An Inspirational Hackman

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Figure 1. Tuk-Tuk (n.) a chariot drawn by a motorbike.

When offered a chance to move up and become something more, some may not think twice and sign and date. However, at least for this 41 years old tuk-tuk taxi driver, Sophun Sam did not hesitate in his choosing when offered up-front the opportunity to supervise a Japanese restaurant with the opportunity of becoming more than just a branch Manager. He knows what he wants. And he’s willing to invest in driving customers from dawn to dusk instead.

I was puzzled as Sam told me while his friend, the person who made him the offer sitting 2 feet away, was speaking to his other Japanese friend.

When asked whether it was due to the pay differential, Sam admitted that ferrying customers might not earn him as much as overseeing a restaurant for his Japanese friend. On top of the pay–which could do his wife and children a great favor–a shop Manager may also be more stable as a day to day occupation and give his family a peace of mind with regard to the safety nature of his current work and might also safeguard him and his family against the negative societal views associated with being a Tuk-Tuk driver.

“Being a hackman is not an easy task. I need to be at my peak”, said Sam “otherwise, I would not be able to carry out my 12-15 hr work each day. Every morning, I wake up at 4am to jog around the round-about of the Central Market to freshen up for the day.” The moment his children have been dropped off at school, the chase begins.

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Figure 2. Sam Sophun, an over 10 years experienced Tuk Tuk driver in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

In Phnom Penh, it’s impossible to get the approximate counts of how many tuk-tuk taxi or motorbike taxi drivers there are. There is not an official census for this line of work. Any one who owns a tuk-tuk or a motorbike can become a makeshift taxi driver and start earning conveniently without having to register with any authority units. Union also does not exist; every man jumps on the opportunity to earn when he sees fit.

For Sam and others, getting passengers can also be a hit or miss. Sometimes, an overlooked wave by the passenger as they ride pass means a net for the next driver. Some can also be so focused on picking up the client that he would dismiss the red light and ease through the flowing wave of motorists to get to his client. I cringed as I saw this happening right before my eyes.

Luckily for Sam, with more than 10 years of riding experience, he has mastered the game. On top of picking up customers along the streets, Sam also has his own working website and Tripadvisor page to get him more traffic from out-country  visitors. According to Sam, ferrying foreign tourists and visitors can earn him a more promising fare; this comes in the form of tips earned by his charisma and easy-going nature, which are not much valued by local clients.

Some frequent visitors who have been chauffeured by Sam, apart from continually patronizing his service when visiting Cambodia, do not hesitate to lend a hand in getting him more business. For instance, his current website and tripadvisor account were all created for him by one of his regular customers from Sweden who he now casually refers to as friend. In fact, his Japanese friend whom I just mentioned is also a frequent foreign client of his. Sam has also been invited to accompany him to Laos.

This was probably the reason why Sam enjoys his work even though if his win and loss is up to the stroke of luck, I thought. The evolving friendships between him and his customers thrive on his ferrying and accompanying his customers to their destinations. And to throttle down might consequently downshift their friendships.

But finally, I got to hear Sam’s own explanation as to why he chose running a taxi instead of a restaurant for his friend.

“My children need me,” explained Sam, “I am making an investment in my children; I can still come home at the right time and be with my children if I choose to be a hack man. It is true that the costs of living are taxing on me. The primary cost is school tuition. Every three months, I have to stow $420 dollars for their tuition costs. Some of my driver companions have commented that I should put the money to a more practical use such as moving into a bigger space and enjoying the income with my family instead. But for me, I don’t care if our family merely ‘gets by’. I want my children to go to good schools. And I want to have time for my children especially when they are stuck on their homework. I want to be by them as they are growing. And when they are all grown up, they will have the confidence and the skills they obtained from their father to carry out their lives independently. I pull the weight by their side so they’ll know how to in their adulthood.”

God helps man who helps himself.
Keep fighting, Sophun!

Sam Sophun’s website:
http://tourphnompenh.com/
Sam Sophun’s tripadvisor:
https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g293940-d11910971-Reviews-Sophun_Tuk_tuk_and_Van-Phnom_Penh.html
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I Spent 25 Minutes, Standing Still, in A Mental Ward

This post is to capture what took place at another mental ward in Selangor, Malaysia that I also visited along with the one on which I wrote a blog. Read here. No pictures were taken at this second site because I deemed it moral not to do so.

My first impression of the ward was that it was aesthetically appealing and equipped with ample security systems to monitor and prevent the admittees from wandering off-site.

This second establishment that we visited (I, together with Mr. Tan and his wife) right off the bat earned our assumption as a better-off ward than the first one I had mentioned. Hence, I did not offer to do anything for the center. But just like the first center, I asked to be in the ward where the mentally impaired children were staying. And in there, I spent 25 minutes in complete stillness and silence.

Here are the events I quickly jotted down after my 25 minutes inside the ward, where the mentally impaired children were roaming freely:

One boy wouldn’t stop talking to himself. He was very impassioned in his speech. But he was talking to no one.

One girl came close to me such that there was only a few inches of space between us. She stared into my eyes and kept humming. She waved her arms left and right and slowly rested them on my forearm, and was seemingly curious who i was. She returned again and again.

Another boy sat upright against the wall and wouldn’t stop jerking against the wall. Thump! Thump! Thump! But no one knew what the reason behind his doing was and no one tried to stop him from possibly hurting his own back.

Two kids, one lying flat and dormant, another lying normal to him and rested his head on his stomach and rolling his entire body back and forth while blowing raspberry. The dormant boy stayed the way he was

One boy would not cease intruding on Mr Tan’s wife, taking hold of her arm, leading her to the back of the room. After once, Mr. Tan’s wife hesitated. After approaching her a few more times, she had no choice but to leave the room.

One kid, in shorts, shirtless, was walking about aimlessly. It does not take a genius to perceive the damages his underlying conditions have done to his mental state and bodily figure.

A few boys would every so often slip their hands into their pants and shorts and rub their genitals.

Some were able to communicate with the wardens and joined them in folding clothes.

Another boy would always be lingering around me. He looked the most unaffected; none of his facial or bodily figure was ravaged by any of developmental disorders that had others. He was so intrigued by my watch. When he pressed the buttons and the watch beeped, he gave it the attention of the world.

I later learned that this boy was autistic; he was one of the few that did not deserve to be amassed in such a space….This last boy  was one of the remarkable that could possibly gain his social and life skills to mingle with the rest of his generation.

Over a month after, I still think about his gleaming eyes when he stared at the watch with his undeterring excitement. It reminds me of how a learning process should be and how a pursuer for an answer should be as relentless and focused to the degree as that boy had displayed.

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Figure 1. the watch that fascinated the young boy in the ward.  Picture taken inside a coffee shop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

After witnessing the ward and conditions of the admittees, I have a strong belief that things could definitely be done to improve the quality of life for each individual in there.

I spent 25 minutes in there, and although I am not diagnosed with any of mental disorders (hopefully never), I could feel my consciousness and will-to-live slowly being extorted from me just by standing in there. An already impaired mind, deprived of its own command of its actions and will, being trapped in such a place will only have its essence further unwilfully drained from it.

It’s true to acknowledge the void you have and seek help. This is most-often heard in relation to those feeling depressed. But from whom to seek is also a factor that could determine recovery or deterioration. In the case of this mental ward, it will do the patients more good by re-designing its care programs to make them more individualized or condition-oriented; a Down-syndrome child may need assistance round the clock in aspects of taking care of oneself and managing his/her hyperactivity, but this program may not be necessary for a child of autistic conditions. Instead, a program to teach him/her to become the master of his/her own concentration and the application of this special attention may be crucial in determining recovery or deterioration.

There is a popular euphemism that associates with mental conditions, in that they are a form of gifts. And it is true. Many famous figures including Albert Einstein and Issac Newton also lived with autism of one form or another. And they grew up to be remembered, but by having developed in the right conditions. In other words, although autism may be a gift, it needs the right set of hands to untie the ribbons to unwrap the true capacities that are trapped within.

Although autism may be a gift, it needs the right set of hands to untie the ribbons to unwrap the true capacities that are trapped within.

YS Charity Foundation: A Developmental Disability Center for Financially Challenged Families in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia

Seeing the developmental disability centers was my motive to travel to Malaysia.

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Figure 1. My visit to the center with the help of my newly-made friend in Malaysia

With the help of a couchsurfing.com friend, Mr. Tan, I was able to visit two developmental disability centers in Petaling Jaya, and one of which I got a chance to help the center reach out its resources to those who may benefit.

YS Charity Foundation is a new establishment that had been opened for only 3 months at the time of my visit (Jan 2017) but was already caring for 10+ individuals.

The admittees at this center were diagnosed with various mental disorders: ADHD, autism, depression, and Down Syndrome just to name a few. And all of them come from families that were not capable of nursing them 24/7.

After getting to spend some time to learn about the patients, I made a promise to the overseer of the center to assist him and his team in fundraising and gathering help from medical professionals by a  video about his center. Within my one hour visit, I called on the help of my action-cam Kodak SP1 and recorded footage for this narrative below.

To learn more about how you can contribute to the cause, or if you are personally a medical professional that is specialized in psychiatry, please click 

Credits:
I would like to thank Mr. Tan from couchsurfing for taking the time to ferry me to the centers and including me in his annual family’s charity event. Beyond that, he also assisted me in my subtitle translation.
I would also like to thank YS Charity Foundation for allowing me to take part in improving the quality of life of each admittee at the center.
I would also like to thank NCH Software for making its video editing tool: Videopad available at no cost.

“Laws Won’t Be Enough. Heart Must Change.”

President Obama bid us farewell today in his last presidential address in McCormick Place, Chicago, Illinois.

The president is going to leave office in a matter of ten days. And in ten days, President Obama’s successor, entrusted with legacy of America, will take his newly gained authorities for a spin. Judging by the “4 more years, 4 more years, 4 more years” chant resounded among the president’s supporters in the auditorium, it is suggested that many other Americans are also praying against the highly likely crash-and-burn moment of the whirly ride that we all will be in with the president’s successor.

As I was listening to President Obama’s speech broadcasted worldwide, I could not help but nod along even after having just waken up and still bearing the morning stupor.

I nodded, in agreement and awe, at one of his quotes–one which directed at the needs of Americans putting differences aside and uniting to preserve and uphold democracy in this increasingly diverse America.

I nodded as I was being reminded of a moment of my recent placement in Cambodia as part of inclusive education project.

“Laws won’t be enough. Heart must change.”

I, teaching the class waste management
Figure 1. Teaching waste management. Arriving in the community and standing in front of these children. I had my mission of ingraining into them a mindset contrary to that which has been shaping their character.

One day, a hustle-bustle took place during an English lesson I was leading with my team members in Siem Bouk community, Stung Treng, Cambodia. Upon opening the door, there were fifty-plus kids each with a plate and spoon in hand. They were hungry. They wanted their food. Pekthra, the boy in charge of lugging two buckets, one filled with rice and another with soup, set the two bins right outside my classroom. Over time, noise grew louder and louder. Among other things, some dug in their licked spoons to scoop up food into their plates. And some just outright dug up food with their soiled plates. A hustle-bustle turned into a caveman survival frenzy. And amid all this, there was no authoritative figure out there to choreograph this brunch distribution.

I couldn’t bear the sights and left the teaching to my team. I closed the doors behind, grabbed the lids, and shut the two bins. “Stop!” I called out in Khmer in an attempt to bring order. “We are not gonna be able to eat with everyone being this way. Alright, we need to form two lines. And fetch another ladle for the soup, Pekthra.” Everyone was inching backwards, but none were ready to give up their places to merge into two proper lines. The unopening lids luckily convinced them to dissolve into the lines I asked for. We started to have order. But every ten seconds, the lines buckled and everyone resumed their old reptilian instinct. Then two more students volunteered to run the lines with Pekthra. One joined Pekthra in food distribution and another paced up and down to manage the lines. And I became the evil authoritative figure whose eyes were peeled for every little unhygienic quirks among these children. Our roles lasted until the bins were all emptied of food.

It might be false to think that the haunting influences of Khmer Rouge, which ended just less than 40 years ago, is still at play today, that today’s cultural ethos still bears a resemblance to that of the Khmer Rouge time. Sometimes, I think to myself. Are the reasons for the prevalence of profanity and temperament of the people in this country only due to the insufficiency of education and other financial and superficial factors? Nonetheless, to President Obama’s “Laws won’t be enough. Heart must change”, to cultivate the heart that will reflect and ruminate on things beyond just for oneself and just for today will complement, if not outdo, the efforts of law. Be it in U.S. or Cambodia.

As an auxiliary teacher for the community students, I am honored to have played a role in changing the heart of these children.

A Friday Night Impasse: Likes and Dislikes, a Beacon for Destiny–Maybe

Finding the purpose through likes and dislikes.

Likes and dislikes can be qualified as intrinsic preferences of a particular individual. And by our nature, we gravitate towards what we like and are repelled by what we dislike.

It’s difficult for one to characterize one’s like or dislike towards something if one has not yet decided to pursue a subject without a preconception. How do we know we like or dislike something without even unbiasedly learning about it? The value which we merit from the resulting experience can therefore be unfounded and untrue.

But then, how would one even engage if one doesn’t find a particular subject likeable, interest-whetting, to begin with? So apart from likes and dislikes, there must be another/other qualities that provoke, stimulate, that pull us in. For instance, we have to work to raise the family, to reduce loans, to return a favor, to make that diploma worthwhile, and for many other unpredictable reasons. But whatever reasons are at the start, they ultimately also usher along the sentiments of like and dislike. In other words, the task positively grows on the being in the case of one finding the subject likeable or negatively for dislikeable reasons.

And somehow, it’s inescapable that both like and dislike manifest.  

Ask one his/her opinion of his/her job, for instance, and the answer will consist of positivities as well as negativities, be them proportionately or disproportionately. Similarly, ask another about his/her relationship partner, and observe the answer. So it’s probably safe for now to assume that we can neither like or dislike something wholly. Instead, we like to only dislike simultaneously, vice versa. Why so? I am unable to answer logically. Perhaps, too much like can lead to infatuation, “like-blind”,  just as too much dislike can never bring satisfaction or joy to enable one to stay the course; and this may lead to the notion of unpurposed existence.

However, it is also incompletely valid to say that a journey guided by dislike can never lead to a purposed life. For many, it has only been because of dislikes that they are able to arrive at like. It’s through the errors of these trials that things finally “work out”, that a purpose is defined.

So ultimately, is it valid to say that purpose can be defined by both like and dislike, but is only finally fulfilled by like?

For this reason, turning back to the question of how one would even engage if one doesn’t find a particular subject likeable, is it because of destiny that we are able to engage in something we dislike? Assuming that one will only renounce one’s dislikes, one will then avoid one’s own dislikes at all cost. Then only destiny is able to rule over our feeling of dislike and bring into intersection our aversion and dislike; only destiny will then direct one to a place, at a particular time, and for a particular reason; and that reason being in order for one to ultimately arrive at, to discover like, to arrive at a purposed existence?  

This now parallels the conundrum everyone faces: what you have to do vs. what you like to do, leading to the similar paradigm: fate vs. choice. Furthermore, it seems to take us back to where we started, the very question: how can destiny manifest without our commitment to an experience without a preconception to begin with in order to discover our likes and dislikes, to discover ourselves?…*brain fart*…

The Mosquitoes and Us

You know you have not yet been officially welcomed in Cambodia unless you have been greeted by mosquitoes. On the night of my arrival, I received two bites within the first ten minutes of making my way through TSA. Even at 1am, the air felt humid. Mosquitoes could be seen left and right. My body begged for a splash of ice cold water and to bask in an air-conditioning room. After over 2 days of air transit to get to Cambodia, I was also ready to dive into a queen-sized bed. A mosquito-less slumber that followed that night was definitely icing on the cake.

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Aerial Shot of Central Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia courtesy of Cambodia UN

It then got me curious of this mosquito deal. You and I know very well and are fast to respond to a mosquito nuisance; we rush to a room of cold air and rub to soothe our irritated skin. And it’s always in the hot, clammy environment that we face these cold-blooded suckers. The current Zika outbreak, accidental discovery through my boss that only female mosquitoes bite, and their incessant attacks as I am typing this prompted me to write this up.  

 

To come to think of it, these “little flies” are rather smart, at least from a biological standpoint. By this, I don’t only mean it because mosquitoes capitalize on dusk when their preys are in the most vulnerable position. After getting attacked by them at a number of places, I have found that even though our face is just as exposed and contain comparably as many blood vessels as equivalent areas of certain appendage or torso regions, the face is rarely the targeted site. On the other hand, the leg, where the blood vessels are dense and heavily intertwined, is the most popular attraction for these visitors. Perhaps the mosquitoes do realize how quickly we will identify and retaliate for their bites. After all, given the abundance of cranial nerves and the time it takes for the sensory stimulus to travel from our face to our brain, their rate of success is enhanced, by a fraction of a second, if they home in on the region such as the leg, which is less innervated but blood vessels dense.

 

Another possibility is that mosquitoes are aware of the human body makeup, a knowledge possibly passed down from generation to generation, and therefore home in on the specific regions of their host for the extraction of particular nutrients. Should that be true. It is only to prove how much more clever mosquitoes are. And this can also imply that we both share some fragments of genetic makeup which mark for specific nutrients `without which the bug cannot survive. We’ll have to wait for science to unfold. Or, I have just simply gone mad to think of this idea.

 

Back to where I left off, I also find it fascinating that mosquitoes detect the presence of their preys by smell, sight, and heat as suggested by a Caltech study. The carbon dioxide, the waste product of our respiration, is the chemical messenger recognized by a receptor in mosquitoes that beckons them over. Breathing as a result is a callout to the mosquitoes that you are here. They also guide themselves to you by sight should you try to hold your breath. But thankfully (for now), if you are close enough to them, they won’t be able to spot you as a result of the anatomy of their orbits, which are separated by a lengthy glabella. However, since you are close enough, now they can sense your presence by the energy you emit, heat. These three triple feeding mechanisms complement one another and enable this insect to be an efficient sucker. What a “beautiful” creation.

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Triple Feeding Mechanisms courtesy of  Caltech

And I think, if I may, there is also an underlying symbolic, social significance between the feminine genes and perseverance/survival traits, as displayed by the mosquito “society”. Contrary to our anthropo-societal norm, the females are touted as the “breadwinner” in the mosquito world. Both genders of mosquito population feed on nectar. However, nutrients beyond those in nectar such as proteins found in blood are needed for egg development. For this reason, the females–whether guided by their genes or situational attribution, or both–risk their lives and scavenge for blood in the name of reproduction, in the name of preserving the species’ place in the evolution tier.

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DC’s Female Super Star–Wonder Woman courtesy of DC Comics

The “culture” of these female mosquitoes could single-handedly depose the dominance of machismo, which has been perpetuating gender inequality in the human world. The gender role in population of mosquito can also serve as a model for us, the masculine who are historically and culturally wired to view females inferiorly, to view femininity with more appreciation, recognition, and respect. More importantly, it is to show that it’s due to the perseverance of those who bear through gestation that there is today for all of us. Male is no exception!