House rules

July 9, 2015

When in Rome, whenever possible, do as the Romans do. But should you prefer not to do what the Romans do for whatever reason. Then at least you should take the trouble to seek to understand why they think and do the things they do. If for whatever reason you are unable or unwilling to do that. Then you have the free will not to go to Rome.

Only remember wherever you choose to go thereafter, it will not be so different from Rome….as every other city will also have their house rules.

Always seek to understand.


‘In my kampung there is a mixed rice shop run by an elderly couple. It is quite a peculiar shop. As from time to time, when patrons don’t finish their food for whatever reason, it’s not unusual for the elderly proprietor to rebuke them for wasting food.

This shop is located nearby a school and it’s well frequented by many of the young teachers who are particularly fond of the delicious Pork knuckle that is usually served every alternate Tuesday.

One day a huge fight broke out between the proprietor and this large group of school teachers. The dispute concerned unfinished food, to which the latter shouted out ‘Hello, we paid for this food, so what we choose to do with it, is none of your business!’ To which the elderly couple interjected, ‘please don’t come here any longer…we do not want to serve wasteful people.’

Thereafter the irate school teachers proceeded to boycott the old couples shop in earnest. They even put up a banner outside the school, ‘freedom to eat democratically!’ While the old couple retaliated with a banner which invoked Buddhist strictures, ‘it is a great sin to be wasteful!’

The impasse divided the kampung right down the middle. And despite numerous attempts by the Chinese chamber of commerce and Buddhisht Moral association to mediate between these two factions – no resolution was ever reached.

One day the elders of the village suggested seeking the assistance of the man who lived on the hill to act as a mediator to resolve the freedom for food impasse. The man was after all eminently well educated man who was often consulted whenever the school teachers had difficulty understanding their work. He was also well acquainted with the customs of turning the wheel of life in the Kampung, as he belonged to the aristocracy of the land owning classes.

After the elders of the village had consulted the man – a lunch invitation was extended to the militant school teachers. They were all asked to skip breakfast as the lunch promised to be memorable to which the school teachers all agreed.

On the date of the luncheon when the school teachers arrived by chartered bus to the landowners house on the hill – to their surprise they found lunch was not even prepared. Some of them even openly complained they were very hungry as they had complied with the landowners instructions to skip breakfast to fully enjoy the luncheon he had promised them.

When the schoolteachers turned to the landowner to ask what is the meaning of this – the man merely pleaded with them to bear him out as he began to recount a history lesson on how difficult life had been for those who had lived thru the Japanese occupation during WW2. He went on to mention – food was so scarce then that many were reduced to eking out a miserable subsistence existence comprising mainly of tapioca and yam gruel. The man went on to mention the suffering was so intense, often it would leave a permanent scar on those who went thru it and the only way to understand this was thru the feeling of suffering specifically hunger which he had deliberately arranged for them to feel now…as when one is able to be part of that moment of suffering, even for a very brief period…then one will certainly understand why some people hold on firmly to their beliefs even if they seem unreasonable and irrational.*

Thereafter none of the schoolteachers dared to complain they were hungry any longer. Neither did they waste food any longer whenever they ate in the old couples shop – as thru their suffering of experiencing hunger pangs, even if they could not quite agree with the quirky ways of this old couple…at least, they could understand and even respect such views. As for the elderly couple, they too were advised by the man who lived on the hill to always remember before scolding others – not everyone has gone thru the Japanese occupation. So it is not reasonable to expect everyone to understand and appreciate the things they do.

Soon peace and harmony would reign again in the tiny farming hamlet.’

*Often it is very difficult and even impossible to convey to the younger generation, WHY the older generation appear to be so guarded about race and religion. I am not saying they are necessarily right or even justified to be paranoid about racial, sectarian and religious schism – not at all. All I am saying is I understand.

‘I understand.’ In this unusual case requires a bit of qualification. As it denotes that I don’t have a presentist attitude when I talk about this subject. I am aware it has a dark history. And it is this awareness that translates into deeper understanding.

Because if I went thru that dark and tumultuous period of racial and political strife that once occurred and experienced first hand the horror of how brother turned brother – how in one blink of the eye, the world was turned upside down! Then in all probability, it’s conceivable I too would be similarly guarded about the subject of race and religion.

Do you see how in this case mere understanding is not nearly enough to understand. One would have to experience it vicariously with the power of imagination.

The problem as I see it is since there remains a very serious blank space in our history concerning this pricky subject. Because it is a taboo subject, it’s seldom ever discussed openly or even factually. Hence many of the young cannot experiencing it – so I happen to have quite a lot of sympathy for the youths of today when they choose to adopt a presentist attitude towards race and religion – nor do they know of the horror when things go wrong either. To them it will always be somewhat of an abstraction. So when you speak to them about race and religion in the context of preserving the peace, it’s really like talking about the subject of snakes in Norway. The bloody thing doesn’t exist in their psyche at all. They don’t have any terms of reference to appreciate what is at stake, let alone string out a coherent train of thoughts. Hence! They seem to be more interested in forwarding the idea of freedom of speech. This I can understand as well – and I don’t think it’s necessarily their fault either when they don’t understand.

After all how can they possibly understand when those who know choose to keep quiet? There lies the paradox along with the tragedy between those who know and those who don’t.’

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