Friday, July 31, 2015

No Waste

We're off on the first of our Raya visits this evening, in this Far Place, that is. Since our first port of call is Kak Kiah's, a lady who expresses her ample affection through her more than ample provision of grub, it's set to be one of those evenings when damage will done to the old waistline. I intend to make the most of it, of course.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Going Wild

The squirrels that pop up at work around and about the building seem to be getting more and more accustomed to the human creatures they put up with in their environs. At one time they'd disappear in a hurry and scurry if they spotted you at a distance along a corridor. But the other day I got within two paces of a little fellow in the main entrance and was allowed to gaze at him for a good two minutes without him looking in any way disturbed. When I gently moved to within a pace he made his move - around an adjacent rubbish bin, actually - but even then he didn't exactly hurry.

It's fascinating to get the chance to look at a wild animal in that manner. On the one hand there's a sense of some basic kinship: like us they see, they hear, they smell, they touch, they are, rightly, wary of big, strange, creatures; on the other, you know that whatever forms of thought or apprehension or feeling are taking place they're entirely alien, only available through the distortions of metaphor. That sense of a form of life that is beyond our grasp brings with it a kind of freedom, a loosening of the shackles of self.

I've been recently forcefully reminded of the wonders of this kind of wildness reading Adams's The Plague Dogs. The segment in which the two escaped dogs turn feral and attack the sheep for food is one of the best things Adams ever did. Of course, it's a literary trick (or, rather, the segment is a cunning combination of such tricks, suspending our disbelief long enough to make us believe we're somehow in those doggy minds) but it has about it a rough magic that doesn't let go of the reader.

I read the segment before my encounter with the squirrel and it somehow enriched it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Altered States

Is it possible for someone to deliberately, consciously change for the better?

It seems an extraordinarily na├»ve question. How could anyone know that the change wasn't just part of some inevitable process that the consciousness was locked into such that no genuine freedom of will was involved? And what do we mean when we refer to  'the better'? Better than what?

But the funny thing is we all know the answer; and we all know the answer is Yes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Glancing Back

 












Chatting with the Missus the other day over the cup that cheers I mentioned just how much I'd enjoyed Raya in Melaka. I hadn't thought much about it, given how busy I was, but the rightness of our weekend suddenly came back to me, and it felt good.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Not Exactly The Body Electric

Finally got to the gym in the early afternoon and managed 30 minutes on my training machine of choice, feeling quite comfortable all the way. In fact, I was a little surprised to finish slightly under the distance I achieved the last time I was in the gym since I felt so much stronger this time round. I was thinking of stuff other than being on the trainer for almost the full 30 minutes, and it's always a good sign when the mind is free.

Generally I seem in reasonable shape lately, though I'm around a kilo and a half below my fighting weight. I hit that weight early in fasting month and whilst it's never gone down it's never gone up either, though I'm expecting it to at some point. The mild problem I'm experiencing at the moment is that due to my reduced waist line my jeans keep slipping down, such that I really should wear a belt. But I'm loath to do so as it feels uncomfortable. I think I may have dropped down a size in terms of my waist, but I'm not intending to buy new jeans, or trousers for that matter, as a result.

The great thing is that, for the moment at least, I'm not feeling any kind of pain or discomfort in my back at all. However, my left arm has been giving me trouble all year, and continues to do so, so there's a useful reminder that I'm no spring chicken. At one point I wondered if it was a touch of arthritis in my left shoulder, but the joint has been distinctly more mobile of late so now I'm wondering if I might have torn a muscle which is now healing.

Fascinating thing the body, especially the one that belongs to you.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Recovering

I'd intended to get back to the gym this evening, but by the time we got back from a little outing to Kinokuniya to off-load some book tokens, the garden centres on Thompson Road for flowers and Clementi Mall to get supplies from the supermarket I just didn't have the energy. This is often the way after finishing a production: a sudden awareness that the batteries are flat and down-time a necessity. Fortunately tomorrow sees a holiday for schools here for Youth Day. There's much to be said for youth when it gives you a day off.

And on another note, I picked up a good translation of Dostoevsky's The Idiot with the aforementioned coupons, but first I'm intending to read Richard Adams's The Plague Dogs which I picked up from the library at work the other day. Another sign of getting back to something like normal.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Getting It Together

Angela and I were reflecting on the process of putting our current production together after last night's excellent closed-door full run (for which we got a nice little audience.) We were both gratified to note how essentially smooth the process had been with everything seeming to slot into place at exactly the points expected. But we were both keenly aware of just how ambitious we'd been with regard to this show. I certainly had harboured one or two nervous doubts in the inception as to whether we'd be able to pull it off given the scale on which were going to be working.

The secret of our success is simple, in retrospect. The students involved have proved so amazingly mature in terms of their grasp of the processes involved, as well as talented in their various ways, that it's felt like working with professionals. Of course, we've had equally committed groups before, so this is nothing new, but it's the scale on which this has operated that has been remarkable.

In my comments the other day about the possibility of change in adults I wasn't really thinking of the changes we see in youngsters in terms of growth of personality since we take such changes for granted in terms of expected development, as it were. But I'm frequently struck looking at what can happen over time with our drama guys with changes that seem to go beyond what might normally be expected over the course of a couple of years or more. I'm thinking of two individuals now who are so incredibly different from when I first encountered them in terms of both their ability on stage and how they conduct themselves off it that it's difficult to grasp it's the same person.

Grounds for optimism in a sadly fallen world, it seems to me.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Possibility Of Change

My ustad once said to me that there was no real point in doing the Umrah (to Makkah) if you didn't come back a changed person, a better person. And the whole point of fasting in Ramadhan, or at least part of the point, is to teach you something and, thus, in some sense effect a change.

I've been thinking lately of whether such change is a real possibility. There are fascinating questions of free will - its reality or otherwise - involved here. And on a purely practical level it's interesting to look at other adults as well as oneself and ask whether they have the capacity for change and growth. Can an old dog be taught new tricks?

More anon, when I find time to breathe.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Not Exactly Routine

For the first time in some years I haven't had some kind of book, usually of a fictional nature, as on-going reading, a curious state of affairs which has lasted a good eight or so days. (Of course, my default state is generally to have several tomes 'on the go' all at once.) I decided not to take any books to Melaka last weekend to ensure that I fully focused on the details of the production we're doing and all the examination admin I'm mired in at present. This was a good idea as I got a lot done, but I did miss having a book at hand in the few spare moments I carved out.

But this state of affairs wasn't designed to last. I picked up a tasty-looking paperback on the exchange table in the staffroom today going by the unlikely title Beethoven's Hair. It's a bit light-weight, the book, not the titular hair, but I'm hooked anyway. And I intend to get going on some kind of novel tomorrow, even though I haven't the time. I'm pining for a good murder, but I might just grab some sort of worthy classic from the library at work. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Exceptional Good Taste

In the car's CD changer, on the way back from Melaka, last weekend: Procol Harum's Exotic Birds and Fruit; Springsteen's Wrecking Ball; Donald Fagen's Sunken Condos; Yo La Tengo's I Am Not Afraid of You, and I Will Beat your Ass; The Decemberists' What a Terrible World; What a Beautiful World; Elvis Costello's Secret, Profane and Sugar Cane. Proof, not that's it's in any way needed, of my impeccably good taste. No wonder I enjoyed the journey.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Something Exceptional

Do yourself a favour. If you haven't been introduced to the joys of American band Snarky Puppy (a sort of jazz, soul, funk, fusion collective) open your ears and your hearts will follow. Best thing of its kind I've heard since the Mahavishnus, and they're not really similar, but it's hard to think of an apt comparison.

Their performance of Something with Lalah Hathaway (daughter of the late lamented Donny) is the best thing I've heard (and seen) so far this year. Can't stop smiling listening to it.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Clarification

Just thought I'd better say something regarding the posts I wrote on the last couple of days of Ramadhan. In my references to just how ill I felt on those days (and, boy, did I feel bad, though now it seems like forever ago) the non-Muslim reader may have seen evidence of the extremes to which Islam takes its adherents in the name of its demanding God. (That last bit's a sort of hazily-remembered not-quite-quotation from Conrad in Lord Jim, but I haven't got a copy so I can't look it up.) This is very far indeed from the truth.

There are always acceptable reasons for not fasting (and 'paying back' when you can) and, of course, illness is amongst them. In fact, you definitely must not endanger your health. I decided to keep fasting, not because I had to but because it seemed to me the best thing to do in my circumstances. I knew it was within me to do so, and in some ways enjoyed the test, bringing me a tiny bit closer to those in really testing circumstances. And I could, at any point, if it had all got too much, have elected to stop fasting and drink something and refresh myself.

I'm glad I didn't. And I'm super-excited about being able to go into the SAC at work tomorrow at some point and enjoy the exhilarating wonder of a cup of tea down there.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Continuing

Back in Singapore for another six hours or so of rehearsal. Then I'll be driving back to Melaka. Time's a whirligig. But I'd rather be on it than off it for now.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Another New Morning

Hari Raya Puasa, Eid ul-Fitr; 1 Syawal 1436

Arrived in Melaka around about midnight. Now preparing for the gift of a brand new day and Prayers at the little masjid down the road.

To all who journey and temporarily arrive: Selamat Hari Raya! Eid Mubarak!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Nearly

29 Ramadhan 1436

14.22

Around five hours of fasting left, and maybe quite a few more hours after of feeling tired and feverish - but that really won't matter. Yesterday and today have been ironically hard. I'm certainly going to flake out when we get in the car to drive up to Melaka, which we're planning to do around 18.00. Driving duty will go to the ever reliable Missus. In the meantime, a bit more rehearsal coming later in the afternoon.

19.10

Sudden change of plan. We're driving up after breaking the fast. Which allowed me to stay for a full two-and-a-half hour rehearsal - a full rough run of the show. The drama guys were great and the whole thing lifted me. Roughly eight minutes to breaking the fast, and it's all over. Sort of sad. But also happy. Whoopeeeee!!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Keep On Keepin' On

28 Ramadhan 1436

Woke at 04.00 needing to use the toilet. The sheets below me were very wet. I knew right away I was feverish. No big surprise as I'd been coughing and spluttering and sneezing through the whole of Monday. Head felt stuffed full of cotton wool and painfully so. Checked my temperature around the middle of the day and it was 38.1 Centigrade.

Knew that this was likely to be one of the toughest days ever for fasting since I had exam scripts to check for the International Baccalaureate - some of the marking on appeal - a full day of teaching to cope with - the first this term now our exams are over - and a three and a half hour rehearsal in the afternoon with the show we're putting together at the most complex point of assemblage. Oh, and I had, or rather have, an evening duty overseeing some students studying which I'm doing now. It's not onerous, but it has to be done. My day will finish at 23.00 and I reckon I'll collapse at 23.13.

I'm now moaning to all the students in a ridiculous bid to elicit sympathy, but one or two them look distinctly the worse for wear themselves, poor things.

And here comes the point. I'm carrying on not necessarily because I want to but because I have to. This is a useful attitude to cultivate. Wish me luck, Gentle Reader. I genuinely need it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Continuing To Keep It Real

27 Ramadhan 1436

I've been deeply impressed reading Ziauddin Sardar's Mecca: The Sacred City. I started reading it before the fasting month began and have deliberately drawn out my reading such that I'll be finishing it, I think, later tonight. At the heart of the book lies a simple but telling idea: Mecca is not just a symbol, the encapsulation of religious aspiration; it is and always has been a place where people lived amidst all the unflattering man-made vicissitudes that constitute history. The rigorous sense of fidelity in facing difficult truths about the less than admirable past, and present, of the holy city, indeed, of Muslim history in general, has made this a special book for me. I'm more than ever convinced that we cannot afford to ignore what Sardar pithily terms the grit and gore of history, even as we imaginatively carve out our sacred places.

A transformative read.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Un-Beaten

26 Ramadhan 1436

Went down to the gym yesterday evening after breaking my fast feeling a considerable degree of trepidation. Just one week earlier I managed no more than 22 minutes on my regular elliptical trainer despite thinking that I was going to turn over my usual 30 minute target with ease. In fact, I had a strong sense of physical weakness on my way there last night and suspected I'd be lucky to manage 25 minutes. In the event I got to the 30 minute mark covering my usual distance, though I must say I thought I wouldn't make it for the first 15 minutes or so.

This wasn't a case of greater determination, by the way. I was determined enough last week, but had used all available energy by the time I got to the 20 minute mark. I suspect this was the result of taking in fairly frugal amounts of sustenance lately. Last night I just happened to have enough energy in store, though I know I couldn't have carried on any longer - I was trembling when I got off the trainer.

So what's my point? Simply that you find out a lot about yourself in more extreme situations and it helps develop a healthy sense of humility. If you're gifted with energy, that's great. But if not you need to exploit what you have to its best effect, and accept the reality of what your body can reasonably do - and then build on that if you can, if circumstances allow. It's a matter of learning to enjoy and exploit what you are gifted with and use the gift appropriately, positively, a bit like in Christ's parable of the talents - a story I never under understood in my teenage years, oddly enough.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bright Lights, Last Night

25 Ramadhan 1436

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Geylang, last night, in the wee hours. Cheerful. Crowded. Loud. Tiring.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Bright Lights Tonight

24 Ramadhan 1436

We're off tonight to the bright lights of the Ramadhan bazaar at Geylang after the Isha' prayer. Visiting at least once during the fasting month is something of a tradition in this household, and one we're very happy to keep up with. Noi reckons it's going to be exceptionally busy there this weekend, as it's the final weekend of Ramadhan. Bring on the crowds, say I, though I might be saying something else a couple of hours hence.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Valuable Times

23 Ramadhan 1436

18.45

No glass of water will ever taste as good, no dates as delicious as the ones I'll be helping myself to in around thirty minutes time. Except, I suppose, for the others I'll be breaking my fast to in future, insya'allah. If ever there was a time for learning the value of things this is it.

And, yes, I am very thirsty, in case you were wondering.

20.40

My earlier prediction regarding the water and grapes proved remarkably accurate. Some things you just know are going to be perfect.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Keeping It Real

22 Ramadhan 1436

Read Tariq Ramadan's The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism in the earliest days of fasting. Can't say I really got the point, though I enjoyed the genuine engagement with a wide range of human thought from various traditions and the sincerity of the attempt to synthesise some wisdom from it all. Unfortunately it all struck me as being overly abstract and generalised in an emptily theoretical sort of way. Lots of assertions without much identifiable foundation. I kept nodding along to it but never felt entirely convinced, though wanting to be.

This is all very different from his fine little book on the Prophet (peace be upon him), The Messenger: The Meanings of the Life of Muhammad. That one grew from distinctly concrete experience; something deeply real.

Mind you, having said that when I got to the end of The Quest for Meaning and the final chapter on how the whole thing had been structured I realised that I'd been completely clueless with regard to the linking of ideas and the overall pattern of the work. So I suppose I'd better go back again some time in the future and see what I might have missed.

(Still can't over the fact that the writer was actually banned from entering the U.S. at one point, and I'm pretty sure anyone reading his work would feel the same way. Do the American authorities dealing with this sort of thing read at all?)

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Staying Clean

21 Ramadhan 1436

I don't envy Najib Razak, the Malaysian Prime Minister, and the pressure he seems to be under at the moment following the Wall Street Journal's revelations about money which allegedly has made its way into his bank accounts. Actually, I didn't envy him even before the revelations. He and his wife had picked up something of a reputation for maintaining a 'lavish lifestyle' and I pity anyone who has to face the traumas of living the high life. What a headache it must be to try and keep up the lavishness when any sensible person would happily settle for the quiet, simple life - and especially so for a politician. You must be aware that over-spending - even if it's your own money - is going to leave you open for criticism. And if it's not your money you must really feel you're walking a tightrope with not much of a net below you, even if you feel you have some control of the media.

Mind you, I don't suppose moral authority, the kind that comes with leading a life of impeccable integrity, especially on the financial front, counts very much in politics anywhere in the world any more - if it ever did.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

All Downhill

20 Ramadhan 1436

We're now two thirds of the way through the fast. Normally I would be entirely sanguine regarding the final stretch since it feels very much as if I've adjusted to the demands of the holy month. But this year is different. The final eight or so days will most likely be the busiest days of my working year and so the demands are going to increase exponentially. Something similar happened this time last year, though the demands then were not quite so ferocious as they are likely to be in the days to come.

What to do? Keep going. Try to hang in there. Learn from the experience. Be grateful for it.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Meanwhile Elsewhere

19 Ramadhan 1436

It's difficult to avoid becoming somewhat self-absorbed during fasting month. In a way, that's part of the point of the exercise, though bearing in mind the caveat that the self-absorption needs to be aimed at improving the self. But it's easy to see how unhealthy such an emphasis on self might be if not balanced against a keen sense of other people and their trials and tribulations.

It's partly for that reason that just lately I've been keen on following the news with an even greater degree of attention than I might normally lend it. (Though I must confess, I was hardly aware of any news from anywhere in the first few days of the month, cut-off, as it were, in Maison KL.) Unfortunately, as is so often the case, there's been so much bad news of late that it's easy to fall into a kind of despair about the world and its ways. And I'm increasingly finding myself bewildered to the extent of being rendered officially clueless by events that seem to escape any straightforward explanation.

To take one worrying example: despite following events in Greece pretty closely for some time now I am completely at a loss as to what yesterday's referendum was really about and what is likely to happen next On one level it's fascinating, like following the plot of a particularly engrossing novel. On another, it's disturbing to think of what life must be like at the moment for the average Greek who just wants to get on with the usual business of living. Noi told me about watching an interview with an old chap there who was sitting disconsolately crying since he couldn't draw any of the money on his wife's pension that they so urgently needed.

I'm just hoping that the whole shebang won't fall to pieces, causing irreparable damage to those who have no choice but to ride upon it. The thing is that, at this point in time, I can't see any certainty that the falling to pieces won't take place.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Beaten

18 Ramadhan 1436

Went to the gym this evening after breaking the fast, confidently assuming I would complete 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer, but could only manage just over 22. At that point I was dizzy and shaking and dangerously close to leaving the recently ingested contents of my stomach all over the floor. I couldn't even make it to 25 minutes.

You learn an awful lot about yourself when you're fasting and it all makes you very humble.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

More Company

17 Ramadhan 1436

17.45

We'll be breaking the fast at Hakim's this evening, where we'll also be celebrating Zahira's birthday. Must say I'm looking forward to both the company and the food. All very simple and very satisfying.

23.15

Watched The Princess Diaries 2 with Zahira. She seems to know most of the movie by heart. Must say it struck me as intensely manipulative. Not sure I buy into the notion of the special nature of royalty and how many material rewards are due to those of noble blood. No wonder young people grow up with a sense of entitlement after being exposed to this kind of entertainment.

Friday, July 3, 2015

In Company

16 Ramadhan 1436

We broke our fast in good company this evening with a number of my Muslim colleagues. It was also our first time at the bazaar in Geylang for this Ramadhan. Took the opportunity to pay our zakat at Darul Arqam. All adding up to a reminder of the sense of community attendant upon fasting.

This is not something you do alone.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Considerations

15 Ramadhan 1436

18.50

Thinking about going to the gym after breaking the fast. We weren't able to get any exercise done in KL, so this will be my first visit in around three weeks. And it will be the first serious exercise I've taken in fasting month for a few years. Could be a shock to the system.

21.00

System definitely shocked. Managed 30 minutes on the elliptical trainer. Heart rate over 150 after 7 minutes; over 160 after 16 minutes; and over 170 after 25 minutes. According to the guidelines at my age you're not supposed to go over 140. But I'm still in working order.

Actually after the first 10 minutes my body was telling me I'd had enough, but I suppose I'm too stubborn to listen.

None of this sounds terribly spiritual, I know, but an important aspect of the fast is to blend it in with your on-going life. This is a special time, but it should be an ordinary time also. The world needs to keep turning, and it turns more easily when the ordinary is made special.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Heat Is On

14 Ramadhan 1436

Uncharacteristically Noi crashed out this afternoon after coming home from doing some shopping. Somewhat more characteristically I slept for a good two hours or more, and deeply, after getting home from work. I blame the heat. It's always hot in this Far Place, but sometimes an extra couple of degrees above the average takes the heat into enervating territory - and doubly so when you are fasting.

But I'll take this over a cold, bleak Manchester winter any day.