Monday, November 21, 2011

i am not a snail

a snail carries a heavy bulky shell on its back.
up a blade of grass, across a sandy patch.
such a hefty burden the shell is,
but the snail carries it still
because it is home
--protection and warmth
it is comfort.

I am not a snail
yet I too had a burden
no less heavier than the snail's.
mine wasn't a home
but it promised warmth
and comfort, dreams come true.

childish promises.
lofty castles built of clouds
rich in romance and fantasy
with ever changing guises. 
when all is said and done
I hold in my gentle hands
air, and fading memories.

I am not a snail
I want no burden.
Not of love or concern,
void of hatred or belittlement.
It's time to skip off the cliff
on which I have stood for years.
Let me unfold my wings
long hidden, forgotten
and flap, flap

thank you, 
for being ever wiser.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


Tuesday, October 25, 2011


then again, why would I be?

disappointing is if the expected positive did not happen.

I expected the opposite of the positive, so I shouldn't be disappointed.

but I am.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

love again?

I used to wonder--
how would I know that I am in love?
--then when my eyes, my nose and my ears
perceive only that One,
my skin tingles with desire, and
my heart goes into overdrive
pumping crimson passion into my crumbling mind
--that same question became so foolishly trivial.

like the torrents that flood the banks
it came with force
unstoppable was its spearhead
and left in a blink
relentless was its sacrifice
having abandoned in its wake
carved and molded
a terrain
forever changed
leaving in the sands
words etched with bewildered fingers
'how would I love again, if love isn't you?'

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Graduation: One Year Anniversary

If Blogspot hadn't introduced  this new Dynamic View feature, I wouldn't have looked at my older blog posts.
If I hadn't looked at my older blog posts, I wouldn't have realised that today, Oct 6 2011, marks the 1-year anniversary of my Exit Seminar.

Yes, one year ago I presented my Exit Seminar, and as far as I was concerned, that one hour of bla-bla-bla ended my Ph.D. career. From that day on, I started a new chapter, or as it turned out, new chapters.

Immediately after my exit seminar, I traveled across four States in the USA with my mom. We set eyes and feet on Grand Canyon, Columbia River Valley, Los Alamos and the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta at Albuquerque, Californian Redwood forests and the Xi Lai Temple in L.A. We filled our stomachs with cakes and pastries, salmon and chops, dimsum and what not.

I left my home away from home, and came back to my real home. Accepted a job offer, and on the third day of Chinese New Year, left for India alone. Till now, I still remember the face of that South-Asian lady who, like me, waited the whole night in Starbucks in the LCCT the night I boarded the plane for Chennai. I didn't muster the courage to talk to her, but she was definitely attractive enough that I wish I had.

Spent four weeks in Chennai and three weeks after traveling down south from Chennai. I visited the temples in Chennai, Kanchipuram, Thanjavur, Chidambaram, Madurai and Ramesvaram. I went for two bharatanatyam performances (extremely world-class) and one Kathakali play (definitely top class!). I learned Tamil intensively for four weeks, at the end of which I could speak, write and read Tamil. If the locals go slow, I could understand them too [unfortunately since I left India my Tamil has deteriorated due to lack of practice....shame shame]. At Ramesvaram a priest bathed me in one of the holy wells (there were like >20 of them I think), and there I stood at the edge of the Indian Ocean in awe of her blue-turquoise beauty. At Thanjavur I fell in love with the majestic Periyar Kovil, and at Kanchipuram the simple yet indescribably elegant Kaisalanatha Kovil took a piece of my heart and claimed it since.

I escaped the heat of the lowlands by spending day up in the cool Kodaikanal hills west of Madurai, where the richer kids of the international boarding school there led lives so different from the uncountable poorer kids in the lowlands. I learned to love the sugar-loaded fruit juices of the Indian roadside, and in the backyard of my language institute I enjoyed twenty days of lunchtime among birds with funny headcrests. I saw a salt-farm for the first time in my life, and stepped on cow dung twice. I also finally set eyes on the bronze statue of Lord Nataraja in the Government Museum of Chennai. In many hot afternoons of Tamil Nadu March, I tried my best to run calmly across the baking-hot stone floor of temples, while locals walked and chatted as if they were walking on soft green grass. In Kanchipuram, I taught children in Tamil and English, and I entertained the teachers and the students with songs. I still remember her name--Indra. I wonder if she is still doing the morning rounds bringing children from their shacks to the school?

I can't count the number of friends I made in Tamil Nadu, including Matias and Alex who accompanied me during my one week stint in Kanchipuram. I truly miss all of them. I am still waiting for Sushil to send me a picture of him, his wife and their now 6-month old son.

Came back home again and started my working life immediately. Spent two months doing nothing much else but reading papers, writing proposals and preparing for my visit to Davis.

Went back to Davis almost without telling anyone. The first night I was back in that home away from home, I met up with my very good friend Hanayo, ate at my favourite restaurant in Davis, and untied a knot in my heart for good. The following two months were surreal--busy with my research yet enjoying all the luxuries I had before..Netflix, the library, board games,, a great housemate. A few days before I left for the Ecological Soc. America Meeting, our experiments produced unbelievably pleasing results! Had one of my best Meetings ever, and witnessed the largest bat colony in the world at Bracken Cave. Seeing Jay and his family again was a heartwarming moment for me.

Left Davis (this time much more reluctantly than last year) before I even had time to visit San Francisco, and once again I was back home. Went back to work immediately, and had been occupied since with preparing class materials for my course. Teaching it has been a ride so far (see previous blog post) but it's really enjoyable and rewarding. The students have warmed up to my style, and are now actively asking questions and answering and discussing questions in class. More than half of them now call me by my name instead of "Dr.", for which I am glad.

My friend passed her exam with flying colours, and with that, I have nothing left to worry about in Davis anymore.

There were somethings that I planned to do since graduation, but I haven't done. I haven't enrolled in a bharatanatyam course, and I haven't offered my services to teach at an orphanage yet. I haven't yet published another paper (still in review now...WTH). I have asked three girls out, one gave face and we stayed friends, one told me she was unavailable after a few weeks, and another is still...well....pending. So, the romance front is not exactly stale, but it's not blossoming either. Don't think I can enroll in a bharatanatyam course before Jan 2012, but I am hopeful about the others working out before the end of this year.

What a year it has been!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

on education, and this profession of mine.

it is of course not giving you a durian every day,
for when I am gone, how would you get your durian?
it is better to teach you to pick and open a durian
so that in my absence, you can still enjoy your own durians
still, that's no enough, for what happens when you
too are gone? who will provide durians for the world?
Hence, I need to teach you to open durians, and then
guide you to teach others too.
And how would I know that I've done my part?
--only when you aspire to teach others better
   than I've taught you.

KEY: we don't just make excellent students out of our students, we need to make great and willing teachers out of them.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

early days of local teaching Part 1.

My life as a university lecturer in Malaysia started last week.

It's been quite a ride so far.

My class began with too many students, like 25% more than the maximum number allowed. After my first lecture, the number dwindled down to a dramatic 50% of initial registration. Of that 50%, half were students who registered after the 1st lecture due to the sudden availability of vacancies. That means of the initial students who registered, only 25% remained after having a 2-hour session with me. Then overnight the number went up again to reach the max cap, only to drop within a few days.

Currently, my class size is <50% of the initial. All the first-year students left, and I pity the only guy in the class--he had like 15 other XYs in the class just a week ago. Then again, he's in an enviable position...the lone guy in a class of girls.

I am not complaining. This is the class size that I love to work with, and for all purposes it is often the ideal class size. Small enough to pay ample attention to every student, and big enough to do group projects of various kinds.

I am however, kind of sad that I failed to convince more students to stay in the class. I can't tell why the students who left did so because I couldn't pull them back for a survey. If I have to guess, and because I am not stupid, these would be intelligent guesses, I would say that they were 1. unconvinced that I will deliver what I promised; 2. uncomfortable with my question-based learning/teaching; 3. unwilling to suffer a course conducted almost completely in English; 4. time-conflicts with the class.

I can't do anything about the last factor, but I tried my best to make the 1st to 3rd factors invalid. Over the past 10 days, I have given so many motivational talks that I am quite sick of myself already haha.

What's a college education? Speaking from experience, I believe that whatever we are supposed to acquire in college/university, memorization of facts and data is DEFINITELY NOT it. On the other hand, one should strive to learn to connect the dots to lines, cross lines to make webs and fold webs to build structures. In college, one must acquire the skills to communicate effectively. Communicate your ideas and your questions, and not just to your peers but also to anyone, everyone.

Just today alone I told my students thrice in a row to challenge themselves by teaching what they have learned to another person, be it a roommate, sibling, lover or parent. I looked at them in the eyes (my two eyes quickly but strongly scanning theirs) and told them in my "when I say 1+1 =2 that means it equals 2" voice that if they can't teach it, they haven't learned it.

Although I must admit that having lost >50% of the initial class size prompted me to question my teaching philosophy and teaching methods. In this case, only one question mattered.

"Is this good for the students?"

*to be continued...*

Saturday, September 3, 2011

a disguised wolf

Since I got back from California, all my time at work has been spent preparing the lecture materials for my upcoming course. It was fun 'relearning' entomology but I really dislike sitting in the office. After a week, I was beginning to feel deflated.

I needed something else.
I looked at the books in the cabinet across from my desk. Excellent selection--animal behaviour, R, philosophy of science, teaching methods, environmental history, parasite ecology, insect mythology etc. I would love to read them, yet I really needed to get my lecture materials set up first.

I thought of the two undergraduate students whom I will be mentoring for their final year projects. Sadly for them, I have no funding for any projects. In fact I wouldn't even say I have any solid project in hand for them. I had to think of something. That something needs to fulfill only four criteria:
1. It is of interest to both them and me
2. It is publishable in a journal of good standing.
3. It fits within their schedule
4. It will lead to further studies (my future work)

My mind began to do the waggle dance, from cabbage to diamondback moth to competition to beet armyworm to... to... you know, this and that. Scribbled lines on a piece of paper and happily inserted it into the same envelope with the rest of the final year project information.


The best boost of the day has yet to come.

We have a scale insect problem on of our plants in the garden. Out of the blue, scale insects infested the plant, literally covering it in white fluff. As the scale insects stay protected and hidden under their white fluff cover, they sap the plant vigour away. Some ants tend to the scale insects too, getting paid in honeydew excreted from the scale insects in return for their bodyguard services. Mom and dad (and grandma recently) were complaining about these scale insects. I told them I don't know what to do because I couldn't find a single ladybug in our garden to eat those scale insects.

Lo and behold, guess what I found today on the plant? Small white beads on stalks on the plant. Like the picture below.

My first thought? Lacewing eggs! I know that lacewings lay their eggs on stalks, a strategy that protects their eggs from predators by preventing easy access. Lacewings are known predators of scale insects, vicious ones too. Excitedly, I began to scan the plant for lacewings.

I found more eggs. Even if I didn't find any lacewing larvae, I knew that there would be some a few days later when the eggs hatch.

I wondered how would the lacewing larvae look like? How big? I needed a search image. I recalled that some lacewing larvae have a cool strategy to prey on the scale insects while avoiding the nasty attention of the protective ants--the larvae cover themselves in a layer of white fluff too. The title of the article was "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing". So aptly named :).  It was mentioned in Thomas Eisner's book "For Love of Insects" too.

Could these lacewing larvae be utilizing the same strategy, and that I needed to look for disguised lacewing larvae?

Wait..that scale insect was moving faster than the usual scale insect! Hmm...I scrutinized it, and yes, it was behaving weirdly for a scale insect--moving a lot instead of staying put and feeding. I grabbed my small microscope-eyepiece (kept it from Davis...knew it would come in handy one day!) and checked the suspicious scale insect.

Ha! Oligopod larvae, body form like that of a typical lacewing larva. Without doubt I must be looking at a lacewing larva with white fluff on its back.

 The insect on the center of the fruit was a scale insect, whereas the white fluff to its upper right corner was the lacewing larva (hidden under the white fluff).

The scale insect was on the center of the fruit, with the lacewing larva to its lower left (white fluff). You can see a lacewing egg on a stalk on the fruit (lower left).

Lacewing larva hidden under the white fluff. You can see that it's radically different from the scale insect. This was the 'wolf' in a sheep's clothing!

I never thought that I would see one of these disguised lacewing larva, and yet here they were, in my garden! I was very excited. Eager to check on the population dynamics of the scale insects and the lacewing larvae on the plant over the next two weeks.

Such is the wonder and beauty of nature--you can see it as long as you care to look.

Friday, August 19, 2011



I left
for the West
from whence I came
so unexpectedly
the gathering
made sweeter by the surprise

I am chasing the setting sun
with every step
my heart falters
my breath comes short
What will I then carry
to the west of the ocean?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

nails in the wall

I am mere human, and I have erred many times.
Of those countless mistakes, two have haunted me particularly viciously, injecting my oft strong heart with so much guilt so vile that life stops whenever the memories fleet back into my mind.
I understood perfectly why I committed those mistakes, and I believe that it would have taken a person much much more compassionate and patient than me to have avoided those mistakes.
Yet, the guilt has ebbed little in the years gone by, despite all the joys that I have shared with others, and my utmost effort to not repeat those mistakes again.

Some mistakes, once done, are tattooed into your skin, etched into your bones, burned into your heart and molded in the many slippery folds of your brains. You live most of your life without noticing them again, but every now and then you do, and you wish you never did.

Today I committed a mistake of such magnitude, and my only solace is that he might forget it a lot sooner than I will. My guilt however, is born of the realization that he was hurt, that it wasn't the first time he was hurt that way, and that it will bear on him for some time. A seemingly small nail can break a stone wall, for the narrow crack gives space to a small devilish seed that would soon grow into a monster and trample the wall.

I was typing a text while walking to the ATM to deposit a cheque. I was jovial in the cool night air. A black truck suddenly pulled up slowly next to me, and then stopped in front of me. The truck was now between the ATM and me. The driver talked to me.

"Hey brother..."
"Hey, yes?"
"Can I ask you for some help?"
"What? You thought I was asking you for money?" He started to reverse his truck.
"Oh, oh sorry! So how may I help you?"
"I want to ask for the directions to Oakland."
"Not sure myself, but I believe you take I-80 west and you will see signs for Oakland."
"Okay thanks."
"So sorry about that."
"Not all black people would ask you for money..." He reversed his truck and was going to drive away.
"No, that wasn't what I meant."
"But you didn't give me a chance." And then he drove away.

He was right, I didn't give him a chance to explain what help he wanted from me.
He was right, I presumed that he wanted money.

He was wrong that my presumption was because of his skin colour.
I wanted to tell him that even if he was white, I would have responded the same because I was startled by his truck driving in front of me, by his opening line of asking for help, and that I have had more white people asking me for money than black. Almost all the people who stopped me on the street and asked for money used the same line "Hey sir/mister/brother/man, can you help me?"

Yet, those were all excuses on my part. I should have known better than to jump to conclusions. Rationale lost to reflex reaction. He was obviously hurt by my response, yet he needn't be because his skin colour wasn't in my mind. If he was hurt that I judged him by his truck-driving or his opening line, then I wouldn't feel bad--but he was hurt because of something that wasn't there--colour discrimination.

I wanted to explain...but I wasn't sure if it would have eased the situation. I let him go. After I deposited my cheque, I looked for his truck. I really wanted to apologize, I really wanted to treat him to a bubble tea. He had left of course, and I was left with a guilt that I couldn't shake off, that I can't shake off, that I know will haunt me for a very long time.

For the shame that he had to suffer and the guilt that gnaws me from within, I wish that I will never ever commit such a mistake again.

On the other hand, I think he and I must have had some really bad experiences in our past lives. I mean, so much bad karma that the first time we met, and it lasted a mere 15 seconds max, and we have hammered a nail into each other's heart. I will pray for him tonight, in what is a helpless attempt to ease my guilt.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

first, be respectful, then be open-minded.

the diversity of people's opinions of the same thing, and their refusal to even rationally and (for a brief moment) objectively consider the opinions of others, is truly unbelievable.

Education of the mind and heart, that is the ability and willingness to be respectful and logical, it seems, falters under the invincible crush of beliefs rooted deeply in the mind.

To solve problems, we first need to identify and acknowledge the problems.
Then we need to consider every plausible solution, and decide on the most suitable ones.

If it's my own problem, I can label it any way I want, and I need only find my own solution. I needn't consult others or consider their needs. Easy enough, except that there is no such problem--unless you are living alone on an island, and your problem is 'when should I sleep tonight?'

If it's a problem that concerns others, and (almost?) every problem in the world falls into this category, then it would be very un-civic and extremely selfish of me to deal with it as if I am the only one that matter.
I would then need to ask the others who are involved to participate, voice all our concerns, see all perspectives, and try to understand the fear and hope that are within each of us.
I would then need to acknowledge the equal right of each individual involved to contribute to the solution of the problem, and I must respect each individual's standpoint.

Of course I will have my own personal bias due to my unique upbringing that will differ from the others, but we must all remain logical and open-minded as best as we can.
We discuss in cool tones, we debate in fiery words.
Our fists don't clash, our ideas do; our identities aren't destroyed, but ill-conceived ideas are.

I think civilized, intellectual discussion that caters to the emotional shades of our beings must be taken as the first step in addressing conflicts. It must be the first step and all will must be taken to retain it as the only step.

That is, until some parties just cannot hold discussions without discrimination, without bringing in prejudice and refuse to be open-minded. You can be as patient and as witty as you can be with these people, but in the end, we have to accept that there is not ONE way that leads to all nice endings.

Then time for words around the table has come to a sad end, and time for words through action has come.
There will always be people who would condemn peaceful gatherings, people who would hate violent uprising, people who would rather remain in the status quo because they think they can afford to do so. Risk-averse, most of us are by nature.

It's impossible to label any view right or wrong per se. Yet (most of us) we live in a democratic society where each of us has equal rights to our views and to determine our own fate. So, no matter which side you are on, which part of the picture you choose to be, I implore you to at the very least, be open-minded, be respectful, and be brave in defending your stance and the right of others to practice their freedom.

And oh yeah, since you are undeniably a small part of a much larger picture, PLEASE TRY TO SEE THE BIGGER PICTURE. damn it.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Reunited with assassin bugs!

In two posts ago, I mentioned that I found assassin bugs in a rosemary bush outside my favourite Chinese restaurant in Davis, right? I was very excited then. Today I finally had time and the good opportunity to collect them. I had dinner at the restaurant again, and I excused myself for like 4 minutes, taking leave from my friends to head out to the bush and find them assassin bugs.

There were quite a handful of them two weeks ago. Today I only found two after 4 minutes. Not bad, I am sure I could have found more with more time, but it wasn't nice to keep my friends waiting...certainly rude to forsake them for some insects!

Fondly fed them fruit flies back in the lab. I collected a nymph and an adult. Couldn't really tell if it was a female or male...I would lean toward female though, based on the curve of her ventral side of the abdomen. In any case, she wasn't least not yet. Perhaps she has already mated and will develop eggs soon. I can only hope. Perhaps sometime this weekend (Monday is a holiday, July 4, Independence Day in the USA) I will go collect more of them.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Love me for the whole package that I am

When I was traveling in Tamil Nadu, India, my local friends in Chennai told me I was a genius.
Their argument was that I knew several languages, had a Ph.D., could take good photographs, and perhaps most importantly, I learned Tamil which many of them didn't know.
I told them I was definitely no genius, and that in many aspects, I wasn't even close to their standards. My friends were mostly artisans who made a living selling their craft, and therefore became masters in their respective arts. There was Sushil who was good with beads and necklaces, Jogi who carved wood and sculpted stone, Prakesh who won awards for his beautiful palm leaf carvings, Pramod who sew bags (you definitely couldn't tell from looking at him haha...with his beer belly and what not), etc.

I don't think I am stupid, and I certainly never thought I was smart.
I am quite a silly person, really. I did silly things, many irrational stuff, and then when it was best to be irrational, I was too rational. I am quite silly in those ways.
Whatever I was, however others choose to describe me, I have always liked myself.
No, I am not self-obsessed [though once in a blue moon I do look into the mirror and go 'ah hello handsome~'].
I just feel good about myself--my receding hairline, my aging skin, my voice with such a narrow range, my 185cm height, my feminine hand gestures when I give a speech and that I can't whistle or wink sexily.
I am very happy with myself--my easy take on life, my 'who cares?' attitude toward issues that I can't control, and my 'I would do it even if nobody else wants to' approach to many challenges.

Still, there were times when I felt as if I should, or could have been better.

I was a Ph.D. student, and my responsibility as far as my sponsors were concerned was to do good research, to make the most productive output from their financial and intellectual input. One of the most useful advice I received was this golden line: "From now on, nothing else--not your grades, not the courses you take, not the diplomas--matters anymore, only the quality and quantity of your publication. Publication is your currency as a grad student and as a researcher."

So for quite sometime, I judged myself in that light. How many publications could I churn from my Ph.D.? How good were they? Good enough for Science, Ecology Letters or Ecology?

In my department, there was no lack of outstanding graduate students based on publication and quality of research. Stretch out a weenie bit to include the Ecology and Evolution group, the CPB group and the Animal Behaviour group, and WTH~~~!! Everywhere I turned, there was one grad student who was more than qualified to don the crown of "Genius".

For me, there were surely many moments of guilt. When I left the building eager for two hours of badminton, I saw my colleagues working. When I was watching Netflix on my bed, I imagined my colleagues ploughing through their data and doing crazy meta-analysis. When I was enjoying a book on "Tigers in India" in the library, my colleagues were sweating in the field gathering data.

By the time I published my first paper, one of my cohort members had already published two with more in prep/in review. And I wasn't slow by any standards, just slow by theirs! Hahahaha.

My supervisor never once nudged me to work harder, never once told me that I could do more. He seemed to know how I worked, that I myself knew what was in store for myself, and for that I was very grateful. Even though he never questioned my work ethics, I myself did. I wondered then, just as I had wondered more than once since I returned here, "Could I have done more and better research? Was I slacking? Was I not good enough?"


The answer to my questions was a definite YES.

Of course I could have improved on my research. I could have dedicated more time to it, and easily churned out at least two more papers (no kidding). It was all in my mind, I could vision it. In that sense, I was slacking because I wasn't doing the best I can to be a 'productive and good' grad student.

And following the same train of thought, I came to the same conclusion every time. Then, and now.
I am what I am.
I am not one who is motivated by channeling all his effort into studies/research, and not even into teaching which is easily my first and foremost love.
I like to do many things at once, and I find no waste in not pursuing any of them to their ends.
I am certainly not the best researcher out there, and I never aimed to be, if only because it requires too much sacrifice of other wonderful things in life.
I like to think that I am a good teacher, but I will never be the best, because of the same reason above.
I am however, without doubt, certainly and surely, the best me you can find out there.
I am one whole package which cannot be taken apart and assessed individually.
If you are going to judge me, you better take me as a whole, else you would just be wasting your time.
[though most would be content just to admire my looks]

A while ago I wrote the piece below:
你说  你爱我
没有我 你不知怎么活
我说  我也爱你
只有你  我一切都给你
可是  告诉我
关了灯, 另一些不在了吗?
一切,  是现在的一切

Most might think it was inspired by a love relationship. Well, it was, partially, but even more so by my thoughts when I compared my life to those of my colleagues.

Sometimes we are envious of others, though we have so much that others envy us in return.
Sometimes we are ashamed of ourselves, though we are so beautiful to many others.
During those times, we ought to slap ourselves across the face (HARD), and appreciate ourselves for the ugly short man that we are.
Oops, I meant myself.

I miss my Rajastani friend, Sushil. I hope he is in good health, and that he's enjoying time with his wife and son. I remember the first time I walked to his stall where he sold his craft, days after I had befriended the other artisans. He looked at me and said "This is the first time you come to my shop and talk to me." I didn't know why, and I still don't, but I felt so much sincerity in his voice, that this guy was just waiting in silence for me to talk to him. I liked him immediately, and we had many many more wonderful chats after that.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

3 nice conversations make a nice day

Today was an interesting day.
It was a very nice day, for a guy.

I had lunch with a colleague, and he invited his friend. His friend turned out to be a common friend of ours...somewhat. Okay, I was stretching it a bit. She worked as a waitress at a restaurant that my close friend and I used to go often, even after we broke up. So she knew me and my close friend. She had a lively adorable personality with an adorable face to match. Lunch was very enjoyable, with my colleague sharing with us his immense knowledge on different cultures, and she and I sharing our travel stories and experiences of migrating/living overseas. Lunch took like 1.5 hours longer than I expected, also because my colleague took us to check out the decor of Tower Cafe, quite a unique cafe in Sacramento, but I very much enjoyed the time spent with them.

Back at work, I was tending to my insects (oh, united again with my beloved bigeyed-bugs...this is awesome joy itself!!) in lab and started chatting with an undergrad assistant. She worked with me last year, so we knew each other very well. In other words, we understand each other's sarcasm and way of speech well. It was after 5.30pm, and we were the only ones left in the lab. I stayed back because I had insects work, and I had a dinner appointment later at 6.30pm downtown anyway. She stayed back because she was a workaholic. I asked her about her boyfriend, started boring into the details of their relationship, and we got some funny lines going. She shot back at my own romance stories, congratulating me on a new adventure, and suggested that perhaps a girl liked me because 'you played smart in badminton, you had a strategy...'. That was her way of trying to cheer somebody up. It was just a 20-30 minute long conversation that carried on as we both slaved away on our insects, but it was very enjoyable too. I definitely missed such conversations with them. Them being my research team members of several summers. Oh, those long drives up and down I-5 filled with unbelievable romance stories and discussions of 'what if...'!

6.30pm rolled by and I biked over to downtown, to my favourite Chinese restaurant in Davis. I tried to control the number of visits by limiting it to at most twice per week, but days before I go, I already knew what I want to order. Red bean black tea is definitely on the list. Waiting in front of the restaurant, I was very surprised to find at least 5 Zelus renardii nymphs on the plants outside the restaurant, and was so keen on finding more that I didn't notice my dinner companion had showed up behind me. Well, she was 3 minutes late! After ~8 months absence, the waitress recognized me immediately. She asked where had I gone, and said 'hey, you still like our red bean black tea!' No kidding. On my way flying across the Pacific Ocean, that red bean milk tea was on my mind. This friend with whom I had dinner with was a relatively new friend. Very new friend actually--we haven't spoken for more than 5 minutes before this, but I guess we do share some common background and we never lacked topics for good conversation. There were two very cool things that I found out over dinner. 1) She speaks my dialect, and that is rare among young people, even in Malaysia, not to mention here in Davis; 2) She actually has quite some similar views/thoughts with me. One thing that surprised me was when she asked me how did I finish my Ph.D. in 4 years instead of 5, she listed some possible reasons: fast-track program, easy program, hardworking etc...but she never said 'smart'. Most people always say 'wow, you must be very smart'. When I asked her why she left out 'smart' (yeah, I am so egoistic) , she said it was because she doesn't give much credit to intelligence, that she believed that hardwork can compensate for lack of intelligence, that hardwork will eventually lead one to success. I definitely share the same idea, and personally, I am not so happy when people praised me for my intelligent instead of my hardwork, especially because I lack the former and I do have some of the latter. After listening to her answer, I regarded this friend in a new light.

So I had enjoyed three conversations with three very different girls (and interestingly, of increasing age in the same order too). It was a nice day.

Oh, should add that my research started today, finally! And I got to practice some Tamil with my close friend and her Indian housemate. Life is good.

An assassin bug adult found in my garden, Malaysia. Not the species I studied, but heck did they look alike (other than coloration)! And this assassin bug preyed on the adult of the beetle I plan to study. Promising!

Monday, June 20, 2011

There and back again

I am back in the place that changed my life. 
A wonderful place.
More than once I had asked myself if it was the weather, the trees, the tranquility of the place that was somehow dynamic and vibrant, or was it just the people?
Yet the answer matters not, for one way or another, it doesn't change the fact that I really love this place and all that it entails.

It is now getting warm here, and soon my fieldwork will bring subject me to conditions drier and hotter than those in Malaysia. Others might complain, but not me. There is much to be enjoyed in this place, and the searing heat of a wide-open cotton field in summer is itself a valid entry on the list.

I am very glad to have made it in time to attend my friends' commencement. I skipped mine, giving little appreciation to the hardwork invested in my undergraduate education. Back then, I'd rather return to Malaysia earlier with my mom. I was happy for my friends though. They certainly tossed their hats into the air with much more enthusiasm than I did during my Ph.D. graduation! Congratz to them. Now please contribute to better our country!

A friend who did her Ph.D. commencement told me before the event that she felt normal. She was worried because she wasn't excited. I told her that I was like that too--too many affairs to deal with leading up to the commencement that one really had no time to be excited--but during the commencement, she would pick up the emotions. And she did. Sitting in the hall among a couple hundreds of graduating graduate students, many of whom invested much more time and energy than us did, it's difficult not to be moved by their tears and disbelief painted across their faces. I remember that a woman who sat two rows in front of me broke down and cried, needing her professor who was sitting beside her to calm her down. More powerful than Oprah, I guess, as I haven't watched Oprah before.

My first few days back here were surreal. Walking on the same streets that I thought I wouldn't see again for some time, eating at the same restaurants where I had several of my 'last' conversations with dear friends, and being back in the same lab that I left hurriedly just half a year ago. That moment standing at the junction of Sycamore Lane and Russell Blvd, waiting for that familiar traffic light to turn into the much-missed green bicycle, that moment was utterly unreal. I felt as if I shouldn't have been there, but I was there.

Within a few days of my unexpected return, and particularly after I ran my fingers along the shelves of the university library and walked across town alone at night, I seriously asked myself why I left in the first place. This place is undeniably more comfortable than back home (but not home itself of course), and professionally speaking, this place is Mecca for my field/industry. 

Rationally, my decision to leave was a foolish one, especially since I had a job offer for two more years here. Personally, I knew that that it couldn't have been otherwise. If I had not left, if I had stayed on for two more years, I doubt that I would still have the will to leave. McGill University was an excellent school too, and Montreal was beautiful--crude and elegant, just the way I like it--but I left because I didn't want to risk my roots growing so deep that it hurts to unroot them. My family, and all my very beloved friends back home, they played a huge role in luring me back. To jest and curse in a slang known only to my highschool friends is definitely every bit as priceless as the independence and freedom I can find here. However, there is something more, something bigger, something more ambitious, something that I must do.

The thing is, UC Davis wasn't always as great as it is now. It took many people and at least two-three generations to build UCD and Davis to be what they are today. Heck, UCD is even older than my country. If every Davisian had left Davis to carve a niche in Oxford or Harvard, we wouldn't have the UCD which we are all so proud of today.

Thus, the least I can do is to try. To try to pave the road to a future UCD in my country, to build an institution better than UCD in my country. I cannot just give up the idea without trying, can I? Well of course I can, but that wouldn't be me. 

I am very happy to be back here.
I am also very glad that I left here.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

On May 21, 2011, my friend Sinclair tied the knot with his wife, Fui Fen.

[Well actually they registered a few days a earlier but held the dinner and the Chinese wedding ceremony on May 21.]

Since I was the most handsome one among his friends who can talk on stage (even this is debatable), he invited me to be his Master of Ceremony (m.c., or emcee) of his wedding dinner. A month before the wedding dinner, over a yumcha session with Sinclair and FuiFen, they also asked me to be his band of 'brothers'. I eagerly agreed because it's always very fun to be a 'brother' hahaha. I asked, and FuiFen confirmed that many of her 'sisters' were still single and available. I sure on la then.

Time flew by and only in the afternoon of May 21 did Sinclair and his sister-in-law, Mei who was the event manager, had the time to give me their feedback on my script. Thankfully they were graceful enough with my self-claimed "very funny" script and only made several recommendations. I adopted all their suggestions...kan bukan my marriage, but Sinclair's?

But back to the morning of May 21, the process went like this. First the bridegroom (Sinclair) and his band of brothers departed from his house to the hotel where FuiFen and her relatives and 'sisters' were waiting. The idea is for Sinclair to win over his bride at HER place. Winning typically means that the bridegroom has to complete a barrage of tasks set about by the bride's 'sisters'...and typically the bridegroom does little, leaving his 'brothers' to bear the brunt of the women wrath. Fortunately, the bridegroom is the one responsible for giving angpow (money) to the 'sisters' and then later get to kiss the bride while his jealous brothers look on. After that, they have a tea ceremony there where the newly weds pay respect and gratitude to FuiFen's relatives/elders. Then the whole procession heads back to Sinclair's house where a similar tea ceremony is held but for Sinclair's side of the family. Then in the evening, a wedding banquet is held where relatives, friends etc. were invited. I was the emcee for that banquet.

It was a very fun morning that day, mainly because the challenges that the 'sisters' set out were very fun and appropriate. Chinese like to play with words that sound nice and give blessings to the newly weds, and the games incorporated those. We the 'brothers' had to imitate doll-like poses that were very intimate, drink from a cup with a 2m long straw (that failed) etc. We also had to pick up the key to the bride's room from inside a bowl, using only straws (that also failed and post-game discussion and attempts suggested that it wasn't possible, at least not within the time allocated). It was very hilarious because the 'sisters' did a great job organizing it and we brothers really played along.

Throughout the morning, FuiFen would ask me loudly and publicly "Eh, which of my jee-mui you like? Which one caught your eye?" .........and when I spoke to any of her 'sisters', FuiFen would saunter over in her gown and asked LOUDLY "So, you like her?".........................

In the end I told FuiFen "you like this keeping on 'stabbing' (插住晒), I very hard to cari makan."
And to my horror, apparently most, if not all, of the sisters knew of my background and my single and available could only imagine what else did FuiFen tell them....

I arrive about 1.5 hour before the wedding banquet started. I had only put on a tie once and that was ~4 years ago for my sister's wedding. Dad and mom both forgot how to do it, so I had to ask Mei, Sinclair's sister-in-law to do it for me LOL. Embarrassing. I checked out the stage, the mic, the lighting,,,everything looked good. I tested the sound projection, and realised that I can't swing my head when I talk into the mic because I must talk INTO the mic otherwise my sound fades off. Darn, I am an animated speaker, it would be hard to control.

About 30 minutes after the scheduled time, the guests have all arrived. 30 minutes late is considered good in Malaysian Chinese banquets...shame on us. I got on stage and began my show.

My script was all English but I realised that most of the guests were actually aunties and uncles gossiping in Mandarin, Hakka and Cantonese...darn. Anyway, I tried my best to liven up the atmosphere but after the first half, I knew that the energy from the audience was quite low! I quickly asked around for advice. My new friends, the 'sisters' (which also included two guys actually) gave me a few tips and some good support. Mei said I was doing great, but if I really want to energize the crowd, I had to engage them via games or stupid questions like "How's the food? Good?"  [Later at another unrelated performance, the emcee also said that for Malaysian stage, it's typical to ask the crowd "sudah makan? lauk sedap?" LOL].

Need to ask them the food good or not ar? Somemore got to ask "If good, then clap hands lah"...haha... BUT Mei gave an even better which we played out to its full effect.

Right before Sinclair popped the champagne, I suddenly asked him to STOP! Then taking the mic out of the stand and into my hand, switching over to Mandarin, I asked Sinclair to prove that he loves FuiFen. I engaged the crowd, getting them to give suggestions on how we could test Sinclair. You could literally see their eyes opened wide with energy at the mention of 'game we can use to play with the bridegroom" ! An uncle suggested that Sinclair do push-up...well, in the end I settled for singing a song on one knee. Ah Seng, the A/V guy suggested we do "Yue Liang Dai Biao Wo De Xin", that ageless song that everyone knows. Sinclair asked me to remind him of the lyrics, but in my excitement (read: nervous) I myself forgot the lyrics hahaha. As I was pondering, suddenly Sinclair started singing, looking into FuiFen's eyes with passion.

OMG!! He really did it!

The crowd roared, applause went crazy, and yes, the crowd was energized.

All in all, I was very happy with how things went that day. I mean, it was a very merry occasion and everything went smoothly. I myself was very honoured to have been part of my friends' celebration, and on the side, I made like 20 new friends that day (I went into the whole event not knowing anybody other than Sinclair and FuiFen).

But if you ask me (that is if you are my future wife), I would rather not do my wedding like this. I usually don't enjoy Chinese wedding banquets because most of them don't really focus on the newly-weds and don't make it an emotional enough celebration. Somemore I don't want large banquets where everyone becomes less significant...yet if I do hold a banquet, my students alone take one/two table, my primary school friends one/two table, highschool friends X tables, colleagues ...I think don't count relatives pun I can fill 10 tables, that is if they can all make it lah hahaha. Scary leh.

Monday, May 30, 2011

long piece! reflection of a class

[Warning: this is a long piece so you should either be very patient when reading it, or read it in pieces. The very proud author thinks that it will be worth the readers’ efforts.]

I teach for a living. That means teaching gives me life. I would like to think all my lessons are meaningful and helpful to the students. Sometimes though, I forget to live by the very lessons which I teach so earnestly.

The following transcript is an excerpt from a 80-minute class I taught to a group of 30+ teenagers. My topic was “Lessons I Learned from Nature”.

[I give each student a coin, and ask them to flip it to get either heads or tails consecutively for 10 times.]
Is it possible to flip a coin 10 tens, and get ‘heads’ 10 times in a row?
What about 100 times in a row? 300 times in a row?
Highly unlikely, isn’t it? Most of you said it’s impossible.
Do you know of every 1000 babies born in Malaysia last year, how many survived their first year? –994 out of 1000. That’s a 1-year old survival rate of 0.994.
What’s the age of the oldest human fossil found? –4.4 million years old*.
So, starting from at least 4.4 million years ago, your great-great-great….grandmother was born, and she gave birth to your great-great-great…grandmother, each surviving at least beyond their first year, until your grandma, your mom and now you. Taking the survival rate of 2010, do you know what’s the chance of you being here today?
The equivalent of getting ‘heads’ >600 times in a row!**
Is that even possible? No? But we are all here right now, aren’t we?
I see an insect mother lays hundreds of eggs, of which only a handful survive to adulthood. I see trees bear hundreds of flowers releasing thousands of seeds, of which only a handful of seeds sprout.
To survive is itself a miracle. You are a winner, if only because you are alive. Next time you feel bad about yourself and life, take a coin, and try to get 10 ‘heads’ in a row.

[For your sake, I will skip the Nature part for the following session]
What are you good at? Write down the one thing you think you do best, or like to do best.
Okay, now in groups of eight, I would like you to build a treehouse [but apparently city kids nowadays have no idea what a treehouse is, I should have used a ‘dog kennel’ instead]. Make sure everyone contributes with that one ability he/she is best at.
[They discussed and tried to fit into the project. Many had issues because they wrote down abilities like ‘swimming’, ‘eating’, ‘talking’, ‘sleeping’, playing computer games’…things that seemed very non-constructive and irrelevant to the project]
Ok, some of you think that you can’t contribute, that what you do best is quite useless. Really? Let’s see how we can make you useful. 
Swimming and eating, well you guys can go for competition or raise funds right? Eat 10 hotdogs in a minute.
Talking? Well, you can also raise funds with your persuasion, be our spokesperson, keep us entertained.
[In the end, everyone found at least one way in which they can contribute.]
Yes, everyone’s good at something, and you can be helpful to others in at least one way. You need to find that, and work on it.

[I will skip the Nature part for the following session]
I will read out a list of roles, if you belong to one of these roles, draw a line, and we shall count how many lines you have in the end.
Student, teacher, son, daughter, boyfriend, girlfriend, owner of a pet, friend, customer, grandchild, brother, sister, a buddy, a role model,…etc.
How many had 1 role? 2 ? 3?..5…12….18…21…? Wow, the least is 7 roles, and the most is 21 roles.
What does this tell us? Have you ever thought that you are at least 7 roles in one?
Can we be perfect in each and every role at the same time?
More importantly, if I am a lousy son, does it mean that I am also a lousy student? If I fail as a student, does it make me a bad brother? If I am an excellent girlfriend, will that also make me a nice daughter?
We have many many roles to play, we are many different persons to different people. Being a less than satisfactory ‘A’ DOESN’T MAKE you a less than satisfactory ‘B’. So if your teacher stamps you as ‘the worst student I have ever seen’, please don’t think that it also makes you the worst of every role you can play.

End of class.

After I got home, I thought about what I said in class that morning. The third session struck me the most because that was the point that I have somehow neglected for a while.
I have so many roles to play, I am a different role to almost every person I come in contact with. I would like to think that I play those roles well; at least I am happy in those roles. In other words, I think I am actually a good friend to many, a good son, a good brother, a good teacher, a good student etc. But there was one role that I thoroughly failed, and it has haunted me for years.
I was never a good boyfriend. I have never been a good lover.
Why do I say that? Because I was told that I was not there when I was needed, and I was there when I wasn’t needed. The tragedy that followed was more than enough to hammer the nail into the wall and pin down without doubt a sign that reads ‘Failed Lover’.
Usually I let stumbles go very easily and move on to the next challenge (or stumble haha), but I had the utmost difficulty letting this go. For you see, there was no other role that meant more to me than that of a lover.

After leaving Davis, my social circle took on a good change. I made many new friends in India and through my friends’ weddings, got back in touch with my students in Malaysia, and distanced myself (physically) from my friends in California. I started writing letters and cards again, such a wonderful habit! I also spent much more time communicating with my family now, though one can never make up for lost time. Through these all, and after my class that morning, it dawned on me that I have finally let it go. I still think that I performed terribly as a lover (no chance to improve until I get another lover, no?!), but I am very proud of all the other roles I play.

A few days ago I met up with my students for dinner. A few days later we went for badminton. Mingling with them was very therapeutic. I can’t pinpoint exactly what it was about the interaction that made me feel good—I just did. I taught them when they were 9, 10 years old, and now they are 18. They have grown so much, and of course we interact differently than we did 10 years ago. Still, I love them as much as I did before and it’s very flattering to know that they are still eager to chat with me. To have been their teacher, and then a teacher-friend, is a wonderful transformation. Their respect and recognition of me have only grown. It also goes to show that students will ALWAYS appreciate a sincere and responsible teacher, albeit it may take time for them to realise it. That is already much more than I can say about what one can expect from your lover.

I have a friend whom I only met for a few days but we remained friends since. We communicated in the most romantic of ways—letters and cards. She and I are very different people, but I can safely say that we have truly helped each other in times of need of emotional support. Whenever I think of her, and of my other snail-mail friends, I understand that I mean a lot more to some people than I care to admit. Likewise, they make me proud of myself.

**Highly conservative calculation. The actual probability could be many many times lower.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Flowers are pretty
flowers are sweet
nectar offerings
bees busy slurping
if you listen carefully
in their hives you will hear
the bees whisper
not every flower is a honey pot
but each is worth a shot
if you listen carefully
in the breeze you will hear
the flowers humming
not a fruit every flower becomes
but a beauty they each once was.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

timak and bowie (2)

 Timak is slowly gaining the upper hand in their jovial jousting. When she first arrived, Timak was still small and had to be submissive most of the time. Even then Timak loved to cari gaduh with Bowie who's like at least 11 years her senior. Nowadays I see Timak climbing on top of Bowie often haha. I think Bowie also malas nak layan Timak but Timak's playful nature is very persistent.

 Snapshots can be misleading! In this picture one would have bet that Timak is a done deal.

 Then sometimes they become nice pals again and start licking each other. I have seen Bowie helped Timak groomed her fur with his teeth before (that's what dogs do, though I can't describe it properly), but never seen Timak do it for Bowie. Perhaps Timak is too young to know the trick yet? Hmmm....

I was surprised that Timak didn't pounce on my camera right after this picture.

But she ran over to the palm branch and began to fight it. What a worthy challenge!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

we be our own judges

when you are wrongly accused, 
when you feel unjustly judged,
don't lash back 
not immediately
stop, think, cool down
then act.
I assure you that you won't regret that moment of calm.

when your good will is ruined
when your gifts are mocked
when your tears flow in vain
don't blame
don't be ashamed
for everywhere there needs more people like us
give, and give, and give
and then
we give again.

we be our own judges
the hammer's held in our hands only
if slacking is what you wish today
then don't work
if breaking your back without pay is your desire
then don't stop
At the end of it all
nobody else goes into your mind
and tells you what you were
but your voice alone
as you heave 
your last breath.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Boom boom~

Thirteen minutes left in my lunch break, wonder if I can write a blog post before it ends?

A few days of last week were freakish. In terms of weather.
First it was super hot before 3pm. Well, about 33-35 Celsius la. The glare of the sun was so relentless that just standing out there gave me a headache in 5 minutes. Of course I needed to protect what's left of my little hair so I only challenged the sun with my scalp once.

Then after 3pm, you could see the dark clouds gathering in the sky and see no more. The whole sky became just a piece of blurry, dimensionless dark gray. You knew then the storm would be one of a kind (at least to us in Malaysia anyway,,,,takkan nak compare to those hurricanes and cyclones meh?).

Still, when the first crack came, it was startling.
Lightning flashed across the sky in symphony, east, west, north south, a lightning in every direction you cast your eyes to. Thunder, loud booming thunder shook from above and if I didn't know better, I would have believed that the thunder took physical form and was cracking the clouds from the top. Before one roll of thunder ended, another lightning lit up the sky, heralding the coming of another thunder.

I was reading at first, then realised that the incessant sounds and flashes were quite abnormal. I ran to the balcony and stayed there longer than I expected. Raindrops wet my face and head, washing away the heat of the hours before. It was a sensory feast!

Tropical thunderstorm. Yeah baby!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

the end is funny!

My best friend has left my side, but I am sure her phone calls will still plague me for a very long time.

Before she left, we had a ~2.5 hour chat over dim sum. Apparently she loves dim sum though I found that specific place just 'meh'.

We were both single (and still single haha), so naturally in between talking about ambitions/dreams (it was her birthday after all) we touched on our prospects of eventually ending our singlehood.

It was something we both hope for, yet also something we both don't dare to hope for.

This Saturday I will be part of my friend's wedding ceremony from start to end. I will be part of his Brothers Group (we will just get played a fool by the Bride's she-guards) in the morning and come evening I will be the emcee of his wedding dinner. I hope that the AWESOME positive energy of his wedding will blow away the dark clouds and the end of the ceremony, someone will tell me, not in a shy way,
"Eh, you quite good la. Still single? Me too. "
"Yeah still single ar. Interested in me ar? "
"Not interested la...just want to know you."
"Can, good good. Let me grab my angpow then we can go get a durian."

Wrote this post after I needed a break from correcting undergraduate's English for their FY project....

Thursday, May 12, 2011

It's Alive~!

In how many days of the past month did you feel alive?

Beneath my often rational reasoning, there runs a river of emotions.

I may be happy, I may be angry, I may be worried. I may be all of these at the same time.

Yet to feel alive, that's uncommon.

Thus when Life kicks in, I take in every single sensation it can give.

When I like someone, I feel alive.
I never felt the same when someone likes me. Only when I like someone, I feel alive.

When my actions helped to grow the confidence of others, I feel alive.
One of the strongest emotions I felt in my life was the pride that swelled in me when one of my students, she who was timid, shy and awfully indifferent to everything, raised her hand to ask a question in class. If my life ended there and then, I would have died a very content person.

When I develop a vision, I feel alive.
This was how I felt today. As I enjoyed dinner alone [my dad's herbal chicken was unbelievably delicious] tonight, my mind drifted to thoughts of my future. I remembered that I had wanted to start a business a short while ago. I told myself that I love to teach. Last week it occurred to me that I should help out at orphanage(s). One thought latched on to another, accelerating as they danced into a swirl in my mind even as I continued to eat. Before I finished the drumstick, the swirling stopped, and I had a vision. It was a philosophy- and passion-driven goal, equipped with a (general) practical plan and a healthy dose of romanticism. That's what I call a vision. For the second time in my life, I stamped an 'to do by X age' mark on something*. This time, X = 40.

What makes you feel alive?
Yes, you can reply "Reading your words make my cells dance!'.
I know it's true.

*1st time was 'to get my Ph.D. before 28'. I got mine at 27.

Volunteering for a positive purpose is a rewarding way to put life into your life.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


A close friend registered his marriage on Saturday.
I will be emcee for another friend's wedding in 3 weeks' time.

Time to dial my friends in India to check on their progress with mission "Find me a wife".

I am hoping that during my friend's wedding, there will be an overflow of charming, single ladies. If I can dazzle them with my awesome emcee skills on stage, perhaps I will be the second happiest man next to my friend that night :).

On the other hand, the excitement and pressure of hosting someone's wedding ceremony/dinner is scaring me...I hope I can sleep well over the next few weeks!

No picture for this post. Just imagine me with JEALOUSY painted across every cm2 of my face.

Monday, April 25, 2011

the mismatched

Kind of silly being a candle to the blind,
when the walking stick is the true need.

March 20, 2011: Tamil Nadu trip, in Kanchipuram

Notes added while typing this are indicated in [...]. Otherwise the rest is copied directly as is from my travel journal.

March 20, 2011. 10.38pm.

Last night of my stay in Kanchipuram [I stayed a week in Kanchipuram volunteering for a local NGO]. Tmr morning I head off to C.M.B.T. of Chennai [CMBT stands for Central Mofussil Bus Terminus, the largest in Asia. Don't expect much though] by bus and from there catch a 1pm A/C bus to Chidambaram. I've enjoyed my time here in Kanchipuram, particularly so because my teaching in rural schools and my two German friends here. I got along really nicely with them, and Mathias is a really nice boy w/o the usual antics you would expect a kid from a developed country might have. Today he cleaned the room so thoroughly I was impressed [and embarrassed too].

Last Wednesday I went for a Kaittaikuttu performance of the local Kanchipuram Kaittaikuttu Sangam. The actual show was performed by another group, not the local Kanchi troupe [the local troupe was apparently very famous, they performed on Tuesday]. I knew of this academy before I came, it being one of the places I'd like to visit. So happen that this week they are holding a 'kuttu' (drama) festival and seminar--shows 8pm and 10pm daily. It was still out of the way w/o buses, luckily Alex was interested & got her friend's husband who's an autorickshaw driver to do our driving [even the driver thought we were lost! luckily we didn't decide to walk hahahaa]. The performance was really nice, though I only understood little of the Tamil dialouge [but I could catch many words, just couldn't catch the sentences!].

that was a guy.

I found the character 2nd from the right very cute!!
The costumes were very decorated with huge headsets & skirts. All male actors, even for female roles. There was a lot of singing, vocalization, duet dialouges.

The character on the right was Rama. First time I saw a greenish Rama~
 Interestingly, a 'clown' existed throughout the play and seemed to serve a peculiar role of threading the plot along as characters conversed with him, and also a comedian role by doing funny physical stunts that were not only unrelated to the plot but very distracting too [the children loved it though]. The 4th wall was broken w/o hesitation.

this was at the beginning when they sang a series of verses. The guy sitting behind the purple stand sang for 2 hours straight...unbelievable.
  Monolouges were almost all sung.  Actors also served as musicans and would join the band on center stage to do some instruments or sing the lines.

Check out the hands of the actors at the back =)

They would blatantly drink tea on stage [the director of the academy actually went on stage and served them tea at the back. So nice] & wear modern tshirts--totally out of sync with the play. Thus I think this form of performance--at least the one I enjoyed--was very less formal than bharatanatyam, required less effort to appreciate, and is much more flexible than many old, classical formal arts [Kaittaikuttu is centuries old itself and has been a continuous evolution].

It was a village style performance, a once common fare in South and Southeast Asia.  Performances used to draw huge audiences from the surrounding villages and last eight hours through the night. Now we urban kids never see such things no more. Oh yes, we have the cinema and LotR's 3 hours were a pain in the butt (literally).

I also went to two temples this past week, but I shall leave them for tmr night's writing., since I don't expect to have much to write about the trip to Chidambaram.


Thursday, April 21, 2011


There are proud people.
There are confident people.
And then there is me.

I really never thought that I would need to hear praises from others to feel nice about myself.
I am one who does his stuff because he likes doing it, he thinks it's worthwhile and though he is well aware that many others can do it better than him, he is certain that he will do a pretty good job of it too.

Yet here I am, feeling somewhat unsure about myself.
This is the second time I have felt this way within 10 months. fast it's going to be the 'anniversary' of that time when I was lost beyond recognition.
I am ashamed to say that I didn't seem to have progressed much beyond the maze over the past 10 months.

Although the river is dry, it would be good to NOT fall into it.
The car has a bridge, even if it's one slightly too narrow for its wheels, but still it seem sturdy enough to support a safe crossing.
Where's my bridge?
Do I actually need a bridge?
Do I want a bridge?

Would there be a toll charge for using the bridge? I have RM109.40 left in my Smartag!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Timak & Bowie

While I was traveling in India, my dad brought home a puppy. The puppy was stranded in the middle of traffic and he saved her I guess.

The vet suggested that we named her "Lucky Girl" as she was lucky to have been adopted. So for the first few weeks my family has been calling her LG (also intended to be similar to that electronic company that makes good monitors!).

All this while I was traveling in Tamil Nadu. My mom told me over the phone that
"There's a new bug in our house"
"Really? How is it?"
"I will send you a picture"

Imagine my surprise when the picture loaded and it was a dog, not a bug. Hahaha. Miscommunication leh.

LG was cute, apparently cuter when she was younger. When I returned home a few weeks after we adopted her, she has already grown up a bit. You know, young animals grow geometrically! She's awfully playful, and likes to bite our shoes.

Actually Timak's teeth are sharper than Bowie's and her bite hurts much more than his.

From the moment she joined us, she's found a friend. A friend who's also a bully and a jealous mentor I guess--old resident dog, Bowie (nothing to do with David Bowie). Whenever we play with Timak, Bowie would growl and clamp Timak down with his jaw. Timak would either roll over or play along with Bowie and bite back, push back. Soon Timak learned to crawl under the car, where she has more space to maneuver than Bowie has.


Timak also learned quickly to jump onto our swing, an act which Bowie can't do now. Bowie has always been really superb with his jumps--a very agile fellow--but now old age has caught up with him. He's like 11 years old at least, and definitely not so active as he was just last year. So when Timak gets onto the swing, Bowie becomes less commanding, but doesn't stop trying to exert his authority.

I think Timak will learn quite some stuff from Bowie over the next few months or years. I am not sure however that Bowie makes the best role model....haha....Bowie's afraid of thunder and firecrackers! And worse, he runs away when we call him on the street haha...always an embarrassing situation.
'Show me the ropes, uncle!'--Timak

I also wonder how long Timak will survive alongside the vicious Bowie who doesn't shy away from cannibalism.


the Jaws of the canine world

By the way, know the meaning for Timak?