Sunday, May 11, 2014

if i were a functional human being

It was only this morning that I discovered this intriguing Nat Geo article on The Seine; a river that flows through Paris and connects all the artistic spirits of the city. Ripple by ripple it whispers tales of love and woes of the people. I wanted to write about the concept of fluide  a word heavy with philosophical implication, they say — and how it relates to me. "c'est fluide", you'll never step into the same river twice. I wanted to go all in I wanted to go deep into yo souls if ya know what I mean. But a lot has changed since morning...

This morning I decided I was going to start a life of discipline a la Daily Routines; do all my schoolwork, my artistic endeavors and go for a run around the neighborhood, but the only running I managed to do was around the kitchen when my nutella-soaked french toast rolls started burning.

Also this  morning; I thought I could be like Chritin Milioti, the petite crooner, serenading the night with the gentle strums of a ukulele. So I picked up a ukulele and tried to learn If I Were a Rich Man from the musical Fiddler on the Roof as a substitute for Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose (how apt, for I am the poor bearded Jewish equivalent of the adorable Christin Milioti), but instead of this:

I ended up looking and sounding like this:


Well, it was only this morning that I wanted to talk about The Seine, but now I've got more pressing things to talk about, more pressing than a goddamn French river. A LOT HAS CHANGED INDEED.

You know that feeling when your precious Frida Kahlo backpack, which was delicately handcrafted by an Etsy supplier, sold for a relatively low price online, and shipped all the way from Mexico to Singapore, is slowly falling apart right before your eyes, and it's time for you to find a new backpack to fill the empty space that Frida Kahlo is about to leave in your heart?

You know that feeling when you wake up in the morning, and you scour the globe (okay maybe just the internet) (ok maybe just for that new backpack that would write new chapters in your life with organic beads, the smell of worn leather and fresh wool? And then you actually find that special one that captures your heart like no other? You know that feeling when it's made in Peru and it's made of tooled leather, woven fabric and red suede, with crochet stitching around the edges, and it's sold at a reasonably low price?
Let's pretend that's a real and accurate accent from some real part of the world 
Now you know that feeling when you just have to wait for a few hours, really think about whether or not this bag is The One that you want, whether these chills you got, they're multiplying, losing control, and the power the bag is supplying it's electrifying? (please get the reference otherwise I just sound like a retard)

And you know that feeling when you've decided that yes this is the john travolta to my olivia (i'm seriously throwing it in your face now please get the reference), and you check back in, just a few hours later and find that this one-of-a-kind bag (like literally there's only ONE of this kind) is SOLD OUT?

This is how Mileys and Britneys are made
Lastly, you know that feeling when you desperately contact the supplier making sure that it's not a prank and this is all you've got?

What a kind woman, though. If I were her I wouldn't even bother replying to some desperate lunatic hah. Nickie is woman of the week.
So what a waste of 5 minutes of your life that's been, reading this post. Probably should've stuck with the French river. For now... I shall just give you the wise words of the three whitest gods in the history of white gods:

Plant a seed, plant a flower, plant a rose
You can plant any one of those
Keep planting to find out which one grows
It's a secret no one knows
It's a secret no one knows
Oh, no one knows

Mmmbop, ba duba dop
Ba du bop, ba duba dop
Ba du bop, ba duba dop

In an mmmbop they're not there
Until you lose your hair
But you don't care

Mmmbop, ba duba dop
Ba du bop, ba duba dop

**Additional entry to the brand new series A Bewildered Nabila and an Uninvolved Bryan:

Sunday, April 27, 2014

and... scene.

I don't think any of us really knew how truly special this was until we presented it to an audience just two days ago.

Half of the time, all of us production I/Cs had been too busy worrying about the relatively slow progression of ticket sales, too worried about being financially in debt to the school due to the big risk that we took by booking a world-class venue, too worried that a bit of hiccup might endanger the entire existence of drama club even more (we were this close to shutting down after CCA recruitment this year). We were too busy trying to develop such an elaborate play/musical with so little money on our hands, and we were definitely too busy figuring out how to work with each other and not end up ripping each other's heart out. This journey really wasn't without a fight. We are not the most well-funded, nor are we the most appreciated in a school that largely ignores the arts for the thrill of water games and cheerleading (not that I have anything against these things, it's just that if only they could approach the arts with the same amount of enthusiasm, that would be swell). We put our all into every little aspect of this production; every handwritten number on all 700+ tickets, every painted stripe on the prisoners' costumes, every stroke of paint on the cupboard, and every struggle to get a space to rehearse. Our teachers-in-charge and our coach/director/scriptwriter have fought so hard for us to be able to ditch SYF, because we don't need certificates, the Silvers and the Golds, we just want to present our work to our friends and family, in Raffles Hotel, no less.

I have to admit, there were times that I thought to myself, why the hell should we bother doing all this shit, building everything from the balcony to the wooden toolbox and the cupboard from scratch, when so little people gave a shit about this weirdo CCA? Why should we fight for the thespians in MJC, when our drama club is not even listed under the category of performing arts, because apparently what we're doing is not art, we're just... Clubbing.

Five minutes to our first performance... It was pitch black on stage. I was sitting at Miss Bright's table just behind the curtain, setting up the typewriter we bargained from Thieves' Market. The audience were already seated. I could hear my boyfriend and my classmates, they were on the front row making a nuisance as usual. Some old 1950's music was playing in the background, and I could almost hear the muffled scratches of an old record player. Farah, the outlandishly talented Farah, was on the other side of the curtains. She was on her sultry Eliza mode, announcing to the audience that the show was about to start. My heart was not beating hard the way it usually does before a live performance. It was dark. It was peaceful. My mind was not racing. I was breathing more easily. A very old friend had visited me; it was pure, unadulterated bliss. I even prayed. I had not done that in a while. Suddenly it came on to me that this thing that we are doing is truly special. These people have come to be entertained and they will be. In that moment, I was the happiest I've ever been in a while. No one could see me, and neither could I see anybody, yet I felt least alone than ever in my life. My sister was backstage because she was the hair stylist for our production. All of my classmates are on the other side of the curtains, rooting for me. My boyfriend was right there in front, all 190 cm tall of him, blocking everyone else who was behind him. My parents were going to be there for the second show. And lastly, the cast and crew scattered about on stage and back. These incredibly talented and hardworking people who have been in this incredible journey with me.

My sister/hair stylist
To our very posh president Faris: everyone, including me, had been so hard on you this year. I know that it must have been incredibly difficult to run this club with so many strong and conflicting personalities, but you have done an exceptional job. You are a figure of such class, talent, and unlimited knowledge and we are lucky to have you as the proud representative of our club. Again, I'm sorry for being hard on you sometimes. You are a great leader, thank you for being the glue that keeps all of us together. You're still a pretentious bastard though.

To our feisty vice president, Aliah: thank you for being the anchor to our insanity. You have great ideas and they have really helped with such a creative endeavor as this. You are the much-needed mother-like figure for this club.

To the teddy bear Zhijun: we have grown so close this year and I've had so much fun with your crazy ass. I'm so glad to have you with me in the Exco. Thank you for always lighting up the atmosphere and getting us through tough times. Stay cool.

To our theatre goddess Farah: I'm pretty sure I've told you this plenty of times; you are the most talented person that I know, and you're a great inspiration to me and to the club. Please don't forget us when you're famous. Not to mention your amazing leadership skills. You're a ruthless motherfucker and that's exactly what we need. Thank you for pushing us and never settling for second best.

To Jolene and Sarah: you superwomen youuuuu! I am so impressed by your work as stage managers,
you guys are the best. You were given such tough jobs, and you executed them perfectly. You all have done the most work out of all of us, and you deserve all the applause that you can get. The show wouldn't have been such a success without you guys, honestly.

To the alumni: wow wow wow you guys never fail to amaze me. All of you have such a formidable presence on stage and off, I am amazed that such a big and talented bunch could have been churned out of these gray MJC walls. I'm so glad to have met every one of you. Thank you all for coming back and elevating the show to such great heights.

To the cast and crew: I love you all so much thank you for working so hard on this production. This has been nothing less than a passion project, and nothing beats the satisfaction of pulling off a truly great show, knowing that we've worked so hard (slooged hehe) and put our blood and tears into every single aspect of it. We have all grown as a big, strange family of unicorns. Just like every other family, there was just as much tension as there was an undying love for each other, and for the work that we were doing. I will never ever forget this experience, it wasn't without a fight, but we pulled through all the shit together, and I think it's safe to say... we kicked ass.

To the teachers who have fought so hard for this show and for our club. We are so lucky to have such great believers in the teaching staff that would stick their necks out to help us.

And to Dwayne, without whom none of this would have been possible. Thank you for writing and directing this show. You are the mastermind behind all the wits and suspense of Assassinat dans le Salon. Thank you for writing Assassinat dans le Salon for us, you are truly a genius and you deserve so much more recognition.

So this closes a short but incredibly meaningful chapter in my life. I have probably exhausted my creativity (for now at least), and now it's time for me to focus on my academics. Brb crying.
what am I gonna do with my life now??
And as Mr Low said: "Keep fighting to perform. Don't forget the lights, the applause, don't forget the journey, the friends."

andd... scene.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

never new and never gets old

The great Karl Pilkington once said, "Your dreams should never be better than real life because otherwise, what's the point? ... Unless you're a sloth. 'Cause they sleep a lot don't they?" And you probably shouldn't be taking life advice from this bald, bumbling and perpetually bullied Karl, but there's always some wisdom in his awkward philosophies. We are raised with the American notion that dreams are the roots of everything, that to keep on living is to keep on dreaming. We are told not to be afraid of being optimistic, of looking forward to a better life, a better world, a better version of  ourselves, a better everything; a Utopia. And never has there been an establishment so relentless in feeding that very notion to the public as Hollywood. That slow-mo victory scene of the everyman man smiling from ear to ear while thrusting his fist to the air, that typical nerd driving through the sunset with the woman he lusts after, and that Nobody who stumbles his way to success, Hollywood had identified our predilection for this little thing called Hope and exploited it over and over again with one "inspiring" story after another. Yet every so often a maverick creeps into the scene and quietly plays itself as a reminder that for every Bronte sister, there is a young aspiring Romantic poet who lies dead at 14 with only a scrapbook of her hilariously bad, somber poems and macabre pictures, as was the figure of Emmeline Grangerford in Mark Twain's novel. For every Bob Dylan that emerges out of booze-clouded obscurity, too, there is a bearded, grumpy, and sad-looking guy with a guitar and a cat that isn't his, roaming around the city looking for a place to crash in, while desperately trying to make it in the folk music scene.

So in the spirit of Maverick Hollywood, Inside Llewyn Davis came into my life, and hopefully your life too, and illustrated the less victorious side of the Bohemian Greenwhich Village on the verge of a folk-music revolution, in the eyes of said grumpy guy with a guitar and a cat that isn't his.

Never from the very start of the movie did we think that things were going to look up for our pitiful protagonist. With its hazy filter and dreamy greenish hue it projects the dark and decaying world of Llewyn Davis, for whom nothing is ever new, nor does it ever get old. We follow his life in the course of a week, within which period of time we see repeated occurrences of him wandering alone in the city, getting beaten up in a dark alleyway, engaging in half-hearted yet tensed conversations with his quasi-friends and acquaintances, walking through claustrophobic hallways and chasing after a cat whose name he doesn't even know. His world seems unbearably small, and him even smaller. The camera lingers over things like his feet getting soaked in the snow, and his bewildered, exhausted faces throughout the film, just to emphasize how pitiful he is. In this one scene he is riding with two strangers, one of them a douchey jazz musician, the other a young taciturn driver. It opens with a shot of the empty road ahead as the car cruises smoothly down, set to a gentle acoustic guitar riff. In any other film that I traditionally watch this would be the beginning of a heartwarming scene where the travel companions collectively sway to the music, smiling and singing along. And it would end with Penny Lane enigmatically whispering "you are home" to the adolescent boy. In this Coen Brothers' movie, however, we are feasted instead with the fat snoring face of the jazz musician, buried deep within his layers of flesh, and the stone-cold apathy of the driver, as Llewyn croons to 'Green Green Rocky Road'. It's a short scene but it left a lasting impression on me.

In another scene we intrude upon a private audition between him and a famous music manager, where he again beautifully croons to 'The Death of Queen Jane', and what felt like a sentimental moment was (SPOILER!) cut short by the manager's frank comment "I don't see any money in this". He then proceeded to advice him to get a partner or a group, for he is not a solo kinda guy. Well, he did have a partner, but (SPOILER!) he jumped off the George Washington Bridge (not the infamous Brooklyn Bridge, to the dismay of previously mentioned jazz musician) not too long ago, so that one is over and done with. This kind of bathos keeps repeating over and over again, sometimes bowing to the audience, (prime example is his sick father, whose smile has become known to us as to not signify his enjoyment of the music, but his bowel movement) or to himself. There is such a painful discordance between The Dream, you know, that of a folk musician in the midst of a musical revolution, and what we come to see in these repeated occurrences that have become known as his reality. And to think that among all these hopeful little voices in the Bohemia, there is probably only one Bob Dylan and a lot more Llewyn Davises, and then we have a few others in between who either sold out or simply got lucky. 

Inside Llewyn Davis isn't the only one of its kind, of course. I have seen a slew of others celebrating, or rather, simply presenting the failures of the world.

Killing Bono, for example, is adapted from a true story of two Irish brothers who had a band, and sadly, were schoolmates of U2's very own Bono. It follows their road to almost-success, and eventually epic failure, all while watching Bono as he propelled to stardom with ease (or what looked like an ease anyway). Its main "protagonist" is a complete asshole, and the movie doesn't shy away from portraying him as that. The final scene shows the brothers desperately and dramatically running towards a train that would lead them to an enormously important gig alongside U2, only to freeze halfway, with an overlaying text informing us that they never made it to that gig, and then listing their other failures. The main protagonist went on to become a music critic, and hey, not too bad; he had a movie made about him. A movie that is still named after his arch nemesis that is, but a movie about him nonetheless.

Tim Burton's little gem Ed Wood is another classic example. This is one of my favorite films ever. It is genuinely really funny and clever, yet it never goes too far in its mockery of the man who was awarded the title Worst Director of All Time. In fact, it never seems to mock him at all. While it gathers laughs from Ed Wood's eccentricities, it seems to fully respect his undying passion and love for every frame, every shot and every scene of his ludicrous films. Perhaps he is delusional, ok, he is very delusional. However, there is an unquestionable beauty in that footage he shot of the burnt out actor Bela Lugosi as he walks out of his house, taking his time to smell the flowers. His vision of a Bela Lugosi lookalike rising from his deathbed in one of his movies, shot soon after the real Bela Lugosi's death is absolutely morbid. Yet his movies are so bad that they are almost good in the strangest sense of the word. As Roger Ebert put it; "It takes a special weird genius to be voted the Worst Director of All Time", and Tim Burton seemed to have recognized that. Here's a movie about a failure of a film director, and kind of like Llewyn Davis, it respects its subject, however unlike Llewyn Davis, it never seems to mourn it.

There are many others that go along the theme, but I have neither the time nor energy to talk about them now. You can check them out below. 

So why make these movies? Why even bother following the seemingly dull life of a seemingly dull folk musician such as Llewyn Davis, in the course of one week? A few weeks ago on this blog I wrote about the special connection between an artist and his/her audience. For Llewyn Davis, however, this kind of connection doesn't come as a perk of being a folk musician. Rather, it is a far off dream, one that is repeatedly being ripped away from him. Ed Wood's first big premiere ended in a blood bath. I passionately write on this blog, and I don't even know if anyone's reading and connecting with me. So what happens to these unlucky ones? Do they just slowly fade away and eventually abandon The Dream? Is it even worth it to have dreams at all? I still like to believe that it is. The cat that Llewyn Davis lost is found in the very end of the movie. Its name is revealed to be Ulysses. Those who have read the book gasped and let out a soft "I get it now...". So I'm reading the James Joyce book now, hoping to find some kind of an answer. Problem: it's super thick and difficult to read so it'd probably take years for me to find the answer. See you then.

Here's a selfie as a token before I come back here all old and frail.

Friday, January 17, 2014

the art of connecting

There's this thing that I do whenever I have a lingering thought about something; I obsessively scour the internet for whatever piece of writing/art/film/music out there that spells out these thoughts more eloquently than the little voice inside my head does. Maybe someone out there understands me better than I do. Maybe that piece of art found on a wall in Penang, that song by an Icelandic musician, or that film that is so famous in Italy could somehow help me make sense of my own thoughts. I normally read at least 5 pieces of reviews after watching a truly great film, just to make sure I didn't miss out on any little thing that would give me a better understanding and insight into the picture that has moved me so much. I could read multiple articles, AND their comments, all on the same subject just to find that Thing That Zings, that thing that would resonate to me and make me feel less alone in my head. And just yesterday something definitely zinged. 

I was looking for Amanda Palmer's old "Dear Dailymail" video (you know... that live performance where she threw major burns at Dailymail and stripped naked on stage because she's Amanda Palmer) when I came across the absolutely beautiful video of her TED talk below.

Just a bit of background info: Amanda Palmer is the musician who cut ties with her label, released her band's album online for free, and at the same time, asked her fans to help her fund their record because they do need the money. So there's the mainstream music industry that is ruthlessly fighting against piracy, and here's Amanda Palmer, the woman who managed to raise over $1 million on Kickstarter, donated by 25,000 individuals who could have gotten her album for free anyway.

There have been lots of backlash regarding this video (I know, I've read like 10 articles about it) (and their comments), most of them pointing out on how Amanda Palmer's Kickstarter success is based solely on her many privileges (having Neil Gaiman as her famous husband, the fact that she was already famous thanks to her label, etc.) and thus her suggestions are completely irrelevant to the reality of the financially problematic music industry. I know very little about the economics of the music industry, and I care very little too. It's absolutely shitty that they immediately turned to her equally famous husband as an explanation for why she's so successful but I won't get into that. I'm just here to express something really simple.

The Thing That Zinged for me in that talk is the whole idea of a special relationship between an artist and a fan, the trust and human connection that, if you just break your walls and open up, could exist between complete strangers. I love the idea of artists as "connectors and openers", not untouchable stars. That moment with the flower and the intense eye contact, that unspoken "I see you"-"No one has ever seen me" exchange between her as the 8-foot bride and a random passersby, THAT is a thought that had lingered in my mind for well over 3 years, so you could only imagine the excitement that I felt, seeing it verbalized so beautifully by one of the coolest people alive; Amanda Palmer.

I have experienced that moment with strangers multiple times, as my family started to travel more often. I remember that time that I was on a boat at Halong Bay a few years back, my sister and I were fishing with two little Aussie kids that were also staying there. It was quite late at night, we could hear music from the other boats, and we were just chatting with these kids for hours while catching little more than a couple of small fish. I remember this guy beside me who was also fishing, and eventually caught a squid, and in the excitement the kids grabbed it and paraded it around the boat shouting "WE CAUGHT A SQUID!!", while my sister and I played along. I remember the 10-year-old girl telling me I was beautiful, and that my art was beautiful, and by the end of the night they were hugging me and my sister, telling us that they wished they had older sisters like us.  That was one of the first of my memorable encounters. Ever since then, more and more just kept coming, to the point that whenever I travel I unconsciously seek for such ties, whether it is with the lady in Bali who made me promise "never to turn into a boring individual", or the Malaysian hotel owner who insisted "the real magic is in the East" therefore I should never abandon it, or the Turkish man who spontaneously danced with me and asked me to marry his son. These little unexpected encounters were always the highlights of my travels. I really do cherish them. There's a thrill in being surrounded by people whom I don't know, who don't know me and share very different life stories from me, and yet we manage to come together for that little break from what is familiar. There's a thrill in spending the New Year's Eve on the lower Himalaya range, my dad in one hand, and a random Spanish grandpa in the other, as we danced a simple Bhutanese dance around a fire to welcome 2014. There is also a thrill in spending the New Year's Eve's Eve in Turkey back in 2012, with my very cool aunt, cousins and sister, in the tour guide's hotel room, dancing to Turkish music, and eventually proceeding to listen intently while our tour guide poured his heart out, his worries and his broken heart, to the family whom he had trusted with his stories just for that one night (okay maybe he was just drunk but whatever).

Just about a month ago I was in Bali, I was at a pathetic bazaar at the corner of Seminyak where the booths were dark and unwelcoming, the weather was rather gloomy, and the people even gloomier. Yet there was this one booth that caught my attention. It was at first glance just as dark and unwelcoming as the others, but at a closer look it was apparent that every inch of its surface was covered by absolutely vibrant and eclectic art pieces made of glass. I instantly gravitated towards them, especially to one particular abstract glass piece featuring a floral pattern, nailed to a long and dark wooden plank. "One of my most understated works" A voice with a Middle Eastern-American accent commented. "So many people overlook that one", I looked up and saw a big and sloppily dressed middle aged man standing in front of me. "I found that piece of wood at the beach, thought it would compliment this one" Suddenly another voice followed, this time it was that of an American child, "No I was the one who picked it up! Then I gave it to you!" The source of this voice, however, was the most Balinese-looking child. The man asked me if I was an artist too, to which I replied "I like to think so". He told me of his process, how he melts his glass and uses powder for the colors. His works were so curious, each one seemed to have a deformity to it, some kind of incongruity with the deep yet vibrant colors. I dragged my family to the booth, we all chatted a bit, and then the usual "how much is this? Oh I don't have enough cash right now I'll come back here later" exchange followed, so we left with an empty promise. A couple of days later, after I was done surfing and then being sick and vomiting non-stop, I managed to persuade my parents to come back. My mom can be quite the dilettante herself, but my dad is a rational, realistic, and practical man.

It was a rainy day and all the booths were covered by plastic sheets. My mom chose to stay in the car, while my dad and I entered the bazaar huddled under one small umbrella. Right outside the booth my dad shook the plastic sheet covering it, shouting "KNOCK KNOCK!!!!!". The man's face appeared, with the biggest smile on his face "you guys are actually back!". He welcomed us into the booth, through the plastic sheet and the colorful glass ornaments he set up around his area. "You guys are actually back huh... even though it's raining wow... just wow". He turned to my dad,  and said "you must really love your artistic little daughter.. I must give it to you man" The smile never left his face. "I have a daughter too, she is just like you." We talked and talked for some time, then I picked up one of his works and told him this was the one that I wanted. "The Head of a Butterfly. I scratched the wood around it so it looks like it's flying away... one of my favorites, that one. You have a good eye", then he proceeded to sign and write a little note at the back of the wood.

"The Head of a Butterfly
To Nabila: Stay cool and love art. Avi"

The man's name is Avi. He migrated from Israel to the States, and has long gained his American citizenship. He was in Bali when he met his Balinese wife, who happened to be his surf instructor at the time. He has only one shop in Bali, which was that little booth in a sad bazaar. He recently opened a shop in Manhattan. The business seems to be going relatively well there, so he's going to close this shop and focus on Manhattan. He once had a Singaporean customer, who was enamored by his art as I was. A few months or years later, he was in Manhattan, and by a strange force of fate he bumped into the same Singaporean guy, thousands of miles away from where they originally met. His last words he said to me was "Maybe I'll see you in Manhattan. Who knows?" He also told me that I am welcome to visit his studio anytime, where he or his wife would teach me how to create glass art, and let me use their resources for free.

So that brings me back to The Art of Asking. Amanda Palmer has such an unspoken connection with his fans that she often receives help from his fans for nothing at all. She has become the hat into which the audience dropped their support into. Some would say she's a freeloader, and maybe she is, I don't know. I don't know Amanda Palmer. All I know is that some of the best souvenirs I have consist of freebies:

1. A full book of urban sketches given to me by the hotel owner in Penang
2. A sweet little note from the Aussie kids that I just talked about, complete with a sticker of vintage, pre-insanity Miley
3. A big pile of art books given to me by a Malaysian painter
4. A seashell from my diving instructor in Thailand
5. A drawing of the sun that my Vietnamese tour guide did on my sketchbook
6. A polaroid of me and my friends when we were setting up an impromptu shoot for Canon Photo Marathon, given to us by a random passersby
7. Some others that I can't remember at the moment

So naturally, I love freebies, not because I'm a freeloader, but because they speak of ties outside of the stupid assumptions we are forced to accept in our economics class. I love freebies because they prove that the world is not a machine, with its people being nothing but little gears. They prove that while the relationship between a consumer and a producer may start with a business transaction, it can easily be overcome by the fact that it is also a relationship between an artist and an audience/reader/viewer, or an instant connection between two human beings.

I can't say these things outside of my writing, because in the real world I would sound like a delusional hippie. But this is how I see things; think of the ending to that Mexican road trip movie 'Y Tu Mamá También'. A voiceover brings us through the epilogue of the characters' lives, it tells of the fate of the local family who lived at a pristine beach in poor rural Mexico; they were driven out of their home due to a new tourist development. What's interesting is how the voice presenting this unfortunate information hovers over a beautiful scene of our main characters with this local family on a boat, sailing through the sunset, towards their modest home by the beach. This voice then proceeds to tell us that one of our main characters had had cancer the whole time, and that she chooses to stay at that beach with the local family, up until the day she dies. This time it is told over another wonderful scene of her happily floating away on the blue sea, looking healthy and alive as ever.

While the shitty reality will eventually catch up, the spotlight will always shine on the beautiful moments, because they happened, they existed, and they mattered. Someone once told me that my life is like a movie. Maybe it is. One time, I put my trust on a boy whom I barely knew, who took me on a wonderful walk through the night, where we saw a different and milder side of Singapore. We sat on a rooftop and listened to music as we waited for the sun to rise. While many fights followed since that night, while pain and heartbreaks started to enter the picture, these ugly details would remain as nothing but voiceovers, hovering over a scene on that rooftop, the moment that I let myself fall to the hands of a mere acquaintance, the way Palmer crowd surfs, and couch surfs. While there were times that I cried myself to sleep, or suppressed my tears in class, these moments were always upstaged by the written words that I received; the letters of apologies, regrets, and love. While I might have witnessed the ocean doing its dirty deeds on a poor innocent boy, I still see the sea the way that I did on my first ever dive, or that moment that I was floating away as I watched from up close how the surfers effortlessly ride the waves.

Maybe my life is like a movie simply because I let it flow like one.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Jason Statham needs to stop

"Isn't that perhaps the reason?" "The reason--?"
"For (the van der Luydens') great influence; that they make themselves so rare."
-Ellen Olenska, The Age of Innocent

Obviously Jason Statham doesn't take a note from the van der Luydens. I was walking out of a cinema when I saw the poster for Homefront, and I couldn't help but groan. Am I the only one who is sick of seeing that shiny head in almost every action film that is out there? He's not THAT great. I can imagine him lying down all day, surrounded by his movies' memorabilia while his people manually scan for the words "car chase" "gun" and "boobs" in the scripts that he receives, and then signing the deals for him. This video by Screen Junkies sums it all up.

P.S. For those people who agree with me (God bless you): Jason Statham probably earns severals millions of dollars in a year, and we're just kids with an Internet connection. So he wins.

Keep up the mediocre work, Statham!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

how my cousin saved a life

You know that part in Harry Potter where McGonagall asks the trio "why is it that every time something happens it's always the three of you" to which Ron hilariously replies "trust me professor, i've been asking the same question for 6 years"? The same question crossed our minds during our disastrous trip to the pristine island of Belitung, where the Andrea Hirata book Laskar Pelangi is set. After getting through a tumultuous flight, and then witnessing the hotel furniture flying around due to a storm in the middle of the night, we thought we've exceeded the bad luck quota for our trip. The universe had other plans, though, and our misadventure reached its peak as a young local boy brushed shoulders with death right before our eyes. 

We were at what was said to be the "best beach in Belitung", due in part to its appearance in the movie adaptation of Laskar Pelangi. It looked like a scene in a Romantic painting, with the waves crashing against the glistening rocks, and the six of us (me, my aunt, my sister, my two cousins, and my uncle) sitting there taking it all in. Some kids came in and started swimming in the increasingly violent waters, with no adult in sight. We assumed that they were local kids, thus they would know what they were doing. Without much thinking we decided to swim too, only safely behind the rocks. Indeed the moment we strayed just a bit too far we could feel our feet being almost violently tugged towards the open seas, which freaked us out a little, so being not very strong swimmers we decided to stay safely at the shores. However two kids of probably not older than 10 years old had a different plan. 

We realized something was wrong when an older boy that these kids were with tried to get our attention from a distance. He had attempted to swim towards a kid who was too far off from the rocks. Then we noticed another, smaller head just next to that kid bobbing up and down, struggling to stay afloat. Our first instinct was to get help; none of us could swim up there to save them. Not only were the current too strong, but dragging two people along with you is a completely different thing altogether. The only person physically qualified for such a job was my uncle, who is the biggest coward (i'm not being mean, this is a very widely known fact). You have no idea how terrible it was, watching these two kids being dragged away, knowing that i couldn't do anything. There was no one else at the beach, so we ran out and screamed for help at the nearby shops. There ought to be at least a lifebuoy in a place like that, or a local who's a strong swimmer. But none of the people there knew where the lifebuoys were (or if there was any) and it was appalling how long it took for us to find help. Most of the locals that came just stood around, some of them screamed and cried while lying on the ground, offering no help whatsoever. One of the visitors even started filming the whole damn thing. We saw the mother running to the beach, screaming and crying, which was understandable unlike the complete stranger who made a scene. My head was about to explode. The current kept getting stronger, and at this point, that little head had long disappeared. Then this big local guy (i think he was a fisherman) came up, stripped down, and skillfully swam towards them, quickly retrieving them back to land. One of the two was fine, he was holding on to the drowned one the whole time, never letting go. As the man brought the drowned one to shore, we thought we had seen a dead body. His lips, fingertips, and toes were blue and there was foam coming out of his mouth. One of the people there tried calling an ambulance but it didn't get through. Luckily my aunt is a certified doctor (who hasn't practiced in quite a while), and my cousin training to be one. Like a champ, my cousin quickly performed CPR on the kid. It was quite a scene, really. My cousin's voice was trembling as he put theories to practice, my aunt was supervising the whole thing, guiding my cousin while we were trying to calm down the mother who was frantically praying and clasping her son's head in her embrace. And then there were the people crowding around with their pessimism murmuring about how the kid was a goner. 

After some time they managed to get some of the water out of his lungs and he could finally breathe a little, but the next thing in line was to get to the hospital on time, given the secluded location of the beach. According to my cousin, (who joined the family to keep an eye on the kid) the suction device in the nearest health centre was out of order, and the doctor was on a leave. So all they could do was provide supplemental oxygen and send the boy to the only hospital around the area. My cousin was in the ambulance and found that even the staff didn't look like they knew what they were doing. The rest of my family and I then proceeded to the hospital, and believe me, it didn't feel like a short ride, and my lungs weren't even filled with water. Fortunately when we got there around 80% of the water was out and the kid's condition was stable. We learned that his name is Said, and that his dad works for the government. They are from Belitung but not from that area. His dad was at work when he got the call, and we found him crying by his son's bed, holding his hand making sure that he didn't fall asleep (which, it turned out, wasn't necessary because apparently he was allowed to sleep. But how were we supposed to know when the doctors were busy taking selfies or something). the mom revealed that neither Said nor his brother (the other boy who was holding him) knew how to swim. It was incredible considering how the boy kept fighting against the waves while holding on to his little brother the whole time without even knowing how to swim, but we couldn't help but feeling that they shouldn't have been set free in the December waters in the first place. 

This is a situation that could've been handled better or avoided in so many ways, but wasn't partly because the system sucked. And apart from the fishermen with their quick thinking and their strong ability to swim, most of the people's instinct was to kneel down, cry out to the sky, mourning the death of a child that wasn't even dead yet. The ambulance couldn't be contacted, the health centre provided little help, and there was little to no kind of safety measure at that beach. This wasn't even supposed to be a deserted beach. In fact, it was one of the most famous beaches there, made even more famous by a big Indonesian movie, and they didn't even have a goddamn lifebuoy. Another thing was the agony of seeing someone in danger and knowing that i couldn't just jump in there and make it all alright. I am extremely small and so damn weak and now I really feel like I should do something about it. Waiting on for other people's help is just too painful. I want to be courageous and strong. I have to be because I would never forgive myself if I was the only person around, helplessly watching the person drown. 

It's impossible to express how proud i am of my cousin. This wasn't his first time saving a life. He was on duty at a soccer match where he performed CPR on a guy who was knocked unconscious. However, back then he had a team of paramedics helping him out. This time he was in the middle of nowhere, with no one else but my aunt to help him out, and the life of a 7-year-old child at stake. Hats off to him, really.

p.s. We were just informed that Said is now in a good enough condition to go home. The family didn't say anything about brain damage or anything so I assume he's all good and safe.

p.p.s There's a cruel irony in the fact that my previous post mentioned my daydream of exactly the same thing. It was a vision birthed from thoughts entirely based on movies. Experiencing it in real life, however, and seeing how my cousin dealt with the whole thing, I don't think a sense of self-entitlement would even have a space to slip into with so much terror, fear, rage and frustration in place. 

p.p.p.s i've never felt so relieved to be back in Singapore. What was once considered as boring and safe is now heavenly for me. We're flying off to Bhutan on the 26th, to one of the most dangerous airports in the world, so i have less than 2 days to take a breather.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

mostly harmless

There's this recurring daydream of mine in which I claim Adrien Brody's unfortunate position in The Darjeeling Limited. A vain attempt at saving a local boy's life ends tragically, leaving me with a little tinge of guilt, a little tinge of shame, and a little tinge of grief. I don't know this boy nor his story. In the face of a stranger's death a big black hole of emptiness takes over all other human emotions that I'm capable of having. Much like Adrien Brody I am invited to the boy's funeral. And much like Adrien Brody I find myself assuring the heartbroken family of the battle I fought for their sake. I make a show out of my grief, shedding many a tear for the boy I never knew, nor will I ever get to. Now this is when the story diverges. My daydream ends with me and my dried tears, abandoned at the back of the room as I watch the family mourn the death of their precious child. Wait the minute, wasn't I the one who risked my life for the kid? Why isn't anyone wiping my tears and applauding my chivalry??

I feel like if I ever managed to save a stranger's life, a sense of self-entitlement would unknowingly sneak into me. You never see this in movies because the hero is more often than not celebrated, perhaps too excessively, for their actions. But in real life, would the presence of Adrien Brody really distract a poor family from the fact that they just lost such a young and precious boy? And if it doesn't would his character react a biiit differently, at least in his mind?

I don't know if that was the best example. Here's a better one; I once read an article (which I'm not gonna cite here) written by an Australian who went to Bali, expecting a safe haven where she could let out her inner Julia Roberts and get an ~exotic~ star treatment while the humble people of the island gaze at her superiority with utter respect.  So she arrived there only to discover that *GASP* there are actual Balinese people who are struggling to make a living out of *GASP* begging or hassling tourists like her. And that the "genuine" and "exotic" feel of the island naturally comes with *GASP* foreign cultures that might not be as charming and accommodating for her delicate being. It really is quite a surprise when a middle-class tourist ventures to a ~third-world~ country in search of solace and finds that everyone is just trying to rip money off of her, aside from being, y'know, charming and exotic.

I'm just thinking aloud here because I feel that self-importance is so abundant in almost everyone, including myself. We unconsciously feel like the whole world revolves around us. It's like the Truman Show syndrome, except that instead of a Hollywood dome where everything is made for us, we live in a gigantic universe, in which our precious little earth is merely a tiny speck. In this vast universe, nothing is made for us. Yes, it is pretty great that we are provided with oxygen and some natural stuff to eat, but other than that we gotta work our butts off just to survive. The Earth has given us more than enough signs to tell us that all this isn't our shit to mess with. The movie Gravity itself has emphasized the fact that we humans are almost completely powerless against the great forces of the universe, unless of course you're the lead character of a humongous blockbuster movie (kidding it's an amazingly moving movie I cried many times you really should watch it). My point is... while Truman had reason for his suspicion, we don't.

There's this lovely quote from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

“on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.” 

In this entire novel Douglas Adams is basically shouting at us "ATTENTION PEOPLE OF THE EARTH. You're stupid and you suck. There's a whole world out there but you're just too ignorant and self-involved to ever discover it. Oh and you're all just part of an experiment run by mice. Good day." And I'm beginning to think that he has a  point. Sometimes I really wonder, why do people take themselves so seriously? The way that we think and live wraps us in little bubbles where we aggrandize the smallest possible thing that happens to us. And everything we do outside of that bubble, still makes its way into the bubble such that it benefits us. People don't do charity because it helps people (and sometimes it doesn't), they do it because it gives them a sense of self-satisfaction. It makes us feel good and humble and charitable. I'm not saying that charity is bad, because either way the job gets done and that's great as long as it's done right, methodically speaking. I'm just saying that maaaaybe the people who shaved their hair for Hair for Hope got more benefits from being such amazing people than the cancer patients that they are trying to help in the first place.

On a visit to Shakespeare's grave at Stratford-upon-Avon, I was so distracted by this one thing the guide said about Shakespeare. He said that Shakespeare was supposed to be buried out there at the churchyard like everyone else, but there was a new arrangement made such that his grave would be placed in the middle of the church with other Great Men who donated money or something, because he didn't want his bones to be dug out like all the other bones out there in the churchyard that were removed to make space for other bones. I don't know if I remember the story correctly. I'm also not dissing Shakespeare because no one gets anywhere with that. It just made me think of all the grandiose arrangements* that people make for their dead bodies. Why do they even care? Here's my immature guess: they're all merely efforts to be immortal aren't they? They want to be in control, even after they're dead. They want to be remembered. They don't want their bones to be removed because that's all they will have left and they want to stay as a part of the world that they once lived in. Isn't this in a way a similar form of unconscious self-aggrandizement that plagues all of us? 

Arthur Dent (from the Hitchhiker's), in his vain attempt to immortalize the Earth after it was destroyed, found that in the book that held all the knowledge of the universe, this planet that he grew up in was conveniently condensed into a two-word entry: Mostly harmless.

So what I'm saying in this super long post is.. YOU ARE ALL WORTHLESS. YOU ARE BUT A TINY SPECK IN A WORLD GOVERNED BY MICE, WHO ARE BUT TINY SPECKS IN A WORLD GOVERNED BY DR SEUSS. What is a dramatic and emotional end of the world for you might turn out to be merely a part of a new development for an intergalactic highway, of which your earth is on the way.

P.S. with all that said..
HOLLYWOOD WATCH: I'm really excited for that movie Tracks, an inspirational tale about a young woman's solitary journey across the Australian dessert to prove that a seemingly ordinary and unimportant person is capable of truly great things. I'm a total sucker for these things.

*Speaking of grandiose after-death arrangements I've always wanted to be buried underwater. Apparently you can do that nowadays. 
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