Friday, February 26, 2010

The Existentialist and the Army

The major slowly put down the mugs of coffee and casually saluted the sergeant, who was standing ramrod straight and looked as though he could smash the table into two when his hand came down. “Rehatkan diri, soldier,” said the major, and the sergeant relaxed.

“Major Lee, you’re here to interrogate the prisoner?”

“Heard he was giving you a lot of trouble,” said the major, looking into the room through the one-way mirror. Though he was handcuffed to the chair, the prisoner seemed to be singing to himself, swinging his fingers and tapping his toes to the music only he could hear.

“Never seen a case like him, sir,” said the sergeant, folding his arms across his chest. “Worse than the worst street gangster we’ve recruited.”

The two soldiers stared at the prisoner for a moment. “Let me speak to him,” said Major Lee.

“It’s no use, sir,” said the sergeant, picking up the keys and moving towards the door. “He hasn’t cooperated with anyone below your rank, and there’s no reason to believe he’s going to start cooperating with you.”

“But you shoot all the bullets anyway,” said Major Lee, picking up the mugs, “hoping one of them hits.”

The door opened with a creak. Major Lee strode over to the other end of the table and set down his mugs again. The prisoner was still singing, though softer now, and he was eyeing the major with a mixture of apprehension and revulsion.

“Good evening, soldier,” said Major Lee.

“Do you know what’s worth fighting for?” sang the prisoner, ignoring him. “When it’s not worth dying for?”

“Shouldn’t you be asking yourself that?” asked the major, and the prisoner went silent immediately.

“Acknowledge the major!” shouted the sergeant suddenly, causing the prisoner to jump, but he kept silent and just eyed the major with a mixture of apprehension and curiosity.

“RECRUIT TAN, ACKNOWLEDGE THE MAJOR!” the sergeant roared. He was about to smack the prisoner’s head, when Major Lee held up his hand and said, “That’s enough, sergeant.”

The sergeant put his hand down slowly.

“Sergeant, I would like you to uncuff this soldier and leave the room, please.”

“But sir,” the sergeant protested, “the prisoner is supposed to be restrained at all times by regulation, and-”

“Sergeant,” said the Major lightly, “that is an order.”

The sergeant stared blankly for a moment, then bent down and unlocked the handcuffs binding the prisoner to his chair. Without a backward glance, he took the cuffs and retreated from the room.

The major was left with the prisoner, who was rubbing his wrists awkwardly, but still keeping an eye on the major.

“Here,” said Major Lee, sliding a mug over the tabletop. “This one is for you.” The prisoner glanced at the cup for a second, before locking his eyes back on the major’s.

“Don’t worry, it’s not poisoned,” said the major, taking a sip from his own.

Still watching the major cautiously, the prisoner slowly reached for the cup and took a sip. Realizing it was only lukewarm, he drained it in one.

Once the prisoner wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, the major spoke. “So, why are you here, soldier?”

The prisoner snorted. “Soldier? I’m in training. I’m no soldier.” He reached between the lapels of his shirt and pulled out something on a ball chain. “See this? These are my identification tags. They’re not dog tags. I’m a recruit. Lower than a dog.” He let the chain drop onto the front of his shirt. “That’s the first thing I learned here.”

“You’re more valuable than you think,” said Major Lee. “You’re training to become a soldier.”

“What is this, good cop, bad cop?” asked the prisoner, running his hand across his shaved head. “Maybe I should work toward something more in my reach first, like, maybe, I don’t know, the canine unit?” he said sarcastically.

The major did not respond, but stared at the prisoner for a while. He opened a file which was on the desk. “So, Recruit John Paul Tan Shuo Ren,” he said, reading from the notes inside, “you haven’t answered my question.” He looked up. “Why are you here?”

“I know what I’m fighting for,” said Recruit Tan, and a shadow flickered across his eyes as he added, “and I think it may be worth dying for.”

“What was that?” asked Major Lee, looking puzzled.

“That was the answer to your question. Your very first question. ‘Shouldn’t you be asking yourself that?’ That question.”

“Ah,” said the major, remembering the lyrics that the prisoner was singing as he entered the room. “So, what are you fighting for?”

The prisoner gave him a long, hard stare, before replying a single word: “Freedom.”

Major Lee was slightly put off by this answer. “Well, it’s a good thing you are in the army, because that is exactly what we are fighting for. To protect the freedom of our nation and safeguard our-”

“Save the speech,” interrupted the prisoner. “I’ve heard it six times from six different officers of six different ranks before you came along. And anyway, that’s not the type of freedom I was talking about.”

The major smiled. “Don’t you think that’s worth protecting? Don’t you think that the freedom of this nation is something worth fighting for? Don’t you think-”

“I’m sorry,” interrupted the prisoner again, “was I supposed to
think? To actually use my brain and think? Because I thought I was in the army. A recruit in the army doesn’t think.”

“That’s not true,” said the major again. “We’re currently developing the holistic army, with soldiers that think for themselves in battle situations and-”

“Yeah, that’s why the sergeant had to blindly follow your order when you told him to uncuff me,” the prisoner said sarcastically. “Because he could
think about it.”

The two men stared at each other in silence. Finally the major gave in. “Look, I’m not here to discuss army regulations. I’m here about your arrest. It says here in your arrest report that you were apprehended for five counts of subordination, one count of desertion and three counts of cowardice.” The prisoner was silent. “It also says here that you physically assaulted your commanding officer. Why did you do that?”

“I got irritated with his swearing,” replied the prisoner.

“Swearing? You mean profanities? Why didn’t you report it to your officer in command?”

“Sure, because
he doesn’t swear like a sailor in an R21 movie.”

“That doesn’t mean you can just punch your officer like that,” said the major.

“Actually, I think I can,” said the prisoner. “It’s really easy. I just lift up my hand, like so” - he raised his right arm to demonstrate - “and clench it into a fist” - he did so - “and draw it back and punch-”

“That isn’t what I meant,” said the major, his calm demeanor belying a more worried soul. “You can’t do it because there are rules and laws in place and-”

“Technically, the rules and laws only enforce consequences for your actions,” the prisoner said, tapping his fingers on the table. “There is nothing stopping you from breaking every rule and law in existence, if you were not worried about the consequences.”

The major stared at the recruit, not believing that someone could be this remorseless. “So you are not afraid of imprisonment? Of being behind bars for the rest of your life?”

“It is not my choice to be afraid. I can choose not to be afraid, so I cannot fear.”

“What?” asked the major.

“Look, Major-” the prisoner stared at the nametag above the major’s breast pocket - “uh, Lee,” the prisoner began, then stopped. “Do you have another name? A first name? Or a Chinese name? Because I cannot call you ‘Major Lee’. It’s too hilarious.”

The major looked at the prisoner, wondering if he could reveal his full name. Then he said, “My first name is Percy.”

“Right, Percy.” The prisoner leaned back in his chair, resting his head in his hands. “You’re different from all the other officers who have come in to interview me. You’re smarter. A little bit. And less prone to shouting and violent behaviour. That’s good. That’s interesting. That’s why I’m actually talking to you.”

The prisoner leaned forward in his chair and fixed his eyes on the major. “What do you know about existentialism?”

“Not much,” confessed the major. “Never did follow philosophy.”

“It’s a philosophical idea,” said the prisoner, “which denounces the meaning of human life. No,” he said, seeing the look of worry which slipped across the major’s expression, “I don’t mean that life is not valuable. I’m not a murderer. Existentialism says that there is no intrinsic meaning in life. Life has only as much meaning as what we put into it. We chart our own course, we choose our own destiny, we make our own lives meaningful.

“So the central idea of existentialism is choice. We can choose to do anything. For instance, I can choose to get up, take this chair and bludgeon you to death. I won’t do it; the thought of murder disgusts me. But I could do it, you see? There is no one stopping me from doing it but myself.

“That’s what I realized yesterday, after doing about a million push-ups in the scorching sun on the blazing gravel, being shouted at and verbally abused, being physically and mentally tortured. I realized that it was not the officers, or the sergeants or anyone more senior than me who was abusing, torturing me. I was torturing me. I was the one following them. I was the one listening to them. I was the one who was carrying out their every command. I realized I didn’t have to. I realized I could choose to stop at any time. So I did.

“They had us on the ground again, in the middle of the night. To hell with the ‘seven hours of uninterrupted rest’, right? So I told myself, enough is enough. I chose to recover prematurely. I left my squad and went back to my bunk. Of course they shouted at me. But what can they do?

“So here I am. Because I realized that I didn’t have to listen to your commands or follow your orders. You can arrest me, imprison me, throw me behind bars, execute me. That is your choice. But you can’t make me go back to the physical and mental torture. You can’t make me do anything.

“That is my choice.”

It might be a little contrived. But it's a story. The Major's full name is Percy Lee Sun Tzu, Percy being a reference to General Arthur Percival, General Commanding Officer of Malaya during World War II, and of course Sun Tzu and his Art of War. John Paul is a reference to Jean-Paul Sartre and Shuo Ren is a reference to Søren Kierkegaard, both major figures in existentialism. The song lyrics is from 21 Guns by Green Day. Most of this is pieced together from army stories from people I know.

Well, it's just an idea I had. I realize I can't really make my characters sound non-western, probably because I read too much.

I'm only fear that I lose control of myself.
The Edna Man

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A Whole Life So Lonely

It's a week after Chinese New Year. The most exciting thing that happened this year is that it became a Tiger year. My little nieces are really cute. I tried to spread the love of Bartok, but to no avail. Maybe next week. No prawn crackers this year, sigh.

The more physical and obvious aftereffects of Love Hina has worn off, I think. But there's still a lot of undercurrent, I feel. Like a friend told me, something about the story echoed with my soul. Maybe I'll carry it from now on, wherever I go. I just have to make sure I don't set any standards.

I watched The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya, which I was led to through the ending theme, which is really nice. Unfortunately, I fail to get what is so awesome about it. Must be taste I guess. But I love the cinematography and I loved the epic space simulation game. That was hilarious. I fear that I might be slowly turning otaku. I am interested in learning Japanese now.

I also finished reading the first Maximum Ride trilogy, the one that Daniel bought in the US and I borrowed to read on the train rides. I read the fourth book and find out that there's a second trilogy, with the sixth book not released yet. Graah. Now I have to wait again.

Speaking about fictional characters blogging in real life, Hui Jun has started a blog by his new character. I am interested in seeing how it turns out. I am also interested in seeing if I can fit TNN into it somehow. Isn't it strange that it's been four years since Naphtali but we still all remember it as TNN?

OM has started again. I feel so rusty, even though it's my third time doing it. Some people change, and some people don't. And some things don't either. I'm always meeting new people I can never keep track of. Oh well. There's a new coach called Tess, who was in RGS's Players, and I guess her acting is pretty good, but I don't think she's done much spontaneous. Will have to wait two weeks to see. It feels good acting up again.

Life is really boring when everyone is at camp. I got my letter on Chinese New Year, going in April 12th.

Then you come and ease the pain,
The Edna Man

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Love and Hope

Today, I just finished reading a manga.

It's kinda weird... I never read much manga before. I'm not as otaku as a lot of people I know. Bryan first got me with The Legend of Koizumi last month. It's in that kinda of weird-awesome-completely-"badass"-kind of comedy genre, but I guess it's good for a laugh.

Today, I just finished reading Love Hina.

Have you ever liked a story enough to throw yourself into it? To devote your entire soul to the characters, the plot... what will happen, what happens in the end? That you come to care so much about people... who aren't actually real?

People laugh when they say I want to become a writer. They say that being a novelist is not a survival ambition in this country I live in. Either that, or they go the technical way and think "speechwriting" or "journalist". Nobody appreciates the value of a good, powerful story.

Right now, my arms and hands are numb. My feet are numb. There's a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. I'm kinda sweaty, and there's a feeling like there's something constricting my diaphragm.

Is this love? Or loneliness?

Love Hina is a manga of the harem genre. Simply put, harem mangas usually have one male lead character surrounded by a supporting case of female characters (or vice versa, as in with the genders reversed). It's also notorious for showing lots of ecchi fan-service, but I'll let you google that for yourself. It's also a comedy, and sometimes, the exaggeration gets kinda funny.

But that's not the reason I feel like this now.

Sure, it may be a harem manga. Sure, it may be an ecchi comedy. Sure, many people don't like it because it's unrealistic. It's just a story after all.

But it's a story about life. A story about people, and the things they do. It's a story about relationships. Friends and family. About courage, romance, and improvement. About the weird things people do when they like someone else. Most of all, at its core, it's a story. A story about love.

And that Gives Me Hope.
The Edna Man

Love Hina Vol.14 Ch.000 at

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Stop: Storage Time!

Melbourne, Australia -- Don't you just hate it when you're late for a meeting but the multistorey carpark is full, then vowing to be early next time so you can get a parking space, but never do?

Drivers would be delighted to find out that Seah Industries has solved the problem of limited parking space. Utilizing their groundbreaking time-travelling technology which they unveiled just last year in August 2012, Seah Industries has managed to commercialize the time-travel phenomenon.

Dubbed ChronoParking, the new system takes advantage of time, instead of space, in modern parking lots. "Carparks are always full during peak periods and usually empty after hours," said a spokesperson for Seah Industries at a press conference yesterday. "ChronoParking merely sends cars into empty parking lots in the past or future, allowing carparks to hold 'more than their capacity', allowing patrons to spend less time driving around looking for parking space."

Time travel has been a subject of controversy since its discovery in July 2012, when Seah Industries co-founder Dr. Jarrel Seah, then only 21, invented the first time machine and proved the existence of parallel universes. Since then, many advocate groups and government organizations have suggested that time travel should not be commercialized, lest it "falls into the wrong hands and history changes forever", according to the mission statement of Singularity, a non-profit organization which advocates against the proliferation of time travel.

Nevertheless, Seah Industries is confident with its new system. "A lot of safety measures are in place to ensure that history does not get rewritten," said Dr. Levin Tan, Seah Industries' leading scientist in the area of time travel. "For instance, the system preferably sends vehicles into a future timeline, when the interactions of cause and effect should be minimal on our present." Other measures include bomb-detection scanners and a ChronoShield plating around each parking space, to minimize the radiation of time particles called "minuteons", which can play havoc with the timestream.

"Imagine the future," said Dr. Tan, "where cars can be diverted to the same road at a different time to ease rush hour congestion." He adds, "This technology is the future, and also the past, and present."


Inspired by rush hour carparking at Anchorpoint and Ikea yesterday. Set in the TNN 2012 universe.

The Edna Man

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

When The Saints Go Marching In

It's been a while, hasn't it? It seems so long ago that we got our IB scores, and finishing exams seems even further back in time. So many things have happened in these two months: playing mahjong, Christmas parties, happy outings, games, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, getting sick, getting downgraded.

And so now here we are. Bordering on the edge next scheduled life event which will bring people closer while also tearing them apart. After this, there's no more holidays. No specific time set aside for the so-called "less important" things in life. Everyone on their own path in life, not knowing when they will converge again with the paths of the people who they have walked with for the earliest parts of their lives.

By Thursday, so many people will have gone in. And after Friday, my MSN list will drop to less than half. What will I do then? When everybody's gone, what will you do? I am suddenly reminded of the Left Behind series, which is about the events immediately following the biblical Rapture, and I get the feeling that it won't be so different in three day's time.

Have you ever wondered if you were not designed for this world? That you like doing things that the world deems unimportant; and those that the world wants you to do, you don't like doing? Haven't you seen people who seem to just fit in to the expectations of society, who love being doctors and lawyers and engineers, who love making money and creating businesses and organizations and making more money?

Oh Lord I want to be among the number,
The Edna Man