Archive for the ‘On the self’ Category

Warning: This piece is entertaining, educational and inspiring. Allegedly. Read on at your own risk.

Alrighty folks. It has been a year since I relocated from Australia to Vietnam. Obviously, a lot of shit has happened and I won’t be able to cover them all. So I am only going to address a couple of things that took place in the past 12 months of my life.

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The State Parliament of Victoria does have a pretty nice front view.

First on the chopping block must be why I didn’t stay longer in Melbourne.

Let me just go ahead and clarify that when I left at the end of August 2016, I was in full confidence that I’d be back in February 2017. I’d submitted or planned to submit more than one scholarship applications (admissions were guaranteed considering my scores and the courses I applied to). I only needed one application to be successful. The odds seemed good enough.

So I left without arranging a graduation ceremony. Partly because I never liked those, partly because I believed it wouldn’t be my last stint at tertiary education. I stayed until the second last day of my visa, to take care of my businesses and make sure everything was in proper order. There were still people who needed my help, until the last minute. On a cold night, after some frantic last-minute packing (hey we’re all guilty, don’t pretend otherwise), I scuttered off with a couple of close friends to the airport, waved them goodbye and flew home.

At first, life was quite nice. Got to eat some nice (and more importantly, free) food. I was pretty burnt out already, so some months with my literal fam would do me good. And they did.

Then came November. That god-awful November.

All three scholarship applications I submitted were rejected, one shortly after the other.

Imagine you come into a restaurant and order steak. After waiting for 10 minutes, the waiter tells you that the restaurant has run out of steaks and asks if you could have pasta instead. Begrudgingly, you agree. Then another 15 minutes goes by and the same waiter comes again. Sorry we are out of pasta also, will you have a salad? Almost pulling your hairs out, you consent. And then 5 minutes later, the restaurant manager comes out from behind the counter and asks you to leave, because “Sorry, but seems like there is no place for you here anymore.”

That’s what it felt like at the time.

The nightmare of 2013 was coming back in full force. But by now, I was much more hardened in dealing with unexpected outcomes. To be honest, I was more surprised than disappointed. I thought the portfolio I built up made me a strong enough applicant. I spent a couple of days to absorb the fact that I wouldn’t make it back to Australia, not at least anytime soon.

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Not seeing this familiar sight anytime soon.

Once reality had set in, I set out (heheheh!) to consider my next move. That didn’t take very long because let’s face it, my options were limited.

So, the working world.

The prospects of a job didn’t look too good. When I started my Bachelor’s degree, finding employment was not really a top priority. To me, university was more about the intellectual pursuits (yeah I was young and foolish enough to believe that). So I delved into obscure and unemployable areas, like political philosophy, politics and philosophy (they are different, I swear!).

Now, Marx’s historical materialism or Hobbes’ theory of state or even knowledge of how Augustus maintained his reign wasn’t of much help in seeking a job. Nevertheless, I persisted. Polished up the CV, sent out a couple of job apps, reaching out to potential hirers. You know, usual things a fresh graduate might do to get a job.

A few offers came along the way, much to my surprise because frankly, I wasn’t in full force in my job hunting. Among them, one was particularly interesting. So I took the job in the non-profit sector and moved to Hanoi (side note: I had never been to Hanoi before).

The first day in the capital was fun. I remember going to the nearby supermarket to buy settling-in stuff. It was only until I stood in a tea aisle that I fully comprehended the profound implications of the choice I made.

I was alone.

I. WAS. ALONE.

Which means I now had something I have always craved (along with wine and gelato).

Freedom.

I had freedom. I was free.

The realisation was both exciting and terrifying.

Since I have (almost) perfect control of my life, I have nobody else to praise for my success. The flip side is, in failing, I have nobody but myself to blame.

(Side note: I summarised my experience living in Hanoi here. While you’re on Quora, sign up and follow me too.)

I have always prided myself on being a voracious reader and one thing I gathered through reading from various wonderful people is that all successful folks are excellent at discipline. They are in control of themselves and consequently of their own destiny. I wanted that. So I set out to learn some good ol’ discipline but boy was it tough. Living alone means only having only myself as both enforcer and motivator. Change must come from within.

What I have been trying to do is establish a routine, one that suits me and I will follow consistently. I understand no matter how trivial, habits can make or break me. I have made some headway with the morning part, being able to wake up early (on most days!) and work on myself. Because another thing I have come to understand is it is the hours outside of the regular job that will determine what I can become. I know I can be so much more, but it will only happen if I put in the work consistently. A war is not won overnight, but battle by battle. A marathon is run inch by inch.

I have also learned to be ruthless with myself in the process. If something does not make me a better person, I refuse to do it. If somebody takes up too much of my time in a non-meaningful way, I cut them off. Yes, I probably have pissed off quite a few people (including myself) but hey, it’s my life and I’ve only got one of those. So go figure. Of course, I don’t mean flipping people off, but you can actually turn down invitations politely and in advance. And you don’t have to explain yourself to other people. Nah, life is too short for that.

People ask how I have been. The truth is, I have been uncomfortable, and I mean that in a good way. How I see it is, comfort breeds content, content breeds complacency and complacency is among the greatest downfalls of man, for it hinders progress. It is discontent that fuels passion. I try to put myself in unfamiliar situations, ones that demand decisiveness and resourcefulness. “Throwing myself in at the deep end” would be the appropriate expression. The more terrifying it looks, the deeper I delve.

I realise my approach will probably catch some flak. “But you don’t sound happy!” “How can you be happy if you are not content?”

You know what I say? To hell with happiness, to hell with it.

If I wanted to be happy, I would have stayed in Saigon, got a comfortable job, pat myself on the back and be content for the next 40 years. That was and is totally within my ability, I don’t doubt it. But no, I chose discomfort. Because I understood that it is only in discomfort that I can grow.

Let me take a moment and file a disclaimer to say that this is my approach to my life. I recognise that it does not suit everyone and I am certainly not recommending it for every person that reads this. This way of life is regularly mundane, often tiring and sometimes brutal. It will always be another climb. Another mountain. Another conquest. Comfort is momentary while discontent is permanent.

Word.

But again, discontent is what drives passion. And passion is what drives a person forward. Like a candle in the night.

I recently came across a question that read “What is your magnum opus?” 

I posted a piece of writing I wrote a long time ago, thinking that in terms of literary quality, it makes me proud the most. But now I understand that my life’s masterpiece must be myself. I am my greatest work. am my longest project. I will keep pushing my limits.

Oh, in case you didn’t know, let me just take this paragraph (and the next couple ones) to explain my job. I am currently working for an NGO called Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, whose focus is children in crisis. We serve street kids, kids at risk of being trafficked for labour or sex, and victims of human trafficking. (If you are thinking about donating to an NGO, please please please consider us. We do great work!) I work in the Communications and Fundraising Team, handling grants and reports. Basically, I write reports to foundations and organisations that give us money, and write grant applications to seek new funding. I collect data from staff who run the activities, compile them and put together nicely-written, nicely-formatted reports and proposal.

As you can tell, a lot of writing is involved. Alas, writing is not the difficult part. Collating different types of information is. I often joke that I am a beggar for info, but there is a degree of truth in that. Much of my time is spent hassling other folks for that piece of data I reallyyyy need to produce a good report. A story, a detail, a number. By now, I’d like to think they have grown familiar with my hassling and some, even fond of it (well a man can hope!).

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Sometimes I get out into the field too. Then I curse the sun and quickly get back inside.

If you are wondering then yes, I am liking this job. I do what I like. I do what I am good at. It is legal, it helps other people and most importantly, it pays. Both in money and in other things. Honestly, I’d be hard pressed to find a more suitable position elsewhere. So yeah, I am satisfied with my current work. Of course, there are professional challenges (hey, it’s my first job after uni in a sector I’ve no prior experience with), but I genuinely enjoy these challenges. I still remember finding out my grant was approved for the first time. It felt surreal, for I couldn’t really believe that I have done it. I wrote the application within a week, after three weeks at my new job. I really was fortunate enough to have support from others, so they have my gratitude. The grant wasn’t even that big monetarily but to me, it was, because it tells me that I am doing it right. That I am on the right track. That I am becoming the best version of myself. Besides, first blood always tastes better.

I read somewhere on Quora that your goal in life should be something you can’t be born with. So money, fame, happiness are out. Yes, even happiness, because many of us were born happy. Instead, our objective should be something that takes effort, time, and sweat. Preferably a lot of those. This way, we are poised to achieve eudaimonia, which is the ancient Greek term for “a fulfilled life”. Byproducts such as happiness, money or fame will show up along the way, but they themselves can’t be the end goal.

Life is so short, shouldn’t we try to do something remarkable? – Me

Now that I have mentioned it, let’s stop at Quora for a moment. The site is definitely one of last year’s highlights. I had joined sometime before but it wasn’t until late 2016 that I actively participated in writing answers. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop indeed. I have learned so much, the most notable probably being becoming more emotionally mature. Reading answers from various writers who are considered knowledgeable on the subject has been enlightening. I have come to understand that in romance (and in life too), nobody owes me their time, attention or affection. Everything is voluntary, not obligatory. In other words, I ain’t owed shit. I also learned that it takes more than just attraction for two people to start a relationship together. Compatibility is what matters, and the term covers so many aspects, including but definitely not limited to mutual romantic interest.

This philosophy on romance has freed up a lot of my mind and time. And saved me a lot of headaches as well. Still on the quest of finding a quite secure and emotionally mature person with whom I enjoy spending a considerable amount of time hanging out though. I am truly not sure if I’ll be dating in the short future, but still, excited to see where this goes. Low expectations but high standards, I guess.

Also, massive shout-out to mature folks who handle uncomfortable situations with grace and empathy. You guys are cool, I want you to know that.

For this next year, I shall keep on working on myself. Probably try to lose some weight because I want to enjoy nice food for as long as I can. Probably travel a bit too, as I haven’t done much of that. Probably start building a personal brand, because I think I am an awesome person and more people should get to know me. It is going to be another year of pain and success, and I pray that I find the strength to thrive in it.

Well, it was hard to pack the last 365 days into over 2000 words, but hey, I tried. Told you it would be entertaining, educational and inspiring. Allegedly. Please don’t sue me.

This last year has been painful and thus enriching. And it is just the beginning.

I shall stop here. See you in probably the next couple of months. Gotta write something worth reading or do something worth writing. Yes, I stole that adage from Benjamin Franklin. Sue me.

Ciao ciao.

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Marvel at my brilliance. Or the sun’s. Either is fine by me, really.

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(Finally I found some time and (more importantly) will to write)

Today’s topic is going to be slightly tougher to dissect and digest, but I will try to do it justice.

First, some background stuff needs to happen. It is critical to familiarise ourselves with two concepts: self-esteem and self-growth.

Self-esteem is, to be very concise, the opinion you have of yourself. If you want the longer, more proper definition, here it is:

Self-esteem is a person’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of their own worth. It is a judgment of as well as an attitude toward oneself. Self-esteem includes beliefs about oneself as well as emotional states. Synonyms are self-worth, self-regard, self-respect, so on and so forth. – Adapted from John P Hewitt, Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology, Oxford University Press (2009).

That’s a lot to unpack and I am quite sure you prefer the shorter definition. But anyways, self-esteem reflects confidence in one’s own worth or abilities. The concept occupies a central place in the discipline of psychology because it possesses arguably the most potent influence over a plethora of activities and outcome, be it academic success, professional behaviour or satisfaction in relationships.

A person who has high self-esteem is comfortable in their own skin. Simply put, the world can’t shake them because they know who they are and they are secure about it. They believe they are good and they need no one to affirm their belief. On the other hand, a person with low self-esteem constantly engages in self-doubt, insecurity and sometimes even shame. As such, they think lack the personal, unshakable belief that they are good in themselves.

The second key concept for today’s analysis is self-growth, which is relatively easier to grasp. Self-growth is the development of oneself in various aspects, ranging from positive life skills to ideas to creativity to knowledge. Basically, anything that enhances the quality of an individual and makes them a better person.

Alright, now that we have waded through the gritty itty part, let’s dive into the juicy bits.

Are self-esteem and self-growth contradictory?

I mean, one can argue that the two concepts oppose each other. If I am comfortable with who I am, why do I need to become better? And if I indeed strive to become better, it is my own insecurities that drive me?

To deal with this issue effectively, I shall introduce you to the following 2×2 matrix:

 

High self-esteem

Low self-esteem

Want self-growth

Confident in one’s own worth, but understands that it can be improved. Seeks to improve to earn external validation. Usually bitter.

Doesn’t want self-growth

Arrogant, refuses to grow. Usually toxic. Low opinion of oneself. Self-condemnation.

 
The table above outlines cases when these two concepts interact in one person, and the results.

Let’s begin by taking a look at the top-left quadrant, which is a really great outcome. A person who has a high sense of self-regard and works towards their personal development is doing very well for themselves. It is critical to note where their motivation to better themselves comes from, because this is the distinguishing feature. A person in this group understands that they are good (high self-worth). But more importantly, they understand that they have the potential to become better, and they will be doing a disservice to themselves not to do so. Nobody can tell him or her that they are not good enough, but they are also aware that they can develop into a better version of themselves. They owe it to themselves to maximise their potential. Their self-regard and desire for self-growth are not in conflict with each other, but rather complement each other. Really, these people are on the path of self-actualisation, because they have a strong self-belief and also the will to be better. A typical line that you will hear from this type of people: “I am already great at [insert aspect of life], but I still need to find ways to improve. What? It’d be a crime against myself not to want to grow!”

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Moving to the top-right quadrant, this is a bit trickier to analyse. An individual with low self-esteem has, by definition, a low opinion of themselves. They often think and believe that they are not good enough. Since they themselves cannot provide assurance, they often seek validation from external sources. Essentially, they need someone else to them that they are good. And they do try to improve themselves, but they do so only to continue receiving that dose of affirmation of another person. Keep the goods comin’ in, you know. Their betterment is a means to the end that is the elevation of their self-esteem. These people are in a precarious position because they heavily depend on others, living in a constant state of insecurity and susceptible to manipulation. Their desire for self-development fuels their desire for praise from others, and that sure is neither healthy nor sustainable. Tend to be bitter and overly critical towards self. Typical line: “Hey, I have improved in [insert aspect of life], do you think that I am good enough now and if not, what must I do to make you say so?”

2

Going down to the lower row, let us dissect the folks on the left first. These people think highly of themselves and fall victim to their grand self-opinion. Because they believe they are good enough, they do not seek growth. This arrogance may or may not be unfounded, but it is damaging in the long run all the same, simply because refusing to grow means not being able to become what one can become. It is denying oneself the opportunity to become the best version of oneself. That is already an undesirable outcome, but what is more dangerous is that with an I-am-already-good-there-is-no-need-to-get-better mindset is that as the world progresses forward, the person will be left behind. When people are running and they ain’t, they lag behind. And when they realise that they need to change, their high self-regard acts as a barrier, preventing them from seeking to improve and turning them into toxic individuals. Conceit is perhaps among the deepest pitfalls of man. Typical line: “I am already good at [insert aspect of life]. I am not going to bother to improve.”

'For some reason, people tend to view me as arrogant, despite my superior virtues and academic aptitude...'

Last but not least, those who find themselves in the bottom-right quadrant are in serious trouble. They do not believe in themselves and they don’t try to become better. Essentially, that’s a very deep pit to crawl up from, especially when the ladder is shaking. The trapped individual has little confidence in their own worth and abilities, yet lacks the will to enhance who he or she is as a person. The two concepts tag team to drive that person to the ground. They wallow in self-pity. Typical line: “I suck at [insert aspect of life]. I see no point in trying to improve because I will always suck at it.”

Instead of feeling sorry for yourself. . .feel sorry for those who have to work with you!

I have condensed the analysis above into the second 2×2 matrix below:

 

High self-esteem

Low self-esteem

Want self-growth

You are doing fine. Keep it up. Aim for growth, but not to hear praise from others.

Doesn’t want self-growth

You are not as good as you think you are. You are fucked. Try to unfuck the situation.

 

Note: the table and this piece deal rather in extremes, only to highlight the general possibilities. It’s probably more like a spectrum in real life. But this topic requires simplification and as a consequence, generalisation.

All in all, self-esteem and the desire for self-growth are very important to being a functioning adult. The ways they interact produce different outcomes that can determine a person’s approach to life. I have not discussed ways to improve self-esteem and personal development because that would make this piece too long. But I hope that I have provided you with a brief overview of how these qualities play with and against each other.

What to do with that knowledge, I shall leave to you.

Ciao.

A very popular question I got asked a lot these days is “How are you celebrating Lunar New Year?” I always tried to give a generically vague answer, because the truth is that I don’t. I have never been big on Lunar New Year. Sure, it’s nice to celebrate the occasion with family, friends and loved ones, but I have never truly felt a strong urge to do so.

Granted, perhaps it was due to the fact that I only spent one out of the last eight Lunar New Year’s Eves at home, and so I have become indifferent to celebrating the holiday. But a reflection upon my own answer prompts me to think and I believe it goes deeper than that. As much as I try (which is not very much), I can’t pinpoint my exact cultural identity. I am certainly Vietnamese, but that’s a legal definition, which is shown by the particulars page of my passport. Outside the legal realm, I’m not quite sure I can be classified as a Vietnamese, especially on the culture front. To go further, I’d have to break down culture since it’s a big mess that is very often debated upon and does not quite have a unified definition. There are three aspects that constitute culture, or at least the expression of it, namely language, cuisine and customs. I shall proceed and discuss one by one.

  1. Language: I think a culture is greatly conveyed through the language spoken by the people. The vocabulary, the expressions, even the sentence structures, they reflect the cultural norms. And my deal with language is this: my Vietnamese isn’t good, as in it it isn’t up to normal standards. I have known for a while that my Vietnamese is slowly slipping away, but right now I think it’s gotten really worse. Mainly due to a lack of practice, I suppose. Apart from some daily conversations with friends, I have very limited exposure of the language. I am very certain that my English is better than my Vietnamese, and the fact that I’m writing this post in English and not Vietnamese is a very strong testimony. 
  2. Food: Say what you want, but I believe food is an integral part of culture, as it is almost always the first thing that pops up in our mind when we think of a particular culture. If language is the voice, food is arguably the face of a culture. And I don’t think I identify that strongly with Vietnamese food. Like, I am not crazy about it like many people are. I don’t need to have it every day or every week. The truth is, I like all kinds of food and I don’t have a definite favourite. Maybe except very spicy food and eggplants. There is just something about eggplants that I can’t like. But apart from those, I love food in general. Steak, pasta, crepes, sushi, noodles, you name it, I love it. My answer to “What kind of food do you like?” would be “The edible kind.” And to be honest, if I had to pick a dish to be my most favourite, I’d probably go for steak. And if I am forbidden to touch Vietnamese food for the rest of my life except for my Mom’s cooking, I think I’d be okay with that.
  3. Custom: This is quite a tricky part since custom is also very hard to concretely define, but I will go with “a traditional and widely accepted way of behaving or doing something that is specific to a particular society, place, or time.” And I think it’s safe to say that I don’t really observe Vietnamese customs. I am not even sure what these are. Common social norms and traditions in the Vietnamese society are largely similar to cultures that adopt Confucianism, or at least some elements of the ideology. So strictly they aren’t only applicable to the Vietnamese culture. Perhaps I am not exposed to customs that are particularly pertinent to the Vietnamese culture, like marriage for example. But then again, I hate how wedding ceremonies are organised the Vietnamese way. The grandeur, the extensive guest list and the very loud music seriously put me off. And I also feel the need to clarify that I am not very keen on a church marriage either. Don’t know why, just never fancied myself getting married in a church. 

So yeah, as you can see, I have limited ties to the Vietnamese culture. Although I often identify myself as a Vietnamese, it’s because that’s my legal nationality. I can’t really think of something I do or speak that’s particularly Vietnamese. Or maybe I just don’t recognise it. Anyhow, as far as I know, my cultural identity is really weak and not very easily identifiable. And it’s not an easy task, to produce a coherent cultural identity that pertains to a single society, as the world becomes increasingly fluid and globalised. But anyways, a cultural identity is not something I desperately need right now, so perhaps I’d take care of it later. 

Anyhoo, peace out. Gotta finish that bottle of wine and get to bed. Still have a lot to do tomorrow. Happy Lunar New Year people! 

 

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Photo credit: Saigoneer

 

 

 

 

The other day, I had the chance to contemplate on the topic of courage. If I were to be completely honest, I am not really sure what courage is. I think the concept just encompasses a whole range of qualities and can’t be compressed into anything of insignificant size like this piece. To put it very simplistically, I believe that courage is facing your fears. The thing about fear is, it can’t be quantified into “big” or “small” ones, because it’s deeply personal. As long as you face what dreads you, you are courageous. The nature of the aversion is relevant, be it singing in front of a crowd or travelling to another country. Or even ducks. Courage is knowing that you will be paralysed with fear as if your heart was tightened with a thousand strings and your cells shook like water being boiled, and choosing to face it anyway. In very few sentences, that’s what courage is to me.

Moving on, somebody that day also raised the question of ethics and courage, advancing that the former should always be present in the latter. And it is this specific aspect that I’ll consider here. 

I think most of the times it’s true. Courage is choosing to do the right thing instead of the easy thing. And it is certainly not a simple feat to achieve. More often than not, the easy way appears much more palatable and appealing, precisely because it’s easy. I am no neurologist or psychologist, but I believe that we are hardwired for that. The human brain is intrinsically lazy: it goes for whatever route that takes the least amount of effort. That would explain why I tend to choose the bar of chocolate over exercising, even though I know the latter is good for my health and the former isn’t. Exercising is the right thing, but eating that delicious chocolate bar is the easy thing because it takes no effort. And we have a natural tendency to choose the latter. Because it’s easy. Those who are courageous can actually see past that barrier and break free of their inclination.

I am not using this “human nature” to justify or excuse my own lack of determination. I am simply saying that courage is having the ability to resist temptation and think of and for the bigger picture, especially when our decision causes harm to people other than ourselves. A moral compass is often required in these cases. A strong sense of ethics and concern for the welfare of others is necessary for decision-making, because the effect of your decision can be extremely far-reaching. Moral rightness needs to be a part of any due consideration. This is particularly relevant when the decision may deliver personal benefits at the expense of the wider community. It seems the easier (and certainly more appealing) thing to do, when you stand the beneficiary. A person with good ethical conduct will choose to ignore his natural, maybe even primordial disposition, to do the right thing. The higher and more powerful your position is, the bigger the chocolate bar becomes. Courage is being able to recognise and choose the right thing over the easy thing, and it has been absent on several occasions. Instances of mismanagement and misappropriate of public funds for private use serve as illustrious examples. Courage, after all, seems to be taking into account morality in determining how to act.

But I believe the connection between courage and morality is not one-dimensional as discussed above. Paradoxically, I believe that sometimes, courage is having the nerves to remove morality from the decision-making process. That’s shocking, as many would be quick to point out. How can one throw away his ethics and ever hope to find redemption? Well, sometimes, you are presented with the seemingly right choice and the hard choice, and you need the courage to surpass the former to choose the latter. Morality stops being what informs your decision and gets replaced by a higher sense of purpose, which often takes the form of necessity. Courage is having the guts to do what is necessary, no matter how difficult. The decision can be dreadful because it goes against one’s moral instinct. But circumstances may dictate that one must violate their own code of ethics to do what benefits the greater good, then accept the personal burden of any ethical qualms there might be. So yes, I think that every so often, particularly in the realm of politics, it is utterly important to divorce ethics from decision making. Men of history who achieved enduring glory are those who had the courage to disregard their moral compass and did what was required of them. They are indeed brave, for they willingly incurred the burden of having acted immorally so that the public’s interests can be realised.

Also, nobody becomes great just by doing the honourable thing, as sometimes cruelty is needed. A military general must be brutally severe towards the army he commands, so as to prevent defeat and further brutality inflicted upon the people. A wise commander would not be merciful toward infraction, and without the threat of violence, discipline is seldom achieved. He must be prepared to be violent to his own subordinate, so as to keep his army functional. But it should be made clear that I don’t condone pointless violence. I think it’s distasteful and disgraceful to be cruel just for cruelty’s sake. Same with morality: you can choose to act immorally, but you’d better be damn sure that there is the point to your chosen course of action. To me, the end excuses the means, but there is also an element of proportionality: the inhumane course of action must be justified with an objective corresponding in merits. Like my homie Leon Trotsky used to say: “The end justifies the means, as long as there is something that justifies the end.”

To sum it up, I think the question of courage depends very much on the nebulous concept of ethics, more specifically one’s notion of what is right. This whole discussion does not sound very concise, precisely because morality is fluid and non-universal. The right thing to me may very well not be the right thing to you. In my very humble opinion, courage is often being able to choose the right thing over the easy thing, but courage can also mean having the capacity to choose the hard thing over the right thing. What makes up the easy, the hard and the right, ultimately, is the true question. 

courage

Why I drink

Posted: August 30, 2015 in On the self
Tags:

As per the title, I drink because:

1. I don’t want to think about the future. Like, what I am supposed to do after graduation, who I am gonna marry and have kids with, where my life will be heading towards. Like what the fuck right? I’m 22, without a bachelor degree. I have no job (no prospects of one), no car, no house. And society expects me to “figure it out” in the next couple of years. Like that’s gonna happen. Sorry Ma but I will disappoint you. I know that, and I think part of you knows that too. So I wish you and Pa would just lower your expectations down a little bit. Just a little bit and it will be much easier to breathe. I know all you want for me is a good life. It’s just your idea of a good life doesn’t coincide with mine. So I gotta drink Ma, to temporarily wipe the worries away and forget your concerns for a moment. Because I know I got a very very tough road ahead of me, and I don’t really need you to remind me of reality, since I already have myself for that. Every glass of wine I gulp down is one mile away from the constant tension that’s starting to wreak havoc on my nerves.

2. I don’t want to think about the past. About you, mostly. And about us. I don’t know. I try not to think about you (and us) during the day, but it’s a different story when the night comes. And I don’t want that. I mean, I have tried really really hard to let it slip away untouched. But I can’t ignore the fact that one way or another, you have been on my mind (or the back of it). And believe me when I say that I have known a lot of pains, but none exceeds this. The pain is excruciating to the bones. To the point that it no longer hurts. It burns, like the camp fire in wild wind. So although I use pain as a source of energy and motivation, sometimes it’s just too much you know. Like a machine is running on too much steam or coal. So I gotta lose it, even for a little while, to make sure I don’t implode. You have no idea it could be this bad right? Neither did I. I never thought that there will be a day when I dread both going to sleep and waking up. But well, here it is, and here I am. so I gotta find a way to cope with it. You fade away with every sip of wine I take; although I know it’s all gonna come back on me later, but I don’t need it (nor do I want it) to be here now. 

3. I don’t want to think. That’s all, really. I just don’t want to think. Because thinking is what I do most often and what I do best. And it’s thinking that got me here today, be it good or bad. So once a month, I buy a cheap bottle and drink it alone. Because fuck thoughts. Fuck ’em.

Yeah, that’s the end of the bottle and about all I want to say. I’m not an alcoholic or anything. I just need to not think for a while. Peace out. 

Part 2 (Prato) can be found here

First and foremost, I’d like to write a little bit about Florence. I actually went to visit Florence, but it was a very short visit which last for about 4 hours. And it was rather a gloomy day and my camera was fucked up. So I think that my portrayal of Florence is not going to be accurate at all. Thus I will not write about Florence and shall reserve it for another time.

I spent the weekend of in Rome with a friend. It was actually quite unplanned since I didn’t really expect us to meet up. She was going to Greece to do some volunteering and happened to stayed at Rome for a few days. So I dragged my ass down to the Eternal City. Because it was like, top priority on my list and there was no way I could have passed up this opportunity to visit Rome with somebody who had previously been there. I “delegated” this friend with planning the visit, mainly because I had faith in her, and also I was caught up with schoolwork and didn’t have time. So I arrived at around 11, checked in at the hostel and then we had pizza. IMG_3355 IMG_3356 IMG_3358 IMG_3359 According to my friend this pizzeria is quite famous, and I’d say it did quite live up to its fame. The crust was thin and the topping was just right, quite savory. Overall 8/10 would eat again. It was the second or third time I had pizza in Italy. It’s just not my thing. We walked the city’s streets for quite some time, because I wanted to see the city as much as I possibly could. You could tell that Rome is indeed ancient from the statues and monuments which seemed to be pervasive throughout the entire city. Old, dilapidated buildings and ruins were also not hard to find.

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The weather was nice, cold but sunny, making walking a lot more pleasant. After wandering around for a while, we made our way to the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, which were close to each other. Normally people would visit those 2 attractions in that order, but somehow we ended up going to the Roman Forum first.

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Majestic as fuck

So I stood on ancient grounds, upon which the Romans built their democracy nearly 2000 years ago. It’s also the site where emperors like Caesar and Augustus exercised their rule. This is personal but I think of the Roman Forum as an imperial place, not the centre of Roman public life. It was the pride of Caesar and Augustus, with its monuments commemorating great men. It is fair to say that I am an avid fan of Augustus and to a lesser extent, Caesar (if Caesar hadn’t fucked up on his reform and pissed off the essential backers and got stabbed by his “friends” I’d really have held him in higher regard).

Basically we spent some time walking around the area, observing ancient ruins.

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I wouldn’t use “beautiful” to describe them. I’d say they are magnificently historical. It was like, standing on sacred grounds. Maybe it’s just because i am a history nerd and have a particular obsession with the Roman Empire (not the Roman Republic, mind you).

Then we moved on to the Colosseum. Oh man it was imposing, glittering in the sun. Along with the Eiffel Tower and the Egyptian Pyramids, the Colosseum was one of the world wonders I knew since I was little. And needless to say, visiting it was a dream come true. It’s just a childhood wish.

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And today, I fulfilled it. 

The Colosseum was architecturally impressive. What do you mean, of course it is impressive. It is the largest amphitheatre in the freaking world! It is capable of holding between 50000 and 80000 spectators (I trust Wikipedia on this one). It is huge! As I stood from above, I imagined the public spectacles that were once held in this gigantic arena. I have a thing for gladiators (too much Spartacus I think LOL). All the sand, the blood and the crowd. It must have really been something.

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Being here, it’s something. 

We headed next to St. Clemente. Apparently it was a normal ordinary basilica (a rather minor one), and apparently it also has an underground Mithraeum. To me it was more like a catacomb lol. The basilica on the ground was actually amazing, with impressive pillars and dome. It was forbidden to take photos and since I am a law-abiding citizen, I didn’t. Then we went down (not quite deep down) to visit the mithraeum. The structure was intricate and very detailed, featuring a number of antique paintings. I learned that the deepest level was actually the home of some Roman nobleman. Which seemed pretty strange to me. Who wants to live down there? It’s so dark and confined. I am not even claustrophobic and I didn’t feel comfortable at all. 

After this, we just kinda walked around, heading to the Navona Square. I swear, it looked so beautiful at night in pictures (Google for yourself), with all the lights and stuff. It is indeed a very popular social hub of Rome and I kinda placed high hopes on it. And boys, was I disappointed. It was kinda dark and, well, unlit.

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But no matter. We had a nice dinner anyway, somewhere near the Square. We had veal wrapped in pork cheek and Milanese ox tails (we’re in Rome, I know). I didn’t take any pictures because it was a nice dinner and I was in the present of good company. Also, I didn’t want to be frowned upon by the very polite waiter (who by the way advised that I should eat the ox tails with my hands, which I did, and it was great!). Yeah so no photos. Sorry not sorry. Here, have some gelato instead:

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Berry and pistachio were fine, but I messed up on that caramel cream 😦

Yeah, it’s pretty much the first day.

We woke up early the next day to make the most out of it, since I was to board the train back to Prato at 3PM. We made our way to Aventine Hill, because according to my friend there is apparently a hole (yeah you read it right, a hole) through which you can see St. Peter’s dome between two lines of trees. But before we get to that, here are some pictures of a nearby church whose name I totally didn’t care enough to learn:

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 Actually it was nice to walk around this early in the morning. Everything’s quiet and still, and I suppose it’s as close to peace as it gets.

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And after a while, we found it, the famed “hole of Rome.” It was a rather small keyhole on a pair of big wooden doors very close to the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. 

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Yep, that’s it.

Turns out that you can actually see St. Peter’s dome through that small little hole. It was quite a sight, as the dome is framed by the tops of trees in the foreground. I couldn’t take a picture through it, some I’m gonna use some from the Internet instead. 

Only then I conceded that my friend was right. I just didn’t think it was possible (if you don’t believe, try googling the distance from Aventine Hill to St. Peter). Anyways, we headed downhill to the Trastevere neighbourhood, a “charming medieval neighbourhood with a fiery temperament” (source: Internet). We crossed the Tiber river when it was slightly windy and sunny, so very nice all in all. 

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And we arrived at Trastevere. 

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My favourite is this one: 

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It was a nice and lovely neighbourhood with very few tourists (I don’t think we saw any). A lot of narrow streets and beautiful houses. The only problem we had was that since we came quite early, very few restaurants were open. We couldn’t find any that we liked 😦 So we kept walking toward the Pantheon. We walked past the Torre Argentina. It literally is Argentina Tower, but it’s actually a sanctuary for cats. Yep, cats. It is the remains of multi-level temples that are lower than ground level. And Rome’s feral cats began converging and made this ancient temple-complex their home. Again, according to the Internet, there are currently 250 cats living in there. 

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Then we arrived at the Pantheon. I recognize this place from Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons lul. 

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I have no comment on the Pantheon. My only question is, what if it rains so hard? Will the floor get wet? Because the hole (or whatever that is) in the ceiling looked pretty big. 

We passed through Trevi Fountain, but it was close for renovation (that’s one huge disadvantage of travelling in winter, everything is closed for renovation). Basically we had lunch 

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Seven in one

and made our way back, because I am a paranoid prick and was afraid I’d somehow miss my train

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And that’s pretty much my very short stay in Rome (it was like, 2 half-days lol). I definitely didn’t visit a lot of places, the Vatican City being the prime example. Well, I guess I’ll just save it for next time, whenever next time is. I think I like Rome. Yeah, I like its history, its cobblestone streets, its monuments. The weather was surprisingly good the entire time I was here as well, so that’s a plus. And since it was January, I didn’t encounter many tourists and hence got a more “local” feel. And people seemed quite friendly as well. Rome is neither as modern and industrial as Milan nor as homey and relaxed as Prato. Will visit again for sure, because “tutte le strade portano a Roma” – all the roads lead to Rome 🙂 

Part 1 (Milan) can be found here

Alright, so I have spent a few days in Milan, the centre of Northern Italy. Now I’ve got to move my ass down to Prato, a city 30 minutes away from Florence by train to start my International Study Program (such a fancy name). The trip took 3 hours, and it was dark by the time I arrived. And because I am a retard, I got off the wrong bus stop. So I had to drag my suitcase through a busy part of town. And since the roads are paved with cobblestones, I was making noise (a lot of noise) the entire time. And it was just my luck that people were pouring out to have dinner. A lot of glares and stares there were. But I didn’t really care, I just wanted to get to the residence. So I kept walking, and thanks to my legendary navigating skills, I managed to arrive at the place.

The next morning I went over to the Monash University Prato Centre and began the Italian language course. Well yeah, I was frightened as fuck, because I knew that my Italian was shit (it still is, but back then it was more shit). I was prepared to start from behind everyone, but the truth was, I started miles behind. The first day we didn’t do a lot of new stuff, mainly just revision. Nightmare started on Tuesday. It is safe to say that there are very few times when I have been more frightened. Seriously, I was scared ,like, shitless. I think it was because I realized that my Italian was actually far worse than I had thought. And also I didn’t exactly spend the last month catching up. Basically I was fucked, because the syllabus, which was meant to be taught in a semester, was going to be taught in 3 weeks. One day corresponded to one week’s worth of contact hours and workload. And that’s why they named the unit Intensive. Shit shit shit. So when others were out having drinks and dinner, I locked myself inside and tried to do as much work as I could have. It was the only way.

About Prato: I think it’s a lovely town. I stayed right in the historic centre (I am quite sure the correct word is “historical”). It was definitely different from Milan (duh!). I’d say it has a cosy, warm atmosphere since it’s quite small. The basic structural foundations of the city were built a couple hundred years ago, giving it a touch of antiquity. If I have to be honest, the main Duomo looked a bit (just a bit) battered.

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 Or maybe it’s just my crappy camera, I don’t know.

I don’t know what the cathedral looks like inside, because for some weird reason I never managed to visit it. But no matter, I felt like I have had my share of cathedral from my stay in Milan, that I’m okay for a while. I like the piazza surrounding the Duomo as well. It’s quite spacious yet strangely comfy. I like hanging around here (Probably because my favourite gelateria is like 2 minutes away). But anyhow, more pictures: 

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My life in Prato was pretty routine. Every day I woke up, got ready for class (which lasted from 11 to 1 and 2 to 4, which sucks, because it’d already be getting dark by 4PM, curse you European winter). We had the rest of the day off, and classes only ran from Monday to Thursday. Which doesn’t seem like a lot, which was actually a lot. Besides the (literally) daily homework, we had to deal with assignments. Just imagine that in a normal semester you have one assignment every 4 weeks. Yup, we had one assignment every four day. Fuck us. More like, fuck me. But yeah. On the first assessment task we had to interview the local people (in Italian, duh!) about the school system, past and present. LEL. It was one of those rare times when I was actually glad that it was a group task. I’d have been so screwed if it was solo. But anyhow, my group did good on collecting the data. I just needed to enter god mode and produced an excellently drafted report with a full-on bibliography in 7 hours. It was a short report, but it sure took a toll on me. But I am glad I did it, my paranoia would have prevented me from handing the work to anybody else. The second assessment was a language test. I thought I messed it up quite badly, but it turned out to be alright (thank God). The third assignment was an oral role play which got me seriously worried. Because I couldn’t speak Italian. Like, speaking is actually my second-worst skill (only my listening is worse). I can write and read decently, but speaking? Hell no. So yeah, I was really nervous and stressed out. So I did everything I could, memorizing the script down to every word. No, really, I memorize every single word that I was gonna say. My partner wasn’t as nervous, because he could swing it, he’s much much more natural than me. Anyways, we did great, thanks to ample preparation and a bit of luck. The exam – the final hurdle – went pretty OK. I fucked up here and there but hopefully I’ll still get at least 80 for it. Would really be disappointed if I don’t. Looking back, those were some pretty stressful days, but if I get to travel to Europe, it’s the price that I will always be willing to pay. 

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FYI, minus the sausage, that’s what I ate daily. Because groceries here are cheap as fuck and the same thing would have cost no less than 15 euros in a restaurant. So fuck it, I’ll just cook.

On normal days, after class I’d just take a walk around the town and enjoy the air. 

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Obligatory photos to show people that I really did go to uni during my stay.

Now for the best part: Gelato. I asked around and received 2 recommendations, and tried them out both. The first one was close to a train station. It served quite limited choices, mainly sweet flavours. But it was cheap as fuck. 
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3 euros for 1 large cup. It’d be a great disappointment if I said no. 

I liked the pistachio, the tiramisu and the chocolate rum. Especially when it was a bit colder than usual and the piazza was particularly windy. Yummy! And this place gave a tad too much, because every time I finished the gelato, I felt a bit unwell and the left of my chest actually ached a little. But it also felt soooooooooooo good. The only thing I didn’t really like was the fact that they didn’t have any kind of non-sweet flavour, like fruits (the yogurt tasted weird), so it became a bit too sweet, even for me. Well, I could have had just 2 flavours, but I didn’t. Because I couldn’t resist (who could?)

My other favourite place is this gelateria, which I found on TripAdvisor. 

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They served a varied range of flavours. I, in particular, quite liked the salted pistachio (pistachio might have become the new salted caramel).

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This is how I’d typically order my gelato: 3 flavours, 1 sweet, 1 sour and 1 bitter/sweet. It balances the taste and has worked so far. Chocolate fondue, salted pistachio and lime (the second photo) went very well together. The orange gelato was quite nice as well. It tasted just like orange, with the skin on. I am serious, I could taste the slightly bitter orange skin, which speaks volumes about the quality of this gelateria. All in all, every euro I spent on gelato in Prato was certainly worth it. 

That’s pretty much my stay in Prato. I know the review is a little bit short for 3 weeks, but I believe that it’s alright. I’ve got pretty much everything I wanted to say in there. Of course there is stuff that I didn’t mention, mainly either because I think it is not worthy of mentioning or because I would rather keep it to myself. Anyways, Prato was a nice town with lovely people and excellent gelato. I’m glad the unit was taught here, so that I’d have an easier time adapting. And I’d love to take a vacation here any time. But to live here? Nah, too small, too peaceful. too quiet. I need more noise, more chaos. Prato is a great place to visit, but not one to stay.

Part 3 (Rome) can be found here