Choking in Our Trash

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Does lying in one’s own garbage seem shocking to you? At first glance, these images from the ongoing series of photographic project, “7 Days of Garbage” by Gregg Segal, seem really gross. But after staring at them for a few seconds, it dawns on me how close to reality these scenarios are. While the photos show Californians lying amid a week’s worth of their own garbage, I can easily imagine worse scenarios if the photos were taken in Hong Kong!

When it comes to environmental protection, Hong Kong would probably score very low on the international scale. While there is a tiny scale of recycling effort, most people do not make recycling a habit. There is close to zero recycling for glass bottles, except for a small non-profit social enterprise that collects bottles and other recyclable trash from a few selected locations and charge a fee for its service. The fee generally puts the “common people” off from wanting to recycle. Basically, the government doesn’t give a damn about recycling, has no political will to push for the development of a comprehensive recycling industry, and is clueless about what to do next about the ever-rising pile of garbage in our backyards.

There are several large dumping grounds for trash in our small city but those are nearing full capacity. We have hundreds of high-risers built atop land that was “reclaimed”, meaning, land that was originally ocean but built from scratch using garbage. The government is looking to build incinerators but what terrible pollution would that bring to our already polluted air?

Adding to these problems is the lack of awareness among the citizens. It is appalling how people dump whatever they don’t want into Nature. They give absolutely no qualm about polluting Nature with stuff that will not disintegrate for millions of years, let alone care about how ugly it looks. It’s just a “surface nuisance,” as the brilliant comedian George Carlin has said in his famous skid about the environment. “[The earth] wanted plastic for itself!”… The age-old question of “Why are we here?” can be answered simply by: “Plastic!”

A poetic image? What is a sofa chair doing on the beach?

A poetic image? What is a sofa chair doing on the beach?

Refrigerator and Liquid Gas Petroleum can on the beach!Refrigerator and Liquid Gas Petroleum can on the beach!

Beautiful decorations hikers left behind

Beautiful decorations hikers left behind

Nowhere have I seen furniture and big pieces of electrical appliances thrown in Nature as in Hong Kong. The reason why people do that is because one has to pay a fee (roughly US$60) to throw away a piece of furniture in the landfill. To save money, people (usually movers who help people get rid of old furniture) would just drive to a remote area in the New Territories and dump the furniture in Nature. These movers have absolutely no regard for Nature.

In some areas of Hong Kong, the water currents would bring in trash from Mainland China. How do I know? Well, just look at the packages… the words are written in simplified Chinese, which is not used on Hong Kong. I have a lot more photos of such trash but I think I’m grossing myself out at this point.

A country that contrasts greatly from Hong Kong is Sweden, where I lived for five years and observed how the citizens were conscientious about recycling everything possible and doing compost in the countryside. There is a bit of economic incentive for people to recycle plastic bottles and aluminium cans—at supermarkets there are machines that take these and give you a coupon that can be redeemed for cash. But most people would recycle whenever they can—with or without cash rewards—and would walk the extra mile to dump their pre-sorted trash into the proper containers.

Overall, the Swedish people keep their Nature absolutely pristine. You won’t find a single piece of trash when you go hiking or swimming. Other European countries are also equally good at environmental protection, such as Switzerland. You can clearly see how their citizens are properly educated to respect Nature and treat it as an important asset and treasure in their lives. Not only that, there is a general sense of reverence for what is considered sacred. In Hong Kong, I have observed the disrespect people have for Nature—mostly out of ignorance; and also the way they treat Nature as a big kitchen cabinet from which they get resources (like fish and seafood). Perhaps they need to have a look at pictures like the one below to be reminded what keeping Nature clean would mean. But I’m afraid that we would need another campaign like the “Lap Sap Chung Campaign” launched by the former colonial governor, Sir Murray MacLehose in the 70’s (which I witnessed growing up in the city), to raise awareness among citizens and encourage them to put trash where they belong.

The pristine St. Moritz Lake

The pristine St. Moritz Lake

 

Related article:

Mesmerizing Photos of People Lying in a Week’s Worth of Their Trash

 

Confucianism Stresses Obligations… But Where Does that Leave ‘Me’?

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I had an interesting chat with a professor yesterday at the university where I work. He has published a paper that looks into the true meaning of the word “guanxi” in Chinese society. “Guanxi” literally means interpersonal relationship. But instead of the Western interpretation of networking and friendship, the professor explained that the Chinese concept is based on a very ancient set of rules that guide human relationships.

Confucius often leaves me feeling confused.

These rules are rooted in Confucian philosophy and emphasize obligations we have for those who are closely related to us. Whether or not we fancy those people is not important. The important thing is that we have certain obligations toward them. If we do not fulfill those obligations, we would be condemned by society and considered immoral. So, for example, children have certain obligations toward their parents and these are called “filial piety.” It doesn’t matter if we actually like our parents or not. (My note: By extension, let’s say even if they treat us badly or abuse us, we still have the obligation to respect them and take care of them when they are old.)

Although this kind of “guanxi,” which stresses obligations, is restricted to an inner circle—a “circle of trust,” it can be transferred to someone who is not related by blood. So the good friends of your parents would become “aunties” and “uncles” automatically and they would have the obligation to look out for your interests whereas you would also have the obligation to respect and treat them “properly.” These obligations go without saying. They are unspoken rules in Chinese society. As I grew up in the traditional Chinese culture, I know these obligations instinctively.

According to the professor, it is very useful to have these rules as they make interpersonal relationships more stable and predictable. However, moral dilemmas would occur when a person holds obligations to two conflicting parties. For example, if I were the human resources manager of a company and a friend’s son applied for a job at the company, should I favor his application even if he is not as qualified as the others? This scenario illustrates a conflict of interest in modern terms, or a moral dilemma in philosophical terms. Who should I be loyal to? It is a tough call as the traditional Chinese value is clashing with the modern business organization.

In ancient times, there were no companies in the modern sense. The only authoritative organization that existed was the government. It was very clear to whom an official’s loyalty belonged. A very good example is the story of Da Yu (大禹), who lived 4,000 years ago. He passed by his mother’s doors three times without visiting her as he was obliged to tackle an urgent flooding problem. In this case, the good of the society obviously took precedent over private interests.

The story of Kong Rong picking the smallest pear puts the “self” into the trash bin.

While such behavior would still be considered ideal and moral nowadays, we lack stories that tell us the “self” is important too. In fact, when I review all the moral stories I was taught in school, the “I” was always relegated to the back of the queue. One story that really stands out and had governed how I behaved throughout my life until recently was the story of Kong Rong (孔融), who was the 20th generation grandson of Confucian (around 200 A.D.). When he was 4 years ago, he and his brothers were offered a basket of pears by some guests. He happily let his older brothers and youngest brother pick the largest pears while he took the smallest one. Words spread quickly about this young child’s politeness and was touted as an ideal moral behavior for all tp emulate.

Personally, I believe the self-denigrating tendency or requirement in the Chinese culture as a result of Confucian teaching is responsible for a great deal of misery in people’s lives. Yes, on the surface, the society may very well be operating in an “orderly” manner. However, where does this leave “me”? I have suffered so much and even gone through major periods of depression because the “me” was not given a proper place. Yet its voice was not unheard. It was dying to cry out while social obligations kept on suppressing it. As a result, my life was steeped in a sea of guilt, angst and frustration. Only when I realized that the “self” deserves the top priority in my life that I have been able to leave this negative loop. This doesn’t mean I am selfish. But whatever I do for others, I would choose to do so out of sincerity—it would be something I like or love to do, out of the heart. This makes sure that the “self” is first satisfied and whatever action that is taken afterwards, there would be no grudge involved. Likewise, if no action is taken because the “self” sincerely does not want it, there would be no guilty feelings either. This is so important for the health of our soul. Who in society or in authority would care? They would rather that you follow what they dictate!

I know I am not alone in feeling trapped behind the bars of tradition. Millions or even billions of Chinese are still going through what I have gone through. And not just Chinese people. Confucianism is not the only philosophy that puts people into a guilt trip in the name of obligations and loyalty. Calvinism, puritanism and many other philosophies and religions around the world also have managed to do that. It’s time to transcend the social strictures that no longer serve us and stun our spiritual growth. Have you heard that inner voice crying to be let loose yet?

Talk to Yourself Right

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Eat Right Walk Right Talk to Yourself Right

To be healthy:
Eat right
Walk right
And talk to yourself right

This advice is right on the money! ;-)

There are a million different ways to eat and exercise in order to become healthier, but all of these would not suffice if we didn’t practice honest and positive self-talk. I am saying this from my own experience. I consider myself eating in a healthier way than the majority of the population where I live. I also have a pretty healthy lifestyle, although I could exercise a bit more.

But when it comes to “talk right,” I have only started to do so recently. I realized that prior to my surgery, my mind was either in a constant loop of negative self-talk or in a perpetual mode of anxiety and worries. I didn’t even have to look for negative thoughts to fill my mind. They were there automatically. Why was that? I believe these thoughts first came into my subconscious mind through the voice of my mother, which was dominant in my childhood, and I just sponged it all up. This voice permeated my entire consciousness when growing up, and it didn’t leave me until quite recently. I would say most of these thoughts are false beliefs but they stuck and I believed in them anyway, no matter how irrational they were. Some thoughts can’t even be “categorized” as negative, but the consequences were negative on my health and well-being. For example, every time I had a meal, a voice in my head would tell me to hurry up and finish eating as soon as possible so I could “get on with my life”—as if eating was just a chore to get over and done with. No wonder I got digestion and stress issues before.

After my recent surgery, I find myself talking positively in my mind most of the time. I started hearing the voice of optimism combined with a sense of lightness and humor. Whenever something unpleasant is happening to me, I would automatically drift back to the worst ordeal in my life—the surgery and hospitalization—and immediately tell myself to look at the other side of the coin. Let’s say I am having a headache the whole day (which is happening to me most days now when I am still healing), I would tell myself, that’s actually quite mild and I am grateful that I am well enough to still think clearly and work. For each minor inconvenience or irritation, which I would often escalate into a typhoon or hurricane previously, I would now turn into a thought of blessing. This way, I would feel grateful under any circumstances and skip feeling like a victim of bad luck.

At long last, I have found my own voice—a voice that sprang from the dark abyss of suffering, a voice that replaced my mother’s nagging and negative voice in the back of my mind (which might have originated from her birth during the Second World World and a life time of stress). Finding my own true inner voice, I believe, is a mark of maturity.

Wayne Dyer has said the most important and powerful words in the whole universe are “I am.” This phrase defines how you view your life and thus, how you experience it. I think I am consciously putting this into action, without feigning positivity though. With all due respect, positive affirmations—the kind that Louise Hay has been preaching for decades—does work, but with a caveat: It works only if you truly feel it. The universe can feel the vibration of your being without hearing the actual words. My experience has confirmed that if I don’t honestly feel positive and then try to self-talk myself something positive, it wouldn’t work.

But now I have come to a stage in which I truly feel grateful for being alive. Every little detail—even what is commonly perceived as an obstacle—is a joy instead of a drag, a learning opportunity instead of a setback. I have seen how a small, positive and grateful thought always materializes into something positive. There is no other way. A positive vibration will always bring forth more positive vibrations. If you experience otherwise, watch for that minuscule speck of negative vibration at the back of your mind and in the bottom of your heart. Perhaps you have a molecule of fatalistic thought that good things won’t come to you. See if you can flip that around. Try it. You might be pleasantly surprised.

How Ballet Has Helped a Young Woman Heal from Aneroxia

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Min, owner of Cloud & Victory

Recently an article about how ballet has helped a young woman, Min, heal from her eating disorder, “Reverse Black Swan Syndrome,” has caught my attention. What she experienced goes against what is more commonly seen in the ballet world, where the pressure to perform and to achieve a perfectly slim body sometimes leads to, instead of heal, eating disorder.

Min is a Singaporean Chinese who went to study law in an Australian university but found the pressure to achieve to be a bit too much to manage. As a result, she fell into anorexic behavior. It is really interesting to read the journey she went through and how she found cure in ballet class and even became the owner of a successful ballet-inspired ethical clothing brand, Cloud & Victory, after she graduated.

Min stretching in a ballet studio

In some ways, her story reminds me of my years in a U.S. college where I started to binge eat due to the pressure to achieve and to get my English standard on par with native-English speakers. How would it be possible for a foreigner like me to be admitted to journalism school, when I didn’t even know what was funny when my fellow classmates cracked a joke, or when I made a silly mistake as my school-taught British English turned into something hilarious in the American context? There were so many books to reads, such long papers to write, and so many new cultural impressions and shocks. I didn’t know I had any sort of eating disorder, despite boxes after boxes of chocolate chip cookies and cans after cans of soda pops that accompanied me through those all-nighters.

Come to think of it, ever since I was a kid, I had used snacking to deal with the pressure of studying. It was as if eating could help me to fill a gap in my soul, to fight the loneliness in the struggle to be the best in my environment. It helped me pass the long, long hours buried in the books. But it did not help raise my self-esteem, despite the good grades I eventually got.

I never went as far as becoming bulimic though. Sometimes I would have a tendency to watch everything I ate—such as during my last two years in high school when I tried to lose weight. It was hard on my body and my effort was totally wasted as soon as I entered college. In the first six months, I gained 20 pounds! My parents couldn’t even recognize me when I went home to visit during Christmas holiday.

Louisa at 18

Me at 18, right after I arrived in the States

Louisa at her fattest

Me at 18 and a half, after having gained that “Freshman 20″

Back and forth, back and forth… throughout my whole life I struggled with my weight. It was actually my self-esteem that I struggled with. Despite the extrinsic achievements in my academic life—being always able to overcome difficulties and challenges to get to the top echelon—there was this insecurity about my self that had bugged me throughout my youth. I believe that this has to do with the mixed signals I received from my mother when I was a child. Whenever I got a good grade or an award, she would be really proud. Yet at the same time she always “bragged” to her friends in a false sense of humility that it was “nothing,” that I was “not good enough,” and she would make sure that I stayed humble and tried to do better the next time. So I guess I always felt that nothing I ever did was good enough. This feeling had lasted until quite recently, as even throughout my adult life, she has inadvertently transmitted the message that no matter how much and how well I do, it’s never going to be enough (Sounds familiar? Joy Luck Club, anyone?) I am glad that I have finally gotten over this feeling now. I finally understand, that it’s not about what I do, but who I am—and I don’t need her approval to be the unique person that I am. It is alright even if she does not understand.

In addition to my weight swings, I have also been experiencing bouts of deep depression multiple times in my life. The first time around, my parents dismissed it as a something that couldn’t possible happen to me since I did not have a good enough reason to get depressed. Huh? That did not help very much! Reading Min’s story made me envy her for having such supportive and understanding parents. They did not question her through her darkest days; instead, they just gave her unconditional support. I think that is so crucial in her healing process, as they provided her with safe emotional environment to refocus her energy on creating a company based on her new-found passion, a passion that stemmed from what healed her—ballet.

As for me, ballet has healed me and hurt me in a million ways. When I have totally recovered from my surgery, I will ease into class and make sure I turn ballet into a source of joy and not a source of grief and tension. I will free myself from the harsh judgments of the mirror, from the silent comparison with my fellow beautiful and skinny adult students, from the strict demands for a “perfect ballet body,” and just allow myself to enjoy the pure essence of dancing!

Louisa_Ballet_Fat_Slim

Me when I first started learning ballet (left) and two years later, at my slimmest, weighting less than 100lbs (right). Now I have gained back what I lost but feel stronger and healthier.

 

It Feels Great to Get Grounded

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Earthing

Recently I and my husband have started to do “earthing,” or “grounding,” every day. There is a beach near our home but it’s a rocky beach with lots of barnacles. We have to walk there with our Crocs to avoid injury to our feet. But we found some patches of sand on the sea bed, so we would walk there in small steps, barefoot, while soaking in the mineral-rich sea water. The “grounding” has miraculously fixed the intense heart palpitations that I had experienced for several weeks since my surgery. Besides, it has truly made us feel happy—and we know it’s not just the sun, the breeze and the sea water. We have been walking at the beach and soaking in the sea water a lot in the past, but only when we started to take our shoes off that we found ourselves reaching another level of well-being.

Here is what “grounding” is about:

Grounding, or earthing, is connecting with the earth’s primordial, healing energy to help reduce inflammation and ultimately improve health by promoting electron balance in the body.

When we stand barefooted in touch with the earth, we soak up negatively-charged electrons that neutralize free radicals in our bodies. But when we sit indoors or walk outdoors with shoes on, we insulate ourselves from the energy and the healing power of the earth.

Grounding is known to have positive effects on the immune system, heart rate variability and blood viscosity. It also helps us reduce chronic inflammation, sleep better, feel happier and have more energy.

I highly recommend this to everyone, especially those of us who sit at the computer and are surrounded by electromagnetic field (EMF) (cell phone signals, wi-fi, etc.) all day. Even just touching a patch of lawn—if available—would make a big difference.

Here are two videos explaining what earthing means:

A Speck of Light

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Earlier this year I wrote a poem on my birthday in celebration of myself. I was actually feeling a deep sense of loneliness in this vast universe at that time. But today, I would like to share it with you as I feel like celebrating my life from a genuinely joyful place in my heart.

A-Speck-of-Light-Poem

A SPECK OF LIGHT

A tiny speck of light
and heat
Whence I came
Whence I’ll go
If by happenchance
I’ve touched upon your soul
All that journey across the galaxies
has not been wasted.

My Romanian friend Luminita Soare Ray has translated this into Romanian:

UN GRAUNTE DE LUMINA

Un mic graunte de lumina
Si caldura
De unde am venit
Incontro ma duc
Si dac-asa din intimplare
Am atins sufletul tau
Acea calatorie
Peste galaxii
Nu s-a irosit.

And an online friend from Peru has translated it into Spanish:

UN PUNTO DE LUZ

Un diminuto punto de luz
y calor
De dónde vengo
A dónde iré
Si por casualidad sucede
Que he tocado tu alma
Todo ese viaje
A través de las galaxias
no ha sido en vano.

Dance Like Nobody’s Watching

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Quotes_Dance-Like-Nobody-is-Watching_New

“Work like you don’t need the money. Love like you’ve never been hurt. Dance like nobody’s watching.”

This profound quote has often been attributed to either Mark Twain or Satchel Paige.

For those of us who dance, there is perhaps nothing more liberating than to dance our hearts out as if nobody was watching. The mirrors, the teachers, the fellow dancers/dance students and the audience—all these prying eyes could take away the spontaneity from the act of dancing. It is thus a refreshing feeling to be able to dance for the pure joy of it—regardless of the rules and aesthetics—just like a kid would.

I only recently realized that the origin of this quote is neither Mark Twain nor Satchel Paige. It is a song from the 80s called “Come from the Heart.” The lyrics were written by Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh.

You’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.

The true meaning behind these lyrics is that for our artistic work and love to flourish, we’ve got to live from an intuitive and inspired plane. Whatever we do, we’ll succeed if we do it from the heart and not for any extrinsic motives.

If you’d like to read more about how these lyrics evolved into today’s quote and how the original writers were forgotten, check out this article on Quote Investigator.

Here is the original song “Come from the Heart.” Enjoy!

(Originally published on my other blog: http://balletomanehk.com)

What is Pain?

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Pain is something to understand

For those of us who have had our fair share of pain, here is a question to ponder: What is pain?

Byron Katie says, “Pain is nothing to fear; it is something to understand.” (Click on the image and read the comments on Byron Katie’s page. They are quite inspiring!)

For me, pain is a wake-up call that something in my life is off kilter. Physical pain does not only signal physical stress in our body, but is also a reflection of misalignment between what my heart/soul wants and what I am actually doing.

If you look at pain on the spiritual and emotional level, when we feel uneasy, frustrated, angry, sad, etc., some parts of our energetic system (chakras) get blocked. For example, the throat chakra is related to how honestly we express ourselves and how we take responsibility of our own needs. So if this area of your life is neglected, you might experience sore throat, voice problems, thyroid issues, swollen gums or mouth ulcers. This is an example of how pain or/and disease could manifest in a particular part of the body that corresponds to our emotional and spiritual well being.

However you define it, pain is a signal that we must pay attention to. It is our body’s innate wisdom to use pain to guide our course of action. It is an “SMS” (or more like “SOS”) from our soul that we need to change course and take care of areas in our life that we have neglected or abused. This applies to both physical pain and emotional pain.

So I agree with Byron Katie, that pain is nothing to fear. If we can understand why pain occurs, and transcend it, we’ll end up being better off each time we experience it.

What is pain to you? Please share!

The wound is the place where the Light enters you.
~ Rumi

The Story of My Thwarted Artistic Dream… and What Parents Can Learn from It

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Louisa_LittleArtist_0

I have loved art for as long as I remember. Perhaps it was because my dad was an artist. I grew up surrounded by his paintings and his art books. Being part of my daily life, they were nothing “special,” yet invariably they held a special allure in my heart.

My mom told me that I was scribbling alongside my brother when I was three. We were still in China then. My brother was a much better scribbler than I was. According to mom, while brother was drawing airplanes and trains, I could only draw squiggly lines that best resembled worms.

When I was four, my family moved to Hong Kong. Gradually, we moved to a larger apartment. There was a whole room dedicated to painting. My father called it his painting studio. It was a playroom for me. Much of my free time was spent in this giant room, with oil paintings, some finished and some half-finished, plastered from wall to wall. It was a special moment each time I asked dad to set up a blank canvas for me on a tiny wooden board. It felt like a scared ritual. My dad would prepare a small palette of oil paint for me, along with linseed oil, turpentine, a few brushes and palette knives, and a stash of cut-up newspapers for wiping off colors from the brushes.

Louisa_LittleArtist_1 I loved the smell of the room. It was filled with the mixture of oil paint and turpentine. Highly toxic, perhaps? But I was so used to it that I always associated it with the special connection I built with dad and with art.

My father always called his paintings “commercial works.” I was too young to understand what that meant. He recruited my mom to help him by copying his paintings. He called this act “printing money”—It was a way to make a living and raise us kids. It took me many years to understand the concept. Meanwhile, I thought painting was so much fun, that almost every weekend, I would dabble on the canvas and copy whatever my dad was painting. He was doing a lot of landscapes and beach scenes. So those became the subjects of my art as well.

Louisa_LittleArtist_4

Sometimes I would deviate from the style of painting my father did. One day, at the age of five, I picked up a brush and started painting a boat on a piece of cardboard paper after I had eaten dinner. It was my after-dinner entertainment. I asked my parents to guess what I was painting. They said, “a boat!” Wanting to trick them, I started painting candles on the boat. They said: “It’s a birthday cake!” Then I kept on changing the subject and tried to turn the cake into a hat. I realized it wouldn’t look like a hat if there wasn’t a person underneath it. So I started painting the hair and face of a girl. My parents were puzzled for a long while what I was coming up with. When they saw the eyes, they knew I was turning this into a full-scale portrait! But I ran out of paper! So I asked my dad to fix it for me. He quickly attached an extra cardboard paper to the bottom of the paper I was painting on, the voila! I could keep on finishing the portrait. You can see the painting below. The place where the two pieces of paper were put together is clearly visible, which makes this painting really odd. But this portrait has become one of the most valued “family treasures” and is still hanging on the wall of my mom’s apartment today.

Louisa_LittleArtist_5

Self-Portrait

Apparently I was quite talented in painting. When I was in elementary school, I participated in many painting and calligraphy competitions and always managed to snatch some prizes. The “problem” was, I was also good at academics and other activities, such as reciting poems, gymnastics and dancing. Being at the top of my class every year made my parents believe that I was some sort of child prodigy and that I should give the academic subjects precedence to art, which they considered a hobby.

Louisa_LittleArtist_2

Louisa_LittleArtist_3

When I was a teenager, around the age of 14, I started to think seriously about my future career. I had this strong urge to become an artist—perhaps not surprisingly. Painting in Paris had became a romantic dream for me. I decided that I would go to Paris and study art.

That year, I enrolled myself in French and painting classes. Every week, I would spent hours and hours after school to attend lessons at l’Alliance Francaise and at an art studio, both in my neighborhood. Sometimes I would spend more time reading my French books than my school books. I would spend even more hours perfecting a sketch of a plaster statuette—sometimes up to 16 hours on one sketch. But I wouldn’t stop until I got it “right.”

Venus-Sketch_LouisaHansen Skagen-Ladies_LouisaHansen

By the time I was 17, I was almost ready to apply for universities in France. But a television news feature sealed my fate. The episode depicted how life was like for a group of Chinese students studying art in Paris. It showed how they had to work at menial jobs like washing dishes in order to have enough money to get by. Sometimes they wouldn’t even have enough money to buy soap. Life was not romantic as I had envisioned. My parents said, “Look at that! Do you want to live the same kind of life as them?” I was deeply discouraged.

Louisa_LittleArtist_6

Over the next couple of months, my dad asked me the question: “Would you prefer to have art or bread?” Even though he was an artist, he felt that he had struggled all his life and was not able to truly follow his dream to paint non-commercial paintings because he had family obligations. Being a traditional father as he was, he said that as a girl, it would be too tough to pursue the artistic path—especially in a cultural desert like Hong Kong. “You can paint as much as you want after you retire! Treat it like a hobby and you’d enjoy it more!” he advised.

I allowed myself to be persuaded and took the second-best choice of becoming a journalist instead. At least I didn’t have to become a lawyer or a business person, I thought! But giving up art turned out to be one of the greatest regrets of my life.

While the skills I learned from studying journalism have benefited me a great deal both career-wise and in my personal life, it turned out that the type of journalism that I wanted to do has been following a trajectory of death a few years after I graduated from university. Ironically, the world of art has transformed itself. Digital technology has greatly expanded the possibilities within the artistic field that neither I nor my father had ever imagined. If I had studied art in university, even if I could not do non-commercial art, I would still be able to choose among many professions, ranging from Web and graphic design, to product design, to architectural drawing to film post-production and so on—and be able to enjoy the work much better.

While I love writing, nothing beats the feeling of working with visual arts. So outside of work, I’m always seeking ways to express myself in visual and even performing arts.

Perhaps I should also blame myself for not standing up to my parents and insisting on following my own dreams. I have so much respect for children who have the guts to do that—refusing the path that their parents set out for them to follow. I was weak in comparison. But in the Chinese culture, children are expected to “respect” their parents and listen to what they say in all aspects of life—at least in my generation that was the case. I only regret that I did not rebel sooner. All these years, I have been living with unfulfilled dreams, pent-up frustrations, boredom, restlessness and the question of “What if?”

If you are a parent, would you allow your kids to follow their dreams, no matter how “odd” they might be? Or would you insist on their following the conventional path—the sure path to a “stable material life,” even if they have the talent for a certain “obscure” field?

If I would give one piece of advice to parents, I would say: “Let your child choose who and what they want to be!”

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