Saturday, November 15, 2003

Watching the World

Watching the World

Many of the workers in the hotel where I'm staying now are my good friends. Some of them have changed jobs but they still remain in contact with me. I've also outlived the previous GM who took her position about the same time when I first settled down in Jakarta. She has since left the hotel and I still haven't had the chance to get aquainted with the new GM yet.

Diki, one of the bellboys, got married recently to Santi, who works at the frontdesk of another hotel nearby. Some of the staff have also shared the ups and downs of their love lives with me: Marlyn broke off with her Batak boyfriend earlier this year; and not too long ago sales executive Wiwik broke off with Jerry, who used to be the restaurant captain here--they have been together for many years but sadly religion proved to be a sticking point between their families (Wiwik is Muslim and Jerry, Christian).

Intan, the sweet 20-year old Sundanese housekeeper who cleans my room every morning is pregnant (through no fault of mine)--she got married earlier this year. She is always so cheerful and bubbly. Kind of miss her now that she has been reassigned to backoffice duties.

I suppose my own personal life is very dull--nothing much ever seems to happen. I am always working, reading and indulging in my personal idiosyncrasies. Like what I've said in previous postings, I am a parasitic single, a Lestat-like vampire who is contented watching people fall in love, get married, have kids and grow fat.

That reminds me: I have another wedding dinner to attend on the 29th of November in KL--at the Sunway Lagoon Resort Hotel. Yes, I'll be there to see how many kids my friends have and how fat they have grown.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Iqbal's Soul

Iqbal's Soul

The hotel bellboy, Iqbal helps me to hail a cab on most mornings. Usually we will exchange some pleasantries and if I am not in a hurry, I will ask him about life in his hometown of Bukittinggi, Sumatra. That's how I learn my Indonesian geography.

Today, I woke up late and it was already 9.15am when I came down to the lobby to hail a cab with Iqbal's help. I asked Iqbal how he is able to wake up so early (5.00am) every morning to go to work. He replied: "Pak, you can get your soul to wake you up".

My taxi came and I spent the entire ride to office pondering those intriguing words from Iqbal. I never knew the soul could be summoned to run errands like an obedient butler. It is an interesting thought.

Many mystics and occultists believe that our souls go wandering about while we are asleep. Instead of allowing them to loiter everywhere, we might as well assign them to do some productive work. Can I get my soul to fetch the morning papers and serve me breakfast in bed too?

Iqbal's comment provided me with food for thought for an entire morning. I was suddenly reminded of Yeats' poem, A Dialogue of Self and Soul which I had read during my college days. The poem was in my copy of Faber Book of Modern Verse, my regular bedside companion then.

I immediately searched for the poem through the Internet and reread it again. It is one that is rich in thought and imagery: The Soul and the Self are engaged in a debate; the former is lofty and idealistic, with an intellect that "ascends to Heaven", seeking deliverance from mortal bonds that are "emblematic of love and war". The Self, however remains steadfast in its mortal struggles and attempts to find contentment in its "frog-spawn of a blind man’s ditch".

If my soul is a bit like Yeats' Soul in the poem, then I don't see how it is possible to get him to give me morning calls. It will be beneath him to descent from his "winding ancient stair". Maybe there's a way to convince your soul to do such menial work. I think I must consult the bellboy Iqbal again.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

My Fugitive Mind

My Fugitive Mind

Where would I hide if I were a fugitive on the run from the law? This is one of many games which I play in my twisted mind to amuse myself sometimes. Indonesia is a good place to disappear; whenever I'm travelling domestically here, I'll try to "scout" for possible hideout locations. Sometimes I'll see a nice kampung house by the roadside, and think how "happy" I would be to spend quiet days there living anonymously away from the rest of the world.

Getting a new identity wouldn't be a problem in Indonesia, as KTP (pronounced "kah-tay-pay", Indonesian identity cards) can be easily bought. I wonder what Indonesian name I'll use. Probably "Chairil", as I am pretty fond of the poet Chairil Anwar. Surnames? Many Indonesians don't have one, so I'll just settle with a one word name--sounds pretty cool and will look good on my KTP too.

I'll have to work on my accent of course--right now it is neither Indonesian nor Malaysian. My appearance needs to be ruggedized: A good tan coupled with some long unkempt hair will go a long way towards preventing myself from being mistaken as a Jepang (Japanese) so often. And to blend nicely into the Indonesian street crowd, I'll need to dress in shabby jeans from Jalan Cihampelas together with matching cheap rubber sandals from Pasar Baroe.

I wasn't sure if I was amused the other day when I read the news about the police almost catching the Malaysian terrorist and expert bomb-maker, Dr Azahari at a rented house in Bandung. Bandung is a place which I am very fond of, and I have often thought that it would make a good hiding place for me if I were to run away from the world. Is this a case of criminal minds thinking alike?

Well, maybe Bandung is not such a good place after all--it's too close to Jakarta and many Jakartans visit the place during weekends. One could easily risk being spotted.

Lately I've been considering Manado, referred to by naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace as "the prettiest town in the East". Being located on the northern tip of Sulawesi island, it is remote enough. Will need to do some scouting there and hopefully, Dr Azahari is not also thinking along the same lines.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Time Balm

Time Balm

I've written a lot about the subjects of time and pain. For some reason I am always contemplating about these things. It'll surely pass, someday. At the meantime, please bear with my morbid obsessions.

Mention about time, we start looking at our watches and a feeling of panic seizes us. Time and tide waits for no one, we are told. Somehow we feel like we are always fighting a losing battle against it. We can't seem to be able to counter the swift currents of time--we are swept away helplessly like driftwood. And we talk about people's faces being "ravaged by time".

For a change, let's look at time from a different perspective. Let's change the paradigm and try to look at its positive aspects: One useful aspect of time, I think, is in healing pain--especially emotional pain, which is the most difficult to overcome.

All processes of nature happen in space and time. In physics, space and time are not treated very differently--they exist in a mathematical continuum called "space-time".

Molecules of perfume released in the air diffuse, spreading over space, causing its scent to slowly disappear. A drop of ink, released into a pool of clear water, dissolves; its tint, no longer perceptible.

Pain can never be eliminated instantly. Pain heals over time, like how ink dissolves in water or perfume dissipates in air. The currents of time washes away pain. Time is the great dissolver of sorrows. When we decide to let go of our pain, time sweeps it away. Some pains are thick, sticky and stubborn. That's fine. Dip it in time: time dissipates, disperses and decomposes.

The torrents of time are strong and swift--it can even "ravage faces". Let it for once, work to our advantage.

We are often told to forget our pains. This is a hard thing to do. The problem is, we treat the act of forgetting as an active task and a deliberate state of mind that we have to strive to achieve. The harder we try, the more difficult it is for us to forget. We end up intensifying the pain.

Other times, it's we ourselves who don't want to let go of our pain because it justifies and propels our personal sins and selfish motives. A bit of dirt gathers even more dirt. We end up grubbier than ever.

Forgetting pain should be like stepping into a warm shower: Relax, let go, and let the healing waters of time run over one's soul. One should emerge from it cleansed, purified and rejuvenated. And hopefully, smelling like a baby too.

Nature is self-healing. Time, its magical balm. Time to heal.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Serendipitous Cholera

Serendipitous Cholera

I watched the movie Serendipity in Jakarta early last year. It is a romantic comedy about a pleasant chance meeting between two strangers played by Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack which leads to them wondering whether they are really destined for each other.

They decide to test fate by writing down their names and contact numbers--she in a used book, and he on a five-dollar bill before releasing them back into circulation, and see if through some fortunate accident or serendipity, these objects would end up in the opposite party's hands. If they do and they manage to get in touch with each another, then fate does have designs for the both of them.

The used book chosen by Kate Beckinsale's character is one written by Nobel laureate, Gabriel Garcia Marquez entitled Love in the Time of Cholera. The book is the recurrent motif in the movie: After years of hunting for the book in vain in every used book store in town, it finally ended up serendipitously in John Cusack's hands as a gift from his would-be bride (Bridget Moynahan)!

I read Love in the Time of Cholera ten years ago and it remains one of the most magically touching and humorous love stories I have ever read. It is the story of the undyingly love of one very unlikely hero, Florentino Areza, (who suffers from chronic constipation) for his lifelong obsession, a beautiful girl called Fermina Daza. The consummation of their love only comes more than half a century later, when they are both old and withered. The novel has the usual Marquez touch of light-hearted surrealism minggled with deep emotional pathos. (One Hundred Years of Solitude, his most acclaimed work, is another dazzling read).

This serendipitous encounter of mine with the book again in the movie brought back memories. I first read the paperback version when I was still a student in PJ. Later during a trip to the States I chanced upon a hardcover version of the book while browsing at the Kepler's bookstore in Menlo Park, and promptly bought it. It looks exactly like the one in the movie--a first edition. I still have these two copies back home in Subang Jaya.
"Fermina, I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love." Thus does Florentino Ariza lay bare his heart to Fermina Daza after - by the former's exact count - 51 years, 9 months, and 4 days of yearning.
Hate to admit it, but I can be quite a sucker for romance sometimes.

According to Marquez, the symptoms of love are the same as those of cholera. Reading the book made me felt like I had contracted cholera myself. It left me in a daze for a while. And now, after more than a decade, those symptoms are still there.

Monday, November 10, 2003

The Abyss

The Abyss

I have been watching Oliver Stone's Wall Street regularly since my university days and I never seem to get bored with it. Besides Michael Douglas' now famous "greed is good" speech, there's a scene near the end that I am very fond of: When Charlie Sheen walks into his office to find law officers waiting to arrest him for insider-trading, his colleague, played by Hal Halbrook pulls him aside and gives him a philosophical piece of advice:
"Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss. "
That I think expresses succintly the feeling of isolation and helplessness a person feels when faced with the prospect of having to face a great difficulty alone. One's whole being is consumed by the utter terror of loneliness--of staring into an empty abyss.

Life feels a bit like that sometimes. We look ahead, and we see nothing staring back. We are terrified. And we want to cling to someone or something. The terror increases when we find that there is no one we can turn to; everybody has abandoned you or are too busy to care. At times like these we begin to truly value friends or a life companion who will stick with us through thick and thin. Some turn to God.

We all know the feeling. There are ocassions when we all would catch a glimpse of the Abyss. The loneliness and the terror are too much for us to bear and we end up making panic decisions. We grab the most convenient means of escape. For some, it is drugs and intoxicants. Others dive into reckless relationships.

The terror of the Abyss is so great that we prefer to endure failed relationships than to face life alone. The messy entanglements of life are better than the Abyss: That dreaded fall into nothingness filled with the echoing howls of despair of one plunging further and further into interminable depths of loneliness.

It is important that we build and keep friendships, nurture family ties and intensify our faith in the Almighty. In the end, we all help keep each other out of the Abyss.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Of Skin and Class

Of Skin and Class

It perplexes me why my blog ends up on the top of the Google list when people search for "Manado girls". As far as I can remember I have only mentioned the subject once in passing in one of my entries. Based on my hit reports, I seem to be getting a lot of hits from people hunting for information on this subject, for obvious reasons. It really makes me wonder how Google determines their search rankings.

Oh no, now that I've mentioned those two words again, I think I'll end up reinforcing my position on top of the Google search list further. I sure hate to disappoint the huge number of blokes who end up not finding the information that they are looking for in my website. Sorry guys, there are better sites for such information.

People always say girls from Manado and Bandung are pretty because they have fair skins. In general, many Asian societies still consider white skins as an ideal of beauty. For the life of me, I cannot understand why. I personally find women with a healthy tan more attractive.

I shudder at the thought of women using skin-whitening creams, as I don't think they are healthy. I once asked some of my female friends as to why they consider fairness of skin beautiful. They told me that darker skins look "dirty" and people with white skins look "classier". That completely boggles me.

Indonesian women in general are not that dark--more of a kuning langsat shade. They actually don't have to try too hard to look fair. But I prefer the dusky "ethnic" look--the actress Lola Amaria is a fine example. I enjoyed watching her in the starring role of Ca Bau Kan, by female director Nia Dinata, based on a book by Remy Sylado.

But then again, I am not known for my taste in women. I've even been told by a female colleague that my taste for the fairer sex is very "low class". I admit I do enjoy chatting with waitresses, pelayan toko, cashiers and housekeepers. I actually learn a lot about the culture and geography of Indonesia from talking to them.

I suppose water will always find its own level. I am happy and comfortable being "low class". Ignorance of class is a real bliss. Furthermore, with guys going in droves after the fair-skinned maidens of Manado and Bandung, I have my own "niche market" of dark beautiful ethnic women which I could pick from. One shouldn't complain about that.