Thursday, March 29, 2007

An all seeing-eye? I think not...

A few of Malaysia’s more outspoken bloggers and columnists have attacked the Eye on Malaysia, saying there are better ways to spend money. I’ll reserve comment. All I can say is, you would think something called the “Eye on Anything” would offer a widespread, all-inclusive view.

If I had lived my whole life without ever visiting the Eye, I would have been happy. I suppose I could appear kiam siap to some people, but I just like to know that every cent I spend is going to a worthy cause. What constitutes worthy? With me, it’s complex. RM10 for a ticket to just any ol’ movie for mindless entertainment’s sake: fail. RM10 for an ice-cream cone and coloured gel pen to cheer myself up on a bad day: pass. And so on. I’m sure not everyone would agree, but they’re not living my life, so there. So, RM15 is not something I’d usually spend on a Ferris wheel ride, because I’ve never understood the attraction of Ferris wheels. And being nonconforming me, I’m resistant to hype, publicity and everything that hordes of other people are doing.

But I’ve recently begun attending a college zone cell group again, and someone wanted to go there, and that someone happens to be the one who drives most of us to cell.

Now that I’ve gone, all I can say is that the name is really misleading. There is so much more to Malaysia than the KL city centre and the surrounds of Tasik Titiwangsa. So much that you do not see at the Eye. What things, you ask? Why, things like...

... the indescribably yummy banana pancakes from Penang. The ones that are liberally sprinkled with sesame seeds, fried in Planta, and are probably your heart’s worst nightmare... but bliss on the taste buds.

... the beggars you see in larger Malaysian cities, who just about break your heart with their disfigured bodies and raggedy clothing... then raise your suspicions with their Starbucks collection cups.

... the still remarkably clear waters off Sabah, where exotic fish (including nasty little ones that bite, but don’t draw blood) live.

... the views you get driving on the PLUS highway on a clear day (when you can see foreeeeeeeeeeeverrrrrr... sorry). All that blue and green can just about blind you with its beauty. Just add one Brahmini kite out on his daily hunt, and... bliss.

... the visual and tactile beauty that is only found in Nyonya beadwork. One pair of finely crafted shoes takes up to 50 (wo)man hours to sew... and that’s before it’s even made up into a shoe.

There is so much more to this country than what you see from 60m above Tasik Titiwangsa. Beautiful things; ugly things. That contrast is what makes the fabric of a nation, the warp and the weft. Frustrations aside, all things considered, I love this country. But what did I see as the wheel went round and round? The affluence of the nearby homes. The glaring brightness of the Twin Towers. And the slow-moving traffic of downtown KL. If this Eye gives some people the only view they will ever have of Malaysia, I’m sorry for them indeed.

Friday, March 09, 2007

That was Zen, this is Tao

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to put down anyone; if by any chance the people in question see it, they will have no doubt who they are and should know that I'm stating the facts.

I've been hesitant to post about this incident because I don't want my motives to be misread, but I realise that 1) it's not likely that anyone actually reads this blog anyway; and 2) people can interpret anything their way, but as long as I know why I write and my conscience is fine with it, let it fly.

A few months ago, I was asked to choreograph a dance for a church event. This I did, gathering the dancers I needed and rehearsing independently with them because the leader who'd asked me to do the job was buried over her head in other work.

Twice before the performance, she came to view the choreography, and both times she gushed approval. The second time was five days before.

Three days before the performance, she blew into the hall like a very small, but very strong, hurricane and snapped that things had to be changed because the dance was "too Zen".

How she had managed to drastically change her mind in two nights, I still don't quite understand. The bottom line is, we managed to change the choreography to something she would accept, and in the end the dance was one of the least of her worries because there was a power failure on the day of that event.

My question is...
How can a dance be described as Zen? It's a variation of the question I always ask: how can a dance, referring to the motion itself, be referred to as "Christian"? Isn't "Christian" an adjective applied to people who've made the conscious decision to believe that Jesus was God sent to earth as man; that He died; and that He came back to life on the third day? How does a dance piece "believe" anything, being a passive, intangible object?

Back to "Zen", then. I choreographed the piece to reflect the importance of prayer, humility, submission and Scripture in our faith. Apparently, some people who viewed the last few rehearsals took issue with the movement motifs I had chosen to reflect these traits, as they resembled the prayer movements of other religions.

Lines in the sand
Where does the boundary between "arbitrary gesture" and "assigned religious symbol" lie? If I place my hands together and bow my head when I meet a Thai or Nepali, is this a religious act? More and more people, thank God, will tell me that no, it's an accepted greeting in these cultures.

In that case, I'd venture to say (and may I be corrected if I'm wrong) that it wasn't spiritual discernment that made certain quarters reject the dance; it was ignorance and fear. Fear of the unfamiliar; fear of appearing "un-Christian".

Why did I not say all this then and there? Because we were counting down the hours to the performance and the priority was to do whatever worked. Because my reason for agreeing to choreograph the piece was to come up with a work that would glorify God; not to give my artistic expression exposure. Because I was tired from that and Drunk Before Dawn and all I wanted was for it to be over.

My limits aren't your limits
I realise that living as a Christian today involves walking many fine lines: socially, professionally, culturally. The fact is that for each of us, the lines fall in different places. We need the courage to accept that if something's all right for me, it may not be for you and vice versa. It was a tough lesson, but one that this experience taught me in spades.

Oh and the title? I did have a split second of wicked inspiration when I wanted to change the choreography to something different, but just as Oriental-inspired, and shoot this wisecrack at the leader. But I didn't. Peace at all costs, yada yada. Plus, it was late at night and I wanted to sleep.

I Refuse To Be A Libran

My boss and colleague whose birthdays fall after and before mine, respectively, both align themselves to the star sign Libra and keep referring to me as a "Libran" too. I've made it clear from Day 1 of this job that I don't believe in horoscopes and refuse to have anything to do with them personally, but it doesn't appear to have sunk in.

When I was 10, my mother ordered a personalised zodiac sign letter tray for me; I never picked it up. Fast-forward 16 years later, to my first month on the job at this magazine, when I was offered a spa review called "The Zodiac Ritual". I only agreed to do it on the understanding that I would not play up the zodiac aspect of what was clearly nothing more than a marketing gimmick to differentiate that spa from the multitudes that have popped up in the Klang Valley.

People may think me overly nit-picky to so strongly stand against something that's become such a natural part of our culture, but I happen to know that the stars don't have any more control over my existence than I do over theirs. The last I checked, acknowledging and believing in something you know to be wrong is called either delusion or denial. I don't know about the next person but I prefer not to live in either of these two states. Even having to edit and proofread the monthly horoscopes for the magazine where I work is a required part of my job that I constantly struggle with.

I'm no monkey
As for Chinese zodiac symbols, I know many Christians won't even acknowledge them (although most of these people don't seem to mind listing their "Western" zodiac symbols in their online profiles) but it's something I use as a calendar system. It helps me to remember how old people (mostly my relatives) are, based on the sequence of years. I don't read Chinese horoscopes and predictions based on one's animal year, either, nor will I agree that I have certain character or physical attributes due to my birth year. I'm still waiting for someone to give me a strong, Biblical reason why I should stop even acknowledging the Chinese animal calendar system.

I don't force my anti-Zodiac subscription down anyone's throat; I respect everyone's need to arrive at their own convictions over any issue. I just state what I believe and why, and then it's up to them whether they agree or not. I only wish the same could be said of the people around me who still insist on calling me a "Libran".
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