Testimony of Love and Commitment

She did not flinch, she did not shirk responsibility …. She did what she had to do for more than four decades. And she shared her love and commitment for the displaced children of Tibet with an audience of 70 women in the hall in WINGS (Women’s Initiative for Ageing Successfully).

I don’t think any one of them knew what Mrs Jetsun Pema would talk about. How do you speak on a topic called “How To Live A Fulfilling Life.” And as the Dalai Lama’s sister shared her life as Mother to close to 42,000 children in the Tibetan Children’s Village, I felt so much empathy and admiration emanating from the women seated quietly listening.

When she recounted how a boy of five who trekked across the Himalayas to seek refuge in Dharamsala and lost his fingers and toes through frostbite, who finally made it after that many days in the snow and danger from being spotted by border patrol guards, I thought I had a collective sigh of relief.

Throughout the one-hour sharing, I realized that what’s crucial in life is not about looking what’s wrong with the world around us. It’s about how we can help someone find his place in the world. Coz in helping that one person, we actually help ourselves. That is living a truly fulfilling life!

Thank you, Tempa la and Ama la. There's so much I have to learn about commitment and perseverance from you!

Thank you, Tempa la and Ama la. There’s so much I have to learn about commitment and perseverance from you!

It’s so evident in this picture we took after the talk. There’s Mrs Pema’s husband, Tempa la, myself, Mrs Pema, whom I call Ama la, little Tenzin, and Jinpa, my Tibetan friend, who helped me to get my book’s foreword from Ama la. What can you see in our faces? Yes, smiles of happiness and hope! Remember, there’s nothing so fulfilling as helping someone find himself!

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Smiles of hope and happiness

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It’s not how much you have, but how much you enjoy, that makes you happy.

Welcome to Chapter 1. It’s about my childhood … and my hobby, stamp collecting. Before the days of internet and the wired world of IT, are we more curious, more with a sense of wonder about how the rest of the world works?

First lesson: It's not how much you have, but how much you enjoy, that makes you happy!

First lesson: It’s not how much you have, but how much you enjoy, that makes you happy!

I have to thank Michael Gill Gates for his wonderful book on How To Save Your Life, which gives me strength to write this. He said, “Be honest with what you have to say. Your readers will appreciate it.”
Sometimes it’s the little things you grow up with that gives you joy. I had the benefit of having a father who worked for a travel firm called Mansfield Travel. Daddy was a quiet but cheerful man who never chastised anyone. He always had a kind word for everyone. And what I loved about his job as a stenographer back in the 1960s was the stamps. Part of his responsibilities was opening letters for his boss. And he was allowed to keep the stamps. Ah! It was sheer pleasure to soak the stamped envelope in my little basin of water, to carefully lift the stamp, to let it dry, then to study it …. Now, where did this stamp come from? U.S.A.? England? Japan?
I still have my album. I remember how carefully I would slip the stamp into the paper casing, according to size and value. 1p, 2p, 5p, 50p …. Pence? For a mere ten-year-old, living half a world away, the picture of Queen Elizabeth II and all the different values of the stamps were intriguing. It gave me my first taste of another country … My first sense of curiosity was aroused. And I believe it made me really, really excited about reading and history.
It’s sad, really sad that I fail to see this sense of wonder in the kids I work with. Sure, they have their mobiles and IPads, at a click of the button they converse with someone half a world away. But ask them what they truly enjoy and they look point blank at you. They all have their modern conveniences, they want for nothing, perhaps it’s a case of too much of a good thing being really too much?
I like to tell a little story of my trip to Phnom Penh to scout for organizations to help out. Dan, education consultant from STA Travel, never thought I was serious when I told him about my family bonding experience (bless your soul, Dan!). I’ll write a little later about the three days in a certain village where I found a bit of myself back.
Dan brought me to the People’s Improvement Organisation (PIO), which he insisted I must visit. There was this school in Stung Mean Chay which trains the orphans in Cambodian school’s curriculum and vocational skills. Oh yes, I was thinking to myself, how different could it be?
Which brings me to my belief that it’s not how much you have, but what you enjoy. Stung Mean Chay was the government’s rubbish dump, much like what you’ll see in Dan Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. The school was built next to it and yes, it reaches out to orphans in the area, who would climb on top of the heap to scavenge for bottles or tin cans, that could earn them the few Khmer dollars it could fetch.
What greeted me on arrival were the sounds of “I eat, I am eating, I will eat,” yes, an English lesson! I could hear the enthusiasm in their voices, and as I walked past the classroom, the faces I saw were faces of hunger, hunger for new knowledge …
Sok Seda, 16, personifies this hunger. She, together with six of her siblings, used to forage at the rubbish dump every day. She never knew any other life after her mother left the family as she couldn’t care for them. Her father resorted to drink, and it was left to the seven children to take care of themselves and their father. Scavenging was the only life she knew until the PIO found her. She remembers vividly, “I wanted to study, so I would come everyday to school. I would study from 7:30 am to 4:30 pm. But during break time, I would go back to the dump to work and I also work every evening from 8:00 pm to 4:00 am. Every time I come to school, I sleep. Because I am tired. But I want to study. I want to have a good job to help my family.”
Then there’s Tenzin Gyaltsen, a 27-year-old guide I met in Dharamasala, India. At a mere age of nine, he walked away from Qinghai, Amdo, in east Tibet, boarded a bus across 1,800 km to Lhasa, then made the trek across the Himalayas, through Nepal, finally making it to Delhi, India, before joining his countrymen in Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama and lots of his countrymen have taken refuge. I will tell his story in my upcoming book, Ordinary Lives. Extraordinary Struggles.
Speak to him and you’ll realize this slightly-built, quick-to-smile young Tibetan has a resolve that 20-something-year-olds in “developed” countries fail to match. He says in a halting mix of Chinese and English, “Many a time when I was in the biting cold in the mountains, I kept thinking that I would have to make it to India. I have to survive for my country. I managed to get away. But many children are still in Tibet. I want to start a school. To help these children.”
Sok Seda has nothing. Tenzin Gyaltsen has nothing. They know it. But they also know that it is not about how much you have. It’s about what we do with what we have.

Why I Wrote This Book

Can a woman Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! Sure, why not?

Can a woman Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! Sure, why not?

My backcover says it all ... thank you to the awesome people who make my life so wonderful!

My backcover says it all … thank you to the awesome people who make my life so wonderful!

Dear All, especially Wicked Witty Women in this very connected world:

I launched my book on June 2, 2013, at a forum Real Women, Real Conversations. Carrie Tan, founder of Daughters of Tomorrow, co-organised this forum with me, but she did all the work as I was busy with my own Young Author Awards. Thank you, Carrie, from the bottom of my heart, for your work with underprivileged women to help them eke out a living.

Love, Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! is meant to help women too, women who wanna find that purpose in their life again …. I’ve written it in a “hey-I’ve-gone-thro-this” tongue-in-cheek style. and like to hear from women out there who are reading this. So, I’ve decided to put the book on my blog, yes, the whole book, chapter by chapter, word by word. Share with me your moments too, if you think you identify with what I’ve written, or hey, think I’m just whining …. or well, we all have our bad hair days …. share with me. I love to hear from you. Whether you are in Guangzhou, New York, London, Beijing, Delhi, Manila, Taipeh, Oman, Singapore … anywhere in the world …

More important, my book is for women to celebrate life … to learn that if you want to be happy, no one can stop you!

So here goes …. the preface … Why I Wrote This Book!

So what’s life after 50 anyway? I’ve gone through my wild days at 14, married at 24, had all my three girls by 31, changed careers at 30, had a break at 36, saw my life turn topsy turvy at 44, found it again at 48, at 53 preparing to launch my creative education license to the world …. What more could I ask for?
But life to me is more than just numbers …. Not just the passing of each day, but embracing each new day and making sure I put some meaning into it.
I want to share this book with you. Whether you are contemplating getting married, or just got married, or you have been together with your partner for decades. Whether you are expecting your first child, or have teens or grown-up children. Whether you live with your in-laws, or can’t stand the sight of them.
Have you ever asked yourself why these people are in your life? I did and realized that it’s for one simple reason: to teach us lessons in life. For whether it’s the man who shares my bed, my three angels who have given me so much joy, my well-meaning but intrusive in-laws, they all have lessons to teach me. Without them, life would not have been so fun!
I’ve come to terms with my life. I met the Dalai Lama at 48, and realized that life is about celebrating each day, embracing what it offers me. I’m thankful for the people that came into my life. From each I learnt a valuable lesson.
So go on, live life with a passion. Don’t give up on it. Give it all you have. Because you have only this life to live. And I discovered this truth when I tried to end it.
Read this book and tell me after this if you’ll give your life one more shot …. To love, live dangerously! And yes, have fun!