Coincidence, or More?

In Fall 2016, while volunteering in a joint Primary and Middle school in northeastern Thailand, I turned to horoscope for some leisure reading and (honestly also for) some spiritual guidance. More importantly, I wanted to see how accurate the piece of writing reflected in my life so far as 2016 was no more than a quarter of a year away from ending. I remember going through synopsis of my birth sign and nodding to some claims while wishing some predictions had been true. My eyes then led me to my lucky numbers of 2016. It was a string of integers. I cannot recall what all the numbers were. However, “1” and “5” were among them and have left an impression on me until today.

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Figure 1. One of my favorite classes at Nonghoipang Witthaya School. They graduated in 2017 and moved on into high school.

As my final days at Nonghoibang Witthaya School drew to a close, a few endearing teachers whom I got to partner with handed me their school official football (soccer) jersey as a gift. I accepted with a bittersweet smile and started ruffling through the vinyl cover to throw on this new gear as a way to show how appreciative I was, not just of the gift, but also of our time together. And guess what…I was player “15”.

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Figure 2. Football (Soccer) jersey with my supposed lucky number. >.<

Sometimes, two events of this sort are just too coincidental to just label them as coincidence.

This past Friday on 032318, it happened that I had to stay late at work in order to read over a friend’s internship application personal statement. I didn’t finish until around 7:30 pm. Since I already lost then sunlight and had not made any solid plans for that evening, I decided to drop by Grocery Outlet for some food, continue on home, and cooked. As I took a turn opposite to the route I normally went on, I saw a figure standing in the divider of the traffic, waving. A few cars in front of me dismissed the hitchhiker. Thinking that the straightaway stretched for more than 2 miles and that it would not be troublesome for me assuming I was also going the same direction, I pulled over and gestured for the hitchhiker to come over.

Once the stranger in the gray hoody reached the passenger side of my car, I called for him to open the door. “Hey, where are you trying go?”, I asked. I didn’t get a word back apart from a blank stare. He then took a minute and tried his best to mutter “downtown”. I then realized this hitchhiker was not a common hitchhiker.
“Do you speak chinese?”
blank stare…
“Korean?”
blank stare…
“Japanese?”
Finally there was some life in him. And as soon as I told him I could speak a little Japanese. The man let out a deep relief; he felt he had been saved.

With my broken Japanese, I was able to make Masayuki-kun feel at ease and learn that he was trying to reach a Bart station to get to downtown San Francisco. Because there was not a convenient Bart station close to where I was heading. We worked out an agreement that he had to come with me to the supermarket first before I could drop him off at the station.

And then started my night as a Japanese hitchhiker rescuer. =)

My weekend did not end with just Masayuki-kun.

This morning, I felt the need to use the bathroom as I was finishing up work at Starbucks. There was no line for the bathroom. And out of the blue, I decided that I was just gonna hold it until I got to Trader Joe’s. I packed my stuff, felt accomplished for what I had completed this morning, and walked out the cafe. As I was pacing towards Trader Joe’s, an art shop caught my eye. Despite being in dire need of the bathroom, I took a detour and spent some time in the art shop. Unknowingly, browsing the shop erased the thought I had to urinate. I spent more than 10 minutes inside the shop, longer than what I had planned.

Finally, I made my way to Trader Joe’s. I still didn’t walk straight into the restroom as soon as I reached there. Instead, I picked up some spinach, frozen veggie burritos, a butternut squash, dilly-dallied around the aisles, and at the checkout, a bar of 72% dark chocolate. At that very moment, because there was a line of people ahead of me and I caught the word “Restroom” as my head turned rightward towards the the back end of the shop, I finally recalled I had to use the bathroom. And the biological urge to remove waste resumed. And it became urgent.

I paced towards the toilet. One bathroom was in use, and a man just came out of another. A woman behind me then kindly asked me if she could use it first. I made way for her. Soon after, a lady exited the occuppied room and held the door for me. I left her with a “thank you” and proceeded to take my turn. I did my business and as I reached for toilet paper to dry my hand, I saw a phone sitting right on top of the dispenser. what do you know.

And then started another rescue mission: phone and its owner reunification.

It was a rather interesting weekend for me as you can see. Getting off work late on a Friday night turned into a hangout with (and of course a rescue mission of) a foreign hitchhiker. Delaying my biological needs of the restroom turned into saving a woman from a trouble that could have costed her time, money, and emotion. As I am sitting writing this entry, I am still amazed at how the timing of each event put me in a position to make a decision that could have either costed people on the other side sizable distress or saved their day. Masayuki-kun told me that night that he had spent over 3 hours walking from the airport to get to Oyster Point (approx 5 miles apart), where he was waving for attention. The happiness in his attitude after realizing that he had finally received help at the setting sun made me feel pleased with myself for having pulled over for a stranger. The same goes to the reaction of the woman who left her phone inside the bathroom. I am glad to be in a position that allowed me to show others that humanity still exists. This is because I know that through this both Masayuki-kun and the woman will be enocouraged to do good for others whom they will encounter in the future, coincidentally.

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Figure 3. Gift from Masayuki. I told him I wanted to hike Mt. Fuji. Before he got on the train, he handed me this as a thank you gift.  It’s of Mt. Fuji. What another coincidence!

P.S. I am still hesitant to accept it as a coincidence in the case of meeting Masyuki-Kun. This was because, on top of everything that occurred that Friday, I sent Masayuki-Kun on Bart train using a Bart ticket that I had purchased months ago but remained unused, and wedged inside my phone case. But it could be anything. Everything happens for a reason.

If you are reading this, Masayuki, thank you for your Fuji yama handkerchief. I am glad I got your endorsement on In-N-Out burger.

 

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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

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*…