Saturday, February 4, 2012

PLAYING THE FOOL

Antares as the Fool @ 1982 (photo montage by Hari Ho)

In 1982 my friend Maureen Ten (who has since relocated to Sydney) decided she wanted to stage a freewheeling version of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. She insisted that I take on the role of Feste, Olivia’s Fool, and I immediately agreed, since I have always had a soft spot for Maureen.

Rehearsals dragged on for months and more than a few began to regret committing themselves to this project – but finally the play opened and ran for less than a week at the British Council Hall. It was a resounding success!

People loved it, some returning for a second or even third performance. I suppose it was the unexpected blend of styles that made the whole thing flow better than it felt to the cast, while rehearsing it in fragments. Maureen kept pretty much true to the spirit of Shakespeare but playfully allowed individual performers’ quirks free rein. Needless to say, the utterly muhibbah and motley cast managed to insert a great deal of local flavor and humor into the production.

As Feste, I had to come up with tunes for three songs. I was still in my Bob Dylan phase, down to my frizzy hairdo, so I played the songs on my guitar with a bit of harmonica – accompanied by a bit of flute played by an expat named John Moore on two of the songs.

Recently, I felt prompted to resurrect my songs from Twelfth Night and, thanks to Google, easily found the words online. While re-learning to sing them, I was struck by the apparent simplicity, yet nonchalant profundity, of Feste’s first song:

What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies not plenty;
Then come kiss me sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.

Feste poses the age-old question, “What is love?” – and then proceeds at once to answer: Love’s reality dwells in the moment, in the now, not in some imaginary future. Just as one laughs at a joke immediately - not minutes or hours or days later – the moment is all we truly know, the future is unknowable and predictions are unreliable. To hesitate and postpone brings no reward – be spontaneous, obey your impulse, do it now, while you still can, before the years weigh down on you.

Feste then addresses his Muse directly: whatever your heart desires is right before you, not some other place – and true love encompasses the entire spectrum, from the sublime to the ridiculous. All yearning, all desire ultimately leads to union (sacred and/or profane) and meaning and purpose converge when One finds the Other. This arcane knowledge has survived countless generations: it's always NOW and it's only about LOVE!

That’s powerful wisdom compressed into what could easily pass for just a frivolous ditty sung by a Fool. No wonder the Bard of Avon still speaks to the human spirit after so many centuries. In that one simple song is all the sage advice one need ever heed. Eckhart Tolle says more or less the same thing in his ground-breaking book, The Power of Now, but not quite as elegantly or concisely.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Are Lynas and Umno/BN merely insensitive... or ABSOLUTELY INSANE?

Serious flooding during the recent monsoon season in the immediate vicinity of the
nearly-completed Lynas rare earth refinery in Gebeng, Pahang


Key contractor pulled out of Lynas plant due to safety concerns, says NYT
By Shannon Teoh | The Malaysian Insider
February 01, 2012

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 1 – A Dutch chemical firm refused to supply crucial resins for Lynas Corp’s controversial RM2.5 billion rare earth plant in Kuantan due to safety concerns, according to the New York Times.

The influential newspaper cited engineers working for the Australian miner at the Gebeng industrial zone site and internal company e-mails as saying that AkzoNobel withdrew after it was told that the fibreglass liners using its resin would be installed in concrete-walled tanks that have a problem with rising dampness in the floors and cracks in the walls.

Proposed Lynas rare earth refinery flooded
on 13 January 2012 (courtesy of SMSL)
“AkzoNobel had been in discussions about the problem of rising dampness, but only became aware of the cracks this autumn,” the daily reported.

The resins were to be used to glue together dozens of fibreglass liners for concrete-walled tanks the size of double-decker buses where hundreds of tons of rare earths with low levels of radiation will be mixed with extremely corrosive acids at more than 93 degrees Celcius.

The company had said early last year it would supply chemicals for the Lynas project, which has raised fears of radiation pollution among local residents and environmentalists, only if it were certain that it would be safe.

LAMP waste water discharge point flooded  
in December 2011 after two days of heavy rain (SMSL)
In a report last June, the NYT had said that there were critical flaws in the design of the refinery, including the installation of the watertight fibreglass liners.

It said that memos showed Lynas pressed a Malaysian contractor, Cradotex, to proceed with the installation of watertight fibreglass liners designed for the containment tanks without fixing the moisture problem and with limited fixes to the walls.

“These issues have the potential to cause the plant’s critical failure in operation,” Peter Wan, the general manager of Cradotex, said in a June 20 memo obtained by the newspaper.

“More critically, the toxic, corrosive and radioactive nature of the materials being leached in these tanks, should they leak, will most definitely create a contamination issue."

[Read the full story here.]

Are Lynas and Umno/BN utterly insane? The rare earth refinery is located in a flood-prone zone!



Wednesday, February 1, 2012

World's Most Adorable & Desirable Woman (updated)


Every time I think of her my soul lets out a long bittersweet sigh. Why bittersweet? Well, bitter because it's unlikely I'll ever get to meet her - what more woo her? - so I'll just have to live in perpetual hope that someday through pure serendipity she'll stumble on my blog and leave a friendly comment (and her email address :-).

Sweet, of course, because she never fails to make me smile from ear to ear like the village idiot. Her earthy - yet somehow ethereal - beauty is almost too good to be true, but I know it's absolutely real. No botox, no photoshop, nosirree. On stage she moves like a cat, her grace so natural it almost hurts to watch. She's SEXY without even trying. She's one of a kind, in a class of her own, incomparable.

Sade Adu is a natural-born incarnation of Aphrodite. I've adored her from the very first moment I laid eyes on her video image, singing Smooth Operator. That was way back in the 1980s, when she first burst upon the scene from out of nowhere.



Born Helen Folasade Adu on 16 January, 1959, in Ibadan, Nigeria, to Bisi Adu (a Nigerian economics lecturer) and Anne Hayes (an English nurse), Sade moved to England at age 4 with her mother and brother after the marriage broke up. She studied fashion design in London between 1977 and 1980, and opened a men's boutique with a friend, Gioia Mellor, who still designs many of Sade's stage outfits. She also worked part time as a photographic model during that period, which explains her amazing posture and poise. Friends asked her to do a bit of singing with a Latin-soul group named Arriva - and that's when Sade's talent as a songwriter first emerged. Smooth Operator was among her first attempts and I bet there's hardly a person on Earth who hasn't fallen in love with her slinky, sultry vocals on this unforgettable tune.


Sade subsequently joined a group called Pride - where she met Stuart Matthewman (saxophone, guitar, programming), Paul Spencer Denman (bass), and Paul Anthony Cook (drums). They got on really well and decided to form a splinter group called... Sade. Keyboardist Andrew Hale came aboard in 1983, Paul Cook was replaced, and this has been the core band that propelled Sade Adu to worldwide iconic status overnight.

In 1986 Sade moved to Madrid, Spain, and three years later she married Carlos Pliego, a Spanish filmmaker, but the partnership proved shortlived. She moved back to London for a few years before relocating in the mid-1990s to Jamaica, where she moved in with a producer named Bob Morgan. A daughter, Ila, was born to them on 21 July 1996 - but domestic bliss eluded her, and Sade once again returned to London, where she shares a Victorian mansion with her older brother Banji. It would appear that the world's most adorable and desirable woman has never been lucky in love, even though she's adulated by millions - men as well as women. However, Sade recently met a former British soldier named Ian Watts and love blossomed again for her, leading to a new album release (Soldier of Love) in early 2010.

Sade seems indifferent to her celebrity status, rarely granting interviews ("I'm not shy or reclusive... I just spend my time with people rather than journalists."). Rumor has it that she became depressed and dropped out of the music business. However, in September 2001, Sade thrilled her loyal fans by going on tour with her Lovers Live concert, backed by veteran musician friends from the old days - and she was in absolutely superb form, winsomely fetching in a gold cheongsam, every inch the fully mature diva. Lovers Live is my all-time favorite concert DVD, impeccably directed by Sophie Muller. You can view a few numbers from this exciting tour on YouTube (just search Sade Adu and run through the list of offerings). Sade performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 8 December 2004, when she sang a new song, Mum, specially written for the "Voices For Darfur" charity concert. Then she disappeared again, re-emerging only in early 2010 to promote Soldier of Love. Well, Sade, if you ever chance upon this... pop me an email, please. I promise you, I'm not like any man you've ever met... I'll give you THE Kiss of Life!



Muuuaaaaaaaah! (How can you put up with such unmitigated ADUlation, Sade?)


[First published 30 March 2007 ~  forgot to repost on Sade's birthday, 16 January!]

Reflections on Death, Resurrection, and the Afterlife (reprise)


Weddings and funerals are major social events in every Orang Asli community, bringing everybody together - just as they are in every other community - obviously because they are markers in the cycle of life and death. At Bayo's funeral on June 5th, 2007, I listened to the lay preacher (a Temuan from Tanjong Malim Calvary Mission) recite the last rites just before they covered the tiny, hastily knocked-together plywood coffin with earth.

Bayo's family is one of two in Pertak Village who converted to Christianity, probably in the 1980s, before the Orang Asli Affairs Department began taking a dim view of missionary incursions (apart from Islamic) into Orang Asli communities.

"Let this be a reminder to us all," the lay preacher intoned, "that our existence on this earth is only temporary. What God gives, God also takes away. But even death is temporary, for our souls are immortal; and those who believe in Jesus Christ shall live forever in Heaven."

It's been a long time since I heard such outright nonsense uttered. I drifted out of earshot and let the brief ceremony proceed. The lay preacher was merely parroting a doctrine handed down a hundred generations. Few question these pious platitudes, because nobody I know has returned from the grave to report on the afterlife (apart from a few who survived near-death experiences and whose stories have been recorded).

True, the entire basis of Christianity revolves around the belief that Jesus was bodily resurrected from his tomb and appeared before the Magdalene and the Apostles on what is now known as Easter Sunday.

However, the Koran explicitly disputes that the Master Jesus was actually crucified. "Another took his place," the Koran says - and this view is supported by the account of the Christos Incarnations recorded by the oracle, A'shayana Deane (initiate of the Melchizedek Cloister Emerald Order), as well as many other esoteric writings. But as it all boils down to a question of belief and faith, it's pointless to get into a heated debate on this issue, since opinions widely diverge on the subject.

The Orang Asli concept of the afterlife isn't all that different from the Christian version - except it doesn't require believing that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. The physical form is only our fleshly baju (clothing), say the Temuan elders. Our roh (soul) does not die and already exists before we are born. Indeed, there doesn't seem to be much difference - apart from terminology - between what animists believe and what Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists claim to believe. The common thread is the idea that the physical form is temporary, and the spiritual essence immortal. Now that is difficult to dispute, seeing as how plants, animals, and humans all go through a specific lifespan and then wither away before our eyes.

What distresses me, however, is that this devaluation of physical existence tends to make humans careless about the natural environment, Mother Earth, that gives rise to and supports their being. It makes a big difference whether people regard their homes as permanent and bequeathable - or only rented, and therefore temporary. Why invest so much effort in beautifying a rented property when, at any moment, you might get evicted by the owner? Would this explain why the Earth has been so badly treated by her human tenants?

When generation after generation is told by professional priests (regardless of denomination or sect) that their sojourn on Earth is but temporary, that their true home is in the afterlife, can you blame humans for not taking proper care of their bodies - and, by extension, their earthly home? This sort of "teaching" also serves to placate the impoverished masses who might otherwise decide they've had enough of being exploited and oppressed by the "ruling class" and join forces to overthrow the Management (a scenario that has occurred several times within recent history, but invariably it's a case of "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss" as Orwell depicted so memorably in Animal Farm).

Add to this the Buddhist and Hindu teachings of karma and reincarnation (which some interpret as "fate" or "predestiny") and you have a ready-made excuse to shrug off other people's misfortunes by saying, "Oh well, it's their bad karma that they got napalmed by the Americans."

Excuse me, but I'm inclined to view America's military adventurism as the result of an egocentric and opportunistic foreign policy rather than the workings of geopolitical karma. Bad management can be identified and redressed - and each citizen of every country shares the onus of restraining their leaders from gross, power-intoxicated misbehavior on the world stage.

And if we each paused for a moment and consciously decided to wholeheartedly appreciate and esteem the natural beauty around us - instead of taking it all for granted as we seem to have done for generations - then, perhaps, we may begin to realize that we lose absolutely nothing by investing our energy in making our earthly sojourn as heavenly as possible. So what if each of us can only enjoy it for a brief lifespan? Indeed we may discover that when life on earth becomes truly paradisal, we might decide to extend our visas indefinitely (instead of complaining that "life's a bitch"), thereby making translation to an abstract notion of Heaven merely optional.

Many of my friends have been interested in the idea of Ascension for years - though nobody appears to know exactly what the process entails. Some believe they can accelerate it by becoming vegan or by abstaining from sensory stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol. They cling to the words of the Ascended Masters and secretly aspire to attaining similar spiritual status. Quite frankly, I seem to be looking at it all through the "wrong" end of the telescope in that I clearly remember what a joyous accomplishment it was to finally be able to inhabit a physical vehicle and explore reality in a dense body with all the miraculous sensory organs we have evolved over the aeons.

In this respect I'd much rather identify with the Descended Masters. Having experienced physical existence on this incredibly beautiful and boundlessly fascinating planet many times over (I've certainly had multiple flashbacks of parallel incarnations over the years), I've opted to adopt Earth as my base of operations and my permanent Home.

[First published 8 June 2007]

Monday, January 30, 2012

Congratulations, Aunty Lena. You outlived everybody else!

L-R: Uncle Hong Wai, Aunt Yolande, My Dad, My Mum, Uncle Hong Heng, Aunt Lena, Uncle Hong Kiong.
Photographed in J.B. Public Gardens @ 1936

Earlier today I almost stepped on this vintage photograph which must have escaped from my filing cabinet. Looking at it made me realize how well the old-fashioned bromides survive the ravages of time. This print, measuring 4 X 3 inches, still scans beautifully with no loss of resolution after 76 years in the humid tropics!

Hard to believe the boy in shorts was my youngest uncle, Hong Wai, who became a dentist like his father Lee Kiang Choon. Hong Wai was the only sibling to be sent to Australia where he took up fencing and was a champion at one time.

Yolande was the eldest sibling and lived at 77 Emerald Hill Road, Singapore, almost her entire adult life. I remember the bonsai trees that adorned her small garden screened off from a busy thoroughfare by a high wall. She also had a pet cockatoo whose company I greatly enjoyed. Too bad I've lost touch with my cousins Dennis and Jeffery (Dennis could play the piano with a tennis ball and bought a bank in California with money he made in real estate).

My father Lee Hong Wah was always a well-dressed man, even in his early youth. My guess is that he was around 20 when this photo was taken - and my mother Dai Moon Loy must have been only 18. They were a beautiful couple, I do admit!

Uncle Hong Heng was the oldest male sibling and spent his retirement years hunched over a transistor radio following market trends (he was a bit of a gnome, enjoyed counting his money); he lived across the road from my parents' house in Kebun Teh Park (which, incidentally, is for sale in case anyone is interested in buying some property in Johore Baru).

Aunt Lena was extremely fond of my dad and dreamed of going on a long ocean cruise with him after my mother died on 14 July 1995. Unfortunately my dad was too much of a homebody and never took up her offer. Lena had the good fortune to marry two rich men in succession and was always generous with her family members. Although Lena has managed to outlive all her siblings, she probably is unaware of the fact, as she has had Alzheimer's for many years, after recovering from a stroke. The last few times I saw her at family reunions Lena was smiling like a baby at everyone around her - so I guess she has been spared any mental distress.

Uncle Hong Kiong was the least academically inclined among the siblings and opted for a career as a handyman, undertaking household repairs and living a simple unassuming life. I liked him and his family a lot because they tended to be the least judgmental of all my relatives down south.

In any case, looking at the photo triggered a cascade of long-unvisited childhood memories. Everyone in the photo except Aunt Lena is now long dead. We lived such different lives, I can't say I know my uncles and aunts that well - but I most certainly am grateful they were part of my family constellation and I send them wholehearted blessings and love as we spin and spiral into the new octave of evolution.