Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Towers of Strength


Outside my room, the Twin Towers stands majestically in the distance, gleaming against the painted night of the sky. All around, scores of others compete for attention, shining forth their lights and colours. Theirs is a futile effort; the UMNO building, with its red neon-like signs, spells hope and despair (sometimes both at the same time), while distance favoured the Matrade building this time. Unfortunately, it did nothing to hide its troubled past, the monolith looking every inch the complete, total and utter waste of money it has been, is and will continue to be.

The Twin Towers has become synonymous with Malaysia, a steel structure that has imposed its own influence on the Kuala Lumpur skyline. Not many mainstream and commercial films go by without at least silently crediting it as a cameo actor. Some would say that its acting is terrible, but to compare it to wood might, in itself, be insulting to the trees of the world.

What I want to talk about is the meaning of the Twin Towers. It has stood there for a fairly long time, but what does it really mean and signify?

I ask this, because in part of the justification of another mega-tower, Menara Warisan, is the reasoning that it would give us a new, and more advanced image. Do they not learn of the counting of chickens before the egg is hatched? Image comes from reality, not the other way around. A well is nothing without its water, because beyond that it is nothing more than a hole made up of a bunch of rocks. The water is the substance, the very reality that sustains the community around it. Empty structures are not what we need, but nevertheless, there is a need, I feel, to consider the desirable that beyond reality. In this case, the style over substance. We have the Twin Towers, but what does it mean in terms of image and perception…?

“I don’t think it is important,” a friend of mine retorted. “I mean, what does it mean if we have nice buildings when other things are not well-tended to? It won’t matter if we don’t have a sound education system.” Typical. That annoys me, that, when people avoid the question and give a different answer, especially if they are delivered like jewels of wisdom never thought of before. I asked for what is, I get a what if.

Is he wrong? Perhaps not, but we’re still at square one. The question crossed my mind not just because it is something I see every day when I go to sleep and when I wake up, but partly because I wasn’t around when it was built. The announcement of its building and the actual building process took place in my absence; its presence there was somewhat shocking when I laid eyes on it for the first time. I had known of it, of course, but just to see it with my own eyes for the first time was still something to behold.

Even stranger is the fact that no matter how many times I have seen it, it still doesn’t seem that tall. Even when it was officially the tallest office building in the world, as I stand there and aim my gaze at the very tips, it never did strike me as being that momentous, in terms of its size. What kind of image does it project when I myself don’t think all that highly (pun not consciously intended) of it?

I mention this because I am sure that there were people around back then who had protested it. I’m positive that many others, in addition to my friend, considered it a waste of money when other things could have been improved upon. Now nobody really says anything, beyond the few murmurs here and there. They look and think of what could have been. Perhaps the same fate would befall upon the much maligned Menara Warisan as well, a seemingly unnecessary venture at a time when it seems like the price of oil is being increased every other month.

There is no answer here that I can give you, for what’s mine is the result of my own journey. I do hope, however, that the time will come when people will truly analyse and consider the meaning of that which is actually in front of them, that which is done, rather than the lack.

What is, instead of what if…

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Galaxy: Room With A View


The breeze came into the room unhindered through the conditioners. It was uninvited, but not unwelcome, lending its coolness to the occupant inside. Not that Kida was complaining much. It did much to cool down the heat within her, the sadness, rage and fury all rolled into one.

When the news reached her last week, it did so in the most inconspicuous of manners. The confederation, citing budget cuts, had taken the bold and controversial step of electronically transmitting the news of those who had passed on. It was understandable, for the war had drained a lot of the financial resources of not just the confederation itself, but also its mighty backers.

Understandable, but not readily accepted yet by the masses. Kida herself, away on a mission, did not get the chance to check her transmissives until much later. It was only until much later that she found out that Dallas was dead, thus becoming one of the first names to be released in that electronic, inhuman way.

Her sadness, however, wasn't something that came immediately. It wasn't a sudden outpouring of emotions that shook her. It was the rage at the way the news was delivered. In that sense, it was probably good they went digital, because she might just have shot the damn messenger.

Now, though, now that she has been called to collect his things from his old room on The Vole, she found that she had a hard time to hold in that which was never released before…

“Amazing, isn't it?” Kye's voice startled her enough to shake her out of her reverie. Had he not been there, she might have started to cry. She turned in the direction of his voice, loathing the rasp that came with it. His was a voice that once calmed her, soothing her when needed, and was generally pleasant to the ear, but there had been a change not just to the voice, but to Kye himself. Though Kida can't quite put a finger on it, it was a change that, unlike the wind, was both uninvited and unwelcomed.

Kida was pretty sure that Kye was remarking about Dallas's collection of figurines through his galactic travails. They lined up the cabinets that lined the walls, a hobby that had taken years out of Dallas's life. Wisdo wasn’t a good source for such figures. Aura wasn’t bad, but the Outer Galaxies were the main source for the serious collectors. Well, according to Dallas, anyway. Kida herself wasn't a big fan of it. After all, how could someone spend so much of their life on something so dead? Each figurine was beautiful, yes, but it is not alive. It doesn't keep you alive, it doesn't give anything to you. Dallas had spent an entire afternoon with her arguing about this some time ago...

Dallas is dead. Suddenly, the reality of that fact hit her once again, and here, in the room that was his own, on the ship that he called home, she wanted to be anywhere else but here. Their breakup had been amicable, but deep down, she knew, just as these things tend to be, that it wasn't as simple...

“I've always been impressed by how much effort he put into these,” Kye stepped into the room and her train of thought. He straightened himself from his leaning against the door frame. His gaze never actually fell on Kida, but she felt her circle of privacy was threatened with each step as he walked closer to the figurines, his cloak swaying lightly as he moved forward.

Kida didn't respond, and continued to hold the empty box in her hand. Dallas had named her in his will, after all, and she is the one now responsible for clearing out his room. That came electronically as well; Kida made a mental note to attend the Yellow Rally next week at Wisdo, lending support to the rising tide of the people.

“I mean, he wasn't really the kind to be too open to every single being he came across.” Kye was holding a figurine of a ballerina in a pose, her legs bent at the knees in an elegant position. “I've never thought of him to be the kind of soldier that would willingly sacrifice himself for others...you did know how he died, didn't you?”

“Stop it, Kye.”

“But his was a heroic death, Kida, you must know...”

“Enough!” She threw the box at him, finding more solace in the act rather than the box actually hitting Kye. Empty boxes won't do anything to one of the most feared warriors in the galaxy. She used to be glad that he is on their side, but these days, Kye himself seemed to be content to be on his side. She honestly doesn’t know what to make of him; she had heard about the altercation between him and Jayken, but Jayken himself had disappeared once again into his black hole, slipping away immediately after the funeral.

Kye laughed, an evil, guttural act that shook Kida to the very core. No, she told herself, this is not the same Kye anymore. She has no wish to remain in the same room, on the same ship, perhaps even in the star system with him anymore. Dallas’s belongings can wait another day, she found herself thinking as she hears the sound of her own footsteps at speed along the corridor.

Kye’s laughed died down to a smile, as he remained inside the room. He took one of the figurines, a mini recreation of the Rasgnab fighters. Born blind, but with their other senses hyper sensitive, they made excellent warriors and spies. They can see more than those who could, thought Kye as he gripped it, crushing the wooden figurine until it cracked and its head rolled off. Soon, those who can truly see shall lead the blind.

And that will be most welcome.

*Read Galaxy: Revelations.

*Read Galaxy: Masks.
*Read Galaxy: Goodbye Darling.
*Read Galaxy: Love Letter.
*Read Galaxy: The Last Stand.
*Read Galaxy: The Sixth Sense.
*Read Galaxy: Homecoming.
*Read Galaxy: Vs.
*Read Galaxy: The Journey.
*Read Galaxy: Tears of the Son.
*Read Galaxy: Across The Stars.
*Read Galaxy: The Prodigal's Return.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pro Tools


“No, we don’t need to get the Mac to do that.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes! We just need a computer, and the programme. We can do it on your home computer if you want.”

“What about the quality?”

“No, the quality will be similar. The difference is not really worth spending the extra cash on.”

Silence. “I think it’s best if we have another computer to do the editing.”

****
The above was a conversation with someone who wanted me to edit a video for them. She had mentioned about the possibility of making a string of videos, and suggested that getting a Mac computer specifically for that purpose might be a good idea. Though in many ways the industry standard, I implored the idea, for the money to be spent wasn’t in her pockets yet. I pointed out that I made a corporate video for a bank using her previous laptop, but she wasn’t swayed enough.

She, however, is not the only one. I have come across many different people who believe in such ideals: that in order for them to make high quality videos, they need a certain kind of equipment, a certain kind of money, a certain kind of support, in order for the video to be made to a certain quality. While there are technical merits attached to that, it should be noted that professionalism and quality is not necessarily linked to the physical means available.

I say this because it is an experience I experience with those who make or want to make videos. In truth, it is symptomatic of a wider range of people. I have friends who have Macbook Pros. They spend a lot of time and effort to get these, but at the end of the day, the only programmes end up being properly utilized is Microsoft Word and Safari. It is a powerful tool, but if you have no interest in using it fully, then why purchase it? The same applies to a friend of mine who bought a new phone. Admittedly, I should applaud her for not jumping on the iPhone or Blackberry bandwagon, but she spent a lot of money on a new Nokia model (the exact model number? I can’t remember, I’m terrible with these things), when all she ever used her phone for is to make calls and receive messages.

After a while, she gave up on the phone, complaining of the extra complications. Of course, it doesn’t help that it kept breaking down, and Korea doesn’t have a good enough support system for Nokia, but the fact remains. She doesn’t need it, her old phone was fine, but she got it.

Spreading the net just that bit wider, I sense a feel, a desire that almost transplanted into a need: the belief that if we have cooler things, we would become better people. If our computers are more expensive, then we’d be more professional. If we have bigger towers, then our image, and indirectly we ourselves, would be better.

Professionalism, maturity, strength and poise come from within. What makes us better people than others, what separates the best from the rest is not necessarily the tool. What makes us smarter is not just the intellect garnered from reading books, but how we use that intellect to make a difference. The computer, the mobile phone, even money itself (pieces of paper that means nothing without the meanings we attach to them) are all means rather than an end itself.

Those who believe that the tools are the end are fools to do so.

Private Personal


"I don't live a lie. You have to understand that people who choose not to discuss their personal lives are not living a lie. That is a presumption that people jump to."

"Look, at the end of the day, people have to respect people's differences. I am different than some people would like me to be. I just don't buy into that the personal can be political. I just think that's horses--t. No one's personal life is in the public interest. It's gossip, bottom line. End of story."

Kevin Spacey, addressing rumours on his private life.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Subuh


Something moved my heart as I drove near the mosque, Masjid Wilayah. It is situated along my route, its perimeter an island of holiness of its own.

“Island of holiness of its own,” I whispered silently in my heart as I drove in; I have a tendency to play these things through in my head, so that I’d have the chance to pause, rewind, and make some corrections as I go along. It didn’t seem so appropriate at the first pass, but there is a quality to it. So, island of holiness it is.

It has barely passed 6.30am, and there were a few stragglers who were just about to leave, weaving their vehicle around mine as I navigated my way through. Were they the lucky ones, those who couldn’t sleep either? Is it a divine intervention on their part that drove them here to submit, before driving them away to submit to their own physical wants and desires? Perhaps, perhaps not. Not everyone keep the same schedule as you do, Fikri.

Correction. I don’t keep the same schedule as everyone. The difference is minor…but it is there.

At the risk of overdramatizing this, I parked the car, went in, did my wuduk, went into the prayer hall, and…prayed. And then…silence.

I cast my glance across the hall. As I write this, I have Joe Hisaishi’s ‘Good-by Cello’ strumming through my ear. My mind played a similar score as I see a father, having completed his prayers, stood up and strolled over to a young man catching his kip in the corner. With an elegant swing, he reached for the robe strobed across his shoulders, removed it, and timely whacked it over the boy’s head. “Dah, jom balik.” I couldn’t help but smile, recanting my prayers but with my mind, my heart entertained by the shenanigans.

Then I’m back in the silence, engulfed in the deafness and surrounded by the magnitude of the aura of Allah.

*****

These are the moments I appreciate the most. My submission to God has never been that which is dictated by others. I follow through the rituals, I fast the fast, but in truth, these have served nothing more than a token submission to Allah. It is the routines set forth by Him, after all, or so I believe.

In truth, these are nothing more than nomenclature, routines that have strengthened by relationship with my fellow man, but not necessarily with God.

So what is my secret, if I may be permitted to term it as such? What is the condition for my holding on to my faith, not so much as a matter of risking letting go, but as a way of tightening the grip even further, even when conditions had conspired to test and challenge me even in ways I did not imagine myself?

It is these silent moments with God. These moments gives me the strength, for when I shut my eyes, I hear of nothing but. Not the breathing of those next to me, the overzealous bastard who thinks that by uttering his words slightly louder than the rest that he would get a bigger load of pahala, or the tudung wearing UM officer who treated the foreign student with such a difference that I myself feel some shame at her being of the same race, religion and nationality as me. It is not, however, the fear and loathing of others, nor is it the defensive reaction that naturally kicks in when the Bible-thumping ladies to roam the subways threaten very loudly those who do not believe in Christ as their savior. Perhaps they believe that they would get some extra pahala as well by doing that.

My strength comes with the silence. It is with the drowning out of these Earthly voices, created by God though they might have been, that are not beautiful in the slightest, the voices of those interested only in the fires and prizes that competitions would bring them. Titles, image, prestige, perspectives…what is the use of these if you lack the basic respect for others as human beings? What is the use of 1Malaysia if you fail to see that the person next to you is a human being, one who do not deserve to be encroached upon, to be impressed upon or to be influenced unduly just for your own benefit? What is the use of praying five times a day if, by the end of it, you lie in bed knowing that you have not done all that you can, all that you could in order to make the world a better place for all in it? They sleep soundly, but the sounds of their dreams do not compensate for damage they did through their lies…

…but who am I to judge? I feel angry at the hypocrisy and the two-faced nature of others, to list just but a few, but who am I to pass any kind of judgment? Though I do have ‘Hakim’ as a middle name, and it does in some way give me more authority over those who don’t (this is written with my tongue firmly in my cheek, so have a sense of bloody humor, please), it pales utterly in comparison to God.

I am a nobody. Within the bigger scheme of things, we are all nothing more than specks in the universe, waiting for our time to pass.

And so, as I wait, I sat there quietly, listening. With my eyes closed, my senses tingled to my very tips, and I listen. For this is when I forge my path with God.

It’s mine, and mine only. I suggest you find yours, and let no one else invite you to tread upon their paths.

Amin.

R.I.P Tom Walkinshaw



You were a terrible F1 team owner, but your battles to keep the Arrows team alive was very much at the forefront of my memories as I got into F1 by the end of the 1990s. Despite the small budget and limited technical abilities, the gorgeous black-and-orange Arrows punched above their weight enough times to impress. It's a pity you drove them to the ground afterwards, but thanks for the memories, and rest in peace.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Galaxy: Revelations


“But you never said anything.”

The wind of the night chilled his skin sufficiently. It wasn't too warm, or too cold. Life on Aura is like that; the roughest areas can be unimaginable to some at the lower levels, but get high enough, and you can get high on life.

The sights, too, could have been one for sore eyes. Jayken's eyes were certainly sore from the lack of rest. Earlier, he had felt them trembling, fighting against the fatigue. His eyelids had wanted to comply with their wishes, but a few caffsteams did their job. The packaging of New World's products may not have been impressive, but they do do their business: it certainly opened his eyes to a new world.

Well, same old, same old, actually.

This, however, is new territory.

“You never said anything.”

Sounded like a broken record, that. Funny, because nobody really wrote a guide on how to deal with letting your heart out. They probably did, but it wasn't something Jayken was interested while fending off existence-threatening machines.

“Yeah, I didn't,” he admitted. With that, he tore his gaze away from the outside world, old or new, and shifted them to Jo Dandy. One of the finer pilots around, it was unfortunate that she didn't have the stomach to actually kill in cold blood, which restricted her mainly to shuttle runs and evac missions.

Unfortunate? It was a blessing. Killing is never fun, and never easy; Jayken felt as if a small part of him becomes more deadened the more he does it. Not killing keeps you alive and healthy. It certain hasn't harmed Jo, but it does mean that she doesn't get to write her name in the annals of history. Shuttlers just don't get the same credit as fighters. If...when this war is over, she'll be lost as if she never existed amongst the mass of others.

To Jayken, though, that won't quite happen just yet. If anything, she's at the very center of his universe. How could she not be, with the way her brunette hair falls slightly out of place, and the way she pulled it back behind her ears almost just as swiftly. How her thin-ish eyebrows danced their little dance as she smiled, betraying the sense of seriousness her face displays when she doesn’t...

"Jayken?"

"Yeah." He had been lost once again in her hazel eyes, which is not a good thing when you're supposed to be an alert fighter pilot of the confederation. It was actually a formalised part of the training back at the academy, but if anything, it just goes to show how deeply he could fall back into her gaze, a gaze so deep and sincere that...

"Why do you like me?"

Jayken smiled, more out of nervousness than anything else. For how do you answer a question like that? The truth might be a good place to start.

“I don’t know, Joanie.” Silence. “Well, that’s the simple answer. The truth is, I know, but I don’t.” That’s a bit of a lie, to be honest; now that nervousness turned slightly into fear: fear of rejection. For once, he finally understood all those seemingly-meaningless pop songs. “I mean...some of it is clear enough, I think. You’re beautiful, smart, funny, and your eyes...” oh, those eyes... “...I could easily get lost in them.”

She smiled when he mentioned the eyes. Her slight movement dropped a few strands of her hair across her face, and just as quickly, she pulled them back again, sweeping them behind her ear, turning slightly away as she does so. Yes, that. Tell her that. “It’s that,” he blurted out, having to hold himself from shaking with trepidation.

She turned back to look at him, a slightly quizzical look now creeping its way on. She even looked beautiful like this. God, why are you doing this to me... “I mean, your smile. The way you...ah...” He exhaled, trying to compose himself, an act that didn’t seem to work when she smiled at his nervousness, at how foolish she is making him feel. I could actually feel the butterflies in my...

The beeping of the communicator actually shocked and shook him both at the same time. Silently cursing and praising God both at the same time, he looked at his wristwrap comm unit, and saw Jo doing the same thing. The realisation hit them both at the same time as they looked at each other. Time to go.

Even within that moment, though, even though not a single word was uttered between them, he could sense the question coming from her gaze, a strong one that could very well change their friendship forever. What do you expect me to do with that little revelation, Mr Westley?

Jayken steeled himself and his gaze into her eyes, and smiled. Well...there is someone, somewhere in the galaxy who thinks that you’re beautiful just the way you are, someone who loves and cares for you deeply with all his heart, he answered. It could be a lot worse.

She smiled, nodding her head slightly, and Jayken melted once more; even if they'll never get together, there's always that smile to look forward to.

It really could be a lot worse.

*Read Galaxy: Masks.
*Read Galaxy: Goodbye Darling.
*Read Galaxy: Love Letter.
*Read Galaxy: The Last Stand.
*Read Galaxy: The Sixth Sense.
*Read Galaxy: Homecoming.
*Read Galaxy: Vs.
*Read Galaxy: The Journey.
*Read Galaxy: Tears of the Son.
*Read Galaxy: Across The Stars.
*Read Galaxy: The Prodigal's Return.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Home Comforts


“Turn in here,” my father instructed, somewhat sleepily from the passenger seat. I couldn’t blame him, for it had been a long day capped off by a long journey. Leaving UiTM together, I assumed the role of driver, though if the truth must be pried out of me, I felt equally tired.

“OK,” I said, stifling a yawn as I signaled my intent to the other drivers. The reassuring indicator clicked softly in the background as the Volvo bowed to my instructions to a tee. The insulation of the car is also a lot better than your average Proton, which makes for a silent ride half the time.

“Err…is this the place you want?” In front of us is a new building, a shopping complex of sort. I remembered such buildings being in construction from years gone by. In fact, I once picked up a date for the Monash ball somewhere from an apartment in the area. She was a French classmate of mine at the Alliance at the time, and rare though those moments turned out to be, I always thought of the French class days in the early noughties when I drive through the area.

“Eh, what is this place?” Sounding a lot more alert, my father seated himself upright; he had been lying down, with the seat reclined as it were. Now, however, the slight alarm made his back straight as a telephone pole as he rubbed his eyes, and scanned the environment. “I haven’t come here for a few years…”

I stopped the car, and surveyed the area. It most definitely is a new building, and his suggestion of eating at a famous ayam golek restaurant somewhere around the area is in danger of becoming nothing more than a delusion. I asked him what the place is like, hoping to see some kind of sign, wondering whether I had taken the wrong turn. He seemed adamant that this is where it should have been though. After a few moments, we turned and went back to the main road, continuing along the path.

“How things change…” His words rang in my head, as I drove on almost aimlessly. I had been looking forward to it, to eating the ayam golek. He had raved about its taste, and how, back when he was teaching at UM, he used to frequent it with almost reckless abandon. That wasn’t so long ago, I had thought, but I realized that in the context of a lifetime, some years can…

“Hah, itu dia!” He pointed to the restaurant, part of a ramshackle series of shops lined up along the streets, as these establishments tend to be in Malaysia. We found a parking spot, and soon enough, tucked into the chicken like there was no tomorrow.

As dinner came to an end, and we winded down with our respective drinks, I took a moment to study my father’s face. The lines lining it made me wonder about the kinds of things that he went through, and indirectly, about how important this particular dinner could have been. It wasn’t really just about eating, was it? Perhaps on some level, it was about a reaffirmation of the certain things in life, or perhaps in a way, how certain things are and could be in your life.

Slowly, as the rate of development is accelerated, as new shopping malls go up almost every other month all over the country, as the struggle to remember what the Twin Towers looked like coming back from Penang on the PLUS highway before it was blocked by the multitude of Mont Kiara’s own towers became ever greater…I suppose sometimes it’s just comforting to know that some things won’t change for quite a while yet.

Home comforts, I believe is the term. I’m glad we found it that night.

Shower Scene


His head was still ringing as he stepped into the hotel room, closing the door with a resounding slam. His right hand reached for his temple, where the would-be assassin had karate chopped him with enough force to knock out a normal man.

Fortunately for his good self, he was no normal man.

He could hear the shower running once the ringing inside his head subsided. She must’ve gotten straight into it once she came back. She didn’t seem to have the stomach for it…no, that’s not true. She was in fear for her life. Perhaps for him, too, but it didn’t seem to be too big of a problem for him. For her, though…for her, seeing a man killed…no, strangled to death in front of her very eyes, and to aid and abet in that act…it probably wasn’t as what she had imagined when she was assigned to be his handler. She went from pushing pens inside the bureau to pushing lives out of this world. No wonder.

He has to remind himself of that.

Just as he was about to take off his shoes with his heels, he noticed the broken wine glass on the table. There was nothing inside it, no traces to suggest that its appropriate contents ever took residence inside it. The bottle, a Château d'Yquem 1999, was uncorked, but its contents remained untouched. A single note of worry started to cross his heart.

“Vesper?” he voiced out cautiously.

He stepped lightly towards the bathroom door, and opened it. It is heavy, but its opulence didn’t lend any weight to a noise. The heat from inside the room rushed outside, grateful for its release, but what he saw didn’t give way to the same relief.

Vesper, still fully dressed, sat inside the shower, the hot water rushed slowly from the top. She shivered as she leaned against the ceramicly-tiled wall, her hands shaking from the water…no. From fear.

James stood there for a moment, considering what to do next. He didn’t realize that it would have that big of an effect on her. If she is normal, if she could be the face in any crowd, the girl you’d meet next door, the real person who would have friends, if she is a human being…what does that make him?

The look she gave when she glanced up cleared all that away. She was crying, her eyes red with the tears mingled with the water. “I can’t wash it off,” she sobbed, and in that moment, James went forth and stepped under the shower with her. Leaning down, leaning against the wall next to her, he put his arms around her.

It felt warm, not from the water, but from her body. Warm and nice. He found himself shivering just for a moment as he lightly grabbed her hand, and guiding it to his lips. He kissed it softly, each one of them, and felt her shudder recede. Leaning his head against hers, as she gave in to herself and folded inwards in his arms, with his touch, for support, all the pains of the world were forgotten as he closed his eyes and whispered softly to her.

“There, there…all better now.”

*A reimagined scene from Casino Royale.

Friday, December 03, 2010

To Russia With Rubles


So it's Russia, then.

My initial reaction was one of some measure of joy. I have to admit, it is an incredibly ambitious decision by FIFA to have selected Russia as its next host for the FIFA World Cup. The federation has been on quite a roll, selecting a number of newbies to host arguably the biggest sporting event for a number of tournaments now. Following on from South Africa this year, let's not forget that Brazil will be the host in 2014. Qatar in 2022 will be a new adventure as well.

For my part, I'm always up for a bit of adventure, whether literal or metaphorical. I followed the announcement with a deeper interest than usual, partly because the previous edition only had Brazil submitting a bid to hold the tournament, so the element of drama was missing. Here, there was tension, build up, perceived villains in the forms of media exposes and corrupt officials, with a twist in the tail. After all, Spain/Portugal was expected to have been in the mix as well, so the presence of a number of very credible potential hosts made for an exciting event. Plus, with the announcement of the 2022 hosts to be made as well, we get double the drama.

More importantly, however, by 2018 I think I would have been more established as a person. More settled, more financially-secure, more able to do what I want to do. In short, when I blow out the candles of my birthday seven and a half years from now, I fancy doing it in a World Cup-hosting country at the time when they are actually hosting the World Cup.

I say this because it is an experience that is worth experiencing. I have spent some time in Korea, where people go absolutely crazy during the World Cup. The experience have often left me wondering what it would be like to actually be in a country that is hosting the World Cup. You can't buy that kind of excitement, certainly not in Malaysia, with the number of plastic fans that populate the mamaks every weekend or so. The people who support their country, who cheer for their players, do so genuinely. Malaysia's participation in the Asian Cup a few years back gave a good cause for people to attend competitive tournament football. Of course, the quality of our own footballers leave a lot to be desired, but the reaction of many of my friends left me wonder whether we'll ever be able to put all these things aside and watch football for the sake of not just the nation, but for football. “I don't want to waste my money. I'll wait for them to improve first, and then I'll go and watch them.” I still remember those words, and wonder what wasting money is to people who spend their weekend drinking away money that would have quadrupled the ticket price at the time.

Which leads me to the concern of Russia. Yes, Russia will host a nice little World Cup, which is already a lie. Their World Cup will be anything but little. In case you don't know, it is a big country, and it will take some effort to cover the distance between the respective stadiums if I do decide to follow England (FYI, I support England and Korea for reasons of familiarity and symbolic umbilical cords). Russian cities make regular entries into lists of the most expensive dwellings in the world, while other costs will surely not just pile up, but be also jacked up as if cartons of Red Bulls had been spilled into the computer that decides ticket prices.

Of course, that's overstating things. However, after the euphoria and pleasant surprise had died down, after the climax had passed, I sobered up to the potential costs. Who cares about racism and corruption if it costs more than your life to go there to begin with? I better hope that Spielberg comes through a little quicker with his 'Transformers 5' offer. For now, we'll have to adopt a wait-and-see policy.

Well, that's a lie. For now, I could exercise a few demons, and open up a game of FIFA on my computer. That I did, and controlling different teams in different halves, England vs Russia proved to be a more interesting affair than usual.

England still lost 3-2 to Russia. Dammit.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Eyes on the Prize


"Because I am Japanese I have small eyes - so I can't see the others guys."

Kamui Kobayashi, Sauber F1 racer, when asked what his secret for overtaking is.

Galaxy: Masks


Jayken put down the fresh plate of fruits on the coffee table in front of them, before plonking himself straight into his sofa. As he felt himself exhaling the fatigue out of his body, his muscles now in tune with his mind and spirit, Dallas and Kida did not wait for an invitation, each grabbing a piece of fresh strawberry. Dallas’s arm didn’t leave her as they did so, moving forward in motion and as one. They leaned back the same way as well, jostling to put it in the other’s mouth, and laughing at the same time. Jayken leaned his head sideways slightly, eyeing the both of them with a smile. It's always good to see your friends happy together, isn't it? A little further away, Kye took a further sip of his drink, with a wry smile on his face; no doubt, as ever, a million thoughts ran through his head. Jayken know that look, and he could probably read the thought as well.

He was probably thinking the same thing.

Kye looked up, and their gazes clashed. It was indicative of the kind of relationship that they had built up, ever since they met all those years ago. Their younger days in the old neighbourhood back on Nari, after he had moved from Nualna with his family. Their families became fast friends, and so did Jayken and Kye, a friendship further forged as they went through the Fleet Academy at Wisdo together.

You wouldn’t know it from the silence that followed the gaze between them, however. It was awkward, a moment that helped to momentarily mute Dallas and Kida’s excited proclamations that the other had cheated. This was an annual dinner that, for once, Jayken didn’t look forward to hosting once he realised that he would have to invite Kye along as well. He felt as if up until that point, that tension had been well-masked, but at that moment, a single prick would burst that balloon of illusion. Ever since Kye had returned from his long excursion, without a single explanation or exposition, Jayken felt that there has been a change in him that showed no clear signs of solving itself.

Of solving itself. He had deemed a solution necessary, when the problem was not even diagnosed yet.

"Cheers." Kye’s words cut across like a knife, popping the balloon. With that, Jayken noticed that Kye’s glass was tipped in some form of respect, and it was only social conventions that moved him to respond in kind. “It’s been a lovely evening.”

Jayken smiled, almost superficially, wondering whether Kye Toran, ever the duplicitous, double-talking master, was playing his games again. "I do my best." It is a game for the both of them, one that is not without its consequences. The heaviness of their statements caused Dallas and Kida to stop their own games; they had sensed the cold camaraderie during dinner, but now it’s about to reach boiling point.

"Hmm.” Kye repeated, not without meaning. He downed his in one shot, and almost immediately poured himself another. "Your absolute best, no doubt."

Jayken remained silent, careful of where this conversation is leading them. "Don't we all?"

Another non-committal was all that Jayken could hear from Kye. Kye had a history with his drinking, but Jayken had thought it was Bourbon under the bridge by now. Instead, he could almost see it aiding the spread of the venom from Kye’s heart to his eyes. Kye’s never been a shrinking violet when it comes to confrontations. With his inhibitions now less so, he becomes that bit more fearsome.

But why should Jayken be afraid of Kye? There has been no problems whatsoever; is he still seeking for a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Perhaps it’s time for the doctor to check in, now.

“You know what, just spit it out, man,” Jayken heard himself saying. Almost simultaneoulsy, he placed his glass carefully back on the coffee table, and now leaned forward with intent. “I know you, and I know you’ve got something to say. Evidently, it’s eating you up inside. What’s the problem?”

Kye did not respond for a few moments, opting instead to dip his finger in his drink as he swirls the icicles around. It’s a habit of his that Jayken has come to know well. He enjoys the coolness of the ice against the tip of his finger, and in that way, Jayken knew that Kye is merely mapping out his thoughts within that very glass. Thus, he wasn’t surprised when Kye didn’t immediately respond.

He was, however, surprised when Kye decided to hurl the glass at him. Jayken deftly shifted his head out of the way, but it wasn’t that difficult, for it was only intended to gain Jayken’s attention, rather than hurt him.

It certainly worked.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Jayken and Dallas both shouted simultaneously at the same time. Jayken didn’t stand, but Dallas did, moving protectively in front of Kida as her eyes widened in surprise. For his part, Kye remained seated in his chair, and then quietly got up to the bar. Presumably to get another glass to throw, Jayken thought as he steeled his body for action.

“I could ask the same of you, Mr. Westley,” Jayken heard. He couldn’t see Kye’s face by this point, the back of his head rimmed by the light from the bar. Once he got there, Kye did not reach for another glass. Instead, he propped himself against the bar, leaning back on his elbows. He was never a big guy, but he had came back from his sojourn leaner, stronger, faster.

Meaner, too. What the hell happened to him out there?

“I’m not the one throwing glasses across rooms, Kye,” Jayken shot back.

“No, you’re not. Not anymore,” Kye resigned himself with a sigh. “You used to, once upon a time. There once was a fire that burned within you, but it’s not there anymore.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Dallas chipped in.

“You, the great Jayken Westley. You have changed so much, and you have lost the essence of what had been you. You have lost that human part of yourself, Jay. How long has it been, Jay? Two years? Three?”

“What is he talking about?” Kida turned to Jayken. All she got was a stony silence from him, but it was filled in by Kye as he continued.

“He knows what I’m talking about,” Kye spoke with an even voice, even though he was intoxicated. “The Jayken that is sitting right there is not Jayken. He’s an impostor. He’s not the one I grew up with. The Jayken we have all come to love and cherish is now dead.”

Now Dallas turned to face Jayken, making it three against one. Jayken, for his part, remained seated, and looked almost exactly as he felt at that moment: small, with a silent wish for a wormhole, any wormhole, to open up and swallow him whole.

“There once was a time when Jayken would open up his heart, and give everything to all. He would not hesitate to help those who need it, to go out of his way to support others. His words were never words of chastisement, only encouragement; he never put forth his own opinions at the expense of suppressing others.”

“Remember when you and I were on Nari that time, when we came across a blind old lady begging at the marketplace? You walked up and you dropped a tonne of credits on her, and then walked away. Do you still remember what you said afterwards?”

The tension was so thick that Jayken had to make an effort to hear himself speak. “There’s a credit point up ahead.”

“There’s a credit point up ahead!” Kye laughed to himself, almost as if it’s the funniest thing he’s heard in the galaxy; the demon of the drink had truly taken its grip on Kye, and he’s not about to let go for now.

“That’s enough, Kye,” Dallas tried to make himself useful. Kye didn’t care. Dallas is small fry in his world, and has no influence on him. He continued like he didn’t hear what Dallas said.

“She’s only one girl, Jayken,” he said as he turned and helped himself to yet another Bourbon, “only one girl...”

“Stop it.”

“...and yet, here we are. You pretending that everything is fine, that everything is back to normal. The master of deflection, the king of misdirection. What the eyes see, and the ears hear, the mind believe. You didn’t want to invite me here tonight, I know, but you did it nonetheless.”

“So what, you want me to not invite you?” Jayken spoke up; he felt he needed to make a stand, any stand.

“I want you to be true to yourself, you jackass!” Kye’s suddenly-raised voice made everyone turn to look at him instead. “Every time you speak, it is nothing more than an attempt to deflect attention to something else. Every joke you tell is a mask of normalcy that everyone else falls for, a ploy intended to say, “Hey, I’m here,” while you keep yourself locked up like fucking Fort Knox.”

He finished the Bourbon with a flourish, and then wiped his lips with his sleeve. “For a long time, I didn’t want to say anything, figuring that you’ll be able to come around. Instead, you sank deeper and deeper into yourself until there was nothing left of the man I loved.” He sighed. “I was wrong.” Pause. “We all were.”

Jayken instinctively looked at Dallas and Kida. By now, Dallas had sat down, and they both kept their heads down; no doubt this was not just an oft-discussed matter behind his back, but that they had agreed with Kye’s idea. They might not have agreed with its method of delivery, but diagnosis remains the consensus.

Diagnosis. I am sick.

By now, the venom had worn off, but Kye’s words still stung Jayken like a bee. He felt himself getting warm, and though he momentarily wondered whether there was something wrong in the heating of the room, he knew better. Kye was right, and now, in front of Dallas and Kida as well, amongst his own friends in his own house, he felt more exposed, more naked, than ever before. Kye was no longer confrontational, but the challenge was there. Jayken hadn’t felt this way since...since...

Remain true to yourself, Jayken Westley. Come back to us.

“I think you’re right, Kye,” Jayken spoke softly, almost down to a whisper. Kye’s gaze never left Jayken to begin with, but Dallas and Kida, hand in hand, looked at him. That, they didn’t expect him to say.

“It has been a lovely evening,” Jayken said, with a sigh. “I think it’s time we call it a night.”

And with that, he retired.

*Read Galaxy: Goodbye Darling.
*Read Galaxy: Love Letter.
*Read Galaxy: The Last Stand.
*Read Galaxy: The Sixth Sense.
*Read Galaxy: Homecoming.
*Read Galaxy: Vs.
*Read Galaxy: The Journey.
*Read Galaxy: Tears of the Son.
*Read Galaxy: Across The Stars.
*Read Galaxy: The Prodigal's Return.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Full Frontal


"If sexuality is used to sell cars and cookies, why not use it for social and political projects. Sometimes you need to show your breasts for ideological reasons."

Anna Hutsul, leader of Femen, a Ukrainian NGO.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

War and Peace


"You gave me peace in a lifetime of war."

Achilles, Troy.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dear Atuk


It seems that it has been a long time since you were truly able to remember my name. Perhaps it has been even longer since you can recall, off the cuff, whose son I truly am. And espite the fact that it has been a decade since I left school at 16, you asking whether I am still doing my SPM for time to time never did annoy me.

“Dia dah tua Hakim, faham je lah...” was the words of advice from Acik, who would listen on from the next room whenever you asked me who I am. Herein lies a funny fact: I have a short temper. Surprise surprise, some may say, but here's another caveat of sorts: I get really annoyed when people talk to me about the same things over and over and over again. Even more so when the questions asked are identical so as to have their own previous. It gets under my skin at times, and it doesn't help if those are the kind of questions I'd readily classify under 'stupid'.

But I never got angry at you. I was never annoyed, as far as I could recall, and I was never truly upset in any way whatsoever. Of course, our memories may distort the real history as it actually was, but the fact of the matter is, when I do think of you, all I could think of was...cats.

I remember that you used to have lots and lots of cats. It was one of the biggest pleasures of the balik kampung trips (that, and the fact that the back of the Pajero would be turned into mini homes for me and my sisters, complete with pillows). One by one, they went away, some of their own accord, others less so. Alang, the most memorable one of the lot, was probably the one you loved the most. “Kucing haiwan kesayangan Nabi,” you kept telling us, over and over again. I suppose I could attribute my love of cats to you in that way, because when I was younger, I wasn't allowed to have my own. Yaya and Adik had/has asthma. It comes and goes, but Adik did well enough to keep her own hamster. It was a decision I initially greeted with some disdain.

Just now, when I tried to park the car, a cat was lazing about in the driveway. I got out of the car after it refused to move when I flashed the lights its way. It didn't even budge when I poked at it slightly with my foot. Instead, it just meowed. I smiled, and lifted it well out of harm's way. I thought of Alang, and I thought of you.

We rushed back when we heard. I spent my time inside my boss's darkened room, trying to digest the fact, and then I told Syahirah. She took it badly, and it was then that I teared up. That, in addition to when I told Mak Minah, was the only time when I cried. The rest of the time, there was a deeper realisation that you're in a better place. The last few times I saw you, when you couldn't move or talk in the same way as before scared me. It hurts me to see and think of you in that way, and I must admit that it was a blessed release. I tried to encourage Syahirah to see it that way, for the memory she had of you was more pristine.

Syahirah. Suraya. Me. Fazly. We are your grandchildren, we are your legacy. Yours and Arwah Tok Murat's. Syahirah and Fazly couldn't come, but we came back for you. Bapak and I kissed your forehead, after having unwrapped you for the last time. The wrapping was nicely done, but after we untied it, Bapak couldn't quite figure out how to tie it back exactly the way it was before. It was one of the few times I have seen him flustered in recent times. It betrays his outward appearance. Sometimes I question his judgement and handling of you, but deep down...I know. He knows, and you know.

Yaya wrote that you're now dancing amongst the stars with Arwah Tok Murat. Dance well, and rest in peace, Atuk.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Big Deal


A long drive affords you many things. A five-hour trip gives you more; it gives you a solitude you won't find elsewhere. Everywhere else, there are obligations and responsibilities that should not be avoided. Things, of course, could be put off or delayed, but sooner or later you'd have to get to them whether you like it or not.

A long drive, however, provides a sense of respite from the weary world. It is, I realise upon further reflection, a weary world. I did not believe it before, and though I considered it, I didn't think the world would influence me the way it did. It does, however; the world gets to you, with all its optimism and pessimism that drives away the feelings of hope and joy that once was so young and innocent in its glory.

Of course, that is not to say that it is a bad thing. Good or bad can be very subjective, and while I wouldn't call myself jaded, I am not about to tighten the noose around my neck either. Experience is an experience I enjoy getting.

And so it was that a trip up to Penang made me think, feel, and realise many different things.

What was I thinking about? In short, many different things. I thought of my classes, whether I'm teaching my students the right things, the right principles to bear in mind. I thought of the techniques I use to teach them, and considered how that could be bettered (once again, this will only come with experience). I considered about the seriousness of my intent on my next short film(s). I have a couple of stories brewing, and I wonder whether I'll find the time and willingness to sit down and write them all (after all, time is precious). I wonder about that, and so much more. I will not write them all down, for, though they lack the lasciviousness that many would no doubt relish, I will keep them buried for now. I may write of them, but I will not write them. Yet.

There is one thing I will write about, though. I thought of the last two years, the last two Rayas that I spent away from home. Raya is considered to be a hallowed time of the year, a time that is meant to be spent within and between families and friends. I did not do that last year. In fact, in that time-honoured tradition of fate and destiny playing its part, I went to scout for locations for my film. I spent the whole day with my cinematographer and my producer, and being non-Muslims, they are oblivious to the significance of the day.

“How do you feel about working holidays?” I asked them. We were having lunch after spending the morning in Toechon, a small town on the outskirts of Seoul. We found some interesting places, but though the area attracted me, the houses that we did find didn't as much. “Do you feel weird or bothered by it?”

I probably should have known better than to ask. For them, answer seemed obvious. My producer is slightly over the age of 40. He is still single, though he is one of the more successful people in his line of work. Nevertheless, that didn't seem to be enough to guarantee the kind of life that...he didn't really want, to be honest. He is not bothered by not being bothered. Neither is my cinematographer. He is ambitious, and enjoys the challenge of work. I used to think that it was the kind of thing that I would do, too. I have ideas, I have goals, I have ambitions. I know what I want, and I am willing to sacrifice to get it.

The question, though, is how much. How far am I willing to go? Here, as I drive the long and lonely journey, with only Juwita Suwito and Mariah Carey for company, I realise that I, too, was in that place. I, too, did not care for the most part. The lack of connection and relationships. I had it once, and in fact, a long time ago, relationships were something I cherished. Now, at this stage of my life, I realise I no longer have the energy to, for the lack of a better term, give a shit about most. It makes the few that I do care about that bit more special, but the point is, the act of caring becomes difficult when I do not see how others could appreciate it.

Perhaps that's the core issue. Perhaps that is the main problem that I have been grappling with all this time: the lack of appreciation by others.

I smile. I must really be getting old. Being bothered by not being bothered, that seems to be my domain these days.

I am no longer bothered by relationships. I am no longer bothered about the one day in my calendar that celebrates relationships the most, that of Hari Raya. I am no longer bothered by Hari Raya.

Or am I?

As I consider the implications of that statement, as I left for the exit of the R&R near Sungai Perak, in the distance I see fireworks go off. Raya is also a time for fireworks, illegal or otherwise. Most of them tend to be really crap in value, but some are willing to go the extra mile and spend just that little bit more.

The extra mile. It's a big deal for them. It's fucking Raya, man.

As I see the fireworks explode into a cacophony of sounds and colours, of red, blue, green and more, I feel a little something inside me come alive.

For that, at least, I am thankful.

Monday, August 30, 2010

OAP


“Just go in first, I'll come in after you.”

We were on the way to paying for the electricity bills. Power had inexplicably been cut at home, and time is of the essence; paying for it right about now would entail a penalty of only a few hours without the life-giving currents. It says something that human beings have become so dependent on electricity merely to continue living (you won't necessarily die just yet), and perhaps that in itself is worthy of a longer musing in the future. For now, however, time is of the essence.

The place? Taman Melawati's Tenaga Nasional Berhad's branch office. It's not a new building, and it has been there for as long as I can remember, but for some strange reason, I could not quite recall it on the way back as I quizzed my father which branch we were supposed to go to. There's quite a number of them around, but going to the right one would make things quicker, apparently. The right one would be the closest to the house, but I couldn't recall there ever being a branch in Taman Melawati. He insisted that there is, and so it was. It's right there, but I didn't see it. Or rather, I did see it, but it didn't play well with the accepted values lodged within my head.

I grabbed the ticket from the machine, and groaned internally as I saw that there's a fair number of people in front of me still. Perhaps numbering close to ten. I wished I had brought in my 'Stanley Kubrick Directs', a book I loaned from the library. Given the length of such proceedings, I reckon I could have breezed through at least ten pages. Time is not necessarily money, but it is expensive.

I sat down. After a few moments of boredom, I got up and walked around the place. Just as my mind began to form a half-thought of where my father is, he walked straight at me almost out of thin air. In his grip, between his finger and thumb is a small piece of paper. It's similar to the waiting ticket I had at that moment. “Look, this one is quicker,” he said, smiling widely. I looked at the number, and lo and behold, it is the next number up. “I'm a senior citizen,” he said proudly, almost revealingly too.

I smiled. Sometimes I forget just how young my father really is. If you do meet him, you wouldn't know it, for he works with the vigour of a man half his age. His mind is still sharp, his networks strong, his train(s) of thought unstoppable at times.

I forget. I suppose we all do at times. Or rather, it was right there. He has been right here all the while, and I did see it, but it didn't play well in my head.

Happy birthday, Bapak.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Parking


I was waiting in front of the Maybank. The time was 4.30pm. It is not quite the end of office hours, but during the month of Ramadhan, most offices finish around 4 instead of 5. The logic being that since people don't actually take lunch breaks, they are entitled to leave an hour earlier, the hour that would have been spent on lunch.

Nevertheless, not all companies adhere to this. Or rather, not all companies with Muslim-majority employees do this. My father is still held up at UiTM, attending a meeting; it was only minutes prior that he informed me of his departure from Shah Alam.

I sat there reading an issue of FourFourTwo. In some ways, it is an interesting magazine, and I bought it partly to pass the time. I can't not read something, and so FourFourTwo was the choice I made, even if it was only for half an hour or so. I find it ironic that it is one of the better football magazines in the market (doesn't beat World Soccer for breadth and depth), and yet its name is based on a formation that is fast becoming obsolete amongst the award-winning, trophy-collecting megaclubs and countries of the world. This thought crossed my mind as the waft of durian floated over from the a van nearby; the owner had set up a mini mobile stall of sorts.

And so I sat there, minding my own business while I try to enjoy an article about how the fixtures for the season is thought up (not a very good article, mind you). A lady driver parked in front of me, right along the curb. There's some space on the other side for cars to pass, so even though it's somewhat illegal, the risk of public obstruction is rather low. I believe it is this risk that is assessed by many in deciding whether a law is actually broken or otherwise. The woman's husband stepped out, and stepped into the bank for a moment.

Along came a blue Suzuki Swift, with a rather elderly lady. I don't know whether that's actually her car, for its image doesn't match the driver's reality. Nevertheless, it doesn't douse her feistiness, for she was honking like it was nobody's business. This time, it did catch my attention, and probably everyone else within the whole kampung. Looking at it from my vantage position, it seems as if the car couldn't pass through, forcing me to reassess my initial observation that the public wasn't obstructed.

She honked again. The lady in the first car got into the driver's seat, started the engine, and moved away, parking her car slightly further away up the road. Now, at least, nobody can complain about the obstruction of public movement.

Or can they? As soon as the first car moved away, the Swift moved in swiftly into the spot that was just vacated by the first car. I realised that it wasn't a matter of her car being unable to move through, she had wanted the parking spot, and only pretended that she couldn't go through. Funnily enough, she got out of her car, and her parking was so bad that there was a mini-queue of other cars forming behind her. As it turns out, she had stopped there to buy from a durian van parked nearby. Even the van's owner had to encourage her to park better, somewhat admonishing her to move her car. This she did.

I laughed, and wondered what my father would have to say about this if he knew of the races of the people involved.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Galaxy: Goodbye, Darling


The scenery flashed past them. It's not much of one, to be honest: merely white stars flashing past against the blackness of space. Space was once the most romantic of frontiers, its unknown quantity and quality enthralling generations. Just like everything else, though, once it is attainable, it is no longer appreciated as much, if at all.

Airus Kelic never lost his sense of wonder for space, though. He made sure never to lose that, because it represented to him the freedom which he had yearned so long for. It's not easy to be a pilot in the Confederate Flight Wings; it's even more difficult to stay alive and remain one.

Next to him, Myrawani slept soundly. Her eyes fluttered, almost as if she's having a dream. Airus wasn't sure if it was a dream. Myrawani is not well. She suffered previously from lung cancer, and thought she had fought back at that time, it appears as if some of the symptoms are back. They went to check it out together, and the doctor didn't have good news. The kamala extracts can only do so much, repressing and inhibiting as much of the symptoms as possible. It wasn't something that was legal, but the doctor understood. The Hippocratic oath swore him to maintain all life and all costs, legally or otherwise.

That's why they are where they they are now. Airus knew of someone who had modified the extracts, making them more potent. The journey to the planet of Arahas, however, is not one that can easily be navigated on autopilot. The Malsi system is a rocky one, and Airus had to navigate the Nari shuttle as deftly as possible, plotting minor jumps here and there. It's as much to do with keeping them alive as it is to not disturb Myrawani too much.

Airus cast a glance over to her. A strand of hair had fallen across her face, freed from her neatly coiffed hair. It's beautiful how natural it all seemed. That was one of the reasons why Airus fell in love with her. It was her simplicity, sincerity and naturalness that attracted him to her. In a galaxy filled with ever more complex peoples, it was something that appealed to him: to have something real to hold on to.

To have someone real to be with.

He reached over with his left hand, gently pushing the hair back into position. He tried not to actually touch her, but the tip of his finger grazed ever so softly against her forehead, her pale white skin....

...feeling deathly cold.

Airus frowned involuntarily. He touched her face more deliberately this time, but still in a delicate manner. He then spread his area of contact, reaching across all her forehead. He reached down to her neck, feeling for a pulse.

Nothing.

He felt his own body go cold, almost as if the lack of heat from Myrawani was being transferred through his touch. She herself seemed peaceful enough, but though Airus remained cool on the outside, his insides were boiling. He fought hard to retain his control; his lips quivered, but beyond that, his mind raced to think things through. Rational, not emotional. The physiological reactions, however, were not absent; every fiber of his being was on its own end. That phrase has been used so many times, but here, it seems like every nerve he has were straining and standing on its own end.

He pulled his hand away, forcing himself to look straight ahead. Ahead of him, there is nothing but the blackness of space with streaks of white light on either side. There's nothing there but the empty vacuum of space, an endless space that is not as wonderful as it was.

How apt.

*Read Galaxy: Love Letter.
*Read Galaxy: The Last Stand.
*Read Galaxy: The Sixth Sense.
*Read Galaxy: Homecoming.
*Read Galaxy: Vs.
*Read Galaxy: The Journey.
*Read Galaxy: Tears of the Son.
*Read Galaxy: Across The Stars.
*Read Galaxy: The Prodigal's Return.

Monday, July 12, 2010

After Sunrise

Sometimes, I look at the sun, and I can't tell whether it's rising or setting.

But just like everything else in life, a little bit of time brings a lot of clarity.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

I'm Not Korean


“Come on, dude, you've got to try it out.” That was me trying to convince my friend to go and watch the Korea – Uruguay match with me. He was in two minds, but I was somewhat determined to bring him along; with the exception of the Spain – Switzerland match, our World Cup-watching experience thus far has been nothing more than four guys and McDonald's McChickens at 2AM. Being the half-Korean that I proclaim myself to be, I caught the match against Nigeria at Hartamas Square after being tipped off by a friend about the presence of other Koreans. “They were very noisy, my friend said,” he relayed the information to me. Pause. “And very red as well.”

Of course! I thought to myself. Hartamas and Koreans fit like...well, like Ampang and Koreans. Glove in hand, hand in hand, I went to check it out at 2:30AM, thinking that nobody's going to stay up that late on a weeknight. I couldn't be more wrong. If Ross was around, he'd say that I could try, but I would not be successful, for the place was so packed I couldn't find a seat. I resolved to bring my friends around the next time, which is where you guys come in at the start of this post.

“You have to experience watching the World Cup with people whose country is actually in the World Cup,” I reasoned further. Let's face it, Malaysia as it stands will probably never qualify for the World Cup for a while yet. We have problems getting out of the qualifiers for the qualifiers. Putting that aside for the moment, it really has been a pleasure watching the World Cup with Koreans. They go all out for it, these crazy bastards (which, of course, I mean in the nicest possible way), and I was hooked on their infectious enthusiasm since the previous World Cup. Even in a city like Jeonju, the whole place went totally crazy it's unbelievable.

“Yeah, I'll see lah,” he finally replied. He's been saving himself for the big matches; Korea vs Uruguay are not exactly England vs Germany, after all. No worries, I thought, I'll still get there by hook or by crook. In the end I did manage to rope in a few others.

****

“Excuse me,” I asked the man arranging the chairs in Korean. “Can I sit here?”

Hartamas Square was almost packed with people. We still had almost 90 minutes to kick off, and we couldn't find a seat to begin with. Thankfully, there was a couple of empty tables on the inside, but damn...the cooking oil splattered and sprinkled all over us. It was an unnecessarily unpleasant experience to go through for a football match, so we decided to look for other spots. However, I'm jumping ahead of myself, for we had the diagnoses, but not cure as yet. I went back to Eric's car to pick something up, and on the way back, wondered whether I should put my Korean to use. It hasn't been a while, but it's more than a little rusty, and I might as well. There were ropes and chairs leaned against tables along a particular perimeter, a kind of metaphorical dog urine if you like, indicating that...well, what, exactly? That only Koreans are allowed to sit here? Surely not.

“Yes, sure...” he replied in Korean, his back facing me. As he was completing the sentence, he turned around, and saw me. “아니, 안돼요.”

“왜요?”

“Err...” his face bunched up, forming what my sisters would call a muka busuk (stinky face). Then, in slightly stuttering English, “only Korean.”

I laughed. I actually laughed. So funny it's not real, but it is. Being discriminated against by Koreans in Korea is one thing; being discriminated against by Koreans outside of Korea is another. I now know how the Malaysian Chinese feels like applying for places in government universities. (Then again, in a straight shootout between Monash and UiTM, I know what most of my friends would pick. “In terms of quality, I'd say you should plump for Sunway,” said my friend when I discussed the various job offers I've received. She's never even set foot in UiTM.) Bumiputera or not, this is Little Korea, and a nice little reminder that no matter my worthwhile experiences, fond memories and deep gratitude of and to the Republic of Korea...I'm not Korean.

“알았어, 알았...” I continued my laughter. “난 한국사람 아니죠? 피부 우더워” Smile. I dropped the honorifics this time, but it's a small victory, if any. I probably should have done more than that, maybe even raise a ruckus, but I didn't. It didn't feel worth it. I've learned to pick my battles, and sweaty Korean men heaving sofas (it was actually a bloody sofa for one; as I left I heard a guy come in and said that his mother is elderly, and wondered whether she can sit there) wouldn't represent my biggest victory. I actually did use that line before, acting in a short film. The light was to be bounced on my face, but it wasn't enough, so the cinematographer asked the guy to bring it closer. “미안해, 난 너무 우더워.” I smiled, and so did he, but his was an uncomfortable one, to his credit. Not everyone can take this.

I can. I did, and walked away.

****

“Congratulation.” “Come on Corea!”

They were messages I received immediately after Lee Chung-yong planted his header beyond the Uruguayan goalkeeper. The first was from my father. He must have been watching at home. I came home late after the Nigerian match, and his immediate reaction was to activate the World Cup package, so that I could watch it at home and not stay out so late. Well, that wasn't explicit, but I know him well. Nevertheless, certain things should be experienced in a different way. Watching the World Cup with people whose country is in the World Cup. It's a different experience, a worthwhile one, and I encourage you to do the same if you next have the opportunity.

The atmosphere as I had predicted, was electric. My friends enjoyed enough the novelty of seeing vast amounts of people stand up simultaneously and sing the national anthem (the ones cordoned in the Korean-only perimeter; I called it mini-DMZ in my heart. Well, it sounded nice at the time) . Every move forward was greeted with roars of encouragement; a throw-in won near the opposition's goal would elicited cheers worthy of a goal in other contexts. So when the Blue Dragon scored, you can imagine the bedlam. We were, by then, seated in the open air area, and had a decent view of everything.

“It's not over yet,” I said to my father. The second message came from Jack Bauer in Australia; he knew I must have been watching at the same time as he did. He actually visited me in Korea, one of only two amongst the plethora of promises to visit me kept. He spent half his time in Insadong, lost his train ticket once, his travel card twice, wanted to test my Korean by encouraging me to hit on bored waitresses and museum hosts (one out of two ain't bad), went across to North Korea, got kicked out by the landlady in the motel, and checked out girls on the subway. “Dude, Naj is waiting for you back home,” I reminded him. “Hey, bro, it's like my father said...there are only two kinds of people who don't look at women: the dead and the blind.” I couldn't argue with such sound logic.

I could, however, argue that I'm not Korean. Because I'm not. I've stayed there for a while, and I love the country, culture and people, but as much as I see the world as a place inhabited by human beings, as much as I'd rather go with 1World rather than 1Malaysia, evidently others don't see it this way. Amongst my friends and family, at least, my association with the country won't die, but messages such as this makes me wonder all the same.

“Yeah, must've been the half-time kimchi,” I replied. “Haha and a bi mim bab[sic] :) Korea looks good!” They did as well, pushing the South Americans all the way immediately after the restart. The players actually played to their potential. Park Ji-sung was roving all over the place, while Park Chu-young made a menace of himself. Lee Chung-yong and Ki Sung-yung also looked dangerous. The young bucks played as I thought they could do, and it's encouraging for the future. The Lion King, Lee Dong-gook, however, proved to be disappointing, reverting back to his Middlesbrough form when presented with a decent chance late on. They would lose to an excellent goal by the excellent Luis Suarez, arguably the best I've seen at this World Cup thus far. There is no shame in that.

The Koreans are silent now. They watched till the end, and then walked away, disappointed but not necessarily deflated. But it's OK. They are Koreans.

I'm not.