Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Solar Eclipse of 26 January 2009

On that day I went and became a volunteer. It wasn't planned but I liked it anyway, because I got to become a telescope assistant, because the telescopes are placed at strategic places to view the sun with, because I'm ahead of the queue for the whole duration, and because there's nothing much to do most of the time anyway, I just went around taking pictures.

The eclipse this year as seen from Singapore involves the moon covering 80% of the sun's visible surface at its worst. From a strip of the earth spanning Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan, the eclipse will be annular, which means the sun will look like a hoop as the moon passes it by. People in the queue could observe it directly through black eyeglasses, or they can see a bigger one through the telescope. Biggest of all is a picture of the crescent sun projected indoors. Clouds were marauding towards the evening, the projected time of the maximum, such that the sun was never seen clearly again that day.

The sky, however, remained bright, as if the eclipse hadn't done anything to diminish it. I have seen cloudy days that were darker. If not for the telescopes and eyeglasses and projection, most of us wouldn't have noticed it.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Mid-January Inscription

I. Ainan tells of his reunions as diverse, the alumni being a mix of stratospheric high-flyers from a choice selection of colleges and those who are waiting to become thus; those who spend their days scattering their brains upon the bars and those who are prepared to jump in in short notice. Ten months! Already they cannot wait.

Varsity life in those parts changes you, that's what they say; once you get in you don't flying want to come back. What I hear is a vivid description of Hell itself, a place horribly hard to drag people out of.

By the time I get my reunions, I suspect, there will be half of them I will not recognise anymore, them who over a year ago were muggers just like I was.

For now, it would be cool if my friends would stop pestering. I'm sorry, the place you told me about is not attractive at all. I would not go if not for the drink I owe my buddy. I might not go even for the drink that I owe my buddy, and I pray he changes his mind about it.

II. The overbearing loneliness I get outside is relieved in part by having a close group of friends i.e. my detatchment mates. And having five books to read at once. And, stretching my use of the word "relieved" for a bit, meeting people at church.

I don't actually know most of the people I see in church, but the computer table is a good place to observe the rest of the congregation from, so you could pick out who comes how regularly and sits at what pew most of the time. Of course there is also the choir, although since us Catholics become exceptionally good-natured and polite on Sundays I can't say the relationship is very close.

Ainan is mistaken. Pamela only comes on special occasions. Most of the time it's her brother Sean who visits us.

III. Going out now does not dispel my feeling of ennui.
I used to walk the 7km to school on non-working days, but the school is not mine anymore and I have no reason to go there. Early last year I tweaked the route to end at Guthrie house, but the idea of having to walk 7km just to eat breakfast was really stupid.

For a while in late last year I walked to NUS, but the school is not mine yet and I have no reason to go there either. When I needed to get to Prince George Park, I took the bus halfway there, and had a short walk up South Buona Vista road instead.

The route down Upper Bukit Timah road is defunct, because I no longer lived near Bukit Panjang, I haven't met the people who lived along there for so long, and it's not as if I'll actually meet them by walking the Old School Route.

The 72k route march from Lim Chu Kang to Hendon Camp, I've realised, was the walk to end all walks.

IV. I anticipate and eagerly look forward to next Friday night, because I will be visiting the Astronomy Club, the club that I chipped in to kick-start and the club I helped to lead. It has become a miracle in surviving for three years and still going strong, going stronger in fact. I want to meet Mingyang and to hear from him the club's exploits in the third year.

V. I anticipate and eagerly look forward to the February-April ultrahighkey training season. Come, weeds of wild Singapore! Come, hills of Country X! Come, take away my sorrow, give me my outfield!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Where No Man Has Tread

a. You know you told me about this place, where they say, that no man has ever tread?
b. Well yeah.
a. I just went to have a look.
b. Oh? How was it?
a. There's no one there.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Solution to an Awkward Question

Now that I no longer feel like writing something just for the sake of writing, let me just lay down a point I've been wanting to write about for a long time.

It always irked me when people asked if my training was tough. I would invariably be too proud to say yes, too forgetful to remember if there were any tough bits at all, but also too mindful of my mates behind me who would like me to say, "Yes, we follow the toughest training regimen of any unit in the SAF".

Truth be told, if I gave either answer (yes or no) I will never be sure if I was right. I've never been through the discipline that a Cadet gets. I was never pushed around as a Driver. I've hardly dug any scrapes or trenches, even though Infantrymen do it all the time. I have never been in charge of a tank, with all that sloughing the panzer through mud and maintenance the job calls for. And we sure as day cannot match up to those who utilise fully their imagination for Hell Week activities.
I've never been in anyone's boots but my own.

I do have memories of all that I've been through. However tough they were, they became good ones in the end, though they be still a little hard to divulge before downing a few pints.

And then I'll speak what I always liked, half-seriously.
"Army is fun. You should join the Army."

To this many of my friends would violently object. To them, the year 2008 was wildly phenomenal, they have done things that they have never dared to do; they broke new grounds, they conquered their own weaknesses and fears, they had it tough and lived to tell the tale. These are the people you should ask. They can tell you colourful sagas with ample furnishings, whereas I will just give you a boring understatement.

Or a distraction, perhaps. When you expect most to hear about physical and mental fatigue, I give you a description of that morning's birdsong. If I was really blanked out in the morning that I heard them, it is not important at all. It doesn't bother me, and it should never bother anyone else either. But the birds! Oh, how trivially they do squabble among the bushes.

Obscurum Inter Stellas

An Intepretation of the Above Phrase
I've watched A Beautiful Mind, a film on the life of John Nash, and the result is that I feel a bit like him. Sure enough, it's hard to put down to writing all that tonnerloads of things I've been thinking, maybe because they don't make sense, maybe because in turn that I'm flying off my handles, but I'll try anyway.

More ominously when I finished The Fish Can Sing (Halldór Laxness) for the third time I felt a bit like Garðar Holm, the national celebrity, the unhappy and worldly man who had a faked fame and took his own life after singing the only song that could be called a song; and when I finished Fury by Salman Rushdie I felt like the character Malik Solanka, with all his fits of bloody wrath and anger and waving his fists at the businesses that feed on and corrupt his brainchildren.

Today I've been reading a history of the Ming Dynasty, and gods, is it filled with insane realpolitik that never seem to end, and it's the fourth book in the series! And the song Astros, Fuentes y Flores is sounding deliriously cheesy.

I tried to watch funnier stuff but they're all too stupid to watch so I dropped them. And now there's not much in the way of finally writing. There, I haven't written much. In fact it's nothing really.

I mean I've left out the really important stuff. It's not just now; I've been doing it for a long time. It used to be out of fear of the Official Secrets Act, but today it's just out of sheer habit and sense of fun that I hide ninety percent of what is going on in my writing. Sometimes it's fun, dodging the eyes of the readers and all, but many times one is left with nothing to write. And at times like these they are withdrawn to themselves.

You cannot find much there is which has been put to writing last year, from July afterwards, with some stellar exceptions. As the amateurs put their telescopes' focus on the points of light, real life goes on in the darkness between them. In the planets that orbit them; in the gases that enshroud them; in the galaxies that skulk behind them, enormously distant.