To my friend

I lost a friend. One day she was clicking the Like button on my Facebook post and adding the hahahahahahaha laugh that brought me back her all-encompassing laugh that covered the entire universe. Sometimes letters convey messages much stronger than our real presence: that was her moment.

And then the next moment I received a message that she was involved in an accident. At least she was conscious. Whoa, I dropped a huge sigh of relief. I prayed for her, to the god/alien/universe/spirit who receives all our admirations yet does nothing practically back for us. Do something now, dammit.

But I could not bring myself seriously into the pray. Everything felt unreal. She was in the opposite side of the globe, we exchanged words online a mere few days ago. And although she had the vulnerability of a 5-year-old, she also was brimming with joy of a 5-year-old no matter what. The version of her I knew only laughed and cried. Silently lying down on a bed, not being able to move herself, was possible but unthinkable. It felt so alien to me.

Then a week later, she was gone. When I received the news, all that came into my head was Fxxk You. I tried to feel the impact. Nothing came in. Everything was unreal for me when she had the accident, and it remained so until her last moment on earth. I felt empty and dry, inside out. Maybe I was yelling Fxxk Me.

I received the information in my head, but my body was elsewhere. Or it might be that my body received the impact but didn’t know how to react at all. I was disappointed in myself. Was I that cold? I wasn’t expecting to dramatically shed tears as in North Korean people when their leaders died or the professional crying ladies hired at funerals. But I was expecting something.

But still, nothing came in. I decided to just let things be that way, half-believing I turned myself into a cold, emotion-less smart ass who is just good at pretending that he cares. I even knew she would forgive my detachedness—she was way more compassionate than I was (am)—and decided to allow myself to it. I ate my breakfast, did some work, met some friends. Life went on.

Two days later, it came. Not as sadness, not as despair, not as hatred. It came on me as a 100-ton crushing weight. Gravity increased by 300% and pressed me down to the ground. I could even hardly walk to the subway station. Pure heaviness, that was my mourning.

I have always had this delayed and skewed reaction (not crying out loud on the spot) with people passing away through my life. For some people, I still feel nothing. On the other hand, I cried for people I barely knew. I have shared my feelings with other people and they agreed: the mourning process does not work like a movie. Sometimes you do not shed a tear for people with whom you spent years or decades. That happens.

I might have been able to “try” to cry for her. I might have kicked myself to squeeze some grief immediately. But I did not. I did not want to lie to her. The fact that she wasn’t suffering any more removed the possibility of the compassionate lies. All I could do was to be genuine with her. Hence I just felt whatever came up to me, including the nothingness.

And a further week later, here I am writing down what (did not) happen, the history of a grieving that did not take place as expected. Yet as I type my words, tears are filling up slowly. I feel soft, warm sensation of her absence. The moment I longed for so long is finally coming down on me. Why?

After she went back to her native country a couple years ago, our exchange had always been through Facebook. We patted on our shoulders, gave encouragement, laughed at silly jokes, appreciated each other’s presence, all through chats and messages. Even when we were meeting face to face in Taiwan, we did not have that strong bondings. Words gave us a channel that connected our souls, removing other sensation filters.

And now, as I face my texts, I feel I am united with her again. I can hear her laughter coming up from the space between characters. “You never learn, don’t you? Hahahahahahahahahaha” You got me again, Svetlana.

I am smiling wide thinking of her, for the first time after her accident. Good boy, I can hear the voice again.

Removing the slash from Work/Life

When a task/work that supposedly consumes a large amount of time appears, my mind enters the panic mode. I need to secure time! When and where? Can I move this and that to another time?

If that task takes approximately 12 hours to complete, I try to find a whole day without any distraction. If it takes 72 hours, a week. And so it goes. I have a very logical (=predictable) way of coping with an upcoming project.

Therefore, the result is also logical (predictable). I either stretch the original period to twice the estimated length and hate myself, or I finish the task in half the estimated time and think I must be a genius and reduce the time into half the next time and of course hate myself for not keeping the new deadline.

Do I make wrong assumptions about how long a project takes? No and Yes. No because I know pretty well how far I can make progress in, say, an hour. Therefore, all I have to do is to multiply that labor-per-hour for whatever required amount. Easy.

And Yes my assumption is wrong because the labor-per-hour performance is my Peak Performance. I am totally right about how much I can achieve in my best condition. Yet I am totally (and so obviously) wrong to think that I can keep it ongoing for however long I want to.

Five Peak Hours a day allows me to finish almost all tasks I carry and enjoy most of the day slacking off, in theory. In reality, I would need several bottles of Red Bull (or even a shot through my nostril…perhaps, perhaps) and I will be spending the rest of the day in a zombie mode, devoid of any energy.

My energy comes in waves. If peak condition is the top-of-the-wave surfing experience, I need to patiently dog-paddle for five times the amount of time. I totally forget the second (and more important), and either overestimate or underestimate my working hours.

Looking back, I might have known that hidden fact all along. Of course: It is presented right in front of me every time I fail to achieve something I planned (and the rate is higher than 50%. Show mercy and please do not ask How much higher.) I just choose to ignore it, all the time.

Why? Because I always treat a “task” to be completed by “someone else.” The harder, more boring, or more time consuming a task (house chores, assignments, business meeting (duh), whatever) becomes, I separate the “task” from my identity and try to process it through hypothesis and equations, as if doing so would keep my humanity intact.

Once I set up an almighty “someone” who finishes this task within certain hours, that persona takes up an artificial life on its own and turns itself into a robot. By definition, a robot churns out constant amount of output for as long as I want. And by definition, the human being inside that robot mask is made up of waves (or mood swings or distractions or boredom/passion duality). Mix the two worlds and I would never get my calculation right, unless the “task” is completed in an hour.

This symptom isn’t limited to my own tasks. I look back on the days as a manager, and I certainly applied this Peak-Performance-Multiplied-by-Hours pitfall onto my team members. Of course I did it without realizing what I was doing, because I was already doing it to myself (on a smaller scale…). And of course the team members would get appalled by the dehumanizing demands coming from a clueless guy. Is this the reason why everybody turns into an asshole/bitch once he or she gets promoted?

The path I need to take is obvious: get the “task” back to myself. Treat the task as any other “private” activities I enjoy, and find a way to make sure everything is nicely weaved into my life.

Therefore, I recently started to incorporate my “tasks” into my daily life without a clear separation from my other activities. I no longer create a task/life boundary. Everything rides along with me, and things get done when they get done, bit by bit, along with my daily flow.

I finish a certain amount of my task, then switch to my chores, then to my reading, then to my hanging out, back to my task, then to my socializing… My life is a gigantic patchwork with increasingly blurring stitch lines. I carry my laptop everywhere because being an unpredictable human, I have no idea when I am in the “mood” for work.

The result? I am taking up more tasks that I find surprisingly easy to fit into my schedule, and I am dropping tasks that I know could fit into my life only theoretically. I am not necessarily “doing much more” as those self-help books advocate, but I am certainly in a better mental state knowing I can handle stuff that fits into my life. I am on a rough path still, but things look promising.

There is no such thing as “tasks” that I can shove into some dark holes. Everything in my life is equal in its essence, therefore, should be treated equally, as long as I welcome it in my life. Work/life balance? Everything happens is life, I would say.

The system is a gigantic amplifier

I was discussing with my friends over our grand vision: how to make this world a better way. Playing God is always one of the most entertaining funs for man-children. For a gigantic toddler in a sandbox or a nerdy teenager with SimCity, the ultimate pleasure is to build a perfect society and to destruct it into ashes on a whim, but reality isn’t going to give us a catastrophic death (as always depicted in another man-children simulation game, Hollywood blockbusters). In the real world, a 30-minute climax is stretched into 30 years of slow, agonizing cultural genocide. How do we get away from it?

While economists and politicians are busy stashing their retirement funds during debates that are important enough to shut down an entire government and undermine their whole credibility, the rest of us need to figure out a way to survive, and hopefully prosper, again. The current direction the world is going is a dead end, that’s for sure.

We thought of the American model, where everybody is too focused on maximizing themselves for the sake of freedom (thus creating the 1% problem), and the Japanese model, where everybody is too focused on minimizing themselves for the sake of greater goods (thus creating the endless Fukushima disasters by unchecked government). Is the new way somewhere between these two extremes?

Hell, no…what’s wrong with the current “system,” as we call, is that it is built upon a gigantic amplifier. That amplifier multiplies whatever desire is carried by its member, be it making himself bigger or smaller, and continues all until the end. The amplifier is also creating the “modern economy,” where infinite growth is the basic assumption for keeping it alive.

The amplifier “system” we are standing upon has only one command: forward. Just like a nuclear power plant doesn’t have a “Stop” switch, once a motion—whichever direction it is—is set, the members of this system go all the way.

(I know, this BGM isn’t going to stop inside my brain)

Whatever “method” “model” “innovation” we squeeze out of our brain, as long as we apply that new thing on the platform we are standing now, the same will happen all over: exploit whatever is on the road to the end. Then another model might come up, and the karma continues.

I think we can step aside and forget the “system” for once. My vision is, again, going back to the basics—that we don’t need to hop on an moving sidewalk. We can walk on our own two feet. And thus, we might be able to get rid of the “system” that exists between ourselves and the ground, the mother Earth. Metaphorically, of course.

When we imagine there is no “system” that provides us with a basic framework, we need to consider, or better, question everything we have believed or taken for granted in our life: money, love, food, work, marriage, kids…even down to those basics.

As we continue to discover what is important (more importantly, what is not) for us, only us, we begin to realize that we are the “system” – a complete set of universe with unique combinations of wants and needs, interacting with other universes (humans and other elements).

In the end, we are all gods, who know who he or she is and what is necessary, for each his/her own. Welcome to the new world—everybody is equally different gods! And where is the “system” in this world? I assume because it is already inside each god, why do we need to create another “layer” on top of gods? A god-god? God2?

But seriously, the first step might be for everybody to question everything in life and truly, deeply, (maybe not madly), know him or her. We will stop hogging resources for one thing, because once you know what is “enough” for you, why secure more than that?

The world population might stop growing at around 9 billion—that is slightly more than the current 7 billion, you might say—but the difference is in the number of aspiring middle classes, which is now a mere 1 billion. Nobody can imagine a world with 8 billion middle classes. We literally need 8 Earths and might still be suffocating (if we continue our current model).

Therefore, I still hold a dim hope in the current apocalyptic worldview: when you cannot find a “way out,” it is finally the time to come back, to go “way in,” to yourself—and to learn who you are, and what you need, that you are a god, and everybody is a god.

Then what happens? Well, that’s what a god is supposed to figure out, right?

Invest in nobody’s future

Paul Graham is a guru of tech investment nowadays, but several years back he was mostly known as the geek who gets it all—money, fame, good-looking, and wisdom. On his recent (a few years back) post, he talks about how we lose money.

So I started to pay attention to how fortunes are lost. If you’d asked me as a kid how rich people became poor, I’d have said by spending all their money. That’s how it happens in books and movies, because that’s the colorful way to do it. But in fact the way most fortunes are lost is not through excessive expenditure, but through bad investments.

In most people’s minds, spending money on luxuries sets off alarms that making investments doesn’t. Luxuries seem self-indulgent. And unless you got the money by inheriting it or winning a lottery, you’ve already been thoroughly trained that self-indulgence leads to trouble. Investing bypasses those alarms. You’re not spending the money; you’re just moving it from one asset to another. Which is why people trying to sell you expensive things say “it’s an investment.”

I think of the housing bubbles which I experienced in Japan 20 years ago, and which I am about to experience now in China/Taiwan. Millions of people lost their most important properties of their life, their life achievements, and their futures. I witnessed the society slowly removing rainbow-colored ornamentals from everywhere and replacing them with protection shields and warnings: The Great Gatsby effect.

The Japanese people still look back on the economic collapse with a pointed finger. Someone must be the ultimate culprit, yet they haven’t been able to find one. So they have learned not to talk about it loudly, because I guess they are afraid to discover that one truth: they brought it onto themselves.

Nobody wants to economically punish himself or herself. Why is it our fault that the future has gone away?

The other day I visited a friend’s apartment for an errand. It was a typical Taiwanese high-rise modern real estate, complete with a 24-hour guard, postal service, built-in security, modern design, and easy access to public transportation. Perfect, so far.

Another person was living in the apartment, so apparently my friend bought the property for investment. I stepped in, and saw that the room was about 6 by 6 meters, or a size of a public bathroom. There were a unit bathroom, a bed, and a space to…stand. There wasn’t even a space to stretch your body for some yoga. A business hotel might carry larger rooms. You could live in the room, but you wouldn’t want to.

As far as I know, many new apartments in Taiwan have the same structure: solitary cells inside a gorgeous enclosure. They are all “houses” for people to live in. But they are all built and sold as “investments” for people who want someone else to live in. They make sure the “conditions” are met. Air-conditioning? Check. Security? Check. Convenience? Check…

And to keep the “investment” affordable, they cut up the space into office cubes. Wait, with a bathroom and bed, it is even more efficient than an office cube: 24-hour working shift is now a reality!

Places nobody wants to live are created in order to “maximize” people’s investment. If this trend continues, in a decade or so there will be hundreds of unoccupied housing blocks and mourning people who lost all their savings, because the market has already began saturating as of now. And there aren’t kids to occupy new rooms anymore. A bubble pops, and the rest is (brutal) history.

People make investments in order to grow their asset, and that very action triggers a huge backlash in the end, which wipes off the asset they needed to protect. The sad truth is, they don’t even want the asset—in this case, a work-life blending cube—for themselves.

I see similar Optimization-Choking-Each-Other-Off effect elsewhere. For example, companies hire fewer full-time employee to optimize expense, resulting in even less income because they also wiped off potential customers.

Everybody operates under the assumption that everybody else thinks and acts differently. I don’t want to live in this apartment, but someone else would. We aren’t going to pay enough for our employees but someone else would. Everybody is trying to optimize his future through investment or reduction on somebody else’s life.

Well, that’s a gloomy view. But I cannot help thinking: who is getting happy in this picture? Isn’t it better to “consume,” instead of “invest,” and enjoy a romantic dinner, gorgeous trip, a bigger room, or an undisturbed month-long rest? At least that makes someone—you—happy.

Meet the slow death in your comfort zone

I stumbled onto the speech by Gregory Jaczko, the former head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, on Fukushima nuclear disaster.

(Watch from 50:00 and on for Jaczko’s speech)

He talks about the recent visit he made to Japan…the children still playing around hotspots, the desperate amount of ongoing leakage, the inadequate level of government/TEPCO effort which puts the word “inadequate” to shame…

I watched his voice, his body reaction, his every existence trembling with emotion. At the same time I observed his strong will and self-control. But here, his two contradicting urges, emotion and restriction, were wrangling along the same axis in stead of dragging each other down, pushing him to a higher presence. I don’t know what he had done as an almightly chairman. But yet as a “nobody,” he was a man on a mission, driven internally, destined to move on externally.

His talks reveal many aspects and truths on the ongoing crisis, which I shall leave to you to discover. Me—what stunned me most was his determination, his internal force that came across the monitor and infected me. I wondered what he saw in Fukushima (in determination).

Next day a good friend of mine told me about the documentary she saw: A2-B-C, a record on decontamination cover-up in Fukushima and how it is affecting the young people, even babies.

(Be careful, just watching the trailer is enough to ruin your day in rage. Or should I say “Fxxk you very much!” to remain in the present in peace?)

While we are discussing endlessly on the viability of nuclear power and the possibility of widespread contamination, there are people already living in slow cooker hell, being fed every imaginable propaganda by inhumane people whose only concern is cost cutting and pension. Kids and families in Fukushima not only lack fund to move out of their eternally contaminated land. They are also robbed of incentives, the survival instinct, by others—and dare I say even by themselves—in order to keep things “under control,” putting a lid on information.

This morning I stumbled onto an immensely popular Japanese website, There is a collection of interviews with high school students in Fukushima, two years after the incident.

In unison, they vow to “reconstruct” Fukushima into its original state. They write up how they want to work “all for one, one for all” in order to continue to study and live in Fukushima to keep it “alive.” The school principal proudly represents the kids’ vows all over the school, responding to the interview in full smile.

A student answers the question: Aren’t you angry at the government and TEPCO? “I used to. But what is the point in keep getting angry at something that already happened?” He also says “Although my parents oppose adamantly, I want to go back to our old house (which is within 10km from the failed power plant) and live there again.”

What the heck is going on? I don’t think that student is telling lies. He probably is, honestly willing to offer himself for a desperate “rebuilding” project, which makes the government and companies too happy and allow them to keep saving their precious money by cutting safety measures.

No matter how we “beautify” the students’ intention, there is little doubt that the longer they stay in Fukushima, the more health risk they carry, especially in the current situation. They are sacrificing their lives under the the name of “volunteer” activities. And that is the view of Fukushima represented in one of the most popular websites in Japan. Is this a mass propaganda or self-induced hallucination?

What is stunning is the difference between how we see the incident from outside and how it is seen inside, at least on the media perspective.

Few people can carry their rage for long. Most people adapt to their new reality as time goes by, and even start to support it as that student has shown. The Japanese government and TEPCO know this effect and using it to full extent. Those guys know that time can cover up almost anything. Intellectuals, as evidenced in, are just happy to jump on the bandwagon, chasing the next “that thing,” even if there is a death sign.

Kiddo, the only hope is out. I wish I can show it to you. No, that’s not right—what can I do? NOW?

Answer goes, question remains

During the comment conversation for the Question & Answer post, my friend and I realized what a question and an answer mean to us: anchors to our present and future.

For him, it is the answer that anchors us to the present moment, while the question drags us into a new direction. An answer gives us reassurance, while a question drives un into an unknown territory. I can see it works.

Yet somehow I was thinking that maybe for my case, it is the other way around: the question anchors me to the present, while the answer drives me into the future.

Looking back, I have always been driven by curiosity (question). Or should I say, curiosity has been one thing that never left my side during my highest and lowest moments. For example, during my most severe depression, I was curious about why I was so depressive, and during my happiest moments, I was curious about why I was so happy. If the mighty lord (ha ha) approaches me and allows me to pick one value that will always be with me no matter what, I might pick curiosity and discard fortune, love, happiness, or even liberation.

Therefore, when I have a question, my curiosity is in motion. Even though I might look as if I need an exit with an answer, I am actually playing in the sandbox in my backyard (sort of a womb), happily churning out many theories (answers). During that play, I do think what I do is to look for The answer, not just An answer. But as all “travels” have taught me over and over, it is the path that matters, not the destination. A question is valuable because it allows me to dwell in the safe cocoon of “pondering,” not because it provides me with an eternal salvation.

An answer is just a possibility. Maybe it is right, maybe it is wrong, but it is always a “theory,” not a “solution.” I did take every answer as a “solution” for most of my life—but even then, I secretly wasn’t sure if my answer “solved” things fundamentally. For me, the happiest moment always remained in the “searching for an answer” phase—which was energized by the question that always remained at the center.

Of course, I did not realize that mechanism at all, which often (okay, mostly) lead to the tragedy of following my answer for too long and disconnecting myself from the original question. Believing that the “solution” would solve, or even salvage, my life, I clinged on to the seemingly perfect answer, trying to live my life according to that “truth,” which was just a hypothesis. Instead of treating a hypothesis as a hypothesis, I converted it into a dogma that I needed to protect and worship.

Therefore, after several months of rigorous answer-following steps, I would be left disillusioned, disgruntled, and disappointed, literally “dis-“ing every element in my world.

And then I would return to my forgiving “question,” as if a frivolous young person returns to his/her reliable friend-zone people before heading out for another fantasy. I examine the question, finds another hypothesis, quickly say Adios to my “old” framework including that very question, only to head straight back another several months later.

Enough, isn’t it?

An “answer” has always been just a hypothesis to me, which I never realized. I tried it out, lived with it for as long as I could, but I should have never confused it with the center of my being. Following the direction of an “answer” I broaden my world, meet new people, experience new worlds, clarify who I am. That feels great. Yet after a while I head back defeated, trying to convince me that my “answer” was useless, even discounting the great discoveries as nothing.

My answers were never useless. No matter what, they always worked as an engine to drive my lazy ass out of my comfort zone. My mistake—or my ignorance—was treating them beyond what they were: hypothesis. What I needed to do was to carry my question all along with me, enjoy the new scenery of life as our joyful “answer” guide too eagerly shows us around, yet keep the direction in check by continuously communicating with my question.

I have questions, many questions, and I hope I would be able to play with them for as long as I can. I hold a hypothesis, play with it, and then will check with the question. As long as I hold my curiosity—question—firmly (but not clinging onto it), I can continue to enjoy this life.

Hello, me

I was walking aimlessly, carrying a frustrated mind, being trapped into the old victim mode, running various scenarios in my head (I call them revenge porn). I didn’t want to do anything but wanted to do anything—anything that brought me somewhere different from where I was. I was looking for a distraction, or better a salvation, to pull me out from that miserable state.

I found nothing. Yet I also knew: going somewhere lead to nowhere. I had done enough amount of distractions in my life under the name of soul-searching to know its worth (or lack thereof), so I just kept wandering.

I came underneath a bridge. There were a couple of guys, probably homeless, taking shelter from the increasing amount of raindrops. I sat down on a bench. I also wanted to give myself a break—I wanted to say thank you to myself for accompanying me through the whole drag. “You must be feeling shitty and lonely too, dude.” I said to myself.

That moment, I finally united with myself.

I felt my presence. I felt my emotion. I felt the anger, resentment, rage, not as the “justified voice” as labeled on the outside, but simply a cry—a cry for reach. It was a desperate act of calling for attention, saying only one thing all along: Please don’t leave me.

I had been running away from my internal disturbing voices, never attempting to properly interpret their meaning. I believed—or tried to believe—that I was “pushed” over to take an action, search for an answer, or go somewhere. Well, my voices were never asking me to go away. They were a gimmick for me afraid of me leaving, yet didn’t know what to do otherwise.

Yet because we had been both trapped in the same body from the day we were born, we acted like a conjoined twin trying to escape from each other. Whatever action I took to “get away” only increased the amount of frustration and desperation on each side, which further persuaded me to try harder to move out.

I realized I had been operating like that for my entire life.

All my previous mental turmoils—be them anger, loneliness, sadness, resentment—were actually my own invitations, desperate attempts to win me back. Yet being so clueless to my inner movements, I had always looked the other way to “cure” myself somewhere outside.

And it wasn’t only him who wanted to be with me. I also wanted to be with him. When I was busy searching for that one thing/person that would relieve me, I was completely oblivious to the fact that the very person was sitting next to me, all along. We were both looking for each other, yet never knew it. More likely, we did not want to acknowledge it.

I cried and laughed for myself—cried because of my lifetime amount of stupidity, and laughed for finally finding each other.

Now it seems like a miracle that we never gave up on each other (the conjoined condition helped a lot). Now I know where to go, or who to look up to, when I am about go into disarray. I am with me, all the time.

Going back to nature isn’t the answer

Everybody agrees that now is a time of big crisis—and everybody has been searching for “the new way.” Some people try to see hints in the mother nature, especially the “tough” animals that withstood even the roughest environment change. In this article, the target is ones that have “decentralized” forms, such as octopuses and coral reefs.

  • Decentralization. The most successful biological organisms are structured or organized in such a way as to eschew centralized control in favor of allowing multiple agents to independently sense and quickly respond to change.

  • Redundancy. Adaptable systems make multiple copies of everything and modify the copies to hedge against uncertainty.

  • Symbiotic relationships. All organisms use these to extend their own adaptability. Symbioses occur between the most unlikely of pairs, such as small scavenging fish and large predatory sharks — sometimes even between former adversaries.

  • Recursive processes. Adaptability in nature continually builds off of its own successes. The one turtle out of a hundred that survives from its infancy to adulthood is the only turtle that’s important to turtle evolution.

I wholeheartedly agree that this model works in time of crisis. We have already adopted this form throughout our history, and have acquired numerous “success stories,” if I may borrow terms from Harvard Business School. It is called military force.

Decentralize command operations, secure ample redundancy to ensure continuous supply, form a symbiotic relationship (one for all, all for one) to make sure everybody fights under the same ideal—and against the common enemy, and distill doctrines into every soldiers to build a recursive force (fight till the last).

Human beings have already been learning from and adapting the mother nature into their own world. Which makes sense—for every living creature out in the wild, life can be distilled into one word: survival. In the woods and under the sea, countless death-matches have being formed since the dawn of Earth. I am not sure if the author of the original article has been out of reality for so long and has neglected several millenniums of human history, or worse, if he is advocating for a society based on military structure.

The strength of military force is also its weakness. The military’s goal—defend its country from external forces—is also its reason to exist, raison d’etre, the justification for everything. History tells us that when a country gives its way to military forces, it also gives up its fate. When the time of crisis passes and peace has been achieved, what does the military force do? Start looking for an enemy and creating threats. It needs crisis to survive. I believe that is the reason why military forces are always under command by civilians, in most developed countries.

I have another concern for military force: it doesn’t seem to be truly effective when the threat is internal. I can’t point my finger to a specific case, but has there ever been a military force effectively killing internal corruptions, fights, and bureaucratism, because of its structure? I have a feeling that it has to be in spite of, due to its inherent force of infinite growth (to fight for survival).

And let’s face it: Are the threats that we are facing in this modern world internal or external? Are we struggling against a common enemy that tries to undermine our values and resources, or are we struggling in a Catch-22 situation where the known methods for prosperity (unchecked capitalism, for example) are also choking us to death? I can bet my savings (I know, it is not much…) that it is the latter.

Growing up in a country where the language, educational system, and social structure are all optimized for symbiotic relationships (Japan), I have no faith in the aforementioned model for surviving this century. Japan had a gung-ho period during the 60-70s when it had a common target (economical prosperity) yet now it is in a neverending turmoil that it cannot even perform rudimentary actions against the biggest threat it has received in its history, nuclear meltdown, an “internal issue” turning global.

It is time for us to return to human beings, after all. Or if we have never fully evolved into what the original human blueprint was capable of, maybe now is the time.

P.S. From what I see, “Let’s learn from our ancestors” is a common escapism (sorry, inspiration) that can be seen all over the world. The aforementioned one went nature. In China, people look for Lao-Tzu and Confucious and Sun-Tzu. In Japan, the warlords before and after the Tokugawa Shogunate remain popular icons.

To question or to answer, that is the question

A good friend of mine sent me a piece of comic strip.

For you who cannot read through all of it, it is a conversation between two men, one who is collecting “questions” and the other “answers.” The two finds each other fascinating, but as the conversation goes, they find mostly differences that lie between them, ending up in parting their ways.

While the miscommunication definitely mimicked real life and I praise the cartoonist for refusing to settle easily, I was also disappointed—I so wanted to see them interact profoundly and patiently until they really “see” each other. Instead they resorted into their own shells, and the “Questioner” and “Answerer” would stay sticking to their own side of the equation.

Is a “question” and an “answer” really separate? As in any case with something that has opposite pairs, one cannot exist without the other: left/right, good/bad, soft/hard, North/South. To collect only “questions” or “answers” is to collect half shells. A shell is beautiful nonetheless, but it completely lacks the life form that is created internally when the two halves meet each other.

The life between two shells looks nothing like the shell itself, but it has the power to form everything, including the shell itself. Likewise, when I find an “answer” to a particular “question,” something opens up inside me to give way to an unexpected direction in my life. Sometimes it is a “closure” that frees me from the question (Why didn’t we work well?). Sometimes it is an invitation to a deeper level (How does stinky tofu taste like?). Either way, what matters isn’t the question or the answer: it is what happens beyond them.

Therefore, does playing with only “question” or “answer” matter? Or dare I say—does the “question/answer” pair matter in the end? What we want is what happens AFTER the question/answer pair has been formed. Therefore, finding an answer isn’t the last step: it is only the beginning.

Collecting only questions or answers might be similar to…collecting stamps? (I know, it is offensive…I used to collect them too. There, I said it.) A stamp is only useful when accompanied by a letter, and the real adventure happens only after the letter is read by someone…

Of course, finding an “answer” isn’t easy. The more interesting a question is, the harder it becomes to find an answer. To answer “Why am I (un)happy?” takes one to search for his lost memory buried in his vast sea of unconsciousness. A quantum physicist needs to tackle every question with extra effort, because the “answer” often goes against his most trusted reviewer: his gut feeling.

Yet still, the real deal only starts to roll out after the “question” and the “answer” meet each other. Is it worth spending a long time searching for an “answer” and not having time to enjoy its fruit?

I am tempted to treat the “questions” and “answers” lighter than I used to. An answer is no more my soul mate. It is a date, a friend, or even an acquaintance. A question pops up, I say Hi to the nearest answer that might or might not be correct, live with it until I find a better answer.

Yes, it is frivolous and uncommitted and so much “it depends.” My impatience might result in never having the right answer. But just as we only know if a beautiful jacket suits us or not by wearing it, I also think the only way to “know” if an answer is correct or not is to live with it. Our reality gives us the necessary feedback along the way to determine the temporary answer’s authenticity.

Therefore, when I have a question, I might just make up an answer on the spot, and go with it, and then replace it as I go along. I might be replacing my “answer” 10 times by the end of the day, but it just gets better, and it is not boring, to say the least. And treating a “question” or an “answer” as an independent item? Forgettaboutit.

Ridding our social cosmetics off

I joined a Community Design event held in Tainan, sponsored by Service Design Kitchen. In a quiet basement room inside a boutique hotel, 20-30 chairs were awaiting visitors too eager to escape into dried area away from the roaring typhoon outside. I scanned the room: papers, writing boards, and food (yes). But there was no agenda list, no podium, no gadgets. I had seen similar setups before: addiction recovery program, group therapy, religious sect gathering. Hmm.

The event began, still without a fixed agenda. Then the wondering audience, us, were each handed a piece of paper and pen, and were told to write something we wanted to discuss with others. Only then we realized why there wasn’t a host or a speaker. WE were. Mildly panicked, one by one we start to note down…something.

And surprisingly, for many people it wasn’t difficult to find a topic in his or her own. We spend our discussion life dealing with either intimate secrets or someone else’s demands. We rarely have an opportunity to talk about something that matters to us personally, but also something that needs to be shared with others. The psychological niche spoke itself out of the paper, and soon agendas were posted on the wall over green energy, co-housing, design, politics, education, etc. Personal, but not private. Large in scale, but close in (emotional) distance.

Then we broke apart in small groups, and started to…just share. Everybody was allowed to join any group any time (they were even allowed to go in and out of the venue). In short, the audience created the event from scratch. Of all “guidelines” introduced for smooth discussions, this was my favorite: Whoever present at any moment is the right member. If you don’t want to contribute by talking or listening, just go elsewhere and have fun on your own. No obligation, no punishment, only willingness and respect.

By the end of the day, dozens of discussions were held and the resulted notes were proudly posted on the walls. Now, were there any breakthrough? Honestly, no. Most of the talks might have been ended little more than a coffee break chatting. If we measured the event by its “progress,” it was a failure.

But there was something strange happening for a “failed” event: Nobody was leaving the venue immediately. Everybody was busy talking to each other, completely engaged to the place and the people. They did not want the day to end.

We were exchanging contact information and talking about when to meet up again or do something together. Most of us met each other for the first time, but after only a half day of discussions, we all felt acquainted, or maybe befriended. No “networking” events had better success, in my experience.

I wondered why the discussions worked so well to connect people. And I believe because it wasn’t about connecting. In the event notice, during the introduction, nobody mentioned about “connections.” We were all there to talk, listen, share, or do something. Also, there wasn’t a preset agenda given by the organizer, or even ourselves. Everything we discussed was given birth on the spot, according to what was in our mind at that day. The event was structured but was plan-less—that was another reason for fostering the rapport.

We were not forced to do anything: everything in the event was designed to encourage ourselves, to take something that had been lingering inside us for a long time and release it into the world. The lack of obligation to participate in anything prevented any discussion from plunging into emotional turmoil or debate-duel.

By the end of the event, we we no longer wearing masks, looking for “business opportunities” or maybe “friends.” We were all talking about and revealing something that we truly cared about, and that authenticity was the reason we could “find” each other in a more profound manner than our usual interaction.