The Story So Far…
“You sound like Eat, Pray and Love,” they said.
(But I daresay, Malaysia as a gastronomy food paradise, “eat” is in everyone.)
Exactly 3 years ago, on 31 August 2017, I decided to quit a banking job, which I knew at the back of my hand for the past 19 years.
I subsequently quit on my relationship with the person I thought I would spend my entire life which whom, I had been together for 20 years.
“Why?” as everyone ghastly whispered yet none had the courage to ask, shy of being a busybody or simply felt it was a time to respect my space.
“But Emily, you have everything and a life people would dream off,” said everyone.
The problem is, most people fail to realize they are “not” everyone. We are very unique individuals that need to live life knowing “life,” in our own ways.
I was financially secured with everything material but there was always a “void.” Money has failed to fill it, no matter how much I tried.
The void made me empty and unhappy. The only answer, I believe is to fall in love with life again. The yearning for misadventures, stories and experiences came knocking.
Some people said I am in my mid life crisis.
Looking back it was about “reimagination” as Tzy Horng, the Founder of this Movement said, “…because when we reimagine, we allow our lives and collective narratives to be as it should – cumulative, fluid, open and ever changing.”
But reimagine is just the beginning, the onus then onto ourselves is to live up to what we have reimagined.
I packed my bags and I went to Rishikesh, the capital of yoga with a group of ladies looking for spiritual treat. I was thirsty to break away. It was my first time to India armed with a series of notorious idea but as described, it was raw like no other, on the face, colorful and in Rishikesh, spiritual.
We did yoga, meditated, ate well and sat through Satsangs day in and day out. Sharing of life truth was literally downloaded everyday like doses of heroin to an addict. Undeniably, wisdom is beautiful truth that fills weary and fearful hearts.
On one very beautiful afternoon, we met Maa Gyan, a healer of her own rights, on the cliff of her Eden like home over looking Mother Gangga whose flowing serenely in hues of jade. With light breeze caressing our cheeks and weather of Spring, birds were chirping as we sat on a straw mat in her garden, scented by greens and incense. An hour went by with Satsang and I tear.
In that moment, I realized I have given permission to understand myself, acknowledged the existence of beyond through the people who shone wisdom, leading me the yearning peace and undivided love I was longing.
I left Rishikesh deeply embedded with Maa Gyan’s teaching - to live well there are 3 things we must do – perform “Seva” (which means service and selfless efforts for welfare of all), read the Yoga Sutra and meditate.
It was in Rishikesh that I found my “home.” The door to this home was my beginning.
A month later, I packed my bags and went to trek the mountains of Himalayas -Nepal’s Annapurna.
Trekking everyday for 6 to 8 hours and taking it all easy along with a guide, porter and friend, the trip was breathtaking. Not from its luxury (far from) but the fact that, the sight of every postcard perfect corner created space to seek myself. We took all the time we had to be humans again – be connected with everything around through laughter, sharing of our own stories and watching the world just as it is.
The lodges we put up were nothing fancy to a spoilt banker – there can be days without hot water (to shower and wash my hair) leaving with icy cold water to clean up, no cozy warm beds to snuggle in freezing nights - only to learnt the art of layering with 2 shirts, shawls, zipped up light feather jacket, a pair of thighs and fleece pants, 2 warm socks, tucked into a sleeping bag and a piping hot Sigg water bottle snugged. Food was everyday the same menu across Annapurna lodges. For noodles and rice, we had the choice of fried eggs, veggies or chicken. For soup – we had a choice of onion, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes or chicken. Nothing more, nothing less, but a bowl of salted water soup literally.
As simple as simple gets though, I have learnt that we could live simply with bare minimal, be still happy and jolly well alive.
We were embarrassedly spoilt as tourist trekking the mountains. We donned labeled trekking boots, handsome zipped light feather weighted jackets and panache backpacks. Whilst around, Sherpas were melancholy in mere slippers or rubber shoes and sweaters scurrying off around the mountains with tanks of gas, food, beddings and everything else on their backs merely earning a day’s wage to feed their families.
It was ironic. We stress ourselves to points of losing sleep and jeopardize health working, in exchange of money for a lifestyle (to a point that Starbucks coffee is a must to start the day) yet, in many other parts of the world, people are struggling and barely making ends meet.
It was in Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) when I perched on a tip over looking the great mountains that I learnt the meaning of “surrender.” Our lives and problems itself are small. The colossal mountains mark the Universe’s greatness so much so that the power of life is overwhelmingly great with an entirety beyond me.
What else can I do but not surrender? There was nothing to prove as my point is of no interest to any one or any thing against this vastness. I am a tiny immortal taking up a tiny space for a limited time.
The Universe is unlimited beyond our imagination and that as beings; this great life manifests itself in every ions and atoms right to the greatness of the Milky Ways and beyond. And, above it all, regardless, it will go on living.
The question is, what synchronizes us in this Mightiness and what has been keeping it balance beyond time despite humans’trials and tribulations? Denying this fact simply means to be in delusion. But the choice is ours to acknowledge and embrace its existence. And just like every being, I realized, I am here with It, who is, a little tiny minuscule being in a big unlimited picture.
I learnt to believe in the Universe and its benevolence.
Looking back, this pandemic to the Universe is merely a “moment” in time. Life goes on just like the mountains. It goes on every day. The flow and process takes its place regardless within the “way” it has set, just like the Earth dancing gracefully around the Sun, the moon around the Earth, a mother intuitively gives birth to a child and the natural breathing we take to stay alive. Because of that, this world works naturally in precise motion and sequence.
So, I have learnt that in moments when things are not in my way, I need to persevere and keep going because good and bad times, comes and goes in every nuance in its own step and rhythm. But there is nothing to fret because life is kept balance with 2 opposites of yin and yang, no matter what.
Months later, I visited the Taj Mahal. It shone grandeur of history and legacy. I had goose bumps when my eyes first caught sight at the entrance. I was enthralled and bewitched for the beauty and artistry of the Taj. The monument and its around were worked of an army of men labored to perfection 4 centuries ago. In my opinion, a monument that stood through times as timeless beauty resonates the possibilities of coexist between men working through and with life. Loudly it reverberate life’s generosity to never disallow us from what we seek.
Legacy like Taj Mahal is not an explicit justification of power but in its quiet implicit ways attest that visions and actions put together results in unfathomable achievements. To say the least, if we are willing to put our dreams into everyday efforts, reality can be accomplished regardless complexity and time. The question is, how much do we want it enough? Take Shah Jahan in this example, he was enough “crazy” and enough “ambitious” to prove that dreams are possible realities.
Coming back to Malaysia, I begin to experience a different lifestyle. When it used to be the monotonous 7.45am alarm clock to get going, driving to work by 9am, work, lunch, work, driving home through traffic jams, dinner and calling it a day, repeat, with a pay check by every 26th of the month for 19 years, everything then was predictable and stable.
Flipping life to an open-ended route now, has affinity and serendipity calling out often. There are all possibilities in a way that, living commands all 5 senses, naturally making me much alive, excited and holding on to faith of “come what may.”
In many religion, “come what may”is simply said as “Leave it to God” or “to have faith in God” but I choose to understand that as mortals we need to find our calling or purpose, work towards it at best and only then, are we to leave it to God. Mere “surrendering” is a plain excuse of indolence and complacency which is often misused and misunderstood.
As I fine tune life, I have finally found my voice as an Artist. To flow with life just as a violin needs to be with an orchestra is the essence of creating. In this, I found that the movement to create and paint brought me to create distinct collection of style that identifies me. A stamp mark in other words. Deeply in love with the beauty of the feminine and the intricacy of geometry and flora, I discovered the Batik’s exquisiteness whilst dwelling in my Nyonya ancestry. It was homecoming in a way that painting Batik eventually becomes second nature. I need not take refuge to paint only when I feel positive but beyond that, I can paint any time.
Taking from this as well, I have learnt that everything in life becomes effortless and harmoniously in sync when we vibrate in the frequency that we belong. To get there, we need to find ourselves within us first. Then eventually, the struggles and fear will cease.
In my nomadic and open ways in recent years, I met countless individuals from all walks of life. I have met with good and bad. But in my most profound relationships, I stumbled upon a homeless whom I nicknamed “Wada” (only to irritate him for Wada is the Indian fried savory snack made of legumes).
Wada stood almost 6 feet tall, charcoal in color, don thick curly hair, frame of a scarecrow with a distinct Roman nose and conversed fluently in Mandarin and Hokkien. He was homeless, a drunkard, an Indian in creed but a Chinese in character. He wore his clothes only once, changed when someone donates him new pairs - a privilege of far and few. He can be barefooted, whichever way that suits him so long as he is comfortable. He used to perch outside an Indian temple sitting on the 5-foot way, knees hugged, watches the evening goes. After that, he disappears, only to return the next day. I first thought he was mentally insane. But he was sharp and witty as the Mad Hatter.
In the evenings where I sat on the bench next to him on the floor, we started with random nonsensical conversations, including laughs over idiosyncrasies of passersby and his quirk remarks. His infamous “Hello, where are you prom (from)?” to strangers was one of his best. The iconic question was meant for 2 reasons – for strangers to noticed him, pity his state and get money and, to laugh over their reaction when a dirty, scrawny and half enthusiastic crazy looking dark man greets.
Wada would laughed when people were caught off guard over the silly jokes he thought stupid for the day or the fact that he was daunting to those who looked at him. On days where parking was scarce, he would standby parking lots at a cost of RM5 on me. Or if he was hungry, it would be in exchange for a packet of fried noodles, burger or KFC. We bonded in unspoken ways, which, eventually I am called, “Ah Cher” (meaning sister). As time goes, we started to chat as friends. His notorious conversations opening was, “Ni think wor chiang (you listen to me).”
For the times I had bailed him from the hospital, sitting through (with him) for a session of lecture over TB (he contracted Tuberculosis at a point in life), got him slippers because the last he had went missing when he was pissed drunk, the amusement over a “Hare Rama Krishna” devotee who decided to perform her Seva next to us ringing bells and chanting “Hare Rama Krishna” whilst giving away yogic texts (she eventually gave Wada her blessings, 2 sweets and lectured about life), days where he stopped by for a cup of warm milk with sugar and a slice of bread because he was sick, “Can I have RM1?” only to realized he collects from everyone around enough to buy cheap booze, passing food to older folks for the food given to him that he does not fancy, safe kept his “ang pows” on behalf after Chinese New Year from rich men who came by temples for prayer, these are now memories.
On New Year this year, as I was strolling for breakfast he was peached by a 5 foot way, in the usual knees hugged fashion but this time, without much reaction when I called him out. Oddly, he was quiet as I found him shivering and could barely speak. He was sick with watery and yellow eyes. Struggling to call the Ambulance through the hospital’s operator who refused me initially, he was eventually whisked to the hospital. On 3rd January, I received a call from a nurse at dusk that Wada was dying. He has stopped breathing and his heart was weak. 100 questions were running through my mind.
“Is he ok in spirit?”
“Is he being cared properly and will the hospital handle him with respect?”
“How will his funeral be?”
“Is he lonely without us around?”
Sadly, he passed on half an hour later as I pondered.
Through Wada, who was one of my biggest teachers of humanity, I learnt that humanity knows no boundaries and friendship has no status, creed, age or believes. Genuine friendship between 2 people marks a beautiful life. The connection. For me, in unexplainable ways, Wada was my Seva and also a friend. I had no expectation of him but only knew I would help whatever within my means so life would be easier for him. Because it makes me happy to know he is better than before. Despite numerous aunties and uncles persuading to stop helping for “he will get back drinking and drunk,” my heart told me to keep doing what I wanted, knowing well, they were right.
There were days I nagged over his drunkard ways but never was it heard.
One day, our conversation became serious and I asked him to consider living off the streets. His replied, “…and then what?”
He was right, then what? He ruffled my feathers.
Because, answering to “… and then what?” got me thinking the infamous “what, why, when and how.”
Reflecting now, I realized the question to this was answered through my unspoken Seva with Wada, Buku Jalanan Chow Kit, soup kitchens, some single mothers and the few whom I had the affinity with. This brought the best of me because to serve them makes me happy.
It was also answered through believing in Life by trusting and surrendering. It has the best of me because to believe deeply makes me at peace.
It was also answered through falling in love with my vocation for arts and becoming as an artist. It has the best of me because to live by passion sparks me.
It was also answered through dreaming big with an open heart, setting goals, plan for a life well lived and action upon them each step a day. It has the best of me because it gives meaning to my finite time.
It was also answered through scrapping all fears and doubts of failure when challenges come. It has the best of me because trial polishes me.
It was also answered through love, respect and knowing myself within. It has the best of me because I could only fill others when I am filled.
And with these, I daresay life as it goes through the beautiful experiences has me deeply as a human now. We are set to light lives, aspire and ignite love through kindness, care, generosity, respect and sincerity in the many roles we carry, as for me a daughter, sister, cousin, sister in law, niece, aunty, grand daughter, partner, friend, artist, designer, entrepreneur...
Through my lenses, it is only through these, one can be “at-the-best-of-me.”
Trust the Universe, set the intention, and be connected with humanity is what binds us to know that “…we have lived an infinite life even though we know our lives are finite” (Simon Sinek, 2020.)