Why I'm Giving Convocation A Miss

June 29, 2014 2 Comments

I remember those days of counting down, gazing somberly at the golden-brown tiles. When will the four years of undergraduate life be over? Please, go away, vanish like an unexpected nightmare or an unwanted pimple. 

After the first university semester - a whirlwind of experiments, essays and examinations - I told my mum that the experience was terrible. A monotone of work and joylessness. Was it possible for me to drop out? After all, I had savings. Incurred monetary debts, I could repay, but not the sense of mindlessly trotting along the prescribed path, step by step.

All they want is a son with a university degree, my elder brother said, is that too difficult for you to do?

There's something strange, when these four years are finally over and, here I am, sitting in front of the computer, clicking the mouse, pressing keys after keys. Thoughts become action and action turns into pixels floating on the glaring white screen.

Yes, the four years are over. I've not learned what I hoped to learn. But I've picked up scattered fruits of experience, wisdom and friendships. These fruits were succulent - sometimes sweet, sometimes sour, sometimes partly sweet and partly sour. They looked different too. At times, swollen with purple goodness; at times, green and thorny. For these nourishing fruits, I'm immensely grateful.

It's time for graduation. Time to put on black satiny gowns, wear mortarboards and smile for the dizzying camera flashes.

After much thought - which was mildly(?) self-centric - I've decided not to attend any ceremony where fresh graduates have to stroll across a wooden stage to receive pieces of paper from someone they probably haven't seen before.

"Don't you have any friend?" An ex-classmate asked when he found out that I wasn't intending to turn up for the convocation.

"To save up on the rental fees," I casually replied. It was too embarrassing to explain that this refusal to attend is a symbolic rejection of societal expectations and an affirmation to tame the compulsion to conform. Much easier to behave like a cheapskate.

At times, it seems quite petty to talk about this issue. It feels as though everyone's attending the party, wearing their feathers - how bright and beautiful - while here I am, in a corner with a wet blanket draped across my face.

How did my parents react? Other friends asked. Didn't they want to attend? After all, my parents grew up in a different era. Producing children with paper qualifications mean so much to them.

The truth is my parents simply don't know. If they were to know, they would have encouraged me to turn up. ONCE IN A LIFETIME. GO. WE'LL PAY.

There's a selfish desire to live for myself, to cease being their obedient and docile boy. Parents want what's good for you, but what's good may not necessarily be the best, an author once mused.

When friends are chatting about the collection of their graduation gowns, there is a slight beetle of regret buzzing about, blackish green and shiny. Why didn't someone force me to attend? Make the decision and nudge me into acquiesce, for who wants to be the little fella in a corner clutching his wet blanket?

At the same time, there is a silver of acceptance, of calmness. This act - utterly unimportant in the greater scheme of life - paves the way to rejecting more social conventions.


The Dying Tree's Wish of Being Upside Down

June 19, 2014 0 Comments

For years, it stood upright. Tall, straight, reaching for the yellow rays. It had behaved with the dignity and decorum expected of a tree. It toed the line and grew in an expected manner. It didn’t bear fruits or flowers that it wasn’t supposed to.

It was quiet, unassuming. It was tired.

The time has come for it to go. And before it did so, it wanted to be upside down.

Not just anywhere, but a realm with sharks, rays and bubbles.

"What's anti-gravity? Can I ever feel it?" whispers the Dying Tree as its branches become bare and everywhere starts to creak. 

Maybe it's impossible to experience that, but it's always possible to imagine...

The rays glide because they can and they are happy to.

A smattering of micro-organisms, possibly rabbitfishes, maybe even clownfishes.

A lonely mermaid sits, dreams then ponders.

And so, the tree exists in a world of its making, finite and infinite in different measures.


Poem For My Father

June 15, 2014 0 Comments

Poem for My Father

I'm writing this poem

because you always feed us your chicken wings,
because you work two jobs to buy bread and kaya,
because you were once shy and gave it up for us,

because you left a torn condom package
- "blackcurrant-flavoured" - nestled
in the car rags, next to one can of cola,

because you brought us to the zoo that day
and we had fun without Mum,
because that night, she threatened,

because you pretended not to know
when I stole your crumpled cash
to buy those chocolates on Mothers' Day,

because you made me a warm cup of Milo
and ordered me to sleep early
that midnight before my exam,

because you want me to get a
degree that you never had,
because you told me that I should have failed

my driving test for I would be safer,
because you still drip vile green vitamins
down our reluctant throats,

because you dreamt of being a painter
and told us to study business,
because you deliver goods in the day

and sell those green vitamins at night,
because you still work two jobs
and tell us not to be like you.

Because you had – because you wanted –
because you want – because, because –
because you're my father.


How To Produce Coffee Powder

June 15, 2014 0 Comments

Life as a tour coordinator can bring expected benefits and unexpected abuses. Such a job entails preparing for transport transitions, going on trips to Malaysia and soaking up complaints.

Perks include being able to travel to places and experience events often taken for granted. It was at a coffee factory that one could finally understand how a rich brown cuppa comes about.  

There are, in general, three types of coffee beans - Arabica, Liberica and Robusta. Prior to processing, these beans look so-so, feel hard and appear similar to the untrained eyes. They seem like green beans or red beans, only skin-coloured.

1) Roasting
First and foremost, the beans are roasted, tumbling in a furnace to ensure even heating.
2) Heating with sugar and margarine
Then, the roasted beans are caramelized with sugar and margarine. The fragrance flutters about, like a burst of butterflies, delightful and delicious.
3) Cooling
The substrate are collected and left to cool on large metallic planks. At this point, they resemble chunks of charcoal, black and unwieldy. Nothing like the fine powder that comes in packets or the cups of soothing Starbucks latte.
4) Breaking apart
These stiff black chunks are shoveled into a machine, which in turn spits out little pebbles of hardened coffee beans.
5) Grinding
These beans are ground into powder before being packed into tins. 

At least, now we know how coffee goes,
what heat it endures before it can flow.
Treasure each sip of this brown liquid,
it's a cup of hard-earned fluid.