How being back in my country lead me to an environmental epiphany

"I always believed that everything happens for a reason."

The pandemic brought me back home from studying abroad in Japan, to realize so much I have missed out about my own country. Not being able to get out of the country made me explore gems inside the country; not being able to go out of the house made me reconnect with my inner self and my family. Over the past year, I gave up my apartment in Tokyo, I put part-time jobs on hold, I wasn’t there to attend events or meet my friends, I was studying through a computer screen, and hell it was frustrating to live in uncertainty. However, at the same time, over the past year, I started teaching yoga, I met my best friend/lover, we started ProjekWaste, and I found the true meaning of caring about the environment and pursuing this path. 

I took up scuba diving in 2020 when I was living on an island in Malaysia, and it was one of the best and unexpected decisions because it was never on my bucket list. Although I’ve only dived around two islands, I’ve seen the impacts of climate change that our ocean is going through, and I can imagine how much more damage is caused around other oceans. 

"I’ve seen bleached corals, I’ve seen dead corals, I’ve seen plastic wrappers on the sea bed or floating around the ocean."

Don’t get me wrong, I love the indescribable feeling of being underwater and listening to my own breathing, I love the thrill of rolling backward off boats, I love observing and talking to my fish friends, but I knew that the universe brought me underwater to look at things from a different perspective. Being an environmental student and an advocate for climate change, I’ve looked at graphs and data and pictures but actually being underwater made me feel so much more connected to nature, and knowing what I’m saying made me feel true to myself. 

I started to look around people in my own circle, people I cross paths with, people in different industries, people on the internet within the same country.

"Here, eco-conscious and eco-living are “new”, “cool”, “hippie”, “expensive”, “inconvenient”, “dgaf”."

Do people use reusable bags just because supermarkets started charging, or do they really understand how much carbon dioxide and other green house gases were emitted to make a single used plastic bag and for it to be thrown into landfill and break up into microplastics which at the end emitting more toxins, or ending up in oceans strangling marine lives? Do people purchase eco-friendly products because of social media/company greenwashing, or do they really care about climate change?

I am that friend who on a restaurant table, tells the waiter “no straws for all” when ordering drinks. I am that friend who goes to the beach, and make everyone start picking up trash. I am that daughter who buys eco-friendly kitchen aids like reusable food wrappers to replace cling wraps or produce bags for groceries for my mom and kinda forced her to ditch plastic as much as possible. I am that girlfriend who makes my boyfriend watch documentaries like Chasing corals and Cowspiracy together, and sometimes continued with discussions for hours. I know I can’t change the world, but I can influence my circle. I’m proud for being the odd one out, despite sometimes being a joke to my friends. Sometimes I would throw a factual mini lecture, sometimes I just laughed it away, and continue being me.

So being back home, and while running ProjekWaste, gave me an opportunity to learn and dig more about my country that I have neglected. I was so caught up in issues around the world that this epiphany made me look back into the place where I belong.

"Malaysia is an emerging economy, and economic growth will always be prioritized for now."

As complicated as it is, the flaws in renewable energy and environmental awareness are obvious, the improvement is much needed, sometimes it looks like a dead-end, but most times we have to admit that this is reality. Our relationship with the government is not as transparent as we wish, so how would we know that people in the industry really care about the wellbeing of our environment, or is this just another title or a job or an obligation? 

All things take time and all changes take courage. The system is hard to move, the habits are hard to change. As helpless as I feel sometimes, I know that we can be better than this. I’m hoping what I’m trying so hard to achieve now will be the norm and that people will understand the real reason and intention of protecting the Earth, the real environmental awakening.

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Zen
Zen

Zen is an environmental student at Waseda University, Tokyo, a certified yoga instructor, and co-founder of ProjekWaste. She recently spoke about “Transition into a sustainable lifestyle” for TedxWasedaU and started her sustainable creative lifestyle brand Nami, exploring and providing alternatives for sustainable living. Follow Zen on IG: @zenzenw

Zen
Zen

Zen is an environmental student at Waseda University, Tokyo, a certified yoga instructor, and co-founder of ProjekWaste. She recently spoke about “Transition into a sustainable lifestyle” for TedxWasedaU and started her sustainable creative lifestyle brand Nami, exploring and providing alternatives for sustainable living. Follow Zen on IG: @zenzenw

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