Friday, October 22, 2010

In Leisure and Idleness

Friday, October 22, 2010

With several additional leave credits earned from going to work early every day, I have decided to take another week off. But it’s not as if I have travel plans or something because I don’t. Next week will just be spent in pure leisure and idleness, and I can’t think of a better way to spend my vacation other than that.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The moment that it became eternal and compulsory

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one’s everyday life as if this were so… The clear awareness of having been born into a losing struggle need not lead one into despair.  I do not especially like the idea that one day I shall be tapped on the shoulder and informed, not that they party is over but that it is most assuredly going on—only henceforth in my absence.  Much more horrible though would be the announcement that the party was continuing forever, ad that I was forbidden to leave.  Whether it was a hellishly bad party or a party that was perfectly heavenly in every respect, the moment that it became eternal and compulsory would be the precise moment that it began to pall."

~ Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Breaking In My Boots

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It suddenly occurred to me how ridiculous I must have looked roaming around the mall in short shorts and rugged hiking boots amid ladies clad in dainty sandals and flip-flops. How shameful my shameless outfit was that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at myself. Wearing those tough hikers, I could have trod on the pink pedicured toes of the woman who gave me that I-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-dressed-like-you head-to-toe look, but I didn’t. It felt so absurdly good walking around and breaking in those new shoes that nothing, not even that woman, could have ruined it. And, while I was on my way home, when it started to pour and I had to maneuver across muddy puddles and dirty rainwater streaming down the street in those waterproof boots, I guess I didn’t look ridiculous anymore.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Because I Can

Monday, October 18, 2010


Why are you going to those countries? Why are you learning that language? Why do you wear such clothes? Why don’t you just do this instead of that or that instead of this? Why go through all that trouble when it's easier to take a shortcut? Why do you do the things that you do?

When asked those questions, I shrug and simply say: Because I can.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

When Sidewalks Become an Obstacle Course

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Determined to be fit for the Inca Trail hike without hitting the gym, I’ve no recourse but to walk within the area where I live, in a place where urban planning is unheard of and pedestrians proceed at their own risk. With sidewalks that are more like an obstacle course, the 30-minute walk from my house to the nearby mall becomes a test of alertness and survival. Unmindful of traffic rules and the very fact that sidewalks are for people, motorbikes come roaring straight at me, and I can’t but move aside and graciously let them pass by. In some areas where erstwhile sidewalks have been transformed into private parking lots the only choice is to walk along the edge of the pavement, on the curb near the gutter or, in many cases, in the middle of the street itself where vehicles whoosh by me as if I were a mere lamppost.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Six AM Trade-off

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Each night before I go to bed I would make a vow to wake up at six in the morning for a quick jog, but as of today that promise has yet to be fulfilled. I always end up reading until 1 AM or until my eyes cannot take it any longer, whichever comes first. And, once I put down the book, it takes another 30 minutes—spent pondering on what I’ve just read--before finally sinking into deep slumber. With barely five hours of sleep, I cannot but stay in bed for another precious hour. By choosing that extra hour in bed, I forego my fitness plans for that morning and forsake, yet again, the promise I made to myself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

just a beach resort

Monday, October 11, 2010

“Of course this is more than a beach resort.  But at the same time, it is just a beach resort.  We come here to relax by a beautiful beach, but it isn’t a beach resort because we’re trying to get away from beach resorts.” (Alex Garland, The Beach, 1997)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happiness and the Anna Karenina Principle

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sixty-four pages to go and I’m done with Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1999), a book that sought to—and actually did--answer  questions like "why weren't Native Americans, Africans, and Aboriginal Australians the ones who decimated, subjugated, or exterminated Europeans and Asians?" and "why did wealth and power become distribute as they now are, rather than in some other way?" Among his controversial claims and interdisciplinary arguments, one of the things that struck me was his use of the famous first line of Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece, Anna Karenina:

“Happy families are all alike: every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

By that opening sentence, when viewed in the context of the entire story, Tolstoy probably meant that for a family to be happy, many different things need to work out, while only one of those things need to fail in order for a family to be unhappy. Diamond extended this idea beyond families and used it to explain why many seemingly suitable big wild animals species have never been domesticated: "to be domesticable, a candidate wild species must possess many different characteristics. Lack of any single required characteristic dooms efforts at domestication, just as it dooms efforts at building a happy marriage."

The Anna Karenina principle, according to Diamond, “can be extended to understanding much else about life besides marriage. We tend to seek easy, single-factor explanations of success. For most important things, though, success actually requires avoiding separate possible causes of failure.” Thus, any one factor can cause the failure of a marriage, a business, a relationship, a system, a country, anything; and if that thing does indeed work, then it intrinsically possesses all of those factors that made it work.


I wonder if the Anna Karenina principle can, as Diamond suggested, be extended to understanding personal happiness and contentment. If we are to follow the principle, for a person to be happy and content with his or her life, he or she must possess many different things, but if any single thing is lacking, all attempts at attaining happiness and contentment are bound to fail. It does sound right, or doesn’t it?

I still cannot understand why there are people who seem to have it all but remain unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. Does it mean that something is lacking still? And if something is missing in one’s life, does that preclude any chance at happiness? There are those who have nothing and simply settle and make do with what they have yet are happy and content (although others see that as complacency or lack of ambition). What makes one happy doesn’t necessarily make another person happy.

What are the exact ingredients needed for contentment and happiness, anyway? Does anybody know?  

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles Six: George Town’s Heritage Buildings

Tuesday, October 5, 2010



Within a few blocks from our hotel in George Town are these buildings that depict Penang’s cultural heritage. This collection of historic architecture--ranging from mosques, Chinese clan houses, churches, Hindu and Chinese temples to a fort, clan jetties, mansions and Victorian government buildings—bespeak how Penang’s multiethnic settlers have lived in harmony and peaceful diversity over the last two centuries.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Quitting

Monday, October 4, 2010

“I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer…. V." (Virginia Woolf’s suicide note, 28 March 1941)

Virginia Woolf filled her coat pocket with stones and walked into the river; David Foster Wallace hanged himself; Ernest Hemingway shot himself in the mouth; Hunter S. Thompson shot himself in the head; John Kennedy Toole ran a garden hose from the exhaust pipe to his car where he was found dead; and Sylvia Plath thrust her head in the gas oven and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Reading about the lives of these writers who all chose to quit life made me think about what quitting entails. It is always less difficult to let things be than to make a decision, and for these writers to choose life over death, a cowardly thing to do for some, must have required firmness of mind and will, or so I thought.

Those who quit, if not pitied, are treated with dismissive scorn, and those who endure against all odds are looked up to with wide-eyed awe; quitters are cowards, and survivors are heroes. I wonder why this is so. Why is quitting seen as terrible and unacceptable? But more importantly, what makes a person quit school, quit work, quit a relationship, quit life?

In a world where everything has become disposable and replaceable, giving up too easily for no apparent reason is unacceptable. We try as much as we can to hold on to that thing because it is worth holding on to. We do not quit because it is only by staying on that we would get what we’ve always wanted and strived for.

But what is so terrible about quitting when by doing so you would free yourself from crippling anxiety and spare yourself more pain? There is no point in deluding yourself that everything will fall into place when you know, deep down, that it will not. Is it wrong or shameful to admit that you cannot do it anymore or bear it any longer? Why continue something that isn’t making you happy anymore? They say that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, but what if it just leaves you broken in the end?
 
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