Opinion

My Problem With America

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I have been doubting my worth a lot lately. It could be a prolem with my own self-esteem. Or, as I’ve began to think, a nasty bi-product of my surroundings. There is this ancient Japanese expression which goes: “an apprentice near a temple will recite the scriptures without tuition.” Which, as I’m sure you gathered, basically means, we are greatly affected by our environments.

America is so darn materialistic to me.

This attitude, this strong emphasis on “success”, achieved solely through 1. an esteemed tertiary education, 2. the “right” career, and 3. moneymoneymoney is so upsetting. It makes me miss Japan greatly. For even though the Japanese are perhaps the number one work-oriented society, when it comes to “success” there is room for everybody.

I once watched this great documentary called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” on one of the world’s greatest sushi chefs. This is what Jiro says in the movie:

“Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

As far as I’m aware, Jiro didn’t study at Harvard. Nor was he a lawyer or an accountant – not that there’s anything wrong with studying at Harvard, or being a lawyer or an accountant. Just that Jiro reached his success through different routes than the restricted three mentioned.

Because of this idea, ALL jobs in Japan, from government officials to persons whose only role is to shred unwanted paper are respected. All work is given great value and all work is praised. Where you studied in order to land your current position, what connotations your job title possesses in this day and age, and how much moolah you make, are not the only measurements of your success.

Which is why I’m suggesting we re-think these conservative pathways I keep encountering in the West. Instead of a renowned University name or a “prestigious” (according to whom?) job title and the amount of cash in ones bank, what about pondering how our careers and/or actions affect others, in what spirit do we conduct ourselves and for what purpose? What are our true intentions?

Which is better? A Harvard graduate with the sole motive of shallow wealth and hungry power? Or a “poor” painter, potter, cleaner, or waitress (the list goes on…) working in the spirit of service? In the spirit of love. In the spirit of creativity. In the spirit of justice.

‘Abdu’l-Baha, beautifully describes this concept when he says: “[A]ll effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity.”

So. I am successful because I love my work. Because it often positively affects others. And because I put my entire heart and soul in it. And that’s it. That’s all it should ever be. Because that’s all that has ever mattered.

 

20 Days In Hell

After 20 excruciating days of receiving zero information from the Iranian officials of my cousin’s whereabouts, his family were finally allowed to “visit” him in Adel Abad prison (Shiraz) in a booth separated by glass. As it turns out, he is being kept in solitary confinement. In “the hotbox”, “the hole”, “lockdown.” And for what? For practising a religion of oneness. Of love, compassion, and justice.

My heart aches for him. For his parents. Sisters. Wife and two young children. But it’s not just him. Countless other completely innocent souls have been, and still are today, victims of the Iranian government’s cruel cruel wrath.

If I could see or speak to Vargha, I would tell him that I am ardently praying for him. And that so are my parents. And my sister, and my friends and my followers. I would beg him to remain hopeful and resilient. Just as I beg you to count your blessings every day. To make the most of your freedom. To work for oneness. To love and to serve. And to stand up for injustice. To stand up, and to speak out for those who cannot speak out for themselves.

Lastly, to please share news of Vargha and the other Bahá’ís terrible state of affairs with your family, friends, and contacts. For perhaps, if the Iranian government is placed under greater pressure for their wicked injustice, they may hopefully reevaluate such inhuman operations.

Deep In My Soul I Know That I’m Your Destiny

Illustrations from Puuung.

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Happiness [is] only real when shared. (Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild)

I look at you and a sense of wonder takes me. (Homer, translated by Robert Fagles)

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What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Hey. That’s a pretty good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary. (George Bailey, It’s A Wonderful Life)

He was my North, my South, my East and West, my working week and my Sunday rest. (W.H. Auden, Stop All the Clocks)

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It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever and ever sight.” (Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita)

I have a million things to talk to you about. All I want in this world is you. I want to see you and talk. I want the two of us to begin everything from the beginning.  (Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood)

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Because when I look at you, I can feel it. And I look at you and I’m home. (Dory, Finding Nemo)

Deep in my soul I know that I’m your destiny. (Mulan, Mulan)

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We would be together and have our books and at night be warm in bed together with the windows open and the stars bright. (Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast)

If you’re a bird, I’m a bird. (Noah, The Notebook)

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I wish I’d done everything on earth with you. (Daisy, The Great Gatsby)

But the heart’s not like a box that gets filled up. It expands in size the more you love. (Samantha, Her)

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You will never age for me, nor fade, nor die. (Will, Shakespeare in Love)

I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible. (Harry Burns, When Harry Met Sally)

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As Ye Have Faith So Shall Your Powers And Blessings Be.

I was on the train from Zurich to Geneva when I had the epiphany. To pass time, I had decided to look at my phone’s pictures from end to beginning. A mere 10 images in and dun dun dun epiphany:

“As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be. This is the balance – this is the balance – this is the balance.” -ʿAbdul-Baha

Could the answer be any clearer for me? To find this balance I’d been wanting, I needed to have faith. For with faith in the game, I no longer need to know everything. And even if I thought I did (know everything), I probably wouldn’t really. For who am I kidding? No one actually knows exactly. So I will have faith. Faith in life unfolding just as it’s meant to be. Faith in the universe’s plans for me. And faith in my immense strength and ever-expansive abilities. And with that faith, I will have my balance.
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Carve Your Name On Hearts

Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you. (Shannon L. Alder)

I want to tell you a little more about my trip to Belgium and my current trip to Zurich. Long story short, I met both of my hosts on the Internet.

Laura from Belgium contacted me first, when I was still in Japan, asking if I knew of a cheap place she could stay during her travels there. Though I was skeptical and nervous, I offered my humble flat to her. I don’t have a spare bed I said, but I do have a mattress. She agreed, time passed, she visited and we had the most wonderful time together. We went for walks, ate soba and talked and joked plenty. Flash-forward half a year and I found myself in Europe. But now you must come and visit ME she said. So I ended up in Belgium. There, Laura’s mother volunteered herself as my personal taxi driver and Laura’s father took me to the supermarket where he offered to purchase whatever health-foods my heart desired. I bought one avocado. I was given my own room, toiletries and much love and comfort. As a consequence, I felt at home in an instant.

As for Laura herself, my goodness, she was (still is) an absolute gem. I was so humbled by her generosity and compassion. For each day we were together, Laura had planned a visit to a different city in Belgium. And on each trip, she accompanied me to numerous clothing stores, health food shops and vegetarian restaurants with much love and patience. Though our interests couldn’t be more different, Laura made sure I got to explore Belgium my way. If we had differing opinions about something, Laura patiently listened to my side then kindly explained hers. At every moment, her top priority was my comfort. I was truly humbled by her character. My only wish is to manifest such beautiful qualities myself.

The next person I’d like to tell you about is Lavanya. She too was one of my blog’s active followers. A yogi, an artist (of all sorts) and a complete jewel (very fitting as her home is adorned with crystals). Lavnaya emailed me when she read I was stationed near Switzerland. She asked if I’d like to meet and invited me to her home in Zurich. I knew of her blog, I loved her drawings but I hadn’t seen a picture of her. I asked if she’d send me one and she gladly did. She sent two. One of her and one of her and her partner. She was so beautiful, so radiant. They both were. I just had to meet them. I thought OK, maybe I’m crazy, maybe I’m pushing my luck here but something called me to Zurich.

Wow Lavanya, where do I even start with this woman! My goodness. She is so compassionate. So selfless. So TALENTED. Before I say anything more I beg you to go and check out her blog HERE. Hey, welcome back! Did you love it? Right?! I knew it! So, Lavanya is obviously a talented artist but she’s also an amazing chef! Healthy, vegan and organic. Did I hit the jackpot or did I hit the jackpot?! She is everything I have always wanted to be. Oh man do I look up to her. Intelligent, mindful, spiritual, selfless. She and her partner have paid for everything on this trip (food, tickets, etc), cooked me the highest-quality food, given me an extensive tour of Zurich and last but not least, bags full of goodies for tomorrow’s trip including spiced cashews, vegan cookies, a vegan cookbook and bottled water.

If you were wondering, I’m not just writing this blogpost to brag about my new friends (OK maybe a little bit) but also to inform you that good exists! In a world of war, adversary and pain, there is still unconditional love. Unconditional love, faith and trust in complete strangers, that the mainstream news does not cover. Now I am speechless. But I can safely say both Laura and Lavanya are carved on my heart forever.

Spinning in A Whirlwind of Emotions

Traveling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things: air, sleep, dreams, sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it. (Cesare Pavese)

The value of your travels does not hinge on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home — and the slow nuanced experience of a single country is always better than the hurried, superficial experience of forty countries. (Rolf Potts)

We can’t jump off bridges anymore because our iPhones will get ruined. We can’t take skinny dips in the ocean because there’s no service on the beach and adventures aren’t real unless they’re on Instagram. Technology has doomed the spontaneity of adventure and we’re helping destroy it every time we Google, check-in, and hashtag. (Jeremy Glass)

It’s funny. When you leave your home and wander really far, you always think, ‘I want to go home.’ But then you come home, and of course it’s not the same. You can’t live with it, you can’t live away from it. And it seems like from then on there’s always this yearning for some place that doesn’t exist. I felt that. Still do. I’m never completely at home anywhere. (Danzy Senna)

For the past few days, I have been spinning in a whirlwind of emotions. I have felt flabbergasted by new experiences, homesick from doing it by myself, frustrated by the foreign and completely amazed at this wonderfully big little world we live in. At times, I have been able to capture some of it through a camera lens and at others, not at all, not even a little bit. I like the quotes above for they’ve made me think long and hard about my travels and my consequent thoughts and actions. I wish that I could tell you that my over-thinking has cultivated an epiphany or some profound wisdom but frankly it hasn’t. Not yet. Right now, I am more muddled than ever. This restlessness I pin down to excess information. I keep telling my parents, it’s not easy to live in this day and age either! Do I settle down or travel awhile longer? Continue participating in social media for self-promotion or stay quiet writing in private? And as I do either, do I work or study further? Again, I hear my ears ringing “first world problem.” Though I really think it is, a problem that is, of our generation. Information overload and unlimited choice can prove impossible to navigate.

So. For now, all I want is balance. Balance between travel and home, reality, and the internet, blogging and writing a bigger project and between career and education.

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Graffiti street in Ghent.
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Vegan burger from Greenway.
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The most amazing vegan lunch at Moon Food in Brussels.
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Heartbroken

The sky is charcoal black today. My dear cousin, a loving husband and father of two little ones was taken prisoner (again), alongside 12 other innocent souls in Iran. His crime? Following a faith thats sole purpose is the unification of all people. Practicing equality, love and justice. Giving eternal love and service.

When asked on one occasion: “What is a Bahá’í?” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied: “To be a Bahá’í simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.”

My heart is broken. As is his immediate family’s and friends’. The persecution of the Iranian Bahá’í community is a serious problem. In this recent article, it was likened unto the apartheid system. The world is a cruel cruel place. Today I feel deeply ashamed. Ashamed at myself for continuously having trivial “problems.” I recently cried to my mother for not having a travel companion. But it’s not fun by myself, I said. Then I moaned about my weight. I’m not as skinny as I used to be. Then my clothes: I want to shop in NZ. European clothes don’t fit and they’re too expensive. Of course she rationalised how ridiculous my concerns were. As mothers so perfectly do. But even so, at the time it didn’t register. I still felt upset. Now it has registered.

My “problems” are nothing, nil, non-existent. I am so immensely lucky. How dare I ever complain. I am so ashamed. I pray for my cousin and all who are bearing a heavier load than they can take. Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the Bahá’í faith says: “Let your vision be world embracing…” To me this means detachment, of ourselves and of our problems or in my case, “problems” for there is always someone worse off than we, on earth. When we forget to look at the bigger picture, our perceptions are clouded.
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“When you think things are bad,
when you feel sour and blue,
when you start to get mad…
you should do what I do!
Just tell yourself, Duckie,
you’re really quite lucky!
Some people are much more…
oh, ever so much more…
oh, muchly much-much more
unlucky than you!”
―Dr. Seuss, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

Relationship Update

Don’t call me the boy/girl who cried wolf but I just wanted to tell you that my boyfriend is going to nursery school!

On another note, just as I posted my Miss Independent post, The Cut published a wonderful piece called 25 Famous Women on Being Alone. You can check out the full article HERE or just read my favourites below:

(Illustrations by Mitsuie Yusaku)

People sometimes seem surprised when I say this, because I’m a pretty friendly person. This is one of the greatest misconceptions about introversion. We are not anti-social; we’re differently social. I can’t live without my family and close friends, but I also crave solitude. I feel incredibly lucky that my work as a writer affords me hours a day alone with my laptop. I also have a lot of other introvert characteristics, like thinking before I speak, disliking conflict, and concentrating easily … introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward. In our culture, snails are not considered valiant animals — we are constantly exhorting people to ‘come out of their shells’ — but there’s a lot to be said for taking your home with you wherever you go. (Susan Cain)
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I think alone time is good to know how to be alone with your own thoughts. I think it just helps you kind of be a better, more grounded person … and also I feel like it builds a sense of self confidence and a sureness that you know that you can venture out into experiences without the crutch of other people. Like, you’re not doing it because you feel lonely or isolated, but because it generates a new kind of experience. (Carrie Brownstein)
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Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was. (Cheryl Strayed)
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I have to be alone very often. I’d be quite happy if I spent from Saturday night until Monday morning alone in my apartment. That’s how I refuel. (Audrey Hepburn)
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The precious part of my day is when I’m alone. When everybody goes home and (son) Sean’s asleep and I’m just watching the night lights out of my window or something. I like silence, you see. I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that it’s all right to be alone. (Yoko Ono)

A Gratitude List

…look around you. All of this is for you. Take it and have gratitude. Give it and feel love. -Zooey Deschanel

I dedicate this list to you. I’m sorry for the whinging and the grumbles. I really am happy and grateful…it’s just so easy to be open with you.

1.Working limbs to walk, run, cycle and explore.
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2.Unexpected friends. Like Laura from Belgium who I met through blogging. who came and stayed with me in Japan and who just happens to be blogging about it NOW.

3.My auntie Pouneh – of course for having me here but also for her many entertaining stories, cycling advice and organic salads!
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4.Coffee. I mean come on. Ican’teven without it.
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5.Art. Art and creative people. Literature, music, Sundance! Thank you for making me feel all sorts of feels.

6.My mama, who keeps messaging me to be careful not to get a cold? And that I’m her little girl and very pretty. Oh my heart. My world. Thank you.
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7.Getting paid to travel. Okay so it’s not much (hint hint Savvy Tokyo) but it’s seriously a dream come true. I did it. I blogged for 730 days in a row, annoyed the hell out of you all and eventually landed myself a teeny tiny writing role. Have you read my latest work? You can HERE, HERE and HERE. Cheers and kampai to (fingers-crossed/touch-wood) many more.

Mom Was Right

Dear Ones:

I’ve realised my mom was right. I have been blogging too much, working too much, exploring too much, thinking too much, exercising too much and plain pushing myself to exhaustion. When she first said it, of course I disagreed with her. “You don’t understand, I’m FINE,” I said. And we all know what that “fine” means. But a simple comment by Yuka today on how I’d mistakingly written “orange” in place of “apple” in a previous post,  finally touched the right nerve.

Believe me, I’ve had the best of intentions. I’ve blogged everyday because I enjoy doing it but also because I believe it will one day, some way or another, make me a real writer. For the past two years, I have not stopped. Even now, on holiday! I am walking, thinking, over-thinking, exploring, photographing, blogging, and freelancing. Then I write a post about holiday blues. I am so silly.

I don’t want to be like this anymore.

So, I have made a choice. The great Bahai leader, Abdu’l-Baha says:

“One cannot obtain the full force of the sunlight when it is cast on a flat mirror, but once the sun shineth upon a concave mirror, or on a lens that is convex, all its heat will be concentrated on a single point, and that one point will burn the hottest. Thus is it necessary to focus one’s thinking on a single point so that it will become an effective force.”

In short, I am finally going to take that overdue holiday. I am going to enjoy my upcoming travels to their fullest and I am going to live in the moment. This means photographing less, blogging less, hopefully thinking less and overall, chilling the F out. I guess my only concern is losing followers but I know that my health comes first and that this way, contrary to my previous thinking, I can become a better writer. Something to do with quality over quantity, I guess.

In the words of Anne Lamott:  “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you”.

Again, thank you for being there.

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