Leeches and Freeloaders

Can you spot the outplacement consultant?

Can you spot the outplacement consultant?

There’s a rip-off artist who passes himself off as an outplacement consultant. Some years back he contacted me and told me he wanted me to be his co-facilitator for a management workshop. He started dropping names saying most of his clients are multi-millionaires, the who’s who of Asia and there’s tons of money to be made, that my working with him would be mutually beneficial. Actually he wanted me to teach him how to conduct ice-breakers. I was a young man then and gullible and shared everything with him, and he never got back to me.

Then there’s another fraudster who would tell me about the shitloads of work he has lined up all over Cambodia and China and how he would definitely engage my services. “We could do stuff together; be partners, you know, make some money together.” So far, it’s been hot air. And I hear the same spiel every time he comes back to Singapore and phones me to say “hi.” In the end, I concluded that he just wanted my CV on his website to boost his own image, to show the world that he has a whole coterie of subject matter experts or associates just to assure his clients that he is not another one-man band.

I’ve gone pass being naïve. But today at 57, I am amazed at how people still dangle carrots at me and how they throw crumbs and bones at me.

I have helped many people in my life but seldom am I the recipient of others’ generosity and largesse.

If anything, people are out there to steal your lunch. You are a change management expert, others claim to be as well. You are an organization development expert, others are too. You are a trainer extraordinaire, well, others have certificates to say they are trainers too. You write a book, they claim to be authors too. Wannabes and posers proliferate. You see, those whom you think are your friends are often the same ones who do you in. It’s not always your enemies who push you over the edge, I’ve since realized. Often the murder weapon is yielded by someone you least suspect.

Am I bitter about it?

You bet, but I’m a lot wiser now. And I don’t keep it in my heart.

I help myself. I try never to rely on others. Nobody will help me. Everyone’s looking out for himself. I won’t rely on others to get me assignments. They will only dangle carrots and throw crumbs and bones at me. And if I really have no choice but have to depend on others, I make sure I pay back. It may take a while, and I may have to pay back in kind, but I never forget a kind deed. That’s my personal philosophy.

I’m not like those leeches in my life.

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Crippled by Crutches


Some time ago, a plastic surgeon boasted that she spent a couple thousand bucks on a pair of panty hose.

If you gasp, then she’s got the reaction that she wanted.

Well, I guess if you have it, you are entitled to flaunt it, but some people collapse when they have nothing to flaunt.

A friend who had to sell off some of his most prized possessions when he hit the hard times told me he felt naked without his 100,000-dollar solid-platinum tourbillion watch lined with diamonds. His wife felt inferior when she had to sell off her 70,000-dollar handbags and go around just using an unbranded handbag. They were ashamed to tell people that that they now live in a small apartment and no longer in a bungalow in district ten. They were miserable because their crutches were gone. It was like the rug had been pulled from under their feet. No longer on anyone’s A-list and not being members of the upper class and international jet set any more made them feel like shit.

We live in a materialistic society where people are judged according to the clothes they wear, the restaurants they patronize, the handbags they carry, and even the breed of their pet dogs so it is understandable that some people feel not up to snuff when they eat at food courts while their friends are posting pictures on social media of their gourmet meals at Michelin-starred restaurants or how they vacation at St. Moritz or how they luxuriate in first-class suites on Singapore Airlines or how they could bypass the two or three year wait for a 10,000-dollar Birkin because they have VIP status at Hermes. (Gentle reminder to the uninitiated: prices are in US dollars, mind you.)

As an aside, if you take a cold, hard look, and scrutinize all those Birkin or Chanel bags on the arms of practically every other Ah Lian in town, one can’t help but wonder if they are all the real McCoy. People are not stupid. They know a show-off when they spot one. Plus they look at how old you are, estimate how much you earn and they can conclude that (1) you have maxed out your credit or debit card, meaning you possess zero financial literacy (2) you have a rich husband/boyfriend/lover (3) you come from old money (4) you have done something to get the kind of money to buy such a bag, oh my goodness (5) your bag is a fake, God forbid! (6) your bag is one you rented from one of those bag rental places, tsk, tsk (7) your bag is second-hand, meaning a used bag that once belonged to someone else, what a poser you are! (8) you did something for someone he felt so bloody good he gave you a 10,000-dollar bag, oh what a slut you must be!

How pitiable is that? How pathetic are you?

In my late 20’s I was flushed with money from a good job and I had little financial commitments so I splurged a lot on myself.

From the top of my head to the tip of my toes I was drenched in designer togs.

In fact, I was like a walking Alfred Dunhill boutique. If Alfred Dunhill made underwear, I bet I would have worn them too.

It took me years to realize how crude I was flaunting all that, how distasteful I had been and how idiotic I was trying to keep up with the Joneses.

It took me a while before I realized that whatever I own owns me.

I now live in a crutch-free world.

Nowadays I am embarrassed to be seen with anything branded or expensive.

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Happiness in a Pot


Old-timers believe that rice tastes better when cooked in a claypot over a slow charcoal fire.

Throw in some meat and you’ve got a one-dish meal called “Claypot Rice.”

How it’s done is this: Just before the rice is cooked, marinated chicken pieces, silvers of salted fish (if desired) and slices of Chinese sausage are thrown in.

When the pot of rice is completely cooked, garnish with chopped scallion, drizzle in some vegetable oil and some good quality thick black soy sauce, then stir the whole thing up and serve.

Problem is it can be a pain to do this at home, as it’s quite a bit of work; that’s why when a claypot rice stall opened up in a coffee shop near my place recently, it really draws in the crowds!

If you are dining alone, or with another friend, and both are small eaters, a small pot which costs S$11/- will suffice. The S$16/- pot is good enough for three persons but if you and your friends have hearty appetites you can always order the S$20/- pot.

And if you still want to try cooking this at home, the recipe is relatively simple: just soak a cup of fragrant Thai rice in a cup of water in a claypot for an hour prior to cooking, put the pot on medium heat over a charcoal stove and bring it to boil. Put on top of the rice marinated chicken pieces, thin silvers of salted fish (this is optional as some people may not appreciate the taste and smell of salted fish), generous slices of Chinese sausage, then cover the pot, control the heat to low and let the pot simmer for another ten minutes. And voilà, you’ve got your own claypot rice! Garnish with scallion, pour in a little oil and black soy sauce, stir and serve. The picture above shows the claypot rice before the oil and soy sauce have been added. (It’s important to use the best quality, thick black soy sauce, the cheap, inferior quality ones are way too salty.)

Seems easy for some, but for me, I’ll just walk over to the coffee shop nearby and pay 11 bucks. No hassle, no preparation, no washing afterwards.

And the best part? I like the burnt rice that sticks to the sides and the bottom of the pot. I scrape this crust out with a ladle and enjoy the crunchy bits. Some restaurants selling claypot rice will pour clear chicken stock into the pot after most of the rice has been consumed, bring the whole concoction to a boil and the dish becomes a soupy rice broth complete with the crunchy bits of tasty burnt rice and ta-da! you’ve got yourself a two-course meal!

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Another Masterpiece by Fikri Baki

With my giant on loan for display as part of a private collection, I’ve been looking for another calabash with a more manageable size to smoke; and I found one:

It's got everything I like - real gourd, bamboo, block meerschaum...

It’s got everything I like – real gourd, bamboo, block meerschaum…

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Rape Culture? Don’t Make My Toes Laugh!


30 years of marriage and I am no closer to understanding my lovely wife 100%.

I do catch some clues of what she wants though from her body language and from the things she says.

If she says “We need to talk” it usually means she has something to question me about that I won’t enjoy hearing, like why on earth did I purchase yet another expensive camera that I don’t need and will never use.

If she becomes unusually solemn and says “nothing” when I asked if something’s bothering her I can be sure probably something is indeed troubling her – could be her work, her siblings, whatever.

Sometimes when she says “no” to me, I know she actually and secretly means “yes.” I am sure if I ask her “Can I get you a big diamond solitaire on our wedding anniversary?” she will say “no, please don’t spend money like that” but if I really go and get her a diamond the size of a golf ball, I’m sure she’ll squeal with delight.

(Human beings ARE complicated. I myself can be very difficult too.)

And if my dear wife asks me if she looks fat, I know it’s time for me to reaffirm to her that I love her no matter what her size is. (She is NOT fat by the way – at 56, she has the body of a teenager, but most of the time she thinks she’s Jabba the Hutt.)

Gender differences and how men and women communicate – and miscommunicate – is the fodder of many books and have made jokers like John Gray (who graduated from the same uni as me) and clowns and pseudo-experts like Allan Pease rose to a celebrity-like prominence they don’t really deserve. (Books by Desmond Morris and Deborah Tannen are more credible reads.) I am not talking about sexual stereotyping here, I’m just stating facts. Men and women are wired differently and we communicate differently. Words cannot always be taken at face value. And just because someone points out some of the common differences doesn’t mean he or she is engaging in sexual stereotyping.

Some of these “she-actually-means-this-when-she-says-that” quotes are listed in a publication used by an organization engaged by the Ministry of Social and Family Development to run relationship courses for students.

A 17-year-old student from Hwa Chong was so enraged by the publication’s contents that she accused the organization that was appointed for promoting a rape culture. (Because “no” means “yes”?)

Dear wet-behind-the-ears brat, let me tell you this: You have NO frigging idea what rape is, and I sure hope you never have to find out; also, with a thinking process like that, I wonder how the hell you got into a supposedly good school like Hwa Chong?

Shuddup and try to grow some brains for a change. And stop embarrassing yourself.

Of course, needless to say, many equally clueless keyboard warriors couldn’t resist the bait and seized upon the opportunity to attack the Ministry, and the government, and just about everyone and everything else, except their own severe lack of discernment.

And of course many, fearful of losing their jobs, or getting screwed for one reason or other, started scrambling to cover their asses and to blame everyone else but themselves for allowing the program into our schools.

My dear Singaporeans, politically-aware and bright Hong Kongers are sleeping in the streets for their rights and some of you guys, especially those of you with zero intellectual firepower, are just wasting space, farting around, busy engaging in mental masturbation, and spending nearly 500 bucks looking for a lost soft toy. Tsk, tsk. Only in Singapore. (Yesterday’s papers carried news about how after eight hours combing MRT stations along the East-West Line and spending close to $500 on lost-and-found ads, a 23-year-old is still desperately looking for a companion – a soft toy – which had been by her side for the last 17 years.)

The majority of Singaporeans are decent and sensible but the number of idiots and parasites seem to proliferate these days. And please don’t mention those cretins in the same breath as the brave students in Hong Kong. Indeed, don’t equate the Hong Kong pro-democracy activists with some of the comedians we have in our midst. And I beg of you, please don’t remind me of that nut case, that self-styled “genius-with-the-charts” who accused the prime minister of embezzling our retirement funds. Or that retarded blogger who had no qualms frightening special-needs kids by allowing a rally she was leading to encroach into a charity carnival where these kids were performing.

The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.

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Starbucks’ Flawed Strategy

Starbucks can't seem to decide if they wish to remain a coffee shop or a library.

Starbucks can’t seem to decide if they wish to remain a coffee shop or a library.

No, Starbucks doesn’t serve the best coffee in the world. It is just another bloodsucking American chain but the one at Orchard Point used to have the largest number of smoking seats and we pipe and cigar smokers would gather there to indulge in our hobby.

However in recent times, Starbucks all over Singapore has begun to replace their comfortable seats and transforming the stores to look like libraries.

Very uncomfortable.

Students throng Starbucks and stay all day though I’ve seen signs requesting students not to hoard seats.

Often they just buy one drink and occupy the seats for long stretches.

If Starbucks have converted their stores into libraries to entice students in, then that strategy is flawed.

Starbucks staff have no guts to implement the no-hording request.

In fact Starbucks staff have no guts to do anything.

Very often, non-customers would also plonk themselves at Starbucks and smoke away, depriving paying customers their seats but Starbucks staff would not chase them away.

I’ve blogged about this more than once – just do a search on my blog by typing Starbucks.

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Smoking the Toilet

Nope, not smoking in the toilet, but smoking the toilet, the toilet meerschaum pipe, that is. I’m sure it will color nicely over time.



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Riding into the Sunrise


I yearn for those times when corners were not cut, when the world was a much carefree place, when friends and intimates could be relied upon, when promises meant something, when people didn’t rationalize away their behavior and justify their actions with a shrug of their shoulders, often with a veneer of self-righteousness, and disingenuousness. I crave for chimneys emitting pine-scented smoke and I miss the smell of the sea, of hot Gyokuro and crackling logs in the fireplace.

Often when the rubber hits the road, when the gravel crunch under the tires, often when the birds in the sky shriek as they fly past you, the moment of realization sinks in, and you know, you know, and you won’t ever forget, you won’t ever be defeated, you know in your heart of hearts, you have overcome, you are triumphant, you leave the chaff behind, you walk away from the obsolete relics of an undesirable past, you stride forward with renewed vigor because you, and you alone, are more than a conqueror and the brave new world is yours.

Mourn not for the ravages of the past, long not for relics of what was and what could have been, revisit not prior fragments of dissatisfaction, lay what happened to waste, tomorrow can be exactly what you determine it to be.

A new morn is dawning.

I am not leaving you behind.

Unless you have already left to pursue your own sunrise.

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I’m glad I’ve long weaned myself off Apple products.

The new iPhone 6 – and the larger 6 Plus – is way over-priced, the software is buggy, and Apple Pay doesn’t work here.

It is manufactured in Chinese factories that are fenced in to prevent overworked and underpaid workers from jumping to their deaths.

Yet people stand in line overnight to buy the phone which is nothing more than Apple’s pathetic attempt to play catch-up with Android phones.

One more thing – it bends!


PT Barnum was spot-on when he said there’s a sucker born every minute.

Apple managed to sell a mind-boggling 10 million combined iPhone 6 and 6 Plus handsets in a record-smashing debut.

Can 10 million people be wrong?

But of course.

Heard of lemmings?

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When Friendships Undergo Transitions


After all these years, I found myself suddenly running out of things to talk about with a close friend.

It’s really not my business but she is after pursuits whose value and worth I question and do not believe in. One example – a certificate in a subject that is clearly not her forte. That she actually signed up for the course threw me for a loop. I find it hard to support that. I have given up proffering advice because most people have made up their minds about what they want to do anyway and will plunge ahead regardless of what others say. You can’t throw a bunch of people together, put them through the paces and transform them into what they are not. There’s such a thing as natural flair and what-have-you. And there’s more – she has accepted an invitation to be a guest lecturer at an MBA school…some guts she has. That much I can say. As I thought through the possible topics with her, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of trepidation.

Is she desperate and is now grasping at straws to get noticed so that she’ll land a plum job? I worry for her.

And always running around to rendezvous with others the moment I’m out of sight. This eats into the time we have allocated for our joint ventures. I’m also often frustrated by the speed with which she responds to my WhatsApp or text messages. A lot of times she is distracted, and cannot retain information, making me wonder if she really listens.

She seems to have a rather busy social life too! One eating session after another. What a social butterfly.

Oh my. Eat, eat, eat…so many reasons to eat, and eat and eat some more, all in the name of celebrating this or that.

That’s one reason why I absolutely refuse to visit social media sites.

All the time, mindless tweets about what people eat. Facebook plastered with food porn. How people stuff their faces makes me want to puke. Just looking at those food photos people post makes me feel fat.

Aren’t these people aware of how disgustingly fat their already bloated bodies look?

We doth eat way too much, methinks.

It’s really not my business what others do with their lives.

It’s just that as a bystander, it’s sometimes awfully difficult to watch the things people do. Especially when you care for them.

Just to set the record straight, I have the utmost respect, and great affection, for this friend. If she’s reading this, she has to understand that this is NOT a criticism of her.

But I admit she gets on my nerve sometimes.

My irritation could also be triggered by the state – and stage – of life I find myself in right now. Yes, it may sound like a cliché but this is actually more about me than about her as in “It’s NOT you honey, it’s me.”

I have reached a certain phase of my life. While others are still running around like headless chickens, or trying to change the world, I on the other hand am quite ready to settle down to a long, inactive period of somnambulance.

Winding down.

Retreating from the sound and fury.

Been there, done that; wore all those T-shirts.

So now, I’m opting for a silent existence.

What I need is to relax in a hammock in some barrio in Michoacán!

Keeping a low profile.

Why talk so much unless you can improve the silence?

That explains the dichotomy between my friend and I.

How can we ever connect again?

Clearly, our paths have diverged.

What brought us together in the first place?

Gosh, we couldn’t have been more different. One believes in the overly-exaggerated benefits of aromatherapy, (it can make a menopausal woman pregnant, can you believe that?) and is into crystal healing, past lives, body works, (your body hurts due to past trauma and that pain can be massaged away through touch therapy, yeah right), some crazy Yoga that can make those with broken spines walk again, Tibetan Buddhism and exorcist lamas, organic food, avocado, bird nest soup and berries, and me? I’m not a believer of any of those hocus-pocus. I like to think I possess common sense and can detect a con artist when I see one. I’m a skeptic at heart. Do people even pause to think and to wonder how ridiculous they can sound to the rest of us who are sound?

Over time, things change. Or has my tolerance threshold been decreasing with the passage of time?

Like everything else, friendships undergo transformation too.

The old magic is gone.

It’s profoundly sad.

But it’s part of life, isn’t it?

People move on.

You might have been soulmates and bosom pals in the past – or even husband and wife in a past life, if you believe that kind of thing – but now there’s nothing to talk about.

Awkward silence permeates the atmosphere.

Small talk just to break the silence.

Silence so thick you can cut it with a knife.

Silence so quiet you can hear the proverbial pin drop.

To break the discomfort, people are forced to talk.

Meaningless chatter.

Apart together.

What’s the point?

For this reason I’ll caution those who wish to re-connect with old friends, thinking they can bring back the old feeling.

With the Internet, it’s so easy nowadays, isn’t it?

But if you think you can rekindle that old flame, think again.

It doesn’t always work that way. The few times I managed to reconnect with old pals, I wished I hadn’t. The unpleasant experiences far outweigh the pleasant ones.

Sometimes it’s best to just let sleeping dogs lie.

It is better to remember to hold onto – and reminisce over – the pleasurable memories of the past, than to let the present realities get you down.

Didn’t BF Skinner say that people learn by suffering the consequences of their actions? Well, learn the hard way if you must. Go look for and reconnect with old pals if you must.

With the passage of time, friends change.

It can be disheartening and discouraging.

But there are always new friends you can make.

New people in your life.

And new worlds to conquer. New places to see. New things to do.

Yes, there’s more to life than what we’ve experienced so far.

We have a whole life ahead of us and there will be many sunshine-filled days.

One more thing about being friends with members of the opposite sex is that it can get complicated, what with potentially possessive or non-understanding spouses and all. Not everyone believes in platonic relationships.

Men shave and women Botox.

Vive la difference!

Let it be.

Whatever will be will be.

Que sera sera.

“It is silly to go on pretending that under the skin we are all brothers. The truth is more likely that under the skin we are all traitors, liars, assassins, and hypocrites.”
–  Henry Miller

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