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:

 
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