Thursday, November 26, 2015

You have never left my side

You have never left my side.
You were there in my darkest hours,
When the Tornado-demon hovered by my ears,
Convincing me that I have been left utterly alone.
That I was worthless dust, left by the wayside,
That my friends have fallen away
And all that I can look forward to is for the next storm to pick me up
And scatter me into the cornfields of Nebraska.
But I know that not all my friends have fallen away
Because the ones that remain have become my support.
In my heart I know, though my emotions had withered to the bone,
And consigned themselves to the realms of the Damned,
That you are present in every Tabernacle;
That in every feast I taste the fruit of thy goodness
And work of human hands;
That whenever the demon should incite me
To close my doors from my brothers and sisters,
I should throw them wide open.
And so let this worthless dust be scattered into the prairies
Let it tell of your succour and help.
As my feeble senses fail, so shall your glory fill the lands
Down to every canyon and dank alleyway;
Lasting joy in the face of grief.
Ach, let it be so.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Postgraduate Journal 3.12.6

Faithside: This semester has actually been pretty good on my side, despite the emotional low point miasma that stuck around when the semester started and I hauled ass right back to the school residence. Part of this is because I resumed my old practice of joining daily mass in the church across the road from my residence hall. I first joined (and committed to) daily mass in a panic during a particulary severe depression pang when I was working in Nebraska, whereafter the affliction was cured within two weeks. For this I credit the very reassuring presence of Jesus in the tabernacles and also the connections that I have built with members of the Nebraskan and Singaporean faithful who have stayed by my side and have been real champs. In November the church remembers the faithful departed and I have found joy in telling people the story of Tina and keeping her in the realms of the remembered. I am also especially grateful to Amanda and co. and their newly-fromed Ubi Caritas group in Yale-NUS College, a place where the spirit of rigorous enquiry and willingness to tackle big scary questions of faith has been nurtured and maintained. Guys, if you are reading this, I heart you all; this semester is gone too soon!

In other news, (1) daily Rosary was instated on the NUSCSS side, to the point that a small group of us, myself included, are doing it out of sheer force of habit. October was the month of the Rosary, not November, but it does not seem to matter any more to the diehards. (2) I have started a three-year programme of marking daily readings in the bible, because I heard an extraordinary claim that church readings cover the entire bible in three years, and I just have to see if that is really the case.

Scienceside: I have now a co-supervisor from Physics, a very kind and agreeable old professor dude, and am now caught in the thickets of computational physics. I actually prefer being snagged in the brambles of calculation than sucked into the quicksands of experimentation. One reason for this was that experimental people I have had to work with seemed to have scant interest in finding out how things actually work, and seemed to be bent on making things work by sheer power of will and by working themselves into a state of delirium (in which case anything at all can be thought plausible). The more important reason was that I sucked at experimental work while at the same time was passably good at calculation, having dabbled in computational techniques since my undergrad days. But even then, calculations sometimes don't work, and in fact at this moment none of my projects are working, and I have increasingly found myself compelled to cram undergraduate theoretical physics in order to understand the inner workings of my software, with its myriad weird error messages, (contra)indications, and acrobatic tricks.

I have been taking a course where I have learned to do computational physics from scratch. It started with some simple linear algebra and then swiftly degenerated into a mad scramble to write a working program with C that does high-powered stuff like Quantum Monte Carlo and the Metropolis Algorithm on Ising models and Schrodinger Equation solvers. Sad to admit but sometimes I fail to produce a working code (the Hydrogen molecule project has been especially disastrous), and the physics students are all pwning my arse at every turn. But I am positive, because my stated mission for this PhD adventure is to punch way above my weight, and this semester shall be no exception.

My first attempt at Monte-Carlo

Thursday, October 08, 2015

A visit to an old friend, the park official

Don't look so alarmed, Park Official Du. I know you're expecting me. You're not? Well then, please don't mind me having taken your seat while you were away for the day. It's just my little joke. Do you remember me? We met in college, during millitary training. Wasn't it fun? I have noticed your new pet project in the park has just been completed. My word, how the media loved it. I must congratulate you for having made it so well. It's not easy these days in this society, and you know that.

Don't look so glum, Park Official Du, managing the park is hard work, but I'm sure it (wink) pays off. Will you be so kind to help out an old friend? You know the economy these days, people burning out their cash on Shanxi coal mines and now grounding themselves like ships on coral in the stock market. You know it's tough surviving in society nowadays. Nice to have someone you can trust, eh? It's my nephew, they still aren't releasing him for the hit-and-run case, which you must have heard by now. I would have made them see reason, but they're already eyeing my own books. Some foolhardy cretins must have been trying to frame me again; I suppose they are about to use my good-for-nothing nephew as an excuse! Maybe I can't take care of the police very well now, but I'm sure they'll still listen to you, Park Official Du.

The past ten years have been a dream, but on the whole my family has never been very wealthy people. All we have, you might know, are each other, and a set of stainless steel cups which is our heirloom. It pains me but I must part with it, in gratefulness of having ever known you. No, please don't refuse it, I have made my decision to give it. I insist.

Besides, we still have a lot of these cups back home. You can have more of it if you'd like; yes, yes, you really can. It's been sitting idly with us all these years, and it will be such a shame if someone else got hold of it and accidentally... dropped it... on a glass bridge, for example. Yes, like the one that you built. It just wouldn't look very nice, don't you agree? (laugh) Oh, don't mind me, Park Official Du, it's my strange sense of humour again. It's a joke, as always. I'll leave you now, and hope to be seeing you around again.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Misa de Cristo Rey (Working Title)

A sneak peek of Sanctus

I composed a mass setting after being seized by the Muse for a few times over the months. I would like to dedicate it to the Parish of Christ the King in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I got the first brainwave. The name "Mass of Christ the King" seems to be taken, though. Should I find a new one?

Will anyone be using it? Will all this effort end up in something again? It's hard to tell, as always. But I have to start moving before I can find out at all.

Thursday, September 03, 2015


When you hear my petitions, Bubska,
Dance our dance, that no man will ever see
Sing my song, which only Eternity shall heed

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Postgraduate Journal 3.2.4

A moonlight picture of the "America" taken Christmas night, 1901, Baldwin-Ziegler Polar Expedition
(Semester 3, week 2, Thursday)
It is my style now to write about things from which I have been a bit detached, be they things that had happened in the past, ephemeral thoughts, or other things not concerning myself. I was mainly worried about appearing egotic on the internet. However, the need arose for me to put them in order when depression cycles happen too often to be amusing anymore, so a friend has recommended that I start writing again.

My life is a mystery to people now.

I have to clarify that I am now working towards a PhD. I have had to repeatedly explain that I didn't go through a Masters course. Sometimes I suspect that the same people come back to ask me the same questions again, and that even so they leave with a vague incomprehension.

The undergrads do not know. My family does not know. Doctoral students not from my lab do not know. Groupmates probably know, but they don't know anything else about my life. Not one person would know enough. And then I fade into the background of every setting.

A big gathering of my undergrad friends happens. It is in the daytime. I have lab.
A big gathering of my working friends takes place. It is on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Friday night. I have night lessons.
It happens on Sunday. I am at church or refusing to do anything if not with my family.

The fact is that my acquaintances are becoming strangers, deep friendships are becoming superficial, and that I am shedding my circles. It is like being in a room with walls that are closing in, like a ship sailing in a sea that is freezing over. It always feels like my schedule is to blame, or the inability of others to accommodate it, or that no one would bother to do so.

Me: Aren't you free at all?
Them: We are undergrads. We have classes, we have work.
Me: So do I, but I have decided to put them aside, if only for two hours.
They recede. They disappear. The echoes of their revelry fade away.
I go back to work.

What is the meaning in what I do?

So now I have work instead of a whole bunch of acquaintances. The work is usually something the prof has thought up.

But why? I always ask! Why this in particular?
The prof says: read these papers.
The prof says: it can be applied to such-and-such.
The papers make: no sense
The applications are: castles in hot air

Is there a meaning? How does one get about business? I ask my senior, who have been through more and therefore should know better.

The senior says: just do whatever boss tells you.
And I leave this husk of a human being alone, feeling none the wiser. I have no desire to get chewed up in this system and get spat out as a cynic.
The meaning must be arrived at through work, it must come with pain. Those do not matter, but there has to be a meaning.

Can I quit and do something else?

I can, and then I pay back a year's worth of stipends, and then try to find some job. I have no idea what.
I still feel that doing science is my life's calling.
I can quit next year, and then pay back two year's worth of stipends. It will be as if I had never lived in these two years.

A certain Dr. R. came to talk to us youngsters this Monday. He had found a way around this whole depression brouhaha while he was a student himself. The message is this: light, light is at the end of this tunnel, seek and you shall find! Glumness and despondency seem to be a common affliction across the board for those who have decided to trod this path. I had scoffed at this thought in the beginning, but I think the gravity of the situation is pretty clear to me now.

I stay at an apartment in school. I am dismayed to learn that some of my roommates have been positively antisocial. I have no desire to get chewed up in this system and get spat out as a psychopath.

Can I reach out to anyone?

I reach, but they are elusive. They fly away to fairyland with sunshine and flowers. They have no capacity to understand sadness. They yawn at my morosity.

I reach, but they have very important business to attend to. They go, they get married, they travel. They forget.

After a few tries, I give up.

I sometimes pray to Bubska who is lost at sea. I have no way of telling if she hears me or if she is passing it on. I can only hope.

A treasury of stories and memories are bottled up inside of my mind. They have to be told to listening ears, or they may wilt in this tight, crowded space. I write, but even this blog may be an echo chamber.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Short Stories from the Czech Republic

During the Ascension long weekend in May 2013, I went to Kraków to visit classmates and passed by Prague and Ostrava in the Czech lands. Two years have passed and the memories of the two days that I spent in the country have been distilled to two short stories. Maybe, it's better this way.

1. Prague
The highlight of Prague was the Hare Krishna Parade that came out of flipping nowhere and tore through the Old Town like a tornado.

The procession was heralded by very loud music, which is followed by the peculiar sight of a bunch of people sporting tiny ponytails and looks of profound peace and tolerance on their faces. They waved their hands in the air and danced in sprightly footsteps, as a megachurch member might do. It was a refreshing contrast to the dreariness of travelling alone in the day, so I stalked them as they went on their way, from Wenceslas Square to the Astronomical Clock, always keeping several paces behind them.

A granny was among their ranks, and she was in charge of dancing particularly vigorously and handing out promotional flyers to hapless people who got in the way. As it happened, Prague had a not trivial population of destitute people, and one of them had planted himself in Kožná, prostrating himself at the side of the alley behind his upturned hat. Emanating an air of overwhelming benevolence and compassion, the granny let drop a flyer into the man's hat and rejoined the parade. But the beggar, philistine as he is in matters of spirituality, only gave it a dismayed glance and then cast it contemptuously aside.

2. Ostrava
The highlight of my stopover at Ostrava was this meal, which was quaint as balls:

Thursday, July 16, 2015

From the Coffee Table at Siem Reap

It just so happened that I am now in Cambodia to join Dad for a few days. I am pleased to report the existence of St. John's Church, but probably won't be able to make any of their mass/rosary timings. The church is rather understated in stark contrast to the insane fixation that people have on Angkor Wat, which is not even currently used as a house of worship. In other news, we biked out of town to visit some farmers in the morning. The highlight was trying salak, which is a fruit imported from Thailand. The Australians saw those things for the first time today and they (the fruits) were much better-tasting than their Indonesian counterparts.

UPDATE: Turns out people worship at A.W., and I stand corrected

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Sound of Trees

The Hispanics threw a big party at Lancaster event center a month ago. I wore the Friar's Brew t-shirt to the party and the people there loved it. I explained that my late ex-girlfriend had bought it for me and I now keep it as something to remember her by. It read "Friar's Brew / St. Mary of the Angels" and it had a small stylised figure of a very fat friar above the words, much wider than he is tall. According to Tina, this little friar "looks like he makes a sound", and she would make a sound like a rubber sheet stretching.

Everything makes a sound in Tina's universe. One day we had to walk down Jubilee Road, which was lined with some trees, and Tina told me that each of these trees made a sound. The sounds were similar to the the wordless babblings of very young children. If a tree had drooping foliage, it made a sound of a bummed-out youngster; if it had lively, upwards-pointing leaves, then the sound was gleeful; if it leant, it was a sound of the child falling asleep in his mother's bosom. In this way she called each tree along Jubilee Road by its name.

At the heart of this person who fill the very rational roles of girlfriend, daughter, sister, or teacher to those around her, lies a universe where everything has a name and a life of its own.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Story of Lincoln

I am back from the work trip. It was not too bad as work trips go, and I got quite a lot of stuff done and learned, so there's that. On the other hand I had been quite hesitant and wary of documenting my emotional state for this stretch of time. As a result, people back home probably thought of what I went through in the States as a vague and murky cloud of ideas such as "experiences" or "time of your life".

Maybe it's time that I told a better story.

Long story short: I was scared of death all of the time.
Long story slightly less short: I experienced the worst feeling of abandonment by friends and family back home during this period, even though the whole time I was aware in my mind that it was an illusion. I had to do all I can to resist slipping into disrepair and dissolution. I changed my habits and my disposition to keep this spiritual death at bay. Everything I did, I did out of fear of death.

Death loomed above in the spring thunderstorm that brought tornadoes to the county. Death hissed menacingly in the roaring north winds that came and froze the town in May. Death taunted me in my hours before and after work, whenever I was alone, and tried to convinced me that no one would be bothered if I plain disappeared one day.

Culture shock? Not much at all. Singaporeans are no stranger to all-engulfing American cultural exports, but Lincoln has been more pleasant than I had expected, anyway. Travel opportunities? When you are under the thrall of the Gloom, travel for leisure goes to the bottom of your list of priorities.

Instead, I tried to make every moment at work count. I started an exercise regime, and set for myself repetition quotas that increased every now and then. I started going for daily mass. I met the priests. I started going to the weekly market. I started conversations with anyone I met or anyone who did so much as look at me funny. I gave to the homeless and heard their stories. I got wind and kept track of local events. My list of things to do in Lincoln grew and kept growing as my feelings of despair diminished. I still had things left undone when I flew off.

What does this small city on the prairies mean to the world?

It doesn't have many attractions for the casual traveller. It doesn't have upscale shopping areas or breathtaking scenery. It's just a place where people lived. In such a trip, I am thankful enough to wake up every day and find myself still breathing. What do I care for the myriad distractions of tourism? The town and her people have given me all I need to stay alive.