Which wife should you look after most?

I am well aware that Singapore does not endorse the practice of bigamy but nonetheless there is a lesson to be learnt about prioritizing our lives taken from this illustration about a rich merchant who had four wives.

This wealthy man loved his fourth wife the most and took great care of her and gave her nothing but the best.  Although he loved his third wife very much and was always showing her off to his friends, he was in great fear that she might run away with other men.  His second wife was the confidante whom he always turned to whenever he faced problems.  His first wife, who loved him dearly, has always been loyal to him, helping him maintain his wealth and business as well as taking care of the household.  However, the merchant did not love her and hardly took notice of her.

One day, the merchant fell ill and was told that he was going to die soon.  He thought of his luxurious life and told himself, “Now I have four wives with me. But when I die, I’ll be alone. How lonely I’ll be!”

He asked the fourth wife, “I loved you most, endowed you with the finest clothing. Now that I’m dying, will you follow me and keep me company?” “No way!” she replied and walked away.  This hurt him tremendously.  The sad merchant then asked the third wife the same question and she also replied saying “Life is so good over here! I’m going to remarry when you die!” The merchant’s heart sank and turned cold.  He then asked the second wife, “I always turned to you for help and you’ve always helped me out.  When I die, will you follow me and keep me company?”  She replied “At the very most, I can only send you to your grave.” The merchant was devastated.

Then his first wife called out: “I’ll leave with you. I’ll follow you no matter where you go.” She was so skinny, almost like she suffered from malnutrition. Greatly grieved, the merchant said, “I should have taken much better care of you while I could have!”

What is the moral of this story you may ask?  Well, I’d like all of you to look at it this way.  Consider that all of us have four “wives” in our lives.  The fourth wife is our body.  No matter how much time and effort we lavish upon it to make it look good, it’ll leave us when we die.  Our third wife is our possessions, status and wealth.  When we die, others will take it away from us.  The second wife is our family and friends.  No matter how close they had been there for us when we’re alive, the furthest they can stay by us is up to the grave. 

The first wife, however, is in fact our soul, the part that will be with us when we die.  The ironical but tragic truth to things is that our soul is often neglected in our selfish pursuit of material, wealth and sensual pleasure.  When we eventually realize how important this is, many of us will regret how we have neglected it throughout the most part of our lives and wish we had paid more attention to it.   

If this story has been a wake-up call for you, today is as good a time as any to re-prioritize your values and pay more attention to your most important spouse.  I’m sure you know now which wife you should look after most!


We, the inhabitants of Singapore, seem to be always so much in a hurry.  Regardless of race, language or religion, you can ask any one of your friends how they are and chances are that they will say “very busy lah”.  Living in a highly-developed and dynamically-affluent society such as ours, this reflex and spontaneous response seem to sit unconsciously well with many of us.  We pride ourselves as exponents in new-age skill-sets such as multi-tasking, where the ability to juggle many things at one time determines how “successful” we are in managing our own existence.  The drastically-hectic world we live in acts like a whirlpool of sorts, sucking us deeper and deeper into the proverbial day-to-day humdrum of urban living.  “Keeping up with the Jones'” or should I say “the Tans” is as full-time a job as any for the “kiasu” bulk of our population.  It is unfortunate that rushing ourselves along to match up with our peers is very much a priority for a large majority of us, so much so that we forget to make right our own perspectives and enjoy the journey.

How many of you out there can attest to the fact that when you were very young, you were dying to grow up and be an adult?  I suppose that’s why toy manufacturers do a roaring business selling “grown-up kits” to children – small dolls that look like adults so that little Agnes can pretend to be “mum”, and mini stethoscopes so that little Tim can be inspired to become a doctor.  And the list goes on.

Reflecting back on things, those of us in primary school were dying to embark on secondary education, and those in secondary were dying to start university.  And after so many years of studying, many of us were just dying to get into the workforce.  And after we commenced working, we were dying to be promoted.  Afterwhich, we were dying to get married and have children.  And then we were dying for our children to grow up, be self-reliant, and to provide for us.  Then we’ll be dying to retire.  And then, we will die.  

You can appreciate that this mental state of mind fuels a vicious chronological cycle that can rob us of the opportunity to really “live”.  It is not unreasonable to realise that with all our effort focused on “dying”, we depreciate the fulfilment of our original intent, and that is to live our lives to the very fullest.  My friends, whichever stage of the voyage you are at right now, let this be a timely reality check.  The idea is not to frantically rush things through too much, but to learn to savour our lives one delicious morsel at a time. For if we choose not to take heed, we run the risk of disadvantaging ourselves somewhat and before we even know it, our lives would have accelerated by us in a giga-flash, alienating any sustainable pleasure we can obtain from it.

So don’t “rush” yourself to death. Enjoy the ride!

Courtesy, priorities, balls and beers!

Have you ever wondered why we tend to be more polite with total strangers than we are with our own family?  Think back the last time you accidentally bumped into a passer-by – I wouldn’t be surprised if you had said something like “I’m sorry, please excuse me.  I didn’t see you coming around the corner!”  Now think back to the time when you accidentally collided into your child at home – I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you had sternly retorted with “Can’t you see where you’re going?  Move out of the way!”

If you’re saying to yourself now, “Yah huh, it’s true”, you’re not alone.  When someone spoke to me about this recently, I had to sheepishly admit to him that I, for one, am “guilty as charged”!  It would seem at first that these reactions are totally normal, but you need only look a sliver below the surface to realise that if we can be so polite to people we don’t even know, how much more we should be considerate and show courtesy to the people who are closest to us?

You may ask – but why do we react the way we do?  Is it familiarity that breeds contempt?  Is it an ingrained unconscious habit to take things too much for granted at home?  Or is it just something that’s intrinsic in our culture?  A memorable quote from a 1970 classic romance movie entitled “Love Story” goes like this – “Love means not having to say you’re sorry!”  Perhaps these and many more similar “tinsel town” punch lines made deep impressions on those of us who remember what it was like growing up in the sixties.  It was a time where we readily and unquestioningly soaked up whatever the West was dishing up, regardless of whether these were right or wrong.  Today, of course, we know better than to believe and hinge our hopes on a few nice-sounding words strewn together by some cheesy Hollywood screenwriter!

I’m not sure if the mutated DNA of the modern world we live in today has contributed to our sometimes incongruent behaviour.  Many of our values and priorities seem to have been somewhat compromised or misplaced along the way.  Think about this – the way we so passionately pour ourselves into our work so often exceeds the enthusiasm & dedication which we are prepared to shower upon our families.  In the same breath, we readily acknowledge the fact that if we died tomorrow, the company we are working for could easily replace us in a matter of days.  But the family we leave behind will feel the loss for the rest of their lives. 

In spite of this, many of us continue to partake in such “unwise investments” which invariably yield poor rates of return.  I know of people in my office who spend so much time at work, to the extent they’ve admitted to their peers in jest that they know more of their fellow colleagues, than their own spouse and kids!  For me, this is no laughing matter – especially as valuable lives are at “stake”!

Writing about all this serves as a check & balance for me, with regards to my priorities and how I choose to align these with the way I live my life.  This reminds of a story I heard some years ago [you may find this familiar as many versions of it have been circulating on the internet].  As an avid golfer, this is my favourite:

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he picked up a very large and empty glass jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.  He then asked the students if the jar was full?  They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar.  He shook the jar lightly.  The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.  He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.  Of course, the sand filled up everything else.  He asked once more if the jar was full.  The students responded with an unanimous “yes.”

The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

“Now,” said the professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.  The golf balls represent the important things – your family, your health, your children, your friends, your favorite passions – the kind of stuff that if all else was lost and only these remained, your life would still be full.  The pebbles are the other things that matter – like your job, your house, your car.  The sand is everything else – the small stuff.  If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there will be no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.”

You know, the same goes for life.  If you spend all your time and energy on the small things, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.  Pay attention to the elements that are critical to your happiness.  Play with your children.  Set aside time for your medical checkups.  Help out at a charitable institution.  Take your spouse out to dinner.  Enjoy 18 holes of golf.  

Don’t worry.  There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the hinge on that cupboard door.  Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter.  Get your priorities right.  The rest is just sand.

However, the story does not end here.  One of the students raised her hand and enquired what the beer represented.  The professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked.  It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers.”

Today’s piece has made me real thirsty.  Think I might just go home early tonight, collide with my wife, and then ask her politely to join me for a few pints!  Cheers!


The way we choose to live our lives, to a great extent, boils down to how we view our predicaments.  The fact is that just about everything can be seen in a negative light if you choose to do so – owning a Mercedes Benz can only be uplifting if we don’t start bitching about the fact that we rather have a Rolls-Royce instead; living in a District 21 leasehold private condominium can only be gratifying if we don’t envy our peers who own freehold bungalows in more upmarket precincts.  The proverbial glass full and glass empty analogy applies itself in this instance more so than ever.

Life is all about the choices we make.  If we adopt the right attitude to things, situations will not always appear as bad as it seems.  As we embark on the journey of life, we can choose to enjoy the ride or hate every bit of the trip.

This reminds me of the story of Jerry.  Every time someone asks him how he was, he would reply, “If I were any better, I would be twins!”  When asked about how he could be so positive about things, he will cheerfully share with you about the deliberate choices he makes, from the time he wakes up till the time he hits the sack.  This includes choosing to be in a good mood rather than bad; and whenever a bad situation rears its ugly head, he will tell you that he constantly chooses to learn from it rather than be a victim of the circumstance.

Jerry is a manager of a restaurant.  The story goes on to relate about how, in a moment of carelessness, Jerry was shot by robbers who were out to pilfer his takings, leaving him to die.  However, as he was attended to, Jerry’s positive attitude prevailed and he chose to live instead off accepting impending death.  He did this by encouraging the medical team and telling them, in no ambiguous way, to operate on him with an attitude of wanting to save him, rather than to submit to the grim symptoms they were faced with.  As you would have it, Jerry survived.

Consider this – the next time before you complain about something, think of someone who could be in a lesser situation than what you are currently going through.  And then choose not to lash out with your tongue, but to look on the brighter side of things.  For example, before you say something unkind, think of someone who can’t speak.  Or before you complain about the food, think of the starving in the world today.  Or before you complain about your job and the intense stresses you have to bear, think about the unemployed and the disabled.

The next time you have the urge to complain about how uncontrollable your children are, think about those who are barren.  Appreciate your spouse rather than criticise him or her, for there are many out there who crave for a companion but have not been fortunate enough to be blessed with one.

Be thankful that you are alive and well!  Shake off that negative streak if you are one of those who have been accustomed to seeing the glass as always half empty.  Complain less, smile more, and let us all pitch in to become a nation of Jerrys.


If you were to ask your friend or office colleague, “What would give you peace of mind?” – he or she might say a million dollars, or a luxury yacht, or a fiery red Ferrari, or an Armani wardrobe, or even a cruise around the world!  This begs the question, “Will these luxuries and indulgences really help you achieve the ultimate desired outcome?”  I’m thinking that if contentment can be attained by something as simple as travelling to exotic places, or owning lots of stuff, then life would not be as complicated it seems to be.

Humankind, in general, comprises an unsatisfied lot, always craving for more and more.  I’m hazarding a guess that much of this greed is as a result of the causal affluence that has been levied upon us as we continue to mature as a nation.  Don’t forget, Singapore grew from a mere fishing village to a mega global hub in less than half a century! 

Peace of mind has been defined as “an undisturbed state; absence of mental conflict; serenity”.  If this be so, wouldn’t you think that it’s going to be hard to achieve this state by just obtaining more possessions or traversing the world!  Getting more stuff usually leads to wanting to get even more stuff.  It is only a temporary solution.  I saw a cartoon once which depicted four characters – a very old, and a very young couple.  The old lady had a speech bubble which read, “If only I had her figure”, referring to the sexy young thing. The nubile hottie had a speech bubble herself which read, “If only I had her diamonds!” referring to the old hag. When looking at the old man, the young chap had this thought, “If only I had his money”.  The old retiree looking across at the young stud thought “If only I had his wife!” Life is such isn’t it? The grass always seems to look greener on the other side.

Someone once said that peace of mind starts with being grateful for what we have right now!  Many a time, thankfulness begets more blessings upon one’s life.  When we are thankful for what we have – namely our friends and our possessions – we attract more and more good people and good things!   People who always complain about what they don’t have often tend to stagnate, and at times even regress. It’s a law of life that dishes up for you more of what you like to dwell upon.  Complainers often attract more things to complain about!  So if you’re the sort that is always envious about what others have, and constantly whingeing about what you don’t have, consider taking a different tack and start being thankful and happy for what you do have, for I believe that if you apply this principle, then more will come your way!

There is an Indian proverb that reads, “I had no shoes and complained until I met a man who had no feet.”  Everything needs to be looked at in the right perspective.  Anthony J D’Angelo once said, “If you have the time to whine and complain about something, then you have the time to do something about it.” I wish you peace of mind and a thankful heart!

The Paradox of Life!

How many times have you heard the phrase “the good old days” referred to when you’re having conversations with family or friends, especially those who are living the second half century of their lives?  They always seem to be reminiscing that it’s not the same these days anymore, and start vividly recollecting the times when life was a lot less complex and simple pleasures freely abound.

For me, these “way-back-when” instances pop up often enough on Saturdays.  This is when I take time to wake up when it’s still dark to drive all the way to the golf club to play a round of golf with my dad, my two uncles, and his affable group of “retiree” friends.  In conversations over breakfast, other than intelligently discussing the putts they missed, the government, American politics, the stock market, and how many additional strokes they should be according each other the next time they meet, many a time these morning chats get placed on a time warp back to when music was played on vinyl records, when one cent could buy you a steaming hot bowl of noodles, and when communication was very personal and predominantly done face to face.

On one hand, the 21st century we now live in exudes the progress and technological advancements which we can be so proud of.  On the other, this “new” world suffers the ailments of an affluent society – undue stress, failed marriages, unhealthy diets, impersonal attitudes.

George Carlin, an American stand-up comedian, actor & author, refers to all this as “the paradox of our time in history”.  As you know, a paradox is a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.

He goes on to describe that “we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider freeways, but narrower viewpoints.  We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less.  We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time.  We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness.”

When I first read this, I sat down, pondered a long while, and thought to myself how profound George Carlin was.  Where juxtaposing the present with the past is not new nor rocket science, he certainly has a knack of presenting issues in such a well-weaved manner so as to induce in me a wake-up call.

George describes how we have multiplied our possessions but reduced our values, how we love too seldom but hate too often, how we write more but learn less, how we’ve been all the way to the moon and back but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour. 

But what really dug deep into me was when he wrote these poignant words – “We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to life, not life to years.”

For me, “adding life to years” starts with regularly engaging the people whom I love so dearly.  There’s nothing more precious than spending time with loved ones, telling them how much you value and care for them; and making the effort to share with each, a word of encouragement or a warm embrace.    

As you will realize, death is no respecter of age, state of mind, or quality of health.  Don’t procrastinate – share your thoughts and feelings with the people closest to you.  If you are the sort that thinks that there is no rush and that you can do it sometime down the road, let me encourage you to think again.  For today is as good an opportunity as any to show forth your innermost sentiments.  As Nike rightfully puts it, “Just do it”!

What is your value?

I have been recently told of how people suffer depression because they feel so lousy about themselves, some to the extent of contemplating drastic measures including suicide.  This has triggered me to share my thoughts on the topic of self-esteem.

In a country as affluent as Singapore, where the rich are fast getting richer and the poor still find it a struggle to keep pace, this aspect of self-worth or self-esteem features as an important element that needs to be addressed across any individual’s scope of reference. Someone once wrote that self-esteem is about how much you value yourself and how important you think you are. It’s about how you look at yourself and how you feel about the things you have accomplished.

Many people get the wrong impression that self-esteem is all about how great you feel about yourself and visibly demonstrating your confidence and ability, sometimes to the extent of coming across as being boastful. To me, self-esteem is akin to quietly knowing that you are worth a lot, regardless of race, wealth, intelligence, or station in life. It’s all about recognizing that you are blessed, talented, and “priceless”!

This brings to mind MasterCard’s “Priceless” advertising proposition. Jim Farrell, a Professor of History and Director of American Studies at Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, commented that “MasterCard’s “Priceless” ads are obviously designed to respond to the American public’s worry that everything is being commodified, and that we’re becoming too materialistic. So the ads emphasize the things money can’t buy, the intangibles that make the good life really good.” 

You neither need money nor a high position to know that you are worthy of being loved and accepted. Stop for a moment and realize that nobody in this entire world is perfect, and that having a positive self-esteem does not stem from material things but from a perception that is within oneself. I stumbled onto a story recently about a well-known speaker who started off his seminar by holding up a $500 note. In the room of 200, he asked, “Who would like this $500 note?” Hands started going up. He said, “I am going to give this note to one of you but first let me do this.” He proceeded to crumple the note up. He then asked, “Who still wants it?” Still the hands were up in the air. “Well,” he replied, “What if I do this?” And he dropped it on the ground and started to grind it into the floor with his shoe. He picked up the dirty and crumpled note and asked, “Now who still wants it?” Still the hands went into the air.  The valuable lesson this speaker was trying to inculcate upon his audience was to do with “value”. No matter what he did to the money, the people still wanted the note because it did not decrease in value. It was still worth $500.

Friends, I’m sure you realize that life never promises to be a bed of roses. Every single one of us goes through ups and downs, sometimes more downs than ups. Yes, there are occasions we are made to feel like the $500 note – dropped, crumpled, and ground into the dirt to the extent that we feel as though we are worthless. We live through situations that come by us and we make decisions to the best of our ability. But things don’t always end up the way we desire them to be. But regardless of what transpires or what will transpire in the future, you need to remember that you, just like the note, will never lose your value. All of us are special in our own right.

Someone once said, “Never let yesterday’s disappointments overshadow tomorrow’s dreams”. So lift your head up high and recognize that “Value has a value only if its value is valued!”

The Living Starts Right Now!

The previously bandied around post-young adulthood dissonance statement “Life begins at 40” is in today’s context acutely passé. With the growing ageing population prevalent in many countries around the globe, post-World War II baby boomers have taken the creative license to re-tell all and sundry that life actually begins at 60 instead!

Extreme sports such as wakeboarding, downhill skiing, and skateboarding are seeing more and more veteran (in age) exponents. All these somehow make the so-often-written-about ballroom dancing expositions featuring Jannie Tay, Jennie Chua and Elizabeth Sam look old-hat and retro. No matter how young their dancing partners may be!

40s, 50s, 60s? When life really begins may not be as simple as the figures suggest.

I am convinced that the fundamental premise of “living life to the fullest” is to a great extent cerebral. It has to do with a decision in your very own mind to make every living moment count and to live it passionately!

In the keeping-up-with-the-Jones’ (perhaps more appropriately Tans’) amidst the affluent and status-conscious society in which we live in today, doing the proper thing according to the stations of your life seems to be the mandatory standard living procedure. When you’re in your teens, you do this. When you’re married, you should not do that. When you’re only an executive, this is what you’re supposed to do. When you become M.D., you should do only what’s expected of a person of your standing.

When a young man goes out with a much older woman, he must be a “kept” man. When an older married man is seen with an attractive young girl, he must be having an affair with her. When a woman is not married by the time she’s 35, she must be a political power-wielding authoritarian at work. When a man calls up a chatline, he must be a pervert!

It’s a real shame to witness how simplistic and naïve the world has carved itself into. Folks, it’s a “mindset” blackhole we live in right now. Our lives are dictated by the labels we put upon our very selves.

Better late than never, it’s time for us all to throw out the old baggage, take stock and start thinking outside the confines of the box. We desperately need to get “creative”.

And I’m not talking about taking a different route to the office every morning either. Let’s start by taking a closer look at ourselves and making some, be they, “uncomfortable” decisions to deliberately inject new sparks into our living template. Take “routine” out of your vocabulary. Start by doing something totally unrelated to the tasks you perform daily to bring home the bacon.

If you’re a guy, try baking. If you’re a girl, go ride a Harley. If you’re young, learn the Tango. If you’re older, do the hip-hop. If you’re the outdoor type, take up pottery. If you’re an introvert, get up on the bar-top!

Get rid of the age-old adage “why fix it when it ain’t broken”. Try doing things, even if they’ve been done well previously, differently. It’s the only way to open up the potential for bigger and better things to happen.

Let’s not get caught up in thinking that life only begins at a designated time during our chronological age span. Being able to live it to the fullest neither correlates with youth nor experience. It should well be an every-moment thing sprinkled with a generous dose of zest and exuberance. The expanse between “truly living” and “merely existing” is what I would call the great divide. For which you have to decide which side you want to be on.

May I suggest you choose the former, for which I am happy to announce that the “living” starts right now!

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