Enveloped: Coconut on the Beach


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Enveloped: Colorful Houses in Mosselbay, South Africa



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An Essay on Happiness

Happiness is cheaper when we were kids. That’s what I thought while waiting for my food to be served last night in a restaurant nearby my apartment building. On the left of my table is a clear glass from ceiling to the floor, looking to other restaurant which has a revolving chair. A boy perhaps eight or ten was happily playing with the chair, pushing the table in front of him to get the chair revolves faster. Well, I thought he will be bored in five or ten minutes, but I was wrong. Until I was finished with my food and leaving the restaurant, this boy was still playing with the chair like he was in an amusement park.

I doubt I have seen an adult looking as happy as this boy in the last one month, even in the last one year. That’s how I formulate the saying, “happiness is cheaper when we were kids”. I remember myself as a kid being happy every time I ate at McDonalds, I couldn’t remember which part makes me happy, the food or the happy meal’s toy. Other things that makes me happy as child was buying a Lego and assemble it right away when I got home, I collected many series as a child but my favourite was Star Wars. Growing up to adulthood, I lose the touch of happiness I had as a child. Of course it is logical for an adult to stop playing Lego and eating McDonald every week, but I found few things bring the same happiness and joy I used to have.

I love travel photography and the sensation of seeing new landscapes and culture makes me feel alive, perhaps this is one thing that brings me true happiness in life. But heck, traveling cost a lot of money compared eating at McDonald for weeks. Another hobby of mine is collecting watches, and not just a watch but an automatic Swiss watch. You might noticed I have two Omega, one Jaeger Le-coultre, and one Tag Heuer. With the price of one watch I could complete a series of Lego. You see, as we grown up we don’t stop playing, but our toys just get more expensive.

Certainly people have different definition and standard of happiness, so let’s agree to disagree with the details but to agree on the big picture. What is happiness anyway? Acccording to Wikipedia, happiness is a mental or emotional state of well being defined by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy. So what important is for us to feel good, and the way for us to feel good is by doing something that brings contentment (think of accomplishment) and joy (I think of eating ice cream on a sunny day). I believe long-term happiness comes form doing goodness for the greater society and achieving our goals in particular stage of life, while short term happiness comes from many things such as buying goods, doing our hobby, eating favourite foods, etc.

What I’m trying to focus on in this post in long-term happiness, the kind of happiness we would have when we wake up in the next five years. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” I couldn’t agree more with him, because oneself couldn’t possibly be happy unless he is the truest state of his life. Play pretending is hard to maintain and lead to desperation, but when a person is being true to himself and to the society, his action is a reflection of this thinking and life would be in harmony instead of confusion of self. Dalai Lama said the similar thing that, “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” Doing good makes us feels good, and the reverse is true. It has been human nature to feel guilty doing bad and immoral things, and doing good increases self esteem which then makes us feel good.

And why would we want to be happy? Audrey Hepburn says, “the most important thing is to enjoy your life—to be happy—it’s all that matters.” If you dig enough thinking on your brain right now and ask yourself what you want in life, you’d find most people answer “to be happy”. I might add “to change the world in a better way”, but really in your deathbed that’s all that matters, a happy and meaningful life. But happiness is not something we pursue as an end goal because happiness is the process, the way we do this activity called life. To me, happiness is not arriving at a travel destination but enjoying the bus ride and landscapes along the way. Albert Camus once said, “you will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” Perhaps he wanted to say, just go with life doing what you want to do that will make the world a better place.

Life is a series of hills and valley, happiness is just the same thing. We don’t know what a hill is if there is not valley, we don’t know what pain is if there is no pleasure. To know what happiness is, we have to also know the opposite, un-happiness. “You can’t be happy unless you’re unhappy sometimes”. -Lauren Oliver

And the last paragraph I write is dedicated to our fellow human-being whose happiness might exceed the normal society, our friends in mental hospital. Because they might live a life happier than sane people. There was once a doctor observing a mentally ill patient, when asked if the doctor should cure this patient, the doctor answers he shouldn’t. Because the imaginary life the patient’s live in is better than her reality, and she is happier that way, so why should the doctor cure her mental illness and bring her back to her miserable life? Perhaps this is what Mark Twain trying to say with, “sanity and happiness are an impossible combination.”

And for the rest of us, the smart-ass, intelligent people who read a lot and think himself smarter than the rest, here’s the last quote:

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.” -Ernest Hemingway

Good day folks!


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Why Quitting Medical School Is The Rational Choice For Me

Medical school is a long journey comprising two phases, pre-clinical phase where students learn the knowledge of medicine and the clinical phase where we are trained to be a doctor. Students graduating from the pre-clinical years with Bachelor of Medicine title then continue to the clinical phase to be a doctor. Most students did this path when entering medical school, however students from the pre-clinical phase could continue their study to Master degree instead of being a doctor.

A month ago I was graduating as a Bachelor of Medicine from my university, I was on the first batch to graduate along with most of my friends. Three and a half years gone by since I entered medical school for the first time in 2011, hundreds of exams we did together, not to mention countless classes such as Problem Based Learning and Skills Lab. It’s a common fact that studying in medical school is harder than most other major, we study longer, harder, and get lower mark. However, I enjoyed my study during the pre-clinical years with watching movies 2-3 times a week, dining out most of the night, and reading books unrelated to medical school.

I like studying medicine, but that’s not how I prioritise my time. I use half of my free time reading self-improvement books and investing books (stock market related, usually), and the other half studying for exams. It worked for me, 270 books and 24 medical cycles later I graduated with GPA 3.36 and a hunger for more knowledge about investing and self-improvement. I might just be a motivator.

I did stock trading since the second year of medical school and it excites me, through the winning and losing, I learned and improve my strategy. As time goes by I was more interested in looking and analysing companies to invest in rather than learning the life cycle of malaria protozoa. Simply, I study medicine to satisfy my curiosity and willingness to have a basic medical knowledge so that I know what to do when emergency situation struck. Since high school I think it is rather cool to know what to do and act in emergency situation rather than stand on the side and call 911.

The thought of quitting medical school never came to me on my first three years of medical school. The ideas come up when I realised I was passionate when talking about investment rather than diseases. I was more excited when the market open than a patient coming.

Before the graduation in April I did two clinical phase in the hospital, neurology and oral health. Neurology was quite interesting, however I can’t imagine myself being a doctor and treating patients. I am interested in the knowledge but I couldn’t care less to take care of patients, I had very little empathy. Looking back the past 3 months I realised how miserable my life was, I had to wake up in the morning without willingness to seize the day.  I had no time to do what I love to do which is trading stocks and reading, I spent most of my time in hospital doing unproductive work for my future. That’s when I know I have to do something to change my situation, what’s the point in living if you can’t feel alive, right?

I know few of my friends having the same situation I had and couldn’t do anything about it. One of them manage to quit as I do and pursue his interest. However most students are stuck in their position and the only way is through medical school, due to social pressure and financial issues. Not everyone has the chance I have, but everyone could pursue own’s dream if one is brave enough.

I have an analogy to my situation, you have planned for watching a movie in theatre this evening alone, a movie you think you would like. You arrive at the theatre on time, bought few snacks and soda then entered the studio. The movie is a standard 2 hours film, but when you have spent one hour inside you are uninterested and it is boring. You’ve paid the ticket for a quite sum, not to mention the snacks. What would you do? Would you continue watching until finish or get out of the studio?

There’s two approach in answering the question, first you have spent some time watching the movie, with the cost you’ve paid (not refundable) it would be logical to stay sit and watch until it finish, after all it’s your decision to watch, right? That’s how people who rely on emotion would think. The second approach is in investigating the possibility of quitting, perhaps you could get out and take a walk in the park, meet new people, watch the sunset, or simply entertaining yourself at your favourite cafe. Yes, you waste an hour and ticket price in the process, but you could still enjoy what is possible next. Had you stay inside the theatre, you are wasting two hours instead of one, you feel bad for yourself, and you miss the possibility that could happened in the next hour.

With the same way of thinking, I reflect it on my situation and found the rational answer for me is to quit and pursue the subject I love. Isn’t it predictably irrational world we live in?


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Forces of Nature: Guilin, China



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Forces of Nature: Cappadocia



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Forces of Nature: Sand Dunes



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How Medical School Looks Like From Graduate Perspective

Almost four years ago I step my feet for the first time in medical school, which turn to be the place I spent the next three and a half years at. When I was entering medical school I’ve been hearing rumours about the difficulty and tiring life of medical students, we were told that we would spend most of our time studying and doing our research. But of course we still have summer and Christmas holiday, the only time we could lay on the beach for one month straight.

The first semester was the hardest for me simply because I hadn’t adapt to the schedule, the material was few steps harder than science in high school. I thought I was failing and medical school felt wrong to me, I thought I would be studying diseases and it’s cure but there I was studying biochemistry and physics. For the first exam I did I got 58, the lowest score I ever had in my life. In high school I was pretty good with the materials and I usually got 80 in average, even in junior high I was in acceleration class. Getting a low (although still passing, the passing grade is 56) score was a big hit for me, I thought that I was unable to study further and my intelligence capacity was not enough.

But then, I had paid $16.000 in the entrance fee plus few more for the books, so I decided to continue my study and see if I could cope better. And it turn to be right, I never again got score below 60 and I have never had to repeat exam until I graduated. Things got better when I realised it does take a strategy in the study, repeating the materials daily instead of studying one or two weeks before exam. Then me and my friends made a study group, helping each other in the materials we don’t understand.

Reflecting back to the last three and a half years, medical school doesn’t look so bad. I watch movies two to three times a week, I read 140 books non-related to my school in the second year and another 130 books in the third year. I had quite a good life as a medical student, never failing in exam and still maintain my entertainment schedule.

There are many handouts and textbooks to be read for sure, but for students who really want to understand how the human body works, it is quite fascinating. The thing that made medical school unbearable to me was the shift of feeling during exam week, medical students have a mid-term exam on the third week of a cycle, then another exam at the fifth week. Then we proceed to the next cycle, this pattern of cycle repeated again and again for 24 times, separated by 6 major holiday. On the first and third week students usually relaxed and take a break of their study, resting after the exam we did on the last week.

Me and one hundred and ninety five other did this and finally finished all of our cycle last December, there were about 30% who had to repeat an exam or had their research unfinished so they had to complete it all to graduate. Research paper is a must for medical student and doing it is a pain for most students. Each of us have to do a research relating to medicine starting at semester 3 and hopefully finish it at semester 7, but many of us were lagging with the research due to many factors.

Yesterday we have a ceremony for our graduation and reflecting to our experiences, we think we did it just right. Now we have been entering the clinical phase in hospital since February, which is harder and takes more physical abuse than pre-clinical years, at least that’s how it looks like to me. But perhaps, it would turn out the same with how I see pre-clinical years after I graduated as a doctor in the next two years, it wasn’t so bad.


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Decluttering Possessions and Life: How We Throw 70% of Our Goods

Last week I read a book titled “Stuffocation”, a very soul-touching and resonate with my life and I believe millions other people in the West. It’s about how our brain are programmed to have more, bigger, newer stuff in our life. When our ancestors were living in scarcity having more means prosperity and survival, while those who didn’t have enough food and weapon simply extinct. Our brain evolved accordingly, passed down from generation to generation.

These survival instinct are performing as it should in the era of scarcity, where food and shelter were lacking and what we have defines our social status. But now it has gone to far, people have been accumulating too much stuff and it could be hazardous to their health. In the book there are stories of how hoarding could cause a catastrophic accident and the new movement of people to live simpler, happier with less possession. We call it the “experientialism”, the voluntary decision for living doing activities that we love instead of working for buying “toys”. Instead of working in a job we don’t like for buying luxury goods as reward for the hard work we did, experientialist travels, eat foods, bungee jumping, and make memories.

With less possession people spend less time for organising and cleaning their house, and more time to enjoy life with people we like. Few people even move to a smaller house or apartment to live simpler, not because they don’t have the money but because it suits them better. Experientialist is not the same with minimalist who live with as few possession possible, they still enjoy luxury goods but in less number. Experientialist may buy a porsche because he love the thrill in driving it, not because of the car itself.

I do consider myself an experientialist. It started four years ago when I was moving from a suburban house to a smaller apartment in the city centre. Since I was born until ten years old, my family of four have been living in a very big house in the suburban area. We have a garage for two cars (and the cars itself), three bedroom, a big living room and a garden as large as two basketball field. I could even ride my bicycle around the house, and we do have party every six months or so to celebrate my sister and my birthday in the garden. There weren’t many entertainment though, we ride to the city for one to two hours at weekend. Remembering back to my childhood, we do have enormous amount of goods, but the quality of goods we have are low.

Then we move to a smaller, but three story house in a small town. We decorate the house from the ground with new furniture, we fill the house with many stuff we bought in the shopping mall. Over the course of seven years we have accumulate many stuff, perhaps way too much. I still think we have over 50 plates and 100 mugs. Things were abundant, new TV, sofas, kitchen utensils, clothes, etc. Although we were living in a smaller house, it was more dense. Just like other medium-class family, we went to shopping mall nearby and bought things we don’t really need. Shopping was fun for us. I do too have many toys, Lego, playstation, PSP, Nintendo, gameboy, costing few thousands dollar in total.

When I was graduating from high school and decided to continue my study in the capital city, my family move to a 10 x 10 meters, three bedroom apartment in the city’s heart. Only then we realised we have too much possessions. Our three bedroom apartment have a small living room and our piano takes up most of the space. When we first move in, we throw 60-70% of our previous goods. My toys alone took five 80 x 50 x 40 cm boxes. At first I stacked the boxes in my 4x 2 meter room, then I decided it was no longer has any use to me, so I shipped it all out to my nephew. I also sell two out of three cameras and two out of four laptop I had. It took a year to throw all our previous, useless stuff, stuff that took up spaces but rarely use. Perhaps it takes all the impulsive buying and accumulating mountain of goods to realise we are happier living with less.

Now we hang our 40 inch TV on the wall instead of standing it on a table. We sell our home theatre because it’s cluttering our living room, cable everywhere and the sound effect wasn’t working as well too. Perhaps the hardest thing to be apart for me is my books, I read about 100 self-help books every year and subscribe to a photography and National Geographic magazines. Now I switched to e-book, and last year I throw over 300 books and 100 magazines. We throw out over 60% of the goods we had, simply because we don’t use it anymore or the physical space it took is not worth the enjoyment. All my possession now fit into 1.2 meter wardrobe and 100L dry box (cameras, watches, laptop).

I can say it was a revelation to myself and my family, we are happier living today than when we are living in a bigger house. It took my mother one fourth the time to clean the whole house than our previous three stories house, we go to eat out more often and we travel more often. For every possession we shipped out of our house, there is an exhilarating good feeling, specially when we know somebody who needs it. We do still buy things, but now when we do buy something, another thing has to go. We do have fewer possession, so we want to have the best of it we could afford.

To sum up our experience in decluttering our house and life, it took a realisation that time is valuable and we don’t want to spend a large percentage of ours in cleaning-organising our goods, we want to live life and travel to places we’ve never been to. Our possession are supposed to give us enjoyment instead of being a burden to us, so we have to cut the rope that’s weighting us down. By having a lot of possession we also spend more time and money to service and managing it, cars need annual check-up, laptop and cameras need cleaning and upgrade, even watches. There isn’t one time we miss the stuff we throw out, we have all we need today and even for the rest of our life.

Even today we do still on the process of decluttering our life, every time we shop we asks ourselves if we are going to enjoy it long term and where we are going to put it in our house. Is it worth the physical space it took? We are more aware of where our money go (to the restaurant and travel, of course), and we do enjoy life more than we ever have. Oh God, how I wish my sister is reading this every time she bought another clothes and handbags.


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Intricate: Taj Mahal, Agra


It is one from seven wonders of the world, and one of the most beautiful structure as well. The details of carved marble with gemstones endured for six hundred years, through war and earthquake. Every part of the marble was carved by the best artist from various places in India, the material was imported as well. Beside the gloomy stories about Shah Jahan life after losing his wife Mumtaz Mahal, I think this is the best human-made structure there is. The details are remarkable on every part, which you could see from the photo above.


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