The old man was heard earlier today belting out the tune of Antonin Dvorak’s ‘Song to the Moon’. The Czech opera tells of Rusalka, a nymph who desperately asks the moon to tell her where her Prince is and to tell him how deep her love is for him. She wants to embrace him, and for him to wrap himself all over her. Oh, silvery moon, tell him in dreams to think of her, even if it’s just briefly. The old man didn’t care if his neighbours heard him croak – he was blasting out at full volume. Working from home since the pandemic struck, he had maintained his professional discipline. He still got up early, usually by 7 a.m. and then downstairs to the kitchen for a warm cup of water as his first act of self-preservation. He was emboldened last week after his maiden public speech to say farewell to Mrs Yelland. A woman who was present told him he had a beautiful rich voice. Another told him he set the standard for the morning with his emotionally charged speech. Yet another told him he made a few of the women cry. “Ah, that is no surprise,” he replied. “I often make The Mrs cry, so that’s not unusual,” he explained. It was more a relief for him than a celebration, of course, that he didn’t make a fool of himself. For an old man, at an age when many of his peers had long retired, to finally stand in the front and address a packed room, should have been an embarrassment, certainly nothing to write home about. It could have easily been a disaster. Even the most polished speakers, the most powerful in the world, can stutter and fluff their lines or be caught lying through their teeth. The present POTUS and his predecessor come to mind. He should have believed his Mrs and saved himself a bout of unruly bowel movement. She told him not to worry. She had tried to assuage him his fears were unfounded; that it was a no-brainer. He could not fail. He had a good command of the language and although he looked foreign, his accent wasn’t too foreign to be rejected. And he had a beautiful voice, as early as when he was in Form Six. A girl with uneven teeth who hinted her likelihood of owning hoary hair well before middle age, had told him that. She had come to his defence following a verbal attack on him by a popular ginormous boy. Lim HS towered over most of the students in school, but he did not have a reputation of being a bully. But, the old man had never felt comfortable in school, the belief that he came from a poor family tarnished his sense of self-worth. A poor boy would always be an easy target for ridicule to entertain the bigger boys. So, The Poor Boy was sad that he had suddenly become the giant’s target of scorn during a three-day bungalow stay in Penang Hill. He was a loner, shy and quiet. A diffident boy. He didn’t belong to any close knit group, and was used to be alone in the school compound during recess time. He was mostly an observer of human activity – an infrequent participant. At the bungalow stay, there was a nightly session during which they were encouraged to speak up and share their views about the bungalow stay or about any matter at all. It was in 1976. There were more boys than girls in that school activity organised by a couple of young teachers who were Christian Brothers. The handsome teachers were only a few years older than the students, more respected (as teachers), had more money to spend and therefore were more confident and experienced. It was no wonder they were both rather popular with the girl students who assumed they, being Christian Brothers, were safer to be with despite being also virile young men influenced by heavy dollops of testosterone. The teachers were charmingly disarming and the girls did not imagine there could be any possibility of a romantic liaison with their teachers.
Lim HS was very possibly jealous that the handsome teachers were getting all the attention and so he took it out on The Poor Boy. At the pow-wow session, he accused The Poor Boy of faking his accent to attract the girls. As if the girls would be this superficial and fall for someone with a fake accent? “Why else would you put on this yucky fake Western accent?” Lim HS demanded to know from his asinine question. The Poor Boy was not even aware he sounded different from the others. “Maybe, it was from serving the customers since I was young at my parent’s shop – they were mostly Europeans,” The Poor Boy suggested. “Aw, c’mon! Surely, you can’t expect us to believe that!” the giant retorted with a smug look, without his usual gentleness. I’m coming to get you, boy! I’m gonna bring you down in public. The Poor Boy read from the giant’s cold eyes. But, suddenly those eyes showed doubt. A flicker of confusion. “I like his accent!” one girl said loudly. “Me too,” said another. “Me too,” said yet another. Lim HS was surprised at the support The Poor Boy got and decided his fight was over for the night. “You have a beautiful voice,” the first girl who defended The Poor Boy later said to him privately.
Another girl privately complained to him of leg cramps after the strenuous hike up the hill during the day. She asked the Poor Boy if he knew how to massage away the soreness. He said yes, even though he had never massaged anyone in his life. But, he convinced himself he was not lying, he had often chopped his father’s sore shoulders with his cupped hands. Like mincing meat with a cleaver, he once thought. So, she led him to a garden bench after dinner that night and asked him to soothe her aching thighs. The sun was fighting a losing battle against the moon, but it was a cloudless evening. Oh, moon! Why must you shine so brightly? Although he knew absolutely nothing about the art of massaging, the girl was very impressed with his strong fingers. “Higher, yes a little bit harder. Yes, there. There….” she said, guiding his hands with her voice box as the remote controller. It was a proper massage, without any sexual undertones. The girl enjoyed the massage. The boy enjoyed giving it. The teenagers were too young to be aroused sexually. “After all, that was my first physical experience with a girl,” the old man confided to me. Yes, it wasn’t a kiss! It was a leg massage! He told her he would be available the following night as he didn’t expect her cramps to go away so soon. The following morning, the two new friends somehow found each other strolling in the garden. The air was cool, certainly much cooler than in town. The humidity was a lot lower also. The relaxed and cool ambience made Penang Hill a popular holiday destination for the European expats. For many locals such as the two new friends, this was a new experience. The girl asked the Poor Boy what his plans were for the future as they stood side by side, admiring the beautiful scenery from the lookout. The Poor Boy’s eyes followed the grey sea in the far distant until it disappeared from the edge of the world. He wondered what was on the other side beyond the sea. Closer to the foothills were shimmering moving objects, moving like ants along serpentine tracks that must be the same roads they took on the bus to get to the funicular train station. Oblivious that they were standing too close together -their shoulders almost touching, drawing warmth from each other’s arms – their body language had caught the attention of two other friends, one of whom was a shutter bug with a new camera. “Come, come, let’s take a photo of us together,” the shutter bug said as he directed the four of them to sit on a stone bench and called for another friend to snap their photograph after pushing a flower into the lanky girl’s hand. After the photo was taken, the two new friends were left alone to continue their conversation. Unknowingly, the boy instantly killed off the girl’s interest in him when he blurted out that he had applied to study in Australia and would quite likely not attend Upper Form Six the next year. “So, what happened?” I asked the old man. His mood darkened, his smile vanished and turned into a scowl. His Adam’s apple moved abruptly along his neck, disturbing the sagging layers of wrinkled skin and he spluttered violently like old men do when their saliva slithered down the wrong pipe. “She called off the second night’s massage,” was all he said. It was like their special connection did not happen. It was like they never happened. Was it just a dream perhaps? “If the dream was real, then there should be a photo,” I suggested. The old man did not offer to reply. Could it be she was the Rusalka the old man was singing about that morning? Oh moon, please stay awhile longer.
So, the old man sang to his heart’s content. He was supposed to be working at his desk, but he thought of Rusalka and he pretended to be her Prince. He didn’t know the words, and thought he could make up for it by being louder. On his right was a bifold French door that opened out to a courtyard garden. The shimmering water of the pond caught his attention. There was a discernible loss of water again, so he went out to inspect where the leak was. The ground had turned desert dry quickly, it being officially only the third day of Summer. The benefit of that was apparent very quickly to the old man. During the wet season, the rain replenished the pond and the ground was always wet all over. But, now a dark thin line created by the dampness on the paved floor told him where the source of the leak was. The waterfall had splashed back from where it landed on a slab of stone to the side of the pond below the filter box. That was enough to cause the water loss. The old man adjusted the slab of stone slightly to divert all the water towards the pond instead. Problem fix. The old man was so happy with himself and he went back to his room and resumed singing about the moon again.
Dada dada dadada dah dah
Didi dada didi da da dadida dah
Oh moon, stay a while,
Tell me where is my love… where?
Tell him, oh, tell him, silver moon.Rusalka
The old man returned to his work desk but the mood to work had left him. The ergonomic stool was becoming uncomfortable. They were designed to be uncomfortable! The seat was hard and the lack of a back rest made sure he could not slouch during work. He cursed at it and decided to stand instead. The opportunity to raise his VariDesk and work standing up had become rare ever since his son’s puppy showed its obvious preference to sleep on his lap whilst he worked. The puppy wasn’t with him that day, so he had no reason to be sitting down. He missed the dog, his best friend. The faint smell of the dog was like an air freshener, its familiarity soothed the old man. They were inseparable during the day, the dog would be happy to laze on its cushion on the old man’s lap all day. The dog knew his routine, down pat to when he needs to visit the toilet. A lap dog, it knew the old man’s lap was reserved only for him. If the old man’s Mrs came too close, it would ward her off with a soft but threatening growl. Grrrrr. The dog knew this was its territory and within the realm of the four walls, it was the alpha. But, The Mrs won the battle of who’s the boss in the end. She insisted it also knew its paws had to be thoroughly washed in the laundry tub before it was allowed to walk in the house. The old man didn’t care who won, he was happy to sing to his moon.
Dada dada dadada dah dah
Didi dada didi da da dadida dah
Wondrous vision, immensely sweet,
Are you human or a fairy tale?
Are your lips sealed by a secret,
or has your tongue fallen forever silent?
If your lips are mute, God knows
I’ll kiss an answer from them!Rusalka’s Prince
“We are off to the moon!” a friend screamed. A few others joined in loudly like a choir, “To the moon! To the moon!” The old man was new to this crypto banter. His mates had all confided to one another that “I bought a little of this last week,” and “I bought a little bit of that this week.” After the Omicron crash. Small players, definitely not even a fish amongst them. A crypto fish is a minnow, one who owns very little crypto, perhaps a few Satoshis. A million Satoshis make up one Bitcoin (BTC). A Bitcoin whale is a big investor who owns at least 1,000 BTC. A shrimp owns less than 1 BTC, a crab on the other hand owns 1 to 10 BTC, whereas an octopus has its tentacles on 10 to 50 BTC. They were off to the moon, until Omicron hit. Omitaba, the old man said. The Dow reversed over 1,000 points that afternoon. BTC fared even worse. When will it become the true store of value? Digital gold, they promised. Michael Saylor, CEO of MicroStrategy had been convincing. His directors, his shareholders, his auditors. Us. He was the first in Corporate America to convince his board of directors to protect their treasury from the debasement of the US dollar. THE USD had devalued by 25% during the first year in the pandemic. The Fed had been “printing” money irresponsibly for the past two years, increasing the money supply by 7% to 24% last year, and a further 16% this year. The US balance sheet was just over $4 trillion in January 2020, but today it is already almost $9 trillion. The more than doubling of their balance sheet was of course not due to an increase in their GDP, it was purely due to creating money from nothing, no printing required even. If they expect the rest of the world will keep producing goods and services for them to enjoy when all they need do is to add a few zeros to their balance sheet, then they are grossly mistaken. It was easy for the old man to therefore understand that the cash he had kept in his bank account since the global financial crisis (GFC) wiped out his shares in the stockmarket had depreciated markedly. Staying on the sidelines, waiting for another crash in the longest bull run ever in history before he got back to investing in shares again meant he had sidelined himself from maintaining the value of his savings. The 1-5 % interest rates p.a. he earned during the past twelve years were not enough to keep up with inflation let alone contain the loss of buying power from the currency debasement. The Dow Jones after the GFC in 2009 was 8,885. Today, it sits at 34,639, almost a fourfold increase. GDP per capita in the same period had only gone up 34%. Every asset class had gone up – stocks, houses, gold and silver, commodities, etc. So, what it tells us is that it is costing us much much more to buy assets with our money. Asset prices have gone up because the value of the denominator has gone down. We do not feel richer. It was not so much inflation that caused it but rather, the USD, the world’s fiat currency had debased by almost 75% since 2009. The US inflation rate of 6.2% recently reported was a joke anyway. The US inflation measure does not include the cost of energy, food, housing and education in the cost of living calculations. If you believe their inflation figures, then you believe they do not need to eat, sleep, travel and educate themselves. Back in 2010, an iPhone 4 cost 2,487 BTC or USD199. Today, an iPhone 13 costs USD799 but a mere 0.014 BTC. This is why we see the ongoing migration to crypto. BTC offsets monetary debasement, due to its pristine properties of money. Its portability is unrivalled, funds can be transferred within mere seconds from one country to another at almost zero cost. Its scarcity is also unrivalled, a maximum limit of 21 million coins can be mined in the blockchain which is decentralised (no human intervention), verifiable, transparent and perhaps most importantly, immutable – it cannot be changed. The holdings is also guaranteed to reduce over time as careless people lose them. More demand, less supply equals more value. Gold was supposed to be scarce yet the miners can keep mining for gold and technology will make it cheaper to mine gold as they have done with oil fracking. So, it is no surprise that a wall of money will be poured into crypto very soon. Institutions, superannuation funds and even countries are beginning to invest in this space. Last week, over USD106 million of metaverse land was sold. Yes, virtual land. To the moon! To the moon! We are going to the moon!