Sunset over Kyoto

1 April 2014

IMAG2672Arrived in Kyoto just in time for sunset, and one of my favourite times of the day, dusk. Headed over to Kiyozumi-dera, also known as Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera (音羽山清水寺). The pleasant spring weather and the hanami season meant the narrow walking paths up the hills were packed with people. But the weather was pleasant, the cherry blossoms beckon. A light heartedness floated in the air. I was in good spirits.

I will soon discover that the magic of Japan remains unfazed even in the peak of the tourist season. 

Up in the hills:

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I loved these pencil-straight leafless trees behind the Kiyozumi-dera. Are they maple trees? I can’t be sure. Come summer these hills will be covered with green foliage I suppose, then brown and red in autumn before a blanket of snow descends. I like countries with four seasons.

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Some researchers sat in the hills taking notes. I wondered what they were recording.

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The shrine and its platform, 13m from the ground. In the old days people leapt from those heights.

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Kiyozumi-dera surrounded by cherry blossom trees. Kyoto city in the distance.

Osaka harbour and aquarium

1 April 2014

Spent the morning by Osaka harbour. Visited the Osaka Aquarium on a great tip from a friend. It is impressive and well worth the visit. I only wished that the music was more audible above the children’s squeals of delights. It was the school holidays. Actually, I was squealing a bit inside too when I saw this:

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And these:

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And this. The only one of its kind in this aquarium. So lonely. Later I learned that there was another one in the aquarium that was transferred to a research centre. I thought about the first whale shark I saw in the seas off Krabi.

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That evening, I had one of the above types for dinner. Guess which one.

It was unintentional since I could only read about 10% of the menu.

I want to curate the music for an aquarium and bring on the magic of hearing Saint-Saens’ Aquarium in the very first cool aquarium I visited. That was in Sydney. I wonder if this desire stems from wanting to create music magic or just recreating that novel moment.

Outside, the weather is beautiful. Sat on the steps by the harbour and enjoyed the sun. Had a picnic lunch then hopped on to the train for Kyoto that rumbled through suburbs and industrial areas. The sight of factories surrounded by sakura trees beckons. As the train chugs along, I’m heading into the full bloom of spring.

 

Mass ride

Crawled out of bed at 5am, ate and set off to the F1 pit stop for the annual mass bike ride in Singapore sponsored by a local bank.  I have wanted to do this since the event started some years ago but had always been taken away by travels. So finally I decided to sign up last year which is waaaaaay in advance so that way I’m committed to do it (which means my holiday plans have been postponed till tomorrow).

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It’s a massive planning exercise for the organisers since the route takes us from the F1 Pit Stop, Marina Bay Sands, Sheare Bridge, Tanjung Rhu Flyover to ECP and back. This year more than 10,000 cyclists took part. The truth is one can cycle 40km or more at any time. But at no other time can you cycle on closed roads leading up to the magnificent Sheares bridge with a 360 degree view of the Singapore city skyline and rolling down at great speed onto the expressway.

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That itchy corner of the brain

Recently someone complained to me. The complaint wasn’t so much that a task was too difficult. Rather it was, “because I don’t like to do it”. In another instance, I asked someone a decade younger than me, “What do you do on weekends?” The reply was “Sleep”. I hope you were joking! 

It has come to my realisation that the world probably does not have stupid people. Rather it has people who lack interest. Boredom is nothing but a lackadaisical attitude.

Often, the saying goes, “Do what you love.” “Pursue your passion.” Love and passion are very strong words. That fire in the heart may not come naturally to everyone. It just seems too idealistic and elusive to be true. Also, it is as if there is only the one thing that is your love and passion. Identifying something so precise may not be so easy for everyone.

Rather, I would advocate keeping a light heart, a sense of curiosity in whatever it is you are doing, whether it is work, play, or something very difficult or something routine that needs to be done nonetheless. It is hard to keep a light heart; perhaps with growing age the heart has become hardened with calluses of cynicism. Or perhaps the heart is weighed down by the many disappointments and pains in the journey of life. Or perhaps it is simply because we have become lazy. Too complacent and too used to the comfort of familiarity. Therefore when a challenge arises, instead of viewing it as an opportunity to learn, we see it as an unwelcomed obstacle. On the flip side, easy tasks become a chore. But doing something reluctantly makes what appears to be a menial task even more of a drudgery. So why let negative thoughts ball chain our hearts unnecessarily. Why not turn the task on its head upside down, give it a spin and take it on with a fresh new angle. 

Most of us would have heard of the “glass half full, glass half empty” saying. Rationally, we know what that means: “It is your attitude or perception that makes the difference.” But just because we are intellectually capable of understanding a concept doesn’t mean that our heart is willing or accepting. How do we get there?

Keeping a light heart is to keep an open mind. The mind does not open up by itself, nor is it forced open by mere logic or rationalisation. Like a door with a rusty hinge, it needs to be slightly oiled, nudged a little, and eased into action. Like how rust has set stubbornly on the door hinge because moisture has been allowed to build up on the surface of metal, the mind is too set into thinking in a certain way because we have allowed it to. So undoubtedly it will be a slow process to reverse that. Take these tiny but incremental steps. Like daily pennies put into a piggy bank. Over time, like all other accumulated sensibilities, it becomes intuitive and instinctive.

An open mind doesn’t necessarily absorb everything that comes its way. Rather, it is curiosity in its basest form, like that of a child’s innocent sense of wonder. An open mind does not immediately say no or yes. Instead it asks questions: Why? How? Why not? It takes its time to get the answers. There is no rush or hurry.

Because there is no rush or hurry, you will feel more sure of yourself when you finally arrive at the answer.

Confidence is a quality that effuses outwardly. Yet, it is built upon a journey of discovery – and acceptance – of the inner self.

That journey is lonely but necessary. That is why it is also important to keep yourself in good company. Buddies who egg you on to challenge yourself, who psych you up, who encourage you to do the things that you once thought is too difficult, who believe in you more than you yourself. Receive the pep talk and compliments openly. And don’t forget to return it or pay it forward.

This post may sound like I am preaching. Actually, I am writing a letter to my younger self.

Keep a light-hearted curiosity in whatever it is that you do. I liken that curiosity to locating an imaginary itchy spot that you want to give a good scratch to. Maybe that spot is in a corner of the brain. This approach of a constant sense of curiosity may just be the key to identifying what ignites the inner flame, not just necessarily for any particular thing, but for life in general. The next time you notice an itchy corner of the brain, don’t be afraid to find the spot and scratch it. Lightheartedly.

Bike Sunday

Gone are the cool months of rain. Since the lunar new year, it’s been sweltering hot. But the upside is unadulterated sunshine and plenty of reasons to go for a ride!

Because blue skies, fluffy white clouds and the love for the wind on two wheels open up the heart just a bit more.

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Near Sungai Serangoon

25km into the ride I had a flat with no spare tube on hand. Though this isn’t a bad place to end the ride. Don’t these coconut trees look like lanky ladies with crazy winds sweeping through their hair?

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Pasir Ris Park. The sea separates Singapore and Malaysia.

Home for the Lunar New Year

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How clichéd are photos of clouds taken from a plane? But I love looking at these clouds. I want to sprawl on this white fluffy cotton mattress, roll in daydreams, live on ultra thin air. 

The plane descends. Transporting from the sea of white into a swathe of green and geometrical rows of palm oil plantations as far as the eye can see. The river meanders so romantically in the glow of the morning sun, even though I know the weather outside swelters.

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These photos were taken while I flew home for the Lunar New Year. My other home that is. After all, I have lived abroad for more than half my life.