Monday, August 25, 2008

Hell money and hungry ghosts

(Image credit:
Typical Chinese all over the world greatly honor loyalty to community and family - a Confucian influence. Much importance and seriousness are placed upon respecting the older generation, particularly parents and grandparents. This obedience and respect is an unconditional obligation and is expected to evolve into veneration or even worship once they pass on from this world.

For example, the traditional Chinese death rite is such that at death, the body is buried and paper models of houses, maids, dvd players, cars and others are burnt so that the deceased would have them for their life in hell. A lot of spirit money (also called Hell money) is burned so that the deceased will have enough to spend in the afterlife. It is believed that hell is a world which parallels the world of the living.

Two festivals, which are synonymous with the practice of veneration of the dead, are Ching Ming and Hungry Ghost Festival. Ching Ming day, which also marks the beginning of spring, is focused on ancestor worship. On this day, family members would visit ancestral graves where special rites are held and offerings are made in honor of ancestors. Such events are related to the Chinese tradition of receiving blessings from previous generations when undertaking a new venture.

Meanwhile, Hungry Ghosts Festival takes place in autumn (15th day of the 7th lunar month). Throughout the 7th lunar month, prayers and offerings of food such as chicken, vegetables, fruits and rice are placed at street corners and roadsides to appease spirits that are set free during this time. The offering is believed to prevent wandering spirits from entering one's home and causing disturbances in the households. In fact, it is also common practice to hold outdoor concerts to entertain these hungry ghosts during this month.

During this month, superstitious Singaporean entrepreneurs would "appease" the spirits in front of their business premises with food, incense joss sticks and the burning of hell money.Of course, for Chinese who are Christians, many of these rituals and beliefs contradict what we believe about hell and the dead. Hence, it's always a challenge for individual Christians who have family members that subscribe to such traditional notions.

Silver for Malaysia

(Image credit: The Star)
After 3 intense weeks, the Olympics is finally over. Brian and I found ourselves cheering for Team USA and Team Malaysia (naturally!) but only Brian was cheering for Team Singapore. One reason why I was hesitant about my support of Team Singapore is that most of the participants of Team Singapore were not "pure/local" Singaporeans but rather imported talents from abroad (China, Indonesia, etc).

Team Malaysia's strongest bet was its badminton men's singles and while we did not achieve the gold we had coveted, we did get the silver. But silver is not good enough... Following is a letter written by a good friend on why that is the case. The letter which was published in The New Straits Times (one of Malaysia's national newspapers) is self-explanatory on our disappointment in our badminton "hero," Lee Chong Wei:

Like many other Malaysians, I was hoping that Lee Chong Wei will be able to perform to his ability and bring home the elusive Olympics gold. After all, he has provided us with many reasons to believe he can do it (from previous results) while we Malaysians pour out our endless emotional and financial (yup, we pay our taxes don't we) support to him. His only setback would be lack of mental toughness but wait...I believe that weakness have been identified and overcame. Remember? Lee entered the 2006 World Championship as the world ranked number one and as the top seeded player. In the 2006 World Championships, he lost to Bao Chunlai of China in the quarterfinal despite dominating the first game. Prior to losing this match to Bao, their head to head meetings record stood at 8-0 in favour of Lee. After the shocking loss, Lee suffered many more defeats with dismal performances which resulted in the end of his reign as world no.1.

In the Indonesian Open 2007, the old Lee Chong Wei reappeared by winning the title and beating Bao Chunlai in the final. After that, his fine form continued until the 2007 World Badminton Championships in Kuala Lumpur. Yes, again Lee suffered a shocking defeat in the last 16 to Sony Dwi Kuncoro of Indonesia and blamed the defeat on us Malaysians who supported him. Lee blamed us for putting too much pressure on him with our vociferous support for him. Fortunately, it didn't took Lee long to rebound from his second meltdown. From there, he chalked up more impressive wins and it seemed that Lee Chong Wei has finally managed to overcome his mental meltdowns from the loss in the 2006 World Championships and 2007 World Badminton Championships.

Then came the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Prior to Sunday (the fateful day - August 17, 2008), I was quietly confident that Lee could steal the gold medal from the Chinese players. In fact (in my opinion), Lee was the only player who could defeat Lin Dan or at least give Lin a run for his money. Lee has the required skills, power, speed and stamina to match Lin. My only concern was his mental strength but again we are talking about the Olympics. I'm sure BAM would have looked into that area (as I have read in the newspapers) for Lee who has a history to suffer mental meltdown during crunch time. As the badminton competition of the Olympics progressed, my confidence in Lee grew as he showed that he was able to handle the pressure and he has matured. I was indeed impressed with his mental recovery to win the semi final match, after uncharacteristically losing the second game in such tame manner to Lee Hyun-Il.

The final day for Olympics badminton competition started with such an exciting match - the bronze medal playoff for Mixed Doubles. The four players were battling so fiercely as if it was a gold medal match and their life was on the line. Then came the gold medal match for Mixed Doubles. Wow an upset! The no. 1 seeded Indonesian pair fell to the Korean pair. Inspiring. In fact, Zhang Ning's win over Xie Xianfang was also very inspiring. Could Lin Dan fall to Lee Chong Wei just like the other top seeds that have previously fell in the Olympics badminton?

Unfortunately, we have to witness an embarrassing defeat of Lee by Lin. Don't get me wrong. I'm not angry or disappointed that Lee lost to Lin. I'm angry and disappointed by the way Lee lost to Lin. It makes me even more upset to find out that Lee was given a hero's welcome and untimely praises by Malaysians. Why are we celebrating? What is there to celebrate? The silver medal is the least that Lee should deliver. Anything less than a silver from Lee would have been a disaster and money wasted. Why are we Malaysians treating him as a hero while Lee was just merely doing his job and performing his responsibility. Malaysia has spent our tax payers' money (all these years) to fund Lee and the badminton team to bring home a gold not a silver. Why are we Malaysians toasting Lee as a champion when he has ended up second best? Are we so desperate that even losing should be a reason for us to celebrate and crowned a hero?

If we do not put a stop to the "loser" mentality, Malaysian sports will never produce another world champion or Olympic gold medalist. It was very obvious that Lin shouldered as much pressure as Lee (if not more - just compare China's population to Malaysia to do the math) but Lin shown the winners' attitude and approach. Lin was determined to win and prepared well for the match while Lee was merely trying to win. The attitude and approach proved to be difference in separating the winner and loser for the match. I sincerely hope that this experience will open up the eyes and mind of all Malaysians that in order to win, it all starts with having the winning mind set. There is no point in giving a wrong illusion by toasting second best and treating them as heroes or Malaysia as a country will never win any area. Lee should be given a pat on the back for a job done but not hero's treatment. The development of badminton in Malaysia is falling into the trap of other sports that are spiraling downward like football and hockey (just to name a couple). The main area that we lose at is lacking the winning attitude and mindset. Datuk Nicol David truly deserves a hero's welcome and Malaysians should learn how to be world champions from her - the only true champion and hero of Malaysian sports.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Singapore's Independence Day

Singapore celebrated her Independence Day last Saturday. As always, a huge party with much pomp and pizzazz was held downtown - thousands took part in the dances, parades and various other performances but having just witnessed the Olympics opening ceremony the evening before, what was put up paled in comparison. Nonetheless, we salute their effort.

As Singapore is a relatively small city state, one can almost always observe any airborne performances if one looks from a high floor. On Saturday, we could see the Singapore flag being paraded around the city (see pix).
On a related note, on the streets of Singapore today, you find that every other person you meet is an immigrant from either the Republic of China or India. With an aging population and the birthrate of local Singaporeans at a low 1.29, the only way to sustain the growing economy is by liberalizing its immigration policies.

Two of our neighbors, for example, are immigrants: one is a household from Myanmar and another from Taiwan. The only "real" Singaporean neighbor we have is an old retired couple. It'll be interesting to see how the future of Singapore pans out...