Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dam It

Over the past few years, the Sarawak state government has been developing a project called SCORE (basically an initiative which, if successful, will result in the construction of twelve hydroelectric megadams in rural Sarawak). The Murum dam has already been constructed, and the next one in the works is none other than the Baram dam. This one is going to be particularly crazy because—if you remember your lower secondary Geography—the Baram River is one of the two main rivers in Sarawak, alongside Sungai Rajang. This means that it's a crucial source of life not only to virgin forests and wildlife of Borneo, but also to thousands of indigenous people.

Dams like these have been built in the past, often with disastrous outcomes. Let's take the infamous Bakun dam as an example: over 10,000 indigenous people were displaced from their homes in 1998 when the dam flooded their native land. And to give you a better sense of scale, the area of the flooded land was roughly the size of Singapore. That's right. The size of an entire nation. So hypothetically, if Singapore were still part of Malaysia, and if Taib Mahmud had decided to plop the Bakun dam on this little island—Singapore would have entirely disappeared from the world map. That's how incredible the extent of the destruction was.

And now we have the Baram dam. According to the Sarawak Report, this dam is projected to flood an area the size of Penang. So hypothetically in this case, if Taib Mahmud decided to open the floodgates of the Baram dam upon this island—that would be the end of our char koay teow. Forever. But seriously, though—from here, we then have to take into further consideration that this isn't the only megadam that's being planned out for Sarawak. There are twelve of them. So envision this: twelve megadams, each approximately the size of an entire state, all concentrated within a single state in Malaysia. And then imagine the sheer number of indigenous people who would have to be displaced to make room for these dams. Probably tens of thousands.

Personally, this issue is one that strikes close to home, mainly because the statistics I've written about aren't just numbers to me. Behind every data point is a face, a story, a life with so much intrinsic worth—and behind some of these data points are people I call family. There's Pr Vincent, the wonderful family man who took me into his home for an entire month in the forest. Then there's Po' Bolo, the old man who gave me far more rice than he could afford during a season of poor harvests. And there's Suling, who stole my slippers and locked me in the classroom and loved me in a way that I'll never forget. And then there's the entire village of Lg Lamai—whether the men who exclaimed "Hallelujah!" when I slid down the hill on my rear end, or the ladies who allowed us to sheepishly use their toilets when ours got stuck, or the kids who spotted rainbows and constellations with me after class.

I honestly don't know what I can do about this (probably nothing much, I'm a small fry), but at the very least, I'm hoping to keep myself updated on any relevant developments. And maybe—if you'd like join me in this—do click here for one of the most informative and comprehensive websites I've seen on this issue (it's by the Sarawak Report, so it's legit).

- Hun uleu jah pemanak lem Yesus Kristus -

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Midterm Season

College = IB sem 3 on steroids

Sunday, October 12, 2014


You know the saying, "Four months between planting and harvest." But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. (John 4:35)

So real. :)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Doing Life

It's been more than a month since I came to the States - and surprise, surprise - contrary to the vibe some of my previous blog posts may give off, I'm actually pretty happy here. (For some reason or other, all the happy stuff tends to go on Facebook while the more depressing material tends to end up here. So my blog isn't exactly a fantastic representation of my state of mind, just saying lol.)

I'll concede, though, that the first couple of weeks here were incredibly rough, mainly owing to reasons such as culture shock, having to come all the way to New York alone, settling down in a foreign country with little help, isolation, missing home, etc. It came to a point when I actually wound up wondering why in the world I chose to come to Columbia and why I didn't opt to study locally instead (although this, of course, was just a phase and I now have few regrets about coming haha).

But now that a month has passed, I can look back with a shred of hindsight and say that I'm super grateful for everything that I've gone through thus far. IV / Ignite / life group / random hangouts have been so wonderful and joy-filled - and I'm so glad to be part of what God's doing on our campus. I feel like I've found a legit community in my life group + amazing leaders, and the prospect of living and growing with them over the next few years is ridiculously exciting. Whether it's giving out free Insomnia cookies or singing on the steps by the sundial or just having a meal together, there's always so much love and friendship, so yay. Jube has been pretty awesome too; we sang in the stairwell last rehearsal and it sounded fabulous, and we have a lock-in today and tomorrow, so that should be fun!

I don't actually know why I'm sitting here and writing this when I have a polisci paper to write and a frosci assignment due in a couple of hours. But I guess my blog is just a very informal way for me to track the plot/storyline of my life lol, and I like capturing snippets of this - so I can look back sometimes to see how God has been working through the dips and peaks over the years.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Feed 500

So I went for Feed 500 (an event aimed at feeding/connecting with the homeless) with IV today - and it was freaking amazing. I'm usually pretty skeptical of one-off events, because I feel like there's no sustainable follow-through most of the time... but I feel like Feed 500 actually equipped us super well to continue serving the poor/homeless in the days to come.

A couple of things that stuck with me from Jonathan Walton's super amazing sharing:
- I can view the homeless either through the lens of pity or the lens of dignity. The latter's far better.
- I should avoid defining the homeless by their poverty - but rather, by their personhood. Every individual is loved and defined as a child of God, and that is enough.
- I'm not the answer to the world's problems. I'm not the savior of the people I help. I'm not entitled to a good reaction.
- I don't get a gold star for successfully finding a homeless person to share lunch with. If I can't find anyone, then PTL there's no one on the streets today!

My group - Kasey, Alex, Ben and I - spent some time with a few homeless people after the briefing, and it was a wonderful way to spend my Saturday. We made sandwiches and packed bag lunches and went on the hunt for people who might be in need of those. Sitting beside destitute individuals in the heart of America's affluence (Times Square lol) was quite the experience, and it made me see a different side of NYC: not the flashing neon lights that so often blind us from reality, but the very present human brokenness and poverty that we walk past thoughtlessly everyday.

Which brings to mind a verse which I hold very dear: 'But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?' (1 John 3:17). I pray that my time here in NYC won't turn me into a jaded, compassionless person (a state which is not at all hard to fall into, considering the every-man-for-himself culture here) - but rather, that the brokenness and hurt and pain all around me will make my heart even more tender than before.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Welcome Home

JUBE :) :) 

If I believe in my heart and confess with my mouth
that Jesus Christ is Lord
He is just to forgive, He is mighty to save
He is shelter from the storm

I love Him more than all these idols
I bowed to before I called Him Lord
And He came running, opening up His arms
"Welcome home, my child" I heard Him say
"Welcome Home"

I have called on His name, now I'm telling the world
The story of my Lord
How He raised me to walk in newness of life
When I had fallen short

I love Him more than all these idols
I bowed to before I called Him Lord
And He came running, opening up His arms
"Welcome home, my child" I heard Him say
"Welcome Home"

And I'll see Him in His glory
As the angels say "Welcome Home"
No more crying, no more sorrow
No more death or pain "Welcome Home" 

I heard him say "Welcome Home"
I heard Him say "Welcome Home, my child"
I heard Him say " Welcome Home"

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Gratitude List

I should probably stop whining about college, so a list of small awesome things that have somewhat brightened my days:

- life group life group life grouppp + feeling very loved within this little new community
- great lunch dates yay Kasey
- multiple dinner dates with my favorite Singaporean + actually having someone who understands + is interested in Malaysian politics
- being really intimidated in a class full of juniors, and then having one of them walk me back to my dorm + sharing my sentiments about not knowing a freaking thing about history
- not doing my readings and discovering that the TA wasn't going to discuss about it anyway
- getting into Jube, having second thoughts about the huge time commitment, but sticking with it anyway
- dying from the complexities at Jube but hearing the midi recordings of songs and realizing that Vincent is a genius and that this ridiculous eight-part thing is actually going to sound really nice once we get a grip on our respective parts
- realizing that Plato the anti-democrat isn't as boring as I thought he would be
- Switchfoot is coming to Columbia! all thanks to IV
- eight-course Chinese dinner with Malaysians. but actually. yes. RICE.
- fortune cookie that tells me: "golden rule - K.M.S. Keep Mouth Shut."
- actually having a snack schedule in lit hum
- having a really cosy little single in best dorm ever
- having a grand piano in the best dorm ever
- the 100-page weekly printing quota
- picking up packages from the mailing center (I don't care even if they just contain mundane things like bedsheets - packages make me feel loved + remembered)
- laundry in Wallach is still free
- seeing an adorable kindergarten class holding hands in pairs and traipsing all over the Columbia grounds
- smuggling peaches back from Ferris or John Jay
- the people blasting loud music outside my dorm have great taste in music (I actually heard Charlie Parker one night and melted a bit inside)
- discovering that my favorite Singaporean lives just a floor below me
- insomnia cookies
- sunset at Columbia, when one half of the sky is deep blue and the other half is orange
- the weather now (give me a couple of months and I'll start whining again)
- not having stepped foot in that stress incubator that is Butler... yet
- the dryer actually fully dried my laundry load for once
- climbing up six floors to avoid freshman 15

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Snow in Summer

I was never one of those who looked forward to college, and in my preliminary judgments, now I see that I was probably right about feeling that way.

Every day is just a hodgepodge of missing the authenticity of home, wondering if anything lies behind the nauseating smalltalk I encounter at every turn, desperately trying to think of something remotely intelligent to say to make up my class participation for my grade.

It is summer, but it feels cold. Inside, at least.

At times a sliver of the sun's delightful rays creep out and touch me and make me smile - like when I get loving hugs from awesome IV people, or when we break out into spontaneous jamming sessions, or when we sing on the steps at midnight - but the moment these end, the clouds rush back in and remind me that I am at this place, this so-called 'greatest university in the greatest city in the world', bereft of kindness and warmth.

It is at times like this that I recall all the bullshit that I've ever been told back home:

"Don't just stick around Malaysians."
"Oh my gosh. Don't be so insular, lol. Break out from your groups of Asian friends."
"You're studying abroad for a reason. Get an international experience. Have a diverse group of friends."

Before anyone accuses me of being a narrow-minded bigot, I'm not necessarily saying that it's bad to make friends with people of different nationalities. Rather, I'm making a point that the importance of a common background and understanding is so grossly underrated.

Sometimes, after an entire day of struggling to cobble together sentences in an accent unnatural to you just so you can be remotely understood... after hours of listening to pop culture references that you never grew up with and will never actually fully grasp... after weeks of being immersed in a place which is supposed to be yours, but where you don't actually belong... the sound of a lah or a sien or a we also have a Sedition Act in Singapore is so ridiculously welcome. The prospect of trading instant noodles - Indomee vs MyKuali - becomes something to look forward to; a source of warmth in the impending winter. The joy of discovering cheap and good Thai food with people who actually understand the SEA region puts you on a high for the rest of the night. The ability to skip past the smalltalk phase and immediately launch into a deep conversation about family, country, life becomes an immense TREASURE, not a burden - definitely not something to be ashamed of.

I've always loved Malaysia deeply, but it's here that I realize how much she loves me too. And Southeast Asia as well, for that matter.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Dance Troupe

Dance has never quite been my thing.

One year in kindergarten, I was excluded from the ribbon dance because I routinely fumbled in my steps. And then in another year, as I was enthusiastically flapping my sparkly gold-paper wings as the leader of the birds in The Sleeping Beauty, my principal marched in and declared that 'that girl cannot dance' (I was promptly ushered off the stage). Then - humiliatingly yet humorously - I, the inept one, was placed in a concubine troupe in a secondary school musical.

And until today, I still cannot dance.

Coming to a new country (oh, America) after two decades of comfortable Malaysia - I've had to learn new dance steps. Navigating alien, foreign, unnatural maneuvers of the body. Using muscles, joints, ligaments that I've never had to test out before. Head - hold it down; never look up; this is New York (nobody looks up here). Lips - don't smile; look serious; this isn't a kindergarten bird-dance. Legs - move fast always; one in front of the other in rapid succession; never rest; life is work.

And then the individual dancer blends in with the hundreds - maybe thousands - of other dancers on the stage, each hoping to make their mark, hoping to get their spotlight moment, at some paradoxically obscure point in time.

Step up.
"How are you?"
Step up.
"How are you?"
Palms intertwine for the briefest moment.
Let go.
Step right.
Step left.
Legs continue moving, machine-like, in opposite directions, never resting again until the next plastic "how are you".

I fumble - just as in my ribbon dance days - over these steps. The steps I know, the steps I cherish from home, are so very different.

Step up.
"Hey, helloooo (insert name)!"
Step up.
"Hey, I've missed you so much!" (crucial step regardless of whether dancers have not seen each other for ten minutes or ten years)
Warm hug.
Big warm hug.
"Makan maybe?"
Long, deep conversations.

But the dances I know by heart are not performed where I am. The ones here are so different. In the distance, a circle forms. Performers - Americans, mostly - twirl breezily, weaving in and out, back and forth, effortlessly navigating the intricacies of dorm parties and fake IDs and alcohol and Beyonce's legs and Kim Kardashian. They know their steps; they do not trip. I cling helplessly on to my Milo ais and MyKuali curry mee and memories of a time when people held their heads up high and their arms wide open.

Dance has never quite been my thing. And it's the concubine days all over again.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014