Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Sword of Christ

"Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

Matthew 10:34-37

Thus saith Jesus. When people refers to him by the epithet of 'Prince of Peace', I laugh out loud.

Two days ago, I caught up with Rachel, whom you might remember as a rather integral character in a June 2011 story regarding the psychological blind spots we humans are susceptible to when it comes to the sacred cows we believe in. It was an unexpected but pleasant surprise when I received her text at work, wondering if we could meet before she returns to Adelaide. It would have been something to discuss religion with her again now that I had read the Bible several times through (not to mention dated and accidentally de-converted a Presbyterian in the meantime), but the situation never arrived at a moment when it's appropriate - and the presence of several other mutual friends made the subject impossible to broach.

Then, after excusing myself to use the men's room and returning to the table, I found that the subject had been broached in my absence. It's hard to proceed sans context so here it is: Rachel got engaged last year to a bloke named Fish (probably no relations) who I believe was a freethinker or apatheist of some sort - but the point is, he wasn't Christian. Rachel was relating a story about how he had found the Lord, and His Original Recipe of 11 Herbs and Salvation.

"I made it clear to him that there wasn't going to be a future for the both of us if he isn't Christian," she explained. "It's very important to me."

She also recounted how she questioned him thoroughly after his "repentance" just to make sure that his conversion was sincere and not at all motivated by um, any external pressure (gee, I wonder what made her suspect that). I have no idea what questions you can ask a person in order to gauge the contents of his heart with any reliability, but she apparently knew some. All I know is if it's a pop quiz on Biblical knowledge, I can outscore most of my Christian friends quite effortlessly.

The whole situation is so bizarre to me. It absolutely defies my understanding because I would never ever abandon a girl I'm dating just because she believes differently from me. It's partly because I actually enjoy disagreements and arguments recreationally, but more importantly, I believe that whatever real, palpable thing we share in this world far outweighs what we think might be in the next.

In the atheist community, we have all heard tragic accounts of how religious parents disown their non-believing children, or couples splitting up over differences in faith. We, as a people, know the cut of the Sword of Christ intimately. And the Scimitar of Muhammad. And all the other varied and exotic weapons of religious bigotry and discrimination which dismember families and cleave lovers asunder - all over some stuff some old books say which no one can prove. Well done, humanity! Have an exploding cigar!

Maybe Rachel's fiancé really found the whole human parthenogenesis and resurrection story of the New Testament believable, or maybe he thought that it's a fair concession to win the hand of the woman he loves - it's really not my place to bet on either horse. What matters more here is that it's the coming together of two people who are about to pledge the rest of their lives to one another, and faith in that perpetuity is far more beautiful to me than faith in the eternity of any religion.

Meanwhile, Christ's blade, having spared this pair, moved on to hack its next victims apart.

P.S. Do share your opinions and anecdotes on the intersection between faith and relationships if you have any. I'd love to hear about them.

A believer in love,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Red Couch

"He went to sea for a day
He wanted to know what to say
When he's asked what he'd done
In the past to someone
That he loves endlessly
Now she's gone, so is he"

Lille (2008) by Lisa Hannigan

Between yesterday and dawn stretched the forever of insomnia. I lay sprawled on a red couch in the Female Surgical Ward, staring at nothing but stillness and listening to no sound but the quiet footfalls of tomorrow, each one louder than the last. It was the thirteenth hour; first night of the Lunar New Year and I was on-call. Outside, through the panes of the seventh floor windows, I saw rain. I could smell its wetness, hear its tremulous pulse.

There's a woman lying in Bed Twenty-Three, waiting for someone to come and tell her that it's time to cut her gangrenous left leg off. I tried drawing from her agony to trivialise my own, but all I succeeded in doing was commiserate with her. In a way, I too was waiting to amputate a cherished part of me which served me well but is now blackened, withered and poisoning me. My wait would probably be longer.

A Self Portrait
A self-portrait.

What happened at 7:56 PM earlier that evening, was the only bright spot of my day, and it came in the shape of a surprise text from the neighbouring Male Surgical Ward - from Liv who is half-Chinese and like me, had to celebrate the New Year by way of a graveyard shift. The text said, "Hey, later my parents will send some food for dinner. Come and join!! :)"

When I sat down at the table with Liv, I realised that I was breaking bread with a colleague with whom I have barely broken ice - and we broke both over the best dinner I had in ages. We supped till the eleven somethings before we concluded our odd little New Year's night dinner party, and I left with the sense of an unfinished conversation I would dearly love to see the end to, feeling something resembling happiness for the first time in weeks. And there is something special, something comforting about home-cooked food. It always seems to say: "Everything's going to be okay."

Then I walked back to my ward finding each step heavier and heavier as good humour and cheer hemorrhaged out of the hole in my heart. By the time I arranged myself on the red couch, I was empty. It's as though I had lost everything again.

I don't actually remember if the couch was actually red in colour, but in my mind it was - and that is all that matters.

Everything's going to be okay, don't you know?

"I went to war every morning
I lost my way but now I'm following
What you said in my arms
What I read in the charms
That I love durably
Now it's dead and gone and I am free"

Lille (2008) by Lisa Hannigan

k0k s3n w4i

Monday, January 23, 2012

Unhappy New Year



明年今日 (2002) by 陈奕迅

This song got me. It got me good.

If we haven't broken up, I would be on my bed right now, eyes closed, talking on the phone with her because that was how I spent every crossing of one year to the next. It's almost tradition. The dull distress of my recalibrated life - now with a hundred percent less girlfriend - is propelled by the inertia of undead habits. I notice that my subconsciousness haven't yet found out I was dumped because in my dreams, we are still together.

My days remained unbleached; you wouldn't suspect that anything is wrong unless you know what songs I have on constant loop on my MP3 player. It's in the nights that I wander the graveyard of my past relationships. Here lies The One which Lasted One Year, Three Years and the Recently-Departed Four. Their headstones stand side by side, testaments to my continuing failure at love. The third time had not proved to be as much of a charm as it was advertised. You can't tell but I err far too frequently on the side of optimism. Bully for me for believing in happy endings. No endings are happy, silly.

I'm no stranger to being alone, of table-for-ones, and one-ticket-pleases. Four years of romance via electronic proxies had seen to that. I've always skated on the low floor of easy contentment, glad that there's someone out there somewhere who loves me and thinks of me often. Now that floor had fallen away, depositing me in a state of solitude I've forgotten is even possible. Suddenly, it's a world of lovers out there, their very existence mocking mine.

I wished we had that conversation where we talk about the destination we have arrived at and how we needn't to - but maybe, she just woke up one day and realised that we are already there. I agonised long and hard over the road behind us, trying to figure out the last detour we could have taken out of this one-way-street and saw none we would have considered. I did not find it, but I did discover a sign I've missed. In anticipation of her visit last month, I wrote about the uncertainty of our destinies and said:

"Next week, for a few days at least, I want to dwell on none of these bothersome things. Instead, I just want to lose myself in the nearness of the one girl I love most out of the seven billion other human beings on this planet. Oh, if only the rest of our lives should be so simple: she and I, and that elusive Here and Now."

She only gave a knowing smile in reply. I comfort myself in believing that she gave me that one last week of Here and Now unfettered to the weight of reality as a Christmas present - y'know, for old times' sake. This, and many other beautiful things she had done for me, is precisely why I was in love with her. In a way, I still am.

I feel guilt-ridden because even when she's all out of love for me, she still granted me my final wish. In return, she asked if we could still be friends and I could not even give her that at a time she needed one most. Maybe I'm just selfish that way. Maybe I don't want her to hear my voice cracked under the pressure of pretending that everything is okay when I am anything but. Perhaps next year. Perhaps on this day next year, I can be the friend she wants.

I'm going back to bed, and let the new year drift silently past. In my dreams, my heart is whole.

Still asleep and dreaming,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Matter Over Mind

"Heathcliff, don't you know that it's me, it's Cathy, I've come home
I'm so cold, let me in-a-your window"

Wuthering Heights (2007) by The Puppini Sisters

I never liked the original Kate Bush version.

Yesterday, I was on-call in the Female Surgical Ward and I had to take leave of my post at 4:30 AM to retrieve some blood from the blood bank. I was on the seventh floor with a cooler under one arm, waiting for the elevator when a nursing sister old enough to be someone's grandmother popped out of the neighboring Male Surgical Ward with a clipboard. I smiled. I frequently and deliberately smile at strangers because I like the effect it has on people. The complex neurological cascade it triggers in the highly-socialised primate brains of human beings is evolutionarily hardwired and crosses all cultures. Smile at a two-month-old infant and it will smile back automatically. The kick I get out of smiling randomly at strangers (and setting off their socio-emotional reflex) is not dissimilar to some kid ringing doorbells and then running away for fun.

"Waiting for the elevator?" she asked in Malay laced with that Sarawakian accent I am growing increasingly familiar with over the past six months.

"Yeah," I answered dejectedly, giving the cooler a shake. The sister understood.

Instead of stopping and waiting for the elevator with me, she headed for the stairwell. My face must have conveyed my bewilderment because she automatically offered an explanation. It's amazing how much communication occurs beyond the words that spill out of that defect in our faces.

"I don't like riding the elevator at night, especially when I'm alone." She talked as if she was admiring my guts for attempting something that was, in her mind, oh-so perilous. "I'm afraid of getting stuck alone in one and it goes all dark. There are 'things' haunting this hospital."

I was about to tell her that I don't believe in ghosts, spirits, poltergeists, goblins, vampires or any other mix-bag of imaginary 'things' she cares to shake at me, but it was terribly early in the morning so I decided to be nice and simply said: "I wish I'd get stuck in the elevator. Then, I can stop being on-call and go to sleep."

Ghost of the Mind
It's all in your head.

As I grew older, I also grew out of my childish fears of things that go bumpity-bump in the night - and I had assumed that everyone would undergo the same process and eventually achieve the age of reason. Not so. I used to think that my father's superstitious attitude was more playful than earnest, but I was disappointed. In fact, I feel that same pang of disappointment whenever anyone above the age of twenty reveals their fear of spoooooky entities to me. Just the other night, I heard about a house officer who was on-call in the Neurosurgical ward who thought she saw a shadow flashing by after she exits the shower. She actually needed another house officer to go to where she was (from a whole other building quite some distance away) to reassure her that it was just a figment of her traitorous imagination.

When a colleague of mine just moved here to Kuching and was lodging in a spare room at her boyfriend's place, she thought she heard voices emanating from seemingly nowhere and immediately assumed that the place was haunted. They even went as far as to invite a Protestant pastor and a prayer circle to come over and exorcise the residence. I would later lodge in that same room when I first relocated here in Kuching, and realised on the first night that the disembodied "voices" were just the neighbours' trickling through the thin walls. I guess the price of taking things on faith and believing in things without the validation of evidence is that one would occasionally appear like a complete tit. And this is why I can't stand priests and other assorted holy-men - they are often the biggest tits of all.

I just don't understand how anyone can live entire lives being terrified by things that aren't real and and then act upon those irrational, baseless fears as if they are. It's such a waste of life. I was gossiping about the incident of the girl and her supposed encounter in the Neurosurgical ward with a fellow sceptic when another house officer within earshot blurted, "Don't talk about these things! I'm on-call there tonight!"

I walked right up to her, looked her in the eye and said, as I've said many times to so many others before: "There is no such things as ghosts. Stop scaring yourself."

The real Ghostbuster
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Familiar Road to Recovery

"And she was
Like a blade of ice
Like a lonely road
Clearest day alive
Always sharp and cold
Always beautiful
I am such a fool"

Even If She Falls (2011) by Blink-182

It's been seven days since I was unceremoniously dumped by my now ex-girlfriend, and I still do not know where the crack started and what I could have done to stop the fractures from enveloping our relationship. To be honest, I don't really want to know. I abstained, almost to the point of callousness, from asking beyond her succinct answer of "we drifted apart". Knowing what I could have done differently will simply intensify the regretful sense of 'what-ifs' and 'if onlies' that now percolates the static of my daily preoccupations. Is it selfish to pretend that it really was her and not me? If it was me, why wasn't I told before it tipped across the point of no return?

One of the thing I didn't realise - but is now obvious to me - was how much she figured in my everyday life, even when we are always hundreds of miles apart. She's the reason why I have not felt even a fraction of a second of loneliness in the past four years. I call her when I'm driving. I call her when I walk anywhere, even when I walk from one building to another at the hospital where I work. I call her after I come out of a movie theatre or finish reading a book, just so I can talk to her about it. For the longest time, she was my sole confidant. Now, several times a day, I would absentmindedly try to dial her up, only to remember that we've "drifted apart", whatever that actually means.

So I deleted her number.

"Can we still be friends after this?" Phoebe asked.

"Yes," I said, not realising at the time that I was lying. I don't think I'm matured or level enough to maintain a friendship after breaking up with someone. I tried that once and got myself stuck inside a purgatory of self-pity for most of a whole year, and I only recovered after I purged my second ex completely out of my life by asking her to never talk to me, call me or even make eye contact if we run into each other on the street. It's drastic and cruel, and it worked. Maybe, just maybe, I don't want to risk the chance of knowing that Phoebe can be happy without me, true as that may be. I don't want to hear how she fell in love with someone else a couple of months from now. I don't want to know how great a guy he is, or how I'd totally like him once I get to know him.

I realised after the fact that this separation must have been planned long before Last Monday, and that Phoebe probably decided that it should not ruin our last week together, one which we had planned since August. She knew just how much I looked forward to her visit. It hurts terribly to know that through all those final days, behind the charade of normalcy; beneath each of our conversations and comfortable silences; at our many dinner tables and in bed, she knew we were heading towards the last page of our story. I resent how she had led me to believe that everything was alright when they were not. And most of all, I resent the fact that she didn't think I deserve to be told this in person, one lover to another - not even in our last moments together.

I need to be the architect of my own recovery. I need to be methodical, cold, and calculating. I had already taken myself apart once in my life and rebuilt myself from the ensuing wreckage of shame, heartbreak and self-harm. I fear I will not survive another reinvention.

Please forgive me. I'm sorry.

Surviving it one week at a time,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, January 09, 2012

That Elusive Here and Now

"The minute you think you know you got it
Is the minute you know it's gone for good"

The Tiger Inside Will Eat The Child (2011)
by Fatty Gets a Stylist

This started out as a love letter, a distillation of my thoughts and emotions - my hopes and dreams - for a relationship that just reached four years old. It was half-written, but I already knew how the rest would go. Or rather, I thought I knew. What I didn't expect was having to erase every little word I had handpicked to give shape to the rest of our lives, and start all over with a blank new page.

It was titled "We Are Four" and in it, there was a recapitulation of Boxing Day of 2011 in the recent history of a fortnight past. Phoebe flew over to Kuching to spend the Christmas holiday with me and it was the first time we saw each other in more than seven months. 26th of December is our anniversary and even though I've said over and over again how I don't see the point in celebrating the passage of time, I took her out to someplace nice and posh enough to justify the occasion. It was a rainy Monday evening and we just sat, ate and talked away the hours as if we'd been friends for ever. Then, we went home and watched The Shining, because it was one of the only two movies I have that neither of us have seen. The other was Blue Valentine, a stark portrait of the sweet beginnings of a couple and the eventual decay of their marriage. I didn't want to see Blue Valentine because I was told that it's not a film you should watch with your girlfriend.

We don't have many pictures of the two of us.
Phoebs and I at the Hilton, 26th December 2011.

Today, I received a phone call while I was still at the hospital trying to finish my jobs at the end of a particularly frustrating 12-hour work day. I was delivering some urgent blood samples to the lab when Phoebe called.

"Hello," she began. It may have been my imagination after the fact, but I thought she sounded uncharacteristically meek.

"Hey" I said. "What's up?"

"Where are you now?"

"At work. Why? Do you need to talk?"

"I'm sorry," she said. "I want a break up."

"Oh. Okay. Why?"

"I just felt that we've been drifting apart. Don't you feel the same way?"

"No," I answered with a calmness that surprised me. "Nothing's changed for me."

That was the truth. I did not see it coming at all. If there were frays on the edges, I've failed to notice them unravel. The last months were not punctuated by petty fights or passive aggression. There was no stench of apathetic decay. I was just telling a friend right before Phoebe's visit that I'm dating the perfect girl, and said to him that some day, he'd find someone perfect for him too. Oh, it's almost funny how oblivious I was to the sucker punch I would receive today. Ha ha hilarious.

On my desk right now is a picture of how I like to remember Phoebe best: her, a book in hand, reading. I took it when we were in Kodaikanal, one of those quaint mountain stations in Tamil Nadu we found ourselves lost in those years ago. It sits in a beautiful hand carved photo frame I bought when we were there - when we spent afternoons and evenings visiting every dusty old knickknack shop in town like children.

We were children. Now she's all grown up.

I have not quite decided on how I am feeling at the moment, but perhaps I would find out when the blunt suddenness settles into a clearer understanding of when and where my life is moving to now that I've left the Here and Now. My head aches. My heart feels weak. It's as if it there's too much, far too much inside me.

And I need to get rid of that photograph. I know this sounds crazy, but I think it's killing me bit by bit. I really need it gone.

Hopes he will be okay,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, January 02, 2012

Chicken Holocaust

"Ooh! Get me away from here I'm dying"

Get Me Away from Here, I'm Dying (1996)
by Belle and Sebastian

Last week, when we were heading out to the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, we stopped at a red light near a lorry which was bursting with crates of golden, fluffy chicken nuggets baby chicks.

And in the midst of the mobile chick apartments, one particular ball of yellow down caught our eyes.

Chick Holocaust

I would repeatedly show that picture to the Long-Suffering Girlfriend™ at random and she would laugh every single time without fail, confirming my suspicions that the two of us are terrible human beings. Somehow, Chicken Little there had gotten its comically disproportionate head stuck in the gap and now, it couldn't free itself. It's still alive though because we can totally see it breathing.

And here's a closer crop of the same picture.
This chick is literally going to die for our sins.

I find baby chicks to be ridiculously adorable. I liked them so much that I actually had one as a pet back when I was a kid, and one of the things I found out in a hurry is that baby chicks grow from being cute to being tasty in a very short amount of time. Anyhow, I no longer remember what ultimately happened to it. I have a vague recollection of it escaping one day, never to return.

Or maybe I ate it, and my subconsciousness is currently repressing the mind-breaking horror of the act.

Chick Holocaust Zoomx2

Unlike most people, I suffer from no dilemma when it comes to the question of killing other animals for food - I know very well that it is morally, ethically and environmentally the wrong thing to do, but I do it all the same.

I don't know about you but I cope by remembering that it's all the animals' fault for being so damn fucking delicious.

Apex predator,
k0k s3n w4i