Friday, August 31, 2007

Merdeka musings

It has been a busy day, to say the least.

I'm glad that, after the Merdeka parade, the time spent in Jusco Maluri, trimming the mango tree, catching dog ticks, making a 'long-distance' call and showering, I was able to spend some time in reflection.

I read through Jeremiah 32 and 33 in The Message, and cross-referred from time to time with the Renovare NRSV Bible. It has been my 'text-of-the-week' after Pastor Kuan Ming preached on it last Sunday.

Thinking about our country on its 50th anniversary of independence, I initially found hardly any similarities between it and the Israel of Jeremiah's time. We are not under oppression by foreign powers... and the differences end there.

Pastor Kuan Ming spoke on faith, and discussed the absurdity of faith in Jeremiah's context. God told Jeremiah to buy a field from his cousin Hanamel (Jeremiah 32:6 onwards) and Jeremiah obeyed. But it wasn't blind obedience; Jeremiah remained perplexed by God's actions (Jer. 32:24-25), for the city was about to be destroyed.

People generally don't generally invest in real estate in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip of present day Israel/Palestine.

It strikes me that even today, God often calls us to do things on the strength of the absurd; our only assurance is that God knows what He is doing, just as He assured Jeremiah that the time would come when the land would be prosperous and 'fields and vineyards' sold and bought once again.

A verse that particularly stood out to me was Jeremiah 32:40, which I quote from The Message;

"I'll fill their hearts with a deep respect for me so they'll not even think of turning away from me."

God's promise of restoration and reconciliation is great, His standard for His people greater still... and His way, probably the greatest of all.

I cannot fully understand how God becomes our righteousness (Jer. 33:16 - "The LORD is our righteousness"), but it seems that after all these years, there is still hope that we can be better tomorrow than we were today, that every day is an opportunity for us to draw closer to God's righteousness.

And maybe after fifty years of independence, we would do well to be mindful of our utter dependence on God. Not many nations remember God in their national anthems, but today the Negaraku was played no less than five times (twice when the Agong arrived, twice when he departed, and at least once for everyone to sing along).

Tanah tumpahnya darahku
Rakyat hidup bersatu dan maju
Rahmat bah'gia Tuhan kurniakan
Raja kita selamat bertakhta

Such a short and simple song, yet so profound. Like the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments, I really think we could make this country a much better place if we took these words seriously.

Here's to you Malaysia, our country. The Lord have mercy on you, on us all.


Edit (9:49 p.m. on 1 September 2007):

Amirul Zarif (Victorian of Shaw house and Form 5H 2007) SMS-ed me this at 1:00:17 a.m. on 31 August 2007, and I reproduce verbatim;

Hey guys & gals, Though ive been disappointed by d absence of fireworks display at klcc, and damn, i got d perfect spot.. but thats not what merdeka is about now, is it...

To be 'merdeka' , is to be free from that cycle that you're trapped in, to give up the things you're addicted to the most.

Im sure you all have your own definitions of independence, and so, i'd like to wish you;
Happy Independence Day!
-amirul z.

How very, very true. Thanks Amirul.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Mostly on Writing and Calling

I appeared on TV for the first time last Friday, on NTV7's The Breakfast Show. MPH has a segment on the show, during which they promote local authors, books etc. Last week's promo was on this year's MPH Search for Young Malaysian Writers, and I was invited along with other young writers to be part of a mini-interview.

It was a live show, so I won't know how I looked on TV until I get the DVD from MPH!

That's the make-up artist dusted foundation (is it even called foundation? My knowledge of make-up: nearly nil) on my face and laced my lips with petroleum jelly. I did not wash off any of it until the evening, prior to the Engelbert Humperdinck concert (more on that to come).

Yve Von, Jia Hui, Frederick and I were interviewed by Sharifah Aleya. Many will recognise her from the Yasmin Ahmad movies, but I will always remember her as (if I'm not mistaken) Thomas More's daughter in The Actors' Studio's performance of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons on their 15th Anniversary. I was in Form Five then, I think.

And then on Sunday, I appeared (albeit recycled) in The Star again, this time in Star Mag. You can read the promo article here.

Aleya said at the start of the interview, "Perhaps we can call you authors now."

That night (or the next night, I can't quite remember), I dreamt I was writing something and my ballpoint pen ran out of ink. Then my rollerball followed suit, but fortunately there was a spare cartridge/stick of rollerball ink.

And then Aleya's words came back to me. As I think about it, I'd say I'm a writer; not an author yet, but on my way.

I'm a photographer, not quite an artist yet, but I'm on my way. And for this I will always be indebted to my art teacher, Mr Apollo Hui (affectionately Uncle Hui) for teaching me art (specifically watercolour painting) the traditional way, in the very spartan setting of his wife's provision shop (kedai runcit). I'm thankful I learnt art before picking up photography, because I might've turned into some graphics junkie otherwise (like a lot of the uber-digital photographers out there).

I'm a learning disciple, still stumbling, nowhere near perfect yet... but I'm on my way!

The more I think about it, the more I believe I am being slowly but surely called by God. Somehow it feels like everything is building up and the path before me is taking shape. I can see glimpses of it here and there and things are making sense, but not so much sense that it is clear; only just enough sense (or non-sense!) that I know these things are not random coincidences.

Aleya, upon finding out my age, asked if age has anything to do with me winning the competition.

(Jia Hui, runner-up last year is now 18; Yve Von, who took part in 2005, is also 18; Frederick, 2005, is 14... yes 14!)

I said no. And because I couldn't think of anything else to say, I shook my head and said "No" again. In retrospect, I should have answered:

"Age does have something to do with it. I wouldn't have written what I wrote, a few years ago. And I was nowhere near as good as these other young writers at their age... I'm a late bloomer!"

God, in this, has a sense of humour.

He delays my finest moments in Secondary School to my final year.

He delays my completion of Grade 8 Piano until after I listen to so much classical music that I am sufficiently inspired (the MPO concerts really changed the way I perceive and appreciate music).

He finally shows me the significance of the doughnut metaphor in the Christian life I used to listen to a lot of the Donut Man (Robert C. Evans of Integrity Music) when I was younger, and the famous 'Donut Song' goes like this:

Life without Jesus, is like a donut [the American spelling]
Like a donut, like a donut
Life without Jesus, is like a donut
'Cause there's a hole in the middle of your heart.

And so the Donut Man's message was that Jesus comes to fill the hole in our heart, to meet our needs. And I think that is God's message to me: to fill the holes in the world around me. Not all the holes, but the ones he calls me to.

In considering the way Biology textbooks are structured, I see two trends when it comes to the final chapter(s). Books on general Biology will discuss matters of ecology while books on cell and cell-based Biology will discuss cancer. I am convinced that these are the present frontiers in biological (and maybe even, as a whole, scientific) research.

Those who have known me long enough will know that I was always determined to be a doctor, and many were surprised that I chose the path I now walk. But as I think about it, it's not very much different. Perhaps God is calling me to one frontier rather than the other. And among my peers, I know there are far fewer future ecologists than there are doctors.

In my own way, I try to challenge my friends who are studying Biochemistry and Ecology especially (for these are the ones in 3rd College), to consider these frontiers and make our lives count for something more than just the ordinary and routine.

To me, these are the holes. And this is my burden: to be a Christian ecologist, because most Christians don't really care about the environment, and those who do are outnumbered. And because even the atheists are lamenting the lack of expertise in general.

I don't really know the significance of all this. I probably won't live long enough to see what becomes of the earth, whether good or bad. I just know that I enjoy studying God's creation and it feels as if many paths I'd walked in years past are converging here; many threads are beginning to come together.

So I walk.

* * * * *

The MPO celebrates their 10th Season this year (2007/2008 Season). Mum, Sara and I attended the Birthday Concert on 22nd August (there was also a performance on the 21st). It was a suitably festive, albeit short, concert, with a Liszt-like conductor (minus the height), cupcakes (I left mine for days and now mould is growing on it; still not throwing it away as I'd like to see it under the microscope :-P), balloons, flags and a fun repertoire.

I remember when I first heard of the Dewan Filharmonik Petronas (DFP) years ago and saw photos of it. I used to think it was a gigantic hall, nothing like the small chamber-like venue it really is. In many ways, I'm glad it's not some gigantic hall, because there aren't many concert halls with intimate acoustics, and the MPO's Chamber Concerts are some of its best, especially for people who like to hear individual instruments and experience the innovative art that is music.

In addition, I never quite knew where it was. I always knew it was in KLCC, but I suppose I expected it to be a little more conspicuous, though it was probably because I never actually ventured out of Suria KLCC (the shopping complex) into the Towers area proper.

Then somehow, in January 2003, I saw an ad in the papers (the regular DFP ads in The Star that I never quite noticed) and I remembered the DFP as the place where a trumpeter performed when I was in Form 2. I remembered that I wanted to attend that concert; I can't recall who the trumpeter was, but I think he was the brother of some jazz legend.

Anyway, the Contemporary Chamber Concert was priced at RM10 and they were playing Strauss's Emperor Waltz along with a few other pieces. So I asked Ming-Shien if he wanted to join me (apparently he'd been there several times; his father was a subscriber or something) and he agreed.

Had I known better, it was probably the worst kind of concert with which to begin my MPO adventures. I thought 'contemporary' meant mainstream contemporary. Little did I know that in the classical world, 'comtemporary' means postmodern (i.e. beyond Stravinsky and Shostakovich and on into Schoenberg, Cage etc.). Horrible, horrible music which makes no sense. But two things won us over: the sound of instruments we'd only read and heard of, now heard for real and heard up-close, and a humorously written concert programme. I still love their programmes, written by the resident organist Marc Rochester.

The rest is history, and the MPO has become so much a part of my life that on the day of the Birthday Concert, I didn't have to give my name when collecting the tickets; the Box Office staffworker who attended me (Liyana, her name I think) recognised me and immediately produced my tickets! ;-)

Friday, August 17, 2007


So it's Friday, 17 August 2007. A combination of a significant date and a significant day. ;-)

* * * * *

It's been a year of...

Sheer madness...

...and passion,

Slow moments... well as illuminating ones,

Going where we'd never gone...

...and doing things we'd never done,

Expanding our horizons...

...and enjoying moments of simple pleasure,

Coming face to face with differences...

...and enduring hurts together (in which we also learn to hope, for the spiky cone of the cycad is also its reproductive structure and its hope for future generations; couldn't resist a reference from Biology! :-P);

Above all, a year of trepidation...

...and of moving forward as one, holding on to each other and to the One who brought us together.

* * * * *

You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.

-- Psalm 23:5b (NIV)

* * * * *

It's been a year of much amazement, and I'm still amazed by you! =*

How I'm thrilled when I...

see you...

hear you...

smell you...

touch you...

taste you...

That's five senses, isn't it? ;-P

* * * * *

It's been...


God is merciful. :-D

Yours ever,

Silverfish =*

Thursday, August 16, 2007

We are not history!

(Wee) Choon Wei e-mailed an article by Farish A. Noor to the Agora. You can read it via this link, and I have also reproduced it below.

Part of why it gave me quite a bit of food for thought is because I come from the Victoria Institution, a secondary school with a very rich heritage. But over the years I've met two different kinds of people with, in my opinion, two equally erroneous perspectives on this heritage.

The first sort are usually found among the Victorians themselves. They speak of the great glory of the school in its past and how that glory is going down the drain. And since this is usually spoken by the seniors to the juniors, many also harp on the deteriorating standards of the school. Hence a Form 5 Senior might tell a Form 2 Junior, "Your year is worse than mine. Every year it's getting worse."

Well, based on that logic, I suppose the Victorians of 1900 must've been God and by 2100, there'd be none but microscopic fungi.

And then the second type of people are the outsiders, people who've probably never taken a step into the school but feel qualified to make a million assumptions and pronouncement on the state of the school. They say, "VI used to be a very famous school. Now what is it?" And they wear a look of resigned cynicism on their oh-so-brilliant faces.

Thankfully I have also met a third kind of people: those who couldn't care less what is being said, and focus so much more on what is being done. I am proud to call myself a Victorian, not because of what great things the school has done, but because of the place it was for me, and because of what I have become.

My only link to the past are the numerous Old Boys I've had the pleasure of meeting and keeping in touch with; the most inspiring are those who still serve the school by working with the present students, such as Mr Chung, Kok Kin and Praba.

It's so much more than a fight to keep the 'old glory' alive, because when each generation of students leaves the school, no one will ask what they did to keep the glory alive, but what they did to build on that glory. The question that will be asked of each of us is this: "What did you do while you were there?"

And if you think about it, none of those who are glorified did what they did to be glorified. Could Bennett Eyre Shaw see the school in 2006? Did those who died in the war die so that yellow flame trees could be planted in their memory? No, they did as they did simply because it was the right thing to do then; or at least, because it was what they were to do.

They carried their burdens; let us carry ours.

* * * * *

We Do Not Own, Nor Are We Owned By History

By Farish A. Noor

Perhaps it says something about the human condition today that so many of us feel the need to belong to, as well as to own a part of, history. Living in the postmodern world of late industrial capitalism where more and more of us have become the denizens of a shapeless and homogenous urban landscape worldwide, the sweet nectar of nostalgia seems all too tempting and simply too easy to sample.

This fact was brought home to me recently during a public talk in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when a speaker from the audience spoke of her anxiety and need to preserve what she regarded as the grand history of her ‘race’ and ‘nation’. Lamenting the idea that her child may end up one day as yet another statistic in the relentless march of global capital and consumer culture, she spoke about the need to emphasise her ‘Chinese-ness’ and to retain links to the past of Chinese civilisation; which, she added, was four thousand years old…

Yet such rhetoric is not new to me. How often have I encountered similar arguments among Muslims and Hindus all across Asia, who claim that they too belong to grand civilisations thousands of years old, and that they saw the need to preserve in them a space where this culture and civilisation could be kept alive? More often than not I was taken to the sites of great and maginificent mosques, temples, palaces and other architectural wonders to be shown how great the Chinese, Indian and Muslim civilisations were. And of course the greatness of Western civilisation is rammed down our throats on a daily basis thanks to the hegemonic impact of Western popular culture, which reminds us time and again of the greatness of the Greeks and Romans.

Now take a step back from this froth and sentiment and one will notice a glaring error hiding in the premises of these arguments. For a start, it would be nonsensical to state that any Chinese person today has or had anything to do with the cultural achievements of China in the past; any more than any Muslim, Hindu or Christian today has contributed an iota to the development of the civilisations they hold so dear.

It is interesting to note that we who live in the immediate present have no problems whatsoever taking credit for what was done by our ancestors hundreds of years ago, as if somehow the accumulated credit for human labour can be passed down from one generation to another like capital gaining interest in the bank. Odder still is the fact that this logic is seldom reversed, for Christians, Muslims and Hindus today would not want to take responsibility for the mistakes and outrages committed by their very same ancestors long ago.

Furthermore it is almost comical to note how this recourse to nostalgia often harps back on the achievements of singular individuals who may not have acted with the interests of others or posterity in mind. Muslim apologists talk about the greatness of Muslim Sultans and Emperors, oblivious to the fact that if they were living in the days of the great Muslim empires of the past they would probably be playing the lowly role of serfs and peasants, to be stepped on and exploited by the very same Great Sultans they so admire today. Likewise apologists for China’s great imperial past forget that the greatness of China was meant primarily for the Emperor and the ruling elite, and not for the ordinary Chinese masses: Some may look to the Forbidden Palace in Peking as proof of China’s past grandeur, but the Forbidden Palace was precisely that – an elite enclave that was forbidden to millions of ordinary Chinese. The same applies for the great temples, forts and castles of the Christian West and Hindu India. So why this love of great rulers and greatness in general?

Related to this is the other anomaly that I still cannot fathom. Living in this multi-culti age where the emphasis is on ethnic and racial differences rather than similarities, we seem drawn to our respective pasts that we are told are ‘ours’ by virtue of us being born as what we are. So Muslim youth are told to admire and revere Muslim history, Hindu youth are told to venerate the Hindu past, Chinese youth are told to be proud of their Chinese history, etc.

Does history own us to such an extent that we are trapped by the accidental and contingent factors of the past forever? Is a Muslim determined by the actions of his ancestors to the extent that he or she can only imagine a Muslim past, present and future? Or can he or she not valorise, admire and acknowledge the achievements of others as well? This question of course cuts across the ethnic-racial-religious divide and can be applied to all and sundry: Can’t a Chinese admire things Hindu; can’t a European admire things Chinese; and can’t a Hindu admire things Christian, etc?

Much that passes as history today, we should remember, has been the result of radical contingencies put into order at the hands of official historians who have added a touch of determinism where there perhaps wasn’t any. The grand histories of the so-called ‘Great civilisations’ read so neatly as grand narratives simply because the alternative voices that pointed to a plethora of other alternative endings have all but been wiped out. This gives such grand narratives their consistency and standing as canonical texts. Yet this appearance of solidity before the ravages of time is illusory, and worse still turns history into mere propaganda: self-fulfilling prophesies of greatness once realised and which will be reactivated once again.

Can we ever escape the lure of such attractive nostalgia and accept the fact that each and everyone one of us today is an orphaned child of the modern age, divorced from our ancestors who live in that foreign country called the past? The step can be taken, but not before we accept the fact that we are, all of us, residents of the present world whose own personal histories date back only to our births and no further.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mostly about the Negaraku

Yean Khinn bought the Star at Pekanbuku. That's how I knew about the whole Negaraku fiasco. I'm in the college's Computer Room and earlier read with interest this article.

Reminds me of another instance of sampling: the La Marseillaise in Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

Like it or not, this incident will have more people listening to the Negaraku on a casual basis than ever before. And sometimes, it's not such a bad way to get people thinking about what this country really means to them.

Take Jesus Christ. They mocked him, interrogated him, stripped him and crucified him. But he lives; the Saviour will not stay in the tomb.

I really believe Negaraku (our country) has what it takes to survive the fires it will face. And I have another reflection on our national anthem... perhaps I will put it up one of these weeks.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mostly about the Jalur Gemilang

So it's Merdeka month. Not just any Merdeka month, but the 50th anniversary of our country's independence.

It's actually wrong to say this is our 50th Merdeka, because come 31 August 2007, we'll actually be shouting 'Merdeka!' the 51st time. If the first celebration was in 1957, this year witnesses the 51st celebration. But of course, it is right to say we have been independent for 50 years.

But I digress. Yesterday, while returning from Baktisiswa to the Science Faculty in the afternoon, I saw this:

And I couldn't help feeling that it was a little overdone. A flag is supposed to be a noble device, a symbol of pride. Not some sort of wallpaper or wrapper or ornament.

Resigning myself to the likely reality that Malaysians at large will probably never appreciate the value of a flag despite singing Jalur Gemilang repeatedly, I walked on towards the Laboratory Building where the Computer Lab is.

And then I saw this:

(Pejabat Dekan is Dean's Office)

And I thought to myself, This is how a flag should be displayed. It was hoisted high enough so as not to touch the roof (a flag should never come into contact with the surface below it), in a position where it could easily catch the wind (bendera berkibar is very important indeed!), and it was in good condition.

So I decided to take photos just to contrast both of them.

* * * * *

In other news, the world's oldest person dies. Read the story here.

She was born on 4 January, 1893, which makes her older than the VI!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Introducing BF Classmates

Just an update: I will be posting stories of most of my university exploits on my Form Six class's blog, BF Classmates.

My posts can be identified by the phrase 'bandung panas' in the title. Those who know me will know why. *wink*

My reason for doing this is mainly because I think the mad stuff that happens in university would interest my ex-classmates more than anyone else.

Also, I already give 'complete reports' to my family and you (yes you =*).

So if I seem silent on this blog, it is most probable that I am making noise on the other blog.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

What do I want my life to count for?

Last year (I think; it could've been 2005), TIME magazine ran a front-cover article on diarrhoea, which is reportedly the world's second-largest killer after Malaria. Many die because of dehydration, simply because there's no access to, or knowledge of how to make, a simple rehydration solution.

Just a jug of water, a fistful of sugar and a pinch of salt. Or in more empirical terms, a litre of water, eight tablespoons of sugar and a teaspoon of salt. Sugar is easily absorbed by the small intestine, and this stimulates absorption of the salt. Water follows automatically by osmosis.

In July this year, the world's largest killer made it to the front cover of National Geographic; the Editor was infected by the disease not long ago.

* * * * *

Due to my G6PD-deficiency, I was born resistant to Malaria (the most resistant form of Malaria, Plasmodium Falciparum) and stood risk of brain damage and anaemia. But by God's grace somehow, some of the smartest and most active people I know are G6PD-deficient. And the noisiest guy in my Form Six class has some form of Thalassaemia (another genetic blood disorder).

Someday God will take me. I may die of any cause, but until that day I will make my life a pursuit of that for which my Father fashioned me.

Perhaps I was born to enter jungles and go where few may survive. Let me live long enough to help others live better. And then let me die, and in my death may others live as well.

We bleed the same colour. But above that, we are bought by the One blood.

* * * * *

I have all I need to glorify God.

It's deceptively easy, isn't it? Water, sugar, salt. So why do many die of diarrhoea? Lack of will. No one to bring them those simple ingredients. No knowledge of the cure. Many reasons.

I know I have no excuse when I stand before my Maker.

I'm not particularly athletic, but I'm not unfit either.

I'm no genius, but I'm not stupid either.

I'm not a member of the X-Men, but I was born a mutant too. Well, I was born with a mutated gene, so technically I'm a mutant. Only that the gene makes me resistant to Malaria; no laser beams, magnetic powers, telekinesis. Too bad.

I have pen and paper. I have a camera. And I have an abiding love for nature and creation.

I have just written the very words God will repeat to me when I'm called to account. As in the Parable of the Talents;

"So what have you done with these things?"

Friday, August 03, 2007

Quite a busy morning...

0950 Left Science Faculty after spending some time in the Computer Room after Biostatistics tutorial. Decided to walk since waiting for the bus can take forever. On my way out two buses passed me, but there were no stops nearby. Oh well...

1010 Arrived at Universiti station.

1015 Boarded LRT.

1026 Arrived at Pasar Seni station.

1031 Arrived at Post Office.

1037 Left Post Office.

1049 Arrived at Bank Negara.

1057 Met Raja and got the 'documents'.

1104 Left Bank Negara after calling Kian Ti.

1112 Stopover at CIMB near Masjid Jamek station to withdraw some money for tonight.

1119 Arrived at Masjid Jamek station.

1124 Boarded LRT.

1137 Arrived at Universiti station.

1150 Left Universiti station. Waited for the bus at first, but decided to walk when I discovered I didn't have loose RM1 change for the bus. Definitely didn't want to let RM5 go to waste, and didn't bother getting change from the minimart.

1207 Arrived at Kompleks Perdanasiswa (UM Student Complex) via the scenic field/lake route. Prayer Meeting would only begin at 1230, so I sat at the KPS cafe and called Valerie.