WHEN you are stuck in a long wait – in a hospital lounge, in a dentist’s clinic, in an airport transit hall, at a bus stand, in a crowded bank lobby – you feel you’re a prisoner of time. You can’t leave the place and your cell phone has run out of battery. You can’t do anything, you can only pace the room and wait and fidget.

Before you get entrapped in such a situation again, carry a pocket spiral notepad and a pencil with you wherever you go. In a dead time zone, fish out your pad to doodle or scribble observations, ideas and thoughts that just happen to graze your mind.

Another interesting way to pass time is to play Imagine with yourself.

Imagine you have ten million dollars, heck, make it a hundred million. Imagine how you would have like to spend it. Bill Gates actually spent a fistful of millions building a lakeside resort, cinema hall, library and museum in one location and calling it home. To announce the fact that although he’s a geek, he’s also an intellectual, he even bought Leonardo da Vinci’s set of notebooks for over $20 million and have it on display in his palace at Medina in Washington State.

You may not have as many green bills as Bill, but you’re infinitely more resourceful, at least in your imagination. So, with the money you have imagined, what is the first thing you are going to do?

Quit your job, of course. Life is too short to work for others! Buy two houses, one a thatched cottage (like William Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in the Lake District) and one a large apartment in a choice city location (next to a winding river or a mirror lake, such as in Melbourne or Hangzhou). Imagine furnishing your two houses so that both are diametrically different in ambience and decor.

Inside the ivy-entwined country cottage, you furnish it with high-tech gadgets, a home theatre system and shiny gym equipment. But in your city apartment, all should be 15th-16th Century Ming Dynasty rosewood and mother-of-pearl furniture, with ceramics, old masters and calligraphy scrolls on the walls. And the desk is a bamboo table cluttered with writing brush, ink slab and an incense burner. Other than the hidden wiring, airconditioning, underfloor heating and plumbing, there must be no visible trace of chrome and electronic gear in the city apartment.

Make an unhurried trip around the world, to all the adrenalin-pumping places you have read in adventure books as a kid: the 800km Pilgrim's Walk in the Pyrenees, England's mist-shrouded Lake District, the Valley of the Kings where many mighty pharaohs were buried, the Khyber Pass that Alexander the Great passed through to India, the city of Benares where Buddha preached his universe-changing first sermon, the Cloud Forest of Costa Rica, the 4,380km Congo River described by Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, the Mountains of the Moon, a seven-hour bus ride from Kampala, and Tierra del Feugo, first explored by Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, at the bottom of the world.

Take your time to take note of the places before you move on.

If you are the randy sort, imagine what a few millions can buy in service and attention from the most beautiful women in the world. Imagine yourself night after night fornicating with a different girl. Set aside ten million dollars for this, and even if you spend a million a year buying love, the amount will last you 10 years, a pretty long stretch of sheer, unmitigated pleasure.
         The awful daring of a moment's surrender
         Which an age of prudence can never retract
         By this, and this only, have we existed.

Invest in some audacious enterprise, such as,

(a) Buying a stretch of barren land in a barren sub-Sahara location and planting trees to convert it into a dense forest;

(b) Building a children’s hospital staffed with good doctors, to offer free treatment to sick children the world over;

(c) Constructing an undersea glass dome, the size of a football stadium, complete with living quarters, to study and gawk at marine life;

(d) Organising an annual million-dollar contest for the most useful breakthroughs in the treatment of intractable diseases;

(e) Laying out a fullscale livable replica of an ancient metropolis – Athens, Babylon or Chang-an – but with concealed modern plumbing and electrical wiring, and invite people to live and work in it rent-free. If your city is Athens, then hire a bunch of unemployed philosophy professors to give Platonic dialogues to visitors; if it's Chang-an, then get poets to come and declaim their works while beautiful singsong girls in translucent dresses play the pipa and zither in the background. If it is Babylon, have a giant stage where actors perform the Epic of Gilgamesh and other creation myths.

And when the money runs out before you have completed anything, just imagine more!

“He had apparently decided that the evening was a failure so far as talk was concerned. If he had not come dressed in his best clothes he might have had a book in his pocket which he could have pulled out and read. As it was, nothing but the resources of his own mind were left him; but these were huge; and these he explored as he sat with his back to the piano looking the very image of gravity, dignity and composure.”

– Virginia Woolf, on Dr Samuel Johnson passing an evening among company to whom he had nothing to say
The Second Common Reader, 1986 ed., p124

More on Dr Johnson

Contents Page

Beauty at lotus pool