On A Night Of Insomnia – A Little Diary

Every night, the moment my wife slips out of my embrace is the moment I am briefly woken up, if I am asleep by then.  That happens all the time because living beings do not stay still when sleeping.  Do they?  One time, I observed my dog back in Hong Kong.  I think he dreams.  He would snuggle into a heap of blankets mom and dad have put together, feeling all comfortable on his bed.  Another moment, he would sleepwalk to my dad’s bed, rest his body on the cold hard floor, and closed his eyes falling back to sleep.  Once in a while, he would wake up, walk to the front door, make some scratching sound, growl a bit (someone outside?), and then head back to his corner of the living room, sip some water before returning to his heap of blanket – just like I do.  Not the scratching and growling bit, but the drinking bit, and perhaps the peeing bit.

Cynthia often tells me that I do spring out of the bed at times, make some strange body motions, and speak some random words before heading back to bed.  I often deny such absurd behaviors of mine.  Like she often denies the fact that in extremely rare occasions especially after a long tiring day during our holiday, she is capable of  snoring, however light and gentle, barely inaudibly and certainly adorable her heavy breathing may seem.  Lucky for me, I have once recorded her dreamy symphony.  The next morning, I played the recording back to her.  And we had a good laugh.  She has yet to have caught me doing such weird stuffs on camera.  Hence, for now, such a claim is still a myth.

Fish do not stay still when sleeping.  When I was young, our family was used to have a huge water tank full of gold fish.  I cannot recall if fish sleep with their eyes closed.  I have this fascination with fish inside a fish tank.  Fish mating is one of the most beautiful things to see on earth.  I could stare at fish all day long.  I could trick my fish to kiss my fingers thinking that I was showering them with food.  And when I did shower them with food, some got so excited so much so that they would leap out of the water.  Heck.  My dad’s friend could trick my fish to surface and he would then exhale cigarette smoke onto the eagerly opened mouths of my gold fish.  Then inhaled his cigarette and let go a long slow stream of smoke into the sea of open fish mouths.  Rinse and repeat.  What does nicotine do to fish?  I do not want to know.  Cynthia does not have the same level of fascination.  People say that opposite attracts.  Since I am not a dog lover, I think that makes us even.

Turtles, on the other hand, sleep motionlessly, to my best knowledge.  So motionless that one of them died in my home because none of us remember to feed him with food and water, after his long hibernation.  We were used to keep birds too.  Birds are so active that I am unsure if they ever sleep.  I have seen them dosing off.  That was about it.  I could not tell if a caterpillar sleeps.  It either eats or stops eating.  When I was young, my dad would bring home some caterpillars found at the rooftop of the cinema he worked in.  He would then breed the butterflies using his Japanese doll glass container – a wedding gift of my parents (that Japanese doll to be precise).  It was magical to see a caterpillar turning into a butterfly.  My sister and I would hold the butterflies in our hands and we would release them from our seven-storey tall apartment.

Dogs, fish, turtles, birds, and caterpillars.  Some move during their sleep.  Some I do not know.

Last night, the moment my wife slipped out of my embrace was the moment I was woken up, quite permanently so, at least for that night.  I tried to go back to sleep but I could not.  The noise from the street seemed to have magically amplified, as the time entered deeper into the early morning.  Not a single moment of silence.   I thought of renovating my home with thick soundproof windows; I thought of renovating my home with new cabinets and a fresh layer of paint; I thought of the dust we have to deal with and I have to clean up; I thought of the what, when, how, and soon, it became more tiring trying to sleep.  I thought of moving to a new home that has complete serenity.  But where in Singapore do we have such serenity?  I got out of the bed, retreated to the living room, and now what?  I pictured myself inside a plane, like I was a week ago.  Now what?

I finished reading a book recommended by one of my blogger friends.  The book is about a Jew’s interpretation of the biblical story of Samson.  While as a Catholic, I do not disagree with the author on theological ground, I must say that his interpretation borders on being imaginative at best and far fetched at worst.  Maybe he is right, reading the scripture in his perspective.  Maybe the word ‘came’ in Hebrew does have a sexual connotation.  Hence when the angel came to Samson’s supposedly barren mother, his mother was in fact impregnated by a stranger.  Maybe the word ‘grind’ in Hebrew also has a sexual connotation. Hence when the blinded Samson was imprisoned, the locals offered their wives to him hoping that he could perform the miracle of getting them pregnant, treating Samson like a ‘stud bull’.  Maybe it is also true that when Samson was called to entertain the crowd in the temple, he was asked to perform sex acts.  Who am I to argue with a Jew who reads the bible in Hebrew?

After reading, I tried to sleep again.  But my mind was filled with a film staring Samson in a Eyes Wide Shut style, with my eyes wide opened.  To be honest, I spend more time reading the New Testament than the Old Testament.  To the Christians, Messiah has come.  Old Testament is there to foretell the coming of Christ and Christ is here to fulfill the scripture.  To the Jews, the Messiah has yet to come.  And our New Testament is not at all relevant.  Still, the Jewish author’s interpretation of the story of Samson has kept me awake.  I got out of the sofa, dragged my tired body to the bookshelf in another room, and dug out the Catholic Study Bible.  I read in depth the writing structure of the Old Testament and how the books were organized, the theological value of the Book of Judges (judges are heroes who were significant in the Israel history before the era of the kings), and in particular, the chapters on Samson.  I read the Bible slowly, and in greater detail, including the study notes.  Fortunately the story of Samson is not long . I sought peace in my faith and peace has fallen upon me by four in the morning.

Do you believe in spiritual food?  I felt so refreshed after meditating on the scripture.  One friend of mine once told me that he meditated one hour in the morning every day before going to work.  I used to think that such action would put any sane person to sleep, unless you are a saint.  Come to think of it, maybe spiritual refreshment for the soul works with the body too.  Not during wee hours, for sure. Perhaps during daybreak.

I still could not sleep so I pondered: What would I have done if I was on the plane?  I have got another book to finish.  But the topic is heavy.  It has something to do with psychology and how our brain works.  Cynthia would have switched on the in-flight entertainment.  I took out one of the Blu-ray discs that I have been wanted to watch.  It was a Cantonese movie, a two-hour show.  My reasoning was that I could get bored and tired watching a movie and however little the number of hours left before seven, I could at least catch some.  Besides, I have so many unwatched discs that are no longer funny.  Why do I keep buying when I am unable to consume them in time?

I was wrong.  The movie was engaging, heartwarming and wrenching at the same time.  The movie is called “Break Up Club”.  I bought it during my previous Hong Kong visit because Fiona Sit is staring in it.  It is extremely hard to find good and recent Cantonese movies in Singapore.  I miss my mother tongue immensely.  How the actors behave on screen, all the little quirky movements, the dramatic dialogs, and the facial expressions, they struck my inner core like no other languages do.  I laughed and cried with the actors.  I was more awake every passing minute.  Despite the fact that it is not a perfect film, it perfectly warmed my heart.  And it perfectly failed to put me to sleep.

By six, I retired to the bedroom, where Cynthia was fast asleep.  I might have caught half an hour of nap before the alarm clock rang.  Added to that half an hour of nap before my wife slipping out of my embrace, I had one hour of rest and a bunch of activities in between. Insomnia is a strange experience.  Some time during one to six, I felt as though my consciousness has left my body. Will I be rewarded with a solid eight hours of sleep tonight?  I will have to wait and see.

Merry Christmas, And A Brief Summary Of 2010

What a year 2010 has been!  By the time you read this, I am very much on my way leaving town, looking forward to meeting Cynthia’s family and enjoying the serenity of an Internet blackout.  Back to basic, somewhere in Indonesia.  I can imagine how I would hear the ringing in my ears at night, be greeted by the rather cool air in the morning, the prayers from a mosque nearby before the break of dawn.  I would have so much time to exercise, to read, to revise my Spanish, to take a walk in the neighborhood, and to taste the local food.

The official announcement was out yesterday.  My entry of “Sea Turtle” has won over the judges from the HP team, against some of the stiffest competitions.  I have read some of entries written by fellow bloggers showcased at the HP Singapore Facebook page, and they are good.  I am thrilled, very thrilled that the judges were won over by – quoting from the email – my creativity, relevance to the topic, and the originality of my story.  And I dedicate this little achievement of mine to you, my readers.  Especially those who think that I should take up writing more seriously, and the encouragement I receive when I venture outside my comfort zone – in terms of writing.  Also, thanks to Amelia from Waggener Edstrom who has been encouraging and reminding me to complete the entry.  Your positive energy is a blessing to those around you.  You should be my agent, should my writing career takes off.

I enjoy writing “Sea Turtle” a lot.  Because it took me a few good weeks to research on the subject matters down to how sea turtles hear and what sea turtles do.  And it took some good thinking in order to put together a folklore, as inspired by Italo Calvino and his lecture notes “Six Memos for the Next Millennium”.  I am not literature trained.  I wish I was.  Having said that, I would probably hate writing if it was so.

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This doodle of mine (on top of this post) is titled tentatively as “Rain of Heaven and Fire of Chaos”.  It started as a ginger bread man – Cynthia can vouch for it.  But I tossed the idea away and started afresh, with something more complex.  Because that ginger bread man and Christmas tree composition was going nowhere.  I am not sure if anyone would get what this drawing is trying to say.  It is a rather private piece of composition.  Hence the zipper.

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Instead of spending time to write a batch of posts to be released while I am away like I used to – which I suppose most readers would be busy celebrating the festive season and new year with family and friends – I dedicate my time going through all my year 2010 posts.  OK.  Retract a little.  Before I went through my posts this year, I tried to recall what I did in 2010.  Nothing significant came up.  The other day, I had lunch with my good friend Shauna.  We concluded that time flies, year 2010 has disappeared as quickly as it arrived.  Cynthia and I had dinner with our good friend Tong Kiat two evenings ago for his birthday celebration at Dempsey Road.  We also concluded the same.  Now, when I did take time to look through what I have done, here are some of my favorite entries that you may or may not have read.  Some, I have even forgotten that they were written.  Back to the first practical reason of why I blog.  Time does fly.  But not without leaving behind some of the fondest memories.

In no particular order, there is a brief summary of my year 2010.

  1. My niece Bethany was born in January!  When I look at my little sister, who is so full of heavenly joy, it is hard to believe that she now has a little daughter.  My photo is seldom featured here.  The one taken on Bethany’s 100th day birthday still melts my heart whenever I look at it.
  2. I do many silly things in life.  Regardless, these would have been my talking points if we are to meet face-to-face.  Like that toilet bowl incident.  Like that little operation I had on my toe and my buddy still thinks that it was not a piece of hair.  I should have kept the specimen, as what my doctor has suggested.  And like that hard sales incident that till today, whenever I am inside Thomson Plaza, I try to avoid that counter.  Cynthia would say: Don’t worry, you are with me and no one will touch you! Yep.  I feel so much protected with Cynthia around.
  3. If I have to pick one post I enjoy writing the most this year, besides that sea turtle post, that would be the koala post.  Or the one on Indonesian forest fire.  The style is similar.  It takes effort and tons of luck to chain up the stories.  What if I fail to chain them up?
  4. Well, the materials would turn into the “Snippet of My Life” series, which has been running for more than three years.  Snippet without a doubt holds a special place in my heart.  Of all that I have written this year, episode 27 is my favorite.
  5. Our band has performed live gigs in Bali Culture, which unfortunately the land that the restaurant sat on has been repossessed by our government.  Our band has not been doing much lately, due to a missing drummer, and subsequently, lost in momentum and motivation.  Sometimes in life, there are something that I wish.  And there are something that are out of reach.
  6. Writing travel journals takes so much time and sustained concentration.  However, I am glad that I do.  My favorite albums would be Gorges du Verdon in France and Lamma Island in Hong Kong.
  7. Counting how much time and money I have spent on learning Spanish is, scary.  From time to time, I use what I have learned from my Spanish class as an inspiration for my posts.  When I was 18 is one good example.
  8. What else?  Of course, for many years to come, Cynthia and I would still be laughing about how we spent our 10th wedding anniversary.

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Yesterday I was on leave.  Ever since I have been relocated to the east, hardly do I have the opportunity to meet my sister for business lunch.  Because she works at the west.  So I was thinking: Why not gang up with Bethany – my niece – (together with Benny of course) and  have a Surprise!! lunch with my sister?  The logistic turned out to be more tedious than I thought.  So instead of a Surprise!!, we have a “surprise”.  Lora was fully aware of our visit.  Still, it was a fun day.

Below is a photo taken with my niece Bethany possibly mouthing and gesturing “I am number one” or “My mama is the best” or “My papa is the coolest” or “Hey, pass me that camera of yours, would you?”  In the middle is my sister Lora, and by her sides, Benny and Bethany.  Now that I look closer at the photo, I am very much convinced that Bethany was mouthing MERRY CHRISTMAS!

How I Met My Mother (At A Dumpster She Said)

In one Spanish class, our teacher Alejandra posed a question: How did you meet that someone important in your life? For those who have kids at home, you must have been bombarded by soul searching questions like this.  What a way to relive your childhood.  As for me, attending a Spanish class is as close to reflecting on my childhood education as I can get.

My mother often said: I found you in a dumpster. Looking back, that must be one of the most profound things I have come across at that very young age of mine.  A simple statement that encapsulates so many concepts.  I found you in a dumpster creates a disassociation, a resignation, and a diversion to the million possible emotions that went through my mother’s head when I was hopelessly naughty, when life seemed unbearable.  Often, I saw my mother silently staring out of the window in tears for hours.  And all I could say was I am sorry.  I guess back then it was hard for my mother to explain to her son how disappointed she was, how heartbroken she was.  Hence, I found you in a dumpster is a good proxy to sum up all her emotions.

Besides, I as a small kid would probably understand that statement better than her trying to tell me what she was going through.  Looking back, I guess it was also her way to teach me the notion of a two-way love.  Not just from her to me, but also I to her.  When I first conceptualized I found you in a dumpster, I thought it was a cool thing.  Monkey God (from a Chinese legend) came from a piece of worthless stone.  And I, from a dumpster.  But thinking deeper, I realized that the conveyed message was: You are not like me and hence you are not my son. Even as a very small kid, that blew.

I cannot recall how exactly my thinking process went.  I suppose my optimism has imbued in me since young.  All of a sudden, I have a mission in life.  I vowed to prove to my mother that I am indeed her son and I am going to make her proud.  What a long journey that became.  Over the years, my mother has subtly taught me that love is a two-way highway.  I too have to reach out to her.

Now that I am older and a little bit wiser, I am more and more convinced that she could well be saying I found you in a dumpster to herself, especially when the going got rough.  A reminder of how close she was to lose me in a hospital when the doctors and nurses informed her that my chance of survival was slim.  And that it turned out to be a blessing for her even if she has to accept me in whatever condition I was, so long as I live.  In another word, I was indeed lost and found, not in the most glamorous way.

I am not as articulated in Spanish.  The Spanish version of the story is as follows.  Thanks to Alejandra who corrected my grammar.  I think the Spanish tenses are intense.

La persona más importante en mi vida es mi madre.  Sin ella, yo no existo.  Sé que parece una tontería.  Cuando era joven, mi madre me decía de dónde venía, sobre todo cuando estaba enfadada conmigo.  Ella me decía que me encontró en el contenedor de la basura.   Cada vez que era travieso, me contaba la misma historia.   En el fondo, sé que ella me ama.  La metáfora de que me encontró en un contenedor de basura puede ser cruda.  Pero es un recuerdo constante del dolor que perdura para hacerme lo que soy hoy.

This entry has prompted me to work on a set of photos taken in my 2009 trip to Hong Kong.  My parents, Cynthia, and I have visited this garden.  If I remember correctly, the fossil stones and trees come from China.  My dad used to visit the garden often and he knows where the good spots are for photo taking.  Unfortunately, my photography skill was inadequate (I just bought my dSLR).  And I wish I had the white balancing card with me.  Nevertheless, for memory’s sake, below is a set of photos of the garden.

And another set for my family.

I Blog Because …

My blogger buddy Walter has written an excellent post on why he blogs regularly.  I have been wanting to write a similar topic for ages.  So why not do it now?

I blog because … I am highly imaginative?

  1. I have this special ability to look pass the pathetic statistics and number of comments in my website and visualize millions of fans waiting eagerly for what I am going to post next.  You hear right!  I do it for the people.  In fact, I am so psyched by my vision that I manage to psych those who are around me.  Some think that I am a celebrity blogger.  Erm.
  2. I have this vision that one day in the very distant future, when our planet would be populated by another species that replace homo sapiens, in one of the dig sites, they would discover a hard disk that would date back to our present era.  Inside, they would find my website.  And I would have become legendary.  Pretty much like the dinosaur bones now displayed in the museums.  Note: This inspires my doodle above titled “Original Disk”.
  3. I love to do voluntary work.  In the old days, people were happy to pay for things that they consumed.  Nowadays, from music albums to books, from recent movie blockbusters to daily news, people want to consume things for free – legally or illegally.  Most bloggers write for free.  Because we love what we do.  In fact, I have this vision that at the pinnacle of our civilization, none of us would work for money.  Money would vaporize.  How nice?

I blog because … I am a dreamer?

  1. I have this dream.  One day I will be a writer.  Like a real writer who writes books that people read and critic.  I have no idea how to get there although I do have millions of ideas in my head.  I reckon if I keep writing, every other day, if I keep on practicing, by the power of some cosmic random events, I might have my dream comes true.  And then I can quit my day job, do my writing in some exotic locations sponsored by my publisher.  Wouldn’t life be lovely?
  2. I see my website as the incubator for my budding hobbies, my decades old hobbies.  Publishing my work online forces me to keep doing it and doing it better.  Sure, some hobbies may take a nosedive.  Like the gazillion number of fans and friends who recently ask: What happens to your band?  Do you still jam? Sure, it feels crap every time when I have to explain why our band is in hiatus.  But in the long run, this invisible support, my commitments made public, all crystallized into an invisible cane that keep me going.
  3. Oh yes.  If my writing career does not work out, may be I could be a musician?  A professional doodler?  A Spanish video blogger?  Well …

For all practical reasons and beyond …

  1. I keep a website to keep track on what I do over the years.  I would feel empty if decades pass by and I have no recollection on what I have done, what I have tried to do.  Sure, we should live in the present.  But the past is just as important.  That is why there is a degree called History.  Uh huh?
  2. The difference between an offline diary and an online diary, to me, is vast.  Because I have an online diary, I strive to live an interesting and inspiring life each and every day.  Otherwise, I would have nothing interesting and potentially inspiring to write online.  Yes?

How To Quiet The Prancing Horses Inside Your Head?!

This is a pretty heavy topic.  But I am sure some of you can handle.

Once in a while, some trusted friends of mine would confide in me the situations they faced – at work, in relationship, or life in general – and hope to hear my perspective.  I love listening to stories and answering questions.  In this particular situation, which for obvious reason I am unable to share the details, I could sense that at any point, anxiety would overwhelm my friend, eating up her sleep, and affecting her ability to make the right decisions.  So I offered, “None of these what-if are real.”  “What do you mean?” she asked.  “All these scenarios [you have imagined] are like the prancing horses inside your head, they make you feeling worried.  You have to quiet the noise down.  Take a deep breath!”  “But how do you quiet what goes on in your mind?” she asked.

Good question.  How to quiet the prancing horses inside your head?  How to rid your worries and attain tranquility in the face of an imminent and potentially desperate situation?  To be frank, it is an art that I am still trying to master.

While I am not a big fan of self-help books, there are a few that are life changing to me.  It is an open secret that “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey has changed the way I divide my time between work and life.  Begin with an end in mind is a concept that prompts us to reflect upon what we want to be remembered of, by our loved ones.  Since then, for one decade, while working hard during the working hours, I put in an equal amount of effort to live life as purposeful as I can outside these hours.  Once in a while, I have friends coming up to me and asked how do I find time to do this and that.  In this instance, I think the question of why is more important than how.  And now you know why.

The late Randy Pausch is an inspiration and his book “The Last Lecture” has touched my heart.  There are two concepts that stick to my mind like that one single habit from the above-mentioned book.  One is don’t complain and work harder.  I find that extremely useful especially at work.  It works equally well in relationships too.  Another one is to lead life the right way and do the right thing.  My day is full of decision points (and so do yours too I suppose).  It is so much easier to pick the right thing to do when in doubt.  The outcome may not be the most favorable, in the short run.  At least the process is robust.

Back to the topic of prancing horses inside our heads, I borrow the concept from “Happiness At Work” by Dr. Srikumar Rao.  This book has so many good stuffs but like the other two books, I can only internalize a few concepts that stick.  If you take a deeper look at the root of anxiety, it is not hard to realize that the thoughts that create anxiety are purely our imagination.  Not thinking about the what-if does not make the problem goes away, I agree.  But feeling worried does not help in crafting the next course of action, even if the best action is to wait.  Here are my stories to share.

When I was holidaying in France, the workers had initiated a strike.  What if no train will be working tomorrow and how are we going to get to the airport?  What if the airport shuts down?  What if the flight to Nice is canceled?  When my home server that houses my personal data crashed, what if I am unable to bring it back up?  What if the support line is not able to help?  What if more than one hard disks are crashed and all my data is lost?  When new team members are mysteriously added into the team or when there is another round of re-organization, what if my role becomes redundant?

How to quiet these thoughts down?

I agree with some readers that good concepts like the above are easy to understand but hard to execute.  That is why we need time to practice (the first concept has taken me 10 years to work on and I am still working on it).  I admit that while I am asking my friend to quiet her thoughts and stop worrying, I too am not immune to anxiety.  I guess the first step is to recognize and acknowledge that none of those prancing horses inside my head are real.  They are my creation.  And there is no point keep thinking about the what-if.  More often than not, once I will the horses away, immediately I return to my modus operandi of doing the right thing, don’t complain and work harder, and time travel to the end game.  Crisis in life often looks diminished viewing from a faraway time horizon – to me that is.

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