Leaving China

Chapter 3

The thriller that was the misty land of China did unfold for me as we explored the country and it’s people. One of the most unique experiences I had was during our last trip within China. We went to Luoyang, one of the four ancient capitals of China, the other three being Beijing, Xian and Nanjing.

We had travelled to all the three capitals. In fact, I had been to Beijing four times and still feel very excited when I think of the Great Wall. So, Luoyang was the only one we had left out.

Actually, we had all wanted to go to Tibet as our swansong… The pictures I have seen are so scenic and the skies are so blue … But as luck would have it, we could not get our permits for Tibet in time.You need a special permit to go to Tibet. And if there is any kind of unrest, they close off Tibet to all and sundry.

I must admit that I was also a little slow in planning the trip as I was sad over losing my mother the year we were leaving China. I had to travel to India one week before my elder son’s, Aditya’s, grade twelve exam for her funeral. My friends stood me in good stead. They helped me manage my emotions and travel. They kept an eye on my kids and informed the school for me. Surya’s best friend’s(Adrian’s)mother, Marta, offered to host my children.”Just treat us like your family” was what Marta said. The love, support and warmth of these women and my wonderful husband gave me the strength and courage to undertake the journey and face the situation.

Despite the support I was distraught when I returned. The school counsellor, for who I used to report parent sessions in the school magazine on a voluntary basis,was so kind that she spent two hours giving me advise on how to deal with my emotions. And it helped! I must say my extended expat family did for me what a real one would have done for me.

In India, I had my wonderful cousins, their kids and spouses and uncles and aunts to thank for the support they lent. But, it takes time to heal. And it takes time to plan a trip to Tibet. By the time I felt well enough to think of our last holiday, we realised we had no time to organise the permit. My husband was travelling. So, Tibet was out and Luoyang was in.

Luoyang is an ancient city that started around 12 BCE. Fifteen hundred years ago, it was made the capital of the Wei dynasty. The Buddhists there made caves that have come down to us as Longmen Grottoes. This is what Aditya wanted to see. My husband wanted to visit the original Shaolin monastery that has major links to a couple of Indian monks. Surya wanted most of all to visit the stalactite caves in the neighbouring county of Luanchan. They are reputed to be the largest of such formations in China. We had visited such a cave in Guilin, called the Reed Flute cave. We decided to satiate the youngest member of our family first. So, the stalactite-stalagmite cave it was on the first day.

We had found a driver who spoke mandarin. He drove us from the airport to the hotel. He was also willing to take us around for the next few days. We fixed with him to pick us up from the hotel the next morning at 10.30 am.

There was only one hotel in Luoyang that seemed to cater western breakfasts. And as I said earlier in my last book, my threesome always thought much of the morning meal while starting out on a holiday. So, we went to that one hotel. A major discovery that we made was that the staff spoke almost no English. We were given a huge suite and a lot of warm welcome. Eventually, we noticed there were hardly any tourists of non-Chinese origins in the hotel and, subsequently, we noticed, in the town. The western breakfast was laced for high-end Chinese clientele. But, we did get down a good meal before we started on our two hour journey to the caves.

The journey was through hills and very scenic. When we reached the cave, as our driver parked the car, the security and he exchanged what seemed to me to be rapid speech in the local dialect. He told Aditya, who was our family translator for his excellent grasp of mandarin, that we needed to buy tickets and take a tram to the caves and then come straight back.

We went to the ticket booth, bought the tickets took the tram which dropped us at a trolley station. The trolley took us up to the caves.

The caves had interesting formations and were huge. We were asked to follow a guided group. They told us we could be lost in the cave if we went on our own. So, follow we did. And we saw some amazing formations, though the lights were a trifle garish. When we exited from the cave and subsequently, from the trolley that took us back, we wanted to have some family pictures taken. We saw a bunch of security personnel looking at us… A common occurrence in parts of China which are less frequented by tourists, I thought. We asked them to photograph the family. They obliged.

Then, they told us to leave. They escorted us back to our waiting car. We were totally flabbergasted. Our driver informed us that this was a restricted area for foreigners. He did not know this earlier as he had never ferried foreigners to Luanchan. The security personnel had scolded him about it. Foreigners were only allowed in with government guides hired by hotels. None of them would divulge why we could not visit the area. None of the English websites we googled had anything on this. It was truly an amazing adventure!

We returned to the hotel and had a tea-cum-dinner at the Pizza Hut in the neighbouring mall. The hotel fare for dinner was Chinese seafood… Not the perfect thing for four hungry stomachs. The mall had a concert on in Chinese pop. It was interesting and noisy to watch.

Food to suit our palate was quite an issue in Luoyang. We dined in this mall every evening. The last evening we saw a full-sized robotised driverless car. It moved back if it met an obstruction. The threesome in my life could not stop chasing it, walking around it to make it stop… They were so caught up with the antics of the driverless car that they never noticed the huge publicity they were gathering for this vehicle!

The next day, we were off to the famed Longmen Grottoes. They were rambling and impressive. They stretched out by the Yi river over an area of 12 kms. There are 100,000 statues and 1400 caves. The earliest caves date back to 493CE, when the Northern Wei made Luoyang their capital. The caves and statues were made by the local population under the patronage of various kings and the rich and stretch over thousands of years. However, by the end of the Tang Dynasty, most of the caves and statues had been completed.

The area of these caves is so vast that we didnot attempt to cover all of it. But, we did take a boat ride down the Yi river. It was a beautiful view with the caves dotting the entire ride, like giant beehives along the rugged cliffs.

These caves reminded me of the Ajanta and Ellora caves in India, which we had visited with our parents and kids. That was a fantastic trip, though managing a seven member troupe of ages ranging from five to seventy two is not an easy task! But, we did it. The Ajanta caves had been rediscovered by a British hunting party in 1819 in the rugged hilly forests of Sahyadri hills, near Aurangabad. The rock face there is perhaps more rugged than Longmen. The work dates from 100BCE to 650CE. They have paintings, other than sculptures.

The Ellora caves house Buddhist, Jain and Hindu sculptures and temples. They date from 600CE to 1000CE. I found the Ellora to be the most remarkable of all structures I have ever seen. It was carved into high basalt cliffs, about 100 kms from Ajanta. What was most remarkable about these caves were not just the carvings but also the spirit of tolerance reflected by the three religions’ temples existing in harmony in the same complex! There are 600 to 1000 monuments that stretch over 2 kms and reflect the excellent level of craftsmanship that existed in India in those days.

Tucked away among a lot of other sculptures was a griffin-like figure in the main temple. I wonder if it was the heritage of a workman who had come down from Europe all the way to India to earn his daily bread. Could it be that people were moving freely in a visa less world and there was no concept of refugees from deprived nations?

In China, the sheer area covered by the rolling hills and the Yi river was impressive as was the devotion stretched out over a period of many centuries… A bit like the Great Wall without the sad stories. Some of the sculptures had been defaced by the ravages of civilisation and time but it was still amazing to see how much people could do in those days! I wonder if one thousand years into posterity, people will stand outside the Burj Khalifa and make the same observations. And whether the Great Wall, Longmen Grottoes and Ellora will draw huge crowds still?

The last day of our stay in Luoyang took us to the Shaolin Temple in the neighbouring county of Dengfeng. Built 1500 years ago, the temple is another embodiment of Indian-Chinese collaboration in ancient times. The monastery was ordered built by Xiamen of the Northern Wei Dynasty for the Indian monk Budhabhadra, fondly referred to as Batuo in China, who founded the Shaolin group of monks. Martial arts at the Shaolin temple was started later by another Indian monk, Bodhidharma. All along Buddhism, you find this multicultural approach to life which perhaps came to a halt when nation building and borders became of paramount importance to the world taken by the storm of secularism.

I was of course not that keen to go and visit a martial arts temple, however old… But what I saw took my breath away. Set against the rolling Song hills, the temple covers a huge area. We had to take an electric trolley to get to the main building. The main building housed these huge stone cooking pots next to some pillars. These pots were so large that one could stew four or five men in it. We were told the monks cooked in these pots by hanging from the pillars. It was a form of exercise. I wonder how many fell into the cooking pot while practising (or didn’t they!). The trees here again had strange features.

Even for someone as disinterested in Kungfu as me, I was amazed by the show put on by the students. They were flying, leaping and doing all kinds of fantastic moves that you only get to see in movies. It was a unique, outstanding and breath-taking experience! They were fabulous.

The other remarkable thing I noticed in China were the devout pilgrims that always crowded these ancient Chinese monasteries despite the majority educated youngsters calling themselves free thinkers.

As we boarded the flight back to Suzhou, a sadness and longing crept in my heart for the things I was going to have to leave unseen, for adventures which I would miss…for within two weeks we would begin our move back to Singapore.

Leaving China

Chapter 2

The worst part about being an expat was that our friends moved out of China every now and then. The saddest thing that happened to me was when two of my closest friends moved out of Suzhou within a week of each other. Donatella moved back to Italy. Anu moved back to Finland.

The two of them used to have these interminable arguments about the advantages and drawbacks of the European Union. It was like listening to delegates of two nations exchanging an interesting set of views. And we used to have these discussion over cups of coffee at my dining table with fantastic Italian cottage cheese cake and channa masala( spicy chick peas). Anu, whose name sounded very Indian but was actually Nordic, could finish half a kilo of channa masala on her own. In winters, we had these huge luscious strawberries which we could not stop munching.

And when it snowed in 2008 in Suzhou, it was another story. Suzhou had not seen the likes of such snow for more than fifty years, we were told. The highways were closed. There was not enough equipment to clear the snow. So, roads were closed. We frequented each other’s homes close by. Schools closed down. The children had snowy day holidays. They loved it. Donatella’s sons, Antonio and Leonardo, and Anu’s son, Kalegh, and daughter, Maya, and my kids made igloos and held snow wars with each other. They were joined by Bob. Bob’s American dad made a huge snowman. And his Chinese Mom, Heather, provided a huge orange carrot for a nose and charcoal for eyes. We contributed a streamer of tinsel for the scarf and Anu found an old cap. What a fancy snowman that was! My kids, who were seeing snow for the first time, learnt how to make the body and head of a snowman by rolling snow. The snow in Suzhou is very wet and slushy. We had to dry their boots and snow wear on the floor heating in our homes. The floors were heated by hot water pipes under the floor board.

If the floor heating used gas to warm the house and water, one could face issues in winter. China government rations gas in winters. So, if heating the house and hot water consumed the rationed gas, one fine day the family would wake up to a cold home with no hot water and no cooking gas. The government allowed extra gas only after a special application was made for it. But, the application had to be made especially and there would be a brief patch of discomfort.

Mind you, the majority of local population did not have access to air conditioning. My ayi (home help) told me that they would spend most of the time at home in winters under the quilt watching TV. I discovered Bollywood movies and Indian serials were very popular with the Chinese. They were all dubbed in mandarin. I, personally, do not much like Bollywood culture or the tedious family dramas, be they western or Indian.

Television programmes continued being an issue for foreigners in China. The legal TV only includes CTV (China Television) network. They have many channels with programs from all over the world, except it is all dubbed Chinese and edited by Chinese for the Chinese. So, most of us over the years didnot exactly take to it. There was only one bilingual channel. The rest of the programmes from foreign networks were relayed by very expensive dish antennas that intermittently worked and stopped working. One could do very less about it. This was a commodity that was not made for the common man.

The other issue was internet. International social media was not available easily throughout. Sometimes, even gmail or yahoo mail were difficult to access.We used VPN (Virtual Private Network) to access social media and, at times, gmail or yahoo mail. However, China did have Baidu (equivalent of Chinese Google/yahoo) and it’s own version of Facebook and Twitter… All in mandarin.

There was an intermittent market for illegal CDs churned out by the dozen. One CD could contain twenty movies. Occasionally, these shops cropped up. Eventually they were raided by the local authorities and were forced to close doors. In these stores, you could even pick up movies that were newly released in theatres! There was no concept of copyright among these traders.

I found it amazing how freely some of the locals could borrow and adapt from every culture. From scientific inventions to movies to handbags and Gucci suits … Everything could be had in China and made in China. A Prada handbag could cost anything from 50 to 5000 rmb. Vendors offered ‘Rolex’ watches from 10 to 10000 rmb openly at roadside cafes. They walked from table to table offering their wares. Copyright remains an official protocol enforced by government agencies.

Nationalism and copyright, two off shoots of the eighteen century Britain, have had two extreme opposite reactions among the locals.While nationalism was embraced and national pride is evident among many, communism had preached common property for the last fifty years. So, everything was treated as common.

Once the water hose from my garden ended up as common property and disappeared from my home. Another time, one of my garden chairs stepped out for a walk as in Edward Lear’s poem The Table and The Chair. It must have gone for a walk as my younger son, Surya, spotted the chair in the store room of the club house in our compound a few years after it absconded from our garage. It was in rather a derelict shape and we didnot think of reclaiming it. Lot of things, including skateboards, scooters and chairs that we expats had misplaced over the years and security guards had hunted in vain were in the store room of the club house, a common area. They had all come to life as the table and the chair did in Edward Lear’s poem and found their way at the end to the store room, where the life force had quit their inanimate forms. All these properties had been shared in common. However, my missing garden hose was not there.

I must say this that nothing big or expensive ever went missing from my household. Some of the workforce that came in to service the homes in the gated community just helped themselves to what they needed, like the hose or the chair that went missing from my garage. Now, with the exposure from a more consumerist world, sometimes there are reports of thefts of laptops and cash. One of my ayis once told me that no one locked doors in China even forty years ago as there was no concept of theft and, in my opinion, privacy.

Privacy is a concept that has been totally wiped out there. Sometimes, foreigners like us, suffer from lack of privacy in China, be it in changing rooms or in public toilets. I remember the concept of common property is so strong in China that I had people wandering into my garden through the hedges to admire my koi fishes or flowers. Occasionally, they would help themselves to flowers, plants, oranges and beans that grew in my garden. I tried to chase them out. I called in the security but that made me feel like the selfish giant from Oscar Wilde’s stories, the guy who chased children out of his beautiful garden. However, I was forced to act the selfish giant as I found that some of them threw cigarette stubs or spat into my garden!

Expats of the older school were more tolerant than newcomers who often felt offended at the attention meted out to them by the locals. And this seemed to increase with the passage of years. Some of the women were fairly vocal about it at expat gatherings.

People who came in just before we left had a different outlook. They had come to China, the affluent country, to make millions and create empires. People who went in earlier approached the country with a sense of adventure. We wanted to explore the world, not just make a living.

Travelling through China had been a dream I had since university. I was always intrigued by the walls that cut off the rest of the world from China till the opening up in the nineteen eighties. I loved Pearl S Buck’s novels and the shroud of secrecy that seemed to protect the country from any external intrusion. It was like a mystery waiting to unfold, like a good thriller…

Leaving China

I spent eight years of my life in China and put it all in a book, In the Land of Dragons. This is a sequel to the last book, a little more about China and the world.

Chapter 1

I enjoyed my stay in China very much. And it would not be wrong to say, I miss my life in China, my friends most of all.

After eight years in Suzhou, we decided to move back to Singapore so that my elder son could do his National Service. This goal is being fulfilled but still that fleeting twang in my heart cries out for the life I had in China.

I had friends from all over the world… Initially, when I went, the expat population consisted of people who were willing to explore the possibilities in an ancient country that had newly opened it’s doors to the world. The local people were vibrant and curious about us. They followed us wherever we went, whether it was a market or a park.

Once, when I went to buy chicken from the fresh market, I had at least a dozen followers who listened intently as my driver, Mr Woo, tried to comprehend my order and translate it into the local dialect. As I knew almost no Mandarin then, my relocation agent, Diana, who was bilingual, telephonically explained the details to him. The driver and the local population knew no English. Between two degrees of translation, despite my attempts to explain what a broiler chicken was, I ended up with a shrivelled black chicken, which, Mr Woo patiently conveyed through Diana was very good for children! Diana believed the same.

It was my first and last attempt at buying chicken from the fresh market. The locals at the market were so amused by my expression of confusion as I tried to explain what I wanted that they started all pitching in to help me! They spoke the local dialect, Suzhou hua. The crowds kept increasing as the voices grew louder in an attempt to explain what my choice might be. At last, my driver shooed away the crowd of helpful and curious onlookers. They were like children and dispersed as easily as they gathered.

Initially, I was worked up by the absence of things that were easily found in Singapore but soon, I found myself adapting to things available in China. And everything was available. One just needed to know where to get it and have the means to pay for it. I started buying my meats from super markets that had been started to meet foreigners’ needs. Over the years, Suzhou did get flooded with a number of such marts catering to foreigners. They would get their meats from Shanghai. A few years down the line, from such a mart in a housing complex, I not only picked up chicken but had it cut to my specification. Of course, my mandarin had improved by then and I could converse a little with the locals.

I continued to frequent the fresh market for vegetables and fresh fruit and even learnt to haggle with the local shopkeepers. Crowds of curious onlookers ceased to follow me as I was accepted as a regular. It was good fun!

We moved about in a chauffeur driven car with darkened windows so that the curious onlookers would not be able to look inside. We were always kept in housing meant for expats, very comfortable and high-end. The relocation agents looked after our every need, to the point where I was irritated at times. We were told we were not allowed to drive or use local transport as all the signs were in mandarin and we could well be lost.

That is not the part that I loved. But somewhere along the way, I discovered women like myself. Living in Singapore for more than a decade, I had come to believe that I was incapable of having close friends as my interests were different from most women’s. In Singapore, people mix within their little groups, groups that are very focused on their areas of interest. Then, there are linguistic groups.

In China, I was mixing with women from all over the world who were homogenised into one group against the local population. The fantastic thing when I went in the early 2000s was that most of these women had an attitude with which they learnt to accept the differences among the varied cultures and make friends with people who had a similar mindset. The country or the skin colour did not matter. Neither did languages hold them back. An Italian friend of mine, Donatella, picked up enough English in Suzhou within a year to make friends with a non-Italian speaker like me. Of course, she knew a little English earlier but at the end of a couple of years she was in a position to tell me that she preferred Twilight to Harry Potter. I could not read Twilight for it’s lack of family structures but I loved Harry Potter and had read each book at least half-a-dozen times.

With her, I found our differences only drew us closer. Once when an Indian lady in Suzhou had saddened me by saying,” Oh! You have been out of India too long to be called an Indian,” Donatella said,”Why do you look for friends always in your race? Come, I am your friend.” And I did find an excellent friend in her. I had friends from many countries. I learnt from Donatella that friendship is beyond bounds, a meeting of hearts and values. I still what’s app with my friends from China but it is not the same thing as seeing each other face to face, holding innumerable, informal gatherings, visiting each other’s homes without prior notice, meeting for coffee or lunch and going for long walks or just going to a friend when one needs help.

How often have my friends helped themselves to mint from my garden! How often we have babysat for each other! I remember when my younger son had to stay overnight in a camp at school for one night, my Brazilian friend, Maria, and Pakistani friend, Salma, spent the evening in my home so that I wouldnot be over anxious. We all did for each other.

On an average day, one interacted with a variety of races and creeds. The best part of it was none of us noticed we did not hold the same passport or we did not have the same festivals. I learnt to love Brazilian cheese bread, Pakistani Kebabs, Libyan mutton, Swiss cakes, variety of coffees, French fruit wine, German wheat cookies, Finnish pancakes, Chinese cuisine,especially meat dishes from Xinjiang and learnt cooking a variety of cuisines too. A German friend, Beatte, and I made a cookbook for charity with contributors from sixty-five different countries! She was an engineer by profession but in China, she had to be just a mom and wife as did Donatella, who was an accountant by profession. In fact, most of us did not work as we were taking on the challenge of living and bringing up our kids in China. We were happy being moms.
The good thing about the friends I made in China was none of them looked for external approval to feel good about them selves. For us, our children and husband were most important. We did not face an identity crisis as housewives or homemakers. We were all open and willing to learn from China.

China had many things to teach us…both good and bad.

The Human Dilemma


The other day I was sitting in an open space, watching white clouds float in a vibrant blue sky… It was so relaxing…almost therapeutic. Like the erstwhile Wordsworth who felt gleeful when he saw the daffodils, my mood swung to an all time high. I decided to stock up the happy feelings for times when I feel vacant and pensive like good old William did two hundred years ago. Then as I gazed, I saw the clouds float into and away from each other. Watching them change shapes and shadows, I started thinking of the fluidity of all beings and existence.

I suppose currently, we are all perceived to be loose conglomerates of small dots, which scientists like to refer to as atoms, as is a table or a chair…theoretical physics… While we cannot see the molecules, they pretty much behave like the clouds in the sky, except for longer durations…just stay adrift, held together by neutrons…all particles … Do we exist or don’t we? Are we real or aren’t we?

The other day in a TV show, some intellectuals were proposing that we all were a part of a computer game for some kind of creatures we might refer to as aliens in our present state of existence as earthly humans. Our world is the grid they created. So, are we dots or holographs or computer images?

Are we all a part of some game? Omar Khayyam, more than a thousand years ago, had also seen mankind as part of a game. Perhaps, in those days chess would have been equivalent of a computer game.

‘Tis all a chequered board of Nights and Days,
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays.
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays
And one by one in the Closet lays.(translated by Edward Fitzgerald)

Humankind as chess pieces in Destiny’s grip and the chess board being our grid or world…perhaps he was being fatalistic but, on the other hand, Destiny could be a gamer…who knows what the wise old poet-astronomer felt exactly. Perhaps, he was in touch with the game players and helping them develop algorithms. Perhaps, he was telepathic or one of the gamers disguised as us…who knows!?!

In Hinduism, they say mankind is maya or illusion. None of us exist except as a part of Brahma’s dream or as a figment of his imagination…So, is Brahma a creator of games…the Master Creator? Was he created by someone else to cater to the Hindu population of Gods, which amounts to 330 million? Mind you there are those in Hinduism that will say that there is only one God and the vast pantheon are projections of the human imagination so that man can focus better, a form being easier to focus on than an abstraction. Or, is Brahma the only Creator, the only manipulator of divine energy? Now, I have really ended up confusing myself… Is all creation divine? What is divinity? Who is our maker? And if we are projections or part of a game plan, then who are the players and who created them?

One of the latest theory talks of man originating in Africa as clones of giant extra-terrestrials. Adam is seen as the first clone in the Garden of Eden, which is supposed to be somewhere in Zimbabwe, and our creators are projected as gold-hungry tyrants and separate from God. God, they say, is the good one. These aliens are not. They say that groups of aliens came to different parts of the world and created clones that were much smaller in size and not as powerful as them to resolve their labor issues. They needed miners for routine work. So, the first humans were miners and people they saw as God who came with flashes of light were the extra-terrestrials. These are the Gods recorded in ancient Mesopotamian, Mayan, Egyptian, Hindu and other myths, according to this school of thought. They are even trying to build the biblical myth into their proposal. I wonder if these terrifying extra-terrestrials would also have followed or follow our laws of physics and be a loose conglomeration of atoms in motion?

The Christian myth has also been disproven by many as the timeline proposed is perceived as unrealistic among other arguments. Earlier, man turned to religion to figure out the reason for his existence and annihilation. Now, he is extending his frontiers to probe the unknown. In the process, some are rejecting the older myths as hogwash and proposing newer ones which seem more exciting.

The new God is Science. Now there are people who believe in Science and not in God. They are trying to explain our being and existence through science. I myself harbour scientific nerds in my home. However, they believe in God too. They belong to the category that believe in both Science and God. Ultimately, nerds, non-nerds, theists, atheists, gnostics and agnostics, all get stuck at the same question.

How did the energy which was the focal point of all creation come into being? And then how did it all evolve into us…Darwin, metaphysics, physics, astrophysics, history, aliens, religion…

When my confusion is at its utmost, I try to quench it by reading Arthur C Clarke’s science fiction, which does try to make room for divinity in its own ways. My father turns to Upanishads. Isabel turns to the Bible. Steven Hawking turns to Science. Eric Von Daniken turns to alienology. Spencer Wells turns to our DNAs and genomes. Yet, our quests seem to be unending…like the white clouds that keep adrift on vibrant blue skies all over the world. And we will continue probing for answers as will the outer space probes that reach out to places untouched by us earthlings…among the star-studded galaxies.

The Conundrum

The Democrat

God opened a new factory…one for making labels.

His worker asked ,”Why have you opened this factory? What is it you want to establish? Most companies make their own labels or lease it out to a vendor nowadays to save costs. Then, why are we making only labels instead of products? For who are we making these labels?”

God answered,”Let us slow down and take one question at a time.”

God ,who had a fantastic recall said ,”Question one: Why have you opened this factory? Answer: To make labels. Question: What is it you want to establish? Answer: That is a good question. We will arrive at the answer by and by. Third question: Why are we making labels only instead of products? Answer: Because that is what mankind wants. Last question: For who are we making these labels? Answer : For mankind.”

The worker looked bemused and said: “I am still very confused. Do you not decide what mankind wants?”

“No. Mankind decides what they want. I was made by them, for them and of them.” said God.

“You sound like a democratic leader!” said the worker.

“Am I not?”asked God.

“I thought you were the creator of all mankind and all universe,”the worker mumbled. He was feeling more and more perplexed.

“I am,”said God with a smile.

“Then how is it you talk of servicing mankind?”asked the worker, now at the brink of a breakdown.

“Well. I was nothing and the universe came out of nothingness. I thought of my existence and I started existing. Then I thought of the Universe and Earth and it happened. Then I thought of night and day. Then, I thoughts of different life forms. They all happened. I was The Creator. I created. It was good fun! I thought and I made it happen… ”

“Then I made some of My most supreme creations…mind, thoughts, ideas…and they all happened. My creatures were thinking, questioning and praying. They wanted many things…one of them were their wishes fulfilled…for that, I needed to service them. From a creator, I became a fulfiller of wishes. When I created man, I gave him thoughts…led to needs…led to ideas…led to wishes and dreams….If I leave them unfulfilled, mankind will die of frustration… Don’t you see?”

“I understand. But that still doesnot explain this factory for labels,”said the perplexed worker.

“I am coming to that… When men and women started thinking, they started defining roles for themselves in society…like teacher, trader, doctor, engineer, priest, farmer…and they became labels that stuck to them for the rest of their lives. They trained for these roles in school. They did their utmost to fulfill these roles and create super-specialized labels,”said God.

“But your labels do not bear these names. They are called mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, brother, wife,husband…”said the worker.

God said: “I know. In quest for professional excellence, man forgot to sustain and nurture these relationships and roles. That is why I am making these labels…with the hope that mankind will again learn to redefine himself in essential human roles…”

“I do not think there will be any takers for these labels. These roles are always taken for granted,” said the worker.

“That is where media and art will come in…”said God. “Just watch. I am also the maker of dreams. “

Ghostly sagas

Last night, I thought I would write about nocturnal adventures of the paranormal kind. For some reason,most people seem to prefer them over poetry or serious stories. It makes for popular literature,at least in Singapore.People love getting spooked. I don’t. My sons love it. My husband loves it. My friends love it. My brothers-in-law love it. I still don’t. However, conceding to popular tastes, I thought I could try my hand at a few ghost stories… Perhaps, I could do a story about a ghost dating a youngster or a ghost far from home, lost… All these ideas haunted my mind as I thought of the stories my son carried home from his training camp dorms,the most alarming being his dorm mates had seen a white lady ghost hovering near his bed around 2 am or 3 am in the morning! My son had never seen her! He responded by guffawing and telling his batch mates, he was dating her…of course he was joking but he was also being very irreverent,I thought. I always hold ghosts in reverence as one never knows if they are real or not…I would prefer to leave such areas unresearched . I do not ever want to encounter a spook. I was spooked when I thought of the silent floating specter in the quiet,dark night with the river flowing silently in front of our house. I was afraid that I would see the white ghostly lady’s translucent , pale friends and relatives from the nether world waving at me or making faces at me when I looked out of the window. I was so scared that I stopped writing. I prayed for my son’s safety. I hoped he was having a peaceful and good night. Earlier in the day, one of my friends had told me that horror stories were most effective when they included sounds of creaking doors and trailing chains and all kinds of spooky noises. But, the funny thing is all the ghosts in my son’s dorm are silent! They do their rounds around 2 am or 3 am but are definitely out by 4 am, when my son wakes up to the sound of the alarm. This week, I heard, four ghosts haunt their dormitory and one, their laundry. The laundry area is haunted by an old lady who just hangs around the machines till it is time for her to turn in …I suppose, back to her grave. My son has never seen her but his dorm mates have. They have been instructed to visit the laundry in pairs, never alone…a necessary precaution as no one knows when or what she might do… The ghosts in the dormitory are just hoverers if you do not mess with them, I have heard. They do not make noise, but people who see them still get scared, despite what my friend said about sound being the thing that induces fears. Some of the boys pray whenever they have spare time so that spooks don’t harm them! The white lady near my son’s bunk just hovers and leaves. The grey lady gaurds four bunks ,two of which are occupied. The occupants have seen her .Then, there is a Japanese soldier ghost that sits on top of the locker clutching his bayonet. He just sits there. Maybe, he is lost! That is why I thought of doing a story about a ghost lost and far from home. Then, I thought ghosts could materialize anywhere,anytime…and that is when I started getting goosebumps…. Could there be a ghost in my compound? Could there be a ghost in my house? Or, in the shopping malls? My sons swear that shopping malls are so noisy that ghosts would be spooked out of them! Perhaps,that is why women love shopping malls. They are spook-free. Or, are they not? Are all the people in the malls alive and not ghosts? I realize I have wandered off the course. I was focussing on the four ghosts that hover in my son’s dorm between 2 am and 3 am but are definitely out by 4am. The fourth ghost is a shoe polisher,a bit in the tradition of the elves in Elves and the Shoemaker by the Brothers Grimm. It seems he polishes the boots of one of the boys in the dorm. This boy has the shiniest boots in the whole institute. Shoe polishing is an art that boys need to master while training . They have to have very shiny boots or they have to do push ups or sit ups,it seems. The whole batch gets punished if even one person  has less polished boots! I have seen my son sit by the hour and polish his boots during weekends,even in the middle of birthday parties. He even polishes his boots with a computer app that teaches you how to have the shiniest boots in the whole universe…he sits with his laptop and boots and polishes the weekend out! The reason I elaborated on the shoe polishing bit is so that you can figure out how important it is to have shiny boots and what a huge favor this ghost is doing for the trainee whose shoe he polishes regularly! So, is this a “kind” ghost? And yet the boys get scared (except some disbelievers, like my son) and pray that they are kept safe from him. Actually, I would too! I do not want to have ghostly visitors, however kind and good. With due reverence to paranormal creatures and believers, I would love to live in a world without spooky fears !

Ghostly Meanderings

I am terrified of ghosts,perhaps, because I have an imagination. I have never seen one. I avoid reading about them too. When I was a kid and someone wanted to tell a ghost story,I would put my fingers into my ears and shout, drowning all sounds…let me assure you a most effective way of shutting out anything you do not want to hear. Of course,if my sons dared do that, they would be given much to think about.
When I moved to Singapore, I thought I had left all ghostly things behind as it was such a new country…
But I was wrong.
Singapore has it’s own romance with ghosts. In August,Taoists burn paper to appease hungry ghosts.When we were house hunting,our house agent informed us quite seriously that roads are not built straight so that ghosts don’t find their way to homes. The conclusion being, there are ghosts and ghosts do not take meandering pathways. I noticed houses at the end of a straight road were priced lower. And, now,there is this vast majority of literature about ghosts, poems and stories, written and printed locally. It has the nomenclature of dark literature. I have never dared to touch it for the fear of the unknown.
When my son went into training for National Service,(every child born here needs to serve the nation for two years before going to university)we found out that the academy was next to a graveyard. Many trainee national servicemen had evidently noticed paranormal activities,I had heard.Though, we were assured in a talk given to parents that there are no ghosts. My friend’s friend’s son had professed to see some such paranormal stuff.Of course, the unimaginative and prosaic could dismiss it as “hallucination due to exhaustion and fear”.
Then one weekend my son came home and told us a “ghost” story.
He used to wake up at 4 am and get ready for the day by 5 am. It was his task to see people were up. One night, he had a bad dream…he dreamt he woke up at six in the morning and their whole platoon was given a zillion push ups for it as a punishment. He woke up in cold sweat and stumbled across the dark room in search of the clock. Suddenly,one of the boys sat up on his bed, closed his eyes and started praying. He prayed and prayed with his eyes closed till my son returned to his bed and fell asleep, reassured that it was still night and he had had a nightmare. The other trainee continued to pray.
The next morning, the trainee ,who spent a large part of the night praying,went up to the instructors and said he had had a sighting. For some absurd reason, the instructor asked my son if he had been walking around the room at night. When my son,responded in the affirmative, the instructors shook their heads and we had a laugh.
The boy,who had the sighting, however, continued to assert it was a ghost and not his batchmate!
To be or not to be, that is the question…as the great bard would say…
I continue to fear the paranormal…have no desire to meet, to greet or to eat with them…with all due respect to beings of the other world, I rest my pen….forever hoping to maintain a distance from them.

Gesundheit !

I get a lot of emails and messages advertising courses. I decided to start a course … a course on sneezing, as I do not possess any technical or managerial skill degrees or diplomas. I merely did post graduations in dilettante subjects. I decided to call my course Gesundheit because that is what everyone says after sneezing.
And then I googled the word gesundheit and discovered that there was an institute started in 1971 by a real ‘Patch Adams'( not the movie star Robin Williams) for revolutionizing the health care scenario!
Well, with due apologies to Gesundheit Institute, I decide to create a curriculum for my course with the same nomenclature.I know a curriculum is very necessary if you want people to enroll because interested parties always ask for course content.
Gesundheit is a German word that means good health. Sneezing generates good health for the sneezer,according to some . Therefore, a course that teaches you to sneeze properly would be as important as one that enables you to laugh for good health or another that helps generate a six digit monthly income( an advertisement that recurs repeatedly in my messages!) to pay for courses like mine.
What my course would focus on would be how to sneeze and how to use the energy generated by a sneeze in an eco friendly world.Evidently, researchers say a sneeze travels at 100 miles an hour…
To start with, we will focus on the methods of sneezing naturally.
Of course one can sneeze taking snuff or a whiff of pepper or chilly powder or pollutants, but that is induced by chemicals. I talked of natural means.
The first thing would be to tickle one’s nostril with a feather. That would cause a disturbance in the nasal cavity and induce a sneeze..
The second method would be to pluck ones brows. Evidently, a nerve connecting to the nasal passage can get stimulated if you pluck your brows. Of course, you would have to use a tweezers.And you would have to develop the skill to pluck just so that you can sneeze. That would require lots of training and might result in eyebrow less individuals but one could always draw eyebrows with permanent hair dyes or make up or wear false eyebrows. And while waiting for the eyebrows to grow back, one could try to master the third method, exercising!
One has to again learn the skill to generate sneezes while exercising. Researchers say you need to hyperventilate after exercising to sneeze. Hyperventilation leads to water in the nostril and that leads to sneezing. Lesser individuals could vomit due to hyperventilation, but such individuals with squeamish stomachs are not encouraged to enroll in the course.
One would be trying out all the three methods of sneezing in bright sunlight as research has it that sunlight can make you sneeze.
Our mascot for the course would be an iguana as iguanas are the best sneezers in the world. One could even study iguanas and imbibe their skills to become expert sneezers.
After that, at the end of the course, the students along with the teaching staff will brainstorm to see how the energy from a sneeze( since a sneeze travels at 100 miles per hour) can be harnessed to contribute to help resolve the worldwide energy crisis.