The old man sat hunched in his office, suddenly all alone again. I have often reminded him about correcting his posture but my new year’s resolution will be steadfast this time. I shan’t bother offering my opinion about anything anymore to anyone. “It’s silly to,” I told myself. Besides, it’s sheer audacity to think I know better or think I am wiser to advise someone.
2023 arrived quickly and last night I had to scramble my thoughts wildly to come up with a new resolution for the new year. The old man agreed.
“We can’t go into a new year without a new deal with ourselves,” he said.
“No dill, no deal,” I replied, echoing the words I had heard over lunch on Christmas Day.
The old man’s youngest sister, Lil Sis, whilst serving a platter of Australian rock lobsters, said to him exactly those words after he told her he had forgotten to bring the promised dill from his garden to garnish her lobsters.
“No dill, no deal. You’re not getting any lobster today.”
She looked disapprovingly at her brother. Too often, he disappointed them with his forgetfulness. I can’t tell if it was his eagerness to please or if he thought his readiness to say yes to any request made him less annoying to people around him. Whatever it was, I had told him many times over the years to write things down, either mentally or in a little notebook.
“Youse don’t want to disappoint anybody, especially those who are important to youse,” I said.
“If youse say you’re gonna do somethin’, youse better make damn sure youse do, otherwise there will be hell to pay for!”
The futility of offering him advice or reminders had finally woken me. Hence, the new year’s resolution. Nobody appreciates free advice! Why did it not dawn on me sooner that he would have cringed every time I offered an unsolicited opinion? No wonder he is unpopular with his friends! He is exactly the same, opinionated and thinks he always has something useful to say about everything! I remember a friend told him recently to just go and play his violin somewhere else when he was noisily commenting about Malaysian politics of which he knows very little. To be fair, he was just asking about aspects of the Malaysian Constitution but when people are tensed about the political situation in their country, the last thing they want to have around is a noisy empty barrel that serves no useful purpose.
No dill, no deal.
These words have haunted me since Christmas. We have been making deals ever since we were kids. To let his kids earn the occasional pocket money, the old man used to give them easy chores like washing the car or helping out in his car accessory store if a staff member called in sick on a Saturday. Similarly, in his teens, he worked in his father’s dry-cleaning shop after school every afternoon. The deal? A Mamak kari, usually chicken curry or beef rendang but never kambing. He found the smell of goat revolting. He made deals with his next door neighbour too and kept the secret of how to acquire handpicked fish from Swatow Lane Aquarium shop without paying for them. The neighbour, Ah Teik, a boy the same age as the old man went to the same school but was never in the same class. Street smart, I think he was streets ahead of the old man and showed him the realities of life outside his house. Life on the outside was exciting and ‘full of possibilities’, unlike the stuffiness and absence of liberties at home. Ah Teik had googly eyes reminiscent of Bart Simpson, big, round and bulging. “No, it’s not stealing them,” Ah Teik reassured his neighbour. “We are just setting them free.” The two boys simply hung around the aquariums all afternoon, attracted to the fish like lollies would to most other kids, leaving their hand prints on the glass as they excitedly pointed to the various specimens they admired. The green nets hanging on the side of the racks were ready tools for their mission. Ah Teik scooped up the most beautiful and healthiest (most active) fish their eyes had zeroed in like radar detectors whilst his neighbour kept watch like a sniper for any staff or customer intruding into their territory. When it was safe to do so, he released the meticulously selected fish into the drains in the shop. All the drains lead to one destination – the main drain outside the shop. After that, it was simply a matter of patience as they waited by the drain a little short distance from the shop for the fish to make their way there. “Rescuing fish from drains isn’t stealing,” Ah Teik said convincingly. “It’s saving them from a certain death,” he added. Oh, they did steal one thing from the shop though – a plastic bag to carry the fish home, but plastic in those days was a fantastic invention, it won praise not condemnation.
No dill, no deal. In their case, it was no Molly, no deal. I vaguely remember it was a Black Molly that killed their friendship or maybe it was a gorgeous black goldfish. It was a long time ago – the old man seemed unsure of his facts these days. The two boys were nine years old. One day, Ah Teik climbed over his house to the neighbour’s back rooftop balcony and secretly swapped his lousy, ugly, skinny, deformed fish for the gorgeous one with long flowy fins as graceful and with as much poise as a Russian ballerina. He knew exactly where his friend kept his prized fish, in a big oriental earthenware vat on the balcony. Immediately above the vat was a window of a bedroom whose occupants’ privacy was protected by a pair of often-closed timber venetian slats with paint flaking and peeling off, its colour more grey than the original white due to mould that thrived in the tropical moisture. Glazed in a chocolate brown colour, the vat had crude phoenix and dragon motifs and was deep enough to drown a baby or a drunken man. His Mrs’ dad, Chia Hu Sien, in fact died in a pool of water much shallower than that when she was just three years old. Thirsty from imbibing far too much alcohol, he came home late one night and decided to teeter to the family’s earthenware vat where they stored their drinking water in the rear garden. He did not make it to the vat but collapsed in the dark and drowned in a puddle of his own vomit and water left by a recent storm.
We can’t argue with nature
If it wants you to die, you die.Wu Joonpin
Chia Hu Sien was a respected herbalist by day and a disgraced drunkard by night. The Chia family was Hakka from Taipu province in Guangdong, China. Only the learned were able to prescribe traditional herbal medicine in those days. I was told he could play the Er-hu, a Chinese two-stringed instrument. His calligraphy was good enough to be carved on shop signages in Miri town. Summing up quickly, he was an intellectual man. His elder brother was a stamp seal maker who carved names and characters from Jintian quartz. The youngest was a photographer. Think about that, intellectuals who were known for their art and photography back in the early twentieth century. They were not lowly ordinary folks. Fleeing the Japanese invasion of China in 1938, he settled in Sarawak but in under three years, he was to find himself under Japanese rule again. His drug store closed due to the war. Good excuse, but other drug stores somehow remained open. He worked for other herbalists but could not hold any job down. In a small town, everyone knew everyone and worse, they knew everyone’s farts and warts too. People would smell the stinky air and know who the culprit was. Chia was a drunkard and a bad husband. His warts and all were no secret. Often seen propelling his bicycle with alcohol flowing in his every vein in the wee hours, he was well-known for spending many a night face down on his own vomit in town. The concerned nosey-parkers would knock on the door of the family home and say, “So-and-so, your husband is found lying at where-and-where.” Humiliated, she had to walk to where-and-where to drag him home. A bad deal to marry a dill (idiot in Aussie slang).
When the old man graduated from UNSW, his first job was at the CBA, not the Commonwealth Bank of Australia but the Commercial Bank of Australia in Sydney’s Chinatown. In his mind he was a qualified accountant and when told their training programme required him to serve as a teller for a minimum of six months, he wanted to negotiate a deal. No deal. So, he left that job and forever annoyed His Mrs for abandoning a career path that would have delivered them a more cushy, low-risk lifestyle. A year later, the CBA got swallowed up by the Bank of New South Wales and became Westpac. A great deal but who knows, right? He could have been made redundant anyway. All of us are always making deals – with our parents, our siblings, our bosses and so many others. The old man said the most impactful deal he has ever done was with his spouse. For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Compromise, compromise, compromise. How else could you live with another person forever? It is no wonder that many marriages do not last and it is no wonder that for more and more, marriage is not in their equation. Who wants to be in a deal where one’s freedom is curtailed? Compromised. Who wants to be in a deal where everything has to be justified, every action explained, every cent accounted for, every decision must be right (or else)?
Don’t get me wrong, His Mrs certainly isn’t like that at all, at least not all the time!
“I’m joking!!” I said.
“But she won’t believe you’re joking!!”
“But, I am joking!”
“Heck, you’re on your own, no one will protect you now.”
It took me years to learn not to make silly jokes, especially jokes that are at the expense of someone else, or jokes about religion, race or politics. It’s just not worth it. We can’t even joke about sex anymore. Wokeism today is about being gender-neutral. At least don’t make the male superior. It is not alright if an orchestra has only male players or if a board of directors of a business has no female representation. Social media will see to it that the orchestra is boycotted and the products or services of the business are kicked out of the country. Look what happened to L’Occitane. Being “firmly committed” to Ukraine was not enough, they had to close their Russian shops and website, days after defending its decision to continue trading. The sudden U-turn did not leave their business unscathed by today’s wokes. Let’s pause and think again. Russia invaded Ukraine. It had nothing to do with the Russian people and Russian staff of the French cosmetic company. It had nothing to do with France. Yet, wokeism demanded every country and every business had to boycott the Russian people. L’Occitane paid a heavy price for their lack of enthusiasm to embrace today’s wokeism.
“You know what?” the old man asked me. Wokeism isn’t a modern-day phenomenon. Look at what the Buddha had to do about 2,000 years ago. He had to manifest himself in a female form. Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, was actually a male! Elizabeth Vijaya, a High School friend of the old man’s explained it this way: The Supreme Atma or God comes to human beings in many forms. Shakti, the female form, is power. God is beyond gender, so God can take the form of a female to meet certain purposes for humans.
“In fact, the most important deals we make are with ourselves,” the old man told me.
Where we live, what we do, how we present ourselves, whether we practise Intermittent Fasting, diet or exercise. How we decide to invest or spend, work or retire, borrow or save are deals we make with ourselves. Austrian economists call it the time preference theory. A dollar today is worth more than one in the future. The higher the discount in the future, the higher the time preference. So, those who are willing to invest their capital today hoping to reap later rewards are said to have a low time preference.
“So, a person like me who is willing to delay his retirement, has a low time preference,” the old man explained.
“In other words, you have a low discount rate for your future income – you still think it is worth it to work,” I deduced.
“What you think you’ll earn in the future is still worth the sacrifice you put in today,” I said.
“While we retirees enjoy our day in the golf course or gather for a group outing or go travelling together, you’re slogging away working your butt off,” said another in a mocking manner.
The old man frowned but said nothing. He did not find it necessary to explain himself. There are good medical reasons to delay retirement. Keeping the mind and body active helps to maintain a sense of purpose; the feeling of participating and contributing to society is a powerful aphrodisiac that enhances our well-being.
No, dill. No deal.