Wednesday, March 8, 2017

From Deity Worshiping to Christianity

I finally got reconnected with another long lost junior high school buddy of mine.

Leng Hong and I went separate ways after Form Three. I left for Kuala Lumpur and he, Singapore - for his senior high school as well as to seek medical treatment.

WhatsApp is doing wonders. I recently lost my eldest brother. Cedric has tracked down Leng Hong and he whatsapped me to say that Leng Hong would be coming with him for the wake.

Leng Hong I remembered was a pinweight. But the Leng Hong today is a big man. He also goes by a Christian name now - Peter. Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to reminisce with him long, since I had to leave these two old buddies early to fetch my son who was flying in from Kuala Lumpur.

Although Peter was in physique one of the smallest in the class, his demeanor gave the impression he was well-connected in the “adults’ world”. No one dared to bully him. But he was really a caring friend. I used to cycle with him to while away our time around our very sleepy town – Muar in Johor.

We met up for dinner with his wife at East Coast's Jumbo. We were also joined by Cedric and wife and my daughter Monica who was in transit in Singapore to pay last respect to her beloved uncle.  

The first thing I asked Peter was about the hole in his heart.

“The Lord has healed me!"

But wasn't he a very staunch deity worshiper?

"Yes, I was, but that’s history."

He showed me a photography of himself taken many many years ago. He was not shy to say that he looked like a drug addict. All of us had to agree; indeed, he looked like one in that picture.

This is his story:

In my earlier days in Singapore, I tried many things, including owning and running a temple. Devotees came to my temple to ask for “divine” favours. For each of these consultation sessions, he had to recite incantations to call upon a particular deity to “enter” the medium. Once in trance, the medium would dispense favours – 4Ds (a form of gambling), or issues that bothered the devotees (health, marriage, fortune, and what-have-you).

I finally met my wife. She took me to church. My health improved and my businesses started to grow.

* * *

I see that Peter is a wealthy man today. He has passed his business to his son and is going places with his wife. He owns properties in Melbourne, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur, I believe, amongst others.

“Do you still believe in all the medium stuff?” I asked.

“Sure, I do.”

“How do you reconcile this with your present devotion to Christianity?”

“The medium stuff is for real. Devils are roaming everywhere all the time. When you recite incantations, a passing devil will “enter” the medium and took it upon itself to masquerade the deity you wish to call upon. You think you are talking to your deity. No, no, no. You are talking to an opportunistic devil. But not all devils are bad.

“You see mediums in their trance would do all sort of self-inflicting acts – chopping, cutting, piercing, etc,, and blood oozes out everywhere, right? Yet there were few signs of injury when the trance stops. He looks all normal after that, right? 

"These are certainly no play-play acts; the devil has actually taken possession of the medium's body.

“But the Lord reigns supreme. He could send all these devils scurrying for cover. He is therefore the only one we should worship!”

I couldn’t help asking, “I thought there is only one devil in Christianity. Isn’t that Satan?”

Peter corrected himself, “No, no; the devils I am talking are actually angels.”

I suppose he meant “spirits”, but never mind, I really do not want to know all these. He has his logic, though.

Before we parted, Mrs Lee said to me, “Do go to church.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Some kind of sickos?

My letter to the CEO of Malaysia Airlines and the reply I got...

20 February 2017

Mr Peter Bellew
CEO Malaysia Airlines Berhad
Kuala Lumpur International Airport
64000 Sepang

Dear Sir

I thought I should give up writing complaints to Malaysia Airlines’ CEOs since they had always been answered by the lesser mortals there without really bothering to find out what I had written. (Their answers were usually lifted from, I believe, standard templates.) Nonetheless, I still use Malaysia Airlines for a couple of simple reasons: (a) I live in three cities – Melbourne, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore – and your airline offers the most convenient schedules, (b) your departures and arrivals are generally quite punctual, and (c) your cabin crew are quite service-conscious. (But honestly your food is deteriorating.)

However, an incident on my arrival in Changi Airport on Saturday, 18 February evening prompts me to write to check whether you are in fact no different from your predecessors.

I was travelling with my wife on MH148/MH609 from Melbourne to Singapore (transiting in Kuala Lumpur) on that date. At the Melbourne airport, the lady at the Business/Platinum Card check-in counter was most careful; she took pain to stick “Platinum” and “Priority” labels on the three bags my wife and I checked in, even though she said the “Platinum” ones alone would do. She assured me that it was their procedure also to alert receiving airports of all “Platinum” bag arrivals.

At Changi arrival hall, two of the three bags promptly came out first. What happened to the third bag? It emerged with the last lot of the flight’s arrivals! My question: What’s the use of giving priority to two and I still have to wait for the last one like everybody else? As a matter of fact, it did pose anxiety since we had some important stuff in that bag!

This is NOT the first time I have experienced this pseudo priority promise. A couple of months ago, in Malaysia Airlines’ home airport KLIA1, my bags which carried the “Platinum” labels also came out amongst the last ones.

On the recent flight we flew to Melbourne (Thursday, February 9, MH129), you might also want to know that the aircraft forgot to carry Australia’s arrival forms. They were only distributed at the arrival gate at Melbourne! Just imagine the anxiety of the passengers!

Once in a flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, I wanted to find something to buy in your inflight duty-free sales. But there was no Temptation magazine; one of the crew members said Kuala Lumpur had forgotten to put it in that new aircraft!

I can only conclude that you do have many fundamental problems in your own backyard, i.e., MAS’s SOP in KLIA1.

There are also many many more; in fact, your cabin crew are quite casual about the need to draw up windows when the plane is gearing for landing. Our MH148 flight in the Business Class cabin is a case in point.

Yours truly,
LIM/Yu Book

* * * * *
This is the reply I get from the airline on my mailbox:

Date : 28/02/2017

Case reference : GTS00154615

Dear   Lim Yu Book

Thank you for your compliment on the exceptional service you experienced with Malaysia Airlines.

Your kind and encouraging words have always been a source of inspiration for us to serve you well.  We are truly delighted to show you the Malaysian Hospitality.

We look forward to your continued support.

Yours sincerely,

Mohd Asmawi Alias
Customer Care
Malaysia Airlines

* * * * *

Some kind of joke? Where did I in the letter compliment MAS? And "exceptional service'? Or they don't understand English at all? Or these people some kind of sickos?

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Fake Advisory, but...

I am getting a little annoyed!

This is the latest fake advisory I received from a friend on WhatsApp. There is so much of this stuff around now. Can't she see that it is a fake through and through?

Consuming banana and egg kills???

I have been doing for years! I am still alive!

I forwarded it to a few friends and tell them to be wary of stuff like this.

One friend says he sees it differently. "Can't you see it is all about manhood?"

He is absolutely right! But at that state, it is certainly not dangerous, don't you agree?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Unconventional Wisdom

My neighbor in Singapore is a devout Buddhist. There is also a large painting of Kuan-ying, the Goddess of Mercy, in her very tastefully furnished home.

Mrs Cheong lives with her husband; they have a Filipino maid. She is perhaps in her 70s, and her husband, 80s. Mr Cheong is always immaculately and stylishly dressed. In his suspenders, he looks stately! I see that they are a wealthy couple – this upmarket condominium of theirs in Singapore, a house in California, investments in China and Papua New Guinea, etc. Their daughter and Canadian husband live in the adjacent block.

Usually people living in condominiums don’t quite care about their neighbours. Mr Cheong is different. One day I struck a casual conversation with him on the ground floor lobby and hearing that I also hailed from Malaysia, he immediately invited me to join him for his family’s lunch gathering which he was about to host at an expensive restaurant in Orchard Road’s Paragon. I was in shorts, but he insisted it was completely fine. He is very knowledgeable; we had many things in common.

From then on, my wife and I got invited to their beautiful home from time to time.

Mrs Cheong believes in yīnguǒ bàoyìng (因果报应), a Buddhist-Chinese cause-and-effect concept in explaining the fortunes and misfortunes of all living beings. To her, every life is a reincarnation of a previous one. Your present good or bad fortune is a result of how you conducted yourself in the previous life. It is not dissimilar to karma in Hindu belief. “Look at those poor children in Africa, have they done anything since birth to deserve those sufferings?” She asks. 
Yīnguǒ is not about this life. It is about your next life! I don’t want my next life to be like that, hence my determination to do good in this life!”
 Can you argue with her on that? Mr & Mrs Cheong are a loving couple. But apparently, he was a Casanova when he was younger. She amused us with tales of his infidelity with him laughing them off embarrassingly in front of us. “I had to spend months on end overseas. My husband had a tendency to stray. He had even brought back women to stay in this very apartment. They knew I knew; but I didn’t say a word. One woman was bold enough to try to plot to make him leave me. I knew he would come to his senses and he did. “People are always talking about revenge or how to spite their husbands or their lovers when it comes to things like this. I don’t do such things. “And many wives lose their husbands, why? “They forget to also love their husband’s parents! “They grumble if their husband is partial to his own parents. How can they do that? You should also love them the way you love your parents!” How wise this lady is!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Ostentation in the name of Religion?

I always try to stay clear of religion in my postings, but I just couldn't help keeping my mouth shut this time. 

A member of one of our WhatsApp chat groups has posted several photographs of a Lunar New Year celebration in a town called Jenjarom near Banting in Selangor, Malaysia. I am taking the liberty to produce four of them here.

I am nominally a Buddhist, not as a religious follower, but a general believer of Buddha's philosophy - more on the account of his sense of compassion than anything else. He witnessed human sufferings and decided to give up everything to seek enlightenment and finally he achieve Nirvana. I really do not know much about the detailed teachings of Buddha to try to preach anyone. The little I know about Buddhism, besides compassion, centres around these few words: A mind that is pure and devoid of individual passion, hatred or delusion. 

Great Buddhist monasteries and temples are usually austere in form and substance. I really don't think Buddha would want to be remembered or worshiped in the manner shown in the first picture. I also don't think a monk, no matter how accomplished he is, should also cultivate the type of personality cult shown in the other three pictures. And honestly, when I went through the wordings in the posters, aren't they of the motherhood wisdom type? I particularly take strong exception at one of the lines which reads: Speak Good Words. If it is an intention, it certainly sounds somewhat phony, or put-on, or fake to me. Isn't this somewhat contradictory to what the great sage's teachings are all about? 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Visit to Laos

I had never given Laos a thought as a tour destination until a month or so before the Lunar New Year. My wife and I are usually in Melbourne at this time of the year. There my daughter Monica would organise a reunion for all of us. Since she and her children had just visited us in Singapore, we thought we might as well go to Kuala Lumpur to hold one with my son Yang this year. Unfortunately, he had to go somewhere.

We decided to visit a tour agency to find out where we could go for a holiday. But we could only spare a few days.

Hwa had never been to Myanmar, but the tours were all booked up. Maybe Laos?

Why not?

It was meant to be an 8D7N tour. We had to pay a surcharge for a two-person tour. On top of that, we had to forgo two nights because of an appointment which I had inadvertently forgotten when we confirmed the booking.

Our first destination was Luang Prabang. The Lao Airlines flew there via Vientiane. I have never heard of this airline. But it turned out to be pretty good – the Airbus 320 was new and the in-flight service was reasonably good. Transit experience in Vientiane was a little Third World-like though. The airport has aprons but none seemed to be working. I had to limp along from one building to another.

Luang Prabang was the country’s capital when it was still a kingdom. It isn’t much of a town in the manner we see in the more modern part of Asia. There are no clear commercial precincts; shops, eateries, residences, hotels, monasteries, markets, schools, government offices, etc crop out all over the places. However, it is a world heritage site not without reasons. It is charming in its own ways. The roads, though narrow, are lined with generally well-kept French style buildings; the “esplanade” running parallel to the Mekong and its tributary Nam Khan is clean and beautiful. Our hotel, Victoria, is situated more or less on the peninsula at the confluence of these two rivers. It is a boutique hotel, very French in décor and service. (It became a French protectorate in 1893 and briefly gained independence in 1945 but returned to French rule until it was granted autonomy in 1949. Laos became independent in 1953. When Pathet Lao came to power in 1975, the monarchy was abolished. To this date, nobody seems to know where the royal family has ended up.)

There are many beautiful Buddhist monasteries in Luang Prabang. Before dawn, the hands of the monks from monasteries would march out for alms. Devotees would line their path to make offerings, which usually mainly of cooked glutinous rice.

Another “must” destination in Luang Prabang is its museum. Ironically, most of the exhibits there are about the Royal family.

Much of our six days were spent on the road – from Luang Prabang to Xieng Khouang, maybe a hundred kilometers as the crow flies, took us like seven hours to travel, and from Xieng Khouang to Vang Vieng, another seven hours. The road winds around the mountains of the region. Though thick with vegetation, they don’t look lush green. Villages dotted along the “highway”; many of the houses are pretty well-built and brightly painted. The highlanders are the Hmong and Khmus. The Hmong, who are animists, were at one time ostracized for their allegiance to America during the Vietnam War. Many fled to America. The Khmus are more or less of the Cambodian stock. Khmus and the Laos, who makes up 55% of the country’s population, are Buddhists.

Xieng Khouang is the nearest town from the Plain of Jars. Nobody seems to know for sure what these big granite bowls were made for. But one thing was certain, it became a clear target for the American bombers.

We could only have a very cursory tour of Vang Vieng (where we were supposed to spend two nights). The town is dusty, even though it is surrounded by limestone hills. (Not surprisingly, the town houses a cement plant.) With its many outdoor attractions, Vang Vieng is a destination for the young set.  

Laos is said to be a poor country, but it didn’t appear to me to be so. Tourism is a major foreign exchange earner. The country is still popular with Western tourists, but Mainland Chinese are bringing in the bigger bucks. They come in convoys of the latest models of Audi, Volkswagen, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes Benz and what-have-you. And Chinese hotels and restaurants are springing up to capture some of these bucks. Our tour guide told me that his people love the Chinese money, but not the way they behave at times.  

The Laotians are not a very entrepreneurial lot. Every stall you see in tourist sites seem to be selling the same thing. Scarves seem the most popular souvenir on offer.

Notwithstanding its poor country image, there is much the rich Asians can learn from the Lao people. Even in “cowboy” towns, tables and chairs in eateries are neatly laid out. Service etiquette in the more up-market restaurants can put many in East and Southeast Asia to shame. Crockery and cutlery are flawlessly laid out as if staff have been trained in Buckingham Palace. Every dish would come with a common spoon.

But do bring mosquito repellents along when you visit Laos! You certainly do not want to contract malaria or dengue, do you?
Lao Airlines, quite good really

The frontage of the hotel where we stayed in Luang Prasang. Victoria is supposed to be fairly luxurious boutique hotel
Thoroughly French!
Muscle power!

Luang Prabang, a city of monasteries

A typical street in Luang Prabang

First day of the Lunar New Year: Greeted by roosters and their hens, before going down to tour the Mekong!

The mighty Mekong
Care for a drink?

The Cave Temple along the Mekong

The Museum at Luang Prabang

Teak plantation

Not Jiuzhaikou!

A Hmong village

Yum-seeeng at Plain of Jars

Have trench will escape!

The footings were recycled from bomb shells 
More bombs dropped in Laos than anywhere else had ever experienced?

Our hotel in Vientiane - Mosquitoes!
No wonder they don't like Mainland Chinese! Look at where his feet are! In Vientiane Airport

Thursday, January 26, 2017

No, It is the Year of the Fowl, not Rooster

We of the Chinese descent are generally a very chauvinistic lot. Year of the Rooster; Chinese New Year, etc.

In this New Year of the Rooster, may I champion the role of the Hen? Shouldn’t we call the New Year “Year of the Hen”? I believe the original intention of the Chinese zodiac designer was not a sexist lot. I think he or she meant Fowl; but the male chauvinists, maybe not knowing the proper English term for it, used Rooster to depict the species. I may be wrong, though. But hasn’t the better half of the Chinese population stood up to correct this?

Again, the lunar calendar is also observed by many non-Chinese. The Koreans, the Vietnamese and, I understand, a few minorities in Indochina also celebrate Lunar New Year. Aren’t we too self-centric to think that it is Chinese New Year? I suspect Japanese of the past eras also had this tradition. Maybe it is because of its “Chinese” label that the new Japanese are now turning to the Gregorian count, i.e., January 1 to celebrate New Year? Again, I stand corrected on this!