Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Along the way...

Dinosaur tooth? Extremely large canine?

* * * * *

I used to think 'troubleshooting' was a game. Whenever I saw the word in a manual, I thought it was a guide to some arcade-style shooting game.

Imagine what it must've been like when, to my disappointment, I learnt that Microsoft Word (and most other programmes for that matter) didn't have guns and bad guys!

* * * * *

There is an ongoing debate between Young Earth Creationists (YECs) and basically all other scientists on the age of the earth.

The YECs claim the earth is no older than 10,000 years, citing 6,000 as a pretty good estimate. This is based on a literal reading of Genesis 1, and thus also pegs the universe at about the same age, since everything we see was created within six days, literally speaking.

On the other hand, the position generally accepted by the scientific community is that the universe is about 14 billion years old, based on readings of electromagnetic waves from outer space and light travel from distant stars.

For the most part, I do not find it difficult to believe that the universe is truly billions of years old. But this is not because I think science is more real or rational than the Bible. Rather, I think both the Bible and science require a more mystical approach; neither should be understood in merely literal terms.

Blame the poet in me.

The universe is 14 billion years old simply because it sounds more legendary that way. God created everything in six days... whatever that means. There is a sense of the unknown in both God and the universe, a sense of the mystical and incomprehensible that lends a sense of awe to the truth of our very origins.

I like science, not because it is more real than myth, but because it is more mystical. It is only the arrogance of science that conveys the illusory idea that science must be more true.

And I believe in God, because the last word does not belong to science or faith or reason. Real beings do not trace their origins to ideas, and if I am a real being, then there is a real-er being out there. If an idea is the ultimate truth, then I am also an idea, a nothing, a mere phantom that fades like a wisp of smoke in thin air.

* * * * *

The picture above is of an albino cili padi grown by the Pehs of Taman Paramount in PJ.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


The first of the 1987 'Overcomers' and one of the original 1970s Overcomers, both born on the same day.

Collision of generations; here, now, and soon to be, Malacca.

Happy 20th birthday, Laura!
Happy 48th birthday, Aunty Jenny!

* * * * *

This shot was inspired by Laura's idea to use the fake window frame mirror at Uncle Lawrence's for some episodes of posing and cam-whoring, after which we decided to throw entire families into the frame, literally!

Technical details:

Taken with the Nikon D50, using the SB-600 speedlight as an indirect flash. ISO 200, aperture F5.6, shutter speed 1/20s and focal length 48mm. Brightness later reduced to -20 and contrast increased to +20 using the Minolta DiMAGE Viewer software.

The modelling Liews:

Uncle Franky
Aunty Jenny

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Charity and Chastity

Blame it on the calendar; Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday fall on consecutive Wednesdays this year.

The two occasions could not be more unlike each other. One is an extravagant celebration of love (often more extravagance than love), while the other is an austere commemoration of sacrifice. The one a no-holds-barred romp through commercialisation, and the other a much calculated preparation for the most solemn event in history.

And now to link the two in a single blog entry...

* * * * *

We were supposed to have dinner at Madam Kwan's, KLCC. But due to some unforeseen circumstances, we ended up at Kinrara mamak in Sri Petaling.

Just a week prior to Valentine's Day, we visited the place for the first (and only) time and ordered a bandung suam. When we returned on Valentine's, one of the mamak approached me and asked, "Bandung panas, boss?"

Either they have photographic memory or my peculiar dining habits seem to leave an impression.

Away from classy dining and everything else Valentine's Day stands for, it was nonetheless a memorable night out and one that fostered culinary bonds between Cheras and Sri Petaling!

Just for fun, we asked if they could make ghee tosai in the shape of a heart. The mamak laughed and said it would be difficult as the tosai would stick to the pan, and there wouldn't be enough time to sculpt/mould it. So they prepared normal tosai for us to cut ourselves.

Seeing that our efforts were in vain, a number of mamak congregated around the pan in an attempt to do what they claimed they couldn't. After several failed batches of wasted batter, they decided to use roti canai dough instead. Preparing a mould using newspaper, they finally succeeded in producing this:

The next night, when we walked past the same shop, one of the mamak waved at me.

It is final: the dinosaur's footprint remains in Sri Petaling.

* * * * *

Lent begins today. Sucker for symbolism that I am, this picture reminds me of the Incarnation, of the Word made flesh. Yes, I know sirap limau ais isn't exactly wine, but it's close enough.

I wonder if the Lord's Supper might've been different if Jesus and the Disciples ate at a 24-hour mamak joint.

And is there a connection between the generally secular celebration of human love and the sacred remembrance of divine love?

* * * * *

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.

--Psalm 130:5 (NIV)

[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

--1 Corinthians 13:7 (NIV)

Thanks, Miss Shanti.

* * * * *

There is an account in the Bible (Mark chapter 10) of a rich young man, often referred to as the 'rich young ruler', who asks Jesus what he must do in order to inherit eternal life. Jesus quotes to him the commandments of the Mosaic Law.

"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

When in the Bangsar Shopping Centre (BSC) yesterday, I saw a poster in The Body Shop that said all profits from sale of the new Rougeberry eau de toilette would go to the fight against AIDS.

It reminded me of something I read about charity some time ago, about how charity has become commercialised. About how all kinds of companies pledge to give amounts like 10% or 20% when that kind of amount actually makes no difference to the company.

I'm not criticising The Body Shop; in fact, I think quite a number of their ideals are indeed commendable. I'm just wondering, what's the point of giving to a cause when the gift is only a small portion of a great excess? Why only profits from the 'special edition' Rougeberry (I bought it before this campaign was launched, so profits from my purchase will not go to it) and not profits from all sales?

Granted, The Body Shop is not a philanthropic NGO, but perhaps multinational, multimillion-dollar companies could set a better example. Microsoft can give 90% of all that it owns away, and Bill Gates would still have enough to support his offspring for several generations.

On the way out of BSC, there was a lady asking for donations on behalf of an organisation--I cannot remember what. I was in a hurry and declined. Yet I've given on so many occasions; as long as I have something to give and there are people in need, this will not end.

All this about giving. And giving. And giving. To what limit?

Jesus is unequivocal: everything. Or at least, enough to actually make you realise that security is not to be found in what you have, but Who has you.

And I fall short.

(By the way, the Rougeberry e.d.t. is probably one of the best Body Shop products I've encountered in some time.)

* * * * *

What then of Lent?

What of that perennial talk of balance between passion and purity?

Or, in my immediate context, of charity and chastity?

Today's Lent Meditation is on Hebrews 12:1-14, and this is the epic chapter of exhortation that follows the epic discourse of faith in Hebrews 11, and it begins like this:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

--Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV)

But I ask, what if the great cloud is only one witness? And I'm not talking about the One witness, for He is always there. But what if there is only one witness? Is it reason enough to keep running? Reason enough to throw everything away and follow the One Voice?

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. "Make level paths for your feet," so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

--Hebrews 12:12-13 (NIV)

Strengthen your weak knees. Heal the lame. Too close for comfort.

Too good to be true.

Or as Max Lucado would say, too good... it has to be true.

* * * * *

At this time of the year especially, I never fail to be reminded of T.S. Eliot's poem 'Ash Wednesday'. Not just because of the title, but also because it is one of his best (and one of my favourites), parallelling his work in Four Quartets in terms of structure and substance.

Some excerpts that seem surprisingly real and relevant this year:

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.


Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

There is something of love in both the experience of Valentine's Day and Lent. And love is not cheap.

Only in Mark's Gospel is it written that Jesus loved the rich young man. Matthew and Luke do not record such words, and John does not record the account at all. Why did Mark include how Jesus felt about the man?

And then Eliot's poem. There's something painful in it, something that is echoed also in U2's 'One'.

This doesn't sound like it's about love. But it is. The hands of love that made things as they are, that are making things as they should be. The hands that bring us together, the same ones that drive us apart. Moulding, making, shaping... like the mamak, only so much more. The hands that work till they bleed.

In a ring of never-ending hope incarnate in never-ending drudgery, the ones who are our Valentines and the ones for whom we wait... one and the same.

Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A little bit of this year's ISKL Forensics

We were the last name on the first Rafidah Aziz shield.

And thanks to this year's team, we are also the first on the new one:

Indeed I was thrilled to win the shield as a participant last year, and again as a coach/judge this year. The VI is also now the only school to have won the shield in consecutive years.

Kishan returned to judge (he, Miss Shanti and I judged Original Oratory finals) and Fang Hai made history this year by being the first ever Victorian to enter three Finals in the same tournament. He went through to the Finals for Extemporaneous Speaking, Imromptu Speaking and Oral Interpretation.

In contrast, the previous most illustrious speaker from the VI (guess who) never made it to more than one Final in any given year.

Our actors, on the other hand, have had much more success in the Finals, with a good number making it to both Solo and Duet Acting Finals (and also winning medals) in some years. Gustave was in both Finals last year and this year.

One of the best things about judging was that I finally had my revenge on the exorbitant prices charged by the ISKl's canteen; judges are served an incredible array of excellent food (for free!) in the Tournament Headquarters, and the canteen staff wheel in new dishes at regular intervals!

(I'm not quite sure who the man is, but he could be Robert Carrelli, who once taught Val Kilmer and Kevin Spacey.)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Thoughts on Heaven and My Handphone

While at Sri Petaling Maju mamak restaurant with Li-Shia on Thursday, we overheard a conversation between what I think was a Muslim cleric and a Muslim layperson. We sat in the open, and these two guys had a rather animated discussion going on, with the cleric doing most of the talking.

The cleric said, "Di syurga kita boleh buat apa-apa. Tak ada larangan." It means, "We can do anything we want in heaven. There are no restrictions."

I believe this is true, but also something that is often misunderstood, for many take it to mean that there is endless liberty in heaven and so we can backstab all we want, or beat a person as much as we want because there will be no pain in heaven, or something else that is no less self-indulgent.

What we often miss, I think, is the fact that heaven is not easy to enter. Jesus said the path is narrow, and not many can walk this path. It's like saying we can do anything on top of Mount Everest; but how many can actually make it to the summit?

Only the righteous will enjoy heaven. Hanya yang beriman. Which is few, if any, of us. Least of all me. Am I becoming the sort of person who will enjoy heaven? I recall a metaphor from Brian McLaren's The Last Word and the Word After That; he suggested that the fires of heaven may be hotter than the fires of hell, and only those who were tried and true could endure heaven.

So yes, we can do anything we want in heaven. But will we, in the first place, make it safely through the Gate who is Jesus Christ?

* * * * *

On Tuesday, 6 February, my handphone flew out of my hand onto the drive-through lane outside Aquaria. It landed hard on the ground and broke into pieces. Thankfully, it didn't actually shatter, but the battery, keypad and cover were instantly dismantled and scattered over the pavement.

My grip on my handphone is nothing compared to God's grip on us. Though we shatter, he can and will mend us.

By the way, this testifies also to the hardiness of the Nokia 3100. Or maybe it is simply the grace of God and nothing else. Whatever the case, it is a miracle. No less.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Thoughts on the disciple who left the boat

Yesterday, Pastor Vincent preached on 'stepping out', drawing on the account of Peter stepping out of the boat and walking on water. (Matthew 14:22-33)

It so happens that I spoke on the same thing in my Impromptu speech (2nd Round) at the 2005 ISKL Forensics, the year I won the Silver in that event. The prompt was a quote (source identified by Pastor Vincent: John Ortberg) that went, "If you want to walk on water, you've got to get out of the boat."

In the account in the Gospels, Peter cries out into the storm, "Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water." And Jesus replies, "Come." Of course, there is a storm blowing, so it should be rendered, "COME!!!"

And what follows is probably one of the most dramatic episodes in the Gospels, throwing theologians and scientists alike into heated debate; the former about who really was the 'ye of little faith', Peter or the other disciples, and the latter about how on earth it could be possible to walk on water.

But what stands out most, to me, about this account is how it paints a portrait of Peter, the leader of the Twelve. Despite Peter's many apparent failures, Jesus still used him to lead the church.

Consider the account in John 21. This time the sea is calm, and the fishermen have caught nothing. Then Jesus calls out to them and tells them to try the other side of the boat. They do, and miraculously the fish fill the nets to breaking point. Instantly, John realises it is Jesus;

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.

Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught."

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast."

So yes, these are the disciples who turned their backs on Jesus (with the exception of John) after the last supper. And here they are, being invited to breakfast by the One they had betrayed. Crazy grace. Crazier still when you consider the parallel between this account and a similar one earlier in the Gospels.

No, not the account of Luke 5:1-11, in which another miraculous catch is recorded, followed by the decision of Peter and company to follow Jesus. In terms of event and plot, yes, Luke 5 bears striking resemblance to John 21. But that's not the issue here, I think. Somehow I get the impression that Jesus wasn't trying to make a point about fish. There was something else.

The parallel account seems to be Matthew 14:22-33. On the stormy sea, Jesus calls out to Peter and Peter climbs out of the boat and into the water. On the morning of the breakfast, Jesus doesn't call Peter; he wraps his garment around him and JUMPS out of the boat. Jumping out of the boat a second time and getting wet that he may see the Lord.

In the first episode, Peter is hesitant but nonetheless trusts his Lord. In the second episode, he is eager to meet the One... he betrayed. I wonder, what made Peter so eager to see Jesus that second time? Of course, there was no storm. But while the other disciples slowly steered the boat to shore, Peter was swimming like there was no tomorrow towards Jesus.

I wonder what Jesus felt, to see the boat in the distance and this disciple, this Peter, swimming towards Him.

Jesus knew that in Peter, He had found someone who dared get out of the boat, someone who would not be afraid to brave hell itself if only to get a glimpse of his Master. Would Jesus find someone like that in us?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Just a few random strands...

Soo Tian and I have proven that it is indeed possible to cam-whore with and SLR camera:

Things like this kept me going during my National Service stint:

* * * * *

Teaching is good job, especially if you are uncertain about what the future holds.

I guess I'm learning to live day by day, and in teaching there is rhythm, but not so much of it that it becomes drudgery. Just enough rhythm to provide momentum to keep moving, but not enough to crush the soul. Or maybe I just haven't been teaching long enough.

There are deadlines, certainly, but perhaps it is the nature of education that provides the inspiration to teach: education is a lifelong journey, not a quest towards some examination at the end of the school year.

I don't know what lies ahead, where God will call me... but when the time comes I will know. I believe I will know.

Saturday, February 03, 2007


Something happened at the KL/PJ SCF Leaders' Convention at the Methodist Boys' School (MBS) this morning that greatly disturbed me.

My friend, Pei Wern, the immediate past president of Pudu Girls' School's Christian Fellowship, was turned away at the registration counter because she was wearing jeans. The rules did not allow for jeans.

But the thing is, virtually the entire worship team was wearing jeans due to an error in communication!

And not only that, Michelle Chan was also wearing jeans. Michelle was the president of Assunta's CF in 2004 (my year) and was part of the Convention committee then. She then went to the MBS for Form Six, and was also present at last year's Convention. She, of all people, should have been aware of the dress code.

Mrs Lim Hean Hwa, one of the advisory teachers of the MBS's CF, explained her predicament to me; "If we let her in, then we'll have to do the same for others wearing jeans." And of course, they want to make sure they make a good impression so that the school will be more favourably disposed towards such events in the future.

But my contention is this: it's not fair to turn someone away, while others who have committed the same offence get in scot-free simply because they are part of the programme (for example the worship team) or because they are ex-students of the school who are helping out (like Michelle).

I'd put it this way:

Pardon one, pardon all
Or pardon not at all

When Jesus told the thief who hung beside Him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise," He tells that to every hanging criminal who turns to Him. Jesus practised no partiality, so why should we?

Besides, it is always better to err on the side of mercy and grace than that of legalism. As some would put it; when in doubt, obey the spirit of the law over its letter.

* * * * *

Bought this book from MPH today. Something which looks like a very promising read! (Can't say the same for the green book Shern Ren bought, though *wink*)

I like the idea that the DNA molecule is pictured on a stained glass motif on the front cover.

d'NA. DNA.

Who knows what the future holds?

Might this be my destiny?