Monday, December 29, 2008

Astros, Fuentes y Flores

Dicen que no hablan las plantas, ni las fuentes, ni los pájaros,
Ni el onda con sus rumores, ni con su brillo los astros,
Lo dicen, pero no es cierto, pues siempre cuando yo paso,
De mí murmuran y exclaman: Ahí va la loca soñando

Ahí va la loca, ahí va soñando
Con la eterna primavera
de la vida y de los campos.

Y ya bien pronto, bien pronto, tendrá los cabellos canos,
Y ve temblando, aterida, que cubre la escarcha el prado.

Hay canas en mi cabeza, hay en los prados escarcha,
Mas yo prosigo soñando, pobre, incurable sonámbula,
Con la eterna primavera de la vida que se apaga
Y la perenne frescura de los campos y las almas.

Ahí va la loca, ahí va soñando
Con la eterna primavera
de la vida y de los campos.

Y la perenne frescura de los campos y las almas
Aunque los unos se agostan aunque las otras se abrasan.

Astros y fuentes y flores,
no murmuréis de mis sueños,
Sin ellos, ¿cómo admiraros
ni cómo vivir sin ellos?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

In and Out of Solitude

I. I feel more than a little messed up. What of me behaving out of the usual within camp compounds is not part of it; it just means that I was okay at the time. But now with no one around (no parents nor sisters nor Saturday dates) to vent my eccentricity upon, I feel more than a little messed up.

Perhaps having guard duty all the way through this 6-day break isn't that bad an idea. I'll be able to concentrate on library books. If I wasn't reading or at rest I'd have a company mate to talk to next to me with a clipboard or a rifle or suchlike, and for everything else there's the new Battalion cat to play and fight over food with. Perhaps. Okay, perhaps not.

II. On the computer I have Civilisation IV, Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 and Myst IV: Relevation, which are all pretty tiresome games as it drags on.

III. I spend much of my time around friends for that reason.
Christmas Day, for example, was spent with Jedi, Damien and Yixiong at Causeway Point, us four together comprising the nerd quartet of 06s6e.
Damien is now a BMTC Ninja Coy drill sergeant
Jedi a Regimental Policeman at Pasir Laba
Yixiong is a boatman roaming the southern seas!
Watched Ip Man, which people hereabouts liked to pronounce as I-P Man. The Japanese general in the film didn't look very Japanese; he looked more like Nakamura.

IV. And church is a good place to go when you feel alone.
Now that people crowd there during Christmastide, there is no worries of being alone. At least, people do more than just brush past you. For this time I joined Millie's family in the second-storey seats, where her daughter Pamela was also. When after the final hymn ended we went around to bid greetings to the parishioners, I realised how little it is the number of people I actually knew in there: the priests, the handful of evening choir members on duty, Millie and family.
Come to that, I started out not knowing anyone.
Pamela has a beautiful singing voice; she takes after her mother.

V. Sunday Evening Choir (Angela Pacis) is on roll for Easter Vigil 2009 PARISHIONERS WATCH OUT

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Firebase Orchestra

Source: Chelsea Mandello
This idea came to me on the bus while I was listening to the way Sigur Rós turns into music the sounds of ballerinas' slippers squeaking across wooden floorboards, which like most instances of Avantgarde composing is quite interesting to listen to.

So Sigur Rós' approach is to record such random noises and wreak acoustic manipulation thereupon.
To their sister band Amiina, anything at all can be an instrument. For example, they adopted the musical saw, which is amazingly a real instrument in itself; and also a set of desk bells tuned at different sizes, which isn't.
The bandsters of Uakti from Brazil double up as carpenter-craftsmen and make most their own instruments. Just watching them perform alone is a stretch on the imagination.
It won't seem too weird, therefore, to create some music with PYROTECHNICS!

The idea is simple. The Firebase Orchestra is a group consisting of an array of arms, which may be composed of anything from GPMGs to Matadors (anti-tank weapons) to artillery to assault rifles and so on. Every performance is staged and the setting would be a live firing area. And be assured that the audience is ushered to a safe place to witness the event.

The performers will be arranged in a row, firing towards targets of variable range, while the conductor (commander) coordinates the performance through free comms.

Needlessly speaking, the weaponry would require some adjustment, and here are some suggestions from my part.
1. GPMGs (General-Purpose Machine Gun): can come attatched with a calibrated barrel of adjustable length, with which the gunner's assistant can change the tone of the MG drone as the rounds are continuously fired.
2. Matadors: function as percussion arms. On trigger it produces one boom when the rocket is ejected from the tube, a split-second of flight time, and a second boom as the target is engulfed in a fireball. The rhythm i.e. the delay time between booms can be controlled using multiple target boards for the Matador, each placed at pre-determined distances.
3. Assault rifles: will be used for the melody. For this, it may be preferable to use blanks and change the tone using different supressors (which I assume affects the way gunpowder explodes inside the chamber). The downside is that a lot of them will be required to drown out the GPMGs.
4. For added effect. Illuminating and tracer rounds can be used at night.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Summary of December

This is no longer the sedentary month. No way. No sir. It's a packed month to be in, not quite as extreme as November, but not as carefree as October either, and certainly not as holidayish as September. I have reverted to being a mercurious dumbass again (last recorded occurrence in August). The Battalion has gained another resident Battalion cat, which is yellow with pale stripes and not as crippled as the black and white one which got kicked out for good a few months back, just after it survived being torn to pieces by the dogs.

Thoughts about going on a skydiving / hiking / any other extremem sports course after ORD used to be crazy man's talk, but now a few people are finally leaving behind the couch potatoes within. Joshua is thinking of flying clear skies over Australia in days to come, and I wish him great weather when that happens.

I have now an idea what hell is like. It's a place where instructions are roared out across the place at you but the guy's muffled and there's more than one of them doing it and all the instructions are fighting one another so there's not much you can do apart from wait, disobey, or vainly attempting to comply to all of them at once.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Inscription 500

The route march of 72 kilometers felt like it would never end. In the end it ended. It was a relevatory experience.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Passion of Dantzig, among other things

0. Precariously on leave, which here means much is to follow. Very much.
{I am asexual and reproduce via budding. Yee Chien has found my offspring at her staircase.} Excuse me, but what the photon did that mean?

1. I haven't forgotten to enjoy myself meanwhile.
Got this at a time just when I thought I've had enough of expository literature; astronomy, linguistics, philosophy or whatnot. Picked up the book Number: The Language of Science (1930) by Tobias Dantzig from the Mathematics shelf, because you can say that the Maths shelf is an underexplored last refuge. It had a quote from Einstein on the cover saying that this is beyond doubt the most interesting book on the history of maths that he's ever read, so it must be something.

1 The front part narrates the mathematicians' equivalent of lurching around in circles in a mangrove swamp. Progress is made on counting, adding and subtracting, which Dantzig reveals is not easy. The exploration of numerical symbols in different cultures is a good tidbit, and probably supplied the spark for my latest art project.

2 In the middle parts we learn that the Greek, while brilliant, were also very bored people. Skip especially the Diophantine algebra, which I don't think you will need or want very much to know. At this point, I began to doubt Einstein.

3 In the later parts, rapid progress is made in mathematical fields. Infinite processes are now in exploration, leading mathematicians to discover new entities in mathematics. Dantzig marvels at how such entities, e.g. transcendantals and complex numbers, while having mothing to do with the real world on the onset of discovery, nevertheless finds some relationship eventually and now acts as a firm foundation for modern science.

At part (3) Dantzig's style morphs into some kind of wild-eyed passion, dramatising the phenomenal shifts of mathematical discovery deep into the realms of the absurd. Of the most arresting and most dramatised of such accounts is the one of Georg Cantor and the theory of aggregates. He writes as an intro:

"It was fortunate for Cantor that mature reflection had thoroughly steeled him to face the onslaught, because for many years to come he had to bear the struggle alone. And what a struggle! The history of mathematics has not recorded anything equal to it in fury.

"The story beginnings of the theory of aggregates show that even in such an abstract field as mathematics, human emotions cannot be altogether eliminated."

4 By the time we reach the epilogue, the climate has become very philosophical. Dantzig now talks about what mathematics has got to do with reality, and here is the conclusion to this question that I think it draws:
There is no reality without Number

2. I'm taking a liking to Cape Breton fiddling. Cape Breton Island is part of Nova Scotia, which is a Canadian Maritime Province. Do not confuse with the Bretons of Brittany, who are subjects of the French Republic. The island of Cape Breton is a stronghold for Scottish diaspora, who brought their music along when they came. Natalie MacMaster fiddles in an interesting way; it sounds very wholesomely-toned for something which also sounds maltreated.

Natalie MacMaster's fiddling is oddly appropriate to listen to while one is reading Dantzig's stories of swashbuckling mathematicians.

3. Last Sunday I was confirmed at Church of the Holy Cross accompanied by godmother and mentor Ms Helen Isaac in a mass ceremony headed by the Archbishop himself. Oh, and Ernest was there too.

The days 25-27 October were basked in a warm glow, because I was well-prepared to become Stefan.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Inscription 497

Disparate stuff hastily arranged thus:

0.6 days to Confirmation Day
18 days to Red Beret Day
27 days to Marie's Baptism Day (with the name Dominique)

I. Signs and Coincidences
When Marie mused upon which name to choose as her baptismal name, she went to the Patron Saints Index and searched under just about anything that caught her attention under the topics section, like problematic children, choirs, Bohemia etc. The name Domini(c/que) appeared enough times to arouse some suspicion. It might be just that Domini(c/que) is a very common name in saints, but we picked Dominique for baptism anyway; it suits the name Marie as well.

Today's trip, intent on preparing me for Sunday, was spent instead on a wild goose chase for a priest who wasn't there. Instead, while whittling away time in the library, I found this:

II. Personal rituals
1 Passing SOC (overcoming a mental obstacle)
2 35k (in this context, interpreted as a pilgrimage of toil before the ceremony)
3 Confession
4 Get a pair of black pants

III. An Observation on Instrumental Music
One major difference between listening to songs that are sung and listening to songs that are just played, is that while the voice of the singer fills the mind, the sound of instrumental music makes space.

Really! While listening to Natalie MacMaster's fiddle today on the road my mind was racing to the beat, thinking about quite many other things. It's something I haven't been able to do under the influence of Tri Yann, even if they sing in French.

I've just watched Xiangjun's application video to ADM. It's cool to hear her voice again after such a long while, even if it's a recording. She used fiddle music by Christian Lemaître for the start, which fit the monologue like a glove, but towards the end of the video she used An Cailin Gaelach by Altan, in which the lyrics had a brief clash with the narration, but it's still okay. [Oi Xiang, you still here?]

IV. A New take on Aesthetics
Q: So what makes something or someone beautiful?
A: Their integrity.

I would venture so far as to explain thisaways:
1 First you have an entity, a person or an object
2 An entity exist by themselves, but they also have a overarching context (e.g. London is in England) and subordinate attributes (e.g. London has x boroughs and a population of y) that define them.
3 The integrity of an entity is the totality of the entity itself, its context and its attributes alike.

4 This integrity is important in many aesthetic experiences--
(e.g. which one gets when touching down to Heathrow for the first time. The aesthetic experience comes in the form that this moment holds a lot of meaning and implications by virtue of the aforesaid three components.
ENTITY: London Heathrow, its infrastructure, the bustling city of London itself, or if you land at night, the light pollution
CONTEXT: You're coming to fabled England / You're going to a prestigious university you've been fighting for in a long while
ATTRIBUTES: London has a neat nightlife, virtuoso graffiti artists, Westminster Abbey, access to places like Cardiff or Stonehenge, and et cetera)

5 Stripped of any component, the object loses integrity and its beauty becomes banal
(e.g. suppose you take a whole album of photographs of London and you show them to your friend, who hasn't gotten anywhere near London but studies in Providence instead, she will see and feel the city's beauty in itself (ENTITY) but will not experience it (CONTEXT and some of the ATTRIBUTES))

6 When the integral beauty of a large entity is rendered irrelevant, the focus is narrowed (if you are focusing on the beauty of the London Eye instead of London, you will tend not to mind too much the context and attributes of London itself)

a. Abstraction should be used with caution in Art and Design. While abstraction does provide for a sense of cleanliness and creates visual treats often, it is essentially whittlng at the integrity of an object.
If you want to abstract a tree, you could take a real tree, take away the landscape, take away the unique form of its leaves, smooth out every kink in its trunk and branches, or what does you to make something which is the archetypal tree, is no tree at all and yet stands for all trees, or the truth underlying all trees etc.
It has a virtue of impact and universality, but it has lost the virtue of integrity. The tree you have made isn't interesting, hasn't got a history, hasn't got a life even.

bi. Integrity is even more important when applied to people, because a person's integrity (in this aesthetic sense) is his/her dignity.
bii. A person cannot afford to (and has the rights not to) be disassembled into entity, context and attributes, because each of these is inalienable to humanness.
biii. Any attempt to disassemble anyone into entity, context and attributes is an act of objectification.

biv. objectification = injustice committed
This happens a lot of times in our daily lives, consciously or not.

Example I: Pornography. You didn't really care who the girl is, where she was born, who her dad was, what books she likes to read in her spare time and all those things that defines her being-- You just did aherherherrrmmherm

Example II: Portraiture. You're doing the portrait of some noble with a flattened nose. You're afraid of offending the fellow so you straighten it up for him in paint. Yes, it may look better, but it's not the portrait of the fella anymore, and you had better be sacked for your troubles.

Example III: You're a tourist in Singapore and you are invited to come to all these spiffy places -- but it turns out that the city planners had it for you tourists and predominantly for you tourists. Something is amiss! Is Singapore a city of Singaporeans, or is it a city of tourists? If it is the former, then is it not better for our Integrity to let them visit where the Singapore atmosphere is at its thickest, in the heartlands and suburbs and countryside, instead of where all the other tourists are? Same goes for many other cities as well.

Example IV: A French song. You enjoyed listening to this song sung in French, though you do not know the language. You like it for the instrumental accompaniment, the way the words sounded, the mood that the singers conveyed, but you are ignorant as to what it meant, its context and its devices.
So when you obtain a translation, be in for a shock and you may never see the song the same way again; it becomes way more interesting, it makes an impact by telling a story, and the language, context and mood start fitting together coherently like jigsaw pieces. The beauty of this song becomes so much more complete!

Q: What is the most important thing you should look out for when doing Art?
A: Integrity.
Q: Which means?
A: The totality of the subject.
Q: Which means in turn?
A: Everything-- aargh, this is going nowhere

Sunday, October 12, 2008


2 more weeks to Confirmation, and feeling unready. Firstly I haven't been thinking much about it, being more fretful about other stuff i.e. criteria for me to receive the Red one in November, and secondly, because I haven't been all that good. Helen (my Saturday school teacher not the chapess from HCI) said that if one is baptised, one should get confirmed pretty quick by the age of reason, in a state of grace, among other things. Am I in a state of grace?

My confirmation name is Stefan. It's been Stefan from the first time I thought about it. Might it be that the image of Saint Stephen's martyrdom before the stonechucking crowd for his outspoken beliefs is a powerful image in my subconscious? Or would it be the visit to the beautifully-decorated Saint Stephen's Basilica in Budapest that inspired me to choose the name?

On October 26 I'll be called Andy Stefan Paul Chen
Please let it be a name that I can live up to.

Oh and I've finally cleared my SOC; please excuse this brief moment of conceit:
I did it in 8 minutes and 24.16 seconds!!!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Black tolls the bell over the Lancastria

I see the black of the sea devouring the drowned,
The oiled lungs, the black singing of soldiers,
The black bones of burnt corpses thrown to the waves
While black tolls the bell over the Lancastria

- extract from the song Lancastria (Tri Yann 2007) own translation
[Link to the Lancastria Association of Scotland website]

A Google translation revealed that the song was not what it first appears to be like. Rather, this brightly tranquil piece is filled with hellish warlike imagery. The context: The sinking of the liner, the RMS Lancastria, off the coast of Saint-Nazaire on 17 June 1940 by German bombers; considered one of the worst naval disasters of all time in which more than four thousand civilians and RAF personnel perished.

I might need the help of a real translator to figure out what the whole song means. The power of Wiktionary is limited, and so is the power of Collins.

Tri Yann 2007

Licorne, Qu'as-tu vu du ras de l'océan,
Que ta peau fendue coule jaune ton sang ?
J'ai vu jaune l'ajonc, au loin une fumée,
Jaune le rire des hommes cachant leur désarroi,
Les châteaux des enfants sur les plages de Retz,
Les flèches du soleil sur Lancastria.

Licorne, qu'as-tu vu sur la côte ? A présent,
De ton flanc lacéré gris s'écoule ton sang.
J'ai vu gris sur les quais des trains de réfugiés,
Gris les coeurs des Anglais revenant des combats,
Les daurades fuyant loin du Grand Charpentier,
Mais l'espoir d'embarquer sur le Lancastria.

Licorne, qu'as-tu vu à dix milles au ponant,
Que ton sang devient bleu comme bleu l'océan ?
J'ai vu bleu dans le ciell'hirondelle s'envoler,
Bleue la barre des pins à l'horizon là-bas,
Bleus les yeux d'un enfant, tenant son chien serré
En montant rassuré sur le Lancastria.

Licorne, d'où viens-tu, de quel fol ouragan,
Que ton ventre brûlant vomit rouge ton sang ?
J'ai vu rouge un volcan dans la cale exploser
Des torrents rouge feu crachés par des stukas,
Le cheval du gymnase par les flammes embrasé,
J'ai vu rouge la mort sur le Lancastria.

Licorne, d'où viens-tu d'où l'on ne revient pas ?
De tes chairs déchirées gicle un sang noir, pourquoi ?
Jai vu noire la mer dévorant les noyés,
Les poumons mazoutés, le chant noir des soldats,
Les os noirs des brûlés dans les vagues jetés,
Noire la cloche du glas sur le Lancastria.

Blanche colombe ! Du levant venue,
Sue tes ailes dépoyées, dis-nous, qui portes-tu ?
Une fillette née au milieu des combats,
Aimez-la comme vôtre : elle s'appelle Europa.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

October Update

Don't balk when I say that I expect each month now to be tougher than the last. July was definitely tougher than June, August was tougher than July, September was spent in Brunei and now it's October-- here's the time I have to pass my IPPT (i.e. Gold Award) and pass my SOC and I tell you from my heart I can pass dozens of field training sessions without getting much more than a runny nose but for the aforementioned 2 tests I have been falling short for more than 8 months since enlistment.

October starts on a high note: passed all 11 obstacles today with good timing, with the only inconvenience being the fact that it wasn't a test. Also for the first time this year (as well as in my lifetime) I got an ankle sprain which didn't immediately recover afterwards, which I hope will not last. It had better not!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Grenewode Inscription

Foreword and disclaimer: this inscription will be plagued with self-censorship if I attempt to give a week-by-week account of the training there in backwater Daerah Temburong (which is twice), so I'll just to hell with that and give a traveller's guide to this place in Brunei, where more Singaporean males than Bruneians have been and will be to.

I hope you find this useful, whether you're a combat trooper or an officer cadet, although this largely pertains to Commandos training in Brunei. If you're a junior, a batchmate who's been scheduled to reroll or something, or just looking in for esoteric references, this inscription is for you. Enjoy!

Brunei Trivia: Brunei is a smallish country in the northern half of Borneo. It used to be the whole of Borneo, plus Palawan and bits of Mindanao as well, but at some time in history it got unlucky. If you want to know more, you can try quizzing Ainan on it. (e.g. "In what year was Limbang annexed?" you go)

The extant territory is divided into 4 districts (daerah) summarily described as follows, from west to east:
Belait - where oil is
Tutong - where crops are
Brunei-Muara - where mosques sprawl
Temburong - where troops train

Temburong is an exclave, that is to say it is separated from Brunei Major by a strip of Sarawak territory called Limbang. The Bruneians still claim Limbang as their own; you can tell if you read the map's footnotes carefully. You can see Limbang occasionally when the bus goes near there, across the river called Sungei Pandaruan (if you're awake). During navigation, however, it is not advisable to wander into Limbang.

The 4 districts are further divided into 38 mukims, or wards. While for all practical purposes of the soldier this is useless, you can pick out the different mukims and where their boundaries go on the map, just for fun.

Temburong Trivia: Temburong itself houses 5 mukims (Bangar, Labu, Batu Apoi, Bokok and Amo) all of which you will pass through in your frame. The principal town of the district is Pekan Bangar, where you will alight from the ferry on your first day. Along three roads leading south and east is the residential area, where most of the district's 9300 people live. The training area roughly coincides with the residential area.

North and south of these are forest reserves (read on your map: Hutan Simpan something something): the one to the south, the Ulu Temburong National Park, is a tourist attraction, so you might want to bring your family there after ORD.

Geography: Temburong offers a smorgasbord of terrains and boasts a rich biodiversity, which you will enjoy to much the fullest extent.

The most dangerous terrain that you may encounter is the mangrove swamp, where at some places the mud goes up to your chest, where thorny plants number more than is amusing and where crocodiles possibly roam.
(Note: For training safety purposes, you are not advised to taupok a croc once sighted à la Steve Irwin, however much you are tempted to do so. Oh yeah, and the live rounds are for you to shoot yourself, not the crocs.)

The other terrain commonly encountered are hilly terrains south of Pekan Bangar, with alternating ridgelines and ravines winding through the landscape. During navigation, you may choose to walk alomg the top of the ridges and get pretty damn lost, or stick to the bearing and climb up and down ravines on the way. Most people, I think, prefer to get lost.

At one point you may get to see and climb Mount Biang. Mount Biang is really called Bukit Biang, a tall ridge peaking 423 metres above sea level, but don't forget that you and your mates come from a largely flattened country. If you are lucky like we were, you may find yourself in what is almost a different biome from the lowlands, here where the clouds are all around you and moss grows like fur over giant boulders.

The biodiversity will surprise you. If you look around carefully, you will identify at least 5 varieties of flies, 2 varieties of mosquitoes and 4 varieties of wasps. At dawn or dusk the rainforest explodes into cacophony, with the cicadas' white noise forming the bulk of the decibels, the howler monkeys' haunting bleats, and numerous other inexplicable drummings, whistlings, etc.

At night it is not totally dark, contrary to what I believed before I went in. Maybe "totally dark" meant minimal light pollution, resulting in a near totally clear night sky where individual stars can be picked out from the misty Milchstrasse, clouds and foliage excluded. Fireflies glow pretty gleefully at night too, as do rotting leaves (see phosphorescence).

Concerning equipment:
1 Don't lose issued equipment (watch your trashbags!)
2 Don't break issued equipment
3 Bring a hammock!

Taking care of yourself: Apart from luck, this is admittedly the only thing that divides heaven and hell in Brunei, so here are some additional tips.

1 Gloves are important for ravine-dipping. Personally, I recommend tough leather gloves that open at the fingers, which are easy to put on and take off (in case they get wet, which is quite often), more cooling, and allow freer movement of fingers. The only disadvantage is that your fingers will get pricked, though your palms will not.

2 Bring your own plasters outfield in a waterproof bag and keep in on your person. Tried and true in Tekong, was too stupid to try it again in Brunei.

3 Carry more water than is necessary. It might be heavier on the shoulders, but nothing kills your day worse than all your canteens running out of water. If that extra 1.5l bottle which you might never touch at all will give you some sense of security, pack it.

4 Don't scratch your heat rash, if you still haven't learnt the lesson the hard way.
4.5 Not recommended to ask others to scratch your heat rash either.

5 Do not sit down at every conceivable opportunity during long walks. It looks very annoying, and you will get cramps because your muscles are unable to adapt to the erratic resting.

6 Do not bash without looking. If you bash without looking like some idiot I know, you may alarm a whole nest of wasps and the four poor fellas walking behind you will all get stung. Wasp stings are potentially fatal, so if you know any such idiot that tends to do that, persuade him to fall out first.

7 Getting down slopes can be very dangerous. Where it gets very slippery, you may want to go slide down on your butt. But when you do so, make sure that no tree trunks go in between your feet.

8 Spread the load equally across your detatchment. If there are people you know who persistently cannot carry heavy loads, you can be nice and help out, but do keep in mind your limits. If you fall out because of your excessive load, it will be your buddy's turn to be extremely helpful.

9 Boil your meat rather than roast it. It tastes much better this way, honest!

10 If you keng in the middle of an exercise, you are very, very wrong indeed.

Concerning Rest and Recreation (R&R): You'll spent 3 weeks looking forward to it, and when you get to that one day set aside for R&R, it seems like forever.

The Museum in Brunei is a run-down place from the outside but an okay place inside. Strongly recommended to look around more inside, or you've wasted your time. I mean seriously, people actually would rather watch the same Tom & Jerry cartoon 4 times over than explore the Sultan's treasure trove of Islamic art! Philistines.

If there is any survival tip I can offer pertaining to R&R, it would be for the tour guides.

In one corner of the Mall there is a rather popular handicrafts shop which sells wood whittlings of boats, lyres, woven potpourri baskets, metalworks and stuff. It's quite expensive: if you plan to spend on it, do bring around 100 ringgits. If Mom collects banknotes, bring lots more.

Colophon: I hope that these tips provide some hint of what you can expect to find in Brunei. If you have been fed all the tales the taxi drivers tell you about the place, you'll realise the reality is much milder; training is bearable if you don't get injured or sick (though if you would rather get sick or injured, then I can't do much to help).

Luck is of course important here in this country, so good luck for those who have yet to go. If at any time you find that training is tough, just remember that it's a goddamn stairway, not an escalator, that brings you to Heaven.

[P.S. If you want to read the illustrated Grenewode Diaries, which I am afraid is pretty unpublishable, you can ask me for it.]

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Blogging from Bandar Seri Begawan

Small note at 27 September 2008, 1635h: I am blogging from the mall in Bandar Seri Begawan, in a corner populated mainly by kids, because the adults here curiously do not play LAN. Same problem here as when blogging from London or Paris or Vienna three years ago, like dodgy keyboards; the one I'm using in Brunei is okay, only a little weird but it jams a lot.

For my family back home: I have had a good harvest. Bedtime stories aside, there's 2x keychains, 1x potpourri box, and for Mom's banknote and coins collection, notes of 10, 5 and 1 ringgit plus a 1 ringgit coin.

Just to add that Brunei is a pretty cool place. Some of us almost want to retire here. Tell you more when I get back to Singapore; this keyboard is killing me.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Thirst in the Lord

I never forgot what Father Richards, who by virtue of his vocation in the army had had it much much worse than I have had so far, said about Thirst in the Lord (along these lines): Remember the times when you are on your way, running out of water. Your throat is parched, you're sweating like a pig and your bottle is fast running out. You thirst for water desperately -- and that is how you should thirst for God.

The last phrase rang in my mind's ear at various appropriate moments for the last 2 field camps. Now, since a few days before, I have learnt to ration my 5 litres over four days, with some left over even after I gave away a bottle's worth to my buddy. Some things you thirst for, but it seems that not even the Lord we should take too much for granted, even if he is always here with us.

Six small sips keeps one going for about two or three hours on average in a good cool day or at night, to my best approximation. If the sun is out, take twelve.

Are you okay Andy?

For Yihan and mates around who look at me funny because I sing too loudly during 5km runs or couldn't cool down for a whole morning or othersuch unusual antics coming from an otherwise quiet and unoffensive man,

I'm okay. I'm perfectly okay. In fact, I've never been so okay before.
Thank you, thank you First Battalion, a big hug, wet kiss and all the like stuff for bringing out the angsty sillyass who for the all the past months lay dormant within me.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Halfdan Egedius: Illustration for Olav Trygvasons saga. Snorre 1899-edition   [CHECK THESE OUT! THESE ARE THE JOMSVIKINGS]
"The name is Saxon and means the high down [or, more clearly and in another article, on the high hill], and its earliest known use is in 1005 as Heandunigna."
-- Wikipedia article on the Municipal Borough of Hendon in Barnet, London

The Saxon name Heandunigna, imagine! Tonight, I'll be going back to Heandunigna. Doesn't it conjure up some image of those Germanic axewielding rotters swigging contraband inside the bunks by night plus warring themselves nuts by day? Or, if one is familiar with the Norse, the fabled Jomsvikings one would read of in Laxness and the Icelandic Sagas; the Jomsvikings were the real hardcore mercenaries, they were.

Name appeared on Business Times last Sunday, a copy of which Yee Chien (whose name was carelessly left out) passed me today over coffee; Yes, after so long, I'm paying for the coffee again! Yee Chien leaves end this month, Xiang early next. Sean has temporarily left the Army, and things are getting lonelier here.

Buying things for the detatchment, provisions mainly, that I am now proud to style myself a Provisions Man for a vocation as well as Medic; Also I learnt how letting a Hwa Chong Humanities Programme Alumnus touch your diary equals suicide, in addition to betting with him or proving that Johannesburg, as a fact, isn't capital of South Africa.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Battalion Cat Revisited

Cat got nearly torn apart by the dogs on Monday, but survives. It was last seen sucking its own tail at the tonners, as if nothing had happened. Apart from that, it appeared to have taken leave for much of this week, until reputedly on Thursday it got torn up again. This time on the dogs' own turf.
Elsewhere, things fared more or less as well.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Battalion Cat

It probably isn't classified information that my company line houses a black-and-white cat, who is always around when we fall in or clean our rifles or whatnot and hanging about hopefully for scraps when not licking its own tail... except of course if some infiltrator comes in, guts the poor bugger and finds the top-secret confidential docs half-digested therein... and not forgetting the subequent turning-in of the Admin IC who'd say "Sir, the cat ate my homework" and getting it for the excuse. (Sorry, Glen)

I suspect, however, that the Battalion Cat prefers fresh rations to mission briefs, for it shows up always whenever we're eating dinner at the first floor, where he would rub itself up someone's smelly slacks, lick the oil off a machine gun, bother the inmates trainees and fraternise with the sergeants. As we fell in to ranks, he would be there eyeballing us with tired looks, later resigning to licking himself at various places, at the same time blissfully unaware and splendidly distracting.

Some of us enjoy his company; others resign to kicking him away, though all things considered, this fella is like a carefree island in a hectic ocean, like a stable beacon atop a lighthouse guiding ships through freezing tempests. No one can expect him to fight alongside us. No one can tell him to fall in and report strength. No one can accuse him of chao keng when he does... but, all that notwithstanding, the Battalion Cat lazes squarely in our family, a respected senior member, a sentinel.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Imagined Worlds

0. Back Story
On our way back from school (to camp) with our certificates on Friday, the trio consisting Ainan, Justin Wie and I stopped over at Tampines Regional Library, where Ainan picked up a book by a certain fantasy writer. Flipping through its pages, he recalled how in Literature tests there would be a stupid unseen passage from a fantasy novel, to its brims with fantasy jargon that would have to be intepreted.

He handed it me and I read the blurb and a map of the imaginary world, which is not that distinctive by fantasy standards. The toponymy was of a standard otherworldliness, unimaginative save for an occasional adventurous nudge in the oriental direction. If I remember correctly, there were dragons. The blurb is about as eyecatching as politics. As a representative of mediocre fantasy worlds, this book didn't seem to expound so much imagination as the lack thereof, so Ainan put it back upon the shelf.

I. Abstract
For a long time I have attempted to create a convincing fantasy world, a world that not only presents an alternative reality but also mimics this world in all its variety of people, cultures and history. In this inscription, which takes on a rough template of a research paper, I would go through a few of the fantasy authors, find out why I like their take on fantasy writing, and brainstorm for applications to the newfound principles.

II. Literature Review
Disclaimer: Firstly, I'm sorry I've never read Tolkien! Also, I have not touched for a long time some of these following literature described , so details may be inaccurate, please correct if found.
If you want to add on to this, please do! I'm not too well-read.

(post-Apocalyptic setting, allusions to Celtic folklore, teenage heroism)
He was the first author I read from after I decided to start reading fiction. He wrote a series of novels, adventures of two young magician's apprentices whom stumble upon the ruins of ancient (modern) humanity and stories of its hubris and downfall. Also wrote one Shadow of Fomor, which I immensely enjoyed at the time, wherein two youngsters get caught up in the world of Irish mythology.

His stories may be set in the future (Magicians Series) or in a parallel reality (Shadow of Fomor), both rather interesting starting points. In Shadow of Fomor, he relies a lot on a combination of pagan Irish folklore and historical records (cf. The Annals of the Four Masters). In every story that he writes, a shadow of our reality is present.

(employment of animal characters, moralist discourse)
The writer of the Redwall series, describing a world inhabited by animals, some good and benign, others vicious and warlike. It was addictive, the exhausted formulaic storylines notwithstanding.

The novels in the series each come accompanied with a map. Strung together in chronological order (the clergymice make historical records) the story of Redwall spans roughly 300 years. If you read the maps in that order, the Mossflower region becomes alive with paths changing shape, lakes appearing and disappearing, settlements being established or dismantled, and tribes that arrive and are vanquished, like a historical atlas.

Regions adjacent to Mossflower are occasionally featured, when Redwall creatures get adventurous and go travelling. Toponymy is half-chained words of existing languages (e.g. Noonvale, Midgardsorm), which are okay, and half-ex nihilo syllables, which are not.

The society in the Redwall series is structured bipolarly into good animals, like mice, hare, badgers etc and vermin, like rats, foxes, ferrets or weasels. Morality is determined primarily by one's species rather than their upbringing. The vermin are nomadic, whereas the good creatures of Mossflower region is centered around Redwall Abbey and the fortress Salamandastron, key civic and millitary institutions of the civilised world. The clash of civilisations is a recurrent theme in all the stories. As much as it is quite more interesting than most other fantasy settings, it makes way for endless variations of the same yarn.

IIC. James GURNEY et al.
(hidden Geography, utopian society of a distinctive and rich culture, archaeological references)
The series named Dinotopia, kick-started by author and illustrator James Gurney, is actually set in the real world, in a continent in the Indian Ocean that is fenced off by layers of reef and somehow has evaded all satellite photography. Humans migrate to the continent Dinotopia by chance, usually due to shipwrecking.

The continent population, consisting human and assorted prehistoric fauna, coexist in a highly efficient society run on a code of compassionate goodwill, which is in turn maintained by the educational system. This balance is fragile, as you should know, and the novel Dinotopia Lost illustrates one such instance in which this balance is finally threatened, when a group of pirates attempted taking control over the land.

The appeal of this series lies in its imagination of cross-species communal living, as in Redwall; a syncretic and colourful culture of many roots, human or not; the possibility of a world lying undiscovered in actual reality; and of course the dinosaurs, because young nerdy boys are suckers for archaeology.

(Fusion between science-fiction and folklore, or summary genre-crossing)

As the writer of the Wish List and the Artemis Fowl series, the works of Colfer are distinctive in its adaptation of Irish and Christian folklore in a out-and-out modern setting. The infusion of futuristic technology, for example, that employed by fairy civilisation and the supernatural forces of Hell erases all trace of implied archaicness of these concepts.

A pictoral code (I wouldn't go so far as to describe those things as an alphabet, because they are too similar to the English alphabet to stand in their own right as a writing system) is used as part of the design of the pages and covers in Artemis Fowl novels, for the readers' amusement. However, the first novel played a bit with the directionality of fairy writing, arranging the letters in circles to form a word, which was quite the fun bit as linguistics is concerned.

(Parody of fantasy, human nature, and society; larger-than-life storytelling)

I guess a lot more people know this guy than they do with the previous three, and I guess also many of them have come to this realm of fantasy by different routes, maybe including the works of Tolkien and numerous cheap imitators.

The uniqueness of the setting of Discworld lies in its description of being run entirely by popular imagination, ostensibly that of its inhabitants but ultimately of its readers in the real world as well. E.g. the world is flat and it lies at the backs of four elephants standing on a huge turtle, because people on the disc thought so and yeah, it was true.

His employment of exhausted clichés in fantasy, in the form of dragons, magic and gods are justified by the fact that they are rationalised, excavated from the statum of overusage with a dose of modernistic pseudoscience, absurdism, and other small ways to make the fantastic sound demystified and familiar (e.g. treatment of magic as a scientific discipline, and treatment of mythical creatures as common livestock cf. The Last Hero)

Even though the Discworld is imaginary, the inhabitants strike obvious parallels with those of the real world. The storytelling is humanistic, focusing on the characters, their personalities and their decisions more than their circumstances. The background of the world, consisting all the geographical stats, language, alternative stuff, etc that many other fantasy writers bring foremost, here serves only as a backdrop to whatever happens.

Of all fantasy writers, Pratchett's world is the most carelessly handled, but it is this that makes two of the chief appeals in the Discworld series: the world made blatantly and wonderfully absurd, as well as the larger-than-life stories of its people.

III. Discourse on Fantasy Settings
III0. Departure
From the works of McGowen, it is found that a good fantasy setting must have at least a reference in reality. From Jacques, we can imagine how a fantasy setting that unfolds in history can make for addictive reading even if the stories in the series are very much the same. From Jacques and Gurney together, it can be seen that for grander fantasy settings, the description of a fictional, idealised social order can make for significant appeal. From Colfer, we find that it is possible and fun to break boundaries. And from Pratchett, we see that whatever the fantasy setting, good and sensitive storytelling is paramount.

The following chapter will touch chiefly upon some of the components of fantasy settings in novels, and new possibilities to be touched upon. Fully developed, the applications of these components may extend to other genres, such as philosophical and realist literature.

IIIA. The Natural World
The natural setting for a fantasy novel can take on many forms. A fantasy setting may take place in the real world (past or future), a world in an alternative universe (same geog, different history), or the altogether made-up.

The setting can take on coastal-inland forms, which is a common approach in writers adopting a made-up world (Jacques, Tolkien). It is build around the mainland coast as a threshold between land and sea, and can facilitate both landborne and nautical settings (Jacques). The scale of a typical world of this form is not too big, allowing for much expansion of story plots.

Certain other writers employ a map which is entirely inland (e.g. Richard Adams in Watership Down) that allow for much less space and variation in setting, but is suitable for adventures undertaken by smaller animals.

Another common natural setting is an island, or any land body completely encircled by water (e.g. Gurney, Lewins in Crow's Head, Morpurgo in Why the Whales Came) which is expecially convenient in injecting a fantasy setting into the real world and maybe coaxing readers into believing that it acutally exists.

IIIB. Culture
More middle-of-the-road writers, as casually observed, choose a vaguely medieval setting for their stories. This is not a huge development from the times when King Arthur was first told, so some alternatives have sprung up to replace it.

The fact of fantasy settings is that it is very difficult to formulate an entire people's culture and practices from nothing at all, and that a writer's own cultural background is often used as an aid to project attributes into the fictional world, or come in its way. Whatever it turns out to be, it's good to get off the track. One option would be to choose a syncretist culture, like that of Gurney's Dinotopia. As an illustrator as well as author, Gurney clothes human Dinotopians in a variety of functional clothing that suggest an inclination to the Arabesque, German, or Asian while not being very definitely so. There are yet others, based on various individual world cultures.

IIIC. Language
I don't know if you bother about language, but I certainly do, and I think constructed languages are what turns me off at the door for most fantasy novels. Come on, it's in the toponymy too. The problem with place- and people-names designed to sound exotic is that they eventually all sound similar, which is gonna be pants-down boring.

My would-be approach is to create the world's languages from its very beginnings, from the beginning where grunts took up shape as syllables, and from then, roots that evolve into proper words with declension, elements of inflection, entymology, as well as dialectical variations, slang, obscenities and everything. Of all fantasy writers, I guess only few including Tolkien has taken advantage of this phenomenon by creating e.g. Quenya and Sindarin, sister languages with a common root.

A writing system may or may not be used. When it is, it can take the form of an alphabet, a syllabary, an abguida (consonant-only alphabet), a logography or pictography (cf Pratchett, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents). A writing system can evolve just as a language can, so it may not be restricted to English phonemes. Getting out of the English framework of phonemes (i.e. letters A, B, C... to Z) should help as a start.

IIID. Crossing Genres - Macabre and Magic Realism
Fantastic imagination can be applied in writings that are not verily inside the bounds of fantasy, in the works of authors Howard Lovecraft and Halldór Laxness.
Lovecraft wrote horror stories, short ones, but his visualisation of alternative dimensions and a malevolent pantheon of monsters gives much way to the methods of fantasy writing. Lovecraft's alternative world is incredibly hostile and unfamiliar to humanity, and therefore fulfils the criteria for otherliness in fantasy.
Laxness is mostly realist, but in the novel Under the Glacier, in which the hero comes to the vincinity of Snæfellsjökull, the alternative world is presented in the district itself. Here in a sphere of weirdness where nothing is accountable and logic went hand in hand with mysticism, the hero finds himself disoriented and disarmed.

IV. Reflections
I hope I have given a coherent account there above. I'm sorry if it wasn't that well done; I've been typing all morning. Anyway, I hope that in reference to these authors of pretty good fantasy novels, I have uncovered some of the aesthetic virtues that one can seek in a fantasy novel, or perhaps any novel that edges to the fantastic.

Thanks for reading, if you've come this far. I'm off for lunch!

V. Further Readings
McGOWEN Tom: Magicians series, Shadow of Fomor
JACQUES Brian: Redwall series
GURNEY James and various: Dinotopia series
COLFER Eoin: Artemis Fowl series, The Wish List
PRATCHETT Terry: Discworld Series
ADAMS Richard: Watership Down (and sequel)
LEWINS Anna: Crow's Head
MORPURGO Michael: various works
LOVECRAFT Howard Philips: various works
LAXNESS Halldór: Under the Glacier
TOLKIEN John Ronald Reuel: various works

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Footslogging Journal Update

A map detailing my journeys across the island on foot, excluding the Peirce Route (April 2008) and various route marches, which probably shouldn't be here anyway. All the same, please excuse me now for showing off.

I told my friends in camp about my slightly unusual hobby of taking long walks around rural and suburban Singapore, and they probably found it barking mad or something to prefer strolling in suburbia to strolling in Orchard, or to prefer walking at all to drinking onself shitless in nightclubs.

Also disturbing to them was my perceived going to all lengths to document everything little thing that I do, one of these that is the map here shown. It wasn't done yesterday; it's just updated, and since September 2007 there are two more routes drawn and one expanded, with the legend as follows:

Grey font - general localities
White font / coloured discs - key landmarks along routes
Blue font - water bodies
Yellow font - communes
glowing lines - routes

Violet: Sungei Buloh Route
One-off misadventure in December 2006 involving an initial jog through increasingly inhospitable territory, cumulating in an encounter with dogs, a dead end in the middle of nowhere, crossing a canal, emerging wet from a drain, two bus trips, many factories, a puny reservoir park, and finally Sungei Buloh itself, where crocodiles didn't roam on that day.

Amber: Old School Route (~8 km)
I used to take this route from Hazel Park to Hwa Chong. Details here
Also taken in the opposite direction a number of times from the Boarding School to Bukit Panjang LRT station (June 2007), for sentimental reasons.
Supermarkets are common along this route, with cheese abound!

Green: Saint Joseph Route (~10-16 km)
Denotes various routes that pass through Clementi Road and Upper Bukit Timah Road. There was this time I took the longest of them, starting with Sungei Ulu Pandan and ending with a trip all the way into Central Catchment (via Chestnut Drive) and back. There was a hot noontime sun, plenty of monkeys, an electric fence I walked around, and a corner of Upper Peirce Reservoir which I believed few (if at all) Singaporeans actually set eyes on. And then I saw the apartment flats peeping just over the far horizon over the water surface and thought, oh.

Grey-green: New School Route (~8 km)
The route I took when I needed to go to the art room from home, or vice versa. Also taken just to have breakfast in Jelita or Guthrie House, again for sentimental reasons. Ulu Pandan and Sixth Avenue are good places to walk, not too cluttered.

Blue: Reservoir Circuit (6.17 km per round)
I ran around here to prepare for Recruit training. It worked well, but not well enough. Details here

Purple: Clementi Route
I walked this two weeks ago, running a small errand for field camp along the way. Passed through Clementi Woods, which is not a bad place to go on a hot day.

Saint Ignatius Route (not in display)
Was in here with Yee Chien and Xiang and Yuan Yi to distribute flyers for our CIP project (July 2006?). The roads in here are desperately obfuscated, so I couldn't mark out the route. We went in at Oei Tiong Ham Road and came out at Farrer Road, passing by the Vietnamese Embassy, the Phillipines Embassy, some other Embassy, numerous mansions, and Saint Ignatius' Church, where fellow trainee Long John goes to.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Lives of Great Minds

Philosophers Behaving Badly, Rodgers and Thompson 2005
I was reading the book When Philosophers Behave Badly by Nigel Rodgers and Mel Thompson, chronicling the scandals of great thinkers from Rousseau to Foucault. The point is that while Great Minds think great, their great thought may not lead to great lives. The tendency for ad hominem attacks in this work notwithstanding, I think it is ultimately important that we do not read the works of great philosophers with undue credulity, saying yes to them just because they are intellectual giants so far above our heads. Instead, we pit their ideas against our own lives to test their relevance. This tip should be good for starting readers of this austere discipline, coming from someone who stays perpetually at the starting line.

On the other hand, neither should we regard works of philosophers with undue incredulity, for whatever reasons. E.g. the fact that Nietzsche was Atheist and wrote like some heartless bastard isn't a good enough reason for a kind-spirited Christian to totally disregard his thoughts, and one can still find specific ideas, if not snippets of ideas, that we can agree to if we reflect upon our own lives. Here's coming from a Christian who has just read a very short and biased summary of Nietzsche's ideas and screwed-up life.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

July Update II

1. It's like around BMT level now (though slightly lower), and here a pattern emerges that whenever training level goes up, my writing capacity goes down. There was a good idea swimming around in my head; a song about the shapeshifter I met in this dream. It only got written halfway, which is like damrn. If only I have the patience to rhyme!

2. I used to feel somewhat superior to some friends of mine who were shirkers in the face of training or just didn't enjoy as much as they should have if they just put down some mental baggage. It's wrong to feel that, I know, because as my friends from OBS Pulau Ubin or elsewhere may recall, I was a shirker once as well.

On an unrelated note, I'd still prefer outdoor activities in slacks, like what we have in here, than in civilian like say in OBS Pulau Ubin. Yes. You could be covered in mud over your slacks and still be putting on a huge grin, whereas in civilian you turned into some cleanliness freak.

3. Mum's birthday was this week, the day I was at range. I sent her a message in the morning to wish her happy birthday, which didn't so much gave her a pleasant surprise as woke her up too early.

4. As of Saturday 19 July, I am 6 months 1 week into army life, three weeks into Battalion training. A newcomer to our company was dubbed Mystery Man because he came in quietly and only announced his presence one day later, and set off a chain of insider jokes.

I am Mystery Man, just standing all around
I am Mystery Man, just sneaking down the line
So you better get out of my way now
Before I'm standing next to you

5. Some time ago on a Saturday, a conversation ensued between Ainan and I about the ideas of Nietzsche, army life, and plenty other unrelated stuff. The conversations are always interesting, even if we don't share the same opinions.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Dansons la Listériole

Song by TRI YANN

Au marché de Libourne, il y a un onglet fou
Bourré de drôles de gènes, tout en nerfs et tout sans goût.
Dansons la listériole, tant qu’on tient le coup,
Si la panse chatouille, les boyaux seront gratoux.

Au marché de Marmande, il y a un chèvre fou,
Je vous dis qu’il est space, aussi glauque qu’un égout.
Dansons la listériole, tant qu’on tient le coup,
Si la panse chatouille, les boyaux seront gratoux.

Au marché de Saint-Pierre, il y a un confit fou,
Il fait maigre en carême, et Slim-fast au mois d’Août.
Dansons la listériole, tant qu’on tient le coup,
Si la panse chatouille, les boyaux seront gratoux.

Sur la route de Bayonne, il y a un pommier fou,
Shooté au diphényle et à l’EPO itou.
Si la panse dérouille, les boyaux sont claquoux,
Rendez-vous chez Borgnolles, si on n’a pas tenu le coup.

July Update

All I can bring myself to say now is that the food here is good, I'm okay throughout stay-in during weekdays and that I find it slightly more enjoyable looking forward to weekends than actually living them. My forearms ache so it's harder to do simple stuff like opening canned drink, opening cupboards etc. There is also this inability to complete a long essay, one which is now in draft form.

It's not considered training time yet, and the wait is maddening.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

In the Air

It's not so much like flying than tumbling groundwards with a lot of care.

When the aircraft took off from the runway it felt just like a holiday, with the same rumblerumblerumble under the wheels, the same G-force as in a Boeing 737 takeoff. Hell, it even had safety belt lights turned on. When the aircraft was in the air you could pick out certain buildings for fun, like the camp in Pasir Ris.

When they pushed open the door, it was an end to all that stoically pretending to be not afraid of the jump.

So there was a sort of a line-up and the jumpmasters pushed you out one by one saying "Go!", which means that when you're at the fore looking to the aft you saw the number of people standing between you and the door disappear unnervingly quickly. And the wind was loud and so were the deployment bags flapping in the wind.

So it goes like this:
"Go! frrfrr Go! frrrfrrr Go! frrrrrr Go!"

And then you were out. Whether you had jumped out yourself or was pushed out was not of your concern now. Your eyes are closed and you see white, because you are outside in the world of light, falling free.

And after a count of three (thousand) something tugs your shoulder gently and you look up and say oo, what a big flapping canopy.

You can see a long way off from circa 300m above ground level, all the way to the horizon and sunset. So it's a pity that your chief worry is about the direction that is downwards. The people in the drop zone look very, very small. The drop zone, fortunately however, does not look very small, so you can easily steer into it.
You can see the other jumpers too. Sometimes they get too close. You're supposed to scream at them to make them go away.

You feel that you're not going down very fast, even though you actually are. When you're close enough to the ground to make out the blades of the grass, you can see that the ground is moving very quickly upwards. When it hits you, you could fall gracefully to the side or crumple up awkwardly like an idiot, which was what I did. Crumpling up awkwardly is habit-forming as well as hazardous to your ankle, so it's something you shouldn't do.

Walking back to the hangar with friends was fun because everyone had a lot of things to say. Otherwise, it was all boring work from then on.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Wolf Totem

Wolf Totem, Jiang Rong 2004
Picked up this book again after two years of not reading it. The first time that happened, I was in Hungary, a nation born on the steppes, so it was appropriate enough. Today the English translation has come out, and it should be quite interesting to read the same book twice in Chinese and English.

The English translation is a little unwieldy, even though it was translated by someone named Howard Goldblatt. Or maybe because it was translated by someone named Howard Goldblatt.

The author, Lu Jiamin (aka Jiang Rong) spends much of the novel obsessing about the wolf packs and their encounters with the Mongols in the Olonbulag, an area of fertile pastures in the east of Inner Mongolia. He feeds from the endless cycles of feuds between wolf and man that characterised the everyday pasture life, to form the main body of the novel: The charged and dramatic narration of such feuds is best epitomised in Chapter 5, where a herd of war horses was massacred by a pack of wolves whose cubs had been stolen by the Mongols. The wolves, with superior strategy and deathly will, decimated the herd in the blizzard and almost took the horse-herd with them. The description is even more chilling when the others came and dug out the horse corpses: all of them, even some of the wolves, had been squished to death like bugs.

Out of a very Chinese propensity to pontificate, Jiang Rong enjoys spending long paragraphs praising the wolves in their art of war, their environmentalism, their self-pride and love of freedom, etc. Interspersed within the feud narrative were also some anecdotes of wolf encounters by the Mongols in Ujimchin, and conversations between the protagonist Chen Zhen and his close friends, which serves such a purpose.

This pontificating is probably the reason why the human characters in Wolf Totem are unrealistic, and one relates better to the wolves and the herds than to the humans sometimes. Chen Zhen and the Mongols are ever in unison: the ideas they express often add on to one another, whereas the outsiders, who were hell-bent on exterminating the wolves, were perpetually and utterly obstinate. Talking to Bao Shungui, the production brigade leader, was like halting an avalanche. The Mongols try to persuade him, even gang up against him, but their protests were effortlessly dispersed on the mention of study sessions, and they can't do anything but tear when Bao Shungui commits such atrocities like killing swans for food.

There is another inexplicable twist in the story, when Chen Zhen brought up the wolf cub, knowing full well that it was a cultural taboo in the Olonbulag and that he will earn the ostracism of the Mongols, especially his mentor and foster father. Despite his admiration for the wolves and desire to be like them, he treats the wolf cub with mollycoddling care. The story ended in his failure: The wolf cub can never be reunited with the Olonbulag pack, whose tongue he had forgotten; Chen had blunted his teeth for safety, which robbed him of a chance in the wild. On the other hand the wolf's spirit was as indomitable as his kin, and Chen was forced to kill him "while there's still a little bit of wolf in him."

Why so frustrating? To push the story forward, perhaps. Like much of the pastures in Inner Mongolia, the Olonbulag was going to hell anyway, and at the time of writing, the Gobi was already knocking on Beijing's front door. So it is understandable that many of the turns in the narrative are half-formed in favour of the didactism, and if you read it in Chinese, you might not notice it at all.

After the epilogue was an essay, thinly disguised as a conversation between Chen Zhen and Yang Ke. It summarily talked about the spirit of the wolf in the ancestors of the Chinese and the barbarians that were their neighbours, how it was diminished and revived at various times of Chinese history, and that the best for us if the wolf bits and the sheep bits in the Chinese character "are in balance, with a little more of wolf than sheep." It was a good and informative read, though not entirely convincing, and now there's more than a few questions up my head that I have to answer.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Between the Work Hours

Films and books that I have watched and read, is watching or reading, or will watch or read in this period

The Atom Station (Magnus Magnusson transl.)Jesus of Nazareth狼图腾Wolf Totem (Howard Goldblatt transl.)

Atómstöðin / The Atom Station (1948 transl. 1961) by Halldór Laxness
Crow's Head (1990) by Anna Lewins
Jesus of Nazareth (2007) by H.H. Pope Benedict XVI
狼图腾 / Wolf Totem (2004 transl. 2008) by Jiang Rong (both versions!)

Schindler's ListThe Journals of Knud RasmussenMar AdentroParadise Now

Schindler's List (1993) directed by Stephen Spielberg
The Journals of Knud Rasmussen (2006) directed by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn
Mar Adentro / The Sea Within (2004) directed by Alejandro Amenábar
الجنّة الآن / Paradise Now (2005) directed by Hany Abu-Assad

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Between the Good Times

On Good Times
The months that precede are perched precariously between two periods that I call good times. It is a euphemism, made in the express purpose of granting the undersigned a certain cold comfort and putting off the other people. Good Times, indeed, ha! More like where Bad Commandos go when they die. And Good ones too, for that matter.

These preceding weeks have given me an opportunity to mug, the opportunity to meet up with old schoolmates, to learn something which we only dimly realise would turn out to be useful for many years after we're chucked back into the world of civilians. And, using the time left over, to read and listen to French music. And Tri Yann's 1985 release, Anniverscène, is like no other French music.

What the good times bring is a quite different kind of pleasure. It is good, for example, to be among obsessive fellow trainees who push each other on, and away from shirkers who wake up an hour late in the morning (but they don't get to do that in the Good Times, either). It is good when all you ever worried about was within camp confines, about training, within your practical reach. You read less books. You have to memorise lyrics and sing to yourself when you're bored. Your grammar goes down by a couple of notches but it's still OK. As far as Good Times are concerned, you're prepared for anything.

On the Dictionary of Bullshit
"An essential field guide for all those who want to keep their Bullshit detectors in fighting trim."

It is in this book I understood what my GP tutors meant when they suggested that writing a proper GP essay is not equivalent to writing in my blog and I should refrain from waffling so much i.e. am guilty for pushing metaphors off high cliffs, utilising big words that serve more to decorate than to clarify, etc.

Mainly, the compilation by Nick Webb reveals the individual stockphrases used by politicians and corporate leaders (fair game) to evade responsibility, distract people from pertinent moral issues and generally filling up the white space of public judgement. Apart from that there were also words which have their meanings twisted, their definitions arbitrarily expanded and clichés which are actually vivid expressions that refer to things of the past that people have forgotten about.

The compilation leaves much to be desired, so I find it good that Webb opens it up to readers' contributions. Perhaps I should ask him why "liberal" is a political-bullshit-word while "conservative" isn't, and that I've always thought that the word "tradition" tended to draw flak more than it houses pleasant connotations. Nevertheless, I'm glad I found and read this book, and already I've been testing my newly-primed bullshit detector on the latest issue of TIME. It seems to work pretty well.

I had a go at compiling such stock phrases in a short story some time ago, titled "Political Swearwords". It probably isn't long before I do another one. "Postmodern Swearwords", perhaps? It's not as if the champions of postmodern discourse hasn't churned up their own share of waffle.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

More Infusion Sessions

My logo design for the course, featuring our favourite intstruments
Two or three weeks back I botched up my IV practice and gave Andre a hard time, and got a taste of bitter defeat as I watched coursemates passed it all one by one and were now resting in the shed while I was still out in the open with the course sergeant noting in his idiosyncratically cool manner: "You're still not proficient ah..." In the following week it was Andre who did instead, so I bought him a drink for the trouble.

The previous session was a breezy success; I had hit the vein and shoved the cannula into Zhiheng's arm without much any hassle, before the monitoring sergeants had time to come to my aid with confusing manoeuvres.

The last session is conducted in the darkness of night, wherein general misfiring and panic may ensue.

My left arm does not hurt anymore whenever you push the metal bar into it, so one can practice on me as often as he likes.

Friday, May 09, 2008

La Campagne du Belem de 1902

The ship Belem
The barque named Belem
in Bordeaux moored;
click for more info

A Nantes à Nantes s’est désamarré,
Vive le Belem, hardi les bordées,
Le cap’taine crie « cap sur l’Amérique,
Hisse le grand foc, tout est payé ! »

Le commandant est jeune et bien né,
Vive le Belem, hardi timonier,
Plutôt nous mène au pinard qu’à la trique,
Pour la manoeuvre encourager.

Vite Saint-Nazaire avons dépassé,
Les yeux à bâbord avons détourné :
Le roi d’ici en butte à la panique,
Guerre aux Bretons a déclaré.

Dans la tempête et les vents gelés,
Les côtes d’Angleterre avons abordé,
Chargé du coke et gagné l’Atlantique,
Au Brésil l’avons déchargé.

Et cap au nord sous les alizés,
Le Père-la-ligne nous a baptisés ;
Quand nous fûmes à Saint-Pierre en Martinique,
Tout le mouillage était bondé.

Cherchant abri de l’autre côté,
La Montagne-Pelée avons contourné ;
Nous échappâmes à une fin tragique
Quand le volcan a explosé.

Eruption of Mount Pelee, 1902
The Eruption of Mount Pelee in 1902 that destroyed the entire town of Saint-Pierre, Martinique, and which the barque Belem narrowly missed.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Saint named Sophia

The Wisdom of God cries aloud,
The Lord created me when his purpose first unfolded,
before the oldest of his works.
From everlasting I was firmly set,
from the beginning, before earth came into being.
The deep was not, when I was born,
there were no springs to gush with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
before the hills, I came to birth;
before he made the earth, the countryside,
or the first grains of the world's dust.

When he fixed the heavens firm, I was there,
when he drew a ring on the surface of the deep,
when he thickened the clouds above,
when he fixed fast the springs of the deep,
when he assigned the sea its boundaries
and the waters will not invade the shore --
when he laid down the foundations of the earth,
I was by his side, a master craftsman,
delighting him day after day,
ever at play in his presence,
at play everywhere in his world,
delighting to be with the sons of men.

-- Proverbs 8:22-31
(The Jerusalem Bible)

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The poet Örn Úlfar

I: The words of the poet Örn Úlfar to the poet Ólafur Kárason of Ljósavík:
"I remember you once said that what you were most frightened of in Sviðinsvík were the children of the streets," said Örn. "So I can't expect you to enjoy listening to me. I am the children in the streets. I am the child who was brought up in the ditches and on the fences, the child who had everything stolen from him before he was born, the child who has yet another misfortune on top of all the other misfortunes of the family, one handful of dirt to add to the midden on which the cockerels stand and crow.

"But because of that, there's no need to talk to me as if no one has ever recognised the need for a more beautiful world except you. I know just as well as you what beauty is and even what the spirit is, even though you are the Ljósvíkingur himself and I am only called after the eagle and the wolf. Beauty -- that is the earth; it is the grass on the earth. The spirit -- that is the heaven with its light above us, the sky with these white summer clouds which cluster together in banks and then drift apart again. If there were any justice in the world I would have just one wish -- to be allowed to lie on my back on the grass, in this heavenly light, and look at the clouds.

"But whoever thinks that beauty is something he can enjoy exclusively for himself just by abandoning other people and closing his eyes to the human life of which he is a part -- he is not the friend of beauty. He ends up either as Pétur Þríhross's poet, or his secretary. He who doesn't fight every day of his life to the last breath against the representatives of evil, against the living images of evil who rule Sviðinsvík -- he blasphemes by taking the word beauty into his mouth"

World Light / Book II: The Palace of the Summerland
(Heimsljós / Höll sumarlandsins)

by Halldór Laxness, translated from Icelandic by Magnus Magnusson

It was a blessing to be given a day with this book in my duty yesterday in camp, beholden neither to my sergeant nor to my laptop. This story, the most vividly emotional in the Laxness novels translated into English, tells the life of Ólafur Kárason of Ljósavík, an aspiring poet from young, and a father and career poet where I left him just now in Book III.

He is a brilliant poet with his head in the air, but with an unfortunate apathy to the lives or happiness of other people, random pretty wenches excepted. This lecture by Örn Úlfar (pen-name of Þórarinn Eyjólfsson). I think it is in Örn one hears a word of caution for the artist: those who in their aloofness distance themselves from the people they are the souls of.

II. Two meetings with friends in The First of May, also the Feast of Saint Joseph, the Ascension of the Lord, and Labour Day:
The first in Bukit Batok with Yee Chien, Xiang and Yuan Yi because we haven't met for so long. It was a good get-together, only it's a pity it won't last the whole year. And then by August or thereafter I'd be sitting somewhere with a rifle in my lap and saying to no-one in particular "sian!" like much everybody else. Finally, after eight months as a soldier! Andy is getting tired.

There was a board game in Xiang's house called True or False? which swamped the players with ridiculous trivia and left it to us to decide whether they're genuine facts. And her brother was playing the generous host. The little fella Huan Huan was so boisterous; he might grow up to be a genius someday.

The second in town, in the restaurant New York, New York with my class, three of which (Lisheng, Desmond, Alex) took up the dare to down a burger the size of a head plus a battalion of fries. I felt full just by looking at them eat (those in the know, they know I did a little more.) The reward for doing so successfully, according to the gleeful manager, was a free root beer float per meal finished. They did, and the mugs of float were shared among the rest of the class.

III. A premonition of a return to my favourite field of science in my primary school days:
The other day we spotted a toucan in camp, feeding upon the berries growing on the palms, yes, the sort of berries which resembled the berries in Sanya in my childhood, and the sort which in Singapore would be consigned to the pavements to be carelessly stepped upon. The toucan fascinated us all, citylubbers with no touch with reality of tropical Southeast asia, with its immense beak, its proud crown and the sound its wings made as it flapped away. Later on an iguana was seen, just under a metre long, and it eyeballed, frilled and bobbed its throat at the onlookers before making off up the tree. More recently a goanna popped out from nowhere, and scared a fellow who was on the way to the toilet. Bloody goannas, now they're everywhere.

We'll be encountering biodiversity sure enough. Possibly it is even more an emphasis for the medics than the others, who must make acquaintance with many of them venomous creatures in order to treat stings and bites. Otherwise, it's a matter of bringing home the, um, bacon. I don't really mind; I've gotten used to eating weird things already.

Eric Lafforgue in North Korea

Referred to by Mr Joshua Snyder in the Western Confucian, who in turn was reffered to it by the Marmot's Hole.

Eric Lafforgue: North Korea

A rare glimpse into the hermit republic; an adventure for the photographer in more ways than getting people to smile at the camera. How did he manage to take all that without being mugged? All the same, it's the pleasant face of the country and its people after all that headaches their leaders have been giving the rest of the world. Give it a look.

[Blogroll >> ::An Tobar:: >> :Artists: >> Eric Lafforgue]
[Blogroll >> ::An Domhan:: >> :Odd Earth: >> Lafforgue in North Korea]

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Waking Hours

I: In one of the days preceding was the much-anticipated 16G poke. The needle in use now is much larger than before, resembling an undersized drinking straw. Blood tended to pool around a little more than before, where we practiced on each other. There should have been more mosquitoes consequently also, but the sky rained mercifully upon the camp that afternoon.

The way people reacted to the presence of a needle inside their systems are varied, and pretty interesting to watch. Aaron twisted his face in agony, while Andre did nothing but laugh when I pushed my needle into his vein. When it came to my turn to be practiced upon, Nicholas came to me and talked, which took some attention off that thing in my arm. The conversation went something like: What did you take for the A-Levels. I took Physics, ow, Maths, Art and Computing, ow ow. Hey, you took Computing too. So I did. Is it fun, then. Ow, sorry but it still hurts ow, I wouldn't say that, but it was much more fun in the old days oww I surmise, hey, don't walk off just yet...

II: I'm looking forward to lights-out time everyday, probably because of the studying and stuff taxing noticeably upon the neutrons but probably more due to the greater amount of time available to worry about what time to sleep.

In my first night out, I wandered to the National Library and borrowed a book. Most of the alotted time, however, was spent on public transport and walking. In the end I went back late, and soon everyone in the platoon had gotten wind that I went to the National Library. It seemed to amuse them to no end, the reason to which I may never grasp.

III: The book I borrowed was All the Names by José Saramago, published in Portuguese in 1997 and in English in 2000. It told the story of a Central Registry clerk, Senhor José, whom for no reason went to search for a random woman whose profile he found among his secret collection of famous people's profiles. The woman was found to have commited suicide (for no reason either) while he was carrying out his search, and the Registrar, secretly following Senhor José's every move, came to the decision that the archives of the dead and the living are to be merged.

The prose is delivered in a heavily morose spirit, with conversations written in the format demonstrated in (I.). So far I have not found any deep philosophical meaning into the reading, but I have long believed that such things are for finding out later, possibly in the form of a nightmare, a violent awakening.

IV: IV is our slang for "intravenous", but this is not the section about IV. It is (I.)

Andre is entering the UOB art competition armed with ballpoint pens and chicken rice paper. I had bought canvas the weekend before, but only thought of joining because he mentioned it.

Painting might follow the general lines of what I've done in January, or it might not. The urge to start dabbling with portraiture hasn't gone away.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Fransozig and Maïawela

Lyrics and translations are now online, many thanks to Tri Yann and webmaster Eric Doll!

Tri Yann

Nozvezh kentañ ma eured me ’m oa komadaman
Evit servijañ ar Roue ret eo bezhañ kontan.
Evit servijañ ar Roue ret eo obeisso,
Met ma dousig Fransisa ’chom d’ar gêr o ouelo.
“Tevet, tevet Fransoizig, tevet na ouelit ket,
A-benn un daou pe un tri bloaz me ’deuï c’hoazh d’ho kwelet!”
Paseet an daou an tri bloaz ar berved ’zo ivez,
Nag ar vartolod yaouank ne zeu tamm da vale.
Ar plac’hig a oa yaouank hag a gave hir he amzer,
’Doa lakaet e-barzh e soñj da zimeziñ ’darre.
Na pa oa tud an eured diouzh an taol o koanio,
N’em gavas ur martolod ’ban ti a c’houl’ lojo:
“Bonjour d’oc’h matez vihan, na c’hwi lojefe?
Me ’zo martolod yaouank ’tistreiñ eus an arme”.

The first night of my honeymoon I received orders
To serve the king as we are obliged.
To go serve the king, we must obey,
But my sweet Fransoisig stays at home crying.
"Keep quiet Fransoisig, quiet yourself, do not cry,
In two or three years I will see you! "
Past two and three years, the fourth too,
No young sailor does.
The girl was young and had waited for long;
By now she had arranged to remarry
When people ate at her wedding banquet,
A Marine asks to stay in the house:
"Hello to you girl, may I stay?
I am a young sailor who has returned from the army."


Tri Yann
(Note: In my amateur opinion, words look rather archaic in this piece)

Chantons la belle Maïawela, Rouge robe de noçailles de Roy.
Elle prit naissance dans les flors d’un chesne
Croisé de geneste et de verne,
Elle blanchit la nublèce de son éclat,
Elle est anguile beaucoup plus que cobra.

Chantons la belle Maïawela, Rouge robe de noçailles de Roy.
Elle faist synfonie de flûte d’un pâtre,
Faille vive de bois verde en l’astre,
Tient aulberge à vinée plus doulce qu’en Arbois,
Faist aux jacquets hostellerie de ses draps.

Chantons la belle Maïawela, Rouge robe de noçailles de Roy.
Elle est d’estranges et d’estrangères rives,
Sa cavale mil cavaliers suivent,
Elle impose triève dans les tornois,
A Lucifer de chanter Alleluya!

Chantons la belle Maïawela, Rouge robe de noçailles de Roy.
A l’estranger offre ses poires blanches,
Plus sucrées que pomes d’orenge;
Elle tresjète la neige de sous ses pas
Et faist velours des ronceries sous ses doigts.

Chantons la belle Maïawela, Rouge robe de noçailles de Roy.
Elle a chainsil tissé d’ailes d’abueilles,
Panier d’or enclos de dentèle,
Faist chaline, ventelet, tempeste de son choix,
Froider le froid, brusler l’encens d’Angora.

Chantons la belle Maïawela, Rouge robe de noçailles de Roy...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Chief Gardener's Island

Lost world: the last days of feudal Sark
[Blogroll >> ::An Leabharlann:: >> :Articles: >> Feudal Sark]

Seigneur John Michael Beaumont of Sark, from article by Charles Schwab

"As Seigneur of Sark, an island three miles long and one mile wide, 25 miles from the French coast, Beaumont's position is an enviable one. Since 1565, when Elizabeth I granted the island to the nobleman Hellier de Carteret in return for his protection against pirates, the Seigneurs have ruled this rock. And, in return for the £1.79 Beaumont pays annually to the British Crown to keep the island "in perpetuity", the Seigneur holds the privilege of granting the Sarkees permission to buy and sell their houses; and he is also entitled to collect a treizieme - one-thirteenth of every land transaction.

"But not for long. Beaumont's days of occupying his unique position are numbered. Earlier this month, the self-governing island, which falls under the protectorate of the British crown, voted by a majority of 234 to 184 to usher in universal suffrage for its population of 610. No longer will the island's 40 landowners, or "tenants" as they are confusingly known, sit on Sark's government - the "Chief Pleas". Nor will Beaumont retain his treizieme, or his right of veto.

"Next year, the adult population of the island will go to the polls for the first time with one vote each and elect 28 new members of the "Chief Pleas". Sark will be a democracy. That it has taken Sark 500 years longer than most of Western Europe to abolish feudalism should come as no surprise. As any newcomer soon realises, on Sark things move slowly."

I: Law reforms on the Island of Sark were aproved just this Wednesday, which appeared in the front page of Wikipedia. Democratisation should sound good; it certainly did sound good once, like, ten years back. But, like in any story involving preaching the glories of the modern world to a reclusive and simple-minded people, it would tend to turn members of the audience onto each other.

Because while a community ruled by the authority of one lord certainly sounds out of this age, one finds it hard to imagine that it is right for a couple of wealthy businessmen, both outsiders, to force democratisation upon Sark as a way of dodging tributes to the Seigneur.

II: I notice that the Barclay brothers relied on the European Convention of Human Rights to challenge Sark's law of inheritance (along with, it reads, Sark's jurisdiction over Brecqhou, an adjacent island bought over by the Barclays). It strikes me as a cynical gesture, an abuse of the idea of human rights that is not uncommonly met today.

In an spotlight issue entirely unrelated to Sark, more than a few fists were flying over where the Olympic Torch made its way. The issue is on the independence of Tibet, again a purported "human rights" issue.

Paralympic fencer Jin Jing and pro-Tibet assailants, from related article in 万维读者网

Give it a rest, hotheads.