Oh Kites…

I’ve always wonder why the sky? Sky? What are you chasing? Every evening I walk Trojan, and every day I heard them say ‘There it is..there…there…come on let’s go.’ And off they went. Sometimes I saw a man, probably in his 50s, with two children on his motorcycle, doing the same thing. It was funny because I didn’t see anything at all. All I saw was birds and sometimes, dark clouds as if the storm was coming.

Then on one fine evening… I looked closely…And there I saw it…KITES!!! They were looking at the kites all along. And not just any kites…they were chasing for the falling kites. Oh…Oh, the simplicity of life.

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Car And Attitude

Dad hit my car this morning. I was reversing my car, to give way to his car to get to the road. My car was behind him. I was at the ‘bridge’ (connect my house compound to the road) when i stopped because a car was coming. Dad was still moving in front, thought he saw me stopped. He was approaching near, i honked twice… Beeeeeppp…beeeppp!!!! BANG!!!! Got hit. Thankfully, it wasn’t serious. Probably just a little scratch. Once that BANG!! Oh…I shouldn’t rush him just because I wanted to take my shower. It was a little scratch, it wasn’t my fault but I think I should be more patient from now on.

The Conversations

Blind people have amazing stories to tell.  About the amount of fear that they had to go through; of living in darkness all their lives; of trying to live their lives without being too depended on others, although most of them have to live with financial assistance for the rest of their lives.  Getting out of the house, getting in and out of the bus, going out to the market for groceries, somehow the environment wasn’t very friendly to them.  The only tools they could use to ensure income was their hands.  Basket weaving was the main income for many of the blinds here, well…once upon a time.  Rattan is getting scarce these days and so the demand for them to develop more skills is getting higher.  Some chose to become masseuses – as health is getting popularity, sometimes, they could have decent income.  Some chose to beg on the streets.  They had a centre to help them to develop skills, but somehow, not knowing the reason why, they refused to be in the centre despite numerous persuasions.

Nevertheless, many were forever grateful for the centre and for those who had helped them so much in their lives.  Those who sent them for massage training for example, those who trained them to make crafts despite not able to see, and those who trained them to become excellent athletics.  Douglas Nyambung is a great case.  He has been Malaysia’s defending champion in paralympic swimming for almost 20 years.  No one in Malaysia had ever broken his record at the pool, except himself.

I’ve also talked to people with cerebral palsy – great stories of success and triumph – about dreams of breaking ribbons,  just like Joseph Choo.  Running has changed his life.  Joseph is also an Olympian, a competitive runner who won many medals.  He made it to Paralympic games in Athens in 2011 and of course came home to his proud parents with medals.

Talking to an autistic boy was an interesting one too.  Though a little skeptic whether a conversation could actually take place, 13-year-old Clement Belun answered my questions with so little problem.  He came into spotlight when he first step on the stage to become an emcee in June, 2012 during the National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC) opening.  He was a little shy, but not shy enough to share his dreams to me.  He loved cultures and lifestyles and he liked to put them into frame.  That led to his great passion – photography.

“I want to become a photographer when I grow up.  I know to take photographs.  When time comes, I will capture the lifestyles and cultures of different people in digital images.”

I had the privilege to talk to a world famous Canadian BASE jumper Lonnie Bissonnette last year.  An inspiring man who didn’t give up on his dream despite been told that he would never jump again.  He had an accident when he did his 1,100 jump.  Bissonette is the world’s first and only paraplegic BASE jumper.

Remember those school times,  where you passed around those papers just to have conversation with your friends behind you, in front of you, or maybe just beside you.  Teachers were teaching in front no one was allowed to make a noise.  Two of you were having conversation, but it looked as if you were taking notes.  Interviewing 27-year-old Amy Lau brought me back to that old times.  She was probably one of the most interesting people I’ve talked to thus far.  She had hearing impaired since birth.  I don’t want to say ‘deaf’ because it felt rude.  Anyways, it was interesting also because it was the quietest interview i’ve ever done.  It didn’t feel like I was interviewing her at all.  I felt like I was talking to a new friend.  There was no recorder, just notebook and a pen.  It was just smiling and writing.

Her life was pretty ordinary – not all that great like the few people I’ve mentioned.  But, one thing she was passionate about; her family.  Amy is married and her husband also has hearing and speaking disabilities.  However, the couple is blessed with a one-year-old son who did not inherit their disabilities.

Amy told me that she wanted to become a good sign language teacher.  I’ve always wanted to know how does it feel of not being able to hear, she said everything was just quiet.  Well, obviously.  She did not know how music sounds like.  Surprisingly, she loved movies, of course with the help of the subtitles.  Her talent was in making crystal and baking.

Her husband worked as mechanics.  He switched from being a baker to mechanics because he needed better income to support his wife and son.  His aspiration was nothing but being a good husband and a good father to his son.  I asked them, ‘Do you wish that you could hear and talk just like other people?’ and their answer was no, because they learned to to live with their fate.

“It’s okay that I can’t hear or speak.  I can still communicate with others in my own way.  I have a family and I am not lonely,” Amy said.

Called To Be Extra-Ordinary (Part 2: Living In Faith)

That moment changed my life.  My ordinary life began to feel different.  It began to feel meaningful and surprisingly special.  Faith made me understand that everyone is somebody; that everyone is called to be great; that God has given everyone abilities.  Putting your God-given talents to work is one of the most satisfying things you can do.  Through faith, I see the beauty of life; that I am loved.  Always.  That realization alone made me wanted to get up and dance to it.  Every moment becomes so significance when I chose to see it and to look for it.  What seems to be ordinary, suddenly they are full of life.

Faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey here below.  – Catechism of the Catholic Church.

One afternoon, I was driving to work, suddenly I thought of God.  It just crossed my mind.  I thought of all the things around me, the trees, the flowers, the people; they were indeed beautiful.  Then I thought about my life; how I was put into this earth to be part of the beauty.  That understanding made me moved to tears in my car. It taught me about the simplicity of heart.

Here is another thing about faith.  It does not change who you are.  In fact, it never tried to.  I am still the same person from the day I was born.  However, faith helps me to become a better person a little at a time everyday, but living in faith does not claim that I understand everything about life.

It made me understand something.  That lens of faith made me realize and in the end I have to face, sometimes a very harsh reality and see my mistakes, my weaknesses.  The kind of person that other people might be looking at – that selfish me.  It is hard to admit, but most of us are selfish in everything, literally everything.  Example, you see a larger piece of pizza, and you said to yourself ‘I want that’, or refusing to give way when you are driving, and many others.

To follow Jesus means to be involved, because faith is not something decorative.  It is the strength of the soul – Pope Francis

However, seeing all that weaknesses and sometimes pretty shameful, it didn’t mean to discourage us.  In fact, it is the other way round.  It helps us to become a better person.  At least, it helps me to become a better person.  It changed the way I act, it changed the way I think, it changed the way I see other people, it changed the way I view life.

As I mentioned in the first part of this article, responding to God’s love means breaking into the ordinary-ness of our life.  And so, responding to the Love enables us to live in the present.  The body was designed to handle only one day at a time and so, it actually teaches us to put our tomorrow in God’s hand and making the best time of our life just for today.

God comes admist the pots and pans, the work that we do – everything.  We’re invited to respond to him by putting our faith into practice.  He comes in what seems to be ordinary , and invites us to step into the extraordinary.  Bishop Don Hying

The problem with most of us is that we look too far ahead to the future that we forgot to live in the present.  It is not wrong to look forward to the future.  Most of us, including myself have desires, dreams, and aspirations to achieve.  I am sure that it is a gift.  God put you and me into this world to be somebody, not to be a nobody.

Living in the present taught me another valuable lesson.  When you learn to live in the present, you don’t just see the beauty of life, but the beauty of your future will unfold itself.  Sometimes we got so stuck in the daily routine that it blinded us to the beauty of creation.  That you felt that you are stuck in the daily treadmill and God is out there somewhere.  Remember that life is a gift to be celebrated not a task to be tackled.

Because you have so little faith.  Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain. ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move.  Nothing will be impossible for you.  Matthew 17:20

It is true that Faith has its ups and downs.  There were times that I do not feel that I have enough faith.  During those moments, loneliness, frustrations, and fear crept in.  But then, Christians say that it is not the size of our faith that makes the difference, but he size of God that we put our faith in.

It means a complete trust in God.  Difficulties, pains, and disappointments can shake our faith and cause us to close our hearts tight like a fist.  Remember also, an open heart is alive in faith.  It signals a readiness for whatever changes, surprises, and gifts God has to offer.  Give Him a chance to restore your faith.  If you have mountains in your life, some obstacles, and your dreams seem to be far away, just remember, have faith.

Are there realities which make life beautiful and of which it can be said that they bring a kind of fulfillment, an inner joy?  Yes, there are.  And one of these realities bears the name trust.  Do we realize that what is best in each of us is built up through a simple trusting? This is something even a child can do. – Brother Roger of Taize.

Life is pretty ordinary for me.  I wake up in the morning, I brush my teeth, walk my dog, take a shower, have my breakfast, go to work, come home, go to gym, dinner, checking my facebook and, sleep.  That is what my most days look like.  Pretty dull as you can see, but when I put in the lens of faith in everything I do, it is life transforming.  God is the energy that enables me to wake up in the morning, He is in everything I do, He is right there going through day to day life with me.  I realize that I am not stuck in the treadmill of life, I am in fact living the life that God wants of me.  Once you could see through it, you are just magnificent

Read part 1

Called To Be Extra-Ordinary (Part 1: Knowing The Faith)

Growing up on the streets of New Orlean, Tamara Lowe started taking drugs at the age of 10.  At 12, she became a drug dealer and never get into the eighth grade.  For another few years, she went from one drug-induced high to the next.  She did it until the age of 17, when someone gave her a Bible as a Christmas gift.  Life changed after that.  From the first day she read it, she could not put it down and finished the New Testament in about three weeks.  It was not religion that changed her, but a personal encounter with Jesus.  Today, she is one of the world’s most successful motivator speakers and consultants.  She had trained more than two million people in 70 countries.  She is now a respected author, educator, and businesswoman, co-founder and executive vice president of Get Motivated Seminars.

The Stringfellow family named their dog Faith because they had faith in her.  It was the name given to her to bless her with hope and determination.  They had faith that she would walk again because she was only born with two working legs.  When the family adopted Faith, they believed that the disabled pupply would have a chance to have a normal life.  It took about six months for the miracle to happen.  They put her on a skateboard to show her how movement feels.  They watched her learn to roll from side to side at five weeks old to running full sprints now at seven months.  Today, faith story had inspired many because she showed what can be achieved against the odd.

These are the stories that moved us and inspired us in one way or another.  There are many such stories in which you can read from books, articles or even watch them on the net or television.  Stories about faith.  Not faith the dog, but ‘Faith’.  A very simple word, but such a powerful thing.  So what is faith?  So many people are talking about it, and yet all we got is a very vague term of it.    It involves something that we cannot see, but is given freely to those who seek it.  So what is it anyways?  Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that “Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life” 

I was born and raised a Catholic, but I never understood what faith is.  Going to Sunday class as a kid, I was told that faith is a gift, it is a mystery.  So, when I believe in something, I believe that there is a God, that He is a creator, because I was given that gift from God.  That was the only thing that I understood.  But, life was simpler then and as a kid, everything was good; the future was good.  Except for homework  and nagging from parents, life was pretty good.  Prayer was one of the things I looked forward to.  I felt connected, I felt the blessing even it wasn’t there.  As I grew older, life started to change and it seems that I always look for something more.  Something that people always asked ‘What is my life purpose?’  I turned to stories about passions, determinations, hope, struggles, love, and faith, hoping to get some clues what was in me.  Those stories inspired my life, and I began to make an effort to see my life in a different way.  ‘Since these people can do it, I can too’, or ‘What is there for me to complain when these people suffered while I’m here, having everything I need’.  I thought all that stories would be real transformation for me.  It didn’t do anything, except changing the way I think.  I knew that unless I could find something meaningful, something deeper, my life could not be transformed.  In short, I began to see life in a different way, but again, I was still the same old person, wishing that life could be more than this.

For the past few years, I began to search for a deeper meaning of life.  I have to be honest, I have dreams, I have goals I wanted to achieve, but when I look at my life, I kept asking myself ‘Is that it? I don’t seem to get anywhere’.  There were ups and downs.  I love my job, but sometimes it would get very frustrated.  When grandma came, I was never happy, I was depressed all the time.  I tried so hard to feel the connection again.  At some point, I probably forgot about all that, and just move on with my life. Ordinary and boring life.  My true conversion happened, just a few weeks ago.

It happened with one simple word.  I guess you already know it by now.  FAITH – ordinary word that packs with extraordinary power.  Nothing big happened in my life.  It began with a realization that God is in my life.  ALWAYS.  And that realization is enough for me to see that there is a great meaning in my life, that my life really matters.  Bishop Don Hying put it this way “Faith is our response to God loving us.  Faith is our response to God breaking into the ordinary-ness of our life, and inviting us into a relationship with him.”  If you love someone, you want that person to respond to that love in order to have the relationship.  It is the same thing with God.

By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus. – Mother Teresa.

I began looking for Faith because I was at the point of my life where I felt that my life was going no where.  The dreams that I had and the goal that I wanted to achieve seem to be just there, but no way achievable.  And life was just…that.  I felt I was beginning to drift away from my faith.  Prayer became an effort.  When I’m in the church, my mind and heart seemed to be elsewhere.  Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI made this year as a ‘Year of Faith’ hoping to help Catholics appreciate the gift of faith, deepen their relationship with God and strengthen their commitment to share faith with others.

I’m a Catholic, and shamefully, I didn’t really care about this theme. Our bishop encouraged us to study the bible, parish priests wanted us to read the Catechism and to understand what Faith is.  Only then, our eyes could be opened and see, then grow with it.  I did none of that…well…until recently.  Not the bible, I started to read the Catechism.  I didn’t really do it on purpose.  One night I was sitting in front of my computer screen, it was probably almost 11pm, Catechism of the Catholic church just crossed my mind and I just got up from the chair and read it.  I opened my heart to read articles about faith, watching the explanation of faith in Youtube.  I listened to stories of creation and its significance.  Everyone in this planet is part of the beauty in this universe that God created.  Everyday, the moment I opened my eyes, and breathing the air, I say a ‘Thank You’ to God for keeping me alive for another day.  And then as i walked my dog, I looked around me and just be thankful for everything.  I did all these with my heart.  For weeks, I kept reminding myself why am I here, I did my work at my very best; just live day to day, and enjoy the beauty of nature.

 Then I felt it. God is here.

Water, Such A Treasure

Most of the traditional longhouses in Sarawak were built by the bank of a navigable river.  Water was their source of life; their culture, their identity.  The river is their way of life; the most precious thing they treasured, along with other natural jungle produces.  However, in this 21st century, it was all about to change.

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Decades ago, the people of Sg Naman and Ulu Naman, Sibu bathed in the river, decades later, they are still bathing at the same river.  The different between the then and now is the condition of the river they bathed.  Vast and rapid development had taken place and the expansion of oil palm plantation had all brought impact to the river.  It is now shallow; the water is no longer clean and free from pollution.

They are in fact, drying up.

I met some locals who were willing to share some of their stories – struggles and ways to live in the desperate situation.  How they went about their everyday living could impress you.  Almost everyone was talking about the same thing.  All survived despite not having piped water for decades.  Of course, everyone had to admit that it was much easier before.  But when time changes, and as the surrounding changes, they didn’t change.  And that brought problem, because their life wasn’t parallel with that changes.  Everyone was suffering from the same hardships.  Everyone desperately needed some change, some help that never seem to come.

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“Grasses are growing.  They are covering up the drains, which are already drying up.  Sometimes, there are people spraying weed killer.  We shouldn’t bath there, but what choice do we have?”

The disgusting sight with its brownish colour and the smell, it was quite unbelievable that they could actually go through life like this.  The locals built a small shade at the riverbank and that was their ‘bathroom’.  It was simply a place to sit and bath and for washing.  Nobody dives in the river or pond now as they used to do, and fun wasn’t there anymore.  Unhygienic it could be; but as the locals put it, what choice do they have?  It was the only way.  It was the only water source for bathing and washing.  The only place they could clean themselves…or was it?

I dropped by a school and met three very friendly women – Alice Rantai, Janoi Luat, and Jessi Tanjong.  One of them clad only with sarong, but showed no sign of uneasiness towards my present.  They were very open in their stories and very welcoming to the camera I was holding.  Their house was in the school compound, and just outside their house was a man-made pond.  They were bathing and washing their clothes there.

The little girl who was sitting with her mother was not very happy with my present of course.  I asked the mother whether she was going to bathe her daughter, surprisingly, she literally did so.  “Mandi…mandi” (bathing…bathing).  The little girl was taken by surprise that she cried and that was my call to stop taking pictures of her.  According to Janoi, everybody had problem of itchiness on their body.  She showed me her leg and there were red spots on her leg.  Apparently, the water was so unhygienic that it created some skin problems among the locals.

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Rainwater was still needed for washing and cooking, even in school.  Each school that was affected by the lack of clean water supply has a tube and treated water and the water is safe for consumption – a supply provided by the government.  “We still need to ration the water to ensure that it is enough for everybody.  We would try out best to avoid the tank from going dry.”  A principal who requested anonymity told me this.

However, in the event if the tank did run dry, welfare department could be called.  Fortunately, the department would respond to the call.  In an effort to ease the people at the school, especially the children, a councilor built a tank to store rainwater somewhere in the school for cleaning purposes.  Even that, it didn’t help much.

Lemba Kom, 65 said she had to pay RM2.50 for others to get five gallons of clean water supply, about 30 minutes from her home almost everyday.  The water itself was free, the money was a transportation fee – 50 cent per bottle (one gallon).  It didn’t mean that whoever helped her to get water supply was trying to get opportunity to earn more money, it was just a fair deal (gas and time).

Ironically, just a kilometer away was longhouses from another district, the folks there enjoyed clean water supply, though sometimes, they also experienced no water at all.  The month of June and July are nightmare periods for the folks of Ulu Naman and Sg Namans as it was drought period.  Even when there was pouring rain after long drought, the rain wasn’t safe for cooking as it smells of smoke.

To conclude all this, as I visit the folks (with a help of a guide), listening to their stories and standing under the scorching sun, I realised one thing; no one appreciates clean water supply as these folks do.  I’m not speaking in a global context, but at a smaller scale among the community of Sibu.

There are many places in Sarawak that experienced the same thing; some voices went unheard.  As I talked to them and looking at some sights that I didn’t expect, instead of feeling sorry for them, the first thing I felt was gratitude.  I could do without electricity, I could do with the heat, but without clean water, I’d go crazy.  Seeing their hardship, how they treasured clean water, I must always remind myself that there was absolutely nothing to complain.

However, I do hope that these folks could finally enjoy clean water supply soon.

Yoga – Better Body Shape and Health

In my previous post, I talked about my passion of getting healthier and fitter body.  How working out has become something I really needed to do at least five days a week, if not everyday.  I also talked about how weight training and nutritious drink such as protein shake, helped me to gain muscle weight and lose some of the stomach fat, which I tried to get rid of for years.  It all takes a step to become part of my life and the result – I feel stronger, happier, energetic, and younger, day after day.

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The decision led to the curiosity to try new and different things.  Things that could really test the stamina and the strength of my own body.  For the first time, I could run for about 45 minutes (including 2 minutes warming up walk, 2-3 minutes walk at the middle to catch my breath, and  five minutes cooling down walk in the end).  However, I do run faster on the treadmill, and run longer time when on the road.  I thought…there, I have a pretty good stamina.  I was wrong.  Aerobic session was a real test.  And just a few weeks ago, I started attending yoga classes.  We all know that there are many styles of yoga, and typically, they combined with physical posture, breathing technique, and meditation or relaxation.

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The particular yoga classes I attended focuses on posture and breathing exercises.  Because I have a very bad body posture, that is the kind of yoga I needed.  I tried to stand up straight and sit as straight as possible most of the time to improve my body posture for years.  The effort gave too much stress to some parts of my body that I stopped all together.  Yoga not only improved my body posture, it helped to shape the body I wanted.  That, in effect, boosted my confidence on how I look and mentally, I’m more alert in my work, and calmer emotionally.  It also helped to strengthen my core muscles. (all that exercises I did also contributed to my better looking body posture.)

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I’m the kind of person who always love exercises that could get me pumped up and the adrenaline going.  I always thought all that slow moving and stretching exercising would be too easy for me, judging by the size of my body.  Yoga has never been my favourite, and I never see it as an exercise that I could take up one day.  Apparently, I judged too fast, and I was very wrong.  I took up the exercise, and it turned out to be another level of physical fitness.  Forty-five minutes run could never beat the power of Yoga.  It wasn’t just the grasping for air, the sweats, and the exhaustion that followed, but the result from all that.

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Surely, my body was wrecked on the first day.  The flexibility still wasn’t at the satisfying level.  However, the result was incredible.  Just like most people, my life consists of people, listening, traveling, the noise, etc.  You’d never get time for yourself.  Here, all the participants were referred as students.  And we were told to put all the anxiety, the stress, and the worries outside the class.  There was nothing but your whole being.  I cannot believe I’m saying this, but I LOVE YOGA.

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