Monthly Archives: January 2015

Nari

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Government warnings of the impending typhoon arrived as early as 2 days before Nari hit the central city of Vietnam. It seems expected. Like this almost annual occurrence of Mother Nature is as normal as day and night.

I remembered how absolutely clear it was that day. Beautiful blue skies, and clouds like brilliant cotton candies scattered low across the horizon. The calm before the storm they say. The days preceding had been wet, filled with angry thunderstorm and brief reports on CNN covering this lesser known part of the world. We were right in the eye of the storm. And it was exactly how science would have described it. While everything around the neighbouring state of Danang was experiencing some sort of torrential thunderstorm, at least in the little office I was given in this NGO to work on my project, it was bright and sunny yet underlined with an eery silence you don’t often experience on such a beautiful day as this. No birds were chirping in the trees. No dogs barking in the streets. Only the incessant beep beeps of motorcyclists in the adjacent street of Le Duan.

By 12 noon the skies began to darken. At 2 we received news from the University officials, of which the French NGO was closely affiliated with, to send all of the students and employees home. A citywide curfew of 6pm was apparently announced across the city. Then it started to rain. And the wind came. It never left, only growing stronger in speed and velocity. The cab which took me back to Novotel, a mere 10 minutes scooter ride on any given day, refused to send me to the entrance of the hotel. Located next to the Han River, I guess any local with a sane mind, would have done the same too.

He dropped me next to the public tennis court, about a block away, muttering between broken English and fast, urgent Vietnamese about ‘road ahead is closed’. I remembered arguing for a minute and realizing my efforts were in vain, paid and stepped out of his cab.

The wind that hit my face reminded me of the time I was in Melbourne in winter time and had accidentally walked through a wind tunnel. I was leaning so far forward just so I could keep walking. A few times, my frame of 46 kilograms kept being pushed back. I was physically experiencing that famous metaphor of ‘one step forward, two steps back’. Literally. Between fear of possibly being swept away by this powerful wind, I humored myself with two thoughts, my work laptop is possibly heavy enough to keep me grounded and if I had carried an umbrella, I would’ve probably be Mary Poppins by now having a wonderful aerial view of the entire city of Danang.

That night I experienced Mother Nature wrath in all its glory. The capacity of this Universal energy to summon the entire city into its palms, heaving centuries old roots that has dug its way deep into the earth, and dropping all of humanity onto its knees was astonishing. All within the span of one night.

Before Nari hit at its full force, which apparently came at 4am, I sat down on the floor at the balcony of my hotel room, 10 floors above ground level and within relatively comfortable distance away from the torrential thunderstorm that had already began hours before. It was after dinner. I remembered the sense of awe watching this entire scene unfolding right before my eyes. A sense of being in extremely close proximity with the source of the energy that governs us all. Like I could reach out my hands and almost touch the center of God.

Earlier in the day, many of the locals were relating stories of the last major typhoon that hit their town some years ago. Rooftops being blown off. Electricity cut-offs. Sitting in the darkness. Random objects falling down unexpectedly in the middle of your living room. And that inevitable call of death that some had to answer overnight.

I remembered thinking how small we are as humans against the ultimate strength and energy that moves the earth around the sun, the powerful unseen hands that pulls trees, bridges and rooftops off its place. And how extremely minutiae our human problems are at that moment.

At some point, the hotel bellboys came knocking from door to door to remind guests to keep their balcony doors shut and tightly locked for safety reasons. By then I saw what the locals were trying to tell me earlier. Zinc rooftops dancing in midair as high as where I was standing from. And a perpetual, ongoing shrill wailing of the wind. Like the sound of a grieving mother holding on to her lifeless offspring.

I woke up the next morning to a quiet city. The balcony half flooded with rain water and littered with leaves. I looked down to the crossroad and saw every single tree, save for a few palm trees, uprooted and lying down on its side. Like a playful giant that came visiting overnight and decided to pluck every tree from its roots for fun.

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Life went on pretty much as normal the next day, the only reminder of Nari was the cleanup that city officials were left with in its wake. Someone in the office said they had to stop their motorbike midway while crossing the Dragon bridge because the wind got too strong and they were forced to hold on to the railings for dear life. Someone else said the roof on top of their kitchen got blown off.

And I was left mostly with a deep contemplation of Mother Nature and the power that resides within her.

“Fate will carry the willing man…”

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“Surrender” she said.

There’s a bolster lying vertically down my mat, and I’m standing at the top, feet apart. I had just come up from what seemed like a failed attempt of an unsupported drop back…because the floor seems so far away, and the breath just wants to leave me hanging midway.

“But it’s not the same as letting go. If you let go, there will be too much weight suddenly on your hands when you reach the floor. Just..surrender”, adding in the technicalities with a little smile.

I am beginning to marvel at this one simple word “surrender” that embodies within it an immense articulation of what it really means to allow life to play out on its own course. On the mat and equally off the mat. A word that is supercharged with a lot of energy and emotions that not many are willing to venture past beyond the point of contemplation. Because surrender is possibly the hardest thing one could attempt to do in the face of the unknown.

Fata viam invenient, Seneca once wrote. Fates will have its way. Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt, fate will carry the willing man and drag the unwilling. Reminding us all that there is a higher hand that is at play, or a discourse of life that has perhaps been written somewhere beyond our own ability to see and understand.

It is not even the end of the first month in this year, yet the word which I have made a point to work on more, delve into deeper, understand it further has been featured so many times since the start of the year – both in my own personal life and in the conversations I seem to hold with those around me.

Like that conversation I had with H a couple of weeks ago over lunch when she related her desire for a child and the emotions that arises as she goes through rounds of fertility treatment. I asked what it felt like every single time the process did not work, that time of the month that arrives to let you know yet again your effort, money and hope has yet to produce the kind of fruit you’ve been wanting. “Agony” she says. “Partly because of the effort you put into preparing your body to be at its healthiest, you plan your life and your schedule around this process and mostly because the doctors and those around you are confident that it will work this time around…and then it doesn’t”.

“This time, I’ll need to get things in order up here before I go in for the second round” referring to her second upcoming IVF treatment while pointing to her head. We spoke of expectations and keeping that in check, but mostly of surrendering to the process. And preparing the mind to accept the possibility that she will never be able to experience the sensations and emotions of an expecting mother.

But the word is steeped in so many different connotations. Letting go. Acceptance. And in a less positive light, complacence, or even worse having the ‘je ne sais quoi’ attitude to life. But these are just semantics I believe. There are inevitable situations and circumstances that we have to eventually acknowledge as being out of our control. As Gregory Maehle puts it “totally accept that you are a machine operated upon by God”. That our own bodies can betray the best of us for reasons unknown.

There is however, a distinct beauty that lies beyond that point of surrender. A beauty that presents itself in moments of silence unravelling a bigger picture that is so often overlooked because the desire to have things the way we want it to be, at the time we want it to happen, to have the final say to the outcome is far more persistent than the desire to see what may lie ahead and beyond the actual ‘wants’. Which reminds me of a beautiful verse from Al-Baqarah that reads “…and it may be that you dislike a thing while it is good for you, and it may be that you love a thing while it is evil for you, and Allah knows, while you do not know” (216:2). And perhaps that is the essence of surrender, giving in entirely to the unknown despite our best efforts and allowing fate to carry us through willingly.

Forefathers

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Stories of our forefathers 
Their beliefs and sacrifices
Where have their souls returned?

“…and to Him we shall surely return”

And if we were to turn our heads
Not away, not astray 
But to a pathway less explored
A road less travelled 
What does that make us? 

The blasphemous? The cursed and ceaselessly lost? 
Or the ones guided by the unseen hands of God? 

And if we were to turn away our heads 
From the beliefs of our forefathers 
The thread that binds us together 
Where would that leave us? 

Floating freely, like a ship without anchor? 
Or moving steadily towards the strange pull of Love itself?