Monday, November 19, 2007

Swan Lake and Quantum Theory

The Swan Lake gang, L-R: Jon Chu, Ivan, Mei Si, Ai Wei and Suit Lin.

I like this book's title (and also the little caption on science books above it)!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What for?

I was at someone's blog. Someone whose blog I read for the first time nearly a year ago.

Some people can really write and take professional-quality (as in, professional advertising quality) photographs with consumer-level equipment. Some people navigate art as easily as fish navigate water (yes yes, big cliché).

And it makes me wonder, why am I still here? Why am I seemingly deceiving myself into thinking I can write and take photographs?

Dunno lah. It's like this need to express. Without pen and paper, without camera and lens, I would burst with all the thoughts and emotions within.

If you are somewhat lacking in the talent to do something, yet find yourself having an irrepressable need to do that something, you must have issues. And I'd venture to say, BIG ones.

If you're like that, maybe we should talk someday over coffee or tea or whatever it is that calms your nerves.

If you're like that, maybe you're a little like me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Mersing Dawn

Stumbled across this while looking through the Mersing photos.

It's that reflective time of year again.

First Journey to the Past: A Place of Healing

For some reason, I like this picture. A lot. SooT really nailed it. And in light of our recent conversation, life is like trying to climb onto a log in the sea: it's easier to fall off than get on.

S: Lately I find my mind wandering to times we spent together.
W: Indeed and why?
S: Once in awhile i think of... the past. And it so happens you are one of the more prominent voices. I remember with acid clarity the day you scolded me about the whole [censored] thing. I remember the oranges... but I forgot if I was eating, or you.
W: I didn't remember the oranges. I remember vaguely your face, the room, the people walking outside.
S: You remember that day also?
W: Yes I remember that day. I remember sharply the discomforting feeling in the pit of my stomach in having to scold you and seem like a rigid religionist because the younger [ones] didn't understand and were following you blindly.
S: But what do you mean they were following me blindly?
W: Well, you might not have realized, but [they] looked up to you a great deal--you, H, S, T... they were all starting to act [in the wrong way] too.

* * * * *

This sign spoke to me with particular eloquence, given the events of the day and the week before. I reproduce my thoughts below verbatim, grammatical errors and all, from the planner in which I wrote them.

Of all the photos I took of that day, I did not take one of the most significant encounter.

The aunty was trying to hail a cab, but couldn't. She asked me how to go about it. I said it was difficult on this side of the road. Told her to cross to the other side and walk to the petrol station. Shouldn't have done that because I said 'petrol station' in English while the rest of the conversation was in Cantonese.

It was she who called to me when me, ST, David & Alex were on the bridge's steps awaiting YC. On our way to the monorail, I met her again. She asked the same thing and I gave the same reply: cross the road.

I may never meet her again; I regret not walking with her. And in doing so I think I failed God's biggest test today--I was too focused on our 'agenda' (i.e. getting into the station etc.) that I didn't think of sparing some time to help her out; I would've immediately done so with a friend.

Jesus allowed interruptions to shape His ministry, from Cana to the woman with the issue of blood, from Zacchaeus to the feeding of the 5000.

When will I learn to do so?

Father, I gave thanks for your grace upon us today. But all my thanks is meaningless because I failed to show simple grace to another in need.

Especially when I realise I might've been the difference between a 'lost' wandering in the drizzle, and getting closer to her destination.

And especially when I realise of all the things she could've benefitted from on such a dreadful afternoon, a companion and conversation might've been the greatest blessing.

Lord, grant that I may never forget this.

* * * * *

(I converted the picture to black and white, increased contrast and cropped it a little.)

Photographers don't see everything. The photographer can do everything but look at himself/herself, and even self-portraits are, at best, educated guesses.

That is why it is good for photographers to have fellow photographer friends. I consider my Mersing portfolio to be the best--certainly the most cohesive--collection of photos I have this year. But they are not complete with the photos SooT took, such as this one of us 'landing' on Pulau Rawa.

In every sense, it is the perfect group picture.

Friends are there to drag you to the edge of reason, to the very brink of trouble... and then hold you back just as you want to jump in.

They meet you in the morning, get you started and bear with you while you warm up.

And then they leave you shortly after lunch to face the storm alone. You wish they'd stay, but then you later realise you would've missed a great deal had they not left.

Thus you drag your other friend who wanted to finish his journey his way. You want something which is too dangerous for both of you; he says no. He wants something that is dangerous for you; you say no.

And he won't do it because there won't be a way to remember it by.

Friends are absurd creatures sometimes.

* * * * *

Found this on Mich's blog. A great poster by WWF!

It says, 'The Future is Man Made'.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

In the Right Places

You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me." But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

--Deuteronomy 8:17-18 (NIV)

An article I read recently (thanks Shannon) talks about talents and the ability of anyone to become anything he/she wants.

My point here is not to discuss the article (with which I generally disagree). But this morning, in searching the Bible for passages on talents and finding only the parable of the talents in the concordance, I thus looked up 'ability', and among the verses listed was Exodus 8:18.

As I read and reflected on the chapter (Exodus 8), thinking also of a decision I made over the course of yesterday regarding a major upcoming event, I was reminded--not just the flashback sort of reminder, but the kind that confirms something in the present on the strength of something of the past--of God's grace in bringing me to where I am now, amidst and through all the complications that life is prone to.

And a group e-mail from Steven which I just read, seems to be another sign in this direction. Though of course I am not part of the people to whom the e-mail was addressed, I identified with his distinction of people and the places they ought to be in.

But it all began with what a certain friend said yesterday morning about the differences between me and another friend. Differences which, she remarked, suggest that my place is not his, nor his mine.

Wars are fought in such a way that two men holding the same weapons may not be fighting for the same cause, and those assigned to different platoons and different ends of the earth may truly be more united in their mission than they realise. And not every soldier marches.

Lest I think that I am where I am by the work of my hands and the scheming of my mind, God has reminded me this morning that I am nothing apart from what He enables me to be, and that I am unable to be apart from the grace provided for in His covenant.

I still think it uncanny that so many signs should appear, and so many coincidences come to be, in the space of 28 hours.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Reflections on Remembering

It's been an unusual week, to say the least. Three exams in what is my first university finals, submitting my photos for the PAUM Photography Competition, having a lot of suppers along the way, and waking up yesterday morning feeling very weak.

Felt extremely thirsty after breakfast yesterday (I had bread with garlic spread, but the thirst was beyond what garlic normally causes), and extremely hungry in the later part of the day. Shivered at night but there was no fever at all.

Many theories, but I think it could be some form of food poisoning.

I say it's been an unusual week because despite the flurry of activities, it has been a relatively calm week compared to many of the weeks this semester, and because I have been reminded of many things that have happened. It's been a week full of trips to many significant moments in the past.

I'm still trying to make sense of it all, so maybe the best thing I can do here is to describe my encounters with these various figures and images of the past, in order of appearance in the past week:

* * * * *


I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone.

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

When How mentioned U2's 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' seemingly out of the blue early in the week, I had no idea just how much the song would haunt me over the next few days. And not just the song, but music in general. Jee Haw's (classical) guitar was a real blessing, and by the end of the week I was able to pluck an arpeggio accompaniment to the songs 'Sanctuary' and 'O Mighty Cross'.

Back home, I searched for and found the live U2 performance with the New Voices of Freedom Choir in the Madison Square Gardens back in 1987. The gospel-style, mostly a cappella duet was probably the highlight of the Joshua Tree Tour back then.

But the reason why this song stirred so deeply in me is probably because it was one of the first U2 songs that actually grew on me a good number of years back. I was in Form Five then, and The Joshua Tree was my second U2 album after All That You Can't Leave Behind.

I could identify with the song in its sense of searching and not quite getting there yet. That year was a whirlwind of a year and I remember there were a lot of things--mostly spiritual--I was grappling with. Lately, echoes of 2004 have been emerging, and again I find myself at a place where I'm questioning God--not about His existence or theology or my faith, but about an apparent decrease in my desire to do what is right.

At this point in time those lines quoted above really mean something; I don't know if I'm speaking with the tongue of angels or holding the hand of a devil. Sometimes I can't tell the difference, and sometimes even if I can, I don't care.

* * * * *

Mr Kali

Now, if you walk past your friend quickly, can you shake hands and say hello? No. Likewise, molecules at higher temperatures, which have higher kinetic energy, cannot form bonds. Because they move too fast.

But if you walk slowly, can you shake hands? Yes, and you can say hello and form... BONDS!

Mr Kali said this sometime in July 2005, and because I liked it I put it up on this blog on 23 July. Recently Fiona included it in the header of the revamped BF Classmates blog. The words seemed awfully familiar and when I did a search on my blog, I discovered it was indeed the exact same quote.

I think none of us realised back then just how powerful the imagery of bonds would be for us as a class, and just how important Mr Kali would be in the formation of the BF identity. I think we owe a lot to our eccentric teachers who more often than not gave us not only food for thought, but food for talk. Oh, to recall all those episodes of imitating them!

And then there is that word: slow. Mr Kali was absolutely right there. Everyone knows life is hectic, and everyone knows--at least deep inside--that slowing life down is the key to solving most of its problems. But it's easier said than done. I'm glad those words have not been lost, that these little symbols and residues from our schooldays continue to journey with us.

The significance of all this sees further explanation further on in this post.

* * * * *


On another issue, there is something that is currently perplexing me but there is no need to dish out details of it here. I have only this to say: We have all received the same teachings and heard the same things every week, together; yet how is it that we have differing views and stands and become so convicted in them that it divides??!!

I can identify, at least in part, with what Melody wrote on 16 October on her blog. But the meaning these words had for me lies not in my identification with them but with how they express the passage of time.

Received the same teachings and heard the same things... differing views and stands... convicted... divides...

These words were like flickers and glimmers of the past, my past. Which is in every probability nothing at all like what she meant in writing those words. But that is not what I am concerned with here. The words awoke something real in me, something true about where I've come from, something living about the experience of these last four years.

I'm glad that people can still be together in division, and that some of the people closest to me are those who are, ironically, most divided with me. Yes, divided with me, not against me.

* * * * *

T.S. Eliot

The historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence... [it] is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.


Some one said: "The dead writers are remote from us because we
know so much more than they did." Precisely, and they are that which we know.

These are lines from what is said to be Eliot's most famous essay, 'Tradition and the Individual Talent' which I learnt about (from Agha Shahid Ali's introduction to Eliot in the Poetry Speaks collection), found and printed yesterday. Eliot was always a strong proponent of tradition, and here he explains his understanding of 'tradition' and why it is so essential especially for the modern poet.

If I understand Eliot correctly, what he means is that a poet ought to be connected with the past in such a way that the past continues living in him. I think this is what he means because it is the effect of his poems. Eliot's poetry is very much like a reincarnation of poets and writers and dreamers and sages and prophets past; they live on in his verse.

And this stirs something in me because I have come to learn that it is the way in which I write. Maybe it's because I started with Eliot; he was an early influence on my writing. Well, actually Max Lucado was, but it was only with Eliot that my writing shifted into forward gear.

I have learnt so much from some of these great writers of time past and I've come to realise that little good writing can come from those who write only in the present, and by 'good' I mean thoughtful and able to stand the test of time. It shall serve as a continual reminder even in my writing, for I truly believe I shall cease to be able to write anything of value the day I forget this.

* * * * *

Teeming and Yen

Talking to them last night was therapeutic, to say the least.

Teeming requested I call her; I requested to talk to Yen. Both experiences were truly what I needed.

I came to realise that I'm not easily content with a challenge-less life. Sometimes this is good, but in moments when I have to persevere with something familiar, it is bad. Like now, when the only challenge on the horizon is doing something possibly illegal.

If Teeming helped me identify the source of my struggle, Yen helped clarify the cause of it.

It would seem as if I'm in the holiday mood a little too early. Blame it on the two-week study break during which we started planning for the d'NA Trip in December, and during which I met up several times with Li-Shia. And then, sooner than we knew, the exams were upon us. And now there's a two-week break before my next paper (actually the next is on 12 November, but it's an open-response paper without anything to actually study).

All these so-called 'breaks' in between kind of confuse me. And the last time I felt like this was around this time back in 2004, when the SPM was split in two because of the Hari Raya holidays. It's like I'm caught in a time warp, as if the holidays have begun when they actually haven't... and it's hard to get rid of the holiday effect.

* * * * *

Frederick Buechner

... that still room within us all where the past lives on as part of the present,... The name of the room is Remember--the room where with patience, with charity, with quietness of heart, we remember consciously to remember the lives we have lived.

... weak as we are, a strength beyond our strength has pulles us through at least this far, at least to this day. Foolish as we are, a wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us if not to the right path through the forest, at least to a path that leads forward, that is bearable. Faint of heart as we are, a love beyond our power to love has kept our hearts alive.

... remember those moments in our own lives when with only the dullest understanding but with the sharpest longing we have glimpsed that Christ's kind of life is the only life that matters and that all other kinds of life are riddled with death;... that what he has done, he will continue to do, that what he has begun in us and our world, he will in unimaginable ways bring to fullness and fruition.

Decided to read Buechner's essay 'A Room Called Remember' at breakfast this morning, and use it as a springboard into today's Bible meditation. I was led to King David... and a clearer understanding of the significance of this week.

I think the whole thing about remembering Mr Kali and the crazy times in Form Six makes sense in light of what Buechner wrote. We are able to move on because we remember; the embers of the past ignite the fire of the present. And maybe in a similar way, this is the effect the poets of the past had on Eliot.

I think God is telling me to remember. Not just to recall experiences from the past, but to relive the journey of the last few years.

(Coincidentally, Tien sms-ed these words as part of a reply to me a few days ago: "Remember God.")

* * * * *

King David

They brought the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and they presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before God...

That day David first committed to Asaph and his associates this psalm of thanks to the LORD:

Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done.

Sing to him, sing praise to him;
tell of all his wonderful acts.

Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

Look to the LORD and his strength;
seek his face always.

Remember the wonders he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced,...

--1 Chronicles 16:7-12 (NIV)

Look to the Lord and his strength,
Seek his face always,
Remember the wonders he has done,
His miracles,
And the judgements he pronounced.

As Buechner writes, "It is the Lord, it is God, who has been with us through all our days and years whether we knew it or not, he sings--with us in our best moments and in our worst moments, to heal us with his wonders, to wound us healingly with his judgments, to bless us in hidden ways though more often than not we had forgotten his name."

* * * * *

d'NA 2004

Over and above all these reflections, it feels as if 2004 is reliving itself all over again. I remember, crystal clear, how I felt about d'NA that year. I was in the midst of preparing for (and later sitting) the SPM, and at the same time in the midst of reading through The Message (and blogging about it with the online streamlined version of U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb playing in the background; it wasn't released yet).

I remember looking forward to d'NA because it would be a time when I could wrestle with God and lie in his presence atop the monkey bars.

I think I'm looking forward to the d'NA Trip this December for similar--if not the same--reasons. I've made more trips this year than any other year in my life: Malacca, Singapore, Mersing, Penang, Sabah, Genting Highlands, Jasin, Fraser's Hill. But the year isn't over yet and I believe something awaits me up in Cameron Highlands that I have not found in any of the other places.

Do I sound delusional? Mystical, even?

d'NA 2004 was such an amazing experience, and in many ways I would say the best of the three stages.

Maybe it's because of the person with whom I shared a room.
Maybe it's because we were neither too young to feel odd nor too old to feel too familiar.
Maybe it's because my photography took off from there.
Maybe it's because of the morning petal shower on the last day.
Maybe it's because we said things then that we'd laugh at now.

Did I find what I was looking for at camp that year?

Will I find what I am looking for this year?

It's these moments when I know God is calling me into a world larger than any I have ever known, which are the most troublesome. What can I imagine this larger world to be?

I can only draw parallels to similar experiences in the past, and even that is often not enough. All I know is that even until today I have been unable to solve the mystery of the petal shower. I don't know why or how it happened.

Above all I still don't really know what it meant. There was joy and peace, but is that all there was? I can accept 'yes' or 'no' for an answer. But for now, I don't even know which it is.

I can only believe that God knows what he's doing.