Saturday, November 22, 2003

Work and Wine

Work and Wine

Jakarta city is quiet today because the exodus from the city for the Muslim Lebaran holidays has already begun. I have decided to spend the next couple of days finishing off some of my work. I need the peace and quiet to think and concentrate.

The Lebaran holidays is a week-long thing; it should have been a good time for me to visit some of the places I've always wanted to visit. But unfortunately the exodus out of Jakarta makes it impossible to get any flight to any domestic location since a month ago. Also the places I'm interested to visit--museums and libraries--are closed. I have no choice but to spend a couple of days here working before flying back to KL--the only MAS flight I could get is on Tuesday night.

And before I think about going home I have to make sure that I am productive for the next four days. I am not very happy with my workrate lately. I really need to ramp up my productivity. As much as I dislike it, I have to force myself to think only of the report that I am trying to complete in the coming days. No extraneous reading.

My marathon work session started last night. Got a nice bottle of red wine to fuel my work. Being the "mystical" person that I am, I try to see work as a form of worship. Work for work's sake. To work without caring for the fruits of your labour is the highest ideal. No unwholesome karma is generated if we are not attached to the fruits of our labour. That is the secret of work, according to Vivekananda. That is the essence of karma yoga.

I don't think I am even close to achieving such an ideal. But it is fun to think I'm practising karma yoga everytime I'm labouring through a difficult task. Makes every mundane task seems divine. And of course the wine helps too.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Pondering the Mind of God

Pondering the Mind of God

The terrorist attacks in Istanbul yesterday bring back memories of the Marriot bombing here in Jakarta earlier this year. It looks like terrorism will be a regular feature of our lives for a while.

With Dr Azahari still lurking somewhere out there in this vast archipelago of Indonesia, it is only a matter of time before the next incident happens again. This guy is determined and dangerous. But even if he is caught, I believe there are still many fresh recruits out there, waiting for their chance of "glory".

It is a sad time for humanity. But then again, this is not the worst of times yet; our generation has not experienced the pain and misery of a major war. We take most our luxuries for granted and we do not realise how fragile peace is. Throughout the history of mankind, peace is an aberration.

Empires rise and fall. The countries in this region are relatively young. There have been many such periods in history where states have risen, enjoyed a few generations of peace and prosperity and then disappeared into the dustbins of history. We don't even get to read about such "dull" episodes in our history books. Someday, countries like Malaysia and Indonesia might not be around anymore.

When we view our own lives against the vastness of space and the immensity of time, all our affairs seem so petty and trivial: the bitter quarrels we have with our loved ones, the pride and position we strive so hard for and the many lusts that lurk within our hearts. We can certainly do better than that.

Someday, even this Earth that seems so solid and permanent will no longer be around: our Sun will become a bloated red giant star, engulfing the entire Earth within its fiery core. Humanity as we know will come to an end.

What do we do then, faced with the smallness and helplessness of our situation? I suppose we can follow Billy Kwan's ( character from Christopher's Koch's Year of Living Dangerously) advice: don't worry too much about the larger picture, just add our light to the sum of light.

So, I'll try to blog everyday, help a fellow human being whenever I can, work selflessly and be grateful for the many simple joys that come my way. But most of all I'll be grateful to the Almighty for granting me this small fraction of space-time, this brief flicker of existence within the immensity of His creation-- to allow this soul to seek its Source and this thought to find its original Thinker.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

A Bubbly Mind

A Bubbly Mind

We are often told to think before we act. All of us spend a lot of time during the course of the day thinking; but somehow we still end up acting unwisely sometimes. Perhaps this is due to inadequate thinking, or perhaps we do not have all the facts with use to make a better judgement. We do agree though that thinking must precede action. But what exactly then do we mean by thinking before acting?

When I was a Form Five schoolboy, I read Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's book on Transcendental Meditation. As a kid I was very interested in such esoteric things. Even now, I think I am stil very mystically-inclined.

In the book, the Maharishi describes the mind as a deep pond and thoughts are like bubbles rising from its bottom. As thought bubbles get closer to the surface, they become larger and larger, finally bursting onto the surface as action. Action is just the gross level of thinking. All action stems from a thought. Thought and action are just two ends of the same spectrum.

Some thought bubbles do not rise to the surface and become action. They fizzle out. One bubble can also spawn off other bubbles, and they too can potentially burst onto the surface of action. The stronger and larger the bubble, the stronger the action.

Some people's mind are shallow--any kind of thought just bubbles up to the surface. Some also end up generating so many tiny bubbles that not much of an impact is made on the surface. There are others who possess a sparkling mind, spewing out a constant stream of lively and energetic bubbles.

When bubbles first arise from the bottom of the pond, they are just miniscule dots. It is us who choose which bubble to nurture and help rise to the surface of action. As long as they are below the surface, we can still control them.

A deep thinking person examines his thought bubbles when they are still at their germination stage and crushes them out if necessary. When bubbles get close to the surface, they already possess a life of their own, and are often quite difficult to suppress. They could also have spawn off many other "bubblets" in the course of their journey upwards.

Everything starts with a thought bubble: our craving for certain food, our response to an advertisement, our decision to pursue a relationship or our choice of career. Sometimes we just do not realise that these bubbles have already arisen until it is too close to the surface. Other times we unwisely encourage unwanted bubbles to swell to an unmanageable size.

Let's dive deep into our minds and check our bubbles. Thinking is nothing but bubble management.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Sukarno and the Rhythm of Revolution

Sukarno and the Rhythm of Revolution

I woke up this morning brimming with thoughts of Sukarno, so I will write about him today.

In his autobiography, Sukarno describes himself quite frankly:

"I am a Sybarite. I am a man who gratifies his senses...I enjoy good food, fine clothes, love-making..."

Sukarno is often caricatured as a womanising dictator by the West. The many wives that he accumulated during his lifetime, didn't help his image either. And he definitely wasn't a loved figure in Malaysia during the 60s because of his Konfrontasi policy against the formation of Malaysia.

But in Indonesia, he is still spoken of with awe. In kampungs, dusty pictures of him in his immaculate uniform still adorn walls of houses and warungs. During his heydays, he was revered almost like a God-King. His speeches magnetized people; they were often peppered with phrases in Dutch, French and English; and he had a fondness for quoting from a wide variety of sources: from Vivekananda to Voltaire, from Javanese folklore to Jefferson's Declaration of Independence.

His Western detractors then could not believe that an Asian--an Indonesian--could possess such a brilliant mind and even encouraged the rumour that he was actually the illegitimate child of a Dutch. But Sukarno is a true product of Indonesia's great diversity--his father was a Javanese Muslim and his mother, a Balinese Hindu. He was the personification of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika--Unity in Diversity.

Sukarno saw himself as a leader of the Third World, an inspiration to the newly independent nations of Asia and Africa--new emerging forces, NEFOS, as he called it. He was at odds with Tunku Abdul Rahman over the formation of Malaysia, which he saw as a puppet of the West, a neo-imperialist plan to encircle Indonesia. He saw himeself as the defender of the downtrodden people, the common folk (Marhaens, he called them, after the name of the poor farmer he met when he was a youth in Bandung) of Asia and probably despised the Tunku for being a bourgeois racehorse-loving Anglophile.

He lambasted the West for their hypocrisy and told the US to go "to hell with their aid". In many ways, he reminds one of Dr M. Even Pramoedya Ananta Toer drew comparisons between Dr M and Sukarno. Both had a love for grandiose nationalistic projects. But in the end, Dr M, looked like a more successful version of Sukarno.

Sukarno failed dismally in managing the economy of the nation. Inflation at one point was 600 over percent. There was shortage of food. He was seen as being too sympathetic to the PKI--the Communist Party of Indonesia, then the largest communist party outside the Soviet Union and China. The US looked at him with great suspicion. And the CIA was said to be working actively behind the scenes to engineer his downfall.

In the end, it took another Javanese to oust a Javanese, and in the most Javanese of ways. After the events of The Year of Living Dangerously (which I had written about in a previous posting), Suharto slowly and patiently stripped Sukarno of his powers. At no point was there a direct confrontation nor outright humiliation for the man who was still respected as the Father of the Nation, the Great Leader of the Revolution, the Child of the Dawn.

But the tide of public opinion had turned, the self-proclaimed Mouthpiece of the People was ultimately silenced. Put in house arrest, the Lion of the Podium withered like a caged animal. He died a lonely man in 1970.

The young generation today do not have a chance to experience the mystique of Sukarno. Many foreigners even confuse Sukarno with Suharto. Critics of the current President, Megawati, (Sukarno's daughter from his third wife, Fatmawati), say she does not possess the qualities of Sukarno. No strong leader has emerged since the fall of Suharto.

The rhythm of a revolution is creation and destruction, said Sukarno. Student demonstrators played a hand in ousting both Sukarno and Suharto. On both occassions, massive riots and destruction took place.

Sukarno created a nation out of a diverse archipelago of 17,000 islands, which was no trivial feat. He forged a common identity and language for his people. He spent years in prison and exile fighting unrelentlessly for his cause. He gave pride and confidence to a people humiliated over 350 years of Western colonization.

When the quiet and unassuming army general, Suharto decisively quelled the communist coup in 1965, and subsequently replaced Sukarno to became the second president of Indonesia, he too was seen as the saviour of the nation. Suharto, despite all his faults, created a thriving economy in the 70s, 80s and much of the 90s--enjoyed and taken for granted by many of the younger generation.

In removing Sukarno and Suharto from power, Indonesia has gone through two rounds of creation and destruction. Who will be the next creator? Only time will tell. Meanwhile the rhythm of revolution continues.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Hair Brain

Hair Brain

Harian Metro (KL Edition), a Malaysian Malay tabloid, today reports how a 19-year old girl was molested by a man who claimed to be able to cure her hair loss problem "spiritually", using body massage. Only after three sessions of such "treatment" did she realise she was duped.

I suppose hair is very important to a woman. The other day, a female colleague of mine--let's call her Hairbrain-- asked me to comment on her newly dyed coiffure: does it make her look better? Usually I am quite brutal when it comes to assessing a woman's beauty; but this time, I had to agree: it did help to enhance her appearance.

When I asked how much she spent on the whole thing, Hairbrain told me it was close to 1 million rupiah, not including tips for the shampoo girl and hairstylist.

The day before, I had paid only 50,000 rupiah for an Indonesian-style creambath (a herbal scalp wash, coupled with a nice neck and shoulder massage) and a haircut by a skillful gay hairstylist at Rudy's--and that's probably the most I have ever spent at a hair salon in Jakarta. I know I am a cheapskate but the amount of money that women are willing to spend on these things never cease to amaze me.

But I still told her that it's a good investment: From a man's point of view, a woman's hair do carry a lot of marks.

In Scent of a Woman, Al Pacino, playing a blind retired colonel, raved about a woman's hair:
"Women. What could you say? Who made 'em? God must've been a f**king genius. Hair. They say that hair's everything you know. Have you ever buried your nose in a mountain of curls and just wanted to go to sleep forever?"
And Yeats, ever so eloquent about love, expressed it succintly in the poem, Brown Penny:
"I am looped in the loops of her hair"
Hairbrain, who always complain that books are so expensive, did not hesitate a second to spend 1 million rupiah on her hair. That is probably more than what she spends buying books and trashy female magazines in one year. But I suppose she has got her priorities right.

Being educated in some of the best schools in Australia and Switzerland, Hairbrain can claim to have "brains". But still she was dumped by her ex-boyfriend for a curvacious Cengkareng golf caddy with luscious hair! (Heard they are happily married now).

I suppose Hairbrain learned the hard way that most men go for hair, not brains. Which man can resist the sight of lovely tresses flowing down the smooth slender shoulders of a lissome young woman?

Being a man, I have to reluctantly agree. And having heard so much about the female caddies of Cengkareng, lately I am seriously considering my friends' advice to take up golf.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Creativity & Execution

Creativity & Execution

Edward De Bono believes that thinking skills and creativity can be taught. He has written a lot of books on this subject and most of them make quite engrossing reading. In Serious Creativity he provides a textbook of tools and techniques that one can apply to become creative.

De Bono's books are sometimes very repetitive. If you have read one, you have read twenty percent of his other books. Perhaps his best book is his first: The Mechanism of Mind, in which he expounds his theory on why a "lateral" way of provocative thinking is important for creativity.

Many big multinationals put their employees through De Bono's Six Thinking Hats and Lateral Thinking courses. Corporations claim that they value thinking and creativity; but a lot of times they just want their executives to execute--to carry out the thinking that has already been done by people at the top, ruthlessly and efficiently. Execution, execution, execution--it is chanted almost like a mantra. Hence the term "creative executive" is sometimes an oxymoron.

But that's also an unfair statement to make as many executives are actually quite innovative in the way they approach their assigned tasks. Creativity is not limited to creating works of art that stir the passion and imagination of the masses. Creativity can be ordinary, like finding a better way to file your papers, determining the agenda of a meeting for maximum effectiveness or choosing the proper phrases in a sales pitch to rouse the customer's interest. To a creative person, any ordinary task can be infused with great doses of creativity.

There are also a lot of people who claim to be creative but never seem to be able to pursue a single task to its completion. To create means to bring something from the realm of the imagination into reality. Going half-way is not good enough.

Many so called "artistic people" like to cling to the image of being creative almost like a lifestyle; but under the veneer of bohemianism are just plain lazy individuals lacking in self-discipline and willpower. The tenacity to persevere and to finish a job is also essential for a creative person to be successful. An artist needs to execute his ideas; in other words, he has to be an "executive".

Forgive me for my lack of creativity here, but to sum everything up, I can't resist borrowing and paraphrasing Einstein's famous quote (originally comparing science with religion): "Creativity without execution is lame. Execution without creativity is blind"

Sunday, November 16, 2003

The IT Soldier

The IT Soldier

It has been restful weekend for me--been taking it easy since Friday. But I have to start working again on a couple of things. It is always difficult to restart the engine once you have allowed it stop.

My biggest challenge in work is my love-hate relationship with IT. At times I feel so tired of this field that I am tempted to throw in the towel. In school, I was never really fond of computers. I didn't even touch a PC until I was in my final year.

Other times, I find my work quite exhilirating. During the course of my IT career, there were projects which I had found challenging and enjoyable. Most of my close friends are also from this industry. This line of work has also given me great rewards: I had the opportunity to travel to many countries and I made a lot of friends everywhere.

But what tires me most is the hype that fuels the entire industry. In the early years of my career, I was like one of those World War I soldiers fighting in the trenches. We would go charging ahead blindly everytime we hear the bugle call. These days, I am stil out there in the frontlines, buried deep in trench mud, but I have learnt to fight more intelligently.

Maybe that's why I enjoy reading the War Poets and watching war movies so much. I always see myself as a soldier. When you are fighting in the trenches, you don't fight for your cause or country. You fight for your comrades beside you. And that is how I'd always approach my work.