"The sharp knife of a short life

I've had just enough time..."

- "If I Die Young" The Band Perry

I see Beauty in many things. And like the ghosts that only speak to you if you notice them, they tell me wondrous tales. With my camera and my thoughts, I captured these as faithfully as I can to share with you. And by doing so, they gave me the reasons. And though the thousand reasons may not all be sweet and some indeed bitter; they are still reasons to live. Come to think about it, that is Life, isn't it?

Sunday, 29 December 2013

What I Stole On Christmas

I've had just enough time to...   steal from others :)

It was this Laos monkey that taught me how to steal...

A close friend gave me a couple of books for Christmas, one of which teaches me how to steal. I was flattered that she considered me an artist (the good thing about friends is that they exaggerate) but obviously she also thinks I should go and steal some more or she won’t be giving one with the title “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon. So on a quiet Christmas, I finished the book in a few hours (it was an easy read) and steal as many ideas from it as I could. I find I do not have to steal everything as I had the same conclusion as the author in a number of instances. As he encourages me to steal, I am sure he won’t mind me sharing some of my theft with you so that you can steal from him too.

When caught, it said Picasso said it is alright to steal...

The work starts with a quote from Picasso “Art is theft”. That coming from such an accomplished artist, we cannot help but take note. This is followed by one of my favorite poet, T.S.Eliot “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from which it was torn.” These two quotes about sum up what the book is all about and I like it for that happens to be how I felt too.

The Wood Monkey said the real culprit is Austin Kleon...

“Nothing is original” the book declared for “all creative work builds on what came before”. It quoted the French writer Andre Gide, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” Put the two together and originality is just a different way of saying the same thing that had been said before. All knowledge is based on past knowledge. I like to say something in a similar vein to my mentees “For each of you, there is a teacher who has a way uniquely suited to you. Either you suit yourself to the teacher or you find the teacher suited to you, if I am not him.” I smile recalling all the silly things I said.

I liked the quote by German write Goethe too “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love”. I like to tell my friends that if we were to walk through an interesting flea market, each of us will immediately focus on different objects and that will reveal a lot about us. I must thank the author for assuaging one of my guilt when he boldly states that “Nothing is more important than an unread library”. So, there is at least one guy out there who do not think my collection of hundreds of unread books is a waste. Thank you.

The Laos Monkey said that is how Kings get to sit on the throne...

Chapter  2 tells you –“Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started”. And if it is necessary to – “Fake it till you make it”. I like to use as an example of a Jackie Chan interview when I emphasized this point. He told how in the days of his early success, he hated the obligatory visits to the orphanage and children hospital which his agent thought is necessary for his image. He did not feel the love he was faking. Then, something strange happened. Gradually along the way, the act became real and he began to feel true compassion. So he too advocate fake it till you make it, even for charity.

Well, if you think I’m going to retell the whole book; sorry. You will have to read it for yourself. But I will leave you with one more secret. Secret #6 that resonates with me – “Do good work and share it with people”. Don’t expect any return. Just do it for love. And love will find you. Oomph

The Teddy Bear says if you want to steal, steal like an artist...

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Christmas Comes Early to Parma.

I've had just enough time to...   wink at the cherub

The Sleepy Cherub that spoke to me without opening its eyes...

Wandering through the narrow streets of Parma, we came across a brightly lighted window that drew us light moths to a flame. Peering in, we were greeted with the sparkling decorations of Christmas which brought us cheers. There is something magical about Christmas. Something that lightens our spirits and drives away our woes, at least until the resolutions of the New Year when reality once again intrudes. That autumn night, Christmas came to us early in Parma.

The delightful interior of the decoration shop.

It was the sleepy cherub that spoke to me. I pointed it out to my friend who took a shot and posted on her Facebook. Her friend thousands of miles away fall in love with it and wanted it as a Christmas present. So we went back to the shop the next day. The wonder of modern technology. But personally, I think it was the cherub’s design to draw us back to the shop. I am not complaining or I can’t be sharing this story and these pictures of the interior of the shop with you. Now, do you still not believe in the magic of Christmas?

The Happy Son & Father-In-Law - what a cheerful couple :)

So we found our way back to the shop the next night. With the intention to buy something, I could bring myself to ask the shopkeeper if it is okay for me to take a few shots. I can understand “yes” in Italian especially if spoken with a smile. But first we bought the cherub so it can fly all the way to the Philippines to spread cheers in a foreign land. I asked the shopkeeper if the older gentleman working alongside him is his father. He said “father-in-law”. Ah, that is an important word to know. I thought that was so nice, he and his father-in-law working together so warmly together like father and son. I told them so. I pointed to the two of them and gave them the thumb up. It looked like  with just a couple of days in Italy, I’m already learning how to use my hands like a true bred Italian. We bought a few other souvenirs among which is a cute metal bird attached to a long spring that can spring up and down to give it as a Christmas present to my new friend whose birthday I just discovered was on Christmas eve. Wish that I could remember the Italian word for it which started with a “po…….” that the father-in-law kept trying to teach me, unsuccessfully. 

Another view of the delightful shop.

As we left the shop with our presents, we were imbued with a warm glow. We must have caught some of the spirits of Christmas that will nourish us through the approaching cold winter. To All my Readers & Friends, I wish you all and your family –

“Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!”

"Merry Christmas!"

Italian Carol - Christmas - Natale - Tu Scendi Dalle

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A Curio Shop Where We Are The Curiosity

I've had just enough time to...   wander through all kinds of everything

Old books in an used suitcase left by the side of a street in Parma, Italy

On the same night that we met the fruit seller, we wandered into a curio shop. It was used books in an old suitcase placed on the walkway by the side of the street that stopped us in our tracks. Books that I have a weakness for like chocolate to some, sinfully delicious. Curiosity dragged us into the shop and into a world of wondrous things. Impractical, kitschy stuff mingled with surprising finds and genuine articles that may be Art to some and “what in heaven’s name is that?” to others.

The shop that sells "all kinds of everything"

I always love being in a shop of “all kinds of everything”. The mind wandered through a dozen cultures, hundreds of possibilities and impossibilities. It amuses and stimulates the imagination. Creative thoughts burst forth skipping from items to items never giving one chance to settle down before one’s attention is grasped and pulled away to yet another item of curiosity. A curio shop is fairy land and we are the child in a toy shop. The mad house is a testament of man’s creativity and insanity. 

Arts from many cultures of many lands and books of more...

There are two kinds of people running curio shops and if you do not come across the mercenary types, you are in luck. These other folks are like the items they sell - odd, impractical, amusing, interesting, warm with an earthly glow and what do you know? The Italian saint of Everything smiled on us. The old man with distinctive features and a pitchy voice manning the shop spoke to us – in Italian of course. And we did not understand, of course. We tried English, that didn’t work. He called for backups. His assistants, or friends or family appeared from the woodworks. They tried French, no good. German, sounded strange. We tried Mandarin, drew recognition but no comprehension. Filipino, that stumped them. Portugese, eh-ah. Spanish, ah a few words both sides knew, but too few. In desperation, Bahasa, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hainanese and we drew to an agreed conclusion. We didn’t know what the hell the other party were talking about. 

The owner among his treasures, he deals in dreams...

When words failed, smiles and laughter paved the way. We joked, laughed, more at ourselves than at the situation. In the shop of curios, we are the curiosity. We did not buy anything. But on the way out, the lady companion of the kindly old shopkeeper gave me a postcard of the shop as a memento. It was a good one. 

A precious gift of memory which is treasured...

The Curio Shop - The Interludes
Laughing dolls and painted soldiers
Standing in a row
Marching bands and ballerinas
Dancing on their toes
Carousels and photographs
Of memories that I know
You’ll find them all inside

Come see the curios
Come see the toys for sale,
There are so many things –
Oh, won’t you come inside?

Saturday, 14 December 2013

What is Banana in Italian?

I've had just enought time to...   say "banana" in Italian.

Warm Italian on a cold autumn evening

It was 7.00 pm in Parma and we were cold and hungry. The last few days we had been having dinner at 6.00 pm in Denmark which was kind of early but in Italy, the restaurant only opens at 8.00 pm which was kind of late for us. While waiting for the recommended restaurant to open, we hanged around and ended in front of a small fruit stall. The owner came out and engaged us in a conversation where neither party understood a single word the other was saying.

It was kind of fun though. He pressed his thumbs against the first finger and thrust it in a forward  motion saying something we could not make head or tail of. This was repeated several times and we made our guesses about the significance of this gesture but not convinced we understood him. That was until he made the ringing sound before we realized he was kindly suggesting that we rang the doorbell of the restaurant which is just down the road. We laughed and told him we had done that but was not sure he understood us. Everyone was smiling and the autumn wind did not feel as cold.

With time to kill, we looked at his products and our puzzled look must have given away the fact we did not know what that ugly looking fruit with wrinkled skin was. He said something in Italian but that of course did not strike a bell. He then gently pushed against the skin revealing a deep wet purple meat beneath. Beetroot I guessed. I think. That opened the floodgate. We then pointed out the fruits and vegetables and he said it out lout in Italian. And we offered the English name. Who needs words for communication?

What is this fruit/vegetable/root? Anyone knows?

There was no way we could remember all those Italian words. So we decided to remember at least one word, an easy one. We looked at the fruits and pointed at a bunch of banana –

“How do you say that in Italian?”

He looked at us with a bemused look and say “Ba-na-nuh!”

And we all burst out laughing simultaneously. Okay, we will never forget that! We left happily for the restaurant waving goodbye to our new found friend. We will probably never meet again but every time I see banana, I will remember that happy Italian face saying “Ba-na-nuh!”.

Sunday, 8 December 2013


I've had just enough time to...   ponder about a moment.

The moment I viewed the painting "Moment"

I stood before the large painting titled “Moment” in the empty dining hall of this unique company I visited trying to take it all in and feel what a moment meant. There was not enough time. Ironic, isn’t it? Not enough time to feel what a moment is like or what the artist was trying to convey. When a few years ago, I was given the opportunity to start and manage a company, all I had was a vague idea to mold it into “a successful and compassionate company”. In the short span of time, we would be considered “successful” by most standards and now I found a company by which I can model true success after. One that strikes a good balance between profitability and workers’ welfare. That by the way is also true compassion. There is much to learn and execute, but I’m running out of moments…

The last leaf on the tree - a moment in time

If you have just a moment
To preserve your world
Before it disappears forever.
Like the last quivering leaf
In the depth of autumn
Just before its fall to Earth.
What will you capture?

Your first tentative kiss
The walk down the aisle
Praying by your father’s death bed
Safety in your mother’s embrace
The day your child was born
The pressure of his little finger

A Lifetime in a Moment - What is Yours?

The glorious birth of a bright new day
The awesome silence of a starry night
The golden goal or the perfect save!
The view from the top of the mountain
The cool caress of Spring breeze
A slow departing Summer sun…

Each of us will preserve
A special moment
Of beauty, joy or love
But whether it is beauty or joy,
It is still love…

Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Walk On A Rainy Autumn Day - Part I

I've had just enough time to...   have that walk on a rainy autumn day

The view from the farmhouse I stayed in that cold autumn morning

The wind was colder than I remembered. They always were, weren’t they? It is our memories that betrayed us. They convinced us that the wind was kinder than their nature, the rain gentle and we were comfortable in our walk. But I shivered with every gush. It bit my ears and stuck its icy finger into the side of my ribs and the umbrella I was holding trembled like the quivering leaf. I remembered. I hated the cold. It remembered me too and taunted me its icy embrace, laughing at my discomfort and challenged me to give up the walk and seek the warmth of shelter.

Some trees are bare, some still hold on to their leaves with grim determination

 I had strayed away from the others, falling behind. My frozen fingers gripped hard on the metal casing of my camera, shooting with one hand while the other shielded my body from the relentless rain. I know the pictures will not turn out well in this low light but I had only half an hour and I wanted to cover as much ground as I could before I had to return to the bakery. There were cakes waiting to be baked. And I did not have an extra day to wander this ground. I wanted to be back to this beautiful part but I know how ways lead on to ways and I may never find myself back here again. So I just took what Life has to offer and stepped over useless regrets in my walk through the wood on that rainy autumn morning in the land of the Danes.

The rain created little ripples on the surface of the calm water

The cold bothered me. But I welcome it as one would a familiar old enemy who brought your keenest senses to life. No, not an enemy but an adversary. A worthy one. It was as determined to push me back as I was as determined to push forward. Time was not in my favour. Some trees were completely bare by then but some still held on to their depleting leaves with admirable determination. I was told I was lucky to even see leaves this late in the year. But I was also told I was unlucky as just a week ago, this park was a glorious blaze of colours. But can one be lucky and unlucky at the same time? I guess so. I took a deep breath and was rewarded with the nostalgic smell of wet leaves, damp earth and the crispness of autumn air. It reminded me why I loved autumn so much even though I hated the cold.

A lone bird puffed up its feathers to withstand the cold

As I walked, and observed, and shot; I let my mind wandered. Giving it free rein to gallop wherever it pleased. As expected, it preferred the more melancholic pasture and my thoughts merged with the rain till it became as blur as the fine mist over the pool of water along my path. The walk in the rain that autumn morning was so familiar to how I imagined it will be that it seemed so unreal…

The hardy ones but even they too shall pass

When you're walking from your past

You can never walk too fast
Everyone's the same
When you're walking in the autumn rain

Walking in the autumn rain-     
-  Day One: Autumn Rain

More rain and wind and gray skies are forecasted

 It doesn't matter where you're from
'Cause wherever you are from

You got a long walk on
You got a long walk on

The past scattered like fallen leaves and refection on a pool of water

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Autumn in My Garden - Visiting Autumn

I've had just enough time...  to reacquaint myself with autumn

I love autumn so much I planted autumn in my garden...

Memories hanging
Like the last leaf of autumn
Reluctant to fall

So I can be moody even when the sun is shining brightly...

After the last leaves -
Silhouettes of trees lined hills
Desolate beauties

Because sometimes, one just want to be melancholy...

I love autumn or I love the romantic fantasized idea of my imagined autumn. Melancholy, bittersweet, beautiful whether in glorious colors or gray outlines of desolated trees. I imagined sweet loneliness, long walks in snapping cold, chilly winds that cuts and reminded me to preserve this fragile body, time to go deep into reflection, to visit the boundary of depression and know that dark country, to slow time down and view the false promises of progress, ambition and speed; a time to gather, recharge and wait for the hibernation of winter and the rebirth in Spring. Maybe the actual autumn is none of these. Maybe it is just my illusion having never lived through an entire autumn though I have visited autumn in several countries over a long span of time. Maybe those living in autumn countries will laugh at my ridiculous notions. Maybe they are living too close to autumn. Whatever, I love my idea of autumn. So much so that I planted autumn in my garden so it can lead me there even under the tropical sun. And as fate would arrange, I'm going to reacquaint myself with autumn - tonight.

I am traveling again, flying off tonight. This time to Billund in Denmark and then off to Parma and Milan in Italy until the end of the month. So this is the last post until then. See you when I get back...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Buah Keluak – From A Poisonous Seed Into A Delicacy.

I've had just enough time...   to get used to bitter medicine

Buah Keluak before processing - poisonous (left) and after processing - safe (right)

There is a tall tree called Kepayang rising up to 60m or 180 feet in the mangrove swamp of South East Asia. It produced a large fruit called “the football fruit” as it looked and shaped like a football. Covered by a thick skin is the yellowish flesh containing large slightly flattened seeds called “Buah Keluak”. The seeds are highly poisonous and contain hydrogen cyanide. Ingested, the symptoms are general weakness, confusion, shortness of breath, dizziness and coma. High amount of ingestion can kill.

The Nyonya Ayam Buah Keluak - a flavorful dish

How did man know they can make it edible? The seeds must first be boiled, then buried in ash for as long as forty days. The modern way is alternate soaking, scrubbing and rinsing for days or even weeks after the initial boiling. The boiling and fermentation will release the water soluble hydrogen cyanide which is washed out. The seeds are used whole to produce the famous Nyonya* dish – Ayam Buah Keluak (Braised Chicken in Black Nut Curry). One can scooped out the black, creamy and oily content from the seed with a small spoon. It has a tar like appearance and consistency that has been described as having strong mushroom or truffle taste. In Indonesia, the kernels are grounded to make a thick gravy called rawon to produce a distinctive beef or chicken stew. Who would have thought that they can make this highly poisonous seeds safe for consumption? And to even make delicacies out of them?

Scooping out the 'opium' or black tar out from the seed

As I recalled the taste of the Buah Keluak, I reflected on my bitterness and how to turn it into a winning recipe of living. And how not to stay a poisonous seed toxic to others.

The little restaurant in Malacca where I had the black curry dish

Saturday, 9 November 2013

We Are Blind Because We Can See

I've had just enough time...   to learn that truth can be hidden in plain sight

You may not see the truth even if you have compound eyes...

I was so sure of my sight because I could see
Better than others, I thought
So I did not heed those close to me
"Beware! Things are not what they seem"
But I trusted my sight more because I, could see

We were so sure of the rights we fought
That we could not be wrong
Justice, compassion, transparency, truth
I thought all who came under the banners
Fought for the same God

The battles had been fought and lost
The banners strewn on the battlefield
With the corpses, as I retreated I reflect -
Blindness is such a strange ailment
We are blind because we are so sure we see

Taken of the moth in my garden who reminded me that truth can be hidden in plain sight...

How our eyes deceived us. We would not have been fooled if we were blind. I saw the path I was shown. I saw it lead straight to the castle. And we charged. But we did not see the swamp that bogged us down. That made us easy preys to the hidden foes and the circling vultures. We felt the slings of arrows taking up arms against a sea of troubles. No more! I lay down my arms but not before I reluctantly slay the beautiful illusive dream. But worry not about the dreamer, he dreams new dreams without bloodshed instead...

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

This Old Bucket Has Seen Better Days

I've had just enough time to...   learn from an old bucket

Taken one evening in Kansas City on a stopover...

This old bucket has seen better days
New and shiny, smooth and tough
Strong and sturdy, rugged and stout
Whether water, sand or soil
It carried with unbridled joy
Proud to be tough, to rough it out

But the years had taken its toll
Knocked and dropped, dented and cracked
Soldered and patched, when it got too bad
Discarded like a soiled rag
Another story, sad

of the old bucket taking in the sun...

One day it was picked up and painted over
Its role in Life completely altered
A humble pot to hold beautiful plants
Put in a corner to welcome the sun

This old bucket has seen better days
But the old bucket disagrees
It has never seen days as good as these

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