Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Dreamers

Not so long ago, I took part in an event put forth by the Ministry of Higher Education. It was an event in which a large number of the public universities in Malaysia set up shop at their respective booths and basically make available to the masses information about what the future could possibly hold for them at their college and university.

I went there to represent my faculty, which is the Faculty of Film, Theatre and Animation (FiTA) of Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM). It’s a fine trip laid out for me, held in the heart of Kuala Terengganu, and I ended up going with a colleague who is also a native of the region. Though I was initially somewhat resistant to the idea (I’m a lecturer, dammit, not a marketing officer) I was in no real position to say no, and this proved to be one of the occasions when I had to put on my government servant cap and get with the programme.

It was a packed hall at the event, and so it should be; the results for the high school exams for last year was just released the day before, and parents are keen for their son or daughter to be placed in the most appropriate courses possible. I realise soon enough that while I was there as a staff of FiTA, I was expected to be the promoter for UiTM. It made things a little bit more difficult (“Kalau nak ambik engineering untuk degree nanti, saya boleh guna diploma ni tak?”) but eventually things settled into a nice enough rhythm, where I was able to deal with people (and the local dialect! Not my strongest suit, it has to be said) effectively enough for most of them to get what they want.

I realise, though, that it was a somewhat perilous situation to be in. In truth, I should really know every single thing about every single programme available at my university at the drop of a hat, because the slightest misinformation may lead certain people down a path they may not necessarily be suited for. As the throngs and hordes of potential students came to the booth, I had only a few minutes with each, at the most, before they move on to the next one.

These few minutes, these very important moments, could easily shape someone’s life in a way they did not know of before.

Picking a course and a university for yourself can be a very tricky thing. In that regard, and within the very specific context of Malaysian education and education in Malaysia, we are very, very blessed. Across a number of different levels, you could easily take your pick of almost any kind of course and education you want. Many would pick one based on the fees, but even then, the public universities themselves are numerous and plentiful.

For example, I personally believe that while we are not perfect (not by a longshot), FiTA is probably the best place in Malaysia if you’re interested in performing arts and its related creative fields, not just from the breadth and depth of its programmes, but also in the background of the people teaching there. But moving beyond that, you have Akademi Seni, Warisan dan Budaya (ASWARA), who also have a strong background in the area. Fancy something a little more not just in terms of ‘quality’ (because they’re more expensive, and hence people associate the cost with the perceived level of quality) but also with the class and group of people you want to associate with, then Limkokwing University might be the place for you. Sunway University also has a good programme with good educators, though for now it is limited only to the diploma level.

So what is the right choice? Where do you go? What do you do? The right choice, then, is the choice you make.

The brochures for the programmes run out fairly quickly, and I keep having to replenish them on a regular basis. Based on that and the actual verbal enquiries, people appear to be most interested in fields related to Computer Sciences, Medical and the Law. Some enquire about engineering, and almost predictably, very few asked specfic questions about what FiTA has to offer.

Far more interesting, however, is the amount parents and people who asked on behalf of the students themselves. Now, this is not exactly a new thing, and the fact remains that I myself have had some very important decisions influenced by my parents in a number of different ways. Nevertheless, I wonder what that says about students who were completely willing to let their parents dictate everything for them on this front. The choices made by parents are directed in many respects by what they believe to be important professions that could net their kids, in short, shed loads of wonga. Cash, money, ringgit, whatever you want to call it.

But do they want it for themselves? Some had very disinterested faces, but then again, perhaps that is just my perception of their very normal and neutral faces. All the same, I get the impression that very few had a very strong idea about the programmes they want; more to the point, they themselves don’t actually know what they want.

Perhaps that, in the fact of the onslaught of getting higher and higher marks or straighter and straigher As, is the one thing that is getting left behind: dreams. I believe strongly in programmes related to fields such as the sciences and law. These are very important fields, one that entire countries and lives are built on. I also believe that fields such as the arts and literature deserve more credit than they are receiving at this very moment. More to the point, I believe that people should be able to dream and to have strong ambitions to gain what they want for themselves.

Time upon a once, I nearly did a law programme. Those were the moons that saw me, with hindsight, not really having much of a clue as to the route to take to get to where I want to be. I know that film is my calling, one way or another, but there’s a million ways to succeed in a field that does not actually require paper qualifications. My father, with his wisdom and experience, instead pushed me into a ‘safer’ programme, communications. I followed his advice, but at the same time, I also followed my heart, and did not lose touch with film and filming. It was a decision that would vindicate both he and I in the long run.

It is about knowing what you want for yourself; I am not at all advocating that everyone should be making films for a living. If anything, that specific example is of course different for different people. Ultimately, I was more than a little disheartened, for large numbers of those I had encountered on Friday and Saturday, the death of dreams appeared to be very much alive, and whatever dreams they may have are nothing more than dictated illusions.

If I were able to have had more than a few minutes to spend with those students, this is what I would have said, that the path to your dreams is going to be long and hard. Some may seem easier than others, but all programmes in all universities will have its own challenges. Even picking one that will see you sticking to your own kind, that will present itself challenges that you will not know now. It may seem obvious, of course, but think not of the road. Far more important is the dream you have, the dream of what you may become as a person in this world. Far more important is not the job you will have, but the fulfillment that comes with being someone you want to be.

The world is a big and wonderful place, and the sky is your limit, but in order to reach it, you’ve got to have that dream, whatever you do, and you’ve got to protect it. Don’t let it die, because quite frankly, this country, this world, this wonderful existence we live in called life could never have too many dreamers.

Whether they come true or not, you have a large say in that…but first you’ve got to dream.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Chocolate Marshmellow

A sip.

Nothing more, nothing less.


Inevitably, the walls close in. The pressures increase. The noise is cranked up more than just a notch. It calls out to you, pushing you, pulling you.

All the while, it says: cave in. Give it up. Let it go.

This is the part where you turn a blind eye, almost. Nothing can be ignored, certainly not for as long as we wanted to, but surely, space can be created for ourselves.

We close our eyes. We breathe in…and out. In…and out. Ten seconds. Then we open our eyes.

The world is still here. We are still here. Nothing changes, of course. We still have to do what we have to. Step by step, one by one, we’ll get there.

But first, a sip, and a cup. Chocolate marshmallow. Time to get into that space.

No point caving in, now...

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Thank You, Michael 2

I find it interesting that a few days after having written about the departure of an elite sportsman from a sport I love, another Michael would ultimately announce his retirement as well. This time, however, it would be Owen and not Schumacher, and while many can also point to this Michael effectively retiring some years ago just like the other Michael did (ha. ha.), one can’t help but feel sad not just at his departure from the sport at the end of the season, but also at the lack of acknowledgement that dreams and passions change.

First off, the former. I feel sad that Michael Owen is retiring from the sport because he formed a very important part of the football I know as I was growing up. His explosion on the world stage during the 1998 World Cup in France for England was only a few years into the start of my deep interest in football. Of course, he had also played very important parts for Liverpool back then, but that was a time when English footballers first became truly (in)famous.

Aided by the social context of the time, when coverage and money flowing into the sport started to increase on a more international level, most countries rarely have one, let alone two footballers, who shot into stratosphere for very different reasons. Of course, Beckham’s sending off provoked a huge international outcry, both positive and negative, but almost lost in the middle of all that was Owen’s superb goal against Argentina. In a tournament of great goals (think Bergkamp’s against the same opponents in a later stage of the tournament), that was one of the standouts. Lest we forget, Beckham provided the assist for that goal, too.

After that, he continued for a few years on a fairly high level with Liverpool, Real Madrid and even Newcastle, where, despite spending a huge chunk of his contract on the treatment table, he still managed a fairly respectable strike rate. Even at Manchester United, he provided a number of moments that lives long in the memory. A hat-trick against Wolfsburg (faded through they were, but they were the German champions at the time) was a fine reminder of his abilities. A last-minute winner against Manchester City should not be forgotten, either.

The issue, as it has been for a number of years, is that these performances are further and fewer in between. Call it whatever you like, and for a number of different reasons, but the fact remained that he played, then he got injured (see League Cup final vs Aston Villa). He played, then he didn’t play well (vs Sunderland). The stop-start nature of all this was frustrating to behold.

Throughout all this, however, he remained the model professional. He did not speak badly of someone who failed to pass the ball to him, he didn’t moan when he was constantly on the bench (even after he had scored a goal in a previous match). There was the air of someone who has accepted his fate, but this is also a man who performed as a professional when he is (able to be) called upon.

After a while, though, I think the thing that killed him was the changing of passions. He became more and more interested in things outside of football, as you tend to do when you get older, maybe even wiser. I wrote about Michael Schumacher still being driven to compete as much as possible in a sport he loved. Michael Owen, on the other hand, seems to be just as driven, but in other fields of his life.

His dreams, his passion, therefore, has changed.

Is this such a crime, then? The amount of vilification he has received in some quarters does not necessarily mask his achievements in the game, but the lack of acknowledgement to consider him as a human being, complex and changing all the time, seems distasteful. I agree that he did not do as much as he could have done in the latter years of his career (could he have done? The injuries he consistently suffered must have taken their toll), but for a free transfer with a better strike rate than Fernando Torres’s at Chelsea to be treated with distaste and contempt says more about the people who think that they are in the know, then it does about Owen himself.

It is a pity, though. He scaled the very heights of the mountain top few players were able to reach in their professions. It is not necessarily reflected in the silverware, but the impact that he has given to the lives of others, especially as a young, sprightly player who tormented veterans was really something special.

As an aside, I read in the season diary of 1996/97 by Sir Alex Ferguson of Michael Owen playing against a United reserve team. John Curtis, who was very highly rated by both the people in the know at United and the coders of Championship Manager, was said to have been given a very tough time by Owen. More surprisingly, Ferguson also wrote that Owen was someone who they had training with them for a short while before he eventually opted to sign for Liverpool. I don’t know how true this could have been, for it failed to really pop up in a lot of the other sources, but Sir Alex has written it, and in this case, I’m inclined to believe it. Unless, of course, he was talking about another Michael Owen, which is not impossible, but not very likely.

Such stories makes me wonder about what might have been. Then I catch myself thinking that, and I stop. I realise that despite having played for elite teams throughout his career, I am still left wondering what might have been.

I guess maybe Michael felt that way, too. Perhaps he got tired of simply waiting, and is content with what actually is.

And in truth, so am I.

Thank you, Michael.

Monday, March 25, 2013

In Kind


A simple, basic concept that in many respects, is easily understood and communicated to others.

Yet here I lie, reading the newspapers and considering the vociferous language used to denounce others who do not have the same opinions as they do.

Yet here I stay, coming across comments by others written in many different forums and articles. Note: these comments are not necessarily that of the authors, but rather of the readers.

Yet here I sit, eyes peering out the window, stroking Malaka. I see a number of darker-skinned men, possibly South Asian in origin if we were to assign them a particular category. I see them walking calmly down the hill, joking amongst themselves as they do so.

Their laughter rings through the air, infectious in its enthusiasm. I smiled, more a reflection of my lack of understanding of its cause than it’s actual lack of sincerity.

I don’t know who they are. I don’t know who other people are. I am not aware, intimately, of even the most basic of details of some of the closest people in my life. I wonder whether this is the prerequisite for many to consider others a friend, but I am sure that a little bit of credit could be given for my kindness.

Or could it?

The truth is, as much as I would like to see myself as kind, the reality may be somewhat different. The shattering of mirrors and images that reflect what we want to see may not be kind to many, but in that cruel moment, a truth emerges: that we are, in many respects, nothing more than little specks that spends shorter amounts of time that no longer amounts to much.

A lot of my life is marked by football. I will give you an example: it felt like it was only yesterday that I was highly anticipating the opening match of Euro 2012. It wasn’t a particular classic, but prior to that, you would not have known for sure. That sense of anticipation, I still remember.

It felt like it was only yesterday that I was watching the 2010 World Cup. The 2002 World Cup, the broadcast of which occurred right when I was doing my A Levels (it was taking place in Japan, which resulted in more Asia-friendly starting hours). I still remember Pedrag Mijatovic scoring the winner for Real Madrid against Juventus in the 1998 European Cup final. Lars Ricken chipping Angelo Peruzzi on the run in the final before that. My attempts with my Russian friend Yaroslav to replicate Alessandro Del Piero’s classic goal against Monaco that same year.

Time moves ever faster, it seem, and yet with knowledge and experience, the by products of this unseen signified, comes a growing sense of cynicism, and a lack of appreciation for the simpler things in life such as friends, family, and humanity.

And kindness.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Wahai Anak Muridku

Dalam penulisan blog ini, saya ada beberapa isu yang saya ingin kemukakan. Keinginan saya adalah untuk, sedikit sebanyak, memberi apa ilmu dan pengetahuan yang saya mampu. 

Ilham dan pengetahuan. Pada asasnya, ini adalah sesuatu yang unik dan sukar untuk diberikan hanya satu definisi yang memuaskan. Bagi orang yang berlainan, nilai pengetahuan dan pengalaman mereka boleh diberikan satu nilai yang lebih tetap, seperti nilai wang. Bagi saya, ini adalah sesuatu yang saya mencari melalui apa saja peluang membaca yang dikurniakan, setiap buku satu kelas, satu pengajaran yang mengingatkan saya bahaya perjalanan kita di dunia ini, mahu atau tidak, adalah perjalanan tanpa penghujungnya.

Bagaimana pula dengan ilham? Bagaikan sesuatu yang dirasa, tetapi sukar digambarkan, ilham memberi kita satu inspirasi untuk menyatakan cita-cita kita, menukar apa yang tersirat di hati dan minda kepada sesuatu yang boleh disampaikan dan, kalau kita bernasib baik, dihargai oleh orang lain.

Walau bagaimanapun, semua ini tertakluk kepada idea bahawa kita semua mempunyai satu impian, satu penghujung dan objectif yang ingin dicapai.

Pada awalnya, bila anda semua berada di titik permulaan pendidikan anda di Puncak Perdana, mungkin anda semua ada idea, ilham, inspirasi dan idaman yang lain dibandingkan dengan sekarang. Semuanya berubah, termasuk diri kita sendiri. Ini adalah satu fakta hidup yang mungkin kurang menyenangkan bagi sekalian, dan, kalau saya jujur, diri saya sendiri, tetapi jalan hidup kita penuh dengan pilihan dan peluang yang berlainan.

Dan inilah yang saya ingin jelaskan. Dalam hidup ini, peluang itu bukannya sesuatu yang diberikan sekali sahaja. Ada kemungkinan besar yang kita berfikir peluang itu terlepas apabila temuduga buat jawatan impian kita terjejas kerana kita tidak berjaya menarik perhatian orang lain. Mungkin ianya bila kita gagal untuk menemui objektif yang telah ditetapkan oleh orang atas. Mungkin seseorang seperti Prof Razak atau David Teo, mungkin mereka yang lebih dekat seperti keluarga atau kekasih kita, mungkin diri kita sendiri.

Tetapi yang penting adalah kita tidak lupa pengajaran yang diberi melalui pengalaman pahit. Mungkin dari segi peribadi, dan dari segi profesional, tetapi pengalaman itu memang akan terasa lebih pahit dari segelas kopi o kosong di dining. Dalam kepahitan itu, sebenarnya, ada kemanisannya, kerana melalui kepahitan tersebut kita akan lebih menikmati kemanisan di masa depan; walaupun secebis, ianya seperti madu bagi lebah yang dahaga.

Baru-baru ini, melalui sebuah podcast berjudul Scriptnotes, penulis skrip Craig Mazin (The Hangover dan Identity Thief) menerangkan bahawa kejayaan bagi seorang watak dalam sebuah filem sebenarnya adalah sesuatu yang kurang menarik. Apa yang memberikan perisa yang lain buat kejayaan tersebut ialah kepahitan pengalaman yang dapat dirasa melalui kegagalan watak tersebut. Ianya juga mecerminkan jalan hidup kita sendiri. Drama ialah jalan cerita yang menggambarkan kesusahan yang dialami, bukannya apa yang dijumpai di penghujung jalan. Apa yang kita anggap sebagai anugerah itu hanya dapat dinikmati sepenuhnya bila kita sudah gagal, kerana yang pahit itu wujud tanpa yang manis, tetapi yang manis itu tidak boleh dirasai tanpa yang pahit.

Segalanya berubah. Ini adalah fakta hidup yang tidak boleh diubah. Walaubagaimanapun, yang penting adalah percubaan untuk memastikan bahawa kegagalan itu boleh dielak atau dilewatkan sebanyak. Mencari rezeki, ilham dan inspirasi tidak sama seperti mencari pasal, dan walaupun kedua-dua pilihan tersebut membawa hikmahnya tersendiri, pilihlah dengan bijak, kerana sekarang ini ialah masa anda.

Masa anda. Pengalaman anda. Ilham, inspirasi, dan impian anda. Ini adalah milik anda semua, dan ianya harus dipertahankan sepenuhnya, kerana tiada siapa pun berhak untuk mengambil semua ini dari anda. Termasuk saya.

Hidup anda.

Semoga berjaya.