Friday, May 6, 2016

In Celebration of Love’s Labors Lost (Part 1)

As I lean back now and look back on the life path I have taken since I first stepped out into the world, two recurring motifs dominate the pattern of events.

The first is a hardwired impulse to be free – free of all external compulsions (which is well nigh impossible when you happen to be part of a family, and all of us are). But as one whose birthdate adds up to a 5, numerologists say I’m “one of those people who is always striving to find answers to the many questions that life poses; [that I] want to be totally unrestrained, as this is the sign of freedom and independence.” So I’m only being true to my core nature in cherishing my freedom.

Freedom from debt, for a start. I don’t have a credit card, no overdraft, and I have never once applied for a bank loan. The house I’m living in is in my wife’s name and it was given to her when her entire village was relocated several hundred yards upstream on account of the Selangor Dam. So, no mortgage either - although the fine print says the land the house stands on is on a 99-year lease. We have until the year 2106 to worry about having to move.

The second motif happens to be my susceptibility to love. Some live to work, some to eat, some to make money – I live for love.

My first love was at the tender age of 4, when I shared a bathtub with a neighbor’s daughter, who arrived on earth 11 days ahead of me, and later found myself sitting beside her at kindergarten. I remember how we shared little secrets in class. She was curious to know if boys and girls had similar genitals, and neither of us had a clue – so I drew a simple diagram to show her what mine looked like, and she reciprocated, very demurely, by handing me a piece of paper on which she had written the letter V. I wasn’t satisfied with her response, suspecting there had to be more to it, that she was holding back. Then we got separated in primary school – there were no co-ed schools when I was a kid – and didn’t meet again until we were in our early teens, and I was smitten by her luminous beauty which I noticed for the first time.

When I learnt she was in the habit of roller-skating along the corridors of a school opposite my house most afternoons, I decided to take up roller-skating too – and soon became quite adept at it. But we were both too shy to go beyond smiling at each other and I felt totally tongue-tied when face-to-face with her.

So nothing at all transpired until fate brought us together again when we reached fourth form. I was appointed to the editorial board of a science magazine jointly published by my all-boys school and a nearby girls’ school. At our first informal meeting to discuss the magazine, I was astounded by how mature the girls were compared to me at 15. She and her best buddy, my co-editor, were smoking real cigarettes (not the chocolate ones I was familiar with as a kid) and even driving around without a license.

That’s how I began smoking, and soon I was borrowing my dad’s car to drive – at first up and down the compound, then increasingly further around the neighborhood. Working together on the science magazine project gave me a good excuse to start visiting her in the afternoons after classes. She lived conveniently around the corner from my house, within a 3-minute walk, even less on my bicycle.

Several times a week, I’d perch my cockatoo on the handle bar and ride over to her place. She was usually home. We would sit around her airy front porch and chat till twilight. Each time I saw her she grew more beautiful in my eyes. But I just didn’t know how to shift gears from being her childhood playmate to being her beau. 

So things drifted along for a while sweetly enough, but neither of us wanted to make the first move into adulthood, although I occasionally detected a flirtatious or teasing tone in her glances. I just wanted everything to be perfect between us. The thought of doing something clumsy or saying something inappropriate paralyzed me. Much later in life I realized that the abstract notion of “perfection” itself could be the #1 Killjoy Factor in the human universe…

Anyway, many other events intruded that weren’t part of the pattern of “perfect love” and I took them all in my stride as part of love’s learning curve. As my mind drifts slowly backwards in time, scanning for precious memory fragments to rescue from analog oblivion, I become acutely aware of the many-layered nature of experience: in so many instances, I can’t draw a linear timeline marking one event without then wondering when some other event occurred.

For instance, during the years I didn’t see my first love, I enjoyed quite a few other romantic fantasies. I vaguely recall an alphabetic crush I had for a pig-tailed cutie who played the letter M in some kiddie concert I witnessed around 10. I remember a couple of stiffy-inducing dreams with me playing the letter K and somehow showing up the loutish low-class L who stood between us. I never found out her name, but I bet it began with the letter M...

Then there was WW, baby sister of one of my best buddies in whose home I used to hang out all day after school. My own siblings were much older than I, so I never felt the same sort of intense kinship with them. In this household there was a great deal of family interaction. It was an ideal atmosphere for innocent fun and puppy love to flourish: the stirrings of juicy adolescence, the brief but intense thrill of her foot brushing against mine during a game of Monopoly. I was present when her first period arrived, her face flushed as she hurried towards the bathroom.

I knew nothing about hormones and pheromones then. But I enjoyed the undercurrent of irrational desires and the heady sensation of erotic impulses. These weren’t exactly romantic – primal, more likely. Electromagnetic and biochemical, at least. No guilt was attached to these prurient fantasies; nor were they focused on any specific person. Non-specific lust is what I call this syndrome.

Girls were lovely to dream about, but my everyday reality was populated with boys. Since girls were sexually unavailable, we resorted to making lewd jokes about them; but among ourselves, we were comfortable showing off our erections and competing to see who could shoot his load the furthest. There was ample opportunity for experimentation. Staying over at male friends’ houses presented no problems with parents and it seemed natural for us to have temporary crushes on each other without their becoming full-blown affairs.

Being single-minded about anything has never been a habit of mine - which may explain why I never became a virtuoso in any specific endeavor. Looking back, if I had kept my focus on winning the heart of my first love, ignoring other distractions and settling for nobody else, perhaps we would have ended up as a couple. I can’t imagine what married life would have been like for us – but I’m fairly certain she would have compelled me to become a high flyer in the upper income bracket, since it’s clear she had set her sights on a comfortable lifestyle, being what people would consider a trophy wife. As it turned out, she subsequently dated and married a fellow who became an accountant – while I drifted in the opposite direction, devoting my energies to the arts, after a short-lived stint in the glossy advertising game.

Clark Kent look @ 1968
But I’m getting ahead of my narrative. While all this was going on, I began to visit a couple of pretty sisters – one shy and demure, the other outgoing and vivacious – both of whom eventually became integral parts of my life.

When you’re a teenager it’s very important to appear cool – and to visit a young lady on a rickety bicycle is fairly uncool (especially with a cockatoo perched on the handlebar). Since I had convinced my father that I could drive competently, he rarely protested whenever I asked to borrow his car. I had a schoolmate named Johnny who was always on the lookout for hot chicks. He didn’t have access to a car, so he would sometimes tell me about some nice girl he knew who happened to have good-looking sisters – and we’d go visit them in my dad’s car.

That’s how I got to meet Annie, my French kiss instructor only a year younger than I but slightly more experienced. It was because of Annie I decided to quit wearing glasses (which, prior to my first kissing lesson, I had believed to be a requisite accessory since they made one look smarter and older). We were both wearing glasses when the serious smooching began one sultry afternoon – and the collision of our spectacles almost turned the experience into an episode out of some Woody Allen movie.  Anyway, thank you, Annie – for your wonderful coaching which has served me well through the decades.

(In 2011 Annie tracked me down on facebook. Imagine the great joy I felt to be reconnected with her after 46 years. She's moved on from kissing coach to tai-chi instructor.)

[To be continued...]

Monday, May 2, 2016

In The Nude with Spencer Tunick (repost)

"A body is a living entity. It represents life, freedom, sensuality, and it is a mechanism to carry out our thoughts. A body is always beautiful to me." ~ Spencer Tunick

I was a model for Spencer Tunick

By Chris Dobney, Online Entertainment Editor, Sydney Morning Herald
March 1, 2010

Ever wondered what people in the street might look like naked? Today was your chance to find out. The answer, as I discovered very early this morning, was: remarkably varied, and yet ultimately the same.

This was the aim for artist Spencer Tunick, who conceived today's "installation" of more than 5000 nude people on the Opera House steps and forecourt as an embrace between Sydney's gay and straight communities.

Courtesy of Greg Wood & AFP/Getty Images

Fear of being naked in public was just one of the challenges faced by many of participants, who flocked into the CBD from 4am today. Queuing was to be a hallmark of the day as people queued to get in, queued for the loos, queued for coffees, and, yes, even queued to strip off.

My friends and I left Neutral Bay just before 4am and, after a dream run into the city, came to a screeching halt at the corner of George and Bridge streets. Impatient as we were, it gave us a chance to check out the people in the street. Clearly, at this time in the morning, they were all heading to the same place we were.

There were elderly couples walking down Macquarie Street, single young women in cars and plenty of gay groups whooping it up as they headed down towards the Quay. After 45 minutes stuck in a traffic snarl of soon-to be naked people, we finally emerged from the Opera House car park. We were each handed a plastic bag for our clothes and directed into a marshalling area inside The Domain.

Soon after we arrived, a loudspeaker crackled into life and we were instructed to keep our clothes on for the time being (not hard considering it was a nippy 15 degrees) and to await further instructions. About 6am, Tunick welcomed us, thanking the "heterosexual people who have come here to get naked with their gay friends."

Just on dawn came the instruction that everyone had been waiting for. There was a whoop and a cheer from the crowd as the first group disrobed and ran into the forecourt. Finally it was our turn and, in no time, we were running up the Opera House steps in a state that on any other day would get us arrested. One woman beside me shouted to her friend: "This is surreal. It's like a dream."

"It's like my worst nightmare," groaned her friend.

The excitement was palpable, to be standing naked in such a public place and among so many people. But quite soon the cheers were replaced by "oooooh" as a chilly wind blew up. Inhibitions were soon forgotten as people struggled to keep warm and fulfil Tunick's endless instructions.

"I'm not the world's best photographer but I am an artist and a perfectionist," he said, as he exhorted 5000 people to work in unison. "And I want us to make an artwork you'll be proud of." Six or seven positions later came Tunick's most confronting request. "If you came with a partner, I want you to kiss your partner. If you came with a friend, I want you to kiss your friend. If you came alone, I want you to turn to someone else who is alone and kiss them." Eventually he relented and added, "... or embrace them."

Suddenly I was aware of being alone in a crowd: I was surrounded by couples. Bounding up several steps I came face to face with an elderly man in the same predicament. We took one look at each other and embraced, admitting that, while it felt a little strange at first, it was a pleasant enough way to keep warm. Now the crowd really were as one. It was a beautiful moment.

Once Tunick gave the disband signal, most people scrambled for their clothes, while some hung back, grabbing the unique opportunity to take happy snaps of themselves starkers at the Opera House. As I dressed, I was relieved to be warm again at last but also a little disappointed that it was over so soon.

About 1800 people stripped naked in May 2008 for Spencer Tunick at the Ernst Happel football stadium in Vienna (Photo: Reuters)

Naked volunteers pose for Spencer Tunick in the Europarking building in Amsterdam in 2007 (Photo: Reuters)

Undress circle: naked volunteers pose for Tunick in a Bruges theatre in 2005 (Photo: Peter Maenhoudt/Reuters)

Thousands of naked people fill Mexico City's Zocalo Plaza during the massive naked photo session with U.S. photographer Spencer Tunick in 2007 (Photo: AP)

Spencer Tunick photographs a massive landscape of human bodies in Melbourne in 2007 (Photo: Wayne Taylor)

Naked volunteers pose for Spencer Tunick on the Aletsch glacier in 2007 (Photo: Reuters)

Spencer Tunick in Sydney, 2010 (Photo: Kate Geraghty)

[Special thanks to Hari Ho for alerting me to this uplifting art event. First posted 3 March 2010]

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tribute to my dear old dad (repost)

My father in 1981, en route to Melbourne for bypass surgery

Lee Hong Wah was born May 1st, 1916, in Johore Baru, the fifth of six siblings. In his youth he played saxophone and drums in a ragtime combo. He also rode around on a BSA motorcycle and kept a pet cockatoo, which perched nightly on his bedstead (and was trained to turn around and shit on a newspaper).

When I was 12 my brother Lanny bought me a cockatoo which I promptly named Kiki, after the cockatoo that often appeared in Enid Blyton's Famous Five stories. In the early 1970s I bought a 1948 BSA from a friend and often rode it to work (although it was a bitch to kickstart). A friend named Arthur Lam gave me his drum kit and I used to bang away on it, driving the neighbors crazy. Another friend donated an ancient alto sax to me and I was able to play avant-garde jazz stylings on it (à la John Coltrane).

Only much later did I realize how much like my dad I actually am. The main difference between us was that I decided to grow a mustache when I was 19 - and he was cleanshaven throughout his life. I also took up smoking (like my mother) when I was 15, while my dad never went anywhere near tobacco (and thus never discovered the dubious delights of potsmoking).

Dad always wore his hair short and greased it down with Brylcreem. As soon as I could, I let my hair grow long and hated the feel of greasy kid stuff.

Like my dad, I can sit in one spot quite contentedly for hours. But unlike him, I'm not particularly handy with tools and household repairs.

And, like my dad, I have always been a keen worshiper of the Sacred Feminine. He enjoyed photographing his girlfriends in the nude (with a Kodak Brownie camera he borrowed from me, taking care to develop and print the negatives himself). When he was in his mid-eighties, he fished out his secret photo album and enjoyed watching me gasp in astonishment at his many "conquests."

"Where did you find the time to date so many women?" was all I could ask, marveling at how my dad had mastered the art of "camwhoring" 50 years before digital cameras became the rage.

I've opted to share a few of the more "discreet" photos here because the girls are probably all grandmothers by now... or a few might even have left the planet. If any of you happen to recognize any of the pretty ladies in these photos, please leave a comment or email me. I would love to know a bit more about them. After all, they all loved my father.

Lee Hong Wah was a simple down-to-earth man who enjoyed life and good food and beautiful women. Even on his deathbed, he was flirting with the nurses - and with one of his nieces-in-law who visited him almost daily in hospital. Yet he managed to stay happily married to my mother for nearly 60 years.

Around dawn on 14 October 2004, whilst he was being sponged by several pretty nurses, my father breathed his last. I'm sure there was a real sweet smile on his face.

[First posted 1 May 2010, reposted 2 May 2014]

Let the Anarchy Begin... Again!

From "Joan Danvers' College Years" (

A TV TALKSHOW HOST* once asked me point-blank during a panel discussion if I were an anarchist.

“Of course,” I unhesitatingly replied, which took him aback. He quickly changed the subject. I guess the talkshow host, like most people I meet, was unaware what “anarchy” actually means.

My Oxford Concise Dictionary tautologically defines anarchy as “a society or political system founded on the principles of anarchism.” And how does it define anarchism? “Belief in the abolition of all government and the organization of society on a voluntary, cooperative basis.”

The Concise Oxford Dictionary is a bit off the mark here. It fails to distinguish between internal and external government. There’s a vast difference between self-imposed discipline and discipline enforced upon us by those who claim to know what’s best. The true anarchist is a self-governing entity who attains freedom from external dictates through rigorous integrity and transparency. As Bob Dylan wryly observed: “To live outside the law you gotta be honest.”

And how does one become honest?

Very simple. First you have to replace the concept of a judgmental and punitive parent-deity with an essentially loving, non-judgmental and extremely friendly notion of divinity - sort of a best buddy and trusted confidant(e). The problem is that souls evolve at different rates – and at this point in time the grossly immature ones appear to outnumber the ones who have made it through to self-governance.

(Incidentally the word “govern” comes from the Latin gubernare - “to steer or rule” – borrowed from the original Greek word kubernan, which simply means “to steer.”) This makes anarchism a difficult, if not impossible, ideal – and that’s why the word “anarchy” has been commonly misinterpreted as “disorder and general unruliness.”

In truth, anarchy is the final state to which monarchy aspires. How so? An enlightened ruler’s essential function is to be a shining example of dignity, nobility, and self-control for his or her subjects to emulate (just as a real teacher would be fulfilled to watch his or her students graduate as teachers in their own right).

Governance begins with monarchy and evolves through a whole gamut of isms before it finally achieves anarchism – the glorious state wherein “political parties” are defined as grand public celebrations at which everybody eats, drinks, and makes merry – and the human race transforms into the human dance.

As children we learn to lie in order to avoid punishment from grown-ups who would never understand why we do the things we do. Remove the punishment and – voila! – the crime disappears. But... but... but... I can hear the vociferous objections from the peanut gallery.

My old pal Socrates postulated that one sure way of telling true from false authority is simply this: false authority inevitably resorts to coercion, while true authority has all the patience in the world, since it emanates from the timeless realm.

Politics is fond of posing as a self-improving system of governance but we all know it actually boils down to who calls the shots. People mistake FORCE for POWER. If you disagree with me, I’ll nuke you! That’s FORCE of the crudest order. If you criticize my management style I’ll throw you in jail! That’s FORCE too, even if it takes the form of a threat.

So how does TRUE POWER reveal itself?

It encourages and inspires. It loves and loves. Note that the words "encourage" and "inspire" have powerful etymologies. Courage derives from corage, to give heart; and inspirare means to “breathe or blow into” (and that’s how we get the word spiritus).

To inspire is to fill others with spirit, semangat. That’s the proper definition of TRUE POWER. Love as a verb, not just a noun.

In short, politics as it is practiced on this planet is largely a grotesque travesty of real (and royal) values. Look what’s happening in America (“Home of the Brave, Land of the Free”) – electoral fraud and skullduggery got Dubya the presidency twice. And when Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush as POTUS, did things significantly change? When business jumps into bed with politics guess who gets thoroughly screwed?

Taxpayers of the world, start governing yourselves! George Harrison once sang about the ones “who gain the world and lose their souls.” Well, do you fancy being governed by the soulless? I bet not! However, no need to rush out into the streets to get water-cannoned, tear-gassed, pepper-sprayed, bludgeoned, finger-printed, incarcerated and tortured.

Evolution, not revolution!

Deactivate your reptilian fear programming in the privacy of your own mind! The fewer fears you cling to, the more you’ll be able to empathize, understand, and love. When you mature as conscious souls, you’ll find you actually have no enemies. You’ll outgrow the need to scapegoat, to pin the blame on somebody else. You’ll no longer create demons to appease, obey, or be tormented by - or a Big Brother to protect you from your own shadow self.

For a start, wean yourself off your addiction to that lethal dose of daily news from the mainstream media – you know who controls the programming, don’t you? The stuff is psychically toxic, designed to slowly, imperceptibly poison your sense of well-being like arsenic mixed into the paintwork.

When you finally locate the innermost core of your being, you’ll find your sovereign self regally seated on your own throne. You’ll know the meaning of dignity, integrity, nobility – and, above all, compassion. As each individual attains this blessed state of divine sovereignty, the brutal stupidity of politics will be expelled like so much stinky flatus by the transmutative power of internal, chromosomal, genetic change – the only real (and royal) change there is.

*That TV talkshow host, incidentally, was a smooth-talking young fella named Khairy Jamaluddin, who subsequently married a former Prime Minister's daughter and became an extraordinarily rich shit-stirrer in Umno Youth (the Malaysian version of Mussolini's Blackshirts).

[First published in VIDA! - January 2005 © Antares. Originally posted 16 May 2007, reposted 23 June 2014]