Saturday, October 25, 2003

Jakarta Weekends

Jakarta Weekends

My usual routine on a Saturday morning is to head walk out from the hotel, into the sunny street of Jalan Wahid Hasyim and head for the cybercafe at Sarinah. I write all my weekend blog entries from there.

My main reason though for going to the cybercafe is to check out the daily online papers--especially news from Malaysia (The Star, Bernama, New Straits Times, Utusan Malaysia) and also from Singapore (Straits Times) which I read mainly to get an alternate view of news about Malaysia.

Having had my "breakfast" of news, I would then spend a bit of time blogging. I try not to write anything too ponderous or heavy during the weekends. No "memory or data mining", just plain simple OLTP-- to handle the present, as the information systems textbooks like to put it.

I am quite busy during the weekends because of my personal projects. I don't normally like to go out on Saturday nights, preferring to socialize with my friends on weekdays. Weekends are rather quiet affairs, usually spent working in my hotel room at night.

I get a lot of "pity" from people who think that I lead such a boring life, being cooped up in a hotel. Well, I'm not sure if pushing shopping carts laden with toilet paper and junk food at Carrefour makes a more interesting weekend or spending hours having your eardrums pounded by mindless music at the latest fancy club in town makes a more meaningful Saturday night. Perhaps. Certainly reminds me of the life I used to lead in KL.

The other day, I was at the antique shops along Jalan Surabaya at Cikini hunting for my Indonesian "ringgit" coin. I found one and bought it. Later I wandered around the Cikini train station checking out the street vendors selling local tabloids (Lampu Merah) and magazines (Popular); one makeshift stall was selling pirated CDs and Dewa's Mistikus Cinta was playing on his mini-combo; the train to Bogor rumbled on its tracks above me.

I wish all my weekends are like that.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Carousel in the Sky

Carousel in the Sky

I have not written a poem for ages. I think the last one I wrote was something called "The Twenty-Third Song", written on my 23rd birthday. I vaguely remember that it was a rather melancholy piece.

These days I struggle to recall why I was so moody then. With age, I have learnt to see both happiness and sadness with equanimity-- to be skillful in surfing cautiously over the crests and troughs of life's vicissitudes.

I cannot recollect the entire poem, though my juvenilia was published in one of the local tabloids--now thankfully buried under the sands of time. But I can remember one particular phrase--probably not a very original one--which I used: "carousel in the sky". I think the line went something like this: "...and I marvel at the carousel in the sky"

I remember why I wrote that line. Like Citizen Kane's "rosebud", my carousel in the sky was a symbol of lost innocence. On my three-and-twentieth year, I recalled the pastoral sights of my childhood: that daily gathering of birds, circling above me like some aerial fun-fair of the heavens--my carousel in the sky.

Yes, I can see those evenings of my childhood: the sun is going down and the air is cool; the rubber trees heave under the lilting breeze and the crimson sky is filled with the chatter of these soaring birds. I do not know why there were so many of these creatures in my hometown but they were there every evening, bustling and brimming in the air with their peculiar merriment.

As I child, I stood outside my house, dwarfed by those rubber trees, in that tropical estate which was a citadel of birds. I was small and confined, they were free and frivolous. And I had wished to be like a St Francis of Assisi, to have these frolicsome creatures settle on my shoulders, whispering tales of their far-flung adventures.

I am older now and not so susceptible to moodiness. But sometimes, trudging quietly home from work in Jakarta, I would look up at the sky, grey and dense with its profusion of fumes, and yearn to ride that forgotten carousel of bygone days.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

The Wanderer of Gardens

The Wanderer of Gardens

For some reason I admire people who have chosen to devote their entire lives to religion: monks, yogis, priests and other types of renunciates. These are people who have decided to take up the ultimate challenge--the pursuit of spiritual realisation. To embrace this noble path takes courage, willpower and a great sense of destiny.

Of course, there are also a lot charlatans and fakes among people from this community. Some even seek it as an easy way to escape from the world and to live off the generous charity of the flock. For some, it is not even a conscious choice--just a convenient way of life that they were introduced to at an early stage of their lives and one that could even have its own peculiar comforts.

But those who bravely chose this path out of a calling from deep within become the light of the community. They are like blooms in a forest full of desolation. Swami Vivekananda paid tribute to the renunciate (sanyasin) in his poem Song of the Sanyasin ("Know thou art That, Sannyasin bold! ").

Karen Armstrong, whose books I admire, was a Catholic nun. Today she is one of the leading proponents of inter-faith understanding. I've also enjoyed Thomas Merton's autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. He, chose to become a Trappist monk--one of the strictest of religious orders--after going through experiences in life not unlike that of St Augustine's.

Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi is also very enlightening. I read it in KL in 1995, and reread it again when I was working in Singapore couple of years back. And during my student days, I spent hours in the library sampling the wisdom of Sri Aurobindo. Many of his thoughts and writings still echo in my head until now.

In Merging with Siva, the late Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami wrote that there are only two valid paths to spiritual enlightment: the path of the householder and the path of the sanyasin (the renunciate). To be a monk, one needs a controlled environment as the demands are strict and the expectations high. It is like becoming a professional sportsman--a spiritual athlete, if you will.

On the other hand it does not mean that the householder, embroiled daily in his "worldly" pursuits of providing for his family and building a home, is any less closer to God. There is as much spirituality in a harmonious household as there is in any house of worship.

The true householder, in bringing up a family, creates and nurtures a beautiful garden of love--one that sprouts from the seeds of self-sacrifice and nourished by the soil of solicitude. A family is a groupsoul--a conglomeration of like souls-- that has chosen to evolve together along the path of enlightenment.

And where do I stand between these two paths? I don't know. Perhaps I am not a spiritual person: I am just an ordinary bloke who drowns himself with a six-pack every night in front of the TV, watching professional sportsmen display their skills; a Lajang Parasit who finds contentment wandering like an intruder into other people's gardens, to admire the beauty of their blooms.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

The Kraken

The Kraken

I've been asked by a reader to write about the corruption, collusion and nepotism that exists in Indonesia, better known as "KKN" here (Korupsi, Kolusi dan Nepotisme). The Indonesians have a penchant for acronyms: KKN (pronounced "kah-kah-end"), is even used as a verb, "We have to KKN with so-and-so to win this project".

I am new to Indonesia and I do not profess to fathom the intricacies of politics and culture in this multi-ethnic land which I've grown to love. The intrigues, rumours and gossips related to the alleged sins of the Suharto regime have been well-discussed elsewhere and I have nothing to add to that, as I am not an insider. All I can offer are my own personal impressions and I tend to view things metaphorically, within the grand sweep of history.

I first heard the expression "KKN" during the height of Krismon (Krisis Moneter--monetary crisis) of 1997-98. The three-syllable and vowel-less acronym "KKN" sounds very strong when pronouned the Indonesian way. Visually, the twin letters 'K' look like a pair of open jaws--hungry ones at that; and when people say "kah-kah-end", sprinklings of saliva shoot out from their mouths.

What the triple letters of K-K-N conjure up in my mind is the image of the KraKeN--that multi-tentacled mythical seamonster much feared by ancient seafarers.

This metaphor seems apt because Indonesia, with its 17,000 islands, as Pramoedya Ananta Toer likes to point out, is a maritime nation. It's most glorious period in history is during the height of the Majapahit empire when almost the entire Malay archipelago was under its dominion. "Nusantara" or "Nusa Antara" (The World in Between), lies between two mighty oceans--the Indian ocean and the South China Sea. For centuries it has been the meeting point between Chinese traders from the Far East and Arab and Indian traders from the West, driven by the confluence of trade winds.

The richness of Nusantara--spices, timber, coffee, tin and oil--are immeasurable. The former regime--the Kraken--devoured them hungrily. It's tentacles reach into every nook and corner of its realm. But back then before the storm of Krismon hit the Nusantara seas, no one bothered to stop the Kraken. The Kraken ruled the waves.

The seas then were filled with schools of fishes just picking on the bits and crumbs left behind by the Kraken. It was very safe just to hide within the slipstream of the marauding Kraken. Food was aplenty. The few who did stray away were swallowed alive or banished to some watery grave.

Only when the storm left the clumsy Kraken stranded on dry land, did these slipstream fishes started scrambling for the safer depths of the ocean. The Kraken tried to persuade, almost nostalgically, that Badai Pasti Berlalu (the storm will surely pass). But alas, so did the receding waters, leaving the Kraken to rot under the merciless sun.

The Kraken is no more. But the slipstream fishes have developed sharp teeth over the years of living off the Kraken's spoils. They are still there, piranha-like, harrassing the smaller fishes.

Sometimes when they open their mouths to speak, you are reminded of the twin 'K's of KKN--those gaping jaws ready to devour. For a brief moment, their voice would be inaudible and all you see are the hollows of their mouths and the glint of their teeth, moist with saliva. And then you begin to shudder at the memory of the mighty Kraken.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Memory Mining

Memory Mining

I rarely write on IT-related subjects and will not attempt to do so in this entry either. But as an IT professional, I habitually find myself thinking about everything in IT paradigms. My previous entry about the Four-Layer Stack is an example.

Recently I have been presenting a lot about data mining as a concept that's part of an organization's business intelligence. The definition for data mining from describes it as a process of "sorting through data to identify patterns and establish relationships".

My daily blogging is a bit like data mining. These daily rambles are nothing but an attempt to scour my own store memories and knowledge to look for patterns and inter-relationships. At the same time, fresh input are entering my mind through daily experiences; the store gets richer and new patterns emerge. Readers' comments further enrich the mining soil.

It has become a necessity for me, these daily dog-like habit of burrowing in the backyard of my mind. It is an act of self-discovery. Ocassionally I discover some nuggets of wisdom but often there's nothing but useless dirt and soil. But as I alluded in a previous blog entry, I will continue digging...

Monday, October 20, 2003



I heard the news late: that a fellow PPS blogger, Johan bin Ismail, better known as Joe Blogs, passed away unexpectedly over the weekend. I am personally not acquainted with him but on the few ocassions which I chanced upon his blog, he struck me as an articulate and intelligent person--strong in his views, but fair. His was a voice worth listening to.

His passing is a loss to the blogging community in Malaysia, and to the local IT industry where he was an important figure. I wish to convey my deepest condolence to his family and friends. May God bless his soul.

Dictation from God

Dictation from God

In the early days of FM broadcast in Malaysia, there were only six hours of broadcast everyday, divided into two sessions. The morning session was between 9.00am to noon. The popular 1-hour slot "Pilihan Khas" at night--featuring requests from listeners--starts at 9.00pm.

I did not own an FM radio until I was 13 years old-- even the one I had was mono, not stereo. Today all radio broadcasts are in FM of course, and we are spoilt for choice. We can even have them streamed to our desktops via the Internet.

But one recalls back on those old days with fondness: The broadcast then had no commercials and there were 2 hours of classical music everyday: Muzik Klasik from ten to eleven in the morning and one hour of Konsert Klasik starting eleven at night. To me those were the golden days of radio.

Not sure if our local radio stations still broadcast classical music today but it was from listening to FM Stereo, Radio Malaysia, that I acquired a taste for it. I still have cassette recordings that I made of those one-hour Musik Klasik and Konsert Klasik sessions: Eine Klein Nachmusik by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Symphony no 7 by Ludvig Van Beethoven, are among those I can remember.

When I was older, I started collecting classical music, initially audio cassettes and later CDs. I have a fondness for piano sonatas and have the complete collection of all the piano sonatas Mozart and Beethoven ever wrote.

A lof of people love Mozart. Even unborn babies are being fed Mozart by their mothers, believing that it will aid their development. Albert Einstein played the violin and he was very fond of Mozart too. If I remember correctly, it was he who commented that Mozart's music is like a part of nature: it has always been there, ever-present in the atmosphere, like the air we breathe; Mozart merely wrote it down.

In the Oscar-winning movie Amadeus directed by Milos Forman, Mozart's contemporary and rival Salieri (played by F. Murray Abraham), was stunned into despair and disbelieve on first setting eyes on the manuscripts of Mozart's compositions. He was amazed at how effortless the creative process was to Mozart--it was as if Mozart was taking dictation from God.

Both Einstein's and Salieri's observations hit at the heart of the creative process. Nature is in essence creative. The growth of plants, the synthesis of protein, the flow of rivers to sea, the orbit of planets around stars--all natural processes possess a certain harmony and rhythm in their unfoldment. Primal forces are at work, driving the evolution of Nature. This is the Divine Impulse; the Voice of God, if you will.

The true artist is in total communion with Nature. Some, like Mozart, are born with a natural ability to tune in to the natural rhythms of these forces. To create a work of art is to tap into these primal forces and to transpose their patterns into whatever medium that the artist chooses to work with.

We know a particular piece of work has artistic value because we experience resonance: We recognize the primal forces that the artist is trying to express and we want to dive and swim within their currents. Every fibre in our body craves for such resonance. We revel and dance in its glory.

The rhythms of poetry and music, the interplay of characters in human dramas, the swirl and dash of colours in an Expressionist painting, the juxtaposing of images in music videos are all attempts--no matter how imperfect--to mimic and trace the tension and release of these archetypal forces.

Classical music is one of the purest example of such a quest. And I did not know, when I was a young boy tuning my FM radio to Muzik Klasik on those balmy mornings before attending afternoon school, that I was listening to God's dictation.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Sarinah & Feby Febiola

Sarinah & Feby Febiola

It feels good to be able to trudge out from my hotel into the bright sunlight of a Sunday morning in Jakarta. I never leave home without my usual kit--my book (in case I need to read), my trusty Jornada PDA (in case I need to write), my journal (in case I need to write in longhand) and my Nikon Coolpix camera (in case I need to capture any interesting sights).

I do most of my reading outdoors. I have a couple of cafes and restaurants around here where I spend a lot of time reading before and after meals-- that is, whenever I eat alone. If I'm eating with friends, then I'll be "reading" them.

I realised ever since I was a student that I remember what I read better if I do not do my studying at the same location everytime. We tend to associate what we read with the time and place where we first read them: Different time of the day casts a different light on the page and this together with the ambience of the place tinges our memory of the facts and help make reading a total experience, rather than just a dry input process.

I can still remember where I sat in the library when I read a particular passage from a particular book when I was a student. When I was working in Singapore, I used to read a lot at the food court opposite the HDB flat where I lived even though it was a very busy and crowded place. But I can still remember where I sat when I read the passage from Fergus Fleming's Barrow's Boys about the Man Who Ate His Boots over a plate of chicken rice and a mug of Guinness stout.

Curious of seeing me always buried in books whenever I eat, the chicken rice seller once asked me whether I was a student! Flattered that he thought I was that young, I immediately ordered an extra plate of chicken rice from him.

Reading in public here sometimes attract unnecessary attention from beggars and asongans selling books and magazines. Sometimes these asongans could even spot me reading inside the Sederhana Nasi Padang restaurant in Sabang and would immediately appear before me to shove me copies of Jakarta Undercover by Moammar Emka (an expose on the sex industry in Jakarta--the hands-down bestseller here). If not it'll be the latest issue of Popular with a scantily-clad Feby Febiola on the cover.

I suppose that makes my outdoor reading experience a richer one. I was reading Kisah-kisah Mengharukan Bersama Bung Karno (Touching Moments with Bung Karno) the other day: Now everytime I think of Sukarno's childhood nursemaid, Sarinah, I think of Feby Febiola.