Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The Kaleidoscope of Life

The Kaleidoscope of Life

A new year is a good time to start afresh. There's a sense of renewal, a feeling of optimism that things will be better. As for me, I try to think of every day as a New Year's day. There is no time to waste; I don't really have to wait until the end of the year to reassess and rechart my future. A pilot makes many tiny adjustments during the entire course of the flight.

But still New Year's eve is a good starting point, because there's a sense of resolve in the air. We should latch on to it and ride the winds of change. The real challenge however is to maintain one's course for the rest of the year. So often we forget our resolutions and veer away from our original goals.

I have officially closed one chapter of my life and will be starting another soon. I often write about the natural rhythm of human affairs: I have been sensing the rhythm of things around me and feel it is finally time for me to move on. Without doing so I will not be renewing myself; I will not progress to my next level of transformation.

Life is an upward spiral motion of constant renewal. In Lila, Robert Pirsig's "sequel" to his beat classic, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he wrote of society having the tendency to slowly progress forward and then latch on to the next stable state, before something else triggers the next level of transformation.

Life progressses a bit like that too. At certain points in our lives we latch on to certain stable states, or what we call comfort zones. Remaining there however, is to invite decay. I become vary everytime I feel a bit too comfortable. My experiences have taught me that being over-attached to one's comfort zone is to be unprepared for changes that will inevitably come.

We have to transform ourselves all the time and participate in change--for that is the nature of the universe. Everytime we move forward and upward, we discover new things about ourselves. New patterns emerge. It is like peering into a kaleidoscope: rotate it, you'll see an entirely new universe.

Remember, the Kaleidoscope of Life has the potential to offer an infinity of patterns.
Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

The Rewards of Teaching

The Rewards of Teaching

I have not written anything so far about the part-time teaching that I do twice a week at a local university. I teach an information systems course for first year undergraduate students. Now that I am finally free(!) from my regular job, I can reflect a bit on my experience in teaching.

Teaching can be a very rewarding thing to do because if you do it well, you influence many people's lives. Financially speaking, the money that I get out of it is not exactly worth my time, but to me it is an opportunity to serve the community. And I am thankful for this privilege.

My students are very young--18, 20 at most. They are in many ways smarter than I was when I was their age because things like computers and Internet are already part of their everyday lives. I only learnt how to use a computer during my final year in university.

I was never a computer science or information systems student--I was an engineering geek. Everything I know about information systems is learnt through experience. So it is also very educational for me to see how a regular information systems course is taught based on the official syllabus. It amuses me sometimes to see how the subject is presented in textbooks: It is so rigid and detached from reality. I can understand why some students feel bored.

Information systems is a subject that I can teach without much preparation because I deal with it everyday in practical customer situations. But to be able to teach the subject well, one still needs to do some amout of preparation.

I usually build about 40 Powerpoint slides to fill up each two-hour lecture session. I have to think how to explain difficult concepts in a way that is easily understood. I try to illustrate them with everyday examples.

Sometimes I feel like a film director trying to determine the pacing of a two-hour movie. At which point should you hit them with the really hard facts? How do you win over the audience and set them up for the kill?

Every lesson needs to have an introduction, development, a climax and a final denouement. You have to bear in mind that the attention span of the audience waxes and wanes over the two-hour period. You have to interspede dull moments with more upbeat ones; you have to engage the audience.

I do not think I succeed very well as a teacher, but I try my best. I am perhaps a bit too lenient with my students. But I guess it is alright--they are young and will grow up to be useful individuals. At 18, you are still struggling with the demons of adolescence. It challenges me greatly to think from their point of view: Words and concepts that I'm so used to spouting in front of my customers have to be reexamined, because what is crystal clear to me may be hazy in their young minds.

Like what I've mentioned in a previous blog entry, the best way to learn is to teach. Teaching also makes me a better IT professional. I realised that what is sometimes obvious to me may not be so to my customer. Every two hour session to me is another training in public-speaking.

As a lecturer, I a get to learn so much--perhaps even more than what my students learn from me. I cannot help but be grateful.

Monday, December 29, 2003

The Purpose of Work

The Purpose of Work

Feeling exhausted after having worked through my entire Christmas holidays. Today is the first day back in the office after that four day break. The city is still quiet and empty. There's another two days of holidays coming up--31st and 1st of January 2004. I definitely won't be working on those days.

There is a spiritual purpose to work. Work is an act of worship, especially those conducted selflessly. The noblest ideal expounded by karma yoga is to do work without expecting anything in return. Through work, one is transformed spiritually; one ascends to a deeper level of understanding about oneself.

It is good if one's work brings financial rewards. All rewards are a blessing. However my greatest reward from work is seeing things happen as a result of it, being able to assist friends in the process and having the opportunity to put my creative stamp on it. Sometimes work itself is the reward.

Work can be a drag or an adventure, depending on how we look at it. At its most difficult, we can look at it as penance. Through our hardship, we become a better person. We should always be grateful for being given the opportunity to work. We define ourselves through our work.

However the challenge for most people is to find their true vocation. Not sure if I've found mine yet. Doesn't matter. At the meantime, I'll just, continue working.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Pleasurable Choices

Pleasurable Choices

Sometimes in life, there good problems: One of them is deciding what to read next. There are so many tantalising authors and titles out there, making a decision can be very tough thing to do.

For the past month or so, I haven't seriously read any book from cover to cover. I've been dipping myself in and out of non-fictional books from my own library, reading more for information than pleasure. Time and Newsweek are also part of my regular staple.

I've refrained myself from plunging into any book because I wanted to maintain my concentration on that long report I've been struggling to finish. I am close to the finishing line now and I want to reward myself with a good read after this laborious task. I feel a bit like a student who is going through an examination and is eagerly looking forward to the long vacation after that.

Yes, my "vacation" is coming up soon. What could be more pleasurable than to be able to do some reading and travelling at the same time? I've read all the Theroux travel books that I could get my hands on. Maybe I should discover a new author that I've not read before. Colin Thubron looks promising. I've also not read any by Bruce Chatwin before. He is highly praised, even by Theroux.

Or maybe I should start reading some Graham Greene--his style seems to suit me. I've read some non-fictional works by VS Naipaul but I think I am missing a lot in life if I do not sample some of his fictional works like A House for Mr Biswas.

There are so many good authors that I have not read before. Everytime I go to a bookstore, I feel like throwing up my hands in despair. I haven't mentioned the Indonesian books that I want to attempt: Saman by Ayu Utami or maybe Arus Balik by Pramoedya Ananta Toer.

People often tell me that I'm missing a lot because I don't read Chinese. They are probably right. But I think I'll go crazy with the choices that would be available to me if I do. My sanity is more important.

We have over a hundred satellite TV channels at home but how many channels we seriously watch in a day? I think I'll just stick to my BBC and ESPN.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Discarding the Past

Discarding the Past

This morning I spent a few hours in the office clearing away my old documents. I have tons of them: project papers, proposals, RFPs, whitepapers, notes, minutes-of-meeting--all the vestiges of the past.

When I left Singapore two years ago, I threw away a lot of my old stuff. But there were still many project files which I thought would be useful for me in the future. I shipped them all to Jakarta.

Now I realised that I had kept them because of sentimental reasons: I did not have the heart to "erase" all the hardwork that I had put in--days and nights slogging in my small HDB room, the cold nights in the office waiting for conference calls and the hurried proposals I wrote in strange hotel rooms in distant lands. Those papers were proof of those tumultuously exciting years that I had spent in the IT industry.

Today I threw them all away. It was like having a lobotomy, but I needed this cathartic experience. I wanted a fresh start.

All the hardwork that I had put in, all those years, will not disappear just because I threw away some yellowing piles of paper. My knowledge and experience is still with me. I am hopefully a better person because of everything that I had gone through.

We burden the soul by clinging to the weight of the past. I feel freer now that I have discarded their symbolic traces. I look forward to my new found freedom. It is that beautiful lightness of being all over again.

Friday, December 26, 2003

The Happiness of Hotels

The Happiness of Hotels

I can vegetate forever in my hotel room. For some reason, I feel very at home and happy in hotels. Some of my friends have problems sleeping the first few nights everytime they check into a hotel. I've never had that problem. Hotels--even the cheap ones--are always cozy and comfortable to me. I always sleep like a log.

I also know some people, especially women, who are afraid to stay in a hotel alone. I can understand that: hotel rooms are so impersonal, so claustrophobic--at times, one could feel a bit isolated from the rest of the world staying in one. The loneliness and fear can be quite unbearable.

Sometimes you also hear weird tales of unseen "forces" disturbing guests in hotel rooms. A male colleague of mind in Singapore who had such experiences before now never leaves home without his religious amulets. Even hotel workers at the hotel where I'm staying at tells me tales of noises in unoccupied rooms or water taps that open by itself. I find them amusing.

I've never had any such supernatural encounters before. Such things never even cross my mind whenever I check into a hotel. I only think of hotels as being abodes of privacy and comfort. Throughout my working life, I've stayed in many hotels before. Among the luxury ones, I love the Regent group of hotels the most. I've stayed in every one of their establishments in South East Asia--Bangkok, Jakarta, Singapore and even KL. The ones in Jakarta and Bangkok are my favourites.

To me a hotel room is my sanctuary in a strange foreign place. I remember staying in a motel in California for more than a month during my first trip to the States. I can't think of a happier time in my life. I spent a lot of time there reading, watching HBO and eating Chinese takeouts.

I've been calling a hotel my home here in Jakarta for the past two years. Leaving the place will be sad for me. But I am a nomad--I shouldn't be too attached to a place. Nomads always have to move on...

Thursday, December 25, 2003

The Dull IT Professional

The Dull IT Yuppie

Woke up to rain and wetness today. Jakarta city is quiet. I suppose people are still recovering from the night's Christmas revelry.

I remember I used to have a lot fun doing Christmas coundowns in pubs during the days when I was working in KL. Come to think of it, I haven't done any countdown celebrations--be it Christmas or New Year--for a very long time. Somehow these things don't interest you that much anymore when you grow older.

I've mentioned before, that I see aging as a process of transformation. It is strange that certain things only come with age. When you are young, you feel that you want to try everything and to enjoy life as much as possible; as you grow older, the things you used to consider as "pleasurable" lose some of their appeal to you. Enjoyment takes on a different meaning. You seek to find something deeper, longer lasting and more meaningful.

I mentioned yesterday about some of my "crazy" interests. There's however a more serious side to these leisure pursuits of mine: I want to constantly keep my mind active. The day I grow old is the day that I resign myself to pushing shopping carts in hypermarkets.

All my pursuits are nerdy ones. You'll never find me going scuba-diving or playing golf like what many of my friends do. I think these are fun activities too, but I have to prioritize. Outdoor activities to me means travelling to some foreign town, loitering in the streets, observing and eavesdropping on the locals. Adventure to me means exploring the grubby side of Jakarta and talking to occupants of rumah kos.

In the final analysis, I am just a middleclass bobo with bohemian pretensions--another dull IT yuppie who probably should be doing Christmas countdowns at the local pub.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Indonesian Bohemian

The Indonesian Bohemian

I've always tried to spend Christmas back in KL. Usually I'll be having drinks with my friends in downtown KL or Bangsar on Christmas eve. But looks like this year, I'll be stuck in Jakarta, trying to finish my work.

It's not too bad though, being "stuck" here. I think the town will be rather quiet and I have four days of public holidays ahead. Four days of complete, uninterrupted concentration on my work. After that I am a free man. Free to pursue some of my favourite subjects...

My colleague Aris asked me what will be my next interest after Sukarno. Aris is a Sundanese from Bandung and I had consulted him extensively about all the Sukarno-related places in the town before I went on my crazy Sukarno pilgrimage there a couple of weeks back. He was surprised that I even managed to visit the grave of Marhaen! But my Sukarno adventure is not done yet: I haven't visited his grave at Blitar, East Java; and I have not explored his former dwellings in Bengkulu, Yogjakarta and even Ende, Flores. Maybe I won't get a chance to do all that, but I'll definitely try.

I told Aris that the next subject that I might pursue is the poet Chairil Anwar (1922-1945). I had discovered his poems during my university years when by chance I bought an old 1960s edition of his anthology of poems, Kerikil Tadjam (Sharp Rocks) from a book sale. I didn't know who he was then but I thoroughly enjoyed all his poems. I have been a fan ever since and My Kerikil Tadjam book remains one of most treasured possessions. Too bad Chairil Anwar died young and did not leave a great body of work.

But his mark in Indonesian literature has been indelible: he is the icon of youthful rebellion, almost in the James Dean mould. His famous poem "Aku" is the anthem of the idealistic individual. A pioneer of the Angkatan 45 movement, he perhaps is the first bohemian writer of Indonesian literary scene. I still keep an a newspaper clipping of an article about Chairil Anwar, written by Salleh Ben Joned in his New Straits Times column, As I Please, published in the late 1980s.

All these years, the poems from Kerikil Tadjam kept lingering in my mind. Now, who do you think own the domain? Right now it points to this blog but I'm saving it for some future project...

You see, I have enough crazy obsessions to last me a lifetime! But for the next four days, I'll have to clear my mind of all such crazy thoughts and focus on my boring IT work. Poor me. To the rest of the world, Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Learning, Familiarity & Understanding

Learning, Familiarity & Understanding

It is often said that the best way to learn is to teach. I find that to be very true; in the course of my IT career, I often had to present to customers on topics that I wasn't very familiar with. I had to learn to master the subject in a short period of time and then talk about it with relative confidence. This forced me to learn very quickly and whatever I learnt through that difficult process remained with me forever.

To learn something well, the mind must always be seeking. We must have a goal in mind, an application, or a deep desire to understand. Many students who attend school do not see the relevance of what they are studying. As a result, very little is learnt in the process.

Learning is also difficult when there are too many preconceptions in mind. The old Zen saying about having to empty the cup of one's mind first is definitely true. Subjects like physics, mathematics and philosophy are fascinating to me because you often have to change your familiar view of the world before you could comprehend their concepts fully. And that is not easy. One cannot grasp them in one reading. It is a process that takes time; sometimes years and decades.

The impatient student would give up half-way, claiming that they do not have the aptitude or talent for the subject. That is the wrong attitude. They must first learn to familiarize themselves with the materials and not worry too much about understanding. Like what I alluded to in a previous blog entry, understanding starts from familiarity. Through the process of familiarisation, we begin to internalize difficult concepts; and suddenly, one day we realise that we actually understand what they meant.

This applies to human relationships too. To know someone well, we must get familiar with the person first. Only after years of interaction, can we claim to have understood a person. We cross the border from familiarity to understanding without us realising it most of the time. Familiarity and understanding are merely two ends of the same spectrum. Make sense, No? Well, start getting familiar with it first.

Monday, December 22, 2003

My Mindprint

My Mindprint

Many describe a blog as an online journal, even the recent ClickOnline show on BBC. To me that is only a partial description of what I want to achieve with my blog. There are also others who insist that "real" blogs are those that provide links to other websites, along with the writer's commentaries. That they insist, is the real value and purpose of weblogs--a gateway and filter to information.

I've mentioned in a previous entry that my blog entries are like daily prayers. I examine my thoughts for the day, reflect on the day's events and vow to do better tomorrow. At least the commitment to blog everyday is like one's commitment to pray daily. It is a discipline that perfects the soul. It is my daily self-motivation exercise. My blog is my humble exercise book.

Blogging to me is also an excuse for me to review movies, books and talk about things that interest me. Whenever I do so, my blog acts more like the traditional weblog--pointing readers to interesting sites for further information. To provide these links, I have to search through cyberspace and find out what I think are the best sources of information for the topics that I am discussing. The side-benefit of blogging is purposeful surfing.

There's also another psycho-analytical reason for me to blog. I want to see the inter-relationships and patterns between my thoughts. As I deposit my thoughts onto cyberspace everyday, and link them to external sites, I unconsciously create an "Extraspace" that links my inner world--my memories and thoughts--with information that exist out there in cyberspace. My blog acts like a portal to this combined Extraspace of mind and Internet.

A chunk of my mind now exists in cyberspace--my mindprint, if you will. My mind is intricately linked with the Cybermind, through this blog; in other words, the Internet has become an extension of my mind. The microcosm and the macrocosm has been seamlessly connected.

A blog is an going dialog between the writer and the reader and also between my external and inner selves. Today's blog is linked to a previous blog entry which also touched on how I view blogging. It is an on-going development of a theme. By linking these strands of thoughts together, I can detect patterns and tendencies in my thinking. I unravel my own thoughts in the process and evolve my thinking to the next level.

Through blogging, I watch my thoughts grow everyday, on the fertile soil of cyberspace.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Crossing the Poverty Line

Crossing the Poverty Line

I read a translation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras when I was a freshman at the university. The Yoga Sutras contain 196 aphorisms that neatly captures the science and philosophy of Yoga.

When I first read it, it was quite difficult to understand. Now after all these years, the concepts have become quite clear to me. I have an audio recording of Vivekananda's commentary on the Yoga Sutras and it is my favourite bedtime listening here in Jakarta.

During my university years, I read a lot on Eastern religions and philosophy. I think one can still detect many of these influences in my blog entries--especially those about the mind. Perhaps my rather ascetic lifestyle nowadays can also be attributed to them.

I went through many different phases in my reading life. At one time I was also deep into western philosophy. My first introduction to it was Bertrand Russell's famous book: A History of Western Philosophy--the paperback copy which I bought for 20 ringgit at the university bookstore. I remember at that time I had to decide whether to spend the money on the book or to join the class trip to Port Dickson; the choice was clear to me then.

I consider myself lucky that I don't have to make such choices now. Even though I am not rich, I can afford to buy any book that I choose to read. In fact I once told a former boss of mine that I crossed the poverty line the day I bought a book without looking at the price. The scarce commodity for me now is not money but time.

Over the years, I have resisted indulging in expensive hobbies that friends my age are into--golf, cars and diving. I remain a boring bookworm. Books are expensive but they are not as expensive as a golf club membership. I am not keen to acquire all the trappings of wealth--they bore me, utterly. As long as can afford to buy the books that I want to read, I'll always feel rich.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Kill Another Day

Kill Another Day

It looks like I'll be spending Christmas in Jakarta this year. I was back in KL a couple of weeks ago for Lebaran, so it does not make sense for me to go back again so soon. Furthermore I have so much work that I have to clear by Christmas.

Let's not talk about work, which is boring. Let's talk about movies. It's sad that I haven't had the opportunity to watch that many movies this year. The last one that I watched was The Matrix Revolutions back in KL. Since coming back to Jakarta I have not stepped foot into a cinema. I wanted to watch Kill Bill (which one of my friends say is a stupid movie) but I couldn't spare the time to do so. I am a big fan of director Quentin Tarantino; even if people say the movie is stupid, I'd still watch it. I don't care much about other people's opinion when it comes to movies.

I first watched Tarantino's Pulp Fiction in Hong Kong in 1995. That movie entertained and astounded me. Have been a great fan of Tarantino ever since. I like the way his characters are killed off in his movies without a big fuss (Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson and Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown)--no sentimental monologue or trite exchange of words over gunpoint before dying. Cool.

Tarantino is a big fan of Hong Kong kungfu and cop movies. He is also an admirer of Hong Kong auteur film-maker Wong Kar Wai--another one of my favourites. I must write an entire blog entry about Wong Kar Wai one day. There's so much to write about that I don't know where to start.

Found out from the 21 Cineplex website that Kill Bill is still playing in a couple of places including Block M Plaza and Atrium--two of my favourite malls. It is tempting indeed but unfortunately, I don't have the luxury this weekend to kill my time watching Kill Bill. I suppose I'll let Bill live, to die another day.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Tears in the Rain

Tears in the Rain

It has been raining daily here in Jakarta; this together with the on-going Busway project which effectively takes out two lanes from the already congested Sudirman road make traffic horrendous. I've been leaving the office early lately to avoid both. Moreover I want to be back in my room so that I can start doing my work at home earlier.

I am reminded of the bad working habits that I used to have in Singapore, like going to the office when people were just leaving, to work throughout the night. I used to work on most weekends too, which wasn't really healthy. But I had to make up for my lack of productivity on weekdays by working on Saturdays and Sundays. New recruits in the office would often ask me whether I was new, because they never saw me during office hours.

But those were heady days of the dot-com boom when there were virtually new people joining the company every week. We saw how the company lost its senses doing those boom times. We were once proud of being lean and mean, but the boom changed all that--we couldn't grow fast enough. Success ruined us.

We had a cause to fight for. We, the soldiers in the trenches, used to fight with our lives because we felt passionate for our cause. Alas, we lost all that during those boom years.

The rain in Jakarta makes me feel rather melancholy these days. For some reason I'm constantly reminded of that scene from one of my all-time favourite movies, Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott: In the climatic scene (delivered with Scott's usual dazzle of rain, smoke and lights), the fugitive replicant, played by Rutger Hauer, resigning to his inevitable death (replicants were genetically engineered to have a lifespan of only 4 years), delivers a sad monologue:
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain...

Outside my window, the rain is still pouring.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Choir Days

Choir Days

When I was primary school student, I was part of the choir team (we called it "kuayer"). No, I wasn't a particularly good singer, but I simply loved those traditional and patriotic Malay songs that they used to teach us to sing.

Today, many people feel slightly disgusted everytime they see Siti Nurhaliza go on TV to belt out one of those pro-government patriotic songs. I hate to admit it, but I kind of enjoy them, because it brings back good memories of my primary schooldays.

Until today I can still remember the lyrics of songs like Tanah Pusaka (...biar putih tulang jangan putih mata) and Sungai Pahang (...hilir-mudik, dan membawa berita). Our music teacher, the bubbly Mr Chin--ever-ready with his accordion--used to teach us traditional children's songs like Ikan Kekek, Enjit Enjit Semut and Burung Ketilang. I wonder if they still teach these songs now.

During the puasa month, we'd sing Selamat Hari Raya and when Chinese New Year was approaching he'd be teaching us to sing "Her Sin Nian" phonetically. And of course, we had to sing the school's song (Sekolahku) and the national anthem, Negaraku every Monday and Friday at the assembly.

So forgive me if I am such a patriot now, for I've been "brainwashed" ever since I was a kid. I have no regrets, because my soul was forged in Malaysia. No matter how far I go, I will always return to the land where the mighty Sungai Pahang flows: Tanah Pusakaku, Malaysia, where my soul will ultimately find its peace.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Visiting a Rumah Kos

Visiting a Rumah Kos

I've always wanted to see what a typical rumah kos (boarding house) in Jakarta looks like. Many young workers or students in this crowded metropolis live in a rumah kos. They occupy rooms--often cramped wooden partitions--costing between 100 to 300 thousand rupiah a month. Typically three to six rooms would share a common bathroom and toilet.

Yesterday I had a chance to visit one when Wiwik invited me to her rumah kos near Jalan Jaksa. Well, actually I had pestered her for a while to let me catch a glimpse of her rumah kos. Wiwik works as a sales rep at the hotel where I'm staying at. I've known her for the past two years that I've been staying there.

It was fun following her deep into one of those urban settlements sandwiched between modern high-rises in the city. There's a whole community that live their entire lives within these urban crevices. The drains are clogged with foul-smelling ooze, and the occasional motorcycle or car would squeeze it's way through the maze of narrow streets.

The air inside Wiwik's two-storey boarding house was very stuffy. There are probably around ten rooms, made from wooden partitions, each measuring around six times eight feet in size--enough space for a mattress on the floor a a small closet for clothes.

Though small, Wiwik's room is rather cozy. Located on the second floor, up a steep set of stairs, climbing up there was like entering into an attic. She has a table fan, TV set and a small portable CD/Radio player in her room. Photos of her, her family and ex-boyfriend adorn the wall. There's a common kitchen, washing area and bathroom at the end of the corridor.

Wiwik's boarding house is an all-girls one. But many rumah kos have mixed male and female occupants; and there are many interesting stories circulating around about the loose lifestyle of their young occupants.

I had an interesting time looking through her CD collection (Rosa, Nat King Cole) and books (Mistikus Islam--a translation of a book by Margaret Smith, attracted my attention). Wiwik loves to read and is also fond of Kahlil Gibran. Due to her many failed relationships in the past, Wiwik at 30, is still unmarried. But she is optimistic of finding a good man.

Wiwik seemed happy living in her tiny room at the rumah kos. There are many other girls like her in Jakarta. It is here, in stuffy rooms like this, behind the shadows of the gleaming highrises, in midst the tumult of traffic and the stench from the clogged canals that criss-cross the city, girls like Wiwik live and breed.

When I left her place, it was quite dark and I had a bit of difficulty finding my way out from the maze of tightly-packed dwellings. As I walked through the damp and narrow alleyways, I kept thinking of Wiwik in her attic-like room somewhere out there, reading Kahlil Gibran.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Beethoven's Birthday

Beethoven's Birthday?

When I was a standard six student (12 years old), I used to read Dewan Pelajar, an educational Malay magazine published by Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka for young students. I enjoyed playing its crossword puzzle and reading the short articles in there. Later as I was older I progressed to the more heavy Dewan Masyarakat and Dewan Sastera, being particularly fond of the latter.

I remember reading an issue of Dewan Pelajar which contained a calendar for December with pictures of famous historical personality corresponding to their birthdays. I was delighted to find out that the picture for December 16 was Ludvig Van Beethoven. As a kid then, I felt rather proud sharing the same birthday with the great German composer.

At that time my knowledge about Beethoven was scant and I wasn't very familiar with his music yet. But I thought his dishevelled hair and gruff demeanour looked pretty cool. I began to read up more about him, and paid particular attention to his compositions.

My earliest introduction to his music came from piano pieces which my neighbours used to practice daily. "Fur Elise" composed by Beethoven was a particularly popular piece. I was also lucky to be able to pick up a bit of piano skills later on myself and was quite fond of playing Beethoven's many Sonatinas.

However years later I was dismayed when I found out from an encyclopedia that his birthdate is actually 17 December 1770. Was Dewan Pelajar wrong? I did not share the same birthday with him after all!

I did not leave the matter to rest. When I was in the university, I dug up all the books I could about Beethoven from the library. At last the mystery cleared: Beethoven was actually baptized in the church on the 17th of December--there are church records to prove that. But that did not indicate that he was born on that day itself. The usual practice then was for babies to be baptized a day after they were born.

So in the end, no one knows for sure when exactly is Beethoven's birthday. In all probability it is 16th of December. The Dewan Pelajar I read when I was 12 wasn't exactly wrong after all!

It didn't really matter. Until today I've always assumed that Beethoven and I share some spiritual bond. In my CD collection are his 9 symphonies--considered a treasure of humanity--and his 32 piano sonatas. I even took the trouble to "read" the musical scores of his symphonies and sonatas to better appreciate them.

Beethoven is a great source of inspiration to me. His deafness--the greatest curse to befall a musician--did not stop him from composing some of his greatest works, including the famous 9th Symphony, also known as Ode to Joy. His music contains great technical innovations and deep sublime beauty. My life has been enriched, inspired and touched in so many ways by his life and works.

Long Live the music and memory of Beethoven!

Monday, December 15, 2003

The Blooming of the Mind

The Blooming of the Mind

I have been very busy for the past few days with one of my projects. Now that it is done, I have to concentrate on finishing the others. It is difficult to work when the mind is distracted. I take great pains to maintain my concentration; work produced when the mind is focussed is often of good quality.

Sometimes I suspect we all do not use a hundred percent of our brainpower whenever we are trying to do accomplish something that requires mental work. We often claim that we can work better with the TV on or with some music in the background. Well, it could be true that some reasonable amount of work could be accomplished in such conditions but then we could be using our brains at a very superficial level.

When we are fully concentrated, we are not aware of what's around us. If we are aware of the music, that means the mind is actually alternating between music and work. The effective throughput of the brain is halved. Or at least that's what I suspect.

Having some music or TV in the background makes working less of a lonely task. It becomes a problem when we allow the mind to wander too often to input that is less strenuous to the brain, such as music or TV, thus spending even less CPU time for real work.

I often have the TV or music on whenever I'm working in my room at night. But I know what I could produce is not 100% of what I am capable of. If I have complete silence, ideas would just spring up from the depths of my mind. An uncluttered mind naturally produce creative thought bubbles.

My mystical sense tells me that the mind is in essence creative. When loud external stimuli hits the brain, they dominate the vibrations in our minds, obscuring our awareness of creative thoughts that are constantly being emanated. We spend our time instead reacting to the rather pleasant stimuli.

If we quiesce the mind and listen to the voice inside, we could discover wondrous results. The concentrated mind unfolds its treasures like a blooming flower. And sweet ideas are then released from within, like pollen borne on the wind.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

A Sunday Sermon

A Sunday Sermon

Watching this year's Nobel prize winners for science being interviewed on the BBC by Nik Gowing, makes me feel nostalgic for my student days when science was my biggest passion.

I could never understand why some people consider science to be at odds with religion. To me, science itself is a religious pursuit; I have often seen it that way, even as a kid. The quest to understand Nature is the greatest adventure that Man could embark on. Science is just an expression of that yearning. Religious pursuits is another aspect of the same primal impulse.

Religion and science allow us to explore our connection with the universe. In science, we are always in awe with the mysteries of the cosmos. Underlying all phenomena in Nature are laws so simple and elegant, comprehending them is an intellectual intoxication equal to the divine ecstasy attained by a saint in deep meditation.

What cripples both science and religion is dogma. Dogma is a product of Man's ego. We think that we already know everything and refuse to consider other alternatives. If we could over come our intellectual pride and our holier-than-thou attitude, Man's material and spiritual progress will be a lot smoother and swifter.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

The Memory of Marhaen

The Memory of Marhaen

My fascination with Sukarno, sometimes borders on the extreme. Sukarno's autobiography, as told to American journalist, Cindy Adams and published in English in 1965 provides the best account of his life. It was later translated into Indonesian, as Bung Karno, Penyambung Lidah Rakyat. (Bung Karno, Mouthpiece of the People).

In the book, Sukarno narrated the famous incident when he first met the poor farmer Marhaen while cycling around South Bandung one day. Sukarno then was still a student at the Dutch Technical High School (forerunner of the now famous Institut Teknologi Bandung, ITB).

A conversation ensued between Sukarno and Marhaen who was then toiling on his small plot of land. Sukarno found out that Marhaen and his family survived on what he could grow on that tiny piece of land that he himself owned. Everything that Marhaen used was his own. He made his own living using his own tools, labour and land.

That encounter with Marhaen made Sukarno realise that the typical common Indonesian is unlike Marx's proletarian whose labour were exploited by capitalists who own the means of production. Marhaen owned everything himself but yet he was still poor.

Sukarno then formulated his own brand of political ideology based on this piece of inspiration and called it "Marhaenism". Over the decades scholars have argued over the academic significance of Sukarno's Marhaenism to the existing body of political ideology. But Sukarno himself emphasized more on symbolic value of Marhaen as representative of the average common Indonesian, struggling to eke out a living under Dutch colonialism.

Most Indonesians today are somewhat familiar with Marhaen and its connection to Sukarno. Not many however know that Marhaen lived and died in obscurity in 1943 and his grave is located at Kampung Cipagalo south of Bandung.

Based on an old Kompas newspaper report, I managed to trace the grave. There I talked to one of Marhaen's grandaughters, Ibu Ayit and his great-grandson Pak Maman. Their ramshackle home and Marhaen's grave are located on the edge of the new middleclass housing complex of Nusa Tunggal Indah. The developer of the estate was kind enough to construct a proper shed to preserve the historic remains of Marhaen and his wife. An inscription stone at the head of the grave carries the following words:
(Loosely translated: Here is the final resting place of Marhaen who died in 1943. Marhaen is the inspiration for Sukarno, the golden bridge that led to the gates of the nation's independence. Bung Karno, Mouthpiece of the People).

Pak Maman laments that the government has yet to do anything to help preserve this historic monument even though the authenticity of this grave was verified in the 1980s. I asked Pak Maman, what he does for a living; he replied that he was jobless.

I suppose nothing much has changed in the lives of these poor rural folks since the days of Sukarno. It looks like the fourth generation of Marhaen still lives in poverty.

On my way back to the city center, the traffic was bad. I took the time to observe the vagrants, beggars and street vendors who thronged the sidewalks along the way. And everywhere I looked, I saw Marhaens.

Friday, December 12, 2003

The Indomitable Inggit

The Indomitable Inggit

Not many people know that the term "ringgit" was popularly used to refer to the two-and-a-half rupiah (formerly two-and-half gulden) coin here in Indonesia some time ago. I wrote about it in a previous blog entry.

Because of inflation in the 60s and 70s, small denominations in single digits did not have practical value anymore, and the term ringgit together with the two-and-half-rupiah coin went out of fashion. It is a good thing that it is no longer used or it'll be confused with the Malaysian ringgit--like how the "dollar" is sometimes (Singapore dollars, US dollars or Australian dollars?).

Most people in Indonesia know about Ibu Inggit as the wife of Sukarno before he married Fatmawati (mother of the present President Megawati). But not many know that Ibu Inggit, was nicknamed "Si Ringgit" as a child. She was given the nickname because she was very fond of going to the market as a kid and was often given a ringgit coin to buy things. The name stuck, and evolved from "Si Ringgit" to "Inggit". Sukarno, used to call her affectionately by the name "Engget".

The love story between Sukarno and Inggit is narrated by R.H. Ramadhan--in the voice of Inggit--in the book "Kuantar Ke Gerbang", and is generally considered to be Ibu Inggit's autobiography. When Sukarno first met Ibu Inggit in Bandung, she was 15 years older than him and was already married to Haji Sanusi, good friend of Sukarno's political mentor, Cokroaminoto. Sukarno himself, at 20 years of age, was already married to Cokroaminoto's daughter, Siti Oetari, out of a sense of obbligation.

But both these marriages were unhappy ones. The two couples were to divorce, paving the way for Sukarno and Inggit to be married in 1923. Inggit was instrumental in providing the emotional support for Sukarno during the early years of his struggle against the Dutch, even surviving on her own by making and selling jamu during his years of imprisonment in Banceuy and Sukamiskin. When he was exiled to Ende, Flores and later Bengkulu in Sumatera, Inggit followed him.

Sukarno divorced Inggit after he returned from his exile from Bengkulu because she couldn't bear him a child and he wanted to take the young Fatmawati as his second wife.

Sukarno was actually reluctant to divorce Inggit but she was adamant not to share husband with another woman. After their divorce, she returned to her life in Bandung where she continued producing her famous homemade jamu.

Sukarno was later to marry a couple more times; and his political life as President of Indonesia turned out to be a turbulent one. He died in 1970, a lonely man, stripped of all powers by Suharto's New Order regime.

Ibu Inggit managed to outlive Sukarno: she died in 1984. The house where she lived in Bandung still stands at No 8, Jalan Ciateul, now renamed Jalan Inggit Garnasih, in her honour--a fitting and much belated tribute to a strong and highly admirable woman.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Moving Thoughts

Moving Thoughts

Before I started blogging regularly, I used to jot my thoughts down manually on paper notebooks. These notes were taken everywhere--on the train, plane or sometimes sitting in a cafe at some strange city.

Flipping through my notebooks today, I noticed something that I wrote while I was travelling on board the night train to Singapore:
Why should we ever be stationary? Why can't we be moving and working at the same time, all the time? Killing two birds with one stone in the process? Many animals are migratory; our ancestors and many tribes today are nomads. This nomadic instinct is something primal, something hardwired in our genes...
I've also written in an previous blog entry that it is probably normal for us to be nomadic. The human mind yearns for fresh sights all the time. We probably have suppressed this instinct by using TV as a poor substitute.

Why can't we be travelling everytime we go to bed and wake up fresh at a different location in the morning, meeting new people? At the time when I was writing those words, I was having this wild idea that, maybe, I could just sleep on the KL-Singapore-KL train every night, and alternate between the KL and Singapore office everyday! It'll probably cost less than renting an apartment in Singapore. Well, it's just one of my many wild thoughts. Probably worth a thought, no?

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The Beauty of Chaos

The Beauty of Chaos

When I was working in Singapore, I telecommuted most of the time. I had a good home ADSL connection--which in fact was faster than the Internet connection that I got in the office. I was renting a small HDB room; most of the days which I wasn't travelling were spent happily working and surfing in my tiny room.

I was quite happy in Singapore because it is convenient location to operate from, if you are a regional traveller and a hassle-free place to live in. Singapore is the epitome of law, order and efficiency. I had no complains when I was living there. Only problem was I couldn't identify with the people. For some reason I could never see myself as a PR or citizen of Singapore.

Good thing about living in Singapore is, if one misses the "real" life--the chaos and and the tang of humanity--one could easily hop across the causeway to Johor Bahru (JB) in Malaysia. There are many cheap buses that depart every half-hour from Queen Street. Occasionally I would take the bus to JB to catch the Senandung Malam train from there because it costs almost half the price of a Singapore-KL trip starting from Tanjung Pagar. But actually for me, it was more for the opportunity to loiter around JB town for a while before I hop on my train to KL.

Here in Jakarta, chaos is everywhere. But it is beautiful chaos. Sometimes walking along Jalan Sabang at night, I feel like I'm in the middle of a Ridley Scott set; I would stand there and marvel at the smoky, neonlit river of people, bajajs, buses and cars like it is some fanciful Matrix-like illusion.

Many years back when I was still working in Singapore, a colleague asked me if I would be willing to live in Jakarta; I answered yes without hesitation. My colleague, a Singaporeanized Malaysian, could not understand why. Why would a yuppie choose to live in a city filled with slums and beggars?

But I love Jakarta precisely because it is not a city of yuppies. And surprisingly the chaos here does not irritate me so much--not even the traffic jams. You only get irritated when you are in a hurry. Here, things happen, or come to fruition in their own time. Yuppies will never understand that, for these upwardly mobile creatures with their cellphones and PDAs are forever in a hurry.

Living in Jakarta among Indonesians taught me a lot about patience, courtesy and humility. These are virtues that one could never learn in a yuppie city like Singapore or even KL. And I am eternally grateful to Jakarta for that.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

The Best Hiding Place in Jakarta

The Best Hiding Place in Jakarta

Many of my married friends here in Jakarta indulge in extra-marital affairs. As a bachelor, I am privy to the secret lives of my married male friends. They often share interesting tales of their trysts with me. But of course, I will not be exposing any of their infidelities here! There's always a secret brotherhood among men and I assume women have the same kind of understanding among themselves too.

One major problem for adulterous men is finding a place to meet their lovers without being spotted by people they know. Everyone has their favourite cheap hotels in town where they would normally conduct their secret rendezvous: Hotel Menteng, Ibis Slipi and Travel Hotel are some of the popular places. Some of them even asked me if they could use my hotel room when I'm not in town! But thank God I have successfully dodged such requests so far.

The cheap hotels that I've mentioned are also quite well-known. These men run the risk of bumping into other adulterous acquaintances there. When that happens, they have to rely on the that secret pact between men, typically reinforced in such awkward situations with a sly and knowing smile. Of course they are other cheaper love motels in town that even offer hourly rates; but still the risk of being seen is always there.

Where then is the best hiding place for lovers in Jakarta? Bogor? Puncak? Or maybe even Bandung? But out-of-town places are so awfully inconvenient for an afternoon quickie. The best place is one that is cheap, convenient and safe from prying eyes.

Being the devil I am, I once suggested to my friend that the most "obvious" place is the best hiding place. (read Edgar Allan Poe's classic C. Auguste Dupin short-story, The Purloined Letter). I told him that the best place in town is Hotel Indonesia, located right in the center of Jakarta, in front of the famous Welcome Statue fountain--the busiest roundabout in the city. Hotel Indonesia is affectionately known to the locals as "HI", pronounced "hah-ee".

Why is it the best hiding place? This hotel used to be the pride of Sukarno: Opened in the 60s, it was the first air-conditioned international-class hotel built in Jakarta--the setting of many pivotal scenes in Christopher Koch's Year of Living Dangerously, likened by the author to a luxury liner floating in a sea of poverty. But now it is considered run-down, out-dated and very unstylish--and old man's place. The rich and the hip frequents more opulent places like Grand Hyatt, Marriott, Hotel Dharmawangsa or the Regent. Only lowly provincial civil servants and delegates of political party conferences are forced to stay at HI--because it is cheap and government-owned. No one goes to Hotel Indonesia anymore--except for Sukarno freaks like me. (In fact, I once almost decided to stay there long-term, but that is another story).

Surprisingly my friend thought it a very good idea and said he would try using HI for his next tryst. I will try to catch up with him next time to see if my theory proves correct!

Monday, December 08, 2003

My Addiction

My Addiction

Went to the QBWorld bookstore at Jalan Sunda yesterday and saw two books that I wanted to buy: Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Indonesia: Peoples and Histories by Jean Galman Taylor. Surprisingly I managed to resist the urge to do so.

Given my incurable addiction to books, it is a rarity for me to come out from a bookstore empty-handed. It forced me to adopted a rather brutal way of controlling my irresistible urge to buy books--by not stepping into a bookstore at all. But yesterday, I wanted to test my willpower by purposely walking into a bookstore, and I succeeded magnificent, in resisting its many allures.

Maybe I am being morbidly harsh on myself. Everyone indulges in something; we need to reward ourselves sometimes by buying the things that we like. And I suppose being addicted to books is not as bad as having a craving for cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, or even food. At most it burns a big hole in my wallet. So what. I hardly spend money on anything else.

I suppose I am just wary of succumbing to immediate pleasures. Impulse buying is a fun thing--we see what we like and the next thing we know, we already own it. Instant gratification.

We all know what gives us immediate pleasure--we want to stop working on that difficult proposal and go surf the Net, chat with our friends, send an SMS, enjoy a cup of coffee or switch on the TV. That is the root of procrastination. We procrastinate because we do not want to take the pain now and enjoy the long-term pleasure. Instead, we choose instant pleasure and long-term pain.

Even though there is no great harm in buying books on the impulse, the act of succumbing to the immediate temptation is to me a damaging one in the long term. Everytime we satiate our desire, we give strength to it and we set ourselves up for a tougher battle the next time round. That's how addictions are formed.

I am already a book addict. This one addiction has already consumed my entire life. I don't need more.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Something Out of Nothing

Something Out of Nothing

Woke up late the past two days. I have to make sure that I make up extra early tomorrow morning for my Monday appointment.

It is good to be an early riser but it is something that I have not been able to do successfully all these years. I still have a habit of sleeping after midnight; and unfortunately I cannot do without 8 hours of sleep. I envy people who manage with four or five hours of sleep. While working on a project earlier this year in KL, I made do with only three four hours of sleep for a whole week. But I felt like a zombie throughout the entire time.

I suppose I have to stick to the formula of 8 hours sleep, 8 hours leisure and 8 hours work and try to make my 8 hours of work really count by increasing my efficiency and productivity. Maybe sometimes I impose too harsh a discipline on myself. Why can't I just relax, let go and enjoy life?

But I suppose everyone enjoys life in their own different ways. I used to enjoy clubbing with my friends a lot. Now I consider it a rather tiring affair. Our perception of things changes as we grow older. Now just using time fruitfully gives me great pleasure. It has become an end in itself. But what are the types of activities that I consider fruitful?

To be able to create something out of nothing, to make things happen, to influence lives; to be able to evolve intellectually and spiritually and to practise your God-given gifts---these are all fruitful activities. When we are born we have so much potential energy. But like coiled springs the energy is finite--it can either be wasted as heat or it can be converted into useful work.

Even seemingly mundane activities can be fruitful ones sometimes: A meeting with a friend, a report you have to write, a walk in the park. At the end of every activity, I always ask myself: What have I learnt from this activity?

I always learn something from every blog entry that I write. Every word that I type, every sentence and thought that emerges from my head is something created out of nothing. Some amount of my energy has been released into cyberspace. It now speaks in your mind (Hello!). And once released, they cannot be retracted. My world, your world has forever changed.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

My Cell

My Cell

Happy to see the bellboys Diki and Iqbal this morning. I'm back to my usual weekend routine of checking the news first thing in the morning at the cybercafe. I finally managed to catch up on my sleep last night but It'll be another weekend of work for me.

I'm trying to change my blogging pattern lately--writing my daily entries late in the evening on weekdays instead of lunchtime. On weekends, it'll remain as my first activity in the morning. I'm quite confident of being able to blog daily when I'm in Jakarta; in KL, it's a different story because my schedule is often very hectic and this is not helped by the vast distances I often have to travel.

Living in Central Jakarta is great. I only need less than 10 minutes to arrive at my office. And here at my neighbourhood of Jalan Wahid Hasyim, the mall, cineplex, bookstore and restaurants (even Hard Rock Cafe) are all within walking distance from my hotel. These are some of the reasons why I did not bother to move to a proper apartment all through my two years in Jakarta.

I did stay for a couple of weeks initially at the Aston service apartments--which is actually walking distance from my office. But it is a bit too expensive for my budget. Puri Casablanca apartments near the Park Lane hotel is also a popular choice because it is cheap and located near the Golden Triangle area of Jalan Sudirman, Gatot Subroto and Rasuna Said. I checked out the place earlier last year but didn't really like it because it is not located within walking distance to any eating places.

Some people dislike staying in hotels because there's no privacy--all your movements are known to the hotel staff. Being confined within a small room can sometimes be a bit lonely and depressing too. One of my expatriate colleagues moved out from the same hotel because of that. I have no such problems because I am used to living alone in small rooms since my student days. And during my years of travelling across the region, I actually did a lot of my work on the road from hotels.

I look forward to doing some productive work today in my hotel room. Sukarno wrote his famous speech "Indonesia Menggugat" from his small prison cell in Banceuy, Bandung, on top of his urinal box! I should consider myself very lucky to have a room with a proper desk, attached bathroom, TV, Queen-sized bed and air-conditioning to work in. I have absolutely no excuse not to be more productive.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Inspiring Iranians

Inspiring Iranians

Friday is a time for people to stock up their supply of pirated DVDs/VCDs for the weekend. Watching DVDs have become the favourite weekend activity for most people these days. It has even become a necessity: Our ever-restless minds hunger for some kind of "screensaver" to fill up its CPU time, as if a single moment of silence is something dreadfully unthinkable. Press the play button, and we immediately enter a coma-like stupor in front of the idiot box for at least two hours. Bootleg DVDs have become the drug of the twenty-first century.

I look forward to go back to my regular Jakarta weekend routine after spending the last one in KL. I have to get accustomed to the rhythm of Jakarta living again. I still have a couple DVDs and VCDs which I haven't found the time to watch yet: the award-winnning Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan; and two Iranian movies: The Mirror and The Circle, both by acclaimed director Jafar Panahi.

I am very impressed with the Iranian movie-makers. They make intriguing movies from very simple subjects without having to resort to mindless violence and glitzy special effects. Among the few that I have watched before--Children of Heaven, Baran, Colour of Paradise (all written and directed by Majid Majidi) and The White Balloon (Jafar Panahi)--are such astounding gems of movie-making.

There's a Liverpool-Newscatle football match coming up on Saturday; it could turn out to be another heartbreaking affair for me if Liverpool loses. Maybe I should spend my time watching my Iranian movies instead. That way I can be assured of another inspiring and enlightening experience instead of a broken heart. The pain of Liverpool losing again will be too difficult to bear over the weekend. Yes, I think I'll need my mind-expanding drugs--made in Iran.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

My Matrix

My Matrix

Jakarta city still feels a bit empty after the Lebaran holidays. Traffic is relatively light. Maybe it is because there are many people who are still not back from their kampungs or holiday destinations yet.

The theatres here are just showing The Matrix Revolutions--which I managed to catch when I was back in KL last week. I watched Matrix Reloaded at least three times in the cinema but Revolutions did not impress me as much. I am not compelled to watch it again.

The first two parts of the Matrix trilogy to me was more fun because more of the action took place inside the Matrix, whereas Revolutions is set mostly in Zion and Machine City. To me, the key fascination with this trilogy is the world of the Matrix. The Zion scenes look like it's shot in some abandoned Star Wars set, with extras who could easily have walked into either film without a change of costumes.

My movie-going experience this year hasn't been that interesting; I didn't watch as many movies as I used to. I keep a list of all the movies I've seen in my PDA--it only totalled up to a miserable 24 for this year. The only memorable movies I could find from the list is Monster's Ball, which won Halle Berry the Best Actress Oscar in 2002 and The Hours (which won Nicole Kidman the same award the following year).

I also enjoyed The Quiet American, starring Michael Caine. Any movie that has Christopher Doyle as cinematographer is not to be missed. All the movies he did together with Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar Wai are among my personal favourites. It is amazing that I have not even started raving about Wong Kar Wai's movies in my blog yet. I guess I'll save that for some future posting, because there's so much to write about.

Watching a movie to me is as important and as educational as reading a book. "Watching" is not an accurate word to describe the activity; as I've mentioned in a previous posting, movie is an experience. A good movie creates a world where you want to reenter again and again--like the Matrix.

Scenes from my favourite movies are always replaying themselves in my head. I consider them a legitimate part of my living experience and they help shape my view on life.

Like the people trapped in the world of the Matrix, sometimes I cannot distinguish illusion from reality: Everything mingles and inter-affect one another in the kaleidoscopic world of my mind. It is from this synthesis of images, ideas and emotions from books, movies and real-life experiences that that I create my world.

I don't deny it could be a warped vision of the world--my very own Matrix. But then again, all of us carry within our heads, our own personal Matrices.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Crossing the Thin Red Line

Crossing the Thin Red Line

I admire the World War II movie The Thin Red Line directed by Terence Malick, which I watched for the first at the Junction 8 cineplex in Bishan, Singapore, couple of years back. The movie is interesting on many levels. First of all, Terence Malick is a highly acclaimed director whose previous works like Days of Heaven and Badlands won him many awards. He has also not done that many movies in his career; so every movie that he directs is of noted quality. The Thin Red Line was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture in 1999.

The movie attracted interest too because there were so many big names who took up very small cameo-like roles in it-- names like John Travolta, George Clooney, Sean Penn, Ben Chaplin and John Cusack. Some viewers will feel even a bit cheated to find George Clooney appearing very briefly only in the last 5 minutes of the movie. At least he did better than Mickey Rourke, who played a part that was completely edited out from the final version!

The cinematography (by John Toll) of Thin Red Line is quite breath-taking and the soundtrack (Hans Zimmer), evocatively haunting. It is not the type of war movie that sucks you realistically into the action like Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, but one that induces a meditative state of mind in the audience (well, a bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey, one could say). It is not a movie that's arty and boring either because the battle scenes are quite engrossing and very well-crafted.

The director indulges in some very poetic reflection about the relationship between Man and Nature, on the inevitability and futility of war and the hopes and fears of soldiers in battle, through voiceover narrations and flashbacks.

With the battles taking place on the beautiful Pacific island of Guadacanal, we are treated to images of the hellish horrors of war set side-by-side with paradisiacal vistas of pristine jungles and beaches.

We are forced to ask ourselves the question: Which is the true nature of Man? Is it the primitive but peaceful lives of the native Melanesians or the brutality of the soldiers who suddenly encroach on their world with heavy guns and ships to slaughter each other like animals? Or perhaps our wars are just natural consequences of the Darwinian struggle for survival that is perpetually being played out in nature?

"Look at this jungle. Look at those vines, the way they twine around, swallowing everything. Nature's cruel...", comments the ruthless Colonel Gordon Tall, played by Nick Nolte.

I'm suddenly writing about this movie today because I have been thinking about the movie's key character, Private Witt, played by Jim Caviezel. Witt is a soldier who risks court-martial for going AWOL to live happily among the natives on the island. Though a reluctant soldier, in the end, he still fought valiantly until his dying breath.

I feel like I've gone AWOL in Jakarta these past two years. There's still unfinished work to be done. Now I have to cross that Thin Red Line again.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The Buccaneer's Lair

The Buccaneer's Lair

Very rarely do I blog from my hotel room in Jakarta but today my favourite cybercafe is full, so I decided to type my entry offline on my notebook PC and make a more expensive dialup connection to Telkomnet Instan from my room to post it.

It feels good to be back among my collection of Indonesian books here in my room and the familiar electronic jingle of the BBC channel playing in the background. BBC is my main source of international news in Jakarta. Throughout my entire two years in Jakarta, my typical morning here is to wake to news on the BBC of another suicide bomber blowing himself up in some cafe or bus-stop in Israel. Not a very healthy breakfast for me, I must say.

When I was in Singapore, I listened to the BBC on radio daily (because I didn't have a TV), sometimes leaving it on all night. There the BBC is broadcasted in FM. Ocassionally I would also watch Channel News Asia streamed live through my ultra-fast Singtel Magix ADSL connection.

My hotel in Jakarta is one of those patriotic hotels which heeded the government's advice to "boycott" the CNN because of their biased and negative reporting about Indonesia. They only provide BBC as the English news channel--which is alright with me as I prefer the BBC because they are less prone to sensationalism. Besides the BBC, I only watch the ocassional soccer match on ESPN. Unfortunately this has become quite a heartbreaking experience these days because the team I supported since I was a kid, Liverpool, has been losing very often lately.

So it looks like, I'm back to my familiar surrounding in Jakarta--in my buccaneer's lair. And I feel really good after a quick supper of Indomie at the warung outside. I also bought my usual supply of apples, oranges and red wine from Sarinah just now. So I am well-provisioned to tackle all the work that I have to slog through this month. To quote Longfellow, it is time to "singe the beard of the King of Spain, And capture another Dean of Jaen, And sell him in Algiers."

Monday, December 01, 2003

Seismography of the Mind

Seismography of the Mind

I want to submit this blog entry before I leave for Jakarta tomorrow afternoon. As usual, there's never enough time for me to meet everyone that I want to meet in KL. All that driving from one end of the city to the other also leaves me thoroughly exhausted at the end of the day.

At night, I reflect back on the day's events, and reassess all my words and actions. Thinking is always clearer when one writes. This is one of the reasons why I also keep a handwritten journal besides this blog.

The act of taking the pen for a walk, soothes the mind. It is like watching the residual echoes of the mind subside--a seismograph recording the fading traces of an earthquake.

Your handwriting helps you trace out the impulses of the mind. You connect dots (or thought bubbles) together and you see a pattern. Reasoning then becomes more objective. The essence of your reasoning is captured in the very heat of the moment--frozen in your frantic scribbles. Subsequent rereading of the entry will give you a chance to see things in a completely different light, minus the turmoil of emotions that often cloud a troubled mind.

I can think better in Jakarta because my life there is more orderly. Here in KL, my karmic connections are more complex. It takes greater skill to resolve; it demands a subtlety of the mind.

Hopefully, tomorrow I will reread this entry when I get to blog again in Jakarta. And most likely I will be at my favourite cybercafe beside HRC. I will be writing from a completely different world. I'll probably wonder what kind of esoteric nonsense am I writing about today!

Sunday, November 30, 2003

The Book of Life

The Book of Life

When I was a fresh graduate working in Penang, I used to miss KL. I missed the nightlife, my circle of friends and the convenience of suburban PJ. Penang to me was one chaotic mess of a city. Perhaps I was too young and ignorant then to appreciate the many charms of the island state.

Jakarta, in comparison is a much bigger mess; but surprisingly, at this point in my life, I'd rather choose Jakarta over KL as a place to live. I've raved a lot about Jakarta and have also given up trying to give rational explanations to justify my liking for this city, comparing it instead to the state of being in love. It could be due to certain prejudices of mine or it could be a reaction against certain things that I dislike about KL. I cannot and will not pin it down.

Leaving a place can sometimes be as painful as breaking up a relationship. It feels like a part of you has been yanked away, leaving a certain vacuum inside the soul. I know I will have to leave Jakarta someday, and I know I will do so with deep regret. Until that day comes, I will treat every day I have in Jakarta with a sense of gratitude.

These days I also look back on my time in Penang with great fondness. Being my first job, I learnt a lot professionally: My experience there soon led me to a career in IT--one which I'm still engaged with in a love-hate relationship. On a business trip to Sulewesi earlier this year, I stayed at the city of Makassar: There, the narrow streets, the Chinese shophouses and the hawkers by the seafront reminded me a lot of Penang and brought back many pleasant memories.

Penang was the first chapter of my working life. My second chapter was set in PJ and KL. I had made a decision to come back to KL because I studied here and had always thought KL to be the place where I'd make my living. I felt like I could finally could embark on my "real" life.

Those years in KL were intense years, filled with emotionally and professional challenges-- it was an exhilarating roller-coaster ride. It was then that I developed the core group of friends which I still keep until now. We all made mistakes and grew up together during those years. But certain unexpected turns in my career soon led me to open a new chapter of my life in Singapore.

Thinking back, Singapore was like my sanctuary. I was happy being based there because KL was still close enough for me to come back as often as I wished. Life in Singapore was quite blissful and I got to travel a lot across the region as part of my job. Those were good years and I had a chance to rectify and correct some of the bad habits I had acquired in KL. Being outside the country also gave me a better perspective of my life and I was able to reflect back on my time in Penang and KL with greater clarity and insight.

But Singapore brought me to a point in my career where I developed a certain fatigue towards the IT industry. It was to an extent caused by the sheer madness of the dotcom boom and all its excesses. The euphoria and the ultimate emptiness of the entire affair left me drained and disillusioned.

Jakarta gave me an opportunity to open up another chapter in my life. Again, distance and separation from my previous existence brought a certain clarity to my mind. I am now able to see what's really important in my life and where my future really lies. I've broadened my circle of friends and contacts tremendously and have found new interests here to pursue. Jakarta has been good to me.

I know the book of my life is still being continuously written; more chapters will open up. But when will the present chapter come to a close? Only time will tell. And I shall turn the pages slowly, one at a time.

Saturday, November 29, 2003

The Force-field of Friendship

The Force-field of Friendship

Wedding dinners can be fun sometimes because they are often a reunion for old friends. It is a pity that we cannot keep in touch with our friends more often as we are too tied up with work and everyday preoccupations.

Despite being out of the country for many years, I try my best to remain in close touch with many of my friends in KL. I've always made the effort to call them up whenever I'm in town. Tonight I got to meet many of them at a wedding dinner and we had a great time catching up.

Our circle of friends is like the solar system. The gravitational pull of planets affect one another in a complex many-body system. Among friends, we live within each other's force-field, affecting one another in very intimate ways. All our words and actions reverberate across our web of relationships; sometimes they enhance ties, sometimes they weaken them.

Living in the world and having friends means you entangle yourself with each other's karma. We suffer each other's sorrows and revel in each other's joys. The effect of all our actions and reactions within this field of karma moulds and drives our soul towards higher levels of perfection. This web of relationships also acts as a safety net to help catch us when we fall, making sure we are never alone when we are in need.

All souls are imperfect and unstable by nature. By ourselves, it is very difficult for us to achieve stability. But together in a community of friends, we buffer each another's mistakes and create a collective system that is self-correcting and self-healing. It is a vast power grid of strength and energy that we could always tap into.

True friendship is a force field that binds and nurtures. May this Force be with us, always.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Car-less City

Car-less City

I am not fond of driving, neither am I very knowlegeable about cars. Unfortunately when I'm back in KL, I am forced to drive a lot. I still haven't figured out how to live without a car here but I vow to succeed someday.

I've been driving in KL since my unversity days and I've had enough of it. Driving is an activity that drains me physically and mentally. The past six years working outside Malaysia have been happy ones for me because I never had to drive. It was the major reason why my life in Singapore was surprisingly a pleasant one. In Jakarta, the ubiquity of taxis of all kinds, bajajs and ojeks make transportation within the city quite a breeze. I never thought of needing my own car.

I hope with the combined infrastructure of the Monorail, Putra, Star, ERL and the KTM Komuter, one could minimize a lot of unnecessary driving in KL. Trains are the most natural form of transport for people; I see them as "horizontal lifts"--put them in a box and move them in bulk from point A to point B.

The car has become an unfortunate necessity of urban living and we city folks spend so much time in it. Because of that the car has become a badge of pride and a reflection of one's status--our public faces. This metal extension of the body is also a subconscious indicator of the size of the ego; and for men, a phallic symbol.

We often read complaints about rude and reckless Malaysian drivers. It is strange that people associate so much importance to the type of car they drive but do not also demand the same exacting standards in their road manners.

I am not a Luddite but my vision of a futuristic city is one that is free from cars. If cars are needed at all, they should be disposable or public--no one should be owning them. There could be a system where public cars are made available either free or for a small fee, like luggage trolleys at airports: Use and discard.

So much of city planning goes into building better roads, creating more parking spaces and improving traffic flow. We need to rethink our paradigm: Cities should designed for people, not for cars. A car-less city is a caring city.

Thursday, November 27, 2003

Night Trains

Night Trains

For many years, I used to take the shuttle flights to commute at least once a month between Singapore and KL. But during my last year working in Singapore, I switched to taking the KTM train service between the Lion City and KL. It was great fun.

I particularly enjoyed taking the night train, Senandung Malam from Singapore to KL and vice-versa. From Singapore, the journey starts at 10pm and the train lumbers through the night, arriving at Sentral, KL at 6.30 early in the morning. If you get a sleeping berth, you get to go to bed at ten and wake up in KL when the city is just stirring and people are just going to work. No time is wasted, even though it is an eight-hour long journey.

I would normally take the lower berth, and with my portable reading light, I'd sink into a good read. Of course, Theroux is the best companion. At certain stretches of the journey, the train would rumble on pretty swiftly and the compartment would become too shaky for reading to be comfortable; it would then be time for me to switch on my Walkman and listen to an audiobook--usually poetry. I would fall asleep with the soothing verses of Yeats, Hardy and Rupert Brooke murmuring in my ears.

Every now and then I'd be awaken by the clank of the train stopping at strange places with names like Mengkibol or Batang Benar, shrouded in the eerie glow of lights from the station and engulfed in the cacophony of nocturnal insects. Arriving at KL Sentral is always a very pleasant experience--one is enlivened by the cool spanking newness of the place and from there it is so convenient and easy to hop on to the KTM Komuter or Putra LRT to your final stop in the Klang Valley.

On my return journey back to Singapore, I used to enjoy taking trains all the way from my home in Subang Jaya to my place then in Bishan, Singapore. I'd take the KTM Komuter from Subang to Sentral at Brickfields and then jump into bed on the night train and allow myself to be teleported to the KTM station at Tanjung Pagar, Singapore. From there I would take a ten minute walk to the Tanjung Pagar MRT station and ride the subway to the Bishan station.

How I miss those KTM rail journeys to and from Singapore: the blur of nightscape whizzing past my window, the bare cozy comforts of my sleeping berth and the slow chug-chug lullaby of the locomotive--ah, I could sleep forever on those night trains.

My Natural Habitat

My Natural Habitat

I knew it would be difficult for me to blog consistently while I'm in KL. I had managed to blog daily since June, without fail, until yesterday--Wednesday, 26th November. Even though it is already Thursday morning, I consider this to be yesterday's entry, as I haven't gone to bed yet for the day.

My last trip home to KL was almost 3 month back. This time I carried a suitcase of books home, because my hotel room in Jakarta is getting a bit cluttered, even though I tried hard to minimize my posessions. I still have a huge stack of books which I will have to slowly hand-carry back to KL over a couple of trips; and hopefully I will not accumulate any new ones for some time.

Living a simple life is easier in Jakarta; it is much tougher to do so in KL. Like Singapore, KL is a consumer society. You are constantly bombarded with glitzy advertisements and snazzy billboards, touting the latest cellphones and luxury cars. Temptations are everywhere.

In Jakarta I avoided the middle-class places: I never visit the bule watering holes in Kemang or shop at up-market malls like Plaza Senayan. I have never even gone for a movie at the popular Planet Hollywood cineplex. Somehow I feel more comfortable in places like Atrium, TIM, Roxy Mas or Kota. But then again I have the luxury to do so because I am an outsider: I am just a mad adventure tourist who considers it perversely romantic to wallow in the grubby side of Jakarta but would instantly bail out the moment it gets too uncomfortable for my liking.

Back in KL, I have to sink back into the horror of my mediocre middleclass existence--driving a Proton Wira, drinking beer with friends at Bangsar and shopping at Suria KLCC. If I stay here long enough, I'll even start thinking about getting a better car--a Beemer perhaps; and maybe get one of those gaudy-looking tri-band camera cellphones with built-in PDA functions. It'll also be nice if I could pull out a spanking new Centrino notebook while I surf the Net, sipping coffee at Starbucks.

I'm back in my natural habitat. I don't think I want to stay long.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The Catharsis of Change

The Catharsis of Change

I've never seen Jalan Wahid Hasyim so clean and empty like today. There's another rare sight: parents and kids in resplendently new Lebaran clothes. The people in the streets of Jakarta normally look worn and grubby but today it's different: there are no beggars in sight and even the street hawkers are taking a break. The venerable Sarinah itself--the hub of this area-- is closed. The only place that's still open and crowded is the MacDonalds next to Hard Rock Cafe.

I am surprised but pleased to see my favourite Internet cafe open. So here I am happily blogging and reading my morning cyberpapers.

After almost three months, I'll be making a trip back to KL again later this evening. I've been living outside Malaysia for almost 6 years now. The good thing about being away from your familiar environment is that you get to rethink and reinvent your life. It is difficult to do so when you are mired in daily affairs and buried in familiar surroundings.

Sometimes it is good not to remain too long in one place. Everytime you leave, you have a chance to start anew. You physically and symbolically leave behind all the things you have no need of.

We all have gone through the experience: Only when we shift houses, do we bother to throw away all our unwanted things. We are forced to choose, select and discard because we cannot possibly carry everything with us.

But the clutter we have accumulated in our lives are more difficult to dispose of. We cling to our bad habits and familiar surroundings because we have built ourselves a certain comfort zone that shields us from painful things that we do not want to face.

Such deep fears can sometimes be cured only by the catharsis of change. We are yanked away from the familiar and are forced to fend for ourselves in a strange place. Exile is like a therapy. Hopefully we return a better and healthier person.

Monday, November 24, 2003

The Happy Tramp

The Happy Tramp

The city should be a lot quieter today with all offices closed for the first day of the week-long Lebaran holidays. But last night, I could still see many doing their last minute shopping at Sarinah and Sabang. I did some loitering around at Roxy Mas in the evening-- the place was still very busy. Unfortunately the nasi padang restaurants--at least Natrabu and Sederhana at Sabang--are already closed.

It was more work for me yesterday afternoon and night. Though I am making progress everyday, I am still not very happy with my productivity. My mind is filled with the many projects that I want to embark upon and I woke up this morning with thoughts of Bandung.

I've been doing a lot of research about Bandung lately and I hope to make a trip there after Lebaran to verify some of my facts. Most of my trips to Bandung are work-related, so I never really had a chance to visit the places I really wanted to visit--places like Gedung Merdeka and ITB. I've only spent one weekend before in Bandung last year for leisure, staying at the historical Savoy-Homann Hotel. But when you visit on weekends, places like Gedung Merdeka are closed.

To really know a city, you need to loiter in the streets and observe its people. This is what I enjoy doing very much in Bandung and Jakarta. I never believe in shuttling from one tourist location to another. I enjoy a slow leisurely walk in the streets--lingering for a while at a cafe or warung to sample some of the simple food that locals eat and eavesdropping on their conversations, all the while observing their dialect and speech.

I've tried to do the same thing in every city that I've been to. Even in KL. Maybe that's why I don't mind travelling alone for it gives me the luxury to do "boring" things. One learns a lot from loitering. It suits my nature, for I am a bit of a tramp. Sometimes tramps are the happiest people in the world.