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Saturday, October 26, 2013

sing Off

I'm so tired of saying "It's been a while since I last blogged," almost every time I've written an entry this year but it really does feel that way, even now. Still, I'm glad I've come across something in the past two weeks that made me put my fingers to the keyboard for this one.

This story is actually courtesy of the fact that YouTube exists. As I (and most probably millions of others do) was searching for nice covers of popular hits, I came across a video that I'd actually stumbled on a year or two ago but totally forgot about since then.

A cappella group Dartmouth Aires were performing their rendition of R Kelly's Ignition remix. It was the first vocal-only live performance I'd seen on YouTube and I liked it quite a bit. Watching the video, I found out they were performing on this show on NBC, called The Sing-Off. As you've probably figured out by now, its a singing competition not unlike The Voice and American Idol except there's no band or background music, you have to make it yourself. That's the beauty of a capella after all.

After searching and watching more videos of  The Sing-Off, I discovered a name that's actually quite popular on YouTube right now, Pentatonix, winners of the most recent season of The Sing-Off. Pentatonix really showed how a capella music has evolved, especially with the influences of hip-hop beat box and electronic dance music. It was totally incredible to see Pentatonix, a group of just five people sing, vocalise drum beats and incredible remix-type sounds in a single performance:

Pentatonix peforming Kesha's Your Love is My Drug

Being totally hooked after that, I started watching performances of other groups on the show. That's when I discovered my favourite group, Afro-Blue (now called Traces of Blue). They didn't come first, that went to Pentatnoix, but surprisingly to me, they didn't get second or third. They had to settle for fourth place, but they're my favourite group by far.

Afro-Blue has this really jazz and soulful feel about them, yet it feels very vibrant. I just loved so many of their performances, here are some to name a few:

Corinne Bailey Rae - Put Your Records On
Estelle - American Boy
Janet Jackson Medley
Sam Cooke - A Change is Gonna' Come
Lady Antebellum - I Need You Now

Here's my favourite one from them, although it was really hard to single one out for me:


With ten members, their arrangements of songs always sounded very full, nice bass lines, and more than one person could do lead vocals. All of them were just great. I just love their sound and they seem like a nice bunch of people. I guess I just kind of gravitate to groups like that.

Then, I found the winners of the previous season, Committed. While not so modernly flamboyant, every performance I watched was just so smooth. It's so interesting because Committed is actually a group of guys who come from a traditional background of singing choir in church. Explaining their name was very simple, "We came up with the name Committed because we're committed to God, to our music and to each other"

Apparently they'd never sung Billboard hits before and had been singing only hymns and gospel music, but they never looked out of touch in any performance I saw them in. Just see this rendition of One Republic's song Apologize and you'll get what I mean:



If you watch the video, you'll notice Ben Fold's is just speechless and I haven't seen that happen for any other top performances on the show that I've seen.

After seeing all these amazing groups, I just started downloading the videos, songs where I could get them. There're at least 10 songs in Sing-Off style being put to loop in my car the last few days! I guess the last week of watching all these amazing performers gave me one of those moments where its like those memes that go 'take my money now!' and there's this picture of someone throwing money at the computer screen because he's seen something so incredible but he just can't get his hands on it.

Then, while looking for more, I found a more humbling story. I didn't know much about the history of Jerry Lawson until I did a little research. I don't want to dwell too long on his story, but just imagine a man who was in a popular a capella group back in the 70's that got onto the Billboard charts even. Having dropped out of the a capella scene because of some troubles, he fell on hard times and he said on the show that through faith and God, he pulled through, found a new group so compatible with him and was invited to participate on The Sing-Off.

In everything new I've come across through The Sing-Off in the last week or so, what I loved most was actually how people like Jerry Lawson and even Committed acknowledged God as important to them. In the second last episode of season 2 where Terry from Committed was asked what it would mean to them if the judges sent them through to the final, I think he mentioned God  twice in the same sentence and that just about sums it up for me. I just think its great when people thank the Creator for being the source of their talent and success, that's all really. =)

Sunday, September 01, 2013

keep Believing

One thing you should know about me is I’m the kind of person that likes to believe the underdog can make it, even when results and statistics don’t seem to agree. When I say the underdog, I could mean anyone. It could mean a sports team, a country, a friend, a leader, or even myself.

That said, I haven’t always got the satisfaction of seeing the little guys make it. In fact, it’s quite rare. I guess that’s only expected, they’re the little guys after all. Actually, of the underdogs I’ve supported, I only seem to remember one that made it.

One that Made It
Interestingly, this doesn’t have anything to do about winning or losing. I remember reading an article many years ago about a Chinese company on BusinessWeek’s website. It was about a sports apparel company from China that was a ‘jaguh kampung’. The article mentioned how it was doing all right within China, but had no presence abroad. It was seen as one of those companies that specialised in being copycats, a company that didn’t do much more than make knockoffs of branded sports goods. They even had a go at its logo, saying it seemed to be an adaptation of the Nike swoosh.

To be fair, the article did say it had some potential. Being Asian, I was a little sympathetic. I hoped this company would become big over the next few years despite the sentiment and prove Asia could succeed in an established industry and that the rest of the world would acknowledge it.

Today, Li-Ning endorses top athletes like Dwayne Wade and Lin Dan. Plus, with their shoes having appeared on websites like SneakerFreaker and KicksOnFire, it shows how far they’ve come. A trip to one of their stores in KL will show you they’re not competing against copycats, but are getting right up there. Honestly, the first time I saw the Li-Ning store in One Utama, I couldn’t help but smile a little knowing this was the brand I’d been quietly rooting for all these years.

The Other Little Guys I’m Hoping On
The first one’s more of a joke really, but oh well. Being a person that watches Running Man, I find myself rooting for Lee Kwang Soo a lot. Now, I know the show is scripted as a variety show but there’s not much ‘scripting’ when it comes to the games. Being the tall, skinny and somewhat dim-witted one, Kwang Soo is hardly ‘winner’ material, yet I find myself supporting this guy. I think of all the individual races in the 150+ episodes there have been, he’s only won once.

The other one that’s more serious isn’t about one person, but two. Specifically, they’re Malaysia’s number one badminton mixed doubles pair, Chan Peng Soon and Goh Liu Ying. Despite their good world ranking, they’re very much underdogs, seeing that the target is being world number one and the fact that they get eliminated from tournaments quite often.

The reason I support them more than men’s singles or doubles is because I just love the way they are on court. When you see them play, its obvious they work hard, that they are fearless and they support one another. Watching them, I personally believe they can be world beaters, but statistics and recent performances definitely beg to differ. Every now and then at the courts, I tell some of my friends I like our mixed doubles pair but there’s hardly an enthusiastic response anytime I mention it. Personally, I still believe this pair can make it big, that their quality can actually grab an Olympic medal. It’s quite a far fetched expectation for many I think, but that’s the kind of belief I have for Chan and Goh.

The Main Point
I guess the main point I’m trying to make here is I want to believe that the people we’re used to see losing can become winners, champions even. I know it doesn’t happen often, but I’ve seen enough to know that its not impossible.

I believe the same applies to me and my country too. There are situations where we’re underdogs and the odds are overwhelming. We’re not always in the best condition, but we’ve got to back ourselves to get out there, do the best we can and keep believing the best is yet to come. Its not time to give up hope, its time to dig deep, pray, believe and persevere to defeat the giants in front of us.

Monday, August 12, 2013

pushing Forward

Its been some time since I put keyboard to blog. Now that I am, once again it feels like time just flew by. Many things have happened, and its a little hard to summarise everything that I've been doing or thinking in one go.

Like a lot of people, I guess I'm in that place where we've just passed a season, when many people were passionate, emotional, even angry about a single event. Now that it's passed, its no longer about the emotions, but about what's next. Life goes on right? Time doesn't stop for anyone.

From what I've seen, some go on doing their routine, but they harbour disappointment. Some let it go and say, "Maybe next time,". Others sigh, feeling a little hopeless because they feel there's nothing they can do to make things better and that the people that should may be doing the opposite.

Moving on from that, a few things have happened, mostly knee-jerk reactions. It doesn't help that many other incidents during recent times in business, politics or even sports have left a bitter taste. Assassinations in the past week have made us fearful again, and it can be startling that the price of a life can be as little as a few thousand ringgit. All this goes on while we're back in the routine of striving hard for the better life. Its all very complicated. It creates more doubts and questions than answers.

Despite all this, I've learnt over time that its important to respond rather than react to a situation. Of course, the question is, how?

For me, what I'm learning is to focus on the right thing, which is to come back to God and just seek him. Its not the same as saying 'turning back to religion' is the answer. The whole idea of going back to religion is a retreat, hoping ancient rules and methods can get society back on track. Its about coming back to strengthen a relationship that isn't as close as it should be.

It's difficult for me to explain what I mean by 'seeking God'. The best way I can explain is to say it involves removing my focus from the situation and focusing on God. It's not a time where we suddenly become oblivious to the real world, but its a time where we stop complaining, murmuring, grumbling. Its a time where we surrender our burdens, our thoughts, our knowledge and just say, "God I need you. We need you."

Sometimes I believe we (and that includes me) think we are very smart. In a world full of information at your fingertips, its easy to be a political pundit, an armchair critic, sports analyst or that guy who just knows it all like an annoying tall scientist in that famous sitcom. We talk a lot and have plenty of opinions, yet we are where we are.

That's why I know its not nearly enough to rely on what we know, or what we think we know. I believe that God knows. He has His purpose, ways and timing. I want to trust and rely on Him more and I'm glad to know there are many others like me who are beginning to desire the same.

How we push forward instead of dwelling in the past, is by putting our confidence in Him. Ask any professional athlete and they'll tell you confidence is important, its powerful. That kind of confidence is believing in your self ability. If that's the case, then how powerful is it to place confidence in God who's more powerful than anything else? We don't just keep calm and carry on. We keep praying and pushing on.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

clean Hearts

Over the past few months or so, quite a bit has happened and there’ve been many thoughts running through my mind. There’s so much that I would’ve like to pen down here in this blog, but busyness caught up with me and I’ve either had no time or have completely forgotten some of the things I wanted to say.

Then today, I guess I caught hold of something good, something encouraging that I wanted to make sure was recorded somewhere. A few things came across my mind today that you could say was coincidence, but I think it wasn’t, but something that was meant to be.

Today, at church we had communion, an act of remembering the powerful act of love that Jesus did on the cross to save me and everyone else from the power of sin. The bread represents the new life and the drink, the blood of Jesus Christ that’s washed away all sin, giving us a clean slate, a second chance.

At the church I go to right now, communion is held once a month and it just so happened that today, on the same day that we had communion, the guest speaker in church spoke on having the right spirit, the right ‘heart attitude’. While communion and ‘right spirit’ don’t seem to have a direct connection, the speaker shared something that did.

He shared a portion of the bible, Psalms 51:10, which says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

In the first and second verse of that very same chapter it says, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.”

Immediately, it reminded me of that song I’d heard before when Switchfoot’s frontman Jon Foreman had just started his solo project. Of the few that I heard, this was always my favourite:

Jon Foreman–White as Snow


I guess all this reminded me of what I…. or what we all need to have moving on with our lives. Sometimes we can’t help getting stuck in bitterness, resentment and we may do things we think are right, but are actually coming from a wrong attitude of the heart. Some may say they seek justice but are actually harbouring rebellion in the heart. Some may say they have forgiven someone but refuse to offer a hand of reconciliation. Its important to reflect for a while and remember who it is that should be at the centre of our lives, of every thought and every action.

I think a few people, myself included need to calm our hearts and just ask God to renew our strength, to forgive us our sins, for us to rejoice in the joy of our salvation and remember that we’ve been blessed not to be a curse, but a blessing to others.

I take comfort in the fact that God sees us, that He knows us each individually and than although we have our own struggles and challenges, if we remain faithful and if we choose to have the right spirit, He will work things out for us. We don’t really have to fight so hard all the time, but just have the right heart attitude and let God lead the way as we go along.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

auto Deduct

It's been a while since I've blogged about social issues. In fact its been quite long since I last blogged. An entry has been long overdue and I guess something that happened to me today gave me something to write about.

I was walking around the mall today killing time while waiting for music practice. As I was going along, I was interrupted by someone you'd think was a direct salesman, I think most of us know how mall booth promoters are due to the nature of their job. This time around it was someone representing then National Kidney Foundation. They were doing a drive in AEON for donations in supporting dialysis operations around Malaysia.

Although I wasn't really keen, but I decided to spend a bit of time listening to what the promoter had to say and what kind of contribution they'd be looking for. Basically, the organisation is looking for people to commit in contributing a fixed amount of money over a period of time. They were giving potential donors two packages / options. If I remember correctly, it was something like RM 38 and RM 58 a month.

For me, I felt that for a select amount of time I could afford to give that RM 38 a month. That's when I asked the promoter how would payment be like and if I wanted to stop donating, how would I be able to do it. He talked for a bit, and then he mentioned the words 'auto deduct'.

You see, I'm rather sensitive to the phrase, 'auto-deduct'. For those who don't know, when NGOs get donors to commit and agree to an auto-deduct form of donation, what it means is that the amount that you agree to commit monthly to the NGO will be automatically deducted via your credit card every month. Now, I know it seems to be a very convenient way of doing things, rather 'efficient' you could say. The thing is, it simply means that you're not actually in control of your money. If let's say you're running low on cash or have emergency expenses during a certain month, you will still have that committed amount deducted from your account every month.

Basically, it doesn't matter whether you have enough money or not, that organisation is taking that amount away from you.

Now, the thing is, every NGO, including the National Kidney Foundation say that if you contact a certain department of their organisation, the commitment can be cancelled or amended. This amendment has to be informed a month before however. Here's where I have a problem, if it's so easy for NGO's to get money deducted from our accounts monthly once we sign that commitment form, why can't we stop the moment I say stop? I know someone who donated to UNICEF in Malaysia through the exact same concept, and when the donor wanted to stop payment, it took a lot of hassle and effort to do it, it wasn't as simple as it should have been. What I'm saying here is that, when businesses and NGOs get you to use auto-deduct, its a lot harder for you to stop than it is to start. I believe most people who sign up for the first time don't know this and may feel rather annoyed, or even angry afterwards, having contributed for a good cause, but being 'forced' to give more than they intended to. That's why its important to be aware before signing up during donation drives.

Because of that, I kindly told the promoter I wouldn't be able to help. Its unfortunate because I did want to help, but this NGO does not accept cash donations and even for electronic transfer, they only have this auto-deduct via credit card program. Frankly speaking, banks complain about people that don't pay their credit card bills, non-credit worthy account holders but yet they encourage these auto-deduct programs, there's definitely a sense of irony there.

The first thing that strikes me is that to donate these days, you MUST donate a minimum amount. I've written about this in a blog entry about one or two years before when I encountered this situation at an LRT station. The second thing is that now NGOs are looking to use auto-deduct payment systems.

Now, I understand that in the modern era, because costs have increased, NGOs may be looking to secure a minimum amount of income and that may force them to ask for minimum amounts. While I still don't agree with donating minimum amounts, I understand the reason behind it. What I am absolutely against however, is the auto-deduct system. Donating is voluntary, it can only be done as and when donors can afford to do so. There should be more options for people to donate cash, lump-sum, or commitment for select amount of months where payment is controlled by the donor and not automated. Unfortunately, NGOs don't seem to be going that way and I feel that they may be right on the border of 'cheating' people. There should be a better way, there needs to be. We shouldn't have to resort to borderline underhanded tactics to obtain resources for people in need.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

the Gayle

I remember this blog post from some time back that I titled favourite pastime. Cricket’s been my all-time favourite sport. I’d choose it over football any day of the week even though it’s the world’s most popular game. The only thing is that ever since I came back to Malaysia, I never had the chance to play nor the resources or time to watch any of the games.

Then the 20-over format of the game was introduced. I’m not sure if it was the first ever international competition for the format, but I remember watching South Africa take on Australia at the Royal Selangor Club Bukit Kiara in KL on TV! I wasn’t even back in Malaysia then, it was a little surreal to see some of my heroes playing cricket in my own country.

Over time, T20 cricket grew to be a lot more popular. Because the length of the game is much shorter, more people have the time to attend matches and finally India did the right thing by making it a commercial sport, by creating the Indian Premier League (IPL). Whoever came up with the idea has really made it exciting, with rules such as only four overseas players for each time in one game, having player auctions and so on.

The best thing about the IPL though, is that it’s being streamed on YouTube for free! I had no idea it was until I came across one of those YouTube blue promotion banners. So for the last few weeks, I’ve been watching live IPL matches at night. Even if I tuned in late, the great thing is that you can still rewind even though the feed is live.

I’ve really enjoyed watching some good batting by people like David Miller, Kieron Pollard and some of the young and upcoming Indian batsmen. I’m especially happy I get to see Jacques Kallis in action again, my favourite player. Solid as a batter and a bowler, so many people regard him as one of the great players still around.

Then only a few days ago, I was very fortunate to witness what is probably the best ever innings in limited-overs cricket ever. Chris Gayle has always been famous for being an explosive batter, but the other night when Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) played Pune Warriors, he scored a total of 175 not out.

Pepsi IPL - Match 31 RCB v PWI
Chris Gayle celebrates reaching 100 runs, scored in just 30 deliveries.

It broke so many records, the highest individual score in T20, the fastest hundred in T20 (probably in all formats of the game too), took his team total to 265 runs, which is the highest team total ever. Actually that last record is mind blowing, some teams don’t score that much in 50-over cricket! A good score in T20 is probably 160 runs, a very good score 180. Scoring 265 runs is ridiculous, its like someone put in a cheat code or something. Every player interviewed said that’s the best batting they’ve seen anyone play ever.

Even one of the RCB players mentioned he felt a little sorry for the opposition bowlers. I guess there’s only one Chris Gayle. Alan Donald (former fast bowler for South Africa), coach for the Pune Warriors told ESPNcricinfo how during the timeouts he saw all the bowlers were scared to bowl to Gayle. I myself was pretty awestruck watching it live. You can catch the replay of the game here:

Royal Challengers Bangalore vs. Pune Warriors @ IPL 2013

Then, to wrap it off at the end of the Pune Warriors innings, Chris Gayle got to bowl the last over and picked up two wickets, he almost got a hat-trick but it wasn’t to be. You really can’t ask for anything more than that.

Chris Gayle dances Gangnam Style after taking a wicket against Mumbai Indians IPL 2013
Chris Gayle got to do Gangnam Style twice in his over.

I guess RCB has a really big chance of winning this year’s IPL. They’ve already got a lot of good players and then you have Gayle, it’s crazy stuff for RCB. I’m supporting the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), because Jacques Kallis is playing for them, watched them win their game last night. He did well with both bat and ball, a really great all rounder. KKR are in the bottom half of the table at the moment, but hopefully they’ll qualify for the playoffs.

Jacques Kallis for Kolkata Knight Riders against Kings XI Punjab IPL 2013

Saturday, April 06, 2013

breaking Out

Something’s gotta give, gotta break out of this ‘mundane’ rut.

Got to be more intentional about it, can’t be too contented with the status quo. Remembering the reason to live in the middle of being busy or caught up with everything else is crucial.

I think Easter came at a good time to remind me.