Category Archives: Musings

A letter from Generation X to its Parents

This letter was inspired by an email I received titled “A letter from a Mother to a Daughter” and Jasryn’s blogpost (here) on parenting.

Dear parents,

I want you to know that I love you. Even if I don’t say it enough.

 

When I don’t listen to you, it’s not because I’m being obstinate. Sometimes I just have to make my own mistakes.

 

One day, I hope you will be able to accept that we’ve elected Barack Obama as our President. He may be Black, he may be a liberal, but I think he will lead the nation right.

 

When I have my own opinions, sometimes I’m wrong, but most times I remember that it was you who told me, “be yourself”.

 

One day, I hope you will be able to accept that women are equal to men in all aspects of life.

 

One day, I hope you will be able to accept that women should receive equal pay to men.

 

One day, I hope you will be able to accept marriage equality. Because my best friends are gay and I really want them to be happy.

 

If I sometimes seem ungrateful, I apologise. Sometimes I want too many things that I forget what really matters.

 

 When we disagree on fundamental issues, please remember that you sent me to receive an education for a reason: Human progress.

 

If I seem uncaring, please give me time. I promise you that I’ll find my way back.

 

If I seem distant, remember those times when I was a child where you hid painful information from me. I’m doing the same because I don’t want you to be disappointed or worry.

 

Sometimes you wonder why I think I’m perfect. But please know that I am my harshest critic.

 

When you think how my generation can be so lost, so consumed by distraction, please know that you were young once too. Even if you don’t remember it. We all make our own mistakes. Because that’s how we learn.

 

Eventually I will find my way home. And that’s when the cycle of life is complete.

 

You did the best job you knew how to do. And I am forever grateful for that.

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The Shock of Harry Potter

So perhaps the title is a little bit misleading. But I am in shock, and it has something to do with Harry Potter.

Just two hours ago, I attended a conference on gender and politics in central London. It was held at the Australia House (home of the *surprise surprise* Australian High Commission), opposite LSE. The building itself was imposing enough, with its large cast iron and gold gates, cold, imposing granite and marble floors, high ceilings, chandeliers, and Victorian drapes. Adding to the impressiveness and *slightly* intimidating facade of the House was the fact that the Exhibition Hall was occupied by parliamentarians from all over the world, overachieving students and successful men and women from politics and the like.

There was inspiration at every corner during the conference. A nice lady who introduced herself as a politician (nice politicians do exist) came to say hi and made me a very happy camper.

What’s a lowly undergrad even doing there? I’m still wondering about that myself. But that’s a story for another day. Or, if you know why, do share your thoughts with me.

But returning to the building. Remember I mentioned it was large and imposing? It was also cold. And I was slightly fearful of the chandeliers falling on me. Especially when it was my turn to get up on stage to deliver my presentation. Nonetheless. I return home, set myself loose on the internet and decided to google images of Australia House. What I found was this:

This is Gringotts.

The Exhibition Hall was home to Gringotts Wizarding Bank. From Harry Potter. *This photo has OBVIOUSLY been CGI-ed but you get my drift*

I was in Gringotts. I ate dinner there. I stood at the [slightly less elevated] podium where Griphook (was that his name?) took Harry Potter’s key.

The week could not have been crazier. Scratch that. This April I thought life could not have been crazier. But obviously I was wrong. These moments definitely make me treasure my life and opportunities so much more.

I’m still stunned. Maybe the effect will wear off tomorrow.

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Dear College Student,

These next few years should not be ones you take lightly.

These are the years that you try to decide who you are, who you want to be, and take the first steps to who you will become.

College is a time for contradictions. You will be both childish and mature.

You will most likely play dumb drinking games and not remember whom it was you slept with the night before./

You will put on your first suit and step into a meeting with your professors.

You will probably have your first job, speak with your first professional employer, and know what it feels like to be underpaid./

You will learn how hard it – still – is to prove yourself to someone else.

You will find that you are both over-qualified and under-qualified for jobs./

You didn’t think that was possible.

You might suffer from intense wanderlust./

You will worry about not having somewhere to settle down when you get old [read: thirty].

You will likely have several hook-ups and/or remain determinedly single./

You wonder when you’ll meet the love of your life and get married.

You might sleep around, and you wonder about when you’ll have children.

You might question your sexuality. You may or may not act on it [depending on where you live]./

You hate society for having rules and norms.

You will be physically independent from your family. Nobody can tell you what to do./

You will have very little money to call your own.

You might fall in love./

You might marry them.

You will become bolder, more confident./

You will find your old insecurities are still just beneath the surface.

You long for the day you become successful./

You will critique the wealthy [especially the bankers] for breach of ethics.

You want a comfortable job./

You would rather spend your time enjoying your young life.

Travelling the world becomes possible. All you need is a small bag and a shoestring budget./

You have all the energy in the world.

Learning becomes interesting – finally. You want to learn everything and anything. There is time to learn and time to un-learn./

You want to learn how to world works. You are told you should learn how one part of the world works.

Soon your college years will come to and end./

You will have to decide what to do then.

And it is then you realise that you cannot plan your future, because you no longer know who you will be in a few years.

Dear College Student, these next few years should not be ones you take lightly.

You could have it all.

But you will not know what sticks, and what does not.

Sincerely,

Your-Soon-To-Graduate-Friend.

The Apostles overlook St. Peter’s Square, watching the life change. The Romans built Rome to last forever, but things rarely stay the same. Photo Taken: December 2011.

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On Books

A glance at my bookshelf never fails to make me melancholic.

There are books that can save a life.

There are books that saved my life.

There are books that were my life.

There are books that inspire,

And there are books that tell you how to build futures.

There are the books with nothing at all,

[“Things Men Know About Women”]

And the ones filled with millennia of wisdom.

No matter how much I am cynical about the publishing industry (like any other, it has its faults), I can never disregard the monumental impact books have had on my life – and surely in the lives of others.

Books, can be merely a collection of words. It can be shapes of ink on paper, bound and glued.

But you and I know that books are much more than that.

I love my books. They may not hold all the answers to life – though I wish they did – but they immortalise ideas. Ideas thought of by people.

And so, the bookshelf, is a bastion of ideas. Ones that I have collected since I was a child.

I hope to keep the bookshelf (and its contents), while I build my bookshelf[ves] around the world.

As a traveller, books cannot follow me everywhere. But these books and I,

we will never be apart.

[Because] I carry them so close to my heart.

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When we sit idly by

Warning: Spoilers for Fox TV’s “Glee”

Tonight was the midseason finale of Fox’s hit TV show Glee. It was an emotional rollercoaster, even for a non-fan like me. There was the much anticipated Regionals competition, Finn and Rachel’s wedding, and Quinn… in a car accident. Wait what? Yes, the character Quinn – the very same that in the show had been admitted to Yale – is seen to be hit by an oncoming truck, and the episode ends.

As tragic as it is to know that the fate a character is uncertain, what struck me most was how this episode began. David Karofsky, an athelete that had previously tormented Kurt for being gay – and as we find out later, Karofsky is gay too – was bullied in school after someone had found out he was gay. The following scene detailed the fictional Facebook comments and online jibes at his sexuality, cumulating in Karofsky attempting to take his own life. Although one can argue that suicide features prominently in many different facets of media, the fact remains that what he went through and what he tried to do is real for many people around the world.

The fact that one’s personal life is amplified on social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr was what made that scene so difficult to watch. Information on the internet can be posted without your consent, and yet it is you who has to deal with the consequences. We have seen this happen time and again to public figures, be they celebrities or politicians, but it is in recent times that this phenomenon has spread to the wider populace.

And herein lies the reason why I even watch Glee and why this episode struck me so strongly.

Anyone who watches Glee knows that they have a terrible track record for keeping with story lines, pairing and breaking couples like its nobody’s business and having characters say the most absurd things. Most times, their saving grace is the music. However, regardless of anybody says about the consistency or quality of the show, no one can deny that Glee deals with issues that scares most of society. Teen suicide? Sexuality? These are issues that crop up intermittently on the entertainment radar, but rarely does it permeate a wide consciousness.

Glee decided to put a face to what happens to people around the world when they reveal non-heterogenous sexual preferences. What Kurt and Karofsky went through, the bullying, name calling and rejection by family and society, are not fabrications of an overactive imagination. They are real. The consequences are equally real. That is why we have organizations such as the Trevor Project and Suicide Hotline. Like I said before, Glee was not afraid of pushing what is ‘appropriate’ to be discussed on national TV.  On the front of sexuality they have done exceptionally well.

The episode also contained the crux of the situation: When someone decides that they can’t take it anymore, whose fault is it? Does it rest solely on the tormentors? Or upon the bystanders?

Everyday we hear passing comments or statements regarding people’s sexuality, sexual preferences or how they do/do not conform to appropriate gender norms. Sometimes we participate, sometimes we ignore them, sometimes we combat them and sometimes we stay silent. On many occasions I myself have maintained silence, either for the sake of not starting an argument at an inappropriate time or with an inappropriate person. But it sucks. It sucks to have to stay silent when everything your friends/family/peers are saying are most likely applicable to someone you know. It sucks to know that while someone is pulling the name of someone you know through the mud, all you can do is sit by and watch.

This is complicity and it is almost as bad as being a perpertrator. The idea of complicity is common in many areas of knowledge, especially in Politics. Jewish elders were complicit in allowing the Nazis to round up working class Jews in WWII Germany. Expatriates were complicit in standing by while the Rwandan genocide carried on. We are complicit in inequality when we accept homophobic or racist comments without issue. Complicity exists everywhere, and is by no means an easy issue to tackle.

Nonetheless, I’ve learnt that with this specific issue of sexuality, complicity comes at a very real and high price. At my age, peers left and right are trying to figure out who they are, and many of them face confusion. Some have found who they are and are coming to terms with what that means. In a position such as mine – and that of EVERYONE – complicity could mean a friend becomes the subject of torment and insensitivity for the rest of their lives. Complicity can – and has – mean(t) death.

Whether is on the topic of sexuality, or religion, or race, complicity plays a great role in determining the outcome and its effects on those involved. Which is why the next time someone says something particularly insensitive regarding sexuality, gender or marriage equality, I’m going to speak up. Speaking up indicates the courage to stand up and defend others that deserve our respect as equal human beings. Speaking up could mean someone’s life does not become a living hell. Speaking up – especially in the presence of a younger audience – could mean that the prejudices of the old guard fall apart.

I’ve stood by long enough to see that my silence does more harm than good. I can never know if what I say makes a difference, but I can certainly try.

I hope you begin to speak up too.

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Acceptance

I usually ignore (and sometimes abhor) entertainment news. We don’t really need to know what Kim Kardashian wore during her wedding, and neither do we need to know that Katie Holmes was walking to the Sunset Boulevard Starbucks. Shallow – and sometimes unethical – reporting aside, the world of entertainment news (referring to news that features actors and other artists) occasionally comes up with something interesting and worth reading.

Today I stumbled upon one of those stories. It was posted on AfterEllen.com, about an actress on the Fox hit-show Glee. The actress is Dianna Agron, who plays mean cheerleader Quinn Fabray on the show. It all started when she wore a shirt “Likes Girls” in their performance of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”, which caused a storm in an industry obsessed with the personal lives of its participants. Questions of ‘Is she gay’ etc. popped up everywhere. The AfterEllen article hits the right notes about pointing out the unnecessary madness the shirt caused, but also the positive consequences and positive message of her action.

This was followed by her own personal blogpost on the issue, explaining that she did that in support of the LGBTQ community. Read her blog post here: http://felldowntherabbithole.tumblr.com/. It is well written and credit is due to her for articulating a complex issue so well.

So why is this important or even relevant?? Well, if you took some time to read those articles or if you’re a fan of Glee, you can see that the consistent message is tolerance and acceptance. And in this context, tolerance and acceptance of sexual identity(ies). This is an important message not only for children, but for the ‘wise’ adults as well. Growing up in a conservative society, you get to see much of the subtle undertones of homophobia (and various phobias against things like dyed hair), and much of it is directed and aggressive. Take my high school for example. I attended an all girls’ elite public school, with uniforms and the whole she-bang. Aside from obvious racial intolerance amongst its homogenous population, socially ‘deviant’ behaviour was punishable by suspension. These included everything from pruning eyebrows to homosexuality. In regards to the rules that govern personal looks, it definitely fostered a more focused academic environment, but when it came down to the details of those rules, you’d realise that homosexuality was punishable by a weeklong suspension and if you didn’t “repent” (sounds an awful lot like the Catholic Inquisition), you could actually be expelled.

Most of the student body took homosexuality to be a part and parcel of growing up, but the undertones of intolerance existed below the surface. Mind you, homosexuality is a punishable crime in Malaysia. But not knowing the consequences of our actions, most of us embraced the institution’s approach and belief towards homosexuality: it was a problem and was a social ill that would destabilise society. I heard no reports of hate-crimes during my 5 years there, but the result is very clear as my peers and I enter our 20s.

The seed of intolerance is planted early and deep. Even discussing the concept of non-heterogenous sexuality amongst my peers and family were met with hostility. But why the hate? It could not be justified with any rational argument, yet the belief was held on to so strongly. Which is where shows like Glee come into play.

While I had to leave my home and enroll in university to learn to accept differences, I see shows like Glee leading the way in the younger generation. The show is syndicated in many parts of the world, Malaysia included. Besides representing different character tropes, five of the characters on the show represent the LGBTQ tropes. Together with the rest of the cast, they deliver storylines and music that not only reveal social assumptions but also empower everyone to learn tolerance and accept each others’ differences. An example of this is when the primary gay character (Kurt Hummel) is bullied excessively for being gay, his friends needed to learn that they could do something about it. A show like this reaches a young audience, and shows them that they need to accept their friends and peers, not marginalise them.

Though Glee’s target audience is probably those below 20, the message of tolerance rings clear like a crystal glass. What we say and do to implicitly or explicitly support discrimination reflects on who we are as global citizens. It is important to remember that what we do today will have tremendous consequences in the next decades, if not centuries.

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Ideas that form any other way

A heated discussion with a friend about the purpose of a post-graduate education has got me thinking. Not only about education and university, but also about the nature of arguments. We argue because we disagree, but how do we validate our arguments? A rationalistic argument should be justified by facts, but when all you are doing is arguing in a non-legal-I-want-to-sue-you kind of way, how do you validate your ideas and beliefs?

I ask this question because in the many arguments and debates I have gotten myself into, much of the time we have to end it by agreeing to disagree. Why? Well, mostly due to the fact that we have had significantly different experiences surrounding the same issue, different primary assumptions about the issue (though that is usually challenged within 5 minutes of the debate beginning), and difficulties in projecting our experiences and observations to a large worldview.

It seemed to me that if those factors exist, how can you have a constructive argument? Neither side would concede because of fundamental differences. To put this in a competitive context, it would mean that one side would need to take apart the other’s fundamental argument by attacking assumptions. But, by attacking the assumptions, one would also need to destabilise the projections of a personal belief onto a larger worldview. It then begs the question, can and should personal beliefs be projected upon a larger worldview – in the context or an argument? And can an argument even be constructed based upon those projections?

An assumption within all this is that arguments can be delineated from personal beliefs. Also, nature of arguments is that a more logically constructed argument would and should triumph, unless your opponent is a ultra-conservative right-wing madman. But this I have perceived not to be the case. People of common beliefs an disagree immeasurably on the basis of small differences of process and methods of achieving a common goal. And their assumptions frame their arguments, but can assumptions be destroyed?

So a list of primary ideas of arguments and debates (compiled from observation – by no means definitive):

1. Constructive arguments are good for your brain – it hones your critical thinking skills

2. There is a winner in arguments.

3. The most logical and convincing proposal will win.

4. Deconstruction of an opposing argument will achieve success

5. The more you know about an idea the better

6. Contributions of  different ideas makes an argument richer.

Oh ’tis the world of philosophy. It’s like an avalanche – once the primary thought forms, it’s just downhill from there. I have of course been unable to answer my own questions and musings – only simply being able to form new beliefs about the world – but I have seen that the next question is: Is such philosophising constructive? And is action more important than thought?

Is this supposed to be what university life is about? It’s by no means the singular purpose of university life, but I certainly feel that it is a good chunk of it. At the end of the day, don’t we all come here to think after all?

I have by no means achieved closure on this. And perhaps I won’t until I’m 80, wrinkly, eating prunes and grumpy. Why so long? In my experience, I have little patience for philosophy. It frustrates me, to say the least. I like answers. Perhaps a bit too much. If answers were dogs, I’d probably have a litter of them by now. But of to study philosophy I go.

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