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.