Wednesday, February 17, 2016

When You Believe

Just happen to chance upon this song on Youtube.

Many years ago when it came out, I may not have appreciated as much as I thought it carried with it a slight religious undertone (seeing that it was for the movie about Moses). Given current circumstances, I suppose it could have general application

Many nights we prayed
With no proof anyone could hear
In our hearts a hope for a song
We barely understood
Now we are not afraid
Although we know there's much to fear
We were moving mountains
Long before we knew we could, whoa, yes
There can be miracles
When you believe
Though hope is frail
Its hard to kill
Who knows what miracles
You can achieve
When you believe somehow you will
You will when you believe

In this time of fear
When prayer so often proves in vain
Hope seems like the summer bird
Too swiftly flown away
Yet now I'm standing here
My hearts so full, I can't explain
Seeking faith and speakin' words
I never thought I'd say
There can be miracles
When you believe 

Though hope is frail
Its hard to kill 
Who knows what miracles
You can achieve 
When you believe somehow you will
You will when you believe

They don't always happen when you ask
And its easy to give in to your fears
But when you're blinded by your pain
Can't see the way, get through the rain
A small but still, resilient voice
Says hope is very near, oh 
There can be miracles 
When you believe 
Though hope is frail 
Its hard to kill 
Who knows what miracles
You can achieve 
When you believe somehow you will 
Somehow you will 
You will when you believe 

Monday, February 8, 2016


I don't know really how to write this... I wanted to do a piece a long time ago, when I was in a different frame of mind and I dallied. And now...

Anyway, maybe let's focus on a series of pictures...

Sometime in July, when I had my first operation in the UK, I decided that this would be my theme. Looking ahead, facing the challenges, the elements, trying to hold firm and most of all, embracing life and all its beauty no matter what. This was taken at the Needles on the Isle of Wight (when I forgot my coat).

I survived the operation. More simply, I survived. Full stop. To keep on partaking of life and all its wonders - and to occasionally blog.

Then in September, after my second operation, all my blood levels dropped and I had to be hositalized after returning to Singapore after infection took hold. I was discharged after 5 days but still didn't feel too good and then, my hair started to fall. One night, I just decided, heck, I would not lie in bed but just go out.... This picture was taken at the top of the Swisshotel. I think it was quite suitable at the time, with the view hazy (the forest first raging in Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia ensured we were suitably engulfed with the by-product) but with clear knowledge that there was the promise of light in the background.

This next one a few weeks later was from a hotel room in Kuching, overlooking the Sarawak River. You can see that all my hair had gone by then. But I was feeling better. And I liked the feeling of once more looking out at distant light during an otherwise dark night.

The months passed and the third operation came and went. And, briefly debilitating though the effects might have been, I picked myself out and hoped to push myself to greater heights - literally. There were some fears earlier in the year that I may not have made it through to the end of the year, but I did. And I wanted to celebrate that fact. This below was taken at Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in Lijiang at 4680m above sea level.

You know, all along, until very recently, I had always wanted to post this and use it as an inspiration, an exhortation to myself to always keep fighting, and make the most out of life, to never give up. To always hope and strive amidst periods of uncertainty.

But that was when things, hard as they were, seemed to be on an uptrend. But after the latest scan results, I don't know whether I can still do that. And if I can, for how long. It is now 530am in Southampton and I am waiting to meet the doctors in the morning, who I fear will confirm that the scans done a week ago in Singapore signify what I fear - that things have gone downhill, that the end is near.

In fact, I have been here since Saturday and have been trying to take my mind off this by seeing the sights, but somehow, today's meeting was always on my mind.... Of course, there were moments, when I was wondering how long I may have left, when my thoughts were interrupted and I experienced eternity. Hmmm.... A brief moment of eternity. I like that...

That set me thinking... maybe, just maybe, is it ok to now look back and let things be....After all, it has been a good life and a good fight. No more facing higher hurdle upon steeper impediment...

No...No, no.... That is not me. I fight, and hope, right till the end. I face the challenge head on. Come what may.

It is going to be tough and draining. And once again, for those of you who care, please cheer for me.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

An 'Exploratory', Fictitiuous Conversation With a Taxi Driver

My boss sent to us an article about a conversation someone had during a taxi ride...

It was a nice feel-good article but something was gnawing at me but I didn't know what. In order to explore what it was, I embarked on a fictitious taxi conversation of my own....

I had an instructive conversation with a taxi driver late last night.

"Wah Uncle, you work so late ah... Need to earn money for family is it?"

"No lah, I'm semi-retired already. I'm quite comfortable. But I find it interesting driving a cab. You learn so much from meeting people." He then told me how he had started off as a hawker selling chicken rice. He then noticed that whenever people bought food, they always invariably bought drinks. Hereafter, he started scrimping and at the first possible opportunity, bought a coffee shop. His cash flow improved and he successfully invested in properties with his wife, who seemed to be able to instinctively sniff out gems. "Not as smart as that taxi driver who knows law lah, the one everybody is talking about. Last time I working so hard where got time to read? Read cannot eat one"

"Wah Uncle. I wish I could be like you, no need to study also so good at sniffing out good deals like that. I never liked to study but my parents say must one".

Uncle was silent for a while and said this, "Gary Kaperov can beat Dip Blue.....(silence)... Why so quiet? You don't know meh? The Chess Champion can beat the IBM supercomputer."

"Oh you mean Gary Kasparov and Deep Blue... Wah, and you say you never read some more"

"No lah, my son tell me one. We get information from everywhere, not just from reading. Nowadays got TV, got internet very easy one. What we have to do is to keep alert and to absorb and to know what is good information and how to use it," said Uncle.

"Anyway," Uncle continued, "you know why I talk about Chess? Do you think Gary Kaperov can think as fast, as much as IBM? Dip Blue can think of millions of possible moves in advance in one second. Gary Kaperov at most can think of 10 moves. But he can still win. You know why? It's because he thinks on the spot. He uses creativity. Think about it, if even such a boring and rigid game like Chess humans can use creativity to win, what about something like football? Did Pele and Maradona study the laws of physics? Yet they know how to hit the ball and make it go anywhere they want, If they stop to think of physics when they play then they will be tackled until xiao already...."

He then reflectively said, "I think Life is somewhere in between. You need a good education and good foundation. After that, you need a mixture of determination, luck, intuition and people skills. That's why I insisted my son study hard. Lucky he quite smart la, not like me. Like to study. Lower secondary school join Chess Club and then tell me about Gary Kaperov. That's when I asked him to quit and join track and field."

"You what?" I gasped. "How can you do that? He was doing what he liked! You want him to be macho like you issit? He agreed ah?"

"Ya lor. He was doing what he liked. But I challenge him - I say in life you must be good at doing what you like. But you must also be able to do what you don't like. Because life is complicated one. Almost all the time, in order to get what you want, you must first do what you do not like. I like money but I like to sell chicken rice for 14 hours a day meh? I told my son he was very lucky. Just like some girls are born pretty like models, he was born smart. Just like the pretty girl, he did not have to work for it. In order to be successful in life, you must know how it is to feel hopeless. And he REALLY hopeless at first lor. Always finish last. But I was surprised. He kept training and by the time he finished JC he won a Bronze medal for 400m in the National Schools Championship. I saw him run. . He later said 'Thank you, Pa, for showing me I can get anything I want""

"Wow, you must have been proud," I said. "What did you tell him?

"Damn proud lor. I told him that I didn't ask him to run in order to show him he can get anything he wants. I actually wanted to show him what it means to fail, but he was lucky to have ability. I asked him to always bear in mind that there are some people not so lucky one, no matter try how hard also cannot make it. That he must always show these people kindness and understanding as long as they try their best...." Uncle must have seen me shaking my head when he added. "Not totally for charity one lor. In life, in order to succeed, you always need other people to support you one. If you show off and act like you better than other people then who will like you?

I had to laugh. "Wah lau Uncle. You grooming your son for Prime Minister ah? What is he doing now?"

"Studying law lor. He want to be lawyer, can you believe that?"

"Dun tell me Cambridge hor Uncle. I envious already."

"No laaah. Study Cambridge can come back practice law in Singapore. Study Singapore university also can practice law in Singapore. Study here save money la... Also you know ah... The Ji-Sap Mood, the world famous law student contest, 2013 and 2014 SMU is runner-up one. Beat Cambridge you know?"

I replied, "Jessup Moots issit? That one I know lah. Didn't know SMU did so well. Quite young university right? Must be your son tell you one la. Must be in SMU. Why he go there? Innovative pedagogy--"

"What peda?"

"I mean curriculum. Way of teaching."

"Ya not bad la. But hor. I told him its good to go there because it is in the city. All the big and important things are happening there. The Supreme Court is there. All the big companies are there. Parliament is there. Told him if you are near important things you can feel it in the air one. More important, if you open your eyes you can learn a lot of things. Which are the big companies and big shops there? Why some shopping centres so full others so empty? Learn is from books, from other people, from living life one.... Eh. Here already. $20.80. Aiya $20 can la..."


I just wonder..... Now when we, a different generation living a more privileged life, if we are to believe the government's ever clarion call to inject more dynamism and entrepreneurial zeal into our economy, ponder the options for our youths.... What type of scholarships, what lessons, should we best give them so that they would stand confident of success, be right at home in this brave new world, as they seek to redefine Singapore's role in the global knowledge economy of today and tomorrow.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Breezing On A Malayan Float - Bersih

I happened to be in Malaysia the weekend of Bersih 2.0. I didn't go for the event proper. It did prevent me from going inside the city though...

I think I mentioned it one of my earlier blogs... Hang on....Ah here we are... Newspapers from that period in 2011.

The agenda was very different then, however. And the key message was one of reform and there were no overt calls for the government to resign. The scale was also a lot smaller. There was also a sense of equality - there had been a counter-rally planned, a protest against Bersih - and the police had said that both sides were not to stage the rally. In the end, both yellow and red-shirted activists were arrested, with UMNO members among the number. (1400 in all if I recall)

Fast forward to 2015 and Bersih 4.0 was a totally different matter. For one thing, it was much bigger and the call was much more strident - PM Najib's resignation involving a scandal of RM2.6 billionn in his account. Surprisingly though, there were no serious clashes this time round even though the authorities had declared the gathering illegal. Interesting, for in Bersih 3.0, teargas ended up being used. Perhaps, given the numbers involved and the sentiment in the air, it was thought taking the participants to task would not only prove an exercise in futility but also show that the authorities had ostensibly failed to exert control.

In the end, Bersih 4.0 was not only well-attended, it was well-organised...

There was provision made for free food, drink and toilets...

Advice as to what to do if one was arrested...

At the end of the rally, much was made of the fact that not that many Malays attended the rally. Some pointed to the fact that PAS was no longer around to galvanize Malay support. Perhaps the answer was subtler in that many Malays, having a lower salary, still needed to work and/or could not spend too much time at the event. For one, our Malay taxi driver who drove us back to the hotel said that he was in full support of Bersih but that he could only afford to go for a short while the day before. He had "bread and butter issues to take care of, see?" Like fetching curious passengers like us to and from the rally. This Malay opportunist managed to mix work and... rallying?

A comment made after the rally made me think.

Actually, for that weekend, Rabbit and I were supposed to go to KL with one of her colleagues, a pleasant lady called Lynette. But Lynette pulled out at the last minute, saying that she was worried about the rally.

On the way back, Rabbit opined that Lynette had every right to her opinion that the rally could be dangerous, reminding me that not everybody was adventurous as us.

But that was the point, I thought. Was attending something a peaceful rally such as Bersih inherently dangerous? For one, we did not take sides, we did not dress and yellow and we watched politely from the sidelines.

More importantly, was it important for us to even attend it? 50-50 thought Rabbit. Certainly, thought I. I thought it was fascinating to see how national issues could impel ordinary people to more or less spontaneously, with little heavy planning, gather to make their voices heard. And I wondered whether this could happen in Singapore. Or have we become to used to used to our cocooned lifestyle to stand up for what we believed in? Certainly our Singaporean founding fatahers were able to do that. But in this day and age with the stability that we have fought so hard to achieved, is this even the right way to stand up? Is demanding the resignation of a democratically elected government through a show of dissatisfaction in the streets? So many questions, no straightforward answers.

But one thing I was sure of. We did the right thing attending. As has been said so many times, Singapore is but a small red dot in a vast world, We cannot live in complacent isolation, unaware and disinterested in what goes on in the rest of the world, particularly our neighbours. We have heard the clarion call from the government for Singaporeans to broaden our horizons, to make our mark internationally, to venture overseas and take commercial risks. How then do we do that if we are afraid to even watch, as bystanders, an event which thousands of similar Malaysian white collar workers, lawyers, accountants, executives felt safe, or if not, passionate enough to collectively ask for a better future for themselves and their children?

Without passing any judgment, I think Bersih highlights some interesting differences between Singapore and Malaysia. Indeed, the last time thousands thronged the streets was to bid farewell to the much-loved founding father and first Prime Minister of independent Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. Bersih 4.0 was about trying to say goodbye to the, rightly or wrongly, much vilified Prime Minister, Najib Razak. The parallels certainly raise a contrast as to the levels of trust the citizenry has for the government in the respective countries.

On the other hand, one cannot help but wonder if common-folk in Singapore would be brave enough to take such action. One wonders if it would be tolerated. A slew of defamation suits against people who have spoken up, wrongly it has to be said, against the government gives an indication as to what level of dissent would be tolerated in the island state.

As I mentioned, there are no clear-cut answers but I sincerely feel that these are issues that one cannot run away from.

Breezing On A Malayan Float - Kelantan

We reached Kelantan on the same whirlwind trip that saw us whisk through Terengganu.

Forgive me for the longer than usual socio-political discourse. I guess I have a pocket of time, And also, this being the last state covered, I thought I would make it more similar to the book from which my series is derived.

Kelantan and its capital Kota Bharu have long been recognised as culturally unique, what with its closeness to the Thai border. Look, even the 'Bharu' is spelt differently. Another reason why some Singaporeans misunderstand the state is because it has been under the governance of PAS, an Islamic party, since 1986. Even my Malaysian colleague in the office (she hails from Subang in Selangor) said she was afraid to go there because of its 'fundamentalist' inclinations.

We felt no such tension as we walked around the city though. Chinese businesses ran undisturbed near Malay ones. Until recently, PAS was part of the an alliance involving also the DAP and PKR, which together won most of the popular vote (but not the most parliamentary seats) in the 2013 election. Indeed, it had quite significant support from Chinese voters in Kelantan, going on a platform of clean government and accountability. It left the alliance in quite acrimonious terms, however, over its insistence to implement hudud law in Kelantan.

Perhaps the affiliation with PAS has seen Kelantan suffer in terms of development. Despite being rich in natural resources such as oil, the average salary of some RM700 plus makes it the poorest state in Peninsular Malaysia. While some Singaporeans have always wondered whether voting in an opposition MP results in slower HDB upgrading and less PAP kindergartens, one wonders if voting in an opposition at state level in Malaysia results in the entire geographical region being 'shut out'.

Whatever the case, we were not complaining at the prices. For example, Rabbit's keropok which she buys from JB because it is cheaper than in Singapore, was sold it half price in Kota Bharu, We also helped ourselves to generous seafood helpings while in the Siti Khatijah Market.

And also heavenly chicken Thais at a Yati's a famous Ayam Percik stall on the road to the airport.

Kelantan is also famous for its beaches. One of its more well-known, PCB, was originally known as Pantai Cinta Berahi - Beach of Passionate Love - but was renamed Pantai Cahaya Bulan - Beach of Moonlight - when the conservative PAS came to power. I guess for some reason it was important to obtain the PCB acronym?

It doesn't look much of a beach in this picture. Firstly, it was the monsoon. But perhaps more importantly, as told to us by the person who rented us our car, years of erosion has left it less than desirable as a beach. Apparently, people no go to Tok Bali, which we had no time to go to.

Kelantan is also home to a rather famous border with Thailand, Rantau Panjang, which, it is said (I have no first hand experience), the ostensibly pious in Kelantan use to cross over to the Thai border town Sungei Kolok, to partake in... less pious activities.

And who can forget the kites, or Waus? When people talk about Malaysian kites, very often they refer to Kelantan kites. The logo of MAS, the national carrier of Malaysia, consists of a Wau Kucinta - Cat Kite. But the classics are the Wau Bulans or Moon Kites. And we were lucky to be able to see them in various stages of construction when we visited acclaimed kite maker Pak Shafie near PCB.

Indeed, these fascinating kites can be small, like the twoI bought for RM100 each...(They were meant for ornamental use and such made with cloth instead of paper)

Or they could be huge...

Brilliant. But pity that all too soon, we had to fly away to our next destination, Will definitely try to visit Kelantan again...

And there thus ends the articles on each of the individual states of Peninsular Malaysia!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Breezing On A Malayan Float - Terengganu

My one an only previous incursion into Terengganu was a drive in from Pahang for a brief look at the Tanjong Juara resort. That obviously wouldn't do - we had to stop by the capital, Kuala Terengganu, if only for a very, very short while.

The Eastern states of Terengganu and Kelantan are said to be quite different from the rest of Malaysia, though to be fair if one discerns hard enough, each state does have its own peculiarity. Anyhow, these Eastern states have their own dialect, culture, cooking style and in recent times have become bastions of (some say) Islamic conservatism.

It seems to me, at least, that Terengganu is somewhat of a forgotten state to many down South. While Kelantan at least receives some airing in Singapore for its cultural heritage and beaches, Terengganu and its capital to many Singaporeans seems to be a springboard for diving hotspots and islands off the Malaysian East Coast (some of them part of Terengganu admittedly).

But even a few hours in Kuala Terengganu can be interesting.

Like our trips to Kedah and Perlis, it was too far to drive up for a Northern East Coast jaunt and so we took the bus and alighted at the Kuala Terengganu Bus Terminal.

Although this palace was one of the first sites we saw, we were told that Chinatown was where the heritage was.

Indeed, some of the shophouses have existed since the 1700s, long before any significant settlement took root in Singapore...

Over there is also to be found alleys where creativity is showcased. You can tell the locals are trying hard to portray Kuala Terengganu as a heritage tourist destination akin to Malacca, Penang or even Ipoh. One feels that may be some time yet though....

While Chinatown was a highlight there are also Muslim related sights, not least of all the Crystal Mosque...

The unfortunate thing was we hardly had time to explore as our bus for Kota Bahru was leaving... Oh well, at least we kept our promise of going to every state capital....

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Breezing On A Malayan Float - Pahang

How many Singaporeans have been to Genting Highlands, that gambling haven where, prior to the arrival of MBs and RWS in our island city, was the nearest place where one could go to splash some serious moolah on a wide variety of... highly speculative financial instruments? Plenty. Which is why I am not focusing on it, save to say that is where I honed my casino knowledge in Big-Small, Roulette, Baccarat...

But it, like, such mountain resorts like Frasers Hill, are situated in the western edges Pahang, closer to Selangor, KL and the Straits of Malacca than the state capital, Kuantan. Indeed, populating Peninsular Malaysia's biggest state is the Titiwangsa Range, home also to less well-known but equally scenic hill spots such as Bukit Tinggi.

Now called Berjaya Hills, there is now a replica of a French village, called the Colmar Tropicale, it contains a hotel, restaurants and other tourist shops. Not a bad effort but a pity it's not situated high up enough on the hill to cause a noticeable drop in temperature. On a hot day, it feels nothing like France.

The Japanese Garden higher up is, however. And when one steps out of the car, one can feel a slightly refreshing twang to the air, something a little short of light air-conditioning. I don't know where my photos went - I'll try to post them if I find them.

Also lower down the hill is an animal park where one can get close up with rabbits and deer and feed and touch them...

Over to the other coast of the Peninsula, the capital Kuantan is known mostly for its good and untouched beaches. That was what I remember at least, from when my Dad brought the family there during the school holidays more than 30 years ago... Nowadays, it is ok but certainly not untouched.. Again, I do not have many pictures so will just breeze by.

 Pahang, for sure, is by no means adequately represented by these two places however. Nature spots hills and interesting towns abound. You will just have to go see them yourself.