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Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia

March 24, 2010

After spraining my ankle, a grueling 13 hour hike, and eating countless energy drinks and snacks, my brother and I finally climbed to the summit of Mount Kinabalu -which was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had so far on exchange.

My brother and I love challenges and the feeling of reaching the summit after you’ve put your hear and soul into it is rewarding. The summit is known as Low’s peak and it is at a height of 4,100 meters.

When you get to the top, it’s all rock because you’ve passed the tree-line. For the last 1,000 kilometers, you hold onto a rope to help guide you up. The hardest part of the climb for me was the lower levels of oxygen, making it hard to breathe.

The summit.

 

Walking to the top, yeaaah!

 

Me!

 

How to get here: Fly to Kota KInabalu, which is in Sabah (Air Asia and Jet Star offer flights from Singapore for cheap), then take a taxi or cab to the base of the mountain. Most people come on a pre-booked trip, so try to find one on the internet. The lonely planet offers many reliable agencies that can organize a 2 day, 1 night trip. You can organize it yourself, but the most important part is to find accommodation on Laban Rata (which is the accommodation near the top of the mountain, about 2.4 kilometers from the top). We did a 1 day trip, which can only be organized with the park ranger.

It might be hard to organize, but the reward is an unparalleled experience. Mount Kinabalu is the 2nd highest mountain that you can climb by walking all the way up.

Arrival in Singapore

December 31, 2009

Singapore is a city filled with culture.

 I’ve been to Hong Kong and Japan and I’ve never seen so many different religions celebrated and so many different cultures in pockets of the city. It’s also one of the cleanest places I’ve been to. 

Let me update you on some memorable moments I’ve had so far (4 days into the trip):

1) First time staying at a Hostel. I stayed at a place called Footprints and travelled from the airport with my friend Alissa from York using the MRT. The hostel was in the heart of Little India, which was a complete shock for me and was my first exposure to Singapore. The closeness of the community and the diverse range of shops surprised me. At night, you’ll find yourself safely wondering this neighborhood amidst  smoke from hookahs and the diminishing humidity and fierce heat.  I checked myself into a mixed room and met an Adobe Indesign programmer who had taken a few months off to travel from Norway -we talked about how expensive Norway is and about his travels -I also met a Malaysian student traveling for fun by himself. 

2) At Footprints, I met another student from York, Denise, and we travelled to another hostile, Sleepy Sams, to meet up with other exchange students. We ended up eating in China Town, which was a really cool experience. China Town is basically a row of shops that line up back to back with every type of Chinese food imaginable. Everyone eats outside on these benches -but it’s covered with a temporary roof and there’s red Chinese lights hanging on top of the roof.

3) Moving into the Condo: I’m living with 4 girls and 1 other guy! (They’re from norway, Sweden, Finland, France, and Stephie from Queen’s) It is honestly one of the nicest places I’ve lived in so far. It has a pool, gym, modern kitchen, living room and balcony. Here’s a picture of us chilling on one of the first nights… the picture is a little blurry.

 4) The night life! We hit up Clarke Quay, one of the first nights, which has a really good vibe to it. There’s performances in the street, great food, friendly locals. We talked to the owner of a Mexican restaurant and Farah conversed with the owner in Spanish. On the second night, I went to Marina Bay, which was one of the nicest places I’ve every been to at night, I almost killed myself for not brining a camera, but I managed to snag some shots on my iphone (don’t know how to post them yet…but I will soon). Here’s a picture of Clarke Quay:

Stephie, Farah and I riding the MRT to Clarke Quay!

I’m going to the Siloso Beach Party for New years tonight and i’ll upload my pictures from Macritchie Reservoir Park! I’ll tell you the story about the Ape that tried to grab my bag and run…!

South Hampton, Ontario – Consider it!

August 6, 2009

If your looking for a cheap, cottage-feel weekend, consider South Hampton, Ontario.

I went there this long weekend with my friend, who basically grew up in South Hampton during the summers where he has a cottage: so I experienced what the summer South Hamptoners really do.

The drive is not bad; it’s roughly 2 hours and 30 minutes, which is far enough so that you feel you can get away from Toronto without feeling too stressed about it.

So why choose South Hampton? Well, South Hampton is very different from Muskoka in the sense that there is a real community feel. No one has a dock that backs out onto the lake so people spend most of their time socializing with others, swimming in the lake, sitting on the beach, biking, golfing, and playing tennis. They have a huge tennis tournament called “cups” that everyone either plays in or watches.

I have to admit that I took one of the nicest bike rides I’ve ever taken in my life. We went past Port Elgin to a beach, check out this map to see where I went. The ride had a nice blend of riding through the woods, along the lake, and on windy roads that make you feel like your in Scotland. Imagine this: riding on hills next to the lake with the sun glaring on you. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the roads. We also played a round of golf and ate dinner on the patio. 

We spent much of time, sitting on the beach relaxing and swimming. You get a mixture of sandy, soft beaches and rocky beaches. Here’s a picture of a rocky beach:

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At night, there’s a few bars in Town, and we went to one called the Buckit, which ended up being a great night. My favourite part of the night was singing karoke to Journey, Can’t stop beliving, with all of our friends yelling it at the top of our lungs. 

I also managed to snap a great picture of a sunset below:

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I’m heading to one of my friend’s cottages this weekend so I’ll let you know how it goes! 

 

 

Increase your Happiness through Self-Discipline

July 28, 2009

I’m writing this post as an extension to my previous post about time management because the ideas are related. The essential message of that post was that to be more productive, you need to complete 2-3 important tasks everyday before you can move onto activites that you deem less important.

But you need self-discipline to complete those tasks and this correlates with your happiness. I find that when I bike or jog, I am happier. When I’ve done all the work I need to in a day, I am happier.

This post will hopefully give you an idea of how to increase your self-discipline, which will boost your happiness. There are two types of self-discipline:

1. The Self-Discipline to do important tasks: Research shows that people will consciouslyfind ways to distract them from the task at hand. The solution to this problem is obvious: get up and do it.

If you’ve ever wanted to go sky-diving and you have enough money, book the tickets. If you want to go for a run, get up and do it. If you want to be successful, get up and start paying your dues. I think that Nike says it best: Just Do it.

The next step is to make sure you do the task well. This requires attention to detail and intense focus. The best way to be productive is to focus. Penelope Trunk mentions in one of her posts that, “white male undergraduates at highly competitive schools -especially in the Northeast -are the most frequent collegiate users of neuro-enhances (such as Adderall to treat people with ADHD).”

But will this make you less creative? Research indicates that people who focus on one task are less creative while doing it. What I’m suggesting is that you focus on all the tasks that you need to do until they are complete; then you can do less important things and let your mind wander and be creative during these moments. That is how you be efficient.

So self-discipline is about getting up, doing the task, and doing it well. I think that this self-discipline is harder then the next one and I’m focusing mainly on this one.

2. The Self-Discipline to constantly fight against the bad habits we all have: The bad habits that we have are ingrained in our minds and systems and the only way to overcome these habits is through practice. If you practice sleeping through your alarm, it gets easier. If you practice getting up, that gets easier, too.

The telegraph newspaper published an article on how to improve your self-discipline and I think the list is worth noting. I’m not going to emphasize this list because I haven’t tried it myself.

Right now, I’m focused on the conquring the first type of self-discipline.

Why I have No Excuses

July 23, 2009

Our minds are programmed to blame other people for our short-comings because it is easy to.

I’ll think about how my father was never around and how we never had dinner conversations that other families had, which teaches children how to argue and defend their arguments. I’ll think about how genetics led to me being shorter than the average male or how my brother was born with a stuttering problem. But the reality is this: we all have our weaknesses and we have to overcome them. In retrospect, I’ve been extremely blessed to have a family that has provided everything I need.

Watching the Tour De France has really taught me what it means to overcome adversity. I am in awe of the cyclists that have enough energy after biking up a mountain, to break away form the pack and attack the leaders in front. If you want to watch something really inspiring, type in Lance Armstrong attack in Youtube and watch one of the videos. 

I think that there are three obvious reasons as to why we shouldn’t blame other people for our short-comings:

1) Once your become an adult, you are responsible for your happiness: I read a quote in a book called If I knew Then, What I wish I knew Now, which is a book filled with advice from successful leaders in the form of quotes, that impacted me greatly. “You are 100% responsible for your own happiness.” Don’t blame your friends or your family, blame yourself for your short-coming. My friend posted an interesting article on this issue, her blog is http://theworldsyouroyster.wordpress.com, where quotes J.K. Rowling, “there is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction: the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”

2) There are so many people that are less fortunate than we are: Every time I see someone with a major disability, I am reminded about how easy my life is. The short-comings that I have in my life are ones that I can directly improve myself, so in that sense, I am fortunate. 

3) Living life is about overcoming adversity and your weaknesses: I don’t think you’ve fully lived up to your potential unless you have faced adversity and overcome it by grinding it and working hard at it. There’s a sense of satisfaction and joy about accomplishing something that you never thought you could. For example, I was always at 80+ student in high school, but I wanted to see if I could get 90+ in grade 12. I worked so hard at it and ended graduating with a 92.5% average, which gave me the confidence that I could accomplish anything if I worked hard at it. 

Opportunities are Everywhere: Even when you Fail

July 16, 2009

Some of the world’s best accomplishments were created by people who had nothing left. With nothing left, they pursued their passion with all of their energy because that’s their only hope. 

One of my favourite bands right now is Bon Iver. Music critics were raving about their CD, For Emma Forever Ago, which is arguably one of the best CDs of 2008. Don’t believe me, check out this review: http://www.musicomh.com/albums/bon-iver_0508.htm or google it yourself.

The album is filled with soulful harmonizations that blend seamlessly with an acoustic guitar. I knew that there was a story behind the music, so I decided to check it out.

It turns out that Justin Vernon, the lead singer, had quit his band that he was touring with for the past few years and his long-term relationship with his girlfriend had just ended. He didn’t know what to do, so he retreated to his father’s cabin in a remote part of Wisconsin where he lived in isolation for 4 months. He did what he knew best and he had nothing to lose. Check out his music: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccHcTtVDZUM

Consider J. K. Rowling. If you’ve ever watcher her Harvard commencement speech, you know her story. She characterized herself as “a failure.” She was jobless, her marriage had ended, she was a lone parent living in complete poverty. She said that “failure had stripped away the essential” and allowed her to focus all of her attention on the work that mattered to her: the book she was writing.

“Had I really succeed at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in one arena where I truly belonged. I was set free because my greatest fear was realized and I was still alive. I still had a daughter who I adored and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. So rock bottom because a solid foundation on which I re-built my life.”

Finding out “Who you are” by Remembering your Childhood

July 10, 2009

I remember looking forward to Fridays when I was in grade one. My dad would come home earlier than usual from work and we would curl up onto our white, leather couch to watch an action movie, while sipping Coke and eating popcorn. 

Sometimes we would re-watch old favourites like Jurassic Park or James Bond. My mom was careful to fast forward through sexual scenes or any scenes deemed inappropriate for a seven year old. In theaters, she blocked my view with her hands while scolding my dad under her breath.

It was this sort of protectionism from my mother that sharply contrasted my father’s risk-taking, which balanced our family. People often say that my mom is like the glue to our family.

I can still remember drifting in and out of sleep as we drove to soccer practices, violin or piano lessons, math tutors, and school, which was at least a 45 minute drive away. My mom seized every opportunity to educate us and we would listen to audio books in the car. She’s a mother that truly cares; I have never questioned her endless love for my brother and I.

I attended a “liberal” primary school situated in the heart of the Annex, where U of T students invigorated the area with an idealistic, free-thinking vibe. Annexers kept their front doors unlocked and recycled everything. My school used Macs.

We needed our mom because our dad never stopped working. He left the house at 8 am everyday and got home at 12 am except for Sundays. I have never talked to my dad about why he worked so hard and what drove him everyday, but I have my speculations.

I believe the answer lies somewhere in the generational sacrifice of hard-work to provide for what he never had. Or, perhaps it was a mixture of hope and the fear of failure. Whatever it was, it is safe to say that my family worked hard. One of my mom’s favourite quotes is, “money does not grow on trees.”

Despite the fact that my parents worked so hard, I still had a loving childhood. My grandparents on my mother’s side took care of me and they taught me how to be honest and love.

It was on a hot, sunny afternoon during the week that I learnt what it was like to love someone else: it’s when you would be willing to sacrifice your happiness for their happiness. I joined a chess club at my primary school and I was drawn to the sport because it combined reasoning and calculation with the thrill of winning. Much of my childhood was spent playing chess with my brother or dad.

I had forgotten to tell my grandfather I would stay after school to play chess because he always picked me up from school. I can imagine him standing quietly in the playground, waiting for me to come out with the other parents. The crowd would slowly thin as his anxiousness continued to grow. He was soon the last one standing in the playground and he took it upon himself to venture into the school for the first time. He walked through unfamiliar halls, peaking into empty classrooms until he found me. I will always remember the look on his face when he entered the classroom. His eyes started directly at me as his face began to relax from anxiety. My grandparents loved me. They sacrificed so much of their life to raise me. 

That is why I want to continue to engage in helping others in the future: because so many people, like my grandparents, have helped me get to where I am today.

Remembering childhood dreams will help you understand who you are. I’ve come to realize the reasons as to why I believe in philanthropy, why I place value in working hard, why I believe that loving others is the first step to helping others.