Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

The Day A Taxi Driver Made Me Cry – Tan Lili

After reading this post, Tan Lili promises you would never forget this significant line: “Today you … tomorrow me.” 

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At first I thought I was just staying true to my emo roots, then I chalked it up to PMS. But later on I realised, with abrupt clarity, my outburst was a perfectly normal human reaction.

Allow me to start from the beginning. When you run a business, busy is never a bad thing. But alas, I’m no miracle worker. Some days, you feel as if you were trapped in quicksand – the more you struggle, the faster you sink. Yesterday morning was one of those days. Weighed down by a laundry list of things to do, I decided to take a taxi to work so I could get down to business earlier. I got into a Yellow-Top Fiat Croma JTD taxi with a scowl and muttered my destination without even glancing up from my phone. Immediately, I was greeted by a warm and friendly female driver, probably in her 50s. She exclaimed, in Mandarin, “You’re so pretty!” I’d felt anything but, what with my morning grumpiness and the stress-induced frown on my face. But hearing those words, I felt a rush of gratitude towards the auntie because her compliment worked to instantly turn my frown upside down.

Later on she asked about my usual commute to work. When I told her I’d normally take three different buses, she expressed such concern and empathy that I had to assure her thrice that I really do enjoy the bus ride. Soon after we lapsed into a comfortable silence, then she told me to go ahead and sleep if I wanted to. When we arrived at my destination, the fare was $18.50. I had already prepared $17 in my hand but just as I was about to start digging for coins, she grabbed my hand and took the $17. “No, don’t need to give me the coins. Auntie will give you a discount. Here, $15 will do,” she insisted, handing me my $2 note. Flabbergasted, I tried to return her the $2 note, which resulted in a minute of reverse tug-of-war. The auntie won. Right about then, my lips trembled and my vision blurred. I nearly wanted to hug her but I figured she might not take too well to my outpouring of love and gratitude.

After I got off the cab, I slowly made my way up to my office trying to compose myself. I was – and still am, in fact – overwhelmed by the depth of a stranger’s kindness. The auntie owed me nothing, absolutely nothing, yet she unknowingly gave me everything I never realised I needed at the time: strength. Kindness is one of the three strengths that make up humanity (the other two are love and social intelligence); what I had just experienced felt so powerful, it made whatever stress and worries that plagued me before appear trivial. My only regret now is that I wish I’d taken down her taxi’s licence plate number and her name so I could give her a proper thank-you.

today you tomorrow me 3My experience reminded me of a beautiful anecdote Vanessa recently shared with me. It was about how a Mexican family went all out to help a guy whose car broke down in the middle of the road. When the guy tried several times to pass the family some money as a token of appreciation, the father shook his head and replied in broken English: “Today you … tomorrow me.”

It’s kind of sad when you think about it. We are all so used to being selfish, so wrapped up in our own wants and needs and worries that such random acts of kindness are a shock to our system. So often, we forget that it’s the simplest pleasures in life that pave the way to happiness. It’s always the little things, you know?

I hope these two anecdotes would leave a profound mark on you, as they did on me. Go ahead and make someone else’s day – it certainly doesn’t take a lot to be a little kinder and more compassionate.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction.

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Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

Why Are We Romanticising Depression? – Tan Lili

There’s been a lot of coverage on the topic of depression lately. While this spike in interest is great in that it helps raise awareness of the mental disorder, there is another rising trend on social media that is both worrying and maddening. Tan Lili explains.

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The word depressed has been thrown around rather flippantly in everyday conversation (“Is it Monday already? GAH I’M SO DEPRESSED!”). But even though we know better than to dismiss a person’s unpleasant feelings, there is a need to put it out there that feeling sad is not the same as depression.

First things first, let’s take a quick look at the stats. A World Health Organization (WHO) study in 2012 found that more than 350 million people around the world suffer from depression, which is ranked the leading cause of morbidity in developing nations in the next century. According to a 2010 Singapore National Mental Health Survey, 6.3% of Singaporeans will experience at least one episode of clinical depression in their lifetime.

Before we ask ourselves if we’re part of the 6.3%, we’ve got to understand what depression is and what it isn’t.

Defining Depression

Where symptoms of clinical depression last for at least two weeks and will continue for about six months if left untreated, sadness comes with it a comforting hug that says, “This too shall pass.” We all experience fleeting moments of sadness every day; it’s a perfectly normal human emotion. And while some of those moments may last longer that we’d like, they don’t (A) kill the important neurons in our brain; (B) stop you from enjoying activities you’ve always enjoyed; and, most importantly, (C) they shouldn’t trigger suicidal thoughts.

Depression is a sickness, a disease, a mental disorder that makes the person feel as if a thousand tiny glass shards were being driven into his body, leaving him to bleed while he is awake and aware of  it all – a product of his warped imagination, but a disease all the same. The reason: Depression is neurotoxic; it changes the way your brain prioritises things. The scan of a healthy brain is different from that of a person suffering from clinical depression. As Dr Stephen Ilardi, a US-based clinical research specialising in the treatment of depression, puts in in Psychology Today, “depression is shorthand for a debilitating syndrome – major depressive disorder – that robs people of their energy, their concentration, their memory, their restorative sleep … their ability to love and work and play. The disorder actually lights up the brain’s pain circuitry, inducing a state of suffering far exceeding that of any physical discomfort.”

All that means depression is no more a choice than is being diagnosed with cancer, and which also means telling a friend suffering from depression to “snap out of it” is no more helpful than telling a cancer patient the same. “When those suffering from depression confide their diagnosis to friends and family, they’re often met with relative indifference, born of the assumption that the patient is afflicted with mere sadness – a condition from which they can quickly and easily recover,” says Dr Ilardi.

However, the good news is, as with any medical condition, depression can be managed. Using a combination of strategies – medication, counselling, etc. – the treatment is effective for up to 80% of those suffering from depression, according to WHO.

If you think you or a loved one could be suffering from depression, visit this page for a list of mental health support services in Singapore.

The Problem With Calling A Tragedy “Beautiful”

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On social media, we see the word depression being used very loosely. Dr Stan Kutcher, a psychiatry expert, told The Atlantic that in today’s digital age, “there is a lack of critical understanding … You see kids self-identifying as having that depression, but they don’t have a depression. They’re upset, or they’re demoralised, or they’re distressed by something.” The strange thing is, this romanticising of depression doesn’t just affect impressionable teens; take a look at Tumblr and Instagram, and you’ll notice many adults glorifying the “beauty” of suffering. Even I – EmoGal84 – do it sometimes, I’m not going to lie.

The problems with romanticising depression are that (A) many are led into believing they are depressed when they aren’t, and (B) it unfairly downplays the gravity of those truly suffering from depression.

The bottom line: Depression is not the same as everyday sadness, nor is it a Like-bait. Let’s stop romanticising depression, please?

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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Opinions, Tan Lili

No More Sambal Stingray…? – Tan Lili

If you’re a fan of this local BBQ hawker dish, you might want to brace yourselves for what you’re about to read. Tan Lili explains.

As a subscriber of several pro-conservation email news alerts, and what with Shark Week happening this Sunday (August 10), my inbox has been filled with quite a number of shark-related newsletters. From them, the consensus is that the situation hasn’t gotten any better; many species of sharks are still endangered, and the demand for shark fins is still atrociously high. On the bright side, the anti-shark finning campaign is thankfully gaining worldwide awareness and acceptance – in Singapore, for instance, the list of companies supporting the ban on shark fin trade has been growing year after year.

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Now, what threw me for a loop was the following piece of news.

According to a recent first-ever global assessment of marine species led by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are now facing a very real threat of total wipe-out, with rays at a higher risk. In fact, only 23 percent of both animals are listed under the IUCN Red List’s “least concern” category. (Note: there are many categories under the Red List.) The biggest threat is overfishing, and while most of the catches are unintentional, the developing markets for sharks and rays certainly do not bode well for their future. Not to mention, the relatively slow reproduction of these animals leaves them more vulnerable to overfishing.

And here comes the kicker: “Surprisingly, we have found that the rays, including sawfish, guitarfish, stingrays and wedgefish, are generally worse off than the sharks, with five out of the seven most-threatened families made up of rays,” says Colin Simpfendorfer, co-chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group. “While public, media and government attention to the plight of sharks is growing, the widespread depletion of rays is largely unnoticed. Conservation action for rays is lagging far behind, which only heightens our concern for this species group.” Sharks and rays – two of the world’s oldest and most ecologically diverse groups of animals – are known as cartilaginous fish, whose skeleton is made of cartilage instead of bone.

 

I have been so caught up in the world of sharks, I had no idea rays were facing an even bigger problem. Probably the rays we are most familiar with are stingrays. There are around 70 stingray species, under which 45 are considered threatened. To say I’m mildly disturbed would be an understatement because I LOVE sambal stingray, but I’ll be damned if I choose not to give a shit about this; the far-reaching consequences of the loss of one species on biodiversity are too much to bear.

I hope more studies will be made on rays so we can better understand their plight and amp up conservation efforts, like how we’re currently doing with sharks. In the meantime – even though we can’t know for sure the species of stingray served at BBQ hawker stalls – sambal stingray shall be removed from my list of favourite hawker dishes. Wanna join me?

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

The Heart Of The Matter – Tan Lili

In light of recent tragedies, Tan Lili ponders on humanity’s capacity for forgiveness. Is there still hope?

I don’t get it. I really don’t.

I’m under no illusion that we’re living in a peaceful world. We never have and probably never will. Recent events, however, expose just how frighteningly ugly human nature can get. It’s devastating enough to read about the plight of the victims, but what disturbs me the most is the shocking reality that there are actually people out there attempting to justify brutality and violence, no matter from which end. Every day, we see heated arguments about who’s right and who’s wrong; we see graphs that compare the total death tolls in each zone; we see people – people who are not the victims or even remotely related to one – make up these analyses and try to outwit one another with only their own pride at stake.

Here’s what I feel: As long as we are keeping score, no one is ever right because someone else will always pay the price.

Is there hope for world peace?

Is there hope for world peace?

This desire for vengeance is what’s making the notion of “world peace” inconceivable. Sadly, it is also very much an intrinsic feature of human nature. It’s not that human beings are fundamentally evil – revenge is one of our survival instincts. But there is another human trait that triumphs over vengeance: Forgiveness.

Evolutionary science has shown that we all possess the capacity to forgive; as long as there’s even a shred of humanity left in us, we can be forgiving. In psychology, forgiveness is defined as a deliberate decision to let go of your desire for revenge – and in doing so, your past hurts begin to heal. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness: The New Approach to Getting The Life You Want, forgiving people are “less likely to be hateful, depressed, hostile, anxious, angry, and neurotic.”

But more importantly, writes Lyubomirsky, we have to understand what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is not the same as downplaying your pain or absolving someone of their wrongdoings. Say, your ex-best friend betrayed you in the past, causing you a lot of pain. She has every reason to earn your trust back, just as you have every right to be mad at her for violating it in the first place.

Forgiveness is not the same as forgetting. Back to hypothetical ex-best friend – forgiving her doesn’t mean you ought to forget what she did. By choosing to let go of your resentment towards her, you are choosing to move on so you can finally heal the wound she left behind.

Forgiveness does not necessarily lead to reconciliation. If you decide that the trust can never be rebuilt, you can still forgive your ex-best friend but choose to get out of this toxic relationship for good.

On the other hand, if you had chosen to keep score and hold a grudge against her, you are essentially imprisoning yourself in a cesspool of bitterness – and you’re the one who ends up drowning.

I know my examples above, while relatable, are markedly trivial next to the ongoing armed conflicts. And, yes, I know nothing is black and white. But with a bigger heart and the willingness to push the edges of our own capacity for forgiveness, maybe, just maybe, the world would be a better place. It all starts with ourselves.

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About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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Opinions, Self-Improvement, Skills & Workshops, Tan Lili

Grammar Rules, Revisited – Tan Lili

Do you cringe whenever you spot grammar mistakes, like the unfathomable misuse of “you’re”/“your”? Well, good, because such errors are unacceptable. Other rules, however, can be bent a little … Tan Lili explains.

In this Internet age of LOLcats and Doge where creative licenses have been liberally used in the English language, many self-proclaimed Grammar Police have stood their ground and mercilessly shamed those who choose to “talk or write funny”.

As a writer, I am occupationally obliged to condemn bad grammar. In fact, I’ve been labelled a “grammar snob” more times than I care to admit; I die a little inside each time I spot a blindingly obvious grammar mistake. Just take a look at “Weird Al” Yankovic’s recently released “Word Crimes”, which highlights unacceptable errors, like the misuse of the words literally and irony.


But, as a modern-day writer, I reckon some rules can be bent:

To Boldly Go Where No Grammarian Has Gone Before

Fact: this archaic rule of infinitive-splitting isn’t legit. It was based on one 19th-century grammarian who declared it wrong to place an adverb between the word to and a verb (e.g. “to slowly recover” or “to subtly leave”). So, yeah, it’s been nice splitting infinitives with you, but I’d prefer to quickly move on to the next point.

We Write, We Eat, We Run

An infamous grammar mistake in which at least two independent clauses (complete sentences) are joined without the proper punctuation or conjunction, run-on sentences can make your writing seem sloppy. But, when used sparingly in the correct context, they actually make for a clever writing tool to deliver an impact and strike a chord with your readers.

And Then There’s This

Since Primary One, we’ve all been taught that a conjunction – for, and, but, or, so, yet, etc. – can only be used to join two sentence elements. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with starting a sentence with one, either. Done strategically, it can either serve as a transitional element or add a dramatic tone to a passage.

So Error. Many Love. Wow.

Here’s the thing: Internet slang is funny for those of us who get it. Our love of emotional theatrics manifests itself in this new age of verbal incoherence, and it’s awesome. Websites like 9gag, Hyperbole and a Half, and The Oatmeal are my go-to sources for unfiltered Internet-speak entertainment. It’s not as if we were rewriting the English language rules; some of the Internet terms are intentionally ungrammatical. As long as you use Internet slang in the right context (read: NOT formal writing) and are able to discern proper grammar usage from wrong, don’t let those rock-ribbed prescriptive grammarians stop you. #hatersgonnahate

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It’s fascinating to see the evolution of grammatical forms. To me, that’s one of the many beauties of linguistics. There are many other so-called grammar rules that can be ignored in creative writing. (Another example: You can go ahead and end a sentence with a preposition.) Do you know of some? Share them in the Comments section below!

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

The Perks Of Being A Tall Woman – Tan Lili

Being taller than the average Singaporean female has made Tan Lili awfully self-conscious about her appearance for the longest time. But now, she’s decided to put an end to all that negative self-talk and, instead, learn to well and truly stand tall and proud.

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I have a confession to make: I hate being tall.

I know, you’re probably rolling your eyes right now. Friends always tell me how envious they are of my height but I have never been able find it in me to bask in such compliments. Back in school, I was always made to sit at the back of the classroom for obvious reasons. In an environment where small-sized girls were favoured over the rest, I felt alienated and ugly. I even used to sport rounded shoulders and a hunched back in hopes of fitting in with my petite classmates. While my insecurities have subsided over the years, I still feel like a giant towering over majority of women in this part of the world. (The average height of a woman in Singapore is 160cm; I’m at 171cm, which, incidentally, is the average height of Singaporean men.)

BUT, this tall-shaming has got to stop. Articles like “10 Things No One Tells You About Being Tall” do nothing except reinforce the premise of misery loves company. Instead of dwelling on the negative and seeing my height as a curse, I’ve decided to not just embrace but celebrate my and my fellow taller-than-average girls’ statuesque physique. Here are some of the blessings of being tall:

1. Enjoy unobstructed views

I love going to concerts, but I often feel self-conscious about standing up and blocking the poor fellow sitting behind me. I gotta admit, though: I’m glad I never have to face the problem of missing out on the good bits.

2. No heels, no problem

Sacrificing comfort for style is a foreign concept to me. I can probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve worn heels so far.

3. Two words: Maxi dresses

This is enough to make up for the fact that mini ones end up looking like tank tops on me.

4. People look up to us – literally and figuratively

Studies have shown that tall people tend to command more respect. This gives us a great advantage in the workplace, be it when you’re aiming for a promotion or when making a sales pitch. Bonus: According to statistics, the taller you are, the more likely you are to get paid more. Okay, I may be a statistical failure in regard to the latter … BUT MY MOMENT OF GLORY WILL COME.

5. We defy society’s norm

There are so many more benefits of being tall, but the most important point is this: in embracing our own differences, it teaches us to be more accepting of others’ too. We spend too much time obsessing over what others think and whether we fit in to what the society deems as normal. So what if you’re too tall? Or too short? Or have a too-high forehead? These physical attributes are a part of our total package, and those who choose to be insensitive about our differences can shove it.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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Asia: Say “No” To Being A Murderer – Tan Lili

We may very well be responsible for the extinction of this majestic animal because of our region’s growing demand for ivory. Founder Tan Lili speaks to Let Elephants Be Elephants (LEBE) founders Nadya Hutagalung and Dr Tammie Matson to find out more.

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Photo: Let Elephants Be Elephants (LEBE)

Fact #1: Two-thirds of African forest elephants were killed in the last decade.

Fact #2: Some 30,000 elephants are being slaughtered illegally every year.

Fact #3: Most of the ivory cruelly derived from Africa’s poached elephants end up in Asia, especially China and Thailand (it’s common to see ivory for sale on the streets of Bangkok).

Fact #4: By 2020, large groups of elephants could be extinct – that’s just six years from now.

The list could go on, but the most important point is that we are wholly responsible for the future of elephants in the wild. In the 1980s, the main markets for ivory driving a devastating poaching spree on elephants were the US and Europe. Today, it’s Asia, particularly China and Thailand. Vietnam and Cambodia are also emerging as ivory transit and consumption hotspots, according to WildAid, an NGO dedicated to ending illegal wildlife trade.

While it’s great that authorities across the region have tightened ivory trade controls – in April this year, Singapore authorities intercepted $2 million worth of illegal ivory – the demand for ivory is still on the rise. However, according to a recent study in China, all that could change – we just have to actively raise awareness of the way ivory is brutally sourced. Of the survey participants, 70 percent of them reported they would not buy ivory had they been aware of the cruelty behind poaching.

Meet the inspiring faces behind Let Elephants Be Elephants (LEBE), Nadya Hutagalung  and Dr Tammie Matson.

Meet the inspiring faces behind LEBE, Nadya Hutagalung and Dr Tammie Matson. Photo: Let Elephants Be Elephants (LEBE)

And herein lies the purpose of the Let Elephants Be Elephants (LEBE) campaign. Co-founded by the multi-talented artiste Nadya Hutagalung and elephant expert Dr Tammie Matson, LEBE hopes to raise awareness of poaching in Asia and reduce the number of people buying ivory. Last April, the two embarked on a mission in Africa to experience first-hand the devastating impact of elephant poaching. Their journey was documented and aired on National Geographic channels in Singapore and Indonesia, and will be shown in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines later this year.

To understand the issues of poaching better, we spoke to Nadya and Dr Matson about elephant behaviour and the impact of illegal ivory trade. Read on.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges of this mission? 

Dr Matson & Nadya: “Overcoming ignorance is one of the biggest challenges. To reduce demand for ivory, we need to let people know that the consumption of ivory in Asia is what is causing the epidemic of elephant poaching in Africa. I think a lot of people think this was a problem in the 1980s that went away when the international ivory ban came into place, but what people don’t know is that there are now new markets for ivory in different parts of the world, and the main culprit today is Asia. Most of the ivory from poached elephants goes to China, and much to Thailand (the largest unregulated market for ivory globally), but it moves between other Asian countries illegally to get there, including Singapore, which is why we all need to work together to get on top of this problem.”

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Photo: Let Elephants Be Elephants (LEBE)

We know elephants live in tight matriarchal family groups, and that they “never forget”. What is the impact of poaching on a typical herd? 

Dr Matson & Nadya: “Poaching has a devastating impact on the families of the murdered elephants. Can you imagine how it would feel if you watched your mother and sisters or aunties killed right in front of you? Sometimes the elephants are still alive when their faces are hacked off to get the ivory. You’d be traumatised if this happened to your loved ones – and it’s exactly the same for elephants.  Babies orphaned by poaching experience a kind of post-traumatic stress. Poaching of the famed ‘great tuskers’ like Satao, the largest of them all in East Africa, who was just killed for his tusks, removes important genetic material from herds. These big bulls are the most likely to pass on their genes to the next generation, as they are preferred by the females. When we lose them, we lose their genes too.  And of course, the loss of matriarchs, the female leaders of the herds, is devastating to the younger elephants, who no longer can benefit from her knowledge and experience of how to survive in the wild.  Much of what elephants need to survive comes from learning from their elders.”

What triggered your interest in elephants in the first place?

Dr. Matson: “I had done my PhD on a threatened antelope in Namibia (south west Africa), the black-faced impala, and after six years work on them, I was looking for a new challenge when I went to Bushmanland in north-east Namibia, home of the San Bushmen. I loved the area and the people, and the chief of the Bushmen at the time suggested that his people needed work done on the human-elephant conflict situation. I obtained a research permit and the funding to do the job, even though I’d never worked on elephants before. And of course, once you work on elephants for a little while, you really fall under their spell. The elephants in that part of Africa are really tough and quite wild. But I witnessed some of the most heartbreaking and inspiring things working in that part of the world and watching elephant families. I think we humans could learn from them.”

Nadya: “It was one night at a year-end gathering when I met Tammie and she was sharing amongst a group of us about the situation the elephants were facing due to the demand for ivory being driven by Asian consumers. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and wanted to find out more. So very quickly we hatched a plan to go to Africa and meet the world’s foremost authorities in elephant study and science. They were all of the opinion that the ‘far east’ was what was driving the highest levels of poaching that they had seen since the global ban on ivory took place in 1989.”

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Photo: Let Elephants Be Elephants (LEBE)

What’s your most memorable experience during the production of the documentary?

Nadya: “There were quite a few to be honest but I will share just one that really stands out for me. The first was the day I met Tim. Not only is he one of the largest bulls in Kenya, but also one of only around 100 left in the world of his size. He was in musth – meaning, he was looking to mate – and that in turns means his hormones were raging so he could be dangerous and temperamental. It was the end of the day and I was with Katito Sayialel of Amboseli Trust for Elephants and Richard Bonham of Big Life Foundation in the car when we caught a glimpse of Tim with a group of about five other herds of elephants. He walked right up to the car and stopped about three metres away, stayed for a minute and then walked a metre close, and spent another minute just staring at us. And then he stepped closer again. I must have stopped breathing for some time. He then shook his head and walked away. Richard, who was sitting in the back of the car, said what just happened was incredible and rare, especially because Tim was in musth. According to Richard, it was as if Tim came up to thank us and, at the same time, ask for help.”

Dr Matson: “I think both Nadya and I were pretty shocked by the sight of carcasses of elephants and rhinos that we saw in Kenya. No matter how many times you see poached carcasses, even for me as a scientist, it’s still incredibly sad knowing that they have such close family bonds – just like us – and that the others will grieve for years afterwards. It was an emotional roller coaster because even though we were there to see the reality of the poaching situation, there were many inspiring moments too, like watching the Amboseli elephant families totally relaxed and enjoying the long green grasses of the late wet season, and meeting the orphaned baby elephants at Daphne Sheldrick’s elephant orphanage in Nairobi. We left with a real feeling of hope, because we saw great commitment on the ground from people like Richard Bonham of the Big Life Foundation. We also know we were in a unique position to tell this interconnected story about Africa and Asia, which we hope will stop people from buying ivory.”

When you witness heartbreaking sights of the consequences of elephant poaching, what goes through your mind?

Dr Matson: “First, you think about the families. It’s just like when a human dies – it’s devastating because it’s a sister or a mother or a grandparent that’s gone and that family will never be the same again. Then you get angry because you know that this is happening due to the illegal ivory trade, which is driven by greed, corruption, wealth in Asia and poverty in Africa. And then you want to do something to stop the demand for ivory at its source – Asia – because we know that Africa cannot win this war alone. It’s incredibly motivating what we saw in Africa, and I hope that when people watch the film or visit our website at letelephantsbeelephants.org and watch the short videos, they’ll feel motivated to join us and take the pledge to say no to ivory.  If we all raise our voices together to spread the word, we can change things. With 30,000 elephants being killed illegally annually, the future of elephants in the wild depends on it.”

Be part of the LEBE movement by saying “No” to ivory here. To get updates on the LEBE campaign, Like them on their Facebook page.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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Do LGBT Relationships Threaten The Family Unit? – Tan Lili

One of the issues raised by some communities regarding Pink Dot SG is that LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) relationships go against traditional family values. Do they, really? Founder Tan Lili speaks to a few people for their takes on this hot topic.

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It’s two days to Pink Dot SG 2014, an annual event that promotes inclusiveness and the freedom to love. Dishearteningly (though not surprisingly), this movement isn’t welcomed with open arms by one and all. In a bid to protest against the event, an Islamic religious teacher launched a Wear White campaign, which urges Muslims to wear white on June 28 (the day of Pink Dot SG 2014). Since then, a few religious communities have voiced their support for the campaign. While certainly not representative of all religious groups in Singapore, the ones who have jumped into the fray claim the Wear White movement protects traditional family values as they believe the LGBT community compromises the very definition of family unit.

To better understand what a family unit means in a multicultural context, we spoke to a few people of diverse backgrounds for their views:

“I think LGBT individuals love, respect and treasure their families as much as any straight person. And, as with all human beings, they, too, need and want to be loved. As a mother, I cannot imagine loving my children any less for wanting to be with someone of the same sex, or for being born into the wrong gender. Unfortunately, social stigma and ignorance have torn families apart. I believe Pink Dot can help start that conversation, to heal the rift, and bring families back together.” – Janice Koh, Nominated Member of Parliament, Pink Dot SG 2014 ambassador

“I think we should strive to be more inclusive on what a family unit means. It shouldn’t only be based on a nuclear husband-wife-child model. Single-parent households (by choice or otherwise), childless couples, and even same-sex couples with children are on the rise. The alternative family unit is not a western invention; it’s a natural human phenomenon and we need to embrace that. I get the argument for preserving a nuclear family unit as means for procreation. But statistically, the homosexual population is pitted as 2 percent to 10 percent. Now, how can a minority group overthrow the entire human civilisation and curb procreation? What real threat is there?

I came out to my whole family – in stages – from a very young age. I was out to my close friends when I was 14; my siblings, around 18; and my mum, at 19. I’m not going to sugarcoat things. My mum is a religious person, so when I first came out to her, she was quite ambivalent about it. She had prior conceptions of what being gay meant, and she was worried that I wouldn’t be able to live my life without being ostracised. It was trying at first because I had to be patient in sharing what homosexuality is about and to clear the air regarding any untrue stereotypes. She’s much more accepting and open-minded today.

People who aren’t open to LGBTs won’t immediately be okay with it from day one; it takes constant engagement, sharing, mutual respect and exchange of views to get somewhere as with my mum. At the end of the day, it’s fine to disagree with something. It is also possible to embrace diverse views and accommodate all of them in an inclusive manner. What I hope for is to be loved and an acceptance that some people are just born differently. This isn’t merely a lifestyle choice. I mean, you don’t choose to be straight, right?” – Matthew Fam, Material World contributor

“All LGBT members are a part of our society. An inclusive, pro-family society must welcome families with LGBT members. To protect families and our values of inclusivity and equality, we must respect and support all individuals – regardless of their sexual orientation – to have a happy family life and to live free of discrimination and harassment. Any definition of family that excludes LGBT persons is anti-family.” – Corinna Lim, executive director of AWARE

“The right to stable and secure familial lives should be universal, regardless of gender, ethnicity, class and sexual orientation. Particularly in a society where the family unit is constructed as central to one’s wellbeing, this is the moral and ethical position to take. Just as straight-identified are born into and forge families, so do LGBT individuals. We are not talking about mere ‘lifestyle’ choices here – these are people’s everyday lives, people’s livelihoods, people’s need for dignity forged in real social relations. Families have always existed and will continue to exist in diverse forms. That is an empirical fact. It also remains an empirical reality, unfortunately, that LGBT members of our society suffer disproportionate stigma, discrimination, harassment and cruelty – and that this often happens precisely because they are deemed to be anti-family. We have shared responsibilities to work towards a society where these bullying behaviours are no longer tolerated and where everyone’s right to family is respected and protected.” – Teo You Yenn, sociologist, author of Neoliberal Morality in Singapore: How family policies make state and society, and board member at AWARE

“I personally don’t think the LGBT community runs in conflict with the family unit. Some of the primary causes of family breakdown are unreasonable behaviour, domestic violence and infidelity. Individuals and groups interested in protecting the ‘sanctity of the family’ would do better to address those issues instead of confronting the LGBT community. A single mother struggling to raise a child should be cause for concern more so than whom a person chooses to love. How do LGBT couples affect the family unit exactly? Heterosexual couples still exist in great numbers and have children, to the extent that we are actually facing a global problem of overpopulation. Recent campaigns in Singapore come off more as an excuse for homophobia rather than the protection of any family values.” – Seelan Palay, artist and activist

“What I can say is that a healthy and complete family unit in these days should no longer be based on how it is represented by the dictates of a narrow and repressive model of roles and expectations. Rather, it should be how it is experienced by its members. But first, these members have to be recognised as unique and dignified individuals in order for them to make more meaningful contributions to what they understand as their families. While its mood may be celebratory, it is not in the intentions of Pink Dot to break up the conventional institutions of the family unit. In contrast, it wants to work towards greater inclusivity and belonging with a broader umbrella that can shelter more families of different backgrounds.” – Dr Liew Kai Khiun, an academic doing research on Cultural Studies

“In the first place, sexual orientation should not have any bearing on what a family should be. In some respect, other social stereotypes that are seen as ‘abnormal’ – single parents, racial differences, arranged marriages, etc. – should not have any bearing on the definition of family. A family is a group of people who accept one another for who they are, regardless of all the above conditions. I think something like LGBT is still a sensitive issue that needs to be discussed in a more constructive manner – that’s the first step for a conservative society like Singapore. No one is given the right to dictate how one chooses to live and, therefore, love. I understand how and why the stigma exists in this conservative society, but Singapore is a country that prides itself on being cutting-edge in many aspects, and is home to some of the region’s – if not the world’s – most respected think-tanks, so why can’t we discuss this in a civil, respectable and logical manner?

It’s going to be an uphill climb, in terms of how the LGBT community shapes how we define the family nucleus, but with the right attitudes and the right leaders who don’t feel the need to subject to downright bullying and discrimination, Singapore has the potential to be on its way to the equality we recite so proudly in our National Pledge. One more thing: I’d like to point out that LGBT relationships should never be seen as a ‘threat’ to the family or society. It would be sad for a mother to shun her child just because of whom and how he/she decides to live and love. Again, family is about accepting your loved ones for who they are.” – Andrea Azureene, creative copywriter

Pink Dot SG 2014 will be taking place this Saturday, June 28, 5pm, at Hong Lim Park.

Everyone has the freedom to love.

Everyone has the freedom to love.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

The Best Decision You’ll Ever Make – Tan Lili

Choose to be happy. Always.

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Given my office nickname – EmoGal84 – the irony that I’m writing a post about choosing happiness isn’t lost on me. But while I don’t deny that I occasionally wallow in depressing stuff (which is perfectly okay, by the way), I’d like to think I am a generally happy person. Or at least I try to be.

As much as we wish to be contented with what we have, to be more grateful, to stop having #firstworldproblems, being worry-free and happy when you live in this society is virtually unheard of. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. In fact, all the more reason to actively pursue happiness. Not everyone agrees, though – recent studies have warned of the dangers of seeking our own happiness, claiming that, in the pursuit, we end up feeling unhappy because we will come to realise we’re chasing an impossible dream. Well, I respectfully disagree with the researchers. Why settle for existing when you can choose to live? As Dr Alex Lickerman, M.D., author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self, says, “[The pursuit of happiness] is a hard enough process that if you don’t don’t intentionally aim to accomplish it, genuine, long-lasting happiness is likely to elude you.”

Does this deliberate attempt at finding happiness make us selfish people? It all depends on how we’re finding it. There was a line from an article I chanced upon a while ago: Selfishness and self-interest are two completely different things. If it is in your self-interest to do something, go ahead – there’s nothing immoral about taking care of yourself when it isn’t at the expense of someone else. Here are some suggestions on how you can practice happiness, according to psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter:

"Catch" your friend's happy vibe.

“Catch” your friend’s happy vibe.

Choose your company

Centuries of research have proven that emotions are highly contagious – the mimicry of emotional expressions sets off some kind of reaction in our brain, rendering us “innately vulnerable to ‘catching’ other people’s emotions”. Now that we know our own emotions can be easily influenced by the emotional states of others around us, make a conscious effort to surround yourself with positive people and steer clear of those who leave you feeling drained.

Choose to look at the big picture

It’s all too easy to lose perspective when met with setbacks, however trivial and temporary. Go ahead and vent, but remind yourself of the reason you started your pursuit and focus on long-term goals and accomplishments.

Choose to disconnect

Staying unplugged in this day and age for more than 12 hours is career suicide, let alone going on a digital detox for days on end. I hear you. Still, make it a point to distance yourself from your gadgets for a few hours every day (while you’re awake, duh) to connect with the real world. For instance, rather than spending your lunchtime refreshing your social media feeds, bond with your colleagues by engaging them in idle chitchat.

If all else fails, just watch this video – it will fill your heart with immense joy!

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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Health & Fitness, Opinions, Tan Lili, Wellbeing

Questions You’ve Been Dying To Ask About Global Warming – Tan Lili

What is climate change? Is Singapore safe from the effects of global warming? In the spirit of Earth Day (April 22), we’ve come up with easy-to-comprehend answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about global warming.

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Judging by the recent spate of winter storms in Europe and the US, isn’t the globe getting colder, not warmer?

Here’s the thing: global warming isn’t solely about rising temperatures at particular times and places; it refers to the recent rise of the average temperature near the Earth’s surface, causing changes in climate patterns. This means, deserts will be drier, storms will be stronger, and snowfall will get heavier.

Meh. It won’t affect where I live, right? Geographically, Singapore will always be safe from natural disasters!

These masks are here to stay; 3M may as well look into coming up with funky designs.

These masks are here to stay; 3M may as well look into coming up with funky designs.

Err … do you not live on planet Earth? In fact, we have been experiencing the effects of climate change. According to the National Climate Change Secretariat, our annual average surface temperature has risen 0.8° since 1948. In early March this year, the National Environment Agency announced February 2014 as our record-making driest month since 1869.

Not forgetting the marked rise of dengue cases here. Dengue is usually recorded during warmer periods of the year; the prolonged dry spell we experienced earlier this year was a major contributing factor to the upsurge. Perhaps an even more obvious impact is the unprecedented haze pollution that blanketed our nation last year.

Singapore is as vulnerable to the effects of climate change as any other country on this planet – never doubt that. You just don’t mess with Mother Nature.

Sounds like it’s all up to Mother Nature, then. We can’t control killer storms, can we?

Actually, NASA may one day develop a storm-steering technology, but that’s beside the point. To understand how we can help adapt to and prevent the worsening of climate change, here’s a little lesson on physical geography:

Greenhouse gases trap energy in the atmosphere – which is essential, or else our planet would be too cold to support life. However, the buildup of greenhouse gases – much of which is due to human activities since the early 20th century, no thanks to the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation and other industrial processes – leads to global warming. Besides climate change, global warming also has other dire long-term effects, including plant and animal extinctions, rising sea levels, as well as societal issues like socioeconomic inequality.

While we’re on the topic of extinctions, a 2013 study from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that “up to 83 percent of birds, 66 percent of amphibians and 70 percent of corals that are identified as highly vulnerable to climate change are not on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species”.

Eh … I’m not sure if you answered my question …

I totally did! According to top climate scientists, much of the emission of greenhouse gases is attributed to manmade activities – the keyword here is “manmade”. Since us humans are responsible for global warming, we can also prevent it from killing our planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The amount of carbon dioxide – the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities – in the Earth’s atmosphere recently reached an all-time high in the past 800,000 years. The problem with carbon dioxide is that, once emitted, a single molecule of it can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. We are already experiencing the effects of climate change; can you imagine what the effects would be for the next few centuries, what with today’s rise in global warming-causing human activities?

Let me get this straight: No matter how much we try to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now, we wouldn’t be able to effect a change in centuries to come. In other words, we’re screwed, so why bother?

Because you wouldn’t want your children to suffer from your wrongdoings, would you? Those of us reading this now may not bear the brunt of global warming impacts in our lifetime, but the choices we make today will affect the welfare of our future generations. We are slowly and gradually killing Earth. The least we can do now is adopt some changes so as to avoid speeding up the death of our planet. (Okay, I was being a little dramatic there; it could take tens of thousands of years, but the fact remains that we can make the world a better place for our future generations to live in.)

Okay, I think I get it now. But the main culprits behind global warming are big players like power plants. What can I – a small fry in the grand scheme of things – do to save the Earth?

The golden rule: Turn it off when not in use.

The golden rule: Turn it off when not in use.

Simple; don’t contribute to global warming. Every little thing we do will add up to make a big difference one day. While Singapore is generally on board with the environmental movement, there are many ways we as individuals can do to help reduce global warming:

  • Learn how to drive your car in a fuel-efficient way. This means, whenever you’re not driving – you’re chillaxing in your car, waiting for someone, etc. – turn off the engine. A running car engine consumes fuel, emitting carbon into the atmosphere. In the words of founder Debs, “Wait in a non-air-conditioned car can die ah?”
  • In the office, if you have to print out documents, make sure your printer settings are changed to double-sided printing.
  • Since you’re still in the office, please remember to SWITCH OFF YOUR COMPUTER BEFORE YOU LEAVE.
  • Use a fan to keep cool when you sleep at night. It consumes about one-tenth of the electricity used by an air conditioner.
  • The air conditioner consumes the highest amount of energy at home. But if you must sleep with air conditioning, set the temperate at 25°C.
  • Turn off the tap when you’re applying your shampoo, conditioner and body wash. 

Taking care of the planet is a lifelong responsibility everyone has to take, but it really isn’t a chore. For more tips, check out this comprehensive list from World Wide Fund for Nature (Singapore).

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets

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Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

There Is Beauty In Stillness – Tan Lili

The impermanent nature of life means everything is fleeting and nothing lasts forever. We are always moving, as is the planet we call home. But at the heart of this constant stream of changes lies a refuge you can seek to achieve the ultimate peace of mind – and it’s up to you and you alone to find it.

How do you find stillness in a not-so-still world?

How do you find stillness in a not-so-still world?

“I’m so busy, I’m going to die!!!” I complained to a good friend recently.

She looked at me with an oddly calm expression that, to be honest, was more disconcerting than anything else. “Find your stillness,” she said simply. “You used to be good at finding it.”

Huh. Was I? So what happened?

I suppose my friend can now read minds as well. “You’ve let noise dictate the way you live your life. You need to find your stillness again. It’s your inner peace; everyone has it.”

What started as a catch-up session turned into casual psychoanalytic therapy. Before, I was usually the picture of calm, handling whatever stress that came my way with quiet confidence. While I still maintain my composure (for the most part) in times of stress, the blinding panic now resides in my mind, manifesting itself in the way I don’t take care of myself. The noise is always there. It gets so deafening at times, I can only wish in vain for absolute silence.

Well, at least that was what my part-time psychotherapist/full-time IT sales manager told me.

It all makes sense, though. I’ve been trying so hard to hear through the noise that I’ve neglected my ability to see. Amidst the craziness of everyday life, there is a stillness that holds everything in place. And when you see it, it really is a beautiful thing. What makes it even more amazing is the fact that stillness is so easy to find because it is everywhere. It’s the beauty that permeates everything around you – you just have to open your eyes. Here are some examples.

Tune out the noise
Rather than bemoaning about the terrible squeeze during your daily commute, see traveling time as a treasured hour of respite from whatever is troubling you. Earphones are one of the world’s greatest inventions – use them, play your favourite music, and shut out the world.

Simple love
Call me idealistic, but I do believe true love is forever. It doesn’t necessarily have to come from having a romantic interest; love can be found in your family, your friends, your passion. Circumstances around you will change unexpectedly, but this kind of love that stems from a place so deep and pure will not.

Freedom of the mind
There is no limit to what we can learn as long as we open our minds; we have the right to freedom of thought – this freedom is stillness in one of its finest forms.

There are countless ways to find stillness. Wherever you find it, appreciate its beauty and allow it to offer you peace of mind. As neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, PhD, puts it, “It’s a relief from the noise and bustle, a source of clarity and peace. Give yourself the space, the permission, to be still – at least in your mind – amidst those who are busy.”

The two words that best sum this up: Just breathe.

The two words that best sum this up: Just breathe.

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets

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Character & Soul, Opinions, Self-Improvement, Tan Lili

Are You Being Critical Or Are You Looking For Flaws? – Tan Lili

Fact: Being hypercritical does a whole lot more harm than good. Here’s why.

Go on to Facebook and take a look at the comments posted on any of the links shared by a media outlet. How many of them are thinly-veiled (if at all) criticisms? Be it about an upcoming movie adaptation of a kickass book, a call for action against global warming, or the debate between science and religion, there’s always something to pick on. In today’s Internet culture, our hypercritical approach has become socially acceptable – and that is causing a huge problem.

hypercritical flaws 2I’m not saying we should live in la-la land filled with rainbows and unicorns. We need to be able to discern the good from the bad; it’s called self-preservation. I’m not saying to remove our critical lens altogether, either. Constructive criticism – critical suggestions that add value, encourage a positive change, and inspire intelligent discourse – is always welcomed. The line blurs in today’s hypercritical culture in which, more often than not, we criticise for the sake of criticising. Even a seemingly harmless situation gets nitpicked just because we can.

And here is where the main problem lies: Rather than seeing both sides of the story, we lose perspective as we develop tunnel vision. We become so obsessed with finding and playing up the flaws that we are inadvertently trapping ourselves in a bubble – along with other likeminded individuals with whom we have formed a bond when we first made our assertions about a certain subject matter. Within this bubble, our perceived truth is based on beliefs, not facts; anything outside of the bubble – even facts – is irrelevant. Of course, an even bigger problem arises when we try to impose our beliefs on others.

Blame this on the scientific wiring of our brain, if you will.

According to Loretta Graziano Breuning, Ph.D., author of Beyond Cynical: Transcend Your Mammalian Negativity, when something riles you up, it activates a certain circuit in your brain. “When you see familiar problems, your brain lights up effortlessly because your past cortisol paved those neural pathways,” says Breuning. “Activating the same circuit over and over builds it up to the point where it activates easily. It takes effort to activate new circuits, that’s why so many people are in the habit of focusing on their usual critiques and ignoring the rest of the story.”

Translation: Most of the so-called flaws that incite our inner hypercritics are what we ourselves have created in our own brain. Because of those conditioned neural pathways, we choose to see what we want to see and filter out the rest of the potentially educational information.

At the end of the day, we are all entitled to our own opinion. In fact, never mind that by being hypercritical, we are essentially limiting our own growth. But if you had intended to “educate” the impressionable and, to put it bluntly, stir shit with your personal critical views, you might want to keep them exactly where they belong – private.

Can't we all at least agree on this?

Can’t we all at least agree on this?

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets

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