Hello! You may not remember me; I barely remember myself, but hello!
It’s been awhile since I have written, due to a combination of sloth, procrastination, other interests, and interesting people in my life. I had initially thought of launching back into another entry, but I thought too long a time has elapsed for me to continue as if nothing has happened. Heck, even this WordPress website didn’t recognize me when I revisited it today. I woke up a few mornings ago and thought I’d write an update, in the random, meandering manner I once employed. These are, after all, the Messy Lines of Mantarui. And I have realized I am (who isn’t?) an assortment of contradictions, at once structured and fluid; a lantern contained within a flickering flame (no, I didn’t get the nouns mixed up, in case you caught it).
So much has happened! If you are what would pass as a regular subscriber to this loopy, irregular feed, that answers to no one and keeps to its own schedule, you would perhaps have noticed quite some time has elapsed, between my last post and now. My thoughts are scattered, and I am delightfully content in not picking them up. But I have managed to catch myself in front of the computer this sun-drenched Sunday afternoon on this side of the planet, so – here!
Have a peek at what it’s in my head. I’ll offer you some choice bits, although the choice in itself has no logic in it, besides maybe what suits the tastebuds in my brain-sea at the moment:
- The biggest event of note was my return from a 10-day sojourn out into the Indonesian islands of Nusa Tenggara. I basically bought a one-way ticket to Bali, and journeyed eastward. The end-point was Pulau Rote, the southernmost inhabited island of Indonesia. Just because. I have outlined the beginnings of the adventure here, in the previous post. I will probably never finish this series, because that’s just me, but you can read about it a little to get a sense of what I was getting at. Email or leave a comment if you think you want to read more of this little jaunt into the wide unknown. It was quite the lovely adventure.
- The next most significant event in my most recent life was the release of my final semester’s grades in the university. My ego was sorely bruised by the unexpected (to me, at least) disappointment that was the grade awarded to my thesis on the Singapore Zoo. Perhaps that is the price of hubris. Perhaps that is the price for being too lost in one’s own research. I was blindsided, and rather hurt – not so much because I expected to do terrifically; I simply hadn’t been expecting the work to be given such a mediocre grade. So, of course it hurts – to be told by a grand total of two markers (the academic kind, not the ones you use on a whiteboard) that the work you spent so many weeks, so much love, so much pride, on isn’t good enough – of course it hurts.
- But perhaps it only hurts because it meant so much. And failure is always a good opportunity to take stock. When you crash-land, you get to see things from different angles. And it was indeed humbling to be told that you inspired others. It was indeed heartening to be reminded by good friends what your striving ignited. It was indeed illuminating too, to see which friends cared enough to offer some words, while others never bothered to ask further, or listen more. It is the journey that really matters in the end, even if you were pushing for the pinnacle, and striving for the summit. The historian must remember that while consequences count, context(s) also matters. And hey, nothing else was really shaken out of joint but my ego. It has been quite the adventure to read about escaped animals and superstar primates; quite the rollercoaster ride to write an engaging narrative. I regret some things, but I look back with a quiet gladness as well. What a journey it has been.
- I won’t lie, however. I am a little disheartened. It’s the kind of soul-searching that envelops any person after an unexpected shock. Did I do something wrong? Do people really think that of me? Have I been the capering troll all this time, making too much noise as everyone watched on in silent judgment, waiting for me to take a tumble? These are ridiculous thoughts from the part of me that is sharp and edged and turned inwards. I will need some time to regenerate the protective mucous layer of arrogance and audacity to continue doing the things my second-guessing, self-critical, self would not otherwise do on its own, subject to the tidal pulls of (imagined) public opinion.
- The annual pilgrimage to my army camp has begun its cycle. All able-bodied males in Singapore not only have to serve a mandatory two years of full-time National Service, they are eventually called back to serve another ten years of in-camp training as well. In theory, this keeps the NSMen operationally ready, in case of any emergency.
- Coming back last year, and then coming back again this year to Camp is to return to a place that has barely changed, so instead you get to measure how much you have changed – the layers you have put on, both physically, mentally, emotionally and intellectually. Listening to deployment orders and contemplating orbat procedures and ‘higher HQ intent’ with the benefit of having taken a Military History module in NUS adds fascinating new layers to one’s appreciation of the SAF’s role and rhetoric in nation-building.
- There is a grudging nostalgia too. I would be the last person to tell you that national service is fun. I detest regimentation. The straitjacket reasoning that the military occasionally demands. But there is a cleanness to sleeping early, making sure your gear is maintained, making sure your boots are polished. The old smells are still there, all the tactile memories. Most of them are surprisingly comforting, after the uncertain, uneasy shades of gray life throws up. It’s like returning to a world of primary colours. Nuance and layers are important for better appreciating life. But to take a break from these things for awhile is also refreshing. The dank scent of rifle oil at the armskote, the dank sharp odour of kiwi. The running track framed by those rain trees at sunrise. The same old faces, still there after so many years. It’s like going to pay a visit to your strict severe grandfather, except that Ah Gong mellows every year, and doesn’t knock you down or make you sign extras anymore…
- In the immediate world outside, great events have been swirling and clashing, as they always have. My heart broke reading about the terror attacks in Tehran, and the sorrow of my Iranian friends. It surged a little more seeing how little coverage there was locally about it. I suppose this is an inevitable tragedy of all news cycles and all human beings. We only care for what we know, what we have experienced. I cannot pretend to know, nor offer a comment on middle-eastern politics, or even British politics. I am not that type of blogger; I know only enough to know that i do not know enough.
- I wanted to write an entry about the recent fracas (actually the more accurate term is shitshow) involving an actor of Indian descent (careful Rui, careful, the social justice brigade are arming their pitchforks…) and the things he was ostensibly made to do at an audition. I wanted to write about Racial Harmony in Singapore, after several very vocal voices in the Singapore social media scene (including members from the local so-called intelligentsia) came out to allege many things about racial privilege and “oppression” in Singapore. I thought hard about it, and decided not to. This is such a charged issue. What disturbed and unnerved me was how dangerous words can be. Words can create realities. Alleging that Singapore is an “oppressive” society is dangerous – not because the State will come down on you, but because it sets people thinking in many ways. But it also gets people very cautious in other ways.
- I refuse to justify myself. I find it ridiculous that in opinion piece after opinion piece, Singaporeans of all shades and stripes have had to begin with “I have friends from so many other races”, “i am not a racist”. The new trend in Singapore is to be politically correct. Such a clever weapon it is. Because once you control the words people use, you can start controlling the thoughts they think. Is this a slippery slope argument? Better we walk slowly and carefully on slippery surfaces then yelling irresponsible words. I have no interest in being called a racist. I have no interest in having to justify I am not one.
- I simply think someone who makes a name from standup comedy routines with accents of other minorities and ethnicities has no right to turn around and complain when asked to do an accent he doesn’t like. And no, that’s not diverting from the so-called “bigger point” and “underlying issues”. Hypocrisy is also an underlying issue here.
- The idiom about the colour of the pot and kettle may be appropriate here, but I have no interest in waging a pointless, protracted online war over a colour accidentally used at the wrong time.
- Hypocrisy of any shade gets very deeply to me, although a recent realization is that to call someone a bigot is to become a bigot in some sense as well.
- Reading the agitated reactions of certain local artists to the Pink Dot issue left a bad taste in my mouth, if you will excuse the potential innuendo. If you don’t like people to make sweeping accusations of you, how can you go around tarring all “Christians” with the same brush?
- I dislike self-righteous piety. But I will say the same thing I said in a book review I wrote long ago about Lynette Chua’s book, Mobilizing Gay Singapore. The general view of the so-called Christian Right that exists in some public discourses is vague, ambiguous, and rather unfair, which I think is rather surprising given the fact that it comes from a quarter that has long campaigned for fair and even recognition.
- What’s the solution? To give everyone a fair hearing? What’s a fair hearing? How do you maintain pretensions at fairness and “objectivity” when emotions and personal experiences are involved?
- Times like these, I still go back to Atticus Finch. A literature teacher once shrilly complained that “he’s too perfect”. No, Miss Daisy, he isn’t perfect. He just hacked together an idea that worked pretty well. He was a single father who tried his best. I have my reservations about Atticus, but I still think about him sometimes.
- He once said that you don’t really know a person until you climb into his skin and maybe walk a mile in it. And he put that into practice later, when he smiled and gave understanding and kindness to an angry old lady, and an angry old man who spat in his face.
- Try a little empathy.
- Maybe what the world needs now isn’t justice. Isn’t right and wrong, isn’t black and white. Maybe it needs something a little more difficult to achieve. Human feeling. To try and understand. To not dismiss outright a person, but to understand how they got the way they did.
- No, no. It’s not easy. Of course it isn’t. Of course I am aware of the numerous assumptions I have made here, and make daily. That’s why maybe it’s something worth striving for.