Friday, January 16, 2015

The Demon of Hunga Ha'apai


"A curse be upon you, people of Heimaey!
Woe befall you, citizens of Nuku'alofa!
I have spread burning rock over your lands,
Your seas I will boil dry!"

The Volcano-Demon rejoices at the sight of an eruption.
He rubs his hands with glee as he sees the pastures in flames.
He yelps in joy as the lava tumbles into the waters,
And luscious reefs disappear into balls of steam.

A great monolith of dark, loose ash rises in the ocean.
The waves mobilise themselves to wear it away, but they fail.
The Volcano-Demon plants his heels at the caldera triumphantly.
With his left hand he spreads ejecta over the sea,
With his right hand he casts plumes of ash to mock the heavens.

But when the Demon turns his back, the birds arrive to rest,
They have brought with them seeds from faraway lands.
In the rich dark earth born of fire, the seeds sprout greedily;
In the shallow seas around the island, the reefs revive.
And the Almighty has crowned his newest land with life again.

Friday, January 09, 2015

The Adventures of Péter Bartók's Father

Book Review: My Father by Péter Bartók
Dedication: To Hope (Hope Kellman, who did the final editing)

The son of Bartók, the great Hungarian composer and scientist, remembers his father almost sixty years after his (the father's) passing. He tells of the adventures of a sympathetic person, not at all larger-than-life, nor too small, but at about the right size for life. Péter Bartók's father is of a scientific mind. Péter Bartók's father loves hiking, and loves the songs that the peasants sing wherever he travels. He has a messy table but is fussy at work. He tells silly jokes about National Socialists. And then etc., etc., etc.

I only wonder how Péter feels inside when he goes back through all the letters that his father has written for him in life, especially this second one (translated from the Magyar):

Amsterdam, 9 Nov. 1928
DEAR PETER
I TRUST YOU ARE A GOOD BOY
LOVE, FATHER

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

A Shortened Testimony

In the morning (7 a.m.) of the last day of the previous year, I woke up to a great view. The weather was clear and Gunung Arjuna was visible on the horizon to the south. Later in the day, according to the routine dictates of the local climate, the white clouds would roll in and obscure the mountain again.


This is Surabaya, a city as beautiful as her name.

Tina, who I had been with for some years, is lost at sea. I had come with the gentle prompting of my parents, who did so out of empathy for hers. I gathered prayer intentions and well-wishes from those who knew her and some who did not. By noontime all the preparations were complete; by evening I had arrived.

Who have I seen there? No, I did not find sobbing wrecks and people who have taken leave of their senses. I met people who were strong in the Lord, people who were filled with grace and compassion for those around us. Love, peace and joy in the air, in defiance of every dismal piece of news. Each sheds their fair share of tears; such a gesture was not out of the question, and even I was not spared, but the mood has been largely calm.

We listened to and trusted the facts. We did not heed rumours and baseless speculation. Probabilities were meaningless to us; the media, who do not try very hard to appear sympathetic, are shut out of the door. We prayed. Day and night, alone or with the company of family and friends, in any number of languages.

We prayed for the Lord's mercy and protection, and he has heeded us. We prayed for strength and grace, and he has heeded us. We prayed for progress in the search and rescue, and he has heeded us. We prayed for hope, and he has given us reasons for hope. The Lord is good and he has answered these prayers of ours. We send in petitions for the safe return of his beloved daughter Tina. We enlist the help of Mother Mary, St Jude, St Florentinus and many others.

If she is in God's hands now, as I have thus submitted, then that is where I shall put myself as well. And why not? It is a good place to be in.

People who do not know us have sought to take our story and then to lace it with melodramatic embellishments. I only wonder what they will say when they open the box of my thoughts, expecting to find grief and hurt and regret, but instead find praises sung to the Lord's glory and goodness. I only pray that this box never be closed again.

Lord, have mercy on us; shower us with abundant grace, lead us to salvation; let all our lives be lived in your praise; with your helping hand we shall brave all difficulties. Amen, Alleluia.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Vagrant


"He stutters when he speaks," I told myself. "It's really hard to listen to him. Do you know how hard it is to follow another person's line of thought? Who could know some people can think so differently! How can they ever expect to be convincing like that?" In the distance, a faint click of a piece of stone hitting pavement.

"She's nice, but she has no emotional depth," I continued. "She treats people well, but I don't think she understands the complexity of any situation... It's almost like she can't see past the surface. She's just so bright and sunny all the time! How can one treat her seriously? Excuse me?!" I turned, startled by a small piece of stone that hit the back of my head.

It was a vagrant, old, bearded, a plastic bag of his belongings in a Cold Storage bag, close to tatters. He wore all his clothes, despite the heat. From somewhere in his voluminous beard emerged:
Don't you stutter as well? Don't you approach others in a glib cheerfulness at times?
"H-how can you say that, my dear random sir?"
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, boy.

After a pause I asked: "Who are you?"

The old man unfolded unhurriedly from his seat on the kerb. When he had picked up his sack of things, he turned and was on his way, all the while chanting a quaint ditty.

"Well I'm a little beggarman and begging I have been
for three score or more on this little isle of green.
And I'm known from the Liffey from the basement to the zoo,
And I'm known by the name of old Johnny Dhu..."

And then he was gone, and I was alone again.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Radio Television Bidadari Chamber Orchestra


17 March
Edna: Congratulations on your debut concert with us, Mr. Park. We are indeed blessed to have you, such an internationally-renowned composer, here as our musical director at Radio Television Bidadari. There's one small problem, though.
Mr. Park: What would it be?
Edna: I understand that there is all these... newfangled ideas. Pieces with no melody, pieces with no rhyme and reason. I think the general audience would be more appreciative without hearing those pieces... such as... such as...
Mr. Park: I understand our delivery of Metastasis might be causing a stir, but that could be partly due to how Xenakis composed it, you see.
Edna: Yes, that piece. Someone phoned in to comment that this piece was "weird". I guess it would have to go.
Mr. Park: And that is supposed to mean "bad"?
Edna: Of course! It's such a terrible thing to be weird! And such a terrible thing if someone else suggests that you could be weird. So terrible, terrible!
Mr. Park: What about the Requiem, sung by my extremely talented vocalists?
Edna: Weird too! It gave me nightmares! Who's this guy Ligeti who did this? Never play any of his pieces again.

1 April
Mr. Park: It sure is hot in the studio today, Edna. Maybe you should get someone to get the air-conditioning fixed.
Edna: Do you think I don't know what you're getting at, Mr. Park?
Mr. Park: What do you mean?
Edna: Look at the date for today, Mr. Park.
Mr. Park: But the aircon is really down!
Edna: I meant the piece that aired this morning, Mr. Park. The 1817 Overture. I hope that was a joke.
Mr. Park: Edna, 1817 is a famous and beloved composition by the great Tchaikovsky. It can't go wrong.
Edna: Well, I heard cannon noises in there. Something could go very wrong, Park! What have you been using our studio space for? Someone could have been hurt by this innovation of yours.
Mr. Park: This was a misundertanding, Edna. 1817 has always had cannons for accompaniment. Besides, I had the cannons edited into the soundtrack in post-production, so it's perfectly safe.
Edna: But it's all so harsh, Mr. Park... I understand that Tchaikovsky might be intending to simulate some kind of war somewhere, but music is meant to be sweet, pleasant, orderly... the general audience doesn't want to hear about violence and strife, they want good, wholesome and inoffensive music. Aren't we all here to provide for the needs of the people? Maybe you'll do good just getting down from your ivory tower.

10 May
Mr. Park: I just auditioned the most promising young pianist today.
Edna: Agreed. Jeanne Choo put up a great show in front of everyone in the panel this morning.
Mr. Park: I was referring to the guy, Justin Thomas.
Edna: Justin Thomas? No, he didn't make the cut.
Mr. Park: Why? Please call him back! I would like to have him in the team.
Edna: Justin didn't put up a good show, to be honest. He wasn't... serious enough in his playing. Maybe a tad too... animated as well. It's hard to explain. We didn't feel too good about him. Maybe he's just too much of a show-off.
Mr. Park: Maybe you rejected him because he was enjoying himself too much!
Edna: I dunno. It doesn't seem proper. Good music is always serious.
Mr. Park: In that respect, well, I hope Jeanne is serious enough.
Edna: Yep, Jeanne's in, in fact.

12 May
Mr. Park: Jeanne Choo doesn't seem all that good, Edna. It's not just her playing; she refused to start working with me on my composition today. And would you know the reason to that? She says that it's in A flat major; it's too hard.
Edna: These kids are the most brilliant young musicians in the country. It is conceivable that some of them may still have a lot to improve on. Be patient with them, alright?
Mr. Park: You must admit that it is rather more difficult to fix an attitude problem.
Edna: You must admit that A flat major is really quite hard; it's four flats, after all. You only think it's easy because you have the standards already. Please think about guiding them to this standard, rather than judging them.
Mr. Park: That problem is not really hard to work around, is it? It's quite basic-
Edna: It's not hard, Mr. Park... Just get rid of all the accidentals.
Mr. Park: No, that's hardly what I meant!
Edna: I hate accidentals. They're annoying.
Mr. Park: Excluding pieces with accidentals would mean excluding a whole lot of perfectly good compositions, Edna. Jeanne wouldn't even need the black keys on the piano anymore. She could just substitute it with a toy piano instead, with notes from Do to Do, don't you agree?
Edna: No, not a toy piano! That's just not respectable.

27 May
Mr. Park: We just had our first public concert in a long while. I think we did a good job, despite all the constraints that I was obliged to work with: All the pieces that I composed or adapted had to be in C major, for one. And they also had to be all in 4/4 time, and be at a speed of sixty crotchets per minutes or less. I managed to make it interesting, and both our audience and our musicians enjoyed the show quite a lot. Even Jeanne Choo didn't kick up a fuss like she usually did, because she was on sick leave.
Edna: I am appalled that despite all our rules and regulations, you still managed to screw up our public concert, Mr. Park. It's the worst one I've ever seen executed.
Mr. Park: Excuse me, I stand by my own positive reviews of my own concert, if you would please bear with my hubris for the moment.
Edna: What an arrogant thing to say, Mr. Park.
Mr. Park: Maybe you didn't like my composition with the theremin, Edna?
Edna: Theremins don't make music, they just make wailing noises. And I wouldn't stand for such frivolities as a musical saw. Some things are just meant for carpentry, and carpentry only. And the third piece in the programme, the one called Arirang... That's just... too pentatonic, too folksy, too "old". The general audience don't like that.
Mr. Park: That's a very famous Korean ballad, Edna, it's traditional.
Edna: Korea's just so far away, so exotic... I just feel something closer to our consciousness would work better. Who cares about Korea?
Mr. Park: ... Well, the audience did seem to enjoy our music.
Edna: It's all just a vocal minority of people, right? A vocal minority.
Mr. Park: That doesn't seem to fit the standing ovation at the end, Edna.
Edna: We planted claques in the audience to lead the audience to cheer for you. It's to save face, alright? I knew the audience wouldn't do so otherwise. If you don't mind, I have to leave soon.

1 June
Mr. Park: Edna, I'm a little worried about the our orchestra members. I have been trying to build a rapport with them from the day I started working at Radio Television Bidadari, and they have been treating me well in return... although, I must say, they hide their thoughts from me, and avoid talking to me about some issues at work. I am afraid that this might put a stumbling block in getting on with business.
Edna: Our musicians don't enjoy working with your ideas, Mr. Park, I've been trying to tell you that.
Mr. Park: I would never know just by talking to them. If they didn't like working on my ideas, they could and should have talked it out with me, rather than defer to me at every turn.
Edna: They defer to you because they're afraid of how you would react to a negative comment, Mr. Park. It could also be by the fact that you're a foreigner. The musicians could take some time to get used to you in that respect.
Mr. Park: In that case, I must thank you for all the feedback that you have given me, Edna.
Edna: You're welcome.
Mr. Park: By the way, is it normal that whenever I try to talk to Jeanne Choo, she screams and ducks behind a chair?
Edna: We try to be as tactful as possible in this country, Mr. Park.

8 June
Edna: Mr. Park, I believe that you aired a rendition of Ligeti's Hundred Metronomes this afternoon. Please explain yourself.
Mr. Park: My musicians are not coming for practices anymore, Edna. There's no one left to play anything but these. And, to my defense, I only used thirty metronomes, because there's that many of them that I found in our store when I looked.
Edna: You're fired.
Mr. Park: I figured that would happen. I shall be hightailing it out of the country by this evening. No hard feelings.
Edna: Have a safe trip.
Mr. Park: Thank you. How are you planning to run the show without me? I'm just curious.
Eddie: We're thinking to just shut down this programme, Mr. Park. Who knows whether it was all worth it to start with? Maybe no one listens to us anyway.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Chayka


"Hey! Which one of you owns this place?"
"It's me! I am the owner of this restaurant."
"You called us an hour ago? There was a troublemaker, no?"
"Yes, a few. They roughed me up a bit about the vodka. They're gone now."
"Oh, they are? What now, eh?"
"Everything is fine now. Thank you for your response, but we don't need your services anymore. You can leave now."
"Leave? Leave? Why should we? You called us, and we're here. Why should we leave?"

With that, the burly head Chechen leaned over the bar-top, his face right up against, almost pressing, the restaurant manager's.

"Listen, you spineless Azeri dipshit," he lowed menacingly. "You knew what you're in for when you bought protection from us. You know our stock, you know that unlike you salt-mining fishies, we mountain people have our heads as hard as our cocks. We never give up, do you understand? We'll chase those thugs all the way down to Petrozavodsk; as long as we are called, we must make them -- we must make someone fall."

Turning around, he bellowed to the clientele, "Now, who else has a problem with the vodka?" And the crowd, at least those who had not had time to discreetly steal away into the night, stared mutely at the Chechens in reply, frozen with terror. The head thug took that as a resounding Yes, and his clique set upon the customers with knives, baseball bats, and ravenous glee.

[Background]

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Adventures in the Emptiest Part of the World Map



"What are you in Russia for?"
"We are tourists, and we are on our way to visit a friend who lives in Tomsk."
"And you are in Tomtor? Are you kidding me?" the man shot me the dirtiest look. "Tomsk must be thousands of kilometers away to the west from here. Did you come on a boat of North Korean defectors? Are you going to walk all the way there?"
And with that, he shook his head derisively and left.

Despite this act of mercy, my heart was still pounding like a bell for minutes afterward. The man had cut too deep in for comfort. To our defence, it was not until the cruise ship had departed the port of Sinuiju when we realised that the posh-looking official types on the boat with us were actually refugees and political dissidents in disguise, eschewing defection to China and Southeast Asia in favour of reunion with long-lost family members in Russia and Kazakhstan, and that the kindly Malaysian man running the entire venture was a Christian missionary who had made this smuggling his life's work.

Then again, why would any leisure cruise ship land in such a place as Magadan? That must have raised a few eyebrows.

In any case, the story of us visiting our friend was obviously not going to convince anyone, despite it being true. We decided to pretend to be Russians and each adopt an alias. I decided to adopt a name that could pass me off as someone from the far eastern districts, and took the name Vassily Shatirev, after the Turkish poet. Timothy spoke a little German, and probably looked a little like one himself; he became Boris Gyurman, whose Great-great-grandfather had been invited from Prussia by Queen Catherine to settle by the Volga. Quite naturally, Sultan became the Kazakh Nursultan Abdullayev, which he then gleefully shortened to Sultan Abdullah.
And, with this, the adventure continues.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Gönül Arsızı



Kendi ettiğine kendi ettiğine
Kendi ettiğine zaman zaman ağla

Ay güneşe küsmüş dalların çiçek açmaz mı?
Sevdiğini eller almış, eller almış acımaz mı?
Mevsim bahara dönmüş, bülbül ötüp uçmaz mı?
Arsızı gönül arsızı var içimde sızı
Arsızı gönül arsızı var içimde sızı
Geçmedi kalbimdeki sızı, gelmedi gönlümün hırsızı
Gönül arsızısın sen gönül arsızı

Kim sana bakar söyle kim sana bakar?
Bundan sonra böylece bilde, söyleme, tadın tuzun kaçar.
Hangi göz ağlar sana, hangi göz ağlar
Geri dönüşün yoktur ki aşta, zaman zaman ağla
Kendi ettiğine yanda, zaman zaman ağla
Kendi ettiğine yanda
Kendi ettiğine yanda zaman zaman ağla

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Elusive Perovskite


How to obtain the elusive perovskite:
The purest mineral perovskite is found in the Urals, where the first samples were found by the eminent Dr. Gustave Rose in 1839. The location of this deposit is secret and is held privy to a crazy old Mordvin lady living in the outskirts of Perm, who is conversant only in broken Russian and an obscure sort of Magyar. To reach it, you must first find her in her abode. Then, you must ask said lady in her own language whither the perovskites be found, to which she will reply, "Кто ты, и ты можешь говорить более четко, пожалуйста, я слабослышащих. Также почему все спрашивают меня о скалы. Я ничего о таких вещах не знаю. Могу ли я пойти и кормить кур сейчас." At the exact location that she describes, you shall find the most delightful outcrop of the purest calcium titanate, each crystal as vitreous as a million cabochons of agate and jasper. Polishing and mounting of this gem demands the most accomplished lapidaries in this wide world, and a mere glimpse of this material is widely hailed as the stuff of their wildest dreams.

How to obtain diamonds:
Diamonds can be found in any old country that has an excess of corrupt officials and warlords.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Postgraduate Journal 1.9.4

A small bottle of water from Lourdes, a gift from Jonathan

(Semester 1, Week 9, Thursday)
It has been six weeks since I took off on a path to myself. People have joined the path and branched off since then, and now is a time when I see no one on the path. I am alone again. A Greek dance plays on my phone, in a language that the world has forgotten, a tongue that no one understands. In my mind I dance again, lonesome as a hermit in the wastes, trotting, toeing, the fine line between rapture and insanity.

The night prayer is written on my wall, serving as a rough template for my prayers for each night. It is a short one, each line written down after a meditative session at a retreat or a cell group meeting:

Lord, take me, break me, feed me to the crowds
Put me in the path of all in need
Let me be there, let me bear everything gracefully
I must decrease; You must increase

It's time to be serious about being fed to the crowds now.
Work has limited my contact with large groups, thinning down my social contact to one person at a time, sometimes even less. Old graduate friends become less responsive over messaging services. "Put me in the path in need" seemed to have put less people on my path, not more.

"Let me be there, let me bear everything gracefully." Maybe I haven't been there, maybe I haven't borne anything as gracefully as I imagine I should.

"I must decrease; You must increase."
So it's not about me. If only it was all not about myself!

All these will take time to sink in.

Tomorrow morning, hopefully, I will wake up as usual. My morning prayer is written on the same wall, and consists of a single pious ejaculation:

Lord, I am overjoyed to find myself still breathing. Take my day: it is yours!

Some days I strike out "overjoyed" mentally while making this prayer. Some days are just like that.
Time to sleep.

[Bedtime reading: Evangelii Gaudium]