Sunday, November 30, 2008

Happiness and unhappiness Pt III

Let's say that you are going to sit for a major exam in 3 months. Obviously, you need to study hard for it. There are times when you would feel stressed or frustrated at a particular chapter. Some activities have to be given up or reduced, like watching TV, playing football, online games, etc.

It is all about balance; you can't lock yourself up in the room mugging everyday. There are other things which you would indulge in to keep yourself from going crazy. Life is not totally unbearable or miserable.

Another scenario. Let's imagine you have cancer but it is in its early stages. The doctor said that you would have to go through chemotherapy. As such, you have to go the hospital every 2 weeks for the session. Besides the inconvenience of travelling to the hospital, vomitting, wearing a cap to cover the thinning hair and feeling lethargic, you still go about, as much as you could, with other things like shopping, watching movies, hanging out with friends, chatting online, walking the dog and bullying your younger brother.

Now, it's after the exam. You feel very relieved, as if a big boulder has been lifted from you. You feel elater and can't wait to do all those things you missed doing. Still, the feeling will probably last a couple of days to maximum a week.

For the second scenario, fortunately the chemotherapy worked and you recovered after a year of chemotherapy. In a couple of months, you have regained your strength and back to doing everything you had been doing before that. It was as if you never had cancer at all.

Let's do an experiment. Assuming you are a reasonably happy person, not those who always whine and why-does-it-happen-to-me-God kind of person, your normal happiness should be more than 5, say 6 range on a scale of 0 to 10. The perpetually unhappy people would below 5.

If you, the exam-taker, were asked how happy or unhappy during his pre-exam preparation, you would probably say you were stressed, but not too bad. You still have online games and MSN when you need a break from revision. You would probably say 5.

If you were the cancer patient, you would probably complain about the tedious and painful process of chemotherapy, but those do not take up a significant part of your life. Probably another score of 5.

Now if you were asked how happy you were 1 day after your exam or after you are cancer-free, you would probably answer 8 or 9 or even 10. This makes sense, as you would be very happy with the end of the exams or conclusion of chemotherapy.

A few days later, your happiness would have fallen to your normal happiness level of 6. But if you were asked to rate your pre-exam period, you would think of the stress, no television watching, the late nights and all the negative things. You won't recall how you were reasonably at the time, but instead would now rate that period as a 4 or less.

Similarly for the chemotherapy period, you would quickly think about the pain and nausea, the trouble of going to the hospital and feeling weak and mostly all the bad stuff. You would probably rate that period as miserable as give it a 3 or 4.

The point is, you could not imagine how you could be as happy now as you were previously, when the circumstances were bad. Surely, you would think that you were so miserable then and things are much better now. Hence, my happiness should be lower than it is now.

An experiment was indeed done to demonstrate the above. Our memories are not accurate. We could never recall precisely what our feelings were. We could only remember certain things and that would override the rest of it.

Therefore, it is entirely possible for one to think that he is happier now than he was previously. Of course, it is also possible that you are actually happier than before. No one knows that for sure, not even yourself.

I believe many would not find this interesting. I know this and yet I have not find any application of its use. I used to think that I was not as happy as I am now, but now I am not too sure.

No matter, it is better to live in the present and be happy as you could be.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Happiness and unhappiness Pt II

I thought of something related to what I had written in the previous post.

In yesterday's the Star newspaper, one of the articles mentioned a sighted woman who married a blind man. She read a magazine ad which said ‘blind man looking for love or companionship’.
Angela was looking for a platonic relationship, rather than a romantic one.

However, after speaking to him every day for the next few months, she realised her feelings went much deeper.

“We made plans to get married then, despite fierce opposition from all sides — family, my friends, even his family. Everyone was scared and worried sick about how we would turn out,” Angela reminisces.

But she went ahead anyway, just to prove them wrong: “After a while, my mum saw that my husband is a dignified man who manages himself and his home well. He can do so much compared to many other normal-sighted men.”

Sagayanathan, who works as a telephone operator, also happens to be the sole breadwinner of the house since Angela left her job. The lovestruck couple plan to have children as soon as they get their finances in order.

Tears well up in Angela’s eyes as she says, “Who says that I’m my husband’s caretaker? It’s the other way around. He is the love of my life. Without him, I cannot live.”

So you see, being disabled in whatever way is not a the end of the world or means a life of hardship. The disabled themselves don't view life that way. It is only us, the "normal" people who think like that.

This relates to a question which a colleague was asked: If you knew that your child will be handicapped, would you still bring it into the world?

I don't see why not. In not having the child, are we actually doing a favour to the child or ourselves? Are we making life easier for the child by ending it before it starts? Or are we making our lives easier?

Who are we decide for the child that a life of darkness or without limbs or with the HIV virus is actually a terrible thing and that they would never savour happiness?

Even if the child were to die at a young age from the disease or disability, I think it is better that he has been loved and known what is love in this world.

To know what it means to have parents who love them (assuming they are nice parents of course and not treat/abuse him badly!), to experience the sensation of the warm sunlight or cooling breeze, to play with other kids, to experience joy and sadness, elation and pain and basically live as normal a life as can be.

There will definitely be some bumps in the road for the kid, but whose life doesn't?

And that concludes my thought for the day.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Happiness and unhappiness

I was reading this book which says that happiness is genetically predisposed. Not predetermined or hardwired, but has a tendency to be. This is quite clearly demonstrated by people who seem to be perpetually happy no matter what happens around them, good or bad.

On the other hand, there are people who seem to be always miserable and can look at the downside of everything, even when positive things happen.

It is due to the fact that they look at things differently. Apparently, unhappy people tend to take things personally, that somehow the bad things that happen are connected to them.

Just some food for thought. I don't know where this post is going anyway.

Another point is that external factors influence on our moods are seldom over-estimated. We always think that winning the lottery, dating that hot guy, getting a high paying job, owning that sleek car and having to-die-for body would make us much happier.

True, it will. But only for the short term. Then we would revert to the original level of our happiness (or unhappiness). And we would mistakenly think that the next better car / job / guy would make us happier and the cycle repeats itself.

Basically the point is, people generally stay at their normal level of happiness or unhappiness in the long term. Something like mean reversion (too technical, anyone?). There may be occasional spikes and dips, but sooner or later, we would go back to the previous level.

I still don't know where I am going with this.

Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one day without your eyes blind. Or you were to have kidney failure and need to undergo dialysis for the rest of your lives. We would think that we would be pretty miserable, won't we? Some of us might even think that it is better to die than to suffer for the rest of our lives.

However, if we talked to dialysis patients we would find that they are actually quite happy. In fact, as happy as normal people are. How can that be? It is because firstly, we only focus on one aspect of the disability, forgetting to look at the big picture. We only look at the bad and forget about the good.

You see, we would still have our friends and family. We may be inconvenienced for a few hours a week to go to the hospital, but generally the other aspects of our live wouldn't change too drastically.

Secondly is the reverting to the normal mood thing which I talked about earlier. After a while, you would somehow adapt or cope and the disability would become just another part of your life. Of course, some people never recover from their depressive moods but for most of us, we do.

The point I am driving at is that it is not the end of the world when misfortune strikes. The human spirit is far more resilient that we give it credit for.

The end.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kuching Day 4

The second last day was mostly spent in the city. We planned to do souvenir shopping. We were at the Waterfront, walked a long the river and took some pictures.

We hunted for souvenirs at the row of shops parallel to the Waterfront. I know that it is a tourist area, but the prices were not too expensive. There are many things that has a local flavour, like wood carvings of cats, monkeys, tribal masks, paintings, etc. Spent the whole morning shopping for souvenirs and spent about RM50.

Next destination was the Sarawak Museum. It is actually a few museums collectively, namely Islamic Museum, Ethnology Museum, Art Museum and (Stuffed) Animal Museum. I managed to take some pictures from Ethnology Museum.
Taken at the Ethnology Museum

A painting from the Art Museum

A model made from recyclables

It was time for lunch. We headed to this circular-shaped hawker center and ordered laksa, siu mai, some vegetables and meat soup noodles. Finally I saw one stall which sells White Lady a.k.a. Snow White in Chinese. It's basically ice kacang, but with condensed milk, sago, pineapple and lychee with a twist of lemon. Very smooth and refreshing, but the rest said it was just OK / bland.

There is a famous fish ball noodles stall within walking distance, so we decided to try it. I know this was becoming more of a food vacation than a sightseeing / R & R vacation. But really, the fish balls were excellent; very authentic fish taste and good texture. We also ordered a plate of pork satay. It was also delicious.

After all the eating, we went to the Civic Center. It is one of the taller buildings in Kuching, with a very interesting design. It looks like a spaceship to me.

From the highest floor of the Civic Center, we could see the whole city of Kuching.
View from the Civic Center

One last stop to buy some snacks before dinner. No, not for ourselves but to bring back home. Bought some pepper for an ex-colleague, some biscuits and titbits.

Dinner was good. We had steamed red talapia fish which was very fresh. Had pork knuckles and another dish of miding vegetables.

Another day well spent. The next day was our flight home.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kuching Day 3

We headed for the cultural village early in the morning. We got lost a little on the way there (there is absolutely no signage to the place!) and arrived at 10 a.m.

The place is quite huge. Entrance fee was RM60 and we got a "Passport" each, where we were supposed to get a stamp at every traditional house. There were also some notes on the different tribes, their cultures and history.

I will let the pictures do the talking.
Making "kuih bahulu". We bought them and they were good!

Inside the Malay house.

Things used in the olden days, from the Chinese House

The Melanau Tall House

The verandah of the Melanau Tall House

Tools to make blowpipes

Iban Longhouse

Inside the Iban Longhouse

There are two cultural performances daily, at 1130 and 1645. It was very interesting to watch the traditional dances, with the dancers wearing their tribal costumes. The dances were lively and the music was quite pleasing.

Two thing that irked me during the cultural performance. The MC's accent was terrible unidentifiable, hence what he said was impossible to understand. The other thing that I didn't like was this one dancer whom I felt was cocky. He wanted the audience to keep on applauding and applauding his spinning-on-a-wooden-pole stunt *rolls eyes*

We managed to finish the whole tour of the Cultural Village by 2 p.m. As we still had time, we visited the famous Cat Museum. There is everything and anything that are related to cats on displayed, from dolls, pictures, stories, teapots, sculptures to Doraemon, Hello Kitty and Cats the Musical. I don't remember seeing anything about the Pussy Cat Dolls though.

Quite an interesting museum actually. Some of the exhibits are really beautiful and unique. But Nyk commented that it seemed like a cat fanatic's exhibition of his vast collection of memorabilia from the interesting to the weird.

When we were about to leave, it started to rain again. We had dinner with Lloyd's mum at this restaurant called Fook Xing. The dishes there were cheap and good. One of the unique dishes which we ordered was the duck wrapped with yam. Definitely unusual but it was great.

The mom mentioned a famous "kway chap" (mixed pork innards with kway teow) and Nick's eyes lit up. So we headed to the market where the stall is right after dinner. Nyk and I shared a bowl. It was good, but nothing spectacular. Nick loved it a lot though.

Feeling satiated and sleepy, we headed back to the hotel.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Kuching Day 2

The next day was fine weather, just perfect for our trip to Bako National Park. According to the websites I have read, it is a must-go.

And I agree.

We had to take a boat ride out to the island. The river bank was lined with mangroves and we even spotted a crocodile sunning itself.

There were a few tracks to choose from and we decided on Telok Pandan trail, which is not too long. It is expected to take us about 90 minutes to complete the trail. There are two trails actually, one Teluk Pandan Kecil and Teluk Pandan Besar.

Both track overlaps except for the last part of their respective trails. Our main one is actually Kecil; Besar is just a 10-minute detour from the Kecil track.

Some of the sights which I saw:

At the end of the Pandan Besar trail, the view was beautiful. We were standing on top of a cliff and this was what I saw.

We turned back to the Pandan Kecil trail. It took us another 20 minutes before we reached this wonderfully tranquil and white-sandy beach. We also saw a dead jellyfish washed on shore (picture 2 below).

A boat came to pick us up from the Pandan Kecil beach. On the ride back, it started to rain and once again, we were drenched. That's twice in 2 days.

We went for lunch at a restaurant in a Malay kampung and ordered miding (local vegetable), chicken (fragrant and yummy), steamed white pomfret and hor jian. The hor jian is a little different from the ones that I have eaten. It's dry and there is crunchy prawn crackers around it.

I quite love it. Nyk didn't; he prefers them to be wetter. There is no starch but lots of eggs.

After that, we visited a temple nearby. And then it was time to head back to the hotel.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Kuching Day 1

Nyk and I arrived in Kuching on 8th November (Saturday) at about 1500 hours. The flight was pretty uneventful and there wasn't many passengers on board.

Kuching International Airport

Lloyd and Nick were at the Kuching International Airport to pick us up. First thing we did was to check in at this hotel called Hung Hung, which is right next to the General Hospital. Hmmm, so in case anything bad happened, we would be extremely safe.

Why did we choose this hotel? It was the most affordable one that I could find online, at RM70 per night.

Next up was to visit the Sunday Market. This market actually opens from Saturday afternoon till Sunday afternoon. There were some things which one doesn't usually see in a open air pasar, like cats, dogs, DIY hardware stuff like screws and hammers, plants, etc.

We were there for less than half an hour when clouds opened up and there was a heavy downpour. We were all wet under our tiny 1-person umbrellas. We spent another 20 minutes to get back to the car and we got more drenched.

Dinner was at this place called Hong Kong Noodles. We ordered roasted duck, some local vegetable (I forgot the name) and toufu. The food were all great and I enjoyed it.

Kuching shops closes at about 2100, so there wasn't much to do after dinner. I didn't know that the people here have such wonderful work-life balance. But actually the sunrise and sunset here are an hour earlier than West Malaysia. That probably explains why.

And so we retired for the day.

Saturday, November 08, 2008


I am blogging now from Kuching, in Sarawak. It has a very nice old world charm to it, with not many high rises. Most of the people here live in semi-detached and terrace houses in stark contrast to the HDBs and condominiums in Singapore.

I would be back in KL on Wednesday, so there will be no updates till then. Enjoy the weekend guys and gals!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The U.S. elections and Prop 8

This is indeed a year of surprises. First, it was the March 8 political tsunami in Malaysia and now, a black man would be the President of the most powerful nation in the world.

To look at it another way, it could be because the people are just sick and tired of the current administration. In Malaysia, there are corruption, racism, NEP, etc. For the U.S., there are issues of the economy and Iraq war. So it could be that it was more of a push factor than a pull factor.

I think there's where the similarities end. In terms of thinking and achievement, the two countries are vastly different. A non-Malay could never achieve what Obama did.

African-Americans in the whole country celebrated. The victory could be read as achievement for civil rights. A very quotable quote which I read was this, "Rosa sat so that Martin could walk. And Martin walked so that Obama could run. And Obama ran so that our children could fly". Wonderful and inspirational words indeed.

Obama message of change brought hope and optimism to the people. His victory is well-deserved. Congratulations to him.

Now that the election is over, another issue which also hogged the limelight was Proposition 8 in California. Proposition 8 seeks to outlaw gay marriage in California . Proponents and opponents of the it raised more than $70 million from all over the country, which is more than the federal funding that McCain received for his election campaign from federal funds.

This shows how monumental and significant Proposition 8 is. It is an issue close to the hearts of Americans which they feel strongly for, besides guns and abortion. It is either you're for or against the respective issues. Generally, the liberals and Democrats are for gay marriage, against guns and for abortion. The other side would be the conservatives, evangelists and rural folks.

The results are being closely watched all around the U.S., as California is the largest state and the outcome would have influence over future legislation on gay marriage in other states.

Of course, I really hope that Proposition 8 fails. But the results are not out yet and initial polls show that the proponents are leading. The chances are slim that it would fall through. If it doesn't, it is a huge step backwards for gay rights in America.

The fight for equality was and is never going to be easy. March on, brothers and sisters!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Avenue Q

Finally watched Avenue Q the musical today. I have heard about this musical for about two years. When I found out in July that it was going to be performed in Singapore, I was quite enthusiastic to go watch it. Unfortunately none of my friends were keen (Huh? What's that?).

Somehow, Nick suggested last month that we go watch it. I was like, yeah, finally!

I had downloaded the all the songs for more than a year and only listened to it last week. Yeah, nothing like a live performance to get the gears going.

I am not sure whether because I have heard the songs or I was just tired, but I found the musical ok. It was fun and the songs were great, but I didn't enjoy it as much as my friends. They have no idea what to expect (refer to paragraph one) and seemed to enjoy it more.

In the first half hour, the ever famous song Internet is for Porn was sung. Judging from the reactions from the audience, it was as if they were listening to it for the first time. Or maybe the actions by Trekkie Monster were hilarious.

I was like OK, uh-huh. Maybe my sense of humour was not with me this afternoon.

There were some spot-on lines especially in the current economic conditions:
Trekkie Monster: Here! Me give you $10,000,000!
Princeton: Trekkie! where did you get all that money??
Trekkie Monster: In volatile market, only stable investment is porn!

Another one, which is still relevant but not for long:
Only for now! (Sex!)
Is only for now! (Your hair!)
Is only for now! (George Bush!)
Is only for now!

Still, I did enjoy it. It deals with things like racism, bigotry, finding love, finding Jesus (briefly) and finding a purpose in life, all packaged in a nice and thoroughly enjoyable musical.

The songs were catchy, the mostly Filipino cast were excellent, the actor for Princeton was yummy. There was even a happy ending!

What is there not to like?

After the show, the only song that was stuck in everyone's head was The Internet is For Porn. No surprises there.

My favourite was There's a Fine, Fine Line.
There's a fine, fine line between a lover and a friend;
There's a fine, fine line between reality and pretend;
And you never know 'til you reach the top if it was worth the uphill climb.

There's a fine, fine line between love
And a waste of time.

There's a fine, fine line between a fairy tale and a lie;
And there's a fine, fine line between "You're wonderful" and "Goodbye."
I guess if someone doesn't love you back it isn't such a crime,
But there's a fine, fine line between love
And a waste of your time.