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.


The Healing Power of Conversation … And 5 Things To Do Before I Turn 55!

The Healing Power of Conversations and Five Things To Do Before I Turn 55

How did Pauli and me celebrate Chinese New Year? Never thought it would be so heartwarming, so much of an eye-opener to me. Invited Raymond and Johnny for a Chinese dinner, and yes, celebrated both their birthdays for them. Raymond said, “This is our reunion dinner,” and it made me feel so connected with them. Both did not go back home …. in fact, Johnny worked in Cha Time and he made bubble milk tea, my favourite. Raymond’s working in the rural area, he’s a nurse and loving his job, and he is going to buy alpaca and buy farmland ….

But the conversation that ensued as we sat around eating the tiramisu cake (and I must say, it’s one of the best I’ve ever tasted! Raymond and I agreed it must be the weather, or maybe, it’s natural ingredients 🙂 ) the conversation lasted three hours …. But it’s honest-to-goodness sharing which I do not get back home. Tell you why …. Johnny’s from Hong Kong and same age as Pauli, Raymond’s 30 and reminds me of the child I could have got … Yeah, 1983, would be his age …. Three of them reminded me of when I was their age …. Full of dreams and wanting to do so many things, but worried about the future. The common factor linking them is a country that is overcrowded, that has forgotten what it is like to stop and smell the roses, coz there are no more roses and stopping is not recommended for economic growth ….. And the question on their lips but never asked, “What has gone out of the window in pursuit of material gains?” They like it here, and sometimes I think life is like a deja vu, our ancestors came out of China to seek better pastures for themselves and their children not so long ago …. Now our children are doing this for themselves.

It’s a bit different now, coz with so much gadgets (I thank the people who invented the Internet 😀 ) you can communicate so easily. And my advice to every young person who is reading my blog ….. Go out and experiment and experience! When I was your age, I had the same dreams, hopes and plans. The world is a scary place if you feel it is scary. It is a place of opportunities if you just follow your heart. Don’t be afraid to explore, for only then do you learn. More important, whatever you do, have compassion ……. Just as one famous human rights activist, I forgot her name, said, “Live simply, so others may simply live!” So simple words, yet so profound.

So I’ve made a list, 10 Things To Do Before I Turn 60. But then, that’s almost seven years away, and life is too short to plan so long. So, I’ve made a shorter one. Top priorities …. Top 5. Yes, 5!

1/ Sell 10,000 copies of my book Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! And have it translated into five languages. (5,000 per year quite do-able, considering I turn 55 in Dec 2014)

2/ Establish ( now, be very careful of the word, establish) okay, ensure, no, plant the seeds sound better, plant the Young Author Scheme and The Unique Classroom in 3 countries ….. Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia. (in no particular order). Why Australia? Met the people from BBX and have this funny feeling there’s a reason why Pam came to Adelaide in 2006 and Pauli is here. This year is the 8th year my kids are here. 8 is a magical number for me! Strange too, when Pam first came, I had dinner with 2 boys from Bradford (used to be called Alexandra Lodge) their reunion dinner in Chinatown, and this year, I also had dinner with two boys who used to stay in Bradford. And Raymond came in the same year as Pam. Uncanny! And yes, my dream to nurture a Booker Prize winner …. Maybe Asian Literary Prize …. That’s more do-able.

3/ Do book tours. (Must be more specific). Okay, my imprint. I’ve decided on Witty, Wicked Women, logo www, and the first book under this is Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! …. Ooh! I love exclamation marks! Makes everything so zesty! I’m going to do workshops around this book first. I also have the Amazing Journeys Travelogue (gotta start putting it together …) Cambodia, next Dharamsala. Promised Jinpa. Why workshops? Family bonding …. Parents and children to understand one another, to communicate …. that’s really my life’s mission. I feel so happy when parents and their children are happy doing things together. Let’s see where the Amazing Journeys will lead to ….

4/ Write 3 more books.
I Can Write. So Can You! (Must finish this by mid March …)
Ordinary Lives. Extraordinary Struggles.
Tips for Mothers with Children Studying Overseas (working title only. As an afterthought, yes, would include views of their kids as well, so more balanced)

5/ This is actually the fulfillment of my father’s and brother’s dream. My father planted it in me, my brother kept it growing in me …… Do my Phd in Creative Writing. Why not? First, I want to write a novel about women and why they write …. Too broad, gotta narrow it, but yes, it has got to be a literary novel …. And research is involved, and lots of reading …. I just love it. It’s also the fulfillment of my own dream …. One I had since 13 ….. Waited 40 years to see it come true ….

Life is indeed what we make of it ….. It’s good to build castles in the air, because it’s where they should be. Now put foundations under them! Look out, world! Life begins at 53!

It’s crazy … We survived minus 17 degrees in Beijing!

Day 1: I survived minus 17 degrees in Beijing!

It’s crazy …. And coming from my husband who’s deathly afraid of the cold, going to Beijing in the thick of winter, with my mum, 74, my sis-in-law, Fong, 60. My two daughters, Pam and Pauli, and Fong’s daughter, Sharon. When we got down from the plane, the cold hit us with a vengeance ….. Yes, being prepared was important. Thank goodness their aunts had lots of winter wear to lend my two girls and Fong ….

This is the first time my girls have travelled with their grandma. I didn’t know what to expect, especially from Pauli. I always felt there was a reason why she resisted going to visit my mum during CNY, but I didn’t pursue why. Time will heal all wounds, that’s my philosophy in life …. Live and let live. My girls have been inculcated with the proper values and I trust them.

I realized trust is the single most important value when bringing up my children. Trust and believe in them. And the unexpected happen. She held onto her grandma as we left theTemple of Heaven. One on each side of her arm, her grandma and her aunt. It was such a sight to behold as they both held onto her as they walked along ….