Vanity leads to status anxiety.
    Now as if the previous three effects are not bad enough for our satisfaction in life, vanity or caring excessively of others’ perception of us causes a type of anxiety termed by Alain de Botton as status anxiety. (Check out his documentary and short video on the subject). Status, you should know, is your place in society and it subsequently dictates how you should behave, and treated by other people.Before democracy and capitalism, status was pretty much a fixed thing. You could not do much to change your status which was probably assigned to you by birth. If you were born into a wealthy or a royal family, you would be automatically deemed as honorable and worthy of respect. Praises would be sung in your honor and people would bow when you walked by. Your neighbour would not dare to let their dogs shit on your lawn. If you were born into a peasant family, there was nothing much you could do other than to farm, maybe slave for one temple or two, have 8 kids and die. All of its disturbing and unethical effects aside, this sort of society had one benefit ours do not. It decreased the anxiety we had regarding our status in life. We KNEW our places and was forced to be contented because there was nothing much to do about it anyway.Well, that’s obviously not the case now. The self-made-person is all the rage these days. Our new trend is to make your own life no matter where you came from. We have the power to become successful, the self-help authors tell us. While that’s liberating, it also leaves us with a sense of uneasiness and fear. Above all, it left the definition of success pretty much open.

    If you were born as a peasant 1,000 years ago in Cambodia, you would be deemed successful if your fields were fertile, you married well, and your children survived. If you are born as a peasant now, what would be called success? Some would say if you could care for your fields, you would be successful. Others would say, ditch your fields, become a business-person and make a million dollars. Some would tell you to become a scholar and write poems about how much you miss the green fields. The problem lies not in any of these choices, but in your justification for the choice. If you mostly depend your choice upon what others praise, then it’s problematic.

    To illustrate this, let’s say this happened during the golden 60’s when being teacher was the most honorable thing a Khmer citizen could be. They said being a teacher, you could inspire the next generations of kids, you could serve your country and culture. These seemed reasonable enough and so you decided to ditch your fields, and made for Phnom Penh to become a teacher. All was well and good until you time-travelled and arrived in 2017 when teaching has become a minor thing and a successful entrepreneur is what everybody is told to aspire to be.

    You decide to continue teaching, but something is missing now. Teaching becomes less of an enjoyment, and more of a chore. You see? We fall into this trap very easily because if you look hard enough, there are always good reasons to do one thing or another. Teaching has its pros; so does being an entrepreneur or an artist, or a hermit. When you choose something (because it’s popular) and justify your decision by listing all the good things you’ve heard others said, you’re falling into the tricky trap of disguised vanity and status. You’re making yourself vulnerable to the changing tide of public opinion as to who deserves what level of “status” in this society. This makes you more prone to want to be in the “loop” as to what’s popular at the moment, and more and more anxious to stay relevant.

    You start posting selfies with long motivational captions. You record yourself doing ridiculous stuff for fame and a few likes from your friends or a thousand from your fans. You slave yourself away everyday to work on something you have no real passion in for the sake of being called “inspiring”.

    See? Falling trap to vanity leads you status anxiety which in turns leads to a lack of life satisfaction, and many many embarrassing photos online and maybe even years of toiling in the wrong field.

So what then? If vanity is so bad, then why can’t we seem to get out of it? You are vain, I am vain, we are all vain. That’s because we are social animals. We’re literally wired to feel good when we fit in and bad when we’re isolated (because that would mean dying out of the pack). Does that mean we can never escape it? Maybe, but I believe we can always become aware of it and consequently decrease vanity’s influences on us. How? Read part II of the series here!

AhCheng in Wondercity

Today, I got so lost that I drove myself right out of the city without knowing.

And it was not even the first time something like this happened.

 

If you’re close with me, there is no reason why you don’t know I’m practically dumb when it comes to navigation.

I met up with some friends in Toul Sleng, and we decided to get to a place near the Monument of Independence. I was the only one on a bike, and confident with my new knowledge of this city’s streets, I proudly devised a plan to get there, without getting lost.

News flash, I got lost, so so bad.

 

I decided to go right on a street I did not know much of, and found myself near Sonsom Kosol Pagoda. It was so unexpected that I felt exactly like Alice in Wonderland, popping into unexpected places, except I was not 12 and Phnom Penh was no wonderland. But I was not completely hopeless. I had a hunch that if I kept on going, I would land on Kbal Thnol Bridge and would only be a short distance from the Monument of Independence. So far still pretty okay until for God knows why, I decided to turn right at the bridge which meant this gal was heading to Chak Angre area.

 

Silly me still thought I was on my way back into the heart of the city. I drove and drove under the 2 o’clock sun. My dread kept on increasing exponentially out of habit. You know, once your lover has criticized you very unkindly of how dumb you are at navigation, it just stuck.  As a counterpoint maybe, my mind kept playing Phil Kaye’s and Sarah Kay’s poem, “When Love Arrives”, the bit where he said, “Love knows where she’s going. It just might take her two hours longer than she planned.”

Though it was sweet, I knew my friends would not appreciate me being late. The anxiety of finding the right route kept on mounting and mounting until I saw a billboard saying it was the way to Kandal Province. Apparently, I had been travelling to a city in the last 15 minutes, just not to the city I wanted to be in.

 

I took a U-turn and thought of the literally hundred of others of times I got lost in this small city I’d been in for the last 10 years. And it struck me, no matter how lost I got, I have always managed to find my way at the end.

 

And thinking back put a smile on my face.

 

Lesson of the day: don’t take right at Kbal Thnol Bridge if you wish to stay in Phnom Penh.

 

Another lesson of the day: It does not matter if you’ve lost your way. You’ll get there as long as you keep finding your way back.

Be a Tourist in Your Own City

 

When was the last time you travelled, whether it was to a nearby province, or to a country right on the edge of the world? How did it feel as you strolled through the streets and just observed the people, humming, buzzing around you going about their everyday life? For me, that’s one of the wondrous things about traveling. All the literally butt-hurting bus rides, and anxiety-inducing trip-planning pay off once I get to observe people from other places in their very natural habitat, doing their thing, going to their usual places.

People often cite the ability to see another culture, other ways of life, or the beauty of surrounding nature as the main benefits they enjoy from travelling, and that’s true. I’ve had the fortune to travel to many different cities last year and though there were some big differences, most of the things were still the same compared to my own city.

People were still people. Dogs still barked. The air was still hot or biting. And there were still flowers of all kinds along the pavement.

For the people of those countries, life was probably dull until their next visit to some other places, maybe to my very own city. It used to surprise me how amazed foreigners could be with my dear old Phnom Penh. They would stop, stand still and admire an old rusty pagoda gate for ten minutes straight. The old porridge-selling lady at the corner of the street whom I’ve barely spoken 100 words with during the five years of my knowing her is a person of infinite interestingness to a foreigner.

 

I get it, grass is greener on the other side. However, apart from the external green grass, I think when we travel, we also switch persona on the inside. It’s as if once we put our foot on the plane, we embody this big-eared, huge-eyed, large-tonged person hungry for experience, for observation, for fun. We put our personal troubles, the complication at work, the unanswered texts from exes aside and be a sponge for a few days. In another word, #holidaymoodON.

 

The sad fact of life is for most of us, travelling a long distance a few times a month cannot be a reality. You might not have enough budget, or time to spare, and well, sometimes, you just want to live out of your closet instead of a backpack, you know. BUT the happy fact of life is you can always try to tweak your perception. Of course, you might not be able to physically travel into a new place, but that’s only half of the equation. You cannot change the outside, but you can damn well try to change the inside, to induce the feeling of being a traveler even when you’re not travelling to anywhere new.

Here’s what I’ve been doing for a few years now and have reinforced during the last few months: pretend to be a tourist in your own city. Mark off a day from your calendar as a trip day. Before the big day, search your city up on the internet and find interesting bits of information and spots to visit. Well, at least that’s what I do, anyway. Pack up your bag and go about the city as if you were seeing it for the very first time. Notice the people around you-  how they behave, how they talk, how they live. Give attention to the small kids playing along the pavement, or the lack thereof. Take notes of observations of the places you visit. Breathe in the fresh air in a park (or the foul air of a really small alley). Really taste the food you order for your mid-day break as if you might never come back to that restaurant again after your trip. Take the time to listen to your tuk-tuk rider’s story. Take pictures, loads and loads of pictures. Sketch a place or two. Go clubbing with strangers. Do whatever you normally do when you’re on a holiday in a strange land.

The cons of this is that you might have to spend say, $15, and not able to hang out or work for a day. But the upside? Well, the upside is that you can slow down, and really witness the great lumbering beast of a city you’ve taken for granted for too long and maybe come up with one or two fresh new observations of the people you call your neighbors, the culture you call yours, and the place you call your own.

(Featured image credit: Parinha Seyhak)

Complimentary reading on why you shouldn’t be too eager to travel out of your city)

Kids Are Awesome, No Kidding

In Cambodia, it’s common to see parents paying attention to the behavioral development of children only when they are five years old. (Cough cough namely, when the children are enrolled into pre-schools and are found to have problems socializing or following instructions.)

A closely-held belief is that children, aged between 1-3 are just blank paper, waiting for us to teach them how to survive in the world, so parents only concern themselves with teaching the young ones how to walk, or talk. They think the social, emotional, and cognitive lessons can come later. THEN they’d spend years asking themselves, “How did this happen?” when the child turned out to be lacking in either cognitive, emotional or social skills even as adults. The crucial thing is that in the past few decades, research has shown that the first few years of our lives actually play a huge rule in laying the foundation for who we become later on.

Although a few books have been written, well, more like translated on this phenomena, I doubt the information is that widely spread, which calls for a more accessible spread of information, *drumroll* like this movie called The Beginning of Life, directed and written by Estela Renner.

The Beginning of Life is a heartwarming, informative feature documentary about how important the first years of human lives are. It was was filmed across Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Italy, Kenya and the United States, following the early lives of (simply adorable) babies and their family from various background ranging from stay-at-home dads, to same-sex couples, and single parents. You name it; they have it. It was also sprinkled with experts in the field of childhood development.

I think the central message is that instead of regarding children aged from 1-3 as blank slates, waiting for our input, we should regard them as what they really are: tiny adorable scientists. The reason is when we regard them as puppets, waiting for us to teach them how to live, we’re more prone to controlling behaviors when they do something we deem as unreasonable. We yell at them when they drop the spoon, again and again, (and again) even after the tenth time of us telling them not to. However, if we think of them as tiny alien scientists, trying to do experiments to find out who they are, and how the world works, instead of being annoyed at the spoon dropping, you’ll see that the baby is just trying to test their hypothesis about the dropping of the spoon.

“If I drop this, it will make a sound. Will it make another sound if I did it like this? Again? And again?” or
“Every time I do this, uncle does this ugly frowny face. What if I do it again, but this time, farther than before?” And when you do indeed end up with an ugly frowny face, the baby will all be like, “Yay, I understand uncle now!”

In these formative first years, the movie explains, what the baby needs from us is not total controlling instructions on how to live, but a good lab partner, who is willing to support them when they find themselves in sticky shit (sometimes literally). Instead of holding their hands and guide them through life, what they need is the freedom to explore, but with a hand at their back, ready to embrace them should they fall. The movie also shows the cliche but very true power of love. Affection from the adults around them, whether it’s from a single parent, a stay-at-home dad, a same sex couple, as long as it’s pure affection shown by attention, even something as simply as replying to their blabber, is enough to give the child self esteem which is crucial in motivating the child to explore, to persist, and to ultimately find success, not just in their early years, but throughout their lives as well.

I think everyone, even those who are not a parent, and not thinking of becoming one anytime soon, should watch this movie. Apart from the squeals you get from seeing too many cute children and their families, you can also reinforce your new view of small babies as tiny alien scientists. I mean, after watching this movie, I went out for a lunch break and spent a good 10 minute playing sword fighting (more like tooth pick fighting) with a 3 year old child. Sometimes, it’s good to get out of our conceptual adult mindset once in a while and just simply giggle with a child after you’ve lost to them in a sword fight.

You can watch the trailer of The Beginning of Life here, watch the movie on iTunes, and the six-episode series on Netflix, or find more information on how to watch it on Videocamp (here)! If you don’t mind waiting, keep your eyes out for UNICEF Cambodia’s possible free screening of this movie in the future (follow them here)!

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Ten Taren Ten Ten Ten

You are my ice cream man.

And no, not the kind I know you’re all thinking about,
but genuine ice cream. The kind that makes kids run wild after an ice cream seller on a September afternoon, screaming, “Uncle, uncle! Give me one!”

Every time I meet you, my inner bells launch a series of off-tune jingles, which sound a lot like holidays and naps on the beach. Your sparkling eyes remind me too much of a shining droplet of juicy goodness reflected off of sunlight. And when we talk, I feel like you’re the coconut to my ka-rem, the mold to my orange soda ice cream. The irony is, with you, I am the one who melts.

 

But you are also not my ice cream man.

Because I remember living in a second floor of a run down building. Cheap white paints, narrow stairs and a busy street. We never got much money to go around between the four of us, but I always managed to save some for you.

Then it was time to wait.

And wait.

And wait. Until that familiar jingles come around the corner. I’d scream at the top of my lungs, from the bottom of my heart. Stop. Stop. Notice me. I want you. Stop.

But he just went on his merry way, about to make other kids happy no doubt. That’s how you’re not my ice cream man, because I shouted, he didn’t hear;

you heard and you still went on your way.

 

 

How to Not Be an Existential Crippling Little Shiz

It’s 7 in the morning. Sunshine has completed its slow invasion into your bedroom. Outside, you can hear the regular hum of the traffic, of the usual faceless people who are like bees, always buzzing, always have places to go and people to see. As for you, you are lying quite unmovingly on your bed. The ceiling has been the target of your stare for the past ten minutes. If you tilt your head at just the right angle, those three dots on the ceiling actually resemble a smile. But you don’t want to smile, or cry. You’re just lying numb. Compared to the bee people outside, you feel like a rotten tree bark, rooted to one place, slowly slowly wasting away.

Sounds familiar? This is usually my friend’s usual “Oh, my God. What do I do with my life now?” episode after finishing a very good game, but to some people, this can easily be their every morning. You know, to the people who cannot help but constantly think about what they are doing with their life, and always on the lookout for ways to improve.

These people are natural tinkerer. They like to take apart a system, and then figure out how to improve it better. Involve them in a project, and before you know it, you are bombarded with observations and suggestions to make it run smoother.

And they have the same attitude towards life. They like to contemplate life from the outside and would like to ideally find ways to make it perfect. You see these people reading self-improvement books, trying out all the crazy yoga classes, and talking about “finding the meaning of life” with a person they just met 10 minutes ago, or reading this post. (I mean… if you read my blog, admit it, you’re one of us. Welcome home, Tinkerer #205, your spot of the ceiling is there from 5-6pm.)

Jokes aside though, even if it feels very satisfying and undoubtedly helpful to reflect upon your life once in a while, it can become quite inconvenient once you’re in the mood for it for a whole month and cease to be able to function normally in your life.

“Hey, you wanna grab breakfast?”
“No, I can’t. I don’t even know if breakfast is good for you or not, and I have to think about whether to quit my part time job to finally establish that goat farm I’ve always wanted, or should I quit school and become the next Bill Gates? Or…. maybe I should just sell everything and spontaneously move to Thailand and resume a new identity.”

“Uhmmm… okay… Maybe breakfast tomorrow then?”

Weirded-out friends aside, this constant contemplation of life also depletes your energy.

“To being with, it (work) fills a good many hours of the day without the need of deciding what one shall do. Most people, when they are left free to fill their own time according to their own choice are at a loss to think of anything sufficiently pleasant to be worth doing. And whatever they decide on, they are troubled by the feeling that something else would have been pleasanter,” said Bertrand Russell.

It also leaves you with a feeling of guilt because what are you doing with your life by just staring blankly into the air? You decide on something, say, you would like to become the next tortured artist, and you have a goal of improving your sketching techniques.  Day one, you watch a YouTube tutorial and sketch for 30 minutes. Day two, you sketch for another 30 minutes. Day three, you are looking up at the three dots on your ceiling, and spend 30 minutes wondering if you really wish to be an artist after all? What if being the owner of a dog shelter is really your dream?

And so you go back and forth between setting goals, feeling insecure, giving up and feeling guilty.

This is an extremely depressing process because as a tinkerer, you want to be better in life, but you seem to be caught in this perpetual cycle of setting goals and not completing them and stuck staring at nothing for hours on end and the lights at the end of the tunnel seems so far away.

But don’t you worry because there is a simple yet elegant system to keep your daily crisis at bay. The idea is originally from this post, and you should definitely check it out because damn, that person could write!

Anyhow, the idea is to stop yourself from thinking about life. Descend from the cloud of contemplation and actually live out your life.

Think of it like this, you are in a dark room and the only way to get out is to find a hidden door. You can either sit in a corner and think and think and think of where the door should be, or you can get up, feel around and figure it out along the way. And life? Life is a beautiful little dark trap. I don’t think anyone has ever found a door out successfully by just thinking about it (except for Buddha, but that’s a rant for another time). Most people learn to live a better life by groping shakily in the dark and gradually accumulate wisdoms on where to go and what to do. The point is, live life. Stop thinking about what to do and just do it! You will figure it out along the way and you can always take a new turn.

“But how about life contemplation? Is life even worth living if we don’t get to think about it?” you scream. Yes, Tinkerer #205, I hear you. I knew you would feel very irky if I told you to stop thinking, and just living which is why you should incorporate what I call a Meta Day in your month. A Meta Day is the day that you stop living and just do your thinking.

This is how it works.

These past two months, I’ve actually had a routine set up, you know, wake up at this time, do laundry at this day, and sketch at this hour. It’s so regular that my new breakfast place has my order and no-plastic-straw-request memorized. The goal is to free you of as much decision making as possible. You just KNOW what to do most of the time.

I have also chosen the 15th of every month as a Meta Day just because I fancy the fact that it’s the middle of the month. You can choose any day of the month, really. On Meta Day, I use my saving for the month to have a small getaway from town, preferably alone. Needless to say, you don’t have to flee town, but it does help make the Meta Day more exciting. On that day, I just lounge around and think about life. That’s it, none of the usual routine. Then I write down what I should change and/or try out (like maybe I don’t want to improve sketching for now).

After Meta Day, I descend from the cloud and live out my life with newly altered routines to accommodate the changes I have written down (like changing my sketching session to blogging). And the most reassuring point is that I won’t be allowed to change the life direction or routine until my next Meta Day comes around, so suck that, three dots on the ceiling!

I have been doing this for the past two months, and it still amazes me at the amount of help such a simple set up can bring. There you go! Try it out a month or two and see for yourself!