So what’s the plan?

I was asked this question almost every morning while drinking coffee with my sifu David. Some days I could reply straightaway—”I’m going to do this.” “I’m going to have lunch at ______.” Other days I would smile, and say something like “There’s no plan for today.” Meaning that I wanted to just chill and not do anything specific—or do stuff if and when I felt like it. For me, that’s my idea of a real vacation—not going out everyday to do things or see stuff, hell, sometimes I don’t want to do anything but to relax. That’s the way I play it. Moreover we sometimes make plans, and then later on we have to postpone or cancel them, due to unforeseen circumstances. For instance, we planned a trip to Monterey but David shelved that because there was a major event going on there and it was also predicted to be very cloudy. Not a major issue for me, and as a result I don’t set myself up for big disappointments.

Admittedly we do need to plan for a lot of things in our lives. But there are, and will be, times when it’s best to let loose the paddles for a little while, and to just coast along with the flow.


Going Solo

OMG, the last time I updated my blog was two months ago. I’ve been going through some challenging times, and knowing that some close friends are experiencing the same issues makes for a lot of wear and tear on my soul. Good times and bad times seem to go around in cycles, but that’s just the way it is. Sometimes one is faced with making tough decisions, such as the one I had to make—I’m now on my own.

Recalling back, the last time I lived alone was when I first travelled to England for my further studies. I was 17, rented a bedsit (a room with cooking facilities and a sink) with the help of a cousin and spent two years staying in it. At that time I felt lonely and miserable staying by myself. Not that I’m an extroverted guy, but the silence was deafening to me. I remember having the radio on whenever I came back to my room. Those were the days. After that, I went over to the States and lived in a dorm at the University of Arizona. There wasn’t anything like a single room, you were assigned a roommate, and boy, I couldn’t get used to it at first.  During my four years there I lived with four roommates; it was only during one semester in Junior year that I managed to get a room of my own (after forking out extra money).

Now it has come full circle. I’m single again…and living by myself. In contrast to my teenage years when I regarded living alone with a sense of doom and isolation, now I love it. I love my own personal space. I love the freedom to be myself. I’m very happy with this place and I can do anything whenever I want. Well, no crazy parties or anything like that. I’m actually surrounded by lots of greenery and there’s the added bonus of a lovely waterfall nearby, so I can listen to the sound of water gushing, 24/7.

Waterfall 007

Waterfall 012

In this quick-paced and stressful world I feel that we all need to take time off from the busyness of our individual lives. We need to get back to Mother Nature. To chill, to relax. And that’s precisely what I’m doing. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m an introvert—that’s just the way I am. Sequestering myself into my own space allows me to heal and to de-stress. Not to mention my awesome book collection to keep me company and of course, the Internet.


Years in America: Absolution (episode 11)

Maybe I screwed up. Maybe I should have stayed back for graduate studies. We make decisions in life which obviously can’t be reversed on a whim. When I left the University of Arizona after graduation I was only 24. Now I’m twice that age and am strongly thinking of returning to the States. Crazy isn’t it. I’m not definite about graduate school (the tuition fees now would probably kill me) but other factors are making me want to leave Malaysia, at least for a while.

I guess I could take a mini Sabbatical—haven’t had a proper holiday for years. Sometimes I am so tired of life here in Malaysia, I really am. Things are cheap, I’ll grant you that—but certain mannerisms about Malaysia and Malaysians never seem to change. I’m not going there because this is a touchy subject, ‘nuff said.

I know it’s senseless, or futile, but I keep asking myself the “What if” question. What if I had stayed back to do graduate studies? What if I had decided to remain permanently there in the States? Damn, my life might have been entirely different from now. Can’t quite forgive myself but what’s done is done. Can’t go back to the past but I can still look forward to the future with hope and determination.

Perhaps it’s not too late. I can’t turn back the clock—but at least I can revisit.

Computers Life

The ABC’s of Me (A-C)

A: Arizona, America

I had originally intended to continue my music studies in the UK but as life would have it, circumstances changed and I found myself in this new continent (see this post) I remember those years fondly, 1981-1984. A new country, a new environment, new friends…if I could relive it I’d do it all over again (perhaps with a few changes here and there, *wink!*) Notwithstanding the countless nights I spent studying away at the library till 2 a.m. in the morning just to maintain my GPA, days of toil in the practice rooms with crappy pianos…and working at one of the staff restaurants in the Student Union—these experiences remain as priceless treasures in my memories.

Arizona is probably one of the sunniest places on Earth. Couple that with blue and smog-free skies, good native folks, and good food (burp!) it’s probably one of the nicest places to be in. Well perhaps not in the summertime though, lol.

B: Books, Birthdays, Blessings

Think I'm going to get this book!I’ve loved books since I was young. Thanks to my parents, I had a steady stream of books flowing my way. There were comics, fairy tales, educational books, story books, encyclopedias, etc. I devoured them all. Later on it was Reader’s Digest, TIME, Newsweek, novels, etc. And when I became a computer geek with the launch of Windows 95 the flow of books became a torrent—especially with the For Dummies range of books—I loved those, they were so engrossing to read. I must have at least two dozen of them sitting in my bookshelves and cupboards.

The books I’ve read lately include:

  • The Rules of Love by Richard Templar. 100 rules, each only two pages long, but what a wealth of information on this elusive and fickle subject!
  • Got What It Takes? by Bill Boggs. “Successful people reveal how they made it to the top.” A very, very inspiring book to read—now let me find Donald Trump or Sir Richard Branson’s email address and telephone numbers.
  • Reader’s Digest Select Editions 4 best selling books combined into one, at an unbeatable price.
  • You: The Owner’s Manual by Michael Roizen and Mehmet Oz. I must thank Joi Sigers for pointing me to this fascinating book in her wonderful blog. I was at a bookstore last night, and what do you know, this book was on sale—I couldn’t believe it, it was going for only $10! You: The Owner’s Manual and I quote: “challenges  your preconceived notions about how the human body works and ages, then takes you on a tour through all of the highways, back roads, and landmarks inside of you.”
  • Oops, confession time. I haven’t read this one in a while, so I really have to get back to it. Yes, I’m talking about the Bible, the greatest book ever written—period.

I love birthdays, especially my own Smile This year’s was great—read all about it in my earlier posts:

I don’t bat an eyelid about the growing old routine. In fact I just completed a comprehensive quiz at realage and found that I am actually 5 years younger than my calendar age—woot! So let me have another slice of my birthday cake, preferably blueberry cheese.

I have a funny ritual that I do every every morning I wake up: I flex all my ten fingers and toes, and I thank God for another day ahead, and that I have all my five senses fired up and ready to go. When I hit the sack at night, I thank the Lord again for another blessed day, and drift off to sleep. Want happiness in your life? Always count your blessings. 

C: Coffee, Chocolate, Computers

My three vices and they both happen to begin with the letter C. Yes I am a coffee addict, but a very well-controlled one (or a very predictable one, take your pick) I need a mug of caffeine in the morning (very important, or else I’d end up with a splitting headache) and then another in the afternoon. I used to drink coffee with sugar way back in the 80’s (I know it’s disgusting, Miss Miller, do bear with me) but these days I take just a pinch of sugar in my java. Honestly if I didn’t have at least a cup of coffee a day, I’d go weak in the knees and dissolve into a pile of filthy-stained denims. What’s more—unlike some people that I envy, I can’t consume any java after 7 pm or so. Unless I want to remain awake the whole night.

Chocolate makes me happy. I like it in any form, whether it’s the usual dark chocolate bar (my favorite), chocolate ice cream, chocolate cake (the E & O Hotel always has nice black forest cake, yummy), etc. And baloney about chocolate giving you acne and all that rubbish—I just make sure I drink plenty of water after I finish this heavenly snack. Moreover, dark chocolate contains flavonoids (an antioxidant), which…

…can help maintain a healthy heart and good circulation, and reduce blood clotting that could lead to heart attack and stroke. Flavonoids help the body by neutralizing potentially cell-damaging substances known as oxygen-free radicals, which are a normal by-product of metabolism (taken from this heart disease website)

The same website also states that every 100g of dark chocolate contains approximately 500 calories. There’s a possibility of gaining weight here if one goes overboard on the chocolate ship, but since I never seem to gain much weight, I can  brush that one aside—muahaha!

The first computer I ever bought was an Apple IIe clone way back in 1986. Then there was this humongous desktop beast, a 486DX with 4MB of RAM running Windows 3.1. I went through a succession of computers after that, “graduating” with each introduction of a new OS. I used to have a friend who would bail me out whenever my computers went on the fritz…I’d be calling him practically every week (the operating systems at that time were unstable, you know) That is, until one fateful day when he blurted out to me very plainly, “You can’t expect me to come straightaway every time you’ve got computer troubles…” or something to that effect. I was taken aback at first, maybe a little hurt. Then something inside me figured that it might be high time to learn the ins and outs of the PC, which is what I did. I bought books and computer magazines, and learned the ropes…and the rest is history (such a modest guy am I)

I’ve been servicing, repairing, and building Intel-based computers for years now and needless to say I’m pretty good at it (Miss Modesty has gone off again). I’m waiting eagerly for the release of Windows 7 just round the corner…this may prove to be another excuse to upgrade that small 80GB hard disk of mine. We shall see!


Years in America: Vacation Time (episode 9)

Editor’s Note: Sorry, readers. Still no luck in locating all those pictures of mine. They will be posted here when found.

The time: November 1983. I was already in my Senior year and this would be my final Christmas vacation before graduation in May 1984. I had been to the West Coast already for the past two vacations, and the same scenario was now playing up in my mind—the dorms will be closed during the Christmas break, what did I want to do?

It’s surprising how things work themselves out. I received a surprise phone call from one of my cousins, Beng Keat. Turns out that he was in Duke University (Durham, North Carolina) with his wife and son, doing a Graduate course in business management or something like that. Now BK (as I’ll refer to him from now) was always a joker in our Yeoh family. I still remember his comical side, when he told me over the phone that my parents wanted him to check up on the man “from the desert.” He asked me what I was doing over Christmas, so I told him. He told me that his family was planning a trip down to Walt Disney World and Epcot Center over the Christmas break, and they “needed a driver.” Would I be interested? Yeah, why not.

So one fine day again, I found myself at Tucson International Airport, with my baggage. I was now heading on an Eastern Airlines flight to Raleigh/Durham, with a change of flights in Atlanta, Georgia. BK and his family were at the airport to meet me. They had with them some Malaysian friends who kindly provided the transport to take me to BK’s housing unit on the university campus.

Again, this was a nice change of environment for me. Durham was very cool, misty, and raining lightly. BK and his wife were wearing heaps of clothing and generally shivering. Me? I had an Arizona t-shirt with a JC Penney’s jacket over it. “Yes, it’s really the man from the desert,” BK quipped.

The housing unit wasn’t big, but I didn’t mind. There was a small living room and dining area. There was a bedroom, a common bathroom, and that was pretty much it. BK gave me a sleeping bag, and since there was hardly any space, I slept on the floor facing their main glass windows, and let me tell you, it was cold during the nights, but I didn’t mind. BK’s wife was a pretty good cook, and I did my level best to help out by washing the dishes, and other household chores.

Needless to say, I had an enjoyable time visiting Duke University, and I recall that they even had a grand piano in the Student Union building. Anybody was welcome to play on it, and so I did. We also did some sightseeing around the Durham and Raleigh areas, plenty of nice spots there.

Finally, it was time for the Orlando trip. One big snag—we didn’t have a car. So trust BK and I to scout through newspaper ads and finally he settled on a used Toyota sedan. A blue-colored one, with auto transmission. In those days, we didn’t have GPS so had to solely rely on maps. BK and I would take turns driving and navigating. As it turned out, I did most of the driving and navigating because my cousin (bless him) loved to have a snooze every so often. Anyway, I didn’t mind, as the US Interstate system is not hard to figure out, and once we were out of Durham, driving along the I-95 heading south was quite straightforward.

So we made our way down, passing Charleston, South Carolina along the way. It was wonderful to see a different part of America. I recalled spending a night in Savannah, Georgia. Then it was on to Florida, the Sunshine state, and where I had a slight problem, similar to BK’s. The I-95 was so straight in places, I found myself nodding off at the wheel! Fortunately his wife was very alert about this, and would be poking me to keep me awake.

We finally arrived in Orlando, Florida. We already had our accommodation booked before we left Durham so we checked in and spent a wonderful few days taking in Walt Disney World and the newly-opened Epcot Center. I’ll never forget the Kodak 360° theater—that was so cool! Unfortunately, BK and his family came down with the flu half-way through our sight-seeing. I was fine, but I think they were feeling quite sick. So I drove most of the time on the way back to North Carolina.

All in all, it was another good vacation for me, and sadly, my final one in the States. The following year (May 1984) I graduated with my Bachelor of Music degree and returned to Malaysia.


Years in America: Vacation Time (episode 7)

My thanks to my fellow dorm mate John “Scrawny” Morrison, for shouting out “IT’S THE WEEKEND!!” at the top of his lungs in the hallway every time Friday afternoon arrived.  Sometimes I would open my door and shout back, “Hey! It’s quiet hours!” jokingly. Weekends were nice, I still had assignments and studying to do, but at least there were no classes. Holiday breaks were enjoyable too, like one Thanksgiving break where I was invited to a meal by my good friends Leisa and Randy. I had never eaten so much turkey in my life.

Fall semester ‘81 was drawing to a close, and everyone was looking forward to the Christmas break. Now I faced another dilemma. The dorms would be closed over the holiday period, and of course it wasn’t viable to return home to Malaysia again. I shrugged, and faced the possibility that I would have to find alternative housing somewhere else. However, as luck would have it, I met another fellow dorm mate by the name of Richard Dyer earlier on during the Spring semester. Other people called him Rich, but he always preferred Rick, so I called him that. We struck up a friendship, and we used to have dinners together, as well as going to the Gallagher Theater for movies, stuff like that. It was nice to have some company, and pretty soon we became room mates. I don’t exactly remember how it came to pass, but I did confide in him about the possibility that I’d have to seek alternative accommodation during the Christmas period.

I guess he had been talking to his parents on the phone, and one fine day prior to the Christmas vacation he asked me, “Phil, how would you like to spend the holidays with me and my family?” Wow! Of course I was thrilled, but I said I hoped I wouldn’t be imposing on them. Rick replied, “Of course not.” So it was a done deal. Rick’s hometown was in Danville, California—not too far from San Francisco. We booked our flight tickets on United, and I was very excited—imagine, this would be my first visit to San Francisco! A different environment, with a different climate, and not forgetting of course, this would be a vacation. To top things off, Rick’s parents would be picking us up from the airport and taking us directly to Davies Symphony Hall for a performance of Handel’s Messiah by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra—awesome!

Well, as things turned out, we experienced the famous San Francisco fog first-hand—the captain of the United Airlines 747 announced that due to extremely foggy conditions in the Bay Area, we would have to be in a holding position above the city. What a bummer, we’d be late for the concert! We eventually touched down about 45 minutes behind schedule, it was a frustrating wait for our baggage, and Rick’s father was anxiously looking out for us. We said our hellos, and then zoomed off to Davies Symphony Hall. Arrived there, and had to wait for a suitable break before we could enter. This was a beautiful hall indeed (DSH opened in September 1980; it underwent another major renovation in the Summer of 1992) Never mind, at least I got to experience the Hallelujah Chorus first-hand, standing up, of course.

It was pretty late when the concert ended. Rick and I were both tired, don’t remember seeing anything much on the drive to Danville—I was practically asleep. Rick’s mom was on hand to greet us when we arrived, a room had been prepared for me, and I was so tired I fell asleep straight away.

Suffice to say that the rest of the vacation was fantastic—Rick’s family treated me like one of their own and took me to all the well-known spots in San Francisco. Places like the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, Chinatown (the largest in the world, it seems), Japantown, Nob Hill, Coit Tower, Union Square, Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, Ghirardelli Square (wonderful chocolate!). I had a first taste of the tram system and BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) was smooth and efficient. The weather was cold and foggy, this was a nice change from Tucson. We went by car sometimes, at other times we just took BART into the city. I love San Francisco, it has a charm of its own.

And the food—in a word, awesome! Whether we were eating out or at home, there was an overabundance of food. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a picky eater, thank God. It was a real breakfast almost every day, with cereal, fruits, bacon, sausages, generous amounts of coffee—man this was the life! Since the Dyers had a spinet piano, I’d be tinkling on it whenever, and that made them smile. Rick was the eldest, he had two sisters, Suzanne and Sally, and a brother Bill, who was the youngest. They showed me around the neighborhood, and the family car was affectionately called Moby. I drove Moby for a bit too.

I also remember going to Stockton to visit Grandma and Grandpa (we stayed there for a day or two) and again, I was treated like one of the family. Rick’s grandpa was a farmer and so he showed me his land (tractors, buildings, and all) and what do you know, I had my first taste of actually handling a rifle and shotgun (I didn’t mention this to my parents). They had to occasionally get rid of birds like crows that liked to pick on the crops. That was the only time I had ever fired a weapon in my life!

I also cooked chicken curry for the family. I tried to make it as mild as I could, but still everyone had running noses after consuming it. Oh well. The run-up to Christmas was wonderful too, as I took part in buying Christmas presents for the whole family. It was a fantastic time and one that I’ll remember as long as I live. If any of the Dyers are reading this, I love you all!

Pretty soon it was time to head back to Arizona—Rick and I left with heavy hearts, but you need to say goodbye before you can say hello again. The whole family came to the airport, we hugged and kissed each other (I think I almost cried) Our flight was boarding, and before I knew it, we took off for Tucson. Back to the salt mines!

Me and Rick in our dorm room Here I am with Rick's parents, in their home

L-R: Suzanne, Rick, Me, Bill, and Sally Golden Gate Park I love San Francisco!


Years in America: Culture (episode 4)

What can I say about the American way of life, except that I love it. Americans are generally very friendly to foreigners and if you can speak English, you’ve won most of the battle. I’ve never had problems interacting with Americans during my stay in the US, because I live by a simple maxim—if you’re friendly to people, they will respond in kind.

The transition to American culture wasn’t a shocker for me, since I’d spent almost 3 years in England prior to crossing the big pond. Take dressing, for example. On campus, you can wear anything you want, except for your birthday suit (I’d bet the campus police would pounce on you in seconds!) You could dress in a penguin suit (you know what I mean) or a grubby T-shirt and shorts for class, and no one would bat an eyelid. I’ve seen girls wearing the skimpiest outfits to classes—isn’t nature wonderful (bear in mind that the weather in Arizona can be unbearably hot) I confess I used to gawk during the first few months, but as they say, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.”

Americans are vocal and passionate in what they believe in. There were a lot of organizations on campus; perhaps the most vocal one was the pro and anti-abortion organizations. There would be some pretty heated debates occurring throughout the semester (no, I didn’t get involved—I was too busy studying, honest) There was an International Student’s Association, but somehow I only joined that during my Senior year, can’t remember why. However, it was fun to attend one of their potluck dinners and to introduce myself as a Senior to the many Freshman students attending.

Americans also love to party, especially students! Yeah, I did attend a dorm party or two, but like my British days, I never drank beer (I hate that stuff) so I’d always be having a Coke or Dr. Pepper. Or a shot of Baileys Irish Cream or Jack Daniels. Rock & Roll music was the music then, so there would always be somebody with a record/cassette player (the CD had yet to make its appearance) coupled with humongous speakers blasting the whole dorm off. This was the only time when the quiet hours rule was not enforced. If I wasn’t keen on the party thing, I’d head over to the Music department to practice, or to the Main Library, which was open until 3 AM in the morning. Come to think of it, I spent many a morning in the Library, cramming for exams and quizzes.

Food wise, I was fine, since I wasn’t too particular about that. I was spoilt for choice because there were so many eating joints in and close to the university. I remember visiting Wendy’s very often, since it was just across the street from the Music building. I remember Friday mornings when I would be there with my friend Leisa, for coffee and French fries smothered with tomato ketchup. And I would have a Triple burger if my stomach was growling—dunno how I maintained my trim figure while I was gorging so much, must be my high metabolic rate. Spanish food, particularly tacos and chimichangas went down well with me. Loyal readers of my blog would recall my love for Domino’s Pizza, the fact that they offered discount coupons practically every week made it very irresistible. Another favorite of mine was Arby’s Roast Beef sandwiches—absolute heaven! I used to go there once in a while with my roommate Paul, since Arby’s was quite a distance from the university and he had his car.

Speaking of cars, Americans drive on the right side of the road while everybody else drives on the wrong side (go ahead and laugh) Yes, it did feel a little strange to me the first time I drove Paul’s car (I must thank Paul for his trust in me). I just had to remember not to exceed the speed limit, and thought I was doing pretty well, until I saw the red and blue lights flashing behind me. Uh oh—I dutifully stop at the roadside and this officer comes over and asks to see my license and registration. He asked me whether I knew why I had been stopped, and I very honestly told him that it was my first time on the road. He told me that I hadn’t bothered to signal before I made a right turn—I apologized and fortunately he let me off with a warning. After that, I was extra careful and that was the first and last time I’d been stopped by a police officer in the US!

Can’t talk about American culture without mentioning about the opposite sex, aka girls. Well I was 21, what do you expect? I did the dating thing once in a while—I remember this one particular date when I took a very nice girl to watch Superman 2 at the Gallagher Theater on campus; I was so nervous but I was a perfect gentleman. It went rather well, and we’re still good friends. And there was nothing unusual with friends of the opposite sex hugging me (or me hugging them) with the occasional peck on the cheek—I recall attending a concert where a friend of mine was performing the lead role. After the performance, I went backstage to congratulate her on her sterling performance. I shook her hand, and she very naturally said, “Philip, aren’t you forgetting something?” Oh yes, I give her a hug. Then she points a finger at her cheek. Oops, sorry, I forgot, silly me.

These are some of my thoughts about American culture. And I miss it.