Saturday, April 28, 2007

on the interview & the cultural renaissance after thought

‘What were you doing there?’
‘What did the reporter ask you?’
‘You sounded skeptical. ’

Indeed I might have sounded so, for when I was asked by the reporter if I believed in the little Buddha, I said that I find it very mysterious, and I was not sure, and wanted to know more. And I ended the sentence my trade mark laugh ‘Ha, ha, ha’ which was edited into the news script.

It was less than a 30 second or so clip, and was one of the two people in the interview that was on the news. There were others interviewed in Mandarin at the Lodge that morning.

I was not aware that the reporter with a mike suddenly appeared in front of me. The lady reporter started asking me in Mandarin. ‘你是来看小活佛吗?’- Are you hear to meet the Little Buddha? I replied that I would normally visit the Lodge on weekend, and in fact I did not know that the little Buddha would be there.

The reporter next asked if I believe in the little Buddha. With the camera trained on my face, I was caught lost of words, and had no time to mentally prepare for an answer, but just responded what came to mind.

I replied that I found it mysterious, and that I wanted to learn and know more. Mysterious, as in the many reincarnations that came about. The answer did not really give a direct reply as to whether I believe or do not believe in the little boy as the reincarnation of the master, except that I wanted to learn more.

On the cultural renaissance -

It was a discovery by chance walking up Kim Yan Road one day, that I found the Lodge close to 18 years ago when I first came here. During the weekends after a swim at the defunct River Valley pool, would then proceed to the library to read up on the how the religion flowered in China and of the jewels in the net. I guess it was more an intellectual pursuit all these while, that till today the secularity in me has not make me to cultivated the deep faith to reply naturally that ‘Yes, I believe.’

Well, possibility because of the interview, last week I bought a book on Buddhism again after a lapse of more than 9 years – in the photo – and started to read again. This book is published in China, i.e. The People’s Republic of China, and not ROC, Chinese Taipei. This book in Chinese is written by a Zhu Hong 朱洪, introduced as a university lecturer and a member of the Chinese Writers Association – 中国作家协会 - and on the interpretation of Buddhism by the great lay Buddhist of New China – Zhao Puchu - 赵朴初.

Old Pu - 朴老, as he is reverently and affectionately addressed in the book by the author was not only a lay authority on Buddhist teachings, he was also a respected poet and a great calligrapher. His was the genre of literati who held the tradition of a Confucian Buddist scholar. This tradition has its roots to when Buddhism first arrived in China nearly two millennium ago.

An underlying theme in the book is to rediscover this cultural renaissance in their new found confidence in the Chinese society, after the great calamity and blunder of the Cultural Revolution that nearly decimated the age old culture and the religion.

The Silk Route that brought the teaching to China is stirring again. The travel of Xuan Zhang 玄奘 - to India in search of Buddhist sutras, and the spread of the teaching to Japan during the Heian - 平安朝 -period, was a display of soft power diplomacy by Tang China - 唐 朝 . Talking about soft power diplomacy, the Party seems to be rediscovering the usefulness of this cultural heritage and is redeploying it again.


1. 赵朴初说佛 – 朱洪著;当代中国出版社,2007 ; Zhao Puchu shuo fo – Zhu Hong zhu, Dangdai Zhongguo chubanse. (Publisher:

2. The last purchase of books on Buddhism was on 21Nov1998, at a second book store in Paradiz Centre, Selegie Road -

a) Buddhist Cosmology – Science and Theology in the Image of Motion and Light, by W.Randolph Kloetzli; Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pte Ltd, Delhi, first published in 1983, and reprint in 1997.

b) The Buddhist Teaching of Totality – The Philosophy of Hwa Yen Buddhism, by Garma C.C. Chang; The Pennsylvania State University. First Indian edition 1992, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pte Ltd, Delhi.

3. Xuan Zhang 玄奘 - born in 602AD Tang China, and traveled to India in 629AD in search of Buddhist sutras. He stayed in India for 17 years, studied at the Nalanda University which the Bihar State is planning to rebuild with Singapore collaboration. Xuan Zhang was more popularly known to the world as the Tripitaka monk in the story Journey to the West - 西游记 。

4. In addition to the Integrated Resort, we may soon have a Shaolin themed Spiritual Resort. Local entrepreneurs are in discussion with the abbot of the 1500-year-old Shaolin Temple 少林寺 located in Henan Province, to set up it first overseas branch here which will offer - a ‘holistic’ lifestyle holiday retreat’ – where tourist can immerse themselves in the Shaolin way of life through meditation, traditional Shaolin wellness therapies and treatments, as well as martial arts performance by the temple’s monks. The venue for the resort is possibly based at the now-defunct Tang City in Jurong. (Straits Times, 27April 2007).


Monday, April 16, 2007

from old colonial maps to two tales of a war

Two Sundays afternoon ago, accidentally found this map hanging on the link way between Long Bar and the Long Bar Steakhouse at the Raffles Hotel. It is a 70 year old map of Malaya. At the bottom of the map is written - ‘Published under the direction of the Surveyor General F.M.S & S.S. ‘& on the bottom right corner, ‘F.M.S Surveys No 419 -1936’.

This map complemented the Japanese map of Malaya that I saw earlier (ref : once upon a railway town ) . Contrary to the Japanese map published in 1943, this map shows a list of other railway stations along the Ipoh – Tronoh railway line, namely: Falim, Menglembu, Lahat T, Papan, Pusing Siputeh and Tronoh,

A number of questions came to mind when I compared these two maps was why the other stations other than Menglembu, Siputeh and Tronoh were not highlighted in the Japanese map of 1943. Were they closed for operations by then? When did this line stop operation and the Japanese Military started to dismantle the line start? I guess it would have happened soon after they occupied the land.

It seems quite apparent that the Japanese map of 1943 was copied from the 1937 map. The rivers and towns are almost nearly the same, except that the Japanese map was more crudely drawn. The Japanese Military government would have their map makers to make a replica of the map done by the Surveyor General of the colonial government – putting the names into Japanese, and indicating areas of economic & strategic interest, such as rubber plantation and tin mining area and railway lines.

What makes this railway line of interest is that it no longer exit in the map of Malaysia. The line was removed during the Japanese occupation and its rail sent north to build the Thai-Burma railway line. The story of this railway was made famous by the movie – The Bridge over River Kwai, filmed 50 years ago.

I do not know which other railway lines in Malaya were dismantled by the Japanese Military Government for this use. How I came to know that there was this railway line and why I it had me interested was because of the oral history lesson from mum over dinner. She used to tell us about this railway line in the home town, and tales of life under the Japanese.

Despite the horror stories & suffering that she related of the 3 years and 8 months of occupation, it did not dampened any of my enthusiasm for things Japanese. I first started to learn Japanese thro Radio Japan shortwave broadcast. My great fondness for the country and culture did not dwindle throughout my school and college life, and subsequently I got on a scholarship to study in Japan. Well, it was after all karma, as they would say.

While in Japan, what I learnt & heard from the way the ordinary Japanese felt of the war was rather different from what I had known from my childhood years. Before I left for Japan, a relative of mine who had been thro the occupation described the Japanese as - 恶 / E (fourth sound) - which variably to mean vicious, wicked, fierce – which I think she meant the militarist.

On the contrary, I did not have to wait until I arrived in Japan, to proof what this aunt of mine said was way off the mark – at least with the ordinary Japanese. It was on flight the JAL on my way to Osaka that I first encountered the Japanese civility, and manners.

This Japanese lady who was seated on the aisle next to me was on her way back to Japan. I noticed that she shed a little tear as the plane took off from Subang Airport, possibility parting with her dear ones. After meal, she would open the napkin to neatly cover the tray so that it would not be showing off the unsightly left over food. Later on when she moved to seat elsewhere, she would politely rise, and give the gentlemen seated beside her a gentle bow – all without saying a word, but the meaning seem understood. ‘I am sorry to leave this seat, and will move to seat elsewhere. I beg your pardon for any disturbance’. (This was my first inception into haragei - 腹艺- literary ‘the art of speaking thro the stomach’, a subtle communication technique. While in college, I learnt the word Onshi -恩师 – one’s life long debt of gratitude to one’s teacher. A way of expressing this gratitude is to send a postcard in each summer and the new year, to ask about his/her health.

Returing to the war story - I was on a farm stay in Hakodate, a port city in the southern tip of Hokkaido. The farmer who took us in said to me when we first met – that during the war ‘The Japanese had suffered too,’ ( Nihon jin mo kurushita…). An elder cousin of his had been a soldier before, and he could have felt bad that the Japanese army had caused much suffering to the people in the land that they ‘advanced’ into. But nevertheless he felt that the Japanese had suffered much too. He took it to remind me first, in case I would blame them for the suffering.
I do not remember being sensitive or feeling bad of what he said, and just took it as a matter of fact, that it was their tale and what they had heard from their elders. And moreover I being the guest, and imbibe with the oriental politeness and sensitivity, it would be impolite to say otherwise,

In our talk on the war years, a Japanese college mate of mine would tell me that Tokyo was bombed flat by the American planes during the war, but I did not asked if he knew of the bombs that were dropped on Kereta Ayer in the wee hours of 28Dec 1942 and that started it all. Well, I do not know how much they knew of the bad things that their military liberators did, such as sook ching (肃清), water torture, the chopping of heads, except that they knew that they too had suffered.

During the 3 years immersion in the Japanese society, I had a chance to encounter these first hand how the Japanese felt of the war then, and that was more than 25 years ago.

A new generation of Japanese had since grown up. What they have heard of the Pacific War would be the suffering and humiliation of their great grand parents from their mum, dad, grand mum, and grand dad. This oral history, I am afraid, holds more truth to the young mind than any of the revised texts that the Monbusho (文部省)- Ministry of Education -intends to introduce to the schools.