Why poverty occurs


When I was small, I was frequently told by my parents to persevere, work hard, and not to be indolent. From the car windows, we often saw young folks in a range of ages – I guess between 5 and 20 – playing guitars on the street side or begging for money. Their bodies were covered in dirt, oftentimes with torn-down clothes, and messy hair. Sometimes, there would be old ladies or men, slowly knocking on the car windows when traffic happened, asking for some pity. Some displayed physical deformities, such as cataract-affected eyes, amputated limbs, or tumors with the size of a human face. “You often have this strong feeling that you want to help them, but sometimes it’s better to be safe than to be sorry,” that is the near-typical expression my parents told me. “When you help a person, their friends will follow suit. And we are also not legally allowed to hand in cash for beggars or street urchins. But where the heck is the government?”

Afterwards, they quipped this familiar line. “That’s why you need to work really hard so that you have a better future.”

And that is also where we build this familiar, generalized adage of correlating people being poor with people being lazy, or ‘not being hardworking enough’. The reality, however, is far more complicating and incomprehensible than the pattern appears on the surface.

I was forever grateful for my family – especially my parents – that my family was able to support my overseas education, and that I was able to study in HKUST, one of the world’s youngest and fastest-rising research universities. And truth be told, if you happen to study in Hong Kong, it is also one of the ‘best’ places in the world not only to learn business, finance, or investment banking, but also to study about poverty. Not studying about poverty as a university major or degree of specialization, but rather to allow us to compare and contrast the unprecedented wealth and income gaps in one of the world’s most globalized cities.

I participated in several community service activities organized by a university-led outreach program throughout Hong Kong, and there, I began to experience – and learn more – about the more ‘sophisticated’ picture of the reality of poverty. If what you perceive of Hong Kong is mostly about its glitzy skyscrapers, you have only seen ‘one-half’ of the reality; you need to come across its numerous dilapidated multi-storey buildings, mostly spread around Kowloon, in order to get the other half of the reality. Inside the buildings, the alleys separating the flats are extremely shallow that you can hardly switch over your body. For a space the size of my own bedroom (back in my hometown), I think there may be like 5-6 ultra-small flats within that ‘alley’.

To make matters worse, there are other ‘quirks’ that epitomize poverty in this city. Many people, mostly elders, live in cages, due to ‘exorbitant housing rents’. There are also people who live in very compressed conclaves between two storeys of a building, to the extent that they can no longer stand, but need to crawl in within these spaces. And I can tell you that they are not lazy, either; these people, aged in 60s, 70s, or even 80s, still continue to eke out a living – an uneasy living – by picking up cardboards across the streets, and selling them to any hawkers for a tiny amount of money. Sometimes, they work for like more than 10 hours a day in restaurants and cafes, serving dishes and/or cleaning tables. Others stand for hours in certain stations to hand out pamphlets or advertising newsletters to any passersby. I once observed an old lady – perhaps already in a mentally ill state – getting in an altercation with a shopping mall security guard because of her pamphlet-distributing activity that is considered ‘annoying’. She murmured to herself in an angry tone while handing out these papers, to the ignorance of the passersby.

It’s not only about the old people. There are also young folks who are already working for hours a day, all the while doing menial tasks. Cleaning up tables in campus restaurants, removing food trays, or mopping the floors. And these people are definitely not lazy, just to keep this thought in mind.

Gradually, there came this awareness that people are poor not necessarily because they are lazy. That’s why it matters to look at the wider circumstances that facilitate such condition. If our parents are themselves poor, there is also a certain degree of likelihood that we will be in the same condition, and inherit it to our children and beyond. That is where the dichotomy comes in: we must work hard to lift ourselves from this evil cycle. But again, the outcomes can be mixed: some of them manage to have their offspring lifting the families out of poverty through education and skills, but others remain in the cycle, or even become economically worse off.

Consider two families of janitors. Just because their occupation is to clean out toilets does not mean we can easily dismiss their potential, especially their dignity. Suppose one family works really hard to provide adequate support for their children’s education; it is possible for them to support these children to finish high school, it is also possible their children can get scholarships to study in some of the best institutions to complete a bachelor’s degree, and it is even possible that they can complete a PhD degree. At the same time, the other family also works similarly really hard, but their children dropped out of high school, and given their inadequate educational backgrounds, end up working in a similar occupation as their parents do.

There are many possible answers on why the outcomes diverge for these two families. It can be mindset. Their parents may frequently tell the children how important education is, and why hard work and achievement matters, but they can also tell the children to ‘forget education, your stomach matters more’. It can be the neighborhoods they are in as well. There may be schools or educational institutions near their vicinity that offer subsidized education and renewable merit-based scholarships, with fully motivated teachers and educators doing their best to educate these guys. But there can also be a neighborhood ridden with crimes, infested with drug abuse, suffering from dilapidated, under-funded schools, obesity, or deadly gang fights. It can also be generational. The similar neighborhood their children live in is no different from the setting where their parents used to live. It can also be due to government policies. There are governments that favor free education and free healthcare because their tenet is social justice, so their families would be pretty much already ‘covered’ under its social security framework. There are also authorities that fully believe in laissez-faire principles, ‘to each one’s own’; your social status is defined by your own making. There are also regimes whose only task is to win the next election by handing out cash and other favored packages to their constituencies. You don’t call it social security; it’s clientelism. It can also be due to countries’ level of socio-economic development. The chronicle of this janitor families changed because the country shifted from a Third World country to a high-income economy. And don’t forget other ‘empirically unexplainable factors’. You can call it luck, bad luck, or if you don’t believe in any of these, simply refer to them as random events, absurdities, what have you.

Let us term them ‘unexpected circumstances’. It could be possible that one of the family members suffers from a terminal illness, and it takes a huge amount of money for its medical treatment. Or that the company the parents are employed in needs to lay off some people, including the parents themselves. Or it can be that an accident befalls to one of the family members, forcing them to forfeit their savings for education to pay for the medical costs. Or that either one of the breadwinners or the other family members is either seriously incapacitated or killed in a gang fight, a robbery, or an attempted murder. Or that a systemic economic or financial crisis takes place and the family lost their savings value. Or that another party wins election and promises to roll back every social security measure to ‘ensure a healthy fiscal setting’. Or that the social security benefits are taken away by other already-middle-class families. Or because of automation. Or that the children struggle to find jobs despite their high school or educational backgrounds. And it could also be possible that the family either never encounters or never becomes seriously affected by any of such calamities.

The reality becomes even more difficult to accept when one reads Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Using years of research output and armed with arsenals of statistical figures, Piketty showed that since early 1970s, most of the world – particularly the Western world – has witnessed a U-shaped growth in inequality (instead of the inverted-U theorem as argued by Simon Kuznets), due largely to globalization, outsourcing of jobs to less developed countries, and more recently, disruptive technologies and artificial intelligence. He argued that in the last 40 years, the growth of capital income has surpassed that of labor income; the larger the capital-labor income gap is, the more unequal a society will be in the future.

How do we define capital income? It can be gains made through productivity improvement when companies invest in sophisticated machines that produce more and better. It can also be gains invested from our parents’ inherited wealth. It can also be home prices. It can also be universities’ endowments. What about labor income? It’s the salaries that we receive from the occupations we are doing. And whether you feel your aggregate labor income is growing or stagnating may depend on the location where you live. As shown by economist Branko Milanovic, the biggest ‘winners’ of globalization in the last three decades are middle class in emerging markets (led by China) and the elites in Western world, while the biggest ‘losers’ are the poorest people living in poor and developing countries, as well as the middle class in the Western world.

It becomes even more confusing when we look into two totally different things: poverty continues to decline, yet inequality continues to increase worldwide. The number of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from 1.8 billion in early 2000 to now around 800 million as of 2015, but the wealth concentration among the top 1% of the world’s population has surpassed 51% of the global wealth in the same period. Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton, in his book The Great Escape (released in the same year as Piketty’s book), argued that the reasoning may be that while many people escape poverty through expanded access to education, healthcare, and other public services, they are still struggling to enter into the middle class. That said, the poverty-reduction effort is a success, but that success is built on a fragile foundation. This may mean that should anything occur, and should these people be ‘unprepared’ of its repercussions, they may either fall back into poverty, or remain trapped in the low-income-but-not-poor-cycle for a very long time.

That said, the reality of poverty is more difficult to understand than normally assumed. I will not take much of the explanation here into direct conclusion, as more research needs to be worked out to better understand its peculiar nature. Still, I think policymakers need to embark on policy innovation, as the world today is dramatically different from the world in the past. Lastly, the ages-old recipe of ‘job creation’ (as politicians like to promise) or ‘poverty eradication’ (as these UN aficionados and/or bravados like to voice out) has sounded so hollow with the complicating realities of today, that we all need to silence ourselves and reconfigure the definition of this concept, one that we think is as simple as street urchins or beggars asking for money on the street side.

Traveling and attitude

just sitting


I know it sounds horrible for most people, but I just wanna be honest here: I am not interested in traveling.

Yes, those last six words.

I have betrayed my ancestors – and my very distant ancestors – whose survival has depended on walking, and sailing, thousands of miles across continents, only to find out this poor boy of theirs, sitting surrounded by cubicles (laptop, with research papers beside me, table, and a wooden wall), is going to a layer of existence where it’s untouchable, but it’s everywhere, and is air-like: Internet.


Not that my life is completely miserable though. Throughout my lifetime (I’m now 21), I have been to 7 countries – or I should say 6 countries and 1 special political entity, which I listed here:

  1. Malaysia (last time: May 2013, been to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Malacca)
  2. Singapore (last time: October 2010, been to downtown mostly)
  3. Cambodia (last time: June 2015, to Phnom Penh)
  4. China (last time: April 2014, been to Shenzhen and Nanjing)
  5. United States (last time: April 2016 (this year!), only to Houston)
  6. United Arab Emirates (just for transit to US)
  7. Hong Kong (studying in HKUST as of August 2013)

I don’t call it travel, however. I would rather say most of them – except for the trips to Cambodia and US – are annual family trips, lasting for a week (sometimes almost two), and the only aim is relaxation (although we ended up mostly tired). I went to Cambodia for a global health project, and to US for a related global health competition held in Rice University.

In fact, one rather heavy-hearted truth I must confess is that the reason I can continue my studies in this university is the last 4 years spent by my family not going overseas. The last overseas family trip we had was one to Hong Kong, in August 2012, a year precisely before I ended up pursuing my university education here, most of which is supported by my parents’ financing and partially through university scholarships.

Is that why I lose my interest in traveling? While you and I see the correlation – and indeed there’s a correlation, it’s not so much a causality, either.

It’s inevitable that money is one big factor diluting this curiosity of exploring the world – especially given the depreciation of most currencies across the world in the last 2 years. Indonesian rupiah, the richest currency in the world (simply because we have so many zeros), has seen its value depreciated more than 30% within the same period, and the climax was that it almost reached 50% as of mid-2015 before it appreciated. That, in one aspect, has been a major headache not just for me and my family – especially as we are saving a lot to support my younger brother’s future university education, but also for some other Indonesians studying here. Nonetheless, one can argue back, and ask: “What if the currency never weakens, do you want to travel?” Still, the interest is not there yet.

The actual causality, I would argue, is the challenge of adapting to life and getting accustomed to a huge diversity of values in Hong Kong.

I have spent 18 years of my life living in Medan, my hometown, and also Indonesia’s fourth largest city, before coming to Hong Kong. If I could reflect back in the last three years, the biggest challenge is adapt to social standards here, excluding the fact that with Hong Kong as a global city (or so they say), it’s got people from hundreds, and hundreds, of nationalities, each of whom carries norms, values, and mindsets that might not be always suitable to the values I have grown accustomed to while back in my hometown.

At its simplest, let me mention HKUST as a microcosm. I can’t deny that it’s an amazing university – we have people, either full-time or exchange-in students, coming all around the world. Indeed, I am even quite proud to say I have befriended quite a lot of people from various backgrounds in addition to Indonesians alone – Hong Kong locals, Mainland Chinese, Koreans, Malaysians, Indians, Americans, other Southeast Asians, fellows from European countries, some from Middle East, and the list goes on – and discussed various issues, in-depth, with them to understand better about global affairs. In spite of the three years well spent here, I have always been faced with such existentialist-themed questions.

  1. Many of my friends are exchange-in students, and they ‘only’ stay for either a semester or a year. Is true friendship that kinda fast to forge?
  2. Overcoming culture shock is another.

Talking about the second matter, overcoming culture shock is the biggest impediment. Even as I approach my final year pretty soon, there are still quite some aspects that I am still struggling to understand from either local folks or some fellow foreign students, and to a certain degree, even fellow Indonesians. How am I going to create a positive attitude out of traveling when I haven’t fully ‘recovered’ from culture shock after three years studying abroad?

Another reason is what I can say as ‘settle-down attitude’. Again, this is my personal opinion. Having no interest in travel does not mean I will stop visiting countries forever. I still aim for postgraduate studies in US (yeah, ‘American dream’), but based on my experiences of already living here for three years, I have learned a lot about the attitude of settling down in a place and getting used to the pace of daily life here (in spite of constant ebbs and flows of culture shock). Immersing oneself in a place is not as simple as traveling to 10, 20, 30, or even 50 countries alone, let alone an annual one-week overseas trip; it takes quite a considerable amount of effort – and time – to completely blend in a brand-new environment, in a wholly new culture. Being here for three years, I have felt very comfortable with what Hong Kong has to offer (despite constant shouts of housing and inequality issues), but I do realize that this place itself is not going to be an end goal of my life journey. Which country I will eventually permanently settle? Will it be US, or will it be going back to Indonesia? Your guess is as good as mine.

Also, when I go to other countries, the constant feeling that lies in my head is this: “Is there something useful I can always do?” This response may make you think I sound like an overworked jerk, but unless there is something really useful or what I am really passionate about (research projects, deployment of new technologies, competitions, but not voluntouring), I will not be really trying to get myself into those places. Why sightseeing alone? Except for differences in building styles, historical experiences, income levels, infrastructure quality, social and cultural norms, food, infrastructure, and availability of people and goods, people everywhere are just the same. They live as we do, they work as we do, they eat as we do, especially with the advent of globalization. Again, this doesn’t mean I encourage you and myself to stop going overseas. It’s just that we may have different expectations. I care about other countries’ history, but unless there is something important (and money is one thing), I will not be really there.

Furthermore, we’ll just acknowledge that everyone has his or her own peculiarity. People will assume that I am weird due to my disinterest in travel. It’s the same thing, either, for some people like me to judge those having traveled to 30, 40, 50, or maybe 100 countries. Some will argue that lack of travel causes less world peace due to low understanding of other cultures; I would refute back and ask, “Where is the supporting evidence?” It may be true that some correlation exists, but it doesn’t always mean causality. Some people, having lived extensively in many countries, will in the end stick to people they are most comfortable with (mostly the same country) and will always remain as narrow-minded about the world as their exclusivity implies. Either having been to dozens of different places or simply staying in your hometown or home state does not necessarily make you a better person. That’s where we can see the differences between ‘well-traveled tourists’ and ‘well-traveled travelers’. Others, probably never leaving 100 miles beyond their hometowns their whole lifetime, would just find solace through the conveniences they have been familiar with all their lives. Does one simply have to go through the countries only to experience the cultures themselves, discounting the fact that they have families to support, and lack of money is another thing? At least books can be either a supplementing or complementing alternative. (I choose this because it depends on how you interpret your choices) Everyone is unique on his or her own, so being less judgmental actually reduces these gaps.

Last but not least, I am a homeward-bound person. As I only take an annual vacation (during winter), the only thing that lies in my head is going back to my hometown. It is dilapidated, no doubt about that; crime is high, yes it’s true; transport is very uncomfortable and unruly, especially. But what becomes inevitable is how that city, that poor sweet city of mine, has become part of my identity, particularly after the experience of overseas study. The only thing that lies in my head is to reunite with my family, that’s all. For the rest of every university year, I have been studying and working hard enough, and again, the attitude of traveling after all the exasperation is just not there. I would still choose to come back to my hometown and stay for a month, despite the discomfort compared to everything one has in Hong Kong.

(Once again, I have to put a disclaimer to say that this doesn’t stop me from wanting to visit other countries.)

I would have to say that it is very fortunate the university I study in actually encourages people to explore the world through programs like exchange-out, gap year, or gap semesters. A lot of my friends have taken these chances, and traveled to dozens of countries (still, mostly in Europe, North America, and not so commonly fellow Asian states). It is undeniable exchange offers numerous benefits, but again, what I can advise here, from someone who has no interest in travel but sees the benefits in it, is the matter of ‘attitude’. I neither encourage nor discourage you from traveling, but at least get yourself to think these questions. Are you ready for the discomfort of constantly moving places? Are you willing to learn and immerse yourself in other cultures, and adopt their values? And are you ready to spend, especially with the fact that most of our university education is from our parents’ money? If you are prepared, then the benefits are there for you. If you don’t, travel ideals themselves are just not suitable for you. Some people are ‘destined’ to explore, some simply will find solace in the places they stay in. Let’s respect each other from that regard (or at least learn to agree to disagree).

The best thing about 21st century is that people are more free to define how they are going to live their lives (and I do cherish in this regard). If there’s just this ecstatic impatience to explore the world, just do it. Otherwise, just enjoy all that we have.

How much free can we afford ‘free’ : the question of free trade

trade clipart

Source: dreamstime.com


The reason why we don’t see – so far – any major wars as massive as World War II can be attributed to the importance of international trade. If I were in Nobel Peace Prize selection committee – boy, I swear – I would no doubt award this to the whole ‘free trade’ notion, in its entirety. Seven decades after one of the largest military conflicts in human civilization ended, we have overseen an exponential increase of global trade, enabling the creation of the largest middle-class in the world in history (in spite of inequality).

No doubt, we should also be thankful to the United States, the world superpower which, forsaken for its disastrous, naivete-driven mistakes in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan and numerous failed interventions, has established a long-standing international structure that conditions the whole world to trade. The country’s former adversaries, such as Germany, Japan, and even Russia (after Soviet Union collapsed), have rapidly industrialized themselves due to the stability established by American global leadership. Even China, the world’s second largest economy and possibly a future superpower by itself, will still have to, to some extent, play by the standards established in Bretton Woods, because the country simply gains tremendous benefits from the system. Never before we have seen international trade being conducted at a massive scale (over 23 trillion US$ last year in world export volume), a figure unimaginable if looking back 70 years prior.

And never before, also, we have seen international politics being so intricately complicating when trade itself is not simply an instrument of international politics itself; trade itself, in fact, has turned into politics. For decades, the whole world has attempted – and foundered – in its attempt to install a global free-trade regime, the most obvious failure of which can be illustrated from Doha Rounds (albeit there’s modest progress in Bali Package in 2013). When trade, in principle, serves as a powerful deterrent of war by itself, why is the whole world so frightened with plans for a global free-trade regime?

One answer (from my perspective): the whole world is still not ready. I’ll make this slightly science-fiction, but if we refer to Kardashev’s civilization theory, we are still on a very long path to achieve Type-1 civilization (when humanity can afford to harness energy from the entire planet, something we are still struggling to do so today). At a current scale, we are still on 0.7. To complete the other 0.3, most scientists have estimated that it will take, at most, one more century, or faster, either six or seven decades. The world in Type-1 civilization, just imagine, is the world where political sovereignty does not matter so much anymore, let alone in territorial borders. Just think how much we can afford when the entire planet can run on electricity, full time, utilizing all the existing potential this planet can offer. It is also the time when tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and ocean waves can generate electricity, most cheaply one cent at a time. While such marvels still prevail in research papers and small pilot projects, we have quite a number of global phenomena that have globalized our world today. Internet, English, and smartphones have conquered the world, but they are just the beginning, and even then, many people have sensed a rupture with its sheer, unprecedented rapidity in the scale. Are we globalizing too fast? Are we altering meanings and symbols into mere simulations? Are we ready for a future where there is no longer a visible border in all aspects? This is one main reason why global free-trade agenda fails.

And, see, even though it’s already 2015 out there, the world remains, at itself, a hybrid between people who want to live in the past and those who aspire to seize the future. Rather than turning it into a big convergence, the current discourse, instead, results in a big polarization. 3 billion people still live in abject poverty, earning less than 2 US$ a day. More than half of the world’s countries are still severely lacking in infrastructure access, another inhibiting factor in the creation of free trade. How will you, given these variables, allow them to compete with those in the developed world? This is also another challenge in readiness. Because we know when free trade promotes competition, competition enhances efficiency, and oftentimes, the notion of ‘efficiency’ itself can be as brutal as the word ‘murder’. For losing industries, a huge number of jobs will be ‘massacred’, while those that maximize innovation and efforts in creativity will emerge as the major victors. How will you allow them to compete with those in the developed world, again?

And this is not simply a battle between developing world and developed world. The latter also feel threatened by the massive, cost-efficient labor forces that the former can offer. China’s miracle may have been over, but India, Southeast Asia, and Africa are the next waves of economic revolution. Population growth remains high in these regions, generally, and they are promising future markets for multinational firms. So what about unskilled workers in industrialized countries? How will you make sure, not that they feel ‘protected’, but rather less harmed, by the savagery of efficiency promoted by the whole idea of free trade? While European countries have a comprehensive social welfare scheme (that may also explain why they are not so competitive), US does exactly the opposite. The country promotes free trade, very actively, but at the same time, there is inadequate spending in upgrading infrastructure, training workers, and even enhancing social protection for the poorest and most vulnerable.

Free trade is great, I must admit, but too much free trade, if unprepared, can result in greater inequality. The key is in stronger social welfare. To ensure the workers are equipped with adequate working skills, they need to be trained. And this is where education, and vocational assistance, play a huge role. To ensure that the workers, and consumers, can live healthily and work productively, there needs a comprehensive healthcare scheme. But, most importantly, is the preparation for adjusting to disruptive technologies in the future. We have had 3D printers, autonomous cars, battery factories, and the Internet-of-things. Once they are launched into the market, millions of jobs will be affected, and significantly, the volumes of trade as well. And this is where free trade will go in maximizing their potential, because, again, in the sake of efficiency, whichever trend does not matter. The most crucial, and urgent, concern is to persuade them how to face up to new realities, and continue to innovate in competing to formulate and create the best products in global market.

I do not see global free trade being possible in the next 10 years, but in 20 years, it is more likely. As global export volume doubles every decade, the rise will continue to be on an exponential path. What I can see now, most likely, is the sprawling of mega-regional and bilateral free trade agreements, most notably right now, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), or China’s new initiatives such as Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) or Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP). If we monitor at the news very closely, even to grant President Obama a fast-track authority proves such impeccable, and painstakingly difficult, struggle. Both TPP and TTIP, which ‘only’ cover 12 countries in Pacific Rim and 28 European Union members, do not represent the entire Asia and Europe, but even multiple deadlines still have not enabled these agreements to be passed into notion.

The age of free trade does not ‘end’ as some advocates voice their concerns; it is just the beginning, but with big hurdles everyone needs to overcome.

Life in a microcosm



The human species has inhabited this planet for only 250,000 years or so-roughly.0015 percent of the history of life, the last inch of the cosmic mile. The world fared perfectly well without us for all but the last moment of earthly time–and this fact makes our appearance look more like an accidental afterthought than the culmination of a prefigured plan.

Moreover, the pathways that have led to our evolution are quirky, improbable, unrepeatable and utterly unpredictable. Human evolution is not random; it makes sense and can be explained after the fact. But wind back life’s tape to the dawn of time and let it play again–and you will never get humans a second time.

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves — from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way. – Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002), an American evolutionary scientist


Browse more for what cultural icons define about the meaning of life in Brain Pickings.

Savage Chickens: existentialism in a post-it note




Why you should visit this website: as though human beings were not vicious enough, put the blame – at least, some of it – on the chickens.

This existentialism-themed series of post-it-notes comic strips, featuring chickens and other chickens (supporting roles include Chuck Norris, Darth Vader, Alien and Predator, Godzilla, and the chickens’ corporate master, a heartless robot), was firstly devised by Doug Savage, a Canadian cartoonist who got showered by this inspiration after a tremendous ‘fed-up’ atmosphere of working in corporate cubicles. The 9-to-5 schedule, altogether the seemingly robotic and mundane office work, for Doug, was the underlying reason why he chose to resign from his job and instead focus on time on his own hobby, by which many on his surrounding doubted if his new hobby could supplement him with incomes.

After some time, though, it works. The success of Savage Chicken itself is not possible without Doug’s full-time devotion to his chicken bedfellows.

It’s pretty hard to remain optimistic while skimming through the strips one by one here. All the chickens are, essentially, savage by their very essence – ranting about corporate world, meaning of life, love, uneasy experiences, and things that are reminiscent – despite the odd supporting roles included – of our very own reality. Looking at Savage Chickens is no different from looking at how the reality is surrounding us; we oftentimes do weird things, act strangely, talk irrelevantly, but still, though, to err is human.

These chickens, indeed, are no more than reflection of ourselves. You don’t have to face existential crisis after reading through these strips though; just enjoy life as what it is, full stop.

Link: http://www.savagechickens.com/ 

The Curious Day of Mr Jam: guide to an absurd world

nury vittachi



Why you should visit this website: at first sight, you’re gonna assume it’s just like another kinda ‘that-another-weird-news-blog’ you always see on Google, with formal (very formal, indeed) wordings covering up a surreal content. Until it turns out the blog belongs to Nury Vittachi.

Nury Vittachi, a Sri Lankan-born journalist now based in Hong Kong, has an exceptional knack on things weird, surreal, and abnormal – and moreover, his distinction in creating ‘not-your-ordinary-weird-news-blog’ with his conversational and approachable tone, as though he were somewhere out there, anytime ready to tell you a very long story. Last but not least, he keeps his language simple, and practically easy to understand.


Lonely writers




A novelist, and also a writing teacher, contemplates back on her past, as seen from her student’s lonely attitude. Read her full story on Rabbit Room.


I couldn’t, in that room full of a hundred children, run to her and throw my arms around her. And I doubted very much that she was the only one who harbored such a question in her heart. So I answered her as simply and directly as she had asked: “Yes. Yes, I was lonely. I was so shy and quiet that boys would tease me in order to see who could get me to talk. And yet in my books I found friends. As I read and wrote stories I became other people, I went on adventures, and I found out more about who I was.”

I wanted to tell her: The loneliness will end. You will find your place.

I wanted to tell her: The world is full of lonely people, and someone else is looking for the friend that only you can be.

But those are only half-truths. It would have broken my heart to speak the whole truth to her or to the nine-year-old version of myself that I saw in her eyes: You will continue to be lonely for a long time, and your loneliness is the furnace in which fine metal will be forged, and out of that place of inner fire will rise your art. For you will be a writer someday, and words will come from those places in you where speech is muffled and still.