Dim Sum Resolutions- Designed in Brunei 🇧🇳 Made in Hong Kong 🇭🇰

Departure Gate 2017—-Arrival Gate 2018

“Traveling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”

I realized this more so this year as my family and I took the journey through Brunei Darussalam, a Malay Islamic monarchy with about 500,000 population- a country of unexpected treasures and surprises.

We were searching to enjoy some peace and quiet in a relaxing location. But travel pushes your boundaries, risks the unknown and in the end it transforms you!

And let me tell you Brunei is quite different than most memorable trips you might take in Asia….

A country compromising over 70% of pristine glorious rainforests and a rich loyal heritage and traditional culture.

A country where you’ll probably count more oil well pumps dotted about the fields next to the road (Some are even placed in the middle of housing estates, an unusual sight unless you live in Texas I presume), than you will see liquor stores…matter of fact, you won’t encounter even one as alcohol is strictly forbidden.

As we drove and passed by gas stations, I noticed some citizens in their fancy cars guzzling the cheap petrol and diesel on offer here (astonishing at 53c a litre  – US 40c) which is about half the price per litre of a bottle of mineral water!  I guess they do have plenty to go around given the wells dotted about the kingdom.

We made our way to the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque situated on the water in the main town centre, perched on a lagoon. The golden domes and the white exterior lend themselves to being photographed from every angle.  You can’t help but notice as the glinting sun brightens the 24 carat golden domes of the Islamic architecture. The mosque comes alive and it is absolutely compelling.

And as I’m standing staring at a particular design accent, my attention drifts to the faithful believers of Islam as they hurry to shut down their shops for the Friday afternoon prayer. The entire city closes and all congregate to collectively pray. I stare at the women in their hijab and the men with their white attire and caps with the same friendly curiosity as they stare at my exposed skin and uncovered hair. My eyes lock with one of the village women, Akira, and instantly we both smile at each other. It’s as if our souls recognize each other and for just one moment we are one. Religion-less, race-less, resistant-less.

Just two conscious souls. She generously offers me a sample of a curry puff filled with fish balls. And I’m catapulted and carried into the ebb and flow of my sensations. I am one but I am all. Suddenly right here becomes everywhere. I’m not limited within the confines of the penthouse of my thoughts. Suddenly, in a quiet resolute way, the borders of my identity soften and expand. A Jew within a plethora of Muslims. I experience myself as directly connected to the minutest molecule and the greatest galaxy. I imagine she feels the same as she doesn’t unlock her gaze. I look down and smile at her three year old daughter Fatima. As I bend down to shake the young girls’ hand and give her a hug, Fatima takes the back of my hand and kisses it.

I’m shocked at the immense respect she shows me as her elder. Inside, I feel tremendous awe for their culture as I contemplate the west’s Generation Z with the environment in which our kids are being raised and shaped.

And yet now, more so than ever, inside my soul, I feel, contains the whole universe. I see my kids, the Bruneian kids and all kids as one. Literally, in that mystical moment, I became what I beheld. And for that instant I experienced true bliss and nirvana.

I look around me and can’t help but take notice that everyone’s probably fighting some sort of battle. Just like you’re fighting yours.

And lasting serenity comes from the most profound surprising sources. Through all of life’s lessons, all its ups and downs, all the mountains and valleys, are lessons demonstrating that at any time, we can find presence, passion, kindness and abiding joy.

I can’t help but look around and see so much kindness around me from the Bruneian.

Folks, Kindness is a universal language.

As humans, we all feel pain at one point or more in our lives. No one is sparred that emotion. Unfortunately though, most people today want to run away from pain, can’t listen to pain, can’t be in the presence of pain. We need to realize only kindness, a smile, a hug or a listening ear can be a powerful force to lessen the pain and give a much needed support. We never know the impact we have on another’s life. Akira and her daughter’s gesture warmed my heart and exemplified the good that still exists in the world.

The important life-altering things hardly ever knock… they just surprise us and sweep in from under our feet….things like kindness… things like love…. things like a calling….a gesture….things like humanity.

Fish ball kabobs, ostrich balls, prawn balls, all parts of cow kabobs!!(Fish balls, Ostrich balls, Prawn balls, all parts of the cow kabobs!…)

(Gelatinous chicken feet)

Further along we see more of the sights and smells of the Gadong Pasar Malam (night market) where we mingle with and meet lots of charming Bruneian and workers from the Philippines and India living very modest means. Matter of fact, we learned from our driver Azeem, that even the most affluent Bruneians live almost modest lives.

Interestingly enough, the Soltan may have a plethora of exotic cars, grand palaces, worldwide hotels including the Beverly Hills Hotel and The Dorchester amongst the few, but then you might meet and greet his majesty the Soltan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah himself during Friday prayer. And the beautiful thing is that he’s not even surrounded by a plethora of bodyguards. He and the Soltana and the crown prince will walk the streets of Bandar Seri Begawan Darussalam as normal as one of the civilians.

Sadly, in the states, I find myself living in an “always on” world. More emails, bzzz, there goes my mobile, Facebook updates, and on and on….

One of the simple pleasures of Brunei life was to be able to step off the roller-coaster of life and discover an inner calm. Challenges fade from my consciousness and for at least a little while I switch off from reality.

And although the people here seem bored and a bit lifeless, it’s not so at all. Once we engaged in a conversation with them, we realized in a country where there are no clubs, pubs, or gambling, one can actually pay attention to the simple pleasures of life…. which incidentally end up being the most important!

As our journey in Brunei comes to an end and we board the plane to Kuala Lumpur and later to Hong Kong, I take a few moments and think about how to live life better this year. A life filled with health, peace, harmony, good friends. A life that takes the ordinary while defining the extraordinary!

My journey through Brunei Darussalam, Kuala Lumpur, and Hong Kong, made me realize life is a collective festival of beautiful cultures and heritages.

Incidentally, as soon as we felt slightly homesick, fate had us meet up briefly with dear friends from back home and we experienced a bit of sweet familiarity.

Asia, brought it on- we experienced a magical offer where we left our stresses at the doorstep and got caught up in the blissful whirlwind of a serene, fun and exciting time.

Albeit, I admit, there were moments of family disagreements, challenges, anger and hurdles along the way. But there were moments of tenderness, understanding and resolutions as well. It’s all part of life and this thing we call family!

And as we coursed through the rough waters on the ferry back to HK from Macau, I was reminded of the Portuguese mosaic patterns etched in the cobblestones in the Senado Square meant to represent the waves of the Mediterranean Sea and it reminded me that sometimes we must ride the challenging waves of life instead of fighting against them, and maybe then, just maybe, we’ll feel less inclined to be nauseous and can actually safely rise above the vertigo-inducing jolt.

And only then do you realize your tenacity, perseverance, and strength. After all Macau is the perfect example of the fusion between east/west coexistence. And magically I find my balance…

Magic exists. Who can doubt it, when there are rainbows and wildflowers, the serene blue-azure glistening oceans, the music of the wind and the silence of the stars? Even the waves against the current hold magic….

And if I may be brutally honest with you all, anyone who has loved has been touched by all this magic. It is such a simple and such an extraordinary part of the lives we live. Poor is the soul who cannot see, give and accept this love and speak the universal language of kindness.

My two week journey through Asia reached its finality and as I’m on the plane, resting back and relaxing in the depth of my being, behind even my own consciousness and psyche, the captain impishly broadcasts through the speakers: “Ladies and gentlemen we are now passing through the international date line. For all those unsure of your New Years resolutions, we have just traveled back into 2017 and will once again start 2018”.

The irony isn’t lost on me and I can’t help but consider how poignant the captain’s message resonates.

Imagine if you could travel back in time? Now imagine what you would do different? Would you say something different or perhaps you wouldn’t say anything at all?

Was it Khalil Gibran who said “between what is said and not meant and what is meant and not said, all of love is lost”?

As I head into 2018, Brunei, Malaysia and Hong Kong put things into perspective. And it’s rather disturbingly simple. More than anything else, one complex challenge is brutally true. If I can adapt my mindset, accept and respect the messages of extreme cultures & etiquettes, different customs & laws, personalities and priorities, overpowering culinary standards then I can surely extend the same courtesy to myself and my well-being to adapt and explore positive strategies to whatever circumstances I find myself in.

Compelling? Um yes!

Devilishly Humorous? Hell ya!

Everything comes full circle.

From that vantage point it’s rather quite accessible to go beyond self-doubt and achieve fulfillment in any situation. Life is too bloody short to waste doubting ourselves, doubting our purpose. We don’t have the slightest inkling how life will turn out.

We need to wake up to the possibility of a different way of life. We need to regain control of our well-being, happiness and sense of purpose. We need to let the people we love know we love them and that they are important to us. Say the things you want to say, you never know how the conversations would have panned out in light of a disaster.

We need to live a life motivating ourselves and others, into putting love and productivity at the center of everything we do.

We need to stop living life in the rear view mirror as it does not allow us to move on. It gets us shackled to the blasted past. Living with yesterday drags us down for today.

I take a few deep breaths, look around me and immerse myself in my surrounding ( which happens to be on Cathay Pacific Airlines crammed between my husband Jack and a Chinese-American young man continuously sneezing and coughing… hope I don’t catch his cold virus!!!) and I make my New Year’s Resolution.

So my dear readers, what’s my New Year’s resolution?

It’s to leave the past in the past where it belongs.

As for Tomorrow….the word hangs in the air for a moment, both a promise and a threat. Then I let it float away like a paper boat that’s filled with faults and failures, not the part filled with my passions but the part that lacks my control of them.

And the present…. that’s where I belong.

I want to truly live my life & live it fully. Live it in the present and live it aware. If we learn by living, then I will live ….with all those who love me and show they want me in their lives. And love all those who don’t all the same and wish them clarity. Finally, to accept myself with all my flaws and attributes….and know if it was any other way I wouldn’t be living the extraordinary life I am and I wouldn’t be Nora Yaghoubian Amin!

Indeed, sometimes we do get second chances, even if only briefly, even if it just whispers. All we need to do is to be aware to hear it. And I hear: it’s time for more laughter, less stress. More healing, less pain. More resilience. Stronger friendships. It’s time to eliminate everything that gives me conflicted feelings. Accept everything that resonates with my soul. And express more gratitude and of love….I’m filled with a throw of bliss and I float in peace!

And It’s discovering the Dim Sum of life (Cantonese for touching the heart).

It’s taking the vast selection of handmade bites of edible art made for sharing amongst friends to sharing a life full of love and kindness with friends that touch my heart.

And just as it’s a surprise to find what’s inside a Dim Sum, the moments of happiness we enjoy take us by surprise.

It’s not that we seize them, but that they seize us.

Honey, that’s just life!

Copyright 2018, all rights reserved

Serendipity

cropped-screen-shot-2017-05-25-at-4-27-01-pm1.pngSome people sit around waiting for “serendipity” to strike. But let's strive to be different. Let's create our own opportunities and actively seek out what we know we want.
There comes a time in life when we learn that principles such as hard work, honesty, kindness and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a bygone era, but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which we must build a life.
All the while trying to achieve our goals- a fundamental aspect of life.
Through lessons and experiences, we learn, grow and evolve to the amazing human beings we know we can be.
One things for sure, change is the only law in the universe, and the only way to deal with it is to embrace it with open arms.
Of course there's insecurities. Doesn't everyone have them?
The rule is we must refuse to let them control our lives.

We learn that we don’t know everything, and we are not entitled to our opinion only our informed opinion (after all no one is entitled to be ignorant, right?)
We learn, it’s not our job to save the world and that we can’t teach a pig to sing. We learn the only cross to bear is the one we choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.

We realize we only get life once and that ‘alone’ does not mean lonely.
We learn to embrace it fully.

So we learn to take more time to rest. To travel. To just sit and inhale and ponder the moment. To know it's happiness when we are happy in that moment. And, just as food fuels the body, laughter fuels the soul. So you take more time to laugh and to play.
Then we learn about love. We learn to look at relationships and friendships as they really are and not as we would have them be.
We get hurt and we ache and we reminisce the memories but we love nonetheless and learn to never demand, never assume and never expect.
We learn to simply accept.

So Suck it up buttercup! If you keep waiting for serendipity to strike you'll never be at the right place, or the right time or the right situation, all you’ll find is yourself waiting on your deathbed with a list of regrets about things you never did.

So live, love, laugh and this thing called serendipity—the process of "stumbling" toward discovery is an illusion for those waiting for the big-win.
There's no accidental stumbling.
Dahling, you gotta go out and "claim" your own luck!

Honey, that's just life!

Copyright 2017, all rights reserved

Turning 48- An Ordinary Day Sprinkled with Stardust

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Turning 48- An Ordinary Day Sprinkled with Stardust

I recently turned 48. Did I just admit that? I demand a recount!

Yes, I’m truly grateful to add one more summer to the total summers of my life…blah, blah, blah!!

I’ve got to tell you, this annual open tab on the years of our lives just shockingly lurks on us, strikes us with a bullwhip into a double whammy and we are jolted into a rude awakening with a whisper that says “hey you… the busy years just passed you and you didn’t even realize it”.

“Excuse me for being bold, but if you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?” asked a lady at a seminar I was attending last week. She was trying, desperately, to place the decade I was born.  After stumbling for what seemed forever, I finally succumbed, “I will be 48 in a few days”.

Why, oh why was it so difficult for me to admit it?  Was it possibly because on the inside I felt closer to 25ish and reality dictated otherwise?

 I look in the bathroom mirror above the sink, I see my sudden aging.  I see it on my facial features one by one.  I specially notice the creases in my forehead and around my eyes. And yet to my full shock and horror, I’m not dismayed, saddened or resigned.  No, instead I feel a certain sort of interest.  No beauty on earth lasts forever except the beauty that comes from the inner journey of love.

Cheesy right? And yet what can I tell you about this newfound profoundness! I swear it’s this aging thing!

Last night, at a dinner party, my closest friends and I along with our husbands ruminated on this aging phenomena.  As the women were nostalgic about our lost youth, the men were exceedingly, and it seemed rather pleasantly, entertained by our agitation.

They were quite candid that wrinkles bother women more than they do men. (Hmmmm…Interesting I thought…Do continue….) In fact, more guys find a few lines on a woman’s face extremely attractive.  (Deliciously compelling….)

I happily succumbed to their alluring notion. Those meticulous wrinkles are the etchings of our experience, maturity and the wisdom  we’ve sporadically acquired throughout the years to help us become the women we are today!

It certainly hasn’t been easy but as I’ve had to accept the things that are changing and unpredictable, I’ve learned that every journey is a journey within.   And to me, that surpasses all the physical beauty and fallacy of youth.

But then, on the one hand, I’m getting older (a forbidden word here in Los Angeles- where plastic surgery, Hollywood and a youth-envy are intermutual and equally cherished). On the other hand, my journey within starts. 

On the one hand, I can still party as though I were still in my 20’s.  On the other hand, my joys with solitude have begun (very non-LA!). 

I can honestly say I appreciate the benefits of occasionally being alone.  It increases my creativity, productivity and leads me to a better mental health. I just need to keep that incessant chatter in my head at bay!!!!

I realize I’ve survived so much and thank God, have always been able to blend right back in (extensively an LA-thing!).

Do I sound Confused? Ok, maybe just a little. But let me clarify it by quoting Voltaire.  He put it well when he wrote, “God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living it well.”

So far so good Monsieur Voltaire…  I’m feeling witty and enlightened I deduct, as I shove the last piece of chocolate into my mouth before my conscious has time to catch up with my greed!!

Isn’t it true, after all, how we play our role is the great test of our character?   And that, I believe, is how we defeat aging….(and by eating chocolote!)

I love that I’m getting older.  I’m not going to battle against it.  I mean, let’s be honest, what’s the alternative?

So instead of infinite agony shivering down my spine and washing over me like a sudden wave of sadness and anxiety,  I rather enjoy the beauty of a few distinguished lines towards knowledge, virtue, kindness and divine intuition.  I’ve earned my stripes!

There’s an entire landscape of the other side of youth that has more depth and meaning.  It has to do with our attitude.  It has to do with being conscious and authentic, listening to others with a caring heart, having persona, presence and confidence.  It’s about accepting who we are and celebrating it.

Age is only a number and part of life’s little ironies!   I will not stop feeling young at heart and I will continue to live life with the idealism of youth and the experience and clarity of age. And time will continue to feel limitless and making sense of the world will continue to be effortless. 

More than ever, now, I continue to marvel at God’s love and have faith in the universe. I find myself rethinking family, life, spirituality, and Love.

“Love is the water of life and A life without love is of no account” (Rumi). Love has no definitions and no labels. It is pure and simple.  It is that whispering voice that has helped me to climb to the summit of the proverbial mountain and count my blessings with every challenge and blister of life.

So for my 48th birthday, I’ve decided to get myself a gift.  The gift of feeling every age as I live it and finding beauty as it is now in my present age. 

And so I’ve decided from this day forth that I DON’T have birthdays… I LEVEL UP!… In matters of the mind, the heart and the soul! ( and ok the years as well!!!!!)

But I’ve promised myself this one thing (ok 3 things!)

I will LIVE life fiercely, LOVE passionately and LAUGH profusely!

I will continue to find joy and a life of meaning and satisfaction even in the midst of suffering.

I don’t know from day to day whether I’ll be alive or not but I know that I’m alive today and made stronger than yesterday.  As long as I’m breathing and above  ground, I will continue to grow, learn, improve and LOVE.

And I know that wherever I go in life, I’ll go with dignity. It’ll be apparent through the way I talk, the way I walk, the way I treat others, and yes, the way I dress and display myself.

And I realize, everything is a life lesson.  Everyone we meet, everything we encounter. They’re all part of the learning experience we call ‘life.’ Let’s remember to never forget to acknowledge the lesson, especially when things don’t go our way.  And the lesson just learned is the first step towards mindfully living life.

So as I embrace 48, it’s clear to me that those who improve with age embrace personal growth and replace the vanity of youth with wisdom, and innocence with understanding, all the while maintaining creativity and talent without losing an ounce of hope and enthusiasm they bring to their life and the life of those they love.

And I will celebrate  life, family and friends as though there’s no tomorrow….all those who want to be a part of my life are welcomed… And those who don’t… Well, that’s fine as well. Because no matter how I look at it, some things just won’t ever make sense!

So my dear friends, I now declare birthdays as Level Up Days….

All those in favor say “I”…..

Honey, that’s just life!

Copyright 2017, all rights reserved