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The second most important day in your life – the day you found out why

Posted: September 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Experience, Happy | No Comments »

Mark Twain once said, “The two important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

I found my why in August 2014. It was not a single event where I found my why. It was a series of things that happened in my life so far, especially those that happened in 2014. I would like to share them in 3 parts.

This first part –  A sense of responsibility.

In March 2014, I attended an alumni event at Hong Kong. It was my first time in Hong Kong. Having been working for about 1 year and 3 months, I believed it was time to bring my mom for a vacation. It was the first time I brought my mom for a vacation, and it was the first long-distance vacation we had in 10 years after my dad had left us 8 years ago. We grew up with TVB Hong Kong drama series, so Hong Kong is a place that I had wanted to visit for so long. Though I had not stepped on this land before, it has a special place in my heart, and I like Cantonese. Seizing the opportunity while attending the alumni dinner here, I decided to grab the opportunity to tour around the city of the Pearl of the East.

There were a series of talks and networking events during the alumni event. No doubt there were many intellectual discussions and debates going on. Two particular events stood out among the rest. The first was the mindfulness session, the first session on the second day in the early morning. I was seated beside another alumnus, Wu, and we partnered with each other throughout the session. The moderator of the activity brought us through a conscious practice by just feeling a raisin. The raisin was just a tool; the real purpose was to let us have a taste of what mindfulness is all about—being truly conscious and being truly curious about the world around you. I think it was the best opening that any event could have. I held that conscious thinking and deep curiosity throughout my three days at the alumni event. And that’s when I started to ask myself more questions, life questions.

Another event that stood out was the University Gala Dinner. I was seated beside Professor Roger Goodman during the dinner. The food that night was great; what made it even greater was the speech by Lord Patten (or Chris Patten). His speech, coupled with what Professor Roger told me, almost brought me to tears. Let me try to summarise both the speech and the table conversation I had with the professor. The education that we receive is a privilege; the intellectual discussion that happens throughout our education is an honour to our life. We as global citizens should utilise what we have learnt to improve the standard of living of our society. The true value of the education that we receive is a sense of responsibility. The responsibility is to the people we are dealing with and the world in which we are living. Whatever we are doing, we should push the boundaries of human limits and push humanity forward.

That resonated with me so much. I felt that I had finally found that missing piece in my life. I landed a great job in a FORTUNE top 3 company upon graduation. I loved what I was doing—life had never been greater—but I always felt I had a bigger calling: Pushing Humanity Forward. This is the beginning of a greater journey.

Lee Chon with Lord Patten (Chris Patten)

I took the opportunity to take a photo with this man: Chris Patten – the last governor of Hong Kong.

The second part – Push Humanity Forward – Where the journey begins.

Fast forward to June 2014. I attended Awesomeness Fest, organised by Mindvalley, at Phuket, Thailand. It was a combination of TED Talk style lectures, self-development sessions, including yoga and mindfulness, and a lot of parties! People from all walks of life were there. There was a wide age group there as well, ranging from people in their sixties to the youngest participant, who was 19. Everyone paid for themselves. Most of them were entrepreneurs who believed in making positive changes and impacts on the world. I was one of the odd ones out there – an engineer. Nevertheless, we all shared one common belief – we wanted to make a difference in people’s lives and push humanity forward.

Never before had I met such a diverse group of people— 40 nationalities were present— that talked so much about wanting to push humanity forward. At the end of the event, I was inspired to make a positive impact on the world. However, I knew that I needed to acquire some skills first before doing something major. True, I can always start something now to do good for society. Four years ago, I started Children Provision Charity. I still mentor junior committees from this charity. What I mean is a real impact that will eventually push humanity forward. Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Christopher Columbus, and John D Rockefeller have all changed the world in a unique way. I want to change the world like they did. Ultimately, our quality of life was improved because of all these visionaries.

There were so many inspiring lectures during the four-day event. People are amazing in their own unique way too. But what really attracted me was Singularity University’s vision. There were no talks or promotions about Singularity University during the event; I just knew that organization through my informal table talk with Vishen, the founder of Mindvalley. Again, I had never stepped foot on American land before, and it was so far away that I was trembling when I made my decision to go to the US for this programme. It was an uncertainty to me, but I knew Singularity’s vision is what resonated with me. I want to impact a billion lives and ultimately push humanity forward. The event will be in January 2015 at NASA Ames research center at the heart of Silicon Valley, and at the time I’m typing this, it’s about four months away from the event. And the journey is just about to get started.

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One of those amazing nights at Awesomeness Fest.Four days with 40 nationalities truly opened my eye to the world of possibilities.

The third part – Pass it on

“If you’re asking me what to do with all this knowledge you’re accumulating, I say, pass it on … just like any simple cell, going through time” (Professor Norman, played by Morgan Freeman in the movie “Lucy”).

I watched “Lucy” during an unexpected visit to Bangkok after I was denied entry to Myanmar. (I re-entered Myanmar after I obtained a Visa in Bangkok the next day.) It is a movie that describes the concept of human potential. The movie was not that well received by the public in general due to its strangeness and the conflict of ideas about the usage of our brains. Some even saw it as an anti-drug movie. It didn’t matter to me. What mattered to me was the message, that I think came at just the right time, narrated by Morgan Freeman: “If you think of the very nature of a life, it’s to pass it on.”

I have learnt a lot throughout my life, most of which revolves around studies, volunteering, humanitarian projects, and work, and I will be going through more experiences that will teach me more lessons. The knowledge that I have accumulated, I wish to pass it on. The ultimate purpose is to die empty, not only in terms of financial standing but also in knowledge, love, kindness, and happiness. I will accumulate more and acquire more along the journey to achieve what I wanted to in my life. At the end of the day, I won’t be able to bring it all with me but will pass it on to the next generation. I thought that was a great and noble idea.

My visit to Yangon surprised me. The city, one of the poorest in Asia, is surrounded by colonial buildings and looks as if it has not developed much since the British colonization. This brought me to a bigger problem at large: 36% of our total population still relies on traditional biomass energy for cooking, and roughly 35% of the total population does not have access to adequate sanitation. This bothers me a lot. I want to make a difference. Though I currently lack management skills, I will find a way to acquire them and to help humanity at large. I have had the opportunity to lead many teams in my life. Those are all valuable, but I need more experience tackling more issues among the many issues we face in the company and in the country. Now, I have a direction.

Having access to clean energy, clean water, and electricity changed my life. It is the core, or basic, need before we even talk about education. I wouldn’t be able to learn and have conversations with incredible people without almost free, or mostly affordable, energy and water in my daily life. Now that I found my “why,” I want to make this world a better place to live in.


The Spiritual Visit at Bangkok and Yangon – A truly serendipity experience

Posted: September 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Experience | No Comments »

It was unplanned and unexpected, but it was a beautiful journey.

Some of you might have already read my previous entry on how I was denied entry at Myanmar Airport immigration. Because of that, I landed in the land of smiles: Thailand. I was flown (by a Myanmar immigration officer) to Bangkok. I reached Bangkok around 7pm local time. I had made accommodations less than an hour earlier. I told the taxi driver to send me to a hotel at Silom called The Heritage Hotel. I checked in, and my friend Jop arrived not long after that. I told him what had happened. We then visited a night market called Patpong. He was helpful; he was the one who had helped me find a place to stay. I bought a ticket to Myanmar for Saturday morning, so that I could  make it to the Oxbridge dinner that night and tour Yangon in the afternoon.

The next day, I woke up early and arrived at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok at around 7 to get the front of the queue (the office opens at 9). There were already 3 people queueing in front of me. Sometimes at a foreign place, when you are going to the same destination, regardless of your nationalities, you become friends. One was from the UK, doing quality assurance stuff; another was an American, just graduated, a programmer; and the other an English teacher from India. Then, a retired man from Sweden joined us. As much as I wanted the visa to be processed faster, I was suddenly immersed into conversation with these new friends. And by the time the office opened at 9 pm, we had already talked about politics in America, the job market in the UK, the caste system in India, and how one can travel around the world after retiring.

The visa can be collected only in the afternoon, at around 3.30 pm. I was keeping Suriya, the organizer of the dinner in Yangon, in the loop. He seemed to be the imaginary support for me throughout this journey.

Since I had a little bit of time, I decided to explore the city a bit. The first stop – Erawan Shrine, more commonly known as the Four-Faced Buddha. It was not a huge temple like what we normally see; it’s just a small place in the middle of the city. Nevertheless, Erawan Shrine has attracted devotees and tourists from around the world. I was attracted too, of course.I went to The Four Face Buddha. I made a wish. Just one wish. I hope that it will come true.

I then visited Siam Square, got a Thai foot massage, and went back to the Embassy. I got my Visa! I shared the good news with Jop, and we decided to meet up that night as well.

Just when I was on the way to meet Jop, I saw a ceremony going on in the Hindu Temple, not far from where I stayed at Silom. I decided to drop by and pay some respect there. I went through the ceremony, and since I was already there, I made a wish too—the same wish I made at Erawan Shrine.

I met up with Jop that night, and we went for a movie in IMAX. The auditorium was huge. And what surprised me was that everyone had to stand up for the national anthem before the movie started. The movie Lucy was not bad. There are many haters around for this movie. There are many interpretations of this movie too. My key takeaway from this movie was, really, to pass it on. I like this message very much.

I caught the earliest flight to Yangon on Nok Air at around 6:40 on Saturday Morning. I arrived there pretty early and checked into the Park Royal Hotel. I made a visit to the city’s oldest Pagoda: Shwedagon Pagoda. I had a guide to lead me. I stood in front of the Pagoda where the Buddha’s Relics are stored. It is one of the holiest place in Yangon. Devotees, mostly locals, go there often to pray to the Buddha to cleanse their souls.

I then visited some other places, like Scott Market and Chinatown, and walked around the city near my hotel. I went back to the hotel to prepare for the dinner that night.

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Botatung Temple.

The next day, I met Suriya for breakfast, and he told me that he was going to a temple. I decided to go with him. It was Botatung Temple. This was the last temple that I visited during the trip. It was a short but sweet journey. I learned about what Suriya is currently doing. He is in his early 60s, and there is so much wisdom that I can gain from him.

Like what Suriya told me that my journey had been a blessing in disguise. First, I was denied entry at Myanmar immigration, but because of that, I managed to visit the Four Face Buddha and Hindu Temple in Bangkok and Shwedagon Pagoda and Boatong temple in Yangon.


An Unexpected Bangkok flight – Denied entry at Myanmar Airport

Posted: September 7th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Experience | No Comments »

I attended Oxbridge Alumni Dinner (South East Asia version) in Yangon, Myanmar last Saturday night. I planned to arrive 2 days earlier on Thursday so that I can visit the city (as I had never been to Yangon before), and it had only recently opened in 2011, making it easier for tourists to enter the country. A little bit background about me: I’m holding a Malaysian passport, and I have travelled to ASEAN countries like Thailand, Singapore (currently I’m working here), Indonesia, Brunei, and Asian countries like Taiwan and Hong Kong. I have to confess that I have taken for granted that I don’t have to apply for a visa to any ASEAN country. Little did I know, I was wrong. It was an embarrassment, but I decided to share it as I see it as a challenge and, ultimately, an adventure.

My flight was at 1:35 pm (Singapore time). At Singapore Changi Airport on Thursday afternoon, I showed all my documents, including the invitation letter from Oxbridge Alumni for the dinner to the officials before boarding. Everything seemed OK. I thought that I would be qualified for Visa on Arrival, too. Three hours later, I reached Yangon International Airport. I was then denied entry as I didn’t qualify for Visa on Arrival. The officials were actually quite helpful; they called their managers to deal this issue, and I explained to them that I had an invitation letter. We called the organiser of the Oxbridge alumni dinner, and the person in charge, Suriya, tried his best to explain to the officials, as well. Thirty minutes had gone by, and it was a fruitless attempt. I had to get a visa. The officials wanted to fly me back to Singapore or Malaysia (as I’m holding Malaysian Passport). It was a devastating moment, but I stayed calm and started to think of a strategy. It was roughly 5:30 pm (Singapore time), or 4:00 pm (Myanmar time).

I remembered having a conversation with someone who mentioned that I can get a visa in the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand in one day. I also remembered that I will have to wait for another day to collect my passport if were to do it in Singapore. Singapore is 3 hours away from Myanmar, whereas Thailand is about an hour away from Myanmar. I have never been to Bangkok in my life before, but I decided to fly to Bangkok instead of Singapore or Malaysia. The officials agreed, and within 15 minutes, I was already escorted to the boarding gate. The flight will take off in 30 minutes, at 4.50pm. I have about 30 minutes.

I have a good friend in Bangkok–someone that I knew from Afest 2 months ago. With the slightly unstable wireless at the airport, I quickly send him a message. We couldn’t talk on the phone as it was quite unclear, so I told him about the whole situation. I arranged my accommodation, somewhere nearby Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok. I also asked about transport from the airport to the hotel. Thanks to my friend Jop, the good friend of mine in Bangkok, we found a place near Silom. I had my hotel address ready and had the timing from airport to the hotel ready. We decided to meet up in Bangkok. Before I departed from Yangon Airport, I had already sorted out my accommodation and transportation, thanks largely to Jop who was so helpful. I believe that it was his office hours that time.

At 4: 50 pm, 1 hour and 20 minutes after I had arrived at Yangon immigration, I was in a plane heading to Bangkok, a place I have never stepped foot on before, a place in which I was there only for a purpose: to get a Myanmar visa.

There is a Chinese saying: Once you are here, just be comfortable with yourself in a new place. I decided to visit Bangkok that night (Thursday night) and the day after (Friday, the whole day). I will blog about my Bangkok (really unplanned and unexpected!) trip in another post.