Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ramadan and The Fasting Culture

It's this time of the year again, yes it's Ramadan month. Ramadan is the ninth month of Islamic calendar when our Muslims brothers and sisters are fasting. Fasting, in Islamic teaching, means Muslims are prohibited to eat, drink, smoke, or perform any sexual acts since before sunrise until after sunset. It is also expected that during Ramadan, they are abstaining from sinful speech and behavior. Muslims considered Ramadan as a holy month because it is in this month that The Quran is given to Muhammad by God. When Muslims do good things in Ramadan, supposedly they will receive more rewards than when they do it any other time of the year.

Although I'm not a Muslim, I have been participating in fasting since about 3 years ago. To me personally, fasting is an act of humility. We are restrained from our usual behavior (eating, drinking, cursing, etc.) and we are expected to live in peace with each other. By fasting, we have a chance to take a short peek about other people who have lesser life than ours financially. Fasting teaches us to be grateful of our life and empathize others.

Muslims fasting is different than Christians'. First of all, it is done during Ramadan, the ninth month of Islamic calendar, during which Muhammad was believed to have received The Quran from God. In Islam, Muslims are prohibited to eat anything during the day. They do suhoor, which is the pre-fast meal before Fajr Prayer, and they break the fast by doing iftar after Maghrib Prayer. In Christian teachings, fasting is done during the liturgical year called Lent. Lent period lasts for about 6 weeks (approx. 40 days) leading up to Easter Sunday. Christians fast following Jesus' own fast which He did for forty days in the desert where he endured The Devil's temptation. Christian fasting is the reduction of one's intake of food to one full meal. We are allowed to drink water but we are not allowed to eat solid food the whole day except the one full meal. Complete abstinence (avoidance of meat the whole day) is also required for those who are 14 or older. It is usually done each Friday during Lent period. There are five type of abstinences: food abstinence, tobacco smoking abstinence, alcohol abstinence, pleasure abstinence, and sexual abstinence. When we do complete abstinence, we are not allowed to do each of those abstinences.

Personally, I do both fasting each year as best as I can. It's a great moment for self-contemplation, spiritual reflection, and improvement. It has nothing to do with my belief, but it has everything to do with my self improvement. I feel I have good chance to be better person by keeping a mental reminder of where I am right now. Fasting is one of my personal reminder about the unfortunate, so that I can stay grateful of my life.

Happy fasting. :)

(P.S. My sincere apologies if I write something wrong about Islam since my sole source is Wikipedia.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Despicable Me 2 (2013)

After waiting for almost a year, finally these little yellow creatures came to see us on July 3rd, 2013. I was waiting for it so I watched it on the next day because the premiere tickets were already sold out. :(
In this sequel, we can see how Gru has changed to be a better father for his three girls. He is officially an ex-villain with an unbelievably high-tech laboratory which is now used to produce jams and jellies, the most un-evil things there is. The movie presents a story about how Gru, the now ex-villain, is asked to save the world by the Anti-Villain League (AVL) against an unknown villain who stole a dangerous virus sample from a research laboratory in Russia.

In his new mission, Gru is accompanied by an easily excited and easy going female agent named Lucy Wilde from AVL. We can easily predict the love line between Gru and Lucy since it's already shown before that Gru is in a series of dates, kind of. :) What I didn't expect was the portraying of the love line. We've seen a lot of scenes where actors are imagining his life with the actresses flash before their eyes. Despicable Me 2 has a specially unique scene by making Dave, the minion, has a crush on Lucy and therefore imagines his life with her.

In order to figure out which villain has the virus, Gru poses as a cupcake store owner in Paradise Mall. Then come Eduardo, a friendly Mexican restaurant owner. Gru thinks that Eduardo is actually a ruthless villain by the name of El Macho who was thought dead in a volcano while riding a shark. Later in the movie, we can also see a short love line between Margo, Gru's first daughter, with Antonio, Eduardo's son. Gru reports to AVL, stating that Eduardo is actually El Macho and told them to arrest him. Out of his worry as a  father, he accuses Antonio as the mastermind and get laughed at by the director of AVL. We can see that Gru actually cares for his daughters and acts as irrationally as many fathers would do when their daughter starts dating.

Surprisingly, despite the facts that this movie has more lovable minions, it lacks creativity and originality in the stories. Despicable Me 2 is somewhat disappointing. There is nothing new in the story, the characters lack many background stories, and the plot are moving way too fast between Gru, Lucy, and the girls. Its predecessor, Despicable Me, scores a lot more points in the creative story with entertaining and strong built characters. It also has perfect plot. Sadly, it seems this movie depends too much on the minions, which we can see from the many minions scenes (almost 85% of all scenes) in the movie. It's funny and certainly brings a lot of laughs for children but there's really not much for me.

The story is dull and the supporting characters lack their background stories. It really feels like I'm coming to see the minions in action. On the other hand, the minions are animated perfectly. They dance, they sing, they brings most (if not all) laughs from the audiences. It's a pretty good movie to watch with family and kids.

Count your blessings

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
--New International Version, Matthew 5: 3 - 12.

The phrase "Count your blessings" has occured hundred times in any Christians songs, quotes, or status updates. The point to count the blessings is that so we can realize how many great things have we had in our life. It's a remembrance of many great things that happened in our life, as opposed to the not-so-great things that are currently happening in our life. I like to think that it keeps us from feeling helpless and depressed if we choose to remember great things instead of the worse ones.

In the Bible, there is one particular sermon from Jesus about our blessed lives that we call The Beatitudes. The beatitudes consists of 8 unfortunate situations we might be in at one point in our life, and why we are supposed to feel blessed in these unfortunate situations. The rewards are not something physical, but rather a psychological release, a form of peace in our mind. The blessings are none other than a place in Kingdom of Heaven, the greatest reward there is.

The blessings are for the one in these conditions:
1. People who are poor in spirit, meaning the one that humbly acknowledging the need of Divine Power or God even though he might not be poor financially.
2. People who mourn, meaning the one in miseries because of all evil things that occurs around the world.
3. People who are meek, meaning the one that humbly bend down before God and other people.
4. People who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, meaning the one that has a desire to live religiously and morally correct by following God's and human law.
5. People who are merciful, meaning the one with the ability to forgive, forget, even pray for others who have done wrong to them.
6. People who has a pure heart, meaning the one who has sincere and good intentions toward others without any hidden meaning.
7. People who are peacemakers, meaning the one that live in peace with others and also preserve the peace and friendship among mankind and God.
8. People who are persecuted because of righteousness, meaning the one that suffers from injustice because of righteousness.

These verses certainly set a different point of view from a normal human being. There is a saying, "When given a choice, people always assume the worst." It sounds so hopeless with hints of desperate ambiance to our lives. These verses, however, push people see the best in every worst opportunity by saying that you will be given great rewards when you are able to overcome the worst situation. It makes our problems worth bearing, because the worst it gets the bigger the rewards we'll receive. I think by following these teaching, we will become stronger and better person.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Culture of Cheating

Recently, I have been remembering things from my past. The time when everything was simpler and all I had to worry was homeworks. The first time I cheated was when I sat on the 8th grade. As a student, I considered myself pretty good at every lessons. I managed to get decent grades, even without cheating. I cheated because I wanted to know what it feels like. As many of you know, at the age of 14, everyone follows their friends behavior. That's exactly what I did back then. I cheated because everyone else did.

I personally think cheating is a cultural thing. Everybody who ever goes to school cheats. Well, for the sake of everyone else who doesn't, let's say 90% of students cheat. It's not that they are stupid or doesn't want to try to learn, it's just because everybody else does it and sometimes, the teacher couldn't care less if their students cheat. Many of my friends back in high school studied together. Sometimes, I would join and tutored them a little. Doing our homeworks were easy, and everybody could do it without copying each other. We would share our answers once we had done to double check. But when in test, my friends would copy each other's works. It was like they didn't have the confidence to did the test without cheating. That's why I think that cheating is part of the school culture, just like prom dance, seniority, popular and nerdy kids, etc. It was part of school life, at least from a student's point of view.

I had this one friend, who has the resources to study with private tutors and study groups, but still ended up cheating to get better grades. At another point in my life, I had this one friend who was already the best in some practical lessons, but as it turned out he cheated his way through the theoretical lessons to get perfect score. There are many reasons why student cheat, and nothing can justify them right. Cheating is cheating and it is wrong. It's actually sad that it has become a cultural thing, especially in schools. On the other hand, I didn't think it would be easy to erase the cheating culture.

However, everything is possible as long as we make the first step. I think it will at least reduce the number of cheaters if we start at our self. If I didn't cheat, other people will see my not cheating and hopefully someone will be moved to stop cheating. At one opportunity, one of my friend actually said, "If everybody else cheats, why shouldn't I?"

Hopefully one day, I get to rephrase the question and ask,
"If everybody else doesn't cheat, why should I?"

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Stoning of Soraya M. (2008)

I watched this movie at about 2 years ago, when I was finishing my studies in university. I find it interesting, mainly because it brings up such enclosed culture to the big screen. It is also said that this movie is based on true story, which interests me more to watch. The movie tells us about a foreign journalist (Freidoune Sahebjam, portrayed by James Caviezel) who have a car troubles in a remote Iranian village called Kuhpayeh. While waiting for his car to be repaired, he was called by a woman named Zahra. This woman asked Sahebjam to tell the story of her niece's stoning, which has happened the day before.

Stoning is a form of capital punishment carried by a group of people by throwing stones at a person until the person is dead. The Penal Code of Iran mentions detail processes of stoning, which would be carried out to a person convicted of adultery. In this movie, Soraya was stoned to death from a wrongful accusation of adultery by her husband. Soraya was slandered by her husband, Ali, because she refused to divorce him. Ali wants to marry a 14 year old girl and needs Soraya to grants him the divorce. He also manages to turn their 2 boys against Soraya. Ali wants to marry the 14 year old and keeps his sons, but he refuses to pay the monetary support. Which is why, together with the mayor (mullah), they plot an adultery accusation so that they can get rid of Soraya.

In this remote village, I can feel that there is a cultural pressure around the villager's development. Each and every villager abides to certain rules, which I find very patriarchal. I can see the men in the movie acts rather unpleasant and seems like they can do whatever they want, while the women mostly stay at home and raise their children. Like many other closed neighborhood, gossips travel faster than the speed of light. A rumor can dramatically changes into accusation in a blink of an eye. I can also see the corrupt figure of authorities who push and bully their way to get what they want.

Whether or not the story is true, the fact is there are corrupt governments, even in a village scale. And I think this movie succeeds to present reality to the audiences. It has domestic violence, patriarchal community, corrupt public figures, and other good villager who tried to help but failed because they are not strong enough to stand against authority figures. There are regrets of course, after knowing that they have stoned an innocent woman. But there's really nothing they can do, and the people responsible are trying to cover up their messes. Even though in the end, Zahra manages to reveals this horrible story to Sahebjam and the world now knows what exactly happen to Soraya.

The stories are complicated, but it's interesting enough to watch. Unfortunately, the blue and grey-ish ambiance bring certain depressed environment, which I'm not a fan of. The actors' pronounciation are a little bit difficult to understand since it's middle-east English pronounciation, but with a little subtitle, everything is tolerable. The stoning scene is excellent. The blood and the dramatic effects are perfect. It makes me wonder how to create such a scene.