Saturday, June 26, 2004

KL Thoughts

KL Thoughts

Returned to KL today to find the whole city enveloped in haze. After spending almost three consecutive weeks in the pleasant climate of Bangkok, I have forgotten how humid and suffocating the weather is back here. Coupled with the smoggy environment, it is quite intolerable. Among all the cities that I frequent in South East Asia, I think KL has the most unpleasant weather.

Even though Jakarta is a lot more polluted, the climate is actually quite pleasant. Although blue skies are a rarity, there's none of that stifling heat that KLites have to live with. Every city has a smell of its own: in KL, the trains smell different from those in Bangkok and Singapore--here for some reason, one can always detect a peculiar odour of sweat mingled with leftover food.

But KL is not all negative. I love the mamak stalls and the colourful multiracial crowd; I enjoy listening to people speaking good "proper" Malay and I never cease to marvel at the prosperity of its people. KL is so green compared to Jakarta and Bangkok, and there's also so much unused space. Surprisingly food is also relatively cheap compared to Jakarta.

KL is not too bad. I spent almost ten years working and studying here. At one time, I thought I'd never consider living anywhere else. But these days, I'm not so sure...

Friday, June 25, 2004

The Seeds of Time

The Seeds of Time

It's coming towards the end of the week and I'm feeling so exhausted. A week often seems to go by very quickly because we tend to remember only its beginning and end; the rest is a blur.

How do we stem the flow of time? We can't.

How then do we make better use of our time?
By not resisting it; by flowing along with it, harnessing its enormous power in the process.

Make time work for us. Plant the seed and over time, it will grow. You cannot rush or shortcut the process, but if you diligently water it, it will sprout and one day grow into a fruit-bearing tree. We just need to make sure that we make the effort to plant the seed in first place. Nature does the rest of the work.

Every effort towards a desired goal, no matter how small, is a seed. Plan your day so that every task you do is a seed; every deed a starting point of great possibilities. Every word you utter, every sentence that you write and every small step that you take forward, every thought that flickers in the brain, is a seed.

Choose the right seeds, water them, and let Time do the rest. You wouldn't mind time flying if you have all your seeds already sown on fertile ground.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Mind of the Moneyed Married Man

Mind of the (Moneyed) Married Man

I had planned to spend more time in Malaysia this year but for some reason all the work that I have been getting requires me to be out of the country. Even though it is fun to be travelling all the time, there are errands and other important matters that require your personal attention back home. I often go home to a mountain of bills and snail-mails.

Luckily I could do most of my banking and bill payments over the Internet. That's how I've managed my finances over the last few years. Still it is difficult for there are always things that require your physical presence.

Many of my married friends are able to delegate these tasks to their other half. They have joint accounts with their spouses, believing that trust is the foundation of a strong relationship and are grateful that they have someone to take over the tedious task of managing their personal finances.

But now many of these poor souls tell me that it is the greatest mistake that they have made. For having exposed all their assets and earnings to their "CFO", they suddenly have to be accountable for every cent they spend.

Why did you buy that expensive golf set? What is this 3M rupiah "dinner" at Seribu Satu? How come your bonus is not credited into your account this month? Are you not supposed to get a raise this year?

The smarter ones have to resort to keeping secret bank accounts and under-declaring their assets. Some keep extra credit-cards (making sure that the bill goes to the office) reserved for charging those suspicious-looking "entertainment" expenses. I always enjoy listening to the many ingenious ways that my married friends come up with to hide things from their "higher authority" (as they like to put it).

I am single and admit to being extremely ignorant about the joys of married life. But can someone tell me why is there so much deceit in many of the marriages I see?

Perhaps what they say about marriage is true: A woman marries a man expecting that he will change, but he doesn't. A man marries a woman expecting that she won't change--but she does!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Lazy Old Minds

Lazy Old Minds

I would like to believe that our minds do not deteriorate as we grow older. As long as we keep a keen interest in life and the things around us, our minds will always be healthy and sharp. Learning is a life-long experience.

Adults often say that they are not capable of studying technical subjects like mathematics anymore; they look at their old school textbooks and they wonder how they managed to slog through all those strange symbols and equations. At work, we often like to leave the hands-on technical work to the newbies and young employees who are always full of enthusiasm. Young minds can think quicker and better, we claim.

Is that really true? Do we actually lose our ability to tackle technical subjects when we grow older? Or is it simply because we can afford the luxury of choice now?

Often when we start gaining a bit of experience in our work, we think that we don't have to prove ourselves anymore to our peers or superiors; so we tend to relax a little bit. We leave the "dirty" work to the younger people.

A lot of people sink into their comfort zones and do not want to budge from there. By doing so, they actually contribute to their state of deterioration. I don't think we are ever too old to learn or to roll up our sleeves to do hands-on technical work. It is often complacence, impatience, laziness, lack of incentive and ego that turns us off from tackling the more technically tedious work--not any lack of ability.

We have not lost any of our mental capabilities that we used to possess when we were in school. It's only the bad habits that we've acquired along the way that is hindering us. If we can recognize and consciously overcome them, our minds will remain young for a very very long time to come.

Monday, June 21, 2004

The World, Our Reflection

The World, Our Reflection

When you first arrive in Jakarta or any Third World city for that matter, you always feel like you are surrounded by suspicious people. Is the taxi driver going to drive you somewhere and rob you? Are you going to be abducted from the streets and held for ransom? Are people trying to overcharge or cheat you?

It is only natural for someone to feel this way in a foreign country. But after a while, you feel more comfortable. Physically nothing has changed. It is still the same crowd that you see; the same dirty sidewalks and the same noisy traffic; but you do not feel self-conscious anymore and you realise that you even feel at home.

What is it that has changed? Nothing, except your own attitude. It is usually our own anxiety that stands in the way for us to feel at home anywhere. If we know how to relax and treat everyone we meet like any other regular person back home, things become easier.

The world around us reflects back on the attitude that we project towards it. It can feel like a very oppressive place if we choose to see it that way. We must resist our desire to look down on other people. People could be different; but no one is superior to anyone else.

I am lucky that I did not have any prejudices or misconceptions about Indonesians when I first visited the country in the mid-nineties. And having lived there for two years, I realised that a lot of the "dangers" that I had been warned before were grossly exaggerated. These days, I even like to see Indonesia as my second home.

But that doesn't mean that I would take unnecessary risks. The basic precautions are the same any where you go. One just needs to learn not to be paranoid about things.

I have an American friend who got robbed on his first trip to Bangkok more than a decade ago. Despite being a huge guy, he was driven by this bogus taxi driver from the airport to a secluded place and robbed of all his valuables at gunpoint.

Anyone else would have chosen not to step foot in the Land of Smiles again had he gone through such a bad experience. But my friend did not take that one unfortunately incident as being representative of the state of the whole country. He chose to get to know people better. And gradually, he became captivated by their charm and grace. Today he speaks Thai fluently and has chosen Bangkok his home for the last six years. His dream is to retire here one day.

Humility, courtesy and respect always help. One can always find friendly people if one projects a friendly attitude. Very rarely people would want to be unfriendly; If they seem distant, maybe they are just shy; or maybe they are the ones who fear you.

I always feel that we have nothing to lose by giving other people the benefit of the doubt. In the end, the world around us is just a reflection of ourselves.

One Day at a Time

One Day at a Time

A drifter in Australia told Paul Theroux (The Happy Isle of Oceania): anyone can do almost anything or go almost anywhere, if he is not in a hurry.

The problem is, we are usually in too much of a hurry. When things are not happening as fast as we think they should, we give up halfway. Sometimes we just don't bother to start because we are completely turned off by the lengthy process that we think we have to go through to accomplish it.

I've written previously that there's a natural rhythm to all things in the universe and we must move in harmony with them. Sometimes we cannot hurry. It takes nine months to make a baby.

We do what we can and try to tackle one thing at a time. We focus on the task at hand because that's all we can do. No amount of eagerness or anxiety will make things happen faster. We can curse all we can--the traffic will still be at a standstill. It's better to relax and listen to the radio.

Another long week coming up. Let's take one day at a time; let's start with Monday.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Jack (of All Trades) and the Wolf

Jack (of All Trades) and the Wolf

One day of peace and quiet before being swarmed with work again. There'll be lots of people in town next week, so I'll be thoroughly occupied with meetings, dinners and boozing sessions. Look's like there's even more work in the pipeline for me in July and August.

Well, I shouldn't be complaining. It's good to be busy; whenever there's a slight lull between jobs, I tend to get lazy or become distracted by more interesting things. I must not let my momentum slacken.

Even though I am a bit of a reluctant IT professional, I must still make an effort to better myself and improve my knowledge in the field. The only problem is, I dislike specialization. I get easily bored if I find myself being pigeonholed into one small area.

Question: can one make a living as an IT consultant by being a jack of all trades and master of none? Hmm...I don't know. The conventional wisdom is that one must specialize.

I read an article about e-mail being so useful because it is such a multi-purpose application. I'm sure many of us use our e-mail as a crude archival system, a file transfer utility and a blogging tool, to name a few--even though there are better utilities for performing these functions.

There's also a handyman in my neighbourhood whom I call whenever I have any problems with things in my house--it could be a broken TV, a leaking roof, a tree that needs trimming or a clogged drain, Mr Fix-it will come and take care of it. I am quite happy to pay him whatever he asks for because he does such a good job. I also admire Harvey Keitel's character, The Wolf, in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction.

Maybe subconsciously I am just emulating their business model.