Sunday, December 31, 2006

You Too

Final thoughts for the year.


One wanted to play guitar.

One was a guitarist, playing a home-made guitar.

One didn't know how to play the instrument he wanted to.

One was just brave enough to ask around.

They had no vocalist.

2006, thirty-one years later:

Bono rejoices (along with every U2 fan) that the rest did not allow him to play guitar.

The Edge still sounds like he's playing a home-made guitar.

Adam Clayton remains arguably the most boring bassist I've ever heard.

Larry Mullen Jr will be forever thankful for that notice he put up in school, something along the lines of: "I've been given a new drum set. Anyone want to form a band?"

And, Bono found his voice. (His name, by the way, is short for bona vox, Latin for 'good voice'.)

* * * * *

Back in the early eighties, they were dubbed the Hope Brothers, because "they had two hopes of making it: Bob Hope and no hope." U2 was a running joke among rock musicians steeped in drugs, sex and violence simply because they wore their hearts on their sleeves.

But then they stood the test of time. U2 is a story of hope for all of us. For me, and for you too (pun intended).

I have decided to end the year with this thought simply because something about the nature of U2 hit me hard over the past few days, much to Li-Shia's relief: they are not afraid or ashamed of who they are.

In a world where, musically, many bands sound manufactured, U2 maintains a powerful originality in their voice. But even more remarkably, in a rock music culture that stamped out everything positive and happy and good, U2 decided to go ahead as they were, back in the late '70s. And, amidst much controversy, they reinvented their image in the '90s, much to the chagrin of their legions of fans. But, as one critic remarked, without that bold experiment, we would not have the confident band we have today.

Bono's voice would fail American Idol auditions; the Edge's guitar sounds--as it always has--like something from outer space; Adam Clayton still plays repeated eighth-notes (quaver drone, technically speaking) more than anything else; and Larry Mullen Jr has never quite wandered from solid 4/4 time. U2 is, in a word, simple.

And because this is what they do best, they have decided to stick to it. I think their shortcomings are precisely what defines them: without the driving rhythm section of Adam and Larry, we wouldn't have the epic 'With or Without You'; without the Edge's echo-laden guitar we wouldn't have the immensely atmospheric 'Where the Streets Have No Name'; and because of Bono, the only lyrics anyone needs to know in order to sing along with U2 are 'Oh Oh Oh' (they appear in virtually every U2 hit).

* * * * *

Thing is, I've always wondered what it would be like if I had more skills, or if I were better at doing some things than I am, or if I could do more. And sometimes I get jealous of others who are more versatile than I.

But then I am reminded of U2; many other bands play better, many other singers sound better. Yet they kept Adam (who would've likely been rejected elsewhere) and decided to make the most of what they had, limited though it was. As a result they redefined rock music, and proved (in the words of another critic) that great bands don't have to break up or degenerate into a social problem.

I realise I ought to have the same attitude, for this is what Jesus told the other disciples, when they asked if John would never die: "What is that to you? You must follow me."

I'm glad U2 minded their own business, and faithfully followed their own path. Now if only I can do the same.

* * * * *

Bought U2byU2 with the MPH vouchers today. Can't wait to read it.

Happy 79th birthday, Kung Kung. Here's to your 80th year!

Have a blessed and joyful New Year, everyone!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Warrior of the Word

My family and I just returned from Port Dickson yesterday. We stayed at the Guoman Resort for four days and three nights. More on that to come.

In an SMS sent at 0005 hours on 20th December, Miss Shanti called me her 'forever warrior of the word with a heart unquantifiable'.

By 'warrior of the word', she meant this:

But it also occurred to me that the phrase could be understood as warrior of the Word:

(this is my pocket New American Standard Bible, the smallest printed Bible I have ever seen)

I may be a writer, a warrior of the written word; but how much more it would mean to be a warrior of the living Word, a soldier in God's army--to be called to serve not just those who can and want to read, but to reach across to all peoples everywhere.

This Christmas, I am reminded that the Word became flesh. To be with us. Immanuel.


Sunday, December 24, 2006

Thoughts on a Party in December

This time, I'll let the photos do the talking.

Meeting up with friends at the end of the year always makes me wonder, where will we all be a year later? Ten years later?

Will the failures and successes matter? Would we have found what we've been looking for?

These ten pictures from Wai Loon's party last night appear in black-and-white, in anticipation and hope that many years hence, we may be able to look back at our time together--not just at the party, but every moment spent together--and laugh and regale each other with our stories once again.

Old friends and new alike, enriching each other's lives in deeper ways as the years go by.

The photos are arranged in chronological order, just because it is a natural way to sequence photos. But it really makes no difference here...

...because smiles and halcyon moments reach across the span of time. Fleeting, yet eternal.

There are no captions; these images speak for themselves. Those who witnessed the moments already know the stories behind each one better than I can explain in words.

Above all, this is not so much a blog entry as a page from the never-ending scrapbook called 'Friends'...

...whom we'll hopefully remember even after settling into lives and families of our own.

Here's to all of us, now, and always.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Window in the Skies: more thoughts on Christmas

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

~Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)~

From Our Daily Bread, December 19:

During World War II, it became a custom in the United States for a family who had a son serving in the military to place a star in a front window of their home. A gold star indicated that the son had died in support of his country's cause...

[A man, walking down a New York City street with his 5-year-old son,] came to an empty lot, and a break in the row of houses. Through the gap a star could be seen shining brightly in the sky. The little lad caught his breath, "Oh, daddy," he cried, "Look at the star in the window of heaven! God must have given His Son too."

When I read that, it reminded me of U2's latest single, 'Window in the Skies'. I don't know what Bono and company had in mind when they wrote the song, but I like it!

Window in the Skies

The bullets quit the gun
The heat that’s in the sun
Will keep us when there’s none
The rule has been disproved
The stone it has been moved
The grave is now a groove
All debts are removed

Oh can’t you see what love has done?
Oh can’t you see what love has done?
Oh can’t you see what love has done?
What it’s done to me?

Love makes strange enemies
Makes love where love may please
The soul and its striptease
Hate brought to its knees
The sky over our head
We can reach it from our bed
You let me in your heart
And out of my head, head...

Oh can’t you see what love has done?
Oh can’t you see what love has done?
Oh can’t you see what love has done?
What it’s done to me?

Oh, oh, oh, oh...
Oh, oh, oh, oh...
Please don’t ever let me out of you

I’ve got no shame, oh no, oh no

Oh can’t you see what love has done?
Oh can’t you see?
Oh can’t you see what love has done?
What it’s doing to me?

I know I hurt you and I made you cry
Did everything but murder you and I
But love left a window in the skies
And to love I rhapsodize
To every broken heart
For every heart that cries
Love left a window in the skies
And to love I rhapsodize

Thursday, December 21, 2006

String of Words


Hang Tuah. Curry puff. No change. LRT booth. No change. Never mind. Eliot. Echoes in a Pathway revisited. Morning mist. Like early morning intercity train. Nice. Black nail polish. Teh tarik cult? Mr Chan. Bangkok? Stringing notes.

Alison Restaurant. Hakka mee. Super sweet 'teh si'. Ching Yeng working out. Both awake at 6 a.m. For one, because of teh tarik? More Lee Lam Thye. Curse of Golden Corset. 'Stacked cousins' photo. Crooked tooth. Waiting forever. Ching Yeng's. Hang Tuah again. Fake Brylcreem bathroom sink. Bukit Bintang. Information booth.

Starhill Gallery. Belinda at printer's in Puchong. Kenzo on Indulge floor. Only clothes. Expensive. Matching. Match on New Year's Eve? Sofa. Awhile. Chuck Palahniuk. Fight Club. No time for Lecka Lecka. Raja Chulan. Crowne Plaza.

High on twenty-seven.

Late. Waiting list. Emily. Confusion. Sivin. Mid Valley. Mid Valley?! Fish and chips. Fish and chips? No way: Nasi lemak 'party'. Strawberry water.

Gula melaka. More than one way to consume. Racial discrimination. Discussion. Friendship. Toilet. Kevin. Amanda. Friends. Skybridge out of tickets. Tickets for MPO New Year Concert.

Park. Kevin and company again. Meet Li-Shia. Wading pool. Wish I had slippers. Photography. Telephoto lens. Rain. Curse of the Golden Flower. Indecision. Decision. Emily joins. Cicakman and Cinta sold out. Movie. Necklace. Exit Emily. Parkson. Bra. Full, three-quarters, half. Necklace found. Concourse stall. Häagen-Dazs. Cookies 'n' Cream. Rum Raisin. Chocolate sauce. Hungry father. Isetan. Bra. Colourful! Wait.

Jam. Cloudspotter's Guide. Nonchalant. Faking only. Sri Petaling. Cheras. Home. Letter. Maybe Turtle-man of Malaysia. Hope.

Together hope.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


On 22 October 2006, the illustrious career of the great Michael Schumacher came to an end at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix. He finished fourth, but it was one of the finest performances ever by a Formula One driver.

Here's how Wikipedia puts it:

During the qualifying session, he managed to get the best time of all drivers in the first two sessions, but a fuel pressure problem prevented him from completing a single lap during the third part, forcing him to start tenth.

Schumacher managed to push forward early to the 6th position. However, after overtaking Giancarlo Fisichella, teammate of Fernando Alonso, on lap 9, Schumacher experienced a puncture caused by the front wing of Fisichella's car. Schumacher pitted and consequently fell to the 19th position and 70 seconds off teammate and race leader Felipe Massa.

He managed to regain positions and challenge Fisichella and [Kimi] Räikkönen subsequently overtaking them to secure 4th place and setting fastest lap after fastest lap on the way. His performance at the last race of his career was classified in the press as an "heroic display", a (sic) "utterly breath-taking drive" and a "performance that (...) sums up his career".

Li-Shia sent me an SMS on the night of 16 October, in which she quoted from a journal (distributed by the school, to be used next year) belonging to her sister:

"We don't quit on life. It takes great courage to live. When everything's stripped away, against the worst odds imaginable, when we outrun and outsmart our difficulties, in that moment, we become a living legend."

I think that also sums up Michael's career. In that last race, there was nothing to lose if he failed to finish: Ferrari had already lost the Constructors' Championship and he had already lost the Drivers' Championship. But with 'nothing to gain, and nothing left to lose' (to quote U2), he put up a show that would go into the annals of Formula One history.

And personally, I think it was a wonderful farewell; not a lonely race in which he would lead from start to finish, but one in which he could pass every driver from last place. Lap after lap he would overtake cars, as if giving the drivers his final goodbye wave.

And the final overtaking maneouvre on Kimi was a superb nod to both drivers; the outgoing Ferrari ace and his replacement. The commentator was so excited: "Do not collide, DO NOT COLLIDE!" They did not collide.

If anything, his final race shouted out: "Anyone can lead a race, and I have led many. But this sort of against-all-odds drive belongs to the World Champion, and I am still the fastest person in Formula One."

A fighter till the end, I think he echoes the words of St Paul;

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

--2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)

And he finished his last race.

Along the way, Michael Schumacher became famous for many controversial moves. But I think it is good to make mistakes sometimes, so that we don't end up idolising a star as if he or she were a god. At the same time, I cannot help but wonder why others would want to focus so much on mistakes made by celebrities; the only difference between their stories and ours, is that theirs is made public.

We all make mistakes, and it is stupid to judge another person before we judge ourselves.

Michael's career also parallels my school years in several ways. In 1994, he won his first Drivers' Championship. So did I when I finished top of the form in Standard One.

In 2000, he won his first Drivers' Championship with a new team, Ferrari. I topped the form in the VI, my new school, in Form One.

It's may also be interesting to note that Yap Alan, who was my greatest rival in the VI, was a keen supporter of Mika Hakkinen, then Michael's greatest rival in Formula One.

Michael finished third behind Fernando Alonso and Kimi Räikkönen in 2005; I finished third behind Chu Chun Hong and Low Tsu Wern. It was Alonso's first title, and also Chu's.

Finally, he was runner-up to Alonso, the defending champion, in his final season. This year, I was runner-up to the defending champion, Chu.

Another thing that was significant about the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix was the time in which Felipe Massa won it: 1 hour 31 minutes 53.751 seconds.


* * * * *

On 10 October, I promised Li-Shia I'd stop moping if I made it to the Top 3 in the MPH Search for Young Malaysian Writers. I'd already been shortlisted, but there was incredible competition, including Andrew Loh, this year's winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for Young Malaysians, and a certain Lee Jia Hui of ISKL who had two pieces shortlisted. He would finish second overall.

I rushed to One Utama from school on the Awards Presentation day; thankfully it was Bio paper 1 that morning, a short paper. The excitement suddenly shifted to an entirely new level for me when Professor Lim Soon Heng, the head judge, mentioned my piece as one of his favourites. He did not actually name it, but gave a brief summary of the plot and idea.

The moment he said, "It's about a photographer who meets a girl on a train platform..." I immediately SMS-ed a big wink to Miss Shanti, who was sitting with Mum and Dad. I don't remember exactly what else Professor Lim said, but I do know that he's the only third party so far who has correctly apprehended the theme and philosophy of my story, although I don't know about Adibah Amin, who also enjoyed reading the piece.

I must say that I was heavily influenced by T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway in crafting the philosophy and dialogue, respectively. What strikes me is that both were Nobel Prize winners, and wrote in styles that were worlds apart from their contemporaries. Eliot's poetry has more thought than imagery, and Hemingway's dialogue is more jarring than graceful. But in both I have found something real, and a voice for my thoughts.

My story, Evanescent Shadows, was my first narrative story (I can't really call it fiction, as the events are far from fictional) since The Bonang (which, in contrast, was purely fictional), which was shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for Young Malaysians in 2003.

The Star published a write-up here.

Prizes, which include RM2,000 cash, RM2,500 in vouchers, books worth RM700, a set of Pilot stationery worth RM400 (though I'm a bit doubtful about this), a one-day Story Writing Workshop conducted by 95% The Writers' Academy, a year's subscription to Reader's Digest and a year's membership with the British Council Library.

That little frame-like thing in the middle is Mum's gift to me. It says, "What you are is God's gift to you; what you become is your gift to God."

Of all the book prizes, I think this is the most special. It's a special deluxe box edition of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, which contains a map of The Hobbit, postcards depicting scenes from the story and, best of all, a CD recording in which Tolkien himself reads an excerpt from the book.

C.S. Lewis, in his essay 'On Three Ways of Writing for Children' wrote; "I have been told that Arthur Mee never met a child and never wished to: it was, from his point of view, a bit of luck that boys liked reading what he liked writing."

This illustrates rather well how I feel about my competition story. I'm glad some people (read: judges) liked reading what I enjoyed writing, because, over and above all, Evanescent Shadows is a labour of love. In it I sum up the last two years, and express my emotional state in July 2006 (when I wrote it), albeit beneath layers of metaphor.

A victory for me, Mum and Dad, Miss Shanti... and a Very Special Person who inspired the story.

* * * * *

That was the fourth victory of the year. Here's a recap of the others, in order of event:

ISKL South-East Asian Forensics Tournament:

Gold Medal for Extemporaneous Speaking, Team Sweepstakes Award (best overall school) and the Rafidah Aziz Challenge Shield (best government school).

New Straits Times--International House--Limkokwing Creativity and Innovation Essay-Writing Competition:

Gold Medal: one of ten Grand Prize winners of a RM35,000 Limkokwing University College of Creative Technology scholarship each.

The Awards Ceremony only took place on 8 December, although the results were announced at the end of June, on the day of the Choir Prelims. Li-Shia was in the train (wearing the number '22' badge :-P) when Eu Jin's congratulatory SMS came. After the awards, we watched Happy Feet in Mid Valley; it's a movie I'll never forget. =:)

University of New South Wales International Assessment for Schools:

Gold Medal for Upper Six English; joint winner with Joshua Tong, whom I met again at the d'NA Graduation on 17 December.

* * * * *

It's been a full and fulfilling year, all in all, and I close with a thought on teachers.

Primary School teachers must not only teach; upon them lies the burden of inspiring confidence in the child. Three in particular did this for me:

Miss Teo, class and English teacher in Std 2, 1995
Pn Rozlinda, Maths teacher in Std 4, 1997
Pn Zainab, BM tutor (never taught me in school) in Std 6, 1999

Miss Teo always had a high opinion of my handwriting, and openly praised it even in Standard Six, although in my opinion, many girls had better handwriting. Many of the girls I knew (and know) tend to have this fancy, neat way of writing. But, then again, T.S. Eliot's handwriting is nowhere close to neat (the original facsimile edition of his 'The Waste Land' poem looks like cakar ayam).

Pn Rozlinda gave us tons of Maths homework. The girls would always look enthusiastic and ask for more, much to the dismay of us boys. But, if I remember correctly, they too would invariably end up complaining about the great load of homework. However it wasn't the Maths that made a great difference for me, but her caring spirit. I have known no kinder teacher in all my schooldays. One morning when I arrived late for school, she remarked to Mum that I looked somewhat pale; I never thought I looked pale, but what would I have known about that, right?

Also, she would always insist that the fan be turned on in class only after recess, at about 10-something in the morning. I don't know if this affected my body's tolerance of high temperatures, but my family (and Li-Shia) will readily testify that I'm almost reptilian (i.e. cold-blooded) when it comes to preferring warmer temperatures.

Finally, there is Pn Zainab. She taught a BM class in my house, back in Standard Six; me, Wei Jian, Wen Jean and later, Esther and Leanne. There was also a Standard Five girl, but I cannot recall her name, except that her surname is Chan. If not for Pn Zainab (and later in Form 3, Pn Airine), I wouldn't have the confidence I have in the Malay Language today.

And I still recall the day she cooked beef rendang for all of us.

There is, actually, one more teacher. A fourth who made all the difference in the last six years. But there will be room for her some other day, for our story is far from over.

One thing all these teachers have in common: they saw some potential, a faint glimmer of hope, perhaps, and dared to encourage. Dared to encourage beyond what was feasible in the hope that someday the mustard seed would grow into a sturdy mustard tree.

It is still growing.

Soli Deo Gloria.

A Journey through Creation

In the beginning...

When Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre successfully produced the world’s first photograph in 1839, he proudly proclaimed, “I have seized the light.”

The created succeeded in capturing the Creator’s first creation: light. Before anything else was created, God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

It is therefore apt that a photography exhibition should be themed Creation, and that is exactly what The Photographers’ Gallery has done for its final show of 2006. Photographers Belinda Siew and Gillian Tan have put together a stunning array of pictures depicting the seven days of creation, using shots from a miraculous encounter with cloud transfigurations in the Philippines.

Belinda (left) and Gillian (right) giving a talk on Creation

This series is, to me, not only a testimony to the awesome majesty of God, but also an expression of His creation and a reminder of our position as humans—the crown of God’s creation. It is also an excellent accompaniment to Christmas, for this is the season of preparation for the coming of the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ.

And just as we prepare to receive the King of Kings, Belinda recalls their experience in the Philippines, “You can see it only if you are prepared. No one else can recognise it.” While they were shooting, the other members of the group saw nothing remarkable in the dance of the clouds. Perhaps this is why, when Jesus came, not many recognised Him as the Eternal God: they were simply not prepared.

Creation stands as an important wake up call to a world slowly caving in under its own burdens of industry, urbanisation and material progress. As the stewards of God’s creation, humans are to look after the world, not plunder it, and Gillian reminds us that “We are accountable to God for what we do to this earth.”

We glorify God most when we do what He made us to do, and as Belinda observes, “God is creative, so it follows that we must be creative, for we are made in God’s likeness.” Even the account of Genesis resounds with God’s words, “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”

Day 5

Truly, the end result of this expression of creativity is a virtually perfect balance between conventional techniques and digital editing, as in the spectacular eight-footer 'Day 5'. And it should also be noted that most of the stunning effects are the result of fiddling about with long exposure and manual rotation of the camera, not mere digital additions. For here also, Gillian warns, “Despite Photoshop, we should not shoot indiscriminately, but use it only to do what cannot otherwise be done with a camera—like layering.”

In each of the eight pieces of Creation (one for pre-creation, seven for the days of creation), I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’s words about an artist in his book The Great Divorce, “Light itself was your first love: you loved paint only as a means of telling about light.” So here also, the photographs are only a means of expressing the glory of God. The artists consider it an act of giving back to God—an offering of sorts: “Use the talents God has given you, and He will move,” Belinda says.

The verdict? Go and see it! Really, it is impossible to do justice to a photograph with mere words, let alone an entire series of photographs. I know it’s a cliché, but if a picture paints a thousand words, there are some 8,000 between these eight pieces. Nevertheless, the most profound revelation of Creation is probably best expressed in the opening words of St John’s Gospel; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word… was God.”

Before and beyond every word we can use, is the Word from whom and through whom and to whom are all things.

Creation runs until 31st January 2007 at The Photographers’ Gallery on the Muse Floor of the Starhill Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

For more information, visit or call 03-2274 0030.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Of Dengue and Driving

Remember this?

I put it up a few months ago, promising to return to it someday. I'd originally planned to blog about it after the STPM trials, but in the end decided to postpone it to the end of the year.

In a nutshell: I was admitted to the nearby Pantai Medical Centre in the last week of September, in the midst of my trials. Suspected dengue (the picture above is the dengue virus). In the end it wasn't dengue, because no dengue antibodies were detected in the blood tests. Seems to have been some other viral fever.

Meet Dr Ravi Apparao, a.k.a. Dr Rao, who monitored me. A man with an incredible sense of humour and a penchant for bursting into the room as if he were some kind of pop star.

Most memorable piece of advice: Don't listen to what your grandmother is saying, cannot eat this lah, cannot eat that lah. Nonsense. You make sure you eat well, OK? Eat anything.

He seemed convinced I was recovering very well; you see, in the few days before I was admitted, I had a terrible fever and basically suffered a good deal in school.

Thanks, Ming, for visiting me in hospital.

I suspect the virus might've come from an insect bite above my left shoulder blade while I was studying past midnight one of the days in the previous week. When I showed the bite mark to Dr Rao, he said, "This one looks like the vampire bite. Usually they bite the neck, but maybe this time they missed a bit."

This is the mark:

I suppose the hospital stay did wonders. It was a time of much needed rest, though I guess it was rather unfair that I was the one resting while the others were slogging over the trials. Some of my classmates even said they wished they had dengue.

But indeed, as this next picture will show, being confined to a hospital room gave me time to enjoy meals, reflect and write a bit:

This was breakfast on the day I was discharged, two days after I was admitted. I was feeling much better, and got up to take some photos before settling down to eat.

This picture is to whet someone's appetite ahead of this Thursday. I hope you're drooling even at this very moment... :-P

Li-Shia told me to try the nasi lemak there, so I took the liberty of ordering a plate after I'd finished the breakfast cornflakes. Truly the nasi lemak was one of the best I've ever tasted.

But, by far, the most remarkable thing about the hospital stay was the Great Bio Enlightenment. I asked Mum to bring my Bio book so I could revise ahead of the next week's Bio 2 test; I also wanted to prepare for the next day's Bio 1 paper, but missed it due to an extended stay.

However, the book taught me less than the intravenous drips. While observing the saline drips, it dawned upon me that all of biology rests upon one concept: potential. We speak of osmotic potential in water flow across membranes; pressure potential when it comes to water transport in plants; electrochemical potential across nerve membranes; and so on. And within each cell is the information/potential for an entire organism, a concept called totipotency.

In the picture above, some of my blood is flowing into the drip tube due to insufficient pressure from the saline bag end. This happened several times.

That's the end of the tube that was inserted into my wrist. It's not a needle, just a very thin plastic tube. It looks somewhat like the nozzle of a petrol pump. And this leads me to the next part of this entry.

I hate pollution, yet somehow I know I'll end up driving a car. I may begin lessons as soon as tomorrow, and, God willing, I will receive my licence by the end of January.

Yeah, it's been two years. Most of my friends already have their licences, some as early as Form 5 itself. But here I am, all 19 years, shocking most people who think that I already have a licence.

I've always been quite reluctant about this. I know it will be very convenient if I can drive, but at the same time I hate the idea of adding to the air pollution when I can just take a train and walk a bit. By the way, whenever I walk, it's the drivers out there who make life difficult for me.

I know what people always say:

It'll be easier if you can drive...
Must be able to drive your family...
Drive your wife...
Drive your girlfriend...

How to reconcile these mixed motives? Often when I'm in a car, I look at people walking by the road, and I sympathise with them simply because I'm often in their position. If only we could turn KL into a bicycle city...

As Hamlet says after killing Polonius,

"...heaven hath pleas'd it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister."

I know that one person cannot cleanse the whole of KL's atmosphere. I've a friend who recently decided to become vegetarian. Animals won't stop dying. But perhaps for some of us, there are things that haunt us, burdens that weigh upon our 'decisions and revisions' (to quote Eliot).

Cars overwhelm me. Monsters, really. Yet I am scourge and minister, neither one nor the other, but both in tandem, simply because I have stood to gain so much from cars.

As Hamlet says of Laertes before their final showdown,

"For by the image of my cause I see
The portraiture of his..."

In driving, I am my own enemy. I wonder if my conscience shall ever be clear.

Monday, December 18, 2006

VI boys... only

It's been ages since I went out with a group of guys. No girls, just guys. And yesterday, there were 18 of us in all!

Kuhan will be leaving for the United States come 29 December, so he wanted to meet up with some of us from the VI before that. Here's the lowdown on who's where, doing what:


Vinodhan; University of Nottingham, Malaysia; Mechanical Engineering
Jovan; University of Melbourne; Accounting & Finance
Kuhan; Illinois Institute of Technology; Chemical Engineering
Guruparan; Taylor's College; A-Levels
Pranava; University of Melbourne; Accounting & Finance


Hoong Kit; University of Nottingham, Malaysia; Chemical Engineering
Vincent; post-STPM; bumming around
Teng Sheng; University College Sedaya International; Accounting
Lau; post-STPM; bumming around
Wei Chuen; University of Melbourne; Commerce
Kuhan, again
Alex, Ashan's friend from NS
Calvin; INTI College; American Degree Program
Ashan; post-STPM; bumming around
Kian Ti; post-STPM; bumming around
Ben; post-STPM; bumming around

Not in pictures:

Kishan; currently working in CIMB
Choon Wei; International Medical University; Pharmacy
Kelvin; International Medical University; Medicine

* * * * *

A thought:

I think, in my photography and my writing, that I am much more of a poet than a journalist.

"More matter with less art," Queen Gertrude says to Polonius in Hamlet.

Unfortunately for me, I think that's a pretty tall order I do not easily abide by.


* * * * *

Four months.

And counting.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Tuhan Tahu

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

--Exodus 13:21-22 (NIV)

God knows my course, both in the sense of jalan and kursus: the path I am to walk in life, and the shape my further studies will take. The year ahead is safe in His hands, just as the Israelites were safe during the exodus.

When I snapped the photo above on our way to lunch at the Beef Noodle Restaurant, before leaving Seremban, it was the immense clouds that caught my eye most of all. Only now in retrospect does it come across strongly to me as an image of God's guidance along this road called life.

I guess there really is a time for everything.

A time for deep reflection, and a time for boundless fun.

A time for meaningful photography, and a time for mad shutterbugging...

So here's something I'd never be caught doing on my blog: a salute to all cam-whores out there!

In exactly seven hours, I begin my second pilgrimage to Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM) this December, and my fourth for the year.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Reverse Entropy: Thoughts on Christmas

Ten days to Christmas.

* * * * *

Something caught my eye today. It was a short article in the Sunday Star, 10 December 2006. Here I quote excerpts:

Pastor upsets flock with Santa remarks

SYDNEY: Australian Christians were in uproar yesterday after a church minister labelled Santa a "false god" whose greed-is-good gospel runs counter to the Lord's message of peace and love


"Santa has usurped the love and devotion and faith of little children," [Pastor Steve] McNeilly [of New Life Christian Church] said.

Instead they busy themselves in the run-up to Christmas with "making lists of 'what I want' and building up expectations of what they will get."


Psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg told the Herald Sun newspaper that Santa Claus was a much-loved figure.

"These claims are an absolute outrage," he said. "Were these comments true, we would have generations of children who are just greedy little consumers."

* * * * *

Just when I thought Christmas materialism couldn't get any worse, I read an e-mail sent by Johnny Ong to The Agora yesterday, about the slaughtering of Christmas in the United States. Again, I will quote excerpts:

Administrators told members of a student club in Westminster, Maryland, they couldn't promote a Christmas child project because it contained the word Christmas.

A senior citizens center in Melrose, Massachusetts, prevented regulars from hanging a "Merry Christmas" banner because of its religious connotations.

Teachers in a Forsyth County, Georgia, school warned pupils not to wish each other a "merry Christmas," instructing them to say "happy holidays" instead.

A school in Texas changed the song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" to "We Wish You a Swinging Holiday" for a musical performance, while a Wisconsin school completely rewrote "Silent Night." The new lyrics included: "Cold in the night, no one in sight, winter winds whirl and bite, how I wish I were happy and warm, safe with my family out of the storm." The lyrics' revision stirred up so much controversy the school later switched back to the original version.

[The moment I saw the new lyrics of 'Silent Night', one of the first thoughts that struck me was, "What the fuck?!"]

"Our society is changing," says John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "Christianity, which used to have a grip on Western culture, has lost the high ground. Now it's an easy target."

Even the Christmas tree is being driven from public places. When a tree is allowed in a public school or community square, it often is called a celebration tree or community tree.

"That's like saying a duck is a chicken," Whitehead says. "It doesn't even make any sense. People are afraid to even say 'Christmas' or 'God.'"

Whitehead points to the example of a public school in Michigan that eliminated the word 'God' from its holiday concert. Whenever the word appeared in song lyrics, children were supposed to remain silent.

This is madness. Of course, these are only some examples, and should not be assumed to represent the entire United States. But they are nonetheless indicative of certain trends of late. I've never heard of such problems in Malaysia. Makes me proud of my country, indeed.

* * * * *

On 26 November, I wrote a short piece called 'Reverse Entropy: Thoughts on Christmas'. It was a Sunday, and LS and I weren't on good terms that day. (Sorry!)

The interest of putting it up on this blog waned as time passed, but reading the Star article reignited the flame, and I was convinced I ought to do it.

Reverse Entropy: Thoughts on Christmas

A number of thoughts came to me today, which I thought of blogging on after STPM. But they are the sort of thoughts that may never be recaptured again, so I have decided to set them on paper, in ink.

Today the MPO Family Fun Day was themed 'A Festive Family Fun Day'. The programme notes, written by Marc Rochester, were very secular in nature. But I am not about to condemn him; in these circumstances it is often best for a programme-writer to maintain neutrality -- it wouldn't be good, for instance, if he attempted to critique a piece about to be performed, either. But I digress.

While in the toilet (all the best ideas come there), I wondered: do Christians really know what it means to attack the secularisation of Christmas? Once commercialism is torn down, what will take its place? I wonder if we really understand the magnitude of Christmas.

I think it was Michael [writer's note: Michael William, not Michael the archangel] who, in his sessions on John's Gospel, first got me thinking about the 'energy changes' involved in the incarnation. He was talking about the dynamics of salvation; raising one hand high above the other, then bringing it down to the same level, he said, "Do you know how much energy is involved for God--infinite God--to become man? Do you think God would go through that and let you go?" [note: as in, let you fall out of His grasp]

He didn't actually use the word 'entropy', but reading on it in Chemistry lately convinces me that this incarnational energy change could be considered 'reverse entropy'. For now, it would suffice to cite entropy as the [edit: factor that causes] compressed air to diffuse into the surroundings when a container is opened: particles move towards a more disorganised, 'spread out' state. Since God is infinite, surely it would take infinite energy to 'contain' him and thus reverse this natural tendency.

Are we ready to replace commercial Christmas with an account of Christ that might win the Nobel Prize for Physics (for that matter, the Nobel Peace prize too...)?

On a very encouraging note, I was pleasantly surprised to note that the quietest song today was Silent Night. Seems the musicians are interpreting it better than many Christian circles determined to bring out the 'kick' in it [by creating various rock/pop versions of Silent Night].

* * * * *

OK, in case what I wrote didn't quite register, I'll summarise it in a thought that came to me today:

We all know that Santa climbs in through the chimney. And we all know that such a feat is impossible. But what happened at that first Christmas was even more impossible, for less effort is required to shrink Santa than to shrink God.

So impossible that it is either true or false, and so impossible that it could very well be true.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

At yesterday's Story-Writing Workshop by 95% The Writers Academy, we learnt to ask;

What's at stake?

Not just for the character in your story, but what's at stake for you as a writer?

What's at stake in this pilgrimage, this 24-hour journey I'm about to make?

So much.

I travel light this time, with nothing but my clothes, toiletries, a file and a photographer's kit. I wonder if I'll find what I'm looking for.

You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross of my shame
Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.
But I still haven't found
What I'm looking for.

--from 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' by U2

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Thoughts on Discipleship

Discipleship has been a recurring theme for me lately. Two Thursdays ago, I was playing Steven Curtis Chapman's 'For the Sake of the Call' on guitar, and reading Luke 5:1-11 and John 21. Somehow this combination led me to a place where I just broke down and cried.

I never cry in worship. And this wasn't worship. Or was it?

I was still in the midst of the STPM, but somehow that morning seemed to call me away from the demands of my books. I was glad I followed. This entry is more of a reminder/marker/checkpoint for me, so it'll be quite lengthy. But if you've got some time to spare, do come along with me.

For the Sake of the Call
By Steven Curtis Chapman

Nobody stood and applauded them
So they knew from the start
This road would not lead to fame
All they really knew for sure was Jesus had called to them
He said, Come, follow me
And they came
With reckless abandon they came

Empty nets lying there at the water's edge
Told a story that few could believe and none could explain
How some crazy fishermen agreed to go where Jesus led
With no thought for what they would gain
For Jesus had called them by name and they answered

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
For the sake of the call

Drawn like rivers are drawn to the sea
no turning back for the water cannot help but flow
Once we hear the Savior's call we'll follow wherever He leads
Because of the love He has shown
Because He has called us to go we will answer

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die

Not for the sake of a creed or a cause
Not for a dream or a promise
Simply because it is Jesus who calls
And if we believe we'll obey

We will abandon it all for the sake of the call
No other reason at all but the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
For the sake of the call

To me, the passage that captures the spirit of this song (or rather, whose spirit is captured in the song) the most, is Luke 5:1-11, which I here quote from the NIV:

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch."

Simon answered, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon's partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men." So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

It occured to me again that morning, that when God calls, He equips those He calls. Who would've ever guessed that these fishermen would influence centuries of thought, paradigm and lifestyle? Who would've ever guessed that the name of Jesus would be proclaimed in the 21st Century?

That morning also, I was reminded of a passage that greatly encouraged me during this year's Easter season, which was a very trying time for me, as many friends know.

[Jesus] called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?"
"No," they answered.

He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

--John 21:5-9 (NIV)

Jesus had been crucified, and Peter decided to do some fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Some of the disciples decided to follow him. Max Lucado has time and again pointed out that this passage mirrors Luke 5, and it was in reading his writings on this text that brought me to tears in Easter--the only other time I cried this year.

It's as if something about discipleship is being drummed into me.

John 21 mirrors Luke 5 in that the miracle is similar. But also, the disciple in question is the same: Peter. The first time, Jesus told Peter that he'd catch men from that moment on. Fast forward some three years: all the disciples but John chickened out and fled the night Jesus was arrested.

Here, in the very last chapter of the Gospels, Jesus prepares a fire of burning coals. As Lucado likes to ask, what were Peter's thoughts? Not long ago, he had denied Jesus three times before a fire. Now, a fire stands between him and Jesus. Does he remember the moment of betrayal?

I think the only thing more overwhelming than the power of sin, is the grace of God. Maybe that is why I was driven to tears. Maybe, like Peter, it was a moment when those same words resonated within me: "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"

But Jesus persists. As Michael said in his sessions on John at d'NA last year, "Do you think God would go through all that--to become a man; think of the energy involved--and let you go so easily?" And to the very 'friends' who betrayed Him, Jesus asks, "Haven't you any fish?"

First the fire of betrayal; then, the fire of redemption. It is a moment from which the disciples--and Peter--would never turn back. They would go to the ends of the earth for the sake of the call. But Peter himself didn't quite travel to the ends of the earth; even Paul moved about more. And tradition holds that Thomas travelled all the way to India.

The point, I think, is not a matter of geographical location, but of whether we will leave our nets 'at the water's edge' and follow Jesus wherever He leads. Maybe that is why, at the end of John's Gospel, we find these words:

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"

Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me." ecause of this, the rumor spread among the brothers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?"

--John 21:18-23 (NIV)

Jesus tells Peter not to worry about what will happen to John, but to mind his own business and follow Him. The words of Jesus to anyone who would be His disciple are, "What is that to you? You must follow me."

A dear friend of mine knows just how irritating the 'inferiority complex' can be. And to that friend, I proudly proclaim that I'm indeed 'The One'! (I owe you a fudge sundae; someday we'll go out for ice-cream!)

This morning at church, I gained a new perspective on John's Gospel. Pastor Linda preached from John 2:1-12, and as I flipped back to John 1, something hit me.

And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, "What do you seek?" They said to Him, "Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?"

He said to them, "Come, and you will see." So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, "We have found the Messiah" (which translated means Christ).

He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter).

The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip And Jesus said to him, "Follow Me."

Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

Nathanael said to him, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."

--John 1:38-46 (NASB)

The first four phrases uttered by Jesus, recorded by John, are:

"What do you seek?"
"Come, and you will see."
" shall be called Cephas."
"Follow me."

The well-known late Islamic polemist, Ahmad Deedat, hurled much of his attacks on Christianity, on the book of John. He kept pointing out that if much of what John wrote was literal, it was in conflict with logic and the other accounts of Jesus' life on earth. But I think Mr Deedat overlooked one major point that struck me this morning:

John crafts his Gospel not as a mere narrative, but more like a thesis. And he uses lots of metaphor and imagery, making it, in my opinion, the New Testament counterpart of Isaiah.

And as a thesis, John is therefore selective. Certainly those four phrases were not the very first spoken by Jesus, but collectively they describe the way Jesus calls each and every one of us. First, He asks what it is we are looking for. Then, He tells us to come with Him and see His revelation. Finally, He issues the call to follow Him.

But what then of the renaming of Simon to Peter? I think it represents the transformation of the person as he/she decides to come with Jesus and follow Him. We are given a new identity in Christ, derived from our present identity but given a whole new dimension of meaning and purpose in Him.

It is also interesting to note that the first chapter of John explores the effect of discipleship, in that we are to echo Jesus' call. So it is that we find Philip saying to Nathanael:

"We have found Him..."
"Come and see."

The renaming and call to follow, only Jesus can issue. But the proclamation of discovery and the invitation to come to Jesus is our duty. The narrative of John's Gospel begins with this image of what we are to do as disciples; it is, in some ways, John's version of Matthew 28:18-20.

I know God is calling me. But I know not where to yet. In my story Evanescent Shadows, which recently won the MPH Search for Young Malaysian Writers, I wrote these words: "Voices call us off our platforms. Will we follow?" The question was influenced both by T.S. Eliot and U2.

Eliot's 'The Dry Salvages' talks of journeys, of embarking and disembarking--of leaving platforms. The question 'Will we follow?' is an echo of U2's song, 'I Will Follow'.

If all goes well (i.e. if there is stock), I will buy Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book The Cost of Discipleship tomorrow. I believe God is leading me, to use a phrase by C.S. Lewis, 'further up and further in' in my journey of following Him.

I have no confidence apart from the fact that He knows what He is doing. I can only say, "I will follow."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Thoughts upon returning to The Divine Conspiracy

Now that the STPM (and school) is over, I am able to return to my books. Still haven't finished Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy. It's pretty heavy reading (by heavy I mean that it provides much food for thought, not necessarily that it is technical), requiring breaks in between so that the tough stuff can sink in.

Today as I read the passage on honouring our parents, this paragraph struck me:

You must find the goodness of God and the fellowship of Jesus in who you are, or your love for the Father and his unique Son cannot become the foundation for a life of abundance/obedience. They desire to dwell with you in your life and make glorious every aspect of it in the light of the whole that God has planned.

Willard emphasises that if we love God, we must believe that He has made us the way we were meant to be, i.e. that we are not errors in His creation. And if we believe that God has 'done well' by us (in Willard's words), then it follows that we must thank God for our parents and honour them, for we would not be who we are if not for our parents.

So often I have heard it said that we find ourselves in God, that our identity is discovered in who He is, that He defines us and gives purpose to our lives. While I believe this is true, I also believe Willard points out the other side of the story which must not be ignored: we must strive to find God in our lives, that our identity may be discovered in who He is in us, that we may come to understand that He defines us in context of who we are.

Ultimately, this talk about finding ourselves in God is not about abandoning who we are and ditching our families; it's about coming to a realisation that God is at work in our lives and our families: God is at work in the very web into which we were born. That's what 'incarnation' means -- to be a living presence. Perhaps this is a thought worth considering even during this season of Advent/Christmas.

Finally, on page 334, the words 'divine conspiracy' appear. (I don't recall seeing it anywhere earlier in the book, but I might have forgotten, so please leave a comment below if I'm wrong.)

"I am bought by the sufferings and death of Jesus and I belong to God. The divine conspiracy of which I am a part stands over human history in the form of a cross."

(U2's new song, 'Window in the Skies' is really fantastic; I can't get it out of my head! The single will be released early next year.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Python or Papaya Tree?

This shot of a papaya tree growing somewhere near my house won me RM50.

Unfortunately, The Star chose to replace my caption with their own words. And, horror of horrors, there was a grammatical error in their caption!

Imagine what it could do to my image as a writer. *gasp!*

Well, at least I'm RM50 richer. That's about the worth of one U2 CD. So I'm not complaining... not complaining at all. ;-)

Over and out... for now

I wore my badge and name tag for the last time today. The name tag lasted me seven years, since Form 1, and the badge symbolises seven years, from 2000 through 2006.

The STPM is over, and so is my life as a schoolboy. Thirteen years; fourteen including kindergarten. Yet I do not feel overflowing exuberance as I'm sure many of my friends will; indeed, I'm a little sad that it's all over.

But I'll still be returning to school when term starts next year, this time as a teacher. Teaching Biology to Form 5 students and Science to Form 3 students. So I guess I'll be coming full circle.

I still have no idea when I'll start driving lessons. I'm probably one of those dinosaurs that seem quite comfortable with walking and taking trains.

This is how I celebrated today:

Lunch with Soo Tian at Chili's. In his words, "We came, we saw, and we were conquered... by [the enormous portions served at] Chili's."

Coincidentally, we wore the same T-shirt. I had a rum and strawberry cocktail; it's pretty cool to have the waiter ask for ID then walk away satisfied that you're over 18. ;-)

Just before Soo Tian and I parted at MPH, we dropped by Rock Corner. Much to my delight, they had the deluxe edition of U218singles, which comes with a bonus DVD. I couldn't resist.

I asked the cashier if I could get a discount. She gave me a 10% discount so I only needed to pay RM105. Steep, it would seem, but worth it for a set containing a U2 DVD, I'd say.

Turns out she's a fan of U2's as well. Has only listened to their more recent albums, and loves Bono's voice. Indeed, there's something powerful about his voice that can take an audience to another place...

She asked if she could unwrap the CD/DVD booklet-box set. Well, she didn't actually need to ask, as she would have to do so anyway, in order to remove the magnetic tag. But she had an ulterior motive; she wanted to see the pictures inside! When she saw this, she said it's one of the best pictures of Bono:

(He's the only one out of focus, with half his head lopped off...)

Much to write. Coming soon over the next week, in no particular order:

1. Winning the MPH Search for Young Malaysian Writers
2. More from the Poetry Speaks calendar
3. My hospitalisation during part of the STPM trial exam
4. How Steven Curtis Chapman and the apostle John made me cry
5. A neighbourhood papaya tree's claim to fame

If C.S. Lewis were still alive, he would've turned 108 on 29 November, exactly one week ago.