Saturday, September 04, 2004

Music and Memories

Music and Memories

When it comes to music, I'm a bit old-fashioned: I have a special fondness for Big Band Jazz. My laptop is frequently tuned to the Big Band station on Yahoo's Lauchcast Internet radio site. Music by Glenn Miller, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman are among my favourites.

I love watching the latest MTV music videos too but they are not the kind of music I would want to play in the background while I'm working. I also find Baroque music and Gregorian Chants the best kind of music for inducing concentration. Of course, there are a lot of theories out there about how music can enhance learning and also help in the healing process. Pregnant mothers today routinely subject their unborn children to Mozart and Bach.

Be it dangdut, Canto rock or hip hop, everyone has his or her own favourite music. There are lots of people who don't like to read but I haven't met anyone who doesn't like music. The music we listen to reflects our mental disposition and how we view the world. Part of the pleasure of music is the kind of memory they aways trigger back in our minds. Listening to Eurythimics or Duran Duran remind me of my teenage years. Dewa's music would bring me back to the crowded streets of Jakarta and the dinghy nightclubs of Kota.

Mozart and the sound of pianos always make me feel like a child again and evoke pleasant recollections of the sunny good times I had playing up in the hills and rubber estates. Sundanese music reminds me of nasi timbel, gurame goreng and the tranquility of Bandung. Vangelis' Blade Runner soundtrack brings me back to those cold and lonely nights studying in the university library.

Some music makes you feel so sad. Gabriel Yared's soundtrack for The Lover never fail to plunge me into melancholy. I am careful not to listen to it too often.

Big Band Music is the safest bet--it is always cheerful, playful and gay and redolent of times when life was a lot simpler. It makes me want to sit at Cafe Batavia, sipping red wine the whole night long...

Thursday, September 02, 2004

The Indonesian Way

The Indonesian Way

While the Malaysian cyberspace is abuzz with news of our most famous prisoner's release, the father of one of the Bali bombing victims was certainly not amused when Ali Imron, the guy convicted for his role in the 2002 terrorist incident, was spotted having his brief moment of freedom too, sipping coffee at Starbucks in Plaza Indonesia with a senior police officer.

Police spokesmen claimed that they were not breaking any law by doing so; Ali Imron was merely helping them in the investigation. To the outside world, this kind of thing might seem rather strange and unbelieavable--why in the world do they have to bring him to Starbucks to interrogate him??

Not too long ago, many foreign reporters were also shocked when the so-called "smiling bomber" Amrozi was seen shaking hands and chatting in a friendly manner with the Police Chiefs during his detention.

After observing Indonesia and Indonesians for so many years, I'm not really surprised by these things anymore. You see, these incidents do not in any way indicate that the Indonesian police are in complicity or are sympathetic with these terrorists. It is just the Indonesian way. Even the Australian Foreign Minister accepts the fact that "things are done in different countries in different ways".

I had the opportunity once to accompany a friend to file a police report at a Jakarta police station. There in the investigation room, I saw many detainees in their prison uniform walking in and out of the office freely, as if they were also employees there. I suppose these were the "well-behaved" ones.

Tommy Suharto, who is now "languishing" in the Nusakambangan prison, is said to have an air-conditioned cell with attached bathroom, equipped with cable TV and exercise bike. He even receives guests everyday in two special air-conditioned guest-rooms, not to mention conjugal visits by his many girlfriends.

But not all prisoners are so privileged. In The Mute's Soliloquy, Pramoedya Ananta Toer gave a heart-wrenching account of his 14 years of hard labour and starvation in the penal colony of Buru. People in Aceh and East Timor will also have lots to tell about the alleged atrocities commited against them by the Indonesian army.

Indonesia is a strange and intriguing country indeed. An everyday, I'm learning a little bit more.

Favourite Places

Favourite Places

When I was a U student, I lived in Section 11, Petaling Jaya. As a student, the only entertainment that I could afford was movies. So I used to frequent cinemas like Sentosa, Ruby, State and Majestic--those old and nostalgic theatre halls that are sadly, no longer in existence. I probably spent more time in those theatres than in the lecture halls.

These days in KL, I find myself catching less and less movies because it is not so convenient to do so. I try to avoid shopping malls on weekends. The shopping crowd and the sheer difficulty in finding parking kind of turns me off. If you don't go to malls, you don't get to watch many movies.

In Jakarta, it was quite convenient for me to catch the latest shows because Teater Djakarta was within walking distance from my hotel. My other favourite theatres were the cineplexes at Blok M Plaza, TIM (Taman Ismail Marzuki) and Atrium.

Not surprisingly, the Atrium Mall, located in Senen was one of my favourite places. I liked it because it caters mainly for the lower-middleclass; so you can be assured that you don't bump into anyone you know--the perfect place to be anonymous. You see, part of the fun of living in Jakarta is being able to disappear into the crowd and be able to observe the behaviour and customs of the local people.

The Senen area is off limits to most middleclass Jakartans because they consider it a rather notorious place. People will often tell you that the place is full of "premans" (gangsters) and it is to be avoided like a plague.

In reality, it is actually not so bad. I spent many weekends exploring the area. There's even a good serviced apartment and four-star hotel located there. Because the location is considered "bad" by the locals, the rates offered are good value for money; to me they are among the best kept secrets in town. I recommended a fellow Malaysian expatriate to stay there; he lived there for more than a year and was perfectly happy with it.

Everyone has places that they like and dislike. Even in KL, there are places which I simply don't feel comfortable with. There's probably nothing wrong with those places, just that I don't have an affinity with them. A lot of it is because I don't know enough about them. Ignorance tends to breed dislike.

Subang Jaya, the place where I'm living in right now is the quintessential Malaysian middleclass suburb. I'm quite comfortable here, as long as I know that I don't have to live here for the rest of my life.

You see, the problem with us is that the grass always feels greener elsewhere. And to me, nowhere doesn it feel greener than those verdant hills of Parahyangan...

Monday, August 30, 2004

Equanimity and the Badminton Player

Equanimity and the Badminton Player

Buddhists and many practitioners of mystical traditions learn to cultivate what they call "Equanimity". I've also used the word in many of my previous blog entries. What exactly does it mean? defines "equanimity" as "the quality of being calm and even-tempered". It is actually a little bit deeper than that.

I've used the analogy of football to describe safe driving and wisdom. Since this is the month of Olympics, let me choose another popular Malaysian sport to explain equanimity: Badminton.

If you look at a good badminton singles player, his movements are very economical. He anchors himself at the center of his court and waits for his opponent to return his shot. He will take one or two steps forward to retrieve a net shot and come back to the centre; retreat a similar number of steps backwards to handle a baseline shot and then back to the centre; he strives to minimize his movements and everytime goes back to an original central position, ready to handle the next shot that his opponent throws at him. By doing so, he doesn't wear himself out by rushing blindly from one end of the court to another like what beginners would normally do. Those who have played singles would know how tiring that can be. Good footwork is very important in badminton, if you want to last the entire match.

Now, imagine the badminton court as your mind, and you--the "thinking being" behind the mind--as the badminton singles player. Every stimulus that impinges on your senses is like the shot that your opponent throws at you.

A person who does not have equanimity will often be thrown "out of position" by the stimuli he receives from his senses. He will chase furiously after every shot.

A married man sees a pretty woman in the office; he flirts "harmlessly" with her and soon, one thing leads to another, they start having a full-fledged affair. In the end, his wife finds out about it and they are forced to divorce, breaking up a happy family in the process.

Every stimulus that enters the mind can potentially trigger a series of responses that could sometimes lead to unintended consequences--if we do not know how to handle them appropriately.

Everything starts from one stimulus--one shot. In our everyday lives, millions of such stimuli hit us. In order not to be thrown "out of position" by the attack of stimuli from one's senses, one needs to cultivate equanimity. A person with an equanimous mind always know where his "centre position" is. He will handle the "shot" that comes with a measured number of footsteps and movement, making sure that he recovers quickly and positions himself for the next shot.

What this means is that, we are never overwhelmed by our sensory inputs, no matter how seductive or enticing they are. We do not react instinctively but instead consciously choose our responses, always weighing the consequences of our actions calmly, without over-commiting ourselves.

When we happen to feel very sad sometimes, we do not throw ourselves into a fit of depression or wallow in self-pity; we acknowledge the sadness and we take comfort in the fact that everything in nature is impermanent and they will ultimately fade away--even sadness. We eventually recover back to our centre position.

When we are happy, we are not delirious to the point of forgetting that all happiness is also transient and can disappear just as easily, potentially leaving us broken and empty. We expect the delirium to fade away quietly and we acknowledge the experience with a deep sense of gratitude.

With the equanimous frame of mind, the wild fluctuations of our mood are always contained, and as a result, we are always well-positioned to make better decisions in life.

Cultivating equanimity of the mind doesn't mean that we become such dull people that we do not know how to experience life with all its highs and lows to the fullest anymore. Like a good badminton player, we are just learning better footwork, or in this case "mindwork" so that we can play the game better.

A good badminton player enjoys his game a lot more because he is always in control of his game. Similarly, a person who cultivates equanimity will live a fuller life because he is always on top of things, and is thus able to make the most out of the opportunities presented to him. Who knows, he might even become a better badminton player too.