Friday, January 14, 2005

Simplifying Life

Simplifying Life

What does one do when one is lazy to write about anything "serious"? Just write about mundane, everyday stuff--like yesterday's power blackout.

I was working at home when the power went off suddenly. Feeling a bit warm and stuffy at home, I decided to drive out and work from a Wi-fi hotspot at one of the air-conditioned malls instead.

But when I started driving out of Subang Jaya, I realized that the blackout was bigger than I had thought--all the traffic lights were not working. I immediately anticipated the worst: massive traffic jams in the city and being trapped in my car for hours.

I quickly changed my mind, and decided to just park at USJ10 (Taipan) and tried to find an airy spot at one of the outdoor cafes to work, hoping that my batteries would last me at least two hours. I ended up at Coffee Bean; the place was completely dark and they could not serve any hot drinks at all. But it was comfortable enough just to sit at one of their outdoor tables and work on my laptop, albeit without an Internet connection. Luckily the power came back at around 2pm in the area and I was soon happily connected to the Net again.

Well, I was lucky. Others had it worse: being stuck in a lift, stranded in an LRT train inside an underground tunnel and trapped in the gridlocked traffic. The entire city had come to a standstill.

The situation made think about how helpless we have all become without electricity. We grew up without a lot of the comforts that we have now been accustomed to; for example, almost three-quarters of my life was spent without air-conditioning but now I cannot even sit and work comfortably for one hour without it. What happened? How did I become so "handicapped"?

Despite my self-imposed austere way of life, I'm still very much dependent on many of our modern day luxuries. But can air-conditioning really be considered a luxury? We can argue that it has even become a necessity these days.

But I used to be able to sleep and work without air-conditioning and I had no complains about it then. Why should it be any different now? Theoretically I should be able to revert back to my old living standards if I choose to.

I've always considered a simple life as the happiest kind of life. The more luxuries I acquire in life, the more I'm convinced this is so. I have actually tried to simplify my life a lot over the years.

Am I a happier person because of that?

Maybe. The only way to find out is to first earn all the luxuries that one yearns for deeply and then slowly relinquishing them one by one. Otherwise it could be just sour grapes.

Why should one even bother to pursue such a ridiculous path?

Well, sometimes it is a spiritual calling. Sometimes it could be just plain twisted thinking. If the thought hasn't occured to you, then you're OK. But don't be surprised if it does.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Ocean of Being

The Ocean of Being

Every now and then, all of use will be overcome by feelings of loneliness. In extreme cases, loneliness can plunge a person into great depths of depression, sometimes even leading to suicide. The feeling is like staring into an abyss, to find nothing staring back at you.

If one is so used to having family and friends around, suddenly finding oneself stranded alone in the world can be a very difficult and even traumatic experience to go through. Like what I've mentioned before, many of us would rather hang on to an unhappy relationship than to face life alone.

To a certain extent, having a sense of purpose in life helps one in overcoming loneliness. It could be a job, a career or a mission that one pursues. But if one is driven purely by egoistic and selfish reasons, one will still end up a very lonely person in the end.

As human beings, we have a natural urge to share our interests, dreams and hopes with others. We are creatures of connection. We always need someone to talk to, failing which we would end up feeling very isolated and lonely.

Connecting to other people is a very healthy thing; by doing so, one can exchange ideas and opinion, and grow into a better person as a result. In an ideal world, all human interactions should help to spread love, knowledge and energy evenly--all interactions should add to the sum of humanity's happiness.

Our world is an imperfect one because humanity as a whole has a karma to work out. The oceans are forever restless because they are constantly being stirred by the interacting gravities of the Earth and the Moon.

We are all like moons and planets with our own equivalent of gravity--our egos. The gravity of of our egos make us want to manipulate others for our own personal benefit and comfort. We draw other people's emotional energies so that the void inside us is filled. And so we go out into the world everyday, tugging, drawing, pushing, pulling and shoving so that we find that emotional equilibrium that we yearn for.

That is karma in action. Loneliness is but a symptom of this state of inequilibrium. We feel lonely because we have physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs that need to be filled. Our need to connect to others is the universe's way of finding a resolution to this uneven distribution of energy. When we interact with the world, we exchange energies on all these four planes of existence.

And ultimately, all that jostling and fighting will inevitably come to an end--everyone will be fulfilled, energy will all be distributed evenly, all our karmas would have been worked out and the ocean of our being will finally be still.

Only then will we experience loneliness no more.

The Garden of Forbidden Fruits

The Garden of Forbidden Fruits

There's a saying in mainland China that men turn bad when they get rich, and women get rich when they turn bad. And nowhere is this adage more evident than in the small industrial town of Dongguan in the Guangdong province of China, only an 80km bus-ride away from Hongkong.

Dongguan is already well-known in the region as the sex playground of of the Chinese businessmen. These men, mostly businessmen of the Chinese diaspora--from places like Hongkong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia--all make it a point to stop by here during their business trips for a relaxing interlude of song and sex. Dongguan has become the de facto concubine capital of China.

I've been to China many times before--even to the cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen close by--but I've never had the opportunity to visit Dongguan yet. But I know many of my friends (all married) make regular trips there. Some of them go just for a voracious weekend of whoring, others to visit their regular mistresses. They tell me that the mainland Chinese women are different; having tasted their charms, they say, one will never bother to pick up women from elsewhere.

Keeping mainland Chinese mistresses seems to be the trend these days, even here in KL; there are many female mainland Chinese "students" studying in colleges here who eagerly hunt for local men to sponsor their fees and living expenses. Both sides look at it as a win-win arrangement.

These philandering men, tired of their nagging wives back home, and probably driven by the desperation of a balding middle-age, find great solace and excitement in the arms of these charming mainland maidens. Some keep it as a pure "business" arrangement, others progress into more serious relationships.

I suppose one needs to be married to really understand the thrill of such illicit affairs. The forbidden fruit always tastes sweeter. Being single, all fruits are permitted; so I'm denied the "excitement" of such extra-marital affairs. Perhaps only by eating from this Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, can one then fully experience what is real pleasure, and more importantly, real pain.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Magic of Malioboro

The Magic of Malioboro

I was having a few drinks with K. Tan at the Bentley's Pub, Nikko Hotel along Jalan Ampang yesterday after our meeting. Later we were joined by Benny, CP, Chee Wai and Avinash--all ex-colleagues of mind.

Meeting them brought back memories of my time working in my former company. During those days I often had to entertain colleagues who dropped by in Jakarta on business trips. Even though I wasn't living in Jakarta then, I was there almost every other week.

I remember bringing Benny to Diskotek Malioboro along Jalan Gadjah Mada in Jakarta, before the place was burned down during the riots of 1998. He was still a swinging bachelor then; now he is a father to a three-year-old daughter.

Diskotek Malioboro--named after a popular street in Yogyakarta--was everyone's favourite place. We all felt quite sad when we saw images of the place burning over CNN. Things changed quite a bit after that.

The crowd that used to frequent Malioboro, moved to the newly opened Diskotek Stadium, which is a behemoth of a nightspot: a one stop-shop for karaoke, dancing and girls. Stadium soon became a favourite haunt for the "feng tau" crowd; after 2 am, the entire crowd dance-floor would swaying to the techno-music in a mass Ecstasy-induced trance. On weekends the place is never closed--it runs continuously, 24 hours.

The nightlife scene in Jakarta has also changed these days; there are more wine-sipping, jazz-playing yuppie places around. It's a good indication of a recovering economy but somehow it is not as fun anymore.

Those days before the riots were the best of times. Diskotek Malioboro was small, dirty, loud and smoky, even smelly; but we didn't mind. We had a lot of friends there and we met people from all over the archipelago. It was a microcosm of the real Jakarta, the melting-pot of Indonesia.

But if you bother to look around, there are still a lot of cheap diskoteks like Malioboro around in Kota--places like Bintang Mawar, Monggo Mas and Super. There are also quite a number of them in Pangeran Jayakarta too. But somehow it is different: The magic is no longer there--the magic that was Malioboro.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Art and Science of Breathing

The Art and Science of Breathing

Everyone knows how to breathe. We do it unconsciously. Sometimes we follow the advice of health practitioners and fitness gurus to breathe properly: that is, deeply, sucking air in using one's abdominal muscles and exhaling, with the stomach compressed, lungs completely emptied.

Every intake of breath brings in fresh oxygen which is injected into the bloodstream, invigorating every cell in the body. Every exhalation helps to expel carbon dioxide wastes from the body. Good effective breathing would naturally create a healthier body.

But there's another function of breathing that's also very important. All mystics know that: Breathing helps to control the mind. The breath is a vital link between the microcosm of the body and the macrocosm of the outside world.

We all know that our breathing pattern changes depending on the state of our mind--whether we are sad, excited or bored. But we do not always realize that the reverse is also true: we can control the states of our mind by controlling our breath.

Controlling the mind is one of the most difficult things for us to do. Sometimes we know that we shouldn't think certain thoughts but somehow they keep popping up in the mind and there's no way we can "kill" them like how we kill processes in a multitasking operating system.

The mind is a powerful instrument but also a very difficult one to control, which is why Buddhists call our usual mode of thinking, the "Monkey Mind"--it is always jumping around like a wild monkey from one thought to another. Most of us cannot control our minds easily because we usually operate in a reactive mode--one stimulus triggers one thought which triggers the next thought and so on, until we realize that--often to late--that we are already angry, or in some other heightened state of emotion.

Now, since we can consciously control our breathing if we choose to, why can't we use the breath as a lever to control the mind?

Which is precisely the reason why breathing meditations are very common among many mystical traditions. When we focus on the breath, we are actually going down to the source of all mental impulses.

Whenever we want to compose ourselves, we instinctly draw a deep breathe, slowly. Why can't we do that all the time, synchronizing breathing with the thinking process?

If we exercise our breathing "muscles' more--we naturally would gain a more granular control of our thought processes. Thoughts and the breath are intimately link--we just don't always realize that. Even the word "inspiration" comes from the Latin word spirare, meaning breathe.

Breath meditation exercises could be very dull affairs--you are asked to focus on the in-breathe for half-and-hour, and then the out-breath for the next half-and-hour and then the "point-of-breath" for the next half-hour. But if we understand the relationship between the breath and the mind, we will begin to fathom how powerful this simple bodily function of breathing, which we often take for granted, is.

Yogis take a lifetime to master the breath. There's a whole mystical science behind it. We might not have the time and inclination to pursue such things. But at least, be occassionally conscious of how your breathe.

How you breathe determines how you think. So breathe properly, for breathing, is more important than you think.

Writer's Blog (2)

Writer's Blog (2)

My Blogger user statistics tell me that I've so far posted 570 entries in slightly less than 2 years of blogging, amounting to around 207,175 words. That's roughly the size of two full-length adult novels.

And I intend to write more, even though for the past half a year or so, I've been spacing my entries by a day or two. I still have a lot of subjects to blog about, just that sometimes I think some of my thoughts about them have not fully ripen yet. There are subjects which I have a keen interest on but which I have not touched on much yet, such as art, music and even the Vietnam war. Hopefully I'll find the time and inclination to write about them this year.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words; so finally I've decided to post some photos from my collection on my blog. That way, I can cheat a bit by uploading some pictures (= 1000 words)--captured with my camera over the years--whenever I'm too tired to write. My latest uploads to my photoblog will appear on the left of the picture strip up there and slowly gets shifted across the page as newer pictures appear. And I have tons of photos to share!

I am not much of a photographer; I wouldn't even say I'm serious about it as a hobby but I've been finding it an increasingly enjoyable activity these past few years. Hopefully, by starting my photoblog, I can also get to improve my photography skills, like how I attempt to improve my writing through blogging.

I'm not sure if there's any improvement in my writing since I started this blog but at least I'm now more confident when faced with a blank page--I know I can always come up with something because I have done it countless times before. It's already an ingrained habit. There's no such thing as writer's block in my vocabulary.

I've also trained myself to blog in "adverse" conditions: from the comfort of my room here in Subang Jaya with my 1Mbit/sec Streamyx connection, to busy public Wi-fi hotspots in Singapore, to dinghy Warnets (warung Internet) in places like Semarang and to cheap hotel rooms all over Indonesia using flaky dialup connections.

My heavy workload since last year has made it especially tough for me to blog consistently but I'm looking forward to write another full-length cyber-book this year. Writing is definitely therapeutic and it helps me to think. It's difficult to think by staring into blank space with your eyes blinking. Better to write and then you'll start thinking.

Writing and thinking are inseparable--a process which I call "writhink". To alter and paraphrase a famous quote from the French philosopher Descartes:

I write, therefore I am.