Monday, July 29, 2013

Tobias Wolff: In Pharaoh's Army

I'm reading the book and its absolutely brilliant. I just love his prose - the way he crafts his words... check this out.

"At Dong Tam I saw something that wasn't allowed for in the national myth - our capacity for collective despair. People here seemed in the grip of unshakable petulance. It was in the slump of their shoulders and the plodding way they moved. A sourness had settled over the base, spoiling and coarsening the men. The resolute imperial will was all played out here at empire's fringe, lost in rancor and mud. Here was pharaoh's chariots engulfed, his horsemen confused; and all his magnificence dismayed." 

I wanna write like that!!! Its pure gold reading it. Wow.

He also takes about death, how fate seems to choose one person over another.

And it got me thinking. I've had a number of near death experiences or close calls. One of them happened just a few days ago. I was turning across a lane and was waiting for a BMW car driven by this old middle aged lady with heavy glasses and permed hair to cross my path. However she inexplicably slowed down and it seemed like an age before she passed me by. I got damn impatient and drove hard as she crawled pass me. But my eyes had been so focused upon the beemer that I did not check the incoming traffic on the other side. As I cut across the lane, another car appeared on the other side - a terrible collision could have occurred but he braked in time.

A family crisis June 25th 2012

June 25, 2012. Monday morning 7am. I wake up as usual - my body clock still sync to a dive schedule timetable. 5 more days and I'm going to Lembeh Straits for another dive trip, my 4th this year. I've been to Dayang, Layang Layang, Moalboal/Oslob... memories of the year's trips whirl around in my head.

But I check my email and then things start to unravel. I got an email from my brother-in-law in Melbourne (where I live most of the time)

My mum has been hospitalized. She fell down on Saturday. If possible come home if possible.

I feel myself being plucked straight out of my dreamy plans. All kinds of questions shoot off in my head like fireworks.

1. Is it serious?
2. Is it that serious??
2a. C'mon this is a joke yeah?
2b. Really ah?
3. Do I really have to come home?
4. Can you do without me?
5. I'm not a doctor. I can't do anything.
6. Joke right?
7. She ate something left in the fridge 10 days old again ah?
8. Can I come home as planned? Its just 10 days away.
9. No way.
10. When should I fly back?

I rang my sister who had been attending to mum in hospital since Sunday. My sister said that mum was pretty messed up. The unpleasant news was that mum had actually collapsed in the kitchen on Saturday night and couldn't crawl to the phone until Sunday. That's fubar. Even then she didn't want to go see the doctor and wanted to go sleep it off. My sister took her back to her home (which was a 40min drive away) but along the way my bro-in-law asked her (probably for the 10th time) whether she wanted to go see a doctor. And then she finally said - yes. The doctor confirmed their fears - she was having a possible stroke and she could die if she didn't go to hospital. From their neighborhood hospital it was deemed that her situation was critical and she was ambulanced to the ICU at Monash. As we were having the conversation - the hospital called my sister's handphone and I could hear the words "Oh no", "Serious", "That bad", "OMG"...

My paternal grandmother (my father's mother) also suffered a similar fate - except that she died in her kitchen without anyone realizing it. They say that life is like poetry - it rhymes. A disturbing thought.

So the answer to my questions was simply - "Now." It just took me the whole morning to work it out. Everything had to be dropped. And my mind went into a complete reversal of the morning's thoughts. Cancel my flight to Manado. Cancel the dive resort. (Try and) Cancel or change my flight back to Melbourne.

I could change my Airasia flight back - but the cost was prohibitive, esp. if I wanted to fly that week - $400= top up fare + penalty for changing. And I still had to also fly to KL and change the connecting flight - which meant I probably could only get back on Tuesday evening or Wednesday. That was just too much hassle then I could stand at the moment.)

Thankfully, Jetstar was offering a SGD$410 direct flight back to Melbourne on that day (and the whole week). And I could catch the next flight out in the evening which meant I would arrive back in less than 24hours. I swatted away all the questions that were pestering my mind and focused on the goal. Get Back to Melbourne right now!!

It just seems so bizarre. So surreal. Like in a dream or should we say nightmare. I honestly didn't want to go back. Not now. Let me finish my last dive trip to Manado and then I'll get back.

The flight back was surprisingly very pleasant. The plane seemed to be half full. And I had the whole aisle to myself - all four seats. The pilot was really good and landing was super smooth. I hate landings when the plane practically smacks itself on the tarmac and the pilot has to use full brakes for a long while to slow down. Anyway, this guy landed the plane so gently you barely felt it.

Surprisingly going through Aussie immigration was also a breeze. I still had a bunch of officers ask me the same questions as I was going through. But no dramas. And for the first time ever - I walked right out that black Tullarmarine airport door in less than 10 minutes. (Sometimes its takes a couple of hours to clear customs)

There was no one to fetch me from the airport at 7am - everyone was busy working or still in bed. Fortunately, there is now a bus service from the airport that goes near my home. It adds another hour to the journey but it beats taking the taxi which can be expensive.

The busstop was still about 300m away from the airport and there was no bus shelter - now during Winter this can be a problem. The buses arrive 30 mins to an hour apart - and standing in the cold (and rain) can really kill ya.

I think I was on a roll with Lady Luck. When I got to the bus stop, the bus was waiting there. And funnily enough, because its ticket machine was broke, I rode on the bus for free. Woohoo!!! Ordinarily its about AUD$3 - which is 2 cheap considering the distance we had to travel.

Anyway to cut a long story short... I dreaded going to the hospital. My dad had died in a hospital and its a sobering thought to imagine that its my mum's turn next. HM (my sis) had already told me that she was in a bad way with tubes and god knows what else now (probably a life support system going). This was so surreal. So bizarre.

No problems getting to the hospital - but taking the lift and walking through the ward was another matter. I walk into that grey room, and I see my mother lying in the hospital bed. Her face cast in a frown. She's sleeping. There are feeder tubes but thankfully no freaking life-support ventilation systems. Gosh she looks so old and fragile. At this stage all the ideas of scuba diving are long gone. There is no chair to sit and so I stand by her bedside, waiting for her to wake up.

I have mixed emotions about my mother. To many people she's a nice, sweet woman. But that's just the public side. I've found sadly to be quite different. She has a violent temper and she does the most irrational foolish decisions. Our recent conversation a day before the incident ended on an angry note.

The strange thing is that at church, the day before I received the news, and probably as she lay helplessly on the kitchen floor - I wept as I sang the Doxology and said the usual silent prayer about the predicament. That's something terribly disillusioning to grow up in a Christian family, brought up on beliefs of honor, honesty, respect, and love and to find as you're growing up that those traits can be lacking in the same parents that profess and teach them. What happens when you cannot respect the people you love? How do you deal with a parent when they increasingly behave like a child? You bang your head against the wall again again again while friends openly laugh at your predicament.


Its been over a year since the incident. I'm now a year older - and I've clocked more diving trips - including the one to Manado.

Things have surprisingly improved. But it only happened after another heated exchange.

The thing is - that now - I don't care. To be more precise, I'm letting go. I've reached the stage when I realise that I cannot help an adult who behaves like a child and who refuses to help herself and ignores my advice.

I'm not getting into a car with a "drunk" driver. I'm not going to pay for the booze or whatever fuels her addiction. I'm getting out and walking.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know". Jeremiah 33:3

There are some verses in the Bible that stand out positively. This is one of them.

Of course if you read the context of the verse it is about God having a conversation with Jeremiah about the judgement of the nation of Israel and its subsequent redemption - the usual "I'll whoop their arses and rescue them later etc..."

But the fundamental truth stands out - the crucial thing is this awesome reply from God.

"Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know."

My old pastor from Swanston Street once said - we don't need to ask God for any more answers - we have all the answers we need in the Bible. Anything else - anything outside the Bible - prohecies, word of knowledge etc.. was borderline heretical to him. Everything ended with the Book of Revelation. I think he's mistaken.

He fails to see that we as Christians don't worship a book - even if the book is considered the Word of God.

God is more than the sum of a book. We're talking about a God who made the Universe, all of creation as we see it. How can you encapsulate a God in a book written by infallible human beings - even if they were divinely inspired? Some of the stuff written in the Bible - esp. genocide and eternal damnation vs a God of love - causes some Christians to go through a lot of illogical loops of explanation.

God is more than a book. Just as a person is a lot more than a biography book. Above all - God is an actual person. Well, not a human being, not a mortal most definitely. But He or It is an intelligent living entity who has human like emotions such as love, hate, jealousy, patience, and rage.

God above all else does want to speak to you and have a conversation with you - and not just "great and mysterious (or unsearchable) things but in everything.

He didn't just send His One and Only Begotten Son to get crucified on the cross so that we can go to heavens and play with harps.

He did it so that we can return back to "Eden" - to a time and place where we can walk - hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder with our Creator - to talk to Him, to have fellowship with Him, to be His friend face to face.

There may be problems in our lives - sins even - I got a bagful of them - but I believe they are small compared to what God has in store for us.

Some people ask - how do I keep so young? I'm 44 but I look like I'm more like 30 so everyone says. I pray. I pray everyday, every minute sometimes. I maintain a communion with God even if I'm angry with Him. I ask Him questions. I insult Him. I berate Him. I enjoy His presence when I feel it or claim it by faith when I don't. But above all else I'm honest with my God - and humble.

I call to my God and He does answer me. Some replies just take some time to come.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Talking to Preachers

There is nothing more annoying than talking to a Preacher - ie someone who has a fixed view of the world and just wants to ram down his particular brand of gospel down your throat.

For once - try and see things from my point of view? Isn't my point of view valid? Don't I also have a fucking right to live a normal life?

Evidently not to some of my friends. Well, FML.

Melbourne Winter - its 5C.

I've been waking up really early the past couple of weeks. Usually its because my body is trying to use my blanket to pitch a tent. I feel unusually energetic. Been going running a fair bit. But it does take a big motivational push for me to just go in this winter weather.

Its Winter now in Melbourne. Temperature was around 5C last night. You can catch a cold just by going to the bathroom.

Still, waiting up in the early morning represents something unusual for me.

The build up in exercise and the ease in which I'm starting to do chin ups is also pretty amazing. I feel better than I have felt in years.

I think this change over me might be attributed to this girl I met in Singapore. She's pretty. She's young. Whats more important she has a charming personality. And she likes the same sort of strange stuff I like - old houses, vintage porcelain, art, and Wes Anderson films - good heavens, I proposed to her on the spot (in jest) when I heard that. She laughed. We are so alike.

I click with her. But I'm not so sure that she clicks with me. She has certainly done things which makes me think she does. The sort of things about her life that she shares with me. The trust that she places upon me.

Endearing, absolutely.

Unfortunately I tend to fuck things up. I talk too much. I reveal too much stupid information about myself and generally, as one of my friends observe behave like a 13 year old. In my defense, its been a long while since I've had some form of a relationship with a female. I said things to her which made her feel uncomfortable. Maybe it was the super-detail updates of my life, maybe it was the 10+ poems I sent her.

I can't help it. Some guys burp. Some guys buy flowers. I write poetry when I like someone. It just happens.

She's backing off now and there's not a thing I can do about it.

To me that's the frustrating part. She's overseas as well.

And the more shit I sent to her the more distant she will get.

I hope she just wants sometime alone to think.

We don't exactly have a normal relationship. And she had a huge tragic breakup last year. I also need some freaking direction in my life now as I'm finding myself unable to live in Australia any more. Both of us are not ready for anything concrete I don't think.

So I surrendered myself to the fact that she has her own mind. And that right now she needs to decide where she wants to go.

To be honest I'm happy that we remain just friends. I'd really get upset if she determined in her mind that I was a creep and refused to see me or even talk to me. I don't want to lose our friendship even if she decided to see someone else.

I guess I'm in love. But she doesn't feel the same way - and that's OK. I gotta step my emotions down a bit. And so I've decided to even stop texting her and wait for her reply. Its been about 4 days since her last reply.

Its all a bit agonizing. But yeah, I'm letting go and working at being at peace with whatever outcome - good or bad.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Not going to attend church any more

This is a follow up to my earlier post about not going to church.

I think one of the most depressing things about going to church are meeting Christians who are so far removed from the Christian ideal that I think patrons of bars and night clubs behave much better than them.

I find it appalling that people who are claiming that the Bible is the Word of God behave worse than heathens.

I mean - what's the point of going to church then?

Really, real live pharisees.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I'm not going to church anymore

I've decided I no longer wish to be a part of the "I believe the Bible, the whole Bible is the Word of God" church - ie. churches which fully hold to the belief that the Bible in its entirety is the manifest Word of God.

In short:

1. I worship a living God not a book written by secretaries.

2. I am sick to death of trying to defend the indefensible and trying to do a PR spin on what I consider absolutely sickening episodes in the Bible.

3. I no longer have to put up with people who believe in it nor do I have to tolerate their utter bullshit talks about it.