Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Lost World

I remember a whole without TV, without the Internet, without cellphones. Was it a better world then?

I read a lot as a child because my parents had a lot of books and encouraged me to read; my neighbours read; my friends in school read. To me reading was like breathing, eating and sleeping--it was something natural, something that everyone did.

It was only when I entered the university that I realized how wrong I was.

As a child, I was also fanatical about football. I used to wake up early in the morning, before the sun rose, to play football with my friends. I even recorded the team list and details about all the goals scored in every match we played in a dog-eared exercise book, which I still keep.

I played barefoot for many years before I saved enough money to buy myself a pair of second-hand Puma boots. I remember paying 25 bucks for it, and I still keep that pair of boots back home.

I used to take penalties for my team, because I was good at it. I had a very accurate shot. I spent many hours practicing how to place the ball just inside the goalpost. Most of the time I aim to hit the inside of the upright--if you hit it at that very sweet spot, not even the best goalkeeper in the world could save it. I knew the basics of soccer better than many of my friends because I had learned them properly--from books.

Yes, it was a world without the Internet, without cellphones, without satellite TV. But I had friends who read and friends who shared my passion for soccer--Malays, Chinese and Indian friends. It was heaven to me.

It's a different world now. I spend my days and nights staring at a computer screen. I attend meetings. I listen to podcasts while I'm driving. And I watch EPL matches beamed live to my living room.

I have more books than I could ever read in my lifetime. Why did I buy so many books? Why do I have to suffer the pain and joy of watching Liverpool play every weekend?

I know now: It is to recapture that world which I had lost.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Scheme for Pain

How does one deal with suffering? With acceptance, equanimity and a resolve to transcend it.

And attitude of anger and rejection towards suffering only intensifies the pain. Let the pain take its course. By allowing it, one finds catharsis.

A friend's wife once called me, crying. In between sobs she told how she caught her husband with another woman. She was utterly heartbroken.

I asked her whether she would forgive him, if he was repentent. She was willing, but she told me the pain was too much for her to bear. How do you make the pain go away?

I told her to let time dissolve the pain. By allowing time to do its work, pain fades away. Accept that certain things have happened and nothing one does will change or erase the fact. Allow pain to take its course. In due time it will fade away, like everything else in this world. Even love.

There's no antidote for pain. Pain has to be suffered, consciously. To suffer pain consciously means that you understand its causes, and that you have the determination to ride through all its phases, taking every lesson that it throws at you.

Only then will you understand that what you thought was love, was mere attachment. Selfish attachment. It is your need to possess something or someone so that you yourself feel more complete, more fulfilled.

We love ourselves more than anything else in this world. That is the root of all pain. We want to build an environment where we think our personal wellbeing and happiness can be guaranteed--a well-paying job, a loving partner, children who will look up to us and take care of us in our old age.

We think the rest of the world are like props on a stage that we can place wherever we choose. Then one day we realise that these props don't always remain where they are: they move. They have their own idea of "happiness". That is how pain arises.

Are we mature enough to live in a world where things don't always go according to our plan? A world where our vision of a perfect life don't always match with everybody elses? I'll end with a quote from The Dark Knight:

The Joker (played by the late Heath Ledger):

You know, they're schemers. Schemers trying to control their worlds. I'm not a schemer. I try to show the schemers how pathetic their attempts to control things really are...It's the schemers that put you where you are. You were a schemer, you had plans, and uh, look where that got you.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Food Talk

I don't normally blog about food, but when you've only had a piece of toast and a cup of tea since breakfast, food is the first thing that comes into my mind when I opened my blog editor.

Here in KL, I try to stick to my regime of two full meals a day: if I take breakfast, I'd normally skip lunch. I'll still go for lunch when invited, but purely for social reasons. Today I skipped lunch and I also went for a jog in the evening. It's 7.30pm now, so you can imagine how hungry I am!

Breakfast is usually my favourite meal of the day. The choice of food for breakfast in Malaysia is much better than what they have in Indonesia simply because there's more variety of Chinese food here.

For breakfast, I'd normally go for some Chinese noodles or porridge. Indonesians would go for things like mee goreng, nasi goreng or bubur ayam. Here in Malaysia, the Chinese hawker fare is rich and varied: wonton noodles, beef/fishball/pork noodles (dry or soup), char koay teow, chee cheong fun, loh mai kai, char siew bun, pork/fish porridge, claypot yee mee, pan mee, hakka noodles, curry noodles, curry laksa, vegetarian noodles, loh see fun--the choice of noodles is nothing short of astonishing. It's something we Malaysians take for granted.

If you're old school like me, you can also go for the half-boiled egg and toast with kaya and butter. And if you feel bored with Chinese, you can always go for Malay or Mamak food--the nasi lemak, mee goreng, roti canai and tosai. Hey, there's even hawker-style Western food here in KL.

In Jakarta my favourite breakfast used to be kopi tubruk and Indomie rebus. But usually I would skip this meal. Lunch and dinner however were always occassions to look forward to: nasi timbel, soto betawi, rawon, gado-gado, soto sulung, soto Madura, nasi padang, nasi uduk, sop buntut, satay padang, nasi gudeg, nasi liwet--a fascinating array of offerings from all the different provinces in Indonesia.

I'm a porridge lover. Indonesians, unlike the Malays in Malaysia, are also quite fond of porridge--bubur ayam stalls are everywhere. The Indonesian porridge is usually served thick with a generous topping of crackers (krupuk).

Chinese always categorize food based on their "heatiness". Anything fried and spicy are usually considered heaty. When you have consumed too much heaty food, you'll need to balance it with something "cooling"--like herbal tea, which is served in many Chinese coffee shops.

I don't bother so much about the "heatiness" of food. Subconsciously I adopt the Indian system of seeing food in terms of the 3 impulses of nature: rajasic, sattvic and tamasic. But that will be the subject of another blog entry.

The one thing I like about Indonesia is that, you can get beer almost anywhere. Go to a Muslim Sudanese or Javanese restaurant, the local bir bintang is always on the menu. The only place to drink cheap beers in Malaysia are the Chinese coffee shops.

And that's where I think I'm going for dinner tonight: hmm...stir-fried venison cooked with ginger and spring onion, washed down with a huge bottle of Tiger beer...that's my idea of a good Chinese dinner in KL!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Gymnasium of the Mind

I'm on leave and that gives me a bit of space to think more clearly.

When I was in Jakarta, I used to blog daily even though I didn't even have a notebook PC at home then. I blogged from the Internet cafe: an hour there was just enough time for me to put down my daily reflection and to catch up on the latest Malaysian news. I even wrote longhand in my diary everyday.

I've lost a lot of these habits since I came back to KL (5 years ago?). Slowly, I need to cultivate these good habits again. Writing helps me to think--it puts space in between thoughts and helps me to see them with greater clarity.

I haven't been watching movies at the cinema regularly too for the past few years. This is another activity that I miss a lot. Movies give me lots of ideas and I often get inspired by them. Books, movies and music -- these things enrich life, adding colour and tone to our humdrum existence.

And of course people too. Meeting friends and strangers add to the myriad of possibilities that life has to offer. Every movie watched, every blog entry written, every conversation with a stranger or friend is another brushstroke in life's canvas.

To blog is to to distill and to savour the essence of life's experiences. It also helps to keep my writing skills sharp. Now I'm like a footballer during off-season break: my fitness is at its lowest and my agility gone.

A blog is like a gym for the mind. You have to use it regularly to keep yourself in tip top condition mentally. I'm certainly not in good form now. But give me time, slowly, I'll regain my touch...