Why solitude matters

You walk into the cinema with your friends for a nice Friday night movie session.

Then you bump into a person that you know; sitting alone in the middle row, with a large tub of popcorn and a tall diet coke.

What would be your first reaction?

“Pity him, why is he all alone on a Friday night like this?”
“Where are his friends? Does he not have one?”
“Did he just break up with his girlfriend?”
“Is he depressed?”

These are the common reactions that people would make when they see someone they know spending time alone.

We live in the world where having company is a reflection of a person making it in the social world. The more friends a person has, the higher the position the person has on the social hierarchy.

We love making friends, and sometimes, we go out in groups most (if not all) the time not because we need to, but just because we are scared of being seen alone.

We don’t want to be that loser who fine dines alone.

Being alone, or being viewed as a lonely person, is still a taboo in our society that so values company.

There’s always a sense of shame associated with people who prefer spending their time alone.

We tend to think that when a person is alone, it must be because he has no choice but to be alone.

That he is undesirable. That he needs help.

And of course, that he needs our pity – which often comes in a way that also borders on schadenfreude, unfortunately.

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Let’s go back to the person that you bumped into the cinema, devouring his popcorn and watching that chick-flick alone.

Why is he alone? Was he forced to do so by circumstances? If he indeed chose to be alone, why would he?

It’s simple, really.

We need solitude as much as we need company. And some of us, including the introverted ones, need the former more than the latter.

And that’s perfectly fine.

Imagine this situation – you go to work in a job that involves a lot of human interactions. You talk and write to people to get things done. Then you open your phone to take a 5-minute break and the first thing you’ll come across is your friend’s selfie – that friend that you just texted 10 minutes prior.

Then you go to the cubicle, and you meet a co-worker at the urinal. You exchanged some lines, probably about the group task that is due tomorrow, then you return to your cubicle and continue with work.

Then at home after dinner, with most of us millennials having to share their apartments with flatmates nowadays; chances are you will not get the whole couch to yourself either.

This is the reality of our generation today. Everywhere we go, even when looking at our iPhone screen, we see people, we interact with people, and we deal with people.

With all these happening day in and day out, don’t you think that we are often in desperate need for space?

I think we do.

And it kills us inside if we don’t.

Have you ever thought of your partner or friends annoying you so often, with the little things that they do? Have you ever blamed yourself for getting annoyed or moody so easily over the little things that people do?

If you have, you probably need some me-time. You need some space.

I love my space too. Frankly, going out to dinner alone sometimes, spending a week or two doing solo trips, and even taking a 2-hour drive alone to Melaka have really helped me put things into perspectives.

It’s when I am alone that I most appreciate the company that I have. Walking alone in a busy street of a foreign city reminds me of how good it feels like to have my close friends walking with me.

In many ways, spending some time alone, and getting ample space to be with myself, helps me enhance and preserve my relationship with a lot of people.

That’s why I really believe that solitude matters.

People who are out alone sometimes are not losers; nor are they miserable. They just know what they want – some space, and they are not ashamed to provide themselves with exactly what they need.

Solo latte at Huckleberry. Bring a book; lovely place for a read.

Speak soon,
FH

Equality is dignity.

On the International Women’s Day, let’s think of women out there, particularly those with stories that remind us why the Women’s Day is still relevant.

Let’s think of the:

  1. Girls who never got to realise their full potential just because their parents believed that they were not deserving of equal educational opportunities. After all, they were all destined for a life in the kitchen.
  2. Women who never got to feel sexual pleasure, because the culture they were apparently born into required their clitoris to be mutilated.
  3. Girls who dreamt to play football but never got to do so, because their parents didn’t want her to be “butch”.
  4. Women who had to live double lives, because their parents couldn’t accept that their daughters preferred not to don the hijab
  5. Single mothers who struggled to raise their kids alone, without much state support. In some societies, single mothers were even frowned upon. Some even thought that her predicament was a result of her own doing – “Siapa suruh tak pandai jaga suami?”.
  6. Girls who never got to choose who they’d spend their whole lives with, just because their parents believed that their families had complete control over the matter
  7. Girls who were forced into prostitution by their own families; only to end up being treated as pariahs of the society for the rest of their lives
  8. Ladies who still get nasty comments on Instagram commanding them to cover their arms and toes, because apparently their hijab wasn’t Islamic enough
  9. Housewives who dedicated their whole lives towards ensuring that their families were well taken care of, only to have some of us in the society view them as “less educated” or “less productive” than working women
  10. Ladies who wanted to wear the hijab to express their religious faith, only to have some bigots heckle at them at the subway
  11. Women who had to see their husbands marry a second wife without their permission, just because it was perfectly legal for the men to do so
  12. Transgender women who got arrested for wearing dresses and having their hair long, because apparently the state couldn’t allow their community to exist and thrive in peace
  13. Those smartest girls in their classes who could never be class monitors. They could only be deputies, because women weren’t allowed to rule over men.
  14. Successful gymnast, who trained long hours every day, only to get the netizens criticise her for not covering up during sports events.
  15. Women in some countries, who are still not allowed to leave home without their male guardian chaperoning them. These women are forever treated by the State like underage children. In one particular country, they can’t even drive.

There are three billion women out there, each with their own distinctive story. While not all women are heavily oppressed day in day out, it’s also important to note that there are still many out there, in many corners of the globe, who are.

Let’s remember them, and tell ourselves that change, if anything, should begin from all of us.

Stop making gender a factor in assessing a person’s worth. A person is more than his/her gender.

A person is a person

 

Speak soon,

FH

Would You Still Travel If Instagram Never Existed?

If, let’s say, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter did not exist, would you still travel?

Nowadays, many are led to believe that the spike in the travelling culture and backpacking tendencies amongst the millennials is due to our appetite for sharing. We share our experiences offline and online. We have special journals and photo galleries that document our travels.

So, the question comes to mind today. Would you travel just for the sake of the experience, or for the sake of sharing the experience?

Would you still travel just to feel the excitement of navigating the labyrinthine bazaar, with the smell of grilled meat wafting the air, and the dusty gust blowing on your face?

Here’s my take.

While there is this unique feeling of satisfaction that one may derive from sharing his travelling experience online (I won’t lie, posting a selfie in front of the Brandenburg Gate made me feel…quite good), I would still travel even if Instagram never existed.

The main reason is simple. Travelling is one of the great pleasures of life. It opens my mind to the diversity of cultures that people from many different corners of the world hold dear to.

Travelling makes me appreciate people at home even more.

I remember, walking alone in the streets of New York City; one of the biggest and the most crowded place in the world, feeling alone. I was on a 10-day trip in the city- I didn’t even leave the city, as I wanted to experience what it was like living in one of the most exciting cities on the planet.

It was fun, it was a great experience, but I felt lonely. I felt that, amidst all the good things that money could buy in the city, I missed my company at home. I had dinner alone most of the evenings I spent in the city, and I missed having someone talk to me from across the table. I went to some nice galleries, and I wish I could have someone to share my joy with. I walked the Central Park alone, and I imagined how my mom would enjoy the view. I had a hipster brunch in Williamsburg and I remembered how my friends and I would laugh over a similar cup of coffee back home.

Being alone puts you in the perspective; it allows you to experience the sweetness of company. Solitude helps us find ourselves.

The famous Junior’s cheesecake, solo picnic, Central Park

Travelling opens my eyes to the power of human kindness.

Flashback to October 2015.

I got off the bus at a wrong stop; my mind was groggy and I was beyond exhausted, so my street smart was probably not at its best. Stranded in Sharm-el-Sheikh, instead of Dahaab, which was 2 hours away, I looked like a lost tourist at the bus stations. My ticket to Dahaab was no longer valid, as the bus I was supposed to be one already left. Desperate for tourist dollars, taxi drivers came to me in groups and tried their luck to cash in on my vulnerability (if you’ve been to Egypt you’d know how persistent and aggressive Egyptian taxi drivers were).

Then an Egyptian couple approached me, offering to assist me. Long story short, they took some time out of their honeymoon to take me right to my hotel doorsteps in Dahaab. They were even kind enough to buy me lunch (which I insisted on paying for). The couple also repeatedly apologised to me for the difficult experience I had to go through as a solo traveller in Egypt – the country isn’t the best place for solo travels, I must admit.

Beautiful Dahaab, Egypt

Dahaab was at the tail end of my Egypt itinerary, and after encountering so much hassle in Cairo, I was glad that my experience in the Sinai taught me that wherever you are, there is human kindness. There will be someone who’s kind enough to assist you, and (as cliche as this may sound), protect you.

This is because, deep inside, people, most of them, are kind.

This is also something the kind of travel experience that Instragram won’t be able to document.

***

We don’t need Instagram to enjoy travelling, but if sharing pictures of your travels on social media enhances your experience, or makes you feel good, go ahead.

However, it’s important to not let our appetite to share distract us from the joy of living in-the-moment. Snap ahead, but don’t let taking photos be the main purpose of our travels.

Never let Instagram rob us of our experiences. Great memories and experience last forever. Social media validation, on the other hand, is short-lived.

Know your priorities.

 

Speak soon,

FH

Of Strangers and Social Media

Social media does one thing to us. It gives us awareness of what strangers think of us.

In our everyday lives, we get to choose who get to be in our lives. We pick our friends carefully, and we have a carefully curated list of people that we open up to.

However, with social media, especially with the entrenched culture of bashing and “printscreen”, we get strangers who do not know what our lives are about, and who we actually are as a person, comment on our lives. We may also find some people commenting on our Instagram feed thinking that they will never have to see us in person one day, so evidently, there’s little effort for these strangers to sound nice.

Here’s what I think about this situation. First of all, let’s not be quick to label strangers displaying asshole-ish behaviour online as cyber bullies. Yes, cyber bullying exists, but when it comes to social media, there’s always the option of deactivating our accounts.

If you have no plan of deleting our account anytime soon, here are some thoughts about strangers.

It’s not strangers who pay your bills. It’s not strangers who give you flowers during your birthday. It’s not strangers that you turn to when things don’t go well. It’s certainly not strangers that will carry your coffin to the grave when the day comes.

It is, however, strangers who might mention you out of the blue on Twitter, telling you to “fuck off” or “go to hell” for absolutely no valid reason. It is also strangers who might find little faults in the little things that you say online, without even giving you the space to explain yourselves.

Friends and families don’t do that. And these are the very people that we need to please. Not strangers.

So, speak out all you want online. Be yourself. Be the best version of the person you already are. Let the words of strangers not perturb you in what you do. You do you.

It’s also interesting to note that many of the most vocal people on social media tend to be very quiet in real life. I’m talking about the people who use social media to pick on other people and nitpick. These people tend to be very timid in real life. Social media provides a medium for a lot of closeted assholes to reveal their true colours online.

If they can be themselves online, so do we.

So, speak out. Don’t restrain your thoughts. Let’s be as expressive as we want to be, online or offline.

If one day you find the heat unbearable, deactivate.

The world already has so much to enjoy and to explore, offline.

Speak soon,

FH

Friendship Beyond the “Drifting Away” Stage

Over the years, I crossed paths with many souls.

A little more than 800 of these souls ended up as my Facebook friends, a figure that I have yet to trim (in spite of the intention of doing so many times). Let’s condense this further: Of these Facebook friends, I probably physically met about a few dozen over the past 12 months. I keep regular, or weekly contact with maybe a handful.

This is when the definition of friendship itself gets interesting. How do you define friends? By the loosest definition, all of my Facebook friends are my “friends”. This is obviously putting a very low threshold to friendship.

How about defining friends as the people that I regularly meet over coffee or talk over Whatsapp with? If this is the case, maybe I only end up with having not more than 10 friends.

Well, truth is, there’s no strict definition of what a friendship should be made of.

Personally, I think that I have, over the years, developed the understanding that everyone has a lot of things that they have to deal with every single day. As we morph into different persons and grow out of the former state we were in (humans live in the state of permanent transiency anyway), our priorities shift. We graduate from college and enter the working world, with its new challenges. We shift work place to another company, with its new environment, demands and challenges. Some of us are married, some even have a kid or two to call their own. Our priorities shift.

With the shift of priorities often comes the “drifting away” stage. There’s a group of my friends that I used to meet up with once a week. This turned into once a month. Then once in a couple of months. Then occasionally.

Details aside, does “drifting away” means that one is not keen to keep his friendship? Not necessarily. Again, priorities change, so does the shape and form of the friendship. Because one is often surrounded by changing circumstances, it’s understandable that he would adapt himself to the situation he is in at the moment. This is fact of life. We are all malleable beings.

So to me, at the end of the day, when all is said and done, what really matters is how you keep your friends in your mind. Once you have the idea etched in your mind that someone is worthy of your long-term friendship and connection, nothing, not even time and distance, can ruin the bond that you have with that person. This is how I define friendship nowadays. I don’t need to see you every single week to remind myself that you are dear to me (well, a coffee session wouldn’t hurt, of course, but we live in a busy universe).

I understand if you don’t have as much time to spend with me as we used to.

But I want you to know that once you need me I am here. Once you need to talk, I am here. No awkwardness, no judgment, no patronising remarks, just myself, and my ears, ready to listen to your grouses, ready to say things as they are.

This is what real friendship is, to me. Not something that you need to be reminded of every single time, nor is it something that you need to physically commit to every week. It’s the conscious understanding that whatever happens, you have someone’s back, and someone has yours.

I’ll be here to support you, and that’s for sure.

 

Speak soon,

FH

Kenapa Nak Speaking BI? Why Do Some Malays Prefer to Interact In English?

A person’s identity is defined by a multitude of elements, linguistics being one of them. Judging from the incessant conversations & arguments on the social media over the use of various languages, it’s clear that many Malaysians are, indeed, still experiencing a sort of identity crisis. While the common perception around the world is that one should be allowed to speak or write in any language he feels most comfortable using, in Malaysia, many stigmas & preconceived notions are still associated with the mere choice of which language to use in public.

This leads to a common dilemma faced by many Malaysians, especially Malays, when expressing themselves in public. “Should I introduce myself in English?” “Should I tweet in English?” “Will I appear conceited if I keep using English on social media?” “Should I use Malay to fit into a certain crowd?”; these are among the most common questions the Malays have to ask themselves from time to time. Tired of being bogged down by these questions, many Malays choose to use Manglish or bahasa rojak in order to achieve a semblance of balance between using English while maintaining some street cred among their friends (apparently, using too much English can be social suicide too).

My answer would be, yes, you can use any language that you want, as long as you get your points across. What’s important is to ensure that you can eloquently express your points using the language of your choice.

After all, language is a means of self-expression, so to hell with labels, no?

Moving forward, let’s dissect the common arguments given by those who are against the practice of Malays using English in their daily interactions:

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Frequent Point #1: “Kenapa nak guna English kalau bercakap sesama Melayu?”

There are many reasons why some Malays use English when conversing with fellow Malays. First of all, it’s important to debunk the myth involving the Malay’s use of Bahasa Melayu (Malay) at home. While most of the Malays exclusively use Malay at home, there exist pockets within the Malay community itself where this convention doesn’t apply. Many middle class families have inter-generational exposure to the British culture and language, so naturally, they speak English at home. This is a reality; I know of some guys who speak no Malay at all, in spite of them being of full Malay-Indonesian ancestry. They also went to international schools and received their tertiary education overseas, so they were never exposed to learning Malay in school. Malaysia is also a heterogenous society, and many people of our generation are essentially products of mixed marriage. In many mixed families, to ensure balanced dynamics between the parents who came from different racial backgrounds and upbringings, English is often used as the primary language at home. It’s a neutral arrangement, and enables middle-of-the-road solution to the language & cultural dilemmas faced by these families.

Aforementioned cases aside, many Malays speak English among themselves as it’s the only way they get to practice using the language. Languages, unlike subjects like Mathematics or Science, cannot be mastered by the mere virtue of attending classes and lectures. You need to practice using the language often if you want to be proficient in which. Many Malays, especially those who grew up outside the urban middle-class environment, struggle to find a nurturing environment to practice their English, and who else do they have apart from their good friends to practice using the language with? After all, speaking English with their friends is much more fun than talking to themselves or to the mirror, no?

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Frequent Point #2: “Japan & Korea are highly developed nations and the people don’t even speak English!”

Yes, English isn’t as widely used in these two countries as it is in Malaysia. But it’s important to not discount the fact that Japanese & Korean languages are widely used in academic journals & publications as well, especially in comparison with Bahasa Melayu-Indonesia. I’ve been to South Korea, and while the people don’t speak much English, they have wide access to all kinds of reading material in their native language. The bookstores are filled with any Western title you can think of, but translated into Korean, for local consumption. Compare this with our situation here in Malaysia. It’s not common to see Western titles being available in Bahasa Melayu. Have you seen any work by Franz Kafka, or Orhan Pamuk, translated into Malay? The Malay sections in bookstores are often filled with religious books, cookbooks, some children’s books, and that’s all there is to it. Some of the bestselling books like the Harry Potter series & Twilight have been translated into Malay, but apart from these examples, options are very limited. There have been efforts to translate more books into Malay, but with the environment of tight scrutiny against any books published in, or translated into Malay, (remember when an Irshad Manji’s book was only banned after it was translated into Malay?) the status quo of treating English as the foremost language in knowledge seeking is not going to change anytime soon.

To seek knowledge beyond what our local textbooks entail, Malaysians have no choice but to be proficient in English.

While the Koreans are currently doing well speaking Korean and little to no English, there’s a growing awareness among the Koreans on the importance of being fluent in English, which explains the influx of expatriates working as English teachers into the country nowadays.

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Frequent Point #3: “Orang cakap BI ni semua poyo lah eh?”

Language is a powerful means of communication, and humans are programmed to speak the language they are most comfortable using, especially in everyday, casual situations. Many Malays speak English for a number of reasons, but it’s not likely that these Malays do so to impress anyone. They just want to communicate their points. After all, it’s the eloquence, wit, and the wisdom behind one’s speech that matters the most, not one’s choice of language. Language only allows you to communicate, but if your points are irrelevant, even the most sophisticated use of a language won’t be able to salvage your arguments.

No language is more posh than another. Using English doesn’t mean that someone is trying to be pompous.

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Frequent Point #4: “Kalau orang Melayu tak memperkasakan Bahasa Melayu, siapa lagi?”

Using English in your daily interaction doesn’t mean that you completely disregard the Malay language. Malay is a beautiful language that reflects the Malay community’s long oratory traditions. It’s gracious and polite. Most of the Malays, including those who speak English most of the time, still feel sentimental attachment to their native language. After all, it represents their identity and heritage.

Malaysian communities residing overseas speak English most of the time, but during their gatherings (which I got to experience from time to time during my 3-year stint in Melbourne), they still use Malay. Most of these overseas Malays can still speak perfect, mint Malay, and I don’t think this will change anytime soon.

Now, contrast this with the bastardisation of the Malay language done under the guise of “colloquialism” perpetrated by those who claim to uphold the Malay traditions in the country. Look at how many of the Malay speaking youths spell “aku” as “aq”, for instance. The dilution of Malay’s linguistic purity is also made worst by the blatant transfer of English words into mainstream Malay. Nowadays, people use advertensi in place of iklan, and bajet, instead of belanjawan.

Now, pray tell, who’s at fault?

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These are the four points I can think of at the moment; there are more, of course. Let me know, by dropping a comment or two, if you have more to add to these. Cheers.

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Speak soon,

Faizal Hamssin