Saturday, March 26, 2005

Memories of Manila

Memories of Manila

I'm blogging this from my favourite halfway stop, Changi airport, on my way to Manila. It would probably appear as if I had purposely planned to go to Manila for the Easter weekend, but when I made my appointment a couple of weeks back, this coming week is the only time I could fit into my calendar. Flight was difficult to get, so I had to fly out today, in time for Easter Sunday tomorrow.

I didn't mind because I haven't been to Manila for almost 5 years and I kind of miss the place. Manila is another one of those congested and polluted Third World cities which I am particularly fond of.

Now it looks like I've chosen the most dangerous time to go to the Philippines. Every Western embassy seems to be issuing out alerts, warning against travel to the country. Today's news tells of the Philippines military foiling a bombing plot targetted over Easter.

Well, I suppose having lived in Indonesia for over 2 years, I'm quite used to "living dangerously". Manila is very similar to Jakarta in many ways--lots of slums, horrendous traffic, corrupt officials and rich Chinese businesses. The Mel Gibson movie "The Year of Living Dangerously" was actually filmed in the Philippines. Some of the "Indonesians" in the movie actually speak with a noticeable Tagalog accent.

But I think Manila is a more dangerous city than Jakarta. Unlike in Jakarta, the Abu Sayyaf and JI terrorists don't only target bules or Mat Salleh places, here every target--LRTs, buses and malls--is a legitimate one for them. Kidnappings are frequent occurences. I guess I'll have to be extra careful.

Despite all that, I'm actually more fond of Manila than Bangkok. The Spanish and Catholic influence there makes it a more romantic city--it feels a bit like being in a South American banana republic. But it has been many years since my last visit; I'm not sure whether it's still the same. I'll have a weekend to find out.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Greed is "Good"

Greed is "Good"

One of my all-time favourite movies is Wall Street, directed by Oliver Stone. I first saw it at the Cathay cinema in KL, during my university days. The most memorable scene in the movie is Michael Douglas' "greed is good" speech. That has become one of the most quoted lines of our time. The movie also won Michael Douglas an Oscar for best actor.

Is greed good? To quote Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas' character in the movie):

"Greed, in all of it's forms--greed for life, for money, knowledge--has marked the upward surge of mankind"

Is greed the force that drives men to achieve their dreams? Isn't civilization itself built on the foundation of greed?

If you are greedy, it means that you are always trying to accumulate more than what you actually need. You don't know when to stop. You want to life live to the fullest, to experience as much success as possible, to earn so much money that you can afford to do all the things you've always wanted to do in life, plus more.

Well, what's wrong with greed then if you don't harm anyone in the process?

The answer lies in the tagline of the movie: "Every dream has a price"

What's the price of greed?

A greedy person can become so self-centered that he forgets that wealth and joy bring manifold returns only when they are spread around. A greedy person succeeds in the short run because his energies are focussed on getting the things he desires. Focus and energy are obviously essential ingredients for material success.

But whatever success he gets will never feel entirely satisfactory; because a greedy person by definition is never contented. A greedy person is also the loneliest person in the world. The only friends that he has are equally greedy people like him.

When greedy people meet, they are constantly thinking how to manipulate each other for self-benefit. They could become temporary business partners based on their mutual lust for wealth but such partnerships usually end bitterly because greedy people do not know how to share.

Greed can drive a person to succeed, yes. But the price for it is emptiness, loneliness and ultimately unhappiness. If one is willing to accept that as a price, then go ahead.

My take is that the price of greed is too high. There are better ways to achieve success, and they are not necessarily harder too. The returns are better because they come in both material and spiritual forms.


Just replace the word "greed" with "passion".

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The World of the Senses

The World of the Senses

I've been in KL for almost three weeks already and I think it's probably time for me to start packing for another trip. I've been spending too much time working from all the Coffee Beans and Starbucks around town. Another trip overseas will help me to freshen up mentally. But it also means that I'll come back with even more work.

I haven't been jogging for over a week now. I'm itching to resume tomorrow morning, if I can only pull myself out of bed early enough. When it comes to exercising it is very easy to lose your momentum. Once you stop, it takes enormous willpower to start again.

I mentioned before that when it comes to time, we are all born equal--all of us have 24 hours a day. Some of us make better use of it than others. Perhaps some people have the luxury of having more free time because they don't have to work so hard for a living. But free time is useless if it is simply wasted away satiating the cravings of our senses. Work can also be useless if it doesn't contribute to our growth.

Even when one has already possessed every material want, one still has room to grow--emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. The soul is always growing because it is its nature to do so. At some point, it will come to some religious awakening--a flowering of consciousness.

This could be a good or bad thing, depending on how the person handles it. I've likened it to the experience of first love. It is at this very point that some fall by the wayside to become bigots and extremists.

Every good and bad experience in life contributes to our growth. How much we grow depends on how well we distill the wisdom from our experiences. We always think of knowledge and wisdom as a some kind of content that we slowly accumulate in our brains. It is not. It is actually a process of clearing away the cloud of illusion that hides us from the truth.

And as the haze of ignorance is slowly dispelled, we begin to catch a better glimpse of our divine nature. Ultimately, everything we seek for is already inside us, shining with crystal clarity. We are simply too engrossed in our world of senses to see it.

So we go about our lives, seeking ever more gratifying experience from our senses and wallow in its endless stream of pain and pleasure.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Healthy Pain

Healthy Pain

Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I'm very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.
- Bill Shankly, legendary Liverpool manager

These days only Liverpool's performance can give me the emotional ups-and-downs that a lovesick schoolboy would experience. I didn't watch the all-important Liverpool-Everton derby last night because I have become superstitious: everytime I watch my favourite team play, they tend to lose.

So I decided not to tune in to ESPN last night and went to bed early. But it wasn't a very restful sleep: I dreamt about the match all night. The dreams were incoherent but they all seemed to indicate that Liverpool had won. I woke up at 5am with a cautious anticipation of a Reds victory.

I immediately checked the results from the web and was quite overjoyed that my intuition was proven right. So the hope for Champions League qualification next season is still alive for Liverpool! But there are eight matches to go and we're still 4 points behind Everton. Bolton, a point below us, is also breathing down our necks.

It's going to be an emotional roller-coaster ride until the end of the season. There will probably be many depressing mornings when I'll wake up to find that Liverpool has lost or dropped points. Sometimes I wished these things didn't matter to me so much. But like being in a romantic relationship, one has to take the pain and the joy together.

I suppose it is good to suffer a little bit of "healthy pain" sometimes. When you are down, you realize how vastly different the world appears to you. And you begin to gain a better insight into the mental state of someone who is plunged into deep depression. Imagine how infinitely more hopeless and lost, such a person feels. Imagine how difficult it is for him to snap himself out of that self-defeating state of mind.

The good thing about being a fanatical supporter of your favourite team is that you learn how to handle the emotional upheavals that come with victory and defeat. Especially defeat. You learn how to lift yourself up again and look forward to the next match. For there's always a next match to look forward to; a next season to get things right. I guess we need to learn how to approach life with the same kind of optimism too.