Friday, March 30, 2007

Hari Ini dalam Sejarah (Part 1): Batu Lima

Exactly three years ago, the guy wearing this T-shirt turned seventeen.

Exactly three years ago, the VI debate team won their first round (actually second, because they were given a walkover in the first round when Padang Tembak withdrew) in what would be the VI's best year since 1998, and the best year ever since.

We were up against SMK Batu Lima, debating the motion, 'Stress is Good' (stupid motion, I tell you), and we were the Opposition. In retrospect, it would have been an interesting topic if both teams were strong and the Government came up with a very good case.

Unfortunately, the Government did not (instead, they introduced their Third Speaker as their secret weapon, the atom bomb that would wipe out the Opposition), and both teams obviously struggled to get their bearings.

We fielded Dinesh as First Speaker, Danial as Second and Reply, while I rounded up in Third. This was the order in which we went the previous year, and Kishan remained in the reserve, although I think his title always ought to be Researcher, for that is what he was: the best researcher I have ever encountered.

Besides a difficult trip to SMK Sinar Bintang (we were nearly late, no thanks to the bus driver and the fact that we had no idea where the school was), it was all in all an easy round, and as Third Speaker I comfortably spoke my way to the Best Speaker award that day.

But we had much work to do, mainly because we realised we would never reach the Finals if Danial continued delivering the Reply Speech, and from the previous year's experience, Dinesh didn't want to. To further complicate matters, being Third Speaker, I could not.

And the toughest part was that in the next round, we would face Seri Bintang Utara, defending State Champions. And their best debater was still on the team.

That's a story for next time. For today...

Happy 20th birthday, Dan!

(Yes, he's obsessed with the Chili's ice-cream fudge brownie... I forgot what it's actually called on the menu!)

* * * * *

p.s. For no apparent reason, I thought of the word cakerawala at breakfast this morning. Later I looked it up in the dictionary, and yes, it means 'universe' or 'solar system' as I remember. It's actually one of the more beautiful words in the Malay language, I think. ;-)

Romans 8:28-39 (a timely reminder)

God is on to me.

Today is not the day I wanted it to be, due to some disappointments yesterday. But it simply had to be that the passage I was led to this morning, via Lent Meditations, was one that directly addresses what I'm going through.

And... I just found out (via the Lent Meditations blog), that it was the reading meant for last Friday. I seem to always get it mixed up that Lent began on 21 Feb, not 28 Feb. Which would mean that all my previous entries with reference to the Meditations, were actually one week behind!

Another reason why I think God is on to me; if I followed the proper order, I wouldn't have read the passages I read, the ones which spoke so eloquently to me in those moments of greatest need.

This also happens to be one of my favourite passages in the Bible, and I will intersperse the writings of St Paul with my own thoughts:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

The only compensation I have in light of recent disappointments, is that God works in all things for good, for my good. That He causes all things to work together for good.

That, and the fact that I realised I can borrow CDs from the British Council library. And, being British (not Irish, but close enough), they have a collection of several U2 CDs! I borrowed Boy and U2 Live: Under a Blood Red Sky yesterday.

Too bad, though, that I missed Benjamin Zephaniah, the British Rastafarian poet.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

To know that Christ is interceding even when I'm as far removed from any thought of God as possible, is overwhelming. I must remind myself that God will give... in His own time, not mine.

(And believe me, this is one of the hardest things to live by.)

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

'More than conquerors'. I like that, because it's so grand. And, being grand, is something that is not easy to utter. Every day is an uphill climb to resist, to overcome, to conquer.

Not to conquer new lands, but to prevent the Evil One from conquering land that is not rightfully his. Maybe that is what it means to be 'more than conquerors'.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.


And thank you, Li-Shia. We know that God is on to me, that He is on to us.

Overcomers in Malacca

Once upon a time, in the late 70s, God brought a bunch of teenagers from Petaling Jaya together. They became known as the Overcomers, and carried their ministry far and wide.

As the years passed, they grew up, many got married (some within the group), got jobs, got children... and a fair number kept in touch somehow.

Then on 13 August last year, Uncle Mark and Aunty Boon Kee hosted a reunion for the group in their USJ home. For the first time in many years, many in the group came together under one roof, and were reunited with their mentor from thirty years ago, Pastor Philip Sung.

And then it started. Again.

Old songs were fished out, old photos resurfaced, old memories recollected... some professed a need for more ginkgo. And plans were slowly hatched for a full-scale ministry trip to Malacca, present home and base of Pastor Philip.

Thirty years in the making.

* * * * *

So where do I come in? Well, I happen to be one of the people represented in this group:

The children of the Overcomers (not all are in the picture).

Destined from birth to be a part of this incredible network, we were supposed to follow our parents to Malacca, as the ministry trip was also to be a family trip.

So we did; what choice had we? *wink*

But then it was later revealed that we weren't to just tag along, but had to prepare a performance for the congregation at Pastor Philip's Bethel Church.

After some eighty-odd exchanges via e-mail, we staged the surprise of a lifetime (okay-lah, our lifetime!) for our parents. And the rest is basically history.

Along the way, I realised we glorify God when we do what we do to the best of our abilities. Above all, I learnt that life is like a jam session of mistakes and learning; and I guess this is part of the legacy. After all, let's face it: our parents would have never called life a 'jam session'! ;-)

* * * * *

I won't comment much on the pictures that follow, but there are two things I'd like to clarify, mostly for Zhen Yan and Melissa. I did not use Photoshop (to be honest, I don't know how!), but I did edit the pictures in terms of brightness and contrast. And as is evident, I played with colours a LOT, using another software.

A photographer once remarked that Photoshop (or any digital editing for that matter) should only be used to enhance an image and do what is beyond the scope of the camera, and not to cover up mistakes.

So my approach in the photos I did take (I didn't take all) was certainly not, "Never mind about this mistake lah, can Photoshop."

What is Malacca without dodol?

If only trees in our rainforests could bear these signboards.

Jumping into a rooftop jacuzzi under an orange sky.

Bryan looking very intense in the shower area.

A somewhat illuminated and angelic shot of Zhen Yan. This was taken either by Kevin or Zhen Quan.

One of the most difficult shots on the trip. Lighting was terrible on the beach; after all, a floodlit beach defeats the whole purpose of romantic evenings by the sea. So I had to use long exposure (I think about two seconds).

This is what Eunice, Melissa and Zhen Yan would look like on negative, if I'd used a film camera.

Experimenting on a trishaw-like cart with inverted colours and increased contrast.

The Overcomers... and families!

* * * * *

Lessons learnt from mamak:

Zhen Yan: "Real men wear pink."
Ben: "And real men drink pink."

Sunday, March 25, 2007


I stopped teaching last week; Wednesday was my last day. Little did I know just how eventful Thursday would be.

It all started in the morning, when Mum and I were treated to a display of incessant barking. We really thought Ryan had lost it, when, lo and behold, we spotted a little bird hobbling across the garden. The dogs, locked in their cage for the previous night, were unable to get to it.

Immediately I rushed to the gate, but by then the little one had hopped out of the garden; it was clearly injured. After chasing it in circles around the bird's nest fern, and coaxing it out--with a broom--from under David's friend's Wira, I finally managed to catch it. So we took it to the backyard and dressed its wounds with Dettol and iodine. It lost nearly all of one wing, and all the feathers near its tail had dropped off, leaving bare its rear half. Must've been a cat at fault.

Sara looked after the bird while Mum and I went, first to school to get the 1119 cert certified, then to the IDP office and the Great Eastern Mall. She fed it some bread, but we doubt it ate any. At Great Eastern, I looked up some books in MPH and successfully identified the bird as Geopelia striata, commonly known as the Peaceful Dove or Zebra Dove.

A dove. On the first day after stopping work.

We decided to leave in in the backyard, but put the pail in a larger basin, which served as a moat to deter ants from getting to the bird. Since morning, we lined the pail with a piece of cloth and put some water in a little dish (the sort of container used for puddings/jelly at the pasar malam). We also gave it a small chunk off a banana, hoping that perhaps fruit might whet its appetite where bread failed to do so, though all in all, it seemed as if what the bird really needed was a good night's rest.

That night, before I went off to bed, I found the basin and pail in the bathroom downstairs; Dad moved it in, I think. Deciding to check on the bird once more, I lifted the basket that was used to cover the pail, and to my utter horror found its head submerged in the water dish.

Either it drowned while trying to drink, or it died and fell headlong into the dish.

* * * * *

I am no vet, but that night I came to terms with something I had been thinking of the whole evening: I was really worried about the bird, and wasn't at all looking forward to leaving it alone at night. So, having secured the moat and placed the basket on top of the pail, I thought it would be safe until the morning, when we could move it to a safer and more conducive environment.

It seems it wasn't sufficient. I said I came to terms; what I mean is that I realised that there are times when we need to keep watch all the time. And I recalled this Donut Man song whose chorus went;

And even though the Good Shepherd counts sheep
He never sleeps, he never sleeps...

* * * * *

The next morning, I stared at the Bible, again clueless as to which passage I should read. So I turned to the Nails and Thorns Lent Meditations list.

Romans 6:1-11.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

--Romans 6:1-4, 10-11 (NIV)

The word 'baptism' leapt out of the page. I thought of the state in which the bird was found dead, submerged in water, and it struck me as being physically and metaphorically similar and symbolic to baptism.

Because in baptism there is water, and there is death. Death of the self to sin.

...Other echoes
Inhabit the garden. Shall we follow?
Quick, said the bird, find them, find them,
Round the corner...

--T.S. Eliot, from 'Burnt Norton' Stave I

Was the bird calling to me? Calling me to follow? To turn my back on sin and live the life God wants me to live?

* * * * *

Could this also be a preview of life as a biologist?

Despite my diminished dreams of becoming a doctor, might I still be called to be a healer?

* * * * *

Rest in peace, dear Peaceful Dove. Till we meet again.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Boy meets girl... and then what?

Confession: I've not been keeping up with the Lent Meditations. But this morning I had no idea where to go in the Bible, so I decided to check the list of Scripture passages in the Lent Meditations schedule. And today's is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

"Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"--but I will not be mastered by anything. "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food"--but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.

Bought with a price. Therefore honour God.

* * * * *

Thoughts after church last night:

Testimonies of deliverance and miracles may seem incredulous and incredible, but if we really believe the truth of the Gospel, can we expect anything less? When Jesus walked on earth, many great things happened.

If Jesus is alive, shouldn't great things still happen?

We need to reclaim the 'legendary' dimension of our faith, simply because the King has yet to return. And it is hard for us to truly believe that this is really our Father's world, because it seems to be running without Him.

But sometimes echoes of another world do shake ours, and we wait. Perhaps Frederick Buechner put it best when he wrote, "Even at our most believing, I think, we have our serious reservations just as even at our most unbelieving we tend to cast a wistful glance over our shoulders."

* * * * *

I'm glad Li-Shia found it. At last.

The pledge remains till this Thursday. I won't forget.

That little (not-so)-last house

One of the most irritating things that can happen to a writer is to lose writing stamina and/or momentum. And this can happen when an idea comes but the writer has no time to write.

* * * * *

It rained on Sports Day, so the tug-o-war and closing ceremony had to be postponed to the Friday before the holidays. All the tents were stripped bare, but we decided not to risk climbing onto the roof to take down the name board. And so Shaw became the last house standing.

And this year, we weren't last as people like to expect. The greatest irony was that Mr Kali kept mocking Shaw on Sports Day with his usual sarcastic "There's no hope for Shaw ah, Benjamin. No matter what you do it will still be last," with an emphasis on the 'last', and in the end, his house (Treacher) finished last.

It was my very last Sports Day, and the one in which I was most involved (with the house). I was glad to make up for missing Sports Day last year due to the Forensics finals, and it was an added bonus to help see Shaw through to a record-breaking year in which we won the March Past and finished Second Runner-up for Tent Decorations.

Also, I discovered that I actually have more stamina than I thought.

The general theme for this year's Sports Day was '50 Tahun Kemerdekaan dari Aspek Kesukanan Negara' or something like that. So we had to think of something patriotic, and with someone like me on board, the last thing I wanted was a stereotypical 'Glory Malaysia' kind of theme.

So we attempted a twist on the idea of independence and decided to use Shaw's colour (red, blood red) to suggest the other side of independence; that behind every grand victory lies unspeakable sacrifice. The flag at Iwo Jima, the photograph of the Japanese samurai sword surrender at the VI, the Tugu Negara: we don't see the blood, the gore, the dust and the destruction. At least, that's not the first thing that comes to mind when considering the nation's 50th anniversary of independence.

As a result, we trashed up our tent, making it look like a half-destroyed army barracks in the aftermath of a battle. And we had to marching boys' costumes spray-painted red for blood. All in all, I think I was very much influenced by the themes underscoring U2's 1983 effort, War, and that's probably where the white came from: the idea that peace is still possible and innocence redeemable.

This was easily the hardest part of the march past: the hormat. Hard because nearly everyone has a different interpretation how to hold the hand up, and because it is executed when the squad is nearest to the audience and judges. We spent some time on Friday (the day before Sports Day) perfecting this command, and believe me, it isn't easy teaching a squad comprising mostly of Form One boys.

But in the end all the effort paid off, and Khin Yew (left) and Shamsul (centre) are certainly very happy, considering all the effort they put in for the March Past. Not to mention Zailaha who resurrected the cadet drill master in her to inspire some discipline in the boys.

And then there's Wei Leng (right) who tirelessly helped out with the Tent Decorations. I do suppose my minimalistic and U2-like metaphorical approach cost us some points, as the winning house (Thamboosamy) boasted styrofoam/cardboard models of the Petronas Twin Towers and the Eye on Malaysia ferris wheel. I wanted something more evocative and less concrete.

A close-up of the trophy we won for the first time (and hopefully not the last).

And here are some of the key players: Shamsul (House Captain, standing), and seated from left to right, Wei Leng, Amirul and Li-Shia, all three of whom brought everything together for the Tent Decorations.

* * * * *

While talking to Li-Shia on Sports Day, I realised that the kind of people we have been inviting as Guests-of-Honour for our major events in the last few years leave much to be desired.

This year, of all people to invite, we had Malaysia's Head Commissioner of Sports. And I'm thinking, shouldn't we get people who actually have something to say about sports, rather than just some big-shots who happen to hold some important office in the country's bureaucratic system?

Let two major VI events, i.e. Speech Day and Sports Day regain their worth. Bring in educationists and scholars (most recently Prof. Kamal Hassan, the IIU Rector, in 2005) for the former, and sportsmen for Sports Day. And please, please let them be Victorians, not some fellow who carries a 'Tan Sri' in front of his name but has no attachment to the school whatsoever.

For if we are to inspire the students in the class and on the field, we need people who have been there and come back again. We need to meet and hear Victorians who have gone on to be successful and academia and athletics alike to bear testimony to the present students; we need to maintain this legacy, being as we are a school rooted in tradition, and no less than the oldest school in the nation's capital.

* * * * *

And in the end, two questions and a statement:

What is the point of this sacrifice?
Why did I swing the stick and pull the wire?

Fillers plug holes where there's a need.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

On throwing stones

Sometimes it's about seeing something differently.

Jesus went across to Mount Olives, but he was soon back in the Temple again. Swarms of people came to him. He sat down and taught them.

The religion scholars and Pharisees led in a woman who had been caught in an act of adultery. They stood her in plain sight of everyone and said, "Teacher, this woman was caught red-handed in the act of adultery. Moses, in the Law, gives orders to stone such persons. What do you say?" They were trying to trap him into saying something incriminating so they could bring charges against him.

Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger in the dirt. They kept at him, badgering him. He straightened up and said, "The sinless one among you, go first: Throw the stone." Bending down again, he wrote some more in the dirt.

Hearing that, they walked away, one after another, beginning with the oldest. The woman was left alone. Jesus stood up and spoke to her. "Woman, where are they? Does no one condemn you?"

"No one, Master."

"Neither do I," said Jesus. "Go on your way. From now on, don't sin."

(John 8:1-11, The Message)

Monday, March 12, 2007

Gems from an encounter with Brian McLaren

That morning, I met up with Brian McLaren at the PJ Hilton while waiting for Sivin and company (i.e. Bob Kee, Kia Meng, Yew Khuen, Jaime Sim). Recognised him from behind, heheh...

There were some interesting thoughts during his session at Seminari Theoloji Malaysia on Monday, 5 March.

For instance, "The turtle was found to be fully functional, and when the ring was removed, it was able to grow into the normal shape."

* * * * *

Dr Voon, during the Conversation segment, remarked on the loss of the relational aspect in our relationships, citing SMS as an example of how we tend to choose the cheapest way to communicate, regardless of relational value.

She also commented that the church has become somewhat utilitarian, wanting people for their abilities but not necessarily for who they are. A typical conversation might go like this:

Church leader: Wow, you're a pianist; you can play piano during worship!
Visitor: Wait a minute... do you want me for me, or for what I can do?

* * * * *

In commenting on shifting worldviews and perspectives, McLaren shared this interesting thought/quote from Max Planck, the great quantum physicist:

"New ideas thrive, not so much because they are good in themselves, but because their enemies die out."

* * * * *

But above all, the words that resonated most with me from that day, were not spoken during the official session (as with all the best thoughts in life), but in the Unser on the way to STM, as we were passing the A&W restaurant.

The conversation had moved to the late Stanley Grenz, who came under much fire because of his opinions, and not many stood by him.

On this, McLaren said, "It's not so much what your enemies say, but the silence of your friends..."

Let us not be silent.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A bit of grace

Why would a sinner like me still want to serve in Christian ministry?

I guess even if I'm bound for hell, with no way to turn back, I would rather have lived well than as if I'd not lived at all.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

One of those days... :-(

I don't normally blog to whine about days that go wrong. But yesterday was one of those days; one of those rare days when nothing really goes right.

I only have about ten minutes for this post. If everything goes wrong, perhaps there is some therapy in blogging about it.

* * * * *

I chose to stand in when no one else would.

Missed the conference, missed the friends.

Why am I a filler?

And then the broken sandal.

All that walking; for something. Or nothing.

They took a group photo. We weren't there.

We could have been.

The white pants. What for?

Just to get soaked carrying another's burden.

The heavy rain, the heavy pain.

Washed away. Sluiced away.

The torrents; the mighty torrents.

Two twenties. One fifty.

Seventy forgotten.

Seven. Perfection?

Far from.

Teeming with life forgotten.

No chance to meet.

Has been so long.

So long away and zoning out.

Sweet dinner resting on the teeth.

Coated in saccharine smiles throughout the night.

We hurt each other and we do it again.

Was it worth it?

Worth everything we lost?

Worth having to stop now because of a busy day I don't want?

* * * * *

There is a silence that comes to a house
Where no one can sleep
I guess it's the price of love
I know it's not cheap

~ U2, 'Ultraviolet'

Thursday, March 01, 2007

First and Last

The first King and Queen of Narnia are a horse-and-carriage cabby and his wife, none of whom believe they are anything near royal material;

"My children," said Aslan, fixing his eyes on both of them, "you are to be the first King and Queen of Narnia."

The Cabby opened his mouth in astonishment, and his wife turned very red.

But the Great Lion Aslan builds the Cabby up by giving him a set of charges, to each of which he responds well; the last of the charges is this:

"And if enemies came against the land (for enemies will arise) and there was war, would you be the first in the charge and the last in the retreat?"

"Well, sir," said the Cabby very slowly, "a chap don't exactly know till he's been tried. I dare say I might turn out ever such a soft 'un. Never did no fighting except with my fists. I'd try--that is, I 'ope I'd try--to do my bit."

"Then," said Aslan, "you will have done all that a King should do. Your coronation will be held presently..."

Two days to the 104th Annual Sports Day of the VI.