I want to write something, but I don’t know what about.

….

These days I either spend my time studying for the exams, or worrying that i should be. As of tomorrow, I will have exactly one month until my first paper, and that knowledge is sending me into an even deeper pit of despair. This last summer term has been a strange one for me. I seem to have lost the drive and motivation that had kept me going for the earlier 2 terms. This, in spite of the little voice in my head having started nagging at me to get cracking and revise for the finals since the very start of term, which is now almost a good month ago. Somehow, I never really did get properly started. And now, with a month left, I am feeling more than a little panicked. It doesn’t help that people are more convinced of my (apparently) guaranteed success than I am. Part of me realizes that my first year is only worth 5%, but another part is berating me endlessly for letting what, up to now, has been a really good run, end up in mediocrity. I can only hope this last month will be enough for me to redeem myself. 

On a side note, I cut my hair yesterday (5 months worth of long, wavy, unmanageable growth), and am feeling a bout of self-consciousness. So if you see me, or at least someone who looks like me but with unexpected hair, just tell me that its an improvement, even if you don’t really think so. White lies are what will give me the (deluded) self-confidence I need to get through the days. 

I wouldnt have thought it, but leaving home the second time was considerably harder than the first. When all is said and done, there is really only one place where I feel completely at home. My send-off was less overtly emotional this time, but underneath the outward appearance of composure, tenous at best, I could feel waves of emotion surging, searching for cracks in my defences.  I thought seeing my little sister cry the first time I left was saddening. Seeing her plaster on a false, brave smile and steel herself emotionally without a tear the second time was nothing short of heartbreaking. Thank you Skype.

Well, the year has gone off to a good start, I think. This year, I am motivated to not only contientiously keep abreast with lectures but to actively digest and interalise them. A lofty ambition, but attainable i hope. Imperial biology’s system of lectures and tutorials puzzles my sometimes. The tutorials sometimes dont seem to fit in directly with the scheme of the lectures. Case in point: lectures are currently covering Genetics, i.e. Mendelian and non-Mendelian ratios, gene mapping, fungal genetics etc. The tutorial essay that I have been set, however, involves a discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of GM crops. Granted, the essay deals with genetic engineering, but surely that is more biotechnolgy and agriculture than real genetics. And the question is more general than scientific. I would much rather spend my time researching and writing an essay on genetic concepts than a GP/Geography essay on GM crops, Blessing or Curse? Thats what happens when so many of the tutors are ecologists/entomologists/zoologists.

On a seperate note, I suspect the gene for kiasu-ness, if it exists, to be completely dominant and extensively integrated into the Singaporean gene pool. Two weeks into the second term and already there is a mad scramble to find housing for year 2. Even worse than the mad scramble to find a house is the frenzy to find housemates. Its like Survivor: London Zone 1, with people forming co-habitation alliances everywhere you turn. We’re a scary lot, us Singaporeans. Don’t worry, I havent been left behind in the dust. Well, not too far behind. Surprise, surprise, I am kiasu too. I dont want to be, but I feel compelled to be. I’m sure you know the feeling. Seriously, extensively integrated.

This year is also the gain weight and get fit year. What this involves is actually bothering to cook balanced meals, (and eating them, of course) and going to the gym regularly, on top of canoe polo three times a week. Good news is, I am finally going for my Gym orientation tommorrow. I’ve missed the last 2 scheduled because of an ecology field trip and, well, general poor planning really. Joshua tells me that in january the gym is packed with people with similar fitness goals. I hesitate to say resolutions. Such fragile things, resolutions. They get broken so easily.

The letter is finally here!!!

49 days left on the Countdown to Imperial College widget on my mac dashboard, and I can finally feel it happening! I’m going off to uni at last and my stomach is aflutter with nervous anticipation. So much to do! The college admin is painfully slow in its correspondence with me and I am getting increasingly frustrated. Deprived of important documentation, my student visa application is on hold indefinitely. With my visa in limbo, the business of booking a plane ticket becomes a  source of much unease. Unfortunately, the longer I put it off, the more likely it is that I’ll end up with a pricier ticket, or worse still, no ticket at all!

I attended a pre-departure briefing last Saturday and got to talk to seniors already mid-way in their Biology course. From what I could gather, I can expect 2 hours of lectures a day (9-10 and 11-12),  a 2-hour lunch break (12-2) and either practicals or tutorials till the end of the day (2-5) Tutorials and exams are marked, somewhat alarmingly, on an absolute scale. I haven’t decided if its a good thing, having no bell curve to fall back on. Opportunities for summer attachments are numerous, but unfortunately limited to the UK. I might try for an attachment in German or Swiss pharmaceuticals if I’m feeling adventurous. The bulk of the assessment comes from final year exams, with a lower percentage from coursework. Essay questions range from regurgitative (e.g. Biochem) to discursive (e.g. ecology). The good news is, first year topics are all compulsory, so I won’t have to worry about bidding for modules. 🙂

The prospect of studying again worries me a little. I secretly fear that my capacity for retaining information has diminished. My senior has assured me, however, that the initial modules will cover the basics, so I’ll have the chance to reacquaint myself with the subject. It is a definite relief not having to do physics anymore! I am also expecting my involvement in math to be minimal, learning only as much statistics that biologists require.

🙂

p.s. I need to get The Cell (4th ed.) by Alberts, which costs like $100. Anyone want to sell theirs to me? 😀

I do not pretend to have expertise in the area of Islamic tradition or history. This post is a personal exercise in rationalizing my own views and should not be construed as an attack on the religion or an attempt to force my opinions on others. This post is prompted by several things: the recent revision of MUIS’s stance on organ transplantation and my personal encounters with Syariah law in matters of probate. But mostly my personal unwillingness to believe in too literal an interpretation of Islam.

Religion is a human contrivance with, predictably, human failings.

Many do not, or choose not to, realise that religion is a human construct. This does not, by any means, mean that it is a fabrication, but rather that human factors must naturally have had influence on the way the religion was institutionalised and delivered to the masses. The Quran, from what I understand, is a compilation of Prophet Muhammad’s divine revelations, recited over a period of about 23 years and memorised by his close companions, the actual act of compiling only done much later. Not once disputing the authenticity of the divine message, the potential for errors and probability of mistakes in the process of recording is undeniable. The companions were human after all, and not infallible.

Moreover, aside from the Quran, much of muslim tradition is derived additionally from the Sunnah (loosely translated to “the way of the Prophet”), the deeds of Prophet Muhammad. The Sunnah, together with the Hadith, oral traditions passed down from the time of the Prophet, form the basis of Syariah law, under which all Muslims are bound. The oral nature of the transmission of Hadith complicates matters, as one would naturally expect it to be more prone to errors than, for example, transmission using physical records. Time and the fallibility of human nature would likely result in unavoidable alterations to the original message, and we cannot take for granted that what we accept now is what was initially intended. The failings of using oral traditions to form the basis of law should therefore be evident.

Translation of the Quran would also further compound the problem, as mistranslations are inescapable. Even when avoided, much of the nuance of the oiginal arabic phrasings would be lost, resulting in potentially significant differences in meaning. One example of such is the highly debated mistranslation of the Hebrew word for “maiden” to “virgin”, resulting in the Biblical recounting of the famous virgin birth of Jesus.

Antiquated practices in contemporary conditions?

More importantly, there is the matter of context. Is it acceptable to automatically apply practices in ancient Arabic civilisation to modern times? For some things, the most important being the five basic pillars of Islam, there is little contention, being personal in nature. But other civil issues, particularly those concerning the behaviour and gender-specific roles of people in society, should not be taken out of the context of ancient times and blindly enforced as Syariah law today. At least not without first re-examining the rationale behind the outdated laws and subsequently adjusting regulations to present day situations.

That in mind, is polygamy still relevant today, and in all situations? A man was formerly encouraged to take more than one wife in war-torn and poverty-stricken times of old, as it was a way to care for and protect the many unmarried women, unable to provide for themsleves. While this may still apply to countries like Iraq, embroiled in war and strife, how relevant is it in modern Singapore? And why then, is there an imposed limit of 4 wives, seemingly arbitrary in number and purpose?

The disparity in gender roles also bears rethinking. As far as I am aware, there are no religious prohibitions on women working or providing for their families. Men and women can therefore be expected to shoulder equal responsibilities, and similarly, have equal stakes in the family. Is it still relevant then for sons to be given a bigger portion of a deceased father’s estate than daughters? In ancient muslim society, more often than not, the husband was the sole family breadwinner, and bequeathing a larger part of one’s inheritance to sons was pragmatic. Not so today, when increasingly, both husband and wife work to support the family. Is there justification in persisting with such antiquated practices?

If adulterers are no longer killed for their crimes, as was the fitting punishment in ancient times, are there still grounds for enforcing similarly outdated laws pertaining to other aspects of life? This does not, however, call for the total abandonment of our religious practices but rather, increased openmindedness when considering differences in interpretation. More importantly, it calls for active exploration of the reasons behind our actions and greater willingness to rethink old practices to address modern needs, while still observing the core principles of the religion. Turning away from blind, dogmatic worship and embracing healthy, open discourse cannot but improve our understanding and appreciation of the religion.

These days, it is becoming impossible to blog surf without coming face to face with discussions on identity, ranging from whimsical pondering to intense rumination. Perhaps it is the shock of turning 21 and subsequent awareness of our new adult status, bringing with it hitherto neglected concerns of self-reliance and responsibility. In our panic, we look to our immediate social environment for guidance and  struggle to identify ourselves with a particular group. Not quite looking for role models, but rather desiring a peek into the future, using as a looking-glass people of similar circumstance as ourselves. The “herd mentality” of today is not so straightforward, for which herd do we belong to, which do we follow in our blind panic to survive? (Before you start shaking you head at this apparent exaggeration, consider this: Our employment market today is so competitive and cost of living rising at so high a rate, that what is life in Singapore but a desperate attempt to make the right decisions to ensure survival? But I digress.)

Reading discussions of Malay identity among my Malay friends has made it painfully obvious that I cannot honestly claim to be Malay. I speak the language with halting, vocabulary-impaired speech, possess limited knowledge of Malay heritage and culture and do not even relish eating Malay food, which, to many, is the ultimate sacrilege. The intrinsic inseperablility of race and religion further compounds the problem. I profess ignorance and little love for the dogmatic, uncompromising qualities that mark the Islam of this era. Yet, I do not begrudge others of their faith, and am heartened by my friends’ willingness to discuss and explore the boundaries of religion, a sure sign that not all have embraced the use of dogma in place of logic that has sadly become a common trait in institutionalised religion today.

Sadly, the same is true for my Chinese heritage. Besides the official evidence on my IC, the annual Chinese New Year celebrations and having just enough Chinese features to suffer one-way Mandarin conversations with Chinese shopkeepers, I cannot pretend to feel truly Chinese. My Indian relatives I have not seen for too long, my grandfather having passed away when I was to young to remember.

Where does that leave me then, having claim to three races, yet truly belonging to none? It sounds dramatic in print but in reality, surprisingly, it doesnt really bother me. In practice, I much prefer relationships borne out of affinity of character rather than ties of blood. Consequently, it is difficult for me to consider this preoccupation with racial identity to be anything more than political convenience.