Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Something about Judaism

On Lisa Schiffman’s Generation J a rabbi says, “Most people don’t get anything out of Judaism. You know why? Because they don’t practice it in a disciplined way. But it’s so obviously meant to be practiced that way. There’s daily-prayer, minute-by-minute practices about eating and how you conduct your business and how you conduct yourself sexually.”
Such wise words. I would have loved to meet this rabbi.

-Observing Shabbat, keeping kosher, those are the daily aspects of Judaism.
From Generation J by Lisa Schiffman



You open the fridge and there’s G-d. Yes. He’s there, present in the food we eat. And we have food thanks to the Creator, Blessed be He.

I know some people who go to the shul, sometimes keep kosher on Shabbos, sometimes they don’t, but once Shabbos comes to an end they eat pork or whatever they fancy. Once, during Shabbos, someone approached me at the shul and started small talk. He then told me that he eats bacon all the time, and on that morning he had a full English breakfast: “Sausage, eggs, bacon; the whole lot,” he said, and I wondered why he was sharing that with me.
Was he expecting me to say, “Well done!”
Was he expecting me to agree with him on his non-Jewish eating habits?
I didn’t, of course, and bit by bit I distance myself from him. Eat whatever you want, little man, but don’t expect me to do the same.
Some people are Jews because of their blood lineage, some are Jewish because of their faith, their beliefs, and some call themselves Jewish because they want that “label”, the “J label”, but then they don’t bother to observe the Shabbat or keeping kosher and that isn’t Judaism, is it?
And I also know Jews who hardly ever go to the shul apart from special occasions, but they observe the Shabbat and keep kosher, and by doing that they carry the synagogue (and Judaism) within themselves. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

The rabbi was right; most people don’t get anything out of Judaism because they don’t practice it in a disciplined way. These people don’t know what they’re missing.




My books This is Not the End and Free City are available on Amazon

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Alive and well

Alvin Tan of Alvivi blog, the collective name of local sex bloggers Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee, is alive and well, and enjoying his life in America while waiting for a Green Card. Not so long ago a journalist told him to: “Alvin Tan, face the consequences of your actions like a man.” A silly thing to say but maybe this journalist isn’t as free as he likes to say.
Alvin’s response, made from his Facebook account on September 21st, was simple and straight to the point: “You’re so bitter that I got away… So, so bitter. And jealous too. Sigh. Get a life la, you pathetic “journalist”…”
Later on Alvin had a bit more to say on Facebook.


Alvin Tan:
I never felt scared, because I'm not a fugitive at all (try "recognized asylum seeker"). All that talk of Interpol is just typical UMNO/PDRM wayang. In any case, the US government isn't just going to cooperate with PDRM to hand over a recognized political refugee (even the Department of State's 2013 Human Rights Report on Malaysia cites my case for fuck's sake). That's not how extradition works. I've already filed for asylum, and I've passed many preliminary filterings (interviews, documentation, court hearings) that pretty much guarantee that I won't be deported/extradited.

And about trying to command attention among Malaysians, LOL... Come on, get real. Malaysia is a small and poor market, what does it matter even if I commanded everyone's attention in Malaysia, which I did? Has any big stars ever came out of Malaysia, builton the strength of the pathetic 30-million-strong Malaysian market with super-low disposable income? There's no critical or financial success to be gained from "making it big" in Malaysia (what an oxymoron).

Malaysia is nothing, and anyone who wants to make it big needs to get out. Malaysia is a toxic wasteland with tons of people with negative attitude; you can't do anything creative or different, because people are too uneducated and the government too tyrannical. 

So the reason that I'm quiet is not because I'm scared. It's because I'm too busy building and enjoying my life here in one of the most modern, exciting, culturally-and-economically-significant cities in the world.

Why should I stay back to face trial, when it's obvious I won't get a fair trial? So that I can sacrifice one year of my precious 20s sitting in jail like Adam Adli? He wants to be a politician -- that's his problem. I have better things to aspire to. Now, I'm on track to get a Green Card in a year, and then US citizenship in five years. Admit it, I came out on top from the Ramadhan Bah Kut Teh saga, and you people are really bitter, angry, dissatisfied, and jealous about it.

I've burnt all my bridges with Malaysia and will not bother to comment further on anything even remotely related to Malaysia; I've sold all my stakes and therefore lost all legitimacy to speak credibly on it, so to speak. I won't return forever too, so enjoy your "beautiful" country, you bumpkins. I'm simply taking UMNO ministers' advice of "you tak suka, you keluar," and I love it. Maybe you bitter souls should try migrating too.



Only time will tell if Alvin will indeed stay in America, but I think he will and I can see him going on to make a career for himself as an artist. He’s the kind of man who took risks and went ahead with his life, unlike so many others who talk a lot but do nothing with their own lives (and I know so many people like this at my workplace). They too get bitter when others move forward and do something with their lives. 

A daughter’s Kaddish

“An unusual thing happened in Amsterdam, and was widely known there.” So begins a short and stirring responsum by Yair ben Hayyim Bacharuch, the influential Talmudist and jurist in Germany in the seventh century. “A man died without leaving a son, and prior to his death he requested that, for the twelve months after his death, ten men should be retained to study in his house, and at the conclusion of their studying his daughter should say the Kaddish. And the scholars and officers of the congregation did nothing to stop her.” What a clever man! He anticipated controversy, and gave his daughter cover: her kaddish was to be said after study; and it was to be said in the presence of ten men; and it was to be said at home, not in the house of worship. The man wanted a kaddish and he got one.
From Kaddish by Leon Wieseltier



Kaddish by Leon Wieseltier is such a lovely book, kind of a spiritual journey, and we follow Mr Wieseltier through his prayers and also in his pursuit of the Kaddish’s history and meaning. Some stories, once read, stay with you forever.


My books This is Not the End and Free City are available on Amazon

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Russian jets in our skies


As of lately there has been an unusual increase in activity from Russian military jets over European airspace, and it has emerged that for the second time in a week Typhoon fighter jets had to intercept Russian military bombers. An RAF spokeswoman has come forward to say that the Russian aircraft had been picked up by the RAF Control and Reporting Centre at Boulmer in Northumberland. Why this sudden increase of Russian jets in our skies? What are they planning? What are they checking for? Our reaction? How quick it takes for our jets to get to the sky?
Air Vice-Marshal Gary Waterfall, who happens to be in charge of the UK air defence said, “The Royal Air Force was formed to secure the skies over the UK, and it remains our main task. This week’s news has shown yet again that the RAF’s quick reaction alert is an essential element of our nation’s security.”
Other matter that concerns me is also the fact that so many enemies of our freedom and way of life are allowed to patrol our streets freely, hiding their fanatic ways under the pretext of religion. But going back to the “Russian matter”: this increased activity in the air comes against a backdrop of months of heightened tensions between Moscow (a.k.a. Putin) and the West, and many people are saying that this appears to be a “show of force” by President Vladimir Putin. Let’s see how far he will take this “farce”.


My book Free City is out now on Amazon

Exile

Extract from my book Free City.




Exile

“Freedom is limited, even here,” Thapa said, a sad look hanging on his face.
A pigeon was patrolling the street, looking for crumbs, and once in a while the bird would stare at us, maybe expecting us to take some food out for him. A woman made her way slowly across the café. She had on a white dress. For a moment I wondered if she was an angel. Two men entered the café and the last one in held the door open for her. She thanked him silently with a smile and a nod, and then she stepped out of the café. I watched her as she walked away. The man who had held the door for her also watched her until she was well out of sight. There was a look in his eyes that said he needed someone, a woman like that woman in white. He finally closed the door behind him and went over to the counter where his friend was waiting for him. Blonde Redhead, a band that Chen Chen listens to quite often, was playing on the radio. Half the tables in the café were empty, which came as a surprise at that time of the day. The two men ordered two large black coffees, milk on the side, and sat away from us. The one who had held the door open for the woman in white still looked lost in his thoughts. Was he thinking about her?
Thapa, the Tibetan poet, read out a few lines of one of his poems;


Sometimes we call out for our mothers in our sleep and then we wake up with tears in our eyes,


I looked at him and I saw his mouth moving while he kept looking at the window, at the raindrops sliding down the glass. He kept on reading,



Exiled from my land
I held out my hands and asked for help.
I prayed for it; for help, for love, to come my way.


He read on, the poem engraved in his memory, and a young American girl looked at the puffy, pretty poet sitting by my side. She smiled while he spoke and I saw kindness in her eyes. Little by little, everyone, including me, was falling in love with the words that Thapa wrote.


Thapa left Tibet more than ten years ago. He left to pursue his dreams. Had he stayed behind, he probably would have been dead by now. At the least he would have spent time in prison and tortured for what he wrote. Somehow, he and other Tibetans managed to secretly slip over the Chinese border, and after a hard journey in which he and his friends survived on Zanba, they reached Nepal. It took them close to one month to get there, to freedom, and not all of them managed to finish the journey. I don’t ask what happened to those who didn’t finish the journey. At least they tried. Better to be dead than to be living in a prison.
“A human rights organization looked after us and once I regained my strength, I kept on moving,” Thapa said.
He stayed in Nepal for a while, then travelled to London where he managed to publish poems and stories about Tibet, and he kept on moving until he finally settled down in Brooklyn. In here, in this free city that is now our home, he teaches others about life in Tibet and its history. One day he read a story of mine about people burning in Tibet and he managed to find me so that we could become friends. He told me more about his country, about those poor Tibetans who have no freedom in their own land, and when he spoke it looked as if he was taking rocks from his mouth, such was his pain.
More and more of his people are dying in his country, and more are living in exile.
“I don’t want Tibet to die,” he said. “I don’t want my language to die.”


Limping, I cross the mountain and
I leave my brothers behind to a fate not worth knowing.
Years later, their cries still haunt me in my sleep.



He left the café before I did, and we bowed peacefully and gracefully to one another, and then, as I watched him make his way out of the café, he kind of reminded me of that woman in white whom I’d seen leaving the café earlier on, and to make it all even more “interesting”, the same man that held the door for the woman in white also held the door for Thapa as both of them were leaving the café at the same time. Thapa thanked him, and then I saw them talking to one another (but I couldn’t hear what they were saying because I was sitting so far from where they were standing), and they walked away together, still talking to one another. Minutes later, I, too, headed home, hands stuffed in my pockets as my body was still getting used to a New York winter, but I felt happy to be here, in this city, in exile, happy because I was free. And, true, even my freedom is limited here (but isn’t freedom limited everywhere?), but at least I can write and dream, which is a lot more than what I could do in my country.

My book Free City is out now on Amazon

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Tattoos and numbers

My new book Free City will be out tomorrow. Here’s an excerpt from it.



Tattoos and numbers


There are books everywhere at Mordecai’s place; works by Sebald, Heinrich Boll, Cees Nooteboom, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Chaim Potok, Kundera, Joseph Roth, etc. I put the groceries down on the kitchen table and then I sit down for a little while, a book of Sebald by my side; The Emigrants is its title. Seconds later I turn on the radio and a song by Freddie Mercury, Living on my own, comes on. For some reason, maybe because of its lyrics, listening to that song makes me feel a bit sad.
Mordecai will be back soon, not today but in a few weeks time, and soon I’ll be leaving, not because he’s returning but because I found a new job in Brooklyn, the city where my good friend Chen Chen has moved to.
I read for an hour or so, until my eyes get tired, and afterwards I go out for a walk.
Hamburg is a big city, big and cold, and dark even on bright days, but I like it here.
As I make my way down Budapester Straße, I see a couple of women walking on the opposite direction; Chinese women, my people, and we look at each other briefly, our eyes meeting, and even though we smile at one another, neither of us says a word. I keep on walking without looking back, staring at my surroundings, at this city that is so different from Beijing.
I walk past a café, and, unable to resist the aroma of fresh coffee that is coming my way, I go inside. The place is full but there are still a few seats available for a tired, sometimes lazy, Chinese writer. But I have reasons to be tired; tired and lazy. For so long I’ve been running; running away from persecution and injustice, and now I need to rest this broken body of mine.
I walk to the counter. A tall woman takes my order. Looking at her I become filled with lust. Months have passed since I last made love to a woman and the flesh, weak as it is, longs for a bit of loving even if it comes disguised as sex. One of her arms is tattooed, a number tattooed on the flesh. I look up and I see her smiling at me, but her smile is an inquisitive one. I thank her and I move on until I find a free seat in front of one of the windows. For some reason that woman’s tattoo brings back to my mind a conversation that I had not so long ago with a Jewish historian, a talk about Jews and tattoos, and from what I remember hearing (but maybe I’m wrong), it was at the Auschwitz concentration camp complex; Auschwitz I (Main Camp), Auschwitz II (Auschwitz-Birkenau), and Auschwitz III (Monowitz and the subcamps), that Jewish camp prisoners got tattooed. From what I know and heard, but maybe I could be wrong and misheard it, tattooing was introduced at Auschwitz in the autumn of 1941, and the SS did this for identification purposes. The SS staff introduced the practice of tattooing at Birkenau (Auschwitz II) in March 1942 just so they could keep up with the large numbers of prisoners who arrived (and died) there. And there were so many of them. But not every prisoner got tattooed. Those who were sent directly to the gas chambers were “labelled” unworthy of registration or tattooing. But before the practice of tattooing was put forward, in May 1940 the first series of prisoner numbers was introduced, being given to male prisoners until January 1945, the last number being 202,499.
New numbers alongside new series of tattoos were introduced throughout those infernal years, the years when hell descended upon the Jewish people, and from what I know, a third series of numbers were created for female prisoners and around 90,000 women (and girls) were identified by these numbers between March 1942 until May 1944. But as the number of Jewish prisoners increased so did the series of numbers, and new numbers were introduced in mid-May 1944 by the evil SS forces. These new numbers were prefaced with the letter A, began with 1, went all the way to 20,000, and then a new series of numbers were introduced, and around 15,000 men received the “B” series tattoos. Unlike the men, the “A” series for women went all the way to number 30,000.
As the machinery of Nazism moved forward with its evilness, the numbers increased, and in February 1943, two separate series of numbers were given to Roman prisoners registered at Auschwitz, one for the men and one for the women, and Roma (Gipsy) prisoners were given the letter Z; Z for Zigeuner, which in German means gipsy.
Thinking about numbers and tattoos, these evil numbers and tattoos, makes me feel down and depressed, and it also reminds me of those who are suffering in silence in my country, and in Tibet too, being punished for nothing at all, nothing but the right to be free, and because they fought for it; for freedom, their weapons being only words, now they are being punished with torture and even death.
I leave my drink untouched and I exit the café. Soon it will be dark and in a few hours time I’ll be in bed, and once I close my eyes, I will fall asleep straight away, but even in my sleep the nightmares will come to haunt me. But they are less now, and maybe one day I’ll be free, even in my sleep, free of pain and fear, of numbers and tattoos.



My book Free City is out on Amazon

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Shabbat


In accordance with the Jewish calendar, the Shabbat begins on Friday evening at sunset and ends on Saturday night with the appearance of three stars. As Jews (and even non-Jews) we’re lucky to have the Shabbat in our lives, a day of holiday every week, not only once a year, but the Shabbat will only happen if you make it happen.
The Holy One, blessed be G-d, said: “The Shabbat is a sample of the world-to-come, for that world will be one lone Shabbat.”
But in this modern age it is so easy to forget the joy of the Shabbat. Come Friday and Saturday, many of us will be glued to our small screens, updating our Facebook status or blogging away or chatting away, and before we know it, Shabbat will have passed us by and we will know that something is missing even though we don’t know what it is. Friday and Saturday will happen automatically, but it is up to the individual to make Shabbos happen. So come Friday get your priorities ready and remember that the Shabbat is a special time in all our lives.



My books This is Not the End and Pussy-Foot are available on Amazon