Archive for the ‘Word of the Week’ Category

Preface: Every week I choose 1 word given to me and write about it. You can leave your word in the comments and one day you’ll see it here, I promise.

yuanfen

Yuan (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ) or Yuanfen (simplified Chinese: 缘份; traditional Chinese: 緣分; pinyin: yuánfèn; Vietnamese: duyên phận), “fateful coincidence,” is a concept in the Chinese folk religion describing good and bad chances and potential relationships. It can also be translated as “destiny, luck as conditioned by one’s past,” or “natural affinity among friends.”

The concept is deterministic, meaning it implies that the meeting and coming together of (usually) two people has been predetermined by an invisible universal force. It is important to recognise that this pre-destining does not come from a godly entity, but rather is attributed to the universe, which is often among the strongest cosmic forces in Eastern thinking. The pulling force is credited to the deeds done by the two people in question in their earlier incarnations. The current life being affected (or even determined) by the previous births is also another popular idea, resembling Buddhism’s karma. However, yuanfen is interactive rather than individual, it focuses on the bond shared by two people. The idea is that the couple have had to go through countless (or at least an enormous number of) lives on this earth to meet in this current life, out of 7 billion other people. So the meeting didn’t happen by chance. It was predestined.

Personally, I sorta believe in the concept of yuanfen. I mean, for two people to come across each other and come together as a couple, some degree of coincidence has to be involved. Not to mention, “we were fated to meet” has a nice romantic sound to it. Have you ever met someone with whom you just instantly “clicked”? You have no idea how you could have stumbled onto each other in the coffee shop one sleepy Monday morning, struck a brief conversation as common courtesy and it sort of just took off from there. All of the sudden, you found yourself inexplicably drawn to the other person, their smile, their smell and their quirky tics? Well, that “click” is the sound of the universe bringing you two into each other’s lives and pulling you closer to each other. We can say that yuanfen is in play. 

But my belief stops right there. Yuanfen might have been the reason we met, but it isn’t the reason we are still together. Because guess what, fate can’t do shit when it comes to commitment. While falling in love can be a fateful coincidence, there is nothing coincidental about staying in love. It’s a choice, made every day by the (usually) two parties involved. It is probably one of the toughest endeavour a human being can ever hope to accomplish: to nurture and flourish their relationship with a partner. Yuanfen plays no part in this. 

Actually you know what, I am not so sure any more.

You see, I am at a crossroads.

I wanted, sometimes so desperately, to believe that as long as two in a relationship choose to commit, they will stay in that relationship. That’s the hopeless romantic in me speaking, trying to believe. Love trumps all. 

But if the conversations I have had over the past couple of weeks were any indication, life isn’t a movie. Love doesn’t always conquer. Sometimes, it succumbs. 

I am at the age where a lot of people I know are in stable relationships and looking toward to marriage with The One, while also a lot of people I know are having problems maintaining their relationships. 

It pains me to know that a dear friend of mine is seriously considering ending her relationship, because she and her boyfriend can’t work out the future. They have tried many times, but no, life wouldn’t yield. And it’s no fault of theirs. Life was just being a bitch. 

 A case of “having fate without destiny”, so to speak. A couple who was fated to come together, but not destined to stay together. The two people met by chance, were drawn together by the will of the universe, and now seem to be broken off by nothing other than the will of the universe itself. 

So it seems like yuanfen does play a part.

Where does that leave us then?

Do we even start a relationship with someone we effortlessly click, even if we can’t know for sure that all the efforts we are ready to put into the relationship will mean something in the end?

Honestly, I don’t know. And I am terrified to find out. 

 

 

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loner

This day 2 years ago, I woke up in Venice.

It was the last day of my trip to Europe.

(By the way, the view from my dorm’s window was spectacular)

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I made the trip largely on my own, bar for 3 weeks in Prato, Italy where I had a class and Paris where I was accompanied by 2 good friends.

But the rest of the trip, I was alone. And I have to say that I enjoyed the experience.

More often than not, I prefer to to associate or socialise with others. I guess that makes me a loner by a definition.

Being a loner feels wrong sometimes. Because humans are fundamentally social animals. We require interaction with other members of the species. It’s not even materialistic, as I believe our need of interaction is purely psychological. Social invisibility is frowned upon and often stigmatised.

twisted-sick-loner

One very illustrative example will be eating out.

What it means to be a loner Perks of being a loner Things that are not so great Sometimes, it still happens when I step into a restaurant and signal a table for one. The waiter/waitress suddenly looks quite amused AND bemused. Who is this guy? Why is he dining alone? Has he no friends? What’s wrong with him? Well guess what. There’s nothing wrong with me. There are days when I just like to have dinner in silence, without the need for conversation. I can spend that time appreciating the food, thinking about what I am going to write next (like this one) or observing other patrons (which is fun. You should try it more often). It is the period of time when I deliberately refuse interaction with human beings other than whoever’s waiting my table. I am going so far as to claim that not having company at all is much, much better than having the wrong company. And I have had my fair share of wrong company, you can believe me. I need my pensive moment desperately, and that simply cannot be achieved in the presence of another person.

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Being a loner is fun, as you have the time to realise a lot of interesting things. During my brief stay in Prato, I used to go to my favourite gelateria (that’s “ice cream parlour” for the uninitiated) and had gelato alone. As it was winter in Europe at the time, there was frequent rain, which made it even better (having gelato when it’s cold outside is one of the best feelings we ever get to experience, I can assure you).

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Orange + Tiramisu, 2 scoops for 3 euros. Noiceeeeee!

Once, I saw a mother with a young child who came in during the downpour. The boy was around 7-8 and he looked very excited. He told his Mom something along the line of “Hey Mum, we were lucky that it rained. I was feeling a bit warm! Now we can have ice cream!” (that’s the gist, my Italian was rubbish back then and it is still rubbish now). He seemed to have genuinely liked the rain. Another time, a young lad came into the gelateria with a heavy, agitated look on his face. I overheard him mutter something about the damned rain.

That’s when I learned life is just like rain: it is what it is, but the choice of how to react is yours alone.

However, of course being a loner has its own drawbacks. In social situations that demand interpersonal interaction, I am extremely uncomfortable and often screw things up. I lack both the experience and the will to communicate with another person/other persons. I also miss out on many group activities, which indeed looked fun. Being too comfortable on one’s own does have that effect of self-isolation.

And of course, there is the occasional loneliness. I can’t help but feel it. I feel the need to talk to other people but since my options are severely limited, most of the times I just keep to my own. Only so naturally, negative thoughts creep upon the mind.

But overall though, I’d say being a loner has been good so far. I got the time to inspect myself as well as others. I don’t have to suffer terrible company during mealtimes. I don’t have to put up with people I don’t like.

Of course, the downsides are not absent.

But as long as I get to finish the dessert all by my self, I’ll A-OK.

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Nice tower the French got there

Gonna break convention and write about DELIBERATE PRACTICE next week. Watch out!


Every week, I take one word and write my thoughts on it. You can suggest a word in the comments below and it’ll appear on this blog some day, I promised!

Word of the Week #4: sex

Posted: January 30, 2017 in Word of the Week
Tags: , , ,

sex

It seems oddly appropriate to write about sex in the first days of the Year of the Cock (hehe!)

So, sex. One of the oldest topics to write about. It’s been with man since the dawn of human history because, well, sex is our means of reproduction.

I should preface that my sexual experience is inanely limited, so if you’re here for the marveling and captivating stories of my sexual adventures, you’re going back with disappointment. Nonetheless, since it’s holiday season and you have nothing better to do, you will read on (might as well right?).

From where I see it, the place sex occupies in society is peculiarly paradoxical. On the one hand, sex seems to permeate almost all aspects of life, both private and social. It appears in a plethora of channels, from entertainment to commerce to literary works. Either explicitly displayed or implied by innuendos (I made one at the beginning of this piece), sex is arguably one of the central themes of human activity, especially in the modern world. One only need to turn on the TV to see sexuality being flaunted in product advertisement. Sex sells, because it panders to our instincts and dominates our psyche. And we heartily embrace it.

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However, when the time comes to treat sex seriously, the response is often disappointing. We joke about sex too much we can’t treat the subject with thoughtful consideration. Sex education programmes in school are severely inadequate. Instead of things like protection, consent and emotional maturity, students are taught anatomy.

Sex Education Class - "Today in class I'll be explaining where your babies come from."

 

Support sources outside school are also severely limited. Parents are of little help,as I am sure the vast majority of you know how awkward “the talk” can be. Sometimes there is no talk at all as the parents can’t stand the awkwardness and turn down the opportunity to teach their children very useful and important knowledge. Thus, students are left to consult Google on their free time. Things start to go wrong rather quick from here when we are reminded that these teenagers’ hormones AND curiosity are through the roof. The Internet is a wonderful place, but it can also be a horrible one.

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Ironically, we indulge in highly sexualised thoughts and materials, yet we issue judgement to those we consider sexual. Derogatory terms such as “slut” or “whore” are often used to describe the sexually deviant, but what does even “sexually deviant” mean? Does it mean having more than one sexual partners? Is that so deviant from the cultural norm? I am not talking about people who are already in a relationship, for I do believe in fidelity and monogamy. This is for people who engage in casual sex, i.e. friend with benefits and the likes. I feel that condemning these people as sexually deviant is, for the lack of a better word, icky. Just doesn’t feel right to put a label with heavy negative connotation on something that’s supposed to be neutral. This applies primarily to ladies (which, in my opinion is unjust). If you are a gal who happens to like having sex with different people and the gossipy folks somehow catch wind of this, you’re fucked, and not in a good way.

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I think the situation will improve when we recognise sex for what it is: a biological need, simple as that. One’s appetite for sex may be high or low. Just like that for food. If the person does not cause harm for others when seeking to fulfill this need, we should just let them be. The individual should be accorded the liberty to engage in coitus with whomever they wish, free from the righteous condemnation of other people. If you like to try out new restaurants every week, it is rather hypocritical to critise other people for having numerous sexual partners. And similar to teaching children (and adults!) about food safety, it is important to teach them about sex safety as well. The conversation on sex needs to be opened under the guidance of open-minded and non-judgemental folks. Destigmatise sex, normalise it. Then perhaps it will become less worrying and we can devote our time and energy to worrying about something else.

Over-hyped but under-discussed, sex, in my opinion, is not getting the treatment it rightly deserves. It is hard to imagine something so central, so pervasive in our lives whose sombre discussion is often avoided. But anyways, I hope things will take a more positive turn in the near future.

That’s probably enough for now. Enjoy the rest of Lunar New Year people!

Peace out.

P.S: Next week’s word is “loner” (I dig this one!)


Every week, I take one word and write my thoughts on it. You can suggest a word in the comments below and it’ll appear on this blog some day, I promised!

booze

I like booze.

If you’re acquainted with myself, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Among different types of alcoholic beverage, this is probably my favourite:

pen

The bitterness. The warmth. The aroma. Everything hits just right.

wine

I don’t like beer because it fills my stomach way too quick; I don’t like hard liquor because the alcohol knocks me out way too quick. Wine is perfect for me. Also my birthday is 15 Feb. I can send you my shipping address. But I digressed (or did I?).

Different from many Vietnamese compatriots, I started drinking quite late into my life, when I was 21 or so. Before university, I never knew my limit as I had only drunk 1 can of beer maximum every time there was an occasion to drink. At one point, I even had serious doubts whether I could hold my liquor. Boy, were my doubts unfounded.

I think booze is an excellent social lubricant. It helps me open up and eases the conversation. Something to do with the chemistry and substances, but I believe the effect is very commonly known.

I have had drinks in a pub only once or twice, and decided that I didn’t like it. Mainly because I was/am too poor to afford them drinks LOL. But it’s also because I don’t quite like the idea of consuming alcohol in a public place (even if that place is a pub!). What if I get drunk and do something embarrassing/endangering?

Instead, I like having drinks with my favourite group of people. People who can actually hold their end of the conversation. The more drunk we get, the better the conversation becomes. That’s what I drink for, really. Stories, insights, advice and most important of all, friendship.

I suppose all have stories of those wild nights when we get hammered and wasted and fucked up with alcohol. Mine are relatively more gentle and uneventful.

There was one time when four of us started drinking wine at around 9PM. We finished 4-5 bottles at 2 in the morning and ran out of booze. Feeling extra frisky, we turned to these

straw

And drank 1 litre of milk with these flavoured straws. It was the first time I tried those. Mind-blowing, to say the least. I’ve since bought the straws as gifts for my nephews. But anyways, we then ran out of milk. So naturally, we made tea. At this point, the alcohol started wearing off, which was fortunate because we were about to take in a f***load of caffeine. Because sane and sober people put this much tea leaves when they make tea:

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But my dear friend, who was in hindsight not very sober, put this much

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I shit you not, that’s what it looked like. But then again, the rest of us weren’t so sober as well, since we said nothing in protest and drank the tea. That’s pretty much my definition of a wild night (told you it’s relatively less eventful).

On another point, I don’t quite like binge drinking. First, you’re fucking up your body. Consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time is damaging to one’s health, especially the liver. Second, what’s the point of getting wasted so quickly and so senselessly? You

Of course, you will point out that I am contradicting myself since the story above shows that I indulge in binge drinking. So today is also the day you learn that I am a self-proclaimed hypocrite. Yes, I do drink a considerable amount of alcohol, but that happens very infrequently. Which brings me to my next point.

I also dislike very much the idea of getting drunk too frequently. Of course frequency is subjective, but you get what I mean. While booze provides a great route of escape and source of distraction, indulging in frequent drinking isn’t productive at all. For booze to be an escape, I need to have involved in something and thus incurred the want to escape that very thing. If you get drunk every single day of the week, perhaps it’s the booze that you need to escape.

Another point (big point as well): Vietnam’s “force” drinking culture disgusts me. For those who don’t know, we Vietnamese really like to force each other to drink as much as we can. “Force” sounds rather violent, we actually rely on words, social superiority and peer pressure to do that. But yeah, I’ve never got the rationale either. If you love booze so much, why don’t you drink all the booze? Or do you actually take joy in seeing the other guy get wasted? That’s really sick and disgusting. Anyway, if you refuse the drink (especially if it’s from somebody who’s older than you), you’re gonna get called names and your manhood is gonna get assessed really harsh. Yeah, I’ve never understood the rationale either. If the guy doesn’t want a drink, just leave him the fuck alone and enjoy yours. What the fuck?

I brought up the point above because Lunar New Year is coming, and I am gonna get forced to drink almost for certain. So I am gonna buckle up and wipe the floor with whatever dimwit that insists I drink after I’ve refused once. But seriously, drink responsibly guys, especially in this festive season. And if you don’t genuinely enjoy drinking, just don’t drink – you are the master of your own will. And if you have been “forcing” people to drink, stop that shit. Don’t be a dick.

Peace out.

Oh, and next week’s word is sex. Yummy.

 

persistence

The Oxford Dictionary defines persistence as

The fact of continuing in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition

We have come to accept persistence as a desirable trait, often present in highly successful individuals. The Internet is chock-full of inspirational stories about how great figures of history succeeded to defy all odds with unyielding resolution. Persistence and grit have come to be worshiped, especially in the field of entrepreneurship.

Therefore, in this piece, I will attempt to discuss the other side of the issue. Namely, how persistence may be a bad thing.

Let me introduce you to our main character of the story, the Persistent Entrepreneur, or PE in short.

PE founded a generic tech startup and it is on the rise. Funds are pouring in from investors. More people are coming on board. To get here, PE has put a lot of time and effort, despite the multitude of difficulties and opposition from almost everyone he knew. Gradually, his idea was accepted and his startup seemed to be doing very well. Series A is next month and PE expects to raise about 10 million USD to continue scaling it into a viable business.

However, after Series A, things started to go downhill. PE’s plan to expand overseas backfired as he couldn’t compete with local businesses. His startup is hemorrhaging heavily, causing the investors to have serious doubts. PE’s mentors advised him to temporarily retreat and consolidate his hold in the domestic market.

But PE decided to persist. He invests even more time and effort into the expansion. And so, the hole he’s in gets deeper and deeper. The more difficult the situation becomes, the more persistence he tries to muster. In his earnest, he really wanted to succeed. After all, he’s dedicated so much into this endeavour. He doesn’t want everything to be for nothing. The more people around him tell him to quit, the more determined he becomes. PE just flat out refuses to throw in the towel. Staying the course is the only thing that matters.

As a result, PE’s expansion plan sucked his business dry. His startup ran out of funds in the next couple of months as investors stopped pouring money in. He had to close down his dream.

Now, of course there are several reasons leading to PE’s ultimate failure and it is extremely difficult to assign primacy to any of them. But it is also difficult to claim that persistence didn’t play a part in PE’s downfall. From my perspective, there are 2 reasons behind this blind persistence.

The first of these two is the social stigma attached to quitting. I don’t think it’s any secret that we tend to look down on those who give up. Quitting has got a bad rap, especially in the field of entrepreneurship. I believe the need to prove ourselves right and other people wrong is primitive – it’s hardwired into our psyche. This line of thinking is boosted with all the “There is no greater pleasure than doing what other people say you can’t” proverbs flying around. Well, if people who are knowledgeable in that field tell you to stop, perhaps it is a good idea to stop for a second and consider the reason why. More often than not, they say that out of goodwill and experience, not jealousy. Of course you need a strong conviction, but don’t fall prey to it.

Second, the sunk cost trap also takes effect in cultivating blind persistence (Sunk costs are the resources that you’ve put into an endeavor that you can’t get back out). The individual does not want to give up because he fears that all the effort he has put into the enterprise will become meaningless if he abandons it. He wants to at least extract some value or make some gains to show for it, to see that his project is not, after all, worthless. Why should I let all of these go to waste, he thinks. He is afraid to walk away, even if nothing is working as he intended. He doesn’t know when to bail.

With these factors, one’s persistence now does more harm than good, because he decides to persist past the point when he should have quit. The mission wad no longer about achieving set objectives, it was about minimising the damage – cutting the losses, as one may colloquially say. The Persistent Entrepreneur in our story missed that, and his grit worked against him instead. Blind persistence has cost him dearly. Learning to admit defeat and cut our losses is, in my opinion, quite an underrated skill to have. Pressing on despite the certainty of failure is plain harmful.

The PE example is hypothetical, but I am sure we can find the examples quite easily if we observe around us. Several instances of serious failure can be traced to the individual’s stubbornness, either due to the fear of being stigmatised by society or falling into the sunk cost trap, or a combination of both.

To sum things up, I don’t deny that persistence is very much required in our lives. Several successes have the trace of persistence, but it is also behind quite a few of failed projects. The key, I think, is to constantly evaluate the situation and apply the appropriate strategy. And listening to experts also helps.

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Next week’s word is booze. Stay tuned!

1-post-truth

The Oxford Dictionary defines “post-truth” as

relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief1

The Dictionary also provides a brief history of the word as follows

Post-truth seems to have been first used in this meaning in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation magazine. Reflecting on the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf War, Tesich lamented that ‘we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world’. There is evidence of the phrase ‘post-truth’ being used before Tesich’s article, but apparently with the transparent meaning ‘after the truth was known’, and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant.

Focus on the last line. “The new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant.”

That’s fucking terrifying. How can truth ever become irrelevant in this world? What do we use to orientate ourselves in this mad world then?

The whole thing is even more grave when you consider the field “post-truth” is most commonly associated with. Politics. Over the course of 2016, the phrase “post-truth politics” has gained unprecedented popularity and certainly will stay in the mainstream vocabulary of political discourse for the foreseeable future.

The relationship politicians have with the truth has always been rocky at best. Politicians twist, spin and tell part of it – that’s the supposed norm. I know, that’s the sad state. But the new state is much sadder and more dangerous.

What has become much, much more disturbing is that many politicians no longer argue on a factual basis. The truth no longer matters. It is discarded. Then what the hell are these campaigners’ speeches and arguments based on, you might ask. The troubling answer is emotion. These politicians appeal to the public’s emotion, often by making claims that are the total opposite to what’s factually true, and to great effect. It doesn’t matter if what you say is just flat out false, if you can rile people up, you’ve already succeeded. If the people love what you say, it doesn’t matter if what you are saying has been scientifically disproved. Emotion overrides logic in public discourse and proper fact-checking is disregarded and discarded. Two very illustrative examples of post-truth politics in 2016 must be Brexit and Donald Trump. I will now briefly take a look at each of them.

Regarding Brexit, one of the Leave camp’s most articulated claims was that the UK sends the EU £350 million a week, a hefty amount of money which could be used to fund something that benefits the people of UK, like the National Health Service (NHS) instead. The Leave camp really pushed this idea to get people to vote Leave. This was a common sight during the campaign period:

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However, UK Statistics Authority calls £350m EU membership fee claim “potentially misleading.” Since the UK receives rebates, the amount of fund it sent to the UK in 2014 was about £250 million a week. Moreover, the EU spends some money back on the UK, such as farming subsidies, research funding to universities, or infrastructure projects. So the net figure is about  £175 million a week – half of what the Leave campaign claimed. But they didn’t care for the truth. The Leave campaigners kept expounding on it, despite intense criticism.

Brexit campaign was ‘criminally irresponsible’, says legal academic

You can read more about the “claims” here.

And of course, after the result was in, this happened.

If that’s not post-truth politics in full play, I don’t know what is.

As for Donald Trump, this probably says it all.

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How Donald’s lies played out is, well, history.

Politicians have chosen to blatantly disregard the truth when communicating with the mass populace, simply because it works. But that’s the dangerous path that we are unfortunately going down.

People respond much more aggressively to emotions because they don’t need time to process the information and check whether it’s accurate. Going with one’s feelings is intuitive and thus much easier than rationalising an argument. You know, “if your heart tells you to do something, just follow it.” If the truth does not help in the endeavour of stirring people up (and it often doesn’t), campaigners won’t use it. If an untruth can provoke intense public emotion,  it will be used, exploited and splashed all over the media channels.

The public no longer makes uninformed decisions. They make misinformed decisions. Which can be just as bad or even worse.

 

For the impact of post-truth campaigning, I suggest you spend a few minutes reading this article. EU referendum: The claims that won it for Brexit, fact checked.

So yeah, that’s post-truth for ya. Truth no longer matters. What matters is appealing to public emotion, often by the use of untruths.

Again, that’s fucking terrifying.

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Next week’s Word of the Week will be persistence. Stay tuned!