Thursday, May 26, 2005

What if, what for and what-the-heck?

For some of the things in life I'd always wanted to do, I used to be set back by the "WHAT IFs".  When I started to keep a diary, it was the inevitable first question: "What if some people read this?  They'll think this is silly.   So, ok I leave out all the silly entries.  How about fantasies?  Or those dark, deep, revengeful, secret thoughts that I harbour of certain people who used to ride rough-shod over me?  ("Oh...and I always thought he's such a nice guy, huh!")  Ok, so I only write about what I do during the day.  But so boring lah...who wants to know about what I do all day?  Aha, so you actually want to write for people to read, right?  Yes lah.  Otherwise what's the purpose of writing it? 


When I thought about writing my journals (yes, my own book, or my own web blog) again I had to face the "What ifs".  What if I offend certain people?  What if I produce the wrong facts?  What if people think I'm stupid for writing such trifles?  So don't write on religion.  It's a sensitive thing to some people.  Politics – it's dangerous if you step on the toes of those in power.  Think, think, think, but all these thoughts are in the opposite direction of what I intended to do.  Now, that left me with nothing to write about.  So I close the page and go back to dream again.  Blame it on 'writer's block'.  (For those who don't know, it means something that blocks your mind from thinking whenever you want to write.) 


Then I thought, hey, if I had analysed everything so thoroughly before I did it, I'd never have done anything in my life!  Since when I was still wet behind my ears, I'd done lots of things without thinking too much about them.  Why should I do that now?  So I changed my "What If" to "What the Heck!"  I'll just do it!  (Yes.  I love that Nike commercial!)  I've now progressed to throwing away some inhibitions (to a certain extent only, no baring everything - don't wanna get charged with indecent exposure).  I'll just write what I know to be correct and truthful, sincerely from the bottom of my heart and try to avoid being offensive.  I promise not to jump to conclusions.  (If my fingers slipped on the keyboard it's not my fault!).


Then the next question: "What for?"  Well, if my scribblings help enlighten any of you folks out there in any way at all, I'll be happy.  I'll just keep rambling on happily about any subject I can think of.  Maybe you can suggest topics for me to write about too.  At this moment of course it's better than twiddling thumbs.  It's tough, pretending to be busy....


Monday, May 23, 2005

When the Reaper calls...

How come I always seem to be having great lines for writing when I’m busy doing something else other than sitting at my pc or anywhere near to a writing pad?  Is it the worst thing that can happen to any writer, whether professional or amateur?  This morning while walking back from our market with the missus, I thought of writing something having to do with faith.  But as I started to write when I sat down at my pc, the thoughts of faith became interspersed with images of the deaths of innocent victims of road accidents and crimes that are running rampant on our highways and the cities.  The image of the mother and two young daughters killed on the highway on a rainy 1st of May, came back to haunt my memory.  And my writings went into a different direction….

My faith

Is in the Power and Benevolence

Of the Supreme Being

Not in the futile

Exhortations of mortals

Though they may have

The purest of intentions

Of which most of them do not

They predictably fall short

Of expectations

When upon their very soul

You have to trust

Their intervention

For your deliverance

From the clutches of Evil Schemers

Or the sudden twists of fate

That snatches life of a love one away

From the fast lanes of living

Or from remote corners

Of the safest haven

You have no need

Of a voice to answer when

The Reaper calls your name…..

Saturday, May 21, 2005

This One’s for the Birds

When I was regularly hiking the hills I was into bird-watching.  I'd lug my binoculars along on most of my trips.  Whenever I heard a bird singing, or noticed some movements in the leaves, I'd scan the trees looking for it.  Fellow hikers would enquire what I was looking at.  Some midget brained guys even think I was looking for courting couples to peep at.  Another remarked that you don’t need binoculars to look at a bird.  You only have to squat down.  The short-sighted gink!  Sheesh!  Why can't these guys keep their sleazy mentality to themselves?  I don't even think they'd bother to come to these hills for that kind of activity.  I mean those courting people.  It's a pretty steep climb for those who don't take hiking seriously.  On my first few trips, it took me about half a dozen stops to catch my breath before I got to the top. 


Back to the birds; the species I've often seen were the long-tailed pheasants which love to hop around in low trees.  These birds have a fiery red ring around their eyes and their tail feathers have alternate dashes of grey and white.  They are quite large, about half the size of a full grown chicken.  They don’t chirp, they don’t sing.  Just browse around in the trees quietly.  And if you look them in the eye, they just stare back at you.


Sometimes I'd hear the peck-peck-pecking of a woodpecker pecking on an old tree.  It reminded me of the old "Woodpecker's Song" I used to sing in school.  Once I saw a couple of them.  They were cackling loudly and doing some kind of ritual dancing, dashing from tree to tree.  I also had the luck of seeing a large grey eagle (or was it a hawk?) resting on a branch of a tall tree several times.  Then there were olive-green coloured wood pigeons (Punai Daun) which love to pick at berries in the bushes.  These types always feed in a group.  Quite often I'd spy a solitary bird the Malays called Punai Hijau.  You can recognise it by its shiny green coat and short orange beak and stout body.  They told me its meat is sweet.  I thought: "Hmm, I'm appreciating its beauty, these guys think of it as a delicacy!" 


I noticed that birds that sing beautifully are not as attractive as those which move about quietly among the trees.  Some even blend so well with their surroundings you'd have to look hard to see them.  You only know they’re there when they start to fly away because of all that attention they’re getting.

(Photo of woodpecker 'borrowed' from

Sunday, May 15, 2005


It has been pointed out that 75% of problems in any organization are people related.  If you’ve fixed a machine and set it right, it normally works fine until the next maintenance schedule.  With people it’s a whole new ball game. You can set them right one moment, but before you could turn around, the ‘settings’ have changed.  It may be because of something you just said, (or the chap thought he heard you say it) or someone else he couldn’t get along with came along and pushed up his stress levels.  There must have been countless occasions when problems didn’t get solved, or jobs couldn’t get completed in time due to people misunderstanding one another and they called it ‘Communication Breakdown’.  These are the sort of problems that spawned big businesses in Human Relations.  We get Consultants all over the place, recommending training programs, seminars, workshops, etc...


We all came equipped with the same set of tools for communications (at least, most of us have the whole set).  We get a pair of eyes to see with, ears to listen, nose, sense of touch, taste and only ONE MOUTH to speak.  It is unfortunate that some, even though they can use this feature properly, choose only to make unintelligible or even annoying noises with it.  But the BRAIN is the major part of the whole setup.  If it is programmed well from the beginning then it should run fine till expiry date.  If not, it will create more business for the ‘head shrinkers’ as well as a whole host of other related enterprises.


There have been many good and hard lessons that taught me about communicating effectively with people in the course of my growing up years.


There was once when a colleague fell down from a height of about 15 feet.  He injured his back and couldn’t get up.  So we gently shifted him onto an unused door, strapped him down and carried him into a van and headed straight to a hospital.  When we got there, I went to the reception to enquire about how to proceed so he could get some medical attention.  I told the receptionist that I needed a stretcher.  She and a few other attendants nearby looked at me with question marks on their faces.  But I was surprised my next statement could trigger so much reaction.  I said I had someone outside with a Spinal Injury.  The receptionist took up her phone and called the emergency room.  One attendant went off in the direction of the ER while another went out and guided our driver to the ER entrance.  I then realized I had used the magic words. 


Now, this communication equipment of people can be unpredictable and sometimes impenetrable if the message you try to get through is not sent with the proper procedures.  Which means, even under emergency circumstances, telling some people a thing or two can be tricky if you don’t do it right.


I remember I used to help out at my eldest brother’s sundry shop around the time before Chinese New Year.   Those were the times when the crowds worked up a buying frenzy before the up-coming festival.  Those days you could still buy fire-crackers and fire-works and I was on the lookout at the counter where these items were displayed.  No telling that some kids could just pocket some of these small items and walk away without paying.


One pakcik (with a Chinese wife and spoke fluent Hokkien) who lived next door was loitering by the counter with a lighted cigarette between his fingers.  My niece, who was about 10 then, yelled out to alert me.   Without thinking, fearing that a spark from the cigarette might start some real fireworks, I started shouting unceremoniously at the pakcik to get away.  To my horror, he not only refused to move away, he started waving his lighted cigarette very close to the fire-crackers in defiance of my shouted warnings.  He argued that he was not the least concerned - and I should be less concerned than he - as he lived just next door - and certainly nothing was going to happen -and that I shouldn’t be worried, and he’s the one who should be worried and he’s not….  or something to that effect.  To say I had a hard time trying to follow that was an understatement.  I waved my hands and opened my mouth again, but nothing came out of it.  The guy was just so close to creating a major disaster.  The sundry shop was stocked to the brim with all kinds of goods and chock-full of people.  Man, was he stubborn! 


I walked away feeling frustrated and angry and I guessed he felt just about the same way I did.  He too left the scene afterwards, but rather reluctantly.  Years later, I still remembered the incident and wondered if there was a better way to convince people to follow your wishes without the “fireworks” and  making them and yourself angry and frustrated and yet unable to get them to do what you want.


One day, while browsing in a bookstore, I picked up a paperback by Dale Carnegie entitled, “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.  I bought it, took it home, read it from cover to cover, and underscored the important points, and referred to it often.  Eventually, I found that I could get people to see things my way without having to raise my voice, argue with them or browbeat them.  This I would like to illustrate in the following case which happened quite recently:


I went to a local tire shop and installed four brand new tires on my car.  3 months later the front-right tire started to bounce whenever I went above 110kph.  Not totally convinced it was the tire that caused the bouncing, I crossed-switched with one from rear-left.  The car went into tail wagging instead!  I took the tire back to the shop and told the technician who attended to my car the cause of my complaint.  He explained that the cause of the vibrations was because I had applied emergency brakes, causing the tire to be dragged against the road surface resulting in a bulge along the center of the threads.  I told him that I hadn’t used emergency brakes at all.  I asked him if that really happened, then how did it happen to only one tire and not all four of them?  The foreman joined in the discussion and said probably this tire was the one that stopped first before all the others.  I wanted to tell him that if it really happened that way, I wouldn’t be standing there talking to him.  The car would probably go into a spin and become a total wreck!  I decided not to argue.  I thought if I won that argument, I’d lose the case.  These guys will do their best to save “face” and I would end up the loser.


I changed tactic and spoke only to the foreman.  I appealed to his sense of business and fair-play.  I said that I have been his regular customer for many years and I had bought all my tires and batteries from him.  Wouldn’t he at least try his best to make a claim from the manufacturer on my behalf?  The foreman then quietly took the tire and examined it more carefully, this time.  He promised he would try his best, but it would take about 1 - 2 months.  I said it didn’t matter how long it took.  And just to let him know that I meant business, I told him if he was not successful in getting a replacement from the manufacturer, I would like to have the tire back.  I could at least take the case up to the Consumers’ Association. 


One of my relatives said I have been ‘had’.  I won’t be getting my money back.  Those guys are not going to give me a refund at all.  That ‘emergency brake’ excuse was just too shallow.  They’ll probably forget about it and so will I.  Well, I wasn’t about to let it go at that.  My patience paid off.


I followed up on the case with an occasional phone call.  Two months later I dropped by at his workshop.  He said he was to have a meeting with the supplier’s marketing manager that very day and I should come by later in the afternoon.  I did, and I got my money back.  I guess he didn’t want to lose this customer.  He’d lose more customers if I had taken the case to the CAP and blew up the issue.  He probably didn’t want to face that possibility.


The moral: No matter how right you are, don’t force the truth down someone’s throat.  “A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”.  And, according to Dale Carnegie, the only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Food For Thought

I used to go hiking alone on weekend afternoons.  Usually I'd tuck my little camera into my waistpouch just in case I came across anything interesting.  But sometimes instead of looking for interesting things, I'd go into a thinking spree and just let my mind wander.  There was once when the sight of a butterfly which took my mind into recall mode.  I remember an email story from a friend telling about a lesson from a butterfly.


There was this good guy who came across a butterfly struggling to get out from its cocoon.  It was struggling with all its might and coming out slowly bit by bit.  So, this kind-hearted guy, seeing the futile struggles of the poor creature, came back with a pair of scissors and snipped open the cocoon.  The butterfly then came out and crawled away.  But it couldn't fly!  Its body was too big and its wings too small to carry all that weight! 


I couldn't recall the moral of the story as written by the story-teller.  But my mind kept working around the image of the struggling creature getting out of the cocoon to become a real butterfly.  In that process, as told by the story, the creature had to use its strength to struggle and transfer the weight of its body to increase the size of its wings so that it could fly.  The kind-hearted guy didn't do the butterfly a good turn.  Instead, he had destroyed the creature's whole future by giving it a short-cut through life.


I thought about how some people become rich or attain better positions in their work places, not through their own hard work, qualifications or merits but through some friends or family members in high places pulling strings for them.  Those who gain wealth without hard work usually squander away their money without putting them to good use.  The ones who gain high positions without merits or putting in their sweat to learn the tricks of the trade eventually become useless in their positions and take their department or even the whole company down with them.  So, taking a lesson from nature and relating it to real live, we learn that there are no short cuts and those who take them do so at their own risk.


Although I'm doubtful about how a real butterfly actually goes through its metamorphosis, the image of that story remains in my mind.  Of course it already took up a good part of the time that I need to complete my trip up and down the track through the hills.  It's certainly good food for thought.