Monthly Archives: November 2009

The Amazing Spirit of Living, Proselytizing, and English to Chinese Translations

Yesterday I went to see Nick Vujicic, a young man who was born without arms and legs, speak at the CUHK Chapel.  My classmate Evert had mentioned it to me last week, and at first, I had no desire to attend, but after a day or two, I figured I might as well join in on what would be a unique opportunity.  I was not sure what to expect, but had only heard that this limbless man was a motivational speaker, and figured I could use some motivation.

The stunning visual presence of a fully grown man without arms or legs really forces you to rethink what it means to struggle.  Even more stunning is this man’s emotional presence, as he is simply beaming with life and love.

I really appreciated the bulk of his talk, reminding us to let go of the suffering we largely self-impose on ourselves, and look towards greater goals in life.  I was actually so moved, there were tears in my eyes.  It made me realize that I have been suffering quite a lot in the past few years, still tormented by the loss of Mom.  I try hard to move forward in life, and I think I’ve done a halfway decent job, but at the same time, healing takes so much time.  I wonder when it can ever stop being this painful.

Nick spoke about how at 8 years old he wanted to kill himself, and at 10, he actually tried to!  It reminded me of my most immature thoughts on losing Mom.  The first year of her diagnosis, I’d declared that there would be no way I could live without her, and I’d just as well kill myself if she lost her battle against cancer.  It was a very naive notion, and I’m grateful that I grew the strength to overcome it. Yet today I still find myself feeling sorry for myself, and that is something I still need to grow past.

Living to experience the great gift of life and to contribute to the entirety of this world should not be taken so lightly.  It’s an amazing gift that we often forget to appreciate.  Seeing this limbless man exude such incredible fervor and energy was quite inspirational.

I’m glad I attended the talk, but of course I ended up walking out before it completely finished, as Nick began to proselytize a bit more than I’m comfortable with.  Nick spoke about faith, and more specifically, a faith connected to the Christian notion of God.  Now I’m all for people finding faith, and the whole concept to me is quite admirable — that one can take such an intangible and unprovable notion and use it to motivate himself to do such greatness is remarkable.  I’m also all for people sharing how faith has impacted their lives, and thence influencing others to seek out faith.  However, I am not impressed when one, so steeped in his own amazement with faith, insists on impressing upon others the very same methods.

Firstly, I am not entirely all that religious nor faithful in many ways.  I do claim to be a practicing Buddhist, but in many ways am very ignorant about my own religion.  I use Buddhism as my vehicle for faith, for entrusting that there are greater plans for me, or at least mankind and not me specifically, and that with diligence and persistent goodness, good things will come to me and to others.

Secondly, I am not terribly well-versed in the Christian faith in spite of being brought up in the United States.  As any of my sisters would tell you, I usually shunned any Christian media, considering it a shameless act of proselytizing.  I have, however, started to try to understand it better, and at least I watched the Ten Commandments in its entirety last year!  But I have to say, things about Jesus are rather freaky to me.  I hope I don’t offend anyone, but check it out — Nick said that he felt compelled to follow God because Jesus did the most remarkable thing in the world — he defied death by coming back to life.  Now why on earth anyone would want to follow such a person is beyond me.  I’d be completely freaked out and scared (to death) of any such person!  It’s that which would indicate devilry to me!

I see death as a natural part of life.  We don’t always die at the most timely moments, and indeed, one can say there never is one — but just as there is life, there must be death.  It is not reversible, it is not predictable, it is not controllable.  Death happens, and to reverse it would seem so entirely counter to anything normal to me.  Honestly, if I met someone whom I saw die come back to life, I’d run.

Further, Nick explained how it was his mission to come meet God in Heaven with others, and that if he came alone, it would disappoint God.  I’m not sure if that sounds like a benevolent person, but rather a greedy person.  I supposed if you think of all the people who did not also go to Heaven as being un-saved and suffering, then God isn’t all that bad for wanting everyone up there with him, but being that the conditions to being in Heaven and away from Hell is to “find God,” whatever that means, I’m not sure I feel safe following this guy.  Seems pretty sketchy to me.

I’m just trying to put forth my natural instincts towards Jesus.  I’m not saying Buddhism is much better, and it is also a religion I struggle with.  I’m not sure how I feel about some of the theories of Pure Land and meditation, but I do agree with the notion that life is a state of flux, and that it’s always the material things that somehow bring us down.  On the other hand, I can’t seem to grapple the notion of also letting go the immaterial things – like love for your family and friends in order to achieve Nirvana.

And now the final thought on this talk — there was a Cantonese translator at the event, and I thought he did a stand-out job.  I was really impressed at how quickly and accurately he was able to work, especially since Chinese and English can be so incongruent in terms of structure.  Often you can’t even begin to translate English into Chinese without at least hearing the entire sentence first, since Chinese often has a reverse sentence structure from English.

That the translator was able to come up also with so many apt words in Chinese for what Nick was saying in English was also incredible.  There really does exist a body of words in Chinese or English that cannot be directly translated into the other, and sometimes it may take more or fewer words to express a thought. Similarly, I was amused with the very slight inconsistencies presented by the challenge of such translation, and seeing how neither language can ever be entirely exactly translated.

So it was great fun watching this skillful translator, and also learning how to use words I’d already known to fit the English words.

Constantly Learning: Banking/Banking in Asia

Perhaps the title of this post will put you to sleep, but with Hong Kong being as finance-centered as it is, you simply can’t help but be steeped in the stuff. I recall noticing early on that the free newspapers they hand out at the subway had far more pages in the finance/business sections than the AM or Metro ever did back in NY (and only just one page is devoted to Hollywood here in HK). Just about every ex-pat I know here works in finance in some shape or form (straight-up bankers and traders, accountants for financial companies or accounting firms focused on financial clients, IT, HR — all for finance-focused companies, and if you’re a lawyer, you do something in corporate finance). Every now and then you may meet someone who works outside of the confines of “finance,” which, obviously, in itself can be a fairly broad term, but the point is, you can’t seem to avoid it here in HK.

And so, when it came to looking for a full-time job, it was a no-brainer to look towards the finance industry as a source. Unfortunately, while I’ve worked for some of the world’s biggest hedge funds, banks, accounting firms, and such, my experience is not exactly financial, and as a litigator, it is going to take some convincing. And so it was time to hit the books – quite literally too.

I’ve been doing as much learning as I can. I’ve sought out as many informational interviews with alumni or other contacts, even folks I’ve met at social events, to learn more about this murky giant called “finance.” I’ve bought a few books on the industry to familiarize myself more with CDS’s, CDO’s, bonds, puts, and other such jargon, trying my best to watch Bloomberg and take a peek at the FT to keep up with as much financial news as possible. Just learning, learning, learning. It seems there is always more to learn, and in my usual fashion, I get upset with myself when I don’t feel like I’m doing enough. (Perhaps I’m just too Asian in that sense.)

The other night I attended a dinner organized by my alumni association where Stephen Green, a chairman of HSBC, was going to speak about Banking in Asia in the 21st Century. What a grand topic. In 20 minutes or so, he gave us a rundown of the past, the present, and the future of banking in Asia. Strangely, I found it quite fascinating.

We all wonder what might be our “calling” in life, and I’m not saying I have found one yet, but rather, that I lack one. Yes, I know I’m working on learning Mandarin (which I’ve actually upped quite a bit by engaging with language exchange partners from the Mainland — more on that another time), but having no “job,” I don’t quite have that sense of being productive with a day-to-day preoccupation that somehow pays the bills while contributing to the world/world economy.

Even though many of us don’t think our jobs mean much to the world, we are all in an interconnected community, and yes, every little thing does count. Right now, I’m not really engaged with it, and am just involved with myself really — so yes, I am looking for a job to also reconnect with the world.

Anyway, back to banking and Mr. Green’s interesting talk. Mr. Green recently wrote a book on ethical banking, Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality, and an Uncertain World. The title basically says it all, and it’s a timely book in these mad times, where greed somehow blinded everyone — the bankers who devised the CDOs, the predatorial mortgage guys, the construction companies who built more homes than could be sold, the homeowners, the regulators, the rating companies — seemingly everyone!  And while I haven’t read the book yet, it did remind me of Prof. Derrick Bells’ Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth, in which Prof. Bell addresses a similar theme in the world of law.

Lawyers have always gotten an insanely bad rep for what they do.  Even though there are obviously several selfless ones (all the non-profit organizations run by lawyers, legal aids out there, etc. etc.), somehow people like to focus on the so-called bad ones or obsess over how much lawyers charge for their services.  What I find most annoying is how people will peg lawyers as being “evil” for representing anyone charged with a crime.  First off, our country practices innocence until proven guilty and second, it guarantees (at least in theory) everyone the right to his day in court with representation.  I say the lawyer who does represent a murderer or rapist is even more noble, because it sure ain’t easy advocating on behalf of someone vile and loathsome in the name of justice for all.  However, such representation is absolutely vital for the continuation of a just society.

But these days, it seems my profession may now have taken a step down on the ladder of hate, and bankers have overtaken lawyers in that department (hooray… sort of).  Yet bankers equally go as unsung heroes too.  Wall Street really is just as important as Main Street, and the two are clearly more interconnected than ever.  History has neglected to highlight the importance of great financiers of the past, who helped to make several businesses, large and small, possible.  Banks have been the backbone of the American dream, and without them, and the tireless efforts of many bankers, we forget where we would be.  And now, as Mr. Green reminds us in his latest book, we need to be mindful of upholding those practices at the highest level.

I suppose I digress at many points in this post, but it is just so hard to summarize all the information and impressions I’ve been digesting over the past several weeks on banking and finance. Basically, as I look towards this new industry as a source of productivity for myself, I see so much possibility.

I see an area that is in great need of revitalization and reform (which no doubt is in the forefront of many legal/compliance officers’ minds).  I also see an opportunity to be part of something special and important – especially here in Asia.  Mr. Green explained how Asia had always been ultra-conservative with spending, representing the world’s savers rather the consumers; and the West has traditionally been the opposite – spending more than they actually saved.  And with that, Asia was far less scathed with the economic crisis of late 2008-2009, bouncing back far more easily.  Plus, Asia, which by no means is taking over the place of New York or London as a financial center, is now finally coming into its own, and will have a say in this world.

To me that is all so exciting, and here in Hong Kong – hell yeah I want to be a part of it!

 

Month TWO: Stop the Bitching Already/A Story About My Mother

Second month in Hong Kong!  How the time has flown, and I noticed that I’ve mostly been complaining of late, — whining, whinging, wishing, longing, crying, moaning… too much of that and not enough appreciating, smiling, laughing, exploring, wondering, investigating.  What’s wrong with me?  I knew this would happen too, and had warned and berated myself several times, yet it is just so damned hard.

Without the energy of my true loved ones, I find myself in such a weakened state, always giving myself a hard time. Gah!

OK now! I’m going to start to focus far more on the positive….

The other day, as I was whining to a friend, he responded with:
Remember helen keller…security is an illusion, life is but an adventure or it is nothing at all…

I nearly fell off my chair when I read that! Ok, not quite.  The thing is, not too many months earlier, when I was similarly wondering what I was doing with my life, I happened to be in D.C. wandering the Smithsonian when I walked into some exhibit on great American women…. There was Helen Keller, and while we all know her story, I had never realized just how much she’d accomplished in spite of having lost her sight and hearing at such an early age.  Not only did she learn to communicate, but she’s written several books, founded her own school, married, graduated from Radcliffe, the list goes on.  I remembered thinking then, god, if Helen Keller can do all that at such a handicap, I really can’t complain.  I am still so blessed with so many wonderful people in my life, and I’ve taken what Mom’s left me and gotten a chance to really cultivate it into something useful for me and my family – so really, what is there to cry about?

Same goes for the situation now, and when Zeyar sent me that simple quotation, I felt strangely lifted.  I don’t think it was just coincidence that Helen Keller showed up again when I was feeling afraid.

The full quote is actually:
Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature…. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
Helen Keller, The Open Door (1957)(found on http://www.quotationspage.com/quotes/Helen_Keller/)

I’ve largely complained how all the uncertainty in my life has been the cause of my grief, but as Helen Keller puts it — anything opposite of this is not real either.  This is what life is — life is never certain, and it will always be challenging.

Why am I such a whiner?! I mean, look at me — I’m young, able-bodied, financially supported, and I’m in an amazing city, getting in touch with myself, my roots, my past, and looking for a future.

This past weekend I also met with an old childhood friend of my mother’s, who had gone to high school here in Hong Kong with her what must have been over 40 years ago.  Auntie Monica, as we call her, lives part-time in HK, but mostly in Toronto.  She looked absolutely fabulous for over 60, and tells me that she and her husband (who recently turned 81) still love to travel and see the many many friends she has made over the years — not unlike me.

Talking to her was easy.  I knew I could trust her.  Mom had very few friends, if any.  Really, she only regularly talked to her younger sister, who unfortunately pre-deceased her in 2000.  Monica would travel a lot for work, and whenever she was in town, she’d call up Mom and they’d meet up.  Monica seemed to think they met up some time in 2005 or 2006, but since Mom died in 2005, it must have been 2004 at the soonest.

Monica mentioned how she felt Mom was so miserable since  she and Dad split up.  It just tore me up to hear this, and the saddest thing is, she was probably right.  I know that Mom derived a lot of joy and love from raising the four of us, but ultimately she was a very lonely woman.  She was betrayed by the one person she promised her everything to, and the only person she ever confided her feelings to died too soon. Mom also rarely indulged in anything for herself, always thinking of us and what she could do with or for us.

I hate thinking that Mom felt this way.  I wish she had lived long enough to know me as an adult whom she could have shared her feelings with.  I always admired how strong she was to shield her children from all the sorrow and ire of her divorce, although that didn’t mean she didn’t inexplicably yell at us out of a particularly foul mood caused by the pain on occasion.  Yet no matter what, somehow I still believe she was fulfilled by the four of us.  I think on the whole she was happy because of us, but her life was most certainly not complete….

She’d always wished to travel, drive a Mercedes, invest in just one more building so that she could justify hiring a managing agent and enjoy all the fruits of her labor.

Maybe I’m here to make up for all this lost opportunity.  We can’t look back.

Onto month 3.