When The Pursuit Of Pleasure Is Sinful

The Dalai Lama once said that every living being ought to have the right to eliminate suffering. Most people do it by pursuing pleasures and various forms of gratification. The counterintuitive Buddhist way to end suffering is to temper our innate desires. Other religions may see the pursuit of pleasures as sinful.

An certain outspoken, authoritarian-justifying professor with rightist inclinations (vis-a-vis social order and deference to authority) shared the following quote which is deeply flawed and often hijack to promote certain religious causes:

May be an image of 2 people and text that says ""What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.. .Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance...Ir 1984 people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us." Neil Postman"

What do other professors make of it? Check this out:

Like many pragmatists in Singapore, the professors are supporters of authoritarian regimes that produce politically predictable societies with glowing economic results. As far as I know, they are not conservative Christians or Jews. It’s thus very odd that the above quote from Neil Postman should be shared.

Or perhaps not. Always threatened by the potential for instability and sometimes challenged for their condemnation of protests against authority, they are eager to latch on to voices that might even vaguely appear to support their views on the necessity of censorship and how “freedom” can get out of hand. Let’s do an intellectual dissection of Neil Postman’s quote.

Neil Postman was an ultra conservative Jewish educator who challenged the deluge of entertainment programmes in mass media to attract ears and eyeballs. He was against what he believed to be the excessive use of technology in every aspect of American life. For instance, he was of the opinion that individuals have no need for “personal” computers.

The above quote shared by our academics is taken from the introduction of Postman’s bestselling book, Amusing Ourselves to Death. Published in 1985, the book is still strongly recommended by conservative American Christian evangelists who wish to see entertainment programmes on TV (like Baywatch) cut down to a bare minimum as they too believe that it is threatening their faith. I won’t share their videos here, but there are quite a few churches, pastors and priests out there sharing Postman’s warning about the harm caused by sinful pleasures.

baywatch
When The Pursuit Of Pleasure Is Sinful

Like Postman, Huxley eschewed technology. That’s about as far as Postman can be compared with Huxley. Huxley’s book Brave New World is about a world “reduced” to a single state in the 26th century. In that purely science and technology driven world, everything must run like clockwork; nothing is wasted and optimisation and perfection cannot be compromised.

In Huxley’s world, children are created outside the womb and cloned in order to increase the population. Citizens are classified based on their genes. The embryos, which exist within tubes and incubators, are provided with differing amounts of chemicals and hormones in order to condition them into predetermined classes. These classes, in order from highest to lowest, are Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon. The Alphas are bred to be leaders, and the Epsilons are bred to be menial labourers.

Test Tube Babies
When The Pursuit Of Pleasure Is Sinful

All embryos must be optimally and predictably conceived this way and any child born naturally is called a “savage”. To make up for the lack of pleasure, the future government dispenses a pleasure pill. An overdose of it killed the female protagonist.

Huxley’s book was banned by many countries that had a sizable conservative Christian community. Even in countries where the book was not banned, schools and libraries all over the world refused to stock it. Now comes the interesting part. Why did Postman say that Huxley feared that there is no reason to ban a book? That’s because Huxley was making a sarcastic remark against the folks who banned his book.

Of course, Postman had somehow convinced some people and managed to interpret Huxley in a way that supported his stand. Actually, Huxley and Orwell had more similarities than differences. They both wrote about enslavement and argued for freedom.

On 21 October 1949, Huxley wrote to George Orwell, author of 1984, congratulating him on “how fine and how profoundly important the book is.” In his letter to Orwell, he predicted:

“Within the next generation I believe that the world’s leaders will discover that infant conditioning and narcohypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging them and kicking them into obedience.”

Huxley lamented that the free world is not that much better than a communist dystopia. People are enslaved by technology and not some totalitarian government. Scientific pragmatism forces people to conform and the only pleasure comes from narcotic stimulation.

drug
When The Pursuit Of Pleasure Is Sinful

Postman went on to further twist Huxley’s beliefs and dupe the folks who have not read Brave New World. How were people controlled by inflicting pleasure? No, in Huxley’s world, people were enslaved by their own perceived modern wisdom, pragmatism and rationality. Did Huxley fear that pleasure would ruin us? Of course not. He was the intellectual version of the Beatles and he obviously did not support any of the cold, calculative practices of the brave new world he wrote about. As a Hindu, he embraced the concept of letting things be. Huxley’s last request on his death bed (dying of throat cancer), was a shot of LSD! Talk about sinful pleasures. I haven’t read Postman’s book, but he has definitely misrepresented Huxley. But it’s amazing how he managed to change Huxley’s image as a mistakenly unChristian writer to one who is on their side.

Whatever the case, our professors need to read more.


Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.

The Sound Of Falling Snow

The are many different versions of this song. Taiwanese social media star Ariel Tsai’s version has a slightly different beat from the original version. This refreshing arrangement gives a lively touch to this otherwise melancholic song.

Now check out the original version with images from the story for which the song has been written. Singer Lu Hu sings with deep passion, lamenting an ill-fated relationship. Reference to snow adds a layer to the coldness of life in the palace. Compared to Ariel Tsai’s version, Lu Hu’s style certainly suits the drama and the setting of the story better.

Finally, the video with the most views – JJ Lin’s version of The Sound Of Falling Snow. His R&B style is not really my cup of tea (the song doesn’t sound Chinese anymore), but obviously, it works in China.

And finally, we have veteran Taiwanese singer Fei Yu Qing on stage with the two main actors from the TV series. I’m not a big fan of Fei Yu Qing, but in his 60s now, his voice is superb. Not only that, he doesn’t look much older than the actors who are young enough to be his children!

Even more pleasantly surprising is Nie Yuan’s singing is not bad. The change in key was subtle and the final harmony (even though they had different vocal ranges) was brilliantly coordinated. Oh, what did Wu Jin Yan do to her nose? So unnatural and it’s affecting her voice.


Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.

Like A Dewdrop 江明學

Born in 1961, 江明學 was a singer/songwriter. His greatest hit was a cover version of famous female singer Sarah Chen’s (陈淑桦)秋意上心头。Apart from Sarah Chen, he had also successfully done very popular cover versions of other female singers like Tracy Huang and Teresa Teng. His winning formula was his raw, unfeigned voice.

From the peak of his career in the 1990s, everything went downhill for the aging star thenceforth. In 2004, he tried to make a comeback by compiling his former hits from defunct recording studios and relaunching them himself in CD. The arrival of readily downloadable mp3 caused him massive losses.

Deep in debt, 江明學 ended up as a street performer and restaurant helper. In fact, he was the first professional singer in Taiwan to have applied for a busking permit. 江明學 finally lost the will to live and hanged himself in his apartment. After his landlady failed to get a response from him after repeated reminders to pay his rent, she broke in with the police and fire department and found his decomposing body on 18 June 2019.

I’m not a fan of 陈淑桦. However, 秋意上心头 is one of few songs of hers that I like apart from 梦醒时分. I prefer 江明學’s version of 秋意上心头. There is no use shedding tears or turning around to hold back something that is destined to go. 江明學 could have been a legend if he had departed when he was still charming millions.

The most beautiful romances are the tragic ones begging for a second chance in the next life. The most memorable legends are those that suddenly depart when they are most adored. As a star, Jiang had unfortunately failed to leave the stage or depart from this world at his most glorious moment.


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The Long Wait 漫長的等待 1983

漫長的等待 by Tracy Huang

Out of the blue today (or perhaps it had something to do with the recent copyright tussle), I was reminded of this song 漫長的等待 by Tracy Huang. For my younger readers, it’s a oldie that dates back to the year 1983 when I was a 19-year-old army boy.

You may find it strange how macho young men could identify with such a “feminine” song like 漫長的等待. The answer is simple. The song springs from the heart of a woman in love. It’s something that we would be overjoyed to discover if we could somehow take a peek into the heart of the seemingly indifferent person we fancy. Sadly, for most of us who were 19 and without any “market value”, the indifference was real. We were often the ones doing all the fruitless waiting.


Dewdrop Books – Fiction and non-fiction with a focus on the colourful and exotic Asian realm. Check out our titles.

Bad Blood, The Theranos Scam & Scandal

Image may contain: one or more people, text that says "Winner of the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award 2018 Bad Blood Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup NLB The story of Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos 61 lohn Z] ;arreyrou"

Allow me to share an good read which is both engaging and intriguing – like a detective novel. Theranos was touted as a DIY bucket sized blood testing mini-lab that could perform 4 common blood tests with as little blood as that from a lancet prick. School dropout Elizabeth Holmes was about to make a dent in the universe.

Impressive speech on TED, except that she is a fraudster and the technology never really existed. But Ms Holmes’ domineering, confident and dictatorial style even managed to win her the trust and respect of a 4-star general.

The device would have been tested on troops in Afghanistan if not for the gutsy, uncompromising microbiologist LTC Shoemaker who stood his ground against his military superior.

Combined with Ms Holmes’ charisma and iron-fisted rule with her boyfriend Sunny, the rapid turnover of staff achieved through the speedy dismissal of critical employees, the equally rapid promotion of sycophants and servile, pandering foreign workers and the litany of lawsuits thrown at whistle blowers, the scam took America nearly 15 years to expose! What’s even more interesting is that the device was endorsed by former vice president (current POTUS) Joe Biden.

Who took them to task and called their bluff? No, it’s not the FDA which actually approved a herpes testing component that wasn’t even a unique or original concept. Neither was it part of the original design. It was not the government as VP Joe Biden had nothing but praises for Theranos. The true heroes were the tenacious journalists and courageous whistle blowers who insisted on getting the truth out in spite of being stalked and threatened.

Erika Cheung, a key whistle blower who was threatened by lawyers and stalkers

But what really saved the American public and potential investors from this scam, is the culture of calling out fakes no matter how inconvenient and disruptive to the self. In another society, whistle blowers might have kept quiet, kept their jobs and journalists might not want to take the trouble or the risk to investigate and report. Fans and lovers of routine and predictability may label this spirit as “唯恐天下不乱“。

The following image was captured from a page in the book. Doesn’t this scenario look disturbingly familiar?

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Question From The Grave

It has been Four months since my friend S passed away suddenly. I’ve known him since 2004. S was a wealthy man who lived a rather mundane life, walking to his shop from home every morning and walking back in the evening when he would continue his routine of finishing a few cans of beer while he smoked and gambled online.

From 2004 till 2012, our relationship had been rather superficial. We were both busy and only had time to exchange pleasantries when we met. Then one evening in 2012, I met up with him at the coffee shop after work to discuss some issue. After the discussion ended, he ordered beer and we drifted into casual chat. From then on, we would meet once a week at the coffee shop to chat over a few beers.

To me, sitting down for a beer at the coffee shop was somewhat “inelegant”. I would never do it alone. Because of the negative image often portrayed on TV, I would look too much like a loser if I did that. Some of the folks were drinking alone and some with friends. Some kept to themselves, lost in their own thoughts. Some flirted with the beer ladies. Society often judges them harshly. But over many of these beer sessions, we opened up to each other. We shared our life stories, saturating the colourful and dramatic episodes, inadvertently repeating when we couldn’t remember whether we had told that one before.

I used to be a complete outsider to the beer scene at local coffee shops. For a long time, I couldn’t understand how so many of these uncles could sit alone and drink till everyone at home is asleep. They were like a world apart from me. Little did I realise that regardless of background, many of us end up in the same predicament. As I got to know the uncles who were regulars at these watering holes, I discovered many stories with a common theme. Their wives must have been telling their daughters not to marry someone like Daddy or some variation on the same theme. Nobody wants to leave behind a loving family to indulge in mediocre beer and chat up churlish beer ladies; unless the family is no longer loving.

Walking home from the supermarket the other day, I was suddenly reminded of one of the stories that S told me. As his life was mundane compared to mine, I had no trouble remembering his most intriguing story. It was his first love; also his most unforgettable and unforgivable.

40 years ago, S was in his 20s when he went on a trip to Pulau Tioman with his friends from poly. One of them brought his sister along. At the beginning of the trip, S noticed that the young lady moody and unengaged. She seemed to have joined the trip to escape something. S tried to cheer her up. He found out that she had just broken up with her boyfriend and was still feeling hurt and miserable about it. With all the coddling from S, her face grew a little brighter with every sunrise on the beach. The others found them holding hands as they swam in the crystal clear waters. S was in love. The waves, the sand and the sun, his heaven on earth, hummed in the background as he was completely drawn by her lustrous hair, her glowing eyes and the delicate imprints that her little feet left in the sand.

He took many pictures of her and though that week spent in Tioman was the most surrealistically beautiful that he had lived through in his life, S couldn’t wait to get back to Singapore. He needed more options, more settings and more privacy. He could then meet and date her without the others around. Back in Singapore, he quickly developed the photos as she was anxious to see them. When the photos were ready, he asked her to collect them at his office. He thought she would be impressed if she knew where he worked.

She came by on a motorbike. She thanked S for the photos and introduced the one sitting in front as her boyfriend! S could almost feel tears oozing out from the corners of his eyes as they rode away. His heart felt like it had been torn, still beating, into a hundred shreds. The pain was unbearable even as he told me this story 40 years later.

I’ve heard this story a few times. I didn’t bother to stop him when he repeated it. It was so unforgettable and so unforgivable. And whenever S told this story, he would ask me in exasperation – why did she do that? Was it because she derived pleasure hurting him that way? Or could she be so ignorant that she didn’t know how much he hurt?

It has been 40 years and S was still not able to figure out why. He had married another woman. His children had all grown up and were gainfully employed. One of them is already married and he was about to be a grandfather. What could have crossed his mind when he suffered from a stroke and realised that he was on the path of transmigration? Could he had wished for an answer to this question before he passed on?

This episode had been a break in the continuum of his mundane existence. It tore him apart, but I know for sure that he would rather have experienced than not experienced it. Joy and sorrow are both needed to give life meaning. That burning question had followed him to his grave. I don’t have the answer. Do you?


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You Think Democracy Sucks?

When I was young, there was practically no debate over whether democracy, communism or dictatorship is better. Nobody would have taken you seriously if you lived outside China or the USSR and wished to migrate there.

Nowadays, things have gone a bit grey as authoritarian regimes start growing a prosperous shell and countries that used to be great and progressive go on the path of decline due to a variety of social and political issues. As the lines begin to blur, there is an emerging group of simplistic, apathetic and shallow individuals from ailing democratic countries who think that democracy doesn’t work anymore and there is a better path steered by benevolent depots heading towards a socialist paradise.

But many don’t realise that this is only the start of the prosperous phase in these newly wealthy states and not the finish. Sure, you can prosper under somebody else’s dictatorship, but when does the party end and do you know when to get out before the fruits of your labour are taken away and you have no recourse? Or are you so enamoured of the authoritarian system that you don’t think that the party will ever end and you even want your own country to follow the same system?

In this video, disillusioned former China expat Matt Tye interviews North Korean escapee Park Yeon Mi and discuss the mentality of some emerging Western socialists.

The second video is my review of Miss Park’s book which details her escape from North Korea, her hellish ordeal as a sex slave in China and finally gaining freedom with help from a Chinese church which helped her escape to Mongolia and then to South Korea.

Miss Lee was miraculously released after being caught by the Chinese police. That might have been possible in the 1990s, but probably not with today’s technology. Like Miss Park’s sister, Miss Lee went through Southeast Asia where her family was arrested and imprisoned in Laos. It’s a miracle that a good Samaritan paid the bribes and got them out.

Miss Lee also has a book and her story is completely different from Miss Park’s. I’ve read it and I would encourage everyone to do so as well.

The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story by Hyeonseo Lee


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赵咏华 Taiwanese Singer

Many years ago when I was writing for the Straits Times, I had a robust debate with a journalist on the need to segregate and discriminate between high brow and low brow literature. I felt that all genres, can be written well or written badly. There are only well-written books and badly-written books.

The low brow works should not be treated with disdain if they are good reads. Almost all local writers should at least deserve some mention, not just those who write “serious” stuff which are not necessarily good just because they are serious. If our newspapers put the them on a pedestal and ignore the rest, then the majority in the reading public may get the impression that good writing must be boring and pretentious.

I must have struck a raw nerve with the high brow guardians of Singapore literature in the newsroom. From then on, I was never asked to contribute anymore to the Straits Times. I stumbled on a 费玉清 programme on YouTube a couple of days ago. This episode features Taiwanese singer 趙詠華, a serious singer who ended up on the “other side”. As a child, she had already been singing theme songs for children programmes. She received formal voice training and was poised to be a “serious” singer.

At the age of 17, she sang folk songs at restaurants to earn some pocket money. From then on, she began to appreciate popular music and realised that she actually could blend her formal training with well-written popular pieces without being seen as condescending. Listen to and watch 趙詠華 in action. Her highly trained voice is never wasted on nice songs, whether high brow or otherwise.


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The Era Of Powerful Voices 蕭孋珠

During the early 1980s, before the likes of Su Rei exploded on the Taiwanese music scene, female singers were mostly soft and gentle. Some were downright “feeble”. In the 1970s, however, Mandarin pop was dominated by the powerful voices of Feng Fei Fei, Teresa Teng and the not so well known Xiao Li Zhu 蕭孋珠, officially spelled Shiao Lih Ju.

Shiao rose to fame after singing the theme songs of many popular films based on Chiung Yao’s 琼瑶 novels, like 一帘幽梦 Fantasies Behind the Pearly Curtain (1975), 处处闻啼鸟 Everywhere Birds Are Singing (1978), and 踩在夕阳里 Love Under a Rosy Sky (1979). In the mid-1980s, she moved to Singapore, where she sang the theme song for the Singaporean historical drama 盗日英雄传 The Sword and the Song (1986) based on the legend of Song Dynasty hero, Yue Fei.

踩在夕陽裡 left a very strong impression on my teenage years. The music was so haunting and lyrics simple and down to earth. Ironically, my young mind was curious and immature, constantly dreaming and exploring. Another one of my favourites was 青色山脉.

At the age of 16, I moved from Queenstown to Telok Blangah. With my new home surrounded by hills which often got enshrouded by mists on rainy days, this song blended into my pensive moods, gazing out of the window. I’ve always mistaken 處處聞啼鳥 to be a song sung by Feng Fei Fei.

Having said that, I must say that Shiao sounded so unusually “refined” in 處處聞啼鳥. Frankly, I don’t remember watching any of the Qiong Yao movies mentioned above. As Liu Jia Chang once said, the trashy movies were soon forgotten but the songs became classics. He was willing to write theme songs for trashy movies as they gave him the break he needed.

While Shiao’s powerful voice is probably no longer fashionable these days, she had a powerful effect on the dreams, romances and sad realities of many young people growing up during that time.


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