Believing in Great Things for 2014

December 31st, 2013. Today is the last day of this magnificent year. I never really expected it, but I believe this year has been one of those wonderful years which I am extremely positive and at the same time, extremely … Continue reading

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A Question of Choices

For the last few days I have been spending time with Jose in London and days before that we were in Greece to celebrate Chinese New Year.   It has been a couple of months since we last saw each other and I am very happy that we had the time to relax and see a new city which we both haven’t been before. It has been a wonderful 10 days but of course, if I could make it longer, I would like to do so. When you have shared your life with a person for a couple of years, it seems alien if they are not there with you.  Right now I am in London in his family home and I will spend a month here. I am waiting for Jose to come back from a visit to a family friend and after that, me and his sister will send him off to the airport for his travel back to Singapore.

Now that I have a bit of time to think, I thought of doing a blog to clear my head. For the last few months I have been contemplating on my life as a student, as a professional and as a person who has somehow taken the big plunge of rebooting his life. I now know that this masters degree will change my life – that I will be doing something I have never imagined I will do and that it is providing me with skills I never thought I would acquire. I am in that period of uncertainty, some sort of an intellectual crisis. Where will my life lead me?

Before coming to Germany, I had a clear vision in my mind of what my skill sets were and what I am happy doing. From my previous blog I had a certainty in my writing, a certain stance but now that stance is wobbly. I am somehow unclear with my vision of the future for the first time in my life. With new knowledge comes new avenues of growth, new possibilities, new means of working and my own definitions of how my life is be suddenly opening up. It is as if I was looking at  a certain tunnel where there was a clear but unchanging view and now, I have come to the end of that tunnel and I realized that the scenery is much richer and the roads diverge in different locations. Life choices and career choices are not linearly constructed and I have to sort out which one I will need to take. Life isn’t as simple as I thought it was.

However, after traveling in Athens and meeting people from different backgrounds in Germany and here in London, I also realized that this thinking process is a privilege. Many people have no luxury of choice and that the world sweeps them in its mighty current. For example, Greece is a beautiful country but so much of its people are in poverty now and many people of my age do not have jobs. I don’t have a job now but I can live because I chose this path to become a student and saved my money to achieve it.  I am opening my options and of course that means that I will have a choice. I have put myself in this position of limitless choices but it scares me too.

The real question now is that is it better to have limited choices or having more choices in life? Is a straight path better than a convoluted path in life? I’m not really sure. I am now here in this point and I am trying to create a straight path but I do know in my heart that it won’t be that simple anymore.

Age, the Past and the Future

There are several reasons why I wanted to do this blog today. First of all is that I am celebrating my 1st month in Cottbus with some introspection. Second, our intensive introduction to World Heritage Studies finished last week and the real semester classes will start next week. Thirdly, I am getting adjusted to the fact that Sundays in Germany is really a rest day. Wochenende / Weekend is really a thing here because most shops are closed, even the malls. I don’t think I will ever get used to that.

Fresh!

As part of reflecting on the past few weeks, I remember quite vividly some striking conversations with people that I have met. One general topic of amazement is my age. Everyone thinks I’m 22 years old here, which is somewhat of a good thing in a university setting because I can easily blend in. If I wore school uniform or shop at the teens section of the department store, I don’t think people will actually frown upon it. When people realize that I have already worked for more than half a decade  in a country different from my own, thats when their mouths drop and they look at me from head to foot and say “But you look so young!” The only thing I can say to that is, “Its an Asian thing, I think.  Or maybe genes, I’m not really sure.”  Many of my colleagues / classmates here are surprisingly fresh graduates or they have worked for a year or two then decided to take their master’s education. I remember I was once like that. In 2008, I decided to really pursue looking for a master’s degree and 4 years later after 4 half successful applications and probably hundreds of hours of researching on good but economical courses, I have landed here in Cottbus. The four years I think was not spent in vain but I believe that it has improved my own perspective in life, my profession and my educational pursuits. I am a product of my own experience.

Another striking conversation that I had happened in two separate occasions, both of which had the same theme. The conversation somehow went like this:

My friend: “You are a landscape architect, right? That seems to be quite an interesting profession and it seems to me that you have a lot of experience with it.”

Me: “There are only a few landscape architects in the Philippines and in Singapore that I think I learned a lot from it. I went to present to my clients, went to different sites for construction and also managed my own time. It was a good thing.”

My friend: “If you don’t mind me asking, why did you leave then? Why did you want to take a master’s degree?”

With this question, I really had to dig deep in my own thoughts. It is a question that my previous colleagues, my classmates in the university and my new interdisciplinary classmates ask me now. If I were doing something significant in my life, why was there a need to do something else?

The answer is probably a convoluted with many layers of discoveries, of truths and of preconceived notions. The reality is that I really did enjoy what I did. I still have this exhilaration going to construction sites, seeing beautiful places being built and looking at the built environment as a physical manifestation of ideas and of human imagination and craftsmanship. I hold that dear up to now. The answer lies in the thought that I want to do something more, something that looks not just on our own aesthetic perceptions of the built environment but of the connectivity of our work as landscape architects to a bigger set of parameters. In this case, city planning, humanities and culture. I am opening my eyes to the political, social and economic forces that comes before  a site is meant for development and goes after my work when everything has already been built.

Previously, when we do analysis of sites, this is just a first rudimentary steps of the design process but I see now that there are more to a site than its background. There are more things than what the client wants and after a place is built, there are also factors to consider – sustainability, cultural connection, continued use and emotional connectivity to spaces. We are not just creating a space, we create symbols that represent our beliefs, our personal perceptions of beauty and we imprint that to a site for generations of people to see.

This newly found awareness makes me realize that there are more things that I can do and with the right guidance, hopefully I can do it effectively. It has only been a week of learning but I see the benefits of my new understanding.

As what has been written by Javiev Pérez de Cuéllar in “Our Creative Diversity” (UNESCO 1995):

“The challenge to humanity is to adopt new ways of thinking, new ways of acting, new ways of organizing itself in society, in short, new ways of living. The challenge is also to promote different paths of development, informed by a recognition of how cultural factors shape the way in which societies conceive their own futures and choose the means to attain these futures…Ultimately it will be the honesty of introspection that will lead to compassion for the Other’s experience, and it will be compassion that will lead us to a future in which the pursuit of individual freedom will be balanced with a need for common well-being, and in which our agenda includes empathy and respect for the entire spectrum of human differences”