Honour Thy Owner

Benji is seven months old. Mischievous, fearless and surprisingly, faster than Murray. The two dogs were having fun in the park, frolicking, sparring and humping each other. Their obvious delirious attraction and enthusiasm for each other, chasing and licking each other on their first meeting was the kind of innocent joy that I have not felt for a very long time. Benji’s owner smiled at me as she disengaged herself from her phone and terminated her conversation with the person at the other end of the line. A telephone line will be a thing of the past in a few more years, I thought.

Elon Musk’s Neuralink will be the disruptive technology that ultimately spells the end of phone companies such as Apple and Samsung. Neuralink is poised to undergo a human trial to study the effectiveness of their brain implant as an interface with our brain. The goal is for the brain to communicate directly with our computers. Children in the future will no longer need to study the subjects we used to learn in school, since all knowledge will be available not at their fingertips but at the tips of their synapses via this implant.

https://www.techradar.com/news/elon-musks-neuralink-is-one-step-closer-to-putting-an-implant-in-our-brains

As if the goal of bypassing damaged spinal nerves via his chip isn’t enough to enable quadriplegics and paraplegics to control their body movements, Elon Musk reckons his chip will one day also control the brain’s hypothalamus to control appetite and therefore morbid obesity.

“You’re the owner of the dog?” Benji’s owner asked.

A nice opening line, I reminded myself to use that in the future. She was youngish-looking and rather attractive. I should confess I find most blondes attractive. I almost stared at her, but was quick enough and turned my eyes skywards to avoid embarrassing myself. Arrested by her beauty, the balance in my universe was disturbed momentarily as I stumbled on my own words.

“Er, who, yes, he is mine,” I said absent-mindedly before realising I mis-spoke.

“Er, no. I mean, he is my son’s dog,” I corrected myself.

“His name is Murray, from Murray Bridge,” I said.

“Isn’t it strange how we end up looking after someone else’s dog?” she replied, and informed me Benji was her son’s dog.

“But, Murray is my pal, he is never an inconvenience,” I defended him.

“Besides, he treats me like I am his owner!” I added.

“He honours me like I am his owner,” I beamed with pride as I made that irrefutable fact known to her.

Murray does honour me like his owner. In his eyes, I am blameless. He was doing the downward-dog pose whenever he leapt off my lap the other day. Unusual, I thought. Later that afternoon, I found out why. He wasn’t his usual excited self when I showed him the leash and teased him, “Wanna go to the park?” His eyes did not light up, and he did not jump up to grab the leash with his teeth. Anyway, I sort-of had to drag him to the reserve across the street which he treats as his toilet. After that, we would habitually embark on an hour’s walk to anywhere he fancied. But, no. He dragged me straight home instead. “No? You don’t want to go for a walk?” I asked incredulously. It didn’t take me long to realise Murray had abdominal pain. He had his tail between his legs as he insisted we crossed the street back to the house. He did not whimper even as he suffered many bouts of diarrhea that evening. First Son asked accusingly when he came to pick up Murray, “What did you feed him?!” Murray did not accuse me, not even once. I am blameless, that is how he honours me.

Murray knows to honour his owner.

Her phone rang, quite loudly, at the most inopportune time as I was about to pat Benji. As she picked up her phone and began to start another conversation, I knew our conversation had ended before I had the chance to talk about Elon Musk’s chip. Yeah, that is the nature of my conversations with beautiful strangers, from dog ownerships to neurological chips in one sentence.

The handsome one is Murray.

Talking about owners and honouring them, I must not forget to mention the owner of the house next door to me. They normally reside in Malaysia and only visit Adelaide once in a blue moon. Infrequently here, they have unknowingly allowed me the total enjoyment of their garden without their explicit permission. Tasked with looking after their garden during their long absence which was annoyingly extended by the pandemic, I had become somewhat possessive of it. When The Lady said she knew the garden like the back of her hand, I gave myself a loud chuckle. She may think she knew it so intimately but she did not. I know her garden like the back of my hand, I corrected her sentence, without communicating it to her.

I was initially excited by The Bloke’s enthusiasm to improve their garden’s lighting. During the lockdowns, he was stuck at home in Kuala Lumpur. So, he surfed the internet and went shopping for all sorts of gadgets for their garden there. Electronic door locks and garden lighting caught his attention. Night lights create a nice mood in any garden, and in theirs, they surely accentuate the beauty of the landscaping and choice of plants. But, horrors! The Bloke told me he had trimmed off much of the undergrowth and a lot of the young branches of shrubs that had blocked the beams of light now emitting from the newly installed spotlights. Personally, my preference is for the lights to create a mood rather than brighten the garden like a tennis court, but hey, I gotta honour the owner! He is the owner, he can very well do whatever to the garden as he pleases, and if a shrub displeases him, he has every right to just destroy its existence. I will refrain from arguing with him that the plant will suffer unnecessary trauma! But, when I discovered where he had conveniently dumped the cuttings, I felt the plants’ pain too. The Bloke had piled up the unsightly garden refuse in a back corner, unknowingly burying my precious turmeric plant that is doing poorly as the nights start to turn cold.

“Hush, honour the owner,” I reminded myself.

“Honour the owner,” I reminded The Mrs again and again weeks ago.

It is their garden. Although The Mrs and her sister get along really well, it is only proper that we respect them as the owner of the garden, and thus “we must constantly remind ourselves of that,” I said to The Mrs. But, The Mrs loves persimmons, especially the ones that are slightly astringent, oblivious of The Lady’s and The Bloke’s repeated statements that they prefer ripe ones. “We like it sweet,” they said again and again. The Mrs, somewhat hard of hearing, did not stop harvesting a handful each day. “Yum, I love these crunchy ones,” she said as she walked past her sister. The following day, the plant was totally bare of fruits. The Lady wisely harvested them all before the possums and her sister did. Honour the owner, I pretended not to know that there was a competition for persimmons that day.

The Bloke caught the bug for keyless entry systems for his house in KL a few months ago. You know the ones, biometric readers such as facial recognition, retina scans or fingerprint readers, some with built-in alarm systems. I was a little worried that he would bring a few sets for his house here also. The Federation-style house here does not lend itself to modern gadgets for the doors. I mean, have you seen the monstrosity of the Made-in-China gadgets? They are cold and hard and bulky, in contrast to the warmth and inviting looks of his beautiful timber door. Honour the owner. Honour the owner! “Do not mention they would look horrible on his door,” I reminded myself.

No, no. No electronic keyless gadget on the door please.

Honour the owner, I reminded myself again today. Crypto owners across the globe have been decimated these past weeks. The gurus I follow still front up on their Youtube channels daily, looking stoic and with brave faces and strong voices, continue to preach the goodness of Bitcoin. Some have proven their honesty by confessing they have lost huge sums of money, “equivalent to the value of a house,” George of Cryptosrus said. Luckily for me, I focus on learning about Bitcoin only, whenever they stray into ‘degen’ mode, I turn off. The most erudite Bitcoin maximalist, Michael Saylor, continues to ‘hodl’ and imagine Bitcoin becoming the only money worth anything. The young ‘degens’ harped about the Terra blockchain and its crypto coin Luna, and the stable coin it powers, TerraUSD, for many weeks. During that short time, I watched the Luna price go up from $35 to almost $120 just a few weeks ago. “High risks, high returns,” I observed without a tinge of regret of missing out. The last time I checked, the Terra blockchain has been halted, and the Luna price is worth maybe 2 cents. Phew, do I not regret missing out! Another headline boldly claims, ‘Bitcoin is dead’. But then, we have had over 400 Bitcoin obituaries in its short history. “Honour the owner,” I reminded The Mrs. There is no need to criticise their decision-making. There is no need to mock their philosophy about real money and fiat money. There is enough blood on the streets all over the world. “Will Bitcoin become worthless?” The Mrs asked. Hoping that she had not heard Warren Buffet’s attitude towards Bitcoin, I firmly said “NO!” The best investment guru of all time, the nonagenarian recently said he would not pay $25 for all the Bitcoin in the world. I did not dare share my thoughts with her. If someone can attack the UST stable coin, causing a manic panic that destroyed it in four days, much like a run on a bank that killed off the British bank Northern Rock and Bear Sterns in 2008, then that someone can also wreck much damage to the King of all crypto coins. It has not escaped my mind that there is a high probability that the IMF and central banks could easily print money at zero cost, buy Bitcoin over the counter, (OTC transactions do not affect the price) and dump the coin via the exchanges at vastly lower prices causing a rout to the crypto market. Will Bitcoin become zero? Honour the owner, do not frighten them. Do not frighten The Mrs!

Honour the owner. Honour thy neighbour.

The Seller Without A Cellar

The Bloke next door wants to sell his house! He made his shocking announcement over breakfast yesterday. “No! You can’t sell this house!” The Mrs screeched in pain. She briefly forgot the laws dictating property rights in Australia. It is not even remotely possible that she is one of the First Nations peoples who may have a case to traditional ownership of the land next door. “No! I won’t allow you to move from here,” she beseeched her sister, The Lady of the house. The couple looked bemused, not the least confused about their legal right to do as they please with their property. Munching at the yummy deep-fried halloumi cheese without revealing my thoughts, I wondered why the sudden decision by The Bloke. Just the other day, he sounded so pleased with his ‘resort-style’ house and garden as he proudly showed some guests around his property. “Where is the cellar?” I vaguely heard someone ask. Nope, the house has no cellar! The rumours had been rife for years that I could simply walk down their wine cellar and help myself to an orgiastic party of the best reds and whites. I mean wines here, lads, not ladies. The Lady had vetoed the idea of a cellar, citing the irrefutable reason that we are located right in the middle between the best two wine-producing regions in the world, the Barossa Valley and the McLaren Valley, a mere fifty minutes’ drive either north or south. Behind us is the Adelaide Hills, home to more top calibre vineyards. Why have a cellar when we can simply duck out for a few bottles of the best wines?” she reasoned. Even though The Lady’s original plans were to build a “cute cottage”, the eventual house design, although by no means palatial, spanned over 390 sq metres of floor space.

Egg and mushrooms and deep-fried halloumi cheese.

There are no sesterces in their pond. I know that for a fact, because I have been the one looking after it all these years. The Bloke, being professionally trained as an engineer, is the least inclined amongst the people I know to throw coins into a body of water for good luck. No, his brain is wired scientifically. Yet, I could not fathom why the sudden change of heart in deciding to offload his house in a weakening real estate market. Maybe he thinks interest rates will go much higher in the coming months and wreck all the big gains we have seen here. Maybe he is looking to please his wife and down-size to the “cute cottage” she had dreamt of for a long time. Maybe he feels the garden and the pond are demanding too much of his time and energy. No, I look after the pond, remember? Maybe he pities me. Maybe he thinks my old age is advancing too quickly and his garden will be too physically demanding for an old fella like me to cope with. Maybe he wants to divest from real estate and invest in real money instead? I told him Bitcoin is the only real money today. Fiat money is simply created by the central banks from thin air. “Isn’t Bitcoin also created from thin air, a scam?’ he challenged me a few days ago. So, I spoilt everyones’ appetite that day by harping about the merits of Bitcoin and how billions of dollars are being pumped into mining the coin. “You can’t mine what isn’t real,” I argued unconvincingly. Lacking the nous and oratory skills of a Raoul Pal or Michael Saylor, incredibly smart gurus who have converted me to study the blockchain phenomenon in more detail, and accept that the internet is going to be built on blockchain technology at an exponential rate in the coming years, I got nobody interested in what I had to say. “Bitcoin is a scam,” The Bloke repeated, and thus ended our conversation.

So, why would he sell his house, I wondered. Maybe he finds his neighbours intrusive. We are often still forgetful that they have returned from overseas and habitually cross the boundary of the house and therefore cross the boundary of civility. Well, it is not me who usually transgresses – not in the early mornings anyway, I am acutely careful in case they are walking about on their property stark naked or in their briefs. Murray, my son’s dog, must have wondered for the past weeks why I no longer allow him the pleasure of gnawing his doggie bone whilst I do my Qigong on their putting green each morning. But, The Mrs is less restrained. After all, her sister has no surprises to show her, and The Bloke doesn’t have anything extra that she hasn’t seen in a man.

Maybe The Bloke just wants to have a good time, find something exciting to do. A change is as refreshing as a holiday, they say. Sell the house. Build a new one. A better one. Maybe he wants a good day. To have a good day, do good. Any other source of joy is outside our control. But, doing good is within our control, and when we do good, we feel good.

If you want some good, get it from yourself.

Epitetus, Discourses, 1.29.4

“So tell us, why do you want to sell?” The Mrs asked in a demanding tone last night. Visibly still upset at the idea of being separated from her sister soon, The Mrs crossed the boundary by asking the question that does not entitle her to an answer many hours after the initial shock. Still despondent, she showed her unhappiness over dinner last night. I think she genuinely likes their garden. It is literally our garden of Eden, a paradise where a single apple tree can bear hundreds and hundreds of fruit – I stopped counting at four hundred and fifty. The persimmon tree gave us over three hundred. “What if the new owner is a thug? What a disaster!” she groaned. “What if they play rowdy music all day long?” “What if they smoke weed?” She fired off so many ‘what ifs’ The Bloke raised his palm to stop her. “Sister,” he said. “Do you think I want to sell?” he asked in his deep and rich voice.

The Lady had been too shocked to say a word. She loved the house and the rose garden was exactly how she imagined it to be. The U-shape design of the house was also a style she desired as soon as the seed to build her dream cottage was planted in her mind. The pond and its mini waterfalls were never part of the original plan but once she saw how they would, from the focal point of the ‘U’, draw a person’s attention in the living areas of the house towards the beautiful garden, she quickly embraced my suggestion to situate a pond there. She remained tight-lipped for many hours after The Bloke’s shocking announcement. I asked The Mrs if she had heard from her sister. She shook her head in a crest-fallen manner. The Lady’s persistent silence indicated a determined suppression of her emotions, I thought. All is not lost, she has her ways of making her husband bend to her wishes, I suggested to The Mrs. “IT IS ALL YOUR FAULT!” The Mrs said loudly and firmly, her sharp finger gesticulating wildly at me and her sharp tongue brutally tearing me into tiny bits. “You and your stupid ghost stories!” she accused me this morning even before I was fully awake. Last night, The Bloke revealed his decision to sell was due to the ‘Boogeyman’ in his house.

The gazebo isn’t the focal point of this garden! It is the pond.

“And oh, in a pandemic, humans are more scary. Ghosts cannot infect us with the virus! I’d rather see a ghost than a stranger in our house in the middle of the night,” I concluded, I thought quite convincingly. The Lady had heard enough nonsense from me. She simply twitched her nose and in her usual menacing voice told me to stop talking about ghosts. Or else.

The Bloke is a trained engineer. A very intelligent man with a scientific mind and a brilliant business acumen. “He would never believe in ghosts,” I began my defence. “He believes in science! Ghosts aren’t real, even Bitcoin isn’t real to him,” I said. “Besides, I am a poor story-teller,” I added. For The Bloke to believe there are paranormal activities in his house, the stories would have to be super compelling. Sure, we Chinese celebrate the seventh month as the month of the hungry ghosts but that is simply folklore – a good story for kids to be extra careful when they venture outside their homes in the northern summer to play. “Have there been any paranormal experiences there lately?” I asked The Mrs. In fact, there have been more unexplained ‘happenings’ in our own house and she knows it. There is of course no legitimate reason to fear ghosts, if in fact they do exist. From my many experiences, they are only playful and mischievous and perhaps even more frightened than us to stumble upon our presence. I know the feeling. I have occasionally given myself a fright when I accidentally looked into the bathroom mirror. None has ever threatened me physically or shooed me away. Logically, they would deem my house to be theirs, right? Possession is nine-tenths of the law. Do we not say a person or place is possessed? “They could therefore quite convincingly argue that legally, they are the true owners of our house,” I closed my defence quite spiritedly, “Pardon the pun,” I added unwisely. “Do you know how silly you sound?” The Mrs sneered and waved me away. I knew better than to hang around when she was in that mood when her words were mostly contentious.

“What boogeyman?” I asked The Bloke. He looked at me in disbelief and must have felt I was really stupid. I was the one to confirm what his wife saw. I may have called ‘it’ “a man in white” or a “white-haired man” but it was clear to him I meant ‘ghost’. The Bloke would remain scientific throughout and call it the ‘boogeyman’ instead. The Lady had seen a strange apparition last Sunday afternoon as we partied raucously under the pergola of their house. From the corner of her eye, she was sure she saw a white-haired man in a white shirt stopped at the side gate of her front garden and suddenly disappeared. She rushed inside her house, her footsteps sounding more and more like Murray’s. She got to the front room and peered out surreptitiously from her Queen Anne window. Why surreptitiously? Who is the owner of the house? I thought to myself. Their English Baroque style curved bay window is a beautifully crafted work of exquisite timber trimmed with small decorative leadlight window panes above large simple panes of glass. There was no white-haired man to be seen anywhere. Biting her lips unintentionally, she winced from the sudden bleeding to her moist lips that were smeared with lip balm just moments earlier.

No strange white-haired man in sight.

I was ruthlessly but deservedly mauled by The Mrs whilst still in bed this morning. My stupid prank to childishly but falsely confirm The Lady’s sighting of the strange man was well, stupid. No, I did not witness the apparition or ghost or whatchamacallit thingamajig. “Why did you say you did?!” The Mrs repeated for the tenth time. Yes, it felt like an interrogation and no matter how I tried to summon my intellect to come up with a clever retort, I remained silent. I was dumb to play-act and therefore dumb-founded by my own stupidity. “Telling fibs about ghosts is childish!” The Mrs kept stabbing me with her truthful words. “It is your fault if they sell their house!” she said accusingly, making her final judgement unambiguous and ominous. I knew I had to act quickly and spend more time next door lurking in their garden. Hopefully, the boogeyman will happen to see my reflection on the pond one day and that would be enough to frighten ‘it’ away.

Finally, no more boogeyman here.