5 Things I Learned In 2019

5 Things I Learned In 2019

There’s some belief that age and years ending in 9 often result in some significant change in people’s lives. I would say that in general, this rang true for the year 2019 when we look at local and global events.

This is also true for me on a personal level. 2019 brought some hard new lessons for me to learn and I will share the top 5 major lessons here:

1. The world owes you nothing

We tend to have this notion of inherent “fairness” into the world. As long as we do good things, we also expect good things to happen to us. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works. Even saints, who lived good and godly lives, often lived in poverty and died horrible deaths. read more

Would your future self thank you?

Would your future self thank you?

One day I was listening to a podcast where the host interviews a businessman. At the end of the interview the host asked, “What are the things you do that make you successful?“. The businessman answered: “The reason I am successful is not because of what I do today. I owe everything to 2011 me. All his hard work, his grit, and his networking efforts paid off.

That got me thinking: am I thankful for past me? Do my actions decades ago produce something good today?

I thank 2012 me. I accepted a job from something that I have not tried before, and I was not really expecting much. It turns out to be work that boosted my income and still something I enjoy even after seven years. read more

“Nini Ke”

“Nini Ke”

“Mommy, Daddy has a new car“, my daughter said as the new car went in our garage. Our old green car, a 2000 model Ford sedan, was left outside the gate as we only have the space for one car.

When my daughter was only learning to speak, her word for green was “nini” and her word for car is “ke“. So she calls our green car “nini ke“.

First car

We bought green car a few months before my wife and I were married. The owner was living in the same condominium building that we were renting at that time. Originally I planned to buy a second-hand Honda or a Toyota, and I was not really impressed when I first saw the Ford sedan. My wife liked it though and so we decided to buy it.

It has been our primary mode of transport through the years. My sister borrowed it after our wedding to go to the province. When my wife got pregnant, green car was there for every doctor’s appointment. When it was time to deliver my daughter, green car was also there.

My daughter grew up knowing that green car was our car.

I didn’t expect my 4-year old daughter, or my wife, to be very emotional once the reality loomed that our old car is going away. Our garage only has space for one car and we will not have the time or the money to maintain another one. We decided that we will only sell it to a relative or a close friend so we know that green car will be taken care of.


We have been with green car for 6 years, and has made some memorable events with us.

I have only learned how to drive a few months before we bought green car, and I have used it to fetch my wife to and from work. Combined with having to park daily on a multi-level single lane parking space, it forced me to increase my driving skills.

First (and only) parking mishap

One evening while parking (backing), the rear side of the car scratched the parking column resulting in large scratches. Since then, no other parking mishaps happened thankfully.

First traffic violation

One day while going to the hospital for a doctor’s appointment, I made an illegal turn on a left turn lane and got apprehended by a traffic enforcer. Since my wife is expecting, I said that my wife is about to give birth (which she did one week later). The enforcers let us go without any fuss.

First provincial trip

On our way back home from the province, there was a funeral march in the provincial road which caused very slow traffic. It forced me to level up my clutch and gear skills as not to stall on the hilly road. I had trouble learning those skills while on driving school.

Beach accident

En route to a beach resort, I made a wrong turn on the wrong resort, resulting in my front wheels being stuck in the sand. I tried everything but the car won’t move and it dug the wheels deeper in the sand. Thankfully some kind locals helped me by digging the sand around the wheel and putting water on it so it becomes compact.


Going home, I saw that the road was gutter-deep in flood. I made a risky decision to go through it. Thankfully the car didn’t stall but the next day I was not able to start the engine. It did start after a few tries though and didn’t have any long-term damage.

Screw in tire

While driving in the province I heard a loud noise from one of the rear wheels. I continued driving for a few kilometers before I was stopped by a motorcycle driver informing me that I was driving flat. Later we found that a screw has embedded itself in the tire. Thankfully no one was hurt and no damage was done on the wheel assembly.

Moving On

They say that a car is like a family member, which is true from my experience. I spend at least an hour washing the car which also serves as my meditation for the day. We made sure the car is maintained at least once a year, replacing any old or worn out parts.

When green car moved away from our home for the last time, it felt like losing a beloved pet. It was hard, but knowing that the new owners appreciated it made it better. Thank you for your service, nini ke!

Time Letter

Time Letter

Taking a quick rest in my bed one evening, I suddenly remembered about my time letter. Back in 2008 I decided to write a letter to myself that I intend to open ten years later. I quickly searched for the letter in my computer, and opened it for the first time in a decade.

July 13, 2008

Hello Marvin,

“Good morning, me.
Did you sleep well?
And did you wake up well?
Does the light and the wind,
the air and the smell,
all feel brand new?
Is each and every cell in your body awake now?
Today, you are who you are today.
You are a newer version of me.
Myself ten years from now…
That’s so far away for me that I can’t even begin to imagine.
Am I alone?
Or is there a wonderful person next to me?
Well, knowing me, I’m sure I am troubling
a lot of different people.
But that’s all right.
There’s no problem.
I will always be cheering you on.
I am no longer here
But I’m here today, and Ill always be
cheering for you right here…
Cheering for you, my only self.” read more

Mr. Productivity

Mr. Productivity

I pride myself on being conscious about my time (or at least I like to think I am). I set up a daily routine in the morning when I read my devotionals, do my personal projects, and write something in this blog. I have written posts about time management like “Consistency Beats Intensity” and “How to gain extra time“. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks daily, and give my best to my work every day. I might even like to call myself Mr. Productivity.

I don’t like it when something happens in the day that ruins my routine. Some days there is something that needs to be done, or something unexpected that needs to be fixed and cleaned and it disrupts my schedule. I am also uncomfortable when I feel like I am not doing anything useful, like just lying down to rest or sitting somewhere to talk.

My days are fueled with caffeine-induced energy. I have been drinking coffee for years now, which started since I had a full-time job after graduating from college. I cannot imagine a day without drinking coffee and I make sure I get my fix any means possible.

This feeling of energy pushed me to work harder on personal projects and my job. Sleep became more scarce as I find it harder for me to fall asleep immediately when I go to bed. And since just lying there trying to get to sleep is not productive, I get back up and do something else. This resulted in having less than optimal sleep which becomes unnoticed due to the caffeine highs.

I also try to be physically active by going to the boxing gym two days a week. This gives me more energy throughout the day and I get to have a nice cardio workout as well. For a long time I did not feel the effects of poor sleep quality coupled with stress (both physically and emotionally).

And then it suddenly hit me.

Nature’s Wake-Up Slap


It was midnight. I had just returned to our bedroom after a quick trip to the restroom and was preparing to go to sleep. Once I laid down however, I felt my heart racing and pounding uncontrollably. I started having these episodes in the past few days but they only lasted a few seconds. This time it was different.

The irregular heartbeats did not stop after a few seconds and continued on for minutes. I started to panic and at the same time I felt lightheaded (perhaps due to the panic). I woke up my wife and said I want to go to an ER. We prepared to go the hospital, all the while my heart still was beating quickly and irregularly. When we finally got in the car (ride-sharing service) en route to the hospital, my heartbeat returned to normal.

The doctors in the emergency room obviously did not find anything wrong after blood pressure tests and an ECG. They recommended me to see a cardiologist right away. The following days I had my blood tested, did additional ECGs, an Echocardiogram, and finally a 24-hour Holter monitoring.

Cold Coffee

The doctors advised me to stop taking caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, and carbonated drinks. As I see myself as “caffeine dependent” this was a major event for me. The first two days of no-caffeine days were hard: I felt weak, tired, and had a throbbing headache. These symptoms forced me to lie down to bed earlier than what I used to as I can’t do anything much in the evening.

After two days I started feeling normal again. To be honest, I did not expect my dependence in coffee to go away that easily. After two weeks of coffee-free days, I no longer feel a loss in energy during the day, I still feel awake, but I tend to get sleepy already before midnight.

All of these things that forced me to go to bed earlier had a much better impact than what I expected. Having a full night’s sleep gave me energy throughout the day without resorting to coffee. I started to feel better and the minutes-long irregular heartbeats no longer presented itself.

Am I really a night owl?

This experience exposed one major flaw in my personality: that I am not a night owl. Night owls are people who are (or think they are) more productive at night and so they tend to sleep late and also wake up late. Completely eliminating caffeine in my life proved to me that I am not really a night owl.

We need to be honest with ourselves. Are we really night owls or is it just the effect of our daily dose of coffee? If its the latter, then we may be heading towards disaster as our bodies slowly cannot cope with the lack of quality sleep. Granted that quitting coffee is not a pleasant experience especially in the short term, gradually reducing our dependence in caffeine may be better for us in the long term.

Thinking about death is good

Thinking about death became such a taboo in modern society. However this was not the case centuries ago, and this is even one of the main ideas behind Stoicism. The possibility that I could die at any moment exposes the things in my life that does not really matter and those that do.

Health scares usually cause people to suddenly think about how they are living their lives, and I am no exception. This event caused me to think about my body’s needs more and made me more aware of how I abused it in the past.

It also made me think more about my daily priorities. Have I been working too much and thinking about work the whole day? Do I need to have more entertainment time to cope with stress? Am I losing quality sleep because I need to play and enjoy just so I can deal with stress? These questions point to possible solutions that I can start to implement in my life to make sure my body does not wake-up slap me again.

Moving forward

At this point I think I will no longer resume my coffee drinking days. Perhaps once I completely establish that my caffeine intake will no longer influence how I sleep and how my body gets rest, then I may one day enjoy a nice cup of coffee again. But for today, I resolve to be more aware of my body’s needs and stop ignoring its pleas for rest in the name of productivity.


Photo by Muhammad Raufan Yusup on Unsplash