Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chek Jawa, the 37.96km Ride Along the Coastal Park Connector and 2 Samuel 14 - 18

We've been spending quite a bit of time in the East (of Singapore) lately.

Tree Not Making It
A fortnight ago, with Joseph Lai as our trusty guide, a bunch of city bumpkins went to gawk at Chek Jawa, very much like Leninas and Bernards at the Savage Reservation. And like the Savage Reservation of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, the very fact of nature reserves, the identification of the natural as distinct and necessitating protection, suggests a certain degree of perversion and unnatural-ness in the "normal" world.

And as if to prove the existence of Jean Baudrillard's hyperreality, the nature walk proceeded almost Photo Hunt style. Here're some highlights:
Monitor Lizard and Heron
Heron and monitor lizard. "Fight! Fight!" we chanted but they were unco-operative. The monitor lizard, having just visited relatives on Pulau Ubin, ignored the heron completely and plunged into the sea for a nice swim back to mainland.

Fiddler Crabs Fighting
Two fiddler crabs. "Fight! Fight!" cried the previously-disappointed bloodthirsty crowd and they did.

Wild Boar or MSK in Wild Boar Outfit
Black speck = wild boar. Well, from what anyone could tell, might also have been MSK in wild boar outfit.

Ribs of Illegal Immigrants' Boat
Not actually wildlife: the ribs of the boat that illegal Vietnamese immigrants burnt when they arrived on Pulau Ubin.

Fine Sand in Mangrove
Fine sand as byproduct of mangrove swamp. Not imported from a small island somewhere in Indonesian waters.

Spot The Mudskipper
Spot the mudskipper. One second after this photo was taken, said mudskipper was scared away by ten excited girls shrieking,"AAAAAAH! MUDSKEEPPER!!!"

Male Sunbird
Male sunbird(?). Joe said that its red plummage, which puts the theory of evolution in some doubt, wasn't to attract the dull grey brown female.

Unglam Photo of Joe 1Unglam Photo of Joe 2
Unglam photos of Joe. Poor Joe. He was thoroughly knowledgeable, completely friendly and very patient with the blank looks as he enthused over a rare [something] growing on a rock (which someone then promptly stepped on). And he was the only one dressed appropriately in light-coloured shirt and pants.

Slightly More Glam Photo of Joe Explaining Benefits of Tongkat Ali Plant
Alright, alright. Here's one of Joe more glamly explaining the bountiful benefits of the tongkat ali plant. Still much to see and much to learn about the inhabitants of the six different habitats in Chek Jawa.

Under Flight Path
This past weekend saw the mounting of a discounted Giant road bike from Kit Runners (beside Burger King) and a ride through the entire length of East Coast Park, down the Eastern Coastal Park Connector past Changi Airport and Changi Beach Park to Changi Village for drinks and nosh and then back again. Changi Village had been an arbitrary destination. I'd merely wanted space to think and according to Jeff Yen's GPS, got a very sweet 37.96km of it (except for the straight speedster strip parallel to the airport runway where someone hailed me and we rode together and chatted for a few klick).

The last bicycle rented in East Coast Park had been a rusty old BMX more than a decade ago. As I sped along on it, a toddler with a deathwish trundled into my path. Hemmed in from both sides by an assortment of pedestrians and cyclists, I squeezed the wrong brake lever too hard and flew through the air in a trajectory that arc-ed above the toddler's tricycle and ended on a grass patch some distance away. Much less blood was spilled than the time I presumed to skate in a wet bathroom atop of two wet sponges. In any case, the offending toddler broke out, I think, into spontaneous applause. Terribly well-mannered the youth of those times.

No Speeding!
McDonald's, East Coast Park to Changi Village in an hour while keeping within speed limit - PASS

Casurina Trees
Lovely casurina-lined sections sweet with the fragrance of the trees - PASS. Attempting to take photos with camera phone while riding - FAIL.

Sunset Over Changi Airport
Watching the sun set from across the road from the Changi Airport runway - PASS.

Bugs in teeth from singing while riding - FAIL. Protein from bugs in teeth - PASS.

[Photos censored]
Major Bike Chaff - FAIL! Harness-issues aside, cycling is sweeter than horse-riding because bicycles don't stop every now and then for a nibble on wayside flowers. Bicycles also less likely to wander off sniggering when your head gets caught in a tree, unlike Absalom's mule (2 Samuel 18:9).

Absalom's unglam death was what concluded last week's edition (2 Samuel 14 - 18) of our continuing gambol through the Second Book of Samuel.

Absalom was one of the hunkiest men of the Old Testament. "Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him." - the Bible's words (2 Samuel 18:26), not the pre-teen gushings of an infatuated kid. He had three sons and a beautiful daughter (2 Samuel 18:27). And Absalom was no dumb jock. He was an intelligent strategist (the burning of Joab's barley field and his wheedling himself back into his father's good books (2 Samuel 14:32), his seditious ministry of discontent at the city gates (2 Samuel 15:1-6), his acquisition of the services of Ahithophel the Gilonite who was David's advisor and whose counsel was like the word of God and was greatly esteemed by David (2 Samuel 15:12; 16:23), his well-planned and well-executed rebellion (2 Samuel 15:7-11)) and had such personal charisma and persuasiveness that he won vast numbers of friends and influenced his father's people to have him instead as king. Dale Carnegie wouldn't even have made it to the White House. And what ambition and drive Absalom had: he was deadset on leaving a legacy (2 Samuel 18:18) and had very early on, already imagined a crown on his fair head (2 Samuel 15:1 cf 1 Kings 1:5). But brains and looks and a purpose-driven life full of steely determination must not and cannot stand in the way of their Creator's explicit design and plan.

(Re-)reading Christopher Ash's Out of the Storm on the Book of Job in tandem with our gander through 2 Samuel, it seemed that one of the yummiest things about Old Testament narrative is how it shows-and-tells us of the complexity of God's world in which we live, one not run simplistically on mere cause and effect or robotic predestination.

In 2 Samuel 14 - 18, we see both the outworking of the prophesied punishment of David's sin with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah and also the rightful end to rebels against God's anointed king. Absalom's rebellion and public copulation with David's ten concubines were foretold by Nathan as God's judgement on David (2 Samuel 12:11-12). And Absalom's death, which followed that of David's other sons (the out-of-wedlock baby (2 Samuel 12:15b-23) and Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1-33)), fulfilled God's word that the sword would not depart from David's house but was also at the same time just punishment for rebelling against God's chosen ruler. Sort of like the amazing mathematical equations undergirding beautiful baroque counterpoint pieces, but more-ish.

2 Samuel 18 ends with David weeping for his enemy and his son. Christopher Ash has a nice little article on how the tension between the demands of justice and the longings of love is finally reconciled in the New Testament in the person of David's greater son, Jesus. See The Death of Absalom - Drama and Theology.

The focus of Old Testament narrative tends to not to be on those men of old but on God
. Therefore, our interpretation of such passages should be theocentric rather than anthropocentric. I suspect that instead of reading ourselves into specific characters in the narrative, eg. as the embattled incumbent king David or the dashing naughty Absalom, we should rather be concerned to see that human history consists of a course of events shaped by Yahweh, who continually directs and delivers, and so steadily presses these events towards their fulfillment in history. We should then be concerned about our place in the working out of God's promises and about whom we follow and to whom we are loyal.

Regardless of how rosy things might look for the opposition in the temporal here-and-now then, it is pretty clear how everything will end. God has shown that his word is steadfast (in this case, that David is his chosen servant and king over his people) and that he is more than in control of human history to ensure that his promises do not prove false in the future (eg. the LORD defeating the good counsel of Ahithophel in 2 Samuel 17:14). We may be affronted by God's doings as Shimei was by David's ascending the throne after Saul (2 Samuel 16:5-8), but the only correct interpretation of events is God's since, after all, he was in control of the past and he alone knows the future of his world.

But who may abide the day of His coming from Handel's Messiah, sung by Yoshikazu Mera. Not my favourite countertenor but love Masaaki Suzuki's interpretation.
But who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when He
appeareth? For He is like a refiner's fire. (Malachi 3:2)

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