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We have entered into March without any rain. It has been more than a month without any relief from the heat and drought. It is frightening how helpless we are against nature. Here at the Equator we have taken rainfall for granted. Around the end of each year, torrential Monsoon rain washes out our plans for the holidays and dampens our festive mood. We crave sunny days. That was how it was like even in January this year, until the skies held out on us, and the occasional sunny days dragged on through February and now we are in March!
Why do have to pack so many activities into our school calendar? On a regular day, we have classes from 0730h to 1440h, or 1620h, for the seniors. Then, from 1500h to 1700h or 1800h, there are co-curricular activities and remedial lessons. There was a week long oversea trip, and our Founder's Day celebration. There were term tests and the Swimming Meet which went on for four afternoons after class and another four afternoons of track and field meet. There was a two-day staff workshop and PTM. It's only been one term! There are three more to go!
I am always surrounded by people, especially at work. It would be good to get away on my own, and have some time to myself. So, on days when I could leave school before 4 pm, I would drive to the Regional Library near my home. Here, no one knows me and no one has any reason to talk to me. Here, I am surrounded by books, and I could read anything I want. Although there are computer terminals in the Library, I choose not to use them. I am glad for this oasis in the desert of meaningless activities.
Underestimate your problems. That way, you won’t go under in the face of great difficulties. This first part of the year has been very difficult, and it mostly has to do with work. The pace at which we are going in school is unsustainable. I believe it is not just for us, the teachers, but I imagine it is the same for the students. The people who can change things are the administrators. The problem is they do not see the big picture. It is hopeless saying this over and over again. So, I cope, by underestimating the problems.
There is a case for climate engineering as a solution for global warming. If the increase of carbon dioxide in the air is the problem, why not directly remove it from the air? Reforestation is only one way. We have the technology to pull carbon out of the air and into the soils and the oceans. We can also cool the air through stratospheric sunshade, where we release sulphates into the stratosphere to reflect incoming solar radiation back into space. There are many other innovative solutions besides green energy and carbon taxes. It is not the time yet for despair.
Cynthia Ozick says, "If we had to say what writing is, we would define it essentially as an act of courage." Writing as an act of courage! This is so true. I do not write for publication because I am afraid of exposing myself to criticism. But I derive great pleasure from the exercise of writing. It is as though I am truly myself when I write, and not when I read the work of others. Yet, I don't blog and I kept my journal secret, because I am afraid. So, yes, writing is an act of courage for me.
In his book The Procrastination Equation, Dr Piers Steel says we are wired for procrastination. He cited Marcus Aurelius: “Think of all the years passed by which you said to yourself ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’, and how the gods have again and again granted you periods of grace (to) which you have not availed yourself. It is time to realise that you are a member of the Universe, that you are born of Nature itself, and to know that a limit has been set to your time.” Good reminder. A limit is set to our time, to my time.
I have been telling stories since I was six. That's like a life time ago. Black and white TV had just been invented. Rediffusion was more pervasive then. People kept their sets turned on as they follow the exploits of Wang Fei Hoong and the heroine Meng Li-Jun being told by their favourite Cantonese storyteller, Lee Dasou. Those were pre-television and pre-computer days. That was why it was not surprising that I could get hordes of children in my school playground during recess listening to my Science fiction stories, which I made up as I went along.
Yesterday, MH370, a Boeing 777-200ER, disappeared without a trace! The plane went missing shortly after take-off from KL on a regular flight to Beijing. There were 239 passengers and crew on board. That this could happen with our sophisticated satellite tracking and surveillance, and to such a large plane, is really stretching the imagination quite a bit. The mystery will deepen as events unfold. It would be confirmed in a few days that the plane had flown for another seven hours after all communications were lost- or were deliberately turned off. It appears that it has been hijacked.
What is good and evil? Should we do evil to achieve something good? Before the bomb was made, J Robert Oppenheimer, one of those responsible for the Atomic Bomb, said, "when you see something that is technically sweet you go ahead and do it." After the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in a speech at MIT in 1947, he said: "In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humour, no overstatement can quite extinguish, the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose." Can good come out of something so horrific?
Words should not just convey information. Too many words have been wasted on bits of information. Anybody can convey information with words: the Taiwanese or Japanese manufacturers who write instruction manuals where slips in spelling and syntax are readily forgiven; the signs on storefronts, advertisements, and a whole deluge of internet postings and web blogs where words are often posted in a hurry and without much thought. These are mere words, and not writing. Writing is different. Good writing should inspire, making us want to do great things. It should be life-giving, breathing hope and love into weary hearts.
Jamal Wallace is a gifted 16 year-old African American who stumbled upon William Forrester, a reclusive writer, who became his mentor. Against a backdrop of the interplay of racial prejudice, friendship, honour and integrity, the “words” of both men interwoven planted seeds of inspiration into our hearts. And so as I watched “Finding Forrester” for what could have been at least the third time, I found it ignited in me once again the yearning for pursuing words to their ultimate fruition, to inspire and to touch hearts! Words well-written should should lift up lives and light the night.
There are daily media briefings but there is little new information on the disappearance of MAS flight MH370. They kept repeating carefully worded phrases, dispelled rumours and avoided speculation. There is a lot of pressure on the Malaysian authorities to divulge useful information, but to the frustration of the family members of the crew and passengers of the ill-fated flight, none is offered. The probability that the plane had crashed is still very high. Is it always good to cling on to hope? Does hope really give us strength? Strength for what? To accept whatever has happened the plane?
What is truth? It is what it is even when you say it is not. It is not what it is not even when you say it is. I think Aristotle said something to that effect. So, somewhere out there is MH370. It is where it is. The experts say it has crashed into the Indian Ocean. If it is there, it is there. If it is not, it is not, no matter how long they search. So, why concentrate all the resources to search one area at a time? Why not search the northern corridor at the same time?
The "Forest Walk" is less than 1km long along a suspended metallic walkway across a narrow stretch of secondary forest, a green corridor. It is the remnant of the rainforest that once covered most of the island. It is so close to the road you could hear the constant roar of traffic. Skyscrapers could be seen less than 1 km from the walkway on both sides of the green corridor. It will have to do. The island is too small for long nature trails. There are no mountains and waterfalls, and rivers have been canalised. It will have to do.
There are many things I wish could be different in my life. For instance, I wish the dynamics of the relationships within the family could be different. I wish my sons were more communicative. I wish the family could enjoy spending time together. I have learned not to rush things, not to be too anxious about getting people to change. They will change with time. I like Korean dramas; there may be 29 episodes of crises, but that last one, the final episode, is one where conflicts are resolved and relationships are restored. How I wish life were like that!
I don't know how counselors do what they do. I can empathise with people who have problems, genuine problems, but I don't want to make a living listening to problems day in and day out. Don't judge me. I just don't have the training and the skills, and maybe the desire. I am especially helpless around angry people. They make me feel uncomfortable, especially when I don't agree with their reasons for being angry. I am most uncomfortable if they start fretting and losing their self-control. I have the utmost respect for counselors. I really do. Well done. Really.
In the Korean drama “49 Days”, the soul of the heroine left her body after she became comatose in an accident. She was given 49 days to find three drops of tears from three people who care for her in order to live again. Although the story-line is unique and interesting, I felt a sense of dread after the last episode. It portrays death in such a beautiful and natural way that it makes it alright to die. But it’s not alright to die when you don't know where you are going, when you haven't learned to live.
Our DNA is our fingerprint, they say. It helps us identify people when all other methods are not available, as in forensics. We can do tests with our DNA to see what risks we have of getting certain types of cancer. There are many things we can find out about our physical bodies from our DNA. It's our genetic profile. But, DNA neither knows nor care about us. It is blind indifference. I would like to believe that I am more than just a collection of calcium, water and molecules, mere molecules in motion. I am a moving, feeling person.
Is God necessary? People say, keep God to yourself. Today we are told that in your private life there is no place for God. God is a dangerous idea even. But I believe God is necessary in my life. I need God as my reference point, as an anchor in the storms of life. I need God because I am a relational being, and when all others leave me, I will still have God as someone I can relate to, talk to. I need God as a light in the darkness. It's really that simple. I just need to believe.
Today, like never before, we have almost instant access to information. But the tragedy is, despite being able to access all this information, we are so dumb. We have information but no knowledge. We move and work among crowds, but we are so alone. We have entertainment, but no pleasure. We have connectivity, but no communication. I believe the deepest longing of the human heart is to be with someone. We long to communicate, we long to be with someone we can trust, someone we feel safe with, someone we can lean on. It's not good that we be alone.
In class, we discussed the dangers of social media and the internet. We began by listing the different platforms for communications - text, Whatsapp, Twitter, Tumblr, and others. There were names that I have up until now never heard of. Some of the dangers of these forms of communication are the short messages can be misunderstood; unintended recipients may "listen" in with malicious intent; once sent, the messages cannot be retracted; and, they can stay on cyberspace for a long time. They leave a trail that can be tracked and retrieved. Face to face communication is always better for developing relationships.
My friend, a medial doctor, told us this story that happened at a hospital. He was tending to a patient when he heard a little girl cry. Then the crying stopped and there was a "whoof" sound. The girl cried, then stopped again, and there was another "whoof". This went on for a while. Puzzled, he got out to see what was happening. A nurse was trying to get a bean out of the girl's nose by blowing into her mouth. He said, "Why didn't you ask me?" and proceeded to take the bean out with a pair of forceps.
The sermon today was on "Honor Thy Parents". It basically went on predictably giving the usual reasons why we must.It's not going to go down well with these children. We can imagine there are many kids here with problems with their parents, if not both, one of them. What they need to know is that parenting is the toughest job in the world. They must understand that children don't come with a manual. We learn on the job, and so we can also make mistakes. Why are we often empathetic with kids who err, but so hard on parents?
There's too much noise at the office. A tells B something and C will ask questions, although she is not part of the conversation. C does that all the time, asking endless questions about snippets of conversation she overheard. Then there are D and E, always talking in a foreign language loud enough for the rest of us to hear. The phones ring incessantly. The callers should know that the phones are at our desk, within arm's reach. If it is not answered after one minute it must be because we are not there at our desks, so hang up!
The Library is a space I have deliberately inserted between home and work. It may be for just one hour or even half an hour, but it is effective in giving me a sense of myself as a significant entity. Here, I do not have to respond to anyone. Here, no one knows me, and I am free to read, drink coffee or have a slice of apple crumble. In terms of productivity, I may not have written much, or read much, but it doesn't matter. I am able to chill out, surrounded by books and the stories in them.
I have said we are relational beings, but it is important to have time to be by ourselves. I do feel happier after an hour or two without anyone to talk to. It may be different if I actually have no friends. Then, I would crave company and dread solitude. But in a city state of 700 square kilometers and 5 million people, having a quiet space to yourself is a luxury. Here, in this classroom that has just been emptied of students, I enjoy the peace and luxuriate in the space that I occupy. I am enjoying the silence.
I tried writing a story without a plan, but the story did not take shape as I thought it would. I was experimenting writing as a character in the story and see where the story would take me. Isn't life like this? Our story moves along as we respond to circumstances and the days are filled out with the consequences of our choices and our actions as our life story unfolds? But then in life, the story has no time limit and we don't have to keep the reader interested. We can move along quickly or we can slow down.
The orchids in the balcony have bloomed after a season of dryness and oppressive heat. Orchids are very hardy plants. However, when there are no flowers, they are not pretty to look at. The roots are all over the pot and the leaves are stiff and turn brown easily. When they do bloom, not all the species produce colorful flowers. But I like them because they are hardy. There are also many varieties, or hybrids, and you can go on producing hybrids endlessly through cross-pollination. Orchids are epiphytes and most do not need soil, or even pots, to grow.
I can be very forgiving with my students. I see them as imperfect beings, work in progress, and do not really expect them to present very high standards of behavior. I just cannot stand rudeness. They must not be rude, whether to me, their teacher, or to their contemporaries. Our behavior must show that we respect others even as we expect that to respect us. I take it very personally when students do not acknowledge me when I speak to them, or talk loudly in the presence of a teacher. Other than that, I can forgive them for most slips.
We have come to the end of the month. March 2014 will be remembered as the month a Boeing 777 jet disappeared without a trace. By now, most news stations have moved on to other news stories and stopped hourly updates on the search for the missing plane. March is also the month when Crimea left Ukraine and joins Russia. It is also the second driest month here this year, February being the driest with not a drop of rain. The month has ended. The rain has come. The plane is still missing and Russia has annexed Crimea. March ends.
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