December 12th

These blog posts are thinning out to say the least, partly because I'm busy, and partly because I've already said a lot of things I wanted to. Which is better, repeating yourself endlessly, or staying silent once you've said your piece?

Quote of the Week

  • "This house has been far out at sea all night, |The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills, |Winds stampeding the fields under the window |Floundering black astride and blinding wet |Till day rose; then under an orange sky |The hills had new places, and wind wielded |Blade-light, luminous black and emerald, |Flexing like the lens of a mad eye." - Ted Hughes, Wind

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Late Night Insomniac Rant

First of all I think Hean really managed to express my thoughts of proper conduct here:

http://hean.whatthetoot.com/toot/a-liberal-decalogue-bertrand-russell

And secondly, a guide to expression, formation and discarding of opinions.

1. When expressing your opinion, do so in the most polite manner, rather than the most agressive one. Examples include:

"I believe the way to salvation is by believing in our Holy Lord the Flying Spaghetti Monster",
Instead of:
"If you've ever done something wrong (which you have!) then you're going to spend a really really long time being drowned alive in a scorpion-filled vat of rotting animals while having a painful discharge from an embarrasing orifice".

2. If your opinion cannot be disproven, it doesn't necessarily mean it's absoulte truth. Examples include:
"I believe that a benevolent green lobster floats magically and stealthily above the heads of every third person but that these lobsters cannot be detected using any form of technology."

3. Always respect the opinions of others and consider whether they may actually be correct. This may save a future potential Galileo a lot of grief.

4. If you really cannot change someone's mind about something, and suspect there are other things to do like save your neighbour's cat from being eaten alive by a very confused and possibly psycopathic child, then it would be wiser to walk away from a disagreement and do something useful.

5. Don't stop someone from doing anything unless it's something that they'll regret, or makes life difficult for other people who are just trying to make ends meet. If someone of sound mind really wants to walk into the back of their cupboard to see if Narnia exists, then really that is up to them.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Tide of Endless Information

We seem to be approaching a critical point. Advances in printing technology, then digital storage, have left us with an almost endless ability to record, store, and view data. Prior to this, libraries had to decide which records to keep and which not to, because storing literally everything they came across was simply impossible. On the upside, the ability to store endless amounts of data mean that we can record practically everything with practically no effort, saving the world incredible amounts of work. The problem now is what exactly we do with that data.

In the past, walking into a good library almost guaranteed that you wouldn’t find a bad book. In the process of selecting, libraries had to discard what they felt wasn’t important or interesting, meaning that every book would interest at least one reader, no matter how obscure or specialist it was. The internet has no such qualms. In its power to store vast amounts of information, some problems emerge.

The first problem is the fact that as we store more of the useless, we have watered down the useful. Imagine a library dedicated to your favourite genre of books (let’s say sci-fi/fantasy). Now imagine that the library has every sci-fi/fantasy book ever written, and we begin to see the scale of the problem. At best, walking into a library like this would mean spending your time in the “most popular” section, with books that everyone likes. At worst, you will have to spend ages running between sections looking for the books that you like. But then, what if you’re looking for a good book to borrow? Whether you go at it in an orderly fashion, or pick and choose at random, you may have to read through a thousand books before you find a good one. When you have almost infinite data, even the best sorting system in the world can’t differentiate what is interesting from what isn’t, and you are left with a homogenous ghoulash from which to pick your meat.

Now, imagine what happens if you were a writer, with the daunting task of creating a book that will stand out among the others. You look into this library and see walls of books stretching into infinity, covering every kind of sci-fi/fantasy from every possible angle. Your fingers start to tremble, and as you stare into the abyss you find yourself asking two questions: “Will what I write ever be discovered? And worse, has someone already written what I wanted to?” These questions bring up the next two problems.

As the library grows ever larger, each book, no matter how good on its own, begins to lose its significance – even seminal works like Lord of the Rings fade into the darkness as readers wander confused between shelves. As you bring in more data, readers may spend their entire lives in the library without ever discovering the truly excellent books. And this is a depressing thought.

The next problem is how an author can leave their mark on a vast library like this. How do they know their fresh ideas haven’t already been explored by others, making the new work redundant? Will the new author’s works forever be compared against that of others? Imagine writing what you thought was a fresh new book and having reviewers calling it “a cross between Huxley’s Brave New World and Adams's Mostly Harmless”. Even though those may be two excellent books in the author’s mind, will he really be happy when he realises that his idea was covering old ground? Even more disturbing, does he have any new ground on which to work?

Referencing and quotation are some things I'm also guilty of. In that sense, I have undermined the originality of my own work by comparing it to something already established - If what I wrote was truly original, I'd never have to compare it with anything else, simply because I wouldn't be able to. Referring to past works is an easy way of establishing a landmark in the shifting desert that is our history, and a truly original writer should ideally start with a blank slate, with nothing to compare against so as not to be influenced - so perhaps our most creative works were when we first picked up a crayon as a child.

As a casual blogger, I feel a twinge of concern when I think a post isn’t fresh enough or won't be read by enough people, and I can only imagine how bad it is for someone who makes a living out of making things new and original. But some are compelled to write, simply because the path they take to compose means they can look deeper into themselves. If all else fails, Marcus Aurelius always has something practical to say:

Whatever is in any way beautiful hath its source of beauty in itself, and is complete in itself; praise forms no part of it. So it is none the worse nor the better for being praised.
Perhaps the best way to approach writing then, is not to make sure what you write is unique, but to make sure it is beautiful. And perhaps that will save us from being overwhelmed by the oncoming tide of endless information.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Bumper crop of a fortnight

...or a fortnight of bumper crops?

At long last, a proper blogpost befitting the Insomniac Caffeine Addict. Like they say, when it rains it pours, and this fortnight was a thunderstorm.

First there was a friend's 21st birthday party in Nottingham last week. Much drinking, surrealness and general fun ensued, as well as some rather strange (but in retrospect very funny) moments. As I intend to keep this post a thoughtful one, and drunken nights out usually don't go well with thoughfulness (even though I met a Wiccan who discussed religion with me and quoted Marcus Aurelius), I shall leave out the details of said night.

Secondly, much time was spent on some intense training for a dance battle that took place culminating this very evening. We spent two weeks making up a 5-minute routine, and despite the challenges we made it into the finals. One personal record for which I can be proud, but as is often the case, the journey to the dance floor was more important than the competition itself. (We didn't win by the way, but we were damned close.)

In training there is patience. We spent hours and hours perfecting a routine that we would only use for a single event and never again. We waited for late team members, we tolerated quirky characters and general human nature. We schedule rehearsal on late nights because one member can't turn up in the day. Many people demand hard work from others and even more from themselves, but there is a fine line between being demanding and impatient, a line which we can only truly define by walking it. Kudos to the team leader who managed to bring it all together, despite the issues that she and the group were facing.

This year, I was in a different team from before, and what a relief it was! Last year everyone in the team hated everyone else, and I as the only guy (and therefore insulated) had to constantly dodge the catfights. This time, it was an absolute pleasure choreographing with everyone. We had massive differences between our members, but we always ironed it out because we respected each other's opinions. Clichéd as it sounds, we actually managed to have fun, and in a sense that mattered more than winning.

We may not have won, but we didn't cheat either. The team who won had a professional dancer who choreographed their event and then danced with them, which was strictly not allowed, but they got in by a loophole. They were really, really good - and I will admit that. Still, the choice between getting what you want and giving up what you care about will always be a clear one for me - I'd rather get second place rather than win by cheating. I may not be sure that God exists, but as I shall point out now, not believing in God doesn't mean you can't believe in something.

Thirdly, it's my birthday! Woop woop! In reality I'm not celebrating it much, but I think a simple meal would suffice this time. What's it like being 21? Well, about the same as being 20. Your birthday marks a time period at which you measure change, but in reality change takes place over time and space. I may not be the person I was at 20, but you'd be hard pressed to pin down a day when you could say I no longer was "me". On that note, it's time to get back to work. All this dance practice has thrown me off doing lectures, and even though we do have a week off, other distractions will doubtlessly appear. After all, it's only Murphy's Law.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Social Experiment

What would you do if you had a disagreement with someone, to the point that you aren't on speaking terms and there is no chance of reconciliation?

Now this is actually an interesting one because it opens up all sorts of possibilities. Obviously, if people aren't speaking to you it usually can't get much worse (NOTE: does not apply to people who have access to your property, your parents, your employers, or sensitive information about you), and so technically you could do quite a lot to them. If they retaliate, they break the cold war and the battle moves into Phase II, and if they don't, then you could push it even further. Also a plus is when you share a lot of friends with this person, so that you frequently appear at the same events.

Here are a few suggestions of what you could do to turn the tables a little bit:


When you are in the same room, look intently at their face as if you were trying to work out a very complex puzzle. When they notice you, look even more intently at them. Follow up by shouting "Eureka!" excitedly, then return to normal as if nothing had happened.

Smile widely at everyone in the room including your opponent. If they respond, immediately frown and look away.

When alone in a room with your opponent, sniff loudly as if a strange odour is present, and look around the room trying to identify it.

Accidentally step on their toe and don't apologise.

Look intently at whatever they may be reading.

When you bump into each other, suddenly become very quiet, as if you were caught talking about them.

Text them at 4am as if you were drunk-texting your best friend and accidentally sent it to them.

Arrange a surprise birthday party with all your mutual friends and make sure that everything is terrible (venue, music, drinks, food). Then get all your mutual friends to say that they enjoyed it very much and make sure your opponent knows you arranged it.

At the same party, stand just behind your opponent throughout the party and pull funny faces when someone takes a photo. Inappropriate noises are a plus.

On a social, buy everyone a round of drinks including your opponent. See if they accept the drink.

Spill said drink on your opponent, then carry on as if nothing happened.

Come in one day and speak to them happily as if nothing had happened. If they respond, say that you have temporary amnesia but that doctors expect you to recover your memory at any time.

Shout "ALL HAIL BEELZEBUB!" loudly everytime your opponent opens their mouth to say something.

When they finish a sentence, applaud loudly as if it were the most moving speech you heard. Follow up with an enthusiastic “you really fooled them this time Beelzebub!”.

Talk to your mutual friends about all the good times you once had with your now-opponent whilst completely ignoring them.

Approach your opponent menacingly while brandishing a sharp object. When you get too close for comfort, drop said object, look confused, and apologise profusely while explaining that you are on a new form of anti-schizophrenic medication and that you haven't gotten the dosage right.

Talk about TV shows or movies with characters who share your opponent's name. Bonus points if said character is a porn star.

Spam their account with random emails all starting with the words "YOUR MOMMA!".

Follow them around the room while blowing a trumpet and singing the national anthem of the former USSR.

Every time they stand up, do the MC Hammer dance, complete with lyrics and tune.

Loudly hum the Darth Vader theme each time they enter the room.

Each time they leave, hum the funereal dirge.

Get a pet and name it after your opponent, then show it off to all your mutual friends.

Custard pie them in the face.

On a more serious note, a friend of mine has recently been abandoned by her "friends" when she needed them most. This post is dedicated to those whom we would call weasels, if only the weasels didn't protest on the grounds that they didn't want to be associated with these people.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Just another random schpiel.

Having had a spectacular fallout with God in March (seven months and this blasphemer is still breathing, how could it be?!) detailed in my post here , I've not noticed much difference, except for two quite linked things (or one thing that has led to another thing). First of all, I've again lost the naieve idealism that I used to have and was able to hold on to quite well. Yes, I always was a bitter, sarcastic nut who would sulk in the corners of parties but now I'm even more of one, and most people who know me realise that I vent my pessimism via sarcasm. But then again if you guys are still reading my blog, I'd guess you're the friends who've managed to put up with most of the shit I've thrown at you, and therefore enjoy me pouring buckets of slimy sarcastic comments onto you. Or not, but who cares? Like I actually need somebody to read this crap.

Going back to the main point, the second thing I've noticed is that I've lost a big source of hope that I used to be able to tap into. Having "God" or at least an idea of him (her?) around to comfort me was always a reassuring feeling that I could fall back on if I had a really bad day and simply didn't understand what was going on. Hoping that there was a cosmic wheel of justice and kindness works wonders for the soul, but then when the wheel keeps breaking down over and over again one begins to question whether it even existed in the first place.

I feel a lot more alone out there, and lonely. I've always loved being alone, but then being lonely isn't quite the same. I remember Grandpa telling me that you can be alone without being lonely, and now I know what he means. Being alone means that nobody else is around (which you may actually enjoy), but being lonely means that you want someone around, and very frequently someone specific, someone whom you can relate to and converse with and talk about random ideas that come to you late at night after that extra cup of tea that you shouldn't have taken. And obviously nobody would be around you all the time unless you were joined at the hip, and I'm far from finding anyone who remotely approaches that.

But yes, I am alone, alone and exposed. And lonely, especially after I stopped believing the voice in my head was God and started thinking that it was actually just me talking to myself. And then I stopped talking to myself because it felt slightly schizophrenic, and ever since then being alone has never really been the same. And I'm annoyed for it, hence the frantic typing that I'm doing today.

I'm beginning to wonder how atheists cope with all that pressure in their minds, with no fictional person to vent to. Should I go join an angry venting club where I can call anyone at anytime and just talk? That's silly. No, I'd rather go talk to the other consciousness in my head, even if it does seem weird that I'm talking to myself. But wasn't that what I was doing all along? Me writing all this crap here may never reach an audience, but now that I've committed it to html I somehow feel that my abstract idea has become solid and real. Some would call this prayer, but since when could people not just think to themselves quietly? That at least, nobody has a monopoly on.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Self-Preservation, a Misnomer

Apologies for abandoning the blog for so long, there've been many things going on in the past 3 weeks and I feel like I've aged a year (in the bad way). Lets see, where should we start?

I'm a third year student now. Wow. And it feels like yesterday when I got here for the first time. Among the four of us in my immediate social group, I feel like I've changed the least even though people tell me I am very different from the way I used to be.

But yes, out of the four of us, I am the only one who made it through all the exams (so far), and that is scary. One of us failed first year (for a very good reason) and had to end up doing a gap year before coming back into first year now when I'm a third year. She's been busy working as a healthcare assistant for the past six months, and boy has that toughened her up. She among all of us was moved furthest away from her comfort zone and had to find ways to deal with it, or curl up and die. She chose the former and by my estimate is doing remarkably well.

The second of us failed second year, and has to repeat the year. All this happened while he was in a long-term relationship, and he seems to be coping well also. Next to me, he's probably changed the least, although his self-confidence has probably been severely dented.

Third among us is a friend who failed second year, but was not allowed back into the course and is now going to study physics. Besides having been severely shaken up, he has also got a long-term relationship to juggle with, although the latter seems to have matured him very much compared to before he got into it. I think he will be happier doing physics, but then again the spectre of "not being good enough for medicine" is something that I don't want to have hovering over me.

And then there's me. Yes, the usual suspect, who after all said and done, and despite all the rather traumatic events occuring around me, has been for the most part spared. Of course I have changed: I have an English accent, I'm exposed to so much more of the world, I know how to cook and I'm less judgemental than I used to be. But that's on the outside. Internally, in the core, I remain very much the same - slow to trust, very defensive of my friends, slightly perfectionist and not a little bit anal. But why? Why after all this have I effectively remained the person that I am now?

Firstly, I've never really been taken out of my comfort zone. Moving from a Malaysian school to an international one was more of a culture shock to me than going to England, and for that I am quite grateful. On the other hand, since coming here I've never been defeated and had to pick myself up again, and that troubles me because one day I know I will be knocked down, and I know I'll have to get back up, and I may not have help around. And knowing that I've had almost no experience of this is frightening, like waiting for some impending doom that you know you will eventually have to face, but yet cannot prepare yourself for.

Secondly, I have an extremely strong sense of self-preservation. Or more accurately, identity-preservation. The former implies physical survival, but the latter is what I'm dealing with here - keeping my identity, what is fundamentally me, the same has always been important to me. I'm flexible to a degree, and I will change my opinion when shown that my facts are wrong, but ultimately I reject the things that don't mesh with my understanding of right and wrong. The fact that people are being paid to make youtube videos of absolute rubbish really annoys me and will continue to annoy me, and if that changed, then I would no longer be me anymore. It feels good knowing that I've made a stand for something and against something else, but then obviously standing against something means that you will clash with it, and conflict can obviously damage you.

But the alternative to making a stand is so much worse. How could anyone be content to drift with the current, choosing to accept things because everyone else accepts them as well? Is there no morality to these people? No matter how many shades of gray there are where things are unclear, there will always be black and white examples of pure evil and true goodness, and to deny that is to say that you have no identity at all. How could anyone live like that? Are there people who live like that?

Although I suppose there are some people who can always run away from their misdeeds, there are yet more examples of people who run but fail. War veterans will spend their entire lives plagued by the things they have seen, people commit suicide years after having done terrible things to their fellow man. There is something in the human condition that tells us what is acceptable and what is not, and seems to be common to almost all of us.

The few who don't have this are poor souls indeed. These are the ones with a sense of self-preservation, a sense to stay alive no matter what the cost is to others around them. They will backstab their best friends if it helps them climb a ladder they want, or simply abandon them if they become inconvenient. They would commit genocide if it boosted their position. These people will never understand the meaning of true friendship, for self-interest is the only thing that motivates them. And these are the people whom I am truly disgusted by.

Bit of a pity these are the people who are deemed "successful" by our media then, isn't it?

Monday, 24 August 2009

Tripping

Recently some of you may have noticed my music sense has gone all trippy. You could say that's either because of my recent self-exploratory mood, when I started wondering about the nature of who I am and what's going on in my head and the like, or you could say that it's the other way around, with the music causing the change in my mood. Anyway, this chicken-and-egg debate is yet to be resolved, and I'm not in the capacity to tackle it. So I won't.

But really, what exactly is Trip Hop? The name is a bit misleading, since Trip and Hip are very distantly related (if they met at a party they'd stay at opposite ends of the building, and one would probably leave early so as to avoid meeting the other). You could almost say the former evolved from the latter in a sort of angry father, estranged son kind of way. According to our good friend Wikipedia, Hip seems to have "spawned" Trip in the same way Genghis Khan produced the majority of his descendants - while rampaging across the length and breadth of the known world, the supreme (but not very clever) Hip Hop stopped at a small village, had its way with the local music scene, and went off again. The result was Trip Hop, and it has since been quietly generating waves while Hip Hop continued on blithely, unaware of what it had created. Trip will never be popular, but then it doesn't want to be.

In the same way Hip Hop artists block out the voices in their heads by shouting loudly until they go away, Trippers politely invite the same voices in, and have long intellectual discussions with them. The result is something like a house party with all the kids who are unpopular for different reasons (Acid Jazz, Dub, Jamaican, Psychedelic Rock and Downtempo), but where they are all slightly drunk and therefore trying to behave their best.

Although some drinks are smashed and a few voices are raised, the party gradually gets going. Conversations start reluctantly, sad stories emerge, confused thoughts are exposed, awkward jokes are made and laughed at and nerdiness abounds, but suddenly something beautiful appears, without anyone knowing what it is or even noticing it, drawing us, in yet staying just out of reach.

Whether by convergent evolution or grand design, Trip Hop encroaches into the realm of Classical music, almost as if the only difference between the house party full of unpopular kids and a gala buffet hosted by Bruce Wayne is the lack of pretentiousness and musical inbreeding among the Trippers. While the Classicalists stick to their pre-industrial age instruments (and to be fair to them, they do it very well), Trippers boldly go wherever they so choose, whether it be a well-trodden path (sampling others' music), outer space (electronica) or the untamed wilderness (sampling sounds from nature). The result is sometimes confusing, occasionally hit-and-miss, but every so often, just plain excellent.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Reboot

All right, I've sat on my arse long enough. Back to basics, back to what I want to do, and care to do, and know I have to do. As such, I'm revisiting a very old post, written years ago, when the stars seemed brighter and the sea louder, when everything had a beginning and an end, when I cared.

And here's to hoping that I won't stop caring again.



Have you ever had a feeling that you wantedto do something with your life, something big, something that would make adifference? What did you do to that feeling? Where did it go in the end, now asyou sit here reading these words? Did you ignore it? Did you smother it out,burying it in the depths of your brain where you knew you would never find itagain? Did you keep it a secret, planning to take it out later in life, only toforget as days went by that it ever existed? Did you nurture it, feeding it justenough hope for it to survive, only to find that it died on you one day? Did someone or something come away and destroy that feeling? Did it just go away after awhile?

Or is it just me, the one soul on this earth which can’t seem to enjoy himself and start living like everyone else, who has this feeling, this fire, in my soul, that tells me I have to be some use in this world? Is it just me who wants to grow it, to feed this fire and do something with it, before it, or I, die?

Where did your fire come from? What sudden inspiration drove this fire to spring up in your mind, to consume your thoughts and to drive you to shame? What moved you to want to do something else besides live this life that your parents, your ancestors, your past, your society had set up for you?

Is it me, only me, who sees an example of a person doing things that I want to do, yet don’t because I don’t have the guts to? Why am I driven by this person, to discontentedness at my own comforts, the gifts that circumstances have bestowed me? Why am I seeing an example in her, the person whom I love yet don’t have the heart or the courage to tell her? Why do I make it so important, such a stupid thing as an adolescent crush that I can’t blast out of my head with rock music and techno?

Why do I have a crush on her in the first place? She has the fire. It’s as simple, and as complex, as that. She has the fire to want to change the world. Mind you, she is just as confused as I am, but it’s there. I can see it, burning in her eyes. She wants to do something about the inadequacies in this world, not just enjoy the comforts that she was born into. I had that fire, a long time ago when I was young, a fire that I fed for years before complacency and the cold wind of society blew it out without my knowing,leaving me nothing, no flame that I could use to drive myself forward. For a while, I was an empty shell, wanting only to do whatever everyone else did and enjoy whatever everyone else enjoyed.

Fire spreads. Thank God…I mean it.

This girl, whatever I may think of her, whatever happens between me and her, whether I do or do not try to get her, has given me back that fire, and I respect her for it. Now it’s time for me to do something with it.

I’m writing this blog to remind myself of that fire, in case it gets put out again. I want to do something with my life, and I plan to do this: I want to get my feet wet and my hands dirty, with those people who suffer everyday to eke out a life where I would have given up. I want to help these people, whether it be in Sudan, or China, or Sabah, or down the street in the gutter just trying to stay alive. There is nothing better, nothing more rewarding, than to go to sleep at night knowing that I have made a difference to someone, anyone, who needed help. It would be a bit much to ask you to join me, but I’m extending this offer anyway.

So be my witness here when you read this blog. In July, when I’m done with my IB and have become bored of sitting on my rump all day playing games, I want to have gone. I want to have gone somewhere to make use of my life, so that if I die on the day I graduate from medical school, I can say that I have done something in my life that has made a difference to someone. If I fail to do that, then the fire in my heart has been put out again. Do me a favour and light it up.

And if you have that fire too, don’t keep it a secret. Don’t hide it in the attic hoping to bring it out later because by then, it would have been too late. The least you could do is spread it, as far and as wide as you can, to keep the fire burning.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Holiday Objectives

Like any good, know-what-I-want-and-how-to-get-it ex-Chinese school student, I'd set a clear and attainable to-do-list over the holiday, and have been for the large part sticking to it excellently. My objective this summer (besides the mandatory dissertation) was to do absolutely nothing. I've been chided by Mum and Dad over this, and usually I don't have the patience to explain things when I'm being prodded, so let me clarify.

As I explained to my Dad, I'm coming to the realisation that my holidays (and free time in general) are going to grow shorter, and with them my opportunity to do little things like sleeping in late or staying up all night listening to music while browsing endless streams of wikipedia pages. I know that in my first ever blogpost (here), I denounced anyone who ever sat on their arse for not doing something to (cheesily) "save the world". I kind of still believe that, but then again this is me now, and I'm not as capable of the manic intensity which I summoned to write essays on till the sun rose, or jump into a fountain in the middle of Leicester at 4am (long story).

I've been worn down a lot, not so much by work, but by the realisation that the work will never ever end, and that the workload will only increase as time goes on. I've no option to stop either - it took me a whole lot of time and money to get into medicine, and once you've bought into this game you have to keep playing till you retire, die, or get cleaned out. Don't get me wrong, I love medicine and can't imagine myself doing much else - but then I'm starting to wonder - if all my time and effort will be given to saving your health, where does that leave the little things? When will I have the time to sit down and chew through a book because I like it, rather than peer at tiny letters in the index section to answer a question about Wegener's Granulomatosis or Angina Pectoris?

The answer, is that until I make consultant (which is a very very long time away, if I even get there), I have between now and graduation to enjoy every sliver of time I get - whether it's by blasting my brains out with computer games or enjoying a cup of tea and staring out of the window. And I intend to use that time fully, not to get sloshed (because that's temporary stress relief at best) but by truly relaxing, drawing pretty pictures of nothing while my brain wanders. I want the option of staying home and drawing a picture instead of getting sloshed at a party, because a party doesn't give you relaxation but excitement, and it's hard to summon the energy to be excited about everything all the time. I've touched on this in a previous post, but now I've finally put my finger on the missing part of the puzzle - relaxing.

So, the things I enjoy doing and intend to do more of over the next month:

  • Gaming
  • Dancing to a good beat
  • Banter with friends over Malaysian food and iced lime juice at 2am
  • Sketch art
  • MSN conversations
  • Wikipedia
  • Blogging and blogsurfing (yay!)
  • Swimming
  • Books! Lots and lots of books!
  • Music and reorganising my iTunes library (now that I have a good set of speakers, thanks Kav for opening up this new world to me)
  • Casual internet chess

    I guess doing "nothing" actually is pretty time consuming!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Times They Are A-Changing

I was looking for good pictures to draw, when something from the Watchmen opening montage niggled at the back of my mind. Now Watchmen is at best an incomplete work to me, what could have been a truly insightful film was (mostly) turned into a no-brainer. But despite the horrible sense of a lost opportunity, the opening scene had at least a glimmer of something bigger than an action movie:


(Music: Bob Dylan's Times they Are A-Changing. I encourage you to take some time to absorb the lyrics.)

The short scene of a girl placing a flower into a rifle barrel (3:50)was inspired by a real event, the Kent State Shootings. So this is the darker, uglier side of American history - not that you didn't know that there was one, but then again you probably didn't know just how dark it really was. Another famous picture, taken in the October 1967 peace march at the Pentagon:



Just goes to show how high the price of freedom is. Are we really ready to foot the bill?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The Tate Modern

Now I know that I spent a week in London, and visited about 6 museums and art galleries during this time, but I'll not dwell on the general - otherwise it'd take me ages to write a review, and I still need to complete parts 3, 4 and 5 of Banksy vs Bristol Museum. Instead, i'll focus on the museum/gallery in London that left the most lasting impression - the Tate Modern, a gallery with a world famous collection of modern art. I have rather mixed feelings about all this, so I'd best explain.

Modern art is simply any form of art that doesn't use the same instruments or produce the same results as standard "old shool" art. On the upside, this encourages a fresh approach to standard portraiture and landscapes, which can be pretty monotonous. Unfortunately, this also means that it's extremely difficult to distinguish between exceptional, intelligent art and a doodle by a three-fingered chimpanzee on cocaine.

Sadly, the Tate Modern, like any other modern art gallery, didn't manage to make this distinction. Its collection ranged from the surreally beautiful, to plain rubbish, to the downright disturbing. One of the rooms was dedicated to a sadomasochistic artist who used blood as paint, and filmed his subjects "torturing" themselves. Needless to say, I left that room quite quickly. Others simply didn't register in my brain, I found myself staring at a series of red blotches and blue streaks on white, that after a few minutes began to give me a headache.

Now, some would suggest to me that the fact of the matter is that I'm thick, and the reason I don't understand the meaning of some art is that I don't know the cultural background from which the artist created their work. This is a sensible argument - formerly, I thought all modern art was rubbish, but as I grow more aware of the burdens of mankind (in other words, I'm getting OLD), modern art is starting to make more sense - and when it does, the experience is visceral - one example was a strange black sculpture of a figure, stretched upwards to become exceptionally thin, and flattened sideways so that from the front, its head looks like a tiny vertical line. Its looked like an Easter Island Moai, but thinner and more gaunt, with a expression of deep sadness despite (or because of?) its almost-flat face.

Up to now of course, my description makes no sense whatsoever, but then I read the label on the wall - the sculpture was made by a Holocaust Survivor. Suddenly, the full weight of the sculpture's history hit me like a brick in the face, and inside me I felt a knife twist in my guts.

So then, the argument that modern art can only be understood along with its cultural context is at least partially logical. But then again, that is no excuse for bad modern art - for just as there is bad standard art, there surely is bad modern art. It's the audience's job to distinguish between the two.

Tips then, for future purveyours of "modern art" - firstly, take your time to read up on the artist, and their background - not about the artpiece itself, but try to understand what shaped the artist's mind. Secondly, when you do finally go look at their work, take your time to examine it, especially if you've not done Step #1. Look at it from a distance, look at its details, consider it from different directions if it's a 3-D work. In fact, I prefer to do Step #2 before Step #1 so that I don't cloud my judgement, but then again that's just me. Thirdly, don't be afraid to call a goat a goat - if it doesn't make sense to you after about 5 minutes, and you've done your pre-reading and taken your time to examine it, then you have every right to declare it insignificant.

And a final message to those (un?)fortunate enough to go to a modern art gallery - don't be afraid to leave if your head hurts!

Monday, 13 July 2009

Internalisation

There's something about looking out of the window of a train as the English countryside whizzes by. Paradoxically, I feel like I'm looking in at myself; and it is when I look at the noisy passengers that I am looking out at humanity, cooped into this tiny space despite the vastness of the outside world. Have we gotten it all wrong? Should we really be squeezing ourselves into the tiny space of a few cities when all the world is out there?

More than half of all humanity lives in cities, and according to estimations some 70% of us will live in urban areas in ten years. Granted, the growth of cities has been the cornerstone of civilisation, and cities provide us access to almost everything we can put a price tag on. But have we gone too far? Will an afternoon in a field, alone but for a book and one's thoughts one day become a commodity?

Or, more personally terrifying, am I alone, who thinks of taking a break from humanity and being on my own? Am I, in seeking solitude, ironically placing a barrier between myself and the rest of the world? In a sense, this blog is an attempt to record thoughts that are my own, yet at the same time maintaining contact with everyone else - another paradox.

I suppose, reconciling one with the other is the challenge we all need to face. On the one hand, I cannot imagine plunging myself into humanity, for the fear of never resurfacing; and on the other, it's hard being a hermit while doing a degree. Again, it is a matter of balance.

Isn't everything?

Monday, 22 June 2009

Banksy, Parts I and II

After much exhaustion on which I shall elaborate later, we are proud to present: Banksy vs Bristol Museum! More pics to follow when I have a bit more sleep.


As this is a work in progress and I can't yet upload my own pictures (these ones were taken by Daniel and I shall not steal any more of his thunder), I shall describe in words what I cannot yet in pictures.

Part I

It took me five hours to get to Bristol. Usually, it would only be about three, but for no clear reason, thetrainline.com decided that I would much like sitting around in Derby Train Station for an hour, and that Cheltenham Spa Train Station would also be a good place to leave me for about forty minutes. From my very brief stay in both these stations, I can only conclude that these towns are likely to be the most boring places in the world, and that they serve the pre-packaged sandwiches found throughout the UK that are somehow designed so that the "turkey breast and ham" sandwich tastes identical to "tomato and cheese", and not a very good tomato and cheese at that.

But no matter. Three trains, four stations and five hours after I leave from my comfortable abode in Leicester in pursuit of what I hope to be amazing art, I arrive in Bristol. It is 2.30pm. Daniel had gotten to Bristol an hour before me and has warned me that at the time, he had been in the queue for 20 minutes and still was not in.

By the time I reach the Bristol City Museum it is 3pm, and last entry into the museum is 4pm. There are at least 300 people in front of me waiting to see Banksy. The "museum staff", big muscular guys who look like they could pound you into a pulp if they so wished, look more like bouncers. They warn us at 3.15pm that it looks unlikely that many more of us are going to get in, but we in the queue hold on to the precious ground we had gained against the impregnable machine of museum policy. People continue to join the end of the queue, still hoping to get in. I was reminded quite surreally of queueing outside the club on a Friday night, only that it was daytime, there was no loud music, and the drunken students shouting obscenities were replaced by mostly middle-aged men and women, sipping coffee and having genteel conversation.

As you may have guessed, I did get in eventually after 45 more minutes. By the time I arrived at the museum steps, I felt like a king.

Part II

The main hall looked absolutely surreal. Masses of people shuffled about in orderly queues, staring at what appeared to be plain and simple vandalism. Right in the middle was an ice-cream truck with no wheels and smashed windows ("glass" fragments lay on the ground nearby). The body of the truck was covered with poor-quality street graffiti. A shopping cart lay destroyed nearby, and most surreally a full-sized SWAT officer was perched on a tiny carousel pony, riding up and down mechanically. A tag on its chest read "Metropolitan Peace". I left the queue to snap some pictures and realised that the smashed-up ice cream truck doubled as a reception.

Looking more closely, the traditional Greek and Roman statues had been remade into a parody of their modern counterparts.

Venus, Goddess of Beauty, is staring intently at the price tag of a pair of sunglasses in her hand despite already wearing another pair. A fashionable winter scarf is wrapped around her neck, while a revealing toga frames her plastercast assets. She cradles a bundle of shopping bags in her hand, the kind of oversized paper bag with fancy designs that is presented to you by branded companies as a "thank you" note for allowing them to rob you of your money, and their workers of their dignity.

Apollo is wrapping a cloth over his mouth to hide his face. A jacket lined with explosives is strapped to his chest.

Cupid, cigarette and beer can in hand, stands drunkenly over a small pile of junk food and energy drinks, clasping one high-heeled shoe in the other hand.

The Goddess of Victory, Nike, stands proudly with chest straight and wings unfurled, but a paint bucket has been placed rudely over her head. ugly pink splotches have dripped all the way from the bucket to the base of the statue. Further away, Buddha isn't spared either. He sits wisely as he always does, but his left hand is not raised up - instead it rests in a sling across his lap. His neck has been placed in a brace, and one eye appears to be swollen shut.

On the other side of the hall is a cast of a lion with a circus whip in its mouth. It stands fiercely over a hat and jacket that may have belonged to an animal trainer. His fate is hinted at by a small amount of blood-red paint on the lion's mouth and face.

Rejoining the queue, I walked down a corridoor into a side room, filled with Banksy's paintings.

To be continued in Part III.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Ode to the Past

Wow, it's been a while since I last poked my nose into my own blog. The last two months have been hectic, both medically and otherwise. Lab work, exams, post-exam celebrations and a trip to London have taxed me physically and mentally, and underlying these events is a sense that I am missing out on something I know is terribly important, but can't quite put my finger on. But more on that later, for those whom I would trust - this blog has been a place for me to bare my soul, but not right now. Some issues have not yet completely played out, others I would rather discuss with good friends in the privacy of internet chat rather than allow the casual wanderer to see my deepest thoughts. Some of you may be disappointed by the shortness of this post, but then my feelings and thoughts cannot be easily expressed in words.

The blog looks like an old room which I left ages ago in good order, but reenter to discover a fine layer of dust on everything that once was familiar. My every move stirs up faint clouds that add nostalgia to summer sunbeams from the window. Old declarations, bitterly sworn with clenched fist and pounding heart at stormy skies, lie faded on the webpage, the beliefs underlying them built on sand long since disappeared beneath the waves. Some of my crafts remain solid, yet with rough edges that once went unnoticed, but now stick out like a sore thumb. I barely remember the events preserved by the photographs on my facebook wall.

I step forward to identify each memory: Socialism, once a cherished ideal, remains standing, but has been eaten through by my own doubts. Nationalism, the very first concept that was the founding crux of my first blog as well as this one, lies dead, smashed by my own hand when I saw the beast for what it was. Faith in a superior being, that pristine glass carving that I once tried panstakingly to protect, was finally shattered by a careless thought. I may perhaps one day glue the delicate pieces together, but not before I change again. Even my taste in music has been fundamentally altered - when once it was the Backstreet Boys and Linkin Park, Massive Attack and Rob Dougan now dominate.

Taking in the room in its entirety, I can't help but realise how different I have become over the last two years. But though I am different, something within remains the same. All of these creations, splintered or maintained, worn out or pristine, were mine. And they still are.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Light bulbs, bayonets and other such stuff (Watt!)

I am now sitting in my living room in darkness, making a ridiculous number of typos as I can't see the keys on my laptop - I fumble especially with the apostrophe, so apologies if I type "it;s" instead of "it's". Three lights are on - in the kitchen, stairs, and my housemate's room, along with some very faint light from my laptop, and the television. I can also see an even more faint emergency light from my neighbour's kitchen. But the light in the living room, in which I am currently blogging, is not on, which is why all this mucking about is happening in the first place.

The reason the aforementioned light is not on is not because the light bulb had blown, but rather because I thought the light bulb had blown. No, this is a significantly longer and more complicated series of events than I would ever have thought could occur from a mistake about a light bulb, so please bear with me.

It is about 6pm (actually SEVEN, but my finger keeps hitting the 6 key instead so I have given up trying to tell you all that it was instead SEVEN. Anyway who cares, poetic license and all that, all you need to know is that it is getting too dark to read). As I am, incidentally, just about to pick up a book, I turn the light on, upon which I heard a small "pop", and the light stays quite certainly off. I think it must have blown (seriously, who would ever think a fuse would trip because a light was switched on?), and curse my luck as I can't be bothered to go all the way to the superstore that I had just returned from carrying 10kg of groceries. The next logical step is to find a replacement, so I go upstairs to my room where I keep the spare light bulbs (100 watt, which I knew the one in the living room was), and bring one down. Steadying myself on a rickety chair, I hope to God that I hadn't gained as much weight as I know I had, take out the blown light bulb, and put the replacement bulb in.

Unfortunately at this point I realise that the replacement doesn't actually fit the socket. The original one is one of those old, 100-watt, bayonet-capped lights which they really should have stopped producing when they figured out how to manufacture a 100-watt screw-capped light bulb. My replacement, unfortunately, is a 100-watt screw-capped light bulb. No matter. I descend with relief from the rickety wooden chair, put both bulbs on the table, and stomp upstairs to collect another replacement.

After some rummaging around in my plastic bag of extra light bulbs, I am forced to conclude that I do not have a bayonet-capped light after all, and that my 4 to 6 (SEVEN!) spare light bulbs are for all intents and purposes, useless. I have no choice but to go out and buy one. I put my coat on, walk out into the cold with the original bayonet-capped light bulb, and throw it into our bin. It makes a satisfying shattering noise, and I head to the local store where light bulbs are more expensive, but decidedly nearer, than at the superstore, which is at least 20 minutes away.

I spend the next 20 minutes wandering around the local shop trying to find a light bulb before realising that they don't sell them here.

With great consternation, I go to the next shop, and the next, until about half an hour from where I started off, I find a shop that sells 100-watt bayonet-capped light bulbs (I ask the shopkeeper if I could look at them to make sure), and buy three, just in case two of them don;t (apostrophy!) work. Happily, I head back knowing that I am sorted.

Unfortunately, this isn't to be. As I steady myself on the rickety chair for the second time today, I realise that I had bought a 100-watt, bayonet-capped lightbulb that in't the right size for the light. By this time, it is well and truly night. I extricate myself again from atop the rickety chair, and walk into my housemate's room to turn his light on. It doesn't respond either. At this I get very annoyed, because light bulbs, unlike workers, do not tend to strike; and now I am stranded in my house in general darkness.

I stomp off grumpily into the kitchen to make myself some tea, the same way the English do if they don't have a spare light bulb, or if their favourite TV show isn't on, or if Britain is once again invaded by the Nazis or anything else happens to which the English don't really know how to react. I turn the kitchen light on. It doen't turn on. It begins to dawn on me that the fuse must have been tripped. But then, the television is on! So is the laptop, which I had taken the battery out of because it doesn't work.

In great consternation, I make my way gingerly into my housemate's room, trying not to stumble on anything unfamiliar that I cannot see, to the fuse box. Using my phone, I find the fuse-box and four sub-fuses. One (downstairs front) has tripped, leaving me berefit of all downstairs lighting while simultaneously allowing Virgin TV to atack my senses with the worst advertisements known to man.

I fix the fuse and the lights go on - except of course, the light in the living room whose bulb I had thrown into the bin outside our house. I think about going to the shop again and asking the same shopkeeper for more light bulbs because I had bought the wrong size, even after checking that they were the right bulbs. The potential embarrasment is too great for me to bear. I decide to go to the superstore tomorrow, read in my bedroom for the time being, and forever avoid the electrical shop from which I had bought three useless light bulbs.

I hate tripped fuses.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Agnosticism Now

Most of you will know by now, that I’ve left Christianity, quite suddenly to some. The truth is that the cause of my disagreement with God has been there for a long time now. Every time I hear the news that a confused teenager has gone out and shot twenty people, or that every thirty seconds a person is dying of Malaria, I see that reason, and I can’t ignore it – there is so much wrong with this world that either God doesn’t exist, or he doesn’t care.

Now some would like to tell me that by turning my back on God, I am abandoning all that I have ever stood for. This isn’t true. I believe in a world where people should be rewarded for their hard work, and compensated for their misfortunes. I believe that if we put in the effort, and if we are ethical, moral people, we are better people than those who would lie and steal to achieve their aims. I believe that each individual should want to serve society as a whole, but that society should never (and should never have to)tell people to help it in ways they are not willing to. In the end, I believe that one should be able to live, with the greater good of society in mind, and die, content that society in turn has returned what it has received from them. I believe that many religious people here share my view of an ideal world.

Coming back to the reason I have decided to leave the Church. I feel that we, as a people, have betrayed each other. I wonder at the purpose of the Bible, and whether people spend so much time reading it that they forget the reason it was written – I think God, if there is one, gave us the bible as a code of conduct – and that if we stuck to the guidelines that God had set down for us, we would:

  1. find inner peace and be one with God, and
  2. bring about a utopia for all, where the world is filled with joy and idealism, where peace reigns not only within the soul but everywhere – the land of milk and honey.

(NB: I assume this is true for the major religions besides Christianity.) The first object of the code, people excel at. We are so at peace with ourselves that we ignore the glaring sins we have committed, and either forget or ignore the second, greater objective. This is my first criticism of the vast majority of religious. (My second is that the religious are frequently too busy trying to convert others that they forget the two objectives that the Bible seems to be telling us.) If God exists, then I think he will forgive my frustration with him – he told us that if we conduct our lives well, we would be given utopia. But what he didn’t tell us is that we need to build it on our own. He expected us to work this fact out for ourselves.

This is the third possibility – that God, for whatever reason, has decided that we are to do the work he set for us, and that we have to earn our keep.

My current line is this: I am going to do as much as I can for the downtrodden of the world. God isn’t going to do it directly. Again, the three possibilities are that he doesn’t exist, can't be bothered, or he’s waiting around for me, and people like me, to do something about it.

If it’s the first then I suppose I would have lived up to the objectives I’ve set for myself – that I as one of the more fortunate people should give to society as much as I can give, willingly and with no regrets.

If he really does exist but cannot be bothered, then I suppose I would rather not believe in a God who could stop all this nonsense, yet chooses not to.

If it is the latter, I suppose God would meet me at the end of my life, and tell me how this was all part of his grand plan. And maybe then I would decide whether to believe in a God who would rather people save themselves, even though he himself can.

My path to agnosticism begins here, and I am turning my back on God for the time being, but not on what God says – that the world as it is needs fixing, and that we shouldn’t expect anyone else to do the fixing for us.

[EDIT: I am not turning my back on God, but on our religious teachings on God and the way God operates – things will become clearer to me later, and I would rather be active and practical than ponder over the same thoughts repeatedly. I believe I made that statement with a great deal of frustration, and therefore didn’t quite check what I wrote. Thank you, Mum, for pointing out my typo.]

Monday, 16 March 2009

Muse

Ladies and gentlemen, if you do not like to ponder "Life, The Universe, and Everything!", then this post is not for you.

We know that molecules are governed by formulae. We have used these formulae to build up an understanding of the world on a larger scale – calculating how long a line is, designing a battery, analysing a cell in the human body, breeding the perfect racehorse etc. These formulae have not only allowed us to understand the world, but to rule it.

But once we get to humans, the rules break down – nobody can predict the actions of a single person; no matter how we they know about people they will always continue to surprise. Which is probably a good thing – if we knew how to predict people then life itself would lose all meaning. Would you really want to live if you knew that someone with a calculator knew (not commanded, knew) exactly what you would do?

What really scares me is this: once you zoom out to look at populations rather than individuals, a new set of formulae comes into play – they are different of course from those that govern molecules, but they are formulae nonetheless, and they are frightfully efficient. What would you do if I told you that advertising companies could tailor an advert to increase their sales by a very specific percentage range? Somehow, on a large scale we lose whatever freedom we have created out of exact rules. It is almost as if whatever we do as individuals seems to make no difference to the grand game that governs us as a species.

And that, my friends, is very frightening indeed, because if this is true, then whatever choices we make are not going to make a significant difference to the world. And knowing human nature, someone out there will try to find out this magical set of formulae, to influence entire populations for their own ends. I won't use the words "mind control" because they're too clichéd. This is more subtle, more insiduous. It directs populations, yet abandons the individual to make sense of a world where they seem to have so much choice, but whatever they choose makes no difference to the final outcome. I pray that this will never come true, yet somehow I feel that it already has. I leave you with a movie quote for you to mull over. It may be from an action movie, but it is a powerful one nonetheless.

The truth [is]...that you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.
And you thought that The Matrix was just another action movie.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Why War still Exists in the 21st Century

Excerpts from films, media, quotes and the like. Again I've not had the time to flesh out my train of thought, so the blanks are yours to fill in. However, I do hope that the journey you take will still be worth it.

Aeschylus
In war, truth is the first casualty.

Thomas Carlyle
War is a quarrel between two thieves too cowardly to fight their own battle; therefore they take boys from one village and another village, stick them into uniforms, equip them with guns, and let them loose like wild beasts against each other.

Jon Stewart
It seems shocking that a product of finite supply gets more expensive the more we use it.... Now the terror alert means higher oil prices, which oddly enough means higher profits for oil companies giving them more money to give to politicians whose policies may favor the oil companies such as raising the terror alert level.

Eleanor Roosevelt
“So much attention is paid to the aggressive sins, such as violence and cruelty and greed with all their tragic effects, that too little attention is paid to the passive sins, such as apathy and laziness, which in the long run can have a more devastating effect.”

Banksy, street artist

(TV has made us into monsters)

Hotel Rwanda - Rwandan Genocide 1994
Paul Rusesabagina: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.
Jack: Yeah and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?
Paul Rusesabagina: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?
Jack: I think if people see this footage they'll say, "oh my God that's horrible," and then go on eating their dinners.

Helen Keller
Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all — the apathy of human beings.

Robert Maynard Hutchins
"The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment."

1984 by George Orwell
The command of the old despotisms was Thou shalt not. The command of the totalitarians was Thou shalt. Our command is Thou art.

Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.

There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.

Victoria Safford
Once you have glimpsed the world as it might be, as it ought to be, as it's going to be (however that vision appears to you), it is impossible to live compliant and complacent anymore in the world as it is.

John Dos Passos
The cure for apathy is comprehension.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Monday, 12 January 2009

An Evening in the Life of...

The passing street lamps illuminated the path that bore him onwards. Laughing students fell away behind. The alcohol in his stomach swished around, not quite enough to block out the cold breeze.

After the warmth of a busy pub, the park was not inviting. He thrust his hands deeper into his pockets, wishing he had spent more time in the tropical sun when he could. Now the alcohol would have to do.

The wind began to pick up, and the shadows of swaying branches played around him. He continued along the path, not so much walking as being carried forward by an invisible force. He had long since passed the revellers. Far away the road was illuminated in a deep yellow, but around him the park was shrouded in blackness. Solitude was his.

A strange emotion, solitude. You tried as much as you could to busy yourself, to drink it away, to run from it; but when it finally catches up to you, you realise you’ve missed it, missed being away from the noise and the crowds, alone with your thoughts, and with the time to shape and temper them into tools for when you needed them.

The first of his thoughts was about turning back and joining the others in the pub, followed by a moment of pondering, and a silent ‘no’. He had done enough of that recently. It was time to do some work. His goals did not allow for the amount of socialising he had done in the past month. He had to resolve some of the internal turmoil that had been building up.

He was past the park now, out in the brick-and-mortar buildings and quiet streets of the student area. Now home was just past a gentle slope that seemed magnified by the cold and the wind into a torturous climb. A gust whipped at him, causing tears to form in his eyes.

Would anyone from home ever understand? Would they comprehend these strange things that happened in this strange land, or realise how everything here, so foreign, so alien, had changed him forever? Even as these thoughts flowed through his mind, a deeper, more terrifying question arose – where was home?

For all the while he was here, in England, he had thought that it was Malaysia, where he had been born, bred and raised. But when he returned, things were utterly different – everything and everyone in Malaysia was the same, but it was he that had changed – so much so that he felt like a tourist in his own country.

He had seen people who called themselves his own before, the ones who lived for so long in England that they could no longer return. They drank English tea, they spoke as if born in London, they went out drinking with English friends and took British wives – and yet they were not English. Unlike the other Europeans who could happily adapt themselves to this place, their old identities were permanently stamped on their foreheads; they could only try to make themselves more English than the English themselves. But of course it was all in vain - no matter what they did, one foot would always remain firmly on the soil of their home. He was becoming one of these people. And he was afraid.

But even greater was the fear that he would never pick his way out of the cultural maelstrom that swirled around him. Even though they were not English, the foreign immigrants had a label, an identity they could adhere to - he had no such thing. He had an overwhelming urge to distance himself from it all, to rise above the confusion and look down upon it like a map, choosing his road from a bird's eye view. But even as he tried to do just that, another question dragged him back in again: would he ever find someone with whom to share his thoughts?

When he met Anne, he thought he had answered that question. Now that things were the way they were, he felt the once-solid ground beneath him giving way. He was an increasingly desperate man seeking a place to leap to for safety, and not knowing where to go, he tried to delay the decision until the very last moment, hoping the smoke would clear before then.

He rounded the corner to his street, the promise of central heating quickening his pace. The accursed wind followed him as if unwilling to let him escape. Here the door was. He held up his keys to the door. Speed was essential. Within a second his hands began to shiver under the relentless assault of the wind. The damned English wind! He found the right key, opened the door after a brief struggle, and slammed it shut as fast as he could. The semi-familiar sight of the living room, half-filled with rubbish, greeted him. No one else was in. He looked about wearily at the empty paper bags, hastily scrawled notes and dirty plates, all thought forgotten save one: “Tired. Sleep now. The work can wait. You can sort your life out in the morning.”

He crawled into bed, defeated.