Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One New Experience Each Week - Bukit Brown Cemetery

Bukit Brown Cemetery is the largest Chinese Cemetery outside of China. Estimated 250,000 people were buried there, and there are lotsa Singapore pioneers buried in this place around 1920-1940s. In the land scarce Singapore, the government has been toying the idea of redeveloping the whole area. 

I joined a free tour provided some activists trying to preserve this cemetery by educating us the historical and heritage value of this place. His passion for this cemetery and Singapore history is amazing.

The cemetery is huge and covered with overgrown weeds. It is also very peaceful and quiet, and I enjoyed walking there, but it could be really eerie and scary to walk there during the night.

Lion guarding the tomb.

Chinese Fairy guarding the tomb.

Grandmother of Dr Tony Tan (Current President of Singapore)

A Humble Looking Tomb (Surprisingly!!!)
Grandfather of Lee Kuan Yew (First Prime Minister of Singapore)
Great-Grandfather of Lee Hsien Loong (Current Prime Minister of Singapore)

Boon Lay Town and MRT Station Origin
Mr Chew Boon Lay (Renowned Businessman)

Read this Death Date: "Lak Guek Chap Jee Jit"
It means "六月十七日" in Hokkien and the date is based on Lunar Calender.

Pernankan normally speaks English, Malay and some form of Chinese Dialect, unfortunately, most of them could not read and write Chinese. 

Sikhs Guarding the tomb. Legacy of Colonial rule.

Descendant of renowned businessman and philanthropist - Tan Tock Seng.
Apparently, he was a supporter of Chinese Kuomintang (Taiwan), hence, the ray on both sides of the tombstone are symbol of Kuomintang. Interesting!

The Largest Tomb in Singapore.
Apparently, his descendants are still doing very well, as the tomb is up-kept in good condition. Chinese believes in Fengshui, and one of the cornerstones of Fengshui is believing that a good ancestral burial ground could either bring great fortune or ill-luck to the future generations.

"In Confucian ideals, filial piety (Chinesepinyinxiào) is one of the virtues to be held above all else: a respect for the parents and ancestors. The Confucian classic Xiao Jing or Classic of Xiào, thought to be written around 470 BCE, has historically been the authoritative source on the Confucian tenet of xiào / "filial piety"

Stories of Filial Piety were engraved onto the tombstone to remind the future generation of importance of showing respect to our parents and ancestors. It is THE most important Chinese value. 

A son is fanning a bed so that it is cool enough for his father to sleep.

A young lady is breast-feeding her mother-in-law who was hungry, instead of her own hungry child.

Passionate Guide searching for tomb!!!

He was searching for tomb long forgotten by people. That morning, he was sharing with joy & much excitement that he discovered a tomb of another important person (whom I do not know). Respect!


Until a few days ago, I did not know that my family used to live very close to Bukit Brown Cemetery. My late paternal grandfather was in the business of engraving tombstone. So some of the tombstones engraving might be done by him. I had very blurred impression that place, as my earliest memory of that place was back in 1984/1985 when I was 4-5 years old. I remember my extended family was living in a quiet place hidden in forrest, but I never knew the exact location. The mystery is solved now. I am happy now. =)

The Seven Forms of Wealth

This includes a positive mindset, high self-respect, internal peace and a strong spiritual connection.

Your health is your wealth. What's the point of getting to a great place in your career if you get sick doing it? Why be the best businessperson in the hospital ward? Why be the richest person in the graveyard?

When your family life is happy, you will perform better at work. No one gets to the end of their life and regrets making their family their first priority. Related to this is the imperative of forging deep connections with friends and members of your personal community (including mentors, role models and trusted advisors).

Actualizing your highest potential by reaching for your best in your career is incredibly important. Getting to greatness in your profession brings a feeling of satisfaction on a job well done. It helps you make your mark. Being world class in your work is good for your self-respect.

Yes, money is important. Not the most important thing in life but very important. It absolutely makes life easier and better. Money allows you to live in a nice home, take beautiful vacations and provide well for those you love. And as Yvon Chouinard, the founder of the outdoor gear company Patagonia, has said: "The more I make, the more I can give away."

To be fulfilled, each of us needs mystery in our lives. Challenge is necessary for happiness. The human brain craves novelty. And we are creative beings so we need to be creating constantly if we hope to feel joy. Lots of adventure (ranging from meeting new people to visiting new places) is an essential element of authentic wealth.

Perhaps the deepest longing of the human heart is to live for something greater than itself. Each of us craves to be significant. To make a difference. To know that the world has somehow been better because we have walked the planet. Think of what Richard Bach once wrote:"Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished: If you're alive, it isn't."

Sunday, September 25, 2011



"Emotions and all materials things are like a ball on fire,
you feel warm by getting near,
but holding on to it for too long
burns your hand and cause more pain." 

One New Experience Each Week - Singapore Bird Park

The last time I visited Singapore Bird Park was 19 years ago, back in 1992. I went there with my school and i had a lot of fun. Recently, I went to the Singapore Bird Park with my family, and the fun part was actually seeing my 3 years-old niece reaction and excitement. It was a good opportunity spending some quality time with my family. 

May be it is due to age, experience and expectation, I was not really excited seeing different kinds of birds. I am an animal lover, and I would prefer to see them in the wild or documentary. And I realized I am more contemplative now.

Where do the park get their birds?
Why are those majestic eagles looking so sad and bored in their small cages?
Why are one side of the flamingos' wings shorter than the other side? 
Why ain't the Pelican and other birds in the open flying around/away?
What are the conservation efforts/messages by the park?

The magical moment came when I saw a flock of large birds soaring gracefully across the sky. Then it dawned on me that the birds are most beautiful when they are flying freely.... not walking/hopping around in the confinement of a cage. If I am a bird, I would rather starve in the wild and fly freely and experience the world, rather then living in a safety of a cage.

Is there a need for Bird Park?
What kind of value does it create for visitors as well as imprisoned birds?

My little niece was excited and happy seeing penguins for the first time.
That itself made me happy.
The first experience is always the best. =)

May be this is main value of the Park.
Providing that first experience for many.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

When will there be no more wars?

A disciple once asked the Buddha,
"Why are there wars? 
When will there be no more wars? 
When will there be world peace?" 

The Buddha replied, 
"If you want to know when there will be peace, 
just listen to the cries from the slaughterhouses at night. 
Only when there are no more cries from the slaughterhouses 
will there be no more wars."…

A Tribute to my Buddhist Beads

Bye My Dear Friend...

I was shock and very sad when I realized that I lost my beads during my trip to Jakarta.
For me, there is no other physical item that is more important than my Buddhist Beads.

It certainly does not worth any cents - it's made of cheap plastic. However, it is of great sentimental value to me.  It was a gift from a Tibetan Lama (Daxing) when I was backpacking in China in 2002. The beads is the BEST souvenir in my life. It encapsulated the important memories and lessons for the past 9 years of my life.

It reminded of a beautiful place and simple way of life in Langmusi.
It reminded me that living a good and simple life is the way to happiness.
It was with me when I was living in the Silicon Valley, counting down at Times Square...
It was with me when I was at Potala Palace, Bodhgaya, Taj Mahal, Jerusalem, Pyramid....
It brought me comfort and a sense of peace when I was feeling sick and weak at the Everest Base Camp Trek...
It made me feel safe when I felt vulnerable and weak...
It is always with me at those important times of my life...

In fact, I felt a bit lost without my Beads.
I took it for granted.
Losing my Buddhist Beads reminded me of 2 important Buddhist philosophies.

The Impermanence of Life
Nothing is permanent.
Life is in a constant flux of change.
If I do not realize and acknowledge this Law of Life, I would always experience sadness and disappointment with changes in life. But that's the nature of Life - Changes. The problem is not in the Change, but in our Mind.

Attachment is a source of sufferings.
The pain and sadness I experienced is because of my attachment.
If I am attached to fame and fortune, I would suffer if I lost them.
If I am attached to my ego and pride, I would suffer if someone insulted me.
If I am attached to my money & physical items, I would suffer if I lost them.
If I am attached to relationship, I would suffer if the relationship went sour.
If I am attached to my health, I would suffer if I fall sick.

I think there is no better way to part with my Buddhist Beads with the 2 lessons learnt.
What a good way to say Good Bye & Thank You!

Monday, September 19, 2011

The impermanence of excessive pleasure...

Last week, I went to Jakarta for a short working trip.

I stayed in very nice 5-star hotel and was upgraded to a Junior Suite at level 31 overlooking the city. The bathroom has a big bathtub and a shower room with massage jet. The king size bed is huge, comfortable and soft with a 1000 thread count bed linen. The breakfast buffet spread was great, listening to the jazz band at the lounge at night was good way to end the day, and the overall service was good too... the only problem is the 5-star price.

Junior Suite at level 31 overlooking Jakarta City.

I would be lying if I say that I didn't enjoy it. I love it. I got a taste of what it feels like to be rich (I'm not and I'm far from it). However, I also realized the discomfort of excessive pleasure. Having excessive rich food brings dissatisfaction, I felt bloated and lazy. Having such a nice room, I just wanted to enjoy it and ignore my meditation practice and exercise regime. 

I found the "happiness" brought by these pleasures are fleeting and temporary. It is good to enjoy them once a while, but I think excessive of it is unnecessary as it numbs the senses and it makes a person jaded. These are definitely not the "happiness" I am pursuing in life. It is good to have them, but i guess I can do without them most of the time.


"A passing boat leaves no trace upon the waters;
a bird's flight leaves no trace in the sky.
When fleeting success, failure, gain, or loss leaves no trace upon the heart,
the great wisdom of liberation has been achieved."
- Master Sheng Yen

Monday, September 12, 2011

James Khoo: A Tribute to Mum

I was touched reading the letters, and I want to republish it here to share the lessons of life.
I hope you learn something out of it, and show Love and Kindness to your family.

Be Grateful Always.
Show Gratitude Always.


Excerpts taken from Brother James Khoo’s letters to his children from February to May 2011 regarding his mother who was dying from cancer. Members who wish to read the complete letters can find them on Buddhist Fellowship’s website.

Hey Champ,
It warms my heart learning about your concern for Nainai’s condition. A few months back, I cried learning that Nainai has stage four cancer. The tumours have since spread to her bones and lungs. Today I cry because of your compassion and your show of love. It is the tears of joy knowing that our family is full of love and we care for each other. I rejoice at the DNA of hard work, honesty and compassion that Nainai has infused in us. Nainai has always led a dignied life. She came to Penang at the age of four, survived the Second World War, endured an unhappy marriage and brought up seven children in an upright manner. We were poor but always honourable. Each member of the family was always prepared to sacrifice for the good of the rest. When she passes on, we will of cause be saddened because we will never see Nainai again, but let’s celebrate her life. How long will Nainai survive is not important, what is important is the quality of her life from now on and the lessons Nainai teaches us. Treasure life now, make the best of it, put in the right effort, be good, be generous and be up right.

Nainai's body is unwell but her mind radiates equanimity. She says that this body of ours will fall sick and grow old. The body is not us, for if it is us then we can tell the body to stop falling sick and stop growing old. It is more important to practice for a strong mind.  You can cheer her up by recounting the happy moments you had with her - like how she used to care for you when you were little, the holiday trips that we did together and the way she used to pamper you. Tell her about some of your in-teresting daily activities. Grieving is a process, it starts with denial, anger, bargaining, depression and at last acceptance. Investigate which part of the grieving process you are in and take care of the health of your mind. Working as a volunteer, I have come across cases where people stayed in the depression state for a long time. It is both not healthy and not beneficial. We hope Nainai will recover but let's prepare for the worst. If you need to say something to Nainai, say it now. If you need to do something for Nainai, do it now. For tomorrow may be too late. We do not want to carry the burden of guilt for the rest of our life regretting not doing what is right.

She is prepared for death, has made alterations to her will and stated her preference for funeral and wake arrangements. She told me that she plans to draw her last breath with a smile on her face. I am sure she will! We often relate giving to donating money. Giving is much deeper than that. Nainai’s condition is a good opportunity for us to practice giving. Give her time, give her love, and give her the smoothing and tender moments of chanting and touching. You will experience the true meaning of happiness and realize that happiness spreads. We do not often have an opportunity to see death and many do not like to talk about death. Nainai’s dying process is a good opportunity to see a loved one dying. Dying is a natural life process, it is not something fearful. Sickness is painful but we have experienced occasional sickness since we were born. Dying can be peaceful and joyful


Nainai has decided that enough is enough. She said that she knows her own body well and has decided not to seek further treatment. HOPE and CURE must now be replaced with just CARE. We discussed Nainai’s decision with the specialist doctor and he agrees with her decision. We are all in the same wavelength now. Nainai sleeps most of the time but when awake she continues to have fun. She cracks jokes; makes fun of the two GuGus who put in the most effort caring for her. Ha! Nainai needs your support now; the two GuGus need your support now. Treasure this remaining month, treasure every moment. Tomorrow may never be.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

無常 Impermanence

I love this song when I was in my teens, I just love the tune and magical voice of Faye Wong. Unfortunately, I was too young and ignorant, and I did not understand the lyrics and the profound meaning behind them. 
Coincidentally, I was reading an Investment book by the Billionaire Howard Marks, and this is what he said
"Among the values prized in early Japanese culture was mujo. Mujo was defined classically for me as recognition of "the turning of the wheel of the law," implying acceptance of the inevitability of change, of rise and fall... In another words, mujo means cycles will rise and fall, things will come and go, and our environment will change in ways beyond our control. Thus we must recognize, accept, cope and respond. Isn't that the essence of investing?"  
This is not just about investing, but EVERYTHING in life.
Recognize it
Accept it
Cope with it
Respond accordingly.
The Law of The Impermanence.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Travel: Shanghai & Huangshan, China (24th-31st Aug'11)

Shanghai Metro Network
The last time I visited Shanghai was 3 years ago, and its Metro Network has expanded quite alot - just like the economy of the World second largest economy (The People's Republic of China). Everybody is busy making money, and after this trip, I am convinced that China is only growth engine in this gloomy global economic climate. However, the property bubble could potentially impede this growth, as I saw alot of empty apartments and buildings (outside of Shanghai) and lotsa on-going constructions besides those empty buildings (which I think are 3-5years old). It just doesn't make sense.

Visited a retail shop opened by a listed company that I invested.
I am disappointed by its marketing effort and shop assistant service. Qualitatively, this business is not as good as what I expected. Quantitatively, this investment is still attractive. Well, I would need to decide if I should cut loss, hold on, or average down. I really enjoy the analytical process of assessing a business.

This is not an aquarium.
This is taken in Carrefour in the fish section. I am surprised that they bother to add plant and goldfishes to beautify the "live food" tank. 

Gifts after visiting the factory of Hershey's near Suzhou. Quite an experience to see such a large chocolate factory and see its full manufacturing process. (Btw, I fell sick after returning from the trip after consuming too much chocolate).

Chinese Business Lunch - Very Hospitable and Painful.

The host was very hospitable by serving too much food (more than 15 dishes) and toasting wines to everybody. There was a wastage of food, as we could not finish it, but the Chinese deems that as a sign of being hospitable. They must felt that I was rude by declining the Shark's Fin Soup, not eating the meat that was served on my plate, and not drinking enough wine. 

It was painful because emphasis on hierarchy and seniority is very obvious. For example, the seating order is very important around the table - there is a center of power. The manner of toasting is important for instance a junior person should lower his glass while toasting to a senior person as a mark of respect. It is disrespectful if you don't drink. 

Well, this is not my first time, it has been a long time since I had such a lunch. I had been very respectful towards everybody and the local practice, but I was really happy when the lunch was over. Painful!!

My first ever visit to an oil refinery complex. It was Huge! In fact, photography was not allowed.

After the business stuff, I felt so relieved to extend a few days to go to Huangshan alone. 
I love the freedom!!!

First, the bus AC stopped working, and then, the bus stopped on the roadside with smoke coming on the front-left part of the bus. I was seated on the last few rows of the bus, and all the passengers were scrambling down the bus and saying that the bus is on fire and might explode anytime. Darn! Those Chinese were fast, and I was the last one on queue getting out of the bus. I was telling myself "Pls don't explode! Pls don't explode!". 

There was no fire extinguisher on the bus! The fire was put off by using bottles of mineral water and water from the river.

Police and the Fire Engine came.
I waited for around an hour for another bus. Interestingly, unlike other passengers who were agitated and were making a scene, I was quite at peace and reminding myself that this is part of an experience.

My simple dinner at the foot of Huangshan.

While I was having my dinner, I was watching a documentary about a Chinese mother who single-handedly raised 3 children as a porter earning 20rmb (S$3.80, US$3.16) for a single trip. In order to save money, her clothes were all donated by people, and she even wears man's shirt. Two of her children are going to university and she could not offer it, so the kids have to earn money during vacations for their education expenses. A lot of people's life are still very difficult and challenging. These ordinary folks are really strong people. These are everyday heros. Respect!

"Huangshan, is a mountain range in southern Anhui province in eastern China. The range composed of material that was uplifted from an ancient sea during the Mesozoic era, 100 million years ago; the mountains themselves were carved by glaciers during the Quaternary. Vegetation on the range is thickest below 1,100 meters (3,600 ft), with trees continuing until 1,800 meters (5,900 ft). The area is well known for its scenery, sunsets, peculiarly shaped granite peaks, Huangshan Pine trees, and views of the clouds from above. Huangshan is a frequent subject of traditional Chinese paintings and literature, as well as modern photography. It is a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site, and one of China's major tourist destinations."

Trekking HuangShan

Met 2 fantastic PRC families who took good care of me. It was through interactions with them that I understood the challenges and hopes of ordinary folks. For them, visiting Huangshan was their only travel plan for the year and the things on the mountain are very expensive for them. Then, I realized how fortunate I am. 

I was chatting with the high-school graduate (in the photo). He was leaving Ningxia Province to do his degree in Nanjing City. I could understand the challenge faced by a youth like him - being the only child (one-child policy in China), he has to work hard to meet the expectation of his parents, it is highly competitively in China to secure a place in good university as well as securing a job etc... In another words, life is tough!

It was always great to meet nice people! 
Friends are everywhere. 

Scenery of HuangShan is mystical, beautiful and awesome. I would let the photos do the talking:

It is amazing that pavement was built on the steep wall of the cliff.

The best moment of the trip.

People talk too much.
People walk too much.
People do too much.

I just enjoy keeping quiet.
Slow down and Stop everything.
Enjoy the silence and the scenery.
Feel the wind.
Feel the rain droplets on my skin.
Close my eyes for a moment.
Open my eyes and see.
Life is so Beautiful!


It was raining and too foggy. Spent my night in the mountain, it was quite an experience to sleep in the same room with 11 other guys talking about politics and social events in China (as there was nothing better to do in the mountain at night).

Back in the foothill, an old lady shared with me that Huangshan has changed so much. It used to have old Taoist temples in the mountains when she was young, but they were all gone now. I asked if the temples were destroyed during the cultural revolution, she didn't reply me...

The Bund never fails to awe me.

Beautiful Skyline of Pudong, Shanghai

This restaurant was recommended on some travel websites. 

The place was crowded with expatriates. I had a vegetarian main course & an orange juice (260rmb, S$50, US$41). The most expensive vegetarian meal so far. The food was not bad, but the ambiance and view was better. In fact, I was paying for the view.

This is my favourite photo of the trip. 
I have seen similar picture of The Bund taken from this angle, but I never figured where it was taken. This is the best place to take photo of The Bund. 

Exploring the Flea Market of Shanghai - Dongtai Road

My favourite game.
Mahjong on the Street. Cool!

For Sale

Old Toys 
(but not-so-cheap)

Contemporary Art

Cultural Revolution

Old Tins

Exploring Moganshan Road - The creativity hub


Art Gallery

I met an American lady and her Canadian friend in her Art Gallery. I had a good conversation with them and trying to understand the rationale of this young mother of three, who is willing to uproot herself from America and relocate to the Far East. The reason is simple - her husband loves oriental culture and art.

Lotsa interesting Art pieces. I did not take any photos, as I respect their intellectual property. It is very stimulating to see so many creative art pieces.

Laundry & Art?

Chinese Grafitti
- Bruce Lee & Panda!

Calligraphy & Grafitti

Mythical themed Graffiti

Walls of Grafitti

The Portrait is so real!

With a population of over 20million people, there is no shortage of creativity and places to visit. Well, that is the beauty of Shanghai. Love it. =)