Monday, December 27, 2010

the going is often as fascinating as the arrival

Monday, December 27, 2010

"…How did you get there? Even without the suggestion of a motive, a prologue is welcome, since the going is often as fascinating as the arrival. Yet because curiosity implies delay, and delay is regarded as a luxury (but what’s the hurry anyway), we have become used to life being a series of arrivals and departures, of triumphs and failures, with nothing noteworthy in between. Summits matter, but what of the lower slopes of Parnassus? We have not lost faith in journeys from home, but the texts are scarce. Departure is described as a moment of panic and ticket-checking in an airport lounge, or a fumbled kiss at a gangway; then silence until, 'From the balcony of my room I had a panoramic view over Accra…'

Travel, truly is otherwise. From the second you wake up you are headed for the foreign place, and each step brings you closer."

~ Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express: By Train Through the Americas, 1979

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ill

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The world roared in merriment. Wanting only to be enclosed in silence, she hid in her room to shut everything out. The soreness in her throat, the hot pressure behind her eyes, and the weakness of her limbs afforded her a reason to stay in bed for days on end. Staying in bed enveloped in darkness and bundled in the comforting warmth and tightness of an old blanket gives her a sense of relief.

With her illness as the perfect excuse, she didn’t have to feign interest on anything - not on yuletide and not even on the things that used to give her so much pleasure. She can just close her eyes and pretend to be asleep. But sleep, without the aid of medication, doesn’t come easy. For hours that roll into days, she replays each conversation and every single thing that she said and did wrong.

Her solace lies in solitude and in knowing that she’d recover soon.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sinking

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The smell of fresh coffee is wafting through the apartment, and she can hear the staccato rhythm of the keyboard as he types. The sun, which fought its way against the leaden sky, passes through the window blinds and permeates the room with brightness that astonishes. She hums softly to herself, not wanting to disturb that morning’s tranquil serenity. This man, this moment, this feeling - there’s nothing more I could ask for, she thinks.  She sits close to him and with her head on his shoulder glances briefly at the monitor then gives him a peck on the cheek and leaves him to his work. As she turns to go, he catches her hand and tries to stop her. I’ll be done soon, he tells her with a distracted smile.  And so she waits, but only for a while; because moments later she had him all to herself.

Fearing that they may never be another moment as that, she feels her heart cave down against her chest. Though struggling hard against its pull, she is sinking into the dark depths once again.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

China Bound

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The girls and I have booked the hotel and purchased the plane tickets a long time ago. What concerns us now are the sartorial aspects of the trip. Would we need winter clothes in Macau and Hong Kong whose temperature, as I am writing this, is at seven degrees Celsius, or are light sweaters and jackets enough? We don't want to end up freezing or carrying a suitcase full of clothes that we won’t need. Our flight is in three weeks, and we still do not know what to bring.

And we also do not know where to go. Without an itinerary, we’d probably lose our way amidst the city’s historic sites or be too tired to walk another step. Those things don’t really matter because with or without the right clothes and full itinerary, I am certain that we’d have the most wonderful time together.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dissolution of a Family

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It’s something that we jokingly refer to but do not really talk about. My siblings and I never dared—or cared enough—to ask how, when or why it happened. For years we knew that there was another family on the side, and we just accepted it as it is. And when my father stopped going to my mother’s place, there wasn’t any drama involved – nobody broke into tears of bitter anguish and not a word of recrimination was spoken. We shrugged it off and regarded the whole affair as an inevitability waiting to happen.

I often wonder about this seeming indifference towards the dissolution of our parents’ marriage. Our apathy both saddens and relieves me. We act as though it doesn’t concern us. And it doesn’t: Except for the youngest of us who was still in grade school then, we were already adults living our own lives when they chose to live separately. They made the decision themselves, and we, their children who were never consulted in the first place, opted to stay out of it. Their marriage ought not to have gone rancid and resentful, but—like countless others--it did. My father’s leaving restored harmony in our family. He has been out of our lives for quite some time now and we’ve been so used to it that it’s like he hadn’t been there all along.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

the world within the pages was more compelling than the world without

Thursday, December 9, 2010


"When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13, my grandmother used to get mad at me for attending family functions with a book. Back then, if I'd had the language for it, I might have argued that the world within the pages was more compelling than the world without; I was reading both to escape and to be engaged. All these years later, I find myself in a not-dissimilar position, in which reading has become an act of meditation, with all of meditation's attendant difficulty and grace. I sit down. I try to make a place for silence. It's harder than it used to be, but still, I read." ~ David Ulin, The Lost Art of Reading

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Doing Gaga

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The entire office is abuzz with anticipation of each department’s performance for the contest during the Christmas party on Friday. While some have not even chosen what song to sing and dance to, the rest are busy preparing for and perfecting their routines. My partner and I decided to do a Lady Gaga and Beyonce number, primarily because of its sheer theatricality and shock factor. With the criteria being audience impact (40%) costume (40%) and voice quality (20%), we focus less on the song and more on infusing drama into our outfits and excitement in the choreography. Being Gagas for the night and doing a spectacular gaga number, that would be enough of a prize, isn’t it?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Family Outing

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

So utterly bereft of privileges our childhood was that we rarely went on family outings. Knowing that we now can fills my heart with indescribable joy.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Online Presence Suspended

Monday, December 6, 2010

It felt surprisingly refreshing when my digital presence got suspended for the last couple of days. Unlike some celebrities who have opted out of the virtual world for charity purposes, my absence, though, wasn’t voluntary. For some unknown reason my internet connection at home has been down since Saturday, and I am posting this from the office.

Contrary to what I was expecting, having no web access did me a lot of good.  Instead of endlessly refreshing my home page for new messages and squandering time on Facebook--browsing through friends’ pictures and observing how they’ve changed since high school and listening in on other people’s conversations and wondering why they are having such exchange in public—I lost myself in the labyrinth of the Belgian Congo in the 1960s, powerfully woven by Barbara Kingsolver in The Poisonwood Bible. I was able to take a nap, figure out how to disassemble and reassemble my vacuum cleaner, watch a replayed episode of Glee, and shop for a new pair of denim shorts.

Connectivity has now become a necessity, but disconnecting—voluntarily or otherwise—can be worthwhile, too.

---------
The technicians came at noontime to fix the connection and lift my suspension.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Season of Reckoning

Friday, December 3, 2010

Aside from the prevalent cheerfulness that I feel in people’s hearts during the holiday season, Christmas never held any significance to me. My family doesn’t celebrate it, and I spent my childhood days wondering what Christmas is really all about. When I was a child the Christmas season simply meant that I don’t have to go to school; many years after it means that I don’t have to go to work.

And now that I’m well into my fourth decade of life, the holidays have become a season of reckoning. The year is about to end, and I find myself asking these questions: What have I done? Have I done anything worthwhile? Did I accomplish any of those I set out to do for the year? Did I live my life the way I want it? Was I happy? Was I able to make the people who matter to me happy?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kilimanjaro Beckons

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


I know that I must do what's right
As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

It's that song's fault. Whenever I listen to Toto's Africa I can feel the mountain beckoning me.  For more than a century, the snow capped Kilimanjaro has lured countless visitors up its summit, and I dream of reaching it someday, before its snowy peaks and glaciers all but disappear.

I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Possessed by an Evil Spirit

Friday, November 26, 2010

“What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

Incredulity must have shown on my face when I first heard about the brother of a colleague whose family believes that he is being possessed by an evil spirit. Perpetually guided—or perhaps, misguided—by reason, I was astonished to learn that people still believe in “that kind of thing”, although it defies all rules of logic. In this age of breathtaking advances in science and medicine, surely, they couldn’t, nagged my prejudiced mind. But they do. What I immediately dismissed as superstitious nonsense they accorded fearful reverence.

Her brother, as told by my colleague, had suddenly gone wild – with eyes rolled back, arms jerking back and forth, uttering inaudible words and lashing out violently at everyone. Because the incident happened at midnight, it was instantaneously ascribed to the workings of an enraged supernatural being whom the brother might have slighted. He got possessed by an evil spirit.

Does he have a history of mental illness? Of seizure attacks? Of epilepsy? Was he under the influence of alcohol or drugs when it happened? Did you bring him to a hospital after it happened? Those questions I asked, and the answer to all four is no. They took him to an albularyo, an herb doctor, instead. The witch doctor, after doing all he could to propitiate the spirit inhabiting the brother’s body, asked the family to prepare ten thousand pesos, an amount equivalent to almost a month’s salary to an average Filipino, as sacrifice. Such amount would be used to buy chickens or pigs or whatever the evil inhabitant demands in exchange for letting go of the brother’s body. The family agreed to produce the amount, any amount, just to placate the wrath of that supernatural being and get their brother back.

As explained by Anne Fadiman in The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, 1997), a book I recently read, which explored the uneasy coexistence and disparity between Hmong culture Western medicine, culture and traditions are not Cartesian. It is not my place to judge other people’s actions, and I should stop seeking rational explanations for nonrational customs and beliefs.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It is an absolute certainty that there are no certainties

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It is not so much that there are no certainties, it is that it is an absolute certainty that there are no certainties. It is not only true that the test of knowledge is an acute and cultivated awareness of how little one knows (as Socrates knew so well), it is true that the unbounded areas and fields of one's ignorance are now expanding in such a way, and as such velocity, as to make the contemplation of them fantastically beautiful.

~Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22, 2010

Monday, November 22, 2010

Street of Imaginings

Monday, November 22, 2010

The light was gentle, a blend of twilight and the lambent radiance of street lamps, which illuminated the darkness of moss- and graffiti-covered walls, crumbling stucco, and a pavement whose stillness conjures nary a hint of occupancy. Strolling along this backstreet, I wondered not so much about what the faint light concealed as what it could reveal. In oneiric semidarkness, the narrow street transformed into a place of my dreams: I didn’t see open sewer lines running along the sidewalk but a sparkling stream with a footpath shaded by trees, nor graffitied walls flanking the street but stone structures that withstood, and were made more beautiful, by the passage of time; the air smelled of earthy freshness, and not of sewage effluvium and exhaust emissions. While the main boulevard and the rest of the city reverberated with discordant activity, on that street of imaginings I could walk in seclusion and tranquility.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tempered

Thursday, November 18, 2010

He knows me so much that I don’t have to tell him that I prefer jalapenos to chocolates. I reflected upon this and wondered how he could muster enough patience to navigate—often unsuccessfully—through the convoluted circuitry of my emotions and the entangled curlicues of my mind. Or maybe he doesn’t but just goes along with the day’s drama. With facetious remarks and unexpected levity, he tempers my neuroses and diverts my mind from its ruminating habit. Soothed by his calm and levelheadedness, I usually end up asking why, to begin with, am I worrying too much.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Travel at its most rewarding

Friday, November 12, 2010

The best of travel seems to exist outside of time, as though the years of travel are not deducted from your life. Travel also holds the magical possibility of reinvention: that you might find a place that you love, to begin a new life and never go home. In a distant place, no one knows you – nearly always a plus. And you can pretend, in travel, to be different from the person you are, unattached, enigmatic, younger, richer or poorer, anyone you can choose to be, the rebirth that many travelers experience if they go far enough.

Travel is at its most rewarding when it ceases to be about your reaching a destination and becomes indistinguishable from living your life.

~ Paul Theroux, Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar, 2008

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles Seven: The Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary and the Orang Asli

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Established by the Malaysian Department of Wildlife and National Parks in 1989, the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary is home to displaced elephants whose habitats have been transformed into plantations. As of today more than 300 wild elephants have been relocated to this conservation center.

Upon arrival at the center, we were made to watch a video that showed how the pachyderms were rescued across Peninsular Malaysia and given sanctuary in the wild. Like a young girl bursting with excitement over the idea of riding an elephant for the first time, I couldn’t wait for movie to end; I couldn’t wait for the elephants to arrive. And when they did, I was awed.


1-an elephant up close; 2-elephant in chains; 3-the elephant ride; 4-the sanctuary; 5-a family about to be dunked into the river with the elephant; 6-elephants on their way to the river; 7-crowd watching elephants being bathed; 8-a newly bathed elephant
These elephants came to mind when, as part of the organized tour, we visited the Orang Asli Village within the Taman Negara National Park. The Orang Asli, or ‘natural people’, are the indigenous peoples of Peninsular Malaysia living in remote forest areas whose land had been encroached upon and converted into rubber and oil palm plantations, golf courses and other ‘development’ projects, which resulted to their displacement. Treated as curios, the Orang Asli who had been allowed to stay in the National Park are displayed in their ‘natural habitat’ like the elephants in Kuala Gandah that are probably reluctant to be paraded around for tourists like us to gape at. Unmindful of–or perhaps already accustomed to--the stupid stares, the condescending looks or the pitiful glances, the Orang Asli go about their simple lives, away from the conveniences of modernity yet incessantly intruded upon for tourism’s sake. Displaced by development and given ‘sanctuary’ as indemnity, the elephants and indigenous peoples alike have become objects of entertainment, if not the worst kind of travel voyeurism.

the blow pipe bamboos made by the Orang Asli and their village

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Blinking Cursor

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I have been staring at a blank page with a blinking cursor for hours now, trying to come up with ideas for a sensible blog post. I willed the cursor to be still just as I sought to direct my diffused, shambolic thoughts towards a temporary state of coherence and calm – just long enough for me to let go of the idea of writing something akin to “music that will melt the stars.”

…the truth is that fullness of soul can sometimes overflow in utter vapidity of language, for none of us can ever express the exact human measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows; and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars." (Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, 1857)

Friday, November 5, 2010

masters and victims of their times

Friday, November 5, 2010

Yes, they will trample me underfoot, the numbers marching one two three, four hundred million five hundred six, reducing me to specks of voiceless dust, just as, in all good time, they will trample my son who is not my son, and his son who will never be his, and his who will not be his, until the thousand and first generation, until a thousand and one midnights have bestowed their terrible gifts and a thousand and one children have died, because it is the privilege and the curse of midnight’s children to be both masters and victims of their times to forsake privacy and be sucked into the annihilating whirlpool of the multitudes, and to be unable to live or die in peace.

~ Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children, 1981

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Combining Fixations

Thursday, November 4, 2010

It took me a little while to realize that that airless staircase could accommodate two of my current obsessions: learning a foreign language and getting fit for the Inca Trail. Since we started planning for the trip to Peru I, believing that climbing stairs would be a good aerobic and knees strengthening exercise, have ignored the presence of the elevators and opted to use the stairs, instead. Aiming to abate this obsession but always ending up satisfying it, I do nightly rounds of stairs – down to the ground floor and up to the 10th and back until my knees yell for mercy. It may be a nightly ascent towards a higher level of idiocy or an exercise in pushing one’s self to the limit, but I do it anyway.

Engaging the intellect, I realized, invigorated that otherwise tiresome physical activity. By listening to Japanese audio books while going up and down the stairs, I didn’t hear my knees complaining. Concentrating on the correct conjugation of different verb forms distracted me from feeling the pressure on my calves. It was like finding something else, other than the physical exertion, to worry about.

Learning a foreign language while climbing stairs, a way of exercising both body and mind, turned out to be a perfect combination of fixations.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

photo shoot

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Back to work after a hilarious yet restful vacation, I find it a bit difficult to return to my life’s quotidian routine. As I was tackling the backlog of documents begging for my utmost attention, the crazy things that my siblings and I did the past few days kept invading my mind. Thinking about it makes me smile. Coming up with crazy, spur-of the-moment ideas and actually carrying them out is really fun.

It was my sister who came up with the insane idea of doing a photo shoot, and I—spurred by vanity and completely unrestrained by reason at that time—agreed. She was the photographer, and I played her ‘model’. Here are some of the photos that my sister took:

Friday, October 22, 2010

In Leisure and Idleness

Friday, October 22, 2010

With several additional leave credits earned from going to work early every day, I have decided to take another week off. But it’s not as if I have travel plans or something because I don’t. Next week will just be spent in pure leisure and idleness, and I can’t think of a better way to spend my vacation other than that.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The moment that it became eternal and compulsory

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"It could be that all existence is a pointless joke, but it is not in fact possible to live one’s everyday life as if this were so… The clear awareness of having been born into a losing struggle need not lead one into despair.  I do not especially like the idea that one day I shall be tapped on the shoulder and informed, not that they party is over but that it is most assuredly going on—only henceforth in my absence.  Much more horrible though would be the announcement that the party was continuing forever, ad that I was forbidden to leave.  Whether it was a hellishly bad party or a party that was perfectly heavenly in every respect, the moment that it became eternal and compulsory would be the precise moment that it began to pall."

~ Christopher Hitchens, Hitch-22: A Memoir, 2010

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Breaking In My Boots

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

It suddenly occurred to me how ridiculous I must have looked roaming around the mall in short shorts and rugged hiking boots amid ladies clad in dainty sandals and flip-flops. How shameful my shameless outfit was that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at myself. Wearing those tough hikers, I could have trod on the pink pedicured toes of the woman who gave me that I-wouldn’t-be-caught-dead-dressed-like-you head-to-toe look, but I didn’t. It felt so absurdly good walking around and breaking in those new shoes that nothing, not even that woman, could have ruined it. And, while I was on my way home, when it started to pour and I had to maneuver across muddy puddles and dirty rainwater streaming down the street in those waterproof boots, I guess I didn’t look ridiculous anymore.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Because I Can

Monday, October 18, 2010


Why are you going to those countries? Why are you learning that language? Why do you wear such clothes? Why don’t you just do this instead of that or that instead of this? Why go through all that trouble when it's easier to take a shortcut? Why do you do the things that you do?

When asked those questions, I shrug and simply say: Because I can.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

When Sidewalks Become an Obstacle Course

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Determined to be fit for the Inca Trail hike without hitting the gym, I’ve no recourse but to walk within the area where I live, in a place where urban planning is unheard of and pedestrians proceed at their own risk. With sidewalks that are more like an obstacle course, the 30-minute walk from my house to the nearby mall becomes a test of alertness and survival. Unmindful of traffic rules and the very fact that sidewalks are for people, motorbikes come roaring straight at me, and I can’t but move aside and graciously let them pass by. In some areas where erstwhile sidewalks have been transformed into private parking lots the only choice is to walk along the edge of the pavement, on the curb near the gutter or, in many cases, in the middle of the street itself where vehicles whoosh by me as if I were a mere lamppost.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Six AM Trade-off

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Each night before I go to bed I would make a vow to wake up at six in the morning for a quick jog, but as of today that promise has yet to be fulfilled. I always end up reading until 1 AM or until my eyes cannot take it any longer, whichever comes first. And, once I put down the book, it takes another 30 minutes—spent pondering on what I’ve just read--before finally sinking into deep slumber. With barely five hours of sleep, I cannot but stay in bed for another precious hour. By choosing that extra hour in bed, I forego my fitness plans for that morning and forsake, yet again, the promise I made to myself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

just a beach resort

Monday, October 11, 2010

“Of course this is more than a beach resort.  But at the same time, it is just a beach resort.  We come here to relax by a beautiful beach, but it isn’t a beach resort because we’re trying to get away from beach resorts.” (Alex Garland, The Beach, 1997)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happiness and the Anna Karenina Principle

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sixty-four pages to go and I’m done with Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1999), a book that sought to—and actually did--answer  questions like "why weren't Native Americans, Africans, and Aboriginal Australians the ones who decimated, subjugated, or exterminated Europeans and Asians?" and "why did wealth and power become distribute as they now are, rather than in some other way?" Among his controversial claims and interdisciplinary arguments, one of the things that struck me was his use of the famous first line of Leo Tolstoy’s masterpiece, Anna Karenina:

“Happy families are all alike: every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

By that opening sentence, when viewed in the context of the entire story, Tolstoy probably meant that for a family to be happy, many different things need to work out, while only one of those things need to fail in order for a family to be unhappy. Diamond extended this idea beyond families and used it to explain why many seemingly suitable big wild animals species have never been domesticated: "to be domesticable, a candidate wild species must possess many different characteristics. Lack of any single required characteristic dooms efforts at domestication, just as it dooms efforts at building a happy marriage."

The Anna Karenina principle, according to Diamond, “can be extended to understanding much else about life besides marriage. We tend to seek easy, single-factor explanations of success. For most important things, though, success actually requires avoiding separate possible causes of failure.” Thus, any one factor can cause the failure of a marriage, a business, a relationship, a system, a country, anything; and if that thing does indeed work, then it intrinsically possesses all of those factors that made it work.


I wonder if the Anna Karenina principle can, as Diamond suggested, be extended to understanding personal happiness and contentment. If we are to follow the principle, for a person to be happy and content with his or her life, he or she must possess many different things, but if any single thing is lacking, all attempts at attaining happiness and contentment are bound to fail. It does sound right, or doesn’t it?

I still cannot understand why there are people who seem to have it all but remain unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives. Does it mean that something is lacking still? And if something is missing in one’s life, does that preclude any chance at happiness? There are those who have nothing and simply settle and make do with what they have yet are happy and content (although others see that as complacency or lack of ambition). What makes one happy doesn’t necessarily make another person happy.

What are the exact ingredients needed for contentment and happiness, anyway? Does anybody know?  

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles Six: George Town’s Heritage Buildings

Tuesday, October 5, 2010



Within a few blocks from our hotel in George Town are these buildings that depict Penang’s cultural heritage. This collection of historic architecture--ranging from mosques, Chinese clan houses, churches, Hindu and Chinese temples to a fort, clan jetties, mansions and Victorian government buildings—bespeak how Penang’s multiethnic settlers have lived in harmony and peaceful diversity over the last two centuries.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Quitting

Monday, October 4, 2010

“I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer…. V." (Virginia Woolf’s suicide note, 28 March 1941)

Virginia Woolf filled her coat pocket with stones and walked into the river; David Foster Wallace hanged himself; Ernest Hemingway shot himself in the mouth; Hunter S. Thompson shot himself in the head; John Kennedy Toole ran a garden hose from the exhaust pipe to his car where he was found dead; and Sylvia Plath thrust her head in the gas oven and died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Reading about the lives of these writers who all chose to quit life made me think about what quitting entails. It is always less difficult to let things be than to make a decision, and for these writers to choose life over death, a cowardly thing to do for some, must have required firmness of mind and will, or so I thought.

Those who quit, if not pitied, are treated with dismissive scorn, and those who endure against all odds are looked up to with wide-eyed awe; quitters are cowards, and survivors are heroes. I wonder why this is so. Why is quitting seen as terrible and unacceptable? But more importantly, what makes a person quit school, quit work, quit a relationship, quit life?

In a world where everything has become disposable and replaceable, giving up too easily for no apparent reason is unacceptable. We try as much as we can to hold on to that thing because it is worth holding on to. We do not quit because it is only by staying on that we would get what we’ve always wanted and strived for.

But what is so terrible about quitting when by doing so you would free yourself from crippling anxiety and spare yourself more pain? There is no point in deluding yourself that everything will fall into place when you know, deep down, that it will not. Is it wrong or shameful to admit that you cannot do it anymore or bear it any longer? Why continue something that isn’t making you happy anymore? They say that what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger, but what if it just leaves you broken in the end?

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reads

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Of the books I’ve read these past three months, eight are nonfiction; two are essay collections; two are about traveling around Asia; two are on photography; three were made into movies; three made me change the way I think about food; one made me proud to be a snoot; one taught me the meaning of the words baksheesh and duffilled; and one gave me the superb idea to put curry on scrambled eggs.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles Five: The Soothing Rhythm of a Bus Ride

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sitting by the bus window through which I can freely gape at the world, I was lulled by the sameness of the landscape as we traveled northwards to Penang. The oil palm trees stood like soldiers in formation, erect and unmoving against the brilliant azure of a picture-postcard sky. The countryside was motionless and unchanging, and as I gazed at its calm beauty a sense of gladness came over me--like a lovely warmth that stole through my body. The bus moved in a soothing rhythm along the expressway: it stayed in motion, but my heart was quiet and my mind still.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Even if it Kills Me

Monday, September 27, 2010

Our passion for magnificent ruins and rugged terrain whetted by our previous trips, D and I have now started saving for another adventure – the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This four-day hike through the mountainous regions of the Andes covers 43 kilometers of uneven, rocky terrain along hand-hewn stairs and trails through river valleys, mountain passes, Inca ruins and cloud forests. With maximum altitude reaching 4200 meters above sea level, the temperature along the trail ranges from -4 to 28 degrees Celsius. According to travel guides, the trek is fairly difficult and one should be well prepared, moderately fit and healthy prior to starting it. As told by someone who recently completed the trek:

“The climb to Dead Woman’s Pass was relentless. Up and up and up and up along the ancient Inca pathway made up of enormous stone steps. My heart was beating wildly, my lungs were tight and seemingly too small for the task and my legs felt like cement as I tried to lift them over and over again up onto the next step.”

The more I read about the trek, the more determined I am to be physically prepared for it: Instead of taking the elevator, I opt for the stairs even if it means climbing all the way to the 12th floor; with a pedometer strapped to my waist, I go on long walks while trying to talk myself into believing that every step that I take compensates for my lack of trekking experience; I avoid processed, fat-laden food and stuff myself with fruits and vegetables, instead. Repeating “you can do it” like an incantation, I’ve almost—but not quite--convinced myself that those words embody reality, and not simply wishful thinking.

All these preparations I’d gladly do for that once-in-a-lifetime chance to hike the ancient royal route to Peru's fabled lost city of the Incas; for the simple satisfaction of being able to put one foot in front of the other for hours and days on end; for the utmost pleasure in struggling to make a dream come true, even if it kills me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Railway Bazaar

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The trains in any country contain the essential paraphernalia of the culture: Thai trains have the shower jar with the glazed dragon on its side, Ceylonese ones the car reserved for Buddhist monks, Indian ones a vegetarian kitchen and six classes, Iranian ones prayer mats, Malaysian ones a noodle stall, Vietnamese ones bulletproof glass on the locomotive, and on every carriage of a Russian train there is a samovar. The railway bazaar, with its gadgets and passengers, represented the society so completely that to board it was to be challenged by the national character. At times it was like a leisurely seminar, but I also felt on some occasions that it was like being jailed and then assaulted by the monstrously typical.

~ Paul Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Trough Asia, 1975

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

All-nighter

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I used to pull all-nighters cramming for exams when I was in college. Now I wonder how I managed to go through days without sleep with my mental faculties still intact. Several days ago, while lounging at the pool side and listening to my colleagues belt god-awful songs on the karaoke and trade beer-induced stories at three in the morning, I kept asking myself, where is the fun in all of this? It’s not fun when your limbs want to fall off from sleepiness and exhaustion and your eyes are crying out in pain from the prolonged use of contact lenses, yet you want to stay on and not be a party pooper. Perhaps I am simply too old to stay up all night watching people have fun while I ward off the lure of a good night’s sleep.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Unassisted Beauty

Monday, September 20, 2010

The impulse to show herself in a splendid setting...had yielded to the truer instinct of trusting to her unassisted beauty, and she had purposely chosen a picture without distracting accessories of dress or surroundings....divested of the trivialities of her little world, and catching for a moment a note of that eternal harmony of which her beauty was a part. 
(Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, 1905)

Makeup creates a deceptive aura of beauty around an otherwise ordinary face, and without it I feel vulnerable.  For a girl like me who was not endowed with unembellished good looks, going au naturel is not an option. By putting on makeup, I can feign beauty, hide imperfections and appear poised, polished, put together.


Yet when I’m away from home and life’s daily pressures, I do not feel the need to pretty up. Being away from everything, I don’t have to maintain that veneer of impeccability. I can go fresh-faced and natural and, surprisingly, be at ease about it. On the road I can do without cosmetics and ornamentation because I have the unequaled admiration of the one person who believes that I am beautiful though drenched in perspiration, dressed in mussed and mismatched clothes and with hair in disarray. With him I feel beautiful, though I know I’m not.

My puerile preoccupation with pulchritude, I realized, is simply an attempt to conceal some deep-seated insecurities lurking underneath the dolled up surface. And it is only when I feel secure and my ghosts momentarily put to rest that I can do without any assistance and go au naturel.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles Four: KL Bird Park

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The one place that I really wanted to visit in Kuala Lumpur is its Bird Park. Except for the lone maya chirping outside my apartment window, birds are such a rare sight from where I live that I can’t but seize the chance to see them at close range. Located within the Lake Gardens, the city’s 8.5-hectare free-flight walk-in aviary houses 800 birds of 60 local and foreign species, which include:

Oriental Pied Hornbill
Indian Blue Peacock
Flamingos
   


Crowned Pigeons
   
Sun Conures and Ring-necked Parakeets

The birds were fascinating, but the park itself was breathtaking. We spent the entire morning exploring the place and taking delight in its verdurous vista.
Flamingo Pond

Monday, September 13, 2010

For what then would that shape be?

Monday, September 13, 2010


“He said that whether a man’s life was writ in a book someplace or whether it took its form day by day was one and the same for it had but one reality and that was the living of it. He said that while it was true that men shape their own lives it was also true that they could have no shape other for what then would that shape be?”

~ Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing, 1994

Morning


As the long weekend rolled into another Monday, I tried to muster some amount of enthusiasm, just enough to open my eyes and see the morning’s brilliance peeking in through the window slats. As the sunshine heralded the start of a new day and I struggled to fend off sleep, a resolve formed. Life is too short, too fragile to be spent dwelling on superfluities. In that morning’s moment of clarity, I realized that I have become so inured to thinking the blues that I’m actually living it. As I threw back the covers and got out of bed, I shook the listlessness from my soul and let the day’s vibrance set in.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles Three: Best Experiences

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love. We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation. We even may become mysterious—to others, at first, and sometimes to ourselves—and, as no less a dignitary than Oliver Cromwell once noted, “A man never goes so far as when he doesn’t know where he is going.” - Pico Iyer, Why We Travel

Hitting the road from Kuala Lumpur to Selangor to Pahang and all the way to Penang, I got to experience a lot of wonderful things.  Here are the best of them:

1. The trek to Bukit Teresek in Taman Negara

2. Traipsing along the shores of Batu Ferringhi after a huge lunch of peppered crabs

3. Savoring a bowl of hokkien me at the Red Garden Food Paradise in George Town, Penang

4. Riding bareback on a newly bathed elephant

5. The two-hour boat ride along the Tembeling River amidst soaring rain forest trees
  

6. The climb up the hill to the Kek Lok Si Temple

7. The delectable taste of those freshly cooked curry puffs sold along Kuala Lumpur’s Petaling Street

8. Racing with my man up the 342 stairs that lead to Batu Caves

9. Relishing a banana split at Bayview Hotel George Town’s revolving restaurant, which gave us a 360-degree view of the entire city

10. Shopping for  bargain-priced dresses at Berjaya Times Square KL without trying them on (and later finding out that they fit me perfectly)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Confirmation

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Honey, did you see that?  It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

A simple yes--a confirmation of how you feel, of what your senses are telling you, of what you think--is, sometimes, the only thing you need or seek for.  Unanchored, wandering, you relentlessly pursue that thing, that person, that moment that would affirm your existence. And what joy it is to find the confirmation you need in your significant other.   It is your partner you turn to whenever you’re hurt, thrilled, angry, happy, or frustrated.  Not asking for counsel, help or solution, you simply need him to be there.  Things from the inane and everyday to the important and insurmountable you can share with him without the fear of being ignored, judged or appearing silly.

Honey, did you see that? It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
Yes, it is.

And it is, indeed. With him by your side everything becomes even more beautiful.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles Two: Taman Negara

Sunday, September 5, 2010

If it not for my boyfriend who is into camping and trekking and all else related to nature in the rough, I would not have been to Taman Negara, one of the world’s oldest tropical rain forests whose history stretches back to 130 million years ago; I would have kept to traveling with ease and comfort, and I would not have had such a thrilling adventure as I did back there.


the entrance to Taman Negara National Park


According to the introductory video we watched on our first night at the park headquarters, Taman Negara covers 4343 sq kms that spans across three states in Malaysia (Kelantan, Terengganu, and Pahang) and has its highest point at Gunung Tahan (2187 m), the tallest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia. It houses over 10,000 species of plants, over 350 species of birds and local mammals including deer, wild oxen, monkeys, wild boars, elephants, leopards and tigers.  And during the night trekking we did see some of these species: we spotted a number of insects and some mating frogs.



The following morning, after a strictly halal yet completely nourishing breakfast at one of the floating restaurants, we crossed the river and set out on a two-hour trek up Bukit Teresek, a 342-meter hill. With the trail so steep and the humidity quite high that I had to catch my breath every step of the way, the climb was truly exhausting, but the view at the top made it all worthwhile.

   



The highlight of the trek was, of course, the Canopy Walk along a 550-meter walkway suspended 40 meters above the ground among towering trees. It didn’t feel scary at first, not until the narrow walkway began to sway, and I stood there frozen, holding on to the ropes for dear life.  I had to block out everything and concentrate on making one brave step after another. It was only by sheer focus and willpower that I reached the end of the canopy walkway.  And when I did, it was exhilarating and I felt as if I accomplished something big.


the canopy walkway


  


Our adventure continued on a boat ride upstream Trenggan River, where we shot rapids that soaked us to the skin.  As the waters swelled and poured inside our boat, sudden whoops and shrieks of laughter filled the air. Remembering that wet, shaky, thrilling boat ride always makes me smile.


  


Back at our durian-scented inn for some much needed rest, I thought to myself, this shabby room isn’t bad at after all.  It may not have the amenities as other hotels do, but it has a bed, a bathroom and a view of the mountains. What else do we really need? What do we need wifi, TV, a swimming pool for if we have the entire Taman Negara within our reach?

 
the Mama Chop floating restaurant where we have our meals


Kuala Tahan, park headquarters

Our guide told me that only a few Asians visit the area.  I looked across our group, composed mostly of Europeans, and realized that only my boyfriend and I are the sole Asians. Until now, I’m still wondering why Taman Negara with its history and biodiversity is not a prominent an attraction for Asian travelers as it is for others.
 
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