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.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Signal and Noise from the Body

Signal and Noise from the Body

Enjoying my second day of peace and quiet in Jakarta. It is Sunday but it doesn't feel like one--a week-long holiday stretches out ahead.

Many of my Jakartaan friends are also trapped in the city too. In fact for some of them, they will be busier than usual because their maids have all gone home for Lebaran. They will have to do all household chores themselves for the week.

When I was a schoolboy, I used to looked forward to Lebaran or Hari Raya Puasa (as we call it in Malaysia) with eagerness. It gave us an opportunity to visit our Muslim teachers and friends and sample their delightful rendang and ketupat. I certainly hope schoolkids in Malaysia today still do that.

Maybe that was when I developed a liking for rendang. Even now, I always go for rendang whenever I eat at a nasi padang restaurant. It brings back pleasant memories of my schoolboy days, cycling to Kampung Baru to visit my Malay friends during Hari Raya.

Most of my Malaysian friends like nasi padang because it is closest to the type of Malay food we have in Malaysia. Sari Bundo at Jalan Juanda probably serves the best nasi padang in Jakarta. The Sederhana chain of nasi padang restaurant also serves pretty good Padang food and I often eat at the one in Sabang.

I won't consider myself a very health-conscious person. I normally let my body decide what's good and what's bad for me. I believe in Deepak Chopra's ayurvedic assertion that our body has the ability to self-balance itself to ensure good health. It will tell us through feelings of comfort or discomfort on what we should or shouldn't eat. The human body is a feedback control system.

Too much of something will cause discomfort. A bloated stomach from overeating is not a very pleasant feeling. Too salty or sweet a food causes us to feel thirsty. Too much alcohol makes us want to puke. We just need to learn to monitor and heed these subtle signs.

I suppose balance is the key to good health. The Chinese is always balancing food that is "heaty" with those that is "cooling"--the Yang and the Yin. Problem arises when we ignore the signals given out by our body and listen to our cravings instead.

The body has a "voice". And that voice is not the chorus of our cravings--that's deafeningly loud. Ignore it. The voice of the body is soft--it expresses itself through the subtle rhythms of comfort and discomfort. We need to learn how to filter out noise (our cravings) from the real signal that our body is trying to convey.

I have a desire to have nasi padang for lunch now. Is that a signal or a noise? Well, that's a tough one.