Thursday, May 4, 2023



Why so? Simply because the Buddha represents the Awakened Soul incarnate in human form. The Buddha is nobody's personal name, it denotes an enlightened state of consciousness that is now available to all souls in physical bodies - thanks to the brilliant accomplishment of Prince Siddhartha 2,500 years ago, who left a privileged existence within a royal palace and the creature comforts of home in quest of truth and deeper wisdom.

It's utterly pointless to be a Buddhist. Might as well strip off your clothes and become a Nudist. At least you would have nothing to hide!

This Vesak Day, in honor of Siddhartha's enlightenment quest, I beseech all who consider themselves Buddhists to forsake their text-book Buddhism - and go straight for Buddhahood instead. You can attain enlightenment at the snap of a finger, in the blink of an eye, in a single heartbeat. Being enlightened simply means you become aware of your own robotism, your own mechanical behavior, your own cultural and social programming... and therefore are able to successfully transcend it.


P.S. To all Archontized Pseudo-Humans still serving a control-freak totalitarian globalist agenda, I wish you an unexpected attack of candor and a wholly cleansing “We Suck” Day.

[First posted 19 May 2010, reposted 15 may 2022

Tuesday, May 2, 2023


3D map showing glacial zones in Iceland

Emerging from the ocean depths a mere 16 million years ago, Iceland is still a living, constantly changing landscape, with more than 300 volcanoes, 30 of them active.

Its location astride the mid-Atlantic ridge, on the edge of two tectonic plates, gives rise to frequent tremors and makes it less than hospitable for human habitation. Rarely do you find shrubs or trees growing beyond 5 feet, except in urban centers where buildings offer young trees a measure of protection from strong icy winds.

Grass struggling to green on old lava fields in the Þingvellir National Park

While whales, seals, and other marine creatures have inhabited the cold waters of the northernmost latitudes for millennia, the only indigenous land animals found in Iceland are the Arctic fox and reindeer, although Polar bears from Greenland have been known to visit, hitching a ride on ice floes. All other species were imported by early settlers beginning in the 9th century CE. The good news is, no biting insects or poisonous snakes can survive Iceland’s near arctic winters - although huge swarms of harmless midges occasionally darken the air in some areas.

Snowcapped moraine hills and glacial ponds

Given the harsh conditions, it is indeed a wonder that a handful of hardy humans have managed to gain a permanent foothold on this island nearly the size of Great Britain. The population in January 2015 stands at 330,000 – with 260,000 concentrated in and around Reykjavik, the capital, which makes it the most thinly inhabited country in Europe. Yet the United Nations 2013 Human Development Index listed Iceland as the 13th most developed nation in the world.

One of hundreds of splendid waterfalls found all over Iceland 

Apart from an unlimited supply of the purest water found anywhere on the planet - icy cold aboveground and boiling hot beneath - the first settlers found resources extremely scarce and confined to specific areas. They shortsightedly wasted no time decimating whatever forest once existed, accelerating soil erosion and reducing arable land to a bare minimum. However, the abundant waters also provided a healthy supply of fish. Norsemen arrived in the middle of the 9th century with horses, cattle and sheep, plus a few basic tools. Driftwood and ship wreckage salvaged from treacherous stretches of the coastline were highly prized and carefully hoarded.

Remains of a stone & timber cottage built against a hillslope with a grass roof

Although the Norwegians claim to be the first settlers (followed by Danes and Swedes), the remains of a few cabins dating back at least a century earlier were subsequently discovered. Nobody knows who built these cabins, though some believe they may have been Scottish or Irish mystics seeking refuge from the Church’s relentless persecution.

A Magickal Mystery Gourmet Tour

Aesthetic lines of the airport terminal
Even before we landed at Keflavik Airport, 45 minutes from Reykjavik, our 3-hour flight from Copenhagen on Icelandic Air yielded some pleasant surprises. The first was the refreshingly aesthetic, unexpected programming of the in-flight entertainment, unlike the usual “inoffensive” mainstream fluff found on most international airlines. Checking out the music channels, I was delighted to discover that the classical offerings included contemporary symphonic works verging on the avant-garde. I watched a low-key Icelandic movie about an introvert schoolteacher and his father’s attempts to reconcile with him; nothing spectacular, just a human story sensitively told, shot on location in the desolate rural region of Iceland. And next to the video screen was a USB port from which to charge my phone. How civilized!

We ordered a ham and cheese baguette and were delighted to find it still hot from the oven, entirely flavorful and wholesome. It was evident that those responsible for feeding the passengers’ stomachs and souls on Icelandic Air were empathetic human beings, not cost-cutting, time-serving corporate minions.

Arrival Hall at Keflavik International Airport
The next surprise was the pinewood flooring and human-scale layout of the airport terminal which gave one the impression of arriving at somebody’s home, rather than some impersonal transport hub. Imagine my joy when I suddenly found myself at the exit, having encountered no immigration or customs check. This was the first time I have ever arrived in a country seemingly devoid of distrust and bureaucratic paranoia. There were no security personnel or CCTVs in sight.

View of Reykjavik from The Pearl

Interior of the Dome at The Pearl
We were amused to hear that the last bank robbery in Reykjavik was foiled when the police found the would-be robber standing at the nearest bus stop, hoping to make his getaway on public transport. He was totally drunk, of course.

Ragna Bachmann Egilsdóttir was assigned as our personal guide in Iceland. We couldn’t have asked for a more knowledgeable and passionate person to facilitate a condensed but intimate glimpse into the Icelandic mythos. A 34th generation descendant of the first wave of Viking settlers, Ragna has spent 25 years of her colorful life living and working abroad; indeed, a book has been written about her adventures (which regrettably we didn’t have the opportunity to investigate). Apart from that she happens to be natural-born mystic, folklorist, storyteller, ascensionist and healer whose profound love of her homeland is matched only by her interest in whatever goes on beyond the visible. For me it felt like a reunion of old souls right from the start.

Left: Ragna's magickal soapstone. Right: my Logo of Logos inspired by the Merkaba

Ragna Bachmann Egilsdóttir,
magickal tour guide & storyteller
At one point she showed me a carved soapstone she had found on the black sand beach of Mýrdalssandur in 2012. It was a Celtic pentagram, symbol of the Pythagoreans, and it was complementary to my own modified merkaba (based on the interlocking equilateral triangles commonly known as the Star of David). The five-pointed pentagram is associated with Venus, magick, and the Sacred Feminine; while the six-pointed star represents esoteric knowledge and the Masculine Principle. Both are integral components of the Flower of Life, a firm understanding of which leads inevitably to a comprehensive, inclusive and coherent perspective on reality.

On our second day in Iceland, Ragna presented me with two paperbacks – one on the Sagas and Myths of the Northmen and the other an English translation of Voluspa (The Prophecy of the Vikings). I reciprocated by giving her a copy of my book, Tanah Tujuh ~ Close Encounters with the Temuan Mythos.

Captain Palli taking a break
Our driver Guðni Palli Birgis Brettingz (Palli for short) left most of the talking to Ragna who told me he used to be captain of a merchant ship. We soon grew to trust Captain Palli’s skillful handling of the Mercedes mini-bus on treacherous hilly stretches in North Iceland, some completely covered with snow and ice. Most of the time, the sight of another vehicle every 15 or 20 minutes was all the traffic we saw.

Where Fire Meets Ice

Driving across mile after mile of lava fields in South Iceland we learn that a catastrophic volcanic eruption in June 1783 went on for more than eight months and left a whole portion of the island (an area roughly the size of Singapore) uninhabitable. For many years afterwards the air was murky with ash and nothing would grow in the sunless haze. A quarter of the population died of starvation and many Icelanders migrated to Canada, Denmark, Germany, wherever work could be found. The eruption affected most of North Europe as sulphur dioxide mixed with rainfall to poison crops and choke lungs (in Britain, an estimated 20,000 died in the summer of 1783 from the toxic atmosphere).

Driving across the vast tundra of North Iceland

Brittle, jagged lava rockpile

The lava fields of Eldhraun are possibly the most desolate landscape I have yet to experience. Jagged and brittle piles of volcanic rock dot the plains as far as the eye can see, the monotony occasionally broken by smoky plumes where geothermal springs have broken through. It is not a terrain one can easily traverse on foot or even on horseback.

232 years after the catastrophic 8-month-long eruption of Lakagigar starting on 8 June 1783

Occasionally a few barren hills come into view, the taller ones still capped with ice even in the late spring. They are mostly moraine deposited by long forgotten glaciers - an accumulation of crumbly, gravelly scree virtually impossible to climb. Indeed, a landscape unfriendly to creatures as fragile as humans – but certainly not so to elemental beings and extradimensional denizens of Tolkienish folklore like trolls, ogres, elves, fairies, goblins, gnomes, dwarves, and undines.

Dimmuborgir (Dark Castles) where a family of trolls became petrified when they stayed out till dawn

100-degree Celsius hotsprings atop a hillock
The only way the Icelanders could endure the extreme cold was to pipe geothermal water through their homes. Energy is also generated from the steaming hotsprings and countless waterfalls. Clean power and heating at its best, virtually free and unlimited.  Iceland is undoubtedly the least polluted nation in the world. Every home looks humble and plain on the outside – but the interiors are often cozily furnished with furs and rugs and well-designed furniture.

Temperature differences between outdoors and indoors in Iceland are extreme. From below zero, you step into rooms warm enough to undress in.

Farmer's bedroom warmed by body heat 
With limited resources in a punishing climate and terrain, the Icelanders’ ancestors required tremendous ingenuity and advanced design skills to survive. Early farmers came up with the idea of warming their stone and wood cottages with body heat – from their livestock which they kept one floor below as well as by squeezing themselves  into tiny bedrooms with a minimum of two bodies per bed. They often built their dwellings snug against a hillside and allowed grass to grow atop their roofs in the summer to form a natural thatch.

Folk museum curator Brooks Walker with
handwoven horsehair ropes
In winter when ice formed over lakes and made travel difficult, they fashioned simple skates from the bones of horses, held in place with ropes woven from horse hair. Some became experts in tool-making, improvising with metal scraps and driftwood, because importing cost a lot more and took months to deliver by ship.

Every part of the whale was recycled, especially the vertebrae, which were converted into large food containers. Smaller bones from whales and other animals were used as hammers, pounders, grinders, or turned into ornaments. Smaller bones from sheep and pigs were given to children as toys.

At the Folk Museum outside the village of Skỏgar we found a special display of finely crafted tools hand-made by a farmer turned smithy named Sigurjỏn Magnủsson (1889-1969) – a shining example of Icelandic ingenuity, skill and resourcefulness.

Food container made of whale vertebrum

Also on display was an exquisitely tailored black gown believed to have been sewn by elves and presented to a human female who helped midwife a difficult birth in the fairy realm.

Rolling With The Punches

Geothermal pool bubbling with smelly sulphurous mud (where the Devil once pissed, according to folklore)
Frequent earth tremors have forced Icelanders to become the world’s foremost authorities on earthquake-proofing their homes. All modern structures are now bolted to steel frames with built-in shock absorbers designed to withstand seismic activity up to 8 on the Richter scale.

The famous Strokkur geyser erupts every 5-7 minutes

We arrived in Iceland five days after the devastating earthquakes that crippled Nepal and within 24 hours of setting foot in Reykjavik I got wind of some volcanic activity in the southwest. Our guide expressed a degree of anxiety but I felt certain nothing terrible would happen. When the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted in April 2010, the massive fallout of ash disrupted air travel in Northern Europe for weeks. More recently, Bárðarbunga erupted on 17 August 2014 and only quietened down on 27 February 2015. This time there was no problem with volcanic ash, but the massive lava flows released sulphur dioxide fumes which made breathing hazardous in many areas.

Glorious vistas every direction one turns, with angels cavorting in blue skies

Throughout our brief sojourn in Iceland, the skies were mostly a brilliant blue, especially as we headed farther north. Cirrus clouds cavorted in the high winds, forming angels and dragons and mythical creatures: to me, it was a clear sign that Iceland was pleased to reveal her otherworldly beauty and her abiding mysteries to appreciative souls. Within a single week we passed through so many unique, gobsmackingly spectacular landscapes found nowhere else on earth, and saw the most awe-inspiring waterfalls and rivers – but none warm enough to play in comfortably.

Skinnydipping, anyone? Brrrrrr!
“Three minutes,” Ragna solemnly informed us, “that’s how long you can stay alive if you fall into these icy waters, so please don’t try it!”

On the 1st of May, a nation-wide strike began with workers demanding a more reasonable share of the economic pie. The elite had recently given themselves a 30% pay hike and were offering less than 3% to the rest.

Magnús Tómasson's "Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat" (basalt on bronze, 1994)

500 copies of the first Icelandic Bible were printed in 1584
Iceland was settled by migrants utterly fed up with the notion of monarchy. For centuries the island had been virtually a colony of Norway and all its citizens were subjects of the Norwegian king. The island was presented to Sweden as a gift and later taken over by the Danes. In the year 1000 CE the Icelandic parliament passed a resolution to officially embrace Christianity. This averted a civil war between recent converts and diehard pagans. One of the last Viking chiefs ritually consigned his pagan deities to the bottom of a majestic but perennially frost-covered waterfall in North Iceland named Goðafoss where they presumably await their resurrection at Ragnarök (or the Final Reckoning). Nevertheless, every summer neo-pagans convene by the thousands in the Viking Village, located in a picturesque suburb of Reykjavik, to celebrate the Nordic pantheon of their ancestors.

The Norse Gods sleep at the bottom of Goðafoss, a perenially frost-covered waterfall

Jónas Hallgrímsson, Icelandic intellectual
& contributor to the
Fjölnir, a journal that
inspired the Independence movement
In 1874, an independence movement fomented by Danish-educated poets and intellectuals led to Iceland being granted home rule – but full independence was attained only in 1944 after Denmark fell under German occupation. Today Icelanders are known to be fiercely anarchistic and egalitarian in outlook. Their contempt for bureaucratic authority and corporate arrogance can be seen in public artworks like the hilarious basalt and bronze statue by Magnús Tómasson in honor of the blockheads in power installed outside the Parliament (it was subsequently relocated to a spot less obvious).

The building where Ronald Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986 to discuss nuclear disarmament and an end to the Cold War is now a tourist attraction. This event put Reykjavik on the world map as thousands of reporters gathered there to document the historic dẻtente between the Capitalist and Communist blocs.

Jón Gunnar Árnason's "Sun Voyager" (aluminum sculpture, 1990)

Icelandic twins in Húsavík
Ragna with her Glacier Queen Trophy
Even though Iceland has never had a standing army, it has aligned itself with NATO and during the Cold War, the Americans established a military base and even sent their astronauts to Iceland for training prior to the Apollo moonshot. Apparently, the African Americans among the military encampment were a novel sight to many Icelanders who had never seen Blacks before. I’m sure there are more than a few traces of African DNA in Iceland, left behind by the American military occupation. Now there will also be some Asian DNA too: we were surprised to find a Penang-born Chinese waitress at the Grand Hotel Reykjavik who said she met her Icelandic husband while holidaying in Phuket eight years ago. The hotel staff included an Indonesian girl and a couple of Filipinas.

Since the banking collapse of 2008 - which led to a change of government and the jailing of a few bankers - Iceland has managed to pull itself up by its own bootstraps, turning to tourism as a new source of revenue. The climate may be harsh and inhospitable, but the warmth and friendliness of every Icelander I encountered more than made up for it.

Captain Palli steady at the wheel while Ragna regales us with troll tales

I dedicate this account to Ragna and Palli, our wonderful guide and driver, who went beyond the call of duty to make us feel welcome and loved. Thanks also go to Karen Sin of the Universal Travel Corporation in Singapore who came along to ensure that everything went smoothly; and, of course, to my adorable travel companion, Adeline “Kimchi” Kang who turned whimsical fantasy into a memorable reality for me.

First posted 17 May 2015. Text & photos © Antares 2015

Monday, May 1, 2023


Mr Lee Hong Wah in 1951
My father was no socialist, nor was he by any stretch of the imagination a capitalist, though his own dad was a self-made man of means  - a registered dentist who, through skill, dedication and a healthy sense of humor, pulled himself up by the bootstraps and died a wealthy, popular and respected human being.

Indeed, my dad was no subscriber to any acquired or inherited belief system and proudly described himself as a freethinker. Too often, being a freethinker is confused with being an atheist and my dad was no believer, though I strongly suspect he saw himself as an incarnation of Eros, son of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.

And so every First of May when he marked another solar orbit, my dad would quip that the whole world was united in celebrating his advent on earth, even if they believed they were only paying tribute to the Dignity of Labor. As an aside, it has always struck me as the ultimate irony that in Nazi Germany, every forced labor camp displayed the slogan "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work sets you free") at its entrance. But this is about my dad and the valuable life lessons I have learned from him.

1. If you have to drive, be the best driver you possibly can.

Dad teaching me to swim when I was 4
My earliest childhood memories of traveling by road to holiday destinations with my dad at the wheel and me sitting at the back are all pleasant. His confidence and competence as a driver made everyone feel safe and relaxed. I don't recall a single incident in which his driving put his passengers in any danger, although he did recall one major accident that happened before I was born, when the steering wheel jammed and his car ended up in a shallow ravine, luckily with nobody hurt, just a little shaken. As I grew older my dad was fond of offering me advice on the finer points of driving. He taught me to be constantly aware of the sound the engine made, and to shift gears only at the correct rev, so as to maximize on momentum and extend clutch life (there were no automatic shifts then). 

On long-distance drives, he would remind me to keep changing my visual focus, to let my eyes refocus momentarily on the dashboard, then sweep across the horizon, glance at the rear mirror, side mirrors, and so on - which ensured that the eyes were kept exercised and alert, and to enhance peripheral vision, the best guarantee of being able to anticipate hazards ahead as well as approaching from the rear and from either side. At night he would remind me to dip the headlights whenever I saw the beam of another vehicle coming from the opposite direction; and also when approaching another vehicle from behind so as not to annoy the other driver with the glare of the high beams.

Dad, me & Uncle Kong Beng in Port Dickson @ 1956
Apart from simple courtesy, he added, being a well-mannered and considerate driver contributed to road safety. He would point out examples of good and bad driving, a clear indication being how often the brakes were engaged: competent drivers would slow down at bends by lifting the foot gently off the accelerator or shifting to a lower gear if the bend was acute, while nervous and incompetent drivers would overuse the brakes, even on gentle bends, a practice that could result in the wheels skidding on slippery or sandy patches of road. He showed me how to gently accelerate in the middle of negotiating a sharp bend, to gain traction - a technique known to all race car drivers. I realize now that his subtle coaching has made me a far more conscious and considerate road user, the best insurance against unnecessary accidents. He taught me that keeping calm at all times was preferable to being easily panicked, reminding me that quick reflexes and sound judgment served to minimize the consequences of any mishap. These lessons in good driving can be applied in every circumstance, not just on the road - if you experience life as a journey.

2. Never be in a hurry, even if you're running late.

Mr & Mrs Lee Hong Wah @ 1964
I remember my dad as a man who took his time dressing and grooming himself. He showed me different ways of tying a neat necktie knot (assuming I would someday have a silk tie collection as impressive as his). He would apply grease to his hair and meticulously comb it till he was satisfied with the results. In this one respect, I broke free of his tutelage first by maintaining a crew cut, then by letting my hair grow long, because I disliked the feel of vaseline on my hands.

He recounted in vivid detail how his own practice of never being in a hurry actually saved his life at the beginning of the Japanese Occupation. After the victorious Japanese Army took over the day-to-day administration of Malaya, a directive was circulated to every government office, instructing all civil servants to assemble at a specified location at a specific time on a specific date. Attendance was mandatory, the directive emphasized. 

On the appointed morning, my dad as usual took his time dressing and combing his hair, and when he glanced at his watch, he realized he was running late. Instead of panicking or getting stressed out, he opted to have his morning coffee first before making his way unhurriedly to the assembly point. When he arrived, almost 30 minutes late, he found the venue deserted. He hung around for a few minutes, but nobody else showed up, so he shrugged and went home to a hearty breakfast, then decided to take a nap. The next day he learned that everyone who showed up punctually had been herded like cattle into lorries and carted to the train station, where they were compelled to board a waiting train and transported directly to a remote region of Thailand where they found themselves part of a massive chain-gang forced to build the Burma-Siam railway (better known as the Death Railway). In later years it was reported that only a third of those thus recruited into slave labor survived the ordeal.

3. It's courage, not cowardice, that wins the day.

Wedding Day @ 1938
Dad was not a particularly macho type, although undeniably an alpha male in his own subtle manner. He wasn't one to carouse with the lads and indulge in arm wrestling, drinking binges, and the like. In other words, his was never a competitive ego, although he was undoubtedly an extraordinarily self-assured, confident man. He chose to be charming and gentlemanly, mainly to impress the ladies, not other men. But when push came to shove, he was no coward either. As a youth he met a kungfu master from Shangtung and decided to learn the basics of self-defence, learning the art of swordplay and nunchaku (wooden sticks linked together with a short chain). Later he acquired a double-barreled shotgun, a .22 long-range rifle, and a Browning pistol. He did attempt a few times to get me interested in learning how to use firearms and even let me try out his rifle and pistol in a forested area where no one was likely to get hurt. Occasionally he would join some friends on a flying fox shoot but after accompanying him once on such an expedition, I decided shooting animals for sport was not to my taste and stayed home. In any case I never once saw my dad lose his temper and get involved in any brawls. A natural diplomat, he invariably chose to disarm potential threats and neutralize tense situations by speaking quietly and reasonably - whether to policemen or other enraged road users. 

The Lees in 1958
The only time I can recall his actually picking up his .22 rifle and using it to resolve a dispute was when a relative found herself in trouble: as a naïve teenager she was seduced by an older man and persuaded to elope with him from Batu Pahat to Johore Baru (where my parents resided after 1971). She found, to her horror, that her smooth-talking boyfriend was actually a pimp and had every intention of living off her body. After being kept prisoner for days in a cheap hotel, she managed to escape his clutches and miraculously found her way to my parents' house, where she broke down in tears and explained the danger she was in. My dad assured her she was safe in his house and undertook to protect her from harm. Somehow the crime syndicate that had abducted her discovered her whereabouts and within hours, a car was spotted, slowly cruising up and down the street in front of my parents' house. At one point, someone actually got out and stood at the front gate, shouting threats. My dad rose to the occasion by emerging from the house, rifle in hand, and proceeded without a word to take aim. The gangster dashed back inside the car and sped off, never to return.

Thinking back on how my dad taught me by example never to cringe before bullies, I recall he was always prepared for defensive action. He made it a practice to have some sort of weapon close at hand at all times. He once owned a steel blade concealed in a walking stick, which he kept on the floor behind the driver's seat. On the floor beside the bed he always kept a short wooden staff made from a guava tree. Though only 2 feet long, it could effectively break the arm of any machete-wielding would-be assailant. This was the only defensive weapon I salvaged from the old homestead before the property was sold. Not once have I known my dad to be an aggressor, but he had lived through enough hard times to be constantly wary of unforeseen aggression from others. 

Mum & Dad on vacation, 1983
After I experienced being robbed at knife point one Chinese New Year in my hometown while out on a date with my future wife, I realized my dad was right to maintain his guard, even though he was never one to succumb to fear or paranoia. The few occasions when I found myself facing physical harm, my dad's influence stood me in good stead. One such incident occurred the same day I bought myself a new Casio watch and went to the movies with my wife. I parked the car in a back alley, locked it and turned around to find a junkie brandishing a switchblade at me and demanding my watch and wallet. My wife was a few feet away and she happened to be carrying an umbrella. I quietly told her to toss me the umbrella and start walking quickly towards the main road, which she did. The umbrella was hardly the ideal defensive weapon but it had a sharp metal point. I began to circle around the junkie, ready for action, and was relieved when he chickened out and started running away. So we proceeded to buy tickets and watch the movie. Afterwards, we stopped at a coffeeshop and ordered supper. Halfway through the meal. my wife spotted the same junkie at the counter buying cigarettes and quietly mentioned it. I got up and walked towards the guy who instantly took flight, forgetting his cigarettes. The absolute panic on his face is indeed a cherished memory. I'm pretty sure this incident happened during a particular phase of my urban life when I took to imagining myself an undercover cop by encasing my wallet in a plastic sleeve emblazoned with the Royal Malaysian Police insignia. This $1 investment served to cure me of acute fear and loathing of law enforcement officers, as well as their criminal counterparts.

4. Life can be black and white or full color - it's how we choose to see the world that makes all the difference.

On his way to a bypass operation
in Melbourne. August 1981
My dad was a health inspector and served in this capacity his whole life until his retirement. Back in the 1960s his monthly salary was around $600 and though the value of local currency back then was at least 10 times that of today, we could hardly be classified rich. Yet my father was able to provide comfortably at all times for the whole family. We could afford to engage two housemaids and a gardener - at least until I was old enough to make myself between-meal snacks and wipe my own bum. Every few years we would trade in our car for something bigger and better. When my mother returned to work, first as a schoolteacher and then as a radiographer, we were a two-car family - and my brothers would ride around on their own motorbikes and scooters, later cars.

One day, as a teenager, I found an envelope in my dad's briefcase containing hundreds of dollars. I asked him why he was carrying around so much cash and he sat me down and explained that sometimes, on his rounds as a health inspector, he would find himself in a quandary. For instance, he might have found the wet market to be less than hygienic, with cockroaches hiding in dark crevices and rats scurrying around in gutters. His duty was to issue summonses to all the stall owners, even close down the operations till they renovated the premises. However, he would opt to speak to each stall owner, listing the breaches of health regulations, and asking them to choose between cleaning up their act within a specific period or paying a hefty fine. Invariably they would agree to voluntarily renovate the premises, thereby avoiding prosecution.

Newspapers were a lifelong habit
Once I accompanied him on his rounds and I remember how he would enter a coffeeshop and order a coffee, and the owner would come by and have a friendly chat with him He would then casually remark that a formal inspection was due in a month, and that he would be much happier if he could issue a clean bill of health on the premises. He might hint that the toilet seriously needed a makeover, or that the kitchen could do with a new coat of paint, and then continue on his rounds. In this way he negotiated a fine line between doing his job well and remaining a decent human being. This explained why every Chinese New Year many gift hampers would be delivered to our residence, some with a sealed envelope tucked among the assorted goodies, expressions of sincere appreciation from various businesses grateful to be dealing with such a kind and approachable public servant.

As his youngest son, I had the privilege of walking into any cinema on a complimentary pass and after a while, all the ushers knew me and simply waved me straight in. Riding around town on my bicycle, I would stop and buy roasted chestnuts or fried noodles - and almost invariably, would be given an extra large serving or even waved off without having to pay. I was proud that my father was such a popular figure around town, but as I grew older I began to occasionally mull over the moral ambiguity of my dad's conduct. On the one hand, I was convinced that corruption was not something to be accepted as normal practice; and yet, on the pragmatic level, I couldn't think of any way my father's approach to doing his job was harming anyone. He was charismatic and personable by nature and, throughout his long career, appeared to be immensely well-loved by the townsfolk. He would never ask for money in exchange for looking the other way; his modus operandi was to carry out his official duties with a light hand and an understanding heart, and people liked that very much. So he got the job done without ever having to abuse his power or browbeat anyone.

Between two daughters-in-law in Pangkor Resort, August 1997
Civil servants were often transferred from town to town, to ensure they never became too complacent or corrupt. And yet my father was somehow able to remain in Batu Pahat his entire career without once getting transferred elsewhere. One day I asked him how he was able to avoid the inconvenience of being uprooted and he took great delight and revealing to me that he understood how the system worked. He made it a point to gain the friendship and trust of every medical officer who took over as his immediate boss in the government hierarchy, by organizing and hosting an annual dinner party in Singapore to which his colleagues and bosses were invited. They would eat and drink to their heart's content and be entertained by charming hostesses and generally have such a great time they couldn't possibly allow my dad to be transferred out of Batu Pahat. Sure, it cost him a tidy sum each year - but he reckoned it was a reasonable price to pay for being left in peace to do exactly as he pleased.

They all loved my dad!
Whatever extra cash he happened to earn on the side enabled him to express his intrinsic generosity of spirit. In his last years, he would occasionally reveal some long-kept secret in a moment of openness. One day, years after my mother had succumbed to ill health, he brought out a precious photo album containing black-and-white photos of dozens of young women he had befriended and romanced over the years. He would point to a photo of a vivacious young woman and explain that this was a pig farmer's daughter he had met on his inspection rounds and become friendly with. He would reminisce about how he sponsored her tuition so she would have a chance to get better educated. Then he would add, she often wrote to him while she was studying in Taiwan, thanking him for his encouragement and help, and asking his blessings for her marriage to a young man she had met over there. I believe I was the only one he confided in, perhaps because he sensed that I was the least likely to be shocked or judgmental about his shadow life.

True, my dad had a soft spot for females but he was once known to be generous to a young man hired to paint the house. As a widower his sense of loneliness was assuaged by the daily chats he had with this young housepainter who soon took on the role of his gofer, helping him pay utility bills and helping get his TV or video player repaired when he began to find these mundane tasks too tiresome. My brother Mike who was sharing the family home with dad often grumbled about how my dad was being taken advantage of by this garrulous and always cheerful housepainter turned personal assistant to my father - and, to be sure, Mike's paranoia was borne out when my dad was persuaded to invest a few thousand in a karaoke bar which turned out to be operated by the young man's underworld acquaintances. Needless to say, my dad never saw any monetary return on this venture - and the young chap abruptly stopped popping around for a chat after he got what he wanted - but I had the feeling my dad wasn't at all upset, so grateful was he for a bit of human companionship, albeit shortlived and, ultimately, exploitative and illusory.

Dad's first & only visit to the High Hut in 1998
My dad was a true Taurean, always down to earth and practical, and he had little interest in intellectual or metaphysical pursuits. The only reading he did was newspapers and popular science magazines (he liked picking up ideas for home-improvement projects like rigging up a toe-operated pulley system so he could turn off the bedroom light without getting out of bed). In his youth he played saxophone and drums in a ragtime combo, rode a huge BSA motorbike, cherished a pet cockatoo - trained to perch on his bedstand and turn around whenever it needed to poop, so the mess would land on a newspaper spread out on the floor (sadly, when war broke out in 1942 the bird was donated to the Johore Baru Zoo and when it was all over he went to reclaim it but nobody knew what had happened to his beloved cockatoo). 

Last photo with my dad, April 2004
There are countless anecdotes about his life I failed to record and that are now lost in the mists of forgetfulness. My dad followed his own personal code of ethics and I don't believe he ever consciously harmed or hurt anyone - apart from my mum who wasn't too pleased that other women found him attractive; but why blame him for the genetic legacy that made him almost a Chinese version of Rudolph Valentino? Nor did he, to my knowledge, have any enemies. He was regarded with deep fondness and respect by all his relatives, on his as well as my mother's side, and every female companion I brought home over the years to meet my parents invariably found him utterly charming and lovable.

As I attain increasing maturity I am inclined to cherish more profoundly what my father taught me, despite our outward differences and dissimilar lifepaths. He showed me that there are no straight lines or perfect circles in nature, nor does life entertain moral judgments over absolute rights and absolute wrongs as decreed by mortal minds obsessed with control and power over others. He was living proof that it's far more worthwhile to aspire to simply being a good human than to worry about being a sinner or pretend to be a saint. 

Dad with my daughter Moon at her sister's
wedding. He died on the morning of
14 October 2004 while being sponged by nurses,
one day after his 11th great-grandchild,
Hana, arrived
Celebrating his life on the 107th anniversary of his birth, I have come to value the ordinary every bit as much as I have always leaned towards the extraordinary. If my memory serves me right I was 5 or 6 when I asked my father, out of the blue, is Heaven real? Of course it's real, he answered without a moment's hesitation, even though he wasn't in any way religious. I pressed on: what is Heaven like, can we do anything we like, must we brush our teeth? 

There was a twinkle in his eye as he responded: "Well, you can do almost anything you like, as long as you don't make others sad, or harm them. And, no, you don't have to wear pajamas or brush your teeth, unless you want to, because your teeth won't decay in Heaven."

[First posted 1 May 2017, reposted 1 May 2019, 1 May 2020 & 1 May 2023]