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Sunday, May 17, 2009

Ambition

I heard it said once that stuff you liked to do as a kid was an indication of what you should be when you grow up.

Well, if that were true, I guess I should've ended up as either a teacher or a writer. I remember pocketing chalk pieces from my school classroom and then taking them home and writing with it on my grandmother's bedroom wall as I pretended to teach an imaginary class. I even came up with mock exercises and wrote them in exercise books. For the writing ambition bit, I wrote stories, complete with illustrations and even attempted writing a film script in Standard 6*.

But as most life stories go, where we end up eventually can sometimes divert so far from what we initially intended or hoped.

I am now a Programmer by profession.

Quite a different skill set and job orientation as compared to what my so-called ambitions were as a child. In fact, looking back, I'd sifted through an entire spectrum of possibilities: everything from nutritionist, to singer/performer/actor, accountant, philosopher, inventor, you name it.

What does that say about who we are? Or what we become? Is the diversion evidence of an internal change of personality or preference, or is it merely a resignation to the convenient, a conforming to what is deemed as a respectable job?

Now and then I catch myself asking these questions. This being coupled by the fact that my generation is often criticised by our elders for being spoilt for choice as far as career opportunities and selection is concerned. But the truth of the matter is, in fact, that indecision plagues most of us, even in the midst of all these harboured dreams and their supposedly ample possibilities. There is this battle between settling for what is attainable, acceptable and normal, in contrast to what is desired and perhaps, a less than noble or useful career in the eyes of, say, our parents or teachers.

Well, at the end of the day, a job is sought for the earning of income. But since such a huge fraction of our time is spent on working alone, shouldn't we at least seek to find that which we are comfortable with or enjoy doing? To lessen the arduous task of keeping the career going in the long run, that is. But the world is not always kind. The most tender of dreams are often trampled underfoot in the midst of the business of daily living.

What of the kids who dreamed of being Prime Minister but only one did actually attain it? Or maybe that particular one hadn't even desired it in the first place? What if we were to all swap roles and make a beeline for the job we were meant to do instead of that which we do? How would the world change, I wonder?

Maybe, just maybe... the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of nations may sustain even better than they do presently. And perhaps the day may come where all children really do live to see their ambitions fulfilled, because society finally grasps the true meaning of a job being a right fit.

*Final year of Primary School in Malaysia

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The M Word

If you're anything like me, you find yourself every so often in this last minute dilemma of what to do or what to buy a certain loved one in your life. This is a common situation that crops up on birthdays, anniversaries, engagements and, of course... those special days designated to celebrate those important people in our lives. For instance, Mother's Day.

Now, don't get me wrong, I've nothing against earmarking particular days in the year for such purposes. But the implication of the entire concept is that every child needs to find a way to condense the gratitude they feel towards their mothers all into just one day.

There's the problem right there.

It's quite a task to do, really. Because, for those of us with good mothers, we find that the debt we owe them is far too great to be encompassed in just one present or just one meal. Hence, the awful pangs of panic and guilt that seize you as you comb endlessly through your mind on what would adequately express the thanks due to her.

Well, I got my Mum a gift like what most people do, but somehow, it still did not feel good enough. So me and my sister hatched another plan: to cook Mum a dinner on Mother's Day.

Despite both of us being much older now and armed with the basic skills and logic of cookery, we rarely practice our culinary talents. This is because we have such a great cook for a mother, and it's hard to practice your meagre skills in front of such a master.

But the season had called for it, and we were up for the challenge. And so on the evening of Mother's Day itself, we set off with two printed recipes plucked off the Internet in hand and prepared for the journey into the wilderness.

One of our first challenges was finding the correct ingredients. My sister had picked out a lovely looking dessert recipe, but unfortunately it required something called Ricotta, which both of us were totally clueless about. One shop and 2 supermarkets later, we still hadn't located the illusive Ricotta, and gave up, resorting to an alternative ingredient. Improvise was the name of the game. I'm sure Mum would've been proud, had she been also there shopping together with us. In fact, I could imagine her making the same decisions too... well, sort of, anyway.

Other challenges we faced was estimating the correct quantity for each required ingredient. How many cans? How many pieces? And the amazing thing about the recipe I picked out for the main course was that it didn't indicate at all how much was needed. Hence, the need to decide on a suitable amount. Our tactic was to overbuy, since it was better than to come up short.

We took longer shopping for ingredients than expected. We even walked by certain sections in the supermarket several times, just because we couldn't find what we were looking for. We also thought of a extra useful things to buy along the way. I remember remarking to my sister during our little mission, "Now I know why Mum takes ages in the supermarket."

After all the purchases had been made, there came the even greater challenge of the food making process itself. Simple things like what size to shred a vegetable, or when the rice in the pot is wet or cooked enough can be tough decisions to make, if you've not been accustomed to such things. Cooking is just as much an art as it is a science, and it was indeed baffling.

But after all the fretting and efforts needed, me and my sister finally served up a respectable little dinner, much to the utter delight of our Mum.

And more than just another culinary accomplishment under our belt, I felt that I had slipped into my Mum's private world for just a little while, and understood somewhat better the perils of shopping for the home and cooking for the needs of others. Our Mother's Day feat turned out a valuable lesson to me, and I realise this: more than finding a perfect gift for your Mum, the even better thing to do for her would be to take time out to make her happy and to attempt in whatever ways you can to understand her world.

And if we made that part of our daily habits, perhaps we wouldn't feel all flustered and guilty each time Mother's Day rolls around the corner.

* * *

A good book to read to get in the mood for Mother's Day would be Mitch Albom's For One More Day. I gurantee you, it'll make you appreciate your Mother more :)

"Mom."

It’s just a sound really, a hum interrupted by open lips. But there are a zillion words on this planet, and not one of them comes out of your mouth the way that one does.

- Mitch Albom in For One More Day

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Grandiose

Sometimes the things we fancy, we don't or can't necessarily own.

I've never owned a Grand Piano1 before. Though, of course, if ever I owned my own living space and it was accomodating enough in size, plus my financial circumstances permitted such spendings at the time, I'd definitely purchase one.

I guess you wouldn't really appreciate the difference unless you've played on one before. An Upright Piano doesn't quite cut it. A Baby Grand is a compromise of sorts, and is somewhat acceptable for a season, I suppose.

But nothing can beat the Grand Piano itself.

Yet, in spite of never owning one, I'm proud to say that I've played a Grand Piano before on various occasions. Well, there were numerous situations which allowed me the honour, but I think the most memorable times I've played it was at the piano showrooms at Yamaha Music School.

Those were times when I had to wait for my sister to finish her Junior Music Course class for the day. Glancing through piano books that were on sale would be amusing for awhile, but you can't really sustain your interest for very long just gazing at pages and pages of manuscript in itself.

Then, one fine day - and I can't really recall how it happened or even who suggested it - I landed a chance to try out the pianos in the Piano Showroom (basically, it's a room where they housed all the different Yamaha pianos/keyboards for would-be buyers to test them out). And if my memory does not deceive me, I believe I pulled in a book or two off the music book stands and tried my hands out on them right there and then at the piano.

And there, amidst all the many types of keyboards and pianos stood the Grand Piano... waiting to be played. So play it I did. In fact, I did it more than once. And I did this at two different Yamaha music centres, even.

In my opinion, there's nothing like the sound of making music with the piano in an empty, acoustically approving room. I haven't done this in many years, but I still remember the feeling. The elation. The satisfaction, albeit only for some moments. After all, the piano isn't mine, and you can't always keep playing there for as long as you like. Initially, I was a bit self-conscious about how I sounded, or if others would hear what I played. But well, I came to recognise those times as good fortune that I should appreciate and make the best of. After all, such occasions didn't come often enough.

Looking back at those moments, I guess I'd say that in life, although you may not always have what you desire, sometimes there's this middle ground that you may chance to find. A privilege to live a part of your dream, albeit perhaps only momentarily. An opportunity meant to be seized, and definitely savoured.

Play the Grand Pianos life presents you. We may not get exactly what we want all the time, but we can make the best of whatever God affords us. And when we do, we may find out that our lives are really richer than we realise, after all.

1 Can't tell the difference between an Upright or a Grand Piano? Learn more about types of pianos here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Sizing Things Up

My shoes are a Size Seven. They’re not so big, but I suppose, at the same time, they’re not too small either. Of course, maybe a Size Six might be easier to shop for, but I’m happy with my Size Seven. It’s perfect.

Sometimes I wish my life were a Size Seven. That everything would fit together perfectly, and even when things got hairy, there’d always be a time where all the loose ends would slip neatly together again and somehow, I’d make sense of it all.

But like my Mum is always telling me, life doesn’t come to you in nice, neat little packages. So I guess, it’s either we stubbornly cling to oversized expectations despite the limitations of life, or we change the way we live to accommodate the unpredictable bundle of experiences that life throws us.

I guess most days I still cling to a Size Seven mentality. I suppose that’s one of my greatest follies.