Sunday, July 17, 2005

Soul Searching

Soul Searching
(written 2.5 years ago)

He has seen it all
He fell into the deepest abyss
Climbed the highest mountains
Plucked the fruits in paradise
Even scorched by the hellfire
But he stood resilient
with the seeds in his hand.

He reached the land of Goshen
Where the birds sang in euphoria
Where majestic clouds reigned the sky
And the rivers flowed bountiful
Realm of the promiseful seeds.

He prayed for the rain to come
To wet the seeds he has sewn
And wash away all the filth
into the river of heedlessness
And it did.

So he thought the morning would arrive
When the sun would shine in all its glory
And the gardens would spring to life
Bringing joy to the kingdom
Sunshine after the rain.

But the morning never came
As he stood there waiting
Through nights of rolling thunders
Through long grey winters
And days of incessant rain.

For years he kept waiting
Resilient as ever
Peering for sunrise on the horizon
Knowing that it would never come
Holding more seeds in his hand.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Malays in Dilemma

Malays in Dilemma
(written 3 years ago)

The first important lesson you learn in any defensive driving course is this: every single driver around you is a moron. Having been driving in one of the toughest cities to drive in, Kuala Lumpur, I've come to learn the indispensableness of what the aforementioned lesson teaches us, and how true it rings. However, what I've yet to discover in its entirety is the extent to which Malaysian drivers (especially the Malays) are becoming more and more moronic.

Let's face it; even though we Malays are known for our "courteousness and "gentleness" (or so people claim), when it comes to driving, we're competing to become the most fearsome and disrespectful bastard on the road. But the moronity doesn't simply end there. For instance, some of us have become witnesses to a not-so-novel breed of sickness called the "modify-your-local-car-so-that-it-looks-like-something-else" sickness. We see it on the road every day; Wiras no longer look like Wiras, they've become Gallants, Mirages or Lancers(!!) instead; Kancils have shunned their original looks, and sport the not-so-different Daihatsu Mira design. Although I don't deny the existence of such imported cars in our country, some of the modified cars that I see simply fail to conceal their original "identity". In fact, they fail so terribly to the point of utter absurdity.

And this breed of sickness is not solely confined to the automobiles we own. It is spreading even to our physical looks that in this day and age, have failed to remain as the sole characteristic that defines who we (the Malays) are. Those of us who have a darker complexion spend a fortune on beauty products (read: Fair & Lovely) with the hopes of becoming fairer one day. Some feel that being brunettes is not cool enough and decide to dye or color their hair crappy brown so that they'll look prettier, when instead what they resemble more and more are shitheads. And last but not least, many juveniles nowadays pierce their nose, eyes, lips, and tongue, even nipples so that they'll look less and less human.

On the surface, this issue may seem trivial to many. But a closer look reveals the need for more serious questions. What are we trying to achieve by doing all this? Have we stooped so low that we're no longer proud of who we are and how we look? Don't we realize that most Caucasians are dying to have our dark complexion with their overzealous obsession with tanning and everything related to it, and how some blondes are willing to sell their souls to be brunettes so that people won't stereotype them as being stupid? We're spoon fed every day by our government to be proud of our local products, when in fact the government itself refused to make our Perdana V6 the official car for the XIII NAM summit and chose Mercedes instead?

At best, we're being inconsistent in holding on to our principles. At worst, we're trying to run way from our own shadows, which is completely futile. Where's the excitement and commotion of this world when everyone tries to be someone he or she is not? What's the use if everybody decides to become the same sort of person and don the same hair color? Our physical, intellectual and cultural differences are the things that make us unique in our own way. When everyone is the same, the world is no longer a fun place to live in.

A wise man used to tell me, that being a Malay is not a way of life, it's a state of mind. It took me a while to digest what he was trying to convey, but once I grasped it, I couldn't agree more. Unlike Chinese or Indians (India mari), we the Malays have no inscriptions or ancient writings that present the characteristics that define who we are. As a result, we resort to eating ketupat and tempoyak, wearing baju Melayu and kain pelikat, listening to 'irama Melayu' songs sung by our "favorite" singer Siti Nurhaliza and watching lame-ass Yusuf Haslam movies among other things. These are but shallow attributes that do not accurately characterize what a Malay is.

The lack of definition calls for a more solid foundation of what constitutes a Malay. But the problem is, we don't have any. The closest thing we have to a solid definition is our looks. But the problem still persists in that matter, and here's why. Put together native (not talking about indigenous here) individuals from Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, the Phillipines and Indonesia, and you really can't tell the difference. Still, they may look the same, but they're so different when it comes to other things. So, what else does a Malay possess that differentiates him from others? Nothing.

Not to mention the fact that it's so easy and trivial for a person of any race to be a Malay nowadays. An "a/l" or "anak lelaki" can easily become a Malay by changing it to "bin". Intermarriages amongst bumiputras and non-bumiputras are widespread nowadays, and the latter can obtain Malay-ship automatically. Therefore, it no longer matters what constitues a Malay individual. As long as you and everyone else think that you're Malay, then you are a Malay.

What does all of this boil down to? Deep inside, unconsciously, we are groping in the dark, searching for something that truly differentiates us from the rest. The search may explain the so-called sickness that is beleaguering some Malays nowadays, or it may not. It doesn't matter anymore whether a person is truly Malay or not. What matters is being able of feeling proud of who we simply are, and not becoming someone we're not, unless it's for the better. I've always been proud of being a Malaysian, but what I'm not sure is when I'm going to be able to be proud of my fellow Malays. Maybe when we've discovered who we really are. Maybe never.

A Week of Crappiness

(written 3 years ago)

Last Monday night, I woke up from a post-terawih nap and felt like watching the news (just because Astro doesn't have NBC, which means no Conan O'Brien for me). So I turned on the TV and immediately switched to CNN. It was the same familiar face again: the mentally impaired Mr. Bush with his daily “brave-new-world-against-basically-the-rest-of-the-world” and “enlighten me” rhetorics, which ultimately amounted to a bunch of horseshit as usual. I was still dreadfully irked by the fact that a half-witted individual is leading the most powerful nation in the world. Then there was his half-assed comrade-in-arms, Mr. Blair, whose gestures and speech tone disturbingly bear a fine resemblance to those of Ru Paul. I said to myself that sooner or later, if I watched CNN long enough, I'd become dumb myself. It made me realize why they call it the idiot box.

I switched to CNBC, and kept watching the news while doing my work. It was already time for sahur by the time I was done. In the middle of the meal, CNBC was showing a slot dedicated to the anniversary of JFK's murder. Then my mom started asking me stuff about JFK; about the killer's name, what happened to him after he got caught and whatnot. While I found myself fumbling for the right answers, my 10-year-old brother jumped in and practically told my mom everything about the murder. I was in total disbelief. Mouth gaping wide, I kept telling myself that it didn't happen. That it was just a figment of my imagination. My kid brother knows more about JFK than I do. He didn't exist. My mom didn't give birth to him.

The next day, I went to work after terawih prayers. My colleague named Uda and I began working on a new layer for our latest system. We spent about a few hours hacking up a bunch of code. After we were done writing and compiling it, the batch of code was automatically deployed to the application server (which is the coolest thing after NASA's moon landing hoax by the way). However, to our dismay, the application server kept throwing a bunch of weird errors. So we literally spent the next few days trying to figure out what was wrong, effectively neglecting iftars and sahurs and sacrificing our sleep and shower. Finally three days and 29 cups of coffee later, I was about to give up on it when Uda found out that the application server was actually throwing a bunch of bogus errors. There was absolutely nothing wrong with our code.

It made me feel somewhat crappy.

Later that night, Uda and I went for a drink in an attempt to get over the “tragedy”. We went to this place called Western in Setiawangsa (I found out later that there was absolutely nothing Western about it). Soon after I ordered a drink, we were joined by a group of former professors who happen to be my acquaintances at work. In the middle of the conversation, they started arguing about how most female students perform better academically than their male counterparts.

Then one of them, who happens to be short of a male chauvinist, began arguing that it's actually a vicious cycle in which men and women take turns in the pursuit of academic excellence. His argument went something like this: A smart dad marries a very dumb mother. They are blessed with two kids, a girl and boy. They will share the same degree of intelligence initially. But theoretically, the daughter will grow up being closer to the smart father, and the son will grow up being closer to the dumb mother. Intuitively because of the dad's influence, the daughter will actually grow up to be the smarter of the two. And later on in her life, she will marry a dumb guy in return, while the son will marry a smart girl. The cycle goes on and on in that fashion without ever reaching an equilibrium.

I thought it was practically horseshit, even though my mind was more inclined to buying it. Nevertheless, at the end of the argument, it triggered a question in my head: which category do I belong to? Thinking it over, rather than feeling better, I actually felt worse.

Anyway, street racing is not my cup of tea. In fact, I despise the very mention of it. Ironically enough, I own a pre-modded sports coupe. So last Friday night, I was driving home from work at 4.30 in the morning when the longest traffic light in the world turned red just before I could pass it. Extremely tired and beaten down, I glanced to my left and saw a pretty girl in a gray Satria. She looked to her right, gave me a quick glance, and immediately looked away. Obviously she wasn't too impressed with what she saw. It made me feel like crap.

Then I looked to my right. A couple of guys in a modded red Kancil were staring at my car's 16-inch sports rims with what appeared to me as utter envy. What followed were a couple of deathlike stares at me, as if I had stolen the car or something. Then the driver revved up the engine a few times while maintaining his deathlike stare. He was trying to provoke me into a race.

So I played along, just to spite them. I revved up my engine a few times in response, doing my best to appear as if I had accepted their challenge. We waited and waited for the light to turn green. And when it finally did five minutes later, with my right foot still on the break pedal, I simply watched the red Kancil speed off with all its “might”. It was funny.

But not that funny.

That same morning, I decided to watch an Indonesian film before going to bed. There was a lot of buzz surrounding it, getting rave reviews all over the world. I first found out about it while reading the Arts section of the New York Times some time in June. How often do you see an Indonesian film featured in the New York Times anyway? So I thought it was worth checking out.

I have to admit that I wasn't the least bit disappointed. Even though the storyline and plot were somewhat typical, I thought that the acting was great, the cinematography above par, and the script excellent and far from pretentious (evident in the fact that only half of what they were saying was decipherable). And the girl who happens to be the main character in the film was completely adorable, witty, and energetic, which kinda reminded me of...of...nevermind.

And to think that Indonesia could come up with such a decent film, I felt ashamed on behalf of all Malaysian movie makers. I kept asking myself when would they learn to make less crappy movies, with less pretentious scripts and less showy acting. When would they learn not to jam the storyline and plot down the audience's throats. It pissed me off so mightily, I felt like bitchslapping each and every one of them into oblivion and more.

That morning, before dozing off with such crappy feeling inside, I suddenly remembered one thing: I promised my friends that I would show them a software system that my friends and I wrote. That was three weeks ago, and I had to keep putting it off by giving them all sorts of lame excuses I could think of. And to think that I had been condemning practically everyone all this while, when I myself couldn't keep a simple promise. Suddenly I realized that, like the previous two nights, I wouldn't be able to go to sleep.

And that made me feel a whole lot crappier.