June 2008

I have never been as comfortable with writing about something as compared to speaking about something.  Those who know me well have often used ‘complimentary’ adjectives like “articulate”, “humourous” and “spontaneous” to describe the way I relate to others when I am holding court with other thespians.  While not entirely sure if the compliments are an attempt to elicit another round of free drinks (or a free meal) from me, what is true that I am better in wielding my tongue than my pen (or keyboard).  For instance, I have never done very well in General Paper for my ‘A’ Levels, be it the class assignments, the pre-exam mock papers (countless of them – JC is the time they cultivate the ‘kiasu’ and ‘kiasi’ attitudes into your psyche), or the actual one set by Cambridge.  If only General Paper was in oral format, I am sure I would nail the subject with a distinction (throwing in a few “smoke grenades” of course).  Needless to say, another noteworthy event during those years was that I was the mouthpiece of my JC class (i.e. ‘kenna sabo’ to be the class monitor by my classmates …).      

Which was why I was initially unsure about attempting to blog some five months back.  At the back of my mind, I was thinking.  What writing style should I adopt?  What stories should I share?  Should it be dead-pan serious or downright hilarious?  How should I present the blog?  If it was going to be on the World Wide Web, I am sure people want to see some standard there.  Either do it well, or don’t do it, so that no time is wasted on mediocrity.  I trawled through a number of other local blogs (people I know and people I do not know) to see how others write, what do they write about, and why do they write what they write.  There were blogs about food, blogs about family, blogs about self, more blogs about food (a local favourite theme), and blogs about nothing in particular.  Blogs exploding with narcissism (most common), blogs with entries the length of a thesis, blogs with only pictures (speaks a thousand words – i.e. no need to write anything!), blogs with short ‘homemade’ stories and poetry, political blogs, blogs telling you their daily life stories (from the number of the bus they took in the morning to what time they brushed their teeth at night), blogs to incite hatred against Ah Bengs and Ah Lians (er … ok, I made up this one), and many more.

And then it dawned on me that blogging isn’t really about what you write and how you write it.  Blogging is really about “Being”.  Being comfortable with your own work.  Being able to communicate with whoever your audience is.  Being able to share whatever you want to share off your mind and/or heart.  Being creative and able to express yourself in whatever way that is “you”.  Yes, it is about being yourself. 

You might be now moaning loudly “chey!”, as it seems that I have not said anything new.  But think about this for a while, there are many blogs out there that sure are pretentious, or riddled with “try-too-hard” funny Queen’s English, or that seeks attention and nothing else.  Now, that is dreadful.  We have enough trash in cyber space.  That’s right, you don’t need to be a wordsmith, or have an incredible tale to spin.  Yes, an entry on last night’s dinner is good enough.  Heck, you can also just type it out as if you were narrating it to someone beside you.  Even Singlish qualify.  The best blogs I have read are those that are told straight from the author’s heart.  After all, its all about your audience understanding exactly what you are sharing about.  Such work probably isn’t going to win you a Literature Award, or earn you lots of money (unless you are Xia-suay … er, i mean Xiaxue), or make you famous and popular overnight (unless you are Dr Leslie Tay of “ieat” fame, or mrbrown).  But it is certainly your opportunity to go up the stage and go “bleah bleah bleah” on the microphone.   

So that is my little take on blogging.  You may disagree.  Fine, just go ahead and blog about it then.  As for me, my tongue is still mightier than my pen (or keyboard).  Perhaps its time to migrate to podcasting …  


Image: Power98 FM website

I am a sucker for nostalgia.  And I think most Singaporeans are to a certain extent.  How else do you explain our obsession with retro (read: ‘can be rather tacky’) music?  Or the sell-out concerts by (not really very good) groupies from a bygone era such as Air Supply?  Or even the oft-heard lament of “… the good ‘ol days …” (with that predictable sigh) in conversations everywhere?  A recent article that I had read postulated that our desire for the recent past (nice oxymoron) could have to do with our country’s hard-nosed approach to the past – knock ’em down if there are no future (not even present) economic benefits.  So many of us try desperately to search for our past and cling on to them as much as possible before they are gone forever.  Try this – think of your first home (or homes), the schools you attended, and the places you used to go to and play – how many of these places are no longer around or changed beyond recognition?   

Ok, maybe I am stretching my argument a little far here, but the fact is I truly am a sucker for nostalgia, a true collector of memories, an old record that loves playing the tunes of a good song from my past.  Be it an old television programme or song, an old familiar haunt, something I used to eat or drink, or even a joke shared for the umpteenth time, they always put a smile inside my heart.  In a way, nostalgia is also “cool” because the current generation don’t get “it”.  “It” being what makes me a 70-er.            

There is something about remembering the past that is comforting, because the present or future is fraught with unpredictability.  The past is already cast in stone and we can take those memories that made us happy and reminisce, reinforcing again and again the joy that the past had brought us.  I remember reading elsewhere that nostalgia is like Linus’ (of Peanuts fame) security blanket – we would hold on to it for dear life because it is a source of comfort even as our situation and the circumstances around us evolve.  Which isn’t necessarily bad, except that when we anchor too much of ourselves in the past, we fear what’s ahead and we live our lives trying to stop time.

And may that never happen to you (or myself).  Comfort zones are great places to rest but if it breeds lethargy to run along on life’s journey, then far better for us to coerce ourselves to get going.  But keeping one hand on our security blanket of course – for those few times when we need to find back ourselves.       

While this may be scant consolation to some extent, I find that the greatest reward of my stint here in the Middle East is to be at the heart of some of the most fascinating and historically significant places on earth.  Whether it is Petra of Jordan, the pyramids of Egypt, Leptis Magna in Tripoli, Libya; or the Wailing Wall at Jerusalem, Israel (and many many other places); the region here is teeming with history, religiousity and an awe of humankind succeeding against the odds.  Now, for Egypt, while the pyramids inevitably top the “must-do” list of most travellers here, a pilgramage to the arid Sinai Peninsula is also a definite “must-go”, given that the area provides the rich historical backdrop for Judaism, Islam and Christianity.   

Sinai is probably well-known for being the place where Moses led the Jewish people to, following their ‘escape’ from slavery in pharoanic Egypt as outlined in “Exodus” from the Bible.  Now, what was interestingly well-documented in “Exodus” following the great escape from Egypt (besides the narrative on the 10 Commandments and other laws laid down by God) was the many incidents of grumblings and disobedience from the Jews in their long trek to the Promised Land.  The main complaints were the lack of good food and a bountiful supply of water, as well as the duress inflicted on them from walking seemingly aimlessly in the desert. 

Now, it is easy to dismiss these rag-tag band of Jews as hopeless, useless or mentally weak, but if you set your eyes on the Sinai, you will immediately be enlightened when you see how this place is indeed very very horribly dry, harsh and brown!  Even with the convenience of modern transport, it took about 3 hours for me to get across the Red Sea (in a sense since the bus went via a tunnel under the Suez Canal) to the heart of Sinai.  Now, what more for the Jews as they walked!  The landscape was dulating and the ground was unyielding – only rocks, mountains, rocks, mountains and more rocks/mountains.  Vegetation was extremely rare and sparse, with the sky always a clear blue (i.e. no clouds and no respite from the hot sun) – see below for an illustration of this barren landscape.  No wonder the Jews wanted to go back to the good ‘ol days in Egypt!

Anyway, the main objective of my trip to Sinai was to climb Mt. Sinai, the second highest mountain in the Sinai Peninsula at 2,285m.  According to tradition, this was the same mountain that Moses ascended to get the tablets inscribed with the 10 Commandments.  While the exact location for the Mt. Sinai from the Bible is debatable (and likely to remain so among religious scholars and archeologists), what cannot be discounted was the very inspiring and uplifting thought of going through the same way that Moses did 2,000+ years ago, even if you are not exactly very religious. 

This must be the same thoughts racing through the throngs of pilgrims and tourists when I set off with some schoolmates (team of 6) at 2am on the foot of Mt. Sinai with a local guide.  Setting off so early was so that we could all catch daybreak from the peak as the sunrise afforded a spectacular view of Sinai.  The path was divided into 2 sections – the gradual incline, which you can ascend by saddling up a camel if your body or heart cannot take the exercise, followed by a steep incline of the last 300+ steps up a rocky path (inaccessible by camels).  There were also many small “ma-ma” (i.e. provision) shops along the way selling food and hot drinks to climbers.  While I had no problems climbing, having to dodge camel ‘pooh’, overtaking the many slower older folks who literally take each step at a time on the narrow path, and the cold weather took its toll.  This was actually the first mountain I was climbing in my entire life and most of the time, I felt that the peak just never seemed to come!    

Fortunately, my team made it to the peak before sunrise and at a good time of less than 2 hours (an average person should take about 3 hours).  The view was simply amazing – the serenity and magnificance of the surrounding areas is just breathtaking.  One can just lie down and enjoy the sight of the sun breaking through the mountains in the distance.  There were even enterprising Egyptians waiting at the peak and offering to rent to you blankets or a mattress to lie down!  The experience at the summit was however marred by the swarms of people milling around a small area – there were pilgrims singing in groups, picture-toting tourists and Egyptian traders hawking souvenirs and other stuff.   

After the usual picture-taking routine, we descended by another way, with more spectacular views of the Sinai mountain range.  We even pass by an area where it was said that Elijah sought rest following his battle with the priests of Baal.  Anyway, my overall verdict?  Moses must be very fit as he ascended and descended Mt. Sinai to meet God so many times!     

p.s. this trip was actually undertaken a good 3 months back but took me quite a while before I got around to blogging about it.  Also, once again more pictures can be found at my FaceBook account.             

After a brief break, my summer (and second but shorter Arabic) semester starts today (Sunday) and its just seven short weeks before I am coming back.  Yup, time has really passed by all of us quickly and half the year has already gone just like that.  It is funny but while I long for the ‘finishing line’ now that I can see it, I dread it too as there is an enormous workload (and another round of transition) waiting for me upon my return to Cairo.  This is still some distance away but I have caught a glimpse of it already.  To paraphrase my colleague (spoken matter-of-factly and in all honesty), “we can’t wait for you to come back”!  

Anyway, my time back home will be a very short one month.  There are many things that needs sorting out within this short time span – from buying stuff, to running administrative errands, to pigging out, meeting people and of course to spend real quality time with everyone.  On top of that, I still have to report back to office so its all systems go once I touch down in end-July.  Many things to do, little time to think.   

While I do long for home, going back has never felt so bittersweet …      

“Don’t just listen with your ears, but listen also with your heart.”

“While Life is indeed a journey, and we ought to learn to enjoy each step of the way, who we walk alongside with or bring along with through our expedition will determine how compelling it is to Live.”