How the times have changed

January.1. 2017

Growing up in Borneo, my favorite time of day was evening. That was when the hot afternoon sun would finally set, giving way to cool breezes and warm nights.

And in the distance, the quiet sounds of evening prayers wafting through the air.

Back in the day, I used to love the sound of those prayers. They spoke to me of a gentle race and a kind and mystical religion.

How the times have changed.

These days, on my occasional trips back to that idyllic place, the prayers no longer waft through the air but blare out from loudspeakers at every corner, as if demanding that you stop whatever you’re doing and listen or else.

And telling you how holy they are. (Much holier than you because unlike you, they pray more times a day.)

And the funny thing is, the louder the prayers get, the more bloody the evening news seem to become.

Is there a connection, I wonder?

These days, when I hear those prayers (you don’t have much choice, they make sure you hear them) they only speak to me of death and destruction.

How the times have changed.


Two quotes

December.30. 2016

I just came across this quote from the great American watercolorist, Philip Jamison:

“A painting without spirit is like flat beer!”

Almost as insightful as that other quote from that great American literary giant, Anthony Bourdain, which went something like this.

“The food was good but it seemed to lack something and we couldn’t figure out what it was until my friend said, ‘The chef cooks like he’s never been properly fked in his life.'”

Something to ponder upon on cold winter nights.


A philosophical discourse

December.26. 2016

I had a discussion with someone a while back about reality.

The person said, “Reality doesn’t exist. It’s different for everyone. How do you know what my reality is?”

He’s got a point.

Everyone’s reality is different.

But at the end of the day, if you go into a bank and hand the teller a $10 note and tell the teller that it’s a $100 note because that’s your reality, he might have a hard time believing you.

The simple truth is, reality does exist.

There is an absolute reality out there.

It’s just that we interpret it differently, according to our personal experiences and biases. But just because we have different takes on it doesn’t make it less real.

A $10 note is a $10 note is a $10 note.

Nothing anyone can say will ever change that fact.


Short story

December.18. 2016

The house was a simple house with wooden sidings and a carport in front.

He waited outside on the road for some time, for someone—it’s not clear for whom.

He thought he heard people in the house so he started his motorbike and went into the driveway towards the carport.

At first, he parked the bike facing in, but he realized he might have to leave in a hurry in which case he would not have time to back out, so he reversed the bike and parked it facing out into the driveway.

Looking into the yard, he saw his old neighbor, Mrs. Trevino. She was on her knees digging something in the ground.

He called out to her, “Mrs. Trevino, how are you?”

He could hear people talking in the house. On listening closer, it was his mother and sister. So they are already here, he thought.

It was at that time that he woke up.

Just a dream, although he could still hear his mother’s voice coming from the house, full of life and sounding so happy.

She had passed on two months before.

He wondered what house that was. And what was it about the cement at 3 dollars? The last time he bought them at the store in Rejang Park, they had cost only 1 ringgit a bag.

And what were they for? Could it be for some installation of some heater unit?

It wasn’t his old home on Herndon, but it looked so familiar.


Legacy

December.13. 2016

It’s hard to see the human tragedy unfolding in that ancient city, and the nightly scenes of carnage (that keep newspeople gainfully employed).

You can say the conflict is geopolitical or sectarian in nature.

But I see a deeper root.

It comes down to hate (and the one religion that preaches hate rather than love. Why else do you think were they dancing in the streets when the towers fell?)

Hate is an insidious thing.

It grows on you quietly, fed by the people who would use it to control you.

And once it gains a hold on you, you have to keep on feeding it.

And if you run out of food for it to feed on, it turns inwards and starts feeding on you.

That’s the story behind the story of all those ruined buildings and shattered and lost lives.

The hate that was created and directed at the rest of the world, has turned inwards and started feeding on its hosts.

The ultimate irony.

The hapless people caught in the crossfire trying to find refuge in the lands of the very people they’ve been taught to hate.

Of course, they bring with them the legacy of hate and blame and violence that their religion has taught them and which is largely responsible for their present predicament.

As they say, human nature is perverse–people tend to bite the hands that feed them.

But they also say love conquers all.

We’ll see which one rings more true here.


The autumn of our discontent

November.8. 2016

It’s leaving the establishment in shock, aghast. Lots of hand wringing.

How could this happen?

Well, you’ll have to ask Bernie that question.

Through various underhand tactics, the establishment managed to propel their chosen candidate through the system, leaving him out in the cold.

And now when it looks like their chosen candidate is not doing too well, they’re asking how all this could happen.

As Abe said, you can fool some of the people all of the time and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.

Looks like a revolution is sweeping the world.

The rallying cry, throw out the crooks and the dealmakers.

Bring some integrity and sanity back into the system.

Going to the polls this morning, I felt like an orphaned child without old Bernie.

So I voted for the next best candidate, no prize for guessing who it is.

They say that America’s getting their own Berlusconi.

I respectfully disagree, more like Duterte.


The lunacy of bureaucrats (or my most memorable Hong Kong experience)

October.29. 2016

While transiting in Hong Kong recently, I lost this fearsome looking object to the security guys at the transfer stations.

Fearsome hijacking implement

This was not the first time they had tried to ‘confiscate’ my personal property. (Is there a black market in HK for airport security confiscated property?)

But this time I refused to let them have my prized Muji nail file, which besides being extremely handy in trimming my guitar fingernails is apparently also a dreaded hijacking implement (in Hong Kong anyway).

Here’s how it works.

They take your ‘dangerous’ device at the security check. If you object, they issue you a receipt which you have to produce to retrieve the property.

Now here’s the master stroke, to recover your item, you’ll have go out HK immigration and look for some small Lost and Found office hidden away in some obscure upper level corner. And you have to do this within two weeks.

If, after all this, you somehow manage to recover your precious property, you’ll have to bring it through security again which means they’ll take it away from you again. (If not a black market, maybe a special section on eBay.com.hk?)

Brilliant!

Fortunately, I had two helpers from my airline (unnamed for now but their initials are CP). Unfortunately, they were quite rude and spent more time admonishing me for my stupidity (??? So why is HKG the only airport in the world banning nail files, why not toothpicks too? Is there a documented case of an airliner being brought down by a nail file? Who gets to keep these confiscated objects?)  in trying to bring these dreaded objects through security than in being helpful.

Moral of story:

Avoid Hong Kong like the plague.


Spirituality

October.23. 2016

If you take a book and open it, and all you see inside are blank pages, or maybe just a thick piece of cardboard.

Is it still a book?

Or you take a car and you open the hood and inside is a gaping hole, no engine, no battery, no nothing.

Is it still a car?

Or you can make a sword out of paper mache and give it a shiny metallic coat of paint.

Does that make it a sword?

How do we define something?

By its appearance or is there something deeper?

To give a few more examples.

We can make something look like food out of Styrofoam, does that make it food?

Or we can make flowers out of plastic, does that make them flowers?

Or we can make a beginner guitar student sit and hold the guitar like a pro, does that make him a pro?

How do we define something?

For me, there’s something deeper.

Something that I call its essence.

A quality that defines it.

And that something is spirit, for lack of a better word.

This spirit has nothing to do with the supernatural.

When musicians say, ‘capture the spirit of a piece of music,’ they’re not alluding to anything supernatural, they’re just referring to that essence.

Understanding the spirit of a work helps them express it better.

The key to life, I’ve found is to disregard the external, the facade, and focus on the essence, the spirit.

The spirit is where you find truth.

Why is truth important?

Because as they say, truth will set you free.


You tell me

October.21. 2016

Speaking of words and actions, it’s quite fashionable these days in some parts of the world to call a certain country the ‘Great Satan.’

And I do agree to a point.

There’re many things in that country that will merit that description.

But when Ebola strikes in some distant corner of the world, who are the ones who go (at great risk to their personal well-being) to help combat the outbreaks?

Funny, I don’t hear of any great martyrs from one particular holy land volunteering to go and help.

But I do hear of volunteers from the ‘Great Satan.’ (with volunteers from other  ‘Satans’)

Very satanic–risking your life to help your fellow human beings fight a deadly scourge.

Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed holy men are out in droves, on a mission to get to paradise where they hear, a few dozen virgins are patiently waiting for them.

So who’s the Great Satan?

You tell me.


Cutting through the crap

October.19. 2016

To live in the twenty-first century is to live with crap.

Crap from politicians, crap from teachers, crap from friends, crap from strangers, crap from well-wishers, crap from evil-doers.

But I’ve found a helpful way to cut through the crap.

The trick is to focus on results.

Ignore the hype, the clever words, the excuses, the alibis, the rationales.

Focus on results and on actions.

So if a certain religion insists that theirs is a religion of peace, look at the results of their teaching. If all you see is death and carnage, well, that’s a hint right there.

If a guitar teacher insists he has the keys to guitar heaven, look at his playing. If he can’t play for peanuts, that’s another hint right there.

If a life coach tells you he has all the answers to your problems in life, and he’s going through a third divorce, that’s a clue right there.

If a certain politician tells you she’s for the middle class but she’s hobnobbing with the upper class and getting paid quarter million dollar fees for opening her mouth, that’s another strong clue.

Cutting through the crap involves recognizing that Truth exists and it is non-compromisable.

And that Truth resides in actions and results, and you can’t hide behind clever words  (otherwise known as crap).

It’s based on that famous axiom, don’t tell me, show me.

If yours is a religion of peace, show me.

If you have the keys to guitar heaven, show me…