To Quiver Or To Embrace?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Last weekend while turning the pages of The Sunday Times Singapore, my fleeting attention was brought to the headline of a short article: 'Jackson didn't want to grow old: Rabbi'.

More than 3 months after his death, stories and new claims about what Michael Jackson had said (or not!) when he was alive never seem to cease from surfacing in the media. This is to be expected given his 'super mega colossal' of a standing as an incredibly talented music icon of the universe. I reckon that if there are humans on Planet Mars, even they would know who Michael Jackson was. I love Michael Jackson! Always have been, and always will be. Like millions of others, I was deeply saddened and teared by his passing. But, if it's of any consolation, I think he had a good death. A death so peaceful and unexpected. A death while sleeping. A death while he ruled the world as the most legendary King of Pop and King of Kings in the music world and more. I chose to love him for his greatness, his unpublished charitable and philantropic acts, and his compassion for humankind and nature. I was and am not swayed by the unproven accusations nor his chosen route of facial transformations nor any of his uncanny public displayed behaviors. Like any of us, he was an individual and his fears and concerns were valid.

The latest claim above from spiritual adviser Rabbi Shmuley Boteac in his newly released book - "The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation" about Michael Jackson being fearful of growing old was not new nor surprising. It was said that the gist of the book was based on a 30-hour of recorded conversations between the Rabbi and Michael Jackson sometime between August 2000 and April 2001 in which the late and reclusive pop star spilled his thoughts on life, love and the turmoil of his childhood.

Fearing the ravages of old age, the book recounted some comments Michael Jackson had said during the time of the interview:

"I would like some way to disappear where people don't see me anymore at some point.
I don't want to grow old. I never want to look in the mirror and see that."

Scarily enough, that was almost like a self-prophecy through a crystal ball on the fate of how his life would eventually turn out to be, as it had on June 25.

Recently, I received a circulated email from my sister about Julie Andrews' (of Sound of Music) lightheartedness and brilliant wit during the commemoration of her 69th birthday a few years ago. For the commemoration, she had made a special appearance at Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall where she belted out one of the musical numbers from the legendary movie, "My Favorite Things', with a humorous twist to the lyrics.

Here are the lyrics and if you do know the tunes, sing along (only if you're not at the work place while reading this!). Julie Andrews is 74 years old this year.

Botox and nose drops and needles for knitting, Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings, Bundles of magazines tied up in a string, These are a few of my favorite things.

Cadillacs and cataracts, Hearing aids and glasses, Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses, Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings, These are a few of my favorite things.

When the pipes leak, when the bone creaks, When the knees go bad, I simply remember my favorite things, And then I don't feel so bad.

Hot tea and crumpets and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy food or food cooked with onions, Bathrobe and heating pads and hot meals they bring, These are a few of my favorite things.

Back pain, confused brains and no need for sinnin',
Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin', And we won't mention our short shrunken frames, When we remember our favorite things.

When the joints ache, when the hips break, When the eyes grow dim, Then I remember the great life I've had, And then I don't feel so bad.

The point is, all living things are subject to the law of nature and aging. There is no magic spell that can defy this law, and certainly there is no magic potion which can completely retain our youth, regardless what all those award winning ads say!

Whether we have admitted it or not, have thought about it or not, all of us are either afraid, concerned or do not look forward to aging. But that does not mean we want to leave this world a young person either. Our fears and concerns are simply a part of human nature. No one looks forward to the potentials of rheumatism, joint pains, grey hair, baldness, wrinkles, narrowing arteries, sickness, Alzheimer's disease, foggy thoughts, bare gums and worries of abandonment which may be looming in the horizons. Facing aging has never been more challenging than the world we live in now. The world we live in now conditions us to the material world and our ever deepening attachments to youth, love, beauty, fun and all things related to it. There is no escaping from this fear. But perhaps, there is a way to managing it.

Although we may share part of Mr Jackson's fears, may we always remind ourselves that while we age alone, we are not alone in facing the challenges of this natural life process. And because of the fact that death and old age are unavoidable, we should start making the best of our lives now by adding positive values to ourselves and people around us, if we haven't already.

And maybe to also start on reinforcing our mental fortress to guard against the fears of what lies ahead should we all be ever so lucky to reach old age in the first place. And if we do, may we embrace Ms Andrews' wit and humor. And if we get luckier, we'll be able to age gracefully, healthily and where we can joyfully sing along to the above lyrics...

...and lucidly remember the great life we had!!

Bustling And Serene Hong Kong!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hong Kong needs no introduction at all. As one of the most burgeoning and exciting cities in Asia, it is abuzz with people, vehicles and activities at every corner of its occupied land area and at every second of the day. It is a city with one of the highest cost of living in the whole of Asia, probably coming in 2nd only after Tokyo. Life there is perpetually on the fast lane.

One hasn't really been to Hong Kong until a visit to Mongkok has been ticked on your itinerary list. Lies in the heart of Kowloon, once you're in Mongkok you will not be surprised at all to learn that it is among the most densely populated area on earth! Mongkok is also notoriously known as the heartland of local gang triads. Nevertheless, it is very safe to visit and there is absolutely nothing to be worried about even if you are traveling alone. Whether day or night, the place comes to vibrant life! The whole stretch of the MTR (local subway train) points in Kowloon from Tsim Tsa Tsui - Jordan - Yau Ma Tei - Mongkok are vibrant and crowded. There isn't a sleepy moment here and at night, bright white and colorful neon lights from thousands of signages and billboards 'decorate' the streets.


To get around in Hong Kong, purchase the Octopus MTR card for HK$150 ($43 is refundable upon redeeming the card after a $7 handling fee is deducted) at any MTR station. To get to Mongkok, go to Central or Admiralty MTR station and hop on the red line to Tsuen Wan. Mongkok is the 5th stop from Central station.

Ladies' Market on Tung Choi Street.

Tourists can find items like clothes, accessories, fake branded handbags & watches and souvenirs here. Always assume that the prices of items are 10-20% more than what they should be so practice your bargaining skills here.

Market on Fa Yuen Street (next to Ladies' Market)

Residential skyscrapers in Mongkok

A crowded street in Mongkok 'adorned' with thousands of signages/billboards

Of a lesser known fact, Hong Kong offers so much more than what one who only visits the city area would know. Apart from the bustling & crowded city areas with an almost 360 view of concrete skyscrapers, there are indeed lovely places that provide the much needed respite from the city madness and which brings one into a world of still calmness, serenity and gorgeous open views.

Although I've been to Hong Kong a few times before, my recent trip there last week was my first during summer. The weather was sweltering hot - no different from Singapore - but nevertheless it was a wonderful trip as I discovered the serene side of Hong Kong which I never knew before - and all on a budget trip as I hopped from one MTR subway station, ferry pier and bus stop to another.

So, let's start with the lovely Lantau Island. I visited the largest sitting bronze Tian Tan Buddha statue, Po Lin Monastery and the charming fishing village of Tai O all in a day.


To get to Lantau Island, there are 2 ways:
1. Take the MTR to Tung Chung, and from there, take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ride or bus no. 23. Cable car ride takes about 20 mins while the bus ride about 50 mins along truly scenic & mountainous shoreline of Lantau. I opted for a bus ride from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping village (where the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery are) to Tai-O to Mui Wo ferry pier and it cost only HK$37 for the trips from point to point. The bus ride was a great option as I got to enjoy the magnificent views of the numerous bays around the island.
2. From Central Pier No. 6 in Hong Kong main island (near Central's Star Ferry Pier the MTR Hong Kong station) , catch a ferry to Mui Wo on Lantau. The fast ferry takes 40 mins and the normal ferry takes 1 hr. Upon reaching Mui Wo, take New Lantau Bus No. 2 to Ngong Ping to get to Tian Tan Buddha Statue and Po Lin Monastery.

The Tian Tan Buddha Statue sits atop 482m on Muk Yue Hill - a total of 268 steps up.
The Tian Tan Buddha Statue is a construction of great event in the history of Buddhism. 1st-ly, it symbolizes the greatness of the heart as it perpetuates the Buddha light, the ever turning wheel of the Dharma and world peace. 2nd-ly, the greatness of art - the statue is solemn and serene, and manifest great mercy and compassion. 3rd-ly, greatness of technology as it sits majestically on top of Muk Yue Hill and is the largest outdoor bronze seated Buddha statue in the world.

View of Ngong Ping and the bay from where the Tian Tan Buddha Statue is.

The Buddha faces North, towards the capital of China and is seated on a lotus throne, symbolizes purity untainted by the material world. It is the fruit of cooperation between mainland China and Hong Kong and it represents the unity of its people.


On the foot of Muk Yue Hill just opposite the Buddha statue is the Po Lin Monastery. Established in 1906, it is known as "The Sacred Place of the Buddha in the South". It is a lovely monastery with beautiful interior and one can feel the immediate peace within when being inside or just sitting out at the garden.


Paintings of dragons on the monastery ceiling.

Stone carving of dragons on the pillars.

View of Tian Tan Buddha Statue from Po Lin Monastery.

Next on the itinerary - from Ngong Ping, take bus no. 21 to the very charming fishing village of Tai-O. Spend a few hours here drinking in the beauty of the village and admiring the houses on wooden stilts that still exist today.

One should also squeeze in 30 mins to catch the "pink dolphin watch" boat ride for just HK$20. The dolphins are so lovable as they frolic joyfully on the ocean's surface. Don't bother trying to snap pictures as the dolphins are fast when they leap out of the ocean. Try not to miss this dolphin watch ride!

Let us now enter Tai-O...


Houses on wooden stilts on Tai O Creek. These houses are the most distinctive characteristic of Tai O. They are inhabited mostly by the Tanka people, descendents of the ancient Yueh tribe who were Hong Kong's first major settlers. I cannot imagine how these houses could withstand the typhoons in Hong Kong, but they do!

Dried hide of what I suspect a nurse shark & a real 'puffered & dried up' puffer fish with fake stick-on eyes.

Tiny houses & narrow lanes of Tai O...

Salted fish, dried mussels and fresh cockles at Tai O market


Stanley, named after Lord Stanley, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies at the time of Hong Kong's concession to Britain in 1841, is one of the oldest villages on Hong Kong Island. Since the early 1970s, Stanley gradually developed as one of the more popular tourist destinations in Hong Kong. Shops sprung up in Stanley Market and Western pubs and restaurants clustered along the waterfront. Despite its popularity as a tourist area with many expats living here, the shops at Stanley Market actually offer quite affordable prices. Clothes, souvenirs, bags and linens are among the many items one can buy here. Stanley is serene, uncrowded and offers a pleasant time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. To get to Stanley, take the MTR Island line to Chai Wan, take the C exit and hop on a green-roofed minibus no. 16M or 6X to Stanley bus station.

Stanley Market

Along the waterfront

Murray House and the public pier


Hope you now have a glimpse of the other sides of Hong Kong. Thank you for 'touring' with me!