Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Going Home

I will be home in *count them!* 5 days.

My family. Friends. Pet. Car. Dog. Home Computer. Shower. Old clothes. Tattered leather couch. Patio. Kitchen. I will see them, touch them again.

And all for too short a time.

Because this time it's going to be different. I'm going home with someone very close to me, but a stranger to everyone back home. How is he going to adjust? How am I going to please both sides and keep things perfect?

I shouldn't worry, should I? Things have a way of sorting themselves out. It's just quite a step; more than just visiting a friend's family for 2 hours - its two whole weeks. Of idiosyncrasies, a different accent, mindset, expectations and everything. To expose everything you love for its own sake to someone you love, knowing full well they may reject it - its a scary prospect.

Other than that, I'm really looking forward to it, as I'm expecting we'll have a great time:) Well we won't exactly be free and completely holiday-ing as there are still uni things to complete, but if planned well that shouldn't cause too much stress. Time to be organised Evelyn again!

Happy holidays everyone!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Kinds of Darkness

There are so many thoughts in my head once again as I sit down here to write and I feel privileged - privileged to be the bearer of words; chalices that contain meaning that can be used for enlightening, teaching, joking, bonding, loving, twisting, hurting - or just locked safely away in one's sternum. (Yes, the ribs, keep it near your ribs, your heart needs more than words to feed it.)

I read what I wrote again. That was a long sentence. I have this tendency to write "pretzel" sentences - declarations so long that you forget at the end what was said at the beginning. Isn't that how our minds work, though? Sometimes we forget, at the end of the journey, what we started out for?

Today, as I was walking down to my room (a dorm room located kind-of underground, 2 floors below ground level but which makes sense, as my campus is built on hilly ground) I did not see the light at the middle of each flight of stairs where there is an unbricked view of the trees and the sea just beyond my school. We live by a bay, Tolo Bay. I know those trees and the shape of the sea instinctively now, though I am no artist, and while it does not sparkle like the Mediterranean, it has its beauty. I know that though the light is not there and all there is to it now is darkness and mystery, it is not an unfamiliar and menacing darkness - I know exactly what it hides, and love the variations of this natural scene.

Tomorrow, I will see the first glimpse of sunlight hit the water, if I wake up that early. And when I go to classes, the dense greenery encroaching the sand will wave in the gentle breeze.

And why did I think of this? Well, I've been thinking about light and darkness recently - not brooding - but in snatches, sometimes indirectly - like this.

In class, we've been doing Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. (Which explains it all, really.) Whatever reservations I have of him as a person (I have to keep reminding myself that he was stuck in the paradigms of the early 20th century, and all white men had some racist prejudices, as we do today), his writing does accomplish something. He makes you see "the horror! The horror!" and brings that darkness (the ever present "mysterious, brooding, inscrutable" darkness) smack into your eyes. Ultimately, he seems to suggest, there is no escape from the darkness from either outside or inside yourself. The world is a dark and unfriendly place, and even London, the "greatest town on earth", is described as leading into the heart of darkness.

Outside the classroom, I've lit candles twice in the last three weeks. Candles are for tragedy, you know that? They symbolise our opposition to a world so dark that we can't even see each other's faces, each other's joys and sorrows and rejoice that at least we are not alone in feeling.

The tragedies I've touched, with icy fingers setting hard wax alight, were different: one emotionally detached, one a blow to the guts. One vast and universal, proclaimed and fought against by world leaders and millions all over the world with stories harsher than I've ever heard. One private and unevitable, met only with tears of tough boys and distraught students and teachers. I did not cry on AIDS Day, though millions have succumbed to this uncurable disease that devastates a large part of our world. I did cry for Martin, our former Mathematics teacher who after retiring to South Africa to reunite with his wife as he had longed to for so many years, had passed away without even his sister having a clue until three weeks later. He used to throw calculators at his students, and offer them cookies. He was the caricature of a fat man - a natural joker and a gambler, an avid sports fan, a drinker, and so much fun to be around. That was the Martin I knew, but many people knew him more and admired his strength, that he had suffered the death of his only child and still continued to be the person he was.

And there has been all other sorts of darkness and light too, pervading my life like wayang kulit as it does to everyone. University applications and all that business are a mix of both; while it is exciting planning and having high hopes for my future, the possibility of rejection and no-way-forward is too scary to be considered. Loving someone comes with its risks as well - contemplating a bond that seems to have an expiry date that you don't venture to guess. But it's obvious enough. 5 months, only a short period of certainty. After that, who can tell?

I think my tone seems to have gotten darker and darker throughout this entry, but that isn't my intention. Perhaps what I really want to get across is that there are many kinds of darkness existing in the world; some as natural as night and day, some that will always remain a mystery as long as we live in a linear, one-directional time dimension, and some that must be fought for with every inch of our lives. It is up to each to decide what is which.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sleepiness!

"I'm dreaming my life away..."
that's how a song by an oldies band called "Dream, dream" goes. Sounds ludicrous, but I'm sleeping my life away. And guess what? I want to. When I sleep, there seems to be no worries and no anxiety, just a desire for more...
I've been told over and over by people that I love, both my family and friends, that I seriously need to cut down on sleep. That it's not good for me. That I will be able to achieve more if I didn't sleep the way I did (with reckless abandon, mostly).
...
After Christian Fellowship tonight, I'm not sleepy anymore and thus can't quite get into the "writing about sleepiness" mood. I admire writers so much. How are they able to discipline themselves to sit down and write something of value, something that people will actually read? Even now, deep in procrastination, I find it hard to churn out words that make sense.
I'll write another day, and hopefully with a better entry. Perhaps I should change to writing about my daily life. Boring as it may be, at least there's always something to say.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Long awaited update

Most patient and faithful readers,

I do apologise for going so long without an update. Life intrudes so rudely, disrupting my thoughts and stealing my time so that my well-intentioned plans of blog-updating are cast away on the sea of an endless 'things to do' list. (I am not kidding - in addition to the multiple meetings/classes/activities that I am involved in everyday, I have a to-do list on my computer that never seems to end.)

But enough of that. Really, the last few months (and the last month that I haven't updated you about in particular) have swallowed me whole. I have been through so many mood swings and teetered on the edge of despair so many times that its not even funny. There is much weariness of the body of course, as I certainly do not get as much sleep or rest as I would like (about 9 hours a day would do wonders) but also a certain soul fatigue - is this all there is to the UWC experience? Is that what I am going to remember about my two years here? Will I ever be happy and carefree again?

Melodrama does play a large role in it, but I think its because here we are so isolated from the 'real world' though we know a lot about it collectively. I hardly keep up with the news happening back home and know very little about what's happening around the world. Unless I'm told about something, I don't know it. Thus every small incidence is blown up to a huge event. I find it hard to regain perspective nowadays. There are so many things I want to do with my life now that I really don't have time for all of them. I guess the only way to tell is to give up what is less important, the temporal pleasures and focus on what is really important.

I would love to continue but I'm falling asleep. Till next time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Word

2 Timothy 2: 22Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

Galatians 5: 19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Search my heart O God. Your word is unchanging truth that stands firm even though the waves of life and confusion sweep over me. Although alternative doors are opening to me now, with them it brings shades of grey and dubious morality and a craving for temporary pleasures. If there is nothing I can cling onto now - not church which sometimes seems so far away and so removed from the immediate pressures of the real world and this confinement of thoughts in my mind; or people with their changing whims and fancies; or books which preach different doctrines - there is one thing I can hold onto now.

Your word. Your word.

_____________________

I said to someone recently, "I want to be someone who has lines, lines dividing right and wrong, truth and deceit, because now I am someone who has great big areas of uncertainty." Only the creator of the universe can be an authority on those lines, and I want to find out exactly where they are.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Big Question

"You've told me who your are not. So who are you?"

Look at the stars, the roof, the potted plants next to you and the boxy texture of the ground. Just don't look at his face. Then you will definitely not be able to find a single word to say.

Subject, verb, object. Remember the order of making sentences. Put one together.

Don't say "I don't know". That is a shortcut to not thinking. Pause.

It's not hard to divert the subject for a while, talk and laugh and joke about related things till we're on a topic far, far away. The connections hum just so. Another one of the things I love about this.

Sooner or later though, he'll say "But back to what we were talking about. You were saying...?"

Drats.

-~-~-

Run, run away from the questions you can't answer; the unquantifiable, unmeasurable, unprovable wishy-washy statements.

I pledge allegiance to a God whom I cannot see or touch but believe in through faith, and I will live my life each day for His glory."

Fancy enough. But how do you actually do that? And what about the shady areas? When you get down to specifics, there isn't much consensus. And then, I can't answer you because I don't know what is the right answer. I can't just give you my answer, surely? It might be the wrong one, the one I say to lie to myself about how I feel and think, the one that I change every minute.

"If you don't take anything else from this, at least I hope you find out who you are."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Whose life are you living for?

Have you ever wondered, as you sit in front of the wide-screen television watching your favourite soap opera (martial arts, legal drama, forensic, the ever-popular police force or whichever it may be) what it actually does to your brain and emotions?

We've all had that experience of being deeply affected by a movie. Bambi's mother, Forrest Gump...the emotional effects of a touching film moment can be as real as our own experiences. Except that it's contrived so; to tweak your emotions, to squeeze your heart. Doesn't that feel rather manipulative to you?

I mean, don't we have enough from daily life to deal with already?

Perhaps we don't. The figures on the screen, the actors with their well-rehearsed lines, are everything and do everything that we wish we could. We live voraciously through them: how could she do that? That's so stupid! He's so evil....

A study showed that the number of hospital admissions for paracetamol overdose in Britain increased after a showing of television drama Casualty depicted a man trying to kill himself by swallowing 50 paracetamol tablets. Some patients did admit to the show influencing their choice of drug in attempting suicide. It's scary to think how vulnerable we are, how easily influenced not just by encounters with real people, but with stories dreamt up by Hollywood scriptwriters.

I wonder if we were meant to live like this. Anesthesized to the real world, glued to our tv screens and internet browsers and games, seeking the next exciting thing. Reminds me of the wife (Mildred Montag, SparkNotes informs me) in Fahrenheit 451, glued to the tv and only a shell of a human being.

I am glued to the computer most of my waking hours, but sometimes it does pay to remember that people lived perfectly happy lives before technology or instant entertainment, and in some parts of the world they still do. I want to breathe non air-conditioned air, to close an internet window and open a real one, to laugh with a friend, to play a board game. Sometimes. There are still things that technology cannot give us.

And if that does not make my life primetime TV, so be it. My life and fate and relationships are not in the hands of a talented scriptwriter or the fancy of the audience, but my own. And that is worth it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ungratefulness, or something more?




Many days now, I wake up and think about everything that isn't perfect about my life. How I still have so much homework unfinished and only a week of holidays left. How my body's insatiable desire for sleep and my lack of willpower to fight it robs me of so many productive hours each day. How life is unfair; that so many people are smarter, prettier, richer, more pulled-together than I am. It's like the goddess of Fortune gave them more things in the handout line, and I was left scrambling for the leftovers.

And then suddenly it washes over me inexorably with the ring of truth: I am so, so ungrateful.

While I complain and stress out over applying to universities abroad, about how much work it is, how difficult to get in; I completely overlook the fact that I am so, so privileged to have this opportunity. It's like being let out into the garden of Eden and complaining that it's boring because everything is perfect and good. How many people I know would never dream of this - because they were never exposed to it? If I were like one of my primary school friends, without the English-speaking background and the financial ability and the access to reading that widened my horizons - I would want different things. A steady job as a salesperson. A course at a local college. A car. Yet, having access to so much more, I only look to those who have more and bemoan my lack.

I know this thought isn't original, in fact I've read it on a lot of blogs, newspapers, books etc. before - to be thankful for the health, wealth, happiness and all the blessings that we have. And when I read it I agree with the author, that we have so much more than the kids in Africa (I use the generic term on purpose - I know not all kids in Africa are starving, and not all parts of Africa are in a mess). And that we should definitely stop complaining and just enjoy our good fortune. Help the poor and unfortunate in society. Live simply.

However, that wasn't the point I'm aiming for. Having stumbled on this epiphany, what ought I do? Surely there is some moral obligation that comes with all this good fortune. Surely a price to pay. Besides exploiting every advantage in hand, pushing myself to the top of the pile just to make it in the eyes of society. That is too meaningless, when others are fighting everyday; begging, stealing, pimping and doing anything to survive.

The obvious answer - to put myself forward as a bridge reconciling the horrendous gap in our world - be a modern-day Robin Hood, robbing the rich (politely and peacefully) to give to the poor, is too trite to be believable. Our instinct for self-preservation is too great; our selfishness too deeply ingrained in us. While there are some exalted mortals who are truly selfless, I am not yet one of them. Besides, no one acts against our base nature without some stronger motivation that overrides the former's commands - and the call to self-sacrifice is not strong enough yet for me to stop tapping to the beat of our materialistic, self-centred world.

Maybe once in a while I pause and look up, wondering if there is another song - a song to end all songs - one I can dance my whole life away for and not regret a single step. But the pull of the familiar is too strong, and I am lost in the cacophony again.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Alternate Futures

1)

The lights are dimmed. A low hum of chatter comes from the few tables of diners in this small art-deco cafe, a laugh erupting now and then. No one pays attention to the change until a spotlight shines center-stage and a smooth baritone announces: "Ladies and gentlemen, the act for tonight. A mix of soul and jazz to soothe your tired mind, put a dance in your step. May I introduce to you...."

An average-looking brunette walks out from side stage, the checked shift-dress accentuated by a wide pleather belt and an attention-grabbing plumed hat. A few patrons giggle.

She grasps the microphone and keen observers note the slight trembling. A low A key thrums across the room and the audience is spellbound. Like an expert surgeon she slides between their ribs and slices out their hearts.

Just a human voice. She is not one of the Sirens bewitching sailors to her island; where they, helpless to resist are dashed to pieces on the rocks, their blood lapped up by hungry fish in an uncaring sea. But she holds the same key to a kingdom beyond words, where beggars are kings and mice are lions. She knows of no truths but one: the song must go on, to its very end. There is no pleasure or pain, joy or tragedy in music, though man give it such qualities. It just is, and the purest note speaks more than a million well-chosen words. Her vocal chords were merely a crude tool; the music she produced a fleeting glimpse of the ultimate Melody. But compared to the rest, what a tool it was!

The waiter. The bored bartender. The rouged women, the smirking men whose expressions seemed to say "I've seen it all". The person-shaped shadows in the corners. They die to the music with a smile on their faces.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Writing, and Malaysia

There are so many things that I want to blog about that my mind is racing. In completely different directions. I am reminded once again of the maxim "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows not".

The heart- don't you sometimes wish you didn't have one? It scoffs at logic and common sense and discipline. It speaks its own language. It reminds you that all good and all evil ultimately springs from it. And how important it is to keep oneself pure.

Sometimes, I wish I could write as fast as I talk. Ideas pop into my head at the weirdest times. When I want to sleep. When I'm in the car or the bus. When I'm driving. And they don't come in proper structures like sentences, but in a rush - like a two-hour long movie shown at high speed. You catch snippets of it here and there, the beginning and the end are crystal clear and you KNOW for sure this is the one idea that will make it big. If only the soaring emotion, the words that would immortalise the day and you forever, would stick in your head long enough for you to get into a cyber cafe and start typing.

Also, I realised over the weekend at a conference how smart Malaysians are. We have so many smart people here that if they all stayed and did their most in the field they were passionate about, Malaysia could have a turnaround. I just hope they'll come back. They will benefit anywhere, but Malaysia needs them most. Maybe their hearts will tell them what their logical brains refuse to accept:)

Yes, I have to admit it. There is hope for this country. There is even hope for SOME of our politicians, if what I and 500-odd participants at this years Malaysian Student Leaders Summit heard. And when there's so much fun happening, and true hope of rebuilding a better nation for all, who can resist the challenge?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Essay

This is an essay I sent to a competition a while ago. Warning: it's really long, might take you some time to read, it took me whooping HOURS to write. And because of that, for this one you must comment.

Thanks!;)

----------------------------

Why Decorate?

Worn out by the long journey on a rickety bus with sweaty old women carrying children sucking their thumbs, I walked towards my room – my world, my refuge, the place where I would spend most of my resting hours in the next two years in – in the fifth hut, the second last one. I had come so far, halfway across the globe to experience this. Difference. Jumping into this melting pot of exotic Asian beliefs, food, festivals and people. As the sweat spouted from my head and neck and dripped into most uncomfortable places, I pondered on how the oppressive sun ferments and brings out the warmth and colour out of the people. How different from my Scandinavian country mates, frigid in their bearing and bland in their speech!

My thoughts came to a train-wreck stop when I unlocked the bamboo door and entered the room. It was completely bare except for a sheet-covered mattress on a single wooden bed, a study table and chair and a narrow standing wardrobe.

I had to sit on the bed to stop my head from spinning. This was all I was given? Granted, I could go out and buy furniture, comforting reminders of home – no, necessities- the wardrobe certainly would not hold all the clothes in my suitcase! But it took me 10 hours to get here from the nearest city. What with orientation, in-college weekend activities and getting accustomed to the college, I might not be able to go shopping for weeks.

Now, the four bare brick walls face me blankly. Absently, I notice several spots where the paint has peeled off in narrow strips, and where it has been painted over in a reddish-brown hue darker than the original one. I uttered a silent prayer that this would not be a portent of my life here: dull, functional and utterly devoid of personality.

It’s been two weeks since I arrived in India, and the weather has not improved, only perhaps my tolerance to it. My room has improved a little; there are a few Hibiscuses in a vase which is a plastic water bottle cut in half. I admit, it doesn’t sound that much better but to have a living thing besides myself in the room gives me some comfort. A few of my international classmates and I have been exchanging trinkets, and now I have in my room an Egyptian papyrus sheet with hieroglyphs, a poster of The Bahamas’ gorgeous beaches, a Chinese paper fan and an Indian cushion embroidered in bright colours and beads.

However, my greatest acquisition so far is the set of drawers that I haggled for and bought at a very decent price today at the flea market in Pune, about two hours away by bus. With 3 large drawers and lovely bronze handles, it will definitely make my room look less like a whirlwind had come and gone, sweeping clothes all over the place.

In its own meagre way, my room is beginning to feel like my own, and at least there are hints of beauty here and there. The uneven paint which used to irk my aesthetic senses is now a familiar and comforting sight. Perhaps beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder. Even that which is ugly can be appreciated in time, nostalgia dimming objective judgment.

Could the reverse be said, though? Could that which is lovely fade in beauty over time? Wasn’t it Keats who said “a thing of beauty is a joy for ever”? Could a beautiful room be appreciated forever, then? I suppose it could. The numerous castles and chateaux in Czech Republic preserved till this day are a testament to that.

Perhaps aesthetic beauty was measured by different standards then, but I can’t imagine living in such a lavish setting where even the bookshelves are a work of art and everything has been passed down for generations. However to a scion of one of those old privileged families, the décor of their family mansion may be a source of pride and identity. For me, a child of the post-modern era, I tend to lean towards expressions of personal beliefs and individuality more than traditional styles. Either way, the importance people place on furnishing tells a great deal about them.

As I rush out the door with five minutes to spare till College Meeting starts, I wonder if everything can be interpreted as beautiful, even things like graffiti, if we consider the motivations of the creator. Decoration is a form of art, after all, and “art is what you can get away with”1. In a way, that’s true: art can be more about glamour and prestige than actual artistic quality. Perhaps if I became absurdly famous in 20 years, a picture of my room as it is now would be captioned as “obviously, the refuge of a brilliant mind too busy to bother with aesthetic decoration, spurning common furnishings for a simple lifestyle but incorporating eye-catching elements such as the cushion, poster and drawers.”

Pretension, that’s what it all is.

It’s three more days till school ends, and I leave the humid air of India behind to go home, with my International Baccalaureate programme completed. I look around at my room, furnished – if that’s the right word – in the most eclectic way, nothing matching but a riot of colours, styles and precious junk. However, I’m also proud of it in a certain way; proud of the fact that each part of it was selected and placed with care and no part of it comes from a mass-produced Ikea catalogue. My room reflects my uniqueness, my life – and whose life can be entirely orderly and fitting? Our oddities only add to our beauty, not detract from it. The most valuable thing I have in this room is not the expensive turquoise earrings I bought in Mumbai or the large storage chest, treasure-chest style that takes up one corner of the room; but the poster that my friends made for my birthday with lots of pictures, quotes and messages for me.

I remember how much I hated this room when I first came. Now I can’t imagine leaving it. It has become an organic personality; it’s an extension of me. Where else do I head to after a long day of school and activities but my plushy bed covered with soft blankets and cushions in bright clashing colours? What better place could my friends and I stay to chat for hours but on the hand woven carpet that I bought from the market, from the seller who kept grabbing my hand and insisting that the fabric was “of the highest quality, yes ma’am”? I take the time to say goodbye to my room, memorising every detail in my mind before I was to take it apart, strip it of any connection to me till the next owner would come and bring life to it again.

On one wall there are photographs pasted everywhere, black and white, colour, large and small – each one of them marking and immortalising an important moment in my life. My birthday, thousands of miles away from home but surrounded with love from my friends. Sasha, my confidante and every-weather best bud2, is hugging me, smiling and laughing in one photograph. Some of the pictures are of home, with familiar figures that are a source of strength and inspiration for me in my most trying times. Taking them down will take hours, I know - not because of the physical task which is easy enough, just removing the Blu-tack from the walls- but the emotional step of packing all these memories away and storing them for another time, another wall, another place.

My friends’ rooms also show the gradual accumulation of “stuff” – trinkets, souvenirs, things that you have to buy just because it’s a steal – of the past two years. Interestingly, each one reflects the personality and character of the owner. Natalia’s is pristinely clean and tidy, not a speck of dirt to be found anywhere. The décor is tasteful, with framed photographs and watercolour paintings of the Mediterranean Sea and Greek countryside on her wall. It hints at her love affair with nature and her close ties to her homeland, Corfu in Greece. She loves blue and white, so entering her room is like entering an oasis of peace and tranquillity. On the other hand, Jenny, the queen of all things dark, weird and twisted; has a voodoo mask on her wall. Everything that she owns is black, even her chair, table and her notebooks. She would have painted her walls black too if only the school had allowed it. Contrary to what you’d expect, she’s not a mournful soul and laughs just as much as anyone else. All the same, the more time you spend in her room the more claustrophobic you get, like being in a rabbit burrow. Jenny chooses to see it differently, she says that black is the best colour because it doesn’t reflect it but absorb it, and there were so many possibilities within. She quoted from a book she had read, “The Woman Warrior” by Maxine Hong-Kingston3, which talked about the black “curtains swinging open, flying up, one after another, sunlight underneath, mighty operas”.

I didn’t consciously set out to decorate my room in such a way, and it feels vastly different from the candy-frosted, pink-and-white interior-designed room that I go back to when I’m home for the holidays in Norway. I could say that this change represents the process of growing up and making my own decisions. I used to think that decorations were only about prettiness, to make one’s life more pleasing by surrounding oneself with pleasing things. Now, I know that it goes deeper than that – that by decorating to fulfill our need to create something original and individual and to express our personality, we is marking out our own little space in this vast and incomprehensible universe we live in.

I pack my room up. I pack my world up.

1677 words

Footnotes:

1 Quote attributed to Andy Warhol.

2 Best bud, a shorter way of saying best buddy or best friend.

3 Kingston, Maxine Hong. “Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts” London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd, 1981

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Itch

The eternal restless chafing. The "Oh god, why me?!" The "Oh god, why NOT me?!" Like a baby birds extending its mouth as wide as they can for that succulent worm, I am never satisfied.

No matter what milestone we've reached, it only takes a glimpse of someone who's doing better than us (especially those who are similar to us but somehow achieve more) to make us unsatisfied. Apparently, tests show that the negative emotional impact of an event is 2.5 times more than the positive emotional impact for a good event. If I lose 10 ringgit, I feel 2.5 times more unhappy than the level of happiness I would get from finding 10 ringgit. Why are we rigged this way?

Maybe that is the most compelling reason we strive to achieve success on our terms - thinking that when we get there, the itch will stop. We will no longer be driven to gain more, be the best, shove anyone in our way. Why do we presume that, though? From the smugly contented faces of mercedes chauffeur-driven businessmen? They just don't scratch in public, that's all.

And therein lies the conundrum - we all want others not to have it too bad. We feel pity for starving people on the television screen, though that doesn't always translate into giving a dollar to the crippled man who begs in the night market. They ought to do well, in a fair and balanced world - as long as they don't do better than us. If they're the same, maybe slightly inferior like servants, it's alright. The best outcome is if we should all be the same! A pleasing notion, the centre of communism (communal property, remember?) but doomed to failure when it ignores man's first instinct to dominate. Even democracy, because it assumes all citizens who vote are equal, have perfect information regarding their choices and act in a rational manner, is laughable in it's lofty goals. In the end, the same people will get to the top through ambition, money, connections, charisma or some other potent POWER cocktail, no matter the political ideology in fashion at that period. And we kid ourselves into thinking that if we had the chance to drink it, we'd be a better leader than them.

If we were really honest, the lure of power is almost impossible to refuse. The itch - the belief that we are the best person for the task - wants to be scratched.

I wish I had my new body now, one free from sores and itchy spots. To be gloriously free of worry, envy, competition and frustration! However, if this body so earth-bound, screaming to be satisfied by desires that grow more demanding the more you succumb to them (the way scratching an itch makes it even more itchy), can by its refusal bring any glory to the One who promises a better one than I could ever imagine...

Then I will plunge my hand into a hornet's nest before I scratch. not. even. one. gentle. sweep of the hand.



Freedom is just a breath away.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Happy

Happiness is ephemeral. Like rainbows and summer breezes and sunrises, it steals into your heart and you can only gasp at its beauty and the lifting of your heavy soul. When you've gone a long time without being Happy, you forget what it feels like. How your ordinary life is illuminated; everything seems perfectly fitted together; disasters, earthquakes and uncertainty fade into the back of your mind as though they were part of a faintly remembered dream, ridiculous to recall in the bright sunlight.

If we always lived Happy, nothing would ever get done. We would stay children in a perpetual wonderland, never learning that hardship, brokenness and wandering is essential to molding strong and noble hearts to fight the good fight. That the rainbow is beautiful because we have sat through the storm. That the sunrise brings joy because we waited, despairing-desperate in darkness. That the battle victory is so much more exhilarating because it was so nearly lost.

Still, simple Happiness unearned, encountered unexpectedly reminds us why living is such a precious gift. And hopefully, memories of Happiness will envelop the finer qualities of love, patience and wisdom in our souls when we finally depart this world with a smile on our faces.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mission Shallow Waters Day 1 (and 2)

So it began rather disastrously, but just as one sinks and then learns to swim really quickly, not all bad beginnings are portentous.

My ambitious 7am wake-up-and-jog plan turned into a 12pm wake-up-and-eat-takeout-char-koay-teow plan. But then it started to get better. Sent emails, surfed the net and got to talk to someone that I've been missing for a while. Had a firm plan to take a walk/jog in the evening and actually did do it...but it was more of a leisurely stroll as I got to talk with my best friend whom I haven't caught up with for weeks...which means we talked for an hour and a half and still did not get through all we wanted to say!

Then, I went to church for youth. It was pretty refreshing to have a guest speaker who didn't remind us of all the turmoil that had gone before, and encouraging each person to be truly passionate for God. I realised that He truly is a consuming fire - more than an emblem we carry or a group we identify with, our God will do wonders if we allow Him control over all aspects of our life. Exciting. I can't wait to see what He's going to do next in my life, and in the youth.

Ok next day screwed up my biological clock again by sleeping at 6am. Fortunately I had a badminton date so I didn't completely slush the day away. Badminton is fun and not hard to pick up, if you don't expect to be awesome immediately. Was nice talking to my old buddies. I realise how much I've missed them. Your friends remind you who you are.

And then it comes to tonight! Going to watch a movie with parents in our home cinema (ie tv and stereo) and then probably bed. What a lovely simple day.

I'd also like to clarify what I meant by shallowness as some readers have said to me directly that they don't get it. Perhaps it's better to use the word simpleness (or simplicity) which has a certain clean, purposeful appeal to it. But I've already started with shallow, so I'll keep it for as long as this spell carries on.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A new beginning

Starting today (this very morning!) I am going to be shallow.

The rules are: No angst. (some people will be glad to hear this). No deep thought. No philosophising. Earnest discussions only allowed if started by good friends.

And most importantly: No telling myself that what's on the inside counts. THIS WHOLE WEEK, ONLY WHAT'S ON THE OUTSIDE COUNTS.

I have been using that excuse to hide the flab for too long. Yes, I know that I am unique, but then so is every cold you get in your lifetime. That is not a valid excuse not to improve myself, especially when I CAN.

I saw myself in the mirror today. And I didn't like what I saw. I looked sallow and unhappy. Like a kid fed too much candy. (Pretty accurate actually.) I didn't like the clothes I tried on; they didn't make me look better. You can only be content with yourself when you know you are the best you can be, now. I am not that.

I will do my homework as efficiently as is humanly possible. I will exercise every day. I will indulge in fluff like Gossip Girls entire Season One on pirated DVD to reinforce the mantra "You will never be as beautiful, as pretty or as thin as you are now." If that's true, I'm upping my standards while I can. When I do age and go over the hill, it's not going to be over some Bukit Kledang, old-people-hike-up-every-morning, cosy little antmound. It's going to be an Everest, because that's how high I want to reach. While I'm young and healthy enough to do it.

Do comment, but positive ones only. I am hyping myself up for this, so if you've ever enjoyed an inspirational movie this is the part where you say, "You go, girl!" to the cheerfully determined protagonist. Be utterly shallow, and may you enjoy this next (hopefully short and successful) loop in my loopy life. Look out for further updates.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Just a few things

1)
"All night
Hearing voices telling me
that I should get some sleep
Because tomorrow might be good for something"
-Unwell, Coldplay

That's whats been plaguing me for the last few days. I think Singapore just doesn't resonate with me. I don't sleep as well and wake up disorientated there. I feel lethargic and fat and very provincial. I have nasty thoughts. For a looong while (over an hour, which is long for me) I thought hard why I just can't like Singapore. And I still can't figure out why. I have no problem with individual people, with the system even, restrictive and rule-based it may be, but I just can't take it as a package. The thought of ever living there scares me. Of slowly becoming accustomed to the place, making friends, having favorite hangouts, growing roots...glargh. I should never take the risk.

It might be a case of very deep bigotry due to a warped sense of patriotism and "somebody done somebody wrong". Or it might just be a dislike the way I like yellow and dislike say...magenta.

2)

Romans 7:22-23 (New International Version)
22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.

This is deeper than I can comprehend intellectually, the same way a child draws stickmen and stickwomen to show his Happy Family. It is a pale and inadequate representation. But how I know of what he speaks about! If we are continually saved by grace, and right thinking leads to right living as preachers of grace teach, then why do I still struggle?

If the law is null, then what is right? If God does not speak audibly to us, then who sets the standards? Pastors and elders? But they differ in their opinions too, sometimes directly contradicting each other. Authors? Our Christian friends? What guarantee do we have that they are right? And in the case of my youth split, I'd be seriously confused if that was all we had to stand on...

So what does that leave us with? Our own judgment; subject to all its foolishness and self-deception, the wiles of sin, self-righteousness, pride, false humility; the roaring din that throws our minds into confusion?

Lead me Lord I pray.

And finally, item...
3)

1 Corinthians 1:10

10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.

That is my prayer for the church.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Treshing it out

The biggest time-waster for young people and adults is definitely the internet.

I sit here planning to take 10 minutes to check my email, listen to a few songs and that's it. Instead, I find myself flipping from blog to blog, shuffling iTunes, checking MSN every few minutes to see if someone's there...and before I know it, my night is gone.

Oh yeah, and sometimes I try to blog but invariably there's nothing in my mind that's worth sharing.

My attention span becomes that of a technologically literate 5 year old. And sometimes it can be relaxing to put your brain cells in "sleep" mode, but it doesn't get much done. Depth is exchanged for enjoyment.

The only time I can really do work on the computer is without music and without internet. And to truly eliminate any distractions, without the games menu either.

But this was not really what I started out to say. What I wanted to talk about what this:

Can we still serve together under Christ if we don't agree with each other?

Those who know me might know what I'm referring to. It truly saddens me when friendships are severed and people become confused and disillusion because of theological disagreements. I know there are certain things that the church stands on and must never compromise on. The question is, which?

I've heard so much already, from people on both sides of the divide and also the fence-sitters. The one thing I'd want to do is to break that fence and bring all the sheep together, for aren't we all under the same shepherd? But that's not right for me to do when I'm new to the argument, so much has happened in the 6 months that I've been away. When everything was developing I was still in Hong Kong living a separate life and thinking that things were all okay, growing in the same direction as when I left. I suppose I should take a lesson from this: we all have our own struggles and everything looks better from a distance (including photos...the fewer the pixels, the better you appear.) Look closer up and you'll see the strain in the smile, the worry lines around the eyes, the dark eye-bags, the tightly-gripped hands.

We sing praises to God proclaiming that He is all we ever need. That we love Him. We give him our lives. We humble ourselves at His feet. But when the music draws to a close and the lights go up and people turn and see each other for the first time, what happens? Does a mask come on then, and we try to act cool and top one another, trading jokes and insults? Look around to see if the "happening people" are around and try to mix with them? Make as much noise as possible and push each other around, huddle in a tight circle sharing celebrity news until the youth leaders holler for quiet...

This is a usual scene at youth meetings. Maybe not all, but many of them. I don't blame the youth. I'm guilty of it too. We are not taught how to behave in church. But is it any better if we act all proper and chaste in the church sanctuary, then leave the church and act like we've never been in it? That's probably worse, and seeing younger youth acting like that should be a challenge to the leaders. Unconsciously, their behaviour mimics yours. By your actions you are showing them what's acceptable and what's not. The new talk is about "mentoring" and I'm all for that. I was never formally mentored by anyone but all the basics of spirituality and Christianity I learned from dedicated kid's pastors in the church and through kids camps, and later on as a teen with another church that adopted me as one of their own.

What matters to teenagers, though, is honesty. Can leaders truly be effective if they are not honest with themselves, with God and with others? This situation in church where the newly-elected leaders want to move forward and expand the youth with different programmes and commitments while not dealing with hurts left behind from disagreements and unresolved differences confuses me. Especially as we're all still in the same boat. Keep praying for unity, but until God touches our hearts to humble ourselves before each other and ask for forgiveness that we've hurt each other by each taking a moral high ground, I don't think that will happen. At some level it doesn't matter that we don't agree on everything. Unless you want to split up, you've got to make up somehow. And when congregations split, differences between leaders confuse and weaken the followers. Or make them more narrow-minded, sometimes.

I love these people, and individually I see that each of them burn with a passion to serve God especially with the youth. It is a conundrum to me why we can't all pull together. Perhaps I oversimplify things because I want to believe it is still mendable, and in doing so I do all parties an injustice. It isn't that simple.

All I know is that when I praise God, it is simple. When I read His word, my heart agrees and is at peace (okay most of the time, unless I go to the Old Testament, but that's another story), and it is simple. When I think of all He's done for me, it is simple.

It is only when I look at the people around me, at the complex messes we tangle ourselves into, at my own doubts and confusions...that I think that it isn't simple. At all.


Monday, June 30, 2008

Inspiring female bloggers and A quasi-creation

When I feel like I'm losing my voice, my personal thoughts or my sanity (or all of the mentioned!) - I blog.

More often than not, I sign in to the user account window and then wonder what to write. Compared to the dazzling, witty, interesting, hilarious, profound, just-plain-kepo-fun of other blogs I visit, mine seems so dull in comparison. Hardly ever any photos. If so, none of the author. Goodness, the author doesn't even reveal herself. How neurotic can one person be?

However! Today, I have found not one, but TWO, great blogs. Ta-daa: Joyce Tagal and Hannah Yeoh. Blogs that inspire me that one day, I may not only be a better writer, but that I might be a better person. And also to have more interesting, worthy thoughts to blog about than what I have now. And both are women and committed Christians. And very much patriotic Malaysians, though educated abroad. (One is still studying in the US). It reminds me that no matter how far in the world I roam, God's calling will always bring me to where he wants me to be, for His purpose. For now, I believe it is Malaysia He is ultimately calling me to.

And because I am feeling extra-creative today, I have a little creation for you guys:

He looked at the aluminium (or was it stainless steel? Don't know, don't care) trays before him bearing heavy loads of fish curry, chicken, steamed egg, boiled vegetables in sauce and other typical Malaysian dishes. Deng was troubled. Today had not been a good day. The boss was upset because a contractor was giving him trouble, and the was lots of tension in the office. The air-conditioner breaking down after dripping water for a week, did not help to improve the general mood. Hot and sweaty, stressed and tense; Deng was relieved when it was finally 12 o' clock and he could shuffle out of the narrow doorway for his lunch break.

"Which one you want?" The middle-aged serving woman standing before him with a metal ladle and a plate of white rice barked. Deng realised he had lost his focus and held up his palm, pretending he had been perusing the choices the whole time. "I want this.....this....and that vegetable." "That's 3.50." He paid and took his plate to the smallest table; only fit for one, two if you were sharing a plate.

He paused to say grace, out of habit. "ThankyouLordforthisfoodblessittoourbody'suseinJesus'nameAmen." Still the plural pronoun, after two years, with Jing and the kids gone? In the back of his mind, he knew that altering it, or dropping the habit completely, would mean that he had given up on them ever coming back and for things to return to the times when they were happy. When he was happy.

Digging into his food took total concentration. Deng was the type who did not like to have conversation over food, which was good considering he had no one to converse with. It required undivided attention to ensure that there was a proportionate mixture of rice, meat and vegetables in each spoonful; so that no one taste was dominant to his taste buds. And of course, to carefully separate the fish bits so that there would be no stray fish bones in his mixture.

Despite this, Deng took no pleasure in eating. It was just a habit, and without it he would not have the energy to work, and gnawing pains or gastric would kick in around 4.30pm. The serving ladies noticed that he always picked the same dishes whenever he came, which was a few times a week. Strapped down in the monotony of their lives, they would speculate about him: that he was a loner who repaired computers and hardware for a living; that he used to be a rich man whose wife had divorced him and left him poor and destitute. The truth was less grand than that, but they were content believing their own concoctions about him, content to let him point out the same dishes again and again, pretending to wait for him to ask when they already knew what he would pick. It wasn't nice to pry, not with a decent guy like that who minds his own business and brings us steady income.

Deng finished his task, the bones and debris were neatly pushed to one side of the plate. He looked around and for a moment someone who was looking closely would have been surprised at the look of desperation in his eyes. It said, "Help! You see this man in a pressed shirt and clean brown pants, but this is not me. I pick the same food to eat everyday, but that's the only choice I make. I did not pick this life, I did not pick this loneliness. And I don't know how to get out. Help me." The expression was gone the next instant.

He got up, and walked back slowly to the office. 12.45 pm. He would be back early. Maybe the boss will be pleased. Then again, he probably wouldn't notice.

Soundtrack: Moby - Natural Blues

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I am self-help guru of the day

A very precious piece of advice that I can give you which I never follow myself is: don't compare. It never satisfies. If you compare yourself to someone who performs beneath you, you feel smug and get an inflated opinion of yourself. On the other hand, compare yourself with someone who is superior and you feel about the size of an ant. A very jealous, furious ant about to explode from pent-up frustration.

How do you save yourself from this petty situation? Why, inflate your self-opinion even further. Think, "What would Gandhi do?" (for the religious-minded, "What would Jesus do?" would work as well, and if it instantly makes you feel ashamed that you are not loving your neighbour at all, so much the better) and feel the irritation seep away from your mind and the clenching envy gurgle out of your heart into the darkness where it belongs. Great people know their purpose and don't waste their time setting their sights on what others have accomplished. They make their own heights and reach them. They don't look around at others, but into themselves - they are their own best motivator. Keep it up, and if your goal is not ruthlessly Machiavellian and self-serving, you might even become outrageously successful one day.

And if your goal is, you definitely will be. For however long it takes for the masses to bring you down, that is.

Another coping mechanism to defuse the stress of comparisons with other people is laughter. Talk to a close friend, vent if you have to, but don't dwell on the topic. Move on to other things and see the humourous side in everything, especially yourself. It's not hard. You are weirder than you think. And when a friend genuinely laughs with you, and not just because they're stalling till the police arrive, it is truly soul-connecting. At the very least you know that there is someone in the world who shares your sense of humour, and that can be a very precious thing (especially if you ever have the misfortune of working or studying in an environment that has been humour-sterilised).

One last thing: get that temper, that energy out somehow. Singing works for me; but for others it may be exercising, doing office work, writing, folding laundry...but make sure it is constructive. Sleeping, eating, and any form of violence towards living creatures and humans is not going to help the situation.

Remember, you heard it at the tea stall first.

--------------

On other frequencies:

Have you heard Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love"? (I don't put the youtube link because from personal experience, no one clicks on them anyway, and putting up lyrics is just plain waste of space. If you are interested, look it up yourself.) Perfect surgeon's song, my dad would probably say. (Yes, that is his brand of humour.)

"You cut me open and I...keep bleeding, keep keep bleeding love...keep bleeding, keep keep bleeding love..."

I will be sure to sing that if I ever get dumped by a surgeon. But even if you're not, the song is so angsty in that "strong but hurt woman...BUT STILL STANDING STRONG" way that it's a pleasure to blast at the top of your lungs. Especially if you ARE bleeding love, in a strictly metaphorical sense. Hmm.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

One Thing I Miss From Home

One thing, O Ye vision of well-preserved 19-year-old gorgeousness, focus on one thing; or the nostalgia and homesickness will overwhelm you and your unstable self will topple and your precious head will hit the hard steps up the airplane bound for Kuala Lumpur.

Alright then, one thing. I will just think of one thing that I miss from home, which I will be able to see and grasp tangibly (and not just caress in my thoughts, as I have for the past 6 months) in another 9 hours.

----------

The yellow 3-seater leather couch in the living room. I remember it being there ever since we moved into that house, more than 9 years ago. Scratched on its base and having slowly evolved from a cheery canary yellow to a matronly off-yellow over time. So many memories of lazy Sunday afternoons, convivial Saturday nights, looooong year-end holidays; are sealed in those plushy, inviting, butt-swallowing cushions!

Now that I reflect on it, so many things have gone down on that couch. The time I frightened my sister half-to-death by lying flat on the top before rolling down onto her un suspecting self. Primary school friends sitting awkwardly as we made a tape for our class teacher's birthday. Later, my true friends sprawling over them as we whispered secrets to each other and laughed like we had no cares in the world (in the larger scheme of things, we really didn't. We knew we had something precious and we were happy.) Family reunions and talk about cameras and printers and jobs and weddings and government and all the miscellanous chitchat you have with your extended family.

Not to mention my personal horizontal bonding time with that couch; studying History, Biology, Physics, Add Math and subsequently The Practical Applications of Human Nocturnal Behaviour, otherwise known as sleeping. (My college friends call it my coma periods due to its fully-focused, almost-unwakeable quality. I prefer to think of it as aggresive sleeping.) Not to mention the piles of Terry Pratchett, The Star, Readers Digest and other reading material that I've read there with my chin on the armrest and the book on the floor.

Good times indeed. I may have changed in many ways (hopefully for the better) but that couch will always hold a part of me. In psychoanalytic terms, I suppose that couch is the part of me that loves to relax, to think about life and my place in it, to enjoy conversations with friends, and to take a lovely afternoon nap:) People who know me will probably say that that last item is a significantly large aspect of me:)

I hope you all have a "yellow couch" in your heart, if not in your living room. Adios! The next time you hear from me, I'll be back in the land of Nasi Lemak (its Malaysian not Singaporean, foreign ignoramuses), Char Koay Teow and murderous sunshine.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Goodbyes make me quiet

Dear readers, both known and those I don't know (though you should drop me a line sometime),

I am sorry if you have checked this blog lately and seen a screen with the same old post still at the top. I personally know the "Arghhhh" feeling that you get for 0.05 seconds before you navigate to a different screen.

Truth is, I have been living. And living vicariously. This past week and a bit more has been so full of events, feelings, changes that I cannot make sense of it all yet. Like an amateur painting with many layers of acrylic paint that at first overwhelms with its intensity and chaos, but only draws you deeper to explore the myriad meanings within. Only so much more.

I wonder how many times I've closed my eyes (or just thought in my head) how blessed I am and whispered a prayer of thanks to God that right now my life is, for lack of a better word, perfect. And I don't mean perfect in the sense of having lots of money, unparalleled beauty and brains or glory or millions of friends. Perfection by my standards. Contentment. Success that I never dared to wish for because I know I don't deserve it.

And something else has developed in my life that I can't explain here but which amazes me each time I think of it. I thought my life was full and whole as it was. And it is, definitely, because of the beautiful people who surround me in Hong Kong, and those whose voices ring in my mind even if they are over the sea somewhere a quarter across the world.

Only now, my life is illuminated. I wouldn't say transformed. I am still the same person. But there is a sweeter, more painful edge to everything. There is a timeline, though I do not know its length. I hope, I dread, I dive into an unfamiliar world where time stands still and surface pleasures ripple deep into the marrow and spine.

And then there is the pain of parting. Tears of the eyes are nothing compared with that bit of your heart someone tears away when they let go of your embrace. Knowing you may not see them again in this lifetime. The sweetness and lightness of your memories and laughter bite you in the back, bringing stinging drops to your eyes when you realise how short life is and how ephemeral all our friendships are.

There is hope still. That one will meet again. And faith. That they will not change but for the better when you see them again. That one's heart is steadfast and true. And love. Which binds all things together, and cannot be broken.

And the sun will shine again to warm your cold heart.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

And so it goes

Nearly the end of the year now. School year I mean. Funny how this place can subtly take over your whole life. It is self-sufficient. You have everything you need to survive; food, drinks, sleep, work, friends...

You almost feel like no other place exists for you outside these few square kilometers. I don't even know if we occupy a few square kilometers.

But very soon, in a few days, the gates will be unlocked and you will not be asked to come back before 9pm. Half the people you know know you may never see again in your life. The imprints on your heart and memories in your mind are all you have of them. And then you wish things could go back to what they were, yes, those hectic crazy times. Because life was normal then, all was well in the bubble.

I feel the tension as the college draws its breath in anticipation for the bubble's bursting.

------

A tightrope. Maybe that's one way to describe it. Walking on a tightrope blindfolded. Or parachuting above a canyon. A little bit of uncertainty and a little bit of curiousity and a lot of excitement, visible or otherwise.

And who knows enough to tell you what's truly right? Free from bias, prejudice, personal experience - just the truth, uncompromising and ultimately freeing?

Friday, May 16, 2008

Here In My Home



Serendipity. This is what I found, right after reading Jo's post. (May 5) lamenting that there are no patriotic songs for Malaysians.

I actually like this quite a lot. The song itself is ok, but the music video concept of letting the artistes do whatever comes naturally, and the concept of malaysianartistesforunity.info is cool.

Before we can move forward, we need to know who we are, as a country. Never underestimate the power of public opinion and mass media to change mindsets and send waves of change sweeping the people.

In Uganda, when they realised how big a problem AIDS was in the 1990s (prevalence rate, which is the rate that the disease was found among the total population was 15%), "the government adopted a policy of openness about the disease in efforts to cut it down. President Museveni made AIDS an issue of national importance,and toured the country speaking openly about HIV/AIDS. Civil society responded and many individual people, community groups, religious organisations and NGOs took action. The issue was discussed on radio programme, humourous but factually accurate magazines were written for young people and pop stars sang songs about the infection." (Geofile Online, January 2006-Jane Davies)

The result? "By 2001, HIV prevalence appeared to have decreased to 5%."

Of course I'm not equating Malaysia's social problems with AIDs. But don't you think that the disease of racism, and to a larger extent religious intolerance and corruption, should be considered morally repugnant "diseases" and the decimation of such be made a national priority? You may think I'm talking about utopia here, but I believe that when individuals come together to act, we can make a difference. There have been decades of slow change, some setbacks, in our road toward unity. Still there are powerful forces that threaten to squash us now, most of them coming from those who claim they love this country.

But there's indications that a new phase is here for Malaysia. What with the benchmark victory of Pakatan Rakyat in the general elections, new levels of political and social enthusiasm as well as nation-building patriotism in our young people, change will come. It must.

I'm excited for this country. I'm excited to see what God is going to do here. Christians have a responsibility to the state as well, as God has put us here for a reason and told us to respect the leaders of our nations. Don't get me wrong, we should not be emphasising secular politics in church (goodness knows there's usually enough politics in it already). But the church is not just a religious institution. It is the living, pulsing, fiery and undefeatable family of God on this earth, and we have power. Through God's favour and grace, we have power as the church to impact our country.

Who wants to emigrate now? Our country -Malaysia,; the place where all young, reasonably intelligent and resourceful young people used to be desperate to leave - is where things are going to happen. And we will be there to make it and witness it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Kepada Pencuci Kaki Saya



This afternoon, I dreamt that three mischievous imps were in Hong Kong with me and we had a wonderful birthday bash together.

When I woke up I wondered why I had dreamt that. Was it because I missed my infernal persecutors so much? (Stockholm syndrome!!) Was it because I missed home? Was I wishing that the two parts of my life, both very dear to me (Ipoh, Hong Kong) could meld together as one?

It was only later that I realised why:

it's LEE AI LING'S birthday! (By the way, I really did dream that...)

Dear Linggi, happy 19th! Finally, you've caught up with the rest of us (except Limp)! Here's a tribute to you:

19 Things that are quintessentially Ai Ling

19. Keen spotter of absurdities-->especially human--> especially mine.
18. Responsible in work and relationships, but sooo hard to catch when she's back home!
17. Connects with people easily and accepts them as they are.
16. Non-sports person (like me!)
15. Very slanted large handwriting
.
14. Weirdly always get multiple-choice questions right in exams, when everyone else gets them wrong.

13. Sloppy dressing but still looks good, dammit! (Used to, but dresses very fashionably now)
12. Her sixth finger (also known as her cellphone).
11. Really tasty desserts:) which are either completely decadent (chocolatebrowniescakesdrool) or very healthy with bran and fruits and nuts and all that good stuff.
10. Having loooong conversations on the phone which are usually brought to a sudden stop with "Hey, I gotta go my Chinese drama is starting bye...beep".
9. Making incredibly accurate predictions about people's actions and motivations.
8. Acting unsentimental and tyrannical when actually her heart is a marshmallow:).
7. An ability to talk to almost anyone (except a very few people who drive her up the wall).
6. Not succumbing to petty meanness, even when others around her do it. (This is very very Ai Ling)
5. Needs A LOT of sleep. Even more than me. Sleeping at 11 during the SPM period?!!
4. Honesty, with keen insight into what people really mean and not just what they say; and at the same time uses a lot of tact.
3. Sunshine and green and earth-loving and cute drawings:)
2. The ability to watch the same movie over and over again (how can she stand it?!).
1. A wonderful, unique, simply irreplaceable friend.

Ling, thank you for these 5 great years through thick and thin, good and bad, euphoria and depression, glory and humiliation and standing with us all that time. You form part of my brightest memories of MGS and of my adolescent years and in many ways made me the person I am today (feel really ancient now sighsighsigh). On this special day I just want to remind you that though we are thousands of miles apart now, you are still very close to my heart and only a call or an email away. Yes, that was a gentle reminder to keep in touch:P Which is of course what we all have to work hard to achieve. And though I (and the other 2) don't know every single detail about your daily life as we used to, I know the essence of you - the Ailingness - will not change: except to become more beautiful, radiant and closer to God as time goes by.



Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Turn my something normal into something beautiful

The title is part of the lyrics in Jars of Clay's "Something Beautiful". And I hope what I have to share with you guys will resonate, for it is what I believe and hope for always -that my something normal can be transformed by Him into something beautiful.

What Is Love?


What is love if not sacrifice,

Not some measure of unselfishness-

And yet we feel that love is exclusive

guard our affections and the affections

we think to have -

a child with it's teddy bear.

What does it take to give up

that mindset of sparingness

of stinginess

of always having to be the only beloved?

Is it not enough to see hands and feet, drilled for you-

a head, thorn-stabbed for you;

a side, pierced for you?

What does it feel like

to kneel at the foot of the cross and weep?

Amazed at the boundless love

That did the impossible

for you

and at the same time,

for everyone who has ever lived.

The wonder!

His grace is by no means divided, apportioned

to each follower, like birthday cake

But is offered fresh, whole, unlimited

to all who believe.

What would it mean for us to grasp the truth,

(the essential truth)

that we love not to receive.

It is love

to throw away the accounts book,

to stop keeping tabs on kindnesses,

to willingly forget that hurtful remark.

That only by loving without conditions,

loving when it hurts,

loving when ignored,

loving when less favoured,

loving when it goes unseen and unappreciated-

Can we come close to reflecting His love

to a broken person

to a broken world

that needs

to know Him.


-T. P.



Paradox of Choice



If you've ever wondered why with all the choice and innovations we have today, we are still unhappy....
Watch this.

Definitely something good to think about, unless you should be studying for your exams, like me.

Tata!

Friday, May 2, 2008

What I can never tell

Do you have a friend who's really nice to you, is extremely intelligent but always declares him/herself the opposite, often talks about the myriad difficulties in his life but doesn't neglect to mention how everyone is being so supportive, offers you help with your work when you're struggling...

But somehow, you always feel inferior and anxious beside him? Somehow, their flawed brilliance makes you uncomfortable even as you try to be a good friend. Even through all their ups and downs, the soap opera that is their life and the amount of time they spend on leisure activities: they still end up doing better than you in the things that matter. Things that are seen, that determine your position in the community and affect your future: like grades. And positions of leadership. Like it or not, these things matter, though the extent of their importance can be argued.

People really have no problem with helping others when they see it as a valid case. When you get the feeling that someone really wants to get out of the problem they're entangled in. And somehow they change the situation or survive it, the crisis passes and the world is (more or less) right again. But others...I don't know, maybe it comes with living in an internal landscape of intense passions. Colours are sharper, more defined...things are more likely to be taken to extremes. I, on the other hand, am a good friend of the middle line, never moving more than 0.5 to the right or the left. An advocate of balance. I'd be a great Taoist if God hadn't called me first.

But to get back to the subject...the cards are all in their hands. They understand their own situation the best, as they've analysed it thoroughly. And they're also incredibly self-aware: almost as if they were a creature they had invented themselves. And I don't even know what I feel about things sometimes! Yet I bumble on, pretty happily. So what is keeping them from thinking of solutions to their problem and moving on?

I know you're going through a tough time, and whenever you need a listening ear, I'll be here. But in a way I know it doesn't really matter. My ear, her ear, stranger's ear...doesn't make a difference, does it? I listen to the monologue of the director and actor in a one-man show.

The curtain draws up again, and I wonder how much joy is really in that smile of yours. Keep talking, keep acting, and maybe you'll find the script actually represents reality. And when you get that Academy Award, don't forget to credit me in your cast of extras.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Doobee doodah

If you tell me that life is not a struggle, I either:
1) seriously doubt your sanity
2) wonder why your life goes so smoothly and wish I had it
3) would love to shadow you for a week and see how you deal with it.

Because it really is. I know I sound as though I've got it all under control, but I feel like I'm teetering from one day to another, the Sleepmonster catching a nap whenever she can, even if it is (unfortunately) in a very complicated Chemistry lesson where I need all my focus and attention to understand the work.

_____________

Frustration just builds up inside, so welling and strong that you need someplace to just let go...and scream and yell and run and do everything you know you shouldn't.

I thought I was immune to this. I thought I'd grown. But maybe sometimes, if it makes a point, frustration isn't such a bad thing after all.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Little Altars

Random note: Blogger.com was in Chinese for me for a while till I changed it back to English. That's strange...

Little Altars

My children, beware of the little idols, the small allowances and compromises that you make each day for the sake of normality. Do not let your temple be a marketplace, do not let your heart be sold to the highest bidder. You are so much more worthy. You are so much more precious. You are much more beautiful than anyone can tell you or that you can even see yourself.

Child, why are you unhappy? You have replaced the love I give you freely and endlessly with love from your friends. You are so hungry, begging for their approval. Without them you'd lose the will to live. I cannot force you to return to me. But I will keep entreating you. I will not stop calling your name.

My love, the world is hungry and desperate for those who will love unconditionally. I know that you don't know yourself, but I know you. I know your struggles and the pain you cannot express and the sorrow that surprises you in its intensity and vagueness. I know you cry easily when no one's looking.

You have so much to do, so many roles to play: faithful friend, obedient daughter, hardworking student, responsible leader, inwardly-beautiful person...and sometimes you just can't juggle it all. But when you are overwhelmed with your inadequacy, look to me. Look below you, and see who holds your feet. Look above you, and see who's supporting the sky. Look around you and see how all things are made very, very good.

Though you battle with time, realise that time can be your friend if you use it well. It is hard, my love, but learn to say no to your impulses. Remember that you cannot give of what you do not have. And those who always need to be around others are afraid of what they'd see in themselves if they were left alone.

Lastly, my child, remember that I am always with you, forever. Think of me whenever you see a green leaf, breathe fresh air, open your eyes. I am in you, around you and my arms will hold you tightly. You are never left on your own.

Take that one step towards me, child. And I will scoop you into my arms, place you on my shoulders, and carry you on in this journey.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Math minded

Math portfolio.

If you have the patience and the time to waste in order to decipher this, I applaud you.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wishes

"All they knew was that they fitted together like stacked spoons..."

"Now is the winter of our discontent."

All she knew for sure was that life was like the sea. Eternally in motion, ever changing but always of the same essence.

The blueness would ebb away eventually, she knew, like the tides that lapped on stone and wore them smooth. The rough edges that she cut herself on would be pared down.

All the inadequacies and failures and humiliation and petty disappointment and envy, she poured into a song. Not a beautiful song. A broken song, with a defeated melody. The song of a slave dying under the oppressive sun. But hers all the same.

Slowly, detachedly; she detached herself from her clothing. From the world. Like a baboon picking lice from its fur.

As she plunged freefall tumbling into the ocean; she wondered if it was painful to die. Whether one just melted away like mousse on the tongue, or if there was a brief struggle with the Hooded Reaper before one surrendered with a sigh.

The water did not slap her like a cement floor but parted and received her like a turquoise down blanket. She knew she was dreaming, then.

Life would never be this perfect. Never this simple. Just her, and the sky, the sea.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thoughts of a 19 year old

Just sitting at my computer, writing, typing, surfing Facebook while reading news on the US election while trying to study Chemistry for a test the next day. Typical night, except maybe my heart is pounding a little harder than usual due to anticipation...

Just then, I hear a rustling of my (duck-themed) curtains and a DUCK card pokes through. My roommates dash in, wishing me Happy Birthday, giving me the card and a gift. I am surprised and delighted, because it's only 11.50pm and people usually do this after 12. Then, I am blindfolded so that everything is blackness and my roommates lead me outside, to don't know where...

After an interminably long of stumbling up and down staircases, along corridors and the open air, my roommates guiding me by hand, I ask where we are going. Of course, I don't get a straight reply. Someone periodically pokes me and knocks me on the head.

We finally seem to be going somewhere, and as we enter a room I can hear the low whine of an air-conditioner. We're in the common room, I know as much from the numerous birthday parties that we've had here before, all at midnight, of varying numbers and rowdiness.

They shush each other, and suddenly the familiar melody of "Happy Birthday..." begins. Sounds like a lot of people. At the end my blindfold is removed, and I see that there WAS a lot of people. The room was pretty full (unlike in some parties where so few people came, I felt embarrassed for the birthday boy/girl) Much more than what I expected who would care.

So self-conscious, standing there with all these people smiling at me...yet I understood then, what it is to be valued, to be loved and cherished and feeling appreciated by the company. I took time to recognise and thank everyone who came to hug me personally, and heard so many kind words that I probably can't remember. I remember the general sentiments.

There was a beautiful chocolate cake (and tasty too!), a huge homemade card with people's messages in it, some individual cards and presents...I think I was just overwhelmed. I knew people had tests, quizzes the next day; and it was not a weekend. They had so many other things to finish, but they came, even if only to give a hug and a smile and a "Happy Birthday". And my friends went to so much trouble to organise it. Perhaps it's not that grand, that extravagant...but I have only known these people since last September, yet they would do this for my sake? Friendship is a wonderful thing which I will never truly understand, but will always marvel at and try to be good at.

And then there were others, who couldn't be there but sent their wishes, their gifts, even their precious time for a conversation which is a gift in itself (Shiny! Tsuey! Wei who wanted to talk but I was out...sorry) ...because I love talking and listening to friends almost as much as eating and sleeping. Speaking of which, we (me and close friends) went for a dinner tonight at a great Thai restaurant not far from my school, and they wouldn't let me pay.

I realise that I do these friends, these schoolmates injustice if I do not take them at their word. If when they say, "You're such a great friend," I downplay their statement to a conventional phrase, while I take criticisms to heart. There must be balance, and slowly I'm reaching that point of equilibrium, going closer every day. Especially now that I'm 19 years old.

And also I realised once again that there is no end to giving. That through my self-conscious, awkward, sometimes inappropriate manner of showing concern and love for others; people have gained comfort. That my confused ramblings about their problems were perceived as guidance. That my instant noodles which I forgot that I lent them, were still on their minds. What I'm trying to say is, don't despair if you aren't perfect in the way you treat others. So long as you try, people will see your good intentions and they will love you for it. And what I thought I was giving away though I didn't mind it at all; was returned into my hands doubled, wrapped up, with interest.

Maybe we should stop comparing ourselves to others, looking at what they have and we don't, but look around at others. I mean, truly. Instead of glancing enviously at the other table where everyone is laughing uproariously, talking to the quiet person next to you.

And if we saw how much God loves us, so much more than friends or family or lovers or even soulmates...we'd live like we have nothing to lose, only everything to gain. And that is the true reality when we live in step with Him.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Mumblings + NS Nostalgia

There are days when you feel like you're swimming in soup, and that's still ok, because you know you're going to be dredged up sooner or later and you'll be thrown into a gumbo bowl with spicy enchiladas, and that's when life will get interesting.

I think one of the best pieces of advice that I've been given is that no matter what happens, I'll be ok. Sounds rather bland and not profound at all, but it definitely gives comfort at times when I think my life has made no difference. That people may like me in a vague, dorky way; but forget me if I'm not there. That I'm not truly living the way I should live. That I do only what is required of me and nothing else.

Sometimes, there are so many ideas one has but so few of them actually come to fruition. Right now I believe the answer to that is focus, focus, focus. Tend to the glowing embers of your passion and stoke them up to a fearsome fire, and then narrow it into single flame jet and then....

unleash it.

-----------------------------

And another part, written last Friday (4 April, 2008):

How strange, to have a flashback in the HK airport on a windy, slightly chilly day while waiting for the A22 bus back to Lam Tin MTR station after sending my mum off on a plane back home. One simple song, unheard for months, playing on my MP4 player - "Pencinta Wanita" by Irwansyah and I am transported in my mind's eye to where I was slightly over a year ago...

Hot sun pan-frying us a delicious dark brown. Special of the day:toasted homo sapiens (fine yougn specimens of only 18 years old), stewed in their own sweat and oil. Ewwwww.

Sunging 'Pencinta Wanita' in the bathroom with the cold showers running, laughing in our separate cubicles. Scrubbing clothes on the smooth stone surface next to the giant water tank/tub. The one you weren't allowed to bathe in. The same one that I stepped into and soaked in like a queen on the last day of camp. Reading out loud the notes some of us received from infatuated comrades, declaring everlasting love - and ridiculing them mercilessly, secure in the boy-free zone of our dorm room. Celebrating birthdays with cake and snacks brought from the only convenience shop a.k.a our lifeline operating there. Dressing up in Baju Melayu complete with sampin and performing Dikir Barat.

Food memories alone deserve their own paragraph. Eating mandarin oranges, Chinese New Year's biscuits, fried meehoon and other goodies spread out like a king's banquet on old newspaper in the common area. Baby's moms' irresistable chicken curry, mutton kurma, coconut candy and a host of Deepavali treats. My malay friend's whole family who came on a visiting day and treated me to home-cooked Perak laksa. In the canteen food where there was chilli on EVERYTHING. Even noodles at breakfast. Pimples sprouted on even the clearest faces. Stockpiling and sharing biscuits for a 6 am pre-exercise morning snack.

Beneath the glittering highlights that stand out in my mind, I remember the dull background of daily life. Missing friends, family. Resentful that I was wasting 3 months of my life in a programme I didn't sign up for. Looking forward to weekends when I had my hp back and could call home, my best friends and my sister. Feeling that I didn't belong anywhere. Not with the Cantonese-speaking Chinese, with their casual racism, anti-government sentiments and in-depth knowledge of Oriental celebrities and HK TV dramas (ironic, that the 1 Chinese girl who was unable to appreciate HK drama series' is the one who goes to study there for 2 years). Not with the Perak Malays, although they were really nice people on the whole; or with Kelantanese Malays with their completely different local dialect and for some of them, their kelantanese flirtiness (we speculated that it was because they were usually deprived of interactions with the opposite sex in the conservative PAS-led state). Certainly not with the Tamil-speaking Indian girls, just because they stuck to themselves and I couldn't understand what they were saying.

All these come to mind when I think back on NS. And though I thought I knew about life, NS humbled me. I lived, worked and played with prison's guards' children, doctors' children, teachers' children, farmers' children. People who scored 10As for their SPM result (which was announced the day after we left) and people who scored 3.

And I realised that all my book knowledge, my academic achievements, my English proficiency did not count for all that much. When I couldn't shine my boots even after spending tons of energy and time, it was my dormmates who helped me and realised that my brush was contaminated with too much shoe polish ("Kiwi"). The trick is to have only a little bit or else the boots will look matte. And when I had to dress formally at night, they helped iron the silk baju kurung. And my friends would always adjust my cap for me, because I jsut couldn't get the angle right. Another friend taught me a Kelantanese song. And I will never forget the night when my next-bed mate told me about how the prisoners escaped from the jail and set the building on fire, and her father the prison guard locked their family in the house, huddled together, armed with a parang. They were so along until police reinforcements came. How that was the scariest experience of her life.

I believe this experience, those 3 months, taught me to see people in a different light. To love them despite the differences and sometimes arguments, and to understand where they're coming from. That in the end, barring colour, race, sex, background - we are not so different after all.

I get onto the bus, knowing that without being in Gopeng baking for 3 months, I probably wouldn't be here at all.