Strangest People

Psychology is the study of human beings, and I think most of us would agree that our strangest experiences in our lives tend to be people-related. Whether we met a psychotic stranger on the train, or have one of the weirdest colleagues, all of us have an experience or two to share about mentally inexplicable people. I can remember a few people offhand about my strangest people experiences, so let me relate my anecdotes.

1. The “do you like rape videos” boy

When I was nine years old, my parents decided I should learn the abacus. The abacus had been a hot fad at the time, and I remember in Maths lessons in school some time had been dedicated to the abacus. What they taught in school was pretty basic too, just addition and subtraction. In my abacus class outside the teacher taught me multiplication. It was by no means fun, but I guess it’s good to know you used to know how to multiply on the abacus. I’ve forgotten all of that now though.

What I did not forget was the time when my abacus teacher didn’t arrive to class, and I was put in another class temporarily. The boy sitting beside me was also about my age, I believe, and he was the most grotesque-looking boy ever. I came from a girls’ school, so boys were the source of fear for me. And during class, the boy kept turning around to me and asking, “Do you like watching rape or molest videos?”

I was freaked out. Rape and molest were like terrible terms to me, and to hear somebody say them like this was terrifying. And he went on to say, ” yes means no and no means yes!”

So I squealed, “No!” And he was like “aha, that means yes! Gosh, you love rape and molest! Wahahahahaa.”

Yes, he was that hideous.

He would turn around to some people and tell them that I liked rape and molest. I never bothered to turn around to look at them, because I was scared stiff. I wished time would fly and I could go home and never need to face that boy ever again.

Thankfully I never did see him again, but he was still firmly imprinted in my juvenile mind.

2. The girl with too many lives

I had a “best friend” in primary school, at about Primary 4 and 5 especially. She was my “best friend” in inverted commas because we didn’t acknowledge each other as “best friends”, but “stick through thick and thin buddies”. Either way, she was an interesting character. I do think I meet many interesting people in my life, which turn me into the interesting person I am today. Anyway, I haven’t begun to tell you the strange part about her.

If you ask me for any info about her, I would not be able to tell you. It’s not that I know nothing about her, but rather that I know too much, and all that I know are highly contradictory. She can say the most absurd lies about herself, such as her address, or the marital status of her parents, or whether she has any siblings. We can never be sure of anything about her. I don’t mind a compulsive liar for a friend, but it seems after she got into secondary school she got into trances and spoke in strange tongues, which is definitely a step higher than what I’m used to.

I also know another girl who loved to lie about herself. I think there’re many girls who lie about themselves to seek attention. Either way, this is the extent of strange people I know offhand (I do think there’re others whom I’ve forgotten). What about you?

Technology, As Portrayed

I don’t usually remember TV shows or movies by scenes. I remember them by arcs, such as the arc of ZONE in Trick 2, or by lines, such as   “el psy congroo” in Steins;Gate. I don’t know the full definition of “scene”, but if they include arcs and lines, then yes, I’m on the right track writing this, for today I’ll be talking about my favourite TV and movie scenes that relate to technology.

1. The music video before YouTube

This is definitely one of the most momentous scenes of ALF.

“You’re the one that’s out of this world, sweet baby!”

ALF has been the predecessor of many modern memes, from “Michael Jackson’s 99th nose job” to his shrewd and accurate assessment of presidential debates. However, nothing is more entertaining than his rock music video parodying many of the era’s coolest musicians. And the song is catchy. And there’re special effects that wouldn’t look out of place on a YouTube video or Powerpoint presentation today. I would link you the video, but I think it’s much better if you watched the entire episode, so if you’re interested, both the music video and the entire episode are available on YouTube.

2. The extension plug

Wreck-It Ralph is a great show because it reminds us of the old merry days of pixellated arcade games, and because it manages to account for everything that happens in reality in the perspective of game characters, such as the Out of Order sign pasted on the arcade machine’s screen, or the “mystery solved” when Ralph saw Vanellope’s picture at the side of the machine. The fun of the movie is not in portraying the game characters like humans (DreamWorks does it too well) but in changing their environment to match the perspective of the characters. It’s not in moulding game characters to be like real humans, but in moulding real life to be like a game world.

And one thing I love most is the extension plug, which is what the movie calls Game Central, I believe. When the arcade closes and game machines shut down for the night, the game characters follow the wire to the extension plug which connects all the machines together, and chill out with everybody else at the integrated lounge! I was so impressed by the creativity. I had never thought of it that way, that the extension plug becomes the meeting spot for all game machines, and entering a game is like following one of many tunnels out. It’s genius!

3. Iru-O

There’re many futuristic anime nowadays with hi-tech devices that do all sorts of stuff. There’s Sword Art Online’s NervGear and Psycho-Pass’ Sybil system, but the technology I most want to have is undoubtedly Robotics;Notes’ Iru-O. Iru-O is like a DS, except when you hold it up, it takes on augmented reality. You can have your personal butler (I’m salivating right here) standing at the screen, interacting with objects in real life right in front of you. In fact, Iru-O even lets you see something completely different, such as a window growing curtains where none actually exist. I can visualise the world in the way I want, with a bishounen by my side, talking to me all the time! I’ll never be lonely or scared again, with my handy handheld gadget, complete with its own personality!

This isn’t much of a TV scene, but an entire concept surrounding technology that I love.

How I Deal With Losing In The World

In life, we can never win all the time. However, losing can be a pretty disappointing setback for us, especially when we did hope very much to succeed. There are many ways to deal with losing to make us feel better and less of a failure, and some of my coping strategies are borrowed from certain cultures in other countries that I hang out with.

1. Like an American

What do Americans do when they’re on the losing end? Why, they argue it out, of course. Sometimes the most uncouth and ungraceful methods are the ones that best regulate your feelings. If you lose a debate or a contest, it can be extremely gratifying to keep on arguing like a sore loser over why you should have been right. It’s true that Singapore is a lot more collectivistic and high-context than the United States, and if you behave this way in Singapore people aren’t going to be happy with you.

But the fact of the matter is, why do you care?

If you don’t do this too often, I’m sure people won’t mind if you express your vexations once in a while. After venting them out, you’ll feel a lot better, or who knows, maybe your arguments will even turn the tide and let people reconsider your point. It’s always better than bottling up your feelings and thinking too much about them. You’ll be shocked at how long you hang on to such silly petty thoughts and make mountains out of the molehills.

2. Like a Filipino

If I’m acting like a Filipino, when I lose, what do I do? Why, I’m glad for the other person, of course! After all, a game is a game, and win or loss doesn’t matter!

This may naturally be a bit of a stereotype, but the idea is that we can adjust our own mindsets to rationalise to ourselves that games are just games after all. If we can change our thoughts and talk ourselves into believing that losing doesn’t matter as much, of course we’ll become much more carefree people. Our attitudes towards losses are our own, and it’s up to us to change our own mindsets and then to alter our emotions. And when people see us behaving as graceful losers, they’ll be much nicer to us too, which in turn sets off the cycle of feeling good.

3. Like an Australian

Speaking of changing ourselves, some of us may be too lazy to rationalise to ourselves that we love playing games for the sake of playing games (not that I’m saying Australians are lazy; in fact, they’ve got the right idea here). We can simply go with the laid-back attitude instead, that things will turn out well in the end and seriously, it’s not as if this activity was important to begin with. We should forget about this and go do something else we actually enjoy.

The idea of dealing with losing is the same as dealing with conflicts. When we’re in a conflict, we’re worried because we don’t want to lose. If we go about it the American way, we’re Fighting the conflict. If we go about it in the Filipino way, we’re Giving In. If we go about it in the Australian way, we’re Avoiding the conflict. None of these methods are wrong. Neither are they exhaustive. There’re also 2 more methods in dealing with conflicts, namely Compromising and Problem Solving. These are all just suggestions you can try (some will prefer 1 method more than others), whether for dealing with losing or any other setbacks in your life.

How and Why I Can Plan Everything Musically

I wonder why I came up with this topic out of the blue. I suppose I simply like to talk about my flair for planning and organising. I probably did not think this through, though, because at first glance it has nothing to do with music at all, except perhaps that my music is also just as organised as everything else. On closer thought, however, I do think that music is inter-related with my organisational skills. It’s something I’ve never thought consciously about, so let’s explore this together, shall we?

1. Introduction

In musical terms, an introduction comes at the beginning of a song, and often contains just music and no words, in order to build up suspense for the listener so that when the downbeat drops in, it creates a release or surprise. When you’re planning something new, make sure to start thinking about it before the assignment or event is scheduled to start. If you’re planning to write an essay, start thinking about it way before you intend to start writing — preferably the moment you hear about it so that you don’t forget.

There is a difference between putting off something to think about it later, and scheduling a timeslot to think about it. If you put something to the back of your mind to think about later when you have more time, I can assure you that you’ll forget. You must always write it down, and staunchly tell yourself when you’re going to work on it. “Later” is too vague. Try something like “tonight”. In fact, you should set aside time everyday, probably at night, to work on the tasks that you had set aside in the day.

2. Chorus

The chorus will repeat at least once both musically and lyrically. It is almost always of greater musical and emotional intensity than the verse. The chorus of your planning is the busy period, when assignments are due and you’ve reached the most difficult part of your assignment. There is a possibility that your plans will start to fail, or you will get stressed because your mind and body cannot keep up with the workload you’ve assigned for yourself. This is when people start to work late or even stop sleeping to complete their assignment overnight. This is very unhealthy, though some people do thrive on it so I can only say that to each his own.

However, I never let something like this happen to me. How do I ensure this? First of all, I make sure to balance out my workload. I plan specifically what I will do in which period of time, so that I can always predict the level of difficulty and time needed for the subsequent stage and am never caught off guard. Secondly, I leave space for contingencies. I make sure not to plan on the dot, but rather to leave a space of either a week (for long projects) or a day (for shorter assignments) or an hour (for recurring short assignments) between the time I complete and the deadline for submission. It’s likely that you may end up being unable to finish before the deadline, but these are very rare occurrences, and at least you know you’ve an additional week/day/hour, rather than flailing because you’ve less time.

Another way I leave space for contingencies is to plan by week (for long projects) and day (for shorter assignments). Basically, if a task will take you more than a day to finish, give yourself a week. If a task will take you more than an hour to finish, give yourself a day. When you set aside time specifically for the project, it keeps you in focus, and you also have enough flexibility within this space in case you’ve an emergency, such as when you fall sick. When you’ve breaks in your schedule, it’s easier to adjust your time for subsequent tasks as well.

3. Collision

A collision is a section when different parts of music overlap one another, usually for a short period. In work lingo, this is when 2 projects or assignments clash. This is quite likely to happen — in fact, I’d say it’s inevitable — and people often make the mistake of focusing on finishing 1 task before moving on to another. I consider this an inadvisable tactic. If they overlap, then let them overlap. Sure, you’ll be somewhat busier during this time, but it’ll make you freer in the future, when others are rushing due essays they never had time to work on. I know of people who only have 1 day to write an essay before the deadline, because for the rest of the weeks they had been working on another earlier assignment. You should balance out your time for all your assignments, and the simplest way to do this is to overlap.

Overlapping has its merits. There may be times when you realise you cannot continue with an essay due to lack of research, or information contained somewhere you hadn’t gotten beforehand. While waiting for this information to arrive, either from a friend or from something somewhere that you need time to take, you can work on the other assignment in the meantime. It’ll also give your brain a rest from becoming desensitised to the previous assignment.

That said, it’s also not a bad idea to finish something before you start something else, as long as you’ve realistically planned sufficient time for the later assignment. Don’t let one assignment that you can potentially score well in suffer due to another more agonising project that nets you more time and is more challenging!

Anime Peeves

Anime is at most times a caricature of human life, but there’re certain people that appear in anime that still irk the hell out of one, even if they aren’t accurate portrayals of real people. There’re a few prominent anime characters and archetypes that I do dislike.

1. The hentai

In today’s modern-day anime, it’s hard to identify people who are not hentai, and those who do not exhibit lusty actions are ridiculed, such as *coughcoughKiritocough*. That said, I still dislike anime characters who express hentai thoughts or actions, whether male or female. When it comes to male anime characters, they proudly talk about their female counterparts in revealing situations (such as Shiroyasha and Izayoi in Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara kuru sou desu yo), or they do weird stuff like try to look under girls’ skirts (such as Izayoi again, as well as some perverted camera-toting geek in Baka to Test). For the females, they pretend to be (or maybe truly are) extremely innocent and also extremely affectionate, rubbing themselves against men with no cheek. Oretachi ni Tsubasa wa nai sure had a few girls who were a bit too enthusiastic with their guys.

It’s alright to see one or two of these from time to time, but they certainly ruin any respectability if the show is trying to be serious.

2. The uncaring dude/ tsundere

I admit, these characters are the main charm of an anime, but they’ll never ever become my favourite character, or even belong to my list of people I remotely like. Such uncaring dudes and tsundere girls are everywhere, from Kanda in D.Gray-Man to Victorique in Gosick. These people make an anime lively, because they tend to be cold sociopaths and have great problem-solving skills. They’re often the ones people rely on to provide a solution to problems, simply because they’re so introverted and intelligent enough not to get involved in interpersonal problems.

Usually such people have their own painful pasts, but I’m not very interested in them because I’m not  keen on antisocial people, even in reality. Yes, believe it.

3. The Mary Sue

There’re people who’re perfect, and there’re people who’re stereotypically perfect. Perfect people are like Allen Walker in D.Gray-Man, who’s a nice guy and also a powerful Exorcist, not to mention cute and all. Stereotypically perfect people are like Kirito, who simply has too many good things going for him that it’s impossible. There wasn’t even a canon reason to explain why he’s great at judo, school and computer gaming, and can effortlessly get the greatest luck with girls, duelling, and even coincidences in general. And he doesn’t even know himself! He just gets through everything without so much as a challenge, and finishes off with a naughty grin and talks about something else altogether. All in a day’s work, being the hero protagonist, you know.

Perfect characters are people who have great personality traits and are outstanding because they earned it, and that bad things do happen to them, but they either get over them with willpower and hard work, or learn from them. Not steamroll them like a bulldozer.

So these are the 3 top anime archetypes that describe the kinds of people I hate. What are your most hated anime characters and why?

My Greatest Book Regrets

I hate talking about regrets. Regrets are things I like to push to the back of my mind and pretend nothing happened, though of course that’s an inadvisable course of action to take since we have to live up to our mistakes. And so I shall confront my regrets bravely, specifically those that fall within the realm of literature.

1. I never got to finish any story.

Of course, the process of writing is more important and enjoyable than the product, but it was still a great pity to me that none of the hundreds of stories I ever wrote had an end. I used to love taking a book and looking at the chapters, and using the chapter names to write a new story. Like, re-interpreting the chapter names to make a new plot. It’d have been a fun project if I hadn’t stopped at the first chapter and found no motivation or inspiration to go on.

The funny thing about me and writing is that I get all these ideas but don’t have the stamina to flesh them out in writing. I guess my story ideas follow my mood. When I’m in a certain mood I get the creative juices flowing, but once my mood changes, such as after a few hours of rest, I lose the buzz that I had before. So I never did manage to finish my stories.

This is one of those regrets that I can’t help, I think. You’re bound to need to stop writing sometime, and then you can’t help it if your muse goes after that.

2. I did not seek writing critique.

The only critique I ever had for my writing, outside of a school setting, was probably the time when I had my roleplay posts looked through on S*T. I once tried to set up a forum for people to teach each other about how to write better, which was fun even though it never really got active, and also joined a forum (or a few) where people critique each other on writing. But the forums I joined were small ones. I simply didn’t dare to join big forums and have people lambast my writing.

I hold mixed feelings about critique. On one hand, I believe that people should strive to improve the quality of their writing. If you write for years without critique, there’s a high possibility you’ll remain stagnant in that state, and all the writing experience in the world isn’t going to help you if you live under a rock. On the other hand, sometimes criticism can demoralise people who’re just writing for leisure, and deter them from writing with better writers out of a feeling of inferiority, which means they may feel that they’ll never become as good. I think that the determination to improve must come from within. Other people telling you to pull up your socks isn’t going to work if you feel that improvement is a chore. And so rather than forcing critique on them, we should let them actively seek critique on their own, and provide them with help when they ask for it.

And so I regret that I didn’t seek more writing critique, for fear of criticism and inferiority. The fear of criticism is something I must work on indeed.

3. I didn’t read widely enough.

When I was a child, I totally abhorred non-fiction. I wouldn’t touch a non-fiction book except for the Detective’s Handbook and the Spy’s Guidebook — which by the way are good reads for kids. I didn’t even read Horrible Science because it was non-fiction. But I think that if I had given non-fiction a try, I might have found that some of them aren’t so bad after all, and it’d also add to my general knowledge, which is quite lacking now.

On a related note, I also regret that I’m reading less now, whether fiction or non-fiction. It’s very inevitable, I suppose,  when you grow up and get busier with technology and school and work, but I miss the days when I had the whole day to read a single novel, and then another day to read the next one. I don’t have so much patience nowadays.

Well, I guess that’s really it when it comes to literary regrets. I think I still turned out well literary-wise. I picked up classics and modern classics, popular books and indie books, and I’ve garnered a bit of writing experience, however minute. So I think my literary life has been good, all in all.

Psychologically Determined

Unlike my previous entries this week, today’s entry poses a different challenge for me because I haven’t had any personal psychological experiences. I haven’t seen a shrink, and my only visit to the counsellor was a cursory one for the Counselling & Psychological Services Open House and took about 15 minutes discussing general issues. Much of my contact with psychology is through studying it (at least, till my internship begins) and so I shall talk about today’s value, determination, in an academic standpoint. Let’s see what the mind has to say about determination, shall we?

1. Health Psychology

Health psychology is a field that believes that our health is affected not only by biological but also psychological factors, such as stress or adherence to medical advice. Yep, some people are more prone to listening to a doctor than others, which is why some people stick religiously to the daily regime of 4 tablets per day while others simply do not see the point in following orders so precisely — they eat their medication when they feel like it. Health psychologists believe that these factors can be studied for practical uses, that health campaigns and communications to deter smoking and other behaviours should take these factors into account. For instance, it’s been found that patients whose ward windows face bright plains and cheery pleasant surroundings have a higher rate of quicker recovery. Surely this has a psychological effect on them.

Similarly, determination comes into play when people are abstaining from unhealthy substances or recovering from an illness. If you’re determined to keep yourself healthy, you’re less likely to succumb to unhealthy pressures or outside influence. If a person is suffering from a terminal illness, doctors will agree that willpower is very important in determining whether he will recover. Don’t underestimate the power of your own mental state in helping your body!

2. Personality Psychology

Personality psychology believes that people are governed by different traits, and that as a species, we all have individual differences in personality. It coheres with Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is all about natural differences that ensure that the strongest survive. In this case, there is a possibility that people with good personality traits survive better than those without. For instance, hardworking people are more likely to succeed in life than lazy people, and thus more likely to attract mates and start a family. People prefer people of positive traits compared to those with negative traits, and this ensures the survival of mankind in a positive direction.

In psychology, determination is more commonly known as “grit”, the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. It has been found that people with the personality trait of grit generally turn out to be high-achieving successful individuals. Of course, by today’s standards, such people may turn out to be extremely busy people who don’t have time for family, thwarting Darwin’s plans, but considering that such successful people usually hold talks to inspire the next generation, this is probably their way of propagating their values.

By no means does personality psychology say that our personalities are determined from birth. In fact, you probably know that your personality changed somewhat as you grew older, and personality psychologists are constantly in debate over the weightage of nature and nurture. No matter what, they do all agree that determination is a trait that ensures survival of mankind over challenges that arise.

3. Biological Psychology

Biological psychology, or neuroscience as it is closely related, talks about how hormones hold sway over our psychological states. Our emotions, our personalities, our reactions and behaviour are less in control than we think. Hormones are the mastermind behind the complex web of mood swings in women, or memory loss in old people, or simple “bad moods” and “good moods”.

Did you know that you can get more determined at a task with increased levels of dopamine? Dopamine is a hormone related to reward-driven learning, and controls the reward system that makes us feel pleasant when we succeed at something. Dopamine is what addictive drugs release, such as cocaine or methamphetamine. It can be discomfiting to know that hormones ordinarily do good things to us, but once their levels exceed what they should be, they become so dangerous and can change a person’s life forever.

Well in this case, dopamine makes us more determined at a task. When we succeed at a goal, we get a dopamine rush which encourages us to keep going. This is why people advocate setting small achievable goals that culminate in a big target, so that we can get multiple rushes of dopamine to push us onward. This is the trick to making yourself more determined!

4. Positive Psychology

I’ve mentioned in a previous Saturday entry that positive psychology studies positive outcomes, and the determinants of happiness. Basically they try to study how ordinary people like you and I can make our lives better. For instance, they have found out that there is a specific gene linked to happiness, called 5-HTT. In addition, they’ve also found that mindfulness and focusing on the present is the best way to inspire happiness, such as by taking rollercoasters, in order to distract ourselves from thinking about whether we’re happy. Because research has shown that happiness levels drop when people ask themselves 4 times a day whether they were happy.

The Character Strengths & Virtues Handbook has found that when people possess certain virtues and strengths, they get happier. And, you guessed it, persistence and fortitude was one of them. They didn’t go on to explain why, but I suppose one would be a lot happier if one managed to achieve what one wanted to do. Don’t you think so?

5. Social Psychology

Social psychology is tightly linked to personality psychology, but while personality traits have to be enduring, social psychology studies momentary behaviours linked to the social situation at the present moment. It can explain why a person with a certain personality may suddenly do something different because of his surroundings. And in this case, social psychology talks about what happens when determination is carried too far.

There is an interesting effect known as the “belief perseverance effect”, which is part of something known as the confirmation bias. It talks about why people would continue to hold a strong belief after evidence to the contrary has been presented. You can see this in effect from the cognitive dissonance held by people who believe that the world is ending but it didn’t. In fact, psychological experiments today are also responsible for strengthening sometimes detrimental beliefs in people.

For example, there are many experiments that test people’s reaction to judgment. I’ve done an experiment where I do an IQ test and regardless of my answers, the test will tell me that I scored in the bottom 25th percentile of people who took the test, going to show that I’ve a terribly low IQ. If I believe the accuracy of the result, I will start thinking back of times when I had gotten some simple maths sum wrong, or when I couldn’t grasp some relationships between concepts that others could, and I’d agree that yeah, I’m a stupid person after all. At the end of the experiment, there is often a debrief where the experimenter says the experiment was a lie and the test didn’t actually reflect my true IQ score. But I’d still be thinking of those memories of the wrong maths sum and the relationships of concepts, and I’d persist in the belief that I really am stupid.

This not only goes to show that deception tests should be performed with extreme caution, but also that we may be too determined and one-track-minded with our beliefs. There are times when determination does not equate to stiffness, and we should be prepared to give up a principle if we find that it is wrong. Be determined only in doing the right thing!

Opening the Internet

I was looking at my designated entry for today and why, it may just be the toughest one yet. How do my varied internet experiences culminate in an understanding of openness? Without further ado, read on to find out.

1. Roleplaying

When I first discovered roleplaying, I thought it was a dream come true. I had always loved writing (though as you know from Monday’s entry I wasn’t always good at it), and the idea of being able to write with other people, taking the guise of an imaginary character, was a possibility I had never thought of. I was psyched, and eagerly got into the activity, joining roleplays of all different genres. I joined S*T next, and I wasn’t fussy about the roleplays I joined either. I took on fantasy, science fiction, romance, everything. I roleplayed with all kinds of people as long as they would have me. Even though I haven’t established my own niche, I’m quite sure that I’ve made a whole lot of friends in the process and learnt a lot about writing.

Not only that, I believe I did all my character building and leadership training on forums. I became a moderator and discovered a whole new world of member control, behind-the-scenes planning and problem solving in general. It was daunting to be a mod at first, but very soon I couldn’t imagine myself being anything but.

Lesson: Be open to new experiences.

Everybody has a natural fear of the unknown. The unknown presents challenges that we cannot prepare for beforehand, and may just expose all our weaknesses. However, it’s only through exposing our weaknesses that we can learn to be stronger, and there is a kind of exhilaration we get from trying and succeeding at something new. And if you don’t try, how do you know you won’t like it? I tried out roleplaying and moderating and it’s changed my life permanently.

2. YouTube

YouTube has become our new main way of viewing the world. When teachers of any subject are introducing a new topic, they typically take YouTube videos to prove their point, whether it is YouTube documentaries of DNA for Biology class, news footage for Sociology or Monty Python for Communications & New Media (my Interactive Media Design lecturer’s greatest love). YouTube videos have appeared about everything, from teaching you how to tie shoelaces to applying makeup to what life in another country is like. YouTube is where we find viral videos like the harlem shake or inspirational ones like Thai advertisements for Pantene shampoo. I’ve forgotten the specifics of that video but if you look up touching ads on YouTube you’re sure to find many that make you shed a tear.

Sometimes reading about the plight of hungry kids in Africa is simply not the same as watching it right in front of you. Learning about how lions hunt for their prey is never as majestic in writing as it is in action. YouTube enables you to access what you want, whenever you want it. But that’s only if you search for it.

Lesson: Be open to all kinds of people and things.

We now have an endless supply of resources at our disposal, and ignorance is no longer an excuse. The crux of the matter now is whether you’re open to seeing and accepting new ways of thinking radically different from your own, which is the theme of the digital generation. You’re going to be seeing videos on homosexuality, porn, violence, different dietary habits. You may have a clear idea of what is right and wrong, which is commendable, but it’s no longer acceptable to avoid watching certain stuff just because you don’t understand them and dislike them.

3. Facebook

It’s hard not to get attached to Facebook. It’s like your space in the boundless area of the internet, your haven where you keep your virtual home and put up news belonging to nobody but you. You write about your thoughts and feelings, put up photographs of where you’ve been and what you’ve done, and even communicate and play games with friends from the comfort of this safe personal zone. Facebook is like hiding in your blanket on your bed, and talking to people through that blanket. There is a sense of familiarity in everything amidst the confusion and impermanence of the World Wide Web. And in there, you can portray the image of yourself that you want others to see. You pick the best photographs, say only politically correct or clever things. Your friends and employers are impressed. You yourself are impressed.

Lesson: Be open to what you tell yourself.

Be careful not to get too impressed with this false identity you’ve made online, and forget the real you, the real person sitting behind the computer and hiding under the real blanket on the real bed. Sometimes the people we understand least are ourselves, simply because we don’t make the effort to know ourselves. We think we know loads about ourselves, and envelop ourselves in the delusion of what we think we are.

4. League of Legends

There is universal debate about League of Legends and DotA that I get quite confused about. On the one hand, I hear that LoL is a n00b version of DotA that only n00bs play, and on the other hand I hear that LoL has a steep learning curve for newcomers. I suppose I can only conclude that LoL is hard for beginners, and DotA is exceptionally hard. In any case, I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the first foray into an action multiplayer game is bound to end in sore utter defeat. I don’t know which keys to press, or what to do when I’m in danger, or even what my powers are. It takes plenty of practice to become the pro that earns gawks and applause in LAN gaming centres (not that anybody’s ever bothered with anybody else in those places). And it’s just as Thomas Edison says, it takes 99 failures before that 1 success.

Lesson: Be open to continuous learning and making mistakes.

Face it, we still make mistakes even when we’re 70 years old. We don’t really grow up to become more perfect, but rather, we grow up learning that we’re imperfect. There’s always more that we don’t know and more mistakes that we can make, but rather than looking at it this way, think about it. If there’s nothing left to learn and no mistakes left to make, what’s the point of doing anything any longer? It’s like brushing our teeth. We get so good at it that we hardly notice ourselves doing it. What’s the fun of life if it’s all about that?

So don’t be frightened of going out on a limb and messing things up. You learn and improve and “level up”. And I know for a fact that most players absolutely hate the level cap, which can only mean perfection isn’t something to envy at all.

5. NUS Confessions

I don’t know how this sprouted up, but some anonymous person set up an anonymous channel for NUS students to anonymously voice their thoughts. It was supposed to be themed around Valentine’s Day, but it stretched on well beyond that, with nameless and blameless people talking about their sick miserable lives, or how they’d love to hump that cute girl they saw at the bus-stop, or why pupils of a certain faculty are simply abominable and shouldn’t be allowed to share their facilities. It became like a virtual bulletin board where everyone could go up and tack notes on. It can be amazing what anonymity does to you. Otherwise ordinary, placid people could rant and rave, using imaginative daring vocabulary, about their truthful thoughts and opinions. It was a pleasure to read for many people, to see what NUS students could get up to, and how immature some of them could be.

Lesson: Be open and aboveboard.

NUS Confessions may have its disadvantages, but it sure became a popular fad. There were things like SMU Confessions as well, and then junior colleges and other institutions took to it with TJC Confessions, etcetera. What youngsters liked about the medium was that they could write about what they wanted without fear of getting caught, and also earn respect from fellow internet users who were from the same school. It had the advantages of glory without the drawbacks of facing the consequences.

But why can people only be frank when shielded by a veil of anonymity? One definition of openness is in frankness and sincerity, which the internet has not helped in promulgating. We should be responsible for our words and actions, rather than hide behind secrecy and darkness.

Happiness and the World

The past 3 entries have been much easier to write compared to today’s one, I should think. I have plenty of experience with books, anime and music to be able to draw numerous examples where I learned lessons from, but I’m not as much a frequent traveller and the friends I’ve made from overseas don’t always represent the countries they come from. I learn much about their country and their ways of life, but it is a stretch to generalise from what they say about their country to conclude anything about their attitude towards happiness. After all, happiness is a deeply personal feeling, something that not everybody in the same country shares. How shall I reconcile the world with happiness? There’s nothing else to do but my best, right here.

1. Vatican City

The Vatican City is the smallest internationally recognised sovereign city-state in the world. It is completely landlocked and has been independent since 1929. Its population, estimated in July 2012, is only 838! It is the only remaining absolute monarchy in Europe, with its political system ruled by the Pope of the Catholic Church. The incomes and living standards of lay workers in the Vatican City are comparable to counterparts in the city of Rome. It is also home to some of the most well-known art in the world, such as the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica. The Vatican itself was added by UNESCO to the List of World Heritage Sites in 1984.

Lesson: Happiness is earned on your own.

No matter how weak or insignificant you may be, you have the power and the responsibility to build your own happiness. You mustn’t depend on others to make you happy, or blame your unhappiness on other people or circumstances that occur in your lives. The Vatican City built up its own reputation and identity on its own, without help from anyone else, and succeeded in its own small way through the decades. Sure, it’s not one of the global superpowers and probably never will be, but it survives still, on its own, in the way it knows best. And this is how happiness is forged too. It doesn’t need to be spectacular, but it must resonate with you, and that will be enough.

2. Japan

I love Japan, and yet I am content to love it from a distance. I will never want to live permanently in the country. Japan is home to some of the strangest customs and its culture can be difficult for outsiders to understand. Japan is home to concepts such as otaku, to hikkikomori, to cosplayers and extreme hentai perverts and all other things considered as “normal” to them, and even objects of emulation by foreigners. Looking at a visual kei band for the first time may induce mild discomfort in people not used to the gothic costumes and makeup. The Japanese take everything to extremes.

Lesson: happiness takes various forms.

This is perhaps not an immediately obvious link, but it can be seen from looking at the Japanese for a while that they derive happiness from things we may find peculiar. Men take delight in dressing up as women, people manage to reconcile traditional values such as sexism with the capitalist demands of the outside world. Young women pop idols’ fanbase generally consists of middle-aged men as their most profitable age group. It’s bizarre and even sickening to us, but they live with it, or even thrive on it.

Not everyone interprets happiness the same way. You may disapprove of someone else’s method of obtaining happiness, and you may be correct, but don’t force yourself to find happiness in something simply because it’s the “acceptable” mode. If you’re not happy getting good grades in school, don’t pretend to yourself that you are. Instead, seek out your own happiness.

3. Sweden

We hear a lot about those Scandinavian countries in world reports. Sweden, Norway and Denmark regularly take the top spots in world happiness ratings, economy, equality and governance. They have a low infant mortality rate, a high literacy rate and great gender balance. Sweden was also the best-governed country in the world in 2013, as declared by the Economist. And not only that, we hear now that it comes first when it comes to Official Development Assistance, donating 1.45% of its Gross National Income to charity. Just why are these countries such saints? Why are they the envy of all other countries worldwide?

Lesson: Happiness comes in making others happy.

Not only are the Scandinavians happy, they’re also notoriously helpful and hospitable. Sweden donates money actively, and on a personal level, the Swedes would be only too pleased to offer you shelter if you’re lost and homeless and need temporary lodging. They mayn’t be most involved in world affairs, but they’ve maintained peaceful relations with all other countries as much as possible. And it’s really true that when you make others happy, you also find happiness this way.

4. Democratic Republic of the Congo

By all rankings of Purchasing Power Parity in the world, the Democratic Republic of Congo is by far the poorest. Its PPP is $368 per capita and its Human Development Index is low at 0.304. It has been stricken with wars within Africa for control of mineral wealth. It is said that its citizens are among the poorest in the world but the country itself is the richest due to its natural resources, but due to civil wars, its citizens have a high mortality rate and prevalent malnutrition. Its literacy rate is estimated at about 67.2%, which means over 5.2 million children still receive no education.

This country has its own unique take on music. It has a genre named soukous, which is a blend of its ethnic musical sources, Cuban rumba and merengue. The country also has a lot of art and sports, such as in masks and wooden statues, and sports such as football and rugby.

Lesson: happiness does not equate to worldly possessions.

You would think that the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are suffering all day long, pulling a long face as they drag their sick bodies around to work, work and work some more, because they simply don’t have enough money otherwise. Surely they wouldn’t have time for things like art, music and sports — signs of a developed country with satisfied, happy citizens. Well, the incredible thing about the human condition is that humans can very easily get used to any hardships in their lives. If everyday was filled with suffering, they will soon get accustomed to the suffering and adapt to their daily lives in order to cope. Happiness does not always mean having the means to do everything you wish, and in fact you may even become even happier when you shed all material possessions.

5. China

China is really big and diverse. It has major cities like Beijing and Shanghai on the one hand, and less industrialised provinces such as Yunnan and Zhangjiajie on the other. In some parts of Yunnan, life can be completely different from the city. There are 10 indigenous ethnicities and even in today’s modernising era, they still try to retain some of their cultural heritage. A certain ethnicity, for instance, is still largely a matriarchal society. Another still eats deep-fried insects, if you remember an entry from a Thursday many months ago. Most of them are still farmers, or make a living from stitching handiwork (and selling to tourists). Sure, China isn’t what I’d call the most honest country, but it’s undeniable that the people in these mountainous regions are living quite contentedly, despite not having much access to smartphones or even the internet sometimes.

Lesson: happiness can manifest in the littlest satisfactions of life.

Don’t always think of epic momentous occasions. Sometimes doing what you like everyday is also a cause for happiness. Living and breathing in the fresh air everyday when you wake up is a source of delight. If we cast our gaze inwards and look around us, we’ll find that there’re really many things we have that we should be thankful for.

Communicating Music

With the invention of the Walkman, music has become less of a communal act and more of a solitary one. It gets hard to talk about music and communication in the same breath, when people immediately stop talking when an especially good song is playing. Can music really teach us anything about communicating with others? Read on to find out.

1. Mikageishi by UVERworld

“‘You say that it’s for us, but all you do is work’
‘I want you to treasure your friends, but do you love me?’
I gave you so many lonely memories that you don’t know the answers to these things if you don’t ask”

Mikageishi is probably the most romantic song UVERworld has sung so far, and Takuya is really good at writing tearjerking lyrics. I can’t say that tune-wise Mikageishi is one of my favourites, but I’ll never forget its touching lyrics, one of which is the paragraph above. It’s natural that sometimes we would develop doubts about our romances, especially for the ladies. It’s not always the fault of the gentlemen; it’s not that they don’t neglect or mistreat the ladies, but it’s easy to forget love and suspect that it no longer exists. It’s indeed hard to lavish constant attention on a lady just to keep her “pacified”, and there’s no guarantee that she won’t capitalise on your affections and take advantage of you. You know ladies, always trying to spend your money and control your liberty. It’s better to “pretend to be cool” and keep her at an emotional distance.

But if you don’t say it, how would people know?

Lesson: eliminate misunderstandings.

The most obvious reason to talk is to prevent misunderstandings that would have arisen had you kept silent. It doesn’t apply to just your lover, but family members, friends and even strangers as well. It can be shocking sometimes the thoughts that arise in somebody’s mind as a result of their fertile imaginations. As UVERworld says, “you don’t know the answers to these things if you don’t ask”. Rather than generate misunderstandings, ask. And if you’re on the other end of the understanding spectrum, clarify. Clarify your feelings and clear the air.

2. Machi Monogatari by Yamashita Tatsuro

“The back alley kids became adults without notice,
they began to know true love little by little,
to sigh to the twilight, to get lonely to the sound of the rain.
Even during the vague season they can’t wait, search for love, get attracted, they whisper ‘I’ll be happy’.

The memory of this goofy love
became the story of the city
and the life goes on”

Machi Monogatari is a very olden song, but it is by no means old. It was released in 2010, but the singer, Yamashita Tatsuro, is 60 years old this year, meaning he was 57 at the time he sang this song. His voice is very pleasant and special, a relaxed laid-back old man reminiscing about life. And life, as depicted in Machi Monogatari, is a very different sort of life from the one portrayed in the cities that we know today. We know only hustle and bustle, the stresses about getting through each day having completed as much as we possibly can. But the city in Machi Monogatari is a totally different one. It is a slower, older city, the kind that was relegated by the passage of time, left to expire on its own. But it never did die out. It slowed in comparison to the prominent ones around it, but it lived its own life, strongly and heartily. And maybe in the future, it will prove that its lifestyle is the one to outlast all the rest.

Lesson: learn more about other ways of life

Listening to Machi Monogatari is like a space travel moment. The slow but persistent melody and the confident vocals seem to teleport you to one of the old cities of Kyoto, where it is much slower-paced. You feel like you’re living the life of one of those back alley kids, with their painful but tempting naivete. And you start to question if maybe you’re really so different from those kids after all.

And that’s what music does. It communicates to you a different way of life. You live this new life from the inside, the perspective of a native, and start to question your own life that you’ve taken for granted. And guess what? You can achieve that by talking and interacting with people who lead different lives from you too!

Just that you experience the life of a back alley kid from the song, you can do the same by talking to an actual back alley kid and listening to how he perceives the world. Communication is the medium through which we learn, and music only catalyses the medium. This is why we should socialise and befriend all kinds of people and sincerely learn from them.

3. On My Way by FLOW

“I’m on my way and I won’t turn around
Goodbye to yesterday Say “Hello tomorrow”
With you All the members
There’s no turning back anymore
I’ll keep dreaming til I get there How far are you?
But I know I’m on my way

Thank you my friends To people we’ve met
Who stayed and who left
I feel like the reason why we’re here
After all these years Is because of you
Who made all of our greatest dreams come true”

Some eminent singers, after they’ve gathered a considerable fan following, will release songs dedicated to their fans, thanking them for the faithfulness to them all these years. Flow is no exception, and On My Way is probably one of the most blatant songs they have for that. Aside from the interesting tidbit that the entire song is in English, as a tribute to the large fan following they have in America, this song serves to commemorate 10 years of being in the music industry. Being one of their fans (though not a long-time one) I feel quite gratified that they address us all in their song.

Lesson: communication builds relationships

Sometimes a simple word of thanks can go a long way towards making somebody’s day, and can also generate friendly feeling among you. It is simple expressions of camaraderie that foster relationships and build trust in the long run, and when you’re in trouble, you’ll be glad you took the small effort. FLOW knew that a way to keep their fans’ support is to thank them, and what better way to do so than to give them what they like — a song?

So don’t hold back on positive communication. Smile and greet people you know, and maybe even people you don’t, and don’t be frightened to go out and make new friends!

4. Someday by Eternal

“Someday
Our fight will be won then
We’ll stand in the sun then
That bright afternoon
‘Till then
On days when the sun is gone
We’ll hang on
If we wish upon the moon

There are some days dark and bitter
Seems we haven’t got a prayer
But a prayer for something better
Is the one thing we all share”

I believe that there were 2 separate occasions when I heard this song, and I couldn’t keep tears from flowing out of my eyes. Someday is the theme song for the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and this is the album version, which was faster-paced and more “rock”, whereas the song played in the movie was slower and more relaxed, and I think it didn’t depict the feeling very well. Someday is easily my favourite song in the Disney album, and I feel that it brings me strength and hope even in the dark days. I feel that even when I’m alone, I’m not really alone.

Lesson: show support in times of need

This is probably one of the best reasons for communication. When somebody is feeling down and desolate, it can make a big difference to show that you’re there for them, by their side always, no matter what. It can make a desperate man feel better and more confident about his issues. While inspiring motivational music goes a long way, people will still appreciate unconditional support from a living person.

5. Married Life by Michael Giacchino

This is probably one of my favourite instrumentals, as I’ve mentioned in my first Wednesday entry, aside from Rey za Burrel’s Piano from Gundam Seed. Married Life is the theme instrumental from UP, and it was used to portray a variety of scenes. The faster upbeat version of the tune represented the pleasant experiences of married life, and it turned slower and more depressing as we reached the end of the old couple’s marriage. And in one lyric-less piece of music, we face the most complex phase of our lives, the journey of marriage, or as the movie calls it, the “adventure”.

Lesson: communication can exist without language.

Even among people who don’t share a common language, they can still communicate, whether through body gestures, facial expressions, or even just a pat on the shoulder. In the absence of language, the tiniest actions take on a loaded meaning. So even if you have nothing to say, don’t hesitate from expressing yourself through any other means deemed appropriate.