Sunday, November 30, 2008



British children wait in a bomb shelter during Hitler's air raids, 1940. (Photo credit: Library of Congress and The History Place)




Jewish children on their way to Palestine after having been released from the Buchenwald Concentration Camp. The girl on the left is from Poland, the boy in the center from Latvia, and the girl on right from Hungary.(Photo credit: J. E. Myers, June 5, 1945. National Archives)

These photos just took my breath away, for some reason.
My head starting spinning in the middle of class today, and I couldn't quite fathom why -- I had lunch and enough to drink -- and it occurred to me that the double espresso may have been one espresso too many. It kept spinning for the next couple of hours, and I was half hoping to faint just so I'd have that experience under my belt. Well, no such luck. Made it to the Daily Star office in one piece to churn out more pages for December's issue of the Forum.

Got home at midnight. Out of eggs. Fucking hell. Instant noodles by itself. This house needs more food. I haven't had eggs in DAYS. Kirsty, are you reading this? Are you going to buy me a whole crate of eggs before you leave?

Took a peek at my student's mid-term assignments, and I wanted to sing for joy. OH JOY! The detail! The effort! I don't know if they're a particularly talented bunch or if all my bitching paid off. I figure it's somewhere between the two. Joy joy joy.

It's more or less official, I'll be heading the secretariat for the upcoming Chobi Mela V. Of course, its never going to be "official" since there won't be some initiation ceremony or crowning ritual -- I will have a new desk and the load of work will make it official enough.

I missed out on the last two Chobi Melas because of bad timing, so its rather ironic that I'll be thrown right into the midst of this one. I still don't have a clue about how bad its going to get, but everyone else is worried about how I'm not worried -- that should be indication enough.

We're expecting roughly 60 exhibitions, a mixture of digital and print, and I haven't had a good look at the guest list flying in.

What I do know, which is enough to make me piss my pants, if you'll pardon me for being so crude, is that Noam Chomsky and Stuart Hall will be speaking live via internet at the opening ceremony.

I've also somehow managed to take on responsibility for a book -- a beautiful collection of essays. I'm still not quite sure how I'm going to manage it all. I kept muttering to myself as I rushed from office to office today, "I'm fucked. I'm fucked. You're so fucked."

I'm almost resigned to being the sort that takes on too much. Whether or not I manage to deliver -- that's an whole other question unto itself.

Majority World's still on, of course. Progressing slower than I'd like. I guess I'll be in good shape to set up my own photo agency if need be. I'm surrounded with legal text these days as I try to sort out the basic necessities such as licenses, terms & agreements, territorial rights etc etc.

And in case you haven't already guessed, the photography's gone to shit in the midst of all this. I still feel badly about that, although the guilt has gone quite numb because I've felt like this for a while. I suppose when I'm older and wiser, there'll always be time to go back to that.

I finally finished Murakami today. It was a bad idea to rush through it, but I know I wouldn't get anything productive done until I set the book down. I was told this wasn't one of his best, and for that I'm glad. It was a promising book, but it could've been so much better. It seemed as though he was just fucking around with us at the end. I'll gladly read another by him, but I hope the next one has more answers than riddles.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

So the consensus on FB (judging by status updates) is that the world's going to shit. I've got nothing much to say about it, only that I think the world's been going to shit for some time now. It's not getting worse, its in the exact same shitty state as it has always been in.

But our memory of past events fade, so that when new ones occur it seems things are beginning on a brand new slate. But before the Mumbai killings, there was the Marriott blast and the New Delhi bombings. Go back further and there was the London bus bombings and the ones in Madrid and Bali. Before the whole Thai thing, there was the Burmese crackdown on monks. Before bird flu, there was the Nipah virus and, of course, SARS.

And let's not forget the hundreds of shitty things that has been going on under the radar, from the events in Orissa to the wars that are still going on in Sri Lanka, Colombia, Sudan, Congo... well the list is here. Does anyone even remember the Abu Sayyaf anymore?

I suppose the only recent event that's relatively unprecedented would be the market meltdown. I know little about the 1997 Asian economic crisis, and I know it doesn't measures up to the shit that's happening now... but I suppose my point is that -- things were never always good. So why are we so surprised when shitty stuff happens?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bara Khyang

So during my brief trip down to Cox's Bazar, we spent an afternoon visiting a couple of Buddhist temples in the Ramu district, about 15 km inland from the beach itself. Burmese influence in the whole area is palpable, from the traditional handwoven bags being sold on the streets to the children and women walking around with thanaka on their faces.

If I remember the brief history lesson correctly, the area started off with a strong Buddhist influence before Muslim conquerers came and destroyed a lot of the monasteries and temples. With this in mind, I was rather intrigued by the large number of madrasahs we passed en route to the temples.

We wanted to visit Bara Khyang (also known as Lamarpara Khyang), which (according to the outdated Lonely Planet guide we had). The CNG driver took us through narrow village lanes before we stopped in front of a rather nondescript compound.

Bara Khyang

We found it strange that there were no other visitors abount, and were greeted by a rather glum-looking woman (who is quite beautiful when she smiles, evidently) who told me that photography was NOT allowed (at least for the first 5 minutes anyway).

Bara Khyang

My friend, who had visited the place about a decade ago, was certain we were in the wrong place. There was indeed a large bronze statue inside, and even though the room was dark and dank, the size and beauty of the statue had us in silence for quite a bit.

Still, the entire place was so rundown that it didn't feel like a place which could house the celebrated "largest bronze statue of Buddha in Bangladesh". It wasn't until we visited another temple later that we found out, from the head monk there, that we had indeed seen Bara Khyang -- stripped of its former glory and beauty.

Bara Khyang's compound, now depressingly bare, was once crowded with visitors and filled with flowers and manicured lawns. The temple's interior housed not one, but three bronze statues -- two of which had since been stolen or sold off by corrupt monks, and only the largest one remained, probably because it was too large to be carried off. Other relics gradually disappeared over time.

So, the destruction over the last 10 years had rendered the place utterly unrecognisable to my friend. He was understandably rather upset over the whole thing.

Purnima

Finally got around to editing some photos of the Purnima festival:

Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

So all the lanterns had to be "approved" by a monk before it was let off into the sky. Was without a translator. Couldn't quite figure out why.

Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

General public cordoned off from the main area where the lanterns were being let off. Too much fire and flammable substances around. Still, when the lanterns floated off into the air, a great number of them dripped burning fuel onto the spectators below. Sounded painful.

Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

Different groups of friends got together to make their own lanterns. Constructed from bamboo strips and pieces of rice paper, it was a delicate contraption - one which could take up to several days to complete, depending on the size.

Needless to say, lots of whooping going on when it was their turn to show off their hard work.

Arjun, who had witnessed Purnima from his village in Bandarban, reported a local artist made a huge, detailed lantern in the shape of an elephant -- trunk, tail, ears and all -- which was beautifully balanced and considered the most "awesome" of all the lanterns he had ever seen.


Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

Oh, and remember what I said about half-naked dancing men?

Purnima - Kamlapur Buddhist Temple

I know the colours are all over the place, and I'm generally irritated because the colours appear different depending on whether I'm viewing the photos online or offline. What the hell?
Caught myself thinking "Maybe I'll grab some char siew rice for lunch". I guess memory is a habit too?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Culinary Tales

So other than the general malaise, I've been reading quite a bit picking up the random books left in the house. It's a bit of a weird mix, really, the schizophrenic shelves carry Bridget Jones' Diary along with Taslima Nasrin, and then there's Amy Tan next to Khaled Hosseini.

I get a general 'ick' sense from Asian writers, which I know is very obtuse behaviour on my part, but I find their prose to be much too flowery. And for that same reason, I can't stand Paulo Coelho. Picked up Witch of Portobello, got sucked in for half the book, and then halfway through I felt like I had crammed myself full with too much rich tasting food and wanted to throw up.

This just means I avoid most books by Asian writers -- even those that made it to the bestseller list. The rare exception I guess would be Salman Rushdie, but even though I enjoyed his book, it wasn't the effortless magic carpet ride Marquez was.

Surprisingly enough, I thoroughly enjoyed The Kitchen God's Wife. Made it through half of The Kite Runner and even less of The Inheritance of Loss. I've lived with these books for months, before finally trying to give it a go -- no go. Badly want to read more Camus or Banville or some depressing Irish thing to balance out the many many lessons in morality I've consumed thus far.

So Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential was beautiful change in pace. And it made me very, very hungry.

I'm not a big foodie, and I've never been one of those Singaporeans who would drive from Boon Lay to Geylang just for supper. I suppose Bangladesh isn't exactly the place to be for a Singaporean -- even one who's not a foodie.

I am not a big fan of gulping down my food, but that's the way its done here most of the time. Its hard to savour the spices and curry when I'm cramming my mouth with as much rice it can hold. There's also a habit of pre-mixing everything with the hands, so you essentially get a ball of curry-soaked rice (or rice-soaked curry?) which you shove into your mouth.

And everything is in curry, except the biryani. While I'm a big, big fan of curry -- I wish someone would dunk a whole can of coconut milk into one of those pots and shake things up a little. Or a stick of lemon grass. And don't get me started on the oil. You do realise that chicken fat/skin produces a whole lot of that by itself, don't you?

Oh, and easy on the salt, yeah? Salt is consumed so liberally here you'd think they were shaking black pepper on the dish. My local friends are generally not appreciative if my curries or chilli pastes end up sweet -- which it always does -- and help themselves to insane amounts of salt at every meal to 'balance' out the weird food I make. I made some sambal ikan bilis complete with sugar and lime, and they cringed.

This is the reason why I get upset when I steam fish (traditional Teochew steamed pomfret) and my friends insist on having curry or raw chilli to go along with it. Enjoy the flavour! Smell that damn soup! How are you going to taste anything when your mouth is filled with tumeric and numb from the chilli?

This doesn't mean there's no good food to be had here. God knows I've had my share of fabulous street stall kebabs and roasted chicken, buttery naan and lovely gravy. And the biryani, although a tad bit rich, can be divine. But I can't have this every day of the week. Where's my bak kut teh? Laksa? Mee goreng? Sambal squid? Variety! I need variety!

Did I just write about food and books? Jesus.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Radio Silence

General malaise. Should throw in justification by quoting some Confucian saying about how if the Mountain Is Too High then Maybe You Should Rest Longer Before Attempting To Climb It.

Only blip on the radar was the Obama win, which evoked excitement in the morning - and that's really saying something. Made me think of our own elections, when I was parked at some kopitiam taking (unused) pictures of the "heartlanders" reacting to the results. Old men chugging unprofessional beer with me, cheering loudly for the opposition, lots of Hokkien swearing. 'twas fun.

Local elections around the corner. Will now give out directions by asking people to follow posters and banners. I live around the corner from one of the women which is cool in a way, but if the other woman sends bombs then it'll either be cooler or I'll be fucked. Either way, malaise will end.

Anyway, feeling better now after taking Step 1 on that Mighty Mountain today.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama

What a beautiful, beautiful thing.