Tuesday, August 28, 2007

We see but we do not see

[Something I wrote 4 years back]

A few colleagues and I went shopping in Kuala Lumpur (KL). It was after all the Malaysia Mega Sale!! We wanted to profit from the strong Singapore dollar. So off we went, shopping, eating and hanging out, enjoying the sights and sounds of KL. I remember one particular night when we were hailing a taxi to go back to our hotel. The taxi drivers drove pass us only stopping to tell us the flat rate for the ride. What? This is obscene! What’s the meter there for? For decorations? We grumbled. Even though we could easily afford the increased rate, we did not want to compromise our principles and hence waited for other taxis to drive by. We spouted all possible comments, from the inefficient transportation system to corruption to issues of international relations. Even though fatigue grew with the night, our might did not waiver.

One of my colleagues ran to an approaching taxi, only to slam the door hard at the taxi driver who was out to make more quick ringgits. I then noticed a teenage boy standing quietly behind my colleague. Gosh, we, polite Singaporeans actually cut in someone else’s path. As I apologised to the boy, I saw a man holding on to his arm. The previously hidden old man wearing a songkok (traditional Malay cap) said to me, “Tak apa, rumah kita dekat” (It’s alright, our house is near). Only then did I realise that the old man was blind!! We actually cut in a blind man’s way! How selfish have we become? Even though our actions were unintentional, we had forgotten (even for a brief moment) that there might be others who wanted to go home too. I felt so bad and apologised to the well-mannered boy and his father. They just smiled and did not even utter any nasty words to us. If the reverse happened, wouldn’t we hurl vulgarities? But no…. the man and his son even apologised for the taxi driver. They told us to go ahead and take the next taxi. They could wait, they say.

At that point, I wanted to give the old man some money. But why? He wasn’t begging. Sure, I pitied his blind state and all. Perhaps I wanted to make him forget our rudeness. Shame on me for even thinking that money could erase ugly impressions! As I crossed the road, I saw the blind man and his son still standing patiently by the roadside. We all see but do we really see? Do we really see the goodness in people? Or do we only pretend to see when we are actually blind?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Postcard from the Edge

Where art thou, o "star of piercing brightness"?
The world needs peace, salam, shalom, paix, мир, 和平

Of MoMa and Prospect Park

I had a good time meeting up with old friends whom I knew from NUS days: Amali is currently pursuing his PhD at NYU & Raihan is teaching in Harlem. It was fun scrutinising the exhibits in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) with them last Friday. At dinner, Amali & I shared our thoughts on youth and poverty and possible projects that we could conduct. I also caught up on the latest updates from Singapore, one of which was about Azizah who just got married to the talented actor Rafaat Hamzah.

The rain almost made me gave up on Regina's Farewell Party; what with the F train not running that Sunday and getting lost in the huge Prospect Park in Brooklyn. But I continued "trekking", lugging Coke cans & cinnamon rolls. But it was wonderful to see Regina and Elizabeth again. Regina, good luck for the PhD in California! Liz, hope you’ll get in Georgetown Law School! Thanks Mark Collins for introducing me to such wonderful sisters. We're going to miss you when you return to Australia.

Alas, I didn't meet Josh Hartnett (in Wicker Park)... but I met some nice brothers in Prospect Park (*lol..) such as Zeeshan who works in the same department at the UN (what a small world!), Arif, Brown Uni grad who manages hedge funds, and Armir, Albanian civil engineer who is always mistaken for a religious Jewish man (so you knew about Bethlehem Steel?!). Hope to see you all in Singapore if you make that hijrah! :)

Schizoprehnic Weather

A tornado hit Brooklyn on Wednesday, Aug 8. It flooded again in Queens. Some neighbours' basements were filled with water, damaging all their things. The trains didn't run. The buses were slow and overcrowded with frustrated commuters. Cars were swept by the waist high flood across Utopia Parkway. I stood drenched by the roadside praying hard that my X-wing fighter would resist the flood from destroying the engine. A yellow school bus and some cars were stranded horizontally across the road causing massive jams. Who would have thought that the angry flood and rain would suddenly allow the scorching sun to take over, leaving us dazed and confused and feeling schizoprehnic ourselves.

It is summer and the weather here is supposed to be hot and unbearable. But it was so windy and cold in Manhattan. Bbrrr... even my rugby polo couldn't protect me from the sudden gush of wind. The hot Miso soup I had for lunch didn't warm me up and I was feeling cold in été! Oh God, what is happening to the climate? Are we being punished for our sins towards mother earth?

How timely it is for the UN to have a world conference on Climate Change in September - http://www.undpingoconference.org/
Let's listen to the ailing earth crying out its woes. Let's do something about it before it's too late...

Friday, August 10, 2007

Birthday reflections

UN Hello Kitty wishes....
... Singapore a happy 42nd birthday! Majulah Singapura! (May Singapore progress!)
... everyone a happy International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples! http://www.un.org/events/indigenous/2007/index.shtml
... Hidayah a happy belated birthday!

Yes, it was my birthday 12 days ago... and some Lehigh friends from 3 continents surprised me with a cosy celebration at Ali's above-Subway apartment. My ADK sisters & friends from overseas sent their birthday greetings too! Thanks for remembering! :)

For the past 2 weeks, I have been bonding with fellow Singaporean and Malaysian friends of various races at the UN. A Singaporean friend mentioned how she was very close to the Malaysians during her mission overseas; telling them how they were all part of the Malayan Federation (what Singapore & Malaysia were known before our separation). I smiled and reflected on this political love-hate sibling rivalry between Singapore & Malaysia. A recent incident confirmed this 'fear and suspicion' … One of the bloggers posted on the Angkasawan blog - “I hear Singapore will set up a space tourism centre that will include parabolic flights to civilians. With our program sending people to the space station we shd be the one doing those program. Govt shd take heed and not let this program go to waste. Let's not get beaten by Spore on this one.”

Being the civic-minded person, I felt the need to reply. The gist of my follow-up comments (which had recently mysteriously disappeared) was “I read with interest NH Chan's comments when he said "Let's not get beaten by S'pore on this one". Let's not make this an inter-country competition. Every country has it own strengths and weaknesses. The most important thing is to strive to achieve what we set out to do in the best way we can. Singapore may be first in most things but Malaysia is able to garner every citizen's support in projects such as sending its first Everest team etc. I remember when I stopped by a petrol station in Kuala Lumpur, the guy who worked there smiled and shouted "Malaysia Boleh!" Malaysia has something that Singapore lacks - national spirit."
I didn't think my remarks were insulting to either country. I see them as words of encouragement; we should learn from each other’s strengths. It would indeed be disappointing if my comments are removed for fear of igniting political sentiments. The blog entries did not indicate any form of aggressive follow-up to my remarks. In fact, NH Chan later commented "Hidayah Amin, I am humbled."

Initially, I was upset when I found out that my comments have been deleted. I hurled “My goodness! What happened to freedom of speech!" at my laptop screen. But I decided to stay cool. Perhaps the best way is to constantly remind family and friends whether Singaporeans or Malaysians that we will always be neighbours. “Honour thy neighbour” as they are the closest to you and will be able to help you when you need them. Healthy competition is good but not to the extent of unfounded suspicion and irrational fears. I’m no politician but I do know that it always pays to have friends, especially for small states like Singapore. Sometimes, in this confusing political climate, we lose track of one common but important point: We all live underneath the same blue sky.