Too Lazy to Really Think

Why Many Choose Instead to React 

I read somewhere recently that the true purpose of thinking is to understand our world as best as is possible. It is a fact that our minds have evolved over the centuries to think… if we care enough to exercise that important activity in earnest. When I say think, I mean really and seriously think about a matter or matters in a mature, careful, considerate and thoughtful manner.

Need To Engage in Thinking Seriously

Why is it necessary for us to indulge in the act of thinking seriously?

This is because we can then better understand and adapt to our environment. By indulging in the serious act of really thinking, rather than mindlessly reacting to issues, individuals or situations, we are better able to make smarter decisions.

In this manner, we are better able to ‘ survive ‘ and live regardless of whether this is a family situation, an office environment, a neighbourhood association or even in a social club setting.

Biased, Distorted and Uninformed

It is a fact that a lot of our so called low level, what I term as Division 3 thinking is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed and / or downright prejudiced. Just listen to the speeches or utterances of hate mongers throughout the world and you will understand what I am trying to convey.

They shamelessly and recklessly peddle their version of ‘ the truth ‘  badly disguised as information. In this manner, they appeal to those low-level Division 3 individuals who are much too lazy or indifferent to think and evaluate the speech or utterances for themselves.

Politicians Appeal to This Segment

In recent general elections held in Australia, a number of countries in Europe and the United States politicians from the far right and the extreme right were quick to seize the opportunities presented by a biased print and electronic media. Some of these media companies have impressive but hollow tag lines like: ‘The Most Trusted Source of News’.

Many news organisations have chosen to conveniently forget or ignore the basic tenets of professional journalism! A quick check to discover who are the owners of these news organisations will reveal why they have opted to adopt this biased  and unprofessional approach.

The fact that these organisations have to broadcast this tag line repeatedly is an indication that many do not trust these bodies to give clear, unbiased news to their viewers / readers. Many of the hate speeches and utterances were repeated with annoying frequency on television as a daily diet for Division 3 thinkers.

And it worked because these individuals voted en masse for such candidates and also on important issues in their respective countries. In addition, because these politicians understood the mentality and the poor thinking skills of Division 3 individuals, they were able to tailor their messages for such lazy thinkers.

Benefits of Critical Thinking

One must understand that the desire by an individual to engage in critical thinking has to be both self–guided and self-disciplined. The onus is thus on the individual to first carry out an honest audit of his current level of thinking skills.

When we engage in critical thinking, we are indulging in reflective and independent thinking. Mobs of lawless individuals running around causing havoc and mayhem are often under the influence of a puppet master.

None of these individuals is able to think for themselves and readily take their cue from the puppet master. When asked the reason why they participated in the protest or demonstration, they appear clueless and stunned.

These then are some of the benefits of critical thinking.

  1. it improves our ability to better understand logical connections between ideas;
  2. it assists us to carefully identify, propose and evaluate arguments;
  3. it assists us to detect inconsistencies in reasoning; and
  4. finally, it helps us to solve or overcome problems with a degree of confidence.

From my experience, it takes humility, patience, courage and maturity to develop the ability to think and that too, to think critically!

It is important to note that most problem-solving efforts will require one to engage in creative thinking as a natural consequence. The same is also the case for proper planning and decision making.

Some Excellent Examples of Lazy Thinkers

A Company Scenario
A manager walks into the office of his chief executive to discuss a relevant problem or issue. He proceeds to inform his boss of the problem and the resulting implications of not being able to overcome the problem. He then very conveniently passes the buck to his boss and requests him to deal with the matter.

What is wrong here? Has he correctly identified the problem? Has he thought through the problem or issue and has he come up with a proposal(s) to deal with it effectively? Is he now wishing to get his boss’s opinion on the best way forward? It is none of the above.

He is simply much too lazy to engage his brain in this manner. It does not seem to matter to him that he seems to be a manager in name only because he is clearly unable to manage. This is essentially because he is unwilling to think and to think seriously!

A Political Scenario
An individual proposes a line of action to deal with a pressing social issue. This is debated within the party and the issue is given a proper airing. After much discussion and debate, a way forward is proposed. This is then announced to the print and electronic media by way of a press conference.

In an immediate reaction, an individual from another party, who does not agree to this proposal, threatens the other party. He also issues veiled warnings, indulges in intimidation and for good measure delivers a personal insult to the other leader. What is wrong here?

Has the individual concerned sought clarification from the other party? Has the individual proposed to have a meeting or discussion with the other party to get more information, in a civil and decent manner? Has he proposed any counter measures? It is none of the above.

Once again, rather than exercise his brain, this so-called leader chooses to react emotionally instead of thinking rationally. This modus operandi is then followed by other rabble rousers who delight in showing the community and the nation, the might of their puny brains! They are like drug addicts, always with an unquenchable craving for publicity, the more the better and it does not matter that this is often mere cheap publicity.

A Nugget of Wisdom
More than thirty-four years ago, I was chosen to attend a six-month course in Applied Research and Educational Developmental Planning at Innotech in Manila, Philippines. Innotech is one of the South East Asian Ministers of Education Organisation ( SEAMEO ) training facility. There are such training facilities in all ASEAN countries. Malaysia has one for Science and Mathematics ( RECSAM ) in Penang and Singapore has one for English Language ( RELC ).

One day, I went in to see the director of Innotech on a matter of some concern. While waiting for her to look up, I noticed a prominent sign behind her chair and on the wall. It read: Are You Here with the Solution to the Problem or Are You Part of the Problem? It was certainly food for thought.

Many years later when I was heading a professional body in Malaysia, I thought it would be good to have that sign on the wall behind my desk. And whenever someone chose not to think about an issue properly, I was sure to ask him or her to read that sign. It had a sobering effect on the reader and he or she often left my office sheepishly.

So are we all ready to be self-guided and self-disciplined? This is because that is precisely what is called for if we are to seriously and deliberately engage in the art of thinking in earnest. It will also liberate us from the shackles of being manipulated by sinister forces. Finally, being able to really think and see issues in their true light will be an eye opening and mind liberating exercise for many of us.

 

What do you think? If you like what you’ve been reading, I hope you will consider following me on either Facebook or LinkedIn

Going on a sea or river cruise

A one of a kind experience

 

In a 1996 Harper’s magazine essay initially titled  Shipping Out  celebrated novelist, short story writer and essayist, the late David Foster Wallace was critical of cruising as a holiday option. David was also a professor of English and creative writing. This article of his appeared in the magazine with the revised title ‘ A supposedly fun thing I’ll never do again.’  That was David Wallace’s opinion.

However, there are literally thousands who are regular cruisers who beg to differ. Some have gone on five cruises; others have been on more than 12 cruises!

There is even one senior widow with means to match, who rather than stay in an upmarket retirement home, chooses to go on cruise after cruise in the same ship. She likes the way she is treated by the crew, all the cleaning is taken care of in a professional manner and the meals are excellent. There is nothing more she could ask for.

My wife and I embarked on our very first cruise some years ago when we went on a  Royal Caribbean International cruise from Shanghai, China to Fukuoka and Kobe in Japan and then to Seoul and Jeju in South Korea before returning to Shanghai. It was a short cruise lasting a mere seven days. It was a unique and joyful experience.

Many Intriguing Stories

We had heard many intriguing stories about cruises… both good and bad and were, therefore, somewhat apprehensive.  However, we both really wanted to experience this holiday option for ourselves.

We also took the necessary precautions and brought along some special pills to take to prevent sea sickness. We were joined on this cruise by a couple from Australia. The husband happened to be a schoolmate of mine from St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Both my wife and I took the special pills as a precaution before the ship sailed from the port of Shanghai. My friend and I enjoyed the experience but both our wives were initially affected by the cruise. It was not all that plain sailing for them.

They felt seasick, wanted to throw up and decided to retire to their cabins to lie down. By the way, cabins on cruise ships are given grand names i.e. stateroom. However, I must say that both recovered soon enough to enjoy the rest of the cruise.

Rough Seas and Stabiliser Fins

Crossing the seas to get to the Japanese port cities proved to be quite an experience as the seas were quite rough. However, modern cruise ships are equipped with huge stabiliser fins on either side of the ship. When conditions warrant it, like in this case, these fins were deployed and that helped a lot. I must also add that the rest of the cruise was plain sailing and enjoyable all the way.

Major Benefits of Cruising

We have gone on two other sea cruises since then and recently we experienced our very first river cruise. That is a whole different experience altogether.

So what are the benefits of cruising?

1.It is a very relaxed and enjoyable way of having a holiday

Yes, as you might have suspected most of the passengers are retired senior citizens…  some in their seventies, others in the late eighties and a few in their nineties too! Quite a few are with their walking sticks and a some get around in their comfortable, high-tech motorised wheelchairs.

2.There is a wide variety of good food in the various dining locations on board the luxury cruise ships

Passengers can choose to dine in a formal setting for breakfast, lunch and dinner or they can choose to go for the informal, buffet options. We chose the formal settings because in the Royal Caribbean International cruise ships, you are assigned a particular table for all your meals. You are also assigned a particular waiter to serve you during the meals. In addition, there is no pushing and shoving especially by some uncouth passengers in the buffet locations. In the buffet locations too, you can also invariably witness a few passengers displaying their ugly side by piling food on their plates!

In addition, food is available at no extra charge throughout the day and even late at night, if you are still hungry. However, you will need to pay for beer, wine and martinis if those are your preferred poisons!

3.We were able to keep up with our exercise regimen throughout the cruise

We went for brisk walks on certain decks and were able to walk all around the huge ship. We normally aimed to complete three rounds. This was certainly a most pleasant way to exercise while taking in the lovely scenery and at the same time watching the ship sail majestically through the calm waters. At times, in the morning and also at sunset, the views were simply breathtaking.

4. The Eagerly Awaited Shore Excursions

We were able to make brief visits to interesting places when we docked at the ports of certain cities. These excursions were quite enjoyable but I must confess that these were often fairly rushed visits and somewhat overpriced. The best part, however, is that they are properly organised and comfortable transport is provided. The onus is on the ship’s crew to see to it that we return to the ship in proper time and before the ship sets sail again.

We are also advised by the ship’s crew in charge of the shore excursions on the difficulty level of each shore excursion. They even recommend the type of shoe to be worn for certain walking tours. In a few cases, even bicycle tours are arranged for the more athletic types!

There are cases of individuals who decide to go on their own to explore the city and in some unfortunate instances get lost or arrive late at the port. The ship does not wait for such passengers. It is their responsibility then to get to the next port of call in order to rejoin the cruise! Hopefully, it is a lesson well learnt.

5. Pack – Unpack – Repack

Unlike well conducted and escorted tours of cities with reputable travel and tour companies like Trafalgar and Insight in the United Kingdom, there was no need to pack, unpack and re-pack at each port of call. This was a real hassle during escorted tours. Here your stateroom travels with you and it gets properly cleaned and maintained twice a day by the housekeeping staff.

6.  Entertaining Shows Every Night

Every night there are two shows that one is able to watch in the ship’s large, grand and comfortable theatre. If you decide to go for an early dinner, then you can opt to catch the second show for the night. Those who decide to go for a later dinner are able to catch the first show.

These daily shows last for about an hour plus and feature mostly talented crew members. Occasionally, some of the entertainers come on board at certain ports. Though these are not great shows, they are nevertheless quite entertaining. There is a different show each night. While the show is on, waiters and waitresses walk up and down the aisle taking your orders for drinks.

7. Other Facilities and Services

For those who love to gamble, all these cruise ships have casinos which only operate while we are in the open seas. The casinos are closed while the ship is in port. We gave this activity a miss because it is not our cup of tea! There were many who we noticed making a beeline for the casino when the ship was at sea. We chose instead to spend time in the comfortable library which was most conducive for some light reading. At other times, we joined a few passengers and played deck games.

8. Shop till you drop

And for those who like to shop, these big cruise ships have shops where you can shop till you drop. There are shops selling watches, pens, clothes, liquor, sweaters and shawls etc.

9. Swimming pools

There is also a decent sized gym on board and usually at least two swimming pools within the ship.

10. Personal care

In addition, these ships also have a beauty parlour for the ladies and a spa for those who wish to be pampered with a variety of massage options.

11. Delightful Champagne Jazz Brunch

Finally, for those looking for that extra oomph, there are usually a few speciality restaurants on board each cruise ship. One has to pay a fee of between US 10 to US 25 per head to dine in these restaurants. We felt the food was good enough on board the ship and so did not opt for this extra.

However, on one of our cruises, we opted for a promotion i.e. A Champagne Jazz Brunch for which we paid a mere US 10. It was well worth the price because the brunch and drinks were delightful and the jazz music by the 7 piece band was simply wonderful.

River Cruises Are Also Interesting

In addition to that first cruise, we also went on a Baltic cruise with RCI and a Mediterranean cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line. Of the three cruises, I rate the Mediterranean Cruise the best thus far.

It was simply very relaxing, the seas were super calm and delightful and the seas seemed to shimmer with a beautiful shade of blue and green. By the way, NCL is partly owned by a Malaysian gaming company that is based in Genting Highlands in Pahang, Malaysia.  Cruising with NCL offers one the opportunity to enjoy their version of it, minus the formality of other cruise lines. They refer to theirs as “ Free Style Cruising ‘. They do not assign you a table, nor a particular waiter throughout your cruise. You are free to choose your table. In addition, there is less formality on board.

Cruising On The River Rhine

In September 2016, we went on our first river cruise with another company called Ama Waterways. This is a fairly established company and they offer cruises not just in Europe but also in Asia and Africa.

We decided that we wanted to experience a different type of cruising. We also thought that the majestic River Rhine would be a great way to enjoy this new experience. Our 7 night The Enchanting Rhine cruise began at Amsterdam and took us on a leisurely trip initially to explore the legendary canals of Amsterdam.

After that, the cruise proceeded to Cologne, where we were able to catch a city tour and view the imposing Cologne Cathedral. From Cologne, we moved on to Koblenz where we had the pleasure of a pleasant evening walking tour of the small city. From here we moved on to the impressive Rhine Gorge. We saw many quaint medieval castles here as the ship sailed slowly past them.

We had two options to choose from when we arrived at another ancient city called Rudesheim: either a Wine Tasting session or a Gondola ride. We chose the gondola ride and we were surprised when what was on offer was a ride up to a hillside in a cable car!

Well, I guess, the choice of terminology can sometimes give you a wrong impression.  The ride up the hillside was exhilarating, to say the least, and the weather was just perfect for such an outing.

We continued on to other interesting towns like Heidelberg, Speyer and Strasbourg in France before returning to Breisach. The last leg of our journey was to Basel in Switzerland.

Differences between These Two Types of Cruising Options

In a sea cruise with the more established cruise lines like RCI, NCL and Holland America , it is quite common to have as many as 2,200 plus passengers on the ship together with a crew of 1,200. However, on a river cruise, the ship is much smaller and can accommodate only about 130 plus passengers with a crew of around 60.

The river cruise is much more sedate. There are no rough seas to deal with. There are, however, locks to contend with. So from time to time, we have had to patiently wait to go through locks before proceeding to the next destination. This marvellous engineering option allowed the ship to travel both upstream as well as downstream.

The staterooms are about the same size and like in sea cruises are thoroughly cleaned twice a day. On our ship, there was a tiny swimming pool, an even tinier gym where at the most only two people could exercise at the same time and a hair salon plus a spa.

All the meals were served in the main dining room which was small compared to the ones on sea going vessels. Those who did not wish to have a proper lunch or dinner could go to another part of the ship for a light meal. I must add that there was a free flow of wine and beer during lunch and dinner at no extra charge. At other times, one had to pay for a beer or a glass of wine.  Water, coffee, tea and biscuits were always available for hungry passengers in the common and comfortable lounge.

As you can see, cruising is gaining in popularity and they even have cruises for young adults who wish to have a more rugged and less costly experience. In addition, to further differentiate, there are also cruises for the more well-heeled passengers …. these are more like 6 or 7-star cruises, with a much smaller passenger load and with loads of extras thrown in.

So do consider taking the plunge and go on a cruise. My advice is to opt for a relatively enjoyable and safe cruise especially in the Mediterranean, the Baltic region or even the Greek islands. Then go for a river cruise to experience the difference. And finally, if you are prepared to brave the seas and the unexpected, go for an ocean cruise.

Vilnius, Lithuania reveals her many charms

Civic Pride and Cleanliness Reign

 

Recently my wife and I had another incredible opportunity to spend 12 nights in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. This came about because we had received an invitation from a close relative to come and discover the city. This relative has a smart, up-market two room furnished apartment right in the heart of the city and alongside the main road i.e. Gedimino Avenue.

We accepted the invitation and soon discovered many interesting and unusual facts about the city.

Where is Vilnius, Lithuania?

But first, where exactly is this country called Lithuania? It is a small country in Europe with a population of some three million people. The capital, Vilnius, has a population of 250,000 inhabitants, eighty per cent of whom are ethnic Lithuanians, eight per cent are Russian and another seven percent are Polish.

Lithuania is bordered by the Baltic Sea, another small country called Latvia and also Poland. It also has the unusual Russian enclave of Kaliningrad! It is one of the safest countries to visit in the whole of Europe. We can attest to that because we felt very safe and secure throughout our stay in Vilnius.

Early History and Growth of Vilnius

Vilnius is amazingly attractive and alluring with its labyrinthine Old Town cobblestone lanes and courtyards. It has its very own distinctive ambiance that is both charming as well as endearing. With proper shoes, walking on the well laid cobblestones can be quite a lot of fun.

Its first period of growth took place south of Cathedral Square right in the heart of Old Town. Standing majestically here is the imposing Cathedral – Basilica of St Stanislaus and St. Ladislaus. It remains to this day, the most important Catholic building in Lithuania. It was first built way back in 1251! It was partly destroyed and rebuilt a number of times.

Many people, I believe, visit the city of Vilnius to marvel at the interesting and unusual mix of Baroque, Gothic, Neoclassical and Renaissance architectural styles.

Next to it is Vilnius Cathedral Belfry… and it became a belfry only in the 16th century. Seeing it first hand, I was astounded to learn that the belfry is 57 metres high and quite wide at the bottom. No mere description can do justice to this building.

Dazzling Architectural Styles

Old Town in Vilnius achieved UNESCO world heritage status sometime in the early nineties. After walking through the Old Town on many occasions during my brief stay in the city, I can well understand why it earned this highly coveted status.  Many people, I believe, visit the city of Vilnius to marvel at the interesting and unusual mix of Baroque, Gothic, Neoclassical and Renaissance architectural styles.

It was such a pleasure to walk leisurely to Old Town and to take in the sights, sounds and feel of this wonderful, well preserved place. To me and my wife the whole city is clean but I later revised my opinion when I had a chance conversation with a senior gentleman from the Netherlands. To him, and I must stress here that this was his 5th visit to the city, he said that the city was not just clean but very clean!

Civic Pride and Cleanliness

He remarked that compared to the streets of Amsterdam which he said were quite dirty, Vilnius was exceptional. I had to agree with him because I have been to some major European cities and generally the streets are quite dirty because, in part, many of these cities have very many tourists on a regular basis. This was not the case with Vilnius. It has, I believe, yet to be discovered by hordes of tourists.

My wife and I did a lot of walking around to get a real feel for the city. We walked all over New Town as well as Old Town. We however liked Old Town better because of its unique charms and buildings.

No Cigarettes Butts on the Streets!

Walking was made that much easier because the pavements for pedestrians are wide enough and not crowded like most busy European capitals. There were thrash bins placed at strategic intervals and people actually used them. And nobody threw cigarette butts on the streets! Amazing self control or is this just a matter of civic pride?

It was also pleasant weather for the most part and the people of Vilnius did stop and help us out when we asked for directions……………….each and every time. Best of all, the people of Vilnius, not just the university students but also the middle aged and the not so young individuals all spoke and understood English. Let me add though that outside the capital of Vilnius, English is neither widely spoken nor understood.

Vilnius City Fiesta

It was just our good fortune that the day after we arrived in Vilnius, the city began three days of celebration. Titled Vilnius City Fiesta – 2 to 4 September, it was held on the avenue for about a mile just below my relative’s apartment building. How convenient for us!

There were properly erected, sturdy stalls set up the day before the event on Gedimino Avenue.  There were stalls selling cooked food – Lithuanian food is mainly hardy fare of meat and potatoes. Nothing was too exciting but solid stuff for the masses. There were also stalls selling grilled sausages of all types, cheese, biscuits, cookies etc. There were also stalls selling jewelleries, furniture, art works and paintings. Some stalls sold clothes, hats, caps etc.

For me, the best part of the City Fiesta was the  element of music …there was enough variety for all ages and groups. Two huge stages were set up at both ends of the avenue. From these stages, rock groups belted out popular numbers and I could see people moving and occasionally dancing to the beat. Families with young children were all over the fiesta grounds having a really good time.

People in Vilnius are more than willing to provide help and assistance when asked. In other major cities, they do not have the time for you. They are not prepared to stop and assist.

It was all good, heady stuff and I enjoyed the shows. Further down the avenue, we heard a jazz quintet playing beautiful music. As we walked along the avenue, we also heard buskers belting out numbers to a vey appreciate crowd. It was simply good clean fun…there was no rowdiness, fights or drunken displays by anyone in the crowd.

On day 4 when we came down from our apartment, we noticed that all the stalls had been dismantled and removed and the place cleaned up and restored to the way it was before the event. Such discipline is to be admired.

Other Strange Facts and Information 

  1. In addition to the city being very clean, I also noticed very little graffiti in the city. Most major cities of the world have the scourge of graffiti plastered all over the city. Vilnius is spared this scourge to some decent degree. Once again, I think it is civic pride that is so ingrained in the people.
  2. People in Vilnius are more than willing to provide help and assistance when asked. In other major cities, they do not have the time for you. They are not prepared to stop and assist.
  3. English is widely spoken and understood. Where this is not the case in a restaurant or department store, they will immediately summon someone who can assist us.
  4. There are no cigarette butts, cigarette packets or plastic wrappers carelessly thrown away and littering the streets!
  5. The country has a very small population of Sunni Muslims, about 7000 who, I have been informed, have integrated well with the rest of the population. These Muslims are very supportive of the government.
  6. Believe it or not. …………the first Lithuanians came to the country thousands of years ago from India!
  7. This information was conveyed to me by our guide who said he is also an amateur historian, during our brief visit to the resort town of Trakai. He said the Lithuanian language and Sanskrit are very similar. In addition, I would like to add that Sanskrit has been very important in the origin and development of comparative Indo-European linguistics.
  8. Cost of living in Vilnius is really low. Three racks of meat on the bone cost 3 Euro. A can of beer ( larger than normal ) 42 cents and I purchased a bottle of fairly good wine ( Merlot ) for about 3 Euro.
  9. There is a wide variety of good restaurants including those that cater for the Asian palate i.e. Thai, Chinese, Indian and Japanese.
  10. All statues of prominent Russian personalities and heroes i.e. Stalin, Lenin etc have been removed from the capital and relocated to a small town 120 kilometres away.
  11. Unfortunately, Vilnius too has its share of rogue taxi drivers. The taxi ride from the airport to our apartment was a whopping 15 Euro by a truly dishonest young taxi driver. However, our trip to the airport for the return journey home by a middle aged taxi driver cost us only 5 Euro. Even the tourist brochures warn us to be careful about this matter.

Trakai: Picture Postcard Perfect

Towards the end of our stay in Vilnius we decided to visit the resort town of Trakai. It is just a 45 minute drive to the town in a comfortable, medium sized Mercedes Benz bus. Trakai only has a population of about 7,500 residents. It has all the other facilities of a modern town, complete with hotels, restaurants, post offices, hospitals, pharmacies etc. However, the one drawback is the lack of sufficient and decent toilet facilities for the crowds of tourists.

My first impression of Trakai is of a picture perfect postcard setting. I marvelled at how tranquil the place seemed. Trakai boasts thirteen beautiful and charming lakes within and around the town! We stopped at the regular rest area which happened to be directly opposite the only remaining castle. Even this castle was only partly ancient, the bottom part and partly modern….which made it look rather incongruous!

There were two other castles there in the past but these were destroyed during the occupation.

The rest area was dotted with a succession of souvenir shops, bars and restaurants and we stopped at a restaurant for a local meal. We had a local version of curry puff but there was no curry in it…… it was just meat, potatoes and cheese. It was more like a pasty… a convenience food. A pasty is actually a baked pastry.

I noticed many sturdy wooden houses here. Some seemed old and weather beaten while others looked fairly new and impressive. It gave the town a different feel and seemed to fit in well with the town’s image as a tourist draw.

Go For the Path Less Travelled

If you are tired of the packaged tours and the usual countries to visit in Europe, then do give a thought to visiting Vilnius. It has much to offer and you do not need to book any tours or need a guide. Cost wise, it can be a dream vacation and from a safety angle, it is a place that is relatively free of crime. Here you can choose to be a real traveller rather than a tourist.

Some of my friends just came back from a holiday to Italy and another to France. Both said these countries had very interesting sights to see and marvel at. However, they felt unsafe, especially from pickpockets in some places. One friend also grumbled about racist shopkeepers, the huge crowd of tourists and unfriendly sections of the population. This is the price one has to pay to visit the popular countries. In that sense, Vilnius will be a complete change and it will also be easier on the pocket.

The Alluring Grace of Social Intelligence

Why It Really Matters

I have sometimes wondered why a few otherwise smart, intelligent individuals are oftentimes prone to make insensitive, callous and sometimes toxic statements.  I also notice that these same individuals have much difficulty communicating in a pleasant manner with others in a group or club. They tend to be unnecessarily brash, sometimes crude and unfeeling in certain situations.

Some ninety-six years ago, Edward Thorndike defined social intelligence as the ability to understand and manage men, women and girls and to act wisely in human relations. Why were boys not included in this definition? That remains a mystery. It is also equivalent to interpersonal intelligence.

Another way of looking at social intelligence is like this: ‘ Social intelligence is the capacity to effectively navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments.’

Social Intelligence Defines Us

Ross Honeywill believes social intelligence is: ‘ An aggregated measure of self and social awareness, evolved social beliefs and attitudes and a capacity and appetite to manage complex social challenges.’

Now that is quite a challenge in itself.

And quite tellingly psychologist Nicholas Humphrey believes it is social intelligence, rather than quantitative intelligence, that defines us as human beings!

We need to pause for a while and cogitate deeply on that bold statement to really understand its full meaning and context.

Social intelligence, on the other hand, is mostly learned.

Developed from Experience

Permit me at this stage to elucidate.

According to experts, intelligence or IQ is largely what you are born with. Social intelligence, on the other hand, is mostly learned. It is developed from experience. For social intelligence to manifest in tangible forms, one must be willing and eager to learn as we go along in life.

For far too often, some individuals have remained closed to the process of keenly observing, learning and then internalising what they have learned. However, this is a ‘must do’ activity throughout our lives if we are to progress as decent, caring and concerned human beings.

In professional circles, they talk about this by emphasising the regular need for continuing professional development or education………CPD or CPE for short. As such, professionals like doctors, lawyers, engineers and accountants for instance, regularly update their professional tool kit to stay abreast of changes in their field or of legislation.

These professionals from the established professions as well as professionals from newly emerging professions like IT, marketing and communications make it a point to stay up to date.

Age with Joy and Finish with Grace

A well known American, Christian philosopher and educator, Dr George Sweeting, in his best-selling book, ‘ The Joys of Successfully Aging ‘ said: ‘ You can age with joy and finish with grace.’

To age with joy and finish with grace, we have to first make that commitment.

Now, that is certainly a great and wonderful way of living and ending our lives here on mother earth.

To age with joy and finish with grace, we have to first make that commitment. And make it with all sincerity. In doing so, one will find that it is incumbent on us to develop, nurture and sustain a degree of social intelligence. This is so necessary if we are to integrate well and harmoniously in the family, the work environment and in society at large.

A 17th Century Nun’s Prayer

I am reminded, from time to time, of this beautifully expressed prayer that a 17th-century nun used to say in order to keep her herself truly grounded at all times. The prayer goes like this:

“Lord, keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion. Release me from the craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.
Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy.”

This is just part of that nun’s lengthy prayer. It goes to show that she had indeed developed a keen sense of social intelligence.

If we reflect carefully and honestly on the gist of the nun’s prayer, we will be certain to remember some occasions when silence would have been golden!

On a few occasions, some people remark that we are being sensitive when we object to some rude and personal remarks made in front of many others.  They conveniently ‘choose to forget’ and ought to be reminded, there and then, that in reality, it is these individuals who are being insensitive!

Why Individuals Stay Away

Sometimes, a few individuals choose to resign from their jobs because of unpleasant characters in the office or because of the toxic work environment. At other times, some individuals stay away from meetings at the club house or neighbourhood associations because of a few pompous, highly opinionated and egotistical personalities who ride roughshod over the feelings of more docile, gentle and refined individuals.

Yes, these are outwardly successful and intelligent individuals… but they are not ones with any degree of social intelligence. Had they taken the trouble to develop this aspect of their personal tool kit, they would not be so despised within the club or association. They are, however, the last to know how they stand within the club or association!

Lose Their Bearings as Decent Human Beings

Rank, titles, wealth and honours have gone to their heads and they seem to have lost their bearings as decent human beings. Some of these individuals seem to demand special treatment when they talk to the staff of the club or association. They make arrogant statements like: Do you know who I am? Just because they have ‘forgotten’ who they are, they take it out on others!

They also talk rudely and occasionally shout at these poor, defenceless individuals! Where is the milk of human kindness in these individuals? There is not one iota of social intelligence in these miserable individuals!

It pays, therefore, for all of us to make an effort on a regular basis to increase our level of social intelligence. When we have acquired the requisite level of social intelligence, we will find that we are able to get along well with bosses, colleagues, neighbours, friends and associates. Now that is a win – win situation for all of us.

Connecting the Lights

Facts, Mysteries and Eurasians

Two weeks ago, I received an email notification of a very interesting and fascinating Sunday afternoon programme at a leading hotel in Penang. After carefully perusing the attached flyer, I decided to make a trip up north and to attend the programme which incidentally featured a distinguished panel of speakers.

What does the average Malaysian know about Francis Light and Colonel William Light?

Now what was this programme, ‘ Connecting The Lights “ all about? It was about Sir Captain Francis Light, the founder of Penang, his son Colonel William Light and his wife and William’s mother, Lady Martina Rozzels.

What does the average Malaysian know about Francis Light and Colonel William Light? Who was that elusive and highly attractive Eurasian Lady, Martina Rozzels? So little is written or captured about her in the various historical documents.

Penang Continues to Fascinate

I must confess that I have always been fascinated with the island. Part of the reason could be that I spent a good two years on that island during my younger days at the small teacher training college, St Joseph’s Training College, meant to prepare La Salle Brothers to be teachers.

The La Salle Brothers also took in a few lay students, like me, who after training taught alongside the La Salle Brothers in the many mission schools throughout Malaysia. My college hostel was in Burmah Road and right in the heart of Pulau Tikus and next to the Eurasian Village ( Kampong Serani ).

Cultural Melting Pot

In addition, the whole island was and still is a cultural melting pot. I could see on a daily basis a procession of young Thai girls, dressed stylishly in jeans of all hues walking past our hostel. They were on their way to the local commercial institute in the area to be trained in typewriting, shorthand and secretarial skills.

In addition, when we attended local parties on some weekends, there was always a good mix of guests: Chinese, Malays, Indians, Eurasians and even Australians. The Royal Australian Air Force had a base in Penang and its personnel mixed very well with the locals.

Even then, Penang was an established culinary paradise. It had such an array of local dishes and one only needed to know where to go for a particular dish. For me then, it was Gurney Drive for char kueh teow and Dato Keramat for Leng Chee Kiang and / or Lobak! There were other places to go to for Nasi Kandar,  Assam Laksa and Cendol.

Distinguished Panel of Speakers

The organisers of the event, George Town Festival, had invited the following individuals: Marcus Langdon, a Penang-based author; Datuk Wira Mohd Shariff, a Kedah historian and a former district officer in Kedah; Kelly Henderson, a social activist and Parklands advocate from Adelaide; and Dato Dr. Anthony Sibert, Eurasian historian.

One of the collaborators in the event was The Royale Bintang Penang, a 4-star hotel which is housed in a heritage building built in the 1890s which belonged to Boustead & Company. This event was also to mark and celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Penang Heritage Trust.

Marcus Langdon’s Contribution

Marcus Langdon was given the honour of making the first presentation.

Marcus has extensive knowledge of Penang’s early history because he has spent many years and much time researching the matter. He himself has a connection to Penang because one of his great, great grandfathers was the principal of Penang Free School!

In addition, Marcus has published two major books: Penang – The Fourth Presidency of India 1803 to 1830 Volume 1 ( Ships, Men and Mansions ) and Volume 2 ( Fire, Spice and Edifice ).

Some Facts about Francis Light

We were informed by Marcus that Francis Light enlisted in the Royal Navy at the tender age of thirteen! We were also told that he was a linguist. Francis Light could speak Bahasa Malaysia / Indonesia very well. He was also conversant with the local customs and traditions and was able to get along well with both the Sultan of Kedah as well as the Thai King. He also served for a brief period in Aceh, Indonesia. Believe or not, he was able to even read and write Jawi.

He could not only speak the Thai language quite well but he had taken the trouble to master the refined form of the Thai language used in the Royal Court. This must have surely impressed the royal families in both Kedah and Thailand.

What this indicates quite clearly is that Francis Light was a self-made man who believed in the concept of life-long education.

In addition, we were informed that Francis Light was a man of impressive diplomatic skills. Furthermore, he was equally adept in negotiations and was considered a superb negotiator.

Keep in mind that this was a man who had enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of thirteen. What this indicates quite clearly is that Francis Light was a self-made man who believed in the concept of life-long education. All these remarkable qualities and abilities of his must have impressed his ultimate bosses in the East India Company ( EIC ) in Calcutta, India.

Enigmatic Lady Martina Rozzels

Lady Martina Rozzels remains to this day an enigma! What we do know is that she somehow managed to capture the heart of Francis Light. She had two children with Francis Light… a son, Colonel William Light and a daughter.

William Light, like his illustrious father, also joined the Royal Navy initially but later on, he became an army officer rising to the exalted rank of colonel. Part of the reason for his rapid rise in the military may have been due to his birthplace being given as Suffolk, England. He was thus seen and accepted as an Englishman. Was this for strategic and career reasons?  In actual fact, he was born in Penang and is a bona fide Eurasian.

One of the speakers at the event, Datuk Wira Mohd Shariff made a fairly startling claim. According to him, a Kedah princess named Siti Zubaidah had taken on the identity of Martina Rozzels in order to marry Francis Light. She had used this Portuguese name to assume that identity. This revelation, for what it is worth, only deepens the mystery of who actually is Lady Martina Rozzels.

There are other accounts that state Lady Martina Rozzels moved from Phuket to Penang with a number of other Eurasian family members because of war and unrest in the Thai island at that time. She is to be credited, in part, for opening the doors for the La Salle Brothers coming to Penang. St Xavier’s Institution was the first La Salle school to be established in Malaysia.

Contributions from the Other Speakers

The other speakers, Datuk Wira Mohd Shariff and Kelly Henderson also gave brief presentations. Datuk Wira touched on the Kedah connections in general while Kelly Henderson talked about William Light’s role in the founding of Adelaide.

William Light admired his father’s role in the founding of Penang and wanted to leave a similar mark. As such, just as Francis Light has a statue in his honour in Penang, William Light too has a statue in his honour in Adelaide. Like father, like son!

Like his father, William Light too was a noted linguist. His plans for the city of Adelaide are considered priceless, especially his efforts at surveying for the ideal spot to locate the city. It is readily acknowledged that his decision to locate the city in that particular part was simply brilliant.

Dato Dr. Anthony Sibert however, did not turn up due to unavoidable circumstances. His contribution was nevertheless presented very briefly by one of the organisers.

Kudos to Joe Sidek

Credit should be given to a remarkable person i.e. Joe Sidek for the success of the event. As festival director for the George Town Festival for many years, he has managed to make it a successful annual happening.

It should be borne in mind that the George Town Festival started out as a celebration of George Town’s heritage status. The fact that it has since evolved into an international showcase of arts, culture and music is a great tribute to Joe Sidek, his team and the enthusiastic volunteers who lend valuable support for its various activities.

Remembering an Unforgettable Individual

 Tony Leow Sun Hock 

Tony was my classmate at St John’s Institution, Kuala Lumpur during our secondary school years. He was a good-looking, well-built, pleasant and fun loving person with a cheeky sense of humour.

But there was also another side to him: Tony was a very determined person when he set his mind on a particular task or project. He also had a winner’s drive, stamina and energy to succeed. I sometimes felt sorry for an individual(s) who unfortunately got in his way once he was in this frame of mind.

No Guts, No Glory Approach

While in secondary school and when we were in Form Four, Tony was quite annoyed with a classmate who he felt was too cocky about his so-called prowess in judo. He was irritated to the extent that he challenged the guy to a fight behind St. John’s Cathedral after school was over for the day. Incidentally, the cathedral was next door to the school and the land behind the cathedral offered some degree of privacy.

Tony had that sort of bluster, bravado and bravery and was in my opinion, a rough diamond!

The fight was brief, explosive and decisive. Tony made quick work of it and it was over before anyone actually realised it. Tony had that sort of bluster, bravado and bravery and was in my opinion, a rough diamond! The next day, the class master inquired from the judo exponent what had happened to his face. He sheepishly replied that he had fallen from his bicycle! The rest of the class smiled knowingly.

In Shock and Awe

On another occasion, a friend of mine requested me to allow him to serve as a rally marshal during one of the motor rallies taking place in the estates and tin mines in the Klang Valley. I agreed and he partnered me during our night shift in an estate at about 1.30 am. It was not a pleasant situation: there were mosquitoes buzzing around us, there was almost total darkness, except when rally cars came screeching around the corner and it was a hot and humid night.

Then this friend requested me to allow him to sign off when the next rally car came up. I agreed and the next car was navigated by Tony. He was in an almighty rush and shouted impatiently and scolded my friend for being slow.

My burly friend was in a state of shock! He asked me afterwards: Is your classmate like that?  I replied: Yes, he is a very competitive person. Don’t mess with him!

Tried to Help Friends

Tony also tried on some occasions to assist friends. But these friends soon learned the hard way that Tony was a tough task master. He expected these people to work hard and not to give silly excuses. He did not brook any nonsense and was equally hard on friends who did not measure up.

I know of another so-called friend who was given a proper shelling by Tony when he asked for an ‘ easy job ‘ after his retirement from government service.  I believe this person was shell shocked by Tony’s unvarnished and directly honest response.

Devil May Care Approach

When a classmate who had migrated to the US visited us some years ago, I informed Tony. He immediately agreed to meet the friend who used to live along Jalan Templer in Petaling Jaya and also agreed to pick me up before meeting that friend for dinner. Tony decided where we were going to have dinner … at a Chinese restaurant along Jalan Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur.

Tony really believed in living life to the fullest even though he was truly mindful of the risks.

Tony also ordered the dishes: Hokkien style ( black ) fried noodles, Cantonese style( white) fried noodles, a squid and vegetable dish and a dozen sticks of satay. I tried to advise Tony about the danger of some of the dishes considering his heart condition. But in his usual, ‘devil may care’ style, Tony brushed this aside. He told us to ‘whack’ ( Malaysian speak for eat ) the noodles and he indulged in the dishes with relish. That is typically Tony in action. Tony really believed in living life to the fullest even though he was truly mindful of the risks.

Born To Be An Entrepreneur

With his winning ways and capacity for hard work, Tony was, I believe, born to be an entrepreneur.

He started his working life with a then well-known company called Anthonian Bookstore. This bookstore supplied almost all the text and workbooks for the many La Salle schools in the Klang Valley.

Next, he took up a position as a Sales Representative for Mobil Oil Corporation in Kuala Lumpur. He later branched out but remained in the motor trade business dealing with oils and lubricants.

In the early eighties, Tony started a business, SignPro Sdn Bhd that fabricated all manner of signages (signboards and signposts) for commercial enterprises and individuals. He built this business up steadily and in the mid-nineties sold off the business.

He was keen to re- focus his energies on another business which he had incidentally started way back in the seventies! Here too, a lesser individual would have given up because of the many hurdles he had to face. But this was not an option for Tony.

He had the support of a major motor car manufacturer as well as the support of a few key players. Soon he was able to go full steam ahead in his seat belt business. He grew the business, bought over his previous major competitor and even managed successfully to list the company, Hirotako Bhd on the main board of the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange (KLSE). That was a singular, major achievement by any measure of standards.

Many-Faceted Personality

There are many other facets to Tony’s riveting personality.

For instance, as a family man, that is for his wife and children to share. As a businessman, that is for his business colleagues and maybe some employees to share. As a super keen golf enthusiast, that is for his golfing buddies to share. I also know one friend who decided it was too stressful playing golf with Tony that he subsequently declined further invitations! That is Tony for you… always extremely competitive even in the company of friends.

I chose to share only those elements of his multifaceted personality that I am familiar with because the Kiwanis Club of Kuala Lumpur had requested me to do a write-up. The Kiwanis Club wishes, in this appropriate manner, to honour and remember Tony during its 40th -anniversary celebrations in 2016. Tony has been medically out of action for a few years.

Which is more important – loyalty or integrity?

Standing resolutely against the tide of a morally bankrupt secular culture!

I recently read a thought-provoking 491-page book titled ‘How Now Shall We Live?’ by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey. The late Charles Colson, some of you may well remember, is a former presidential aide to Richard Nixon. He was also the founder of the international ministry, Prison Fellowship.

Seduced by the Power and the Trappings

Charles Colson’s rise to fame and notoriety, in equal measure, is partly because he was known within the Nixon administration as an ‘evil genius’. His designation in the White House was special counsel to the president where he wielded enormous influence.

It was Nixon, after all, who persuaded him to give up his lucrative law practice to serve as his special counsel. He also gladly accepted a much lower salary in exchange for the privilege, the power, the glory and the trappings of serving at the White House.

Walk Over My Own Grandmother

Colson was extremely committed to the re-election of President Richard Nixon and is on record for a distasteful statement wherein he said that he ‘would walk over my own grandmother’ in order to ensure the re-election of Richard Nixon.

This was such a thoughtless and wholly misplaced act of loyalty. It also reflected the kind of irrational decision some individuals make because they think that they are all powerful and untouchable!

Mr Colson, said the master sergeant, which is more important:  loyalty or integrity?

His dramatic fall from the pinnacle of power and prestige was quick, painful and sobering. Colson served seven months in prison after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in the Watergate-related Daniel Ellsberg case.

When One Does Not Have Scruples

As a political strategist, he was clearly a brilliant one.

But when you do not have the right values and scruples to match, there is always a price to pay… sooner or later!  This dramatic change in his status, fortune and circumstances gave him ample opportunity to seriously reflect on his life thus far and on some of the poor choices he had made.

After pondering deeply and sincerely, he readily acknowledged that he had been wrong in some of his actions.  That ultimately led to his conversion and he, thereafter, became a Christian.

Lecture on Ethics to 2000 Marine Officers

Colson was invited to give a lecture on ethics to 2000 Marine officers and non-commissioned officers in a North Carolina army camp some years ago. One of the toughest questions on that day, after his lecture and during question time, came from a master sergeant.

Mr Colson, said the master sergeant, which is more important:  loyalty or integrity?

Colson faced a huge dilemma. Marines in the US live by the creed: ‘ Semper Fidelis ‘ which means being ‘always faithful ‘. He was also a former marine and he knew that loyalty meant unquestioning obedience. He reflected wryly that had he pondered deeply on the master

Marines in the US live by the creed: ‘ Semper Fidelis ‘ which means being ‘always faithful’. He was also a former marine and he knew that loyalty meant unquestioning obedience. He reflected wryly that had he pondered deeply on the master sergeant’s question when he was in the Nixon White House, he would have acted differently. Too bad that such is the beauty of hindsight!

Integrity comes first, he said.  Colson then added that loyalty, no matter how admirable, can be dangerous if it is invested in an unworthy cause. There are also many individuals who have recklessly and foolishly put their trust and loyalty in a number of false prophets, charlatans and so called leaders! There are a few well-known cases both in the corporate and political worlds that also come to mind.

Integrity comes from the verb to integrate. This means to become united so as to form a complete or perfect whole. It follows, therefore, that our actions must be consistent and in line with our thoughts, our principles and our values.

We should summon, with all our might and decency, the courage, the will and the determination to face the challenge of standing against the tide of a morally repugnant secular culture.

Weaving a Web of Deceit

We must not act or behave as though we have taken leave of our senses on some occasions because it is convenient to do so or because it suits us. Yet at other times, we seem to be in control of our faculties. Black will always be black, and however much you wish to change the colour, thinking individuals will not believe you when you claim that black is actually white!

Once you lie and then choose to weave a web of deceit or even tell half truths on a regular basis, you lose all credibility. Nobody is going to believe you from then on except perhaps the village idiot!

Morally Repugnant Secular Culture

We should summon, with all our might and decency, the courage, the will and the determination to face the challenge of standing against the tide of a morally repugnant secular culture. This is especially so when many others, who should know better, chose to cave in meekly because they have been seduced beyond redemption by the trappings of power and ill- gotten wealth.

It is wise, when faced with this dilemma, to rely on our values, if we have any worth adhering to. Do always listen carefully to our inner voice and promptings i.e. conscience!  Universal moral laws should serve as our guide.

As clear-headed and thinking individuals, it is up to us to decide between right and wrong. Individuals can always, of course, engage in debate about the boundaries of a moral law and its applications. Moral laws, however, are timeless and do matter.

Basic Rules of Morality Still Apply

In the end, however, we should be governed by the basic rules of morality. We should not wait like Charles Colson for something drastic to happen before we really start thinking seriously about the issue(s) concerned. At that time, however, it may be a little too late.

We should consciously aim for the higher things in life… things that challenge our mind, strengthen our character and foster a love for the overall greater good of society. I stress that despite what we see and witness happening around us with increasing frequency these days, there is still great room and need for embedding traditional moral values of honesty, courage, sacrifice and the like.

Some people, however, when faced with such hard choices choose to feign ignorance. Others choose to have a case of selective amnesia. Many other weak willed individuals believe it is better to opt for the easy and more convenient choice. After all, they reason quite naively, many others are also doing so.  This is their simple and silly justification.

Under these circumstances, they believe it is better to just go along like a flock of sheep and in the process jettison, without qualms, their values and their principles for ‘30 pieces of silver’!  These days, however, the rewards for such delusional and unworthy behaviour are much more that those measly pieces of silver.