Life’s short, have you completed
your bucket list yet?

LIFE’S TOO SHORT to waste hibernating inside an office cubicle or apartment flat.

Sooner or later, you’re going to be hit by a terminal illness, runaway bus or falling flowerpot from a high-rise balcony (at 9.80665 metres per sec2) and wham! your life’s over.

Suppose you’re “lucky” enough not to die suddenly and inconveniently, but are given three months to live, by the doctor. Let’s make that three years, in view of the advances in drugs and medical technology. So, what are the things you like to do before your time is up?

If you’ve no idea, start thinking about the activities you want to take part, the places you want to visit, the people you like to meet and the foreign language you want to learn.

This is the Bucket List, i.e. things you really want to do before you kick the bucket (die). The idea is from the 2007 comedy-drama, The Bucket List, featuring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two terminally-ill men who went off on an adventure trip to fulfill a list of things they wanted to do before they died.

Stop reading now. Reflect and create your own list of the things you want to do, but for some reason never did.

With the list in hand, make definite plans to fulfill them, one at a time. Begin with items that could be accomplished in a flash, like bungee jumping, or telling your Mama and Papa how much you love them, before they too kick the bucket. Others are more ambitious and take weeks of practice and perseverance.

Share your list

Share your list with a close family member or friend. Talking about what you want to accomplish help you clarify your desires and give you a sense of direction on how you intend to carry out your plan.

In the movie, mechanic Carter Chambers (Morgan Freeman) and billionaire Edward Cole (Jack Nicholson) meet for the first time in the hospital after both have been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. They become friends as they undergo their respective treatments. Carter begins writing a “bucket list”, or things to do before he “kicks the bucket”. After learning he has less than a year to live, Carter discards the list.

Edward the billionaire finds it the next morning and urges Carter to do everything on the list (and adds more things to do), and offers to finance the trip for both of them. Carter agrees, and both of them begin a round-the-world vacation.

They go skydiving together, fly over the North Pole, visit the Taj Mahal in India, ride motorcycles on the Great Wall of China, attend a lion safari in Africa, and sit atop the Great Pyramid of Egypt to talk about faith and family.

Be bold in your imagining, have fun

Most of the things in the movie require you go to exotic destinations which could be expensive. But there’s no need to. Singapore's business tycoon Richard Eu, for example, recently (June 2013) completed one item in his Bucket List: launching an album of jazz, blues and rock recordings to mark his own 66th birthday.

Here’re suggestions of interesting activities and places that can be just as self-fulfilling. Amend, delete and add more items as you wish.

Be imaginative; some tasks require commitment in time, sweat and courage, others a lot of perseverance. But your criterion should always be that you do them because you really want to, because it’s fun; and not because you want to gain a modicum of respect from your mother-in-life.

Suggested Bucket List

● Record an album of favourite songs, like what 66-year-old Richard Eu did. Press them into a CD and press friends and relatives to play and listen (under threat of cutting them from your will if they refuse).

● Learn scuba diving (one weekend in the South China Sea off Tioman Island in Malaysia is sufficient to get certified) and discover a wonderland under the waves.

● Practise watercolour painting (attend classes at your neighbourhood community centre). World War II British prime minister Winston Churchill took up watercolour painting in his mid-40s, and produced decent pieces which you might buy online today.

● Learn underwater photography (after you’ve been certified as a diver, of course).

● Go white water rafting.

● Work part-time in a charity (without pay, of course) for a month.

● Donate blood.

● Walk the 800km Camino pilgrimage route in Spain – if you don’t cheat (sneaking up a coach halfway), it may take 40-50 days continuous walking, depending on the extent of your foot blisters. One Singapore artist Alvin Mark Tan actually walked the distance from Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela in Spain’s far west, and lived to draw and publish a sketch book on his adventure.

● Go jump down a high tower (with bungee rope attached) in Queenstown, New Zealand, adventure capital of the world.

● Donate one month’s earnings to a charity.

● Create a Web site or a blog site to yak about your favourite conversation topic (such as pussy cats, makan stalls, classic cars, underwater hockey, Fermat’s Last Theorem, Korean girl bands, behavioural economics, 18th Century Enlightenment, Russian short stories, Lin Yutang’s books, Sim City PC game, Japanese schoolgirl erotica, presentation secrets of Steve Jobs, medieval history, the Reconquista of Spain, the God particle, translating Song Dynasty lyrics 宋词, whatever).

● Attend a 10-day mindfulness meditation retreat (to learn to keep your mind steady and clear when death finally smothers your consciousness). About 7-10 days is the bare minimum for a productive meditation session. About 1,000 years ago, Japanese author Sei Shonagon, despite her busy schedule in court, did it.

● Learn to write a screenplay (and sell your script to Hollywood so that your name lives forever in the credit lines at the end of the movie long after you’re dead).

● Write a book of wisdom for the next generation (but no pontificating of motherhood statements, and no imitating the Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations).

● Perform in a play or concert.

● Adopt an abandoned cat or dog from an animal shelter (and teach your kids to look after the critter). 

● Lower your blood pressure and cholesterol by training for the marathon or half-marathon (it takes only six months of intensive running).

● Quit drinking toxic waste (i.e., wine, beer, spirits).

● Quit eating dead animals (eat plants only, so as to be strong and alert, like elephants, rhinos, hippos, horses and other tough guys).

● Learn Italian, not to impress the signorinas in Roma but to read Dante’s Inferno in the original (to verify what Dan Brown is saying in his recent novel).

● Learn Spanish so you can talk to senoritas (those girls with flaming hair, candy smile and musical voice).

● Teach a college class (you would probably need at least a master degree for the subject you’re teaching, so get one).

● Memorise Samuel Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Here’s my favourite excerpt from this lyrical ballad:

Like one, that on a lonesome road
Doth walk in fear and dread,
And having once turned round walks on,
And turns no more his head;
Because he knows, a frightful fiend
Doth close behind him tread.

● Find true love (if you’re still looking).

● After you've found true love, arrange to get married in Hangzhou, the most romantic city in the world.

● Get rid of clutter in the house, keeping only what matters. Hint: if you’ve stopped watching broadcast TV programmes because you’re depending on the Internet to know what’s going on in the world, then throw away the TV set.

● Learn to sail, but avoid all seas infested by pirates.

● Learn ocean swimming (a useful skill if you fancy yourself a triathlete).

● Sail across the Bermuda Triangle (but don’t disappear).

● Walk around Lisbon, the most “walkable” city in the world (and hope onto Tram no.28 when you’re tired).

● Chase a tornado in Kansas (say hello to the Wizard of Oz).

● Learn to strum the guitar or a banjo, or blow a harmonica.

● Sip coffee in an Istanbul café while reading My Name Is Red by Turkish Nobel Prize for Literature writer Orhan Pamuk, translated into English by Erdağ Göknar.

● Shoot Santorini, the world’s most beautiful island (with a dSLR camera).

● Explore the British Museum (but always leave before closing time; you never know who else is there in the dead of the night with all those mummies lying around).

● Ride a train across Siberia (it’s almost 10,000km, probably the longest ride in the world).

● Ride the Orient Express from Vienna to Istanbul (you may get involved in a murder investigation, in the spirit of Hercule Poirot). If you can’t afford the US$6,000 luxury trip, check online for much cheaper connections. Don’t just ride straight through, but stop over in Budapest and Sofia for a city tour.

● Camp out for a week alone in the wilderness; suggestion: Columbia Valley in Oregon.

● Bicycle across pretty Tuscany, with Florence as your base (do it from March-June or August-September). First, install a stationary exercise bike at home and ride it every day for at least three months to build up stamina before you depart, as Tuscany is hilly country.

● Learn to read and write Egyptian hieroglyphics.

● Enroll in a course on Egyptology – it’s good to know chaps like Horus, Osiris and Isis of old Egypt; who knows, you may need a favour from them in the afterlife?)

● Read up the world’s creation myths, starting with Gilgamesh’s quest for everlasting life.

● Study Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (to settle the argument whether the invisible hand of the market actually takes place or is just bullshit).

● Select and memorise one of Abe Lincoln's infleuntial speeches.It will greatly improve your command of English.

● Write a short love story. For inspiration, read Ivan Turgenev’s First Love. Here’s a quote from the story: “I burnt as in a fire in her presence ... but what did I care to know what the fire was in which I burned and melted – it was enough that it was sweet to burn and melt.”

● Read through the major Chinese classic novels – The Water Margin, Journey to the West, Dream of the Red Chamber, Unofficial History of the Scholars, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and the erotic Jin Ping Mei.

If you still have the energy and time after completing the above, add more to your Bucket List.

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PS. Here’s the Bucket List, given 5,000 years ago, to the legendary hero Gilgamesh in Babylon, and to all who want to live and strive forever:

Gilgamesh, where are you wandering?
Life, which you look for, you will never find,
Because when the gods created man, they let death be his share,
and life withheld in their hands.

Gilgamesh, fill your belly,
day and night make merry,
let every day be full of joy,
dance and make music day and night.

Put on clean clothes,
and wash your head and bathe.
Gaze at the child that is holding your hand,
and let your wife delight in your embrace...

Stop hibernating, get out and do some something from your Bucket List