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 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!
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