The God Of Gamblers

of Taiwan died last week and I just want to tell his story since he is a quirky character. However I have to start with Arjin and her husband, who run a small cell phone store and travel agency in one of the strip malls in Edison.

I don’t know why Arjin and her husband would want to drive to casinos twice a month. Once I helped her with the dishes after a dinner gathering, and she told me to dilute the detergent to save money on both the detergent and the rinsing water. I thought she’s going a little too far on her saving attempts. After being so vigilant about her spending, she and her husband would drive to Atlantic City or Mohegan Sun or somewhere in Lehigh Valley to throw away their hard-earned and hard-saved money to enrich the gambling establishment. I just can’t understand it.

Before the pandemic, going to casinos seems to be the fashion here among the small business owners and employees. The three hair salons with a flair to follow the latest style of South Korean actresses; the restaurants specialized on either Cantonese or Sichuan food; the cosmetic stores; the bakery that puts too much sugar in its bread; the import-export company with high rate of employee turn around. All of them are regular visitors to various casinos in the region.

I can understand why people want to build casinos in Atlantic City or Uncasville, Connecticut. However I can’t understand how people could come up with the idea of building a casino in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. That’s such a beautiful town with a nice university and well preserved buildings going back to the 16th century. One feels like walking on the streets in the medieval era. One feels this strange sensation of time warping, seeing flashes from another time, hearing stories from somebody long dead. My favorite spot is the place where men and women built a new community, practicing brotherhood, equality, sharing to defy the mainstream ideas. How wonderful. The trouble is they also had to take a vow of silence and celibacy, which understandably put themselves out of fashion very quickly. Still, I love these daring social experiments. How come there are no such social experiments nowadays? Anyway, how can anybody have the heart to build an ugly casino in this most beautiful ancient town? It is beyond my understanding.

I think about this only because last week the god of gamblers of Taiwan, Dai Zilang, died of heart attack at home after a typical lunar new year binge eating event. He is so lucky, I think. I would be happy to have his death when I’m his age. Just eat and drink and play Mahjong and be merry. Suddenly you feel a little pain in your chest and you pass out. That’s it. The best painless death imaginable. There’s a reason why people want to continue to eat junk food and drink and smoke. There’s merit in living a relative short life consuming one’s favorite poisons. The alternative is not very appealing, like living a long life of killjoy self constraint, having a diet of a rabbit.

He doesn’t look anything like a “god”. With all those money he’s made, he dresses in T-shirt and sandals, lives in barely furnished apartment, and eats and drinks and moves like a hobo– and probably this is why people like him so much. I know this because he has videos of himself talking on his old discolored couch with a clothe line above him with two T-shirt hanging there to dry. He is very humble and extremely fair. If you are a member of his gambling team, you know every single item of monetary concern and will never be baffled about the financial transparency. He looks to me like a Buddha–even his protruding stomach is Buddha like. He’s clever, generous, fair, easygoing, gluttonous (which is a positive word in the realm of Buddhism), flexible, laid back, sartorially challenged–a typical Buddha like god.

He was a stock trader at first, but during a stock market crash in the 1990s, he lost a lot of money and had to quit. Although this is not said about him, but giving the way I know how financial companies run their business in many Asian countries, I guess he lost a lot of money of his own relatives and friends. If you want to work in the financial industry in Taipei, Penang, or Shanghai, you need to bring your own friends and relatives in, either to open accounts in the bank you work for, or open investment accounts for you to manage.

He switched to gambling and read the book “Beat The Dealer” on Blackjack. His intention is to use his card counting tricks on casinos to earned back the money he lost from the stock market. Within three years, he was able to win enough to compensate his relatives and friends, and in the process he got himself banned by over 200 casinos in the world. Without access to casinos himself, he started to set up training schools for young people who have good memories to join his gambling team. He provides the seed money and his team of casino assassins would do his bidding, the spoil of which is divided according to the predetermined rate.

He has no interest in luxury goods that money can buy and his private life is almost non-existent. What’s the point of working so hard? Probably for the admiration of his followers and the competition with a couple of other leaders of similar gambling teams who fight with him for the title of god or guru.

Probably God or gods, if we really know them, are just as dysfunctional as human beings.

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