Saturday, January 31, 2004

Uncluttering the Mind

Uncluttering the Mind

There was a massive jam in the city yesterday evening due to a combination of the 3-in-1 ruling , Friday evening, the rain and the long weekend ahead. I got stuck in a cab for more than two hours but somehow managed to make my way to the University and submitted my marks for the final exam, before they closed.

I'm finally able to close my part-time teaching career and concentrate on my new private enterprise. It looks like I won't have any time to settle down in KL; two projects are already in the pipeline and I'll have to start working immediately.

Today is the first day that I managed to catch my breath since arriving back in Jakarta. I miss my regular weekends here: surfing at the Internet cafe, teh susu with a good book at Phoenam Cafe, watching Premier League soccer and preparing slides for the coming week's lectures. With the remaining time until tomorrow that I have here, I'll have a tough time deciding whether I should meet my friends before I leave (deciding who to meet is a big problem).

I'll probably end up spending my time alone. Perhaps a visit to QB World for one last time before I go--but must make sure that I don't buy anymore books!. I already had a tough time shipping and hauling all my books back to KL. Luckily my Malaysian friends who left today helped me to hand-carry some of them back. It was tough managing all my nomadic possessions (which I had already tried hard to minimize); at one time while I was travelling to Jogja, I had my things scattered between my old office, my friend's house, the University locker and the hotel storage room. Now, I think 90 percent of them have been taken care of.

When I get back to KL, I must clear away some of my old stuff to make way for the new. I realised that the act of cleaning up one's things has a good psychological effect on the mind--it helps you to unclutter your thoughts. To change your thinking, start by changing your environment. The condition of one's room or dwelling place often reflects the mess that's inside one's mind. A visit to Ikea might give me some good ideas...

Friday, January 30, 2004

Emerging from the Oasis

Emerging from the Oasis

I actually missed a day of blogging yesterday--first time for quite a long time. Was completely tied up yesterday entertaining friends and marking my students' exam papers. I am glad and relieved to have completely tabulated all the marks this morning.

At the same time I am also busy setting up the necessary the infrastructure for my next endeavour in KL. (Well, I do have to make a living too). Was happy to hear that my company name has been approved and projects are coming in for me too. I suppose I'll have to spend a lot of time dealing with the mundane but necessary task of filling my rice-bowl in the coming months. I look forward to having another adventure in Indonesia (perhaps to Sumatra or Sulawesi) after I'm able to close some projects.

It'll be very tough for me to update this blog daily but I will try to do so. I will also have to spend a lot of time catching up on my work-related reading too. I cannot spend too much time anymore researching on Sukarno or any of my other weird obsessions. I'll have to try and find joy in IT again, which is still the line which I have to earn a living from, no matter how reluctant I am.

I suppose I can inject enthusiasm in anything I do as long as I can find some meaning in it. It is one of the reasons why I am opting out of the corporate world: it has become rather tiresome and meaningless for me. I need to find a new cause to fight for. Hopefully, the challenge of depending solely on my own knowledge and skills to eke out a living out there in the IT jungle will spur me to work harder.

I will need to constantly remind myself of what's important in life. This blog serves as a daily motivation pep-talk session for myself. I must maintain my discipline and not fall into a rut. Jakarta has nurtured me so kindly for the past two years and provided me with endless fascinations. I had built myself an oasis of calm in this Third World chaos. Enough soul-searching has been conducted over the past two years. I have voluminous journals recording the maelstrom of thoughts that have been raging in my head.

Thinking is over; time to execute.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Having Friends in Town

Having Friends in Town

I thought I could have some quiet time in Jakarta clearing my remaining work and meeting up with friends. But it looks like I'd have to struggle to complete marking my student's exam papers before the end of the week because some of my Malaysian friends are also in town.

For the past two years, I've been the "Jakarta man" for many of my colleagues from other countries: Everytime they drop by, I have to play host to them. Sometimes they ask me to help schedule business meetings on their behalf; I even have to help them recruit maids! I also receive calls from people I don't personally know: they have been told by my friends that I could show them a "good time".

The favourite eating places here for many of my Malaysian and Singaporean friends are: Nasi Padang at Sari Bundo, Bakmi GM, Kwee-Tiau Sapi at Jalan Hayam Wuruk and Ayam Goreng Suharti. A night out at Kota is usually part of the agenda; Having friends in town means it's an orgy of gluttony and late nights.

I have long lost my enthusiasm for clubbing, preferring a quiet night at home watching Premier League soccer on ESPN or reading at the cafe. I avoid karaokes like a plague. In fact I kind of enjoy a reclusive life these days; but my tranquility is yanked away everytime my Malaysian or Singaporean colleagues drop by.

Next couple of days is going to be very tight for me: I have so many people that I want to personally meet before I leave Jakarta and I have to entertain friends here at the same time, and not forgetting that pile of exam papers that I have to finish marking.

It looks like I might have to make another trip here again in the not too distant future to tie up my loose ends...

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Back in my Neighbour (and Thinking about KL)

Back in my Neighbourhood (and Thinking about KL)

It feels like I've never left this place. But then again I was only away for a week. I'm back pacing the sidewalks of Jalan Wahid Hasyim area, which has been my neighbourhood for the past two years.

The sight of the spanking new Starbucks cafe next to Theater DJakarta brought my thoughts back to KL briefly. ( I remember they were still renovating the place before Imlek but now it is already opened for business) But from here, KL seems like such a distant, and even alien world. Everytime I go back to KL I am amazed at how prosperous Malaysians are--a fact that many Malaysians take for granted.

The sight of ojeks, bajajs and asongans near Sarinah reminds me of the fact that there's a huge population out there who have to struggle daily for survival. I have learned to lead a rather moderate life over the last two years here (in comparison with the average Malaysian), and love the simplicity that I've achieved. All that will be threatened when I go back to KL. It takes a lot of discipline not to plunge into the kind of gluttonously bourgeois life that most of my Malaysian friends lead.

There's probably nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact I'm happy that Malaysia has managed to build a prosperous middleclass society. But the sight of so many people spilling out of Ikea clutching the latest designer furnitures and the throng of shopping carts that jam the hypermart aisles on weekends fill me with a kind of trepidation: as if prosperity means the luxury to consume endlessly.

A thriving middleclass is the bulwark of stability for a country. It is something that Indonesia has to build first. But for that to happen, stability has to be present. It is a bit of a Catch-22. With elections coming up this year, Indonesia is still very much a cauldron of uncertainty. Looks like I'm going to miss all the action here.

Monday, January 26, 2004

The Language Divide

The Language Divide

I have to be back again in Jakarta tomorrow to tie up some loose ends. I have been trying to adapt myself to KL life since I've been back and was quite reluctant to yank myself away from the blissful isolation that enjoyed back in Jakarta; but I need to introduce new challenges into my life so that I continue to grow.

I'll take the opportunity this coming week there to meet up and say goodbye to some of my Indonesian friends--friends who have helped me a lot during my two years there. Those two years in a way had given me a brief reprieve from the hectic life that I used to lead in KL and Singapore. Though the pace of working life was slower in Jakarta, I was able to produce better quality work. For some reason I could build rapport a lot easier with Indonesian customers.

Even though I do not speak perfect Indonesian, strangely I find it easier to converse with the older generation in Indonesia while I struggle to do the same in Malaysia, especially with the elderly who not speak English. My Mandarin is utterly hopeless and my Cantonese--which is actually my mother-tongue--has deteriorated over the years through neglect and indifference.

In casual conversations, we also tend to lapse into our pidgin form of English or "Manglish". It is rather unfortunate that Malay--for centuries, the lingua franca for commerce in this region--is hardly ever used in the business world in Malaysia. Even native Malay speakers tend to sprinkle too many English words in their conversations--sometimes rather unnecessarily. Though I used to speak Malay a lot during my schooldays, over the years, I've somehow lost my flair for the language.

In fact I think my Malay has become even worst (at least from a Malaysian point of view) now that I've acquired some Indonesian habits of speaking: for example saying "nggak" instead of "tak", "kapan" instead of "bila", "gimana" (bagaimana), "makasi" (terima kasih), "udah" (dah or sudah) and using "gitu" (begitu) to emphasize a point at the end my sentence. Expressions such as "dong", "deh", "kok" and "sih" would also stump most Malaysians. Though historically both languages share a common root, there are many significant differences indeed between Bahasa Indonesia and the Bahasa Melayu that is spoken in Malaysia.

I'm forced to come to the rather disturbing conclusion that I actually do not speak any language well. Maybe the mixing of different languages in daily conversations is a natural and inevitable phenomenon. New languages emerge that way. Technology too--like SMS--influences the development of language--not sure for better or worse. I have to admit that I have to struggle to understand the heavily abbreviated text messages that fly across chat-rooms. Parents often lament the fact that they can never communicate with their teenagers anymore. Now with SMS-speak, parents not only have to overcome the generation gap but they actually have to learn an almost entirely new language if they even hope to penetrate their world.

Sometimes I do wonder, with the advanced communication devices that we possess today, are we really communicating better with one another? Perhaps technology has merely accelerated the splintering of our communities by facilitating the evolution of exclusive languages for ever-smaller sub-culture groups?

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Transcending the Body

Transcending the Body

The Buddhist Abhidhamma text is a highly technical one, expounding the psychological and metaphysical aspects of the religion. It is certainly not your average bedtime reading. However I managed to read an introductory text to it 18 years ago when I was marooned at home with a serious bout of chicken pox.

Feeling weak and uncomfortable with itchy blisters covering all over my body, the mind became a means of escape from that loathsome physical state. An Introduction to the Abhidhamma by a Dr W. F. Jayasuriya became my faithful companion during the time.

Buddhism is a religion that can be appreciated on many different levels. For children, there are beautiful parables called Jataka stories that can be read to understand some of the basic teachings of the religion. Abhidhamma or "higher teaching" of Buddhism would appeal to people who are scientifically or philosophically minded.

I was and still am the scientific-minded type. So I felt a sense of satisfaction when the Abhidhamma says that there are 89 classes of thoughts and that thoughts arise in a stream of succession...Each thought unit consists of a cognitive element and some mental factors (there are 52 mental factors)...the mind operates and performs its various functions with those elements, as well as with the unit as a whole, without any over-riding doer or self...the book continues in that dull and dry fashion for over 200 pages.

For someone who was covered completely by ugly-looking chicken pox blisters, and being completely quarantined from the world, the contemplation of such obscure concepts seemed rather appealing and even sublime. It was through such exalted thoughts that the foulness of the body could be transcended.

Luckily I survived that terrible bout of chicken pox rather unscathed but it was probably the most uncomfortable illness I've had in my life. My whole body felt as if it was being consumed by some malignant alien spores. But those weeks spent waiting for the blisters and sores to heal made me understand some of the basic teachings of Buddhism about the impermanence of physical beauty. Being enamoured with the human body and its external appearances is an attachment that would ultimate cause enormous pain. The body will ultimately breakdown--youth and beauty are but transient joys.

There have been many other texts from different religions that brought great intellectual and spiritual satisfaction to me since then. But I'll always remember those painful weeks when I was stricken with chicken pox and the Abidhamma became my means of mentally escaping from that terrible state of physical foulness that I was trapped in. It was then that I realised where the real key to salvation really lay.