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Archive for May, 2009

I spent most of yesterday on an errand that took me to Bristol. I didn’t really mind, because that meant many hours of reading without distractions. I read E.H. Gombrich’s revised A Little History of The World (English translation: the original is Eine kurze Weltgeschichte für junge Leser, first published in Vienna, 1936) during the day, and then later at night watched a video of Google presenting their new Google Wave. On hindsight this strange polarity fit quite well; History first and then a good look at the future following suit.

The book itself was an sudden buy when I was in Bath 3 weeks ago. It let me down a little because I failed to notice that it was aimed at younger readers or to be read aloud to kids. (23 is apparently not a “young reader” any more.) I must say I felt a little disappointed when I began, but that changed shortly. It tells the story of man from the Stone Age through to the atomic bomb, mostly concentrated on Europe with fleeting glances towards other continents.

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Needless to say, compressing such a vast scale into nearly 300 pages requires some intense summarising and glossing over, but the part which won me over was the incredibly smooth flow of timelines and the remarkable coherence and structure in which he weaves tales of great figures from Pericles to Charlemagne to Napoleon into the tapestry of mankind’s history. Not to mention the simple and humorous writing and the grace and wit employed in tackling sensitive issues like religion, war and religious wars (which admittedly makes up most of our history).

I am no proper student of history, but I remember high school, and also architecture history (which really is just history but with buildings too) and being constantly confused by the overlapping of events, timelines and characters. Worse still was when I was doing research on a few different books and all the different perspectives and viewpoints clashed together to make studying a nightmare.

In this respect Ernst Gombrich did a splendid job in tying all events together very smoothly, no doubt for his young target audience, but it is a still a good book for people looking for a concise (and how concise!)  introduction to world history, young or otherwise. It’s also a good yarn – I agree with him that all the best stories come from real life anyway. But keep in mind I said introduction – those who are already reasonably acquainted with history will probably want to look elsewhere, as it’s more of a storybook than anything else.

Also, the production of the book was really good which made it a joy to read and easy on the eyes. Everything from the typography to the binding to the  beautiful illustrations speaks of excellent design. I felt the need to mention that after being disgusted by some contemporary publishers looking to cut costs and coming up with rubbish quality books and the lamest book covers ever!

But I digress. He ends his story with WWII, and concludes his book with an afterword written 50 years later so elegantly it’s almost worth reading for the conclusion alone. I finished it just as I reached home, and switched on my PC to watch the Google Wave preview on youtube. The world has moved on since Ernst’s time. Google, which didn’t even exist 11 years ago, is  now revealing Google Wave – a new chat-communicate-collaborate tool that (seems to) trumps all existing products. I can only wonder what will be written in the history books when the next Ernst comes around, or indeed, if there will still be books.

Also, I can only wonder if the timing of this revealing has anything to do with Microsoft’s new Bing…………

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Summery musings

It’s almost June, and the arrival of summer also heralds the end of the academic year. Part-time students in the firm where I work, of which they are many, have been busying about in the office on their college days for some weeks now, preparing their presentations and portfolios. Former classmates on the other side of the world tell familiar stories of stress and of not enough sleep.

This year I am not gong for any crits or presentations, and I feel oddly detached, like something that is vaguely familiar yet something I can’t relate to. The academic year’s final exams or final submission summarises all that is learnt in the past 8 months or so,  condensed in a thick portfolio or in a series of exams.

Over my own past 8 months I’ve been immersed in a different role in my ongoing education architecture, and among other things it has been an opportunity to shore up many neglected basics and to better understand the world that I am about to dedicate myself to.

I know taking an entire year off is absolute luxury, (although it is almost compulsory here) but for better or for worse it has given me too much plenty of time to reflect and figure out a path to carve for myself. Time will tell if this year was a right decision at the right time, or a utter and complete waste of a year, but in the meantime I will enjoy the long days of summer  and its warmth, drink some wine (and beer), and bask in joie de vivre!

Enjoy the summer, (if you happen to be in the northern hemisphere) and oh man I can’t wait to go back homeeeeeeeeeeeeee

P.S. – but, please don’t go crazy like these guys here. Watch for the competing thong + mankini contestants! sigh.

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Yesterday night I returned from my week-long break in France, in Lille and Paris to be exact. It was blisteringly hot (by European standards) and my skin acquired a slightly more recognisable Malaysian tone as opposed to the pasty hues it has taken on in the past year.

I have been extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to travel regularly this year, and I am very grateful for the people and the circumstances that has made it possible and the insights and experiences it has given me. Last week’s trip signalled the end of my “travel season” as I hunker down and try to recover my depleted finances, as well as enjoy the imminent arrival of summer without jostling with swarming hordes of tourists. (After Neuschwanstein & the Reichstag, never again!!)

Many Malaysians come here to study and make a beeline for Paris; it’s often the first port of call when they find themselves in need of a place to fling some cash when holidays roll around. To each its own, but something held me back – perhaps a desire to understand Europe from a wider perspective that doesn’t just include tourist hotspots and museum cities. Anyhow, I am happy to have taken this trip at this time, for reasons I will go back to on another day.

This will do for now – maximum rest is needed if I am to switch from holiday/work modes instantaneously without finding some excuse to call in sick again….

I leave you with two of my favourite portraits of the trip; one of each of us… (naturally… if not who?)  Flora as usual has beat me to posting my photo… damn.

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Trying to get in some nap time by the Seine: Bleargh – who turned on the lights?

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Not content with the distance we walked to and around Marie Antoinette’s Estate in Versailles, Flora decided to do some imaginary rope-skipping in the portico of Louis XIV’s Grand Trianon.

P.S. – A semester of French lessons enabled me to buy my breakfast in a local Boulangerie/Patissier entirely in French, the only incident where attempts at communication didn’t resort to English and/or pointing, either initiated first by me or by the other party. That achievement is probably dubious at best, though I should clarify I bought more than one croissant ;)

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While I am certainly not as productive at blogging this few days as compared to Flora I have been busy… using Google Street View to plan my trips! That’s not actually as productive as it sounds to be. It actually wastes more time as I’m just “moving about” in the city checking things out when I should be researching and reading. But that’s what guidebooks and train rides are for. So all I’m doing is  checking out my accommodation in Street View and wondering why the heck the places we’ve chosen to sleep in look SO dodgy. And then we remember we’re poor… hmmm.

Shall be going away for a week………and unfortunately I didn’t manage to schedule any posts. I must say I lost this current skirmish to procrastination (but am winning the war, trust me…) because I spent my other time playing badminton or looking at badminton equipment to drool over. Why are badminton stuff so expensive? But come June, there will be plenty of time to update, because after the relative splurges of the last two months I have no choice but to scrimp and save for the next two months……so please do not think I’ve given up on trying to post more elusive photos. Till then.

(Making a special effort here…I have to be up in 3 hours’ time to catch a train! argh)

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ABCs

From early April until this weekend, our agenda has seen plenty of B’s – among them Belfast, Birmingham, Bath, Bristol, (Royal) Botanic Gardens in Kew and the British Museum, where the ignorant me was much surprised to find friezes and other sculptures of the Parthenon so far away from the Aegean Sea. And they exist in 7 other countries around Europe as well! Also, next week I shall be crossing the English Channel (or La Manche as they call it in French) yet again.

Most of my time the past few weeks have been given to planning the next few months in as much detail as I dare to. It’s the time of the year again, and I’m not referring to summer and holidays, but moving, again, this time back to Glasgow, and also things to be sorted out before and during my time back in KL, and to fix the bloody door. What door? The door of my studio – a screw came loose and its not been the same ever since. Everyday when I come back home the second thing I touch (the first is the front door) is the faulty door handle and from then on my day goes downhill.

I can’t believe its already almost 7 months since I’ve been here. Just when I am getting over my irrational reluctance to engage in the local culture, accents and habits, and am finally picking up a thing or two in socialising and making friends in this particular corner of the world, it’s time to move on. Well of course – c’est la vie;  Just means I have to acclimatise faster in the future…….

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Money Money

When we go down to London, we take the train, and Flora never lets me reads on the train because she gets bored. So we talk. On a particular trip – the conversation turned to money.

Have you ever noticed the effect of money on the people around you? Your colleagues, your classmates, your friends, your relatives, your family, your acquaintances. Money changes people. The abundance of, the scarcity of, the quest for, an indifference to, an obsession with, the wanton display of money will all cause people to act differently and to do things that deviate from their character. Or, it might be more correct to say that they merely flaunt the more basic and hidden traits of a person.

Don’t let money manipulate you and shape your soul!

Speaking of money, you can now buy a hundred trillion Zimbabwe dollars note on Ebay for something like 10 GBP. That’s 100,000,000,000,000. It’s probably never gonna happen ever again. What’s stopping you?

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Infopollution #3

I must concede defeat: I have now lost battle against the endless stream of information afforded by my internet, both the wheat and the chaff… I’ve raising the white flag, retreating from the battlefield and am planning to flee… just trying to keep up with news and latest developments in my areas of interest, as well as following the blogs of writers/bloggers/smart people/whoever I admire has turned my life upside down! Imagine that!

The past few weeks, I have been doing this :

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And I don’t know what for! So, I’ve decided I need to go back to the roots of things: back to the basics… Books, not blogs. Magazines, not webzines. Newspapers, not news websites. Clear blue sky (hah! as if) & outdoors, not the keyboard and the monitor.

Plus, the past few months has seen a tangible detrimental effect on my eyes. Bad, bad, bad, bad….

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And I should probably climb more trees.

* stumbled across that cool graphic from Shaz Madani. More found here, which is also where I took that particular picture from, hoping that I don’t break any copyright laws. He has some pretty cool stuff.

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