Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Incarceration: Part 4

The dearth of freedom.
The policing of the self, restraining of the id. 

Often, the flash of blue and red light is sure to make me straighten my back in my seat, check my speed limit (if I am driving) and inspect my actions.

The regulations that bind us only make the society a functional one, a cohesive one, a safe one to be in. 

While it does not stifle me, the thought of having 'Big Brother' watching my every action makes me internalise the discipline of checking my own behaviour, aligning it to the permitted.

Huxley's Big Brother is still a source of inspiration for many more dystopian-based films and books. 
The dystopia in movies like Judge Dredd, Oblivion, Total Recall all share the same concept of having that totalitarian authority who watches our every single move, restraining us, exploiting our privacy. 

Interesting as it is, the idea of oppression can really be depressing. I have never been a fan of being told what to do. While I like how efficient it can be, like reading off the instruction manual of building a 1:100 Gundam Robot model, there is absolutely no room to express any creativity.

It isn't a bad start for people to tell you what is the right way to do certain things. We were socialised from young by our parents, then teachers, then the society. 
I guess for me, National service preceded the society. Somebody had to do it, to kick me out of my nest and it's either I make flight or shatter my bones. 

So, though the laws make me desist, they really aren't all that bad; to serve as a benchmark for the greenhorns of the society.
We are all human, and that means even the law-enforcing, straight-faced cops that we see patrolling the streets. They have their own problems, chained by the very system which they serve to enforce. 
Ironic as it seems, for some of them, it is a calling and not a mere employment that pays the bills.

The bright smile of the lady officer, her relaxed demeanour, her soft countenance reveal a much softer story inside that starched and stiff uniform that she has on. If I may write a script for her life, it'll be her having a few children and that they're all proud as hell to have a police officer as a mother. 

Alas, this also marks the end of the lengthy incarceration series. Much of this was inspired by the surrounding environment which I call home. Juxtaposing Berkeley to Singapore, I must say it is a stark contrast in not just the daily lifestyles of people, but how the different environment inculcate different values and nurtures unique personalities. 

While Singapore has got many more regulations, I cannot help but feel comforted to know that it is so much safer and better a place to grow up in. 

It is not incarceration when we(not just I) all benefit from it.

Monday, 26 August 2013

SF Chinatown

Home to one of the biggest Chinese diaspora, the San Francisco Chinatown provided a funny kind of solace, one that I can almost relate to.
Almost, because we really aren’t from Hong Kong or China, but close to the heart because we are of the same racial descent.

Amidst the foreigners and the foreign land, Chinatown transported me back to the familiarity of my own kin. The district though slightly dilapidated is a unique contrast to the American city of which it is found within.

The familiarity to the ears, eyes and the taste palette, Chinatown truly brings my senses back home.

The ‘China’ in Chinatown really isn’t a formalized caveat that strictly means only Chinese.
You find Vietnamese and Korean restaurants existing alongside the Chinese stores. This is a place where Asians coexist, where conservative values coalesce. (conservative relative to the Americans)

Inevitably, I find myself feeling much more comfortable around those of similar descent; that I can even throw in one or two phrases in my native tongue and get a few kindred phrases in return.  

Some things are truly lost in translation. Certain words and phrases just do not mean the same when spoken in another language. Commercial transactions aside, on hearing someone speak in one’s mother tongue evokes a warm welling in the heart.

Even within languages, there are dialects that demarcate an even more specific group. The more the similarities, the easier it is to convey an idea.

The more lines we draw, the more inclusive(and exclusive) the groups become, the more isolated we are from one another.
So instead of calling it Chinatown, why not Asia-town; a wider categorization to allow for a bigger entity.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Incarceration: Part 3

It is contentious and perhaps futile to define Religion, at least from someone on the outside.

Given my humble expertise, it would be wiser to allow the expert to set our minds right on this before we begin. For the willing, take five to properly inculcate yourself with the brilliant article by the guest author, our expert on theology.

What is religion?
The first important distinction that must be made is between 1) the claim for the existence of God(which includes not only postulations of divine entities, but wider metaphysical claims in general) and 2) the existence of religion. Religion in its strictest sense refers to the sociological phenomenon of the institution of religion - the entire system of symbols, rituals and faith-based worldview of a belief, as well as a doctrine uniting a moral community under its creed.
This God/Religion distinction is a crucial one, since contrary to common association, the two are not analogous. Whether or not one believes the former (God) exists, the latter (religion) most certainly does, and has had an undisputedly significant socio-political presence in the world for a substantial proportion of civilized history.

Indeed, one needs make only a simple observation to recognize the difference; there are examples of religions with many gods (which for our purposes we shall refer to as deities or supernatural entities), religions with only one, and even religions with none at all.

Given this alone, it would stand to reason that postulating a supernatural being is not sufficient as a theoretical or practical requisite for a religion in its essential form. Yet the postulation of a divine entity is but a doctrinal aspect of religious belief; that is to say, merely a part of the larger teachings of a particular faith. Different faiths make truth claims of their own, which oftentimes appear peculiarly suited to the needs of their own societies (this is more evident in pre-modern societies which lack the explanatory capabilities of the empirical mode of thought) But since the exact content of different religious teachings tend to be contradictory, and religions do not share overarching doctrines in either particular or even general respects, it is also reasonable to conclude that it is not in the content of the respective doctrine alone that religion as a general phenomenon – across societies - is truly conceived, but that the nature of it may be located in someplace else indeed.

It is thus erroneous and exceedingly simplistic (although it has too often been, and continues to be, the case) to equate religion directly with the existence of God or with the numerous details of religious doctrine. Yet it continues to be necessary to point this out, since both proponents for religion (and even some reactionaries against it) can be somewhat myopic in their handling of the subject in debate, as has been mentioned above. Even if the case may be made against the scientific validity of religious truth-claims (the basis on which the ‘New atheists’ often launch their arguments of negation from), attacking religion in this manner nevertheless demonstrates, at best, doctrinal fallacies of religious texts and fails to acknowledge other subtleties and mechanisms in what is essentially a complex social institution.
What then is it? What is this phenomenon known as religion? Having exhausted the validity of varied doctrine in explaining the development of what is essentially a universal social construct (glaring hint here) the next logical step is
to examine its social implications; its function in society.

Shi Han, Chee

For the patient and inquisitive, you would have developed some thoughts after perusing the short article from above.

The ability to enlighten, such is the strength of a logical and succinct writer. Shi Han has always been a confidant of mine, one whom I share countless ramblings on the 'harder' issues of life, the post-materialist.
Each conversation I have with him is akin to teaching the caveman to use a flint and start fire. (that I am the caveperson of course)

A sociologist by training, his article aptly brings to light the intricate interaction between the society and its Religious Institutions.

To be more careful here, I shall tread on clear articulations on the figure of speech, lest I risk sparking off more contentions.
For me, the religious institution holds together those of similar faith. I bring forth the famous quote by Karl Marx:
                               Religion as the Opiate of the Masses

I bring your attention to the word ‘Masses’. As Shi Han very clearly pointed out, it is not just the form, symbols or teachings, but more importantly the fellowship, the following.

A Messiah is only so because we made him/her so. We, the followers of this same belief, the same message and the same yearnings, all gather in the same setting and spread the Good word that we honestly believe in.
We create this intangible authority that provides solace in the respective milieus that we live in.

To say that Catholicism is hedonistic is to claim that Protestantism is Ascetic, both of which cast this overtly sweeping veneer over their profound teachings.
Though neither human behavior can be said as a culmination of the human’s respective faith, we can most certainly accord that to the particular epoch that we hail from.

That our most innate primal behavior, to band together and form a collective, because as cliché as it is, No man is an Island. This is how we include and exclude, how we create the Haves and Have not’s.

It is a beautiful and enlightening epiphany to realize that we are all vulnerable to ridicule and that ultimately, we all put our faith in something that holds ‘true’ over the test of time.

There seems to also be a proportional and direct relationship between our faith and our depravity. Pathetic yes, but we are all Human, All too Human – Nietzsche.

I forget when I indulge, I endear when I am without.

You and I, we are always on the lookout for an insertion, a chance to be within, not without. We sing songs (hymns) or chant sutras, engage in similar activities to create the collective effervescence; that sense of belonging to a bigger entity, that you are not alone.

After we are bound to a collective, we are obliged to observe the traditions.
Now, in bureaucratic terms they call it the Law. The former risks expulsion and exile, the latter risks incarceration. Both of which subject the deviants to physical distance from the ‘innocent’ public. (note the dual meaning behind the word innocent)

Do you want to be kept informed, or be left untouched and live life the way you imagine it to be?

The system always protects the masses from the radical. Though there are grey areas to which we can call someone radical, I most certainly insist that there are absolute red lines that we demarcate on certain behavior.

This has been an awfully long read by now, so before I end, thank you for having this patience to bear with me through this evocative post.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013


Time for some definitions(or re-definitions) of our daily undertakings.
Summer is coming to an end, though it has technically ended back home.

Final week in the States and everything is whizzing by in a flurry. 
Before it all ends, isn't it always a good idea to sip a good cuppa tea and recalibrate all that you've learnt.

Triangulate the current whereabouts, discovering new penchants, rediscovering old fancies. 
This shall be a brief repose before we embark on the next chapter. 

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Incarceration: Part 2

It's always intriguing to know how this increasingly feminine society is changing the social landscape of our modern world.

Not so long ago, women were both domestic-bound and domesticated by the chauvinistic men of the old. Cruel as it is, nature has it that men simply rely on their aggressiveness and physicality to extort for respect and or subjugation. 

While it should never have been the case, women have suffered their share of torment devoid of rights and freedom. 

With the new wave of feminism, we delineate from the objectification of the past and embrace new identities. 
The increments in demand for rights slowly seep into every level of the society.
As the cliché spiderman quote goes: with power comes responsibility.

I deliberately took out the 'Great' (from Great Power and Great Responsibility) because it is simply not quantifiable in such a direct relationship. 
Whether it is a huge chunk of power or not, the moment we have authority or ownership over something/someone, we naturally step up to the role. 

A simple case in point: the relationship between a mother and child, ancient as this relationship dates back, is the perfect example. Though bereft of her own rights as witnessed during the agrarian or feudal milieu, the mother has the most basal task of rearing the child to adulthood.

That task alone renders her supreme. Maybe it's a case of too much Law and Order: SVU that led me here. Nevertheless, domestic violence exists and is a painful experience to any juvenile minds. 

Man or woman, we are mere subjects of the greater power; Bureaucracy.
 Specifically in this case, the state apparatus of prison and the policing of every single citizen.

Next, religion as the opium of our pains.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Incarceration: Part 1

Slippery Slope

Onset of Incarceration

This is kinda like a mini series about jails and imprisonment which will feature a few more additional parts depending on how creative my brain can churn.

The usual and convenional picture that precedes imprisonment is one of vice and crime. 
All civilised worlds have their own laws where norms have to be abided and rules followed.
This ensures not just the efficient functioning of the state but also the well being of 'thy neighbours'. 

As synonymous with the word 'State', prisons have long been a commonplace for common thieves and the likes who flout the law. While some may simply be petty crimes(theft, spitting on the floor, chewing on gum, playing street soccer under void decks), there are those on the other spectrum; 
Heinous crimes of a certain brutality that brings a distaste to our mouths.

While the latter deserves to be hung, doing time is perhaps the more deserving punishment. A simple slit on the throat, shock from the chair, hanging by the noose is too easy a sentence. 

Incarceration will literally squeeze the life out of an inmate doing life sentence. 
Put yourself in a 3m by 3m cell where the sky is your bleak ceiling and the trees are the metallic bars that bounds you within. Bite my tongue, I would rather.

While some of these truly deserve their sentence, we have those who simply commit crimes out of folly and passion. Mistakes, they call it, of which they feel remorseful and apologetic for. 

If one goes against the norm of the society, he/she may or may not face persecution. If a crowd of them creates a whole new mini-society, a sub-culture. No, counter-culture is more compelling, hell, what about a cult? Within this 'queer' society, the norms and values differ from my own. Should that justify their prosecution on the stand simply because they are different? 

By now, you should be ready to pounce on the contentious comments but then again, it is all up for subjective collisions of minds. The intents, the motives, the extent of the 'difference' in behaviour, the pettiness to the atrocity of which. All of these can be put up for scrutiny so blast away.

As aforementioned, there will be more to come on this eyebrow-raising issue, so hold your reins and look forward to the next time.