Monday, March 31, 2008

Dumbo's Motivational Wallpapers: Part 1

A terribly bored guy + MS Paintbrush + run-of-the-mill motivational sayings = GREAT Motivational Wallpaper!

...OK, maybe the image size is a bit small for today's big and wide screen. Still, this and seven others remain my favorite wallpapers and/or screensaver slides.


What is fun to me about the motivational part is the disparity between the supposedly motivational saying and the picture. Take this one for example: the caption says "Carpe Diem", which means "Seize the Day!" in Latin (I learned that from "Dead Poets Society", one of my favorite films of all time), but, obviously, the cow is not doing that at all. Instead, it is taking its sweet time chewing on the grass.

I guess my sentiment at the time when I drew this was to express our (the teaching staff at the college where I was teaching full-time at that time) wish to have more frequent and longer breaks. :-) I really resented being considered an Energizer bunny that could just keep going and going and going and going. That sentiment ultimately led to my quitting my full-time job to work - now - as a freelance translator and part-time lecturer (back at the same college, where else?).

In another sense, the caption can be taken as agreeing with the picture, if you read it as meaning "seizing the day to relax all you can". Ah, don't we all wish we could do that. :-p

So, to everybody out there, carpe diem!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Stars in the Sky

I sketched this from my memory of my maternal grandfather.

He was very kind to me, though I only found out much later, after I grew up, that he was actually my step-grandfather.

He was a very ordinary person. He worked as a clerk, but managed to raise 9 wonderful children.

When I was in secondary school, he had a near fatal stroke, which paralyzed his left limbs. He went on to live another decade, during which he grew emotionally apart from all of us, partly because of the onset of senility, and partly, I believe, because he felt helpless and constantly suspected that we found him a nuisance.


I remember seeing him sitting there, as in this sketch, a picture of forlornness. And I remember being reminded of a short poem, "Answer" (答案), by a Taiwanese poet, 罗青:



(Stars in the sky
why are they
crowded like people on earth

People on earth
why are they
distant like stars in the sky?)


I dedicate this to the memory of my maternal step-grandfather, 王书桂先生.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Imagination Series - 1: Plants and Animals

When she opened the door of the lab and stormed in, the association that immediately conjured up in Adam's mind was the graceful Virgin in Raphael's Cowper Madonna - the hair combed back and tied up in braids to reveal a prominent and intelligent forehead, the straight, small impeccable nose, the resolute lips, and -

Wait. Did she "storm" in?

- and those fiery eyes that definitely do not belong to Raphael's sanguine Madonna -

And before he could drag himself back to reality, reality banged hard on his table and threatened to topple a few precariously placed beakers. He quickly steadied two that were most in danger of splashing not-so-hazardous biological materials all over the table.

"I want something done, and I want it done NOW," she demanded, in a clear silvery voice that, again, conjured up the image of the Virgin -

O, snap out of it, will ya? he quickly checked his wandering imagination.

"What...? What do you... um... you want what done?"

"Your sheep. One of them has found its way into our nursery more than once!"

"Your nursery?" What would sheep want in a nursery? To play with the kids? O, that's a good one: sheep playing with kids. Kids, as in, you know - wait. Focus. Keep your focus!

"Yeah, nursery. Hello, is anybody at home in that thick head of yours?"

"Wait a sec, just hold on and give me the details, all right?" He was aware that as she was referring to his head, her hand was beginning to lift up that heavy tome on horticulture that she had just banged on the table, and he quickly raised his hands in front of himself in case she decided to wield that weapon again -

Wait. Horticulture. Of course. That's what she meant by nursery. She must be a horticulture major. Now it came back to Adam that he had seen her before during some of the common subjects in the first year. Adam went on to major in Animal Science with pre-vet option, so their paths never crossed again. That is, until today.

"O, nursery! I get it."

At that, she rolled up her eyes. It was as good as saying "moron".

"OK, so, you were saying that one of my - er, what? sheep? - was getting at your saplings?"

"'Trampled' would be a better word." She said with as much acid as one can put into six words.

"O, that must be awful..." He tried to sound sympathetic, but knowing what he was going to say next, it was hard to pretend to be anything but amused.

"More than awful! So, what are you going to do about it?"

"What am I going to do about it? Well... I guess, um, nothing." He said that with an indifferent shrug, deliberately done to annoy her.


"Yeah. Nothing."

Her hand was lifting up that 500-page tome again.

"Wait, let me explain," he quickly raised his hands up again to ward off that hardcover killer, "you see, it can't have been my sheep."

"Explain." Her eyes were now spewing flames.

"We don't keep sheep." He said very, very slowly, not because he wasn't sure she would understand his words, but because he was absolutely enjoying the moment. "The few goats we had were culled a month ago because of some contagious disease. We haven't received a new batch, yet."

The fire suddenly died and in its place was confusion and panic.

"Well, then, it must have been a pig or a cow or whatever four-footed things that you keep," she insisted, with more panic in her voice than conviction.

A pig? In a university in Malaysia? You've gotta be kidding, right? But he suppressed his urge to blurt this out.

"OK... um... so, it was first a sheep, and now it's a cow. Are you sure about what you saw? I mean, the two things are very different in size," he said, stretching his hands sideways to demonstrate the size of a cow, and quite unable to hide the sarcasm in his voice.

There was no immediate retaliation this time, so he looked steadily at her with as amiable a smile as he could produce while suppressing the urge to burst out laughing, hoping that the smile came across as encouraging.

Then she finally admitted with a mutter, "well, it wasn't me who saw it."

"I beg your pardon?" He heard that perfectly well. He could be a devil when he wanted to.

"I said, it wasn't me who saw it." It was almost a growl.

OK, I've got you cornered. Adam thought. Now, close in for the kill.

"Well, then. Perhaps you were mistaken about it being my animal, don't you think?" He said that with a courteous smile, but he knew she couldn't possibly miss the underlying tone of triumph. O, what he would give to have his coursemates return from lunch 10 minutes earlier to witness this!

There was now a very distinct blush all over her face, as she desperately searched for the right words to say without sounding too apologetic. A full minute passed, and she was unable to come up with anything clever.

Finally, she gave up, turned her heels and stormed out of the lab, leaving Adam grinning from ear to ear with a smugness that deserves a boot in the face.


The lab door swung out violently and almost rammed into the face of someone who was obviously eavesdropping there.

"Sue Yin! What are you doing here?" Great. Evelyn thought to herself. I just had the biggest embarassment in my life, and what do you know? A witness!

Realizing that she had been caught red-handed, the perpetrator just smiled sheepishly at her enraged coursemate.

"A fine mess you got me into! Why did you tell me it was a sheep? And don't give me that sheepish look; you are not going to get off so easily this time," she landed a torrent of slaps on Sue Yin's shoulder, "next time you have a complaint against those animal boys, you deliver it yourself!" And with that, she smacked the 500-page tome square onto Sue Yin's ample derrière.

Despite receiving her much-deserved punishment, Sue Yin started giggling uncontrollably, and could not stop until they were well outside the Animal Science building.

When she finally managed to catch her breath, she asked Evelyn excitedly, "So, what do you think of Adam?"

"Please, he is the last person I want to think about now."

"But you have always been interested in him, haven't you?"

Evelyn stopped dead in her track. "Him? You think I'm interested in him?"

"O, don't feign innocence. I've noticed the way you looked at him."

"I don't believe this. So this was all a set-up? This whole trampled nursery business was your ruse to get me to talk to him?" Her hand was again raising that formidable publication.

"Wait, no, the nursery was indeed trampled by some animal. I didn't exactly see what animal, but I figured if I claimed it was an animal that belongs to Adam and his friends, it would be a perfect excuse to make you go talk with Adam..." again, she wielded her sheepish smile as the perfect defense. Well, almost perfect; it works better with the boys, and here, it did not stop the hefty book from landing on her behind.

"You are a hopeless romantic fool. I wasn't interested in Adam at all! I mean, not as a boy... o, you know that I am with the arts club... we are constantly on the look-out for interesting subjects to paint. And, Adam, he has a very interesting profile..."

She knew Sue Yin wouldn't buy into any of that, but, she was really saying it more to herself than to Sue Yin...


On the following Saturday morning, the door to the Arts Club swung open unceremoniously, and 14 pairs of eyes shifted from the heap of mutually irrelevant objects posing under the glamorized name of "still life" to the handsome young stranger that had just intruded upon their sacred homage to the eternal art of pencil sketches.

Well, to be precise, stranger to 13 of those present, but not to Evelyn, who was stationed near the entrance.

"Just what do you think you are doing barging in like that?" she rose to confront him indignantly.

Adam mocked a chivalrous bow and announced in a dramatic voice he deliberately raised to make sure everyone in the room heard him, "Well, I'm here to offer myself as a model." He flashed a toothy grin, and continued in an exaggerated French accent, "In another word, to deliver you, my damsel in distress, from the clutch of that pile of vile and unsightly still life." Then he took a comically executed pierce at that far-away pile of innocent objects with an imaginary rapier. The whole room burst into laughter and giggle.

Sue Yin! She and her big mouth! Evelyn thought to herself. Just wait till I get my hands on her--

Adam was now bowing to the applause and laughter from his newly acquired small audience. Does his arrogance know no bound? "O, how very kind of you, my young knight on water buffalo. But--" she caught hold of his arms and was beginning to turn him around, "--this damsel has decided that you are potentially more distressing than that pile of horrendous things, so, no thanks. I'll wait for the next knight in shining lab robe."

To her surprise, he suddenly grabbed her wrist with his other hand and quickly dragged her out of the room. "Come with me, I have something to show you."

She tried to resist the pull (in her own mind, she was rather ashamed that her decision to resist had come after a good 30-second delay. What was I thinking letting him drag me off like this?) but the "cowboy" was evidently too strong for her delicate artist's build. So, there was only one last thing to do. While pulling backward with all her might, she raised her left foot and aimed for his right calf--

"OUCH! What was that for?"

"That was the punishment for abducting a respectable young lady." she shook her hand loose from his clutch and took a few steps back. Now, just turn around and walk away, you silly girl. But her feet refused to budge any further.

"More like a feisty lass..." he said acidly, still rubbing his right calf in agony. "Ughh... And what an accomplished kidnapper I am, trying to abduct you to your own nursery."

Evelyn looked up at the direction they were heading, and realized that indeed, they were heading towards her nursery. Maybe Adam does have something important to show me after all. But -- no, I shan't be so easy! "So, perhaps it was you yourself that has been trampling my seedlings. Speak, you nefarious goon! What have you been doing in my nursery?"

With a sigh of resignation, Adam raised himself gingerly, avoiding stress on his injured leg. "Fine, if you don't want to come with me, go see for yourself what has been ravaging your precious saplings." Then he brushed past her and sauntered with a limp towards his own lab in the opposite direction.

Evelyn started to call after him, but her pride put a check on her impulse. Well, fine, I'll go have a look myself. Who needs you? Uncivilized brute--


In a secluded corner of their acacia nursery, Evelyn was greeted with the blissful picture of Sue Yin happily hosing down a mutt.

All at once, her anger at Sue Yin's unbridled tongue, her many questions about Adam's part in the mystery of the trampled nursery, and her marvel at the presence of that simply adorable brown mutt (wait, what's a dog doing in a predominantly Muslim campus?) all rushed up simultaneously to her head, and she just stood there not knowing where to start.

On seeing her, Sue Yin beamed with her signature joviality, "Evelyn! come, I want you to meet our new friend, Muddy," and then turning to the mutt, she said, "Muddy, say hi to Evelyn." Finding a reprieve from the uninvited bath, Muddy was now vigorously shaking the unwanted wetness off his mud-colored fur, and a big part of the spray landed on Sue Yin. But she just smiled and did not seem to mind at all.

What a perfect angel she is-- Evelyn thought.

Wait-- no, she's a devil! "Sue Yin! Before I forget that I'm mad at you, I want you to get this straight: if you must, for God knows what reason, speak with that incorrigible brute, Adam what's-his-name, please exclude me--"

"So he managed to find you! But where is he--"

"Sue Yin! Don't change the subject! I want you to promise me, on solemn oath--"

"But he was supposed to give Muddy a rabies shot!"

"He? He hasn't even started his vet course!"

"Yeah! Isn't he wonderful? I mean, he is already very knowledgeable about these things!"

"O, you are so hopeless! Fine, think whatever you wish of him! Get infatuated with him, go run crazily after him, or whatever, but don't ever get me involved with him again! Ever!"

"Well... if that's what you wish... but you should at least thank him first."

"Thank him? For what?"

"For solving the mystery!"

"What mystery?"

"The mystery of my brother's abduction by purple-colored aliens." Sue Yin rolled her eyes sarcastically upward. "Of course it's the mystery of the trampled nursery!"

"He solved it? What do you mean?"

"Last night, he stood vigil here, and around midnight, he found this little fellow leaping over the fence - can you believe how agile our little Muddy is?" she gave Muddy an affectionate rub on his neck, and then continued, "it seems our little friend here has found a cozy spot in the nursery to spend his cold, lonely nights. Poor little deary," she rubbed her nose against Muddy's.

"So, that's the answer to our great mystery? A stray mutt?" Evelyn said with incredulity.

"Yeah. Adam also told me that dogs have the inherent habit of trampling down the vegetations - both real and imaginary - on the spots where they are to sleep before they lie down." Sue Yin was now drying Muddy with an old towel. "Isn't he so wonderfully knowledgeable?"

Confound that knowledgeable brute. Evelyn thought.


They could not keep Muddy in the campus, therefore, his custody went to Adam, who was renting a place off-campus with three of his friends. That gave Sue Yin the perfect excuse to drag Evelyn along for her very frequent visits. "You adore the little thing yourself, I'm sure. Besides, you can't expect me to go alone to a house occupied by four very macho specimens of the opposite sex! What if they lost their senses and gave in to lust! I can't imagine!"

"Well, I'm sure they will have to really lose their senses to do that to you."

That sarcastic remark was retaliated by a solid smack across the face with a pillow. And a frenzied pillow war ensued.

But of course, Evelyn faithfully accompanied her friend on every visit, and she was secretly enjoying it, because Adam was really rather kind and funny for a brute.

Still, she found it hard to apologize to him in person regarding the earlier misunderstandings, and to thank him. So, on their seventh visit to Muddy's new abode, she gave Adam a small pot of vine. "It's morning glory."

"Thank you. That's awfully sweet of you... Em... do I let it grow in the pot, or... should I transfer it to some spot in our front yard?"

"Well, it would be a great idea to let her cover your fences. They are rather bare right now... this variety will give you pink and purple blossoms. They will be marvelous."

She paused for a few seconds, pondering about something, and then, having made up her mind, took the pot from Adam's hands, "come, let us go find her a new home right now." And her hand slipped so very naturally into Adam's.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He Has Risen!

(Matthew 28:1-7, NIV)

1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

2 There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.

3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.

4 The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

5 The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.

6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.

7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."


The Christ is RISEN!

And do not let anyone deceive you into thinking that Christ has not risen - or that he never even died, but had merely passed out - no, because he has indeed died on the cross, and he has indeed risen on the third day!

If Jesus has not risen, then Christianity will amount to nothing.

If Jesus has not risen, thereby forever breaking the grasp of death on those who would believe on him, what do Christianity have to offer that other religions have not already offered? Maybe just a handful of Jesus' fresh - and powerful - interpretation of Old Testament laws.

But, praise the LORD, for Jesus Christ is risen! And because of that, we who believe on him will also rise on that day when he comes again!

O, sweet hope of eternal life!

And not just any eternal life, but the eternal life with God the Father, who loves us so dearly, He did not spare even His only Son!



(1 Corinthians 15:1-26)
1 Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.

By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

5 and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles,

8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

11 Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

The Resurrection of the Dead
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?

13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.

16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either.

17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.


Have you also found forgiveness of sin, strength for a new life, love for others, and promise of eternal life in Jesus Christ?

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Seed was Planted...

"I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."
- John 12:24

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Pivotal Point in Human History

(Luke 23:13-56, NIV)

13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people,

14 and said to them, "You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him.

15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death.

16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him."

17 Now he was obliged to release one man to them at the Feast.

18 With one voice they cried out, "Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!"

19 (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)

20 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again.

21 But they kept shouting, "Crucify him! Crucify him!"

22 For the third time he spoke to them: "Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him."

23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed.

24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand.

25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

The Crucifixion
26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.

27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.

28 Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.

29 For the time will come when you will say, 'Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!'

30 Then
" 'they will say to the mountains, "Fall on us!"
and to the hills, "Cover us!" '

31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.

34 Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One."

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar

37 and said, "If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself."

38 There was a written notice above him, which read:|sc THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence?

41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."

42 Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

43 Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

Jesus' Death
44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour,

for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." When he had said this, he breathed his last.

47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man."

48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.

49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Jesus' Burial
50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man,

51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God.

52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus' body.

53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.

54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.

56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

Today, 21 March 2008, is the Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, according to Western Church Tradition.

You may find it odd that such a tragic day is called "Good". But if you understand what was accomplished on this day, namely, the fulfillment of redemption of sin - not just the sin of a few people, but of all who would believe - then you would understand, such a day is indeed Good. In fact, it is the greatest day since Creation.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Broken Bread and Poured-Out Wine

"The Last Supper"

I love this man. I truly, truly love him.

His name is Yeshua ben Yosef. But you probably know him better as Jesus. Jesus son of Joseph, carpenter of Nazareth.

On the surface, there was probably nothing much to admire about him: the rumor of an illegitimate birth, an impoverished carpenter with no formal training in the Word of God, living in a small town looked down by Jews of the time as a place of the Samaritans; even Isaiah the prophet prophesied that he would not be much of a sight to behold:

"...his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness-"
- Isaiah 52:14 (NIV)

But I love this man. So do billions of men and women around the world and throughout history. And tonight, we commemorate his giving himself up as the broken bread and poured-out wine.

"When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God."

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."
- Luke 20:14-20 (NIV)


Now, I referred to him as a man. And a man he indeed was; in fact, he constantly referred to himself as "Son of Man", which, in my understanding, means "Son of Adam", for the word "man" and "Adam" are the same in Hebrew.

Yet, I also believe that he is the Son of God, as he himself had claimed on more than one occasion.

Rather irrational, eh?

You can never come to terms with such notion unless you are willing to accept the fact that God, the LORD, the Almighty Jehovah, the Great I-Am, cares deeply for us insignificant and sinful human beings, and that He would actively take the initiative to redeem us from our sins.

The God that I know and trust does not simply set up an impossible-to-fulfill moral standard and wait idly to see who will have the grit and determination to fulfill it all and earn the right to enter into His Kingdom. If that were the case, Heaven will indeed be rather void of human presence.

Ask yourself this question: when God created Adam and put him in Eden, did He require of Adam an impeccable standard of moral awareness? NO. In fact, Adam did not even know good from evil! Perhaps nobody has told you this before: God created Adam to love him unconditionally as a son!

But Adam's distrust in God broke that relationship. Now, two things happened when Adam ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which God commanded him not to eat:

Firstly, his action showed that he doubted God would give him what was best for him, without any reserve. He doubted God's sovereignty and judgment. He doubted God's love. And by believing in Satan's deceit rather than God's truth, he aligned himself with the Deceiver (more strongly put: he became a slave to sin), thereby losing his rights as the son of God.

Secondly, he was unable to regain immediately the status of a son by simply repenting (which he did not, actually, for he accused Eve, and Eve accused the snake), because (I believe) of the knowledge of good and evil that he now had. The idea is very simple: with knowledge comes responsibility up to the extent of one's capability (this may seem awfully like paraphrasing Stan Lee's Spiderman, but, I think it was because Stan's philosophy had a biblical root), and any failure to carry out that responsibility is considered a sin. Take for example, if you do not know that your impoverished neighbor is in hunger, and in dire need of a simple loaf of bread to sustain his life, then you are not guilty of any sin; however, if you do know, and you do have some bread, but do nothing, therein is your sin. Sin is not limited to the presence of vice. It includes also the lack of action when you know something good within your ability needs to be done. Therefore, Adam (even if he was afterwards repentant) could not be simply reinstated without first ridding the problem of sin.

Now, even simply to have no vice at all is, by itself, an impossibility, let alone the requirement to do all the good that one is capable of! It is not humanly possible! Perhaps that was the reason why God prohibited the fruit in the first place.

Since it is impossible for a human being to be without sin, we must, at this point, conclude that Adam (and we his descendants) will never regain Paradise.

What a sad tale.

But this is only true if God does not actively care about human beings.

So, back to the original prerequisite: everything about Jesus only makes sense if you believe that God cares deeply - and actively, not passively - for us. Yes, that includes you.

Now, if God were to wait for us to achieve His standard of sinlessness, it would have been impossible for any human being to enter His Kingdom. But God took the initiative: He sent His only Son in flesh and blood to live up to His standard on earth, then received capital punishment despite his sinlessness, as a price that we ourselves should have paid for our countless sins.

"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-"
- John 1:12 (NIV)

Note here, therefore, the significance of Jesus referring to himself as "Son of Man (Son of Adam)". He is the Son of God, yet he constantly and emphatically claimed to be the "Son of Adam", so that everything he did, he did in place of us, the flesh and blood descendants of Adam. In another word, he came as the Son of Adam to fulfill the requirements that Adam and his natural sons should (but never could) fulfill. Then, having fulfilled the law, he gave up his rights (which came from fulfilling the law) to live and to be called the Son of God, and died instead on the cross, so that we, if we claim his name, can be the ones who live and be called the sons of God.

Now, how can I not love such a man?

I understand how hard it must still be for some of you out there to come to terms with the idea of the Son of God in flesh and blood.

I think the reason is that a lot of people have the same misconception I once had: that in the conception of the Holy Infant, Mary contributed her ovum, while the other half was God's mystery, wrought through the Holy Spirit. I cannot begin to tell you how wrong this understanding is. Such misconception stems from the influence we received from Greek mythology, in which Zeus was wont to impregnate attractive female mortals.

But it was not like that at all with Jesus. Do not associate any trace of lewdness with his Virgin Birth. Rather, consider what John has to say about this issue:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning."
- John 1:1-2 (NIV)

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
- John 1:14 (NIV)

John made it clear: Jesus was God's Word (and the Word Himself was one with God) that became flesh. And we should take that to mean entirely. No blood relation even to Mary, who was only a vessel to carry him. He was Joseph's son (and thereby descendant of David) only in name, and because God decreed it so.

If you find it incredible that "Word" could become "flesh", remember that God made the entire universe from nothing but His word!

The first picture above is a water color painting I painted according to the second picture, which I did earlier using a technique simple enough for anyone with the right tools to create great-looking graphics: first, use a broad-tip fountain pen or felt-tip pen (with black ink, preferably) to draw the picture you want in the fashion of stained glass. Then scan the drawing. Use any simple graphics editing software (at that time, I used Microsoft Window's Paintbrush) to fill in the colors. Then use any basic graphics enhancement software (at that time, I used Microsoft's Photo Editor) to give it some texture ("sandstone", I think) and render it with water color effect, and it's done.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lamenting a Failing Economy

This is another seal I made for myself, one of my favorites.

It's less than 1cm on each side, so carving it was a challenge, but it turned out well-worth the effort. The two words are "哀恸" (lament, mourn). Normally, words on Chinese seals should go from right to left, but for this one, I decided the left-to-right arrangement looks nicer for the two words (it was not a mistake, just in case anyone noticed).

I carved it originally to lament my stubborn old sins, which at that time was relentlessly plaguing a newly reborn me.

Here, now, I'm showing it in this post because I would like to lament the failing economy of our country.


So, what exactly is wrong with our country's economy?

I won't pretend to be an economist and say that my words are conclusive and all-inclusive; I'm only trying to discuss here one of the many factors that has contributed to that.

Case in point: Two years ago, my wife decided to take over the failing kindergarten of our church, feeling that it was necessary to continue to provide low-cost preschool learning (if you are a parent of preschool children, you will know what kind of expenses are involved in sending kids to kindergartens) to poorer families in the area.

We operated the place at a constant loss, partly because of the low fee, and mostly because of the various repairs that still needed to be done to the place to improve the children's safety. One of the more immediate concern was the lack of fences around the classrooms. We did not want the kids to run too far away from the classrooms (there is a huge field beside the classrooms, and behind it is a 10-acre palm oil estate; on the other side is a residential area), so having a fence was vital.

Our church consists of a small congregation of middle to lower income people, so we decided to look elsewhere first for help.

We wrote to our state assemblyman (to be fair, let me make it clear that it was a BN assemblyman) asking for a grant for building the fence, pointing out the charitable nature of the kindergarten and the need to ensure the children's safety.

Not very long afterward, we were informed that we had been granted RM5,000 for building the fence. We were overjoyed, and very thankful towards that kind and helpful state assemblyman.

(Here I'll skip that part about the 3-month wait from the time we were informed about the grant and the time we actually received it. The impossibility of red-tape! *Sigh*)

We were told that we would not receive the grant directly in cash, but rather, the state would appoint a contractor to build the fence. Well, that was understandable; otherwise, any Tom, Dick and Harry can apply for a grant for some phantom cause and just spend the cash on personal indulgences. So we contacted the appointed contractor to have him survey the place.

Now, there are 6 classrooms built in a row, with doors on both sides (4 doors for each classroom), and we wanted fences on both sides (we realized that the grant might not be enough to cover an extended perimeter around the six classrooms).

But after looking around, the contractor - a very nice Malay chap, let's call him Contractor B - pointed out that with the given money, he could only build a stretch of fence for one side of the classroom. "Just keep the doors on the other side closed." Material costs (cement, steel, etc.) were impossibly high, he pointed out.

We were dumbfounded. RM5,000 just to build a stretch of fence the length of 6 classrooms plus a small office at the fron)?

The contractor explained with some difficulty. It was not really RM5,000 that he had at his disposal. He was not the state-appointed contractor. The state-appointed contractor - another Bumi contractor, the difference being this one is well-connected, no doubt; let's call him Contractor A - had appointed him sub-contractor and given him RM4,500 to work with. "Other than material costs, I'll have to cover my workers' pay."

"OK, fine. But we know a supplier of building materials quite well, how about we find you the necessary materials at reduced costs? Can you, then, build two stretches, one on each side?"

After thinking for a while, he said, "How about RM4,200?"


"You find your own contractor. I'll take RM300 commission, and give you RM4,200."

Oh, I see...

And that's where Contractor C came into the picture. He wasn't even a fellow Christian, but he offered to help at no profit. "Just pay for the materials and my workers' wages." And he threw in quite a lot of his own old materials, at no charge.

Eventually, we got our two stretches of fence hemming in both sides of the classrooms, with RM700 to spare (which we put into other later developmental works).


Now, assuming that Contractor C accepted the RM700 profit, we may say that the fences were built with RM4,200. But the apparent cost was RM5,000. An unnecessary additional cost of RM800 was paid to two other contractors who ended up doing nothing.

RM800 is 16% out of RM5,000. That means 16% additional cost for nothing in return. That, to me, is an indication of where our inflation comes from. No wonder everything is so expensive nowadays.

Now, don't get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against the Malay community, in general. Some of the friends I treasure most are Malays.

To me, Contractor A and Contractor B and others like them do not represent the entire Malay community, much less the poor among the Malay community.

To me, they are the few well-connected people who are the only ones benefiting from a policy that was meant to help the poor find their footing in the business world. Another classic case of the rich getting richer, while the poor continue to be marginalized.

Come to think of it, my contempt is towards Contractor A (and others like him) alone. For Contractor B, at least he started out trying to do an honest work (it wasn't wrong for him to try to get the most profit out of a job - that's what every businessman is out to do).

Nevertheless, he inadvertently contributed to the failure of our economy by giving up too easily. He settled for a small, quick profit of RM300 from doing nothing. By doing so, he gave up the opportunity to gain more experience from the job; by doing so, he gave up the opportunity to learn to be more competitive (how to achieve more with less); by doing so, he allowed his competitor, Contractor C (and others like him, not limited to just Chinese; there are many good Malay contractors out there; I've come to know several), to become more experienced and competitive.

Just think: with RM4,500, Contractor B was only able to build one stretch of fence (though I do not know what amount of profit he was looking at); with RM4,200, Contractor C was able to build two stretches of fence, and got a comfortable profit of RM700 (which he gave up for a charitable cause). Now, if these two were thrown into the increasingly globalized market, who will lose out?

Contractor B did not think he needed to be competitive, because there will always be people like Contractor A to hire him as sub-contractor. That means he will forever need to depend on the Government to give jobs to Contractor A (and the likes) so he could get what trickles downstream. I sincerely hope this does not represent the majority of Government projects.

A devastating side effect of the situation discussed above is corruption. With the most lucrative projects reserved for the few well-connected people, what are the others to do except to bribe their way in to become (or be associated with) one of the well-connected?


Another case: some time ago, we met, to our surprise, a cousin of my wife here in Penang (he's from Sarawak). He told us he was recently hired to work for a company in KL that had obtained a contract to work on some Government project around the Butterworth area. We were very pleased to see him, and had hoped to have many more merry meetings with him before the project was over.

However, two months later, he informed us that he was flying home. Permanently.

"Did you quit? Why?"

"I didn't quit, but the job no longer exists. The company decided to pull out of the project because they have worked on the thing for many months without having received a single cent of payment, and they are not sure they would ever get any payment at all."


"Well, you see, the company is actually the sixth sub-contractor down the line. The first contractor must have telan all the money, because the other sub-contractors above us haven't received anything either."


That explains the quality of work that we, the rakyat, get from these Government projects. Cracks in various highway flyovers; burst pipes in government buildings; the collapse of an entire new building! What next?

I rest my case.


And those well-connected, privileged few had the gall to incite the people into staging a demonstration on 14th March around Komtar.

Looking at the scene, I had the feeling of watching a late 19th century Chinese opium addict crying out to someone who took away his opium to help him quit, "Please, give it back to me! I need it! I cannot survive without it!"

Well, if you know your world history, you know what happened to the Qing Dynasty because of such people.

Monday, March 17, 2008


It was in 2000 or 2001. My wife was teaching Chinese language at a secondary school, and one day, she told me she was looking for some out-of-the-ordinary class activities for her students.

So I took some papers, my trusty Lamy fountain pen (it's broken now, and boy, do I miss it), and came up with the following sketches.

"Have the students write some short essays based on these sketches. Tell them to let their imagination run wild." I told my wife.


***"Reaching Out"

***"Mr & Mrs. Seagull"


When I made these sketches, I did not have any specific story in mind. I just let my mind run off in whichever direction it would, and grabbed hold of whatever ideas that seemed interesting.

After that, in 2002, I wrote a story for the third picture (Mr. & Mrs. Seagull) that I published in my website. I had intended to write for the other two pictures as well, but I gave up working on the website before I could do that.


I have recently written a story for the second picture, "reaching out", and I intend to post it here on a later date. For the time being, just try to let your imagination run wild and come up with your own stories for the pictures. :-)

Monday, March 10, 2008


It may sound incoherent, but I would like to dedicate this short comics to all politicians present and future.
The story in this strip (I drew it for a cartoons/comics competition when I was in the second year in U) was inspired by a beautiful poem, 雨丝 (rain), by famous Taiwanese poet, 郑愁予.

For my story, I borrowed three lines from the poem, to create a certain nostalgic mood for the first pane (by the way, read from right to left, starting from the top-right corner and ending in the bottom-left pane). The poem is too beautiful to be faithfully translated, but let me try to give you an idea of what the three verses say:

we used to play in the huge transparent forest
we used to bathe our feet in the waterless stream
it was a riverbed filled with lotus-leave lanterns


The conversation between the boy and the girl goes like this:

Boy: "When I grow up, I want to be a soldier and conquer the whole world!"

(a long pause)

Girl: "After you conquered the whole world, will you still accompany me here to pick pebbles?"

(an even longer pause)

Boy: "When I grow up, I want to be a fisherman."


To me, this story is about the choice between pursuing our wildest ambition and maintaining our humanity.

I will not say, "curb all your ambitions"; after all, a man without any ambition is not a man. However, we must never forget to stop and consider what we are sacrificing to pursue that ambition.

If it means giving up being a person who is capable of love, tenderness, and compassion towards fellow human beings, it is never worth it.


Having said that, I'm not trying to say, "don't become a politician". Politicians are necessary; in fact, some are called to be politicians.

But it is my sincere wish that all politicians of this world will rediscover in their hearts that tender little boy who is wise enough to know where to draw the line on personal ambition, so that they remain capable of feeling for the needs of those they started out to serve.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Democracy Under Construction

After 50 years of being touted as a democratic country, the first layer of bricks is finally laid onto a "democracy" whose foundations have been laid half a century ago.

Who delayed the construction? I would not place all the blames on the leaders past and present. In a democracy, it is the responsibility of the people to think for themselves what they need, not to wait for their parties or government to tell them what they should have.

But don't immediately label me as a hardcore opposition supporter. I have no great love for any of the political parties. They are necessary, but that does not mean that I must adore them. Therefore, without feeling any particular affection towards either the ruling coalition or the opposition camps, my sentiment is: it is always good that a pseudo-democracy - including both its government and its people - is awakened from its stupor and complacence to realize that "democracy" means the people do have a choice after all.

And to me, that is the real victory.


Even if that victory means at least four years of life under an under-funded state government. ;-p Steep price, but worth every penny of it.

Friday, March 7, 2008

A fish and its water

A friend visited my blog and asked, "why do you write about boring stuffs? Do something controversial!" His idea of a fun afternoon is a killing spree in downtown Miami. Blood-spurting corpses of bikini-clad blond babes. That kind of things.

Well, I can only say that, boredom to me, is like water to fish.

That's when my mind starts wandering around and boldly goes where it dares not go when I'm perfectly in my right mind. ;-p

(To my friend) Look, I'm a boring guy who enjoys boring stuffs! What can I do about that? That's me! The thing is, I'm that kind of guy who even finds certain rubbish interesting enough as the subject of a sketch, like the one here:
I named the pencil sketch "Contemplation". If you have my "frequency" of imagination, you would start seeing why I called it that. (Hint: hand on chin, another across the table resting near the elbow of the first. No? Never mind...)

The "rubbish" in question was the "aftermath" of my lunch. I was then studying in U, so lunch means economic rice that comes wrapped in oil paper. That unidentified object besides the fork and spoon is the oil paper rolled up and tied with rubber band.

And if you are wondering, university students generally don't spend their afternoons in library doing homework or studying. They sketch the residue of their lunch or go on a killing spree in the cyberspace. Yep. The country's future is screwed. (I hope this comment is controversial enough for my friend. :0) )

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

"The wheat, which is golden, will remind me of you."

In "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, my favorite part is Chapter 21. It is at once poignant, heart-warming, sad, and, above all, enlightening. Every time I read what the fox said to the Little Prince, "But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat...", I still feel my heart being rent by the sheer beauty of it, and yet, at the same time, the truth it reveals is a salve to past wounds: There are so many beautiful things that we can find in our relationships - with our family, our friends, our love - what sense is there in dwelling on pain and loss?

I painted this picture as a scene after the Little Prince had left the fox. I personally did not intend to have it contain any trace of melancholy at all - yes, the little fox may seem rather lonely in that picture; but as he said, he finds comfort - and beauty - in seeing the golden waves of the wheat field and in hearing the rustling wind among the wheat stalks... and he is happy.

I have not painted often in watercolor, being a lazy person (pencil sketches and cartoons in ink are more abundant); among the few watercolor paintings I've done, this ranks among my favorite. It is simple, unpretentious, even a bit childish, and I did it on a rather small piece of paper (not even the size of A5, I think), but somehow, it resonates deeply with my soul.

Perhaps it is because I, too, love to sit and watch the wheat field turn golden...

My Other Alter Ego

His name is Dumbo.
Well, of course; because it's another representation of me. (By this time you should realize that I'm kind of camera-shy.)

I created this character a few years back when I tried to set up my own website. There are a total of 18 drawings of this character. I kept the website updated for less than 2 months, I think, and I got tired of constantly updating the pages. It is actually still there (; it's in Chinese, though), after all these years.

If you have read my previous post (the one below, about the flying elephant), I'm sure you have already guessed that this fellow here doesn't really look like me. For one thing, he's got to be at least 50kg lighter than me. And I'm much taller. The only resemblance is in the short-cropped hair and bushy eyebrows. And I do favor wearing the color brown (various shades of it, including certain shades of yellow and orange). However, being a plus-plus-plus-sized bloke, I can't always get my favorite color, because size has to be the foremost factor for consideration.

It is worth mentioning that when I started outlining the website some time in 2001, my main idea was to have a page on which I would add on journal-like entries of my musings on various topics (see "Dumbo Journal"), with the most recent updates on top. "Wait a minute; isn't that just like a blog?" Yep, in retrospect, that is exactly like a blog. Except, at that moment, the idea of blogging was only starting to catch on in my country (and not yet among my friends), and I have not heard of it yet when I started the website. If I had, at that time, created a blog instead of a website, maybe I would not have given up after just 2 months. :-)

Anyway, what's past is past. Let's hope little Dumbo here keeps going for longer than his previous run.

"Wow! Flying elephant!"

"Wow! Flying elephant!" Someone watching at the side of the court blurted.
Then and there, the name stuck.

Well, you see, it was a fine day, and a group of us who were in the same society in U decided to have a few rounds of badminton.

Now, before I continue with the story, let me lay out a few essential facts: (1) I was fat (still am, actually; in fact, more so now); (2) but I was agile; (3) agile fat guys aren't that common; (4) freshmen these days no longer respect their seniors.

And so, it was my turn inside the court, and I was up against someone who was quite good at the game. I made a rather bad return, and my opponent sent the shuttlecock flying towards the far corner. I quickly made a couple of high-leaping bounds toward that corner and got to the shuttlecock just in time. That's when someone blurted "Wow! Flying elephant!" and the game was sent into a prolonged time-out because practically everyone - players and spectators alike - was rolling on the floor, laughing uncontrollably.

From that day on, I became "Dumbo", the flying elephant.

"Elephant" is a Fool

For the uninitiated, this is the imprint of a Chinese seal. One of the earliest that I made.

The large character in the middle is "象" (in ancient writing, of course), which means "elephant", while the 4 smaller characters on the left say "象是笨蛋('Elephant' is a fool)" (the word "Elephant" here refers to a specific person, so it is NOT a generic statement saying "all elephants are fools").

This seal was inspired by the fact that I was nicknamed "Dumbo" and also by a novel of the same name (象是笨蛋) by 西西. I'm not a particular fan of this author (she is good though, I must say), but the title of her book spoke of my feeling at that time, because I was going through a painful breakup - with a best friend; I haven't started dating at that time.

I picked up seal-carving when I was in the first year of U, I think. It was during a holiday, and I was doing a short stint in a factory where an uncle of mine was manager. During a lunch break, I found the nearby supermarket having a small exhibition of all things Chinese, and there I found - to my utter delight - a complete set of tools (the carving knife, the vise, the stone, a dictionary of ancient characters, etc.) for making seals. And the rest is history (part of it being that I spent most of what I earned during that holiday on buying stones and little ornate boxes for containing the finished seals; yep, no doubt about it: "Elephant" is a fool).

Fruits of Boredom

I kind of miss school.
And I think I'm also beginning to miss sitting in a cubicle.
In another word, I miss the helpless feeling of boredom.

I still get bored from time to time, of course. That is evident from the number of times I've played Minesweeper.
But I miss being bored silly from 8am to 6pm non-stop, be it in a classroom or in an office cubicle.
I mean, those were arguably the most creative of my days. Instead of learning the school texts or working on that damnable yield report, I would be drawing cartoons, writing poems, composing songs, etc. and the works produced during those days still rank among my favorites.

Take for instance this chubby little elephant that I'm using for my profile in this blog.I drew this out of boredom, on a piece of foolscap using a medium-tipped fountain pen (for the finer lines, I just used the other side of the tip), during a lecture in U (I think the subject was electromagnetic). And it has served as my personal logo ever since.

Clarification: that is his bellybutton. In case you wonder...

And, I'm sure you've noticed. My nickname is Dumbo.

Before I sign off, here's another cute little elephant (another fruit of my boredom) as a preview for my next (maybe not the immediate next) post:

It's about the origin of my nickname.