Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Selamat Hari Jadi, Bapak



"Sometimes I find it frustrating to talk to you. Half the time, I try my best to hold my tongue because I don't want to hurt you. At times, I don't understand how you can't see what I see, or feel what I feel. Perhaps it is the measuring of you against an impossible standard, the holding of past mistakes we all make that affects the present.

This is my mistake, the mistake of a young man who thinks that he knows better, when he is nothing. I hope you can forgive me for these moments of indiscretions, f0r I realise that no matter my thoughts and feelings, no matter how far I've been away from you, I have always loved you and been very fond of you. I still do love you very much, and will continue to do so. The times we spend together may be diminishing by the year, but I cherish every single moment, be it a drive home together from FACT or a teh tarik at Darba. It is these moments that somehow convince me that, yes, we are still together as a family, that we are a family.

Whatever else may happen, I hope that you know you inspire me. Once was the time I do not wish for people to know you are my father, for I did not want to live under your shadow. It felt like every mistake, every step I make was scrutinised further because I am your son. I was happy being away precisely because nobody knew who I am.

Now, however, I could be prouder of having your name in mine, of being the next in line of your and our family, who came from Jawa long ago, of being known as anak Dr Mahadi. It is not a shadow to live under, but a light that shows the respect people have for you. If I achieve even half of that, I would die a happy man, because come what may, you are my father, my hero, and I would not have it any other way.

Selamat Hari Jadi, Bapak, and Selamat Hari Raya. I love you and miss you very much."


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Medicine for Melancholy


I had imagined writing about this. This very moment.

I had imagined writing about a beautiful day, with beautiful weather, the warm sunshine coating us with its warmth, filling us with the kind of happiness that would temper the feelings of nostalgia, melancholy, perhaps even sadness, that resides in our heart.

Whether I would indeed write about it is probably another thing. That had depended on how brave and how willing I was in opening up things that I did not necessarily want to open.

“Well, here we are.”

Her mother, Kyung-nam, had brought us, me and Dahei's friend Set-byul, to the place. It had been a short little hike from my old university, which I was glad about; I have come to consider that area to be my home turf, and anytime I want to visit her, it would not be too far.

We stood near the place, silently. “It’s where the sunshine is,” her mother said. It’s true; the formation of the branches and leaves had parted enough to allow a very strong ray of light to land there.

Her mother greeted her. “Dahei, we’ve come here for you,” she said silently. “Fikri and Set-byul is here as well. Fikri came all the way for you and for me." She turned to the both of us, suggesting that we should greet her as well. Set-byul took the mother’s place, and did exactly that, speaking to her in a friendly manner. It was quick, a little too quick, I had thought, because then it was my turn.

I suddenly realised that all my preparations, mentally, spiritually and emotionally, did not prepare me for this. For a long time, I did not say anything, for there was a swirl of emotions that moved through my mind and heart. There were so many things I wanted to say, so many things I wanted to know, but can’t because of the circumstances.

Mengiris hati, the Malays would say. One literal translation would be ‘scratching the heart’, but it is not just any kind of scratching. Imagine, if you will, the kind of fingernail scratching on a blackboard. That would be a fair description of the kind of hurt I felt at that time, and still do feel even now. However, it doesn’t really come close to the signified itself. How ironic: all the beautiful idioms, sentences and words of the Malay, English, Korean and French languages could not come to my rescue now.

I felt someone’s arm around my shoulder. It was her mothers, and it was then that I realise that I had been crying. The tears had been coming without me knowing about it. Immediately, I felt very conscious of myself, and shifted my gaze away, looking at something else, anything else to give me some kind of focus. Something I could focus on while trying to forget all these feelings.

I failed miserably. My tears flowed ever faster, and there was even some snot that started to dangle from my nose. I wiped them away with my sleeve, but it did nothing, for the flood did not stop. My body started shaking, and I started to moan in pain with my tears. I could not control it now; the more I tried to exert my will over it, the harder my body, my emotions and my heart resisted. The mind can only do so much.

It was only now, at this point, that I started to let go of the pressure, the strain and the hurt that had been building up since Set-byul herself told me of Dahei’s passing. All the sleepless nights, the sense of waking up and thinking that it must have been nothing more than just a dream, has been building up to this.

My lover, my friend, one of the few who truly know me inside out, have left us.

“It’s OK, Fikri,” said her mother. I don’t believe that description fit the role she has in my life, for in many respects, she is my omma. It is the informal Korean term for mother, and I am, in many ways, her son. She had treated me as such during my relationship with Dahei, and even beyond that. She had helped me grow, helped to care for me, guided my in my Korean studies, and I would not have been here without Dahei or her mother, my omma.

I had arrived a few nights earlier, at around midnight. The first thing I did was to hug her; my trip here is just as much about her as it is about me. I did not know what to say before, and I didn’t know what to say now. She told me how they found out about her death; Dahei lived alone in Seoul, while her parents are away in the countryside, helping to manage an apple farm. They only knew of it after the fact.

I had not known of what had happened exactly, but it wasn’t something I wished to explore during a phone conversation. I did not want to put her through that pain, and neither do I want to do it now. I could not, however, stop her from talking about that fateful night. She sat across from me, leaning against a wall I had painted when Dahei first moved in here. When she started to cry, I went to her and hugged her, but I could not stop her from crying. I could not give comfort to her. She opened up her heart, and gave me everything, but I could give nothing in return.

What do you give to someone who had lost their only child? It served as a timely reminder that I am nothing more than just a speck in the lives of others. I may have lost a friend, but her parents lost a child. Dahei was their only child, and now there is no one else left to carry on their family’s legacy. They have no grandchildren to speak of, no son-in-law who could continue living the family’s way of life. And yet here they are, still living their life. For all of the strength I could muster for myself, it pales in comparison to the courage and bravery shown by my omma and appa.

It was this very woman who brought me back to reality. Now we're back at the hill, and I realise I have soaked her shoulder. I pulled away, gradually letting go of her grip, assuring her that I was OK. Set-byul stood silently some feet apart from us. I had practically shouted at her on the line, when I called her after she texted me about Dahei’s passing; though I had apologised later, perhaps she feared a similar rebuke.

We cleared a small area for ourselves, and started to unpack our foods. Omma had made some of Dahei’s favourite foods, which happened to be some of mine as well. I had helped to make them earlier that morning. “Thank you for helping me,” she had said. “No, it’s OK,” I had started, before she cut me off. “No, I mean, thank you for coming. You have helped me just by coming. Just by seeing you, you made me feel better.” That wasn’t the direct translation, but it was the gist, enough for you, dear reader, to understand.

“You’re doing the right thing, man,” said Jack. It was late in Australia, but I had to call him. I needed to hear a voice, a familiar voice, one who would understand me. “Not many people would have done what you did. Not many would have spent so much money, so much time, so much effort to do what you did. I think Dahei’s mom appreciated that.” I did not realise I needed to hear it until I heard it.

“You could make a movie, out of this.” My omma said that, while lying in bed. I slept on the floor in Dahei's bedroom, while her mother slept on the bed. The TV droned silently in the background, a device I had turned on for the sake of adding life to the room at night. I could not sleep well, and so the TV became my savior. She suggested a title: “3 Days and 3 Nights With My Girlfriend’s Mother.” She then chuckled to herself, and so did I. Dahei was no longer my girlfriend, but the fact that her mother, a Christian Korean, still see me, a Muslim foreigner, as her daughter’s boyfriend means a lot to me. I suppose only someone who is somewhat familiar with the social, national, cultural and religious complexities of such relationships could appreciate that sense of acceptance.

We had come back from a movie that night, a horror movie called The Cat, out of all the things. After that, we went to shop for some food, and stopped by the Paris Baguette near their house. I stepped into it, and realised that the layout had changed. I had stopped by every time I went to Dahei’s house. It’s slightly out of the way from my dormitory, but it was worth it. Dahei had liked some of the buns and breads available; perhaps it was a relic of her living experience in France. At that time, Kim Yu-na had just won the Olympic gold in Vancouver, and they had named a bun after her.

Now, however, the shop has changed. The position of the door remained, but the interior design and the positioning of the breads and buns are no longer the same. A reminder, perhaps, that over time, things will always change.

Hearts, minds, souls.

I still wonder what went through her mind during her last moments. I wondered whether she had thought of me. In my darker, idler moments, I wondered whether there was something I could and probably should have done. Was I somehow a part of the cause? Our separation was not one that happened easily. As I searched my heart, I identified feelings of sadness, but surprisingly, I found anger as well. Not at her, but at my father. I realise that on some level, though I had accepted the situation as it is, I am still angry at him for lying to me about his film.

Back then, I had several different choices. I could stay on in Seoul, working on a friend’s film, a Korean-American co-production called Hype Nation, either as an assistant producer or assistant director. My friend was the producer, but he had wanted someone who he can trust to serve as a kind of liaison between the Korean and American sides of the production. With my level of skill and experience, and relative fluency in both Korean and English, I was a perfect fit. In addition, UNESCO also strongly encouraged me to apply for a job there. Their head even sat down with me, and talked to me face-to-face about it.

It was a difficult decision, but I turned all of that down, because I wanted to work with my father on his film, which promised to be an interesting period tale of a mak yong dancer. Furthermore, I don’t when else the opportunity for my father to make a film would crop up; his last feature film was made when I was ten. It was only when I have arrived back in Malaysia that I realise it had turned into a lie. Now his ideas for me consist of working for UiTM and making films for David Teoh. In my heart, I laugh at the idea of making my first film for David Teoh. He is a man I respect, but I will not pop my feature film cherry with him.

I realise, however, that all of this is nothing more than mere nomenclature compared to this: regret. That is one word that would also come close to describing the mix of emotions in my heart. What would have happened if I had stayed? What if I had not come back? Would Dahei still be alive? Would she not be in the dark places she was in before her death? Did she think of me before she died? Was I ever as significant to her as she was and is to me?

I have tried to live my life with as little regret as possible, but this is one situation I cannot escape from. These are the questions that, until the day I die, I will never be able to answer.

I did not, however, regret coming here. I had shut myself off from the rest of the world, only to be here, at this moment, with my omma, Set-byul and Dahei. We ate, we reminisced, we talked, we laughed, and we remembered Dahei the way she deserved to be remembered.

There is so much more I want to write, so much more I want to share with you, but this is where it ends. I did not even know whether this was something I dared to write, but I know why I have written it: so that others may not share in my mistakes and regrets. I know now that I may also write, whatever the indescribable feelings in my heart, of the beautiful weather and sunshine, the happiness and sadness, the warmth of nature tempering our nostalgia and melancholy.

For it was indeed a beautiful day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

City of Gods


KL.

The city of gods.

****

“Yeah, the radio’s been working recently,” I said, turning the volume up a bit. My little sister, down from Penang for the Bersih event, shifted comfortably in her seat; the alternative would have been yet another joke from me.

We had been driving around Kuala Lumpur. She had come down here with my mother and stepfather. They had gone for the event itself, but had not joined the main rally. There were several different hotspots throughout the city, and after the event, she had decided to spend some extra time in KL.

I picked her up, and she spent some time relating her experiences from the day. At one point, she was communicating with someone else on the phone about an unrelated matter, and it was something that actually brought her to tears. A passing protestor thought that she was crying because of the tear gas, and loudly passed her some salt for her to suck on to counter the effects of the tear gas. I couldn’t stop laughing at that, and a few of the other stories.

After having spent some time eating, recharging our batteries and checking out the news updates online (which angered me no end, but not in the way you might expect. I will certainly write about that in the near future), we decided to drive around KL. I wasn’t sure if the roads are opened again, but it was worth the shot. We had time to kill, and the worst that would happen would be a rejection and a U turn to whence we had come from.

That was when I realised what a beautiful city KL is.

The streets were sparse. A light tinge of what had happened hung in the air, but it was an ethereal record of what had happened earlier. Memories occurred in these spaces, memories of unity, disunity, violence and peace, but ultimately, the sense to walk (or drive) in the footsteps before you fills you with something.

These sensations, however, are nothing without the walls within which they live.

There were hardly any cars about. People walked from one end to the next, but not in any discriminate colour. You’ll hear of reports of tourists being turned off by the events; for my part, I spotted plenty of touristy-looking types walking about with maps in their hands.

In my head, as I drive around the landmarks of my birthplace, I had the rhythm of Iridescent, by Linkin Park, bumping along softly. In part, that was because it was also on the Transformers soundtrack. Funnily enough, though I am also familiar with it via A Thousand Suns, I had not listened to the lyrics properly. I came home, looked for it online, and realize why I had made the subconscious connection: “Remember all the sadness and frustration, and let it go…let it go.”

I drove ever slower, taking in the city, in awe of the place that had seemed so incredibly busy before, but one I have never experienced empty. After the storm, the calm engulfs us with a serenity I have never experienced in KL. “This is amazing,” I repeated, over and over again. My sister nodded. She was somewhat drained by the day and by my jokes, but she could not fail to appreciate the city either. Dataran Merdeka. Bagunan Sultan Abdul Samad. Pudu. We even took in Bukit Nanas, for old times sake (she was formerly a CBNer). I used to send her to school almost everyday for a while. Retracing our steps was a given. In such moments, we reveled in the past, before heading back to the locations where the present hopes to change the future.

Change will come, and it will be positive, sooner or later. It is because of the people we have here, but the people are no good if the city can’t live up to us. Driving around today, I am able to confirm otherwise: it is Malaysia, the country, and Kuala Lumpur, the city…this city of gods that we have to live up to.

It deserves nothing less.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

The Unconsoled


“It’s over, man.”

Three words. That’s all it took for me to fully understand, a phone call that started without the usual pleasantries. Then again, there’s nothing pleasant about the ending of a relationship, even if it is something that’s becoming more usual than otherwise.

I closed my eyes, letting out a soft sigh that confirmed my surrender. The letting go of the entire body to the universe, the moment when you realize that some things, some things are just beyond your control. “I’m sorry, man.”

Those three words were the only words that came to mind, certainly at that moment, at least. What could you say to someone who had had a whirlwind of a romance? Who proposed two weeks after the meeting, whose happiness was something I had not witnessed for a long while? I had my misgivings, but I realised that those were nothing more than the devil whispering misleading doubts in my ear. My role was clear: I am the friend, and I am to be there for her. This is not about me, it is about her.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”

“I know.” Pause. “I needed a friend, that’s why I called you earlier.”

A little context: she had tried to call me earlier, but with my phone safely embedded deep into my bag, I had not attempted to stop my driving to answer it. I was on my way to Kedah, to visit my grandmother. Eventually I did stop, to double check on some things about my car, and eventually I did get around to calling her back.

“Well, perhaps this is not the best time for me to say it,” I started. Nothing else came to mind; whatever words I could use to comfort the unconsoled, I shall try it nonetheless. She needs a friend, after all. “But you and I, we’re the lucky ones.”

It is true. Love comes and bites us, and then gives us a little more, before it swallows us whole. Yet the feeling when you are in a relationship with someone, that feeling is unbeatable. It is a high that only the drug that is love could give. It’s the sensation, knowing that the kind of things that you’ve always wanted to do is within your reach, to imitate from the movies, to relate from love songs since time immemorial, to fully express the you the way you intend to, to hear the birds chirping just that bit louder the morning after…that is a sensational feeling that mere words could do no justice whatsoever.

The bump that comes after, the drop that precipitates that sinking feeling in your stomach and paralyses the body, that feeling is unpleasant, to say the least.

But the high is worth the price. Or is it?

“We’re the lucky ones,” I continued, “because at the very least, at a very fleeting moment in time, we were the ones in love. We were the ones who the other thought of the first thing when they wake up in the morning. The one whose always on their mind, the one who always makes them feel warm inside, a feeling that no one else could give them at that time. For that moment, at least, we are…” I paused, considering the order of the words, before I gave in once again to the universe, “…we simply are.”

“She wants to marry someone else.”

Fuck.

I bit my lip. Perhaps, then, that wasn’t the wisest thing to say. Then again, I knew better than to beat myself up. The context required was not given for me to make more sense of the text. I had caught wind of the news, but I’m not the kind to give credence to the words of others. For that one moment, I wish I had paid more attention a lot earlier.

A few more moments passed. “Listen, I don’t know what else to say,” I started again. I was honest before, but if possible, I couldn’t be any more honest now. “You know I’m here for you, and I’d dearly love to be with you and give you a hug more than anything. But I’m on the way to Kedah now…”

“I see,” she interrupted, taking the lead for the first time in the conversation. “I understand. We’ll meet when you get back.”

Pause. “You know,” I said, “I could name a bitch in my film after her. Just for you, I would do that.” I imagine her smiling, ever so slightly, at the other end of the line. That’s the advantage with being a filmmaker: the world you immortalize is at your mercy. “You give me her full name, and we’ll call it even. Or as even as it can be.”

Soon after, the call ended, and I continued my journey northwards of the country. My mind was still fraught with the situation, considering the ins and outs of it all when I saw a plume of smoke rising in the distance, becoming thicker as I get closer to it. The number of cars that slowed in front of me to a crawl certainly indicated that something was wrong up front, very wrong.

I soon saw the cause of the crawl. A Mini Cooper, one of the older models of the classic car, was on fire. It was literally engulfed in a very angry flame. There were people around it, but I could not make out whether there were people inside it or not. The emergency response teams surrounded it, trying to get the situation under control.

I eventually drove past it all, as I slipped into the smoother traffic that would take me all the way…home.

It may not be directly related to the issues at hand, nor does it cure the heartache of a breakup.

But in so many ways, sometimes we really are the lucky ones.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The Twitter Experiment


I’m not quite that big on trying out new technology as it comes out. I’ve stated before that I’ll try anything once, but that one time may occur quite some time after it has become a fad.

“You have a lot of money, why don’t you buy an iPad?” my student once asked. She had brought in her own iPad, and I was just busy flicking through its functions. Having lots of money, of course, is a subjective notion, but while I will not claim to being poor, a part of the reason why I don’t see myself as that is because I don’t see the need to spend lots of money on something I don’t really consider as a necessity as this point in time.

Then again, I never did want to get a mobile phone, either. My father had to practically force me to get one. That was one unwanted bit of luxury that grew into a necessity. Damn it. One of my students doesn’t have an email address, and I admire his resolve/stupidity for not making the not-so-supreme effort to get one. It’s so easy to get one that everyone has at least two, but it is the resistance of the easy things in life that requires more discipline, and may be more difficult to uphold.

Anyways, I digress. The same student also practically pushed me into submission in getting a Twitter account. It wasn’t a situation I engineered, but then again, I did nothing to truly avoid it, either. Truth be told, I am not a big fan of Twitter. I understand, before the fact, that there is a limit of 140-odd characters that one can write. Within such a limited space, I wonder about the kind of effects it may have on language. Language, as it is, is not being practiced in the most proper of ways in day-to-day life. It is something I can accept, but when my students start to use SMS and Twitter language in their scripts, assignments and tests, eyebrows are raised, and question marks arise in inverse proportion to the marks given. I wonder whether there will indeed come a time when such language will be accepted within the confines of legal and official business. “Ur honor, we tinks he iz gilty.” Perhaps not, but then again, such is the evolution of life and language that it’s difficult to keep track.

Going beyond that, there is an immediacy with Twitter that makes it all the more sensational and sensationalised, at times. It is considered almost a requirement for many celebrities these days, for example, to have a Twitter account of some sort. Coupled with Facebook, the T and F logo of both social media entities have become commonplace even in nationally-run advertisements. I remember when it was still a big deal for an advert to have the URL of its website. Now such things are considered passé.

It is because of its immediacy that it seems to me to inspire a sense of…well, stupidity. Quite frankly, because Twitter allows for people to post something almost instantaneously (not that it’s the only one, mind, but I suppose blogs and Facebook would require you go take more steps in the process), I personally think that it has reduced the thinking time required between the action and reaction. An event or an issue may well inspire strong feelings in us, but the time required for deeper trains of thoughts to leave the station is now reduced significantly. I find that a lot of people who do post do so with less thinking of the consequences of their actions. What that results in is a number of very reactive, and very strong comments being posted. Since that post itself is very limited, the issues that already lacks the proper context when reported in official media is stripped bare of the facts and figures, as the lines between which we can read is being further deleted into non-existence.

Furthermore, for myself, I don’t particularly find the things that many people post to be very interesting. I suppose there is a value in it to other people. An acquaintance I met recently talked about how he enjoys reading about Jack Wilshere’s daily routine. He is a big fan of both Arsenal and the footballer, and so he gets a kick out of reading things like, “Just finished training. Heading out with Gael now. Feeling good, feeling good.” I happen to think it’s a little banal, but then again, maybe I would feel differently if I am as big a fan of Wilshere as he is.

I fear, however, that Twitter is not necessarily a revolutionary medium, more of an evolutionary one. I say ‘fear’, because from what I have observed, it appears to be the next step in the creation of images.

What is this creation of images I'm talking about? Simply put, people use it to make themselves look cool in the eyes of others. Case in point: the taking of pictures in almost every situation imaginable. I do not initially understand this notion of taking pictures of everything, until I realise that it’s not quite done for the reasons I take pictures. People do it so that they can be seen eating the nice kind of food in the nice kinds of restaurants with the fleeting moments of fleetingly famous people you’d meet once in a while. That sentence sound somewhat degrading of the lives of others (cheap plug of awesome German film), but while I can see that clearly some people enjoy this, I make no apologies for not subscribing to this notion. The memories of the experiences I live through, I prefer to live through myself. I no longer enjoy living my life through the looking glass.

Which is why I myself have subscribed to Twitter.

That may run counter to what I have just written above, but the observation was made without me being a part of the mob. Such observations may have its merits, but it can never quite impart the same kind of experience, knowledge and credibility of having actually been in the trenches. Lest I be accused of picking the wrong metaphor and lessening the efforts of those who died at Somme, I do believe in getting down and dirty with subject matters; given the circumstances, it is not enough for me to hold strong opinions from afar. In fact, a lot of the opinions I hold can be traced to the experiences I’ve subjected myself to. ‘Subjected myself to’ is not inappropriate either, since this won’t quite be something I do as willingly, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to try and see what it’s like. Maybe I can be convinced to change my mind; what is more likely, however, is that, not unlike my Facebook, it will serve as nothing more than an extra conduit for the extension of my personality and character (a side of it, at least), in a different medium.

Evolutionary, not revolutionary. Whether that will veer positively or otherwise, I guess we'll have to check back here at a later date.

*You can check out Fikri's Twitter antics at @thekingoflame.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Doggy Style


“Do you know how to take a dog out of a TNB substation?”

It sounded like a bad joke, and my mind quickly traversed the possible answers, before giving up. “Well,” I began my reply, my fingers tapping against the keypad fast, but not so furiously, “I suppose you could climb over the fence and…get it out.”

I had only messaged her to ask for her help. Producing a short film to be directed by a friend of mine, she has a chess set I wanted to use in the film, and so I had kindly asked whether we can borrow her set for the film. Of course, when the reply is a question, you can’t help but feel obliged, somewhat, to respond in the positive.

Soon enough, it became clear that what she meant was there was a small dog, possibly a puppy, stuck in a drain in the TNB substation. I still couldn’t quite comprehend the actual situation, but nevertheless, I drove all the way to TTDI to see what I could do.

“We put the food and water near it, and we called out to it, but it wouldn’t come out. I think it’s stuck, and it can’t get out.”

I crouched myself lower and lower, but still couldn’t quite align my line of sight deep enough into the dark hole. Eventually, I got on top and turned my head upside down. Believe me, dear reader, that may sound strange, but that’s the best that I could do for now: I got on top of the small drain, and turned my head upside down. It’ll have to do for now.

“Hey doggy…” I called out, softly at first. I didn’t know what kind of dog it was. Some dogs are beautiful to hold and look at, while others seem like they couldn’t wait to sink their teeth into your balls. I silently prayed for the former, while audibly calling out to it.

I momentarily gave up, and looked at my friend. “Are you sure it’s in there?” “Yes,” she insisted, “I saw it go in just as I was about to leave the house.” She was as well; she and her mother had gotten ready to leave for something called boot camp. When they first told me about it, I had a mental image of her fashioning boots out of raw material, but of course, that had nothing to do with it.

Or this. “OK, fine.” Lacking a functioning torchlight, I went to the shoplot across the street to look for one. The workshops and car accessories shop didn’t have one, but the stationery shop did. I came back with one and flashed the drain. No cigar.

“It’s very quiet,” I said to myself, allowing for a moment the worst thought to occur. I’ve read somewhere that it’s wise to always plan for the worst, even if the worst isn’t something you’d want to consider. “Let me go to the other end and check it out.”

I went to the other end, and repeated the process. Turning on the light, I put it inside the drain…and was rewarded with a pair of curious, if slightly pitiful eyes looking back at me. “You’re right, it’s here!”

I called out to it, but it did not respond. Of course, I wasn’t quite expected it to articulate itself. “Yeah, mate, it’s a bit dark in here, would you mind hurrying the eff up?” I did, however, expect some kind of sound, a bark or a whimper, anything. At the very least, I know it’s alive, but I did not know what condition it was in.

Putting all of that aside, I formulated a plan to push the dog out from the other side. We got some pieces of wood and tried to push it out using that, but it was too short, too ineffective. Someone said that there’s a house under construction somewhere nearby, and maybe there is something we could use there. I craned my neck, and spotted the said house. The workers there did indeed help out, fashioning a long piece of wood connected together with nails (safely hammered in, of course). They even removed any stray bits of nail and sharp metal from it, bless them.

I went back with my trusty sidekick, and pushed it in. “OK, let’s see if you can pull it out by now.” “Err…” came the somewhat tame response, “I don’t touch dogs.”

I looked up. By now, my friend had left for the aforementioned boot camp. In her stead, a friend of hers had dropped by and agreed to aid me. However, as it turned out, she has never touched a dog in her life, and wasn’t about to start now. My dad won’t be pleased to read this, but I, on the other hand, had no such problems. “Fine, I’ll do it.”

I moved over to the other end, and got her and one of the workers to push the wood from the other side. “OK, push!” They pushed, and the dog moved forward a bit. It must have been painful, having a piece of wood stuck up your ass in that way, but in this case, time is of the essence. “It’s coming out. Push, push, push!”

Eventually the head showed itself, its eyes wide open in fear and stress. It was a distressing sight, but I grabbed for its paws, cradled its neck, did anything I could to actually grab the dog and pull it out. Eventually we did, and for a few moments I held it in my arms. It reminded me so much of my ex-girlfriend’s dog. It was a Corgi, and we got it when it was only a few days old. She had wanted to call it something, I can’t remember what, but it was not responsive to that. In fact, the only thing it was responsive to was Corgi, so that ended up being its name.

This, however, wasn’t a Corgi. It’s more like a beagle, like my former housemate (and current landlord) used to have. Unfortunately, before I could examine it any further, it escaped and ran through a hole in the fence of the substation. We had locked the gate, so it wouldn’t escape, but that plan was thrown to the wind in moments.

I was concerned about its medical condition, and went to track it down, with the bowls of water and cat food (my friend has cats, but no dogs) in hand. It proved to be impossible, though, because every time I get close enough the dog would run away. I ran out of ideas in the end and just sat tight, maintaining a perimeter near where the dog was at.

“Don’t worry about it,” said a passerby who was walking his own dogs. “These dogs are survivors. It’s the one at the substation, right?” I confirmed it. “Yeah, the mother and father will come back sooner or later. I think they’re house-trained, but was abandoned there for some reason some time back.”

Eventually my friend and I left, leaving behind the bowl of water and food somewhere nearby. I don’t actually know whether dogs eat cat food (they probably eat cats, though, given their rivalry), but there wasn’t much else I could do.

****
Later that night, my friend returned from her boot camp, and we went out, all three of us, to see whether the little doggy was still there. It wasn’t, and we walked back home, somewhat disappointed.

“Look, over there!” my friend pointed. “Can’t you see it?”

I squinted two of my four eyes, and after much effort at adjusting itself, I finally see three outlines, dark shadows roaming about in the middle of the park. They messed around for a bit, and then they went to the food and water I had left earlier in the evening. As they consumed the food somewhat ravenously, I couldn’t help but smile, thinking that I did something good today.

That thought turned quickly to a kind of dread. I started to consider the possibilities, of what would have happened if my friend had not seen the dog crawl into the substation. What if she had taken an extra few minutes to get out of the house? If she had left her room but forgotten her wallet or keys, and went back up? What if no one had known of the doggy being stuck there?

I started to think about the rest of animals that we don’t know about, being stuck in a situation of distress somewhere without any kind of relief. Wails of helps going unanswered, the need for attention and care finally needled away in the darkness because no one was around. No one.

Then I started to think about the human beings, the real second-class citizens of this and other countries, the ones for whom certain situations would almost certainly mean life and death. Desperation drives us to do dastardly things, but when push comes to shove, most people would at least feel the inclination to do something to help.

But what if most people don’t know about it to begin with? How many other animals are stuck in such holes throughout the country, throughout the world? How many other people need such help, but are denied not because of who they are, but simply because their existence is not noted by others?

I shuddered, and let that thought fly away, if at least for the moment. I cannot save the world, but at least I had done what I could. I suppose, at the end of the day, that’s all we could ever hope for. Not a new realisation, but a realisation relearned all the same.

That, and the fact that dogs eat cat food.

Something new everyday.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Mighty Films


As a whole, I personally think that the 1Malaysia concept is not a bad thing. As I drive further and further into the country, read more and more about the efforts done under the programme, I don’t quite disagree with its notion, and certainly the principles of equality and such.

Neither do I disagree with its execution and existence. Some would say it’s a waste of money, an idea that is not worth the amount of financial compensation paid for it. That’s not untrue, but in the land of slogans and sloganeering, there is a part of me that think it as inevitable. Some say that we don’t need it to begin with, claiming that 1Malaysia already exist in many levels. They have seen it, they have felt it, and therefore to describe it as a goal when we have already scored the hat-trick would be redundant.

I scoff at this notion. Sure, there are plenty of people for whom race, religion and others is not an issue. Being a regular in places such as Sunway, Bangsar and downtown KL, such factors are not necessarily the biggest or most important ones. Unfortunately, to claim that we have already achieved that particular goal merely highlights the lack of breadth and depth in our point of view. In short, there’s just too much baggage in Malaysia, a weight that weighs itself unconditionally upon many in the country. I don’t doubt that there are many who are truly Malaysian in their character and outlook. I also know that our esteemed prime minister is not just the prime minister for the Klang Valley, but for the whole country.

As much as I want to believe that many Malaysians see themselves as Malaysian first and foremost, to allow the land of their birth rather than the government define them, I have second thoughts when I’m asked to “understand lah, she doesn’t really know Malays very well, so don’t think too much of it.”

And let’s get it out there…as open-minded as the KLites may be, half of the girls I have met would rule me out on the basis of the colour of my skin. “I like you too, but your race and religion…” That was the message sent to me on MSN one time, a message I relayed to my friend who had somewhat set us up.

“Hmm,” came the sage reply. “I guess then you just have to accept it. I think it’s because of her family, perhaps, maybe her friends too. There are such pressures, and I don’t think that means she’s a bad person.” Sigh. It is somewhat unfortunate that we live in a mirage of mirrors, keen only for the reflection we want to see, rather than the truth that is truly out there.

So, 1Malaysia may well be something good. It may not be. It may turn out to be a wise investment, or it may be a complete and colossal waste of money. All of those things are still up in the air, in many respects, but I do believe that it deserves a chance to be properly executed, whatever it may be.

In spite of all of the above, I do have one big, huge problem with it. A massive problem.

The fact that it’s called 1Malaysia.

I don’t like it being called 1Malaysia because there is such a term in the Malay language. If, for example, you want to talk about something being known by the whole village, you’d say something along the lines of, “Kalau kau buat macam tu, satu kampung akan dengar nanti!” It’s a very holistic term in the Malay language, and I have heard of it being use in such manner on a regular basis. This differs, of course, depending on whether you’re saying satu kampung, satu bandar, or…satu Malaysia.

Thus, satu Malaysia existed before 1Malaysia. However, because of the campaign that has been done, the barrage and repetition of the same words over and over again, no one informed within Malaysia would think of satu Malaysia when someone says satu Malaysia. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that you’d have to be living under a rock of some kind to have not heard of it. I don’t like it when a part of the language is appropriated for such reasons, so much so that the original meaning is lost not so much because of natural evolution of the language, but because of its appropriation by others for their own personal gain. I feel the same way when some Christian groups use the word ‘youth’ to describe young Christians rather than young people in general (though fortunately that hasn’t really caught on…or has it?), and I feel the same about this.

The language does not belong to you or me. It is by itself, an entity unique to a particular time and space, one that grows and dies over time, just like a human being. Just like you and me, though, no one person or group should have a right over it, to appropriate it for their own ends and ambitions, altering the landscape for many when it’s only for the benefit of the few.

As an indirect aside, I’ve always wanted to reuse the name my father used for his production company. I imagined that some time down the line, way into the future, I’d want to set some a number of companies, dealing with filmmaking primarily, but also…well, anything I want, basically. It’s not too dissimilar from what George Lucas has set up for himself, with the likes of Lucasfilms, Lucasarts, Industrial Light and Magic and Skywalker Sound, amongst others, dealing with different fields of the arts.

My father’s production company was Perkasa Filem, which produced Sayang Salmah.

Let me know if Norish Karman pops into your head before Ibrahim Ali does.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hope is Hopeless


Sometimes, hope can be a cruel thing.

In fact, it can be cruel many, many times, but it can also serve as a guide, a compass to your desires. A feeling that can help to enhance that which is already felt. If all goes according to plan, then it is a moment of joy. People like that, for the most part, having their expectations met and, in some cases, exceeded. That would be nice.

That, however, is not always what happens.

****

“Oh, that seems interesting,” I noted out loud.

We’re at Rock Café, a place that I myself has come to call Rock Café. Thing is, it used to be known as Medan (as in, medan selera, not Medan in Indonesia). That was what I knew it as, and I kept calling it that even after the change was made known to me. Of course, with time and tide comes the waves that proved to be too strong to resist at times.

The identities of old can be replaced with the new, so long as you keep at it long enough.

“What is it?” asked Weiyan, one of my friends from Monash who I haven’t had the pleasure of teaching yet, so to speak. Not formally, at least.

There was a sign, a prominent sign of a new dish, Sarawak kolo mee. I had immediately thought of Kolo Toure, the Manchester City player, but decided against any such jokes. I’m not sure if Weiyan is a big enough of a football fan to get that one. I pointed to it.

“Oh, that,” he replied, as we walked closer from the car. “I think you cannot eat that one lah.” I immediately understood that it meant it has pork or pig-based products of some kind (now who’s the second class citizen here?). I let out a sigh. “Fine, fine,” I replied. We found a table, depositing our things, and I immediately made my way to the Thai food stall, leaving him behind to guard our things momentarily.

At least, that was the idea. As I was at the Thai food stall, about to make my order, he rapidly heaved himself over, smiling, and said, “Fikri, no pork!”

“What?” my brain thought and my mouth said at the same time. “You mean I can eat it?”

“Yeah, it said 100% no pork!”

I immediately found myself to be skeptical. I had wanted to try it, and then I couldn’t. Now, however, I’ve been told that I can. Perhaps it was one of the Chinese writings I couldn’t read? I wasn’t sure, but I allowed myself that little ray of hope as we made our way back to the sign. For the most part, I’m always keen to try something new.

“See...?” he pointed, and then caught himself halfway through. I started shouting expletives at him, for the sign had not said ‘100% no pork’, but ‘100% no preservatives’; he had seen the sign, but it was half-covered by someone’s head at the time, I suppose, and all he saw was ‘100% no p-’ and assumed that the ‘p’ had been the start of the word ‘pork’. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he managed to blurt in between the laughter the both of us couldn’t really suppress. “Babi betul lah kau ni,” I retorted with a smile, as I made my way back to the Thai food stall.

Hope. It can be a cruel thing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Thanks, Chris


History is a word based on the words of someone else.

That may have seemed obvious enough, but I figured that it may help to shake the tree and start with something different, for once. For it is also the first time in a while that I have finished a book.

The book in question is Chris Jericho’s ‘Undisputed’, a biography based on the years following his arrival in the WWE all the way to the Second Coming, his return to wrestling at the backend of 2007.

The book proved to be one of my wisest investments in recent times. For one, it is something that would probably be taken for granted. Those familiar with me know of my interest in Chris Jericho. Simply put, he is a fantastic performer on a number of levels. His wrestling skills are accomplished, and he appears to be the kind of wrestler capable enough to go through the number of different styles and matches required. He was also one of the more entertaining speakers on the mic. Funnily enough, I did not read his first book, ‘A Lion’s Tale’, which would be something more properly considered as an autobiography. In that, he charted his rise from his childhood days to the moment of his WWE debut. It got a lot of praise, but I never did get round to buying the book. I don’t know why.

At the same time, I was also interested in Chris Jericho because he pursued his dreams. In ‘Up In The Air’, George Clooney’s character mentioned that children look up to sports stars because they chased after their dreams. In this case, even while he was performing, he toured and performed on a regular basis with his band, Fozzy. They did relatively well, in my opinion, but more than just that, he also pursued an active career in…well, almost everything else. He worked hard to become an actor, auditioning for roles in many different kinds of films and TV shows. For some of them, he was granted his wish, and performed in roles both big and small in TV, film and on the stage. He took acting classes, and even did some stand up comedy.

In short, he showed me that it is not impossible to chase after your dreams. Even if you fail, you will have done more than others.

More to the point of this post, it is a book that is well-written and enjoyable to read. I have not been reading recreationally for a while, only to prepare for my lectures. Reading for fun? Savouring over the words that my eyes layeth upon every few seconds, enjoying the process as these words deciphered themselves into images imprinted on my own psyche?

No.

The book that killed it for me was ‘A Doctor In The House’ by Dr Mahathir Mohamed. It was in the early chapters that I managed to discern a very defensive pose. He was quick to defend himself, taking up a more paranoid position than I had expected. Very quickly, it is clear that while his words are measured and strong, his story and history as we know it won’t exactly lie in bed comfortably with one another.

The biggest issue I have with the book, however, is the use of footnotes to explain further about certain things. Kedah would be followed by a number, and, true to the form formed by my reading of academic journals, I focused downwards until I got to the appropriate number at the end of the page. “Kedah,” it began, “a state in the northwestern region of Peninsular Malaysia.”

Rarely do I get so worked up about something so miniscule. The use of footnotes can be helpful in providing more context, but though it is not a favourite of mine, here it becomes even more ridiculous. Why would a book written by a former prime minister of Malaysia require such minor definitions to be included? We would not expect a book written by Western personalities to include such footnotes as “London, capital of England”, do we? How condescending do we want to be to ourselves?

I considered whether MPH, the publishers of the book, wanted to make it more accessible to people who aren’t familiar with Mahathir or Malaysia, but I’d argue that if you aren’t, then you have no business picking up an 800-page tome costing RM100 to begin with. People who are interested in reading his thoughts, in wanting to find out about Tun Mahathir’s side of the story would almost certainly know where Kedah is. Even if you still want to define it further, notes should have been given to the author to alter it to something like “I was born in Kedah, in the northwestern part of Malaysia.” That would have given an opening for Tun Mahathir to perhaps further explain certain ideals that comes with originating from that region. To me, they have a strong and special character, the Kedahans, and that could help to explain why they are responsible for producing so many people who rose to the top in Malaysia.

Because of that, and other such definitions of words such as Agong, UMNO building, Perlis and even titles (“Malays have a complicated system of honorifics that convey esteem and respect”) was enough to piss me off that I did not do any recreational reading for over a month. Since it was a book I borrowed from my father, he has already started to ask some questions about it.

After having finished ‘Undisputed’ in the morning, I closed my eyes, and let the thoughts swirl in my head. The joy of reading had been rediscovered, and as I recover from Jericho’s description of being analised by a metal pole (“It was like getting fucked by Robocop”), I leaned to my right, and saw Dr M’s smiling face at me, egging me on. I reached for it, and started from scratch.

Now I’m at page 97.

Thanks, Chris.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Galaxy: The Fighter


He felt the wind of the punch first, lightly warning him before it landed itself on his cheek with significantly less subtlety. Jayken staggered backwards; he had parried the newcomer’s attacks with grace and power, but this particular question had no answer.

Certainly not one that could protect him.

He shuffled backwards on his feet, trying hard to maintain his stance. A step outside the squared circle lined on the ground would be fatal. He’d lose a point, but he’d lose a lot more than just points. They're mere nomenclature when the rest of the class is watching on and backing him. He’s their leader, the superstar of the grade. He can’t afford to lose to…

…actually, just who exactly is that guy?

Standing at just over six feet tall, with a dirty blonde style to match, the newbie checked in without much fanfare. Having recently transferred over from the Koobcamian district, there shouldn’t have been much reason for a fanfare, either. That district hosts the dropouts, the rejects of rejects, people who had wanted to join the Academy, but had failed some of the pre-requisites. Some do eventually manage to make the jump, but even fewer actually stayed, unable to withstand the intensity of the Academy.

That is why Jayken is widely regarded as the special one amongst many special ones. He is tough, but fair; calculating, but calm; ruthless, but friendly. Those are very uncommon characteristics to be found within a single person, let alone one who desires to become a soldier for the Federation. As a result, he has been put on one of the fast-track programmes, intended to speed up the graduation of super soldiers to help with the war effort.

So was this dude here.

Jayken stepped gingerly towards the centre circle. The guy pulled back the strands of hair covering his forehead; if he were to fall out from the Academy, he’d be one of the major teen idols without much effort. His green eyes is radiant with intensity, but that betrays nothing more than his inexperience.

Jayken immediately rocketed off his feet, using his knee to aim for the guy’s head. That shot was parried, but that’s OK, for his left knee simultaneously came up to score a similar hit. The stranger parried that one too, with both arms actually managing to hold on to his knees mid-air. Jayken brought his hands, and bopped him around the head, ringing the guy’s ears long enough for him to release his grip of the knees. Falling exactly how he had intended it to be, he crouched and swiveled on his heel at the same time, sweeping the guy’s legs off the floor.

Well, that was the plan. The guy jumped with both legs, while his hands are still holding on to his ear. That hit should have affected his balance, but he showed no signs of it as he spread his legs and immediately caught Jayken’s head with the inner thighs. Jayken realised the hurricanna attempt, but had no time to react to. The stranger, with Jayken's head clamped tightly between his thighs, arched backwards and flipped Jayken up, bringing him overhead as he did so, and slamming him, back-first, into the ground.

The next thing Jayken knew was the guy being pulled off him, with his arm raised in victory. “Winner!”

The hall fell silent, not knowing how to react. Jayken got to his feet quickly, even though his body protested. He threw a glare at the guy, but softened it once he realised the contest was truly over. He had lost, fair and square, to a better opponent. These moments are rare, and these are the moments that should be remembered, so that they shall not be repeated.

“Congrats, man,” said Jayken, removing his handpad and extending his grip. The stranger pulled his hair back once again, immediately after removing his own handpad, and gripped Jayken’s outstretched hand with his own. “That was pretty good.”

“Thanks.” The grip was harder than Jayken had thought it would be; his own grip was naturally strong, but this guy is…something else. He released Jayken’s hand and turned to walk away.

“Hey,” Jayken couldn’t help but raise. The guy turned slightly, his face half-shadowed by the warm lights above. “Jayken.”

There was a pause, a moment to be sure, nothing more, but it felt longer than that. “Kye.”

And with that, he turned back, and left.

*Read Galaxy: Red Mist.
*Read Galaxy: Room With A View.
*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.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dahei


We laid in bed together, looking over some of the videos that she had loaded on Youtube. She had previously talked about how some of her friends had received these videos; it feels as if more than half of our conversations are about television shows and films. She has a keen eye for both, and we’re not just talking about being a Gleek or watching films just because Johnny Depp is in it.

Her mother popped her head into the room. “I’m leaving now,” she said. I got out of bed, and went over to her, my body bent halfway as I reached for both of her hands and gripped them tightly. I brought my forehead down to her hands, and then straightened myself. Most of the Koreans I’ve done this to finds it somewhat disconcerting, interestingly enough, so I don’t do it as often. With Dahei’s mom, however, it is a different story. I love and respect her as much as anyone, and the feeling’s mutual. “No, Fikri,” she said just a few days earlier, when I had offered to pay her for putting me up for the few days. “It’s OK. You’re like a son to me.”

We said our goodbyes, as I would be departing that night, and then she left for work. I got back in bed with Dahei, and we spent the next hour or so in the same fashion. We had not had the opportunity to do that very much, for a variety of reasons. Now that my departure is impending, time is precious. We both felt it, wondering when the next time we meet would be.

Pretty soon, the time came for me to leave. I could not hold it off any longer, so we left her house. She accompanied me to the bus stop, where the airport limousine would pass by. We spent quite a while standing there, waiting for the bus that should have come, but didn’t. We killed more time talking more and more about the genius of Tina Fey, but then I realised that waiting for another hour or so for the bus would prove to be somewhat fatal. It was cold, and uncomfortable for the both of us. More to the point, I would miss my flight, which would have disastrous consequences.

Dahei was the one who had insisted that everything would be OK. She said so since I had returned. I did not want to let up, because I wanted everything to be perfect. I wanted to settle my mother and sister’s accommodations, as well as sort out the issues related to my graduation. It was a holiday, but it could only be one once certain requirements were met.

She felt differently. Not for the first time, it should be said, but such things are always as subjective as they can be, right? There are many ways to skin a cat, and they are many ways things could and would pan out. In hindsight, she and I were both right and wrong at the same time. That was the nature of our relationship, and it appeared to continue even after we’re not involved anymore.

In this case, however, she got the time wrong. The bus did not come, and I hurriedly grabbed a taxi. For once, I haggled; I did not have as much cash on me as I had wanted, but fortunately, one of the taxis agreed to take me all the way to the airport.

I threw my bags into the boot, and slammed the cover down. Then I turned to her. I can still see her, somewhat, with that huge, oversized orange scarf fashionably draped around her neck. She stood there looking at me as the cars, the people, the world around us swirled in concert, reminding us that time is nearly up.

She said sorry. I said I’m sorry too. It wasn’t just for the limousine, but everything. I hugged her, holding her close to me, and then I left her.

That would be the last time I would ever see her.

Youn Dahei passed away a few days ago. She came into my life at a time when I was still shell-shocked and shattered by the failure of my previous relationship, hitting me at the worst time possible. She gave me the confidence and the strength to gather the broken pieces of my heart and put them back together again.

We are no longer together, but like all the people I have loved and love, I still keep a part of her with me in my heart. It wasn’t the same thing, and probably never will be again, but I do care, love and cherish her in my own ways. Even now, I find myself being so sad, yet I’m unable to cry. I feel my heart squeezing itself in so many ways, but I couldn’t quite let my feelings out. I don’t know what had happened, exactly, but hearing her mother’s sobs on the phone deterred me from asking her further.

I may have lost someone dear to me, but her parents lost their only child.

I am writing this because I want the world to know that there once a girl named Dahei, who took a broken shell of a man and made him believe again.

There once was a girl named Dahei, who had big dreams of making documentaries that could change the world.

There once was a girl named Dahei, who I had loved deeply with all my heart and more.

Rest in peace, Dahei. I love you.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Cultured


I walked past the streets of Vindaloo, breathing in the air as I did so. It wasn’t a particularly breezy moment, and neither was the smell particularly appealing, but there is a certain sense of identity that comes with the smell. I smiled; until someone get Smell-O-Vision just right, that will always be something cinema will miss out on.

His footsteps aligned with mine, our steel-capped boots dropping to the ground and almost just as quickly raised themselves in metronomic synchronicity. The fidelity pleased me.

We managed to walk for quite a bit, discussing the latest ins and outs of each others lives. It was, for the most part, nothing more than small talk, but it is these talks that make up the relationships. Sum, part, whole. I have missed that boat when it comes to some, and I will not miss it again.

I made quite an effort to arrange tonight’s meeting. Our schedules don’t match and mesh, though having said that, in my case, it is quite difficult to discern which one of us had been the guiltier party. Should I be inclined to spend time on such useless endeavours, the judge would unreservedly claim me to be the guilty party. I can’t complain.

He mentioned about the lack of movement at work. His career worries him. He had been with the same company for a number of years, and had not been promoted more than once in those years. In an industry where such advancement is not only welcome, it is necessary for him to seriously consider what his options may be. I kept my counsel largely to myself, partly because I do not see what others see. I can only give advice based on what I know, but sometimes that is not sufficient. Sometimes (and this is the large part of the reason why I don’t counsel), people just need someone to talk to.

We slowed our journey in front of the electronics store. I have no TV; I have been considering purchasing one not too long ago. I had realized then of the futility of such a procurement, since I consider it early if I manage to get home before midnight. The nature of the beast has bent down and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I’d be wasting my money on it.

For now.

Still, there’s no reason to not look. I crouched slightly, gripping my knees with both my hands, and staring intently at the screen beyond the screen of the window. My friend had also stopped, attracted as he was by the vividness of life on the TV.

He probably had related to it, one way or another. They’re showing a show of a man travelling in China. It can be defined clearly under the travelogue genre, though such genres are not quite as fixed as some may consider them to be. In this case, however, it is the most interesting of beasts: a travel show set in Asia and hosted by an Asian…American. Probably. I could not hear the volume, but nevertheless, it begs the question of what is orientalism if Orientals themselves practice it?

Not only that, but the inclusion of what appears to be a shadow puppet theatre surprised me even more. Certain considered to be the most local of local forms of entertainment, once again, the fluidity and dynamics of culture had not allowed it to remain still and fixed in any single geographic spot.

My dear readers, I have written an unpublished book on the making of a film. The film itself had a strong protagonist who performs wayang kulit. Clearly being one of the main focuses of the film, I set out the introduction chapter as a research essay of sorts, looking at the history of this venerable art form. Influences from other parts of the Asian region was clear and undeniable, and it makes me feel proud that my country kept me a part of it.

It is the very definition of what culture is: mixed, dynamic, in constant flow down the stream to an even bigger sea. Even if culture itself is difficult to define. Words can’t be put down to describe it, but…

“Haha,” my friend interjected, breaking my train of thought. “Even that comes from China. You Malays have no culture.”

He walked off, a self-satisfied smirk decorating his face, this Malaysian who proclaims himself to be Malaysian first. Upon realizing that I did not follow suit immediately, he turned and faced me quizzically. He looked at the bouncing gleam of light of his forehead, the lights flickering softly.

I closed my eyes, breathing in the smells of Vindaloo once more, and sighed.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Box


I have a movie stub from a screening of ‘Master and Commander: Far Side of the World’. It was a film made by Peter Weir, and it starred Russell Crowe. My father and I went to watch it at KLCC, and immediately after that, we went to Kinokuniya and bought the book about the making of the film.

This was almost ten years ago. I could just about make out the writings on the ticket stub. It has faded with age.

I believe that we are who we are because of the things that we’ve gone through.

I no longer take many pictures. I do not see or far more importantly, feel the need to. Events I have attended, people I have met, these are memories I have made and retained as naturally as I can, without the aid of digital existence.

I do this because I want to see and experience the world as much as I can. In the past, carrying a camera around with me has made me feel naturally inclined to look at things through the eye of the lens. I wonder about the life of a photographer, a professionally-employed one. They take wonderful photographs of a world in motion, but I wonder how they see the rest of their everyday lives. Do they live for the moment, or do they consider how that moment could be immortalised better with a slight change in lighting conditions? Do they see the bigger picture, or do they frame a part of that picture for the sake of others?

I was driving around the other, downhill from my father’s house. The road was lined with trees. The morning sun was out, and it peeked through the leaves of the said trees. Driving at a certain speed, these formed a pattern of shadows that inked themselves momentarily on my dashboard and hands. Through the windscreen, they created darkened hennas of art. My eyes were fixed on these for a while, considering a close-up shot of my hands as it gripped and moved of its own accord. I saw something, and I wanted to share it with the world.

That is how I work. I see, I communicate. Through that, a work of art that one may somehow call a film will hopefully emerge. That is how I see the world, these random moments.

But these are retained in memories because I don’t want to dilute them. I keep artifacts of events, but I do not wish for the pictures. What are pictures beyond devices used to show others what you saw? I wasn’t interested in sharing my personal life with others.

My mother berates me for this. “You’re having dinner with the president of your university,” she said after my graduation, “you should take pictures. Later you can show others the peoples of your life.” He is indeed the president, but he was formerly my lecturer. Because of that, I never felt the inclination to treat him as anything other than that. I do not wish to take pictures of the two of us, but that did not mean I threw away the ticket stub of the graduation screening I attended with him.

JJ Abrams once said that he bought a box without knowing what is inside it. He bought it at a magic shop. Even though he was curious, he never did open it, because once he did, the magic would definitely be over, and there is no reason to ever wonder what if. This formed the very basis for a lot of his television narrative (though less so for his actual films, funnily enough).

I have a box of the artifacts I have. These are special ones: football match tickets, invitation cards to movie screenings, a card I have made, but never had the chance to give. Only one person knew of this box; I told her that I threw it away. In truth, however, I didn’t. I couldn’t. I feel it’s akin to throwing away the memories I had accumulated, the experiences I had felt, and I didn’t want that. It was special, and I could not throw it away.

It’s not the same as JJ’s box, but I would not open my box, my history, my artifacts, because I don’t want to. The past is the past, and while I try my hardest not to forget, there are certain things I do not wish to revisit.

My history, the true story of how I remember and truly feel about my life, is my own, and no one else’s.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Kind of You, Sir


“Stick to your own kind, man.”

Friday night, Bangsar. Dinner at one of the restaurants that sells noodles somewhere inside Bangsar Village 2, though for the life of me the name of the place escapes me. I did remember that we were allowed to scribble on the paper cloth that covers the table. A novel idea, one that my friends and I embraced as many highly-educated urbanites would do: writing the word ‘stupid’ and drawing arrows from it leading to each other.

Just as predictably, Bangsar would also prove to be the kind of place where the lovely ladies of Malaysia seemingly converge in. The comments that commonly follow revelations of my foreign stints largely consist of, “So, Korean girls hot ah?” (or something of that ilk). My response (“I appreciate all women”) can be decoded as such: Malaysian girls are just as hot, and just as beautiful as any I’ve come across in my travels.

So it was that your good self was sitting quietly and noticing the lovely lady seated behind my friend. “Dude, your 6 o’clock,” I mentioned quietly. He turned and had a discrete look, more in passing than anything else. That was more than enough, however, to register her beauty, and I had thought that his next comment would be something that would praise these shallow aesthetic qualities.

“Stick to your own kind, man.”

The comment stung me a little, because in all honesty, her ‘kind’ wasn’t immediately obvious to me. I later considered whether ‘kind’ in this respect meant anything other than race. Nationality? Perhaps, though once again, it is a slippery concept. Class? Well, I’m not rich, but given that I willingly and gladly paid for dinner that night, I’m blessed to not be struggling in that department. What else then if not race, an issue my friend has always taken to his heart?

I have a weakness in that area, in being able to tell whether someone is of a particular race, nationality or creed. In addition to my appreciation of beauty, this was also something that came to me in my travels: not to take things for granted. While this applies to things like wealth and comfort, I take this one step further, and literally learned not to make assumptions. The lessons I learn, I intend to remember.

That basically means that a person’s ‘kind’ doesn’t directly register with me. I can’t really tell who’s what anyways. How can you? Look at how mixed we are. I recently met a TV personality who said she wanted to work with me. I’ve heard of her before, but am not particularly familiar with her work. Googling her, I was surprised to find that she’s half Irish. I wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years, and I lived in that part of the world for a good and influential portion of my life. I should know, and I didn’t.

Kinds, after all, are nothing more than the genres that we ourselves create to simplify the world, right? Understandable, but not quite agreeable. We, the urbanites of Malaysia, the people who have studied in Canada, England, Australia, who have become lawyers, accountants, bankers, filmmakers working for multinational entities, owning cars more expensive than my grandmother’s house…still see the world in the same terms as the beggar down the street, as the boy who never left the kampung, as the foul-mouthed, low-rent people we call politician.

There’s something wrong with that picture.

All this came to a head much later on. I buried it down, not wanting to ruin the occasion; it’s been a while since I last saw them, and our friendship stretches back across the past decade. There is also, of course, the slight possibility that I could be more than just a little wrong (and later during dinner, something else happened that gave me even more food for thought, beyond the pho in front of me).

I will, however, agree with him on that one point in one way. I wish I could replay the entire scene.

Then I would tell him, “Yeah, I will. Human being.”

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Art For Art's Sake?


I mentioned in passing to someone that I managed to needle some money to make short films for my students. I didn't think that I would get it, mind you. I figured that it's one way to teach kids what to do and how to do it. When it comes to filmmaking, there's many who still dismiss it as a form of fancy. What would you do with a film degree? That question is, I would argue, linked with what would you do with yourself after you finish your university education. Through filmmaking, the stakes are relatively high, and it does help to weed out certain aspects of your character. It does force you to become more organised, more disciplined, more efficient...just a little bit more of everything.

I still make mistakes, for I'm not perfect of course, but I am glad I made those mistakes, because...well, imagine what I would've been like otherwise. Maybe even worse.

Anyways, because of that, I figured that the making of films would serve to improve Monash's standing a little bit more, but it would also be undoubtedly be very useful to the students as well.

"I'm going to help my kids make some films," I said, somewhat proudly. Perhaps I am entitled to that; you guys have no idea how difficult it is to get money from Monash. "I managed to get some money from Monash to make them."

"How much?"

I was a little surprised, though in retrospect I shouldn't be. It was linked to the last statement I made, but I had expected him to ask me what kind of films I'll be making. In fact, there will be four short films; I'll be directing one, but that's one of the earlier ones, to help my students be involved, so that they would have some idea about what to do for their own productions. It's not about me; I don't need to be making short films anymore.

"Well, there's some money, but the stories should be interesting." I tried to shift the focus back to the story, because some of the ones I have been pitched really were interesting. Others were crap, but some had potential to be worthy short films.

"How much will you be getting?" Actually, I won't be getting any. Since I'm already paid by Monash as the filmmaker in residence, I had stated even from the very first proposal that I do not wish to be paid. It annoys me that in subsequent emails and discussions, the issue of me not being paid was raised twice. 'You won't get be getting paid for this film, ah' was the caveat. I felt like throwing a tight slap at them. I got another email from them a few days ago, shifting the ground and rules of engagement as we go along. Red tape. Damned administrative red tape.

But that's another story.

"Well, there's money involved, but it's not really..." It was the tone that caught me off guard, the feeling that the money at stake here is far more important than the work I'm trying to do. I realise two things here. First, the non-film people I talk to about this project appear to be very interested about the stories and project itself. Some of them are Monash alumni members, and they expressed their wish that something like this had been put in place previously. I had thought of the same myself; in fact, the things I do at Monash, I do them from a student's point of view. I still see myself as one, mind you. Lecturing is not something that comes all that easily for me.

Secondly, if you talk to film people, the first thing that they will concern themselves with is the technicalities. Which camera are you shooting with? What kind of actors will you get? Where will the shoot be done? Oh, at that studio? Ah, the lighting equipment from that company is not that great, I can get you cheaper. And yes, the money. How much will it cost. Even if it doesn't get into the specifics (we still don't discuss wages, mainly because they vary, and partly because for some, it can be obscene), but the generics such as big budget, low budget, commercial or indie applies. If it's indie, you know you'll be shooting with digital. If it's a TV commercial, you know you'll be eating catered food all day. Logistics, money, the technical equipments. The story? The art? I was surprised, because I still think of myself as someone who looks at the artistic aspects, but upon further reflection, I realise that I do fall into that trap myself sometimes. Nevertheless, the fact that this person, a respected filmmaker, pressed me not about the purpose or story of the project (which is, in some ways, ground breaking), but about the money, it makes me think less of some of the people in my line of work, less of myself even, but even more disappointingly, less of the people I do respect.

Funny. Many whose job it is to create art do not care about it very much, if at all.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Galaxy: Red Mist


Kye stepped off the ramp almost as it finished its descent, touching the red earth. The winds of the valley swept up the dust and sand, making it nearly impossible for him to see with his own eyes. He had wrapped a shawl around his head, the turban-like concoction looking like an onion plonked on top of his head. A white onion that will get very red, very soon.

Kye had on his Nari-V goggles, designed specifically to help military members see under almost any condition. The makers were very meticulous with the design and the make of the goggles, claiming that it will work under any condition. Obviously, they did not do their field testing in Loues. A barren, dusty planet located somewhere near the Outer Regions, it's testing weather conditions, remote location, and the lack of life makes this the kind of place that only the blind would be able to see.

A perfect hideout for someone who's looking to keep away from prying eyes. Kye, however, doesn't give up easily.

As his feet trudged through, stomping the ground, the ramp on his fighter pulled up, and shut with a resounding hiss. Some of the sand had gotten in, and it would be there for a while yet. If all goes well, Kye won't be returning to his ship for some time. He has a personal mission to accomplish here, a very personal one, one that he hoped would help to quell the unease he feels within his heart.

****

He had been walking for hours, going against the stream. The red dust swirls around him again, with reckless abandon; at one point, he was nearly slammed off the ground into the ridge next to him. It took all his might and energy to ground himself without having to truly crawl on his belly.

He felt the red earth crumble from between his fingers. Grasping unto to something, only to have it slip away. Isn't that the very definition of despair? To have been so close, and yet so far? Letting it slip would have meant torture for his soul, because of the knowledge that what he wants is so close to being a reality. Most beings in the galaxy do not find themselves in such situations. They do not aspire to be more than they truly are. The items that they do stretch and grasp for are no more than mere shelves above their head. Forever they shall remain that way, forever they shall remain nameless. They will not have played a significant role in the changing of lives, and the galaxy will not know and care for them. If acknowledgement is truly the first condition of existence, then they do not exist.

Kye wants to exist. He wants to change the galaxy. He wants to bring peace and stability to worlds beyond his own, to be more than just a fighter the confederation has trained him to be. To die a lonely existence like the many and those before him is out of the question. To leave without leaving marks...what is the point of your existence, then?

****

He had read of how the old masters of the past had conquered this world, but this is ridiculous. His once-smooth skin now seemed to take on a permanent red sheen, while his throat felt rougher bit by bit, almost by the minute. His water supply had run out some clicks back, while the food he had left dropped into the ravine as he tried to cross the bridge. He had not seen that the small gap in the bridge was covered by caked dirt and dust; the small amount of pressure his foot applied to it gave way instantly. His heart felt like it's about to burst forth from his throat, such was the change in gravity. It was also gravity that claimed his food, leaving him to curse as he sees it swirled by the wind all the way to the bottom.

This is too much. Now he is indeed crawling on his belly. Or rather, he is dragging himself across on his belly, clawing his way forward. Thankfully he still had his sensors; without that he would have been truly lost.

Perhaps he was already lost to begin with. It was keyed in with information that he had gathered during his research and investigation. Perhaps those information had been wrong to begin with; maybe one should have sought for more beyond books on unconfirmed legends? Maybe. Then again, that was all he had to work with. What if they were all wrong? What if Kye had keyed in the wrong coordinates? As he continued to move, one grip after another, he wondered...what if...

His hand felt something cold and metallic. Immediately, he perked up, his senses alert. His body screamed in agony at the sudden change in state, but as he stood up, it also complied with the training it had gone through.

He stepped closer towards the source of the surprise. He rubbed the metal lightly and gently, and realising that more could be seen, scrubbed the dirt furiously from the metal plate. It bore a certain graphic, a sign of some sort...

He took out his sensor, and glided his way through several docs. His heart beating faster and faster, he came to the right one, a doc with a roughly drawn picture. One could almost compare it to a picture drawn by a child, but one would not do so knowing that it was a written by a tough Napaj who also happened to be drunk at the time.

The drawing and the sign on the plate was identical. One could sense the sigh of relief that he exhaled. It was a mistake, because by naturally inhaling, Kye accidentally breathed in more of the red dust than he had wanted, and coughed, each one killing his throat and abdomen as it is.

Nevertheless, the sense of hunger and exhaustion was momentarily forgotten. His gloved finger comes up adjust the setting on his goggles. His eyes sharpened, scanning the horizon for...there.

A dark, triangular structure in the distance. There's still some clicks to be covered, but his heart whooped with joy nevertheless, strengthening the blood flow with excitement. He felt it reenergise his body, and this time he stood up defiantly, against the wind. The second wind comes as the goal, however distant it may be, is in sight. He smiled, and started walking.

So far, and yet so near.

*Read Galaxy: Room With A View.
*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.