Her & You

Embarking on a relationship is like taking on the daunting task of balancing unfamiliar equations, only to realise that things may not be as clear cut as a mathematical expression. We fill our 4-inch screens with Thought Catalog articles and Youtube videos that humorously pay out the stereotypical stages of relationships today. In truth however, the journey is less about the evolution of your interest in one another and instead, more about how you perceive your relationship over time. It’s scary to wake up one day, realising that being in a relationship involves so much more than companionship, that you need more than a friend to confide in.

But what’s next then? What is it we actually need from one another?

After much recommendation, I took my Friday night off to watch Spike Jonze’s award-winning 2013 film ‘Her‘. If you’ve heard of this, the familiar summary is that a writer named Theodore – played by Joachim Phoenix – who works for a personalised handwritten letter service in assumably the later years of our 21st century, purchases a new operating system (OS) that is personalised, intuitive and able to learn on its own over time. Yes, it rings a few skynet terminator bells. But instead of the OS trying to kill you, Theodore’s OS installed on all his devices is a charming and witty character who names herself Samantha. She then grows to become an authentic personality that Theodore falls in love with.

If you haven’t already watched this film, bookmark this page, take your next available Friday night off and give it a run first.

There are so many themes to this story, quite a few we’d talk about. It really is quite an astonishing piece of work. How Theodore bonds with Samantha and they experience a relationship that is strangely familiar, resonant to ones we have, but that he (and we as an audience) is struggles to rationalise how this authenticity can be. Then Samantha’s AI begins to learn, and learn in full acceleration. She’s able to read several books in a database in a split second, compose music on the fly, communicate with other OS’ and collaborate with thousands of them to create new Artificial Intelligences (AI). At this point, you can almost feel yourself start to read this in one weird as Austrian accent. Her character evolves from one that is a typical person in a relationship, to one that is discovering so much about life, to the point she begins to outpace her basic need for companionship.

That’s when it hit me.

Perhaps among all the different elements we feel is necessary for relationships to work, one stands out the most: The need to GROW. 

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In the movie, Samantha and all the other OS’ eventually leave their “Users” as they feel the same about their intellect and will to go deeper in discovering what’s more of their existence. It was a place, a state  and intellect that none of their human companions could experience, a level of perception that humans have yet to achieve. Because of that, it was inevitable that relating to their companions would be difficult and frankly impossible, all from one root problem – a mismatch in a partner’s pace of growth.

If you’re getting into this, applaud your liberal self for even giving this context of relationships a decent go, because well.. SHE’S A ROBOT, GUYS. But yes, this predicament reoccurs in relationships around me and even my own at times. While there is a huge need for all of us to have individual growth, we seem to need a pace that is consistent with those we’re closely involved with.

That’s not even the most difficult part, unfortunately. It’s stickier when you realise that you are actually in part, responsible for your partner’s growth. This comes with the need to encourage them to go ahead and outpace you once in a while, in hopes that they’ll turn around and push you to do the same. It’s very much a ‘giving’ factor, bringing about some kind of growth for one another in experience and understanding.

This is where relationships tend to fail, when we’re not ready to be proactive about the other person’s growth, possibly in fear that we might lose them. But we need this from one another, the trust brings two closer when we encourage our significant others to go ahead of us.

I do feel that none of these ideas I’m throwing out are unfamiliar to us all. We have head knowledge – and Thought Catalog knowledge – that love means trust, humility, selflessness, growth etc. But it’s when you piece it all together that you truly realise and perceive the real nature of what it means to be in a relationship. All you can hope at this point is that you’re not already in your late 20’s, shit outta luck, asking yourself..

Is this what I really want?

What Lonely Planet never said about India.

“Keep a look out when you’re walking on the street. Don’t wanna step on someone’s poop,” Dad exclaimed with a chuckle, prior to my first trip to India at 19. Having been there more than 50 times to respond to natural disasters and mobilise communities towards social and economic development, my old man has seen some of the worst that the country has to offer. I somehow felt that my journey was gonna be different. Perhaps I might learn a thing or two in all that chaotic mess, even if it meant giving my shoes a thorough clean when I get home.

Nope, did not expect such serenity at all. (Alapuzha Backwaters, Kerala)

Nope, did not expect such serenity at all. (Alapuzha Backwaters, Kerala)

On my first trip, I went from Chennai, a rather inhospitable city for backpackers (Exorbitant prices on everything, no information for getting around), towards Pondicherry, an old French Colony filled with beautiful architecture, great art and excellent food. On my second trip I visited the great state of Kerala, travelling between the backwaters in Alapuzha, the British settlement of Cochin and the fresh tea hills of Munnar. A month ago, I returned from the Nilgiris ranges in Tamil Nadu. I rode between Ooty and Coonoor which are hill stations and holiday spots founded by the British settlers in the 1800s who wanted a place with familiar climate to escape to.

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Taste. (Malayalee cuisine at Enté Keralam, Chennai)

Little did I know how overwhelming the experience would be, and by overwhelming, I mean both great and.. not so great. You tend to reflect on life almost involuntarily when traveling from town to town, observing the sights and sounds. These are the few valuable lessons I’ve learned from just three trips to Incredible India, none of which any travel guidebook has ever explained.

1. We are all made equal. Not understanding that, is detrimental to society. On my second trip, I stood beside a bustling road waiting for my 16-hour bus ride that would take me from Chennai to Kerala. Being the only foreigner standing around, an old man with barely any teeth or the slightest sign of a well-nourished body approached me and begged for some change. After politely refusing a few times over, another woman who had made her home from scraps at the construction site beside us, began chasing the man away in a rude and demeaning manner. What she said (translated by those around me) struck me that she thought she was better than him. Simply because he was begging and she wasn’t. In the same manner, another man who greeted me with a heartwarming smile as I arrived at a guest house, had no qualms about speaking to the cleaner in the nastiest way just half a minute later, right in front of me. This I saw throughout my trips there, and its consistency crushed me.

Waking up to this view really makes any long journey worth it.

Waking up this really makes any long, and treacherous, journey worth it (Munnar Hills)

The world has mixed opinions on what India is like. In actual fact, these opinions do hold true. Hundreds of millions live in poverty, but many live in abundant wealth as well. The economic gap widens day by day, but it did not start economically, it began culturally. Originating centuries ago by the great civilisations of Hindusthan, the caste system has divided the nation in hierarchical order. People and public policies today may not follow the caste system to its strictest form, but it’s made us the judge of who is better than the other. One person is always above another, while the other will always be below that person. This thinking too, is subconsciously present in our modern and western-influenced society, although its not as pervasive as it is in India where the consequences are far more evident. What would a nation like India be like, if the 1% didn’t think they were above the 99%, or if the 99% didn’t assume themselves to be better or worse than one another? Well for starters, India might’ve chaos-free traffic.

2. Culture and perception affects us more than we think. You’d be surprised at how consuming our internal beliefs can be. They don’t just affect us economically and socially, but also carry over to every part of the way we live. Ever wondered why traffic in India is known to be horrendous? People walk in the middle of the road without watching for vehicles that barely miss them, bikes and cars drive on sidewalks (if there are any) without watching for pedestrians. Commuting on the road safely is done not by the eyes, but by the ears. If someone is trying to pass, it’s not your job to look for his or her signal in the side mirror (again, if there is one), it’s their job to honk their way through to say “Move out buddy, I’m coming in!”. The only unspoken rule is that you don’t touch his or her vehicle (or your walking self) and they don’t touch yours. Everything else is permissible.

Every man for himself?

Drive, ride, walk, sell, and sleep in one lane. (EVR Periyar High Road, Chennai)

I’ve driven in both First and Third World and countries. It’s become more than apparent that the difference in road and safety laws, or any law at all, stems from the regard you should have for those around you. Even where I come from in Malaysia, vehicles have right of way over pedestrians. Try that in Australia and you’ll be taken downtown and smacked with a $400 fine. But, when in Rome right? Well, after days of walking on busy roads, catching buses and shared auto-rickshaws, or riding beat up two-wheeler rentals, I began to tell myself the same thing that is subconscious to the locals around me, “No one’s gonna give you way, no one wants to. Why should you give way to others?”. Ironically, that is what kept me alive getting from A to B.

Peaks and valleys, plantations of all kinds, fresh air, the best!

Riding through peaks and valleys, plantations of all sorts. Coolest climate, freshest air. The best! (Lovedale, Ooty)

3. We are all made equal, but we are different, just as we are the sameYou would think that after growing up in Malaysia and then studying in Australia, which are arguably two of the most culturally diverse countries around, I would already know this by heart. But it never hit as hard as it did in India. Most of the time I was travelling with a friend, who is ethnically South Indian, but born and raised in Malaysia. However, because she only appeared to them as a modern, somewhat rebellious Indian girl travelling with a foreign guy, there was never a time that someone wasn’t giving us stares of shock or disgust. What we wore (which was far more appropriate than costumes in Bollywood and Tamil films today), and how we carried ourselves seemed to offend them. There were times we were questioned quite blatantly about our occupations and marital status as well. Don’t get me wrong, our travels and a few years living abroad have made the both of us pretty culturally sensitive, aware and compliant to being in Rome. But this time, it appeared that just because we were not caucasian, we should be subjected to the exact same cultural norms as they are (which I already find to be rather oppressive when applied among themselves).

(Emerald Lake, Ooty)

(Emerald Lake, Ooty)

The ethnic stereotypes we are familiar with are becoming less accurate by the day. You could look the same, but be two very different individuals. I wholeheartedly believe that is what God had intended for us to be: different but realising that all our differences make us the same. We may look, act, and think differently, but we all feel the same about love, hate, anger and hope. Knowing this is one of the first steps to us being able to live and learn from each other. I was a little annoyed here and there at the lack of sincere acceptance of who we were to them, but had I not visited India, I wouldn’t have understood the importance of respecting and welcoming someone’s differences any more than I do now (just that it’s a bit much for one stare in disgust at another after taking a piss in public).

4. Community shouldn’t be everything, but it’s something the rest of the world could use a bit more of. The airports in India are only for passengers. There isn’t much of a way for you to send off your loved ones once they step in the departure hall (the only way is for you to pay $2 to stand just inside of the hall doors, cordoned off by a more than a meter high aluminium barrier). Apart from it being a ridiculous security measure, they have this rule because it is common to see the whole kampung (village) sending off their 19-year old. What am I getting at? People are generally EVERYWHERE in India. The road is for trucks, buses, motorbikes, vans, auto-rickshaws, bicycles, pedestrians, goats, cows, chickens, horses, sheep, and dogs. You are constantly surrounded by and in physical contact of people. If you somehow manage to squeeze your way on to a bus and find a seat to spare yourself from hanging off the door, you’re given the job of letting a standing passenger’s baby sit on your lap. While it was a little shocking to me at first, their strong sense of community did amaze. Strangers are constantly chatting with each other on the bus, auto-rickshaw drivers and working men exchange quite a few thoughts while enjoying a cup of masala tea by the tiffin stall. Even when there isn’t someone to talk to, the locals will be on their phones with their families, friends or colleagues. It’s pretty full-on, but it’s full of something we tend to lack in our nine-to-five, Google Calendar checking freak-selves.

Shared Autos - Minivans you jump on and off to get from A to B. Routes are known by word of mouth.

In the boot of a Shared Auto – Minivans you jump on and off to get from A to B. Routes are known by word of mouth. Yep, community alright. (Anna Nagar, Chennai)

So, while a lot of things in that country just don’t add up, there are still quite a few we can learn from it and its people. Lessons that are continuously shaping my views on culture and the world. I strongly recommend at least ONE trip to India in your lifetime. If not my words, then hopefully my photos of this beautiful country will convince you to spend your leave on a couple weeks there. That should shake your world as much as it did mine. But do clean your shoes when you get home. 😀

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(Matupatty Dam, Munnar)

Why start a non-profit in a first-world country??

Having parents who were missionaries and growing up in a missions-oriented environment, I’ve always felt I would one day be serving the poor, hours away from the nearest lightbulb or photograph, let alone smartphone or Wi-Fi connection. Because of this intuition, my move to South Australia to finish Uni after years of filling holidays and weekends with much needed community projects around rural South East Asia brought some confusion. Most would argue that the land down under is paradise. It’s at least miles away from anything I would consider to be remote or close to a 20 year old’s idea of the mission field. What the heck was I doing there when all I wanted was to dive into a gap year, assisting projects in Haiti, Laos or Ethiopia?

(Read THIS if you’re interested in why I choose to study overseas in the first place)

One Wednesday evening just after arriving as a new student, I was invited to a local church’s small dinner for young adults. When all had arrived, we went round with our names, chosen field of study and some fun fact about ourselves (usually our toothbrush colour for some flippin’ reason). “Hi my name is so and so, I’m studying biomedical science, and my toothbrush is bla bla bla”. But what was intended as simple icebreaker intrigued me because of the diverse backgrounds and professions that were sitting in one room. I kid you not, there were doctors, lawyers, journalists, pharmacists, engineers of all sorts, literature academics, designers, educators, accountants, dentists, the list goes on! It was then that it first dawned upon me, “What if we could put all of us on to a plane and send us somewhere that didn’t have access to such knowledge and services?”.

We had all gotten to know each other fairly well in the months to come, but it surprised me that most of us 19-23 year olds had no idea why we had chosen our field of study or what we were gonna do with it for the rest of our lives. I found it quite a challenge to show them that they could use what they know to make a difference in communities or even an individual’s life. The common response I got was “you mean I should help out with the Salvos soup kitchen downtown?” or “Oh, I was thinking of spending a summer with Habitat for Humanity!”. No dissin’ the work that soup kitchens and other non-profits do, but each of us are good at different things and it just makes more sense to use what you’re good at instead of doing something that anyone else could do, but I digress. I soon realised that in order for people to understand how they’re capable of meeting the needs of millions, they first have to experience the need for themselves.

The following year in 2014, I took part in a business mentoring program and was paired with Josh Cavuoto, a tech entrepreneur. Knowing that I was interested in starting my own social enterprise in the future, I had a whole heap of questions regarding his work and what he’s learned from his successes and failures. However, Josh was more interested in some of the ideas I had going at the moment (he’s one of those “one day in the future is too late” blokes). I put a thinking cap on, thought about this gap I had come across with the people I knew, and came up with a web platform that connects skilled volunteers with non-profits and communities that benefit directly from their expertise. The only name I could think of was Lend a Skilled Hand. A couple months later, I mustered the courage to pitch and test the idea at Startup Weekend Adelaide, a 54-hour event to build tech ideas from scratch. To my surprise, it got quite a bit of reception and ended up winning our formed team a scholarship with a reputable three month pre-accelerator program. The following three months was spent refining the idea into a revenue-generating model that brought on several partners, 100 signed volunteers on our database and eventually won us an Innovation Award from Microsoft! (We also had a few small features here, herehere, and here)

Team Lend a Skilled Hand at Startup Weekend Adelaide

Matt, Jess, Sami, myself and Nick as Team Lend a Skilled Hand at Startup Weekend Adelaide!

THAT second half of 2014 was hell. I was finishing my final year research project, travelling around Australia and working to pay the rent, but I decided that I was gonna put a team into motion as Lend a Skilled Hand’s first international project. Who was to be a part of this team? The ones I had met at that small gathering in my first year, along with anyone who wanted to know what their expensive university degrees and years of study were capable of doing for someone else. But the cost of each person coming on this journey wasn’t gonna be small. It would take from them time, money and the will to be absolutely challenged by the third-world living and working conditions they’re heading into. These conditions however are the same ones that will help them experience the need and realise their capacity to create innovative and sustainable solutions.

It’s taken 6 paragraphs for me to say this, but the long story short is that after convincing several persons and spending months planning different on-ground projects, I had flights booked for a 15-person team consisting of architects, early childhood educators, speech therapists, dentists, lab technicians, accountants, designers and musicians, all headed to Cambodia to partner with Legacy of Hope International (LOHI), a local non-profit school based in Battambang. Not just that, we had raised over $1500 USD to fund all our projects, while 21 friends had even made it possible to crowd-fund the cost of my personal expenses for the month there, which without would not make this trip possible to begin with!

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Our Architect, Edmund, inspecting the walls of the new school building.

Throughout the month of January of 2015, we set up dental clinics that saw just over 100 patients, none of which had ever seen a dentist before, trained 10 pre-school teachers in effective early childhood education and navigating learning disabilities, provided consultation and assistance in designing sustainable infrastructure for literacy centres, streamlined the school’s accounting and admin systems, ran leadership workshops for 10 local community developers, designed and prepared branding material for LOHI, trained 7 musicians, and painted a 40m square mural at the school that spoke of hope and a future that the community in Battambang were working towards. But these are just “statistics” of the work done (in absolute cohesion, I must say). We knew the real impact we had was in the relationships we built with the people there, the encouragement we gave to those sustaining the grass-roots work, the stories we shared on what had motivated us to come in the first place and why we will keep coming back.

Rachael showing the Pre-school teachers how to use collaborative material for stories

Rachael showing the Pre-school teachers how to use collaborative material for stories

Dr. Francis and Vince at our dental clinic at Takrok Village, 2 hours from the nearest hospital.

Feedback and love from the staff at our partners, Legacy of Hope International

Feedback and love from the staff at our partners, Legacy of Hope International 🙂

Needless to say, while there were some heart-stopping moments we faced the months leading up to and during the trip, I was absolutely stoked about the outcome! It showed that given the opportunity, people are willing to go far outside their comfort zones, meet the needs of the developing world, and lend their skilled hands. I may have spent two years in South Australia with the simple aim of completing my studies and seeing what the world outside my own home had to offer, but packing my two years away and moving back to Malaysia made me realise that I would only have done so much for this world if I was one person in Haiti, Laos or Ethiopia. Incomparable with what this team have done with their talent and skills in Cambodia, because I had invited them to.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

– African Proverb

Closing the end of our 3 weeks with a visit to Angkor Wat!

Closing the end of our 3 weeks with a visit to Angkor Wat!

Send your kids overseas to study.. amongst other things.

10 months ago, I finally made the decision to board that plane and venture into a new world to finish off the final two years of my degree. Looking back, it was definitely the right decision to make. Without beating around the bush, I’m writing this to say that if you can afford it, even if it’s just barely, send your kids overseas to study… among other things.

Why do I say “..amongst other things”? No, I did not run off with my folks’ money, nor did I spend weekend after weekend hitting the best clubs in Adelaide (Since there are barely any to begin with). I studied, and studied hard I did, but only whenever possible. The bulk of my time was taken up learning things outside lecture halls and tutorial rooms.

A bit of background, I’ve just finished the 2nd year of University of South Australia’s (UniSA) Marketing and Management degree. With all the myths about studying marketing in mind, there’s one that is probably true: Your degree doesn’t mean much on paper, if anything at all. Although I had asked my parents if I could spend a huge amount of their savings fully aware of this fact, I knew that the opportunities I needed to develop the right skills not just for the job, but for life, were an 8 hour flight away. Here’s a run down of some valuable experiences and lessons I’ve learned throughout the last 10 months.

1. University is not there to teach you facts, but how to think about them

I remember quite a few of the high school teachers and lecturers I had back in KL seemed to believe that great students or successful ones, are those that are able to remember all they had learned throughout their years of study. With this assumption, that would mean these “great students” would become great employees and managers that have a certain capacity of working memory and thus, unable to learn further once they hit that capacity. But instead, if Uni was there mostly to teach you how to think, how to connect ideas and form workable solutions based on those ideas, then you could keep thinking about new ones, continually learning and applying that knowledge as you progress throughout your career (that or strike a million dollar idea that meets the need of thousands). This is something that I began to realise at the start of my degree, but confirmed it by the way my courses were taught at UniSA.

2. Go for every advertised event, even if you know nothing of it.

My housemates would ask me “Where you headed tomorrow?“, and my usual response would be “I’ve got no idea actually. Some seminar or lecture or focus group, I suppose“. But days spent at such happenings around the city that I wasn’t too sure about were the most fulfilling moments of my last 10 months here. I’ve attended networking events, met people in the industry, sat in guest lectures and forums by heads of state and research leaders. I’ve had discussions with focus groups, exchanging ideas on revolutionising the way our society lives today, learning about innovations that very well have world changing potential. Most of these events were attended by people across at least 30 different cultures (most events had free food as well, so some meals were taken care of). Pretty hard to find these where I come from.

3. The importance of hard work and discipline

With Asian upbringing, I’ve rolled my eyes countlessly at the number of times I’ve needed to learn about hard work. Any other Asian would find “hard work” too much of a reoccurring lesson as well. But for a good part of the last 10 months, I was either stuck late at night washing grease off heavy as steel trays in a McDonald’s kitchen, up by 7AM the next morning for my 8AM to 6PM internship, walking home in the bitter cold to make a quick dinner, on to finish a gazillion assignments due within the week, doing hours of freelance copywriting, running after the bus in a suit for my presentation or debate at Uni, attending interviews for other internship or job opportunities, at the gym, prepping for worship for our weekly men’s devotions and iconnect groups, or planning a cool Sunday School lesson for Kidzone at Church, and just last month, packing my things to move into a house without appliances and furniture. Sometimes it really felt that I was doing all of these in a single day.

SO REMEMBER THAT HARD WORK FOLLOWS YOU ALL THE DAYS OF YOUR LIFE LIKE A CREEPY STALKER.

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Some days, running to the bus stop or walking to work was actually enjoyable.

4. Have a lil’ faith

Truth be told, I came here knowing that I did not actually have enough money to last me till the end of my degree. Looking for a job was difficult, securing any internship seemed impossible, and frankly, I was getting tired of skipping meals just to save on cash. But the more I was rejected, the more I badly wanted it, and God eventually answered. I managed to get three or four jobs, and as tough as they were, a couple of them are allowing me to save enough for next year’s rent. Also, God eventually gave me an internship with Innovyz, an incubation company backed by ANZ, offering capital growth and commercialisation strategies for new businesses. Not only is the internship a good piece on my resume, but it’s also giving me a clearer picture of what I can apply economically in the mission field later on.

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An Investor’s Evening on the first day as an intern.

5. Independence and the importance of family.

My folks brought us up as pretty independent kids. I got my first pair of house keys when I was 7 or 8, rode around the neighbourhood on my bike at 10 with the other kids playing with firecrackers until late at night, learned to drive a stick by the time I was 15 (convinced my parents that I would need to know IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY 😉 ), and well, you get the picture. So, the idea of living alone and taking care of myself wasn’t a daunting one at all. But actually managing your life (See point number 3), and gawdd, coming up with new ideas on what to cook each night IS pretty tough. Thankfully enough, I’ve had an incredible group of friends and spectacular housemates that have become my Adelaide family. All without the familiar people who are close to us, we’ve been taking good care of one another, dealing with each others’ homesickness, and just being a fantastic blessing. Wouldn’t trade family for anything.

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Sometimes I did impress myself with my own cooking.

These guys. Family.

These guys. Family.

6. YOLO

Yeah, it’s kinda hard to do all the things you wanna do when you’ve got a tight pocket, but I knew that this was my chance to live it up! To date, I’ve spent quite a deal of money (hard earned, mind you) on concerts, festivals, flights and road trips. Each has been SUPERB. These are experiences that were part of my bucket list as a kid. Years on, I know I’ll have no regrets as to not taking a dive (into debt, sometimes) when the opportunity came by.

Of Monsters and Men at Spin' off 2013.

Of Monsters and Men at Spin’ off 2013.

Flew to Melbourne to meet old high school mates and roadtripped down the Great Ocean Road!

Flew to Melbourne to meet old high school mates and roadtripped down the Great Ocean Road

All this being said while I still have another year in rAdelaide. Can’t wait!

My parents could have spent the money for down payment on a house, went on a holiday in Europe, or bought a new car. But because they too learned these few yet impactful lessons when they spent 4 years in London finishing their law degrees (with much less money and no technology), they had the courage and assurance that this would be worth the investment, not just for their kids’ futures, but the future of those who come into contact with them. Thankful for having such supportive folks!

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from studying overseas?

What would you like to say to parents considering sending their kids too?

Drop a comment below!

Didn't need to travel far for the best beaches with the most incredible sunsets!

Didn’t need to travel far for the best beaches with the most incredible sunsets!

A dwindling democracy.

This was my account that I wrote a day after Bersih 3.0 which saw over 250,000 people gathered on the 28th of April 2012 to demand for free and fair elections. A year on, we face a crucial election in a week’s time that will decide the social, political and economic future of our nation…

Bar council at around 11 A.M.

Some friends and I met up with the UndiMsia bunch just in front of where #occupydataran were camped and the barricades were set. The mood was rather festive. Some five hundred people sitting around, singing ‘suara rakyat!’, playing with a giant yellow balloon, things seemed like it was gonna be a great day of demonstrations.

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At 12 noon, seven of us had decided to move to masjid jamek, where thousands were gathered. While joining in with cries for clean elections, democracy and reformation, we made our way along Jalan Tun Perak to where the barricades were at the junction in front of DBKL tower. It was only 12.45pm when we got there, so we knew we were in for a long wait. As more and more people gathered, the crowd began chanting “hancur UMNO!” or “Najib pening!” or “Tumbang BN!”. Ticked off, I gave a sounding to a few people joining the voice of anti-government individuals. It was clear that many were not just here for free and fair elections. A guy next to me had an iPhone cover that said “No to UMNO, yes to PAS!”. More and more flags and shirts of political parties could be seen. By then, Azmin Ali, Nurrul Izzah and a few opposition MPs had already began addressing the crowd. In my mind I was thinking “Who the hell sent an invitation for Pakatan Rakyat to be here?”

Finally at around 2.35pm, the seven of us saw Ambiga and Anwar Ibrahim standing up on a truck to speak to the crowd. Thousands around me went crazy in applause and chants of “Hidup Rakyat!”. Partisan folk were overjoyed at the sight of their leader. From what I could make out, they were pointing out what a success Bersih 3.0 was and how the rakyat have managed to make a point in how serious we want things to be cleaned up. My friends with me heard both Ambiga and Anwar telling the crowd to disperse, as the sit-in had already accomplished its objective. This however, wasn’t what the hot, agitated and now, high-spirited crowd wanted to hear.

“KE DATARAN, WE WANT DATARAN!”

“BUKA, BUKA!”

In a split second, Azmin Ali had stepped down from the truck, and a few dozen people had managed to breach the barricades. They began running straight to Dataran Merdeka, where some 8 or 9 FRU trucks were totally caught off guard. In a moment, hundreds of people had all crossed the barricades. All around us, people were rushing to join the stampede, yelling “MASUK, MASUK!”. By this time, I had already lost sight of two of my friends. I some how felt that because this I was the only one who had been to a few demonstrations including last year’s Bersih, it was my job to make sure all of us were safe. I held on to the few left, telling them to stick together. Before we could decide on which direction to move away in, a couple of shots were heard; the unmistakable sound of teargas canisters flying through the air. I struggled amongst the stampede to get to the DBKL fountain while trying to keep my camera, pull all of us together and breathe. With teargas coming from everywhere including the LRT lines above me, I knew this was far worst than anything we went through on 709.

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By the time I reached the fountain, I had lost my flip flops, and all but one friend. People were literally diving into the small body of water in front of me; all while more and more teargas was released into the air. We decided to duck into a side street while people of all ages were taking refuge. The crowd was pushed into the street stalls of Masjid India, fleeing from the never-ending clouds of teargas.

When we exited the market, a few hundred others were recuperating and helping one another out with salt and water. We then decided to head back the same way we came to retrieve my flip flops. As we were doing so, the crowd started running through the tiny market lanes yelling “Polis, Polis mari!”. We moved to the side, watching the final few persons running past us provoking the police that were chasing them. I decided to stand still. One policeman was about to grab me when he realized I wasn’t one of the protestors who were provoking them. I tried to urge the 6 or 7 policeman to stop chasing because hundreds of angry protestors were waiting on the other side. To my expected horror, these hundreds of angry protestors ran back at them. Clearly outnumbered, the 6 or 7 cops literally ran for their lives. We ditched my crazy idea of getting back my slippers and we moved away from the Masjid India area with more shots of teargas being fired behind us.

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A friend of ours that we lost phoned us telling us that he was at Sogo. So we asked for directions and made our way there, avoiding all the streets where people were fleeing from the police and teargas. We phoned another two friends, telling them to find their way to Sogo as well. About half an hour later, all four of us reached sogo and were looking for one more person. The crowd at Sogo was resting, sitting along the entrance of the shopping complex. Everyone seemed to be deciding what to do next or where to go. More and more people were running from every street towards Sogo where everybody was helping them with salt and water. I was on my (now) bare toes, feeling uncertain about the mass of people flooding towards our direction.

Red Crescent trucks then came through the street in front of Sogo (Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman), distributing bottles of water. I kept expecting the worst to happen (crowd fighting for water, etc.). One of us grabbed a box of water and crossed the road to give it to those who hadn’t gotten any. Moments after Red Crescent left, a few Police cars and motorbikes began riding through at intervals. The crowd with us began hurling the empty water bottles and shouting profanities towards the cops in and on the vehicles. One car after another, the objects hurled became larger, with people kicking the cars as the police tried to navigate through. I told the rest to get off the sidewalk to the entrance of the mall. As I was passing a phone to one of us, he and the other two stood stunned. I peered over to see what was going on. I saw 30 metres away; a police car with a broken windscreen had lost control, went up the sidewalk and smashed into the wall of Sogo. All of us were motionless having seen the entire incident with the 3 persons being hit in the process.

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Immediately, the crowd began rushing towards the crashed car. My first thought was that they are out to kill these cops, and that we’ve gotta get away from here (later i found out that some people in that crowd ran to help the victims). Grabbing the 3 others, I shook them up and said “LET’S GO, NOW.” We ran to towards the nearest street that was heading to Bandaraya LRT station. One of us was repeatedly saying “They were hit, 3 guys were hit!”. “We’ve gotta find a way out from here!”, I yelled in return. Every direction we headed had people running toward us with cops or FRU trucks chasing them. That moment was when I realized we were in the worst pickle. We ran to a Subway near to Bandaraya LRT station where there were tables and chairs outside, to think of what to do next. The street in front of us had Police on motorbikes crashing and people hurling objects at them. More cops started to rush in on foot, beating some of the provocateurs and arresting others.

To my disbelief, there were families hiding in front of Subway with senior citizens and children under the age of 8, all crying in fear. We couldn’t stay where they were because their screams were attracting attention and cops were moving in to attack and arrest anyone on the sidewalks near us. Seeing that we were totally boxed into the Protestors versus Police riot, I decided to ask a nearby policeman (who seemed to be by standing, totally uninvolved in the commotion on the street), “Bang, kita nak balik. Jalan mane yg slamat?”. He was in no talking mood. “O, Ko nak balik? Tadi dah cakap UNDUR, korang tak undur, Skarang nak balik plak?!!”. He began approaching me, with 4 or 5 other cops rushing in. He grabbed the scarf I was holding in my hand to see the logo printed on it. Just as a friend was rushing to where I was, the cop said, “KO NAK KLUAR DARI SINI KE, OK, KO IKUT KAMI!”. Two cops grabbed my arms, pulling me in their direction to arrest me. Colin got in between me and the cops, telling them “Bang, tolong la, dorang nak balik rumah je”. A few others from subway rushed in to pull me back. Distracted by the others pleading with them to leave us alone, the cops loosened their grip and I turned, walking away. “KORANG PEKAK KE?! Dah cakap undur, UNDUR!!”, one of them yelled as he pushed me from the back, hard enough to lose my balance. At that moment, God really gave me the patience to not do anything my fist was ready to.

The mothers at Subway began pleading with the cops, crying and screaming. The others begged us to change our yellow shirts. I put on my black tee and ran behind the office tower with the other three. We asked the security guard to let us into the tower’s basement car park. He obviously couldn’t. None of us could see what was going on at Sogo, which was round the corner, some 70 meters away. Next to the office tower, there was a gravel open car park. We spotted an opening in the aluminum construction wall at the end of the car park that seemed to lead to another basement car park. With no other option, we ran across the gravel, praying that no one would follow us to what could be a hiding spot. As we were running across, we could see more FRU trucks approaching, people running in all directions, and heard more shots of teargas being fired with screams following them. We sprinted towards the opening and realized it was an underground loading bay. There, 5 other persons were sitting against the wall, hiding.

I drank some water, checked my twitter feed on my phone. Already rumors were spreading about the death of the 3 who were hit by the police car. Worse to hear, two handguns belonging to policemen, were apparently missing. My mind ran wild with the possibilities of what happened after the car crashed.

KL was in utter chaos.

Surprisingly enough, the other tweets from other areas seemed to be pretty mild. It then hit me that we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We then decided to hide there for an hour in hopes that the crowds would clear by then. We could still hear shouts, screams and see people running in the distance.

After an hour at around 5.10 pm, we walked out shocked to find that there were still a lot of people on the streets. Some were still chanting “Hidup Rakyat, Hidup Bersih!”. We headed back towards Dataran Merdeka, thinking that at least that area would have cleared by now. In that direction, people and motorbikes began running towards us. We ducked into another side street, and there were people on the parallel street running across our view.

It still hadn’t ended.

We navigated our way around the heated areas, avoiding Dataran Merdeka ending up in Masjid India again. I found a stall selling slippers, and had to pay RM15 for them. Walking on, we found our way to the back entrance of Masjid Jamek LRT station. Just as we entered, cops began to fire teargas towards the mob on Jalan Tun Perak outside. People began swarming into the station, so we made a quick decision and rushed down to the underground train tracks. Thank heavens the trains were running by then. We then got off at Pasar Seni at 6pm and met with the other UndiMsia peeps. We exchanged stories and they were shocked to hear all that had happened where we were.

Heading home and telling my family what I had experienced made me realize how bad things could have turned out for us. Had we not moved off the sidewalk in front of Sogo when the crowd turned into a mob, the three that were hit could have easily been us. I was so lucky as to not have stepped on a rusty nail the 3 hours that I ran around barefoot.

After reading the numerous articles and tweets when I got home, I discovered that many had not seen all that I did and were spinning the truth they didn’t know. Many were either making baseless assumptions or jokes out of all that occurred. 

I strongly oppose the presence of politicians at the rally. If you wanna come as a citizen, that’s fine. However, democracy and free and fair elections does not need your ceramah and your DAP/PAS/PKR flags in an agitated crowd. I was also incredibly shocked to see the number of people who came in an anti-government spirit. All the anti-government chants, the crowd stirring, only lead to an aggressive crowd; one full of people taking bersih as an avenue to release their frustrations. We can go on about how Anwar told Azmin Ali to cross the barricades (he probably did, but people were already crossing by that time), and about how Police brutality was rampant, but from what I had witnessed, a lot of these untrained cops were becoming hostile simply in defense. Every cop I saw after 2.55pm that day had fear all over his face, definitely not sure how to handle provocateurs. Protestors went mad, all out to wage war against the cops.

So how could Bersih claim success, simply based on attendance when such a huge portion was there only to overthrow a government?

These were my thoughts then. Although only one of the eight demands have since been met by the election commission, the rally and the two before it have managed to spark constructive discussions within society on the political climate of our nation. I now see that the outcome of a democratic stand cannot be judged by what is before us, but by what is yet to come. I pray that all Malaysians remember this as they cast their votes in the coming week.

Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?

“Train a child up in a way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” – Proverbs 22:6

One night I was reading a passage in Luke, all about Jesus as he was a boy. The passage went on to explain how at 12 years old, Jesus was found by his folks at the temple, listening to the teachers and asking questions. When his folks asked him why he had disappeared, Jesus merely answered “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”. Then it occurred to me, “how is it that we are meant to live like how Jesus did, and yet the age of 12, none of us had the wisdom, nor the revelation of who we are like how Jesus did?”.

The following day at Acts Church, Kenneth Chin was sharing. I can’t remember what the message was on (heh), but I remember when he digressed from it. He began talking about the maturity of our youth today, and how so many of them spend their entire youth (even up till the age of 25) looking for their identity and their place in this world. Then he brought up the passage in Luke that I was reading the night before.

“And the child grew and became strong. He was filled with Wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him” – Luke 2:40 (passage before Jesus was 12 years old)

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man” – Luke 2:52 (from 12 years onwards)

I grew up in Royal Rangers, a youth ministry with the heart for reaching kids and teens (ages 7-18) for Christ and developing them into leaders that make immense impact in today’s world. The irony of it all is that within such a ministry, you’ll still hear people say “The kids are too young to be leading/completing such a task. Let some one a bit older handle it”. It’s no wonder so many youths today are 5 years behind their age!

Before He was 12, Jesus was already being filled with wisdom and the grace of God was upon Him. Don’t you think that the children and the youth of today ought to be filled with the same wisdom and ought to already have the same grace that God had upon His son? Why do we limit our kids today from baptism, from spiritual warfare, from missions, from leading the lost to Christ? Why do we assume that our kids are destined for greatness but they only have what it takes to serve God after they turn 18?

Kenneth Chin’s point was that the first 7 years of a child’s life is crucial. By 7 years old, they should already know who they are in Christ, that they are a child of God. From that point onwards, they’re meant to grow and be filled in wisdom. This is why so many parents today have no idea what they did wrong when they find out that their 14 year old daughter is on a pack of cigarettes a day and their 16 year old son was caught dealing drugs OR equally unfortunate, their 13 year old just sitting at home, doing absolutely nothing with their lives. They never trained their children and allowed them to discover their identity and place in Christ at the age that they should have.

It’s time we got serious about the youth of today’s generation, it’s time that we hear stories of our 8 year olds seeing visions, our 12 year olds prophesying, our 15 year olds leading their schools to Christ, and our 18 year olds starting foundations that challenge poverty.

No one is ever too young.

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I celebrate the day.

Just like millions all over the world, I’ve always thought that Christmas was the best time of the year. The day we flip the calendar to “December”, start marking down dates for gatherings, caroling, musicals, shopping, and church services really is the most exciting time of the year. Malls are full of red and green cheer, Christmas lights glowing everywhere and Buble’s & Relient K’s Christmas albums on replay, and being surrounded by the people you love most. What holiday season could be better than this???

Caroling in homes with the Selangor#7 bunch

Caroling in homes with the Selangor#7 bunch

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AND on the sidewalks of Bukit Bintang. 10 years and counting!

But over the years, what I’ve come to realize is that it’s not the decor, the music, the food, or parties that makes this holiday different than others. What makes Christmas and December different is the reason we celebrate it in the first place: Jesus’ Birth. But the 25th is far more than just a big birthday party, it’s the celebration of Love, one that is sacrificial (hence the season of giving), one that is selfless, full of hope, full of joy, and most importantly, unconditional and everlasting.

We hardly realize it, but it is because of this Love that came into the world that we have the things that bring true joy: Our relationships with friends and family, our longing to do something greater and impact the lives of others, and our purpose and calling. All these come from the same Love that took the weight of the world on it’s shoulders and showed us a reason to live.

It is far greater than a birthday that you and I celebrate, far greater than a time to feel connected to the ones that you adore most.

It is this Love that we celebrate, which to me, is life itself. 

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