Thursday, May 28, 2009


Of the many sort of different backgrounds and peoples i have met. i remember Farid during times of sadness and frustrations. he's this cheerful, 50+ year old egyptian chap. always smiling and seemingly carefree. one day, he introduced me to the game of sudoku. if there was a way to gauge his proficiency in the game, i'd say he probably has a chess equivalent ELO rating of around 1800. anyway, one fine lunch we drove to a nearby beach. he explained why he has such love for the game. "it keeps the braincells moving and exercising", he said. "at the same time, it has been discovered that people playing sudoku are prevented from developing alzheimer's disease", Farid added.

"But!" he continued..."it doesnt mean i am playing not to develop alzheimer's". "in fact i prefer to have alzheimer's than being normal". this puzzled me, i asked farid what he meant. "In order to be happy". i quickly realized what he meant. He carried on: "people who dont remember anything, will not have any reason to be sad". "they are always happy"...."we humans tend to keep the negative events in our lives deep inside and keep the hurts in our hearts for a long time...the happy events, we only celebrate for a short while, enjoy them for a little bit and then we forget them completely...i pondered over this refreshing truth.

such simple thoughts but profoundly true.

The memory is oftentimes the reason and the source of all sadness and frustrations. What if for a moment, we imagine that we have alzheimer's? would we still remember the reasons for our unforgiveness and blame? isnt this very often the very reason preventing us from being free and happy?

I wonder whether God and the residents up there has alzheimer's too? the answer i think is yes--in the sense that heaven exists in eternity without the limitations of time. simply there are no pasts to remember, nor future to be anxious about. it's just an eternal 'now'. An eternal Happiness.

there are a few things i just remembered and wish to say here on the saints' deep insights about'taming/ blanking our memory' as one of the ways to achieve purity of heart, and eventually happiness...etc. but unfortunately, i've forgotten the details to most of them...

but i remember the last time i saw Farid in Jeddah. we parted with me sliding a glass of precious home-made brew wrapped inside a plastic into his bag. "be careful and make sure you finish it all up before you drive to the airport", i whispered to him.

he nodded understanding the seriousness and danger of the situation with a smiling reassurance...carefree and happy as always.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Fulton Sheen once said :” Whenever you see evil comes into contact with good, there is suffering”.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Deception, Truth...

A friend quoted on Facebook: "You get to a point in your life where you think you know everything about yourself, and just then you question it all. Am I a good person doing bad things or a bad person doing good things? When you wear a mask for so long it gets hard to tell the difference."

Every single day i never cease to learn that everyone is clueless about-- everything. and the funny thing is, everyone pretends they are not! we not only try to deceive others but also ourselves...Everyone is right to say everyone is wrong...depends on who's perspective and the shoe one is wearing...i believe the man who admits he is clueless has found clues about life and is on his way to truth and freedom.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Friday, February 20, 2009

Keywords: Temporal,

My prison sentence in Saudi is about to end. A new life, a new adventure awaits me here in Doha. Tomorrow i will say goodbye temporarily to this place, in which i came to like at first sight. By next week i will say goodbye to good 'ol Jeddah. Nothing lasts, as Benjamin Button would have...The movie teaches us a lot about many eternal truths about life. “There is no permanent city”. All things are passing...We are not masters of our lives...A lot of things happen beyond our control.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Monday, 29 December, 2008

Keywords: State of the soul, Corrosion, hatred. passions

Months of chit-chatting, joking and talking with “S”, my Palestinian colleague wasn’t enough to get to know him. it’s only today that I came to the realization that this chap was not really joking when he say things like :”I will kill you if you say this or that”…he was referring to my occasional remarks and curious questions about the war between Israel and Palestine, the conflicts and state of politics in the arab world… Moreso as the violence in Gaza intensified during the last 2 days. I used to think he was saying and acting stuffs only the way of reflecting Palestinian or middle eastern humour I didn’t quite understand. I will always ‘ride on’ with him thinking he understood all was in jest. This time I saw something different –there is no joking.

For the first time I’m seeing a person who I guess will be described by any western media as a typical *** militant full of hatred against Israel. This guy is scary. His language is laced with verbs like “if you say anything good about Israel again, I will kill you”, “destroy israel”…etc.

I was still totally clueless until I jokingly said I will record our conversation and send the file to Mosad, Israel’s version of the CIA. He panicked – literally. He started frantically searching my desk for any hidden tape recorders- shoving my papers and files to see what is underneath. Whew, I realized if this man is not crazy, he is a real militant!

His actions clearly said he didn’t trust me. No matter how remote the possibility of me being a secret agent under the payroll of Israel, he believed it was possible that he was being spied on. Amazing! He just revealed his undercover identity by his actions. I can’t even, in my wildest dreams think of myself as an Israeli spy. Maybe i should apply to become one now. J

Later, I tested him again. We talked about the war and I compared and pointed out similarities between Singapore & Israel. I told him, in asia. Singapore is also a tiny country surrounded by muslim nations who seems to hate us. I continued, Singapore, like Israel is also the strongest military nation in Asean and that the country produces its own sophisticated military hardwares-even exports to Britain and the U.S…he was impressed. I was just feeding him facts…later I jokingly offered to supply him with military equiptments and ammunitions so that he can smuggle it into his country to fight their cause. His reply was one of utter seriousness. He said we(Palestine) don’t have an airport or seaport to receive the supplies. My Goodness gracious! I’m dealing with an undercover militant and this is a real deal! Anyone for quick mega-bucks?

I better keep my mouth shut and stop joking too much about such issues with this chap or I might end up being in trouble myself…this is the type of Arabian adventure I’d rather not experience.

Later I changed topic and said to him, “your heart is full of hatred, why?” he ignored everything I tried to say and continued with his verbal abuse on Israel and the grandiose and ambition of pulverizing Israel someday.

I always believe Merton when he says hatred for neighbour begins with a dislike or hatred for self.

The Red Sea never fails to fascinate me about its endless variety of sea creatures. I’m discovering the seemingly endless variety of human beings and point of views as well…When it comes to moral issues, what may be unthinkable to one person is casual and normal to another, like killing another person.

I’m still very much fascinated by how the Church suggests that our soul can be ‘corroded’. Isnt it true that when you have never lied before, telling your first lie in kindergarten was difficult and ‘scary’ and sends you into cold sweats? The 2nd lie becomes slightly easier. The 3rd lie becomes casual. The 4th lie becomes normal and until the act of lying becomes so natural it is not considered a ‘sin’ anymore but a necessity. One cannot live a normal life without lying. Lies are true and truths are lies.* Our hearts becomes dull & hardened becoming blind to the truth. This effect is true for any other form of ‘sin’ or moral acts.

Just this morning a long time friend of mine casually asked me if I’d like to sell pornographic videos and that he can hire actresses to produce the videos in Manila.…nothing surprises me anymore nowadays but I realized if he can say such a thing casually and seriously, the state of his soul’s oxide coating must be at least 5mm thick now….many years ago when I knew him back then, it was much lesser.

So I try to remind myself of the eternal wisdom of the Church’ teachings: “if you don’t want your soul to be wrapped in corrosion, do not start the first act. Because the first actt will make the 2nd act much easier until you are hooked it will take equal years of anti-corrosion cream or hot-dipped galvanizing to reverse the effect. This is how the devil works. Slow and sure”. Once hooked, the grip is hard to reverse.

St. John Vianney described the devil. He said: The devil is like a mad barking dog tied to a chain. It doesn’t stop barking at you but you if you don’t go near it, it cannot harm you. Its just background noise”. Most of us though, succumb to our curiousity and passions, we almost always walk over to come near and get ourselves bitten as a result.

*Another subject & topic to be discussed later..

Friday, December 26, 2008

Red Sea Christmas

“Give me a small fish for my son”. The arab asked King, the filipino chap who I got to know only 5 min. ago while strolling along the beach. A lot of people gathered around King as he unhooked one small fish from his last catch…Earlier he almost caught a 1-metre long baraccuda but it managed to escape. The kid beamed with amusement at the yellow finned jumping fish as it was handed to him by dad...

The weather nowadays is much tamer and comfortable.. It’s a bit like Tagaytay. Cool and windy. I was back at the Red Sea. I discovered, the coast is nearer to where I am staying than I originally thought. It’s a mere 400 steps away from my door. An even greater discovery for me was that this place is not as inhospitable as I originally thought or was made to believe. I passed by Indians playing cricket by a large and empty deserted piece of land. There are also arab kids playing soccer in another block of land… Cute arab boys and girls are playing by the waters..Slowly I’m seeing more and more of their human and soft side. I guess the western media has demonized the muslim world too much.

3 or 4 days from now the arab calendar will be hitting the year 1430 while the rest of the world moves on to 2009.

I’m so fascinated by the unspoilt beauty of the Red Sea. How alive and teeming with fishes the waters are. King, who has been working in Saudi for 8 years told me he comes here to fish every weekend. With only an old fashioned fishing rod and some worms as his tool, he goes home everytime with the icebox filled with at least a 100 fishes of all variety without fail. “Dito sa Jiddah, buhay ka”. King said in his mild Visayan accent. He meant that food in Jeddah is virtually free. You don’t need a job or education to survive. For those who are more adventurous, you can get an even more varied catch if you dive and carry an underwater speargun. I said bye to King, and he gladly returned my greetings with 30 or so yellow-finned fishes. “Pamasko ko sa iyo”. I thank him for the nice Christmas gifts.

God is truly fair. If the Red Sea was as stale as Manila Bay or even Singapore’s East Coast, the arabs would have been starving before the discovery of oil in the early 50s. Prior to that, this place was still largely nomadic and the bedouins live a fairly simple fishing existence. No agriculture or industry whatsoever in this desert land.

The seagulls were also fun to watch. They seem to have the ability to float stationary in the air for a few seconds similar to the way helicopters do. Now I know that wherever you find seagulls and kingfishers, it tells you for sure that the waters have abundant fishes. The kingfishers are slightly smaller in built but has a sharper and more squarish figure. The seagulls have large wingspans almost like that of an eagle but not quite yet…

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bahrain - Eden

Keywords : Adam and Eve, Bahrain, Garden of Eden, fossils, death, life, Unity, Division, Fallen Human Nature

I regret not having a decent camera with me but carrying only an old, half-spoilt phone camera. The journey to Al-Khobar from Damam featured real wild desert environment with real camel packs in their natural habitat. First time I am seeing orangy fine sand dunes. In the city, you see only boring-as-hell dry desert sands. Here, the dunes are alive. The sands are as fine as powder. They are sculpted by the winds. The chisels are more perfect than if they have gone through a CNC machine. The causeway drive across to Bahrain took about an hour and provided a nice refreshing feeling. The wind was blowing and the Persian Gulf, or Arabian Sea as some call it was deep green-blue and calm. Occasionally we were greeted by big white seagull packs and some migratory birds in ‘V’ formation.  

I asked the driver to take me to the ‘Tree of Life’ where I found this information about Bahrain on the internet. This tree was so called because  it is located in the middle of the desert. How it survives and gets its nutrients remains a mystery. 

Some legends would have the tree as the one in the Garden of Eden…Bahrain is a tiny island country probably smaller than Singapore. Surrounded by the beautiful deep blue calm waters along the east of the Arabian Peninsula. It is very much possible that Eden could have very well been here.

Bahrain's written history dates back to 5,000 years and is referred to in ancient writings as 'Dilmun'- meaning the 'Land of Life'. It was probably teeming with a multitude of living things both animals and plant life. That probably explains why it is so rich in fossil fuel. The rich fossilized organic matters has been buried and beaten by the elements after millions of years are now our source of crude oil. If i'm not wrong, Bahrain is also known to have the world's largest tombsites. 

I have this lingering theory that immediately after Adam took that first bite of apple for a taste. This beautiful paradise island where butterflies and shimmering waters danced with lush greeneries started to decay, albeit very very slowly into what we see it today –a desolate and harsh desert environment. So did all the surrounding territories around it follow suit in the gradual decay. So did all the birds and beasts, fishes and insects, trees and ferns, all forms of living things began its gradual decay beginning with man. Sickness, old age, forgetfulness, miscommunications, anxiety were not a welcome experience but it was so to be one by one discovered by Adam and Eve as a result of the first disobedience.

Adam suddenly started feeling 'tired'. Something he never experienced in his life.

He wiped the sweat off his forehead. He could not understand what it was he was feeling. It was a weird and strange uncomfortable sensation. Just yesterday he ran across fields and valleys, up the mountain and down the streams for stretches and miles and miles playing a game called: “let’s see who finds Fluffy first”. Fluffy was a name he gave to one of the rabbits a long long time ago when he first found him trapped under a fallen tree branch. Yesterday, to celebrate their friendhip’s 6834th anniversary, Adam summoned Chingching, the dog, Franch, the chicken, Mistoe, the dinausour + many more of his other friends to play the game. They let fluffy run first for a headstart.

“Everyone, close your eyes now except fluffy. Now, we will start counting, Fluffy, you better start running now...”

“I will start first.” “1!”. Adam shouted.

“2!”, Eve shouted.

“woof!” Ching ching barked.

“cookoorookook!”, Franch croaked.

“GGRRRoooor!”, Mistoe growled.

They continued until the last player participant finished. They numbered 2,400 in all.

Meanwhile, Adam fondly recalls how he found Fluffy.

(to be continued....)

Monday, September 29, 2008

School of Mahmoud

Keywords : Care-free-ness, Anxiety, Happines, Abandonment, Humility

Mahmoud was there again. The shoe-shine and repair man by the sidewalk outside the supermarket I frequent. Mahmoud is a name I gave him since I do not know his name and have not had the chance to converse with him in Arabic. Mahmoud is fully bearded, wears a white traditional muslim hat and looks a little emaciated but always calm, unsmiling and unperturbed. I try to greet him silently whenever I'd pass by the supermarket.

I sat on the round planter box next to him and watched as he unwrapped the fabric were he keeps all his tools. One by one he took them out, some extra shoe strings, the glue, the needles, a few coloured threads and pieces of leather. As he sat there waiting for customers, I sat there watching him. He started cutting the square-shaped leather pieces into a more proper shoe shape. I just watched. 15 minutes gone and still no customer. He continued calmly cutting the leather pieces.

I finally discovered by serendipity a little dose of entertainment in this desert place. For the last 6 months, I got so used to vegetating in my room I felt myself slowly getting despondent and low in spirit. I needed a reboot. Last night I decided to take a stroll at the beach, which is a mere 500m away from where I stay. I took a slow walk. I haven't been there since the last time I first came to Jeddah and wondered whether it will look the same. I cut through several empty streets again. This city remains as eerie and surreal to me as before. It has this genuine feel of a ghost town. You wonder where all the 4million population of people has gone to. Occasionally my steps were intercepted by cats suddenly jumping out from the nearby rubbish cans as if on ambush. The wide streets lay useless. In some back lanes you see Somali women lying on the roadside. They are dressed in all black with heads covered. And you notice their eyes trail you as you pass them by. At one street junction, a fully bearded, unkempt man suddenly appeared out of nowhere directly in front of me. The streets were dark and totally empty. Not a single soul or moving car. He was 15 metres away and was quickly advancing toward me. His head was covered with the traditional white and red toup or muslim scarf. Staring directly at me with his wide and bloodshot eyes. I stared back and pretended I wasn't scared and continued my pace. I figured we were heading for collision in 5 seconds if I do not change course.

Numerous thoughts hit my mind. In those split seconds, I grappled to remember the various jet li moves I memorized before and surveyed him from head to foot. Looking for a weak spot. I adjusted my pants and moved my fingers to feel the metallic mechanical pencil I always carry at my pant's side pocket. It's a relief to know it's there tucked neatly, just in case…He didn't leave his eyes off me and I did the same. When he came at arm's length, he said something in Arabic. I didn't understand but his posture told me he's a man asking for help. I gave him the picnic bread I was carrying and he nodded and went off.

Appearance can be deceiving sometimes. Those who look 'ugly' or 'scary' sometimes are the gentlest and kindest souls. People who look like angels are the most dangerous.

I jumped across a low wall to reach the beach amidst the darkness. Nothing new. I washed my hands and face to feel Red Sea breeze. I sat there for about an hour hoping to get some spiritual refreshment. Nothing. I walked back to the city.

Back to the shoe-shine man. Watching Mahmoud is probably the closest I will get here to a renewal and a quieting of the spirit.

Somehow in those slow 15 minutes, I've forgotten all the things that were beginning to clutter up my spirit.

The ear-deafening bombardment of news about the beleaguered banks in Wall Street. Worry over it's potentially devastating repercussions to the world's economy. To Singapore and the Middle East and then later on how it will trickle down to ordinary people like me walking in Main Street. Oh, I worry 15 months ahead. In the space of 15 minutes, Mahmoud taught me how he has mastered the art of abandonment.

Just silently watching him is a refreshing respite from the business of busy-ness and I suppose is a slow but steady antidote to this malady of anxiety. I wasn't the only one watching Mahmoud. There were a few of us. Probably 4 or 5 people sitted there around him. 2 old bearded fellow 'watcher' were probably waiting for a rendezvous with friends.

Other people go to yoga classes or turn on their new age meditation stereos to calm their spirits. I discovered that for me none of these ever works. Lying in your bed with soft music playing -- sounds of natural streams or water or birds chirping is soothing. But they don't provide the true calmness of spirit that one shares when one sits beside someone who lived his life without distractions. I realized I have just enrolled into the school of Mahmoud.

"Doesnt Mahmoud feel anxiety about the absence of shoes to shine?" I talked to myself and imagined if no dirty shoes comes for the night, he might have to stay hungry the next day.

My intuition told me he lives his life 15 minute at a time without agonizing over what the next 15 minutes has to offer. Simple and carefree and trustful abandonment. On the 18th minute, a bangladeshi came to ask for a new shoelace. It was as if he has been sent to come to Mahmoud. Mahmoud took out one from his strings and gave it to the bangladeshi, not even looking at him for an instant. 4 seconds later, the Bangladeshi took out 1 riyal and pass it to Mahmoud.

"Do not worry over what to eat, what to wear or put upon your feet. Look at the birds in the sky. They neither toil nor work. Yet your heavenly father feeds them".

I believe that the spirit of Abandonment is very easy and yet extremely hard to achieve. Yet, learning this 'art' and mastering it seems to spell the difference between genuinely happy souls and outwardly happy souls. Watching Mahmoud has taught me the mathematical formula that one's level of abandonment is proportional to one's level of humility. Humble people acknowledges that they have no control over their destinies. Look at a child. The child knows its own helplessness and so he allows himself to be helped in everything and fully abandons all his cares to his parents. And aren't all children happy? And by the way, if my memory hasn't failed me yet, didn't we lose our care-free-ness when we grew up?

Yes, we all did, but Mahmoud probably lost his and found it back soon. Can i have mine back too please?

Thursday, September 18, 2008


Keywords: Ramadan, rain, miscellaneous ranting

From a distance, I noticed a 14 year-old girl running away from a Somali beggar woman. The streets were as empty as ever and I wondered what this kid is doing and if I missed any action. She was wearing an abaya, but you can tell from her soft looks and fair skin that she is of northern origin. Probably Lebanese, Syrian. She disappeared against the foreground of cars parked by the roadside. I turned to look at the other side and saw her enter into her dad’s four-wheel-drive shiny black Lexus Trooper. The giant car passed me by and I looked back at the Somali woman and discovered that she has just been handed some food and a canned drink by the girl. I turned behind me and from a distance saw exactly the same routine being repeated. The black Lexus stopped, the girl came out, passed some food to another black woman beggar down the road, then she run back into the car.

It’s now Ramadan. The muslim holy month. To the muslims, Ramadan means one has to fast in order to be one with the poor. The purpose is to be able to experience the same hunger and weakness as those who suffer them on a daily basis. For those who have been blessed in life with materials things, it is also a month when they are to be more generous to the poor. A time to count one’s blessings in humility and allow ourselves to share them with others.…Most of all, Ramadan is a month of blessing from God.

Some say that generosity is only possible when there is humility.
Today I tried cooking my friend Lawrence’ famous “Lazyman’s recipe”. Throw ginger, garlic, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, raisins, knorr chicken cube and mix with rice inside the rice cooker and that’s it. Less than 10 min. of preparation and you’re done. Hmm. Today I learned something useful in life.

6 months in the middle east and I still wonder whether all these I’m experiencing is but a dream…I pinch myself…

5 years ago in Manila, my childhood friend Peter gave me a Japanese cartoon movie. I copied them into my hardisk and forgot about it. Last night, 20,000 km. away in Jeddah, while cleaning up my drive, I found it covered with layers of dust and spider webs inside the folder named “Movie”. I clicked the folder and found a subfolder “Spirited Away”. I watched the movie by Miyazaki twice. After that, I decided I want to become a writer of fictional stories and maybe someday, I’d like to produce a movie. I want to be able to share stories of adventure and of new and different worlds I have seen…I seem to have lost them and now I want to get them back.
Isnt it a bit too late at this age? You mean at this age, you’re still wondering and trying to find out what you ought to be doing in life? Yeah. I haven’t found out yet. That’s the truth. I have a sense that I will never arrive and that this epic journey will continue up to my last breath.

Maybe I should start out by writing about my life. I believe that life is not random and haphazard and that real life is sometimes hard to distinguish from fiction…I want to believe that the real world is as magical as fiction. Yes, it is true that life can be very dull and monotonous and…and dull and monotonous…and monotonous and dull….Like the pitter-pattering of raindrops that seems never-ending.

Oh I miss rain in this dry desert place.

Let us imagine that every human soul on earth is a raindrop. Every raindrop that falls on the window pane tells a story. Those that don’t fall on the window pane also have their stories. Alone, every raindrop is a short-story. However, when its story is interwoven with stories of other raindrops plus other forms of souls such as the wind, the soil, the earth, the flowers. That seemingly insignificant raindrop begins to form a kaleidoscope of different worlds. It becomes a refreshing Storm or a strong Typhoon and at some time, it is a pleasant cool drizzle with a sniff of wildflower scent. Raindrops, when it is alone produces no music but when put together becomes a symphony... Besides, raindrops produces an aroma and smell too. Are you beginning to smell it now? The aroma and scent of soil-drenched rain. And thunderstorms! Besides smell and sound, I love the sight of rain. It has a very refreshing effect on me – somehow it keeps my spirit more alive.

I remember as a child, when I was about 3 or 4 years old. My mom will put me on top of a sewing machine. I remember I used to sit there for hours and hours just watching the raindrops fall onto the window pane. I guess watching the raindrops this way had a hypnotic effect on me and I just couldn’t get enough of it. Hours and hours I watched until it stopped. Probably it also developed in me this proclivity for reflection.

Later on as I grew up and I reached 8 years of age, I started telling stories. I used to come to our house-helpers and greet them with a story. they will stop whatever else they have been busy with and put on a stance, as if something very interesting is about to happen. Then I will start telling them my- whatever comes to mind bullshit. Haha. Instantly, as if drawing inspiration from thin air, I weave up stories and plots impromptu and when I stopped to catch my breath or start running out of a continuation, they will ask,: “Then what happened to Quikru?”, and then I will use that split second opportunity to think up something and will say: “Oh!, he got stucked in the quicksands and started yelling for help”…And then I will continue. Oftentimes when I got stuck and asked a similar question, I pretend to know the continuation to the story by simply uttering whatever comes to mind. And everyone will burst out in laughter- including myself.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Back in Dubai

Less than a week has passed since i arrived in Jeddah and i found myself back in the streets of Dubai sitting under the refreshing shade of an olive tree by the roadside. I sat sipping a glass of mango-avocado. My butt was resting on an old dilapidated plastic chair and in front of me, a round makeshift table made of timber wrapped around the trunk of the large tree. Its long stretch of branches and leaves is an oasis in this desert place. The temperature beyond the imaginary boundary outside the shade of the olive was probably 41 degrees celcius. I felt the warm wind blew on my face as I sat there watching the world slowly pass by. Just like what dad and I used to do back in one of the coffee shops in Ongpin. I heard the mosque sirens and the usual greeting of 'Asalamu Alaikum' (peace be with you) as the muslim prayers start. Men paraded their personal-size carpets as they march toward the mosque. One by one they lay the carpet on the floor, some on the road pavement as they sat on them outside the mosque to pray and meditate.

I sat there waiting for something...but not quite sure what it was...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Human Nature

Keywords : human nature, imagination, introspection, promise

There was a long queue at the Jeddah airport ticketing. The pakistani chap behind me said in his heavy Urdu-english tone : "These people are not learning. In fact, they are in reverse gear". He was referring to the poor state of the Arabian airport system. The queue was forming a longer and longer beeline and we were still advancing at a turtle's pace. Later, i found out we were going to be seatmates on our way to Dubai.

Saleem told me he is from Islamabad. He's in his early 60s. He was wearing a suit, smartly dressed and glasses. He told me he heads one of the freight forwarding company in Jeddah with operations in the Gulf countries. He has lived in Jeddah for 28 years.

His frustrations with the arabs are in many ways similar to my frustrations with people who like to borrow money. In my less than 2 months in Jeddah, i have been asked to lend money once and in another instance, a guy tried to swindle me. Later i found out the gay who tried to borrow money from me wanted money only to feed his vices. He pays boys to have 'fun with'. Luckily age has made me a little bit wiser and the years has made me immune and even averse to sweet talks.

You can tell the genuine people who needs money from those who are just out there to abuse your friendship or take advantage of you. The genuine ones will not borrow money at the drop of a hat. And usually they will be extremely cautious about promises. They will say: "i will try my best to repay you soonest". Exteriorly, this statement doesn’t sound very reassuring to most people than hearing someone say: "Don't worry one bit, i will pay you by month end. I feel so ashamed to borrow from you but don’t worry...etc". From my experience with people, you are more likely to see your money back from the first guy. The second guy with lots of reassuring words will have far more reassuring words by the end of the month, and the second month and so on.

People who tend to make promises loudly have already released their promises out of their mouth and into the air. People who do not utter any promise has already carved them in their hearts and not allowed it to escape.

This world is very mixed up --in any business dealings, the paradox of the day is this : "if someone promises you something with sweet words and a loud bang, you know he has already delivered his promise at that instant (with words, and not deeds)", Therefore, discount it and cancel the deal immediately. Reciprocate with equally loud and sweet words for an excuse to opt out. You will be glad you did". "If someone has no sweet words but only uncertainties for you to hear and he speaks softly, sign the contract immediately because since he has not delivered the words you like to hear, you know he will deliver the deeds".

I would like to think of the above thought as a derivative of Jesus' saying : "When you fast or give alms, do not be like the hypocrites who put on a face to show the world their virtue, i tell you solemnly, they have already received their rewards. But when you fast or give alms in secret, the Heavenly father who sees you in secret will reward you".

Saleem said that, like all things, there are of course exceptions to the rules. There are extremely good Arabians and likewise too, i can say that there are extemely good filipinos who do not fit the stereotypes.

We were offloaded by the bus at the tarmac to board the plane via a movable metal staircase. I always have this 'kiasu' habit of inspecting the exterior of the plane for surface cracks or any form of physical damage before boarding it. As i sat next to Saleem inside the plane, i asked" did you notice the flat tires on the left wheels of this plane?" Saleem laughed and looked at me nervously. We were flying Saudi Air after all. His nervousness was immediately placated by the cool German chap seated to my left who wittingly exclaimed: "Luckily we are flying and not driving".

Saleem explained to me the typical Saudi mentality. "except for the United States, they think they are superior to any other race and nationality". I guess you can ask any chinese, japanese or indonesian and they will say that their own is the best and most superior too. On the individual level, we oftentimes also harbour the same sentiments about ourselves. We are better than others. we often fail to see our own shortcomings - oftentimes through lack of introspection and also many times due to simple denial or sheer pride. We often deceive ourselves "to believe the fundamental reality of life is that which exists only in our own egocentric desires" [New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton]. We overlook a lot of glaringly obvious facts and reality about ourselves to live our own imaginary world. In truth, all of us are made up of the same human nature-- Arabians, Filipinos, Chinese, Americans...We are human beings and share the same stuffs that make us very human.

Like for example, how can the Saudis think their system is the best when the Jeddah Int'l. Airport is so poorly managed? The weighing scale was not working, the screen monitors were dysfunctional, the ticketing officer can even ask me: "what is your nationality?" after scrutinizing my passport in his hands for a full 1 minute. We dont see our own faults. But from a 3rd person looking at the world objectively, things can be as clear as daylight. The Jeddah airport is years behind the Manila airport. The manila airport is years behind the Dubai airport which is in turn light-years behind Changi Singapore airport. Crystal clear.

2nd paradox of the day : "A person who thinks he is the greatest is oftentimes the worst of all". The reverse is equally true.

For employers who are interviewing potential candidates for a job, or damsels considering potential suitors, listen to the above advise and you will not regret it.

It was late in the evening and i walked out of the apartment to explore the surrounding streets of Dubai. I headed straight with no clear direction except to follow where the most people are gathering. After a few hours of wandering aimlessly, i felt tired and hungry. i decided to walk into the only place where i can find food and a seat- the Royal Ascott Hotel. Inside the lobby, i was drawn to the beautiful sounds of soft classical music at the background. Instinctively i followed the music and was lead to the entrance to a bar. It has a nice English Victorian interior decoration and even a simulation of a nice fireplace. It was dark and cozy and the music theme song from the movie " The Godfather" was playing.

I took a seat near to the stage and was immediately served by a Bulgarian waitress. We chatted a bit. Her bulgarian-english reminded me of the funny "Ken Lee" song from the bulgarian idol show patterned after the American idol.
I was sitting just 1 table away from the 2 lovely ladies on the front stage. They were in high heels and black formal ladies' gown with a silky shawl hanging over their bare shoulders. One was playing the piano, the other the violin. I surveyed the place and saw a group of elderly arabs at the far end corner of the bar chit-chatting and probably deal-making. A few tables away from me sat a fully bearded middle-aged arab who is probably of local dubaian origin. He was alone, relaxed and sipping baileys while reading a pocketbook while also munching peanuts every now and then. He seemed engrossed in his book.

I seemed the only one who has nothing to do and so i sat there sipping my apple juice and munching my usual sandwich. The bulgarian waitress told me the 2 ladies at the stage are russians. They were smiling at each other in between each piece of music to decide what music to play next. I just sat there enjoying the music and watched them. I especially like watching the lady play her violin with so much ease and grace. It seemed they were not used to the attention i was giving them. They smiled at me shyly as i smiled back and clapped softly after every piece. Later when they finished to take a break, they sat at one of the corner table to sip orange juice.

I was very tempted to join them at their table. i felt fascination and intrigue to hear their stories. I imagine they will tell me stories about their life back in Russia and perhaps to hear them tell their stories about how their parents sent them to Moscow's School of the Arts to learn music. how they probably struggled through the cold winter and the poverty and finally how they managed to come into Dubai to earn a decent living playing exotic classical music in this oil-rich emirate. There are a lot of migrant eastern europeans in Dubai in the same fashion there are southeast asian migrants in Singapore.

I said hello and asked if i can join them: "your music was lovely!" i said. The 2 girls smiled a little bit more and said: "Thank you". . i have to try something else to impress them more : "i enjoyed the Chaikovsky's Symphony no. 5 very much and Mozart's one too. When i was listening to the 2 of you play Mozart, i felt like i was falling in love!" their eyes sparkled and they both laughed. Natasha quickly followed by : "With who?" i replied by : "if i had a girlfriend, it would be her, but since i dont...."

Everyone has a story to tell. That was my excuse to myself to talk to the girls and that was how i imagined our opening conversation will start. but sorry to disappoint, it happened only my imagination. In the end i decided i should not approach them. The devil in me knew if i talk to the 2 lovely russians, i was'nt just out there to hear or listen to a story.