Netherlands nipped me in the tulip BUD.

Yes, it has nipped me in the bud. I didn’t do enough research on the place so i was quite taken by surprise by many things.

I’ve finally visited the place where one of my favourite novels, “The Fault in our Stars” by John Green was set in. To be honest, I didn’t travel all the way to the Van Houten House or tried to find (amongst hundreds of benches) the specific bench that Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace sat on, or the Restaurant they dined in (way too expensive!). I even foolishly thought the Bones Park was in Vondel Park, and walked the entire length of the Park only to find out that it’s actually in Chicago. Silly me!

Anyway, if you’re going to the Netherlands… Here are some good to know tips so that you don’t get pulverised by the differences they have there (especially if you’re from Asian countries).

  1. Tulips are their national flowers.
    • The Dutch love them so much they even made tulip shaped umbrellas and hats. They’re extremely adorable! If you’re bringing your sweetheart there, buy a bunch of tulips to give it to her as a sweet gesture and softly whisper to her what your green-coloured tulips mean… each colour has a different meaning.
  2. The people have steel bladders. Don’t count on public toilets to abound.
    • Could this lack of public facility have come from the idea, “Go Dutch!” You’re on your own while I am on mine. These precious public commodities are scarce. However, if you’re in desperate need of relieving yourself while outside, a cafe along the street should most likely have a toilet – though that comes with a price (buy their wares, get their receipt for the toilet code). A mall toilet would cost you a heftier amount. Pee before you leave the house. Drink minimally! Think camel.
  3. It’s a country overrun by artists!
    • I mean, from the Vincent Van Gogh museum to Anne Frank’s House to the Rijksmuseum, there are hundreds (i daresay) of art houses everywhere you turn! I even visited a bakery museum. They take a lot of pride in their art history and culture, and the richness of that spirit prevails very strongly there. Personally, I thought both Anne Frank and Rembrandt House were very intimate and interesting, and they’re easily my favourites. If you’re a sucker for storytelling – these two mini museums will be like exploring a story in-real-life!  The only setback in this gorgeous art-country is the pricing of the museum’s entry tickets :(
  4. There’s a zoo in the city
    • The Artis Royal Zoo is the oldest zoo in the Netherlands and one of the oldest zoos of mainland Europe. It also contains an aquarium (utterly awe-full) and a planetarium (which shows were conducted in Dutch). When I visited the place, there were pumpkin patches at every turn, beautiful statues, neatly trimmed hedges and golden autumn leaves hanging wistfully on branches of huge trees. What a wonder.
  5. The Dutch are quite good in English
    • Some of them have the accents of Germans or Americans when they spoke English to me. Don’t talk to your friend about them in English if it isn’t anything good. They can understand what you’re saying!
  6. Cheeses are one of their specialties
    • If you visit Amsterdam, you had better prepare yourself for a steady diet of cheese and diary goodness! I enjoyed the smoked cheese tubes (goat cheeses are the healthiest, followed by sheep then cow) but they come at a high price! Edam City, a lovely city along the fringes of Amsterdam’s city centre, is actually the birthplace for the world-famous Edam cheese! Dutch Cheese, or the brand Old Amsterdam Cheese are one of a kind.
  7. Their “coffee shops”
    • Space mushrooms and high pies. Brownies with bombs! If you have no idea what i’m talking about, you need to google these terms. The City is awash with these shops. The expression get high is taken very literally here.

The Curious Science Behind Wanderlust

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Picture yourself on the trip of a lifetime, maybe trekking through the icy villages of Greenland or scouting for pink auroras in Norway. Maybe the idea of ibexes climbing steep dams excites you to want to do the same.

Wired to Travel?

I have a friend whose Chinese name means 宇: World, Universe… paired with 川: Hills, Creeks or Water.

He’s a travel photographer with a penchant for getting lost, so as to find.

He feels the need to escape the predictable to learn more about the voracious world out there.

Was he born an insatiable adventurer?

Our brains are smart and they catch up fast. They know exactly what we want and they activate the flush and rush of emotions to match, making us want to “take that risk” and go for the trip despite us being low on the leave count. If you perpetually get estatic just by looking at a postcard, it’s likely that you…. have an incurable case of wanderlust.

First Things first…

New things, exploring and the unknown all tempt us. Here’s my attempt to explain why:

Our fiesty pal, Adrenaline, loves the “newness” of things. The electrical neurons in our brains connect excitedly to each other upon contact, and make stronger bonds.

We remember our first kisses, our childhood friends or the very first time our hearts broke. Similarly, the brain functions like that when you travel. We remember the firsts and new, best. Even when we don’t want to.

When was the last time you saw something for the first time?

The first time you’ve ever seen a Roman, or tasted Risotto, sang with a blind busker, kissed the crystal waters of New Zealand… listened to Irish laughter…

You made first contact with the further world, took an alfesco stroll among the wild springs of a seemingly infinite gaia.

In those moments, wanderlust is just another silly term social scientists come up with. You’re really in love with the unexplainable little glories of the earth.

It’s all yours

All the wide & wondrous world is painted before you
Your star struck eyes a-dancing
Won’t you pick up your brush and join in?
Blend the colours of firsts into everything

This free gift doesn’t give me the cheap creeps

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They love to say that the Gospel is free. Well, it is free. Like the free public clinic sitting at the corner of the street. Do they just mean the water?

It is free; and the man handing out gospel tracts know it.

It is free, but we don’t like free things too much.

Buy a macdonald kids meal and you’ll receive a ratty free gift that our kids are better off without. You would venture into trying that “free facial” but don’t these things come with a price at the end?

When you say “it’s free!”, we immediately conjure up a catch somewhere, and get the impression that the giver simply can’t wait to get rid of the freebies.

We’ve grown cautious and free is a dirty word.

So… in our minds a free public clinic is somewhat false advertising; and even if it was free… it’s for those who can’t afford it. And those tracts? Probably sandwiched with subscriptions that will never see the light of day.

I am wary of freebies. But this freebie, this one of gospel, grace and God… it gives me none of those cheap creeps.

In fact, there has never been another story in history that offers the most valuable thing in the world to its inhabitants so graciously, without any strings attached.

Unless there’s such a thing as a free massage chair, there isn’t another free gift that can change your life forever.

The gospel is free but it cost a certain someone everything. Angels and demons don’t even qualify for this offer. I have trouble believing I’ve won free truffle fries and now I’m supposed to believe God has paid my debt and I’m on my way to heaven? What atrocity is it that this grand gift doesn’t come with a price tag!

That free clinic over there? It cost a doctor’s money and passion. The tract distributor? His time and energy.

The free gospel? A set of three heavy rusted nails driven into fragility, precious blood to flow, and death; it cost the life of God.

“I won’t charge you by the number of times that you think you need to come for church services. Nor do I swipe from your spiritual credits when you sing worship songs half-heartedly. I don’t exact or demand for your suffering to then bless you. But there’s something I want, and that is for you to pay me…

Pay me the attention that I desire from My creation. That’s you. It’s your attention I want. Your smile, your thoughts on Me, songs of thanksgiving. I promise you that this journey doesn’t have to be free in the way the world sees it- its cheapened meaning. There’s nothing cheap about my love for you, nothing boring. It’s the richest journey you’ll ever take.”

It is the most expensive free gift of all.

What kind of a Giver would love like that?

The free gospel is unquantifiable grace; a million times over.

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I am Hole-ly but He loves me Wholly

My existence on earth has got plenty of holes (Sometimes black but mostly colourful).

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And everyday, the Lord takes time to fill in these empty crevices with His grace.

It can be in the form of an undiscovered verse in the bible suddenly illuminating me, a song with lyrics that break my saddened spirit, or a miraculous encounter which could not have been without the assistance of angels. A kind and warm word from a seemingly knowing stranger.

I am not altogether myself daily; I am not an automated being that can forever rest on the laurels of what worked yesterday. I am a human; and that indicates an ever changing nature of thoughts and feelings, irrelevant or relevant, damaging or not, good or bad.

I get assaulted by rude words and hurtful experiences, and sometimes I define myself by them.

These are the holes in my existence, and the Lord fills them in unfailingly day after day. Not all at once, but according to His highest willingness.

Everyday, I am confronted with many different graces, but at the heart of them all, is this: “I gave up my Son for you, will I not give up everything else that aligns to my dreams for you?

You are everchanging, my love is unchanging. You are weak, I am strong. You are care-full, I will bear those cares if you would cast them on me. I am the great Mountain, and I echo unending graces for My mountain sheep. I let you lie down in the best pastures, you just need to listen and rest in my promises. Nothing can separate us, and knowing this will make you bold in Me.”

And thus the cement is poured into another empty space; He is so sweet a perfector, so tender a Father and so kind a Saviour.

Have a lovely Sunday, friends :-)

Chance might just be a Creator

“Whether you explore the mysteries of the mineral kingdom, the vegetable or the animal, from the lowest to the highest, the marks of a well thought-out design confront you everywhere. Nothing has been left to Chance.” – E.W Kenyon

Have you ever wondered if the universe was created by mere chance?

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If so, Chance has a lot of explaining to do.

When the big bang happened, how and why did it shoot out a planet so unlike others? Little blue is different on all points from the rest of the planets. How did the potential for life end up upon one speck in the stardust-cranked universe? Earth would freeze and dissipate if the sun was a little further away. The magic of galaxies’ effect on earth would amaze us if we had the time to read about how they influence our seasons and atmospheric changes.

Or let’s go closer to home. The probability of water atoms coming together to form pure liquid water or for the atoms of a cat to come together to make it go meow instead of woof is so low that every time it happens it would be a miracle.

Our hair, body and everything inside us: are they so smart to know how to function at its optimum, to work so well with each other, attacking what doesn’t seem “of/from them”? How absurd is it that the brainless amoeba has the closest thing to immortality with its “divide me up” defense mechanism? God must’ve had some good laughs: “Immortality can be reduced to this – squirmy, translucent being – whatever immortality that man hankers after for is mirrored in this strange creature, one of the unlikeliest in all My creation.”

Chance, chance, chance. If anything, chance must’ve been more smart than stupid, for it to carry an entire universe that rely on each other interdependently and to create and care for 6 billion human beings and gazillions of creatures and vegetation with such micro-intricacy and skill.

Chance isn’t chance when it becomes this calculated. Did chance put the incalculable power of math, emotion, influence, intellect or musical skill into us, all of which are unheard of in animals and plants? Or stringed together the genes of ellen, robin and richard with their propensity to make people double over with laughter with facial expressions and some cleverly arranged words? Moreover, humans are all the same yet different in subtler ways – and isn’t that a tricky combination for chance?

I know there’s a lot more to explain in-depth, and still much to be discussed about science birthing the worlds, but I’m still for the notion that an Intelligent, Creative Creator lives. Common sense tells me that not everything can be explained away with science. There are just so many unmapped variables, unexplored miracles and spiritual encounters that science cannot reckon with.

Chance might just be a Creator…

and I’m not going to leave that to chance.

What Time Does

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The clock on the wall bears a weight Pattie does not quite like. She cannot stand the gentle peeling on its edges, its ugly numericals and stiff mechanical clucks.

She doesn’t throw it away, however, for she has respect for things that work just fine.

Today is different, the clock seems to say to her. It’s George’s disappearance anniversary: It’s been 20 years since he vanished.

“They always say time will tell,” Pattie tells the old clock sadly. Her cheeks are hollow, paved with the running of many old tears. They still burn the corners of her brown eyes.

But Time did try to tell her before. Pattie would fret about and busy herself, choosing to press through life ignorant of herself – she keeps saying that she is the sum of her memories, and so she lives on borrowed recollections, and time.

But today is different. 20 years stand staring back at her, mercilessly, from the old clock on the wall, and Pattie finally hears its faint voice. It has grown tired, too.

“I have tried to tell you;

but who am I?” Time whispers, softly and humbly. “We don’t help you erase or ease pain. We don’t retain memories, or life.”

“We don’t do anything… but obey the heart.”

A Hard Heart

A thick head does as much damage as a hard heart – Harold W. Dodds

When you get used to the hardness of the world, you naturally mirror it.

You mirror what you are often exposed to. A painful comment becomes less painful for you to spit out. Rolling your eyes becomes an easier physiology.

Pause; because your heart has found comfort in hardness.

So what’s so bad about a hardened heart? Nothing, except that like the way a towel gets wrung dry, your heart will slowly lose its potential for wonders, love, fragility, beauty, patience and kindness. You start becoming defensive, grumpy, ridiculously rude and all those other painful things that should normally occur on monday mornings.

I need a soft hard. When my heart hardens, I become like a tortoise with a rocky shell that doesn’t bother to truly listen, who stone-walls the world and avoids giving anything much.

Walking home one night the words, “heart softener” jumped into my head. I liken it to be how you would soften clothes that are too starchy or unbendable.

Whenever your heart is hardened, soak yourself in what makes you human; love and emotions.

Memories. Slowed time. Holding back on negative reactions. Smiling more (cheesy but true) Smiling at strangers (thats a heart melter alright). Someone who doesn’t have it altogether but don’t need to hide that truth.

Of course, whenever you soak in that softnener bath to re-heat your insides again, be sure the water in that tub gets changed once in a while, too.

If the heart becomes hardened, the eye becomes dry – Ibm Qayyim

Astigmatism? Wear sunglasses, or don’t go out at night

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I’m walking down the dark pavement when I’m suddenly attacked by the headlights of a car turning a bend in the road.

“Darn it,” I let out.

In just five seconds, I have stepped into a ditch, buried my favourite crocs into mud and survived an almost heart attack. Thank God no one saw that clownish act. The intensity of such headlights should be illegal.

I make my way out of the ditch quickly. My handphone vibrates. It’s my best friend, telling me she’s reaching the mall soon. Foolishly, I attempt a reply while walking, nearly charging into a construction pole (I walk at extremely fast speeds, to add injury to injury) and tripping nicely over a brick that is securing the pole. Good grief. This is gravely worrying. I have walked this route nearly a million times when the sun’s up, so what gives?

I stop using the phone and chuck it into my bag. Now, however, the blinding echo of the handphone is all I must see, before it fades away, and I come face to face with throbbing darkness and sporadic bursts of light from the Bangladesh quarters on my left. Looking back at where I missed the pole and tripped on the brick, it occurs to me I was zig-zagging.

Apparently the light from the handphone was my navigation – something worse than a broken straw – and I wasn’t able to see anything else apart from it. Moreover, strong light in strong darkness bamboozles your sense of direction entirely. Imagine spinning yourself around three times and then crossing a tightrope. Yep, you’d have no idea how.

When you have astigmatism, it’s unsafe to go out. The terrible night-vision is no help either.

The street lamps with their moonish glow transform into angry suns, and I’m starting to get a headache. Keep this up and I may not make it to the mall, which is a mere 10 minutes walk from my place.

It’s fifteen minutes past, and the traffic lights’ reds, greens and oranges are invading my personal eye space and peripheral vision much more than they should.

Everything seems zonk-ish and zoomed in. I’m walking at half my speed now. This is no laughing matter. I suddenly remember grandma’s joke about having a pair of good sunglasses to stop the glare at night… It doesn’t seem so funny now.

What do you do when lights blind instead of guide you?

I finally make it to the mall with muddy crocs and a chipped toe nail.

“I don’t have enough faith”

Doubt is something almost every person experiences at some point. – Philip Yancey, Faith and Doubt

When I jumped off a 8-story cliff and tumbled into the choppy waters below, my faith, in that naked suspension of time, was entirely non-existent.

How I managed to survive that rag-doll fall, I have no idea. I had no faith, nor was even thinking about it; just the fear of breaking my neck or drowning, or both.

And then also; I would hear about how a loved one escaped death – and suddenly I have all the faith in the world.

Faith doesn’t seem like something you can grab and take full control of all the time – it’s like a car on an unknown and alien road, subject to external circumstances: the sudden swerves and the sharp bends. We reprimand ourselves into having “more faith”, but after 20 years of this, one realises how much of a tiresome thing this can be.

So, I thought to myself, “If faith is so easy to gain as it is to lose, then it doesn’t seem to me so precious, after all.”

“… Living without fear is certainly not easy. After all, how do we naturally choose to be unafraid of what we in fact fear? Is this power within our conscious control? Only by a miracle are we set free from fear… indeed, true faith working within the heart is one of the greatest miracles of God.” – John J. Parsons, Faith and Fear

If faith is a miracle, then it logically follows it has to be from God. Any reliance on my brand of faith would be a tragic affair, because I don’t have it all the time. I’m bound to emergency brakes and steering off course occasionally.

The hebrew word for faith is “emunah”, which has its roots from the word “aman”. Aman was used in the bible for when Moses had Aaron and Hur lift his hands until the sun set (Exodus 17:12). “…Therefore his hands were steadied.” The word Aman is used here. It’s to trust, to put your hope in, to lean on.

What better comfort to know that when you’re 10,000 ft up in the air and there’s violent turbulence, that you’re steadying on Jesus and his promise of “Surely I am with you always”?

Or when you’re lost in another country with the smell of death closing in on you – that you pull out “You’re my refuge and ever-present help in times of trouble” and “Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death… You are with me”?

How many miracles go unheard of, how many tragedies have we allowed into our hearts…? How many times do we not have faith because we don’t have the blueprint, the full picture of the spiritual universe outside our life?

Faith is really all about trusting who Jesus is.

We may not have concrete faith in how circumstances may turn out, but we have concrete faith in the person of Jesus. A historical Jesus who lived, healed, loved, died, then rose again. This truth may not be completely understood or felt while we are still here on earth, subject to pain and death, but it is surety enough.

When I read about Jesus and stories about Him saving people (mostly from themselves), faith, or at least the feeling of it, rises inside me like an ascending roller coaster. It will plunge if I focus on the next tragedy or my soppy feelings, but I know it’s not about me or my faith. It’s about who he is and what he has promised me.

What I have is an invisible faith that desperately clings to Him through the madness that is life with its disappointments and joys. Whatever ascension of faith that I feel now is because of who he is and has always been. We keep on ascending as we think upon his love for us and not our faith towards him.

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them with compassion. It’s as if he knew it would be a problem.

“… But if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed

(which is the smallest of all seeds)…

I will hearken unto you.”

“It was always the other way round”

The Moment ~ Poem by Margaret Atwood
(A poem on the pride of man, and the grace of nature)

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and having a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there, and say, I own this

is the same moment when the trees unloose their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language, the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe

No, they whisper. You own nothing. You were a visitor, time after time,
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you, you never found us.
It was always the other way round.