how one man inspired me to live

It’s been a while, but I feel like I’m finally ready to comment on the series of events that have just passed in Singapore. Founding Father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew passed away last weekend. I was sitting in Nashville, Tennessee when I read the news on Facebook. It was 0300 in Singapore, it was only 1400 for me here. I was one of the first wave to read the news. I remember sitting , and being taken aback. There was grief and then there was confusion.

I didn’t understand why I felt so emotionally connected to the death of someone I had never met before , yet supposedly was so familiar with. I remember telling Derrick, another Singaporean, who was travelling with me about the news and seeing his reaction of shock as well. We sat down for a while and let it sink in. We then continued to help share the news to bring closure to the worry that was spread in the past few weeks with regards to LKY’s condition.

I was always a fan of this man. It started when I was 17 and read Men in White, the book documenting the formation of the People’s Action Party and it’s evolution over the years. I didn’t become a PAP supporter after reading the book, and neither do I have any necessary political affiliation, but I definitely became a LKY admirer. I admired the ferociousness with which he had decided to take on life and the sense of purpose that drove him to make Singapore a country to be proud of. I valued his ability to be grandiose and a technocrat, while still basing his decisions on the simple value of humanity that every Singaporean deserved.

Perhaps the most fascinating and inspirational series of events for me was the simple decision to form a party back in Singapore. LKY had made friends and had conducted debates in the UK where he was studying and after much dialogue and some time in between , brought together a solid group of people, some of whom he had had such debates with, to run for government. These debates involved fantastical ideas of reforming governance and heartfelt hopes for the nation. He had essentially created a “mafia” of leaders to shake up Singapore. With that vision and clout, he essentially road-mapped the country to where he could pass it  on successfully.

That to me was a powerful idea. One man had the ability to understand how to bring people together towards an optimal vision and leverage off that combined vitality to shape a whole nation.

As the week went on, I was slightly afraid of the consequences. I  had started The Hidden Good to get Singaporeans to rediscover the pride in being Singaporean. I loved our unique state and wanted us to collectively protect our culture, heritage and future. We ought to be the only ones to path our future, no one else. But as much as that came from an innate belief in the good in Singaporeans, it was also a hope to persuade Singaporeans to put away their cynicisms and decide to believe in hope instead. Throughout the process of building the organisation in the past 2 years, I have been overwhelming confirmed of the fact that Singaporeans are an amazing bunch of people and have slowly put away their cynicisms. Yet, the desire to criticise without the desire to improve still existed in circles. People still wanted to throw hate where it would not do any good. This was a perfect opportunity for the country to come together or be split apart.

We would have achieved 50 years of history, come this National Day. 50 years isn’t just a story of what we had achieved, but an invitation to dream of what our country can be. We had built a nation, we had shaped history. But what’s next? That was the challenge I wanted to solve as a part of this generation.

LKY’s legacy is in this nation. It’s in our  existence as a community, racially and religiously diverse coexisting . It’s in our economy, robust and immensely strategic, not overly privy to the whims of harmful agents. It’s in our safety, in our ability to understand how to leverage any possible asset to keep our asses covered. It’s also in our values, pragmatism and excellence shining throughout wherever we go.

That legacy lives on, but it need not be everlasting. It’s the start, but  it  need not be the end. LKY was not known for talking about compassion, but it did not mean he didn’t value compassion. He wasn’t remembered for talking about community driven initiatives , but that doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary for our future. We are given, right now, the ability to decide how LKY’s passing affects us.

The truth is, Singapore surprised me. Singapore went out of the way to mourn not just the death of a great man, but to remember the journey we had made as a nation. I feel some of it came out of the fact that we just realised how much we had taken for granted the life we had in front of us. For someone to give so much of his life, almost Messianicly even, to help a nation, reminded us that we had rarely appreciated that sacrifice truly.  We came out in flocks, and as I watched from the US, I was overwhelmed. We then collectively shared our experiences. We connected via social media and the news. We spoke to one another, and had discussions. We reflected and appreciated our successes and shortcomings.  We then cared for one another. We gave those who needed a shoulder to cry on, a sturdy support. We gave out water and snacks to the queues that needed them , purely out of the desire to support.

We were starting to show our priorities as a nation moving forward. It was extremely unfortunate that our Founding Father could not witness the nation celebrate its 50th birthday. I remember when I witnessed The Hidden Good’s first anniversary, the immense happiness I felt at how far the  organisation had come. I cannot imagine the sense of joy he could have felt. Yet, I believe it gives us the opportunity to  use this 50th birthday to decide where we want to go. It’s morbidly uncanny, that his passing happens this year even, almost signifying the change of times.

LKY inspired me to want to take on the challenge of building a society. He wasn’t the only person, but definitely a major player in the series of events that made me drop my old lifestyle, and passionately chase dreams and visions. I only hope that with his passing, we don’t forget that same tenacity can be adopted by us too.

We are his legacy. Through our survival and our excellence, he lives on. We take the good , learn from the bad, and work on the rest.  I sympathise greatly with PM Lee Hsien Loong, who not only was able to witness his father build a nation, but also see him have to pass.  I could not imagine that for any son to his father, let alone someone as esteemed as him. But I also imagine him to be well comforted by the crowds of people who share in mourning with him. It is comforting to know that a person you loved will not be forgotten easily.

Here we are now. We see the road built, and are given the tools to pave the path forward. I cannot wait to be a part of this future. Every moment from now onwards decides what values we adopt, what culture we nurture and what society we shape. Actively decide to do good, to give back to society and to add value to those around.

I continue mourning the passing of LKY, and invite anyone who hasn’t reflected on this series of events, to truly do so and be impressed by the lengths our fellow countrymen go to celebrate our nationhood.

We’ve come a long way, and have a long way to go. But we’re here now , one people definitely united.

geronimo.

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the life consultant

One of the benefits of social media is that you’re able to track your own evolution over time. One of my friends said it perfectly the past day over a Skype conversation when he said “You post so much, but I’m never bored because it’s always something different. ”  I think when it comes to creating stories and content , it has to be about building on your past and bashing forward.

Avoid mistakes that you’ve previously made, make bold decisions and charge forward. Keep your head strong, and your soul on fire . There’s a reason to live, a reason to more than exist.

I’ve used social media additionally as a way of keeping people in my life involved in what I do. If there’s any a time I needed to push an activation or following, people aren’t taken aback but instead have already been so passively involved that they’re more inclined to provide a response. A spin off of this that was rather interesting was the accidental portrayal of me as a life consultant. One of my goals in life is to eventually become a coach in leadership and passion living. I’m nowhere near there ; instead I’m spending time putting myself in situations where I can learn as much as possible. But I’m glad people are talking to me about things personal to them because I get to learn so much from their stories, and if I may say so, their struggles.

I’ve given advice on anything from how to  plan  kickass travel itinerary, to how to survive the military, to how to start a business succesfully. I don’t think I ever did any of those things in the “best way possible” but I realise it didn’t matter because through the process of reflection I was able to identify the principles that would have made it better. My favorite session was when I was talking to a friend about how he wanted to help a village in Cambodia fight the local government for more sustainable development and had a friendly debate on topics such as governance, personal courage and political warfare.

I’ve missed having such cerebral topics and as much you would think you’d find those in college, the honest truth is that most conversations are clouded so much by emotion, personal biases and prejudices that you never get to the point of having a valuable discussion.

That’s why I’m an engineer by education. Everyone I’ve talked to says I much better fit an Arts degree, and I’ve always replied saying that I can still learn about the Arts without taking a degree but you can’t really the same about being an Engineer. I’d rather have discussions and write articles directed at people who’d be willing to have a discussion than those immediately wanting to judge.

Having given advice, I also reflected on the fact that a huge reason I am where I am now is because I was always asking others for their advice too. I’m blessed with mentors and friends who I can pull a whole bunch of information and wisdom from and use them adaptively. That ability to recognise resources and how to utilise them is something I hope more people gain and take advantage of, because only then can they see more progress in their lives.

I love the idea of being a consultant on life. Again, I’m nowhere near there right now, but when I’m 50 and ready to retire, I want to tell some of the best stories ever.

geronimo

the thing about loyalty

i’m learning more and more to value the people who will always be there for you. there’s way too many people in this world who take it easy to abandon or risk whatever form of relationship or friendship would exist between people.

honour  is a difficult virtue, but in this world of hedonistic impulses, honor is a virtue i’d rather keep.

keep on dancing

Dance Marathon 2015 is over; 30 hours of dancing, meeting people and enduring the pain in my feet later and you stand accomplished at overcoming everything people said was senseless to do.

I’ve always had an aversion to gimmicky forms of fund-raising. It’s something to note if you could have raised money without the gimmick – or even have raised more money if you removed the cost of the gimmick. But after last night, I’m pretty sure NUDM is not a gimmick.  There’s a lot of effort to ensure the participants know what they’re dancing for and more importantly the brand created around NUDM (probably the most important thing in my opinion) has lent itself to more clout in soliciting donations. The Dance Marathon itself was personally a commitment I had said I would fulfill, as well as an opportunity to be part of something truly Northwestern.  It’s much more meaningful to the fundraiser than the person. There’s few ways you can raise  a lots of money for charity – but every successful fund-raiser has had a high element of celebriti-sation either through the drivers of the fund-raiser or the main draw of the event. At the end of the night, I felt connected with the beneficiaries I had raised money for.

One of best takeaways for me was the whole notion to “Keep Dancing”. As some of you know, one of my two mottos is to “Keep Believing”. It’s probably the only reason why I’ve rarely felt disappointment, and even if I did, I’d be able to quickly recover. Hope is the sword that the few but the courageous have the strength to yield –  because hope requires faith in the unknown.

Keep Dancing has the same sense of grit to it. Other than the literal implication of dancing to complete the marathon and successfully raise money for charity, Keep Dancing to me was about enjoying life too . Most dance parties I’ve been to have involved a healthy(okay, it’s never really healthy) level of alcohol to make it easier to get into the mood of the night. But this 30 hour party was as sober as it got, and I was reminded the sensation when I first started eating giants; being completely drunk on life. To dance because there’s a reason to celebrate living and being completely alive ; to dance because you want to express your soul’s murmurings.

I’m not a good dancer, far from it. But I dance shamelessly because it’s a personal moment. Sometimes I share that moment , with friends or more , but it’s still personal. Dance was almost meant to be a form of communication, not solicitation. It’s almost become corrupted to that though, in a lot  of places, and that’s  unfortunate. But we keep dancing still, because we still long to express the clawings of our heart. We keep dancing because when your feet hurt, the only way to keep the pain away, is to continue moving those feet. We keep dancing, because we know that when all is done , it’s the nights we danced that will stay embedded in our minds.

I’m glad I did Dance Marathon. So much happened in the 30 hours, and I became especially close with some people in the big white tent. I will keep these memories and I will remember the day I danced without reservations because I was glad to be alive.

and we keep believing.

geronimo.

ugh, feelings

It’s almost the end of the quarter. Winter turned out to be a lot more fulfilling and meaningful than I hoped.

Aside from the weather, which has become a lot more of a metaphor than anything else to be honest, the quarter was packed with friendships strengthened, experiences encountered and ambitions fulfilled.

Let’s start with the beginning. I walked into the quarter having completed #77breaths and coming back from Europe with two of my best friends. I was looking for something when I went to Europe ; I was looking for the person I thought I was before I came to college. College broke me slightly – I was shocked by how much I underestimated the age gap and at the same time I was disappointed by the bubble that people seemed to be trapped in. I had campaigned against the bubble when I was in Singapore, and here I was slowly seeing myself being trapped in it. I had decided to be a slightly different person coming into college, but after Europe I realised I was comfortable with the person I always was.

With #77breaths under my belt, I knew again the value of grit. I came back, ready to make some big moves. I continued in the same spirit – not a single weekend was left unscathed by some event or another. I was enjoying the process of meeting my newly made brothers in Lambda Chi Alpha and eventually ran for the position of Vice-President (External) with the value of my experience and my earnestness to help the house. When I was elected , the affirmation of who I was continued to manifest in the reception I got. Aside from rapidly expanding my social circles and experiences, the house has definitely given me an important platform from which I wish to do more in my life.

I struggled initially with taking five courses to meet EDB’s requirement for me to graduate in 3 years but I got on track again once I started figuring out the tricks of the trade. With the help of my friends and faculty I was able to quickly navigate the school and make use of its resources while again expanding my social depth in the school.

Probably the most significant thing of the quarter has to be the pure variety of experiences. From going to Dayton, Ohio for a triathlon to planning one of the country’s largest student run festivals to purely hanging out with friends from all kinds of backgrounds ; I never had a week without the feeling of exhilaration. #77breaths had spoiled me – I wasn’t going to settle for the mediocre.

And that taught me to shave off the mediocre from my life. Anything or anyone that did not seem to add to the person I wanted to become or to the world as a whole, were quickly reconciled and kept away. Be nice, do what needs to be done, but do not subject yourself to unnecessary mediocrity.

I discovered love in all its forms – from family, friends, and the weirdos who care about me more than it makes sense.

The quarter isn’t nearly done – there’s Dance Marathon , a few other Fraternity events, elections for NUSAF (the Singapore Association) , and so many more meetups. Of course Finals as well, but we’ll get through that. I’m already planning for Spring Quarter and I’ve filled up half my weekends already.

Do I miss home? Yes, dearly. My family especially. But I’m learning to live, and I’m glad my family and friends are able to be a part of that through social media. I’ll come back, I say. Till my last breath, I won’t forget you all; the ones who made my life magnificent.

I’m eating giants for breakfast.

geronimo.

so let the hallowed souls sing

My favorite kind of movie was always the one where there was a troubled hero, who then , through some sort of trial and tribulation, discovered his purpose in life and decided to pursue it.  I refused to develop a hero complex, but at the same time I was drawn to the idea of being a hero.

I remember as a kid playing Final Fantasy:Crisis Core – the prequel to Final Fantasy 7, and being completely involved in not just the gameplay but  the storyline as well. There was a lot of talk of what it took to be a hero, and a difficult questioning of the motives of people. It is true that it’s a lot easier to embrace our carnality and move in the direction of our flesh. But what is easier cannot necessarily imply that it is the choice decision.

One of my favorite quotes from the game is :

“Embrace your dreams. If you want to be a hero, you need to have dreams”

This was around the time when I was beginning the phase of my life where I decided to start dreaming actively. Heroes don’t have an easy life ahead, but it is only because they dream of a better world that they push through and break out.

I’m not sure what kind of hero I want to be, but I definitely want to end my journey completely satisfied with the life I lived. And that involves big moves, lives changed, core friendships and the knowledge I lived a phenomenal life.

geronimo.