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Archive for March, 2009

On the way back home from badminton tonight I saw the moon in the sky. It looked like a moon straight out of a children’s book – a small crescent wedge in the inky blue sky,  silvery and with a curiously radiant yellow tinge, a mysterious and unexplainable luminous arc.  Looking at the moon caused me to recall images from my childhood, memories of long road trips around the interior of Pahang, for reasons long forgotten and of no consequence to a 5 year old. It would be late at night, my parents quietly chatting at the front of the car, and I would be lying on my back and stretching across the length of the backseat (if I was alone), and through the side window would be the moon, silently keeping pace with the car.  I was fascinated by how it always seemed to be above me, moving with perfect coordination, never faster, never slower, as the car hummed and whirred across the quiet highways. My head, resting on the backseat, bobbed with the vibrations of the car, lulling me into a fitful sleep until I arrived at my destination.

The vernal equinox has come and passed, causing a great deal of celebration around the world. British Summer Time has also come into effect, and sunset is suddenly, finally, at an acceptable time. Growing up in a equatorial country, I could never fathom the anticipation for and the delight spring brings to residents of the northern/southern hemispheres. After last year, I finally did, and now, spring is here…

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More nerdy purchases

Other than used/second-hand bookstores, ( I avoid strange-sounding and ambiguous terms like PRELOVED) I also am compulsive book-buyer over the internet, because they also cost only a fraction of high street prices. I purchased another 4 books yesterday after chancing across a online bookseller with cheap prices. I find it remarkable that none of the books seem to be related in any way. One of them is an art reference book, one a coffee-table book about reefs, one a Man Booker Prize winner, and one of those fiction types.

I think my attraction towards these cheap books stemmed from when I was younger and my parents refused to buy books for me. (I presume it was because I wasn’t reading anything worth spending money on at the age of 5).  I grew to depend on regular library visits, book rental shops and spending hours in a bookstore. Just when I grew out of hiding in a deserted corner of a book store reading for free and risking the wrath of a member of staff, major bookstores made it “ok” to do that by introducing comfy armchairs!!!

I think that for many Malaysian families, the reverse was/is still true – where parents buy armloads of books but their kids never read them. If anything, my parents taught me how to appreciate and judge the invidivual value of each book, and having limited spaces on my library card means I had to be selective on what I read. At the very least, it taught me that not all books are worth buying, or reading, just because they are well-regarded, well-known, or a “best-seller”. As a favourite author from my childhood (Mark Twain) put it – The man who doesn’t read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t. (and also woman lah, to factor in 21st century political correctness)

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I am a compulsive buyer when it comes to used books – drop me into a used bookstore anywhere, with books in a language I can read, and I will always leave with a plastic bag in my hand. In London, there are used bookstores on every other street (ok fine that is exaggerating), and they can really test my willpower not to grab every book I like and return home with an empty wallet to a bookcase that is already groaning under the weight of too many books.

Today I saw an Oxfam Books outlet through a bus window, purely by chance, and I immediately got down at the next stop, backtracked to the store and naturally bought a few books, including Linda Furiya’s Bento Box in the Heartland. It’s for books such as these that I like used bookstores so much – completely unknown book by a completely unknown author, and I just go ahead and buy them because they cost only a fraction of new books, and then they turn out to be a pleasant/enlightening/great read. Many of my favourite novels were first bought from used bookstores, and then I later had to get a new replacement because all the used originals were falling into pieces, literally.

Almost completely unrelated (the tenuous connection being the aforementioned book having strong culinary links), but a few hours later I had dinner at the much vaunted Royal China at Baker Street, and I must say, it was well under my expectations. To be fair, it’s not a bad place to eat at, but I expected much much more for a restaurant with a reputation and prices like Royal China, in terms of both food and overall experience.

Or maybe I just miss my neighborhood dai chau la….

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Whittling down, 2 years on

I was lucky to have encouraging parents when I was growing up. I was also raised in an environment where I was able to try all sorts of new things constantly and sporadically. Besides, my parents bought me and my siblings a set of encyclopaedias, which I made full use of. It quickly became a habit to be curious and interested in new environments, new activities, new paradigms and new contexts.

Dostoevsky said that the second half of a man’s life is made up of nothing but the habits he has accumulated during the first half. In general, I tend to agree with him and therefore, I am starting to feel that it’s high time I stopped being so… random, and in fact it’s time to whittle down my… scope, before they get too messed up. No doubt, it’s good to have a wide perspective and an open mind, but as I’ve found out, it’s a fine line to tread between being “open-minded” and “having no opinion“, just as there’s only a sheer wall separating “wide perspective” and “without direction“.

The thing is, even as I’m constantly reducing distracting elements, I am still picking up new elements as I go along! It’s annoying, and perhaps just a fact of life to get used to.

This goes hand in hand with another maxim in which I’ve been telling myself:  Henry David Thoreau’s simplify, simplify. It’s 2 years since I first talked about it, and 2 years later I basically posted the same thing. While there has been marked progress, sometimes it seems that I am still light-years away from achieving my target. I decided I don’t believe in setting too-high targets though, only not allowing enough time. It seems I must allow more time…

So; it continues………..(perhaps for ever; it seems to be one of life’s endless loopy loops)

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http://www.oobject.com/category/15-skyscrapers-on-hold

To be frank – I don’t like any of them. Put on hold? Not a loss in my book! I admit that those are just renders and the built buildings might look different when built and might actually look nice, but still I think many, if not all of them are badly designed, and some of them are just really really ugly. The website so aptly puts it: they reflect of a period where architecture firms were so overloaded with work to think very hard about the designs.

Some people (writers and editors lah) have been ruminating that the recession has its advantages for architecture as they allow architects to work at a slower pace and actually think about what they are doing. Without going too in detail about all the other stuff they write in their articles, I’ll be the first one to say that a little more thinking never hurts anyone, especially when what you’re doing affects people on several scales and indirectly affects the society and the environment you build in.

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The Wedding Palace, Moscow. My opinion: why? WHY???

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Back on Track

I returned from Oslo on Monday and promptly fell sick. Nothing major, just a bit of over-exhaustion, and I spent the next day sleeping it off. 15 hours of sleep later, I was perfectly fine. However, I took that as a sign that I needed a rest, so I lazed around for the rest of the week.

The six or seven weeks between the Prague and the Oslo trips went by quickly because I played badminton twice a week as well as training capoeira thrice a week, on top of all the regular nonsense I get myself up to after work hours. Needless to say it was a rather hectic six weeks. I decided to relax a little and spent the last week streaming videos on the internet.

I have to say, I am thoroughly bored of that and raring to get back on track!

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5 days in Oslo and all we saw was this – a whole lot of white!

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Two weeks ago, I read that after a visit to China, England’s schools minister Jim Knight wants to implement the teachings of Confucius in English Schools, saying that they would be useful as Confucian teachings “respect and value the family and very strongly respect education”. The article went on to mention that this could possibly foster knowledge of mandarin and Chinese culture in English kids. This brings back memories of my childhood when I remember studying him (well, his books) in school.

I thought the most interesting line in the article was that:  “I (Jim Knight) want to develop Confucius classrooms and further develop Mandarin in comprehensives. There should be an opportunity for everyone to access Mandarin at a local school.”

It’s ironic that while Asians kids have long been indoctrinated with the mindset that knowledge of English is vital to a bright future, and schools/governments in their respective countries have always  encouraged mastering the English language, this trend seems to be starting to catch as well on the other side of the world. Has everything come full circle then? It’s a typical scenario to hear about young Americans/British going to Japan to teach English, and now it seems that the reverse might also be true soon. That seems like a positive step for globalisation and tolerance of other cultures. (But I am not saying it’s easy)

Coincidentally, I have just appropriated a copy of Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, a thin volume where he juxtaposes Western and Japanese aesthetic (just initial impressions as I have just started reading) and it seems that the world would be better off if the many usable/suitable qualities of Eastern cultural values were disseminated more widely in the West. Someone would have to figure out how to do it in the least harmful way though.

Going back to Confucius and Britain, I wonder how that plan is going to be implemented. I’m sure some version of Confucius’ Analects (论语) exists as English translations (they have had 2200 years or so to do so after all), but will that be passed on to the schoolkids in its original version or an edited-for-UK version? I expect some of the principles expounded will not be easy for these kids to swallow.

Anyway, if you do not know who Confucius is, he’s this guy (I took the photo from Confucius’ Wikipedia entry, and as usual that is the perfect place to start if you want to find out more):

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Knowing the British, it will probably take years before anything is ever developed, but either way it will be interesting to see what happens.

Edit: I nearly forgot – here is the news article for those who are interested.

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