Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy 50 years of Merdeka, Malaysia!

saya anak bangsa malaysia

With apologies to Haris Ibrahim for borrowing his graphic.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I *heart* Malaysia

There’s an air of pessimism regarding the state of Malaysia that’s really palpable this time around, and it’s not without its grounds. It's not merely in the spirit of Merdeka however, but more importantly, as someone who self-identifies as a Christian, that hopelessness, bitterness and despair should never form the lens that funnels my vision, although the line of sight itself will likely be murky. In this respect, Wai Nyan’s been trying to get people to engage in an exercise akin to polishing our telescopes: brainstorming on why we love Malaysia. Here’s some of my stuff.

What exactly is a nation? Benedict Anderson once famously defined it as an “imagined community”. In other words, l will naturally feel that I share in some form of communion, a shared kinship, with other Malaysians even though I will never meet every single Malaysian out there. I set some form of boundary which differentiates me from non-Malaysians. And this is true, as far as it goes. I was born a Malaysian, I have particular experiences and memories from having been raised there, and I regard it as "home". The Malaysia I know best is the part situated on the island of Borneo, and my list will inevitably reflect the limitedness of my experience. At the same time, the Malaysia I love does not remain confined by those limits. I’m happy to accept mamak stalls as uniquely Malaysian, even if most of my fellow countrymen forget that mamak stalls is actually a West Malaysian thing. I’m not fussed at all if you drop the adjectival "West".

Having had the opportunity to meet many people of other nationalities, I also know that in one sense, we are not all that different. We speak fondly of Malaysian time, i.e our capacity to be late for any and every function, but Mexicans (and many other Latin American cultures) speak of Mexican time in exactly the same terms. South Africans call everybody "mama" and "papa" the same way we refer to everyone as "uncle" and "aunty". Jamaicans have their own colloqualisms - "mon" - like we do. And so on and so forth.

Still, I do love Malaysia, hence this post. This list isn’t original or imaginative in the very least. I think everybody else has nicked mentioned what I wanted to say. It was actually really difficult to come up with! Food, unsurprisingly, is a prominent theme. It’s also not ordered in any way.

1. A multiracial society. This is an obvious one, and we sometimes downplay it as an expertly stage-managed Tourism Malaysia charade. Nonetheless, it’s easy to take this for granted. Having had to explain the makeup of Malaysian society to countless friends, you begin to realise the rich mosaic of people we have that is hard to find anywhere else. It means we have quite unique problems as well, but I don’t think I’ll trade this for anything else.

2. Manglish...which is actually a very sophisticated language. (I even managed to squeeze in a mention of it in one of my Finals papers on literature and language!) The versatility of the suffix "lah" never ceases to amaze me, its applications ranging from emphasis ("Comelah!") to suggestiveness ("Trylah!") to dismay ("cannotlah..."). And where are you going to find a translation that can capture the essence of "perasaan"? So how do you learn Manglish? Aiyah, this kind of thing very hard to teach one you know! Just talklah!

3. As Deb has pointed out, many Malaysians are at the very least, trilingual. That’s cool. Even rubbish me can speak more than one language: English, Malay, Hokkien, and errr..Spanish (I took it for 6 months a couple of years back and even passed an exam!). My sis-in-law is the queen of dialects: Hokkien, Foochow, Cantonese, Hakka and who knows what else...

4. No one else can quite put his finger on the pulse of Malaysian society like Lat and Kampung Boy. And his caricatures of Malaysian politicians are laugh-out-funny too, especially Sami Veeeeelluuuuuuuu......

5. Kolo mee. Really, all you non-Kuchingnites are missing out...

6. Heading to the interior of Sarawak on a longboat and seeing longhouses with

7. Astro...which I also miss – it’s as good a cable TV provider as anywhere! (Aiyoh, my worldliness is showing...)

8. My halo is slipping! Fine, fine, I also love SIB. Is it back in place yet? But seriously though, I have huge affection for the church I grew up in, a truly Malaysian denomination with a rich heritage and which gave me most of my non-Chinese friends. Hudson Southwell’s Uncharted Waters is the most comprehensive history of SIB at the moment, while Shirley Lees' Drunk Before Dawn and Ray Cunningham’s Longhouses Open Doors are good introductions. From a Malaysian's viewpoint, try Solomon Bulan's The Bario Revival.

9. The many, many public holidays! (Bank holidays to you Brits.) I’m such a bum.

10. The various kuih-muih and other such delicacies which I never know how to describe in English.

11. Fruits. Ironically, I’m actually not that keen on durians, rambutans, and lychees, but hey, where else are you going to find them?

12. It’s winter and the chill is setting in. You’re a struggling overseas student without much money to spare. Foraging around your room, you throw away last week’s laundry and put aside those chocolate fingers you’ve been nibbling on all week, only to spot that packet of Maggi Kari flavour hiding in the corner. You become a theist faster than I can say: "Free Will Defense!"

13. “The air is wet, soaks / into mattresses, and curls / in apparitions of smoke. / ...the damp linen covers / of schoolbooks... / Drinking Milo / Nyonya and Baba sit at home / this was forty years ago / …by clouds and rolling darkness / …listening to the down-pouring rain…”
Those are lines from Shirley Lim’s poem Monsoon History, and does a great job of capturing the associations I have with milo-drinking. The early mornings when it’s still relatively dark and I’m drowsily catching bits and pieces of mum’s pearls of wisdom on the wonders Milo does for my bones, subconsciously tugging at my school uniform while trying to figure out if I have Kimia or BM first thing in the morning, which will radically affect my attitude to being late for class.

14. This is replicated in many places all over the world, but you know that nice buzz you get when you’re at a pasar malam or open air makan area, like in say, Guerney Drive in Penang? I miss that. Pubs are NOT AT ALL the same.

15. It’s quite nice to know that animals like proboscis monkeys, pelanduks, hornbills or orangutans are quintessentially Malaysian.

16. And to know that Malaysia has great natural beauty too, from coral reefs, gargantuous caves to Rafflesia flowers (Ok, they’re smelly, but still, when else will you be scared of a flower?). Ever seen those in Hull?

17. Back to food. How about them kampua mee? Yes, I can see West Malaysians scratching their heads now. Ask a Sibuan, they’ll be more than happy to regal you with lavish descriptions of their signature dish.

18. Like the English football/rugby/cricket teams, our badminton teams always make it to finals of majors but choke. Still, I’m glad that we can call Eddy Choong, the Sidek brothers, Foo Kok Keong, Cheah Soon Kit, Soo Beng Kiang, Yap Kim Hock, and latterly Wong Choong Hann and Lee Chong Wei our own.

19. I like the idea of an open house, and being able to welcome and feel welcomed by others.

20. Belacan, another thoroughly versatile ingredient! Now I’m craving kangkong...

21. Is it nerdy to think that the infamous dawn raid on Guthrie in the London Stock Exchange in 1979 was cool? I’m always picturing a bunch of swashbuckling pirates making away with bucketloads of treasure!

22. Bata shoes! Ok, this was an unabashedly nostalgic pick. But don’t you just love them Bata?

23. I have to confess, I find it extremely entertaining when Malaysian politicians put their feet in their mouths. I say this non-maliciously; they’re better than any soap opera! Latest example: Nazri Aziz to YouTube: I'll sue you!

24. The liveliness of the Malaysian blogosphere. I really enjoy the diversity found there, from humour to socio-political to the personal.

25. I should include a towering Malaysian figure, and how about Lim Kit Siang? He is indefatigable, and there’s no doubting his impact on Malaysian politics. This guy, after Tan Seng Khoon, is Mr. Opposition. Devalued as it is, give the man a Datukship!

26. Teh C Peng. My staple drink for many, many years.

27. Being able to sit in Twin Otters (that's those 20-seaters) and peek into the pilot’s cockpit! We used to fly these whenever we balik kampung to see my (now deceased) grandfather.

28. I have absolutely no scientific evidence for this, but it seems to me that we do have very good human resources. Anecdotally speaking, it always seems as if a lot of the talented people in the world have at the very least, some sort of Malaysian connection. Probably ‘cause I only notice if it’s mentioned that they’re Malaysian, so this is a flimsy reason. But I’m still sticking it in!

29. Cheap! Cost of living in Malaysia is decent, and I really wish I could go out to eat without any qualms.

30. I think I should pay tribute to all those roti-men, Paddle Pop ice-cream drivers and butchers on cycles that tirelessly come around with their wares.

31. Char kuey teow. Mmmmhmmmm...
32. Satay. MMMMMHMMMMM.....

34. OK, let me stop thinking about supper and get more local. The Sarawak Museum is actually really good and for those of you who’re in Kuching, it’s worth dropping by. And the (world's only?) Cat Museum is another place I find myself revisiting...

35. Ah well, I know MAS gets tons of brickbats, but having travelled on quite a few airlines, from BA to KLM to Qantas, MAS is still really good. It just needs to be free from political interference and duit kopi stuff. And of course, it’s nice to lay claim to Airasia in terms of its entrepreneurship.

36. I may as well pay tribute to some great Malaysian academics, including Prof. Ungku Aziz and Syed Hussein Alatas. Social scientists seem to be our strong points, even with the enforced nuzzle placed on them.

37. Funny that I don’t actually know anything about finance, but I’m fairly sure I’m correct in thinking that our securities market has some of the best (legal?) frameworks in place, and that of course, we were pioneers in Islamic banking.

38. I haven’t mentioned it yet in this list, and I’ve only been to one 4 or 5 times, but mamak stalls are great for food and late night chats! I expect more people dragging me to one when I drop by the Peninsular.

39. The Sports Days in my school were always one of the highlights of my calendar (my favourite being that time when I decided to play to the crowd, and taking the lead too early in the final lap of the 1500m, only to run out of steam at the end. (Strategy, boy, strategy...). It probably isn’t uniquely Malaysian, but it gives off a whiff of Malaysianness, to me anyway.

40. How about those old adverts for Tora dating lagi! Or Dindang? Oh gosh, I’m laughing just remembering them right now. Adverts here in the UK are so sophisticated, I wonder what the Brits would have made of those?

41. I’m going to plagiarise from a t-shirt I own (see how low I’ve stooped?) How about them Malaysian sign language? You know, think about those unique gestures when you need to ta-pao something, or the puking thing.

42. The legend of Bujang Senang and Jong’s Crocodile Farm. The latter was owned by the grandpa of one of my ex-classmates. Don’t know the former? Shame on you ignorant West Malaysians! I know Sang Kancil after all! Although BJ was the exact opposite of SK, being a real, enormous crocodile that terrorised the Sri Aman area back in the early 90s.

43. There must be quite a few World Music festivals out there, and I don’t actually know what standing the Rainforest Music Festival has, but I’ve always enjoyed my time there.

44. Another place I usually enjoy is the Sunday Market, where my mum likes to drag me to after church. My favourite is that guy who got into a shouting match with a rival to see how many superheroes they could name: "Superman lelong! Superman lelong! Batman lelong! Spiderman lelong!" I'm guessing Superman pineapples are better than Spiderman starfruits...

45. Wow, no food for the last couple of items. Time to rectify that. Kueh chap is great!

46. I just remembered, and I almost wish I hadn’t because there’s no way I can ever satisfy this craving – my mum’s angzhou bak.

47. It’s number 47 and I’ve only realised I haven’t included an obvious one! It’s the cultural uniqueness of Malaysians. Malaysian culture is really, really complex, and I’ll leave it to the anthropologists – but the whole campur-campur of East, West and everything in between means that it’s difficult to pin down characteristics. The best word for it: Rojak.

48. What about the Section 2 of the Star? I miss Star2 (with the exception of the Sunday incarnation, which for some reason is always poorer than the weekday editions), which I would always thumb through whenever we get it. Section 1 isn’t that great though.

49. Wai Nyan, you have no idea what a service you were rendering when you showed me Along Along Bukit Beruntung all those years ago. Only two other people (and one of them could possibly be reading this) truly understand what a lifesaver this was when we were all stressing out for Finals 15 months ago. Sorry if this is a bit of an insider's joke. Malaysian humour at its best.

50. And I guess the obligatory ending, because I’m Malaysian. I suppose it’s possible to engage in sophisticated discussions of social constructions of identity and psycho-analyse everything to death, but still – that’s what I am. Malaysian by birth, and Christian by new birth through grace. The two come together and engineer a love for Malaysia.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer retires

I still remember when Man U bought these 2 Norwegians, and I was going: Ole who? But both Ronny Johnsen and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turned out to be some of Ferguson's best purchases. Jaap Stam, I think, said of Johnsen that he was the best defender he ever played with; certainly, he was one of the most underrated defenders of his time.

As for Ole, he was a true servant. He remains one of the most clinical finishers of his generation, his most famous goal, of course, being the Champions League winning goal in Barcelona. And he was totally without ego, you would never hear him complain, even when he was confined to a supersub role, or to the right wing just after Beckham left. And while he didn't have the overall talent of a Zola or a Bergkamp, like them, he was the player that opposing fans just couldn't hate. Some of his best moments, Barcelona apart, include a four goal blitz in 10 minutes against Nottingham Forest and the winner against Celtic in the most recent Champions League, showing he was still the baby-faced assassin.

Unfortunately he was bedeviled by injuries for the past four seasons, although Man U, recognising Ole's contribution, stood by him. (Heinze, are you listening?) Solskjaer will now remain at Man U as a coach and in some sort of ambassadorial role.


Monday, August 27, 2007

random thoughts are a few bits and pieces that have been floating around in my head and were too undeveloped to deserve a post of its own, but needed to be made a little more concrete...

...i forget sometimes that blogs are public, especially as this blog has what, 10 readers? and therefore it's easy to project a more self-righteous self than is actually the case, and not to practise what i preach... john has been the book i've been reading for quiet times over the summer, and while it can be confusing - i bet he wasn't a linear thinker! - the big theme stares you in the face: loving one another (referring to Christians here). and i was thinking, and we all know this, that it's easier to round on those who we are closer, more familiar with. so for example, in light of the recent gay church controversy. i know that they were enthusiastic brothers and sisters who in their zeal, probably didn't handle the matter correctly. but sometimes i wondered, we bend over backwards to rightly show grace to our homosexual people out there, but fail to show the same grace to our fellow christians. sure their language was a little wrong-headed and love, of course, includes correction, but the disdain we show for them, that didn't always sit right with me...

...been reading de zengitota's mediated, which is basically postmodernism 101 applied. but his observations were very striking on just how self-obssessed our culture is, and just how much we default to therapeutic explanations. it was scary really. i've also been reading david wells' god in the wasteland, and the title says it all...

...jesus as judge is not something we think about much. if anything, it's something we automatically recoil against, and seems out of sync with jesus as friend, brother, saviour, priest etc. and it seems so negative. but it is a picture found in the new testament, and judgement is part of the message the apostles preached. so what does that mean for today?...

...just over a week ago i wrote an email to a good friend of mine, and mentioned how our ordinary lives are just messy. coincidentally, my brother, in an email back to family, mentioned the exact same thing. and it's true - our ordinary, day-to-day lives are messy. many times i hear a friend talk about a problem or a struggle and i have no idea what to say. this is where the rubber meets the road, and where we really begin to understand what it means to trust god... it just me, or is philip pullman boring?...

...oh, and happiness is being able to read empire and slam on a lazy Sunday afternoon and being persuaded to go out for a curry with the church family...

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Friday, August 24, 2007

The wrap

Let's get straight to it today:

We begin with a cute, heartwarming story of teenage girls at camp.

I forgot to include this in my last wrap, but this is really, really good: Distant Neighbours: Keeping Children Innocent when lesbians move in. Also by Amanda Witt, the blogger of the above post.

After hearing about Second Life in the news, I went to read the Wikipedia entry on it. It's quite creepy, actually. Second Life is an internet-based virtual world where you can actually live a parallel life, and as my brother pointed out, has a functioning economy. Apparently, you can even buy virtual Starbucks and Gap, and some religious groups have set up camp there. Brrrh!

The secret world of lonelygirl is just as fascinating. lonelygirl is a popular video blogger who turned out to be a work of fiction. Again, more conflation of fact with fiction; "faction" as we used to call it in my lit classes.

Josh Harris on his one and only week on Facebook.

This are useful pointers: How to respond to a racist joke in the workplace.

...and speaking of racial issues, there was an interesting Times feature on whether black runners are naturally faster, and the many dissenting comments.

Beloit College in the US put up a list every year on the world every incoming class has grown up in. This year's incoming first-years were born in 1989, and amongst other things,
  • the Berlin Wall has never existed
  • Nelson Mandela has always been free
  • rap music has always been mainstream
  • being "lame" has to do with being inarticulate or dumb, not disabled.
  • U2 was always a band.
  • being a latchkey kid has never been a big deal.
The entire list is obviously America-centric, but worth reading.

A light-hearted defense of hand-lifting in song-worshipping from Sam Storms. I agree whole-heartedly! (Despite being more timid in my current church environment)

100 words every high school graduate should know, according to the American Heritage dictionary editors. Uh oh, I'm in trouble!

Come into my Heart Lord Jesus?!? A plea for biblical accuracy in child evangelism. Another good read.

Richard Mouw on false teachers and false teaching. Earlier this year when I was looking through 2 Timothy, one of the church staff pointed out this distinction to me, which I hadn't realised. It really does affect one's approach to controversy.

And in a similar vein, Michael Jensen on christian polemics.

Top 10 most flattering portrayals of Christians in film

Finally, nothing novel here, but a refreshing read nevertheless on what it means to love: When it comes to love, I'm pro-choice.

Happy reading!

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Moral evasion

I read this today, and found it thought-provoking. The context is Leviticus 4:1-5:13, particularly the beginning of chapter 5, and comes in the midst of a discussion of an overly casual attitude to sin and a self-absorbed individualism:
" The social philosopher David Selbourne has recently listed eleven reasons why people engage in moral evasion today. They protest that
1. there's nothing we can do about it
2. it's never been any different
3. there's no quick fix
4. it's the price of a free society
5. you must move with the tide
6. you can't turn back the clock
7. the problem is more complex than you think
8. it's beyond the reach of the law
9. you're focusing on the wrong issue
10. who are you to talk?
11. everyone's doing it so who are you to object?

None of these excuses would have been acceptable to Israel. People were not permitted to take refuge behind casual pretexts, and so were unable to avoid responsibility, as verse 1 stresses in its assertion that they will be held responsible. As a people bound together by covenant they had obligations to one another; their whole identity was based on their relationships. Sin, though personal, was never a private matter. All sin was against society, and members of that society were charged with the responsibility both to guard against it and to do what they could to correct it."

- pp.73-74, Derek Tidball, The Message of Leviticus

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Guilty pleasure of the month

The last ‘worthy’ movie I’ve watched must have been the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others (it’s really good, btw), but since then I’ve been unable to get myself to watch anything serious. Let’s review the shows I’ve watched recently: The Painted Veil (ok, that’s semi-worthy…), Transformers, Harry Potter, 200 Pounds Beauty, and this past weekend, The Simpsons. I obviously can’t bear watching anything that requires too much thinking ever since I started writing my thesis.

But there’s one other recent film I’ve watched which I confess to thoroughly, completely enjoying, and completely destroys any remaining credibility I have. Yes, I watched that pop culture tween phenomenon, High School Musical.

If you don’t know what that is, and I bet that all of you do, High School Musical was a Disney Channel Original Movie, conceived as a musical, in a classic modern-day Romeo & Juliet type storyline.Troy and Gabriella - the start of something new! Troy (Zac Elfron) and Gabriella (Vanessa Anne Hudgens) meet during vacation and discover a mutual passion for singing (and each other). What do you know, Gabriella ends up being the new girl at Troy’s school, where she discovers that they both belong to different cliques. I think that’s all I need to say really, and you can guess the rest.

It became a huge hit, which took everyone, including Disney, by surprise. They had obviously hit a nerve somewhere; for tweens, a reassurance that the world of adolescence isn’t so frightening, for teens, a wish-fulfillment trope, and for anyone older, nostalgia a-plenty for a world that never existed.

I really enjoyed the chemistry between Zac and Gabriella. They had more going for them than plenty of adult romantic leads! The first song, Start of Something New, while bland on its own, was great in the context of the film, setting up the whole premise and extracting a great performance from the two leads. The chorus remains stuck in my head! The middle song, Stick to the Status Quo, is inventive, and I can foresee the final song We’re All in This Together being the type of song that people will sing at high school graduation parties. Tisdale as Sharpay is also gloriously over-the-top.

Let’s get all the usual (and valid) criticisms out of the way first. Sure, it’s formulaic – it’s a Disney Channel movie after all! – with perhaps the only slight variation being that the thing that separates our two leads is not the different cliques they belong to per se, but their desire to break out of their respective cliques. There’s overacting, and Hudgens (otherwise very winsome) is particularly guilty of this during her singing of “When There was Me and You”. Sure, there’s plot holes and convenient resolutions. Sure, the pop ditties are mostly by-the-numbers, catchy but forgettable. Sure, it’s unrealistic, and we’ll get back to this. And sure, the usual gospel of Disney gets proclaimed: “Be true to yourself! Don’t care what other people think! Make your dreams come true!”, although this gospel of non-conformity is undercut by the fact that at the end, if you think about it hard enough, all that happens is that the popular get more popular, and the clique mentality is actually reinforced. People don’t actually escape their station.

In the end though, the whole point of High School Musical is that it’s a complete escapist fantasy, and that’s what Disney excels at. It portrays a high school full of diverse, good-looking people who turn out to be multi-talented, all in a completely wholesome manner which most parents would approve of. Heck, even the villain isn’t so villainous after all. The finale is a huge celebration of school unity, where everyone, of whatever race or talent, wins. We all know there’s no high school that even closely resembles the one being portrayed here, but that doesn’t spoil our fun. I'm loathe to admit it, but HSM does appeal irresistably to my sentimental side.

My favourite lines: "What courage to pursue a note that’s never been accessed in the natural world" and "We need to save our show from people who don't know the difference between a Tony Award and Tony Hawk".

I guess part of the pleasure derived from this film is due to me having always been interested in this whole school clique schmaltz. I enjoy watching the dynamics of it from afar. Not so fun if you’re part of it! The reality on the ground is more complicated of course. I was on my school chess and basketball team (albeit as the 12th man), where do I fit in?

This is a whimsical post, so this feels tacked on, but one final quick thought, the unity here, though heartfelt, is in the end, superficial because the gospel of Disney can’t really provide the long-term foundations to support it. What would true unity look like?

Together, together… (arrrrgh!!!!!)

P/S There is now a sequel, which no doubt will fail to reach the heights of its predecessor and be more calculated to churn out some cash. There is an interesting Newsweek feature on HSM as well which I enjoyed reading.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

My month so far in a nutshell

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Riz Khan on Malaysian issues

Continuing the Malaysia theme this month, here're two short forums on the Islamic vs. secular state issue and press freedom in Malaysia (17 minutes each). I think this was originally on Al-Jazeera. Here is the context.

Malik Imtiaz's blog.
Nathaniel Tan's blog.

What do you think?

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Wordsmiths: Kekasih

scene of a Malaysian shoreI can't help but feel that my writing has been slipping... :(

I turn to my homeland for today's wordsmith, to pay tribute as Malaysia approaches half a century. Studying sastera or Malay literature at SPM (roughly equivalent to SATs or GCSEs) was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do, but I survived it. I do actually have a little fondness for the Malay language, though at the moment my grasp of it is really rusty!

Today's puisi (poem) comes from the late Usman Awang, who is arguably Malaysia's foremost poet-playwright. Born into a poor family, he dropped out of school at an early age, and worked briefly as a farmer and a police officer. After the war, he became a journalist, leaving the profession after protesting against perceived government interference in the running of Utusan Melayu. He subsequently joined the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, which I guess can be roughly likened to a Malaysian Oxford University Press, in that it wields institutional power over the Malay language (like OUP does with its dictionary) and publishes a couple of intellectual magazines. He died in 2001.

Usman Awang was instrumental in shaping the canon of sastera Melayu as we know it today. His poetry is widely praised as evocative and empathetic, frequently employing striking imagery. His works were blessed with the populist touch, with the kampung (village) often looming large in his ouevre; certainly he would never have been accused of elitism! He has been awarded the SEA Writers Award and was a National Poet Laureate.

Today's poem is Kekasih, or Beloved. I can't tell you very much about it, but it is lovely. Here it is in Bahasa Melayu. I will then attempt an English paraphrase. Instead of messing it up with a clunky word-for-word translation, I'll attempt to retain both the essential meaning and the poetic rhythm of the piece. (And probably still mess it up!) All you Malaysians, be polite and keep your laughter down, and do correct my inevitable mistakes! Isn't the ending so Matthew Arnold-ish?

Akan kupintal buih-buih
menjadi tali mengikatmu

Akan kuanyam gelombang-gelombang
menjadi hamparan ranjang tidurmu

Akan kutenun awan-gemawan
menjadi selendang menudungi rambutmu

Akan kujahit bayu gunung
menjadi baju pakaian malammu

Akan kupetik bintang timur
menjadi kerongsang menyinari dadamu

Akan kujolok bulan gerhana
menjadi lampu menyuluhi rindu

Akan kurebahkan matari
menjadi laut malammu
menghirup sakar madumu

hitunglah mimpi
yang membunuh realiti
dengan syurga ilusi.


I will braid these bubbles
into the tie that binds you

I will weave these billowing waves
into the bedspread that soothes your slumber

I will shape these wooly clouds
into the shawl that caresses your hair

I will sew the soft mountain breeze
into the nightgown which snugly clothes you

I will pluck the eastern star
to be the brooch which illumines your bosom

I will cajole the moon from its eclipse
to be the torch that gives light to our yearning

I will sink into your eyes
into the ocean of the night
sipping the sweetness of your honey.

let us count the dreams
which extinguish reality
with this illusion of paradise.

Usman Awang / paraphrase BK

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Saturday, August 11, 2007

Quick thoughts on the homosexual issue at home

UPDATE (17/8/2007): I've distilled some of these thoughts into a slightly more refined version at The Agora.

Update #2: Tan Soo Inn's commentary 'A Time for Clarity and Wisdom' is excellent!

I’ve noticed that in recent days that my blog has had hits from people googling things along the lines of "Malaysia false teaching" and "Malaysian church controversy". My guess is that they’re looking for more information and insight on Rev. Ou Yang Wen Feng, the first Malaysian pastor to declare his homosexual orientation openly, and who is reportedly seeking to plant a gay-friendly church in Malaysia.

This is an issue close to my heart as I do have friends who are gay, or who struggle with it. Last year, when I was in a leadership position in the Christian Union, this was easily the toughest issue I ever had to wrestle with. One of my friends, whom I shall call H, from an atheistic background, had become a Christian and was plunging herself enthusiastically into Christian activities. At the same time, H saw no conflict between being a professing Christian and an active homosexual lifestyle. H was open, however, to being persuaded otherwise. H and I had several conversations as I sought to persuade H of the biblical case. In all honesty, I was completely out of my depth and we never even got anywhere close to a ‘resolution’. Still, it did teach me a good deal, about pastoral care, about the extremely difficult balance inherent in tough, disciplining love and tender, gracious love, and the necessity of good exegesis. (Not to mention being afraid that if the student media had gotten wind of this, I might be crucified!) And I still remember vividly the tears of a mutual friend as she cried over H and her wish that H would see that this was not how God intended it to be. Would I have the same compassion!

I don’t really know much about this situation beyond what’s reported in the Star, and I think I’ve already shown I’m no expert. But assuming that the church’s traditional teaching on homosexuality is correct, here are a couple of things to reflect on:

  1. We can agree with Rev. Ou Yang that we want a church “where everybody felt safe and welcomed”, and a church that reaches out to everybody, including heterosexuals, homosexuals and transsexuals.

  2. In the words of David Field, “those who accept the Bible’s veto on homosexual behaviour must go out of their way to express genuine love for homosexual people.” Christians can be countercultural not only in their stance towards homosexual people, but in their radical love for them, especially since in Malaysia, there is still less tolerance amongst the general populance towards homosexual people. We should repent where we’ve failed on this count.

  3. Christians should protest against any true injustice and discrimination against the homosexual.

  4. A popular Christian cliché is “love the sinner and hate the sin” (I have used it myself). It is a worthy attempt at a soundbite to try to encapsulate a dual fidelity to God’s prohibition of homosexuality and the command to love people. The problem is that it is extremely difficult to separate the sin from sinner, opens ourselves up to the charge of double standards (“why do Christians talk about this in relation to homosexuality and not other ‘sins’?”) and potentially could lead to sub-biblical assumptions as it oversimplifies God’s character as both holy and loving. I say ditch this saying.

  5. The church, however, must be clear on its teaching on homosexuality. Clear enough that ideally, no one needs to ask what we think about homosexuality if they know that we’re Christians. This is needed too to be of help to our brothers and sisters who are struggling/ambivalent but truly want to know what path they should embark on.

  6. This brings us to a directly related issue, and that is one of hermeneutics. In other words, we need to wrestle with how to read and apply the Bible. After all, “if we can enjoy seafood, what’s wrong with gay sex”? This is especially important as we seek to persuade our Christian homosexual friends that we have a proper confidence that the traditional interpretation is the right one.

  7. We need to be sensitive to those who struggle with homosexuality. It is never as simple as simply “snapping out of it”, and for some, it will be a lifelong battle. There are often many contributing factors to homosexuality, for which a homosexual person might not be responsible for.

  8. We should separate individual homosexual people from the wider “gay agenda”. I hesitate to use the phrase, since it can have quite emotive connotations, but in the West at least, there does appear to be somewhat of a concerted attempt to give a disproportionate voice to homosexuals and force through explicitly pro-gay policies. Nevertheless, while Christians should rightly contend in the public square against this, they should at the same time be careful not to dehumanise homosexual people.

  9. Christians ultimately should not feel anxious over this. We can rest assured in God’s good sovereignty and trust that the gospel changes lives.

  10. This is, quite simply, a very difficult issue. Honestly, I'm still out of my depth. We need God's help.
Further reading on the subject (* means I have read it):
*What's So Amazing about Grace?, Philip Yancey. The chapter Grace-Healed Eyes (if I remember the title correctly), is the first thing you should read. Yancey's story about his friendship with Mel White, who is now with MCC, the same denomination as Rev. Ou Yang, is moving and instructive.
*How to Read the Bible for all its worth, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, or any other book on interpreting the Bible.
*Straight and Narrow?: Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexual Debate, Thomas Schmidt. This books gives you the exegetical meat, clearly laying out the debate between traditionalists and revisionists, without ever losing sight of the person.
The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Robert Gagnon. This is an exhaustive scholarly work that leaves no stone unturned.
*What some of you were, ed. Chris Keane. A collection of stories of Christians (and their families) who struggle everyday with homosexuality.
Loving Homosexuals as Jesus would, Chad Thompson. A well-regarded book.
Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, Jeffrey Satinover.
Holiness & Sexuality, ed. David Peterson.

Homosexual Relationships and the Bible, David Field. This will help in looking at some of the Bible passages on homosexuality.
Responding to Pro-Gay Theology, Joe Dallas. This is a very comprehensive article dealing with a variety of questions from an ex-gay.
Homosexuality: A Personal Reflection, Jamie Arpin-Ricci. An important personal story.

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Premiership 2007/08 preview

Ah well, since I don't seem to be making much progress on the academic front, why not talk a little footy for the moment?

I'm quite looking forward to this year's Premiership season actually; I think it has the potential to become the most exciting yet. I don't think there's much to separate the Big 4, and I see a couple of other teams making a renewed challenge to their hegemony. I would especially love it if say, with only four matches remaining, all of the Big 4 (or even 5, Spurs anyone?) were still in contention for the title.

Big 4
Manchester United: The squad looks as good as ever, even if I think we're a little light on the striker front. Hargreaves, if overpriced, will still be a valuable addition especially as we don't have any other midfielder like him. I haven't seen Nani or Anderson in action, but Nani in particular has been much praised - Deco apparently told Mourinho that he missed out big-time. Still, I'm sure it'd take some time for them to settle, but it means we're covered in midfield, especially since Giggs in particular probably won't be able to play as many games at optimum level. It's a shame about the Heinze saga, since I like him, but we do have some talented young defenders - Pique, Evans, and Bardsley. I expect one will have an O'Shea like breakthrough. It's a shame we had to lose Rossi and Smith too, although I understand why we had to let them go. Rossi was in search of first-team football, and while I like Smith's tenacity, he's not exactly a 20-goal striker is he? Tevez/Rooney together? We'll see.

Chelsea: They've spent sensibly. I've watched Malouda in the World Cup and think he's great, and certainly it seemed that way in the Community Shield. They've added some badly needed defensive cover in the form of Ben-Haim and Alex and the returning Glen Johnson. Pizarro is a big name but is a bit of a gamble, although one worth taking considering he was free. Sidwell is another good addition too. How well will they cope without Essien and Drogba when they're away at the African Nations Cup? That I think, will be the key as to whether they can reclaim the title or not.

Liverpool: Liverpool always look great on paper, but it's always been about team chemistry for them. They have plenty of big names - Torres, Babel, Voronin etc etc. What Benitez needs to do is stop rotating the squad a la Ranieri. He should establish a core like what Mourinho does with Terry and Lampard. If he accomplishes that, Liverpool is a scary team.

Arsenal: You write off Arsenal at your own peril. After all, Man U fans know all about "winning with kids" don't we? Sure Henry is gone, and he will be a big loss, but this remains a potent squad. I think Arsenal's only mistake was not to keep Sol Campbell years ago, as he provides a wise head and a physical presence in Arsenal's defense, which I think still remains a weakness. Still, Van Persie looks like he's ready to graduate from potential to star, and Wenger is a good buyer, so De Silva might turn out to be a great capture as well. The test for this team would be whether they can kill off the smaller teams. Oh, and if Wenger is still looking to improve his squad, he should look for an out-and-out winger. Neither Rosicky nor Hleb are true wingers, and someone to spread the opposing team would be a devastating weapon in their arsenal (pun intended).

Tottenham: It's Big 4, but I include Spurs because maybe, just maybe, this is the year where there'll actually be included in this category. They must defend better, and keeping King healthy will be imperative. They bought Kaboul, the French Under-21 captain who also comes with a big reputation, to provide cover in this area as well. Secondly, they must hope that their yong midfield quartet improves. Can Lennon become a better crosser? Jenas and Zokora be more imposing? Malbranque recapture his Fulham form? If they do, then I think they will pose a genuine challenge.

UEFA Cuppers
Blackburn: Most people have them finishing midtable again, but I don't see why they can't challenge for a UEFA Cup spot. Their strikeforce is the best outside the top 4 (except maybe Newcastle?), and I am a fan of both Garmst Pedersen and Bentley. They've always had a sold defense. If Dunn can shake off his injury woes this is a team to reckon with. The only thing is that they don't quite possess as much depth. Still, I like Mark Hughes - he's now my no.1 choice, ahead of O'Neill and Moyes, to suceed Fergie when he goes.

Aston Villa and Everton: Speaking of those two managers, their teams might be fighting for UEFA Cup slots as well. Well, Everton is essentially the same, so it might be tougher for them, but Moyes always gets them to overachieve. Villa got Reo-Coker, and their new strikers, Carew and Young, will now get a full season together.

Newcastle: Who knows with Newcastle? A good strikeforce on paper, and a whole plethora of reinforcements at the back. And of course, that X Factor, Big Sam. I think it'd only be upper midtable for them, but who knows?

West Ham: They've suddenly decided they're Chelsea. But they don't yet possess quite the same pulling power, since it's only Alan Curbishley. They could end up anywhere, from fighting for UEFA cup spot to fighting relegation.

Portsmouth: This is a good team. They have a mean defence, Matthew Taylor's left foot, and my favourite Ghanaian, Sulley Muntari. Interesting too to see how Nugent will do.

Sunderland: Roy Keane. 'Nuff said. (Anything higher than 16th would be an achievement I think).

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Just to let you know...

I've written over 6000 words! But this current chapter is proving frustrating - I think I might have overreached by attempting to be comprehensive in an area where I don't have much knowledge, and the literature on it is intimidating! And I still don't know how I'm going to structure the last quarter of my thesis...


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

'A Little Lower...': Psalm 8, Genesis 1 and Hebrews 2

Read Psalm 8 (ESV) / (NIV).

I (sort of) led a Bible study on Psalm 8 last night, and was quite excited to see it full of biblical-theological (that’s just a fancy way of saying Creation to New Creation) themes. Here is some of what we saw:

This is a psalm of praise, and even a six-year-old can hardly miss the main point! “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth”. The tone is one of awe. The subject of the Psalm is God, but not just any deity, but the LORD. This is YHWH, the God who has revealed himself, a God who has not chosen to leave his world to its own machinations but who enters into a covenant relationship with his people. This God is regal; note the parallelism in verse 1. Not only is he is majestic in all the earth, but his glory is set above the heavens. David Wells laments the “weightlessness of God” in modern society, by which he means that God has become so domesticated in our thinking that we fail to recognise how transcendent He is, that He is utterly unlike us. There is a basic divide between us and God, because He is Creator and we, created.

Not so the psalmist. The psalmist sees God’s majesty and glory reflected in creation, the moon and the stars, placed there by him. This is contrasted with the tiny, insignificant speck that is humanity. If the sun is a basketball, the Earth is at the very most, a pinhead. What would man be, a dot of a dot? (v.3-4) But the psalmist has phrased this very cleverly! It’s a rhetorical question which has a double effect: it intensifies both our smallness in view of creation, and our importance as the climax of creation. For “though a little lower than the heavenly beings”, we have “dominion over the works of our hands” (v.5-6). God created humankind to steward over creation (Gen 1:27-28). We delight in the universe – the discovery of a new star, the composition of a new song, the regeneration of a dilapidated area.

Or not. By the time the psalmist wrote this, what have we seen? Floods. Slavery. Warfare. The world in tatters. Humanity unable to get its own affairs in order, never mind ruling creation! For creation is in rebellion against the Creator. What does it look like today? Let’s see now, England is still recovering from its worse floods in half a century, and South Asia is still suffering from them. Child labour remains prevalent. War, we know about it all too well. Humanity has messed up bad. Is this psalm simply a nice sentiment then, a wistful longing for the good old days? A nice piece of poetry to sing to when we catch a glimpse of the full moon? O LORD, our Lord, is your name really majestic in all the earth?

The answer comes thundering back in verse 2, not from the psalmist himself, but from the descendant of said psalmist. Having just ridden in on a donkey to cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David!”, indignant teachers of the law appeal to Jesus to put a stop to this. Jesus responds by quoting Psalm 8:2, startling his listeners (Matt. 21:16). Jesus is making an incredibly, incredibly huge claim. He applies Psalm 8:2 to himself! Jesus is claiming to be Lord, the One who has revealed himself, the one who, as Eugene Peterson puts it, “moved into the neighbourhood”. And this personal, promise-keeping God is now executing his rescue plan, deliberately entering Jerusalem in a manner worthy of the Messiah (Zechariah 9:9) but certainly not die in a way expected of a Rescuer.

The writer to the Hebrews unpacks this for us. Writing to Christians who were being persecuted and tempted to give up, he gives us a tour de force of the majesty of the Son of God. Jesus is “appointed heir of the universe” and the one “whom he made the universe” (Heb. 1:2, cf. John 1:1-3, Col. 1:16). Time and time again throughout the chapter, he emphasises how much greater Jesus is compared to the angels. This is the King. Then we get to Hebrews 2:6-9, and the writer quotes Psalm 8:4-6, and applies it to Jesus. Jesus, the King, the One greater than the angels, has become man, “a little lower than the heavenly beings”. More startlingly, the writer is at pains to stress that Jesus is “crowned with glory and honour” because he suffered death. Not in spite of, but because. And in doing so, he has made it possible, once again, that Psalm 8 become a reality. Man has mucked it up, but Jesus, the perfect man, has made it possible that one day we will have dominion over the works of his hands. But ultimately, everything will be subject to Jesus, the perfect God-man. Everything is subject to Him.

And so we get to the end of the Psalm. And we now see that this personal and covenantal God will one day come and be with his people as they enjoy a perfect world with Him at the centre. And the refrain goes up, as we cry:

O LORD, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Applications/ to think about:
♥ Do we take God’s good creation for granted?
♥ How might this psalm magnify and possibly widen our view of Jesus, the Son of David?
♥ How might this psalm encourage those of us who are struggling?
♥ How might this shape the way we live now as Christians?

Additional reading: Philippians 2:1-11

The boring, peripheral, you can totally skip this exegetical bits:
Doesn’t change the main point at all, but anyone knows why the ESV and the NIV translated Psalm 8:2 differently? And why the ESV is inconsistent with regards to the Matthew 21:16 citation?

The wider question of Scripture interpreting Scripture, NT giving a Messianic gloss to the psalm. I’m not really troubled by this, but others might – what are the hermeneutical principles at work here?

1 Corinthians 6:3 claims that we will judge angels in the future. How does that fit in with man being made lower than “heavenly beings”? IMHO, just because we will judge angels doesn’t necessarily mean we have a higher status than them (I made the distinction between an intrinsic status and one ascribed to us). Do you think I’m right?

Do you want to beat up those who nit-pick?

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Merdeka Statement

I choose the wrong times to read heavy-duty stuff. It's late at night, I can feel the beginnings of a headache, and what do I do? Decide that it's finally the right time to go read the Merdeka Statement!

Anyway, as we get closer to Malaysia turning 50, I do encourage all Malaysians to read it. The Merdeka Statement was formulated by many NGOs, and seeks to express a set of nation-building principles and basic beliefs in a fresh manner. Ps. Sivin has a good write-up on its launch. Ronnie Liu briefly responds to some of the voracious criticism of the document.

It does seem obvious to me that things are beginning to come to a head. It think it used to be that Malaysians tended to have a "let's sweep everything vaguely uncomfortable under the carpet" mentality, but a new generation (and even the not-so-new) is no longer satisfied with this. And everything we've seen recently, from the spate of cases on apostasy, to the debates about the NEP is simply the result of long-held frustrations finally beginning to boil to the surface. In other words, the cracks which have been papered over for so long are beginning to show.

And make no mistake, I think blogging has been a force. The Malaysian blogosphere has a pretty big and robust socio-political constituency, even if the level of discourse sometimes leaves something to be desired. While I would be careful not to overestimate its influence (witness how predictions of big wins for the opposition never quite materialise), the very fact that ministers have to, from time to time, issue various warnings and even veiled threats show that the Malaysian socio-political blogosphere is to be taken seriously.

It's also good to know that there are Christians involved who are at the forefront of initiatives such as this. We need to continue to pray for them and encourage them, especially when "politics" is sometimes regarded as a dirty word, as I understand it, in some churches in Malaysia. Also, it'd be good to continue to pray for our government rather than throwing unending brickbats at them (1 Tim. 2:1). In any case, remember, even when things don't look great prima facie, the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed!

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Odds bobs

More light bits. I'll attempt to salvage my reputation as a serious blogger soon (what do you mean, I was never a serious blogger?!?). But here's a couple of quotes that had me chuckling away.

"...I hold Olympic records for procastination. I can procrastinate thinking about my procrastination problem. I can procrastinate dealing with my problem of procrastinating thinking about my procrastination problem."

-Robert McKee

(HT: Buzzard Blog)

On five occasions in history the Church has gone to the dogs, but on each occasion, it was the dogs who died.
- GK Chesterton

(HT: Custardy)

Q: What do you call a Pre-Trib eschatologist with a drug problem?

A: Hal Lindsey Lohan

(HT: Lars Walker - blame him not me!)

I'll see if I can blog a little footy and perhaps a little HP soon.

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