Saturday, January 31, 2009

John Updike, 1932 - 2009

The news of John Updike's passing hit me hard a few days ago. I didn't cry, or even came close to actually shedding a tear. Nevertheless, I felt a tug at my heart, a moment of shock, one that dissipated as time itself took over to drive my motions forward, to move me on from that moment.

Nevertheless, certain sense of loss remained. I will not claim to have read all of his books, for such a claim would have been baseless and frivolous. If anything, my father fits this bill a lot closer than I do. Predictably, then, if you put together the two and the two in your head, you'll have the answer: it was my father who picked up 'On The Farm' from the bargain stack of books available for a low price (I think it was less than RM8) at Carrefour all those years ago. It wasn't particularly thick, and scattered as it were amongst the rest of the books, it was almost inconspicuous. My own personal selection of the time had been John Wyndham's 'The Kraken Waves' (though I personally prefer 'The Day of The Triffids').

"This is a good book," my father said, handing it over to me once he was done with it. "You should read it." Read it I did, and blown away I was. Rarely have I come across an author who expressed such visuals and emotions in the most inconspicuous of things. He gave such personification to the environment, making them come alive with such clarity and power that it moved me.

Even now, years later, I still remember well a particular sentence from the book: "It was true - whenever I returned, after no matter how great a gap of time, to this land, the acres flowed outward from me like a form of boasting." Granted, it wasn't the most bombastic of sentences, but I felt touched by it. The reasons, I can't quite articulate at this point of time, or any other, but ever since that time, I have tried to incorporate it into my own, personal writing. If Matthew Stover, a prominent science-fiction novelist, influence the substance of my writing, so John Updike guided me in its style. My most successful script (in the sense that it actually got me my first trophy in my career, even if it was for third place) is 'At Rainbow's End', and I channeled all the Updike I could into that.

His influence, of course, is far more reaching than this particular episode. He was, after all, one of the most influential writers of the past century. Nevertheless, this is my own little piece, adding to the cacophony of tributes by others.

Credit where its due, and its due.

Thank you, Mr Updike.

Family Man

What is a man without his family?

That is the question that has been going through his mind as he slowly made his way through the crowd. He could feel their eyes on him, all of them. Every single person in the room paid attention to him. Not that it is a new thing for him; as the head of the family, as the leader of the organisation, he is used to respect being given to him in such measure. Used to the turning of heads as he enters a room, the bowing of people as he passes by, the kissing of the hand as he helps the grateful.

This, however, was something different. Though he is no cleric, not a clairvoyant of the highest order, he has always prided himself on his ability to read people. At times, however, despite the best of intentions, even the most skilled of interrogators could not unlock the secrets that lies inside a man's heart. You can never truly know how a man will react under a certain situation. Just as importantly, you never know the lies and deceit that could well.

And because of that, you can never trust another man. Even if he is your brother.

That, at the core of it all, is the main issue. Michael has never felt that he could trust Fredo, no matter how hard he tried. As the crowd parted (he noticed his wife giving him a little smile, and a nod of the head. He didn't reply), he couldn't help but to reminisce the moment when it he had argued viciously with him. Realising that Fredo had betrayed him...no, betrayed the family, he felt his own heartbeat slow down as he chilled the atmosphere with his words. "You're nothing to me now," Michael's own words echoed in his head, as he sought to cut loose the ties that had bonded them together his entire life. "Not a brother, not a friend, nothing."

Nothing. He felt his own heartbeat rise, this time, almost incredulously in light of the situation, as he approached Fredo sitting at the table. His head bowed in his hands, he knows that he had broken all the protocols, crossed all the boundaries laid down by Michael. He had instructed him never to come to him, never to speak to him, to inform him a day in advance if he is to visit their mother. Michael, make no mistake about it, does not want anything to do with Fredo for as long as he is alive.

In life, however, there are times when you do the things that you do, not because you want to do it. Not because it is something you like; sometimes the heart calls out, the head rings, and the message is: "What the fuck are you doing? You don't want to do this." Nevertheless, it doesn't render the moments when such acts are not called for. Though his heart does not wish it, as Michael approached the table, as Fredo looked up at him, as they reached for each other, burying the hatchet that had burned the bridge, it was something that had to be done.

For what is a man without his family? Michael thought to himself once more, as the tears gushed forth from the both of them, engulfed as they were in the quiet applause of others.

Nothing.

*A reimagination of a scene from The Godfather Part II.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gong Xi Fa Cai?

Love life: Rats are not lucky in love this year. For married people, you’ll have frequent quarrels with your spouse. For those in love, it’s not a good time to push the existing relationship to the next level. Your love interest could have a change of heart. For singles, set aside some time for social life and you might find a new love interest, but do not expect things to develop rapidly. (From The Star)

No f*ck*ng wonder.

And there I was looking forward to the Lunar New Year as well.

Dammit.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obamania

"The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents."

I left my laptop running, as it downloaded the files of work I was supposed to be doing. Yes, I am on holiday of sorts, but the sad creature that I am, I find it to be strangely therapeutic.

"Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real, they are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this America: They will be met."


I turned on the TV, flicking straight to CNN. The battery in the Astro remote control pad was weak, and I cursed it as I pressed down on the button harder, wondering if I had somehow missed it.

"It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame."


I then wondered whether my dad would miss it. The door to his room locked, I decided to send him a quick message on the phone. I could hear the SMS alert tone beep from the inside of his room.

Moments later, he stepped out. "Has it started yet?"

"Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labour -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom."


"Look at how he speaks," my father mentioned. We're now holding our respective mugs of respective instant coffee mixes. Nobody in the house is boycotting anything, but the weapon of choice appears to be white coffee. As of late, it has become something of a common occurrence, analysing the newsmakers while drinking coffee.

"Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage."

I did as well. It was a well-timed speech, meaning to say that he spoke with enough gap in between his sentences to allow it to sink in. Halfway through, though, I realised that it wasn't something that happened by choice; rather, he was smartly allowing his voice to be heard by all on the delayed public announcement system.

"What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply."

It was interesting to note the pizazz of the whole ceremony. Grandstanding, showy, somewhat needlessly long...but incredibly detailed. President Obama became President at noon, for example, without having taken the oath yet.

"And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more."

Such details are interesting, somehow. Out of all of the fireworks, I don't know why, but the notion that someone, somewhere, came up with such detailed legislature for what may appear to be a straightforward ceremony is attractive to me.

"We are the keepers of this legacy, guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort, even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We'll begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people and forge a hard- earned peace in Afghanistan."

And then I started wondering why we couldn't do the same in Malaysia. No, we don't need Yo-yo Ma, but we do need a skilled, inspirational orator as one of the leaders in the country (if not the leader). I can't really say that my own leader (and the next one) has the ability to grab my attention. Does it say something that Barack Obama can? Is it a reflection of me, or a bigger reflection of him?

"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth."

The handover, the transition, has, for the most part, been extremely gracious, extremely well-handled, extremely...civil. Contrast that to the outgoing Barisan Nasional state governments who got kicked out of their respective states, leaving behind them a trail of shredded papers.

"And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace."

"See how he controls his body," my father pointed out again. "He looks left, he looks right."

"Yeah," I agreed. "It looks good. I wonder how he deals with using only one teleprompter."

"Actually, he uses two."

"How do you know?"

A sip of his coffee. "I know."

"To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict or blame their society's ills on the West, know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."


A lot has been said that this particular speech isn't particularly inspiring. I wouldn't necessarily disagree. After all, it is hard to top his actual victory speech late last year. Nevertheless, while it may not be the one we deserve, it is the one that we need (yes, I'm quoting Batman here). But here is the one point that made my hair stand a bit.

"To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

Ooh, unclench your fist. A nice little message, ensuring that he pretty much covered all the bases. The international and the domestic...

"As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages."

...the new, and the old...

"Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism -- these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history."

...the public, and the personal.

"This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed, why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall. And why a man whose father less than 60 years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath."

"Look, that's Kevin Costner!"

"Is it?" We leaned in closer. He chuckled. So did I. "Sorry, Dad. My bad."

"America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words; with hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come; let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations. Thank you. God bless you."

"OK, that was pretty good," said my father, rising up. "See you tomorrow. Goodnight."

"Goodnight."

"And God bless the United States of America."

I would have fallen of my chair laughing my ass off if I was sitting on one

"If we don't get Kaka, it is not the end of the world. We got Craig Bellamy."

Gary Cook, executive chairman, Manchester City Football Club.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Seethrough

Q. What do you call a Transformer who got married and have kids?

A. Transparent. :)

*Courtesy of Joanne Soo.

Take That, Det!

From: Mr A.
To: Fikri Jermadi, Mr B.

Dear all,

McDonald's and Starbucks have today announced that they will be donating all profits from now until Sunday to Israel war. Also, the producers of Adam Sandler's new movie Bed Time Stories will be donating their profits to Israel . Be informed, and let others know not to contribute and refuse to support these monsters that believe in killing innocent civilians. Boycott McDonald's and Starbucks. Also don't take your kids to see a movie that promotes violence by association. Together we can make a difference! Please pass this email to as many people as you know.

Thanks Thanks & regards

***********************

From: Fikri Jermadi.
To: Mr A, Mr B.

Dude, I have seen nothing official thus far to suggest that McDonald's and/or Starbucks are indeed donating profits to the current strife between Israel and Palestine. They do have Jewish people on board in important positions apparently, who may well contribute their money, but I don't think it's the same thing. I think we should consider these kind of things a bit more before forwarding/following these emails blindly.

Fikri

***********************

From: Mr B.
To: Fikri, Mr A.

Salam Fikri n all,

I would suggest you guys to take a look at links here and here where researches have been conducted and those listed companies are linked to Israeli military aggression project both directly and indirectly.
Arsenal club for instance, has been included into the list merely of the club's deal with Israel government to promote their tourism sector. That is a bad news for Arsenal supporters like me..

Yet we have a choice (at least) by not letting our penny goes into their genocide fund. Yes, im agree with you that we shouldnt discriminate Jewish people/companies by what is happening in Palestine.
Not all Jews are Zionist. Anyway, boycotting those companies is one way of our little contributions to Palestinian people who are losing their land and life to Israeli.

***********************

From: Mr. A.
To: Fikri Jermadi, Mr. B.

Salam buat semua,

I agree that forwarding emails can sometimes be out of impulse, especially when it's something that affects/bothers/upsets us. And, it can be deemed as 'fitna' if the email circulated is untrue, which then leads to the act of conscience turning into a sinful one. Hence, I don't usually forward 99% of the stuff i get, and as all of you may notice this is probably the 2nd one i'm forwarding pertaining to the Palestine-Israel conflict.

While i have not had the luxury of time to do extensive research, I personally do believe that American corporations do have a hand in financially assisting Israel via tax contributions that the US government then hands out to Israel. Though not as blatant as Boeing Corporation or Lockheed Martin who manufacture the planes the Israel Defense Force (IDF) uses in its bombings, the call for a global boycott on American related companies is a collective show of strength that those who oppose Israel, oppose America's clear support for the war. Especially since the US has made it clear via its Senate that it deems Israel's actions as merely defending itself against Hamas.

I felt that it wouldn't be too damaging to send around the email; especially considering the atrocities we've seen in the last few weeks, to get a better consensus if the matter above was true or are plain rumours. While it may be unaccurate that a Big Mac or Strong Skinny Mocha equates to an extra bullet for the IDF, it is also plausible. I've personally given McD's 20 years of business and the benefit of the doubt the whole time, hence I feel why not give the other conspiratory side of the story a chance considering the Palestinian massacre. Pausing on the Samurai burgers and Ice Blended's while getting a clearer picture might be good for the diet as well. Feedback from all of you regarding this matter, whether positive or negative is 'dialu-alukan' as the more facts the better. Plus switching from Starbucks to Gloria Jeans hasn't been that bad ;) As the Aussie's like to say...Ta!

***********************

From: Fikri Jermadi.
To: Mr A, Mr B.

Hi all,

Thanks for the links, it was well-worth a look. It does seem rather bad for Starbucks, but if anything else, it backs up what I had myself quickly researched earlier. Their CEO/chairman is a staunch supporter of Israel, but that's no surprise, really. I suppose if we dig deep enough, every person with the surnames of Goldberg, Spielberg, and any other Berg may well have supported the Israel cause. Nevertheless, while the CEO and, to a certain extent, Starbucks are willing to support Israel in one way or another (via fund raisers in the past; not so clear as to whether they're doing one for the current conflict), it doesn't necessarily mean that they're donating their profits, either in part or entirely, as was suggested by the earlier email. The same goes for McDonald's, too. And Bedtime Stories? Which producer? All of them or just one? If it's it the exec producer, who earns percentages of the profits, we would definitely contribute to the Israeli cause if we watch it just the one time. If it's the associate producer, who most probably gets a lump sum instead of a part of the profits, we can watch it a hundred times and it won't matter one bit, since he's not getting any of the revenue/profits. Or is it the Walt Disney company (which is a whole other can of worms)?

I'm not necessarily saying that they aren't supporting the Israel cause, or anything like that. I'm not even saying that we shouldn't boycott them. I just think that these things should be seriously considered first before anything is boycotted or further propagated. If you are indeed satisfied with the information, then by all means...go right ahead. Then we'd have to consider as well: where do we stop? Should I no longer watch anything by Dreamworks, founded by some of the most high-profile, Zion-loving Jews around? Should you stop supporting Arsenal because of the apparent tourism link up? (which in itself is tricky: does it mean you stop watching the matches, or you just don't buy any Arsenal products?). As Mr A pointed out, American taxes can also be used to support the Israeli cause (though it's not as if this link was established yesterday, is it?). Does it mean we should give up our iPods now?

I have to admit that it's the Communication student in me that is really being a pain in the ass here, chasing down sources and checking out whether these claims are really true. I believe that we can do whatever we want, just so long as we do it for the right reasons, rather than a chain mail. Having said that, we appear to have a good bunch of people here in the mail list, all of whom can make up their own mind on these issues. I just hope that others will consider these things properly before taking action. I personally don't think that boycotts have enough of an impact; I'd rather chip in with donation drives or something like that. They did that at a screening of Malaysian short films last Monday, and came up with RM1,000. I think these things can make a bigger and more direct impact, rather than passing on a Prosperity Burger (expensive, but very nice. But the best is still Ramly, of course).

And though it seems like a thorough, well-researched site, it's not exactly going to win points for objectivity, is it? :) But then again, neither would a lot of the other sites out there. But that's the most interesting part of all, that the standard for information can be incredibly fluid: as a friend pointed out in a recent debate on this issue: "It's a scary world out there when people base their decisions on what Google can come up with."

Fikri

Monday, January 12, 2009

Diaspora III

It's taken me a while to get here, to write this up. The main part of that is because the time, which I had previously allocated for it, swiftly evaporated into thin air. It shrunk, a consequence compromise, pleasing people, pleasing oneself, and making money.

Not much money was made, though. But that's probably another story for another time.

The story for this time, for me, is the departure of people. Far more specifically, the departure of ones close to me. Perhaps, if I am brave enough, I might well just admit it as a sense of Malaysia dying, rather than people just wanting to discover themselves.

"It's the brain drain," said a friend when I discussed it with him. It wasn't what he said, but the way he said it: almost as if I just sprang from a kampung somewhere and thought that the brain drain is a pipe leading to and from our head. It inflamed me momentarily, but died down quick enough. It was, after all, the same flame that was lit when I heard of my friend's intention to depart. "It's not exactly like it's something new."

True enough, it is not a new phenomenon, and neither will it dry up any time soon. Nevertheless, there's something here that makes me feel that it's not merely a conventional sort of drain, not one where people are necessarily enticed by money and prestige. Rather, there is simply a big desire to get out, the approach being initiated from the inside, rather than being pulled from the outside.

Far more importantly, now one of my closest friends have decided to take that approach. Of leaving the country. His, I have to admit, is not a move to necessarily make more money; his explanations, if anything, gave me more food for thought.

Perhaps one could say that it is hypocritical of me to take such a stance. It is a stance taken as much by logic as it is by emotion, but it is my stand nonetheless. Hypocritical, because I myself have spent more than a third of my own life outside of Malaysia. Having lived and breathed such airs and lifestyles at different points of my life.

And, for the most part, I found it to be completely unremarkeable. Perhaps a part of that came with the territory. London might sound and look good on a postcard, but it can be a cruel place to live in as well, especially for those slumming it with the working class rather than enjoying the view from the top of the tower. The same could be said for Seoul and Jeonju, and I dare say that the same could be said for almost every other city on earth that I could think of.

Certainly, these experiences were to be the making of me, but then again, I was at a period of my life where any experience would have been life-changing to a large extent. A 10 year-old would learn a shit load on the streets of London; a 28 year-old wouldn't necessarily learn as much.

There will always be the pros and the cons. All things considered, then, KL, Malaysia, Asia, is not much different from a lot of other cities and countries around the world. And yet, everyone wants to go away. Not everyone will, not everyone can afford to, but to put it mildly, those who do certainly adds up to more than the fingers and toes I have. Some for personal reasons, but most for more selfish reasons, like making money.

Why does this unsettle me? First of all...well, I don't like my friends leaving. I especially don't like them leaving 'for the sake of leaving'. There's no real point to it, and I'd be losing a good comrade along the way.

Second of all...Malaysia is not a bad country at all. It is a flawed one, deeply at that, and at times, there are plenty of idiots who do a lot of damage. Unfortunately, these are the same people who decide on the order of things, and while not everyone is a bad apple, for the most part I feel frustrated and disappointed at the order of things. At the narrow-mindedness, prejuidice, backwardness, and hypocrisy.

And yet, on the same level, they deserve their place to be there. Why? Because they want to be there. They may want the power and prestige that comes with it, but nevertheless, that is the goal, objective, the main coup de grace. There are so many other people around who can make such a difference, who can make a big impact...but these are also the same people who dreams and wishes to run off to another country (Australia, being the closest 'white' country, is often the weapon of choice for many).

Perhaps what we need, then is a change in mentality. If you don't like something, perhaps the first thing to think of would be, "What can I do to bring about change?" Instead of just relying on others to bring about change, perhaps the time has come for a lot of people to ask themselves, "What can they do to affect change?" And if they're honest enough with themselves, they will invariably find that there are a lot of things that they can do, a lot of areas that they can focus on, to bring about positive change.

And there are people willing to bring about change, to look at things in a positive way. A lot of my friends are involved in doing charity works as well (one even helped to build a bridge in Bosnia, apparently). Fine and noble efforts...but our backyard remains unattended to.

That is what I intend to do, next year, once I have completed all of my current commitments. I intend to come back, and bring about positive change. Small, big...doesn't matter.

Otherwise, the same, vicious cycle will just go on and on. Otherwise, if people don't look at the bigger picture and leave the country "because Singapore's money is stronger," then this country might as well just roll over and die right now.

*Read Diaspora I.
*Read Diaspora II.

Friday, January 09, 2009

When Saturday Comes

"It was his tahlil," she messaged me, telling me that she had just left the prayer ceremony performed for the dead, "so I'm still a little shaken."

The dead in question is not someone particularly close to me. In fact, truth be told, I have met Firdhaus Othman only a few times at the most. He did strike me as a fun-loving guy, but his impact on my life is more to do with those who are close to me. His early departure remains a shock to me (we are, if I am not mistaken, of the same age), but it left an even bigger hole in the lives of those who are close to me.

And now, I can't help but think of him whenever I hear this song by Josh Woodward. I would like to share it not only with those who mourn Firdie's death, but also those who have lost others close to them.

Rest in peace, Firdie.

*You can download the song for free here.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Good Morning, Sunshine

Her body ached, creaking silently along with the bed. She let out a huge sigh as consciousness comes to her. Slowly, slowly...there.

Her eyes opened wide, just as slowly. It was a good dream, she thought. She had been a prisoner, but a well-equipped one, very well-prepared, trying to break out of a Korean prison.

Pah, she thought to herself, smiling, Korean prisons.

The dream, as ever, ends when she is standing at the edge, stepping out, and falling off. It was this sensation that woke her with a start.

She swung her foot over, simulatenously sitting in one swift motion. Her hands, palms down on the bed, supported her as she contemplated the dream. Its meaning, its overarching truth, its own symbolism.

Is it the subconcious reaching out to her? Does it even exist? Lucky bastard, Freud. Come up with a theory that makes sense, but absolutely impossible to prove.

She stands up, and moves towards the window. It is a full-sized window, broken only by the designs on it. Almost church-like, despite her own hatred for organised religions. Seems more like a vehicle to create cults. A theory that makes sense, but impossible to prove.

The sun still shines through the various colours and shapes. It blinks at her, almost blinding her momentarily, but she braves it. It's good for her. It'll wake you up, the sun. Which it did.

She opens the window, sliding it to the left. The sounds of the birds, previously muffled, increases in volume. How ironic, she thought. On the first day, the sound of the birds had chirped louder than they did before. That's what they told her before, but she didn't believe them. Until she had heard it for herself, and felt the joy that sings in her heart at the time.

Now, there is no joy. But at the end, right at the edge of the ledge, how fitting it is that the sound came back to her on the last day.

They chirped loudly. Perhaps even louder than they did on the first day.

She smiled, stepping off the ledge, and felt the sensation once again.

There's Gotta Be Somebody

Friday, January 02, 2009

As I bid goodbye to 2008...

...I can't help but feel that, even more so, life truly is a rollercoaster.

Not that I didn't know that beforehand. Of course, I suspect that a lot of you, if not all, can relate to the term above. For me personally, however, it feels that there's been little of the middle ground to negotiate. Things were either up or down, left or right, together or separated, home or away, north or south. My heart, my body, and my mind has been pulled here and there, and back again. Sometimes of my own volition; at other times, not so.

"How was your 2008, brother?" I asked Iqbal. We're standing in his driveway, at his house in Taman Tun, looking out at the fireworks display of both One Utama and The Curve (they were definitely competing with each other, with One Utama slightly edging out The Curve, I think). Not unlike mine, his has been a year of great change as well, having been offered a job Down Under, and spending the best part of the year in Australia. "It's not bad, bro," he said, flinging his arms around my shoulders. I replied in kind, for I truly consider him to be more of a brother than a friend to me. "There were a lot of things that happened," he continued, "but on the whole, I have no regrets."

I paused, letting it wash over me for a moment as the fireworks petered out. "Actually, I have quite a few," I said, without looking at him. I could feel him turning his head towards me, and I did the same. "I paid a high price to get to where I am. This is where I want to be, but I wonder whether it's all worth it." He squeezed my shoulder harder, and smiled. "I know." Then he sighed. "But it's the new year now. Leave it all behind, brother. Leave it all behind."

Before I do consign 2008 to the black box, I will share with you, then, what I have learned from the year 2008. I have learned of the importance of giving your absolute best, unconditionally, totally, and utterly, to doing whatever it is that you're doing, and to the people that we love. Our loves, really. The importance of keeping your word (or trying your best to do so) becomes even more important as I spend the majority of the year in Korea. In the first semester, I did not want to help out people as much. Simply put, I was willing to help out the people who helped me out (though having said that, there were quite a few of them who helped me through incredibly difficult times). For those who I didn't care about...well, they can get stuffed.

Or so I thought. In my line of study/work, I have learned that it is not only those who we care about can be helped, but in order to get ahead, in order to rise to the top, I just have to commit myself to totally helping and doing whatever I can for whoever I can. It is a lesson I learned from my good friend Maz Irwan, a fellow Malaysian student in the same university as me (and incidentally, one of my father's former students). I see how he constantly commits himself to helping people with their work: shooting, holding the boom mic, going all the way out of Seoul just to help out as an extra, shooting a whole music video for a Tibetan singer as a way of saying thank you, spending hours and hours doing nothing but doing the heavy lifting for his friend's productions. I helped him out for the majority of his film last semester, and not a single person who he had helped came to his aid. It was a stressful time for everyone (I almost went 48 hours on the set without sleeping during one particular stretch), and the lack of Koreans on his set helping him was notable.

"You just have to give yourself," he told me, when I asked him about it. "You have to think that, somewhere, somehow, down the line, people will come good for you in one way or another. If they don't, then they don't. But we won't know now, will we? We just have to do what we can, keep the faith, and hope that it will all work out. If it doesn't," he said, surveying his set momentarily as people were momentarily resting, "then it doesn't."

The future is to be lived, I once read in a Star Wars book, not to be prearranged. It was Luke Skywalker telling his nephew not to plan and think so much about a particular mission he had to undertake, and it was the literature that came to mind as Irwan told me of this. Hence, in the second half of the year, you may have noticed me disappearing from the Net and the phone more often than not. At times a choice of my own, but for the most part, not so.

It wasn't so much a realisation, then; I always thought that I give my best in the situations dealt with me. It's more of a reminder, a reminder that you. just. have. to. give. A reminder that it is the only thing that any of us, in any situation any where, can do. Whatever happens after that...heartbreak, disappointment, frustration, bitterness...well, it may be amplified even more so, since we give ourselves over totally, utterly, and completely. Our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls.

But so will the joy, happiness, ecstasy, and exhiliration that rewards us for our faith and our patience.

Sometimes.

Happy New Year, everyone.