February.20. 2021

Continuing from my previous post about the friend who did not appreciate my attempts to debunk his conspiracy theories.

He probably thought I was getting a little too arrogant, in Chinese, the word would be ‘proud.’

The other word would be ‘disagreeable.’

You see, you’re not allowed to contradict someone who thinks he’s one-upped above you. You have to be a yes-man, and so when you start to contradict them, the usual accusation is ‘he’s getting a little disagreeable’ these days.

(Perhaps preceded by, “Whatever’s come over him? He used to be so nice and agreeable before.”)

There’s a peculiar American word which is unique to the country.

The word is ‘uppity.’

You might suspect that the word has something to do with one-upmanship and you would be right.

If you check the dictionary, the word is mostly defined as ‘arrogant’ or ‘haughty.’

But to people who know the word well, the word has more sinister origins.

Basically, it’s used to describe people who have the nerve to try to forget their place in life, a place that they have been preassigned.

And this place that have been preassigned them is (surprise, surprise!) one-down below whoever is doing the preassigning.

First, it’s important to establish that the upmanship and downmanship here exists only in the mind of the person who is doing the preassigning.

And that’s the thing about one-upmanship.

It’s mostly a personal thing, something that someone has created in his own mind, based on whatever distortions or delusions they may have about themselves and their presumed place in life.

To call someone ‘uppity,’ first, you must believe, for whatever reason, that you’re superior to him, that you’re one-upped above him.

And being one-downed, he’s supposed to play the role of a meek and mild person, someone who runs around at your bidding, someone who says, ‘yes, sir’ when he sees you.

In other words, a doormat.

And so when this little doormat has the nerve to forget the role you have assigned him, when he dares to contradict you, when he refuses to do your bidding, then he has become a little too ‘uppity.’

What do you do with people who harbor such self-delusions?

You could stay your ground and burst their bubble even more.

Or you could avoid them.

My personal experience is that when someone has created such an inflated sense of themselves, nothing you do or say will change anything.

Because they have already built an impenetrable armor around their fragile egos.

The best policy is to avoid them, unless you like confrontations.


February.16. 2021

I bought a book a number of years ago from a bookstore in one of the mega malls in Malaysia.

The book was written by a local author and the subject was about one-upmanship.

At the time, I had no idea what it meant but it sounded sufficiently intriguing enough for me to buy the book.

So what exactly is one-upmanship?

It’s one of the internal dynamics in human relationships.

Its main premise is that there’re no equal relationships, you’re either ‘one-upped’ or you’re ‘one-downed.’

It’s a holdover from ancient feudalistic societies where there is a clearly defined social hierarchy.

The way it works is, if you’re in a higher tier—one-upped—you’re superior to those in a lower tier—they’re ‘one-downed.’

I saw this dynamic clearly on a recent (2019) trip to an Asian country.

I was riding in a car with a rather successful self-made man and we were being driven around by his ‘friend.’

It wasn’t long before I began to sense that the two men were not exactly ‘equal’ friends.

For example, the ‘friend’ seemed extremely deferential to the other man. He didn’t initiate many of the conversations and seemed ready to laugh at the slightest joke.

Whereas on the other hand, the other man did not make much of an effort to return the friendly gestures. In fact, he spoke and treated the ‘friend’ almost like a servant.

In a way, it was a ‘master-servant’ relationship, even though the two were supposed to be friends.

A classic case of one-upmanship and the unequal dynamic between so-called ‘friends.’

I found the book to be quite revealing and captured the essence of some human relationships well. It reconfirmed my own observations, something I have always recognized.

I have noticed that in many human relationships, one party will try to dominate, creating a ‘master-servant’ dynamic.

It could be two seemingly ‘equal’ friends but the unequal relationship between them is essentially that of one above the other. One upped, one downed.

The dynamic is usually caused by one party needing to dominate the other.

For example, in my younger days, I used to have a ‘friend’ who always wanted to play the lead part in any musical performances. You could play a duet with him and he would want to play the first part.

These unequal relationships are only sustainable as long as the other person, the ‘one-downed,’ is happy to comply.

In my own relationships, and in years past, I had not bothered too much about it.

I had always felt that the person who wanted to be one-upped must have some kind of complex so I always yielded. No problem.

(No, I never ‘yielded’ to the point of being servile [being servile is not in my nature], but I simply did not try to contradict them even when I knew them to be wrong.)

But the pandemic changed all that.

For instance, I used to listen to ‘friends’ spout wild conspiracy theories—fantasies which I knew to be pure nonsense, but I would quietly listen and let them go on. No need to get into unnecessary arguments.

There was a ‘friend’ who was into the “deep-state” conspiracy used by a certain US politician to demonize those who had the guts to defy and even investigate him.

This particular friend living in an Asian country seemed to think he knew everything about the conspiracy and he believed in it whole-heartedly.

I, of course, never had the heart to tell him it’s some wild cockamanie political ploy cooked up by a conman.

Well, the pandemic and recent events taught me that wild conspiracy theories have consequences, as we saw on January 6, and in the high number of casualties lost to the pandemic ‘hoax,’ also cooked up by the same conman.

This friend didn’t take it too kindly when I started to debunk all these nonsense (including the Kennedy assassination, which was another of his favorite conspiracy theories).

Evidently, he felt it’s not my place to disagree with him. In other words, he thought I was trying to one-up him.

Long story short, end of a long friendship.

For me, losing friends like these is a relief, a liberation. I’m into friendships but I’m not into unequal relationships where one party harbor certain delusions of grandeur.

LSE Update

February.6. 2021

The new revised version of The Laws of Spiritual Energy is now available.

The book has been expanded to include a new chapter on the law of tethering, several chapters have also been rewritten. Other than that, the book is essentially the same.

Please download the book here.

The Laws of Spiritual Energy

Separating real news from fake

January.19. 2021

One way to separate real news from fake is to consider the three basic elements in a news cycle.

First, the receiver of the news (which is you), second, the provider of the news (which is where you received the news from), and third, the original news source.

All three elements are crucial in determining whether the news you’re getting is fake or real.

First, as the receiver of the news, determine if you have any personal biases and propensities.

  • Are you looking for news to reinforce a particular worldview or belief?
  • Do you tend to look for conspiracy theories to explain things?
  • Are you looking for someone to blame for what you perceive are injustices to you?
  • Do you have any prejudices against certain groups of people and are looking for confirmation?
  • Do you feel angry about a certain issue and are looking for scapegoats?

If any of the above is true, then you probably aren’t looking for real news and this would be a good place to stop reading.

Second, consider the provider of the news. This could be any news outlet (mainstream or otherwise) or someone on social media.

  • Is the provider reliable? Have they lied to you before?
  • Have you received fake news from them before?
  • Is the provider into conspiracy theories? Have they sent you conspiracy theories before?
  • Does the provider have a bias either towards or against the subject of the news in question?

Third, consider the original source of the news. This would be the person or entity that started the news.

  • Does the source have an agenda? Are they trying to spread a particular viewpoint to support that agenda?
  • Does the source stand to gain monetarily from the news?
  • Is the source reliable? Have they lied publicly before?
  • Is the news self-serving to the original news source?
  • Is the source transparent? Have they tried to cover up factual events before?
  • Is the source a dictator type? Have they tried to suppress other news sources before?

So what happens if you determine a piece of news is fake?

Call it out. Don’t let it go on unchecked.

Because lies and fake news have consequences. (For example, calling a pandemic a hoax kills people.)

Winter has come

December.29. 2020

Here’s a song I discovered recently. The song is quite unusual with lyrics that recall the poems of Tu Fu (in translation). I decided to translate the lyrics:

Winter has come (Dongtian laile)
By Ding Wei

Leaves are yellow, about to fall.
The north wind blows.          
The sun nowhere to be found.
Tired, almost asleep,
I let the moon wait for dawn.

Winter has come.
I feel the chill.
Water won’t flow, you also gone.
The sound of music, makes me cry.
My heart is tossed, does it still ache?

There’re a number of versions on the internet including one by Ding Wei, but my preference is for this version by Zheng Yang:

Line by line translation: 

Leaves yellow  / shùyè huángle
about to fall  / jiù yào diàole
North wind blows.  / bèi fēng chuīle
Could not be found,  / zhǎo bù dàole
the sun. Tired,  / tàiyáng lèile
about to sleep,  / jiù yào shuìle
Let the moon  / liú xià yuèliàng 
wait for dawn  / děngzhe tiānliàng

Winter has come  / dōngtiān láile
Feeling cold  / juédé liángle
Water won’t flow  / shuǐ bù liúle
You also gone  / nǐ yě zǒule
Music ringing / yīnyuè xiǎngle
makes me weep  / ràng wǒ kūle
Heart is thrown  / xīn yì diūle
Will it still ache?  / hái huì tòng ma

It’s a wonderful tale

December.27. 2020

One of the rituals of the holiday season is the showing of Capra’s perennial movie favorite.

For years, I have avoided it—the phony Hollywood optimism, the not-believable characters, the fake hearty song at the end, the all’s well that ends well plot, etc. etc.

All adding up to pure corn.

But this year was different.

Mainly because I have a lot of time on my hands, being stuck in Corpus with the pandemic blues again.

And so I watched it and of course, it’s a modern fairy tale.

But like most fairy tales, it has a deeper message.

And the message from the ‘what if you’ve never been born” question is that we all end up being either a curse or a blessing to others.

On the surface, this may seem like it’s a personal choice, but I have come to the conclusion that it is actually outside our control.

Whether we become a curse or a blessing to others is almost predestined.

It’s like the Judas question—did Judas choose to betray Jesus or was he predestined to play that tragic role?

Because someone had to betray Jesus, someone had to be given that role, otherwise how could that whole passion thing take place?

(This is purely an academic exercise, and in no way suggests that the “Passion” is anything but ancient mythology.)

And so in the movie (and in life) someone has to play the role of the villain, the money grabbing, mean character with not a spark of humanity in him, otherwise there wouldn’t be a story. (And in life, it wouldn’t be real.)

There is one scene in particular that strikes a chord in me.

My father used to run a small store and one day, a customer inadvertently left a bundle of cash wrapped in some old paper on the counter. (This is why you never wrap treasure in trash.)

When my father found the money, he quickly got his clerk to chase after the man to return the cash to him.

My father told my mother later, “These poor rubber tappers work all day for months to make a little cash. It’s a good thing I found the money; someone else might have kept it.”

And so in life, we can be a blessing or a curse to others.

And it is my belief that the saddest thing is if you got picked by God and destiny to be a curse to others, and if you had never been born, humanity would’ve been better off.

Something perhaps a certain gentleman playing golf in Florida should reflect upon.

Claudio Arrau and Chopin Concerto 1

December.21. 2020

I have never been a fan of Claudio Arrau. Maybe it was that remark of a friend who said she finds him too old fashioned, she said she prefers Perahia.

But while googling an old movie soundtrack, I found that Arrau is the performer in the Chopin concerto that had made such a huge impact on me when I first heard it in the movie.

So I started listening again and yes, you might call him old fashioned but in a good way.

None of the exaggerated theatrics which distract rather than enhance, none of that pretty boy/girl sex symbol syndrome which has infected the classical world like it has everything else.

And such elegance, and delicacy of touch, exquisite timing. Nothing labored over, just pure magic.

Here it is, Claudio Arrau performing the first movement of Chopin’s first concerto. Only the first part, unfortunately, but you can find the rest on youtube. This is the actual recorded version that was featured in the movie:

My collection of hoes

November.1. 2020

If you’ve been reading this blog, you might have noticed that I like tools, all kinds of tools.

Back in 2012, I had bought a hoe in Sibu for my mother. Hers had broken into two and of course that should tell you what country it was made in.

I went to my favorite hardware store in Sibu, and the shopkeeper recommended a Chillington, an English brand, but made in Thailand.

I liked the hoe so much I got one for myself.

Then, on a day trip to Kanowit, I happened to see two handmade hoes made by the famous No. 14 brand of Kuching and I had to buy them too.

They sat all these years in my kitchen cabinet.

And then came the summer of 2020 and for some reason, I found myself stuck in Texas.

For exercise, I decided to clear the weed and brush at the back of my house. I remembered my hoes and went looking for a handle for them but none were to be found.

There were a few on Ebay that looked like they might fit, but they were too expensive, even without factoring in the shipping.

So I decided to look for a new hoe with a handle and I found a good looking one, an SHW made in Germany.

It came in the other day, and it is a real beauty, not as heavy as the Thai hoe but it does the job.

Of course, I’m partial to my Malaysian hoes. They’re not the best looking but they’re the real thing, so I guess my quest for a hoe handle will continue.


First two on left are the two Malaysian hoes made by No 14, third from left is the Thai hoe, still with tags, and on the far right, is the German hoe, a real beauty, with handle.

Law vs. love

October.25. 2020

These days, if you watch Christian TV (as much as I do), you will probably be familiar with the current debate over law vs. grace.

The debate centers on the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament and the concept of grace as taught by St Paul in the New Testament.

Law, as the word suggests, is salvation through the observance of laws.

Grace, as St Paul describes, is a gift from God, and it gives you salvation without need for any works (adherence to law).

The concept of grace as St Paul describes is the ultimate entitlement.

You’re entitled to the love of God without having to do anything—very appropriate and tailor-made for our time!

(We’re speaking in human terms here and purely as an academic exercise, understanding that words like love and entitlement have no meaning outside our limited human consciousness.) 

But what about the actual teachings of Jesus?

Where is grace in his teachings?

And that’s the problem. The concept of grace is a Paulian one.

Yes, grace underlies many of Jesus’ teachings but the emphasis is not on grace but on love—love that is actionable.

If we are already ‘saved’ through grace, without need for any works, what is the point of exhorting us to love each other, to do good unto others?

So the difference between the Old and New Testament is Law vs. Love, not Law vs. Grace.

The Old Testament can be summarized as, “Obey the law or else!”

And the New Testament, “Love your neighbor.”

And again, this brings us to the great genius of the man.

He understood that the old laws were all based on love.

If you love your neighbor, you would honor him, you would not covet his things, you would not steal from him, you would not bear false witness, you would not kill.

So he was able to summarize all the laws into one simple precept.

“Love your neighbor.”

Nowhere in his teachings does he say, you’re good as you are; throw away the old laws because through the grace of God, you have already been ‘saved.’

In a way, the debate between law and love is part of the age-old clash between two opposing life philosophies, the choice between ‘the carrot or the stick’ approaches to life.

You can see these two opposing philosophies in all areas of life.

For example, in the field of guitar teaching (which I know a little about), you can operate on law or you can operate on love.

Law by prescribing many rules and dogmas to produce a certain kind of player.

Or love to rely on love for the instrument to coax the student’s natural virtuosity to emerge.

The option you choose will tell you who you are.

(For example, the ‘law’ approach will appeal to those who enjoy the power it gives them, and who have an over-inflated sense of their self-righteousness. [You can’t enforce your ‘laws’ if you don’t think you are ‘right’ and everybody else is wrong.])

The same is true of parenting, you can raise a child through strict disciplining or you can do it with love. Each approach will raise a different child and will reveal who you are.

The two approaches can be summed up this way.

One allows you to achieve your goals by tapping into the energy of love.

The other taps into the energy of fear (the ‘or else’) to get what you want.

A reassessment 14

October.19. 2020

In reassessment 13, I described love as a ‘tool,’ which may make it sound mercenary.

And of course, it is not strictly correct.

Love is not something you can manufacture at will.  Like many things in human nature, you either have it or you don’t.

I use the word ‘tool’ loosely and to connect to those individuals who only see things from a transactional standpoint.

To let them know that there’s something in love for them.

That if they practice love, they will have it returned to them a hundredfold in goodwill and blessings.

But for those readers who find the whole notion of love as a transaction slightly distasteful, think about this.

What’s the difference between practicing love so you can get to heaven in the afterlife, and practicing love so you can achieve that heaven here on Earth?

Not much.

Both are predicated on getting something out of it.

All this discussion of course is moot because, as I said, love can’t be manufactured.

However, the lesson of love as taught by Jesus is still important because whether fake or real, the effect of love is the same.

Whether you feed your dog out of real love or out of fake love, the dog still gets fed.