Passage of Time

December 2015

Three weeks ago, one of my friends asked his wife what she wanted to receive as presents. Without hesitation, she said “love.” His eyes widened and said he meant something tangible. (Love is complex and unquantifiable and we need something to represent it). He insisted, “What can I buy for you?”

Nowadays, in many societies, cost is associated with love. The more we love the person, the more we spend on gifts (presents). There is a tendency to express appreciation in terms of “how much?” Gone are the days when handmade and creative inexpensive presents were valued as meaningful and memorable.

There are many occasions in our lives when we give presents: birthday, wedding, graduation, etc. Gift giving is universal and important in any relationship. Dictionaries define gift as a thing (for me, service as well) given willingly to someone without payment (I add, ‘not expecting something in return’) How about re-gifting? Have you given something that you had received from someone else? It’s environmentally and financially worthwhile to do this; however, a recipient may have a different view. When you receive a regift, what do you think and feel about it? Being the second born of 5 children and having both rich & poor cousins and both needy & generous friends, I am used to giving and receiving pre-loved belongings. I believe that sharing our possessions and experiences is part of being humane.

Last month, I had to answer this simple yet soul-searching question: “Why didn’t you ask me to help you design the cover of your book?” What I produced may not be an eye-catching cover that makes people want to buy my book; but, my goal was not financial. I wrote it for myself, and readers have to be interested in what I stand for (i.e. “Future Perfect” is a novel but deals with contemporary issues on love, relationships, children, immigration, domestic violence, deaths, loyalties and hopes). For every copy sold, my royalty is just enough to buy a cup of tea. I don’t expect to make a big buck because the majority of book buyers and readers are not like me and are different from each other. Therefore, it is difficult to attract a multitude of readers; thus, I write what pleases me.

Talking about my novel, when it became available on Amazon, I bought a copy (ha!ha!) and had it sent to a friend in Australia as a Christmas gift. Two weeks later, I received a request from Amazon to review it. I couldn’t review the book I wrote, could I? Thus, I didn’t (what a pity as I could have given it at least a 4-star assessment because it pleases me).

Most of you have bought something from Amazon and have certainly received the invitation to comment on your purchase. Do you take this as an opportunity to help others in their choices? If yes, keep in mind that Amazon doesn’t accept feedback on shipment, packing, product description and seller — which are also the causes of dissatisfaction. For this purpose, it encourages the use of Customer Discussions feature on the product page. Since I ignored this information, my review for a 20-gram patch that cost nearly 12 Euros for postage was useless.

Did you face simple yet delicate questions and situations last year? How about major decisions? “What would you have done differently?” If faced with the same (or new) dilemmas and challenges this year, I wish you more wisdom and energy to deal with these. Also, I hope you will have peace, good health, happiness and prosperity throughout 2015.

Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965):
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

December 2014

The year is coming to an end, and this is my last article in 2014. We’ve read and heard a lot about crimes, illnesses, injustices, the Ukraine crisis, shoot down of Malaysian Air Flight 17 with nearly 300 people on board, abduction of Nigerian girls, Ebola virus and on-going Middle East conflicts.

In fact, there are more happy stories and remarkable progresses than gloomy ones. There have been useful research findings and inventions, such as robotic exoskeletons that can provide support to a ravaged body that needs to heal. There are now about 3 billion people in the world who have Internet access. The FIFA World Cup, which was held in Brazil from June 12 to July 13 and won by Germany, was a success. The Rosetta spacecraft’s Philae probe landed on Comet 67P, which was the first time in history. National and international laws have been introduced and collaborations established to combat organised and cyber crime, terrorism and tax evasion (e.g. US FATCA – Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act that requires US citizens, including those who live outside the US, to report their financial accounts held outside the country; and obliges foreign financial institutions to disclose to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) information about their U.S. clients. This increases national tax revenues as it makes it difficult for US taxpayers to conceal assets abroad). There have been local and global meetings, conferences, working parties, fund-raising events and other gatherings addressing social, political, economic and environmental concerns.

Which parts of the world have had so much misfortunes and sadness? Nothing has changed, and those in the underdeveloped countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East continue to experience abject and relative poverty, instability and insecurity.

Which parts of our planet have joyful residents? Scandinavian nations and Australia are top notchers. The ranking of living conditions by organisations (such as OECD Better Life Index), companies (e.g. Mercer Quality of Life Survey) and media outlets (e.g. The Economist & New York Times) have shown that the most liveable cities are in these happy (developed) countries. The criteria used in this kind of studies and surveys are political and economic stability, health care, welfare services, safety, education, housing, hygiene and environment. No wonder why the underdeveloped and developing countries trail behind significantly.

But, why is it that we see more smiling faces and people laughing in developing nations than in rich (financial) countries? We should include these obvious signs of happiness in the ranking criteria. There should also be considerations on successful community and family life; diversity (age, gender, religion, cultural traditions, physical & mental situations) and how this is dealt with; suicide rate; consumption of anti-depressants; and actions towards making non-urban centres more liveable (appropriate and more services, e.g. public transport, health care centres, etc).

Concerning ‘environmental measures?’ — well, this is easier done when you’ve the political and economic infrastructures. No wonder the developing nations are the worst polluters. On the other hand, I have seen how people in these countries recycle almost everything: houses made of cupboards, broken slippers put together with rubber bands, old belongings passed around and used with care, etc..)

I have learnt a lot from 2014 (and hope you, too) and will endeavour to make 2015 a better year. We can’t rely on our governments, employers and charities to achieve this. Let’s be wiser and more sensitive in our decision making and actions to ensure that our wellness and happiness don’t jeopardise those of others.

I wish you good health, peace, prosperity and happiness during this festive season and throughout 2015.

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