Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Hebrew Bible

Think most - if not all - of us have heard of the Bible. Perhaps had someone mention the Book or even quote several passages from it. Maybe you might even have read the first chapter in the Book of Genesis.

בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ.
ב  וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם.
ג  וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר.

Even with several elementary years of poring through the Bible from cover to cover, I doubt I could tell you what the cryptic letters inscribed above are. Right there before you is what I gather to be the Hebrew version of the first lines in the Book of Genesis! Can't read it at all obviously though I might have some vague inkling on what it means from the translated English version of the Bible!

Which is surprisingly fortunate since it gave me an understanding - albeit a repeatedly translated one - of the Bible itself. Even then I would question each and every line presented to me since there's always a tad of unholy bias in every transcription of the verse. Lost in translation as it were.

Imagine then if I handed the book in Hebrew around to the other staunch believers? Would they just read it verbatim word for word without comprehending its hidden meaning? Or would they demand an explanation - if not an immediate translation?

So you can imagine my ... utter dumbfoundment in finding out that many of my friends have spent the past ten years in mandatory religious classes reciting verses from their own Holy Book without understanding a single word. Not a single word. Whatever little glimmer of understanding they glean from their classes is dutifully delivered by their overzealous cleric only.

With no room for discussion or deliberation.

Which I can hardly blame them since they wouldn't understand the very text that's written at all. Basically it's as if a Hebrew Bible had been handed over to me and all I could do was recite verbatim from it, faithfully memorizing line after line without understanding the exact meaning of the words behind them while my supposedly far more learned priests proclaim the religious significance to me.

Father : It's alright my son. This is all in the book.
Believer : Really, father?
Father : Hush, my child. Go down and genuflect as I taught you.

Didn't we leave all this behind during the Reformation?

I would certainly cry blasphemy. Merely chanting the verses without comprehending the true meaning would be far from what any of the prophets intended I'm sure! What's to stop any of the purportedly well-meaning clerics from misrepresenting what's being written in the books?

Friday, January 08, 2016

Oh My English

Ever since my primary schooldays, my grades have been mortifyingly average at best - approaching acceptable sometimes but certainly nothing to write home about. In fact my report cards barely earned a cursory glance from my teacher parents - no doubt just roughly scanning for those terrifyingly scarlet alarms of warning - before they attached their obligatory stamp to it. Fortunately since I did alright, there wasn't much reason for any signs of distress.

There is however one grade that I've always been inordinately proud of - and that came around only in my late secondary. The GCE O Level English Language 1119 paper marked by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate. Back then, it wasn't a general paper done by everyone - since the exams came at a much earlier date and was held separate from the comprehensive final examinations done by the rest of the students.

And I guess there was a certain snotty exclusivity tagged to the paper as well since only a select few would even bother shelling out cash for it.

So in my school, getting the much coveted A1 for the paper granted a certain cachet to one's name since only a handful managed the impressive feat each year. Think we had less than ten in my state the year we took the exams.

Not to mention the English Language 1119 came with its very own awfully pretty certificate.

The things we obsess about way back in our callow schooldays. Always been a point of pride for me that I did wonderfully during the exam.

Wait, what did you say about English 1119? 

Much to my dismay though, I learned that standards have slipped.

Nay, stumbled. You know what - let's just say it has plummeted down a deep, deep ravine. Ever since the learned authorities decided to remove the separate paper for English Language 1119 only to make a vaguely educated guess on the grades from the far, far less challenging General English paper, there hasn't been much of a standard to speak of. Just listen to the plaintive wails of the Malaysians going 'Oh My English' on a daily basis.

You see, a few days back I found out Diffident David managed to deal quite successfully with the radically changed circumstances. Now that would be a severe understatement since he basically performed a freaking miracle.

David : Don't think it's all that difficult. I got an A1 for English 1119 as well.
Paul : OMG.
David : Really. 
Paul : You.
David : Really.
Paul : You. 
David : Yes. Me. 
Paul : Standards have truly fallen. 

I think I choked a little on hearing him say that.

Sure I think David has excellent prowess in the English Language - certainly enough to score on the General English paper but in the English 1119? Hell, even my brother who speaks only the Queen's English only got an A2 way back when. So yes, the bar has taken a major dip.

Yeah, way to make him believe that the English-speaking students are far more arrogant. When it comes to English 1119, I certainly am! Next thing, David might tell me that he scored an A1 for English Literature as well whereupon I shall have to set the blasted certificate on fire.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Oil Is Thicker Than Water

Think it's hardly news anymore that our country has taken a major beating financially with the market price of oil stumbling and sliding down that slippery slope to near oblivion. Hard to open the papers these days without some miserable little imp bringing up the issue of our once honourable ringgit teetering dangerously close to the likes of banana money.

All that however doesn't represent how badly the current near untenable situation has affected the people. Unhappily that's far more apparent in a city that lives and breathes oil - like the one I'm living in right now.

Unlike those heady days several years back when the spirits were buoyed by the unimaginably high oil prices, these days there's a general sense of sad desperation as the once mighty oil and gas conglomerates retreat into financial hibernation leaving the poor, tired, huddled masses in the proverbial cold. Leaves the rest of us all with breath bated wondering what audacious lengths they would go just to make ends meet in these troubling times.

Certainly a sobering thought.

Paul : Time for dinner, no?
Kat : Actually, no. We're heading to the airport.
Madison : And leaving.
Kat : For good.
Paul : What?!
Kat : I figured you didn't handle change well. 

Made considerably worse by the fact that quite a few of my friends are involved in the entire restructuring exercise instituted by the companies here - compelling several to uproot and shift to different bases of operations.

Hence the depressing spate of fare-thee-wells lately.

Though they fortunately didn't just disappear like how I said above. It was certainly a protracted goodbye for weeks - almost months - but it certainly made it even more painful if possible.

So there goes Sober Sam and Kitty Kat sailing off on their next adventure.

Just when we had a regular Scooby gang going on. Sigh.

With my job - and all of theirs - regularly necessitating movement, this has become quite an appalling routine. Don't think I'll ever find it any easier though. After all I'm an old curmudgeon who enjoys being in a deep-old rut for ages. Dull doldrums and regular routines are lovely in my eyes; never did see the joy in having constant change.