Monday, August 27, 2012

Cheryl and I Go to a Debate

"People don't come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God."

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

To say that I had an eventful weekend is to severely understate it. After signing off work at 4:00 AM on Saturday morning, I made my way to the airport to catch an early morning flight to the Peninsula. There, I met the Crazy Cat Lady™ (who had flown in from Singapore) and together, we travelled to The Gardens to have my first ever lunch date with the future in-laws at a Hakka restaurant - which I thought appropriate as I am mostly Hakka by descent. Bet you didn't know that.

After that, we made our way to The Ascott where Cheryl had gotten us a rather swanky pad using some company coupon voodoo that I don't fully understand - it has a bathtub and shit. However, we weren't allowed to check in till 3:00 PM because room service was still resetting our room. We did get two complimentary iced lemon tea at their bar while we waited though. There, I wrote a speech on a piece of paper I borrowed from the bartender while Le Fiancée™ quietly snapped a bajillion photographs of me making oral love to my pen.

Kok writing
Courtesy of Cheryl's Instagram fauxtography.

The main reason why Cheryl and I were in town was because that evening, we were going to make history where the freethinking community is concerned - a couple of histories, in fact. In the past few months, my atheist friends and I had been busy organising the first ever live debate in Malaysia on the question of God's existence in partnership with the Young Apologist, a Christian group looking to defend their faith through reason, logic and evidence. Coincidentally, this is going to be the biggest concentration of Malaysian non-believers in any place, at any time ever (which sounds impressive until you realise that no godless meet in Malaysia ever exceeded twenty godless heads). I was suppose to give a brief statement about who we are and what we are about before the debate commence - hence, the speech I was writing. Incidentally, it was also the first time I had to address a bunch of people on stage Oh wait, I remember filling in for the emcee back in high school for a Buddhist meet because the guy we originally appointed was rubbish.

Ascott Room
Our room at The Ascott.

Here is the original hastily-written script if you're interested. When I gave it, some bits were omitted while some parts were added on the fly so if you heard it first-hand, this may read differently,

Greetings, Christians. We come in peace [Vulcan salute].

Firstly, allow me to thank Sam and his friends in giving me the opportunity to say a few words about us. I shall try my best to keep it at that - at a few words.

The short version of it is this: We are atheists. We are the unbelievers, the freethinkers and, according to Psalms 14:1, we are fools. We live amongst you. Most of us were brought up in religion, much like you were. The only difference is that we - well, we had somehow lost our faith along the way. We are ex-Buddhists, ex-Christians, ex-Hindus and ex-Muslims. You may have known people like us all your life and not even know it.

Our very own debate representative this evening, Mr Willie Poh, is a lecturer, a teacher, and a consumate educator. He may have taught your sons and daughters but looking at him, there is no way that you can tell that he is an atheist. My fellow representative Ms Cheryl Cheah was in the papers recently for shaving her beautiful long hair - all of it - to raise money for the Cat Welfare Society of Singapore but none of the news articles mentioned the fact that she is an atheist. And Mr Dave Singh! He is a photographer and you may have even hired him to take pictures at your wedding, but you can't even guess that he's an atheist - especially when he got his turban on.

Forgive me if I appear a little out of sorts. It's been 40 hours since I've last gotten some sleep. I was on-call the entire night yesterday at the Sarawak General Hospital and I only flew in this morning. None of my patients knew that the doctor who kept them safe through the night was an atheist, a freethinker, and according to the Bible, a fool. Yesterday afternoon, I discharged an elderly gentleman  named Jack from my care. He just had his second stroke and is currently in the process of recovery. Before he went home, he asked for me and I attended to him. He took my hand in his, clasped it tightly and as he did this, tears were  streaming down his face. He told me how difficult it is is to lose the ability to do the things he used to do and how he cannot understand why his God would allow him to get a second stroke when he had done his best to live a healthy lifestyle. I comforted him and told him that studies have shown that just by having one stroke, you greatly increase your risk of having a second one. Before we parted, he said, "Thank you, Dr Kok. Bless your soul!" The poor man did not know that I don't have a soul.

Today, we have amongst us members from the Malaysian Atheists, a nascent group dedicated to the cause of secular activism, to the promotion of an accurate and positive image of atheists, and to speak out against religious persecution of the innocents (and in our country specifically, for the religious freedom of Muslim apostates). We have members from MAFA (the Malaysian Atheists, Freethinkers and Agnostics), a social group on Facebook where non-believers get together for meets, support and lively - and I do mean lively - discussions. Also joining us tonight are the APOSL's (the Advocates for the Propagation of Science Literacy). They are the ones wearing the blue T-shirts. They aim to improve science education and the critical thinking skills of our young people. Never have I seen so many atheists in one place before.
Alright. I know I said that I was going to say a few words about us. I lied. But hey, what do you expect from an atheist? And on that note, I shall retire to my seat. Thank you, and do enjoy the show tonight, folks.

A full recording of the debate between Mr Willie and Mr Samuel is being edited right this moment and I fully expect it to hit YouTube before the week is out - and when it does, I will write a fuller commentary about it here in my blog, with links to the video. As I was involved in the question selection process during the Q&A session, I missed Willie's closing statement and most of the actual Q&A. Personally, I can't wait to watch it too.

After the debate, most of the godless crew made their way to the Brussels Beer Café in Ampang (filling up almost half the joint) for the celebratory after-party we planned earlier because, well, we had Willie in our corner, holder of a Ph.D. in Kickass and Awesomesauce - we knew it was in the bag. And I did tell him that I will kill him if I flew down to KL for a poor show. Cheryl gotten herself pretty drunk on cider while I stood by and watched as she turned hilarious. When she reached the point where she was trying to make Dave Singh chug a bottle of Worcestershire sauce while earnestly cautioning Derryk against getting a tattoo on his chest, I took it on myself to finish her last beverage for her and took her back to the hotel. She could not remember half the night.

Brussels Cheryl and I and crew
From left: Mike, Navin, me, Cheryl and Dave.

The next day, Le Fiancée™ and I meet her parents again - this time for breakfast. Then, the two of us spent the afternoon just lazing about in KLCC before making our way to the LCCT to catch our flights back to our long distance engagement.

Sigh, every time we get to spend some time together, the more I realise what I am missing when we are apart.

Cheryl Candid
Le Fiancée™ in a cute dress.

P.S. I am now down with a bad case of gastroenteritis. You'd think that after living in India for 2½ years, I would be free from the runs forever.

Is literally no longer full of shit,
k0k s3n w4i