Tag Archives: thought

The Grass is Quite Green on this Side


As I travel, the more I learn about it. Travelling is a great way to take break while learning about different cultures. However, I think it is more than that. For me, travelling is also an all too effective method of escape.

It is one of the main reasons why I embarked on my first exchange to Milan. Unsatisfied with the greenness of Toronto’s pastures I wanted to find a place where I could go to find a more fulfilling and exciting life. Undoubtedly life as an exchange student provides ample opportunities for excitement, and my experience there is one that I will not forget in a while. However, in the last weeks of my stay, tired out by continuous travel, my heart looked forward to my flight back to Toronto. The last week of Italy was spent in Florence, and not even the beauty of that city was able to alleviate the continuous lethargy I felt.

Back in Toronto I felt a great excitement for life in the first few weeks. Everything seemed so fresh and full of opportunities. However the cold January weather of Toronto soon got to me and sent me looking for greener pastures again. I was accepted to Keio University in Tokyo but for various reasons changed my exchange institution to the National Taiwan University in Taipei. Regardless, the whole year in Toronto was marked by dissatisfaction. I disliked the cold and disliked the schoolwork and disliked the humble lifestyle I had to lead in order to save money. I unfairly compared Torontonians with whom I interacted with the people I met abroad. I found Torontonians for the most part dull and uninteresting and remembered the people I met in Italy with great nostalgia. I was unsociable and preferred books to people that one year. Nothing especially memorable seemed to happen as days turned into weeks, weeks into months and months into unconscious repetition. Life was a blurred, dull picture in contrast to the vibrant colours of Italy. It was happening again and I was looking forward to greener pastures in Taipei. I made very unfair comparisons and did not behave stoically in facing my life in Toronto.

I remember my first day in Taiwan, when I got off the plane in the Taoyuan International Airport. There was a slight drizzle but the weather was a pleasant change to the cold winter of Toronto. The air was slightly humid and there was a fresh breeze in the air and an unending smile on my face. Passing by the mountains and the ceaseless green vegetation and watching them slowly change into the old and characteristic city sprawl on the bus ride to Taipei, It seemed that I was successful in finding my greener pastures.

Being a little over halfway through the exchange now, there are things in Toronto that I miss. There are the occasional Facebook newsfeed posts that I read about Toronto, which make me remember it in a different light. I start remembering the cultural diversity there, the downtown area and my friends. The lifestyle I was once hostile towards comes back to me as small bite sized (Timbit sized) nostalgic memories. The weekly work in the bank on Friday evenings followed immediately by outings with my friends followed by a hung over Saturday afternoon selling cheese in my mother’s store remind me of happy times, despite the inconveniences I felt towards the routine. The weekly Korean barbeque we ate at home along with soju make my mouth water. Walking down St. George to get to my classes and seeing the occasional friendly face and even all my hours spent in the peacock shaped Robarts Library are good memories.

Toronto isn’t the only source of greener pastures for me. I look forward to what will come after Taiwan. I can’t wait to visit all of family in Korea and spend precious time with my parents and my sister and my grandmother. I can’t wait to start the great China trip that I have in my head. Thinking of being in cities like Shanghai and Beijing and Chengdu, all which await me, makes me think of the people I will meet and the things I will learn and the experiences I will have. All around me there seem to be greener pastures.

Greener pastures appear to me in different time periods as well. The latest book I have finished is A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway, in which he describes the few years he spent in Paris as a poor but happy and married writer. His Paris in the twenties is full of writers and artists that I have read and heard about. To have these almost mythical personalities brought to life by his pen makes me long for this legendary Paris in the twenties, a Paris marked by eccentrics, culture and art spread out through its cafes and worn out streets.

The Paris of the twenties was represented by Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, in which the economically successful but creatively unfulfilled screenplay writer Gil Pender is transported 80-some years into the past to his place of nostalgic yearning. Here he is to meet all his heroes and falls increasingly in love with Adriana, a fictional mistress of Pablo Picasso. Ironically, Adriana longs for the Belle Époque period and thinks of it as the golden age in Paris. Near the end of the story, they are transported to this period in time and find that people there wish they lived during the Renaissance.

Just as what had happened in the film, perhaps it is just too easy for us to romanticize a lifestyle which is different from one which we are living. While we are confronted with daily realities in our current lives, the lifestyle we covet is surrounded by the façade of uninformed idealism. Just as how Gil Pender is able to come to terms with the modern era at the end of the film, perhaps we should come to terms with the lives we live. Instead of looking past our front lawn to feel jealousy for the lawn of a distant neighbour, we should start admiring what we have in front of us right now. You may realize that the grass is quite green on this side.


(Picture 1 is of my house this winter, not much green though)

Another Look on Life

In the midst of our day to day routines, it is easy to fall into a myopic perspective on life. One in which every day feels like a mundane reduplication of the ones before it. One in which we see the same faces, go to the same places and do the same things over and over again. As the routine continues without change, we start falling deeper into an unconscious repetition of our actions and lose sight of everything beyond our direct surroundings. Once in a while, if we are able to expand our immediate picture in the attempts to see a larger reality, we may be able to find a refreshing escape from the increasingly deepening hole of our daily routines. Let us do a visualization exercise to see things from a different perspective.


To begin, think of the room you are currently in. Try to see and feel the entirety of the room. Pay attention to the people occupying the same space. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture.






Now expand the picture and see the building you are in front a bird’s eye view. Picture the different activities of the people who are in the same building. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture.






Now let us expand our picture even more and imagine your neighbourhood from a bird’s eye view. Think of the parks, the stores, the residential buildings, the public buildings and think of the variety of existence that happens in these parts. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you feel the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.






Now even higher, and we are overlooking your region in the city. It may have distinct features and a certain subculture. Cars and people will look like toys. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you feel the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.






Higher and higher we go and now picture the city or town you live in. It may have tens of thousands of people, or tens of millions. In the day there may be plenty of activity out on the streets, while at night, the lights from individual homes reaffirm the continual existence of unending possibilities and life. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.






Now let us go even further and picture the province that you live in. This may be a large area, or it may be a smaller one. Even so, it will not be an area that you could get to know or traverse every corner of. We may feel a familiarity with this area, but in the end, like the people living inside it, even this relatively tiny piece of land is impossible to fully understand. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.






Now we go higher and are able to see the country of our residence. This country is one which you may be a citizen of or perhaps just temporarily live in. This country is one with a distinct identity and history. This country is one which is full of inhabitant who you may feel a distant familiarity. This country is one that you might identify with. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.






Finally, we are now seeing the picture of the Earth. At this point, our brains cannot comprehend the enormity of the combined human activity. There will be people who are poor, people who are rich; people who are young, people who are old; people with dreams, people with none; people who are happy, people who are sad; in the end it will be a large number of people who you could not all possibly form individual bonds of understanding with.

It is beautiful planet we live on, with all its vibrant colours. A planet full of life, full of energy, full of possibilities. A planet bigger than anyone of us can hope to imagine. A place full of biodiversity, from the smallest of microbes to the largest and most ancient forms of vegetation. A place with geographical features ranging from dry deserts to wet marshlands, high mountains to vast oceans. A place which still holds innumerable mysteries for the human race.

We have been here for an uncountable number of years and generations. Human history is full of a myriad of tales and stories of prior inhabitants. They are people have gone about their lives, living while holding onto their beliefs and under the conditions in their respective times. Each one of them had a role in shaping history, whether it was big or small, with a shared fate. A constant cycle of life and death, while the Earth continues its mechanical movements around the sun.

And now, let us think back about what our lives may mean in this greater picture. Our individual life stories may be of utmost importance to us. However, how will this once held energy and life be represented? Perhaps a couple of us may be in the history books, some of us may make it on the news, but for most of us, we will only have our beautiful stories told in the form of statistics or wholly forgotten. Perhaps we will be remembered by our friends and families, and have our stories represented through them. Eventually, they too will pass on, and every aspect of our lives will fall out of memory, never to be told again. Close your eyes and visualize, and open your eyes once you have the picture. As the picture gets bigger, the self gets smaller.






This inevitability is a reality. In the end, our lives are more like lucky accidents and an insignificant part of an objective and immobile reality. What is important to us when we think in terms of individual interests is not important to us when we think in a holistic way. Perhaps what we think is important to us is not really important at all. As we live and fall into the paralysis of our daily routines and work, we may not realize this. We may only be aware of our present surroundings and environment, and never go further into contemplation about the real nature of our existence. But in the end, not thinking does not prevent undeniable reality. We are only a small part of the whole, and the whole is an unimaginably large picture.