Monday, July 25, 2011

Eddie Izzard is My Hero

"So then God created the world, and on the first day he created light and air and fish and jam and soup and potatoes and haircuts and arguments and small things and rabbits and people with noses and jam – more jam, perhaps – and soot and flies and tobogganing and showers and toasters and grandmothers and, uh … Belgium."

Eddie Izzard in Glorious (1997)

Eddie Izzard is one of my favourite stand-up comedians, but most people in Malaysia would probably only know him as the voice of Reepicheep in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, if they know him at all. His British, absurdist, surrealistic, stream-of-consciousness comic sensibilities may not be for everyone's cup of bees, but even when his routines fail, they fail hilariously. Huge portions of his shows are ad-libbed (or at least they appear to be) owing to his dyslexia which makes it very difficult for him to work from a script. His exploratory tangents frequently take on entire lives of their own and he often rely on his audience - which he interacts with freely - to remind him what he was going on about before he sidetracked himself. It gets me every time when he says with a huge sheepish smile on stage: "I've forgotten my entire show!"

He's also a transvestite and did most of his shows in high heels, ladies' apparel, and a large, unapologetic amount of makeup. He does however fancy girls (and rightly pointed out that most trannies are heterosexual) and have described himself at different times as an "executive" or "action" transvestite, a "male tomboy", a "lesbian trapped in a man's body", and a "complete boy plus half a girl".

"Women wear what they want and so do I," he explained, and it's impossible to argue with that logic.

Eddie Izzard in Stripped
Eddie Izzard on his Stripped tour, when he's in "blokey mode".

Recently, I read a story about him which made him one of my favourite persons in the world.

There's a necessary preamble to this tale. In November 2008, more than 10 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks were carried out by Muslim jihadists across Mumbai including Cama Hospital (a women and children's hospital) and the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower luxury hotel. A 28-year-old Englishman from Hampstead, Will Pike, was staying there in the Taj Mahal Palace with his girlfriend at the time of the terrorist strike. Fearing for their lives, they tried to escape by making a prison-break rope from bedsheets, curtains and towels and lowering it down from their 3rd floor room, 60-feet above street level. Will went first, fearing that it might not hold - and by Murphy, it didn't.

"Clearly I never did my Boy Scout knot badge because my knots were rubbish. The last thing I remember was falling. The next thing I was on the ground looking at the bone shards sticking out of my wrist," Will commented with characteristic British stiff-upper-lipped-ness, which was admirable considering that he ended up not being to ever walk again after his nasty tumble. He did however expressed disappointment that his unfortunate collision with the pavement had forced him and his girlfriend to give up their tickets to Eddie Izzard's show at the Lyric Theatre.

Will's father, Nigel Pike, wrote to Eddie Izzard asking if the cross-dressing comic could send a note to his son to cheer the lad up. Izzard refused.

Eddie Izzard in Dress to Kill

Instead, he turned up unannounced at Will's room in the spinal unit of a London hospital and performed his entire 90-minute act by Will's bedside.

Oh bugger, I think some jam just flew into my eyes. His publicist and spokeswoman, when asked, said that the visit was a private affair (essentially saying 'It's none of your beeswax') and declined to offer further comments. I couldn't find any interviews in which Eddie Izzard references this incident either.

In that same year, Eddie Izzard also ran 43 marathons in 51 days taking in 27 miles a day on average, 6 days a week for 7 straight weeks covering 1,100 miles across the United Kingdom to raise money for Sport Relief, a charity for the underprivileged in the UK and the world's poorest countries. He was 47 years old at the time and had no prior experience in long distance running. At this point, I'm actually far more impressed by his physical feat than his philanthropy.

Eddie Izzard running for Sport Relief
I love how his outfit was so colour-coordinated.

Eddie Izzard is also an atheist. He said, "I was warming the material up in New York, where one night, literally on stage, I realised I didn’t believe in God at all." That happened during his Stripped tour in 2008, preceding his involvement in Sport Relief and his heartwarming impromptu private performance for Will Pike. While he had always mined religion (Christianity in particular) for comedic material, he always used them in such a silly, good-natured manner that I never suspected that he's a non-believer until I actually read about it.

"God killed my mother too soon and Hitler too late," said Izzard in the only time he divulged bleaker thoughts on the question of God's nonexistence.

Quite apart from atheistic intellectuals and rational polemicists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and others godless big-names that most contemporary atheists draw inspiration from, Eddie Izzard is my atheist hero. He embodies two of the qualities which I feel are most underrepresented and under-appreciated in the atheist community: Humour and humanity. We have those things in abundance. We should put them on display where people can see them.

P.S. I first learned about him watching an interview of Regina Spektor (one of my other favourite persons in the world) where she recounted a story about her freaking out backstage. Eddie Izzard, who was there, emptied a bag of crisps and then told her to breathe into it, telling her paternally that he gets terrible stage frights too. And I would instantly like anyone who is nice to Regina Spektor because she is the single cutest, most darling creature on this planet.

Would like cake please,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Thaumaturgical Decline Principle

"Faith is deciding to allow yourself to believe something your intellect would otherwise cause you to reject - otherwise there's no need for faith."


In Matthew 18:3, Jesus said, "And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

Have you ever talked to a kid? I mean, seriously sat down and talked to one? They would believe pretty much anything you tell them. Don't take my word for it - experiment yourself Calvin's Dad-style! Fill their impressionable little heads with fairy folks, monsters, dragons, unicorns, superheroes, aliens, magic, and Lovecraftian mind-breaking horrors; they will drink it all up like it's the very word of God itself. When I was little boy, my father fed me rubbish like how I should always ask permission from wandering spirits and tell them to move aside when I want to pee outdoors, or they would steal my boy-bits away. He also told me that if I point at the moon, my finger would bleed and fall off. It took me years and years before I fully exorcised myself of those superstitious kookery. The very first time I dared to even point at the moon was when I was in high school! Imagine that! And I still catch myself automatically asking spooks to move out of the way of my stream of urine when I'm not paying attention. You can say that I'm pretty much scarred for life.

Jesus' line about becoming little children may sound cute, but I have always subconsciously read it as, "You have to be a real gullible moron to believe me." Hey, don't get pissed at me for saying that! A Christian gave me my first Bible - he asked me to judge for myself the worth of God's teachings and not rely on what other people say about it. I'm only following instructions.

Besides, Jesus was right. How else can you believe in the ridiculous miraculous stories about talking snakes, parting seas, virgin births, and men who came back from death if you're not an unquestioning, incredulous infant?

The Thaumaturgical Decline Principle
Any hypotheses on why this is so?

The Qur'an elected a different tact. In Surat Al-'Isrā', verse 59, Allah said "And nothing has prevented Us from sending signs except that the former peoples denied them. And We gave Thamud the she-camel as a visible sign, but they wronged her. And We send not the signs except as a warning."

Muhammad was never witnessed by anyone to perform any miracles. The reason given by Allah was pretty much "We can totally do it (and trust us, we've totally done it before), but we chose not to now because you're not going to believe them anyway." How convenient. That thought popped into my mind very frequently every time I read the Qur'an. It's all so convenient.

We simply have to take his word for it that the book was conveyed entirely to him by Allah via the angel Jibrīl. We also have to believe him when he said that he did indeed ride a magic handsome white animal (that's slightly bigger than a donkey) to the "farthest mosque" where he lead other prophets such as Adam, Moses and Jesus in prayer before ascending to heaven to haggle with Allah over the number of prayers Muslims must fulfill per day. All of that makes perfect sense to Mohammedans all over the world it seems.

Hey, don't proclaim a jihad on my ass for that! The muslimah I first discussed Islamic theology with told me to read the Qur'an on my own and see its beautiful truths for myself. It's not my fault that you don't like the not-so-pretty conclusions I've reached.

Somehow, when I don't agree with the believers, it's always me who got it wrong. How very convenient also.

And thus concludes today's lesson on the comparison between the world's two biggest competing religions and what they have to say about faith and miracles. As it turns out, it all boils down to, "Believe us without any proof, or our God will torture you for eternity!" Questions?

Wouldn't fool himself,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mostly Quiet

"I am humbled in this city
There seems to be an endless sea of people like us
Wakeful dreamers, I pass them on the sunlit streets
In our rooms filled with laughter
We make hope from every small disaster"

Painting by Chagall (2006) by The Weepies

What is the visual equivalent of dropping eaves?

There is this restaurant I haunt in the late evenings when I get these cravings for minced pork porridge at Plaza Mahkota which I'm missing now after I got mailed off to the other side of Malaysia. There's a few places like it in Malacca where the proprietors know me on sight and my usual order from memory because I am always distinctively alone. I'm only in my twenties but already I am falling into habitual patterns and the proverbial comfort of old shoes.

A few weeks ago, I was there and had my usual bowl of minced pork porridge - hold the offal and cilantro, please - when a family seated at a table in front of mine caught my chronically faraway eyes. It was nuclear, Chinese and peopled by three; a young father and a mother, and their six or seven-year-old daughter. It's a common variation of the same theme, except the parents spoke only with their hands.

The child chattered animatedly and audibly about cute inconsequentials, while her Mom and Dad reply in a signed language, which she appeared to understand. I don't know why, but I find them endlessly watchable. I guess it's the same reason why listening to the "halfalogue" of someone talking on a cellphone is so much more distracting (and sometimes annoying) compared to a proper back-and-forth conversation or a monologue, as psychologists from Cornell University have found out. That effect caught my notice, but it's not what held my attention captive.

It always felt a bit like I'm rudely intruding into the private lives of strangers when I allow myself to have thoughts about them, but I couldn't help but wonder how the parents met each other. Was it in a sign language class, a support group or at their mutual workplace? Did they, like me, find love on the internet, or were they introduced to one another by friends who thought they were a match made in silence? I may never understand but I imagine that being mute would define one's identity indelibly. It must be like being born a man or a woman; it shouldn't matter, except it does. I want to know what it's like to have the love of someone who does not see what marks you apart from the rest of the world as a disability, but as a shared experience. If for a day, I could live the silent man's life, married to his silent wife, I would.

I also thought about the little girl growing up with parents who cannot speak, and wondered if it impeded the development of her language skills. Was she raised with the help of grandparents or uncles and aunts during that crucial period of her young life when she was learning how to express herself verbally, something her parents could never teach her? If someone would make an honest film about this family, I would watch it - I would be grateful for that little glimpse into their inner lives, and cherish it as much as I did Last Train Home about a family fractured by economical circumstances in the fast changing face of China, and The Kids Are All Right, which told the story of a married lesbian couple and the two children they mothered with the help of a sperm donor. I really appreciate these variations of the same theme; these multifaceted diversity of the human condition.

I noticed that she acted as the voice of her parents. She made the orders and then later, the payment. When they were leaving, the lo pan of the shop came to their table to chat with them (he couldn't sign, but that didn't stop him from trying his hands at a crude game of charades). The lo pan's daughter later joined in and I found out, to my surprise, she knows sign language too. Perhaps they are related, or are friends - or maybe she has a loved one who is mute as well. I don't know why, but I'm endlessly fascinated by how deep and rich and utterly human other people's stories can be. We forget these things often. Some people never remember.

There are times when I let myself suppose a future in which I have kids of my own, and my encounter with the mostly quiet family was one of those times. I wanted to call it wishful thinking, but I don't think that that's quite it. The other day, I asked the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ if she thinks I would make a good father.

Without the slightest wisp of hesitation, she said, "No." It really shouldn't, but it still made me feel a little sad.

P.S. As I was writing this in a Starbucks coffeehouse, I was sitting beside another family of three; an Indian father, a Chinese mother, and a child that defies and destroys the illusory lines dividing the races.

Has a voice,
k0k s3n w4i

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Zen of Sparrows and Destinies

"Well you're art, you fell into this part
You play the victim perfectly holding your beating heart
You used to be so smart
You fluttered round the yard making your magic"

Electric Bird (2008) by Sia

I am reminded recently by Stephen Tobolowsky in the latest episode of his podcast of a story I learned when I used to be a practicing Buddhist. It is a Zen parable about a man who wanted to embarrass a wise Zen master, so he caught a little bird and held it in his hand behind his back. He then asked the master to guess if the bird is alive or dead. If the master guessed that the bird is dead, he would let it fly away. If the master guessed that the bird is alive, he would squeeze the life out of it with his fist and let it fall.

"The bird is whatever you wish it to be," said the sage, putting on a pair of shades. "Its fate is in your hand." He then walked away in all Zen-like with The Who screaming YEAAAAAAH! in the background.

On the night before I left for my new life in Kuching, something remarkable happened. It was past midnight and I was in an upstairs bedroom in my grandmother's house when a sparrow appeared out of nowhere and fluttered frantically round and round the restricted airspace, colliding often into the walls and ceiling.

I switched off the overhead fan because I don't really fancy having bloody bits of bird splattered all over the room. When the feathered fugitive finally crash-landed from fatigue, I gently scooped it up with a towel. I felt its warm, tiny ribcage pulsing against my palm as it respires at an alarmingly rapid rhythm. It was so alive, so afraid. Then, I had an epiphany. I suddenly realised that I was holding more than a bird in my hand. I was holding a life.

Sparrow Rescue 1
A bird in a towel is worth...

I don't believe in signs and omens, but I can appreciate coincidences and accidental metaphors when I see them. My new job in Kuching requires me to figuratively hold the lives of many people in my hands, something which I am not quite sure I am ready to do just yet. I doubt myself constantly and I hate to think how much I could have accomplished in my life so far had I been a little more sure of myself. I haven't begun performing my duties as a house officer just yet (that would be tomorrow), and the only thing staving off my overwhelming urge to vanish and live like a hobo on the streets is a few simple words which Eddie Izzard said:

"You got to believe you can be a stand-up before you can be a stand-up.
You got to believe you can act before you can act.
You got to believe can be an astronaut before you can be an astronaut.
But you got to believe."

At the moment, I feel the loss of control of my own fate acutely, just like the bird in the bully's hand. I do not even yet know which of the six departments I will be arbitrarily posted in first. More than anything else, the uncertainty is pushing furiously at my reflex to surrender. The bird I caught did not struggle because it had accepted its doom.

I eventually released it back into the wilderness of suburbia, of course. After all, I'm not a psychopath or a child (yes, most people haven't realise how similar that two groups of people really are). But catching a sparrow and then setting it free isn't at all an uncommon incident; I have even rescued a grounded bat and a lost frog in the past. What was truly bizarre was that after I let that sparrow out through the front door and returned to the same bedroom, a second sparrow materialised out of thin air and and gave an encore performance in déjà vu. This one wasn't so lucky. Before I could even react, it collided with a blade of the fan with a sickening concussive thunk and plummeted limply onto the parquet floor. Guano guano guano.

I was on it at immediately and found it dazed but thankfully, very much alive. Birds, it seems, are hardier than they look. This second one did not struggle as well but then again, it had just experienced the equivalent of a steel girder falling squarely onto a 5-year-old kid at terminal velocity. The fact that it didn't end up as a crimson stain on the wall was a miracle.

Sparrow Rescue 2
"Is this Bird Heaven?"

I gave it a brief once-over to see if it was injured in any way, but I couldn't find any damage - but it might be because I was only trained to give medical exams to just one species of flightless hominids. Still, it did not appear to exhibit tenderness in any of the places I prodded it in, and was capable of perching on my finger. I opened my mouth as if I intended to put it in my mouth, but it wasn't at all impressed. Might have sustained some temporary brain damage there, methought.

Sparrow Rescue 3
"Ohnoes, it's Bird Hell!"

Sparrow Rescue 4
Artsy mataphor-laden shot.

Sparrow Rescue 5
It looks much older and more worn out compared to Sparrow #1.

Do you know that modern birds belongs in the phylogenetic clade of Theropoda? It means that they are technically dinosaurs and a lot of theropod dinosaurs like velociraptors, are actually feathered, if you don't already know that. Nowadays, I can't watch Jurassic Park without being put off by their inaccurate lizard depiction, and whenever I look at a bird, I always get a little catch in my breath when I remember what they really are. Do you know that some birds - chickens, for example - still retain genes which code for teeth in their genome? And that they can be switched back on at will using engineered viruses, producing atavistic hens with teeth? It's a very cool mark of their saurian evolutionary heritage.

After awhile, Sparrow #2 apparently recovered enough of its senses to attempt an escape, but being stupid, it didn't know how to. I had to recapture my small avian friend after it got tired flying into walls and mirrors, and brought it to a real aperture. It must have suspected a trick because it just wouldn't let go of my finger and fly out into the night (though it's membership in a diurnal species probably had something to do with that as well). I bobbed my hand up and down to shake it loose, but still it clutched stubbornly to my knuckle.

Sparrow Rescue 6
"But it's dark out and I don't want to go, Mommy!"

I'm not particularly prepared to venture out into a whole new world as well, but sooner or later, all of us must let ourselves fall before we can fly, right? I just got to believe that I can do it. That's the trick of it.

And then it flew away, leaving it all behind.

Like a bird,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, July 11, 2011

Walk This Mile in My Shoes

"The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good."

Psalm 14:1
In case you're wondering, I made it across the South China Sea safely and is now squatting in the backroom of my friends' place in the City of Cats - at least till I can find a foothold of my own. Yin Yee, along with a rather enervated post-call Inn Shan, came to pick me up from the airport. Then, for the rest of the day, the two of them plus Nickson showed me around town and helped me with my shopping. Yew Kong lent me the car he just bought from Nickson for me to get my affairs in order - which consists almost exclusively of filling up oodles and oodles of forms in various locations. That's what adulthood is all about you know - filling up forms. 

I'm going to be blogging guerrilla-style mostly from now on i.e. writing quick and dirty pieces. I'll get to my point immediately: it's not easy being an atheist in a religious nation. Every time I'm made to recite the National Principles, I'm reminded that a "true" Malaysian has to possess a belief in God. Every time I read the Bible or the Qur'an, I'm reminded of how most people's belief system discriminates against someone such as myself, calling us foolish, wicked, and a huge assortment of other derogatory adjectives from the get-go. We aren't judged by our deeds, but by our inability or unwillingness to believe in something without hard evidence. The next time you encounter an atheist who says nasty things about religion, remember that it's the holy books of the faithful that started the mudslinging first. 

The course I attended preceding my induction into civil service reminded me yet again recently of my status as a persona non grata in my own country. It was during a talk about leadership that this came up.
A Visionary Leader According to Malaysia
1. Obedience to God
According to the government officer giving the lecture, an atheist can never be a visionary leader. In his mind, an atheist literally do not have the first thing it takes to lead. This is the sort of discrimination against a minority group which we happily allow to happen in Malaysia and in other parts of the world where people wear their faith in an invisible cosmic superbeing on their sleeves like it's going out of fashion. Imagine for a second that the officer's PowerPoint presentation had insisted instead that someone of African descent, or a woman, or a dwarf cannot be a visionary leader. There would be an automatic uproarious backlash against him, but because most people are conditioned by their FUCKED UP RELIGION to think so poorly of atheists, no one saw anything wrong with his blatant bigotry. 

If you ever wondered why atheists are so pissed-off most of the time, this is why. This is also why conscientious atheists tend to support women's and gay rights - issues which I speak about often in this website. I know what it's like to be freely discriminated against in most cultures in the world. I know what it feels like to be marginalised by the teachings of religion.
Group 3 Port Dickson Induction Camp 5-8 July 2011
My group at the Induction Course.

There is famous statement by a Lutheran Pastor, Martin Niemöller, which I like. It reads,
"First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me."
It said nothing about atheists, women or homosexuals, but the it's the spirit of the message that counts. Would you speak out for atheists? If there's one thing which can change our minds about religious people, this has to be it.

A non-visionary non-leader, 
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Big Brother, I Love You

"But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

Nineteen Eighty-Four (1948) by George Orwell

Right this moment, an insanely huge throng of yellow-clad Malaysians is demonstrating in our capital city braving tear gas, water cannons and potential police brutality under the banner of the BERSIH 2.0 rally, and Malaysians in cities all around the world are doing the same - minus the possibility of being arrested for daring to exercise their right to assemble and to speak. And what are the seditious, unreasonable, unpatriotic demands of the BERSIH demonstrators which got our Big Brother so riled up? Why, they want measures to be taken to ensure that the next General Election will be a clean affair! How dare they!

The government have cracked down mercilessly on the demonstrators when they did it in 2006, and leading up to 2011's repeat (this time, it's bigger and yellower on several orders of magnitude), the authorities have thwarted the baaad people organising this event at every turn they could. Considering the magnitude of support BERSIH gets from the People of Malaysia, I think the government had committed a grave political cock-up in choosing to oppose it. Anyone with two brain cells to rub together in the ministry should have realised that the best possible action to take is to place themselves in support of it alongside the Opposition parties from the very beginning.

Right now, it looks like they are against instituting a fair electoral process. Jolly well done, good sirs!

I just returned from a four-day induction course organised by the Ministry of Health to initiate me into civil servitude and since I'm flying to the far side of Malaysia in the wee hours of the morning on the morrow to report for duty, I simply couldn't avail myself to be a head and a presence in the marching multitude - as much as I would love to. I offer instead my voice here. Now, I wonder if my employment with the government will be jeopardised by this heinous act of thoughtcrime?

On a related tangent, this slide was presented to us during a talk in the induction course on the conduct expected of civil officers a couple of days ago,

Obey the Big Brother
Translation: CONDUCT
An officer must be loyal to the king, country and government at all times.
Examples of breach of conduct:
Conspiring with enemies of the state.
Badmouthing/belittling government policies.
Breaking the law with the intention of opposing the government.

Tomorrow at 7:00 AM, I will be boarding the next flight to the rest of my life, and probably for most of it, I will be serving my country in my capacity as a physician. It's great that they are paying for my plane tickets and on my part, I've chosen to fly with the cheaper AirAsia rather than the amenities-included Malaysia Airlines (which costs double) like a fucking asshole bent on pinching every penny possible from taxpayers' money.

Goodbye, Malacca. Hello, Kuching.

P.S. For my foreign readers, "bersih" means "clean" in the Malay language.

Ready to help,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

I Graduated to the Rousing Refrain of the Imperial March

"Obviously a strongly elongated penis is the solution."

Dr Alexander Arkhipkin

No, I'm not going to divulge the context of this fantastic quote.

On the 2nd of July, 1843, Samuel Hahnemann, creator of the quack alternative medicine system known as homeopathy, died and left the world a worse place than he found it. 168 years later, more than two-hundred new medical doctors graduated in my home city of Malacca and some of them will probably not be a complete waste of oxygen on this planet.

I did not want to attend my own graduation day initially, but I feared that my parents may not let me stay alive for very long had I shirked my filial duty of suiting up in an anachronistic ceremonial robe and putting on a silly square hat for the purpose of being photographed by them as proof to friends and relatives that they have begotten something narrowly better than a fart bubble in our end of the gene pool.

During the ceremony, I was seated beside Sanjeev, my Seychellois batchmate and fellow atheist, but he wasn't one for much stimulating conversation that afternoon, unfortunately. He was good only for groaning every five minutes about how hungover he was. Anyhow, he could have graduated with distinction had he not attended his viva voce drunk off his horse but just for pulling that stunt, he had eternally earned the respect of everybody who knew him - and he, brilliant chap that he is, knew which honours were higher.

As expected, there were boring scripted speeches read by important personages wearing even sillier looking Tudor bonnets. Next came the part that parents had been waiting for: the presentation of our degree scrolls as our names were declared aloud by the Dean of the Indian half of our college, whose Indian tongue struggled valiantly to pronounce our exotic Malaysian names (I mean this in good humour since I am rather fond of the guy). The Chinese students with the surname "Ng" bore the worst brunt of the butchering - it was consistently corrupted to "Angie". No one sought to correct him the entire time because presumably, they thought it was a hoot.

Then, the generically ostentatious orchestral fanfare playing throughout the proceedings over the PA system changed and the Star Wars Main Theme started blaring heroically in its stead. Right after that, The Imperial March played with sinister pomp as new doctors continued to step up solemnly on stage to receive their accolades. And yes, it was as hilarious as you can imagine.

I heard mutterings amongst my colleagues about how inappropriate it was that the leitmotif of one of the greatest movie villains of all time accompanied what was the most important moment of their lives (to date). It was, after all, the song the Band of the Welsh Guard played as a not-so-covert insult when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, an infamous abuser of human rights and asshole of some note, visited the United Kingdom.

Not me. I think it was glorious and it made me glad that I didn't miss my graduation day after all. If I had a Darth Vader helmet with me at the time, I swear I would have worn it on stage. Now, I can tell everyone that I graduated from med school to the rousing refrain of The Imperial Fucking March.

I have graduated
After all, I already got the evil black robe bit down pat.

The lot of us then did not take the Hippocratic Oath as was erroneously announced (which was a bummer because I was so looking forward to swearing to Apollo, Asclepius, Hygeia, Panaceia and all the other Greek gods) but took instead the Physicians' Oath codified in the Declaration of Geneva. It was alright except for the line that went: "I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception, even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity."

I omitted my pronouncement of the part about respecting human life from "the time of conception" since modern medical practice, even in relatively religious Malaysia, necessitates that I don't. I wouldn't be able to prescribe emergency contraception or allow the destruction of leftover embryos in fertility clinics without being an oath breaker otherwise. I think it's time they update the wording of that oath, even though it's mostly just lip service in these cynical days.

My father arrived just as my mother and grandmother was leaving, cunningly missing the boring bits of the programme and turning up only to participate in a Kodak moment with me.

Later that evening, I celebrated with a few of my favourite individuals from med school by eating out at a Korean restaurant and then going to Shaki's suite at the Equatorial Melaka to have one last night of reckless alcoholism. We watched Inglourious Basterds and A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 on telly; the latter being an excellent film to watch when you are inebriated while the former is just excellent. Then, we talked passionately about all the video games we have ever played in our lives. I vaguely remember going out for breakfast with Voon at about 3:00 AM, and then calling room service for a corkscrew at four. Next morning, I woke up in the bathtub.

It was the most fun I ever had in a long, long time. Today, I will be attending an induction course at Port Dickson at 2:00 PM which will officially initiate me into the medical fraternity; into the adult world of salaries, taxes, mortgages and expectations. It came like a zephyr, beneath my notice, but I have come of age.

Searched his feelings,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, July 02, 2011

An Idea of Home

"Every house where love abides
And friendship is a guest,
Is surely home, and home sweet home
For there the heart can rest."

Henry Van Dyke

I owe thanks to Tenzin Dolkar (who I like to think of as my one and only Tibetan reader) for introducing me to her good friend, Pema, when she found out that I was going on holiday in her hometown back in April. It was a shame that I did not get to meet Tenzin too since she no longer lives in McLeod Ganj, but life's unfair like that. Contrary to the curmudgeonly, misanthropic image I tend to project, I genuinely do enjoy meeting new people and having meaningful conversations with them.

Pema was a delight and a darling. She's sweet, chatty, hospitable, and knows practically everyone in town. Out of the four weeks I spent roving about Western Himalayan region, three of them were spent in Dharamsala and the surrounding towns and villages - and in that time, I had met up with Pema about four times over a cuppa or a bite. We spoke at length about a great many pertinent subjects like regional and international politics, Tibetan culture, local attractions, human rights, medicine, religion, books, films, and food (of course). We also had words about that pervasive, pulsing issue close to every exiled Tibetan's heart: the dream of a free Tibet.

Pema has very realistic and pragmatic views on the matter. She knew the People's Republic of China will never unclench its greedy claws around her people's land or grant Tibetans true autonomy in their own governance, but still she strives for it. I agree with her almost unreservedly, but a dialogue between two minds mirroring one another is seldom fruitful and never interesting. So, I went meta - I wanted to quiz her about the thoughts behind her thoughts. Terry Pratchett's Tiffany Aching satirical fantasy series for children has this immensely sensible concepts of First Sight and Second Thoughts which not nearly enough adults know about (but should). First Sight is the ability to see what's there instead of what you think is there. Second Thoughts are the thoughts you think about the way you think.

"Do you want Tibet freed?" I asked her point blank over coffee at Moon Peak Cafe.

"Of course!" she told me emphatically. "It's my homeland!"

I enquired further. I asked if she was born there.

"No, I was born here in India," she said.

"Have you ever been to to Tibet?"

"No..." She then smiled, understanding what I was getting at. "It's odd but somehow, I feel a very strong connection to that place."

My Tibetan Spirit Guide™
Pema, my Tibetan Spirit Guide™, enjoys her anonymity
so I photoshopped a Vajrapani mask over her face.

That is what I truly find fascinating. She has in mind a home in a country she was not born in, and yearns to return to a land that had never heard her footfalls. Why? Why indeed.

My life story parallels Pema's but with a radically different perspective. I am ethnically Chinese and my grandparents came to the Malay Archipelago from villages in China I cannot even name, let alone pronounce. I was born here in Malaysia, and I grew up breathing Malaysian air and drinking Malaysian water. At no point in my entire existence do I even entertain the thought of China as my home. I feel absolutely no longing for the patch of dirt which some dead stranger related to me by blood happened to have been birthed on. Unlike some Malaysian Chinese who harbour borrowed pride of China's every successes and would reflexively defend China's every transgression in the world's eye, I find almost everything about the People's Republic deplorable; their values running counter to everything I cherish and stand for.

When I first landed on Indian soil in 2006 with more than a hundred other Malaysians, I realised for the first time just how powerful the idea of a home can be. Homesickness was a visible, tangible disease around campus. I've heard of how my colleagues - some of them grown men - cry themselves to shambles in their hostel beds at night, moaning like stuck pigs for a mere physical location they feel sentimental for. Eventually, a few cracked under the duress and chose to quit medical school before the first semester was up just to return to familiarity. It their first time away from home for any substantial period of time, you see, and the shock proved to be too much for them to withstand. It ironic that some of these homesick Malaysians descended from Indian migrants, and India is actually their ancestral crib.

Meanwhile, I also noticed that I am completely immune to homesickness and one has to wonder if it's because I'm deficient in some ways in the attic. If I am a Tibetan refugee, do I have it in my heart to ache for Tibet?

Perhaps, it's just the way I think about the way I think. My idea of home is protean. Sometimes, it's a person - a lover - and the warmth between her arms, and in other times, it's a state of mind. A home may mean the whole world to many but the whole wide world is home to me. Those are words I live by. The rest, if that's how one chooses to parse it, are simply details.

What does "home" mean to you?

P.S. Thanks you, Pema and Tenzin, for helping to make McLeod Ganj a home for me.

Always home,
k0k s3n w4i