Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Santorini

Me and a good friend who is now living in Tokyo spoke about this most beautiful place in Greece way back when we were still undergraduates. It was going to be a honeymoon place - a place of dreams where the rising sun basked against the clay walls perched on the hills in welcoming you the tide of morning.
He is the only one I personally knew who managed to live that dream of being there - though not on a honeymoon :) This dream place came to mind as I was reading the story of the lost city of Atlantis - a place that has intrigued me even as a young boy till now.


Santorini - great poets have sung its praises, a 4.000 year old history. And the eternal rock continues to stand, strong and majestic, rising proudly from the sea and guarding well the secrets of Atlantis...

Starbucks And Escargos

It was bound to happen sooner or later - and it occurred today. I was supposed to meet a friend for coffee but I was at another place for dinner. The schedule's all screwed up and too full, and time is running out.

Sorry dude ... I will make it up soon. Hope the escargos were good :)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Whatever Comes Up

Many of us live lives that are way too cluttered — with things, activities, obligations. We tend to fill everything up, including our calendars.

A friend blocks of time on his calendar for "Whatever Comes Up" (WCU). Even at the office, he leaves several hours a week open, knowing he'll need it for unplanned conversations with co-workers, phone calls, or a project that takes longer than he thought it would. Something will always come up, and unless we allow for such contingencies, the time to handle them will be taken out of our family time, our reading time, our exercise time, or our prayer time.

We need openness in our lives, breathing space, unfilled time. These function as reminders of new possibilities, signalling that we have room to grow, and that we can indeed grow.

In religious terms, our daily contemplation, prayers, zikr or seclusions are actually uncluttered time when we can step out of our busy schedules and stop doing what we normally do or trapped into doing. It is a time of rest, certainly, but also a sacred time when we open ourselves anew to the Divine Presence.

We Are The Mimics

The clouds preceded us.

There was a muddy centre before we breathed.
There was a myth before the myth began,
Venerable and articulate and complete.

From this the poem springs: that we live in a place
That is not our own and, much more, not ourselves
And hard it is in spite of blazoned days.

We are the mimics. Clouds are pedagogues.


... Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction, Wallace Stevens

A Falcon, A Storm Or A Great Song

I live my life in growing rings
which move out over the things around me.
Perhaps I'll never complete the last,
but that's what I mean to try.

I'm circling around God, around the ancient tower,
and I've been circling thousands [of] years;
and I still don't know: am I a falcon, a storm
or a great song.


... Ich lebe mein leben, Rainer Maria Rilke

Not All There

I turned to speak to God
About the world's despair;
But to make bad matters worse
I found God wasn't there.

God turned to speak to me
(Don't anybody laugh)
God found I wasn't there--
At least not over half.


... Robert Frost

There Is No Road

"Traveler, your footprints
are the only road, nothing else.

Traveler, there is no road;
you make your own path as you walk.

As you walk, you make your own road,
and when you look back
you see the path
you will never travel again.

Traveler, there is no road;
only foam trails on the sea."


... Antonio Machado

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sheesha

What is it about this famous sheesha or hookah that has taken over our Arab Street by storm - to both Arabs and non-Arabs as well. If you walk along Arab Street and Bussorah Street, there are countless sheesha joints - and at night, these smokers will line up the corridors of dirty streets or even rolled up in a room (never mind the smoke) together enjoying this new cultural pasttime?

From wikipedia: Numerous studies have shown that extended use of sheesha over many sessions can be as detrimental to a person's health as smoking cigarettes. Each hookah session typically lasts from 20-80 minutes and consists of 50-200 puffs which range from 0.15-1 litre per puff. This exposes the sheesha smoker to considerably more smoke over a longer time period compared with a cigarette which ranges from 0.5-0.6 liters per cigarette.

While the water absorbs some of the nicotine in the tobacco smoke, the smoker can be exposed to enough nicotine to cause addiction. Furthermore, the water moisture induced by the sheesha makes the smoke less irritating and may give a false sense of security and reduce concerns about true health effects.

Other research shows that a 45 minute session of sheesha tobacco smoking (tobacco molasses) delivers slightly more tar and carbon monoxide (around 5-10%) than a pack of cigarettes. This study has, however, come under criticism for using unrealistically high temperatures for the tobacco (600-650 degrees C) and using arbitrary figures for tar filtration rates. This could possibly have skewed results, as the carcinogenic and toxin levels of smoke increases dramatically with temperature (Wynder 1958).

Some sheesha tobaccos claim to contain 0.0% Tar, but this is misleading because tar is made when tobacco burns. However, when smoking a sheesha, the tobacco is heated rather than burned. More research is needed to determine the exact amount of tar produced in a session before the burning of the tobacco.

The level of impact on a smoker's health is linked to the set-up and components of the sheesha as well. A sheesha only utilizing the basic components is believe to have much harsher health consequences than one set-up properly and with various safety devices installed: Since the tobacco in a sheesha is roasted as opposed to burned, the density and temperature of the tobacco is paramount to ensure a safer quality of smoke."

Proponents of this activity however quotes: "Smoking a narghile (sheesha) is nothing like smoking a cigarette," a 71-year-old pensioner named Ismet Ertep said as he looked up from his pipe. "Cigarettes are for nervous people, competitive people, people on the run," he said. "When you smoke a nargile, you have time to think. It teaches you patience and tolerance, and gives you an appreciation of good company. Nargile smokers have a much more balanced approach to life than cigarette smokers."

From "The Turkish Narghile - Inhale the Pleasure of an Unhurried Ottoman Past"; Stephen Kinzer, the New York Times, June 10, 1997.

Doctor Fish

When one goes to the Singapore Flyer, one expects to take the Flyer. But that was not the case with me and a friend last Friday. We went for a new spa treatment by Dr Fish - yes, you heard it right - fishes are also medically educated now :)

It was truly a worthwhile experience - and out of this world. The first few minutes, was like a torture of a lifetime, especially if you are ticklish - and yet the irony is that these fishes are toothless! But thereafter as you get accustomed to it, it begins to feel as if they are massaging your feet. Don't let the picture on the right scare you though ... in actual fact, there are more fishes swarming at your feet than shown here ... (evil laugh).

Doctor fish are a species called garra rufa and originate in pools near two small Turkish towns, Kangal and Sivas. They have long been known for their ability to treat the symptoms of skin conditions such as psoriasis.

In Kangal, the water's high temperature makes it difficult for any nutrients to survive; the doctor fish are therefore ravenous. Handily, they also have a penchant for dead, diseased or scabby skin. With their gummy mouths they strike and lick the psoriatic plaques, eating away the scaly skin that has been softened by the warm spa pool.

The idea is that you immerse your feet, hands or, if you are brave enough, your entire body in a warm pool that swarms with hundreds of hungry minnow-sized feeders. The fish zoom in on your most crusty, flaky or scabby skin and chomp away at it to reveal the fresh layer beneath. You will emerge refreshed, healthy, buffed and glowing.

My feet was like a baby after the half-hour treatment ... and I will be coming back for more :)

Makansutra Street Food Masters

If you ever possess the first few editions of our local food guide, Makansutra - you will find a silhouette of 'yours truly' somewhere in there. We were known as the 'Makan-mata' - the guys who actually go out discreetly (therefore silhouetted) to taste the food and give the chopsticks-ratings you find in Makansutra - in the book and the tv show. [I say this now as I will be leaving Singapore and will not be a makan-mata anymore - so See Toh, if you are reading this, fret not :)]

I have always been asked what it takes to be a food critic. I do not know the answer to that. But the stint I had with Makansutra with the famed See Toh and his wife was a blast. We were given money, we draw up a 'battle plan' of restaurants to judge, go there as innocent customers, order the food, taste them, leave - grade them, get it moderated and ta-dah! you see the no. of chopsticks in the book. At first, it pained me to see all those food went to waste, but if you have about 10-15 restaurants to "test" in a day, it was not possible to eat them. Besides, food tasting/testing is totally different from eating: Once you eat them, you cannot test the food.

I attended the Makansutra Street Food Masters 2008 on Friday at The Pavilion of Far East Square - to enjoy the best local food in town and to bid See Toh and his wife goodbye. Of course, this would not be possible without my dear friend :)

A extract of the Singapore Street Food Oscars:

"The Makansutra Singapore Street Food Masters are back! Now into its fourth year, this unique award and recognition program will for the first time ever, recognize the foreign street food talents – individuals and their families who have now come to call Singapore their new home.

Starting in 2005 as the Hawker Legends, the Makansutra Singapore Street Food Masters serves to recognize the top street food practitioners in our city. Singapore’s street food cultures is an institution that feeds the nation and these master cooks are the soldiers that proudly defend Singapore’s culinary heritage. Each year, Makansutra, with an impartial and discerning panel of culinary observers, and being conscious of echoes from the internet, will select a group of street food vendors worthy of the Street Food Masters accolade.

Such Street Food Masters are what Makansutra champion as part of our quest in celebrating Asian food cultures and lifestyle.

Singaporeans and visitors can pick up free copies of the brochures* featuring these masters complete with your own food trails to their stalls!

*brochures are available at SVCs (Singapore Visitor Centers), selected Hawker Centres and the Makansutra office."

And ... the 7th Edition of Makansutra has already hit the bookstores. Click here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Musketeers' Friendship

Met the musketeers today for dinner. It was so beautiful catching up, that without realising it, we spent 4 hours sitting and chatting. I know I do not normally write an entry of my daily happenings, but tonight was beautiful and I somehow need to record it. But some things are not easy to capture in one's own words - so I sought the help of Kahlil Gibran on the topic of Friendship, which best summarises what went through tonight:

"And a youth said, "Speak to us of Friendship."

Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.
And he is your board and your fireside.
For you come to him with your hunger, and you seek him for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the "nay" in your own mind, nor do you withhold the "ay."
And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;
For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy that is unacclaimed.

When you part from your friend, you grieve not;
For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.
For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.
If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.

For what is your friend that you should seek him with hours to kill?
Seek him always with hours to live.

For it is his to fill your need, but not your emptiness.

And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.

For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed."


... The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

My Last Sermon

Last week marked the last Friday sermon I gave as a khatib in Singapore. It was beautifully poetic though - because I gave it at the very same mosque which I started when I first gave Friday sermons many years ago - and it was not planned.

It has been a fruitful journey. As a fresh lawyer giving sermons to a full time Imam and finally to training new khatibs to give those sermons. Everything seemed to return to one complete cycle, Alhamdulillah.

It was not the choicest of topics last week, but as it was part of the Syariah series, I cannot do the congregation a disservice by not following the text and depriving them of the message meant for the masses. But Alhamdulillah, there were some nice messagings included:

"The Syariah of Allah brought to us by the Prophet. also brings goodness and blessings. It follows then that one of the objectives of the Syariah is to instil the value of helping one another, supporting and also reassuring one another. Because
* The nature of mankind is such that we need help and support. When we look at ourselves, we find that in each of our success stories, our achievements, our positions today, we find that we could not have done all these on our own. We need others.
* When we practice the value of helping one another, we will touch those around us and we will enlighten the lives of those in need.
* Each contribution and help that we sincerely offer will be a good deed that will bring us closer to the rahmah and love of Allah."

Thank you bro for being there last week. It makes it the perfect closing as you were there too when I first gave my sermon here. I am sure you did not remember :)

The Gathering

Something beautiful occurred to me today. I received a seemingly innocent sms arranging for yet another farewell dinner from a good friend for today. When the day arrived, I received a couple of sms regarding my location as I was slightly late so I advised them to proceed with the order for food without me. But what welcomed me was totally unexpected. I had been for supper at the KTM Railway Station on a few occassions, but this topped the bill and KTM will never be the same again after today.

I was asked to meet my friend at the new musollah at the train station - and that should have raised my suspicion. It was the first time I was at the musollah and when I climbed up the staircase, I overheard beautiful faint sounds of the salawat of maulid ad-dibai' being recited. When I reached the musollah, there were about 20-25 jemaah sitting in a halaqah reading the mawlid and so I joined them. Subhan-Allah, it was led beautifully by Shaykh Z and when it was our turn to read, I noticed many of my friends whom a few years ago were grappling to read the Qur'an was now already reading and some even memorised the mawlid, Alhamdulillah! When it came to my turn, I read 3 passages of a full 2nd hadith in the collection and it felt so good, calm and tranquil. By the time the mawlid recitation was completed by the doa read by Shaykh Z, we all felt so lifted spiritually - being reminded and taking inspiration of the seerah of our beloved Prophet (saw). We then prayed the evening prayer together before proceeding for dinner.

The session also included a prayer for my safe journey and success. I remembered Shaykh prayed: "May his journey be safe and smooth. May Allah protect him as he swims deeper into His vast ocean of knowledge and come out of it wiser and closer to Him, and in return, benefit us all from the nur of that experience." Amin.

He said many other things tonight in my honour, and I was moved at how I have made him proud. Since my own father passed on when I was younger, he was one of the two Shaykhs here in Singapore whom I have looked up for guidance and approval - as a dad, a teacher, a guide, a friend and a companion. I have been so blessed and honoured to have them both in my life.

And today's farewell dinner was so much special as there was that extra thing which signifies a spiritual connection with me and all that is around me. I was told that the owner of the KTM coffeshops (who was there present with us) rented that place and converted in into a musollah with his own money. And my other brothers chipped in with the carpets, the curtains, the prayer mats, the fans and the cleaning. May Allah bless them for this beautiful deed that benefits us all. So, if you do frequent KTM for your meals, do drop by the musollah and may Allah reward both you and those who provided you with the musollah as well.

Thank you Shaykh Z for this spiritually beautiful surprise. Your touch has always, and will always, be magical. Thank you MFP for organising this memorable and cosy event. Thank you to my other brothers who have provided that spiritual uplifting today. May you be rewarded abundantly.

I have had many "provisions" to bring along with me in my life journeys. But, it has always been the spiritual journeys that has been most beautiful and heart-warming. This will be one of them.

On another personal note, it has been said that one requires two 'fathers' in life: one who brings you into this world, and the other to bring you to the Hereafter. I thank God for I have not only one father, but three fathers, in my life to do just that for me.

O Allah! Please bless their lifes as they have touched my life and the lifes of many others in this world. Bless their journeys to You and welcome them warmly into Your Embrace when it is time for their Return to You, and as for my real father, who has already joined you in Your Embrace.

Amin.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Singfest 2008, Singapore

This is an early notice for those who may be interested in attending this event so that necessary administration can be done (if not yet) in time. It is happening in about 2 weeks time: 2 - 3 August 2008 at the Fort Canning Park.

The line-ups are as follows:

Saturday, 2 August 2008
Melanie Subono
Crowned King
Dearest
New Found Glory
Melee
(Levis Fashion Show)
Lost Prophets
Simple Plan
Travis

Sunday, 3 August 2008
Stacie Orrico
Jamie Scott & The Town
One Republic
Panic At The Disco
Jason Mraz
(Levis Fashion Show)
Rick Astley
Pussycat Dolls
Alicia Keys

For details, please click here for Singfest official website.
For ticketing, please click here for SISTIC website.

I can't wait ... and see you there :)

Queen Of The Road

"When my long-dreaded thirtieth birthday arrived, I really wasn't as upset as I imagined I'd be, for I had achieved a much more important milestone: my sartorial centennial. I owned one hundred pairs of shoes. Then, at age forty-four, I found myself trying to cram a mere half that number into a living space of 340 square feet.

The whole thing was Tim's fault.

When he announced he wanted to travel around the country in a converted bus for a year, I gave this profound and potentially life-altering notion all the thoughtful consideration it deserved.

"Why can't you be like a normal husband with a midlife crisis and have an affair or buy a Corvette?" I demanded, adding, "I will never, ever, EVER, not in a million years, live on a bus."

Something less than a million years later, as we prepared to roll down the road in our fully outfitted, luxury bus, it occurred to me that Tim had already owned a Corvette, long ago when he was far too young for a midlife crisis. While I pondered who he might be seeing on the side (and whether his having an affair might prove less taxing than living in a metallic phallus on wheels), I wedged and stuffed--and, oh my GOD! bent--the cutest little Prada mules you've ever seen into my "closet," which was really not a closet at all, but much more resembled the cubbyhole I'd been assigned many pre-shoe-obsession years ago at Camp Cejwin. How had I let myself go from "never ever" to_._._._this? Both Tim and I are shrinks, but he's obviously the better one. It took him five years, yet he whittled down my resolve, no doubt with some fancy, newfangled brainwashing technique ripped out of one of our medical journals before I could get to it.

That wouldn't have been the first time my sneaky husband tricked me into doing something I didn't want to do. Well, OK. It was only the second time (that I know of), but the first was a doozy: Almost twenty years before, Tim lied to get me to go on our first date.

Tim and I lived in Boulder, Colorado, for ten years before we hit the road. Boulder is always at the top of every "Most Nauseatingly Healthy/Active Cities" list--though many in surrounding towns refer to it as "Nestled Between the Mountains and Reality"--so sure, I can appreciate natural beauty. I just don't want to have to walk around in it." - and they eventually travelled together as husband and wife team to all 47 states.

"The true tale of 47 states, 22,000 miles, 200 shoes, 2 cats, 1 poodle, a husband, and a Bus with a Will of its Own."

The fact that the couple lives in Boulder, Colorado was not the only reason why I loved this book. It is fun and a funny book to snuggle up to on this rainy, damp and cold Monday. The blessings of having no Monday blues, unlike most of my friends ... :)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Night

The Joker: "Why... so... serious?"

There are many positive reviews about The Dark Night. I heard it during brunch at Marmalade Pantry this morning, in the papers, in the internet - it was all abuzz. And I was glad that arrangements were made for me to catch this show tonight.

The runtime was a pleasurable 152 minutes. The Dark Knight is a brilliant film. Everything was done right, stemming from a totally rich and in depth story that never failed to deliver its punches where it mattered. Every one of the A-list cast lived up to their potential, and evergreens from the previous movie like Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine, have a lot more to do this time round.

Nolan-Nolan-Goyer nailed plenty of stuff in this film, one of which was the symbiotic relationship on the existence of both Batman and his arch nemesis The Joker. Frankly, one doesn't exist without the other, and becomes a constant plot point that many writers out there had already covered. But watching it take a life of its own on screen in this movie, was a real treat, an indication that the filmmakers really respected and understood the characters and their motivations inside out. That actually explains the longevity of Batman as a character of more than 80 years old, because it is the quality of his villains that ensured his popularity. With a rich rogues gallery filled to the brim with psychologically disturbed characters, Nolan, to paraphrase a line in the movie, truly provided s a different class of criminals from what we had experienced from the earlier movies which were not helmed by him, criminals from the rogues gallery who do not possess sesame street kind of friendly demeanour that don't strike fear and make you think that they could really hurt you bad.

But, the star of the show is truly the late Heath Ledger. Believe the hype surrounding his portrayal of Gotham's clown prince of crime, where his every little gesture mesmerizes, and is simple, effective and downright scary as The Joker. Ledger owned this role, and made it one of a kind, surpassing every other actor that took the role before him, and would take a monumental effort for anyone who comes after to top what he did. Heath tops both with giving us a Joker leaping right out of the comic books coupled with his own creative flair, where he's just plain insane, but always, despite what he says, having a plan (and a big ambitious one at that) and exhibiting that he's just as intellectually an equal to Batman when it comes to a war of the minds. But what makes him truly dangerous is his freehand toward execution and violence and he shows absolutely no remorse for anything. Looking at how intense he carried out this role, you half expect a surprise everytime he appears, or you would not even be surprised if none came at all - and that is scarily gripping.

My second favourite character in this movie goes to Aaron Eckhart's portrayal of Harvey Dent/Two-Face who made this tragic character his own, complete with the corruption in his supposedly fair and honest scarred-coin toss, and disfigured face, seeking revenge for the unfortunate events that befell him. The gem of his character comes from the interaction with The Joker, which unlike the Penguin-Catwoman clear-cut alliance, has plenty more in depth pathos fused into that short meeting of the minds. That scene alone, is worth the price of an admission ticket, and makes you wonder who the pawn in this game truly is.

And finally, there was Christian Bale, a good actor on his own - but whom here I thought was better as Bruce Wayne than the man in the dark suit.

Watch it! It is dark, it is scary, it is deep. It is the best Batman movie I have seen ... don't take my word for it. Go figure...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

What You've Done


Alexander: "In the end, when it's over, all that matters is what you've done."

'Alexander' traces the short, but adventurous life of the Macedonian conqueror, Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.), whom conquered almost the entire known world of his era. From his childhood as the son of King Philip, to acending the thrown at age 20 in 336 B.C. upon his father's murder, and starting in 334 B.C., Alexander crossed into Asia on his 11-year conquest of the known world. From his conquests of Egypt, to battles with the Persians and the capture of Babylon, operations near Maracanda and in Afghanistan, and pushing all the way to India where he reigned unchallenged before his sudden death at age 33. Though Alexander made use of the well-oiled army created by his father, he pushed the limits of Macedonian & Greek power to levels King Philip could not have dreamed of.

Walking On The Water


To become cold from the coldness of the world is weakness,
To become broken by the hardness of the world is feebleness,
But to live in the world and yet to keep above it,
Is like walking on the water.


... Hazrat Inayat Khan

In The End...


"At the end of our life, our questions are simple:
Was it a good journey?
Did I live fully?
Did I love well?
Have I tried my honest best?
Is He pleased with me?"

The Incoherence Of The Incoherence

The Incoherence of the Incoherence (Tahafut al-Tahafur) by Andalusian Arab, polymath and philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) is another important work of philosophy in which the author defends the use of Aristotelian philosophy within Islamic thought.

It was written in the style of a dialogue against al-Ghazali's claims in The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahafut al-falasifa), which criticized Islamic Neoplatonic thought. Originally written in Arabic, The Incoherence of the Incoherence was subsequently translated into many other languages. The book is considered Averroes' landmark; in it, he tries to create harmony between faith and philosophy.

Excerpt on the discussion of cause and effect:
Those philosophers who say that these perceptible existents do not act on each other, and that their agent is exclusively an external principle, cannot affirm that their apparent action on each other is totally illusory, but would say that this action is limited to preparing the disposition to accept the forms from the external principle. However, I do not know any philosopher who affirms this absolutely; they assert this only of the essential forms, not of the forms of accidents. They all agree that warmth causes warmth, and that all the four qualities act likewise, but in such a way that through it the elemental fire’ and the warmth which proceeds from the heavenly bodies are conserved. The theory which Ghazali ascribes to the philosophers, that the separate principles act by nature, not by choice, is not held by any important philosophers; on the contrary, the philosophers affirm that that which possesses knowledge must act by choice. However, according to the philosophers, in view of the excellence which exists in the world, there can proceed out of two contraries only the better, and their choice is not made to perfect their essences-since there is no imperfection in their essence-but in order that through it those existents which have an imperfection in their nature may be perfected.

As to the objection which Ghazali ascribes to the philosophers over the miracle of Abraham, such things are only asserted by heretical Muslims. The learned among the philosophers do not permit discussion or disputation about the principles of religion, and he who does such a thing needs, according to them, a severe lesson. For whereas every science has its principles, and every student of this science must concede its principles and may not interfere with them by denying them, this is still more obligatory in the practical science of religion, for to walk on the path of the religious virtues is necessary for man’s existence, according to them, not in so far as he is a man, but in so far as he has knowledge; and therefore it is necessary for every man to concede the principles of religion and invest with authority the man who lays them down. The denial and discussion of these principles denies human existence, and therefore heretics must be killed. Of religious principles it must be said that they are divine things which surpass human understanding, but must be acknowledged although their causes are unknown.

Therefore we do not find that any of the ancient philosophers discusses miracles, although they were known and had appeared all over the world, for they are the principles on which religion is based and religion is the principle of the virtues; nor did they discuss any of the things which are said to happen after death. For if a man grows up according to the religious virtues he becomes absolutely virtuous, and if time and felicity are granted to him, so that he becomes one of the deeply learned thinkers and it happens that he can explain one of the principles of religion, it is enjoined upon him that he should not divulge this explanation and should say ‘all these are the terms of religion and the wise’, conforming himself to the Divine Words, ‘but those who are deeply versed in knowledge say: we believe in it, it is all from our Lord’. ‘

The Incoherence Of The Philosophers

Imam al-Ghazali's The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahāfut al-Falāsifa) is an attempt to respond to the efforts of those individuals outlined in the other work (the "The Intentions of Philosophers"); specifically, it is al-Ghazali's retort to the professed belief of his predecessors, and contemporaries, that a logical justification and explanation of God is possible. Al-Ghazali thought that such an undertaking was of an inherently contradictory nature, and that the work of his peers was ultimately fruitless.

In "The Incoherence of the Philosophers," wherein al-Ghazali outlines, and dissasembles, the defense for the necessary existence of a logical connection linking cause and effect. He focuses, specifically, on the causal relationship of fire and burning, citing the view that the former is the necessary cause of the latter. Al-Ghazali, however, posits that fire is not the agent by which burning occurs, but that God, through direct action of himself or his agents (i.e.: Angels), causes the burning to occur. Interestingly, his approach is wholly logical (and therefore somewhat convoluted), reflecting his desire to offer his refutation by means of the very system his opponents would proport to use, in order that they might prove their point.

“The connection between what is customarily believed to be a cause and what is believed to be an effect is not necessary…but each of the two is independent of the other.”

The majority of the excerpt focuses on three hypothetical points, which al-Ghazali suggests might be made by an opponent. Apparently, it was Ibn Sina (Avicenna), in particular, that he was addressing. At any rate, the bulk of the text focuses on al-Ghazali’s arguments against, and ultimate refutation of these three points.

The first point that al-Ghazali responds to is this: Burning is the natural (inherent) result of a fire being exposed to cotton - that the fire acts “by nature not by choice.” Al-Ghazali responds that it is God, not the fire, that is the “acting cause of burning,” since fire is inanimate, and, therefore, incapable of “[having] any action.” To support his argument, he cites his opponents’ own belief that reproduction occurs as a result of some intermediary force (here, the “First One”), and merely extends that, past actions involving animate objects, to apply to the inanimate, as well. To illustrate his point further, he provides an example: a man, deprived of sight for his entire life, is granted it. He believes, throughout his first day with this newfound faculty, that it is his sight which makes things visible. Only when night falls, does he finally attribute his vision to the sun’s illumination. Al-Ghazali believes his opponents to be in the same proverbial boat. They don’t see God, so they make up causal relationships to explain effects. He wraps up this section by boldly stating that “there is no exception to this according to the arguments based on principles [of his opponents].”

The second point al-Ghazali presents on his opponents’ behalf is this: Accepting that the change resulting from a “causal relationship” is brought about by God, or an agent of His, the fact remains that there must be an inherent predisposition in the fire and cotton for this change to occur. Of course, this applies to more than just fire and cotton, but the example does help to ground his assertion. The basic claim is that objects have certain properties (air allows sunlight to pass through it, while a stone does not), which make these objects predisposed to certain results from interaction with certain other objects. Not surprisingly, al-Ghazali refutes this claim. He cites the example of Prophet Abraham’s immersion in fire, without being burned. While Abraham is not a cotton product, his opponents would have to argue that he would have necessarily been burned in such a situation. To the objection that, if one accepts al-Ghazali’s argument, nothing can be predicted, expected, or known, he replies that “God has created within us knowledge that he will not bring about everything that is possible.” In short, the world generally works the way we expect it to, as God decrees, for simplicity’s sake. “[God knows through his eternal knowledge that he will not do [certain things], even though it is possible…and He will create for us the knowledge that he will not do it at a certain time.” Furthermore, “the statement of the philosophers is nothing but pure abomination.” Al-Ghazali then proposes that, perhaps certain properties of the fire (or Abraham) were changed. Here, al-Ghazali devotes an inordinate amount of time to the discussion of the unlimited intensity of miracles in general, in response to his opponents’ claim that only small miracles are possible. Al-Ghazali merely makes the point that “the predispositions for receiving forms varies through causes hidden from us, and it is not within the powers of flesh to know them.” In other words, if a prophet can make it rain, why can’t he do something even bigger?

Al-Ghazali then moves on to the third, and final point which he imagines an opponent might make: “What, according to [your opinion], is the definition of the impossible?” Can God, the opponent wonders, “change genera,” and “change a mineral into an animal[?]” Al-Ghazali’s refreshingly simple answer is this: “No.” If one defines the impossible as “the simultaneous affirmation and denial of something,” than the answer is clear. Here, al-Ghazali lists three types of impossibilities in terms of variables: “(1) X is Y, X is not Y; (2) some X is Y, no X is Y; (3) X is both Y and Z; X is not Y (or Z).” His examples are helpful to illustrate his argument. If, he proposes, a mineral were to be granted cognition, it would no longer be a mineral. Therefore, a thinking mineral is impossible. His argument, for once, appeals to simpler common sense. If something were to be done, that would “be impossible,” by virtue of the fact that it’s effects would challenge the definition of the substance acted upon, it cannot be. The section ends with this issue rather abruptly, so, in honor of al-Ghazali, I’ll do the same.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Post-modernity vs Post-modernism?

There are actually at least two closely related concepts: there is postmodernity, and also postmodernism. These take as their direct contrasts, respectively, modernity and modernism.

The adjective 'postmodern' is applied to anything in a culture which is evidence of that culture instantiating postmodernity. These things are, of course, also what the postmodernity of the culture consists of. Thus there is 'postmodern literature' and 'postmodern theory.' This last is what is called 'postmodernism,' because, being a theory, a postmodern theory is an -ism. There is also an alternate usage of 'modernism' and 'postmodernism', wherein a particular theory is a modernism or a postmodernism; so Kantianism might be a modernism, while Nietzsche's philosophy might be the first postmodernism.

Modernity and postmodernity are thought of as cultural conditions, and the marks of these cultural conditions are to be found in a culture's literature, journalism, law, science, humane studies, and so on. Modernism and postmodernism are thought of as kinds of theoretical approaches; specifically, the kind of theoretical approaches which try to understand modernity or postmodernity and which are themselves instances of modernity or postmodernity showing itself in the culture. Postmodernism is postmodernity showing itself in the humanities, just as modernism was modernity's version of humane studies.

Modernity is marked, by these postmodernists, by (at least) three features.

1) The desire to overcome prejudice and achieve objectivity.
2) The notion that progress was here to stay.
3) A set of distinctions which were supposed to make it so that we overcame prejudice and retained progress.

The first idea is best seen in Kant's 'What is Enlightenment?', which answers that Enlightenment is a critical mentality which persists in questioning dogma until it is either proved or gotten rid of. Objectivism, of course, is a modern philosophy (a modernism) by this criterion.

The second idea is best seen in Hegel and Marx. For both of these thinkers, there is an underlying force moving the world, and the direction it is taking us is good. This modern confidence in worldly progress was supposed to replace the pre-modern confidence in otherwordly salvation. Objectivism is not a modern philosophy by this criterion, because Objectivism's indeterminism allows that progress is not necessary but merely contingent (on human choice).

The third idea is also best seen in Kant. Fact-value, subject-object (i.e. self-world), mind-body, and so forth are all distinctions best formalized in Kant. These pairings have been the common currency of most modern schools of thought; that is, most modernisms have agreed to the common matrix of the Kantian distinctions (that's why they're modernisms). One semi-formal definition I've seen of postmodernism is that it is 'theory which breaks down the untenable dualities of modernism', with a litany of examples following. Objectivism is apparently postmodern (is a postmodernism) by this criterion. Actually, the first condition, but for its salience, should be seen as an instance of this third condition. Modernism dichotomized objectivity and prejudice, postmodernism rejects the dichotomy.

So postmodernism is a feature of postmodernity. Postmodernity takes modernity as its contrast object. The dimensions along which the two differ are their view of prejudice and objectivity, their optimism about progress, and their acceptance of the litany of modernist dichotomies stemming largely from Kant (and a few other places and phenomena). Their conceptual common denominator is that they are different (kinds of) cultures.

A Need For Philosophy?

Having tea after my class on the Four Righteous Caliphs today turned on the discussion of philosophy. I was guilty to have started it: as I questioned the place of philosophy, and why the dearth of it, in our times. I do enjoy playing the devil's advocate (and no, they did not train us that in Law School :)

It was clear that I, for one, believe that philosophy has a real place in our lives and we need it more now than ever - especially in our post-modernity environment (as technically described by a Melbourne-trained participant - a topic which I will deal with in another entry), or in my layman terms, at a time when we all are like herds of lost sheeps wandering around.

The arguments went back and forth and a basic question was then asked: what is indeed this creature called "philosophy"?

Sometimes philosophers deal with questions of truth and sometimes with questions of goodness; sometimes they offer consolation for life’s sorrows and sometimes they are purely pragmatic. In the philosophy of science, a theory may be valued only for its predictive capability; its truth or falsity may be immaterial. In ethics, philosophy may have a prescriptive function, offering a preferred set of values; but where those values originate from is a debatable question.

For Immanuel Kant, the Enlightenment could be captured in two small words: sapere aude - "dare to think". Modern philosophy speaks a bewildering variety of languages, from analytic logic to existentialism, poststructuralism, semiotics and the wilder shores of ecofeminism, and there is a fair degree of apartheid between its practitioners. Hence the temptation to view the discipline as too rarefied and "academic" for mere mortals.

There is Kipling's "If you can think and not make thoughts your master". It does not help that Isaiah Berlin captured hearts with his tongue-in-cheek remark that he had turned to political thought because "philosophy can only be done by very clever people". Yet in this age of uncertainty, when today's vocational training may be tomorrow's passport to redundancy, "dare to think" should be the motto pinned on the wall of every student's room.

The great virtue of philosophy is that it teaches one not what to think, but how to think. It is the study of meaning, of the principles underlying conduct, thought and knowledge. The skills it hones are the ability to analyse, to question orthodoxies and to express things clearly. However arcane some philosophical texts may be, the ability to formulate questions and follow arguments is the essence of education.

In that sense, philosophy is the study of what values and standards are known within the conditions of how they are known.

The reality is: Everyone has a philosophy, even if we cannot express it in words.

We either act as if our eternal salvation depends on following the mandates of scripture, or we don't. We feel the need to believe in something and search for understanding, or we adopt the cynical view that the search is useless. We all have some sense of what is right, and what is wrong. We can see ourselves as noble beings worthy of happiness or as guilty transgressors against the environment, social justice, or God. We will all decide often what it is that constitutes our duty. We think we know art when we see it. And we adopt political principles and support politicians and parties.

All of these are philosophical issues.

People often think of philosophy as a highly abstract and technical field, full of conundrums of interest only to academics. But in fact all of us depend on philosophic conclusions, and identifying one's own philosophy is a highly practical activity. We don't all need to be philosophers, any more than we all need to be mathematicians. But we all learn to add in school, and we all need to be able to do some basic philosophizing as well. That's how we know where we stand in the world and what we ought to do in life.

But, and this is the big but: in the end, the most important function of philosophy, as of others, is that it serves as a useful tool to understand oneself, of others, and in doing so, of understanding Him, of course not in the absolute sense. It adds a real meaning and purpose to Existence.

On top of having to write about modern and post-modernism/modernity (as succinctly disinguished by an expert participant), the discussion is adjourned to another tea session...

Eyes Of The Heart



Close your eyes
The physical can be so blind
In my eyes
The innocent can be so wise
It's not about black or white
This is wrong or right
Can you take a stranger
And treat him like your stranger

Love don't start with the eyes
Starts with the heart
Look deep down inside
In all that you have a chance
To make a choice, to make a change
So make the choice to look with the eyes of your heart

Close your eyes
The light of love will lead the way
In the eyes of a child
We're all the same
If we're all God's children
The logic is so simple
The one you call stranger is really your brother

Love don't start with the eyes
Starts with the heart
Look deep down inside
In all that you have a chance
To make a choice, to make a change
So make the choice to look with the eyes of your heart

No I don't mean to preach
Some may say that it's unrealistic
Cause none of us is perfect
But the way that I say it
What do you just try to see with different eyes
Could you see that what is done to you is done to me?
We want humanity yeah

Oh, love don't start with the eyes
Starts with the heart
Look deep down inside
In all that you have a chance
To make a choice, to make a change
So make the choice to look with the eyes of...

Love don't start with the eyes
Starts with the heart
Look deep down inside
You have the chance
To make a choice, to make a change
So take the chance
To make a choice, to make a change
So make the choice to look with the eyes of your heart

Thursday, July 17, 2008

True Miracle


The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.
__________________________________________

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. If we really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile? Our smile affirms our awareness and determination to live in peace and joy. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind.


... Thich Nhat Hanh

Knowledge And Humility


Knowing others is wisdom;
Knowing the self is enlightenment.
Mastering others requires force;
Mastering the self requires strength;
He who knows he has enough is rich.
Perseverance is a sign of will power.
He who stays where he is endures.
To die but not to perish is to be eternally present.


... Tao Te Ching

The World Is Like Mt Sinai


The world is like Mt. Sinai,
and we are seekers like Moses;

Every moment theophany comes
and shatters the mountain.


... Mevlena Jalalludin Rumi

My Dwelling Place

Study me as much as you like, you will never know me,
for I differ a hundred ways from what you see me to be.
Put yourself behind my eyes, and see me as I see myself,
For I have chose to dwell in a place you cannot see.

... Mevlana Rumi in Divan of Shams i Tabrizi

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What We Need Is Here

Horseback on Sunday morning,
harvest over, we taste persimmon
and wild grape, sharp sweet
of summer's end. In time's maze
over the fall fields, we name names
that went west from here, names
that rest on graves. We open
a persimmon seed to find the tree
that stands in promise,
pale, in the seed's marrow.
Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear,
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye
clear. What we need is here.


... The Wild Geese, Wendell Berry

Beauty

What was in that candle's light
that opened and consumed me so quickly?

Come back, my friend. The form of our love
is not a created form.
Nothing can help me but that beauty.

There was a dawn I remember when my soul
heard something from your soul.

I drank water from your spring,
and felt the current take me.


... Mevlana Rumi

Filling The Void


"We become aware of the void as we fill it."


... Voices, Antonio Porchia

In My Life

This is a special entry dedicated to my student, my friend, my buddy, my brother, my family, my soul-mate - all embodied and existing in that one person. I am so blessed because of you, and I am special due to your unending remembrance of me in your prayers daily. I began many years ago because of you, and although you are not the best amongst others, you are already so special to me.

I was grateful to be able to see the world and places with you, although you may not remember much of them by now or even if you do, not as fondly as I remembered them spent with you - it matters less to me. The nights spent on tea, the movies and songs we shared, the relationship stories we exchanged, the words of comfort and encouragement, the support you rendered me when the world was unkind, my excessive scoldings, the appreciated silence, the listening ear, the mere physical presence, the "surprise" birthday parties, the maghribs at that mosque, the quarrels, the love - too many to list after such a long journey we spent together in our lives.

Moments like this made words difficult even to the most eloquent amongst us. And as we contemplate on the remaining days we have left together, I am reminded of the huge birthday card you made for me some years ago, inscribed with these words: "Your love and your teachings: we will carry them in our hearts forever wherever we go." And as I am loss for words in this most difficult entry, all I can muster to say is that similar "I will carry you in my heart forever wherever I go."

I have intended to write this entry for you before I leave for the US, but since tonight's incident, I think it may be more appropriate to do it now and I hope, in a strange way, it will cheer you up a little. There are two songs which I wish to share with you.

This first song struck me many moons ago when I watched For The Boys. It is a Beatles re-make of the song, entitled In My Life sung by Better Mitler. Whenever I read the lyrics, only you came to mind:



But of all these friends and lovers,
There is no one compares with you.
And these memories lose their meaning,
When I think of love as something new.

Though I know I’ll never ever lose affection,
For people and things that went before.
I know I’ll often stop and think about them - but
In my life, I love you more.

Many years ago, I thought this second song, Answer sung by Sarah McLachlan, was meant for someone else. But the passage of time has put things in perspective and I realised that this song, instead is meant for you.



If it takes my whole life,
I won't break, I won't bend.
It will all be worth it,
Worth it in the end.

Cause I can only tell you what I know:
That I need you in my life.
When the stars have all gone out -
You'll still be burning so bright.

So my dear soul-mate, there is only my sincere and humble Thank You which I can extend to you. I will carry you in my heart, wherever I am.

I know that you will soar high up into the skies and your light will keep on burning ever so bright, even when other stars have all gone out. And when I am lost, I will look out for it to find my way back home.

"Funny how you an' him string along together"

... Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hellboy II

Watched this sequel with a friend yesterday afternoon. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a 2008 comic book film based on the fictional Dark Horse Comics character Hellboy. The film is directed by Guillermo del Toro and is a sequel to the 2004 film Hellboy, which del Toro also directed. Ron Perlman reprises his role as the titular character.

For all the monstrous supernature on display, the film's concerns are always rooted in the human. Even as they fight the creatures at war with the human world, Hellboy and his compatriots are thanklessly rejected by the bulk of greedy, consumptive humanity. In keeping with these ideas, the fearsome villain is also sympathetic to a degree, in that he believes he is protecting his kind from extinction His sister argues instead, "If our days have ended, let us all fade." These points come to a head when Hellboy, clutching a baby in his tail, fights the forest god; Nuada turns up to ask Hellboy why he should bother to save those who reject him when he could help wipe them out and live freely among the supernatural creatures.

The film itself is lovely, a breathless feast of fantasy anchored by an authentic humanism. It is the product of a director in complete command of his medium and its ability to transmit the contents of his subconscious. Del Toro articulates the ineffable. A late arrival by death, its wings rimmed with eyes, its teeth impossibly subtle and white, speaks to the idea that the picture is about ultimate subjects and the indelible importance of small moments. When Abe's immortal beloved Princess Luala, sister of the fiend, reads from Alfred Lord Tennyson's "In Memoriam", the part she reports certainly isn't the side a multitude of are familiar with - but if you recognize of the piece, you appreciate there is a portion that speaks to it being better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Hellboy II is more than spectacle, although it is top notch spectacle - more as opposed to pop art dissertation, though it is that, too. Hellboy II is a film absolutely of this time which overly speaks in timeless images of Catholic grotesquerie and pre-Christian iconography, alive in the fire of invention and flights of fancy. It's not Del Toro's masterpiece (that distinction is still Pan's Labyrinth's), but it is greater amount of model of an unusual artist white-knuckling the crest of his genius and, for a while at least, focusing it to these fine, animate points of lush colour and sentient light.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson is my favourite poet, ever. And for a brief glimpse of his In Memoriam recited in this movie, please see here and here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Another Contention

To someone who just returned from Melbourne - a new contention from our favourite, and probably the most erudite, living Islamic scholar of our times, Shaykh Abdal-Hakim Murad @ TJ Winters:

100. You cannot arrive by making an effort, but you cannot arrive without making an effort.

Philosophy In Islam

"... With Suhrawardi we enter not only a new period but also another realm of Islamic philosophy. The founder of a new intellectual perspective in Islam, Suhrawardi used the term hikmat al-ishraq rather than falsafat al-ishraq for both the title of his philosophical masterpiece and the school which he inaugurated. The ardent student of Suhrawardi and the translator of Hikmat al-ishraq into French, Henry Corbin, employed the term theosophie rather than philosophy to translate into French the term hikmah as understood by Suhrawardi and later sages such as Mulla Sadra, and we have also rendered al-hikmat al-muta aliyah of Mulla Sadra into English as "transcendent theosophy" and have sympathy for Corbin's translation of the term.

There is of course the partly justified argument that in recent times the term "theosophy" has gained pejorative connotations in European languages, especially English, and has become associated with occultism and pseudo-esoterism. And yet the term philosophy also suffers from limitations imposed upon it by those who have practised it during the past few centuries. If Hobbes, Hume and Ayer are philosophers, then those whom Suhrawardi calls hukama' are not philosophers and vice versa. The narrowing of the meaning of philosophy, the divorce between philosophy and spiritual practice in the West and especially the reduction of philosophy to either rationalism or empiricism necessitate making a distinction between the meaning given to hikmah by a Suhrawardi or Mulla Sadra and the purely mental activity called philosophy in certain circles in the West today.

The use of the term theosophy to render this later understanding of the term hikmah is based on the older and time-honoured meaning of this term in European intellectual history as associated with such figures as Jakob Bohme and not as the term became used in the late thirteenth/nineteenth century by some British occultists. Be that as it may, it is important to emphasize the understanding that Suhrawardi and all later Islamic philosophers have of hikmah as primarily al-hikmat al-ildhiyyah (literally divine wisdom or theosophia) which must be realized within one's whole being and not only mentally. Suhrawardi saw this hikmah as being present also in ancient Greece before the advent of Aristotelian rationalism and identifies hikmah with coming out of one's body and ascending to the world of lights, as did Plato. Similar ideas are to be found throughout his works, and he insisted that the highest level of hikmah requires both the perfection of the theoretical faculty and the purification of the soul.

With Mulla Sadra, one finds not only a synthesis of various earlier schools of Islamic thought but also a synthesis of the earlier views concerning the meaning of the term and concept philosophy. At the beginning of the Asfar he writes, repeating verbatim and summarizing some of the earlier definitions, "falsafah is the perfecting of the human soul to the extent of human ability through the knowledge of the essential reality of things as they are in themselves and through judgment concerning their existence established upon demonstration and not derived from opinion or through imitation". And in al-Shawdhid al-rububiyyah he adds, "[through bikmah] man becomes an intelligible world resembling the objective world and similar to the order of universal existence."

In the first book of the Air dealing with being, Mulla Sadra discusses extensively the various definitions of hikmah, emphasizing not only theoretical knowledge and "becoming an intelligible world reflecting the objective intelligible world" but also detachment from passions and purification of the soul from its material defilements or what the Islamic philosophers call tajarrud or catharsis. Mulla Sadra accepts the meaning of hikmah as understood by Suhrawardi and then expands the meaning of falsafah to include the dimension of illumination and realization implied by the ishrdgi and also Sufi understanding of the term. For him as for his contemporaries, as well as most of his successors, falsafah or philosophy was seen as the supreme science of ultimately divine origin, derived from "the niche of prophecy" and the hukama' as the most perfect of human beings standing in rank only below the prophets and Imams.

This conception of philosophy as dealing with the discovering of the truth concerning the nature of things and combining mental knowledge with the purification and perfection of one's being has lasted to this day wherever the tradition of Islamic philosophy has continued and is in fact embodied in the very being of the most eminent representatives of the Islamic philosophical tradition to this day. Such fourteenth/twentieth century masters as Mirth Ahmad Ashtiyani, the author of Ndmayi rahbardn-i dmuzish-i kitdb-i takwin ("Treatise of the Guides to the Teaching of the Book of Creation"); Sayyid Muhammad Kazim `Ansar, author of many treatises including Wahdat al-wujud ("The Transcendent Unity of Being"); Mahdi Ilahi Qumsha'i, author of Hikmat-i ildhi khwdss wa amm ("Philosophy/Theosophy - General and Particular") and Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i, author of numerous treatises especially Usul--i falsafa -yi ri dlixm ("Principles of the Philosophy of Realism") all wrote of the definition of philosophy along lines mentioned above and lived accordingly. Both their works and their lives were testimony not only to over a millennium of concern by Islamic philosophers as to the meaning of the concept and the term philosophy but also to the significance of the Islamic definition of philosophy as that reality which transforms both the mind and the soul and which is ultimately never separated from spiritual purity and ultimately sanctity that the very term hikmah implies in the Islamic context."


... excerpt from The Meaning and Concept of Philosophy in Islam, Syed Hossein Nasr

The Sky At Night

Little stars up in the sky
you light the heavens way up high.
Allah has placed you there to shine
you are amongst His wondrous signs.

Big yellow moon with silvery light
you shine for travelers in the night
remember how once you split in two
obeying our Prophet for all to view.

Then as your term has been ordained
your luster fades and starts to wain,
then you become a crescent small
at other times you're not there at all!

... by Anon

Beowulf

Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic poem in the English language and the earliest piece of vernacular European literature. It was written in Old English: the language of the Saxons. Originally untitled, in the 19th century the poem began to be called by the name of its Scandinavian hero, whose adventures are its primary focus. Historical elements run through the poem, yet both the hero and the story are fiction.

Beowulf: "They say you have a monster here. They say your lands are cursed. I am Beowulf and I'm here to kill your monster."

Beowulf may have been composed as an elegy for a king who died in the seventh century, but there is little evidence to indicate who that king may have been. The burial rites described in the epic show a great similarity to the evidence found at Sutton Hoo, but too much remains unknown to form a direct correlation between the poem and the burial site.

The poem may have been composed as early as c. 700, and evolved through many re-tellings before it was written down. Whoever the original author may have been is lost to history.

The sole manuscript of the poem dates to c. 1000. Handwriting style reveals that it was inscribed by two different people. Whether either scribe embellished or altered the original story is unknown.

Beowulf contains many pagan and folkloric elements, but there are undeniable Christian themes as well. This dichotomy has led some to interpret the epic as the work of more than one author. Others have seen it as symbolic of the transition from paganism to Christianity in early medieval Britain. The extreme delicacy of the manuscript, the two separate hands that inscribed the text, and the complete lack of clues to the identity of the author make a realistic determination difficult at best.

King Hrothgar: "She's not my curse, not anymore."

Beowulf is a story about a prince of the Geats of southern Sweden who comes to Denmark to help King Hrothgar rid his fabulous hall, Heorot, of a terrible monster known as Grendel. The hero mortally wounds the creature, who flees the hall to die in its lair. The next night, Grendel's mother comes to Heorot to avenge her offspring and kills one of Hrothgar's men. Beowulf tracks her down and kills her, then returns to Heorot where he receives great honors and gifts before returning home.

After ruling the Geats for half a century in peace, Beowulf must face a dragon who threatens his land. Unlike his earlier battles, this confrontation is long, terrible and deadly. He is deserted by all his retainers except his kinsman Wiglaf, and though he defeats the dragon he is mortally wounded. His funeral and a lament end the poem.

Beowulf: "Keep a memory of me, not as a king or a hero; but as a man: fallible and flawed."

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Conversation

God and I in space alone
and nobody else in view.
"And where are the people, O Lord," I said,
"the earth below and the sky o'er head
and the dead whom once I knew?"

"That was a dream," God smiled and said,
"A dream that seemed to be true.
There were no people, living or dead,
there was no earth, and no sky o'er head;
there was only Myself -- in you."

"Why do I feel no fear," I asked,
"meeting You here this way?
For I have sinned I know full well--
and is there heaven, and is there hell,
and is this the Judgment Day?"

"Nay, those were but dreams,"
the Great God said,
"Dreams that have ceased to be.
There are no such things as fear or sin;
there is no you -- you never have been--
there is nothing at all
but Me."


... Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Kaki-Kaki


If you are ever thinking of having a good foot reflexology, without going into great details, you can simply give this new Kaki-Kaki managed by Wayan Retreat a huge monstrous miss.

Unlike Loreal's advertisement, this is simply "ain't worth it". Bad experience, twice over.

Pre-Departure Briefing

In the euphoria amidst an eventful week in the last few days, I forgot to write an entry which is most important for this week - the one that started the ball rolling.

On Monday afternoon, I had my final pre-departure briefing at the Embassy. It was the briefing to finalise all the details of our flights, itinerary, visa, finance etc. I was so excited cos it only means that my departure is just a mere 4 weeks away! Present in the briefing were current US Fulbrighter in Singapore and a recently returned Fulbrighter to share hands-on experience of their own journeys, together with the Embassy staff. I managed to clear all questions I had from banking facilities, to luggage and clothings, Alhamdulillah - and this increases the certainty of the journey.

We were also given a pin of both the Singapore and the US flags to be placed on our jackets - and it suddenly dawned upon me the significance of it: that we are representing both these great nations through our individual academic, cultural and exchange visits/journeys. My shoulder suddenly felt heavy, but the excitement of being given this prestigious opportunity to embark on this journey overcame me. On top of that, we were given piles of literature to read on our super long flights. For me, I will be enduring a long flight with 4 transits - apart from Narita Airport in Tokyo and in Seattle - all of which is a pre-academic assignment for me. But with longer and further the journey, the more to be learnt, insya-Allah.

So, this was the reason for the whirlwind events of the preceeding days ...

Magic

For the first time in my life, I watched a live magic show tonight - for the simple reason: that I refused to pay to be conned by any magician.

In any case, a friend (who happens to also be my fashion advisor mentioned in my previous entry) received 2 complimentary tickets for the show as she is in the media and broadcasting industry, and I said 'yes' to watching it with her. And my vanity dictates that I should try out the new revamped look tonight as I donned my new boots, new low-cut jeans, new shirt and new shawl ... hmmmm. I gathered that she did not disapprove of the new look :)

Coming back to the issue of magic, apparently the performers are Singaporeans and apparently also, they made it big in the international scene. It was the opening night tonight and I was really surprised that it was full-house! It was a unique show: a cross between a musical, a play and magical acts. The father-daughter team put up a show known as Magicbox. It is a long performance with an intermission in between.

Did I enjoy it? Well ... yeah, but it was a tad too long. We heard (that's right, we did not stay till the end cos we were both hungry) that it ended at 10:45pm! But I enjoyed the Max Brenner we had after the show. It was death by chocolates ... and when I returned home, there was another chocolate cake reserved for me - double-deaths tonight!

The following is the synopsis taken from Sistic's website:

"Gateway Entertainment is proud to present Singapore’s beloved homegrown illusionists, Lawrence and Priscilla Khong in a brand new show – MAGICBOX at the iconic Esplanade Theatre. This highly anticipated production combines the world’s most incredible magic expertise with a heart-warming tale of love and family values in one spectacular show. Be dazzled by locally acclaimed talents, enchanting costumes, magnificent sets and skilfully composed music.

Featuring an international team of stellar magic consultants like Jim Steinmeyer, credited with "defining illusions" for David Copperfield, along with John Thompson, the legendary guru of magic, these masters will devise acts unique only to MAGICBOX. Directed by Loretta Chen, MAGICBOX with its many daring and never-before-seen magical illusions, promises to enchant, enthral and entertain from start to finish."

Hancock

Watched Hancock a few days ago. Heard various reviews and they were all not flattering.

But I was not working, and I was free, and I love watching movies, and I love Will Smith, and my friend was free too, and my friend wanted to watch a movie too, and my friend loves Will Smith too - and we both wanted a therapeutic relaxing afternoon after all the shopping the previous day. (you're gonna hate me by now :)

Hence, we braved Hancock.

We were pleasantly surprised. It could perhaps be due to the scorching afternoon heat or we just wanted to be lazy: we actually enjoyed the show and I even found romantic value in the movie - but we were probably biased.

When I sms-ed a fellow musketeer who expected more as there were greater potential for the movie, my simple reply was just this: it was Will Smith, and he made everything alright :)

Shopping...

One of the things I discovered about not working is that one's schedule is busier and more haphazard. There is no regularity of having to be at work at a particular time and I have to bring my diary along everywhere I go. An appointment will be set up anytime and anyday. But so far, Alhamdulillah, I have been very busy - busier than if I were to be working - meeting up with so many people to catch up and say farewell.

And along with this, I have also been blessed with meeting new friends and hanging out with them. That is one thing that seemed apparent over these last months: many dear friends had to return to the States, or some to Malaysia or some just disappear (whatever) ... and God sends you a new set of friends. It is His way of revival, I supposed. But, Alhamdulillah...

One of these new friends was appointed and has kindly agreed to be my 'fashion consultant' despite his 'national duties' - and yet another as an advisor (although she did not join us for the shopping, she was actively sms-ing from her workplace). Thanks guys :)

Tuesday was a blast indeed - we (err.... I) went shopping with my 'consultant' for some image revamp and for some preliminary fall and winter clothes. It was a full day affair - I have not done this since college days - and it was indeed fun. It was great to be carrying so many shopping bags and I finally knew how it must roughly feel to be a tai-tai :)

Along the way, I also discovered some great stuffs (not only the shopping) - for example, I have gone down further on my waist size (gym trainings were not wasted - yippee!), my flexible image and clothes revamp etc

Ah ... the ... life. Bliss :)

An afterthought warning: leave your brain at the door when you read this entry... or whatever, I don't really care :)

21

Ben Campbell: "How's that for life experience professor? Did I dazzle you? Did I jump off the page?"

A based-on-a-true story of brilliant kids from MIT who used their skills of code talk and hand signals, made hundreds of thousands of dollars in counting cards at casino after casino in Las Vegas. Such intellectual brilliance wasted on a scam which could have been put to better and beneficial use. But gripping nonetheless... a warning to those who aspire for the high-life.

Interestingly, MIT refused permission to be filmed on campus and so it was made on its neighbour's premises: Boston University - one of the 4 university options I chose, but did not pursue, for my Fulbright stint. The trio intellectual institutions (MIT, Harvard and Boston Universities) with the Charles River along and across them is a beautiful inspiring scenery.