what i’ve done

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I had always suspected my blog had a readership that extended beyond my circle of friends. After all, every time I had posted something about Singapore or topics like youth and society, I would notice a sizable spike in my audience. I always took it for granted though, that these people were just interested in the dialogue I was trying to add to. Recently one of my blogposts received a comment from a reader, urging me to temper my idealism with evidence that I was actually acting on my thoughts. It was a fair comment , most of my new readers wouldn’t have context to the work I do. I’ve gone ahead and edited my About Me page for those who want to click into the links to see the work I’ve done with The Hidden Good.

Here’s my YouTube Channel —> Click

Here’s the Facebook Page —> Click

And if you want to read about what I’ve done, you can read some of these posts/articles:

  1. Vulcan Post’s Article
  2. We are Singapore’s Article 
  3. My Blogpost when I started The Hidden Good

If you have any inquiries or want to work together in some way (which always excites me) , send me an email at rovik@thehiddengood.com .

Hopefully this provides deeper context to the overall ecosystem I’m trying to facilitate – with both idealism in my blog and social media, and functional activism in the work I do offline.

Now that that’s done, let’s get back to real work.

geronimo.

how do you dance?

The dead leaves flew past him, the musky smell trailing behind. He was seated on a bench, the view of the lake behind him. Still. Peaceful. Painful.

He held the letter in his hands. They were clenched. Remembering brings out hurt. Why does he do it?

He stares out into the open. There’s a giant tree next to him now. He turns to look at it. His hands look so soft compared to the hard bark. These hands have seen war, he told himself. Yet they will never be as hard.

‘No, they won’t ‘ the tree told him.

He turns back to the open. He sees the birds fly above. They seem free.

‘No, we’re not’ the birds chirp back.

They probably aren’t, he thinks again. Freedom is difficult. Who is ever free?

He looks to the sky. ‘Are you there God?’ he asks.

‘Do you want me to be?’ a voice says back.

I guess so. Is it really up to us, he thinks. I could use some of you, and less of me, he decides.

He watches the ground. Death waits for me.

The ground gapes open. ‘Take your time’ it bellows.

I should, he says out loud. Why rush to the ground from where I came. I remember where I’m from, but I see no hurry.

He stands up, faces back into the open and walks to the horizon. While he does this , he sings. He sings his song that echoes into lifelessness, the song of the Nameless Man.

____

i’m on a mission, to name my name
i see the people who’ve played this game
the greats, the failures and everyone else
where would i stand, can i be myself?

how much must i toil, or must i toil at all
when the world is so strong, who i am to call
it a servant of mine, am i not a servant of it?
or do we all just coexist

we aim to be free, of shackles and people
yet no one i know was ever that simple
do we strive for freedom, is that the way
or do we strive for love, can that make us sway

God, high above, do you see us so feeble
do you carry us close, or do you let us just tremble
no matter the truth, reality’s simple
we choose who we are, and you become nimble

the truth is that there’s only one thing real
death waits at the door, ready to kill
we must and we should, we can make a difference
for with not much time, to live is to suffice.

i am a man, who must walk these streets
i am a man, but i will not sleep
hear me, oh people, hear me sing this song
it’s the song of the nameless man, all day long

 

first thoughts on being home

Photo by Jonathan Danker

It must be interesting to revisit certain concepts and ideas at different stages in your life. The idea of ‘Home’ is a very easily empathized one – everyone tries to define Home in their own contexts. Surprisingly the last few days have made me question how much of Singapore I find home in, and what it truly means to me. This is but a preliminary but honest reflection though – I simply record my thoughts to track how they evolve.

I landed in Singapore just a few minutes shy of the end of my birthday. I’ve always enjoyed birthdays but this was a new experience for me – ‘celebrating’ it remotely. Everyone was wishing me , my closer friends and family having more enduring wishes than the rest. I was being congratulated, thanked and commemorated (in its own humble way). Yet I was absent of the people that I wish I had around me.

Perhaps more significantly then, I spent the last 15 minutes of my birthday coming out of immigration and into the embrace of my family. That’s all that mattered to me – that I could spend my birthday with someone and with my family at that. I was mentally prepared for some sort of a future like this. I chose the desire to travel over the desire for stability. It’s unique to our generation but I feel I live it out a lot more obviously. This new world demands us to understand complexity and in order to fully embrace unique solutions to existing problems and potentially new ones, we must break out of what we understand to be the ‘tried and tested’ way and look out into the horizon. We must visit new places, see how people approach similar problems or even different ones, and learn from them.

Travelling is therefore partially an individual indulgence, but more so (and if you know me well, it makes sense) a strategic endeavor to reinvigorate my frame of mind.  I want to build better societies and in order to do that, I’ve decided to consume knowledge and experiences around the world. I always decided though, to keep Singapore as a home-base ; after all it was where I was raised and developed. I associated by culture and mannerisms to the society here. Most of my best friends are here.

I left Singapore hoping I’d come back to some form of a better society. I had planted the seeds in the form of The Hidden Good and the various other youths I had hopefully mentored. I had kept a watchful eye and given input when possible – doing as much as I possibly could while overseas. It seemed hopeful. I was hoping for a society more open, more caring and more active on progressing as a society, ground-up .

When I landed, I was surprised to see that in nine months not much had changed. Granted, this was the first time I was returning back home and also nine months isn’t necessarily a long period, but I was disappointed to see that people, mannerisms and structures looked more or less the same. Maybe it’s just me, but familiarity wasn’t as friendly to me. I wanted to see family and friends because of the love we shared, but honestly,  I could have met them in Russia and I would have probably felt the same.

A lot had happened, you see. LKY had passed away, attitudes had shifted on topics like sports, youth and rights., and society was a lot more vocal on both being positive and critical. I had hoped to see some of those tangibly in the past few days – but nothing caught my eye.

I love this country. I had the similar warm fuzzy feeling when I landed in Singapore that I only get when I land here. I got excited when I heard Singlish being used regularly again. I smiled when I was at Zouk and saw that we knew truly how to have a good time. But I want us to be excited about progressing. We seem to be happy with being here, but growth isn’t just about earning more money.

There has to be an excitement to grow as a society in our values and decisions. What are aspects of society we need to address? These are the topics that must be on our tongues. These are the things that must show progress year on year – not the height of our buildings but the height of our inequality gap. Not the amount of green in our wallet, but the amount of green we stand to lose in our environment. Bread and butter issues are definitely relevant, but there must be a point where we realise we’re sufficient and decide to act on humanity to progress.

I can travel around the world and not give two hoots whether other societies make progress in those fields , although I’m definitely impressed and try to take points when they do. But when my own country and society seems to lack the vigor for those to make any tangible change in the past nine months, I end up as disappointed as I am now.

I’m granting that this is just preliminary though. I’ve only been here for a few days , not even a week, and have a lot to catch up on. But at the surface, things look unchanged and that’s something we should think about.

We must decide our lives cannot be just names on paper. We must live, and by live I mean that we must embrace aspects of our humanity that are crying to be brought out. Our care for others, our desire for justice, our sense of rationality. Inactivity and apathy are worse demons than the thoughts of the evil and perverse. For where the latter has lost sight of what is right, the former knows it and decides to let the latter persist instead of disrupting them.

We cannot be stagnant. For our future. For a better society.

geronimo.

 

i went to college and all i got was this tshirt

As I walk into the airport, I’m finally realizing this is it. Freshman year is over. The next 2 years are still up, but to think I’ve completed a whole third of my college experience already is rather surreal. I gave myself a promise a few years ago – that when I go to college I will maximise my time here, to the point where I make others jealous. It’s changed slightly, I’ve dropped the whole ‘make others jealous’ part of it – but I still had the same vigor to it. I wasn’t going to let this time slip.

As expected, it took me a while to get used to the US College lifestyle, or even the US lifestyle as a whole. There were a lot of cultural differences, vocabulary deviations and overall novelty to everything here. I remember being surprised by the extreme binge drinking culture. I had to learn to be social while playing a game of beer pong.

I made tons of friends , because I had learnt to care about people and stories. Friends from truly all walks of life. I made brothers by joining a fraternity, another move that ranks as one of my best decisions in college thus far. I joined triathlon where I was given a space and family of sorts to exercise intensely with – unfortunately I phased out in Spring as I picked up more responsibilities. I stayed close to my roots to the newly renamed SingSoc, where I was allowed to be Singaporean without reservation. And probably one of my favorite student groups, Mayfest where we dared to dream and attempt to put on one of the biggest shows around. Mayfest became a real family close to the event, and I’ve always been grateful for the chance to dream big there.

College was meant to be a chance for me to make adventures and memories. I loved travelling and new people and cultures – and so coming to the US excited me. I had to balance that with the true purpose of college though – getting a degree and doing academically well. I had to take 5 courses every quarter, maintain a 3.8 GPA and I also wanted to try for the Kellogg Certificate. You would think that sounds crazy knowing my schedule but it definitely provided me the intensity I needed to stay on my game. I enjoyed learning so much so rapidly, and grew used to the pace.

I also kept to my pace of travelling by visiting as many states and cities as I could while I was in the US. I went to Detroit, a farm in Wisconsin,  Ohio, Nashville, Florida (Daytona, Orlando, Tampa, PCB), Philly, San Francisco and few more probably. I also went to Eastern/Central Europe to hang out with Igor and other friends. That was real fun.

I wanted to try new things while I was here and I kept looking for opportunities to be engaged. I did a Hackathon, I went for dance and theatre performances, I followed football games and went to watch the Cavs against the Bulls in the Mad House. I took day trips to Chicago to see as much of the great city as possible, sometimes coming back early in the morning. Being 21 definitely made life a lot easier.

Sometimes I would wake up emotionally, physically and mentally drained but I’d always be satisfied with how the day had gone. I made a couple of mistakes this year, but I made sure to learn as much as I can. I eventually became comfortable with failing forward. There was no use worrying about the past when you can be changing the future.

I’m very satisfied with my freshman year. I came, I saw and I conquered (my ambitions).  

Sophomore year is gonna be so much better.

geronimo.

romance is not dead

It’s my birthday in 4 days. I’m turning 22. There’s a lot of meaning to the number, most of them defined by ourselves. Someone told me it’s a year to think of second chances, to decide to make the decisions you never had the courage to make before. Someone else told me it’s the year to start cherishing your youth even more, because the road ahead is one that demands losing your youth. Honestly,I’m ambivalent about turning 22.

To a lot of my friends, they’ve hit the point where birthdays are just more days in their lives. Sure they’ll throw a party or invite friends over, but they care less about turning older, and just are happy to have an occasion to get drunk or spend time with friends.

Contrastingly, I love birthdays. Maybe it’s a product of my fear of mortality, but I cherish every year I’m alive – I use every birthday as a milestone to check where I am in my life, and to celebrate my friends’ and family’s importance in my life.  I look back on the year between my birthdays and attempt to distinguish if I’ve truly ‘grown up’. Have I made progress towards my goals in life? I also start deciding how I want to grow in the year ahead.

Perhaps it’s fitting then that I’m spending my 22nd birthday up in the air, on a plane between Chicago and Singapore. I gave myself the goal of seeing more of this world , of loving and getting hurt, and of creating beautiful things. I did all that and more probably, and have been reciprocatively cherished by many others. I have seen romance dance its way into my life, and terrorise me with its powers. I have had doors opened to me that remind me of how incredibly lucky and privileged I am in life. I am then presented with the fact that the world needs me and others to act, because it’s suffering – pain extinguishes any flame that it desires to light. It was on accident that I discovered this hurt. I was looking for beauty, and instead I found that beauty lays with despair.

The rose must come with its thorns, and the silver lining appears only on the dark clouds. Understanding this duality has brought to me to my goal for the year ahead. I mentioned this in my New Year Resolution post, but it took me a while longer to solidify what I wanted to do.

The truth this world is hurting. When I was in San Francisco recently, I saw so many people living in boom, but also so many homeless and drug addicts. It scared me to think that some of these people would die without the dignity  of having lived a healthy life. In Sabah, Singaporeans died following the tragic earthquake. Some of these were Primary School kids. It killed me that these kids lost their future , a promise so full with potential and yet something so easily gone. These are just recent observations. There’s so much more – so many problems that need people to put their heads to it and act.

I’ve become a much firmer believer in the idea of disruptive processes. The system doesn’t work. Open your eyes, look and observe. To play within the rules is to accept defeat before you even make your first move. Change the rules, and make power moves that will benefit society. Businesses are the best vehicles for these, but I’m starting to looking even beyond businesses to see what other mediums can help me make impact on the societies that exist.

I’m spending my 23rd year learning how to heal this world. I’ll start with smaller case studies, learn what approaches work, develop my own methodology and export that to hopefully mobilise others to devote their lives to solving the needs of this world.

I spent my 22nd year looking for beauty and find hurt along the way. I’m spending my 23rd birthday looking for hurt, and hope to find romance along the way. The kind of romance that makes you fall in love with people, that kind of romance that makes you feel alive, the kind of romance that inspires.

Because what it does it mean to live, if you don’t love.

geronimo.

 

The Thing about Decency

Disclaimer : This is a personal post, and in no way represents the views of Mayfest or the University.

Honour and pride is easily expected when you work in a public environment, but perhaps more likely forecasted are vitriol and criticism. I took some time today to detach myself emotionally from Mayfest, the group that organises Dillo Day and to critically evaluate whether anything done over the past few months was lacking or substandard. I’ve dedicated myself to be effective and that meant not letting bias cloud judgement. I love the people in Mayfest and all that it’s done for me, but I needed to be objective. My conclusion is that the hate is still undeserved for various reasons. This will be a lengthy post, but indulge me. Let me present what I believe to be facts.

Let’s start with the topic of hiring a proper production house to produce Mayfest. I understand this inclination completely. It could feel so much more reassuring to know that we had paid a premium of around $80-$150K to an organisation , and trust that they would have better protocol and judgement than a bunch of ‘incompetent students’. I have Two Counterpoints to this. 1) Mayfest is made of Northwestern Students. As much as so much of the festival leadup and the peripherals of the day of is dismissed as trivial compared to the actual concert, they are truthfully some of the biggest forces bringing students together on this campus. On a school criticised by its own students for not having more events that achieve these effects, the only people who could truly understand and be intimate with the students to develop a festival catered for students are the students themselves. No matter what, I would not trust a production house to produce a concert for Northwestern students. Perhaps a generic one, but then what’s the culture in that? Say what you want, but there’s something to be proud of when our own school can produce a concert. It’s unfair to only sing praises when the sun is shining. 2) Cost. More money goes to the production house, less money goes to the artists. Raise the student activity fee, and cause more students to doubt their ability to continue their education.It’s humbling to remember any raise in costs affects someone; there’s always someone at the margin.

Onto the topic of contingency. The most frequent slam on Mayfest is that the organisation is inadequate for planning ahead in case of inclement weather. The conversation is then steered to target the fact that Mayfest did not book any wet-weather area a year ahead , knowing that weather will be bad this season. Welsh-Ryan was booked for a high school graduation. Planning for Dillo begins once the Exec is formed, which is normally only after the previous year’s Dillo. Knowing the inner workings of Mayfest to a relative level, I can attest to the fact that members aren’t trivial in dealing with contingency. Think of yourself – do you see yourself forecasting problems with weather? Members in Mayfest have been in it for up to 4 years – weather is one of the most pertinent discussions. If you could believe that someone who goes to the same school as you and therefore is of the same intelligence range as you, has undergone 4 years of experience, and cares about Dillo despite  the unrewarded work gone into it, would not make all efforts to provide contingency for wet weather, then I suggest developing a stronger sense of empathy. There  was no location that could be booked in time, that made sense and fitted the recruitments of scale of production, and so Mayfest rolled with the cards they were dealt and went on to make the best of what they were given. Rain or Shine , the concert goes on. When did strong winds pop out on the weather forecast? Literally Friday evening. Wind was a whole ‘nother level of hazard that students or artists shouldn’t be put through – it could cause the structure to fall apart potentially based on their safety descriptions.  Just postpone it?  The weather was forecasted to get worse, which it  did, and artists were time-sensitive. The call had to be to cancel it, unfortunate , terribly unfortunate, but necessary. Were people in Mayfest nonchalantly excited to cancel the concert they had spent a majority of their year planning?  It doesn’t really matter. The Fire Department made the call. Mayfest stood behind it because it was the right thing to do, and it takes courage to do the right thing in light of unpopular response.

Wristband refunds.  I went through the ticket policies of Lolla, Tomorrowland, Coachella and a few others. All had explicitly stated they didn’t refund for tickets no matter what. Norris Box Office stated the same terms and conditions – standard protocols. Sure, discretion could be exercised to provide refunds if Mayfest was to blame for the cancellation. Yet, this was clearly out of the hands of Mayfest.  Near full costs had probably been excised , and there was no financial capacity to afford a refund – they were mostly returned to SAFC, and not into Mayfest’s budget.

Finally, probably the most trivial of all complaints. That Mayfest didn’t publicise the free show that occured the very night of Dillo Day. Firstly, it wasn’t a rational move to publicise a 21+  event that excluded a majority of students – that wasn’t what  Mayfest was meant for. Second, only around 8 out of the 75+ members in Mayfest went to the  concert, inciting criticism that this was therefore an exclusive Mayfest event. Yes Mayfest people went to the event, because they too are humans and therefore capable of  beings fans of the artists. There were around 40-50 other Northwestern students present at the event, who by being true fans  of Miguel and A$AP Ferg had followed their socials and went to catch the free show. Perhaps this is where I allow myself to be a bit more subjective and state that I find it difficult to comprehend how after a month of complaining about the line-up, people can get riled up that the same artists had produced a show out of the context of Dillo Day, and therefore out of the jurisdiction of Mayfest. Do it out of courtesy? Refer to point #1. We love this school, but we don’t want to encourage anything that could divide the school rather than bring it together.

I’m clearly affected by the past day and so. I spent 2 years in Singapore trying to fight negativity and encourage empathy, solidarity and an effort to understand before judgement. Sure, criticism is due where it’s necessary. But seek to find information before criticising. Ask appropriate questions, targeted at clarifying rather than accusing. These were principles a whole country decided was necessary for its progress, and it’s disappointing to be honest, to see that those are principles that need to be spread on this campus to. I read a speech referred to me called This is Water. It’s a fantastic speech but this quote got me good –

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.
It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.
Because if you cannot or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”

Mayfest is sorry. People cried in the tent. Are they sorry because it’s their fault? I doubt it. They’re sorry because they too wanted to be part  of the experience that everyone describes as the best day of the year. They too were deprived of that opportunity, and although as shown above, they weren’t the reason behind the disappointment of cancellation, they (and now I shall start saying we) felt responsible. We too are Northwestern.

Members of Mayfest were spat on, members of Mayfest were heckled at and shouted at. Members were called ugly names and then their public details publicised online. I was told not to fight back , and I’m not going to. Instead I am going to encourage those who are reading this, who agree with me that civility and decency is something that we must truly hold on to, lest we regress, to be loud about the decision to fight negativity in this school. Fight untruths, fight discord. Because this world is a hateful place already, and if we as the future choose to carry that trait, then we decide the society we inherit. We can build a better society, regardless of it’s with regards to Mayfest or any other organisation in this campus  that aims to give back.

Do more good, do less evil.

I will always continue believing we can do better.

Once again, this is my opinion and mine alone.

geronimo.