Catch-22

December.4. 2014

You may have experienced this before.

You’re going through life perfectly happy, content with the way things are going, and then one day, something happens, and you experience a seismic shift in perception, and something you have never seen before suddenly becomes very clear to you.

Perhaps it has to do with a particular problem in life.

Or a deep philosophical issue.

(Or a guitar technique that’s been troubling you.)

When that moment occurs, it’s almost as if you’ve broken through a barrier.

One minute you’re on one side, the next, you’re on the other.

Now the amazing thing is, before the shift occurs, you have absolutely no idea what lies on the other side or that the barrier even exists.

But once it occurs, it’s as if it’s the most natural thing to have happened.

This is the greatest irony of life, the ultimate catch-22.

In order to get to the other side of the barrier, you’ll have to know it exists, but to know it exists, you’ll have to get to the other side first.

The only way, I’ve found, to break the cycle is to experience that life changing moment, that seismic event that alters your perceptions dramatically.

It happened to St Paul on his way to Damascus. (Yes, I know this is a mythical event but it does illustrate the point).

And it happened to me a few years back when I was involved in a minor mishap on the road.

And I’ve seen it happen to my students a few times.

I believe a particular group of religious adherents might call this moment ‘being born again,’ and that’s perhaps a good way to describe the experience. (This, however, does not imply in any way that I agree or disagree with the appropriateness of those terms to describe that particular experience.)


Enquiring minds want to know

November.8. 2014

So I see they have a new show on CNN called “This is Life.”

Riveting show.

I love seedy exposés and it does show Ms Ling’s obsessions. Or is it just good marketing?

We all know the Law of Sweeps Week.

Find the juiciest stories, make sure there’s plenty of s*x and titillating shots, because it’s all about ratings, baby.

Yes, Ms Ling’s obsessions.

Apparently, every week is Sweeps Week for her.

One week it’s about sugar daddies and the losers who live off them.

Then it’s strippers.

So whose life is this?

What about custodians? Or nurses? Or schoolteachers? Are they not living lives worthy of a little exposé too?

Not according to Ms Ling.

This week, it’s strippers. I’m guessing lapdancers are on next week.

The once proud CNN, now reduced to sleaze merchant. As they say, enquiring minds want to know.

 

Update: November 27, 2014

Inadvertently, while surfing channels the other day, I happened to see the talented and beautiful Ms Ling in action again.

I would’ve skipped to the next channel, but what was this?

She’s interviewing a Catholic priest! No lapdancers but a priest instead. Thinking that I owe Ms Ling an apology, I decided to listen in on the conversation.

And surprise, surprise!

Instead of some profound spiritual discourse that you might expect with a man of the cloth, the conversation was about intimacy (translation: S*X) and dating.

Ah, Ms Ling’s obsessions.

Guess no apology needed.


4 long years

November.7. 2014

For the past 4 years I’ve been on a journey, seeking for a special kind of wisdom, a personal Holy Grail of sorts.

It’s been a long 4 years.

The problem with wisdom journeys like this is that you’re never sure of the outcome, whether you are indeed going to find what you’re searching for or whether it’s just some fool’s gold you’re looking for.

But I was fired up with energy.

Because I knew that the Holy Grail existed. I had seen it in my dreams (literally) and heard it in my mind’s ear.

So I knew it was just a matter of time. Just a matter of continuous digging and never giving up.

One thing about a journey like this, there were many false alarms along the way.

Each time, I though I had found it, it turned out to be a false lead.

Other people would have given up after one year or even two years of fruitless searching, but not me. Giving up is not in my vocabulary.

And so I persisted, one year, two years, three years.

And always hoping that today is the day that I find it.

And of course always coming up empty.

I have a good friend who I confided in about my search and every time I told this friend that I thought I have found it, all I heard was a kind of silence that said, ‘Yes, I’ve heard that one before.’

But one thing I’ve always believed in is that if you want something badly enough, you will find it.

That’s not just wishful thinking, it’s a basic law of nature.

Because if you search long enough, you will eventually cover every piece of territory, turn over every stone, follow every lead, try every option, and eventually you will get to that one stone that’s hiding the treasure, you will find the option that will give you the answers you’re searching for.

Just a matter of time.

The operative words here are of course, “badly enough.”

You have to want something badly enough to search for 4 years.

So here’re the two lessons I learned.

First, be prepared for many false leads in your search. But never give up. Few people will hit the jackpot on the first attempt.

Second, things are always a bit more complicated than you expect. Sometimes, to get to point C, you have to get to points A and B first. In other words, before you can arrive at the level represented by C, you’ll have to first have the right conditions in place and those conditions are the levels represented by points A and B.


Good heart struck by lightning

November.3. 2014

Interesting how the President’s numbers are so low. With everything’s he’s accomplished so far, you would think they would be in the stratosphere.

Yes, I know everything’s not perfect, but look at the big picture.

Unemployment at 5.9 percent, the best since he took office.

The Dow reaching record heights every other week.

Health care for the uninsured.

Country at relative peace. No major wars draining the country’s coffers.

And yes, let’s not forget enemy #1 resting at the bottom of the sea, keeping the good fishes company.

Compared to the financial meltdown of 2008, things are looking pretty good. And yet, for some reason, the electorate is not happy with this record.

And they’re looking to bring back the crowd who gave us the good old days.

When the country was embroiled in two wars, casualties everyday on the evening news, the nation’s surplus turned into a deficit overnight, warlords getting away with record profits, while the stock market took a free fall, and we were all poised over the abyss at the end of ‘08.

It reminds me of an old Chinese adage that my mother is fond of quoting.

“Good heart struck by lightning.”

Don’t expect people to thank you for your good deeds. On the contrary, be prepared to be blamed and maligned for whatever problems they have.

Or to use an example.

If people fall into a river and you rescue them, be prepared for them to blame you for why they fell into the river in the first place.


The sequel

November.2. 2014

Dirty tricks in politics are not new, in fact, you can say the two go hand in hand, like toast and butter. If you have politics, you will inevitably get dirty tricks.

The reason is because of money. We all know that politics is not about power but about money.

Politicians don’t become politicians to serve the people; they become politicians to line their pockets.

This is true everywhere in the world. The easiest way to become a millionaire or even billionaire is to become a politician. You can say that politics is the universal golden goose.

And power?

Well, that’s only the means to an end, which is of course money. Power always brings with it money.

So it’s no surprise that politicians will do anything to do away with those who would threaten them their golden goose.

In America, there’s a whole arsenal of dirty tricks available, from redistricting to vote suppression to trying to dig up dirt on your opponent.

Yes, pretty dirty, but all these pale into insignificance when you compare them to a courtroom drama that’s currently unfolding in another country.

What do you do when someone, let’s say, a very charismatic leader of the opposition begin to actually kill (or steal) your golden goose by winning big in a previous election?

Well, you play the same old dirty trick that an earlier politician had played on this very same politician. (Is this plagiarism or theft of intellectual property?)

You do a sequel, and you call it Sodomy II!

Yes, gripping title, almost as exciting as Rambo II.

And the details are equally thrilling. The headlines themselves are enough to take your breath away.

“Lube, prior encounters made injury-free penetration possible” screams the latest headline.

For someone who’s not in on the sequel, this sounds like some mysterious oil change gone wrong. Some kind of lube job!

Imagine to yourself, the best legal minds of the country, in the nation’s highest court, arguing about whether the lube job was good enough to avoid tears in some unmentionable orifice of some imaginary encounter that allegedly took place between two consenting adults.

The point of all this?

It comes down to money. So much of it at stake.

Since redistricting is not an option, and vote suppressing didn’t work the last time, hey, let’s resurrect a quaint and ancient law and put this trouble maker behind bars for the foreseeable future.

One thing you can say is at least they’re going through the proper legal channels to do it, unlike what the authorities did to Mandela.


How to beat your flock into submission

October.31. 2014

Despots throughout history have understood the power of God to establish their legitimacy.

It’s uncanny, almost without exception, every ancient ruler was clued in onto this secret.

From the Egyptian pharaohs to ancient Chinese emperors to the later Aztec civilization, every despot worth his salt had claimed a direct connection to God, some even to the point of calling themselves “Sons of God.”

God is a handy tool.

Because if you have God on your side (or better still if you are God himself) no one will dare to question your authority.

It’s either obey me or suffer eternal damnation. (Yes, I know I’m simplifying things here. For ancient rulers, it was more about a mandate from heaven than any punishment in the afterlife.)

But as with every good racket, others soon began to discover the secret and of course, they too wanted in on the action.

And that’s how the phenomenon of “religious leaders” was born.

But these “religious leaders” were really political leaders operating under the cover of religion. What they wanted was political domination, not spiritual authority.

And they were smart; they took the idea one step further.

If God is so potent a tool, why not just dispense with the political angle altogether and go straight to God?

This was how one of the most bizarre episodes in religious history occurred, the Spanish inquisition. During those dark ages, the so-called leaders of the church assumed even greater power than their political leaders, the kings and emperors.

But those were the bad old days, you say, these days, we’re too smart and educated to be conned and subjugated like that. We can see through any would-be religious imposter.

But you would be wrong.

Everywhere in the world, it seems, religious fundamentalism is on the rise, dominated by a small number of clergymen, operating under the same self-righteous sense of infallibility and tolerating no dissent from anyone.

And seemingly smart and educated people all over the world are being hoodwinked by their propaganda, some to the point of giving up their lives.

Anyone who wants to study the methods of religious powermongers would have to study David Koresh, perhaps the greatest religious imposter who ever lived. (And yes, he too claimed to be God.)

I used to think that Koresh ruled over his flock through the sheer force of his charm and charisma, but after watching some TV documentaries, I’ve began to understand that his real weapon was fear. He instilled the fear of eternal damnation into his flock and from then, it was anything goes for him.

Truly, God as a tool to control and manipulate people is second to none.

It is more powerful than any army, more powerful than any ideology, more powerful than all the weapons in the arsenals of all the nations on earth.

Because you’re dealing with people’s souls and fears, mostly the fear of eternal damnation.

Because if a leader claims to have God on his side, any dissent against him automatically becomes a dissent against God, and who would dare risk the wrath of God by doing that.


It takes wisdom to recognize wisdom

October.30. 2014

It takes wisdom to recognize wisdom.

—Walter Lippman

The superior man when he hears the dao, practices it diligently; the mediocre man when he hears the dao, practices it sometimes; and the fool when he hears the dao, ridicules it.

—Tao Te Ching

Wisdom is hard to recognize, especially when one is not in a receptive state of mind.

I know, I’ve made the mistake myself more times than I care to admit.

How many times in the past had I heard some great piece of wisdom, and instead of learning from it, went on to ridicule it.

That’s why the quote from Mr. Lippman made such a strong impression on me. And why I instantly recognized the passage in the TTC as a commentary on some of my past follies.

These days, I try not to dismiss anything outright.

I weigh everything I hear.

There’s still a cynicism in me that tells me that most of what I hear is garbage, usually self-serving tactics and ploys to enslave you or your mind, or corporate propaganda to con and rob you.

But there’s another side of me that’s constantly on the lookout for wisdom.

And one thing I’ve learned is that wisdom is a lot rarer than garbage.

For every little piece of wisdom you gain, you might have to sift through a thousand pieces of garbage, but it’s all worth it.

Because wisdom has the power to alter your perceptions and change your life in dramatic ways.

Sometimes, all you need is that one small piece of wisdom to completely transform yourself and go from a state of abject ignorance to one of enlightenment and achievement.

So how do you know what’s wisdom and what’s garbage?

In their powers of transformation.

Wisdom empowers and uplifts you and those around you, while garbage brings you down and destroys you and those around you.


It takes all kinds

October.23. 2014

Reading the headlines today, I’m made ever more aware of how different people are—how different our priorities and outlooks on life.

Take for example the NY doctor who was just diagnosed with Ebola.

Why would anyone in their right mind go to some godforsaken country and help the fight against this dreaded disease?

Crazy, and look where this insanity landed him, in some isolation unit in a hospital battling the disease himself.

And then there’s this report of this man who went attacking some cops with a hatchet in NY.

Just goes to show how different we all are.

What would motivate one man to travel halfway around the world to help some strangers combat a deadly disease at great risk to himself and another man to go on a murderous rampage with a hatchet?

As they say, it takes all kinds to make up the world.

And it seems to me they’re mostly divided into two groups—those who build and those who destroy what the other group built.

Building is hard. It takes months, even years, to build a house or any other structure for that matter.

But it only takes a few minutes to bring it down.

So there’s no glory in destruction. Any fool can do it.

But to build something of value, of worth; that’s something else altogether and to do it with complete disregard for one’s personal safety for no other reason than to help your fellowmen.

That’s my definition of hero.

Here’s wishing Dr. Spencer a speedy recovery and thank you sir, for your service.


A father’s love

August.22. 2014

So there I was again – it’s almost become a summer ritual – sitting in the back seat of a cab in Kuala Lumpur, exchanging pleasantries with a cabbie.

I’m not paranoid by any means, but I don’t like to reveal too much of my personal information to strangers.

So when this extremely nice and chatty cabbie asked me where I am from, I told him ‘Sibu’ which is not entirely wrong.

That didn’t seem to satisfy him, because he then asked me what I do for a living and I told him I’m a teacher.

He looked at me and said, “It’s a weekday today, are you on holiday?”

I knew what he was really saying was, “You’re kidding me right? It’s a weekday today, and it’s not a school holiday, how come you’re sitting here in my cab?”

Knowing when I’ve been cornered, I told him, “I’m a teacher in the US and we’re having our summer holidays there right now.”

At the mention of the US, almost on cue, he immediately started telling me about his daughter who had gone to university there. She had apparently just returned to Malaysia and had started work with Shell.

I could see he was proud of his daughter.

He fished into his pocket and took out a Samsung device (you can’t escape these things these days) and showed me a picture of a beaming young lady in a graduation gown. No wonder he was proud of her, she was not only smart but a real beauty.

“So where was your daughter in the US?” I asked him.

He told me “Indiana, Purdue University.”

Now everybody knows Purdue University. It’s as expensive as it is prestigious so I was wondering in my mind how a cabbie in KL could afford to send a daughter there.

Almost as if he could read my thoughts, he said, “Yes, it’s an expensive place. I spent over RM600,000 on her education, had to sell my condo and my car just to raise that money.”

I was stunned, to put in mildly, and asked him. “That’s a great sacrifice. You sold your condo and your car to send your daughter to the US?”

“It’s nothing,” he said. “Just a parent’s duty.”

A parent’s duty.

To say I was touched beyond words is an understatement. I was floored.

Life is for learning and that day I learned what the true measure of a father’s love can be.

It’s an honor to meet you, George Teo. Hope you don’t mind me putting your name out here.


Old school

July.21. 2014

I’ve been coming back regularly to Borneo these past few years, mostly out of filial duty.

In the beginning, I used to look up old friends and classmates to reconnect and share some food with, but these past few years, I’ve decided to keep to myself. Better to leave the past behind and focus on the present.

Because I’ve found that the only thing more oppressive than the heat in Borneo is the pettiness of old schoolmates.

Despite all the water that has flowed under the bridge, these people are still apparently living their old personal rivalries and jealousies.

I was told about a recent class reunion.

I heard it was a successful event, everyone showed up, well, close to everyone. There were a few who didn’t make it, including one classical guitarist in Texas.

And when someone asked in passing about the missing classical guitarist, one person instantly saw that as an opportunity to unload some dirt.

Wow, talk about having an agenda.

And very convenient to heap dirt on someone when he’s not around to defend himself.

That’s what I mean about the old pettiness being worse than the heat in Sibu.

As I see it, when people are not happy at the mention of your name, it means you’re doing something right, so I’m not worried.

Perhaps it reminds them too much of their own inadequacies, perhaps they have an old axe to grind. Who knows what the motive is.

Whatever it is, if it makes them happy to unload that crap they’ve been carrying all these years, well, so be it

I can only hope it makes them feel much better after that.


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