Posts tagged with "philosophy"

The Case For Nature (vs Nurture)

When I was young, my dad had a fight with his brother over opening a convenience store next to a pharmacy (my uncle is a pharmacist) in a plaza that my grandmother owned. Both types of stores have lots of competing products, so the argument was about who would be the one to open their store. I guess my dad won, because he bought the convenience store and ran it for quite a few years.

After that, I didn’t see my uncle or his family at all. For so long that I completely forgot that I had a cousin, Crystal.

When my grandmother came from Hong Kong to visit one year, she reunited the families again, and I saw them for the first time in a long while1.

At that time, the popular thing to do was play cards. I had the reputation as being the fastest, most dexterous dealer out of all the kids. But when I went over to my uncle’s house one day and we were playing Asshole, I noticed Crystal dealing exactly the same way I did, except faster, without even paying attention.

It was at that point that I realized, “This person is my family”.

The only other time I had such a stark realization was during my trip to Hong Kong earlier this year. At an international buffet, we grabbed some dessert from the cart and ordered some tea. My uncle, aunt (both siblings of my dad), and I were sitting at the table, with delicious pastries in front of us, but none of us were touching them. When someone asked my uncle why he wasn’t eating his dessert yet, he said that he has to have tea with his sweets. And it turns out that was the exact same reason me and my aunt were waiting too. One of these little quirks that one never expects someone else to have, and sometimes we’re even ridiculed for it, and yet here we were, three people doing the exact same thing for the exact same reason.

I generally believe that humans are more likely a product of their experiences, with a touch of inherited qualities too. After all, I’m almost nothing like either of my parents. It was only these two experiences that made me admit that there’s a little more of us that’s inherited, that we’re a product of our genes, than I would have believed.

  1. I even discovered that I had a new cousin, Darren, who was Crystal’s brother. []

How To Interpret Nothing

(I’ve been writing this in my head for four years. Four years and seven months, to be precise.)

So one last touch and then you’ll go
And we’ll pretend that it meant something so much more
But it was vile, and it was cheap
And you are beautiful but you don’t mean a thing to me

—Death Cab for Cutie, Tiny Vessels

Ghost picture

I got this picture in New Jersey. It’s the most peculiar size for a photograph: 3 7/16 by 4 13/16 inches.

For some reason, I see it properly like this — landscape orientation, with the white stripe on the left — when it could just as well be rotated any other way. This is the bias I place on it. The way I view it.

It almost looks like a room with a wall in frame on the left, and the camera has metered for a flash off the wall, underexposing the rest of the picture. There are two smears in the blackness. Maybe an out-of-focus object, maybe a fingerprint on the lens.

I didn’t take the picture. Someone else did, thought it was bad, and was about to throw it out before I asked for it. Someone who took me for granted. Someone who’s world I lived in but for a week, in the midst of the intense summer humidity and coitus interruptus.

I’ve kept it in one of my notebooks since. The edges have turned yellow, and the corners blunt from handling.

Every time I look at it, I like to think that I see something in that grain and that noise. That something’s there; I just don’t see it because there isn’t enough light to expose it, but it exists nonetheless. Some photographic kōan, where I become that which I seek.

But I know there isn’t, the way I know it was nothing more than passing moment, a week forgotten, a life unchanged.

And I’ve been happily fooling myself ever since.

In Her Prayers

Every now and then, Louise let’s me know that she’s praying for me. For my health. For my success.

She really believes in the power of prayer. It’s healed her family, it’s given her guidance, it’s provided her with the strength that she needs. She’s one of the few Christian’s whose faith I respect1.

It’s a nice feeling to be in someone’s prayers, and she does this even though I’m not Christian myself.

Normally, I’m a skeptic about these things.

Which makes it difficult to deny how it’s lately been working.

  1. In most of my experience, it’s as Nietzsche said; “The Christian resolve to find the world evil and ugly, has made the world evil and ugly.” []

The Case For Divine Serendipity

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to find out you’ll be in town the day after I write about you.

The way the young man I just met is taking the same bus home with me. The way the friend who’s been lost forever suddenly shows up, packing your bags in the checkout line.

But I know it’s not a sign. It’s not some cosmic path, just the way things are working out. At least, I think so. My life has been filled with such occurrences, and I’ll be damned if it all doesn’t start to mean something.

See you tomorrow.

Becoming One With The Tao

After 26 years, I’ve realized that I’m a Taoist.

I dabbled in Existentialism (after reading Huis Clos, revisiting it when reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra), atheism (when I was dating an Anglican), agnosticism (after we broke up), Nihilism (while reading several books of Russian Romantic literature), Buddhism (in early university), and Christianity (throughout my life). None of it ever felt complete.

In 2003, I happened to come across a few verses of the Tao Te Ching. The concepts were difficult to grasp at first1. Eventually, with the guidance of some Chinese elders, I came to a solid foundation of understanding, then approached it slowly and carefully. I had put so much hope in finding a system of beliefs in the past, that I was scared of hurriedly aligning myself with the first one that bared a passing resemblance to my own.

More specifically, I’m a philosophical Taoist. I don’t believe in any polytheistic aspects of the religious side, the divination of the I Ching, or any of the archaic sexual practices of retrograde ejaculation and the like.

This doesn’t mean that I’m a perfect Taoist, insofar as there are no perfect Christians, or perfect people. The Tao Te Ching is my bible. It guides me on how to live and behave as much as it is a label of my existing beliefs. There are things I have yet to learn, apply, or both.

I think I’ve always been a Taoist. I just never knew it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve lived by the principles of balance, emptiness (or receptiveness), and strength of flexibility. I’m glad that it’s a part of the culture of my blood. It makes me proud. Understanding Cantonese has certainly helped me appreciate the beauty of it all.

One doesn’t decide to become a Taoist. The Way is described as having no beginning or end. You must become one with it.

As such, a traveler is at his destination at every part of the journey.

  1. I’ve come to see that the ideas are easily lost in translation []