A life-changing lesson learnt … but what was it again?

19 July 2017

(Reprinted from The Edge – Options pullout, 17 July 2017 issue)

Dear Kam,
What is the most scary thing that has ever happened to you?

It happened two weeks ago and I’m still trying to recover, but I don’t know if I ever will. It was a 10-minute journey into fear. It was the day my world was turned upside down, when the one thing that made my life certain and complete was taken away from me. It was the day I lost my handphone. Jeng, Jeng, Jeng!

It was a beautiful summer’s day in a remote part of rural England. I was on holiday with my mother and I didn’t have a care in the world.

Because I was on holiday, I didn’t have to worry about the usual baleful news from Malaysia, and we were in such a remote spot that I didn’t have a handphone signal anyway, so Facebook couldn’t tell me that alkalis are good for me or that the whole 1MDB thing doesn’t actually make any difference to anything. My only task was to find the next delightful hilltop vista or sweet and clear burbling stream.

Without a signal, I couldn’t get any help from my brand new 128GB iPhone 7 with its advanced new camera systems, optical image stabilisation, immersive speakers and sleek, jet-black design, so I had to rely on old-fashioned paper maps. I located our next destination on the map and we got into a car filled with carefree laughter and conversation.

But as we were driving along, I realised that something was wrong. I was not complete, something truly important, an utterly essential part of me, was missing. I didn’t have my phone. I must have left it behind. We did a handbrake turn on a quiet country lane and I nervously measured the miles on the map as we hurtled back to the last place I had seen it.

I was suddenly without my phone and my heart was beating fast. I tried to remain calm but I thought about all those photos I had never bothered to download. Why didn’t I print them like I did in the old days with film cameras? I promised myself that if the phone was still where I left it then I would be a better person and print my photos from now on. Somebody in the car tried to calm me by saying that my photos had just gone to a better place because they were backed up into the cloud now, but does the cloud really exist? Has anyone ever seen the cloud, can science prove it’s really there? Is there really a place filled with billions of photos of what we had for lunch or is the cloud just a myth we tell ourselves?

I started thinking about all those WhatsApp messages I wanted to keep like “C U later” and “I’m running late”. Who would I be if I lost all that history? I would be nobody. I wouldn’t exist anymore.

The miles were narrowing as we charged down the road, and as I was thinking about how could I ever again get the phone number of that really helpful tow-truck guy from Cheras, because you never know when you might need a friendly tow-truck guy and my car has been making some strange noises recently. I really should call my mechanic but how can I call him if I have lost his number that is only in my phone?

In the old days I used to write down all my phone contacts in little 555 books. Why did I stop doing that? Because I bought a handphone and I didn’t need to anymore, that’s why. My emotional predicament was the handphone’s fault. I was beginning to resent my handphone. It had made me dependent. I could no longer function as an independent human being without the phone. Only the phone had all my contacts, could tell me how to get where I wanted to go, could play my music, entertain me with YouTube videos of cats being mean to dogs and presumably also make phone calls, although I’m not sure about that because I can’t remember the last time I actually used my phone to make a phone call. Do they make phone calls? I suddenly hated my phone.

The car screeched around the corner as we returned to the last place I had seen my phone. My mouth was dry but my palms were sweating. I saw the spot where I had been sitting. And lying on the ground like an abandoned child, there was my handphone. My beautiful brand new 128GB iPhone 7 with its 12 megapixel camera, Quad-LED True Tone Flash, A10 Fusion Chip and a whole bunch of other things I don’t understand. I held it in my arms, gently brushing its splash and water-resistant screen and I promised I would never abandon it again. I promised I would buy it a new cover, something really, really fancy like whatever Jho Low has for his phone. I was reunited with my phone and I was complete again. So I put it in my pocket and we drove off like nothing had happened.

But something truly important had happened and my life will never be the same again. I had learnt a valuable lesson. Siri, what’s the valuable lesson I have learnt?

Reprinted with the kind permission of