Sunday, December 28, 2008


Timing’s everything. The vapor rises
high in the sky, tossing to and fro,
then freezes, suddenly, and crystallizes
into a perfect flake of miraculous snow.
For countless miles, drifting east above
the world, whirling about in a swirling free-
for-all, appearing aimless, just like love,
but sensing, seeking out, its destiny.
Falling to where the two young skaters stand,
hand in hand, then flips and dips and whips
itself about to ever-so-gently land,
a miracle, across her unkissed lips:
as he blocks the wind raging from the south,
leaning forward to kiss her lovely mouth.

William Baer

Thursday, November 13, 2008

And This Too Shall Pass

One day King Solomon decided to humble Benaiah ben Yehoyada, his most trusted minister. He said to him, "Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. I wish to wear it for Sukkot which gives you six months to find it."

"If it exists anywhere on earth, your majesty," replied Benaiah, "I will find it and bring it to you, but what makes the ring so special?"

"It has magic powers," answered the king. "If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy." King Solomon knew that no such ring existed in the world, but he wished to give his minister a little taste of humility.

Spring passed and then summer, and still Benaiah had no idea where he could find the ring. On the night before Sukkot, he decided to take a walk in one of he poorest quarters of Jerusalem. He passed by a merchant who had begun to set out the day's wares on a shabby carpet. "Have you by any chance heard of a magic ring that makes the happy wearer forget his joy and the broken-hearted wearer forget his sorrows?" asked Benaiah.

He watched the grandfather take a plain gold ring from his carpet and engrave something on it. When Benaiah read the words on the ring, his face broke out in a wide smile.

That night the entire city welcomed in the holiday of Sukkot with great festivity. "Well, my friend," said King Solomon, "have you found what I sent you after?" All the ministers laughed and King Solomon himself smiled.

To everyone's surprise, Benaiah held up a small gold ring and declared, "Here it is, your majesty!" As soon as King Solomon read the inscription, the smile vanished from his face. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band: _gimel, zayin, yud_, which began the words "_Gam zeh ya'avor_" -- "This too shall pass."

At that moment King Solomon realized that all his wisdom and fabulous wealth and tremendous power were but fleeting things, for one day he would be nothing but dust.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Do not stand at my grave and weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Mary Elizabeth Frye (1905 - 2004)


Hang on to your life, or whatever that is left.

From June to October this year, 5 officers from my department have either resigned or being transferred out. A few days ago, 2 more officers have tendered their resignation. In all, more than 40% of the original strength has left without any replacement. The management has been asking the remaining officers to hang on and assured us that help is on its way. Unfortunately, they told us the same thing back in June.

Out of frustration, I made the above poster this morning and pinned it on my workstation. I am not sure what the management will think of it but I really don’t give a damn. I am quite sick of those feel-good posters such as ‘Be Positive’, ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy!’ blah, blah, blah.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Listeners

"Is there anybody there?" said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest's ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller's head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
"Is there anybody there?" he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller's call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
'Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:--
"Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word," he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

By Walter De La Mare (1873 - 1956)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.

Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.

Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!

We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,

Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.

By Sylvia Plath (1932 - 1963)


One of the thing I like about poetry is that it is highly adaptable. Regardless of the poem's intended meaning, the reader is free to associate it with his/her own experiences. I am not referring to poems that fail to communicate to its readers, because interpretation is quite different from association.

To illustrate my point, whenever I read the poem “Mushrooms” by Sylvia Plath, it never fails to remind me of pimples. I can clearly visualize them as pea-sized aliens landing on my nose and with their chipmunk voice demanding to see the leader of the new-found land. To save my face, literally, I declare an all-out war and start popping them like nobody’s business. To my horror, they start spreading across my face; filling up any available pores and to this day, the battle rages on.

I suspect one of the reasons for this weird association is because I first read this poem when I was a teenager, and lines like “The small grains make room”, “Shoulder through holes.”, “So many of us!”, etc doesn’t help either.

Some of you might associate the word “mushroom” with food, while others might associate it with something naughty. The process can be quite spontaneous. Ask someone to complete the statement “Mouse eat …” and most likely they will tell you “cheese”. Followed by “Goat eat …” and “grass” will comes to mind. Now ask him/she “Cow drink …” and most people will tell you “milk”.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Are You Feeling Burnt Out?

Recently I attended an event “Keep The Fire Burning: A Symposium For Professional Caregivers” organized by Institute of Mental Health (IMH). It was also a joint celebration of the 2nd Social Workers’ Day and IMH’s 80th Anniversary. The event involved group discussions and presentations by IMH’s Psychologist and Medical Social Worker (MSW). Overall it was a fruitful day, especially the presentation “Keeping The Temperature In Check: Balancing Your Multi-Faceted Professional Role In Mental Health” by Senior MSW Mr. Terence Yow.

Throughout the presentation, I have a strange feeling that it was prepared with me in mind. Let’s see what are the signs that indicate that you are feeling burnt out.

1) Frequently stressed and exhausted.
[Let’s see, more white hairs, dozing off during meetings, etc. Ticked.]

2) Dreading to go to work.
[Used to reach my office at 8.30 am sharp, then 8.45 am, 9 am, 9.15 am ... you get the picture. Ticked.]

3) Thinking about career change.
[Have been updating my resume on a monthly basis. Ticked.]

4) Neglecting other parts of life i.e. family, friends, hobbies …
[I’ve closed my online poetry forum recently. And when was the last time I have coffee with my friends? 2007? Ticked.]

5) No time to catch your breath at work.
[Catch a breath at work? More like catching a cold. Ticked.]

6) Losing sight why you chose this job/career.
[Under the heading "Occupation" I have started to declare myself as an "Applications Processing Machine". Beep beep. Ticked.]

7) No time to develop interests and hobbies.
[Unless you consider writing social reports as a hobby. Ticked]

8) Often feeling exhausted.
[Please refer to the 1st point. Ticked.]

9) Spending more and more time at work.
[Let’s see, although officially my working hours are from Monday to Friday, 8.30 am to 6 pm. I usually leave office at 7 – 8 pm and spend most of the Saturdays back in the office working. Never trust that HR guy during the interview. Ticked.]

10) Often bringing work home.
[Ha Ha, better than bringing woman home right? Just kidding dear, er dear? Darling? Honey? Ticked]

Okay, it is official. I am burnt out. Time to register myself as a missing person.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

On Monsieur’s Departure

I grieve, and dare not show my Discontent;
I love, and yet am forc’d to seem to hate;
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant;
I seem stark mute, but inwardly do prate:
            I am, and not; I freez, and yet am burn’d,
            Since from my Self another Self I turn’d.

My Care is like my Shadow in the Sun,
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands, and lies by me, doth make me rue it.
His too familiar Care doth make me rue it.
            No means I find to ridd him from my Breast,
            Till by the End of things it be supprest.

Some gentler Passion slide into my Mind,
For I am soft, and made of melting Snow;
Or be more cruel love, and so be kind;
Let me or float or sink, be high or low;
            Or let me Live with some more sweet content,
            Or Die, and so forget what Love e’re meant.

By Queen Elizabeth I (1533 – 1603)

Monday, April 14, 2008

Protagoras’s Wager

Protagoras had a pupil named Eulathus, who arranged to take Protagora’s course in rhetoric and sophistry, a kind of law school, for partial tuition. So sure was Protagoras of his abilities as a teacher that he told Eulathus he did not have to pay the balance until Eulathus won his first court case. In fact, Protagoras guaranteed that Eulathus would win his first case.

Time dragged on and Eulathus neither paid up nor argued any cases in court. Not only was Protagoras out the money, he looked bad to his students and to other Sophists. After all, if winning is what counts, and if appearance is reality, and if the pupil can outmaneuver the old master, why should anyone continue to pay his high fees? Protagoras was compelled to take actions.

Confronting Eulathus (probably in a public place where he could use his crowd-pleasing skills), Protagoras demanded payment in the form of this dilemma: “Eulathus, you might as well pay me, since I am going to sue you for the rest of the tuition. If I win in court, the court will rule that you owe me money; if I lose in court, you will have won your first case, and you will owe me the money. Either I win in court or I lose, you owe me the money.”

Protagoras, alas, was a good teacher, and Eulathus was ready for him. He shot back with a counter dilemma: “No, sir, you have it backwards. If you defeat me in court, then I have lost my first case and so do not owe the money; if I defeat you, the court will rule that I do not owe you the money. Either I defeat you or you defeat me. In either case, I do not owe you the money.” 


Ouch! Poor Protagoras.  I wonder how we can apply this wisdom in our daily lives? Hmm.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


In the house
of Mr and Mrs Spouse
he and she
would watch teevee
and never a word
between them spoken
unit the day
the set was broken.

Then 'How do you do?'
said he to she
'I don't believe
that we've met yet.
Spouse is my name.
What's yours?' he asked.

'Why, mine's the same!'
said she to he,
'Do you suppose that we could be - ?'

But the set came suddenly right about,
and so they never did find out.

By Eve Merriam (1916 - 1992)


This poem describes exactly what my wife and I are currently going through. We love watching TV like Boston Legal, Taiwan political news, Fearless Planet, etc. Anything that is more interesting than our local productions deserve our full attention. Unfortunately, we are spending lesser and lesser time communicating with each other.

Another major issue is the TV remote control. We believe that whoever controls it, is the master/mistress of the house. It is a fact - this harmless looking thing is actually a symbol of power. Whoever holds it decides what kind of programs the other party has to watch for the next 4 – 5 hours. With the TV remote control firmly in her hand, that means no more History Channel, no more Dogfights, etc, but programs about shoes, shopping, handbags, fashion, etc.

Although it is frustrating, but there is really no easy solution to our problem. I wonder if the nearby Family Service Centre is willing to take my case, “My wife deprived me of my freedom by holding on to the TV remote control. I want you to get it back from her.” Hmm.

But maybe what we really need is spending quality time with each other, you know like watching a movie, going to the library or maybe shopping for a bigger TV. Ya, I like the idea of having of a bigger TV.