Making Light of Things

October 2000 Archives

Home Is Where The Heart Is

It has been so long since I’ve written. I apologize if you all have been coming here hoping for something. There have been many things I could have wrote about, but it has been a tiring time.

Yes, my birthday went by uneventfully. I received a wonderful present from my two sisters. They made a small photo album with photos of Faith and me. Though we’ve been together for such a long time, we have so few photographs together. I have a whole bunch of her, but being as unphotogenic as I, I try my best to avoid breaking the camera lenses. It’s a nice album to remember the times we’ve had. Thank you both, dearest sisters.

I volunteered to help out in a children’s Halloween carnival on Friday night. It’s a weird festival, not one we have back home. I learnt that Halloween came from a day to remember and mourn the dead, and turned into something totally ugh (to quote the teacher who was telling me its history). I was put in charge of a stall where kids paid a quarter (25 cents) to throw three bean bags into holes put in a board at a chance of winning candy. One thing I learnt here is that candy is not plural like back home. At home, we say you have two or three pieces of candy. After a few failed attempts at communication, I realised the phrase here is “you have three candies”. English I’ve more or less figured out, it’s American I have these problems with. :)

On Saturday I volunteered to build low-cost houses with Habitat for Humanity. It was a great experience. Unlike other volunteering activities I had attended, there was little or almost no time where I was uncomfortable. The very moment I stepped unto the soft mud of the site, the site supervisor made all of us feel at home, and put us right to work. I shoveled sand and gravel, mixed concrete, laid huge bricks and ate donuts. Donuts never tasted so good, despite my less than sanitary hands. It felt wonderful that the home owners were there working with us. The people who volunteer their strength and sweat are not the rich who have it good, but the ones who have just enough. Where are the rich? I hope I will never forget this lesson. There is brotherhood in the poor. I guess in many ways I will always belong there.

I made a wonderful friend from the listserv of my eroticism and love in the Middle Ages class. Alyssa has been most encouraging over the whole listserv incident. I am thankful for her comfort. She carves the most beautiful pumpkins. I had no idea you could put anything but those ugly faces on them. Well, new things I’m learning everyday.

I registered for next semester’s classes. I’m really looking forward to them. There’s an acting class which I feel will be interesting. I’m not a total extrovert who loves to perform. I do not bask in the center of attention or enjoy being seen. What I love about being the midst of people’s attention is the chance to touch people, to make them feel again. Too many things in life numb us. It’s the amazing feeling of quickening.

I still can’t get my computer program to work. Will head back to it now. Goodnight you all.

Five Star Parents, Created By A Five Star God

My parents sent me a virtual card today. They wished me happy birthday, which is in two days. While their show of affection didn’t catch me by surprise, their choice of card did. It reads “To a five star kid”. I am hardly a five star kid. If you have read my previous journals you would have known that I was a terrible child, now that I see in retrospect. I wasn’t terribly motivated to complete schoolwork, whether for myself or for my parents. I fell in the bottom five of class rankings every single year. As my Chinese heritage would have expected of me, I failed to bring glory, or in my case failed to not bring disgrace to my family. Of course I had my share of beatings and rebuke. If I had a child like myself then, I would have done the same, if not worse. I have so much to thank God for - my parents never gave up on me.

Today, I still don’t think of myself as a five star kid. I scored 4 “A”s in my PSLE, a major exam at elementary school level for those of you who aren’t familiar with the Singaporean education system. That in itself was a miracle. All around me, I had friends scoring A-stars, a huge notch above the A. I was happy for my As for my teachers were expecting me to fail Chinese and maybe even Mathematics. I was a mediocre child, never doing anything great. No Science Olympiad Gold medals, no great academic recognition. Yet I know that every child is not mediocre, that in every child lies life. And life is never mediocre. It is always fascinating, whether dark or light. Maybe that is what my parents saw, and maybe that gave them strength. Today, I have a short list of accomplishments to my name, yet it is my burden not to be proud. It is too easy to revel in the self and become narcissistic. It is not easy, and often I have to bear in mind that all that I have is a gift from God, that I may be faithful in using it, or even laying it down for His glory.

Dearest Lord, I come before you as I am, tainted and full of pride. Help me decrease that You may increase. Forgive me for so many times I have put myself in first place, forgetting You and those whom You love. Help me be a good reflection of who You are. Create in me a clean heart. Thank you for all the things You’ve given me. Wonderful parents, beautiful friends, a loving church. Thank You so much.

Eenie Meenie Miney Mo

Last semester, my mother predicted that I’d change my major somewhere along the way. Today, while in my MIS class, I saw something that might make the prediction true. While MIS is difficult, with God’s grace I have been able to manage thus far. Though my code is not the most efficient, it is nothing short of a miracle that all my programs have worked so far. The majority of students in the class haven’t been able to get their programs to compile or run properly.

Performance is not the main problem. We had our midterms two weeks ago and have not received our grades. It was this situation that I discovered a huge portion of the class were grade-obsessed. They borrow other people’s code to read, not to learn, but to compare and compete. The worrying thing is, these are the people I will be studying with and working with in the future. I’ve found a small clique in the class that I’m comfortable with. There are two other guys who are “non-traditional” students. They’re in their late thirties and forties. They hold full-time jobs. One of them told me that he too was rather obsessed with finding his grade at first. Then he realised that the important thing is for him to learn. I think that was a beautiful revelation. The Chinese have a saying “Ren bi ren qi si ren” which means if man competes against man, it is to utter frustration. Why can’t we just learn for education’s sake? In the Star Trek world there is no longer competition or money, there is the quest for self-enlightenment. I should have been born 2000 years later, though I doubt even then we’d be rid of such destructive desires.

I honestly do not know if MIS is the course for me. It’s more mathematic than literary. I have found such joy in literary discourse here at the University. It is wonderful to be in a discussion where there are no concrete rights or wrongs, where everybody’s ideas offer fresh new insights. I have found joy in mathematics too, in the sheer logic and accuracy of it all. It requires flawless execution. They are two totally different worlds, and I have each foot in each of them. I can only ask God for direction.

To Kevin, fellow Wildcat who wrote in my guestbook,

Never feel small, for your experiences are your own, and yours alone.  They were wonderful in every way.  I'm glad that this website has inspired you somewhat to look at the world with different eyes.  It is easy to get jaded by life and lose that spark or zeal.  Sometimes it's because people hurt us, or maybe the world around us requires us to be "strong" or "tough" that we lose the feeling of our hearts.  To live a life of feeling we run the risk of getting hurt.  And we often do.  We strengthen each other then, knowing that we are not in this fight alone.  Thank you for your little entry and your recent friendship.  It has been a source of strength for which I am thankful.

Penny For Your Thoughts

I went to my first NBA game yesterday night. It wasn’t as exciting as I had expected it to be. It could be due to the fact that it was a preseason game. But I think it was so because I have tasted something much better: College basketball. At the NBA game I was in two-minds about whom to support. Phoenix Suns vs Vancouver Grizzlies. The Suns were the home team, being from Arizona, even if not Tucson. The Grizzlies had two players formerly University of Arizona heroes who brought the NCAA championship home in 1997. College basketball, or any college sport for that matter is so much more fired up because it is indisputable where you support will lie. The NBA game seemed like a formality where the teams were playing for individual glory, rather than college pride.

It was almost surreal to see these players so near me as they walked from the stadium to their bus after the game. Having seen them so often on television, they were now real flesh and blood in front of my eyes. I had a short conversation with Penny Hardaway. PENNY HARDAWAY! Before that night the closest I got to him depended on how far away from the television screen I sat. I was holding a piece of paper in front of him, talking to him as he signed it. I grabbed some other signatures as well. Corie Blount, Tom Gugliotta, Issac Austin, Damon Jones and Daniel Santiago, the last two rather new to the NBA. It was a weird feeling….I have pictures! :)

I am reminded to be happy for what I have. While reminding Stephanie to be thankful for the things she has, I felt sad that Faith was so far away and that I had so few real friends now that Debbie has left. But I must remember that I have so much here as well. Though I am unable to name anything right now, I am thankful that God watches over me, undeserving as I am. Pray for me, all you who read this. Pray that my heart stays alive to Him.

God bless.

Midnight Madness

Whenever I listen to “Someone” sung by Linda Eder and Michael Feinstein I think about Debbie and how she’s doing. Walking down University Boulevard this evening alone reminds me of her, especially when I walked into Dunkin Doughnuts and got myself some boston-kreme doughnuts. She introduced me to those.

Yesterday night I had a good time though. We had a volleyball game against the top seed USC (University of Southern California) and our girls had a fourteen game streak just broken by UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). I decided to go impromptu, just putting on my coat and cycling down to McKale Center. It was free for students. We had a great game, winning the first set easily, and ploughing through the second and third. It was nice to see the school spirit behind these girls.

The main event was not the volleyball game though. It was the night for Midnight Madness, the first basketball practice of the new season. That’s right, it’s a basketball PRACTICE. It isn’t even a game. It begins at midnight, amidst a lot of fanfare and other small activities. They had a $10 000 shot, where if the chosen participant from the audience could get the basketball into the hoop from half-court he’d walk off a much richer man. The whole stadium was filled at 11 o’clock. Even the nosebleed seats were filled. The place trembled with anticipation, much like a watchman waiting for the dawn. There were autograph signing sessions and other festivities.

The slam dunk contest was amazing. We watch the slam dunk competition held in the NBA with awe, but now it was right here at school. What’s even more amazing, the standard was no less. RJ (Richard Jefferson) hopped up and put his whole ARM into the hoop. He later jumped over two people standing shoulder to shoulder and dunked the ball.

When the school players were introduced, the stadium was dark, and the spotlight flitted around nervously, waiting for its target. When their names were announced one by one, the crowd went into a frenzy. For that one moment I stood there thinking, “This is the best team in the country”. And it was. The polls in sports magazines everywhere rank Arizona as the number one preseason basketball team. They were our pride and joy, yet one must remember too that they are human and limited as such.

This weekend is parent-visiting weekend and a whole lot of parents are on campus. Ryan and his family are watching the Arizona - Washington State football game even this moment. I walk on the street somehow wishing my parents were with me. I miss them.

A Rainy Day

It rained the whole of yesterday and a little of today. It is an almost surreal sight to see Tucson overcast for an entire day, the sunlight never touching the ground. Thousands and thousands of multi-coloured raincoats trudging in the downpour. Truly a sight to behold.

My heart bleeds tonight. It is as if what I thought I escaped came back to haunt me. What did I escape? I escaped the rigid and inflexible education system Singapore offered in my time. I used to have discussions with teachers about literature texts when I was in secondary school and it was usually a fruitful time. I remember being told to follow the herd when it came to the exams. It was the “safe thing to do”, so they told me. I refused, wanting to make my point heard. In most cases, it was a good and valid point. Just that it wasn’t the usual train of thought. Most of my classmates were pretty happy memorising what they could to get the grades they wanted. And they did. I, on the other hand, studied what I wanted to, choosing to pay attention to what was interesting to me. I paid a price. They made it to the local university and I didn’t. Though resigned, I am still a little sore when I think of what I could have done with my love for literature had I obtained the grades through the “safe” way.

How has this come back to haunt me? For my “Eroticism and Love in the Middle Ages” class, we are required to subscribe to a listserv, which is basically an email list where we can discuss text and exchange views. Being in the “land of the free” where one’s viewpoints were heard and contemplated over gave me an incredible high. Here I could speak my mind freely and not have to pay the price of lower academic grades.

I have come to post to the listserv on a constant basis, often typing out long emails discussing the text, and inviting others to do so. Some of the recipients emailed me back to thank me for the discussion and new perspectives. It was wonderful. Until today. A wave of students have taken to bashing me via email. They claimed I wrote novels on emails, and that they had better things to receive in their mailboxes. A girl accused me of thinking every text we read is about masturbations, when I only brought the topic up on one piece that did remarkably seem so. Many others joined in.

The one that hurt the most came from a girl who first wrote in an email, “Is this guy for real?” I emailed her back via the listserv to clarify if it were an offensive statement. She replied “Oh I didn’t mean to be mean!” I was very happy for I thought I had found a new friend, or at least another who appreciated academic discourse. I mailed her back, thanking her for her clarification, and that I took no offense. However, when the wave of hate mail came in, I saw her reply to one of them, “Great mail!!!! You put him in his place!!!!!!!” I sat there stunned. Shocked. Betrayed.

I could take criticism. I could dismiss small minds who thought that academic discussions were a waste of time. But somehow this betrayal hit home. Indeed, there is nothing worse than being betrayed by a friend, and our Lord was made to suffer for it. I am not comparing myself to Him, but now I know how He felt.

Do not worry, for all of you who are. I am fine. I have to bear in mind that these are teenagers. Didn’t I use to say things I didn’t mean back then? Oh well. At least it gives me something to write about, doesn’t it?

Honor Thy Father And Mother

I am a Chinese male born in the island of Singapore. I was raised and brought up in a household that followed Chinese customs moderately. Singapore, being a cosmopolitan city, is very modern in its outlook and thinking. I had no qualms coming to America to pursue my studies, knowing that I was more adapted than the ultra-traditional Chinese students who were born in China. I had no idea how Chinese I was until I had an American roommate this semester.

One major aspect I differ from my roommate (and most Americans I presume) is my relationship with my parents. Having had the chance to overhear (unintentionally of course, the dorm is very small) my roommate speak to his parents on the phone gave me an insight on the vast differences in parent-child relationship. He spoke fearlessly to his parents about his latest adventures and escapades during the weekend, almost as if speaking to a contemporary or friend. While normal courtesy was used especially when requests were made, there was a certain abandon or even recklessness in his speech. He spoke with a sort of freedom I was unaccustomed to.

Having grown up in a Chinese family, Confucian values were instilled in me from the moment I was born. It was not a procedure or program where one was brainwashed, but it was a way of life. From the small things like reciprocity - returning a gift if given one, to larger things like duty to the country, or community before self, these values determined how we acted and reacted to various circumstances that life brought along our way. How we treated our parents is a major part of this value system.

Confucius, in his analects, speaks of filial piety as a foundation to a benevolent character. In the second line of the first chapter of the Analects, it reads: “filial piety and obedience, are they not the foundation of benevolence” If one is unable to treat his or her own parents with due respect, how can we expect that person to treat others duly? From a young age we were taught to revere our parents and to obey them with almost unflinching obedience. As far as our small worlds were concerned, they were the authority. They were the gods that ruled our lives at that young age. We never spoke back and were terribly fearful of their wrath were we caught disobeying them.

Yet it is not true to say there is no love within such a relationship. I am now twenty-three years old, and I can truly say my parents are every inch as deserving of my love and obedience. They are normal parents, but normal parents are exceptional people. To contrast it to sayings of a different culture, in the bible it is written that Jesus said, “which father, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Which father, if his son asks him for fish, hands him a snake”� (Matthew 7:9) It is the inherent nature of parents to be concerned about the welfare of their children. Confucius was asked, again in his analects, to define filial piety. His reply in the second chapter and sixth verse of the analects was “Parents worry over the health of their children”. This ties in with the principle of reciprocity. If your parents are so thoroughly concerned for you, how can you not do your best for them?

How do we “do our best”? It is amazing to read the Analects and see the amount of detail and clarity Confucius analyzes. His reply to another question about what filial piety is was “when your parents are alive, serve them with propriety. When they die, bury them with propriety. After that, offer sacrifices to them with propriety”. It is an on-going process that continues throughout the life of the child, not just that of the parent. While my family does not practice ancestral worship, we observe the practice of “grave cleaning”, known as shao mu. It is an annual family event where we visit the graves of our ancestors (usually ancestors we have known in our lifetimes) to spruce it up a little. No sacrifices are offered unlike the old days, but we take a little time to remember the sacrifices our parents, grandparents and other elders have made in their lifetimes in order that we may have the quality of life that we now enjoy.

Filial piety is more than simple actions. Again referring to Confucius’ Analects, it is recorded in chapter two verse seven: “Today filial piety means feeding your parents well. But even dogs and horses do this. There would be no difference if there is no respect.” In the succeeding verse Confucius says, “The expression of your face is important. Your understanding of ‘filial’ should not merely mean the young serving their parents in physical tasks, or giving them food and wine when it is available”. The expression of one’s face does not mean that we put on a mask or a front. Rather, it is a reflection of the attitude of the heart. Filial piety, or xiao, is a belief and a value that manifests itself in everyday living through the things we say and do to uphold our parents’ name and memory.

There is little I can say to emphasize its importance in the Chinese culture. It differs drastically from the American culture, where the individual’s interests are of utmost importance. We do not give our parents the highest respect because we fear them, but how can we not, after all we have seen them do for us?

P.S. This is my essay for “Languages and Cultures of East Asia”. It’s every bit as personal as my journals. And….Mom and Dad, I love you. :)

More Than Words

These few days have been glorious. The sunsets look particularly spectacular, lighting up the entire campus with a hue of pink. The red brick of all the buildings create this warm effect when the sun hits them at the right angle.

I apologise for not writing sooner. It has been one of the most hectic weeks ever. The one great feat I live to talk about is how I finished six short papers, one poem and two computer programs in a single day. It is partially the fault of circumstance, and also that of procrastination. Now that it is all over, the weekend was a most wonderful time of relaxation.

It’s turned cold outside all of a sudden, and winter seems to approach with haste. The people-scape (if there is such a word) has changed from people wearing t-shirts and shorts to people with jackets, sweaters and knitted stuff.

I’m excited about my sister coming over and all the small details that entail. Where we’ll live, what we’ll do and the like. I hope she’ll find this place as rich as I have.

I have little to say, except that I have a dreadful headache right now. Goodnight to you all, and pleasant dreams.

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