Live, love and be yourself

I watched “Eat Pray Love” the movie last night and was left disappointed by the adaptation of the book. Like many of the book’s fans, I was excited to watch Julia Roberts casted in the movie, she seemed like a perfect choice to play Elizabeth Gilbert.

Now it just seems like the movie audience is just going to think that Elizabeth Gilbert is selfish whiny b*tch. The movie left out important details of how she eventually made that decision to end the marriage. Or even start praying to God. I don’t think it will eventually matter to Elizabeth Gilbert anyway. If she didn’t make that “selfish” decision to go on her journey, I don’t think she would have written that book which inspired many other women to do the same, or at least reflect on their lives. She wouldn’t have gone on to speak at one of the most popular Ted talks – the talk that brought me to read her book in the first place. She needed to do what she had to do. Why is there such a negative connotation to pursuing your happiness?

No pulse left

When I first read the book I felt like I was reading myself. To be fair, there was a tiny part of the movie which made me feel like I was watching myself. The part when she tries to explain to her friend why she needed to go away for one entire year. She had no pulse left. I had no pulse left.

I don’t think it is ever possible to explain this feeling to anyone else unless they have been through the same. The same feeling which makes you feel that you’re suffering a fate worse than death. It makes you feel guilty for feeling that way, because there’re tons of cancer patients or hungry war victims who are wishing they have a proper chance at life. But that’s the thing you see, there is no feeling worse than being totally able and in supposed comfort and still feeling like you may be better off dead. At least the sick, poor and hungry have proper reasons to be angry with their lives. I had no reason to have felt this way, just like Elizabeth Gilbert had no reason to.

That guilt, eats you up inside. The desire to be truly alive, eats you up inside.

Each and every time I go through a transformative phase, I tell myself to learn from it and never make the same mistakes again. I have come to realise the way I am built mentally, emotionally and spiritually, I am destined for a life of change. Of movement, of desiring the feeling to truly be alive. This is who I am, but I’ve spent my life trying to shut that side of myself up. Yup, I am writing about this again. But I’ve only come to terms with this recently, it is really going to take a while before it entirely sinks in.

I just hope I don’t sabotage myself in the process.


Sometimes it feels tiring and lonely. To be one of those misfits who cannot live life like how others do. I have had times wishing I could be less emotional, less perceptive or having an interest in numbers instead of visuals. I wish I would be excited by the prospect of being an auditor instead. I was actually wishing all my innate gifts away.

It feels really really lonely and tiring when nobody could empathise with this sort of self-introspection and dissatisfaction. Why I seem to be so hard upon myself. I’m sure there’re tons of people who read this blog and decide that that the writer whines throughout.

Even I, myself, get sick of my own “principles”. Why can’t I just take work as work. Why do I feel so personally about every design decision I have made. The frustration I feel when a client prides the importance of the number of features rather than the value of design. Or when somebody thinks design is just making things pretty. Or when a developer writes inline styles into the html.

You know, I could live a lot better if I don’t get all worked up over “trivial” things like that. But this is me. These are the qualities that I hope prospective clients would deem as strengths when they choose to hire me. There are tons of more gifted designers out there. I’ll be the first to admit that. I don’t write a design blog or speak at events, I don’t network very well. But I bring myself completely into the work that I choose to do.

Just like this blog. I can’t write about “25 tips to Zen Living”, neither can I write about” 25 ways to become a better designer”. There are better writers out there with these topics. But I can write honestly and openly about myself, by doing that I hope to share the best gift I can – my thoughts, emotions and experiences. Perhaps it would make some of you roll your eyes, but once in a while, I get a heartfelt email or comment about my writing, and to me these are what that counts.

True connections are the ones that matter to me. There will always be the ones disagreeing with you, your decisions, your product. There will even be the ones who think “Eat Pray Love” the book is a piece of crap. I cannot help but raise my eyebrows at those people who refuse to use an Apple product. But when you manage to genuinely touch the lives of those who can relate to you, your decisions, your product, you know that you have made a real difference to them. When this happens, they truly appreciate you or your work, not because it is something everyone uses (ahem. Windows) or admire.

Respecting choices

Would you choose to be the spouse who stays out of responsibility or the one who leaves because you believe your partner deserves better? Would you design a product that the mass use out of necessity or a niche who truly loves it? Would you spend your life chasing stability and security or would you want to feel alive?

If you have the gift of foresight, and you know you will get paralysed in a year’s time…Would you spend this year enjoying every moment of your life, or would you work really hard to have savings and buy insurance?

If you truly love and care for someone, wouldn’t his/her happiness be the most important? Why can’t we, as a society, encourage the individual to be happy, instead of being “responsible”? As a parent, would you wish your son or daughter to be truly happy, to be “responsible”, stuck in jobs they do not love, just to be filial? Would you, want your wife to stick with you because she took a life vow, or do you want her to be with the person she truly loves?

We all make different decisions and respond differently to the same situation. While I used to believe everyone should live life with passion, I have come to accept, albeit a little unwillingly, that some people could be happier with security. The world needs diversity, but I do hope the world will come to love and be kinder to the minority as well. The ones who choose to live their dreams.


Reading a book like “Eat, Pray, Love” makes me feel less lonely, that somewhere in the world there are people like me, who stubbornly refuse to give up on their chosen dreams, no matter how painful or how stupid they can seem to be.

There have been countless times when I have felt like there’s nothing left in me to go on, that I should just give it all up – and then almost like magic, a random book, video, blog post comes along to tell me, I am not that alone after all.

This is why I still choose to keep on writing my long, rambling, repetitive monologues. That somehow, somewhen, somewhere in this fragmented world, these words would mean something to somebody. That perhaps my writing could make a person feel a tad less lonely, less unsupported, less of a sore thumb sticking out.

re: Power

I grew up with the mentality that money is the root of all evil, having witnessed what it does to people around me. Then I changed my mind. I realised money is just a representation of power, so the struggle for power is the root of all evil.

Now, I’ve changed my perspective once again. Power is neither negative nor positive. It is neutral and the use of it depends of the person who welds it. The key for me is to be aware of my relationship with power, instead of avoiding it all together.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up in an environment which instilled on me that it is wrong to hold on to any form of individual power. I couldn’t reason with parents or teachers, because that to them is “answering back” – which means I am undermining their authority. Any effort to have a personal voice is met with disapproval or sometimes a slap across the face.

I don’t think I surprised myself much by growing into an adult with not much of a voice except for that angry one in my head. I kept giving away my personal power because that was how I was brought up to believe – to listen, to conform.

Looking back, perhaps I wanted to be accepted so much that I subconsciously tried not to offend anybody. I developed a fear of confrontations because that would mean trying to win a power struggle, even if I was right.

I wasn’t a tit-for-tat person, so there were tons of situations which I simply let go and hoped that karma would deal with it. I still feel that approach is fine, but it cannot come at a price of your individuality. I am not talking about ego-based pride here.

Often, the person who wins a fight (I don’t mean a physical one) may not be the person who is right or true or better, it simply means this person has the will to win (or the desperation not to lose).

Power struggles are everywhere. It exists between spouses (honey, please do the housework), between colleagues, of course the ones between economic/political parties. Artists fight for the power to create, advocates fight for the power to change. Don’t misunderstand that Gandhi was giving up his power when he gave up his riches and went on his peaceful protest. That’s demonstration of true power – power that doesn’t require brute force or making others fear.

I realised that the most important one I have to win, is the one that exists within myself. The power struggle between my mind and my soul.

The mind often succumbs to pragmatic pursuits, the soul simply wants to express herself.

I, need to be myself. In the process of doing that, there will be plenty of struggles, disagreements, confrontations I have to face. But I believe, once you win that internal struggle to be your true self, it doesn’t matter what people say, you wouldn’t need external validation, because all it matters is that joy and peace that exists within yourself.

Imagine a Self that is unaffected by what people think and say. How much power would that individual have. He/she will not be afraid of anything. Don’t you think we all live to try and prove something? Imagine not having to prove anything to anyone except yourself. It doesn’t matter if people frown upon you and your actions. You just need to be able to answer to your Self.

People depend on external sources of power (authority, money) because of human insecurity. If you ever find that unwavering belief of who you are and what you’re meant to do, the power comes from within. Money becomes your tool and not your master. Power becomes a form of energy and not gratification.

If we can all learn to gain power not from meaningless power struggles but just by understanding true power comes from within. Nobody, nobody can take away your internal power. They can seek to weaken you by taking away your pride, your riches, your accomplishments, but they can never take you away from you.

Action plan for change

I’ve been in a state of limbo for the whole of 2010 – a year which I thought will bring tons of positive developments to my life, after all the groundwork I’ve put in for the past couple of years. The previous year in 2009 I have been hard at work to try and curb all my personal fears and issues in order to give myself the platform that I need to pursue my various goals in life. I’ve took the step out to:

  • write openly about my low self-esteem
  • end my hermit-dom (aka social phobia) and meet people from my online social circles which cumulated into attending an industry event full of 200 over people I don’t know
  • start travelling solo which ended up my life-long fear of sleeping in the dark & various paranoias of being alone in a foreign land
  • take various metaphysical courses which have always been an interest that I’ve put aside for ‘proper’ work

Life can only get better I thought since I’d gradually overcome the issue that was affecting me the post – myself.

This was a significant life-lesson to me, never be complacent and expect things to run smoothly within your expectations, ever. Life always has this uncanny ability to throw us curveballs when we least expect it.

Background story

So, the story of 2010 can be broken down in 3-month parts from January to September.

First 3 months was spent in anxiety and denial about the situation which transformed to a delayed reaction of anger and it ended up with myself breaking down physically, mentally and emotionally. I can’t really write about the actual situation itself, except that it involved me having to shift my entire plans for this year which included a drastic breakdown of a relationship that was very dear to me. Having a fear of conflict didn’t help as I tried desperately for it not to evolve into a conflict and it backfired instead for all parties involved as buried feelings and forgotten childhood hurt rose to the surface.

On the surface, the situation is not that big a deal. I think it could be difficult for people to understand why it affected me so much. I actually didn’t understand it myself and it contributed to the worsening of the situation as I repeatedly asked myself whether I was over-reacting. On hindsight, I think I was just very weary of fighting similar battles in my life – I had this feeling that I’ve spent all my life fighting, and just when I thought the worst is long over, everything crumbled again. It drove me into feelings of helplessness, self-resentment, half wondering if I didn’t try hard enough, and half wondering if the Universe was intent to make a joke out of me. I have done my best, but my best just wasn’t enough. It seemed like no matter what I did was enough to earn me a period of peace and quiet.

The second 3-month period was spent cleaning up the mess as I gathered every last bit of my sanity and energy to rationally handle my responsibilities. I was blessed because most of my clients understood as I tried to make my poor health and emotions take a backseat.

It wasn’t just poor health and unstable emotions though, it was a loss of something that makes me never ever want to feel that way again. I lost my enthusiasm for life. Even travelling didn’t help me feel better, but what it did was to give me the space I needed to pick up the pieces, thankfully.

The final 3 months of June to September I spent trying to heal. I was able to stop working for at least a month from mid august to mid september. I went through several transformative experiences during this period and I would like to write about it in the near future.

I came back in mid-september and amusingly (it is amusing to me now) went through another stressful period house-hunting, dealing with awful property agents, feeling anxious about my housing-budget, packing and finally moving.

I am back to the physical state I was before my travels, tired. But this time it is different. I am carrying the same physical fatigue, but my mindset is totally switched. If I cannot control my external circumstances, I may at least be in the optimum state to deal with it.

I thought it would be good to share my action plan with all of you (as well as a reminder to myself). I no longer want to give myself excuses or be in denial about myself.

1. Build my fitness

I’ve always suffered from a chronic lack of energy and I wonder if I was predisposed to it. I guess I will only know if I actually did try to make an effort to build my fitness. I admit I don’t exercise much and I should. Now with a swimming pool near me, I really have no excuses. Water calms me down as well. I forgot to mention building my fitness involves taking greater care of my diet.

2. Learn to calm my mind

I think this is closely related to the one above, I guess if I am always twitching with nervous energy from lack of exercise, then I cannot really blame my mind for going wild. Will like to try regular meditation practice as well.

3. Condition my mind

I suffer from fear and anxiety in relation to several issues that are no longer relevant to me but I still suffer the long-term effects of having to cope with (or run away) from these issues for so long. For example, I have absolute faith in the Universe’s integrity yet my mind tries to make me paranoid because of the fear of lack. I know security is an illusion and yet sometimes I unconsciously strive towards it. I want to truly live in the now, make the best of each and every moment instead of worrying about some event in the future that may never happen. All things shall come to pass.

4. Practice detachment

This is also closely related to point 3. The reason why I am prone to depression, anxiety, fear (apart from possible faulty genes) is because I tend to feel emotional about anything and everything. I am proud of being emotionally sensitive, but it gets to the point whereby I don’t stand up for myself or my mood gets affected feeling upset about something that I should not get upset with, if only I can put aside my emotions to gain a clearer perspective.

5. Trust

I suffer from an immense distrust in myself because of what happened in the first 3 months of 2010. I have this paranoia that my breakdown will happen again. I find it difficult to trust myself to rise from adversity. There is no reason to feel that way if I do my best to manage myself well. The worst situation can happen but I have no reason to fear if I truly believe in myself and the Universe.

At least I’ve tried

Despite of what had happened, one belief has never changed. I rather die trying than to never have tried before.

Adversity happens for a reason. I now look back and realise that the events were immensely beneficial to my growth. If everything went as smoothly as expected, I wouldn’t have the time to reflect on what truly matters. I also wouldn’t have been pushed to such a corner – to make drastic changes to my life. I wouldn’t have been reminded again that never to put all your eggs in one basket, we need to constantly renew and rejuvenate ourselves in order to stay progressive in life. The pursuit of security is a tiring, endless and fruitless game. Think about it, the Universe has ways to take away your comfort, money, anything whenever it wants. The point is to make the best out of every moment. Keep the faith.

Thin line between delusion & faith

I’ve been regularly labelled as being delusional, an escapist or simply naive. I don’t get upset anymore, am rather used to it actually.

Guess what? If I never had my ideals and succumbed to people’s version of cold reality, I wouldn’t be having the liberty to work wherever I want while not having to answer a single phone-call while finding the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. I’ll be working somewhere comfortable and would probably be with someone ‘comfortable’ as well.

This is another point of my life when I’m pulled into drawing strength from my inner-reserves again. This time around, the stakes are higher. I’ll be lying if I tell you I am not paranoid nor insecure. Which is a contradiction because I believe that security is an illusion and therefore insecurity shouldn’t exist. But try telling that to my human mind. ;p

People tell me that I am lucky or they wish they can be as gutsy as me. I go through the same paranoia process and indecision like anybody, in fact it may be more (ask my partner if you don’t believe, I wake her up in the middle of the night all the time to *repeat* my paranoia to her all the time). What could be the difference is that I am not willing to live a mundane life. No matter how insecure, paranoid, down-in-the-dumps, upset, depressed, angry, in-confident, weak I can be, I am never willing to wake up, go to work, get paid, buy some stuff to comfort myself, grow old, get sick, be happy because I have money to treat my medical conditions, wait to die. Sorry, that sort of safe existence makes me not want to exist at all.

Plenty of times undesirable circumstances are there to push you out of your comfort zone for your necessary growth. I have spent the first half of the year fretting about the uncertainty I was about to face, but right now, I cannot help but feel totally grateful for it has given me the opportunity to go through a renewal process that was very much needed. One door closes and another opens.

I have a friend who keeps making ridiculous (even to me) decisions in his new venture but through his bold decision-making, his venture is experiencing tremendous growth. If you do not know him personally you may misunderstand his attitude on being borderline flippant. What most people do not know is that he has gone through a personal tragedy and it has allowed him to have very different perspectives while making decisions. When you have personally come across the face of death, what used to be important no longer becomes so and vice versa.

I have not experienced that sort of personal tragedy but have come close to it by being the creator of my own tragedy. I have been to that point where I have lost all love and enthusiasm for life. I was decaying.

Nothing can be worse than losing the desire to live, not even poverty or sickness. This period of healing has allowed me to recover my enthusiasm and that is very precious, the desire to look forward to another day. We can either be fearful or excited about the unknown, that is the beauty of our free will.

I choose to have faith, I keep having the choices presented to me and I still choose to have faith. I have faith that as long as I try my best and lead my life in the most meaningful manner, to the best of my capacity, the Universe will provide for me. It has never failed me so far, I have always been given what I have desired, as long as I was not afraid to take the plunge.

I do not know if I am deluding myself or if I am biting off more than I can chew, but who is to determine what are we truly capable of? It is only but ourselves who have limiting beliefs. How many of us in history had accomplished seemingly impossible feats precisely because of great ideals?

I have made the leap, and the height of that leap has increased since I last wrote, but I have always been an all or nothing person. It is either I do something with my best effort, or I don’t do it, rather than trying to go the ‘safe’ route. What is the worst that can happen? That my partner end me end up having to sweep floors? That we can do, as long as we’re in it together, united in the same direction, it doesn’t matter if we really end up falling flat our faces. At the very least, we have tried our best.

Giant leap of faith

If you really know me well, you will know that I am a pretty extreme person. I swing between extremes. My mind is the eternal pessimist, prepare yourself for the worst, because then you’ll never be disappointed, while my heart is the eternal optimist, if you never try you will never know.

My life has existed in cycles, whereby I swing between trying to listen to my heart and getting derided by my mind. Often the mind wins, because the mind is logical and rational. It convinces me in eloquent arguments while the heart just goes I don’t know why but this is how I feel, so trust it anyway.

I attribute my depressive cycles to this, when the curve swings upwards it is usually because I am functioning well, trusting my intuition, following my heart. When it swings downwards the mind goes, there I told you so in an infinite loop. The mind mocks at the heart for being naive, the heart crumbles and breaks. I gradually lose the trust I have in myself, if any at all. My heart just wants to believe in the good, yet it gets repeatedly stepped upon because it wants to believe.

The past two decades, I have lost the ability to really, truly, trust myself. I want to trust everybody and everything but just not myself. Why would I trust myself when it seems like I have been the one making all the poor decisions rendering me in heart-breaking circumstances?

Perhaps I have never truly trusted myself. If I did, I would never have felt any fear, and even if things go wrong it wouldn’t scare me, because I will always be there for myself, to pick myself up. But I don’t trust myself to pick myself up. I would only envision myself being broken again, some part of me would die, and that process would be irreversible. I would never be whole again. I am weak, else why would I always feel so broken each time something goes wrong?

Somehow there is this tiny part of me that never dies. After all the tears, there is always this tiny part that wants to believe. I have no idea why. I have no idea why time and time again, I still remain hopeful. Why I repeatedly allow myself to be broken again and again, yet I still believe in ideals. In hope. In faith.

Is that the infinite part of my soul? Why do I believe in God (the non-religious version, thank you)? I cannot explain it in words, but there is this part of me that knows, that knowing cannot be refuted, it cannot disintegrate, it will always be there. It can be hidden or lost, but it will always be there. I think it is like a paradox. It is because it is so unexplainable, illogical, yet so true, thus the belief to begin with.

Our minds only wants to believe in the proven. My mind wants me to be the logical person I cannot be. I got depressed because I know I can never be the person my mind or society or even my loved ones want me to be.

That tiny voice in me has gotten louder in the past few years. Ironically, the more I fell, the louder it got. It keeps telling me, if only you have listened to me in the first place. The more I realised I cannot depend on outer reality, the more I drew strength from inwards. I started to see that I cannot ask for external motivation if I do not possess it internally. I cannot ask for people to believe in me when I don’t even trust myself.

That tiny voice tells me to keep the faith. There are no walls of security that I can lean on, no calculated risks I can take, but it keeps telling to take that leap. That giant leap of faith.

Do I trust myself? After all those times that I have trusted and yet got broken? I realised I have never fully trusted myself, many times I have taken the step to trust my inner voice, only to sell out to the ever-persuasive mind. Eg. I took the leap to going solo because I trust my inner voice, but I ended up being persuaded by the fearful mind to take on projects that was not necessarily beneficial for me because I was insecure. Or those times that I mistakenly thought I was making decisions for the better, but only to realise now that I was trying to preserve my comfort zone. Being comfortable does not equate to being better.

Have you ever really analysed why you keep getting into undesirable situations? Or simply blame it on your own ‘luck’? I was one of those who believed I was destined to live a wretched life, because I keep trying and yet I keep getting into ‘unlucky’ situations. I now have the benefit of hindsight. The ‘unlucky’ situations always have a reason. Eg. I was in a totally monotonous job for six months that did nothing for my portfolio, but it was there that I met the friend who would play such a vital role in my growth in the past decade.

So, I am gonna take a giant leap of faith. I am going to listen to that tiny but growing voice. I may fall flat on my face but I will gain the experience of trying, rather than to live with another ‘what if’ in my life.

I cannot take that lying down and that is perhaps the strength I possess. I am tired of living with the constant fear of lack. From now on, I just want to live in a life that is full of abundance.

I am who I am

I’ve finished reading “The Fountainhead” yesterday after seeing the book or the author mentioned in 3 separate blogs in a space of 1 week, after never having heard of it all my life (I love to read, but I am really not that literary). I was barely into it for 20 pages before I had this OMG moment whereby I wondered why on earth did I not read it earlier. This is almost the book I have been waiting for all my life. Almost.

If you’re working in a creative field or you have issues reconciling your individuality with society, go read it now. The true depth of the book has to be experienced by the individual reader, but there were a few parts that touched the very core of my soul which I would like to write about.

The protagonist, Howard Roark is an architect. He is the what Ayn Rand, the author, thinks as the perfect man. The man that upholds his ideals no matter what. He believed so much in what he was doing, that it didn’t matter if nobody believed in him.

There was this part of the story whereby after a series of incidents whereby the society did everything it could to repel him, Howard had no work – he would rather remain idle and face the possibility of suffering, rather than to compromise of his ideals. His friend, very concerned, tried to advise him to compromise, just a little. Howard refused, and so his friend asked him what was he waiting for if he wouldn’t compromise?

Howard replied, “My kind of people”.

When I read that part, I just froze. I know exactly what he meant, because I too, have been waiting for “my kind of people”.

Howard Roark was everything that mainstream society hated. They thought of him as selfish, because he only cared about what he did and would not integrate himself into society (i.e. develop PR skills and do what other people expect). He believed in creating buildings that were functional, he refused to add a feature to his buildings simply for the sake of pure aesthetic. He was born ahead of his time and he was despised for it. Why?

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received- hatred. the great creators- the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors- stood alone against the men of their time. every great new thought was opposed. every great new invention was denounced. the first motor was considered foolish. the airplane was considered impossible. the power loom was considered vicious. anesthesia was considered sinful. but the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. they fought, they suffered and they paid. but they won.” – Howard Roark / Ayn Rand

Considering this book was written more than half a century ago, I now realise that the issues that exist in our modern society now have probably existed throughout the history of mankind.

Ayn Rand’s believed that the man should be selfish in order to be truly selfless. It is man’s destiny to live up to his/her fullest potential, to create what he/she is truly capable of, unwavering in his/her vision, in order to share his/her greatest gifts with his/her fellow human beings. I may not have worded it right here and I don’t think I am equipped to do so. I agree with most of what she was trying to convey, only that I personally believe that the ideal world requires diversity. I believe in the concept of duality and I believe the individual only can exist because of the mass, just like how I believe you need to experience pain in order to fully experience joy.

I guess if I have read this book earlier in my youth, I may have saved myself a lot of pain. Pain of trying to integrate myself into the mainstream society instead of celebrating my individuality. Though I must say, I appreciate my individuality very much now, because of what I went through in order to preserve it.

For the past two weeks I seem to be undergoing some surreal reality that I find it hard to explain in words. I kept getting tested in many different situations, with people that exist in social circles that do not overlap each other. I got questioned for my beliefs, people trying to persuade me to see the light of their advice (which was kind and I appreciate), some trying to veer me off the path I was intent to take. Mostly out of good and ‘right’ intentions in their perspectives.

It was as though I was being asked, “red or blue pill” every other day. It was an interesting experience from my own observation because the more I was being tested and as I defended my beliefs, the more I grew in my conviction. I had plenty of opportunities to take the more comfortable and perhaps easier path. Yet I simply refused.

I no longer cared whether I could get people to believe in what I was doing, neither did I care whether they understood, or even respected my choices. I was someone who always looked for external validation and I needed a lot of it, but this time round, I just didn’t think it mattered anymore. I believed in what I was doing and that was enough. Of course, it made me appreciate the empathy I got, out of the very few who understood, even more. My kind of people.

Life amuses me. The moment I decided to give up control, the moment I stopped hoping for people to validate me, they start popping from nowhere.

Today, I simply feel very blessed. Blessed that somehow throughout the years of society’s conditioning I somehow, barely managed to remain true to myself. Blessed that my partner fully supports me. Blessed that I have a select few who is exactly the “my kind of people” I have been waiting for. Blessed for that hug a client gave me today, the same person who saw something in me that I myself couldn’t see, much less others. Blessed for that conversation I had in the evening because I could make a difference to someone else. And that someone else could make a difference to me.

Most of all, I am blessed that I seem to be finally able to feel comfortable in my own skin. For I am who I am, I live the life I want to lead. I cannot tell anyone else to live like me, neither can others tell me to live like them. This is the basic right of a human being – free will – that somehow I seem to have lost along the way. I take back that right of mine, today.

If one attends to the problems of humanity and commits oneself to solving them, the universe will care for that person the same way it cares for a flower or a bird. – Buckminster Fuller

Happy birthday, Singapore – with gratitude but not love.

Growing up in my home country feeling like a misfit, it is indeed difficult to express any sort of patriotic love. For never once I have truly felt like a child of this country, I have never felt loved nor accepted.

I had felt no sense of belonging and instead trapped, bound by the location of my birth. I was angry with the lack of choices available for my education, the restriction of speech that I should have, the lack of tolerance for diversity in a country that boasts of being multi-racial.

Yet as I grow older and as my horizons widened (still rather narrow, unfortunately but am trying to correct that), I am increasingly grateful for what this country has given – security, stability and freedom. Yes, freedom, though not in the idealistic sense, but the freedom of choices still exists and we do not realise how much freedom we have, until we look beyond and out of what we’ve taken for granted all this while.

I am grateful that I feel safe roaming the streets of Singapore, I am grateful for our transportation system, I am grateful that that I can have clean water to brush my teeth with.

However, it makes me extremely grateful, that having the privilege of being born a Singapore citizen, I do not have to undergo female circumcision, systems with racial quotas (apart from buying a hdb flat), or risk getting stoned to my death if I was ever unlucky enough to be a victim of a sexual assault.

I am sorry to be such a wet blanket in a celebratory mood but I wish to remind myself and all of us, the sort of freedom we have, and to a certain extent, the social responsibility we have as the younger generation to protect the harmony and rights most of my peers are born with but these were not given to us without a fight by our forefathers.

I am also sorry, that I love the foreigners that are now running riot in this country and are supposedly taking our jobs away. We’re proud of being a multi-racial country for a reason, that reason being we had a diverse range of ancestors. Before taking a swipe at that foreign person, perhaps we may want to recall if our grandfathers were ‘truly Singaporean’ in the first place.

On this day I hope and pray that the younger generations will grow up to not only tolerate diversity but to embrace it. I hope in an idealistic manner that misfits like me will come to be accepted one day, that there will come a time that we will enjoy greater freedom of speech and less media censorship.

Perhaps I will come to fall in love with this country one day, perhaps I won’t. Maybe I’ll find a better environment for myself, just like many of the others coming to Singapore in search for a better home. I will still remain grateful. For despite all the difficulties I’ve faced being a Singaporean, it is undeniable that I still have the basic rights as an individual to dictate my fate.

Happy birthday, Singapore. I wish to love you from the bottom of my heart but I still find it difficult to. I am very grateful anyway, thanks for what you’ve given me all these years.

Why I don’t blog about design

On my twitter bio, the field for website is directed to this blog. I would think most people would leave once they land upon this page. If, my twitter page is linked to my portfolio site, it is very likely that I’ll gain more followers. After all, there’ll be more people who would want to follow a designer than an emo blogger right?

Very similarly, if I blog about design, whether is it about critical thought or my design process, I would again presume that it would likely raise my online profile a lot more. I honestly do not want that attention in an egomaniacal kind of way, but in a professional sense, blogging about design would definitely help to raise my profile, which translates a lot to more or better quality business. There is definitely a wider audience interested to read a blog on design rather than a blog on…..personal issues and lessons? ;p

I went through this entire thought process prior to starting this blog and the process became rather lengthy and it hindered me from starting my blog for years. My mind tells me to start a blog on design but my heart tells me to write about myself. Now, who is the egomaniac? ;)

Why start a blog?

I want to start a blog because I want to share my experiences with people. Good or bad. I can start a blog on my design experiences or a blog on my personal experiences. The design blog will reach a wider audience which is nice. But I hope that the personal blog will reach the audience, however small, on a deeper level.

There are tons of quality design blogs out there and I don’t think I can offer better content than what is already out there. I am not saying that I can offer better content than other personal blogs, but what matters is I am trying to write a blog with my heart and honesty. How much of me will you know if I write about my work?

I reckon that people who bother to probe a little bit more will discover the link to my portfolio site anyway. Those that leave based on their 3 second impression of this site, will not be the people I want to connect with. On the contrary, if there are some who actually bother reading any bit of this site and still want to connect with me, these are the people that will be quality connections. Because they want to connect with me even if I go on long-winded musings about myself, or going a step more, they see the intention behind the long winded musings about myself.

The value of being authentic

I feel that it is not easy to find authenticity on our society, online or not. How much of a person can you get to know even face to face, much less on social media? I offer myself almost like an open book, if anybody actually take the time to read it.

I very much enjoy authentic writing and I applaud people who write openly of their less-glamorous experiences. It takes courage each time to write about your emotions, your weaknesses, your failures. How many people will start judging? How many of my clients will deem me less professional because I openly admit that I have low self-esteem?

I want to tell you, that it is incredibly healing to be able to relate to someone else’s honest, emotional writing. And it is even more empowering to be able to write your own.

Why? If you can relate to the statement above, you will know what I mean.

If many more of us can open our minds and hearts, the world will be a much better place. Failures and weaknesses will not be perceived as negative, so much more hurt can be avoided with truth. If only more of us know that it is okay to be ourselves.

I have learnt that, while taking the step out to write this blog, if I am no longer afraid to be judged publicly for my weaknesses, there is nothing much else to be afraid of.

There will always be people who are critical or judgmental but it is very much worth it if you find the ones that understand and accept you for the person that you are.

Why I think it is important to share

Our society doesn’t readily accept people who are different from the mainstream. Times are changing, the society is evolving, it is definitely better than how it used to be when I was a kid. However, it still remains a challenge. Whether is it about being gay, being an artist, pursuing your dreams, discovering that truth is relative while the rest of the world believes that it is absolute. That any of us can create the reality that we want. That we’re very much conditioned to remain in a state of fear for the benefit of those in power. Or that whatever that’s not been scientifically proven can be real. That I think that us humans are egoistic for believing that we’re the only intelligent life-forms in the entire universe. Or to dismiss ancient wisdom for mumbo jumbo. That I don’t understand why we’re still trying to win peace through violence. That we’re all human beings and we all have flaws and I don’t understand why we judge people for their looks, colour, intelligence, size, etc when we know that we’re not much better ourselves?

I have been through certain radical transformations myself and thought-provoking experiences. I want to write about challenging the status-quo, about being unconventional, about trying my best about living my life differently from the mainstream. I am what geeks call a ‘use-case’ for pursuing an alternative lifestyle (no I don’t just mean the gay part) and there are plenty of others who have the courage to live their lives differently.

It is just that we are conditioned to believe that these people don’t exist or are very few and far in between. We are not. We are still the minority but we are a growing lot.

And we’re not ‘lucky’. We simply believing in having the power to create our own reality.

I write to share because I want to stand up and be counted. To be counted as one of those who defied ‘reality’ as our society perceives, and to share content of similar people, just so that maybe, just maybe, it will make a difference to the number of people encouraged to create their own reality.

I want to be the change that I want, and perhaps you can too.

Why I refuse to be a Singtel mobile subscriber anymore

I have been a Singtel mobile subscriber for 13 years. I have wanted to stop being a customer of Singtel for the past 3 years. I was thwarted time and time again because of the iPhone. My love for Apple has overridden any distaste or dislike for the big red telco.

Now, with the impending launch of the iPhone 4, I am determined not to recontract with Singtel whether they hold exclusivity to the phone or not.


1. The Phantom 30%

I signed up for a contract for a VAS (value added service) sometime last year. I wanted to stay with my current plan (Classic) which didn’t provide 3G access, so I had to sign up for mobile on broadband. At that existing time period, the promotion was 30% discount with one year of contract.

My bill came the following month, and the 30% discount was not reflected. I assumed that the customer service officer had forgotten (not the first time they have forgotten requests) to activate my contract, and on second thoughts, maybe it was better not to be on a contract, so I left it at that. The itemised billing did not state whether the VAS was contracted or not.

Almost one year later, I signed in to their new one login service, “My Account” to check my recontract eligibility in the case I wanted to recontract with them for the iPhone 4 (still being open minded).

Imagine my surprise when I saw that I *am* on a contract. I called the customer service online and enquired. Apparently, the official status is, I am on a contract for BBOM which will end September 2010. I wanted to be certain of the error, so I asked her again if I was on a contract, which she impatiently replied the contractual end date, so I asked her how much I was paying now, and she replied $18.60 (before GST).

I was expecting her to make the connection as the regular price was $19.90 and I was on a promotional contract, but she didn’t, so I asked the officer why was I paying $18.60 every month for the past one year when I am supposed to be on a contract.

She replied that that $18.60 is supposed to be 30% off $19.90.

With my disbelief at her bad calculations, I had to ask her to redo the math again. She got confused, put me on hold for what seems like forever, and another officer answered.

Which he tried to do a smokescreen by telling me $18.60 *is* the promotional price. I am very confident that the regular price for BBOM was $19.90 when I recontracted, which I tried to politely tell him of my certainty and not try to pull off trying to make me believe that that was supposed to be the amount I was contracting for.

I had to get him to check (again) what was the regular price, so this time, he told me it was $19.90, so (for the nth time) I asked him why was I paying $18.60 then?

AGAIN, he replied that $18.60 (before GST) is 30% off $19.90 (after GST).

I cannot believe what I was hearing. Both officers have obviously bad product knowledge having to check the pricing time and time again, and I cannot find a word to describe their inability to realise 30% off $19.90 is definitely not $18.60, with or without GST!

And I am trying very hard not to doubt their ethics when they are obviously trying to make me believe that I was the one making the mistake.

This is just one of the many other incidents which I will describe briefly here as I really don’t want to write a 10-page essay.

2. ‘FREE” Colour-me-tones

TWICE, I had family members being subscribed to colour-me-tones WITHOUT permission. The first case was a new line under my name, which I clearly remember not agreeing to signing up for the VAS when I signed the form for the line.

The second case was very recent when my partner suddenly had her ringing tone changed. She was being subscribed to the VAS without her knowledge in the middle of her contract.

We have paperless billing (save the environment)  and we don’t check the bills every month. The service is free for 3 months which thereafter they wil start charging you if you didn’t notice it. Which you wouldn’t unless someone asks why your ringtone becomes some cheesy song when they call you instead of the default, or you scrutinize your bills every month.

I admit the responsibility for checking my bills, but I don’t think it is ethical at all to subscribe people to services without their permission.

3. The mioTV false promotion

Back in those days when mioTV was initially launched and nobody wanted to pay to watch it because of their uninteresting programming, they had people going door-to-door to promote it. My father and a friend’s father was persuaded to sign up for it with the promises that they will not be subjected to any contract and that there will be no hidden charges.

The installer never explained that the service needed an internet connection or a ADSL phone line, and he conveniently plugged out my brother’s Pacific Internet ADSL line, plugged in Singtel’s one, and also conveniently plugged out my dad’s starhub set-top box, and replaced it with the mioTV’s media connectors. How irresponsible. Nobody told my father that my brother’s ADSL will be rendered useless if he chooses to watch mioTV or vice versa.

Again, imagine my poor dad’s surprise when he tried to cancel the service and was told it was a 6 month contract.

I had to send a few emails with a few long phone calls before they agree to give a 50% discount to the subscription, refusing to terminate the contract.

Horrible customer service

I am absolutely sick of calling their hotlines and dealing with their customer service officers because for all the incidents mentioned above plus a few more, I had to be put on hold countless times, sometimes up to an hour just to get a officer to speak to me.

That is not all, they will first refuse to take any responsibility for anything, trying to insinuate that it is your fault/responsibility, often had no clear answers to questions, and many times, they promised to get back to me, only to go missing in action.

Why I had to write this

These mentioned 3 incidents are just the highlights. I have had more encounters that will probably take me a week to finish. Wrong billing, bills get sent to the wrong address, signing up for services that didn’t got forgotten and didn’t get activated, transfers of services that didn’t happen even though it was done personally at the customer service counter.

I understand in big organisations, mistakes will be made. I don’t mind the mistakes as much as they try to do tai-chi each time a mistake occurs. I also don’t agree with prioritising sales over ethics.

If you know me personally, I am not one to lose my temper at all or become aggressive at all when dealing with customer service officers, sales people, whoever. In fact, I empathise with them so much, because I know how much shit they have to take in their job. I am the sort of person who will tip a person even if I had bad service, hoping the small tip will brighten up his/her day.

To get my blood rising to this level, it requires extraordinary effort. Singtel has made that extraordinary effort countless times and I wish it would be put to better use instead.

I don’t feel that big organisations should get away with things just because of their monopoly (unless it is Apple). I think it reflects badly on their management when the junior staff behaves in such a manner. How are they being trained?

What I am going to do

One of my new mottos is to become the change that I want. I am just one person and it is a minute effort but any effort is an effort. I am not going to be a Singtel mobile subscriber anymore once any of the other telcos launch the iPhone 4.

Sadly, I have to be stuck with mioTV because my love for football overrides all that anger. The phone I can do without, the football I really have to watch.

Re-conditioning myself for inner-peace

The post would actually be titled “Re-conditioning myself in pursuit of happiness” until I made a recent discovery that happiness is a choice, not a pursuit.

The perception of happiness

People do all sorts of things to pursue what they perceive as ‘happiness’. In the Singaporean society, ‘happiness’ generally (I repeat, generally) means earning enough money so that they never have to worry about having to cope with the rising standards of living. When I was younger, ‘happiness’ means the freedom to do whatever I want. Money, I thought was secondary. I was insistent that freedom does not neccessarily have to come with money. Back then, even as a kid in school, I was already the odd one out. My peers were very concerned about getting straight As in order ‘succeed’ and ‘be happy’. Nobody told us that academic success is not equivalent true happiness and success. On the contrary, we kept getting drilled about the importance of being part of an academic elite in order to survive in Singapore (at least, in my experience).

I was determined to be happy. I have already disappointed my parents when I didn’t do well for my O levels, and I sought the middle-ground, entering a polytechnic to study IT when what I really wanted to do was to go to a design school. I dropped out in the middle of my course after realising that I will never be able to graduate as long as data structures gave me a headache, resulting in more disappointment from my family. That resulted in me feeling even more that I should make it up to them. This pattern continued throughout my twenties as I tried hard to seek ‘a good job’ as defined by society. If I could not be the lawyer they wanted, perhaps I could at the very least try to climb the ladder as a designer.

I spent my twenties caught in between trying to be happy and trying to make it up to my parents. Or you can see it as trying to be myself and be weird, or trying to be ‘normal’ like everyone else. I swung between the two as there was never a period I could be happy without feeling guilty, or trying to be normal without driving myself crazy.

I thought I left it all behind when I made a big step to be self-employed, mistakenly thinking that being self-employed would mean freedom. I stopped caring whether that would please my family or not, it was something that I really wanted and needed to do.

In a conditioned state of fear

What I didn’t realise was, the conditioning that existed in my mind/psyche was far deeper that I have thought to be. As I progressed further into my business, my worries about the future grew. What if I stopped getting business? What if I don’t make use if the opportunities presented to me now? What if I didn’t save enough to buy a house? What if I can’t pay rent? What if my parents get old and they need money from me? What if one of them fall sick? What if I fall sick?

I was setting myself up for failure. Even before anything started to happen, I was already ‘preparing’ myself for all the negativity that can happen to me. And I assure you, whoever that is reading this, that probably 90% of us have the same fears going through their minds all the time.

That is why many of us stay in jobs we don’t love. It is better to be unhappy than to be poor, a lot of them think. As a friend once remarked, she would rather cry in a mercedes than in a public bus.

And that is why, even myself, as much as I try to pursue happiness consciously, the conditioning of my mind has weighed me down very much, subconsciously. Most of us are brought up to seek stability and security, even if I seem to be a ‘free-er’ spirit that most of my peers, I cannot help but think about the house that I should buy, the money I should be earning, the ‘success’ I should be chasing. This affected the way I ran my business as I subconsciously sought stability (lots of cashflow! ;p). I made awful decisions accepting projects that I shouldn’t, or working when I should have rested. I took my work too seriously, because I was very afraid to lose my ‘freedom’, and my work suffered as a result as I over-analyzed everything since I was afraid to produce work that was mediocre. I lost my love for my work.

Consciously or subconsciously, I was falling back into my old pattern of swinging between trying to be myself and trying to be normal. I was still trying to seek the middle-ground by not having ‘a proper job’ and still being able to make my family proud of me. I was still trying to make the invisible ‘deadlines’ that we seem to have – by 30 you should have established a career, by 35 if you haven’t, you should be totally ashamed of yourself.


Why should we place all these deadlines on ourselves? Why are we conditioned to pursue things that society deem acceptable? Why do we make our children and youth feel so guilty when they try to be different? We do we shake our heads at people who want to have a change of career in their mid-thirties? And why can’t old people find love?

Why do we accept these ‘rules’ as part of reality?

Why am I taking life so seriously? If you believe in one life-time and that you either make it or not with one chance, perhaps you have enough reason to be serious about life. Me? I believe in multiple-incarnations (this is going to be another post) and I find it hard to reconcile within myself when I am weighed down by the supposed practicalities of life. This is how conditioned my mind has become. Fear of failure.


I have found a great divide between my beliefs and the conditioning of my mind. And that has been creating a lot of noise in my consciousness. No wonder I never could quieten my mind. It seemed to be always anxious, always analyzing, always debating. It doesn’t have to be this way if I simply have faith. I was very afraid to waste time, to make wrong decisions, to experience pain when things go wrong. Yet the other part of me is constantly trying to remind me that I should be doing what I love, I should choose what makes me happy over what makes me stable. I gradually realised that my unhappiness was caused by the inability to make peace within myself.

Considering that I don’t believe in hell, one-lifetime, judgement (as you know it) or punishment after life, what is there to be afraid of? I don’t even believe in ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. I find it really amusing that I am in constant anxiety about my life even though I hold such strong spiritual beliefs. Okay, at least it is amusing to me now.

There was a mildly controversial comment made by Joi Ito at Echelon 2010, apparently saying that he does not hire MBAs because he would need to untrain them. Similar to the sentiment that some startups find difficulty in hiring Singaporean talent because of their apparent inability to be flexible (am not trying to criticise, I am just stating true feedback). That is sort of what I am consciously doing to myself now. Reconditioning my mind to incorporate what I believe in and not what people has conditioned me to believe in, which will probably be a long but necessary process.

Digressing a little. the Singaporean Government often states that many of our local talent go overseas, never to come back. And they are trying so hard to make Singapore a creative hub. I find it hugely ironic. Perhaps it is time for them to take a long hard look at our system. Or maybe some courageous soul can attempt to improve the system. Only if our bureaucracy would allow these courageous, idealistic souls to make a difference. Many times, they want us to make an effort, but they don’t allow the effort to be made (Once bondedOnce bonded, reloaded).

Finding inner-peace to be happy

So, I realise I have been going about pursuing happiness the wrong way. I thought that by gaining or acquiring something, happiness follows. Usually it is only transient. Especially if you tie happiness to achievements or possessions. Your human nature will always want you to achieve something bigger in order to experience the same level of ‘happiness’. For me, I came to the epiphany, that true constant happiness comes to me when I achieve a state of inner-peace – being at peace with who I am, what I am doing, what I have, etc. When you’re truly happy, you don’t need external events to provide that source to you. You see happiness in everything. Whether is it that the grass is green instead of yellow, or that I am looking at a 24in lcd screen, or that I get to eat dumplings. Knowing myself (sorry I cannot help that cynical side), I wouldn’t say I will remain in this state consistently, but I will strive to.

I think that is the most important in life. The effort and process, and the non-attachment to results. Enjoy the journey anyway, whether it is long, tiring or painful. You can choose to be happy in spite of anything and everything. Similarly, you can be unhappy even if you seem to have everything but you cannot be at peace.