Monday, February 10, 2014


It is cold.

It is 3am, and once more I find myself, alone in a sea of sleeping lives, on Old Campus. It seems like my melancholy can only express itself in solitude, with no one watching, no one listening, no one judging. I walk, mind intensely aware of the sounds I make as my shoes trudge across the snow-laden ground.

Snow. Such a peculiar thing. It's hard for my mind to grasp that it is simply frozen rain. Hardened water. My tracks stop and I look up. The flakes even as they fall and caress my face, threaten to hurt my eyes. The snow even as it covers Yale with a blanket, threatens to smother it and choke it beyond recognition. 

Perhaps it is no coincidence that such beauty comes with such coldness.

I attempt to catch a tiny bit of that beauty but the little flakes disappear in the warmth of my hands. No matter. I reach into a pile of snow but feel nothing. The senses of the world seem not to have been made for protected hands. 

Without gloves, I clutch at the snow. The cold hurts. And quickly whatever beauty the cold held is melting away in my grasp. Trying to save it, tightening my grip only hurts myself and makes the moment even more evanescent. 

Protected, I cannot feel. And uncovered, I cannot bear the pain. True tragedy is perhaps not when a fate is inevitable, when there is no free will, but when there is a choice but all the choices can only lead to unfulfilled desires. The words of Hamlet spring to mind. "To be or not to be."

My hands are sore and numb.They can no longer feel, like they have been gloved over. Maybe this is my body's way of protecting myself, of telling me that to feel any more would be too unbearable. And so it shuts off. It withdraws. It feels no more. 

Abraham Pierson's statue is pelted with snowflakes. Some of them are dropping on his face, trickling down and melting as they touch him. I wonder what he weeps for. 

In the end, the snow is probably best observed from a distance. In the security and warmth of a heated room, wrapped up in a dozen layers, mind and body insulated from the elements. 

Yet it begs the question: Why then am I out here in the alabaster blindness of it all? Why reach out knowing full well the outcome? Why expose myself? 

Indoors, I feel the blood creeping back into my limbs. The frigidness is fading. My hands are there. My hands exist. My hands are alive. Not feeling them has allowed me to feel them anew. The warmth of the suite is inviting, welcoming, safe. 

And yet despite all the heat in the world, I cannot help but stare outside, beyond the window. 

And despite the dozen layers, despite the radiator before me, despite the hot coffee that runs through me...

It is cold. 

Photograph by Alexey Kljatov.  See more of his work on:

Saturday, February 1, 2014


"Do you miss home?"
"Yeah well, of course I do, I mean... yeah... of course I do."

My voice quivers ever so slightly, lips recoiling almost defensively as I speak the words. I cannot help but feel a pang of guilt. It's a question I am asked often, and short of giving a lengthy explanation, I opt for the much simpler, cookie cutter reply of "Who wouldn't?" and launch into a even lengthier panegyric on the beauty of Malaysian cuisine.

Occasionally though, I cannot bear to hide beneath a flurry of superfluous words.

"Do you miss home?"
"Not really."

Every single time I say this I feel like I am being judged, like I am admitting that I am a horrible person wracked with familial problems, or worse yet, an ungrateful brat who can't be bothered to remember my parents.

What is home anyway?

Sure, I miss my family. I miss driving with my father in one of his old cars, just the road and some Lynyrd Skynyrd playing on the stereo. I miss my mother's cooking, which is the strangest thing, because when I was at home I wanted nothing more than to escape from it. I miss my brother bothering me in the midst of a movie or reading a book to show me his latest cool magic trick or the latest Youtube fad he has discovered.

I miss my bed, my dog, my house. I miss the lonely walks beneath the stars to the abandoned playground, just sitting on the swing and contemplating life in solitude. I miss the colorful and vibrant food, the sweet-as-sin milk tea in the morning and the fragrance of fried rice at 3am at night.

But it's far more complicated than that. With "home", there is also chaos. There are the frantic 2am rushes to get a press statement prepared on time. There are the heart-stopping moments as you look into a riot police officer's visor and see your own reflection staring back at you. There are the speeches that come rolling, one after another, until they all blend and mix and form this amorphous, all-encompassing ball of lies that devours everything in its path. There is that fear, that anger, that disappointment that permeates the air, the front page of the newspapers, the websites, the cyberspace, the conversations at coffeehouses.

For most people, "home" is this place of refuge. This place of shelter, where everything becomes OK and life stands still. Whatever storm, quake, disaster stops at that invisible wall people call "home" and whatever exciting, crazy ups and downs go away for a monotony that most people decry but I crave.

For me, "home" is the storm. Home is the embodiment of chaos, of messiness, of burden. Yale, for all its "stress" and "commitments" and "assignments" is a safe haven for me. At least here I know I can close my eyes, I can fall asleep, I can let go of myself and life goes on. I am not constantly bombarded by an insidious hopelessness, assaulted by the egotism or stupidity of politicians, weighed upon to take upon the mantle of a fighter.

Not all people share my sentiments of course. Many can ignore, forget, forgive what happens on a daily basis in Malaysia. As much as I would like to, I cannot. I feel a sense of responsibility, of duty that does not permit me to pretend like all is fine and good with the system when it is clearly not.

Malaysia is like family to me I suppose. No matter how bad things get, I cannot let go of it.

"Do you miss home?"
"No. I don't."

Perhaps there is a better question to be asked then.

"Do you love home?"

"Lost Home". Taken in New Haven, December 2013. OKJ All rights reserved.
Click for larger image.