Monday, 30 April 2012

Bookshops I Have Known


The thing about a bookshop, especially a second hand one, is that it has nuances, slight (or major) differences and each has to be approached cautiously, skirting around at first (rather like Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice, the Andrew Davies production). On no account are you to approach a bookshop directly, or, irritated by your clumsy arrogance, it will not yield up its delights to you, but keep them hidden, safe from your Philistine grasp.

"Go away please, we do not serve your kind here!"

Once you have made the approach in the required manner, you are allowed to raise your eyes to the volumes - old, new, paperback, possibly antiquarian? You take them in at a glance....oooh I like this bookshop, it has Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen biography. Ooooh I don't like this one, expensive, without taste...yes, you make your quick snap judgements, lower your eyes, once again and proceed to look for the shelf, your shelf, the one you came here to meet.

Once you find it....a certain rigidity takes your being and you sink down, goldfishy and subverbal. Please, please, leave me be for a while, I need to search, I need to run my fingertips over these precious spines, maybe take out a volume or two and open them and let that old book smell waft up to my nostrils.

Yes, OK, there is a kiddie size chair here I am going to wedge myself in and read the first few lines of this - Pelham Grenville? Who would have thought?

In Malaysia, it is definitely Kinokuniya, KLCC. Of course, Borders at the Curve is not bad and MPH at Megamall is sorta catching up. As for secondhand books, there is only Skoob, but you need to take a trip there, to the middle of nowhere, specially for your book expedition...there are treasures, but you have to be patient. Chat with Thor. Or his wife. They're both quite nice. Eccentric, but nice.

And in England - my favourite little second hand bookshop so far, has been in Winton. There are masses and masses of books, piled up on the floor, stacked in the shelves, still in boxes - you have to be patient enough to go through the untidy stacks, selecting the ones you want - presenting them to Mr Brown, who will usually say, £5 for three. If the books happen to be a little older, rarer, he may pause awhile, regard you quizically and tell you £15. But he usually shows you a cheaper alternative. If he has one. A genial soul, he keeps up an unending patter and laments the fact that people don't read books anymore. I wished myself upon him for a half day of work (he had let slip that he needed help arranging the books, never dreaming anyone would take him seriously, and I showed up bright eyed and bushy tailed, one windy Wednesday morning, and not knowing what to do with me, he set me to work with the old antiquarian books) Luvely luvely. Of course he cringed and snapped when I handled some with less than the required care. But he gave me a rare edition of Summoned by Bells by John Betjeman as payment. So cool! (Anyway, that one's Winton, in Bournemouth, OK?)

I loved the bookshop in Wimborne. It had the Jane Austen biography and the PG Wodehouse biography (by someone or other) so I considered it the best stocked second hand bookshop around these parts. When we went there was only a sullen teenager looking after the shop, staring into space (instead of reading a book, despite the riches all around, can you believe that?) but I still loved it.

The one at Lyme Regis (think Jane Austen's Persuasion) was pretty good, nice comfy sofas to sit on downstairs while you browsed through, and quite a few bargains for £1 each, but I still preferred the one in Wimborne.

We had a look-see at the secondhand bookshop in Dorchester but found it expensive and unimpressive. (The books were cold and forbidding, they didn't call, I didn't answer)

London, Charing Cross was so-so. Not as good as I expected or remembered. Neither was Foyle's, my favourite bookshop in all of England some 10 or 11 years ago, when I was here on assignment. (The other members of my troupe were off sightseeing. So was I. For me, bookshops are sight seeing). Borders was OK. I really needed to use the bathroom and they only had one. So, I didn't buy Paulo Coelho's new book there which was going for £3 pounds less although a cursory skim showed that this would be my kinda book.

Having said that, my bag is full of books. I am hauling back a frigging library.

And if you want me, I'll be at my club, er...bookshop.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Heal The World

This has got to be my favourite Michael Jackson song and video. I do believe we can heal the world. That, in a way, is what this blog has been about. I don't know if you caught it but we live in a joy-deprived world. We've substituted an appearance of joy, for real joy, that delight welling up from within, where we do not need to share pictures on Facebook to tell others that by gum, look at me, I'm having fun. This is me, my face smiling, suffused in joy.

And this absence is sad. And as I come to the last few days of my one year, I say, heal the world.

Reclaim your joy.

Watch this. Really, really watch it.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Eagles


I interviewed Edmund some time last year ...this was the interview I was one and a half hours late for, lost in the vastness of Cheras. Although I had intruded into the times of his other meetings...he sat there, and talked to me for one and half hours. I did two stories...this one, which I wrote for Options, was hands down, my favourite.

Datuk Sri Edmund Santhara remembers the day it all went to hell. The Masterskill Group Education Bhd executive director and group chief executive officer was at a Deepavali dinner with the Chief Minister of Johor, Datuk Abdul Ghani bin Othman and had just received an award for being an outstanding Johorean entrepreneur. There was rice and chicken curry among other things but Santhara wasn’t eating much. His head felt like it was going to burst. He excused himself and went to the bathroom to throw up. He came out again and tried to join in the conversations all around him; to no avail.

“I knew it was abnormal. But because I was feeling nauseous, I thought it must be food poisoning.” As it was the weekend and his driver was off and Santhara knew that there was no way he could make the three-hour drive back the other way to Kuala Lumpur by himself. So he went looking for his brother, Datuk Jeevanthiram and asked if he would drive him back. It was important that he get back that night itself. His eldest daughter was going to receive her first Holy Communion the next day and he didn’t want to miss that.

But something was very wrong. He threw up all the way back. And when safely deposited at his front door, he crawled into bed and woke his wife Carline up , telling her that she would have to take him to the hospital a couple of hours from then.

She did. And after being admitted for food poisoning and put through a battery of tests, including a brain scan because of the persistent headache, he heard the three words he was to hear over and over again over the next few days: ruptured brain aneurysm. Even though he ran a university college that was medical in nature, he hardly knew what that meant. A ruptured brain aneurysm? For someone who was hardly 40?

But as he was to discover through compulsive Google and Wikipedia research over the next few weeks of enforced inactivity, it could happen to anybody. It wasn’t really dependent on age or lifestyle. Except that Santhara had been really pushing himself to the limit over the past few months.

Not content with listing his company and all the attendant headaches that came with that, including a government volte face on the subject of Perbadanan Tabung Pendidikan Tinggi Nasional (PTPTN) loans which triggered an exodus of foreign investors causing the share price to tank, he was negotiating a highly challenging PhD, and had already completed 80% of the written work for his doctorate.

“I was working 15 to 16 hours a day and after the IPO I thought I’d take my first two-week break in five years. I gave all my key executives holidays but by the time they got back there was all this turbulence in the share price which required me to fly to Singapore and Hong Kong personally to explain things to them. When I was through with that, it was time to execute the strategies and tactics outlined in our prospectus and develop business in new areas, countering the effects of the unfavourable announcements over the past few months,” he points out.

So maybe it’s no wonder that he collapsed. When the results of the brain scan came through he was transferred with all due haste to Gleneagles. But here he met with the first reverse in the smooth medical machinery, as it were. No local surgeon wanted the responsibility of possibly killing off Edmund Santhara during the very delicate surgery required. Although nearly all were more than willing to assist another surgeon.

Professor Dr Michael Morgan, a world-renowned neurosurgeon happened to be in Malaysia. Carline went to see him and managed to convince him to perform the surgery on her husband. Dr Jagdeep (known to everyone as Dr Jack), a well-known Malaysian neurosurgeon agreed to assist him.

In Gleneagles, for the first time, Santhara, who had always been blessed with rude health, got a firsthand experience of being looked after by the nurses he had trained. “Most of them were from the first batch of nurses who had graduated from Masterskill. One of them, Amrita, spoke to me and told me I have to be strong. It was a completely different experience to have people that you trained saving your life. “

Dr Morgan agreed to do the surgery. Except that it would have to be performed at about five in the morning because he had a paper to present at a conference at 11am, which is why he was in Malaysia in the first place.

Thoughts of mortality circled in his brain and Santhara called the executor of his will. “I said to him, if anything happens, you know what to do. And he said, don’t think like that. Nothing is going to happen. You’re going to be fine.”

The surgery itself went off well. Dr Morgan did not do the conventional thing. Instead of “coiling”, which is a minimally invasive procedure where a platinum coil is introduced into the treatment area to block blood flow and prevent aneurysm, he did a “clipping” which involves removing a section of the skull, spreading the brain tissue apart and placing a tiny metal clip across the neck to stop blood flow into the aneurysm. After clipping the aneurysm, the bone would be secured in its original place and the wound, closed.

He asked Santhara if he had any requests vis-à-vis the surgery. “I told him, please cut above the hairline.”

He takes out his Blackberry to show the pictures he took of his head, post-surgery. “Not bad, eh?” he asks gleefully, looking at the picture of the shaved head and the black stitches emblazoned across it like a bad tattoo. He points to the scar on his head, as it is now, barely perceptible. “That’s because he did a very good job.”

After the surgery, Santhara who had been in the thick of things was ordered not to do any work for three months. He was basically not contactable by phone or Blackberry. The company would have to function without him.

“It gave me a chance to see how the second-liners would do and to tell you the truth, I was very satisfied. Whatever weaknesses I identified, I started addressing the moment I got back to work.”

That was in March. In the meantime, he travelled to Australia and New Zealand, gazed at mountains, and thought about life. “Having a brain aneurysm is a crossroads experience. You get to think about what you really want in life and how you want to go about getting it. It gives you a different perspective altogether.”

Before, it was always about having, being and doing more: “I wanted to build something bigger and better, there was no limit. And then I was struck down and I thought, perhaps it’s not about the destination but about enjoying the journey more.”

He also came up with his own “bucket list”. “While I was in hospital I wrote down about 25 things I would do if I survived the operation, if I got back to normal. There was always a possibility that even if I survived the operation I wouldn’t be 100%. Sometimes with a ruptured aneurysm you lose the ability to walk. Sometimes, you lose your memory.”

He didn’t lose either. But he has noticed a difference. “You can never go back to being the way you were before an aneurysm. I notice that now I have an attention deficiency. Being a chess player, in those days, I could sit for five to six hours and concentrate on a single game. I could have long four-to-five hour meetings. These days, I keep my meetings short, simple and sharp. 45 minutes and that’s it! First half an hour we have the discussion and the following 15 minutes we decide on the execution. We make a decision, life moves on. Things are very different.”

So what’s on his bucket list? “For one thing, I wrote down the name of all the people that I didn’t like very much. This list includes some friends, relatives, old schoolteachers who bullied me back in the day. I had been unhappy with them for so long and I thought the least I could do was to call them and forgive them and ask them to forgive me. And I told them, no doubt we dislike each other, but is there anything we could do together?”

He also decided to participate more actively in social work and as a staunch Catholic, renew his commitment to the church. “I’m active in the Telugu Association of Malaysia and I’m also active in my own foundation, the Malaysian Intellect Development Foundation which focuses on active citizenship via leadership and also entrepreneurship among the youth. And I now want to start a motivational company.”

He said another thing that the brain aneurysm arrested was his mad pursuit of money, power and status. “Life is not measured by these things. As a young business executive, what do you do? You want to earn more money. As you move up the corporate ladder, you want more power. And after attaining money and power, what’s important is status. You get entrapped in this world. But after coming through the aneurysm I woke up and suddenly these things didn’t seem so important anymore. They do not guarantee happiness.”

He said he felt a call. “Everyone feels the call. It could be a religious call. It could be a call for social contribution. It could be for doing small things in a big way in your community. A simple thing can change people’s lives. You don’t have to change thousands of them. If you could change the lives of 10 people and they in turn affect another 10 people, it snowballs.”

He also worked on his thesis for his doctorate. “Education has always been important to me. I did my MBA part time while I was working. I enrolled in the doctorate programme and had completed 80% of my work. I went back to them and asked them for an extension to April 30; that was the last date of submission and I did submit my thesis and am waiting for my final verification.”

Santhara has probably worked harder than most highly educated people to get to where he is. While he was still living in the estate in Renggam and was put in the science stream which meant that three times of a week, he had to stay back for ninth period, a peculiarly Johorean institution, there were no more buses back to where he lived. He needed to get a bus to Renggam town and from there, a bus to the Ulu Remis estate. And from Ulu Remis, he would have to hitch a ride with one of the passing lorries to get back home.

“There were days when I reached home at nine at night. One day it was really bad and I only reached home at one o’clock. Walking through an oil palm plantation when it’s all dark is an experience. Snakes are one thing, and you have all kinds of things running over your head. But it was fun. It helped me be a better person.”

From Renggam, he moved to Johor Bahru. “That was when I moved to Sekolah Dato’ Jaafar, which was a turning point in my life. SDJ was something different. There, I learned about ownership. Our principal Harbajan Singh said if you want to see how a school is managed, you look at their toilets and their field. In SDJ, every student had their own plot and every day you had to go into school early and tend your plot and clean the grounds you were assigned to in the duty roster.

“A lot of things I learned there are actually implemented in Masterskills. For an educational institution, it’s remarkably clean. And we were the first one to put all our students in uniform. I did it because I believe in standardization. I was also in Pelapis which is the reserve officers training unit and that’s where I implemented coloured stripes for our students. If you are a first-year, you wear one stripe, if you are a second-year, you wear two stripes. If you are a nursing student you wear a blue stripe and if you are a pharmaceutical student you wear an orange stripe. The idea is to identify them and also to create competition among them. If you all your friends are wearing two stripes and you fail your first year and are only wearing one stripe, you would probably find that unacceptable.

“The idea is to identify them and create competition among them. A lot of things we do here eventually became the industry standard and people copy us without knowing why we do what we do,” he chuckles.

University was a challenge. “I got offered a business course with UKM. When I told my great grandmother I was going to university, she said, what course will you be doing? And I said business studies. And she wanted to know why on earth I needed to go to university to learn about business. You can’t blame her. This is how they thought in the old days.

“And then I went to university and completed my four-year programme in three and a half years. I didn’t do that well in my first year. But I improved subsequently in my second and third years.”

However, the results of his unspectacular first year dragged him down and he only managed to scrape a cumulative grade of 2.99, which would mean a second-class (lower) honours. This was unacceptable. “I wanted to sit for two more papers to bring up my cumulative grade and the university pointed out that I had already completed what I needed to. So I wrote them a letter saying that as I have four years to complete my degree, I was technically entitled to one more semester. So they allowed me to do it and I brought up my average which allowed me to get a second-class upper.”

During the final semester he had a part-time job in Johor Bahru and taking the classes for the paper meant he had to ride his little used mosquito bike, a 1988 Kawasaki Ninja which didn’t have a radiator, about 340km to University Kebangsaan Malaysia, to attend classes once a week.

“I would stop halfway at Pagoh and have a Coke or a 100 Plus. And then I would pour the rest of my drink on the engine to see how hot it was. If there was a lot of smoke I would know it was very hot and wait a little longer for the engine to cool before I resumed my journey. These days, when I pass the Pagoh rest-stop, it takes me back and I always stop and smile at what it used to be like. I notice that after the aneurysm, I value memories like these a lot more.”

And after all that, he was unable to find a job. “I sent out more than 200 resumes in the course of a year without getting even one job offer. And then I finally landed a position in a company that used to be known as Hitechniaga. It was under the MBf group. And it was there that I built my career.”

He is indebted to Hitechniaga’s CEO George Gan for giving him a chance and teaching him about business. “It was he who introduced me to terms like paradigm shifter and paradigm pioneer, two concepts that I applied to Masterskill. I moved within MBf from technology to finance to education.” And it was here, that he finally settled eventually going on to take the ailing Masterskill group to its present heights.

Having finally secured a real job, one that was commensurate with his education, you would have thought that Santhara would start living it up. He didn’t. “A lot of guys I knew bought nice sexy cars like Alfa Romeos, after graduation, and hung out in Bangsar. I hung out in Bangsar too, except perhaps, not in the same places. I was going to the Strategic Business School there, pursuing my MBA. I had taken a bank loan of RM45,000 from Bank Rakyat to pay for my course at an interest rate of 11% to 12% which was normal in those days. So while the other guys partied, a huge chunk of my disposable income went towards my studies.”

So stretching himself from paycheck to paycheck he continued to climb. And he did not climb alone. “I met my wife Carline at university. She was a straight A student. She was my good friend in 1992, my girlfriend in 1993 and we got married in 1998. We have two daughters, one 10 and the other 5. A while ago, I gave 12.8% of my shares in the company to my wife. So she is effectively the largest shareholder in Masterskill, a fact which she reminded me of recently, when I called myself the largest shareholder,“ he says with a laugh.

Santhara said his father had once told him that no matter how high it flies, a house bird can never be an eagle. “I had been comparing myself to my university batch mates who happened to be the children of managers while my own father was a labourer. He was trying to tell me that I could never be one of them. I pointed out to him recently that he was wrong. It is possible for a house bird to transform itself into an eagle. We can all be eagles in our own way.”

Thursday, 26 April 2012

By The Skin Of My Teeth

La la la la...I am now in JB - drove back from Fraser's to KL and then from KL to JB...it was basically a day of driving...lots happened in Fraser's...mainly I took a lot of naps, wrote a lot of letters, went for long walks (OK, not so long, at least not as long as the last time I came here), made a new friend (the Smokehouse manager). Listened to my Libera CDs on the way there, on the way back.

Before Fraser's I was on a two-day silent retreat. It was only silent in snatches as Malaysians seem to think it unsocial to keep quiet in the presence of strangers, even if you have been instructed to. So tea-time, lunchtime, in fact any break - was cacophonous. Kenneth later told me that the eight-day silent retreat really is silent. Must try and make one of those. I bet I could be quiet for the duration.

As there was not much silence during the retreat, I took off to Fraser's. I thought, OK, I don't know anyone there...it will be silent...but no. The manager turned out to be a kindred spirit and we talked up a storm. I brought all these books of poetry and one of poetic prose...and I read bits and pieces from each....I climbed into my large four-poster, bed-curtained bed and took many naps. It rained and I huddled deliciously beneath the blankets. I turned on the fake fire which gave light but no warmth (though the light was comforting in itself). I had a glass of sherry as a nightcap and read Joseph Chiari's poems and on the second day, Barbara Pym's early novels. (yum!) One of her books was on the shelf there, near my room...seems guests come and go and leave books. My room had been occupied by an American novelist who wrote steadily every morning and stayed there for 10 days. He made up legends about the fancy suites, but sadly, they do not survive.

I switched off my phone over there and when I turned it back on, there was the usual hysterical drama (you could have been murdered and we would not have known!)...to which I reacted with my usual aplomb (losing my temper).

I am sure there is more to say, but it's late and I'm tired and there is much to digest and process.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Warm Touch Of Your Hand

Sometimes I stretch my arm,
Through the shifting frame
Of the swift changing picture,
And brushing aside mountains,
Bending trees like blades of grass,
I find again the warm touch of your hand,
Then the world is golden
And soft as a peach
In an eternal Summer.

-Joseph Chiari-

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Meandering Through Foggy Streets In A Strange Place...

Addy, this one's for you.


I went to Fraser's Hill because a fire was in my brain. Like Yeats and that hazel wood. I didn't see the silver apples of the moon and the golden apples of the sun, but I did spend a lot of time by myself writing and reading.

I wandered lonely as a ghost through foggy winding streets at night in short-sleeved tee-shirts and shorts. I kept myself warm with a bellyful of wine. Wine on an empty stomach is kind of vertiginous. I was falling, falling, falling...

When it got too cold, I crawled into my bed-curtained, four-poster bed (I was staying at the Smokehouse and as the staff were only too pleased to point out, it tried to retain its 1920s charm), pulled up the covers and shivered drowsily.

Not that I slept. Drunk as I was, I couldn't.

It was New Year's Eve and my phone connection was wonky (I couldn't receive calls and texts were intermittent at best). I wrote furiously into my journal and just before midnight peeled off my clothes because it seemed more honest to see in the year naked, cold as I was.

Yes. To be naked was to be free of artifice or at least, freer than this.

The hotel was famous for ghosts and they invited me to come out and play. Friendly ghosts who creaked and rustled and listened to me pouring out my madness and misery until I was empty and ready to fade.

I sent a friend the following message:

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

Happy New Year!


And I had. I just don't remember when.

The old-fashioned streetlamps glowed yellow in the fog sending forth cupolas of light that stood out in the misty whiteness illuminating nothing. Diamonds flowed from the pine tree leaves onto the parked cars. I sat cross-legged on a park bench outside the hotel wrapped in nothing but complacency and watched. Some cars sped by looking for parties but it was Fraser's Hill and there were none. At least, there was supposed to be one, at Pine's, and I went looking for it, driving drunk on narrow unilluminated windy streets and got lost.

Blackest night.

Unfamiliar roads.

Head not right.

I found my way to the town centre and parked. Getting out to greet the hot dog guy. I thought I would see in New Year's with him, over a hot dog, but I finished my dog and it was still half and hour to, and I decided it would be less lonely to see it in alone. So I wiped my sticky hands on my t-shirt, tipped him generously, wished him a Happy New Year and took off.
Back to the hotel, to sleep perchance to dream.

Ay, that was the rub.

But I didn't sleep (no, not even the sleep of death and no dreams came).

A few more text messages, another glass of wine...and I huddled under the thin blankets feeling something tear inside.

Then it was morning and I woke up just in time for breakfast. And went back to sleep after, hungover.

I wandered through the friendly roads, and leaves brushed silently against my face.

Someone asked me: "Miss are you alone?"

I said: "Yes."

He said: "Do you want to come on a trail and look at the birds? We have beautiful birds here. I'm taking some Japanese guests and you can tag along for free. It's an easy trail. You'll like it."

It was kind.

But I wanted to be left alone.

So I said: "Thanks."

And didn't go.

I've made up my mind about some things.

And not about others.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.


Happy New Year.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Angel Voices

OK so the silent retreat is over and I really really want to tell you all about it. But I'm rushing here...meeting Alison for drinks at Backyard tonight. This will be the first time we've gone together.

And I received my Angel Voices and Peace CDs (both Libera, of course) in the mail today. Which means that the CD in my car will finally be changed...(from one Libera to another...ah me, I'm so predictable and I love what I love with a love that is more than love).



So I'm just putting this in case I come back too late to update you today...and horror of horrors...miss a day.

In other words, I'm full of joy...and I'll come back and tell you all about it, k?

Toodles for now.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Listen


When you meet someone, be quiet and listen. If you listen carefully enough, you will hear - the music emanating from them. Sometimes, it's a little discordant, sometimes it's a lot. These people may appear attractive at first, but slowly you move away. Their music bothers you, leaves you feeling slightly out of sync.

Sometimes the music is sweet, the chirping birds....these are the innocent, you listen to them, you smile and you love their energy. You stick around.

And sometimes the music washes over you with its lostness and longing...you may be afraid and step away...such intense emotions are not pretty...they are...larger than life and life is supposed to be manageable, bite-sized. So we step away from them, but read their books later, and marvel at their words....such beauty, such tortured beauty.

And then there is the rageful music, the crashing waves, the swells, electric thunderstorms...we love this music, sometimes. Just like we love to watch thunderstorms, sometimes. We listen, we smile, we leave. Don't get too close, or you'll get burnt. Don't get too close, or you'll get annihilated.

Perhaps.

And then there's the healer's music which steals around us, like fingers of colour licking away at the painful spots, the hurt bits. This music we either love. Or resent. Maybe we want to go on feeling hurt. Or maybe, we're ready to heal. We stay around these people and their mother energy reaches out, soothes, a wordless lullaby....

So the next time, you meet someone...listen to their music...and if you want to, try to sing in tune.

Friday, 20 April 2012

The Plum and the Jellybean


So, yeah, late night out, three glasses of wine, listening to the band, dealing with a feral Frenchman (I ran away, he terrified me so), sort of hungover because I forgot to take my "Party Smart" pills (it hasn't gotten to be a habit yet). And today I rack my brains to try and figure out what to put here.

So I put in my thumb and pulled out a plum and said, what a good girl am I.


In the dark night streets the Plum did walk
the Big Red Jellybean to stalk
the night was cold and the wind was howling
and all the prowlers were a-prowling.

The Jellybean walked further and further
Sweating with fright for the Plum was a murderer
would it the Plum's next victim be
The bean shook all over, trembling like jelly.

Suddenly there was a shuffling sound
The Jellybean hurriedly swung around
when in fright the bean did behold
something that made its jelly go cold

The horrible, abominable, horrendous Plum
Instead of walking, had started to run
With its feet like lightning and its eyes on fire
Clearly, the kill the Jellybean was its desire.

The Jellybean swiftly turned and fled
But it tripped on a stone and fell on its head
The Plum was advancing closer and closer
Was the poor Jellybean a goner?

With the effort of a thousand men
The Jellybean rose, only to fall again
The Plum was now in a hand's reach
With the glint of it's eyes and its purple teeth.

Suddenly there was a sound louder than thunder
the Plum and the Jellybean started in wonder
The Big Brave Banana had come
representing the law, to capture the Plum.

The cowardly Plum turned and ran
but found it was surrounded by the Policefruit clan
the next full moon it was declared
that the Plum was to be electric chaired.

When the Plum died
not a soul in fruitville wept or cried
it was a death, well-deserved
cos the Plum's kind of life is best not preserved.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Markets, Situationists and "I Lost My Job And Found My Soul" Memoirs


I wrote this last year when all the markets were going to hell.

As I reach for my second memoir of someone who lost their job and found a life in as many days, I wonder if I’m going crazy. I would not blame me. After all, strolling out of the office, on my way to Starbucks for the evening cuppa, I see the following headline screaming across the screen: “World in Danger”.

As if everyone wasn’t tense enough. And so the stock market continues to fall. I would go into complete avoidance mode except that I work in a newspaper, a business one at that, and I get a daily report from my morose father who has lost a fortune in a few days and is wondering where all the flowers have gone.

In moments like these my mind turns to Neil Postman. And his masterpiece, “Amusing Ourselves To Death” where he talks about the uselessness of watching world headlines, because there’s nothing you can do about it, nothing you can affect in a real way, and you’re simply scaring (or amusing yourself) to death.

Instead, he would have us go for local council meetings and listen to debates of things that actually affect us. Except, he reasons, we can’t. Way back when, semi-educated people could follow six-hour Lincoln-Douglas debates without flinching and come back for more of the same for a whole week. And they spoke in long, complex sentences. Today it’s soundbytes, punchlines, or nothing.

So I bury myself in these memoirs which have been appearing in greater frequency at all the major bookstores. Think about it. If you calculate how many people have been fired since the global financial meltdown in 2008 and extrapolate from that figure the number of talented writers, and from that figure, the number of talented writers who have not sunk into depression, alcoholism, drug dependence or checked out early, you would get an idea of the number of such memoirs still to come.

I picked out my book of choice, paid for it and took the long stroll back to the office to show a colleague who looks corporate and respectable, but is a hippie in disguise, my new purchase. He thought it showed an unhealthy obsession, although I tried to tell him that such books are ultimately uplifting. For all my hard sell, he declined to borrow it once I got done.

We got to talking about Situationists (as one would in the natural course of conversation) and he agreed to borrow another book I had just bought on “How To Be Free” by Tom Hodgkinson, the editor of this delightful magazine called The Idler, which included advice like play the ukulele, ride a bike and live off the land.

A Situationist, for anyone who is as unfamiliar with the term as I was, just a week ago, are a cool group of people who advocate experiences of life “for the fulfillment of human primitive desires and the pursuit of superior passionate quality.”

In other words, not the kind of people who would be too fazed about the “World in Danger” headline (basically because they wouldn’t see it), not the type of people who would get on the computer as soon as they got back from their cataract operations to see just how much further their portfolio had fallen. Not the kind of people who would read (or work in) a business newspaper.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

And All Her Paths Are Peace



I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.
Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

The Ghost of Okwandar


(it's late and I'm tired and can't think of anything else so, here...something I wrote when I was 14, for a class presentation, in the few minutes before bell-ring...you know, to indicate that school was about to start and we all had to get up and line up?)


'Tis about the Ghost of Okwandar
Who one day left his grave
to scare the people near and far
the cowards and the brave

He went to the nearest town
which was a cheerful place
and he put on his fiercest frown
ghastly was his face

One look at him the people screamed
in terror and in fright
out of the town they hastily streame
running with all their might.

In that town old Okwandar stayed
until one sunny day
a brave young man called Billy Braid
decided to chase him away

The fight was long and tiring
it lasted for ten whole days
Billy fought unyielding
Okwandar began to give way

At least there was a glimpse of hope
Okwandar had started to tire
and soon it really couldn't cope
and vanished in a ball of fire

The town is now a peaceful one
its scary past forgot
Billy Braid the Brave had won
another adventure he sought.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Gatecrashing

Why am I putting this here now when it happened, oh, I don't know....two years ago? Well, see, I met Albert before...and he tried to fix my bag for me. So that's why. Also, I think it's a funny story.

Oh death in life, the days that are no more...


So Mary and I have the best seats in the house at this posh party at Planter's Jim in Bangsar. It's the owner's mother's birthday. The owner happens to own the Social as well. Which is also in Bangsar.

And there were are, uninvited, sitting at the table directly facing the band. The very famous band with Vijay, Albert and Badar (and let's not forget Azmi on sax). I feel distinctly uncomfortable and start edging towards Mary trying to take up less space.

Vijay sings his heart out.

And the band plays on.

The birthday girl comes up to speak to Mary who stands up to wish her. I edge towards Mary, trying to compress myself into an even smaller space.

Thing is, we didn't ask to be here. Thing is, Vijay invited us to gatecrash cos he was performing and also cos he fancies Mary. Thing is, we were happily ensconced in our traditional Devi's Corner with our chappatis and mutton curry and I texted Vijay to let him know we were there. We knew he was performing somewhere in Bangsar and we thought he could duck out during breaks to come and join us.

The moment I texted him, I got a call. He told us later that he received the text afer the band had only done one (one!) song. And he said, we're going to be taking a break now and hightailed it out of there, running the length of Telawi 2 to join us at Devi's. He sidled up to Mary and put his arm around her as comfortably as a long-time boyfriend. (not like an almost maybe not quite boyfriend). He stayed with us so long that Mary and I started to get nervous.

"Aren't they expecting you back? Aren't you supposed to be performing?"

He was. And he received a call from Azmi saying, bro, we're up for another "set". So he ran all the way back (whatever it was, it was good exercise for the Vijay boy)

A minute or two later, he called me, asking if we would like to make our way over. I said aiyo Vijay, private party lar. You want us to gatecrash?

He said no problem, the old flers have started karaokeing and they kicked us off the stage. You come and sit with the band.

I said, hmmm Planter's Jim, very expensive. Are you going to be buying us our drinks? He said, no problem, no problem.

So Mary touched up her lippie (she was looking very fetching in a short maroon dress) and we made our way over. The band were sitting outside. I talked to Albert while Mary and Vijay were engrossed in each other. Azmi talked to Badar. I called them both kudikarans as they were the only ones having whisky. OK, Vijay was having whisky rocks as well. Albert wasn't drinking. He's a sober cat.

I asked Al if he was mechanically minded. He asked why? You want me to fix your car? I said, no, my handbag. I had inadvertently caught up the cloth in the zipper. Or in non-technical terms, the zipper was stuck and it would take some doing to unstick it. Albert tackled it gamely and then told me I would have to cut the cloth around the zipper.

Now, this bag had been a present from one Prabhakaran, and I wasn't too keen on destroying it. Vijay, who has the Convent knack of noticing ten other conversations while engaged in his own, said, hey bro, pass it over. Then he proceeced to attack my bag with a spike, some oil, a screwdriver (OK, no screwdriver), in fact, with everything but his teeth.

No cigar.

Then Badar took over. A minute later he was handing me the bag properly zipped out. My mouth fell open. I had been resigned. Now I was unresigned. I gave him a million dollar smile and thanked him.

Then the band was up for another performance. OK here's where things get tricky. Mary and I were proceeding to as near the stage as possible to watch them when we noticed that Vijay had arranged our drinks on the very best seat in the house. We sat there and became progressively more uncomfortable. At least I was. I wasn't drinking see? Apparently I can't anymore because it has adverse effects on my mood (I want to kill everyone in the vicinity and I'm not talking maybe, baby!). So I stuck to punch. Two glasses of wine were sloshing around in Mary's belly and she was glowing like a fog lamp. Which means that she was less uncomfortable.

So birthday girl came up to talk to us (us being Mary). The one of the daughters asked us to join their conga line. Another daughter asked us to cha cha. An old fler apologised to us for making so much noise. The birthday girl came back and asked us to request a song.

If you're wondering about the VIP treatment, well frankly, so were we. You don't gatecrash a very posh party and get treated like guests of honour.

Anyway I leaned over and whispered to Mary: "So you're Vijay's girlfriend and I'm your good friend and you don't go anywhere without me and he don't go anywhere without you. Stick to the story!"

Mary was pickled enough to agree.

When Vijay came down from stage for a breather, Mary informed him of our respective positions. He looked at her with a "tell me something I don't know" look. "I already told them that. And the lady said, wah, your girlfriend ah? Why you so clever to choose?"

She took a shine to Mary. She has excellent taste. No wonder she owns two successful restaurants in Bangsar.

Apparently, we were not gatecrashers. We were INVITED. The lady had invited us because Vijay kept disappearing down to Devi's Corner to see his girlfriend and friend. They wanted him to stop disappearing. So really, by coming, we were doing them a favour. Once we (OK, Mary, not me) were there, his attention was no longer distracted.

It was a wild night. We sang at the tops of our voices. I shook my fist at Vijay for suggesting I could dance. He bought us both orange roses.

We went to Devi's Corner after and then I sent both the cooing doves home. To their separate establishments. I got the sweetest text messages from them this afternoon.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Literature: A Defence


I received this letter not too long ago. I'd like to tell you who from, but the person only let me put it up here, if I didn't. Nevertheless, I will tell you that it's one I treasure.

Dear Jennifer,

I often struggle with the issue of the "point" of literature, because I live amongst friends who find that frivolous reading is for the ones who have plenty of time on their hands, but also those who seem to find no joy in reading, and instead find their time better spent on other things, which I of course would not judge them for, each to his own, right? It, however, most of the time, feels like an attack to me, and I often have to stand to defend literature, reading, and why I write these frivolous things.

Literature of course includes fiction, and non-fiction, but it is the writing I enjoy most, fiction, that I find hard to stand up for sometimes. It sort of melts away when beings of the practical real world talk about it. Fiction, apparently is useless. And the insides of me rise up fiercely in the desire to defend it because, I have found fiction to be important, to me.

David Foster Wallace said once that “Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being." He says, “Fiction is one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties -- all these chase away loneliness by making me forget my name's Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion -- these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.”

I often ask him, how, and why? I mean I believe him, I do, and I feel him, but I need a reason. What is it about fiction, about good literature that would like he says, help people confront loneliness, what about it makes it so human?

I suppose, as much as Wallace was a writer, I believe he agonised over the things he could not express, and his world suffocated him, and pushed him over the edge. The inability to express, to speak to the masses, to convince them of the things he believes in so deeply. The inability to get across the ideals, and communicate, express, the things he sees, that nobody else does.

Then I met David Grossman, and when we first met, through his words, the thing he communicated to me was this, "I write and the world does not close in on me. It does not grow smaller. it moves in the direction of what is open, future, possible." And as I explored his writings I found a depth that, if Wallace had waited, and learnt and matured, he would have understood, and received. If Wallace gave himself a chance.

But through Grossman I did find some answers to the questions I, and Wallace raised in me, why fiction matters, or more like why it matters for me to write fiction?

"I write," he says, "I feel the many possibilities that exist in every human situation, and I feel my capacity to choose among them...I write and I feel the correct and accurate use of words act like a medicine. It purifies the air I breathe, removes the pollutants and frustrates the schemes of language defrauders and language rapists."

And then, last night when I had the time again before bed to listen to what he has to say further he told me something I have yet to digest further, but his words. In this particular essay Individual language and Mass language made sense and I will share some excerpts with you to see if you feel them too.

"With wondrous ease we create the necessary mechanisms to separate ourselves from the suffering of others. Intellectually and emotionally we manage to detach the causal relationship between, for example, our economic affluence and in the stated and prosperous Western countries - and the poverty of others,"

"It is convenient for us, where the burden of personal responsibility is concerned, to become part of a crowd, a faceless crowd with no identity, seemingly free from responsibility and absolved of blame. Perhaps it is only in this global reality where so much of our life is lived in a mass destruction, that we can be so indifferent to mass destruction,"

"At which moment do I become part of the faceless crowd, the masses?..I become part of the masses when I give up the right to think and formulate my own words, in my own language, instead accepting automatically and uncritically the formulations and language that others dictate. I become the masses when I stop formulating my own choices and the moral compromises I make. When I stop articulating over and over again with fresh new words each time words that have not yet eroded in me not yet congealed in me, which I cannot ignore or defend myself against, and which force me to face the decisions I have made, and to pay the price for them. The masses as we know, cannot exist without mass language - a language that will consolidate the multitude and spur it on to act in a certain way, formulating justifications for its acts and simplifying the moral and emotional contradictions it may encounter. In other words, the language of the masses is a language intended to liberate the individual from responsibility of his own actions, to temporarily sever his private, individual judgment form his sound logic and natural sense of justice,"

And this paragraph, sitting there I found was the answer to the question Wallace raised. What makes fiction so much about being a "fucking human being"?

"Literature has no influential representatives in the centers of power, and I find it difficult to believe that literature can change it, but it can offer different ways to live in it. To live with an internal rhythm and an internal continuity that fulfill our emotional and spiritual needs far more than what is violently imposed upon us by the external systems. I know that when I read a good book, I experience internal clarification: my sense of uniqueness as a person grows lucid. The measures precise voice that reaches me from the outsides animates voices within me, some of which may have been mute until this other voice, this particular book came and woke them,"

"A good book, and there are not many because literature too is subject to the seductions of mass media, individualises and extracts the single reader out of the masses. It gives him an opportunity to feel how spiritual contents, memories and existential possibilities can float up and rise from within him from unfamiliar places and they are his alone...the result of his most intimate refinements. And in the mass culture of daily life, in the overall pollution of our consciousness, it is so difficult for these soulful contents to emerge from the inner depths and be animated."

"The secret is that literature can repeatedly redeem for us the tragedy of the one from the statistics of the millions. The one about whom the story is written, and the one who reads the story."

You, dear Jenn, are one of the few writers with that potential of speaking to the individual, in an individual language, as Grossman talks about. I guess we can try and do things differently, write differently, to immerse ourselves in language and speak clearly, to the inner depths of one.

I hope I can be that kind of writer, because that is the only reason to write, is it not?

Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Anti Diva

I wrote this article a few years ago. I got a call from Theresa in the morning (I was fast asleep of course, not being a morning person) asking if I would like to interview a beauty queen.

Emphatically not.

I didn't like beauty queens because I had stereotyped them and imagined they all came in the same mould. Bimbo.

And Theresa coaxed me, as only she can do.

"But this one is the youngest Nominated Member of Parliament. And she does all this community service...I really think she's different."

And I woke up a bit, rubbed my eyes and considered.

Yes, that did sound different. So I agreed to do the interview. Which was that very day itself. In the middle of town at the worst hour possible. Which meant that I would have to peel myself from bed, take a shower, change into decent clothes (when I was freelancing I practically lived in my jammies)...and go.

Idly, I picked up my laptop and did a google search. I sat up a little...wow, this one was different. Even the mean articles about her seemed to suggest someone different. OK, I was up for this.

And then, and then...well you can read the article for yourself...


What’s so extraordinary about Eunice Olsen, the popular host of the AXN men’s lifestyle magazine The Duke, is how ordinary she actually is. Perhaps, down-to-earth would be a better way of putting it. If one was tempted to pigeonhole her, it would be as the Anti-Diva.

She remembers to thank her make- up artist and hair stylist who are on hand to touch up her face and tease out her hair for the umpteenth photo shoot of the day, gets excited at the sight of a lady photographer, is polite, obliging and eager to answer any or all questions.

And she is extremely careful not to take credit for anything – be it the bills she helped push through as the youngest Nominated Member of Parliament (other people raised these issues before me and after me, I was just part of the process) or one of her various community service projects (I helped bring people together but it was a group effort) or even her volunteer work (no, I didn’t counsel the girls, they have qualified counsellors for that, I befriended them).

Considering that this is her fourth interview for the day, she is astonishingly fresh and bubbly; a bundle of energy, her words tripping over each other to explain or clarify a point and her accent is refreshingly local.

Olsen, who was Miss Singapore/Universe in 2000, was determined not to be just another pretty face. Chilling with her parents in Cyprus after the pageant she told them she wanted to go back home and make a difference.

The other contestants would be returning to their countries with a direction and agenda, raising awareness on various issues close to their hearts, while she would be returning to university to complete her degree (she was reading Philosophy and Political Science at the National University of Singapore) and perhaps, do toothpaste commercials or sashay down catwalks.

Her father, Francis Oscar Olsen, a former Army Warrant Officer, listened to her tirade and remarked with characteristic candour: “You can say all you want over here but make sure you do something about it. Don’t let this be a cup of empty words by the time we get back to Singapore.”

Both her parents, but her father especially, who is of Swedish-Malaccan Portuguese descent, taught her that words spoke were not to be spoken lightly and commitments once made, had to be upheld.

Which led to a bit of a storm-in-a-teacup during her Parliamentary swearing-in ceremony in 2004 when she was just 27. Olsen had made a prior commitment to be the opening act for two friends who had performed on her first album , Nathan East, who has played with Phil Collins, and Bob James, a grammy-award winning pianist.

“I made the commitment months before I knew when my swearing-in ceremony was. And no, there was no money involved,” she said, emphatically.

This incident served to convince Singaporeans that their worst fears about her were justified. The youngest Nominated Member of Parliament? A beauty queen? A bimbo who didn’t deserve to be there, more like.

Olsen returned to a flood of recrimination and what looked like a bad start.
Hurt and confused as she was, Olsen didn’t have time to fall apart. She had a maiden speech to write and two days to do it. This was to be one of the most important speeches in her life and she was not about to mess it up. She listed out all the issues that were close to her heart.

Fortunately, the same people who had taken great pleasure in condemning her were kind enough to carry the issues she had raised. “They gave me a chance and I realised in Parliament, unless people watch the Parliamentary sittings or read the hand-outs, the only way for them to see what is happening is if the Press carries it.

From this, she learned that media attention, good or bad, is fleeting. The thing was, to focus on the task at hand and do her best. Her second term as an NMP comes to an end this July and she won’t be running for a third term, preferring to serve in other ways.

Besides hosting and acting, Olsen loves her community service work. She got into this as soon as she came back from Cyprus.

“I was determined to do something with my title. At the time, my father was driving the US ambassador to Singapore Steven Green who put me in touch with the National Volunteer Philanthropy Centre. I went to see the executive director of the NVPC and said give me something to do. Anything!”

Olsen was put in touch with Toa Payoh Girls’ Home (now known as the Singapore Girls’ Home) for juvenile delinquents. The home was looking for someone to speak to the girls, and she was more than happy to do it.

“It was a one-hour thing and they asked about the pageant and what it was like. I showed them photos and did the catwalk for them. During the break, they asked when I was coming back,” she remembers.

At the time Olsen had to finish one more semester at university while holding down three jobs (working at a cafe, teaching and performing the piano) but she made a commitment to come back in November. And as we know, her word is her bond.

She went from teaching them the catwalk and choreographing their shows, to “befriending”, not quite counselling but more of interacting with the girls on a one-to-one basis and getting to know them personally.

Why are they there? “I would say, in most cases, it was because of the breakdown of the family unit. Having said that, some of them are from very good homes, they just got in with bad company, lost their direction and ran away from home. There are two categories of girls – the court cases, and the beyond parental control, cases.”

In most cases, self image is a problem, but the deeper issue is that most of them feel alienated and displaced – unloved and unlovable, and they feel like they’re going to be alone all their lives. Just having someone listen to them with interest and understanding, makes a difference.

Olsen, a much-beloved only child in a very tight-knit family and extended family understands and empathises with this feeling of alienation in an atomised post-modern society and her favourite projects involve bringing people together.

Like her Bag-O-Sunshine project which started out as carting food to shut-ins (the elderly or wheelchair-bound) every two months and evolved into taking them out for excursions as well. She mobilised her friends, most of whom were eager to help but unsure about how to go about it, and paired them off with the various beneficiaries of the project.

“Two of my friends, a teacher and a writer, were paired with Mr Muthu, a sharp old man who was very happy to talk to some young people and share his philosophy on life. I messaged one of them to thank them for taking Mr Muthu home and he replied that he said it was no problem and he had really learned a lot. It was heart-warming to see all these people come together and although this is not a high profile project or a fund-raiser, I believe it fills an important gap and would like to see it through,” she said.

Olsen has been quoted elsewhere as saying that community service work is addictive. So why doesn’t she do it full time? “I believe my media work, the acting and hosting, which I love, give me the profile and the platform I need to raise the issues I want to.”

“I’ve been a World Vision ambassador, raised awareness on breast and cervical cancer as well as the Red Cross blood donation programme,” she pointed out.

Which brings us to the reason for Olsen’s presence in Kuala Lumpur that day. She had flown in to do a series of interviews to promote The Duke. Her publicists thought it would be a good idea, seeing as feedback from MSN chats with viewers revealed that there was quite a following for the magazine lifestyle show in Malaysia.

“We got viewers from as far away as Bangladesh or Bhutan writing in to tell us that one or another of the stories had touched or inspired them. We also received a lot of feedback from our Malaysian viewers who watched and enjoyed the show.”

Briefly, The Duke is a men’s magazine lifestyle programme on AXN which Olsen co-hosts with Marc Nelson and Rovilson Fernandez. It starts off with the three chatting about the topic of the day (which can range from women in power to secret fantasies) and moves on to lifestyle segments shot all over Asia (although a couple were shot in London) of restaurants, clubs or pubs. In between they bring in guests to comment and challenge each other about the topic of the day.

The main section, however, and where the show gets its name, is the interview with the “duke”, a successful, inspirational man who embodies, what the producers like to think of as “duke-like” qualities.

Olsen does most of these interviews, although there was one done by Nelson and another by Fernandez. “I have been very fortunate. All the dukes I interviewed were very humble and down-to-earth, very secure men with nothing to prove. We did 12 interviews all together and it was hard to finish the show because I enjoyed it so much.”

Friday, 13 April 2012

Go Ahead And Chew It


I wrote this two years ago, when I came out of hibernation and started freelancing again. This was my first story to be featured in a national newspaper after all that time...and it's one I'm still attached to. I love writing about people with spirit, the ones who refuse to lie down and feel sorry for themselves...the ones who set themselves crazy goals and beat the odds, the ones who shine a light, so the rest of us can follow...you know, the folks who live on the bright side...

When Major Aruel Prakash Subramaniam was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus type 1 at 18, he thought his life was over. The doctors who trotted out their usual list of “don’ts” did little to help matters. And loved ones who greeted the news with hushed voices and funereal expressions were no better.

“I became very depressed. Everyone was sympathetic without offering the least encouragement,” he admitted, looking back at that fateful time, some 24 years later.

Diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder. Type 1 is the more severe form of the disorder where the pancreas has ceased to function and produces no insulin. These patients are required to inject themselves with insulin two to three times a day. Those with Type 2 Diabetes are producing some insulin but not enough. They take pills.

It didn’t help that Prakash, who had just entered the job market, was dismissed from job after potential job, as soon as his condition was detected. “Sometimes I would have been working at the company in question for two weeks, and when I went for my medical, they asked me to leave.”

Then he met Datuk Dr. Singaveraloo, who is now president of the Johor chapter of the Malaysian Diabetes Association, the first physician to assure him that he would be able to lead a normal life.

He had also started reading everything he could lay his hands on about diabetes and was delighted to discover that many famous people, including Elvis Presley, Thomas Edison and Marilyn Monroe, were in fact, diabetic. They hadn’t let it stop them from living successful and fulfilling lives and he wasn’t going to either.

Prakash finally found a company that would take him on and let him prove himself, regardless of his condition. And prove himself he did, working his way up from junior planner to factory manager. Then, some 11 years ago, he started his own logistics company, handling road trucking and air freight.

But his medical condition had been getting worse. In 2007, his kidney function had deteriorated by 70 % and he decided that his treatment, which he had adhered to punctiliously, was not working. It was time to take matters into his own hands.

Prakash went online to research the best diabetic facilities in the world and came upon a website for the Dr Mohan Diabetes Hospital and Research Centre in Chennai, India. He was given an appointment, put through a battery of tests and told that he had “basic diabetes complications” but his condition was reversible.

They changed his medication and adjusted his insulin dosages. The results were almost immediate. Within a few months his blood sugar had moved from “poor control” according to the HBA1C test which measures the average glucose content in the blood over a period of three months, to “fair control”. Now after three years, it has moved up to “good control”. And his kidney function is almost perfect.

The immediate improvement in his health had some unlooked-for effects. Prakash, who was active in Rela (where he holds the rank of major) and a few other non-governmental and sports organisations, decided to show other diabetics that with proper management, they too could achieve whatever they set their minds on.

He planned a single man rally, from Johor Bahru to Cambodia in just eight days a 7,000-km trip. To do it in the time specified he would have to push himself to the limit. The drive would be gruelling even for a perfectly healthy person. For a diabetic who had to inject himself twice a day, it would be test the limits.

He purchased an olive green Mitsubishi L-200 and decided to make the trip in August which was special for two reasons; it was the month of his birthday; it coincided with the 50th Merdeka celebrations. Clad in a Malaysian flag that he had tailored into a shirt and festooning his car with little flags, he took off with little fanfare and almost no publicity.

The Malaysia leg was easy. But once he got to Thailand, things became a little challenging. Firstly, the rest stops were effectively huts where you could break off your journey and cook your food. He subsisted on high fibre biscuits dipped in a can of tuna fish for about two days, before he couldn’t take it anymore and cooked himself a proper meal of rice and curry on his portable stove. Passing through the villages, he would stop at wet markets to get fresh supplies. Failing this, he lived off the cans.

Being fastidious about personal hygiene, he would stop at waterfalls or rivers to take a bath. If there were no waterfalls on offer, he would stop at a village and knock on the door of one of the rude huts, and then with smiles, gestures and offers to pay in packets of biscuits, indicate that he wanted a bath. “Some not only allowed me to take a bath, but would make me a cup of coffee when I was done. And they were so happy with the simple things I could offer them in payment.”

Quite often, maps being what they are, he lost his way. He recalls desperately trying to communicate with the locals by pointing to a spot on the map to indicate where he wanted to go, and getting amused chuckles in response. But he eventually worked his way out of the mess, losing only a few hours, in these unlooked for detours.

The entire trip only cost him RM2,000.

The next year, he planned to drive up right to the border of Burma, a 9,000 to 12,000 km. This time he wanted to induce other diabetic patients to come with him. His rationale? “If I can do it, so can you.”

They laughed in his face.

So he set off on his one-man rally, again with very little fanfare and publicity, and made the trip in nine days. It cost him a total of RM3,200.

He was unable to go last year. This year (2010), he plans to drive 21,000 to 23,000 km, covering Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, in 14 days, despite the fact that according to his calculations, it should take two days longer. He is packing car spare parts, extra tires, 200 litres of drinking water, high fibre biscuits, cans of tuna fish and chicken curry, some grains, assorted spices and packets of instant noodles to give away to villagers he meets along the way.

He still wants other diabetics to come with him but as yet, there are no takers. He pushes on, nonetheless.

His motto in life: “Always bite off more than you think you can chew. And then go ahead and prove you can do it.”

Always bite off more than you think you can chew; then go ahead and chew it.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Song of Life



They sang this song at the concert in Singapore and I really loved it...never heard it before but loved it...then when I came back and Googled it, I found that the song hadn't even been released yet...it's going to be released on a mini album tomorrow, featuring a few of the other songs that were also composed by Japanese composer Takatsugu Muramatsu.

1) Song of Life
2) Far Away
3) You Were There
4) Salva Me
5) Eternal Light
6) I am the Day
7) Deep Peace

I love the words to this song so much I'm putting it up here. Listen to it if you have the time. I'm going to be ordering a whole bunch of this (I just wish it included Time from the last album Peace which seems so elusive).

So guess what your birthday/Christmas present is going to be?

Yes...it's not enough for me to get obsessed...I have to take the whole world along with me. But watch this video...have you ever seen such angels?

There’s a whisper in the dark
As a new life comes to be.
Then a song begins to form
As it finds the harmony
With a chorus of sound
Of the world all around
Now it blends in the tune
Joining the endless song of life.

We shall never be alone
As we link our hearts in one
Joining voices from above,
All in the miracle of life.
Through the ages we will grow
Only time will ever know,
As our voices magnify,
All in the miracle of life.

Love plays along in our lives yet to come
As we join the song of life.

Now the music starts to build
As the words begin to rhyme
Then another lends a tune
As their voices now combine
With the chorus of sound
Of the world all around
Now they blend their tune
Sharing the endless song of life.

We shall never be alone
As we link our hearts in one
Joining voices from above,
All the miracle of life,
Through the ages we will grow
Only time will ever know,
As our voices magnify,
All in the miracle of life.

Love plays along in our lives yet to come
As we join in the song of life.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Stalking 101



Yeah, this is from my stalking blog, but hey, I figured it was funny and more than suitable for this place...I think we need to establish a few rules for the hardcore stalkers (hardcore being me)...and the stalkees (that being Mark and now, Albert, and sometimes, Libera)

I've been thinking of writing rules for stalkers. You know, so we can cease to be so creepy and everyone can just get along. I must say, stalking Mark all these years, and the way he handles it has helped me create a code of behaviour so that everyone is comfortable, and nobody runs out of buildings screaming...

Actually now I think of it, some of the rules are for stalkers; others are for the stalkees.

1. Treat your stalker with polite distance; be clear where your boundaries are and how much stalking you will tolerate.

2. Memorise your stalkee's schedule; especially if they are a performer...they will appreciate you because performers need support in their gigs, and what better support than their very own stalkers.

3. Remember birthdays and try to give the stalkee something small, thoughtful and not over-the-top. (If you're mortgaging the house to buy it, it's over-the-top)

4. Be content to watch without demanding attention...if you're a pest, well, they'll think you're a pest.

5. Leave straight after the gig. Never stick around. Pretend you have to work the next day. Really have to work the next day. In short, have a life.

6. Try to bring someone else along. If you're alone, it's a little obvious...not that you care, but they might.

7. Memorise conversations, write them down - can be used later for cross-reference purposes.

8. Never join your stalker at a table...attention unsettles them and gives them false hope.

9. Never talk to your stalker for more than 5 minutes, OK, 10 minutes at most. (refer to 8)

10. Above all, exercise discretion...don't turn up for every gig, don't accept every invitation.

11. Identify your stalkee's scent and the source e.g perfume, body odour from countless hours spent in bars surrounded by cigarette smoke and alcohol, then replicate the scent, package it and sell. Gain income from stalking. (this last one is from my friend and colleague Haziq, a bona fide stalker, or so he claims...we shall see)

Of course, all this only applies if you're stalking Mark. If you decided to stalk someone else, well, you'll have to learn their rules for yourself.

Time and patience, my dears and we can all be good stalkers together.