Shall I Compare Thee to a (Ordinary) Christmas Day?

“A stegosaurus in the forest munching on some hay,
Lay down to snooze in a bed of ooze and sadly passed away.
Her body changed and rearranged as she sank beneath the soil,
And over time she turned to slime and then she turned to oil.”

~ Tom Chapin

 
That’s not a blog entry-opening ‘inspirational quote’ line. That’s a verse from Tom Chapin’s ‘R-E-C-Y-C-L-E’ song that wrapped up my Christmas Caroling session at work this year.

Yes, this year’s Carol was no church choir. If anything it would’ve passed more as a heartfelt effort at indoor rain dance gathering. And a sweetly politically correct one at that. With everyone sitting in a circle creating impromptu ethnic tunes to ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ using all the traditional forms of percussion and tambourine you can name, and at one point resting to hum the second verse of ‘Silent Night’ (because you don’t just make people say ‘Jesus’ in a non-Christian-majority multicultural setting), the only thing missing was for someone to go dancing around a center-piece bonfire.

But then again, hardly anything about this year’s Christmas was a lot traditional. Apart from the rain-dance of a Christmas Carol, the distance from Home and thus the absence of Family presence, there was this year’s tree.

xmastree (2)

If you have been in a country that hugely celebrates the Chinese New Year festivity, this tree would probably remind you more of angpaos than Christmas stockings. And any random small convenience shop owner could walk in to my school library and confidently say they’ve got a better (read: more seasonally appropriate) tree than ours. But I beam at the sight of it the same way that the woman who’s responsible for this one would.

Nah, I still beam brighter than that. Maybe ’cause hers costs $4.2 million.

 
At the two high school boys who were too cool to admit that they’d rather cut out strips of green paper crepes, fold paper cranes, and crumple up cotton ball pieces into fake snow falls, than slack off on their Macs during study periods. At their insistence on keeping ‘Jingle Bells Rock’ on repeat on account it was pretty much the only Christmas Carol they were familiar with, while rejoicing in the spirit of making fun of my origami skills.

 
And the days leading up to December 25 were far from the touch of fraternity. For they were spent in intentional isolation for a self-service wish-fulfilling uninterrupted reading time in the little town of Ubud; cafe-hopping, round-town push-biking, used books shop raging, Julie Otzuka’s ‘When the Emperor Was Divine‘ and Anita Desai’s ‘Diamond Dust‘-demolishing, organic meal feasting, and meditational paddyfield strolling, while being shortly interluded by a lively and mind-opening encounter with a couple of South African and French legal experts who managed to get me all fired up about their TED talk-material Integrative Law Movement.

 
And yet as I sat in a half-occupied hall waiting for Christmas Eve’s midnight mass to begin, I couldn’t help to smile in the overcoming of a sudden heart-warming joy at the thought of it all.

When I had found myself one night earlier in December quietly crying on my bed in a somewhat fetal position – having just been hit by the notion that I wouldn’t have the same ‘perfect’ traditional endless-company Christmas I had last year – it didn’t occur to me that this year’s would awaken me to a whole new way of music-experiencing in the midst of a non-traditional Caroling where music was made from nothing but simple technology, communal energy and natural synergy.

That it would re-energize me with at least a half year’s worth of inspiration for more creativity and humanity-changing action-taking through a friendly lone bookpacking trip.

Or that it would see to it that I know and understand, that nothing in life is a consolation prize, when you put love and the joy in people’s hearts before a perfect display of pride.

 
That same night in the hall, as I wondered how those several days – despite their resulting in deep contentment and satisfaction – have honored the meaning of the very season I was celebrating (as I hadn’t exactly been participating in the traditional giving and sharing practice as my popular culture has been dictating for years), and started further wondering what it even is that I was celebrating, the Pastor’s sermon answered me with a story.

Of an ordinary day, in an ordinary place, when an ordinary family welcomed the birth of a child. A child who grew in an ordinary time, under ordinary circumstances, among ordinary people. A child who, despite his ordinary upbringing, became a man of extraordinary presence, extraordinary actions, and extraordinary love.

He then reminded us of another story, of a hundred over other similar stories. Of the hundred over people who sat at the congregation that night. Of our own births, of our own ordinary circumstances, and of our own innate capacity to become Extraordinary.

Of the underlying message that Christmas, is the celebration of the birth of Christ Jesus as much as it is of ours. It is the remembrance of the beginning of his extraordinary power as much as it is of ours.

 
The realization of which, both brought my body comforting warmth and trembling silence. At the thought of what a whole year’s worth of retreating into a reflective and restorative solitary has brought for me this year, the dawning of a slightly more refined self, with a slightly more refined mind and a refined heart; a new birth.

But also, at the sudden overwhelming realization of what that carries; the weight of my presence, the immense value of its mere existence. But most importantly, at the current absence of its substantial worth to the world, the remaining abundance still of its extraordinary capacity.

 
Some have said and believed that December this year marks the ending of an existence, an era, a something. I’m not sure about an ending, and I don’t know that much about the universe. But I believe in beginnings, and I know only as much as I have seen. And what I have seen, is a birth of mine own. And apparently, in our no longer ordinary circumstances, that counts for something. So I guess, I’ll be damned if I don’t make it the only thing it’s meant to be; Extraordinary.

 
Merry Christmas and Happy New Beginning =)

Tya

 

“Ar-Ee-Cee… Why-Cee-El-Eeee.. That’s the waaay… It’s supposed to beee.. The Earth recycleeees.. And so do weee.. Ar-Ee-Ceee! Why-Cee-El-Eeeeeee…!!”

Unpinning the #FirstWorldProblem ‘Badge of Honor’

“If you have time to whine and complain about something then you have the time to do something about it.”

~ Anthony J. D’Angelo

 
 
One month into my settling into a new life in Bali, I’ve been starting to get the obligatory questions of

“So how’s it been? What’s it like, living in Bali?”

With the attached glimmering hope of excitement from hearing potential stories of exotic travels and unique cultural encounters.

 
With all politeness I reply with a short and ambiguous,

“Life here is, well, like life in any other place.”

 
 
It’s a pretty disappointing answer. Not to mention my lack of traveling photo uploads on Facebook. (Although the latter has more to do with the fact that I’m really just not the kind of person with a tendency to enjoy taking pictures of the moments that I’m in the middle of experiencing.)

But I’m guessing that the rest has to do with the letting down of the expectation that living in Bali should be some kind of an upgrade from a rather cold and monotonous metropolis routine to a warmer and richly adventurous one.

 
 
While it’s true that for someone who has always felt rather detached from the city life, the Bali experience certainly does present itself with more soul-energizing opportunities to be closer to nature and media to explore one’s spirituality (if you take on a more Eastern philosophical direction).

 
But for someone who is also starting a whole new life and career as a single female twenty-something with an attachment to convenience and comfort who’s come to a city where public transportation is scarce and living costs are high, while living on a probational teacher’s salary, the Bali life does not exactly roll out to be the way I once expected it to be with a glimmering hope of excitement either.

 
 
So no, I don’t wake up in a chalet by the beach to the shine of a morning sunrise, or travel to work passing by a line of young women in white kebaya and colorful wrap-arounds while carrying a basket of fruits on their heads, or come back from work everyday to walk on the beach and watch the sunset, or travel to rural corners of the province to observe religious ceremonies and feast on fresh organic foods.

 
 
I live in a humble little rented-room that faces a mango tree and a row of other rented rooms in the building across from where I mostly hear the sounds of passing trucks and barking street dogs.

I travel to work on the backseat of a motorcycle while holding my breath to avoid sucking in too much polluted air from said passing trucks.

I come back from work to perform manual laundry duty and settle for lunch leftovers for dinner while forcing myself to uncover the tiniest feeling of being entertained by local TV channel programs.

And at least one day of every weekend is spent in my room alone cleaning and watching replays of TV series while wishing I was eating something that’s not ‘makanan seadanya’ from a nearby warung nasi.

 
 
Not necessarily because a convenient and comfortable life that I’m more accustomed to is not possible to accomplish. But given the circumstantial limits and my priority of independently surviving as I tip-toe on the crucial stage of building a career, it’s simply all I can afford to have.

So if anything, my life seems to experience more of a downgrade in some way rather than an upgrade.

 
But you see I almost wanted to slap my own hands for typing all of that. Because for a minute there I just became the girl who cries #firstworldproblem.

 

 
(While in a parallel universe,)

Yes, I know, my memes are bad and I should feel bad.

 
 
But I don’t like that. Much less the perpetuation of what seems to be the appropriation of a cultural habit that suggests a lack of gratitude and appreciation of what we are already greatly blessed with in life.

 
I remember one morning as I sat on the back of Pak Dewa’s motorcycle that takes me to work everyday and found myself silently grunting about this less-than perfect life, I finally cut my self-chattering and said to myself,

“No, this is not okay. I don’t want to have to constantly put an effort to accept my life. I want to just live it, regardless.”

 
 
Not so long after I found the reply on the page of one ‘Zen Fables for Today‘ book:

 

“Because, damn it, that was all I had.”

 
 
And nothing has ever hit me harder than that.

Than the few simple words of the second-last line in the story.

 
 
Ever since which, when I find myself now thinking, “I’m traveling to work on the back of a motorcycle…“,

I’ve learned to pause and say, “I’m traveling to work on the back of a motorcycle!”

 
And I start to notice the wonderful feeling of the morning sea breeze enveloping my body, I start to notice the giant gong that stands behind a small farm by the side of the road I never did before, and delve in the wonder of the characteristically elongated ears feature of Buddha statues that line the streets of Bali.

 
 
When I find myself thinking, “I come home from work and still have chores to do…”,

I’ve learned to pause and say, “I come home from work and have things to do!”

 
And I start to appreciate knowing what it is like for people who cannot afford to wash their clothes with the help of a machine or a paid helper, I start to appreciate the thought stimulation I get from coming up with systems and ways to make chores easier to go through, and take comfort in the fact that for each bucket of clothes I wash is a few rupiahs saved to help afford healthier food purchases.

 
 
When I find myself thinking, “I’m sitting alone in my room with so much time left before bed…”,

I’ve learned to pause and say, “I’m sitting alone in my room with so much time left before bed!”

 
And I start to re-embrace and devour in the freedom of long uninterrupted reading hours, the unquestioned spiritual exploration moments, the uncompromised habit-changing processes.

 
 
Because, damn it, that’s all I have.

 
This life, right here, wherever that may be and however imperfect it may be, is all I have right now.

 
 
And once you see how beautiful that is, that’s a kind of peace you can’t put a price tag on, or any paradise’s post-stamp on.

 
 
Tya

“It’s Good like how Tiramisu is Supposed to be Good”

“Society is always taken by surprise at any new example of common sense.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

 
 
My mom, a tiramisu enthusiast in her own right, brought home a tiramisu cake from a newly-found bakery in town yesterday. As I was taking a bite out of my mini slice, she said to me, “It’s good, right?”

 
In my mouth, I tasted the soft layers of kahlua-soaked lady fingers that harmonioulsy marry with sweet creamy smooth mascarpone cheese and bitter dark cocoa powder that finely spreads on my tongue.

 
There was nothing particularly special about the tiramisu. For a classic hand-tossed slice of the Italian dessert, it was, well, good like how tiramisu is supposed to be good.

 

 
 
But what was brought to my attention is this, why should this particular tiramisu surprise her as good in the first place? It tastes just like how a tiramisu is supposed to taste like. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?

 
 
Back in August while I was going through a career switch exploration, I met with Mas Alex, the founder of a local human resources consultancy that a friend of mine had set me up with.
After spending a few days with him chatting through my selection process, I told him how incredibly taken I have been by the level of genuine commitment and sincere human touch they apply into their services.

 
Until then – I told him – so many times had I come across organizations that boast about their commitment to a meaningful client partnership, learning process, and goal-oriented development, yet have very little understanding of what each term truly means and commit to nothing more than getting their share of the work done and achieving ‘company target’.

Until then, so little had I seen a company with such a strong organizational identity and so much integrity in their adherence to the very values that they have set up to be the foundation of their work.

 
Daily Meaning, this small company that Mas Alex has created and has now captured every corner of my professional heart, was nothing of the former and all of the latter.

Yet when I shared my fascination with Mas Alex, he neither denied nor affirmed the special nature of his company’s character. Instead he said,

 

“Now let me ask you. What really surprises you so much about what we do here?

What you said about what we do here as a firm; making our clients close and informed partners in our work relationship, doing our homework in providing solutions that bring meaning and added value to the learning process, working with honest passion and adherence to our own company vision and mission, isn’t that what any organization is by right supposed to do anyway?

So why should it surprise you?”

 
 
I’ve been thinking about what he said since.

 
 
I thought about it over the slice of good tiramisu that my mother bought yesterday.

I think about it now whenever I find myself at first taken by what seem to be extraordinary actions of human beings only to soon realize that for so long and in so many ways, our lives have so many times been shortchanged. That something as natural and ordinary as doing something the way it’s supposed to be done becomes voluntary and glorified.

 
The kahlua-soaked lady fingers in my mom’s bought tiramisus are being shortchanged with instant coffee-soaked sponge cakes.

Genuinely tailored business services are being short-changed with impersonal instant formulaic approaches.

Children’s conversational quality time with parents is being short-changed with smartphones and tablets-accompanied silence.

Direct community involvement is being short-changed with sharing videos and liking statuses on Facebook.

 
Authentic food, service with a human touch, a fully-present pair of listening ears, and tangible acts of good will become extraordinary rarities and luxuries.

We come to forget that the actions we often perceive are extraordinary are often truly nothing more than what we’re just supposed to do as nothing more than people.

 

 
 
If I think about it now, when we watch in inspiration as a group of young designers take the initiative of constructing chairs to be placed at a busy bus stop in Kuala Lumpur, aren’t making use of our talents and helping our fellow citizens without being asked to just what we’re supposed to do as people?

 
When we read in admiration about Hollywood celebrities who take in adopted children into their homes and raise them as their own, isn’t channeling our abilities to provide a safe shelter, loving family and good life to those who need and equally deserve them just what we’re supposed to do as people?

 
When we follow in awe as leaders like Aung San Suu Kyi and Mother Teresa sacrifice so much comfort in their lives just so that the people around them could feel at least half of what they could have, aren’t sharing our blessings and preserving harmony in our society just what we’re supposed to do as people?

 
And if my mother thinks about it now, whenever she buys a tiramisu, shouldn’t it have been made by right to taste like one?

 
By right? With no short changes. With no surprises.

 
 
Tya