My crypto friends told me we were going to the moon before 2021 was over. “Off to the moon” in crypto means the price will sky-rocket very very high. I joined them for the ride, just to see what the fuss was about. They are a secretive lot. “No, you can’t blog about it.” “And you sure can’t talk about it in your WhatsApp chats!” So, they made me join Signal as a condition of entry into their world of cryptocurrencies and blockchain. Luckily, there is no requirement to part with my money. I can ill-afford to risk the little bit I have left after the 2008 wipe-out caused by excessive financial deregulation and loose credit lending in the US. But, the ill-disciplined central banks have been printing money since 2020 like they won’t run out of ink and paper. And they won’t, since printing money these days don’t actually involve any printing. Money that is easily ‘made’ without sweat and tears cannot be worth much, I figured. In ancient times, money took the form of seashells, African glass beads, and even buckskins. The Chinese were the first to adopt metal coins and later, paper money. But, those early forms of money required effort to make or find (mine) them. But, today’s money requires a mere nod by lawmakers and central bankers. Since I am already of retiring age, leaving my money to be debased and devalued isn’t a wise option. I joined my crypto friends as a rite of passage to understand what the fuss is about in cryptocurrency. The ancients had five rites of passage. A rite to birthright, rite to adulthood, rite to marriage, rite to eldership and finally rite to ancestorship. I am happy to miss out on this final rite – venerating me when I am the dead won’t do me any good. So, if I may forfeit this final rite of passage please and instead, grant me a passage to understand what the hullabaloo is about crypto. When they told me my passage includes a ride to the moon, I was sold!
They told me Metcalfe’s Law will ensure one Bitcoin will be worth many millions of useless US dollars. If one US dollar is worthless, I could not understand why I would bother with many millions. Anyway, Metcalfe’s Law is worth knowing about, since that is how the likes of Facebook (now known as Meta), Google and Twitter are valued. A computer and telecommunications network’s value rises exponentially as each incremental user in a network adds more value than its own. That is why social media is worth so much to these internet giants. But, a sibling countered Bitcoin is a scam. How can nothing be worth something? From The Sound of Music, we learned nothing comes from nothing. It is not even a physical coin! I asked her to be fair. After all, Meta, Google and Twitter are also merely computer codes. Instagram isn’t a physical thing either. If these computer algorithms can be the world’s most valued creations, then there is a case that Bitcoin can be similarly valued. Bitcoin, after all, is simply a decentralised distributed ledger in a blockchain that is programmed to produce a maximum of 21 million coins. To earn one Bitcoin, a miner has to solve a complex hashing puzzle. Essentially, miners are rewarded with Bitcoin for their work as auditors, using their computers to verify the legitimacy of Bitcoin transactions. These millions of computers can be situated anywhere in the world and that is how the system is decentralised. There is no central authority that controls anyone. To counter the hysterical claims that mining Bitcoin is a waste of energy that only adds to accelerate climate change, miners that left China due to that country’s aversion to decentralised control, have increasingly moved to regions with cheap energy. Electricity that is generated and not used is wasted since we do not have giant batteries to store it. So, why not use it since it is already there? Some clever green miners are converting abandoned cotton mills to use their hydro-electric power to mine Bitcoin.
“Just you wait and see! We are going to the moon,” my crypto pals said almost daily when I joined their group in October 2021. I believed them. After all, El Salvador had just become the first country to make Bitcoin legal tender. “Get off zero,” my pals advised me. Raoul Pal their hero, although not my pal. I thought it would be worth a punt, to get off zero Bitcoin strategy and promptly invested $100 in it after Australia’s biggest bank announced on 3rd November 2021 that they will become the first bank here to buy, sell and hold crypto assets. If the CBA called it an asset, who am I to disagree? A retiree should only hold assets, right? Bitcoin will be worth $98,000 in November and over $135,000 in December, a mysterious bloke who calls himself Plan B said six months ago. Maybe he got the year wrong. Maybe he meant 2022, not 2021. I decided I wasn’t going to the moon after the Bitcoin price got stuck on the band between $47,000-$49,000 for much of December. Instead of going to the moon, I had lost about $20. Officially, that is, since I do not dare tell The Mrs the true extent of my loss. Instead of going to the moon, I decided to go to Moonta to nurse my wound and recover from this mess. A nightmare that is made worse following South Australia abandoning its successful adoption of zero-Covid strategy in November just so Christmas will be a bumper time for the tourism and food services sector, but the reopening of our borders to interstate and overseas friends and relatives has seen a shrinkage in the economy instead as daily Covid cases went from zero to over 2,000 before the fireworks were lit on the last night of 2021.
I had heard of Moonta Bay in 1986 when I first arrived in Adelaide. A colleague in the lithographic business I worked in had just bought a shack off a secluded beach there for about $20,000. Although not a property magnate, I had always been magnetised to waterfront land or land with water views. The first apartment I bought in Coogee had views of the distant sea, which I was thrilled to bits with, as I stood precariously on the edge of the bathtub to catch a glimpse of the blue sea. Similarly, the first house I bought in Little Bay offered some water views too, but the little blue bit of Botany Bay was only visible above the scrawny tops of the Melaleucas if I tippy-toed and looked out from my sister’s bedroom window. I was eager to add to my collection of properties with water views, but Moonta somehow did not attract me enough to visit it in 1986. Maybe, it was because of the fishing trip I had with George Tovo. George took me out fishing one morning in his little tinnie but the tiny little waves were enough to make me queasy that morning. George and I are forgetful pals, he forgot to tell me not to have a big oily breakfast before going out in a little boat. But, I forgot to tell him I could not swim. As I retched out some remains of breakfast, a picture formed in my mind of the next morning’s headlines. “Young Chinese man drowned in calm seas off the jetty.” George’s floppy white hat that was decorated with smudges of blood from worms and guts from other bait reminded me of the scene in On Golden Pond where Henry Fonda often appeared with his clean floppy hat. There was a scene of him fishing with Katharine Hepburn, but the grand old dame of Hollywood was a lot more steady and graceful on her boat than I was in George’s. She was indeed royalty, revered in her leading roles that spanned over 60 years. He was royalty too. George I mean. Recently, he told me his ancestors had ‘some’ royal blood from early German aristocracy. So sorry, George. I may have forgotten to clean up my own mess from the seasickness in your boat. I did not mean to treat you shabbily, my dear old friend, a possible Prince!
We hired a three bedroom cottage that’s just a short walk to the beach from some old women’s club. But the old woman who welcomed us wouldn’t allow us to bring Murray inside. Pets are not allowed! I told her Murray isn’t a pet, he’s my best pal. Anyway, she was steadfast in her refusal and I knew no amount of sweetness from my tongue would sway her. She kept insisting Murray is a dog. Murray panted with his tongue out, that’s why. Anyway, I knew we would outlast the old woman. She couldn’t check on us at night, could she? No worries, Murray. Just be patient, she is old and won’t stay awake till late. We did not pack enough for our Moonta trip. Lil Sis’ hubby told me he had booked the house for three days. Three days equals two nights, right? His three days meant three full days, excluding travel time. Essentially, he meant three nights. Never mind, I just had to flip my undies and socks inside out. The other side is unused, right? I forgot to ask The Mrs if she could wear her bra inside out too. There is a lot to do in Moonta, if you love the sea or enjoy fishing off the jetty. Otherwise, you’d find it boring, especially if you melt easily in days over 36 degrees C. We had three days of true Adelaide summer weather. If you have been overwhelmed when you open your oven door to check on your roast, then you will know what a typical Adelaide summer’s day is. Yes; hot, dry and energy-sapping, and you’ll burn quickly if you’re not careful. Be stoic, I remind myself. We can’t change the weather, we can’t change the fact that in a seaside town, there is only swimming and fishing to occupy us. So, change our attitude instead. We played mahjong on the second day. A short stint, Ma said, even though the four rounds of North, South, East and West lasted six hours! We were amazed Ma still beat us at the game. Inside that skull that is thinning of white hair is a brain that still works. Even though she was easily confused about our playing turn being anti-clockwise and counting of where to start each game is clockwise after throwing the dice. Even though she was frequently short of a tile. No matter, here Ma, have another tile! No use complaining about things we can’t change. It is the same as trying to change how people think of us, or change how people see crypto as a safe form of investment for retirees. Although I had brought two good books to read, I decided my time was better spent with my 98-year-old mother. Of course, Ma is now not only fragile, she is also sometimes senile. Of course, Ma is now forgetful and getting her facts wrong. But, in many cases, when she talks about her past, how do we know for sure that her memory is wrong? We weren’t there! She talked about a mysterious Madam Hu I never met and that Madam Hu’s husband’s sister was also a Hu. “No! That’s not possible,” one of us decried. We were’t there, why do we eliminate the possibility of inbreeding? Was it so far-fetched in those days to marry someone with the same surname? Pa had three surnames. It was the same name but pronounced differently in different dialects and therefore spelt differently when anglicised. I didn’t like my odds of choosing the right girl-friend diminished because of that. I refused to accept I couldn’t have a girlfriend who had the same surname as mine!
On the penultimate day of 2021, we went to Drakes to get some extra food for our New Year’s Eve party. After a fantastic lunch, the rest went to get the replenishments, whilst I sat on a bench outside the building and kept Ma occupied with idle chatter. Lunch was fish and chips, garfish was the common choice to keep the tab down. But, I pounced on the fact that Big Sis was paying, and ordered King George whiting for myself. All my life, I have had King George only on two previous occasions. Life is short, I decided. And since someone else is footing the bill, why not spoil myself? I justified it by ordering two serves of fish, one for Ma and the other one without chips, for me. So, I saved $6 and didn’t feel guilty about ordering the best fish. No one will criticise me, after all, it’s for Ma! Luckily, my best friend in school who now lives in Hong Kong and is most critical of me whenever I enjoy a free meal or a free gift, was not present to chastise me. Sometimes, I think he imagines himself to be a super man, so super is his self belief. The others were taking too long, and I could see Ma melting quickly. If you have ever struggled to lick an ice-cream faster than it melting, then you will understand my feelings at that moment. Rotating the ice-cream cone to lick every droplet of melting cream that is succumbing to the force of gravity was intense and unforgettable, not for the pleasure derived but for the sheer panic to avoid wasting the pleasure itself. It is a strange phenomenon – the moment when we somehow realise we are talking to ourselves. I was maundering away about the weather and why old people should not complain when reminded to keep themselves hydrated. Suddenly, I felt I had lost my audience. Sure enough, Ma was wearing a blank smile and a distant stare. “Are you ok, Ma?” I asked urgently. “Huh huh,” she chuckled. I gently shook her arm to make sure, but it was soon apparent to me Ma’s mind was already somewhere else, perhaps on her way to the moon. What was I thinking of? The heat, stooopid! The others had taken too long, longer than I had anticipated. I was clever to avoid going inside the air-conditioned building to practise social-distancing but too dumb to move to a cooler place. There is no cooler place. So, Ma melted and I was frantically trying to save her like she was melting ice-cream. A woman rushed across the road, unaware there was not a single car on the road, to check on us. She saw me “hitting an old woman” and was concerned for Ma’s safety. She told me she is a nurse, but nurses aren’t allowed to hit their patients, even if it is to wake them up from a stupor. She rushed back to the pub and in a flash, she was back with ice cubes and serviettes. She shoved down a cold and damp bundle down Ma’s blouse without asking for her patient’s permission. I copied her and did the same down Ma’s back but got told off later when Ma had her senses back. See? We only tell off our loved ones, whilst strangers who really do not matter in the big scheme of things, are treated more kindly. A real injustice – Ma thanking the stranger but reprimanding me – her son – for the same action. Ma, at the height of her discomfort, treated me like soiled nappies. How dare I push ice down her back! The nurse introduced herself as Michelle and started having a conversation with Ma. Remarkable! She even praised Ma for her broken English. I speak well, with a good diction but got no praise from Michelle. See the injustice of the world? Michelle was without her wimple and white uniform but all the same, she came across like an angelic damsel to a damsel in distress. Thank you, Michelle.
Later that afternoon, I decided to cool off whilst Ma rested in bed. Off the jetty on Moonta Bay, is a caged area to keep sharks out. The water is almost still, with a light breeze coming to shore from the Antarctic to cool us down. Nature’s air-conditioning system works, as long as urghhlings do not tamper with it. The caged area spans about 100m out to sea and is about 500m wide, too wide for a weak swimmer such as myself to cover. Lil sis’s hubby assured me it is very safe, “only ankle-high deep.” After awhile, I discovered the water is cooler towards the centre of the shark-free zone where the dark patch of reeds is heaviest. It crossed my mind it was deeper than “ankle-deep” but heck, there were many kids there having a great time. People, one thing I learned that day. Do not test the depth of the sea with your feet! I went straight down! My legs could feel the seaweed but they did not step on land. People, another thing I learned that day. Do not panic in the water when you are a poor swimmer! Suddenly, I was madly kicking but my strong kicks were longer moving my body forward. PANIC! A picture flashed in my mind. The next day’s headlines. “Old Chinese man drowned in calm seas off the jetty.” Maybe that’s the only way I was going to get to the moon. From Moonta. I tried hard but failed in my attempt to surreptitiously leave the scene. “Happy New Year,” I wished them like a happy Santa would as some of the little kids stared at me like I was an alien from the moon. How would a wan-looking grown-up look like to them, with his long hair crumpled in a messy heap, flailing his long puny arms madly and kicking wildly like a chook that just had its throat slit, but all the while frenetic yet remaining stationary amidst the white splashing water in the middle of a rather calm corner of the sea?