Culture, or lack thereof

Eating in the dining hall can be one of the more intellectually challenging and stimulating parts of my day. It’s the time of day when I am educated in matters that I should have been formally schooled in before coming to college. My pre-college education is needless to say very different from the ones that my classmates here had. I was taught the hard sciences all throughout secondary school, and my education in the humanities came to an abrupt stop when I completed O-Levels. Even then, I am only starting to realize how inadequate that education was. 

Have a look at the following painting depicting roughly a hundred historically prominent people:

How many of these historically significant persons did my school see fit to include in the history curriculum? I can count them all in one hand: Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler (from the WWII chapter of Form 3 History). Period. 

This is deplorable.  


Star Trek


I caught the midnight premiere of Star Trek with my dorm last night. It was one of the most thrilling cinematic experiences I have ever had. As a casual fan of the Star Trek TNG series, I never saw more than the first few episodes of the extremely cheesy and dated Star Trek Original series. But this latest film directed by JJ Abrams has somehow miraculously polished the entire Star Trek universe to a new ultra-cool sheen and has liberated Trekkie fans who no longer have to shamefully hide their adoration of the Trek universe. 

As has been the trend for successful action movies in the last few summers, the new Star Trek movie is a reboot of the entire Star Trek series. Through the device of a slight alteration to the original Star Trek timeline, the film writers have brilliantly created an alternate parallel Star Trek universe that will allow the writers to selectively retain much of the original canon. There’s quite a lot packed into this movie. The main plot revolves around an angry Romulan seeking revenge for the accidental destruction of his entire planet and who has traveled back in time (this is what causes the time rift) in order to annihilate the home planets of the Vulcans and Humans.

Picture 1

To me the highlight of the movie was being introduced to the future crew of the USS Enterprise, most of whom are freshly graduated recruits from Starfleet Academy, as the plot unfolds. The scene in which the camera slowly pans over the newly commissioned USS Enterprise for the first time sent chills down my spine and was an awe inspiring moment for all Star Trek fans in the audience. The movie opens with baby Kirk’s birth and a few brief scenes from his and Spock’s childhood, followed by a few fast-paced scenes at the Starfleet Academy where the brash student Kirk infuriates teacher Spock by successfully defeating the Kobayashi Maru, a supposedly impossible computer simulation test. The movie then shifts to even higher-gear as all Starfleet cadets and officers are swept on an emergency mission to a distress call from the ally Vulcan home planet. So the adventure begins and we witness McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov and Scotty assume their roles as  the familiar crew of the Original series. 

As far as the science of the movie goes, quite frankly, there really isn’t any. Perhaps it’s because I have just gone through the trauma of 3 Physics midterms in a week for Quantum Mechanics, Electromagnetism and Classical Mechanics, but at least on first viewing, the impossible and other-worldly Physics didn’t diminish the viewing experience in any way. Star Trek does not have to abide by the rules of Physics as far as I am concerned. They are just two mutually exclusive activities that I happen to enjoy simultaneously, and I find the gripe that some movie critics have about the lack of realistic Physics in the movie completely ridiculous. Even Bad Astronomy’s review is quick to forgive the scientific fallacies made in the film!

All in all, Star Trek was a great way to start what promises to be an exciting summer movie season. But before I catch another summer blockbuster in the cinema, you can bet that I will be back in the theaters again to strap in for yet another warp drive to sheer cinematic goodness.

Rating In Summary: 8/10


Service Projects in Brunei?

As the sole Bruneian on campus, I get frequent questions about what Brunei is like. A Southeast Asian volunteer group based largely here on campus (SEALNET) leads annual service trips to all but two of the wealthiest SEA countries (Brunei and Singapore). I was stretched to think of a possible meaningful service project in Brunei that could benefit from flying in volunteers from other countries. Although there are many small-scale volunteer projects at the local community (kampung) level, one simply does not hear of any sort of international aid projects in Brunei. Examples of SEALNET volunteer projects in other Southeast Asian countries include improvement of water sanitation, waste management and illiteracy. For now, most applicants to these volunteer projects are undergraduates at American colleges and the projects attract a large number of international students from SEA countries studying here in the US. After selection, students have several months to plan and then lead a two-week service program to somewhere in Southeast Asia over the summer break between June and August. It would be great to have some foreign students over in Brunei both to volunteer in some sort of project and also to learn about our unique country . So while I do not have any ideas leaping forth, I would be eager to hear any ideas anyone in Brunei might have.


The Maid Trade

Here’s a video that I recently found on youtube definitely worth watching especially if you grew up with a maid in your household. 

A friend once described his impression of Singapore to me as a first-world country with a third-world mentality. Old values and mentalities still persist stubbornly despite rapid modernization in many aspects of life. Nowhere is this more apparent than in many Singaporeans’ perception of foreign workers from poorer neighboring countries. 

Apart from deaths from high rise apartment buildings, we share eerily similar issues with foreign workers in Brunei. I’m sure most of us are guilty of a less than dignified opinion of the numerous foreign workers in Brunei. It’s a mentality deeply engrained from young, reinforced in almost all aspects of life, from the amah that prepares all your meals and cleans up after all your mess, to the kulikangs that built your house, school and shopping mall employed at rock-bottom wages. And in my opinion, it’s a mentality that will continue to persist indefinitely. 


Indonesian maids in 'training camp

Indonesian maids in 'training camp' prior to being sent to work for their employers.


I particularly liked that the documentary interviewed the maids though it is a pity that no one bothered to translate the Indonesian maids’ interview to English for the wider audience. The scene in the training house for maids was disturbing to watch, and I am amazed that the maid agency did not object to it being filmed. Perhaps they too find the employer’s demand appalling (particularly locking them up in the house!) and allowing a glimpse into the harsh lives that these maids have is a small way of helping to raise awareness on an issue that is so often swept under the rug.