Monday, 30 June 2008
It managed to articulate pretty clearly what many have been feeling about the whole 'bad business' behind US capitalism, exploitation and pollution and pinpoints it right down to placing consumerism on a pedestal. Indeed, consumerism is the engine of the US economy that pervades into the rest of the globalising world in the sentiment of the Americanisation of the world.
In the 1950s when the general global economy peaked, happiness started to plummet because we began to value life by the material things we own. Along came advertising and seasonal fashion to constantly remind you that you suck bad enough, and the solution is to shop. This has been so deeply etched in the material virtue of retail therapy. We work more so that we can buy more to achieve a form of very temporal plastic happiness, we go home tired and plonk down in front of our primary agents of advertising - the TV and computer - to be reminded that we suck, and the vicious cycle of consumerism repeats. There is hence less time and desire to engage in activities that truly make us happy.
The externalities that come with this are mind-boggling, and indeed quite earth-shattering. Exploitation of cheap labour and natural resources has been rising exponentially, and won't stop because these are the means to a life out of poverty for many. And the wasteful cycle of production won't slow down because our products aren't only not made to last, they're slapped with very short expiry dates to be thrown away as soon as possible so that we'd resort to buying more stuff. On average, we retain as low as 1% of the things we buy within 6 months of purchase.
There are intricate links between the government and the huge capitalist corporations that establish the means and networks for consumerism to move, and the revered consumer class - the many people who feed off this consumerism - provide the engine and fuel.
I've never quite been a fan of shopping myself. I've always said that as a consumer, I'm any marketer's nightmare; it's easy to see through the bull they try to pull. To me, capitalism in its ideal sense is a decent concept. I don't think we should have a restraint on things such as entrepreneurial motivations. But when it goes unchecked, it can become extremely exploitive and uncaring.
Political science in Singapore is like medical students who don't touch bodies.
Bowling For Soup - Last Call Casualty
Friday, 27 June 2008
My mother did not choose a leaf or a head. She chose my father, and to hold on to a certain feeling, she sacrificed the world.
"The first woman may have been Eve, but the first girl will always be Alma," she'd say, the Spanish book open on her lap while I lay in bed. This was when I was four or five, before Dad got sick and the book was put away on a shelf. "Maybe the first time you saw her you were ten. She was standing in the sun scratching her legs. Or tracing letters in the dirt with a stick. Her hair was being pulled. Or she was pulling someone's hair. And a part of you was drawn to her, and a part of you resisted - wanting to ride off on your bicycle, kick a stone, remain uncomplicated. In the same breath you felt the strength of a man, and a self-pity that made you feel small and hurt. Part of you thought: Please don't look at me. If you don't, I can still turn away. And part of you thought: Look at me.
"If you remember the first time you saw Alma, you also remember the last. She was shaking her head. Or disappearing across a field. Or through your window. Come back, Alma! you shouted. Come back! Come back!
"But She didn't.
"And though you were grown up by then, you felt as lost as a child. and though your pride was broken, you felt as vast as your love for her. She was gone, and all that was left was the space where you'd grown around her, like a tree that grows around a fence.
"For a long time, it remained hollow. Years, maybe. And when at last it was filled again, you knew that the new love you felt for a woman would have been impossible without Alma. If it weren't for her, there would never have been an empty space, or the need to fill it.
"Of course, there are certain cases in which the boy in question refuses to stop shouting at the top of his lungs for Alma. Stages a hunger strike. Pleads. Fills a book with his love. Carries on until she has no choice but to come back. Every time she tries to leave, knowing it's what has to be done, the boy stops her, begging like a fool. And so she always returns, no matter how often she leaves or how far she goes, appearing soundlessly behind him and covering his eyes with her hands, spoiling for him anyone who could ever come after her."
Placebo - Special K
Thursday, 26 June 2008
There was mambo night, and then there was some. Was I thinking? Now I'm back at the end of the line, losing control; there's no escaping gravity. On a side note, while the DJ was adventurous in trying to introduce That's Not My Name by The Ting Tings, the music transitioning did leave a lot to be desired.
When it does rain, it pours. So I found myself back at Richard's place, twice in 3 days. The first was when we had the PS2 gathering; DDR under the influence of alcohol should be quite fun. :] Anyway, there I was bunking over after mambo when I was really supposed to be 'overnighting in school for some faculty event', to spare myself the hassle of having to deal with the folks.
When I was a primary school kid, I started lying that I had remedial lessons so that I could sneak over to my friends' places where all the Sega Saturns and Nintendo 64s were. I feared that some unwitting classmate of mine would call to ask about homework while I was out, and I lived in mortal fear, on a regular basis for awhile, of the mental image of my mom answering the phone and asking him or her why he or she was home already while I wasn't, and then giving me a good one when I got home.
But that fear eroded after awhile, diluted and made insignificant by the many times I got away with it, as well as other things I regularly keep from my parents, especially my strict, traditional dad. I know many people, up to the young adults they are now, never ever get over this fear. Either that, or the guilt of the lie committed becomes too overbearing a burden to carry, no matter how small it is. It is like putting your finger very near the spot between your eyebrows, almost in contact but never touching, and leaving it there. A pressure that typically shouldn't be there takes form, and quickly becomes more than a niggling gnaw. Though I'm not proud to say it, I suppose I'm numb and past that already where the folks are concerned, where a white lie in place of a troublesome truth quickly suffices in an instant gratification kinda way.
"... there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. Do you understand that? When you kill a man, you steal a life."
"You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness."
In that restless morning where I did have a really random and fleeting dream of meeting Assef the sociopath from The Kite Runner, as the light crept past the curtains while lying on the living room sofa, I wondered if this'll ever catch up with me one day. That, amidst listening to the myriad of interesting morning sounds of the postman shoving letters rhythmically into metallic mailboxes, rusty trolleys rolling along and bumping up kerbs and the ringing of bells on dog collars amongst other lively noises, which come along with living on the 2nd storey.
Just drift. :]
Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum sonatur. (Whatever said in Latin sounds profound.)
Yung Joc Feat. 3LW - 'Bout It
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Consider some of the basic goals of girls and guys. Guys innately wish to compete with each other, and if they could, blast the heads off one another. So boys grow up playing with toy cars and guns and running around trying to kick balls better than their other dude friends can. Girls innately wish to establish peace among their kind, so they develop linguistic skills better and faster and play with dolls and the like; stuff of nurturing nature, so as to ensure social stability.
As a result, girls have better interpersonal skills than guys, and tend to form friendships more easily than guys do. This entails that girls end up becoming more patronising so as to preserve the social status quo.
So, with figures strictly for example with no scientific basis whatsoever, for maybe every 20 within-gender friendships that the average girl forms, the average guy has formed only 1 friendship. This can only mean that female friendships tend to be diluted across the vast number of friendships they have as compared to male friendships.
Furthermore, male friendships are borne beyond the need to kill each other. This means that the friendship is dusted, tried and tested. It is more than just a brotherhood; it is an alliance of sorts.
It is no surprise then when they say that girls generally end up doing a lot more backstabbing, since guys separate the 'mere friends' from the 'true friends' by stabbing each other on the front. A lot of female friendships are preserved for the sake of preserving them by my very narrow-minded view of them being patronising, paying lip service and leaving insincere "let's meet up soon!" messages to even the most remote of acquaintances just so as to appear friendly and civil.
Hence sometimes, when you exclude the few true female friendships among the weeds of many insignificantly smaller female friendships that a girl may have, there is nothing really special about her trying to preserve a friendship bond since it is, technically speaking, an instinctive priority to do so. Whereas when a guy does attempt to preserve a male friendship bond, it is often of extra care, effort, practicality or sincerity since it is not something he does naturally.
So the friendships that emerge among guys are more often truly friendships while the friendships that emerge among girls are more often just to fulfil a basic social desire to make less enemies. But the thing is that I don't blame girls for being this way - girls are just naturally social creatures.
I do not doubt that there are strong friendships among girls in sisterhoods too. But overall it really just seems that there's a general dilution among female friendships as compared to the few male friendships that guys may develop.
The rebuttal to this post is briefly outlined here.
There are two important days in a woman's life: the day she was born, and the day she finds out why.
- Elaine Cannon
The Hush Sound - A Dark Congregation
The Kite Runner turned out to be one such book for me. Some parts were really tear-jerker worthy and I guess I'm not afraid to admit I teared while reading it. Also because it's something I hadn't really had going for awhile. It's nice to be reminded of the salience of one's emotions, especially since I'm well aware of my strong state of rationality.
The part where Baba tells Amir that his marriage is the happiest day of his life, and hobbles off to perform one last fatherly duty. Meh.
You also rediscover what matters most to you when certain ideas cry, scream or sing out to your heart.
The Kite Runner touches on an array of issues from religious, Islamic philosophy to politics and gender equality, at the same time employing pretty good literary techniques to further enhance the symbolic nature of the central theme of redemption, and is not devoid of the good plot twist every now and then. It was, at times, really pleasant to read and, at others, thoroughly engaging.
Sometimes, when I read a part from a story and the scene gets painted vividly in my head in an almost realistic, movie-like fashion, I wonder if I get the mental visualisation because the writing is simply fantastic, or if it appears to me this way because the writing has been fashioned after the effect created by cinematics, or if I interpret it so because I've been conditioned, by watching movies, that imagery has a specific form to it.
Better to be hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie.
- Khaled Hosseini
Stereophonics - Hurry Up And Wait
Monday, 23 June 2008
So I became labelled as some kinda fucked up soldier. A while later, all of us sat down and for whatever reason, the girls started painting and mixing colours. They tried to mix red, yellow and white paint and were racking their brains as to what colour might come out. So when I told them it would turn out orange, they went, "so smart!" in Chinese. And then I replied in English that my Chinese sucks. Then one of the girls said, in Chinese, that it's okay and we've all got our own personalities, and that I'm different from the others.
Whatever that meant! That was the first thing that came to my mind when I woke up. But if I were to attempt to psychoanalyse myself, I think I can see what it might mean, if dreams mean anything at all.
An oops moment on MSN with Leon:
Comedians are the most honest people in films because here’s the deal: either it’s funny or it ain’t.
- Jack Nicholson
Velvet Revolver - Slither
Sunday, 22 June 2008
During lunch at the Olio pasta restaurant in the French school for Angie's birthday, I learnt that lunch represents 'just friends', and dinner represents a 'date'.
Yesterday, Khairul, Leon and I hung out for a bit as all of us had stuff we had to do in town. Leon's been having his people-problems that stemmed from hall and he was unfortunate enough to be stuck in an awkward situation with one of those problem people while having dinner at Cineleisure. So dude was lamenting about how small Singapore was and why he doesn't like going out to populated places like town for fear of meeting people you don't wanna meet.
Leon later bumped into his old army colleague, and I actually knew the person too, though not personally. Khairul asked why I didn't wanna go say hi to him, and I just remarked that I didn't wanna be caught in a half-assed conversation with someone I'm neither here nor there with in terms of being friends.
I really get irked by typicality. You kinda know that generally, both parties don't really wanna be having that conversation. So I've decided that the key to surviving such episodes of meeting hi-bye friends along the subway is to ask the "Eh bro how's life!" question first. Because I hate answering such questions, and you get to be established as the really cheerful person in the superficial conversation.
Khairul suggested that to jackass the whole typical situation, when faced with a "how's life" question, you could actually answer, "life really sucks and I feel like killing myself." This is amusing in a jackass way on a few levels. Firstly, it is most unexpected, because the theoretical reply is to say that you're fine and then start thinking of ways to move on to wherever you're going to next. When faced with a suicidal reply, the person has to juggle the surprise, acting/being concerned and the shitty prospect of enduring a half-assed conversation that would drag on longer than expected.
Been busying myself with The Kite Runner, and with the designing of the Capoeira SMU t-shirt. The logos, if determined, would look something like these.
Another busy week awaits! And I've been forced into drawing up a schedule of sorts, however little of an organised person I am. Which, I suppose, does highlight the extent of my busy-ness.
Not much of a timetable but this is infinitely more than having none.
A diplomat is a man who remembers a lady's birthday but forgets her age.
Within Temptation Feat. Keith Caputo - What Have You Done
Saturday, 21 June 2008
The school of realist thought contends that essentially, countries are keen and only keen on preserving the survival of the state through self-help. This means that nothing else matters other than being wary of your neighbours and you'd only be able to trust yourself, so you build up your own offences and defences. Through a vicious cycle of insecurity between nations, there will always be hostility and inevitably war.
The school of liberalist thought asserts that there is more to it than just the necessity of statism, survival and self-help, because modern politics seems to be moving towards that of peace treaties and goodwill on the sugar-coated side. If we can afford to do these things, then there must be some room for being optimistic about peace and cooperation.
But I'm not writing about what explains why countries want to bomb the crap out of one another or selectively treat one another like gay bosom pals. I'm posting today about gender realism. Along the 'all men only want sex' and 'all women only want money' variety of sentiment, we have others like 'all women secretly want bad boys and fast cars', 'all men are scumbags', 'all women are bitches' etc. Essentially, this is what I'd define as gender realism.
On the other hand, stuff like 'I don't think all men are scumbags, my boyfriend is definitely not one of them' or 'my girlfriend is the exception to the general adage that women only want men with status' belongs under gender liberalism. Likewise, men having 2 ladders under the ladder theory and 'personality is more important than looks' hence also fall under gender liberalist thought by my definitions.
The general conflict between realism and liberalism since the early 1900s is that life for the realist, at the end of the day, is all about protecting yourself in an innately rational and selfish manner. Life for the liberalist would be that we can afford to be genuinely altruistic and life isn't all about self-survival. The lengthened conflict then goes on to debate whether liberalism is essentially sugar-coated realism. Take for example the IMF or the WTO. Liberalists will say that you can draw on these examples to show that countries can indeed seek to further goodwill for everyone's gain. Realists will say that the IMF and WTO are merely tools that America is using to further their personal interests on a global scale, in the process enslaving developing countries and forcing them to play by their rules.
Accordingly, it can then be argued that, for example, men, especially the sensitive new-age ones, are only being sensitive and nice insofar as they wish to succeed in getting into women's pants ultimately. In line with liberalism being disguised realism, a guy's attempt to be nice and sensitive are just more cunning ways to get sex, and a lady's attempt to be a witty and new-age confident woman is just so that she can get men of stature and their dough.
To digress a little, it is like when a company decides to engage in CSR (corporate social responsibility). Liberalists will say that they want to reach out to stakeholders, realists will assert that they're simply doing this just to exploit the CSR channel to market their firm and get more profits.
Fundamentally, anyone who asserts that all men and women are rootedly the same because of a host of scientific, rational reasons - biological, Darwinistic, etc - is a gender realist. As long as the status quo is met, it doesn't matter by what means.
With Congress, every time they make a joke it's a law; and every time they make a law it's a joke.
Talib Kweli Feat. Mos Def & Kanye West - Get By
Monday, 16 June 2008
There are 2 main types of commitment issues - one is being uneasy with the idea of commiting and thus having inertia in embarking on tasks and joining things, while the other is being unable to stick to what one has committed oneself to. One's commitment problem(s) is then either one or the other or a combination of both.
I happen to fall primarily under the first type of commitment problem, i.e. type-1 commitmentphobe. I just don't like the idea of having to be committed, but once I'm into something, I'll most probably stick to it and see it through.
I thought I knew better because I had the theory all in my head. Heck, some of them were stuff I even actively preach. But there are some things we can never truly comprehend without some experential learning. Looking back, I guess I wouldn't have expected myself to have known any of this, or known better.
Justin and I went to check out the IT/PC fair. It was a happy hunting ground for him because he managed to find the cheap HDMI monitors he was already looking out for, while it was disappointing for neutrals like me because there wasn't really much on offer for window shopping. Major brands like ViewSonic and Creative didn't even show up.
Storage devices are really going for cheap though. Before I left for Cambodia, I bought a 2gb micro SD card for about $30+, and they were going for $13 at the fair. :[
Other than that, probably the next most interesting device we chanced upon was the touchscreen monitor. But after watching some people test-drive it, we concluded that touchscreen monitors still have quite a way to go before they can be developed to a level of practicality that would suit the way we use personal computers. Besides, how would one be able to snack on chips and surf the net without staining the screen?
Now, this is seriously some shit-ass freaky stuff I saw on the train home:
And she was perfectly at ease standing that way.
I hope that after I die, people will say of me: "That guy sure owed me a lot of money."
- Jack Handey
Limp Bizkit - Behind Blue Eyes
We live in such a balanced and stabilised system of sorts where moderation is key. Wherever the blueprint for such a system came from, it is most ingenious nonetheless. As a result, we can never be 'too much' of anything. Or rather, we should not be too much of anything. One can derive the sentiment by reading it aloud, prefixing 'too' to any adjective, and at once even the most wonderful of things can become slimed with the decay of excesses, such as 'too happy', 'too beautiful', 'too passionate' or 'too rational'.
Such a system doesn't allow for stagnation. Everything has a catch to it. As follows, one can't even be 'too moderated', as it entails, for example, not being realistic nor idealistic, or passionate or dispassionate, and as such forces us to move along and change in a dynamic world. And this catch arises primarily because it is only human nature to value things we do not have, an intrinsic part of our nature devised to ensure this system ticks the way it does.
Timbaland Feat. OneRepublic - Apologize
Thursday, 12 June 2008
The scanned image doesn't turn out very well though.
I managed to catch some Euro action with the Portugal 3-1 Czech Rep. game after Sab taught me how to use SopCast. ZOMGWTFBBQ this is like one of the happiest nights in my life.
A lot of fellows nowadays have a B.A., M.D., or Ph.D. Unfortunately, they don't have a J.O.B.
- Fats Domino
OneRepublic - Stop And Stare
Tuesday, 10 June 2008
A comfortable community of 2-year difference couples results, and then becomes okay because it forms a baseline out of acceptance. So it perhaps then becomes okay to say it's not that boys don't care about girls their age anymore and just wanna get younger girls, or girls don't care about boys their age anymore and only wanna get older boys. It's not that people of the same age aren't good enough for each other. It's just the norm, or the reality of the situation as it is, by default an excuse or not.
And in some instances, when there's a stalemate, it could boil down to religion as a factor just because it makes things more convenient. Sometimes it does seem that many people are, for example, Christians simply because 'it makes things easier', particularly at a social level.
We're all such suckers for marriages of convenience that the typicality of it all irks me sometimes.
But I suppose that's the automatic self-defence mechanism of any system. To oppose the status quo always puts you immediately at the losing end, even if there are potential long term returns. Many never make it that far and those who do are relegated to one-off heroes in a fairytale.
When everything's coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.
Hinder - By The Way
I'm surprised this took my breath away, kinda. But maybe I'm glad for some finality to it, or I'd still be foolishly flailing after nothing.
It's weird how we place our ideals on a pedestal until they become too exalted to be achieved. There is a painful, ensuing inferiority complex from the resignation due to the acceptance of fate.
Angie: I won't suck at driving! I have like killer psycho-motor skills!
Me: Yeh that's when you start killing people on the road because of your lack of psycho-motor skill!
Angie: I SET THE RULES.
An SMS from Kok:
i tink i might to cum myself i got briefing!
Saturday, 7 June 2008
As stated on the website,
What is Drawing Day?
One day a year, the world stops to remember that joy we had when we first picked up a pencil and created our first piece of art - that's what Drawing Day is all about. The goal for Drawing Day is simple - to create enough drawings to make some noise worldwide for the sake of art. 2008 is the first year of this initiative. Our goal is definitely a long-shot, but we're aiming for 1 million drawings worldwide. We have no precise measure to know if we reach this goal. If we come close we will all definitely know. Even if we reach 10% of our goal in the first year of this initiative, it will be a great achievement but we will continue aiming for the magic million. Check out our press release.
Why is Drawing Day important?
Illustrators and artists alike often go unappreciated. The creation of art and illustration captured our minds ever since we were children and our parents turned the pages of our first book. These stories came to life via the illustrations that took us to an imaginary world full of inspiration.
Whether you're a professional illustrator or you just enjoy the occasional scribble, you can give back to the illustration community by drawing on this day. By injecting more and more illustration and art into our community, we are not only showing our appreciation to our fellow artists, but we are spreading awareness of the joy of drawing. It is important that you contribute - Drawing Day will only be a success if we all participate and make some noise. So, please tell your friends and spread the word.
How do I participate?
To join in on this event is simple - as simple as picking up a pencil and drawing. However, the most important part is sharing your art with the world.
In today's age of technology, the ability to share your art with the world is easier than ever. We have compiled a huge list of ways to participate and share your art online. These are some of the of the best ways to reach a broad audience.
Disco Ensemble - Drop Dead Casanova
Thursday, 5 June 2008
Some time ago Justin and I were having some warped conversation (nothing new there) and the importance of stupidity was brought to light. For the record, Justin contributed significantly to this article.
In line with realist thought, life only ensues 2 main things - to survive and procreate. Accordingly, it is found that stupidity is what ensures that the status quos of these 2 main things are met.
Stupidity is the logical corollary to intelligence. As a species, it just so happens that, as a result of a huge reliance of brain utilisation, humans lose touch with instinct and ingrained primal intuition. Alot of what we do are then mentally processed outcomes from a stimulus of some sort. The remainder that's left to instinct are often boring stuff like breathing and, perhaps not so dully, split-second reactions. But essentially, most else is subjected to mental processing before execution. The neocortex ensures that we don't act purely on instinct.
So naturally, since brain usage isn't particularly a function of instinct, some people then start to suck at using their brains, creating a dichotomy between smart and stupid. To paint a clearer picture, if the disparity between intelligence levels were likened to that of a bird's instinctive ability to fly, many of us would have relatively similar intelligence levels. On the flipside, if the ability to fly were likened to that of our intelligence, you'd see a great deal of birds screw up and fly into trees and planes. But birds hardly ever mess up, and I think this relevantly shows how stupid we can be as humans in a comparative sense.
Once some potentially smart people start to realise that a great number of humans are crap at using their brains, they will improve themselves in order to exploit others.
In the modern world, consumption is a major function of survival. For the purposes of this narrow-minded article, and in applying Occam's razor, I'm excluding anything else that may determine survival as a prime factor (because many things seem to overlap with consumption anyway and I'm lazy). Stupid people are drivers of the economy. Do we really need 20 pairs of shoes? Do we really need a bigger car? Do we really need that Rolex watch? Quite clearly, nope, we don't. Economic utility of goods purchased, especially consumer goods, is only 'justified' inasmuch as the social value ascribed to these goods. Given that the normative social value we get from a good is determined by the producers of said good, it just says that, by applying Occam's razor once again, it's mere stupidity that determines consumption for economic goods, especially social goods.
And to top it all off, stupid people kinda fool themselves willingly in this sense.
Relevantly, marriage and babies for the procreation of our species are often primarily derivatives of stupidity and I don't think I have to explain that much. Just do a search on funny quotes about marriage. Not the serious ones; as they say to be wise you can't take life too seriously.
Hence, stupidity plays a vital role in life. If you're shit-stupid but know it, then you're already on the path to improvement, because sociologically and for current human development, intelligence disparity has its importance cause. Deductively then, people must either be extremely intelligent and capable or not intelligent at all. So sums up the importance of stupidity.
The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.
Taproot - I
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
We departed from Singapore on the 21st to the sendings-off of friends and family, and touched down in Phnom Penh after a 2 hour flight. The city setting and the swanky hotel certainly didn't hold clues as to the really rural living conditions we were to endure the next 5 days in Battambong village.
Personally, I went without significant expectations, other than a vague and basic mental image of what I'd envision a village to be like. So I wasn't particularly as stunned as the others when we finally reached the house we were to live in and checked it out for the first time.
It was somewhat amusing to observe the various ways of expressing oneself in such dire times. Most people had their different looks of disbelief. Ben just went straight outside for a smoke.
We were to make the 2nd storey area our commode for the next 5 days and 4 nights. There were 22 of us and the room was too small, so most of the guys took the outer area which was basically just a balcony-like roof, except that that roof had another roof over it. Whenever it rained, that roof area would just totally drench out. In all, no beds, just plain wooden flooring, which we were to eventually cover up with our towels and sleeping bags to make the most of an uncomfortable sleeping area as we could.
Every night would then eventually become a battle with the bugs and mosquitoes.
We headed to the school to get wind of our workstation that would become part of the clockwork and regularity of our lives for the next few days. We couldn't get the name of the school right til the end, so we called the school Cockup for the most part because someone told us that he or she thought it sounded something like Khokkap. But we later learnt that the name of the school is really Kok Khmom. By then, we had our fair share of laughs from coming up with the lamest references to Cockup School.
The guys and I sawed, hacked, drilled and hammered the days away, bringing to light our obvious lack of carpentry skills as we ended up making artistic parallelograms instead of rectangular shelves. The girls conducted English lessons for the Cambodian kids. It wasn't easy teaching them though as, with their English proficiency aside, their personal beliefs of the world were quite different. In one particular lesson, we had to explain to them why it was bad to breed mosquitoes, and had to reference the effect of the sun's rays on tropical countries. That proved to be a challenge because they believed the sun was unique to Cambodia or something like that.
Day in and out, we'd end off work at 4pm because the school has no electricity and sundown would approach fast, so we'd head back to the house to wash up and get ready for dinner. Electricity and water comes on only after a certain time, and the toilets were really just crapholes with water pots and containers to collect water to be scooped and bathed with.
Time slows to an almost screeching halt when village life is concerned. To say that the life of a villager is simple is an understatement for the fact that 'simple' just doesn't quite capture the essence of how we as city kids would perceive the slowness of life there to be. It was insanely uncomplicated and mundane. People sit around all day converting oxygen to carbon dioxide, and the lack of activity simply doesn't bother them. By the 2nd or 3rd day, when the realisation of how slow time was passing hit, we were pushing the limits of sanity by engaging in extremely inane games and conversations and telling Chuck Norris and Yo Mama jokes just to pass the time.
An example of a desperate conversation would be as follows:
Jose: So yeah that's how the story goes.
Ben: Okay cool.
Jose: Has this conversation ended?
Ben: I think so.
Jose: Shit. So let's start another one.
Guessing the time was a challenge in itself, as we could have done a truckload of stuff in the morning but when we check the time, it would only be like 9am. At night, after dinner is done at about 7pm, we would be struggling to pass the time til a respectable 12am before we'd go to sleep. We were exhausting the marginal utilities of our card games and our shoot, shag or marry and truth or dare conversations. Cambodians sleep at 8pm. We were probably a 5-day nightmare for the quiet village neighbourhood.
On our first night we were silly enough not to put up mosquito nets. Even the villagers do it, so it was practically mozzie rape that night. And I guess we were unfortunate enough to be situated near a funeral procession as they started playing really loud funeral music at 4am. Luckily though, that was the last day and so we weren't awakened at such ungodly hours anymore. And we were told that such processions last about 3 days. If the family was rich enough, it might've lasted for a week.
The days start early anyway to the sound of honking vehicles. Cambodian traffic, even in the village, is all about give and take with minimal traffic rules. So a lot of honking is done to communicate intent. In Singapore, most honking is really just another form of verbal abuse. Here, it is almost like making courtesy calls.
We did have our stay in Battambong shortened by one day though. It was really sweet reprieve. I guess for the most part, I made it through largely by knowing it'll end within 6 days. If I was told it was gonna be a 2 month stay, I would've adjusted my expectations accordingly. I think it's kinda like how we get through life without knowing it. Life as a burden is easier to bear knowing it'll end someday.
One morning - I think it was Sunday - I awoke to the sun shining directly in my face. Though the sun was high in the sky, I knew it was early as it always is in Battambong. So I took awhile and thought about quite a number of things. First and foremost, the economic disparity between many things were clearly put in perspective here during this trip. Richard and I took a walk around the slums in Phnom Penh on the first night, and it was extremely decadent. People were running a market place along roads without streetlamps, and the roads were strewn with decaying fruits and other stuff. And next to that was the huge-ass swanky hotel we were living in with water and electricity we could afford to leave on while away from it. The hotel was indecently decent next to the poor living conditions of the people that surrounded it.
While in the village, I saw in its people such common traits we share - the need for a family, love, fun and activities, amongst other things I can't quite accurately capture in words right now. But the way they live is so different and in conditions so much less desirable, but only because that's how I, as a city-slicker, think it is. Do they know how different it could be? And would they actually be happier if they were given the chance to change their economic predicament? They might even think I'm the crazy one to want to return to my own hectic life if they knew how it's like.
And even if a stand is taken to rid the country of its poverty, or any other developing country like it for that matter, it would take a colossal effort that all the lip service paid on TV and in school lessons about social responsibility, even as an ideal, can hardly suffice. I guess what we did there might have been quite inadequate, but it did plant these seeds in my head having seen it and lived it to desire making a difference in a more significant way if I could in future.
The trip didn't particularly make me appreciate home anymore than I already do because I don't take my own life and living for granted. There was a lot of whining going on and, while I don't agree with most of the whining, I guess it's only natural for most of us to complain. Many people make the same pointless 'on hindsight' comment: "looking back on it, it wasn't so bad." If we all know we're gonna say something like this in the end, why not prevent it and enjoy the ride while it lasts? The whole thing would only be as bad as we'd allow it to be ourselves.
I've always embraced the idea of being away from oneself, and the things that define who you are, like your own home, your own existing friends and the things you usually do, in order to gain very radical new perspectives for yourself and, for the first time, I was able to actually do it and I wasn't disappointed with how it turned out. This trip has really rekindled my joy of meeting new people and gaining new experiences. You could talk about many different things in the comfort of the same people you meet everyday but it wouldn't be the same as just talking about one thing to different people. It's all about getting new perspectives and it can be extremely refreshing.
It is also a privilege to be able to make friends from school away from the context of school. It almost feels like when I was younger all over again in a way. I've always believed that the best kind of friends are made away from anything with strings attached, like when we were in secondary school and the pressure of grades or a salary (when it comes to corporate colleagues in future) aren't in the picture.
By the 2nd day back in Phnom Penh, I was getting tired of what little we could do in the city even though living conditions were back to bearable. I guess I'm really just glad to be back home. It's a trip that has taught me more than I could ask for.
Diplomacy is the art of letting someone else get your way.
Beyoncé Knowles - One Night Only