What’s In Your Hands?

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“What does giving mean to you?”

The atmosphere was suffocating.  Everyone was shifting in their seats, anxiously waiting.  It felt really different from the normal jamming sessions in the studio.  The hall was large, so was the crowd, and being the first up on stage has never been my cup of tea.

There were a lot of things that weren’t.

I don’t mind audience, but being the opening act in a band competition was really bugging me.  It wasn’t even our slot – we exchanged it with another band, given the excuse that the little stage ‘gimmick’ we wanted to pull would be original, just in case another band had the same idea.

And I didn’t like the stage ‘gimmick’ either.  We were to “pose and freeze” for about 10 seconds or more in the middle of a rock song, like how Switchfoot did in their latest concert in Malaysia.

Switchfoot.  Their songs aren’t easy to get.  At least not on a first listen.    The band had performed their songs in the previous two competitions before, and it was pretty obvious that deep lyrics and upbeat noisy music do not register in people’s heads immediately, especially the crowd that we were playing for.  Making the same mistake for the third time seems, well, foolish.

I knew we were supposed to be spreading a message, but to make people listen you have to speak their language.

So I didn’t like a lot of things.  But because it was a majority’s decision, I had to learn to like it.  Not that my attempt was very successful… my stubborn nature didn’t help at all.  Time and time again I’d ask myself, “Why the heck am I doing this?”

“Give until it hurts.”

An hour before we went to the hall, we grouped up and the band leader did a bit of sharing.  He reminded us about the purpose why we were doing this.  We’re not like every other band.  Our main objective was to spread a message.  Our songs were “Generasiku” and “Malaysian Dream (altered version of Switchfoot’s American Dream)”, we simply wanted to let others know that there’s just simply more to life than chasing paper.  We’re a Christian-based band, but our message was universal.  We spent about 20 minutes just spending some quiet time and singing “Mighty To Save”, a song that means a lot to us.

Whatever happened after that was a blur, except for the butterflies in our stomach, because next thing we knew, we were in the hall waiting for our turn and our friends even not from campus came to lend their support.  Mind you, it takes approximately 40 minutes from any place with civilization to get to us, and for them to just come all the way to hear us for 10 minutes was just very, very cool.

It was just nice to see people believing in us.  Even when we don’t believe in ourselves.

The seven of us walked to the stage, proudly armed with our instruments.  And played we did – our guitars, violin, drums, and keyboard played before the crowd, and before one majestic presence.  The more we played, the less afraid I felt.  I observed my bandmates, and counted.  1..2..3..4..5..6..7.  Seven Sweet Surrender.  Not one, not just me.  Seven of us.  How stupid of me to feel all alone and dissastisfied before this.  If there’s anything we were going to do, we were going to pull it off together.  Wrong notes, right ones, every single movement.

And then it happened.  The more-than 10 seconds freeze pose.  I took a deep breath and held my hand up high, and pointed to the sky as if I was pointing to my favourite superhero.  Everything fell silent.

“When you give others a part of you, it adds meaning to what you do.”

After our mixed performance I walked to the tennis court for some fresh air.  I haven’t been there for the longest time as I’ve been spending more time with basketball.  I saw a familiar face – someone I’ve always been curious about.  I approached her and we just started talking as if we’ve known each other for a long time.  It wasn’t until about half an hour into our conversation that I realized we didn’t know each other’s names.  She was my junior, but I’ve always been a fan of her tennis skills.  So I found out the few things about her I’ve always wanted to know, and more.

I think I’m rather blessed with the fact that I don’t let first impressions get in the way of knowing someone better.  I have heard things about her that weren’t very pleasant, but after our little chat I found out that she was just misunderstood – like you and me.

After about an hour I figured the competition was coming to an end so I went back to the hall.  My friend asked where I was, I simply shrugged and said, “I made a new friend.”

The last band on stage was horrible.  The vocalist sure had the guts to go up there even though he was probably tone deaf.  But as I looked at each member, I realize that even though my bandmates played much better, we weren’t very different.  We were all just giving what we’ve got.  Like us, they probably have guessed in the first place that they had very little chance to enter the finals but they saw what they have in their hands to make a difference, even for themselves.

“What’s in your hands?”

I don’t have much.  Monetary wise, I’m not rich.  I spend months considering buying something that in the end I probably wouldn’t get.  I’m not a smart student.  I don’t score a 4.0 or anywhere near that like my friends do.  I’m not even talented in music.  I work hard in music.  The tunes I play today didn’t come naturally and I cannot play a song without referring to chords all the time.  I envy those who can tell a key just from listening, or even chord progressions.  People like that take minutes to decipher a tune – I take years.

There are days when I’ll just sit at my desk, open my textbook and I’ll say to myself, “I’m going to like what I read and I’m going to learn something new out of it.” I cannot focus on one text as long as other people can because I have a very short attention span.  Even as a I play music, I can lose sight as to which line I was playing, which is why I have problem memorizing chords.  Maybe I can’t recite the Periodic Table, but I can tell you the story of the person who found Uranium and Radium.  Her name’s Marie Curie.

There’s a reason as to why I like designing so much.  It’s because I can let my mind roam free, and even drifting off can lead to new ideas and concepts.  It doesn’t require much concentration – but just the guts to experiment over and over again.  It’s my little playland.

I’m not the easiest person to like either.  And as a friend, I dissappear sometimes and pop back up.  I don’t always know the best things to say, or the correct expressions to show, so most of the time I prefer to only listen.  And even listening, I take a 2-second break sometimes to resume concentration in between.  Haha.

Like I said, I don’t have much.

What’s in my hands?

Weaknesses that make me human, and a foolish heart that yearns for more than all the worldly things in this life.  Oh, and the thick-skin to make a fool out of myself on stage for the right reasons.

We’re all empowered with something.  A skill.  A gift.  A passion.  Anything.  But whatever it is, it can be used to make this world a better place.

What’s in your hands?

That One Symbolic Hour

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It’s a good effort.  I really think so.

I never thought I’d see the day when my peers and colleagues would be so enthusiastic and gungho about saving the world. Even though they have the slightest idea as to what they are actually contributing.  No, I’m not being a cynic.  Allow me to explain myself.

There’s a reason why I’m writing this after the whole campaign, unlike those who pre-judged the movement with their theories and biased views, especially those who have an unexplainable hatred towards the media.

I didn’t turn off the lights.

Yes, I can imagine people throwing imaginary tomatoes and eggs toward their computer screens and saying I have no rights to comment on a campaign I didn’t take part in.

Let me tell you why.

Because I have done (and am doing my part) of trying to “Go Green”.  For instance, I decline plastic bags for the small items I buy, I seldom print lecture notes as I can view them with my laptop hence saving paper, I reuse paper to do calculations and workings, I reject the idea of having a car when I’m still in university because I prefer carpooling and walking a little bit more to nearby places, and many other daily practices.

And turning off our lights for an hour does not save energy.  At least not in this little country of ours.  I will not give textbook information about what energy is, but we all need to understand one thing: energy cannot be stored, or destroyed.  Most of our energy are generated from hydro electrical power dams – more generators are turned on when demand increases, and when the demand drops, the generators are simply shut off.  So, what happens to the excess energy generated?  It is wasted.

Which means, when you and your neighbors turn off your lights simultaneously out of the blue, energy demand drops rapidly and whatever Empangan that is near your place wastes the energy.  You don’t save much, really, but maybe a few cents from your electricity bill.

A friend asked, what about cooling down the earth?

That, I agree to a certain extent.  No doubt there is heat emitted from even one single little light bulb, and though I’m not too sure what one mere hour can do as compared to the millions of future hours where common usage resumes, I agree that it is probably better than nothing, and at least, there’s a start.

What amused me most was when my roommate tried to convince me that I should turn off the lights.  When I tried to give her my reasoning, she even said this back to me, “If everyone thinks like you then ma die lor.”  Due to the pang of guilt by those words, I was ready to let her turn off our room lights at 8.30 just so she could take part in Earth Hour as she wished.  So at the designated time, she looked out the window, and started wondering, “Eh, why no one turn of their lights wan…”  I told her she could if she wants because I didn’t really need the lights at the moment anyway, and I almost fell off my chair when she said, “Haih, no one turn off also.  Never mind lah.

Truth is, there were people in the campus who participated.  Even the university management turned off the lights of the common facilities (gym, courts, halls) but left the hostel lights to our choice.  But just because the few blocks near my place were less than interested, it compromised my friend’s decision.  That is why I mentioned previously that some people are supporting a cause that they are not sure about, or really have the heart for.  We cannot blame those who are cynical and say Earth Hour is merely a hype because for some, it is just the case.

But this doesn’t mean that I think Earth Hour is a waste of time.  It isn’t.  I think the true intention of Earth Hour is its symbolic meaning.  The weeks of effort by the media to promote this cause, an awareness is being created.  People are beginning to hear Mother Nature’s desperate cry.  We finally notice that it’s getting a bit too warm, and the change starts from us.  And if anything, Earth Hour became a common topic among people, regardless of the hullaballoo that the nation’s politics have been causing.  Even as we debated on whether Earth Hour was worthwhile or merely a media hype, at least we were being educated on a thing or two about the environment.  If it could lead one to Google about the environment just to prove his or her point, why not?

And when lights were off for an hour in different cities in the world, it symbolized that some people, if not billions, got the message.

I really hope that this is a start to something bigger, greater and more long term.  The consistency in saving the world cannot be maintained by any form of media or hype.  As a matter of fact, that is the true test of how much we care for the environment.

So ask yourselves today, how much love do you have for Mother Earth?  Is it more than an hour?

That Funny Contact List

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How many of you have Instant Messenger programs installed on your computer?

That’s a stupid question, isn’t it?  Yes, even the Gmail and Facebook chats count.  As for yours truly, I use MSN and Gtalk the most, the latter even more especially when I’m back in campus.   Some of you may even have them installed in your mobile phones now.

So I’m guessing we all know what a Contact List is.  It’s the list where our added contacts are shown, including their online and offline status.

Note that I use the term ‘added contacts’, not friends.  Using the term ‘friends’ would be a bit unfair because not everyone on our list says hi to us for no apparent reason.

Let me ask another question.  How many of you actually chat with all the people in your contact list?  Or are there constant names appearing online that you never bothered to greet them nor vice versa?  But I guess if it’s a mutual decision to leave each other alone, then it’s not a problem.  You added each other on your lists many moons ago because there was a time when there were interesting things to say.  I also know of people who add as many people as he or she knows just to have the list grow longer, to convince themselves that they have a large circle of friends.

Anyway, there’s a common feature in most chat modules, one where they let you group your contacts.  Like, “School Friends”, “Uni Mates”, “Family”, etc.

I’m thinking of creating one group and calling it “Occasional Annoyance”.

I have a group of people on my Contact List where the first that comes on my mind when they greet me would be, “What do you want?” to which I disguise with the regular hello’s and how are you’s.  These are people who would say hi, ask how you are, and followed by a request of a favor.  It could be school work, borrowing something, and a whole long list of inquiries that would make one feel like a toll-free helpline.  Those whom I see and talk to almost everyday are excused from this group, because I find that people who talk regularly on a face-to-face basis have less to say online unless it’s something urgent or important.

But how do you react when someone who has never said a thing to you since you’ve been added on their contact list suddenly asks you this:

“hy, cn i borw ur camera?”

There was no “Please” or “How are you?” or anything to show the least courtesy in making such a big request.  To my amusement, the only thing that was spelled right was ‘camera’.  And I did make sure that person was talking to the right person, and not by accident clicked my name on the list.  Naturally, I rejected that person’s request politely and I never heard from that person again.

Some, however,  are relentless.

They come with request after request, without minding their P’s and Q’s, and if I actually read back our conversations, that’s all there is!  And worse still, these are people whom you consider as friends, people that you’re sometimes obliged to say yes to even though at times all you want to do is to type, in caps, “GO AWAY.”

I’m smarter and more sensible, of course.

I just block them, or in the worst case scenario, delete them.  Well, I don’t delete those I call friends, even though they’re annoying, but blocking them once in awhile saves a lot of energy – like the Earth Hour thing that’s coming this Saturday.

Do you have such people on your list?  What do you do?

The Magnifying Glass

I always thought I had perfect 20/20 vision.  It wasn’t when my uncle caught me squinting while I was watching the telly that I was proven wrong.  My optometrist didn’t get his first diagnosis right, and I was stuck with a pair of glasses that gave me more strain than comfort.  A few months later when my pair of spectacles got lost in the midst of a foreign city, I had a chance to get a second round of tests and opinion.  I was then diagnosed with slight astigmatism and accommodating spasm, which means, I have hyperactive eyesight that adjusts my vision so efficiently that my eyes get tired very quickly, sometimes giving me headaches.  And since I did more reading, computer work and watched telly way too much, my spectacle lenses accommodate what I do: looking at closer things.  Long-sight, some people call it.

With the correct prescription, I was able to do more ever since.  More reading, more computer work, more telly.  It also means that when I retire at the end of the day, I really am worn out.  Fruitful, but tired.

It’s an irony.  I see better, but I also sleep better.  Haha.

I think we all keep a magnifying glass in our pockets everywhere we go.  You don’t have to be a scientist, Sherlock Holmes or nearly blind to use one – but to navigate through the blur paths and to avoid stepping on things that we can hardly see, that magnifying glass puts things in a clearer perspective.

Sometimes you need it to remind you about that spot of bother.  Like a forgotten “Sorry”, a task, a duty – anything at all.

Yet, it gets puzzling too.  It helps reveal a trail of clues, that lead to a longer trail of clues, just to end up nowhere at all.  Sometimes the stretch gets a little too long, we get a little too carried away, and we catch ourselves asking why were we following the trail in the first place.

Things can get a bit out of hand if we lose sight of that nifty little gadget.  It can be fun and exhilarating to explore unseen areas without looking two steps ahead, and to experience the totally unexpected.  But the magnifying glass often teaches us one important lesson:  Things aren’t always what they seem to be.

Owning that tool has its advantages.  When you catch hold of something pretty, you see it for what it is, and it brings out that sense of gratitude within that such a beautiful thing would exist.  Some people say that those moments are rare, but I think it’s just a matter of looking a little harder, in the little unexpected corners where there aren’t any, well, you know, expectations.

Keep looking and sometimes you find a friend or two.  The magnifying glass never lies – it reveals truth with time.  A good heart glows as much a rotten one is set on fire, we have to be very careful to tell those two apart.  When the gem of friendship and love is unfold, it’s probably the most precious thing you could ever possess.  Just be careful not to sell it to the devil, the merchant who depletes value on every item he is given.  He cannot take what is not his, so do not give it to him, nor sell it to him for a price.  Every business transaction made with that merchant is of loss, not gain.

I’m looking through my magnifying glass now.  It’s showing me hints of really, really long journey.  It’s not revealing too much now, I wonder why.  I close a side of the magnifying glass, and it reflects an image of a girl who should be going to bed at this odd hour.  I place it in a safe place, so that I can use it again tomorrow.  It’s a handy little tool, but I think I’ve had enough of playing with it for the day.

Oh, that cheeky magnifying glass called Reality.

Signing off,
The Child

When The Dauber Meets The Paintmaker

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Yes, I know of a Paintmaker who makes paints. When The Writer found out that her friend has a new job in making paints, The Dauber emerged from within and was really excited! Oh, the beautiful colours!

But The Paintmaker isn’t very happy with her job. It is very routine, and somewhat a hassle to get the right mix and concoction for each tub of paint. Slightly off the mark and the whole tub gets thrown away. The Paintmaker’s fellow Paintmakers are quite a pain too. They are very strict about rules and there are a lot of do’s and don’ts at the Paint Factory.

***

The Dauber says:

“Dear Paintmaker, precious Paintmaker. Alas, I’ve found you. Do you know that you define my world? I see colours, I breathe colours, I talk colours, and I live with colours. Without you, I wouldn’t exist! There wouldn’t even be black and white! My stories will forever be embedded within me and I will not get to share them with the world! How can I allow others to look through my eyes if all I see is a void in space? Blinder than a bat, I would forever be searching for something to grasp, something to hold, a search that will lead to eventually nothing.

What is your favourite colour? Tell me! I will paint from my eyes into your heart, in hopes to make you happy again. So that you will bring happiness into the saddest colours with your patient hands, and spread the joy to the rest of the world.”

The Photographer says:

“I may not always agree with the way The Painter depicts a picture, but without you, no one will want to freeze time. That’s all I have to say.”

The Child says:

“Oh Paintmaker! Do you know that the walls of my bedroom at home are shades of green? And the one in campus is bright orange! And last weekend I had a lot of fun putting colours into our new church! Let me tell you my favourite colours. I like White because it goes with all the other colours! It’s clean, pure and somewhat light! Just like the dandelions that fly lightly with the winds each time you give them a puff! And Green! Green is such a pleasant colour. Every morning when I look out of my window, I could breathe in the colour that comes with the fresh breeze. And grass! The smell of wet grass when it rains makes me very very happy. I also like Black. Oh, the colour of mystery. Mommy thinks I have too many black t-shirts though. I need to get more whites to even it out.

But I don’t like colours that aren’t made by you. Colours that are seen by eyes only. Some people call it racism, some call it discrimination. Whatever it’s called, I hate it.

Yet, the colours you make are the best! Thank you so much, Paintmaker! Don’t you ever ever give up on this very very important job of yours! I don’t like cartoons if they don’t have colours. Or lollipops. Even water is pretty because of its reflection on just about anything.”

The Writer says:

“My friend, you have always been a source of inspiration to the things I see, do and of course, write. Everyday a baby room is being painted to welcome the new bundle of joy, a house is dressed with colours to mark a new beginning, a chair is donned with a new coat of paint to invite people to rest and I could make a list that never ends.

In a nutshell, I just want to tell you that you give every painted wall a meaning. And we all live within painted walls. Can you guess the meaning you bring to life itself?”

***

Many a times we tend to overlook the tasks of those people behind-the-scenes.  People who make our furniture, people who make our coffee in the mornings, people who just, provide.  They’re those who probably have a closer link to God’s providence than us who are merely users.  Can you think of a person you know who provides for a living?

As for you Readers out there, thank you for your patience and time to read this entry.  I have one small favour to ask of you.  Can you, out of kindness, please drop a note of encouragement to my fellow Paintmaker in the comments section?  She lives very faraway from home, has a very generous heart, and would just like to be a little happier with her current Job. And I’m very sure that she’ll be reading this. As a friend, I thank you in advance.

Action-Reaction

No, it’s not really karma. Or maybe it is. Usually when we talk about “do to others what you want others to do unto you”, we seem to focus on the negate expression of “do not do to others what you do not want others to do to you”. It is human nature, to be more protective of oneself, instead of putting others first. We’re usually more concerned about what we will get in return than what others are actually receiving from us.

It’s supposed to work that way, but it doesn’t all the time.

A lot of people who know me personally tell me that I need to start putting myself first sometimes. I’m not a self-sacrificing saint to an extent that I can stand alongside Mother Theresa, but I guess I do have a little bit of trouble saying “No” at times. Back in high school, friends would come to me with all sorts of requests and I’d do my best to help them out. And “doing my best” sometimes can be a little bit too much. To a point where my family members are concerned if I was being used by people whom would probably never return an equivalent favour to me. And the craziest part was that, I really didn’t expect anything in return. Helping others, made me happy.

And then of course, there came a point where helping others, made me sad. Not because those whom I’ve helped aren’t willing to return a favour, but because I became more of a 24-hour helpline than a friend.

Anyway, to cut a long (and complicated and depressing) story short, this kookymonsta somehow grew up a little, and started to choose friends very carefully. I still find the joy in helping others, and still don’t expect anything in return, and sometimes still find the trouble in saying “No”.

But it’s really not so bad now. Really.

Before you start to look at me as a martyr, I would like to clarify that I am not entirely stupid and kind. I do play the role of the villain from time to time. I have a friend who plays my role to me. Meaning, that friend helps me out in whatever way possible, just to receive a cold shoulder response or arguments from me. Ok, sometimes that friend can be quite an ass too, but it’s just our nature to be stubborn. That’s how we get along really, via quarrelling and then laughing it off. But I have a trait that can be both entertaining and painful: my strong sense of sarcasm.

Witty lines can be very funny, but sometimes, used too quickly with a strong dose of emotion, they can really hurt. You know, really cucuk. And that friend of mine always seems to be on that receiving end of my sarcastic and blunt remarks. Sometimes we laugh it off, but sometimes I can see the hurt on my friend’s face. And being the ass that I am too, I don’t apologize much.

I guess I have just come to a point where I’m beginning to get annoyed at myself. I’d say something crude and next thing I know I’ll be asking myself, “Did you hear what you just said?”

We all have our fair share of being a good and lousy friend. But life is too short to take anybody for granted. We don’t know what tomorrow brings, but come what may, I would like to be on good terms with my loved ones, and to let the people in my circle know that hey, he or she means something to me.

Sometimes it starts with a “Sorry”. Sometimes it can be as straightforward as “Thank you”. 

I need to start being a better friend to someone.

They Just Want To Show You Because They’re Happy

“Look! I have a new set of colour pencils! There are altogether twelve pieces of them! Daddy bought them for me yesterday because… I don’t know but I like them very much! I like blue because I like the swimming pool! And I like yellow because it is like the sun!

I don’t like red. I fell down before and my blood is red and it hurt. So I don’t like red.

And mommy got me a colouring book! The new Power Rangers colouring book! The Red Ranger is very powerful, and he is my favourite! One day I will be like him and fight the bad guys. I have four friends in school and they will be Power Rangers too. If my best friend Ben wants to be the Red Ranger then I’ll be Blue Ranger. I like blue too.

Tomorrow mommy and daddy will bring me to the zoo. I am so excited because I will get to see lions, giraffes, hippopo…hippo..hippotatamus! Will you come with me?”

*******

“So you have a new toy. What’s so great about that? I used to own a set of colour pencils just like you, and now I don’t find it fascinating. As a matter of fact, the set I own now is much more expensive than yours, so really, you can stop showing off because I don’t care. Plus, it’s not like you’re good at colouring anyway. That set of colour pencils is just a waste on you.

Power Rangers? Do you really think you have super powers and you can save the world? You said you hated red, and you want to be the Red Ranger? Kid, do you know how contradicting you are? Wait, do you even know what that means?  Someday, you will realize that heroes don’t belong in this world. They don’t put on striking colours so that the world can see them. No, they lurk in the shadows and set things right and don’t take credit for it.  These are pathetic, self-sacrificing people that exist so that we may live.

You know what I want?  I want that great job my best friend has, so that I don’t have to feel guilty each time I buy myself something I really want.  And I know I can do a better job at that, why aren’t I in that position in the first place?  You might want to think twice about letting your best friend be that Power Ranger you want.

And it’s hippopotamus.”

*******

“Why are you so angry?  I’ll share my colour pencils with you if you want.  Just don’t use too much of the blue, I want to save it as long as possible. OK?”

*******

“What is wrong with you?  What’s so great about that colour?  Saving a colour pencil won’t make you rich.”

*******

“Why are you asking so many questions?  I don’t understand it and you’re making me sad.”

******

“I’m sorry.  Yes, blue is a nice colour.  I used to like blue too.  And then I forgot why I liked it.  Do not save on your colour pencils, kid.  Use all you want, while you can because colours are the very few things you can’t buy.  Unlike the many other things you’ll grow to see and want.  Once upon a time, they used to be free just like the colours you adore so much.

But alas, Eve ate that apple and we all know what value is. Damn it.

*******