Monday, August 25, 2008

Not quite the same Warna-warna Angin

You think you own whatever land you land on
The earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name

You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You'll learn things you never knew, you never knew

Have you ever heard the croc roar at the setting sun
Or asked the hiding bearcat why he hid?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain?
Can you paint with all the colours of the wind?
Can you paint with all the colours of the wind?

Come run the obvious mud trails of the mangroves
Come taste the thorny durians of the earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they're worth

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The egret and the civet are my friends
And we are all connected
In a cirle, in a hoop that never ends

Have you ever heard the croc roar at the setting sun
Or let the eagle tell you there he's been?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountain?
Can you paint with all the colours of the wind?
Can you paint with all the colours of the wind?

How high does the tualang grow?
If you cut it down, then you'll never know

And you'll never hear the croc roar at the setting sun
For whether we are white or coffee-skinned
We just sing with all the voices of the mountain
Need to paint with all the colours of the wind

You can own the earth and still
All you'll own is earth until
You can paint with all colours of the wind

* * * * *

(So did you spot the differences?)

The amazing things that happen when a half-asleep girl comments that her breakfasting friends might see the same painting yet regard it differently.

Six days in Sabah. Coming soon.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Twenty-One and Quartzite Heath

So I turned twenty-one not too long ago.

Seven photographs interspersed with six gifts. A glimpse into the three-fold celebration; college, PKV committee and family.

* * * * *

Yen orchestrated the celebration at 3rd College. Luke came all the way from UPM; Ai Wei and Li Ern joined from 12th and 1st Colleges respectively. Thanks, Luke!

After saving up for some time, I was finally able to afford this; I decided to coincide the purchase with the month of my birth and the second anniversary of my foray into the world of SLR photography. Tokina's 11-16mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens was responsible for the key seven pictures in this part of the post, which demonstrate in part what the lens can, and can't, do.

For instance, the lens will allow group shots in tight locations. Just don't use it with the camera's built-in flash, or the lens's shadow will appear at the bottom of the picture!

Yen's gift (Truman Capote's In Cold Blood) was hidden under layers of wrapping which each bore a task; there were hurdles as varied as posing for a photo with a junior to flashing a cold-blooded grin. Here, Luke and I are doing the two-face (or half-face?) look; the actual task was something else, but this is how we interpreted it.

The second part of my birthday celebration saw Kee Aun, Ai Wei, Li Ern and me trekking through Petaling Street in search of gifts for the graduating PKV seniors. There, we met this lady selling mochi. The mochi was lovely, the lens's work lovelier, and the lady, loveliest.

Before we left from Taman Jaya station, we bumped into Kee Aun's college senior, Roy, who works at the A&W there. That night, after the long day out, we (now including other members of the committee) found ourselves in A&W once again. I asked Roy to mix my Root Beer with something--anything--else as it was my birthday. He decided instead to throw about four scoops of ice-cream into the mug. Thanks, Roy!

We ended our short stay at Pavilion with a stopover at J.Co Donuts. This is how vertical close-up group shots look, shot with a wide-angle lens: observe Shannon's distorted shorts.

Leanne and family gave me this singing card. I've never received a singing card so you can imagine my surprise when I opened it!

Kee Aun descending the escalator leading out of Pavilion, towards KLCC. He, Zach and I were travelling by train to meet the rest at A&W; Shannon's MyVi wasn't quite Doraemon's pocket enough.

Sara also gave me a card, and a very unique one at that. She had a collection of animal stickers and so drew various habitats, sticking the animals amidst bushes, in the sea and on trees. The perfect card for an ecologist brother!

On Saturday, I celebrated at home with my family. Mum prepared a fantastic menu, which included Sara's rambutan yoghurt ice-cream as dessert. It was a great meal, especially since it will be some time before I can once again enjoy food so lovely. But that's a story for another day.

Dad and Mum got this for me. It's called Once Again, Again and is one of Swatch's latest watches, this year's special edition Club Watch. What makes it significant to me is that its design is a play on Once Again, the watch many will recognise it as the 'classic' Swatch first launched in the early 80s. The most recent Once Again was the watch Kung Kung wore till the day he died, and which I wore after that till it, in turn, died.

Denise is going to accuse me of copying her birthday idea! Mum prepared a key-shaped arrangement of cupcakes, departing from the usual cake. And I was wearing red.

Of course, Mum knew nothing about Denise's birthday theme. It was just so coincidental, heheh...

Some of the best gifts I received this year were gifts of words.

SooT's SMS was really special;

2 + 1 = august 18. 2 + 1 = one2many partners. 2 + 1 = a cross between a toad n a swan. 2 + 1 = a man meets a cyclops. 2 + 1 = 21. Happy 21st birthday, dear ben!

Victor & Munteng's gave me a notebook with this quote on the cover;

"Love generously. Praise loudly. Live fully." - Elias Porter

Yet there is one (material) gift which I really treasure receiving this year, perhaps even more than my lens. Unfortunately I am unable to blog about it at the moment, so it will have to wait.

* * * * *

A week later, I found myself on the Klang Gates Quartzite Ridge (the area commonly known to the locals as Bukit Tabur), the longest quartzite ridge in the world. It was the first field trip for my Tropical Forest Ecology class, and we were studying the heath forest in the area.

I decided to test my new lens on a 'real' landscape. The following pictures were all shot at 11mm (16.5mm equivalent on a film-based camera).

How didn't manage to complete the whole journey; this was his first appearance in a class since recovering from chickenpox. So, escorted by Mr Yong, he went down while the rest of us journeyed on, but not before I made this picture (albeit by accident!).

Thary really liked this particular tree. It is a Baeckaea frutescens tree, a.k.a. cucur atap in Malay. Technically, it is a type of myrtle, coming from the same family as the well-known tea tree and likewise bearing leaves with fragrant oils.

The quartzite ridge was full of near-vertical outcrops, and climbing was often challenging. Here, Shannon is scaling down one of the outcrops. The view of the dam was beautiful, even at midday. I can only imagine it would be much more breathtaking at dawn.

It was How's birthday, so the four of us celebrated with lunch at the new Nando's in Jaya One. Perhaps the words behind How are a fitting epithet for the kind of celebration he would find ideal!

* * * * *

Throughout the week between the moving of the PKV Booth and How's birthday, UM had its Convocation Week. I was busy running the PKV's Convo Celebration with Pik Tze and Samantha. You can find pictures on:

The 'blog' is up and running, but there's lots more to be added. Also, I haven't put up a copyright notice; basically all the pictures will be attributed to the PKV. At some points, the camera changed hands so frequently that it would be a futile (or perhaps forensic?) effort to precisely identify the people responsible for each photo.

This is one of my favourite pictures from the Convo Week. Partly because it demonstrates the sort of stuff wide-angles were made for, but mainly because so many stories are captured in this single frame, if you take time to observe and look across the room.

Recently I watched Kingdom of Heaven again. As I type this, I cannot help but notice how the theme of seniors and their legacies seems to mirror what King Baldwin told Balian in the movie:

"You see, none of us choose our end, really. A king may move a man, a father may claim a son. But remember that, even when those who move you be kings or men of power, your soul is in your keeping alone.

When you stand before God, you cannot say that I was told by others to do thus, or that virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice."

Because of them, in no small way, we are who we are. And celebrating them is, in my opinion, in fact celebrating their faithfulness, their determination, their sacrifice, and above all their neverending quest to seek virtue over convenience.

* * * * *

The week ahead is the first of three holiday weeks this semester (the next being Hari Raya and the following being the study break), and I look forward to sorting some loose ends out.

Also, tomorrow is a very special day. More on that later.

I pray it will be a week in which I will learn much and be prepared for the weeks ahead. A week of pause and rest (even if it may be busy) with much time for reflection and a renewing of my sense of direction this semester.


Sunday, August 03, 2008

Return of the Blogger

So what have i been up to since the last entry on 11 June? It's been 53 days, and an entire month has passed without any updates here.

* * * * *

First of all, I went on a short-term mission trip to Sarawak. That was STOMP (Students Together on Mission Partnership), organised by the Fellowship of Evangelical Students (FES). A detailed report on that will come soon.

The whole chain of busyness started when, on the last night in Sarawak, I SMS-ed Arivin, asking if he needed any help with the college's debate team during the Orientation Week (Haluansiswa). He said yes and, as the week went by, they did well... very well. So much so that I was engaged throughout the week in campus and so was able to observe quite a bit of the Haluansiswa.

Yu Deng and Krystle found the cheers and antics of the supporters from college a great confidence booster.

Haluansiswa was followed by the Interaction Week in college (Minggu Interaksi Kurshiah, a.k.a. MIK). I was a lot less involved with the MIK, but coming to terms and psyching myself to cope with a really hectic schedule proved to be quite a challenge in the first week of this semester. My only free stretch is on Thursday afternoons, and even so it will only last until the middle of the semester, after which my days will generally begin at 9.00 and end at 5.00.

I found myself playing guitar and singing on the last night of the MIK, per Jimmy's request. Esther, Jee Haw, Amos and Wee Keng were sporting enough to join in and help me butcher Michael Jackson's 'Heal the World' and The Beatles' 'Hey Jude'. Actually, it was supposed to be me and How, and we'd independently thought of the same song (U2's 'Running to Stand Still') but he'd already decided to go home for the weekend.

12 July brought some respite in the form of an MPO concert my friends and I had been waiting nearly a whole semester for. Xiao Lee, Joana, Ming-Shien, Leanne, Sean and Ai Wei were able to make it for the MPO's performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, and I was glad to have been able to make up for the time I missed it three years ago due to chickenpox.

However, Kenneth, Wan Yu, Chian Ming, Su Lin and Chee Seong pulled out last minute; Chee Seong on the day itself due to some motor accident or car breakdown (I can't remember which). We managed to find some replacements in Adrian, Shannon and Rachael Wong. Dad, Mum and Sara were also there.

The week after found me returning to debates after a semester's absence. However, I am not sure if I will be able to cope with the regular training schedule given my already hectic timetable and desire to rest and draw away more regularly this semester. So far I've attended two (or three) sessions, and without fail I have been feeling extremely drowsy at each.

On the Tuesday of the week of PKV's MSK (Malam Suai Kenal, a.k.a. Introduction Night), I joined Denny, Pei Yi, Pei Wern, Shi Hui and Esther at Telawi Street Bistro for supper. Denny picked me up from college in his BMW; it was quite late and I'd managed to get some sleep while waiting.

It has been ages since I last met Esther.

Another oasis came in the form of the PKV Committee 'Retreat' at Rachael's house on Friday, 25 July. It was good riding in Shannon's van with him drumming on the steering wheel, eating one-and-a-half packets of chicken rice, listening to Rachael's mother share, and slapping colours on each other! (Perhaps next time we should literally have a 'paint the committee member' session!)

After that we caught the 12.30 a.m. screening of The Dark Knight at 1 Utama, and bumped into Joyce Kee and Colin Choong there. It was my second time watching the movie; Adrian, How, Andrew and I caught it on the opening day, 17 July.

The movie was richer, darker and certainly more carefully constructed and orchestrated than the first, Batman Begins, but I still like the first better. Maybe it's because the first movie had more engaging one-liners and memorable quotes, maybe it's because the first was simpler and more powerful (in the raw sense).

Nonetheless, just as the first movie shaped much of my philosophy and encouraged me in the months and yeras that followed it, some of the dialogue in the second still haunt me now. Like when Alfred tells Bruce to 'endure' and 'be the outcast'; I find myself challenged to seek solitude and endure it this semester because my constant socialising and noisemaking last semester left me weary and dry at the end of it all.

I also strongly believe a major part of the ministry of prayer lies in the discipline of silence and learning to hear.

The other line is delivered by Rachel Dawes through a letter to Bruce; "I don't know if there will come a day when you no longer need Batman." It struck me that the tragedy of Batman is that, with the exception of Alfred, he is always alone. The cruel irony is that somehow, he must be alone. And so, in this movie as in the last, almost everything he holds dear to him is taken away. He yearns to destroy his alter ego in order to win the person he loves, but ends up learning that he cannot--for his sake but more so for the sake of Gotham.

Hence Commissioner Gordon's closing words to his son near the end of the movie, "He is the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs now; that is why we [the police] must chase him..." And those familiar with the comics and the cartoon will know that Batman never gets along with the police, with Gordon being the only exception.

As I was telling Ai Wei, I wonder if there are things in my life which I might desire with all my heart to get rid of, but somehow for my sake and the sake of others, I cannot and must not.

On the day of the MSK, I cycled around UM because I needed to take some time out after a rather depressing day before (I'd been swimming with Ai Wei after visiting the PKV's Exhibition Booth; Soo Tian was in UM). Before leaving college, I made some photos of the weaver ants, flies and spiders living on a tree beside my hostel block.

The mamak adventure was finally published in The Star's R.AGE pullout for schools, colleges and universities on 30 July.

* * * * *

Last night I started reading Max Lucado's 3:16 - The Numbers of Hope again. As you might guess, it's about the most famous verse in the Bible. My eyes fell on the words 'Includes a 40-Day Devotional' printed on the back cover.

If you've read Max Lucado, you'll know his books are about 30 per cent (or more) devotional guide. I used to dislike this, simply because I felt I was being cheated; it was as if Lucado was getting away with writing little and using the devotional to thicken the book.

But last night, I realised I have been wrong all this while. God's message to me since STOMP has been about recovering the devotional life; I knew somewhere midway through STOMP that how this semester turns out would very much depend on how I manage my quiet time and devotions.

Now when I look back at all the Lucado books I read (well, 70 per cent read), I realise I ought to have used those devotional guides because the ministry of the book lies not so much in the pen of its author as in the fellowship with our Author when we meet Him in prayer and solitude, into which the book merely leads and guides.

* * * * *

As I type this, many of my friends from the PKV (and my brother too) are at the Passion Conference featuring Chris Tomlin in Sunway.

Perhaps now I know what it means to be alone. Only now, alone, am I able to blog. Only alone am I able to face my fears and my darkest parts. This is what Henri Nouwen wrote of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.

Is this why they dared to flee? Is it because they knew somehow that, painful as it may be, they would rather seek God and leave their lives as a survivor leaves a sinking ship? Not everyone needs to flee as they did; some are able to maintain the a godly life in the midst of life's whirlwinds. I'm not those people.

I have been feeling so out of touch, yet I am encouraged by Nouwen who wrote that it was precisely out of the 'out-of-touchness' that the ministry of the Desert Fathers and Mothers flowed.