On the flight back from Japan I scrolled past the usual blockbusters and settled upon the this Korean film. “Little Forest” is adapted from a Japanese slice of life manga series written and illustrated by Daisuke Igarashi.
The story follows Hye-won, a recent graduate who fails her final teaching examinations in Seoul and returns to her childhood home, in a traditional Korean village.
Hye-won finds solace in the “Little Forest” or the loving home created by her single mother, who is no longer there but has given her a happy childhood. Through the seasons she reflects upon her experiences in big city life that drove her home and navigates through her journey of self-discovery with the help of her childhood friends.
The theme for this movie is nourishment. With her roots in the country, Hye-won is hungry for nature, home-cooked meals, genuine human connection and a slower pace of life. The movie is filled with gorgeous cinematography of country life and delicious Korean dishes from each season, reminding us of life’s simple joys.
There are many contemplative moments about the impact of a hectic life on our psyche. Particularly in cities where we work long hours indoors, eat instant meals and are addicted to our smartphones. I couldn’t help but recognise elements of my own life in it and emphatize.
Without looking through the lens of rose-tinted glasses of what country living could be, we also get scenes of the backbreaking work of a typical farmer and the judgement that comes with being a ‘country bumpkin’. But overall, the director’s message of what we typically view as “an inferior life”, may not actually be so bad after all.
This film is a therapy for the mind and questions what we need in life to be happy. The satisfaction that comes from a home-cooked meal, a walk through nature, a good drinking session with friends, cannot be undervalued.
Marie Kondo is a polarizing figure. Like many, I binge-watched her series on Netflix and soon found myself folding shirts so that they could stand by themselves and wondered if the ripped pair of shorts I couldn’t bear to throw were still ‘sparking joy’ by collecting dust in my wardrobe. (Later on, I realised the real reason. I was hoping I would one day fit into them again).
Her sweet Japanese demeanour, unusual way of ‘greeting houses’ by kneeling down to show gratitude and ‘waking up books’ by knocking them gently has left some skeptical about her ‘KonMarie’ method. It’s quite funny to see her American clients flash quizzical looks when she first asks them to thank their houses before they start tidying. My husband rolled his eyes a little too.
I skipped some of these ‘unnecessary’ steps. But after watching her interview with Stephen Colbert, her response to why people love her philosophy convinced me to read her book!
Stephen: “Why do Americans love your philosophy and your cleaning up so much?”
Marie: “Of course we all have problems tidying up our homes, but it’s not just that. We all have clutter in our hearts and that’s what needs tidying.”
Stephen: “Oh (realising what she means).. that got me right here (points to his heart).
The show gleans over her philosophy, but her book really goes in depth to talk about how our environment affects us internally. And it’s no wonder when you look into her background.
Before writing her bestseller, Marie Kondo worked in a Shinto shrine as a Miko (priestess or maiden) for 5 years. Her tidying philosophy integrates some Shinto practices, such as kami (believing that there is scared essence is every object), treating your home like a sacred space that should be respected, and treating the act of tidying as mental cultivation and spiritual training.”
My favourite quotes from her book:
Aim for perfection once.
"You will never get your house in order if you only clean up half-heartedly. If, like me, you are not diligent, persevering type, then I recommend aiming for perfection just once."
On why people have the urge to tidy before an exam.
Their brain is actually clamouring to study, but when it notices the cluttered space, the focus switches to 'I need to clean my room'. Why? The problem faced, 'the need to study' has been been 'tidied away'.
Tidying your room won’t calm your troubled mind, but it will help you be aware of it.
While you may feel refreshed temporarily, the relief won't last because you haven't addressed the true cause of your anxiety. If you let the temporary relief achieved by tidying up your physical space deceive you, you will never recognise the need to clean up your physiological space.
A messy room equals a messy mind.
When a room because cluttered, the cause is more than just physical. Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder. The act of cluttering is really an instinctive reflex that draws our attention away from the heart of an issue.
If you can't feel relaxed in a clean and tidy room, try confronting your feeling of anxiety. It may shed light on what is really bothering you. When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state. You can see any issues you have been avoiding and are forced to deal with them.
Special tidying only needs to happen once.
Once you have put your house in order, tidying will be reduced to the very simple task of putting things back where they belong. Unbelievable as it may sound, you have to experience a state of perfect order once to be able to maintain it.
Countering our negative perceptions of ourselves.
"I was born untidy...", this is swept away the instant they experience their own perfectly clean space. This drastic change in self-perception, the belief that you can do anything if you set your mind to it, transform behaviour and life-styles.
Why it’s important to set a change in quickly instead of gradually.
When you tidy your space completely, you transform teh scenery around you. The change is so profound that you will feel as if you are living in a totally different world. This deeply affects your mind and inspires a strong aversion to returning to your previously cluttered state. The key is to make the change so sudden that you experience a complete change of heart. The same impact can never be achieved if the process is gradual.
Visualize your destination before you start and ask yourself why
What do you hope to gain through tidying? Visualize the ideal lifestyle you dream of. Think in concrete terms so you can vividly picture what it would be like to live in a clutter-free space. Your next step is to identify why you want to live like that. Why do you want to do aromatherapy before bed? Why do you want to listen to classical music while doing yoga? Ask yourself "Why" again, for each answer. Repeat this process three to five times for every item. The whole point in both discarding and keeping things is to be happy. When you find the answer, you are ready to move on.
Choose what sparks joy
The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one's hand and ask: Does this spark joy? If it does, keep it. If not, throw it away. This is not only the simplest but the most accurate yardstick by which to judge. Keep only things that speak to your heart.
Start with easy decisions
The process of deciding what to keep and what to discard will go on more smoothly if you begin with items that are easier to make decisions about. (Somehow I think this applies to your career as well). As you gradually work towards the harder categories, you will be honing your decision-making skills.
The role of objects that don’t spark joy
Every object has a different role to play. Not all clothes have come to you to be worn threadbare. It is the same with people. Not every person you meet in life will become a close friend or a lover. Some you might even find hard to get along with or impossible to like. But these people too, teach you the precious lesson of who you do like, so that you will appreciate those special people even more.
What to do if you find it hard to let go
Think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You'll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end all that will remain are the things you really treasure.
To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To throw away what you no longer need its neither wasteful nor shameful. Free them from the prison to which you have relegated them. Help them leave that deserted isle to which you have exiled them. Let them go, with gratitude. Not only you, but your things as well, will feel clear and refreshed when you are done tidying.
On why you should fold your clothes
The Japanese word for 'healing' is 'te-ate', which literally means to 'apply hands'. Before modern medicine, people believed placing one's hand on an injury promoted healing. Gentle physical contact from a parent, such as holding hands, patting a child on the head, and hugging, has a calming effect on children. The same has a positive effect on our clothes. Folding makes the clothes taut and erases wrinkles, and makes the material stronger and more vibrant.
The act of folding is far more than making clothes compact for storage. It is an act of caring, an expression of love and appreciation for the way these clothes support your lifestyle. Therefore, when we fold, we should put our heart into it, thanking our clothes for protecting our bodies.
On how to deal with discarding gifts
The true purpose of a present is to be received. Presents are not 'things' but a means for conveying someone's feelings. When viewed from this perspective, you don't need to feel guilty for throwing a gift away. Just thank it for the joy it gave you when you first received it.
Less is more
By paring down to the volume that you can properly handle, you revitalize your relationship with your belongings. Just because you throw something away, does not mean you give up past experiences or your identity. By selecting only those things that inspire joy you can identify precisely what you love and what you need.
When we honestly confront the things we own, they evoke many emotions within us. Those feelings are real. It is these emotions that give us the energy for living. Believe what your heart tells you when you ask, 'Does this spark joy?'
If you act on that intuition, you will be amazed at how things will begin to connect in your life and at the dramatic changes that follow. It is as if your life has been touched by magic.
Don’t underestimate the ‘noise’ of visual information
Tear printed film off packages that you don't want to see. By eliminating excess visual information that doesn't inspire joy, you can make your space more peaceful and comfortable.
Understand your ownership pattern
Your ownership pattern is an expression of the values that guide your life. The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life. Attachment to the past and fears concerning the future govern not only the way you select the things you own but represent the criterial by which you make choices in every aspect of your life, including your relationships with people and your job.
Face your possessions and problems
The process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful. It forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past. Face them now, face them sometime, or avoid them until the day we die. The choice is ours.
If we acknowledge our attachment to the past, and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us.
On leading a minimalistic life
Life becomes far easier once you know that things will still work out even if you are lacking sometime. Selecting and discarding ones' possessions is a continuous process of making decisions based on one's own values. It hones one's decision-making skills.
We amass material things for the same reason that we eat - to satisfy a craving. Buying on impulse and eating and drinking to excess are attempts to alleviate stress.
Human beings can only truly cherish a limited number of things at one time. Pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life. I am convinced that putting your house in order will help you find the mission that speaks to your heart.
I came across a talk today and this economist, Tim Harford, talks about the benefits of “Slow Motion Multi-tasking”. He argues that working on multiple projects at once, can do more good for our creativity than we realise.
I’m constantly working on multiple projects and then feeling overwhelmed, gave up and felt too guilty to get back into it because “What is the point?”.
Yes, throughout my life, I’ve started and stopped learning multiple things. It started with the guitar when I was 12, then different types of sports (netball, basketball, handball, running and yoga), picking up different languages with varying levels of proficiency since university (German – semi fluent, Spanish – can order in a restaurant, Korean – can read hangeul and Japanese – N5 or the most basic level). Oh did I mention, baking, drawing and ukelele classes too?
Clearly I have a lot of interests and I love all of them. But I hate the way I feel when I feel stuck and want to give up and can’t seem to get back into it immediately.
Tim Hartford says that it’s ok. One of the reasons, he says, that we can’t seem to make multi-tasking work is because we lapse into it only when we are in a rush.
If we were to slow down, list down our projects and put them into boxes so that we don’t forget our ideas and work we’ve done on it, we’ll be able to come back to it when we change contexts and feel “unstuck” again. Creativity happens when we take an idea in it’s original context and put it in another one.
The key is doing it slowly. He gives examples of the most successful scientists and creatives who manage to multi-task successfully. One of the biggest fears of the creative person is losing an idea, but if you have a box, you will never lose it.
The idea of multi-tasking shouldn’t be because you are in a hurry, but because you are in no hurry at all.
Every year I make an attempt to reflect upon the previous. Writing about it is therapeutic. And I miss writing.
2018 was the year of baby steps on the path of self discovery. It’s also been one of the most difficult years.
I typed 3 versions of this post and deleted it each time. I wanted to write about 2018, but it ended up being a struggle because being honest about vulnerability is hard. I guess that’s why poets, painters, dancers and musicians prefer to express their pain through their work.
Part of it is because of fear of judgement. The other is because you come face to face with your suffering. Not numbing yourself to the pain with your smartphone, or a new drama series on Netflix.
I used to journal daily when I was much younger. I also had a blog where I would share photos of my daily life, random life events and be open about my emotions. Now that seems so difficult to do. When you become an adult, society teaches to hide your vulnerabilities, what to say, what to post, how to show the world you’re the having the time of your life even though you might be in a lot of pain.
Attending the School of Life conference in San Francisco was the most liberating experience. Seeing other strangers sharing about their sufferings, I felt human again.
I’m not perfect. And it’s ok. I’m suffering. It’s ok too.
– A short story about a utopian city whose happiness depends on the suffering of a single child locked in a closet alone
– Author wrote to deliberately reflect reality
– We are all playing the game of life, living by the rules of a capitalist society
– Can you accept the happiness of your life if you knew that your ‘happiness’ came at the expense of those who suffer?
– The young ones often are enraged and disgusted, but they learn to accept and even rationalise the suffering of that one child for the happiness of their own
– At times some of these children do not weep or go home in rage, but simply leave Omelas.
– To where? Perhaps that place they are are walking to does not exist, but they seem to know where they are going
– Or are we all the ones locked in the closet, too stupid to know what life could be like outside of these walls?
– Her closing words are sad, yet truthful: “Omelas already exists: no need to build it or choose it. We already live here – in the narrow, foul, dark prison we let our ignorance, fear, and hatred build for us and keep us in, here in the splendid, beautiful city of life. . . .”
Themes: self-awareness, definition of happiness, suffering, social equality
I was 18 when I first watched the episode of F.R.I.E.N.D.S, “The One Where They All Turn 30”. I couldn’t relate. It seemed distant and I thought, “why are they all so upset, 30 is still young!”
Fast forward to 2017, turns out it really is pretty scary when you’re born in a first world country. Suddenly your peers seem more successful in their careers, may own a fancier apartment with swimming pools, may have even started having good looking babies. It makes you stop to think, “What have I done with my life?”
I was depressed in July (birthday month), having never truly taken a break from work, without a plan or a freelance gig in the books. I’d started working on my current business with an ex-boss, but in the developmental stage, it was hard to tell if it would be worth the effort or time. (Now I know different, but at that point it did feel uncertain!)
I spoke to a few friends and realised that I wasn’t the only one. I’m thankful for the support I’ve gotten from the people I confided in. I even wrote down my “accomplishments” on my Notes app so that I could remind myself that I’m not a complete loser.
Perhaps the best and worst thing about turning 30 is that you have a somewhat better idea and awareness of your identity. It makes you more sure of your capabilities and perhaps, even harder to learn is to admit your limitations, the things that you cannot do and accept it for what it is (i.e., I probably will never be able to become a K-POP star if I wanted to). When you are young, you feel like you have so much time ahead of you, that anything is possible. But turning 30 is almost like a wake-up call. You’ve lived long enough to know that time is shorter than you thought it would be. To accept it and get the rest of your act together and do the things you want to do.
Except that the things you want to do may not exactly be what your parents, friends or partner might have imagined. I guess that’s why everyone is in a rush to do everything so quickly. Buy a condo, a car, have kids. I have to constantly remind myself to measure myself by my own yardstick of success, at my own pace, without pressure to conform.
I thought it’d be good to end it this post with my favourite excerpts from a column that my friend Larissa recommended. The chapter is “The Future Has An Ancient Heart” from Tiny, Beautiful, Things by Cheryl Strayed.
“I’m here to tell you it’s okay to travel by foot. In fact, I recommend it. There is so much ahead that’s worth seeing; so much behind you can’t identify at top speed.”
“You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts.
You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth.
But that’s all.”
“The most terrible and beautiful and interesting things happen in a life. For some of you, those things have already happened. Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will.”
My worst travel nightmare is to get on a plane, travel 35000km across the world and find the exact same streets, malls and restaurants. As global brands like GAP, Starbucks, Victoria’s Secret and Uniqlo start popping up at every corner of Singapore’s malls, it’s not hard to believe that this will eventually be what happens if we don’t question what we want in the world. Even more worrisome is the fact that local cuisine is slowly dying out, recipes lost, as we indulge more in avocado toast and flat whites in the brand new cafes of gentrified neighbourhoods.
What would be the point of travelling then if we all crave and have the same experiences? Surely it must be more than just to upload an Instagram story and accumulate likes?
Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten a crucial aspect of travel – rehabilitation. If we were to look inward before we embark on any trip and ask ourselves, “Why are we visiting this country?” I think we would have less crowded Eiffel Towers, less souvenirs targeted at tourists selling the same keychain or I heart T-shirts. It’s become a bucket list, a hope for a new life even though you haven’t done anything different and nothing’s really changed.
Why do we visit museums that we don’t enjoy (there are those we do end up enjoying, but was it the biggest motivating factor for you to visit)? Visit cafes that look exactly like the ones at home? Or go up another Sky Tower to get a 360 view of the city? Speaking from personal experience, we do it because it’s recommended to do so, it’s the easy thing to do – have a list and start ticking off it.
There are definitely places where we should be awed by. Mountains so high and majestic, where the moon and stars shine so bright you can’t help but recognise that you are inconsequential in the scheme of things, museums that have educated and inspired me of humanity’s incredible innovation and cruelty. Yet, we can go beyond superficial experiences.
My most precious memories from my travels are of the people I’ve met. My host parents in Germany who cooked me meatballs and secretly stuffed 100 euros in my Pringles in case I would be hungry as I embarked on my backpacking across Europe. The family from Inner Mongolia who told me of their worries of losing their culture and language as we sat and talked perched next to a warm campfire. A hot chocolate cafe owner in Cusco from France who was previously an architect but decided to stay in Peru because she liked it so much. The talks I attended in the startup co-working spaces while I was in Argentina and Hungary.
These memories have impacted my own world view so more than any sculpture, mountain or museum ever could. They have warmed my heart and broken it and reminded me of creativity at every corner of our little blue planet. I don’t know how significant they will be in my work, but I will definitely be more deliberate in seeking out these tribes of people and deeper experiences in the future.
Highly recommend for anyone “brain travelling” today, Alain de Botton’s Art of Travel.
Rating: 10 / 10 – the best nonfiction book I’ve read in a while.
I started this book last evening and it left me in tears. Neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi writes about coming to terms with death and being diagnosed with lung cancer. His journey swings to and from extreme ends of a pendulum – from doctor to patient, from English major to neurosurgeon, from living a life so full of promise and potential to never knowing how much more time you have left to finish the work you were supposed to do or how many more nights you have to cuddle with your wife and newborn daughter.
As a neurosurgeon, he knows better than to question, “Why me?”. In the 0.0012% chance of it happening to someone in their 30s and a non-smoker, he knew he was still part of the group of “Why not me?”. He faced death straight on, making plans for his wife and daughter’s future, trying to go back to surgery and helping as many patients as he could, writing this book as his final call out to mother earth, as if to shout back into this painful existence as if to say, use whatever you have left of me to make life a little more bearable for everyone else.
What makes life worth living? Happiness or suffering?
Paul Kalanithi was a deep thinker who questioned the meaning of life and morality rigorously.
He demonstrates the high stakes of being a neurosurgeon, where millimetres of error could mean life or death, or forever change in a young boy’s personality from angel to monster. Is it better to live through a defibrillator, never being able to think or communicate the same way as your previous self, or to have nature take it’s course and letting your loved ones find closure? Should we feel anger at those who neglect those who become incognisant of the past and their loved ones? Would we do the same if we were in the same situation? He comes to his own conclusions over the course of the book, sometimes different from what they were in the beginning, and while reading you can empathise why.
Perhaps the part of the book where the most tears rolled down my cheeks was reading about his courage in not avoiding suffering. When he and Lucy (his wife) were deciding whether to have a child or not, something they had planned to do but was increasingly precarious to do given the consequences of his cancer.
Lucy asks, “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?” To which he replies, “Wouldn’t it be great if it did?”
He accurately describes the suffering that comes with great joy. When you experience love for someone so much that it makes it that much harder to say goodbye. Lucy and Paul didn’t avoid the suffering that comes with love and happiness – and such is our struggle with life in general. What is the point of existence if it is all meaningless? Why try to put yourself out there when you will probably be forgotten in a thousand years? Why try to save ourselves when death comes to all of us? The answer is that you don’t avoid it, you come to terms with it, you cry, you hug your family, you pray, hope the best for it and count yourself lucky that you could even feel such joy. Such is the complexity and range of human experience.
It’s been almost 2 months since we tied the knot. To be honest, nothing much has really “changed” physically or financially. There is however, a sense of “shit, we’re in this together for real now forever, cause we said our vows in front of all our friends and family” and surprisingly, a closeness and affinity that I feel with Reuben now that he’s my official emergency contact / family.
I know how incredibly lucky I am to have found somebody I can share my dreams and life with for the rest of my life. It won’t be roses forever, but I’m cherishing every moment of our honeymoon period together.
In meantime, here’s a photo from our honeymoon in Croatia!
In a world that increasingly preaches for you to travel, to spend on experiences, quit your job, leave your 9-5 hell, I thought I could share a little perspective on what the actual experience is like.
Travelling does not make your problems go away
The perks of travelling, feeling awed by mother nature.
There are two ideas that can make you want to leave to travel for long term.
The first idea is that travelling makes everything better, simpler, by taking off to another country. You might imagine that you’d “find yourself”, but in reality you are escaping your life at home. The thought of going home scares you, when you can’t see a long term solution to a major life problem because of the “the pressures of conforming to society” and having to go back to your old ways.
These problems continue to haunt you and stick to the back of your mind like an annoying splinter. And you can’t help but feel anxious even when presented with the most beautiful views the world has to offer. I’m sorry to tell you this, but what you will find If you were unhappy with your life before you left is that you will continue to be unhappy if you don’t change your habits or start making things while you travel or after you’re home. Do what you need to before you leave so you can enjoy the journey.
The second idea is that you travel for the sake of travel, for the love of the adventure, experience, the rehabilitation of the mind and soul, regardless of the good and bad of it all (because there will be bad days). You find ways and means to sustain your lifestyle because your love exploring and do whatever it takes by starting businesses, teaching others how you can do it and sharing whatever you have learnt on-the-road with the community. You travel to create yourself, not to find yourself. You seek out like-minded individuals and tribes, so that you can connect to a wider network, pick on other people’s brains and build interesting projects wherever you go. Travel becomes more fulfilling this way because you are working on something bigger than yourself and focusing on your own needs.
I think most of us swing between the first and second idea, but it’s important to keep in mind that travel doesn’t make you problems go away.
The world is a beautiful, indifferent place
When we went star-gazing in Chile and saw the milky way with our bare-naked eyes, I realised something. Our planet is amazing, and if we taught ourselves to give more time to admire the stars at night, I think we could really start to appreciate how minute we are in the scheme of things. In everyday life we try to make ourselves seem important, wanted, needed, busy individuals, but really – the world gets on perfectly well without us. Everyone is dispensable, and that is both a good and bad thing.
Indifferent, because I also saw how poverty could rob people of their chances. So many times on my trip I kept thinking to myself, “I’m so fucking lucky to be able to do this.” There are no excuses to not pursue your dreams if you live in that percentage of the world who can afford to travel.
You don’t own anything. Nature owns everything.
We hoard things for status, for security, but in truth, mother nature owns everything. Nothing really belongs to us. In fact we belong her. In Bolivia, there is a respect for nature, and the indigenous Quechua people call her Pacha Mama . We stamp a flag on it and claim it for ours, when it’s never for us to keep. Everything is transient and we are at her mercy. The perks of travelling is that it will teach you this. That you don’t need much to survive on. That it’s important to connect with immaterial things.
There is a time for everything and each experience is different.
Travelling is like reading a book. At different stages of your life you experience it differently. At different times you seek for different outlets. For pleasure, for solace, for creativity. But I think what most people want is to feel connected with something. In our 9-5 life, we act like robots, drones, that follow the beck and call of the rat race. So disconnected. That urge to connect as a human being, be it to strangers or nature, makes us feel alive again. The best part is that a place changes according to your needs. There are different ways to experience it even if you are at the same place.
If you can’t travel, read.
Strangely, with the newfound time I seemed to have and not having to check emails 24/7, I started reading more books than I had any other year before. Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-fiction books about writing fiction books. Everything. It was beautiful and it gave me a rush that I experience whenever I saw a new sight or had a new realization while travelling. So if you can’t afford to travel. Reading does it too.