Sunday, November 30, 2014

Universal Studio Singapore for Patients (& family) with HIV/AIDs - 2014

2 years ago, we brought the patients (& family) with HIV/AIDs to USS
Last year, they went to the SEA Aquarium (I did not attend as I boycotted the aquarium).
This year, they requested to visit USS again.

USS 2014

I saw some of the kids growing healthy and strong, which made me happy. There are so many happy innocent faces, yet, I could not share the photos of them, as the illness is still highly stigmatized. This really sadden me.

Life with illness is already tough, but social discrimination makes life even tougher.

Really grateful to be in a position to help other people.
May all beings be free from sufferings.

Om Mani Padme Hung.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

2 Articles of Minimalism: Less is more & The Science of Simplicity


Less is more

Swamped by consumerism, young turn away from possessions

Wang Zhe sat in front of his wardrobe, trying to pick a formal suit out from the hundreds of items of clothing in his collection.

The immense range of clothes included dozens of jeans from well-known brands, as well as a wide array of jackets lurking at the far end of the wardrobe. As he looked past the "basketball pants" he had asked his friend to buy in Hong Kong, he found he couldn't find any suitable formal wear.

At that moment, Wang, who works in human resources with an international company, felt that he had taken a few wrong turns in his life.

"I used to spend lots of money buying fashionable clothes, hoping to win people's recognition and attention. But at that moment I felt that I had just bought a bunch of useless rubbish," said the 34 year old.

Despite buying a new suit to solve his troubles, Wang came up with the idea of changing his life completely.

"Since then I have been struggling to be more of a minimalist," said Wang, referring to a trend toward reducing possessions and living simpler lifestyles. He has since brought his number of clothes items down from over 400 to less than 100.

100-item challenge

After seeing a challenge online, which encourages people to reduce their number of possessions, Wang gave it a try. The challenge said that participants should reduce the number of items they own to below 100, and the number of items of clothing to below 33.

"A pair of socks is two items. And 100 items can supposedly satisfy all your personal demands," said Wang. "It's easy for you to throw away items from 400 to 300, from 300 to 200. But it's hard to limit the number from about 120 to less than 100."

When Wang felt uncertain and unwilling to throw away some objects, he packaged them together and set a time limit on how long he would keep them. "If the items have not been used in the next six months, I will throw them away," Wang said.

During the process of throwing things away, he noted that it is a process of contemplating your life and what is important to you.

Considering himself an intellectual, Wang used to have a wall of books in order to create an atmosphere of a scholarly residence.

"I used to buy mountains of books but only read them pages at a time. I gradually realized that gaining knowledge does not come through a wall of books."

One month later, he gave some precious books to friends and others to libraries.

In addition to donating and giving the items to other people, Wang has a "one in, one out" rule to limit his items to less than 100.

"Most of the time I will get a new item when the old one is broken. But if I have something that I like so much, I will donate the old one first to get the new one," said Wang.

In a recent accounting, Wang had only 87 items. "I care about the quality rather than the quantity of items. Using money that could buy seven pairs of jeans, I buy one item of clothing I need. The money saved is instead spent on things that I really want, like traveling."

Minimalist lifestyle

A common view in the West, as seen in a number of films and books, is that the concept of a minimalist lifestyle is rooted in Buddhist religions which have a long history in China, and also advocate the shedding of possessions.

Master Lijing, a professor at the Buddhist Academy of China, said that according to Buddhist beliefs, everything is impermanent and that people's obsessions towards owning things is the cause of suffering. "So Buddhism advocates a similar principle to minimalism because everything is changing and you can't hold on to possessions," said Lijing.



The Science Of Simplicity: Why Successful People Wear The Same Thing Every Day

Have you ever thought about how much time you likely waste deciding what to wear in the morning? It’s probably made you late to school or work more times than you can count.

We waste so many precious moments concerning ourselves with frivolous details. An outfit will not change the world, it probably won’t even change your day.

This is not to say that fashion isn’t important, as it has an immense impact on culture and, in turn, the direction of society.

Indeed, fashion is where art, culture and history intersect. If we look at the 1960s, for example, the way people dressed was very much a reflection of the counterculture movement and the anti-establishment sentiments of the era.

Simply put, clothes can tell us a lot about sociology.

Yet, at the same time, we’ve arguably become an excessively materialistic and superficial society. Undoubtedly, there are greater things to worry about than clothes.

Similarly, as the great American author Henry David Thoreau once stated:

Our life is frittered away by detail.
…Simply, simplify.

In essence, don’t sweat the small stuff. Make your life easier by concentrating on the big picture.

Correspondingly, a number of very successful people have adopted this philosophy in their daily routines.

Decision Fatigue: Why Many Presidents And CEOs Wear The Same Thing Every Day

Whether you love or hate him, it’s hard to argue against the notion that President Obama has the most difficult job in the world. As the leader of the most powerful country on the planet, the president has a lot on his plate.

Regardless of what he does, he will be criticized. Simply put, he’s got a lot of important things to think about beyond his wardrobe.

This is precisely why President Obama wears the same suit every single day. Well, almost every day, we can’t forget about the time the Internet exploded when he wore a khaki suit. Although, that probably says less about him and more about us.

The majority of the time, however, Obama wears either a blue or gray suit. In an article from Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair, the president explained the logic behind this routine:

‘You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits’ [Obama] said.

‘I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.’ He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions.

As Stuart Heritage puts it for the Guardian, “Barack Obama has pared his wardrobe down to such a degree that he can confidently walk into any situation and make decisions that directly impact on the future of mankind.”

The president is not alone in this practice. The late, great, Steve Jobs wore his signature black turtleneck with jeans and sneakers every single day.

Moreover, Mark Zuckerberg typically wears a gray t-shirt with a black hoody and jeans when seen in public. Similarly, Albert Einstein reportedly bought several variations of the same gray suit so that he wouldn’t have to waste time deciding what to wear each morning.

This is all related to the concept of decision fatigue. This is a real psychological condition in which a person’s productivity suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.

Simply put, by stressing over things like what to eat or wear every day, people become less efficient at work.

This is precisely why individuals like President Obama, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Albert Einstein decided to make life easier by adopting a monotonous wardrobe.

Obviously, as these are some of the most successful and productive individuals in history, they are on to something.
Make Life Simple

Indeed, having a diverse collection of clothing is overrated. We waste so much time worrying about things that have no substantial consequences, and don’t even realize how easily we could change this.

This is exactly why President José Mujica of Uruguay rejects conformity and refuses to wear a tie, stating:

The tie is a useless rag that constrains your neck.

I’m an enemy of consumerism. Because of this hyperconsumerism, we’re forgetting about fundamental things and wasting human strength on frivolities that have little to do with human happiness.

He’s absolutely right. The vast majority of us are guilty of obsessing over material things. When it comes down to it, they bring no real value to our lives. True fulfillment is acquired by going out into the world and fostering palpable and benevolent changes.

Buying a new pair of shoes might make you feel more confident in the short-term, but it will not enrich your life in the long-term.

Undoubtedly, the world would be an extremely boring place if we all wore the same exact thing every day.

Yet, we might all consider simplifying our lives a bit more by reducing the amount of time we spend thinking about pointless aspects of our day. In the process, one might find that they are significantly less stressed, more productive and more fulfilled.

Life is complicated enough, don’t allow the little things to dictate your happiness. Simplify, simplify.


I have been embarking on the journey of minimalism for the past few years. I am still far from living with 100 items. 

It is a journey of getting rid of things that are unimportant, letting go of the past, and focus on the things that really matters.

I don't miss any of the things I gave away or recycled.

Nowadays, I only buy things that I need or I really really like. 
So sales and discount, factory outlets don't really excite me anymore. 

It is a liberating process. 

I felt at peace.

Less is indeed more. =)

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Article: Harvard Psychologist Explains Why Buying Experiences Makes People Happier Than Buying Things

We make two kinds of purchases.
We buy things: clothes, cars, and home goods. 
We buy experiences: meals, vacations, and movies. 

Research shows that experiences are the much better buy — if you’re looking to maximize the happiness for your dollars

In one study of over a thousand Americans, people were asked to think about a material and experiential purchase they made with the hope of increasing their happiness.

When they thought on which one made them happier, 57% of them said that the experiential buy gave them more happiness. Only 34% of respondents said material purchases make them happier.

In a paper, Harvard psychologist and “Stumbling on Happiness” author Daniel Gilbert said that it has to do with the way we relate to objects versus events. We adapt to things quickly, but we get to anticipate and remember events. 

After devoting days to selecting the perfect hardwood floor to install in a new condo,”Gilbert and his coauthors say, “homebuyers find their once beloved Brazilian cherry floors quickly become nothing more than the unnoticed ground beneath their feet.” 

But “in contrast,” the authors continue, “their memory of seeing a baby cheetah at dawn on an African safari continues to provide delight.”

There’s another reason why experiential buys — like a weekly cooking class — make for better investments in your personal enjoyment. 

When you buy experiences, you get to see a change happen in your environment and in yourself.

“Whereas cherry floorboards generally have the same size, shape, and color on the last day of the year as they did on the first,” the authors say, “each session of a year-long cooking class is different from the one before.” 

Lastly, Gilbert argues that buying experiences makes us happy because we turn them into a part of our identities. If you take three weeks to explore Nepal, your treks around the Himalayas will become a part of who you think you are.


This article resonated with me deeply. 
The biggest expenditure in my life so far is traveling. 
It has been one of the best investments in my life too.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” ― Mark Twain

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ― Mark Twain

(Taken in 2009 - Everest Base Camp Trek, Nepal)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Travel: Aug 2014 - Bangkok (Work Trip)

Singapore Changi Airport

I have never spent time exploring the airport even though I used it very often. Since I have sometime, I decided to explore and I was pleasantly surprised to see Sunflower Garden, Free movie theater, a butterfly garden, a free video arcade area....

Singapore Changi Airport is really one of the best airports in the world.
It also shows that if you want to do something well, it is possible despite being a small country.

Grand Hyatt Hotel, Bangkok

One of the perks of business travelling is staying in nice hotel without paying for it. The main downside is that you are so overwhelmed with work that you can't enjoy it fully. 

For instance, I arrived at the hotel around 9pm. Initially, I wanted to explore the city but I had to do some urgent work, which I completed at 11.30pm. I took a shower and went to sleep at around 1am, and I had a full day of meetings the following 2 days.

Grand Hyatt Hotel

View from the room

Rooftop bar with a good view of Bangkok City
- free flow of wine and food.
Another perk of attending conference. =)

After wine and food, it's time for a good massage.
I was so tired after a full day of work, that I was half asleep.

Overall, I really enjoyed work trip to Bangkok. Due to my job nature (investment research), I get to meet business owners and top executives. I get to understand the current situation and issues facing Thailand. And also, I get to enjoy a lot of good things like nice hotel and nice food (plus drinks). 

However, deep down inside, I always tell myself that "enjoy it while it last".
I am aware of the Impermanence of Life, that both good and bad things don't last. So do not need to be too attached to good experiences (enjoy it, but understand that it won't last).

After some time, the utilities derived from these pleasures decreases. It is not sustainable, and that's the nature of sensory pleasures. 

After a few days of good food, I had a simple vegetarian noodle by the street. I paid only 40 Baht (S$1.60, US$1.30) for this noodle and a 500ml of mineral water. 
Frankly, I quite enjoyed this noodle.

Rod Fai Market
Vintage Flea Market

This place is quite far from Bangkok City (at least 1 hour to commute). I really like the vintage feeling and the big space of this place. This is something that is definitely missing in Singapore. It is a wonderful place to chill out as well. 

Vintage Car 
(For a moment, I thought I went back to Havana)

Old School deco

Bright Colours

Flea Market at night
It's so nice to drive a van and display your vintage collections.

Street Food!!

I ordered a small portion of fishballs (20Baht - S$0.80, US$0.60).
Since I was traveling alone, I asked the street vendor to give me half portion (as I could not finish it). When I gave her 20 Baht, she insisted on only taking 10 Baht from me. I told her it's okay, but she insisted on returning 10 Baht (S$0.40, US$0.30) to me. I mean it is really nice to meet good people along the way.

During the whole trip, 9 out of 10 cab drivers tried to cheat my money by taking the long route. I am okay as long as they did not go overboard. But there was this driver that drove me 45mins in the wrong direction, and when I confronted him, he just told me that he doesn't speak english. One of those few rare moments when I shouted at someone.

Soi Cowboy

One of the famous red-light districts in Bangkok. 

I decided to go for a drink in one of the go-go bars. The drink is actually quite cheap around 150Baht (S$6, US$5). Initially, I refused to have ladies accompanying me, but later I relented , they are so persistent and business was not really good. 

I had a nice chat with the mama-san as well as the young girl. It is not surprising, she came from the rural region of Thailand, her parents are farmers (but they were only employees and the farmland does not belong to them), she has a younger brother whom she is supporting. Life is tough, she worked 7 days a week (no rest!!) and she gotta entertain guests as well as do bikini dance on the stage. She did not enjoy her work and Bangkok, and always looked forward to go home in the village.

I got some comfort knowing that she could refuse going out with client. She told me (with pride) that she won't go out with old and fat customers. She only goes out with handsome young man. Hahaha...

The job of these girls are really tough. They had to be skimpily dressed and soliciting for business in the middle of the street. The amount of rejection is a lot. If you think that your sales job is tough, theirs are even tougher. Some of the people on the street are rude to them.

Normally, when I walked along red-light district I would avoid these ladies soliciting for business. Actually, they are just like anyone of us trying to make a living. 

I always learn not to judge.
Each of them have their own story.
Given a choice, no one would choose this profession.

I hope that they will be careful.

Elephant Tower

25 great skyscrapers: icons of construction by CNN

Bangkok Forensic Museum

Not for the faint hearted. Surprised to see lotsa conjoined twins (not as rare as I thought), baby with one eye, lotsa human bodies specimen including a few whole body specimens.

There are so many specimens, and at times, I saw them as objects and forgot that it belonged to someone who was once alive like us.

Have been praying silently for those deceased.
I am also grateful to be who I am.

Authentic Thai Food

Recommended by a friend. 
Not too bad, but the free appetizer (the one of the left) is really good.

Overall, this is a good trip. Lotsa learning and new experiences. =)

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Singapore Documentary on HIV/AIDS Patients and Volunteers: 《好人好事》第4集 8月19日

The video of the documentary in Mandarin:

This short documentary shows the the discrimination against people with AIDS/HIV in Singapore, and also shows the volunteering journey with people with AIDS/HIV. (My volunteer group was featured). 

One part of the documentary recounted the story that the senior volunteers pooled together a few thousands dollars to pay for the funeral of one of the patients (as his wife and kid don't have the money). It is really touching.

About 2 months ago, during the new volunteer sharing session, I shared my own journey as a volunteer for the past 4 years. People always asked me why I chose to volunteer with HIV/AIDS patients. I was trying to explore volunteering with different organizations and chanced upon this group of Buddhist volunteers - Maitripal. 

"Our name combines “Maitri” – A Sanskrit word meaning “friendship of universal love and compassion” – with “pals”: we befriend the patients in a spirit of universal love and compassion."

This cause grows on me over the years. The stigmatization is really bad, for instance, one of the documentary production crews refused to enter the ward after realizing it is a ward for people with HIV/AIDS. I do not blame him, but it is his ignorance that caused so much fear in him.

Who does not make mistakes in life?
Who are you to judge other people?
Do you really understand the background of the person?

We just know that these people who are badly discriminated by the society.
They are chronically sick and are suffering.
They just need some help & a listening ear. 

Massaging a patient.

Break fast with a Muslim patient.

Senior volunteers with a patient during his last few days in the world.

Really hope that there would be less discrimination and more love. 
May all beings be free from suffering.

"Om Mani Padme Hung" _()_

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Travel: Jul 2014 - Phi Phi Islands (Thailand)

I always wanted to visit Phi Phi Islands ever since I watched the movie - The Beach starring Leonardo Dicaprio (he looked so young back then). Ever since I was an undergraduate, I was imagining myself backpacking in Thailand, and wondering into unknown places in the midst of the monsoon rain. There was this excitement of exploring new places and getting lost. 

When I was an undergraduate, a good friend) told me that her friend (an exchange student from Europe) said that Phi Phi Islands was the best beach, he ever visited. Hence, the urge to visit Phi Phi Islands was seeded more than a decade ago.

I am amazed that it took me more than 10 years to visit Phi Phi Islands. I have traveled to so many exotic places around the world, yet I kinda took it for granted. (I went Phuket before with friends, unfortunately, my friends weren't so keen to explore the islands. I also went Krabi before with colleagues, but I did not make it Phi Phi Islands too.) 

I decided to travel to Phi Phi Islands alone.

DAY 1 

Quip Bed & Breakfast

Interesting B&B in Phuket Town

Love the freedom of traveling alone in my slippers and a small backpack.


Boat Ride to Phi Phi Islands
(Ko Phi Phi Don on the left, and Ko Phi Phi Leh on the right).

Ko Phi Phi Leh, the Maya Bay is the location where The Beach is filmed. 
It is a national park and staying overnight is not allowed.

Congested Ko Phi Phi  Don- Ton Sai Bay

I was mentally prepared to see this, but I being a tourist is a contributor to the pollution of this beautiful island. It is noisy and smell of exhaust fume etc... Feeling abit disappointed.

Lotsa boats for tourists

A reminder of the devastating tsunami in 2004.

Loh Dalum Bay
The other bay of Ko Phi Phi Don which is not as crowded.

Loh Dalum Bay

Book a tour with Maya Bay Sleep aboard.

Phi Phi Leh

The Sleepaboard Boat

Jump off from the top of the roof. 
It was pretty scary initially, but was quite fun.


Not fantastic visibility, as the weather condition was not good.

A small boat dropped us off near a cliff, and we had to make our way to the cliff. It was raining and the water was quite choppy. Tough to keep our balance in the water. And I felt like a illegal refugee, which was quite fun.

Climb over a small cliff, and if you fall, it would be quite nasty with so many sharp edges. I wasn't expecting this.

Maya Bay =)

It was pouring heavily, but I was elated. 
Finally, I got here and there wasn't a lot of tourists.
Thanks to the bad weather.

Dipped myself in the warm seawater. 
Enjoying the view and the rain!

Maya Bay

Shelter that we spent a night (due to bad weather, our operator decided that we should stay in the island instead of the boat. Apparently, it is a common occurrence.) I was glad to spend one night in  Ko Phi Phi Leh Island, even though overnight stay is not allowed.

It was raining heavily, and we were quite cold in the shelter. The feeling of being cold, dirty and wet felt like the experience of the reality show - Survivor. The only difference is that we have good operator that took care of the food and entertainment at night. The basic living condition is fine for me, in exchange, we get to see Maya Bay without tourists!

One American tourist was whining about how miserable she felt, and that she was paying good money for such a bad experience. I tried to keep her spirits up telling her that it is an interesting experience. 

Another highlight of the trip was to see blue luminous Plankton at midnight. Even though I only saw a few blue luminous Plankton, it is quite an amazing experience to hold the plankton on my finger. 
The world is quite amazing! =)


Morning at Maya Bay (without hordes of tourist)
Managed to do a short meditation - no mosquito and sandfly.

Listening to "Pure Shore" by All Saints.

"I'm moving
I'm coming
Can you hear, what I hear
It's calling you my dear
Out of reach
(Take me to my beach)
I can hear it, calling you
I'm coming not drowning
Swimming closer to you
(Take me to my beach)"

Panorama View of Maya Bay
(I swam across toward another small beach on the top left corner.
It is good to be a swimmer!)

In the late morning, we went back to Ko Phi Phi Don.

Street View -  Ko Phi Phi Don Island.
While it is touristy, I kinda like it for the variety of restaurants and massage parlours - creature comforts.

My Hotel (The Beacha Club) with the beach infront. 
Love the location of this hotel.
I just need to walk out of my hotel room and go for a swim in the sea.

Raining Heavily at the Viewpoint.

Lotsa partying along the beach

Fire acrobat display along the beach


Panorama view of Koh Phi Phi Don.

Spent more than 1.5 hours looking at this. (That's the good thing about solo traveling, I can do things at my own pace). It is definitely one of the most beautiful islands I ever visited (even though it is very touristy). 

Enjoying the moment.
Lying down on the boulder.
Feeling the wind beneath my feet.
Listening to the Buddhist Music/Chant "Om Mani Padme Hum".
Looking beyond the boundless sea.
Feeling insignificant
Feeling grateful.

While I was 1.5 hours on the rock, people were constantly moving. They visit the vista point for 5 mins and left. 
Where are they going?
Do they know where they are heading?
Is there other places nice than this place?

Beautiful Phi Phi Island. 
On my last few days of my life, I will think about my life and be glad that I have seen so many beautiful places, and this is one of them.
Don't be sad, be grateful.

After Phi Phi Islands, I headed back to Phuket to catch my flight, before that I went to the Tiger Kingdom (after much struggle). On one hand, I think it is unethical to visit Tiger Kingdom to see captive tigers. On the other hand, I am very keen to touch the majestic tigers.

In the end, my desire to touch the tigers overwhelmed me. However, during my visit, I asked alot of questions to the staffs and the reply I gotten wasn't satisfactory.

Small tigers

Large Tigers (less than 3 years old)

Another tourist touching this majestic animal


Their fate beyond 3 years old is unknown. Apparently, the tigers would get territorial and aggressive beyond 3 years old, so no interaction is allowed with human beings and they would be fighting a lot among themselves. =(

This tiger is kept for breeding purposes

Small tigers taken away at night.

After this visit, I would not visit another Tiger Kingdom again.
My urges has been satisfied and I think I caused more harm to them indirectly.

Bangla Street - the famous party street in Phuket

Phuket - Patong Beach

Bangla Street at night.