Tuesday, January 30, 2018

1 yr of parenthood

My son is almost 1 year old now and we had a small celebration over the past weekend with family. I thought it's a great time for me to reflect on life as a parent in the past year or so. Here are some thoughts about it:

1) Loss of control of personal time

When we go from one stage of life to another, there will bound to be inevitable changes. From singlehood to dating couple, to married couple and eventually to parents...all these are major milestones in life. As a married person without a kid, I think it's basically an extension of singlehood. I had been in that phase for a very long time and had grown used to doing my own things, and spending time with my wife. With a kid in tow, all the energy and attention is now focused on the kid. There is very little personal time. Whatever time there is, usually it's spent resting or just doing some low energy work like watching tv.

Took my some time to get used to the new routine. There's even some frustration built up in the earlier part of the year when the baby is just born. I think a huge part of that frustration comes from the transition in roles from a husband to a father. I'm glad that phase is over, but I guess it can be a root cause for depression episode. The feeling is like you have things to do and yet the baby still refused to sleep or eat or just disrupts your flow.

How I got over it is to live in the present. Once you have a time limit in baby activities, like wanting to have only 30 min to tuck the baby to sleep, or 15 mins to feed the baby, the frustration builds up. It's just not going to be that structured anymore.

2) Introduction of randomness to life

Having a structured life means there is less randomness involved. Day to day living becomes very routinized and there's not much surprises or shock. Without randomness, my mood is just a flatline; there's no extreme unhappiness or extreme happiness. Is that a good life?

With a baby, everything is turned inside out, upside down. You are reading a book, quietly enjoying a cup of tea. Suddenly you hear a wail and you look around and see the baby had fallen. OR you are tired from a day's work, wanting to just have dinner and go to bed early. Suddenly the baby crawls over and hugs your leg, tried saying dada and gives you a megawatt smile. All your tiredness and fatigue instantly vanished.

I'm not saying structured life isn't good and a life full of randomness is bad. I'm just noting the difference before and after baby. I think having a structured life as baseline is good psychologically. You can't keep on doing greater things if you can't be sure whether there is a roof over your head or wondering whether you'll have something to eat for dinner. Upon that structured life, build in some randomness to it to disrupt your life, to jolt it out of becoming a living dead.

Mindfulness helps me in handling the downside of the randomness, those disruptions to my flow or those sudden rush to settle the wailing baby. Just concentrate on the task at hand and don't think of putting a time limit to the task. As for the upside of randomness, I'm enjoying every little moment simply by observing the little developments that is happening to my baby. That's how I handle the randomness.

3) Changes in life reveals character

I think I'm a better person after being a father. For one, I'm much more patient. I thought I'm already very patient but apparently that's just a self limiting belief. That, combined with the new perspective that every one started off as a cute baby, makes me infinitely more patience with my students. So that's something good that spills over.

I also realised that I have a lot of love to give. I thought I'm the deadpan emotionless engineer kind of person, but I'm surprised that I feel chirpier and a little crazy when I see my baby. I think my wife is also surprised how come her husband is like that. Now when I see a baby while outside, I'll just shout out to my wife and perhaps make some funny noise to make the baby smile. Little things like these makes me realise I'm happier with a kid than not.

I already had the epiphany that money is not the most important thing in my life way before being a parent. Now, that idea is reinforced further. It was unheard of for me to put aside time for family, because as a self employed that means I will lose income. I wasn't as shocked that I did that, but more of how I didn't even think twice about it. And of course, there's always things to buy weekly and monthly, like diapers and milk powder and such. While I try to take advantage of discounts and all, generally I don't really bother about the increased expenses. That sounds sacrilegious as a financial blogger haha

4) Practicality trumps over idealism

There's a lot of fantasy involved when rearing a child. Firstly, I thought I wanted to initiate a rule that they should not be anyway near hand phones and tablets. There's not happening. It's a war of attrition out there to see who have more energy. Sometimes I'm so tired and drained out, that switching on a tablet and letting my baby listening to some songs is a good way to distract him. At least I'm not using the tablet while feeding him. Yet.

Secondly, I don't want him to sleep in those baby sarong; those automatic vibrating net that the baby sleeps in so that he can sleep longer. I thought it's dangerous and not needed. But I caved in eventually and my life is much better because of it.

Those are the battles that I had lost over practicality. But there are some that I won, at least up to today. I didn't want a pram, and I don't have it. I didn't want to buy him excessive stuffs, so most of my things are hand me downs. Probably only bought him 1 or 2 pieces of clothings. The rest, like the baby cot, clothes, toys, books, containers...all these are hand me downs. 

I think the issue here is that we can read all the books that you want, but until you actually do the deed, you don't know shit. Be open minded and get ready to change when the facts change.

5) My zen master

I'm a disciple of my zen master. Who is he, you ask? It's my son! I've learnt so much about life from him. Here's a few lessons:

This is back a few months ago

a) How to let go: He shits even in his sleep, you try letting go while lying down.
b) Move on from set backs by look forward: He knocks his head and cries, but when a toy comes along, he stops crying and starts playing and enjoying himself
c) Never hold grudges: I knocked his head, he cries. I mock 'throw' him up and he giggles. I don't ever think he hold grudges
d) Focus on humans relationships, not material goods: I'm very proud that between a tablet and humans, he chose humans. At least for now
e) Communicate without language: A look on the eye, a smile, a hand to hold, a warm heart to beat. That's all. You don't even need to speak a single word.

Overall, it was the best thing that happened to me. Yet I wouldn't wish I have a kid earlier. Why? Everything that happened, happened for the best. I don't think I'll be that ready for the kid until now. I could be a very kan cheong parent that will relocate the entire family to move to a property near Bishan in order to secure a great primary school for the kid. But now? I'm too chill about this. Once upon a time, I'll be happy that there's no genetic defects and the baby is born healthily.

Let me not forget that simple contentment.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Books read in 2017

In 2017, I didn't fulfill my goal of reading 52 books a year. The number of books that I had read is a far cry from my goal. I had read a total of 11 books, and that is all. The reason for this is the lack of energy, time and commitment because I had a child. Whenever I feel I feel I have the energy to read, there will be a nagging feeling in my mind that I'm not doing my duty as a father. Could I have missed some important development that I would regret eternally by keeping my eyes on the pages of the book I'm reading?

Anyway, here's the list of books read in 2017:

1) Step by step trading - Dr Alexander Elder
2) The new trading for a living - Dr Alexander Elder
3) Anti supernatural assault team - Book 0 - Michael Keyth
4) Search inside yourself - Chade-Meng Tan
5) Lost cat - Caroline Paul & Wendy MacNaughton
6) Pre-suasion - Robert Cialdini
7) Anything you want - Derek Sivers
8) Tools of Titans - Tim Ferriss
9) Three Squares - Abigail Carroll
10) The subtle art of not giving a f@#k - Mark Manson
11) Two roads diverged: trading divergences - Dr Alexander Elder

Like the previous years, I'll highlight a few books that I thought are worth recommending to others, and to re-read for me.

1. Tools of Titans - Tim Ferriss

You cannot profess to be a lover of self help books without having read Tim Ferriss books at all. This is a monstrous, thick compilation of all the interviews done by him over a course of several years. It breaks down all the interviews into 3 broad categories, namely health, wealth and wise. There's always some lessons to be learnt in each of the interviews and there is so much wealth of information that I probably have to revisit this book again when I require certain information. The book should be treated as an encyclopedia of empirically proven good living.

This books was so good that I kept my study notes on it. I link it here for your reference.

2.  Anything you want - Derek Sivers

This book is about an accidental business owner who stumbled onto a multi million dollar business while trying to find the solution to his own problems. Since the problem cannot be solved by existing businesses, he just started it himself. In the book, you'll read about the author trying to do all the things that are not conventional business wisdom, like trying to keep the business small instead of expanding it. It's interesting because the author is not trying to make money but trying to go back to his roots of solving a problem in the first place, hence this book is very refreshing. In his own words, he said that a business is a little utopia world where you get to decide the rules. It's a reflection of the creator, and nobody, not even profits, should take that idea away from you. If you're losing meaning and happiness in your work, read this. It's a short and sweet book that you should read whenever you're lost.

3. Pre-suasion - Robert Cialdini

This is the sequel of one of the best book I've read on social psychology, Influence. If Influence talks about the different techniques used by influencers to persuade you to do what they want you to do, then this book talks about how you can set the context right even before you ask the prospect to do what you want them to do. One book is about defense, while the other is about offense. One book talks about the period in which the sales presentation take place, the other talks about the period before the sales even happens. Rightly, one should read both books, in either order.

4. Search inside yourself - Chade-Meng Tan

This is the second book that I've read about mindfulness. The first book is by the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. I think while the first book is my spiritual motivation to begin meditation, this book by Meng (as he is affectionately called) is the users manual on meditation. Written with the precision and clarity that only an engineer can, this book gives the reader a very good grounding in mindfulness practices, complete with superb and clear instructions. This is a book that is life-changing and will definitely be re-visted time and time again.

This is a sure re-read for me in the future. I suspect I will get different results in different reads. I did my study notes on this book and I link it here for your reference.

5. Three Squares - Abigail Carroll

This interesting book talks about the history of American meals and their eating culture. It traces the historical influences from firstly England and the native Indians, and then the French, and finally all the different immigrants who came in to America after the world wars. I always thought that the proper study of how and what food we eat can be the social history of our forefathers, so this book did not disappoint. What follows is the breakdown of what we know about breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. It's a bit long winded though. If you want the summary, just read the last two chapters of the book. It summarizes all the other chapters and also give a taste of what is to come in the future with regards to American meals.

So there it is. I will try to read more in 2018, at least much more than in 2017. While I feel like I'm not learning anything new without a book on my lap all the time, I also felt that I have a lot more time to consolidate all the knowledge and insights gained from this reading habit that I started in 2007. 10 years of reading and trying to read 52 books a year must mean something. 

I don't think I can ever read 52 books a year anymore, but that is no longer important. I started the challenge of reading 1 book a week to discipline myself and to avoid wasting time on other frivolous pursuits like checking on social media etc. It succeeded wildly beyond my imagination. But with a growing kid and still, that nagging feeling that I might miss something important while my eyes are on the books, I think it's time to move on from that challenge. 

I counted back in 2007 all the way to 2017, exactly how many books I've read (or re-read). It's 419 in total over 11 years, which is about 38 books per year. Even if I retained 10% of what I've read, it is still a lot of knowledge to be had. It certainly also improved my language a lot too. Well worth the price of my kindle LOL

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Reflection of my Bangkok trip 2018

Me and my wife went to Bangkok for a short trip, but without our baby boy. It was a break away from him and really a morale booster after not having gone for a trip for almost 2 years. It wasn't the first time we're in Bangkok and a few thing have changed.

Firstly, we went to a pretty good hotel that costs more than usual. The hotel is located right at Central world, so for the first time in so many trips, we didn't have to take any cabs at all. It's either walk or just take a train if the distance is too far. That was quite different because in the past, we would take a more budget hotel and take cab all the way because the location is usually more far off. So instead of a cheap hotel and spending time, energy and money moving around, we opted for an expensive hotel but saves effort and money moving around minimally.

Half panoramic view from the hotel room 

Secondly, we met a friend there. It's Derek, the blogmaster of TheFinance.sg and his wife. It was one of the rare times we met any friends overseas, so that was a very good experience for me. We went to our hotel's roof top bar to have a drink and see the world and soak in the atmosphere. Usually we won't go to such places, and we're glad to play host to our friends, meeting in a foreign land and seeing familiar faces.

View from the hotel's rooftop bar

Thirdly, we went there as a couple many times, and this is the first time we went as a parent. I kept thinking and missing our baby boy. Thankfully we arranged for video call with my mum periodically, who is taking care of our boy. I didn't know I can miss someone so much. I am literally scrolling through past photos and sharing with my wife. That's an aspect that I didn't expect from myself.

These three things alone makes this trip slightly different and special. That's the external things. Internally, I feel that the whole trip makes me realise what the important things are in my life. While we are living the high life in Bangkok eating restaurants in almost every other meals, I thought to myself that I would not want to live such a life if my wife isn't around with me. Removing my wife from the context would make me miserable. Removing the high life context from me and my wife is very okay. So having my wife around me is very important to me, much more important the tour. Touring around with my wife is the point, and must not be mistaken for touring overseas. Next, we spent most of our time shopping, eating and resting. It feels shiok for the first few days, but after a while, it too became pointless. Why? We're missing our baby boy, so that's a new experience for me. There's only so much tom yum gong we can eat, so much thai milk tea to drink and so much goods to buy. Everything else is just bland after a while.

This is how my boy feels on the second day after he realised his parents are not around

I'm not sure why I was feeling like this. It's supposed to be an long anticipated trip, but around the middle of the trip, I wished I am home so that I can hug my baby boy. It's a funny feeling, and it makes me know what is important to me: family.

There are some observations I've made in my trip:
1) People stand on the right for escalator, meaning the 'speeding' lane is on the left. This is quite the opposite here in Singapore. I think sometimes when we take the escalator locally ourselves, we tend to mentally scold the person in front of us for blocking our way. But they could be used to their own way of doing things and blind to the new ways. We have to learn to be more understanding and also to be aware of our blind spots.

2) The car park in shopping malls are not located in basements and are actual stories. It's like in Singapore if we want to go to the carpark, it's usually located in B1, or B2. But in Thailand, it's in story 3 or story 4. It's interesting because perhaps they have too much land over there, so it's easier to build up than to dig down. The cost increases a lot as you go deeper down.

3) I've not been to thailand for 2 years, and suddenly I see a lot more people are into the mobile phone culture. Meaning that they will whip out their phone and stare at it for long periods of time.

4) There is a floor in MBK where there are artists selling copies of artwork and painting. I didn't see it anymore. I guess it had moved along with the times.

5) In big shopping malls, there are plenty of spaces that are under renovation and closed off. It's something like Singapore, where sections of malls are boarded up, with something 'exciting' coming along in the near future. The retail scene in Thailand is like ours too...slowly fading off.

6) Empty stores in Singapore are guarded by pots of money plants. But not over there. So money plant guardians is a local culture.

7) There is plenty of Japanese food over there, but not so much Korean food. In Singapore, it's quite the reverse. Korean food is popping up all over the place. I've not eaten any korean food before, nor wish to try haha

8) There's rarely authentic thai food restaurants, but I think Thai food is mainly street food, and that's where the authentic Thai cuisine are to be found. 

9) Electrical sockets are turned clockwise from our orientation, meaning that the live is on top, neutral at the bottom and earth is on the right. Why is it rotated, I wonder...

Oh, and during the flight, I didn't watch any movies. None feels interesting to me. I listened to some music and kept reading. These are the things that brings me joy. After a few days of eating rich food, I stopped eating so much. I wanted to feel hungry again instead of eating at fixed timing. I also don't have to sit in a plane in order to enjoy some quiet moment with my wife. Sometimes I wonder whether I really do need this trip. Do I really need to go overseas? Actually no, but sometimes we need to go outside to realise what is really inside.

And boy, by disrupting my usual schedule, I've broken out of my usual thinking and re-found myself.

THAT is the true goal of travelling. At least in my definition.