Sunday, June 17, 2018

STUFFOCATION: Final jottings

By now you should be quite 'sian' (bored) hearing me talk endlessly about James Wallman's STUFFOCATION. I bet you do, but please bear with me for one last time. I've finished reading the book. It's a good book. A little wordy and repetitious, but if you ignore that and focus on the message, you'll find that it's a good book.

I've had the book for more than two years and I bought it because I was fascinated by its title. Stuffocation. Stuff + Suffocation = To kill or be killed—instead of by the deprivation of oxygen, as by obstruction of the air passage or inhalation of noxious gases—by stuff instead. I decided to read it two days ago when I returned home for the Raya holidays.

What can I say after reading Stuffocation? I'm happy to say thank you, James Wallman, for validating my thoughts and for helping to confirm that my attitude towards things is correct, and it's OK not to live a flashy life even though I totally could. Thank you for giving me so many real-life living examples. Thank you for introducing new terminology such as 'medium chill'. I'm happy to be a professional hippy with a calculator. I have nothing against stuff because good stuff makes me happy and functioning as a proper human being. I just don't like flashy stuff that don't serve any real purpose. I've never been bothered by branded goods and I don't care if others care that they must have them because it's their life, right? They do what they want; they buy what they want.

Meanwhile, I'll probably still continue to buy books because books have shaped me the way I am today. I'll continue to dream about the trips I want to make. The languages I want to master—I have this fantasy that I could speak any languages ever since I was a kid... I want to continue to look at beautiful things. I want to try to create something, help something and someday foster cats and dogs when I finally stop lugging suitcases around.

I am happy as I am. T-shirt and jeans. A backpack or large handbag where I stuff my crap in. A small cosy apartment, cattle-class flights and maybe occasionally on business class (that's how to keep things special). I'm truly happier that way. The only way to find out what truly is you is to go out and try it, and see how you feel about it. Honestly feel about it. Not what other people think you should be feeling.

I'm happy when I've built a relationship with my favorite stalls at Lau Pa Sat. It's truly awesome when the uncles and aunties selling their stuff knows exactly which order # you'll have or if you're at the mixed rice stall, the jie-jie knows exactly what vegetables you'll be having with your brown rice. When you go to the beer counter, the aunty gives you Tiger without asking. Oh god, I will miss Lau Pa Sat now that I've moved along to another better (and smaller) place in Singapore. My CBD experiment has come to an end.

What I'm trying to say when I'm rambling so much is, experience life. Don't just be a mindless consumer. Remember to medium chill. Help yourself. Help others.

STUFFOCATION: Happy as I am

I'm still reading STUFFOCATION by James Wallman and here comes the part that truly resonated with me: Why the medium chill matters. What it is saying is exactly what I was just saying to my family and friends very recently, and it's a principle I've been holding on firmly for years. I wasn't using the term 'medium chill' but the principle is the same.

Wallman says that medium chill is not an apathetic, can't-be-bothered sort of outlook on life, but is a far more ambitious and active idea. (p.145)

I'm happy with my current position at work and I actively seek out opportunities that will bring me one step closer to the life I want. I love a simple drama-free life, one that brings bread to the table but still gives me time to enjoy the life I want (travel, read, write), one that gives just the right level of stress... you get the idea. I've been working hard for more than 20 years to achieve this dream. It was not a straightforward career path because of my background, but still, the journey was a thrill.

I love my current job. I have no desire climb the endless career ladder but that doesn't mean I'm a slacker. Far from it. I still do my best and play hard. It's enjoyable, it pays well, and I still get to be Alice. Outside of work, I am learning languages, reading books, pursuing interesting ideas and carrying out experiments, traveling, volunteering, spending time with my family and friends.

So, when I read this statement in STUFFOCATION, I was nodding my head wildly in agreement:

This is precisely why the medium chill is such a radical idea, and why it is worth thinking about. Because, at its heart, the medium chill can protect you from one of the least pleasant aspects of our current system: the bullying sense that you have no choice and there is no way out. It is not, to be clear, the sort of down-tools, do-nothing protest you might hear from a slacker. It offers a real alternative to the motorway of materialism. It is a signpost, if you like, to another way of living, one which is slower and gentler and more human. (p.146)

[...]

In today's system you are supposed to always say yes to material success, no matter what. But in a system where medium-chill values hold sway, you can make another choice. In the world of the medium chill, you can measure your achievements in different way, you can turn off the supercharged road of materialism, and take a slower, more laid-back route, and not to worry what other people will say. (p.147)

There are certainly times of hard work and alongside those period, there is also plenty of time for chilling. Don't let the quantity of stuff take over our quality of life. Don't get caught in the work-hard, play-hard, spend-a-lot trap of consumerism. I am happy as I am.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Stuffocation and the case for stuff

Hello! I'm back with more thoughts from James Wallman's STUFFOCATION. I came to the part of the book that talks about the five key questions to work out if minimalism is going to catch on. I will not repeat all the questions here. It seems there are no problem with the first three, it starts to falter at question 4, and according to the author, it falls flat at the last question: Compared to the way we live now, is minimalism better?

It's here Wallman tries to make a case for stuff. That stuff is good and for that I agree with him. There are six reasons why stuff is good. To me, the important distinction here is getting rid of your EXCESS stuff vs. getting rid of most of your stuff.

#1 Stuff includes the tool that enable us to do more, go faster, and achieve things far beyond our natural capability. (p.121)

#2 Stuff is good, because physical possessions can give us not only a sense of security, but actual protection from the elements to help us survive. Admittedly, your new 50-inch OLED television may not ensure you make it through the night, but consider the difference between having a home and not having a home, or the coat that keeps you warm in winter. (p.122)

#3 Stuff is good, because it helps us express our identities and beliefs, and display our fitness indicators: [...]. (p.122) To me, this is the part where mostly the display of status comes in; for example, the clothes or jewellery we wear, the cars or bikes we own. And it's not just the brand because it could also be the type; for example, some people choose to own and drive an electric car instead of one that runs on petrol.

#4 And stuff is good, because it connects us to others, to events, and to our own pasts. (p.122) Think about the souvenirs you brought back from your exotic travels, a present your loved one gifted you with.

#5 Stuff is good because it reflects our basic requirement for stimulus. (p.122) Think of a child with a new bike, you with a new phone, me with a new book, that sort of stuff.

#6 And finally, stuff is good because it feels good, because we, as physical creatures, enjoy the sheer physicality of objects [...]. (p.123) This is why I love holding and flipping pages of a physical book...

Generally, I like the middle ground and having just enough. Sometimes I get carried away or was influenced to try something new, so I accumulated stuff that helped me achieve my goal-of-the-moment. Sometimes I made fantastic discoveries and learned; sometimes I made costly mistakes and I'm still making mistakes - no shame in that. All these build good case studies and in the process, I become more aware of what works for me and that includes the stuff I own or plan to buy in the future. I have no plans to stifle my curiosity but I will definitely be more mindful of what I choose to bring into my space.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Let's talk about STUFFOCATION...

I'm currently reading STUFFOCATION by James Wallman and started reading it two hours ago. I've reached the part on how the throwaway culture was created and how we're being manipulated into behaving exactly the way they (the industrialists, the ad folks, etcetera) want us to behave through the creation of desire.

I'm a frugal creature and have always been due to my family background. Yet, I succumbed somewhat to some actions such as attaining and retaining my status miles with OneWorld, rented an expensive apartment in Singapore right in the smack of the city center. I didn't go into debt or anything like that to achieve that; I totally afforded them. I succeeded in my experiments to attain those (and more). The abovementioned didn't really do anything for me, but to be fair, they did boost my ego for a bit. They're nice but they're not what I am.

So I recalibrated. Just this month, I moved to a cosier, much smaller 400-square-foot apartment in my favorite neighborhood in Singapore (it's a secret where this 'hood is, so I will not tell you where but it's not in Woodlands - nothing wrong with Woodlands, don't get me wrong!). A few weeks ago, I also decided to stop retaining my Sapphire status with OneWorld. In short, I've stopped accumulating 'excess' (in the case of the status miles) and 'a nice address' (in the case of the 2-bedroom 600-square-foot apartment 5 minutes away from my office in the city center).  I've never been a fan of branded goods, cosmetics, bags, clothes - thank God for that - but I do need to reevaluate my need to buy books (new or used).

Speaking of books, I finally plucked STUFFOCATION from my personal library two years after buying it and I'm now at page 87. Pages 84 to 86 are the pages I want to share because the following paragraphs are so real and important. Here goes:

Calkins and his contemporaries soon came up with two revolutionary ideas. The first was that industry should shift its focus from producing ever better products to creating products that would only last a short time. They should turn goods that people USED, such as motor cards and safety razors, into goods people would USE UP, like toothpaste and biscuits. Instead of selling products that were made to last, they should sell ones that were made to break.

The second idea was, in many ways, more radical: it was to take the happy, thrifty people of America and turn them into dissatisfied, wasteful, conspicuous consumers. Instead of just manufacturing products out of raw materials, industry should manufacture consumers. How could they do that?

To begin with, as Calkins reasoned, these new consumers would have to have enough money to buy products. Industry could make this happen either by paying them enough in their wage packets, or by giving them the financial means to buy now. This, of course, is consumer credit.

Calkins's next idea was more exciting, and certainly more colourful. The inspiration for this came from the art he had brought the world of advertising. Just as advertising had evolved from those early, functional messages into works of art, so, he felt, products should do the same. This, it seemed to him, was the natural progress of any industry. At first, a person would be amazed that a new product even existed, and the industrialist would only need to make the product functional. Then, the consumer would want to see it beautified, through colour, style, design. This was the evolutionary stage, he believed, industry had come to. 'The appeal of efficiency alone is nearly ended,' he wrote in an article for The Atlantic Monthly in August 1927. 'Beauty is the next logical step.'

If you think about this idea for a moment, it is clear that it is the statement both of an aesthete and of a businessman. The beauty of this concept, if you will, is that what is beautiful can also be engineered, and manipulated according to a manufacturing cycle, to keep people buying. In other words, Calkins was taking the idea that underpinned the success of fashion business and transferring it to other industries. In this new vision, people would buy a new car, clock, carpet, or a new ANYTHING, as Calkins wrote, 'not because the old one is worn out, but because it is no longer modern. It does not satisfy their pride...because it is out of date, out of style, no longer the thing.'

And it worked. Re-tooled with these innovative ideas, America's industries started mass-producing products that were made to break, and engineering consumers who would use up what they had previously only used. Armed with these revolutionary ideas, Calkins and the captains of consciousness changed the habits and customs of ordinary Americans, and created a new throwaway culture.

I don't have a lot of things (well, maybe books), and I always wear the same clothes and shoes until they're no longer wearable (I'm not fashionable), and there has been no change to my iPhone for the longest time (unless the squat-toilet-accident incident happens again, which I'm now super careful about). I don't believe in ending the life of an object prematurely. I don't like to 'just replace it' and it doesn't make sense to keep upgrading a device or anything just because a newer, fancier model has emerged.

Okay, it's time for me to get back to the book because I want to continue reading the next section, The evolution of throwaway culture.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Goodbye OneWorld Sapphire

2018 marks the final year of my OneWorld Sapphire status. To be exact, November 2018. It is really nice being pampered and all that, and what I'll miss most is the wonderful people of the Qantas Lounge in Changi Singapore. You guys and gals (Ronaldo, Eric, Gim, Michelle, and so many more) are the very people who make the lounge experience special, for without you, it's just another lounge.

With every progression I made and continue to make in my career and life, I realize it is even more important to stay grounded and remain humble. What is the point of chasing status miles? It's a question I ask myself quite often, actually. It's also worth mentioning that I'm on a mission to get rid of the excess to focus on what’s truly important.

In many instances when I was at the airport (let's say Changi), I was contemplating whether or not to head to the lounge. I simply wasn't feeling it. If I have to think so much instead of just making my way there straightaway, I knew right there and then that it's just not my style.

It's nice to have attained and retained that coveted status (as a goal-oriented person, I totally dig this), but that's about it. Here's where the excitement ends—when the goal was achieved. So, what's the meaning of it all? I'm not a hotshot or a high profile executive or a socialite, or a frequent traveler with lots of needs. I simply don't need the status. It's also more interesting to be out and about with the general population.

So what happens if I want to access a lounge whenever I fancy or need it? I've got my alternative unlimited Priority Pass lounge access to continue combining the best of both worlds in budget and luxury travel. I might even reconsider flying Air Asia and risk delayed flights 90% of the time. Now, let me ponder on that last point for a little bit more...

Monday, March 26, 2018

Donating My Books

Every month or so, I donate some books from my personal library here in Singapore. Over the last 2.5 years of staying in Singapore, I have managed to accumulate quite a lot in my small apartment. It's amazing how one book can so quickly multiply into hundreds. I have completely succeeded in ignoring my mom's warning and reminders on not to build a "new collection"—sorry mom...



I only started this donation practice in Singapore. I am usually quite a hoarder and I love collecting books and build my personal library. However, recently I got a bit Zen and thought I wanted to make space and contribute to the society. The National Library Board Singapore provided me with a great solution to my cause with their book exchange corners. I've been donating my books ever since.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Finding My World, by Walter T. Yurt

Saturday... It was one of those days when I just wanted to stay home and read. Play with my bookshelves. Flip pages. Decide which book I'll be donating next to the Book Exchange Corner at the various Singapore public library locations (mine is Central).

I did all of the above, except for going to the Book Exchange Corner at the Central Public Library. More about that soon in the next post where I share the pile I've decided to donate.

So, while going through my already-overflowing bookshelves in Singapore, I decided to tackle Walter T. Yurt's book, Finding My World, which I bought early last year during one of my monthly trips home to Malaysia. Speaking of Malaysia, it's almost three years now for me since my move to Singapore!


In this book, Walter talks about his trips in Southeast Asia to Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos; outside of SEA in Hong Kong and his family trip in Disney World. He usually makes short trips, ranging from one day to four days, and I went like, "Hey! That sounds like me." I am The Weekend Traveler!

He started of with:

One of the greatest things in my great life is the fact that no matter where I end up, the unfamiliar that I get to encounter, along with the familiarity of the goodness of the human spirit I receive from people, is a combination that is unbelievable and sometimes indescribable.

And he ended the book saying:
For me, I am at peace with my decision to live a life where the only constant is change and the only certainty is that new adventures are always on the horizon. It's not a life for everyone, but it is the life for me. No matter where I call or don't call home, I know that the feelings I get every year before my annual trip back home to America, the excitement in seeing my loved ones, the anticipation in experiencing what, if any changes I can see and feel in Louisville, are great feelings to have.

Before that, he also said something that resonated very much with me:
I now live every day knowing that, as I've written before, I have more than one home, which makes me feel like one fortunate guy. I guess for me it was a process—maybe a never-ending process—knowing, feeling and living the fact that almost all expats, and lots of others, too, can have more than one place they call home. Maybe that's the single greatest gift of being an expat.

I loved the fact Walter mentioned McDonald's in Thailand and I have very found memories of being greeted by the Thai version of the Ronald McDonald statues in Hatyai, Phuket, Bangkok, Krabiwell, pretty much in every parts of Thailand I had been to. As you can see below, that's Ronald McDonald smiling and his palms pressed together in the wai (the customary Thai greeting). Makes me happy every time I see this guy.

A post shared by Alice Teh (@aliceteh) on

I was smiling away reading the part where his friend Stephen was being mistaken as a Vietnamese and I was thinking to myself, everywhere I go in Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia,  and so on, I was being mistaken for either a Japanese or Korean. I even had a Korean lady speaking to me in Korean in the lift in one of the hotels in Siem Reap because she thought I was a fellow Korean! It was quite funny.

I loved the way he interacted with the locals and natives and how he treated his guides and drivers. I also loved his mode of exploring the places he visited: WALKING! Good man, this Walter T. Yurt. I supposed because his style of traveling is so similar to mine, I like him more and more as a fellow traveler each time I flipped the pages.

This is an interesting read, and I believe it's something that every traveler who has been and is traveling in Asia and beyond can relate to. I am going to spread the love and donate this book to the Book Exchange Corner. May Finding My World finds its way to a new loving home.