The day I decided to look up

November 1, 2016

"If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got."

-  Albert Einstein​

In busy Hong Kong, we often have our heads buried deep in our laptops, our minds preoccupied on our task lists and our eyes on our phones. I honestly do not think most of us want to be ‘these people' by choice. But sometimes, we have to because responsibilities beckon, deadlines loom and our jobs require us to. So we end up, walking around with our heads down, present but not really present at the same time.


Last Sunday, I was walking home from lunch and decided to 'look up' from my phone. A man came up to me. Between his broken English, my pathetic Cantonese and some fumbling sign language, I realised he was inviting me to feed the pigeons in the park with him, with the stale bread crumbs he had collected in a plastic bag. His bright smile, crooked teeth and wrinkled face rendered me useless.....I could only say, “Yes!”


So, we sat there together, in the park, throwing breadcrumbs to the pigeons, not uttering a word to each other, only smiling. I was so glad I 'looked up' that afternoon.

It got me thinking of doing these little soul-nourishing things to depart from the 'usual' and the ‘expected’. I took that into the home for retirees I occasionally volunteer at. No one spoke English but who doesn't love being read to? Booktober you we come octogenarians!


After confirming with the head nurse, that I would 'read' and not 'feed' that day, she said, “OK”. I jumped at the chance. I read a few pages from “Memoirs of a Geisha” (the only book there in English) and we all had the best time...mostly me. I felt deliriously happy and they all 'looked up', which often does not happen on most of our voluntary days.

I decided, if I can feel this happy and make other people feel so happy by 'looking up', how can I treat the students, whom I teach everyday, to this experience?


So one crisp, sunny morning, we ventured out at the beginning of one Literacy lesson and we 'looked up' together. Taking in the sights and sounds of the streets on which we walk daily, barely noticing. They were so excited as it was something different, not in the time table and the questions came barrelling in. I knew then how incredible their creative writing pieces would be that day.

I thought to myself: why am I constantly asking them to reflect on their weekend, their recent holiday or their favourite small moment from the day before? Instead, why can't we be 'in the moment' together, move away from our 'norm' and 'look up’? And so, that was what we did that morning. We did not go far, but it was exciting to be just seizing the moment. It was different, fun and experiential.


The creative writing that resulted from that little outing with my wonderful students was their best yet. We all agreed on the title, "The day I decided to look up".

So, why don’t you 'look up' today and take a moment to move away from your 'norm'. Challenge yourself to do something new. You just don't know how happy you might make someone else during their day, or yours, for that matter. I was happy, Jimmy (I later found out his name) was happy and the pigeons were happy - that's a win, win, win.


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