The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Month: September, 2013

Repost: Reasons why my mother was an asshole

Image credit to People We Remember

Repost from People We Remember, a site “about memorializing the poignant moments of those we’ve loved and lost along the fragile road that we call life.”

When I was 12 years old, I overheard my mother and sister talking about something. I couldn’t really figure exactly what they were saying but they were behaving all strange and secretive. It had to be important. It had to be significant. I had to know.

So I asked. “What are you talking about?”

To my surprise, they refused to tell me. “You don’t have to know. You don’t have to know just yet.” I persisted and persisted but they refused to tell me. I pled and whined but nothing, not a single word from either of them, and that made me incredibly suspicious.

What were they hiding from me? Why wouldn’t they tell me?

What news was so significant and yet, crucial that I didn’t know about it?

So in the middle of the night, laying on my bed and staring at my celling, I came to the conclusion that I was dying. I probably had some terminal illness, like cancer of the eyebrows or something and was going to die in a couple of months. They were just finding a way to tell me. They just wanted to shield me from the harsh truth. They just wanted me to die happy. They probably wanted me to take my PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination) before I died.

So in the span of 2 days, I went through the 5 stages of grief.

Denial

This can’t be happening to me. I am only 12. They must have gotten it all wrong. They probably mixed me up with some other kid. It is probably Kenneth. Come on. That kid has so many moles on his face. One of them has got to be cancerous.

Anger

Why me? Why the hell me? I pay attention in class. I don’t talk and throw shit around! I don’t bully people! Why the fuck not Jun Jie? That boy calls me names all the time. I mean in what world does Perry even sound like Penis.

Bargaining

What if I study really hard? I promise I will score all As, even for Chinese. My Chinese will be better than that Indian kid who is constantly used as an example of how terrible my Chinese is.

Come on God, you can’t kill a kid with so much potential.

Depression

I might as well just stay home and watch cartoons. I might as well just not eat my fruits and vegetables. It’s not like constipation is going to affect me in a few days. Dead people don’t shit right?

Acceptance

Oh well, I mean life is full of sadness and disappointments. I might as well just go tell my mother that I know so she doesn’t have to worry about telling me anymore.

So I told my mother.

And she looked at me.

And laughed

And laughed

And laughed

Actually, she continued laughing all the way till Chinese New Year, where she told all my relatives that her son actually thought that he was going to die.

She hugged me from behind and said,

“What a silly boy.”

No one likes self-righteous people who can’t laugh at themselves.

No one likes self-righteous people who can’t laugh at their own son, especially when he is being an idiot.

~

My mother never believed in a reward system. Kids in school would get presents and money if they scored really well in their tests. I would not.

“You are supposed to do well. Why should I reward you for doing something that you are already supposed to do?”

That’s my mother’s reasoning. To a kid, that was plain bullshit. She was just being mean. She was being an asshole.

However, she did reward me for something. Whenever I did something good or righteous, she would reward me. I helped an old lady cross the road and I was allowed to choose whichever Lego set I wanted.

This led to me becoming quite an overly enthusiastic nice person. Old ladies who needed help crossing roads became like giant walking Lego sets to me.

After a while, the rewards stopped but the habit stayed with me. I guess my mother was on to something.

The world doesn’t need good intentions.

The world needs people who do nice things.

It doesn’t matter what reason or hidden agenda or Lego set you want, as long as you do nice things, that’s all that matters.

~

My mother was a liar.

Till the age of 15, I genuinely thought that my mother was an insanely picky eater.

She didn’t like:

Chicken Drumsticks

Fried Dumplings

Crab Meat

Lobsters

Oysters

Satay

Fish

Nuggets

Cheese

Basically, she didn’t like anything delicious. She would cook or buy them and later say that she didn’t like them or she wasn’t hungry.

So I ignorantly ate them all,

all of her love.

~

She constantly corrected my grammar.

Let’s face facts.

That was pretty annoying.

~

She died.

That was pretty annoying too.

~

I stared at the back of my dad’s head, trying to decipher what he felt about my little article about his dead wife; my dead mother.

After 5 minutes of silence and rapid scrolling, my dad turned and looked at me and smiled “You are the asshole.”

Brave New Korea

soma.zoom_.detail.g.1[1]

Image taken from T-Shirt shop, The Affair

It has been reported for a while that the North Korean government has been manufacturing methamphetamines, also known as ‘crystal meth.’ In fact, due to the fact that they are a government-led effort, extremely high quality meth is produced, and they are highly-sought after overseas, according to defectors. In fact, North Korean diplomats have even been made to peddle these drugs, tasked to sell 20 kg (about 44 pounds) and raise $300,000; money that the country desperately needs to fuel its nuclear programs as well as its ruling elites’ lavish lifestyles.

Newsweek reported in 2011, when China, North Korea’s main target of its meth exports, tightened its border security on drugs, North Korea suddenly found itself with a surplus of meth that it couldn’t sell, and thus they started selling it within its own borders.

Inside North Korea, observers say, many use meth in place of expensive and hard-to-obtain medicine. “People with chronic disease take it until they’re addicted,” says one worker for a South Korea-based NGO, who requested anonymity in order to avoid jeopardizing his work with defectors. “They take it for things like cancer. This drug is their sole form of medication,” says the NGO worker, who has interviewed hundreds of defectors in the past three years.

A recent study in the journal, North Korea Review, suggests that about 40-50% of the people in the area bordering North Korea and China are addicted to meth. People in the north of the country have apparently started cooking their own meth to feed their addiction.

The idea of state-produced drugs turned on its own people to keep them docile, or otherwise benumbed to the pain, hunger, and suffering brought about by dismal living conditions from a dysfunctional economy is strikingly similar to Aldous Huxley’s ‘soma’ in his novel Brave New World.

“..there is always soma, delicious soma, half a gramme for a half-holiday, a gramme for a week-end, two grammes for a trip to the gorgeous East, three for a dark eternity on the moon…”

“I don’t understand anything,” she said with decision, determined to preserve her incomprehension intact. “Nothing. Least of all,” she continued in another tone “why you don’t take soma when you have these dreadful ideas of yours. You’d forget all about them. And instead of feeling miserable, you’d be jolly. So jolly,”

”Hug me till you drug me, honey;
Kiss me till I’m in a coma;
Hug me, honey, snuggly bunny;
Love’s as good as soma.”

Like in Huxley’s London, meth abusers in North Korea see their drug as non-lethal — merely recreational, even medicinal. However, while people in Huxley’s London consume soma on a daily basis with no side effects, other than a strict addiction, Kim Jong Un’s North Korea cannot continue to see sustained use of meth in the long term, not without repercussions.

While it was reported that Kim Jong Un has ordered a crackdown on drug abuse in 2011, which remained largely unsuccessful, when the drug, which he has sanctioned the production of, is responsible for putting money into his coffers, and funding the state’s military program, what incentive does he have to stop? Furthermore, the surplus of meth being used as a substitute for more expensive medicines and painkillers help reduce the state’s healthcare costs. One’d imagine that the reclusive Brave New Korea is headed in a euphoric direction away from the rest of the world, its head wrapped up in its never-ending haze of drug-riddled poverty,

100 words

Making every word count is hard when you are on a deadline. No time for adjectives, no time for descriptions. Each word will be so vital, that deleting one causes everything to destabilize. When you have 100 words to live, what will you say?

Perhaps you would speak of your fears, having to live in fear of running out of words to say. Perhaps you would bemoan having to cut the excesses in your life; writing meagerly.

I, however, will celebrate the opportunity of being given the chance to say 100 words, and when I run out, I exit happy.

[100 words, 100th post]

Why I choose to do journalism

A friend had dinner with a business partner, and asked me to tag along. I did, and eventually we talked about what I do. I said, I am trying to do journalism, but have had no luck breaking into the field yet.

Inevitably the question of “Why would you want to do journalism?” came up.

Frequently in the past, I would say, “When I was in high school deciding what I wanted to do in college and after that, I sat down and thought about what I liked. I was good at writing, and I liked travelling, and putting the two together, I came to the conclusion of journalism.”

However, that seemed like I wasn’t really all that interested in journalism, and that I was merely treading a path borne out of reasoning from what I was good at, passion notwithstanding. That night, at the dinner, I surprised myself and when I found myself giving a different answer.

“Why did I choose to do journalism? As I did my internships in journalism, and having to do research and keep up with the news, I realise that I really do enjoy knowing things about the world and telling people about it; I guess that makes me a news junkie. Reading and finding information, piecing them together to unravel threads of a story and being able to tell people about it is exciting to me. Only in a career in journalism do I get to grow along with it, and work isn’t merely work but a daily opportunity to learn and grow, and that is ultimately very satisfying to me.”

In this time that I am still not employed in the journalism industry, I am still trying my darndest best to keep abreast of the news, and producing content on this platform, keeping verisimilitude that I am doing journalism, still.

Would it have been easier to fold, and throw in the cards and go back home? Certainly, but I didn’t spend four years in college pursuing journalism (and linguistics) in the United States learning about journalism and the free press, only to go back home in an environment without free press and a general freedom of speech and expression. I didn’t travel over 9000 miles to learn to question, and to find answers, only to go back to a system where reporters have to be wary of reporting the “wrong thing.”

I left to feed my hunger and passion — I’m certainly not going back to kill it.

Learning politically-correct fairy tales

pri1-1[1]Photo credits to Catch Forty Winks

A motherhood-blogger shared a picture from her friend’s Facebook (above); her friend’s first-grader son’s test paper and how he apparently got a question wrong.

The question is one of those “arrange the words” type to form sound sentences. The boy apparently wrote “The fairy godmother turned the handsome prince into a snake” and “The castle was on the beautiful green field” and they were marked as being incorrect. The teacher indicated that the answers should have been “The fairy godmother turned the snake into a handsome prince” and “The beautiful castle was on the green field.”

Why were the answers marked as being wrong? They were all grammatically sound, but because they didn’t adhere to some standard of what fairy tales should have been. some poor child’s rather creative construction  got neutered.

Not that I would like to repeatedly lambaste Singapore’s education system, but this sort of inflexible marking shown by the teacher is precisely what’s wrong. The government and the public lament that our students turning out to be uncreative and un-innovative, and I wonder why that is so. When everything has to adhere to a preset, every fairy godmother has to be benevolent, and every castle has to be beautiful.

It is not known if the student’s parent confronted the teacher over this stunting marking.

The blogger felt that should her son encounter this situation, she would do the following:

1. Meet the teacher, and explain my view on why this answer should be marked as correct. However, this will be dependent on whether I have already sized up the teacher to find out more about her personality. If she is open and accommodating to parental feedback, she might feel a little apologetic and then change her marking on the paper. Or if the teacher is by-the-book and inflexible, my child might get unnecessary attention amongst the 29 other kids in class or just get ignored eventually.

AND / OR

2. Explain to child that conformity is part of societal expectations, model answers and behavior is needed to get approval from teachers and school. However, share with child that his answer is correct according to English language structure and rules. And continue to encourage creativity in modules of creative writing, problem solving and life in general, apart from school.

In the immortal and forever-wise words of the movie Mean Girls, I quote:

There are two kinds of evil people in this world. Those who do evil stuff and those who see evil stuff being done and don’t try to stop it.

Not confronting the teacher and letting the issue slide does more harm than good. Would the teacher continue marking every prince that has been turned into a snake as incorrect? Then, telling a child that conformity is what is needed in society is just as harmful — this tells the child that deviance isn’t accepted in our society, be it good or bad. How is having the child cripple himself to fit our society’s narrow-minded confines going to be useful in the future?

How would this blogger react if the child grows up expressing views that are deviant from societal norms? What if he grows up wanting to study the humanities, or wants to become a chef, or turns out to be homosexual, or decides that he wants to become a fashion designer — all outcomes that do not conform to the Singaporean norm. What then? Would the parent still tell the child that he or she is still expected to conform? Where does one draw the line?

But I deviate. Not only should the child know that his answer is perfectly acceptable, he or she should be encouraged to make more of such creative sentences. Why stop at the fairy godmother turning the prince into a snake? How about a snake turning a fairy godmother into a snake? The parent could even engage the child’s artistic faculties by asking the child to imagine how something like that could happen, and make an illustration! Take the opportunity to turn such an event into  a way for a child to exercise his or her creative juices.

prince

The fairy godmother turned the handsome prince into a snake by the castle on the beautiful, green field.

Experiencing Darshan?

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I went to the exhibition “Darshan” at the Clampart gallery. The word “Darshan” means “sight” in Sanskrit, but it is used in the context of receiving “spiritual vision,” or the moment of theophany. It is a way of being able to see the divine directly through a medium, be it art, sculptures, landscapes, or great people. Some call it “divine inspiration,” but I like to think of it as the moment of being in awe  in sublimity in the presence of great spirituality.

It can be akin to being taken by the Holy Spirit in Catholicism, a sort of event that happens in the consciousness.

I went to the exhibit hoping to receive that experience, where it claims to recreate that connection one gets in a Hindu temple through the images, incense and invocations, but sad to say I was sorely disappointed.

The pictures on the wall were highly masterful, that’s for sure. All but one of the pictures was not photoshopped or digitally touched, and every element in the frame was the result of real people posing and the arranging of props. That was highly impressive, and the attention paid to detail was delightful.

However, it failed on delivering anything close to any experience I’ve had physically stepping into a Hindu temple.

There were incense urns but not incense lit, and the gallery room was sterile and too white. There was not even anything of the sounds one encounters in a temple, and the gallery felt claustrophobic. Temples are usually designed to impress by vastness of scale, with high ceilings elaborately decorated and such.

Image credit to Wikipedia

Very often, it is the gopuram of a temple, or its monumental tower at the entrance gate, that begins the process of darshan for me rather than just the idols itself.

To think that the darshan of a Hindu temple is received solely through religious images is highly lacking — it involves the sights of the images and colours, the smell of incense and the age of the temple, the sounds of other devotees and occasionally prayer but also the sound of tranquillity, and especially, the touch of cold stone against the bare feet, the grind of dust against one’s foot.

Also, I think that using that faux-devanagari (Hindi) script was a let-down. It’s like using faux-Asian scripts in Chinese restaurants or something.

Extracting meaning in nonsense

Image credit to Wikipedia

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

— Lewis Caroll, “Jabberwocky”, 1871

This is one of the most well-known nonsense poems in the English language, and yet, as Alice in Caroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass says

‘It seems very pretty,’ she said when she had finished it, ‘but it’s rather hard to understand!’ (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) ‘Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that’s clear, at any rate’

Even though the words are nonsensical, we still get a distinct sense of their meaning. How is that achieved? What components of the words in this poem contribute to their meaning? From Wikipedia, it says “The poem relies on a distortion of sense rather than “non-sense”, allowing the reader to infer meaning and therefore engage with narrative while lexical allusions swim under the surface of the poem.” What that means is that when we see the words and hear the sounds of the words, the components draw upon our existing knowledge to draw parallels to words and meaning we already know, and extrapolate the meaning onto the poem.

Thus, the frications, the hisses and lullings of the tongue bring about certain images and parallels to words we already know. A modern example would be the word:

Professor Severus Snape

from the Harry Potter books. It’s a very simply usage of the visual and audio clues as to the kind of person a character with that name might be. From “Severus,” we can break it down phonologically — the repeated sibilant ‘s’ draws upon hissing sounds, starting and ending with an ‘s’ makes the word sound harsher, and the the labio-dental ‘v’ sound draws the speaker’s mouth into an involuntary snarl in order to pronounce the ‘v’. Orthographically, “Severus” looks like the word “severe,” and the “-us” suffix lends it the gravitas of faux-Latin, adding a touch of snobbery and sombreness. Similarly, for “Snape,” phonologically, it leads with an “s” sibilant, and the “SN” consonant cluster makes the reader involuntarily sneer. Ending the word with the plosive “p,” and a released, aspirated one at that, adds to the ideas of a curt, no-nonsense character. One can plausibly imagine Severus Snape (with Alan Rickman as him, of course) saying the words “Get. Up.” with an extra hard release of the final “p” sound. Orthographically, “Snape” looks like “snake,” contains the word “snap” in it, and words that begin with “sn” have usually a slight negative connotation to it. (Snide, sneer, snap, snore, sneak, snoot, snarl, sniffle, snark)

So we’re incredibly able to draw so many allusions just from a person’s name via its sounds and its sights, now imagine extending it to the entire Jabberwocky poem. Let’s just examine the first stanza of the poem:

  1. ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  2. Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
  3. All mimsy were the borogoves,
  4. And the mome raths outgrabe.

And see if we can annotate it with relevant information that we know.

  1. It was brillig [N? Time of the day? ADJ? Brilliant?], and the slithy [Definitely ADJ. Slithering and lithe] toves [Definitely N, because of following line]
  2. Did gyre [V. Plural object-verb agreement (“toves gyre”). Gyroscope] and gimble [V. Gyrate and tumble? Rotating movement] in the wabe [N. Wet, plus extra wet connotations from “slithy”]
  3. All mimsy [Adj. Whimsy? Whimper? Miserable?] were the borogoves [N. Borrow-dove? A bird? Mangrove?]
  4. And the mome raths [ADJ-N, because of the following V. Home? Mope? Moan? Wrath? Rats? Moths?] outgrabe [out-grab+PAST? Gripe+PAST?]

Wikipedia compiles a possible interpretation of the words, which mine seem pretty close to.

The human mind is incredibly capable, almost desirous, of pulling meaning out of words, such that people arguing about semantics when they disagree with words used by other people seem almost silly. Previously, I have written about how the grammaticality we’re obsessed with contributes little to the understanding of meaning, and people who advocate and insist on a gold standard of grammar are quite misguided. Similarly, we see here even semantic-correctness seems secondary, if the words used have no semantic distinguishing from another, because they are not words in the lexicon in the first place, yet they contain content and semantic meaning.

Does it matter if I say, “The amalgamation of hydrogen and oxygen atoms yields water,” and “The combination of hydrogen and oxygen atoms yield water,”? There will be semantic purists who insist that the act of amalgamation is subtly different from a mere combination; that perhaps amalgamation is more nuanced.

Of course, I don’t deny that there are certainly words that are more nuanced than others. There is certainly a different between the words “happy,” “delighted,” “glad,” and “ecstatic” — they align differently on the superlative scale where one might construe “glad” to be the most slight and “delighted” and “ecstatic” to be on the other end. But even between these words, how is one to distinguish the semantic difference between “delighted” and “ecstatic,” where one is full of delight and the other full of ecstasy, that one is more superlative than the other other? Does ecstasy trump delight?

As such, insisting on absolutism for certain terms is imposition of one’s views on another. Splitting hairs semantically, like grammar-nazism, contributes nothing to the discussion if the intent of the speech is clear.

To end off, I’ll try my hand at “nonsense prose,” to see if I could, without using lexical words, tell a story.

“You seem morried,” Alex said, as he kriched up a klatch, and lit his smube. He took a long wheg. “Is everything milly-willy? Surely nothing fellish happened?”

“I’m afraid I’m a little tatchet,” I said, my shoulders smished, my haiths swanged.

Alex poff-poffed, for he whegged one too big. “Sorry about that. Come on, tich your bin up, kellyvale everything.”

I hished my feet, “You know what my pairrows are; they have viddied not an inch. Every burrise I wake, the same ol’ nubs, the same ol’ tracherns. I am still without work, and my time here is plivered. If I don’t get a job immish, I’m fanade I’m going to go wallyfaloo.”

“Surely it’s not that sapper,” Alex kippered, “You have your tumms around you, being snorm and glideful. Surely that clappas your situation?”

“I’m grateful for my tumms, yes,” I said, “But they can only clappas por piti. It’s been four yardas already, Alex, and the best I’ve bainaged was this mopstep.”

“I can’t movome back, Alex. That finta is unbelfortasible to me; I didn’t swarvvy thousands of loons and cross ninan lashes to come here, only to have to gallivog home. There is no syfe for me there, Alex. Although I have tumms and revelas back home, to have to be washorled by all that sikthorn and snurling pekvork will beshoy me. I’ll sooner slax myself than movome.”

“What are you going to do then?” Alex said.

“I can only prish it will be wingwag, Alex. I can only pope.”