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 in life, how different our objectives, and how different our philosophies.

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

Why would anyone in their right minds go to some godforsaken country and help with this deadly disease?

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

And then there’s this report of this man who went attacking some cops with a hatchet. What good reason does he have for going on the rampage?

So different our outlooks on life, so different our priorities.

As they say, it takes all kinds to make a world, but if you think about it, there’re basically only two kinds – those who build, and those who destroy.

It doesn’t take much to destroy.

To bring down a building, all you need is an explosive device and it’s over in a few seconds. But to rebuild that building will take months, if not years.

Thinking about the crazy man who went to Africa to try to help fight the dreaded disease, I’m made even more aware of how trivial everything is in our daily existence.

Especially in the present political climate, where politicians battle over who can use a fan, and compete on who’s got the most dirt on the other guy. In the middle of this circus, one candidate even got his mother-in-law to vouch for his character. (I kid you not!) Her punchline? “I love to have —– as my son-in-law.”

It sure is heartwarming to such a cordial relationship between a son-in-law and a mother-in-law but really? Are we electing a son-in-law or a governor?

So while politicians battle it out at home, in a distant part of the world, some crazy doctors are putting their lives in danger, quietly helping to make the world a better place, without fanfare, and with no expectations of becoming the next CNN 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.

Nobody’s fool

July.20. 2014

I’ve noticed that people generally have specific roles they want  you to play. And if you do not want to play along, they get upset.

I don’t have a problem with playing their roles.

Trouble is, most of the roles they want you to play is that of the fool.

So you have freeloaders who expect you to play their so-called ‘benefits’ for free and they expect you to do it out of the ‘goodness of your heart.’

And if you refuse, well, they’ll level accusations of ‘mercenary,’ ‘money minded,’ ‘money face.’

So I guess the next time I go to a restaurant, I can refuse to pay the bill and if the owner insists I pay, well, I can tell him he’s being mercenary and a money face too.

And then there’s this guitar colleague of mine.

Years ago, noticing my absence from some guitar festivals, he pointedly told me, “You need to get into the loop, Philip; you’re out of the loop.”

What he’s really saying of course is, “Come to our festival. We need you to play our fool and become our fan.”

Go to these mindless social occasions to watch one mediocre player after another pontificate on some finer points of guitar technique like how to hold your hand, at which angle etc etc? No thanks, I would rather stay home and practice.

Naturally, he was upset that I refused to play the role of his fool or fan and never spoke to me after that.

Religion especially is adept at playing these games with your mind and make it seem like you’re the party at fault.

If you dare to question any of the established rules and doctrines they’ve laid down for you, you’re called proud and arrogant, and you need to get rid of this ‘sin of pride.’

Years ago, I had the audacity to ask a question of my religious instruction teacher in school and straightaway, I was branded proud and arrogant.

Well, if trying to make sense of your complicated rules and doctrines is a sin, I plead guilty.

The Self-Appointed Son of God of whom I wrote about recently understands this mind twisting technique very well and plays it to the hilt.

He constantly reminds his congregation in words and song that they must ‘surrender to God’s will’ and not be proud.

And what’s God’s will?

Surprise, surprise, it’s the Appointed Son’s will.

Here, he’s expecting his congregation to play the role of mindless robots who would obey his every command and not question them. This is an ingenious way to control the minds of your followers, because you know the moment they start questioning you, your house of cards will start tumbling down.

(I mean, the Appointed Son of God with the name of a Greek god? Gimme a break. I think I will have less trouble believing in the tooth fairy.)

I can go on and on but the roles people expect us to play are endless.

It’s an ingenious ploy, a power trip, to get you to do what they want you to do, usually to serve their own interests.

Getting free music for their functions, getting you to become their fan, getting you to become their follower so you can pay your 10% ‘tithe’ so that they can live their lavish lifestyles.

All self-serving ploys.

And you’re the one that’s at fault if you don’t give them what they want.

You’re the one that’s too proud, or a money face, or you’re being uncooperative.

Whatever it is, never let yourself be manipulated by those who would try to control you and make use of you.

Be proud, be arrogant. Be uncooperative.

It doesn’t matter what they call you, as long as you stay true to yourself, and not compromise your freedom to live life on your own terms, and not somebody else’s terms.

In other words, don’t become nobody’s fool.


July.19. 2014

For some odd reason, people do not want to pay musicians for their services.

They’ll go see a doctor and pay for a checkup. They’ll call the plumber and pay for whatever repairs they need. They’ll go to a restaurant and pay for their food, but when it comes to musicians, they refuse to pay.

Their usual modus operandi, when they want you to play for free, is to call whatever event they want to put on a ‘benefit.’

You see, benefit is a code word for ‘free music.’

When it’s a ‘benefit,’ you’re not supposed to charge a fee, otherwise you’re seen as being too mercenary.

I get calls all the time for my students to play at these so-called ‘benefit’ events.

These organizers have no problem paying the caterers for food and paying for the use of the venues, and for all the other expenses, but when it comes to music, they not only want free music, they want the musicians to drive at their own expense to the event to provide that ‘free’ music.


I admit, some of these benefits are real and legit, in which case I usually insist that they pay at least some gas money to my students.

And if they don’t want to pay even gas money, I tell them to take a hike (well, maybe not out loud).

I got a call once to play a benefit in Malaysia.

Now in years past, I was perfectly willing to play these events.

First, I wanted to play, second, I was going to see family anyway. And so I gave willingly of my service and I didn’t mind even paying my own way to play at these events.

But these days, lugging a huge guitar case around with me with all my concert paraphernalia is not exactly my idea of a fun vacation so I try to avoid these commitments.

Unless, of course, if they pay my way.

But this fellow balked at the idea of paying my airfare.

Like all other freeloaders, he not only wanted free music, he wanted the musician to pay his own way to provide him with the ‘free music.’

What kind of planet do these people live on?

For these people, it’s all about getting a free ride at somebody else’s expense.

And of course when you refuse to do these things, they’ll call you a mercenary and money face.

Which is perfectly fine for me.

I guess they don’t get paid either where they work.

Especially this particular character who works or used to work as a teacher and principal at his old school. I guess he must be working for free for his old school, out of the ‘goodness’ of his heart.

I may be wrong.

That’s one thing about freeloaders. They’re very good at getting others to work for free, but not so good at working for free themselves.

The concept of monetization

July.2. 2014

I was made aware of how simple small town values are recently.

I heard about this pangang maker who had an order for 100 pangangs but turned it down because he had other things to do.

(What are pangangs? They’re coconut rice dumplings wrapped in banana leaves and barbecued, and yes, the flavor is out of this world.)

Wasn’t interested but think about all that money he lost simply by turning the offer down!

But that’s the thing about small towns, there’re other things more important than money.

I can imagine the guy probably had plans for the evening, and he wasn’t going to sacrifice those plans, not even for the princely sum the 100 piece pangang would have brought him.

And this is the difference between small towns and big towns.

In big towns, money is king. In big towns, they will do anything for money, including sell their grandmothers (okay, maybe not).

Like I heard about this big town big-time politician who is selling reverse mortgages on TV.

(Reverse mortgages are, of course, just a fancy way of calling home loans using your house as collateral.)

The biggest tagline of this one-time former politician: “You still get to own your home.”

Yeah right! If you believe that, you’ll believe in the tooth fairy (and that the loans do not have to be paid off with the proceeds from the sale of your home eventually.)

His second biggest selling pitch: “And there’s no credit check!”

And why would they need a credit check when you’re going to give up your house as collateral? Talk about obfuscation!

Speaking of politicians peddling their reputations for hard cash, there was another guy years ago who went on national TV to reveal to the entire nation that he had ED and by golly! that problem was gone after he took Viagra.

I’m sure that famous ad was the high point in that politician’s illustrious career.

The name of the game here is ‘monetization.’

Or in layman’s terms, ‘cashing in on what you got.’

Monetization is of course a concept that goes back to the world’s oldest profession, when people, usually women, who didn’t have many marketable resources, had to resort to monetizing the only asset they had – their bodies.

So in a sense, big town values are based on the world’s oldest profession.

Don’t care about pride, or shame, or dignity, or self-respect, or taking advantage of hapless old folks in need of a little cash. It’s all about bringing in the hard cash, and everything’s fair game for your schemes.

Going back to the pangang maker, that kind of small town integrity is rare and admirable.

After all, why put so much emphasis on money?

Once it’s spent, it’s gone, but time spent having a good time with friends or family, doing what you want, is worth more than all the money in the world, and the memories stay with you forever.


June.29. 2014

I’m fascinated with this guy I found on satellite TV.

I’m talking about real satellite TV, beamed directly from a satellite out there onto a dish parked in my mother’s backyard.

(Yes, I’m on sabbatical once again in the heart of Borneo.)

It takes a lot of nerve to call yourself the Appointed Son of God and expect people to believe you and this man does exactly that.

His congregation seems the very epitome of what all people should look like – handsome young men and pretty young women.

(You can see the occasional old folk in the crowd but for the most part, they’re invisible. Leading one to conjecture perhaps that if this Son of God succeeds in building his paradise on earth, all the old folks [as well as ugly people] in that paradise would all be prematurely sent to heaven à la Logan’s Run.)

The theology he spouts is mostly derived from the Christian canon with generous quotations from John, but I’m a little perplexed by his name choice which is that of a pagan Greek God.

I’m fascinated with this man because I’m having enough trouble convincing my students that they should practice, and this man is out there, apparently able to convince his followers that he’s the Appointed Son of God.

At least one thing you can say for him is that he doesn’t wear glasses.

There was another charismatic (and quite myopic) leader years ago who actually went one step further and claimed not only to be the Son of God, but God himself. To which one late-night talk-show host made the observation that he, the self-proclaimed God, also happened to wear glasses.

In trying to understand the phenomenon of wacky (or unscrupulous) preachers and the gullible people who follow them, I’ve come to the conclusion that it all lies in tapping into the comfort zones of people.

This is the Achilles heel of all people.

The key to enslaving people and making them believe in whatever nonsense you want them to believe is to penetrate their comfort zones.

What is this comfort zone?

It’s that part of your reality which gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

As in when you participate in a communal orgy of hero worshipping your great leader and giving praise to some imaginary paradise, the feeling being bolstered and reinforced with great rousing music, music with strong rhythms and angelic harmonies that will make anyone’s spirits soar.

Under these conditions, how can anyone not feel good and joyous and saved?

The sight of all the pretty young women in the choir wearing the same angelic wigs and outfit helps too. (For women, the sight of all the young handsome young men dressed in their dashing white suits.)

Interestingly enough, the use of pretty young women as props in religious evangelism seems to be quite a prevalent practice.

I’ve noticed that almost without exception, every preaching evangelist who has knocked on my door trying to sell me salvation, is almost always accompanied by one or two pretty young women.

What is the subliminal message they’re trying to send with these pretty young things? I’ll leave it to your vivid imagination to figure out what that message might be.

Back to the comfort zones.

I’m of the opinion that once you penetrate someone’s comfort zone and build this fantasy world in that very private space within them, where they feel secure and peaceful and surrounded by love (whether real or imaginary) then you have created for yourself a true fanatic, someone who would do anything for you, including believe any nonsense you feed them.

Unfortunately, I do not have the megalomaniac ambitions to put this theory to the test – my students will just have to be resigned to their fate of mediocrity, (which is what awaits them if they do not practice).

The ironic thing is that the core message of this Self-Appointed Son of God is real and powerful and valid.

It’s about love and reaching your true potential and about endless possibilities.

But of course, this is standard modus operandi for scammers. To make their wild ideas seem more real, they would mix them up with some  ‘mainstream’ ideas and the wacky will become legitimate simply by association.

In this case, mix some quotations from something mainstream like the Bible with your self-anointment as Son of God, and the latter will seem more convincing.

But what endless possibilities is he talking about?

Hard to imagine, looking at the spectacle of the rapturous crowd in his congregation, all dressed alike in their white sterile uniforms, all singing their praises to him, their great leader, all apparently under the spell of this powerful Divine Being dressed in his designer suit. (Do the words ‘mindless robots’ come to mind?)

As I finish this piece, I’m in rapture myself as I watch an angelic girl in a music video at the conclusion of his powerful show. Heavily made up with fake eyelashes and mascara, this divine vision of a girl is making my heart race, just thinking of the lyrics she’s singing:

I’m gonna let it go, I’m gonna let it go.

The air that I breathe belongs to you.

I place my trust in you.

I’m gonna let it be, I’m gonna let it go.

Well, I think I’m gonna post this.


The easy way to achieving your heart’s desires

June.22. 2014

There’s an energy out there, and it’s completely free and available to anyone who wants it.

Harness it and it will give you anything you want.

And the truly amazing thing is, this energy never runs dry, the more you use of it, the more you have of it.

What is this miracle energy?

Here’re a few clues.

Think of something you love doing.

Like perhaps playing the guitar. The guitar is your passion. You can’t stop playing it. Every spare chance you have, you’re holding it in your hands, playing it.

Under those circumstance, you’re soon a pretty awesome player, there’s no way you won’t be good with all that practice.

Or perhaps you’ve started a business, perhaps a food outlet.

You pour your heart into your business.

First thing in the morning you’re working on it, last thing at night, you’re working on it. The passion you have in what you’re doing is manifested in your offerings – the best food in town.

People have palettes, they can tell when something tastes good and when it doesn’t, they can tell when a dish has been cooked with love and passion, and when it’s quickly thrown together from some cheap recipe.

Soon word gets around and you’re thriving – you’ve accomplished your goal of succeeding in your business.

Or perhaps you love gardening and you spend all your time tending to your plants – watering them, feeding them, making sure they get your constant attention.

Under these conditions, your plants grow and thrive. There’s no way they will not thrive with all the love and care you lavish upon them.

People compliment you on your ‘green thumb; but you know better, it has nothing to do with a green thumb, it’s the love and energy you pour into your plants.

I can give more examples but I guess by now you’ve gotten my point.

To understand better how this energy works, turn the examples around.

So perhaps you don’t really enjoy playing the guitar, you’re only doing it because your parents think you should play an instrument. So everyday, you put it the requisite amount of time and you can’t wait for it to be over and done with, so you can go back to your other more ‘enjoyable’ pursuits.

Do you think you will become a good player under those circumstances?

The same is true of running a business and tending to your plants. (I can attest to the latter. Every plant I’ve had inevitably dies due to lack of attention. Luckily, I have a good excuse – I don’t have a ‘green thumb.’)

There’s an easy way and a hard way to achieving your dreams.

I prefer the easy way.

And nothing is easier than finding this limitless source of energy and harnessing it to achieve your heart’s desires.

Secrets of the 1 percent

June.20. 2014

What do you do when you’re at the top of your game? When you are the 1 percent?

The first order of the day is self-preservation; you’ll have to make sure you maintain your place in society so that others do not usurp it.

In this, take a lesson from a certain group of upper-class people in one ancient country.

These wealthy upper-class folks decided to seal their places in society in stone, and thus was born the caste system.

Brilliant plan.

(Especially the part about calling the lowest of the low “untouchables.” Years later, the system is still in place, testimony to the ingenuity behind the scheme.)

In our time, we see similar efforts in self-preservation at play, except that the methods of oppression used these days are a bit more subtle.

You wouldn’t find a clearly defined caste system, no, that will never fly in an advanced enlightened time like ours.

No, the trick is to create the system in the people’s own minds.

There’re two ways to creating this system.

The first is to create a mindset of defeat, a mindset that tells the person that he’s unworthy of anything but the crumbs in society.

Once you’ve created this servile mindset, you’ve created that ‘untouchable class’ of the mind.

How do you achieve this?

You give out freebies.

Yes, freebies. Because once you’ve hooked the people on freebies, they’ll be dependent on you forever.

Freebies are anything that you get without having to give back anything in return, like food stamps, or any of the other so-called entitlement programs out there.

No, I have nothing against charity and helping the poor, but once charity becomes institutionalized, it’s no longer charity, but enslavement programs.

It’s like you’re the Good Samaritan and you’re forcing the poor guy you rescued to go back to the side of the road everyday so you can keep on rescuing him.

Sure, it’ll make you feel good but how do you think he will feel?

It’s good to help your neighbor once in a while, especially when he’s down and out, but if you make it happen on a regular basis, your only rationale to doing it would be to keep him down and out forever.

And why would you want him to stay down and out forever?

Because if he gets up, he might want to take your place.

The second way is to drown the people in mind-numbing pursuits, and make them forget everything but their need for self-gratification.

And in this, technology has been the 1 percent’s best friend.

Just go to any public place and you will see entire segments of the population engrossed in their hand-held devices and their social media, completely oblivious, it seems, to the world around them.

Once a person has sold his/her soul to facebook and twitter, they can forget about ambition and rising above their present stations in life (and taking your place in society too).

No, they have more pressing concerns, like trying to get more FB followers, and getting more selfies online so others can admire their wonderful and glorious life.

With technology at your side, you don’t have to create any underclass; it’s all been done for you.

And the best part is, you get to cash in on the loot generated by all this mania for trendiness too.

Which brings to mind another time, another place, where an aggressive group of people decided that to ensure their superiority and at the same time make some money, they would force a certain underclass nation to drown themselves in opium.

Vigilante justice

May.8. 2014

This headline caught my eye recently:

“Raped Aceh woman may be caned”

Apparently, a woman was observed by a group of villagers consorting with a married man. They followed her to her house where they found her allegedly in the act of committing a religious offense.

They were so outraged by her lack of morals, they decided to tie her up and took turns raping her, to punish her for her crime.

After taking turns ‘administering’ their form of justice,“The group then handed the woman and man to the village chief,” according to the newspaper report.


Some kind of justice.

Vigilantes who do not believing in wasting their opportunities.

It does point to one thing.

It must be great to be a man in some parts of the world, especially if you have the law on your side.

You get to administer your justice, have some fun at the same time, and the best part is, your rape victim gets caned.


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