Saturday, February 05, 2005

The Intoxicating Power

The Intoxicating Power

What does one do on a Friday evening in Jakarta? For the young and energetic, Friday evenings are ripe with exciting possibilities.

June asked me to join her at the Burgundy--that swanky wine bar at the Grand Hyatt. I like drinking wine but I'm not into clubbing these days. Even if I do go out sometimes, it is often out of nostalgia rather than a need to "kill boredom" or to "release tension"--which are the usual reasons June likes to give me.

But I can understand why she chooses to go boozing every other night. I am actually very fond of people who drink and smoke because for some reason, I tend to get along better with them.

Well, I must confess that I too enjoy drinking very much and even though I'm not a smoker I don't mind people smoking in front of me. I kind of enjoy watching cigarette smoke waft in the night air, illuminated by the glow of distant neon lights--it makes me feel as if I'm living in some Wong Kar Wai movie.

I used to enjoy the occasional social puff or two, so I can understand the pleasures of smoking. Telling people that smoking is bad for their health will not stop them from smoking. People who like eating will not stop indulging in their gluttonous habit as long as they associate pleasure with the experience of eating. It is only when they suffer the humiliation of being called fat or develop health problems due to overeating, will they make an effort to stop.

Smokers will never take the advise of non-smokers, because non-smokers have no credibility--they simply don't understand the exquisite joy that smoking brings. The presence of nagging non-smokers actually encourages smokers to smoke even more because dangling a phallic cigarette between one's lips--like showing the middle-finger--becomes their subtle way of saying f**k you.

To stop smoking a smoker must learn to associate pleasure with the act of resisting a cigarette itself. I have successfully trained myself to do that. I get a certain high everytime I reject an offer to smoke. Treat it as a game initially; after a while you will find that the challenge can be quite fun. You'll enjoy a sense of triumph everytime you succeed in doing so and at some point, the pleasure of refusing a cigarette becomes greater than the pleasure of smoking itself. That is when you come to the realisation that you are no longer a smoker and you begin to marvel at the new-found power that you suddenly possess.

But beware, the power, like smoking itself, can also be very intoxicating...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

OLTP and Batch Processes

OLTP and Batch Processes

Chinese New Year (or "Imlek", as it is known in Indonesia) during the month of February is usually very hot and dry affair in Malaysia; but here in Jakarta, where the rainy season is just beginning to move into full swing, Imlek celebration is often wet and watery, with the ever-looming treat of floods.

I will have to be home for Chinese New Year of course, but I'll still have to be working over the holidays. Nowadays weekends and public holidays don't make much difference to me. I am also not very keen to go on a long stretch of holiday without work, for it is very difficult for me to get back to "match fitness" after that. You are no longer sharp and you strain to remember facts that should be at your finger tips. A small but steady stream of work with short breaks in between is what I'd personally prefer.

Work comes in two forms: "OLTP: and "batch". What I mean by "online transaction processing (OLTP)" type of work are tasks such as replying emails, making quotations, participating in conference calls and meetings. These are relatively easy to handle and they don't need a lot brain-racking; just simple request-and-response action.

"Batch" processes are tasks such as writing a report, doing analysis on data, brain-storming for fresh ideas, software development and any kind of project work. These things require continuous concentration and often, a lot of inspiration too; not to mention the willpower to endure the drudgery of having to piece together words, sentences, diagrams or computer code to fill up lots of blank pages/screens.

Sometimes the batch process needs to run in the background: you live and sleep with the problem and in doing so, fresh ideas emerge spontaneously. Batch processing is a very lonely task indeed, but the fruits of the labour can sometimes be very satisfying. You see your ideas germinate, evolve and flower into something tangible.

Going into a project is also like falling in love. It is an immersion process that consumes your body, mind and soul. You hold your breath and dive into it all. You come out feeling exhausted, spent and sometimes a bit lost. Karma is worked out.

OLTP-type of work merely drains your energy, because you are always rushing for time, trying to squeeze as many transactions into your day as possible. Batch processes on the other hand eats your soul: It sucks your essence but transmutes it into something subtler.

OLTP love is easy--one-night stands and short affairs. But when love comes as a batch process, one has to be very very careful, for it often ends up consuming one's whole life.

Back from Bandung

Back from Bandung

Apparently there was a small earthquake in the district of Garut, 43 km south of Bandung today but we were in the middle of the city and didn't notice anything at all. During that time we were happily devouring our Sundanese lunch at the Panyawangan restaurant along Jalan Dago.

At 2pm, I did a presentation at a local bank, which went pretty well. When we finished at around four, it was raining and parts of Jalan Dago were flooded with water. Fortunately our hired car was able to wade through the flood and it took us another 4 hours before we arrived back in Jakarta.

Thus ended my two day trip to Bandung, which started with an early Tuesday morning flight from Jakarta on the CN-235. I slept throughout the entire half-an-hour flight and it was only after we'd landed, my colleagues told me that the air-conditioning wasn't working on the plane. I felt glad to have slept through the discomfort.

Everyone I talk to laments how much Bandung has changed over the years. The weather has warmed considerably--I remember Bandung being a lot cooler the first time I was here. The traffic is also becoming more horrendous--no thanks to Jakartans who swarm the city every weekend to enjoy the food and the shopping. Even though Bandung retains a certain old-world charm and the locals are extremely proud of their heritage, still like any other third world country, economic development--even those of dubious value--takes priority over preservation.

Bandung is definitely a candidate of mine as a retirement place; but if the present state of deteoriation continues, I'll have to find some other isolated corner of the world as my hideout. Maybe deep down inside, what I'm longing for is a place like my hometown, which in many ways is not unlike Bandung...

Monday, January 31, 2005

Of Planes and Trains

Of Planes and Trains

I'll need to catch an early flight to Bandung again tomorrow morning. It probably be difficult for me to blog when I'm there as I'll be tied up with presentations and dinner meetings with the customer, which usually leaves me pretty exhausted at the end of the day.

I was hoping to get a good view of the Parahyangan highlands during my flight to Bandung last week, but unfortunately the weather was very cloudy and rainy, which made the flight rather bumpy too. Paul Theroux, an avid rail traveller, compares the experience of being strapped on an airplane seat like sitting on a dentist's chair--it is always an experience that one looks forward to with a certain amount of trepidation.

I used to take the KL-Singapore shuttle flight very regularly; I liked the convenience of just showing up at the airport, buying a ticket and hopping on a plane. Now there are a lot less flights available on that route and they are also a bit expensive if you compare them to what's offered by budget airlines--I can easily fly to Bangkok and Jakarta with that kind of price. Furthermore NICE buses to Singapore are cheap, quick and comfortable.

Taking the Merpati flight to Bandung is relatively hassle-free, as you are allowed to board the flight half-and-hour before departure. The CN-235 propeller planes used for such short routes were manufactured locally when Indonesia had a thriving aircraft manufacturing industry (ex-president B.J. Habibie's pet project). I hope they still keep spare-parts.

Flying can be a fun pursuit if you have the time, money and inclination. Some of my friends in the States are into it as a pastime. If you read Antoine de St. Exupery, you'd be inspired to fly too. ("I fly because it releases my mind from the tyranny of petty things...")

But I'm like Theroux--more of a train person. Well, I'm not exactly sure if it is safer, but to me it is certainly more fun: if taking a flight is likened to a dentist appointment, going on a train journey is like enjoying a moving picnic. And on the train, they have had luxuries like sleeper seats for ages, without passengers having to pay an arm and a leg for it...

Fighting the Good Fight

Fighting the Good Fight

It has been a lazy weekend for me in Jakarta, but it was intended to be so. I needed to recharge myself before another busy week ahead. So I slept late, loitered around Sarinah, surfed the Net at the cybercafe, sipped my kopi tubruk at Phoenam Cafe, browsed at the QBWorld bookshop on Jalan Sunda, chomped on some red apples and downed a couple of beers in my hotel room, watching the FA cup tie between Man U and Middlesbrough.

Today I had lunch at Warong Podjok in Menteng--one of my favourite haunts last time. The restaurant serves typical Indonesian street fare--nasi uduk, sayur asem, ayam bakar, rawon, soto ayam--but at inflated prices. I don't really mind though because it is usually quiet and I could always spend an hour or so there reading after my meal, without the harassment of pengamins (buskers).

I also treated myself to some light reading--Chuck Palahniuk's (of Fight Club fame) Stranger Than Fiction: True Stories. I wish I have the time to read more of his works; he is one of the more original writers out there. But I've long resigned myself to the fact that I'll never get to read all the books that I'd like to read in my lifetime. But that's alright. I'm grateful for whatever good things in life that I've been able to savour--books, food, people and places--all the little things that make life worthwhile.

Perhaps I'm an easily contented man, even unambitious by conventional standards. But that doesn't mean that I don't "fight the good fight" (Paulo Coelho's words). My interpretation of fighting the good fight means you still participate fully and fiercely in the rat race, fulfilling the destiny of your karma but choosing to remain unattached to its outcome.

You work for material success because it is simply a convenient measure of progress. But there's nothing inherently glorious about it. You work, you reap your rewards, you distill whatever insights you can gain from the experience, and you move on to the next challenge. Material gains are just a side-effect of what you do.

Lazy weekends are good. It gives you the space to put things back in perspective; you get to see what's important and what's not. And most important of all, you recharge your batteries and recalibrate your moral compass before you begin another week, before you enter the arena for another good fight...