Arahan Kembali Ke Malaysia

That’s what the fax said that woke us up at two in the morning Tuesday night. The suddenness and sternness of the summons made me feel like Frank Sinatra being shown the Queen of Hearts in the Manchurian Candidate. Get thee to Malaysia! I had known this was coming; university would only grant so many extensions before we finally had to pack it in. But so soon! Two weeks! How do you disengage from a house, car, job, family, friends… in two weeks?! Gentle readers, my posts may be sporadic in the near term. I’ve got a plane to catch. But soon I hope I will be posting to you all live and direct from Borneo.

Testosterone: Chemical Fountainhead of the Nafs

The always entertaining This American Life had a great radio show last Friday. I only caught the first segment, unfortunately, but it was fantastic. They interviewed a man whose body did not produce testosterone for 4 months. The result? Total Loss of Desire. Not just sex. All of it. For everything. More amazing: everything he saw, he perceived as beautiful. Beautiful in its essence, removed from his like or dislike, simply beautiful in its createdness. In retrospect, he says it shattered his perception of himself. If there is physical body and ethereal self-ness, how can a physical chemical destroy his ethereal self? Of course, there is not two, but three: physical body, Soul, and Nafs, the willfull ego.
I don’t want to venture in over my head, but it struck me that he had experienced a shortcut, a flawed, imperfect shortcut, to the goal of spiritual struggle, jihad al-akbar, which is the defeat of the nafs. His nafs chemically suppressed, he could witness the infinite wisdom and beauty of God’s creation, but could not act on his knowledge. But the one who has suppressed his nafs through the struggle of the Soul can see with that vision but maintain engagement, riding his subordinated nafs like a chariot to the destination: knowledge of God!

From Imam Nawawi’s 40 Hadith Qudsi:My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks.
Ya Lateef!

Garage Sale – Lightening the Load of Dunya

This weekend I managed to rid my house of 10 years of dunya accumulation. I left home in 1993 on a bicycle with a frame backpack. Less than 10 years later, I had filled a three bedroom house to the brim. Lord have mercy! Two days of garage saling and I have rid myself of well over half my possessions. In three weeks I’ll be back down to a small pickup’s worth: One computer, clothes, and a few boxes of books. Whew.

The garage sale was great fun. All kinds of folks showed up. I met more people in my neighborhood this weekend than in the last two years I’ve been here. Next time, I’ll have the garage sale first.

Almost everyone found something they wanted. I was wheelin and dealin – anybody who picked something up left with it. Really, I didn’t have to bargain much at all. I priced it to sell in the first place. The whole idea with a garage sale is liquidating your stuff. A lot of people don’t get the concept. I’ve been to garage sales where the lady is trying to charge me for her memories. “Oh those shoes – Katie loved those shoes, she wore them all the time.” Well, that’s why they’re only worth a nickel. Other folks are just way too tight. “I paid $150 for it, but I’m willing to let it go for $145.” Heh. That TV won’t do you any good in a box in your basement, you know.

Of course, some people think it’s only a good deal if they get it for less than you’re asking. I purposely marked things so cheap so that I wouldn’t have to haggle. I hate haggling. But it is an art form to some. So I had to indulge a few artists. Hey, indulging others is an art form too.

This will make 13 moves in less than 10 years, and 22 moves in 26 years. Not Bad. “Be in this life like a traveler.” Ameen.

Remembering the Samudra Cottage… Here,

Goviya Mudiyanse TennekooneRemembering the Samudra Cottage…

Here, barefoot and clad only in sarong, one could enjoy herbal teas from the garden, cooked delicacies made of fresh stone-ground rice flour or organic whole grain rice cooked in earthen pots over a wood fire with delicate curries made from our garden’s own produce. No one who came once to our 5-star mud palace ever forgot the experience.

found at Hut Life

The Big Move

The Big Move

Time is moving quickly. The exact date is constantly morphing, but March is a late as it could be, and it could be as early as December. Suddenly, dozens of tasks are popping up. Everything from the hugely obvious (finishing that thesis) to the easily overlooked (laminate those birth certificates) are now time critical.

So many things are nearly impossible to make educated decisions about: is it more economical to buy consumer good X here and have it shipped, or save the freight and buy it there? How much does a nice queen sized bed cost in Kota Samarahan, anyway?

One thing is for sure: I’ll be driving a Proton! Other vehicles are on the market, but the tariffs are skyhigh. It’s the right thing to do anyway. Here I am, a foreigner coming to work over there as a guest. What would it look like to drive a Buick? I’ve been assured by friends that nobody would think twice about my choice of a ride, but I’m not so sure. I’m from Detroit after all. I may drive a Honda with impunity through Flint, but I’m white. If I was a Japanese on a work visa, I’d sure as hell drive a chevy.

Not that I approve of auto patriotism here in the states. It’s more or less meaningless these days. (Malaysia’s a bit different: the Proton is a state industry, at least for the time being.) Over here, we’ve gone from the Big Three to the Big Two And A Half, at best. John Deere tractors have Mitsubishi parts.


Yes! John Deere! I couldn’t believe it either. Your apple pies are probably baked with New Zealand apples, too. The Traderists have already won, I think the saying goes. But I’m not complaining. If it’s a global economy, with global capital and global companies, I might as well be a global citizen. December. Or maybe March.

I’m not a reader of

I’m not a reader of poetry. But this poem was presented to me at my wedding by my grade-school teacher, Rob Huchingson, now dearly departed. I have treasured it ever since. If all you’ve ever smelled is cologne or that thin alcohol-laced stuff they sell to ladies at Marshall Fields, you can hardly appreciate the mystery and wonder of true ‘attar, scented oil, that Cavafy is evoking. It is ancient and magical, like pure gold, or fresh snow. The first bottle of musk I was given was a nearly empty vial, thick and black, barely able to drip out the mouth. It was purchased on a perfumists’ street near the Jama Masjid in Delhi, nearly 20 years before it was given to me. I received it like it was buried treasure, just unearthed. I still have it, mixed with a few drops of sweet almond oil to resuscitate it. Moving in Muslim circles, there is always the opportunity to come across new and sublime scents that Calvin Klein will just never know. Some I’ve rationed out because I don’t know where to ever find them again. Others, happily, are easily obtained.