Monday, August 22, 2011


I am having speaker envy because my office roommate has better-quality audio speakers than I do. I usually never notice these sort of things, so the sound quality must be pretty disparate. Or maybe I've been infected by the group of guy friends I often hang out with -- Mr TDH and his posse.

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When I was a child, adults would tell me not to make things up, warning me of what would happen if I did. As far as I can tell so far it seems to involve lots of foreign travel and not having to get up too early in the morning.
—Neil Gaiman, in the introduction to Smoke and Mirrors

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Am I really the only one who wonders why instead of uneatable we have inedible, and instead of unexplainable we have inexplicable? I really like the word "inexplicable", by the way.

A sure sign

You know your housemate knows you too well when you tell him you're going to host wild parties while he's away and he snorts in disbelief.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I am a teacher.

I do not know when I started thinking of myself as a writer. I can't even remember when I started writing; the only thing that is clear is I began writing letters to a dear childhood friend when my family moved to a different town. We were both seven. I answered letters promptly; he did not. It frustrated me.

This began a long career of letter-writing, where I was always destined to be the more frequent correspondent. At one point in my teen years I had 30 pen-pals -- thirty! But most of them hardly wrote, and I would wait months for a reply.

It seemed I could not stop writing. The letter writing didn't segue into stories, for all I would make them up in my head; instead, for some reason I began composing poetry instead. Very bad poetry. Adults told me it was good -- some of it even got published in our church newsletter. Today I wince each time I think about that. Perhaps it was just that in our little town they didn't know anyone else who wrote poetry, so to them it was a wondrous thing? I'm not sure.

The attachment to writing caused me to choose journalism as a career. I love writing, journalism involves writing, what could be more perfect? Of course, later I realised that although journalism involves writing, it is definitely only a particular style of writing. And then I discovered blogging. It was a way for me to write the things I wanted to write, the way I wanted to write them. In keeping with my earlier madness of having 30 pen-pals, I began to actively update 6 different blogs, each for a different purpose or subject. It seemed like I just couldn't write enough.

When I started teaching, I still privately thought of myself as a writer. It was the identity I'd held for so long that I was simply unable to imagine myself as a teacher, despite facing classes of 20 or more students every morning. But I found myself writing less and less as I immersed myself in my new career. I discovered a joy there which writing had never brought me. Writing is cathartic sometimes, an outlet for expression, but although it can be satisfying it is not fun. Spilling out words on a page is often easy for me, but it is a solitary activity and I love interacting with my students, despite being an introvert.

Slowly, so slowly I don't know exactly when it happened, I stopped thinking of myself as a writer and started thinking of myself as a teacher instead. Today, I can finally say that I am a teacher, not a writer. I don't know if I'll ever be a writer again.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Death... and faith

    The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.
    —Mark Twain

Two weeks after my grandma's passing, I am still thinking about death. Not in a grieving way, for I'm not sad about her -- just relieved that she had felt no pain, died peacefully, was free from the weak body that I felt had stripped her of much dignity in her old age. No, I've been thinking about it in a wondering way.

Anyone who has looked upon a lifeless body lying in a coffin surely must have the sense that what remains there is merely an empty shell. I don't know how atheists explain it, but when I looked at my grandma's body I was pretty certain that she was gone, the essence of her. She was no longer here. What was there bore no resemblance to the grandma I knew, except that it had her face and form. But the vital spark was missing. The soul.

I think I understand now why so many religions believe in life after death, whether it is reincarnation, heaven and hell, or some other philosophy. When you look at the body lying there, you just know that the soul has left; hence it must perforce go somewhere, even if that means it is to roam the earth in invisible form among the rest of us. That's why we say the body is "lifeless": the life has left, it is now... somewhere else. Where, we may not know for sure, but definitely not here!

Death is, of course, the Great Unknown. Religions try to comfort us by putting names and descriptions to this Unknown, but intellectually we can't ever be sure that any one of them are the truth. This is why it's called "faith"; as defined in the Bible, "Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see." (Hebrews 11:1) And so I believe that it is impossible to argue anybody into any religious faith, nor can you necessarily convince them that yours is true. Faith is not something that one can reason out or be intellectually convinced of. We are talking about things that are unseen, mysteries that are veiled. It may be that we will never have incontrovertible proof of our faith, yet millions around the world still cling to their own deities and personal beliefs.

To say that faith is a crutch, a way to explain the inexplicable, to comfort ourselves by saying "This person is now in a better place," is... well, perhaps there might be a grain of truth in that. However, ruling out the unknown or the unfathomable simply because one cannot understand it or does not have any concrete proof -- that, too, is either a form of faith, or denial ;)  I respect the agnostic, who simply says, "I do not know." That is honest.

So if you ask me, I don't know why, but I do believe that my grandma is in a better place; that she is free of her weak and ailing body, free from pain and suffering, and that I will meet her again one day. In the end, I can't explain my faith, because it simply is.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Are we there yet?

As time goes by, I get more and more impatient to move. The first document I ever signed with regards to the apartment purchase was dated 16 April, and it's now 9 August. Time seems to plod by.

Sometimes I worry that I'm building it all up too much in my head, and that when the time comes to take possession and move into the apartment, it will turn out to be an anti-climax. I have such dreams and hopes and desires all bound up in that block of concrete. Perhaps I am romanticising it too much? I ask myself. It is not likely to be the answer to all my dreams any more than getting married would be.

But anyway, the planning is fun. I have bought 4 dinner plates and a set of six glasses -- growing up, we had a motley assortment of mugs to drink from, most received as free gifts with various purchases at the supermarket; but there were also the "nice glasses", the ones that came in a set, ones you'd rinse out and use when guests came to visit. And so I find myself thinking, "I must have nice glasses." Then I find myself thinking of matching cutlery, and there you go, I'm on a slippery slope downhill! At least I haven't bought any cutlery yet. YET.

For weeks I drove around with a huge-ass beanbag in the non-existent boot of my car -- I drive a two-door hatchback (Proton Satria Neo) and so had to fold down the back seats to make space for that monster of a beanbag, 3 feet in diameter at the base. Then my parents arrived in town and I had to haul it out of the car to make space for them, and now it's sitting in a blob in my living room among all of the boxes. I really can't wait to move.

"Why are you looking at furniture now?" my mother asked. "There's no hurry," and I couldn't explain that it is more or less the only thing I can do at the moment, since the transaction process is moving so slowly, and is largely out of my hands. It's the banks, the lawyers, and the property valuers (THREE WEEKS to get a property valuation report!) and their red tape that is holding things up. Bureaucracy is alive and well in Malaysia. And so since I'm waiting, there is nothing else to do but plan and hope and dream -- and buy furniture. And other household stuff.

Of course, it helps that Hari Raya is around the corner and so there are sales everywhere. Suddenly I am buying 600-thread-count sheets: it seems that when you buy a horrendously expensive mattress, you end up needing horrendously expensive sheets to go with it, because the mattress is 13 inches thick and normal sheets won't fit! Plus, it's a queen-sized mattress and all my existing sheets are for a single bed, so... "It's necessity," I told myself, and refused to feel guilty. And then I decided I might as well go the whole hog and bought two feather pillows. They've taken the place of the huge-ass beanbag in the boot of my car. At least I don't need to fold the back seat down for them.

Every time I buy something for the apartment I roll my eyes at myself and think of having to transport it over later. Most of the furniture can be delivered directly from the stores -- they'll hold the item at the agreed price if you pay a deposit -- but smaller items like the dinner plates, glasses, beanbag? Uh-huh. And don't forget mine is a walk-up apartment on the FIFTH FLOOR. Oh yes, it's going to be fun :p