10 things to do this decade

The noughties are over and the tens are here. Time to get serious about all the things you have been putting off for the longest time.

Plan to deliver some personal goals by 2020 and work out that plan. Make this decade your best ever.

Here are 10 suggestions:

View from atop Otago, New Zealand

1. Go to an exotic destination
Vacations shouldn’t just be about lying around on a deck chair by the hotel pool, sipping margaritas and reading Grisham. Get out, go on a sweaty trek, immerse yourself in a local cultural event, learn something new and strike up random conversations with the locals.

In that gloomy period post 9/11, we went to New Zealand on November 2001 on a whim — and with little planning. Our kids were aged two and four and we spent six weeks that turned out the best family holiday of the last decade.

My recommendation: Choose a place far away and quite removed from anything you’ve experienced before ie. Angkor Wat, Mulu, Halong Bay, Machu Picchu, the Iguazu Falls, the Paos Volcano come to mind.

On a glacier in South Island, New Zealand. First taste of snow.

2. Take up a recreation sport:
I’m no gymrat and waking up at 5am to pay someone to boss you around at an urban bootcamp sounds perverse.

I took up scuba-diving on the persuasion of a great, late friend Pako, an Egyptian-Austrian, who was a bigger-than-life character until his premature passing from brain cancer. My virgin dives were off Tioman Island with instructor Jasper, and buddy Vijay.

In our first ever dive, we surprised a turtle with our flailings underwater, avoiding spiky sea urchins and learned about the dangers of the stonefish, scorpion fish and moray eel. Jasper, and later Pako and Susanne opened my eyes to the wonders of the living coral reef — a world so peaceful and lush with colours.

Moray eel, off Kampung Tekek, Tioman by kinObe / CC BY 2.0

Once I got past the equipment, and figured my buoyancy, dives in the warm waters off the coasts of Malaysia were a solace and comfort, away from the madness, where the only sounds you hear are of your own breathing.

Our best dive was a night dive, off Railay Beach in Krabi, Thailand. Descending into a inky darkness sounds scary, but it’s just as relaxing, although you are more focused with the two torches you need to carry (one as a backup strapped to your wrist) .

At one point, close to the moon-drenched surface, our dive master, made us switch off our torches and in the darkness he agitated the water by swinging his arms and legs. The bioluminiscent plankton lit up all around us. He then grabbed our arms and partnered us off to do underwater waltzes among the “stars”. It was magical and unforgettable.

Lately, my friends Joe and Gary have gotten into tour and off-road bicycling. I’ve liked the wind and freedom on being on a non-polluting bicycle as a young child and once circumnavigated Peninsular Malaysia with two friends. But the prospects of riding over rough terrain on a narrow seat for long periods sounds particularly painful on the posterior.

Other recreation sports worth thinking about this decade: skydiving, base-jumping, rock-climbing, wind-surfing, mountain-climbing, archery, kickboxing and, maybe, running a marathon.

3. Learn to sing, dance, play:
I am convinced I am tone deaf, although I enjoy live music and dancing. The Susan Boyle phenomenon, Michael Jackson’s posthumous revival, the Idol series, So You Think You Can Dance? and celebrity dance-offs have touched all our inner musical longings.

Did you fail to turn into the musical prodigy your mother wanted you to be by sending you to that intense piano teacher who rapped your knuckles with a steel ruler? Now’s your revenge. Buy that piano, play only what you like and learn in your own time. Why? Because you can afford it and you always liked the music anyway, not the regimented lessons. Challenge yourself by signing up for a public performance, among friends of course, in six months.

Things to do to exercise your musical muscle this decade: learn to dance the salsa (Darlene, my salsa-teaching niece would like to hear this), hip-hop (my 40-something pal took this up in Vietnam recently), ballroom (Tim Ferriss is inspiring) or play the saxophone, guitar, harmonica or tabla, or take up vocal lessons and nail that slow-burn jazz number you always wanted to.

4. Learn a craft:
I fell into photography on the insistence of my boss at a stint at a travel magazine. Learning to shoot pics for my own stories fleshed out my understanding of the story-telling craft.

I used a non-digital Canon EOS SLR which is perhaps the easiest Autofocus/Manual camera to quickly pick up picture-taking skills back then. I shot several covers for the magazine and many other touristy pics and went on to take many memorable photos for family and friends — mostly at weddings, parties and holiday trips.

It’s amazing to see the easy and fluid sharing of digital photos and videos via Facebook, Picasa, Flickr and YouTube. I keep reading the reviews and hope to get back into the stills craft again with the right camera.

Other possibilities: Video-filming, fine-dine cooking, cake-baking, beer-brewing, wine-making, batik painting or any other art, pottery and knitting.

5. Go green:
Can we save the environment in the next decade or will things only get worse? I’ve been inspired listening to Matthias Gelber, Shai Agassi and of course, Al Gore.

I confess, I struggle to cure myself of the addiction to fossil fuels and plastic. Driving and shopping bags are anti-green sins which are hard to give up. I hope to do better in this carbon-credit decade.

6. Grow something:
City-living boxes one into concrete and air-conditioning all day long. We move to an apartment this year, and forsake our closeness to the land, further devolving into the cliched urban settings — all high-living pretense and thin-walled wretchedness.

Suggested ideas: If you have a patch of grass in the backyard try growing your own chillies or tomatoes, invest in an organic farm co-op, take part in some tree-planting activities or start paying more loving attention to your potted plants.

7. Have a kid:
I learnt and continue to learn more about life through my children than my entire pre-children adult life. Unlike the Brangelinas, a pair — a whiny boy and a precocious girl — is enough for us, and we are grateful for their “normality”.

We still have friends sans kids who just don’t get it. Having children is life-changing. And you need to have them to know what that statement really means.

Parenting 101 begins at home. You are both student and lecturer and have to make up the lessons on your own. There is nothing you can ever learn from books to know what it means to change a particularly nasty diaper, or suck the phlegmy stuff from an infant’s nose, or stay up all night with a sick, whimpering child whose fever hasn’t broken. It reaches deep inside and rips you at the core.

Children are true joys and joy-killers, therein lies the contradiction. You don’t need kids to know who you are, but may need the parenting experience to know who you were, and want to be.

8. Trace your family tree:
What could be more fun than finding the amazing universality of how we all came to be? Awhile back, my handyman who came to fix a hot shower, started chatting about his hobby — tracing four Eurasian family trees as far back as he could. The quest was to connect his family to Martina Rozells and Captain Francis Light, the founder of then British colony, Penang.

He was doing it completely by hand and relying on old memories, cataloguing deaths in newspaper obituaries and attending funerals. That led to us to helping him out via the power of computing and the Internet. We got him a PC and a genealogy software called Brother’s Keeper and soon he was off and running, expanding the list into the thousands rapidly through online contacts. Later, we helped post parts of the tree on the net and he soon found a connection between his family tree and ours through a marital branch.

Evolution says we are all connected, somewhere along the lines — we’re a planet of cousins. The concept of Facebook “friending” has accelerated that to a new level. I can imagine you could spend an entire decade having fun with this.

9. Get more social online:
I cringed when a friend in Singapore requested I join Plaxo, a social network that opened his entire friend network to me — photos, personal updates and all. There was something voyeuristic about peeking into these strangers’ lives without consent. I got off it promptly.

Facebook changed all that. It offered a means to hide things and had privacy settings that limited the extent with which I wanted to share — although even that boundary is blurring daily. Since joining Facebook, and promoting it to clients, I’ve begun to understand its power.

Social and mobile networks will be the means we all connect in this decade. We are more likely to know each other via the augmented realities of avatars and online personalities that come through in status updates, photos and videos we upload, games we play and Google Wave-like apps we share, rather than through a formal face-to-face. That’s actually exhilarating and we should see this as an opportunity, not a threat.

Find old classmates and neighbourhood friends online. Connect with relatives and friend’s friends from afar. Interact with the inspiring people you read about — they’re all online.

Being social online is a skill that can only be honed by being online. If you want to fish, you need to go where the fish are.

10. Teach
I am a sucker for what my friend Joe describes as the “aha” moment. Benjamin Zander calls it “shining eyes”. There is nothing more satisfying than guiding a person to reach a point where an understanding dawns on the him/her. Something you didn’t know before, suddenly becomes as a clear as day: “Ohhhh, now I get it!”

Teaching, training, coaching and consulting has helped me become a better person. I would challenge anyone who says he knows everything about a particular subject to teach it. It is only then — when you need to organize your thoughts and present it in a structured manner, or provide the guiding posts that gets a person from point A to point B, that you become truly knowledgeable. You teach in order to know.

Knowing doesn’t make you an expert — guruness is over-rated — but it does put you on the right side of the equation in contributing to life on this planet.

An old geography teacher once told me, she never visited most of the places she taught about. But that never made her feel guilty or wrong. You don’t need to truly know what you teach, you only need to provide the framework for change to occur. As the saying goes – a good teacher is like a candle, consuming itself to light the way for others.

Links worth exploring:
1. 100 things to do before you die
2. The 10 most incredible things to do before you die
3. 50 things to do before you die

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