Saturday, December 20, 2003

Kill Another Day

Kill Another Day

It looks like I'll be spending Christmas in Jakarta this year. I was back in KL a couple of weeks ago for Lebaran, so it does not make sense for me to go back again so soon. Furthermore I have so much work that I have to clear by Christmas.

Let's not talk about work, which is boring. Let's talk about movies. It's sad that I haven't had the opportunity to watch that many movies this year. The last one that I watched was The Matrix Revolutions back in KL. Since coming back to Jakarta I have not stepped foot into a cinema. I wanted to watch Kill Bill (which one of my friends say is a stupid movie) but I couldn't spare the time to do so. I am a big fan of director Quentin Tarantino; even if people say the movie is stupid, I'd still watch it. I don't care much about other people's opinion when it comes to movies.

I first watched Tarantino's Pulp Fiction in Hong Kong in 1995. That movie entertained and astounded me. Have been a great fan of Tarantino ever since. I like the way his characters are killed off in his movies without a big fuss (Travolta in Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson and Bridget Fonda in Jackie Brown)--no sentimental monologue or trite exchange of words over gunpoint before dying. Cool.

Tarantino is a big fan of Hong Kong kungfu and cop movies. He is also an admirer of Hong Kong auteur film-maker Wong Kar Wai--another one of my favourites. I must write an entire blog entry about Wong Kar Wai one day. There's so much to write about that I don't know where to start.

Found out from the 21 Cineplex website that Kill Bill is still playing in a couple of places including Block M Plaza and Atrium--two of my favourite malls. It is tempting indeed but unfortunately, I don't have the luxury this weekend to kill my time watching Kill Bill. I suppose I'll let Bill live, to die another day.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Tears in the Rain

Tears in the Rain

It has been raining daily here in Jakarta; this together with the on-going Busway project which effectively takes out two lanes from the already congested Sudirman road make traffic horrendous. I've been leaving the office early lately to avoid both. Moreover I want to be back in my room so that I can start doing my work at home earlier.

I am reminded of the bad working habits that I used to have in Singapore, like going to the office when people were just leaving, to work throughout the night. I used to work on most weekends too, which wasn't really healthy. But I had to make up for my lack of productivity on weekdays by working on Saturdays and Sundays. New recruits in the office would often ask me whether I was new, because they never saw me during office hours.

But those were heady days of the dot-com boom when there were virtually new people joining the company every week. We saw how the company lost its senses doing those boom times. We were once proud of being lean and mean, but the boom changed all that--we couldn't grow fast enough. Success ruined us.

We had a cause to fight for. We, the soldiers in the trenches, used to fight with our lives because we felt passionate for our cause. Alas, we lost all that during those boom years.

The rain in Jakarta makes me feel rather melancholy these days. For some reason I'm constantly reminded of that scene from one of my all-time favourite movies, Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott: In the climatic scene (delivered with Scott's usual dazzle of rain, smoke and lights), the fugitive replicant, played by Rutger Hauer, resigning to his inevitable death (replicants were genetically engineered to have a lifespan of only 4 years), delivers a sad monologue:
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain...

Outside my window, the rain is still pouring.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Choir Days

Choir Days

When I was primary school student, I was part of the choir team (we called it "kuayer"). No, I wasn't a particularly good singer, but I simply loved those traditional and patriotic Malay songs that they used to teach us to sing.

Today, many people feel slightly disgusted everytime they see Siti Nurhaliza go on TV to belt out one of those pro-government patriotic songs. I hate to admit it, but I kind of enjoy them, because it brings back good memories of my primary schooldays.

Until today I can still remember the lyrics of songs like Tanah Pusaka (...biar putih tulang jangan putih mata) and Sungai Pahang (...hilir-mudik, dan membawa berita). Our music teacher, the bubbly Mr Chin--ever-ready with his accordion--used to teach us traditional children's songs like Ikan Kekek, Enjit Enjit Semut and Burung Ketilang. I wonder if they still teach these songs now.

During the puasa month, we'd sing Selamat Hari Raya and when Chinese New Year was approaching he'd be teaching us to sing "Her Sin Nian" phonetically. And of course, we had to sing the school's song (Sekolahku) and the national anthem, Negaraku every Monday and Friday at the assembly.

So forgive me if I am such a patriot now, for I've been "brainwashed" ever since I was a kid. I have no regrets, because my soul was forged in Malaysia. No matter how far I go, I will always return to the land where the mighty Sungai Pahang flows: Tanah Pusakaku, Malaysia, where my soul will ultimately find its peace.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Visiting a Rumah Kos

Visiting a Rumah Kos

I've always wanted to see what a typical rumah kos (boarding house) in Jakarta looks like. Many young workers or students in this crowded metropolis live in a rumah kos. They occupy rooms--often cramped wooden partitions--costing between 100 to 300 thousand rupiah a month. Typically three to six rooms would share a common bathroom and toilet.

Yesterday I had a chance to visit one when Wiwik invited me to her rumah kos near Jalan Jaksa. Well, actually I had pestered her for a while to let me catch a glimpse of her rumah kos. Wiwik works as a sales rep at the hotel where I'm staying at. I've known her for the past two years that I've been staying there.

It was fun following her deep into one of those urban settlements sandwiched between modern high-rises in the city. There's a whole community that live their entire lives within these urban crevices. The drains are clogged with foul-smelling ooze, and the occasional motorcycle or car would squeeze it's way through the maze of narrow streets.

The air inside Wiwik's two-storey boarding house was very stuffy. There are probably around ten rooms, made from wooden partitions, each measuring around six times eight feet in size--enough space for a mattress on the floor a a small closet for clothes.

Though small, Wiwik's room is rather cozy. Located on the second floor, up a steep set of stairs, climbing up there was like entering into an attic. She has a table fan, TV set and a small portable CD/Radio player in her room. Photos of her, her family and ex-boyfriend adorn the wall. There's a common kitchen, washing area and bathroom at the end of the corridor.

Wiwik's boarding house is an all-girls one. But many rumah kos have mixed male and female occupants; and there are many interesting stories circulating around about the loose lifestyle of their young occupants.

I had an interesting time looking through her CD collection (Rosa, Nat King Cole) and books (Mistikus Islam--a translation of a book by Margaret Smith, attracted my attention). Wiwik loves to read and is also fond of Kahlil Gibran. Due to her many failed relationships in the past, Wiwik at 30, is still unmarried. But she is optimistic of finding a good man.

Wiwik seemed happy living in her tiny room at the rumah kos. There are many other girls like her in Jakarta. It is here, in stuffy rooms like this, behind the shadows of the gleaming highrises, in midst the tumult of traffic and the stench from the clogged canals that criss-cross the city, girls like Wiwik live and breed.

When I left her place, it was quite dark and I had a bit of difficulty finding my way out from the maze of tightly-packed dwellings. As I walked through the damp and narrow alleyways, I kept thinking of Wiwik in her attic-like room somewhere out there, reading Kahlil Gibran.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Beethoven's Birthday

Beethoven's Birthday?

When I was a standard six student (12 years old), I used to read Dewan Pelajar, an educational Malay magazine published by Dewan Bahasa & Pustaka for young students. I enjoyed playing its crossword puzzle and reading the short articles in there. Later as I was older I progressed to the more heavy Dewan Masyarakat and Dewan Sastera, being particularly fond of the latter.

I remember reading an issue of Dewan Pelajar which contained a calendar for December with pictures of famous historical personality corresponding to their birthdays. I was delighted to find out that the picture for December 16 was Ludvig Van Beethoven. As a kid then, I felt rather proud sharing the same birthday with the great German composer.

At that time my knowledge about Beethoven was scant and I wasn't very familiar with his music yet. But I thought his dishevelled hair and gruff demeanour looked pretty cool. I began to read up more about him, and paid particular attention to his compositions.

My earliest introduction to his music came from piano pieces which my neighbours used to practice daily. "Fur Elise" composed by Beethoven was a particularly popular piece. I was also lucky to be able to pick up a bit of piano skills later on myself and was quite fond of playing Beethoven's many Sonatinas.

However years later I was dismayed when I found out from an encyclopedia that his birthdate is actually 17 December 1770. Was Dewan Pelajar wrong? I did not share the same birthday with him after all!

I did not leave the matter to rest. When I was in the university, I dug up all the books I could about Beethoven from the library. At last the mystery cleared: Beethoven was actually baptized in the church on the 17th of December--there are church records to prove that. But that did not indicate that he was born on that day itself. The usual practice then was for babies to be baptized a day after they were born.

So in the end, no one knows for sure when exactly is Beethoven's birthday. In all probability it is 16th of December. The Dewan Pelajar I read when I was 12 wasn't exactly wrong after all!

It didn't really matter. Until today I've always assumed that Beethoven and I share some spiritual bond. In my CD collection are his 9 symphonies--considered a treasure of humanity--and his 32 piano sonatas. I even took the trouble to "read" the musical scores of his symphonies and sonatas to better appreciate them.

Beethoven is a great source of inspiration to me. His deafness--the greatest curse to befall a musician--did not stop him from composing some of his greatest works, including the famous 9th Symphony, also known as Ode to Joy. His music contains great technical innovations and deep sublime beauty. My life has been enriched, inspired and touched in so many ways by his life and works.

Long Live the music and memory of Beethoven!

Monday, December 15, 2003

The Blooming of the Mind

The Blooming of the Mind

I have been very busy for the past few days with one of my projects. Now that it is done, I have to concentrate on finishing the others. It is difficult to work when the mind is distracted. I take great pains to maintain my concentration; work produced when the mind is focussed is often of good quality.

Sometimes I suspect we all do not use a hundred percent of our brainpower whenever we are trying to do accomplish something that requires mental work. We often claim that we can work better with the TV on or with some music in the background. Well, it could be true that some reasonable amount of work could be accomplished in such conditions but then we could be using our brains at a very superficial level.

When we are fully concentrated, we are not aware of what's around us. If we are aware of the music, that means the mind is actually alternating between music and work. The effective throughput of the brain is halved. Or at least that's what I suspect.

Having some music or TV in the background makes working less of a lonely task. It becomes a problem when we allow the mind to wander too often to input that is less strenuous to the brain, such as music or TV, thus spending even less CPU time for real work.

I often have the TV or music on whenever I'm working in my room at night. But I know what I could produce is not 100% of what I am capable of. If I have complete silence, ideas would just spring up from the depths of my mind. An uncluttered mind naturally produce creative thought bubbles.

My mystical sense tells me that the mind is in essence creative. When loud external stimuli hits the brain, they dominate the vibrations in our minds, obscuring our awareness of creative thoughts that are constantly being emanated. We spend our time instead reacting to the rather pleasant stimuli.

If we quiesce the mind and listen to the voice inside, we could discover wondrous results. The concentrated mind unfolds its treasures like a blooming flower. And sweet ideas are then released from within, like pollen borne on the wind.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

A Sunday Sermon

A Sunday Sermon

Watching this year's Nobel prize winners for science being interviewed on the BBC by Nik Gowing, makes me feel nostalgic for my student days when science was my biggest passion.

I could never understand why some people consider science to be at odds with religion. To me, science itself is a religious pursuit; I have often seen it that way, even as a kid. The quest to understand Nature is the greatest adventure that Man could embark on. Science is just an expression of that yearning. Religious pursuits is another aspect of the same primal impulse.

Religion and science allow us to explore our connection with the universe. In science, we are always in awe with the mysteries of the cosmos. Underlying all phenomena in Nature are laws so simple and elegant, comprehending them is an intellectual intoxication equal to the divine ecstasy attained by a saint in deep meditation.

What cripples both science and religion is dogma. Dogma is a product of Man's ego. We think that we already know everything and refuse to consider other alternatives. If we could over come our intellectual pride and our holier-than-thou attitude, Man's material and spiritual progress will be a lot smoother and swifter.