Saturday, August 29, 2009

A stranger's scent

There seems to be a long list of formulas to memorize. Concepts after concepts to understand. Piles of tutorials to do. Not forgetting endless online physics questions. These bothered me a little.

I hate the fuss over birthdays. To me, it's just another day. One just happen to be a year older, that's all. Or perhaps, im just bothered by my non-birthdays that I do not see a big deal out of it. So, do we celebrate birthdays? Wish each other Happy Birthday? Get presents? Or why bother? I hate birthdays. So these thoughts bothered me a little.

For some reason, I like things simple. Why bother with the hassle of steamboat when one can just cook everything as per normal? When things get a little off from the norm, i feel bothered. When there's no rice when we break our fast, I get a little bit bothered. But when I see different variations of noodles for the past several days, I began to feel disturbed.

So on her birthday, when she asked how'd I grade her cooking, I told her: 3/10. I couldve made her feel better by giving her a full marks on her birthday, considering that I didnt get her anything, but I didnt. Simply because I wasnt in the mood to be nice. I was disturbed. I was bothered.

I reflected on my being a selfish jerk while walking to the mosque. Mum has been there preparing all the food. She's the first to wake up and the last to sleep each morning. Yet why was I being selfish? I asked myself why I can be selfless most of the time but whenever I slip into the rare selfish mode, I do it all wrong.

The time came for Isya' prayers. As soon as it began, a stranger stepped up beside me. At that moment, it felt as though my dad was there beside me. The subtle smell of cigarette reminded me of the times he'd kiss us on our cheeks before he left for work. I could feel his rough moustache and beard against my face. How I longed to experience it again.

It was as if he knew the going ons in my head. And that he was there by my side to tell me that he's back. To assure me that things will be well.

I wished to tell him how I didnt mean to be mean to mum - that it was because I was feeling just a little bothered.

I wished to tell him how well my brothers are doing in school - but I'm sure he already knew.

I wished to tell him not to go but before I could tell him, he was gone. It's been 3 years and this was the first time in a long time he felt so close. It was also the first time in a long time I felt so bad.

Tears rolled down my eyes. All because of a stranger's scent.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Amusing parallels

Ive been spending countless hours this past 3 days on a piece of article for one of the school publications. Putting thoughts and reflections into an entry for a magazine is a different ball game compared to the writes on my blog. The datelines, the word limits, worrying about how others might find and react to it can be pretty exhausting. Giving up seemed like the easiest option but it'll never be the case. A part of me wants to see it published and perhaps, be heard and be known. Or perhaps its simply the joy of writing - from entries to articles to simple comments - that makes me want to keep on writing. Or perhaps I see it as my baby steps to something bigger and better.

Here's something I found amusing:

"Like many great writers attending college for a subject they despised, García Márquez found that he had absolutely no interest in his studies, and he became something of a consummate slacker. He began to skip classes and neglect both his studies and himself, electing to wander around Bogotá and ride the streetcars, reading poetry instead of law. He ate in cheap cafés, smoked cigarettes, and associated with all the usual suspects: literate socialists, starving artists, and budding journalists.

One day, however, his life changed -- all from reading just a simple book. As if all the lines of fate suddenly converged in his hands, he was given a copy of Kafka's The Metamorphosis. The book had a profound affect on García Márquez; making him aware that literature did not have to follow a straight narrative and unfold along a traditional plot.

The effect was liberating: "I thought to myself that I didn't know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago." He also remarked that Kafka's "voice" had the same echoes as his grandmother's -- "that's how my grandmother used to tell stories, the wildest things with a completely natural tone of voice."

Am I about to follow the footsteps of Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Instead of law, would I want to abandon Civil Engineering for writing? Could that explain the piles of tutorials and lecture notes I've yet to read?

Yesterday, I felt Kafka-esque when I read what Ronald Gray wrote in his critical interpretation: "The formal excellence is striking enough in itself. Whereas very many of the stories are incomplete, or rambling and repetitive, The Metamorphosis shows all the signs that Kafka was able both to portray his own situation and to achieve artistic mastery over it."

Today, I amuse myself by drawing parallels with Garcia Márquez. Could I be going through a metamorphosis of my own when I printed a copy of Kafka's The Metamorphosis for my elective: HL808 Introduction to Magical Realism?

.........Pablo smiled to himself as he dreams of taking the road he knows he'll never take. He knows that as soon as this dream end, it's back to Soil mechanics, Mechanics of Materials, Fluid dynamics, Probability and Statistics and Physics 1.

He cant help but feel as though he's a prisoner of societal conventions and expectations.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Of unanswered prayers

The setting of the sun ushered in the dawn of a blessed month - a month where Muslims all over the world fast from dawn to sunset everyday. A month of inner-reflection, repentance, devotion to God, and self control. A month called Ramadhan.

It's a month where families would have their two meals together - before dawn and after sunset - when they break their fast. It's also a month when I really get the feeling that someone's missing.

I'd often pray that dad was still there sitting alongside our mother for our first meal before fasting. He'd have a small meal that is usually followed by a quick smoke of Marlboro. And after a warm shower, he would then leave for work. I'd pray to hear the soft thud when he closes the wooden door and the squeaking hinges of the gate. And when we're just about to break our fast, I'd pray that he would just show up at the door with sweet anythings. But I wouldn't mind even if he showed up with nothing - for his showing up is what matters most.

However, I know all too well that my prayers will remain unanswered - just like Pablo's. 

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Magic and the Fantastic

The morning began with a quick cold bath followed by the usual prayers. Pablo prayed for a natural disaster to hit his school - as he does every morning - despite knowing that this prayer of his will never be answered. He then grabbed his dirty old school bag and proceeded to the garden for a quick breakfast with the sun, the cloud and the breeze.

"Good morning Pablo," greeted the sun and the cloud. The breeze blew a cool refreshing breeze across the garden.

"What's so good about the morning?" Asked Pablo. His mornings will never be good unless school's been cancelled due to heavy snow or massive landslide or violent typhoon or something to that effect. Problem is, such natural disasters had and will never happen in the country he's currently in.

"Havent you heard the wonderful news?" Asked the sun, surprised."Prince Charming had finally found the one whose feet fits the glass slipper and they lived happily ever after. Isnt that good news?"

"Really? Wow. Great. That's simply wonderful news. What a great morning! Thanks alot for making my day!"

Pablo then took a quick final sip of bitter black coffee, grabbed his dirty old school bag and walked briskly towards the school bus that reached seconds ago. It was then when Pablo saw a girl running towards the bus from a couple of houses away. He'd seen her around once but couldnt put a place to the face.

And as soon as Little Red Riding Hood boarded, the bus began to inch forward and Pablo prayed for the bus to take them to prison instead - even though he knew that such silly prayers will forever remain unanswered.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Malay Education

It was mentioned during the Symposium that mental work will be more valuable than hard labour in time to come. This was also mentioned by the PM during the National Day Rally when he said that Seagate will stop manufacturing the physical hard disk drives and will instead focus on research and development of the material used in the hard disk.

Hence, it is safe to say that one has got to study harder now, more than ever. In a meritocratic society, those who do not perform well will most probably lose out. And being a minority in a meritocratic society simply means that we've gotta work even harder.

I stumbled upon a 27-page document entitled "Progress of the Malay Community in Singapore since 1980" (2005) - a report presenting educational, economic, social, and quality of life indicators which together give a comprehensive picture of the community. I'll be focusing only on the educational aspect of the report.

The proportion of students among Malays in the group 7-16 years is now the same as the national average. However, we have the lowest percentage of GCE 'O' Level Students with at least Five 'O' Level Passes as well as GCE 'A' Level Students with at least 2 'A' and 2 'AO' Level passes including General Paper. We also have the lowest percentage of Primary One cohort admitted to Post-Secondary Institutions (ITE, Polytechnics, Junior Colleges/Centralised Institutes) as well as those admitted to Tertiary Institutions (Polytechnics or Universities).

The only area where we had the highest percentage in was in the number of primary school dropouts as well as secondary school dropouts. And our "ranking" has been consistent since 1980.

During the symposium, someone mentioned how fathers tend to neglect their child's education. And I personally think that in a Malay family, fathers play the role of a breadwinner and disciplinarian while mothers deal with everything else. Something's just not right here.... But this is just one of possibly many other things.

................ (to be continued)

Food for thoughts:
  1. How much time, effort and money is the typical Malay family willing to spend on their child's education?
  2. There is a need for a role model within the family to act as a mentor for the child. But what if there isnt?
  3. Can we ever break away from this vicious cycle that we are in?

Perhaps thinking about the community as a whole is a waste of time given the fact that I do not have 25 hours a day. Perhaps not. Perhaps this is one aspect where i can try put my thinking and dreaming skills to some good use? Insyaallah.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pages of thoughts

I attended MENDAKI Club's Inaugural Collegiate Symposium 2009 - and i was impressed how they managed to bring tertiary students together in the spirit of learning from the sharing of experiences and perspectives by professionals in various fields.

Interesting questions, thoughts and views were scribbled by the pages in my little red book. Some of which, if not all, will be posted up as entries in time to come. I guess having heard the word "prioritize" one too many times, I shall put on hold penning pages of thoughts down for now...

....Of school, success, Malay, mentality, community, dreams, opportunities, motivation and other stories - including my inability to strike a conversation with the opposite gender.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Cloud and the Sand Dune

Even clouds fall in love.

A young cloud found a gentle breeze that allowed him to hover over the golden sands. After much toing and froing, he noticed one of the dunes smiling at him.

He saw that the dune was also young, newly formed by the wind that had just passed over. He fell in love with her golden hair right there and then. "Good morning," he said. "What's life like down there?"

"I have the company of the other dunes, of the sun and the wind, and of the caravans that occasionally pass through here. Sometimes it's really hot, but it's still bearable. What's life like up there?"
"We have the sun and wind too, but the good thing is that I can travel across the sky and see more things."
"For me," said the dune, "life is short. When the wind returns from the forests, I will disappear."
"And does that make you sad?"
"It makes me feel that I have no purpose in life."
"I feel the same. As soon as another wind comes along, I'll go south and be transformed into rain; but that is my destiny."
The dune hesitated for a moment, then said: "Did you know that here in the desert, we call the rain paradise?"
"I had no idea I could ever be that important," said the cloud proudly.
"I've heard other older dunes tell stories about the rain. They say that, after the rain, we are all covered with grass and flowers. But I'll never experience that, because in the desert it rains so rarely."
It was the cloud's turn to hesitate now. Then he smiled broadly and said: "If you like, I could rain on you now. I know I've only just got here, but I love you, and I'd like to stay here for ever."
"When I first saw you up in the sky, I fell in love with you too," said the dune. "But if you transform your lovely white hair into rain, you will die."
"Love never dies," said the cloud. "It is transformed, and besides, I want to show you what paradise is like."
And he began to caress the dune with little drops of rain, so that they could stay together for longer, until a rainbow appeared.
The following day, the little dune was covered in flowers. Other clouds that passed over, heading for Africa, thought that it must be part of the forest they were looking for and scattered more rain. Twenty years later, the dune had been transformed into an oasis that refreshed travellers with the shade of its trees.
And all because, one day, a cloud fell in love, and was not afraid to give his life for that love.

... By Paulo Coelho

I wanna be as brave as a cloud. But could someone, or some cloud, really fall in love at a mere first sight? Or is Coelho simply being idealistic and romantic like me?

This will be my final entry that will be accompanied by excerpts from Coelho's book Like the Flowing River. Expect a little bit of Magical Realism inspired by Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Of Love and Other Demons, William Shakespeare's The Tempest and Laura Esquivel's Like Water for Chocolate in entries to come.

My first attempt at the first 3 pages of The Tempest was a challenging and tiring one. I pity the ones who had to read and mark Shakespeare's essays when he was still in school.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

On rhythm

"I've noticed that most pilgrims, whether on the Road to Santiago or on any of life's paths, always try to follow the rhythm set by others. At the start of my pilgrimage, I tried to keep up with my group, but I got tired. I was demanding too much of my body. I was tense all the time and ended up straining the tendons in my left foot. I couldnt walk for two days after that, and I realized that I would only reach Santiago if I obeyed my own rhythm. I took longer than the others to get there, and for long stretches I often had to walk alone; but it was only by respecting my own rhythm that I managed to complete the journey. Ever since then, I have applied this to everything I do in life: I follow my own rhythm."
.....By Paulo Coelho

Only the second day of school and one can already feel the different rhythms. While some are midway through their tutorial, others are just beginning to wait in line to print their tutorials. There are those who had bought their textbooks, those looking around for textbooks and those who are unsure if they really need a textbook in the first place!

With so many different rhythms playing simultaneously, I'm definitely feeling the need to keep up - or risk lagging behind. And when that feeling begins to creep in, I guess I need to remember that I can always determine my own nice rhythm and be on my way.

Rhythm - I'm still determining one that I can call my own. 

Monday, August 10, 2009

I can't get in

Near Olite, in Spain, there is a ruined castle. I decide to visit the place and as I am standing there before it, a man at the door says:

‘You can’t come in.’

My intuition tells me that he is saying this for the pure pleasure of saying ‘No’. I explain that I’ve come a long way, I try offering him a tip, I try being nice, I point out that this is, after all, a ruined castle…suddenly, going into that castle has become very important to me.

‘You can’t come in,’ the man says again.

There is only one alternative: to carry on and see if he will physically prevent me from going in. I walk towards the door. He looks at me, but does nothing.

As I am leaving, two other tourists arrive and they too walk in. The old man does not try to stop them. I feel as if, thanks to my resistance, the old man has decided to stop inventing ridiculous rules. Sometimes the world asks us to fight for things we do not understand and whose significance we will never discover.

By Paulo Coelho

"Sometimes the world asks us to fight for things we do not understand, and whose significance we will never discover."

Putting things into personal contact, I feel like a seven year old dreading his first day of school - this despite going thru 15 first day of school. Each time a new school year begins, all i see is 13 weeks of school followed by the first exams. A month's break is then followed by another 13 weeks of school and thereafter, a three months break. And following that, the next new academic year begins.

Is this the part where perseverance and determination comes in? The part of the marathon where the legs begin to retire and a strong mind steps in and tells you to soldier on? It definitely seems like it.

A quick update on Facebook attracted a "Let's do this together." While it's somewhere in me to see the significance of education, and despite the fact that i acknowledge I'm 3 years away from graduation, insyaallah, a simple "Let's do this together" was a gentle reminder that I'm not alone.

In other words, one should fight till the very end and do his or her best to secure good grades in school even though its true significance is still somewhere in the distant horizon. Hope i'll keep this in mind whenever i lose sight of my objective.

May the coming academic year be filled with pleasant memories, wonderful experiences, a little bit of everything challenging and perhaps a brush with the present sweet impression, if not, the next.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A mother's love


Almost the entire of today was spent at the park by the sea with friends - picnic, frisbee, and lotsa photo taking.

However, I came back only to realise that mother's been spending the entire day alone - sis out working and the brothers doing their school work with friends. And upon my sister's realization that i only reached home moments before her and my brothers just moment after her, she told our mother how we're slowly starting to grow up.

She replied, "The four of you are still babies in my eyes."

May we never forget the undying love of our mothers. Ever. Insyaallah.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Keep fit

A couple of days ago, I received a health advice from the unlikeliest of sources - dear Grandma.

Grandma's been bedridden for some years now due to stroke. And whenever i drop by for a visit, she tells me how sad she is to not be able to walk or do things like everyone else. She tells me how she hates having to just sit around on the bed and eat and sleep or being pushed on the wheel chair. She tells me how thin she is and i told her that's just because she refuses to eat anything but rice and veges and cereals and biscuits.

So i asked her why not eat meat and gain weight? Perhaps some delicious sambal chicken or mum's tantalizing beef rendang.

She told me this: If I were heavier, I would be a greater burden then I'm already am.

She told me that it would be more tiring to carry her from her bed to the wheelchair and from the wheelchair into the car, if they're bringing her anywhere.

At that very moment, it strucked me. While i was putting myself in her shoes thinking of all the wonderful food i'd like to enjoy given my condition and age, there she was thinking of the trouble she would cause if she was any heavier.

Perspectives change as we age. It's little things like the one above that makes us grow as a person. For me, I'll try to be a little less self-centered and a little more considerate......

..... and keep fit.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

One too many thinks

Something i read made me think:
Most successful people do not worry too much about what will happen in future. They reflect on all the things they have already done.

Something someone asked me made me think:
He asked if I would accept a girl that has a past.
Something i wished i hadn't read made me think:
If your ship doesn't come in, swim out to meet it.

Something i said made me think.
I wish I hadnt said anything. Then I would have one less thing to think about.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Degree

Here's an excerpt from a book im reading.

"Most of my friends, and most of my friends' children, also have degrees. That doesnt mean that they've managed to find the kind of work they wanted. Not at all.

They went to university because someone, at a time when universities were important, said that, in order to rise in the world, you had to have a degree.

And thus the world was deprived of some excellent gardeners, bakers, antique dealers, sculptors, and writers. Perhaps this is the moment to review the situation. Doctors, engineers, scientists, and lawyers need to go to university, but does everyone?

I'll let these lines by Robert Frost provide the answer:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference."

.......Like the Flowing River by Paulo Coelho

As much as I love reading Paulo Coelho's work, I hate it when i reach a dead end figuring out the message he intended to put across.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

A week of rest

I think.

I plan.

I analyze.

I organize.

I see the big picture.

But i never seem to be able to execute my plans as quickly as i should.


Strangely and frustratingly, the wysiwyg editor has gone missing. The row of icons that I so frequently use to change my fonts and font size and text color and most importantly to add pictures to my entries is gone. And ive yet to find any solution to this problem.

Meanwhile, I managed to channel most of my frustrations with blogger into the search of a new blogskin - and after attempt number 10, Ive finally found one that i kinda liked.

So here's a trial post in HTML format. Really hope for this wysiwyg problem to be solved sooon. I need pictures.

Oh no, August's here.