Friday, April 29, 2005

Philosophizing about Shopping

Philosophizing about Shopping

With the coming Monday being a public holiday, there's a long weekend ahead. I'll need to plan it carefully so that it is not wasted. I've already crossed off a lot items on my long list of errands but it is a list that continues to grow all the time. It's also the end of the month again. Time to start paying those dreaded bills...

I'll probably fork out some time to do some much needed spring cleaning too. I've already taken care of all my old books and papers; now I have to start tackling my old clothes. At least 50% of my wardrobe needs to be discarded. Which also reminds me that I have to spend some time shopping for some new office clothes. I've been working from home for more than a year now, so understandably, this part of my wardrobe needs some serious replenishing.

To me, shopping for clothes is one the dullest activities in the world. (Could be because I have very dull tastes when it comes to fashion). But I am often amazed at the kind of patience that women possess when it comes to this particular "chore". They could spend hours browsing and queueing up outside the fitting room to try out various different pieces, but end up buying nothing.

I'm not sure about other men, I try to be quick when it comes to deciding what to buy. Browse, choose and pay. Of course, that doesn't mean that one doesn't choose wisely. I simply put on my consultant thinking cap whenever I shop: Assess, Analyze and Execute. You deal with one phase completely within the given time-frame and move on to the next one. Don't dilly-dally.

To find the best bargain in town, one often has to spend a lot of time browsing and comparing prices from many different shops. I do that too sometimes but I try to "timebox" the process because after a certain point, the time and energy you have to spend hunting for the best bargain does not justify the savings anymore. These intangible costs need to be quantified and taken into consideration too. I consider time a very expensive commodity simply because it is not a replenishable resource. Money-- at least I'd like to believe--can be potentially infinite.

Shopping can be a very time-consuming affair. Even if you have all the money to buy all the shoes that you desire in the world, you won't have time to wear them all. I used to buy a lot of electronic gadgets--PDAs, computer accessories, cameras etc--when I was in Singapore. Then I realized how tedious it was having to go through the same ridiculous cycle over and over again: figuring out how to use them, fiddling with their parts and accessories, not to mention having to find space to store and manage all the messy pieces of cables and chargers. I'm through with buying gadgets now.

I'm sure many of us will take the opportunity to do some window-shopping over the weekend. Inevitably you'll end up buying something, and most likely it's going to be something that you don't really need. There's nothing wrong with that. If the experience of shopping itself gives you pleasure, then by all means. Like what gamblers like to say, you are just paying for the pleasure of the experience itself--no different from paying to enjoy a good meal or to watch a movie.

So let's not waste time philosophizing about things too much. Just relax and indulge in whatever activity that brings you "pleasure" over the weekend. Happy shopping!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Mental Energy

Mental Energy

The mind and the body need to work in tandem for maximum performance. By watching our diet, having enough rest and exercise, we can keep the body fit and energetic. Healthy people are always full of energy. A heatlhy body helps to bring about a healthy mind. But there are also other factors that affect our mental energy, which we do not often realize.

Why do we lose interest in our job or lack the motivation to carry on sometimes? An energetic mind is characterized by alertness, creativity and enthusiasm. How do we ensure that we maintain that kind of mental state consistently? Why does the thought of work immediately make some of us feel tired?

I believe we can achieve an energetic state of mind by managing two things well:

1. Goals
2. Resistances

The mind tires easily when it lacks direction--there are no goals for it to go after. So our thoughts meander around aimlessly. There is no focus when it comes to channelling one's mental energy, so it gets dissipated in many aimless activities that bring no cumulative result. The outcome is frustration, boredom and lethargy.

We need to have a focal point for energy to be accumulated, streamlined and applied efficiently. We can be very busy everyday in the office--answering phonecalls, talking to colleagues and attending meetings--but we could still end the day without accomplishing anything tangible. We must always start the day with a few specific goals in mind. What do I need to get done today? Then we go after them.

These goals or targets need not be big. It could be simple things: a report to be completed, an important e-mail to reply to, a quotation to send off; but if if we start our day with these clear goals in mind, then the mind knows its priorities. At the end of the day, it gets a high from knowing that it has achieved its goals and this "high" feeling provides a rush of fresh energy that rejuvenates the mind. These small daily wins keep us constantly motivated because we always end our day with a sense of accomplishment.

Mental energy also gets lost too due to mental resistance. This mental resistance results from all the things that prevent us from going after our goals--our fears, our lack of confidence and our doubts. Everytime we encounter these resistances, we have to waste energy mulling over them, hesitating and finding excuses to avoid moving ahead. As a result, we lose our momentum forward and end up feeling mentally tired.

Hence, mental resistances must be identified, tackled and removed once and for all. It's good mental housekeeping--we remove these obstacles so that we are not constantly impeded. To overcome these resistances, we need to knock off all their supporting reasons. If we don't tackle them head-on, our fears and doubts gain strength with each passing day because we all have a subconscious habit of collecting justifications for their existence. We have to realize that fears and doubts are but illusions--mental constructs that disappear the moment you remove their shaky foundations.

Once the mind knows where it is heading (goals) and sees a clear path towards it (no resistance), we will immediately feel lots of mental energy to forge ahead. Nothing in the world can stop us once we know how to harness our mental energy!

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Forgotten World

The Forgotten World

Had a good jogging session this morning at the park, which had the effect of making me feel physically exhausted but mentally refreshed. A fresh mind is clearly needed to tackle all the nitty-gritty activities of the coming week.

When you are jogging outdoors, you are constantly focussing on your movement (one step at a time) and your relationship with the environment. You have to watch out for passing traffic, rocks and pebbles on your path, drains and potholes, dog poo and other urban hazards. It demands concentration but it clears your mind from the usual mental noise that runs incessantly in one's head.

The neighbourhood park beside the mosque is the nearest oasis of green for me here. But it is good enough. There are workout stations to do sit-ups, press-ups and other simple exercises. It serves as an outdoor gym for me to get a quick (and cheap) workout to kick-off my day.

I love doing physical exercises outdoors. It's not only the exercise, it's the trees, grass, sky and the morning sunlight which makes it all a very invigorating experience. You feel you are communing with Nature and Nature has so much to share with you. Even a brief hour cavorting on a small patch of an suburban park is a much welcome respite from the humdrum existence that is our everyday city life.

Whenever I see bright sunlight and blue skies, beautiful thoughts stream into my mind. Sometimes you feel a bit sad thinking how artificial our lives have become: we spend the greater part of our work-day staring into a computer screen and cooped up like caged animals in air-conditioned buildings. At the end of the day, we relax by again staring into another screen--the television.

But this is the life that we, so-called civilized men, have chosen. And we call it progress and prosperity. I suppose it is inevitable. We will spend greater and greater portions of our lives living in virtual worlds. Someday we'll create trees, leaves and sunlight in these worlds that will feel, smell and taste as real as the real thing, if not better.

And we'll probably need a Chosen One to wake us up one day and show us that there's a real world out there that has always been in existence. But somehow we have all forgotten about it.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Capital of Asia-Africa

The Capital of Asia-Africa

Eighty leaders from Asia and Africa representing two-thirds of the world's population ended their summit in Bandung today in commemoration of a similar conference held 50 years ago at the same venue, Gedung Merdeka.

The conference in 1955 was a monumental event because it was the first that the leaders from so many newly independent nations met in one place. Freed finally from the shackles of colonialism, there was great optimism and hope in the air; these young nations could finally determine their own future and "do the right thing" for their own people. The success of the conference inspired the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

The conference 50 years ago was opened by Sukarno. The venue, Gedung Merdeka, was formerly a social elite club for the Dutch, known as the Societiet Concordia. The hallowed halls of Gedung Merdeka were graced by the presence of the who's who of post-war Asia and Africa: Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru; PM of China, Chou En-Lai; President Nasser of Egypt and Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia, among others.

I'm quite familiar with the conference because I did some research about it for my article on Bandung which I wrote for a magazine two years ago. Many of the conference delegates then were placed at the Homann and Preanger Hotel--both which are still standing today, although they have gone through substantial renovations since.

This morning, the leaders nostalgically retraced the historical walk from the Homann Hotel to Gedung Merdeka across the street (renamed Jalan Asia Afrika), which their leaders took fifty years ago on the opening day of the summit.

I've spent a couple of weekends during my time in Bandung, loitering around the Jalan Asia-Afrika area, snapping photos and checking out all the historical landmarks there. Gedung Merdeka today is a museum exhibiting photos of the 1955 conference. In the main conference hall, one can see life-sized wax figures of the leaders who attended the summit, with Sukarno standing at the podium, giving the key-note address.

What a stirring speech Sukarno gave, delivered in English with his sonorous Javanese accent. He urged the newly independent nations to emulate Indonesia: "Brothers and sisters, Indonesia is Asia-Africa in small...Make the 'live and let live' principle and the Unity in Diversity (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika) motto the unifying force which brings us all together...".

The conference was a great success. Nehru captured the heady feeling of optimism generated from the conference in his closing speech by declaring Bandung "the focal center" and "capital of Asia-Africa".

The Asia-Africa conference of Bandung in 1955 perhaps marked the pinnacle of Sukarno's reputation as one of the most prominent leaders of the Third World. It was a time of great innocence. All the Asian-African nations were soon to find out that gaining independence was the easy part; the path towards successful nationhood is one fraught with enormous challenges.

How many Asian and African countries can claim to have achieved success? Many have even retrogressed through decades of civil war and despotic governance. Malaysia, which was only on the verge of gaining independence then, has been relatively successful in comparison. We could do a lot better of course but we could so easily have descended into chaos too. It's a struggle which every generation will have to fight. Nothing is to be taken for granted. Each generation must be reminded of the lessons of history.

What will the next fifty years bring? Bandung today is plagued with pollution and over-congestion. Everyone laments how much things have changed over the years: the cool weather, the verdant hills of Parahyangan, the rich charms of the Sundanese culture, the Art-Deco architecture of Bandung's Golden Age--they are all disappearing under the name of progress. I've spent a lot of time studying what Bandung was like back then but what will it look like in the future?

Who knows, maybe I'll be able to revisit this topic again in fifty years time :-)

The Struggle

The Struggle

I dread having friends calling me late at night, asking me to go out. These are usually friends from overseas who happen to be in town. I used to play host to a lot of visitors when I was working in KL ten years ago. I knew all the popular nightspots well then, but not anymore. These days, a quiet night at home is a most welcome bliss.

Saturday nights are a bit different these days--the live telecast of the EPL matches have become the focal point and highlight of every weekend for most men. I don't really enjoy watching soccer matches in pubs because the commentaries are usually drowned by the noise. And those who watch soccer together with their buddies at watering holes usually like to bet. I'm not a fan a gambling either.

It has been a year of heartbreaks for me when it comes to the performance of Liverpool. I've lost count how many times I've sat down in front of the TV on a Saturday evening looking forward to a scintillating performance from my favourite team only to see them lose in the most pathetic fashion to bottom-of-the-table teams--like in today's match. I think I'm going to stop watching them play for the rest of the season. I'm also determined not to blog about Liverpool or soccer anymore, unless the miraculous happens: Liverpool wins the Champions League.

How does one deal with disappointment? I guess by taking whatever positives that one can from the experience and moving on. Work-wise, I've had a relatively productive Saturday, spending about four hours working from the Coffee Bean Cafe at USJ10. The past week has been relatively unproductive for me because of the many errands that I have to take care of. I have difficulties with the weather too; it's been a terribly hot week here in KL, with wild torrential rains in the evenings. There were flash floods in various parts of the city yesterday. Luckily I wasn't on the road, having gone home pretty early.

I'm looking forward to a better week ahead. I need to control my environment and manage my time better. It's always a struggle, but then again, nothing comes without a struggle. Liverpool struggles to perform whenever they play away; I seem to struggle whenever I'm back home in KL. I blame it on the weather and all the distractions, but I guess it's my fault for not being able to deal with them better. It's a difficult struggle alright but it's one that I'm confident of coming out tops. I hope Liverpool plays the rest of their matches with the same kind of spirit too!