•August 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It’s less than a week till the anticipated release of my first year exam results. I don’t know what to make of it. During this time, we’re all waiting for a piece of news bearing that golden ticket to the UK. There hasn’t been a phone call, an e-mail, a letter. I’m beginning to understand the concept of redha. I’m submitting it to God, believing that He is in full control of it all. It’s difficult especially when your mind wants to revolt against the possibility of not being chosen, and revolt against God for not letting you be chosen. But, He has proven time and time again that He knows best.

I met disappointment when I failed to get a place to study drama and English literature/linguistics despite aceing my MUET, and when I was not given the course of choice in the public university. Three years in a local private money-guzzling law school with no campus proper instead. I’ve been mulling over the prospects of going to UK. And just today, it dawned upon me that taking this route has not limited me – the other routes would have – but opened the door to UK and possibly Oxbridge even wider. But that’s if I do well. God has led me this far. He’ll keep me, as long as I keep trusting Him.

Suddenly, things don’t seem to be a gridlock anymore. But it doesn’t make me feel less scared of knowing my results.

Here are several monochrome portraits done on pages of an old math grid book. I like the blue of the grids, and I thought I’d just put them to good use rather than taking up space on my crowded desk.

Pettifoggery Over ‘Activism’ and the Dilemma to Stay or Leave

•August 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Rainbows Leave Skeletons Stay
A somewhat surrealist drawing on the ‘brain drain’. (I was never good at colouring in school!) One doesn’t have to refer to stats to know that the efflux of Malaysia’s young brains to other countries is increasing exponentially. Just ask a youth two questions: Where do you want to stay/work when you grow up? Do you plan to come back?

I’m probably the biggest social critic. But I don’t do a thing. So, you might call me the biggest hypocrites. All are not free from hypocrisy anyway. We all have self-righteous bones in us.

Maybe I should be an activist! I should get caught up in this hot wave that’s hitting Malaysia! I know! I should join an NGO! Women’s rights? Alright! Saving sharks? Yeah, man! Political education? Count me in!

Here in a small town, people aren’t so concerned about social welfare and political climates. It may be our laid back nature or that we are not exposed to the ‘elements’. They’d say I’m rad, but I’m not. Activist? Not at all.

There’s a pettifog over the term ‘activist’ due to the overwhelming number of people who are beginning to call themselves so because they attended four political forums. This is a threat to real activists! So the term ‘hipster activist’ comes about.

It seems to me that activism has become a trend. Of course, I’m only from the outside, looking in. Should it be so? Or should it be a way of life perhaps?

Ah, I see, it’s all about labels. Labels – so much weight they bear, so definitive of what we do. But as I’ve said, it’s pettifoggery; a petty quibble. The summary of what I think it is, is simply that if you are all for the cause, there isn’t any need to call yourself ‘activist’ or care if faux activists are trying to pass off as true activists. People may label you ‘activist’. But who cares? Your focus is the cause, not titles, accolades or recognition. Those are the ones I respect.

Do I count myself one? No. If one is truly an activist, he has to live it out. A tall order indeed. For example, if he claims to be an anti-capitalist and opposes social inequality and unfair distribution of wealth and power, yet spends twenty thousand ringgit at capitalistic big labels, I cannot trust him. It’s akin to saying, “I’m a cyclist” yet do not cycle. But I do get it; one cannot be a purist in such matters. It’s so difficult in a global market where capitalism is king. But again, this is merely an example.

Part of my intention to work was to see the employment sector for myself. If you’ve read my previous post , I’ve a compassion of sorts for them. I didn’t find what I was looking for – working, interacting, understanding and being personal with them. I can write about them, but if I do not go to them, I am but a person looking down from an ivory tower. There is so much to help, to champion. Could I be the one to do it? It’s hard, but maybe. To push for rights, I feel the need to experience it myself. Again, easier said than done.

At times, I want to be selfish. To run away from the horrid muck our country seems to be sucked deeper into to search for greener pastures, equal opportunities based on merit. Because the ills seem so incurable. So, alright, Yi Wen. Do your Masters, PhD, the Bar, CLP, whatever. Write a hundred research papers. Present them in prestigious universities across the globe. Write textbooks and earn steady income. Pray that you’d impact your students to do what you’d hoped to do. But that’s it. My rice bowl. Your rice bowl. Don’t touch mine; I won’t fight for yours.

No can do. I can expand horizons away from home and satisfy my unquenchable thirst for knowledge and experience, but ultimately, there is a calling to return home. I believe that even if the most intelligent leave the country, what’s most important is that people of integrity and sound principle remain. A nation built on intelligence isn’t enough. It is a brownie point. I’m not a bright spark, but I cannot complain that the country is going to the docks or that we’ve got a major brain drain if I do not intend on staying and fighting for improvement. Running away – a patriot would say it’s selfishness and cowardice, but would it be fair to say that, given personal autonomy to dictate one’s own life? I can’t say, but it just makes one’s criticism less legit.

The Un-Chinese: A Banana Speaks

•June 29, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Dinner will only be a 90 cent bun because today you didn’t study hard enough, Yi Wen. You’re only having dinner when you get back at 11.30 pm because you couldn’t finish even one essay. What a failure.

I’m a self-punishing psychotic.

Even after the strenous eight months, I painted for four days straight, stopping only for toilet breaks and meals. I learnt knitting and knit till my hands hurt, camped in a bag for five days, maximised my trip to Singapore by walking as much as possible, and took up a waitressing job under a fussy boss who won’t let her workers rest. And then, there’s a whole lot of Brigade work to do for the upcoming state-level training school.

Mom says, “Poor girl”, regarding the physical labour, as I’m the sole waitress – setting up the restaurant, cleaning, serving, preparing. But really, I don’t mind. My bosses, upon finding out that I come from an academically-driven family, have a perception that such people cannot do hard labour. I am always inclined to prove people who think that I severely lack physical strength and endurance, wrong.

The only thing that really tires me is what I call ‘double processing’. I’m what the Chinese call a banana. The inability to comprehend and communicate effectively in Chinese renders working in a very Chinese environment an extremely uphill task.

There are several questions and thoughts that I’ve been pondering about myself, them (people who claim to be true blue ethnics because of language.), language and ethnic identity. Maybe this is a socio-linguistic sort of topic. Regardless, here’s to all the bananas or whatever they call us.

I’ve been told that I have the Chinese-speaking face. That’s puzzling; I didn’t know there was a kind of face. It is evident that there is a general dislike for the other. They dislike us for going Western; we them for being so Chinese. I have to admit that it is a shame and a handicap not knowing my own mother tongue and dialects. My dad once said that language defines whether you’re in or out of a circle. It’s true. It’s difficult to mingle and merge with social groups of a language you are less proficient. I can’t even communicate with my own grandmother in Hokkien properly, one of my greatest regrets.

One of the best amalgamation of cultures would be the Chinese Peranakan community. They spoke Baba Malay, but they differentiated themselves from pure Chinese and were known as the ‘King’s Chinese’ because they embraced the West and attended English schools. That’s precisely what my Baba and Nyonya ancestors did. Maybe to the detriment of our culture, because we’ve never heard lest speak Baba Malay anymore, do embroidery, cook elaborate dishes, play cherki or sing pantun.

Then I ask: WHAT IS CULTURE? I read some big shot said debate is not our (Malaysia’s) culture. What is our culture?

The totality of socially transmitted behaviour patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought.

If culture is such, then it is susceptible to changes through evolving times. In this age, when there is so much exposure to other cultures, the adoption of other cultures is inevitable. We take what we see as good, throw out the superstitions or inconvenience.

Language, however, is usually perceived as definitive of one’s ethnicity or culture. Being less proficient throws you several rungs down the ladder of True Ethnicity – like I’m less of a Chinese. But is it all there is to ethnicity and culture? I was brought up according to so-called Chinese values. We appreciate hard work, discipline and training, filial piety, knowledge and respect. I love the opera, the sad sounds of the erhu, the history, and the food, of course.

I wonder then, what does being Chinese mean to them? Is it literacy? Does it mean listening to S.H.E. or Cantopop, or dressing up like them? Maybe that’s the ‘evolving culture’. I don’t dig these stuff, so that means that I do not submerge completely in that totality.

A teacher who is a staunch Buddhist once criticised me for forsaking my ethnicity and culture. She said that by being Christian, I had no appreciation and was turning my back on the good Chinese values like honouring my ancestors, among others – somewhat a betrayal. Chinese Christians are de-Chinesed Chinese. We kill the culture.

That’s where the distinction to me is – between ethnicity and religion. Admittedly, it is difficult to separate these into two individual entities because over time, ethnic practices and religious practices are fused together. The difficulty lies here. But what comes first to me is God. I would practise Chinese culture willingly, unless it goes against God’s Word. The Bible says “Honour your father and mother” – that’s filial piety and respect.

“The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” -Proverbs 18:15. That’s knowledge.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” -Hebrews 12:11. That’s discipline.

What puzzles me about them, in general, is the lack of interest to explore beyond the Chinese community. I was taken by surprise when several of my friends said they’d had never eaten Indian banana leaf rice before till I brought them. I’m not saying I’m better or that I’m more global. Many that I’ve encountered, even those not advanced in age, cannot speak decent Malay or English despite going through the works of education. It’s either the failure of the education system or the general close-mindedness. It really puzzles me.

As an un-Chinese, I’m the minority, the subject of bewilderment. I try extremely hard to understand them. Don’t take offense; these are just my encounters. But again, to me, language is a just a very useful tool. Ethnicity is just the origin of one’s ancestry. I’m not confused about my ethnic identity. Do I feel a need to belong? No, just a desire to understand. I’d ponder the same if I was thrown into the Malay, Indian, Burmese or any community. It’s a matter of understanding; accomodation will come then. Maybe then ethnic and language won’t be barriers.

I could just be dreaming of utopia.

Ten Shots: Snappy Singapore II

•June 15, 2012 • 1 Comment

More snapshots of Singapore. It is evident that Singapore pumps money into the art scene and the preservation of heritage buildings. I’m a sucker for heritage buildings. While Malaysia does a poor job at it by demolishing pre-war buildings in the name of development, Singapore shows that an air of modernity can be infused into the old.

The art scene is extermely vibrant. My biggest regret was not going to the ArtScience Museum for the world debut of Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal which presents 260 of Warhol’s artworks. If you’re heading to Singapore between now till 12 August 2012, do visit this exhibition.

Armenian Street

St Andrew’s

The Armenian Church

Art Students’ Lockers

The Crane Dance

A snippet from Indonesian poet Chairil Anwar’s poem ‘Aku’ (‘Me’)
“Wounds and poison I’ll take running
Until the pain leaves”

Lights on Sentosa

Terror Ride

The Merlion

Pretty little angel on a gravestone in an Armenian church

Ten Shots: Snappy Singapore I

•June 15, 2012 • 2 Comments

One of my aims when I’m in my twenties is to budget travel as much as possible. Since I was a kid, I was obsessed with the idea of backpacking; me lugging a huge knapsack, walking everywhere and staying in budget hotels.

Staying in budget hotels hasn’t materialised, but in my two so-called solo trips to Hong Kong and Singapore, I’ve squatted and spent nil on accommodation.

In Singapore, I had the opportunity to shoot with a DSLR. This trip makes me want to bust RM2000 on a DSLR. I love photography, but I’m an amateur. In self-praise, I’d like to think I’m a good photographer, but it’s for you to judge based on my shots. No photo-editing involved!

Sri Mariamman Temple, Chinatown – Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple

Spiral staircases in a Bugis backlane

Magic hour at Clarke Quay

Old men playing Chinese chess in Chinatown

Hot Afternoon in Chinatown

Seeing Red Outside Fullerton

Last night in Singapore

Climbing the ADM at Nanyang Tech

Night Lights, Night Figures

The National Museum of Singapore

Here are ten shots. More coming up!

Shot that Albatross

•May 12, 2012 • 3 Comments

Dad used to read to us Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s seven-part poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner from an old blue pocket-size book wrapped tightly with transparent plastic. The way he read it used to give me the chills, especially when his voice dropped to a ghostly whisper at the part where the ghost ship appears.

The Mariner tells the Wedding-Guest of how his ship was caught in a storm and is driven off-course to Antarctica. An albatross appears and leads them out of the mist and fog, and the crew praises it. But, the Mariner shoots it.

With my crossbow
I shot the Albatross.

I’m like the Mariner. Shot my Albatross.

Ah! well-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

The Mariner and the crew encounter a ghostly vessel. On board is Death and Nightmare Life-in-Death who are playing a game of dice for the lives of the crew. Death wins the crew. Life-in-Death wins the Mariner, who she considers more valuable. One by one, the crew die. By the Mariner lived on; the crew’s final expressions etched on their faces and in his memory – life in death.

I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came and made
My heart as dry as dust.

The selfsame moment I could pray;
And from my neck so free
The Albatross fell off, and sank
Like lead into the sea.

Catch that train. Catch that plane. Shot my Albatross. Missed my plane. Fear and tears are signs of weakness. Weakness spells death.

‘Do not go gentle into that good night! We’re living things. Fight. Rage.’ Something for me to keep in mind.

I’m Not Here

•May 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Radiohead’s How To Disappear Completely was playing on loop in the background. I should be writing on alternative dispute resolution.

That there, that’s not me
I go where I please

I reached for a pencil. Paper. The back of some old criminal law notes will do. Strange. I never draw on new paper.

I walk through walks
I float down the Liffey

Serenity. I flicked on my lamp and photographed it black and white. Tweaked the picture a little with the contrast. The words from the notes suddenly became clear as though they were imprinted on the faces. That’s like me. I shut my eyes and words, words and more words float around me, but it’s serene. Inexplicable. Is it the assurance that I can rest in God?

In a little while
I’ll be gone
The moment’s already passed
Yeah, it’s gone