Contextualising Everyday Conversations

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B: "What's 'third party'?"

C: "You mean you don't know? It's the person that comes in between two people in a relationship."

B: "F***, can't you use the word 'cheat'? C*** Bye! F***, trying to act chim is it?"

C: "Hey, is 'third party' a chim word?" (asking other people in the apartment.)

B: "F***, just use a simpler word lah, f***!"

I was really fed-up with the conversation that two suite mates were having along the corridor. Also, very tired of B's defensiveness about his own ignorance.

It's okay to not know the meaning of a phrase. Just learn it and move on. Is it necessary to take personal offense? There's really no need to let loose a string of expletives over something so minor.

Why not be humble and accept responsibility for your not knowing? Why be so egocentric and impute the blame for your ignorance on others?

A girl - another suite mate's girlfriend - was around and it did not seem proper to be cursing with phrases that refer to the reproductive act and organs.

But with great energy, B kept cursing. His vulgarities were filtering past the wooden door. How to concentrate on my work? Urgh.

Then, over tonight's dinner, I mentioned my growing intolerance with B's uncouth nature and his self-centered manner of pinning responsibility on another.

My dinner companion raised a few interesting points:

*B had been teased about his lack of general knowledge all too often. As such, now knowing terms deemed as common knowledge may be a sore point with him.

*Also, most people are very defensive about their ignorance. They may judge people harshly, thus imagine that others are judging them in the same cold glare. Hence, their defensiveness is a screen for their insecurities.

*B comes from a single-parent family and may behave in ways that are less tactful.

*B, by nature, is a mathematical person. Everything is either black or white, plus or minus; there can be no middle ground.

As I write this now, I wonder if I'm guilty of superficially judging B. Had I spent more time thinking about his background and personal nature, I might have been more understanding.

In this somewhat mundane friction of personalities, behaviors and world views, there is a lesson embedded within for all involved parties.

And here's a random photo of a cute Thai baby :D

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When Religion Becomes Evil

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On March 1993, Michael Griffin shot and killed Dr David Gunn outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida. Five days later, the Reverend Paul Hill appeared on television, seeking to justify Griffin’s act.

Hill subsequently became a leading figure among extremists in the anti-abortion movement. He wrote and spoke out frequently in support of violence against people who perform abortions.

Fourteen months after Dr Gunn’s murder, Paul Hill decided he, too, must act: he killed Dr John Britton and his traveling companion, James Barrett, as they arrived at the same clinic in Pensacola on the morning of July 29, 1994.

Hill and many others are part of a national organization of Christians called the Army of God. The absolute truth claims uniting members of this loose-knit organization are unambiguous: abortion is legalized murder; abortion is an abomination to God; true Christians must engage in direct action to stop what they see as a slaughter of innocents. Their literature are replete with verses from the Bible strung together in an effort to suggest that their truth claims are synonymous with God’s view:
They sacrifice their sons and daughters to the demons. (Psalm 106:37)

Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1: 10)

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. (Hebrew 12:4)
There is no doubt about the depth of commitment and certainty by Michael Griffin, Paul Hill, and others who justify their actions. But these passages have nothing to do with abortion. In fact, the Bible says nothing specific about this highly controversial issue.

One might argue that the sixth of the Ten Commandments – “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13) – is a basis for opposing abortion. But murder what? Or who? And why? The vigorous debates about  what constitutes human life immediately arise.

It is sadly ironic that soldiers in the Army of God intentionally break the commandment not to murder in order to stop people they consider guilty of murder.

- an edited excerpt from When Religion Becomes Evil 
by Charles Kimball

When there are absolute truth claims, a religious faction becomes corrupted, thereby sowing the seeds for destructive acts. This is true for religions all over the world and across human history. Horrors have been perpetuated in the name of maintaining religious ideals.

Religious leaders can be very influential figures. They are focal points for the transmission of theological beliefs, with their entire lives dedicated to the study of holy scriptures. Most people have to depend on these leaders for they simply do not have the resources to interpret the sacred texts themselves.

But religious leaders are only human beings. They, like us, are only too prone to errors. It is necessary to doubt what they say for their words may be biased by their all-too-human tendencies. Take, for example, Reverend Paul Hill. With his authority, he managed to galvanise people into doing something that violated the 6th Commandment.

The Biblical quotes, in Reverend Paul Hill's hands, have become corrupted. This goes to show that sacred texts can be a powerful guide, as well as a glinting weapon. Holy verses can be de-contextualised, then re-contextualised to suit any agenda.

It's advisable to be suspicious of what you've read and been taught. To question your beliefs and understand where they have come from. After all, there is a possibility that you may be suffering from the same illusion of certainty that your predecessors have suffered from. 

Source credit: Google

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Planting Dilemmas

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Sometimes, I wonder –
if we’re too sheltered
in our clam-like greenhouse
with air-cons and mist sprays
and a nest of gardeners
carefully pruning
our diseased yellowing leaves.

Can we ever survive
if raindrops hammer
our waxy olive leaves,
if gutsy winds scythe between
our untested branches
and if those spiky caterpillars crawl through
our cellulose throats?

We sit here, prim and proper,
passing gossips
between whispering leaves,
networking with idle roots.
What would our parents think?
They who had floated from beyond
to plant their presence on this rock.

They who had sprouted more leaves
and extended more branches
to grapple for sunlight
before their neighbours could.
How would they exclaim
as they see us, young and high-minded,
yet whippy and wimpy?

Oh, what did that shrub just say?
That we’re too weak to stretch,
too used to being fed –
what with fertilizers dumped about our roots –
too well-taught to ever fight.
Ridiculous, what a comment
from this preposterous alien plant.

But I tire of the chemicals I eat
and love-hate those I wear.
Yes, the perfume sprinkled on me
can kill nibbling grasshoppers
except yes,
it drowns those flirting bees
and poisons kissing butterflies.

Sometimes, I wonder
if it’s easier not to wonder.
What we need to do
can be really, really easy:
to put out
another leaf
and flower
another bloom.

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Rolling Up Rejections (Then Eating Them?)

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I would like to wrap up all the rejections sent by poetry journals - those harsh and rotting words - with newspapers and throw them into the rubbish chute. They are embarrassing reminders of where I had fallen short, of not being good enough.

They sneak into the inbox, all proper and prim, looking like any other email. Yet, they carry messages that can sour an entire day. Here are some of those pimple-pink blistering words:

Can't honestly say I like this, but it has merit.
Just be dishonest, say that you like it. I want to be lied to!
Also, have u considered my suggestion about your need to repeat? It has become less of a "trademark" and more of a tic that needs to be addressed seriously.
This is new. It's the first time anybody compared my writings to an uncontrollable muscle twitch. I imagine my poems, jerking about - as though electrocuted to crisp - and try not to wince.
Thank you for your submissions. I read your poems closely and placed one on the shortlist, where it remained all the way until the final reading. In fact, it was the final decision I had to make, and I think I will err on the side of caution and choose not to use it for the upcoming issue. 
Almost got in! Ouch.
What's the purpose of this post then? These rejections sting, why make them public? Why not wrap them up and throw them away?

To glorify failures, I suppose. To build a cathedral to display photos of various mishaps.

Recently, two friends approached me on separate occasions, to share their dismay about and fears of failing. All I could offer was truisms:

"It's okay to fail." 
"Failure is the mother of successes."
"One learns more from failing, than from succeeding."
"Do you know that Google doesn't hire Harvard grads because these grads tend to be risk-averse?"
Blah, blah, blah

All I can say are the same few words, trying to look sympathetic, trying not to be frustrated. Everyone fails. It's common to fail. Why do we expect successes to come simply because we've put in some efforts, as though successes can be willed to fruition so easily?

The fears of failing is a smog, one that chokes in a subtle manner.

The solution is clear, then. We should celebrate each time we don't do well. That we've tried one more time and discovered one more pitfall to avoid.

In attempting to console others, I've comforted myself as well.

Here's a little haiku,

Failures are chalky,
so tough to chew and swallow,
unlike KFC's 

burrito. 

Boy, writing this piece has made me really hungry. Time to roll up the rejections, store them well and examine at a later time. Now, perhaps it's good for a snack?

Unwrap good times with KFC Bandito Pockett!

KFC Bandito Pockett packed with so many tasty ingredients, 100% chicken fillet marinated in signature hot crispy flavor, served on a bed of fresh lettuce, with salsa and mayonnaise, all wrapped in a toasted tortilla. It is every KFC fan’s favourite wrap! Try it now to enjoy a good time!


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My Pet Merlion

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In an arc, you flew,
snared by greed.
That hook pierced your lip
and you,
you thrashed.
With your head of fur
and fishy body,
you thrashed.

You were beautiful,
a cat-fish that obeyed.
Suckling my fingers.
Swimming to the surface,
begging for food,
so smart!

I loved you,
more than I ever loved
my hamster or parrot.
Why did you die?

Your body bloats.
Your eyes glint, glassy.
You stink.
Why did you die?

Slicing you apart.
Removing your ebony heart.
Scrapping out your innards.
Replacing your eyes
with beads.

A head of fake fur,
an empty body,
my stuffed
Merlion.

Forgive me, I loved you.

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RE: The Uncertain Musical Evidence in Thailand’s Temple Murals

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The response paper below is written for SE3224: Thai Drawing and Painting.

The Uncertain Musical Evidence in Thailand’s Temple Murals, by Terry E. Miller, situates the development of music in this Indochina country within its history, culture and aesthetic sensibilities. It documents the challenges that temple murals have went through and continue to face, as well as the thoughts of a researcher attempting to put together a history of Thai music. Reading this article has engendered a greater appreciation for the murals, as well as increase an awareness of the difficulties a Thai art researcher has to face.

A More Nuanced Appreciation

Understanding the socio-cultural history of Thailand provides me with the background information to interpret, locate and appreciate the temple murals. I can go beyond the simple admiration of the artists’ skills – those meticulous strokes, painstaking patterns and gold-gilded figures. Knowing who the painters are, when the murals were created, which musical instruments were played and what stories are conveyed encourage me to understand the temple paintings within their historical and religious milieus. As such, I can look at one painted figure, guess what he is doing and why, allowing my imagination to be excited.

This sense of wonder is enhanced by knowing what the paintings have gone through and survived, be it the invasions by the Burmese, the ambient humidity and high temperatures, “water damage from leaky roofs and windows”, physical damage from human touching and furniture abrasions, as well as local communities who prefer to have bright new murals rather than faded ones. To see these artworks, to picture what challenges they have gone through and continue to face, is a thought-provoking exercise.

A beautiful mural, worn out by the rain.
Miller compares the aesthetic sensibilities of Thai art with that in Western art. He describes the wall paintings as “a fluidity of events” akin to the “flowing of a stream”, with no receding perspective and the viewers being placed in an “apparent aerial position”. His descriptions are broad – perhaps somewhat reductionist – but, nevertheless, useful.

From a very young age, I have imbibed a Western-oriented sensibility from a British-based education system. Turner’s landscapes with desolate sweeps of paint, Rothko’s canvases with fields of colours, Hirst’s installations of preserved animals, these works are among my favorite. It has been a challenge to derive the same intensity of pleasure from the cultural heritage of South East Asia, including Thailand. Through reading these research papers then viewing the temple murals, sculptures and architecture, I understand that I have been gauging these works according to the Western-biased lens colouring my vision. It is important not to solely evaluate an artwork according to a foreigner’s rubric. The local conditions influencing an artwork’s aesthetics and content must be justly considered as well.

The Problematic Extraction of Information

In the past, there was no photography. Documentary evidence pertained mostly to “official matters”. Non-Thai sources were usually written by non-specialists and “couched in ethnocentric terms”. Given the scarcity of documentary evidence, visual representations are important in constructing an understanding of how Thai citizens led their lives.

The scenes of day-to-day living – also known as ‘phaap kaak’ – are considered less sacred and placed lower on the hierarchy, at “more reasonable levels”. As such, they are veritable troves of information, simply waiting to be discovered by the wandering attention of a lay visitor (including students interested in Thai drawing and painting).

What happens in Thailand, stays in Thailand.
Miller’s research details the instruments found within the temple murals. There are people playing trumpets, xylophones, drums, cymbals and a plethora of other instruments. The number of times these instruments appeared in the murals and inside which temples were dutifully noted. The painted images of the instruments were hesitantly assigned to various ethnic groups and geographical origins.

The aforementioned task was not easy. First and foremost, the instruments may simply be poorly painted, thus impossible to recognize and describe. Also, the assumption that murals are painted in the same period of temple construction is a popular misconception; multiple restorations throughout the centuries may have caused the original details to be lost.

I imagine the author poring through images, sieving through the field data before coming up with a coherent narrative. Given that there is a dearth of literature on Thai art history, the efforts of researchers working in this field are all the more admirable. It has been insightful to understand how the history of Thai art is assembled from the perspectives of a researcher himself.

A Confluence of Expectations

At one point, Miller laments the uncertainty that some paintings may have been “reimagined”, not “restored”; that the original artists’ intentions and styles may have been lost over successive repainting. He then goes on to share his experience encountering a dismal restoration of an Ayuthaya temple before concluding that “since most temples are mostly under local control, the abbots can take whatever actions they wish with regard to restoration and change”.

While I share Miller’s desire for the protection of these historically significant murals, I suspect that both of us are speaking from a faraway vantage. We are privileged outsiders who wish to be dazzled by centuries of religious and aesthetic heritage. But who are we to impose our outsiders’ views? The locals have to use these temples frequently; these are sites where they perform religious rites, celebrate special occasions and gather as a community. Miller is an American academic based in the States while I am an undergraduate studying in a Singapore university; it is likely that we would only visit these temples a few times in our entire lives. Expecting the local community to leave their temple walls, gray with exposed stucco and rain stains, such that the consumptive desires of sporadic visitors may be fulfilled seem somewhat unreasonable.

Faded murals just aren't that nice.
The locals want their temple murals to look hot.
So, what about the locals who have to use these sites frequently? How to balance their expectations with the wishes of tourists, history lovers and the State? What about preserving these sites for the successive generations yet to be born? How to balance this confluence of expectations? The current conservation plans, as directed by the country’s Fine Arts Department, sits uncomfortably with the laity’s expectations. Since the lifeblood of a temple depends on attracting and keeping devotees, the latter’s concerns matter. Perhaps there is a way to reconcile the needs of all parties, a way to preserve these temples and, at the same time, respond to the needs of people who actually use them. Maybe hand-stretched canvas can be displayed over historically-significant works so that the latter may be shown as and when required?

Concluding Thoughts

All in all, this article has answered many questions about how to appreciate Thai art and what concerns researchers have as they construct a country’s art history. However, there are many questions raised throughout the field trip that this article is unable to answer, simply because it is not written with these questions in mind. For example, is religious tourism actively promoted by the State? Why there are so few visitors compared to the European churches? Is there any decline in the number of temple visitors due to the current political volatility? Are these Thai artists, ‘artists’? Or are they ‘craftsmen’ imitating one another? Is it even fruitful to class them so? These are questions that could be answered by turning to other sources, in another time.

Bibliography

Miller, Terry E. The Uncertain Musical Evidence in Thailand’s Temple Murals, Music in Art XXXII/1-2 (2007).

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"Brilliant" Analogies by High School Kids

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Here's a laughing orang utan! Hahahah
Image credit: Telegraph
Article credit: Above Top Secret
Apparently, The Washington Post invited school teachers to submit the worst sentences their students ever wrote. Please enjoy the buffet of words below:

1.Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.

2.He was as tall as a 6′3″ tree.

3.Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.

4.From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.

5.John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

6.She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.

7.The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.

8.He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

9.Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.

10.She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.

11.The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.

12.The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object.

13.McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.

14.His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.

15.He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at asolar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.

16.Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

17.Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.

18.The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.

19.Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

20.The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.

21.They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.

22.He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.

23.Even in his last years, Grand pappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.

24,He felt like he was being hunted down like a dog, in a place that hunts dogs, I suppose.

25.She was as easy as the TV Guide crossword.

26.She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.

27.The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.

28.The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.

29.“Oh, Jason, take me!” she panted, her breasts heaving like a college freshman on $1-a-beer night.

30.It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.

31.It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.

32.He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

33,The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.

34.Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.

35.Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like “Second Tall Man.”

36.The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.

37.The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.

38.She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.

39.Her pants fit her like a glove, well, maybe more like a mitten, actually.

40.Fishing is like waiting for something that does not happen very often.

41.They were as good friends as the people on “Friends.”

42.Oooo, he smells bad, she thought, as bad as Calvin Klein’s Obsession would smell if it were called Enema and was made from spoiled Spamburgers instead of natural floral fragrances.

43.The knife was as sharp as the tone used by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) in her first several points of parliamentary procedure made to Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.) in the House Judiciary Committee hearings on the impeachment of President William Jefferson Clinton.

44.He was as bald as one of the Three Stooges, either Curly or Larry, you know, the one who goes woo woo woo.

45.The sardines were packed as tight as the coach section of a 747.

46.Her eyes were shining like two marbles that someone dropped in mucus and then held up to catch the light.

47.The baseball player stepped out of the box and spit like a fountain statue of a Greek god that scratches itself a lot and spits brown, rusty tobacco water and refuses to sign autographs for all the little Greek kids unless they pay him lots of drachmas.

48.I felt a nameless dread. Well, there probably is a long German name for it, like Geschpooklichkeit or something, but I don’t speak German. Anyway, it’s a dread that nobody knows the name for, like those little square plastic gizmos that close your bread bags. I don’t know the name for those either.

49.She was as unhappy as when someone puts your cake out in the rain, and all the sweet green icing flows down and then you lose the recipe, and on top of that you can’t sing worth a damn.

50.Her artistic sense was exquisitely refined, like someone who can tell butter from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.

51.It came down the stairs looking very much like something no one had ever seen before.

52.Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access T:flw.quid55328.comaaakk/ch@ung but gets T:flw.quidaaakk/ch@ung by mistake.

53.You know how in “Rocky” he prepares for the fight by punching sides of raw beef? Well, yesterday it was as cold as that meat locker he was in.

54.The dandelion swayed in the gentle breeze like an oscillating electric fan set on medium.

55.Her lips were red and full, like tubes of blood drawn by an inattentive phlebotomist.

56.If Robert was a microorganism, he would be asexual and reproduce through binary fission.

57.The sunset displayed rich, spectacular hues like a .jpeg file at 10 percent cyan, 10 percent magenta, 60 percent yellow and 10 percent black.

Hahahah, perhaps it's time to use some of these sentences in the next essay, presentation or report?

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Bubbling Joy In Barcelona

Sycophany/ Self-preservation

Romance of the two wisdom teeth

Art Appreciation 101