Monday, November 19, 2012

Universal Studio Singapore with HIV/AIDs Patients & Family

Yesterday, my volunteer group organized a trip to the Universal Studio Singapore (USS) for HIV/AIDs Patients & Family. Most of them came from a disadvantaged background and do not have the opportunity to visit Universal Studio. In fact, the children were really excited to visit USS.

It was a good opportunity for them to spend some quality family time, and also to forget about the dreadful reality for a while.

Recently, I felt I was a bit jaded and I do not get excited easily. The excitement of the kids was contagious, I was really happy to see the excitement in their eyes. It is the FIRST time they ever visited a theme park. =)

There was a lot of mixed feeling along the trip.


A female participant said that it was her daughter and her dream to visit the USS, and she thanked the  volunteers & sponsors for the opportunity. While I was very happy for them, I was really sad to know that visiting USS (such a simple task) could be someone's dream. Visiting USS is still out of reach for some Singaporeans.

Life is not fair. 


A teenage boy was asking his mother if he could go for his soccer match.
His mother replied that he needed to see doctor on that day which was more important.

Then, it dawned on me that not just the mother, but the healthy-looking teenage boy was also HIV+.
This really affected me.

If I was the boy, I would ask:
What have I done to contract such a dreadful virus?
Why am I on medication since birth?
Why me?

His younger sister was not affected (There was 30% HIV transmission probability from mother to child).
I could sense that he was suffering from low self-esteem.

He had done nothing to deserve such a dreadful virus.
Life is not fair.


There was a kid who held my hand and wanted my company. I felt that he needed a lot of love and attention. Then, I learnt from another volunteer that his dad had abandoned the family and his mother was in a prison. He and his brother (both unaffected by HIV) was taken care by their aunt who is HIV+ and has 2 kids of her own.

Life is really tough for these young kids, who needed so much parental guidance and love.


 Some of my friends would complain about their career, expensive housing & cars, little salary increment, office politics etc.. these are really trivial worries. These patients are facing the REAL challenges of Life - issues with health (Life & Death), issues with money, issues with family, issues with acceptance & stigmatization etc... 

I am really glad that they enjoyed at least one day without worries or fears (except for the thrill rides).
It is really a great joy to bring happiness to someone in need. =)


I wrote this on my fb page as I was really sad and needed an avenue to let it out.

"Never knew that being a volunteer can be so emotional draining, especially when a patient whom I know is dying. May he finds peace and seeks refuge in the all-compassionate One. 
All my trivial problems pale in comparison. That's a good thing about volunteering - always help me to stay grounded and teach me valuable lessons about life."

Mr Tan (an AIDs patient) was really suffering for months. He was bedridden, and his skin turned red/black due to medicine allergy, he had a terrible diarrhea that he could not walk & had to put on diapers, he had developed terrible ulcers in his mouth and throat that he could not eat food. He was depressed and contemplated committing suicide. He was really suffering. AIDs is such a terrible disease.

Despite his suffering, Mr Tan would always greet the volunteers with a smiling face. He also told jokes to make the volunteers laugh. 

Last Wednesday , Mr Tan was very frail when the 2 senior volunteers visited him (as we were informed that he was dying). The 2 senior volunteers guided him with Buddhist Chants and Prayers, which brought a lot of peace to him. Mr Tan smiled and thanked the volunteers.

On Thursday, another 2 senior volunteers went to visit Mr Tan who was already unconscious, and they witnessed the departure of Mr Tan when his heart stopped beating. 

There was no funeral or wake.

Mr Tan's family (sisters) was crying and apologizing to the volunteers. They regretted no visiting their brother in the hospital. They do not need to apologize to the volunteers, but I guess, it is a just way of handling their own guilt. They also thanked the volunteers.

The patient is just like you and I - we just need acceptance and love from our loved ones. It is sad that AIDs patients are highly stigmatized even by their own family members. Volunteers could never fill in the role of family members, but at least, we provided some comfort and care for our fellow human beings.

I thank Mr Tan for the good memories and lessons I learnt.
May he be free from sufferings.
May he find peace.

Om Mani Padme Hum

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Story: Calmness Despite Adversities

A nice story taken from

On another occasion, Rahula (The only son of Buddha) followed his teacher, Sariputra, on a trip to teach the Dharma. At noon, they begged for alms in the vicinity of Rajagriha. They met a young hooligan, who poured sand on purpose into Sariputra's alms-bowl, and hit Rahula's head with a stick. Blood kept flowing out from the injured part of Rahula's head.

Sariputra comforted Rahula, saying, "Rahula, as disciples of the Buddha, we must cultivate the virtue of patience. We must not be angry with evil people. On the other hand, we should even pity them, because they do not know that every action will produce results, so they commit evil actions." 

After listening to Sariputra, Rahula was calm and unruffled. Without uttering a word, he went to the riverbank by himself, and washed away the blood on his head and face. Then, he used his handkerchief to dress the wound. He then continued to beg for alms from others, as if he had not been injured at all.


Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” 
- Lord Buddha

Last year, I experienced extreme anger that I was trembling with rage. For 2 days, my whole mind was obsessed with the anger and how to take revenge against that person. In the end, I decided that it is better to let it go (for the sanity of my mind) and distance myself from that person. Recently, someone shared with me the bad news befell on that person.

Firstly, I do not feel anything (I wasn't happy), as I had already let go of the unhappy incident. Secondly, you always reap what you sow. If his negative behavior is consistent, negative outcome will ripen sooner or later. 

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Travel: Legoland @ Johor Malaysia

My first & last time visiting Legoland.

Yup, I felt jaded again. I have been to quite a number of theme parks, and this Legoland is down on my list. I wasn't excited, and visiting Legoland is really to see what is it about, and more importantly, spending some time with friends.

The 4D theater was a disappointment.

The thing that I enjoyed the most was spending time with friends. =)

Some of the models in the theme park.

If I am a young kid, I would definitely enjoy it. 

Travel: Advance Diving Course @ Tioman Island, Malaysia

The advance diving trip to Tioman was really tiring. I did not enjoy myself as I wanted to. I was really busy at work on friday, and after work, I went to the dive shop to catch a coach to Mersing (which we arrive at 11pm), then we took a really uncomfortable boat ride to Tioman Island (arriving at 2am+). I managed to sleep at 3am!!

Within 6 hours, I got to wake up, rush for my breakfast & go for my first dive. We had a total of 4 dives (including a night dive) that day. The dive boat was cramped and lotsa people were in it. It was pure exhaustion to prepare the equipment, waiting for others to get ready. The dive sites weren't exactly nice.

The next day, we woke at 5.30am to prepare for our first dive. ='(  

My first diving course was 10 years ago while I was still an undergraduate, but being a dive student again was not very fun. I had been going for leisure dives, where I paid money to enjoy. This trip was just tiring!!!

Such Crystal Clear Water.
I really got to enjoy it for a brief moment the last day (when the second dive was canceled). I was so glad that the dive was canceled. I could finally enjoy the nature!! 

With my dive mate =)

I felt I was jaded as well, and I was not as excited when I reached Tioman Island. Around 10 years ago when I first visited Tioman Island, I was literally jumping with joy as I had never seen such crystal clear water. Everything was new and exciting. Nowadays, I admittedly could not reach that kind of excitement easily. The good thing is that I have been fortunate to travel the world and see many beautiful things and places. The bad thing is that I am jaded and taken things for granted. Not a good sign.

Travel: 2012 March Taiwan Trip

I have been procrastinating but I finally finished it.

Friday, November 02, 2012

A Reflection of Dr Richard Teo

I decided to keep this post here as a reminder of the important things in life. 

The Impermanence of Life
Loving Kindness

A reminder that we are all the same.

One of my favourite quotes:

"Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live"
- Tuesday with Morrie


Below is the transcript of his speech to a group of graduating dentist:

Hi good morning to all of you. My voice is a bit hoarse, so please bear with me. I thought I'll just introduce myself. My name is Richard, I'm a medical doctor. And I thought I'll just share some thoughts of my life. It's my pleasure to be invited by prof. Hopefully, it can get you thinking about how... as you pursue this.. embarking on your training to become dental surgeons, to think about other things as well.

Since young, I am a typical product of today's society. Relatively successful product that society requires.. From young, I came from a below average family. I was told by the media... and people around me that happiness is about success. And that success is about being wealthy. With this mind-set, I've always be extremely competitive, since I was young.

Not only do I need to go to the top school, I need to have success in all fields. Uniform groups, track, everything. I needed to get trophies, needed to be successful, I needed to have colours award, national colours award, everything. So I was highly competitive since young. I went on to medical school, graduated as a doctor. Some of you may know that within the medical faculty, ophthalmology is one of the most highly sought after specialities. So I went after that as well. I was given a traineeship in ophthalmology, I was also given a research scholarship by NUS to develop lasers to treat the eye.

So in the process, I was given 2 patents, one for the medical devices, and another for the lasers. And you know what, all this academic achievements did not bring me any wealth. So once I completed my bond with MOH, I decided that this is taking too long, the training in eye surgery is just taking too long. And there's lots of money to be made in the private sector. If you're aware, in the last few years, there is this rise in aesthetic medicine. Tons of money to be made there. So I decided, well, enough of staying in institution, it's time to leave. So I quit my training halfway and I went on to set up my aesthetic clinic... in town, together with a day surgery centre.

You know the irony is that people do not make heroes out average GP (general practitioner), family physicians. They don't. They make heroes out of people who are rich and famous. People who are not happy to pay $20 to see a GP, the same person have no qualms paying ten thousand dollars for a liposuction, 15 thousand dollars for a breast augmentation, and so on and so forth. So it's a no brainer isn't? Why do you want to be a gp? Become an aesthetic physician. So instead of healing the sick and ill, I decided that I'll become a glorified beautician. So, business was good, very good. It started off with waiting of one week, then became 3 weeks, then one month, then 2 months, then 3 months. I was overwhelmed; there were just too many patients. Vanities are fantastic business. I employed one doctor, the second doctor, the 3rd doctor, the 4th doctor. And within the 1st year, we're already raking in millions. Just the 1st year. But never is enough because I was so obsessed with it. I started to expand into Indonesia to get all the rich Indonesian tai-tais who wouldn't blink an eye to have a procedure done. So life was really good.

So what do I do with the spare cash. How do I spend my weekends? Typically, I'll have car club gatherings. I take out my track car, with spare cash I got myself a track car. We have car club gatherings. We'll go up to Sepang in Malaysia. We'll go for car racing. And it was my life. With other spare cash, what do i do? I get myself a Ferrari. At that time, the 458 wasn't out, it's just a spider convertible, 430. This is a friend of mine, a schoolmate who is a forex trader, a banker. So he got a red one, he was wanting all along a red one, I was getting the silver one.

So what do I do after getting a car? It's time to buy a house, to build our own bungalows. So we go around looking for a land to build our own bungalows, we went around hunting. So how do i live my life? Well, we all think we have to mix around with the rich and famous. This is one of the Miss Universe. So we hang around with the beautiful, rich and famous. This by the way is an internet founder. So this is how we spend our lives, with dining and all the restaurants and Michelin Chefs you know.

So I reach a point in life that I got everything for my life. I was at the pinnacle of my career and all. That's me one year ago in the gym and I thought I was like, having everything under control and reaching the pinnacle.

Well, I was wrong. I didn't have everything under control. About last year March, I started to develop backache in the middle of nowhere. I thought maybe it was all the heavy squats I was doing. So I went to SGH, saw my classmate to do an MRI, to make sure it's not a slipped disc or anything. And that evening, he called me up and said that we found bone marrow replacement in your spine. I said, sorry what does that mean? I mean I know what it means, but I couldn't accept that. I was like “Are you serious?” I was still running around going to the gym you know. But we had more scans the next day, PET scans - positrons emission scans, they found that actually I have stage 4 terminal lung cancer. I was like "Whoa where did that come from?” It has already spread to the brain, the spine, the liver and the adrenals. And you know one moment I was there, totally thinking that I have everything under control, thinking that I've reached the pinnacle of my life. But the next moment, I have just lost it.

This is a CT scan of the lungs itself. If you look at it, every single dot there is a tumour. We call this miliaries tumour. And in fact, I have tens of thousands of them in the lungs. So, I was told that even with chemotherapy, that I'll have about 3-4months at most. Did my life come crushing on, of course it did, who wouldn't? I went into depression, of course, severe depression and I thought I had everything.

See the irony is that all these things that I have, the success, the trophies, my cars, my house and all. I thought that brought me happiness. But i was feeling really down, having severe depression. Having all these thoughts of my possessions, they brought me no joy. The thought of... You know, I can hug my Ferrari to sleep, no... No, it is not going to happen. It brought not a single comfort during my last ten months. And I thought they were, but they were not true happiness. But it wasn't. What really brought me joy in the last ten months was interaction with people, my loved ones, friends, people who genuinely care about me, they laugh and cry with me, and they are able to identify the pain and suffering I was going through. That brought joy to me, happiness. None of the things I have, all the possessions, and I thought those were supposed to bring me happiness. But it didn't, because if it did, I would have felt happy think about it, when I was feeling most down..

You know the classical Chinese New Year that is coming up. In the past, what do I do? Well, I will usually drive my flashy car to do my rounds, visit my relatives, to show it off to my friends. And I thought that was joy, you know. I thought that was really joy. But do you really think that my relatives and friends, whom some of them have difficulty trying to make ends meet, that will truly share the joy with me? Seeing me driving my flashy car and showing off to them? No, no way. They won’t be sharing joy with me. They were having problems trying to make ends meet, taking public transport. In fact i think, what I have done is more like you know, making them envious, jealous of all I have. In fact, sometimes even hatred.

Those are what we call objects of envy. I have them, I show them off to them and I feel it can fill my own pride and ego. That didn't bring any joy to these people, to my friends and relatives, and I thought they were real joy.

Well, let me just share another story with you. You know when I was about your age, I stayed in king Edward VII hall. I had this friend whom I thought was strange. Her name is Jennifer, we're still good friends. And as I walk along the path, she would, if she sees a snail, she would actually pick up the snail and put it along the grass patch. I was like why do you need to do that? Why dirty your hands? It’s just a snail. The truth is she could feel for the snail. The thought of being crushed to death is real to her, but to me it's just a snail. If you can't get out of the pathway of humans then you deserve to be crushed, it’s part of evolution isn't it? What an irony isn't it?

There I was being trained as a doctor, to be compassionate, to be able to empathise; but I couldn't. As a house officer, I graduated from medical school, posted to the oncology department at NUH. And, every day, every other day I witness death in the cancer department.

When I see how they suffered, I see all the pain they went through. I see all the morphine they have to press every few minutes just to relieve their pain. I see them struggling with their oxygen breathing their last breath and all. But it was just a job. When I went to clinic every day, to the wards every day, take blood, give the medication but was the patient real to me? They weren't real to me. It was just a job, I do it, I get out of the ward, I can't wait to get home, I do my own stuff.

Was the pain, was the suffering the patients went through real? No. Of course I know all the medical terms to describe how they feel, all the suffering they went through. But in truth, I did not know how they feel, not until I became a patient. It is until now; I truly understand how they feel. And, if you ask me, would I have been a very different doctor if I were to re-live my life now, I can tell you yes I will. Because I truly understand how the patients feel now. And sometimes, you have to learn it the hard way.

Even as you start just your first year, and you embark this journey to become dental surgeons, let me just challenge you on two fronts.

Inevitably, all of you here will start to go into private practice. You will start to accumulate wealth. I can guarantee you. Just doing an implant can bring you thousands of dollars, it's fantastic money. And actually there is nothing wrong with being successful, with being rich or wealthy, absolutely nothing wrong. The only trouble is that a lot of us like myself couldn't handle it.

Why do I say that? Because when I start to accumulate, the more I have, the more I want. The more I wanted, the more obsessed I became. Like what I showed you earlier on, all I can was basically to get more possessions, to reach the pinnacle of what society did to us, of what society wants us to be. I became so obsessed that nothing else really mattered to me. Patients were just a source of income, and I tried to squeeze every single cent out of these patients.

A lot of times we forget, whom we are supposed to be serving. We become so lost that we serve nobody else but just ourselves. That was what happened to me. Whether it is in the medical, the dental fraternity, I can tell you, right now in the private practice, sometimes we just advise patients on treatment that is not indicated. Grey areas. And even though it is not necessary, we kind of advocate it. Even at this point, I know who are my friends and who genuinely cared for me and who are the ones who try to make money out of me by selling me "hope". We kind of lose our moral compass along the way. Because we just want to make money.

Worse, I can tell you, over the last few years, we bad mouth our fellow colleagues, our fellow competitors in the industry. We have no qualms about it. So if we can put them down to give ourselves an advantage, we do it. And that's what happening right now, medical, dental everywhere. My challenge to you is not to lose that moral compass. I learnt it the hard way, I hope you don't ever have to do it.

Secondly, a lot of us will start to get numb to our patients as we start to practise. Whether is it government hospitals, private practice, I can tell you when I was in the hospital, with stacks of patient folders, I can't wait to get rid of those folders as soon as possible; I can't wait to get patients out of my consultation room as soon as possible because there is just so many, and that's a reality. Because it becomes a job, a very routine job. And this is just part of it. Do I truly know how the patient feels back then? No, I don't. The fears and anxiety and all, do I truly understand what they are going through? I don't, not until when this happens to me and I think that is one of the biggest flaws in our system.

We’re being trained to be healthcare providers, professional, and all and yet we don't know how exactly they feel. I'm not asking you to get involved emotionally, I don't think that is professional but do we actually make a real effort to understand their pain and all? Most of us won’t, alright, I can assure you. So don't lose it, my challenge to you is to always be able to put yourself in your patient's shoes.

Because the pain, the anxiety, the fear are very real even though it's not real to you, it's real to them. So don't lose it and you know, right now I'm in the midst of my 5th cycle of my chemotherapy. I can tell you it’s a terrible feeling. Chemotherapy is one of those things that you don't wish even your enemies to go through because it's just suffering, lousy feeling, throwing out, you don't even know if you can retain your meals or not. Terrible feeling! And even with whatever little energy now I have, I try to reach out to other cancer patients because I truly understand what pain and suffering is like. But it's kind of little too late and too little.

You guys have a bright future ahead of you with all the resource and energy, so I’m going to challenge you to go beyond your immediate patients. To understand that there are people out there who are truly in pain, truly in hardship. Don’t get the idea that only poor people suffer. It is not true. A lot of these poor people do not have much in the first place, they are easily contented. for all you know they are happier than you and me but there are out there, people who are suffering mentally, physically, hardship, emotionally, financially and so on and so forth, and they are real. We choose to ignore them or we just don't want to know that they exist.

So do think about it alright, even as you go on to become professionals and dental surgeons and all. That you can reach out to these people who are in need. Whatever you do can make a large difference to them. I'm now at the receiving end so I know how it feels, someone who genuinely care for you, encourage and all. It makes a lot of difference to me. That’s what happens after treatment. I had a treatment recently, but I’ll leave this for another day. A lot of things happened along the way, that's why I am still able to talk to you today.

I'll just end of with this quote here, it's from this book called Tuesdays with Morris, and some of you may have read it. Everyone knows that they are going to die; every one of us knows that. The truth is, none of us believe it because if we did, we will do things differently. When I faced death, when I had to, I stripped myself off all stuff totally and I focused only on what is essential. The irony is that a lot of times, only when we learn how to die then we learn how to live. I know it sounds very morbid for this morning but it's the truth, this is what I’m going through.

Don’t let society tell you how to live. Don’t let the media tell you what you're supposed to do. Those things happened to me. And I led this life thinking that these are going to bring me happiness. I hope that you will think about it and decide for yourself how you want to live your own life. Not according to what other people tell you to do, and you have to decide whether you want to serve yourself, whether you are going to make a difference in somebody else's life. Because true happiness doesn't come from serving yourself. I thought it was but it didn't turn out that way. With that I thank you, if you have any questions you have for me, please feel free. Thank you.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


This week, I learned quite a bit about the importance of kinship. 

Encounter 1:
This week during my volunteering activity in a hospital, an AIDs patient (in his 50s) told me that his sister would be fetching him back home the next day. He was beaming with joy and I could not forget the smile on his face. In fact, most of the patients are longing for their family visits and support (and may be acceptance).

Encounter 2:
A friend who was studying in Australia for the past few years decided to return to Singapore. A few years ago, she was quite happy with her new life in Australia - new environment, more nature, more space, more laid-back, less stressful, less crowded etc... But recently, she grew sick and tired of the place, as she did not have a support of a local community and family. She was quite lonely. At least, back in Singapore, she could always count on her family and friends.

Encounter 3:
Visited a friend whose infant daughter was recently discharged from the hospital. His daughter did not breathe for 20 mins after birth, and as a result, she suffered from severe brain damage (she was warded in intensive care unit for days). She could not do instinctive things like sucking or swallowing. My friend (an ex-convict) had a difficult relationship with his father, but during this period, his father and extended family had shown tremendous support - emotionally, financially, physically. He was very touched by it. 

I was also very touched when I saw how my friend fed his daughter through a tube (which was inserted from her nose to her stomach). His infant daughter needs to be fed every 3 hours, and each feeding takes 1hr-1.5hr. Parents' love is indeed selfless and unconditional.

Well, it is really in times of trouble and difficulties, we know who are the people who really love us and stand with us and not deserting us. It is in time of trouble we see great human spirits and love. 

I am very fortunate to be born in a family and a culture that value strong family ties. The main contribution by Confucius is really emphasizing the importance of Filial Piety and kinship in a Chinese society.

I read this on BBC:
"It is no accident that the Chinese write the family name first followed by the given name. It reflects the overriding importance of the family in Chinese history."

On Saturday morning, my niece came to me and said 
"舅舅 (Uncle), I love you." 
I gave her a hug and that made my day!
It is priceless.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Movie: Schooling the World

I just watched this movie questioning about modern education. This topic is very dear to me as I always support education for underprivileged kids in 3rd countries. This film used Ladakh (a place I visited a month ago) as an example, and coincidentally, I also supported a local school in Ladakh.

This is a thought provoking movie. 
I had a lot of unanswered questions. The underlying assumption of modern education is to alleviate poverty around the world. Personally, I am an ardent believer of education as I am a beneficiary of a good education.  However, this film challenged this underlying assumption that I felt strongly about.

Does education really alleviate poverty?
Is modern education making people dependent of modern economy?
Is modern education removing people's ability to live independently in a sustainable way?
(Think: about the farmers who lived independently for thousands of years)
Is modern education churning out workers for the elites?
Is modern education like a factory churning out homogeneous products?
Is education selling the wrong dream?
(Think: The high unemployment among the undergraduates in USA.)

The fact: 
90% of the people in Ladakh educated in modern school will not be doctors/engineers/lawyers. They would most probably be a lowly paid workers struggling in the modern economy. Yet, they have lost their ability to survive in their native land, and they lost their culture.

A Ladakhi girl studying in a missionary school wants to work in a city like Delhi.
A Ladakhi young man working in Delhi, yearns to go back to live in Ladakh.
That's the irony of life.


There is another scene in the film that disturbs me.
The Ladakhi students in a Christian missionary school have to speak English and they would be punished by the teacher if they speak Hindi or Ladakhi. And there was a scene where all the students were reciting Christian prayer (not sure if it was voluntary or compulsory).

It is really scary to see how kids are being indoctrinated on a daily basis.
I could relate to this as I was studied in a Catholic missionary school for 4 years and I chose to transfer out of a Christian high school after 3 months (There was compulsory preaching every monday). I was on the verge of converting to Christianity as it was easy in those environment (all your teachers and friends are either Christian or Catholic, and I listen to the Christian doctrine almost everyday). Teenage years is such a vulnerable stage in life where you just want to fit in and do not have critical mind. 

I was only 15 years old. And my form teacher encouraged me to join her after school to attend her church event. She told me that Jesus/God had opened the door for me, and if I didn't embrace it, it would be closed. And when my grandma was hospitalized, my form teacher would appear on my grandma bedside and started to pray aloud for my grandma - making my grandma very uncomfortable. (On the hindsight, my form teacher was very insensitive to other people.) 

Personally, I am against indoctrinating young people with religion (be it Christianity/Buddhism/Islam) in school. These things should not be mixed up with school. It is scary that more than 15 years after I left my school, I still know how to recite Hail Mary.... this is the power of indoctrination at a young age.

It is really scary how education is used to manipulate and control the young mind.
I am raised in such a system.
I am glad that I have seen it through.

If I have an opportunity to meet my form teacher again, I would let her know that her action was inappropriate. 

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Goodbye Kah Leong. RIP.

My second friend who passed away in the last 2 weeks.

Kah Leong passed away suddenly on Wednesday 3am, after a supper with his wife who is 6 months pregnant (2nd Child). He was an award winning real estate agent and was still working hard on tuesday, when he posted a rental listing on his facebook.

We were in the same class for 4 years during secondary school, but I did not keep in touch with him. I only "reconnected" with him recently via facebook. During school days, he wasn't the nicest guy around, and  could be quite crude with his choice of words. He was very athletic and was part of the school basketball team. In fact, he was quite proud (and vocal) of his physical ability.

Well, the irony is that he died of heart attack. I read on the newspaper that he had heart problem for 5 years already and went through 2 heart surgeries. Most of our friends are shocked, as he was always very fit and healthy (at least, that was the impression).

I felt that it was pointless to be proud and competitive. It is good to work hard and strive to be our best, but it is really pointless and meaningless to put others down (as though the only joy in life is to win other people). In the race of life, sometimes you are ahead, sometimes you are behind, but at end, you realized that you are alone in the race.

I felt sad that he left so early. He was very driven and motivated, and he had a young family to support.
Early this year, he tattooed "Carpe Diem" and shared it on facebook, and his remarks was 

"Seize the day!!! My boyhood dreams finally fulfilled!!!"

Indeed, we should follow this mantra "Carpe Diem".
Life is too uncertain. 
There is no time to waste.

Goodbye Kah Leong.
Hope you had a good journey.
Rest in peace.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Article: Pain is not wrong

"Whenever we react to pain with fear and view it as “wrong,” we set in motion a waterfall of reactivity. Fear, itself made up of unpleasant sensations, only compounds the pain—now we not only want to get away from the original pain, but also from the pain of fear. In fact, the fear of pain is often the most unpleasant part of a painful experience. When we assess physical sensations as something to be feared, pain is not just pain. It is something wrong and bad that we must get away from.

Often, this fear of pain proliferates into a web of stories. Yet, when we are habitually immersed in our stories about pain, we prevent ourselves from experiencing it as the changing stream of sensations that it is. Instead, as our muscles contract around it and our stories identify it as the enemy, the pain solidifies into a self-perpetuating, immovable mass. Our resistance can end up creating new layers of symptoms and suffering, since when we abandon our body for our fear-driven stories about pain, we actually trap the pain in our body.
When, instead of Radical Acceptance, our initial response to physical pain is fear and resistance, the ensuing chain of reactivity can be consuming. The moment we believe something is wrong, our world shrinks and we lose ourselves in the effort to combat our pain. This same process unfolds when our pain is emotional—we resist the unpleasant sensations of loneliness, sorrow, anger. Whether physical or emotional, when we react to pain with fear, we pull away from an embodied presence and go into the suffering of trance.
Yet, we need to realize that being alive includes feeling pain, sometimes intense pain. And, as the Buddha taught, we suffer only when we cling to or resist experience; when we want life different than it is. As the saying goes: “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”
When painful sensations arise and we can simply meet them with clarity and presence, we can see that pain is just pain. We can listen to pain’s message and respond appropriately—taking good care. If we are mindful of pain rather than reactive, we do not contract into the experience of a victimized, suffering self. We can meet whatever presents itself with Radical Acceptance, allowing the changing stream of sensations to simply flow through us without making any of it wrong.

Bye Benjamin C and RIP.

Benjamin C passed away suddenly last week. It was shocking for everybody, as he just got married a month ago and celebrated his birthday with his wife in Gold Coast recently. When I saw his motionless body lying in the casket, it was unreal. It is a weird feeling to see a friend who was normally smiling in that casket. Somehow, it is hard to accept that Ben is dead, and it has affected for me the past week.

I am not exactly close to Ben, but our lives overlapped a few times. I knew Ben during my freshman year in university, and we joined a  faculty student club where he was the marketing director and I was reporting to him. We also took a same module in our freshman year, then we were in the same university program where we spent one year in Silicon Valley.  

Ben was a smart and driven person. He was always smiling and concealing his emotions behind the smile. I got to know him better during the 1 year in Silicon Valley. He was normally friendly, but very opinionated as well. And he definitely had a kind heart.

It was 14th Feb 2002, and we were attending the music module class. As it was valentine day, quite a number of girls in our class received roses and gifts, and Ben suggested that we should buy a rose for our group mate (Cindy) who was unattached. It was a very nice gesture and intention.

After we graduated, Ben worked as a financial planner for a while. He sat down with me and explained the importance of financial planning. He told me that I should start saving and cut down on unnecessary expenses like dining in restaurant and overseas travelings. And I should start planning for retirement as he had already planned his own retirement. That's the irony of life. He was left the world at the prime of his life.

When we were in Silicon Valley, I had series of misfortunes. On the day that I purchased my car, someone smashed my window and broke into it. The following day, I got into a minor car accident. I did not have money for the repair works, and I did not want to get help from my family (as my parents were not doing well financially). I was really feeling down & sad, so I decided to stay at home that weekend. Ben came over to my place and offered to drive me from South Bay to San Francisco City to cheer me up. That is very kind of him.

A Photo of Ben that day in San Francisco, with his signature smiling face.

Ben had been successful in his life. It was quite shocking and sad that he left this world so suddenly. My sadness was deepen when I knew that Ben was very very unhappy during the last few weeks of his life. I am really sad that he left this world with so much unhappiness.

Bye Ben.
I hope you are in a better place now.
May you be free from suffering.
Rest in peace.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Book: Old Path White Clouds

After my vipassana meditation, an old gentleman (Retired Civil Servant, Ex-Christian, Meditator) who converted to Buddhism in recent years recommended me to read this book “Old Path White Clouds” – by Thich Nhat Hanh

I thank him for recommending this book, which is one of the best books I ever read in my life. I am not exaggerating. If there is only one Buddhist related book that I should read, this would be the one. 

This book is about the Life of Buddha. The author made an effort to retell the story of Buddha in a very “human” way. There is no supernatural or magical feat mentioned in the book. Buddha faced many challenges along the path just like everyone of us, but he dealt with the challenges with wisdom and compassion. There are just too many wonderful things to learn from him. 

Buddha is a revolutionist in his time. He abandoned his life as a prince in search for Truth. He disregarded the Indian Caste system and societal pressure to ordain the “untouchables” and women to be part of his spiritual community. (Note that: Both untouchables and women had no status in India back then, even now at some parts of India.) He is guided by principles and values, not by tradition and dogma beliefs. In 2500 years ago, Buddha saw that everybody as equal. That itself is revolutionary. 

Buddha discouraged his disciples to idol worship, and told his disciples to accept his teachings only if it makes sense to them. There is no eternal condemnation. 

There are too many wonderful stories to share, below is one of my favorites: 

Context: Buddha had attained the supreme enlightenment and went back to his father kingdom to share his teachings. 


The King (Buddha’s father) said “I thought surely you would come to the palace to see your family first. Who could have guessed you would instead go begging in the city? Why didn’t you come to eat at the palace?” 

The Buddha smiled at his father. “Father, I am not alone. I have travelled with a large community, the community of bhikkhus (monks). I, too, am a bhikkhu, and like all other bhikkhus, beg for my food.” 

“But must you beg for food at such poor dwellings as there around here? No one in the history of Sakya clan has ever done such a thing.” 

Again the Buddha smiled. “Perhaps no Sakya has ever done so before, but all bhikkhus have. Father, begging is a spiritual practice which helps a bhikkhu develop humility and see that all persons are equal. When I receive a small potato from a poor family, it is no different than when I receive an elegant dish served by a king. A bhikkhu can transcend barriers that discriminate between rich and poor. On my path, all are considered equal. Everyone, no matter, how poor he is, can attain liberation and enlightenment. Begging does not demean my own dignity. It recognizes the inherent dignity of all persons.” 


May all beings be free from sufferings. _/\_

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Photography: Singapore Botanic Garden

I did not visit Singapore Botanic Garden for a long time (except for a wedding dinner).
Today, I took time off to enjoy it slowly and mindfully.

It was really enjoyable - strolling slowly, listening to the birds, feeling the breeze, breathing fresh air.
The slower I move, the more things I notice, the more I enjoy.
Practicing mindfulness is wonderful.
Everything is beautiful.

However, it is only visible to those who slow down and appreciate it.
It is wonderful.
I will let the photos do the talking.

When is the last time you slow down and appreciate life?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What is the significance of a Birthday?

I never had a birthday party.
I never wanted to have a party for me.
But I always have birthday celebration with family or friends. 

For many years, I really do not see much significance of a birthday.
Last thursday morning, I found my reason to celebrate birthday.

I walked towards my mum, putting my hands on her shoulders and said this to her while I hold back my tears:
"Mama, thank you for giving birth to me.
Thank you for raising me up."

My mum just smiled and did not say anything.

When I was on my way to work, I received a message from her “生日快乐” - Happy Birthday.
This is her way of expressing her love.

Birthday should be a day of gratitude.
Think about the kindness I have received throughout my life.
Without their kindness, I won't be around.
Be grateful towards my parents, my siblings, my relatives, my friends, my teachers etc....
I am nothing without them.

Thank You.

A simple porridge prepared by my mum when I was sick.
I am grateful for it.

Monday, June 11, 2012

My watch and my anger

Last week, my 4 years old niece took my brand new watch (a birthday present from my brother), and out of mischief, she threw it onto the floor. I lost my cool and shouted fiercely at her. Asking if she would like other people to throw her things onto the floor. She was crying and apologizing to me.

I seldom lose my cool. May be this is the first time in recent weeks/months. 
That evening, while I was showering, a sense of guilt overcame me.

What am I angry about?
Why didn't I "catch" my anger?
Do I really need to shout at her?
Is MY brand new watch that important?

If my niece threw some other people's watch, I won't be as angry.
Somehow, the idea of "MY" thing is more important than other people's thing.
It is my ego problem.

Actually, I don't really care about this brand new watch.
It is just a thing. 

Anger is such a useless quality (unless it is for righteous reason).
Anger always mess up the mind.
We tend to say/do the wrong thing.

I learnt a new lesson.
My niece also learnt a new lesson.

Fortunately, kids do not bear grudges.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A Story: Thinking that you know what is good or bad

Taken from Tao Te Ching by Stephen Mitchell.
The Huai Nan Tzu tells a story about this:

A poor farmer's horse ran off into the country of the barbarians. All his neighbors offered their condolences, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't good fortune?"

After a few months, the horse returned with a barbarian horse of excellent stock. All his neighbors offered their congratulations, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't a disaster?"

The two horses bred, and the family became rich in fine horses. The farmer's son spend much of his time riding them; one day he fell off and broke his hipbone. All his neighbors offered their condolences, but his father said, "How do you know that this isn't good fortune?"

Another year passed, and the barbarians invade the frontier. All the able-bodied young men were conscripted, and nine-tenths of them died in the war. 

Thus good fortune can be disaster and vice versa. Who can tell how events will be transformed?


Lady Gaga Concert and my thoughts

Lady Gaga's Concert in Singapore

This is the first concert that I ever watched. Generally, I felt that concert ticket is way too expensive, but I decided to experience the showmanship of Lady Gaga. The atmosphere was quite good, people dancing to the music etc... I quite enjoy it, but it wasn't spectacular. Interestingly, the part that I enjoyed the most was when Lady Gaga shared her story as a high school girl who tried to fit in and was bullied by the boys who threw her into a rubbish bin. Not sure how much of it is truth or is it part of the performance. Anyway, it inspired more people to love and accept themselves. That's more important.

On another note, I was reflecting my desire, which is very illusive.
Prior to the show, I had strong desire to watch this performance. But after that, the show did not leave a lasting impression. Then, I reflected on another recent desire - to watch Avengers, which was not great as well. And thinking further, I thought of my previous strong desire to visit Machu Picchu, which I visited in January. Machu Picchu was very beautiful, but it seemed to be better in my imagination.

Desire is temporary and unstable. Desire often overestimates the happiness that a person/event/place might bring. That's why it is illusive. Somehow, we could never be satisfied and a new desire would appear and we  would pursue it until we got it. Then, we move on to the next desire...

People: Ivy League school janitor graduates with honors

Columbia University janitor Gac Filipaj, center, looks on during the Columbia University School of General Studies graduation ceremony, Sunday, May 13, in New York. Filipaj, an ethnic Albanian who left his native Montenegro 20 years ago to escape war, is graduating with honors after 12 years of balancing studies and his full-time job.

An ethnic Albanian and Roman Catholic, he left his family farm in the tiny village of Donja Klezna outside the city of Ulcinj because he was about to be drafted into the Yugoslav army led by Serbs, who considered many Albanians their enemy.
He fled after almost finishing law school in Belgrade, Yugoslavia's capital, where he commuted for years by train from Montenegro.
At first in New York, his uncle in the Bronx offered him shelter while he worked as a restaurant busboy.
"I asked people, which are the best schools in New York?" he says. Since Columbia topped his list, "I went there to see if I could get a job."
Part of his $22-an-hour janitor's pay still goes back to his brother, sister-in-law and two kids in Montenegro. Filipaj has no computer, but he bought one for the family, whose income comes mostly from selling milk.
Filipaj also saves by not paying for a cellphone; he can only be reached via landline.
He wishes his father were alive to enjoy his achievement. The elder Filipaj died in April, and the son flew over for the funeral, returning three days later for work and classes.
To relax at home, he enjoys an occasional cigarette and some "grappa" brandy.
"And if I have too much, I just go to sleep," he says, laughing.
During an interview with The Associated Press in a Lerner Hall conference room, Filipaj didn't show the slightest regret or bitterness about his tough life. Instead, he cheerfully described encounters with surprised younger students who wonder why their classmate is cleaning up after them.
"They say, 'Aren't you...?'" he said with a grin.
His ambition is to get a master's degree, maybe even a Ph.D., in Roman and Greek classics. Someday, he hopes to become a teacher, while translating his favorite classics into Albanian.
For now, he's trying to get "a better job," maybe as supervisor of custodians or something similar, at Columbia if possible.
He's not interested in furthering his studies to make more money.
"The richness is in me, in my heart and in my head, not in my pockets," said Filipaj, who is now an American citizen.
Soon after, the feisty, 5-foot-4 janitor picked up a broom and dustpan and went back to work.
A reminder that it is never too late to live your dream.
The question is whether you have the courage and perseverance to achieve it?