A Dialogue on Chinese New Year!

Weekend Projects

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What is Chinese New Year?

It’s the new year as per Chinese Lunar Calendar.

How many days is it celebrated?

Well, in Singapore it is celebrated for two days, Vietnam a week, China two weeks. It really depends.

What do you do at Chinese New Year?

We try to meet all the near and dear ones. It is a chance to meet all the family members and eat together and perhaps gamble.

Gamble?

Yes, a lighthearted game within the family.

Do you have any special preparation before the new year besides food?

Of course, we deep cleanse our house. But you must remember not to touch the broom or mop on the eve and few days into the New Year.

Really?

Yes, the belief is to sweep into the house. Basically, you start from the main door and sweep into the house. Luck “CAI” must stay inside the family or house. But preferably don’t do that on the eve.

Is dust associated with wealth?

It’s a symbolic reference. But, who would want to sweep away good luck?

Any other superstitions?

You bet there are. Eating porridge, cutting hair, needlework, to name a few. Porridge is considered a poor choice of food or say not a royal breakfast. Cutting hair is a sign of depleting wealth. Needlework or working with sharp tools can result in accidents and you might be rushed to hospital. It is a bad omen.

What is considered good?

Wearing bright clothes, especially Red is considered good. You must have noticed all the “AngBao’s” (or envelopes) are in red color.

So, all of you receive “AngBao’s”?

All the unmarried children in the family receive “AngBao’s” from all the married couples.

Interesting? Singles must feel very lucky.

Yes, but you must be prepared to answer the impending question “When are you getting married?”

Apart from “AngBao’s” do you exchange gifts?

Yes, we do. A pair of Mandarin oranges is presented to the host. Sometimes an extra pair is offered to the grandparents too.

New Year eve is considered one of the most sacred event in Chinese tradition and it is spent with immediate family. We even stay awake until midnight in the belief that it would bring longevity to the parents.

Since you are leaving for vacation, I must wish you a very Happy New Year! 

Gong Xi Fa Cai

Brief exchange and Immense Joy

Weekend Projects
Digital eye and cross

Close up of eye with digital lights and Christian cross

I was waiting for my turn outside the eye OPD when the nurse announced my name. I jumped out of my chair and hurried to the optometrist room. He asked me to cover my right eye and read the alphabets approximately 20 feet away. Then repeat with the left eye. I read almost all the rows with great agility except for the last few words that appeared hazy. A bit unsure, but I read them as “W” and “M”.

He scribbled on my card 6/6 and asked me to concentrate on the tip of his pen. He moved it from left to right, top to bottom, far and near constantly reminding me not to move my neck around just the eyes. Pleased with the results he asked me,

What brings you here?

I came for a regular examination.

Disbelieving, he asked, where are you from?

Oh! I just live across the street.

Well, not many people visit us just for a regular examination. It’s a rarity he affirmed.

I smiled agreeably not revealing that I came to the city for a short vacation.

He asked me to wait outside for the senior doctor to examine my retina. He also explained that the nurse will administer a few sets of eye drops to dilate my pupil.

I took some magazines from the rack to read, but the chatter in the room was quite distracting. I was not carrying my smart phone today, so there were no games, no videos, no emails and neither social media to connect to. Well, I just have to wait.

I was gazing at the people around when I noticed a three-year-old boy wearing a red tee and khaki shorts just a few seats away watching me closely. When I matched his gaze, he shyly turned around and hugged his mother. Almost instantly he looked back to see if I was still watching him. This time he smiled and I reciprocated.

Acknowledgement, admiration, compliments followed by a session of peek-a-boo laid the foundation of our friendship.

The couple seated beside me started smiling too, and the next one and the next. I neither knew this young boy’s name nor did I know where he came from, yet I felt a connection. He had livened up the entire room. It was way more than watching a movie, more than playing video games and certainly more than being connected on social media.

The nurse announced his name and he walked smiling into the Doctor’s room with his mother.

Happiness in this brief exchange was indeed contagious.

Perspective

Perspective, Weekend Projects
child holding balloons standing in front of fantasy storm,illustration painting

child holding balloons standing in front of fantasy storm,illustration painting

As a developer, I have written several programs varying in technology, complexity, scope, platforms, etc. I studied the scope and build the logic to satisfy every permutation and combination of the known scenarios. I was also aware of the potential vulnerabilities and did my best to cover all known grounds. I would rate myself pretty good, but there was always more to be done when the code touched the hands of Testing Nazi’s.

As a test analyst, all my energies were channeled into breaking that damn (pardon my French) piece of code. Not here to gloat, but I managed that quite well too. When I stepped on to this side of the arena the dynamics of the game had changed. The little things that were so hard to remember as a developer were my bread and butter. A simple navigation in different browsers and I could easily report double digit issues.

I wonder, which category does a hacker falls into?

A hackers dream is to write an algorithm that beats the security of NASA or Defense or perhaps any Bank. A cent doesn’t hurt anyone and one cent from all over the world from billions of accounts, Voila!! I don’t even know where to start counting. One of the ransomware that could spread to other hosts on the same network was “WannaCry” -a clever amalgamation of words chosen to create a notorious identity. I believe it certainly made many people cry. When the intention is to hurt someone that’s where the subject takes a turn into the dark alley.

I wonder if the passion of hackers can be sublimated into Artificial Intelligence and create a whole new arena of skilled jobs. Maybe their research can find a cure for fatal diseases or not so fatal, but comfort those living on the edge.

I Crave, I Like, I Enjoy and I Love

Weekend Projects

Every day I challenge myself to do something different, something unusual, something I have never tried before. Recently I was introduced to non vegetarian food and trust me, I almost ate my fingers away. My friends were skeptical and almost disbelieved watching me swallowing the fish, enjoying the oysters and cracking the crab.

I admit, I am never going back to the other side.
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I tried to learn a new sport, kayaking. How hard could that be? I was fortunate that my gym provided paddle simulation equipment. The best part was there was a game flashed on the monitor. The more energy you expend in rowing the paddles, the greater distance you covered and the fish (or perhaps the boat) swam faster. Interesting, isn’t it? The first day I barely managed to paddle for 2 minutes. I had excruciating pain in my back. I must not give up. The next day I tried again, 2 minutes. Well, I increased the speed and resistance gradually. It was amazing that it was less painful. My body was adapting to this pain. Next week I managed 10 full minutes. I was elated and called my friend to go for an actual kayak expedition. 2 hours, can you believe it. We did kayaking for 2 straight hours.

Kayaking! Yes, anytime.
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I like to sing. I am not really a stage performer but I like to sing for myself. I have always loved certain hymns that have touched my heart. And there is no better place than my bathroom for practicing the various notes. The acoustics are amazing and fear of none. I can sing out loud, scream and test my pitch to its limit. Not to forget the water from the taps and hissing of the shower administer a perfect rhythm. I also record my voice here and there and it is hilarious to hear myself.

Sing to your heart’s content.
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I am fascinated by the English language. Words are its true power. Words are born, mature and die and sometimes are re-born again in a different century with a different perspective. These tiny packets packed with TNT can spread the love or wipe out humanity. I want to learn, love, adopt and be comfortable around them.

It’s only words and words that all I have to take your heart away –Bee Gees

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How do you challenge yourself? Do share!

Sojhi

Sojhi, Weekend Projects

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Sikh Research Institute (SikhRI) offers a comprehensive Gurmat based curriculum called Sojhi; in the Panjabi language ‘Sojhi’ means ‘insight’. The Curriculum is oriented around the goal of developing insights to inspire a Gurū-centered life. *

ZERO! I have zero experience in teaching.

It’s a daunting task to teach a class of primary 6 students when you have ZERO class management skills. As the D-day is approaching near so is my fear to face the mischievous boys and girls. If teaching my parents how to work with WhatsApp and Facebook counts a little, I might say I have the bare bones under my belt.

Teachers Training Programme!

I am under the weather. The incessant cough pretty much dug up tunnels in my throat. I have just finished one full course of medicines, but there is no respite from this saga. Honey, lemon and oranges do provide the much-needed Vitamin C, but relief is nowhere to be seen. Despite the slight fever, I managed to reach my venue just in time for the session. I was given a name tag that I glued to my jeans, a sky blue folder to maintain my notes and a table number where I will be seated.

I self served a cup of hot tea and relished the fruit cake. The tea had a perfect blend of spices that instantly calmed my sore throat. I was packed with energy and excited to meet all the volunteers, particularly those seated at my table. SS, JS, JK, AK, RK and MK. Three amateurs and three veterans-a perfect blend. I had barely grasped everyones name that the squeaking sound of microphone grabbed our attention.

Session Begins!

We all recited our prayer (moolmantra). Thanked the almighty for giving us this chance to serve our community.

Next in line was a game. Dumb Charade!

Our challenge was to form a circle in chronological order of our birth day and month in under 5 minutes. We struggled, whispered, laughed and finally formed a circle from January to December. Besides a few hiccups, it was a perfect start of the day. Memorable birthdays were 1st January-New Year, 1st April-Fools Day and 13th April-Vaisakhi.

We were all bubbling with energy and were ready for some serious stuff.

Ms Nandini**, a professional storyteller, gave us some insights on story telling. I had never paid much attention to this art form until today. The subtle changes in the posture, modulation of voice and pace, expressions, eye contact, visual aids, etc., painted a different perspective each time she dramatized. It was worth a try to internalize the story before we presented it to our students.

We will be sharing several stories with our students in due course of time, but this session was my favorite. I must practice this art!

We quickly went through our curriculum for the year and yes, all sessions included a story that must be shared with the students.

Lunch is served!

Oh man, it was delicious.

Garlic and butter naan, jeera rice, mixed raita (tomatoes, cucumber and onion mixed in yogurt), dal (lentils), paneer capsicum and gobi aloo (cauliflower and potatoes). Even though I was sure that spices will trigger my cough but I couldn’t resist the temptation to eat the curries.

Rasmalai (dessert), was delicious and, trust me, all of us wanted a second serving.

Our next guest was Mdm, Heng Yee (MOE).

She gave us the golden key to be a good teacher:

  1. Build the Bond
  2. Motivate
  3. Discipline

Without a bond you cannot motivate and without motivation you cannot discipline. All three must be followed in the same order. You cannot inspire a child unless you’ve built a strong bond. Once the bond has been established, you can motivate him or her to accomplish the goals. And only after you have met the two rules comes the game of discipline.

Four decades of experience and the crux was right in front of us. It might seem to be just three principles, but the struggle is inevitable.

The session concluded and we were handed our files for our class scheduled next Sunday.

After a light snacks and tea, I headed home.

Although still nervous, I have to prepare myself for the first challenge “Bonding with the Children and focussing on relationship”.

* Reference: http://www.sikhri.org/sojhi

**Nandini Nagpal: http://storytellingsingapore.com/book-a-teller/nandini-nagpal

One Day, I’ll be gone

Daily Prompts, Weekend Projects
Moody Harbour

A bird flies over harbour at dusk

One day, my parents will be gone.

One day, my siblings will be gone.

One day, I’ll be gone.

The order in which this will happen is unknown. But, the sudden realization was tearing my heart. If I am the first one to go, perhaps my life insurance can take care of my funeral arrangements. I don’t want to inconvenience anyone too much. It will be certainly hard for my parents, but I wish they will recover soon and find happiness in their daily lives.

The supposition of someone else leaving me was hard to swallow. I tried to shrug the thought and called my parents. We talk almost every day, but today was special. I didn’t want to stop my mother from quoting the same story the hundredth time. I wanted to talk to my father and hear him share some verses from Sri Guru Granth Sahib. I didn’t want to hang up.

I broached the subject with my father and he laughed. It is preordained, my dear. One day, we all will be gone. We are all here, living, breathing in His will, the Almighty. Yes, we are. But the answer to the question, when are we going to die, is unknown. Perhaps the very reason we live our lives with hope and make plans for tomorrow.

Life has never stopped for anyone, my father said. He recounted an incident at the funeral home, where the delay in cremation activities was causing unrest among some of the guests. Not that they didn’t want to pay respects but they had other engagements for the day where they need to be.

There were too many questions racing through my brain. How do those who have contracted critical illness, who know that the days are numbered, live their lives? How does the knowledge of dying soon change one’s behavior? Does it change the behavior of those around them? How do they overcome the fear?

Then some deeper questions, is there anything constant or static?

Yes, indeed. It is the Almighty, who has been always there, is there and will be.

We are all in a reality show, choreographed, directed and managed by Him.

It sometimes grips me gravely. Well, that is a good thing my dear, my father said. That is why we remember Him, every day. You must never forget that.

It is a powerful realization, yet I know I will forget about everything tomorrow. I will be busy preparing my breakfast, working out at the gym, preparing reports at work, attending meetings, return home, have dinner and fall asleep. The cycle will be hard to break. But today, I want to thank everyone in my life for being there and thank the Almighty that I have yet another day to live and breathe in His Will.

Static

Precious

Jewellery, Weekend Projects

She took me by her hand and tried to fit me on framing nails, flooring nails, roofing nails and all the specialty nails in her drawer. I did not fit. I was embarrassed at my miniature physique and felt  that all the nails were laughing at me. I was holding back tears, pretending to be strong; strong for her. There was no one who looked like me. I was upset, not because I had no companion, but I was oblivious of my very existence. All I remembered was her warm embrace and subtle aroma of white Florals.

She left me in the drawer and closed the lid. It was dark and I was afraid. My heart was pounding so fast that I could throw up anytime. I closed my eyes tightly and said a prayer to help her remember, help me remember where I belong.

Those were the longest two minutes I ever had in my life. The drawer opened once again and there she was; leaning; searching. Her smile lifted my spirits. This was the first time I saw her Moorish eyes. She was holding something in her left hand. It was an oval white pearl with a sharp pin. I was afraid to face embarrassment all over again, but her gleaming eyes gave me hope. She gently placed me at the top of the pin and turned me around and around and around. I cried out with joy. I had finally met my soul.

She smiled and turned me again, this time in the other direction. I was confused; I wanted to stay. It was my destiny. I was losing patience as she put me back into the drawer. She carefully held the white pearl in her right hand and pushed it gently through her ear piercing. Once she had a firm grip, she picked me up, placed me on top of the pin, from behind her ear this time and started winding me in. I remember now that this is where I belong. I am not an ordinary screw, but I am a special, the one to keep the pearl safe, to keep her safe.

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The Interview

The Interview, Weekend Projects
Business agreement handshake at coffee shop

Business agreement handshake at coffee shop

How do you see yourself in the next 5 years?, I asked

I see myself as an Architect, she replied.

She was tall, young, confident with a slight lisp, but detailed to the extent of a scientist. She was reverse engineering for the report we had presented to her and come up with a high level abstraction for our system. She stared at the drawing board wrote her goal and started drawing backwards.

As she was rationalizing her decisions, I was drifted away to the time when my father would help me solve my mathematical problems.

I was good in mathematics, but if I was unable to answer the first few of his questions, he would quickly move to the previous chapter and then another and then a few more. If I was unable to answer his questions on problems presented in the first chapter, he would move back to the previous grade and this went on until we hit rock bottom. He would then help me solve one problem at a time until we reached our goal.

I hated when he did that, but I never forgot that a firm foundation is the basis of growth in any field.

Are you happy with your design?

Yes, she answered.

Is there any room for improvement?

Perhaps I can do “X”

Do you think “X” will help?

It might not be significant, but then I can couple it with “Y”

The spark of interest had lit up her eyes and she wanted more and more. She was not just rationalizing, but had started questioning her decisions from the interviewer’s perspective. The room was filled with wild energy. Oblivious to the nature of the systems we are handling, she was solving real life problem faced by our team. She was presenting a perspective which we had missed and we were driven by her innocence and passion to solve it with grace.

And the interview went on.

Would you like to work here? I asked

Absolutely, yes!

There was no one in the room who would have thought otherwise.

Congratulations!!

 

Guests

Guests, Weekend Projects

IMG_0106Approximately 50, yes, this is quite close to the number of first cousins I have. My paternal and maternal grandparents had 10 kids each. An average of two kids per family brings us to 40 and another 10, considering half of them have three kids, to a total of 50. Around 15 of us can get together at any family event especially weddings.

These days 15 guests is considered a sizeable gathering. Often I wonder, what was different back in my parent’s generation? Weren’t the ladies of the house overwhelmed when so many guests arrived? How did they manage? What was their secret? Weren’t then people demanding or finicky about food, health, cleanliness and other pleasures?

“Simple Lifestyle” my mother would say with great conviction. There was enough food to feed a guest or two anytime and left over was fed to the street dogs. Food was cooked on low flame for the entire day. It was so delicious that you could eat your fingers, but only one dish was served.

Guests were treated as family. There was no rule to bring expensive wine or wear a fancy dress. Nor was there any deadline for the guests to leave. If there was a wedding in the family the guests would stay for weeks. There was so much love.

What about kids? Were they all so well behaved? Of course not, we had our share of little monsters too. There was always  mango or lemon pickle to strike a deal and on some occasions Malai (cream of fresh milk) and jaggery would do the trick.

I am a bit nervous when it comes to cooking. I can cook a decent meal on a weekend, but barely have the strength to follow the routine all five days of the week. I choose to freeze my food instead. If I am unwell or don’t feel like cooking I eat at the KOPITIAM.

KOPITIAM—a traditional coffee shop for meals and beverages. You can find one every 500 meters in Singapore. Each KOPITIAM showcases a range of food stalls and beverages. I can eat there anytime. I love to bring my guests there too. It has more choices than I can cook and the colorful pyramids of ice desserts can handle any mercurial temperament. It’s convenient, cheap and I have more face time with my guests.

Perhaps, I can start small and invite someone who wouldn’t mind my cooking, even if I fail. How hard could that be? And I will tear this veil of fear forever.

Were you always good at cooking? How many guests did you invite when you cooked the first time? Was the food enough to feed all? Were they family, friends or strangers? Have you ever dreaded a huge gathering? How did you conquer your fears?

Project Calendar

Weekend Projects

pexels-photo-273011The month of December brings in the cheer of the holidays and the craze to buy next year calendar. Often times I have researched the web for several prints ranging from flora to fauna, wildlife to pets, anime to supermodels, yet the simplicity of plain calendar with 2×2 inch square boxes for each date of the month and sufficient space to scribble the tasks lands on my bedroom wall.

This year I have decided to challenge myself to do more than just paste the vanilla version of the calendar. I want to brighten up the white wall with happy colors. Perhaps paint some cartoon characters along each month or paint some flowers or use trinkets and photographs from memorabilia. It must be fun to use the glue gun after all these years.

Project Calendar.

I need a plan to get it all up and ready by January. I can bear with a bit of delay, but not too much, to land in February. So I marked January 15th to be the target day. Three weeks came as a relief and manageable timeline. Next, a list. List of all the things I need up on that wall and sufficient supplies to hold them together. Glue, tapes, charts, scissors, cutters, crayons, glitters and polystyrene. That should be sufficient I thought. But, what about all the pictures I might want to add? This was harder than I had imagined.

A couple of years ago I had painted a giant tree and its leaves represented months of the calendar. I had thrown in some colored leaves to capture my vacation memories. Perhaps a simple theme with possibility of extension would be a great idea.

For this year I could paint a bouquet of flowers, basket of fruits, milky way galaxy, dragon boat, book shelf or maybe arrange different colored origami sheets to create a new pattern. Voila! Origami sheets! I loved the idea. It was simple, colorful and elegant. Moreover, I could learn a bit of origami and paste it along the way. I added origami sheets to my list.

I had the theme in place, the list of supplies, location and contact details of stationery shops and the target date. It was time to set the Budget aside. Origami sheets might not come cheap, but colored charts and gift wrapping paper might be. I added them to my list.

One week from now I set the date in my calendar to check out stationery shops, purchase the supplies and note down the price of Origami sheets. Two weeks from now I set the date to purchase origami sheets and print out the vanilla calendar. It will be a new year around that time and I will have ample of time to arrange and come up with a pattern for my wall.

Yes! The plan is ready!

Although I will complete my project in three weeks from now, I am convinced that the mere initiation and planning has filled me with joy. And I am planning to be patient and extract as much happiness as possible from every exercise I execute in the upcoming weeks.

I am wondering if some of you also engage in such projects. Do you?