To be or not to be? That’s the question. In today’s society we are taught to give in. Fortunately, most of it is what I call the good giving; like volunteering to give up one’s seat for the aged or a pregnant woman. Slowing down for pedestrians on the zebra crossing and even digging for shrapnel whenever school girls accost me no end for donations.


But there’s a less savory side of giving in; which isn’t so good; and that’s the part where you have to give up part of who; you are or who; you aspire to be; so that no one labels you a troublemaker. Here like thumb screws; it’s the law of steady increments that really squeezes you where a plethora of fuzzy justifications such as the “collective good” or the “socially acceptable” kicks in. Sounds innocuous enough; after all everyone wants to get along, everyone wants to be happy; besides who wants to get red flagged as a trouble maker?


But what happens when, the cost of conforming just slips over the line into plain selling out? What happens when saying yes or bowing out thrusts one’s consciences into turmoil because deep down, you just know its just plain rotten right down to the core?



I guess you can even throw the question against a broader canvas and ask yourself questions like what are you really expected to do; when society is telling you one thing but your mind another?


When the question of conformity is posed that way, it gets terribly complicated, even darn right impossible to seek a happy balance. At the end of the day, it really boils down to beliefs and how prepared you are for the long haul. I mean this reminds of the time; when I saw this transvestite sprawled out across my bonnet in Changi Village; she had probably been whacked up by one of her customers over the bonnet of my car.


At first, I said to myself, I better outsource this to the police, but I don’t know whether they’re going to book her? So there I was running through the calculations till it was just about smoking; Mmmmh, what if I decided to take her home with me? After all it’s only for the night; besides, I am sure she or he will be up and running again by then. But what if the nosey parker bible thumping brigade in my condo spots me out with their high powered binoculars? What if someone whips out a camera phone and machine guns away? What if someone tells my ram rod pastor? What will happen to me? See my point, it’s a slippery slope, but one thing holds true in every calculation: to be or not to be; it all boils down to how others see you and not how you actually see yourself, as person.


That’s one of the things that confounds me no end about the whole business of giving in; as what it usually boils down too is a form of fight or flee. Where usually the response is the latter only because one has to take care of one’s interest first before others; you know what? You can even call me someone who has a very weak personality, since I am just the sort to be bullied into conformity. I am just being really honest here about how I make those sort of life calculations.


As it turned out; I did take Mr Chin aka Sandra back home with me; that’s at least is what I gathered from his and her IC. And yes, the Bible brigade did turn out in full force. They even filmed me carrying Sandra into my apartment with one silicone augment tit splaying out; and yes, my church was duly informed and it even reached a point when I even asked God why: did he allow all these things to happen to me?


At first, I tried to explain to everyone; but after a while. I realized, I was merely compounding their suspicion and very slowly, I just settled into a sort of stoic silence where you could even say. I just didn’t give a damn any longer.


That one incident set me adrift in more ways than I can possibly elaborate. You could even say; as far as my known community in condo land was concerned; I was the devil incarnate; gone were the days when every door was open to me; some people even came up to me and expressly told me not to look at their children; eventually, I kept to my world which saw me ridding mostly in the nights on my bike; it was a period which allowed me plenty of time to reflect; to really work out some things which I’ve just taken for granted all my life; respect, position and even the sense of belonging to a community.


Here I wish, I could say there is some redemptive ending which one usually associates with Hollywood movies where the sun suddenly breaks through the clouds and the hero discovers what he’s been searching for, but no; trite homily sugary narratives like if you conform to a way of life that is completely alien to their own, then you lose part of yourself in them! Sounds well and good, but it doesn’t cut any ice when one has to deal with malicious mail that’s regularly slipped under the door. Words of comfort which are supposed to steel and fortify; like if you gave in to your principles then some little bit of the real you dies and you’re taken over by someone else who is the epitome of what society is looking for. You know what? I have no idea who is the idiot who came out with such clap trap. I really feel like shooting him with a tranquilizer gun and stripping him naked and tying him up to the flag pole in the padang with a Ah Kua with a moustache.


Truth remains, life gets tough when you go against the system and it really doesn’t matter what the system is; it could just as well be the consortium of nosey parkers who run the condo community; the pastorial dream team; your bosses or even a group of people who think they are so smart in the net when they go about building us all a giant coffin. At the end of the day even the best of us eventually learn not to cross those boundaries and to stick to our preplanned yellow brick lives. Those who do not conform will simply learn it just doesn’t pay.


They will have to fight for their beliefs and constantly defend themselves and their ideals while they are living in a society that is constantly trying to hold them back, push them down, and beat the individuality out of them. Yet those who make it through, those who can proudly stand on their own two feet, will have a mental and physical strength entirely unknown to the other category of citizens also known as the conformists. You know, what? I don’t even believe in the last two sentences, but I just thought, it would allow me to reach the word count if I just included in as an adjunct.


At the end of the day; the life of the cookie cutter goes on; I still ride at night to Changi Village and on one night; when it just rained cats and dogs; I settled into a chair in some non distinct kopitiam in Changi Village mesmerized by some forgettable HK serial where this one eyed swordsman’s with really bushy eyebrows was fighting to save the planet; besides the ABC beer auntie there never looked so good in her cowboy booties and tank top. She’s even gave me the “special,” buy one get two free providing I stayed right on till her shift ended – and in the land of the fee where everything is going up and up; how can I say no to all that?


And to cap it all off, Sandra, the he or she, I once saved, sashays in with a few of her colorful friends; there, I was in my super skin tight spandex cycling outfit; amid the boisterous recount of how I saved her and the whales; the endless trades of yam seng and fren forever; providence won the day; good finally triumphed over evil; the serpent’s head was crushed; and of course the lingering question: how they hell am I going to get home after this? The night wore on, unfurling like a prow on a calm ocean of time – there amid it all. I felt like crying for the very first time. The world suddenly became silent, calm, soon in my minds eye. I found myself like the mythical explorer standing before the prow of a boat as the ocean of time unfurled – life I realize just goes on.


Darkness 2008 (I have to leave the office now, I am sick and tired of pretending to work. Today, I took out a PAP application sheet.)


The Brotherhood Press – 2008



This article was originally published in the Singapore Daily 18 May 2008 at 3:22 pm


Pain, both physical and spiritual, is often seen as synonymous, with either “dexterity” and “toughness.” It’s interesting to note; after Ah Thiol had been run over nice and proper by the blogomotive (the train) after her impersonation of McCarthy’s, “reign of terror,” in Parliament during the S377A debate.

She referred to the tumult as a parliamentarian in Apollonian terms describing it as a baptism of fire. Lan Chaiu lah!

You know what? I never even thought anyone could romanticize the whole idea of “sati” (bride-burning) cum flagellation and even make it sound like a visit to a Banyan tree spa.

Nice thought if only you can abide it. Or you’re still staying with mummy and haven’t really experienced life beyond the satisfaction of a battery operated dildo.

Unfortunately, it’s false to all human experience to find growth in tragedy (except perhaps the bacteria variety when the yellow puss oozes out). In fact, the dull truth is that pain of any kind is tautological.

The only thing suffering teaches us is that we are capable of suffering.

Pain really teaches one nothing except that when a hammer falls on your big toe; you have every right to hop around like a Red Indian with his pants on fire – I should know. Just a few hours ago, I got “buang” (thrown off) nice and proper down a ravine, on the new mountain bike trail in Pulau Ubin; result; my mountain bike is totaled. My arm is fractured possibly in 3 or more places.

So much for pain being a teacher, friend and Counselleri.

Here, as I stand before the prow of the sampan unfurling towards the mainland. I am reminded no one, not Buddha, Jesus Christ or even the Dalai Lama can possibly have the sagacity, the intelligence, the endurance, or any other capacity of a “survivor” which would allow him to learn very much from the same pain that’s coursing through my body right now – not the type that proves anything at least. Or even the variety that allows one to learn anything from it!

Pain is pain.

I remember being told by my Kendo master once, real willpower does not requiring proving; one doesn’t need to win; walk through hot burning coals or even endure the extremities which the elements, people and conditions may spew out.

REAL sacrifice, REAL pain and REAL courage has to be very simple. For one it’s an idea that even has to be gutted out from the for King and Country narrative where we usually associate with chivalry and even uncommon acts of valor. I don’t doubt for one moment; it takes either exceptional courage or simply a lack of imagination to charge up against a machine gun battery; or to even hardened oneself to the prospects of gut wrenching muscle cramps, if one decides to stake a claim on the upper reaches of Everest.

Only my point is all these acts despite their seeming radiance of bravery, courage and chivalry; all have a definitive start and cut off date. One can lower the rifle and go back home to family and friends when the ink has dried on the peace treaty; one cannot climb beyond the limits imposed by mountain peaks; all there is, is to make for base camp, where perhaps, we can even contemplate the smallness of our courage over hot chocolate; here pain doesn’t possess the terror of litany; it even lacks the one requisite quality which sharpens it further; heightening the sense of hopeless and terror: the power of continuity.

My feel is real pain. The one that’s most acute and most heart felt resides in the ordinariness of life. Here it’s even woven intimately into the folds of everydayness even, reflected in the wan of people as they walk around as best they can. Sometimes even the act of waking up every morning and just going to work can be an extraordinary act of courage.

Here the type of pain, I am talking about takes it’s cue from chronic back pain; it’s always there, mixed with the past, present and future; always omnipresent, always lingering around; seeping into every minute, hour, day and week. It’s ceaseless, endless and there lies it true terror.

Somewhere in its unceasing pathos, it even threatens all prospects of driving away redemption; the courage of a parent with an autistic child to even harbor the dream his son or daughter would one day be able to live a normal and independent life; the silent caretaker who toils to give balm to the sick; knowing full well death will always win on the final throw; the father who skips lunch; so that his children can have an extra scoop of ice cream, because; he didn’t quite cut it into the $2.2 million club as much as make it to the $2.20 per hour fraternity; the manager who struggles to do the ‘right’ thing, even if it means he has to put his reputation on the line; to find the courage to fight the big bad whatever that threatens tries to take whenever is good out of him; the embattled Christian who tries to hold on to his faith; despite knowing full well there will always be fools and knaves in any church to loosen his grip on his faith; the lone blogger who continues to think and write; despite the stat counter telling him; “hey buddy what are you trying to prove here? You the statistical nothing against us!”

I salute you all; you are the true $2.2 million superman, every single one of you; the others; they’re just a bunch of cheap pirates.

In the litany that confront us all in this never ending story of pain, we don’t see our pain as much as we try to seek it out in others; to even witness it, if we can. In the way devotees seek out miracles which have the capacity to edify and exalt. It could even be said; when others see us carry our pain with grace and dignity, with even a smile; perhaps here even in this simple act it’s magically transformed into an art form; one which even allows the rest of us the permission to accept ourselves for who we were really are; just humans trying our very best to make the best of the journey called life; that I feel is the real lesson from my fall.

You see I have to believe LKY is dead wrong. Only because what I have just shared with all of you has to be ‘an admirable sentiment’ no matter how one slices it.

Darkness 2008 (This has to be a very short one, I am afraid. My Sampan has arrived at the jetty. I see Harphoon and the Chronicler waiting for me. It’s time to smile. After all the good fight certainly doesn’t need another sour puss)

[The Brotherhood Press 2008]


This article was orginally published on 18 May 2008 at 12:40 am


I am sure all of you have read Miss Chua Lee Hoong’s lament concerning the Mas Selamat debacle online?

And who could possibly forget, le piece de resistance: Ong Sor Fern’s paramour,

“I HAVE never, nor will I ever, read blogs.”

You know what I resent most about these articles don’t you?

Apart from the condescending tone, the message to readers is blunt: “you will learn one way or another – our way – or hit the highway!” To add insult to injury, the newspapers pledge nothing in return.

Of course, I understand the impulse behind all this nervous energy only too well – newspapers are hemorrhaging revenue – they haven’t been able to prosper since the net made its debut etc. They’ve lost too much of their monopoly on the cultural authority they once commanded. No one I know, these days even aspires to be a journalist any longer. And judging from how even those who remain in the industry these days aspire to land comfy teaching job; it all makes a forgettable case for a poor excuse as a career choice.

But what really lies at the heart of the compact between news producers and consumers?

What if I said, all this is just an attempt to strip away the whole idea of the independent reader and squeeze his understanding into the factory-farming model of gobbling facts on the state assembly line? Too radical right? Yeah, but even you have to admit that’s a racy read.

Back to the cold cuts; if any thing, these manifestations reveal a characteristic failing of our newspapers: to assume if something is going wrong, like we’re not reading, then it has to be either the fault of the consumer or an supervening event like the net, not the news provider. Usually in the toss up, the evil net gets fingered; and just in case we might even forget it’s truly a land of the morally bankrupt. A steady stream of anti-net propaganda is regularly doled out, just so we never forget.

How convenient?

Tell me. If a restaurant found that its customers rarely ordered chicken, would it revise their chicken-menu, or ditch them?

Precisely, you get my point don’t you?

But when droves of readers abandon our beloved rag, they resort to compulsion, fear mongering and just plain hypnosis, rather than asking if there is something really wrong with the service they have been providing?

For instance; why is the Beijing Bureau so fat? Who the hell cares whether two hump back camels can’t find a decent bush to knob each other in the Gobi desert because of desertification?

Hey, you know what? No one gives two shits, what’s really happening in China!

Very strange indeed; if you consider the imperative is to captivate, yet none of the economics even suggest this is being seriously put to good and productive use.

But to accomplish this feat of customer satisfaction, our newspapers don’t need freedom as Cherian frequently likes to trout; rather all they need to buy into is the old fashioned idea of paying heed to customer service. Wat most of us really need to ask is this. Are we really getting value for money?

You know what? I don’t think so.

But the ongoing problems which frequently mire the relationship between its readers and news producers are only a symptom of two deeper trends that have been unfurling since the advent of the internet. The first is the growing disconnect between what consumers want and what is regularly been churned out. These days when one reads the ST, what’s not mentioned or written about is real news and what’s fleshed out is simply stuff most of us aren’t really interested in. I can’t speak for the vast majority of readers, but for me, as much as I want to continue reading the ST these days. I really see no compelling reason why I should even my time trying to wade out the shit from the nuggets – after a while, it just doesn’t make any sense to do so.

As a result most of my news these days comes from a patch work of foreign press usually in bits and pieces montages on the run on my Nokia Communicator; this I do quite well only because I have personal history of having once regularly read the New York Times, Independent and Guardian simultaneously; but again. My point is its hardly linear reading as much as it remains Jack rabbit hop here and there reading.

This worries me only because kids can’t do what I do these days. The only reason I acquired this skill was because during my university days; I genuinely enjoyed reading my derelict free copy of the Times, which I usually picked up in the tube. People who say littering is a crime should get their heads examined, it’s nothing short of a public service and beats navigating around KFC carcasses any day. My point this evening is simply this, without a solid foundation of what is really good news; its conceivable it’s impossible these days for youths to even develop the foundational skill sets to consistently winnow the truth from lies.

In the absence of captivating press that can be entrusted reliably to be the purveyor of the truth – against the endless choices presented by the internet, there will always be an incredible sense of release to go wild online and to confect their own version of a bent reality. But – more worryingly – these youths would never have once even learned how to structure thoughts. They haven’t taught themselves how to use a mix of newspapers, libraries and arguments to spot out, distinguish and even to differentiate what’s real from false. They will flail about and even lose their bearings – I fear.

The solution doesn’t lie in inuring the internet with a higher level of truth; my feel is all the G-15 bloggers need to seriously get their head examined; no one in their right mind proposes a plan to plough the sea; anymore than he could possibly hope blogosphere should mirror the news producing agencies of the real world; the internet will always be the domain of the amateur, diarist and at best an imitation of reportage. Rather the solution lies in investing in critical thinking skills in our schools and institutions of tertiary educations – youths these days desperately need to taught the skills sets of how to winnow the truth from lies.

Against the back drop of this reality, it’s not our press who should be making greater demands on their readers. It’s readers who should be making greater demands on their news producers – to provide a service they can really believe in and if possible even captivate them. Rather than a staid service they want to shun away from.

Incidentally, today is the first day; I hung out a post it on my door to the newspaper uncle; it read. “No more newspapers from today please. Tolong!”

Let’s see how it goes. I’ve keep you all updated, but don’t hold your breath.

The only cold turkey, I know is the one that’s set on prema freeze somewhere in my freezer.

Darkness 2008

[Compiled by Harphoon – The Brotherhood Press 2008]

19 May 2008 at 2:34 pm

Welcome, before we begin our Wesak day message, check out the rest of the Brotherhood Press that you may have missed during the weekend.
It’s Wesak day. And as I try my best to settle into the groove of having to live with a plaster cast on my left arm for the next 3 months; I tell myself; I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

After all it’s only the first day. I tried to make coffee earlier this morning, but gave up half way when I realized, I wasn’t going to get very far by trying to open up my expresso maker with my foot. I’ve also given up on the whole idea of cooking; since all the diced carrots seem to be more interested in rolling off the chopping board.

The only thing, I seem to be able to do is water my potted plants.

And this brings me to my Wesak day message this afternoon. I don’t know whether any of you have heard about this story about a sacred Bodhi tree which once stood in Brickfields in greater Kuala Lumpur.

It sits uncomfortably along a hair pin that’s famous because there’s a famous curry fish head restaurant there. Sometime back ago, while visiting Kuala Lumpur. A friend took me out for lunch in Brickfields; the eatery had a good sweep over this famous tree, so it was an obvious conversational point.

According to KL urban legend, this is no ordinary Bo tree. For one, it dates as far back to the period when Sri Lankan laborers first made their appearance in the sleepy mud plains of Kuala Lumpur some 200 years ago.

The sapling supposedly originates from the famous Bodh Gaya; the same one Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher and founder of Buddhism later known as Gautama Buddha, attained enlightenment.

Looking at the tree from where we were makaning; I couldn’t help but wonder what an oddity it was framed against the hustle and bustle of tower cranes and spaghetti junctions; someone mentioned in passing; its days were numbered; they’re planning a new highway here; and the Municipal Council has contracted Chow Yuen Fatt and his replacement killers to plug the poor tree! Others exclaimed since it was still a frequent destination for pilgrims, it’s unlikely that the authorities would cut it down. Not so soon at least. Besides it was during the period just before the Malaysian elections; and judging from the numerous election posters plastered all over its expansive trunk; it probably still had a fair innings to chalk up.

Through out lunch, I found myself wondering; what would this tree have to say, if it was given a chance to say its piece? How long has it stood there? A silent witness to the urbanization of this mud delta once called Kuala Lumpur. Did it once inspire a generations of water color artists, photographers and even lovers who would have scrawled hearts of forever more on her trunk?
Whatever her libations some of what she may have to share will forever be associated with the pivotal moments in Malaysian history. Some of these stories might simply have been part and parcel of the every day litany of urban life in the straits, offering shade, a brief respite against torrential rains. A gathering point for the odd odd cendol vendor and his patrons – an oasis where time simply stands still as ordinary folk turn inwards for a moments rest against the endless cacophony of urban life. While others may have been momentous such as shielding protestors from bullets which once came forth like hailstorms from the guns of colonial masters. Yes, I am sure she has seen it all. She’s a lao chaiu after all.

As my mind turned inwards; I am reminded every age has its own concerns, and in ours; it was simply unacceptable that the good should not triumph on the last throw of the dice. I realize this sounds trite. Especially against the back drop of what will simply have to come to past with this whole business of the community moderator.

You could even say, I remain completely convinced that the powers will even see it right through to the last leg.

It doesn’t take exceptional talent or even great foresight; just a play at selective deafness and dyslexia with a perhaps lashings of avoiding eye contact. Any fool can cut down trees or destroy the internet – we cannot stop them. I have already done the last of my calculations. They are simply too big; the motivation for command and control too strong even; the allure virtually irresistible; its clear they simply don’t even want to stop, listen and discuss the matter; that’s how powerful the imperative really is; and if they did, we would still be destroyed – chased and hunted down as long as fun or a buck could be got out of it.

All we can do is to prepare to run away.

What’s emerging for me is the realizing; no one really cares any more; why should they? When did the single injustice of a tree ever provoke enough reason to force the axe man to lower his tool? In the litany of injustices which befall us daily; the malevolence of earth shattering earthquake and life churning tornados – one more egregious than the many, many disparate and relatively smaller injustices which regularly mark out our lives ;one tree and the thoughts of one man concerning what he believes about the net hardly matters.

It’s grist to the mill.

Trying to change the status quo. I am reminded is a silly preoccupation which only a fools such as myself are content to do. Hello Kitty dolls are infinitely a lot easier to market than first edition leather bound copies of Stendhal, wot?; the countervailing desire in our society (and others even perhaps) for authoritarianism and the warm embrace of the state is too powerful to oppose with small numbers of actions against small injustices.

It’s just not worth the bother.

As it is; the Bo tree that once stood somewhere on an obscure road in Brickfields was finally cut down to make way for a new highway. Proving once again, people’s desire for a better tomorrow is often overwhelmed by the grinding day-to-day practical necessities which would hardly allow them to take stock of even the interest of a single muted tree. I feel the same may be happening when many of these 15 bloggers go about the whole business of recommending change for the rest of us; but unlike the tree let me just say this for providence sake; I never once gave you the right to represent me. I don’t believe in what you are doing and I wish no part in your new world order.

Yes, the Bo tree and me have merged to become even the mythical contrarian.

But even as we prepare out hearts and minds for the final curtain act; there is cause for optimism. You see all is not lost my friends.

A few months after the tree was cut down; my friend in KL, thought it would be a good idea to tender a few saplings from this one unfortunate tree. Without even the slightest thought, he potted it and eventually, it grew. One of these saplings was given to me with just the words; “take this to a better place. It must live.” I fulfilled my duty by planting it somewhere in the bosom of Bukit Timah nature reserve during one of my solo mountain biking rides.

She lives on. And one day she will grow tall and strong. That shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all she comes from an ancient lineage of survivors going back at least a millennia to a time even before us or when dinosaurs walked this earth; long before the advent of mankind she had proliferated spreading out across the lands – calling it hers. Through the centuries she had seen fires, drought, disease, earth quakes, and maybe a billion libations of tempest; yet she stood her ground proudly proclaiming, “come what may, I will survive!

But the real tragedy and travesty of our time like the tree, I simply call Bo and probably our beloved net is both cannot be saved from the acts of knaves and fools.

Nonetheless, there is hope my friends. Never forget that. Happy Wesak Day.

Darkness 2008