29 November 2012


By what measure do we define Happiness?



How do these differ between Western and Eastern cultures? How intertwined are these emotions? These perceptions.

What is their worth?

These were some of the questions pondered and debated in a discussion today between myself and my work colleague Shents. Even though Shents is English I like him a lot. He is both a gentleman and a gentle man and I consider him a mate. He has been around the block has Shents. He has lived and worked before in Tokyo and Melbourne. Like me he now lives in Singapore. Shents is insightful and he is smart. I value his opinion and I admire him. There is respect. I enjoy our dialogue.

I like our banter.

We agreed that we shouldn't generalize - however the Singaporean standard for the measurement of success seems to differ from our view point. Education to the Singaporeans is very important. The formal kind. Not life experiences. The Singaporean takes life very seriously. Failure is not an option. This seems to be a focus from a very early age. It is a heavy burden. There is a lot of pressure. Especially on children. It is not necessarily a bad thing.

It is just different from ours.

So is success linked to happiness? I didn't think so and neither did Shents. We both know a lot of successful people who aren't happy. They aren't happy at all. Conversely I know quite a few people who are very happy but they aren't particularly successful. At least not by the standards that society sets. Position. Affluence. Money. I suspect that these people are however the most successful of us all.

These impoverished people.

And what is the measure of success? Is it the size of one's bank account? The value of our net worth? Is it the title on our business cards? Is it the esteem with which they are regarded by others? Or is it the way they regard themselves? Is it all of the above or none of the above? My view of this has changed as I have aged.

I once believed that other people's perception of me was important. I was genuinely unhappy if people thought poorly of me. It doesn't matter so much to me anymore. It is passé. It is com si com sa. What I think of myself carries more weight. It sets my moral compass. I value my values more than other peoples regard. I am not saying that I am happy all the time.

Far from it.

I am perfectly imperfect and I don't disregard the supposition of others.

It just doesn't drive me anymore.

It is the simple things now that bring me happiness and contentment. Sharing moments with friends and family. Laughter. Giving. Receiving. Sharing. Reminiscing. Introspection. Virtuosity. Rising to an occasion. Reaching a goal. I equate fulfillment with happiness.

I am sure that this will change again.

This perception of mine.

27 November 2012

Chasing Shadows

I had a bit of a chuckle last night. Indeed at one point I laughed out loud. A did a LOL. I was chatting to my friend. I won’t mention her name because she might get embarrassed.

So Alina was telling me about her day. 

She is arranging an Art Exhibition this Thursday. Alina is showcasing the Russian Realism artist Guram Dolenjashvili. I have looked at some of his works on the Internet. 

They are superb. 

They are exquisite. 

Guram’s art is sketched by pencil. They are in carbon. The detail is such that you would swear that that they are photographs. They are meticulously drawn by hand. I hope he is at the Exhibition because I would like to ask him a few questions. Does he envision these works in his mind before he begins to draw? Can he see the completed piece before he starts or does the image just emerge? Such things intrigue me. Artists and musicians are a source of wonderment to me. They bring life and colour and verve to an often mundane world.

So Alina and I were swapping messages about our respective Mondays. Mine was typically uneventful. Tremendously boring would be a more apt description. I work in a large corporation where there is very little creativity. There is no Art. It is all business. We are money making machines. We seem to do it very well. Make money that is. However there is little joy. Money can buy you neither love nor happiness. 

I know this for a fact.

Alina told me her day was an adventure. She told me that she went hunting for an elusive object. Her French Public Relations and Marketing Director had recommended that she go out and try and procure an antique loop for the Exhibition. A loop? Now this was interesting. Buying a loop? I needed to find out more. A further couple of messages were exchanged. A loop according to Alina was a magnifying glass! It was to be used by people at the Exhibition to study Dolenjashvili’s works more closely and to also provide some ambience at the venue. It was a good idea. A nice concept. 

I liked it.

Alina had gone from shop to shop in Little India and Chinatown enquiring about these loops. Aline told me that the Singaporean shopkeepers were stunned and perplexed at her enquiries. She told me that they were not very helpful. This is often the norm here in Singapore. No loop could be found and Alina was frustrated. She told me that she got a bit angry. She arrived home sans antique loop and her day was therefore unfulfilled.

I can relate as my days are often unfulfilled. I blame no-one else for this. It is the life that I have chosen.

Now I had never before heard of such objects being referred to as loops. My interest was piqued so I dived into Google and I referred to the on-line Oxford Dictionary. I also checked the on-line Webster Dictionary. Americans sometimes do make-up words. Much to my chagrin. There was no reference however to a loop being anything other than a circle. It was an infinite orb. Something that went around and around. And around again. 

It is perpetual motion personified.

I messaged this to Alina. I did so politely and with tact. A Russian Art Director? A French PR lady? Could this have been somehow lost in translation? Alina had confessed to me in our earlier messaging that she was very nervous about the upcoming exhibition. I tried to reassure her that the event would be a huge success. The Art is spectacular. 

So is she. 

I theorised though that her PR Manager may have picked up on her nervousness and had sent her out on a distracting mission. A wild goose chase that would deflect some of her anxiety. What a great idea and a good prank. I thought that it was mischievous but delightful. I told Alina that if this were the case she should plot an act of revenge against the French girl. Something harmless but amusing. I told her that I would help but we would need to wait awhile though. 

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

I went to bed later that night - as I do every night. The thought of loops was foremost in my mind. Going around and around. I was in a spin. As I waited for sleep to overwhelm me I had a sudden epiphany. I launched myself out of bed and I powered up my Mac. I opened a Browser and I Googled an enquiry. “What is the French name for a magnifying Glass?” It is of course a Loupe! I felt triumphant. 

Mystery solved. 

Despite the late hour I messaged Alina straight away.

26 November 2012

Duck Tongues

It is traditional in my workplace for those of us who travel regularly to bring back something edible from whence we go. The English delight us with their mini pork pies. They don't have a long shelf life but they are delicious. You have to get in quick though. The Northerners devour them. 

They eat everything and anything. 

The French bring bon bons and they are not too bad. We Australians bring back musk sticks. The English don't like these very much. They claim they taste like deodorant. The Irish usually bring some sort of chocolate with liqueur in them. The Irish are mad for alcohol and they eat and drink it as much as they can. The Malays and Chinese usually bring back some sort of dried fruits. They are not my cup of tea but they are popular amongst the locals.

I went to Hong Kong recently and asked for requests. Perhaps I requested for asks. I cannot recall. One of the Singaporean girls wanted me to bring back a couple of packets of duck tongues. She told me you could get them at the airport.

Duck tongues! I kid you not.

I sought them out and I found them. They sold in packets of 50 or 100 and they were packed in individual sachets. I opted for a packet of 50. When I got back to the office I handed them around. Inside each packet was a slimy little pink tongue. It looked like a tongue and it looked nasty. Very nasty. They are wrapped in a bit of grey gravy. 

It could be tongue juice. 

Most of us Westerners ate one. We did it as a bit of a dare. They were a tad crunchy for inside the tongue was a cartilage type bone. It wasn't too bad really. 

It tasted like concentrated duck. 

I am not going to have another one though. 

One was more than enough.

25 November 2012

A Strange Encounter

I had a weird moment today. It was a strange encounter and I am compelled to write it down.

I have a ritual on Sunday mornings. I wake early then I shower and I dress. I then grab whatever book I am reading at the moment and head across to my local Starbucks. I have a standing order of a grande double shot vanilla latte with a fresh baked croissant. The coffee gives me a kick start. It wakes me up. I used to take my own vegemite to spread on my croissant but I now leave a jar there. Ken - who works behind the counter - spreads it for me. 

Vegemite is the king of breakfast spreads. It is black and salty and is made from a yeast extract. The English have a poorer version that is called Marmite. It is shit in comparison.

I don't even have to go inside now to order my Sunday breakfast. I sit at my normal outdoor table and Ken brings me out my coffee and croissant. He is a good bloke.

I have offered Ken a try of vegemite. He didn't like it. This didn't surprise me. vegemite is one of those things that you need to be bought up on.  Anyway - I eat my croissant, I drink my coffee and I read my book. It is a nice way to start the day.

The book that I am currently reading is "Sputnik Sweetheart". It is by Haruki Murakami. He is one of my favorite authors. Murakami's writings are influenced by one of his favorite writers - Kurt Vonnegut. I like Vonnegut a lot. "Sputnik Sweetheart" was first published in 2001 - so it is not a new release. It is not like the abomination that is "Fifty Shades of Grey". 

A crap book if ever I have read one.

The reason I mention this is that about ten minutes after I had sat down - an extremely tall and very blonde girl sat at the table next to me. She had piercing green eyes and a matching cup of green tea. The tall blonde girl was carrying a very big bag from which she pulled out a book. The book was "Sputnik Sweetheart"! What are the odds? She must have noticed the commonality before me because she stood up and walked over to my table. With her book.

"Hello" she said.

"Hello" I replied.

"We are reading the same story" she commented.

"So we are" I replied.

I asked her what page she was up to.

"Page 63" she advised.

I was on page 77. So I knew a bit more about what was going on than her. 

I was more advanced.

She asked if she could join me and I said 'please do". I enquired what her name was and she told me that it was Linnea. I have never met a Linnea before. Linnea informed me that she was from Norway. She told me what her surname was as well but I couldn't pronounce it. It got stuck in my throat. We shook hands. It was very civil. She was curious about what was on my croissant so I tried to explain vegemite and I offered her a bite. She took a sniff and politely declined. I don't blame her. Vegemite is an acquired taste. 

It is not for everyone.

We talked about Murakami for a while and the other novels he had written. There was consensus that "Norwegian Wood" was our favorite. I suspected there was some patriotism in this choice by her. She also liked Vonnegut and had, like me, read all of his works. We agreed that Vonnegut's last couple of works were very bitter. 

He was hostile towards the American Government.

Linnea and I chatted for a couple of hours about writers, books, food, Singapore and traveling. It was very pleasant. I have been to Sweden and Finland before but never to Norway. Linnea has never been to Australia. She asked what I did here in Singapore and I confessed that I worked for an evil Bank. Linnea told me that she is a student of literature and she wants to be a teacher - but she is in Singapore doing a modeling assignment. I could well imagine that she would be very photogenic. She is stunningly beautiful in a very Scandinavian way.

I had to leave at 1.00 pm as I had arranged to meet some friends for lunch.

Linnea is going back to Norway in ten days time but we have arranged to meet again next Sunday for breakfast to discuss what we think of "Sputnik Sweetheart". We have both committed to finishing the book before then. 

I like talking about literature and it is always nice to meet new people and make new friends. 

It is what life is all about isn’t it?