Month: December 2003 (Page 1 of 2)

What Gives?

Tens of thousands throng theatres all over to watch
Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King.
Yours truly braved it alone through the longs lines at a cinema
to catch the earliest possible show with an available seat for
one. For some reason, single seats are only available at the
back row corner in all showings for the day. But I noticed that
the center seats at the back row were empty when the show
started. What gives?

Was thinking to get me a book (or two) at a bookstore too.
But since they’re priced rather steep, I wanted to have a quick
glance on the inside to make sure it’s gonna be worth parting
my money for. Asked one of the shop attendants whether they
could help me take the book out of the shrink wrap to which
they (fortunately) politely say they can’t. Funny. I thought
we’re taught not to judge a book by its cover. What gives?

Appreciating Home

Charles Dickens once said: “Every traveler has a home of his
own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”
I guess I’m not appreciating home enough at the moment,
therefore I need to go out travelling. Hahaa! How’s that for a
lame excuse to ask for timeout to go on a vacation eh?

Listening to: Bush – Machinehead

You Know Your Life Is A Malay TV Drama When…

Original article from: Mukeh’s Website

  1. Your father wears bush-jackets, sighs a lot, and has a heavily lipsticked secretary whose only purpose in life is to say, “Ini dia fail yang encik minta tadi.” (This is the file that you asked for.)
  2. Your mother wears jewels around the house and is always asking you to “sabarlah” (be patient). At opportune moments she will worry that you’re not eating enough, place a hand on your forehead and say you need to see a doctor. You decline politely but firmly. You don’t quite trust your mother because she looks only five years older than yourself.
  3. An entire conversation (encapsulating but not limited to introductions, exposition, and the dawning comprehension which come out of life-changing revelations) can be held while waiting for the lift to arrive in your 10-storey office building.
  4. You spend an awful lot of time getting in and out of cars and putting on seat-belts.
  5. You enjoy saying the most obvious things. When a bunch of relatives turns up at your doorstep with enough luggage to see them through another world war, you say, “Eh, dah sampai dah.” (Eh, you’re here). They somehow resist the temptation to say, “Nah, we’re just holograms.”
  6. Shopping complexes not only offer you a dazzling array of commercial goods but have free Infidelity Checks. Hang around one long enough and you will find out whether your loved one is cheating on your sorry ass. You will spot the scumbag/tramp in an intimate moment with a third party as they share an ice-cream or leave a shoe-store. While you make this discovery the shopping complex will arrange for you to be hidden behind a convenient pillar.
  7. Board meetings tend go very easily because only two out of the dozen people in the room ever have anything to contribute. The others exist only to nod furiously. This is understandable because they all look too young to know anything. The signal for a meeting to end is when your handphone goes off.
  8. At cafes you only ever order “fresh orange” juice and when it arrives it will have a whole jungle of sprigs and twigs sticking out of it. The profuse vegetation between your mouth and the drink will frustrate any attempt to take large, comfortable gulps, so you merely sip. If the chat you are having at the cafe does not go well you can storm out after an average of two and a half sips, leaving the other person to pay for everything.
  9. There are night-time moments along an alley-way when you will surrender to an inexplicable urge to get beaten up. You will know when the time comes because blue smoke will appear out of nowhere.
  10. The proper protocol when visiting a hospital is to >pace restlessly up and down the corridor and then grab hold of the nearest white-coated specimen to demand, “Bagaimana keadaan dia, doktor?” (“How’s s/he doing, doctor?”) You will persist in this line of questioning even after he patiently explains that it is too soon to tell. You don’t suspect the guy of being an imposter even though he seems awfully young to be a doctor.
  11. Hands are an important guide to character. You know who your enemies are because they always crack their knuckles loudly before summoning the blue smoke. You know who your friends are because they always snap their fingers and say “Alright!” when you come up with some bright idea.
  12. Your surroundings frequently come alive to the sound of muzak.

Long Distance – Can It Work?

by Raja Fernaliz Raja Harris University of Warwick

Original article appeared in The Sunday Star on September 12, 1999.

No, I’m not talking about long-distance learning, a growing trend in higher education today. I mean relationships, and romantic ones specifically. While other students studying abroad might feel obliged to tell you about choosing the right university or just generally about life abroad, I’ve decided to take to share an aspect that is close to my heart. Relationships. Yes, the ones that go on between the two sexes. Or if you prefer, even the ones that go on between people of the same sex.

I remember that sultry afternoon in August 1997 when I was at the airport sending my boyfriend Wan off to the US. He was going for two-and-a-half years, while I was set to go to England for three years. We had been an item for little more than a year. Emptiness, desolation, a sense of being abandoned–these feelings washed over me in a blur. It was surreal, but the day we’ve dreaded for months had finally arrived.

Shakespeare sums it up so beautifully, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” I’d promised Wan that I’d be brave. Quivering chin and all, I tried my best to stop the tears. After all, what’s a little distance? We’d have the telephone, the e-mails and letters. I was pretty sure that a couple of good old-fashioned letters would make me feel better.

But I caved in as soon as he started to say his goodbyes to his family. I couldn’t help it. My brother swears I didn’t cry as much when my cat died when it was unfortunate enough to position itself in the path of the car as my father was backing out of the garage. The cat was as flat as a pancake, but I didn’t cry as much as I did that day at the airport.

Those farewells were said just over two years ago. I’ve survived and live to tell the story. And contrary to popular belief, long-distance isn’t as bad as some people make it out to be. It’s just been subject to bad press, probably the exaggerations of the jilted lover. Like normal relationships, a long-distance one can either fail or succeed. To fail in this type of relationship is taking the easy way out, succeeding in one is the real challenge.

Judging from my own ups and downs of the past two years, I have developed a list of criteria for long-distance relationships that work. To do so, the relationship must match at least two of the first three on this list (item four is a must):

  • BEHAVE like responsible adults. Be mature. Childish behaviour like extreme jealousy is a big no-no.
  • HAVE a firm foundation. Is your relationship based on friendship and genuine affection or just the fact that you think he or she is cute?
  • HAVE open communication. Do tell the other person what you expect, what your limits are. Outline the basis of your relationship clearly.
  • RESOLVE to make it work. Do you both want it to work? That’s the real question.

The advantages (yes, you read that right) of a long-distance relationship, drawing from my own, do exist. It served as motivation to save up for a ticket to cross the Atlantic. I’ve been to America twice since I’ve been in England and covered the East Coast.

While he’s been over here, we’ve visited interesting places in the country and in France and Italy. If we were studying in the same place, we might not have the means to travel as much in two separate continents.

And another one, which I think scares most people out of their wits, although they’d rather not admit it, is the fact that a relationship like this is a good test of commitment. Distance weeds out the unfaithful among us and tests the endurance of true love.

Problems definitely start even before you leave. Some of us are just so wrapped up in preparations, special dinners or kenduri with relatives and friends (and relatives’ friends and friends’ relatives), last-minute runs to the corner shop for some forgotten spices and so on, we often overlook one of the most precious people in our lives.

Preparation is important, I admit, but making your significant other feel significant in your time of major transition is imperative if you want to establish a positive long-distance relationship.

When you first get to university, you would inevitably feel lonely, possibly even a little lost. That’s normal, you’d feel just as lost at a local university. I was quite distressed when I didn’t see a familiar face for the better part of my first week here.

I was meeting new people, trying to get things in perspective and living on my own. I was friends with the outrageously fun-loving Brits on my corridor before the week was out. It’s understandable that you won’t have the time to keep in touch with anyone from home in the first week or so. Make this clear to your partner before you go to avoid the invariably hysterical You’ve-found-someone-else confrontation.

Then there’s the how-many-times-a-week-on-the-telephone agreement to be sealed between the two of you. Be reasonable, agree on days or times to call and stay within your budget. There’s no use running a huge overdraft to pay for a massive phone bill. You could just as well spend all that money on a ticket home for Christmas. Or go on that European backpacking trip you’ve been dreaming of ever since you can remember–together. And appeal to your partner’s sense of flexibility. That’s to avoid the You’ve-been-out-all-night-with-another-bloke-and-forgot-to-call-me fight.

A cheaper option to calls would be the Internet, that wonderful technological invention that’s been one of the major factors that I’ve not jumped on the single bandwagon when faced with the challenge of distance. There are chat rooms where you can chat for as long as you like without breaking the bank. Do make use of e-mails to communicate as well, they’re almost as good as letters.

Having said that, I do treasure something tangible like the cards and letters I get in the post. Nothing replaces the feeling you get holding a piece of something he had thoughtfully written for your pleasure. And nothing tops an I-miss-you-much card he has sent simply because he misses you.

Choose your words carefully. The strain of being apart and not seeing each other for a long time may result in the both of you reading too much in a few spoken or even worse, written words. I remember the spectacular fights we’ve had in chat rooms and over the phone because I over-analysed the things my poor unsuspecting boyfriend said. He swore that he didn’t mean it like I had interpreted it.

Most of the time, I’m sure he’s telling the truth. But I just can’t help it. It’s the distance, the frustration of being so close yet so far over the phone lines. When he forgets to mention just how much he misses you it doesn’t mean he doesn’t, so don’t start the You-don’t-miss-me-so-you-are-over-me argument just yet. The obvious need not be said all the time, although it’s nice to hear it once in a while (read everyday).

Getting too carried away with preserving a relationship has to be the silliest thing you can do. Do not go to extremes and make unreasonable demands on each other. You’ll wear each other out long before you graduate. The idea is to love and be loved in return, don’t let that turn into something ugly with petty arguments that are blown out of proportion into a bitter quarrel.

Learn to let go. This has to be the hardest bit I have had to learn but the fact that Wan has a separate life from mine was quite unbearable at first. You have to accept the reality that you’ll have separate sets of friends and he might go out with other people while you’re not there. Having fun does not have to include you, so accept that graciously and make sure you go out and have fun too. Set your limits. Some couples are exclusive while some work better in an “open” relationship, although I doubt I’d be able to digest the latter. Different couples have different ideas and priorities, make sure both of yours don’t greatly differ.

Try to earn money part-time. This is your passport to seeing each other often. Part-time jobs are lucrative over in Britain and the United States, so do try to get a weekend job. I estimate that working six weekends for 16 hours pays for a ticket home, and I’m not joking. You could set it aside for a holiday to wherever that tickles your fancy. Going on holiday with a group of friends is great, especially if he is there with you too.

Finally, don’t set out thinking it won’t work. I thought mine wouldn’t and I am ashamed to admit it. It’s the thought that you’ll be apart that drives most people crazy. I know it drove me crazy. Once you’re apart it’s easier to deal with.

Give it a chance, it might just work for you as it has for me. My friends are amazed at how well everything has turned out for me. Who am I kidding? Even I’m amazed!

In a funny way, I think being apart has actually been very healthy for our relationship. It’s made us focus on the best things about each other and we’ve dealt with the tough times by learning to communicate our thoughts, fears and hopes so well to each other. So for those of you in a long-distance relationship, don’t despair, be strong for it can turn out to be an exceedingly rewarding experience. Isn’t love supposed to conquer all?

Our Students – Let Them Live, Let Them Learn

by Nungsari A Radhi

(Article originally appeared in Malaysiakini, Sunday July 22, 2001)

The universities have found themselves in the limelight of late, mostly for the wrong reasons. The wrong reasons have also focused on the wrong things that are ailing our campuses.

Discussions of these issues made me recall my undergraduate days at a typical mid-western university in the United States (US) during the late 1970s. I was one of the fortunate ones who won a scholarship to study overseas. It was a fun and difficult time, being thrown into a foreign country at 18 after the tightly controlled environment in Malaysia.

As with most universities in the US, there is a daily campus newspaper – a rather extensive student-run newspaper manned mostly by the journalism majors on campus. The campus community depends on the daily for information and news about the going-ons on campus as well as a sprinkling of local and international news.

Once there was a, probably well-intentioned, editorial on the lives of international students. Among others the piece focused on the social life, or rather the lack of it, of international students.

Things like isolation and not being invited to parties and all that came with them during the weekends. Somehow, the Malay machismo in me took it as an affront to all able-bodied, hot-blooded Malaysian males on campus.

As trivial as it seems, I was energised enough to write a long response. As if that was not enough, I also solicited as many signatures I could get from people who shared my sentiments. The honor of Malaysians was at stake here – these condescending Americans are implying we cannot get dates on weekends and end up among ourselves watching TV! How improperly truthful their allegations were!

Jingoistic explosion

I did a lot of other non-academic activities when I was an undergraduate, some of which I would rather not share with the public, but they remain etched in my memory and form the most memorable part of those years. They were certainly more memorable than constructing splines or computing Fourier transforms.

Lest people get the impression I was only concerned about trivial things, let me also share an experience where I actually was driven by nationalistic pride of a different, perhaps more substantial, kind.

Once, I was so emotionally disturbed by all the negative news on Malaysia – it was the height of the Vietnamese boat people saga – and the endless heated discussions I had in my sociology class that I wrote an article titled ‘The Rape of My Motherland’, a jingoistic explosion of nationalistic pride. I must have sounded very Third World-like, but who cared?

Unlike those who ended up in politics, I was not actively involved in students’ associations or political activities which would have made me OK by our present standards. I was, however, busy making all sorts personal statements in rebellion against anything Establishment. A rebel with too many causes. Had I been a student at University Malaya (UM) today, I might have gotten myself into real trouble!

Instead of joining the Malaysian students association, I decided to launch a new association because the existing one was just too bland, populated by colorless individuals. That failed miserably, so I decided to get into this ‘creationism versus evolution’ debate after attending a public debate on campus on the subject.

How I was torn between my religious convictions which pulled me towards the creationist camp and my own sense of inquiry, that is a result from my learning, which pulled me in the opposite direction.

There were also a lot of other memorable moments like the 1980 US Presidential Election between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. I fancied myself a Democrat and got really involved in the elections.

Enduring passion

Of course, I had to also study, hard sometimes, to pass my exams and graduate. It was through the classroom that I learned my mathematics enough to graduate in the subject and proceed to graduate studies in the same subject. That I am Malay, supposedly not endowed with the capacity to do mathematics, did not really cross my mind.

I did not have to listen to the kinds of gibberish we hear nowadays. The subject I chose also colored me as a person as well. By the time I was done with my studies, the idea of a perfect evening was candlelight dinner, a can of Coke and a nice theorem! It was too late to realise that girls did not go for mathematics majors, except mathematics majors who were girls.

Sure, I was not around during the colonial days, but I had to suffer the indignities of being discriminated as well when I was there. Just because I was not the same. Sort of put things in perspective but I never developed a racist view of race relations.

I learned to look at individuals as individuals. Age and experience has taught me that individuals, even those of your own race, can do more serious things than just discriminate against you.

What is the point of all this nostalgia? Exactly that. They are the fond recollections of an over- forty-year-old man. Of the time when he was an undergraduate in university – a young adult discovering himself and learning about life and himself.

My skills as a human being, beyond the specific knowledge of my study area, were honed during that period. I learned to manage my own affairs, deal with people, relationships and situations, and discovered the wealth of knowledge.

It was then that I developed a view of the human condition and the enduring passion for some issues. I would like to think I was educated, not merely trained.

Control freaks

Students must be allowed to learn, for they are students for only a limited period of their lives. After the study years, everyone will be burdened with responsibilities and the real world. I am today a father and husband who has to worry about work, mortgage payments, bills and the future of my children.

The idealism and innocence of youth is the nation’s treasure. Their activism must not be constrained along partisan lines.

The process of learning is more than just grades and what occurs in the classroom. With a six-course load, a student spends only eighteen hours a week in lectures and tutorials. The rest of the time is spent living, and learning as well. The broader process of education.

So what if a student is driven by his convictions to believe in something? So what if that something is against the existing powers that be? Should not politicians of all stripes be given a chance to expound their views on campus so that they may compete in the marketplace of ideas?

So that they are forced to properly articulate their views beyond rhetoric. The ignorance and innocence of students do not make them easy crowds but therein lies the challenge. Those in the game of influence should relish the challenge.

What kind of adults are we producing if our university students are merely kiasu types who selfishly worry about their grades, their livelihood, their successes, their lives, their future, and their problems; theirs and theirs only. What about compassion, sacrifice and the sense to serve the nation and make a difference?

There was a period in my life when I was a lecturer at a local university. For some ten years, more than fifteen years ago. What control freaks we, Malaysians, seemed to be. Local universities treat young adults, twenty-year old freshmen, like school kids.

We love uniformity and implement measures to prevent deviations. And we wonder why our graduates lack imagination, confidence, initiative and a sense of independence. It saddens me to read the kind of stuff that comes out from our so-called senior educationists. The lack of academic leadership at our campuses. The vulgarisation of the idealism of learning.

Real enemy

It is therefore a sad day that the Internal Security Act (ISA) has to be used against our students. A law from the legacy of the communist insurgency used against our own children. As a parent, a teacher and a citizen, I am deeply saddened that the most draconian of the nation’s laws is used against the future leaders of the nation.

Shame unto all. Shame on us all. We have indeed failed, but the authorities have, by their action in arresting these students for supposed threats to internal security, acknowledged their own failures.

If anybody cares about the universities, they should instead worry about the lack of space for students to grow and learn on campus. These have nothing to do with whether students are sympathetic with a particular political view.

We have to learn to live with our differences. Those differences are part of the national treasure, not a curse. I am a believer in that we have lived with ourselves throughout these years. The present generation has also managed to exorcise some of the ghosts that haunted our older generations.

The Malaysian house is a bigger place to wander about since previously forbidden, haunted places are now accessible. My worry is that the big house is increasingly housing sectarian rooms occupied by those who lack the courage and confidence to go beyond the comforts of familiarity.

As a father I sometimes wonder how I am going to let my daughters go, when the time comes. Nevertheless, I know I have to do it – it is their turn at living their lives. Their futures here on earth are longer than mine. I have to let go.

I can only comfort myself that I have done the best to provide them with the tools to survive. But I will forever love them, and if they go about doing some silly things, I will not blame their upbringing or their genes. They are me.

As the great Indonesian writer, Pramoedya Ananta Toer, said, we are not living in heaven. There will always be problems here on this earth. Maybe we should just look at the problem squarely in the eyes. Maybe the real enemy is us.

— DR NUNGSARI A RADHI is a father of two daughters whose futures he had in mind when writing this piece. Despite doing many things, he stills think of himself as a teacher foremost, his first profession.

Our Students – Let Them Live, Let Them Learn

Dr. Nungsari and I share the same alumni that is Purdue University. I’ve never met him in person ever and the reason I’m putting this up isn’t just because he’s a fellow alumni but rather what he wrote rings true and that I can definitely relate to some of the things being mentioned in the article. As it is already, Malaysian youths are turning into mindless automotons who lack dynamism as a result of controls being put by the authorities.

Continue reading Our Students – Let Them Live, Let Them Learn

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