25 December 2007

harbin's ice and snow festival

i usually pay little attention to email forwards, but the above pictures were pretty cool, so i thought i would share; happy holidays!

in fact, some time ago there was an exhibition in one of hk's shopping malls (cityplaza i think..) of these ice sculptures. i remember being amazed, but also being too cold to thoroughly appreciate them! (you are given a thin windbreaker as you enter, but needless to say, it didn't help much.)the place was darkened, to give effect to the neon lights placed inside the sculptures.

from the pictures, i like the snow sculptures better though.. hmm, harbin is another place to add to my list, although the temperature is far from ideal...

01 December 2007

law and morality

there was a brief discussion in my law & governance class the other night regarding what is the best forum to decide upon issues of morality and social values. the discussion stemmed from the point that if these are not issues of human rights, should a group of judges--who some would say are not representative of society--be deliberating on them?

these are obviously difficult questions, with no easy answers. my take however, is that there is a firm link between law and morality; law does in fact stem from principles and values of social concern. this being the case, it is a little unfair to say that the judiciary is not in a position to make such judgments. not only unfair, it seems a tad bit contradictory; why do you have judges whom you do NOT trust to make such difficult decisions? secondly, one of the advantages of plugging in to common law jurisdictions around the world and international law principles, is surely that all courts are required to keep changing societal values in mind.

i am not suggesting that the courts are the answer to all of society's problems or that all judges are in a position to decide upon matters of morality. i am merely illustrating the other side; hk's social values ARE part of its legal framework, together with its international obligations. the time when ONLY social values (and, mind you, this still refers to the values held by the majority) were important however, has long gone.

27 November 2007

let's NOT be friends

friendship can be complicated. when you add time and distance to it, it becomes more so.

i am tired of being taken for granted. i am tired of friends not being there when i reach out. i am tired of pretending it is okay; of telling myself that their ideas of friendship are different, but they still care. i want tangible expression of this caring. i want it NOW, not at some distant point in time.

then there are those who i let go of a long time ago. and yet, their continued presence in my life makes it hard to truly let go. the history between us is always there, sneaking its way into random comments, bringing back forgotten memories.

i have no solution to this angst. to be friends, or not to be? both options are fraught with their own complications. i have chosen both at different times, and neither have been satisfying.

anyhow, i feel calmer now, after transferring some of my angst into words and writing them down. (is it a blessing or misfortune that those i am speaking of will most likely never read these words?)

17 November 2007

mediums of expression

i had another go at grading assignments the other day, which included blog entries. the students had to write a blog for the duration of their internships, under the information management program. i was a tiny bit envious that these students, who spend much of their time on all manner of technical things that i cannot even name, were given the opportunity to use a different medium to express their thoughts.

my ONLY medium of expression is the written word. i wish i could draw, cook or build something as a way of expression. i feel like part of my brain is slowly wilting, without this other means of communication/creation. this could be related to the fact that for the past month, even writing (non work related) has not been all that appealing. suddenly, the journey of words from my head to the screen is too tedious, requires too much effort.

it may be time to start looking for art classes.. suggestions would be very welcome!

23 October 2007

simple pleasures

for the past chung yeung holiday, i went to dongguan, china with a few friends from work. although i was looking forward to the company, i had few other expectations (well, maybe cheap shopping!) of the three-day trip. those are probably the best trips though; little planning, no set schedules and lots of improvisation.

we went to random places that turned out to be very scenic and/or historical. (i love that china is steeped in history. you cannot help but stumble over something with rich historical/cultural associations.) we walked a LOT (a's feet are probably still sore), took several long bus rides and occasionally meandered away from our destination (this is not to be confused with getting lost). i was initially worried about the food, but apart from the congee the first day, our meals were good (in taste and price), particularly at the thai and korean restaurants.

the best part was definitely the company. i like small groups of people; five is a good number. moreover, these were persons i am very comfortable with. we laughed a lot, particularly at the crazy signs everywhere, and at p's attempts to buy a black suit. us three girls shared a bed, and that inevitably led to much giggling and squirming.

all in all, a wonderful weekend away. thanks a, p, p and i. when's our next trip?!

inspiring education

i read two different news articles yesterday that intrigued me. (both from the guardian, of course.) one was about a mixed jewish/arab school in jerusalem. each class has students (boys and girls) who are muslim, christian and jewish. there are two teachers for each class, one arab and one jewish. and the school has two principals as well, both women, one jewish and one arab. all three religions are taught and discussed. similarly, history is taught from both perspectives.

"We teach everything and we discuss the issues and we accept it is possible not to agree with each other," said Amin Khalaf, a co-founder of the Hand in Hand mixed education project. "But we have to know both sides."

The children admit it is often difficult. "Some of it is quite hard - questions about the independent state and the naqba," said Tamar Borman, a 13-year-old Jewish pupil. "Sometimes we argue and sometimes we cry. But it's nothing too big. And if we don't face the problems we won't be able to solve them."

the school seems to have created a new community, where students, parents and teachers of all three faiths genuinely co-exist. amidst the constant conflict, violence and suffering that plagues both israel and palestine, this is so tiny a step as to be almost irrelevant. but any journey starts with a single step. and that these kids can learn and grow together, is surely a good prospect for the future of both arabs and jews.

the second article was about 'extreme education' for poorer city kids in the UK and US. i admit i was taken aback by the idea of "10-hour days, parental contracts and zero tolerance behaviour policies", but if it gets the kids into college (and there is no abuse involved), why not? moreover, i have always been a fan of smaller schools and classes. the attention given to students in smaller schools, as well as the classroom interaction, is very different. perhaps hk schools could incorporate some of these ideas!

16 October 2007

a new education

for the past month or so i've been working as a research assistant for a professor in the education department. i've learnt about inquiry based learning, the HK education bureau's goals and schemes, the use of IT in education, and much more. the work is interesting, and i find myself wishing i was doing an MA in education rather than international and public affairs!

hk's education system has much room for improvement, and i am excited to be involved in projects addressing this. the last time i worked as a research assistant opened up a whole new career path.. dare i hope this experience will bring the same?

30 September 2007

together we will go on

i hope mumineen there are doing ok... together with fellow muslims and all other communities in burma.

there has been much support from religious and other communities throughout the region, and elsewhere, for the burmese people in recent days.

rabina yansur.

25 September 2007

burma's saffron revolution

just before making my way to jumoa namaz last week, i learnt that the buddhist clergy in burma had begun a boycott of the country's military regime. known as "overturning the alms bowl", the boycott can be declared in accordance with an ancient code of discipline when grievous transgressions against the clergy take place, such as putting the lives of monks in danger. this occurred on september 5, when several monks were beaten for protesting the fuel price increases of august.

for the followers of buddhism, the giving and receiving of alms is a profound act of adherence to the teachings of gautama buddha; to refuse the offered alms is to
refuse to acknowledge the alms giver as a part of the religious community. in other words, it amounts to an act of excommunication.

in one of the ceremonies held on september 18 to declare the boycott, the monks stated the following:

"Reverend clergy, may you listen to my words. The violent, mean, cruel, ruthless, pitiless kings [military leaders]--the great thieves who live by stealing from the national treasury--have killed a monk at Pakokku, and also arrested reverend clergymen by trussing them up with rope. They beat and tortured, verbally abused and threatened them. The clergy who are replete with the Four Attributes [worthy of offerings, hospitality, gifts and salutation] must boycott the violent, mean, cruel, ruthless, pitiless soldier kings, the great thieves who live by stealing from the national treasury. The clergy also must refuse donations (of four types) and preaching. This is to inform, advise and propose.

"Reverend clergy, may you listen to my words. The violent, mean, cruel, ruthless, pitiless soldier kings--the great thieves who live by stealing from the national treasury--have killed a monk at Pakokku, and also arrested reverend clergymen by trussing them up with rope. They beat and tortured, verbally abused and threatened them. Clergy replete with the Four Attributes--boycott the violent, mean, cruel, ruthless, pitiless kings, the great thieves who live by stealing from the national treasury. Clergy--also refuse donations and preaching. If the reverends consent and are pleased at the boycott and refusal of donations and preaching, please stay silent; if not in consent and displeased, please voice objections.


"The clergy boycotts the violent, mean, cruel, ruthless, pitiless kings, the great thieves who live by stealing from the national treasury. The clergy hereby also refuses donations and preaching."

i found this simple, and yet stunning act of the monks compelling. they took a sacred religious step for ethical and moral reasons. they were in my thoughts throughout jumoa namaz.

since then, the protests and marches have continued. while burma's junta has not retaliated with violence yet, the possibility can hardly be ruled out. there has been little significant international response to the situation, which a part of me finds unbelievable and disappointing, while another part of me says, what did you expect? burma is of little interest to most of the world, while china and india are both more interested in the country's natural resources and their own economic gain than in the plight of the burmese people.

i do not know what the outcome of the 'saffron revolution' will be. i am in no position to garner international concern or even religious solidarity for burma. but i find myself compelled to offer my individual concern and solidarity to the buddhist clergy there, as well as the people supporting them. especially in this month of ramadan.

15 September 2007

starvation deaths

on september 3, the district magistrate of varanasi, uttar pradesh was made aware of the plight facing alina sahin, an 18-month baby girl, who was severely malnourished. prior to that, alina had been taken by her sister to the local medical and child care clinic, which is meant to provide food and care to the children of poor families. the nurse on duty reportedly assaulted alina's sister instead of providing assistance.

by september 14, alina had died from starvation and malnutrition. alina is merely one of the thousands of children dying in india from a lack of food. india is not facing any food shortages; the problem lies in distribution and systemic neglect. how many more alinas will die before things change?

please work towards this change by voicing your concern to the relevant authorities here.

08 September 2007

the thirteenth tale

"i want a job," i told ksa, "that requires me to do nothing but read books; novels."

on my way home from that conversation, when i began reading diane setterfield's the thirteenth tale, i came across a female protagonist who indeed spent most of her time reading (no matter that her choice of books was somewhat different to mine). even better, her father owned a bookstore. i was hooked. and the book just kept getting better...

"People disappear when they die... Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in the books they write they continue to exist... Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved."

"And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same... When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books."

"Our lives are so important to us that we tend to think the story of them begins with our birth. First there was nothing, then I was born... Yet that is not so. Human lives are not pieces of string that can be separated out from a knot of others and laid out straight. Families are webs... A birth is not really a beginning. Our lives at the start are not really our own but only the continuation of someone else's story... In fact, when I was born I was no more than a subplot."

"All morning I struggled with the sensation of stray wisps of one world seeping through the cracks of another. Do you know the feeling when you start reading a new book before the membrane of the last one has had time to close behind you? You leave the previous book with ideas and themes--characters even--caught in the fibers of your clothes..."

"We all have our sorrows, and although the exact delineaments, weight and dimensions of grief are different for everyone, the color of grief is common to us all. "I know," he said, because he was human, and therefore, in a way, he did."

this is a book i want on my bookshelf. i finished it ages ago, and yet the membrane hasn't quite closed. quite unfair to my current book really..!

03 September 2007

a day in shenzhen

the more time i spend in shenzhen, the more i enjoy it. a large part of this has to do with novelty i'm sure; it is always fun to explore new places, and so far, every time i've visited, it's been to a new place. and with different groups of people!

two things that strike me the most when i'm there, are the vast amount of space and the wonderful greenery. this is probably not what first comes to mind when you think of shenzhen, which just makes it all the more wonderful.

yesterday's visit yielded yet another wonder: it is indeed a shopper's paradise (or obstacle course-cum-maze) and everything is SO cheap. sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

all in all, it's a fun place to go off to for the weekend or even a day. it is so easily accessible now, and if i drag h with me, language is no longer a problem. my only complaint is the weird smell that seems to permeate certain areas of the city...

27 August 2007

burmese economics

extracts from a great UPI column article:

If you are among those fretting about the global financial slump that has taken up so much news time in recent days, spare a thought for the people in Burma. On Aug. 15 the military regime there, which holds a monopoly on the sale of vehicle and generator fuels, multiplied prices without prior announcement. The cost of diesel was doubled. Ordinary petroleum was raised by two-thirds. Compressed natural gas was increased five-fold.

A lot of buses just didn't run that day. Where they did, fares were immediately increased in line with the new tariffs. Millions of folk who ordinarily venture out with just enough money to arrive at work or school and perhaps get back again were left with a stark alternative: go home or walk...

When asked about the unexpected hike, economists were at a loss. Some put it down to sheer incompetence. Most pointed out that it will obviously affect other basic commodities; and jumps in rice, oil and salt prices have already been confirmed. An analyst in Bangkok said the move was in the opposite direction to the rest of the world, and didn't make sense given that Burma exports natural gas.

Economists cannot and will not be able to explain adequately what happened last Wednesday because their science is rational. It attributes a type of reasoning to the making of choices that is largely absent from policymaking in Burma.

In fact, this absence has characterized the behavior of the state there throughout its modern history... A banknote anywhere is a slip of paper. Unlike a coin, it has no intrinsic worth. It obtains value from the promise of an issuing agency to pay the amount shown on its face, which is made legally binding by a signature, seal or other acknowledgement of an authorized representative. Money in Burma has none of these features. It consists of no more than a number and design, not even the state seal. The central bank offers no guarantee to the user of any sort. Its notes are literally just slips of paper.

The regime prints currency that has no legal underpinning because it has no sense of liability toward anyone other than is necessary to protect the personal affairs of its senior members. The notion of a social contract--be it in the European tradition of Rousseau or in the much older Buddhist notion of the original ruler, the Mahajana Sammata--is what above all is missing from its outlook.

Unlike other Asian ruling groups, the army in Burma has refused to accommodate the interests of those from outside its own circle. Successive ruling cliques have, in the words of historian Mary Callahan, "been made up of war fighters who never mastered the art of politics." In contrast to the generals in Thailand and Indonesia, who have sought to recast themselves as soldiers-cum-politicians, they have for the most part had neither the talent nor propensity to be anything other than soldiers. And soldiers find it easier to make enemies than citizens...

21 August 2007

let's go biking

paris apparently has this cool bike rental scheme going on, velib. you can pick up a bike anywhere, ride the first 30 mins for free, and then drop it off again wherever you please.

in one of my classes last term, while discussing the montreal protocol and other fascinating stuff, someone brought up using bikes as an alternative to cars.. a canadian classmate mentioned how there were schemes in place to encourage canadians to bike more. my chinese professor said the opposite seemed to be true in china; where once the majority of people used bikes, this was becoming harder to do in many areas, with bike lanes closing and fewer places to park your bike. i am not sure of the reasons for this, but you would think china would want to continue its biking tradition..

i like this biking idea. even in a city like hk, i know several people who use their bikes as alternative modes of transportation. its good exercise, cheap and environmentally friendly; what more could you want?! i'm renewing my resolution to become a better biker..

20 August 2007

fashionable religion

while abdullah gul, turkey's foreign minister and presidential candidate is at present pledging to be an 'impartial president', one news article notes that "it is his wife's new headscarf that may make all the difference". hayrunissa gul, who once challenged turkey's ban on headscarves before the european court of human rights, is now pondering ways to 'modernize' her headscarf to make it less contentious.


63% of turkish women wear a headscarf. and yet headscarves are banned in all government institutions, including universities. so i guess there are few women in government or in universities... how sad. i do not understand why wearing a headscarf is equated with being anti secular. secularism relates to the separation of religion and government in public affairs, but when did it begin to mean that you cannot practice a religion while being a civil servant? or is it only when the religion in practice is islam that there is a problem?

15 August 2007

sixty years and what?

independence celebrations have always seemed a little strange to me, contradictory even. i see lavish ceremonies (the cost of which could easily have fed and clothed a large number of the country's poor and marginalized) and government officials spewing platitudes and blatant lies regarding the condition of its citizens.

sixty years ago, India was freed from its existence as a british colony. according to some, from a colony it has now become a dysfunctional state:

"The state of affairs in India as of today concerning its civil administration and the other pillars of democracy is similar to the psyche of a raging mob...

"A direct result of a failing executive machinery is the alarming number of starvation deaths in India. India as of today does not face a food crisis. However thousands in India die from acute starvation and malnutrition. One tenth of the country’s population goes to bed hearing the cries of their children for food. Starvation and malnutrition is a direct result of executive malfunction. Deaths from starvation are gruesome examples of how a failed executive forces death upon the people it is supposed to serve."

so what is there to celebrate? when india's constitution was being drafted after independence, there was much discussion regarding how to bring about a document that would prevent atrocities committed under the british raj from recurring, including the arbitrary detention of political prisoners and discrimination on the basis of caste. the document now exists with the relevant clauses, and yet the practices remain.

and what of the forgotten refugees in west bengal's cooper camp?

"We first came here as refugees in 1947,' says Kajal Roy, his eyes watering from the smoke that fills his bamboo and mud home. 'We used cow dung for fuel then, as we do now. Nothing has really changed for us. When we fled from East Bengal to West Bengal 60 years ago, our land in the camp was marked out by a few pebbles: 20 square feet a head. The pebbles are still there, dug into the ground...

"Coopers Camp is the sub-continent's oldest and least-known refugee camp. A hangover from another era, it represents a major embarrassment for the progressive West Bengal government, which remains focused on industrial development around Kolkata (formerly Calcutta). As India has grown from strength to strength amid economic resurgence, life seems to have passed by the people of 'Partition Camp 17', 200km north of India's famous 'City of Joy'. Few Indians even know of the camp's existence."

pakistan and bangladesh have their own demons to deal with--a military dictatorship and failing democracy amongst others.

here is my wish list for the next year:
no one should die of starvation or malnutrition.
there should be no victims of honor killings.
extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and custodial torture should not be tolerated; the responsible persons should be prosecuted and punished according to law.

when these become reality, then we can celebrate.

15 July 2007


the past couple of years, i have felt that many things i took for granted as an undergrad, no longer hold up:
there is no such thing as happily ever after.
i cannot change the world.
love does not conquer all.
working hard is not always enough to get where you want to be.

is this part of getting older? i am no longer as idealistic, as hopeful, as faithful as i once was.

life post cairo is so much more confusing; questions to which i have no answers simply increase as the weeks go by. in other words, i have lost all certainty. the world is no longer only black or white. sometime ago i read a post asking how we measure our lives. as an undergrad, it was by the number of credits i took each semester, the new friends i met, the different jobs i had, the new places i explored. today, these measurements no longer hold. and if i use conventional norms as a measurement, i find myself sadly lacking. this would never have bothered me before. now it does.

28 June 2007

my city

check out these shots of hk. the bbc is doing a series on hk ten years after the handover. ten years, wow. where did the time go?

it's also been ten years since moula's visit.. way too long..

26 June 2007

international day against torture

today, june 26, is the international day in support of victims of torture.

in the majority of asian countries, torture is routinely used by police officers as a means of criminal investigation; the 'confession' obtained during brutal torture is used as 'evidence'. whether the case involves petty theft, corruption, political activity or nothing at all is irrelevant.

until torture is criminalized, and until police officers are held accountable for their crimes, there can be no genuine rule of law or democracy in asia.

21 June 2007

sri lankan chief justice to speak at city university

check out the following flier and mark your calendar!

Chief Justice Sarath Silva holds much of the blame

In 1999 the president of Sri Lanka hand picked Sarath Silva, her attorney general, to be chief justice—over the head of the most senior judge in the court. She did this despite two motions against him alleging that as attorney general he had covered up an alleged rape and embezzlement of funds by a magistrate who is his relative; suppressed documents, and provided false information. He has not denied the allegations. The UN expert on judges and lawyers also warned against his appointment.

Since become chief justice he has
Attacked litigants
: In 2003 Chief Justice Silva sentenced rights petitioner Tony Fernando to one year’s rigorous imprisonment for talking loudly in court. He himself heard and dismissed the appeal. The UN expert on judges and lawyers described it as an “act of injustice”.
See: http://campaigns.ahrchk.net/tonyfernando

Harassed judges: In 2003 nine retired judges made a complaint that Chief Justice Silva had unfairly forced them from the courts; the opposition moved to impeach him, but the president stopped it. This was the second attempted impeachment of the chief justice. In 2006 two senior judges sitting on the Judicial Services Commission with him resigned in protest. The International Bar Association also condemned his actions.
See: http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2006statements/436

Intimidated lawyers: Chief Justice Silva has taken measures to intimidate lawyers who have resisted him, including senior lawyer Elmore Perera, who brought a case against him.

Fixed cases: Chief Justice Silva has controlled the lists of judges sitting on benches. He has excluded senior and independently-minded judges from sensitive cases, causing the most experienced and highly-respected Supreme Court judge to resign from his post.
See: http://www.ahrchk.net/statements/mainfile.php/2003statement/119

Protected politicians: Before the current president came to power in 2005 the police were conducting criminal inquiries against him; Chief Justice Silva stayed the inquiries and also made an order against the police investigators.
See: http://www.hindu.com/2005/09/30/stories/2005093002651400.htm

Rejected international law: In 2007 Chief Justice Silva ruled that by joining the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights the government had breached the constitution. On this ground, it now refuses to comply with the observations of the UN Human Rights Committee.
See: http://www.alrc.net/doc/mainfile.php/alrc_statements/418

In its 2007 report Transparency International highlighted the “integrity of the chief justice” as a key issue concerning judicial corruption in Sri Lanka, and listed the many allegations against him in detail: http://www.transparency.org/publications/publications/gcr_2007

See also the Asian Legal Resource Centre report,‘Dysfunctional policing & subverted justice in Sri Lanka’: www.article2.org

Prepared by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to inform students and staff of the City University of Hong Kong about the background of one of the invited speakers at “Hong Kong Basic Law: The First Ten Years and its Future”, June 22 and 23, 2007, Wei Hing Theatre, Amenities Building: www.ahrchk.net

UPDATE: so the chief justice is not coming after all, hmmm. check this out for details.

18 June 2007

city girl

four days of living in huts on a beach brought home very forcefully how much of a city girl i am. for the first time, i saw swarms of crabs on the sand at night, and yes, i screamed when one got too close to my foot. i spent all day outside; working, eating and chatting all happened in the sweltering heat. it is in fact possible to get work done without air conditioning. the heat did not however, warm up the water in the shower, and so i got used to washing my hair with cold water.

what i was not able to do as well as i would have wanted, was to relax and be less self conscious. the people around me were just at ease discussing human rights issues as they were doing group stretching exercises or playing in the water. i on the other hand, felt out of my element without my computer, internet access and an office, within which i was aware of the rules and etiquette.

four lifetimes indeed.

17 June 2007

from victims to healers

last weekend, i attended a rehabilitation program for families of disappeared persons in satun, southern thailand. it was an experience that was by turns inspiring, humbling and distressing. this was the second of a series of workshops for the families, and i was told they were doing much better than earlier; there were few tears this time, and a lot of laughter. the group was made up of about 15 women and two men; the disappeared persons tend to be men between the age of 25-50. they came from the southern provinces of yala, pattani and narathiwat, which are under emergency decree. the program's focus was on helping the participants to help others; from being victims to becoming healers.

being so close to not only the victims, but also to the on the ground daily violence in the south was another humbling experience. we received daily cases of rape, torture and shootings. i was shown pictures of a horrific killing inside a mosque that took place just days before. i listened to the difficulties faced by human rights activists working there, most of whom are muslim. very different from my work in hk.

i was there for four days, and it felt like four lifetimes. i have yet to digest all that i saw and felt.

16 June 2007

sex and the ummah

i came across this column by mohja kahf recently, and am not sure what i make of it. i read an interview with kahf about the column, which was much more interesting and well written than the column itself. perhaps a case of the principle/idea being better than the actual product. in other words, breaking away from the notion that sex is an illicit and taboo practice (and topic of conversation) in islam is appealing, but frankly discussing sexual topics is a little distasteful. i am not sure if the distaste comes from the poorly written 'erotic' stories in the column, or whether i would find all such writing distasteful.. and perhaps i don't really want to know!

both the idea and the column intrigued me however, and reading the various debates regarding the issue showed me a muslim community i was unaware of. i would love to know what fellow muslims think of this..

05 June 2007

pure bliss

i had my first ever massage yesterday and it was lovely. scented oils, soothing music and a wonderful touch, ahhhhhh.

i admit i was initially quite embarrassed to be lying there with no clothes on, but that didn't last for long. it was definitely one of the most self indulgent experiences i've had. can't wait to go back!

23 May 2007

cyclical stories

some novels are clearly linear, with the plot(s) and characters moving in certain directions, toward certain ends. others are not. there is movement, but not toward a certain end. without making any judgments on which novels are better (in any sense of the word), i will definitely say that i am more comfortable with those that are linear. i like the idea of characters moving towards something, preferably a better something. cyclical stories are so much more painful, as characters go through agony without a happy ending. without that ultimate sense of good prevailing.

this is clearly my take on life: everything works out for the better. but what if it doesn't? kiran desai's inheritance of loss is one such novel, where things in fact do not work out happily at the end. in fact, i could say things are worse at the end than at the beginning (this is obviously debatable). her ending reminded me vividly of the end of rohinton mistry's a fine balance. i have no idea whether it is a coincidence that both of these books are about india, by indian authors..

regardless, desai's novel was great. it was funny, sad and so real that i started feeling i was an immigrant myself. her writing and imagery was quirky: "Cheese and chocolate they wanted, but also to kick all these bloody foreign things out. A wild daring love to bicycle them into the sky, but also a rice and dal love blessed by the unexciting things of everyday". the ending made me uncomfortable though. straightforward sadness or pain is easier to deal with, but this discomfort is unsettling. more so if i start wondering whether life too is cyclical..

problems? what problems? just work harder

i had lunch today with a former UN special rapporteur and a former attorney general of india. the best i can say about the experience is that it was uninspiring.

the former attorney general seemed genuinely unaware (or was it indifference?) of how the majority of the indian population live. faced with specific court rulings or state action in violation of legal and constitutional provisions, his only response was that the 'ten per cent of good rulings that indian courts come out with' should also be taken note of. so next time a human rights abuse case is brought to my attention, i will tell the victim it is unfortunate they do not fall into that ten per cent.

the attorney general's motivating last words were that if NGOs worked harder, and for free, more progress might be made. for a few moments i was amused. my amusement wore off very quickly though; how dare he put the burden on us? i wasted a considerable amount of time after that being annoyed, whereas most of my colleagues simply shrugged it off.

i should be used to such attitudes, but i learnt today that i am not. i also have not developed the thick skin needed in human rights work. i will always be fighting against the odds. i will always be surrounded by people who exploit others with the greatest ease. admitting this, accepting it, and moving on, is in many ways harder than dealing with individual violations.

18 May 2007

lord of the flies as reality tv

reading lord of the flies (and seeing the film) in island school as a kid was a disturbing enough experience. i am astounded that it is now being made into a reality tv show for kids between the ages of 8-15. good grief.

and there i was, thinking it couldn't get worse than big brother or those shows where some millionaire guy chooses a girl or vice versa. i really don't understand the american/western obsession with reality tv. and now children are to be used as well..

08 May 2007


i came across the following poem that i liked, and thought i would share it in the milad spirit.

Inni Wallahe Ohibboka Ya Maulaya

You can say it, think it, or feel it.
You can live, be it, or dream it.
But in the end, just try to believe it.
Inni Wallahe Ohibboka Ya Maulaya

You can show it, demand it, or sing it.
You can write it, depend on it, or save it.
But in the end, just try to believe it.
Inni Wallahe Ohibboka Ya Maulaya.

It’s a tiny five word phrase
But is powerful in so many ways
Nothing else matters matters if you believe it
Inni Wallahe Ohibboka Ya Maulaya

So what’s your condition? Your character? Your form?
What’s your neck of the woods, where’re you from?
Who cares? As long as you believe it.
Inni Wallahe Ohibboka Ya Maulaya.

White or black, smart or slack,
thin or fat, wherever you’re at.
It’s all good, if you believe it.
Inni Wallahe Ohibboka Ya Maulaya.

Now, if you’re wise you’ll surely see it.
You’ll see the reason to believe it. Do you feel it?
So, go on now, show that you believe it.
Inni Wallahe Ohibboka Ya Maulaya.

25 April 2007

pat on the back

this monday, i gave a talk at HKU SPACE on media and ngos. i was fairly articulate, the students were engaged enough to ask useful questions at the end, and i was able to answer! miraculous, no?! even more miraculous--i enjoyed the questions the most. i like the idea of teaching. i could be a good teacher i think...

another flattering incident occurred last night: my IR professor asked if i would be interested in working on a collaboration with her. aaahhhhhh, if life were always this nice.

17 April 2007

statistics made interesting

a classmate introduced me to this great 20-min video on world development statistics. the data is actually fascinating, the graphs are interactive and colorful and hans rosling, the guy making the presentation, is passionate about his statistics and what they tell you about the world!

the video is produced by
gapminder, a non profit venture to develop free software that is able to make use of human development statistics in a fun and user friendly way. check it out!

15 April 2007

this story or that?

sometime ago, a friend got me thinking about stories from the quran. i recollected my favourite riwayats from madressa, as well as the ones i've picked up since then. the idea of having 'favourites' in a religious sense is interesting. of all the stories i have ever heard, certain ones resonated more than others. and they are the ones that i look to for comfort or guidance.

if we all pick and choose our religious markers in this way, be they stories, tasbeehs or principles, religion (and/or faith) becomes more subjective than i am comfortable with..

14 April 2007

the book thief

is a wonderful book by markus zusak. it's narrated by death (very cool concept) and is largely a story from the perspective of a child. the plot is good, but the writing is better.

some quotes:

Twice, I speak it.
I say His name in a futile attempt to understand. “But it’s not your job to understand.” That’s me who answers. God never says anything. You think you’re the only one he never answers?"

"If only she could be so oblivious again, to feel such love without knowing it, mistaking it for laughter and bread with only the scent of jam spread out on top of it."

"Himmel Street was a procession of tangled people, all wrestling with their most precious belongings. In some cases, it was a baby. In others, a stack of photo albums or a wooden box."

"She sang a song, but it was so quiet that Liesel could not make it out. The notes were born on her breath, and they died at her lips."

"As is often the case with humans, when I read about them in the book thief’s words, I pitied them, though not as much as I felt for the ones I scooped up from various camps in that time. The Germans in basements were pitiable, surely, but at least they had a chance. The basement was not a washroom. They were not sent there for a shower. For those people, life was still achievable."

"..before the Jews were marched through Molching.
They were going to Dachau, to concentrate."

"The window.
Hands on the frame, scissor of the legs.
Landing feet.
Books and pages and a happy place."

none of the other books i have are matching up to this one... any ideas?!

07 April 2007

mystic india

i went to see this omnimax film at the hk space museum today. i have to say that i was quite disappointed. it was supposed to be an inspiring story of 'unity in diversity'. the film mentioned that india is home to a multitude of cultures and a surprising 18 languages; if indians can live in harmony, so can the world. and yet, there were few christians, muslims or dalits depicted. similarly, there was no mention of the periodic communal violence that india is home to.

the film was scene after scene of breathtaking scenery and stunning architecture; meditation chants and colourful festivals. no scenes of poverty or pollution. no expressions of misery or sickness.

i hope no one left thinking they were seeing the 'real' india.

UPDATE: Check out this article on how Indian love affairs highlight the durability of class and religious divides..

05 April 2007

the book of general ignorance

ksa and i had many laughs with this book. not only was it entertaining, but i liked that it presented the historical basis of things, and covered various view points. here's what intrigued me the most:

contrary to what trivial pursuit says (i never liked that game anyways), the great wall of china CANNOT be seen from the moon;

champagne was invented by the british, not the french;

chicken tikka masala originated in glasgow;

the swiss are the only europeans to eat dog meat;

the phrase 'survival of the fittest' was not coined by darwin, but by herbert spencer;

camels evolved in north america;

there is a difference between the tallest and the highest mountain.

03 April 2007

words on a page

i updated my cv yesterday. it was a little intimidating. according to that document, i have written a book. and done many other things that i do not think about on an everyday basis.

it was quite a surreal experience; like i was looking at someone else's life, someone who had indeed accomplished a lot. it was hard to relate the person on paper to ME. i suppose i feel that everything i've done has just been work, whether in cairo or at ahrc. i did what i was supposed to do, worked on the projects that i was assigned.

sometime ago i had an informal interview, where i was asked to verbalize my cv. not only was the interviewer impressed, but he also assumed that i had further ambitions. his questions regarding what i would do when i finished my masters, what my goals were, made me quite uncomfortable. they took me back to cairo, where i was repeatedly told that talent and intellect should not be wasted. my present colleagues would say the same, but perhaps with more focus on moral responsibility.

argh, the pressure. what if i just want to sell flowers??

30 March 2007

lost in translation

i just finished reading lost in translation by nicole mones (nothing to do with the film of the same name). i enjoyed the use of mandarin in the novel, as well as the cultural and historical references that were so easily weaved in. what i found strange though, was the obsession of the female protagonist, an american, to 'be' chinese. perhaps in another culture she might get away with it, i don't know, but in china her attempts to be one of them just makes her that much more 'other'. i could not understand her compulsion, although i would guess it was simply a need to belong somewhere; she had long ago stopped thinking of herself as american.

i do not usually think of myself in terms of nationality. my overriding identity would be bohra. and yet, i definitely consider myself to be a hong kong-er. this is home, this is where i belong. i can speak the language, love the food, am familiar with the mannerisms. but i am not chinese. these are in no way conflicted though.

this could largely be due to the fact that hk is a city of migrants, and as such, everyone is from everywhere. china on the other hand, is very different. i don't think i really understood the difference (nor do i quite grasp it even now). this novel was an eye opener, as was my recent conversation with hunaid.

this country is on my doorstep, and yet i know almost nothing about it. i have a sudden urge to relearn some mandarin! i'd forgotten how poetic the language was, and how replete with cultural mannerisms. all languages must reflect their cultures, but i have always felt this to be the case more in chinese and arabic than the other languages i know--which are not many!

18 March 2007

from russia with love

extracts that i came across from 'a russian diary' by anna politkovskaya, (the prominent russian journalist killed in october 2006) were informative, to say the least (largely because of my woeful ignorance of russian (and european for that matter) politics).

politkovskaya describes the dismal state of russian voters at the time of the 2003 duma elections- "the electorate agreed to be treated like an idiot"; the increase in violence and rascist propaganda; and most fascinating, the apparent abduction and drugging of presidential candidate ivan rybkin. she destroys any notion of russia moving towards genuine democracy.

her book will definitely be on my to-read list. you can find the extracts here.

16 March 2007

film festival

hk's 31st international film festival starts next week. those of you around can check out the schedule and see what strikes your fancy. there is a lot of good stuff to choose from. having said that, i am confused as to why 'don' (farhan akhtar, 2006) is showing..

as for me, i think i will start with an egyptian film, 'the yacoubian building'. if anyone has recommendations, let me know!

13 March 2007

deteriorating standards

while reading this new york times editorial on the recent controversy regarding the US attorney general, i had a disconcerting sense of deja vu. change a few names, and i could have been reading one of many weekly reports on the politicization of public institutions and ineffective rule of law in numerous asian countries.

there are many groups and individuals, within the US as well as outside, who have been commenting on the country's gradual move away from established legal principles and human rights standards, so this comes as no surprise. in fact, the katrina fiasco came as more of a shock--the blatant mismanagement and how michael brown came to head FEMA were definitely an eye opener for me: corruption and nepotism within the government is not only to be found in the developing world.

regardless, reading about the relationship between the bush administration and alberto gonzales was distressing. it didn't help that i had just read up on pervez musharraf's removal of pakistan's chief justice. and some other depressing news stories (what happened to happy news?).

no matter that george bush is appalling, that american arrogance, intervention and double standards in internatonal relations is appalling; i still expected better from the US attorney general and justice department.

05 March 2007

IR class blog

one of the classes i'm taking requires students to participate in a blog. i have been dithering about whether or not i will publicize it. regardless of the pros and cons and what finally made me decide to share the link, here it is- http://ponderingir.wordpress.com/


while reading the guardian, i came across an 'alternative' to wikipedia, conservapedia. according to the site, "Conservapedia is a much-needed alternative to Wikipedia, which is increasingly anti-Christian and anti-American... Conservapedia is an online resource and meeting place where we favor Christianity and America... You will much prefer using Conservapedia compared to Wikipedia if you want concise answers free of 'political correctness'."

from what i could tell, the anti-americanness comes from wikipedia's (alleged) preference of british spelling.. um, ok. so does 'political correctness' equate to anti-christianity??

03 March 2007


some days ago i sent pictures taken over the lunar new year holidays to a few friends. i wanted them to admire my new nephew. instead, they admired me. it was unexpected, but very nice. what was also fun was how these different individuals (most of whom have not met eachother) agreed on their favourite pictures or had similar comments to make.

i do not usually share pictures (perhaps because i don't usually have any to share!) but this may now change.. and if this post sounds silly and sentimental, whatever :)

02 March 2007

i not stupid

logically i understand there is no connection between intelligence and public speaking skills. since when however, did logic have to do with anything? i HATE the fact that i cannot speak. i don't know why my brain simply shuts down in those situations. take last night's debate for instance. i couldn't even coherently read the words on the paper in front of me. to make things worse, when the floor was opened for questions, all i could do was stare blankly. what? american foreign policy? what would that be? jee-ez.

my classmates (and professors) must think i am a total idiot. nowadays i am embarassed to go to class. paranoia is starting to kick in, and i imagine that everyone is smirking at me. that this is why i have no friends.

this is all insane. i am not 18 anymore. i HAVE to get over this. how though?

01 March 2007

OPCAT project

for the past three days i've been attending a meeting on campaigning for the ratification and implementation of the OPCAT (optional protocol to the convention against torture) in four asian countries. this is an EU funded project, coordinated through the RCT (rehabilitation and research centre for torture victims, denmark).

it has been very interesting; it is the first time for me to learn in so much detail of the various campaign techniques and activities to be used in the different countries. ahrc work is quite different (and we definitely do not plan in such meticulous detail over such a long period!). in particular, i was fascinated to learn to make use of the principle 'everything is about something else'. there was much creative discussion on how visits to places of detention can be used as an entry point to general torture prevention policies, how documenting police torture of ordinary citizens can get civil society involved in demanding for the ratification of OPCAT, how school essay competitions can promote youth interest in human rights, and so forth.

the project has national coordinators for each of the countries, as well as one regional coordinator to be based at our office in hk. there will be numerous visits to the four countries as well as elsewhere, and there are so many components and actors involved. one of the RCT staff who was involved in writing the project proposal for the EU was excited to finally see what was on paper coming into practice; i couldn't help but share her excitement. i am involved in the project in the tiniest of ways, in that i will be writing an hrcs lesson on it, which will then be used as part of the campaign material. that task should be over in a month or so, but i hope to continue being involved .. i will have to think about what else i could do (in particular, what else that would require me to tag along on the various visits!).. the project just seems like a wonderful platform for me to get involved in other things, as well as do more writing and research..

21 February 2007

kung hei fat choy!

so we celebrated lunar new year this weekend (it was a long weekend, saturday-tuesday). it was a lot of fun, and this is largely because we have family visiting, including a six month old nephew. while this means that our tiny apartment is even more packed than usual, i do not feel as claustrophobic as i might have expected. it definitely depends on who is taking up the space. sharing a room with hunaid for instance, is not at all irritating, whereas i'm sure i would not be as happy if it were someone else.

we've had a lot of laughs, poked fun at everyone and everything, taken a lot of trips down memory lane. of course, with 11 adults and two kids (at one time the respective numbers were 13 and three) there was also chaos and stress, but all the laughs make up for that (or so i tell myself!). the trips down memory lane in particular were fun, as they were not only our (mine and my siblings') memories, but also of our parents; memories of their childhoods, of being newly married, of their parenting experiences (which always include stories of our funny and not so funny escapades).

i have also enjoyed spending time with my nephew juzer. he is absolutely adorable and very entertaining. i didn't get to spend much time with my neice alefiyah when she was at this age, so i am very much in love.

lastly, with all this family around, this lunar new year has been extremely profitable in terms of lai see!

there are many other things to say, but i will save those for other posts. i find it unusual however, that in the space of the last four days i have told hunaid several times that certain incidents or conversations were blog worthy... it was obviously an inspirational weekend/new year as well! (whether i will in fact get around to blogging about those is another matter of course..)

12 February 2007

theory as emancipation

according to chris brown in understanding international relations (2005), thinkers of the Enlightenment challenged humanity to know themselves and their world, and to apply that knowledge to free themselves from both superstition and ignorance. the original carrier of the emancipation project was liberalism. contemporary forms of liberalism however, no longer perform this function; contemporary liberal theory is 'problem-solving' theory: it accepts the prevailing definition of a particular situation and attempts to solve the problems this definition generates. emancipatory theory on the other hand, should challenge conventional understandings.

the idea that theory should help you to understand your world, to question the dominant discourses of that world, and therein free you from political, economic and social tyranny is, to me, very appealing. whether or not theory is able to do this, is another matter. (in an earlier post i noted that theory is of little practical value. perhaps i will have changed my mind by the end of the semester!) brown's text however, reminded me that there are many different types of theories--some are normative, some interpretive and some explanatory--and they all have their own contextual background. when a theory is taken away from this background and used to explain another very specific event, it is inevitable that its logic is weakened. it would be naïve (and narrow minded) to assume that any single ir theory is able to explain the multiplicity of ir events and problems.

chris brown does a very good job of explaining the contextual background of the various ir schools and theorists. i have in fact read several of these theorists (in another lifetime and a slightly different context). however, i read them without knowing the background and without knowing enough of the ongoing debates among the various theorists (this constant talking-to-and-about theorizing frustrated me then and frustrates me even more now; why must entire books be written about what someone is thought to have meant in a certain article?). that the theories make more sense when i know the background is already indicative of the relationship between a theory and where it is coming from.

three years of dealing with daily human rights abuses made me highly cynical of all theory. my distance from that world, and my (re) immersion in academia reminds me that while I may like to reject theory for its inability to address human rights violations, it is still theory that helps me to articulate alternative social narratives and make sense of prevailing discourses.

this post has been far more difficult to write than anticipated, and i am unsure of its coherence. this is one of those times when i resent attempting to express what is so clear and obvious in my head. it also reminds me of my favourite ben okri quote: learning what you know is something you have to do everyday, every moment.

07 February 2007


before going for ashera, and since being back, many people have asked me to describe the experience. needless to say, i have been slightly reluctant, and not really sure how to do so. religion and faith are difficult for me to express, and when there is so much history and tradition involved, my language skills seem even more inadequate than usual. while surfing the web this morning, i came across the following post with quotes on imam husain and karbala. i was pleasantly surprised to learn that charles dickens and mahatma gandhi were inspired by imam husain. i also found the following article in a colombo newspaper about the ten days of ashera.

even though i consider myself to hold my religion very closely in sync with my daily life, i am still surprised when i come across non bohra references to it. i think this is because i have always thought of it as something so private; i do not see the necessity of discussing it, sharing it. anyways, i am glad that there are others who are able to articulate for me. for those who want to know about my colombo ashera, read the article and the quotes.

back to school

last night was my first international relations theory class for this term. most of you will know that while i love immersing myself in intellectual calisthenics, i occasionally pop my head out of the ivory tower and start screaming about the irrelevance of it all. well, yesterday there were many others who did the screaming for me, and i found myself on the other side: trying to justify the study of all this theory. i am excited to play devil's advocate. and i am sure that i will learn a LOT.

in particular, i want to brush up on my history. i was a fascinated history student throughout island school, but in cairo i got sidetracked with studying current affairs and my history just lapsed. nowadays i can feel my lack of historical grounding, and as my ir professor mentioned several times last night, we should all in fact have degrees in history before studying ir theory.

i left class armed with reading lists and good intentions. let's see how far they take me!

06 January 2007

four years on

the following post made me want to cry.

By Baghdad Burning, 'End of Another Year'

You know your country is in trouble when:

1. The UN has to open a special branch just to keep track of the chaos and bloodshed, UNAMI.

2. Abovementioned branch cannot be run from your country.

3. The politicians who worked to put your country in this sorry state can no longer be found inside of, or anywhere near, its borders.

4. The only thing the US and Iran can agree about is the deteriorating state of your nation.

5. An 8-year war and 13-year blockade are looking like the country's 'Golden Years'.

6. Your country is purportedly 'selling' 2 million barrels of oil a day, but you are standing in line for 4 hours for black market gasoline for the generator.

7. For every 5 hours of no electricity, you get one hour of public electricity and then the government announces it's going to cut back on providing that hour.

8. Politicians who supported the war spend tv time debating whether it is 'sectarian bloodshed' or 'civil war'.

9. People consider themselves lucky if they can actually identify the corpse of the relative that's been missing for two weeks.

A day in the life of the average Iraqi has been reduced to identifying corpses, avoiding car bombs and attempting to keep track of which family members have been detained, which ones have been exiled and which ones have been abducted...

Here we come to the end of 2006 and I am sad. Not simply sad for the state of the country, but for the state of our humanity, as Iraqis. We've all lost some of the compassion and civility that I felt made us special four years ago. I take myself as an example. Nearly four years ago, I cringed every time I heard about the death of an American soldier. They were occupiers, but they were humans also and the knowledge that they were being killed in my country gave me sleepless nights. Never mind they crossed oceans to attack the country, I actually felt for them.

Had I not chronicled those feelings of agitation in this very blog, I wouldn't believe them now. Today, they simply represent numbers. 3000 Americans dead over nearly four years? Really? That's the number of dead Iraqis in less than a month. The Americans had families? Too bad. So do we. So do the corpses in the streets and the ones waiting for identification in the morgue.

Is the American soldier that died today in Anbar more important than a cousin I have who was shot last month on the night of his engagement to a woman he's wanted to marry for the last six years? I don't think so.

i feel a need to apologize profusely to the iraqis, but i am not sure what i am apologizing for.. or what difference it would possibly make..

04 January 2007


two days ago i had lunch at a lebanese restaurant with sanjee, who had just come back from geneva. i cannot remember the last time i had felafel and baba ghanouj. george wassouf was playing in the background, and sanjee was talking about rumi. sigh. those two hours were bliss, stolent moments of another time.

since graduating in 2003, i have not been back to cairo. i really want to be back there, but i am waiting for a reason .. i simply cannot go back for a holiday, that would feel weird. what i mean (i think) is that i don't want to be a tourist there. i want to belong. i want to live there, be a part of the city as i once was. plus, many of my friends are no longer there, others come and go.

perhaps i should try to find some conference to attend : p

02 January 2007

saddam's death = victor's justice

before coming across some strange reactions to saddam's execution, i had no intention of blogging about the issue. i have no great insights to offer, but i at least know the difference between the icc and the world court. if persons unaware of this difference can make statements regarding saddam's death and the tragedy of iraq, i should be brave enough to blog. particularly since this blog was meant to aid me in articulating my thoughts.

yes, saddam's execution bothers me. yes, his farcical trial bothers me. what bothers me the most however, is that there are so many people who are not concerned by (or are unaware of) this.

if saddam's trial had truly been fair, he would not have been prosecuted for only the dujail massacre. if he had been prosecuted for all his crimes, including the destruction of the iraqi communist party and his invasion of iran, the terrible roles played by america, britain and other nations would have been revealed. saddam was a terrible dictator, but those who supported him are no better. genuine justice demands that all those involved in crimes are punished. and genuine justice is not the same as victor's justice.

i am astounded when i hear comments such as 'of course his trial was fair' or 'yes, there are other dictators who were not punished for their crimes, but anyway, it was saddam's time to die'. how can i argue with someone about saddam's sham trial when she is unaware of the principles of fair trial? and how can i argue with the notions of karma and fate?