Friday, June 01, 2012

On Passion

I am a passionate person by nature. For me, being passionate is not the same as being emotional. These are two completely different states of mind. Even when I'm feeling emotional I also tend to be as rational as I can, so as not to devolve myself into ad hominem attacks and other types of emotional outbursts. Alas, I'm also human, so I do lose control occasionally, though I try to limit it to as minimum as possible.

Back to passion. Without passion it's not worth doing anything in life. You become a tool. A machine. The things that you do in your life become meaningless and valueless. I, for one, will never do anything if I cannot find the passion for it. It's a two-fold process for me. Passion has to be there when I decide to do something, and the passion also has to be 100 percent. Yes, when it comes to passion, it's all or nothing for me.

My passion can border on fanaticism, or at least that's what some people say of me. Take running for example. When I first started running seriously two years ago it was out of pure passion for the sports and the need to constantly challenge myself. I made a vow that it wasn't going to be just a flash in the pan, or what the Malays say "hangat-hangat tahi ayam" (loosely translated as "warm warm chicken shit"). Two years onward my passion for running still goes strong and shows no sign of slackening.

The same goes with my current vocation, teaching and researching politics. It was my activist background that brought me to academia as my passion for politics urged me to learn more about it on the theoretical level. Without this unstinting passion I don't think I will able to survive for long in the academia and fulfill my aspiration as a "scholar-activist."

On a more private side I also apply similar philosophy of passion to my romantic relationship. When I decide to be in a relationship with someone I pour all my heart and soul into it, no difference than what I do with running, politics, etc. There's not a moment of hesitation or doubt. It's either 100 percent or nada. My partner then becomes the center of my universe and I do whatever it takes within my mortal power to make the relationship lasts. Of course when the partner doesn't share the same level of passion and commitment the relationship will sooner or later destine for failure. In other words, I'm setting myself up for a huge disappointment if it fails.

Like gambling, those who gamble big will either win big or lose big. For me there's no such thing as a small win in a relationship. It's either I get all I want or I lose it all. There's no such thing as being 35.628 percent passionate in a relationship - at least for me. I guess this is why I get hurt so bad when my relationship fails. I feel like a complete failure, a total loser, utterly vulnerable. I take the rejection very personally and deeply. I crash really really bad! It takes me a long time to recover, and I'm talking years.

I guess this is the consequence of doing something with the utmost passion. If one starts with a low level of passion and expectation then the disappointment of failure will be much easier to swallow and deal with. One can either become a conservative in life and take very little risk, or one can be live life to the fullest by taking (calculated) risks and living passionately. For me there is no other way to live. Fortunately my other "relationships" with running, soccer, academia, activism provide me with equal and unconditional passion and love in return, so it means I will never ever be disappointed. Too bad the same dynamic does not apply to my romantic relationship. As the cliche goes, "you win some, you lose some."

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It's not a crime to be sentimental

A song that so happens to resonate with my life right now. It doesn't help that it's on the current Australian top 10 list and my gym plays it 24/7. Makes working out more melancholic. Oh well...I hope the storm shall soon pass.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The need to blog?

The last time I blogged it was because of an emotional crisis. This time I'm again going through an emotional crisis but I'm resisting the temptation to blog about it. I'd rather channel the frustration to more productive outlets such as my research and political essays. From now on I'm adopting a policy of "if I don't have anything nice to say, then don't blog about it" - with the exception of political matters, of course. Yes, I do have a lot of not-very-nice things to say about my current emotional crisis but I will refrain myself from doing so. Let's just wait for a more suitable time and place to express this emotion then.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Day We Are All Malaysians

Here's the article I wrote for The Malaysian Insider a day after the Bersih 2.0 rally in downtown Kuala Lumpur. It was written out of frustration with the selfish reactions from my friends and relatives. I thought I was going to lose a friend or two because of the article but thank goodness that didn't happen. The responses had been overwhelmingly supportive :)


Countering the anti-Bersih talk
Jul 10, 2011

JULY 10 — To those who support the recent Bersih 2.0 rally for clean elections we’ve heard the same old tired detracting canards propounded by the Malaysian mainstream media echo chamber, which were later parroted by our own family members and friends.

Truth be told, it got to the point where I simply refused to dignify their “anti-Bersih” arguments with sound intellectual responses because I think they were too frivolous and didn’t deserve any.

Still, I also have this nagging need to clear the air for once and for all especially now in the aftermath of the event. The dust has finally settled and the facts have naturally emerged from the battle-scarred ground.

Below are some of the main arguments put forth by the Bersih 2.0 detractors and my ensuing refutations.

Traffic jams: They were actually caused by the police roadblocks on major arteries leading into the city, checking for imaginary weapons and stopping potential rally participants. If people were allowed unimpeded access in and around the Klang Valley the traffic flow would just be like any other day.

Even some of the nearby LRT, Monorail and Komuter stations were shut down to force people to walk farther than they had to with the all too obvious intention of discouraging them from going to the rally sites. Also, if the protesters were given the permission to march on a pre-determined route the authority didn’t have to close down more roads than what were necessary.

Also, how can one complain about the traffic jam in the city during the rally when there had been ample warnings ahead of time and plus it was only a matter of few hours of inconvenience? More streets were closed for an even longer period of time during the recent Standard Chartered KL Marathon, of which I was also a participant, and I didn’t hear a peep from anyone. That said, common sense dictates that it’s simply irresponsible and foolhardy to go through life without any contingency plan!

Economic loss: It was clear that shops that dared to open up during the rally were raking in huge profit due to streams of marchers stopping by for food and drinks. A few mamak restaurants near Central Market, Jalan Nagasari and Masjid India seemed to be enjoying brisk business.

The mamak place by Central Market even charged 30 cent for the use of its toilet! The Medan Selera on Jalan Masjid India (next to Pasar Borong Mydin) was also packed with people. So was the pasar malam near Semua House and Campbell. If Bersih 2.0 merchandise had been legal vendors could have made a killing by selling them along the marching route.

Heavy downpour during the rally also meant that if some of the shops had carried (preferably yellow) umbrellas and raincoats they would have been sold like hot goreng pisang. If somehow the business people still felt that their businesses were genuinely affected by the rally then it was advisable for them to counsel patience and bear with the hassles for only a short while.

What’s a few hours of temporary setback for the sake of common good and a better future for all? In short the rally could have served as an opportunity for businesspeople to profit off the mass influx of people into the city. Even the ice cream seller on motorcycle seemed to be doing pretty good. (Disclosure: I bought an ice cream from the guy selling next to the Sogo shopping complex and he attested that his stock almost ran out.)

Chaos and property damage: The march was peaceful and calm at first until the police and the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU), unprovoked, decided to shoot water cannons and lob tear gas canisters at the protesters. What kind of orchestrated dispersal the authority expected when they indiscriminately fired tear gas and water cannons into the crowd?

The crowd, much to its credit, managed to stay as composed and orderly as it could given the very stressful condition. Also, the authority should claim responsibility for destroying public property due to use of excessive force.

As best as I can recall the throngs of protesters were respectful to their surrounding and did not engage in any kinds of vandalism at all. None of the parked cars were burned nor shop windows broken. After all these were concerned citizens with real grievances, not thugs and looters.

Had the authority allowed the march to proceed on a pre-determined route and time it could have easily avoided all the confusion and pandemonium, which would have then resulted in a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Malay-dominated rally: The crux of this racist conjecture is basically saying that the Malays, due to their prominent presence during the rally, were exploited by the Chinese in DAP. The word used was “diperkudakan” (to be ridden like a horse). I was a bit taken aback when several of my (Malay) friends posted statements of this nature on Facebook — and not surprisingly they weren’t even at the rally.

It also goes without saying that they are all anti-Bersih 2.0 to begin with and most likely Umno and/or Perkasa supporters too. But the facts on the ground proved otherwise. Of course Malays, by virtue of being the largest ethnic group in Malaysia, would be heavily represented proportion-wise in the rally. But other ethnic groups were also well represented, even the Dayaks from Borneo.

If the Prime Minister honestly wants to see what a true 1Malaysia looks like, he doesn’t need to look any further than the composition of the Bersih 2.0 participants who braved the streets on 9th July. The whole rally was essentially multiracial that transcends age and religion. It was the very epitome of 1Malaysia, and not to add, a completely voluntary and uncontrived one.

What the Najib administration has vainly tried to achieve in the past two years with its multi-million Ringgit public relations campaign (read: Apco scandal) the Bersih 2.0 organizers managed to do it in a much lesser time, against almost insurmountable obstacles, and free-of-charge too. Maybe there’s something the government can learn here.

It was such an amazing feeling to be among my fellow Malaysians who were courageous enough to take to the streets of KL, despite the threats, intimidation and possible arrest, facing down water cannons and tear gas, to struggle for a more democratic and just Malaysia.

I’m also saddened by the baseless statements coming from some of my so-called “educated” friends, summarised in the preceding points. They emotionally engage in a form of solipsistic argument, in which only one’s own lived experience and weltanschaaung (world view) form the sole basis of “truth.” In research parlance their sample size (N) is equal to 1, which every self-respecting social scientist knows is empirically weak and statistically insignificant.

In addition, it rankles the mind of how these people can just eat up the bile churned out by the Malaysian mainstream media and somehow stop using their critical thinking faculty to question the fairness and veracity of the government propaganda.

One doesn’t need to be a seasoned media analyst to be cognisant of the blatantly one-sided nature of the mainstream media in Malaysia.

Maybe it’s time for these anti-Bersih 2.0 people, especially my dear friends, to swallow the bitter red pill — or is it blue? — and escape for once and for all the illusionary and corrupt world of the Barisan Nasional Matrix. As the cliche goes, only the (un-solipsistic) truth can set you free.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Imagination Running Wild

The race is two days away but here I am wide awake at 2am brimming with excitement and anticipation with a dash of anxiety. I believe most people get the pre-race jitters, me included, and I don't think I've ever had a good night's rest before all the races I've participated in. It doesn't help much that races usually start at the ungodly morning hours. It's always the same scenario on the eve of a race: me lying in bed tossing and turning, adrenaline coursing through every veins, the mind playing imaginary clips of me running the route especially in the last few kms when it's all about the mental toughness, and finally when I triumphantly cross the finish line in a respectable time or even chalk up a new personal record.

I doubt it'll be any different for the upcoming Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon (SCKLM). This race has an added sentimental value for me since it'll my first time running in a hometown race. I wish that I had registered for a full marathon instead of the half marathon I'm in now since I feel that I'm physically and mentally ready to go the whole distance. Oh well, there'll be plenty of other races for me to make my full marathon debut. As for SCKLM, my target is to finish the half marathon (21km) under two hours. In my last half marathon about two months ago my time was 2 hours 14 mins. To shave 15+ mins off in such a short period of time is a tall order but can certainly be done. In a 15km race about a month ago I posted a personal best of 1 hour 24 mins, which translated to a pace of 5:38 min/km. It means that if I can somehow maintain the same pace for SCKLM I can barely squeeze in under 2 hours (1 hour 58 mins to be exact). That 15km race in Putrajaya was the best run I've had thus far and I hope to have a repeat performance this coming Sunday. Boy, I can already imagine running down the home stretch on Jalan TAR toward Dataran Merdeka with the throngs of crowd cheering me on and the finish line within sight. Anyone who's run a race before knows exactly what I'm talking about.

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about where to run my full marathon debut. I had wanted to do it in Berlin since my arrival there nicely coincides with the Berlin Marathon (last Sunday of September) but by the time I found out that I'll be going to Berlin the registration was already closed. What a bummer! Berlin Marathon is one of the premier races in the world and it's where the current world record was set in 2008 by Haile Gebrselassie (2 hours 3 mins 59 secs). What other options then? At the top of my list right now is to run the original marathon in Greece from the town of Marathon to Athens but I have to find out when exactly is this race and if it overlaps with my stint in Europe. Other options will be to do either Rome or Amsterdam Marathon. If I end up staying in Berlin longer then I might do the London Marathon in April 2012. Or I might even find an excuse to go back to the US and run the NYC or Chicago Marathon or the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC. If all goes according to Plan A, which is to move to Australia by March next year, then I can definitely see myself running my debut marathon in Down Under. In short the options are aplenty and it's up to me (and my financial wherewithal) to choose the best one to pop my marathon cherry in.

But first things first. This Sunday will be my third half marathon in three months, which means that I already have the experience under my belt and know what to expect. It's not just about finishing the race but to do it in a decent time. I also think that it's now the time for me to start running the full distance since it's the natural progression and I have to bite the bullet sooner or later. I'm hoping for sooner. Anyway, I'm so psyched for this coming Sunday!

Postscript: After a brief look online now I'm torn between the original Greece Marathon and the Amsterdam Marathon but I'm definitely leaning toward Greece. The Greece Marathon will held on November 13 while the Amsterdam one will be on October 16. Either way I'll decide next week after I run the SCKLM tomorrow.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Helen of KLCC

Honestly, physical criteria play a secondary role in my own law of attraction but I'd be disingenuous to say that it's something I can easily dispense with. We are animals after all, regardless of how far evolved we are, and like other animals we rely on specific physical attributes to look for mating partners that can best continue our genealogical line. In other words we want to mate with somebody who can give our future progeny the best chance to survive, and therefore, according to some evolutionary biologists, a set of certain physical criteria can serve as an important indicator whether our prospective mate is able to provide that guarantee or not. I guess it's not just all about personality then.

As it happens I saw this girl the other day who is a barista at one of the coffee shops in KLCC - and she has turned me into a stalker of some sort. Her back (and her lustrous long black hair) was facing me the first time I beckoned her to help me with the WiFi password. There she was as she stood before me a face so dripping sweet that it can almost inflict instant diabetes on someone just by her merest glance. Wow is all I could say at the time. I've always considered myself an aesthete who does appreciate beauty in its superficial form but as far as my personal preference for the fairer sex goes I tend to go for the sweet unassuming types with a touch of radiance and innocence to boot.

Boy, did my heart skip a few beats faster at the time! Since then I've been going there several more times and found out what her work schedule was. The extent of my interactions with her have so far been limited to occasional exchanges of smiles and some inane remarks from me about the hectic nature of the place. Well dumbass, it's the KLCC for crying out loud! So far there hasn't been a lull long enough during her shift for me to initiate a more meaningful and longer conversation with her. Also, the irony is that my constant presence at the coffee shop has instead attracted one of her female co-workers and she's the one been chatting me up all this time. Maybe that's one way to get closer to her!

This whole stalking venture reminds me of my younger days when I used to pursue this girl from Convent Bukit Nanas Girls School (CBN) here in KL. I used to have the hots for Chinese girls who wear baju kurung school uniform, and this girl was all of the above. She lives in Ampang, which is where I live, and we always take the same public bus. CBN girls usually wait for the bus in-front of the old AIA building on Jln. Ampang and for hot-blooded testosterone-laden boys there's no better place than there. She has the sweet angelic face and long wavy black hair quite similar to the KLCC barista. The thing that really turned me on was that she never latched the button at the top of her baju kurung, which then partially exposed her milky smooth upper chest. The slightest sight of it is enough to fire up the imagination of any hormone-ravaged teenagers! One time I remember vividly when it rained and she was a bit soaked to see the transparent white linen of her baju kurung clung ever so tightly to her very suggestive black bra. I almost exploded, in all sense of the word, right then and there! I trailed behind her many times while she was walking home to see where she lived. I also exchanged smiles and coy glances with her across the bus stop but that was the extent of our interaction for quite some time - that was until I mustered enough courage to talk to her. She turned out to be really cool and we actually dated for a while until we got separated by our post-high school life choices.

In short this KLCC barista reminds me so much of the CBN girl of my youthful romantic exploits, at least from the physical point of view and the way I'm stalking her and trying to make my presence gradually known to her. I really feel as giddy as I was twenty years ago standing at the bus stop staring with mouth agape at this sweet and warm-looking baju kurung-wearing Chinese girl. If Helen of Troy is the so-called "face that launched a thousand ships" then this barista is the Helen of KLCC: the face that melts the hearts of a thousand coffee drinkers!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Running to Lose Weight?

The uninitiated usually think that the only reason to run is to lose weight. Well, to a certain extent they're right. People (read: non-runners/athletes) ask me all the time why do I need to run and exercise vigorously when I'm already looking fit and lean? Why wake up at 5am on a Sunday morning to go on a 20km run when you don't even have an ounce of fat to burn? Simply put, why do a person go through the physical and mental torture of long-distance running when there's no real tangible reward to be had in the end (finisher's medal and certificate notwithstanding) i.e. losing 3 inches of one's waistline?

A lot of runners I know first started out as overweight people (and smokers), and running is one of the most efficient ways to slim down (and regain stamina). It begins as a necessity and ends up an addiction. That's how it always goes. People in general have an innate sense of competitiveness and the desire to challenge one's physical and mental capabilities to their limits. Running triggers this need for constant self-improvement and test of wills. A runner might start off barely finishing a 3km run - or walk for that matter. But as time goes by, one's fitness level increases and the fat melts away, the runner feels a 3km run no longer poses a difficult challenge. One then ups the ante by increasing the distance to 5km to provide oneself with a hoop to jump through. 5km turns to 8km, 10km, 12km, and it finally hits you: it's no longer about losing weight anymore - one presumably has achieved the ideal weight by now - but it has become a test of will to see how far one can push one's body and mind to the edge. Plus, the endorphin high one gets after an exhausting workout certainly plays a part in this addiction.

For people who's constantly looking for ways to challenge themselves long-distance running is a very effective and convenient way to do it. It requires minimal investment in equipment, no special places to do it, and there are plenty of running events out there when one finally feels ready to be challenged. It's a very egalitarian and democratizing sport, which practitioners range from the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to the poor kids in Rift Valley, Kenya (the ground zero for all top long-distance runners in the world).

Of course, once one has a few marathons under one's belt, then one might crave a bigger challenge, which comes in the shape of ultra-marathon. Ultra-marathon starts at 50km (normal marathon is 42km) and can go to 50 miles, 100km, 100 miles, or 24-hour non-stop, so on and so forth. Or if one seeks a different type of challenge then triathlon might be worth a shot, and this is what I'm planning to do next year. The fact is that it's all about challenging oneself and to see how far one can push one's limits, physically and mentally. This is the answer I give people when they ask why I run.

p/s: The act of running long-distance in itself is a pure torture, unlike other sports like football, basketball, tennis, etc, where the enjoyment comes from actually playing the sports. The bliss of running long-distance, I think, comes from finishing the race. It's the proud sense of accomplishment to know that one has enough physical toughness and mental fortitude to complete the run despite the torture one has go through during the race. Therefore, unless if one is an elite runner who competes for prize money, most runners are essentially competing against oneself, whether to run one's personal best or simply to finish the race. This is why we run!