A farewell to 2016, and welcoming an uncertain future

welcoming-2017

 

A close friend of mine posted on our Whatsapp chat group that our ‘366 days’ are finally closing today. He specifically referred to ‘366 days’, because of all days in this year, there is one special day in which his birthday befalls: February 29. With officially his age being ‘5 years old’ (he’s actually 20, de facto), he will need to wait until 2020 to celebrate his 6th birthday, or by the time when he’s already 24 years old.

To some extent, I quite pitied him given his unusual birth date. But it’s okay; one great thing I will remember is the friendship that we have long forged, together with the rest of the chat group members, for quite some time. As I am currently on my final year of study at HKUST, this may probably be the first – and the last – time I can directly celebrate his birthday. Again, it’s okay; his once-in-four-years birthday will forever be remembered.

My friend’s ‘birthday story’ is not the primary theme for this post; you can call it an ‘opening anecdote’.

This is my last blog post for 2016. Compared to previous years, this is also the time when I made the least number of posts. In 2015, I published 21 blog posts, already a massively huge drop compared to 2014 (when I posted, I guess, over 300 blog posts). This year, it is only 15 (including this one). The number of viewers has also dropped in the last two years, which I think is quite expected given the reduced time I have spent curating this WordPress blog. But it’s okay; I don’t care if the total number of this 5.5-year-old blog is comparatively lower than those on a typical Youtube video, because I am not seeking publicity. The aim of this blog is very simple: to share my thoughts, and nothing else. My commitment is that as long as I am still alive, I will continue updating this blog, all the while sharing my thoughts about issues which I think – and believe – are worth seriously addressing.

If I could sum up how 2016 has been for me, I can say that it, in some way, sucks. My sentiment may be a bit different compared to how others denigrated the year of 2016; I didn’t really blame ‘2016’ itself in causing problems (because problems can always occur regardless what year it is), but rather how some ‘misfortunes’ happen somewhat more frequently compared to previous years. And it’s particularly personal. To begin with, I did not manage to get any single Dean’s List awards this year, which are actually important in determining my scholarship amount. There have also been excessive bureaucratic logjams with regard to salary processing of my research internship. A huge rise in expenditures as I am applying for PhD and Master’s programs (to tell you the fact, a normal PhD application fee, in case for a US school, can cost between US$75 and US$125). My application for a research trip to Zambia was also rejected for ‘quite unclear reasons’. Anxiety related to finding jobs, especially when I remember the tremendous amount of ‘investment’ already incurred by my family in paying for my tuition, in addition to my own scholarships. There is also a similar anxiety about my younger brother, as he is currently waiting for the news from any universities he has been applying for (including the school I am currently enrolled in).

Returning back to my friend’s ‘birthday’ story, the anxiety is cyclical, this time perhaps with a larger scope in mind. Perhaps I can call it a ‘once-in-a-few-years’ cycle of anxiety. Back in 2009-2010 period, the primary ‘worry’ was about getting selected for a high school scholarship in Singapore. Then in 2012-2013 period, the major anxiety was about me in choosing universities. Now, in 2016, and later in 2017, the major worries will be about which schools my younger brother will be in, whether I will be accepted for PhD or Master’s programs, or whether I end up taking a job. As I am hoping to pursue further studies in the United States, there have been serious discussions with my parents. My mom is more supportive of me than my dad does in this regard; my dad has been truly ‘scared’ by a Donald Trump presidency, half-jokingly and half-not-jokingly.

Perhaps this is the reason I can say why this last winter vacation for me as an undergraduate student feels so different compared to previous vacations. Most of my friends and I didn’t worry too much about looking for jobs, finishing final-year projects, or waiting for confirmation about postgraduate application. All we cared about was simply about having a nice time during vacation. And this is particularly strongly felt for me, personally. I only return to my hometown once in a year as I make every summer in the last three years occupied with research-related jobs or courses. And this time, the vacation feels different; it’s hard for me to describe it, and you will understand that kind of moment of uncertainty when you start to ponder into the future, especially with only one remaining semester left.

That’s why I feel particularly anxious; from 2017 onward, both my younger brother and I will most likely have spent most of our time studying, or working, overseas. All the while he’s applying for scholarships, my parents will still need to continue supporting his education. And with them expected to continue working, there may be even less time for us to frequently interact with each other. It is inevitable, oftentimes, that it takes some sacrifices to achieve something. Obviously, life in 2017 will be vastly different from in this year.

That said, all I can do in the last day of 2016 is to bid farewell to this year, and learn from these experiences. It’s true that some setbacks have occurred, but again, let bygones be bygones. We may choose to be defensive and ‘victimize’ ourselves in the face of these misfortunes and become overly reactionary; indeed, some emotional expression may be quite necessary. But, we can also choose to ‘let go’, learn from our mistakes, and continue to persevere. Again, as I always repeatedly tried to reassure myself, it is not always the ‘years’ themselves that choose the calamities. There may be such cyclical-like patterns, but we may opt not to let them defeat our spirits. Come 2017, the time for another life transition, and as much different – and difficult – it is as the life transition in 2013 was (previously from high school to overseas university education, now from university to either a postgraduate study or employment), that persevering spirit matters a lot. I have still yet to bring ‘the best’ in me and to my family, and that has always been the mantra I stick in to my mind whenever that moment begins to tick into my mindset.

And here is my message for my juniors who are still yet to graduate: if you are in for your winter vacation, enjoy it to the fullest. When it comes to this pre-transition moment, you will begin to deeply appreciate how meaningful every time you spend with your beloved ones is. The current era is vastly different from previous ones, as there are now an almost endless array of high-tech wonders that make our lives easier, but still, none of them can replace the values of direct, face-to-face interaction, especially with close friends and family members. If you agree with me that 2016 sucks, let’s bid it – say the least – an honorable farewell (you don’t have to follow in John Oliver’s way of saying goodbye to 2016). Welcoming 2017, we will expect riddles, mysteries, tragedies, and other unexpected shocks. But, let’s also anticipate any unexpected virtues or moments of ‘luck’, because after all, these are the dual characteristics of our human nature.

Goodbye, 2016. I will promise to keep you updated with future blog posts next year. Happy new year in advance!

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Valentine’s day

sunshine

 

I befriend someone I don’t know in Facebook who happened to have passed away 3 years ago.

The account itself, I could say, is restlessly active almost everyday. ‘She’ shares information from all pages as much as possible. Dog videos, articles about dangerous food products, recipe dishes, viral stories about poor individuals someone met on the streets, or simply postings of inspirational quotes or messages with religious content. Some happen to be hoaxes, some are simply 15-minutes-of-fame intermezzos, but quite a few contain solid facts. These postings frequently fill up my news feed, and most of the time, I simply scroll them through and look at other stuff.

This Valentine’s day, I saw a video made in tribute of her.

Initially, I thought it was just a joke. I thought it could be just a random website giving you funny assessment of some algorithm-based sorts (imagine ‘Be Like Bill’ in the form of a make-believe obituary). It says “in memorial of (name undisclosed)”, with pictures of her smiling, of her drinking cocktail, of her standing beside a swimming pool. It was not until I clicked through her profile – after viewing through condolence-themed posts by her friends and relatives – that I realized this person was killed in a car accident 3 years ago.

And her account remains ‘alive’ up to now, sharing all the stuff that still continue to pop out as of today.

Up to now, I can’t comment anything about it. I’m not scared of the possibility that our Facebook accounts will continue to exist even after our lives end; I’m just left wondering how the person, behind the scene, continues to preserve all the remaining memories of their deceased beloved ones, as though one part of her soul remained existing within the social media. And it still goes on, all after the three years. I can’t imagine how that person, notwithstanding his or her motive, wakes up everyday, only to become ‘her’ surrogate on Facebook, and fills up the news feed with all the stuff he or she finds interesting. I can’t imagine how strong his or her mentality is already shaped (I hope I’m using the correct description), while facing up to the reality that she is physically gone, all the while maintaining her existence in the virtual world.

Throughout my lifetime, I have heard, and witnessed, stories of losses and sadness. A close friend of mine lost her mother last year, and she keeps her ‘mother’ alive on her Whatsapp profile. Another acquaintance lost his father, while he is yet to complete his university studies. Two of my high school friends lost their younger siblings, one of whom I happened to know. And now, this person – whom I added three and a half years ago, the time when I simply confirmed anybody’s friend requests, literally – is now a virtual Schrodinger’s cat.

It brings me to another philosophical question. With virtual and real identities becoming increasingly disparate (especially with the increasing ability of artificial-intelligence), will this story become a common reality in the distant future? Is this what transhumanists will refer to as ‘immortality’, or probably a ‘brain-in-a-vat’ phenomenon?

 

 

 

The evolution of Tom Hanks

tomhanks

 

Profiling the two-time Oscar winner and all the experiences in filming industry that made him a versatile impresario. Read the full article in The Washington Post.

 

Excerpt:

 

On the surface, Hanks is defined by his ambitious schedule. He doesn’t race cars, own a minor league baseball team or play bass in a celebrity rock band. His work, he says, leaves little time for much else. Beyond the acting, there is Playtone, a company he formed in 1996 and that has been particularly adept at producing multipart programs for HBO, including “John Adams,” “Olive Kitteridge” and “Band of Brothers.” “Lewis and Clark” is up next.

In October, Hanks had his first short story published in the New Yorker, about four friends who take a trip to the moon. Within weeks, Alfred A. Knopf had the actor, who attended California State University at Sacramento in the 1970s but never graduated, signed to write a collection of short stories.

It’s fitting that Hanks is writing fiction, because other than perhaps Thomas Pynchon, it’s hard to imagine anybody less likely to publish a tell-all.

Looking at death the other way around

when i die

When Philip Gould was diagnosed with cancer and had only 6 weeks to live, he decided not to fight the disease back. He was, instead, doing something what much of the public would term as ‘surrendering oneself to ultimate fate’, or ‘giving up’. Gould, nonetheless, offered an interesting perspective about it. He would rather call death as ‘life’s ultimately most extraordinary journey’, a journey to somewhere unknown, unbeknownst by human understanding.

In this 9-minute video recorded in 2011, Gould spun the yarn about his last days before dying, and how this experience completely alters his perspective about life, and attempts to make his last stage in life ‘as exciting and enjoyable as possible’. Watch the full video in Aeon.

Humans of HKUST – Life and everything within the campus

 

hkust redbird_sketch

 

 

(my personal request to everyone reading this blog)

 

Why you should visit this website: I, and four other friends studying in this university widely known for the ‘stress and tension’ it carries over, are making this project, modeled on Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, to give everyone an elementary understanding about life, ideas, opinions, experiences, and stories that HKUST students, staff, or whoever contributing to this great university, want to share to the public. There may be sad stories, there may be mind-provoking ones, but there are also silly, quirky, and inspiring ones. Every person has different perspectives about life, and of course there are no ways we can enforce our own towards theirs. Therefore, as a sign of appreciation towards diverse mindsets, we create this platform to let everyone know more about what really is happening in this campus.

Link: http://humansofhkust.tumblr.com/

FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/humansofhkust

Love is Forever: teaching children to cope with loss

love is forever

 

 

Our love is a gift, a treasure to hold,
a story in our hearts forevermore.

This gift of love we have been given
is one that is pure, constant and sure.

 

Loss, as a matter of fact, is itself such a heavy-hearted keyword, that even conveying the word to kids itself becomes a burdensome duty. Loss, however, is an inevitable fate that everyone of us in this world will face. One day we will lose our beloved grandparents, or our parents, or our lovers, or someone else who we treasure, or who we grew up with. It comes in all forms, be it tranquil or tragic one. But we all know that dealing with it, sooner or later, is a must, and sometimes, we even must get prepared at all times with it. But, again, another problem comes: how to best equip people, especially children or toddlers, to cope with such devastating concept?

Casey Rislov and Rachel Balsaits collaborate together to publish Love is Forever, an illustration book about dealing with loss of beloved one, but this time aimed for children. Eking out a delicate balance between telling a hard truth and illustrating lightly-colored pictures, featuring owls as reflection of us human beings, Rislov and Balsaits hope that this work will inspire not only children, but also all of us, to appreciate more the meaning of life itself, and in particular, to cherish every single moment with our beloved ones, especially in such age of modernity where people are increasingly becoming self-centered.

See more examples of this illustration book in Brain Pickings.