Posts filed under Personal

Farewell, 2008

Filed in Personal

I’m sure a lot of people can’t wait for this year to be over. Well, take heart – it will be, in less than 10 hours.

Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the new year will bring good cheer. Indeed, if the news is anything to go by, it looks like it’s going to be more of the same. Whether we’re going to let it defeat us will depend on how each of us allow it to affect us.

For me, in the last two months of the year, I have found a renewed faith in God. The God I put my trust in is the God who sent His Son on earth to die for all of us. I found this renewed faith through a method that was taught to me as a young Christian many years ago, and one which I’ve neglected in the last decade or more. This method is called “Quiet Time” and it involves showing up for my appointment with God and His Holy Book every day.

I remember finding no solace in reading His Word for a long time. Slightly more than two months ago, I decided to give it another try. I sat down with His Word one day, and with a Bible reading aid and a notebook and a pen. And I’ve been doing that ever since. Not every day, though, but the days when I’ve showed up for my appointment have been more than 80% so I think I can say this is a habit that has taken hold for good.

With this renewed faith in God, I have the assurance that however bad things may get, He is already there. That, for me, is enough. He was there at the beginning of the world, He has been there throughout – through thick and thin, so to speak – and He will continue to be there.

Now, I don’t understand much of what has been going this year – the natural disasters (cyclone in Myanmar followed by earthquake in China), a terrorist attack (Mumbai, India), on-going wars, a major financial fall-out, and fighting again between age-old sworn enemies – and I don’t know why God allows it, but this I know – there is a purpose to it all which is currently hidden from us (and which may remain hidden from us).

For me, there were two events in 2008 that impacted me the most. One was a public event, the other was a private event.

The pyblic event was the devastating earthquake in China that killed thousands of people and put an end to a way of life that I’d been familiar with for the past 8 years and that I’d been privileged to be a part of in 2007. I was hoping that I would be a part of that way of life from last year onwards, but as it turned out, 2007 would be the only year I got to taste the life that I’d often seen in documentaries about giant pandas.

Wolong, the heart of giant panda conservation and research in China, was extensively damaged by the May 12 earthquake. It’s ironic that when I was there last year, there was an earthquake here in Malaysia, nothing major but there were damages to some high rise buildings, and I was worrying about my apartment. I never knew Wolong was situated in an earthquake area, never knew I’d be in any danger. I only knew after the May 12 earthquake. I did find myself wondering how I would’ve fared if I’d been there – would I have made myself useful or would I have been one of those who needed help, perhaps needed to be carried to safety? I’ll never know.

There’s talk of rebuilding Wolong. But even after it’s rebuilt, it would never be the same Wolong I visited in 2007. That way of life is just gone, forever.

The private event was my 50th birthday. I’m 50, half a century old! About an hour before the “event”, I started worrying about turning 50, about what waited for me at the stroke of midnight. But with more than a little help from friends on both Facebook and the flickr Pandas Unlimited group, it turned out to be a pretty awesome celebration. I was swamped with good wishes, and excellent panda graphics, too. To remind myself that it was not a dream, I printed off the birthday thread from the Pandas Unlimited forum, and saved every birthday graphic my panda pals made for me.

In the past year, my circle of panda friends has grown. It used to be mostly members of the Pandas Unlimited group. Since the volunteer trip to Bifengxia in August, my circle of panda friends now includes the volunteers who were there at the same time that I was (Adrienne, Virginia and Doug and Phyllis, and Anneke “Hank”, too). It also includes volunteers who were there after my trip, beginning with Barb who took the trouble to find me online after she read my article in the Pandas International newsletter. Then, there’s the Chinese group (Yang Xin, Annette Yuen and Leo uu) who I share more than a love for giant pandas but also our Chinese heritage, too.

And then, I enlarged my family of adopted pandas this year. At the beginning of the year, there was just Feng Yi, who I’d named Yoong Ping in memory of my niece and for my parents, too. When I returned from Bifengxia, I decided to adopt Gong Zhu who I helped look after when I was there and who I share a very special bond with. Those are my own panda adoptions. There, there are also two shared adoptions – one with the Metal Tribe started by Sandra Miller (Judy Dolan, who I met in Wolong in 2007, is a co-mother of this adoption) and the other, an exclusive adoption with Pandas Unlimited of Wen Yu, whose mother Mao Mao perished in the May 12 earthquake.

How does this year end differ from other years? I think I’m going into the new year more aware. Previously, because I had a 9-to-5 job, there weren’t many challenges, it was just the “same old” waiting in the new year as the old. It was comfortable, the challenges were in doing the same work, perhaps with an overseas trip to look forward to. Now, my life and my time are my own. No more having to wake up early to go to some office to work for someone else. No more needing to get ahead in the “traditional” sense of the word, i.e., getting promoted, better pay, etc. In the non-traditional sense, I still need to get ahead, but for myself, my own peace of mind, specifically my emotional, spiritual and mental wellbeing. Yes, no longer just for my financial wellbeing, that will come after the other three are taken care of.

Goals for the new year? Show up everyday for my appointment with God. Show up on the page as well. And listen to my body more.

Happy New Year, everyone. On the surface, it may not look like a happy new year, but happiness is something we find from inside ourselves and does not depend on outside factors.

I leave you with this image I found on while looking for a picture to put on the cover of my home-made 2009 journal. I think it pretty much sums up what I hope to focus on in 2009.

P/S In the original posting above, I forgot to say anything about my health. I was diagnosed with lupus in 1994 and it’s become so much a part of me that I’ve almost forgotten about it. Well, this year, I found out that my lupus is a joke compared to what other patients have gone through. I bow to them for their will and determination not to let lupus beat them, and I take my inspiration from them, too. However, this doesn’t mean I should not take lupus seriously. It may be in remission, but it’s still there in my body. That’s why I need to learn to listen to my body even more.

‘Tis the season for giving

Filed in Personal

From Anne Lamott’s column at Salon:

I will tell you: Remember the bees, and look up. Don’t stare at the bottom of the jar in which you are trapped. Turn off the TV for half an hour, and look up. Don’t look at the Wall Street traders in their distressing guise as bees, trapped on the floor of the exchange. They are not prisoners, like the bees; they are volunteers. Instead, look up at your computer and find a good charity site where you can send whatever you can afford. Go to or Send what you can to Planned Parenthood in the name of Sarah Palin. Send what you can to Obama’s campaign in a swing county in your nearest swing state. The Republicans are wrong: You don’t always lose if you share. You actually get really, really happy.

I send $25 a month to a place where my family has adopted children since 1992, and I send money off to Planned Parenthood so that teenage girls and women will not be trapped into having babies they don’t want and for whom they can’t provide. Whatever you can send is the right amount. If you can’t send money, send a promise to volunteer a certain number of hours. Can you put in 15 hours between now and the election? If not, use what you do have and do what you can. Picasso said, “If I don’t have red, I use blue.”

I have a confession to make.

I support Pandas International and World Vision.

Through Pandas International, I have adopted four giant pandas, two on my own and two shared with fellow panda lovers.

My two adopted giant pandas are Feng Yi, born in Wolong, China in August 2006, and Gong Zhu, a 10-year-old who I helped to look after during my volunteer trip this year.

The two shared adopted giant pandas are Jin Xin, born in Bifengxia in July 2008 (in fact, the younger of the first pair of giant panda cubs to be born after the May 12 earthquake), shared with a group called Metal Tribe started by Sandra Miller, and Wen Yu, born in Wolong in September 2007, whose mother Mao Mao perished in the May 12 earthquake.

Of the four, Wen Yu’s adoption is very special. About 60 members of the Pandas Unlimited group on flickr pooled together enough money for her exclusive adoption for one year. We are hoping to contribute funds throughout the coming year to be able to renew the exclusive adoption after this first year.

Through World Vision, I am sponsoring three children in Cambodia, Indonesia and India (I started doing this to match the sponsorship I made for Feng Yi in September 2006). The money for these three children does not go directly to them but as contribution to sustainability programmes set up by World Vision for their respective communities.

These various sponsorships have been a part of my life since 2006. I hope to be able to sustain them for the rest of my life, and God willing, maybe to add more in the coming years.

In this season of giving, I hope you will consider Anne Lamott’s words and “look up at your computer and find a good charity site where you can send whatever you can afford”. To the two she suggested, I would like to add the two I am sponsoring. Please visit the following pages to find out how you can help.

Pandas International: Panda Sponsorship Centre

World Vision: Gifts of Hope

Thank you.

Small Space Living: Two Key Words

Filed in Personal

Sliding and castors.

I realised the first (sliding) even before I moved into my apartment almost three years ago. The way I wanted my bedroom arranged, there was no way I could have a regular wardrobe with doors that opened outwards. So I decided on sliding doors instead. Same with the two bathrooms. The regular doors took up a lot up of space especially when being opened. So I decided on foldable doors to cut down. The bonus was the doors came with a choice of graphics.

I only realised the second (castors) about a month or so ago. And finally implemented it yesterday in a writing table comprising a solid pine wood surface on four castor legs. The table replaced a breakfast counter top that was fixed on one leg against the wall between the kitchen and dining area. The counter top had looked nice and provided a physical divider between the two areas. It was the same height as the kitchen counters and required the use of chairs taller than regular ones. I didn’t use it as much as I thought I would; part of the reason was the seating configuration. On the tall chair, I found myself bending more than I would if I were using a regular height table and chair.

All that’s in the past now. The new writing table is regular height. It’s also on castors which means I roll it anywhere to catch the best light when I want to use it, and out of the way when I’m not using it. Right now, it’s flush against the bookshelf. And the glass top has been delivered and installed on top of the pinewood surface.

The customary “annual” post

Filed in Family, Personal

When I was a kid, I remember attending 21st birthday parties given (or “thrown” was the word) by my cousin sisters. It was THE birthday, and one of the main presents would be a little “21” to be worn on a chain around the neck.

Much later, one of the uncles commented that while the girls celebrated their 21st birthdays in a grand manner, nothing much was heard of the birthdays after that.

For my 21st birthday, I didn’t have a grand party. Instead, I took my parents and my nanny out to dinner at a vegetarian restaurant. Mother had put that idea in my head, saying we should treat our parents to a meal because they were the ones who gave us life. Looking back, I think she said that because she never had a chance to treat her parents to a meal – she was given away as a baby, and had buried both her adopted parents during WWII, before she turned 21.

Instead of a “21” on a chain, my sister had given me a little diamond cross on a chain, her acknowledgement of my Christian faith.

Other memorable birthdays through the years included my 31st celebrated in San Diego. My housemates had planned a surprise party for me and started to worry when I didn’t come home that evening, and when I finally did, they were not ready and one of them had to take me out to the stores cuz she needed “to get something”.

Then, there was the birthday I visited the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, DC on Veterans’ Day, which happened to fall on my birthday.

More recently, there was the birthday I visited my beloved giant panda family at the San Diego Zoo. Three of them were on display that day – mummy Bai Yun, son Mei Sheng and baby Su Lin – and all three of them ignored me! That evening, I’d gone to see Janis Ian in concert. What a grand way to celebrate my 48th birthday.

And now two years later, I am half a century old. I spent the hour before the stroke of midnight reading through my previous birthday journal entries, and crying at some of them.

I have to admit I am a little nervous of turning 50, of being 50. But I have something wonderful to look forward to later today. I am spending the day with mother. She may not remember it’s my birthday, and people have asked if she still recognises me. I tell them I think she does.

She greets me with a wonderful smile whenever she sees me before her. She gives me her hand when I reach out for it, and she’s not even looking at me or my hand; somehow, she senses my hand nearby. And when I put her hand to my cheek, she pats it gently, and sometimes, more than a little “gently”.

I can’t ask for anything more than to spend time with my mother, especially on the day she gave me life.


Filed in Personal

I’ve been lazy about updating my blog. It’s not that I haven’t found anything of interest or intrigue to write about. Actually, there’ve been lots, maybe too much going on in my head, that I can’t begin to sort myself out. Also, I still have a nasty habit of thinking and not doing (or writing).

It’s an exciting week ahead, especially next Saturday, when Preeta Samarasan will be appearing in two events – the MPH Breakfast Club in the morning, and Readings @ Seksan’s in the afternoon. It will be exactly a year since she last read at Seksan’s. I’m looking forward to seeing her, and asking her to sign my copy of her book.