Greetings from Hokkaido!
One of the non-negotiables when I started my own business more than a decade ago, was to be able to go for an annual family holiday. When the kids were younger, we’ll pack them off to nearby places like Sentosa, Genting and various parts of Malaysia, just to enjoy each other’s company and have some family bonding time. As the kids grew and while the grandparents are able, I want to keep the tradition of travelling as a family – young and old – see the world, experience different cultures, food and weather because I believe that travel (physically) takes us away from our work, our routines, our problems etc and opens our eyes and spirit to enjoy the vast and beautiful world God created, that most times we’re not even aware of or too busy to notice.
This year, we choose to go to Hokkaido because we wanted to see snow and enjoy the food!! Living in the tropics where it’s humid and hot everyday, packing off for temperatures below zero Celsius was going outside the comfort zones for us. Of course, the kids were excited and I wanted to “show them the world” but there was a little part of me that was also concern about the cold, whether the old folks will be alright walking in the snow. Do we need snow shoes? Winter coats? Heat pads? Hats? Scarves? Did I bite off more than I can chew? Anyway, for better or for worse, I forged forward because I didn’t want to disappoint the family who were all expecting a white Christmas.
On the first day we arrived, we found out that cold winds were coming our way, maybe a typhoon or a blizzard. I read that hundreds of flights were getting cancelled in the very airport we arrived in and thousands of passengers were stranded. Great news for starting a holiday! But I refused to let it dampen our family holiday (Anyway, what could I do? We were already there!) and went ahead with our itinerary anyway.
One lesson I gleaned from this holiday is that at the end of the day, the best of plans is just that - a plan. We’ve all heard the saying “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”, but this holiday reminded me that even with the best of plans, things may still not work out. We can’t control the weather. When will it snow? - so we can go skiing or when will the sun shine? - so we can see the lovely animals at the winter zoo. Just because we put it in an itinerary, doesn’t mean it’ll happen accordingly.
We need to realise and accept that some things are not within our control. We braved a blizzard to visit a quaint town called Otaru near Sapporo, just because it was on our itinerary and our timing was tight, we didn’t get to enjoy much sightseeing and we almost couldn’t get back to Sapporo because the trains got cancelled due to bad weather! We ended up taking the bus back, it took us 4 hours instead of 1 hour by train to make our way back, not to mention the stress and the squeeze with all other stranded tourists that day.
On hindsight, it was not a clever decision to insist on sticking to the plan, just for the sake of it. We could have had a more enjoyable day just hanging out in the city instead. Squeezing it in, forcing it through doesn’t produce the best results. Thank God we got back alright, (I think there were other tourists that were left stranded in Otaru and had to find last minute accommodations for the night!), but we were wet, cold and hungry, and it wasn’t wise use of our time at all! In 2017, I resolve to plan well but leave room for flexibility. I will hustle my bustle for the business and enter into projects with more mindfulness. If the door doesn’t open, I’ll choose to believe that there’s something better on the way and graciously bow out, rather than bash my way through or overstay my welcome.
Another huge lesson from this trip was the dedication and level of excellence the Japanese have for their passions. We chanced upon a tiny DIY maple wood aeroplane booth at a Christmas market and I wanted to buy one as a present. As we conversed with the owner, we came to know that he makes these aeroplane models by hand, one at a time and an engine can take him up to a month to put together! Not only that, the combination of paper and wood, is carefully thought out so that the planes can fly when you throw them, yet they are not easily damaged or broken – he “created” and patented his paper! And he has a day job (because although creating and selling aeroplanes is his passion, he is fully aware that sales from that little booth, is not enough for him to make a living), and he looks like he’s 60 years old! He says he won’t ask his “art” to “make money” for him, because then it will kill his joy of creating planes.
I was blown away by his commitment to his craft - his practical mind-set of separating his passion and his living, and his ability to balance both. I am reminded how blessed I am to be able to do what I love AND make a living out of it. I really should count my blessings and be grateful – it is my passion and my living and I should learn to enjoy the journey more, even if there are challenges in 2017.
On one of our last excursions, we visited a Ninja Museum and chanced upon a half frozen lake where some fishes were still swimming. Grandma commented: “Oh the poor things, the water must be freezing!”. The kids replied: “What do you expect them to do, they’re fishes!” I don’t know much about fishes or the intricacies of hibernation etc. but it got me thinking about our human perspectives and how it steers our thinking. We feel the freezing temperatures, so we conclude that the fishes are cold too, hence we feel “pity” for them.
My limited understanding of science is that humans are warm blooded but fishes are cold blooded so we feel cold but they bear it much better than us, scientifically speaking. However, we “filter” situations through our knowledge and personal experiences, but these could have been tinted through the years and may not point true north. Is it possible that some of the stuff we think, worry about, are just left baggage from years before? Is it time to clean house? Wipe the slates clean as we enter 2017 - take time to list and let go of the past hurts, failures and lost opportunities. Allow ourselves to heal. Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means that the damage no longer controls your life.
I discovered I love snow. The pristine white blanket of fresh snow covering everything in sight, makes the scenery look so fresh, so cool, so clean. It makes me believe that a fresh start is possible and only a choice away. I’m making mine today, will you join me and make it a Happy New Year for you too?