Let’s Have a Reunion! (Stony Silence)

I dread reunions.

Why, oh, why do people even want reunions? My own Chinese New Year reunion dinners are, at best, a page out of a script for the Jerry Springer Show that was rejected and sent to Oprah at a specified lunar movement every year. And these are the people I live with; what of people I haven’t seen in years? What would I say? What would they say?

I’ve been reunited with a select bunch of guys from my high school years, and we’ve been having somewhat regular beer sessions, but to this very day I’m confident in saying we still feel a slight tinge of trepidation whenever one of us calls for a meet-up. The fact is, a lot of years have passed in between, and none of us know enough about what’s happened and what’s changed in each other’s lives to hold a truly meaningful conversation that would last 15 minutes, much less 4 hours (the time it takes for some of us to finish 2 pints).

And then recently, I’ve had the opportunity to catch up with some more of my sordid past (some of whom I’ve actually dated, others I tried to date, and then some I didn’t even want to hold hands with). Between them and me stands more than a decade of lost years, during which a large truckload of them got married, had children, carved out high-flying careers (literally) for themselves, moved away to another continent or generally wasted their lives being jackasses who would never amount to much (namely, me).

The past few months of bantering to and fro actually spurred the idea of a reunion that, if all goes according to my reluctance, will be happening in 2 weeks’ time. I’ve come up with all the excuses I could come up with, from “Nine Inch Nails is coming, I can’t go that day” to “I’m going on a church mission to Southern Thailand” (I’m a Buddhist, by the way) to “I got cancer, aw shoot, chemo appointment’s that very night”.

But what am I really afraid of?

There’s them to me; in those lost years, I’ve never really thought of these people. Sure, they’re in my Facebook friends list, but who really talks to every single one of the people you add on your friends list? And the sudden interest in seeing my newly gained weight, hearing about my newly started family, asking about my newly established career, laughing at my newly grown hair… it just wierds me out.

And then there’s me to them; it’s been more than a decade. I don’t know how you’ve been getting along, where your life stands right now, what you’ve gone through to get where you are today. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing I really know about you is your name (and only because it’s on Facebook). If I were to start a conversation, how do I know I’m about to say something offensive (I’ve met people who get offended from even a simple trigger, such as “fat” or “religion” or “Amy Winehouse”)? How do I know you didn’t like me back when we were in school in the first place but never said anything because you’re not confrontational by nature? How do I know I’m not just gonna freeze up, pick a seat on the corner next to a huge plant and silently count the hairs on the back of the hand I use to hold my bourbon coke until it’s time to go?

The fear is further amplified when even before we meet, incidents are already happening (thanks to Facebook, Twitter and Web 2.0, the marvel of the new millennium). Some are shy; no matter how you poke and prod, you never see them comment on anything; it’s almost like you’re being ignored. And then there are those that are not shy; they are so comfortable with their friendships (even though it’s been more than a decade since you’ve seen each other and are now practically strangers) that thoughts and assumptions come flying at you like bullets over No Man’s Land in Afghanistan. Albeit in jest, through separate private conversations with each other, I’ve already been described as a narcissist, a gay perv and a potentially unfit father-in-law (don’t ask where that came from, I’m WTFing it myself) in just over the past 3 days (wow, it really does feel like high school again).

Yes, I have a mentality towards reunions that compares with much accuracy to that kid who says he sees dead people (for the first hour-and-a-half of the movie anyway). I also acknowledge that because of this exact same mentality, I have no friends (according to my mother). I can hear you saying now, “Get off your fucking high horse, you gay, narcissistic excuse of a father-in-law, step out of your cocoon and get a life.” And you’re right. Something needs to change. The principles guiding my life which I have upheld and guarded in the last 10 years are fundamentally flawed. I’ve written all of 830 words so far in dedication to my ire of reunions, blocking my own path with assumptions that ultimately remove any sign of redemption through the use of one simple philosophy: try.

I’m going to a reunion.

Monk + Money = Monkey Business?

The coverage of Reverend Shi Ming Yi’s trial led to a small balcony discussion between me and my wife, and subsequently, a number of lengthy comments between me and a skeptic (with good reason) in – of all people and in all places – local celebrity Ken Tay’s Facebook profile.

For those not in the know, following the very messy and sensationalised NKF scandal comes a new high-tension drama series – “Ren Ci Hospital“, starring the Vulnerable Reverend Shi Ming Yi (I’ll explain the use of the term “vulnerable” later).

The synopsis: said Reverend was arrested in the middle of last year and put on trial a day later after a five-month probe into the hospital’s alleged misappropriation of funds, found in undeclared interest-free loans to individuals and businesses working with the organisation. Digging deeper into the dirt, the prosecution found additional discrepancies, not only of the Reverend’s very fat bank account, but also of his history in property investments here in Singapore and in Perth, Australia, his chauffeur and various cars of significant worth (we’re talking Beemers and Volvos; I drive a Nissan Sunny, and it isn’t even mine), not to mention his allegedly “doctored” philosphy PhD from a questionable educational institution.

Now, we’re talking about a big-time charity figure who’s been earning millions for the organisation(s) he represents, and is known throughout high society (middle and low as well, for that matter) as the foremost Buddhism advocate in Singapore, Johor (and some say Batam). My first real interest in this matter was piqued while I was in the midst of moping about my own finances, when I read a headline mentioning the Reverend’s bank account; my first thought (which I subsequently posted on Twitter because it was less than 140 characters long) was, “You know your life is truly crap when you find out on a newspaper that a monk has more money than you.”

I mulled over that statement with my wife, who had a different opinion of this whole debacle. Here we have the third-largest charitable organisation after the NKF and the Singapore Endowment Fund; the amount of money changing hands on the basis of Singaporean kindness makes charity work overwhelmingly profitable as an induistry. And, as some of us may have learnt from the NKF debacle, it is quite necessary (although not altogether the smartest thing to do) to have it run very much like a corporation, complete with administrative staff, personal assistants, auditors, a board of directors, and the most dangerous job of all, the CEO.

So the monk fucked up. So what? In the face of so much money coming at you like Spanish tomatoes during La Tomatina, the temptation is truly irresistible, regardless of whether you’re a monk, a yogi or the Pope. To be fair, the Hospital itself has flourished and its charges taken care of with the fullest utilisation of the benefits the organisation has earned. Lending a quote from The Straits Times, “The monk admitted that he was ‘easy with money’ but denied he was similarly so with Ren Ci’s money.” With this in mind, we need to ask ourselves, how many people have we helped, the way the Reverend has helped his patients, to be able to fuck up this big-time?

I’ve personally seen as many monks sharing a bouncy red 20-year-old Datsun hatchback as there are monks driving and being driven in Mercedes Benzes and BMWs (I won’t even talk about the airport encounters I’ve had with monks in first-class). Do they deserve to live their lives this way, whether it be in a hatchback or a luxury 2.4-litre German monster? Neither you nor I can say, for we know nothing of their backgrounds and the circumstances behind their gains (even the Datsun boys; at least the thing moves). This is where the benefit of the doubt comes in handy.

Let’s talk about the “loans”. If a truly venerable monk with $5 in his cloth bag were approached by a man who makes his case as a penniless chap in need of $5 to tapow 2 packets of chicken rice back for himself, his wife and 37 children, do you think the monk would say no? Similarly, if the Reverend, hapless as he is about the financial policies set forth by his own organisation as well as the legal boundaries of the Charities Act, were to be asked by the people under his employ, colleagues, or business partners to “help a brother out” after being presented with a convincing case, what do you think he would do? (Even though it is surplus revenue from after his organisation’s beneficiaries had been beneficiarised, a scheming mind might say, “Go ahead”, whereas a naive mind might ask, “Why not?” The outcome may be the same, but the intentions are vastly different.)

“(His PA) told Ming Yi that he needed the money because he had run into some financial difficulties, but did not tell him that it was to pay for the renovations.” [link]

As far as I can see, the misappropriation of funds was borne through a naive sense of doing good coupled with an ignorance of rules and regulations, made possible through the conniving of certain individuals who made their want of money look like a need for personal gain.

What of his property “investments” and bank account then? Supplemental income? Back-up plan for Ren Ci’s rainy days? Part of Mother Theresa’s estate to “all the kind people out there”? In search of the perfect place to meditate in? All my wife and I know is that it is not uncommon for heads of charities to have money on the side for whatever, whenever. Even the hospital’s management committee had this to say during the trial:

“When questioned later by Ming Yi

National Pride & Prejudice

My wife and I put up the national flag on our balcony last night in anticipation of National Day. I use the term “anticipation” in the loosest way possible, because I’m not particularly excited. The flag idea was, after all, my wife’s; I probably would have conveniently forgotten all about it like the rest of my residential estate (last flag count was 2, including our own).

That being said, I never would have thought I’d see the day that I would fly the national flag on my very own balcony. It used to be my parents doing it back when we stayed in Ang Mo Kio, and they still do it today, at their lift landing (my family occupies the entire top floor of the apartment they live in, so they pretty much do whatever they want with the corridor and lift landings until the fire safety officers come). Do they have national pride? you bet your white short-sleeved shirt and white pants they do.

Am I proud to be Singaporean? Good question.

The first 18 years of any Singaporean’s life is anything but political. We gripe about our homework, bitch about our teachers, chase skirts and peep into blouses, beat up on other boys, get beaten up, … the days of juvenile gallivanting did not concern the welfare of the country nor its people, only of our own stamina, stomachs and a lot of times smell. And then comes National Service, where (to borrow a little inspiration from the famed author of the Teenage Textbook, Adrian Lim) the boys become men, and the girls also become men (if and when they choose to serve). After that, either more studies, or off to work we go; and this would be the moment where we start the slow and painful process of realising what politics means.

The local media propagates a lot of the government’s praises, while the Internet propagates its many downfalls (often much more effectively). Call it our