Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thoughts on Pentecost

Went for Mass with Tien at SFX this morning. I think the last time I went for Mass was in Hawai'i, in May/June 2010.

I was very impressed with the church building: no air-conditioning, only fans; lots of natural light, and minimal ceiling lighting; trees all over the church compound. Things you no longer see in modern 'concert hall' church auditoriums. Yet these things live on in that great Catholic tradition.

This, to me, is what a church should physically be—a living space that nourishes the soul.

* * *

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, dona nobis pacem.

* * *

"What defines post-colonial and Independence-era buildingse is the usage of relatively inexpensive materials to come up with novel designs that are practical in our tropical climate."

— Ben, after Mass, talking about the new Chancellery vs the old

* * *

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error.
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre of pyre—
To be redeemed from fire by fire.

Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire
Consumed by either fire or fire.

— T.S. Eliot, 'Little Gidding'

* * *

Fake your death and only tell your closest friends

Oh my God
Can I complain?
You take away my firm belief
And graft my soul upon your grief

— Jars of Clay, 'Oh My God'

* * *

And there, just outside that trinket shop where Tien said, "This is what I miss about Malaysia—finding books in random shops," there we walked past Captain America and Michael Jackson.

Amcorp Mall is probably the only place where superheroes can look normal.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

In a Thousand Words or Less

For Emily Chow.

I. Dead End

It was at the cul-de-sac, that
The squatters in their makeshift homes and caravans
Lit fires in the evenings, burning wood and coal,
The women carrying bags upon their heads;
The neighbours planting vegetables in the patch below.

And then the other green, the overgrowth and pond
And the geese—
And the surprised Dachshund meeting birds taller than himself.

There are places I remember all my life
(Though some have changed);
Some have gone and some remain.

First fresh, now peaceful, breeze:
But who am I to say? (I live on one of these.)
And the garden, perhaps an attempt at redemption
Trying to keep life alive.
But what use is it?
So I’ve a degree—I know the words, the theory
But it doesn’t make of me a gardener,
Of these brown, crumbing clods of earth, green fingers.

We’ll meet at the Centre Court, Level Three
(Wherever that may be.)

The poison-girdled tree was probably deciduous—
Its leaves were gone, branches bare
Yet it was standing,
Always standing there.

Unless the Lord builds, they labour in vain who build the house,
They watch in vain upon the ramparts and the towers.

II. The Market

We’re already on the way back
Help us buy two hanging monkeys please—
It’s just outside the place,
Just outside the place where
Dreams of what could be lie,
Where dreams belie what could be.

Offer hari ini, lima ringgit saja
Very cheap today! Yes—hello!”
We and our bargain lives;
When you pay rock bottom you hit rock bottom
And rock bottom breaks you.
The people who throw rubbish out their car windows
Are those who, afflicted with dengue and diarrhoea
Complain that the government isn’t doing anything about clogged drains.

On my way to Lucifer I found Christ;
Or maybe Christ found me walking down that street
And greeted me with the sound of singing
That only comes from that sort of place where
Joy abounds abundantly,
Aboundingly abundant in praise.

(It was the singing drew me in.)

A prayer on the streets of
Calcutta In the back alleys of Yogyakarta
Or in a secret room in Cheras;
When you have learnt to seek God it becomes
A means of great sanctity to you, to those around you.

Will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel,
Will you at this time restore?
We were meant to live for so much more.

Let your fruit abide.
Whatever you ask the Father in my name
He will give to you:
Greater love hath none than this,
That you lay down you life for another.

III. The Inner Room

In that inner room, where the noise of the world is drowned away
In silence;
Where emptiness fills the spaces filled with emptiness,
And the emptying is preparation for a new fulfilment.

In that inner room,
The introspection of a writer meets the action of a superhero;
You’re well set on having a good balance of both
And safe from ever living a normal life.

Living on the edge was never going to be easy.

What of friends,
Of Davids and Jonathans,
Of brothers with bonds stronger than blood?
We are the envelope,
Emaciated, etiolated—empty on the inside,
Waiting for our filling with words
Our filling with the Word that is more than words,
With the spirit and the power that enables us to testify
With words beyond the power of words.

But these are not the words of the wise.

My spirit is overcome with fear,
I cannot dance to save my life
(I have the flexibility of papadum)
But I am not dancing to save my life;
I am dancing because this bitter earth calls me to dance
To sway and to swing
To swirl and show a sign that I am alive.

Knowing that in giving you can never outgive,
Knowing that the words will come when they are needed
(Did you lack anything when I sent you out?)
Knowing that in dying you may yet live.

I know that this is not goodbye.

IV. At an Exhibition

In a thousand words or less
You have captured a moment—
A minute before, a minute after, and it will be different.
It doesn’t matter if people do not like it; that is their problem.

Stun these people, hear them say
That they have never seen such as you, such young people
Carry themselves with such grace and confidence,
With passion and compassion.

Stun these people, hear them say
That they have never seen such sacrilege
Such utter disrespect and contempt for austerity
And tried and tested ways.

But listen to what people say, good or bad;
All our fingers are different—
Everyone will have a different opinion.

We will be there, see you then.

V. Still, and Still Moving

Matur nuwun
They probably knew that word, those squatters
(They might have, I don’t know.)
Don’t know what to say now
But ‘thanks’ is perhaps the best word a stranger, a foreigner, can learn.

What does it feel to have those tractors
Desecrating this sacred tract of land,
This earth that gave life birth for so many, many years,
To have the ground yanked from under your feet?

Jack’s has iPads; or Galaxies—they’re all the same to me.
Remember when salons had magazines?
We wanted kids to read, and then comic books came;
Wanted computer literacy, then the iPad came;
To be adept communicators, then Facebook took over—
All good intentions subverted.
(Or maybe today, it doesn’t matter what your intentions are anymore.)

We are wisest when we do not hoard
What we cannot keep anyway.
Learn to give when you have nothing left
For it is the right thing to do;
As a man is in his poverty, so will he be in prosperity.

All aboard!

A bowl and two pairs of chopsticks
Sitting by the sink;
But this ship is unsinkable, or so we think.

* * *

Completed on 21 May with some ideas sketched as early as February.

Friday, May 18, 2012


The floods have lifted up, O LORD,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods have lifted up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the LORD on high is mighty!

Ps 93:3-4 (ESV)

It's nice to have sharp students. But a teacher must take the blunt in stride as well, remembering that both knives and mallets may well serve their purpose. Above all, don't give up.

Everyone wants to be that teacher who taught this great person or that. Who wants to teach students who will never amount to anything, who will attain neither wealth nor fame? Yet it is these teachers whom eternity will applaud, because they dared to go where no one else would have dreamt of.

This butterfly was drying its wings the morning of Teacher's Day, on the 'dark side' of the pot on which Ryan usually rubs his snout. I couldn't help but feel it was a gift to all of us—a reminder that some things take time, and that we ought to persevere against all odds.

Here's to the million butterflies we never see emerging.

* * *

On a separate note, my Henri Cartier-Bresson and Raghu Rai books have arrived over the last few days!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Grapefruit Sky

It was a grapefruit-pink sky the other day when I set out to meet Joy for dinner at BVII. I couldn't resist, and pulled over shortly after passing Pandu Puteri, got out of the car and squeezed in a few shots on the handphone.

Tenaga Nasional Berhad substation.

The Rapid KL passes between the Kerinchi and Universiti stations.

Setting ball of fire beyond UM in the west. 

 * * *

Cool Google Doodle!

To paraphrase that Hawaiian Airlines pilot in June 2010, "Happy Teacher's Day, all you teachers on board, teachers-to-be, and teachers-at-heart!"

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Back to the drawing board

Teluk Pandan Kecil, Bako National Park, Sarawak

So good to know that baby Liam's doing well.

But as I re-read the encouraging update, I thought about how I haven't been praying and reflecting as much as I ought to, and these words came to me:

Perhaps I need to learn to seek You more,
To sit down and colour and paint and draw.

It felt so good to put pencil on paper again, to revisit this scene from last year's Kuching trip. And it was such a good conversation the other night.

Happy birthday, once again, Ming!

Monday, May 07, 2012


On my way back from the stationery shop this afternoon, I came across a swimming promotion in the Leisure Mall foyer, outside Kenny Rogers. There was Arena swimwear on sale, and a booth set up by this UCSI-based group called Swim The World (website here).

Seeing all of that really made me feel like swimming! I haven't gotten anything in the way of swimming this year, so far. All my trips have been to cities and mountainous/forested areas. I so need a beach holiday. Adila claims I have goat DNA; sometimes I wonder if I have a bit of fish DNA, too.

Later in the evening, on my way back from Pudu, there were these two guys in the LRT, chatting animatedly in Cantonese about The Avengers. One of them was wearing a red T-shirt, but the other was far cooler: a cap with the Batman logo, and a T-shirt with the Jaws poster image and words along the lines of "Say no to shark's fin".

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Deep End

Ken Rockwell has a post today on 'Real Nikons', in which he writes:

"I so love shooting a real Nikon. It just goes, and the fully professional F3 weighs much less than the amateur D800 or 5D Mark III. The F3 runs for years on a pair of A76 batteries that sell for less than a dollar. My 5-year old can figure it out, while not even I can figure out most of how to get a D800 to go. The F3's owner's manual is only 46 pages of well-illustrated simplicity, while the D800's manual is 450 pages of meaningless menu nonsense."

Here's an interview with John Sexton on why he still likes traditional black-and-white. He makes a good point about the art and experience of photography when he says you've got to enjoy what you're shooting. If you're shooting a landscape, you'd better enjoy it, so that even if you don't get to make any photographs that day, you will still enjoy and appreciate the experience of just being out there in the wilderness.

In either case, I thought about how I learnt photography—just by going out and shooting. It works the same for both film and digital. And then I thought about my approach to teaching, my 'education philosophy', so to speak: I'm a product of the 'deep-end' school of learning.

Miss Shanti knows all about this: throw the kid into deep waters, and in struggling to stay afloat he will learn so much more than he would have any other way. Go in there, get deep and dirty, experiment much, make many mistakes, learn a few things, make even more mistakes, learn a few more things. And be the best you never imagined you could be. As Geoffrey Rush's character in Shine says, "You win some, you lose some; you can't lose 'em all."

Great books are not written by people who churn out half a page of writing a year; great landscapes are not taken by people who refuse to get up, get out and fight the elements.

But the best part of the journey is still being able to share it with people who mean the world to you. And today just happens to be the quarter-century anniversary of some of those people.

To Kaun, SooT and Teeming: a most blessed 25th. May the next 25 years, and the 25 thereafter (and so on!) be even richer and more amazing than the last. Let's grow (old) together! ;-)