Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Why you want to give to Nepal

Praying for Nepal is cool. But giving is hot!

Every drop counts
We may think that a small contribution will be nothing more than a drop in the ocean. And yes, compared to the ocean, a drop may not be missed. 

But so what? This is about the ocean, not us. Let's drop our self-serving need to make a massive difference and give our drops - they add up! When we give our drop, we give a part of ourselves and mingle our hearts with this ocean of human solidarity.

Many oceans are needed 
The need is GREAT. We need skilled people to reach remote locations. That means mobilising planes, helicopters, 4WDs and bikes. These volunteers will need to be fed and sheltered as they search for victims and rescue them from the rubble. That means tents, beddings, clothing, food and water purifying equipment/tablets. Many victims will need medical attention, including vital surgeries. That means medical equipment, drugs, electricity. 

You get the picture. 

And we haven't even started talking about helping people resettle. Many people will need new homes. Nepal is earthquake-prone, so these new homes need to be better than those that crumbled. Roads and schools will need to be rebuilt. Many children and old folks may have lost their families. These will need to be cared for. 

Nepal is a poor and landlocked nation. I was there in 2011. Before this disaster, most of the population had very little. For many of them, even that is now lost. They will need help. 

There is an ocean that must be amassed. There are some drops that you can give, drops that you will barely even miss. We're fortunate to be blessed with much more than we need. Let's dig deep and gladly give!

How to drop
- To save exchange rate and transaction costs, do consider giving to a local collection rather than paying in foreign currency to a charity located in a different country 
- Here's one among many lists of reputable charities working in Nepal now
- Personally, I'm making an online bank transfer to the Malaysian Red Crescent Society

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

How to pray for Nepal

On my way home last night, I stopped by to speak to one of the security guards who I usually say hi to. He showed me some images of the earthquake damage back in his country. At the end, he looked at me and said, "pray for Nepal". 

When I got back and began praying, I realised that I didn't really know what to say or where to begin. I tried googling "how to pray for Nepal" but didn't find anything on how to pray in response to the recent disaster. After thinking about it a bit, here are some prayer points that came to mind. Feel free to add to it, and share it with others who want to pray for Nepal. 

1. Pray for local leaders and international aid workers
- for physical and emotional strength to keep working 
- for them to have the necessary  materials and equipment 
- for wisdom and coordination (Haiti's "second disaster" was poorly coordinated and largely irrelevant relief efforts)
- for speed and accessibility, especially in remote areas (trapped people don't usually survive for more than 2 weeks in the rubble) 
- for integrity in channelling the resources to the right ends

2. Pray for protection for the vulnerable, that they will not be exploited/trafficked/etc

3. Thank God that one day, in heaven, all of this will come to an end

4. Pray for God's light to shine through in this dark time
- that His people will have the grace to keep and grow their faith in Christ
- that His people will carry His presence for all to see
- that Nepal will experience God's goodness through the hope in the hearts of Christians
- that God will give us grace to share His comfort and love with the Nepalese migrants that we see here everyday

5. Pray that people will cry out to God, seek Him with all their hearts, and find Him to be glorious and satisfying

Times like these are really difficult to accept, much less understand. But the following poem from the Bible offers one way to approach all this confusion:

17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

Habukuk 3:17-18 (NIV) 

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

All I want for Christmas is a Touch' N Go card

A friend of mine and I went to KL Sentral for lunch last Friday. Just as we were about the pass through the stiles to take the train back to the office, my friend realised that she no longer had her prepaid Touch' N Go card. 

I felt sorry for her. I expressed my empathy. Aw, shame. I even gave a sad face to show that I felt her pain. 

Then, to my utter shock and poorly disguised dismay, she uttered the inconceivable. She suggested that we should trace our steps and see if we could find it. 

Whoa. That hit me like a wrecking ball. 

KL Sentral is a very busy place. There are probably a couple of thousand people in that transportation hub at any one time. And every 10 minutes or so those few thousand people move on with their day and get replaced by another multitude of people. 

And we hadn't just been to KL Sentral. We had been to the adjacent mall. We walked around that mall. Three storeys of that mall. 

A Touch' N Go card is basically cash. It has a serial number, but so does the RM50 note in your wallet. A person who sees a RM50 note in a mall doesn't try very hard to find out who the owner is. Or was. The fungible becomes res nullius the moment nobody is in possession of it! She just wrote a complex policy on bank liquidity. Surely she understood the concept of cash?

Moreover, there was only RM20 in that card. It wouldn't buy you more than two bad dinners in McDonalds. And that's if you go during the lunch or dinner discount windows. I tried persuading her that the shoe-leather and opportunity cost would outweigh any benefits from finding the substitutable rectangle. 

But no. She was set. My best arguments fell flat. She was going to track down that card. 

So we went back up the escalator to the mall next door. We walked over to the balcony peering over the centre court where the dancers were still performing. Nothing. We went down a floor and around to the outside of the building, down the sidewalk to where the restaurant had been. Up to the mezzanine deck where we had sat for lunch. Still nothing. I was just getting ready to announce the end of the search when my friend suggested that we give one last shot and have a look at the dessert place next door. And behold, there was the blessed card, sitting on a patio table with loads of people passing by! 

She was elated. My pride was deflated. But I was glad for her. 

This episode reminds me of the Christmas story. God went out of his way to become a human, even died, to seek and save unimpressive people like me. 

That's all he wanted from Christmas. 

Thursday, 13 November 2014

The dead parrot in my backyard can't hide behind A. Samad Said's sarong

I recently rediscovered this brilliant comedy sketch from Monty Python. You may or may not find the part after 2:50 funny, but the bit before that is great!

Laughs aside, I think that some of the stuff the characters say sound hauntingly familiar.

Stone dead
Like the parrot, I can to some extent relate to being "dead". Not biologically, but in heart and soul. Numb, basically. To pain. To pleasure. To pretty promises. Even to insult and love. "Bereft of life", as the angry customer put it. Unable to feel. In such a state, the only thing you really 'feel' is the sense that you can't "wake up". As if you've been "nailed to the perch", immobile and stuck in your cage. Your spirit is "stiff". "Expired". You look at all your accomplishments and despise them, thinking, "the plumage don't enter into it!" What's the point of blinking beautiful blue feathers if the parrot is deceased and dead? This is a slumber from which no amount of screaming, hitting or countertop banging, it appears, can wake us out of. If I could paint this despondent deadness... Well, I can't paint. But here's this picture I found on the internets: 

Of course, this picture is a caricature, an exaggeration which describes the extreme case. Very few of us, I hope, see in ourselves a parrot as dead as the one in the sketch. However, 'deadness' can be seen as a gradual thing. It's not as simple as being either dead or alive - you can fall somewhere in between. There is the "stone dead" dead parrot, but there is also the unalive parrot which is neither "stone dead" nor fully alive.

Fully alive
Being fully alive is hard to describe - it's an ideal state when you are at your peak, creatively, relationally, intellectually, spiritually and even morally. "Fully human", as Hans Rookmaaker put it. At peace with yourself and the universe, overflowing with energy. Able to feel, to empathise, to love. To just be. 

In denial?
I wonder if we might sometimes be like the shopkeeper in the sketch. We too may deny the reality that we see an unalive parrot. In our hearts. True, our hearts may not be "stone dead". But is it possible that we're so focused on answering the question of whether we are completely dead, that we forget to ask ourselves if we are truly, abundantly, alive? 

"Naw, naw, it's resting", we might want to insist.
"It's stunned", we probably would suggest.
But wait. I know it's not stone dead, but is it fully alive and soaring in the skies?

"It's pining for the fjords", we might say. You know, perhaps we need to complete our exams, get settled in a stable job, or find some special other. 
"It prefers keeping on its back", we could propose. You know, probably we're just naturally reserved.  
But wait. I know these may explain why the parrot is a bit quiet, but have we considered what we may do within our power to become fully alive?

We look at others, doing badly, and comfort ourselves that we're okay. To take A. Samad Said out of context, this might be said of our minds:
He saw a dead crow
in a drain
near the Post Office 
But wait! What about the unalive parrot in our own backyard? 

To be fair
Maybe we ignore the unalive parrot because we have tried to address the problem before, but failed. Even "4000 volts", we discovered, could not help. Maybe we think that there really isn't such a thing as fully alive in the real world. After all, the sing/screaming in Wake Me Up Inside might not be much more than mere melodramatic performance which only exists in love songs.

Kicking and screaming
That's how I want to wake up. I want to overlook my failed 4000-volt attempts. I want to tuck away the cynical view toward the Evanescence song. Because the picture of fully alive is a picture I'll prefer on any day. Jon Foreman put it this way in Awakening:

I want to wake up kicking and screaming
I want a heart that I know is beating
It's beating
I'm bleeding

Blood running through my veins.
Life running through my soul.
Sensation for the heart. Taste. Sights. Sounds. Smells. Touch.

Oh God, help me fight for this.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

3 great ways to zap your zenergy

Wall climbing is fabulous. Especially for folks like me who have more energy and enthusiasm than we know what to do with. I went some weeks ago with a few friends and we hit the walls immediately. It was a grand time, doing one route after another and moving up to higher difficulty levels. But after a while, we were worn out.

There was this last route I really wanted to do but just couldn't muster enough energy for. I tried and tried, but to no avail. I was supposed to finish the route at the top of the wall behind me in the picture. It kind of required me to do a bit of a backflip and use my head to balance myself:

Or so I thought.

When the instructor did it, he made it look so simple. Rather than swing his way about and attempt futile mid-air acrobatics, he gently balanced his body weight and gracefully moved from one hold to the next with neither struggle nor somersaults.

I felt like an idiot. But not so much because I had just wasted a lot of energy on a simple bouldering challenge. I was reminded of how inefficient I keep finding my life to be.

Here's my attempt to summarise the solutions for three really bad zenergy-zapping habits .

1. Don't fix it just because you can
One of the biggest lessons I've had to learn since starting work is to be wary of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good. In our good intentions to do things well, we can let perfectionism cripple us. Analysis paralysis, they say.

I've heard it said that Michelangelo treated every piece of work as a mere draft. I don't think he ever really said or thought that, but I think that isn't a bad piece of advice. Come to think of it, pretty much anything we see is capable of being better. This dumb HP laptop I'm typing with. My noisy air-con. This blog post. But if we wait till we can do things flawlessly we'll never get anything done. Even God immaculate, after completing creation, only concluded that it was "very good". You can be a orthodox creationist and still believe that He didn't try to make it perfect. And if He didn't, why should we?

2. If you can't fix it, don't break it
And if it's broken, don't waste your time breaking it some more. The past year has also made me realise that I'm a lot more of a whiner than I would admit. The trouble is that it's so easy to disguise wingeing as constructive contemplation on how to make the world a better place. But really, there comes a point after which complaining goes beyond honest self-expression to become distracting and defeating.

Those closest to me know that I love saying "what a joke!" whenever I feel exasperated. Which is not just sometimes. I know it's funny and all, but I'll try to use that more sparingly. Martin Luther King Jr would not have made the impact he did if he stood up that day and said "I have a joke." It's good to be cynical and question assumptions - but only if you want to eventually build something afterward.

3. Even if you can fix it, take a break
In our enthusiasm and excitement at the climbing gym, my friends and I forgot to rest between the routes and were completely shattered by the end of it. Remember the story of the woodcutter who forgot to take time to sharpen his axe. Nuff said.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Why I'm Not Too Upset About the GE13 Results

Saudara-saudari, I'm not too upset about the election's results. But I still am a bit let down. I prepared this poster in my optimistic anticipation on Friday evening. Being unable to concentrate on revision for my finals, I decided to make this piece for release after the results were announced yesterday. However, the massive mountain of allegations about a rigged election has disappointed me (and deemed my poster somewhat irrelevant). I don't mind so much that BN won. But I mind that none of us can be sure that they won fairly. 

Having said that, I think there is good reason for us to move on with our heads held high.

1. Amazing voter turnout
80% showed up to vote yesterday, the highest rate in our 56-year history. We care for democracy more than we ever did.

2. More emphasis on substance, not rubbish
The unprecedented viability of an  opposition government, together with a more informed and concerned rakyat, means that political discussion will now have to be more relevant to real issues (prices, efficiency, prudent stewardship) rather than rhetoric of race, religion and random private-life scandals.

Of course, politicians will still try to sow seeds of discontent and discord. I am deeply concerned by PM Najib's comment that BN's smaller margin of Parliamentary seats this year was due to a "Chinese tsunami", a "dangerous" voting trend "polarised" by race. Firstly, there is good reason to think that the results had nothing to do with such a tsunami. Secondly, even if it happened to be the Chinese votes which made a difference, that does not necessarily mean that they were motivated on racial lines. If anything, opposition voters were voting in favour of Pakatan's pledge against race-based politics! Thirdly, if he is really concerned that such a trend is dangerous, he should not stoke these feelings by pointing it out (when we are not sure of its truth): this will not help many Chinese citizens who will fear that they no longer have a voice within the government -- since MCA (the majority Chinese component party within BN) lost most of their seats and their president has decided that MCA will not hold any Cabinet positions -- and possibly feel compelled to vote for the opposition (particularly DAP). This will only split the nation and distract from our common goals. I really hope that the PM's statement was made in carelessness, rather than with the deliberate purpose of stirring up these fears.

But I have faith that despite what any person, party or ideology asserts, there are more and more Malaysians who are moving beyond this language of petty politics characteristic of weakness and anti-patriotism. We are beginning to think on our own feet and demand that politicians behave in accordance with the values we all hold dear.

Let's prove these nay-sayers wrong. Fellow Malaysians, I challenge you to make a specific effort to reach out and connect better with people from other ethnic backgrounds - even if it means improving on a language!

3. More light in the dark
We have always suspected (and pretty much accepted as inevitable fact) that votes have been manipulated. But never before has the allegations been brought to the knowledge of the general public, thanks to the wonders of social media.

The attempt to set up a investigatory tribunal would not likely change the results of this election, but more awareness and a clear message from the public that this is unacceptable will eventually force the perpetrators to resort to better victory tactics (such as good governance).

4. Scriptural wisdom
This applies particularly to my Christian readers. Romans 13:1-2 could not be more clear:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

This was addressed to a church being tortuously persecuted by the rather ruthless Emperor Nero. BN may be complacent, but nowhere as bad as that. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying we should not fight for justice and for a better nation. The very author of this passage appealed all the way to Rome itself to challenge the justice of his sentence (see Acts 25).

All I am saying is that if we believe God's word, let's act like it: trust that BN is there only by God's permission. Practically, this means we should: obey the law, refrain from gossiping about our leaders and pray for those in authority.

A friend reminded me yesterday that change is a gradual process, and it does not just happen over one-off events. So let's keep on keeping on, let's redeem this country a day at a time, beginning with ourselves.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

My day at the Gentle Heart Children’s Home

I wrote this entry after visiting the Gentle Heart Children's Home in Kathmandu, Nepal in July 2011. I am running the Cambridge Half-Marathon this Sunday to raise money for these wonderful friends. The money will go towards a new computer, bookshelf as well as their daily needs. Help me raise £444 by clicking here.

It was about 5 o’clock in the afternoon when I arrived at the GHCH that Monday. Soon after greeting me, the children rushed off for “home tuition”, or what I would’ve called prep time back in boarding school. It is in this 5-6.30pm slot that they complete their homework or work on personal revision. Although I only had seen them briefly in this first meeting, I remember being struck by how well-behaved they were. This was a group of kids the size of a football team, but Arjun didn’t seem to have any problems handling them. They gladly did as they were told: introduce themselves, serve a drink, sit down or stand up. Genuinely happily, without any sign of hesitation. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Why We Might Want to Invite Marine Le Pen to Cambridge

Conrad Landin wrote a fine article on The Guardian asking for justifications for inviting Marine Le Pen to Cambridge. His was a moderate and nuanced view amongst the many voices crying out against giving this right-wing politician a platform to speak at the Cambridge Union, the University's well-known debating society.

I was reminded of the days when all one had to do to silence a political opponent was to call them a 'commie'. If we're not careful, maybe a 'no-platform' culture can see us coming back to such times?

Click here to see my two cents as written on the Huffington Post UK.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

I wasn't ready for the end of the world

Yesterday, the world was supposed to end. It didn't. This morning, I woke up thinking about what if it actually did. I concluded that I wouldn't have been ready.

But not because I hadn't finished ticking off  a bucket list of things to do before I died. Not because I hadn't climbed Mt Kinabalu, been to the African continent, gotten married, or anything remarkable/crazy like that. But because I couldn't, like Tyler Durden, say with confidence that I was ready to die.

Monday, 8 October 2012