The morning air is a lot sweeter now. It is 7am. No more petrol fumes for me to suck into my lungs this early in the day. The silence is broken by the chirpy cockatoos and colourful rosellas – the park in front of my house is a lot noisier than any wet market in Asia. The magpies have grown bigger and the distance we keep apart from one another is evidence of our mutual respect. I reckon those big birds can hurt me if they wanted to. Although this was the third week of me working from home, I have not been able to change my body clock to sleep the extra hour saved. I have just made a conscious decision to dress the part from next week on. The slide to anonymity has its advantages, I originally felt. Apart from The Mrs and my 96 year-old mother who has moved in with us since the early days of the SARS-CoV-2 virus making front page news, I am invisible to all others. But when The Mrs begins to treat me as the unwashed, I know the slide has reached the bottom of the barrel of self-respect. She would never bother to ask why I have stopped brushing my hair – the less hair on the floor, the more tolerant she is of me. The meter of her discontent is the frequency of her complaint about my hair. “It stinks! Why won’t you wash it nightly?” She is right, of course. At times, I have had to arrest my own breath. But, a couple of days ago, she said it the very next morning after I had washed it. It made me consider that maybe my hair odour is imagined. All the more reason for me to feel that the slide to anonymity is complete. From tomorrow, I shall climb out from the rut. The first thing to feel nice again is to dress nice. I do not remember if that was said by Dale Carnegie in his book “How to win friends & influence people”. I should read his book again. I am beginning to lose friends again. Two days ago, I used what I thought was already a very accepted word. A word that has not been derogatory for at least a century, surely. Kwailo or Gweilo. Originally deprecatory but it is a common Cantonese slang word for Westerners. As harmless, decades ago, as the Hokkien words “Ang moh kau” or “Ang moh kui” The first two words mean red hair. Kau admittedly can be offensive to some today, as they refer to our distant cousins, the monkeys. Kui or Gui means devil. Manchester United, my favourite football team, calls themselves the Red Devils, so my guess is that “kui” does not offend anymore. Dale Carnegie taught me about the secret of Socrates. We should always begin a conversation by emphasising the positives and the things we agree. But, I forgot to do that. I embarked on a litany of reasons why my Hong Kong friend who hauled me up on using the word “Kwailo” was overly sensitive. He said I am rude and racist. “Do you tell all your Hong Kong friends they are rude and racist?” I shouted. It is incorrect that the world has become so politically incorrect. Dale Carnegie rushed into my mind, and made me apologise quickly. “For those who are aggrieved by this, I say sorry.” The other big contributor to my reawakening is my son’s puppy, Murray. Pre-COVID-19 days, Murray used to share his living quarters with me. We were virtually inseparable, the best of friends. I learned a lot from the pup. He was in my office all day. I worked all day whereas he occupied his time gnawing at a goat horn, or made me play “chasey” round and round my desk with him. Whilst he enjoyed his breakfast and little snacks, I practised Intermittent Fasting. Every two hours, a staff member would take him for a walk around the neighbourhood. None of them refused. Murray is a really powerful magnet to the lovely office girls nearby. When I had my lunch, so did Murray. When I worked, he napped. You see the pattern? Murray never has to work! I could have written Dale Carnegie’s book by just observing Murray.
Principle 1 – He does not criticise, condemn or complain.
Principle 2 – He gives genuine appreciation and wags his tail with love.
Principle 3 – He arouses my affection for him. He smiles and gives me that cute look of his, without any ulterior motives.
Principle 4 – He is genuinely interested in me and is totally loyal.
Principle 5 – He makes me feel important. He gives unconditional love and attention.
Principle 6 – He is a good listener and encourages me to talk.
Principle 7 – The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it. Murray never argues with me.
Principle 8 – He never points out my faults. He never says I am wrong.
Principle 9 – He is quick to acknowledge when he is wrong. He will sit by my side and rest his head on my thigh.
Principle 10 – He lets me do all the talking. He lets me think all the ideas are mine.
Principle 11 – He praises (licks) me a lot and makes me feel special.
Principle 12 – He lets me know when I have made a mistake, indirectly. Once he whimpered when his water bowl was dry.
Principle 13 – He teaches me to be an effective leader with clear-cut communication skills. He knows to sit down when I point my finger at the floor.
Principle 14 – He teaches me to let the other person save face. I rebuked him once only to realise it was my fault, and he never embarrassed me about it.
Principle 15 – He teaches me to reward good behaviour generously. He gets a treat every time he responds correctly to an instruction.
It was my eldest son who told me about the idea that people dress nice to feel nice. It was a foreign concept to me. Why would anyone need material goods to make themselves feel good? How we feel and how we feel about ourselves comes from within, right? Our health is foremost and that can only come from the food we eat – the nutrition or lack of will determine everything else about us. Without our health, what does it matter about our happiness and harmony? Our health is not just our physical health of course. We need to look after our mental health and spiritual health too. When we feel good inside, we will feel good outside. Will we not radiate positivity and confidence? Will we not shine with assuredness and contentment? Will we not flash a happy smile more readily when we feel good about ourselves from within? The modern-day experts are trying to spin the opposite. Dress well to feel well. Where is my Pierre Cardin tie? Discarded decades ago, I decided a shop-keeper looks odd with a tie. Where is my Rolex watch? The one from Siem Reap when I last visited Angkor Wat. It was a fake and made me feel like a fake, so it got binned too. Where is my Hugo Boss jumper? I felt it, tried it on but never bought it. Where is my DKNY leather jacket – one of the few things I like about New York? It is probably breeding mould in the wardrobe. Dress nice to feel nice. Sounds nice that I will sound nice. My job requires me to answer the phone – a lot. One of the anomalies of an internet-based business. People still want to deal with a human being when they shop online. I man the live chats during working hours but AI takes over when I switch off. A customer who typed ever so slowly asked if I was a robot. It is the most frustrating part of my job, watching and waiting for what feels like an eternity for someone to string a few short words together. “Are you a robot?” took her more than a minute to type. Only The Mrs would say that about me, I wrongly thought. Now, I realise there is at least another woman in this world who suspects I am robotic. With COVID-19 scaring consumers away from the malls, my online business has, alas, not been affected enough by the social distancing measures being enforced in Australia. The federal government’s Jobkeeper stimulus would have entitled my business to a $120,000 rescue package provided my business revenue drops by over 30%. That’s such an arbitrary figure, don’t you agree? At one point, I was down 25% only! Life’s a bitch, as they say. Which reminds me, in some parts of Australia, life’s a beach. Many beach-goers simply ignored the social-distancing rules put in place to curb the spread of the virus, and insisted on enjoying sun-bathing together in close proximity to one another.
The bread I am making is almost ready. Nothing beats the aroma of fresh bread baking. It is enough for me to break my fast. The Mrs and I are very competitive. But, I have just announced that the breadwinner’s bread is the winner. Sorry, Dale Carnegie. I keep forgetting one of your more important rules – Don’t compare your wife’s cooking! The other smell I love is the petrichor from the first few drops of rain. It never fails to beam me back to my young teenage years in the school field playing football with friends. So long ago. So far away from COVID-19.