Swimming with Giants

At my parents’ house, there is a pond where tiny fishes barely the length of my thumbs happily co-exist with bulky koi fatter than my arms. 

The tiny ones look carefree while their gigantic pondmates seem unperturbed. 

And therein lies the allusion to yet another paradox. That it is actually, albeit counterintuitively more pleasant to swim among giants than those smaller than you.

True giants invoke feelings of awe and inspiration – but instead of making you feel small they make you feel like you want to and that you can get to their stature if you would put in the giant-sized beliefs and effort that they do. They do not belittle anything or anyone because it is just not in their DNA to dabble in smallness! They do not respond to big dreams with a joke, they respond with excitement because they have been there and know that dreams are worth chasing even if you have to die trying. Dreams are only a joke to those who do not believe in their own. 

They do not respond to ideas with sarcasm – subtle or overt – because people who believe in themselves always believe in others. The way they see you is simply a reflection of how they see themselves. 

When you reflect on a mistake with a giant, the giant will remark on the lessons you have gained and get excited about your way forward. The dwarf will at best shrug or at worst slap a label on what you did and remind you not to do it again, probably thinking that they are being helpful or maybe because they were not even thinking at all. 

So I would rather spend my time in the company of giants. Dwarfed in stature, but have my limits stretched to the point of growth. 

I would rather feel humbled and inspired by greatness, than feel insulted and frustrated by smallness. Because while successful people find joy in encouraging and challenging others to pursue their dreams, small minded people crave the comfort of hanging out with the ones who want to stay the same. That is why when you want change you would find people who would crack jokes or cast doubts.

Shrug off the smallness, and look for some Giants to look up to and to look up with. Because here’s the paradox: true Giants inspire greatness and growth in those who dare to dream. They may look intimidating from afar but their spirits are kind and nurturing. Dwarfs look humble but are in fact too proud to fail. They will not bother to see beyond their eye level because it is just too uncomfortable and unfamiliar – so if you find yourself feeling small, get away from dwarfs for they embrace you only if you stay the same. 

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That Little but Formidable Red Dot Down South

I am a Malaysian who sincerely admires our Southern neighbour, the tiny island state called Singapore – who is somehow always one step ahead, one pace faster. The bustling city state that used to be a part of my country till it was expulsed in 1965 due to ideological differences between its ruling party and Malaysia’s.

With a small disparate population, and even fewer resources – the tiny newly independent nation had to find its own way to survive.

And when you are small and vulnerable with so many disadvantages, how do you overcome the odds? Singapore ended up becoming an example of how a nation can thrive despite it all. Having traveled there regularly for work for the past one year, I observe a culture that I am convinced has enabled the meteoric rise of this country from 1965:

1. Wise picks of battles to fight
When your resources are limited you have to decide carefully where you want to focus them on – whether it’s your energy or money. I have yet to come across any colleagues in my Singapore office sweating the small stuff, for example worrying about form and not substance. Though Singapore is now way past its past struggles, the wise pragmatism seems to have remained. 

2. An absence of excessiveness
There is a fine line between making tremendous effort in the name of excellence and trying hard to impress. The city looks impressive, no doubt – but that is just the inevitable result of thoughtful and pragmatic planning done with the intention of inspiring the confidence of its own people and the foreign people whose skills, talent and investment would be needed to help Singapore prosper. Not to impress and boost fragile egos. No wonder I have yet to come across any kitschy or tacky looking buildings or monuments in Singapore. It is quite simply the epitome of elegance.

3. A strong focus on developing its uniqueness, and looking to others not to compare, but to learn and find strengths to leverage
This is closely related to picking battles wisely. Of course many would argue that Singapore is a competitive place – but we tend to forget that being competitive does not necessarily mean comparing with others. It is when we give our all to make the most of what we have that we become a force formidable enough for others to reckon with – and by then we find ourselves in our own league. I posit that Singapore does not focus so much on competing as much as it focuses on leading and leveraging its neighbours’ strengths. Any wonder why so many of my country’s best and brightest end up happily heading down south?

I love my country and I know Singapore has its own flaws. But there’s so much to learn from our excellent neighbour down south.

So this is how I have experienced Singapore. I would love to hear what you think, whether you are Singaporean or not.

South

Virgin Coconut Oil Body Lotion 

It’s circa 2.30 am now my side of the world, and I just made my first batch of natural body lotion. Since I was having insomnia again I decided I might as well do something – so I went to the kitchen and took out the half cup of organic virgin coconut oil that I had put in the refrigerator earlier, and started whisking away using my hand mixer. Apparently that was one way to make natural body lotion with just one ingredient – the coconut oil – so I had to try it out. 

It was quite a bit of work because of the solid state of the oil after refrigeration, but after some huffing and puffing I ended up with two mini jars of rich, luxurious, fragrant creamy coconut paste.  I think it qualifies more as body butter than lotion, considering its thickness. No thanks to the tropical climate in my country, though, the result of my hard work soon started showing signs of melting, returning to its original liquid form. Virgin coconut oil melts at temperatures over 24 degrees Celcius, and the average room temperature in Penang is 30 degrees. 

So I placed the two jars in my refrigerator, and will find out later in the morning what whipped coconut oil looks like in a solid form. Nevertheless, I hope it works as a rich luxuriant body butter as I am eager to replace my existing conventional body lotion from the Body Shop, which contains paraben among other synthetic chemicals. 

 

Thrive, Not Survive: My Journey towards Nature

I wonder how people saw to their survival in the ancient age, without the modern trappings we have today. So many things have been created for convenience, but do we think enough about how sustainable it is to keep using disposable this and that, and buying products that are not only laden with chemicals but also come in non-biodegradable packaging that we simply throw away?

Many of us tend to see it as a way to save time and reduce hassle – after all, life in the digital age is fast-paced and competitive – so why bother reusing old things when we can easily replace them with new ones?

Yet I suspect one of the reasons why stress is such a big part of modern life – is because everytime we create waste and consume synthetic substances, deep down we know that we are putting our health, the environment and our future generations at risk – therefore our conscience gnaws at us, leading to subconscious negative energy and stress.

Maybe this is why I find it so therapeutic to go back to basics whenever I can. I have always enjoyed collecting old bottles and this year I finally did something about my long-held interest to experiment with DIY natural products. My journey began sometime mid-March, with some baking soda, extra virgin coconut oil, organic rice bran oil (I bought it because I wanted a healthy cooking oil with a high smoking point, the amazing benefits it has for my skin and hair were sheer serendipity!) organic castile soap, kaolin clay, and essential oils.

I started by making my own toothpaste and body wash, and to date the list of commercial products that I have replaced with my DIY natural alternatives are:

1. Toothpaste
2. Body wash
3. Facial toner
4. Facial moisturiser (though the replacement won’t really count as DIY, because I simply started using organic rice bran oil on my face!)
5.Makeup remover (also doesn’t qualify as DIY for reason similar to the one above)
6. Hair conditioner
7. Clothes detergent
8. Dish washing liquid

Next on my list should be my shampoo, though I am currently using a store-bought organic one.

So far it has been fun and rewarding. I love being able to reuse old bottles to store my homemade products. The organic apple cider vinegar works great as a toner, and the rice bran oil is the best moisturiser I have ever had. These two cost a lot less than the commercial skincare products I used to buy, so I look forward to the long-term savings. And it feels great washing my dishes, knowing that there will not be toxic chemical residues from the wash! Same goes for my laundry. And no more fluoride in my toothpaste!

This journey to go back to nature has convinced me that things and decisions made in the name of speed and convenience, more often than not, help us to merely survive, but not thrive.

I won’t be able to give up on all conventionally mass produced daily products. But one thing for sure: my quest for all things natural and organic will be a lifelong progress.

Survival

Let Grandma Walk Again! 

My eyelids are heavy and yet I just cannot sleep. While I tossed and turned in my own bed my thoughts wandered to my grandma who is currently confined to the hospital bed, having had a fall last week. 

I just visited her this afternoon and while she did look better she was showing some signs of confusion, repeatedly forgetting that she was in the hospital. We are all thankful that she sustained only a slight fracture in her hip and therefore does not require surgery, which would have been perilous for someone at her age. 

But it still saddens me to think of her in the cold hospital. Especially when she had ruefully said a couple of times after the fall, “If I had not fallen I would still be able to bathe myself and then comb my hair and powder my face before going out to the living room to watch the television.”

I could sense the longing in her voice – for her old routine and the simple pleasure of independence – and my heart ached. 

This is the woman I had spent my earliest years with, the first victim of my earliest childhood pranks, the person I had called in desperation when I got into a huge disagreement with my parents at the age of 18 and felt like I had nowhere to turn for help. And when I had a break up four years ago, she was the one who cried! 

To chronicle the sweet moments with her from my toddler years I would have to write a mini novel. 

Earthly life is not forever and I know we all have to say goodbye to our loved ones sooner or later, but I guess I will never ever come to a stage where I am ready to let my grandma go. I pray that she will have many more good years ahead, perhaps till 100; after all her own mother lived till the nineties. 

Maybe it is just my conscience bugging me, telling me that I had not spent enough time with her. I could have visited her more since she had been staying with my uncle whose house is near mine. 

I had witnessed my grandma age over the decades, from a woman who was strong well into her late seventies, caring for my grandpa till he died, despite being on insulin for diabetes. Then she began to need the walking stick…and now she is temporarily immobile and confined to the hospital bed.

It got me thinking of the inevitable eventuality…and of life and the impermanence of it all. And how I would miss her when she eventually has to leave. 

How can I not? She is such a big part of my life. She babysat me till I was five. And frequently stayed over with us through my childhood and teenage years. Having grandpa and grandma over was such a happy thing that I looked forward to. She had amazing cooking skills and whipped up traditional recipes from scratch. My brother and I used to watch her slave over the traditional charcoal stove that she used to make sticky glutinous rice cake for Chinese New Year, tirelessly stirring the hot sticky concoction before pouring into individual containers to cool. 

She cared for my grandpa for decades, unconditionally and uncomplainingly. Theirs was an arranged marriage, and by his thirties my grandpa had gotten ill and lost his ability to work. My grandma took care of his every need and raised his six children, and they all went on to succeed in their fields. My dad often says, “Growing up in a kampong house with a muddy floor, I never imagined I would one day own the properties I do today.” 

My grandma used to eat as richly as she used to cook. I loved her hand pounded sambal belacan and various hot and spicy Thai-influenced dishes. And nyonya kuihs. I have no idea where she learnt to make all those things that she sadly doesn’t have the physical strength to make anymore now. I must ask her when I see her tomorrow. 

Then diabetes caught up with her and I watched her let go of her love for rich and sweet foods. And jovially embraced a bland and restricted diet. 

She loved looking pretty in her youth and still loves commenting on my shoes, accessories and makeup (or more often than not, the lack of). Once I showed her a new handbag I bought from Mango – a bright turquoise shoulder bag in faux patent leather and she nodded in approval agreeing that it was gorgeous. Another time she browsed along with my sister and I when we were looking at luxury handbags online, giving her opinion. 

She also cared for my late greatgrandparents till their very last breaths. My greatgrandpa suffered from cancer for almost a year before he passed away and my grandma was his primary caregiver. 

I miss the sight of my grandma strolling out of her room with the aid of her walking stick, dressed in her button-down blouse and sarong. I said a prayer for her about an hour ago, then I heard from a cousin that she was able to sit up this evening. 

That brought me some comfort. And having grandma in hospital now…is just another reminder of what true priorities in life should look like. 
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