Is fate fluid?

What if the Nazis and the Japs had won World War II?
What would that world be like?

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Based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle gives a glimpse into an alternate history, in which America was divided into two states, one ruled by the Nazis, the other by the Japs.

In our daily life, we make decisions all the time, regardless how important or how trivial they might be. Often many of us would try to imagine or dream about a certain life event with an alternate outcome that’s different from this world we live in. What if I had chosen B instead of A? What would my life be like?

The Man in the High Castle is not just a story about an imaginary world, it’s concerned with a deeper philosophical issue.

Consider if there are other parallel universes out there where all the choices we made in this life played out completely differently, then would we still get to make our own choices? Wouldn’t our choices be predetermined in such universe? In other words, if all possible outcomes must happen, then there cannot be free will in all universes. Maybe in one, but not all.

Now, if the possibility of multiverse undermines the possibility of free will, then the important question we need ask ourselves is…how do we know which world we’re living in right now?

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The Man in the High Castle provides some good insights into these questions if you’re interested in finding out. 😉

And…Season 3 is coming out this year! Can’t wait! (Hopefully soon. Release date is not yet set though.)

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The bitterness concealed within the sweetness

 

“What is to become of this country?” Fred Smith cried out in anguish.

 

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Plot (Wikipedia – Sweet Country (2017 film)):
Sam is a middle-aged Aboriginal farmer in the outback of Australia’s Northern Territory. He is sent by a preacher to help a bitter war veteran named Harry to help renovate the latter’s cattle yards. Sam’s relationship with Harry quickly deteriorates, resulting in a fight ending with Sam killing Harry in self-defense. For the murder of a white man, Sam is now on the run from the law with his wife across the deadly outback. A manhunt for the farmer is on, led by Sergeant Fletcher, but questions of justice start to surface among the community as the true details of the murder come to light.

For many, Sweet Country is a film that tells Australia’s bitter history. A film that depicts the abuse and inhumanity of the Anglo-European settlers towards the local Indigenous people in the country’s early days. A film that deals with the issues of injustice and racial discrimination. A film that, at its core, intends to raise awareness of the historical prejudice and the mistreatment of Australia’s first people.

These are all valid statements.

But to me, as an active audience and an “over-thinker” who tends to over-analyse and think beyond my feelings of what is on the screen, I would like to think that there is actually more that we can take in from this film.

Sweet Country is a reflection of humanity. Humanity in a broad sense. It’s a film that pricks one’s conscience.

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“We are all equal here. We’re all equal in the eyes of the lord” Fred Smith, a kind, god-fearing preacher and landowner, told a man at the beginning of the film.

 

The story was set in the 1920s in the Australian outback, a bygone period when the indigenous people, the “blackfellas”, were regarded as property owned by the “whitefellas”, and were treated brutally like slaves.

There’s a scene in the film a teenage indigenous boy was chained up by the drunken white landowner overnight for no reason.

Now a flash-forward to 2018, didn’t we recently hear about two parents chaining up their children to their beds in the United States? And that certainly is not the only case uncovered in the last decades.

And then there’s this scene in which the same man raped the Aboriginal stockman’s wife violently as if she was only a lifeless doll for him to pleasure himself with.

Don’t we see this kind of savage behaviour still prevails in 21st century in the form of domestic violence?

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Regardless of race, how can a person be so cruel to another person? What is it that guides our attitudes and actions towards our fellow beings? Our conscience? Or is it our pride and ego?

 

People change as time passes, but in essence, do we? Are we, human beings, as the British philosopher John Stuart Mill believes, “progressive beings”? Or are we, as another British philosopher Thomas Hobbes suggests, cruel, greedy and selfish by nature?

sweetcountry6In a lawless country like Sweet Country, a depiction of Australia’s early days when the local indigenous people were treated as nothing more than slaves. Now, we live in a modern society ruled by law, most people are law abiding citizens, but sometimes in situations where laws are irrelevant or vaguely defined, such as in the case of “hate speech”, we still see people treating each other with malice and meanness.

We may all be created equal, but the brutal reality is that we aren’t equal in each other’s eyes. Regardless of race, people show partiality and hold prejudice to other people all the time.

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Amidst the beauty of the vast landscape of the Australian outback, though there are kindness and compassion found in some people, such as in the kind-hearted character Fred Smith depicted in the world of Sweet Country, one cannot ignore the existence of hatred, cruelty and violence.

It is like sugar-coated tablets. The bitter taste of the drug is concealed by a layer of sweetness. But we all know the bitterness is still there.

History is a fact. And the future is shaped by the past. If we cannot acknowledge the past and reflect on ourselves, how can we move forward?

Sweet Country is a film that shows humanity its own shame. A film that intends to prick our conscience, with the hope to rebuild ravaged societies and human relationships.

“What is to become of this country?” Fred Smith cried out in anguish at the end of the film.

That’s the question directed to Australia.

But to the rest of humanity, the question is…what is to become of us?

*Sweet Country opens nationally on the 25th January, the day before Australia day, and then released internationally in March.

 

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The Rock’s Story

 

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So close and yet so far

A few weeks ago, while jogging through a park, from afar I saw a young couple standing apart staring out at the lake under the setting sun. They seemed so close and yet so far from each other as if there was something there that hindered them from connecting with one another.

The scene stirred up feelings of nostalgia from within me. At that moment, the tune of the Beatles’ “Yesterday” began to play in my head and continued to recur intermittently in the weeks followed. Inspired by the beautiful lyrics written by Sir Paul McCartney, I decided to write this poem.

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Yesterday
all my troubles seemed so far away
as though they were fixed on to the shore across.
Though the water in front of us
is so clear and calm,
my vision of the future
becomes fuzzy and dim.
My troubles have been flowed back to me
by a wave of ruthless current formed in a dark and stormy night
while trying to pull me out towards the murky waters.
Oh, now I long for yesterday.

Standing on the shore
under the shadow of a tree
we stare out at the deep water
Who am I? I asked myself.
In front of us
the lake is as still as yesterday
the sun is shinning as bright as yesterday
but I am not the person I used to be.
Pondering upon the present in the light of the distant future
I feel a sense of loneliness hanging over me.
Oh, yesterday came suddenly.

Under the dazzling sun
I can see your face reflected in water
like your heart reflected in your eyes
I wonder what you are thinking right now
but I guess you wouldn’t say.
Your silence grows
like a wall rising between us
signifying to me that you need a place to hide away.
Remember the game we used to play?
The playful words we used to say?
Life was easy yesterday.

You seem so close yet so far
though now you are only a step away from me
I feel our hearts are miles apart
Suddenly
you whispered
“Do you believe in yesterday?”

 

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The rebel who loved trees…part 1

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There were two powerful men in history who had made tremendous impacts on the world, Germany in particular.

One is the most hated, the other is still being admired even after 500 years has passed.

Escaping from the city filled with painful history caused by the most hated, with the hope of lightening my heavy heart, I stepped on a train heading south to a small town where the better part of history was made.

The train was travelling swiftly like a northerly wind blowing from the north to the south. Sitting by the window, I watched the scenery passing backwards in such haste that made me think that perhaps the concept of time was being reversed.

Maybe the train was taking its passengers on a journey to the past. I wondered.

Maybe time was running backwards…

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After a roughly 40-minute ride which felt like 500 years had passed, the train arrived at its destination.

I stepped out onto the platform, there in front of me stood a sign that read “Lutherstadt Wittenberg”, meaning the “Luther City” of Wittenberg.

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Didn’t Luther ask people not to call themselves Lutheran? I pondered. What would he think if he knew that a town had changed its official name because of him?

“I ask that my name be left silent and people not call themselves Lutheran, but rather Christians. Who is Luther? The doctrine is not mine. I have been crucified for no one…
How should I, a poor stinking bag of worms, become so that the children of Christ are named with my unholy name?” – Martin Luther

Anyhow, let’s keep it simple and just call it Wittenberg for now.

Wittenberg is a quiet small town. Under a cloudless sky, the feeling of tranquility in this town seemed even more conspicuous.

streetsign1After I walked out from the train station, without searching for walking directions, I ambled down the street.

Following the main road down to the roundabout, I arrived at “Lutherstraße”. Given that this town has renamed itself “Luther City”, this must be “Luther Street”. I guessed.

stone-eicheWhile standing in the shade of a big tree, I turned around, and there in front of me stood a memorial stone marking “Luther-eiche”. Looks like everything in this town is named after Luther.

I looked up from under the Luther Oak* and caught a glimpse of the clear blue sky through a canopy of branches and spring leaves as if I were looking into the future from a distant past. So this is the spot where nearly 500 years ago the angry rebel Martin Luther burned the papal bull of excommunication? And this is the rebel whom they said had rediscovered God and changed the world?

tree_old_picOverwhelmed by a stream of questions flowing through my mind all at once, the feeling of confusion and uncertainty began to build up. I started thinking about the history. I started doubting about space and time.

How long ago was it that I stepped on a train departing from the city filled with history of the most hated rebel? And now I’m here discovering the history made by another rebel, the one that the country has dedicated an entire decade to his legacy and achievements?tree_vertical

My mind was clouded with thoughts over the contrast between these two rebels, between the good and the evil. I looked up again at the tree in front of me. It somehow made me think of The Tree of Knowledge.

A bird emerged from behind a leaf, caught me, held my gaze, and began to chirp as if it were trying to tell me something before it hopped off the branch and flew away like a symbol of peace.

 

To be continued…

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“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree today.”
– Martin Luther

 

 

*Luther-eiche (Luther Oak) : On 10th December 1520, Martin Luther burned the papal excommunication warning in front of the Elster Gate. It is told that a day later an oak was planted on that place. The oak that is there now was planted in 1830, on the occasion of the anniversary of the Augsburg Confession.

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The mountains have called on me… part 1

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It all began with an IMAX film which I saw in 2012…

After a brief moment of darkness, the scene of a mountain top poking through a sea of clouds gradually emerged on the massive screen in front of the eyes. The vision is stupendously real and stunning that for a split second, reality seemed to have sneaked away in a moment of complete silence.

As the vision faded away, the eyes blinked accordingly and the peaceful solitude seemed to be broken by a wave of breath. But no. It was in fact the hissing sound of a steam locomotive racing across a scenic view of green landscape, and continued travelling along the rugged mountain passes of the Canadian Rockies.

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Compressed into a one hour breathtaking journey through a restored steam engine from the 1930s travelling from west to east across the continent, Rocky Mountain Express tells the story of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway over a century ago.

Interweaving between wilderness and civilisation, a region of exceptional natural beauty was captured through the narrow lens of the camera, and projected onto the massive screen of the theatre.

rockies1Alpine meadows, canyons, glaciers, lakes…above all, the mountains, radiating their magnificence upon the bare eyes of the viewer, appeared raw and pristine, and the mighty magnetism of which was able to impede all the senses to the realization in one’s awareness.

Subconsciously merging with the perception of the filmmaker, the viewer was lured to immerse themselves into the magical world of the Rocky Mountains landscape.

That viewer was me. I was captivated by the charm and the spell of the majestic Canadian Rocky Mountains.

The mountains have called on me…

…through the lens and the screen, into my vision and penetrated my soul.

At that moment, I decided I must visit the Canadian Rocky Mountains one day.

 

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“Travel the Canadian. The Scenic Dome Route Across Canada. Canadian Pacific.” (1955) by Roger Couillard.
The Glenbow Museum, Calgary, Canada

 

To be continued…

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Everyone’s (still) waiting…

If you are a fan of singers and songwriters like Sara Bareilles, Sarah Blasko and Sarah McLachlan, and always admire their talent in music and are highly impressed by their phenomenal and unique vocal skills, I think you will appreciate the following Australian artist I am about to introduce to you, and I am sure you’ll also soon fall in love with her music too. Her name is not Sarah or Sara, but her talent in music can certainly stand comparison with any of the Sara(h)s mentioned above.

Her name is Missy Higgins.

Like Sarah Blasko, Missy is also one of Australia’s most well-known singers and songwriters in this century. She’s a multi-award winner who is best known for her hits such as “Scar”, “The Special Two”, etc. Her talent and her passion for music has led her to seven ARIA awards* over the past years. There is no doubt that Missy Higgins is one of the biggest success stories in the Australian music industry, however, personally I still think she’s quite underrated from an international perspective. This is partly why I decided to write this post because I do think that Missy deserves to be better known in the global music industry. So if you’re reading this post from the other side of the world, maybe you should check out her music too! 🙂

I first heard of Missy’s music back in 2005 and I have been a huge fan of hers ever since. I still remember the day I came across one of her early songs “the Sound of White” from the radio. I had never heard of a singer named Missy Higgins before and what had caught my ear at that moment wasn’t the melody or the lyrics of the song, but Missy’s distinctive voice coloured with her thick Australian accent. At the time I was still a new arrival to the country, I wasn’t familiar with the local Australian music, but I did know some of the internationally well-known Australian singers and bands and had listened to their songs, but unlike Missy, these singers seem to lose their accents when it comes to singing.

Whereas Missy’s singing is authentic, she’s true to her origin, and she’s unashamed of her Aussie accent even if it means that this could potentially become an obstacle that would prevent her from shining on the international stage. But I think this is exactly what made her singing interesting and caught my attention in the first place.


To me, I think it’s fair to say that Missy has created her own genre of music, every time when I listen to her songs now, I don’t hear the Australian accent anymore, all I hear is “Missy Higgins”. She is her own label. Missy is creative and insightful. Her songs are recognizable not only because of her adorable voice and accent, but also through the poetic lyrics that accompanied by the beautiful melody, which give insights into life.

Like a freeze-dried rose, you will never be, What you were, what you were to me in memory.
But if I listen to the dark, You’ll embrace me like a star, Envelope me, envelope me…
– Sound of White (2004)

I’ve hardly been outside my room in days, ‘Cause I don’t feel that I deserve the sunshine’s rays. The darkness helped until the whiskey wore away, And it was then I realize the conscience never fades.
– The Special Two (2004)

During the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015, a Kurdish family were trying to reach Canada to join their relatives, but while on the boat trying to cross the Mediterranean, three-year-old Alan Kurdi along with his mother and brother were drowned. Only the father survived this tragedy. The image of little Alan’s lifeless body washed up on a beach has made global headlines at the time. Many hearts were touched and broken after seeing the image, Missy’s was no exception, she then wrote the song Oh Canada and dedicated it to the memory of this little boy as well as all the victims of the refugee crisis. The single was released in 2016, with 100% of net proceeds from sales goes to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Earlier this year, on World Refugee Day, Missy performed this heartbreaking song live at the ASRC in Melbourne.

 

He was carried from the water by a solider
And the picture screams a thousand different words
He was running from the terror with his father
Who once believed that nothing could be worse

So he’d handed a man two thousand precious dollars
The way you’d rest a bird in a lion’s open jaw
And he told his boys that Canada was waiting
There was hope upon her golden shores

But at night he said a quiet prayer to the wind

Oh Canada, if you can hear me now
Won’t you open up your arms towards the sea?
Oh Canada, if you can help me out
All I ever wanted was a safe place for my family

Well the days were long but the nights were even longer
And the babies never left their mothers’ side
But the boat was small and the waves were getting stronger
And they began to fear they’d not survive

So the father said “We gotta hold each other tighter
I’m not losing everyone I love tonight
And we’ve come so far I know that out there somewhere
There’s a place where we’ll not fear for our lives”

But as he held onto the side of the boat he looked up at the sky

Oh Canada, if you can hear me now
Won’t you open up your arms towards the sea
Oh Canada, if you can help me out
The sea is turning and I think we’re going down

Anyone if you can hear me now,
Won’t you open up your heart towards the sea
Anyone, please help us out
All we ever wanted was a safe place for our family

There’s a million ways to justify your fear
There’s a million ways to measure out your words
But the body of Alan being laid upon the sand
Tell me how do you live with that?

– Oh Canada (2016)

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*the ARIAs is the highly prestigious annual awards in the Australian music industry

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Insight Trip to Kenya – Day 8

For my previous posts on this trip:

Insight Trip to Kenya – Day 1 & 2 (click here)
Insight Trip to Kenya – Day 3 (click here)
Insight Trip to Kenya – Day 4 (click here)
Insight Trip to Kenya – Day 5 (click here)
Insight Trip to Kenya – Day 6 (click here)
Insight Trip to Kenya – Day 7 (click here)

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Day 8 – The last day of the Insight Trip

In the morning, we visited the Kenya head office in Karen, there we learned about how the administrative, strategic and financial work are being done there.

I especially enjoyed very much visiting the mailing room and learned about how the sponsors’ letters and the children’s letters were being sorted and processed. That was very interesting!

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We also had the opportunity to chat with the country director Joel, who explained to us about the programs they have been running across the country and learned about the challenges both the organisation and the country are currently facing, one of which is the lack of visionary leadership.

But Joel is a visionary man. He explained to us that in order to help young people fight poverty, simply by providing education and meeting their basic needs are not enough, character and leadership development is also essentially important in terms of helping the country to move forward.

crista_kenya_day8-9_pic12Later on that night, we had dinner with four of the students from the Leadership Development Program.

They shared with us their inspirational stories and explained to us how the organisation had been helping them in their lives since their childhood.

What is so insightful about this Leadership Development Program is that they not only provide opportunities for young people to acquire leadership skills and educational training, but more importantly, to build their characters and learn to become responsible citizens and future leaders who can influence their society in the long term.

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“Wouldn’t it be better for people to give the money you would spend on a trip to the actual charity? I’m guessing each air fare could support a Village get fresh water etc, since $30 a month makes a difference….?” Joanna asked.

“That was indeed my struggle before I decided to join the insight trip to Kenya to visit my sponsored child.” I responded.

“No doubt financial help is very important in relieving poverty, but our presence there was another level of encouragement to those children, not just to our sponsored children, but to all the other children and their families and staff working in the Projects.

To me, it’s not just about the experience I gained from the trip, but it’s also about being there for the people. To let them know that the people from the other side of the world actually care for them and want to be there for them.

It’s not just about money, but it’s about building relationships with those in need.

In addition to that, seeing Compassion’s work first hand and particularly those home visits really helped me understand better how Compassion had actually transformed these people’s lives.

This trip had removed my doubts about Compassion and made me realised how much more I can do to help in the future.

Yes, Joanna, you’re right that this trip’s costly, but trust me, it is definitely worth it.”

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“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural.
It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.

And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice.
It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.

While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.”

Nelson Mandela

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***The End of the Insight Trip to Kenya***

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