Monday, February 26, 2007

Of Natural And Human Disasters

Indonesia saw herself suffering from yet another ferry disaster.

On 22 February 2007 an Indonesian ferry, Levina I, carrying 227 passengers departed from Passenger Terminal II of Tanjung Priok Harbor, Jakarta, at 1.30 a.m. WIB (Western Indonesian Time). It was heading for Pangkal Balam, Bangka island off Sumatra when, as reported, it caught fire in the Palau Seribu waters at 5.30 a.m. WIB.

Beside the passengers it also carried 17 crew and 42 colt diesel trucks filled with goods. Early investigations had suggested that the fire was sparked by one of the lorries on the ferry's vehicle deck.

Till this point of the post, the total death toll has reached to 41. While the ferry's log reflected a passenger figure of 275, the actual figure for passengers found dead and alive has reached 313. As the head of the Jakarta air and sea police, Adjunct Senior Commissioner Frederick Kalembang put it bluntly, "Therefore there were at least 38 of them who were unregistered. This is a major negligence."

Adding on to this tragedy was a second unfortunate incident that befell on the same said ferry - it unexpectedly sank off the coast of Jakarta after it was being towed to a location some seven nautical miles north of Jakarta's Tanjung Priok harbour. On board were 16 people consisting of teams from the national police and the National Transport Safety Committee, as well as media reporters and cameramen.

The ferry was being investigated by the police when it suddenly leaned to the right, rapidly sinking with the 16 people still on board. A cameraman from the LaTivi television station was later found dead after being pulled from the ship and rushed to the hospital. Another cameraman and two police forensic laboratory team were found missing also.

Just as I began in this post, Indonesia has seen YET another sea tragedy. If one is to go through it's recent accidents, one would inevitably come to ponder why have such tragedies keep occurring, seemingly without an end. Despite the latest technology the world can offer, and an unimaginably huge amount of information accumulated and made available, developing countries like Indonesia, India and China are still experiencing human tragedies year after year. Why is that so?

I personally feel that the reason lies in, as the name 'human tragedies' suggests, human. As a country progresses, as the parliament sits in, and as the budget is fixed and determined, how much attention and resources is actually allocated to the unseen yet deciding fields of nation-building? Almost all political leaders wishes to channel his or her available resources to constructing 'the tallest buildings', 'the grandest museum' or simply 'the largest air/ sea port'. In the face and eyes of the international media, they probably were taken into the belief that these concrete and tangible icons are hallmark barometers reflecting accurately the financial status or economic prowess the country is possessing and enjoying.

Nothing can be further than the truth than this. Instead of investing the wealth the country has generated in the past years back to building the fundamentals of the society, political leaders more often than not believe that it is more important to construct meaningless, 'iconic' symbols that would perhaps carry their names into the future, long after their departure from the scene. Thus we see muddy or dusty roads not transformed, malfunctioned lighting not repaired, safety features and procedures not installed and enforced, health standards not improved and hygiene consciousness not raised. All these in turn lead to what we are witnessing - repeated occurrences of such disasters, which the sole contributors are no other but human themselves.

While natural disasters have taught us the power of nature and fragility of humankind, human tragedies took place for a totally different lesson - the innate arrogance human beings possessed, and the web of insatiable greed for power and fame we have weaved for ourselves. Till this day, we remained as what we were before and blinded by our own flaws, we failed to evolve and rise to a higher platform of enlightened consciousness. The cost of such a deluded mentality is more than just basic infrastructure of the country not improved; it has in actual fact created a whirlpool of indescribable sadness and unforgettable tragic memories, drowning the mourning family members of the victims and constantly repeating the cycle over and over again.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Truth About Speaking Out (The Truth)

I have not laid down my virtual pen in this blog for quite a while. The last post was actually on 6 Feb 2007.

How time flies! One blink of an eye and a month has passed quietly. A new lunar year has arrived. Coldness gives space to the fresh heat of Spring, while brightness takes over the gloomy, rainy days of the year-end monsoon weather. 2007 has sat in firmly, and February has been welcomed even without some people's knowledge. Very soon it'll be March, and before we know it, half a year may be gone, just like that.

In this constant, never-stopping flow of time and tide, how should one place him/ herself in the sweeping currents of this societal evolution without getting wash away, totally overwhelmed and submerged in the raging forces, and finally succumbing to it to come to lose oneself?

My mentor speaks of the importance of having courage in order to secure one's happiness, "It takes courage to become happy - courage to remain true to one's convictions, courage not to be defeated by one's weaknesses and negativity, courage to take swift action to help those who are suffering."

"To remain true to one's conviction". How true are these words! More often than not, along the course of our lives, we must have already come across or witnessed some people who would discard or alter their beliefs the moment circumstances or conditions became unfavourable to them. Exercising a rootless intellectuality that sways with the unseen yet tangible forces, they amend their beliefs and convictions once they see that immediate benefits can be reaped, or seeds of future favours can be sowed.

Two shows on TV recently each featured one shining example of human character and endeavour - one was a Hollywood movie 'Ali, played by Will Smith in honour for the 'greatest sportsman', while the other was the 49th Grammy Music Award.

Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, athletes of all time, has been a 'true fighter' throughout his entire life. His first history-altering move was not in the ring, but entirely out of it - he took faith in Islam in his younger days, and instead of following the the long-held tradition of using his 'slave name', Cassius Clay, he insisted the world to acknowledge him as 'Muhammad Ali', a name that will forever shine with brilliance in the annals of human history.

In 1967, when the Vietnam War was escalating, Muhammad Ali was called for induction into the Armed Services. Ali refused the induction on the grounds of religious beliefs. He was, in fact, a practicing Muslim minister then. This refusal led to the now-famous Ali quote, "I ain't got no quarrel with them Vietcong..." This outburst, together with Ali's refusal against the induction, led to a national furor and all states and local entities in America proceeded to cancel Ali's boxing licences. Ali did not fight again for 2 ½ years. He was stripped of his championship title, his passport taken; all his boxing licenses were cancelled. He lost an initial court battle and was facing a 5-year prison term. during this exile period, Ali made money by speaking at colleges. He was virtually the first national figure to speak out against the war in Vietnam.

In 1971, with the mood in the country changing, Ali staged a comeback fight against the undefeated champion Joe Frazier in what was termed 'The Fight of the Century'. He lost the fight on 8 March, but months later The Supreme Court reversed his conviction and upheld his conscientious claim. In short, the judiciary had agreed to what he had refused against and spoken out - the Vietnam War deadlock the US government was entangled and caught in. From then on, Ali was free to travel anywhere he wished, and from all possiblity of jail-term conviction as well. Furthering this success was that he began a string of victories in the ring which ultimately led him to where he is standing now - the Athlete/ Sports Personality of the Century.

The second example which was shown on TV are the country-band 'Dixie Chicks'. In the latest 49th Grammy Awards, they came back from an almost nationally-banned three years' absence to secure five Grammy Awards, including the three prestigious 'Award/ Record/ Song/ of the Year'. And the reason for their ban was in fact an outburst made by one of the members, Natalie Maines, who criticised George Bush of his political agenda and strategy, right on the eve of the 2003 Iraq war. That was the year when President Goerge Bush enjoyed an approval rating of up to 70%.

Right after that critical remark made, their sales plummeted and even death threats were received. Basically, they were condemned as traitors by the media as well and much as by the public. Laying low for three years, and again as in Muhammad Ali's case, with the mood in America for their external war changing, America slowly began to accept and perhaps even understand what policital stance the Dixie Chicks had taken then. Thus the public has, perhaps for once, reaslised that the war they fervently supported and cheered loudly for might not be as truthful and correct a war it has seemed to be. At present, radio stations have began playing the Dixie Chicks' songs again, the public has gradually embraced back their songs, and more importantly, the mainstream media are starting to acknowledge the meaning written in their songs - they still voice out what they think and feel through their musical creations.

In a nutshell, the public might have been awakened by Maines' courageous words finally, when at the point of speaking out, they probably have experienced a much agitated sentiment toward the negative comment made at their beloved President.

What these two examples have displayed and revealed to me is one simple yet golden rule: never allow one's circumstance, however bad it maybe, to overwhelm or swallow one up. Against all odds, he/ she must have the courage to muster up all strength and conviction to call out the inner truth he or she is enlightened to. This is probably the only way to live a life true to oneself, as well as showing another person exactly how one should stand firmly against all ravaging storms of falsehoods and deceptions. At the end of the day, before turning in, we are probably the only ones we need to answer to; at the end of our lives, we are also probably the only ones whom we need to face up to. Though one can build a beautiful facade of exterior to cover up one's lies or ill intentions, one cannot run away from the almighty conscientious consciousness one carries inside him. This element alone will come to determine how much value one has created through one's actions, and possibly also how worthy one's life is, in this short lifespan of a human existence on this planet.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

For The Record IV

14 Jan, 2007 - Floods and landslides hit a small island of Indonesia's Sulawesi, Tahuna, district captial of the Sangihe islands, about 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of North Sulawesi provincial capital Manado. Rescuers found 24 bodies and 10 people were missing. More than 1,300 people fled their homes and took refuge from the floods in schools and government buildings, the ElShinta radio reported, quoting local officials.

15 Jan, 2007 - Malaysia's worst flood in 40 years killed 15, all of which were by exposure to contaminated water with urine of rats and other animals. As 10, 000 evacuees crammed the emergency shelters amid offical warning of dengue and cholera, they faced another problem of serious food shortages.

This flood is the second wave that had hit the Southern part of Malaysia, severely crippling the transportation, water supplies and economy. The first wave had hit the area in late December last year, forcing 134,000 people to flee their homes.

5 Feb, 2007 - Floods in Jakarta, the worst in five years, have killed at least 20 people and displaced 340,000, as swollen rivers and canals spilt muddy water onto the city streets. The flooding in parts of the tropical city of nine million people has been up to 4 metres (13 feet) deep, causing blackouts, cutting telephone lines and blocking key roads. Meteorology officials have warned the city could suffer heavy rains until the end of the month.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Mystic Aspect Of Life

My girlfriend Ling's sister recently brought two hamsters. One is male while the other is female.

They are adorable at first sight; no one would turn his or her gaze away from them. Reason being that their sizes are small by nature - probably half the size of a child's palm. The male dons a grey fur and the female, white. With a short, tight but certainly soft fur, they attract virtually anyone who lays their eyes on them.

Coupled with their almost non-stop action, which sees them running around in the cage, sometimes twitching their noses for some sniffing action, sometimes digging and burying their entire bodies under the leave flakes, and other times scratching and biting lightly on each other, they are an utterly cute and lovely sight to behold! Such innocent, purely instinctive but yet totally heart-lightening activities have no other effect but bringing smiles on anyone who sees them.

Sitting beside me Ling says that when the lights are off, they would start their 'nightly' activity of burrowing around. The moment the lights are on they would cuddle around each other and quickly squeeze into each other's warmth and sleep in their 'wheel', a place they love to run in it too. Watching them intently, I couldn't help but think to myself: what is their objective in life? What are their goals in living in this world? Would it simply be a daily routine of eating, running around, sleeping and repeating the entire process in the next day? Would they not have any dissatisfaction or grievances against each other, matters which they take into their hearts that result into a irresolvable situation, something of what we humans encounter? Wouldn't they also have their own fair share of anger, sadness or even disappointment? I wouldn't know exactly, but perhaps not. However, one thing for certain is that they are endowed with 'life', something unseen, untouchable and definitely mystic.

In Book One of 'The Human Revolution', Dr. Daisaku Ikeda wrote about his mentor, Josei Toda, capturing a flea. Using his finger he gently pressed the insect and killed it in an instant. Through his thick glasses and under the light, he watched the flea as it transited from the realm of life to one of death. Undeniably the insect was endowed with a life, but where would this 'life' go, after the insect had died, Toda Sensei pondered. It is this simple yet the most fundamental question that humans failed to face it squarely and answer. Some say the 'life' would not enter 'heaven', as it does not qualify itself for the entry, while others say the life ends where it stops breathing. A third group declares that insects and plants are not endowed with the same 'life capacity' as us, the humans.

Regardless of which theory is most fittingly correct, it is vital for us, in the beginning of this new Millennium, to first take a step to ponder on the origin of not just our lives, but the million others which share the same planet as ours, namely the animals and insects. In Buddhism, they are collectively being referred to as the 'sentient beings', a group that we humans are included in as well. That first step will, I believe, come to lead humanity to understand and view their 'living counterparts' on this planet with a whole new perspective, thereby leading to a fresh approach of respecting and treasuring the existences of these interesting, lively and certainly amazing living beings.