Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Conditioning

Conditioning can refer to one of several things. I will attempt to highlight what conditioning means to me in the context of my recent experience(s).

Hair conditioning
When one is in the countryside with no running water, one does not automatically think of shampoo, let alone hair conditioner. As a result, one's hair becomes dry, brittle and parched of nutrients; a bit like grass... if I had gone on for longer without conditioner, the horses around me might just have tried to nibble at my head. When I arrived home (KL) the first thing I did was to condition my hair. Twice. Will continue to do so until they regain their former glory and not the straw hat I had to wear for 2 weeks.

Air conditioning
Having become accustomed to 16 degrees Celsius weather, the body went into slight shock and resistance mode, as it was reintroduced to Malaysian weather. Wanted to turn on air conditioning but realised that I am no longer living on a set 'I can spend this much on anything I want' holiday budget and so cannot afford to turn on air conditioning which leads me to my next point.

Cultural conditioning
I suppose it's easy to complain about something you know pretty well. Actually it's easy to complain, full stop. In Beijing, I thought the ground staff were offhand and bordering rude (own conclusion, not slander or libel or defamation) which led me to wonder how they would cope with the influx of English speaking tourists when the 2008 Olympics hits. They might want to consider foreseeing the Mount Olympus of a problem they might face and take measures to counter it NOW.

In Mongolia, it took me a week in Ulaanbaator, a day in Chanman Tor and will possibly take me a month in Bayankhongor to get acquainted with the different social and cultural expectations. Acquainted does not mean fluent or adept. I am currently still in a state of cultural saturation which will need to filter through my brain as it tries to piece this strange country together. When I get past processing a little more than 1% I'll let you know.

The journey through cultural conditioning can be quite trying at times but when an individual is conditioned reasonably well, it reaps its own rewards; looking past unsightly cracks to behold the beauty of a mountain face.

I am slightly defensive when I assume that a certain 'thing' is 'conditioning' the way I think. I automatically try to build up immunity against alien intruders invading my thoughts. However, some extra terrestrials are more persistent than others. Life's Legalities 50 Reasons Why I *Heart* Malaysia is resignedly addictive and I find myself randomly thinking of reasons why I do love Malaysia, even after I completed my 50 reasons. After going away to China and Mongolia, I really have to say that Malaysia tops my list (for Asian countries anyway). I personally didn't like Beijing for all the 9 hours I spent with her but maybe if I spoke Mandarin I might have a change of heart. Mongolia is actually a very hard country to live in and if it weren't for my extra-thick concentrated love for horses (I even found my favourite potato hard to consume in Mongolia even though I could eat it everyday in the UK), I would probably not mind not seeing her again.

Conditioning. It can be useful. Often it implies nourishment, support and renewal. But sometimes it means persevering until there is a change of mind and heart, word and action.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Singing in the rain

In the last 11 days, I have had 3 warm showers and it was not by choice that I chose not to shower. Even in the capital, Ulaanbaator, warm water is hard to come by and the valve heating the water may be shut down without notice at anytime. In the 'outback' running water, let alone warm water, is hard to come by and deodorant truly becomes, practically speaking, one's best friend. I went out to Bayankhongor for 5 days and was just overwhelmed by the cultural differences, taken aback by their way of life and humbled by the Christians there. At this point I am still mulling over whether I am suited to do mission work in a country I came to know about through my love for horses. I have been saturated in thought since I set foot in Mongolia. There are times when I think, "Yeah I can do this," and others when I am convinced I cannot. Regardless, if I go, I go not by or through my strength but by God's and if I am to 'survive' out here, it really will be a testament to God's provision.

Whilst walking home (turned out to be an hour and a half long walk in 16 degrees weather with no jacket) God sent some rain my way to add to the 'fun' of walking home. Am currently writing this drenched and wanting tea quite badly. It was not however, all that bad. Walking in the rain reminded me a lot of London and the never ending fog of traffic jams reminded me of KL so I was not feeling completely isolated or void of familiar sights or sounds. It is surprising how in a foreign land, the simplest thing such as a Snickers bar or a computer keyboard that does not stick or English programmes on TV take a huge burden off my shoulders.

Did more horse riding whilst I was away, this time over desert-like land and high, rocky mountains. It is amazing how quickly the geography of Mongolia changes. Look to the east and one will find sand dunes as far reaching as the horizon, look to the west and rocky crags stand proudly over the plain. In front of you might be a marshy bog but behind, you'll find the evergreen steppe stretching out across more mountains that turn blue the further out they fathom. One of the things I really enjoy in Mongolia is a sense of adventure I have hungrily sought but find nowhere else. Nowhere else have I been several hundred feet up tethering down rocky paths at dusk on horseback. In the riding school, everything from my posture to safety is scrutinised. It is well that these things have their right and proper place and in the riding school, it is understandable that certain rules must be followed but there is a wild fulfilment when I ride with abandon and leave thoughts of safety behind. It is where I am as free to do the best I can and push myself beyond the limits I thought existed, not because the world is watching but because I find delight in doing so. Even in my doubt as to whether I can serve in Mongolia, I remember what it feels like to be astride a creature created to run. I remember feeling the surge of power as he gallops uphill and the sheer force of joy that welled up inside me and it makes all the hardships that go with the territory worthwhile, if only I get to ride for a few hours every so often.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Mongolia, here I am

I am at odds with myself, which I always seem to be, which gets kind of boring and frustrating to both myself and those around me. Part of me is ecstatic I am finally in Mongolia. Indeed, I have been able to do things I have so far only dreamt of doing. For 2 days I rode horseback in the open countryside. The first day was with Haley and a guide but we only did a little cantering. On the second day, I skipped tea time so I could go for a one hour, non stop run. The guide and I raced across the mountains of Chanman Tor and I could see our shadows fall far down the slope as the wind billowed in our hair. It was exhilarating to say the least. Nothing the riding school taught me prepared me for the complete joy that nearly consumed me. I felt like I could run forever. It makes me wonder, as I look around Ulaanbaatar, whether I would feel as inclined as I am towards Mongolia if there were no horses here. If there were no horses or no love of horses or no love of something here, I would find it extremely hard to stay. And yet, many of the missionaries I spoke to are here simply because they feel God's call to go to Mongolia. They don't like horses, they don't like camels or the food or the people even, but they are here because they feel it is God's will for them to be there.

It gave me a new perspective into the missionary lifestyle and mindset. Many have asked me, "Do you have a heart for Mongolia?" and I have to say no. I don't love the people, if anything, the freedom I feel when I am riding compels me to stay. I don't particularly feel that God has sent me here (ie I didn't have a burning bush experience to confirm that) but things have fallen into place nicely without a lot of hoo-ing and ha-ing. I used to feel guilty that I didn't feel compassionate, sympathetic or empathetic for the people. I used to think that not having those emotions meant I did not have 'a calling' here because I didn't love the people enough. After speaking to missionaries here and reading from Percy Mather's biography, I realised that yes, in some cases God gives us a heart for the people He sends us to but the most important thing for us is to have a heart for God and His work, His will, His purpose. If we only base our inclinations on having a heart for the people, when that love fades, will we still stay? To me, that takes far greater faith than mine. To me Mongolia is beautiful because of her natural beauty and of course, her wildlife, her flora and fauna namely her horses. Were I to live here, I would choose the countryside everyday, anyday, over the dusty city which looks similar to war-torn zones I see on the television. I do not know if my ardent favour towards horses is the path through which God will send me here ( in some ways, He has already) but we do know that God works in different and mysterious ways.

The great irony of Mongolia is seen in mismatched situations. From derelict buildings, one will find stunningly dressed women tottering on sky scrapper heels. In a Mongolian ger (a tent in the middle of nowhere), one will find more flies inside that outside and the whole room smells of sour yogurt (airag; fermented horse milk) and oil because they cook indoors and yet Nike clothes hang from the washing line, also indoors. I have never tasted sweeter pears before yet after 3 days my gut longed for proper vegetables (other than potatoes, carrots or cucumbers), which are far and few between.

This morning me, myself and I took a taxi 2 hours east of Ulaanbaatar to a National Park in Terelj (or something like that) so I could fulfil my dream of riding a camel before I turned 25. Now I can say "Been there, done that, will definitely want to do it again." For those who think horses smell, camels smell worse! Will put photos up when I return to KL. I also accepted the hospitality of a nomad group and indulged in their homemade bread which tastes like iu chiak koi (the fried bread thing we eat with porridge or in rojak) and airag, which I couldn't finish. Airag is something nomads drink all the time. It has a high alcohol content, having been fermented in a large churn in a prominent position in the ger and smells like milk gone really really bad. I took a few sips and nearly made a gastric mess in the ger... will have to learn to get used to it. Am trying to look for yak butter too. For those who were curious, yaks are not ridden. They're like big, hairy cows and we don't ride cows do we? I found a sheet of yak hair/ fur about a foot long on the ground whilst returning from an eagle hunt and wrapped it up and took it with me, to the amusement of the locals.

I have also bathed in cold water twice and not out of choice, might I add. In Mongolia, even in the capital, it is not an irregular occurrence when the hot water stops flowing or when water stops flowing altogether so one has to either get used to bathing in icy water be it winter or summer or not bathe at all. This month of August has been fairly cool and by that I mean about 16-20 degrees. In winter, temperatures can drop to -45.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

In God we trust


This is a 10 dollar US bill. It doesn't look very much different from the other bills run by other parts of the world. It is made of paper and can be torn (unlike bills in Australia which made from some sort of plasticky thing). I'm not sure what the GDP is or how much I can buy with a 10 dollar bill but I'm not interested in that today.

At the back of the note are four simple words; often overlooked, treated with indifference or purposely ignored and no, I am not talking about the words "United States of America." These four words in many ways, if not all ways, imply the basis of why we have structure, laws, morality and rights. It is part of the reason , even though many choose to gloss it over with cliches, behind why we feel the need to be vindicated, to have justice, to right wrongs and punish what we see as immoral, even as we ourselves are hypocrites of the acts we condemn and thus are hardly perfect to dish out judgement.

Unfortunately, not everyone holds to this creed. In fact, many deny it even as the are reminded everyday as they exchange bills in day to day life, when they go to the grocery store, pump gas or buy cookies from the pretty girl scouts in pigtails. Many assume that the way of life we lead today is a mere genius on Mother Nature's part to bestow upon us homo sapiens, certain authority over other creatures. Others assume that we do not murder because it is not moral to do so. Whoever said it was not right to do so? Certainly, if humans were left to their own devices, to rule themselves without any input whatsoever from an omnipotent being, as naturally as 'nature' would allow, murder would be the way forward. Would it not be the most natural (hence good) thing for us to want the best for ourselves regardless of others? Why care about others at all? What is it that compels us to want good to triumph even as we would prefer the bad guy to win? However, we are not born good and we are not born gods. It is not that the world corrupts and turns pious, sentient beings into incoherent wrecks of madness and spite, it is merely that we were born that way.

It is indeed satire that God chooses to engrave His authority on money, the very thing that keeps people away from God. When I look at this note, I am reminded that I may not have enough material possessions to make me anything worthwhile in the eyes of the world but God is sovereign over every cent that runs through the World Bank. There are those who use the currency everyday and yet have not stopped to think why the words at the back have not been erased even as the demands from secularism and pluralism become an increasingly magnified thorn in the side of society and personally, as a Christian. It is more than a science or an art, more than anything philosophy or empty wisdom can try argue out of. Richard Dawkins will try convince you otherwise (rolls eyes).


Packing and pacing

Have thrown several things into my bag. Need several more. Forsees trip to Megamall tomorrow at 11am to outshop the best shopper in Watsons or Guardians. The pharmacist had better be in. Why is it that I always open my wardrobe and find 'nothing' to wear and yet I seem to be buying a fair bit? Ironic that the more I buy, the more 'nothing' I have to wear. There are other things to consider; flip flops may be fine walking around shopping malls but walking in the dessert...? Skirts may be fine on a hot day in London but when I am sitting on a horse...? Have cut my hair short and clipped my nails down. Not bringing any make up on this trip so if I come back looking like the yeti... sigh. Have Bible, pens, travelling necessities and my abundant wire collection... I know that at least in Ulaanbaatar there'll be electricity. Am starting to think I've embarked on a boot camp type of holiday... I really want to ride a camel before I fly home.

Close shave

I NEARLY missed my flight for the SECOND time. The first was when I went home, just 2 weeks ago. A very fast (and expensive) taxi driver saved me from having to book another flight. Tonight, as I was chatting to Mark, I realised that my flight to Mongolia will be on early Monday morning, NOT Tuesday morning as previously thought. I means that I have less than a day to prepare, not the day and a half I thought I still had. It means I will be leaving for the airport after SMACC 2 dinner!! In fact, we usually eat til so late, I might have to cut our dinner short!!!! It means there will be people to see me off (oh no!!). It means I won't be able to meet up for dinner with friends as planned on Monday. It means, it means.... Aaaaaahhhhhh!!!!!!!

Am living on the edge. Very unlike me. I'm usually systematic, prompt and punctual. I wonder what's happening? WHAT'S HAPPENING TO ME????!!!!????

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Kingdom focused

There are several kingdoms I sometimes find myself either in conflict with or in alliance to. There is the Middle Kingdom of Jelly Belly which I always try eradicate but her citizens are content and prosperous, cumbersome to move and sly enough to return without notice.

Then, there is the Animal Kingdom of Horses Everyday, which upon returning to KL, I discovered, was no longer available to citizens who lack the 'green card' Money Trees of the Pot of Gold Kingdom, such as myself. Incredibly disappointing, but cest la vie.

There is the Kingdom of The Home, where all walls have ears and the slightest mention of guava or travel insurance sends the King of 'the Home' lovingly looking for juicy guavas and travel security for his 'subjects' (thanks Pa).

Enter the Kingdom of Fantasy an morality is sometimes eschewed and tainted but the feel good factor that benefit the people of this Kingdom drugs and numbs the mind to block out any supposition that the principle behind fantasy is bad for the soul.

Finally there is the Kingdom of Heaven (NOT the Orlando Bloom version!). It also goes by the name Kingdom of Unsurpassable Power and Inevitable Consequences (Psalm 2*). Some know it as the Kingdom of Ultimate Glory (Daniel 7*). Let me tell you a little but about the King who runs this Kingdom. He was punished to rescue a people who hated Him not because He was a masochist or that cosmic child abuse (Pierced for our Transgressions) was written in the cards but because He first chose them as His people. He has immense power yet does not abuse it (Isaiah 42*). In fact, far from abusing it, He uses it to bring righteousness and justice to His people; the same people who hated Him. He holds the world in the palm of His hand, the wind and waves obey Him (Luke 8*), so do evil spirits and disease (Matthew 8*) Furthermore, the King, seeing that His subjects are spiritually impoverished and naked in guilt, clothes them with His own righteousness and puts His own Spirit in their hearts to make them whole (Ezekiel 36*). The King, in one act, both gave His life and gives life to His people. Be warned though, this King is a jealous King and rightly so, for He is God. He will not tolerate worship to any other god a.k.a idol (Isaiah 40: 18-26*). To be outside the walls of this Kingdom is to face certain death with no recourse to appeals or petitions.

The Middle Kingdom of Jelly Belly will wobble,
The Kingdom of Horses Everyday will fall,
Kingdom Pot of Gold will tarnish,
the Kingdom of Fantasy will be put to flight,
and even Kingdom of the Home is not perfect,
but the Kingdom of Heaven, which is built on the Word of God, will stand forever.

* LOOK in the BIBLE folks, it's all there and all good!!!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Random faces

Voon trying to hide; we were in Bintang Plaza after watching Harry Potter (my first time watching it on the big screen). Had Sugar Bun's famous fish bun; KL people have no idea what they're missing... or non-Sarawak people anyway.


Chris and Gordon at Nandos before Transformers. They somehow both ended up wearing green.


Rosey and Wai Nyan at a post-CLP lunch in Madam Kwan's, Mid Valley.


Hoong Wai when he came to visit me :) ok, he came with his mum but he still came to see me. We went for sushi after church. He had suggested walking from Bukit Bintang to Masjid Jamek but I told him no way!


Sarah La la la la la la la la..... the day this was taken, Sarah introduced me to my first ever Coffee Bean drink (in living memory anyway).

Miri


This is Steph Yeo's fantastic interior deco to her rented Kancil. I personally think it's uber cool and am very pleased that I have seen that there really IS an option to have zebra print all over my car. Will definitely have this in mind although having it will probably be an indication to everyone else that I am losing mine.



Steph took Voon and I to watch the sunset (and afterwards to eat seafood) by a beach. One of the best places to be in Miri, followed by the Petroleum museum at night. It's so appealing, that lots of people pak toh (go dating) there. So maybe not the best place for others...


I randomly found these boxes of Smarties that had pictures of people from around the world behind it (as seen in photo). It was so cute that I bought 5 even though I don't like Smarties. My brother enjoyed them though.

Amazing transport



If I ever get a you-know-what, he's got to at least tolerate, if not LOVE, travelling in the express boat in Sarawak (stinky toilets and all; but he doesn't have to love the loo, I don't either), travelling in the longboat to Mulu and flying in a tiny aeroplane that gives new meaning to turbulence. These are my favourite modes of transport besides horse riding.

Food at grandma's

Noodles fried 'wet'

Tomato noodles


Noodles fried 'dry'


Soup noodles

Mani chai (Hokkien) or cangkuk manis (Malay)

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Engineering

Have you ever had the silliest questions at the back of your mind but never got around to answering them? On Monday, Eing, Cheryl and I decided to probe into a few of those niggling insecurities and find out what all the fuss was about.

Niggling insecurity #1:
How many steps are there in an escalator?

Hypothesis:
There are double the total number of steps than meets the eye.

Experiment:
We marked one step and then counted the number of steps until we saw the mark again.

Method:
Initially we used a black marker but firstly, the marker did not make a conspicuous enough mark and secondly, the steps were all black from grime that it did not stand out.

Secondly, we tried to squash a bit of fruit between the creases of the step to mark it but that again did not stand out.

Thirdly, we tried to identify a step by its present markings ie the grease stains that were already on the step. From this method, we counted 50 steps.

We wanted to confirm this number so we stuck a price tag on one step and counted 50 steps again.

Conclusion:
Understandably, different escalators at different heights have varied numbers of steps but we can let you know that the escalator on the 5th floor of Saberkas, Kuching has 50 steps.


We also found out how car windows go up and down and that with ESP more than one person can drive a car at any one time.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Stressing out

For the first time in a long time, I was truly ill last night into this morning. It was one of those "Should I put my head or my rear down the toilet?" illnesses coupled with a splitting headache and fluctuating body temperatures, which could not be cured by 1000mg of mefatamic acid or sniffing tiger balm like it was air. I think the burden of the stress I have been carrying around finally caught up with me after I tried to forget them in my Miri-Marudi holiday within a holiday (voir dire in holiday form perhaps?).

Where will I work?
Where on earth is my transcript? It has been 11 working days and it is meant to be delivered in 10.
What will I do if I fail the CLP?
Do I like Law enough to sit for the CLP next year?
Can I afford more horse riding lessons? May seem trivial but horses form a huge part of my life.
Do I want to do a Masters locally?
Will stuff in Mongolia get sorted in time?
How badly do I need emergency insurance?
Where will I get money from after I get back from Mongolia?
Will I be able to get used to living with my parents again if I moved back home?

I hate throwing up. The last time I threw up, I was 18. Ironically, I can make myself seriously ill by forcing myself not to throw up but to me puking is one of the worst things I could do and I would rather be down with whatever else that comes with withholding than throw up. It is almost like admitting defeat (to me anyway). Not being able to control my own body and just having to surrender to the 'upchuck reflexes' (to quote from the movie 10 Things I Hate About You) that is in conflict with my mind that wants to keep in down, is, to me, assuming total helplessness in a situation I cannot control namely, my gastric juices travelling against gravity.

Last night (or this morning at 5am to be exact), I gave up. Not giving up in general per se, but giving up needing control. I 'let it rip' and it felt like all my worries and anxieties and frantic possessiveness flushed away in the swirling waters.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Incredibles

Had a food-filled time in Marudi. Incredible.
Had a fun-filled time in Miri with Voon and Steph. Incredible.
Am currently in the Miri city library blogging. It is incredible alright. in.cre.di.bly. SLOW.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What will happen next?

The world today is so advanced. Personal cameras, phones and music gear have shrunk to the size of a credit card and what used to be diskettes and CDs can be carried around as a pendant or in a powder compartment; basically hide it where there is even a milimetre of space. The world of nanos and gigas have replaced bulky equipment that is now looked upon as a mere waste of space. However, what the gigas and nanos have yet to achieve (or maybe they have and I'm just ignorant) is solar powered energy to feed these tiny gadgets. My MP4 is the size of a USB stick, my camera is half the size of the one I used to have and don't get me started on the brick-size 'mobile' phones of the past. Things have shrunk and now all run on electricity... oh wait, that is the problem. Electricity. Where it used to be possible to just recharge your toys with new batteries, now you have to wait in line for an available electric socket, seeing as you new toys are smaller than some batteries. The 'dilemma' I faced whilst packing to go to Grandma's was that it is no longer sufficient to bring a pack of batteries to backup my digital life, I need to bring wires; lots and lots of wires. I don't like wires; they're fussy, get tangled and have the potential to wreck a really good day. Why can't everyone in the industry set down a standard-sized wire/ mouth/ head/ whatever to slot into each and every piece of modern tech we have? That way, we'll only have to carry one wire along. Life would be peachy then.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Oh, what big eyes you have(Grandma)!

If life went according to plan by now I would have been through about 10 of Grandma's dishes, grappling with my rusty Hokkien and anticipating promises of more food for supper. However, there were/are no flights to Grandma's tiny town so tomorrow I fly to a nearby city and take (my dream-come-true) express boat on a 3-hour journey. I hope it will not rain so that I can sit once again, at the bow and feel the wind rushing through my (now very short) hair. When I went to the supermarket to buy something to bring back as gifts, I assumed everyone would want chocolate covered mints, chocolate wafers and chocolate. Wrong. Mum put me right and we came away with 13 packets of BACON.

Will be meeting up with Steph and Voon after trip to Grandma's (memo to myself: bring camera) for some Miri fun (if there is any to be had) which, I have been told involves a lot of (and more) food. So for you 'lurkers' out there, until Sunday evening comes, I will not be blogging.