Monday, November 2, 2009
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Given that this week is dedicated to the Singapore Writers Festival, I read some poetry by Arthur Yap-- one of Singapore's foremost poets. I first encountered his work at the National Library when I moved to Singapore five years ago. I was looking for local poetry and literature, and his collection of poems -- The Space of City Trees-- struck a chord.
I'm happy to post one of his poem here. It deals with the dilemmas inherent in the forging of postcolonial identities. There is also a great essay that analyses this poem and others like it in QRLS -- the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore.
The Correctness of Flavour -- By Arthur Yap
waiting for the lime sherbert to arrive,
mother turned around to her vacuous child:
boy, you heard what i said earlier?
nowadays, they emphasise english.
boy rolled his squinty eyes to the ceiling.
waitress returned, flustered, and started
on her own emphases:
lime sherbert today don't have.
mango got. strawberry also don't have.
mother, upset and acutely strident:
today DOESN'T have.
today DOES NOT have
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
Thank you for your service these past eight years. Time and again, you held your load and offer uplift to baby pictures, bric-a-back, stuffed toys, a sword, cookbooks and photo albums and DVDs; offered shelter to Buddha and my shoes and stood firm against the wall through earthquakes and other rumblings.
I brought you, feverish rantings and all, to my Koreatown apartment from Reportergirl's Exposition Park bedroom when said reporter moved back home. You were sorely needed then to bring order to the piles of papers and videotapes leaning against the wall on the floor in my one-bedroom abode.
You were there for about six to eight months, until a new job led us to North Hollywood, a large one-bedroom with a formal dining room in a 1950s vintage 2nd floor walk-up.
It was there that I decided to once and for all correct your structural deficiency and complete you. For you see, reportergirl neglected to install metal crossbars on your back -- a pair of aluminum rods -- so you won't tip over.
You stood tall and firm (with metal reinforcement) on the corner with the Buddha altar on your top shelf watching over the living room, next the an Ikea floor lamp rescued from another friend departing L.A.
I lasted all of six months there. Though apparently aesthetically pleasing with the right crowd and located in an up-and-coming artsy neighborhood in the shadow of Universial Studios, the apartment had one fatal flaw -- it gets HOT AS HELL.
I'm talking 90 degrees plus (32 C) INSIDE, when the temperature outside is in the low-80s (27 C). I would spend at least two hours each night after getting home trying to cool the place with an aging window air conditioner and two large box fans.
Screw vintage. I want a place built in the last 20 years with central air con and heating, and well-insulated so it's cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
I found it in Pasadena -- a three bedroom townhouse with a little patch of backyard between the 210 Freeway and an alley.
I lived there for seven years, and quite happily for at least six of those. But alas, with a career change and relocating back to the San Francisco Bay Area, I must put said home on the market (and in this market!).
And I can't take you with me.
I hope the Salvation Army of Pasadena can find you a good home, or return you to the earth from whence you came.
Saturday, August 1, 2009
By Eugene Tong
Location: Zellerbach Hall, UC Berkeley.
The legendary animator takes the stage -- to a standing ovation, of course.
To the left: Roland Kelts (Tokyo University lecturer and author ofJapanamerica) asking the questions. To his right, the translator, Beth something...
-- Apocalypse as a theme in his films (he once thought the end of the world would happen in his lifetime, but at his age (68), that's not likely now...laughs).
-- With our interactions increasingly virtual, is that a bad thing? (It's all relative...)
-- Where does he go to find inspiration? (Walks near his house...)
-- He's told his wife as far back as Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind (1984) that it would be his last film, due to the amount of work involved. Twenty-five years and eight more films later, he doesn't say that much, at least at home.
-- Making an animated film becomes so involving that when it's complete, he doesn't want to watch them again.
-- Which is his favorite among his films? Well, each film is like his child, and if you have eight children, you can't say you love one more than the others!
-- How do you think audiences will view his films 50 years from now? (He makes films grandmothers want to show their grand kids, rather than films mothers would take their kids.)
-- Why the tendency for strong girls as protagonists in your films? (Well, of the current crop of 20 or so animators he's hired and is training for his Studio Ghibli, only one is a man. Maybe I have to start making films with strong boy characters.)
-- There are rarely any truly evil bad guys in his films...(He doesn't want to have to draw that; and reality is never as simple as all good or all bad.)
-- On expressive eyes: In My Neighbor Totoro, he wanted his artists to draw Totoro's eyes so that you can't tell whether it's intelligent or not. As for the insect Ohmu from Nausicaa, you really have no clue with so many eyes.
-- His advice to young animators and artists: Draw everything around you for inspiration.
-- Some animators he considers contemporaries: Pixar's John Lasseter and Nick Park of Aardman Animation.
-- On true love in his films: It has to be earned after the overcoming obstacles (and he speculates things will be tough for Sosuke and Ponyo after the movie's (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea)over...).
-- On overcoming writer's block: When he gets stuck he would concentrate so hard that his nose bleed...
-- On the Japanese government viewing Anime and Manga as "soft-power": Well, the government won't be around much longer (laughs)! But his films are mostly intended for Japanese audiences. The fact that they've found an audience outside of Japan is just a bonus.
(ED: Japanese PM Taro Aso called for new Diet elections due to low approval ratings.)
-- What lies ahead? He doesn't think about the future...
As with any chat that relies on a translator, there's an unpleasant lag between his answer in Japanese and the English translation for us non-speakers.
The questions from Kelts were thoughtful, despite early on focusing too much on Miyazaki's latest film Ponyo, which I haven't seen. Some tough questions drew a few good humor groans from the filmmaker.
Still, Kelts sometimes made the mistake of asking questions with long prefaces, which may have elicited some off-topic answers from Miyazaki. Always keep it short and tight, then shut up and let the subject talk.
Miyazaki often answer questions indirectly -- maybe it's a cultural thing, or he's trying to be diplomatic. And I'm sure some of his answers got lost in translation too. In the end, he revealed himself a thoughtful, tough-but-fair minded visionary artist who can have a sense of humor about his work.
After the event, a group of autograph hounds (myself included) gathered by the stage entrance waiting for the man the emerge. He did about a half hour later and posed for a few photos, but declined to sign anything.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
(THE POOL PLAYERS. SEVEN AT THE GOLDEN SHOVEL.)
We real cool.
We Left school.
We Lurk late.
We Strike straight.
We Sing sin.
We Thin gin.
We Jazz June.
We Die soon.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Friday, July 17, 2009
Saturday, July 11, 2009
I've been logging long, bleak hours at the 'puter. This morning, I'm like a bat out of hell starving and devouring words that hold feelings or dissect them or stick them up to the light to see if they change colour.
All week I have worked at words that hunker down into flat opaqueness.
So I did what I usually do and turned to Jeanette Winterson's collection of poems and was rewarded with Anne Sexton's brilliant poem on words. Sexton was a troubled woman by all accounts. She killed herself in her late 40s after having won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
This is a photograph of the luminous Ms Sexton whose words encapsulate everything -- from the trickery of words themselves to the seductions of suicide.
(Readers: Please don't worry. Reportergirl is not suicidal. She is possessed of an inherent silliness that cancels out any potential for self-harm or annihilation)
Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous ones we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be good as fingers.
They can be trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren't good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair.
Monday, July 6, 2009
This morning was different,
the air sweet with fatigue, the water
defied laws of physics and stayed cool
under synthetic blue heat.
The molecules stole a few
quiet moments unto themselves.
The leaves still glowed
with last night's rain,
and what they made of it.
I crawled out of that hole
between dreams and awakening.
and broke into myself like a thief,
but left with nothing.
Monday, June 29, 2009
But it's much more difficult to pull off in practice, especially living in a society that often emphasizes action over thoughtful, careful contemplation; brawn over brains and the triumph of win-at-all-cost. Yet even I have the pang of restlessness; of disatisfaction with what is, but too unnerved to act if action would ruin the chances of achieving what I seek.
And so I'm waiting, much as I've always had, for good or naught. Acting by not acting, hoping for the best, expecting the worst, haunted by the infinite possiblilities of what may have been and taking solace in the familiar.
It reminds me of Carl, the old protagonist of Pixar's "Up" and the film's heartbreaking first act. But that's a story for next week (after I see the rest of the movie -- the cinema had a blackout during my screening...).
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Bottle Shock tells the story of two upstart California wines that trumped their more established French counterparts at a supposedly historic blind tasting in Paris in 1976.
The California set are represented by Jim Barrett (Bill Pullman), a San Franciso lawyer turned vinter and his hippy son Bo and their employee Gustavo (his father was a field hand and Gustavo has soil and grapes inscribed deep in his DNA and brain circuitry. I hope they donate his mutant brain to science). They are joined by Sam – an intern who everybody assumed would be a man but she proves to be a bonafide blondie starlet type, wearing what she thinks a 70s person would wear. She also features in the films’s most clichéd scenes.
There are two other key characters: A British wine dealer, Steven Spurrier, who wants to find a way in to the snobby world of French wine expertise and his friend, Maurice, an expat from Milwaukee. Spurrier is the founder of Academie du Vin – an outfit that purports to educate the palate of philistines. He perhaps delivers one of only two convincing lines in the whole film—I’ll get to that later.
Maurice convinces Spurrier that he must try the wines from California and let the Frenchies test them as a way of garnering some publicity for his academie. So Spurrier sets off to California and we next see him with a flat tire on the way to Napa Valley. Quite predictably, Jim Barrett happens to be driving by and they have a brief discussion about wine where Spurrier succeeds in annoying Barrett.
At least their animosity leads to this very convincing exchange later on in the film:
“Jim Barrett: Why don't I like you?
Steven Spurrier: Because you think I'm an arsehole. And I'm not, really. I'm just British and, well... you're not.”
But other than this clever piece of dialogue and many long shots of sun-kissed Napa valley grapes on vine, this film feels like a roughly drawn caricature of a really good story. It has an inherent flakiness from the get-go that flattens even the deep philosophies that it seeks to propagate about wine.
Remember that scene in Sideways where a softly glowing Virginia Marsden tells Paul Giamatti why she loves wine? Well, Bottle Shock tries something similar in the scene where Barrett discovers that Gustavo is secretly making his own wine and fires him. It’s supposed to be moving but it just made me roll my eyes.
“Gustavo Brambila: You people, you think you can just buy your way into this. You cannot do it that way.
Jim Barrett: Alright...
Gustavo Brambila: You have to have it in your blood, you have to grow up with the soil underneath your nails, the smell of the grapes in the air that you breathe. The cultivation of the vine was an art form. The refinement of the vine is a religion that requires pain and desire and sacrifice.”
The refinement of the vine is a religion? No amount of labored handwringing by even poor Freddy Rodriguez, who is actually a very talented actor, could rescue this bit of screenwriting.
I’ve decided to stop my review here and tell you that reading AO Scott’s review of the film in the New York Times was more fun than watching the film itself. I particularly liked his conclusion which borrows from wine-snob terminology. I wish I had thought of reviewing this film in similar terms but I didn’t, so I might as well quote Monsieur Scott.
“The filmmakers struggle to shoehorn a fascinating story about wine into some kind of screen genre or another. But Bottle Shock is unable to figure out what kind of movie it wants to be, and flops around between madcap comedy and rousing drama. To borrow a wine-snob term of art, it lacks structure. Or, to push the idiom a little further, it’s a little too sweet, with some pleasantly nutty notes and a baloney finish.”
Monday, June 22, 2009
Friday, June 19, 2009
My good friend Roger Chiaw and I were out one February evening in Little India drinking beer in the dive next to the Prince of Wales, where you get cloudy naans studded with more minced garlic than is civilised.
Ben Harrison of Etcetera joined us and over glasses of strong, cold beer I told them about the Hindustani music I had learned as a child. I was sad I didn’t sing or play an instrument any more when so many of my formative years were immersed in music—in learning, studying or practicing it.
My parents were music-mad and we grew up listening to Bhimsen Joshi and Kishori Amonkar on one of those grand wooden radiograms that looked like a long, ornate sideboard. It was a ritual we all assembled for watching my father as he pushed open the wooden doors to reveal velvet-lined insides.
And then when I was about 10 or 11, I heard pop music for the first time. Abba and Boney M. I remember thinking it was like hearing ice-cream.
Anyway, back to the present. Ben suggested I get in touch with his friend Adrian, who was looking for singers –possibly for back-up vocals. After a couple of text messages and so forth, I finally went to meet Adrian and his gang on a Wednesday evening at their weekly rehearsal space — Bob’s Studio near Lavender MRT.
This studio is in someone’s apartment. It’s a room that is painted blood red and decorated with old mannequins that function as lights and a couple of framed posters of Portishead, Jamiroquai, The Velvet Underground..that sort of thing. There are people going about their lives as you walk in. A cat is also usually circling about looking for a leg to rub its head on.
We Gang and I. It was instant connection at first song. And I haven’t missed a Wednesday since. How can I explain the joy of rolling up at Bob’s studio on Wednesdays, tired from work but bright-eyed about being in a band?
Adrian, Bradley, Grace, Gerry and Goo are warm, funny and about the most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met, apart from the fact that they are so hugely talented. I know, I know. I’m gushing but meeting them and being part of their band is the most wonderful thing that’s happened to me lately. They don’t take themselves too seriously, which makes for interesting rehearsals. “Not like that, lah” Adrian will say or simply collapse in laughter when it is like that or we keep getting something wrong.
We meet for a meal earlier if we can, and some of us talk about work, some offer conspiracy theories while Grace usually says something obscene. I ask for a bottle of water and the coffee shop man always tells me with a serious expression that it costs 3,700 singapore dollars. I laugh every time.
If I pull a long face, as is my wont, there are questions, “You kena stress? Your boss kena scold you?” (kena is Singlish for 'something has happened.' I like it. If I got an injection, for instance, I’d say, wah lau, I kena jab”)
The picture you see here is the one Grace took of me during the last week’s rehearsals. I’m barefoot in the studio and I’m happy.
(Sincere thanks to Roger and Ben for making this happen)
Thursday, June 18, 2009
This is a great rambling interview with Henry Miller -- part of The Paris Review series of interviews with writers.
“I believe in saying the truth, coming out with it cold, shocking if necessary, not disguising it. In other words, obscenity is a cleansing process, whereas pornography only adds to the murk.”
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The Wall Street Journal has a wonderful article on the role of friendship and intimacy in keeping us healthy.
Despite all my wandering gypsy years, I feel very lucky to have friendships that have transcended time/space constraints. I’m still in touch with a girl I was best friends with when I was about seven or eight years old. She and I have led very different lives but the mad silly rush of a friendship built on cycling around Bangalore, trading Amar Chitra Katha comics, Tintin and Asterix, has never really faded.
So now, even though we only talk every few months, there is never any dressing up of our lives. We are entirely transparent to each other in a way that you can only be to someone who has known you since you were a child.
Two of my closest friends (these friendships were sealed in a Bombay hostel and later in California) have moved, married and become mothers and we go years without seeing each other but phone calls and emails fill the gaps. These changes have done little to detract from the things we share.
And I’m blessed with my men friends too. One is a former colleague and we started off as ‘first-day-first-show friends,’ meaning we were both eager to see the latest Bollywood release. Over the last decade, this friendship has turned into a rambling old conversation that endures through my journeys west and far-east, despite significant differences in ideologies and beliefs.
And along the way, I have made some new and very dear friends. But some of these friendships have also been hurtful and downright painful. They’ve forced me to acknowledge that a true friend is hard to come by. I now have a few rules when it comes to identifying a truly close friend (as opposed to facebook folk and acquaintances)
As rules go, they’re simple and fairly obvious. But I might as well state them for the record: A true friend will pick up the phone if I call, will listen, will return call if he/she misses it, will initiate call/email/or some form of contact periodically. I can talk, cry and be vulnerable without fear of one-upmanship or competition with this person. I can actually depend on this person for an honest exchange of thoughts and ideas.
I’m so grateful that there are many such people in my life. I want to celebrate them with two poems I like very much. One is by Shakespeare and the other is a wonderful couplet by Mirza Ghalib.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
Ghalib is a little darker, but that is his strength. He says:
yih kahaan kii dostii hai kih bane hain dost naasih
koii chaarah-saaz hotaa koii Gam-guzaar hotaa
This roughly translates as: “What kind of friendship is this where friends turn advisors?
I only wish for someone to walk with me, to help, perhaps, to sympathise”
Monday, June 15, 2009
Sorry for the delay -- I blame the time difference between S'pore and Cali. It's still Sunday, and I just watched the Lakers win another NBA title, this time against the Orlando Magic. The Lakers won on the road, which means those looking to overturn and torch police cars on Figueroa tonight will be disappointed.
I've been on break since leaving my newsroom job last August. In fact, I've hardly strung together a sentence for at least 21 months. As I write this, I'm waiting for my new TV obsession -- Kendra! Hef's girlfriend from The Girls Next Door is now on her own and planning her wedding! The 24-year-old is quite a character and has little inhibition before the cameras, which makes the show deliciously trashy. Her straight-man fiance Hank Baskett provides the yang to her yin.
Yes, I've filled most my unemployment down time with TV, especially junk TV, and I don't feel an ounce a guilt about it. Another recent favorite -- Deadliest Warrior -- a pseudo documentary that has been described as a bar argument taken a little too far. Like who would win in a fight between a Ninja and a Spartan warrior? How about the IRA vs. Taliban? The answers may surprise you!
So here's the first post. Not exactly poetry, yet. But in a few weeks, who knows?