Saturday, December 29, 2012


The labradorite cabochons at the jeweller's looked unremarkable at first sight, like scattered grey pebbles in a tray. Yet they shone with all the colours of the rainbows when the light hit them the right way.

Labradorite is (Ca,Na)(Al,Si)4O8
Starting price by the jeweller called Christopher: Rs 500 per carat. Smallest stone in tray was 15 carats, largest maybe 60 carats or something like that.

Topazes also present, really big ones that grow larger than someone's fist, but their refractive index is barely past the level of silicate glass i.e. the back facets are transparent.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Blogging from Colombo

Tourmaline is usually hewn from a pillar of trigonal crystal, where the stone of different colours are arranged in layers radiating from the middle axis. The most valuable tourmaline comes in bicolour, that is to say, they come from the parts where the different colours meet. Tourmaline from these tumultous regions would feature much inclusions and imperfections, making it a stone of action and immediacy, of creative dynamicism, rather than that of a dull eternity, like what diamond pretends to be (diamond is metastable).
Prices of tourmaline in Colombo: If I remember correctly, 5 cts sell at US$1500 but go down to 300 bucks after haggling over inclusions.
Yesterday, the group visited a family-run topaz lapidary, where uncut topazes litter the place like sand. They were imported from Mozambique and Brazil and some of them were mined locally at Matale. The lapidary handled the cutting and polishing of the stones and some heat treatment, where a gaudy blue is put into the stone but will fade with time. Topazes are cheap and are sold at eight bucks a carat from the place. Aruna the foreman and the family were our guide, and treated us to bananas.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Light-Wand

Since the inception of the market at the village, the villagers had been accepting gifts, strange tools or figurines brought home by merchants who came from distant lands. Of such miscellany, the first and quite the most treasured one was the Light-Wand, an instrument so arcane and potent as to make one, for as long as it is held, to become the center of the universe. It was forged in the bygone days in the South and brought here from Sapmi in the west. The merchant who brought it called himself Martyn the Engineer, a word which meant sorcerer, or a wizard. He was a slight man, stooped with age, his hair puffed up into a tenuous cloud around his head, like a halo. The villagers called him Cloudhead in their native tongue.

On the night before the Sapmi caravan set out eastwards, Cloudhead had shown his light-wand to the imploring villagers. He would not have them touch it, nonetheless, lest they hurt themselves if they handled it too carelessly. Brandishing the instrument from the village hall out into the night, with the whole village trailing after him, the Engineer aimed at the pole star and set off the wand. Then at once a fibril of green light, straight as a taut string and so bright that it stung the eyes, could be seen stretched from the Engineer's hand and all the way to the pole star. And for that brief moment all the stars in the heavens danced around the pillar of light and around Cloudhead.

The market crowd gaped in awe. While the Engineer explained the purpose of the wand, most of the villagers were already not in the mood to listen. In the months after Cloudhead headed east, they had found other uses for the wand: Apart from serving as a contact to the heavens, the wand also combusted anything that came in way of the light, provided that it was held there for long enough. A young man looked into the light one day and was blinded. The wand was involved in a murder attempt during a land dispute, and thereafter it was stowed away in a locked cabinet and was forgotten about.

In due time the village received another visitor with the caravan. He called himself Kostia, son of Martyn the Engineer. They believed him, because his wild hair resembled the Engineer's, and named him Stormhead, because he was young and his hair was jet-black. They handed the wand back to him, lamenting its uselessness the troubles that it had brought to the community.

Kostia tried to set off the wand, but failed. He remarked that the wand had lost its magical powers and that he would like to try to restore it, just for fun. Cautious from the memories of the incidents but piqued by curiosity, the village captain agreed. The Engineer's son first asked for a sliver of sincum ("you know, the thing they bring in from the Laurentides") and was promptly handed a sincum plate as large as him palm. Next he asked for a some coal, just a little bit of it, and was given that as well, powdered and served in a canister. What he did with those, no one could recall with absolute clarity, but the next moment all could see that the wand gave a weak glow, as green as it was when Cloudhead first put it to action.

Kostia held his hand to the path of the light, to the horror of the villagers.
"Don't worry," reassured Kostia. "I've only put a little power back into it. To restore it to its fullest power would require much more noble matter than sincum and coal, if you would like me to do so for you!" The villagers demurred, but the captain declined. Take it, take it home with you, said he; we can't handle this stuff, it has brought us nothing but annoyance. The two bade farewell, and, without further comment, the Engineer's son headed west with the caravan, bringing all his magic back along with him.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Zorba the Greek

I have concluded that Army reservist training is the best time for one to engage in leisurely and brain-firing activities that cannot be tackled in usual times because of studies or the internet.
Anyway, I have borrowed a new book:

Βίος και Πολιτεία του Αλέξη Ζορμπά / Zorba the Greek, by Nikos KAZANTZAKIS (1952), translated from the Greek by Carl Wildman

The Latin course is also going well, although admittedly the book is targeted at kids taking an 'O' level course. Next week we'll be going to the jungle for reals, so maybe not so much reading and whatnot.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Moment of Incredulity

Vivacious and idealistic youths, they fancy themselves to be the vanguard of revolution against old ideas, stale conventions and archaic rules that restrict the freedom of men -- but are powerless before words. Words that stir the heart and speak to inner desires; cheap words made to sound fabulous, or worse; untruths twisted, endowed with the ring of truth! How easy it is to take these all in! How convenient it is to bask unquestioningly in the wisdom of great men who never existed! How blissful it is to be credulous in a world of attention-hungry liars!

Yet we are powerless, because it is words that have made us. In the comfort of home, we plow the world's seas with the words of others, a world with as much variety as there are people. Our thoughts are expanded, our opinions are formed, our worldviews are broadened, yes, but are they based on the truth? How do we trust these very hands that wrote the accounts? What are they getting at? What are we to say no to them?

In his first RCIA session, Father Richards has asked: How do you know that what you have read is true? Were you there when history happened, when they did the experiments, when great ideas are put to practice? How can you say that something is true just because you read it from a book? How do you justify that belief?

It could turn out that our differences of opinion say less about ourselves, but more about what books we happened to have pick up, or what people we exchange rumours with. There is little ground, after all, for a completely rational discernment - any discernment must come from gut feeling.

The Chinese bus drivers had the cheek to hold their strike in Singapore, where they would be breaking the law. Supporters for a harsher punishment to the miscreants quoted that official pathways of complaint are always available; their detractors retort that the pathways are good as f-ckall. Who is in the right? What are we to say? Did we try to manoeuver the system ourselves? Can we be sure that our journalists, bloggers and politicians know what they are saying? No! Everything is hearsay, and every discernment is by instinct. No argument can be backed up with conviction, because it is my instinct against yours. There is no satisfactory way of resolution for arguments like these, save for a rather spectacular duel.

How does one live with this? How does one face a world of lies and see truth?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Chinsagu no Hana

鳳仙花の花は 爪先を染めて
親の意見は 肝に染めよ

我なちぇる親や 我どぅみあてぃぬ覚めて

天に群れる星は 数えられるが
親の真心には かぎりがない 

Just as my fingernails are stained with the pigment from balsam flowers,
My heart is painted with the teachings of my parents.
Just as ships that run in the night are guided to safety by the North star,
I am guided by my parents who gave birth to me and watch over me.
Although the stars in the sky are countable,
The teachings of my parents are not. 

Comp. Okinawan folk song

Monday, December 03, 2012

Father Makarios

"Do you still wrestle with the devil, Father Makarios?" I asked him.
"Not any longer, my child. I have grown old now, and he has grown old with me. He doesn't have the strength... I wrestle with God."
"With God!" I exclaimed in astonishment. "And you hope to win?"
"I hope to lose, my child. My bones remain with me still, and they continue to resist."
"Yours is a hard life, Father. I too want to be saved. Is there no other way?"
"More agreeable?" asked the ascetic, smiling compassionately.
"More human, Father."
"One, only one."
"What is it?"
"Ascent. To climb a series of steps. From the full stomach to hunger, from the slaked throat to thirst, from joy to suffering. God sits at the summit of hunger, thirst, and suffering; the devil sits at the summit of the comfortable life. Choose."

Nikos KAZANTZAKIS, Report to Greco, pp. 222-223
Earlier excerpt c.f. Catholic News (Archdiocese of Singapore)