Friday, August 30, 2013

Friends that we know 2

The year 2008 was a defining one for me. I made two important decisions that have changed my life for the better. One was to start this blog and pen my thoughts. Another was to join the Toastmasters Club.

I am an introvert by nature. I could easily while my time away through reading, writing or just lazing around at home. I do not have strong social needs. I am comfortable to blend into the background in social settings. However with the need to do presentation at work, I decided to hone my briefing skills.

I found Toastmasters and through the years , I met many inspiring friends. One that left an indelible mark was Choo Choo. Even though we only had one chance encounter when she served as our language evaluator, her kindness and warmth permeated me. I started to follow her blog It pained me to know that she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. However, throughout her ordeal which she detailed , she proved to be a brave and incorrigible optimist . She struck me as a gentle and kind soul who always counted her blessings. Reading her story was an inspiration.

She has passed on about two years ago but I will always remember her. My dear friends, if you ever feel that life is unfair, read Choo Choo's blog. You will be swept away by her kindness.

Our job, our position – everything is temporary. The only thing that we are forever, is to touch another human being. Choo Choo has tugged at my heartstrings in the way she led her life and treated others.

This was her favourite quote:

"It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up." – Vince Lombardi.

Rest in peace, Choo Choo.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Food Connects

After my must-have morning coffee, I made my way to the office. It was a Friday morning, the office was still quiet as many of my colleagues had yet to stream in.

However, it was not the run-of-the-mill Friday. Tables were already set up outside the lift lobby along with banners shouting "Hearty Brekie". It was the annual charity breakfast that would see fellow office workers donned on their aprons, cooked up a storm in their kitchen and brought their wares for sale.

"Thank you for coming so early to help," said Mrs Poon. "Please help to pack the food like we have done last year."

She then rushed down to pick up the plastic bags from her car. The rest of us organised ourselves and started to pack the food like clockwork.

Before long, our food stall was open for business. The lift lobby was milling with people and buzzing with activities.

"How much?" One potential customer asked.

"$10 for the pumpkin cake and $3 for the glutinous rice." We chorused.

"Give me 1 of each."

A deal was closed.

At the end of the charity breakfast, the accounts were tallied. Lo and behold, Mrs Poon's stall racked in the highest sale! This was a testament to her exceptional culinary skills.

Food is so primal, so essential a part of our lives. I would say the way to a person's (not just man's) heart is through the stomach.

As the Irish idiom goes "Laughter is the brightest where the food is best.", we are in for a treat again. We will have the three things that are needed for a good life - good friends, good food and good song.

Thank you Mrs Poon!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Page from our Road Trip

"Motel 6, 6, 6, 6, 6..." My two boys were singing at the top of their lungs after their quick shower.

Thereafter they bolted out from the bathroom, cladded in the big, white towels and shaking their butts. It was a hilarious sight to behold.

Our family was on a much awaited road trip in USA, a country which we spent a year living. It was a homecoming of sorts as we would be retracing the footprints that we had left behind and also making new ones.

We had just checked into Motel 6 after a long day on the road. Our last longer stop was at Grand Canyon where we stayed for two days.

Things had changed. In our last visit a good five years back, we could still drive up to the Hopi Point. It was a godsend as it would be a challenge to manage the two boisterous young boys then. Fast forward now, they were raring to trek down to the bottom of Grand Canyon while this worrisome mommy was cutting back their expectations. I was nearly out of breath even though I managed to persuade them to do a u-turn as the trek looked too treacherous. Even then I was scared out of my wits. I could only force a moan then as my throat was so dry.

Thereafter we were on the road for two days travelling passing by Salt Lake City and Idaho. Along the road trip, we sang songs, improvised games from fast food drink/food containers to entertain ourselves and made pit stops to stretch, refresh and recharge. The sights on the road trip were interesting. Salt Lake City looked like a big industrial town, while we marvelled at the rows of water sprinklers at the many farms in Idaho.

We had just hit Black Hill National Forest, Fall, South Dakota. It was early June and the sun had just set, casting a golden haze on the spartan two storey building. We had decided to put up at Motel 6, a budget motel chain as the next stop would be a few hours drive away.

When it was my turn to take my bath, I realised that the water was cold. Though it was summer, the weather was cold by Singapore standards. Day temperature generally hovered around a comfortable mid-twenty Degree Celsius. Night temperature would drop a few notches. That explained the impromptu singing by the boys to drive the cold away.

Initially, we wanted to feedback to the receptionist but we dropped the idea as we would be checking out early next day to continue our journey to Chicago where we would be meeting my husband's brother and family. He was posted to Chicago for about 4 months for work and his family has joined him there.

We then hit the sack and were sound asleep in no time. Tomorrow would be another long day.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Friends that we know

Have you ever wondered how are things going for friends that we know? Friends that we once have known but lost contact as each processes to the next phase of life. I do. And I sometimes wonder how are their lives right now? As age catches up with me, such thoughts crop up more often.

Recently, I bumped into an old friend from my university life. It has been close to 20 years since we were school buddies. We had our breakfast and chatted like the good old days. He looked a chubbier version of what he used to be while I had the signs of wisdom etched on my face. However that two decades between us melted instantly when we talked. It felt like yesterday as if we were still in school, taking a breather before scouting for the lecture hall or tutorial room for our next lesson.

Then there was a colleague whom I last met some five years back. He was bright and witty. I took a liking on him as he came across as a sincere and earnest person. He was one whom I could confide in. He resigned and left for an overseas posting. That was the last that I have seen him.

For such friends where our lives have crossed in the past, I would wish that they are now leading a happy and fulfilling lives. I am thankful for having known them, for their help and the footprints they left in my memory lane.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Page from The Bright Side of Life

I chanced upon the blog, The Bright Side of Life. In one of the many beautiful written blog posts, the author shared with us 25 uplifting quotes. They all resonate with me. These quotes have survived the test of time and are simply inspiring.

I will like to share 3 of my favourite uplifting quotes, along with my thoughts with my readers as follows:

1. Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step. Martin Luther King Jr.

Many a times, we analyse too much until we are paralysed by fear. In the end, we do not take any action. But do we know by not doing anything is also an action? We do this as we like to put the blame on someone else but not ourselves.

When one is confused, what is important is to follow one's heart. Very often, the decision is very clear. Things get murky as our thoughts are muddled with the good-to-haves. What we need to do is to stay true to our desires and take the first step.

2. When one door of happiness closes, another one opens; but often we look so long at the closed one that we do not see the one that has been opened for us. Helen Keller

Helen Keller is one of my favourite poets. Once we have made a decision, we should move on. Still it is human nature to dwell in the past. Perhaps we lack imagination. The future is in our hands. Opportunity will knock but we have to answer it.

3. The past is history. The future is still a mystery. Today is a gift that is why it is called present. Sifu, Kungfu Panda

My father's sudden passing has made me realised the fragility of life. We also need to live the moment. Steve Jobs has famously said "Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life."

From my limited life experiences, I realised that very often, I already know what I want in life, which is exactly what Steve Jobs had shared. I just need to stay true to myself. What about you, my dear friends?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

We are not 100% Rational

"Game theory is rational behaviour in social situation."

John Harsanyi, US economist (1920-2000)

Rational behaviour formed the main plank of the economic theories developed prior to the 1980s. However, this is proved otherwise in situations of uncertainty. In fact, the presence of other choices in a set of options seem to matter to people.

It is also found that people have an aversion to ambiguity. So most will shy away from a choice whose future has a completely unknown probability. This is demonstrated in the Ellsberg paradox where people prefer to bet on an urn with 50 red and 50 blue balls, than in one with 100 total balls but the number of blue or red balls is unknown. As US economist Frank Knight once said "risk" can be quantified but not "uncertainty".

From 1980s, behavioural economics is established. It blends psychology with the mathematical techniques of economics. Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman are the key thinkers behind this field. One of the most important theory is "Prospect theory". It describes the way people deal with risk. It states that people make decisions based on the potential value of losses and gains, rather than the final outcome, and they are affected by how the question is framed.

There are two key insights from "Prospect theory".
- One hates to lose more than one likes to gain.
- The context matters (i.e. how the problem is framed)

This has wide-ranging influence on marketing and advertising. Dangling a huge discount off an original inflated price works like magic. Crowds will still flock to buy, thinking that they have snagged a good buy. People are also willing to incur greater time and effort to save $5 off from an item which costs $10 but not one costing $100, even though the net saving is the same.

This tendency towards loss-aversion means that , when choices for change are framed in such a way that the consequences are seen as negative, people are more likely to perceive the change as a problem. Knowing this can be used to influence people.

There are many other interesting nuggets of human psychology. We prefer a set of standard options given. We are affected by advertisement. If one puts good choices in easy reach and we are likely to choose them. Inundating people with too many choices, is not effective. Less options is usually better.

Yes, we are not 100% rational. But it does make this world a more interesting place to live in.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Where should one be heading?

Cumulus clouds dotted the cheerful blue sky. We stopped our car and alighted to gasp with delight at the wilderness around us. We were on a road trip in a foreign land. However, we felt so much closer to each other.

Away from the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day life, I realised what were the most important things in life. My two boys are my greatest gifts. They are innocent, ever so curious and always pushing their boundaries.

So my friends, when you are in a dilemma on where you should be heading. Follow your heart. Somehow, deep within you, you already know what you want to do.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Celestial Bodies, Aileen

It has been a very long time since I last published a blog post. I was overwhelmed by the amount of work - both from the personal and professional front. I grieved over the passing on of my beloved father. I struggled and am still struggling to find a good work-life balance.

Along the way, I was confused. At times, I was consumed by anger. This is so wrong. I have decided to pick myself up again. The whole world can be unfair to me, but it cannot hurt me unless I give it the permission.

Below was a poem which I have written to spur myself to become a stronger person. Maturity does not come with age. Rather it is the journey that one transverses and how one rolls along with the punches of life.

We can all be celestial bodies. Do stay tune for my next blog post. I will find time to do so.

Celestial Bodies, Aileen

Once upon a time, Earth grimaced when the sun was out
Life came to a standstill
Darkness engulfed
End of world loomed

But it was only for a short while
Dawn cracks again
As brightness gently shines throught the dark clouds
Just like Phoenix rises from ashes

There have been struggles
There have been doubts
Love triumphs all
Adversity builds character
Character makes life
Life is reborn
A new sun rises

It aims to shine brightly
Yet it is happy to play second fiddle
When the old returns

It is born out of the old
And will keep on burning
Bringing light and life to Earth