We Are One


George Yeo, the former Foreign Minister of Singapore, shared the following story in his new book, ”Bonsai, Banyan and the Tao”.

The late Cardinal Jan Schotte, who had served as Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops in the Vatican, was drafting a speech for the late Pope John Paul II. In one of the sentences, Schotte wrote,

“despite our differences, we are one.”


When John Paul II saw it, he replaced “despite” with “because of”.

because of our differences, we are one.”


For me, this ranks as one of my favorite simpler ideas.

We often focus on our differences, and we draw lines that divide us. Actually, noticing differences is not a bad thing in itself. For our differences make each of us unique, and they allow each of us to bring something unique to the table. It becomes a problem only when we use those differences not to strengthen ourselves but to divide ourselves.

And in trying to divide ourselves, we become a lesser one.

George Yeo’s story also shows how profound change can be achieved through subtle shifts in how we think. By simply changing a few words, we can see the possibilities of a better world.

And to close, here’s another simple idea :)


Photo credit:



Dog, Cow, Monkey & Man – Part Two

This is not an original story – others have shared it before (for example, here). Someone shared it with me recently, and we have a Part Two to it :)

The story goes like this.

One day, God decided to create Dog, Cow, Monkey and Man.

God gave Cow a lifespan of sixty years. Cow was to work hard all day in the field under the sun. He would provide man with milk and calves, and he could only eat  grass. On hearing this, Cow requested to live twenty years and return the other forty years to God.

God gave Monkey a lifespan of twenty years. Monkey was to entertain man, perform tricks for man and make him laugh. And he would eat only bananas. On hearing this, Monkey requested to live ten years and return the other ten years to God.

God gave Dog a lifespan of twenty five years. Dog was to sit at the door of man’s house, and bark at those who came along. He would eat only what was left over from man’s meals. On hearing this, Dog requested to live fifteen years and return the other ten years to God.

Finally, God gave Man a lifespan of twenty years. Man was to sleep, eat and have fun all day. He would not have to work and would only need to enjoy life. Man really liked the deal, but felt it was too short. He had an idea – he asked God to give him the forty years that Cow had returned, and the ten years that both Monkey and Dog did not want. In all, Man would live eighty years. God thought about it, and agreed.

And this is why we spend the first twenty years of our lives eating, sleeping, playing and enjoying ourselves, the next forty years working hard like a cow, then the next ten years entertaining our grandkids like a monkey, and finally ten years nagging at others like a dog.


This is where the original story ends. Many people find it an interesting parody of life, and laugh it off. Some may even wish that man had kept his mouth shut and just enjoyed his twenty years.

Come to think, is it such a bad idea to take Cow’s forth years, Monkey’s ten years and Dog’s ten years?

I actually think it is a blessing to be able to work hard for forty years (Cow’s) to help make the world a better place, to spend ten years (Monkey’s) helping others find happiness in their lives, and ten years (Dog’s) taking care of others’ interests.

Often, we focus on the WHAT, but not the WHY. If the WHY is meaningful, then the WHAT doesn’t matter so much.

Cow, Monkey, or Dog, are all great lives if we know how to live them meaningfully :)

Fascinating Mind

British artist Stephen Wiltshire was in Singapore for the past two weeks to draw the Singapore skyline.

According to Wikipedia, Stephen was mute when he was young, and at the age of three, he was diagnosed as autistic.

Stephen has a talent for art. From a tender age, he would draw buildings and cityscapes. He has the ability to look at something and draw it entirely from memory. For his Singapore project, Stephen was taken on an hour-long ride on a helicopter to take a look at the skyline of Singapore (for the first time in his life). The following week, he drew the entire skyline from memory.

This is his finished product.

Skyline Sketch

Like many others, I was bowled over by this! It is an amazing human feat and work of art!!

Given his verbal impairment and autism, by most measures Stephen would be considered someone with “special needs”. Some might even see them as “disabilities”.

Yet, as Stephen’s story shows, despite all our scientific advances there is a lot more about the human brain and body that we do not know about yet. Despite what some may see as a “disadvantage”, the human body seems to have a remarkable ability to make up for that with talents in other areas.

I would like to believe that among the many who may be perceived as “disabled” or “deficient”, there lies many other hidden talents that we simply have not discovered. It gives me hope that we will one day discover them :)


Photo credits:

The Straits Times

A promising summer journey in education

Ed Pioneers 2

This week, I had the privilege to meet many people who were deeply passionate about education reform in the US. I’m on a fellowship with Education Pioneers, an educational nonprofit that seeks to grow a pipeline of leaders in the education sector. For my summer project, I’ve been matched with Teach For America, an educational nonprofit that seeks to eliminate educational inequity.

It’s always inspiring to meet people who are passionate about social causes. (And I had the great fortune to work with many of them in my last job.) You know it when you meet such people and talk to them. You can tell it from their words and deeds, and stories.

Some of them are lively and talkative. Some of them are quiet and reserved. Regardless of their external orientation, they all have a deep and personal conviction of why they want to work in education. For example,

  • One of them, M, grew up in a humble background. The odds were heavily against him and others like him. Fortunately for M, he had a lucky break and went on to do well. Despite his success, he knew that many others were not as lucky as he was, and it became his personal mission to eliminate the education inequity. He enjoys serving the underprivileged, and he considers himself so lucky!!” to be able to do so. Wow!
  • Another one of them, H, came to the US when he was a young boy and spoke no word of English. He overcame his initial handicap, and feeling a sense of gratitude to the country, he joined the army. His tour of duty took him to war-torn places around the world, where despite the destruction and abject poverty people took education seriously. He saw village kids go to “school” made up of makeshift tents in the mountains. It made him wonder how for all its wealth and spending on education, there was still so much inequity in the US. He wanted to join the education sector to do something about it.

And there are many other folks. Talking to these people, I found them to be extremely bright and talented. Quite a number were from business school. They could walk into any Fortune 500 or consulting company and earn a salary many times what they would get in the education sector. Yet many of them chose this path instead.

It’s interesting that whenever I talk to people in the US about the education system, they would have strong opinions that were generally not very positive. Most people think there are too many vested interests and the problems are too deep. When asked for their one-word description of the education landscape, some of the replies were: “intimidating”, “complicated”, “divisive”, “layered”, “complex”, “entrenched”, “incongruent”, “opaque” and “intricate”.

Yet, there was also one other word that stood out to me: “promising”. Promising, not in terms of the current state of affairs, but in terms of the people who are passionate and want to make a difference. As an optimist, I like to see the glass as half-full rather than half-empty. Perhaps adversity and passion are two sides of the same coin? Perhaps like a spring, the harder you depress it the stronger it pushes back at you? Perhaps in the very depths of the complex problems lie the source of strength for the solutions?

Ray of light

A lot of discussion and criticism on education centers around money and resources. Perhaps this is not surprising, since these are tangibles that are easier to count and compare. And I do not disagree that money and infrastructure are important. At the same time, I think the greatest resource lies not in these, but in the people who strive to make a difference. These are more intangible, because its not just about the number of such people but also the depth and substance of their passion and conviction.

As I embark on my summer journey to learn more about the US education system, I will likely come across many complex challenges, perhaps far more than there are solutions. At the same time, I have faith that in the adversity also lies hope. I look forward to knowing many awesome people and their inspiring work. In that regard, I feel optimistic, and at the same time, I can’t help but feel so lucky!! :)



Photo Credits:

Education Pioneers 2014 GSF Chicago/Midwest Cohort

Brian Talbot via photopin cc

Dorena-wm via photopin cc

To all the Dads and FurDads out there…

Stanley Rusty

I grew up in a conservative society with many societal expectations. For example, there are social norms about when you should date (not when you are in school!), get hitched (of course you must get married!), how many kids you should have (in the 1970s and 1980s, not more than two; after the 1990s, three or more if you could afford it), what kind of job you should have (one that brings 5 Cs: career, car, condominium, cash, credit card) etc.

At Chinese New Year gatherings, birthday parties, weddings, baby showers, daily casual conversations, people ask insensitive questions: when are you finding a girlfriend (or boyfriend)? When are you getting married? When are you having kids? When are you having your 2nd kid? When are you having your 3rd kid? Did you kids top their class this year?

The funny thing about being in a culture is that it is often subconscious. When you are part of it, you think and act in certain ways because that’s how others think and act, and “that’s how things have always been done around here”. (The same is true for organizational culture.) It’s when you don’t quite fit in those quirks and behaviors that you become more conscious about it.

Some years ago, Fern and I invited Rusty into our hearts and home (or perhaps, he self-invited :P). To us, he’s our darling boy and will always be our first kid. We had no doubts seeing ourselves as his parents. From time to time though, we would get strange looks and sniggers from some people, “Of course it’s not the same…”, “How can a dog be a kid?”, “Don’t waste time, quickly get your own kid!”.

They probably mean well, but it’s still mean words no less. But we take it in our stride.

Today, as I celebrate Fathers’ Day with my Dad and Dad-in-Law, I also reflect on what it means to be a dad:

  • A dad is one who loses sleep over his kids
  • Fusses over them, cleans and grooms them (sometimes even when they are all grown up)
  • Peers over their puke and poo when they are ill
  • Teaches them, scolds them, yet takes pride in their achievements no matter how small
  • Celebrates each of their milestones as they come (and thinks that they grow up too quickly)
  • Puts their interest before his own
  • Makes sacrifices for them that he wouldn’t do for himself
  • Looks out for their safety at the expense of his own
  • Loves them unconditionally regardless of who they are and what “flaws” they may have

When I look at this list, I feel privileged to have been on the receiving end of a doting and caring dad. At the same time, I also feel privileged to be able to give of this to my furry boy.

Setting aside whatever cultural norms you may face, if you have been on the giving or receiving end of some of the above acts of love, you have been abundantly blessed, and may this be a special day for you and that other :)

Happy Fathers’ Day!

“Price is what you pay, value is what you get”

Happy faces

Sharing a little story from friend (with permission):

“I was about to finish my breakfast at my favorite coffee shop this morning when an old man touting tissue packs walked past. I stopped him and bought three packs for a dollar. I gave one to a stranger lady whom we shared the table, and one to a gentleman sitting behind me. All smiled and said thank you.

One dollar, three tissue packs, four happy souls. 独乐乐不如众乐乐. [translate: rather than individual happiness, why not communal happiness]

Price is what you pay, Value is what you get.”

And if I may add, Perspective is what you see, Happiness is what you create :)

Simple pleasures of life!

Photo credits:

hjhipster via photopin cc

Spring is coming! :)

Looks like the polar vortex is returning for the 3rd time! :\

However, I’m feeling optimistic that it won’t be as bad this time, because there are many signs that winter is winding down and spring is on its way! :)

The days are certainly getting longer. We have long pased the shortest day in winter (22 Dec), when sunrise was 7:14am and sunset was 4:23pm (in Chicago). Today, sunrise was 6:32am and sunset was 5:36pm. And we have seen more sunshine days these two weeks :)

And the trees are starting to bud! I couldn’t resist snapping this picture on my way to school. In this day and age, we like to believe sophisticated technology and sensors can predict everything. However, I’m someone who believes that Mother Nature knows far more than we will ever do, and nature offers clues to many of our most complex questions. So if the trees are budding, spring can’t be too far away. And I trust the trees :)


More signs of nature! Fauna is out and about as well. So Rusty’s “enemies”, the squirrels, didn’t freeze in the winter. In fact, they are starting to appear in numbers again! I spotted a few, but wasn’t fast enough to snap them. But I did catch a number of these swans happily nestling in the sun! :)


And if you’re still not convinced that spring is coming, here’s a view from the treadmill at the sports center – it was breathtaking!


So, even though it may get cold again later this week, things are definitely starting to look up! Yay! :D