Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Second Chance

I don't believe that anybody could see the future, not even the best fortune tellers in the world. In some special cases, it is possible to guess fairly accurately what's going to happen in the future, but it's still a guess, not a certainty.

We are bound to come to many road junctions in life, and on many occasions we are bound to choose the wrong ones to take. But then in most cases, we can find our way back to the starting point so that we can then choose the other option(s) and end up with a better result. These are the kind of choices and decisions that we make on a daily basis, and we are constantly making wrong choices, but having practically limitless opportunities to correct those mistakes. In the process, we hope to learn something from the experience, and who knows, maybe we can avoid making those same mistakes again in the future.

That is well and fine, but apart from road junctions in life, there will be times when we would come to dilapidated bridges, of which they will collapse immediately after we have crossed, and there is no option to go back. If crossing that bridge was a wrong move, then there is no hope to correct that mistake! 

Things like taking a train, and then losing one's life when the train is derailed; taking a flight, and then the plane crashes, killing everybody onboard; or being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and then there's a suicidal maniac out on a killing spree with his machine gun. Y'know, things that are beyond our control, and there is little that we can do about the end result? Now imagine what would it be like if despite the "collapsed bridges", you are somehow transported back to your starting point before crossing that bridge, so that you have the chance to make a different choice? Not just another chance, but truly a precious second chance?

Well, my second chance came about 15 years ago. I was inspecting a timber concession area very deep in the jungle, and I was driving a twin-cabin pickup truck. My brother, Harry, was with me in the car. As you probably know, logging roads are not like the urban asphalt roads at all. These are mainly dirt roads, very narrow, hilly and winding. When it's raining, these roads would become muddy and slippery.

Fate would have it that just as I was coming down a steep hill, the brakes failed, and the vehicle started building up speed down that winding road. It felt a lot like riding a roller coaster, and very soon, as I was negotiating the twists and turns, I could feel the rear tyres of the vehicle skidding off the road. From the corner of my eye, I could see the deep ravine down below—a very long way down. I thought that was the end for me. Yet during that split second, I suddenly thought of my wife and daughter—the latter was just a few months old then.

I made the quick decision to steer the vehicle into a huge boulder, and the impact caused the vehicle to come to a complete stop. I survived the ordeal to live another day. We were rescued by the other vehicles in the convoy, made our way back to Keningau, and then later from Keningau back to KK that night.

By the time I reached home, it was around midnight. I tip-toed into the bedroom and saw my wife fast asleep. Then I saw my baby girl in her crib. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by emotions—I started crying like a baby. Not wanting to wake them up, I rushed into the bathroom and spent ages under the shower crying and crying. It was an eye-opening experience.

Because we are so used to getting so many opportunities to remedy our mistakes in life, there is the tendency to take those opportunities for granted. But second chances—I mean really "second chances"—are not always readily available. Yet they can very easily be mistaken with just any other opportunities, and therefore, there is a tendency to take second chances for granted too. You really have to experience that second chance to be able to really appreciate its true worth...

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


I had an interesting conversation with my daughter, JJ, in the car recently on our way home from her maths tuition. The conversations I have with JJ are different from the conversations that I used to have with my late father as a teenager. In those good old days, a conversation with my dad amounted to him telling me what's good and bad—according to his views of the world, and it's always a one-way-street. I had no choice but to accept his views. 

Therefore, for example, running as a routine, according to dad, is a stupid hobby. To him, fishing and playing with slingshots, and playing games with friends are more sensible hobbies. Singing in the choir and joining the Red Crescent are sissy and a total waste of time; joining the Boys Scouts is more suitable for a boy. Neither explanations nor justifications were given for his opinions; and my opinions didn't matter at all. Whatever he said was the gospel truth, as simple as that.

My conversations with JJ are a lot different in that I'm always keen to know her opinions. What are her explanations and justifications for her decisions. But of course in the end, I have the final say, though I try very, very hard to refrain from using that authority.

JJ is now in form four, and next year she will be sitting for the SPM exams. Right now she has no clue of what she wants to do when she grows up. She knows for certain that she doesn't want to be a lawyer or a doctor. She explained to me why, and I can accept her reasons. I'm not a parent who will force my child to take up a career that she's not interest in, just because I'm convinced that it's good for her. She said she feels like she can be good in handling animals; yet she doesn't see herself as a veterinarian. I'm not sure if she is influenced by the movie Jurassic Park, the sequel of which she's eagerly waiting for now.

I told JJ that I will try my best to support her in whatever way I can to achieve her dreams. But sometimes in life we must face reality. There will be times when doing the things we like doing would mean that we won't be able to bring 3 meals a day to the table. Therefore, sometimes we may have to do the things that we don't really like doing for the sake of survival. We have to set our priorities right, because one of these days she will have a family of her own, and children to feed. Worse, there will come the responsibility to give them proper education.

I cast my mind back to when I was a young man, when I was as poor as a church mouse. I was earning about RM500 a month as a maths teacher in one of the private colleges in KK, plus about RM200 from giving private tuition in the evenings. From that, I had to pay the rent for a miserably small house in a flood-prone neighbourhood which I was sharing with my sister; RM175 for my motorbike installment, several other expenses which I couldn't escape from, as well as a small fixed amount which I paid as "income tax" to my dad. As  you can probably imagine, there was hardly anything left after all those.

Those who know me well would know that I'm a person of many hobbies. If I could afford it, I would play, play and play all the time. But I had to set my priorities right. I had to work hard for a better future. My then girlfriend used to grumble a lot for not spending enough "quality time" with her because I had to work. She said I did not spare enough time for her; she was expecting me to take her to the movies more frequently, for example. 

My priority was to work, save money if I could, and then hopefully have enough savings to pay for further education. I had no idea what's gonna happen in the future, but I just had to try doing something. I must admit that back then, I seemed destined to be that hopeless "church mouse" for the rest of my life. That's why I can't blame my girlfriend for choosing greener pasture elsewhere for a brighter future. How the heck would I know that I would end up where I am today? I mean, if my daughter falls in love with a very poor man, I'd probably try my best to talk her out of it too, although of course it's her life, and she has the final decision.

I'm sometimes worried that JJ is having troubles setting her priorities right. She's a reasonably bright kid, but looking around me now, I dread the thought of her having to compete in such a competitive environment when she's an adult. Mom and dad won't be around forever to rescue her when she's in trouble. But at the end of it all, with a little bit of discipline and getting her priorities right, the end results are always positive.

I hope for her sake, she heeds her daddy's advice.