Debbie & The very slow plantation life

May 23, 2013

It’s very easy to close the door on the world and retreat into a make belief world. I am reminded as I sit on my rattan chair and watch Debbie, plantation life still offers plenty of oppotunities for that sort of escapism– a planters life is after all not so different from being marooned in another age. An old age where to be slow was just right – it’s an old world that has it’s charms. Not so different from those vignettes of the past, we come across from time to time in sepia prints that hark back to an age when men were very much still men. And women still had the decency to faint or at least pretend too – it’s an excrutiangly slow and relaxed world and that mood of amber moving ever so slowly as it encapsulates everything in it’s wake seems to be working it’s magic on Debbie.

She doesn’t snap as often as she did. She doesn’t even mind waiting for me whenever I return back from the field. She doesnt fidget as much as she did whenever we sit during the evenings when the sun begins it’s currelean swan dive – she just calm. In the moment. Like a lotus floating in a mirror lake….that is really plantation living./span>

City living on the other hand isn’t that kind and gentle to the human condition – as at some point even the best of us will trip and fall on the supersonic treadmill of faster, fastener, fasterest. Could be the idea of omnipresent work. The variety that we mull over even when we are supposed to spend quality time wirh our most precious and loved. The pressure never ever leaves us. Not even on a lazy Sunday afternoon….then there are deadlines, or the rocket science details of tying up a loose end on a deal, too many of us spend too much time running without ever once pressing the pause button – to think, where are we going? What kinda price are we paying for this ‘dolce vita?’ COMING TO THINK OF IT, I DON’T REMEMBER SIGNING UP FOR THIS DEAL!.

Soon this becomes the only way we know how to live – where we even expect life to be stressful, unrewarding and most importantly served up fast – but the net result is hardly a better world – as our expectations for fast, efficient and if possible supersonic is so often the source of the wheel of human misery.

<span style="color:#000000;How right. Speed kills. Most of us don't even read slowly and deeply anymore. We just scan. Speed read. We have to develop those life skills in speedy Gonzalez land. As a result very few of us can still our minds to bear out patiently the beauty of prose – and since we are regularly on a diet of sound and nano bites – most of us don't really have deep understandings of things that really matter in the great adventure called life – we know that Samsung is better than Apple. We even know, we are going to get one. But we don't really know or haven't really asked ourselves whether such gizmos add or subtract from the whole quality of life – most of us will miss out on the nuanced textures of life.

Yesterday when we were both in the city. I saw a boy nod his head at a tree. Debbie thought it was strange – she said, there was something odd about the boy. She was not alone. So were most people who saw this all from the cafe – the boy of the mother and the maid looked embarrassed. The boy has done this before I reckon. Debbie saw me walk up to the mother and after a while, an expression of calm swept over the face of this woman – the mother understood why her son always stops at this very spot and nod his head again and again – he's counting the leaves.

It's a vampire thing. I just know about these things the – I knownthem very well. As I don't see the world like most people. I always see it slightly differently.

Speed means the simple pleasures of daily life, a conversation with a stranger, stilling the mind to notice, the subtle changes in the skyline and how the light plays on the nooks of buildings, the quiet beauty of a weekend morning, the deeply edifying sense of accomplishment that can only come when we dedicate ourselves to a task carefully and slowly…….slow food, the type where you never use a blender. It's all done the slow boat way……so slow that even watching grass grow as Debbie once remarked can be such fun – sitting on a park bench and just watching the birds. 

In these last three weeks – I have been subtely trying to share this aspect of life with Debbie – the wisdom of slowing down. My reasons are simple – if we keep disregarding that little voice in our head that is telling us to slow down – we may succumb to the myriad of health conditions that are a result of leading fast, stressful lives. The biological costs of ignoring stress are staggering, manifesting in cardiovascular and other systemic diseases and even, new research shows, in accelerated aging. The psychological costs are equally large with anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other emotional illnesses associated with unmanaged stress.

We need to dedicate ourselves to be mindful of the side effects of leading a life that is too fast. This is the answer. Only then can we develop a wise and sustainable relationship with speed. Mindful living is a way of life that urges people to discover wisdom in the Tao of the snail. The slower the better……

Watching Debbie in these last three weeks as she takes it all in reminds me that I must be more patient with her. I really just have a few concerns – I don’t want complications – and I am always getting myself into all sorts of complications.

Even then I tell myself to take it all calmly and slowly….the slower the better…..there is no rush in the world for her to make up her mind.

 Darkness 2013


“When I was a salary man many moons ago in Singapore. I never worked more than 8 hours a day. Mind you there were many people who put in a 10 and even 12 hour day. But not me. One day my supervisor told me that if I didn’t stay back, then it would affect my promotion. Eventually, I told him that was fine with that idea. Besides I working hard on materializing Plan B – this job was just to get there, it was a means to an end. My real job came after work, where I like to watch the birds and trees with Missy Dotty.

However my boss still very Bo kum buan (not satisfied lah). So one day he sat me down to talk to me about high performance and cultivating a competitive attitude – I am not sure how the conversation took the turn that it took. But eventually we started talking about our families – that was when I told him that if he busted his ass every evening instead of heading home – then it was only a matter of time before his wife will go off with another man. My supervisor was quite flabbergasted by my off the cuff comment – he even when on to impress upon me that both he and his wife had a solid relationship based on mutual trust and respect. He even said that I was talking rot. I didn’t know his wife and I should mind my place – I looked at him impassively.

Two weeks later when he went back home early for reasons known only to himself, he saw me sitting down with his wife in the kitchen enjoying a bowl of Lotus root chicken Pao sum soup (which gentlemen I highly before closed encounters of the dangerous kind)- my supervisor was very surprised and shocked…you could even say it must have been a turning point in his life…it was all written on his face as he looked at his wife and me…again and again….his smoking….going through the possibilities. I lit cigarette… I offered him some soup, his wife insisted that I should finish it. She wasn’t coy about it. Through that desolate wasteland of time where every must have cut like a knife. I looked at this man very deeply and calmly like a very loving father before a sobbing child…I could tell he was not comfortable that I had visited his wife without informing him…but what could I do – what choice did he leave me?

Besides this is really my perculiar way of conveying to him, life is indeed filled with countless vagaries and caprice and the odd barbed repartee – surely this would lead any man in his position to seek a answer to the philosophical question: there has to be much more to life than just work, work and work. I told not in words, but through my obvious intimacy with his wife – work is and will always be simply a means to an end. Nothing more or less. And he should never confuse it as an end. Perhaps it would be a good opportunity to reconsider his unreasnable position of not promoting me simply because of my personal policy not to work beyond the eight hours specified by the terms of employment?

As it turned out – he proved most civilized, accomodating and congenial about the whole business.

After that day, my supervisor never stayed back after 5 any longer – everytime I packed my stuff at half past four to prepare to meet Dotty before the evening closed like a hand over the city – he would beat me to the door….he would always ask in the lift, “where are you off too?” I would always smile cryptically….Yes, that is understandable. How so often live acquires a clearer perspective after we have managed to correctly prioritize what is and is not important in life. I understand –  believe me.

Either that or there is a moral to the story somewhere………But one thing is very clear to me. Had I not done what I did – then I firmly believe my supervisor would probably end up poor, lonely, riven with diseases, wifeless and no would ever want to fuck him – or I would probably be bullied to stay back every day till eleven like the rest of those monkeys who are trained to pick coconuts, in which case I would never have ventured into business as I have my nose to grind wheel all the time. A lot of opportunities would have gone poof! I wouldn’t have been able to research for Plan B. 

Till today, I have absolutely no doubt that I not only improved his health dramatically, but I may also have saved his marriage and given him a new perspective in getting his priorities in life right….the only reason why I say this is because he promoted me every single year despite not staying back and maxing out on all my medical leave.

I reckon he must have been very thankful….so very thankful indeed for this life lesson that I have shared with him – when I left the company and told him that I wanted to start my own business and seek my fortune abroad – for a moment, he looked like the world’s happiest boss.

It is so nice to have a considerate and understanding boss. I am a firm believer in the idea that it’s incumbent on every employee to bring out the very best out of his boss.

Don’t you think so?”

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