Saturday, December 27, 2003

Discarding the Past

Discarding the Past

This morning I spent a few hours in the office clearing away my old documents. I have tons of them: project papers, proposals, RFPs, whitepapers, notes, minutes-of-meeting--all the vestiges of the past.

When I left Singapore two years ago, I threw away a lot of my old stuff. But there were still many project files which I thought would be useful for me in the future. I shipped them all to Jakarta.

Now I realised that I had kept them because of sentimental reasons: I did not have the heart to "erase" all the hardwork that I had put in--days and nights slogging in my small HDB room, the cold nights in the office waiting for conference calls and the hurried proposals I wrote in strange hotel rooms in distant lands. Those papers were proof of those tumultuously exciting years that I had spent in the IT industry.

Today I threw them all away. It was like having a lobotomy, but I needed this cathartic experience. I wanted a fresh start.

All the hardwork that I had put in, all those years, will not disappear just because I threw away some yellowing piles of paper. My knowledge and experience is still with me. I am hopefully a better person because of everything that I had gone through.

We burden the soul by clinging to the weight of the past. I feel freer now that I have discarded their symbolic traces. I look forward to my new found freedom. It is that beautiful lightness of being all over again.

Friday, December 26, 2003

The Happiness of Hotels

The Happiness of Hotels

I can vegetate forever in my hotel room. For some reason, I feel very at home and happy in hotels. Some of my friends have problems sleeping the first few nights everytime they check into a hotel. I've never had that problem. Hotels--even the cheap ones--are always cozy and comfortable to me. I always sleep like a log.

I also know some people, especially women, who are afraid to stay in a hotel alone. I can understand that: hotel rooms are so impersonal, so claustrophobic--at times, one could feel a bit isolated from the rest of the world staying in one. The loneliness and fear can be quite unbearable.

Sometimes you also hear weird tales of unseen "forces" disturbing guests in hotel rooms. A male colleague of mind in Singapore who had such experiences before now never leaves home without his religious amulets. Even hotel workers at the hotel where I'm staying at tells me tales of noises in unoccupied rooms or water taps that open by itself. I find them amusing.

I've never had any such supernatural encounters before. Such things never even cross my mind whenever I check into a hotel. I only think of hotels as being abodes of privacy and comfort. Throughout my working life, I've stayed in many hotels before. Among the luxury ones, I love the Regent group of hotels the most. I've stayed in every one of their establishments in South East Asia--Bangkok, Jakarta, Singapore and even KL. The ones in Jakarta and Bangkok are my favourites.

To me a hotel room is my sanctuary in a strange foreign place. I remember staying in a motel in California for more than a month during my first trip to the States. I can't think of a happier time in my life. I spent a lot of time there reading, watching HBO and eating Chinese takeouts.

I've been calling a hotel my home here in Jakarta for the past two years. Leaving the place will be sad for me. But I am a nomad--I shouldn't be too attached to a place. Nomads always have to move on...

Thursday, December 25, 2003

The Dull IT Professional

The Dull IT Yuppie

Woke up to rain and wetness today. Jakarta city is quiet. I suppose people are still recovering from the night's Christmas revelry.

I remember I used to have a lot fun doing Christmas coundowns in pubs during the days when I was working in KL. Come to think of it, I haven't done any countdown celebrations--be it Christmas or New Year--for a very long time. Somehow these things don't interest you that much anymore when you grow older.

I've mentioned before, that I see aging as a process of transformation. It is strange that certain things only come with age. When you are young, you feel that you want to try everything and to enjoy life as much as possible; as you grow older, the things you used to consider as "pleasurable" lose some of their appeal to you. Enjoyment takes on a different meaning. You seek to find something deeper, longer lasting and more meaningful.

I mentioned yesterday about some of my "crazy" interests. There's however a more serious side to these leisure pursuits of mine: I want to constantly keep my mind active. The day I grow old is the day that I resign myself to pushing shopping carts in hypermarkets.

All my pursuits are nerdy ones. You'll never find me going scuba-diving or playing golf like what many of my friends do. I think these are fun activities too, but I have to prioritize. Outdoor activities to me means travelling to some foreign town, loitering in the streets, observing and eavesdropping on the locals. Adventure to me means exploring the grubby side of Jakarta and talking to occupants of rumah kos.

In the final analysis, I am just a middleclass bobo with bohemian pretensions--another dull IT yuppie who probably should be doing Christmas countdowns at the local pub.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

The Indonesian Bohemian

The Indonesian Bohemian

I've always tried to spend Christmas back in KL. Usually I'll be having drinks with my friends in downtown KL or Bangsar on Christmas eve. But looks like this year, I'll be stuck in Jakarta, trying to finish my work.

It's not too bad though, being "stuck" here. I think the town will be rather quiet and I have four days of public holidays ahead. Four days of complete, uninterrupted concentration on my work. After that I am a free man. Free to pursue some of my favourite subjects...

My colleague Aris asked me what will be my next interest after Sukarno. Aris is a Sundanese from Bandung and I had consulted him extensively about all the Sukarno-related places in the town before I went on my crazy Sukarno pilgrimage there a couple of weeks back. He was surprised that I even managed to visit the grave of Marhaen! But my Sukarno adventure is not done yet: I haven't visited his grave at Blitar, East Java; and I have not explored his former dwellings in Bengkulu, Yogjakarta and even Ende, Flores. Maybe I won't get a chance to do all that, but I'll definitely try.

I told Aris that the next subject that I might pursue is the poet Chairil Anwar (1922-1945). I had discovered his poems during my university years when by chance I bought an old 1960s edition of his anthology of poems, Kerikil Tadjam (Sharp Rocks) from a book sale. I didn't know who he was then but I thoroughly enjoyed all his poems. I have been a fan ever since and My Kerikil Tadjam book remains one of most treasured possessions. Too bad Chairil Anwar died young and did not leave a great body of work.

But his mark in Indonesian literature has been indelible: he is the icon of youthful rebellion, almost in the James Dean mould. His famous poem "Aku" is the anthem of the idealistic individual. A pioneer of the Angkatan 45 movement, he perhaps is the first bohemian writer of Indonesian literary scene. I still keep an a newspaper clipping of an article about Chairil Anwar, written by Salleh Ben Joned in his New Straits Times column, As I Please, published in the late 1980s.

All these years, the poems from Kerikil Tadjam kept lingering in my mind. Now, who do you think own the domain? Right now it points to this blog but I'm saving it for some future project...

You see, I have enough crazy obsessions to last me a lifetime! But for the next four days, I'll have to clear my mind of all such crazy thoughts and focus on my boring IT work. Poor me. To the rest of the world, Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Learning, Familiarity & Understanding

Learning, Familiarity & Understanding

It is often said that the best way to learn is to teach. I find that to be very true; in the course of my IT career, I often had to present to customers on topics that I wasn't very familiar with. I had to learn to master the subject in a short period of time and then talk about it with relative confidence. This forced me to learn very quickly and whatever I learnt through that difficult process remained with me forever.

To learn something well, the mind must always be seeking. We must have a goal in mind, an application, or a deep desire to understand. Many students who attend school do not see the relevance of what they are studying. As a result, very little is learnt in the process.

Learning is also difficult when there are too many preconceptions in mind. The old Zen saying about having to empty the cup of one's mind first is definitely true. Subjects like physics, mathematics and philosophy are fascinating to me because you often have to change your familiar view of the world before you could comprehend their concepts fully. And that is not easy. One cannot grasp them in one reading. It is a process that takes time; sometimes years and decades.

The impatient student would give up half-way, claiming that they do not have the aptitude or talent for the subject. That is the wrong attitude. They must first learn to familiarize themselves with the materials and not worry too much about understanding. Like what I alluded to in a previous blog entry, understanding starts from familiarity. Through the process of familiarisation, we begin to internalize difficult concepts; and suddenly, one day we realise that we actually understand what they meant.

This applies to human relationships too. To know someone well, we must get familiar with the person first. Only after years of interaction, can we claim to have understood a person. We cross the border from familiarity to understanding without us realising it most of the time. Familiarity and understanding are merely two ends of the same spectrum. Make sense, No? Well, start getting familiar with it first.

Monday, December 22, 2003

My Mindprint

My Mindprint

Many describe a blog as an online journal, even the recent ClickOnline show on BBC. To me that is only a partial description of what I want to achieve with my blog. There are also others who insist that "real" blogs are those that provide links to other websites, along with the writer's commentaries. That they insist, is the real value and purpose of weblogs--a gateway and filter to information.

I've mentioned in a previous entry that my blog entries are like daily prayers. I examine my thoughts for the day, reflect on the day's events and vow to do better tomorrow. At least the commitment to blog everyday is like one's commitment to pray daily. It is a discipline that perfects the soul. It is my daily self-motivation exercise. My blog is my humble exercise book.

Blogging to me is also an excuse for me to review movies, books and talk about things that interest me. Whenever I do so, my blog acts more like the traditional weblog--pointing readers to interesting sites for further information. To provide these links, I have to search through cyberspace and find out what I think are the best sources of information for the topics that I am discussing. The side-benefit of blogging is purposeful surfing.

There's also another psycho-analytical reason for me to blog. I want to see the inter-relationships and patterns between my thoughts. As I deposit my thoughts onto cyberspace everyday, and link them to external sites, I unconsciously create an "Extraspace" that links my inner world--my memories and thoughts--with information that exist out there in cyberspace. My blog acts like a portal to this combined Extraspace of mind and Internet.

A chunk of my mind now exists in cyberspace--my mindprint, if you will. My mind is intricately linked with the Cybermind, through this blog; in other words, the Internet has become an extension of my mind. The microcosm and the macrocosm has been seamlessly connected.

A blog is an going dialog between the writer and the reader and also between my external and inner selves. Today's blog is linked to a previous blog entry which also touched on how I view blogging. It is an on-going development of a theme. By linking these strands of thoughts together, I can detect patterns and tendencies in my thinking. I unravel my own thoughts in the process and evolve my thinking to the next level.

Through blogging, I watch my thoughts grow everyday, on the fertile soil of cyberspace.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Crossing the Poverty Line

Crossing the Poverty Line

I read a translation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras when I was a freshman at the university. The Yoga Sutras contain 196 aphorisms that neatly captures the science and philosophy of Yoga.

When I first read it, it was quite difficult to understand. Now after all these years, the concepts have become quite clear to me. I have an audio recording of Vivekananda's commentary on the Yoga Sutras and it is my favourite bedtime listening here in Jakarta.

During my university years, I read a lot on Eastern religions and philosophy. I think one can still detect many of these influences in my blog entries--especially those about the mind. Perhaps my rather ascetic lifestyle nowadays can also be attributed to them.

I went through many different phases in my reading life. At one time I was also deep into western philosophy. My first introduction to it was Bertrand Russell's famous book: A History of Western Philosophy--the paperback copy which I bought for 20 ringgit at the university bookstore. I remember at that time I had to decide whether to spend the money on the book or to join the class trip to Port Dickson; the choice was clear to me then.

I consider myself lucky that I don't have to make such choices now. Even though I am not rich, I can afford to buy any book that I choose to read. In fact I once told a former boss of mine that I crossed the poverty line the day I bought a book without looking at the price. The scarce commodity for me now is not money but time.

Over the years, I have resisted indulging in expensive hobbies that friends my age are into--golf, cars and diving. I remain a boring bookworm. Books are expensive but they are not as expensive as a golf club membership. I am not keen to acquire all the trappings of wealth--they bore me, utterly. As long as can afford to buy the books that I want to read, I'll always feel rich.