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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On being alone

Reykjavik, Iceland

Why do we villify being alone? Being alone is constantly being associated with being anti-social, unfriendly and depression. Being around people means sociability and is the antithesis of being alone. But that does not have to be the case. One can be social while appreciating what it can be like to be on your own. I think being on your own gives you a great sense and ability of being independent. That’s not to say you should be on your own all the time – that doesn’t really help one with the ability to live in the world.

I’ve done some of the greatest things alone: Visited Iceland, France and England, wandered about the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, discovered amazing Viennese hot chocolate and taken pictures that capture a thousand words. Being alone allows you to appreciate the people you have in your lives. =D

But overall, here’s a friendly reminder about the little things in life: You, Me, and Charlie 

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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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Clip for Malaysia

Talentime

In the wake of a turkey-stuffed haze, I sat myself down on the bed to finish watching Yasmin Ahmad’s “Talentime”. Her final feature film, Talentime weaves an incredible web of multi-cultural families, politics, race, religion, language differences and young love. It was very much a typical Yasmin Ahmad movie: simple cinematography, complex characters and great scenes of normal Malaysian life. How many movie industries can claim to showcase the life of the nation and people they claim to represent? Hollywood certainly doesn’t.

International politics aside, I do have some critiques of the movie. First, it was a tad melodramatic for my taste, especially with the wide angle, landscape shots of the park and the school and the many sighs of the teacher hosting the talent show. This definitely put a dent on the flow of the movie, giving a rather choppy feel as it skipped from one family and storyline to another. This would definitely confuse a non-Malaysian to no end, especially with the multiple language switches (English, Malay, Tamil, Chinese, Cantonese, sometimes all at once).

The Yorkshire accent of Melur’s grandmother was also very confusing… I’ve never quite understood why she had to speak to slowly, but perhaps Yasmin was planning to parody the many movies that feature a token English(wo)man. Nonetheless, the addition of her English grandmother definitely gave the movie a more authentically Malaysian feel. We cannot deny that as Malaysians, we often suffer from something of an identity crisis. Are we Chinese, Malay or Indian? Are we Eurasian? Are we European? The multi-faceted and intensely multi-cultural element of the movie definitely made my day – especially the part where we all find out that Mei Ling, the family’s Chinese housekeeper, is a practicing Muslim. I’ve never seen this addressed in any other form of media! It was fantastic.

Overall, the love story between Mahesh (an Indian boy) and Melur (an Eurasian girl) almost becomes a side story. Yasmin gives almost equal screen time to all the main protagonists, and elucidate the different storylines together. This is not a simple, formulaic movie. It’s incredibly complex, without being pretentious. There are no scenes of deep longing, or the lovers staring into each others’ eyes. Their conflicts are straightforward, and the racial, cultural and political barriers are immediately obvious when Mahesh’s mother forbids him from interacting with Melur.

The saddest (and in my opinion, the best) scenes in this movie were those between Hafiz (a secondary character) and his mother, who is hospitalised for god-knows-what. They pull off their scenes with such brevity of emotion, comedy and sadness that shocked me. The love story between Mahesh and Melur is also strictly PG-13, which is normal for a Malaysian film, but unusual for international audiences. Nonetheless, it was tremendously important to the plot that their love story remained that way, because it provided the film with an avenue to illustrate cultural differences and the idea of ‘maksiat’, as vocalised by Mei Ling the housekeeper.

It’s drawbacks aside, the movie deals with many important issues: the disjunction between race and religion, inter-cultural family relationships, gender and cultural barriers, language difficulties (illustrated by the Cantonese-Chinese speaking boys) and underneath it all – the racial politics that underline Malaysian society.

As Yasmin (the director) expressed, the film gives a glimpse into the lives of the anthropological ‘other’ – the person whom you’ve met and seen but never knew how they lived. It answers some of the questions of, ‘Do they live like me? Am I unique in my cultural practices?’ The sense of social commentary was immensely strong, and I am thankful for it.

This is one of those films that make you feel like you’re a step closer to Malaysia. It shows the complexity of the country and its people. Though far from perfect, it is definitely a must-see for audiences wishing for a departure from formulaic Hollywood and independent films.

The film moved me to read up on some of the events that inspired the film, such as the Kampung Medan incident, which involved violent clashes over an Indian funeral and a Malay wedding. I now feel rather inspired to write something (perhaps another stab at screen/playwriting or a short story) about Malaysia. Can I do it? I haven’t written any fiction in years, but I can try.

———————–

Maksiat is usually defined as an act that is forbidden in Syariah law. Though in this situation it serves to indicate sexual impropriety of unmarried couples.

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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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