Saturday, 29 April 2017

Sapphire Ng | Law - IMP Lecture, at InHolland University of Applied Sciences, Haarlem [International Music Licensing]

Writer: Sapphire Ng

Berklee College of Music “International Music Licensing” April 13-22 2017 course trip to Amsterdam/Haarlem, Netherlands + Educational exchange in InHolland University of Applied Sciences, Haarlem.

Law - IMP Lecture at InHolland University of Applied Sciences, Haarlem
Lecturer: Guus Bleijerveld
[April 18th 2017, Tuesday - Classroom N1-06 ]

The lecturer Guus is a rather dynamic character. He was humorous at times and certainly brought life into the classroom. I absolutely enjoyed his lecture, both because of the refreshingly and intellectually stimulating content presented and also due to the positive energy of the man who delivered it. Guus notably began the session by curiously introducing himself as one who could fluidly be seen as either “a lawyer who plays guitar” or “a musician who happened to have studied law.”

Almost always inevitable to any preliminary law class related to the music industry would be the discussion of a necessary evil, the subject matter of copyright. Guus cited on his presentation slides part of Article 10 of the Dutch Copyright Act of 1912. The first item says for example that “books, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals and all other writings” would be protected under Art. 10 of the copyright act. Anyone interested in getting hold of a copy of the Dutch Copyright Act for personal study can easily conduct an online search for it.

Guus got the class going by first mentioning, if even seemingly disparate, points of divergence or even potential similarities between the Dutch and US copyright law, including as well details of standard music industry deals that might differ in the Dutch system as compared to the American system. Guus mentioned that the Dutch copyright law distinctly refers to “sound recordings copyright” instead as “neighboring rights.”

Interestingly, and in striking difference from the US, Guus mentioned that two different and separate rights for lyrics and composition exist in the Netherlands. He expanded on the idea by mentioning that in the Netherlands, one can apparently rather “easily” obtain the rights to the lyrics of a song, which one can then proceed to “put another composition over the lyrics.”

I found the differences in publishing deal splits between that of the Netherlands and the US to be especially fascinating. Guus declared that standard publishing deals in the Netherlands are split 3-ways, specifically ⅓ for composition, ⅓ for lyrics, and the final ⅓ for the publisher which stands in direct contrast to the typical 2-way split in US publishing deals. I certainly appreciate that Guus seemed generally well-prepared in communicating differences between the Dutch and US system, as he continued to rattle off another point of differentiation. He noted that Dutch copyright law does not include distribution rights, which clearly juxtaposes that of US copyright law which includes distribution rights.

As a lead-in to the matter of streaming, Guus posed such a question to the class, “Do you need reproduction rights to stream music on Spotify?” He followed the question with clarifying comments such as that Spotify would require the rights to put a copy of any song on their server, and the circumstance implies the need for “temporary reproduction on the internet.”

Guus proceeded to draw the class’s attention to the splits on stream and downloads in the Netherlands. He said that the split on stream is 75/25, with the 75% for communication to the public, and the remaining 25% to the reproduction. The split for download is noted to be the exact opposite at 25/75, with 25% for communication to the public, and the other 75% to the reproduction. Distinctly refreshing is Guus’s regular use of the phrase “communication to the public” that is otherwise not used under the US system. Paragraph 4 of the Dutch Copyright Act which encompasses Article 12 and 12a notably deals with the concept of “communication to the public,” a unique phrase that the Dutch copyright law employs to convey the notion of “the communication to the public of a literary, scientific or artistic work.”1

In noting certain parallels between the Dutch and the US copyright law, Guus mentioned in passing that the Netherlands similarly has moral rights, which is addressed in Article 25 of the Dutch Copyright Act. As for the American fair use concept, it is also somewhat reflected in the limitations laid down by the Dutch Copyright Act. When it comes to the “object of protection” of the “performance of a song on commercially released phonogram” in the Netherlands, Guus elaborated the encompassing rights of reproduction, distribution, and communication to the public, but noted the lack of moral rights however for the phonogram producer.

It was exciting when the discussion then shifted into the realm of Dutch collecting societies, especially so because an earlier assignment in my International Music Licensing course in Berklee involved researching the entities of collecting societies in countries of your choice. I conducted research on the collecting societies of Iceland and of Malaysia. Listening to presentations by fellow classmates on collecting societies of countries as diverse as Japan, France, Canada, Sweden, Australia, South Africa and more further intensified my interest in the domain.

It was thus almost naturally fascinating when Guus started to talk about local Dutch collecting societies. He first mentioned BUMA and STEMRA—BUMA is said to be a collecting society which deals with communication to the public for a world repertoire where one does not necessarily have to be a member; and STEMRA on the other hand pertained to reproduction and mechanicals. I conducted a little further research and learned that the two collecting societies are distinctly separate bodies under the operation of the single company BUMA/STEMRA2. The BUMA Association is otherwise known as “Vereniging Buma” in Dutch, and the STEMRA Foundation as “Stichting Stemra.”2 Guus then mentioned “stichting thuiskopie” which directly translates into “foundation homecopy,” and noted that homecopying is “a big thing” in the Netherlands. Further information and even related documents on Dutch homecopying are available on this website http://www.thuiskopie.nl/nl/about-thuiskopie.

Guus subsequently mentioned the collecting societies SENA and NORMA as well, highlighting that SENA deals with communication to the public of “commercially released phonograms,” whilst NORMA covered other forms of exploitations including homecopying levy, public lending rights, and background music (in response to Guus’s mention of “background music” within the Dutch context, the accompanying Berklee professor on this trip, Andrea Johnson chimed in that it is in turn referred to as “wired music” in the US, relating to for example music played in elevators), with the clear exclusion of commercially released phonograms.

Guus further indicated that SENA is the “most important for the music industry,” and it does not deal with reproduction, nor with audiovisual works. Under the Dutch collections system therefore, venues that play recorded music will be required to pay the collecting societies SENA and BUMA. These two collecting societies will in turn collect the money and subsequently pay them out to rights owners—BUMA to authors, and SENA to musicians.

Next, Guus directed the class’s attention onto neighboring rights, by opening with the idea that whilst “labels have neighboring rights, publishers have copying rights.” He noted that neighboring rights used to be called “master rights,” a term that he considers to be a rather inaccurate reflection of its substance and function, as “master rights” apparently involve not only the masters, but also rights for performing artists. Guus proceeded to provide elaboration on the concept of neighboring rights—it is “the rights of the performers of a piece of art,” and a neighboring rights owner is “a performer who is performing another piece of art.” Four parties were said to be involved in the scope of neighboring rights, namely the performing artist, phonogram producer, film producer and broadcaster. As an illustrative example, Guus mentioned that in the event a Dutch actor acts in a movie broadcasted in the US, the artist will then collect related income as what is called neighboring rights.

Guus then crossed the threshold into an even more intriguing realm. He remarkably deemed the European music industry to be somewhat “discriminating.” He clarified his sentiment by noting that Dutch musicians for example are treated rather differently from French musicians. It was certainly new and even surprising for me to learn that the song of a Dutch artist who sings in French is said to have much more promising prospects—in the sense of for example, greater radio airplay—compared to the same artist who might choose to sing in Dutch. Guus mused that maybe the French language does lend more appeal to French songs.

Another astonishing discovery I made in the lecture was that apparently there is no way in the Netherlands for one to detect if someone illegally downloaded music online. It was also interesting to learn that it was only rather recently, merely “around 2 to 3 years ago,” that it only became illegal to download others’ music online in the Netherlands; it was considered legal to do so just not long ago.

I also especially enjoyed the discussion on public lending rights. It was almost my very first exposure to the concept of public lending rights, and I was therefore exceptionally intrigued. This right is said to apply in the case of for example, library lending where rights owners will presumably be paid whenever a CD or DVD is loaned to the public. Libraries in the Netherlands were said to be able to buy a CD or DVD at the wholesale price, or at a 50% reduction in commercial price of the product. It was absolutely intellectually fascinating for me to learn that in the Netherlands, with the application of the public lending rights, members of the public who rent a CD from the library is allowed to download the contents of the CD into a personal laptop as long as the library dutifully pays rights owners every time the CD is borrowed. To put this into perspective, Guus noted that lending is thus “an exception” under the Dutch Copyright Act; lending is treated differently from illegal downloading, or even streaming.

It was also stimulating when Guus mentioned the concept of “tying,” along with its Dutch equivalent known as “koppelverkoop,” which otherwise directly translates as “couplings.” “Tying” in the context of music industry deals was accessibly explained as the obligation to sign the next deal as mandated by the signing of the first deal. Guus made sure to repeat and emphasize that despite such a practice of “tying” or “koppelverkoop” to be “almost normal” in the Dutch music industry, it is unmistakably “illegal.” I’ve found a rather wonderful primer to the concept of “tying” and “tying arrangements” on the American Bar Association website: http://www.americanbar.org/groups/young_lawyers/publications/the_101_201_practice_series/the_wonderful_world_of_tying.html.

Additionally, Guus also noted that despite the illegality of the inclusion of the language “for all the existing and future repertoire” in Dutch music industry contracts, such language continue to appear within contract clauses. On another interesting note, Guus also mentioned in passing that apparently the notion of “monopoly” exists in the Netherlands’ copyright scene that thus differs from the US. I would surely have loved if Guus actually further fleshed out this assertion.

During the lecture, despite Guus’s rather fleeting mention without further specificities of a lawsuit pertaining to digital lending rights in the Netherlands, I distinctly felt invigorated after to conduct further independent research on the lawsuit in question and even on the wider, and potentially formidable, repertoire of Dutch lawsuits in general, whether related to the Dutch music industry or otherwise.

I certainly couldn’t help it as well that even with Guus’s another cursory mention of “a little differen[ce]” in music consumption trends in Germany and UK in contrast to the rest of Europe—that people in the UK “still buy music”—I again instinctively registered another item onto my to-do list, specifically to conduct research on the music markets of various European countries and if I’m able to, even establish notable differences between them. With Guus’s mention of the UK copyright law, I realize that I just might download a copy of the UK’s Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 19883 as well, and do some advance reading to the best of my abilities prior to the start of my law studies in the UK in less than 6 months’ time.

I would venture to say that Guus’s radiating humility makes him even more appealing as a lecturer. I found it incredibly hilarious that in the mentioning of the phrase “equitable remuneration” in class, Guus candidly said that he needed to practice pronouncing it the way Berklee students or professors would need to practice the pronunciation of a single vowel or consonant sound in Dutch. The class, at least the Berklee students and not necessarily including the Dutch students, also instantly roared in laughter when Guus confidently told the class that he is also unable to pronounce the English word “reciprocity." I guess I could empathize with Guus as I personally struggled especially trying to pronounce with integrity the second half of the Dutch word “aardig.” “Aardig” means “nice” in English, and I learned from one of my Dutch hosts how to say “You are nice” in Dutch. The struggle is indeed real hahaha.

This is undisputably one of my most favorite lectures that I’ve attended in this exchange with InHolland University of Applied Sciences in Haarlem. This lecture itself is almost somewhat of a representation of the harmonious synchronicity of hearty cultural and intellectual educational exchange that embodies the trip as a whole.


Sources:

1Copyright Law 1912, Auteurswet 1912 (1912). Print.

2"BUMA/STEMRA." Collecting Societies Handbook. Baker & McKenzie and the World Intellectual Property Organization, n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2017.

3Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (1988). Print.



Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Sapphire Ng | Trip to MassiveMusic Amsterdam [International Music Licensing]

Writer: Sapphire Ng


Berklee College of Music “International Music Licensing” April 13-22 2017 course trip to Amsterdam/Haarlem, Netherlands + Educational exchange in InHolland University of Applied Sciences, Haarlem.


Trip to MassiveMusic Amsterdam - April 20th 2017, Thursday


MassiveMusic Amsterdam
A’DAM Toren, Overhoeksplein 35
1031 KS Amsterdam
The Netherlands


We had to travel from Haarlem to Amsterdam to visit MassiveMusic. The MassiveMusic Amsterdam office was surprisingly spacious and elegant. After a quick tour of the premises, we were led to a meeting room where a beautifully crafted presentation was given. I was seated right at the front of the group and had a perfect view of the presentation and the 2 speakers.


The presentation was intellectually fascinating. We were shown prior projects MassiveMusic Amsterdam were previously engaged in, all in the Dutch context which is certainly riveting to me and my American classmates.  


First up was an advertisement by Centraal Beheer, a Dutch insurance company. The ad featured the artist and rapper Young D. According to one of the speakers—the speakers themselves were employees of the company—this Young D ad for Centraal Beheer won an annual advertising award. This ad is distinctly hilarious and certainly memorable, and is also available for viewing on Youtube at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxgcPuY58Js.


Next we were shown the new Renault Espace Commercial that featured Kevin Spacey. According to one of the speakers, this advertisement targeted the French market, and the ad was cleverly based on the concept that featured the actor driving through his movies. It was noted that this commercial apparently was not aired in America as the general sentiment was against the American president driving a French car. This commercial is available on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxZ5BHFjots.


The North Face advertisement that prominently featured the song “Miles From Nowhere” by Cat Stevens is yet another gem showed during the presentation. This commercial displayed a powerful transition in emotional content that the music beautifully complemented, not to mention the lyrics of the song that no doubt fitted the context of the commercial. The commercial could be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayv41ZmNWtk.


My personal favorite in the presentation was the Nike Women commercial in the campaign entitled “What are girls made of?” that aired in the Netherlands, and that involved the production company Riff Raff Films and the agency Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam. The concept and details behind this commercial is intellectually and emotionally intriguing to me. Not only Russian folk music is used in this Nike commercial, which foreignness thus seemed exotic to me, it was mentioned that this specific folk music is actually a public domain song. From the point of view of music licensing—it was my Berklee “International Music Licensing” course that brought the group here to Netherlands in the first place—this detail makes this commercial even more fascinating.


On a personally empowering note, it was also mentioned that over the duration of the commercial, the docile lyrics transformed into that of strength. With such transition in lyrical content supported also by the expressive visuals that included strong and independent athletic women, I find the message of this commercial personally meaningful even though I am not generally a Nike consumer. The commercial and more details are available at this link: http://www.adforum.com/creative-work/ad/player/34542210/what-are-girls-made-of/nike-women.


Another strikingly captivating though brief area of discussion was that of  sonic logos. It was mentioned that sonic logos can be as short as 3 seconds. The example provided to illustrate this concept was the sonic logo MassiveMusic designed for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, otherwise known in Dutch as Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij. It was explained that in this case, the sonic logo provides a sonic identity to which consumers are then able to associate with this specific airline. It was further elaborated that this sonic identity could even be perceived or used as a form of watermarking, and that it was surely not accidental that this KLM Royal Dutch Airlines sonic logo involved its pitch going upwards in interval.


Also mentioned included MassiveMusic’s sonic branding project for banking giant UBS, which case is available on MassiveMusic’s website at http://massivemusic.com/cases/ubs. With a little more research, one could easily come across the Sonic Branding page on the company website as well at http://massivemusic.com/services/sonic-branding. More sonic branding projects with brands such as Carlsberg and Cornetto which MassiveMusic was involved in was available for further exploration through the website.


The T-mobile Dutch commercial was covered, and also mentioned in passing was McDonald’s usage of classical music to give the impression of it being a “premium brand.” An almost hilarious instance was used to demonstrate the importance of the concept of exclusivity in the licensing of music for commercials. Three commercials that used identical music were showed edited back-to-back in the presentation, including that of Victoria’s Secret, and a car brand. The speakers used this as an opportunity to highlight the fact that in the event it was not established that only one brand can use a certain piece of music, it might be awkward and even cringe-worthy when multiple brands unintentionally coincide in using identical music for their commercials.


As the presentation proceeded, the speakers revealed interesting details pertaining to the core functioning of MassiveMusic itself. Whilst there are certainly stock music companies in Holland, MassiveMusic takes pride in not doing stock music, and focuses immensely on composing original music for commercials. The benefits of such an approach was said to allow a piece of music to be associated exclusively with a specific brand, and helps avoid any potential PR disasters where the same piece of music is used for several unrelated brands. On another related note, it was mentioned that in working together, advertising agencies often communicate to MassiveMusic that they prefer music of indie and new artists over that of established artists such as Michael Jackson.


Interestingly, the spokesperson for MassiveMusic Amsterdam noted that it would be the company’s “holy grail” to be able to scientifically quantify the results of the company’s musical collaborations with brands, to objectively evaluate the effectiveness of specific music opted for by the company for its various projects. In terms of the company’s production agreement with songwriters, it was also revealed that MassiveMusic does retain some publishing share, alongside the songwriters themselves.


It was an incredibly informative session at MassiveMusic Amsterdam. It was certainly refreshing for me to get an inside look at the Dutch music licensing scene involving Dutch commercials through a local entity. It was also really valuable that I managed to learn as well of certain subtleties in the industry such as the difference between a commercial message versus a brand message. It was said that the distinct messages themselves warrant different pieces of music, and therefore one song alone would not cut it to appropriately and properly convey both messages. Another point though mentioned fleetingly was certainly thought-provoking; one of the speakers mentioned that work for hire is apparently less common in Europe than in the US. And whilst I personally was a little incredulous as I heard a subsequent statement, it was said that it is supposedly not “so easy” for one “to sign away all your rights even if you want to” in Europe. This might have been true, though I would still be inclined to be more cautious or even realistic.


As with all or most educational trips and visits, this session at MassiveMusic Amsterdam was pleasantly enriching. I certainly appreciate the stimuli this presentation had in prompting me to conduct further research into related fields in the Dutch context. As for now, I think I will be occupying myself with some online research on more Dutch commercials and music, and even Dutch advertising agencies.



Monday, 17 April 2017

REVIEW: "The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution" by J. S. Liebman, S. Crowley, A. Markquart, L. Rosenberg, L. White, D. Zharkovsky

Book Review by Sapphire Ng

The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution
by James S. Liebman, Shawn Crowley, Andrew Markquart, Lauren Rosenberg, Lauren White, Daniel Zharkovsky
Columbia University Press
978-0231167239
Copyright July 2014
Paperback, 448 Pages

Exceptionally tragic and heart-wrenching. This book comprehensively documents an extremely maddening and painful case of injustice as facilitated by a flawed criminal justice system. This progressively disheartening narrative culminates in the botched and wrongful execution of Carlos DeLuna.

This is a compelling book for readers from all walks of life, within or outside the American criminal justice system. Well-researched and easy-to-read, this book illustrates and expounds upon a very real and consequential problem in the criminal justice system. It is almost unimaginable that a reader could finish reading this book without experiencing an intense mix of anger, frustration and disappointment at the cruel injustice served to an innocent man. 

This book provides an excellent and rather thorough examination of mishandled elements in the case that in aggregate led to DeLuna’s wrongful conviction and execution. By skillfully bringing DeLuna to life within the pages of the book by highlighting his vulnerability, fears, flaws, thoughts, and innocence, as juxtaposed alongside the excruciating incompetence and apathy of supposed professionals who wield tremendous powers over DeLuna’s life and fate, this book furnishes one of the most disturbing and devastating exemplification of the ways justice can go wrong. 

The book aptly provides a comprehensive background to the case by providing a frightful and heart-thumping recount of the brutal killing of Wanda Lopez, and detailed the life histories and psychological profiles of both Carlos DeLuna and Carlos Hernandez. Whilst DeLuna should not be excused for his prior run-ins with the law, “jail stints,” “constant stealing, lying, and huffing paint,” it is certainly unjustifiable that he became the scapegoat for a murder Hernandez committed. Hernandez, a “dangerous” man of a violent demeanor with a violent criminal history, a “history of knife crimes,” an established criminal modus operandi, and a penchant to commit acts of domestic violence and abuse. 

It is especially infuriating to learn of the various aggravating parties involved in DeLuna’s capital murder case, especially the painful incompetence of both DeLuna’s defense counsel and the on-scene investigative team of Lopez’s killing. It is beyond exasperating to read of the ways DeLuna’s defense demonstrated glaring inexperience with their disastrous in-court performances, lack of preparation, and unwise decisions, and who in the latter sentencing stage of the trial literally resorted to a strategy of inaction and surrender—failure to engage in even minimal cross-examination of witnesses, and “didn’t call a single witness or put on any mitigating evidence”—which in aggregate effectively sealed DeLuna’s hapless fate. The ineptitude and faults of the crime investigator was also laid bare—her amateurish and slipshod investigative work, faulty judgements, laughable careless oversight, and even irresponsible claims of ignorance and lack of knowledge.

It is almost disgusting to learn of the extent the prosecution, in conjunction with law enforcement, were willing to go in order to convict and put to death a man to whom there is a dearth of implicating evidence. Highlighted was the familiar mantra “ends justify the means” to which the prosecution was alleged to follow. The book systematically documented efforts where the prosecution intentionally hid and conveniently ignored evidence not in service to its self-serving cause, and where it habitually allowed its short-sightedness and stubbornness to lead its efforts. 

The lack of professionalism on the part of law enforcement is also extremely regrettable—the false confidence and lack of fact-checking in the arrest of the suspect, the professionally-unsound decision to use the error-prone procedure of “show-up identification,” the reluctance to admit mistakes, and other missteps. With more findings related to the case that came to light, the more it makes the reader question the efficacy of the law enforcement and justice system. The fact that Hernandez was able to get away unscathed and publicly brag about the failure of the law to prosecute him for his cold-blooded murders despite the availability of evidence against him is an appalling testament to the state of the criminal justice system.

Amidst such turmoil, DeLuna’s sentiments of acceptance, peace and forgiveness were thus even more admirable. Far from harboring hatred or resentment, he even “tried to find some justice in his situation and found it in the bad things he’d done,” by justifying his conviction and impending execution for a murder he did not commit as nonetheless absolving him from his past guilts and wrongdoings. Considering that DeLuna might even be possibly mentally retarded, his resilience and optimism as perfectly captured in his last words before his execution—“I want to say I hold no grudges. I hate no one. I love my family. Tell everyone on death row to keep the faith and don’t give up”—appear all the more astounding. 

This book might have seemed repetitive at times with regards to critical details and evidence neglected or botched in the case. Considering however the gravity of the case at hand, and the atrocious incompetence displayed by the various parties involved in the case, such repetition would almost seem mandatory in order to impress upon the insufferable injustice inflicted upon DeLuna, and to right an abominable wrong. 





Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.


Tuesday, 11 April 2017

My Message to Dad

My Dad passed away from lymphoma at past midnight Sat Apr 8th Malaysian time [afternoon Fri Apr 7th Boston time]. He was 58. It was only around 2 years since he was diagnosed with lymphoma.

He was the most analytical person I've ever known. Insanely industrious and resilient, and extraordinarily patient with me. He did everything for me and never expected anything in return but just for me to be happy, to be the best I can ever be, and to be his daughter.

I owe all I have today to him.

My Message to Dad:

Hi Dad. I always naively thought that I could make it back to see you after I graduate from Berklee in May 2017. Early this year I told myself, this is my very last semester at Berklee, I would be able to make it back in time to see you in person. And then April 2017 came, and I thought to myself, only 2 months remaining and I will be able to return to Malaysia and see you before anything might happen. I had been too naive and optimistic.

I was thinking and reflecting, and realized that I could have seen you in the summer of 2016, I could have flown back home for the approximately 3-month summer vacation and would have been able to spend precious time with you. Dad, you and mom had constantly asked me questions like “When are you coming back to Malaysia?” ever since I began my studies in the US, both through phone and email. You and mom continued to persistently ask me through emails, “When are you coming back to Malaysia?” trusting that I would make the right decision that might possibly take into account your love for me, or that might actually signal that I heard and acknowledged the sentiments you and mom expressed about missing me tremendously. I was however insensitively unresponsive. I mostly never responded directly to these questions and always found ways to convince you that it could have been more worthwhile and constructive should I choose to remain here in the US for summer breaks considering new things I could potentially do, learn and experience in this new environment. I always prioritized myself, my own needs, wants and preferences over you and my family. With my persistent push-backs against your questions that lovingly implore me to make trips back to Malaysia just so you and mom could have a glimpse of and spend time with your beloved daughter, you and mom gradually stopped asking me questions of this nature.

I told you and mom that should I stay in the US for summer 2016, I could gain by getting many free books from American publishers, and I did. I spent the entire summer of 2016 continuously receiving free physical books, reading them within days and writing book reviews to accompany these readings. There is no doubt I learned alot, and dad, I distinctly remember you saying that these opportunities might not be present in Malaysia. I always held to the belief that since I’m already here in the US, and considering that this is the first time that I’ve stepped foot in this country, I ought to seize this opportunity as much as possible by being here and doing things here.

With this line of thought, I realized that what I’m left with today is a bunch of book reviews on my blogs, a meagre amount of extra money from selling these physical books to local bookstores which mostly paid only around USD3 for each book, and probably some new knowledge which value in my future is not known. The opportunity cost is that I lost the only and last chance to see you in person and tell you all the things I had planned to tell you only less than 2 months later when I would return home after graduating from Berklee. My decision to not return to Malaysia at all ever since you were diagnosed with cancer around 2 years ago basically meant I traded off the chance to show you I care with other things that might not have mattered much at the end of the day.

I was unbelievably thoughtless. Mom and KK told me that you stopped being able to speak from around Tuesday the week you passed away. How could I have never thought of calling up with Skype even before then to talk to you, or just to hear your voice? I still naively thought that I could make it back to Malaysia in time, and that you would be alright. I never would have known that your condition would deteriorate so much suddenly. I was so careless and inattentive that I never even thought of calling you or mom up in the months before your passing to talk to you. Considering I’ve been using your personal Skype account to dial up local US numbers, how incredible it is that I’ve never even considered video-skyping KK’s account so that I could talk to you.

I realize that this potentially started with me, when I decided to stop paying for the phone plan in the US that costs around USD50 a month. It thought it was a good idea since I barely used the number, and that most correspondence here in the US for me, school or otherwise, is through email anyway. Because of my feeble attempts to save money, we ended up communicating regularly through email rather than Skype calls, whether video or not. Our correspondence turned into faceless and voiceless email. To make things worse, I clearly remember that I mostly failed to answer the very last phone calls you ever made to me a few years ago when you and mom tried so hard to call me just for the simple pleasure of talking to and possibly see the face of your only daughter.  

You and mom made huge sacrifices to come to the US with me around 2.5 years ago to make sure that everything went smoothly for me. But I wasn’t appreciative. Back then I was less than vaguely aware of the financial implications of my Berklee education. I never realized how insanely lucky I was, and took everything for granted. It was only within the past 12 months or so that I realized that I am indeed very lucky. I discovered to my surprise that I had American classmates at Berklee who had to take out student loans even for their very first undergraduate degree, and of course, their families earned USD. In my case, you had to grapple with the abysmal MYR to USD exchange rate. But yet you funded my undergraduate education without a word of complaint, and even with high hopes for me. Even more astounding, you even recently agreed to fund a second undergraduate degree in law for me in the UK. I have been exceptionally lucky to have you as my Dad but I have unfortunately been too stingy with expressing my gratefulness and appreciation for all you have done and ever did for me.

I have been rather mean to you and mom when I was back in Malaysia, and especially so to you. When I came to the US, mental health professionals diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and chronic depression. I started to get help right here in the US, and am surely getting much better because I haven’t been this happy for at least a decade or so, and I daresay even for my entire life. I considered this last Spring 2017 semester at Berklee to be a time where I can continue to improve from my condition. And I would have then be more than ready by the time I return home end of May this year to show you that I really appreciate you and mom for all both of you have selflessly done for me.

I do not want to seem like I’m blaming most or all of my bad behavior on my PTSD and depression, but after much reflection, I’ve come to realize and acknowledge that I was mostly a slave to my mental condition in the past. These conditions largely dictated my behavior, reactions and impulses, and only magnified my hostility toward you, when all this while all you really deserved was respect. I was absolutely looking forward to telling this to you in person less than 2 months later, and I really would have loved a chance to prove to you that I am indeed appreciative of you.

Several weeks before you passed away, I’ve noticed that you stopped replying my emails. It was mom and only her who responded to me since then. Somehow I didn’t take this as a warning sign. When I stopped seeing email replies from you, I suspected you might need more time to rest, and that you had to put more effort into recuperating from your chemo treatments. You did mention to me in an earlier email that you started to get dizzy really quickly just by looking at the computer screen for really short durations of 5 to 10 minutes or so. I just assumed that your condition only got slightly but harmlessly worse, and that mom decided to take over the email correspondence to ease your discomfort.

Even when we emailed, I mostly emailed you only when I needed help for something, needed your advice or something else. It was never to ask you personally for details about the condition of your lymphoma. The most I did was to end my emails to you and mom with brief comments like “hope you are okay and doing well.” I did not do my part to actually actively learn how you are doing, whether you are coping well with your cancer treatments, or even show my concern in return. From what I hear from KK, you suffered alot. I cannot imagine how horrible it must have been for you. For me, I would feel so horrible even with just fever and cold that I can’t imagine ever feeling worse. You were really brave with your lymphoma.

But yet, mom, KK, DeiDei, Ah Ma and Gong Gong were there with you when you were going through this tremendously challenging and difficult times, and probably even the scariest time of your life. DeiDei told me that he returned to Malaysia around March 11 this year, which means he still spent around a month with you before you passed away. KK took care of you the entire 2 years ever since you were diagnosed with lymphoma. Mom is definitely always by your side, and she cares so much for you. I was your only immediate family member, your daughter, who failed to be by your side when you were going through the toughest part of your life. And yet I am one of those who benefited the most from all you ever did or ever worked hard for in your life.

You always worked hard and gave your best even when you noted that conditions at work were less than pleasant for you. You even continued to work at your cargo freight company after you were diagnosed with lymphoma. Additionally, even though finances were tight and you frankly revealed to me that your company wasn’t doing very well, you continued to be the most unbelievably supportive dad you can ever be, and even agreed to support my pursuit of a law degree after I graduate from Berklee. You always wanted me to be the best I can ever be, and you would be so proud if I were to become a lawyer. You agreed to fund my pursuit of yet another academic degree despite you and mom having previously mentioned several times that my Berklee undergraduate degree in the US would be the very last degree you would sponsor me for; total expenses for my Berklee education is undoubtedly exorbitant, further amplified by the MYR to USD exchange rate that mercilessly and astronomically shrunk all your hard earned money.

Studying at Berklee have indeed helped me mature alot, and I realize that I am incredibly lucky, Other children in this world could never have been as lucky as I am to be the beneficiary of the unbelievable hardwork and care of a loving Dad. You very supportively financially sponsored my scarily expensive education in the United States, continued to support me in silent but concrete ways and did not disown me even after I’ve consistently shown to be unreasonably mean to you, and worst of all, unappreciative of all you have done for me.

In my emails to you and mom, I often mentioned that I managed to cut down food expenses remarkably. When I first came to the US, I didn’t know how to cook and never did. You were okay with me dining out almost daily even though it is incredibly expensive to do so and certainly not economical, nor would it have been a mindful use of your money that you have so judiciously worked your entire life to earn. All you cared about was that I had enough money for food, necessities and other expenses, that I ate well and stayed healthy, and took good care of myself. I finally stopped dining out totally in the last 1.5 years, and I managed to shrink my food expenses down to around USD3 per day, I was only starting to grasp the real value of money, and I thought it was a big deal on my part. I was so proud of it, and constantly mentioned this in emails to you and mom as if it was a huge achievement. I thought I was doing “so much” to help you.

Regretfully, I didn’t do what seemed to be most important and that probably would have meant the world to both you and me: to tell you directly that I care for you and that I am thankful for all you did for me. I continued to take everything you did and were doing for me for granted, as if I was entitled to this privileged treatment for the sole reason that I am your daughter. That had always been the way though, I did spend the majority of my life thinking that you are obligated to do all the things you did for me because you are my dad. I was selfish, ungrateful and entitled, and only did the minimum ever since you were diagnosed with lymphoma. All I ever did was to add a brief, almost careless, and cold line at the end of emails saying “I hope you are okay.” Maybe I refused to confront the reality that you had lymphoma, or I thought that if I didn’t ask or learn much about your cancer, it might not turn out to be something even remotely life-threatening or even potentially life-robbing.

When I looked back at our emails where you wrote to me things like “see you home soon” after we made arrangements that I would be returning to Malaysia end of May this year, I honestly can’t believe I actually missed you by around 2 months. I’m heart-broken. At this point I had been in the US for slightly more than 2.5 years and I’m graduating so very soon. My very last semester at Berklee is coming to an end. But I still didn’t manage to make it home in time.

In one of our emails, I remember telling you that one of my best friends in Singapore, Madeleine wanted to start a company with me. You’d seen her before when she joined us for a wedding event involving someone close to Auntie Gwen. And then I mentioned that I wanted to find out all about how you started your cargo freight company, and all other details related to finances, your business decisions, and more. I distinctly remember that you replied that you would share all these with me when I return home June this year. I was looking forward to that. I didn’t expect that I wouldn’t actually have the chance to have you share those details with me face to face. When you said see me soon, I really believed that I could make it home in time and you would still be here, and everything would be like how it was last time, that I would be home and that you would be around.

I also recalled that I’ve previously blocked you on social media platforms such as Google Plus and Facebook. At that time I just felt like you and mom were stalking my online profiles. Now I only feel deep regret that I’ve been so thoughtless to brush you off even in the online sphere. You have been insanely patient with me my entire life. You face extraordinary pressure from work and other aspects of life, but my adversarial behavior at home and during the 6 years in Singapore only made things much harder for you, never easier.

The very last time I saw you in person was when you and mom made the trip to the US with me when my semester at Berklee was about to start. You and mom were not obligated to chaperone me, your grown daughter, to the States for my undergraduate degree, but both of you chose to do it anyway. It was so important to both of you that everything got sorted out for me so that it could be as easy a transition as possible for me to study in the US.

You and mom literally did everything for me, including bringing me around to several restaurants near Berklee to familiarize me with the locations that I could choose to dine at during the school semester, showing me how to use a washing machine, and even getting basic things such as a table lamp and a trash can for me. Basically above and beyond what any parents might have done for a grown child above age 18. And guess what, I was actually about to turn 21 that year. All you and mom cared about was that things were made as easy as possible for me and that any and all outstanding issues to be resolved on my behalf so that I can direct all my attention and focus toward my studies without unnecessary distractions or worries. But back then all I cared about was that both of you left Boston. I felt uncomfortable and was still mad at how you used to raise your voice and shout at me. I thought you were an aggressive person and I was afraid of you, and this dominant thought and emotion I have of you and toward you blinded me to the genuine love and care you showed me through your actions.

What would I have given to actually have the ability to know that this first week of April would be the last week you were alive. If I had known back then in January when you were still corresponding with me and able to reply my emails with alot of advice that it was going to be approximately the last 3 months of your life, I could have done much more rather than just be a passive observer to your struggles with cancer. I mostly did not ask you directly for details about your condition and potential suffering. I only told you details pertaining to my studies right here in the US. I never took the extra step to find out more about your condition, I only shared with you details regarding the things I was studying and doing. You patiently listened to me and responded to me according to my needs and to what I was asking or telling you.

Even after I found out that you passed away, I had to ask to find out how old you were. KK said 58. I didn’t even know your age. This almost encapsulates the degree of concern I’ve showed you the entire time you were fighting the hardest battle of your life. You did everything you could for me to the best of your abilities since I was born and for the entire 23+ years of my life. But in these 2 years when you were courageously fighting for your life, I did nothing for you, except to email you and ask you for checks to pay for my school fees and rent.

I had the impression that countless people battle cancer for years, some even for decades maybe, and there are always uplifting stories of cancer survivors who beat the odds. I really never expected that your lymphoma would take your life just 2 years from when you were diagnosed with it. Yet again, I wouldn’t have known better because I have been overseas this entire time throughout your battle with lymphoma. When you were trying your best to bravely battle your cancer and at the same time remain responsible for my financial and emotional wellbeing here in the US, I was only single-mindedly concerned with studying more just so I could get smarter, and maybe possibly smarter than other Americans. All I thought about throughout my time here in the US was myself, my insecurities, my fears and my dreams, but never much about you. I only thought of you when I needed you for something, and only considered vaguely the possible suffering and pain you might be going through because of your lymphoma.

KK told me that our family got you a wheelchair last Tuesday, around the time you suddenly stopped being able to talk. He said you had continued to use the walking stick for as long as you could. But KK also said that there wasn’t much of a chance for you to use the wheelchair, because apparently mom, Deidei and himself were very surprised at how quickly your condition deteriorated from that day onward up till you passed away in less than a week. They said they really could not have expected it.

I really wished I could know how much pain and suffering you were going through the last 2 years, and especially the week after you lost your ability to talk. Were you scared? You had mom, KK and DeiDei by your side that last week of your life, but did you think that you could actually pull through until I returned from the US in slightly less than 2 months’ time? Or that you knew you would hardly be able to make it for another 2 months? What did you want to say to me face to face?

Dad, are you reading this?