Monday, December 14, 2009

Khon Kaen, Northern Thailand


City

Khon Kaen is characterized by its many big and narrow streets winding through every possible corner of the city; bright colored vehicles; squiggly-charactered signboards hanging on run down, grim-looking shophouses; roadside peddlers selling all sorts of grilled and smoked meat including pork, beef and chicken; wandering stray dogs of various breeds and colors; and many a big-trucker 4WDs, amongst other vehicles mostly of Toyota make.

We for one, drove a rented 3-litre Toyota Fortuner for the 8 days that we were there. My friend, Andre, who's been to Khon Kaen annually for the past 7 years, drove us throughout our trip. He is a display of aggression on the road – he had to, else our 4WD would hardly move an inch amidst a flurry of big and small vehicles, motorbikes, pedestrians, stray dogs, narrow roads and bad traffic.

People

More importantly, the largest city in Northeastern Thailand is characterized by its extremely warm, gentle and humble people. 

In fact, if humility has a face, the Thais in Khon Kaen wear it well. I believe I have never encountered a culture more subservient than the Thais in Khon Kaen (I can't speak the same for Thais in other cities including Bangkok and Udon Thani). They have need for little extravagance. It is common sight for peddlers to bring their children with them everywhere they go – putting little ones to sleep on dirty rags of mattresses next to their mobile stalls.

Accommodation

Our accommodation at Tonwa Resort is every bit a natural experience. A mere 5 mins drive from the city centre, Tonwa Resort is set amidst a village – I'd wake up in the mornings to the sound of sparrows chirping, open the door to my room balcony and breathe in the fresh cool December breeze.

Running


After a quick gulp of milk, I'd run the streets of Khon Kaen, attracting many a puzzled looks from the locals. Despite an international marathon held every year in the city which draws runners from all over the world, Khon Kaen has very few tourists. In fact, for the 8 days that I was there, I saw no more than 5 foreigners in the city.

As I ran, I was greeted by the sights and smells of a city deeply rooted in humility. Monks walked bare-footed on the grease stained roads, and on several occasions, I saw locals bowing down
low on the ground at the feet of a monk as he chanted a prayer of blessing before making his way to collect more alms. Stray dogs are everywhere in the city – they roam every big and small streets. I was barked and chased by a dog once, ran into a nearby shop, asked the shop owner to walk me down the street and learnt not to run when I see a dog, but to walk on slowly.

Children


We attended a local church service conducted in Thai on Sunday morning, and though I did not understand the language, I closed my eyes and took in the presence of God, and wept at one point when we sang 'Amazing Grace'. Next to the church is Khon Kaen Christian School whose students are a lively bunch of friendly and gregarious boys and girls.

On the third day, we painted the fence wall of the Gerald Khoo Harvest Family Centre, a Christian foundation that reaches out to children in the slum areas adjacent to railroad tracks – pr
oviding love, care, shelter, protection and education for the children. I grew acquainted to a mischievous boy named Fhuc. He warmed up to us easily and by the next day when we visited the school, he leapt when he saw my husband Jason, ran towards him and hugged him tightly. I was surprised by the expression of affection from a young Thai boy, and took a deeper liking for this boy whom I have affectionately come to call 'my Thai son'.

Apart fro
m Fhuc, I came to know many other boys and girls in the school who readily smiled and posed for my camera – a sign of openness to a stranger who doesn't speak their language. I wish to return to Khon Kaen again – simply for them.


Moral degradation

Each passing day makes me more welcomed and at home in Khon Kaen, until I learned of a secret that lurks behind the city door – a tale of moral an
d sexual degradation. A majority of married men in the city has; besides their wives, children, homes and businesses; young teen lovers who are either still in school or dropped out of school as soon as they could in order to earn quick, extra bucks in the sex trade.

In a city where the monthly income of a lower class household does not exceed SGD$300, it is extremely tempting for these young girls to exchange their morality for comfort, especially when they may not be educated on the gift and preciousness of their femininity.

Tales of little girls left to be taken care of by grandparents while their parents are at work, and male neighbours who offer the grandparents alcohol in order to intoxicate them so that these men could rape the girls – are common.


My heart bleeds at the knowledge of such rampant immorality that rages through the city. I may not have been long in the city, but the atrocity against women and the spiritual oppression of lust and greed in the city are real – and in dire need of help and salvation.


I have been privy to the land, people and culture – and I carry now a burden for its soul.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A learning journey

I'm headlong into my work, loving every bit of it, but something within me halts sometimes, starts to shrink a little and feels a little intimated by an exciting world I know very little about, one that I'm very much on a journey of discovery, a step at a time. 

Why this pit stop - I'm not sure. Maybe it's the better of me doing a self-check: have I the necessary traits to soak in this learning experience? Have I humility? Openness to instruction and correction? Because without these traits, each step I take will either lead me down or back to the starting point. 

Thus I realise: the more I learn, the more there is to know. The wheel never stops spinning - the learning never stops. And humility is key to lifelong learning and progress.

Monday, October 12, 2009

She is gone

She is gone and I have not lend her a hand or an ear, when I could have.

She is gone and I don't know what to feel - I have done absolutely nothing within my capacity to bring joy and love to her, when I could have.

She is gone and I wonder if I have done the biggest wrong by not reaching out to her, when I could have.

She is gone and I don't know whether to scream & cry, or cower and hide, disgraced at my inaction all these years.

She is gone and my heart is torn.


Related entry: Called Out of the Dark

Friday, October 09, 2009

Pain of abandonment

There is a pain that hurts deeper than physical affliction - it is a pain that transcends and numbs all physical, emotional and spiritual senses - it is the pain of abandonment.

For a long time now I have been thinking of him, and penning a thousand words in his honour. I write stories upon stories of his undeniable strong influences in my life; angry now that I will not be able to publish those stories because he is no longer the same character as that in my stories. This new character is one debauched; now far removed from the rightful image of one who bears, raises and loves his offspring.

Darkness engulfs, sparing none who strays in its path, not even the foolish, or seemingly ignorant man. This foolish man strays onto the path of darkness and finds himself walking with the light behind him; with each step, his shadow is further and further removed till darkness swallows him whole.

I watch him and let him go. Maybe he has never held me close.

I recline to the corner of my soul, close my eyes and wish that this is but a solstice, that even this will pass, and the sun will move from its spot and shine again.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kuching

A land of excesses - vast land, abundant food, welcoming hospitality, bountiful sunlight and sweltering heat. A city with expansive land sparsely populated - 3 times the land size of Singapore but less than 5 times the population size of Singapore - imagine, some 1,863 square kilometres inhabited by just under 600,000 people! Kuching, capital city of Sarawak, the biggest state in Malaysia. 

The weather averaged an unbearable 38 degrees for the five full days I was there. What made it bearable however was; besides my husband, the 14 middle-aged men and women that make up the entire tour group I travelled with. It had been a great joy, being a part of this bigger family of generous and fun-loving aunties and uncles. There was never an awkward moment watching them. Away from the usual humdrum of family life and children, they were like kids on vacation. I saw them goofing around, laughing out loud without a care in the world, jesting and teasing each other as kids on a school excursion do. In fact, I so enjoyed my time with them I dreaded the last day as we departed from Kuching for Singapore. Onboard the plane, watching them steadily falling asleep one after another, I felt a pang of sadness, akin to those moments leading up to a farewell fanfare between tearful family members at airports. 

In every place that I visit, my happiest moments are brought about by cultural exchanges with its natives. I observed that women open wider doors to cultural experiences than men. Natives of a place are friendlier and more willing to share of their lives and experiences to a woman visitor. Kuching is a land of warm people and wide smiles. I spoke to many local men on various occasions, engaging them in their native tongue (Malay) and was warmly received because I spoke and sounded like them. I even look like them, given my tan complexion. I found out about their families, struggles, grips with their vocations, the city, the country.
 

A man I engaged in a conversation with at Sarawak Cultural Village left a deep impression in me. A good-looking middle-aged Orang Ulu (a native tribe of Sarawak), he carried a sorry tale behind his friendly demeanour. He allowed me to photograph only the top of his head, without revealing his face, and in between our conversation, I found that his wife died at child birth. He never remarried, but raised a daughter now 26 years old. I admire his strength, for I cannot imagine raising a child all by myself without a soul mate. 

In many places, rivers are an important source of life to its residents and a source of fascination to tourists. The Kuching River is no different. For just RM30, Jason and I relished a slow cruise along the river onboard a small, dingy, wooden boat half-rowed and half-run on motor by an elderly Malay man well into his 60s. The trip up and down the murky river, observing many a local and simple life of its Malay natives evokes a sense of tranquility unlike that found in a bustling city life. We chanced upon a welcoming sight of 4 boys playing at the shallow end of the river, stark naked.


We captured many a splendid scenes of and around the river and breathed in the simplicity of a people so humble it beckons a reflection on my part as to what I value as important. To me, constant progress is essential - thus my love for a city life. To these river folks, a day's wage and a close-knit family are sufficient. As a visitor to this beautiful land, I'm glad they retained this laid-back pace because every once in a while, we need a secluded place of refuge. For me, I found it this time round in the sleepy town of Kuching, though many a times I think I make a lousy tourist because I bring my city experiences to a quiet town and wonder what its natives do to occupy and humour themselves; and, silently, pity them. Maybe, similarly, unbeknown to me, they pity me, for my surrealism. 

One of the best ways to explore a city is to run through it - navigating its nooks n corners, eating places, retail stores, mechanical repair shops, dogs guarding many an industrial area. Running in Kuching must be a rare affair. I ran and attracted many a surprised and often second look by the locals, especially men, who nudge their fellow counterparts to look upon a stranger striding down the not-so-well paved streets, under a scorching sun and trapped humid heat, perspiring profusely, hair a wild mess and eyes scanning the vicinity and observing the everyday life of its inhabitants. 

The beauty of a place lies not just in its landscape, but in its people. Kuching may not offer the glitz and glamour of a modern city life, but it has certainly charmed me (and I believe many others) with its simplicity, hospitality and alluring Sarawak laksa. 


Saturday, August 01, 2009

Why I Run

Recently I have been asked by quite a number of friends: why do I run so much and for so long? And how do I find so much time to read? Here's why and how.

I started running a year ago when I was desperately bored with my previous job and needed something to perk me up in the morning. I'd wake up at 5.00am in the morning and run before work.

It was grueling, waking up early, and worse, I didn't enjoy running. So I started filling up the agony of running by listening to podcasts.

I did not enjoy running for one full year. It wasn't until sometime this year that I began enjoying it. What's more, I discovered a book titled "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall (introduced on a book podcast I was listening to then). Reading (or rather, listening to the audiobook version) further fueled my passion for running. I ran longer and faster while reading/listening the book - I was thoroughly inspired! It is a fantastic read, even if you are a non runner - the coverage on history, culture, anatomy and ultra running is amazing.

So, how do I find time to read? I don't read physical books as much as I listen to audiobooks, while traveling in the mrt and while running in the mornings. That's easily 3 hours (2 hours traveling to & fro, and 1 hour of running).

And why do I run? Because it totally disciplines me. It disciplines me to wake up early in the morning, ignoring my tired body, not lazing in bed but heading straight for the door, enduring an hour long run; and at the same time, I'd pray, meditate, and gain a whole world of knowledge by listening to podcasts & audiobooks.

The benefits are simply too much for me not to run.

Friday, July 17, 2009

I breakthrough

I have been trained to be independent from a very young age. I learnt to stand up for myself and deal with situations when I was bullied, sad and down. 

I was constantly blamed, accused and judged.

Even as I write now, I write each line beginning with “I”.

Because that was how I was taught.

Thus in their times of need now, I recoil from them. I don’t know how to reach out and sympathise.

Can I be blamed? No and yes.

No, because I am a product of my upbringing.

Yes, because I am a new creation in Christ. The old things have passed, behold, He makes all things new.

I need not be a victim of my circumstances.

I cannot control the events that shaped my life, but I can choose not to be reduced by them.

Therefore I choose to take steps towards them, to embrace them, and to love them.

I am certain that this is the only right thing to do.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Short Story: Called Out of the Dark

She huddled in the corner of the room. Her small hands clutched her ears tightly, shutting off the berating in the living room and the monstrous sounds in her head that cursed the miserable life she did not choose to be living. The air in her lungs could not flow in and out properly and her lungs clamped in on her fast beating heart. Her vision narrowed to nothing more than a deep black tunnel that stretched to the end. She was so afraid; she shut her eyes so tightly she could see red through her eyeballs. The unnerving trauma cast a shadow over her life and terror gripped her soul. She felt everything around her caving in on her and wished for death to consume her right there and then.

“Take this wretched life away from me!” she yelled at the top of her voice, and collapsed into a motionless lump on the sweat drenched floor.

She awoke with a shiver and felt a dry lump on the side of her mouth. Unable to see in the dark, she could only smell her own sweat, urine and what was that familiar smell? Ah yes, blood. Dried blood. That was what was caking up on the side of her mouth when she fell unconscious on the floor and knocked the sharp edge of the lamp table. She put a hand on her heart and was surprised at both the silence outside in the living room and the slow, constant beat of her heart. She almost smiled when she shook her head hard to make sure she was not dreaming. No, she was not. She was breathing and living – in the dark.

“If only my husband was still alive – none of these would be happening to me,” she lamented to herself.

130708

A tribute to my aunt who lives in torment and neglect following the demise of her husband. Once the humble wife of a rich car dealer, she now lives her daily life in shambles and abandonment, reliant on support to get around, or for most part of her miserable, slow-crawling days, lies on her side, reminiscing the once good life she had when her husband was alive, by her side, money in abundance, and no one disrespected her. She cries each time I visit her, but the pain and emotional wreck it leaves me after each visit stops me from seeing more frequently than I would like to. I need greater strength to love and care for one in such desperate need. For now, I can only write of her sorry tale.

Monday, May 18, 2009

KL, my perspective




Every journey offers lessons to be learnt - the responsibility lies on us to see them as such and grab hold of the opportunity to reflect, learn and grow; and not simply to view them as a passing phase in life - what a waste that would have been!

My trip to KL this time round was short (2 days, 1 night) - but eventful and colourful nonetheless. It was a last minute trip planned for the weekend - for my husband, it was to be a time to rest and relax; for me, it was to seek the historical and cultural heritage of the city. I have read of 3 famous buildings in KL: the Old KL Railway Station, Sultan Abdul Samad Building and Masjid Jamek. I have only seen photographs of these beautiful structures on the internet, and would like to view them from a fresh perspective - mine. And so as we depart from Larkin Bus Terminal in JB for KL, I was like a school kid on an excursion, anticipative of an adventure. As far as I can remember, I have always been fascinated with KL - the capital city of Malaysia, the land of my birth. Although I was born in JB, I have an affinity for KL shared by fellow citizens, whether or not we agree with the political administration of the country.

It is a city messy and congested - crowds of city dwellers and migrant workers dot every street and corner like ants in their colony; roads, flyovers and highways intersect at all points and junctions like wire mesh; old low-rise buildings, new skyscrapers, paint-tattered shophouses line the streets and wide land mass on low lands and high grounds - all of which evokes a sense of chaos yet unexplained congeniality. Looking at KL in a glance - one would think the city planners probably did not put much thought into its urban planning. But take a harder look and you'll see some serious planning and accomplishments in certain, concentrated areas. The downtown KLCC (Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre) arena, for instance.

There is the jewel-in-the-crown, the magnificent Petronas Twin Towers. Seen from any angle at any time of the day, this behemoth of a structure is sure to leave you spell-bound as you marvel at the ingenuous architecture and engineering that goes into the design and construction of this impressive landmark that has come to be identified as the symbol of national and economic progress for Malaysia to the rest of the world. 

The Philharmonic Hall lies in the heart of the Twin Towers, making yet another statement - that it is both grand and cultured. Walk through the corridors and stairway of the Philharmonic Hall and observe its grandeur, made more poignant by the congregation of distinguished, international musicians, performers and artists. 

The huge shopping mall, Suria KLCC, attracts both locals and foreigners to its wide and diverse range of retail outlets that cater to both the middle and upper class shoppers. In front of Suria KLCC is a large park, lake and jogging track for urban dwellers to enjoy nature's beauty against the backdrop of the gigantic Twin Towers. The Aquaria KLCC and Convention Halls draws throngs of people to its many trade fairs and exhibitions of international class. I must say, I am impressed by the modernity of them all.

Now, back in the city, walking under a scorching, tropical sun was no laughing matter. My husband and I had a few moments of conflict over my taking too many pictures, rendering him hot, burnt and frustrated in the sweltering heat. But I had to see those 3 historical monuments - they were the reason I came to KL. My hair messy, my tee-shirt clinging to my sweat-drenched back, my skin burning from the immense heat, I braved the natural elements to capture their glory on film. These 3 structures share 2 common traits – they are slated for conservation under the National Heritage Act, and the architects who designed them were all British and inspired by the Moorish architecture of Muslim mosques in India.

Jason and I travelled around the city on monorails and LRTs - the best way to observe a city and its people. It is my personal belief that the best place to observe the lives of ordinary citizens of a city going about their daily routine is in the city's trains (monorails/LRTs). There you'll see sleep-deprived blue collared workers dozing off, students wearily making their way to and from school and a whole string of remedial classes and extra curricular activities, white collared workers clutching their briefcases and speaking into their mobile phones, mothers cradling their newborns while fathers hold the hands of toddlers or push the pram. Everyday people about their everyday lives - a city in motion. It struck me then that people anywhere all round the world are the same - we are all trying to survive in our respective environments; no matter how harsh or comfortable, backward or modern.

Now back in Singapore, sitting in my comfortable tall-backed chair, typing on my computer as I look out into the greenery outside my window, I reflect on KL with nostalgia. I do love the city, despite its chaos. I do love its people, despite its often high crime rate. I do love its history, despite its lack of proper upkeep. I do love its government, despite its many apparent flaws. I guess I can rightly conclude that I do love the land of my birth, no matter how imperfect and slow its national progress is.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Short story: Home - where we belong

No matter how many times she swore never to let her father's voice torment her, it always did. She was always living in fear of her father's sudden temper outbursts and the pain and shame from caning that she has come to associate her father to a tyrant, a sort of autocratic leader like Stalin who ruled with an iron fist. She sometimes joked with her elder brother Wallace that father was a 'communist' – when he spoke, no one dared to interrupt. What he says goes. No one could question nor defy him.

Yet she understood the hard side of her father. She has heard him scream in the middle of the night, while he was asleep, a scream so tormenting she found it hard to sleep after. In the morning, as she took her usual seat at the kitchen table, she would eat her breakfast in silence and observed her father intently, looking for any sign that could explain the mystery the night before. None. His face offered no answer; in fact, he did not look bothered at all. She winced in disappointment. Finally, unable to hold her curiosity no longer, she caught her mother when she was alone cooking, and creeping up quietly behind her, while stealing glances at the kitchen doorway to make sure her father did not step in, asked in a low tone, "what happened last night?"

Her mother, wiping a film of sweat off from her forehead, answered softly: "He dreamt that he was being beaten up by his father. He always does. Even at this age - can you imagine? You see, your grandfather was a very violent man. And your father had it the most. He was most severely beaten by your grandfather all through his boyhood. And when your dad dreams, it was real to him. He still feels the agony of his childhood..."

Mindy's heart broke. 'So that was why he was always so hard on us,' she thought to herself. Excusing herself, she went up to her room and closed the door behind her. Tearing out a piece of paper from her notebook, she sat down and wrote her brother Wallace a letter.

"Dear Wallace, I miss you. It has been three years since you last came home. Dad and Mom miss you too. We all do, you know that, don't you? I am writing to explain why Dad hit you so hard the last time you came home announcing your plans to drop out of university. Please understand that Dad placed high hopes on you to be the first graduate in the family. You know Dad, he was always studious, reading late into the night, even bearing hopes of going back to school himself. Can you imagine? At 58? But that is Dad. He loves knowledge, and had hoped that you would too. It was understandable why he reacted so strongly when you decided to drop out of university. You were given an opportunity he never was.

You see, Dad had a rough childhood. He was a hard working boy, and had big dreams of being a policeman, but his father could not afford to send him to high school. When his father found out that he has not been tending to the chickens and pigs in the farm, but had instead been hanging out in the backyard of schools to listen to lessons being taught, he became furious and chased him around the 'kampong' compound, hitting him again and again with a thick wooden rod.

How do I know this? Mom told me. You see, last night, I heard Dad scream in his sleep. And when I asked Mom this morning, she told me the whole story. Dad always dream the same dream - and he is 58 years old! He is still being tormented at this age. I am not writing to justify the pain Dad caused you. I am writing to make you understand why Dad leashed out on you in such anger.

Wallace, stop running away from Dad. Stop running away from our family. I don't want you to get married some day, have kids, and still dream of being beaten by Dad when you are old and grey.

Come home soon ok? I love you, big bro.

Love, Mindy."

That year, her brother Wallace came home to visit. He brought with him a new girlfriend the family has never met before - a young, sweet-looking Thai girl whose age was the same as Mindy. Since Wallace's return, things at home brightened up. For one, Mindy's father came to smile more often, and spoke kinder to them both. His outbursts became less frequent. Mother cooked nicer dishes too; an occasional Thai dish or two; a new skill she learnt from Eleenikrabot, Wallace's girlfriend. Even the family dog barked lesser, Mindy noticed, which has found for itself a new joy - chasing birds across the front porch on hot, lazy afternoons.

Growing up, she has always wished she was born into a different family, in a kinder home. Yet through the years, she has come to thank God for her imperfect parents and her intolerable brother Wallace. She has come to realise that even her parents have their past demons, and even they are learning to deal with it. She realised that no one set of parents have it altogether, that no matter how hard they try, they would be less than perfect.

Standing at the church altar with her handsome groom in hand, Mindy turned around to look at her aged parents and a beaming Wallace with his newly wedded Thai wife by his side. Mindy smiled and under the veil, she prayed that as she steps into a new phase in her life, into a family of her own now, she would always carry with her a valuable lesson learnt – that there is no greater place on earth but a place to belong to, a unit of identification, a family to call one’s own.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Loneliness sobers

At 66, he confessed that loneliness knows no age – it strikes anyone, anywhere. And loneliness cannot be explained – it has to be personally experienced to be understood. He has probably not felt lonelier than he does now, with the absence of his wife who has never left home for more than a month at a stretch. She is halfway across the world in dark and dreary London, to care for her daughter who has just given birth to a lovely baby son. 

He used to live his life around a fixed routine – waking at half past five in the morning, have a simple breakfast made up of two slices of plain bread and a cup of hot drink, then jog for an hour at the park nearby, before heading to his shop to clean up the drains and surroundings, picking up dried leaves, watering and trimming the plants. He comes home by noon, cooks himself a simple lunch of plain porridge with lots of vegetables and a few slices of fish, reads the newspapers for a couple of hours before taking his nap. He wakes in the evening to go out for dinner with his wife, strolls by the beach as the night wears on, before heading home to read some more, and off to bed by half past ten. 

He seemed perfectly fine with this routine, until his wife left for London. He initially tried to stick to the routine still, but after a few days, the reality of being absolutely alone sunk in. He started to loathe the emptiness in the house, of not having someone at home to talk to, to banter with. He dreaded returning to a lifeless, concrete enclosure, and would rather hang out in coffee shops and eating places with old friends and chat till the wee hours of the morning. 

Such is the power of loneliness that it has made him sober up in his parenting and social skills. He has time, lots of it, to reflect on his strict upbringing of his four children, who are now residing in various parts of the world, returning home to visit far fewer times than he would have preferred, given the geographical distance in between. He is sorry for his lack of tact in his interaction with his family and friends. 

At 66, he is making a conscious effort to be tactful, patient, gracious, caring and loving. For this I am extremely proud of hm. He is my father. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Called out of darkness

"You're white as snow, but you have a mind of a slave." - a line from Human Stain, a moving movie starring Anthony Hopkins, Wentworth Miller & Nicole Kidman.

I too, am a prisoner of my own mind. I am a prisoner of my own fear. When I was 10, I feared the apocalypse - prophesies of doomsday, the destruction of earth and mankind. I was both fearful and indignant, thinking if the world is going to be destroyed, what was the point of studying? Of learning? Of living lives? Such was my fear and indignance that my dad brought me to my church pastor, the gentlemanly and neatly-dressed Pastor Nicholas, who looked me very kindly in the eyes and said: "Angeline, Jesus has called us to be faithful where we are planted. So until He comes a second time, we have to do what are called to do. As a student, you have to keep studying hard. You got to keep growing and learning, applying your mind to be your best, until Jesus comes. We mustn't slack."

His words, though simple, struck a deep chord in the core of my being, and from then on, I promised myself and my God to live the best I could. And live I did. I studied hard and played hard. I loved much and broke many a hearts, as mine was many a times similarly broken. I did not turn away from Pastor Nicholas' words, until recently, when another fear gripped me - the fear of evil.


Bombarded by news of terrorism, sex syndicates, school shoot-outs, brutal sexual assaults, cold-blooded murders, domestic violence, acts of perversion - I feel like a country mouse trapped in the black dungeon of a city in ruins. I am fearful of the darkness that surround me, the environment that I live in - and I can't seem to find a way out. I am almost turning into a reluctant paranoid.

Realising the dire situation I am allowing myself to slip into, I decided I need help - I need to reach upwards and climb out of the dark dungeon of paranoia. As I write now, I am stepping out.

This I know and this I confess:

I have been redeemed - I am white as snow. I walk under a divine covering. I choose therefore to stop thinking like a slave. I am free. I walk with my head held up high. Though I am not complacent of the fact that evil surrounds me still, my banner of victory is lifted higher. I walk in full assurance of His love, grace and mercy. I am free indeed.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Choices

Life is limited by circumstances but defined by choices. Our choices will either make life work for us or against us.

A simple truth, yet often overlooked, by the sheer fact that we are too bogged down by the frustrations in life - the little foxes that spoil the vine - and thus fail to see the big picture of the importance of CHOICES.

I came to this realisation this morning after my swim. You see, exercise is never a convenient choice to make. It is never easy, nor convenient, for me to decide to run 30km and swim 4km every week. It is a choice I have to make, knowing the importance that choice means to my physical, mental and overall well-being. Without daily vigorous exercise, I am perpetually lethargic, lacking in energy, restless and wrapped in a bubble of frustration. With exercise, I spring to life, making every moment in my life count, appreciating the beauty of life as I go along. It becomes pure ecstacy for me, the immediate effect of exercise. I can't do without it. But I have to make a choice to exercise. To get the motivation going at the start of the day is perhaps the most trudging moment of all - this is where the road forks in two - to make a choice that rewards or a choice that destructs.

May you find the strength to make the right choices that propels you in the direction of a fulfilling and rewarding life.

Fourth dimension

I toss and turn in bed each night as my body falls into a deep sleep and my mind prepares itself for a couple of hours of 4th dimensional adventure. I call it the fourth dimension because it doesn't take form in either of the three dimensions that we know of; it is a dimension intangible in the natural yet tangible in the subconscious. It is my world of dreams.

In it I live and breathe a sum total of wishes and desires that never and have yet to take form in the natural. I have no control over it - I am not the master in this instance, and I am subject to graphic images and scenes that sometimes still makes my heart skip a beat when I think of how real and magnificent the manifestations were.

In it I have been a lover of many, a friend of well known political figures in their youthful days; and in not so glamourous moments, a fugitive - running away from various harms. The running away scenes are aplenty - I can always remember running away from assassins. Yes, assassins! Absurd as it may sound, this is the fourth dimension after all.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Life & Death

I have taken to writing poetry recently. This time I thought I'll do it differently - i.e. I will share the thought process that went into writing this poetry, so that my readers can go along with me and understand why I wrote what I wrote, and why I composed it the way I did - i.e. the choice of words, the punctuations, the order of prose, etc.

This poem has 2 stanzas.

The first stanza has to be read in reverse order; i.e. from bottom up. The bottom is the start point, and the top is the end point. This is because when I first conceptualised this idea, the words in my mind were "life and death" - thus I wrote "life and death" first, and I had to work backwards, a step at a time, to the starting point of a man and woman's relationship.

Notice that each line ends with a full stop. This is to signify the different cycles/phases in a man and woman's relationship which has a beginning and an end.

Notice also the first stanza has only seven lines, and not the usual eight. This is to signify a continuance to the relationship - it does not quite end with these cycles/phases - it goes on to the next stanza (which will be explained accordingly below).

Between life and death.
Between having and losing.
Between appreciating and despising

Between understanding and judging.
Between staying and leaving.
Between loving and rejecting.
Between accepting and refusing.

The relationship first begins with acceptance, then loving, then choosing to stay together, moving on to understanding each other, appreciating each other, recognising the good fortune of having one another and finally, separation by death.

Here, the poem takes a twist. The second stanza is to be read in the usual order; i.e. from top to bottom.

Notice the absence of full stops or commas at the end of each line - this is to signify the eternity of the love relationship between a man and his wife which never ends, not even in death.

Between a man and a wife
The love lives on
Even in death


So now that you have a better understanding of this poem, here's how it should be properly read:

Between life and death.
Between having and losing.
Between understanding and judging.
Between staying and leaving.
Between loving and rejecting.
Between accepting and refusing.

Between a man and a wife
The love lives on
Even in death

Friday, March 27, 2009

Soar, Junior, Soar!

Waters above your head you’re swimming
You can’t feel your feet but you’re trying
Take a moment now you can’t breathe
You keep afloat just so you live

Whatever you can’t keep you can’t throw
Whatever you don’t need you don’t sow
Now you choose to run you must soar
I’m close behind you can do more

Monday, March 23, 2009

Him at work

He sits up straight
his legs on the floor flat

His head cocked
his eyes narrowed

He rests a hand under his chin... pondering
then quickly removes it
as a bright idea strikes

His fingers move as swiftly as his mind
double the speed to catch up

He labours hard at work


-my husband

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Tis' not mine

Many a splendid thing - not all are mine to possess
Great a blessing, the little that I have

Many a years between
Many a miles apart
Many a paths crossed
Though none between the two

Many a friends made
Many a joy had
Many an adventure rode
Though none shares the two

Many a beautiful thing - we have been blessed
Our halves our greatest possession, everything that we have

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Distractions

We have to admit - there are far too many distractions in our personal world today compared to our forefathers'. There are far too many distractions often disguised as things that we should attend to as soon as possible or we might forget to do them later. These are what I call nominal distractions.

Nominal distractions are a little tricky. They are certainly not bad; they are merely your day-to-day chores that often need immediate attention. For example, the little spot over there needs cleaning; the table is too dusty; the strands of hair gathered at the corner of the room is disturbing me; the laptop is greasy and needs wiping; the room is too humid - I need to put up the curtain and open the window; oh, the flower pot at the balcony is falling over - I need to prop it up; oh dear me, I forgot to put the clothes to wash - I need to do so before the sky turns dark and rains... and the list of nominal things to do goes on and on and on - until we put a firm feet on the ground and say "Enough is enough!"

Then there are the "thin-line" distractions. Again, they are not easy to identify. They are often disguised as things that seem important, especially in the area of relationship building, but without giving serious thoughts to our options and weighing the consequences, they can actually take us away from what we actually need to be doing at a given moment. For example, you should be finishing up your work but you go out for coffee with your friends; you should be spending time with your family but you go out for a movie, you should be attending to the huge pile of bills but you go for a spin in your best friend's new Harley, you should be doing your research but you download an endless stream of podcasts, checks out your Facebook, posts entries on your blog and fire away your numerous tweets on Twitter. You know what I mean.

So how do we deal with these seemingly harmless distractions which are really taking away from us precious time that could be put to better and more efficient use? The answer, though an obvious one, requires a great deal of effort to execute. The answer is "Focus". Duh, you may say. After all, isn't the opposite of "distraction", "focus"? Yes, but what makes "focus" achievable? I believe there are 3 important elements to eliminate our impertinent need to be distracted by nominal and thin-line distractions and focus our efforts on what really needs doing. They are Consciousness, Discipline and Action (CDA).

Consciousness - You need to remind yourself aloud that there are bound to be things that your eyes will catch notice of, that will distract you from what you intend to do. You got to be conscious of the distractive environment that you live in, and make a conscious, firm and cold decision not to succumb to those distractions, no matter how urgent or important they may seem.

Discipline - You will notice that "discipline" falls in between "consciousness" and "action". Discipline is the crucial point where you hold your ground and brave through the storm of distractions. Your eye catches note of something, your head turns in the direction of the object, your heart softens at the thought of the feeling of pleasure and satisfaction once the obejct of your distraction has been attended to, but your head is firmly stuck to your neck and you refuse to budge or move from where you are to attend to the beckoning distraction. Well done!

Action - Now, action plan. Once you have braved through both the conscious and discipline stages, you keep your eyes, head, heart and mind on what you need to be doing. You keep keeping at it until the distraction fades way. Distractions are like flies. They are attracted to food. Once you shield your food (things you are meant to do) with a cover (CDA), the flies disperse.

May you find greater efficiency in your work and productivity with your time in the coming days!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Children and Commitment





















Thoughts on having children: on one hand you have less personal time and higher expenditure; on the other hand you are building a heritage of love.


Someone once said, the amount of money you earn will not count at your deathbed; what matters is the people that are gathered at your deathbed. This brings to point the importance of building quality relationships with family and friends, rather than just accumulating wealth for personal achievement and satisfaction. Everything in life is a trade off. You lose something, you gain something.

You lose time, you gain achievement.

You lose energy, you gain fitness.

You lose devotion, you gain love.

You lose procrastination, you gain discipline.

You lose reluctance, you gain commitment.

You lose personal agendas, you gain friends.

You lose personal freedom, you gain children. And children are a blessing from the Lord. Happy is the man who has a quiver full of them!


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Plunge

Today, I looked over the edge and leapt.
And when I did, my senses went awry.
I was assaulted by a tirade of apprehension and uncertainty,
but I stood firm on the anchor of hope.
I was tempted again and again,
to steer to the safe waters of the coast,
but resisted the contemplation,
simply because I have already taken the plunge
and I must move forward.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

They taught me

People I would like to meet before I fade away: Lee Kuan Yew, Condoleezza Rice, Maya Angelou, Archie Weller. And not just to meet, but to hear them pour their hearts out about things that matter to them, to take in their experiences, to receive their wisdom, to learn from their mistakes and to hold them in admiration and respect.



They have each impacted me in ways unique to their lifetime contribution to the world at large: Lee Kuan Yew politically, Condoleezza Rice intellectually, Maya Angelou racially, Archie Weller socially.



















If I were to write a biography of a famous person, it would probably be Maya Angelou. Why? Because she went from a victim of abuse to a fighter of cause. She fights for the cause of women; black women particularly, justice, human rights, Aids, political stability and a whole lot of other causes affecting the voice-less; people who can't speak or fight for themselves.

Though I live and breathe in a comfortable, progressive and stable environment, I owe it to Maya Angelou to fight my fledgling cause of being a writer - to document the history, aspirations and achievements of our lives and to offer solace to others who identify with my writings.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Humanity

A worthy cause – the investment into humanity. The help rendered below may seem small compared to the vast, pressing need of thousands of victims; nevertheless it is better to help even one, than not at all. I speak for myself.

Straits Times - Feb 12, 2009

Photographers' mission to help tsunami victims

By Gwendolyn Ng

PHOTOGRAPHER Alex Soh can still recall the ache he felt as he watched a sack of rice fall off a truck in a Sri Lankan village and a group of boys scramble to scoop up the grains as rain pelted down.

Batticaloa village was just one of many that had been devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Yet, more than five years on, residents are still struggling to rebuild their lives.

Mr Soh, 36, was there six months ago with The Rice Project, an initiative he started with his photographer friend Triston Yeo, also 36.

Its aim is to document the lives of tsunami victims, even though the disaster has faded from international headlines.

The ambitious undertaking began with him organising a photography competition requiring participants to submit a photo essay on the theme of 'Living'.

Instead of cameras or cash, the prize was a 10-day photo expedition to Sri Lanka last August to distribute rice and document the lives of people in Trincomalee and Batticaloa, two of the worst-hit towns on the east coast.

The team that went included the six competition winners - student Damien Chng, 17; systems specialist Tom Low, 32; and photographers Aaron Lim, 27; Denice Lim, 20; Jean Loo, 24; and Casandra Wong, 22.

Along with taking photos, they distributed 16 tonnes of rice to more than 500 families displaced by the tsunami and civil strife.

An exhibition of their photographs will be held at VivoCity from tomorrow to Feb 22.

Prints will be on sale and the money raised will go towards building about 50 houses for tsunami victims later this year.

'As we distribute rice, we hope that the stomachs of the tsunami victims will be momentarily filled,' said Mr Soh.

'However, this is only a temporary measure. The next step would be to restore houses in the affected areas.'

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved. Privacy Statement & Condition of Access

Source: http://www.straitstimes.com/Singapore/Story/STIStory_337157.html

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Corner

I took the train all by myself to the airport, hoping to be as near as possible to the departure point of the country; to be near another country - maybe Melbourne, maybe elsewhere, I don't know.

I refused to listen to my usual podcasts, so I wouldn't be listening to other voices, and forced myself to listen to my own voice. I desperately needed to listen to my heart's cry. It has been whimpering all along for many months now, and I have simply ignored it, by getting myself busy with other things and listening to various podcasts. I have stopped listening to music because I wanted to gain knowledge, not just melody and relaxation. After months of ignoring the whimpers of my heart, I think it just broke. You know how sometimes when you break, but you just can't cry? The tears just won't flow, and you just purse your lips, refuse to speak to anyone and nurse your heart break.

I walked the length of the airport to look at the departure flights to various cities of the world, and wonder why I can't be on one of those flights.

Reaching the end of the airport, I sat down to write. As I do, I realised I have stopped empathising with people in worse plight than mine - people earning less in harsher and more hostile environment, working in less rewarding and fulfilling jobs. I have taken my eyes off them and looked in to myself instead and seen a deeper hole, a darker black.

I am jaded and burnt. I have lost my axe head and purpose. Like a chess player cornered at a game, I don't know which next move to make.

As I walked the airport once more, looking at the various departure flights, I thought:

What if I go to the most beautiful place on earth but have not friends?

What if I behold the most glorious sight and have not love?

That was when I decided to go home. I found my feet hurrying back to my husband and family - familiarity that is my solid foundation.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Recluse

Over the course of time she has come to be subdued in her nature. Once a go-getter and never one to be intimidated by situation or people, she is now content to recline to the backseat - cruising along a path littered with bags of regrets and shattered dreams.

He looks at me in the eye and I glare back. 'I dare you to move me from where I am, coz nobody's getting me out of here. If I have to move, I will move myself.'

He withdraws his gaze and retreats, as if frightened by my threat. Again, I have been a pain not just to my surroundings, but to myself. I am stuck, and I am here to stay.

Truth is I wish not. But I realise this is my lot - that change doesn't come from others making the case for me, but the hard work rests with me. If I want to get out of my situation, I have to do so by my own will, strength and might.

Trouble is, I have none of the three - will, strength and might. Months and months of routine and mundane responsibilities root me deeper into the black cushioned seat. Sometimes I get a cold from the inactivity, sometimes I walk to the bathroom and cry.

He refuses to give up and comes round one more time. What do you want to achieve out there? I soften at his question, realising he meant genuine concern and would help if I let him.

'I don't know, really. I thought I am a go-getter and I have answers to everything, especially about things concerning my life. But I am wrong. I don't know what I want now. I want to be a story teller, but it sounds too idealistic to be achieved. And hang on, I know what you are going to tell me - that as long as I can dream it, anything is possible - I can achieve it. I have come not to believe in those tales anymore.'

He sees the forlorn look in my eyes and feels a pang in his own heart. I know, because I know him. He feels this way about anyone lost. And I am lost. The one others thought is admirable and indestructible - is held captive by her own prison.

The pain in my head throbs more violently. I wince like a caterpillar crushed under someone's foot. 'Help me get out of here,' I hold his hand and plead sincerely.

'Please.'

'I can be helped, I know I can. Don't let me stay this way. Help me through this blackness. I will be useful again.'

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Today in History: The Inauguration

I owe it to him. For giving me hope, for inspiring me, for re-igniting my passion for living.

For having a keen mind even from a young age. For embracing cultures wherever his mom brought him to – Hawaii, Indonesia, Chicago. For never letting racial prejudices get in his way. For breaking traditions, social norms and conventional beliefs.

For daring to hope where there is no hope. For standing up for what is right and proving to the nay-sayers that yes, a black man can be the most historical President of the great United States of America.




Even though his calibre as president still proves to be seen, even before he officially enters into office, he has brought hope to the flickering darkness of a nation of people at the brink of despair; he is revered as the most enigmatic leaders of our time, and he has inspired a whole new generation of people; young and old, white, colored, multi racial, of all citizens; to believe, that as long as we stand together in the face of adversity, we can bring change to our world. And change has come to America. Change has come to cities all over. Change has come to my part of the world – my place here in Singapore.

I owe it to you, Mr Barack Obama. I owe it to you, Mr. President.

200109

P/S: Today is a day in history, and I never want to live in another generation. It is my honour, my privilege, to be living in this generation and witness first-hand, one of the finest moments in history since the birth of Jesus Christ – the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States of America.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The rule of law

Disturbing but true. The act of shaming an errant individual to serve as a reminder to the larger body of members. The iron rod of religion that encroaches on human decency and esteem - as the world progresses, so should institutions that uphold the society. Of course, basic fundamentals of an institution established from its foundation ought not be questioned and made issues of controversy, but the method of dealing with errant members - that should be addressed with wise judgment and deliberation of the circumstances surrounding the erroneous act.

Often times the very body or authority that passes such strict judgment and punishment are not angels themselves and are as frail a being in need of grace and redemption as the common folks. A balance of judgment ought to be struck - a balance that poses the question: Am I passing this judgment based on the standards of a reasonable person living in this current age and time or am I simply upholding a traditional form of judgment which even I myself may question its validity had I been the defendant.

Of course, it is easy for someone down the chain of command to question the judgment and action of a governing authority who has a wide and often privileged spectrum of issues and policies to consider before arriving at certain conclusions. The benefit of the doubt given, and I say this in respect, that it is prudent that governing authorities check the rule of law from time to time to critically study if they are serving the people they are meant to serve or have they turned tyrannical and irrelevant.


Straits Times - Jan 14, 2009


Malaysian waitress ordered to be caned for drinking

KUALA LUMPUR: A religious court has sentenced a Muslim woman to six strokes of the cane for drinking alcohol, possibly for the first time in Malaysia.

The Syariah High Court in Pahang also handed the same sentence to a man on Monday, and is due to make a decision on another woman in May.

Mohamad Nasir Mohamad, 38, a father of four, and waitress Noorazah Baharuddin, 22, were found drinking beer separately in pubs in July last year in central Pahang state, said reports released yesterday.

Nasir admitted that he had drunk beer at a pub in Cherating on July 11, while Noorazah was caught drinking at the pub where she worked, in Jalan Gambut.

Both were also fined RM5,000 (S$2,100) each by the Pahang court on Monday.

The third accused was part-time model Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, 32. According to the New Straits Times, Kartika, a Singapore permanent resident, could not attend court as she is studying in Singapore.

Judge Abdul Rahman Yunus said that he had given the maximum fine and caning as a deterrent to other Muslims, but had spared them a jail sentence.

'The caning is to shame them and should be done at any of the prisons in the country,' he was quoted as saying by NST.

The case comes after two controversial fatwas, or edicts - one over tomboyish behaviour by women and the other concerning the practice of yoga - sparked intense public debate over decisions made by the country's top religious body.

Malaysia has a two-track legal system, with the civil courts operating alongside state-based syariah courts. Muslims are governed by syariah laws in family and personal matters, while ethnic Chinese, Indians and other races come under civil courts.

According to NST, this is the second time such a sentence has been handed down. In 2005, the same judge sentenced two Muslim brothers to six strokes of the cane after they were caught drinking.

However, the caning has yet to be carried out as the men are appealing against the decision.

Alcohol is widely available in Malaysia, and Muslims are rarely punished for consuming it.


'It's rare but it's within the law and Muslims are subject to such law in this country,' said lawyer Pawancheek Merican, a syariah law committee member of the Malaysian Bar Council.

MP Salahuddin Ayub, the youth chief of the opposition Islamic party PAS, said he 'agreed' with the court ruling.

'The ruling only concerns Muslims and it does not affect the non-Muslims. It is to remind the Muslims not to drink,' he said.

Sheena



She is close to my heart and I love her so very much. I am always thinkin of her and what fun growin up is for her - she is so full of life, joy, enthusiasm and passion she can't be locked in by limitation or restriction. She is wholesome, creative and overflowing with life.

She is compassionate and sensitive to her loved ones - especially her mommy who sacrificially gives up all that matters to her so her little girl could grow in an environment of love, acceptance, encouragement and security (in that order).

Sheena is a representation of all that a child is to have - much love and room to grow, regardless of the environment which sometimes threatens the protection in which she currently enjoys.






Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The beauty of family

You see people smiling and laughing when they are with other people - friends, family, etc. You don't see them laughing as much when they are by themselves (fact is, you'd start speculating their sanity if they do). Reason being there is chemistry when people get together. And that is why I love families, particularly my husband's. The sense of belonging, acceptance and oneness. A warm shelter from a cold solitary world.

They give me a reason to look forward to coming home from a long day at work, an arduous day in class, a weekend gathering with friends, an overseas vacation. I have every reason to find my feet excitedly bringing me home each day because I find a place to belong to no matter the season that lifts or drowns me.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Swim to me

Swimming is especially important to me because without it I am trapped in lethargy and dwarfed by limitations.

I have been ill now for 6 days and showing little signs of recovery. And I have been prohibited by concerned family members not to swim or perform any sort of vigorous exercise. Day by day my body aches, my head spins, my flu flows and my mind now anxious - why am I not recovering?

I resolve to swim first thing tomorrow morning - I may be in the pinkest of health, for all I know.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Reminiscence

the sky a blanket of darkness
the air a morning chill so comforting
I step out into the coolness of dawn
noticing the puddles of water on the ground
collected from last night's rainfall
I take in the smell of fresh dew
resting on green leaves, flowers and grass blades

the showers behind, what awaits is a bright day
of hope and renewed dreams

the fast food joint is brightly lit
the music is turned up slightly louder than
what's comfortable for a quaint morning breakfast
where we're all strangers at separate tables and corners
avoiding eye contact as much as possible
comfortable with distance; uncomfortable with connections
in this city of dreams - the lion city

the familiar American songs playing on the speakers
bring jolts and tinges of acute nostalgia
bringing me home to days of youthfulness and recklessness
days of experiential living and innocence lost
I sit here by myself, though am surrounded by strangers -
I sit here, I reminisce and I write
in memory of who I was and
what I'd become

11/04/08

Voices - Choose Right

Sometimes I would turn off the lights and huddle in the corner of the room so I could be alone with my thoughts. Aside by ourselves, my thoughts seem to adopt a persona where they would flow freely and speak about stuff I would normally miss in the busyness of everyday life. I need these quiet moments because I am a highly visual person and I am most 'attacked' in my mind - be it in my conscious state when I am looking at things or thinking of stuff, or in my subconscious when I am dreaming. Thus these quiet moments serve as a platform for me to 'take in' only the good ones and discard the bad ones.

Yet despite these quiet sessions, many a times I fear I would lose all the good things I have, especially the greatest love of my life. And I would remember the story of Job in the Bible - that the thing he feared most came to him as he feared. And I would try to shut the negative images in my mind out. But rather than shutting them out, I think all I managed to do was to push them to the sidewalk of my mind, and ever so often, they would step right back onto the high road of my mind and come taunting me all over again. In fact, every morning.

You see, I jog every weekday morning before I go to work. And I would listen to Christian podcast sermons by Dr A.R. Bernard, Phil Pringle and Joel Osteen. Their messages do wonderful things to my heart, mind and spirit. But you see, the devil is a destroyer and a counterfeiter. As I take in the good stuff from the podcast sermons, especially first thing in the morning when your mind is fresh and free of evil contaminations, the devil attempts real hard to plant his evil and negative seeds in my mind. You see, I recognise this, but try as I might, I do not have have apparent victory over his ploy.

I write this down now so I may warn myself not just thoughtfully, but in writing (something more tangible than just thoughts, and could serve as a reminder many days and months after) that the victory is my Lord's. I write so I may put my thinking into perspective and 'force' myself to take the narrow path of the righteous and avoid the broad path of self. I write this down also so this may serve as a warning to you should you be in the same shoes as I am. 'We read to know we are not alone', says the great C.S. Lewis. You may read this entry to know you are not alone - that really, we are, in more ways than one, in the same shoes as many others in many situations.