Things I learnt: revelling in numbers and elements.

Probably says something about how I’m wired, that I get much more joy reading about materials and physical sciences and the inanimate/inorganic world, than about the biological sciences and living things. And there’s joy in learning about mathematics too. What is there not to love about numbers and elements!

Working with them, though? Chemical elements are a part of daily working life, but advanced math isn’t and takes a bit more effort to enjoy. But, while meeting prerequisites for freshman undergraduate science, instead of taking the standard math unit for science majors that everyone else took, I chose the calculus unit for math majors. The professor was engaging and I understood things intuitively, but found it hard to apply them, worked like a dog to scrape up a pass, and have since forgotten everything from that unit. Yet, given the chance to revel in the wonders and confoundedness that is pure math, I could not pass up that opportunity then, and I still can’t. (Doing a degree in math and physics has been on my bucket list ever since.)


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Who will I be this year?

Had a birthday last week.

Inspired by this post (the blogger had a birthday about the same time as me), I’m also asking the question. Who will I be this year?

Someone who’s courageous to overcome fears and doubt and insecurities to reach for my dreams — whether it’s going on long-term missions, or finishing my novels, or making art again, or trying something new.

Someone who’s not afraid of hard work and risk and failure, who when I fall down will then get up again. And again, and again.

Someone who’s not too proud or self-conscious to laugh at myself, to make a fool of myself, to look like the ignorant dunce — if it means being humble and learning from others.

Someone who is ever more generous, who is willing to pour out my life to serve others… because it’s not about what I can give, but what Christ wants to give through me. He is the infinite source of life and capability.

“No” is a word that comes easily to my tongue, it’s a reflexive response to anyone making a request of me. I want to be someone who says Yes more than No. Yes to spontaneous adventures. Yes to an opportunity to be a blessing. Yes to risk and faith. Yes to something new and wonderful. Yes to joy.

Reviving a long-disused tongue.

I recently finished reading the first collection in
射雕英雄传 Legends of the Condor Heroes, a wuxia/martial arts serialized epic by Hong Kong author 金庸 Jin Yong.

This book is titled A Hero Born and is an English translation by Anna Holmwood; it captures the first nine parts in a 40-part serial. (According to Wikipedia, 射雕英雄传 has a character count of over 900,000.) I stumbled on A Hero Born while randomly browsing shelves in the local library. I’ve lived in Hong Kong but I’d never heard of 金庸, so my interest was piqued. Apparently he’s a household name there, who first published his stories as serials in the newspapers. I’ve since spoken to my handful of HK friends and acquaintances. All of them knew his name.

Through a combination of Wikipedia and Baidu, and my now more-intuitive-than-concrete grasp of Mandarin, I found 金庸’s complete serials/novels online in simplified Chinese, including 射雕英雄传 here. As good a time as any to practise reading and comprehending my mother tongue again.

I decided to read it out loud. It took half an hour, CN-to-EN dictionary in hand, to translate and read the first paragraph of Chapter 1. Though half that time was re-reciting it to help my recall of the characters.

Well… I already knew my Mandarin vocabulary has atrophied over the years, but the extent of deterioration is incredible, if unsurprising. Still, it felt like a slap in the face by an insidious kind of impostor syndrome.

Translation and recall is tough work, but this is worth persevering through over time. I’m thinking of transcribing the text by hand — after all, physically writing things does help with comprehension and recall. And perhaps, eat some serious humble pie and ask my Chinese friends to be language buddies.

And to think that my local library was the catalyst for all this. Aren’t libraries wonderful?

Conversations on persecution with a Chinese Christian.

Apropos of reading this article – recording this to remember.

A few weeks ago I was at a conference held by my church. There, I met a Chinese woman, about my age who also attends my church. I don’t quite remember her name, it unfortunately went in one ear and then out again, so let’s call her “Summer”.

Summer is from Zhejiang province, and had moved here to study a master degree in law. She has full barrister qualifications in China, but was interested in studying in our country to broaden her skillset.

She attends my English-speaking, very multicultural church instead of a Mandarin-speaking, mainland-Chinese church, because she finds the latter too staid. Something about Chinese nationals being conservative and restrained, especially ones who came to the faith while abroad. She prefers the exuberance and unrestrained expressiveness of our church.

I was astonished when she told me that she grew up a Christian in a Christian family. Most Chinese Christians I’ve met were converts in adulthood, so it was unique to meet someone who’s been a believer since childhood. While living in Beijing, she attended an underground/unregistered church. That church has since been shut down by the Chinese government, but she wasn’t in the country when that happened.

We had a conversation about the underground churches, how they compared to the Three-self churches, and persecution from the Chinese government. Summer’s description of a raid was surprisingly prosaic: police walking into a meeting and watching from the back of the room, taking photographs of each person, having a word with the pastors. A raid doesn’t necessarily end in arrests, but it is designed to intimidate both congregation and clergy. There may be consequences the next time, and what’s more, the government has facial recognition software. Now they know your face and name.

I didn’t get to ask Summer about how underground churches and their members elude governmental scrutiny. I did ask her how she felt about attending an unregistered church, when the threat of raids and arrest looms over every meeting. She said that living fully for Jesus Christ and his Gospel were more important than personal wellbeing. The pastor of her church refused to register as a Three-self church because he couldn’t let the truth of the Gospel be censored by governmental bodies and he would preach Christ without restraint.

We both agreed that the power of God is equally at work in Three-self churches as unregistered churches — the Spirit of God will not be restrained — but as far as Summer was concerned, she finds fuller and deeper expression of faith in the underground church, and persecution is the lesser price to pay compared to the fullness of living out her faith.

But she was also thankful to now live here in a country where freedom of religion is upheld, and she wouldn’t be persecuted for attending church. This privilege is something to be cherished, she said.

This is the first time I’ve spoken at length to a Chinese Christian who attended an underground church. It was an honour to meet Summer. I admire her openness in discussing the realities of faith under persecution, and I want to learn more. I haven’t seen her since that day we spoke, but will look out for her.

IndieWeb thoughts (2): A postscript, a prayer.

Now that I’ve had some IndieWeb thoughts, what do I do about them?

It’s just revealed to me the state of my own heart and being. I’ve been too inward-looking for too long, and the Internet (indeed, the IndieWeb) exacerbates my conceit.

The longer I’ve been a Christian, the more I pray “help” prayers. I remember scorning those kinds of prayers as a youth. Am I so needy? Do I need to lean on an external support? Why do I speak with such abasement to the Lord Jesus Christ? But the years have taught me humility and the magnitude of my own weaknesses.

O Lord, help me. Help me to get off the Internet, overcome its inward-turning, self-focused, centripetal pull. Give me Christ’s heart for people, his outward focused love that looked not to itself, indeed scorned itself, but always to the other. Help me to see beyond myself and my own, and to be humble and teachable.

IndieWeb thoughts (1): The future has arrived, it’s just not evenly distributed yet.

Every time I visit I inevitably start thinking about Internet and IndieWeb culture, and examining my own attitudes and assumptions. I’ve been fomenting these thoughts below for a while. Then Robin Sloan‘s newsletter comes along this week and sums it up nicely with this disturbing quote.

In the near future, people will pay for services designed to help them filter and navigate a news environment that has been intentionally polluted—a sky dark with chaff.

Robin Sloan’s newsletter, week 27

The IndieWeb adage goes, “own your own content”. People will pay for their own domain, for apps that promote their privacy, for drones (once human, now digital) to filter and screen out the world. The desire to sit outside the silos of centralized control, to remain autonomous, and to achieve this by buying these privileges and rights, strikes me as a Western, liberal, middle/upper-class sensibility.

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Happy fifth birthday, Computer.

A workstation with a desktop PC, two monitors, a laptop, plus peripherals (mouse, keyboard, and headphones).
The workstation. Everything is indeed sitting on a piece of corrugated cardboard. The desk is now 50% deeper.

My PC, Hiigara**. Various bits have been upgraded over the years, including graphics card and peripherals, but the core tower is five years old and still going strong — running all the programs I want to use, playing all the video games I want to play. I celebrated its fifth birthday in June by adding a new SSD and doing a clean (re)install of Windows 10. The first computer I built with my own hands, and I enjoyed it so much that I’ll never go back to pre-built towers.

Here’s to another five years!

** Bonus points if you know where the name comes from.

Quad-core i5 4590, 8GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1060 3GB (presently), two SSDs and one HDD, an optical-DVD drive, Antec Neo Eco PSU, in a SilverStone PS-09 case.

1080p Acer 24″ (HDMI) and an ancient ViewSonic (3 pins broken off its built-in VGA cable but it still shows a flawless, if 1024×768, image).

Razer DeathAdder Black (8 years old going on immortal, there is no better mouse), Corsair Cherry MX Brown mechanical keyboard, AKG Q701 headphones. Occasionally connected to Xbox 360 controller, Wacom tablet, gaming headphones with a mic.

The laptop is a cheapo Dell Inspiron. You, too, can have the Matrix on your screens.

Writing exercise 🖋️

An exercise set by my writing workshop leader. Incorporate this paragraph from a published novel into a 500-word story, while sticking with the writing style/voice as much as you can.

The first paragraph is taken from Port Mungo by Patrick McGrath (which I’ve never read); the rest is mine.

When he first came back to New York, and that would be twenty years ago now, my brother Jack was in a kind of stupor, for it was shortly after the death of his daughter Peg. What can you say about the death of a child? She was sixteen when it happened and the impact on all of us, Jack of course in particular, was devastating.

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Beastwatching in the urban jungle.

I went out walking in the city this morning, not far from the CBD.

Rising above an open park, some three blocks away from me, was a skyscraper. It was massive, multi-tiered, and like many buildings in this city, under construction. It bristled with scaffolding at every tier, themselves rising up at different (unfinished) heights, and there were two construction cranes sitting on the tiers, plus one more tall one on the ground.

Construction was under way, the cranes were lifting — what, I couldn’t see, it was on the other side of the skyscraper. As they laboured over this mysterious burden, they spoke to each other in groans and creaks and grinding of metal upon metal, a speech audible from half a kilometre away, a wordless language I didn’t and could never understand.

I thought of whales and whalesongs.

So I stopped for a minute to watch, from a distance, these inorganic creatures in their natural habitat, going about their lives, and speaking all the time. A strange song of (un)life, the sound of (in)organic industry and growth.

The machineworld has an unnatural, alien beauty that the natural world simply doesn’t have and the organic mind doesn’t comprehend. Who will have eyes to see this mystery? And what mystery was the cranes lifting up the skyscraper’s tiers, that they spoke about it the whole time?

I never saw the cranes’ burden. I had moved on, a little creature leaving those greater creatures crying and moaning to each other as they grew and raised the superorganism of the city into the sky.

Postscript: A week later, I passed by the same way. Nothing stirred around that skyscraper. The cranes were still and silent.

Learning Hugo, migrating Tumblr, hating it all the way.

I’m currently learning the ins and outs of Hugo static site generator, while using my Tumblr as a case study, and thus a reason to learn. I’ve been relying on this YouTube tutorial series, and the official Hugo documentation.

Coding and markup for webmastering have always been a two steps back, three steps forward, process for me. All self-taught, amateur, and learnt piecemeal, through poring through documentation and online advice, the occasional guidance from friends (usually serendipitous), and hours of trial-and-error and troubleshooting.

People in my (Myers-Briggs) personality type category tend to gravitate towards programming and coding. I suppose I have a knack for it, and I seem to insist on hand-crafting websites myself, so I must find some enjoyment and value in webmastering. But there’s something that separates webmastering from other my “crafting/creative” hobbies such as writing and drawing. I can enter flow states in the latter two, lose myself in the process of making art or writing stories. Hours pass by, and I never ask myself whether art or writing is worth it. (The questioning usually happens after the fact, when I’m out of the flow.)

I make websites, but I can’t bring myself to say that I love the process, nor have I ever been aware of entering a flow state. Webmastering differs from art/writing in that it’s only enjoyable insofar as it gives returns on investment. At every step, the back of my mind is constantly evaluating, “is it worth it?”

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