At 61, looking back to a full life

08 November 1998

I woke up on the morning of July 4 to the smell of ayam percik (grilled chicken with aromatic coconut milk sauce) wafting in the apartment.

My wife had cooked nasi dagang- glutinous rice - a specialty of the east coast and southern Thailand which has always signified an important event in my family as is pulut kuning - yellow or saffron glutinous rice. Fauzah would not cook the rice nor grill "ayam percik ala Kelantan" unless it is my birthday or some other occasion. After 29 years of a happy union she knows what I like for breakfast on my birthday.

In the evening we hosted a barbeque for 20 friends and watched whatever fireworks was discernible through thick blankets of clouds on a foggy night at a friend's 46th floor roof garden at 200 and Third Avenue.

Of course, the fire display was not in my honour! It was held annually to celebrate American Independence Day - whose auspicious day I share.

We had a family picnic in the Central Park in the afternoon, joining thousands of Americans and visitors celebrating their freedom from British 200 years ago.

What great fun and what a splendid way to spend ones time on a glorious summer afternoon and a not-so-brilliant evening.

My golden age is not my present age. It was when I was 37 back in 1974. Then it was the young man in action. An American proverb claims that with age comes wisdom. The truth depends, I suppose, on one's attitude towards life.

In my case I am certain of one thing: I have not in old age of three scores and one year once again-become the young man I once was. Anyway, I will only become a senior citizen in most Western nations when I reach 65. Age has not made my hair whiter or me wiser; instead a receding forehead, a bald top and deeper etched crow's feet bear testimony to the passing of time.

If I had prevailed over Fauzah, we would have been on a cruise but being prone to motion sickness - sea sickness, he idea was a nonstarter.

I am going to suggest to Fauzah that we shall celebrate my next birthday on a boat cruise on the Mississippi. I am sure the Mississippi river is gentler than the sea. Can there be six or eight-feet waves like in the Atlantic on the river that so fascinated Mark Twain?

In my time I heave seen a bit of life: from Kok Lanas to royal palaces, presidential mansions and people's palaces accompanying Tun Razak in the main. I have also stayed in filthy police lock-ups, thanks to "Ghulam".

From the Istana and kampung to the police hovels was a small step for me. It was a:: bitter-sweet experience which made me a tougher man, more than I could have believed possible myself Like most of us, I would rather have the approval of my colleagues, friends and family than that of "Ghulam's" secret police or than that of any jury.