June 28, 2018

At my home

In a conversation with a friend who was visiting me for afternoon tea, we chatted on various things … from politics to parenting to old age. During conversation an interesting subject popped up … a topic on home … I mean a home that a family lives in.

It was about what it takes to make a good home … we are talking the about a home, not a house ya … I am sure we all know the difference.

Before I go further … let me first make clear the topic of the discussion. 

What is a home?

Is it a house? Well … yes but not necessary. I searched the internet for meaning of home … an online dictionary defines a home as … a place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household. OK, different dictionaries have different definitions but most say it is a place.

Yes, a place … it could be a cave, a cavern, a lodge or a hideout shelter. It does not necessary have to be a house or an apartment. For some people, it could be a pub or a bar … they called it their second home.

I read something that says a home is a place that one would like to go back to again and again after you have done with the day. So, for most of us, very likely it will be our house.

And in the discussion with my friend … we were talking about a home that is conducive for all and the talking point of discussion was … “a place to go back to again and again” and the question I want to ask is … what is there in your home that makes you want to go back to again and again?

Well, different families may have different ideas for their homes. I have been to many homes … a few elaborately decorated, some are very nicely organized, other are simple but pleasingly furnished. But it is not how the house is decorated or how it is designed even though it does add to the comfort and convenience for the family.

More importantly, it is the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the bonding, the respect, the responsibility, the commitment and the obligations of all the people living in it … all of those are important to make the home a place that you want to go back to again and again. The things, the doings and the interests in a home should not only be favorable or bias towards certain people of the family … it must compliment everyone living in it.

I have been to someone’s home lately … in the family, the wife is a devout Buddhist. To satisfy the needs of the wife’s belief … the place is decorated with many of the religion’s memorabilia and recorded mantra is constantly playing over and over from day till night. Only vegetarian is allowed and I was told that even killing of mosquitoes is not encouraged. And one more thing, wifi is not allowed. Well, this has nothing to do with the religion … it is just that the devout wife believes that wifi can cause cancer.

Let me say this clearly … I am not against religion but just because one person is a devout Buddhist … the whole family have to live restricted to the religion. The young kids who don’t understand and don’t know how to appreciate the Buddhist chants have to listen to the recorded mantra all day long. The rest of the family who are not vegetarians can only eat meat at restaurants. Irritating mosquitoes fly and breed freely everywhere.

And wifi can cause cancer??? I don’t want to go into that … it will be another three paragraphs if I do.

So, is this home a favorable place to live in? Yes, it might be but to only one person. For the rest of the family … they have to tolerate the restriction. Really, I think it is not a place that they would like to go back to again and again. Then again, I might be wrong … maybe they like to live with the restriction and they will go back again and again.

Let me tell you this … I am a diehard fan of aliens … I believe in super intelligent beings from outer space. So much so that I am convinced that I am an alien. I accept the idea that my ancestors came to this planet from another universe thousands of years ago. YES, I really believe that. 

Now, just because I believe in aliens, I cannot make my place (which I shared with my wife and kids) like a spaceship, put alien memorabilia everywhere and play music from “the encounter of the third kind” all day and night. It is only me who think I am an alien … my wife and kids think that it is a ridiculous idea. Make my place like a spaceship? Don’t even mention it in front of my wife … my ass will be kicked out into space at the speed of light.

I am not sure about other people’s home but at my home … be it responsibilities and obligations, duties and chores, obsessions and beliefs, discussions and arguments, art and deco, rules and regulations, whims and fancies, dos and don’ts, needs and nots or other conditions and matters … we must be able to know what to appreciate, who to respect, what to avoid and why it is not allowed so that we can make the setting fair, reasonable and compatible for everyone in order to keep the place and the people bonded in good spirits.

So, what is it like at my home? 

At my home … is where everyone has their freedom, privacy and practices within common expectation. It is where my kids are free to lock their bedroom doors, play their songs and do not have to worry about what is on their phones and computers. It is where my wife and I have our own man cave and she shed where we do our own things and enjoy some private space and down time.

At my home … is where my wife can be assured that she is needed and appreciated for keeping the things running like clockwork. It is where she is pampered for what she had contributed attentively to keep the family neat, tidy and fed.

At my home … is where I can look forward to enjoy a simple home cooked meal at the end of the day. It is where I felt most at ease resting, idling or watching my favorite TV series oblivious to the kid’s perpetual arguing, dogs barking and my two cats playfully scrambling all over the place.

And at my home … is where I feel close to my loved ones and find companionship in them. It is where I am never lonely even when I am alone. It is where I want to be and it is where I will go back to again and again. 

May 24, 2018

Apa susah susah ???

In most of my social media postings, I will always end with a mocking question … “apa susah susah ???” For those who don’t understand the words, it is a Malay phrase which means … “what so difficult ???”

Yes, what I am saying is … what is so difficult ? You want to live a good life? Take it easy, make it easy ... just live simple and enjoy the many simple pleasures around us. Apa susah susah ??? 

Many people got this idea that I am showing off … that I am able to retire early, live a comfortable life and now I am telling the whole world how good my life is. Well, yes … at this very moment, I am living a good life. I won’t deny it. 

But first, let me define a good life … a good life in my context is that I have enough and I have to live prudently for the rest of my life. I will have make do with simple things … make life easy with simple needs. 

So, while an average family fork out 100k for a medium range car … I will have to settle for a used 7k Proton Wira. While all my peers are buying new houses worth millions … I am still living in my house which I bought 22 years ago. While my peers are spending thousands or even millions sending their children to England, USA, Canada or Australia for tertiary educations … my kids will have to settle for local medium range universities for their degrees. 

Just a couple weeks ago, while many spent hundreds or thousands in fancy restaurants celebrating Mother’s Day … my wife and I were at home celebrating over a roasted duck I bought from the pasar malam (night market). 

And while others shop at Pavillion, One Utama, Mid Valley for clothing and apparels … we go to “Jalan Jalan Japan” for “pre-loved” clothing … where we pay 5 bucks for a pair of shorts and 3 bucks for a t-shirt. 

I am not rich but I am not poor either. I will be lying if I say I don’t have money. I do have savings and investments and if I live prudently, I think I will have enough to last me for a while. There is a saying … “if you have 500 bucks, don’t buy a 500-buck handbag … instead buy a 50-buck handbag and put 450 bucks inside it … don’t go broke trying to look rich”. Well, that is exactly what I am doing.

Having said that ... I must also say that not everyone share the same opinion. Just like me, many people struggled and worked very hard too for their money. There are those who want to celebrate and show their successes ... so maybe they will want to indulge in a 500-buck handbag to please themselves and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. How people want to celebrate and show what they have achieved is entirely up to them.

For me, maybe it is the failures that I went through that made me what I am today ... a very careful and prudent person who knows what it is like to have nothing. Yes, there were times, many times, when I was down in the drain with absolutely nothing.

You see, from what they see now ... many people think I am one of those lucky ones who at a fairly early age get to live without financial worries … living a carefree, simple, easy life. It looks like I have had a rather sweet and smooth journey to an early success in my life. 

But what many people don't know is that I struggled for many years to come to what I have today. Many don’t know that I was retrenched during the recession in the mid 80s. Many don’t know I went back to study at the age of 26 in the day, sold deserts at hawker market at night and drove taxi on weekends to pay for my studies. 

Many don’t know that I started an advertising outfit in the 90s but was forced to cease operation due to the financial crisis at that time … I was the art director, the copywriter, the account manager, the production assistant as well as the debt collector.

Many don’t know that I opened a coffee shop … a bad investment that lasted 18 months and cost me thousands. Many don’t know that I had a major lung surgery at the age of 36 and have to rely on borrowings and contributions from friends to pay the medical bills.

And what many don’t know is that my wife and I re-mortgaged our house and started a small café in Kelana Jaya and worked our asses off to make ends meet.

What I have today did not come easy … so that is why I am very prudent in managing my finances in order to live simple and easy with a bit of comfort and some necessities. I have said it before and I will say it again … I don’t live to show people as if I want to own the world … I live as if I don’t care who owns the world !!! 

I have “susah susah” for many years already. I am 56 years old now and I think I do have some active years to live. For whatever years that is left in my life … I just want to live it out simple and easy.

I like simple things, I enjoy simple pleasures, I relish simple moments, I love down-to-earth people, I prefer uncomplicated relationship and I take things very easy.

So for me ... really, apa susah susah ??? 

April 27, 2018

Three ghosts, a well, some nuts and screws and a prized parrot

Recently my childhood buddies and I made a trip to visit our old schools where some of us first met as classmates in 1969 ... forty nine years ago!!! 

The visit brought back a lot of memories … we walked through the old classrooms, canteen, the various sections of the school building, reminiscing the days when we were all carefree school kids fooling around in school. Yes, fooling around … really, we were not the studious type. OK, to be fair … not all were fooling around … most of us were. 
At the main corridor of our old secondary school ... SMK Sri Pantai

As we walked around the school, we reminisced where our classrooms were, the IA (Industrial Art) workshops where we dirtied our shirts, the science labs where we let go a rat to scare the girls, the discipline master’s room where we were caned and the boy’s toilet where cigarettes were passed around during recess. 

Yes, we were a mischievous bunch … the good thing is, back in those days, there were no mobile phones and cameras … those naughty things we did were not recorded. They now exist only in our memories. As we talk, many stories were brought alive again in our conversations. 

Let me relive some of the memories and tell you a few funny and naughty stories. 

The three ghosts
I remember when I was in Standard Three, there was this rich boy called Lee Chee Wai (there is always a rich boy in old school stories) … everyone knows he comes from a rich family. Every day we see him arriving at school in a big car and every time during school events like children’s day, teacher’s day or year end school party … he will bring fried chicken wings, curry puffs, cakes … all the expensive stuffs. Most kids will just bring half a kati of biscuits or some cheap multi-colored sweets … yes, kati (and tahil) … if you are old enough, you know what those are. 

And Chee Wai speaks perfect English … we were all quite jealous of him. Having said that, there were no bad feelings among all of us … we play and talk to each other all the time. Most of us were from Chinese speaking villages … our parents put us in an English school hoping that we can learn the language and have a better working future. Like many Chinese boys in the school, my English vocabulary was nothing to be proud of. At Standard Three, I have less than a hundred basic English words that I can remember.

One day during recess Chee Wai asked me … “eh, do you believe in ghost?”. I said … “what?” He said …”you know, ghost?” Really, at that time I have absolutely no idea what a ghost is. But I was not going to lose face to a rich boy admitting that I don’t know what he is talking about. And so, I said to him … “oh yessss … I believe in ghost, I have three ghosts at home!!!”

From that day onwards, somehow I got a feeling that Lee Chee Wai was avoiding me … I did not ask him why. It must have been months later when I found out what a ghost is … maybe Lee Chee Wai avoids me because “I bluffed him” (the term we always used when we were kids) but I believe that more likely it is because he really thinks that I lived with three ghosts. 

A well
At lower secondary, my English was still not as good as my teachers had hoped … I was encouraged to go for tuition. My father could not afford a paid tuition so I found myself cycling to the YMCA twice a week … YMCA offered free English tuition to students from various schools. 

As bad as my English were, I was never afraid to write … so I got myself writing to pen pals. Yes, pen pals … rings a bell? Those were the days of aerograms and handwritten letters … where we were excited to see the postman. I even wrote an aerogram to Rowena Cortes (google the name … check her out) … a famous Hongkong singer back then.

I wrote many letters … learned to use flowery phrase like “hope you are in the pink of health” instead of saying “hope you are in good health”. But after a while, I just wanted to write something simple and so I thought … “pink of health” means “well” … right? So very simple, just replace “pink of health” with “well” … easy, no sweat (as we used to say).
And replace it I did … so, “I hope you are in the pink of health” became “I hope you are in the well”. Yes … that was what I wrote to a relative in Singapore and he wrote back and asked me why I had hoped that he was inside a well. And you know what? We still talk and laugh about this today. 

Some nuts and screws
At the beginning of secondary school, we can choose to attend Commerce or Industrial Art (IA) classes … I chose a spanner over an abacus. The first thing they taught us in IA class was to make ashtray … yes, ashtray. Why the hell were we making ashtrays? Aren’t we suppose to discourage people from smoking? Not sure about the IA syllabus … anyway we made ashtrays, did some simple carpentry, learned copper tooling and other so called industrial art skills. 

After two years of making small things, finally in Form Three, we moved into more exciting things … 2 strokes and 4 strokes combustion engine … wow, that was a big thing for us. We were all very excited … looking forward to “work” on a real engine in the workshop. It was long boring theory in the beginning and we couldn’t wait to finish the theory so we can get our hands on the engine.

At last the IA practical assignment came … a small group of us were given an assignment to dismantle the engine totally … which we did quite EASILY … no sweat! Then we have to assemble it back accordingly. And put it back we did. But after putting the engine back together, there were still some nuts and screws on the bench … where did those come from?

So how? We were not going to let anyone see those nuts and screws … so, we opened the fuel cap and dumped everything into the fuel tank. No one saw anything, nobody knew … until now that is.

And you know what? We passed our assignment. 

The prized parrot
Brickfields was a popular place in the 70s … there were several schools there, an old theater called Lido Cinema (remember?) and it was centrally located in the then Kuala Lumpur township. If you have studied in one of those schools in Brickfields in the 70s, then you will know that there was a pet shop, the corner shop just opposite where Anthonian Bookstore used to be … a shop that sells all kinds of pets … birds mostly. 

There was this beautiful white parrot which was always displayed in front of the shop ... the prized possession of the shop owner. Not only the parrot is beautiful, it can “talk” too … “hello”, “I love you”,“good morning”, “how are you” , “kor kor” (brother) and also croon out some funny whistles and tunes. The people passing by just love this parrot … it was the darling of the shop.

Like most school kids after school, my friends and I will hang around the pet shop … looking at the parrot, teasing it and try to get it to “talk”… so much so that the bird gets irritated and behave strangely. And the shop owner don't like us teasing the bird … “don’t disturb my bird … do you know how much this bird cost?”… he scolded us and chased us out of the shop. 

We were little rascals who don’t like to be shouted at and chased away … we were not going to let it go that easy. From that day onwards, every time when we pass by the shop and when the owner is not looking, we will whisper to the parrot … “f**k you”, “go to hell”, “die faster”, “stupid fool” and a mouthful of foul *%$#@ Chinese words. That went on for weeks and very soon the chatty parrot was happily letting out those newly learned words at the disbelief of the customers visiting the shop. Suddenly, it was no longer the darling of the shop … the once prized parrot is now worth a lot less. Not just that … really, who would want to buy a foul-mouthed parrot?

Poor shop owner … he didn’t know what hit him. And the bird? Not sure what happened but it was no longer in front of the shop. 

OK … to the shop owner and the poor parrot … really, I am sorry. Maybe it is a bit too late to apologize but better late than never. Look, we were young naughty boys … we didn’t really think about the consequences of our actions … please forgive us.

There are so many naughty and funny stories from my younger days … maybe I will tell you more some other times. 

I must say I have a good past … so many good memories … the cheerful childhood, the naughty schooldays, the playful young days and the carefree growing years. Every time when I think or talk about them … it brings a smile. I have said it before and I will say it again … at my age now, I don’t want dreams … I want memories.