Too big for comfort

I have to admit feeling a bit dejected after doing the ecological footprint quiz at the myfootprint.org website. Either I have seriously misjudged myself, or it really is that hard to live a sustainable lifestyle. The test result shows that “if everyone on the planet lived my lifestyle, we would need 1.6 earths.”

Being a vegetarian who is always careful with my spending and consumption and concerned about the environment, I honestly do not think there is much more I can do to take care of the earth. Just for the last couple of days, I have been working hard to find out how I can restore our sofa, the surface of which has been peeling off like snowflakes after the incessant scratching by our cats, rather than taking the more convenient and tempting option of simply replacing it. Believe it or not, the latter option is actually cheaper. But I want to do my part in saving the earth and not create another big piece of rubbish.

But still, it turns out that my ecological footprint is larger than it should be. I am not being conceited or self-aggrandising, but if even my ecological footprint is not small enough, how about those of my neighbours?


"It's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward."

The latest political situation revokes in me a feeling that I thought has long been put to rest – a feeling that practically loomed over my childhood.

As a young boy, I was completely powerless against a father I absolutely detested and despised. I had hoped that I would be able to find protection somewhere, but not even my mother was able to provide that.

So I was left to my own devices, and the only way to keep myself from going insane was to completely shut myself off and to secretly swear to myself that, for the rest of my life, as long as it was within my own power, there was not to be a single thing about me that would resemble him. Thanks to that secret oath (or maybe also thanks to him for being such a negative role model), I never drink, smoke and gamble.

And I never watch the soap operas during primetime.

The first thing that he would do when he got back home was switch on the TV. Never mind that our home was so small that the loud volume would affect everyone. Never mind that we children had to do our homework and our revision. That damned thing would stay on long into the night. Of course, I was always boiling inside, but I was also determined to fight a silent battle, and my tactic was to refuse to be drawn into whatever message that was flickering on that screen or blaring from the loudspeakers. So I would choose the most unpopular place at the dinner table – the one with my back to the TV.

In those years, I knew next to nothing about those local TV programmes and actors and actresses, and my tongue would be tied when my classmates talked about what went on in the soap opera the evening before.

Of course, those were supremely wretched days for a child, but when I look back at them now, I have a slight feeling of thankfulness. Maybe we do bleach our memories, however dark they were when they happened. Or maybe that is what we call blessing in disguise.

Anyway, back to the latest political situation. I am completely powerless against Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive that I absolutely detest and despise, and it’s time to shut off on the one hand and wage a war on the other.

Here’s what Rocky told his son in the movie Rocky Balboa:

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't how hard you hit; it's about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done. Now, if you know what you're worth, then go out and get what you're worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain't you. You're better than that!”

Thanks for the reminder, Rocky.


Non-cooperation and more

Twenty things I can, and will, do to confront the political situation of Hong Kong in the next five years (and probably beyond):
  1. Keep smiling. Or maybe smile even more.
  2. Keep being strong. Or maybe be even stronger.
  3. Keep dreaming.
  4. Keep the anger – the healthy anger.
  5. Build up positive energy.
  6. Find an exit door.
  7. Support People Power.
  8. Help out with the cause.
  9. Never watch local TV any more. Better still, never watch TV any more.
  10. Never compromise.
  11. Never lose hope.
  12. Spread the word.
  13. Stay being anti-communist.
  14. Stay being anti-nationalistic.
  15. Save every penny possible.
  16. Keep praying and believing.
  17. Tell my belief to as many people as I can.
  18. Quit being addicted to the Internet.
  19. Learn French and Spanish.
  20. Remember that one has to be dead to be alive.


Spring melancholy

I have been fretting about spring, or, more specifically, the Hong Kong spring. You see, the endless days of gloomy, wet and cold weather does hijack one’s mood.

Spring can also be likened to Easter. A stretch of dark and dismal time which began with the last supper in which Jesus foretold his betrayal by one of his disciples, building up to his arrest and trial and culminating in his epic death.

I do know that there was also his resurrection – his glorious triumph over death. I know. I also know that behind those clouds so thick you can’t cut through with a knife, there is a sun so bright you cannot look at it directly, but I have chosen to subjectively reject its existence. So dejected have I been by the wretched weather.


Spring is around the corner

I first learned the lesson that one shouldn’t taking everything school textbooks say for granted from experiencing the Hong Kong spring. According to my primary school textbooks, spring is a welcoming season because it brings warmth and life back to the land. But my experience since childhood has always been that spring is a wretched season – an endless stretch of gloomy, wet and cold days.

Of course, many people have different ideas, seeing spring as welcoming not only physically but also spiritually. In a recent article called “Why spring is the season of hope”, Anthony Scioli writes that none of the other seasons can match the bounty of hope that greets us in the spring. According to Scioli:

“Spring calls us back to nature, fills our sails with warmer winds, soothes our weary bones, and lifts our spirits. Spring is full of psychic potential because it satisfies the four basic motives that underlie hope.”

The four basic motives he refers to are “light and heat”, “a bridge”, “a healing agent” and “a harbour”. Scioli contends that just as we liken hope to these, so too do we compare spring with them.

In support of this notion, Scioli cites this quote from Bern Williams: "The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created spring."

But I have to say that, for Hong Kong, viewing spring as such is a borrowed idea.  We are near the end of spring now. To me, this is the time to celebrate.


What sort of a 'choice' is that?

My wife showed me the flyers she collected from some travel agents, flyers promoting the packages we could buy for the Easter trip we have been yearning for.

I took a quick glance and put them aside. She had told me about our choices over the phone so I knew what to expect. Singapore, Taiwan, or a zoo in China. I do not want to be a killjoy, and I know full well how much she would like to get away for the holiday, but how interesting are these places? We have been to Singapore and seen how the place is not worth another visit. Visiting Taiwan is probably no different from staying home, so why bother? The zoo in China? To give it some weight, my wife said even her choosy friend has found that zoo it to be good. But the problem is that it is a zoo – a place where treatment of animals is always a contentious issue. And in China, no less.

“But what other choices do we have?” she asked.

She has a point. With just two weeks from Easter, most other packages may have been booked up. But the key question is, are we then forced to lower our standard and choose from something we know is not quite acceptable?

And this is exactly what has been happening in Hong Kong lately, or not so lately actually. The problem has been so starkly reviewed in that “election” for the next Chief Executive. Only 1,200 people have the right to choose from the disgraceful candidates who have been mired into one scandal after another. These are the “choices” that China has meted out to us. What is disappointing is that Hong Kong people seem to have resigned to acceptance of  the situation. But are these really our only choices? Do we have to choose them?


Doing something different - consistently

Following up my blog a couple of days ago, I now try to make my life more coherent by aligning my experiencing self with my reflecting self by doing something different.

Instead of going online and getting lost in prolonged, purposeless web browsing, which is what I would usually do the first chance I get after getting back home from work every evening, today I made myself finish my household chores first before switching on the computer. And instead of activating the web browser, I committed myself to writing this blog instead.

What matters is to sustain this practice in the long run.


The simple thing that makes a difference

“… sometimes the simplest things make the biggest difference.”

Yesterday, I used the title of an article to begin the blog entry. Today, I use the concluding sentence of another article as the starting line.

The “simplest things” that Sam Sommers, writer of the article The Power of Hello, refers to are saying hello to and smiling at others. Behavioral research shows that these very simple things do make a big difference, not only in social interaction, making those we are in contact with feel more satisfied, but also in our own lives, leading us to enjoy what we are doing a little bit more.

But why is it that we don’t do them more often? The answer lies in what researchers call “stimulus overload”. We have so much going on, both around us and in our minds. What go on around us are the sights, sounds, smells, etc., while what goes on in our minds are the deadlines we have to meet and the things we have to do. To conserve mental energy so as to enable us to accomplish the latter, we put on perceptual blinders to block out the former. The net outcome of this is that we are less connected with those around us, and we are sending out a message that we are less than hospitable. The latter effect is particularly harmful, as research shows that the biggest obstacle to forming friendships in NOT lack of interest but the BELIEF that others lack interest. Isn’t that so very revealing?

I can testify to this. All too often I would like to say hello to those I meet, but maybe because Hong Kong is a big city or maybe it is something in our culture, people tend to build walls around them – walls which are almost impenetrable. Smiles are supposed to be contagious, but here it doesn’t seem to work.

Maybe I should try harder next time. Maybe I should dispel the belief that others lack interest. Maybe such a simple thing as saying hello will make a difference.


Conquering the 'experiencing self'

“Are you living a lie?”

This is the provocative title of a recent online article. The other questions raised in the article are: “Do you say one thing and do another?” “How inconsistent are you?”

While our honest answers to these questions may embarrass us, I believe it is a good idea to try to answer them honestly. In my case, I certainly cannot straightly give negative answers to any of them.
Ben (C) Fletcher, the writer of the article, and the new book called Flex: Do Something Different which he co-authors with Karen J. Pine, tries to explain the situation of someone like me with a neat model. According to Fletcher, people do not always act according to their conscious thoughts and their spoken words as there are also unconscious forces which drive our behaviours. His model to explain this sees people in terms of their reflective self and their experiencing self. Here are the main ideas:
  • The reflecting self is our concept of ourselves, our memories and the way we see, and want to see, ourselves in the past and future.
  • The experiencing self is our on-line experience as it happens. It includes how we automatically perceive, feel and think at the time we are doing something. It's where our habits reside.
  • The way we are is determined by the interaction between the two selves.
  • The experiencing self, being influenced by automatic triggers and the demands for gratification, always have the upper hand in determining what we think and do.
  • Difficulties arise when the two selves are at odds with each other.

Fletcher calls the gulf between the reflective self and the experiencing self incoherence. Narrowing this gulf is the key to being comfortable with ourselves and being successful.

Doing something different is the way to narrow the gulf. Small new behaviours, Fletcher proposes, affect both elements of the self and help to bring them into alignment.

If we are to critically examine our life, we may well see that it is largely governed by powerful habits, many of which may not be healthy. Maybe, as Fletcher suggests, doing something different will help us break the spell.