Archive for the 1 Category

The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination

Posted in 1 on August 4, 2008 by shiying86

I’m awfully lacking in updates. Due to laziness and busy-ness. In short, I had a marvelous holiday, plunged my head in Bodhi Nite 2008, coping with a new semester of Design Studio with one of Australia’s greatest architects. 

But for now, munch on this:

J.K. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter book series, delivers her Commencement Address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association.


Full text:

So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:
As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.
I wish you all very good lives.
Thank you very much.

President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates.

The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I’ve experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world’s best-educated Harry Potter convention.

Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.

Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.

Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.

I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.

They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.

I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.

I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.

What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.

At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.

I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.

However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.

I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.

And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.

Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.

But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I’ve used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.


Best of Winter Retreat 2008

Posted in 1 on July 15, 2008 by shiying86

Snippets of some of the best moments captured…

Group Photo at Sunnataram Forrest Monastery 2008

There was hard work…

Photo by Cheng Tuck

More hardwork…

Very hard work…

Mingling with nature…

Majestic Monument…

Another group photo…

Dana-The Act of generosity and giving; Alms round…

yummy food..

We attempted ‘mountains’…

Climbed to the depths of valleys…

Explored caves…


The oh-so-funny sketch…

Tai Chi…

Cleaning the mess…


Simple joys…

Unexpected tears…

Some a lil’ frightened..

Some Tree lovers…


For friendship…

For peace…

For Tranquility…


For inner growth…

Kamma: Bring Your Own-Do It Yourself

It was an amazing journey for myself, I hope it became an unforgettable and invaluable experience for all…

My last project!

Posted in 1 on June 15, 2008 by shiying86

Now i’m done! Joyful…



Posted in 1, Art/Inspiration/Creativity on June 15, 2008 by shiying86

For the above word, i’ll only put up pretty pictures. 😉

So much Truth in this..

Posted in 1 on May 13, 2008 by shiying86

 Haven’t been even remotely mentioning architecture here, cos’ it has consumed so much of me, I have second thoughts on mentioning it here again. Will probably take some chaotic shots soon, since it is THE time of the semester. Counting One week to Design presentation: Museum of Architecture Australia.

Randomly got this off the net.

If you are architecture students you’ve probably experienced:
-the taste of wood glue
-changes in your vocabulary: homework to project, ball to sphere, etc
-you don’t understand how somebody can spend less than $20 at the supplies store
-you hate people telling you “go to sleep” or “do you still have a lot of work?”
-your friends and you don’t have the same concept of work “oh, well do it right before class”
-you’ve slept more than 20 straight hours on weekends
-you can easily discuss with authority the effects of caffeine on different drinks
-no matter the effort you put in a project, somebody will always say “why don’t you add this�? or “why don’t you change this here�? or “i think that…but…yeah, its ok�?
-you’ve heard all your ipod songs in a week
-you aren’t seen in public without bags under your eyes
-whenever you get invited somewhere, it is followed by “or do you have a lot of homework?�?
-you’ll dance ymca with a choreography without a drop of alcohol in your system
-you write down a quick message with rapidographs, lead holders, markers and ink
-you constantly make up excuses for courses that are not design related why you didn’t do your work
-you have more pictures of landscapes and places than of people
-your worst nightmare consists of not finishing a project
-someone once called you “lazy�? and you wanted them murdered
-you can live without human contact, sunlight, food, but if your plotter’s ink runs out… chaos!!!
-when somebody lends you a Bic pen you look down at it
-you don’t care about sports cars, your favorite car is the one where you can put in your model and your huge computer
-you design spectacular things without the idea of the cost
-you have the modern mark: a blister in your palm’s hand for the constant use of your mouse
-everybody tells you how they admire your work, “but there is no money for it�?
-you’ve gained the ability to sleep in whatever surface: pencils, keyboards, backpacks, your studio mates, food, etc
-you always have the idea that your project will always be recognized
-when you finally have free time to go out you keep thinking “who was the idiot that designed the restaurant’s bathroom?�? “who designed this menu?�? or “who designed this [chair, table, lighting, fork, etc]�?
-you’ve been at many sunrises, yet you’ve never seen one

Branko Stankovic & Jason McGee posted this… I thought it was awesome!

top 10 reasons why to date an architect

1. all night long, all night strong.
2. we are damn good with our hands.
3. if we can commit to chipboard, relationships should be easy.
4. you should see the things we errect.
5. use to doing things over and over again.
6. finishing early never happenes.
7. we know the true meaning of interpretation
8. creative positioning.
9. work well in groups
10. entry and passage are always exciting.

Architects anyone?

Revisiting Childhood

Posted in 1 on May 10, 2008 by shiying86

Do you miss those times where you actually don’t have to worry or care about anything?

How much of your childhood do you actually remember?

When i tried visualising the happy parts of when i was young, i couldn’t exactly remember anything. And no, I have no amnesia. Of course, I remember growing up, going school, the house I used to live in etc. In other words, I remember routines, but I cant seemed to recalled exact happy moments-those that you laughed so hard ur tummy hurts, or when you felt so loved by family and friends it just couldn’t get better. The event itself fail to come to my mind in a speed of light. You try it.

I know those time exist, but its been locked up in some dusty attic in this mind of mind that I had such difficulty finding the stairs leading to it. Those dreams, aspirations and belief that I was Superman and, nothing, absolutely nothing is impossible.

Now, we’re so cynical, that we just think that it’s impossible that nothing’s impossible. Too much worries, hurt and pain got in the way. So much love for ourselves ( or rather myself) has been lost that its hard to child-like again. And I don’t mean throwing mud at your friend or watching cartoons all day without caring about work-there’s a huge gap between child-like and childish.

All Images from Anne Geddes

There is also a difference between being mature and being a cynic. Something we don’t usually think much, but the act of being a cynic sometimes deters us from doing things we really want to do. “Can’t do this, I’m too old for it.” or *snigger* “I always wanted to do this, but I’m too old for it now.” Wait 10 years later, and your even older for it.

Here’s a kid’s story that tells of living the moment, such simple tale but profound meaning. I probably heard of it when i was young. I can’t remember 😉 but 10 years from now (if i live) I hoped i could tell it again.


Peter and the Magic Thread

Peter was a lively little boy. Everyone loved him: his family, histeachers and his friends. But he did have one weakness.

Peter could never live in the moment. He had not learned to enjoy the process of life. WHen he was in school, he dreamed of being outside playing. When he was outside playing he dreamed of his summer vacation. Peter constantly daydreamed, never taking the time to savor the special moments that filled his days.

One morning, Peter was out walking in a forest near his home. Feelingtired, he decided to rest on a patch of grass and eventually dozed off. After only a few minutes of deep sleep, he heard someone calling his name. ‘Peter! Peter!’ came the shrill voice from above. As ht slowly opened his eyes he was startled to see a striking woman standing above him. She must have been over a hundred years old and her snow-white hair dangled well below her shoulders like a matted blanket of wool. In this woman’s wrinkled hand was a magical little ball with a hole in the center and out of the long hole dangleda long, golden thread.

“Peter, this is the thread of your life. If you pull the thread just a bit, an hour will pass in seconds. If you pull a little harder, whole days will pass in minutes. And if you pull with all your might, months-even years-will pass by in days.’ Peter grew very excited at this discovery. ‘I’d like to have it if I may?’ he asked. The elderly woman quickly reach down and gave the ball with the magic thread to the young boy.

The next day, Peter was sitting in the classroom feeling restless and bored. Suddenly he remembered his new toy. Asmhe pulled a bit of the golden thread, he quickly found himself at home, playing in his garden. Realizing the power of the magic thread, Peter soon grew tired of being a schoolboy and longed to be a teenager, with all the excitement that phase of life would bring. SO again he pulled the ball and pulled hard on the golden thread.

Suddenly he was a teenager with a very pretty young girlfriend named Elise. But Peter still wasn’t content. He had never learned to enjoy the moment and to explore the simple wonders of every stage of his life. Instead, he dreamed of being  an adult. So again he pulle don the thread and many years whizzed by in an instant. Now he found that he had been transformed into a middke-aged adult. Elise was now his wife and Peter was surrounded with a housefull of kids. But Peter also noticed something else. His once jet black hair had started to turn grey. And his once youthful mother whom he loved so dearly had grown old and frail. Yet Peter still could not live in the moment. He had never learned to ‘live in the now’. So, once again, he pulled on the magic thread and waited for the changes to appear,

Peter found that he was a ninety yeat-old man. His thick dark hair had turned white as snow and his beautiful young wife Elise had also grown old and had passed away a few years earlier. His wonderful children had grown up and left home to lead lives of their own. For the first time in his entire life, Peter realized that he had not taken the time to embrace teh wonders of living. He had never gone fishing with his kids or taken a moonlight stroll with Elise. He had never planted a garden or read those wonderful books his mother had loved to read. Instead, he had hurried through life, never resting to see all that was good along the way.

Peter became very sad at this discovery. He decided to go out to the forrest where he used to walk as a boy to clear his head and warm his spirit. As he entered the forest, he noticed that the little saplings of his childhood had grown into mighty oaks, The forest itself had matured into a paradise of nature. He lay down on a small patch of grass and fell into deep slumber. After only a minute, he heard someone calling out to him. He looked up in astonishment to see that it was none other than the old woman who had given him the ball with the magic olden thread many years earlier.

‘Have you enjoyed my gift?’

“At first it was fun but now i hate it. My whole life has passed before my eyeswithout giving me the chance to enjoy it. SUre, there would have been sad times as well as great times but I haven’t had the chance to experience either. I feel empty inside. I have missed to gift of living.’

‘You are very ungrateful,’ said the old woman.’Still I will give you just one last wish.’

“I’d like to go back to being a schoolboy and live my life over again.’

He went back to sleep and woke up to see his mother next to him. SHe looked young, healthy and radiant. He had returned to his former life.

Peter dashed out of his bed and began to live the way he had hoped, He went on to live a full life, one rich with many delights, joys and triumphs, but it akk started when he stopped sacrificing the present for the future and began to live in the moment.


Unfortunately, we live in a real world, not of fairy tales. We don’t get to live second time over. Today is the day you wake up to your dreams.

Burned out

Posted in 1 on April 30, 2008 by shiying86

I’m burning out, and this blog is turning into ashes soon, despite the fact that it never even ‘caught on fire’ in the first place.

I’m burned out from 3 years of late nightS.

I’m  burned out cos’ I no longer have the stamina.

I’m burned out, as the body is giving way.

Worst ever, I’m burned out cos’ it feels as though I’m losing myself.

Narrative of a shitty weekend begins with lots of submission, what’s so suprising, you say?

The mind is challenged in many ways when the body feels broken, the environment seems less optismistic and you don’t even have time look back and reflect.

From this…

I’m practising what I call “Touch n’ Go”, I attempt to do most things, but end up touching the surfaces and then i gotta run–once again all for the sake of my marriage to architecture. I sometimes wonder where i ever mustered all the strength, time and energy just going along with it. I know it’s only part of life, I know I don’t own it, even the word passion doesn’t exactly justify anything when your whole body just aches from a whole weekend long of sleep deprivation. And the fact that there is a whole long road more to go.

To this, after 10 hours straight on in the labs without budging. 3D max 2008 with Vray render. But I have the most awesome housemates who fed me when i was going to swallow the mouse from hunger.

I’ve ask myself again, again and ever again 3rd year in a row: Is it worth it? Probably not, but being involve in such a objectively subjective artistic field lends itself to be defined by anyone. Crap could just turn out to be a high distinction work and good work could just be boring. At the same time, there is a whole new language to refine; concepts to be thought through; functionality to be rationalised; flexibility to be bend and considered. In other words, solving ‘life’ problems.

A computer crash, whole shit-loads of dramas, buckets of tears and an extra no-sleep day later: A similar but fuzzy image produced.

I loved the quote: Whatever is finished, is done. by one of my favorite monks. But with things being finish, it’s largely my call. And in design, finish is when submission is the very next minute. Criticisms are harsh, but the harshest of them all would always be ourself.  I love what I do; and I truly believe in spaces coming alive and art and architecture to help resolve many problems in life. But as with everything, the cake doesn’t come with a sweet icing.

End results: One painful weekend with the Greatest lesson of all: NEVER save on Uni computer desktop. When the PC crashes, so does your heart. (Just for my own record: 5am Labs with 4G Ram PC + me occupying 4 coms for 1-3hours rendering per image. Classic.  A new personal record which i reckon will be beaten for the next assignment.

And that’s the story of “A corner to love”.

It is also true that in worst situations, it’ll squeeze out the essence. What doesn’t break me, makes me stronger. So thank you for all of life’s bitchiness.