Thursday, March 28, 2013

Who, me? Scared? Ha hah hah... ha hah... hah... hmm... (Genting Highlands Ghost House)

My church recently organized a camp for youths, held at Genting Highlands. Those who paid attention gained experiences and lessons that will lead them and guide them through life etc. etc. etc., but mostly everyone was just looking forward to the last day of camp when we would get to got to the Genting Highlands theme park.

Oh yes, the theme park was great. Unfortunately, we only had three and a half hours to spend there, so the campers were advised to stick to the indoor theme park. Me and a group of friends had a great time there, spending an illogical amount of money on lunch, watching busking magician shows and freezing our ears off in the snow house, which was all well and good. But the most exciting thing we did there, since we didn't get to sit on the roller coasters, was the visit to the Ghost House.

Unfortunately, no pics.

But the experience in itself impressed itself in my mind, so I don't think I'll need any pics to remember them anyway. I took on the dark and tentative walk through the Ghost House with one of my closest friends and two girls. I'm quite blur on how exactly we ended up with this arrangement. We were a group of eight, and when we bought the tickets they told us that we would only be allowed in four by four. The two girls immediately jumped in and said that me and my friend were to be their escorts. I mean, it's not that I object to being taken advantage of for my homely and protective nature. It's just that, as I stood before the entrance with the girls behind me and a dark unknown corridor with cryptic noises emanating from it in front of me, I wished I could have had more time to think whether or not I agreed in the first place.

But it wasn't really all that bad, at first. I mean, we had seen one of the ghosts walking around the plaza and handing out pamphlets when we were waiting to buy our tickets. After all, the plain reality is that the spooky noises are really just recordings. Along the corridor were windows and doors and such things through which we vengeful zombie murders taking place in front of our eyes, but it was really just a video of a couple of actors doing what they do best, being replayed on a cleverly-designed TV screen. The sound of gunfire and the spray of blood in the dark was really just a balloon popping and a fine jet of cold mist. The ghosts that jump out from corners and give chase down the long and dank corridors are just ordinary people like you and me who have been hired to scare people and they really won't and can't hurt you, and as part of their job they get to leave their haunt to hand around pamphlets to the people in the plaza downstairs.

All these realizations taking place in my head, plus the laser light gun they gave us for the journey, and the natural masculine inclination to appear macho in front of the girls, granted me an unusual kind of courage. I lead us through the haunted house, keeping cool and concentrated throughout the whole stretch of the walk. When the first ghost jumped out at me, I pointed my gun at him and laughed at his face. The whole thing was really amusing to me.

Can't say the same for the girls though.

My friend was protecting the girls from the back, and he did it well for the first half of the journey. But then the ghosts started chasing us. Then I had to keep yelling at him to stay at the back, stay at the back.

I once read that people sometimes confuse feelings of fear for infatuation, meaning that people fall in love with other people in scary situations. I'm compelled to disagree. When you're running away from ghosts in a dark corridor with people shouting at each other and balloons popping next to you and water being sprayed in your face, romantic intentions are not likely to be your main concern at that time.

I actually made my way through the ghost house with a steady and brisk pace, focusing on nothing but the lights we were supposed to shoot with our laser guns and thinking how to get the girls out of there as quickly as possible. I was only briefly aware of the constant thudding and bumping noises and the fake skeleton props. After the first zombie-murder-screen, from which I received a full share of blood water in my face, I crouched and continued walking like in Counterstrike whenever I saw another screen. When the ghosts started chasing, I blocked out all senses and focused on finding my way and leading us through the dark maze. When we got out the other end, I was cheerful. The girls hadn't burst into tears, thankfully, and my friend was shaken but he would recover. I actually applauded them for their bravery, and happily led them down from the Ghost House to go see a magic show and calm their nerves.

Yep, I was perfectly unaffected by the entire Ghost House.

Of course, when you're walking through a dark, unfamiliar corridor all alone three hours later, it's a different story.

Yeah, yeah. It wasn't until later that night that the effect of what I had been through finally caught up with me. I open a door into a dark room in my house, and the haunting atmosphere of the Ghost House replays in my mind. The insides of my ears replay all the noises I had ignored back then, and my memory's eyes saw the zombies...

So I turned on the lights. Okay, laugh at me. I deserve it, really.

Fear is a complex, useful, wonderful thing. It gives you an adrenaline rush today, and makes you roll up on the floor and cry tomorrow. It also scrambles all your other emotions, which can either sharpen your senses, or make you lose yourself and your mind. It's what helped humans outrun tigers in the days long gone, and it's the main lever used by corrupted politicians in today's world. But at the end of the day, it just feels pretty darn good.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Viewing Life as One Big Story

Not too long ago, I read a book titled A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Don Miller. Some may recognise the author by one of his other books, Blue Like Jazz, his memoirs which became a best-seller and was adapted into a movie. This book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, actually tells the story of how Don's view of life was changed as he worked with Steve and Ben to adapt his memoirs into a movie.
I am fully aware that the concept may sound a bit spectacular and unbelievable the way I put it, but it's true. As Don learns about the elements of a good story from Steve and Ben as they work on converting his memoirs into a movie, Don learns a lot and does a lot of reflecting, hence resulting in the creation of this book. The core of the message in the book is how Don learns to look at life as a story.
Some stories are good, while others are not so good. Sometimes you watch a movie or read a story book, and at the end of it you come away thinking "What was that all about?" and you forget all about the story by breakfast the next morning. On the other hand, some movies keep your eyes wide open throughout the whole two hours of it, or some books are so gripping that you lose track of time and accidentally pull off an all-nighter because you simply couldn't put the book down and go to sleep without seeing the end of the story. At last, when it's all over, you come away from the theatre/book thinking "That was amazing."
Don compares the elements of a good story to the elements of a good life. He writes of how to live a full and complete life, challenging yourself and taking on tasks that seem to great to accomplish. Basically, he write on how to live your life so that when it's over, people around you don't start looking at each other blankly and ask "What was that all about?"
So what makes a good story? "A good story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it." Quoted from the book. It's quite as simple as that. Think of all the great epics and fantasy movies you've seen in your time. Sure, there are subplots and twists and clichés that make one story vary from another, but when you dig right down to the roots, you find that this is the driving force behind all good stories. A character. Who wants something. And overcomes conflict. To get it.
Every main character in every story has a goal, whether or not they realise it. Sometimes they only become consciously aware of what they are trying to achieve halfway through the story. And the story often revolves around the pain, and suffering that the character goes through, to be finally crowned with the triumphant victory of achieving his goal in the last chapter of the book. The story is set in motion by the existence of a goal which the character must achieve. This is closely tied together with real life. If you don't have a goal in your life, your story stagnates. You end up not doing anything. No one wants to watch a movie of a man who doesn't do anything. At the same time, you may set a goal in your life, for instance, losing weight (we can start small, no problem). You may never get down to doing it, in which case it wouldn't make a much better story than if you didn't even have a goal in the first place. To get the good story going in your life, you set a goal for yourself and force yourself to get started on it. Once the ball gets rolling, you keep rolling it until you cross the finish line, and then you have a story.
And that's just the first part of the book. In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Don focuses more on the relation between life and movies rather than literature. So what makes the difference between a good movie and a great movie? Here we delve into the depth of "memorable scenes", "goals with high stakes" and "pain and suffering" etc. etc. etc. I won't attempt to summarise the whole book in one blog post. The best thing to do would be to read the book yourself, because Don Miller himself can explain everything better than I ever could. To use a suitable cliché to end my talk of stories, once you read that book, you will never look at life the same way again.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Balance between mental/physical exhaustion/activity

When I've spent the day cracking books, reading and studying, or sitting behind a computer doing some work of some sort, I feel like I need to get outside and get some blood flowing. You know, "exercise". That thing people do to stay healthy by using bicycles and swimming pools and what not.

Conversely, when I've spent the day doing stuff, getting around, talking to people and things like that, I want to relax at home and read a good novel, or watch an interesting show on Discovery channel. I want to stay in the house and just "absorb", as I like to call it. Mental activity rather than physical.

When I think about it, it's kind of interesting how things balance out. When I've spent all day on a chair, forcing my brain to take in or dish out information, my body starts feeling sluggish, and I want to do some physical activity to clear the blood vessels. On the other hand, after tiring myself out by going from place to place and talking to different people (which drains me as I have recently discovered) I don't want to go anywhere anymore. I just want to rest and let my mind take in new information from my surroundings at it's own pace.
In other words, when I'm mentally exhausted, I want to occupy myself with physical activity, and when I'm physically exhausted, I want to occupy myself mental activity. Actually, the latter is the reason why I'm blogging right now. I don't know if that's how other people feel, but this occurred to me just a while ago, and I thought it's funny how it works out.

The phrase "getting away from a hectic lifestyle" does not mean bugging out on the couch with a coke, chips, and rented movie. Taking a brisk cycle with nature or reclining back to study a classic work of literature might seem a bit like "work", but it's all really in the mind. An ideal job is doing something you like, but with more deadlines. A hobby is doing something you like that might be considered work, except without deadlines. Personally, I wouldn't bug out on a couch with a bag of chips when I have free time unless the day has been a really nasty one, in any sense of the word "nasty". I don't know why I'm telling you this. Just felt like saying it. Now you know a bit more about me. Congrats.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How to help a friend who is facing problems. (my thoughts on)

Recently, I've been trying to keep up with people more. Asking them how they are, what they're doing now, that sort of thing, mostly through Facebook. But I try my best not to dwell on the surface. I don't just have happy conversations with them about the weather, things like that. I've been trying to find out about their problems, try to offer them advice on it and help them out in any way I can. Today, I found out about some of my friends' really distressing problems, and I felt really upset about not being able to help out more. I left Facebook feeling rather depressed. So many other people have so many problems, I was thinking to myself. If only I could give them better advice.
When I realised I had a problem with not knowing how to help people, I felt like finding someone to unload the problem onto. I wasn't necessarily expecting the person to be able to help me. I just felt like sharing my misery with someone else. But my problem is so silly. Who would want to listen to it? I smiled and thought to myself, even so, it's always nice to have someone who is willing to listen to one's problems.
But that's the answer, isn't it?

"It's always nice to have someone who is willing to listen to one's problems." Of course, my problem is a very minor problem compared to some of the difficulties that other people face in life. But perhaps, sometimes when life is getting you down, and you're facing many difficulties one after another, it's just nice to have someone to talk to, someone to share your problems with. It's nice to know that there's someone who feels for you, someone who bothers to know about your problems. Someone who will patiently listen to your problems, no matter how self-centered those problems may seem.

I've felt that way sometimes. Perhaps you have felt the same way too. If that's the case, others have probably felt the same way too. There might be people around us, people who are close to us, who have problems and just need someone whom they know will listen to them. Perhaps sometimes, you can help a person by just being there for them.

If you've faced many problems in the past, it would be a great help for you in helping out others. What others may call "a challenging time in life" can be turned into a learning experience simply by looking for things to learn from it. Problems that you've face in the past will help you to relate to others who are facing similar problems now. This will make it easier for you to relate to the person, and you will be able to give more relevant advice. Even telling him how you felt about it at the time and how you dealt with the situation internally can help the person a lot.

Or perhaps, a friend comes to you with a problem and you know someone who might be able to help them. When you try to help someone with their problems, you don't have to work entirely on your own capabilities. There may be someone, another friend, a parent, or a teacher who has handled problems like this before. You can go to them for advice that you can pass on to your friend who is struggling with the problem. You could even direct the friend to someone who could help them. There shouldn't be a reason to be ashamed of asking other people to help out with a problem that a friend brought to you. Just so long as the friend is willing to tell people other than you about his problem.

If a person would rather not let other people know about the problem he is facing, you could look for advice on the internet. Google does a lot of work for us these days, and the internet is a wide, wide ocean of information. If you're lucky, maybe a blogger like me (but hopefully better at writing) has gone through the same problem as your friend, and he has blogged about how he overcame that problem. That might be a good article to suggest for your friend to read. However, there are a lot of false teachings floating around the internet these days, so it's important to read things with discernment, so that you don't end up making your friend's problem worse.

Of course, not everyone can be a like Chinese shi-fu that has a proverb for every situation. I guess that sometimes it's easier to help people with their problems, and sometimes it's harder. I still feel that if all you can do to help a person is being that 'someone' who is ready to listen to their problems with open arms, it's nothing to be ashamed of. You don't have to provide a long list of steps to help them overcome their problems, or quote verses and sayings to make them feel better. I think that sometimes it's enough to just say "Can I listen to your problems?" As Mother Theresa once said, "Kind words can be short and easy to speak but their echoes are truly endless."