Let this not be a mere blip

Just a few days ago, I went to a Killing Field. The name itself seemed ominous. A Killing Field. Kill-ing. Field. How did a field come to acquire such a macabre title? There was a haunting rhythm to it, the way the syllables rolled off one's tongue.

This memorial laid on the outskirt of Phnom Penh. Beneath its soils, there weren't any precious jewels or minerals or truffles. There weren't caches of Roman coins or deposits of black gold. There were only splinters of a fractured past. 

In the middle of the memorial, a stupa - a glinting tower - stood erect against a sky of dainty clouds. In it, there were shelves upon shelves of skulls. Hollowed sockets. Cracked craniums. Rags. It was sobering to be stand there, to watch and wonder about the life of these people.

How cruelly they were ripped from their lives. The torture they were subjected to. The blood dripping slowly from necks cut with sharp leaves. 

By myself, I wandered. I was gripped by a sense of horror. The sheer magnitude of pain, the banality and cheapness of life. Kept envisioning what those skulls would say. Grey. Dusty, sand-covered. Spidery cobwebs drifted between these skulls. Their unflinching gaze confronted. 

In a daze, I stepped on a mass grave. My classmates were horrified. They warned me to get off quickly, to let the dead rest in peace. 

Then, my lecturer said that these pits were just random places where the Vietnamese chose to dig. All around, every inch of soil that we stood on, they all harboured human remnants.  

Those bones fragments were peering out of baked earth. They were like plants, slowly unfurling tender shoots. Rainwater washed away the dirt. Footsteps smeared away the dust. These splinters, they slowly showed themselves.

They emerged, fresh from the ground, to remind us of the stories we forgot, the histories we repeated. 

This was one of those times when I struggled with words. These configurations of alphabets, they simply just couldn't do justice to the sheer destruction. It couldn't describe the haunting atmosphere, nor the wispy breezes. It couldn't describe the butterflies weaving throughout the killing field, nor the chickens pecking at the troubled soil. It couldn't describe the verdant plants, growing strong on a field of blood. It couldn't describe the lackadaisical attitude of some tourists, of them checking tiny squares on their things-to-do-in-Cambodia list. 

It can't describe the feeling of standing on bones.

"This place, it doesn't belong to us. We are here and we exercise our collective intelligence. We analyse and criticise and feel sad for these people. But we won't really do anything about it. We have no rights to be here. Tourists come here and ooh and ahh. But this place, it doesn't belong to us. It belong to the people of Cambodia."

"But... even if we don't take immediate concrete actions, we can learn from it. We can learn what happens when we cede our freedom, thinking that giving up a little isn't a big problem. Perhaps, one day, when we are confronted with injustice, we'll draw on this experience and strive against it." 

Once, I teased my friend for choosing to major in History. She was offended when I jested that history was about past events and dead people. As with so many other things, I was wrong. Wholly, utterly wrong.

History has vital lessons to impart. It teaches us to coexist in peace. It reminds us of the brutality of conflicts. It points the way forth.

Let these tragedies not be mere blips.


On the unpredictability of life

February 26, 2012 0 Comments

"Que sera, sera."


People whom we can be

February 18, 2012 0 Comments

On Monday, I had the privilege of attending a talk by Dr Tan Lai Yong. He had spent the past 15 years in Yunnan, providing medical advice to their state minorities. Make no mistake. With the education he received, he could be living a life of comfort in Singapore. He could have practiced medicine in a private hospital. He could have been pursuing wealth and prestige.

But he didn't. His family chose to live in the rural areas, to serve the broader community.

His presentation was incredible, varying between a comfortable coffee-shop camaraderie and moments of somber reflections.

Many children in the rural villages have physical deformities that made it hard for them to walk. They waddle, moving in a duck-like manner that would draw uninvited curiosity. Why weren't these defects detected at birth? Were the requisite techniques too expensive and challenging for the villagers to afford?

These deformities weren't detected simply because the diagnosis is free. All it took was to place the newborn face down and spring their legs apart. If their legs quickly moved back, the joints were in the sockets and everything was peaceable.

Local doctors, however, were reluctant to check - they fear being blamed for this inherent disability. They weren't paid anyway.

And do you have any idea what is the cost for correcting this deformity? Be prepared for an incredible answer. It was so brilliant that none of us would have guessed.

An extra diapers. All it requires is for the baby to wear an extra diapers for the next few years - there is a good 70 - 80 percent chance that the joint will pop back into the socket and a person, saved from a lifetime of waddling.

It was heartwarming to learn of his experiences, to know that there are people out there fighting for what they believe in.

But what struck me was a friend's response prior to the talk.

"Listening to such people only make me feel inferior."

A shadowy something draped over my vision.

These people existed not to make us fell inferior or helpless or banal, but to help us understand whom we can be.

Mr Louis Ng and his team at ACRES.

Dr Tan Lai Yong.

They let us know what can be.


The Pimple's Concern

February 12, 2012 0 Comments

I inched and grew, an unfurling fern,
pulsating a healthy, lovely pink.

Yes, we often don’t see eye to eye.
But this – you know, don’t you? –
is all for your own good.

Then, you kissed, lazily.
Women piled before you
stamped them with your mouth.
A little whore-like, I may add.
Alice would be ashamed.

Beneath, I nagged and begged,
but you, you didn’t listen.

It’s time you learn.
I erupted into being,
a mount of resilient pleasure.
I sat on my throne,
a panoptic view.
Those women feared my gaze,
they cowered away, judged.
I’ll nag and fuss and fret.
Yes, you’ll learn.

This is all for your own good.
I’m teaching you propriety where
your mother failed.
You’ve no choice,
You must listen and obey.

You stroked me and winced.
You longed to claw me out,
scratching and scraping.
You have power and wealth
and you have me.

I’m your teacher,
you'll learn.
In the murky red,
I see:
you’re meant for greatness.

This is all for your own good.


What we really want

February 08, 2012 0 Comments

And then, we convince ourselves that what we want aren't really what we want. We rewrite the stories, paint over the partially coloured canvases and pretend that we don't have those dreams.

Those dreams that we believe in and hope for and hanker after, they're no longer.

It's one of those quirks about failing. Once, we consider it an experience. Twice, a trial. And, if it happens too many times, we accept that it wasn't meant to be.

We tell ourselves that what we've are sufficient, that we should be contented.

This way, we soothe our envy. This way, we stop imagining.  We allow some part within to fester and die. In sacrificing the possibilities - the what-ifs and what may-bes - we become at peace.


On complaining

February 03, 2012 , 0 Comments

It was rather unsettling, that meal.

"They should be doing something.
Those environmentalists.
They write and strut and
argue. Quarrel. 
They're warring tribes.
Ecofeminists. Anthropocentrists.
With ink and paper,
they spear and strike and
stab. It was all black and white,
proper and prim,
just a little grey and bloody in between.
They use up papers,
stacks by stacks. 


"What about the environment?
The trees and rhinos and rivers?
They seem to care more for their ideas,
their pride. They should be doing 
something. Really, it's-"

"Huh. What about you?"

Therein lies the irony. While we're expecting others to do something, in our passively expectant states, we aren't doing anything as well! It is the same with hoping for better transport, examinations that are easier and a greener society.  It is easy to be myopic, to lapse into a state of laziness. Into a belief that problems belong to everybody but us.

This, however, divests individual empowerment. We are, ourselves, responsible for what we care about. It'll be wise to consider this whenever the urge to complain arise.


Quote of the Day

February 01, 2012 0 Comments

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” (Einstein said this).

A wonderfully succinct insight. Beautifully phrased.