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Surprises

A good friend in Hong Kong was recently sharing a thought process she had that concluded with the realization that, in response to an overly stressful life, we need to go out of our way to avoid stressful situations. Elementary, like all great realizations.

As fond as I am of Hong Kong, I must admit that it can be an incredibly stressful place to live (everything has a shadow). I can actually point to one single situation as the source of nearly all of my frustration:  how freaking SLOW people walk in the sidewalk. For starters, the sidewalks are only about three paces across, and as I’m sure you know, there are a few people in Hong Kong. Everywhere is a crowd, a bottleneck on the way to work. And wherever there is a crowd, there are slow people. Through no fault of their own (I’m sure they’re lovely), they slowly (heh heh) became my ULTIMATE arch-nemesis, the bane of my young existence, the stressor which promised to make me old far before years would.

In light of the thought shared by my good friend, I started making it a priority to avoid the crowds, and avoid getting stuck behind slow people. Of course, this was a habit anyway, but it became a conscious focus. Even if it took longer to get to work, I would avoid them and their low-velocity disease.

Upon arriving back in Hong Kong from my trip back to Texas for the holidays, when everything was fresh and new again, I took a different route from my apartment to the office. I simply chose the sidewalks which were not too packed. There was a bit of meandering, but eventually I stumbled into my district’s park, which I never knew existed. It is a forest between the buildings and the roads and the trees, an impressive expanse of green. It is the spot where all the old people do their exercises and stretches in the mornings, which I love walking by because it reminds me where I am. Birds were singing all around. It was awesome. It was one of those moments where you want to say to someone, Everything is beautiful and the world is fantastic. I was also listening to Brandi Carlile, which almost guarantees a great morning.

And such is the beauty of Hong Kong:  whenever you get caught up in thinking that what you know is all there is, or subconsciously forget that there are surprises and wonder, something will always be presented to surprise you. And it is everywhere – not five minutes off the beaten track (and there are so very many beaten tracks), there are forests, or a ruin of some old great building covered in vines which has no excuse to still exist in such a brutal real-estate market, or a beautiful park with a pond full of turtles, or a big lake at the bottom of a mountain trail, or mossy stairs leading somewhere up the hills, or worn old arches holding a wise city’s memories, or a waterfall outside the city you can jump from, or boulders just off the beach hidden by flowering trees.

The surprises are unassuming, confident. It is a city to learn a lot about God; his kingdom thrives in the smallest and the biggest ways, from the great mountains surrounding to the tiny, defiant tree grove in shadows, all in the midst of towering buildings and bustling seas and streets. It is interwoven, and perhaps the more the city grows and advances, the greater the wonders become, because they are older, wiser, more hidden, more mysterious.

To a year of surprises.

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We walk in the direction our eyes are looking.

 

Moral Conundrums and the Depravity of Man (brought to you by Godiva)

I’d just left an award ceremony where my company, Haworth, was a sponsor. The organization helps kids create art with recycled or sustainable materials. There were a couple local celebrities; an actress, and the wife of a famous actor. Of course, here in Hong Kong, it seems there is always a local celebrity; you’ll find one at any of the bars downtown, or especially any random event you attend. It must be a necessity, something you check off after you arrange canapes and a sound system. (I’m quite serious – any event. This comes from someone on the inside. My roommate and I were recently hired to drop in as Captian America and the Green Lantern during quarterly sales meetings for a local telecomm company.)

As a sponsor, Haworth received a gift, something heavy in a red bag. Like that first guy who found gold nuggets in his pockets after he swam in some Californian river a hundred and fifty odd years ago (not really how it happened, probably), I had no idea the wealth I had stumbled upon. I left the ceremony and caught the ferry, as it was a beautiful day and the weather was fantastic. The sky was dramatic, leading sunbeams through the light haze of smog, leaving the island skyline shyly glittering beneath a grainy golden filter. I sat in the front of the ferry because there is no better feeling than to have your hair get blown around like a dog sticking his head out the window on a roadtrip. Out of curiosity, and to determine whether I wanted to go back to the office and drop off the present, or just head straight home, I opened the bag to examine the gift. It was a heavy box, a dark, rich brown, and as I removed it from the bag and caught sight of the logo, I thought only one thing:

Sweet Lord of Mercy!

Can it be?

No. Surely not.

But the logo, like Shakira’s, or perhaps Wyclef Jean’s, hips, did not lie. I removed the plastic outer cover and unfolded the brown box to find a smaller red box inside, covered in velvet and tied shut with a red ribbon.

Could this be true…? (This is so much better than a picture frame.)

I untied the ribbon and opened the treasure chest. Inside there were two – nay, three! THREE decks of Godiva chocolates, smiling at the delight of the boy who found them. (There ended up being only two – a top layer and a secret box drawer underneath. Choco-lust does funny things to your brain.)

It is true. Yes. Very much. Indeed so.*

A triple decker box of Godiva chocolates.

And it is all mine.

I sampled one, a heart shape, and it was one of the perfects; dark chocolate with some sort of thick, softer chocolate cream on the inside.

Moral conundrums have a way of dropping in on us unexpectedly. This could almost seem unfair to some; it was such an unprecedented situation, one may say; it came out of nowhere, the left corner of left field – how could he have been ready?; and so on, with the inevitable conclusion being that one cannot be fairly judged for the decisions one makes when these unexpected situations arise. I tend to disagree; I think these situations arise so that we can see what exactly it is that we are made of. Courage is like orange juice; to get the juice, you have to squeeze the orange. Put it under pressure. Otherwise you never know how good the orange is.

And under such pressure I was. Triple-decker box of Godiva chocolates? Check. Friday night with no plans? Check. Projector with a new Will Ferrell movie and incredibly funny recent New Girl episodes at home? Check.

An office full of coworkers, also sponsors of this event, also deserving of these chocolates, all unaware of the bliss which could be theirs…? Check.

I knew what I had to do. The moral obligation weighed on me. I had no choice. I could do nothing other than offer the chocolates to my colleagues. I could not refuse bringing joy to them. They would be so happy. “Making Hong Kong smile”, as my roommate and I declare our mission here to be.

But don’t think this is a story of good-willed charity, that there was nothing in it for me, for O! sinister designs were being spun. As always, the most nefarious plans are those hidden for a time under the veneer of philanthropy and altruism; the darkest hubris thrives under the facade of generous charity.

As you probably are aware, boxes of chocolates are like beautiful fields which are, unfortunately, laced with mines. They offer promise and fun and beauty, but then you get surprised when you bite into a promising piece and it has that nasty marshmallow stuff, or a cherry, or, maybe over in China, freaking red bean paste, a horrible creation created solely to bomb-ruin what you thought was just a suspiciously heavy bread roll.

Nay – I, like a Bond villain, will reveal my plan to you in advance. You see, I would use my office as a high-stakes, everything-on-the-table game of Minesweeper. I would go in, walk the box around and offer chocolates to everyone, smiling maliciously inside my brain as they made their fateful choices. Choose carefully, I would tell them. There is no going back.

And, then, I would pillage the leftover chocolate. Only one hour left of the work day. Time gets away from us. Freedom approaches. O! the depravity!

I walked into the office with a measured, purposeful stride, used the Emergency Office Assembly Conch Shell and then shouted to all within earshot (about a dozen people), “Everyone! Hearken! Draw near to choose your delight (and under the breath) and to seal your fate!” (That may or may not be an accurate depiction of how it happened. Let’s go with that for now.)

I started to pass the chocolates around, and the first person I visited, a friend who is using the Haworth space for coworking, commented ‘Wait… I think they usually have a little guide? To let you know what you are choosing?’ My gut sank. My plan began to unravel; if they could choose the chocolates… oh no.

Sure enough, he found the guide, and pinpointed exactly the chocolate he wanted. It was a good choice, and he knew it.

Touche, friend. Touche. If that’s the way you want to play, then fine…

Despite him finding the Rosetta Stone for chocolates, I pressed on, sure that my plotting would succeed. However, as I went from person to person, they seemed so happy, so grateful, that I started to forget about the chocolate being my precious. As more people chose, I chided them to take more! I was feeling giddy from GIVING! I began to relate to Santa Claus. (My euphoria may have been the chocolate high from already having eaten eight to ten pieces myself, but that’s beside the point. Not even relevant. The half dozen pieces I knew would be left over? Even less worthy of mention.)

In the end, most of the chocolate was gone, and I took home only the box, because it was made of velvet, and was Awesome, and still smelled like chocolate. Which is Awesome. Much like Sharing, which is the true moral of the Sustainability Chocolate Story.

Sustainability organization, what a magnificent gift you have given us.

Party on, sustainability.

Party on.**

  

Quotes this issue brought to you by *John Cusack, High Fidelity and **Wayne Campbell and Garth Algar, Wayne’s World 1 and Wayne’s World 2.

What I Have Been Doing at Work for the Last Year+

My new supervisor is sending out an announcement to the region soon that my role within Haworth has changed, and she asked me for a few snippets of my history with Haworth. I thought it would be a good chance to let the family know what I’ve been up to! There have been a few different roles over the last year and change:

  • began in Shanghai as a Sales Intern in August ’11. Highlight was working the China Open and the Shanghai Masters tennis tournaments
  • became Client Experience Executive in October ’11 overseeing Lunch n Learns with architects and designers, organizing events with the creative and design community in Shanghai, engaging with HaworthxFriends partners
  • transitioned to A&D Manager and relocated to Hong Kong in April ’12, engaging architects and designers in the market, building relationships, organizing L&Ls, Knowledge Series events, Haworth parties
  • and, now, transitioning to Assistant Alliance Manager on the HaworthxFriends team in October ’12, liaising between our sales offices in the Asia Pacific & Emerging Markets region (China/Hong Kong, Australia, India, Latin America, Singapore/Malaysia, Japan/Korea/Taiwan) and our xFriends partners (in the UK, Shanghai, and New Zealand currently), supporting requests from all over the region, getting experience on website work and InDesign.

I wanted this to be my announcement picture, but, unfortunately, request denied!

Psalm 143

God, I hope you can hear me.

Please listen close, ’cause I can barely whisper as I ask you for mercy.

Answer me, out of how faithful you are, and out of how good you are.

Please don’t judge me, your servant, ’cause there’s nobody alive who can stand up before you.

 

The enemy has pursued my soul, and my life has been crushed into the ground.

I feel like I’ve been sitting in darkness, like somebody long since dead.

After all this, my spirit is weak inside me.

My heart can’t take any more, and its beat is just a murmur.

 

I remember the old times, and I think about all I’ve seen you do.

I ponder the good, beautiful things you have made.

I’m stretching my hands out to you now.

My soul is thirsting to death, like I’ve been lost in the desert, and you are the only thing which can bring me life.

 

Answer fast, God, ’cause honestly, I’m weary and I can’t go on much longer.

Don’t leave me alone here, or I’m no better than someone blindly speeding straight off the final precipice.

Let the morning come and tell me of your love, which never, ever fails or gives up on me.

Because, in spite of it all, it’s in you that I trust.

Make my stubborn, foolish heart know the way I should go,

‘Cause I’m pretty much just falling backwards into you.

 

Save me from all this darkness, God, ’cause I’m running to you for help.

Teach me how to do this, all that you want me to do,

Because you are the one I love and want to follow!

Let your Spirit come down and lead me to some solid and level ground.

 

God, because of how good your name is, save my life.

In your goodness, get me out of this mess – I’m at the bottom and I can’t get out.

In your love, which never, ever fails or gives up on me, you will destroy the dark around me,

All the dark within and without which wars against my soul.

For no matter how far I fall, or stray, or run,

No matter how dark it gets, or how hard the bottom is when it hits,

I am yours, and I will go to none other.

I heard once of a man with a stubborn clock. It was quite nicely designed, though it had seen its fair share of scuffs over the years. The size was somehow off, as it was too large and ungainly for a wrist or even a pocket, and could only be sat upon a table or a dresser, despite being too small to easily tell the time from a distance. That is, if it was telling the time at all; over the years, something in the internal mechanisms had gone awry and made the clock turn stubborn, always pulling itself forward or straining itself backward.

The man was quite fond of the clock, despite all its questionable and even troublesome qualities, and he was always polishing it and winding it back up each day. It was a curious thing, the stubbornness of the little device, and the man would alway grin to himself as he woke up and patiently wound the hands back into the correct position. The clock would push against the winding till the last moment, resisting like the tuning of a tight guitar string until, finally set back right, it would get right on with ticking along, seeming relieved to be working properly again. It would go on like that, ticking properly for a day or two or even, in one rare instance, up to a week. Generally, however, little time passed before it would rush forward again, or slow to a stubborn crawl. The man would grin to himself, wind it back up, and set it back up on display with the rest of his beautiful little clocks.

Breaking the fourth wall – what a fantastic idea! Is there incredible wisdom in that, in the many possibilities of what it could be seen as?

1) Making a mockery (in some sense) of Story, which authors work so hard to craft. Is that one of the pinnacle’s of an author’s wisdom, to mock their own creation? If breaking that unwritten rule, that one should separate audience and story, is a mockery, what does it reveal? Does it show the story to be inferior to the point which the author wishes to express?

2) Revealing the wisdom of the author in declaring to the audience that they themselves are an inseparable part of the very story which they, moments prior, believed themselves only to be observing. Much wisdom can flow to the audience from the contemplation of this declaration. Do the observers become characters, or do the characters transcend fiction and, in gazing toward truth, become equals to those who observe their play in silence?

2b) Does this mock the audience? The character reveals her awareness of her own fictionality – this can be used in several ways. Does she tell them, You believed yourselves only to be observing a story. Ha! I have been making observations on you instead, and have shown you something of what you are!

3) What question is meant to be asked in all of this?

What potential there is!

Trees

Strong, twisted, wizened trees withstand fierce storms and weather long winters. They gift shade to many and bring smiles to the kids who climb them. They give their breath that we humans may breathe. They are great, beautiful, noble in an unassuming way. Saplings see these and desire to be so; though young, they can scarcely wait to grow so tall, to be strong and wise. But they cannot yet weather the fierce storms or the long winters, and to be subjected to such tempests and seasons would be lethal. At the risk of drowning themselves, they cannot drink the massive droughts which the large oaks guzzle with ease. They cannot withstand the heat of the sun as it strikes them, the light which the massive trees can endure with their thick trunks and canopies of leaves. They must allow their roots time to grow, their limbs time to reach, their leaves time to spread, their forms time to be sculpted. The training comes from the wind, the rain, the sun, the cold and the heat, the regeneration and the decline.

Does the strong beauty of the old trees come from the mystery of all they have seen? from enduring the many storms and winters? from joyfully giving of their breath that others may breathe?* from enduring the heat of the sun in order to give shade to those who would come requesting shelter and a peaceful rest? from the honor of joining limbs with many others to create forests and all that they contain?

I’ve been thinking about trees, forests, a lot lately. There is much to learn from them. More wisdom and stories than anyone could gain – treasure beyond comprehension! So much hidden, awaiting contemplation, awaiting someone to ask, that they may tell their stories.

*I wonder about this especially in Hong Kong, as the trees along the spine of the island (the “Dragon’s Back”) breathe in air which  is polluted and poisonous to them. I like to think about them doing that knowingly, as they view giving us clean air as one of their main missions, despite our pollution of the air. It is in that idea, at least, that I see God in it all:  the trees, a reflection of his unconditional love and generosity; the environment, a complex web of mutually life-giving relationships between all of creation; men and women, the ones meant to be caretakers, and partakers in the beauty of it all. I like that thought, of a pure place, something closer, perhaps, to what it was, and maybe what it will be. I am tremblingly inspired by this unspeakable beauty, which is among God’s masterpieces:  Regeneration, Restoration, Renewal. This is the trademark of his kingdom coming. It is a contant process in my own life, internally. I love to watch its mark on a grander, external scale, on communities, or entire cities, and peoples, and nature.

The best lessons have meaning in many contexts, and can be learned over and over again each time they are applied in a new situation, revealing some new facet of the wisdom they contain. I have a friend who is a warrior, and he said once that “One must sharpen his spear before he goes into battle.”

“I liked it better the way it was before, that third chapter,” Maria told him.

“It was, perhaps, written better,” Glen replied. “But I had to change it. I have been given a story to tell, and I must be faithful to it. The new one is closer to the true story.”

“What do you mean?” She inquired. “Change it as you will. It is your story, after all.”

“There are many who would believe a story to be so, created by we the crafters and ours to mold as we see fit, bringing to light something entertaining, or enlightening; sobering, or inspiring; exciting, or tragic; and on and on. Others believe that even the stories which are given us, and the ideas and wisdom behind them, are inspired, something divine; perhaps, some are even gifts to us from God himself. I am of this latter school of thought. I tend to think the characters, the plot, the setting, and especially the wisdom in it all, is something gifted to me, and something I must reverently and faithfully record and express. Not many stories are given, and the beautiful ones are fewer still; thus, to be gifted such wisdom is to be called. It is to be tasked with giving flesh to the souls of ideas, these shards of wisdom, which must be cloaked in stories for those with opened eyes to discover, and in so finding, draw meaning and life and wisdom from, which these recipients will spread further.”

Maria was already bored with his response. He tended to be unnecessarily verbose, even when responding to trivialities.

“But don’t worry. The ending is the same as I described to you before. There is hope, at the end of this one.” He smiled and went back to writing, and she returned her gaze to the sea.

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