Three hundred and twenty two days….beyond that everything begins to degrade.

No! Please understand, it’s not a matter of sagacity one has in reserve or even will power and least of all mental strength.

The human mind is simply not designed to go beyond three hundred and twenty two days alone, not without running the risk of decaying mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Three hundred and twenty two days!
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‘After 200 days you will not only be inclined to talk regularly to your dogs. But under the right conditions. You may also find yourself engaged in a deep spirited debate with it – on where do canines go when they die….but don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal. Don’t beat yourself up. It’s just your mind’s way of coping with desolation and being alone….that’s perfectly natural.

After 200 days just the mere act of living will demand every molecule of your will power deserving nothing short of the pour le merite. By this time paranoia, insomnia and hallucinations will be quite normal. Understand this! It is not a question of character nor will power – as under those extreme circumstances the mind will begin to turn against itself and begin the process of devouring all sense and sensibilities.

Beyond two hundred days without the benefit of training and experience….in my studied opinion the expedition is lost.’

Reason & Intuition

September 10, 2016

Last week I was hastily informed the millers had convened an emergency meeting which required my presence. Naturally the organizers were informed I would attend. The agenda of the meet seemed benign enough….price negotiations.

On the date when I was supposed to attend….I cooked up some excuse on the eleventh hour stating that I had to attend to some other urgent business and it’s regrettable that I am unable to be present.

I sensed a trap. I need to stretch out the negotiations to beyond September possibly even November. I need to buy for more time. Above all I need to transform time into a wonder weapon.

I was proven right two days thereafter.

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‘Every man is born with three brains. The first is the one that is located between his ears. The second is his dick and finally his gut. I don’t want to talk about the second brain as it’s capacity to think independently and even overpower the primary brain is already a well documented subject…. suffice to say, it certainly has a mind of it’s own.

The gut is a sort of primitive brain as well. That is to say while it has sufficient brain cells to sense danger and perhaps even opportunity. It lacks enough of it to supply an explanation as to how or why it derive at a conclusion….so it is a bit like the magic sitar….it can only tell the truth, but it cannot tell you why – so next time when you have a gut feel about something or someone…you better believe it!

As that’s your inner voice speaking to you.

Reason however is like a bulldozer – reasoning is an act of will to fathom the unknown by attempting to arrange facts in an understandable manner thru the act of constructing a coherent picture.

It all looks very studied and intelligent and methodical.

With intuition it is always messy. As one does not start at the outer edges in the way one begins to put together a jig saw puzzle. Rather there is no discernable pattern, symmetry or even method to speak of – only a rough feel of how things may pan out. This is why so many people remain so uncomfortable and suspicious about relying on their gut feel. As one large part of it FIRST requires one to surrender the thinking mind….it is the act of giving in to unknown that we usually experience difficult coming to terms with. Men have a very very big hang up. Women in my experience are quite neutral and in some cases they are perfectly comfortable with switching off their brain completely…that is why when it comes to people…women usually make better decisions than men!

For me the case is very clear…for man to gainfully survive and thrive in the wild, he must learn to tune inwards and trust his inner voice – it’s very normal to rely on intuition rather than reasoning to get by in the wild.

As when one intuits, it is possible to penetrate the unknowable, only one must also learn to accept that to explain it is usually impossible….this is the part that most people have trouble coping….they must know. If they don’t know. They don’t believe!

With reason however, it is not only possible to beacon out the murk but to also supply an explanation….and there lies the danger.’

On Maturity

September 9, 2016

The strangest thing about money is when one has none or very little of it – one is always looking at everything in the world with hungry eyes of yearning and desire. But once one comes to money and eventually learns to be comfortable with it. Suddenly all the sense of yearning and desires that one was afflicted with in the past disappears completely….it’s as if one has magically been transported to another realm where one is always asking, ‘what’s the big deal…it’s after all such a bloody anti climax!’

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‘It’s much easier I imagine to go through life by relying on someone else than to complete yourself.

That is why most people prefer to work for others rather than start their own enterprise. It’s really much easier to show up at the office and not bother about who bought the furniture and provisioned the paper clips etc etc. That attitude also accounts for why so many people seem to suffer unnecessarily from a morbid fear of doing things all by themselves. They’re always investing all of themselves in others and trying to seek safety in numbers…of course, they couch it in terms of friendship and company etc etc. But in reality, this clingy attitude is just a way of masking their real fear of loneliness…that I imagine is very natural.

Man after all has been conditioned to be a social animal….and in all honesty, it takes considerable effort to break away from that mindless gyre.

Neither can most people bear the idea of being independent either. Once again they may all insist they’re independent but a deeper examination prompts the question – how can they be! When so much of their existence is premised on interdependence along with seeking the child like validation, approval and respect of others – the idea of independence must really be a distant and unknown country to modern man.

As there is no doubt whatsoever in my mind. For one to strive to be alone and even comfortable with that idea requires a certain degree of mental discipline and rigor to first accept oneself….I wouldn’t go so far as to call it confidence. No! That is not the right word to describe this attitude. Rather it’s closer to the idea of maturity where one is prepared to assume total responsibility for one’s destiny.

It’s a completely different way of seeing oneself in relation to the world – where one might perhaps carve from the raw material of loneliness itself, the idea of freedom to lead and plan one’s life.

Yes, from time to time. It is still certainly frightening (to me at least) when the person who decides to live independently realizes when he shouts out the question in the dark, whose there? And when no answer of any kind emerges from darkness ….this man might well be the most desolate human in this planet. But soon this forlorn feeling of estrangement passes, as a voice inside answers, ‘it is only I’

To be able to hear this inner voice is the moment – when the man child dies and the mature man is born ….As he has begun the journey to self discovery.’

My business rivals are all clueless as to what’s my next move. Since I have been throwing out so many false leads and disinformation galore it’s virtually impossible for anyone to fathom my next move…..this has not only created tension, anxiety and nervousness. But it has also created very fertile conditions for all sorts of wild rumors to take hold.

Recently my business rivals sent a group of businessmen to find out more about my designs. During the meeting, many statements were deliberately made to gauge my reaction. On every single occasion, there was hardly or no discernible reaction on my part.

On the rare occasions when I was either pressed to comment or respond…all I could ever manage was….how interesting.

During the meeting I could tell when they all realized they were making very little head way to beacon out the murk…they were all very frustrated.

That is good…very good. Of course….I will have to wait a while longer for the confusion and anxiety to heighten further. When the time is right. I will strike like a cobra…again that is.

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‘When you’re outnumbered and surrounded from all sides. It pays dividends to assume the demeanor of a man of very words and even inactions. As when one just remain still…one is like a mountain.

The mountain does not move. But that does not necessarily translate into weakness. As that which does not move is a constraint that ALL others have to work their way around – like going around a mountain – and when one assumes this strategy it is the highest acme of the art of war. When one takes to the Dao of the mountain – you are not putting yourself into situations where things might get complicated and confrontational simply because you do not move, and when you are known for being quiet it’s quite impossible for your business rivals to read your designs accurately….so you can only leverage on steatlhiness and this will give you the ace card of surprise.

Masking one’s motivation and goal is jugular in business. If one is not able to do this….one will be an open book and can only be vulnerable and powerless.

Never let anyone know what is in your mind…..never. Always be a man of very few words.’

A puppy called ‘Highway’

September 8, 2016

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I found her standing listlessly beside her mother who was run over and very dead on the highway. I decided to adopt her and brought her back to my plantation.

She was guarded at first. But soon she was running around the vast grounds with the rest of the dogs.

I may not be able to save all the dogs of this world….but this one I can step into her life and make it better and happier.

Her name is ‘Highway.’

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‘A man…any man for the matter. Doesn’t matter what the degree of is iron clad character or moral rectitude can very easily descend to the depths of hell in the wild.

Yes…the jungle has a very unusual way of whirling itself into a maroon skull of a man…I imagine – I’ve seen decent and reasonable men tear at each other’s throats over half bar of chocolate…stared into the very darkness of man….it is truly a frightening sight.

Before the mighty jungle man always believes he can hold his own….in the beginning at least.

As the expedition trudges along…the jungle nibbles away at him and just around the time when man begins to grow weary of niffty tricks like how to wear his underwear four days in a row with just one wash by using all sides including turning it inside out. When machines give way to walking, shoelaces rot, clothes disintegrate and bad food and dysentery ravages his once healthy flesh turning him into someone who he rather not look at the mirror. That is just around the time when his mind will cave right in – finally the whimpering soul realizes how so very small he is in the greater scheme of things….how utterly insignificant he is and above all how crumbly his hold is on the very idea of humanity and remaining gainfully human.

During one moment in the failed Suriman expedition – one poignant scene stood out from all others. It was just around the time when no one asked any longer when was the next airdrop. Our batteries had long given out – when the violin played in the wild. The score was so haunting and stood out starkly from the barrenness of the litany of green that seemed to go on and on forever like a solitary tongue of light…suddenly we all remembered who we all were. Even more forceful was the idea of how it had the power to deliver us all back from the depths of unimaginable hell to the finality of the realization…we were all still men despite the hardships of our travails and not animals.

That if you must know is how delicate and crumbly our idea of humanity and remaining gainfully human can and will always be….if humanity is not nourished…it will die…if only more people know of this simple truism. I believe they will be kinder to themselves and others. The world I am sure will be a better and kinder place.’

Who is the stronger man?

September 6, 2016

Today I was asked my a group of villagers to act as a magistrate. Since I was in the field a makeshift court was hastily convened underneath a tree. The proceedings were conducted ex parte – only the man who punched the another man was there to present his case. The man who threw the punch exclaimed, he deserves it.

I asked of this man…did the other man draw his side arm (I assumed he was carrying a parang as it’s very common to do so when one is in the field) after the punch was thrown. The man replied ‘no.’ Someone in the crowd asked, ‘what has that got to do with it…he deserved what he got.’ I told that man in the crowd to stand out and explained to him, the fact the man who was punched did not draw his weapon could only mean two things. Firstly, he is afraid and does not want to make his lot worse. Alternatively, he is a man of restraint and harbors no malice.

I then asked was a police report made thereafter. Again the man answered ‘no.’ To which I concluded the same again…only this time, I went on to add – the man who was punched must have accepted some measure of culpability for this dispute…that is why he did not go to the police. But even if he is out of line, it is very wrong to resort to violence. There can be no excuse for this. This cannot be condoned.

With those words, I threw a stave on the ground and told the man before me to go and apologize to this other man that very day before the sun goes down.

Go now! I told him, make up in the spirit of brotherhood when his heart is still soft. As if you leave it to tomorrow, his heart would have hardened by then like stone and soon you will be like two strangers staring a each other with daggers from two distant mountains.

Do not delay go now!

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“Maturity, one eventually discovers, has everything to do with the open hearted acceptance of one’s acts and omissions. At one level of maturity this can be interpreted as taking responsibility for one’s actions. At an even higher level, it is simply the wisdom to know what is right from wrong and having the manliness to do what needs doing.

When a man is attuned to what is right and wrong – only then can he be truly considered mature. As that is when he is perfectly aligned with correctness of conduct and speech.

Men who live in self made lies are the opposite of mature – as since they confect all sorts of ‘clever’ lies to avoid taking responsibility for their actions are no better than children who start fires only to pretend to sleep while the house burns down.”

On Ignorance

September 6, 2016

A great deal of effort and intelligence can be invested in ignorance when there is a need (real or imagined) to preserve the status quo.

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‘What people do not really know and only think they know. Usually they hold on more stubbornly than the truth itself – in reality they are not interested in the truth. Or maybe the truth is a liability to them hence they are least interested in collaborating information to derive at an accurate conclusion. As since so much of their identity, self worth and ego has already been invested in their manufactured lies – they have to support it even if it means going down with the ship.

When a man understands this….he will know when to bow out gracefully. If he doesn’t know of this…he will dedicate all of himself in an act of futility to attempt to bring light to the ignorance.

Truth is very cruel and brutal. As no man can actually cure another of ignorance. All they can really hope to accomplish is to demonstrate their version of the truth….only the ignorant mind itself can cure itself….but if it is unwilling, there is nothing one can and should do.’

The very dark side

September 5, 2016

‘I never talk about it. Never. I should, I reckon, get it off my chest that is. But for some inexplicable reason…I keep it secreted from the world.

I always know how it’s going to start. Usually, with the belief it will be different this year. But as the days creep imperceptibly towards June and the air begins to be hollowed out – he steps right out of my skin.

It’s easy when one goes out to look for trouble. You see I am always in control. Or shall I say he is. But I can’t stop him. Not even when I have the power to walk right out of the door. Not even when I am slowly wrapping thin strips of rubber to turn my fist into a club just before one of those fights where men are all laying bets on whose going to be left standing when it’s all done.

He’s not afraid what happens to him in the ring. He doesn’t even care. It’s as he’s steered me here thru out the whole evening and I am only there for the ride, this is all he ever wanted out of the night. To fight. As for the rest, or what comes thereafter – he just don’t care.

I take a look at the mirror just before I step out – I say to myself, stop this! But there’s always a louder voice that tells me – this how it will go down to tonite and you are powerless to stop it.

He steps right into the ring. There is a swagger about him. Someone offers him whisky. He takes a swig and kisses a girl with big tits for la effect. It works. The crowd is in a frenzy.

It’s a human ring formed by men who would either make the circle bigger or smaller depending on how the fight goes – when the boxers get hit and fall back, they get pushed back into the fight. No rules here. No count downs even. No referee. Just the brutality of whose left standing when it all over. That’s the way it is in kampung rumbles. That’s the way he prefers it.

The sound is deafening by now – the crowd is laying down bets fast and furious. He does a Mohammad Ali jig, two jabs, left…left…right followed with a lightning upper cut and caps it off with a pirouette with both hands held up high. It drives the kampung crowd wild. Someone smears Vaseline mixed with Tiger Balm over his forehead, it cuts the pain. Another oils me him down with coconut oil and the bell rings.

Then it begins…..

Somewhere in this choreography of screaming men and women, spit, blood and sweat suddenly the world slows right down to a crawl – I can see myself in the ring shadow boxing. I shout out, ‘stop! Please stop! I am afraid. I want to go back home now!’ But it’s only a whimper somewhere in my head. As I watch in horror as this monster tears right in with teeth gnashing when it begins. He takes a couple of hits, but he’s to deep in the gyre to feel a thing – ‘stop! I beg you please stop! But it just goes right on like some terrible nightmare. The crowd is going wild…the lights of the lorries…a girl flashes her tits…a smiling man with a row of gold teeth…he’s covered in blood. His eyes are all swollen. But I can just make out that he’s relishing every moment of it, as he flashes me a crazed look of a tortured soul.

Please stop!….please. I am afraid. Please I beg of you. Please stop now and let’s go home together. Please. I am afraid. Stop. Please stop….I just want this nightmare to stop.’

If you tell most Singaporeans we may all have to learn to live with Zika – they will shout out – you siaow alredi ah!

I guess that sort of response is quite understandable and even natural. As since Zika is new to most Singaporeans….that is really how they can only be expected to respond.

But what the general public do not seem to understand is like ebola or even the bubonic plague, Zika is not an Andromeda strain. That’s to say it’s not a new mosquito borne plague, it has a long entrenched history in Africa especially along the mid band latitudinal interior stretching across Mozambique to Uganda and right along the West African coast line of Sierra Leone to Guinea Baso. Over there Zika is as common as malaria.

I am not try to scare anyone. I am just thinking aloud. But for me while this infestation is still at it’s infancy every attempt to should be made to eradicate it before it establishes a beachhead in Singapore. As once Zika is embedded it’s like copper sulphate, it is very difficult if not impossible to eradicate.

Currently the authorities in Singapore are doing whatever they can…but at some point in their calculations. They have to consider aerial spraying of Naled….if the situation gets worse.

To me all this attempts to eradicate mosquitoes by using hand held equipment is not effective. It’s very labor intensive and it’s coverage is very limited.

What is required is specialized aircraft that is able to spray a grid footprint in a systematic manner to knock out this virus. To me the decision is cold and rational.

Many decisions makers will dilly dally on this. As they are likely to weigh public concern etc etc – as it certainly comes across as overkill….but for me, there is no other way.

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‘People who say Zika will not change the way Singaporeans work, live and play are not realistic. As it is a very scary disease to not only for pregnant women, but to all – to exacerbate matters Singapore already has one of the lowest total fertility rates in the world….so this will only bump up the cost and risk associated with child rearing….so it doesn’t pay for one to whistle in the dark and take this matter lightly.

But even if you are a man and you come down with Zika, it may not be life threatening. As in some cases it’s effects are mild and one may not even be aware that one is infected, but nonetheless, one becomes a carrier and it can certainly be a health inconvenience that you would rather live without.

In the short term. I don’t a see magic bullet to eradicate mosquitoes. There are many niffty solutions in the pipeline ranging from GM mosquitoes that can interfere with the life cycle of the Aedes to lasers that can zap mosquitoes like Star Wars….but all these are still a very long way away from fruition.

What is immediately real and present is the threat of Zika and how it might even be a perennial seasonal threat. If it escalates to that level – then our way of life will go thru a radical change. Already it is going thru a change….parks which were once filled are now empty….some food courts have been transformed into ghost towns and many people are preferring to stay in hermetically sealed malls.

So how can these people say there will be no effect or impact? That is not realistic.

It is conceivable if Zika becomes a perennial seasonal threat. Many things will change….architecture will go thru a radical change. Inaccessible gutters will be done away with. Building regulators will scrutinize new building designs to mitigate mosquito breeding spots. Parks will have to redesigned to prioritize drainage etc etc.

The problem is even if all that can be accomplished with the highest degree of quality in Singapore…..by that time, it will be too late as it will find it’s way up north and when it’s there…it will be a way of life.’

Many people consider me quite a stupid person in the palm oil world. As I have a tendency to do things without the expectation of being paid.

I can understand. I really can…as to why so many of my peers think I am stupid. As I do go to extraordinary lengths. On one occasion I journeyed by river boat thru croc infested rivers for three days to survey a mangrove stretch just to compile a pre consultation report. On another I trekked and stayed in the jungle for twelve straight days during the height of the monsoon and it really goes on and on.

On every single occasion, I never brought up the issue of my fee preferring to keep that subject at the back burner. All I really wanted to do was to understand the challenges of what that potential customer was encountering better than anyone else.

As to me it makes perfect sense to put the upmost effort and dedicating to scale, assess and diagnose the problems of the customer before one can even begin to talk competently about the subject.

As EVERYTIME when I do go the extra mile for the customer even if it has to come out directly from my own pocket. Although I do incur a loss in the short term in terms of capital, time and opportunity cost.

But in the long term when I am in a conference room back at HQ in my killer Zegna suit, J M Weston’s with my hair slicked right back….they (the customer) know…they all know… I know the seriousness of their problem better than anyone else can possibly know….and that includes them and there’s absolutely no shadow of doubt that the person standing before them is someone dead serious whose best qualified to nail their problem in one shot!

As for my competitors they have absolutely no idea what’s happened….they never do….as I lead them to believe…I am stupid.

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‘Knowledge may well be power. But having the knowledge to transform it into power is not something many people know. All they seem to really know is must how to roll out that cliche like a robot. Some especially the stupid think all they have to do is go around and behave like a cheap opportunist and viola money will come their way all the time!

I have no idea where these riff raff’s cobbled together their life hacks of business and to be frank with you – I don’t want to know. As in my opinion, these category of businessmen will go no where in life. I am not saying they will not be able to make something out of their lives. I am sure they will but because their formulae sorely lacks the essential element of sustainability – it’s simply not going to last.

If you want to succeed in business….sustainably…reliably and consistently.

They are no shortcuts and there is really ONLY one way. You have internalize the concept – it all boils down to trust and very little else. Specifically competence trust which basically means everyone in that conference room must be 100% convinced – you’re the man for the job.

But if you never ever invested one moment of your time to scale nor understand the nature of the problem your potential customer is facing – then how can speak with conviction…what do you mean, you’re going to throw out a business card and trade on the marque of what you MAY be able to offer? Or rather what you think they think you can offer?

No it doesn’t work that way and even if it did….you can possibly compete against the man whose being there and seen it.

To do this very well and money will come naturally.

Above all cultivate a long term view of how things would pan out. Try to see it in an agricultural sense, if you want to enjoy sweet fruits at retail. Then you’ve got to learn how to plant a sappling, tend to it and make sure you go on doing the right things day in and day out to ensure it’s growing well…aren’t you incurring cost and down time along with losing out on opportunity cost?

Of course you are. In the short term at least. But in the long term once that fruit tree blooms, you’re good to go for as long as it continues to yield.

That’s really how I see business…it’s all about the long term and never the hit and run.’

Alone but never truly alone

September 4, 2016

I wouldn’t categorically go as far as to say I don’t believe in the existence of ghost and spirits. Neither do I disbelief in the existence of ghost and spirit either…not with anything resembling conviction at least.

Truth is there have been many moments in my life when a door has just suddenly opened when there was none to even get a handle on. And even should all the doors be shut tightly…a open window always presents itself just in the nick of time…when I reflect back. It can’t all be just summed up in terms of luck, coincidence or good fortune.

There has to be something more to do this….I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s out there.

There is definitely someone or something looking after me…I may appear as if I am alone most of the time….but I am not.

I may not be certain about whether ghost or spirits exist. But I am very certain about not being alone even when I seem to be.

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The Shepherd relates the story of a De Havilland Vampire pilot, going home on Christmas Eve 1957, whose aircraft suffers a complete electrical failure en route from northern Germany to RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk. Lost in fog and low on fuel, he is met and led (or shepherded) to a disused RAF dispersal field by the pilot of a De Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber of World War II vintage, who has apparently been sent up to shepherd him in from the cold.

His attempts to find a rational explanation for his eventual rescue prove as troublesome as his experience. However, some time after he lands at RAF Minton – he learns the awful truth about the shepherd…

Shit hits the fan

September 2, 2016

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It was raining very heavily when my car suddenly skidded off the dirt road and nearly went over a cliff edge….I didn’t move for a whole five minutes thereafter. Except maybe light a cigarette and puff away. Eventually I got to shifting everything in the car very very slowly to one side, took me nearly two hours to counter weight it from tipping over and climbed out thru the window.

That was close….

Tomorrow I will get someone to yank me out.

Another boring day at the office.

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In the 60’s and early 70’s when Nixon regularly dressed like a used car salesman. LKY looked like a ice cream promoter…buy one can get one free some more. Kissinger definitely came across like a cheap undertaker peddling budget caskets. Khrushchev was the man who suffered from a seriously confused wardrobe. One moment he looked like a circus ringmaster. The next a mambo band leader. As for Mao. He was content to amble around the world stage in pajamas.

During this period when so many world leaders were going around wearing lamp shades and curtains over their heads along with inflicting pain on so many people. The Shah of Iran was the undisputed sartorial king or kings. He could always be counted to provide deep and spirited relief and hope to so many that the world was still a sane place ruled by leaders who were always respectful to people and institutions by always putting his best foot forward.

The late Shah of Iran was perhaps the first world leader who first weaponized on the power of elegance as a strategic pivot to propel his country into the world stage….the world had never seen anything like him since then.

Today a grave omission we regularly commit is to take power dressing for granted…but it’s only when we familiarize ourselves with the various decisive turning points in world history that we are able to understand – why successful leaders go thru the trouble of dressing well to enable them to put their best foot forward.

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‘Whether you want to land that dream job, get that girl or weasel your way out of a cancer of the wallet lawsuit, or start a worldwide cult, the way you dress and present yourself to your audience will ALWAYS play a disproportionately major role.

I don’t want to mention names. As I genuinely want to make an effort to be polite this morning…but we all know who are the people who regularly let us all down…we all know! Don’t we?

It’s not as if it happens occasionally…it’s every single time. These saboteurs constantly make a fool of themselves and US!, by wearing suits from places where clothes go to die. They wear shirts that looked as if they’r baked and ties that cause people migraine attacks…time and time they do this to all of us.

It’s not as if they lack money…not at all, they don’t mind spending ten thousand bucks on a Lord of the Rings plastic helmet or limited edition elf sword. But when it comes to their wardrobe…they can’t even wear a matching pair of socks for a high powered meeting.

If their dressing habits are benign…I don’t mind at all. But time and again, we have to send a rescue team to fix their mess!

I give up lah! From today onwards. Do what makes you happy lah!

As many of you know. I have taken a vow to renounce my evil ways…so I don’t want to ever go down that road again…please from now onwards please do whatever you all like to do!

You all see that door! I am walking right thru it.

Only understand this! You may not like this reality. You may even harbor the believe you can negotiate around it like how you tell others – you much prefer broccoli to cauliflower…Only remember this: those who succeed are not those who complain about “the way it is” or “the way it should be.” They’re the ones who accept the world for what it is and use their understanding of that reality to their advantage.’

This morning a Tamil boy told everyone in the village, he saw elephants by the riverbank. His mother told him to shut up. So did his father. I bent down and asked the boy calmly to take me where he had seen the elephants. It was by the riverbank at the edge of my lands.

There were elephant tracks and droppings….the boy was not fibbing.

Elephants have not been seen in these parts for nearly twenty over years. They must have journeyed across the mountains ridges to the East….but why have they undertaken the treacherous journey to come all the way here….they must sense something amiss.

Today we had eight inches of rain in less than a hour. At one point the winds picked up to at least 50 knots. She blew dead straight from the east…not even a single degree deviation North or South. As if she was telling me, ‘there’s plenty more where that came from.’ Like a cleaver. Right down the middle…bang!

I know this rain. I’ve seen her before.

There’s no winning with that crazy woman. Either way it’s lose lose when she starts throwing plates. Even if you have everything superglued and tied down it’s no bloody use. The question is whether you have the stomach to lose big or small that’s as good as it gets and the best one can ever hope for is once she had her fill, she will spit you out to the side like pea, that’s if you’re very lucky…the super rains have finally arrived.

I have been preparing two years for this…it’s finally show time!

Days before the skies of the desert turn ochre red. Window frames warp, doors creak, floorboards begin to curl at their edges, nails begin to loosen and catch against flesh, wooden spoons split, lips crack and when it seems as if one is content to only breathing in flaming needles. That’s just around the time, when the indigo people of the desert would stand in one long line and look northwards – they don’t say anything. They don’t move very much. Like birds gathered on a line in a frosty September morn. They just look on knowingly into the yonder….then slowly the winds begin to pick up and the skies begins to darken a tobacco brown…..the harmattan.

For days thereafter the winds howl incessantly like a widow mourning her secret loss. City folk scurry beneath the eaves of protesting flapping wind swept corrugated awnings covering their faces. From time to time they pause, look up searchingly to make up whether the sun is still there or might it too be swallowed whole by it’s violent approach from the North. A wind once considered so evil that a mad Sultan declared Jihad against it and marched out into the swirling desert to meet it with war elephants and a column of pike men in full armor only to perish. The red wind the sailors in Coite de Noire know as the sea of blood. The ever wandering Beduins call the kinsam, 50. As it last 50 days which they all greet with two rents from their antique Lee Enfield rifles with the salutations, ‘Allah wakbar’ – as it billows it’s last dying whispering hush across the sea of Guinea. Soon a few gusts of air and a thin rain presages the final approach of the…..the harmattan. Now mystery is furiously at work in the preamble of the twilight, the sands swirling and fingering into every nook and cranny, appearing as if by magic to cling to the secreted, spoiling well oiled machinery, mucking clothes and rendering everything a bitter after taste. Everywhere and everything is touched by the ochre red of infinitesimal of omnipresence. All the while, the constant rattle of window panes, the sobbing of rooms, the tears of rawed eyes having borne witness to prophecies…the harmattan…yes…I remember her….the red wind….the wind of winds.

Ten frequently asked questions about antiquing shoes that I received from all my readers. I apologize if I did not answer when asked….I just wanted to compile all of them and to respond in one go.

(1) Why do people antique shoes?

The short answer is shoes without antiquing all look rather bland and characterless. It doesn’t matter whether it is a cheap or very expensive bespoke shoe…it’s not an issue of prestige, pedigree or even price….ALL shoes straight out of the box are quite characterless. The function of antiquing is to highlight and amplify the richness, texture and grain of the leather thereby giving it depth, mystery and a narrative…it’s a transformative process where if done right, it adds sophistication, style and story.

(2) What is the history of shoe antiquing?

There are many accounts. But this I consider the most convincing. It first began during WW1, when soldiers regularly applied dubbin on their army issued boots to waterproof them in water logged trenches. Since military issued dubbin only came in black and not in neutral or tan. This created a contrast between tanned leather. In the latter stages of WW1 when warring nations began to suffer from materiel shortages resulting in acute shortage of full scalp leather to form full length boots. Field wear at the front was relaxed considerably to even allow for waxed cotton putties and leather gaiters to be worn with boots and in the case of the British even country brogues. After the war, cobblers continued to offer the dubbin service. That is the reason why traditional antiquing styles emphasis highlights on the toe cap, vamp and erector region of a shoe as these are the areas that require the highest level of waterproofing. Today antiquing has nothing whatsoever to do with waterproofing and is purely done for the cosmetic effect.

(3) What must be done before antiquing a shoe?

It should be worn by the owner normally for at least two weeks straight out from the box without any application of waxes, creams or any surface treatment. As this will stretch the grain of the leather and open up it’s pores at a cellular level to allow dyes to permeate fully during patînage. A failure to ‘run in’ the shoe before patînage will result in unsightly crack lines and color contrast and render high quality leather a processed look.

(4) Do I need to learn to maintain my shoes after antiquing?

Yes. And I would most definitely encourage you to do so in the name of furthering your education in the art of manliness…if nothing else. As patin is only a superficial surface treatment and not a dye ‘thru to thru’ leather treatment. Since shoes will invariably be exposed to the elements and daily wear and tear, it is perfectly normal for scuffing and scaring to occur. Most shoe dressers will ONLY patin 70% of a shoe and finish the rest off to create the final la effect with creams and polish. To maintain your antiqued shoes. You should be proficient in dyeing touch up and polishing techniques. This is the fun part as it gives the proud owner a certain degree of creative license to customize their shoes exactly the way they want to. I am a strong believer in empowering people.

(5) I have never antiqued my shoes before. What style should I best choose for my first pair?

This is a very subjective question. My recommendation is start off with an orthodox style that allows you first learn how to maintain your shoes without too much fuss. It’s like you first suit, charcoal is good to go…after that, then maybe a tweed or herringbone, but never before. Usually most shoe dressers will never advise first time customers to opt for unusual and unorthodox painting styles. As they are virtually impossible to maintain. An orthodox painting format emphasizes, three zones of a shoe for highlights, the toe cap, sides of vamp, eyelet wings and rear erectors. Usually the tongue of the shoe is not dyed to provide the novice with a guide as to how the leather original looks to allow him to adjust the shade and contrast.

Learn FIRST how to maintain your first pair of antiqued shoes. AFTER you have mastered this confidently only then do you proceed to more unorthodox designs. It’s useless to have a shoe that one cannot maintain with ease and confidence or is afraid to wear for fear of scuffing and scaring. Shoes are after all made to be worn.

(6) Do I need to send my shoes back for redyeing once the dye fades?

That’s not only unnecessary but it’s also hazardous to your investment. If it’s done right the first time – there should be no reason to rework your shoes a second time. Besides most reputable shoe dressers will never dress a shoe twice due to necessity to use corrosive chemicals during the pretreatment process. Once is acceptable, but twice threatens to dry out the leather and even destroy the threading. Shoes especially the bespoke (personalized lift) variety start at USD$3,000. The highest grained leather is used and they are expected to last a life time. Get it right the first time.

(7) Can I learn how to dress shoes from the internet?

In my humble opinion…No. For the simple reason shoe dressing is an apprenticed trade. It’s very niche and to exacerbate matters every Maison prides itself with it’s own unique style along with school of thought. It’s doubtful that you will ever be able to glean anything significant at all from just the internet as the unspoken rule is no one will ever share their trade secrets with you. If you want to learn this trade. You really have to start as an apprentice in a Maison under the supervision of a master. Conservatively it will take anywhere between two to three years before you will have the confidence to paint without any reservations. The main road block as I see it is getting a good master whose really serious about teaching you the craft instead of just exploiting you as a source of cheap labor.

(8) What is the most difficult aspect of this trade?

Establishing your branding presence and competence trust amongst the fraternity of shoemakers. Every shoe artist has a distinctive style and philosophy and unique work history that ultimately shapes his outlook. There’s no such thing as a supermarket service. Not that I am aware of. But most importantly custom shoemakers have to be internally convinced that if they entrust you with their valuable shoes. You are able to deliver consistently on the quality and delivery reliability without spiking their blood pressure. Ultimately business boils down to trust. In my case it took me the better part of nearly 15 to 20 years to establish rapport and I am still working at it till this day, it’s a continuous work in process. Even then it was a very slow and incremental rather than a revolutionary overnight process. Hence my style is heavily weighted towards the Japanese market that tends to favor a minimalistic and natural wabi sabi style that appeals to an ultra conservative crowd. That I feel is quite natural as it’s market driven. What’s important to emphasize here only because it is seldom ever discussed – is as a shoe artist I don’t really have a lot of latitude for creativity as an indelible part of my job requires me to take very specific instructions rather than do my own thing. That is perfectly understandable when one considers most Japanese shoemakers are very small set up’s that churn out less than six to eight pairs of shoes per month! So a pair of shoes can easily cost ten to fifteen thousand US, they’re never going to give you the artistic latitude you want to even experiment. It’s nothing personal. They just can’t afford too at that level of the game. Having said that it doesn’t mean my trade is necessarily corseted. Not at all. As there is yet another range of customers who insist on dealing with me directly. Only these happen to be die hard shoe cognoscenti’s who already know exactly what they want and so when they talk to me, it’s really just the discussion on the means to achieve their intend end. I am quite lucky as I happen to have a very good rapport many of my direct clientele who incidentally happen to be my friends. They seem to know a lot more about my trade than I do myself! So this enables me collaborate and learn with them to push the envelop of my craft further. I am always surprised by where I end up whenever we collaborate together…it’s always a joy and privilege to work with customers who take a serious interest in one’s craft.

(9) What is the strangest request you ever had?

To dress a shoe in the presence of the client who requested he be present when I worked on his shoes from beginning to end. The process took three days. I was provided lodgings and meals. All my gear had to arrive three days before I showed up to be checked off by security. I was not allowed to call anyone during my stay. When I showed up I was given a six hour briefing by his aide de camp on protocol along with do’ and don’t’s. One of which required me not to smoke which I objected too very strongly. As it interfered with my natural work rhythm. Eventually some happy compromise was hammered out. The client was very knowledgeable about my trade and most considerate to only ask questions in between intervals when I put my brush down. He remains today one of most loyal direct customers.

I think it’s always important in life to take care of your valued customers…by this I don’t mean just top drawer service only. Rather it involves sharpening one’s attitude from the transactional to relational – if on every occasion the client sees you and it’s really only about a quid pro quo or cui bono, that anyone can do. It’s a hit and run business model. No sustainability there. So a large part of my job involves education along with keeping discreet – the importance of respecting your clients, not gossiping and keeping one’s mouth shut tightly like an oyster.

If one always posting pics in the internet without their permission. That I feel can get very complicated, embarrassing and troublesome. Having the correct etiquette goes a very long way I reckon to establishing a long term relationship based on trust, respect and dignity.

(10) What do you consider the perfect antiqued shoe?

That’s really a loaded question that cannot be answered satisfactorily to satisfy all quarters. But if you ask for my subjective opinion – it has to be a pair of shoes that is so inconspicuous that it doesn’t really subtract from the rest of the ensemble. By this I mean, shoes are supposed to only compliment and not steal the whole show – if for any reason they’re so showy as to grab all the limelight, then in my book that has to be an epic fail….Ronald McDonald comes to mind!

That’s a bit like someone just appreciating your ears or nose singularly without really considering how those aspects of your other features such as the jawline, eyebrows, eyes and hairstyle combines together to create the whole package. For me the same philosophy of aesthetics applies to shoes as well, it has to all combine together seamlessly with the belt, shirt, pants, suit, tie and pocket square to all create a sartorially pleasing package.

I admit my philosophy of aesthetics is relatively narrow and conservative. As whenever possible I do strive to be as natural as possible.

It’s not unusual for example for me to dress the left shoe differently from the right…only because that is how most people typically acquire the impression of wear on their shoes, it’s never asymmetrical as it is very different.

So to me artistic form isn’t something contrived like a pattern or shape I simply conjure up in my head. I can for example see the beauty in criss cross lace lines impressions on leather or where the leather strains and protest in the vamp area only to amplify it further with dyes. Rather for me, beauty cannot exist without a complimentary philosophy otherwise it’s just eye candy and that can get rather vapid after a while. For beauty to acquire a magical quality, it has to be an accretion of function and so form always follows function – the emphasis to me at least is always on highlighting what’s already there in the shoe as opposed to adding something that’s foreign or not there. I feel this philosophy is what differentiates me from other shoe dressers. I am not saying I am better. Or even necessarily more thoughtful in my approach. But I believe that’s my speciality and you can even call it my style. There are many roads to Rome…I just happen to be one of many roads.

Persepolis

August 31, 2016

The Tent City in the middle of nowhereville called Persepolis was designed by the Parisian interior-design firm Maison Jansen on 160 acres. All in all there were fifty arranged in a star pattern around a central fountain. A whole forest was recreated in the desert with each tree flown in from Versailles and tended by French arborist and horticulturist firm La Champoingne.

Catering services were provided by Maxim’s de Paris, which closed its restaurant for almost two weeks to provide for the glittering celebrations. Legendary hotelier Max Blouet came out of retirement to personally supervise the banquet. Lanvin designed the uniforms of the Imperial Household. 250 red Mercedes-Benz limousines were used to chauffeur guests from the airport and back. Dinnerware was created by Limoges and linen by Porthault.

Nothing since then has ever come to remotely close to the sheer scale and grandeur of the Persepolis celebrations…nothing.

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‘The last Shah of Iran was an incredibly sensitive man. He was a romantic and sentimentalist. A cultivated man who appreciated the arts – whose greatest mistake was to put all his chips on the Americans.

He had a great vision to transform Iran from a parochial, insular and backward country steeped in mumbo jumbo into the first world country. During the 1970’s the Shah marched Iran into becoming a dynamic middle-east regional power. The Shah implemented broad economic and social reforms, including enhanced rights for women, and religious and ethnic minorities along with land reforms.

The election of Mr. Carter as president of the United States in 1976, with his vocal emphasis on the importance of human rights in international affairs, was a turning point in US-Iran relations. The Shah of Iran was accused of torturing over 3000 prisoners. Under the banner of promoting human rights, Carter made excessive and impossible and childish demands on the Shah, threatening to withhold military and social aid. Carter pressured the Shah to release “political prisoners”, whose ranks included radical fundamentalists, communists and terrorists. Many of these individuals are now among the evil intellectuals we face in the form of ISIS.

The Carter Administration insisted that the Shah disband military tribunals, demanding they be replaced by civil courts. The effect was to allow trials to serve as platforms for anti-government propaganda. Carter pressured Iran to permit “free assembly”, which encouraged and fostered fundamentalist anti-government rallies. The British government and its MI6 intelligence agency also heightened the Shah’s precariousness. The government-controlled BBC presented Iranians with a dossier of twenty hour newscasts detailing the location of all anti-Shah demonstrations and consistent interviews with the exiled outcast Ayatollah Khomeini, making a religious scholar few Iranians knew about into an overnight sensation.

When the Shah was unable to meet the Carter Administration and British demands, the Carter Administration reportedly ordered the Central Intelligence Agency to stop $4 million per year in funding to religious Mullahs who then became outspoken and vehement opponents of the Shah. All these clandestine efforts served only to undermine the Shah’s efforts to defuse the volatile situation in Iran. Confronted with lack of US support and unleashed Mullah fury, the Shah of Iran fled the country.

Subsequent to the Carter Administration’s ill-conceived foreign policy initiative, Iran is now a rouge state. Ayatollah Khomeini’s dictatorship executed the Shah’s prisoners, predominantly communist militants, along with more than 20,000 pro-Western Iranians. Women were sent back into servitude and had to hide behind curtains. Citizens were arrested merely for owning satellite dishes that could tune to Western programs. American diplomats were taken hostage, and the Soviet Union invaded Iran’s eastern neighbor Afghanistan as a result of this chaos, allowing it to secure greater influence in Iran and Pakistan. The struggle against the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the defeat of this invading Superpower with help from the United States under President Reagan gave rise to the radicalization and emergence of Muslim zealots like Osama bin Laden. Moreover, within a year of the Shah’s ouster, Iran on its western flank was locked into the Iran-Iraq War, in which the U.S. sided with secular Iraq and its military dictator Saddam Hussein.

In summary the Shah never stood a chance in hell against a confused, incoherent and schizoperhnic American foreign policy in the Middle East that constantly blew hot and cold and a spineless president who simply didn’t comprehend the importance of Iran’s strategic role along side the complexities of the geo political realities of the region.

Eventually the Shah was forced into exile and during his final days he was humiliated, shunned and treated like a vagabond pariah…this is what happens when one gets too close to America….as Sitting Bull once summed it up succinctly, ‘white man speak with forked tongue.’ There are many many valuable lessons here….my fear the current leaders of Singapore don’t seem very interested to learn from history as they edge closer and closer to America.’

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My hobby of dressing shoes is in danger of turning out to be a full time business commitment…that’s really not what I had in mind….now I have two options. Firstly to increase the price of my services by 500% – 1,000% to limit the number of customers, which I will never ever do.

As I started this service ONLY because I wanted the masses to be able to enjoy this service at an affordable price.

Or alternatively only focus entirely on the Japanese bespoke market.

I have decided to opt for the latter. As the volume there is quite manageable and the people who I regularly deal go well back at least 20 to 25 years!

I am so sorry if some of you have to wait three to possibly four months…I will finish off whatever backlog I have promised to finish. If I don’t do this within the agreed period, my services will be rendered free of charge. You don’t even have to pay for postage…I eat it all up from top to bottom.

Meanwhile it is with great regret that I will have to suspend all future orders.

My humble shop is officially closed for the time being.

Sorry for any inconvenience caused. The miscalculation is entirely mine.

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‘My hope is that I have opened up a new sartorial dimension for some of you. Especially those of you who are experiencing this for the very first time. Unfortunately, there is really just one of me and there’s not nearly enough to go around, especially when one considers dressing up a shoe can take up anywhere between six to twelve hours.

This I imagine will always be a very exclusive and expensive service….for reasons that I have shared with many of you. My hope is that this will prompt many of you to try your hand at dressing shoes yourself and should you find it to be your calling then please call on me. I will be happiest to share whatever little knowledge I have in this area to assist you in your learning curve. Thank you.’

The man who much prefers to introduce himself as ‘I trade coffee.’ Hardly inspires much faith as someone who possesses the extraordinary power to stop time. But that is only because one is necessarily led to belief such an act would require some métier extraordinaire.

For Mr Koreana the accomplished practitioner of stopping time – required only the most mundane of what I can only refer too as living a life dissipation.

He had a habit of wandering into museums with no precise intent and purpose other than to fashion himself as an allegory of one of the many exhibits, he frequently peers at with an expression of mild interest.

Like a man who seems different from all other men only because he did not suffer from being beholden to time. His pace and demeanor embodied the listlessness of a man who wished to be nowhere, yet beneath it all there was an unmistakable deliberate intent to even suggest he meant to everywhere at the same time, like the contradiction of the many caged exhibits in a museum – radiating their life stories as best they can across the the sea of time thru two inches of bullet proof glass – to Mr Koreana, who was accustomed to being the sort of man who never ever felt like so many other men, the weight of being anywhere specific except where he found himself at any point in time was the first precondition of being of able to stop time….to regard time itself with utter indifference…to such a degree on his best walks when he found himself lost and in a place that he could neither recognize or conjure out with any sense of familiarity – Mr Koreana relished it.

That if you didn’t know is the precise attitude that one needs to cultivate to stop time itself – indifference.

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Twelve years ago somewhere in Jerusalaem, Israel.

Kamel Bin Hussein the 57 year old Tunisian oud trader had always prided himself with the uncanny ability to read people like the many scraggy lines that crisscrossed his palm. But that morning as he sat facing the oriental in a cafe in the Arab quarter of Jerusalem – he had come face to face with an unknown quantity for the very first time in his life.

This much Kamel was sure of – the man wasn’t your run of the mill faith tourist. That was just a cover like the I love Jesus tin badge he wore. Sure, he could have very easily passed for one of those wide eyed sappy Asians who could usually be counted to make up the numbers for a Church led tour to the Holy land this time of the year…but this one was very different, of that Kamel was certain.

He too purposeful…too at ease…too dangerous, though he masked it, it showed in his square jaw line and the deliberate way he carried himself…like a matador. Or maybe it was the deliberate manner the man who wore sunglasses held the slim glass of mint tea with only his thumb and little finger with the rest sticking out – his uncle had once told him, this was the way Sudanese rifle horsemen drank their pipping hot tea on the saddle, with the three fingers holding the stirrups with only the thumb and the little finger balancing the thin stemmed glass.

The oriental spoke an uncommon sort of Arabic – an old vernacular variety, one where he stretched his vowels, placed his verbs at the beginning of each sentence. His ‘nehs’ were strained and exaggerated and ‘acks’ silent to even come across as non existent on the abbreviated ‘meh’ ‘yin’ and ‘Kah.’ It reminded Kamel of the strange way his grandfather spoke only to his granny…when they were alone in the dark and didn’t want the children to listen in – she was a camel trader’s daughter from Khartoum. As Kamel looked at the man wondering whether he should scam him. He wondered to himself…was he there…..maybe he was a mercenary…..a wanted man on the run…a legionnaire deserter. Somewhere between these smouldering thoughts, Kamel must have realised the man wasn’t worth the risk of scamming…besides he had crisp one hundred dollar American bills and somewhere between his second hot tea, he decided to put in a honest days wage. “OK, I will take you there…but it will cost you.” The stranger did not bargain and began counting off the notes with a rasping sound. “Why do you want to go there? There is nothing there except snakes and scorpions and miles of pipelines.” The stranger smiled.

Three hours later they were standing on a rock promontory in Isawiyah, North East of Jerusalem overlooking the no man’s stretch of land on Mount Scopus. The man traced the faint water pipes that crisscrossed the desert. He took pictures with a Nikon – he was good with the camera…too good.. thought Kamel….maybe he used to work as a spy for the French in Africa….or maybe he killed for them…it’s hard to tell with this one.

“We need to get closer.” The man boomed startling Kamel out from his reverie like a flock of pigeons exploding “No. Any closer and they will start shooting. This is a restricted area. We shouldn’t even be here.” The stranger smiled and drew on his cigarette as he begun to cut the wire fence with Leatherman pliers as Kamel looked on in horror. The Arab had a feeling this was going all wrong.

The following day, the watchman at the Hebrew University opened the front doors of the Department of Agriculture as he done everyday for the last twenty years – there was nothing unusual that day except coming across an Asian tourist who had lost his way and wandered into the grounds asking for directions back to the Hyatt hotel – it happened from time to time…not very often…but enough not to draw any suspicion. After all a hidden gap in the row of hedges just off the Commonwealth Cemetary was a short cut used by many who knew the University grounds wells – from time to time, someone would accidentally be funneled into the a University grounds..it didn’t happen very often…..nothing unusual at all….what was very odd however to the watch man was the peculiar way the key turned on the barrel lock of the door that led to the faculty that day. It felt looser than usual. But since it lasted only a split second, the watchman thought it might have something to do with the frosty weather – it was after all winter in Jerusalem.

Sometime around mid-day, a high security Chubb filling cabinet housing experimental vane pump designs for jet fighter aircrafts in an annex opposite the Department of Agricultural studies was found unlocked. Since nothing had been removed and all the blue prints were still in their slotted security coded trays in chronological order – the head of department simply closed the filling cabinet and locked it again.

It had happened before. Nothing unusual…. Researchers were after all a careless and forgetful lot. They have no sense of security. Nothing to worry about. Everything seems to be the way it always has been and will probably be….nothing unusual at all….except maybe a tin ‘I love Jesus’ badge on the floor next to the unlocked filling cabinet, to which the watch remarked, ‘bloody researchers…they are all bleeding Christians aren’t they!

No! I don’t for one moment imagine anyone aspires to be a frontier man…not ever. Some may secret harbor illicit dreams about being a fireman or even a lion trainer in a traveling circus. But even so that’s pushing the envelop of most people’s sense and sensibilities.

People really slip into the frontier way of life when all bets are off: that’s to say, it’s their way of running away and hiding in the forest like a wounded animal – a reputation in ruins, a love gone wrong….a scandal?…an epic fall from great heights of expectations.

When they need to save their sorry souls, folks head for the frontier….of course you will never know the real reason. You can speculate and that’s that, that’s because it’s a bit like joining the French Foreign a legion…one never seems to be able to recall the life last lived or for that matter even one’s real name…..the frontier wipes it all away like dust taken by the wanton winds.

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He certainly did – trade coffee that is.

He bought low. Or what at least he thought to be low. For most the time, Mr Koreana managed to sell high or at worst break even. Mr Koreana was adept at playing the game of caprice against the vagaries of the coffee commodities trade….he was exceedingly good at the game.

So good that he much preferred to deal directly. At source as he liked to call it, which required him to travel by schooner along the neckline of the bay of Guinea shaped like a shoulder of a sleeping woman every year – he bought only between the months of November and December just before the dreaded Harmattan descended from the North when humidity drops to less than 15%, when weights and scales are truest.

In the curelean evenings when an almost paraffin blue sunset renders the Sierra in Leone ablaze, Mr Koreana knows that presages the arrival of the ochre winds that will blow relentless from North Africa to the cape of Guinea, sailors in the Coite de noire cursed – the sea of blood.

In West Africa, Mr Koreana buys only from the Parsees gypsies who caravan salt cones deep into the interior of Africa in April when the sun is at it’s highest usually on moonless. He considered them well mannered and considerate as they never ever took any exception to the shoulder holstered pistol he frequently wore with his creme suit,

With beans in hand for the rest of the year like how De Beers corners the diamond trade to keep the price of diamonds artificially high thru the successful marketing illusion of creating scarcity when there was more than enough to go around – that’s how Mr Koreana squared off the lousy odds when the market dealt him a curve ball from time to time.

During the hard years when it’s impossible to beacon out the murk of Mother Nature’s design. She can’t help it Mr Koreana would often murmur on deck only for the capricious wind to steal his words as if even she feared the sea herself would hear it…usually, he made allowances for that siaow charbor (crazy woman..the weather..he much to call caprice) often recounting – she can’t help it, the bloody moon affects her – when the loses mount while his wins dwindle and Mr Koreana makes do with maggi mee and one egg. He always instructs his secretary to send his Savile Row khaki linen suit to the dry cleaners along with a Panama, changes out his a wafer thin Constantin for a Rolex submariner – he was a man who always like to go to the very source for produce….only in the lean times, Mr Koreana went much deeper than most other men – just like the man from Del Monte – that’s what they called him Dumon only because in Creole Francaise along the Congo, a failing common to the coreoleans was their inability to curl the tongue at the ridge, which made Dumon much easier to pronounce than Del Monte. In the Congo at the prestigious Shamagh which doubled as the blue fin nightclub overlooking the river that separates Zaire from Brazaville. The regularly patrons considered him an honorary Le Sapuer de Extraordinaire Afrique who even had his own horse shoe table….Mr Koreana the man who only wears a well pressed khaki suit, chequered maroon cravat, Panama complete with spectator shoes and downs Campari on the rocks – but the man who likes nothing better than to refer to himself as Mr I trade coffee, wasn’t you regular foreign businessman in Africa prospecting for new markets or in search of the highest quality coffee beans.

He knew Africa as only someone who had lived another life in Africa could. Knew it so well that he never ever stopped whenever he came across corpse lying in the middle of the road in Lagos, because the moment, one bends over and touches it – one is expected to pay for the man’s funeral that typically last for seven days and nights and involves the entire village and probably includes free flowing nooch…he knew Africa with that sardonic bitter sweet condescending grin like how during an internal flight once from Nairobi to Uganda, when the starboard engine burst into flames all he could manage was a look of amusement mixed with curiosity. A trait one only really acquires after Africa itself permeates a man till it’s very pathos saturates the marrow of his bones. He knew Africa well enough to make out the odds of whether to call off his bets or double his bets on a ticket. To either walk away with his winnings on the magnetic rigged roulette table at the Metropole in the french quarter when the oily émigré proprietor took out his silk hanky. Or to continue playing thru the night. Knew like knowingness herself – strange don’t you think so for man who seems to be able to just manage to blurt out whenever the conversation turns to work – I trade coffee.

I trade coffee…..nothing else it seems follows thereafter…only the finality of….I trade coffee.

Knew Africa so well that when coffee supplies thinned out as they sometimes do. It had to be the work of the Amsterdam cartels cornering the market by snapping up all the bean futures – knew even then, the bazaars of the clove paradise – Zanzibar would always have a surplus of contraband beans hijacked by the Kaia pirates. Knew even how they much prefer to regard their piracy as their version of free trade African style which they refereed too as ‘Shimah’

Mr I trade coffee even knew when the sun hangs highest in Zanzibar in September. Somewhere in the tiny Arab quarter where the streets are so narrow that only one person can walk thru at a time – when everyone is content to lounge like lizards with a hookah laced with hashis and speaks in murmurs and sip cardamom laced tea as if they all wished their had necks as long as giraffes to savor every drop – There in the wide open court yard known as Kafur. He could always bid for contraband beans even when there was none in the market along side the Omani Kiswahili merchants whose Ma’ai negro bodyguards armed with gold plated a-47’s guard over their masters. In the square north east of the Arab quarter where the third minaret of the Masjid stands like the leaning tower of Pisa and perhaps no where else on this planet – bids for illicit beans are conducted by strange shapes one makes with fingers like how slaves were once sold and bought during the heady days of the Atlantic wars – Mr Koreana installs himself in a rattan chair to the east facing balcony that was once the preserve of the Medici’s, who once prospered thru slavery and the clove trade in East Africa – a young boy holds out the earthen bowl with beans. He picks only one and rolls it between his thumb and index finger and brings it to his nose. For a moment his eyes glisten with interest only to wane to feign disinterest. Beneath him the rest of the traders jostle in a human swirl of frantic hands making a field of strange gestures like plants that eat and when it seemed the bid could no go higher, the whizhar (auctioneer) looked up expectantly at the man seated at the balcony….who incidentally just happens to be the man who the world knows to be Mr I trade in coffee, responds with a casual jab of the index finger followed by three flips of last three fingers..in a dead and forgotten language that only those who once traded in slaves could understand…’his teeth were bad, but I bought him nonetheless, this would make up for the three guineas less than what I am supposed to pay you! The elders seated in the West balcony, turn to each other and begin murmuring, while the traders beneath still in anticipation…then slowly the elders begin to raise their white canes…it’s sold.

But tell me my dearest perceptive reader – what really was sold? Mr Koreana would of course insist – I trade coffee. The absence of a prefunctionary ‘only’ to complete the sentence might have suggested finality…but it’s omission is deliberate as it leaves plenty of room for improvisation.

Truth usually lies at so many levels of lies – when a man responds with a casual jab of the index finger followed by three quick flips of last three fingers at the auctions in Zanzibar….it could mean one of either things…it could mean exactly what it meant as I just describe with not the slightest variation or embellishment…but that day in the crowded courtyard of the bazaar when the sun hung highest and the seagulls plied inland…as even they had sensed lean pickings in the rough seas – it could only mean, he was willing to pay for his consignment in what Africans term white gold – ivory.

It seems Mr Koreana doesn’t just trade coffee…

Maybe that could be the reason why Mr Koreana smiled wryly like a fox two weeks later when he returned back in Singapore – perhaps that’s why the girl whose different from all other girls was seized by an inexplicable compulsion to pause during their delightful dinner at the Compass Rose. Put her knife and fork down only to turn and ask of him…

‘Do you really just trade in coffee?’

To which Mr Koreana placed his knife and fork gently down, looked up at the woman seated before him only to express in a whispering rush, ‘I trade coffee.’

Safety First – Part 2

August 27, 2016

When using descenders for technical climbs, ALWAYS tie off before starting work.

I notice for some strange reason even professionals don’t tie off – that’s fine if they fall and kill only themselves. Problem is when they fall, the climbers below them fall as well!

So learn to tie off.

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Watch this…if any of you want to argue with me…as I don’t feel like negotiating with anyone.

A couple of readers who saw my Youtube Vid ‘precheck’ below – asked whether I am using my ascender aka JUMA as a fall arrestor. The answer is No! During tech climbs it’s not uncommon to run three ropes. First is to tie one down. Second arrestor and third to haul work stuff – I use the ascender for strictly work stuff!

Ascender should NEVER be used as a fall arrestor! You might be saying to yourself, “Fine, I’ll make sure to keep my ascender high so as to minimize my fall distance. Then there won’t be enough force to damage my rope and I’ll be fine. I’ve always used a hand ascender as my backup, and I always will.”

Hey I mucho understand. I totally get it. As I did that myself once upon a time. Only let me leave you with a few thoughts:

Ascenders will wear out your rope faster because of their aggressive teeth.

If OSHA catches you using an ascender as your backup your tech climb license will be revoked!

Besides there are lots of great back up devices on the market now that work way better than 80’s ascenders as fall arresters.
So, please get on the new page.

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A fall arrestor that I highly recommend for technical climbs is the ASAP range by Petzl….I am especially impressed by three features of this device. Auto rope feed during ascent and descent. Quick arrest of the momentum weighted cam (6 inches on dead fall! @ 100 Kg rating) along with the ease of post fall recovery.

It’s pricey, but worth every cent.