Friday, May 21, 2004

Ada Apa dengan Nama?

Ada Apa dengan Nama?

I have a surprising free weekend ahead of me in Bangkok. It'll be a good opportunity for me to learn more about the city and its people. l'm also planning to shift to a more conveniently located serviced apartment tomorrow.

I'm told that the weather is rather hot these days in KL. So maybe I'm glad that I'm not going home so soon. Unfortunately it's the rainy season over here in Bangkok. And that makes the traffic worse. Hopefully the rain won't ruin my activities this weekend--not that I have anything planned yet for the next two days. Bought a copy of the popular GroovyMap for Bangkok yesterday. I'll study it thoroughly to see what interesting things I could do.

It is interesting to find some Thai executives using a single initial as their name when they introduce themselves, simply because their names are so difficult for foreigners to catch, let alone pronounce. "Hi, I'm A., the account manager". Makes me want to introduce myself as "K., the engineer" Gives a very Kafkaesque feel to the whole thing.

In Indonesia, I've met many people by the name of Henny, Benny, Lenny and Yenny but never "Kenny". Those who speak English would of course know that it is a pretty common name, but somehow the working class people there often find my name "lucu". And they always like to spell it "Keni", which makes it even more lucu.

I find some of the Indonesians name lucu too--for example "Puput" (pronounced "poo-poot") and "Iis" ("ee-ease"). I've also met a guy by the name of "Nunuk". Great care has to be taken in pronouncing this particular name correctly. The proper pronunciation is "nooo-noook"--with extra emphasis on the "u" sound. Indonesians will know that it will be quite embarassing indeed if someone unknowingly makes the "u" sound a bit like "o"!

Smile Millionaire

Smile Millionaire

Looks like I'll have to extend my stay in Bangkok for another week. Not sure if I'm happy about it. I'm not keen to go back to KL either. I think I'm most "at home" wandering from city to city, living out of a suitcase.

The only good thing about being in KL is that, I have all my books with me. Whenever I'm not sure what to blog about, I'll just dip into any volume on my shelfs and immediately I'll latch on to an interesting train of thought.

I seem to be able to read more when I'm on the road too because I get a lot of time to be alone. I enjoy the company of friends but if I happen to be alone--no big deal--I always have something to occupy myself with.

I'm lucky that I never feel bored or depressed whenever I'm alone. I know some people dread long weekends because they'll be so bored at home. A long weekend without anything planned is an unthinkable horror. So they devise ways to "kill time". Killing time is I think the most heinous crime that one could commit. Like what I've mentioned in a previous entry before: to kill time is to kill yourself.

No one could bear throwing away hard-earned money. But time is certainly more precious than money because the supply we have is finite--70 years on the average. Why then do we have no qualms about throwing away time so casually? When it comes to "spending" time, all of us seem to behave like millionaires.

The strange thing is that there are certain things which cost us absolutely nothing, but we behave so miserly when demanded of them. A smile for instance is free--it takes even less energy than talking. A smile can work miracles; it is a gift that everyone is glad to receive. A smile warms the coldest heart.

We are all smile millionaires. So be generous. :-)

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Everything a man Could Ask For

Everything a Man Could Ask For

It seems to be the rainy season in Thailand now. I was trapped by the rain at an open air restaurant near my apartment after dinner today. I had my book with me, but the lighting was too bad for me to read. So I spent my time downing a whole large bottle of Singha beer before the rain finally came to a stop.

The place--a pub and restaurant--called "Easy Life" was deserted even though it is a rather cozy and comfortable open-air place, with TV screens everywhere. I was told by the pretty waitress in her halting English that the place is usually packed on weekends. People go there to watch football.

One thing I must say is that I am actually quite surprised by the passion for football exhibited by the Thai people here. Even the women seem especially knowledgeable about football. The other day, J.'s mistress, M.--that Nana girl from Chiengmai--and I had a conversation about the Liverpool football team. She is a great fan of Michael Owen of course, and she likes Steven Gerrard too.

I would think that if Thaksin's bid for 30% stake in Liverpool goes through, the whole nation would be galvanized to support Liverpool. Press reports say both Owen and Gerrard would be invited over to Thailand for the signing ceremony of the MoU.

Beer, women and football--seems like everything that a man could ever ask for. J. was telling me the other day, how miserable life would be without Thailand. I saw no reason to disagree with him.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Project Relationship

Project Relationship

A romantic relationship is like a project. I don't blame you if by this statement you think that I'm a cold, calculating and unemotional person. Relationships are a very important and beautiful aspect of human life. To say that a relationship is like a project, completely takes the romance out of it.

Relationships, to a certain extent, are indeed very different from projects. A project has a definite start and end. It runs on a predetermined schedule with all possible outcomes thoroughly analyzed. Relationships are never like that; they are fluid, unpredictable and full of surprises. Projects always have well-defined end-goals; relationships are full of hopeful promises mingled with uncertainties. A relationship by definition is something organic--something that grows and evolves.

Why then do I say a romantic relationship is like a project? Am I suggesting that when we enter a romantic relationship, we should enter all the tasks and milestones into Microsoft Office Project and start tracking its progress from there? Certainly not. It will be quite amusing if someone really does approach a relationship like that!

What I'm actually trying to say is that a relationship must be treated as seriously as a project. It is not something we take on casually just for amusement or simply out of convenience. A relationship, like a project, must be embarked upon when we are absolutely sure that we have the commitment, strength and resources to see it through.

We never enter a project half-heartedly. We make an assessment, and we make a decision: go or no go. If we are to proceed, then we commit resources to it; we put our hearts and minds to it. If we are not willing to do that, we should not even pretend to be interested and end up giving false hopes to the other party. No KIV (keep in view) first. You're either in or out. There's no in-between.

Unfortunately many relationships are driven by weaknesses and insecurities--not strengths: We are lonely, we feel empty and we need someone to share our feelings with. Or we think that age is catching up with us. We lunge into the first available pair of arms. Instant relief from loneliness--"falling in love", we call it. And then the rest of the relationship is just a process of figuring out how to climb out from the hole that we have fallen into.

Projects require a lot of hardwork to ensure success. So do relationships. To approach a relationship like a project doesn't mean we forget how have fun. Successful projects are often driven by passionate people who are very in love with what they do. In a sense, successful projects are also "romantic" affairs.

A relationship requires both the head and the heart to be successful--exactly like how I see a project. Is it wrong then for me to see a relationship as a "project"?

Nana Night

Nana Night

I decided to meet up for dinner with a friend of mind from Malaysia who is also here on a business trip--let's call him J.--a married Indian man who is a frequent visitor to Bangkok. And like many other regular travellers to the city, he keeps a local Thai girlfriend here.

I was eager for the opportunity to meet J. and his girlfriend for it is always interesting to chat with the other woman in someone's life--there's always that feeling of guilt mingled with excitement of being an accomplice to their infidelity. Of course, there's always that secret brotherhood among men that keeps all lips tightly sealed. In J.'s case, there's no risk of that happening as I am not even acquainted with his wife. We planned to meet at 8pm at the Nana Hotel.

For anyone new to Bangkok, and eager to look for some "action", "Nana" is the first word that they need to learn: Nana Hotel and Nana Entertainment Plaza--located along Soi 4 (alley no 4) along Sukhomvit road--are perhaps the most popular haunts for Mat Salleh expatriates here. There's even a skytrain station called "Nana" located conveniently nearby.

J is married to a career woman back in Malaysia. As a regional consultant, J. himself spends a great deal of his time in Bangkok. And for the last 4 months at least, he has been extremely faithful to one woman--M., who hails from Chiengmai.

When I met them, I immediately understood why J. kept the Chiengmai girl for so long. M is not an exceptionally pretty woman but she possesses an extremely pleasant and endearing personality. She first met J. at a bar somewhere in Nana and they have been inseparable ever since. She stays together with him at his serviced aparment, whenever he's in town.

Still in her early twenties, M. is perfectly aware that J. has a wife back in KL. I asked her in babytalk English if she would like to follow J. back to Malaysia; she smiled and gestured playfully with with a slashing motion of her hand across her neck--indicating that it will a suicidal thing for J. to do.

After dinner I watched them play pool together at a bar nearby. They seemed like such a blissful couple--almost perfectly matched and I couldn't help feeling happy for them. Lost in my reverie, I was only jolted back into reality when I realised that my Singha beer bottle was already empty. Recalling that I had an early meeting the next day; I excused myself to catch a taxi back to my apartment.

As I left, I saw J. and M. walking hand-in-hand together as they adjorned to another less crowded pool bar. And there in the streets, were so many other foreigner-local couples like them, all playfulness and laughter--married men enjoying that momentary respite from the tedium of family life; women, clinging to their men for that opportunity to make some easy money, and perhaps who knows, a chance for a better future.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Being Polite

Being Polite

The Chinese in Thailand are very well assimilated with the natives and it is quite difficult for foreigners to differentiate between them. Hardly any of them speak any Chinese dialects anymore and like in most other South-East Asia countries, they are a very successful community here, even though they only make up 10 percent of Thailand's sixty over million population. PM Thaksin himself is of Chinese origin.

The good about being in a foreign country is that, I'm are always regarded as Malaysian first and Chinese a very distant second. That always puts me in an interestingly neutral position between the local Chinese and the natives. For example in Indonesia, I can freely ask a Javanese what he or she thinks about the local Indonesian Chinese. And they will not hesitate to give me very frank answers.

The other day I asked a Thai colleague what he thought about the differences between the people in Bangkok, KL and Singapore, since he had had the opportunity to work in all these three cities before. He said that there are a lot of similarities between the people in Malaysia and Thailand but Singaporeans are a different breed altogether. He told me that he is more comfortable working with Malaysians.

I probed him a little bit further: "but don't you find Malaysians relatively rude compared to the Thais?"

He said: "Perhaps the Chinese are...".

Intrigued by his answer, I offered a polite explanation: "Perhaps it is the aggressive nature of the Chinese that's often misconstrued as being brash or rude?"

"But Thai Chinese are not rude", he said. He knows--for he is a Thai Chinese himself.

In Indonesia, I learned to identify the local Chinese from the way the talk--there's a brash edge to their style. But in general I find Thais and Indonesians--both Chinese and the natives--among the most polite people I've ever met.

There was a report recently in our local press about poor manners among the airport staffs who were screening passengers for SARS. Perhaps, like what our PM said recently, development has made Malaysians greedier, uncaring and rude.

It's probably unfair to generalize and it could be my own personal bias, but everytime I return to Malaysia, I always get the feeling that I'm returning to a less gentle world. It often takes me a day or two to readjust myself. So are we less polite compared to our neighbours? I don't know; It's difficult for me to judge--I'm Malaysian and I'm Chinese.