In the days when things were less complicated, people were simply defined by the jobs that they did. You know, “Din’s a colonel in the army”, “Bakar’s a chef at a 5-star hotel”, “Bidin is senior manager at a bank” kind of stuff. However, attitudes have changed. Nowadays, things are no longer as black and white as they used to be.
As disposable incomes get bigger – and as the pressure to stay in the game mounts – Malaysians are re-discovering an almost forgotten means of dealing with the daily grind. They are re-discovering the pleasures of having a hobby. Only these days it’s no longer called a hobby. It’s called a lifestyle.
Today the harried surgeon isn’t just a surgeon anymore. Chances are he’d much prefer it if you saw him as a mountain biker. What about the airline pilot whose nerves are frazzled from carrying the responsibility for the safety of over 300 passengers on a daily basis? Probably he now prefers to be seen as a deepwater sports fisherman. And that sales guy who works in the pressure-cooker also known as the insurance industry? Well, these days he’s maybe busy re-inventing himself as a cigar connoisseur and expert.
Ask any of these people if these extra-curricular activities are their hobbies. Go ahead, I dare you! If you do, chances are you’ll earn yourself a well-placed roundhouse kick to the side of your head. These are not hobbies; they are lifestyles!
So, what’s the difference between a hobby and a lifestyle?
From where I’m standing it looks as if it’s got a lot to do with equipment. It’s a simple co-relation, really. The more somebody has got invested in his hobby, the safer it would be to call it a lifestyle. When you’re looking at a mountain bike with a 5-figure price-tag and the shipload of accessories that go with it, calling it a hobby would be tantamount to an insult, wouldn’t it? And is fishing a hobby? Not when you’ve got a 30-foot Sea Leveller to do it in. What about cigars? Not when the guy’s humidor costs twice as much as my car. Nope! These are not hobbies. They are lifestyles!
Zoe invited some of us over recently to sample her cupcakes. In real life, she’s the general manager of a swanky hotel here in Melaka. But these days she much prefers to be seen as a master baker. And she’s got the equipment to prove it!
Apart from thousands of books on baking that line the walls of her beautiful home, she also recently bought a brand new oven. I tried very hard not to bat an eyelid when she told me that she needed to renovate her kitchen so that the thing would fit in there. The cost of the entire exercise could have easily paid for a degree level education at a private university.
So, when she asked me what I thought of her cupcakes, all I could say was, “Zoe, they’re the most distinctive cupcakes anyone can ever hope to enjoy!” I was also very careful to look straight in the eye as I said it – and deliberately left out the part that her cupcakes tasted very much like last week’s badly made kuih bahulu.
Amin, an engineer at an oil refinery, was also at Zoe’s. Looking at him nobody would have thought he was in oil and gas. You’d be forgiven if you mistook him for a National Geographic photographer, at the very least. He had two cameras slung across his chest. One was a massive rig that had an almost phallic foot-long lens attached to it. The other was sexy, black compact that gleamed as he walked through the door. He also had on him a RM2,000 Billingham camera bag that was bursting at the seams – and the twenty or so pockets of his photographer’s vest were bulging all over the place. To me, it was a small miracle that he could even move under his own steam considering all that weight he was carrying.
As soon as he had a chance to sit next to me, he unhooked the sexy, black compact, handed it to me and asked, “What do you think of this! Nice, eh?”
Sitting in my palm was an 18 megapixel, RM30,000 Leica M Monochrom. It shoots only in black and white but probably produces the best B&Ws you’ll ever see in any one lifetime. I knew this was the closest I’d ever get to a Leica. As the debate whether or not to slip the Leica into my pocket and make a run for it raged in my head, I felt Amin nudging me back into consciousness.
“So what do you think? This will surely help me make better pictures, right?” he asked.
It sounded curiously more like a plea for reassurance than a bona fide question.
“Of course it will, my friend. It’s a Leica, after all!”
I handed him back his camera and struggled to quell the fires of any criminal intent that was left in me.
In a way, I felt quite lucky. I had already learnt the lesson that I suspect Amin was about to learn real soon. And the lesson hadn’t cost me anywhere near RM30,000 (primarily because I don’t have access to RM30,000).
The lesson? Cameras don’t take better pictures. People do!
Looking at Zoe from across the beautifully appointed dinner table, the lesson suddenly repeated itself – albeit in a different context: “Ovens don’t bake better cupcakes. People do”, went that small voice in my head. This, in turn, brought on flashbacks from my days coaching the national mountain bike team: “Expensive bicycles don’t win races. People do!” My head was getting to be a very uncomfortable place to be in.
Ilsa and Victor Laszlo’s plane has left Casablanca for Lisbon – and Rick is left with Captain Renault to ponder the beginning of a beautiful friendship. It’s time to accept that no amount of equipment will turn us into a better anything. It’s never about the equipment we own – ever.
But as more Malaysians are discovering our passions and trying to redefine ourselves according to our preferred lifestyle choices, it is quite probable that a lot of us are missing the point. To be a better whatever does not depend on equipment we own: never has and never will. Owning a Gibson Goldtop Les Paul, for example, will not make us a better guitarist any more than owning the latest Macbook Whatever will turn us into better writers. Put in this way, the logic is pretty evident, isn’t it?
But the idea that owning the best equipment will somehow help us become better cyclists, photographers, anglers, writers or whatever still appeals to us, doesn’t it? What can I say? We Malaysians believe in and love our shortcuts.
Me? Personally, I don’t believe that I will ever buy a RM30,000 camera – for any reason! . But do try asking me again in about five years’ time when I can draw on my EPF again.