I am really tempted to say that wedding is a fraud.  I do not know about you, but in my culture (oh, let’s not generalize: replace “my culture” with “my family”) wedding is a matter of pride.  We like to say dignity instead of pride, but we know that it is actually about pride.  We have a reputation to maintain, we like to say.  We have a reputation to maintain, how can we hold the banquet in less than a five star hotel?  You need to consider Father’s name, how can we not decorate the place lavishly?  Consider the widely acclaimed taste of Mother, how can we choose the cheaper menu?  We have a reputation to maintain, how can you use the same wedding gown twice?  Twice, you might ask, why should one wear a wedding gown twice?  Simple, for one may have two banquets.  How, you may exclaim, can one have two wedding banquets?  Even simpler, for both sides need to host their own banquet.  How, you may ask in disbelief, can that be?  Very simple, try to be an Indonesian.

The list goes on and on.  How can we hold the banquet in less than a five star hotel?  Now that we have a respectable enough venue, surely we have to decorate it lavishly, to further emphasize the grandeur of the place, and the elegant taste of the host? (I can’t help thinking that if your venue was Merethron or at least Pemberley, then you would certainly need no additional decoration.  But of course our venue is not those.  No, it is not, which brings us to an important point: we do not exactly have a reputation to maintain!)  How can we invite less than a thousand guests?  We are known to be generous people, befriending the rich and the poor, surely we have to invite all our acquaintances?  How can we not use special lighting, surely we should let people see and duly admire the expensive decoration?

A lavish celebration is proper, I presume, if you are really someone.  But we are not.  By the old standard, we are clearly nobody, with no estate, title, or great lineage.  By the new standard, i.e. wealth aristocracy, we are just some happy middle class people.  So what reputation are you talking about?  We do have a reputation, that of being a sensible people.  This wedding business seems to ruin that reputation considerably.

I used to think that we are important people.  But we are not.  We are not, really.  I used to think that I am special.  But I am not.  I used to think my family is rich, but now I know better.  (Now don’t you dare to lecture me on being thankful.  I do not think we need illusions to be thankful.  Those in Tatler are rich, we are just happy middle class people.  Even in national scale this classification remains true.  The Bakries are rich, we are just happy middle class people).  I used to think I am smart, but now I no longer know what I am.  I am not even sure anymore whether I have ever really thought.  As for career, oh, think of the rat race in academia and you will agree with me that glittering career is something I cannot boast about (yet).  I used to think that my family is an exemplary family, but now I don’t think so.  We quarrelled, we got disappointed in each other.  Oh, sure, I am thankful that we are still together, but does that make us The Ideal Family?

So this is 1.40 am, tomorrow is a working day, I have to think on the kriging, I have spent my weekend (and many weekends before) for this wedding preparation only to feel exhausted and not amused and insecured and stupid.  Ah, well, at least I’m not the only one experiencing this.  I believe there are many fellow desperate brides- and grooms-to-be out there.  Which brings me back to my point: I’m just one of many.  Once I thought that I am smarter and wiser than them all, but that does not seem true anymore.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’s entry toJerusalem.  There are many peculiar things about this entry; perhaps the most obvious thing is that he rode a donkey.  The peculiarity of his choice of steed (the Synoptic Gospels noted that he specifically asked for the donkey) may have escaped us, to whom the story has become too familiar.  But of course a king, or any leader, riding a donkey is a peculiar thing.  Can you imagine Aragorn entering Minas Tirith on a donkey’s back?  I guess the Council of Gondor would not approve.

Many preachers and writers have noted this peculiarity, and expounded that riding a donkey perfectly befits a king who pronounced himself the servant of all.  But one writer (who was famous for his own peculiarity) took an unusual point of view in his reflection: instead of writing about the king, he wrote about the poor beast.  The poem ends with an allusion to the king’s choice, and how that choice had become the highlight of the donkey’s life.

The Donkey

by G.K. Chesterton

 
When fishes flew and forests walked   
   And figs grew upon thorn,   
Some moment when the moon was blood   
   Then surely I was born.
 
With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,   
The devil’s walking parody   
   On all four-footed things.
 
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,   
   I keep my secret still.
 
Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:   
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.
 

Source: Poems for All Purposes, G.K. Chesterton (author), S. Medcalf (editor).

In honour of St. Joseph, whose feast day (one of two days) is today.

If the stars fell; night’s nameless dreams
Of bliss and blasphemy came true,
If skies were green and snow were gold,
And you loved me as I love you;

O long light hands and curled brown hair,
And eyes where sits a naked soul;
Dare I even then draw near and burn
My fingers in the aureole?

Yes, in the one wise foolish hour
God gives this strange strength to a man.
He can demand, though not deserve,
Where ask he cannot, seize he can.

But once the blood’s wild wedding o’er,
Were not dread his, half dark desire,
To see the Christ-child in the cot,
The Virgin Mary by the fire?

– a poem by G.K. Chesterton-

I started wondering what’s wrong with me.

I went for a facial treatment and the beautician  pronounced that my skin is in a dire condition and I need to take a much better care of it. She’s not the first to make such pronouncement, but this time I had to heed her advice, as the wedding day is approaching.

I went to have my hair cut and the hairdresser pronounced that my  hair is in a dire condition. I need to take a better care of it.  She’s not the first to say so.  I had to follow her advice and bought the expensive product she suggested. (Not very expensive, actually.  The advantage of my home country’s low currency).

My health screening result is out today.  My cholesterol is high.  I can’t believe it.  I eat canteen food every day: vegetables, tofu, egg, few slices of meat.  Whence came the cholesterol?  (Sitting all day and no exercise, perhaps).  I have not gone swimming for more than 2 years. Sigh.

My professor has mentioned many times how I need to work more seriously and publish more.  Another sigh.  Though to my relief, last week  he said that I am back on the right track now.

Last week I met the wedding-related-people (musicians, cards makers, dressmakers, etc).  I think in general they all seemed to think that I put so little effort and devote so little time to the wedding preparation. My wedding, in case some of you are not clear.

And so many other things are left unlearned and undone. Lectio divina, St. Ignatius’s spirituality, not to mention the daily Scripture reading.  So many books are left unread.  The Man who was Thursday, the Unfinished Tales, Claus von Stauffenberg, what have become of all those?

What’s wrong with me? I do not even slack or enjoying myself.  Every morning I always said to myself, “What would I not give to stay at home, read a book and work in silence.”

Have you watched “Sherlock” produced by BBC?  If you have not, go and watch it! 

I think people who have never heard of Holmes (poor souls!) and Sherlock Holmes purists alike may find this TV series delightful.

“Sherlock” puts the titular character, the world’s only consulting detective, in 21st century London.  But the series preserve (at least it seems so to me) the characters of Holmes as presented in Conan Doyle’s writings.  Unbelievably smart, insufferably confident and annoying, aloof most of the time, never bothers to be polite.  And the rest of the groups are there too: ever loyal, long suffering Dr. John Watson who shares the flat in 221B Baker Street with the detective; Mrs Hudson the landlady; Detective Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard who has to put up with Holmes’ unintended insults.  And of course Ms. Adler and Moriarty are there (though the writers of the series took the liberty of removing her dress and his tenure), and Mycroft Holmes, the smarter big brother.

Half the pleasure of watching this series came from the guessing game.  No, not the who-dun-it guessing.   Guessing (or should I say, trying to remember) which Holmes’ stories or sayings are alluded to in each episode.  It is fairly easy with the titles: A Study in Pink of the series – A Study in Scarlet in the canon, The Geek Interpreter – The Greek Interpreter, The Speckled Band – The Speckled Blonde, you get the idea.  Some are more subtle: a three pipe problem has become a three patch problem (the 21st century Holmes has to be content with nicotine patches as smoking is not viewed as favourably now as it was hundred years ago), five orange pips became five pips in a mobile phone.

Many of Holmes’ lines in the book are preserved, some are quoted almost verbatim.  With a 21st century touch, of course.  To Watson’s question whether Holmes would like his company in investigating a case, the Edwardian Holmes quipped, “I will be lost without my Boswell”.  The Sherlock of our time is no less witty: “I’ll be lost without my blogger.”  Holmes likened his mind to an attic which should not be cluttered with unimportant information.  Our Sherlock likened it to (well, what else could it be) a harddisk.  Some things never change, though.  He is still unaware of the fact that the earth goes around the sun.  “If it goes around the moon or go around and around the garden like a teddy bear, it will make no difference to us!” he retorted.  Interestingly, G.K. Chesterton shared his view on the importance of the knowledge of solar system.  But that is another post for another day.

Sherlock and John (that is how they are referred to – over and done with Victorian / Edwardian formality) are very amusing to watch.  How can it be not amusing, watching your favourite characters given a new life that remains true to their personality?  I congratulate myself that finally I have an interest on something that was produced less than 50 years ago.

But some of the minor characters are rather surprising.  I am not amused.  A slender, energetic Mycroft who pops up in Baker Street every now and then?  A Moriarty without his professor chair?  He is supposed to be a very respectable academic – apart from being a genious criminal mastermind.  That is what makes him so fascinating compared to the standard villains.  Learned, respectable, publishing a monograph that solved a long standing puzzle in mathematics while organizing crimes – that is fascinating.  I think Sir Conan Doyle got it right.  A brilliant professor would have the brain and the guts to be a criminal mastermind if he so chooses.  I believe my fellow PhD students will agree.

And now we come to the biggest disappointment so far (I have only watched up to 1st episode of season 2): Ms. Irene Adler.  I watched that last night, when I wanted a break from my paper.  I much enjoyed the episode, but my final impression was: “You call that THE woman?”  That woman who undressed herself proudly; who got her secret information mostly by giving men and women ‘what they like’ – in terms of sexual pleasure, I would presume; who admitted at the end that it was Moriarty who planned all the smart moves; you call that THE woman?  Irene Adler was remembered as the only woman (perhaps the only person) who ever outwitted Sherlock Holmes.  In what way in this TV series she outwits Sherlock has completely escaped me.  She has not beaten Sherlock, except for the literal beating she gave him.  With a riding crop.  (Oh, please).  In the end of the episode Sherlock deduced her secret password, and made Ms. Adler lose the game.  How can that be considered being outwitted?  She captured Sherlock’s interest, yes, and that is a major accomplishment, yes.  But in the book Ms. Adler achieved much more than that (she charmed him) by doing far less (she did not pull a gun or undress herself – she simply acted cleverly and graciously).

And the ending of that episode seems a bit far-fetched.  Sherlock Holmes is great, but for him to infiltrate a terrorist cell inKarachiin order to free Ms. Adler?  With his policy of decluttering the attic (or the harddisk, if you prefer it), I bet he does not even know where Karachi is.  OK, that is a bit extreme, but my point is it takes a great deal of planning and energy to infiltrate a terrorist cell.  And in the story it is not even mentioned that Holmes disappeared for some time to plan and exactly perform the plan.

Another thing that puzzled me is the ’50-50 chance’ in the first episode of season 1.  In that episode, Sherlock was confronted by a serial killer who offered his victims with 2 bottles: one contains deadly poison, one contains harmless stuff.  When finally Sherlock and the murderer met, the murderer proffered a bottle to Sherlock, and gave him the chance to either take it or to take the other bottle.  “Play the game,” he said.  To which Sherlock replied, “What game? It is just a 50-50 chance.”  Do you think it is a 50-50 chance?  The probability that bottle A contains poison is 0.5, of course.  If the murderer let Sherlock choose, then it is a 50-50 chance.  But he offered him a certain bottle.  The probability that bottle A contains poison, given the fact that bottle A is offered to you by the murderer is not necessarily 0.5, is it?

All that being said, I am ready to admit that I enjoyed the series immensely.  And that when few days ago my boyfriend asked me to watch a certain movie, I directly said yes, just because I know that Mr. Cumberbatch is in it.

* With thanks to a friend who introduced me to this BBC series; and to SH who introduced me to Mr. Holmes years ago, and who has the privilege of sharing the same initials with him.

This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.

Elizabeth I of England, when she was told that she was Queen (17 November 1558) — the words are from Psalm 118

The university in Elfland offered me the job on 23 December 2011.  After the  interview, being the dramatic creature that I am, I planned that if they should offer me the job, I would utter Elizabeth’s words upon receiving the offer.  But when I read the offer, I was simply dumbfounded and spoke nothing.

Do you not think that Man is very brave? For we alone, of all creatures in our world, by the virtue of our reason, know that everything we build will one day become ruins. Yet build we still.

In the last weeks of 2011, I saw things that made me think on man’s mortality and decay. I met my great aunt, and it saddened me to see how this formidable woman suddenly became old and frail. I went home to see my parents, and as always happened every time I saw them, I rued the fact that they are getting older. Aging is a part of our human nature, people say. But why is that so? I can ‘understand’ the mortality (who would want to be tied to this world forever?), but why the aging, the decay?

Few times I heard an accusation from the agnostics / atheists that we, who believe in God or gods, only do so because we are not brave enough to sail on the sea of life without a false comfort. I often snorted arrogantly at that, as I think that it takes more (instead of less) courage to believe in God. For I do not, as far as I can remember, see God as a grant-giver machine, but as a master and lord. Not to be ordered around at our whim, but to be obeyed. How can people say it makes life easier to have a master? Yes, it may be easier to just do what you are told instead of taking the responsibility of making a decision. Yet this master is not that kind of master. This master, if I may say so, requires us to think independently more than a PhD supervisor requires. How does that make life easier? So I dismissed that accusation right away.

Yet as I pondered on men’s decay, I had to admit that I cling to my faith for comfort in this matter. No, I am not (yet) talking about the great story of Redemption. I am not talking about the seemingly too-good-too-be-true Good News. I am simply thinking about Creation. If there had been no Creator, what would have been the meaning of our toils? If there had been no meaning, no story, if a man had simply progressed from a babe, worked like a horse in his youth, decayed and wrinkled like dry leaves in his last days, only to vanish entirely, why should we live so seriously? I do not say why should we live, for simply being, simply living, I agree with Chesterton, is a privilege too great to miss. But why should we live so seriously? We should, instead, drink and be merry, and when the time comes, let us recite the Iliad and die. Why should we work so hard to succeed? (We should work to some extent, of course. To be able to drink and be merry, we need to buy the drinks first). Yet why should we bother to achieve something, to carve something, to leave our legacy? For every thing will come to ruin.