Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Mooncakes that I remember

It’s here again.  The Moon-cake/Harvest/Mid-autumn/Lantern festival.  There’s your collection of descriptions for this lunar month’s specialty.  We, who’ve been handed this traditional practice from our previous generations, often wonder what to do with this variety of names for it.  Never mind, we say.  Let’s just enjoy it.  Let’s join the procession it there’s one around the neighborhood. 


So you’d ask, “What’s a hand-painted basket got to do with a lantern festival?” 


When I was a kid, we didn’t have much good food or delicacies to go around.  Whatever special treats we had was when special offerings were made to the Deities during festivities.  I remember one eighth month when we had mooncakes.  They tasted so good, I wanted more.  Mother had kept them in a beautiful basket hung from a hook attached to a beam in the roof.  I’d look up longingly at the basket and begged mother to take down those cakes and give me some.  But mother said they’re finished.  It was just an empty basket.  I wasn’t convinced and insisted she take down the basket and show me.  In the end she relented, took down the basket and opened it.  After I‘d seen for myself that it was really empty, I stopped whining. 


Now, whenever I look at the basket, I remember how great mooncakes tasted back then.  But these days, mooncakes cost a bomb, especially those designer pieces that are specially made for some people to present as special gifts to their parents or in-laws.  And they’re not really that appealing to me anymore. 


No doubt these festivals are now commercial issues, but practices must change with the times and reality.  Since the Americans have shown proof that they’d planted the Star Spangled Banner up there many years ago, most people have stopped worshipping the Moon Goddess.  But the lanterns, sweet cakes, pomelos and groundnuts still remain in the cycle of supply and demand. 


Nothing dies harder than fun, food, music, dancing and festivities.  But traditional beliefs must be reviewed and revised according to the conditions presented in their beautifully painted containers.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Then & Now










She hasn't changed much









I still see the cheeky little girl with the hearty laughter...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Why don’t they hire chimps for the job?

My turn to vent some angst. 


You got a line to design and set up.  You get a deadline and you got some help and some ideas and lots of photos and videos from some overseas facilities to benchmark.  Then they expect you to become an expert overnight.  They expect you to be a superman and perform everything to perfection.  They don’t have an inkling of the process because they’re not interested to know.  It’s your job, they say.  But they have lots of suggestion for unnecessary practices which they think will help them to ‘see’ it better, but they’re not doing anything to help.  But when you did something wrong in their eyes, they slam the hell out of you. 


When you arrange for a meeting to list out potential problems, they have excuses not to show up or they don’t show up at all.  They don’t bother if the reps they appointed don’t show up either.  In between, they have other unnecessary or unimportant little issues to keep you out of your seat.  Meanwhile, you’re expected to follow up on what you’vie written in your work-orders to other departments or follow up on problems which other departments should be handling.  But when these problems are not solved, that’s also your problem.  You didn’t follow up!  They tell you, you’ve been sleeping.  They ask, ‘what have you been doing all this while?’ 


Then when some expert with many years of experience having solved all the known problems shows up to help you put things in perspective, they come into the meeting room for some free coffee and talk cock, and hold up your time instead of contributing some ideas.  Then they demand that every step of the process must be made poka-yoke (idiot proof).  They don’t believe in their own people.  They don’t think their people have brains.  And they keep wondering why Malaysians can't improve themselves.  But they're the leadership and they're providing the transparent ceiling over their own people.  Then they wash their hands of all responsibilities if their people do something wrong. So you tell them to hire chimpanzees to run production. 


That’s the price I pay for opting for an engineering job instead of joining the ass-kissers ranks.  (Pardon me if you’re a manager.  But in here, they’re a different breed altogether.  There’re some good ones but they’re a rare species.)  I thought I’d be spared the stress and heavy pressure.  But it seems the guns are being turned around now.  The weight’s shifted in this direction, and the storm's gathering momentum.  You have the first day, they have their fifteenth. 


Sigh…its heavy, but life goes on.  Besides, money doesn’t grow on trees.


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Lesson from the woods

Take a lesson from the woods.


The teeny weenie little creeper said to the big strong tree, “Please sir, shed off some of your leaves and give me some sunshine.”

“No way, you little creep,” Said the big strong tree.  “Go elsewhere and find your own sunshine, and don’t pester me.  You have no place here.”


So the little creeper crept along the ground trying to find an open space to get a little bit of sunshine.  But he couldn’t get very far.  He got over-whelmed by all the other bushes and weeds.  He finally crawled back the big strong tree and began to climb upwards towards the sunlight.  He kept going higher and higher.  His brothers and sisters came along and they joined him in the upward journey.  Soon, they were climbing all over the tree. 


Eventually, without realizing it, the big strong tree began to loose his energy.  His leaves shrank in size and branches started growing weaker.  Slowly, over the years, instead of growing taller and bigger, he began drying up and some of his branches withered and fell off.  Then when the last of his leaves fell away, he died and began rotting away consumed and defeated by the family of creepers.


End of story. 


Now relate that to people.  Doesn’t it sound familiar?  There are people who are rich, powerful and strong and who won’t budge and inch no matter how hard you beg them.  They take and take and keep taking, and leave only the bits and crumbs to the weak and lowly.  But soon, the weak and lowly would grow and grow and multiply and they outnumber and overwhelm the big and strong ones and somehow, tactically defeat them. 


Only the wise ones grow and help others to grow that they become stronger and their strength and the combined strength of others help sustain their great position.  Thus they are assured of their lasting power.   Those who have their power and don’t think that they owe anyone soon find themselves fighting for their own survival.


Like the big tree.

This Old Guitar

I just couldn't get myself to throw this old guitar away.... It's been there for me since I got my first job and got paid.  The first thing in my life I paid for with my own money.  And it's done me lots of good and helped kept my spirits up 

during my worst days.  (Ok, I earned a lot of calluses from it too, but that's part of the bargain.  They help you feel less pain...)  


How can you send a good friend away?




This old guitar taught me to sing a love song,
it showed me how to laugh and how to cry.
It introduced me to some friends of mine

and brightened up some days.
It helped me make it through some lonely nights.
What a friend to have on a cold and lonely night

This old guitar gave me my lovely lady,

it opened up her eyes and ears to me.
it brought us close together and I guess it broke her heart,
it opened up the space for us to be,

what a lovely place and a lovely space to be.

This old guitar gave me my life my living

all the things you know I love to do
To serenade the stars that shine from a sunny mountainside,
and most of all, to sing my songs for you,

I love to sing my songs for you,

yes I do, you know, I love to sing my songs for you.


(John Denver)

Country Singer


I used to be a country singer.  (Well, we lived in the country and I loved to sing.)  It was sort of therapeutic for me whenever I got stressed.  Besides, there wasn’t much else to do in the evenings.  And initially the only audience I had was my long-suffering siblings and parents.  Then some critics in the form of neighbors came into the picture.  Then we had family friends, including a cousin (who broke my guitar while trying to play sepak takraw and strum it at the same time).  


Now, fast-forward to 21st century.  I often wondered what chance I’d have getting up on a stage and singing to a real live audience.  The few chances I had for me to find out, I blew them.  (I chickened out.)   The only place I could get to sing without inhibitions was in the bathroom.  I could try the living room but then whenever I got the mike plugged in, the kids “have homework to do”, “gotta get to bed early”.  Wifey would busy herself in the kitchen.  I just guess my singing isn’t much to shout about.  I’ll say that they’re more understanding than appreciative, its dad’s way to de-stress.


One evening, at Sook Wen’s wedding dinner there was a karaoke session, and there were some good singers and some so-so ones, all scrambling for the mike.   Fine, let’s just be entertained and eat.  I was chewing on some chicken in my mouth when I heard my name being called out by the MC, introducing me as the uncle of the bride.  Being the good uncle that I am, I wasn’t about to let the bride down.  So I gamely got on to the stand and delivered a poorly timed ‘Green green grass of home’.  That wasn’t so bad because I wasn’t told in advance and didn’t have time to turn my stomach into knots waiting for the cue.


I’m not really too keen about conquering my fear of the stage.  I don’t need to earn a living from it.  But remembering an old lesson from dad about facing my fears, anything I’m scared of doing I just thought I should take a shot at before I got too old for it.  (I don’t think they’d let me up on the Bungee platform without a medical certificate, would they?  Anyway, I’m not scared of that, so I’ll rule that out as a challenge!).  But heck, why not?  Some day I may need to get up there and announce something or say something on someone else’s behalf and find myself getting stage-fright.   Err, scary.


So, last night at our company’s annual din (I mean dinner, but ‘din’ is the correct description for it) I took to the stage for the 2nd time in my life.  Shivering in the knees but managed to keep my voice steady, I introduced my song with, “This is a song recorded in 1960 by the Brothers Four.  But tonight I’m going to sing it alone.  (pause) It’s called - Greenfields” (But why the heavens did they make the music so much slower than when I was rehearsing it?).  


I got a colleague to record it with my Olympus.  He managed to catch the ending.  They blew too much smoke at the start.  That was good because I couldn’t see the VIP table which was right in front.  In spite of that I managed to catch a glimpse of the CEO nodding his head in approval.  He probably recognized the song.  (BTW, that’s not a port belly.  That’s my shirt I didn’t have time to tuck in properly.  The organizing committee ushers were extremely good at their job.  There was no lapse in the program.  Everything ran like clockwork.)  I brought my tie along but it felt so strangling I took it off before they finally dragged me up on stage (which is also not true, I went up willingly enough)

Here’s the Country Singer doing his stuff. 


P.S.  Sorry folks, no show.  The Olympus FE150 came with a quirky Quicktime.exe  playable only on version 6.4.  Can't run on anything else.  Too bad those folks at Olympus better buck up.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Go, take a nap...

Go ahead.  Take a nap after your lunch.  Sir Winston Churchill used to do it.  Mexicans do it and even have a name for it.  They call it Siesta.  Now the Japs are trying to adopt it.  Yeah, Japan.  A nation of workaholics who even have a word for dying of overwork!  They must be wisening up.  No sense working your ass off for nothing.  No, I don’t mean that actually.  What I mean is you need to take a break and recover your lost energy.  By afternoon, most of us have probably used up most of our positive charge.


And I’ve been practicing it for years too.  Instead of rushing outside for a “better’ lunch, I have a quick & easy one in our cafeteria.  Well, I‘m ok.  I watch my waistline pretty closely.  Not too choosy about food either.  Eat almost anything except (owing to religious obligations), beef.  Then head back to my work desk, read some blogs, write some comments, plug ear-phone into ear, turn on mediaplayer for some guitar music and head off to forty winks with head on makeshift pillow consisting of McMaster-Carr catalogue with a sponge and a folded smock on top to be comfortable.  Thank the office designers for cubicles.  They do offer some sort of privacy for such ocassions.


It doesn’t last very long though.  A group of chatterbox ladies would saunter back to the next cubicle after their lunch and start their daily exchanges of what goes on in their lives.  But by then I’d have my 15 minutes of shut-down for recharge.  It actually gives me an advantage.  I‘d manage to sit out the most boring of afternoon meetings and wear out even guys ten years younger, without nodding off or yawning or begging someone for a stick of chewing gum to stay awake. 


So much for a little recharge at so little cost to the company, would you say?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


I'm in a blank spot these few days.  Since this just came in from a friend's email, I'm posting it here instead of forwarding it.  Read and ponder.... it may be your current situation.  And stay in there...ok?


I'm told the story is true: A woman was giving birth to a baby in an
elevator at a hospital. When she complained about the location, a
nurse said, "Why, this isn't so bad; last year a woman delivered her
baby out on the front lawn."

"Yes," said the woman on the floor, "that was me, too."

Who said, "If I didn't have bad luck I wouldn't have any luck at

But on the other hand, not all "bad luck" should be considered a bad
thing! Like someone said, "When life gives you a kick, let it kick
you forward."

In the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway learned something about "bad luck" and
getting kicked by life. He was struggling to make his mark as an
author when disaster struck. He lost a suitcase containing all his
manuscripts -- many stories he'd polished to jewel-like perfection --
which he'd been planning to publish in a book.

According to Denis Waitley in his book Empires of the Mind (William
Morrow and Company, Inc., 1995), the devastated Hemingway couldn't
conceive of redoing his work. All those months of arduous writing
were simply wasted.

He lamented his predicament to friend and poet Ezra Pound who called
it a stroke of good fortune! Pound assured Hemingway that when he
rewrote the stories, he would forget the weak parts; only the best
material would reappear. He encouraged the aspiring author to start
over with a sense of optimism and confidence. Hemingway did rewrite
the stories and eventually became a major figure in American

Don't pray for fewer problems; pray for more skills. Don't ask for
smaller challenges; ask for greater wisdom. Don't look for an easy
way out; look for the best possible outcome.

When life gives you a kick, let it kick you forward.


Sunday, September 3, 2006


Here’s a passage I copied directly from Screenshots’ comments section.  (hope you don’t mind, Jeff)   It is from stories like this that helps keep my faith in my fellow Malaysians from being overwhelmed by the occasional bombardments from green-horn politicians, unthinking parliamentarians, publicity seekers, extremists and bigots who often hog the front page news and give me the shudders every time I try to look into the future of this fair land which we call Home.  But the optimist in me refuses to look too long into the dark images created by those louts in the guise of champions of race and religion. 

I like to keep such messages so that I can keep coming back and read them again in case my spirits are down and before I start to drown in the murky waters of doubt, despondency and the images of doom.  For the sake of our future generations, I do hope we can read more of such messages from our fellow Malaysians.

I do hope you share my sentiments. 



AS a news reporter with The Malay Mail between 1994 and 2005, I met Rev. Dhammananda several times – usually during Wesak Day celebrations he led at the Buddhist Maha Vihara (temple) in Brickfields and a few other occasions.

Every time I bumped into him, I only asked a few questions just to get some quotes for my news report. Never did I have a proper conversation with him. I regret that now.

I’d like to share what to me was a very special experience during one of my meetings with him.

It was on Christmas Day in 1998 when my Assistant News Editor assigned me to cover a Christmas party for some 200 underprivileged children. It was quite a news-worthy item to cover as it was held at the vihara in Brickfields, organised by a group of Christians, the Santa Claus was a Hindu and the contributor for all the balloons adorning the party area was a Muslim!

But what I will remember of that day forever was what the Reverend said and did.

You see, Dec ’98 was also the month of Ramadhan, where (many) Muslims like me were fasting. By the time I arrived at the vihara, it was 6.30pm and many children were already playing around, taking photos with Santa and being entertained by a clown, among others.

At about 15 minutes before 7-something pm (buka puasa time), I was busy thinking of where to go for my dinner - either the nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken or a roadside teh tarik stall, both within walking distances from the vihara.

The Reverend, the vihara’s religious advisor back then, must have been observing me. He walked up to me and, as if he had read my mind, calmly said: “Young man, don’t think too much. You can buka puasa here. I will accompany you.”

I agreed in a split second. He solved my problem!

“Please forgive us. We only have vegetarian dishes here,” he humbly and smilingly added, while leading me to a dining table somewhere in the vihara’s premises.

I was speechless. He brought me right down to earth with those few simple words. Even if there were only cookies served with lots of plain water at the vihara, I’ll be happy enough.

So, there we were, sitting at the dining table, together with a few other priests in their saffron robes and a spread of vegetarian dishes was laid out in front of us.

As I was making sure my wristwatch was accurate, the Reverend took out a small pocket radio transistor from somewhere, turned it on and tuned in to a Bahasa Malaysia radio station.

As scheduled, the muezzin recited the call for the evening prayer through the little speaker, which also marked the moment to break fast.

“Go ahead, Azlan,” he told me to start first. Only after I had my first gulp of water for the day, did he and the other priests start eating. I was honoured and humbled at the same time.

The fact that I didn’t go to KFC or the the tarik stall wasn’t because I didn’t know how to turn down the Chief High Priest of Malaysian and Singaporean Theravada Buddhists’ dinner invitation. It was buka puasa in a Buddhist temple for me, during a Christmas party! How cool was that, eh?

Seriously, the Reverend’s humble gestures greatly raised my respect and admiration for him. During that brief encounter with him, my personal tolerance and understanding towards other people’s faiths, beliefs and cultures was greatly altered, for the better.

In less than an hour of dining together, his simple acts of humility made me a better person, more open-minded and drastically changed, for the better, my ways of looking at the world I live in.

It was a small but very refreshing respite for this one tired reporter near the end of that very colourful and turbulent year – street ‘Reformasi’ protests, KL Commonwealth Games, the horrible smog and the Asian economic crisis, among many others.

To me, the Rev. Dhammananda was a great Buddhist and more importantly, a great human being.

Malaysia and its Buddhist community have lost a very special person.

With much sadness, I bid farewell to him.


for reference:

Photo from Screenshots' Jeff Ooi