Between East and West

This is a tale of a person who traveled in different parts of the world, in the East and West. I grew up under communism, where equality took priority over freedom. I was educated in the West, where freedom is placed before equality. I found employment in Malaysia, where I encountered faith. This is a tale of travels, discovery and enlightenment.

These three ways of existence have diverse origins. The first two, socialism and capitalism are products of Europe, where revealed knowledge was marginalised by the Enlightenment when reason challenged revelation. Spirituality had to take a back seat, so to speak.

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Between East and West

Introduction

This is a tale of a person who travelled in different parts of the world, in the East and West. I grew up under communism, where equality took priority over freedom. I was educated in the West, where freedom is valued more than equality. I found employment in Malaysia, where I encountered faith. This is a tale of travels, discovery and enlightenment.

These three ways of existence resulted from diverse origins. The first two, socialism and capitalism are products of Europe, where revealed knowledge was marginalised by the Enlightenment, when reason challenged revelation. Spirituality had to take a back seat, so to speak.

The triumph of reason at the expense of revelation in Europe was in part the outcome of problems within established faith. The Reformation highlighted those problems, but also added a few of its own. It comes down to the question of the way we approach revealed knowledge.

It has been stated by Leo Strauss that the problems of the West are due to man’s loss of his sense of purpose. He referred to these problems as a “crisis.” No doubt there is truth in this view. However, there is a deeper reason.

This is man’s alienation from God, accompanied by an excessive reliance upon reason, at the expense of alternative forms of cognition, primarily intuition. In different words, alienation or estrangement is the problem, but not alienation from the factors of production. That is a very materialistic perspective.

Asia, by contrast, remains “traditional” in a few ways. Here, rich spirituality may be encountered among the people. We find a variety of traditional ways of existence in Asia.

Asia has traditional values. They present an alternative to Western values. In the West, due to efforts of writers such as Nietzsche, we had a “trans-valuation” of values, to use Nietzsche’s term.

Upon inspection, however, this trans-valuation emerges as hardly more than a reaction against “traditional values.” Nietzsche was the enfant terrible of Western philosophy. His work was a tantrum against everything traditional.

Instead of rejecting faith altogether, however, what is required is an examination of the misunderstanding of faith that transpired. Hegel was wiser as he tried – unlike Nietzsche – to ascertain the teaching of Jesus, free of “unwarranted accretions.”

In view of the critique by European philosophers of revelation, a return to traditional values is urgent. This also requires a rendition of the teaching of revelation that is free of various “unwarranted accretions” that tainted, if not eclipsed, the teaching of revelation.

The harm inflicted by Nietzsche’s thought on America has been highlighted by Allan Bloom, in his Closing of the American Mind. In the name of Enlightenment, the alternatives for man actually became narrower.

Thus, it is important to put up resistance to the corroding effects of European philosophy, which presents itself in the guise of a liberator but has in fact brought a “closing of the mind.”

That the West has become less attractive even to Western people is attested to by the fact that not a few people “drop out” from the West. They do this in various ways. They either go to work as expats, or they settle and start businesses in various parts of Asia.

I had an analogous experience. The nagging feeling that the knowledge I acquired was deficient was there all along. I just could not ascertain what the problem was.

After graduating, I worked as a teacher in a few private schools in Toronto. I taught Economics, Canadian Geography, Canadian History, Canadian Literature and English Literature at the matriculation level.

I also taught Science to grades seven and eight, and Mathematics to students in grade ten. After that, I went to teach in Malaysia. I thought that after Malaysia, I would buy a fishing boat and sail it to Canada, preferably with a few trusted mates.

Well, I never got to cross the Pacific Ocean in a fishing boat. However, I did manage to traverse a gulf bigger than the Pacific Ocean. This is the gulf between different faiths in the world and a re-discovery – in Islam – of the spiritual heritage that was veiled by waves of worldviews such as materialism, egalitarianism, and fascism. These invariably worldviews present themselves as “universal.” However, an examination reveals that they are in fact highly questionable.

Canada 1968 to 1987

Toronto 1968

Today, Toronto is a big city. The cost of living in it is on par with London and New York. It was a little different in 1968 when we arrived there fifty years ago.

Toronto had a different feel from what I was used to in Czechoslovakia. But we managed – somehow – to muster enough energy and resolve to become part of Canada. It seems we all succeeded in different ways, and to different degrees.

Ford Hotel

The flight was long, with a stopover at an airport in Scotland. A bus took us from the airport to the Ford Hotel in downtown Toronto.

The first thing I noticed was how big the cars were in Canada. The ones I remember from Slovakia looked downright puny by comparison. The weather was grey. It was 20thOctober 1968. We had just our suitcases and practically no money.

We got a polite reception. I looked outside of the hotel room window and saw various building from the twelfth floor. We were given 4.5 dollars per person per day to buy food. We stayed there for about a week.

My sister and I went shopping one day. We both took English in school, but she was a better student. We went inside Macs Milk store and she said to the attendant:

“Have you milk”? He looked at her surprised and said:

“In the back.” We bought the milk plus a few tidbits and went back.

Parkdale Collegiate Institute

It took a few days to find a place to live. It was at 111 Marion street, a typical house in Toronto’s Parkdale area, inhabited by Polish and Ukrainian immigrants. Our landlady was from Poland. She was friendly. We rented a two or three bedroom flat and that’s how life in Canada began.

After a few weeks we moved to an apartment at 165 Jameson Avenue, also in Parkdale. We enrolled at the Parkdale Collegiate Institute on the same street. I enrolled in grade ten. My youngest sister enrolled in a primary school nearby.

I remember going to a Dominion store nearby for the first time. I was amazed at the quantity and variety of the food there. Far more that what were accustomed to see under communism. I bought a Snack bar for ten cents.

Mother, who had a PhD, got her first job at the University of Toronto, washing test-tubes in a laboratory at the Banting Institute.

Next summer we moved to Ossington Avenue, into a house next to the subway station. The landlady was Hungarian. She soon renamed me “Leslie.” She said that was the English equivalent for Ladislav, my Slovak name.

Protective Plastics Ltd

During the summer, I got a job at Protective Plastics Ltd. Through a friend of mother’s. It paid 2.17 dollars an hour when the minimum wage was 1.50.

It was unpleasant, but I supported the family throughout the summer, while Mother attended summer school to get her qualification to teach in a Canadian high school.

The factory had mostly immigrant employees, people from Yugoslavia. It made products from fiberglass. I remember I always had an itchy feeling around my wrists, waist, and neck from the bits of fiberglass stuck therefrom the fiberglass dust floating in the air. Taking a shower would not eliminate this itchy feeling. Only after I left this job did the itchy feeling go away. It was not a healthy place to work.

Trenton

By September, mother got a job at the High School in Trenton Ontario. There was a very kind principal there, Mr. Garrett. Mother bought a house on Edgeview Drive and we all moved there.

Teachers are well-paid in Canada. We had a decent life. I enrolled in the local high school, the Trenton High School, and started to make friends there. At first it was a bit rough going. But later, as my English improved, things got better. Everyone was in pretty good spirits.

On weekends, Mother would send me to the local KFC to buy a bucketful of chicken. We watched various TV shows like the Monkees, etc. The neighbors all chipped in and bought us a set of kitchenware and in this way welcomed us into the community. Canadians are generous people.

My brother joined us from Switzerland, where he worked in a chocolate factory. He left Czechoslovakia before us. When he was leaving, I had no idea if I would ever see him again. We did not know that we would also be leaving.

After a while, my brother left Trenton for Toronto, where he enrolled as an apprentice in a business that manufactured artificial limbs. He did well there, eventually starting a business in Sault Ste. Marie. The work he did was well paid.

1867 Restaurant

I took a part-time job at the 1867 Restaurant on the 401 Highway. This was a night shift job. I was a dishwasher, using an automated machine. Some days an entire bus of tourists pulled in. We would all be very busy for about an hour. Then it slowed down again.

Once the supervisor asked me to work a second shift, immediately after the first one. The staff scheduled to come in did not show up. I agreed and worked sixteen hours non-stop except for a few short breaks. It was exhausting.

What was particularly annoying was that the supervisor forgot to put down the extra-hours, so I did not get paid for the extra hours on my next paycheck. I informed him about this and he said he would rectify the problem on the following week’s paycheck.

There was an automatic dishwasher there, but some plates had to be washed by hand. Especially eggs stuck to the plates and had to be scrubbed manually. I even got to cook a few burgers from time to time when extra help was required in the kitchen.

Jim

I had a friend in high school. His name was Jim. He seemed like a nice guy. His parents were of a German background. After a while, he began to experience problems. He decided to leave and go to Toronto. I promised I would visit him there.

For a long time, I did not visit. Then one day I visited him. I drove to Toronto and saw him in a flat he shared with friends. He was flat broke and eating macaroni with cheese. He was happy to see me. He told me later that the day I came he was planning to commit suicide.

He recovered, and later got hired by a bank. He married and had children. I think he was alright after that. Why is it that teenagers develop these kinds of problems with their parents and it goes so far that the teenagers want to leave – or run away from their homes – or in some cases are asked to leave by their parents?

Painting at the Airbase

During the summer I got a job working for a painting company. I think mother arranged it through a friend. It paid minimum wage. I think the supervisor did not like me.

On the first day of work he took me to a large room which had about fifty or sixty large pails of paint. He asked me to carry all the pails from one corners of the room to another corner. The pails were heavy. I had to use both hands to carry each container.

It took about two hours to finish the task. Then the supervisor returned and asked me this time to carry the same containers back to the same corner where I moved them from. I was astonished.

“What’s the point of carrying the containers back to the same corner?” I asked him.

“Never mind, just do it.” I refused to do it. I though he was taking me for a fool. So, he brought me to another room, at the Canadian Forces Base, where there were about twenty painters at work. I was given a brush and started to paint.

Accident

One winter I was driving home with my two sisters in the back, plus our dog and cat. We just dropped mother off at a friend’s house along Highway 2. The road was covered with snow.

I hit a depression in the road and the car swerved. The I did the wrong thing. I slammed on the brakes. The car began to swing from one side of the road to the other. Each time it swung farther and farther. Finally, it flew off the road and hit a telephone pole on the side. The pole broke in two, with the top half hanging in the air.

I flew from the driver’s seat to the passenger side and hit my writ hard against the door. My sisters in the back, thank God, were unhurt. The car slowly came to a stop in the ditch.

We opened the doors and a cat went as fast in one direction, while the dog ran as fast in the other direction. I was shocked.

A tow truck arrived and towed the auto to the repair shop. Mother was unfazed. She was cool that way. She did not get riled easily. After the accident, however, the insurance premium went up.

The damage to the car amounted to $ 1,500 dollars. The front right lamp was smashed, and there was body work to do on the right side of the car. For a long time after that, I was very cautious in driving. In fact, I drove much too slowly, according to my brother.

Toronto 1971

Grade thirteen did not go very well for me at Trenton. I was having disagreements with mother. I called my brother in Toronto and asked him if I could stay with him at least temporarily. He agreed. In Toronto I re-enrolled at the Parkdale Collegiate Institute and worked at some part time jobs.

I followed my brother to Toronto. I lived with my brother and friends in a flat in Parkdale. I resumed high school at Parkdale Institute, where I first enrolled.

Jirka

I became friends with Jirka, one of the expats. He seemed like a really nice person. He was in the Army back in Czechoslovakia. He worked in a factory.

I went to see him there once. He was moving a large drum full of scrap metal when I arrived. He took a short break a we chatted for a few minutes than he had to go back to work. I returned home.

After a while, he began to with draw from the community a bit. He lived in a basement apartment. He had a twenty-two-caliber rifle at home. The last time I saw him he sounded pretty negative about our friends in the expat community. Somehow, he appeared to have a low opinion of them. I was surprised and dismayed.

“Why is he being so negative about them?” He projected a sense of moral superiority.

Anyway, I hear a few weeks later that he attempted to commit suicide with his twenty-two-caliber rifle. But the bullet did not kill him. He was taken to a hospital and the doctors managed to pull the bullet out of his brain through a hole they drilled in his forehead. Some friends went to see him in the hospital

He was recovering, but apparently, he was never the same after that. One day he showed up at the place of one of the expats and said that he was “looking for meat to feed his horses.”

He asked the people there if they had any. Well horses do not eat meat and we knew he had no horses. I guess he went crazy. I guess it was not easy for all expats to integrate int. the new community successfully.

High Park Restaurant

I worked at a few part-time jobs in Toronto to support myself through the rest of high school. The first was working as a waiter in the High Park Restaurant.

I would go around tables and clear dishes left there by customers. There was also some sweeping to do and taking out the garbage. It paid minimum wage, 1.50 cents per hour. I did not like this job and I did not stay there very long. I think it was only about a week.

Dimpflmeier Bakery

After school finished, I got a job at the Dimpflmeier Bakery, on Advance Road, courtesy of one of the Czech expats who worked there as a driver. He would drive the biggest truck of the bakery to Detroit, USA, every day, to deliver fresh sour dough rye bread to various stores there.

This was hard work. Night shift at the minimum wage. Some days I was asked to work extra hours, for a total of eleven hours of work. I held this job until I started university at Guelph.

One day a new worker joined me at the oven, taking bread from the oven, shaking it out of the hot pans, and then placing the bread on one rack and the pans on another. This was unpleasant work. We wore special gloves. After I showed him how to do it, I asked him:

“Hey Jim, do you think you can handle the oven for a few minutes? I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Sure, I can,” he said.

However, when I came back a little while later, I saw no trace f Jim and the bread was falling to the ground as the oven rolled on.

“Hey Frank,” I yelled for the supervisor. Frank was an Italian immigrant, and he was the boss on the bakery floor. Frank came in a hurry.

“What is the matter for you,” he exclaimed. When he saw what was happening, he briefly stopped the oven and we picked up the bread that had fallen to the ground. Then he restarted the oven.

However, the bread was in the oven too long, so when it came out we saw it was too dark and could not be used. We had to make a new batch to replace the bread we lost. I guess Jim quit the job and walked right out.

I applied for early admission to university and was accepted. Initially, I was turned down. I went to see them and was informed that the mark in English was weak.

I asked if they would use the mark from Trenton, which was higher. The man went back to his boss and returned a few minutes later.

“Alright, we’ll count the English mark from your previous high school, which means that you are accepted.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.

University of Guelph

Guelph is a small town about sixty kilometers West of Toronto. It is a university town. I was accepted into the University of Guelph. I was happy. University proved to be so different than high school. So much better.

I enrolled in politics (major) and economics (minor). It was a four-year honours program. I also took some courses in logic, philosophy and history. I lived in residence, mostly.

It was co-ed, except for Johnston Hall, which was all male. There was a good restaurant called Der Keller, where I had meals.

I was active in sports. We played soccer every Wednesday with grad students and faculty from the Veterinary and the Agriculture Departments, two departments that Guelph was most famous for. It was not famous for political science. However, I did get to meet John Kenneth Galbraith, who served in the Kennedy administration. Galbraith was an economist and author of many books.

My studies were not exactly gripping. However, I found two books in the bookstore that actually interested me. One was C.B. Macpherson’s Theories of Possessive Individualism.

The other was Natural Right and History by Leo Strauss. Both books appealed to me because of the clarity of writing. I agreed with both authors, even though there appeared to be a few differences.

I later met C.B. Macpherson at the University of Toronto’s Political Science Departments, where I audited a course with him. He was definitely a gentleman and a scholar.

I never met Strauss in person; however, I did get to take a graduate course with his best-known student, Allan Bloom, also at the University of Toronto.

Both had reform in mind. However, while Macpherson leaned to the left, Strauss leaned to the right. I was in the middle. Which way would I go?

I wished there was a way to combine the two points of view. Could we not both be concerned for the downtrodden and aim for excellence at the simultaneously?

Printing Business

My first job while at the university was at a printing business. I used to drive a small vehicle to the dumpsite with rubbish from the printing business. It was not a hard job, however, minimum wage again.

I called the owner “Boss.” He did not look entirely comfortable with that. Years later, people at gas stations in Malaysia would call me “boss.” Strange. I guess it was meant in a friendly way. I did not stay too long at this job and found another, this time at a gas station.

Gas Station

I was unaware that I was eligible for a Canada student loan. So, I took another job at a gas station on downtown Guelph. The pay was minimum wage.

I remember that during midterm examination week, I worked thirty-nine hours, only one hour short of a full week. I mentioned in passing one time at the university to a lady about the pressure I felt under and she asked me:

“Why don’t you get a student loan?”

 “What do you mean?” I said.

“Well just go down to the student affairs office, ask for an application and fill it in. We are all here on student loans,” she said, pointing to a group of friends sitting with her.

“OK, thanks, I think I’ll do that.

The next day I went to the student loan office and did what she suggested. My loan application was approved and a I got a grant and a loan.

The money was enough to finance an entire academic year of study. I felt so relieved. I could quit my job at the gas station and concentrate full time on my studies.

I remember I had to go to a bank and borrow a small amount of money, a few hundred dollars to tie me over until the student loan came in. The bank manager was very helpful and arranged for the loan, even though it was only a small about. I was grateful.

Jobs Between Semesters

There were also jobs between semesters. One was at Lauder Furniture, on Lauder Street in Toronto. Here we mostly delivered furniture to buyers.

I remember one time we were delivering a sofa and we got stuck with the sofa in the middle of a turn in the staircase. It was one of those sofas that could be converted to a bed. For a while we could go neither up nor down.

During one semester break I worked as a delivery driver for Canadian Linen Supply, a laundry company in Toronto. This was backbreaking labour. I think I was given the worst route with the most stops and biggest deliveries.

This required delivering large bags of linen to Dominions stores, which had many employees, as well as KFC outlets. The van I was given must have been the worst. I could only turn the steering wheel while the van was moving. Just finding parking for the van on a busy street was a challenge. I worked past five every day. The work was exhausting.

All the drivers all had different kinds of routes. The senior driver had the easiest route, delivering hand towels to offices in a skyscraper in downtown Toronto.

He simply went from floor to floor in two or three buildings and was done before lunchtime. The rest of the time he could concentrate on finding new customers and get additional pay in the form of commission.

Another job was at a gas station in Toronto. The boss was fair and quite cheerful. He had a boy – his son – who would occasionally help out at the station.

Sault Ste Marie

One day my brother Charlie called me from Sault Ste. Marie. There was a steel plant there, Algoma Steel Corporation. He knew I was looking for a summer job.

“You better get up here soon,” he said on the phone. “Algoma is hiring,” he added.

Algoma Steel had unionized labour, the pay was good. So, I drove up there. It was about eight hours of driving from Toronto. I went to see the Human Resources manager in the plant. He was pleasant, but he said”

“It is true we are hiring,” he said. “But to be honest with you, we keep these temporary jobs for the kids of our existing employees. I hope you can understand,” he added.

I understood. I went back to Charlie’s house and told him what happened. He just nodded.

So, I was sitting there for a few days, fretting. One day Charlie said:

“You have the painting tools in the car, why don’t you put an ad in the paper?”

“Ah, it won’t work,” I replied. I was quite negative.

“Oh, come on, you can do it,” Charlie said. “I’ll dial for you, you only need to do the talking,” he added.

He dialed the classified’s number of the local newspaper and passed the phone to me.

“What can I do for you?” said a lady at the othee end.

“I’d like to put an ad in your paper for painting,” I said.

“What is the wording of the ad?” she asked.

“Student will do experienced painting,” I said. Then I added my phone number.

The very next day I got a call from a retired gentleman, who asked me to give him an estimate in painting trim on his house.

I looked at the job and I thought I could finish it in one day. To paint a one-bedroom apartment also took one day, but I only earned forty-five dollars. So, I thought I would ask for a little extra. I said:

“I’ll do the job for seventy-five dollars.” The man started to laugh. I became worried, and said:

“Well if you think seventy-fie is too much, I guess I could …”

“Too much?” he interrupted me, laughing. “I thought that if you came here and said you would do it for one hundred and fifty, you’d be talking …” he said. I realised that my price was lower than what he was prepared to pay. So, I said:

“Well sir, if you are willing to lay one hundred and fifty, I am willing to do it for that amount.” He agreed, and I had my first contract.

I paid fifteen dollars for one can of paint and finished the job in one day. I earned one hundred and thirty-five dollars of a day’s work, or three times the minimum wage. Out of that amount, I still had to pay for the advertisement, fuel, and auto maintenance. But I guess I was in business.

Contractor

The best work, comparatively speaking, was when I worked as a self-employed person in the painting and paperhanging business. Here I earned three times what hired persons made, I had flexibility in work hours and dealt directly with customers.

I had a two-line ad in the Toronto Star, with my phone number. I proved free estimates. I would get a call almost every other day. I would get a contract out of every two or three estimates.

The average contract lasted three or four days. I would earn about three or four hundred dollars for three or four days’ work, that is little over a hundred dollars a day. I met many interesting persons this way. Almost all were very honest.

I juggled my university work around this job and could continue my studies on a part-time basis while also working part-time, maybe twenty hours a week. I also learned something about business ethics on this job. I realised how important t was to do an excellent job, to respect your customers, and to gain and maintain their trust.

University of Toronto

Toronto is a big city. This cost of living is on par with London and New York. I found a place near the university

Hungarians

I lived with a group of Hungarians. One was an electrician and the other one was a painter. When I started to run out of money, the painter offered to take me as a co-worker on painting jobs. This was before I became self-employed.

It was back-breaking labor. We got paid a mere fifty dollars for painting a two-bedroom apartment, including kitchen and bathroom.

For a one-bedroom apartment, the pay was forty-five dollars. When I later did one of these apartments alone, it took me eleven hours of hard work to finish a two-bedroom apartment.

We did not paint ceilings if they were looked like they did not need it. He was fast. Even though he did most of the work, he shared the money with me on a fifty-fifty basis.

Both Hungarians drank. Mike used to go to the Brunswick house nearby. At times he got into fights there with other guests. But since he used to be a professional boxer back in Hungary, he usually got the better of the other guy.

Nevertheless, he would worry from time to time about people coming to look for him. If that were to happen, he asked me to help him to “thrown the fridge down the staircase at them.” I said, “Sure Mike, I’ll help you.”

I was happy when I was accepted into at the University of Toronto Graduate School, to study political science. I was immediately impressed by the professors there.

They seemed very fluent and articulate, almost to a man and woman. Listening to their lectures, which were delivered without referring to notes, was like listening to a book.

Allan Bloom

I went to see Allan Bloom. This man was brilliant. I was told that he was Leo Strauss’ favorite student. He was in his office reading Machiavelli’s Prince. I asked him for permission to take his course. He asked me:

“How many courses in political science have you taken?”

“About twenty, sir,” I replied.

“They were one semester courses, professor,” I explained. Another reason I had taken extra courses was that I stayed at Guelph and extra year, taking an additional six courses on a part-time basis. He allowed me to take the course.

Alan Bloom’s graduate seminar was on Aristophanes and Xenophon’s Memorabiliaabout Socrates. Bloom was very funny. During the first meeting he was cracking jokes from the beginning to end. I head tears flowing down my cheeks from laughing.

“And this is a seminar about political theory?” I thought to myself.

Of course, there was also a serious side to the lectures. There were about thirty-five people in the class from all over the world. There was even a student from Japan.

Jozef Skvorecky

However, I developed misgivings about the enterprise and I wanted to study film. Therefore, during the following year I took a course with Josef Skvorecky, a Czech ex-patriate writer, the well-known author of the Cowards and other novels.

At Innis College, University of Toronto, he was teaching a course on film. We watched some classics and I wrote a paper on Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, which means to live.

Over the next academic year, I enrolled at Concordia University in Montreal in their Film Studies Program. I heard they had a well-recognized reputation. But the people at Concordia wanted me to do theory courses, and I wanted to get my hands on a camera.

Since it was a no-go, I returned to Toronto and resumed the political science program. Moreover, as I was short of money, I had to switch to part-time study.

In the third year of graduate school, I attended Clifford Orwin’s class. He was a Harvard Graduate. The seminar was about Thucydides. I managed an “A” on both papers. My doubts about whether I was doing the right thing, however, were not going away.

The fourth and last year I attended a seminar with Thomas Pangle. He just joined the University from Yale. The course was on Locke and Nietzsche.

I managed an “A minus” on the paper on Locke. My theme was “the royal prerogative” from the Second Treatise on Government. After I finished these courses, I began to teach in a Matriculation Program at Eastern College. My first subjects were Canadian geography and economics.

Friends

I met a few interesting people while I was at the University of Toronto. Most of them were quite intellectual, and I have fond memories of them. Some of them I keep in touch with. A few of them were from the US, others were from Canada.

Dale

Dale was a member of my discussion group. He was an artist, and he could draw beautifully. We used to meet every Wednesday and conduct philosophical discussions in the afternoon. Dale had a brother Mike, who later became a teacher.

I later had something of a falling out with Dale, after I refused to agree that Churchill was a great leader. Just because I did not think highly of Churchill, Dale concluded that I must have been a Stalin admirer.

Once Dale and his younger brother Mike had a fight. For some reason Dale struck his brother in the face with his fist. Mike became enraged, ran into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and chased his brother all the way down to the street, Spadina Road. There he chased his brother around a bus shelter, shouting:

“I’m going to kill you!” It took him a while to cool off.

Walter from Canada

 I met Walter through Dale. Walter is a musician and he plays both rock and classical guitar. He had a Gibson guitar and could pay the leads from Eric Clapton songs by heart.

Once Dale reproached him for playing just rock music, whereupon Walter enrolled in a classical guitar course, where he stayed for six years and became a classical guitar player as well.

Walter was also a part of the discussion group. He went on to do a Master’s degree in theology. At one point he was writing a rock opera. I am not sure of he finished it. We keep in touch on Facebook.

Walter from the US

Walter, also known as Dennis, was from the US. He was also an artist, as he used to play the trumpet in a church, a part of a Handel symphony. He studied in the Department of Religious Studies.

He attended Wheaton College, which he described as a very conservative religious school in the US. In Toronto, he was doing first and MA and then a PhD. He later withdrew from the PhD and declared something along the lines that he had “enough of all that nonsense.”

He enrolled in a computer studies program in the US and later got a job with an IT company. He became so valuable to the company they used to send a helicopter to pick him up for meetings. On his desk he still keeps a copy of Josephus’ Histories, and he would read a bit during lunch time.

He had interesting tales to tell from Wheaton College. It was a very conservative school. He recommended to me Beneath the Wheel, by Herman Hesse, which was a story of a young man who likewise attended a very strict religious school.

We visited his home in the US once. We drove in my car all the way to Canaan, Connecticut, a small town of about three thousand, where he lived.

Canaan is located near the borders of New York, Vermont and Massachusetts. This area of the US is also known as New England. A lot of the early English immigrants settled here. The country was quite beautiful there.

It was in one of the discussions with Dennis that I once stated:

“What a pity that religions appear to be in such a conflict with one another.”

I did not realize then that the alleged “conflict” between religions is a conflict between misunderstandings of religions. If we understand religion properly, the alleged “conflict” disappears.

Tom from the US

Tom was a quiet fellow. I met Tm in the Robarts library. He was always sitting there, alone. I came up once and struck up a conversation. He turned out to be a really decent chap. Like me, he was in political science – ad political theory at that – although he was doing his PhD while I was working on my Master’s degree.

He was allied to the Marxist stream in the Department, his supervisor was someone by the name of Fenn. Tom was working on a thesis about David Hume, I think. C.B. Macpherson was among his advisors.

After finishing a PhD in political science at the University of Toronto, he did a law degree at the Detroit law school and became a lawyer. His parents lived in Bloomfield Hills, on the outskirts of Detroit.

Tom had a house on Royal Oak in Detroit, Michigan. I visited him there, and we went sailing on lake Michigan in his parents seventy-two-foot Cal speed boat. The boat was docked in a harbor in Traverse City, Michigan, where his parents had a cottage. However, I got seasick.

We stopped in Traverse City for a while. We had some burgers and fries, and then Tom had to pop into the Post Office. While I was waiting for him just outside, I realised there was something strange about this tow. Initially, I did not know what it was. Suddenly I realised what gave me the feeling.

As I looked around me, I realised that everyone in view appeared to have been somewhat overweight, even the children. There did not seem to be a single slim person anywhere. And there were at least a dozen persons within sight.

“So, is the result of the culture of consumerism?” I thought to myself.

We stayed in his parents’ house in Bloomfield Hills. The house had extensive security. My room had a bathroom attached to it. Tom told me not to step out into the hallway during the night, as that would set of the security alarm, not only at the house but also at the nearest police station, and the police would come.

Apparently, there were alarm sensors even under the grass in the lawn around the house. If anyone stepped on it, the same thing would happen.

Bloomfield Hills had the highest number of police officers in the entire US per square mile. Some very wealthy people lived there. Both of his parents were doctors and of a German background.

He took me to a dinner at a club. There was an enormous amount of food being consumed there. I now understood while the people in Traverse City seemed to be so well provided for.

Teaching

I worked in various colleges as a teacher. There I taught mostly matriculation or pre-university courses. These were term appointments that lasted from as little as one semester to a full year.

Eastern College

After finishing school work, I was looking around for a job. I looked in the newspaper and I saw a job of a coordinator being advertised in the paper.

I finished my work at the University of Toronto, and I was thinking of getting a proper job rather than painting and paperhanging. I saw an advertisement in the paper for the job of a sports coordinator at a place called Eastern College, on Euclid Avenue in Toronto.

I was interviewed by a fellow with a German background. His name was Wayne. He seemed very capable. He taught mathematics of investment. I had a good chat with him. However, I was not hired.

A few days afterwards I saw another ad in the paper from Eastern College. This time they were looking for an economics and Canadian geography teacher. My minor was in economics. I applied again. This time, I was hired.

Eastern College was a visa school. The students are from abroad, intending to pursue their studies in Canadian universities. Most students were from Hong Kong, with a smattering from Malaysia, Mauritius and a few additional countries.

This was a private college, and the fees were high. Not the salaries, though. All students were from relatively well-to do families. The students were polite and well-behaved. I had no disciplinary problems. Their English, as one would expect, was somewhat weak. But they were eager to learn.

I walked into the first economics class without any prior teaching experience or teacher training. How typical of me. Jumping into a thing with minimal preparation or experience. I guess I was confident.

For my economics lesson, I prepared about a dozen and a half questions the night before. I thought answering them would take me through the class that was about one hour and ten minutes long.

I was wrong. I finished “covering” or answering the questions in about twenty-five minutes. Then I said, “Are there any questions?” There were none.

“So now what do I do?” I thought to myself. There were still about forty minutes remaining in the class. Then I had a brilliant idea. I’ll talk about the independent research paper.

I could talk about this topic for hours. I didn’t have to. Time went by swiftly and the class was over. I was extra diligent in preparing for the next class, to prepare additional material. It wasn’t difficult.

Albion College and Park Avenue Academy

I also worked in a couple of other schools. One was Albion College, in the East part of Toronto, where I briefly taught English Literature and Canadian History. The inspector from the Ministry of Education who visited my history class came up to me afterwards and just said:

Good class,” and he shook my hand.

However, Albion was closed by the Ministry of Education soon afterwards. Apparently, the school failed to comply with some requirement.

So, we were all transferred “wholesale” so to speak, to another school this one located in Etobicoke. This school was called Park Avenue Academy. I taught here for a semester or two. The principal seemed quite a reasonable fellow and we got along quite well.

Metropolitan Preparatory Academy

Later I got a job at the Metropolitan Preparatory Academy. I taught grade ten math, science for grades seven and eight, and a history course. The students were from well-to-do families. Most students appeared to have problems. They did not appear entirely stable.

Some were just “breaking up” with their girlfriends. Another couple of students were living in a motel; their parents would send them money from overseas to pay for their expenses. It seemed as if the families were economically well-to do but were not doing so well as a family.

A staff member, Nancy, used to come into the staff room every now and then crying. “What is wrong, Nancy?”

“Malcolm was rude to me again,” she said.

Malcolm was a student who was causing problems in a few classrooms. He was in one of my classes too, but he seemed to like me, so he did not cause any problems.

Once we had a staff meeting and I asked the management/owners at point blank about the disciplinary issues in the school. “Is there anything a student can do in this school for which he or she will get expelled?” I asked. The only answer I received was a long silence.

I decided not to continue at that school the following semester. I had to go to a small claims court to claim may salary. The judge proposed arbitration and I agreed. The arbitrator proposed eight hundred dollars for me which was exactly a half of my salary. The head of the school agreed to it, even though his sister did not look happy.

Annex Village Campus

This was another private school, right next door to where I lived at 120 Madison Avenue in the Annex. I did not have far to go to work. However, I only lasted a day and a half on this job.

The school was another private school. The moment I realised that this was the same kind of set up like Metro Prep Academy, I knew I would not be staying long.

During lunch time, my students went to smoke outside. I could see them from the window of the classroom. They came in afterwards and acted in an arrogant way. A few put their feet on the desks, in my face so to speak.

The talk turned to what I was trying to teach them. They were trying to “give me a piece of their mind,” as one of them put it.

“But you are not teaching us anything!” Said one of them. That was the last straw. I turned to the student and I said:

“Well, let me now give you a piece of my mind. Do you know what I think? I think you are full of it.” Then I turned to the rest of them and added in a calm voice:

“I think you are all full of it,” as I calmly packed up my papers and slowly walked out of the classroom and the school, never to go back.

I got a frantic call from the secretary shortly afterwards, asking me to go back. I told her I was quitting the job.

“Come on Les, you better come back, you might lose your job,” she said.

“I do not want the job,” I repeated. “I’m quitting,” I reiterated. I heard a click as she put the phone down at the other end.

Later I found out that at that school there was a case where one student was charged with the murder over a drug deal gone sour. I realised that I made the right decision not to keep that job.

After these and similar experiences I realised that there was something seriously wrong with the education system. The students were out of control. Something had to be done. It was necessary to back to the basics.

These experiences also made it easier for me to accept a job teaching in Asia. I did not expect to have the sort of problems with as I had in the schools in Toronto.

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education

In the meantime, I still entertained the hope of doing a PhD somewhere. After working at Eastern College, and a couple of other visa schools, Park Avenue Academy and Albion College, I enrolled in a Master’s degree program at the Ontario Institute of Studies for Education.

With two years of full-time teaching experience at the matriculation level, I had no trouble being accepted. I enrolled in the Department of History and Philosophy.

Some courses were quite interesting. The courses on Alternative Schools, with Malcolm Levin (US), and another course of Moral Education with Clive Beck (Australia) stood out. Some courses I took about religious education were less interesting.

In one course I had to read essays by writers from a single school of thought, logical positivism. Of course, these people did not take a very kind view of religion.

I met an interesting person while at OISE. His name was Peter McLaren. He wrote a book Cries form the Corridor, in which he exposed problems in the institution where he taught in Toronto. He is now the author of fifty books, a few of which were translated into twenty-five languages.

He told me subsequently that after the book was published, he could not get a job anywhere at the schoolboard. He finished a PhD at OISE and went on to teach at the University of California in Los Angeles.

I began to get restless after a while. Then I decided to take the remaining four of the ten one semester courses required for the degree outside of OISE. I took all four of the courses in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.

The most interesting course was on Hegel’s Berlin Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, taught by Professor Emeritus, Kenneth Schmitz. I wrote a paper on Hegel’s Early Theological Writings and managed an “A.” Someone told me that getting an “A” was equivalent to getting acceptance into the PhD program. It was not to be.

The Chairman of the Philosophy Department informed me that I had to take additional undergraduate courses, mostly in analytical philosophy. This was his field, and the specialty of many of the Professors in the Department.

Schmitz was part of the “old school,” people with an interest in “continental philosophy,” Hegel, Heidegger and others. I sensed there was a bit of a rift in the Department.

As I had no interest in analytical philosophy, which struck me as remarkably like logical positivism, I said “No thank you.”

Visits to the Old Country

It was around this time I developed a kind of homesickness and wanted to visit Czechoslovakia. I made two trips. The first was in 1983 when I went alone, while the second was the following year, when I went with my brother Charlie.

1983

I bought a ticket to Germany, Dusseldorf. From there I traveled first to Amsterdam where I spent two days. Then it was on to France, with two or three days in Paris. Lastly, I dropped into London for another couple of days.

Then it was back to Dusseldorf, from where I took a train to Vienna. From there I took another train to Bratislava. I enjoyed the trip. Of course, it brought back many memories.

I went to see father. I also went to see my auntie near Bielovce. It was a happy re-union. However, after two weeks in Czechoslovakia, I began to feel restless again, and practically began to look forward to going back to Canada. Czechoslovakia was still under communist rule then. The change of government would not take place until five years later, in 1989.

1984

This time we bought return tickets to Frankfurt, Germany, and from there we traveled by train to Czechoslovakia. In Bratislava, we stayed at the Devin Hotel next to Danube. Later we stayed in an apartment provided by our cousin.

Charlie met up with many of his friends. He was quite happy. He even met his future wife there, who is now living with him in Canada. Unfortunately, father already passed away a few months earlier, so we did not get to see him.

Malaysia

One day in March, 1987, I was sitting on the porch at 120 Madison Avenue in Toronto, enjoying my morning coffee with a newspaper. I was listening to the CBC Sunday Folk music program. The chap there played excellent folk music from all over the world.

I saw an advertisement in the paper for a person to teach economics. Sounded good. Except that the job was in Malaysia. What to do?

My hand was dangling over the telephone as I was weighing the pros and cons of going to Malaysia.

“A full-time job in Malaysia was better than a part-time job in Canada,” I said to myself. That was the deciding factor. I made the call and arranged for an appointment.

I was interviewed by Mr. Diamond. Later I got to speak with Clark Sissons, who was already a teacher at Taylor’s College. He told me a bit about the College. Subsequently I found out that I was replacing a teacher the College had to let go because of a drinking problem.

I had to get a passport, a check from the police that I had no criminal record, a health check, and I was all set. Within about a week I was on a Korean Airlines plane to Malaysia.

The entire flight took twenty-two hours, including a four-hour transit stop in Seoul. The last leg of the flight took about four hours. My life would become quite different, henceforth.

Canada 1998 to 1999

Vancouver

We returned to Canada in August 1998. This was the second time we returned. Our first return was seven years earlier, in 1991. At that time, we landed in Toronto, and drove to Vancouver. We went from East to West.

This time we from West to East. We landed in Vancouver and drove to Ontario. We did the trip in reverse. Perhaps the reader will appreciate another reason why this tale is entitled, “Between East and West.”

It’s as if I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Ideologically, I was also neither here nor there. I needed to find a place where I would put down real roots. And I needed to fine-tune my worldview to guide me. Would it work this time?

We first checked into a guesthouse in Vancouver. Bernie, Charlie’s friend had a second-hand car for sale.

“You can have it for three hundred bucks,” he said. I bought it. It was in decent condition, except for a broken grill in the front. I went to the credit union. When I told the clerk behind the counter that we were going to Ottawa, she said:

“Good luck, you’ll need it.” How right she was.

I rented a U-Haul and put the books from storage in Vancouver into it. Off we were to Ontario. The journey was long. The drive through the Rocky Mountains was spectacular. The prairies, as we would expect, were pretty flat.

It took about a day to traverse each province. Our daughter, then five years old, was with us. We stayed in different motels along the way. We finally arrived Canada’s capital.

Ottawa

Ottawa is a government town. Most of the jobs there are in the government sector. I did not sufficiently appreciate this fact. I guess I had to learn the hard way.

At first, we visited a relative for a few days. I telephoned Igor, my acquaintance from Koh Samui. He lived in a large apartment building on Springland Drive. I rented an apartment in the building where he stayed. It was a two-bedroom unit.

I bought furniture at the Salvation Army. I picked up my books from my sister’s house in Kanata, on the outskirts of Ottawa. I mailed them to her from Malaysia before we left.

I bought a desktop and placed an advertisement for writing resumes for people. Money was a problem. I charged thirty-five dollars per resume. I did the work from the apartment. It took about an hour to write one resume.

The ad in the paper was about three hundred dollars. Just to pay for the advertisement, I would have had to write eight resumes. I tried to put an advertisement in a supermarket but was told that I had to apply and get permission.

I had maybe two or three people per week to write resumes for. It was a dead end. This was a government town. Jobs in the private sector were scarce. I also looked in the ads in the newspaper for work. One school responded to my query then fell silent. I don’t know what happened.

Lebanese businessman

Once I did a resume for a Lebanese businessman. He had an interesting story to tell. He had two daughters enrolled in a private school. He had a successful restaurant in Ottawa. But he had to share the space with another store. On top of that, he was obliged to buy equipment from the franchisee that he felt he did not really need.

 When the store began to sell fish meals, the smell from the fish entered his restaurant. The ventilation was poor. Customers began to stay away from his restaurant, and eventually he could not maintain his business He had to close down. He had to look for a salaried job. It was a sad story.

Ottawa Independent writers

I became a member of the Ottawa Independent Writers. I attended some of their meetings. It was hard to remain engaged, however, as I still had no job. How can a person live like that?

A friend from the OIW gave the email of Jane Karchmar, who was a freelance writer and editor. She read my book and gave it thumbs up. She worked part-time for the General Store Publishing House.

After I spoke to the publisher, however, I abandoned the idea of working with this party as they were asking me to pay for printing the book. In exchange, they would deliver the books my door. I had to do the distributing.

I discovered later that the General Store Publishing was what is known as “vanity press,” where wannabe writers pay to for their books to be printed but distribute themselves. This was my introduction to the world of publishing in Canada.

Igor’s books

I helped Igor once load a container with second-hand books. He bought a large number of them from the Salvation army. They were delivered in a mid-sized 2-ton truck.

I was surprised the management of the building did not object to a full container being dropped off near the entry to the underground parking lot. Anyway, we worked hard for several hours and all the books were loaded into the container.

Igor was going to send the container to a neighboring nation first – I think it was Myanmar – and from there to Thailand. He was hoping to avoid having to pay import taxes that way. I later heard from another bookseller in Samui that Igor was caught, charged with smuggling books, and eventually jailed.

Dolly

It was not a cheerful time. My daughter brought Dolly to me once and said:

“Daddy let’s play.”

Dolly was a doll that we bought her. It was her favorite doll. In the past, we used to play regularly with Dolly. But I was not in a mood to play this time.

“Not now my dear,” I said.

I reminded myself of a character in the Terminator (the movie) who was supposed to be joining a fight, but just did not have it in him. A lady came along and said to:

“Come on soldier, get up.” I think he eventually did get up and re-join the struggle. So did I.

Light on the horizon

Things were not getting any better. At my wife’s suggestion, I emailed to John Futa. I asked if he had any work for me. Two days on, Zara asked me to go to the computer.

I went and saw an email from John. He had an economics position for me in the Canadian Program at the College. A feeling of relief came over me and I accepted the offer. As I had worked at Sunway before, I did not have to be interviewed a second time.

A few of my relatives gathered at sister’s house as she also stayed in a suburb of Ottawa. They would help move the furniture out of the unit where we lived.

I resolved that I would be a better person and to perform good deeds. I worried whether I would get enough opportunities to do so. My worries were unjustified.

Returning to Malaysia

We made arrangements to go back and by April 1999 we were on the plane back to Malaysia. I resumed my job at the College. This time we returned to Malaysia after staying in Canada for just one year.

A French writer wrote a book on “reverts” to Islam. He discovered that nearly all of them had a crisis of one kind or another, that somehow triggered the conversion. Well, it certainly turned out to be true in my case.

Malaysia 1987 to 1989

Kuala Lumpur

I arrived late at night. The flight was altogether twenty-two hours long, with a four-hour stopover at Hong Kong. After landing in KL, I took a taxi to the Shah Village Motel, in Petaling Jaya. It was hot and humid. I watched the palm trees from the taxi on the way.

“So, this is the tropics,” I said to myself. I used to read about the tropics in various adventure stories. Now I was here in person.

I checked into the Motel. It was beside a football field, in the heart of PJ. They were expecting me. I went upstairs to and unwound. The next day I went to the College. There I met Stan MacFarlane, the Director. He appeared to be a gentleman, conservative and cheerful. Retired but definitely not tired.

I later found that in Canada he used to be the principal of a private school in Peterborough, that was rated as the number one private institution in Canada, from six hundred schools, by the conservative think tank, the Fraser Institute. It did not surprise me. Stan had high standards. He expected – and rightly so – the same from his staff.  

The school was in a shop lot. I went to class the day after arrival. I taught economics, which was my minor in the university. I already had experience teaching it from Canada. The students were polite. They had “Asian values,” I guess. During the break, I went to get a newspaper. To my surprise, there were no newspapers.

“This is strange,” I thought to myself. “No newspapers?” There was a problem and the papers were not delivered that day.

“Oh well,” I thought to myself. I went back.

I found out later that there was a plan to hire non-Mandarin speakers as administrators in Chinese schools.

Taylor’s College

Taylor’s College was a private school, located in PJ. It was started by an Australian fellow. A Malaysian businessman bought it afterwards for four million Malaysian ringgits. The school offered a Canadian Matriculation program, recognized by the Ministry of Education in Ontario, Canada.

The program had two hundred students when I joined. When I left four years on, the enrolment was up to six hundred. It was profitable. In 1988 it was purchased by another party for twenty-two million Malaysian ringgits, payable in shares.

Students were well behaved. There were no disciplinary problems, like I used to have in Canada. I guess it was those “Asian values.” They respected their teachers. It reminded me of a song by Merle Haggard, “Okie from Muskogee.” It’s a song about being traditional. The lyrics mentioned that “the kids still respect the college dean” in Oklahoma.

I could relate to this way of thinking. It wasn’t right for students to address teachers by their first names. I was encounteringtradition. There was a sense of rank in Asia. Not the western egalitarianism I was used to. I think Allan Bloom would have approved.

Accommodation

I took a room, with an air conditioner, near the Sri Aman School, in Section 14 Petaling Jaya. I rented a place nearby. The landlady was Chinese. There was an air conditioner in the room. I paid RM 250 per month. 

I would take a taxi to work every day. I would flag it down at the roundabout near the house. The fare was just about three ringgits one way. The taxis that were used in those days were little diesel vehicles, made in Germany. On the way back, I would also use a taxi.

The old landlady would make me a flask of hot water every morning. There was another tenant living there, a Chinese fellow by the name of Vincent. He worked nearby. He told me that the foreign workers in factories were earning two hundred and twenty ringgits a month. That seemed to be a modest income.

“How can anyone survive on so little money?” I thought to myself.

There were not many unions in Asia. There was a different understanding of human rights. It is a different culture.

I want to go back

I noticed that I sweated a lot. One morning on the way to school, I realized that by the time I reached the outside gate, which was less than ten meters from the house, I had already worked up a sweat.

“I don’t think I can take this heat,” I said to myself. I resolved to tell Stan that I wanted to go back to Canada. I was preparing a little speech to him in my mind.

“Stan,” went the speech, “I’m very sorry, but I don’t think I can take this tropical heat. I think I need to go back to Canada.” I was rephrasing the speech in different ways, trying to minimize the shock for him. After a while, on the way to the College, a thought popped into mi mind:

“Oh, come on, don’t give up so easily. Try a little harder…” a little voice as it were said to me.

“OK, I’ll try harder,” I replied to the voice.

Then I realized that among the reasons I was sweating so much was that I had not adjusted my diet to the tropical climate. I continued to eat pretty much the same food as I consumed in Canada. I took milk, cheese, butter and similar foods, all of which produced a lot of heat. After I changed my diet, I did not sweat as much anymore. I finished the semester.

Dan

The accounting teacher was a person from Canada by the name of Dan. Before coming to Malaysia, Dan taught for nine years in the Bahamas. He had all kinds of tales to tell. The most appalling were bar fights. It was worse than what you generally see in movies. Very violent.

Dan was a ladies’ man. He always had a girlfriend. He would take out his girlfriend on the weekends to KL. He was renting a bungalow in section 14, PJ. He would then rent out rooms to various tenants, mostly expats. I think he made enough on the rentals that he himself did not have to pay any rent.

Chocolate bar

I bought a bar of chocolate and ate it. That evening I developed stomach cramps. I started to feel hot and cold alternatively. The cramps were increasing in both intensity and frequency. I knew something was not right. I kept putting the blanket on myself when the cold spell came. A few minutes later, when I started to feel hot again, I removed the blanket.

This went on until the early morning hour. At a point I thought that I might not make it. At about 4:30 am I realized that the cramps were getting less frequent and less painful, I realized that I would make it after all. Now it was just a matter of waiting it out.

Dan told me later that worms of a specific got into the chocolate during processing. The worms in the chocolate would be dead when the product was finished. But it was not the worms that made you sick.

This particular type of worms, according to a scientist reporting on the matter, produced a particular substance in their bodies, which would protect them against being eaten. Birds would not eat these worms because of this substance. The substance is strychnine. It looks I had strychnine poisoning without realizing it. After that I was extra cautious about buying or eating chocolates.  

Koh Samui

The first summer, in June 1987, Harry the biology teacher was going for a holiday in Koh Samui. I asked him if I could tag along.

“Sure, no problem,” he said.

So, we went by train together. The train trudged out of KL. It was an extended ride, a night train. When we woke up in the morning we were at the border. It took about forty minutes to get through the border. Afterwards it was an additional four hours or so to Surat thani. There we took a boat to the island. It was my introduction to Koh Samui.

Koh Samui is a big island with a ring road approximately fifty kilometers long. There were many resorts on the island. We stayed at the Weekender, run by a retired military officer.

Harry drank Thai whisky at night, and had trouble getting up the following day. He had a bad headache. I did not drink the night before, so I was fine.

Finally, he came out. We rented a motorbike each and went on a ride. It was great. Few people on Samui wear helmets. We didn’t either. One got an exhilarating feeling from the fresh air, a feeling of freedom, blue skies above and the lush greenery all around. I call it the Koh Samui feeling. I think many people experience it, and that’s why they keep going back. But Samui also has a darker side. Stay tuned.

Students

I saw that the students would memorize the notes I wrote for them, and later regurgitate almost verbatimwhat I wrote. I thought I would try a different approach. I gave no notes and told them to write point form notes of what I said.

I guess this did not work very well, because Stan got an irate message from the proprietor, saying the students were unhappy because I would not give them notes. Stan, however, defended me. In any case, I went back to giving them notes, but I put them in point form. I would eventually develop a method where I would write the question in full sentence form but would give the answer to it in point form below. I would also use peer tutoring as a teaching method.

Peer tutoring

This was not something I learned in teacher’s college. Rather it happened from a kind of desperation. I noticed that after explaining a certain topic, a few students would understand it, but most of them did not. I explained it again, in a somewhat different way, and the same thing would happen. A few more students would understand it, but the majority still did not get the point.

One of the students in front who looked as if he had understood it from the beginning started to look a little bored. So, after my third explanation, I turned to him and said,

“Here, why don’t you explain it to them,” and I passed him the whiteboard marker.

The student did an excellent job. After he finished, I asked him to pick another student to go through the material. This went on a few times more until after about five or six different explanations by four or five different people it finally seemed that practically everyone understood the lesson.

It looked a bit like a marathon session where each runner would pass the Olympic torch (pen) to the next person. It was very dynamic. It was also entertaining, because the students made a few jokes along the way. They paid extra attention when a friend of theirs did the explaining, rather than the teacher. I merely observed the entire proceedings from the back. The class became lively. It was a spectacle. Who says learning is no fun?

I used this method ever since afterwards in my work as a teacher. An inspector from Ontario who witnessed it complimented me and gave me a rating of “good. Later, Stan also gave me an excellent reference.

Shah Alam

After a while I wanted a little more privacy. I rented an apartment – a flat – in section six, in Shah Alam. I bought a motorcycle for the purpose of transportation. The flat was fully furnished and air conditioned. The owner was some Indian fellow. The Chines lady was not happy to see me go. So, I would commute every day from Shah Alam to the College.

I remember one time a friend from Canada came to see me in Shah Alam. One night I heard loud banging on my door, with someone shouting my name. I opened the door and it was my friend. He was of Korean background. He told me that in South Korea, at least at that time, you could not buy a house with a bank loan. Either you had the money, or you had to go without a house.

He stayed in Malaysia for a day or two. We had an evening meal in Damansara Utama. Then he flew on to Canada. He was on his way back to from a trip to South Korea and made a stopover in Malaysia. It was good to see him.

Shah Alam Club

After I finished my first year at the College, I was thinking whether to stay or not. I kind of felt isolated in Shah Alam. I did not know anyone there, except a Chinese lady who was selling flowers at the PKNS complex in Shah Alam. I asked her if she could help me get a membership in the Shah Alam Club. The Club had good facilities, several restaurants, a library and an Olympic-sized swimming pool. I made my decision whether to remain in Malaysia contingent on being accepted into the Club.

I was accepted. The lady’s husband recommended me to become a member. This way, I was able to go for a swim in the mornings before heading to PJ to teach. I purchased a second-hand motorbike for the purpose of transportation back and forth.

Bill

Among interesting the characters I met at Taylor’s was Bill. He had an interesting story of his own. He was from a wealthy Toronto family. He was very intelligent and used to “hang out” with the Yves Saint Laurent crowd in New York.

Apparently, he borrowed money from a businessman in New York to start a business. He went to see the businessman on the recommendation of a well-known Canadian builder. Bill bought a box of cigars for the businessman.

He also mortgaged his own house and took a bank loan. With the money he rented space and bought a machine that made paper cups. His cost was about seven cents a cup, and he used to sell them for about thirteen cents.

Then the Canada-Us Free Trade Agreement came into effect, and an American company started to compete with him. The American company’s sale price of four cents was lower than Bill’s unit cost of seven cents.

The reason was that the American company had a bigger machine which could make twenty-four cups with each press than Bill’s machine, which could make just sixteen cups with each press. In other words, the American company could realize what are known as “economies of scale.”

One day Bill met his friend who invested US $ 600,000 in Bill’s venture at the airport. The businessman already heard what happened to Bill. Nevertheless, he seemed to have taken it in stride. Upon meeting Bill, the man simply said:

“Hey Bill, that was the most expensive box of cigars I ever got!” Such is life.

One day Bill disappeared. He was missing for a few weeks. Then he just as suddenly re-appeared.  He looked shaken. I thought he might have broken up with his partner. He was wearing a white glove. A few days he disappeared for the second time, and I never saw him again. Dan later told me what happened:

“Bill was diagnosed with AIDS,” he said. A few weeks afterwards I heard that Bill died.

Motorbike accident

One weekend evening a friend of mine called me from KL.

“Hey Leslie, what are you doing?” Steve said.

“Ah, just relaxing at home. Watching TV,” I said.

“Why don’t you join us in KL?” he said. I thought about it for a moment. Then I said:

“OK, I’m on the way.” I hopped on the bike and started riding to KL. It was eight pm. As I was riding along the Batu Tiga Road, the skyline of KL emerged in the distance.

“What a beautiful sight,” I thought to myself.

Before I even finished this thought, I felt that the bike began to descend into the ground.

“How can this be?” I thought to myself.

I felt a major jolt. The bike ran into a barrier. I flew off the bike into the air. I realized that I had hit a pothole. In fact, I knew which pothole it was, as I have seen it before and always managed to avoid it. This time, in the dark, I just forgot about it.

I flew in the air, expecting the inevitable. It wasn’t long in coming. I hit the road and bounced on it several times until I slowly came to a stop. I was shocked. My first reaction was to deny what was happening.

“This is not happening to me,” I said to myself.

As I said this, I felt as it were a dark shadow emerging from behind and gradually covering whatever was visible. In about two or three seconds, the darkness would hide everything.

I realized that I was about to fall unconscious. Being in the center of the road, it was not a good idea to fall unconscious. I also realized – in a matter of split seconds – that it was the unwillingness to face reality that was about to make me fall unconscious. I knew that to remain conscious, I had to accept reality.

“No,” I contradicted myself, “This is happening to me.” As I said that, the dark edge that was just forty degrees from the ground, stopped, and began to recede. I knew at that moment I would remain conscious.

I gathered myself together, bleeding, and dragged the bike to the side of the road. A security guard from a place nearby helped me with the bike. I left it with him for a few days. I said I would come back for it later, and that in the meantime he could use it.  

He called me a taxi. I went to a “clinic” where I received first aid. This particular lady, however, placed the bandages directly on the wounds with the sand still in them. I could not believe my eyes but said nothing. In a few hours I would go to a proper hospital.  

I went back to sleep, as I was exhausted. The following morning, I called Stan telling him what happened and that I would be late for work. I then took a taxi to a hospital. It was Assunta, in PJ. There I finally received proper treatment.

Assunta Hospital

There was a nurse, in her early twenties, working in Assunta. She replaced my dressings for about a week or so. I would drop by at the hospital on the way to work. The hospital appeared to have decent facilities.

After a few days, I no longer had to have my arm in a sling. I improved. After this experience, I changed the bike for a car. It was a second-hand Renault 1.0. I had it fixed up a by a mechanic in PJ. Raj the mechanic was a cheerful fellow and fixed my Renault for a reasonable price.

Samui

After two years at the College, I thought I would write a book. I would do it in Samui. I did not quite know what book I would write. It was April, 1989. I handed in my resignation and prepared to go to Samui. I would drive up there with the Renault. It turned out to be quite an adventure. Stay tuned.

Koh Samui 1989 to 1990

Walk on the wild side

This is different from what I narrated before. Different from growing up under socialism in the East or adjusting to capitalism in the West. This is Asia. A different world, environment, and culture.

The past in this part of the world lingers everywhere. In the temples, in the customs, in the people. I think it’s called tradition. There was a sense of rankhere. Not your Western style egalitarianism. It was like stepping into a forgotten past and an uncertain future – at the same time.

Thailand, they say, is a land of smiles. Indeed. The name means “land of the free.” Liberals should feel right at home there. But beware. Someone wrote a book called “The Killing Smile.” Another person wrote “The Beach.”

From what I understand, these books display an aspect of Thailand that a person hardly notices when he or she goes there as a tourist. I can certainly attest to the fact that my experience as an aspiring entrepreneur was radically different from my experience as a tourist.

As a tourist, you put your money on the line. As an entrepreneur, you must raise the stakes. You put your life on the line, too. That does not mean that tourists may relax. Many a tourist also did not make it back.

Samui

Samui is a tourist island in Thailand, a nation in South Asia with a population of about eighty million. Thailand is a monarchy. It has never been colonized. The Thai people are attached to their King.

There are four main beaches there: Chaweng, Lamai, Bophut and Maenam. I generally go to Lamai, close the Big Rock. Tourists from all over the world travel there in droves every year.

Samui changed. It developed to a greater extent than before. A couple of neighboring island were added for tourism from that time, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.

Samui is wild. I straightaway appreciated it. There was freedom and few rules. But this does not mean no rules. People for example generally do not wear helmets when riding motorbikes. A few of those rules are unwritten. People who plan to stay longer should know those unwritten rules.

I think it was the motorcycle rides that did it. During a school vacation Harry and I rented a bike each and went for a ride on the ring road. The air was fresh, the breeze was invigorating, the sky was blue and the palm trees alongside the roadside were a dark green, happily reflecting the sunlight on their leaves, as if returning a greeting from the sun. It was a fine feeling. I call it the “Koh Samui feeling.”

I think other people experience it too, and that is why the island has become so popular. Of course, it is not what it used to be, but it still retains a degree of its charm.

It was the pristine beauty of the island that attracted me to the point that I even wanted to live there. I think you have to experience it to believe it. You can see Samui on YouTube, and there are many photos and blogs on the Internet about it. You can even travel there, if you can afford it. But be careful.

For Samui has a dark side. First, the ring road was described to me as a dangerous road by a professional sportsman from Montreal, Canada, whom we met on the ferry. A bookseller agreed. The death-rate rate is high, especially as people do not wear helmets, and typically drive back to their resorts drunk, especially late at night. Someone told me that a person on average dies on Samui every day. I myself had two motorcycle accidents there. Luckily, neither was too serious.

School Vacation

I first heard about Samui from a Canadian friend, Neil Thompson. We met in the Campus Co-op in Toronto, co-operative housing at the University of Toronto, where we stayed. He traveled through South Asia, including Thailand, in 1984.

After he heard that I was going to Malaysia, he advised me to visit Koh Samui. I did that during my first school break, in June 1987, with a Harry a friend from City College. Harry was a biology teacher there.

We checked into the Weekender on Lamai. Harry opened a bottle of Thai Mekong whisky. I did not drink. It was peaceful there. I had trouble getting Harry out of bed next morning. I showed up as agreed, but he was still in bed.

Harry, good morning!” I shouted in front of his bungalow. First there was silence. I shouted again:

“Hey Harry! Come on, wake up!” I heard a rustling sound come out of the bungalow and then a sound you would expect from someone in pain.

“Aargh,” Harry muttered. “It’s that whisky!” He added. Harry had a terrible hangover. He emerged from the bungalow, looking very pale.

“I’ll need a bit of time to get ready,” he said.

“That’s fine,” I replied, “I’ll wait for you in the restaurant. After he showed up, we went out to see one of the waterfalls on Samui.

The Thai Mekong whisky is among the many hazards awaiting the unsuspecting. I heard once from a Dutch acquaintance that one of his friends sent a bottle of Mekong whisky to another friend, who worked in a laboratory.

After they performed tests on the whisky, the fellow from the lab sent a printout to his friend on Thailand of what was in the whisky apart from alcohol. The list was long, and apparently had just about every toxic and banned substance known to man. After seeing the printout, the man who asked for the report never touched whisky again.

Writer

What transpired on Samui in the year 1989 to 1990? I set out to write a book, and gained knowledge regarding business, friendship, and existence. What follows is an account of what happened during this particular time.

After teaching in Malaysia for two years, in the Canadian matriculation program at Taylor’s College, I felt I wanted to write. So, in May 1989 I went off to write my book. Samui had everything I wanted, except the kind of bread I like. I thought I would make my own.

This was not just any kind of bread; it was sourdough rye bread, nutritious bread containing all essential and non-essential amino acids. No sooner did I think of baking bread, I had the thought of making a few extra loaves and selling them for to a few friends. This would help defray my expenses. So that’s how it started.

First, I had to do was to find a bungalow. I went around the island on a motorbike, checking every affordable resort one by one, until I finally found one. It was during this search that I met Markus. He would be my first customer.

Markus was from Dusseldorf, Germany, where he used to work in a music store. He was running a resort called Cozy. The resort was located on the beach near Ban Hua Thanon. It attracted a fairly cosmopolitan clientele, but most of the people were from Germany.

He had ten bungalows and a restaurant. He had a lease for nine years. His Thai partner was a teacher. Markus had a proper agreement with his partner, arranged by his father, and prepared by a top law firm in Bangkok.

He rented the bungalows for about 100 to 150 Thai baht per day. He used to play reggae at Cozy, for example Lee Perry and the Upsetters. There was a pretty relaxed atmosphere there. He gave me a few tips on the way to make the bread.

I met Markus at Cozy, near the beach. He was talking to Sau, his cook, one day late in the afternoon. He said something about the “losers” that come to Thailand for one purpose only … I could not agree with him more. I thought he was right.

Things weren’t entirely easy for him either. Once somebody set fire to tree of four of his bungalows. I saw the flames. Perhaps some competitors were trying to put him out of business. He rebounded quickly, and his morale appeared unaffected. The bungalows were rebuilt within a few days.

Another time someone extended a wire across a path he used to take on his motorbike. A person hitting the wire would be seriously injured. He saw the wired, however, and avoided it.

The neighboring people apparently wanted the land on which Cozy stood. A few rough looking characters tried to scare Markus. It did not work. A small man showed up once, known to everyone as “the gunman.” I think he was a friend of Ed.

He came once when the rough chaps were sitting in the restaurant. When they saw him, they became visibly disconcerted. Shortly afterwards they paid their bill, left and I never saw them again. I think the mere presence of the gunman” sent a message to them.

Writer’s block

After I found the bungalow, I sat down with the intention of starting to write. But no ideas would come. I simply could not get started. I think I had the proverbial “writer’s block.” To make matters worse, I saw a fellow a few bungalows to my left on the beach, facing the sea, writing furiously.

After several attempts, I could not stand it anymore. I went over to him, introduced myself and politely asked him what he was writing about.

“I am writing about Zen Buddhism,” he said. “I am a teacher at a commune in Spain, and I am preparing some material for our members.” That was interesting. We chatted for a while.

It turned out that we both hated Margaret Thatcher and we agreed on a few other things. After that I went back to my bungalow and thought what to do next. I decided to put the idea of writing on hold for a while and proceed with the bakery.

I realized later that my mistake was not that I wanted to write a book, but rather that I wanted to write the wrong kind of book. For when I was sitting out there facing the sea, racking my brains about what to write, I was thinking about writing a novel.

After I went back to teaching, I realized that what I had to write about what was nearest to my mind, what I felt passionate about. These were various issues that I had to face in teaching. For the curriculum did not ask, let alone address,allpertinent issues, and a few concerns that I developed about education, including my own.

So, what I had to write was a kind of “extracurricular reflections.” And this, thank God, I did eventually write two years later, in 1992. I even had an offer to publish the book by The General Store Publishing House. However, I turned down the offer.

These thoughts were gathered in the first edition of the book under the title “Second Thoughts.” In the second edition of the book they appear under the title “Philosophical Reflections.” In fact, the reader may find this book on this website under the same title.

Bakery

It was at Cozy Resort that I met my future business “partner,” Ed. She was a university graduate in economics. She was short, and reasonably well spoken. I thought I could trust her.

I named my bakery “My Bread and Butter.” Mother sent me a poster from Canada with Pressburg on it. I hung it up in the bakery in a prominent place.

Ed helped me rent a place on Lamai, at the cost of 3,000 baht per month. We went to Bangkok in the Renault, where we bought rye and white flour. I bought way too much, a few bags. That was due no doubt to my lack of experience.

On my way to Bangkok I met a man from the US in Chumphon, a city of about 30,000 people about 500 km south of Bangkok. When I told him about my plans in Samui, he said:

“Ah, I heard that’s the place where people disappear.” This was not a comforting thought.

The rye flour was delivered as promised, but the white flour did not arrive. Apparently, it was delivered to the island, but the people who received it did not forward it to the shop. I had to buy the white flour on the island. Welcome to the world of business.

I bought a fridge, a stove, and baking utensils. I remember baking the first loaf at Cozy. I put the bread to rise in the sun. A dog came and took a few bites. Perhaps this was sign of what would transpire subsequently.

I tried again. This time I did not leave the bread to rise in where any animals could easily get at it. I started to bake my first bread. I took it to Markus. The bread was a bit hard.

“Well, the bread is a bit hard, but the taste is there.” I felt relieved. I went back and tried again.

After a few tries I was getting better results. I went on to experiment with buns. I took the buns to Cozy. The customers snatched most of them from the plate even before I managed to deliver them to the counter. It looked promising. Markus was a reliable customer and a mentor of sorts to me. I trusted him.

Partnership dissolved

After giving my “partner” money to buy a baking oven, she never went to Bangkok to buy it. She kept making excuses about how she had to take care of her mother. I finally realized that she did not intend to buy the oven, nor give me my money back. At that point, I knew my business adventure was over. I decided to go back to Canada and told Markus accordingly.

When she saw me winding down the shop, she returned and even threatened to shoot me.

“The fridge and the stove are in my name,” she claimed. “I can shoot you, I have a gun,” she added.

 “Great,” I thought to myself. “With partners like that, who needs enemies.”

I think she was enraged by the fact that I did not give her the few appliances in the shop. A couple of Americans bought my fridge and someone else bought the stove. I sold my stereo earlier in Nathon to a French fellow operating a restaurant. It was a sad end to my adventure in Samui. I told Markus about Ed threatening me.

“Actually, she does have a gun,” he said “and tried to shoot another guy with it. I was there,” he said. “I grabbed the gun from her hand in the last moment. She is crazy,” he added.

There was a Hungarian fellow that she apparently also tried to bamboozle. He made the mistake of showing her some money and she proposed some business deal where he may have lost some money.

Another one of her victims was a Swiss man from whom she borrowed 45,000 baht but never paid back. When he realized that he was not getting his money back, he looked quite downcast. She bought a motorcycle with the money and added it to her little fleet of half a dozen motorcycles that she was renting at the going rate on the island, 150 baht per day.

Puum

I gave the remaining flower to my friend, Puum, the owner of Sunrise bungalow on Lamai. Her father was a fisherman, but they gradually entered the resort business. Her bungalows are family owned and were among the first to be constructed on Samui. She had many offers to buy her resort, including one from the well-known singer Beyonce. Puum, however, refused to sell. It is at this bungalow that we normally stay when we travel to Samui.

Man from Sweden

I heard various tales from the past while I was in Samui during that period from June 1989 to April, 1990. One of them was relayed to me by a Swedish neighbor of mine. He stayed right across the laneway that separated us on the road to Lamai. He held a PhD in biochemistry and was an excellent chess player. He was operating a restaurant with his Thai partner, a rather fierce lady.

We played a few games but I never won. When he told me that he had the ranking of an International Master, and that he played chess for two years full time when he was unemployed once, I knew I had no chance. He complimented me once though, when he said after one particular game:

“The first sixteen moves you made in the game were exactly the right moves.” I guess I must have slipped up on the twenty-fourth move.

He told me that in 1984 there was another Swedish fellow on Lamai, who opened the first restaurant managed by a foreigner. There were four or five additional restaurants there, all locally managed.

The man had a Thai wife and a daughter, three or four years old. They also had a Thai maid working there. His restaurant became the most popular on the beach. He was making a decent living. I guess somebody got jealous of his success, because of what happened next.

“One night, some gunmen came and shot the whole family down,” my friend from Sweden told me. “The man, wife, child and even the maid was murdered.”

That was shocking, I thought, but not altogether unusual, as I gradually discovered later. Business rivalries are at times settled with violence. I guess this holds true for quite a few places in the world.

“Nine months later,” my Swedish friend continued, “thirteen men came from Sweden. They included four professionals.”

“What do you mean by professionals?” I asked.

“Well, you know, people who handle firearms, explosives, and so on.” I gathered these men were from the ‘underworld’ in Sweden. I did not realize until then, that Sweden – the country with such a squeaky-clean reputation – also had an ‘underworld.’

“So, what happened then?” I asked.

“In a few days, all the bars on Lamai burned to the ground,” he said, “and the owners were not in a position to talk about what happened.”

I asked what he meant buy the last remark, but he would not elaborate. He only repeated what he said. So, I left it at that, thinking that the owners of the restaurants that burned down did not know what happened. I suppose the deceased must have had some friends in Sweden who did not take kindly to what happened to their friend.

Igor

This happened while I was on Samui. One of the things I really liked about Samui is that it had plenty of second-hand bookstores. One in particular stood out. It was located on the “middle street” in Nathon, the town in Samui.

It was a large bookstore, and I immediately recognized my favorite classics there. There was Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, and Orwell. The bookstore even had a small area where a person might have a coffee. The best part, as I thought at the time, was the bookseller himself. He had an Eastern-European accent, so I asked him where he was from.

“I am from Canada,” he replied laconically.

“But originally?” I persisted.

“Originally I am from Czechoslovakia,” he said.

So, I told him that I also came from the two countries he mentioned. We talked some more. He had a Thai wife, her name was Bayem. She came from northern Thailand, so she was not as well-protected by tribal custom as a Samui person.

It turned out that he owned two more, albeit smaller shops, both in Nathon. One of them was located in a little laneway where there were many shops selling clothing, music cassettes, sunglasses, travel bags and so on. The wife “manned this little shop, while Igor worked in the main shop. The third shop was managed by a hired person, a young Thai fellow.

One day Igor told me that the wife was threatened by the owners of the shop across the laneway. A lady came over to Bayem and said:

“You cannot sell those cassettes here at 23 baht each,” she hissed. “You must sell at the same price as the rest of us, 25 baht, or else,” she made a sign with her hand to signify that Bayem’s throat would be cut if she did not comply. I guess this was a case of price fixing. However, Igor’s wife ignored the threat.

A few weeks subsequently, Igor came the resort where I was staying, looking very agitated.

“My wife was murdered,” he informed me. “Two men in police uniforms pulled her over on her motorbike this morning as she was going to work. One of them shot her. One bullet hit her in the neck. The other bullet went into her forehead. She is dead.” I shuddered.

“And none of the neighbors saw anything or hear anything,” he added.

“Oh my God,” I said to myself, “not this.”

“I think they are after me too,” he continued. “I can’t go back to my house. They might be waiting for me there. Can I stay here tonight?” he asked.

“Of course, you can stay,” I replied.

So, Igor stayed the night in the resort. The following day he went to another resort. He did this for a few days after the death of his wife, until he felt confident to return to his house.

After this, I did not see him again until we met again in Ottawa in 1998, where he lived and where I also temporarily moved with my wife and daughter.

“So Bayem lost her life because of two baht, I thought to myself. “How cheap can life get?”

Shooting on Lamai

One day Markus and I were chatting near one of his bungalows at Cozy, when we heard the siren of the ambulance screaming in the distance.

“Ah, another accident,” I said. Later Markus went to Lamai on his motorbike. He came back in about half an hour.

“There was a shooting on Lamai,” he said. “Three dead, including the shooter.” Then he explained what happened.

“There were three people, two Germans and an Italian. Initially, the two Germans were partners. They ran a bar on Lamai.” I remembered that bar. It was full of mirrors. Right on “Main Street.”

“So, what happened?” I asked.

“Well, this Italian fellow showed up, and became friends with one of the two partners. The German chap then decided to become partners with the Italian fellow, leaving his former partner out in the cold, so to speak. It looks like he told his former partner to get lost. The trouble was that he still owed his ex-partner 2,000 baht. Apparently, he did not want to pay it back.”

“Oops,” I said.

“Yea, oops. The German ex-partner took a firearm and went to confront his former partner in the bar on Lamai. He again demanded his money. When the ex-partner refused to pay, the man pulled the gun and shot both his ex-partner and the Italian fellow dead right on the spot. Then he shot himself, too.” I was shocked.

“He used three bullets to kill three people.” Markus added. “He knew how to shoot.”

“How is that?” I asked.

“The man was in the army before. I guess he learned how to shoot while he was there. He was from East Germany,” Markus added.

“Wow, I said to myself. Three people dead over 2000 baht? How crazy can people get?” I thought.

There were additional stories. There was another man from Germany who started a restaurant on Lamai. I was there; it was an excellent restaurant. The young man was exceptionally polite. He came to our table and inquired:

“How is the food?” he said.

“Excellent, thank you, I replied. I guess appearances can be deceiving, because one day he simply disappeared into thin air.

“What happened to the fellow that was running the German restaurant on Lamai?” I asked Markus.

“Oh, it turns out that he borrowed 600, 000 marks from a bank and did not pay back. The bank hired detectives who tracked him down. They then asked the Thai authorities to arrest him and hand him over.

They arrested him but did not immediately hand him over to Interpol. When he refused to buy his way out, they handed him to detectives who brought him back to Germany, where he is facing a trial for cheating the bank. He’ll probably be in prison for a few years.”

“Oh, so I guess that’s not the best way way to start a business,” I said.

“Definitely not,” Markus said.

“So, there it was, another business gone down the drain,” I said to myself. “I guess this business got off to a wrong start from the beginning. That’s definitely not the way to start a business.”

Another tale concerns a Swiss man. I heard it from Bjorg, a young man, also from Switzerland. Bjorg lived on the island. He was an occasional customer in my shop. He seemed to be a ladies’ man. He always looked relaxed and carefree.

“How does he do it,” I said to myself. Bjorg said that a fellow from Switzerland rented land, for the purpose of building a resort on it. The trouble was he paid all the rent in advance, for a total of nine years and he paid it in cash. In the evening, he celebrated the agreement with the landlord.

“They drank whisky. By the morning, he was dead,” Bjorg said. I could see distress in Bjorg’s eyes as he said that. He was friends with the deceased.

“His body was incredibly swollen. I saw it,” he added. So how did the man die? Was any foul play involved? I don’t know.

“Swelling of the body like that is one of the signs of strychnine poisoning,” Bjorg said.

Then there is the tale of the Thai lady who ran a bar. One day she decided to sell it. The trouble was, however, that she did not sell it just to one buyer; she sold it to three different buyers, simultaneously. They were all foreigners. In this way, she received three times more than what the bar was worth. I guess the buyers were cheated.

None of the buyers was aware of the others. So, when they showed up to claim the bar, they were in for a surprise. There were two other buyers claiming ownership of the bar. Another story, another lesson. What more can I say?

This is a story of a man who wanted to open a supermarket on Chaweng beach. The owner of the existing supermarket did not want any competition. He warned the fellow from Nathon not to do it:

“If you open a supermarket on Chaweng, I will kill you,” he reportedly said.

The man from Nathon went ahead with the supermarket anyway. As he showed up with a contractor and they started to measure the land, a gunman came along and shot both to death on the spot.

Two young men opened a shop renting ping-pong tables to customers on Lamai. They rented some space, bought a couple of table tennis tables, some bats, and though they were in business.

However, a few days later two men armed with M16s showed up and said, pointing the weapons in the faces of the young men:

“Tomorrow You leave.” They left.

It may be that the young men started their business without a local partner.

A man and wife from Holland bought a boat and, with a local partner started to rent it to customers. Then the Dutch partner and wife had to return to Holland for a while. The local partner was supposed to keep renting the boat, and perhaps he did.

However, when the Dutch partners returned, the local partner did not give them any share of the proceeds of the rental. The foreign partner became angry and started to beat their partner. They beat his so badly he died from his injuries. The Dutch couple were convicted with murder and went in jail.

But there are also a few “success stories.” There is Erik on Lamai, who has been running a restaurant there for a few years already. Erik is from Sweden. He and Markus are tennis partners. Markus also has his breakfast at Erik’s place.

Another success story is that of a German young man who runs a restaurant, Kokomiko, on the main rad not far from Lamai. One can get a decent meal there for less than two hundred baht. There are also a few French bakeries that have been around for some time and a newly opened Italian bakery near Chaweng.

Motorcycle mama from France

On one of our visits we met an interesting couple at the French Bakery in Lamai. This was the bakery with the garden rather than the one closer to the Lamai Cultural Centre, as there are two French bakeries on Lamai. French bakeries are popular on Samui; there are about half a dozen of them on the island.

As we were sitting there with my wife and daughter, having our breakfast, a couple came along. It was a lady in her thirties accompanied by a young man who looked to be in his twenties. They were looking for a place to sit. Our table was about the only one that still had space for additional customers.

“Please, I said,” pointing to the empty places at our table. The woman nodded and they both sat down. We started chatting.

“We are members of Los Bandidos from France,” said the woman.

“Ah, I said, Los Bandidos,” I said, as I glanced at her companion. He looked at me and said:

“Sorry, I no speak good English.”

Samui was becoming popular with motorcycle clubs. They were a pleasant couple, appearing to be quite civilized. My wife was wearing a headscarf so it was obvious that they were Muslims. Pointing to my family I said anyway:

“We are Muslim people.” The woman nodded as she looked at my wife.

Then I said something to the effect that Islam is in substance the same faith as that sent to Moses and Jesus.

“It’s the same religion,” the woman said. I was amazed at the insight of this motorcycle mama. Then I told them various tales from Samui, which are also recounted in this book. I thought that they might have been contemplating doing business there. I told them the story about the man from Sweden, for example, and a few others.

Island of the Rising Sun

So, was there anything to learn from the above? I was listening to the song “The House of the Rising Sun.” I realized from the words that they applied to an extent to me and my education – the proverbial “school of hard knocks” – in Koh Samui. “O mother, tell your children not to do what I have done …” Indeed. It reminded me of an experience I had during an early trip.

I stayed in a hotel for the night in Hat Yai. Then I would drive the rest of the way the following day. I checked in a place and sat there, thinking what to do. I wanted to change my lifestyle. I wanted to focus on my project, which was to write the book. I did not want to be distracted. Then I had an interesting experience. It was as if a discussion was taking place. A voice was telling me:

“Go out and enjoy yourself.”

“But I don’t want to go.” I replied by saying. The voice said:

“If you don’t go out, you know what will happen. You’ll sit here and get depressed.” I thought about it for a while. Then, as I turned and reached for the book behind me, I replied:

“I don’t care.”

At that point the room lit up. It became perceptibly brighter, as if a 100-watt malfunctioning bulb behind me suddenly lit up. I turned around to look at the bulb. I had a surprise. There was no bulb. Then I realized what happened. I said to myself:

“I think I saw the light.”

This was no usual light. This was “enlightenment.” Any feelings of depression vanished instantly. It was amazing.

The experience reminded me of what a friend, Art Krause, once told me. He had a comparable experience. Art lived in a teepee tent on a farm near the university. I tried to talk him into taking up philosophy. When I asked why he became religious, he simply said:

“I saw the light.”

When I heard this, I had a hard time believing it. Not anymore. This may be difficult to believe for people who have not experienced this. But it is true.

Malaysia 1999 to 2018

Sunway College

My brother helped us again and we were on the way to Malaysia. I was a different person. Life at the College was as usual. John Futa was the Head of the Program.

We got a house near Sunway. I still recall the haze, and the call of the paper collector, “Paper lama, paper lama,” meaning “old paper.” I bought our daughter a bicycle.

My health was fine, except I remember that getting up in the mornings was a struggle as I felt stiff. I remembered the motto in the Montfort Boys’ Town, where orphaned children were cared for by Henry, the last survivor of a French missionary order.

I met Henry personally earlier, when I visited the Town on a school trip on the advice of Stan Macfarlane, while I was with Taylor’s College. The motto said, “I must, I can.” It was probably to encourage the children to be strong. So, I also encouraged myself with the words, “I must, I can.” It worked.

Chris, his wife and their two boys were going to Saudi Arabia, where his wife got a position teaching optometry. He offered to rent us his house together with an Iswara for RM 1000 per month. I accepted the offer.

So, we moved from the house where we settled to section 2/4H, in Subang Jaya. They returned in 2003, after the terrorist attacks in Riyadh. Many died and were injured. The wife wanted to return immediately.

I became extra aware faith-wise. When I saw the headlines on 12 Sep. 2001, a day after 9/11. When I saw a picture of the burning buildings, I knew war was on the way.

Toronto

As intended to do a PhD in Canada, I had to get my unfinished MA, which was in an administrative limbo for eighteen years. During the school break, I returned to get the MA. This was in August, 1999. I stayed in a hostel on Danforth Ave., in Toronto.

The following day, I went downstairs to the porch. I enjoyed being back in Toronto. Sitting on the bench beside me was a chap from the UK. We chatted. I told him a bit about Islam. He seemed interested.

“If you understand Islam and Christianity properly, there is no tension between them.” I said.  “It is actually a reiteration of the teachings of Moses and Jesus.” I added. I went on in this way for a while. Then he said:

“Well, the fact that you turned to Islam shows that it is not just people from Muslim majority nations that are Muslims.” He was right. Islam, properly understood, is a universal faith.

While in Toronto, I went to see the Dean of Graduate Studies. He was a pleasant fellow. I told him what I was there for, and explained that I wanted the degree, which I felt was unjustly withheld from me.

 “I am willing to go all the way to the top,” I told him, looking into his eyes intently. Then I added, “If I have to.” I think he understood what I meant. However, he said:

“Why didn’t you do this earlier?” A good question.

“Well, I guess I could have been wiser about this thing,” admitting that I was partly to blame for the delay. He then advised me to talk to the Chairman of the Political Science Department. While, there I saw a Muslim employee with a headscarf working for the administration.

Afterwards, I stayed in Sudbury for a few days. I called the University of Toronto Political Science Department from Sudbury. The people at the University of Toronto were helpful.

I first called the Chairman of the Department. He turned out to be one of my former classmates, a favorite student of Allan Bloom. The former classmate used to sit across the table from me in Bloom’s class.

After Toronto, he went to do a PhD in American Government at Harvard. Then he was hired by the University of Toronto. He was from England and had an English accent. He remembered me from the class. I told him what happened.

 “Just write down what you said to me in an email, and I’ll forward this matter to the MA supervisor, Ronald Beiner,” he said. I did that. He gave me Beiner’s phone number. Ronald Beiner was a human rights specialist in the Department.

Beiner asked me if I still had the paper I wrote in the English course (on film) I took with Jozef Skvorecky, the Czech expatriate writer. I told him I did. After returning to Malaysia, I found it and mailed a copy to him. After a few days I called him. He said:

“I read your paper and I think it adds up to a Master’s degree.” That was good news.

“We’ll put you on the fall graduating list, your degree will be ready in October,” He added.

“Wow, I said to myself, after eighteen years, I will finally get my MA.” There is a bit of a story behind the delay. I was getting restless at the University of Toronto and wanted to study film. I guess the idea of mass communication attracted me.

So, after I completed the course with Alan Bloom, I took another on film with Jozef Skvorecky, an expatriate writer in the English Department at Innis College.

However, the film program in Concordia University in Montreal also did not appeal to me, so I returned to Toronto to finish the MA. I did one more course in political theory, with Thomas Pangle.

I managed an “A minus” on my paper on the “royal prerogative,” in Locke’s Second Treatise. Yet still I could not feel sufficiently motivated to carry on.

I expected that the course on film would count toward my degree, as I was assured by Matthews, the Chairman at the time. However, Matthews could not be contacted at the time I was inquiring why I was not among the graduates, as he went to his cottage and there was no telephone there. That was before cellphones became widely used. So, I was upset.

The person who became Chairman later, a fellow by the name of Fenn, apparently disagreed. Not only he did not recommend me for graduation but, as I learned subsequently, he entered an “F” on my transcript for a course with C.B. Macpherson, which I did not complete due to financial reasons. Fenn later died of cancer.

“Well, if this is how the Department of Political Science does this, “I said to the secretary, maybe I do not want this degree,” and I walked out of the graduate office, thinking this was the end of my academic pursuits. It was unwise. I acted like a brash young man.

Years later, I realized that I should return to the university after all. As I needed a PhD, I asked for the “F” to be removed and replaced with an “Inc.” signifying “Incomplete.”

The Political Science Department granted my request, and as a result I have a “cleaner” transcript. I had money problems at the U of T because I did not get a scholarship.

I did not get the OGS (Ontario Graduate Scholarship) because I did not apply for it. And I did not apply for it because I did not know about it. Neither did I know that, with an 80% average in the final two semesters of undergraduate studies, I was automatically eligible for it.

I guess this is part of the immigrant’s story. We needed to find our way. People would not always volunteer information. I found out about my eligibility for the scholarship from my thesis supervisor at Guelph, but only years afterwards.

“By the way, why did you not apply for an OGS?” he asked me when I visited him in Guelph.”

“What is an OGS?” I asked. He briefly explained. Then he added:

“You were eligible, by the way.”

“Great, only now he is telling me,” I thought to myself. “I wish he told me this at the time.” Overall the trip went well. I achieved what I set out to do. After my business in Canada was finished, I returned to Malaysia. Soon I was on the plane back to Malaysia.

Malaysia

I applied into the PhD program from Malaysia two years in a row, but in both instances, I was unsuccessful. There were one hundred and thirty and one hundred and twenty applicants, respectively for twenty fully funded PhD students. In retrospect, I realized this was no great loss, as I was interested in Islam.

It was during this time at Sunway that I became friends with the late Professor Syed Hussein. He has written several books. I knew him as a person of integrity. He also had a brilliant intellect and was an excellent debater. I was introduced to him by Suleiman Dufford, an American convert.

Professor and I got to know each other well. I used to visit him once a week, on Thursday evenings, for about a year. He would call me on Wednesday and I would go over the next day, at 10 pm. We would talk at times until 3:30 am.

He would start by making me a coffee and then he would light up a pipe. I learned a lot from him. He was familiar with the work of Leo Strauss. He came across his books when he was studying in Holland, and he read all of them. He said:

“If a person told me that Strauss was a Muslim, I would have easily believed it.”

Suleiman had in remarkable life, too. His father had a brewery in Texas but lost. When he found out that Suleiman travelled in Afghanistan, where he became a Muslim, he said:

“What? You went to Afghanistan? Now you will never get a job with the government.” In any case, upon hearing of his son’s conversion to Islam, Suleiman’s father – in Suleiman’s word – disowned him.

One day, Terry, the Director of the Program called me into his office and said:

“Leslie, I heard that you are making statements of a political and religious nature in your class.” I was surprised.

“May I hear any examples of such statements? Could I see some evidence?” I enquired.

“Oh, come on Leslie, we are not into evidence here, it is the perception that counts,” he said.

He wanted me to leave the Program straight away, but I asked at least to finish the semester. He agreed. In the meantime, I appealed to the administration but received no reply from either of two persons. After that, I was out of work, and planned to open a tuition center in Kelantan.

Islamic Science University of Malaysia

After leaving Sunway, I had the idea of opening a tuition center in Kelantan. Why Kelantan? It seemed to be a peaceful place and I had a rather romanticized view of this state.

However, I visited the Director of an Islamic university in KL. He asked me if I would be willing to join them. I said I would. I was invited to a meeting with the university.

The Deputy rector chaired the meeting. Also present were the Chief Librarian, the Head of Finance, the Registrar, and a couple of secretaries. They looked at three degrees and asked me about my remuneration in the private sector. I answered all questions. The Finance person asked me if I believed in teaching grammar.

“At least a third of the course should be spent on teaching grammar,” I said.

It seemed to sit well with her. I was also asked if I believed in teaching literature, for example Shakespeare.

“Oh absolutely, I said. Reading good literature is one of the best ways to learn a language.” The Deputy Rector asked me the following:

“Why would you want to join KUIM (at that time the university was known as Kolej University Islam Malaysia) for a relatively unknown institution like ours. After a moment of reflection, I said:

“Sir, quite frankly I think Sunway is overrated.” The interview went well. I felt reasonably comfortable about it.

The job would begin in September, 2002. My application had to be approved by the Civil Service Department as well as by the Ministry of Higher Education.

I telephoned the university a few times. Finally, I was informed that my application was on the desk of the head of the Civil Service. It did not take long after that.

The teachers at the Islamic university were professional. I was assigned two classes per day. I inquired about the regular load. I was told that lecturers have four classes per day, while teachers had five. I said I did not want any special treatment and that I was ready to teach a full workload. I was assigned to teach four classes a day.

The students were well behaved. They were attentive, and as intelligent as any students I had in the private sector. The first year we were in KL. Then we moved to the campus in Negeri Sembilan. I commuted fifty-five kilometers every day each way. I had natural gas installed in the car, to save on the fuel expense.

At first, I taught English as a Second Language. I also taught Creative Writing and Shakespeare in English. In my fourth year, I was asked to be the Head of the program. I accepted.

In the office I had a table, chair, a computer, a printer and a bookshelf. The staff at the university were from all over the world. There were two men from war-torn Iraq, a few African fellows and even a fellow from Libya. They were quite welcoming. I became friends with them. There was a collegial atmosphere at the university.

USIM tried to combine the best of what may be found in traditional Islamic education with the best of what present-day education had to offer. I think this as the right approach.

Of course, there may have been minor irritants from time to time, but my stay at USIM was a different experience. I worked in an Islamicenvironment. I learned a lot and it allowed me to grow. I just hope my students can say the same thing.

I felt energized in this environment. When I used to walk to classes, I felt a tremendous energy. The Negeri Sembilan campus was pleasant. The mosque was not yet constructed, so we had to go to pray in the town. It was not far, only about ten minutes by car.

From time to time, I would have conversations with staff about various matters. Most seemed reasonably articulate, but English required attention.

IIUM

After four years, I began to feel restless again. I began to ask about doing a PhD program, on a part-time basis. I went to ISTAC, the Institute for the Study of Islamic Civilization.

I needed a reference letter for the PhD program, so I thought I would attend the class of one of the professors, and then ask for a reference based on my work there. I went to see the Dean of the Faculty at IIUM. She allowed me to audit professor Kamali’s class on human rights in Islam.

I sat in the class of Professor Kamali. I came across a few of his books and I liked the rigor of his writing. I wrote a paper on khalwator being physically close to a female who was not one’s relative.

There were four students in the room. Two of them dropped out before the course was finished. The Indonesian lady, told me her friends advised her not to take the course, as the failure rate in Dr. Kamali’s significant.

An Arab student from the United Arab Emirates was reproached by the Professor. After that, the student was never to be seen again.

After finishing the course, I proceeded with the PhD application. I asked the Professor to write me a letter of recommendation for acceptance into ISTAC, which he did. I asked ISTAC Professor Dr. Osman to write me the second letter. I gave him a sample of my work, to give him a basis for determining whether to recommend me or not.

I completed the application and went to see the Rector at the university to request a letter from him too, as required by the application process. While before he was encouraging, this time I had a different experience.

“I advise you no to go to ISTAC,” he said. “Your contract here might not be renewed. It is not just up to me. It has to go to the top,” he added, probably meaning the Chairman of the University by the latter part of his remark.

That was a surprise. He hinted that the Institute to which I wanted to apply was of a different denomination, not mainstream Islam followed by the university.

I went back to the two Professors at ISTAC and explained to them that I had to drop my intention to do a PhD as it would mean I would not be able to work at the university. I was disheartened but reassured myself that God would find a way out for me. A few months later He did.

IAIS

In December 2007, as I was having a coffee at the Starbucks in Sunway Pyramid, I received a phone call from Professor Kamali.

“Abdul Karim, how are you,” he said.

“Fine,” I replied, “only I miss the discussions we used to have,” I added. He said his PA and he had a hard time finding my phone number. Apparently, they have been searching for it for a while. They finally found it in one of my emails.

“Why don’t you come and see me,” he said. “I might have a job for you. I’ll ask my PA to call you” he added. His PA turned was Zarina. The following day we arranged a meeting two or three days later at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) in KL.

When I arrived, he gave me a big hug. He explained this was a position of a research fellow. As I was ready for a challenge, I readily accepted.

Initially, I edited books. There were three books I edited during this early period, and he published two of them. I was glad when my first writing was published. This continued for a decade. I did research in Islamic finance, art and education.

In the meantime, a friend from Canada got in touch with me over Facebook. I felt I had to explain to him why I left the people I used to associate with at the University of Toronto, the Straussians. So, I wrote him a letter.

I tried to explain to him why I left Toronto, but it was not easy. So, I offered to explain it in a letter. The letter was taking a long time to write. I wanted to be fair to everyone. I was also worried that it might leak into the public domain.

So, I wrote it as if it was going to be published. Before I finished the letter, however, he unfriended me on Facebook. I do not blame him as I fell silent and did not write anything while I was agonizing about the letter. Here it is:

Letter to Colin

 “Dear Colin,

It has been so many years since we spoke that I thought I should write a little summary of what happened during those years.

I did not stay with the Straussians to do a PhD at the University of Toronto. My intention initially was to have Alan Bloom supervise my thesis. I may have informed you that I first came across the ides of Leo Strauss at the University of Guelph, where I found Natural Right and History on the bookshelf in the campus Bookstore and took an immediate interest in it.

Professor Vaughan, a graduate of the University of Chicago, was a former PhD student of Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago and he brought Strauss’ ideas to Guelph.

In his office he had the transcripts of many of Strauss’ lectures. About a dozen binders, if I am not mistaken. He lent me the one on Nietzsche once, but alas I had no time to read it, and was not allowed to make a copy.

It was a clearly written account. Strauss’s valiant struggles against moral relativism and nihilism impressed me. I wanted to join the ranks of those who stood up for timeless (trans-historical) truth. Temporary truths (various types of historicism) were not attractive to me.

In Guelph I was doing a four-year BA in political science with a minor in economics. I was attracted by the discipline of Strauss’ language, and the moral awareness that I could sense in the pages of the book. This was something new and different from the mainstream liberal jargon peddling relativism of which the academia and the media were so full of at that time.

The esoteric character of his writing – obscuring the truth between the lines to survive telling it – at that time was a minor concern to me. I agreed with him that writers could not openly declare truth in societies that were averse to any truth with a capital “T.”

In Toronto Bloom and I did not really hit it off very well personal chemistry-wise. I later developed doubts about the whole enterprise. The problem with the Straussians, as one Professor – Syed Hussein – here put it, is that “they have no truth to defend.” If you have no truth to defend, can you have a truth to tell?

Someone betrayed the secret of the philosophers, which is that they are more interested in the search for truththan the truth itself. Even if they encountered the truth, they would not accept it and keep on looking.

There is something radically wrongwith that attitude. As if truth did not really matter. On top of that we have the “salutary lies” and “noble myths” that we are told the masses must believe to make society work.

Something happened one time in Bloom’s class that made me feel that he had little confidence in himself, despite his apparent arrogance. He really wanted everyone to pay full attention to him when he spoke. As a teacher he had a right to expect that from his students. But I think it was more than just that. He wanted adoration.

I felt the worldview that was being painted was incomplete. To be fair, I recall Bloom saying in his class that the important question facing humanity is “God or gods?” In addition, in the last sentence in his City and Man, Strauss says that the question that the philosophers are always thinking about, even though they never say it out loud, is. “Quid sid Deus,” or “What is God.”

I switched to part time studies, a course per year. This was due to money problems. After completing the year with Bloom, I briefly enrolled at Concordia University in Montreal. I wanted to make movies. I wanted to communicate to larger numbers of people than was possible in an academic career.

At Concordia, however, they insisted that I take film theory courses, but I wanted to start making movies right away. I withdraw from the program and returned to the U of T to finish the Master’s degree.

That’s when I enrolled in Clifford Orwin’s graduate course. There I wrote a paper on Hobbes (managing an A) and a paper on the speech of the Melian dialogue in Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War (again managing an A). Despite these successes, I still could not help feeling that something was missing.

I was experiencing tension between my personal beliefs and what I was trying to do as a student of the Straussians. I was trying to reconcile faith with philosophy. It wasn’t easy. I felt that the spiritual alternative was not getting sufficient recognition.

The nagging doubts just would not leave me. A friend from the US then lent me Beneath the Wheel, by Hermann Hesse. I also had some sympathy for the ideas of C. B. Macpherson. I was pulled in quite a few different directions. It’s a good thing I didn’t fall apart.

Another issue that troubled me was the view that science (reason) and religion were incompatible. I had a problem with this (still do), and I felt the Straussians did not pay enough attention to this issue.

After finishing courses with Bloom, Orwin and Pangle, and one in the Department of English, called Innovators in Film, taught by the Czech expatriate writer, Josef Skvorecky, I enrolled for a Master of Education degree at OISE.

I took six courses there with titles like “Developing Religious Perspectives,” (with Clive Beck) “The Nature of Religious Knowledge,” “Moral Education,” “Anarchist Critiques of Education,” “Alternative Schools,” (the last two with Malcolm Levin) and “Literature in Education.” I still felt intellectually undernourished, however.

There was too much logical positivism on the reading list, especially in the courses on religion. I took the remaining four one-semester courses, as allowed by program requirements, outside of the Department of History and Philosophy at OISE, at the Department of Philosophy at the U of T again.

These included a course on Hermeneutics (with Professor Nicholson). Here I read Gadamer’s Truth and Method, as well as Spinoza’s Theologico-political Treatise. Spinoza writes clearly. But I cannot say the same about Gadamer. In a course on Hegel, I read the Berlin Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, a very complex (late Hegel) book, full of abstruse abstractions. Professor Schmitz was my teacher there.

I wrote a paper on Hegel’s early theological writings.I compared a brief passage in the Positivity essay with another text and argued that Hegel freed himself to an extent from the influence of Kant. I also read The Religious Dimension in Hegel’s Thought, by Emile Fackenheim. I felt Fackenheim was unfair to Hegel. According to Fackenheim, Hegel failed to reconcile reason and revelation.

That may have been so, but the value of Hegel’s insight consisted in the view that reason and revelation are not antagonists but rather complement each other and, if properly understood, are in harmony with one another. The changes in Hegel’s language reflected this.

 According to Schmitz, the young Hegel wanted to be a Volkserzieher, a people’s teacher. I also took a course with Professor Sanan on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, writing a paper on the latter to the effect that he changed his early preference for tragedy to one of comedy.

Finally, there was a course on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason(Nagel), where I wrote a paper relating to the issue of the freedom of the will. But since my admission to the PhD in the Philosophy Department was made to depend on completing extra work in philosophy, specifically in analytical philosophy, in which I had no interest, I did not pursue the PhD in the Department of Philosophy either.

All that was still unsatisfactory. One or two explorations about doing a PhD at OISE came to naught. In between all this I also took a few undergraduate courses at the Department of Philosophy. One was on Education, where I read Anton Makarenko. Another course was on aesthetics, where I wrote a paper on Clive Bell, a British scholar espousing formalism in art. I also read prince Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid(an interesting counter statement to Charles Darwin), and Leo Tolstoy’s What Is Art.

Then, an opportunity came to work abroad – in Malaysia. Now this would be different. As I only worked part time at that time (another visa school) I applied and was hired. I arrived in Malaysia in March 1987 and taught in the Canadian Matriculation Program at Taylor’s College until 1989, Economics and Law.

Living in Malaysia and visiting neighbouring countries Thailand and Singapore has been a learning experience. It was a nice change from the cold European and/or North American blandness and predictable self-centredness.

I returned to Canada after the one-year contract ended. It was on my way back to Malaysia and (to Canada as I thought) that I met my future wife, Zaharah, at a youth hostel in Kuala Lumpur.

She was from Singapore. We got married in Canada and had both an Islamic and a civil marriage. I formally converted to Islam before I married Zaharah.

In Canada things were not smooth. After spending time with relatives, we migrated to Vancouver on the West Coast, in an old Ford Econoline extended van, with an International Harvester diesel engine – 6.9 litres. I managed to get a job with COHO Management Services, a subsidiary of CFHBC (Cooperative Housing Federation of British Columbia) as a management trainee.

My contract was not extended, but while collecting UI, I was hired to work in Malaysia once again, this time in the Canadian Matriculation Program at Sunway College, later Sunway University College. Hello again, Malaysia! This time I lasted five years.

After the first three or four years I began to feel restless again. Our second return to Canada (Ottawa) was an even bigger shock than the first. That was a rough patch. I applied to my old school in Malaysia. John Futa re-hired me. It was during this time that I had my awakening. I began to practice Islam earnestly.

I was happy to be back in Malaysia. I stayed in the Canadian International Matriculation Program for three years. A few people complained that I was proselytising. I had to move on.

I was about to go to the East Coast of Malaysia to start an English language school, when I was offered a job at the Islamic College of Malaysia, later renamed the Islamic University College of Malaysia.

This was an altogether different experience. The students and staff were almost all Muslims. No one faulted me here for talking about Islam in class, although I was hired mainly to teach English.

This happy experience lasted 5 years. I was starting to get a little restless again, however, in my fourth year, and began to explore doing a PhD part time on something relating to Islam.

When I approached my boss and friend – the rector – about doing a PhD at ISTAC, the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation, initially he was supportive but later advised me to do it elsewhere claiming the orientation of the studies at ISTAC was leaning towards Shia interpretation of Islam.

In fact, he advised me that my contract with the university might not be renewed if I went ahead with my intention. So, I abandoned the idea of the PhD at ISTAC. This institution has since been brought under the authority of the IIUM, the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

About a year later I got a call from Hashim Kamali, whose course on Welfare in IslamI had earlier audited, so I could ask him for a reference for my admission to the ill-fated PhD. He asked me how I was doing. I said good, but that I missed some of the discussions we used to have in class.

He said he might have a job for me and asked me to see him at ISIS (Institute of Strategic and International Studies) where he was temporarily housed. When I subsequently visited him, he explained that the Prime Minister of Malaysia at the time, Tun Badawi, asked him to set up an institute to promote civilisational Islam. The professor made me an offer and I accepted to work at the yet to be officially launched Institute as an assistant research fellow.

I did a lot of editing, and published a few book reviews, a viewpoint here and there and two papers. The first was on the global economic and financial crisis; the second was on critical thinking. I am currently writing another paper on sukuk, what some people call Islamic bonds.

Another book review, hopefully, is on the way in our new journal, Islam and Civilisational Renewal, published and distributed in the UK by Pluto Press. I am not sure if they have any distributor in the US. What we are trying to do here is “civilisational renewal.”

It is similar, I suppose to the Western renaissance that Leo Strauss was hoping for, according to an article written about him by Bloom. I suppose we can have a healthy competition, as to whose civilisation can be renewed better and faster. So, there is my story in brief. I hope things are well with you.

I apologize for the long time this letter has taken to complete. I hope you can understand my dilemma. It’s been so many years. Your messages brought back many memories.”

Accident

During a vacation in Samui, Zara and I had a motorcycle accident. I rode the wrong way on a one-way street. To avoid an approaching car, I had to turn left sharply.

As I also applied the brakes, the front wheel skidded on the dust and we both fell of the motorbike. I was unhurt, but Zara knocked a tooth out and broke another one. I resolved after this that we would never ride bikes again. This was my third and hopefully last motorcycle accident.

At the hospital, Zara was given a brain scan. Thank God, no damage there. In the hospital there were many people, including foreigners. Some looked in rough shape. The bill came to about 5,600 baht.

Epilogue

After a while, however, I began to feel restless again. I felt I wanted to research about particular topic, but this was proving difficult. I wanted to do paper on aggressive jihad, which a few jurists supported. I was advised by the Head of Human Resources that Professor Kamali did not want me to do research on jihad. So, I thought it would be better to work for an institution that allows greater flexibility. I wanted freedom of expression.

If a suitable time arises to pursue this question, I would gladly return to it. In the meantime, I am publishing Reflections. All I can say is that I hope the reader may find this book interesting. So, there is the tale. Is there anything a person may learn from all that? It is important to be ethical.