Looking Back In Wonder

I can’t help feeling sentimental this time of the year. We’re now in the last days of 2013 and as usual, it’s time for me to take stock, look back and wonder what went on, what went wrong and what I had accomplished in 2013. I remember that at about this time one year ago, I was busy packing up and ready to move out of Lucky Plaza. I proudly built the place up in 2005. I gave talks and inspired some young practitioners. It was the symbol of my accomplishment in the profession, but alas, it’s an ugly business … (you may read about the sensitive details in a Kindle book not available in Singapore)

7 years in Orchard Road is like 70 years in Tibet. Things which we may regard as permanent fixtures sometimes don’t even last for more than a few months. One moment you see a “wet paint” sign on a structure. The next time you see it, it’s already marked for demolition to be replaced by yet another temporary structure whose sole purpose for existing is to boost sales and traffic – until people have become familiar with it. Even those who work or reside in this dynamic landscape can’t keep up with the wanton, wasteful construction, demolition and reconstruction; let alone those who don’t. Ironically, we don’t have a better grasp of impermanence than the Tibetans.

I’m actually not very comfortable with all this rapid construction, destruction an reconstruction. I expect anything called “fixtures” to last at least 10 years. But this is the game at Orchard Road. I guess that’s what makes this place so happening, always “fresh”, new and exciting. We preach and often practice thrift, yet ironically, it is wastefulness that drives the economy while the rules of the game still hold. And even though I had been complaining about the crowds, the traffic, the floods and the travelling time from Punggol to Orchard, I do look back at the festive mood at Orchard Road with some measure of fondness. By the way, I soon learned that changing buses from Punggol to nearby Hougang may take as long as taking the MRT from Punggol to Orchard.

As some of you may already know, my life was totally changed after I stopped practicing full-time. I tell people that I’m semi-retired and when Alamak people at Hougang ask me where I’m practicing now, I tell them that I’m fully retired. Some folks assume that I’ve been very free, but as you may have read, I’m actually quite busy.

The publishing business turns out to be a lot tougher than it was 20 years ago. I’m not surprised, but still a bit disappointed, not just by the dying reading habit but the cheapskate attitude of so many readers who expect me to give them free copies. Interestingly, at the moment, my books are selling better in the US than in Singapore. Surprisingly, Kindle sales are picking up and that will be the direction I’ll take in 2014. Looking forward, I have a couple of interesting projects in the pipeline. I’ll be tidying up a long overdue travel book and hopefully, I can get to edit a groundbreaking book on the philosophy of death by a local author.

Looking back, the most shocking event in 2013 must be the Little India riots. Since the ink on the pages have barely dried, I’m not going to touch on that. Nevertheless, I’ve already written about the real test of battle-fitness in a much earlier post. Earlier on, Nelson Mandela passed away and riots rocked Bangkok over an Amnesty Bill. We can’t have perfect leaders or even idols. Let’s settle for the least repressive or destructive. Earlier in June, I composed a song:

Rasa sayang haze
Rasa sayang sayang haze
Hey mana nyonya jaul rasa sayang sayang haze.

In our courts, 3 cases of forbidden love came under judgement. One was recognised, the other two weren’t. Outside the secular world, Pastor Kong Hee also found himself in hot water, having to answer charges of misusing church funds, but somehow, it was Serina Wee who stole the show, making Sun Ho look even worse than she did originally.

In April, a couple of terrorists planted bombs at the Boston Marathon. It was a tragic incident and say what you want about ugly Americans, the tragedy also revealed some altruism in the country as participants ran off to the hospital to donate blood after the grueling race. Looking further back, Britain’s Iron Lady also passed away in April. Some people actually celebrated – which goes to show that regardless of your profession – even where popularity is crucial, you just can’t please everybody.

Going back to the month of March, 200 militants from the Philippines infiltrated the East Malaysian state of Sabah and tried to claim the state as theirs. My maid who is very well-informed with playground gossip seemed to support the militants’ view even though she is not Muslim and totally clueless about where Sabah is.

Looking back to February, Taiwanese folk song singer Pan An Bang passed away. I’m not a fan of his, but I can’t help feeling a sense of loss. And what loss will we suffer if our population gains rapidly and hits 6.9M? The population White Paper has been discussed, debated upon and condemned. Looking back, it does make you wonder how the White Paper ever got passed in Parliament. I guess it must have something to do with some whip.


Let’s hope there won’t be so much “whipping” in 2014. So what do you see when you look back at 2013? Feel free to share with me either here or on my Facebook fan page. Have a happy, joyous new year. I’ll see you in 2014. I’ll write more about my plans and resolutions.

© Chan Joon Yee

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