What I Learnt in the Noughties (Draft 1)

Draft 2

When the decade started, the one and only relationship I ever had ended. A year later, my dad died.

I survived.

And learnt plenty.

I am writing these lessons down but you should not consider this advice in any form.

I write, as always, for myself.


1.    Love is really “better than ice cream”.

2.    Love is a lot of work.

3.    Show your ugly side at the beginning. Let your faults overwhelm her.  If she survives, proceed – with caution.

4.    Ask to see her ugly side.

5.    Plan an exit strategy together – in what circumstances and how.

6.    Divorce is never the goal but one must do everything to not live in misery.

7.    I saw In the Mood For Love and realized you don’t have to be with someone you love. And if you don’t have to be with someone you love, you don’t have to find someone to love if you have already loved. (Celine Dion: “Love can touch us one time and last for a lifetime.”)

8.    I read High Fidelity and learnt that making a compilation tape for your ex is a fucking amazing way to heal. And that it’s ok to be in relationship and not get married. And she doesn’t complete you. You complete you – if you’re lucky to be complete in the first place.

9.    Sexual desire is real. But it’s evil to get into a relationship to merely satisfy your lust. Wanking is a logical and pleasurable alternative.


1.    A funeral isn’t for the dead, it’s for the living. If I were to die before my mom, she should make the arrangements as she sees fit – Buddhist, Christian, non-religious, whatever. If I were to die after her, cremate immediately and bin the ashes. Dead is dead.

2.    Funeral arrangements keep you busy and sane.

3.    At my dad’s funeral, I was thinking of what to do with his ivory and crystal collection. What meant a lot to him meant absolutely nothing to me. They are still here.


1.    I am a Christian but the church isn’t for me.

2.    Christians are just as bad as non-Christians; no more, no less. What makes you want to strangle them is when they are petty, quarrelsome and self-righteous, they claim to act and speak God’s will. “In His Service” are the scariest words in a Christian correspondence.

3.    Megachurches multiply morons.

4.    Many Christians know understand why they need to attend a church and why they must give to a church, i.e. teachings that propagate a church, better than many other things as important as grace and salvation.

5.    I don’t know a single Christian who claims to quote the bible out of context. And despite quoting in context, there are a million differing opinions.

6.    I know many mature Christians who know the Bible very well. I can’t recall any of them being a good listener.

7.    If I were crazy enough to join a church again, I would ask for 20 mins to speak privately with the senior pastor. I would ask him, “Why should I be led by you?” If he quotes the Bible and talks about authority and submission, flee immediately. If he laughs heartily and asks to find out more about you, then there is hope.

8.    If the church I’m in claim to be “cutting edge” and exciting, run away.

9.    If the church I’m in has a “star” preacher and he has a favorite pet topic, run away.

10.  Philip Yancey is an extraordinary Christian writer. He keeps it real.


1.    People aren’t really interested in me. They are busy keeping sane and running their own lives.

2.    For the same reason, I am not really interested in people.

3.    I have to protect my mind daily from the crap people tell me.

4.    Learn to be a better conversationalist. Listen and ask questions. When people are talking about themselves, don’t switch the attention back to myself (e.g. “I can never do that.”). A good conversation is hard work.

5.    Give information but not advice. Advice can have many unintended consequences because people are different and we like to hear what we like to hear.

6. Don’t tell people what to think. Help them think for themselves.

6.    In an argument, don’t say someone is biased because it suggests I’m not. I am certainly biased.

7.    Don’t label people. People “don’t have one permanent thing called character”; “each of us is a community of competing selves”. Context matters – one can be a jerk in the office but a really good sport among his mates.

8.    Don’t speculate on others’ motives.

9.    1/3 people and 2/3 solitude is my ideal formula for time.

10. Ignore everybody – be your own person and do what you believe in.

11. When people get really bad, remember G.K Chesterton’s reply. (Philip Yancey: “When The Times asked a number of writers for essays on the topic, ‘What’s Wrong With the World?’ Chesterton sent in the reply shortest and most to the point: Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.”)

Haruki Murakami

1.    Accept the fact that the best thing that ever happened to you has already happened and you will never be that happy again. (Norwegian Wood: “I’m finished as a human being.)

2.    The past is magnificent. It’s possible to live in the past while not being destroyed in the process.

3.    Accept the fact that there are no answers for everything. Life is a mystery.

4. Kafka on the Shore: “Putting it into words will destroy any meaning.”

5. Kafka on the Shore “Better not to try to explain it, even to yourself.”

6. Norwegian Wood: “What makes us most normal… is knowing we’re not normal.”

7. Blind Willow: “He found it natural to be by himself: it was a kind of premise for living.”

8. Haruki Murakami: “We are all human beings, individuals, fragile eggs. We have no hope against the wall: it’s too high, too dark, too cold. To fight the wall, we must join our souls together for warmth, strength. We must not let the system control us – create who we are. It is we who created the system.”

9. Find pleasure in simple, ordinary, everyday things.

Stumbling on Happiness

1. The ability of the human brain to imagine the future is powerful but flawed: positive events don’t give us as much joy as we anticipate, negative events don’t affect us as much or for as long as we think.

2. There is a baseline of happiness that we return to in a relatively short time after an event of huge emotional significance, no matter how good or bad.

3. We have a psychological immune system which defends the mind against unhappiness by “cooking the facts” (e.g. we gather information and facts that support what we have already concluded).

4. Happiness that we manufacture ourselves (synthesized happiness) is just as good as happiness that comes naturally.  But because society cannot progress economically if people are content, it tells you that you cannot be happy unless you consume, invent, make a name for yourselves, achieve your goals, etc.

5. The best way to predict happiness is to ask people who’ve been in situations that you are imagining to be in – people aren’t that different psychologically. Example, if I had to guess whether I will be lonely when I grow old, I would ask about the experiences of old people who live alone (I would ask introverts who like ideas, reading and watching films).

6. Application – Manufacture happiness daily (no need to pursue) and realize that many things in life are way overrated.

Leaders (I use this term very loosely)

1. Begin by assuming that a leader’s agenda (money, fame, ego, etc) is much more important than your welfare.

2. A leader’s mistake is usually much more significant than a leader’s contribution (outside the world of science and medicine).

3. Leadership books and courses tell leaders what to do but not enough of what not to do. Many leaders have a bias for action while many followers have a bias for stupidity.

4. Don’t confuse people in power (managers, clerics, politicians, etc) with leaders; there are too many of the former and too little of the latter.

5. An example of a leader – JAL’s CEO Haruka Nishimatsu: lead by example, pays himself $90,000 less than his pilots after paycuts, eats at the staff cafeteria, accessible to all his staff.

6. A leader’s promise of progress is visible (more, better, faster) while the price of progress is often invisible or not clearly seen in the short-term. Always seek out the invisible.

7. Don’t outsource your thinking to leaders.

8. Avoid following anyone and hence avoid leaders.


4 thoughts on “What I Learnt in the Noughties (Draft 1)”

  1. Sir. As excellent as ever.

    As you should already know, you are my hero. You inspire me to write a few entries on what I have learnt throughout my long absurd life. Will consider drafting them out before the year ends.

    However, I have a few things against you, one of which is:

    ‘I am a Christian but the church isn’t for me.’

    Sir. I’d like to change it to:

    ‘I’m a Christian but God isn’t for me.’

    No offense though. It’s just for me.

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