Sunday, January 25, 2009

Gong OX-i Fa Cai!!

Dear Friends,

Today is the eve of the Lunar New Year. I have been told that this is the correct way of addressing this festival, as it will be bias calling it the Chinese New Year, as the people in Korea or for the matter Vietnam are also celebrants.

In the 12 year cycle of the Chinese calendar, 2009 signifies the Year of the OX. Is this an OX year of uncertainty and OX-terity? As I have been closely monitoring the dailies, it has been reported that this OXy-moron year is going to be tough, with half the world already in recession and the other half seriously affected by the fallout. The news of the macro environmental front remains mostly negative and continues to affect the real economy with people cautious about prospects ahead.

The OX’s main characters are fortitude and hard work as well as courage, resilience, determination and endurance. Coming to think of it, my daughter Charmaine possesses every part of this as she was born 12 years ago. Oxen often work in pairs or even larger groups for heavier work. This is because there is a need to support each other as a team in these tough times.

This morning alone, I have received numerous text message greetings wishing me well, wishing that I will prosper, wishing that I will have a fortune enveloping me from the heavens, wishing that I will not need to go visit the doctors and that I will have such a peaceful life this coming year. If wishes only came true, then there is no need for me to go slog like a herd of oxen in the fields under the scorching sun. I still believe in the maxim that GOD helps those who help themselves.

The Chinese are one bunch of superstitious folks. It is believed that if I place tonnes of pineapples in the house during this lunar year, heaps of wealth and fortune will be heralded into my habitat because in the Hokkien dialect, pineapples are called 'Ong Lai' which is directly translated as 'Luck Coming'. If that is not enough, I would need to buy crates of Mandarin oranges and sprawl them around because in the Cantonese dialect, it is called 'Kum' which means 'Gold' that represents riches.

Festive food and goodies are served all around, each with a deeper meaning than to tantalise the taste buds and fill the tummy. As I am blogging this, the gentler folks are busy preparing the annual family tradition of a reunion dinner for tonight. My only sibling and his family, my mum and a few relatives will be hogging my enclave for the only reason of me being the elder son. As today is a Sunday, we are blessed of preserving the tradition of doing it at home this year. With the busy rat race of the eve on weekdays the past years, we have been patronising restaurants thus commercialising the festival.

On the gastronomic spread tonight, there will be the traditional must have dishes with names suggesting happiness and prosperity. We must also feature things that are auspicious, good colours and anything that numerically equals '8'. And we must also not forget the premium ingredients like the ugly looking Black Moss or otherwise known as 'fatt choy' which means prospering. There will also be Tiger Prawns served even though my sister in-law is allergic to seafood. Prawns in the Cantonese dialect are 'har'. Descriptively pronounced, it will sound 'har har har har' as laughter and this will ensure happiness throughout this year. All this aside, I have always enjoyed the white steamed chicken with the chilli sauce only the original Hainanese can prepare. I am half a Hainanese thus giving me the privilege of only savouring the delicacy minus the preparation - 'har har har har'. On the palate will also find the famous festival dish, 'Yee Sang'. So famous that you won't even find this dish in the land of my forefathers. I later found out that this dish actually originated from Malaysia. Translated, it simply means a 'will that remains alive'. This dish has several options to choose from; salmon, jelly fish, lobster or even abalone. A mix of radishes, nuts, and sesame seeds with oil and plum sauce is mixed together in a large plate. It is believed that the higher the toss of the 'Yee Sang' around the table will eventually bring many blessings to the people tossing it.

I remember my childhood when I was a kid looking forward to the Lunar New Year. It only meant one thing - 'Ang Pows'. In all that we did; calling the elders, offering tea, visiting relatives - I just wanted my ‘Ang Pows’. Over the years the amount dwindled and eventually evaporated when I got married. Now, it is my turn to give away these money packets. To my children, my mum, other people's children and God forbid to an aunt who is senior to me and unmarried.

Now that I am entering my mid-life years, I have of course realised that this Lunar New Year is not just about money, prosperity and good wishes. I will not be gullible to believe that if I eat fish and prawns I will be laughing myself to the bank. I will not be bound by tradition that the more 'Ang Pows' I give the more my savings balance will be. However, I will believe that this festival will be a reason about spending quality time with the family, loved ones and trusted friends.

I am constantly reminded that life is unpredictable, short and precious. And while sacrifices are to be made, it must never be at the expense of health or for the coming generation.

To family and friends, near or far; here is wishing you a year where the OX will bull its' way through fast enough to get us all out of these doldrums. And also wishes of peace and health to you and your family as prosperity finds her way to you.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Living High or Living On The High?

Dear Friends,

I came across this article written by Lee Wei Ling, daughter of Singapore's Minister Mentor, Lee Kuan Yew. Is life really more than just material possessions?
In 2007, in an end-of-year message to the staff of the National Neuroscience Institute, I wrote: 'Whilst boom time in the public sector is never as booming as in the private sector, let us not forget that boom time is eventually followed by slump time. Slump time in the public sector is always less painful compared to the private sector.'Slump time has arrived with a bang.
While I worry about the poorer Singaporeans who will be hit hard, perhaps this recession has come at an opportune time for many of us. It will give us an incentive to reconsider our priorities in life.Decades of the good life have made us soft. The wealthy especially, but also the middle class in Singapore, have had it so good for so long, what they once considered luxuries, they now think of as necessities.A mobile phone, for instance, is now a statement about who you are, not just a piece of equipment for communication. Hence many people buy the latest model though their existing mobile phones are still in perfect working order. A Mercedes-Benz is no longer adequate as a status symbol. For millionaires who wish to show the world they have taste, a Ferrari or a Porsche is deemed more appropriate. The same attitude influences the choice of attire and accessories. I still find it hard to believe that there are people carrying handbags that cost more than thrice the monthly income of a bus driver, and many more times that of the foreign worker labouring in the hot sun, risking his life to construct luxury condominiums he will never have a chance to live in.
The media encourages and amplifies this ostentatious consumption. Perhaps it is good to encourage people to spend more because this will prevent the recession from getting worse. I am not an economist, but wasn't that the root cause of the current crisis - Americans spending more than they could afford to?I am not a particularly spiritual person. I don't believe in the supernatural and I don't think I have a soul that will survive my death. But as I view the crass materialism around me, I am reminded of what my mother once told me: 'Suffering and deprivation is good for the soul.'My family is not poor, but we have been brought up to be frugal. My parents and I live in the same house that my paternal grandparents and their children moved into after World War II in 1945. It is a big house by today's standards, but it is simple - in fact, almost to the point of being shabby. Those who see it for the first time are astonished that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew's home is so humble. But it is a comfortable house, a home we have got used to. Though it does look shabby compared to the new mansions on our street, we are not bothered by the comparison.
Most of the world and much of Singapore will lament the economic downturn. We have been told to tighten our belts. There will undoubtedly be suffering, which we must try our best to ameliorate. But I personally think the hard times will hold a timely lesson for many Singaporeans, especially those born after 1970 who have never lived through difficult times.No matter how poor you are in Singapore, the authorities and social groups do try to ensure you have shelter and food. Nobody starves in Singapore. Many of those who are currently living in mansions and enjoying a luxurious lifestyle will probably still be able to do so, even if they might have to downgrade from wines costing $20,000 a bottle to $10,000 a bottle. They would hardly notice the difference. Being wealthy is not a sin. It cannot be in a capitalist market economy. Enjoying the fruits of one's own labour is one's prerogative and I have no right to chastise those who choose to live luxuriously. But if one is blinded by materialism, there would be no end to wanting and hankering. After the Ferrari, what next? An Aston Martin? After the Hermes Birkin handbag, what can one upgrade to? Neither an Aston Martin nor an Hermes Birkin can make us truly happy or contented. They are like dust, a fog obscuring the true meaning of life, and can be blown away in the twinkling of an eye.When the end approaches and we look back on our lives, will we regret the latest mobile phone or luxury car that we did not acquire? Or would we prefer to die at peace with ourselves, knowing that we have lived lives filled with love, friendship and goodwill, that we have helped some of our fellow voyagers along the way and that we have tried our best to leave this world a slightly better place than how we found it? We know which is the correct choice - and it is within our power to make that choice. In this new year, burdened as it is with the problems of the year that has just ended, let us again try to choose wisely. To a considerable degree, our happiness is within our own control, and we should not follow the herd blindly.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Dear Friends,

The comments I have come across these days are, "Which island do they come from, why so authoritative? Why do they have no tact? The conclusion is, they may be having an inferiority complex. This could happen even to a man of status, successful, intelligent and still surrounded with loving friends. If a person gets into the habit of feeling inferior to others, then they can literally feel inferior about anything. This is linked to a sense of shame about not feeling up to mark.

People with inferiority complex tend to compensate for their feelings of inferiority by achieving elsewhere like excelling in their authority. They always have the need to achieve in order to compensate for their inferiority. One type of compensation is trying to act with superiority; by the way they speak, stressing on descriptions using their ranks and positions, they think and act as if they are superior to everyone else just to compensate their feelings of being inferior. This is also known as superiority complex.

The cause behind feeling inferior could be backdated to some past events especially during their growing up years. Having experienced these events, it has labeled them as inadequate or not worthy. Possible examples are being called names like stupid or lazy, being consciously and physically weaker than their peers, feeling ugly compared to their friends and in the case of the ladies - having smaller boobies compared to their competition. These could further lead to low self esteem which will result in being depressed, irritable and sometimes aggressive. They may also be more likely to have feelings of resentment, alienation and unhappiness.

They are likely to suffer from:

Hypercritical Attitude: They do not feel good about themselves and have trouble feeling good about others. They look hard for flaws and shortcomings of others by convincing themselves that they are not so bad after all.

Inappropriate Response to Flattery: They are desperate to hear good things about themselves and are constantly seeking compliments.

Tendency Towards Blaming: They project their perceived weaknesses onto others in order to lessen the pain of feeling inferior.

Feelings Of Persecution: They carry it into the extreme by blaming others. This extends to believing that others are seeking to ruin them.

Negative Feelings About Competition: They like to win games and contests every bit as anyone else. They tend to avoid such situations because deep down, they believe they cannot win.

Tendency Toward Seclusiveness and Timidity: They always believe that they are not as interesting or intelligent as others and they believe that others will feel the same way about them.

Sensitivity To Criticism: Although they know their shortcomings, they don't like others to point them out. They tend to perceive any form of criticism, regardless of how sensitively or constructively it is presented as a personal attack.

After acknowledging the root causes of this complexity, it must be overcome. Some methods that could be used are:

* Changing their thoughts by changing their negative self talk

* They are not to be blamed for the foolishness of others.

* Fix their corrupted self image.

* Remove the labels that they have acquired.

* Install new beliefs.

* Build their self confidence.

What they should know is that their current status in life has got nothing to do with them feeling inferior. A balanced person wouldn't feel inferior even if they have nothing in comparison to their peers. Inferiority is an internal feeling that comes due to internal factors not external ones. Fixing the inside is what should be done . Some people spend their lives collecting money, authority and power yet have an inferiority complex in spite all. Evidently, they are still suffering as they have not dealt with the root cause.
Remember, one does not need to use authority to compensate for their feelings of inferiority. They should make a conscious effort to pat themselves on the back for the things they do well.

Respect is earned and not demanded.