Sunday, April 29, 2007

More along the Way

Garlic roast chicken with lettuce and, uh... boiled potato.

Instant seaweed noodles with double-yolk egg.

Food's not bad even when you're ill!

* * * * *

Pastor Linda's anecdote before the offering was collected:

"The dying thief never joined a church, still he was saved. He never gave for the offering, still he was saved. But the difference is that he was a dying thief; we are living ones!"

And she shared from Malachi:

"Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me.

"But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'

"In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse--the whole nation of you--because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it."

--Malachi 3:8-10 (NIV)

God has indeed been faithful over the last six years when tithing became a matter of significance for me.

* * * * *

Kevin discovers that the Amcorp Mall parking was, at least in part, designed for hobbits.

* * * * *

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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

--Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

Let us throw off everything that hinders.

Let us throw off the sin that so easily entangles.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Like a Fly

Read Colossians 3 this morning.

I haven't been very holy have been downright unrighteous lately. So I thought, why not read the passage that is often referred to as the most concise guideline for holy living?

At first I wanted to read from verse 1 to 17, but somewhere around the second verse, I was stuck. I couldn't move on.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.

--Colossians 3:1-7 (NIV)

Set your hearts on things above...
My heart is here on earth.

Set your minds on things above...
My mind is here on earth.

Put to death... sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires...
I have just breathed life into these.

You used to walk in these ways...
I still do.

* * * * *

It's no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest.
It's no secret ambition bites the nails of success.
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief;
All kill their inspiration and sing about the grief.

Words of a poet?

Guess who.

Hari Ini dalam Sejarah (Part 5): Royal Military College

At this very hour some three years ago, two of the most eminent boys' schools in Kuala Lumpur were battling it out with words and wit for the Tan Sri Datuk Wira Abdul Rahman Arshad State Debate Cup.

The Royal Military College (RMC) were Government against the Victoria Institution, debating the motion 'Space exploration is a waste of time and money'.

It remains to this day one of my very best experiences while in the VI. Not just the round, but the entire debate journey, which could be summed up in everything that happened that morning at SMK Raja Abdullah.

I'm thankful to Shobaan for holding the camcorder, despite the display of absolute non-professionalism (evident on the VCD that was produced). I'm thankful to Tee Ming for holding her camcorder at the Forensics last year (she is a much better videographer than Shobaan). Because for all the camera shake and ambient noise (people in the audience chit-chatting), these videos are virtually all we have of some of those best times.

I'm not going to talk so much about the debate itself in this entry; the video says it all. I want to go beyond the scope of the video and try to recollect the other sights and sounds and emotions on that historical morning: April 27, 2004.

The VI somehow agreed to send a busload of supporters (recorded when Shobaan panned around for a view of the audience), so the debate team had to travel in Pn Jaya's car (her now legendary Iswara aeroback; legendary partly because of what we remember it for, and partly because she has replaced it with a Wira Special Edition). We will always remember the RMC bus joining the road somewhere along the way, eventually overtaking us. Little did they know their opponents were riding in the tiny green Iswara below.

For some reason I simply can't remember what the quarantine room was like in this round. During quarantine, Segambut MP Dr Tan Kee Kwong (an old boy of the VI himself, who officiated at the VI's Speech Day in 2002) officially launched the round and delivered his opening speech, which we of course did not witness. Mum, Dad and Sara were present, as were Danial's mother and Miss Shanti. Apparently, he made many comments about space exploration (which he wasn't supposed to). I suppose MPs will always talk!

Dinesh was excellent; more confident than he had ever been in previous rounds. And by the end of both second speeches, it was obvious RMC was beginning to feel the heat; their Third Speaker was literally sweating puddles, and we could see the sweat dripping from his blazer! In fact, as the debate progressed, the RMC's support team applauded less and less for their own team.

Danial's rebuttal was full of humour (which did very well to balance out the increasing tension) and logic (which did very well to virtually win us the debate), and we will always remember the RMC's increasingly ridiculous attempts at offering POIs (points-of-information) to the point where Danial couldn't take it anymore and literally paused in his speech to tell them to sit down. He ended with an unforgettable "To infinity and beyond!"

I ended my Reply Speech with the now equally unforgettable Latin phrase, "Per ardua, ad astra" which means "To the stars through hardship."

Basically the entire thrust of our case was in the direction of exploring new frontiers. In hindsight (i.e. if we debated today), the Government could've won if they said the 'final frontier' is not space but earth.

I kept the tons of paper upon which Kishan printed the information we needed (I have no idea how my printer managed to churn out so many pages), and as I look back at our Government case, one of the points we proposed was this:

Have yet to maximize our natural resources
- abundance of natural resources
- earth not fully explored
- why go to space when we haven't covered everything on our ground

Today, this hits home as very true to me. It is the main reason why I want to study Biology: there is so much to explore on earth. In fact, most of the ocean hasn't been explored, and that's a whopping three-quarters of our planet.

And, in a recent entry on this blog, I mentioned that for every Stephen Hawking who says, "Go into space", there is an E.O. Wilson who counters, "We need expeditions to planet earth."

The debaters stayed over at my place this time. As Cheras is so much more remote than Kepong (Danial's house is within walking distance from the KTM station) and Bangsar, Dad had to drive to KL Sentral to pick the team up on Sunday.

We had a dinner at Secret Recipe in Leisure Mall. Somehow Dinesh's chicken cordon bleu didn't turn out as expected that night; it was much smaller than it usually is! But Mum cooked the other meals, including a very hearty (vegetarian) lunch on Monday.

On the top of the sheet of paper upon which our Government and Opposition cases were printed, were these words (reproduced verbatim):

sent to ben

Because Ben is a lazy ass who can't get his butt up and workin, I'm supposed to summarize the points we have so far =)

Some may be irrelevant and shit, but this is a collection of the points we have, its up to you filter and alter the poitns to help us in our case, i can't do it alone.

And hurry up la, i need a prepared speech and RMC memorises their whole speeches, it wouldn't be good for us if i don't at least familiarise my speech well enough to not rely on it. I'm only human, i can't memorise a whole speech in less than an hour.

Zer Ken couldn't make it, so Dinesh and Kishan were up early Monday morning typing (accompanied by George, who used to sleep indoors then) while Danial and I were still in dreamland after a a supper of tea and snacks the night before.

Another moment that was not recorded on the VCD was when the results were announced. Truly it was the best moment of my first five years in the VI.

I kept my word, and brought the debaters out to Chili's BSC for dinner. It has been our official restaurant ever since. Danial couldn't make it, so we had lunch there some other day.

We eventually lost to the Infant Jesus Convent of Malacca at the Inter-state level. As it was held in Malacca, they had homeground advantage, but that probably wasn't why we lost. I would say we weren't as focused (this round was many weeks later, and we'd lost a bit of momentum), but perhaps it was because Kishan and Zer Ken weren't there. Oh, and probably because someone from the Wilayah was judging; judges should never be from competing schools/states.

Kishan's sister was getting married and for some reason, Zer Ken couldn't come as some nut in the Education Department said we didn't register him as a member of the team at the very start of the competition, and so we couldn't bring him along. Zer Ken was in the year below us, and I suppose he didn't gel as well with the rest of the team, but he was an invaluable member nonetheless; I suppose the debate was an experience he would rather have forgotten because of all the slip-ups with the government.

As a result, Arafat replaced Kishan. Arafat is not a debater. I suppose in the end none of us could've done it without the others. Dinesh, Ben, Danial, Kishan and Zer Ken: change one, you change all. For all our individual weaknesses, we brought out the best in each other as a team; we're like U2 in the sense that we were dysfunctional but had an amazing chemistry going on nonetheless. In our team, there were no reserves.

I say this because we stayed together even after the debate. The rounds ended, but the friendship hasn't dimished an ounce since then.

Dinesh is reading Engineering (Mechanical, I think) at Imperial College, London. Kishan is majoring in Mathematics, doing an Economics degree at the University of Sydney. Danial is set to become a lawyer, and is very much involved in the international debate scene at the International Islamic University here in Malaysia. Zer Ken, if I remember correctly, is having the time of his life at Taylor's College.

And Ben?

Ben is still here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Thorns that do not go away

While at dinner, I thought of Patch Adams, both the man and the movie (the common cold makes fertile the mind). It's still one of those very inspirational movies, at least to me. Specifically, I was thinking of the conversation he had with Arthur Mendelssohn at the mental institute.

"If you focus on the problem, you can't see the solution..."

And then I thought of what he said to the medical jury.

"Either way, I'll probably be viewed as a thorn. But I promise you, I'm a thorn that will never go away."

I've always realised that we often end up hurting the ones we love most. Sivin himself told me (during the hard times last year) that only a friend can betray a friend.

On my last night in Singapore, Tien echoed this sentiment when she SMS-ed, "We hurt the people we love best. Always."

And yet, friends are also thorns that do not go away. They pierce us, but also, they pierce for us. And they pierce with us.

* * * * *

This picture... have you seen this guy? He seems to have disappeared. Last seen in Seminari Theoloji Malaysia (STM) sometime in November 2005.

Just this evening, Tien alluded to a good conversation she had with Zheng, one that was "probably a tad too serious for McD's."

Thinking of the things that have happened over the past two years, I realise some things/people can never quite let go of gravity; in a world of lightness and fluff and consumerism and materialism, they remain weighty.

Bono, in the autobiography U2 by U2 said of their album Pop, "...some things you can't leave behind... Deep down we weren't as shallow as we'd like."

It's an album I've yet to hear; generally it received bad reviews, but one thing almost all the reviewers agreed on was that the album was too heavy for an attempt at hedonism and disco-like moods. U2 just couldn't be light and narcissistic.

But for now, the foray into the world of the opposite is still wild and exciting. And I'm not quite ready to let go of the ride just yet.

* * * * *

Had lunch today with Praba, Canteen (his new nickname) and Li-Shia at The Weld's Pizza Hut. Phak Hoe couldn't make it.

Met Canteen in the VIOBA Clubhouse parking lot, which, I've just realised is a wonderful place--in town--to park for free. The main gate is never locked, only the second gate that opens into the school.

It was a good afternoon; learning from Praba that holding hands prevents the other person from running away or disappearing; discovering that Macsimize rescues third-world children from their Western captors/exploiters; experiencing a lunch in which we had to wait for virtually everything except the change after Praba settled the bill; getting acquanted with Datuk Anandakrishnan's (of Astro and Maxis) nickname, Andy K; finding out that Canteen is interested in this girl called Dorene/Doreen; coming to terms with the ugly reality that Li-Shia drinks; learning that all High Commissions have bars; hearing stories about Praba's Judy... and much more!

(Not all of the above are true of real life, but all are true of this afternoon.)

Anyway, the offer sounds good. And while I was at the Bukit Jalil LRT station, I recalled Bono's words about committing to the fight against poverty;

"Don't ask God to bless what you're doing. Find out what God's doing and do it, for it is already blessed."

Of course it isn't wrong to ask for God's blessing, but that's not Bono's point. And as I approached and walked through the turnstiles, it occurred to me that perhaps all this wasn't an accident. The one who might've declined, did not.

Perhaps there is reason behind this rashness, or has Polonius (of Hamlet) might've said it, method in this madness.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Thoughts on Garrett and Bono

If there is a book I would unreservedly recommend for any and all budding photographers, it would be the Keep It Simple Series's Guide to Photography by John Garrett, published by Dorling Kindersley.

Retailing at about RM54, it is far cheaper than most guides to photography out there. And one thing that sets this book apart from most other titles on the bookshelves is that the author focuses more on the techniques involved in photography rather than digital editing, which seems to be the theme of most volumes published today.

It is a very complete book, covering virtually everything a complete rookie to a semi-pro would need to know, and in many ways timeless because the techniques he puts forward are applicable to any camera from the SLRs to the disposable ones.

Consider this. On using lens filters on SLRs, here's what he says:

"Although Photoshop can produce any effect that an on-lens filter can (and more), many photographers still prefer to use traditional filters on their cameras. That is because they want to visualize the effects in the viewfinder. That way, they can produce an effect more in harmony with the subject in front of them."

I think we learn most from those who were groomed on film and are familiar with what matters most in photography--capturing and manipulating light--and not just producing files and editing images.

* * * * *

During the U2 concert in Chicago in May 2005, Bono said that while he was impressed by the American moon landing, he believes that what we need to do now is "bring mankind back to Earth" because of the suffering and poverty all around us.

He's not the only one. While the famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking believes we need to move out into space in order to ensure the survival of the human race, biologist E.O. Wilson strongly urges us to conduct 'expeditions to planet Earth' because there is so much in the natural world that we still don't understand, and so much that we can learn from it.

As an aspiring biologist and amateur photographer (and also a big fan of U2!), I foresee many many trips to planet Earth in the future for me!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hari Ini dalam Sejarah (Part 4): Convent Peel Road

I'm in Singapore now, and didn't plan to write any entries till I got back. But my handphone is quite good at reminding me of things I need to do, but which I'd rather not do. And today is the third anniversary of one of our most enjoyable debate rounds.

Enjoyable because after dealing with Seri Bintang Utara and Menjalara, the Semi-Final against Convent Peel Road (CPR) was a breeze. And also because, for the first time, debate preparation was more like a holiday than work.

You see, this time we decided to spend two days in preparation, being as it were a very important round (getting to the Finals was obviously a big thing to us). And this time, Danial invited us to his house in the Kepong/Menjalara area. It would turn out to be anything but a serious two days, and between the four of us, we:

-played video games in the morning while another two were having breakfast at a nearby mamak
-spent more time playing pool than pooling ideas
-got acquainted with Danial's pet iguana, Rex
-perused Danial's uncle's collection of Che Guevara paraphernalia
-played darts instead of hitting the Bull's Eye in our case preparation
-were introduced to some diarrhoea-inducing pill Danial was taking
-were driven (at breakneck speeds by Danial's father) to school on Monday morning to pick something up (possibly a diskette from Miss Shanti; I can't quite remember)

It was also on this trip that I picked up Danial Wallace's book Big Fish from KL Sentral before heading off to Danial's. Great book, breathtaking movie.

Of course, in the end we came to our senses. We took turns, really. So while some of us were playing pool, the others were doing research on the net. It was actually Dinesh who was the most frenzied, because he most needed a prepared speech. So he kept checking definitions, arguments and the case construction with us. As First Speaker, he had to introduce our case and so he needed to know it like the back of his hand. That, in turn, kept the wheels in our brains turning.

By the afternoon of the second day (Monday), Dinesh's speech was still only half-complete. And Danial and I finally decided to get down to rebuttal practice. We decided that he was a very promising Third Speaker, but he admitted that he needed to know the case thoroughly prior to the debate, in order to form a rebuttal structure. And so we developed a rebuttal technique that was half rebuttal, and half reinforcement of the case. And Danial would become very good at tearing down our opponents and strengthening our case at the same time.

The motion was 'National Service Will Effectively Foster National Integration', although I am not entirely sure about the word 'foster'. We were the Government; it was the second time we debated in favour of National Service, after the second round in 2003 (our first ever debate).

It was a breeze because the Opposition somehow decided to use a line of argument that went like this:

Government: Where are your sources?
Opposition: If you read the papers, you will know.
Government: Can you cite just one source, for example?
Opposition: Obviously you haven't been reading the papers.

Now I know it is terrible debating to focus on evidence and not ideas, and just to be clear, that's not how we debate. That ever-memorable round against SBU was won, in part, because they attacked our evidence and missed the forest for the trees. But it was just so comical that this team (CPR) would give such replies, so we decided to capitalise on it, more to derail them than anything else.

(Because it was a knockout system, sometimes stronger teams are encountered in earlier rounds, depending on the pairings. So more realistically, we would actually rank Menjalara above SBU, and SBU above CPR.)

They also claimed we had no stand, although we obviously stated our stand at the beginning (and end) of each speech. All in all, it was a very comfortable debate held at SMK Datuk Lokman. Our performances were all good, and this time I was named Best Speaker. Perhaps the only different thing was that we used microphones for this round as we were in the School Hall. And so we had to get used to speaking behind a microphone ahead of the Finals, which would no doubt be in some large hall somewhere.

(I hate microphones; I think they get between me and the audience. Then again, I've gotten used to the form-versus-function trade-off, and I'd say I'm somewhat more comfortable behind mikes now.)

Perhaps the greatest shock came in the result of the other Semi-Final round. Convent Bukit Nanas (CBN) lost to the Royal Military College (RMC). We had always known that CBN fielded a strong team, and we witnessed their debate against SBU in the 2003 Semi-Finals at the VI. They lost then (sending SBU into the Finals and eventual victory of the State Championship), but we expected them to improve dramatically. The RMC, on the other hand, were practically unknowns as far as the 2003 line-up went.

Apparently the RMC, who were the Opposition, used a line of argument that went something like this: "How effective is effective in evaluating effective national integration?" That round is one I hope to watch someday... if anyone recorded it.

So, as one of the RMC boys said, it would be an all-boys Final. And we were already getting jitters from this unlikely fellow-finalist that defeated the legendary CBN team.

A final note about the motion: I learnt in retrospect, after having been through National Service, that most of the arguments from both sides were rubbish. Even today, there is an incredible amount of prejudice and preconceptions among the general public about the programme.

Put it this way: the yea-sayers support it for certain reasons, and the nay-sayers likewise oppose it for certain reasons. But nearly all the yea-reasons I've heard miss the mark; NS was a great experience, but not for the utopian reasons of its proponents. And nearly all the nay-reasons equally miss the mark; there were concerns at the camp, but nothing that could be imagined by a third-person opponent of the programme.

They say integration is impossible if the 6:3:1 ratio remains in the camp (i.e. there are more Malays than Indians, hence they are imbalanced). I say that's our country's actual composition; camp is a microcosm, not a lie.

They say NS is unsafe and the trainees' health is not sufficiently taken care of. I say a good number of camps actually to a commendable job; but more so than that, there are things worse than falling ill (which is likely even in a so-called safe city environment). And if I may make a rather risky observation, there are truly things worse than dying in an NS camp.

Last night while having dinner at Al-Ameen's in Bukit Timah, Alissa was wondering if she should take up scuba diving, but worried about the safety. Jon said it wasn't any more dangerous than crossing the road everyday.

True enough about NS.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Portraits in the Raw

I shot these portraits in JPEG format as well as RAW, just to experiment with RAW. There are eight pictures altogether, but I've decided to select four for the montage. These are the JPEG versions.

Click on the montage to get a better view.

Kevin is not really a violinist.

* * * * *

I find it somewhat hilarious that the hype in digital cameras today seems to be about, among other things, 'face detection technology'. Does this imply there are photographers who cannot detect a face when they see one?

Truly the digital camera is becoming more consumerised and new technologies are being developed for those who can't be bothered to learn to take photos, but still expect good results. Kudos to the camera makers and all those brilliant engineers; shame on those who are paying good money for these gadgets.

Unfortunately, my trusty Minolta cannot be fixed (because Sony bought over Minolta and no longer manufactures the lens that needs to be replaced), so we need to buy a new camera. But the recent spate of uber-amateur cameras makes me cringe.

However, my disillusionment is nearing its end. To my surprise and delight, Nikon has just released a digital compact with a full range of manual features, just like the Minolta. Introducing, at an unbelievable recommended retail price of RM 1388, the Nikon Coolpix P5000:

* * * * *

It's much harder to take photos with an SLR due to the immense amount of manual work, but the pictures, when they come out as envisioned, are beyond compare and worth all the ruined shots.

Truly the SLR has opened up realms I never imagined were possible. And to take photography beyond the limits of the digital compact, here's my wish list, in no particular order:

AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D
Price: RM 428.00

A fixed-focus (non-zoom) lens, but with such a wide aperture (f/1.8) that shooting portraits and in low light conditions will be a breeze.

AF DX Fisheye-Nikkor 10.5mm f/2.8G ED
Price: RM 2598.00

Its 10.5mm super-wide angle makes 180-degree photography possible. Should be a blast trying this out on landscapes and tight interiors.

TTL Remote Cord SC-29 (1.5m)
Price: RM 358.00

For those times when I don't want the flash on the camera, i.e. for special effects and creative approaches like side-lighting.

(The image above is that of the SC-28 remote cord, but I don't think the SC-29 looks worlds apart!)

AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED
Price: RM 6288.00

My present telephoto lens goes up to 200mm. This dream lens (which, by the way, costs more than my entire SLR set of one camera, two lenses and one flash unit) is for birds, F1 cars, safari and those days when you see a tiger in the jungle but don't dare get too close.

* * * * *

There is an account in the Bible in which Jesus is asked if the people should pay taxes to the government or not.

And I can't help wondering if anyone ever went directly to Jesus to ask him to pay up. It's a conversation that might, I imagine, go like this:

IRB Auditor: So Jesus, Caesar wants you to pay up.
Jesus: Is he taxing everything I own?
IRB Auditor: More or less.
Jesus: Well, since I own him, go ask which part of himself he wants to contribute to the treasury.

Mich adds two lines for Jesus:

"Hey, I'm not even asking for tax from you guys!"

"And how about damage-control? I'm sure there were more trees and grass when I first made it--even after the flood..."

Elsewhere in the Bible, this rather lucid exchange between Peter and Jesus offers an intriguing perspective:

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?"

"Yes, he does," he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes--from their own sons or from others?"

"From others," Peter answered.

"Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

--Matthew 17:24-27 (NIV)

The underlying comedy (or 'divine joke') seems to lie in the fact that Jesus is King over all the kings of the earth. And what seems like a miraculous solution for tax evasion is really nothing less than the truth that Jesus owns everything; the fish and the coin and Peter and the Roman treasury are all in His dominion.

* * * * *

Leaving for Singapore tomorrow.

Staying for a week and watching The Phantom of the Opera next Saturday.

Looking forward to meeting up with some old friends on the island.

Will miss some friends here. Miss my dogs. Miss my baby.

And my dogs will miss me.

* * * * *

I tried looking for a photo, and found many. But none were good enough. That is to say, sometimes the heart tries in vain to find a picture that conveys what it feels. Looking at all those photos brought me back to when we experienced those moments.

There's the anger, the jealousy, the resentment, the pain, the tears, the tension, the long hours, the unspoken hopes and dreams and fears. But also the glimpses of exultation, of passion, of glorious mornings, of peace, of laughter, of hopes and dreams come true and fears overcome. Of joy, of love.

I tried looking for a photo, and found many.

But none were good enough.

* * * * *

(Technically, I began this entry at 1.58 p.m. But I just left the window open and various thoughts of the day flowed into it. It's like long exposure; you see movement.)

Hari Ini dalam Sejarah (Part 3): Menjalara

(I'm typing this at 1.00 p.m. on Saturday, 14 April. But it will be dated 13 April because this is about something that happened on 13 April, three years ago.)

So we made it to the Quarter Finals of the Wira Debate, going up against SMK Bandar Menjalara at SMK Bandar Tun Razak (in Cheras; whee!). Danial knew some of the people on the team, as he lives in the vicinity of Bandar Menjalara.

In the previous episode, I forgot to mention that we did our preparation at Dinesh's. Some memorable things that happened on that day include:

-two debaters dropping by KLCC during lunchtime to catch the free organ recital
-two debaters listening to U2's 'Beautiful Day' towards the end of the day
-one debater making a fool of himself by asking for the bill at an Indian curry house
-one debater accessing certain scenes in the movie 8 Mile

This time around, we set up base at Kishan's house. It's a huge house and we kick-started the day with breakfast at Burger King in Bangsar Baru, then walked to his place. His mother is an excellent host and cook!

The motion was 'Child Rapists Should be Sentenced to Death' and we were the Opposition. (By the way, this trend continued such that we alternated between Government and Opposition each round.) It was something that had very strong legal and moral connotations about it, and for that reason, I asked my uncle (who is a lawyer) for some resources.

He gave me a whole stack of books but in the end, we only used a line or two from the Law. But I must say, it was probably that line that won us the debate, not so much because it was a good point, but because it threw our opponents a little off the trail. And in debates, a little is a lot.

This time, Dinesh returned to his comfort zone as First Speaker and, probably determined to redeem himself, delivered his best speech yet. I remained Second. The wild card this time was Danial, who took on the mantle of Third Speaker quite against his will. Nonetheless, we had some confidence in that decision, probably because of his experience working with children- and youth-related NGOs.

On that day, there was barely an audience, save for the reserve debaters and teachers of both teams. We did much practice on vocal projection during the quarantine; even as I write this, I am reminded of the time we lost to Seri Hartamas, and how we frantically pasted random snippets of facts on paper for Dinesh (or was it Danial?) and scribbled away... just because we didn't prepare for both sides. We were Government, but we only prepared for Opposition. We never made this mistake again.

It will always be remembered as part of comic debate history, that Pn Jaya kept pacing up and down the library (the venue for the round) towards the end of the debate. She was so worried and couldn't keep still; we told her it worried us, so she promised she'd never do it again. And she never did.

But this was, all things considered, truly our most difficult round. Although Dinesh nailed the first 'bout', I wasn't entirely up to form and the atmosphere was more tense than the previous round. Danial started off fine, but then got stuck at some point and stared at his notes for a few moments. Thankfully, he recollected himself and went on to deliver the best 'comeback' rebuttal of all. Indeed, he focused more on his knowledge of the context (and less on the content) of the motion, drawing from his NGO knowledge and experience.

Although my Reply Speech wandered somewhat with perhaps a little too much emphasis on a metaphor of dealing with a tree from the roots upwards, we won the round (Best Speaker went to Menjalara's Third Speaker). And we knew we finally had the right speaker line-up, although Danial and I had a long way to go if we still wanted to win the tournament!

The present VI team won their first round today (13 April). Technically, it's the Second Round, but they got a 'bye' due to last year's finish as Runners-Up. They were up against Desa Perdana on the motion 'Malaysian Teenagers Ape the West Rather than Follow Their Own Culture'. Kok Kin said the motion made him cringe.

Thankfully, the motions to come are much more debatable as they are centred on issues of comtemporary and national significance, with much emphasis on areas of proposed policy change.

Adli spoke first, followed by Edward and Avinash, who was voted Best Speaker. Andrew and Aqram stayed in the reserves.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Some Thoughts on Photography and Literature

Photography can both build and break barriers. A photographer could hide behind his/her camera. Or he/she could let others handle the camera, allowing them to share their unique perspectives and let their creative sides loose or, in the case of an SLR, to have a shot at 'being a pro'.

One of the most important things I've learnt: sometimes you cannot just take what you see. What caught your eye in real life may not do the same in a picture. The idea is to convey the emotion and/or thought, even if it means altering the subject and/or composition.

I suppose in photography, as in literature, a lot is about observing and then sharing your perspective on the observation.

In terms of writing, I hardly produce anything 'new', but only things I've heard or experienced. Perhaps on paper they appear in different forms, that's all.

...You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.

--T.S. Eliot, Stave III from 'East Coker'

And the innovation is not in seeing something new, but in seeing with new eyes something you've always known. To see something fresh in the familiar.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What I did with RM 2500 in MPH vouchers...

I figured it wouldn't be a bad idea to list all the books I bought with the RM 2500 MPH gave me in prize vouchers for the MPH Search last year. Basically, they gave me that much money to be spent within a period of three months, so you can imagine the kind of shopping I did!

In order to help me finish the vouchers while they were still valid, I stuck by two principles:
1) Buy books for other people
2) Buy expensive books of the sort I would otherwise never dream of buying

Some of these friends only replied with their 'wish list' after the deadline, so I didn't buy those books with the vouchers; I still bought them though, because a promise is a promise!

* * * * *

The list that follows is of the books I bought (in chronological order, more or less) for others with the vouchers, with recipient in parentheses:

Glorious Appearing by Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins (Kevin)
Corinne Bailey Rae - audio CD (LS)
The Cloudspotter's Guide by Gavin Pretor-Pinney (LS)
Ginger, Garlic and Green Onion Cookbook (Mum)
Papaya as Medicine (Mum)
Mushrooms in 60 Ways (Mum)
Mini After-Work Cookbook (Mum)
Five Have Plenty of Fun by Enid Blyton (Sara)
Five on a Secret Trail by Enid Blyton (Sara)
Night by Elie Wiesel (Denise)
The Pact by Jodi Picoult (Cass)
Ideas and Opinions: Collected Essays of Albert Einstein (Mrs Loo)
The Get Fuzzy Experience by Darby Conley (Why On)
Calvin & Hobbes: Scientific Progress Goes "Boink" by Bill Watterson (Mich)
Five Go to Billycock Hill by Enid Blyton (Sara)
Alternative Cures by Bill Gottlieb - down payment for order (Dad)
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis (Tien)
A Room Called Remember by Frederick Buechner (Pn Jaya; decided to buy it for her as she abducted my copy and loved it so much)

There were also a number of books I shared with Simon as gifts for the school Christian Fellowships/Unions involved in the KL/PJ SCF Leaders' Convention this year:

The Fight by John White (SBU CU)
Ordinary Men Called by God by James Montgomery Boice (CHS CF)
Called to be God's Leader by Henry and Richard Blackaby (Taman SEA CF)
Steadfast in Your Word - reflections by Martin Luther (PESS CF)
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (MBS CF)
I Believe by Alister McGrath (VI CU)

Some of the vouchers I gave to Miss Shanti, Sara and the Church. All in all, I spent about RM 1400 on others.

* * * * *

The remaining RM 1100, I spent on myself. These are the books, and the reasons I bought them:

Mister God, This is Anna by Fynn
Little girl and a whole lot of faith. Go figure.

Selected Books of C.S. Lewis
The Pilgrim's Regress, Prayer: Letters to Malcolm, Reflections on the Psalms, Till We Have Faces and The Abolition of Man... all in one volume! (I've already read Abolition, but never mind that!)

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
A book I'd been meaning to get my hands on ever since I saw it for the first time in MPH 1 Utama. Discipleship has been a recurring theme last year.

A Room Called Remember by Frederick Buechner
I've also been meaning to read Buechner, after coming across some quotes in Philip Yancey's books. Indeed this is a book that is worth every sen paid.

The Challenge of Ethnicity
Readings on Ethnic Relations in a Multicultural Society
Two books I bought to help me with an essay I was supposed to write for the Perdana Leadership Foundation's essay-writing competition last December. In the end, I decided I'd written enough essays last year and thought I'd just take a break.

(Some trivia: I actually read through a number of the essays/papers during the six-hour ceramah amali prior to getting the 'L' licence.)

Poetry Speaks
A collection of poems (in hardcover coffee-table book form) by the who's who of 20th (and a little of late 19th, I think) Century poetry, read by the poets themselves on CD! Worth the RM 148, most of all to hear T.S. Eliot read 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'.

Introduction to Augustine
Originally meant for a Christmas party that was cancelled at the last minute. I'm still wondering what to do with it.

Relativity by Albert Einstein
A hardcover, concise exposition on one of the most groundbreaking theories of the 20th Century, by the genius himself... for only RM 23! Need I say more?

The Creation by E.O. Wilson
At first I thought E.O. Wilson was writing as a Christian to Christians on why conservation of the environment is an integral part of the faith. I later realised, halfway through the book, that he was writing as an atheist. It is, nonetheless, a sound book, scientifically and theologically, by this eminent biologist.

From So Simple a Beginning: Four Great Books of Charles Darwin collected by E.O. Wilson
I have heard it said that an enemy can sometimes offer the most constructive criticism of your work. I don't agree with Charles Darwin on some fundamental elements of existence, but I figured it would be good to read this most revolutionary scientist and keen biologist, for my line of work may very much resemble his someday.

U2 by U2
At RM 170 for the book, a poster and the U2 18 Singles CD, this was a steal. Probably one of the best biographies around, simply because the entire text is taken from interviews with the band, so the words are 100% theirs. Offers an incredible insight into the beginnings of the 'greatest band on earth', their songs and what keeps them together and thriving after nearly 30 years of 'making music with your high school buddies'.

(By the way, I already have the U2 18 Singles CD--bought the version that came with a live DVD and booklet--so I intend to give it away. Any takers?)

I Believe by Alister McGrath
A book on the Apostles' Creed by this eminent Oxford scientist-theologian. I think it's advantageous to be interdisciplinary in terms of education and interests; I straddle the literary and scientific worlds, and I think it's going to stay that way for some time. Adds a whole new dimension of fun and life to... life!

The Reluctant Politician by Ooi Kee Beng
Don't ask me why I have a book on Tun Dr Ismail on my bookshelf; I'm not one for politics, as interdisciplinary as I may be. Just so happens The Star had a discount voucher for the book, and I thought the book might come in handy someday.

The Language of God by Francis Collins
The head of the Human Genome Project, also an outspoken Christian, discusses the compatibility of faith and science. Along the way, he invents a word which is worth the RM 90 spent on the book, and will probably set the tone for my career if I become a biologist: BioLogos.

Sister Act - DVD
Don't recall watching the movie, but since Li-Shia has been telling me all about its wonderful arrangement of 'I Will Follow You', I decided to try it out. RM 30 for an original DVD... not too bad lah. :-P

Monday, April 09, 2007

Follow Him?

Tien just SMS-ed:

"I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus; I have decided to follow Jesus - no turning back, no turning back." If we cannot decide today, let us honour yesterday's decision.

Much background information on that song here.

I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back, no turning back.

The world behind me, the cross before me,
The world behind me, the cross before me,
The world behind me, the cross before me,
No turning back, no turning back.

Maybe we are drawn to follow Him because He has always been--and always is--following us, something that is captured (at least on a metaphorical level) in U2's 'I Will Follow'.

If you walk away, walk away
I walk away, walk away
I will follow.

If you walk away, walk away
I walk away, walk away
I will follow.
I will follow.

Boy meets Man

All I can say about my STPM results is that, as Soo Tian remarked, they represent my interests; with the exception of PA, I scored in the subjects I love most:

Pengajian Am: A
Biology: A
Literature in English: A
Chemistry: B+
Mathematics: B+

But that is not the point of this entry.

* * * * *

It's not always that an entry grips me emotionally, but, going through the thoughts I'm about to share here, tears are beginning to well up in my eyes.

There's a lot of the past, a bit of losing and finding oneself... and a whole lot of knowing this journey isn't over.

Here goes.

* * * * *

It was fitting to lunch with Li-Shia and Denise on the day we received our STPM results. This morning, while in the shower, I realised that the two of them represent, more than anyone else, my Form Six experience and some of the quantum leaps I made then.

It was in getting to know Li-Shia that I realised just how different I am from others. And it was in getting to know Denise than I learnt, not just to accept, but in fact to appreciate, that difference.

In the last week of March, I asked Denise to help me edit a story I was working on. In her e-mail reply, she said, among other things;

"But then again, if this is ur style, by all means go ahead, u've come up with a (weird) new genre of combining ur philosophy, thoughts and a story all in one."

I will always owe the Dino-debt to her. Who knew weird could be a style? Who knew U2's inability to play their instruments would be their greatest asset? I'm glad to have found a friend in her, both of us bananas (although, until today, she insists I'm no banana), and perhaps in some subtle way she rekindled the story-teller in me.

Sometime last year, on her blog, she wrote something to the effect of, "It was in the VI that boys became men." I can't remember exactly what it was, but the gist of it was that.

Just now, while searching her blog, the closest I could get to that was the entry on Sports Day last year. And I stumbled upon two interesting thoughts:

It was no use being in school at 9 that morning when things were starting at 2p.m..
It was no use staying back till 6.30p.m. the day before.
It was no use walking to all the way to MYDIN to get supplies.
It was no use messing up the VEB room.

The irony is that, this year, I would say this of my experience:

It was worth being in school at 8-something that morning although things only started at 2 p.m.
It was worth staying back till 8 p.m. the day before.
It was worth walking all the way to MYDIN (and Petaling Street!) to get supplies.
It was worth messing up the classroom that was once L6A2.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: There's not much difference in the teachers and students in the VI that make people say it's a good school; it's the true VI spirit that makes the whole experience worth while.

And when I read that, my eyes watered. A little.

The last two years were significantly different from the rest of my time at the VI. Perhaps Denise is right, that it is here that boy meets man, and in those last two years, we began to realise that we wouldn't be boys all the time.

Perhaps also it was because Form Six isn't homogeneous. There are girls, most obviously, but the main thing is that the majority of the population are new to the school. VI boys return to Form Six; the others don't.

I went in with a reputation; many teachers and students of the VI knew me, at least by name. And this reputation called me to help handle the registration of Form Six students, resulted in MUET lessons that sounded like 'Praise Ben' sessions (ever since the day I gave a speech on Pn Jaya's request and shocked most of my classmates), accompanied me during the VEB interview (after which William told me, "You set the bar really high."), and nearly turned me into the President of the proposed Reading Club.

In retrospect, that reputation (presently at some legendary proportions) only grew during my days as a teacher at the VI. Yet I am glad to have lost myself in Form Six, am grateful for the VEB controversies and thankful that I didn't decide to pursue the Reading Club.

All in all, I realise that my greatest successes came when I was most myself; when I didn't give a damn (pardon the profanity) what people thought of me. That is not to say those were times when I ignored criticism; rather, those were times when I decided that certain suggestions by others were good, but not meant for me. There were times when many other roads opened up before me, and I am glad I walked none but the path I was always meant to walk.

Ultimately, my time in Form Six was different because for the first time, I began to understand what it meant to be a Victorian. At this very moment, today, even as I type this, I realise that in the VI, boys don't become men. After they leave the school, they become Old Boys. And they remain Old Boys.

The VI is not bound by time; it is immortal.

But it should also be noted that I'm more boy than man, and still finding myself. Perhaps it can also be blamed on the U2 influence. Their first album was called Boy, and listening to the copy I borrowed from the British Council, I realise it was a debut album full of thoughts about growing up.

U2 never really grew up. They made a career out of a high-school friendship, and their latest album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb recounts all the things that constitute their signature sound some 27 years ago. On Boy, there's a remarkable song called 'Into the Heart';

Into the heart of a child
I stay awhile
But I can go there.

Into the heart of a child
I can smile
I can't go there.

Into the heart, into the heart of a child
I can't go back
I can't stay awhile.
Into the heart.

Into the heart.

And now, even as I am growing up, I want to be able to say, as U2 did in their song 'City of Blinding Lights' (from the Atomic Bomb album), that "Time won't take the boy out of this man."

It was also fitting that on that day, we watched Pan's Labyrinth, which is probably the best movie in cinemas now.

One thing about the movie that stood out, was that it was about having just enough strength to face the fears and realities of life. And now, moving into this next phase, all I can ask for is 'just enough' strength to survive each day and make the most of this leg of the adventure.

When I told Miss Shanti my results, she replied, "Whatever the calling b."

She probably meant, "Whatever the calling, Ben." But it could also have been, "Whatever the calling be." Both mean something, so maybe I'll just think of it as a hybrid of two distinct meanings.

And as it appears, my calling is to be a scientist; not dressed in a white coat in a land called Laboratory, but an intrepid explorer in a world called Creation.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Two Thoughts on Easter

Wasn't a very holy Holy Week for me. But here are two thoughts from some of my betters.

The road less travelled is a lonely road. I'm still glad some are willing to tag along. Some are no where in sight. We are all preoccupied. There's so much which demands our attention. As humans, we can only focus on a limited and often only a handful of things. No messiah complex here. Though the temptation is real.


I find that Holy Week is draining; no matter how many times I have lived through his crucifixion, my anxiety about his resurrection is undiminished--I am terrified that, this year, it won't happen; that, that year, it didn't. Anyone can be sentimental about the Nativity; any fool can feel like a Christian at Christmas. But Easter is the main event; if you don't believe in the resurrection, you're not a believer.

--John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany (quoted in Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew)

It is an interesting that Easter is juxtaposed with Ching Ming in the 'Spring' of every year.

Death is undiminished, but not undefeated.

Praise Him.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Ants in a Flower

I don't know what these flowers are called, but there is currently one in bloom in the garden, and this morning, some ants were busy collecting pollen. (Or so I would assume; I don't think ants play hide and seek or maypole, do they?)

* * * * *

A few days ago, Uncle Rudy Wong died. He was an Overcomer, and was recently diagnosed with lung cancer, although he wasn't a smoker.

It got me thinking about my own circle of friends, especially the d'NAers, because the Overcomers were to my mother what d'NA is to me. A day will come when all of us will die; what if some of us die earlier than we expect?

* * * * *

Thinking of Holy Week, the word 'involved' came to mind this morning (or was it early afternoon?).

One could say Christ got involved with us so that we may get involved with Him.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Hari Ini dalam Sejarah (Part 2): Seri Bintang Utara

It is Good Friday today. Good Friday is all about the grace of God, and this entry is about an experience that had the grace of God written all over it.

Round 3 of the Wira Debate Cup, we were up against Seri Bintang Utara (SBU), defending State Champions of 2003. That year, they finished Seri Hartamas off in the State Finals (Seri Hartamas finished us off in Round 3), and their best speaker, Nik Nadhirah, was still on the team.

So what strategy did we opt for? Of all things, experimentation. The motion was 'Students Should Not be Encouraged to Work Part-Time' and we were the Government. (It should be mentioned here that we only find out which side we're on 60 minutes before the debate, but the topics are given a week in advance.) This was probably the first time I had to debate against my own opinions, as I personally believe students should be encouraged to work part-time.

Given that we had a tricky topic that could be misconstrued to be a discourse on child labour (which it is not), and given our issues with speaker line-up, we decided to move ourselves around a little and experiment with the running order.

Danial, ever confident of his ability to deliver a prepared speech with force, volunteered to go First. It was already decided upon that I would give the Reply Speech, so I had to be either First or Second. Neither Dinesh nor Danial wanted the Third Speaker's burden of rebuttal, but in the end we believed Dinesh was the lesser of two evils, given his experience as an Impromptu speaker at the ISKL SEA Forensics.

The round was at SMK Bukit Bandaraya, in the heart of Dinesh and Kishan territory, and many of their old friends from SK Bukit Bandaraya were there, as well as a few fellow campers from the NSCF Leaders' Camp 2003.

True enough, Danial did not disappoint, and was incredible against SBU's First Speaker. Round 1 to the VI.

On my first outing as the Second Speaker, I delivered one of my finest performances, going one on one against SBU's star debater, Nik Nadhirah. We will always remember my legendary reply to one of her POIs (points-of-information)... unfortunately no one seems to remember what it was about!

However, Dinesh did not fare so well. In fact, his first (and last) appearance as Third Speaker was by and large forgettable: he paced around too much, didn't accept any of the POIs and--if I remember correctly--barely made it to half the time limit. (Of course, in retrospect, we will always remember this occasion simply because in order to learn from mistakes, we must remember what the mistakes were.)

By the end of his speech, we were prepared for a repeat of the previous year when we were knocked out in the Third Round. But it is always good to go down in style, so I went on to deliver the Reply Speech best as I could, and by most counts, it was a decent effort.

In the end? Nadhirah was named Best Speaker (deservedly, considering our lack of organisation and fluidity!) and... we won the round! It should also be added here that we won by one mark, or so the Head Judge said. Whether that meant it was a split decision, i.e. a 2-1 win, or if the mathematical tabulation of the total scores resulted in a difference of one mark, we never found out. But it was a close enough shave.

And from that moment on, we were determined to go all the way to win the State Title. I think it was also on that day that I told the team I'd treat them to Chili's if we won, although I'm not too sure about that.

And... we knew it was back to the drawing board for the speaker line-up!

(Posted at 12:21 AM on Saturday 7 April 2007)