Wondering about Nature's wonders

July 29, 2010 , 0 Comments

For moments like this, some people wait a lifetime.

Remember that one time when I stood on the top of the mountain in Brunei. In the distance, the emerald green sea of trees merges with the sapphire waters. The air was so achingly clean, so unfamiliarly refreshing.

I had felt small but not powerless, insignificant yet content. It was a commune with Nature.

At that instance, everything faded into obscurity. Nothing mattered - not money, not work, not studies. Nothing mattered except for the complete awareness of something powerful, deeply ancient and omniscient.

I felt loved simply because I wasn't judged or evaluated or appraised. I didn't feel like I'm an individual. I felt as though I was part of the greater cosmos; a mere speck but nevertheless, still a part.

In Vietnam's Ha Long Bay, the same feeling revisited.

Bobbing within the bay of serene waters, surrounded by natural monuments... One can simply hear the alluring whispers of Nature. The tapestry of stars weaving throughout the void above - individually pretty, collectively impressive - delighted.

The sense of self disintegrated and merged with the beauty beyond.

Even in Singapore, within the forests of Ubin or atop the tidebreakers of East Coast, one can enjoy the same feelings. Even within the soulless concrete jungles, one can turn one's face skywards and revel in a cloudy panorama.

Each commune with Nature is profound and enlightening. Each time is different and yet, enchantingly similar.


Deconstructing relationships

July 26, 2010 0 Comments

Forever friends living happily ever after.

It is a myth.

Friends aren't forever. Relationships never last.

The personal journey of one may converge then run parallel to another's for a certain period. It may be parallel for years, months, weeks or simply a few days. The intensity of warmth, the shared camaraderie, experiences and feelings, the sense of belonging may unite to convince one that this is one relationship that'd last for a lifetime.

Each journey may also merely be tangential. Strangers who happen to sit side by side on the train. The auntie who sold one that bottle of Sprite on a warm afternoon. There is a brief intersection of Life's lines, intersections that may go on to become something more or maybe just simply fade away.

Yet, eventually, pathways diverge. Tangential lines split as quickly as they touch. Parallel journeys may encounter unforeseen variables that alter their gradients and directions.

We each have to be responsible for ourselves. We need to grow and mature and develop into the wisest, most loving people we can be. We need to walk alongside different people and learn from all around us. We need our pathways to be shifting lines of convergence and divergence, to pulsate with the palpitations of Life.

To attempt to structure our journeys in Life so that it runs parallel to another's is foolhardy and selfish. It is to deny oneself the opportunity to evolve and, likewise, deny one's friends - the very people one cherishes and wishes to stay close to - the opportunity for growth.

This is why I feel that friendships will never last. There are crests and troughs in the relationships, moments of closeness and diffidence. Relationship waxes and wanes. There are thick and thin lines unfolding messily on the map of Life.

For better and for worse, friendships don't last.


Examining Vietnam's art

July 23, 2010 0 Comments

There is a lucid simplicity in Vietnamese art.

Newfangled media - video installations, pop paintings, pickled animals - thankfully eluded this country. Oil paints are the primary media oft used.

Art galleries blossom throughout Hanoi, the seat of political power in Vietnam. It was no exaggeration that every street contain at least one gallery. The profound serenity and exquisite skill in all paintings is a delight to art lovers. One can spend time luxuriating in the copious number of skillful paintings everywhere.

Despite the bloody conflicts that erupt with alarming frequency throughout Vietnam's history, the nature of Vietnamese works remain surprisingly serene.

There are no works depicting sufferance, no bold smear of red across pristine canvases. There are no Kahlo-esque suppressed pain or Giacometti's aching emptiness. No pain - visible or suggested - on any canvas surface. (Is this due to the Socialistic nature of Vietnam? One that suppresses dissent?)

Works celebrating Nature's beauty can be seen everywhere. Lacquer art. Oil on silk. Breathtaking.
The woeful issue is that many of these paintings are produced for tourists. There is a sameness to artworks in different galleries. Originality is rare. One can pick up duplicate works of Botero, Picasso, Dali, Warhol at ridiculously low prices. Perhaps even bargain for them.

Gems can be found if one looks hard enough though.

Was awe-struck by some Ngo Tam's paintings. Really bold and fresh use of colours. The image below really don't do justice to his works; one must really see the original to appreciate it.

Harmonious use of vibrant colours. Layers of textures, rich and satisfyingly delicious.
Paintings of Vietnamese ladies - dressed in white, wearing straw hats - or monks along the street can be brought for less than 100 USD in Hanoi. Similar paintings would fetch 3000 USD in upmarket Singapore galleries. (Simply walk into some Raffles City or Takashimaya art galleries to be astounded by the price tags.)

Used to be intoxicated by the tranquility in these works and dream of possessing them. If you ever walk into a gallery and want to get some Vietnamese paintings, keep in mind that it is probably cheaper to fly to Hanoi and buy the paintings yourself. (In fact, the frame of such peace-inducing paintings is probably more expensive than the artwork itself).
Impression: Art commercialism is thriving. Every Vietnamese household can afford brilliantly painted works. The skillful execution of oils on canvas is commendable but the lack of creativity is lamentable.


Neat Rows of Files

July 20, 2010 0 Comments

In a locked room, many files reside. They rest there, undisturbed. Only rarely would people step into this musty room to retrieve them.

Ink on paper, just ink on paper.
Nothing much, he yawned.

Filing day in and day out.
Filing yet again, filing once more.
To file, am filing, had been filed.
Could be filed,
should be filed
and will be filed.

With ease, he took out
one file. He yawned.
More pieces of paper to file.

His dad had died. Mum’s sick.
Three schooling sisters.
Sole breadwinner.

Perpetual smiles. Service award.

Slacking in a corner.
Rude. Smoke. Excuses.

Tragedies filed.
Compliments filed.
Complaints filed.
Life is so

A poem on corporate diffidence that reduces personal experiences to lines of ink on paper to be filed away and perused at leisure.


Stories and all

July 17, 2010 0 Comments

Realised that when people share stories about themselves, they're actually giving part of themselves away.

Such stories ought to be treasured, ought to be treated with respect and reverence.

Yet, regretfully, they aren't treated so.

The general self-absorption of the society - people who are more interested in their own voices and own opinions, people who listen only to judge - blinds one to the precious nature of such stories.

It doesn't help that people give away their stories so flippantly that these stories no longer carry much value.

Pity. It seems sacrilegious when such stories are no longer sacrosanct.

Note to self: treat shared tidbits with a thanksgiving prayer.


The Power of Imagination

July 15, 2010 0 Comments

Today, I came across one particular story yet again.
A convict was supposed to be put to death. Why not make the best use of this opportunity to conduct an experiment? A psychologist thought and so, plotted.

The convict was placed in a dark room and a butter knife was pressed against his neck.

Earlier on, it was explained to him that his punishment for all his heinous crimes was to die from a cut to his neck and the sustained loss of blood. Rightly so, he was frightened.

After being sliced by a sharp knife - or so he thought - the convict can only hear the sound of water dripping from a tap - although he thought that it was blood dripping from his wound.

The next day, the convict was dead. His face was pale, as though drained of blood. Yet, in reality, not a drop of his blood was spilled.
Can't really examine the provenance of this popular story. Is it based on reality? Or is this simply a tale dreamed up by a psychologist during a boring wintry night?

However, the obscurity of its provenance should not eclipse the gist of this tale: One's imagination does exert a great influence on one's wellbeing.

Whether it is a positive or negative influence, well, it's really all up to one's daily decisions.


Horses and whatnots

July 13, 2010 0 Comments

A wiseman once lost his horse. His neighbour was sympathetic or at least, eager to appear sympathetic. The wiseman replied placidly, ‘whether it is fortune or misfortune, we don’t know yet.’

Soon, the horse returned with another wild horse. The neighbour was envious. 'So lucky, one horse ran away and two returned!' The wiseman replied, 'whether it is fortune or misfortune, we don’t know yet.'

The wiseman’s son soon fractured his leg while riding the wild horse. The neighbour was, once again, sympathetic. ‘What a thing to happen to your only child!’ The wiseman replied, 'whether it is fortune or misfortune, we don’t know yet.'

Not long after, all the fit young men in the town were called on to be soldiers. In the battlefields, all of them died only. Only the wiseman’s son survived for he was rejected from the army as his leg was hurt.

Is this a fortune or misfortune? We don't know yet.



July 10, 2010 0 Comments

Being honest when people would rather just remain as friendly strangers is as good as being confrontational.

It would merely make people uncomfortable and shrink away. It could come across as being intrusive. It may be met with aloof disdain.

Reason: There is a dichotomy in what one wants and what the people around one expects. We all expect to be polite strangers and want nothing more than to be polite strangers and sharing personal history goes again such wishes. (Or are we even expecting this?)

The disharmony deepens when what one expects from others is different from what others are willing to share.

Expecting others to be comfortably and completely honest is, on hindsight, rude. Used to think that being completely honest is a sign of respect for the other party but now, feels otherwise.

Expecting honesty doesn't respect the unique individuality and experiences of people. Perhaps one has experienced great hurt after being too open and hiding one's true feelings is the best defense mechanism? Perhaps one is just naturally shy and finds being expressive a struggle? Perhaps perhaps perhaps.

The unknown factors create such room for doubt that expecting honesty become myopic and selfish, no longer a mark of respect.

There can be no questioning: Honesty is the best policy. But, by elimination, not saying the complete truth is a close second. One must not discount the value of holding back.

A really simple issue.

If not for the fact that one must know when to be honest with one's thoughts and when not to. And when to balance on the tightrope with half-truths and white-lies. A lesson that might - most unfortunately - take a lifetime to learn.


De-stimatising the Stigmas - Those who can't, teach

July 08, 2010 0 Comments

Most teachers are more than capable of being just teachers. With their grades, they can be more.

Had a Maths tutor with a Cambridge degree. Was shocked that this tutor, with his well-known corporate efficiency, excellent teaching skills, wasn't even a HOD after ten years of service. Why? He had asked curiously.

'Let's face it. The teachers are all incredibly intelligent, diligent and determined people. With their grades and attitudes, they can earn more money working with petrochemicals, in banking and finance, as lawyers, doctors, fund managers, stocks analysts. They are in this line of work, not for the money, but because they enjoy teaching.'

The group had a discussion by the beach. Cool gusts of the night breeze gently swirled, carrying whispers of the revealed self. Was glad for this opportunity to learn that he wasn't alone, that the idealism for guiding others was shared and far more common than he had imagined.

Most of these teachers-to-be spoke of how they were inspired by their own teachers and wanted to make a difference to people's lives. Sounds cliche, doesn't it? After all, MOE had been throwing up such tired lines as campaign slogans to attract fresh blood.

But, in the pale moonlight and the cadence of the sea waves, each revelation was more than cliche. Each word carried magic, power.

Was really flattered and honoured to know such people. To him, it seemed so selfless to give up the tempting allures of material fame and fortune.

He remembered how people always looked at him strangely when he revealed he is going to be a teacher. 'Why?! Your grades are certainly better than just being a mere teacher.' 'Why?! Don't do that. There is no future.' (and his personal favourite) 'Do you have financial problems?'

Outwardly, he smiled and tactfully changed the topic. Inwardly, he cringed.

This ritual in the moonlight had changed his perspectives. In the tent, the guys shared about the shock - not mild surprise but genuine shock - that people would express upon hearing their decisions to be teachers.

Next time, if anyone ever dismisses teaching as a career, he'd prolong the conversation and defend the idea of being a teacher. Not for himself - he doesn't really give two hoots about the numerous unsustained opinions of others.

But for these people - friends? or acquaintances? more than acquaintances (due to the shared secrets) but less than friends (absence of shared history) - he'd articulate with greater clarity and conviction.

He'd no longer be made to feel ashamed of his decision to be a teacher. He'd defend teacher-wannabes, current teachers and ex-teachers.

For those who can, teach.


Understanding just the 2D

July 07, 2010 0 Comments

Realistically, he shouldn't be disappointed.

He knew that genuine relationships can't be founded on such flimsy foundations, that genuine friendships take tremendous amount of time and energy to sustain, to nurture. It can't happen in, say, two or three days. It can't magically emerge from overcoming stimulated difficulties.

Yes, he couldn't helped hoping for more.

He had put in the most effort in composing his little messages. He tried to straddle the line between being brutally honest and politically correct. To reveal himself as who he is, one without embellishment.

He talked about how he failed to strike up conversation with a interesting teacher-to-be as he trailed behind her and deliberated. 'Actually, I was walking behind you, trying to dream up a good way of starting a conversation when the blanket slipped off my grasp and I lost my opportunity. '

He shared concerns for people's disinterest for their own health. He thanked others for looking out after him, congratulated those who dare to passionately follow their dreams.

The results for such hard work was disproportionate to the effort dissipated.

The litany of messages was just polite clones. Mass manufactured, mechanic answers. 'Nice, supportive, encouraging.' So... 2 Dimensional. Flat. Dull. Boring. Plain. Banal.

Politically correct answers by scholars adhering to the very spirit of their contracts - to conduct themselves with all due dignity, decency and decorum.

He had saved the A4 paper to be read in solitude, like a little boy planning to savour a rich chocolate bar in a corner. Tsk tsk. Really, he should know better.


Respecting the idea of respect

July 04, 2010 1 Comments

Irksome that one must respect simply because it is expected. It taints the very idea of what is supposed to be sacred, precious and beautiful.

If respect is to be shown so casually to any one who demands it, then it is merely a freebie that would not be treasured. If one expects another to be deferent because one is older, then something must be wrong.

It doesn't matter that one is a smoker or drunkard or had messed up his life and the lives of the people around him.

It doesn't matter that he's rude or uncouth. It doesn't even matter if he respect you.

All that matters is he's family and therefore, must be respected. One is obliged - perhaps even forced - to respect.

What a profane idea. Just because respecting people carries no price does not mean it has no value.

The very act of respecting must be respected.



July 01, 2010 0 Comments

Opinions are dirt cheap. Everyone has numerous opinions which they readily thrust upon others' - sometimes willing but more often, unwilling - minds.

They raise the pitch or volume of their voices, becoming ever more indignant when their opinions are questioned, examined. They ridicule those who reject their opinions. They are convinced that their opinions - theirs and theirs alone - are scientific facts above and beyond reproach.

Therein lies the problem.

Opinions aren't facts. Facts aren't opinions. It is this simple. Confusion arises when the claimants assert that their opinions are facts; situation tenses when the claimants insist that their 'facts' - opinions, rather - are superior and brush aside all evidence that points to the contrary.

Do continue to insist you're right. One day, you'll find out how wrong you're. I hope I'm there when it happens.