IntuitiveWu is back!

After a long hiatus, IntuitiveWu is back! You can book an intuitive reading, listen to the Creating Abundance Guided Meditation, or check out the growing collection of over 60 personal growth articles. Check back often for updates :)

Stop worrying about money

Looking back to every time in my life when I’ve scrimped to save a few dollars here and there, it’s never made much of a difference in the end. This isn’t to say you should spend recklessly, but that you should avoid making big sacrifices that seriously compromise the quality of your life in order to save a few bucks.

I don’t like living with roommates. And yet on at least two occasions in the last five years I decided to move in with a roommate in order to save money on rent. My savings were in the ballpark of $400 a month, or $5,000 a year.

$5,000 sounds like a lot of money to save every year so many people would say “Hell yeah, save the money and live with a roommate!”

Both times I made the decision to live with a roommate were disasters that wound up costing me more than $5,000. First of all I suffered a hugely negative impact on my quality of life because I don’t like sharing my living space – I’m happy as a clam when my living room is mine alone. Secondly, I completely stopped working on my side businesses because I felt too cramped and depressed being restricted to working in my bedroom. Hence I lost more than $400 a month.

Most people who worry about money are generally stressing about somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 a month. It seems to be a magic number. If they had an extra $500 a month, they could afford live alone. Or they could afford to eat out and go out with friends. Or they could go on a nice vacation.

One of my friends rarely ever goes out, and when he does he only brings a $10 bill and forces his friends to tip for him. Another friend might soon be forced to make the tear-jerking decision to give up his own place and move in with a roommate. He has so much stuff I don’t know how he’s going to pull that off without some major downsizing. All to save $500 a month.

That may seem like a lot of money, but let’s take a step back. The world’s economic production is worth about $6 trillion dollars a month. Your $500 a month is an infinitesimally small slice of that. It barely qualifies as a rounding error. With just a small amount of effort and some clever thinking, you can increase your share of that massive pie.

You could tutor a couple of students a week in math. You could do one intuitive reading a week. You could take on more responsibilities at work and earn more salary or overtime pay. You could get a second job – preferably one that pays above minimum wage. ;)

I’ll bet my left testicle that any smart, motivated person could make an extra $500 a month if they wanted to. It’s not rocket science.

So why don’t more people just do it and stop worrying about money?

My friend who may have to move complains about not having time. But it doesn’t take long to figure out that this is total bullshit, especially when you’re friends with him on Facebook. He posts several news articles a day, sometimes several in an hour – so he’s not that busy at work. He frequently posts pictures of himself eating out with friends – so he has both the time and the money to eat out. He proudly shows that he bought the latest Diablo game and spent all weekend playing it – yet more proof that he has plenty of time on his hands.

Maybe he thinks there’s nothing he can do, so he’s resigned himself to his fate. Yet he’s stressed out… over $500 a month.

Life is short. It’s a tragedy to be constrained by a small sum of money when so many people are flourishing in abundance. My friend in the example above isn’t a high school drop-out. He went to college and has an MBA. If anyone should be able to figure out some creative way to boost his income by a few hundred dollars a month, it’s him.

I was $30 away from bankruptcy when I was 21 years old. I needed $500 more a month, and when push came to shove, I made that – and much more. I’d argue that I’m no smarter than the average person reading this. Cue the old cliché that if I can do it, so can anyone else. Is the challenge of making an extra $500 a month beyond you?

Not every problem is easily solved, but of all problems, money is one of the most easily solvable. It’s just a number.

It kills me to see people waste so much time and energy stressing over insignificant amounts of money. It takes so much energy to save a few dollars. Think of it this way – it’s a lot easier to double your income than to cut your expenses to zero. Only the former is actually possible, for one thing.

Please don’t let a few dollars rule your life. Figure out a plan to make a little more money every month and start enjoying your life. You can do it.

Waking up in a Panic

It’s easy for us to tell ourselves lies and euphemisms about our lives and how we feel about them during our waking hours. Life is good. Everything is ok. I have a good job, good friends, I’m keeping occupied and things seem to be humming along.

But there’s a time when it’s impossible to run away from your true feelings and inner calling – and that’s first thing in the morning, in that muddled dream stage right before you wake up. That’s the time when your truest desires and emotions come to the surface, since your conscious defenses are down. You can’t convince yourself that you’re happy when you’re really not.

If you’re not really happy with the way life is going, that’s when it comes to haunt you.

If you’re not spending enough time with your family, that’s when you’re reminded of what’s really important to you.

If you’re not making the most of your life, that’s when you get a hard knock, in the form of panicked emotions.

It’s neither comfortable nor fun to wake up in a panic, feeling like there’s a huge gaping hole in the middle of your life. Waking up this way can put a cloud over the rest of the day.

I know what it’s like because I’ve been there many times myself. You feel like you’re doing something wrong in life, but it’s frustrating because you’re not sure what to do. Or more accurately, you’re not sure you’ve got what it takes to act quickly and decisively enough to make these feelings go away.

We all want our lives to be on track. We all want to know we’re moving ahead, accomplishing something, doing our best. We all want to stack up well, so that when it comes our time to leave this planet, we’ve lived a worthwhile life with no regrets.

When you wake up in a panic, feeling like something’s wrong, that’s a call to action. It’s coming through strongly because you’re getting a signal, from your subconscious, from the universe, that something needs to change.

People often ask what they need to do to better listen to their intuition, their spiritual guidance system. A big part of the answer is listening to the guidance that comes through your dreams and emotions.

Sometimes we get caught up in day-to-day life and live according to the patterns that we believe we should follow. “I should find a certain kind of job and work to get a promotion so I can put food on the table and save for retirement.” Or, “I should go on vacation to an exotic place this summer because everyone else is doing it and I should have the same experience.”

We get so caught up in patterns that we don’t check in with ourselves as to what we want and how we feel. And we don’t consider that we have choices and options that fall outside of the box of patterns we’ve learnt.

That’s why we get these dreams – because it’s the only opportunity for our true inner selves to communicate with us.

If you wake up in the morning suddenly feeling guilty about not spending more time with your family, or wishing that you’ve spent more time backpacking in the wilderness, or that you started your own piano teaching business, listen to it.

Because while this sort of advice is not always logical given the direction of our lives at the time, and while the people around us don’t tell us we should be doing them, they’re important to us. And we need to listen to that guidance rather than tune it out.

The guidance we receive during these early morning dreams generally isn’t convenient to follow. It may require that we completely alter our priorities by changing career paths or changing cities. For that reason, it’s easy to try to ignore and deny these dreams. But they’re so emotionally powerful, they’re hard to simply dismiss. They’ll come back again and again, because their message is important: something needs to change.

Chances are, you know what you need to do. You know that change won’t be easy or convenient, and meaningful change will take time. Let these feelings guide you. The best thing you can do is to make a small shift towards thinking that what you truly want deep down is possible. Then, you can a small step towards action. Maybe you start applying for jobs in another city. Or you take the first steps towards a new business, like attending events where you can network with others in the business.

The worst thing you can do is to try to ignore these dreams. They’re not going away. They’ll only get stronger and louder, because you need to take heed of their advice. You can ask all for all the help in the world and talk to all the people you want, but the most important and powerful guidance you’ll ever get is that feeling inside your heart.

It’s not comfortable to wake up in a panic, knowing that life needs to change but feeling powerless to change it. But realize that the universe is doing you a favor by giving you a good shake, and pointing you in another direction.

Help! I can’t stick with anything for very long…

In the summer of 2009, I took a keen interest in improving my Chinese. At the time, I could recognize about 300 Chinese characters (symbols), enough that I could order a meal, count to 100 and make sure I didn’t enter the women’s restroom by mistake, but not much more.

I really dove into the learning. I invested in an electronic dictionary, software, podcasts, Chinese internet radio subscription, and even a private teacher. This went on for several months. Then, in the fall of 2009, I lost interest. I directed my time and energy towards psychic development instead.

My parents, upon hearing this news, reminded me how this was a recurring pattern in my life. According to them, I have a tendency to pick up a new project, get all excited and worked up as though I was going to become a Chinese scholar, only to lose interest as quickly as I gained it. “What’s wrong with you Bing?” they’d ask.

“You spend all this time and money on new projects, then you abandon them. Your bookshelf is a graveyard of projects that you were once interested in. What’s going on? Can you stick to anything in life? You know that if you don’t change this behavior, you’ll never become anything worthwhile!”

I didn’t know how to explain myself. When it came to the facts, they were right on the money. My bookshelf is a graveyard of abandoned hobbies and interests. Calligraphy brushes, music scores, and all manner of books are gathering dust as we speak. What’s wrong with me?

I let what my parents said to me stew in my head for a while. Then, a few months later, when I had a new project in mind, they brought up this example again to remind me why I shouldn’t get so excited about the new project.

This time, I had a reply ready:

“Well, you may be right. I have abandoned my efforts at learning Chinese, for now. But I much enjoyed the learning experience. I met many new people through it – my Chinese teacher, and friends I made at the Chinese meet-up group. I became familiar with Chinese radio and news. I’ve learned a lot of Chinese culture. And instead of only recognizing 300 Chinese characters, I’m now up to 1,200. Wouldn’t you say that, even though I may not be a Chinese literary scholar, I’ve made a lot of progress and have something to show for my efforts?”

“Uh, well, yes, that’s a good point. You have definitely much improved your Chinese since a year ago.”

“And wouldn’t you say that as long as I got something out of my efforts, that the project was worthwhile?”

What do you expect to get?

When we complain that we don’t seem to be able to stick to one thing for a long period of time, it’s because we failed to meet a certain expectation we have of ourselves. That expectation is that we must become an expert, a world champion, at everything that we do, in one straight line from the day we start. If we lose interest or abandon our efforts, that’s considered a failure, because we didn’t reach our goal.

We expect that we should settle for one thing, one project, and stick with it until we succeed.

There’s only one problem:

We can drive ourselves insane.

We’re not meant to become world champions at everything we do. Sometimes we just want to learn something to satisfy our curiosity… to know and experience.

Sometimes we want to do things just for the satisfaction of being able to say, “been there, done that.”

Or perhaps we want to meet new people.

Or discover a new hobby to give us pleasure and satisfaction in our spare time.

Furthermore, sometimes our interest comes in cycles and spurts.

I first decided to brush up on my Chinese in 2004. At the time, I went from recognizing no characters to having a good grasp on 300. After a few months, I abandoned my efforts. Then in 2009, I resumed my efforts, going from 300 to 1,200. After a few months, I again lost interest.

More recently, I’ve once again regained my interest, and in the past month, I’ve read two full Chinese books. I reckon I can recognize somewhere in range of 1,500 to 1,800 Chinese characters, and because of all the reading I’ve done, I’m much more able to guess the meanings of unfamiliar words based on their context. For the first time ever, I can actually watch a Chinese language film and understand about half of what they’re saying without the help of subtitles.

I’m not expert at Chinese yet, but I hardly consider myself a failure. Yet, over the last seven years, I’ve twice picked up and dropped Chinese as an interest – I’m on my third take right now. Will it last? Judging by past experience, no.

Does that mean it’s not worth doing? Absolutely not. Every time I set down to learn Chinese, I make progress. I’m ahead of where I started. And I learn for the satisfaction of learning.

But wouldn’t I get farther, and in less time, if instead of gaining and losing interest, I simply stick with it and don’t stop until I become an expert? Maybe. But I probably wouldn’t enjoy it or have nearly as much fun as when I follow my own natural course.

If we’re always focused on sticking with everything that we do until we achieved massive success, we might not enjoy the process as much. And we might not try many things at all, because unless we’re assured of becoming world champions at everything we do, why bother?

It’s ok to try a variety of things. It’s ok to dabble a bit. Life is meant to be a smorgasbord, not a box full of nothing but orange creme chocolates.

So give yourself permission to try a variety of different things. Look at your “failures” as enlightening experiences.

Can’t seem to stick with anything for very long? That’s probably ok, as long as you’re enjoying the ride. At the end of the day, what is the purpose of life, other than to truly enjoy the experience, whichever way that takes shape for you?

Photo credit: Flickr

You Don’t Know You’re Winning Until You Actually Win

Often we work hard at a goal, yet we don’t get tangible signs of progress.

Perhaps you’re applying for jobs.
Or maybe you’ve started a new business.
Or you’re learning a new skill such like a foreign language.

You work for days on end sending out applications.
Creating new products and content.
Practicing your new language at every opportunity.

Yet, you’re not getting those phone calls inviting you for interviews.
Nor are you getting flooded with customers.
And you still struggle to understand native speakers of the language you’re learning.

The lack of visible progress can be discouraging. It can make you feel like you’re doing things wrong, or that you’re not worthy of the goal you’re pursuing.

It’s tempting to give up when that happens. Why try so hard at something that you might eventually fail at?
Because simply showing up, turning the crank and persisting is half the battle.

Keep sending out job applications and continuously improve your resume.
Send out newsletters, re-write your sales copy and guest post on others peoples’ sites.
Review your flashcards religiously, read in your new language every day, and practice with a native speaker every chance you get.

Sometimes success is elusive that way. You see no signs, no rays of hope, and think you’re doing everything wrong.

Then, suddenly, a green stem shoots from the ground.
You get that call inviting you to a job interview, and before you know it, you have a job.
You get your first customer, then another, then another.
You realize you can now understand most of the dialogue in your favorite foreign sitcom.

What looked intractable yesterday suddenly yields to you. One moment you were doubting yourself. The next moment, you’re waltzing with victory. You don’t know you’re winning until the moment you win.

Why do things behave that way? Damned if I know. Probably as a test to see if you really wanted it. Or maybe it takes time for the universe to make things fall into place so that it can say Yes to your goals.

You may have to turn the crank for a while before you see results. You might get tired. Or feel like maybe this isn’t the right goal for you. Or that you’re inadequately prepared for your goals. But if at some point you give up, how do you know you wouldn’t have succeeded if you were just a little more patient?

None of the this is to say that persistent effort is all it takes to guarantee success. There are some things that we are not meant to do in life, and some things that we’re not likely to succeed at no matter how hard we try. But if there is something that you really, really want, you probably can achieve it.

Keep chipping away. Put your head down, rev your engines, and charge forward until you get where you’re trying to go. Because sometimes, you don’t know you’ve made it to the top until you’re there.

Photo credit: Flickr

Before judging my diet, please look in the mirror

After swim practice a few days ago, some members of my swim club went out to dinner. As we waited for our food, we began discussing vegetarian, vegan and raw diets.

At one point, I was describing the breakfast smoothies that I make every morning. My smoothies contain over a dozen ingredients, including spinach, coconut oil, goji berries, and nutritional yeast, among other things. It’s a mixture that provides a very decent dose of iron, vitamin B12 and, of course, protein.

One man had a particularly strong reaction to this. “Why would you eat something like that? Wouldn’t that taste really weird?” Finally, he looked at someone else, shook his head and mumbled “I think a balanced diet is best,” somehow implying that my diet, with a comparatively broad range of raw fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts, was extreme and unbalanced.

Ironically, this man making the comments about my diet was probably about 50 pounds overweight. His skin was dry and pale, and it didn’t look like he took very good care of himself, either in the form of diet or physical exercise. I’m not sure what he meant when he was referring to a “balanced diet”, or whether he was implying that his own diet was “balanced”. He certainly wasn’t a spitting image of health.

It’s always struck me that people who eat a more or less “Standard American Diet” have a tendency to criticize people who consciously choose a different diet. I’m most frequently interrogated about how I manage to get enough protein in my diet.

And yet, the very people who have concerns about getting enough protein probably shouldn’t be eating so much protein, because by and large the vast majority of them are overweight. Their stomachs are so big that even the baggiest clothing couldn’t conceal the beach ball of blubber underneath.

If I’m on the wrong track with my diet, then they certainly are 10x more so. If I woke up with a body looking like theirs, I’d probably shriek in horror and spend the next six weeks on a full-time exercise and diet program.

Now before you think that I’m some recalcitrant snob who’s out to pick on overweight people, believe me, I’m not. I don’t care if you eat a disgusting amount of cooked fats, animal protein, sugar, salt and gluten. I don’t care if you down cup after cup of coffee, soda or beer.

But please stop criticizing my diet, unless you’re prepared to look in the mirror at yourself. Because you are what you eat. What you put in your mouth becomes part of your body. And frankly, it’s hypocritical to criticize another person’s diet when the sorry state of your own body demonstrates your total incompetence in taking care of it.

Yet, it’s your body and it’s your choice what you do with it. But you should be aware that what you eat affects everything from how much energy you have, to the color and texture of your skin, to the size of your abdominal pouch, to your likelihood of getting diseases like cancer, and ultimately how long you live.

Wouldn’t you say it’s worth spending some time learning about diet and nutrition, and thinking carefully about what you put in your mouth?

Truth be told, the vast majority of people don’t give this question a second thought. They eat whatever is readily available, or what they were accustomed to eating while growing up. That’s alright if you choose to be one of them. I will stand up for your right to do so, because I strongly value everyone’s right to make their own choices about what they believe, think, and do.

But if anyone comes interrogating and criticizing my diet while openly displaying an excessive amount of body fat, they should be prepared that I’ll simply point at their belly and say “That’s why I choose this diet. Because I don’t want to look like that.”

Photo credit: Flickr

He loves me, He loves me not

So you’ve met a new guy. You’re smitten with him. But does he feel the same way towards you? Are you wasting your time chasing after him?

Today’s video blog explores this common dating phenomenon – the frustration of pining after someone when it’s not clear where they stand. Enjoy!

6 Inexpensive Ways to Feel Abundant

Feeling abundant doesn’t require that you spend lots of money. Some of the most abundant times in life are when we’re enjoying simple pleasures that cost little or nothing.

A lot of people try to “hold out” until they’re rich or successful before they allow themselves to feel happy and abundant. That’s unfortunate because they could be enjoying abundance all along the way. I know that’s a lot easier said than done, but the easiest way to let the message to sink in is to do something that makes you feel abundant right now.

Here are 6 inexpensive ways to feel abundant. Most of them can be had for a song. :)

1. Buy the occasional small treat

If money is tight, it’s tempting to scrimp on small, feel-good purchases. And yet, an occasional treat is sometimes just what we need to end the day or reward ourselves for a small accomplishment.

The first night the 4-mile-long outdoor skating canal opened in Ottawa, I skated the entire length and back, with the temperature at 0 degrees F (-18C). I wanted to buy one of the famous Beavertail pastries served at the concession stands along the way, but a little voice in my head barked back “You’re going to spend $4 on a piece of dough slathered with butter and sugar?”

“Damn straight I am, I’m skating 8 miles in the freezing cold!” I thought.

I bought the pastry and savored every bite. I enjoyed it immensely. And now that I’ve had my fix, I probably won’t buy another one for the rest of the skating season.

The keyword here is occasional. I don’t normally buy beverages or snacks when I’m out and about. But if it’s a long day or I’ve done something exceptional by my own standards, I’ll “splurge” a bit and reward my efforts.

A small treat once a week won’t break the bank, but it can add an enjoyable moment to a busy life.

2. Have fun in public places

You can have an abundance of fun and titillation without cracking open the wallet.

Most cities offer plenty to do without having to spend more than a couple of bucks on bus fare or fuel.

For example, here in Ottawa we have the world’s biggest outdoor skating canal, a national park just a few miles north of city limits, and nearly-world-class museums that you can visit for free on Thursday nights, just to mention a few free activities.

If you’re not sure where to start, ask yourself what activities you’d recommend to a tourist who’s coming to your city.

3. Clubs and Meetups

Clubs and Meetup groups are great ways to get out, meet people, and get involved in activities you might not otherwise try.

Clubs and meetups can be very hit or miss, but over a period of time, if you’re persistent, you’re bound to find a few activities you like and as well as run into a few interesting people. The cost and labor-sharing power of clubs also makes it possible for you to enjoy stuff that would otherwise be too costly or logistically prohibitive.

I once joined an outdoor club where, for a $30 annual membership, you could go on an unlimited number of canoe outings, which were held twice weekly. The only other expense was contributing to carpooling costs, which was about $6 per trip. Not a bad deal for being able to show up, lend a hand in loading equipment, and enjoy a few hours on the lake.

At the end of the day, if you find a good club, you’ll have lots of fun with people you enjoy spending time with. Isn’t that the very definition of abundance?

4. Leverage Group Buying Power

You can enjoy the sights, sounds, and tastes of your city at rock bottom prices with group buying services such as Groupon, DealFind and LivingSocial. After signing up, you’ll get emails about local restaurants, spas, fitness clubs, museums, paint ball centers, car mechanics, etc,. offering vouchers for discounts of 50% or more.

No, I’m not an affiliate of these companies nor do I make a single penny if you sign up with any of them. But I hope that you enjoy some great deals if you sign up. ;) Be sure you don’t buy deals you don’t need just because they seem like a good deal!

If you like yoga and want to visit a whole bunch of yoga studios for the price of a cup of coffee, check out Passport to Prana.

5. Organize Your Home

Picture in your head the kind of home you’d live if you had all the money and abundance in the world. Hold that image in your mind.

Is there a lot of junk or clutter lying around? Do you have an explosion of personal care products on your dresser table, stacks of paper on your desk, or a smattering of jars all over your kitchen counters? Is there a pile of clothing languishing on the floor?

Probably not! Most pictures of abundant homes are the total opposite of cluttered. They’re clean, tidy, and not overburdened with junk. If your home is messy and dirty, it’s sucking your energy, lowering your vibration and making you feel the opposite of abundant.

Throw or give away the things that you don’t use, spend an evening or two going through the stacks of paper, fold the laundry, and put the dishes away. Make your home clean, tidy, spic and span. You’ll notice an immediate improvement in how you feel.

6. Invite someone to eat-in at your place

I like eating out as much as the next person, but some of my fondest memories are of simple dinners at someone’s home. There’s something really wholesome about cooking a meal yourself, and it doesn’t have to be fancy. Make a stew, a pasta or a simple stir-fry. Keep it simple and intend to have great conversation and laughter.

Giving the gift of a pleasant evening of food and cheer is an act of abundance – your guest(s) will appreciate the effort and likely will return the favor.

**

If you’ve been wanting to enjoy more abundance, what are you waiting for? Don’t hold out for someday. Look under your nose at the things you can do today. At least 6 of them won’t cost you a lot of money. ;)

Photo credit: Flickr

I’ve got a pickle up my ass, and I’m damn proud of it

For as long as I can remember, people have told me that I’m uptight. The less diplomatic ones will say I’ve got a pickle up my ass. I used to deny such allegations, but let’s stop pretending. I’ve definitely got a pickle up my ass, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

I’m at peace with my uptight-ness. I’ve actually come to see that it’s a good thing. Allow me to explain.

People tend to equate uptight people with being “no fun”, someone who doesn’t like to live and relax and just be. (Ironically, people who are supposedly not uptight often get very upset with people who they deem to be uptight).

But let’s ask ourselves, what’s the opposite of uptight? Downtight?

What would a downtight person be like?

Someone who’s always “fun”, wants to live and let live and relax? Someone who doesn’t care to make sure they’re on time or punctual, if their house is tidy, if they’re well-prepared for meetings, or if they’re rehearsed enough for a performance, or if their bills are paid on time? Someone who doesn’t care to be precise, or neat, who’s happy with things being “close enough” or “good enough”?

Hmm… I don’t know how I like the sound of that. Someone who’s downtight might be fun to hang around, sometimes… if they show up, that is. How do I know they’ll be on time, or if they’ll still be in bed when we’re supposed to go lunch?

Do I want a downtight accountant, who doesn’t care whether everything adds up, or that my taxes are filed on time? Do I want a downtight doctor, who thinks that removing 80% of a tumor is “good enough”? For that matter, do I want to eat at a restaurant where the staff are laid back about washing their hands?

Personally, in most areas of my life, I want to deal with uptight people.

I like it when people show up to things on time.

I like it when people pay me on time.

I like it when people are prompt about replying to phone calls, emails and SMS’s.

I want an uptight dentist who’s picky about the work she does.

I want an uptight mechanic who thoroughly checks every nook and cranny of my car so that it doesn’t break down on the side of the freeway in the middle of a Canadian winter.

I want a spouse who’s uptight about money management and spending within our means.

The thing with downtight people is that, no matter how much they complain about your uptight-ness, there will invariably come a day when they come crawling to you, asking if they can take a bite of your pickle. Because it’s uptight people who have money saved when downtight people have blown theirs indiscriminately.

Uptight people cover their bases and think ahead to what might be coming next. Downtight people often run into problems that could have been prevented with just a little bit of planning and foresight.

To all downtight people out there – I don’t give you heck for being downtight (except when you’re late, or fail to pay on time, or aren’t prompt about communication, or aren’t thorough in the work you do). Why give me heck for being uptight?

So please think twice before telling me that I’ve got a pickle up my ass. You never know when you might come asking for a bite. ;)

Photo credit: Flickr

Embracing my Asian-ness

Like many Asian kids who grew up in North America, I was ashamed of being Asian. Today, I’m a lot closer to embracing my Asian-ness.

Coming around in my thinking took a long time. When I was young, I felt inferior to the white kids. I wanted to be one of them, and wished that the stork hadn’t planted me in the poor nether regions of rural China. At the end of the day, I’ve realized that if I’m going to be happy and at peace with who I am, I have to embrace immutable characteristics such as how I look, my family background and cultural heritage.

I didn’t start off from a good foundation. My family (my parents and me) immigrated to Canada when I was two years old in the late 1980s. At the time, China was dirt poor. We came to Canada with virtually nothing.

As a child, almost everything my father told me about China was about how dirty, corrupt and poor it was. “We didn’t have toilet paper, and if you needed to go to the bathroom, you had to walk to a communal latrine that you could smell from a mile away.” It didn’t exactly make me proud of my heritage.

At daycare, even long after I’d learned English, I was still constantly reminded of how I was different from the other kids. One day, we were all supposed to bring presents for a gift exchange. The daycare had sent a notice home to every kid’s parents informing them to buy a gift. Either my parents misinterpreted the note, or they really were hard up for cash, but they sent me to daycare with a 49-cent roll of wrapping paper instead of a gift. I wished I had different parents that day.

Going by my Chinese name in day care and first years of grade school didn’t help much either. I cringed when the other kids would giggle and joke amongst themselves when we did attendance and the teacher called out my name. That’s why I adopted the English name Bing for nearly 20 years, only reverting to my Chinese name a few weeks ago.

It didn’t help that many of my friends at school came from families that enjoyed a lot more financial abundance than mine. They got to have video games, eat out at restaurants and visit theme parks. Being Chinese felt like a trap – it affected everything from my name to what I looked like, and my family had no money for all the goodies the other kids got to have.

I refused to speak Chinese with my parents, always replying to them in English. I took it as a stamp of approval when one of my parents’ Canadian friends remarked about how westernized I was.

Things reached a low point as an adolescent when my mother and I were discussing a movie we’d watched about discrimination against black people in the southern USA. She confronted me about how I was ashamed of being Chinese to the point of being discriminatory against other Chinese people, and asked how I could feel so strongly about the themes I’d seen the movie, while myself being racist against my own kind. I denied her allegations and yet had to hold back tears at the same time. I knew she was right, but didn’t want to admit it.

I’d love to say that the conversation with my mother was the turning point, that I was suddenly inspired to repent for all my sins and fully embrace my Asian-ness on the spot. But that wouldn’t be accurate.

It wasn’t till a couple years later when I became a high school freshman that my antipathy towards my heritage became first an interest, and eventually a fascination. My high school was at least 1/3 Asian, being in a very ethnic part of town. It seemed that overnight, between middle school and high school, everyone suddenly matured a couple notches. People stopped making of others with ethnic-sounding names. Racism never completely went away, but it wasn’t nearly as open and blatant.

I found myself a clan of close friends, both Asian and non-Asian, some of whom appreciated that I was from a different ethnic background, and that I could help them with their Chinese class homework. ;)

Being Chinese started to feel like a good thing. It was the turn of the 21st century, and you started hearing about China’s economic rise in the news. Around this time, I began the tradition of speaking primarily Mandarin Chinese at home. I realized that if I didn’t make an effort, I wouldn’t be very functional in the language, and I would feel embarrassed later on to think that I sold out my own language and culture in a bid to fit in.

I also became increasingly aware of the differences in being brought up in a Chinese home as opposed to a Canadian one, and how I’ve been served by both perspectives as a result of being raised in a Chinese home, with Canadians as friends.

People will debate the differences between Chinese and North American culture, traditions and child-rearing till they’re blue in the face. But I think there are advantages to both cultures, particularly the way the Chinese value work ethic, and the way North Americans encourage individualism and creativity.

Today I can speak Mandarin decently, and I can read about 1,200 Chinese characters, which is enough to get by in the land of children’s fables but not enough to read a newspaper or magazine. I make a point out of reading at least one article or essay in Chinese everyday, and I’m using flashcards to help me memorize more characters.

I’ve recently switched to using Facebook in simplified Chinese, and also switched my iPod and Blackberry over to Chinese interfaces. Given how much time I spend on Facebook and electronic gadgets, it’s amazing how much exposure I can get to a foreign language this way. ;)

I’m Chinese… I’m Asian. My skin is yellow (more accurately, light brown with a yellowish hue), I have coarse black hair (best suited for Asian hairstyles). I believe that being Asian can still lead to being discriminated against (especially when it comes to dating), but for every door that it closes, it opens at least one other.

These days, with so much news about Asia’s rise in the world, both politically and economically, there’s more and more reason to reconnect with Asian language and culture, especially for those of us from Asian backgrounds who’ve grown up elsewhere.

Shoving away our own heritage can block out the best parts of us and disconnect us from who we are. Through relearning the language and the culture of my family, I’ve been able to understand my parents and relatives back in China in a way that would have been impossible if I looked at myself as North American and them as Chinese.

After a nearly 20 year hiatus, I’m ready to reconnect with my Asian-ness. :)

Photo credit: Flickr

Are you a metaphorical clean freak?

When you think of clean freaks, what comes to mind? You might think of people who disdain the sight of dust, hairs, smudges, marks, things out of place, and god forbid anyone should spill anything.

But it’s possible to be a clean freak in other areas of your life besides your physical living or work space – a metaphorical clean freak.

What is a metaphorical clean freak?

Let me explain. First, the difference between a physical mess and a metaphorical mess…

When you spill a bag of beans on the floor, you’ve created a physical mess. If your floor is filled with piles of books and papers, you have a physical mess.

By contrast, metaphorical messes happen in areas like career, relationships, health, finances and family.

For example, if you say something to someone that you shouldn’t have said and now your relationship has soured or become awkward, you’ve created a metaphorical mess. If you rack up debt that you can’t easily pay, that’s a metaphorical mess. If you freak out at someone during a meeting at work and now your job is on the line, you’ve got yourself into a metaphorical mess.

A clean freak is someone who freaks out at the smallest of messes. They abhor the sight of a mess so much that they often take drastic measures to prevent them, sometimes making the cure worse than the disease.

I grew up with a (physical) clean freak father. We had to change our socks or wear slippers when coming home from outdoors, and our friends couldn’t enter the house until my father inspected their feet and ankles for dirt. If you happened to cry while standing on the carpet, he’d ask you to move to the kitchen so that you wouldn’t stain the carpet with your tears. My mother would joke that our floors were cleaner than hospital operating tables – and that probably wasn’t far off the truth.

Metaphorical clean freaks, on the other hand, will stick to a boring job because they’re afraid of creating a mess by experimenting with a business. They might tolerate crappy treatment from their employer or clients because they’re afraid of poisoning their relationships by speaking up. They avoid social encounters because they’re afraid of looking bad or sounding stupid in front of others. They’re afraid of the hassles and expense of traveling, so you probably won’t see them zip-lining in the Amazon.

Of course, clean freaks vary in their severity, and also the scope of their clean freakness. Metaphorical clean freaks might specialize in one or two or areas of life where they are particularly sensitive to messes.

Should you be worried about being a metaphorical clean freak?

The problem with being a clean freak is that your drastic measures often prevent you from enjoying many life experiences.

I’m not saying that it’s wrong to try to prevent messes. We generally have a natural desire to prevent messes from happening by taking simple, obvious preventative actions. In the case of physical messes, we might move heavy objects away from the edges of tables and counters.

But clean freaks often go overboard in trying to prevent messes, by preempting activities that might lead to enjoyment, fulfillment and expansion of their life experience.

If you’re too much of a physical clean freak, you’ll never be able to host friends or events at your house. Eventually, no one would want to live with you because you’d constantly be on their case about petty issues like not putting the dust cover back on the phone after using it.

Metaphorical clean freaks can be so afraid that things will turn messy that they might not get out much, speak up much, take many risks, or spend money on new experiences. Their friends and family get frustrated with them because they won’t pull the trigger and buy the plane ticket, or speak up to their boss, or take a risk and sign up for personal training sessions.

How to stop being a metaphorical clean freak

After growing up with a physical clean freak father, I turned into a physical clean freak myself. It might be one of the reasons why I had a testy relationship with some of my college roommates. ;)

I blamed myself for being a clean freak. I tried to change, but I can’t do anything about the fact that I like having a home that’s surgically clean. But I’ve come to terms with how I can both keep my house clean and enjoy activities that might make a mess.

The solution was simple. Allow messes to happen, and clean it up afterwards.

Most messes can be cleaned up with some effort. Relationships can often be repaired. You can make back lost money.

And even really messy messes aren’t as bad as we think they are. Souring a relationship is regrettable, but usually not the end of the world. Nor is spilling red wine on the carpet, a toilet accidentally overflowing, or tree falling on an electrical line. Most things can be cleaned up and restored back to working order if we work at it with patience.

Be willing to make mistakes and recover from them. You’ll waste a bit of money here and there. Maybe you can’t get your apartment leases to overlap perfectly, and you pay an extra month’s rent. Or you switch phone providers mid-contract and pay a small penalty. Or you order a dish that sounds like a nice dinner but winds up tasting like chicken feed.

Maybe you prematurely dump a borderline boyfriend and later come to regret it. Or you sign up for a whole semester of indoor dodgeball but end up hating the way the league is organized. None of these situations is the end of the world. You’ll make more money. Your boyfriend might take you back, or you might find a better one. And you’ll know better next time to eat a different restaurant.

Messes are inevitable. Just as it’s next to impossible to keep a kitchen perfectly clean while you’re preparing a good meal, you can’t keep the rest of your life free of messes while you’re in the process of living a good life. If you don’t want a mess, then don’t cook. And don’t expect to have a whole lot of fun either.

I’m not suggesting that you intentionally create messes in your life. But do realize that a living a good life involves making messes. That’s alright. Clean them up, pick up the pieces and keep going. You’re resilient, and as long as you’re patient, you can recover.

Go ahead and get dirty. Eat on the couch. Sit in the backyard grass. Cook a messy meal. Dump your borderline boyfriend. Sign up for underwater ceramics class.

If you make a mess, clean it up. Have a vacuum cleaner and a mop ready. Repair damaged relationships and beg for forgiveness if necessary.

The self-discovery process of is inherently messy. We inevitably make mistakes and poor judgment calls. Don’t kick yourself. Clean up your mess and move on.