Saturday, December 31, 2011

I Believe - No Time for Regrets - A 2011 Retrospective

NY2011 Retrospective

I will always look back at 2011 as a year where I finally believed ... in myself and what I am truly capable of. I do not measure my success in monetary or status, but in the fact that I stepped out of my comfort zone, gave it a go, and no matter how I did and the many self doubts I had along the way, I spoke my mind and I achieved what I had never been able to do in the past - shut my personal harsh critics up - and believed I can make that difference.

It is significant year because of the various challenges I faced. As I grew up in a conformist culture and challenging is not part of my makeup, I truly believe that I would not have been able to do it without the love and support of my closest friends, John, Anne, Margaret, Robbie and Julie at work. I share this lesson here not to brag, but hopefully to inspire everyone that experienced the same kind of upbringing I did that you can, if you believe in yourself, and no one can take that away from you.

Regrets ... it is a word that I discovered I rarely used since my grandpa's death in 1994. I have learned to appreciate and let the people who mean much to me, know how much I love them before it is too late. This lesson has taught me well and thankfully, I have kept on the practice and hence I do not have regrets or worry that my family, relatives and friends do not know how much they mean to me, or that I love them.

As for regrets on other fronts, I have come to realise that it is all about "not doing". I am not preaching a "Thatcherism" here, but we have a choice at every cross road. Either we take it or we don't. There is neither time for regrets or time to ponder what the lost opportunities are, because we didn't take it. Sure, I can lament the fact that I still have not taken up singing lessons or brushed up on my Japanese, but I made that conscious choice this year, because I needed to concentrate on something else. It is a conscious choice I made and I take full responsibility for that. 

2011 will be remembered as one of those years where I sacrificed much of my pleasure for work, which is quite rare, considering that I value relationships over work. For the first time in ten years, I took no holiday home, and I thank my family for being so understanding and so supportive.

I have to thank my siblings for taking good care of my parents because I constantly feel inadequate as a son because I am not living with them, but I know I am also a better son because of this fact. The distance allows me to be more attentive and to devote and cherish our time together. I want to thank my brother for sponsoring my parent's trip which allowed me a great opportunity to spend quality time with them. It is a time that I truly enjoyed and will always hold close to my heart.

There is too much more to be thankful - good health, loving relationships, theatre, relatives and my friends, most of whom I have been able to stay in contact through Facebook. Though much evil has been spoken about this medium, most of which is true, I am still thankful for this avenue to allow me to stay in touch with all of you, and to be able to share this note and thank you for your friendship and your love. Though I have lost a good friend this year who will stay in my heart forever, I take on every experience as a new lesson that will learn me well.

What does 2012 bring, I do not know. What I do know is that I am armed with the best possible asset, which is a belief in myself and that I have a choice - to act or not to act. There is no time for regrets, so I will ensure that I will live every decision I make to the fullest.

Happy New Year to my loved ones - my family, relatives, friends. May 2012 bring good health, prosperity, love and inspiration!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Number One Indulgence


It's not everyday that one finds someone or something magical.

My 26 year "love affair" with Japanese singer Akina Nakamori (中森明菜) occurred in January 1984 via an evening newspaper (新明日报) calendar showcasing 12 young singers on that Saturday's telecast of the 1983 34th Annual Red and White Song Festival 紅白歌合戦 (held on NYE every year).

It was love at the first sight when my eyes landed on "July" and saw Akina's photo. I still remember it being one of her in a purple long sleeved blouse with a yellow headband beside a window (or something of that sort). I remembered my father watching the previous year's telecast and I fell asleep halfway, so I wondered why this captured me the way it did that day.

Being the eldest, I had the "power" to force my siblings to play the games I want to, so excitedly, I went home, spread the paper and asked them to each choose one. Interestingly, neither of us chose the same. My sister chose Yu Hayami (早見優), which is funny in hindsight because some of my friends compared her similarity in looks at a certain point in her life to Yu. My brother chose 柏原芳恵 for reasons unknown. I'd like to think it was because of her buxom appeal.

That Saturday, I sat down with Dad and watched the program from start to finish. Dad went to bed halfway but I waited and waited for Akina's performance. She was totally what I expected and not, at the same time. Underlying that sweet look was a deep voice I had never expected. She was different, in a good way.

I don't think the infatuation commenced immediately because I didn't rush out to get her cassettes or anything like that, but it did plant a seed, and when my older cousin passed me his copy of the 34届紅白歌合戦 mix-tape, there was no going back.

My infatuation with J-Pop commenced then. I had no idea what they were singing, and till today, it makes no difference. I love the infectious melodies and it was also the start of the J-Pop craze in Asia like how K-drama captured hearts a couple of years back. Everyone was wrapping their files with posters from HK magazines like Good Times (好时代) and New Times (新时代).

It was also then that I met Leslie and he jokingly blames me for his infatuation. I would like to say that though I did plant the seed, he definitely exceeded all expectations.

I come from a middle income family with a sole breadwinner. Times weren't bad, but we didn't have indulgences very often. A trip to MacDonalds was an indulgence for us. Dad worked hard and Mum did her part by taking work home to supplement the income. We were always taught to be frugal, and Mum was strict with the family budget and with us, but we were never denied anything that we truly wanted. She would tell us stories of her impoverished childhood and we loved them, even though that would mean that we would not get the new toy or something that we were going to ask for.

I can see how it was difficult for my parents financially at that time, to support us through school and made sure that we had a good life. My parents were strict, so that we would be better people when we grew up, always encouraging us to do better, all the time.

Many a times, growing up, I didn't always understand why I had to do all that. Leslie always had extra pocket money but I didn't. I was envious that he could buy anything that he desired while I had to compromise. To me, those were necessities in life, but not everyone understood. Only friends like Leslie and Terence did, but understanding didn't bring the goods.

Mum will say that the infatuation was my "downfall" because it led to my relative "ignorance" of my studies.  I never stopped my love for learning but it just transferred to another path - J-Pop instead of my textbooks. I pored over magazines at bookstores because I didn't have money to buy them. I read anything I could. I was hungry. Love is a mystery and the transition to teenage-hood is all but an easy path for me, a misfit of sorts. It was the start of my rebellious years ...

I was a pudgy boy in the early years of my teens. When others sprouted, I waited for mine which never really came. It was all just a gradual process for me. I tried sports, but didn't like it. I did it so that the "cool ones" would not tease me too much about it. I tried hard to fit in, but always felt like a fake waiting for someone to expose me.

Akina was my security blanket. Someone whom I could hide behind and be who I truly wanted to be. She created fantasies and dreams and made me believe that I can be who I want to be. Her music brought solace to my uncomfortable teenage years and inability to fit in with the general crowd. If I was termed a nerd, I might actually find another group, but I wasn't really one, so I was relatively alone. Except when I was with Leslie and Terence, who shared my passion for J-Pop.

It was also around this time when I wanted to know more about J-Pop that I finally discovered Familiar Music Library - my home and a home for many people like me. It was there that I met Zing, an influential person in my life. He opened my eyes to the world of music and taught me all I could never learn from books and magazines. He was my mentor of sorts. He was so cool to me, and he was my friend. When others in school would never cast a second eye, he lent out his hand. I don't know know what I would have done if I had not found Familiar Music Library and friends like Zing at that time. He made me believe that it was alright to have an infatuation.

This sparked the beginning of my rebellious years. I became the villain at home. Poor at studies and constantly having arguments with my Mum. I was no happy because I felt that all Mum cared about at that time was my studies, and not me. If she had shown some acceptance of my love, I wonder if my life would have turned out differently.

In hindsight, it was not really a rebellion because I didn't do too many hurtful things (at least not outside home), but myself finding my own voice within, and believing that I can love and be loved. I know I may have hurt my parents and my siblings, but I was trying to find myself, and not drown.

If I had the chance to rewrite this part of history and do it all over again, the only thing I would do is to cause my parents less pain, and the knowledge that what they truly wanted for me was to have options in my life, but I guess that is what life is all about. Learning from experiences. Falling down and getting up again.

I have spent much on J-Pop and Akina and some may say it's a waste, but the expense is nothing compared to the solace she and they provided. Akina is like a closest dear friend, always listening, singing to me my deepest thoughts (even when I have no idea what she is saying), and she's telling me "Everything is going to be alright ...".

Thank you Akina for some of the most beautiful moments of my life ... the anticipation, the exhilaration ... if only once, I can say I have truly lived.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Final Chapter of a Decade

As I turn the pages and start the final chapter of a decade in my life, I look back at my life and am quietly thankful for all that I am blessed with.

I remember being rather annoyed when I started university at a mature age of 26, and a freshman in my class said "Wow! You're 26. Aren't you supposed to be a manager by now?". I was annoyed probably because he was correct, if measured via societal norms. Though I am still not a manager by position at work, I am confident of my level of competence and do not need titles like this and societal norms to define me.

I am the manager of my life, and I am proud of who I am and what I have achieved. What I may not have achieved in rank, status or fame, I believe I have achieved that in my relationships with people around me. I have a close network of true friends whom I know love me for who I am, because after all, what else can they stand to gain from me, except love and friendship.

This chapter is titled "Love and Relationships", because it is what dominated this decade of mine. After spending years dreaming of finding someone to share my life with, I have found the one, and am leading an honest and truthful relationship with a wonderful man. There have been times when the tidings have been tough, but these arguments helped me to open up, set new ways of communication, discard old superstitions and beliefs, and lay new foundations to build and design our relationship. Though I don't see myself still as an expert in relationships because life can always throw curl balls at you, I know what things are worth fighting for, and how I am not the only one that compromises. I get to stand in his shoes and experience what he is feeling, and that hopefully makes me a better person.

My relationship with my family has also deepened over the years. With my increased financial contribution to my family since my dad's retirement, the sense of guilt that I am not in Singapore living with them has lessened, and I feel less unfillial than I used to. My learnings from my own relationship with John has helped me to be more confident with myself and it has in turn helped me to be more vocal with my parents and my own family, which I hope has been appreciated in many ways more than one.

My only major regret is not having more time to spend with my nephew and niece who only get so little of me, and I can see them wanting more. I know that I may be a novelty because I only come back once a year and everytime they speak or see me, they get a present, but I sense that our relationship is deeper than that, and they truly love me.

As for friendships, I have been one that liked to hold onto as many friendships as possible, and trying to rekindle some older ones that have moved on, and may not care as much anymore. I know that our circle of friends get smaller as we grow older, and I am starting to realise that "Quantity is not equal to quality" and it takes effort to maintain a friendship. One person alone cannot make it happen. It may be difficult to let go, but sometimes, it may not be a bad thing. I guess this will be something that I will have to explore more of, in the future.

I have always had a desire to write but life and social media has gotten the better of me over the past year. I bought myself a notebook (non-electronic) recently, and hope that it may inspire me to start the writing juices started again. My dear friend Stephen, whom I met last year, gave me encouragement to keep writing and his words ring as inspiration every day.

So, as I start writing my life for this final chapter, I want to thank my loving family, partner John, relatives and friends, for loving me, tolerating me, and giving me the inspiration to love. Thank you.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Time goes by

People ask me why I go back to Singapore every year? Is that a real holiday?

No, not really, but these are some of the "sacrifices" I have to make for living my life in a land away from my loved ones. I cherish all the time I get to spend with my family, relatives and friends, and I think this sense of urgency allows us not to waste precious time with just "living with each other under the same roof", but actually being together because we want to.

I know there are many other countries that I would like to visit, but I also know that time with my family is precious, especially with my parents and my not so little niece and nephew. Every time I see them again, it's another year gone. I am not there to watch them grow, but I am going to make sure that they know that I will always be there for them whenever they need me, and I love them, more than they may ever know.

There will come a time when they will reach teenage-hood, and may choose not to associate with this uncle that only comes back once a year. So, I am taking my chances and strengthening the building blocks that I continue to pile on each year. This year, as my nephew turns 6 and my niece 8, I am increasingly having "adult-like conversations" that surprise me, and it only helps highlights my "agony" of not being with them more often.

I can take photos and record moments, but some of these special times are not always able to be captured at the right time, so here are some pearls that I would like to share and etch in memory. For my eternal loves, Joy and Joshua ...

Joy: Uncle James, can you please stay with us tonight?
Joshua: Yes, stay with us tonight. Sleep here.
Me: Sorry I can't because there is no room for me.
Joshua: I know. You can sleep on my bed and I can sleep on the sofa.

Me: Joshua. It's your holiday this week. Isn't that wonderful?
Joshua: Where got holiday? (Singlish - which means "What do you mean by 'holiday'?" There is still homework from Mummy everyday.

Joshua: When are you coming to Singapore again? Or are we going to visit you in Australia?
Me: Well, I believe I will visit you next year. Who knows, you may come to Sydney earlier. Do you want to come to Sydney?
Joshua: Okay. I will ask Mummy. It can be my birthday present, or I know. I can come and visit you when I earn money when I grow up.
Me: What do you want to be when you grow up, Joshua?
Joshua: I want to be a policeman. No, I want to be a car driver.
Me: A car driver?
Joshua: Yes, a racing car driver. F1 racing car driver.
Me: I see. Well, that's nice to know.
Joshua: Yes. I want to win and then I can drive to Australia and see you.
Me: That's so sweet. Well, if you believe in yourself, then you will win!
Joshua: Yes, I hope so. That is why I need to practise.
Me: Practise?
Joshua: Yes, I have to practise on my remote control racing car driving. So, I will ask Mummy to buy me another remote control racing car for me this Christmas so that I can practise.

Joshua: What did you do today?
Me: I just finished work.
Joshua: How many pages did you do? (My sister gives him a number of pages of homework to complete)
Me: Uhmmmm ... 20 pages.
Joshua: Wow! (He usually gets 3 - 5 pages)
Me: Can you do 20 pages too?
Joshua: Yes, sure. But not all will be correct.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Slice of My History

History. I discovered my love for history during my last HK trip, and though I have yet to pick up history books, I have gone off on another tangent with a desire to learn about my own history. My ancestors and who they were as individuals, rather than just a namesake.

I have listened to my mother’s stories about her childhood, stories that I see depicted in many Chinese dramas as I grew up, and I never tired of listening to them, even though they were variations of the same theme. Something new always occurred in those stories that I didn’t capture the first time round. The other times when I would hear these stories as I grew older was during my grandparent’s funerals when my uncles and aunts would openly share their own experiences, or when I visit my Aunt Constance in Tokyo, and we would lie on our beds, sharing our stories about everyone.

As the memories of our grandparents fade with every year, I am more eager to capture this, not only for my sake, but for the younger generation who never knew them. Our loving grandparents, especially my maternal grandma, whom I call the “wind beneath my wings”, whom I still miss so much every day, whom I hope I made her proud and happy. Our younger generation will never know who these people are, if we don’t share our stories.

We all hold a piece of the jigsaw puzzle and it takes all of us to present a glimmer of who they are. Circumstances can shape who we are, and these are timeless lessons of gold that we can learn from. Stories of strong, loving people who worked hard to keep the family together, building bonds of kinship which still bind us today.

Though I have always been nourished by my mother’s stories, my father’s family always remained a bit of an enigma. I had a grandmother who was a true matriarch, and I think in some ways, resembled the towering figure of an Empress Dowager. She was a modern independent woman who donned a bikini in the 40s, a photograph framed under the glass of her table next to her bed. She was definitely authoritative and for that, she could be misunderstood as being tough and not kind and understanding, like my maternal grandmother was. I believed her upbringing shaped her into who she was, like we all do, and I had so many misunderstandings of her, that it finally took my Aunt Vera (who lives in Sydney) to correct some of them.

I am only starting to learn more about her as a person and though the stories span only small significant sections of her life, they offered me a glimpse of who she is. My aunt shared her childhood and many stories about our ancestors, starting from Dad’s grandma, Tai Po, who adored Dad. We knew so little about Dad’s family history and it is such a shame. Now, with my revived relationship with my aunt, I get a chance to listen to the stories, and know who our relatives were. My history is so colourful that they seem to read like “Joy Luck Club” or even “Wild Swans”, even though I have never read the books before.

Tai Po was the second child in a family of seven children, the first six being girls and finally a son being born into the family. Her sister and her eventually married two brothers, who during the Gold rush, sailed to Chicago to seek better fortunes. In order to capitalise on the fortunes, they had to marry new wives in Chicago. During this time, Tai Po stayed back in China and worked in the fields everyday. She had a very strict mother in law, and her life is probably like those that we see in the serials, where she is forced to go back to plough the fields, not long after child-birth. She bore two children – a son whose altar we have next to hers, and Grandma.

After 16 years of living in Chicago, the two brothers decide to come back to China and fetch their wives to Chicago. I could have been US citizen. Unfortunately, Tai Po’s husband died on the boat during his trip, so Tai Po decided to leave China with her two teenage children and boarded a junk as a “slave” (working on the boat for their boat fares). Grandma was about 12 years old then. They arrived in Singapore and lived in a place like a gambling den (or those premises which lent money to people). Tai Po took on a job outside while her children worked in the den, serving food and pouring tea etc.

This is where it gets really exciting. Until then, I always thought that Dad’s uncle (Grandma’s brother) died at child-birth. How wrong was I. He was a fisherman/sailor and one fateful day, he dropped his oar in the rivers, and he dived into the waters to rescue it. Unfortunately, he was killed by a sea snake, and by the time, they fished him out, it was too late. Grandma was very attractive when she was young and she had many suitors. She was also deeply superstitious and loved to seek the advice of boh-mohs, who could revive spirits from the underworld. Perplexed by the number of suitors and who to marry, she decided to go to one, and they summoned her brother’s spirit. His advice was “Marry the man who offers something to me on a date, your dead brother”.

Well, needless to say, our grandfather was the only one that did it. I always thought Grandma was a bit weird to marry a man with two wives already and after realising the truth, I am more than a little ashamed. Our grandfather grew up in a middle class family. His mother organised a child bride, so that when they grew up, they would get married and have children. Our grandfather was a philanderer but he also had a kind heart. He never married the child bride. He married another woman and had a child during the Second World War. During an air-raid, they hid in a bomb shelter, but the baby boy couldn’t stop crying. In order not to implicate the others and alert the Japanese, his wife stepped out with her newborn baby, and unfortunately a bomb hit, and she was killed instantly by the shrapnel. The baby survived and was brought back to the child bride who opened her heart and took it in her care.

Grandma was grandfather legally binding wife and she had no idea that her husband had a child bride till she entered the house on her marriage day.

Our philandering grandfather decided to consummate his relationship with the child bride as well, which is why she bore children around the same time as Grandma. When Dad was conceived, Tai Po decided that if it was a boy, it would be offered to her dead son as his own child. Grandma agreed. When Dad was born, Tai Po doted on him immediately, and wanted him to bear the surname Chung, which is Grandma maiden name. True to her strong character, Grandma disagreed vehemently, which is why we are still named Lew.

Grandpa struck good fortune when Aunt Vera was born and apparently Grandma was tired of his philandering ways, and was more afraid to catch venereal disease. Aunt Vera said that she had many sores on her head when she was growing up, and Grandma thinks it is a sign of venereal disease. Which was why she decided to divorce grandpa a few years after third uncle was born. I think she really signified a modern woman because of her determination and her love for her children. She didn’t want any future children of hers to suffer the same fate. I think Uncle’s under-developed chest on one side could be a result of that.

Grandma led a new life then, and that is when she started wearing the bikini on the beach, to assert her new freedom. I remember looking at those photos of her, and marvelling at her courage to do so. A modern woman indeed. I didn’t learn much about her decision to marry Grandpa Soh, but I guess that could be a story for later.

Just so that you don’t think badly of my Grandpa, he was actually a good father. He doted on Aunt Vera more than Dad and she says that Dad was always a little envious/jealous of that. She always retorted that their grandma loved him more too than any one of them, so it was fair. Dad didn’t have a close relationship with his father, which is why we rarely hear about him. His father always met them at school or at the bus stop to give them pocket money, and Dad was a little jealous that Aunt Vera got more than him.

Grandpa’s good fortunes ended with his philandering ways and after Grandma left him. He worked as a bus conductor and eventually settled at the bus depot as his home in the final years of his life. Aunt Vera always tears when she recalls how he used to wait for them, and walk them to school and stories like that. You can tell that she really love and miss him. He suffered a heart attack at the bus depot and was brought to the hospital. Aunt Vera and the family visited him at the hospital, before his bus colleagues came and they left. An hour later, he suffered a massive second heart attack and died.

I pushed Dad the other day to tell me more about his history but he is reluctant, and he laughed it off, in an attempt to circumvent the topic. I tried harder but he wasn’t in the mood, so I think this will take some time but I know I will keep at it. I want his perspective of his childhood and what he thought of his parents. I want to know my Dad as a person too.

I believe it is so important to know our history, because we tend to see grandparents, parents and kids as relatives and children, but not as real people. Like us, they have an identity and I am keen to know who they are as real people. So, my task this year is to create a web platform for all of us to share our stories about our grandparents, ancestors and children, so that our younger generation will know that we went through the same human emotions and conditions as they did, and hopefully, they will cultivate some new respect for the older generation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


It had been a long time since I last went to a movie with Mum. It could be the first time with just the two of us because my siblings would always be around too. We watched Mandarin movies mostly when we went out with Mum because she was educated in Chinese and didn't understand English unless there were available subtitles. Movies were an escapade for her from having to mind what the three of us were up to, so I don't think she wanted the extra task of reading.

After an invigorating and inspiring trip from HK, I prompted a movie outing to the film "City of Life and Death" (南京!南京!) which if translated directly from its Chinese name, means "Nanking! Nanking!). With a desire to have special time with me, she came along though I understand that she would probably have preferred a lighter hearted movie.

Filmed entirely in black and white, it is a reminder of the great movie "Schindler's List" with similarities running throughout both films. Like the latter film with a generous German character, this film looks through the eyes of a conflicted but
sympathetic Japanese soldier.

The "rape" of Nanking or the Nanking Massacre, as this event is more commonly known, takes place during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937, where a massive number of Chinese prisoners and civilians were killed. This film attracted plenty of controversy because some critics felt that the film was sympathetic towards the Japanese (as portrayed in the central Japanese human figure as opposed to his ruthless counterparts), but I believe it was the most objective a war film could get.

The film did not shy with any of the atrocities that the Japanese committed - the mass firing, house burning (with thousands of prisoners of war), raping of the women, and the most disturbing to me, the throwing of a helpless child out of the window, but it also offered a human side to war that is not often portrayed. The irony.

People like to think of war in terms of winners and victims and films portray and glorify the fomer, but I think this is where most fails. When will a time come when we realise that there are only victims, no winners. The power hungry people who proclaim themselves winners, those who manipulate and move troops like pawns on a chess game, are the worst losers because they failed to understand the meaning of life.

I do not understand how we can still not learn from these past mistakes and all that suffering, and still engage in power struggles. I guess it is because these power hungry people at the top do not have to make the moves and feel the suffering themselves. They let others do the work and they reap all the benefits. In an ironical sense, it is also a reflection of the world, even in peace times, and we all have to play the game, like the soldiers during the war, for survival.

Most of the criticisms surround how the film does not encourage hatred and was too sympathetic towards the Japanese. This is dangerous ignorance.
Life is not about the power over people to destroy. It is easier to hate than to love. Where this power could be used to better the lives of humankind, this is often misused to satisfy one's ego and ultimate self-unworthiness. It is their need to feel better about themselves, and in their efforts to appear omnipotent, they are ostracised and feared, rather than loved and revered.

This is definitely one of the better Chinese movies that I had watched for a long time, and though it is no means of an escapade, it helps reaffirm my priorities in life ... love and relationships, not power. I do not need to overpower someone to feel good about myself. I prefer to give and share, and though I may never be rich in money or status stakes, I am rich emotionally because I know that I have my family and good friends that I can reach out to, when I need them.

We have to play the game of life and survive, but we can choose to play fair. Not everything about life is about choice, but this is one. I am not interested in power. I believe in love instead. The love and respect for my fellow human-kind and a belief that ultimately we will reach a point in life where we will finally realise what life is all about. I just hope it is not too late for some.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

My HK Discovery

Sometimes, I feel that the best way to travel is not to plan too much and just let nature takes it course. That seems to be how I travel these days. I may do a little research for some ideas of what the places of interests are, but not plan a timetable to be at a certain place at a certain time, because then it defeats the purpose of having a holiday as well. Though I may not get to every place of interest, I can take my time to enjoy the place instead of having to rush from point A to B. It allows me to experience the sense of "being" and "in that moment".

Being the "jet-setter" that I am, a nickname that I procured during the past two months because of my closely scheduled holidays, I had no expectations of what I was going to experience in HK. I had a few friends that I wanted to meet and spend time with, and there were a few places of interest to visit, but nothing inked. All I had booked was the hotel and brought was what I printed out of the interactive itinerary from the official HK website, and an instruction sheet on how to get to the hotel from the airport.

I had been told of the wonders of the city but work had been so busy and I had projects and a function to plan right before, so there was no preparation I could do. I was planning to just wander around the streets and do nothing too much. I ever contemplated shortening the trip, but I was aware on my first day that I had too much to visit ... very quickly.

The hotel was much lovelier than I expected, and the first breakfast of fish porridge was a real welcome to this busy city. I stayed on Nathan Road, and it is considered old and dirty looking, but it was love at the first sight for me. After my trip in Europe, I had learned to appreciate history and I enjoyed wandering the streets of old HK. I wanted to eat at all the "dirty" places instead of the glitzy restaurants because they offered so much more local flavour, which was quickly diminishing in many parts of the civilised world.

I enjoyed looking at the old trade and the way that the HK people went about in their lives, especially the older people. HK is possibly one of those places where I see more shirtless men working in hard labour than any other places I had visited. It was probably due to the humidity which was rather high during my visit there. I also experienced the rainy days which I did not enjoy because I ended up walking in wet socks and shoes as a result.

One of the best decisions I made on my second day was to visit the HK Museum of History. There was a special exhibition celebrating 60 years of liberation in Chinese history which I particularly enjoyed. I remember now I was rather interested in history when I was in secondary school but when I moved onto the final two years of my secondary school education, we were forced to take Geography and Literature in my class, instead of History and Literature, which I would have much preferred.

This trip invigorated my interest in Chinese history and I spent about two hours reading through the revolutions, atrocities, tragedies, mistakes, and all the happenings in its rich history. Incidentally, I also decided to go against my previous beliefs that it is better to travel myself than go on a guided tour, and that day marked a new turning point in my trip.

The tour was extremely informative and the tour guide, being very charming and jovial, injected humour within many historical facts to keep us all interested. There was so much to learn and it was great that she was able to laugh at herself and applauded us at the end for being the first group that she took that did not fall asleep when she started talking history.

I shared many of these stories with my three HK friends, Anthony, Jerry and Tina, who remarked that I probably visited more places of interest in HK than they did. For starters, they were not even aware of the HK Museum of History, but it is not uncommon at all for the residents of a city to not patronise these places of interest because it is considered too touristy. I just hope that they will consider visiting it after my recommendation.

I visited many other places of interest like the HK Art Museum (which was interesting but not as good as the History Museum), the Kam Tin Walled Village (where male chauvinism still rules!?!), and the Lok Ma Chau Lookout (where one can see Shenzhen on a clear day, but not on ours). Others included a cable car trip to the big Buddha statue and the nearby monastery for a deluxe vegetarian meal, Wong Tai Xin temple, Temple St (where the night markets are), Lan Kwai (FongHK Night Sight), and the Dr Sun Yat Sen Mausoleum. Many thanks to Anthony, I also visited the Peak (day and night), Repulse Bay. The other place that left a deep impression on me was Mongkok where I found HK's love for Jpop is still alive and vibrant and it is such a joy immersing myself in Jpop heaven. I also watched the glorious display of fireworks on China's 60th celebration through Anthony's colleague's office window, a special private view from the 30 something storey, all by myself.

Much of the credit of this joyful trip has to go to my dearest friends Anthony and Jerry who were so generous in spending so much time with me. Without them meeting me almost every day (Anthony met me very day), this trip wouldn't have been half as enjoyable or as fruitful. It was so nice knowing the two of you and I certainly hope that I will be able to return both your kindness some day. Thank you so much.

There were other friends that I would have liked to meet, but I guess it was not meant to be. I never regretted a moment or felt any loss because it was just so nice getting to really know the two of you better. It's ironical that our obsession for Akina would reap such fruits of labour in our older years. I strongly believe that our friendship will last the test of distance and time. As Danny says, Akina may not always be a nice person, but her fans are. I can't agree more. Akina had brought so many of us from all around the world, and mostly everyone is such a joy to know.

The biggest discovery of this trip, besides getting to know my dearest friends so much better, is my rekindled interest in history. I was in the first batch of Singaporeans to learn Singaporean history instead of Chinese history in school, as part of the Education Revolution in the late 70s, to cultivate nationalism, and a Singaporean identity. I do not regret it because I think it is important to feel proud of one's national identity, but Singapore's history is young and less colourful than China and its counterparts. There is still time to learn and one is never too young to learn.

Ironically, during my last evening as I was packing my luggage to depart the next day, I ended up watching an Australian current affairs program about the "caged people" in HK. It portrayed how the economic crisis had affected the HK population and the widening of the income parity, resulting in many impoverished people living in cages in HK. The unsanitary and inhumane living conditions saddened me dearly and made me feel extremely lucky that I am living in such comfortable conditions. It made me realise that I need to practise more kindness and generosity towards people in more need than I, and to focus less on myself.

The program also featured a mother and daughter though not living in a cage, is in a room that is almost as big as most people's toilets or kitchen. They have a double deck bed, TV, small table and stool all in one room, and the mother is weeping while being interviewed about how frustrated she is every day when she returns home from the two jobs that she has to work, to be able to keep this barely humane lifestyle going. She and her 8 year old daughter had moved from China, so that her daughter would be able to get a better education in HK. She says that her toilet back in China is bigger than the room that they now reside in, and she hopes that she will be allocated a public housing unit soon.

The social workers group have highlighted their case in the program because they are concerned for the little girl's mental well being, but they did say that there are about 100,000 cases (caged people) waiting for the allocation of public housing as well. The little girl has a few digestive biscuits for breakfast, goes to school and then comes home to watch TV while waiting for her Mum to come back from her second job, where she earns A$4 an hour at a local 7-Eleven store. Their room is next to the toilet and bathroom which is used by over 20 people who live on the same floor as they do. Her husband and son are back in China, and it is only her love for her daughter and her desire for her to have a better education and life that she is putting up with this lifestyle. It is truly heart-breaking, especially to know that there is such poverty in a developed and prosperous city like HK. It is not difficult to feel vulnerable and weep for such people. We do not need tragedies like natural disasters to remind us that life is fragile and there are always people in greater need than us.

The true definition of masculinity lies not in invincibility and power. It lies in human kindness, mutual respect and love above all. It is not an exercise of emasculation to cry or feel vulnerable. It helps make us feel love for others and empathise. All great human behavioural characteristics.

All in all, it has been such an enriching experience and I am thankful for everything. Such deep awakenings and discoveries that has left me hungry. I am sharing this so that we can all be a lot more aware of the happenings around us, and not to take our lives for granted. If we can practise a little more, donate a little more, give a little more, love a little more, then we can possibly make this world a better place for all.