Tuesday, December 30, 2003

I received my order of L5R cards, finally. They took more than 3 weeks to get here from New Zealand :p But the stamp used has Gandalf on it, and makes it all worth the wait.

I wish I had the whole set of Return of the King stamps.
Anita Mui, HK pop superstar, has passed away of cervical cancer at the age of 40.

I was never a fan of hers, mainly because I never listened to Chinese pop beyond what I had to for my Mandarin classes. By all accounts she was a likable person and a fervent community service volunteer despite her hectic schedule -- she apparently worked up till the day she fell into a coma. In fact she was supposed to launch her new book here in Singapore in mid-December, with all proceeds going to the Children's Cancer Foundation. She never turned up, and with hindsight she was probably already being ravaged on the inside by the cancer.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Now this article provides plenty of thought for Public Policy majors. Andy Ho always does a good job of making science accessible to the layman, but without cheapening or dumbing down his content. Since The Straits Times only keeps articles for 3 days, the column in question has been reproduced for your reading pleasure :)

Inoculating the world against the wrong flu
By Andy Ho

IF YOU are not one of the 300,000 Singaporeans who have taken the flu shot, count yourself lucky.

The current vaccine against influenza A was made to be used against a strain first isolated in Panama in 1999. However, there is a new strain plaguing the world, called Fujian, which bears 23 significant mutations, some of which are very dramatic, Harvard bioengineer Henry Niman told The Sunday Times.

This means that the vaccine now in use will offer less than the usual 70 to 90 per cent protection rate, and probably way below 50 per cent, since 75 per cent of the cases are now Fujian.

First identified in China (Beijing), the United States (Massachusetts) and Japan (Osaka) late last year, Fujian was already causing severe illness in Australia and New Zealand by February this year.

Coincidentally, that is also the time of the year when the major pharmaceutical firms decide, in collaboration with governments, what flu strains to manufacture the annual vaccine against.

Most knew about the emerging Fujian strain, but decided to stick with Panama anyway.

How was that decision made in the US, the nation so far worst hit by the Fujian flu?


Its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee in the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made the fateful call on March 18. A transcript of its proceedings can be read on the FDA website.

Except for a lone voice of dissent - and two abstentions - 17 physicians and public health specialists voted to bring back the Panama shot.

A close reading of the questions posed shows that, though experts in their own fields, few seemed familiar with genetics or vaccine production. Instead, they appeared dependent on the presentations by two speakers who briefed them before a vote was taken.

People about to cast an important vote are duty-bound to do some homework beforehand but the proverbial dog could have eaten all their homework, save for one person.

Came decision day, three sins committed went unexpiated because only one member could recognise them.

First, the threat that the new strain would likely pose was underplayed.

Fujian was already spreading geographically and had caused disease in the southern winter, thus heralding a new epidemic.

Moreover, the fact that two of the 23 mutations in Fujian had first appeared in the 1968 pandemic, then disappeared, only to reappear now, was nowhere noted in their deliberations.

If they had only studied the genomes of the flu strains available on the Internet, they would have seen the telltale mutations.

Second, they were told that there was no way to produce the Fujian vaccine, the strain having failed repeatedly to grow in chicken eggs. The Europeans and Japanese were experiencing similar difficulties.

(The difficulty in growing the virus should have been a broad hint that Fujian was significantly different from Panama.)

In fact, there were other ways to grow the virus - through cell cultures alone, or through cell cultures followed by transfer of the rapidly growing virus into eggs.

The Japanese did successfully grow the Fujian virus in a cell culture and transfer it into eggs. These could have been used to begin making the vaccine.

But the Americans refused the same procedure, fearing that cell cultures might introduce other extraneous agents, some potentially cancerous, into the vaccine.

In fact, chicken eggs might also introduce similar agents but, never mind, eggs have always been used.

The FDA was unlikely to approve the use of viruses that had been through a cell culture even once, the participants at the vaccine advisory committee were told.

And even if it did, approval would take months - too late to use them this season because manufacturing the vaccine using eggs takes eight months and so must commence by early April if they are to get to market by the cold season at year's end.

Yet, had they done their homework, they would have come across a firm called Solvay Pharmaceuticals with one cell culture licensed for use in vaccine production.

Using cell cultures alone without subsequent transfer into eggs produces vaccines much faster, possibly in time even for use this season.

This had been successfully tried out on an industrial scale in Austria last year, where the vaccine worked safely and effectively in 2,500 volunteers.

In addition, having voted to use the old Panama strain, it behooved the American health authorities to inform the public that this year's flu shot wasn't going to offer much protection against the expected bug.

They didn't - and yet they are still telling at-risk groups to take the shot.

I'm befuddled: Annual shots are recommended because the flu virus keeps changing, the experts say. Yet the strain used in making the influenza A vaccine has remained completely unchanged since 2000, even though the virus has mutated.

The 17 members of the committee seemed to have voted less on the science and more on regulatory considerations and industrial concerns - decidedly not their areas of expertise too.

Had the vote been 20 against Panama, it might have forced the FDA's hand to make a quick decision about using the licensed cell culture to produce the Fujian.

But it's too late now for the families whose children have died from Fujian. Looks like a long winter ahead for the Americans.


I bring this article to your attention, because these are the kind of situations that Public Policy (at least the way I was taught it at the University of Chicago anyway) equips people to study. At first glance, it's easy to conclude that the decision-makers were negligent or even amoral (this seems to be Mr Ho's slant as well).

This is in no way a criticism of Mr Ho's writing, but I observe that lots of people (not including Mr Ho) think that government policy is a matter of the right people waving a magic wand. It's a whole lot more complicated than that. I wish more people would appreciate the sheer difficulty in coordinating different groups all with their own agendas. I wish more would consider the political give-and-take decision-makers play to get the best deals for their interests. I wish more people were able (or willing) to grasp the concept that routine and organisational processes can and often do blind a person to change -- even if she is the most upright person in the world.

This is why the world needs good Public Policy majors.
Rocket Mania is damn addictive.

Friday, December 26, 2003

Am taking a short break from Quicksilver, having finished the 1st book. I thought I'd read Dance Dance Dance, but I was thumbing the first pages of that book when I remembered that it was kind of a sequel to A Wild Sheep Chase. Didn't feel right not to reread that, so into my bag it went and me into bed.

Then this morning on the bus I recalled that A Wild Sheep Chase used characters from Hear the Wind Sing. Somehow it had never struck me that all three could be read in succession. Wouldn't hurt to try, and Murakami's work is worth rereading anyway.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

j�nigatsu nij�yokka
anata wa
nani wo shiteru
watashi wa
machi no dokoka de
zutto anata wo matteruuuuuu

T�ky� wa itsudatte
itsudatte nigiyaka da kedo
j�nigatsu nij�yokka
hitori-kiri wa sukoshi samishii


Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Clarissa Oon, journalist and arts critic for the lifestyle section of The Straits Times (titled, in a fit of style-masquerading-as-creativity, Life!), has discovered Murakami Haruki.

I would link to her column, but since the ST only keeps its online editions, well, online for 3 days linking probably wouldn't be of much point. Nonetheless --

Where can I find a Murakami man?

btw, Miss Oon has written a short comedy too:

Say The Right Thing (1997)

Relationships are strange creatures. I hope you find the one you're looking for, Miss Oon. (Alas! I'm about 4 years younger and I don't cook. But Murakami's men only do pasta anyway and I can handle that.)


I'm reading Neal Stephenson's latest: Quicksilver. Irreverent wit and esoteric concepts intelligently meshed together -- once again. I keep thinking of rereading his earlier Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash (the latter was what got me hooked on Stephenson), but somehow other books keep shoving themselves in the way.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

This has been a very good weekend. Sean Yeo and Jonathan Lim (rumoured lovers btw) were uproaringly hilarious in Chestnuts Unloaded. Their Christmas comedy revue's in its 6th year, and the duo are still pulling in the crowds with endless witty parodies and spoofs of almost everything in local entertainment that's happened this year. Video cameos by the Architect himself (!), Frodo and Sam sing Eminem, The Matriarchitect, Theatreworks does the News, and endless, endless jibes at the Esplanade. Descriptions are insufficient -- Chestnuts must be experienced in all its wit, energy and ingenuity.

Damn -- I'm definitely going back next year.


Seen Return of the King yet? Peter Jackson is truly admirable. He has not only made Tolkien accessible to a general public, but has done so in three movies of consistently jaw-dropping quality. Granted, they were shot as one movie but the sheer duration of it all is nevertheless daunting. There is no doubt that The Lord of the Rings is a fine work even when divorced from its print counterpart. There have been excellent print-to-screen adaptations before, but for an iconic fantasy novel that essentially estalished the genre? Only the Star Wars trilogy (of course not those cursed prequels) can compare. Probably.


Discount coupons for Kinokuniya and Borders in Saturday's paper? Why, don't mind if I do. Buying Murakami Haruki's Dance Dance Dance at 20% off is a fine way to end any weekend.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Whoo! One week to Christmas! :D

Monday, December 15, 2003

So the U.S. got Saddam.


... actually doesn't solve anything. The attacks will still go on and may even get worse because now they have Saddam the martyr to rally around. Besides, it doesn't look like Saddam was actively involved with any of the groups that are killing people in Iraq.

Temporary morale boost for the troops. Campaign boost for Dubya. Just don't ask too many questions.

Friday, December 12, 2003

I always look forward to reading Janadas Devan's wide-ranging but lucid articles in The Straits Times. With the handy link on the side menu, now you can too.
What better way to psyche yourself up for The Return of the King than by buying a massive issue of Empire dedicated to the third Lord of the Rings movie?

Other good stuff: a fairly detailed article on Disney's ups and downs, an in-depth interview with Bill Murray (and is Lost in Translation really that good?) and an excellent writeup on Carol Reed's classic The Third Man. Speaking of which, I really should buy the DVD since it's going for a song here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Yah, the second Ramly burger stall is better.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

One of the things I like about Singapore is the neighbourhood pasar malam (lit. night market). These days they're no longer held at night but are whole day affairs, lasting 1-2 weeks on a field or snaking under blocks of flats. Up go the metal housing, then the striped swathes of tarpaulin over that. Then the mounted fans that ventilate more than cool in our hot, humid climate.

The stalls are the usual. Too many selling sinful treats of skewered Taiwanese sausages, deep-fried wantons, chicken nuggets, tea-boiled eggs and more. Of course, you can find local standards too: nasi lemak, mee siam, mee rebus, chicken briyani, chicken tandoori etc etc. Sometimes there's deep-fried ice-cream. Takoyaki was all the rage once, even okonomiyaki but I don't see those anymore.

When you get thirsty from all that food, buy a drink. Choose from bottles of sugar cane and soybean that sit next to cans of Coke and Pepsi, all sweating from the bed of crushed ice they're embedded in.

Eat and drink while browsing the wares on display. Cheap clothes (all knockoffs), bags, CDs, VCDs, sundry goods -- nail clippers, screwdrivers, clothes pegs, small kitchen knives -- handphone accessories and even snake oil peddlers. Before the authorities started paying attention there were pirated software and VCDs too. No-one really goes there to buy but to eat, drink and giah giah (take a walk).

Then after a weekend or a week or two, the stalls close and the metal housing comes down. The scattered litter remains a little longer. Everyone looks forward to the next one.


Lately, the venerable Ramly burger has been seen at the neighbourhood pasar malam. I have fond memories of wolfing down these sandwiches during childhood trips in Malaysia. Egg, sweet tangy chilli sauce and all.

Of course the versions here are more expensive than up north. I ate one yesterday and found it a little... unsatisfying. Perhaps memory is the best condiment, next to hunger. Then again the preparation wasn't quite right. For one thing the burger patties were pre-cooked and just reheated on top of the egg. Then the cheese on top, covered by the sauce before the patty is wrapped up in the egg before being tranferred to naked buns. The chilli sauce wasn't tangy enough either.

I did find a second stall with the large Ramly burger banner displayed. That looked more authentic somehow. The patties are cooked on the spot and the buns are garnished liberally with greens and sauce. I have to try that one.
Justin over at his site kulturbrille:asymmetry has some great links to local online literary magazines. Look below the Love, Actually review.

Monday, December 08, 2003

I'm playing Legend of the Five Rings again. My present favorite waste of time and money. That heady rush that comes with returning to a much-beloved game is beginning to wear off. A natural effect of the days going by no doubt. In this case also helped in large part by the fact that if I want to play a good Scorpion Clan dishonor deck, I'll have to sell my firstborn for the necessary cards.

Naturally, the insanity must stop somewhere. (At one point I was thinking of buying booster boxes. Boxes! Then I realised that at that point L5R was no longer just a game to me...). I'll just cobble a military deck together and try not to think about losing too much.

L5R is a great, story and player-oriented game that I recommend to all and sundry. But it's just that -- a game. Once it stops being fun, there's really no point in carrying on.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Idealism meets real life? That this article got published in The Straits Times in the first place makes it interesting :)

Making their Marx in business

Their leanings are socialist - some might say anti-capitalist - but it is their resolute spirit, sense of integrity and purpose for society that also make them good entrepreneurs

An excerpt:

Leftists and non-leftist entrepreneurs interviewed said leftists have two trump cards in business.

The first is their general integrity, willingness to trust and earnestness to better society, which many entrepreneurs consider vital for building lasting business success [...] the second advantage which predisposes such entrepreneurs to being successful is their non-conformist streak, which he says goes a long way in helping them compete with the best in the current global economy, which emphasises out-of-the-box traits like innovation, intuition and imagination...

Thursday, November 27, 2003

If you care, I've added and deleted some links on the side menu. Did you really need a link to Google?

Thought not.
Just finished Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang. I'm not really interested in novels about Australia per se, but I did like Carey's earlier Oscar and Lucinda. No harm in giving Michelle's recommendation a go anyhow. :)

The first-person narration from Edward "Ned" Kelly's point of view using run-on sentences with the awkward grammar lends the novel a realistic, even almost lyrical quality. Even so, you wonder if Kelly ever had certain words in his vocabulary.

Still, historical accuracy is probably not the point here. Carey's Kelly is meant to be human and mythical. Human, in the sense that he is an ordinary, decent male driven by abject poverty, injustice and circumstance to break the law. Mythical, in that he represented the secret hopes and real frustrations of Australia's settlers in the late 1800s. Ultimately Kelly is cast as a tragic figure. Big, strong but not smart nor especially courageous. A child-man struggling to do the right thing.

A Salon review of the book.

An excerpt from the novel.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

T'ang Quartet with Noriko Ogawa concert on Hari Raya Eve (that was on Monday). My first time in the Esplanade's impressive Concert Hall and I was wowed by the acoustics. (Then again after the amount we spent on those dang durians...) Every note crisp, and as the music ebbs you can literally hear the deafening silence creep into your ears.

Another reason to wish I had had the luxury of a musical upbringing, so I can write better sentences than "I thought the concert was excellent," which, well, it was.

The Tang Quartet ooze coolness and sophistication as well. They even organise music appreciation classes for little kids. When they're not flying all over the world and winning accolades most of the year, they're fulfilling their roles here as Quartet-in-Residence at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music in NUS.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Watched Mandala by In Source Theatre on Friday (thanks to Amanda - you ROCK! :D). This was... well... dance theatre is probably the best way to put it. there were a total of three performers. One in the centre drawing a mandala with rice using a cup attached to a pole and martial arts/Indonesian dance-like movements. The other two danced and played around her, interacting mostly with each other but sometimes with the middle person.

In terms of skill, they were all a little raw but I don't mind really -- the company's only 2 years old after all. What I minded most was the cliched content. The performance depicts modern urban life as banal and dehumanising, with death being the only salvation and salvation being linked with (surprise surprise) rebirth in/return to a benign Mother Nature.

I suppose this is true to some extent, but I've never liked wholly benign representations of Nature (simply because I think they're plain false). Furthermore to deny the little unplanned spaces in between clockwork events illustrates some kind of humanistic blindness. A rather one-dimensional performance, for all In Source's sturm und drang.

They have really good PR though. Very polished publicity materials. Just look at their website.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Problem: Booster boxes of L5R cost a lot.

Solution: Get 'em off eBay.

Problem: Boxes are in US, and shipping costs a bomb.

Solution: Ask someone to bring it back for me.

Problem: Need to pay the seller in time so he can send the box and the person can bring it back.

Aggravating factor 1: Turkey Day is this week.

Aggravating factor 2: Parents will throw a fit if they knew i.e. credit card not a good idea.



Darn. Or I could just not buy a box.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Watched Action Theatre's production of Iron yesterday. Karen Tan was excellent in the lead role of Fay. Emma Yong and Remesh Panicker gave good performances and daughter Josie and prison guard George respectively. Sheila, unfortunately suffered from Selena Ho's flat intonation.

While it felt a bit strange to hear everyone put on British accents, it wasn't bad (except in Selena Ho's case). The script doesn't disappoint either, keeping the audience guessing what Fay's motives are throughout the performance. The revelation at the end isn't what the usual scandal-numbed audience (myself included, I'm slightly ashamed to admit) expects, and is all the better for that. A little more tragic, a little more believable, is this woman who suffers for her emotions.

Imho, the George character is the most fascinating aspect of the play. Being the sole male is part of the reason, but he's also the least dysfunctional character. Or do his academic, emotionless musings on human nature hint at a far more serious dysfunction, compared to the women in the play?

Friday, November 14, 2003

Am a good way through Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain. The writing's a bit old and I keep coming across obscure words that keep my dictionary dust-free for now. The novel itself has been described as chiefly one of ideas. Quite an apt description in this case. If anyone wants a primer on the dominant intellectual conflicts raging in Europe before World War I, while enjoying light satire and leisurely storytelling, this would be your novel. Your bildungsroman in fact.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Ahh... the sweet taste of vindication. Again.

Media Crossroads: Let market decide outcome, says Minister

The Minister's comments mirror earlier Govt responses to last week's debate about whether the Northeast Line (NEL) should be run by SMRT. Expected, and probably the best thing to do. Adopt a hands-off approach, without favouring either side.

But the comments come a day after it's revealed that SM Lee thinks there should be only one media operator in either industry. Must people wait for SM Lee to say something before they open their eyes and mouths?

Saturday, November 08, 2003

A Tsui Hark Retrospective. How cool is that? The man's kind of dropped off the HK movie industry radar but he truly is HK's equivalent of Spielberg when it comes to imagination and vision. True, his most recent efforts have done poorly, especially Legend of Zu (2001). But hey, people forgave Spielberg for AI, right?

Tsui Hark reinvented the swordsman genre, successfully fused eroticism and fantasy without making it look like cheap porn and breathed new life into martial arts movies (while redefining an iconic character at the same time!). Actors like Jet Lee, probably even director John Woo too, owe their present success to him.

Man, he made some great films. Too bad the Retrospective happened half a world away and two years ago. I wish we could have one like that here in Singapore. :(

Friday, November 07, 2003

Watching Return to the 36th Chamber was great fun. People these days associate kungfu comedy with Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, but before them Gordon Liu Jiahui was already combining excellent comic timing with martial arts prowess. Man, they just don't make kungfu movies like that anymore. :/

Where in Singapore can I find a copy of The 36th Chamber of Shaolin?

Thursday, November 06, 2003

A recent, comprehensive writeup on Murakami Haruki, from The Guardian.

Marathon Man

Haruki Murakami got up at four o'clock every morning to work on his latest novel. Five hours later he would rise from the keyboard, put on his running kit, and set out for a lengthy jog through the leafy streets and parks of Aoyama, a chic Tokyo suburb. After that, an hour or two would be devoted to visiting record stores, where he would browse through the second-hand jazz sections, looking for rare vinyl LPs. Then there would be time for a swim and a game of squash. In the evening, before turning in at nine o'clock, he would return to his desk and spend a few hours translating the work of American authors into Japanese....

I wish I could do that. Could I? Live a live like that?
Y'know, I really liked The Matrix.

Matrix: Reloaded was too long, took itself far too seriously, and went for obvious crowd pleasers (Trinity should've died).

I had hoped Matrix: Revolutions would be better. Sadly, I was wrong. At least Reloaded had impressive action scenes and memorable characters. Revolutions doesn't even have that thin veneer of coolness.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Am re-reading Murakami Haruki's Norwegian Wood. I'm not in the habit of re-reading books, mostly because I used to think that my time would be better spent reading more books or reading the materials I needed for work or school.

Even though time has scoured much of the feelings and memories associated with that first reading, vague shadows and half-familiar shapes remain and the mind picks up quickly on those markers. Yet I am also not quite the same person who read this book years before. Like Cratylus's river the experience is unique, a fusion of individual experience (including previous readings!) and ink-on-paper.

That experience is strong when it comes to Murakami's works. I can't quite explain it but there's a kind of wistful, surreal and deeply personal quality to his work. The best thing to do, as always, is to savour the novels. Like an intellectual kind of wine. Can't rush it.

An interview with Murakami Haruki by Salon.com

Monday, November 03, 2003

Went to see one of the movies in the 19th Singapore French Film Festival. Specifically, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Balzac et la petite tailleuse chinoise), based on the novel of the same name by Dai Sijie. The movie doesn't deal with the Cultural Revolution beyond using it as a setting anyway (don't know if the novel does this), so don't fall into the same trap I did :)

Although set during the Cultural Revolution period, the movie is probably best seen as a coming-of-age tale for all three young protagonists. In that respect it's not too bad. The movie is let down by quite a few things.

Certain scenes looked contrived. The dental operation is probably the most obvious, with the Rube Goldberg-esque jury-rigged dental drill and an overall treatment lacking in any sensitivity.

The leads were competent, but there was little chemistry among them. At the best of times the relationship felt too cool for them to be good friends, even towards the end (btw, I would have picked male actors that can be easily differentiated from each other without using clothing -- half the time I couldn't figure out which actor was doing what).

As for the chauvinism, I admit that I may have been a little oversensitive. Allow me to say at least that to me the movie seemed to depict the mountain villagers with few redeeming qualities, while attributing all praise to the Western liberal tradition exemplified here by.... of course, Balzac and the French literary giants. Perhaps I am giving too much attention to these quotes though, because you could make a case for them being ironic rather than serving a pedagogical function.

Still, it was interesting to listen to a Chinese (ok, Chinese-French in this case) film where Beijing pronunciation doesn't dominate, and the ending sequence is imaginative and poignant. Breathtaking mountain scenery is always a plus as well.
The long and the short of it is that there is no instrumental reason to get an education, to study in your courses, or to pick a concentration and lose yourself in it. It won�t get you anything you won�t get anyway or get some other way. So forget everything you ever thought about all these instrumental reasons for getting an education. The reason for getting an education is that it is better to be educated than not to be.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Bought an officially licensed release of Infernal Affairs (Wu Jian Dao). For an non-pirated VCD copy, I expected better quality. The content still looks as if it was recorded in a cinema, just with a better camera and without people in the audience talking or getting up halfway. You'd think they would have used the master copies or something. Eh -- at least I only paid $8. Less than the cost of a movie ticket on the weekends.

The movie is certainly above average. Moreover, compared to most of the stuff that the Hong Kong film industry tends to churn out, it's damned good. The plot has been done to death but the packaging this time is special. Storytelling over guns and explosions, and director Andrew Lau doesn't let the movie get bogged down in sentimentality or moralising.

Events move along at a fast clip when they're supposed to, and fadeouts between scenes complement the interim periods that slow things down before they pick up again. The subdued and nuanced script is well carried by the actors -- kudos especially to Anthony Wong and Tony Leung. No complaints there, and I expected as much from the vets that make up most of the cast.

Bright, high contrast shots bring out the contrast between the dark-suited characters and their surroundings (more ironic, moral imagery). Speaking of which, I really like that much attention was paid to the costuming. For instance sharp, dapper suits for Andy Lau's suave, ambitious young gun. Strict, no-nonsense business suits for Anthony Wong's hard-nosed inspector. Tony Leung's unkempt, slept-in leather jacket and shirt fits his desperate outcast role. Black never looked this good, not even in The Matrix.

The major flaws, imho, were the poor characterisation of the women and the rushed ending. Sammi Cheng's character comes across as too airheaded to be a novelist, but maybe that explains her sudden switch at the end. (The book subplot is also horribly cliched btw). Kelly Hu's psychologist character remains largely unexplored. The ending (including the nice but really unnecessary twist) seems tacked on to make audiences happy -- maybe the ones who wanted it were hedging their bets just in case they couldn't make the sequels. But it kind of steals the thunder from the third film.

Overall, a very good film but one gets the sense that it's more of a prologue. Kind of like what A New Hope was to the original Star Wars trilogy.

For another balanced review, have a look here, courtesy of www.lovehkfilm.com.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

A Newsweek article that raise serious questions about the implementation of US reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

The $87 Billion Money Pit

Public Policy Implementation. No one ever appreciates how complicated and frustrating it is until it comes, bites you on the behind, and poisons you with a slow-acting venom that paralyses all your extremities.

Let's see how long a flagging US economy can throw money at the problem. What I want to know is, with Dubya's tax cuts where's all this money gonna come from?

Monday, October 27, 2003

Kuriyama Chiaki is disturbingly cute as psycho schoolgirl bodyguard Go Go Yubari in Kill Bill: Vol 1. Only 19 and already famous in Japan, mostly for her role in Fukasaku Kinji's blood-and-gore fest Battle Royale (which I should catch sometime). Luckily for her admirers she's much more amiable in real life, and cho kawaiiiiiiiii too! ^_^

Interview with the actress about her role in Kill Bill

A fansite in English, by a clearly... umm... determined fan."

Sunday, October 26, 2003

From about a year ago, on 26th Oct 2002:

A whole bunch of us from the UofC went to hear Neil Gaiman himself read from his latest book for children -- Coraline -- in a school here as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival.

It was, of course, great to see him in person. He hadn't shaved in a while, and dressed in leather jacket, black jeans and boots he looked more like an aging rocker than a bestselling author.

Listening to him read wasn't incredibly exciting, but he put lots of effort into it and I did enjoy the reading. A British accent, after being surrounded by various American voices day in and day out, sounded so refreshing. His wasn't too pronounced, and he did pull off some ok Eastern European and Scottish accents.

Coraline may be billed as a children's book and is written in a style befitting one. However the imagery in true Gaiman fashion become quite macabre and scary at times -- almost in opposition to the simplistic sttyle of writing he adopts here. I probably wouldn't read it to an 8 year-old unless I wanted to give him nightmares, but a 14 year-old would probably not have the patience for the children's book style. Nonetheless it is a very good book, considering that it's difficult to fit his usual style of writing and subject matter into something fit for the consumption of your average kid. Or maybe children these days are more desensitised to these things�

I got to shake his hand. Bought a paperback copy of American Gods and a hardback copy of Coraline, both of which he autographed in a kids-go-first session. I wish I had my first copy of American Gods with me, the one I took on the road trip in June, so I could show him the battered spine, torn cover and dog-eared pages. Mr Gaiman, this book went with me on a road trip to Yellowstone -- Shadow's journey within my tiny journey wwithin my larger journey here from halfway across the world. To me I see it as symbol of my time here. I know this means nothing to you of course but I just wanted to say that to you. But that copy is sitting on top of some books on a shelf in Singapore.

Who could have known?

So I now have a pristine copy of American Gods on my bed right now. Perhaps I will reread it sometime.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Zhang Yimou's Hero (Ying Xiong) is one the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. The locations (like the dusty plains of Dunhuang in Western China, the mirror-like lake reflecting the wondrous colours of the mountains of Jiu Zhai Gou in Sichuan) are gorgeously and painstakingly captured on film. Scenes and sequences are saturated in rich colours (although he probably went overboard with the fight-among-falling-leaves scene) -- a Zhang Yimou characteristic that also tunes the audience in to the different moods and tensions that permeate each retelling of the movie's events.

For this is not just another pretty art movie, but also a questioning of ideals and morals surrounding the "hero" archetype in Chinese culture. The movie also casts the evil of Qin Shi Huang's bloody war of unification in an ambivalent light -- which will no doubt offend proponents of Western liberal ideals. The Rashomon-like structure is handled well, with the cast of accomplished actors bringing to life a tight, unpretentious script. Martial arts fans will most likely find little fault with the sequences -- those were excellently choreographed. Graceful, dynamic and fluid. None of the slow-motion Matrix-ish effects that plague martial arts sequences these days.

The soundtrack fits the movie to a T. Itzhak Perlman's violin complements Tan Dun's work but the effect has been heard before in the latter's collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. This time Tan dun includes pieces with taiko drums as well.

The costumes by Wada Emi made me think of Julie Taylor's Titus. Black, stylised Chinese armor for the soldiers, court officials and Qin Shi Huang himself. Single pastel colours for the others. Chang Kong is the only one who has a costume with two colours � a brown roughspun vest that contrasts very nicely with the bleak courtyard in his fight sequence at the beginning (too bad he then disappears for the rest of the movie).

I love this film.

Went to see Quentin Tarantino�s latest last night. Kill Bill: Vol 1 is campy, cheesy and quirkily funny in Tarantino�s own idiosyncratic way. Larger-than-life, pulp fiction characters and enough movie references to spawn a hundred fansites. The animated sequence in the middle (by Production I.G. no less) is a much appreciated touch (another homage by Tarantino). The big fight in The House of Blue Leaves makes me wonder though if Tarantino was paying tribute or being sarcastic. Probably just having fun, which is what this movie is really all about. It�s a very self-absorbed movie, but Tarantino isn�t just wanking away. The editing is spot-on, and the pacing flawless. Nonetheless perhaps the movie has been a victim of too much hype.

The person who really steals the show, is Uma Thurman, who makes her nameless (every time someone names her, it�s bleeped out) character believably vengeful yet vulnerable at the same time. Tarantino and Thurman have stated publicly that they work very well with each other. The director treads the line between B-grade and A well, but his synergy with Thurman is what truly pushes the movie into the realms of the classic.

Friday, October 24, 2003

(From: http://www.jonathanvangieson.com/archives/2003_06.shtml)

Speaking of Friendster, after a couple of weeks of playing around with the service, I've discovered what it's best for: toying with the delicate psyches of your friends and acquaintances. Ah, the bitter joy. Ah, the delicious power.

Top Friendster Power Games:

The Pre-Rejection
You just signed up for Friendster, and you notice that I've been using it for a month, and didn't invite you. Perhaps we're just not as close as you thought we were.

The Delayed Approval
You can see by my profile that I was active yesterday. You sent me a "new friend request" three days ago. I haven't approved it. Maybe it's because I'm waiting to see if anyone worthwhile signs up to be your friend before I commit to having you on my friends list.

The Unreciprocated Testimonial
You wrote me a very nice testimonial three weeks ago, yet your page still displays the pathetic notice: "No testimonials yet. You can add the first!" Gosh, it looks like you're more interested in me than I am in you, doesn't it?

The Mexican Standoff
You're one of John Smith's friends. I'm one of John Smith's friends. We know each other, we can clearly see each other in the "John Smith's Friends" page, and yet neither of us has attempted to add the other as a friend. It's a battle for status, and the first person to send the new friend request will forever be the loser.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Friendster is my new Waste Of Time (TM) here at work. A more appropriate name for it should be Acquiantster or something. I'm just plugging emails in, just to see how many people I potentially know. :p It would be nice to get a date from that site, but really, what are the chances?

Monday, October 20, 2003

Saw Royston Tan's 15 yesterday, albeit the censored version. The cuts were pointless -- songs with gang names and a scene with a penis were deleted when the movie had an R(A) rating slapped on it anyway. Yah, like Singaporeans above the age of 21 would actually want to be like the kids in the movie. The pointless censorship makes me wonder: were the censors and the police rep who wanted the song change sitting on chairs or on thin metal poles?

Beyond the hype (the censorship, the fact that Tan's crew had to each contribute $20 to pay for the last roll of film 'cos he was that broke), the movie isn't great. Very good or excellent -- certainly. The best film since Eric Khoo's 12 Storeys -- maybe. But not the best since, I dunno, City of God or something.

Can't say anything about the acting since they were all amateurs and playing themselves, essentially. Erick Chun deserves special mention though. The film itself suffers a little from being a bit unfocused, imho, with no real direction to the selection of scenes (Was this the intended effect? Hmm). In addition, where are the females?

15 has plenty going for it, other than sheer chutzpah. The camera techniques are well-executed, the humour is deliciously morbid and off-kilter (the "looking for a place to die" sequence is brilliant!) and the songs add flavour and irony. Most importantly, Tan manages to make what could have easily degenerated into another episode of Crime Watch, into a sensitive but unsentimental study of troubled male youth in contemporary Singapore. Tan refocuses on the topic of troubled teens through the lens of interpersonal relationships instead of filtering it through the local "secret society" problem here, and he does it well. The result is an excellent local film with universal appeal.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Finished A Storm of Swords last night. Now I have to wait a year for Book 4. :/

Started playing the A Game Of Thrones CCG on Saturday. The people seem nice and most of them are adults. More mature than your usual MTG crowd, which is a good thing. I'm buying lots of singles since I have zip to trade and I won't buy boosters. Prices are ok, and I like getting what I want even if it turns out to be a bad purchase. I just don't like buying boosters -- never had the best of luck with those. The powerful (and of course ultra-rare) cards I will have to find online :/

The group here plays a lot. No lack of opportunities to play. Winning on the other hand will be far far more difficult. Need the cards for that.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

I was really looking forward to getting my NSF Concession ezlink card, 'cos I thought I could get lower fares on public transport. That's what a "concession pass" is supposed to do, right? Turns out that I'm still charged normal adult fares whenever I use that card. In order to enjoy the "concession" I need to first purchase a "Concession stamp" and paste it onto the pass (or something like that).

The stamp for both MRT and bus costs S$111.00. I only spend about S$80 a month on public transport to and from camp, and I'm hardly going to rack up S$30 worth of transport fares elsewhere. So much for "concession". :/

I feel like I'm getting swindled a lot these days. Thought I'd start playing the A Game of Thrones CCG, so I went and got myself a House Targaryen starter (50 cards) and 4 boosters (11 cards each). After removing all the cards for other Houses, I still lack enough cards to make a standard deck (about 70 cards), let alone a good one. And I failed to get any of the good Targaryen rares from the 4 boosters of A Flight of Dragons (well I could always hope, couldn't I?). Suddenly dragons don't look so cool anymore. :(

S$41.00 gone, and I'm wondering how much more this CCG is gonna cost me. I wonder if I should have picked a different house? I wish I were still in the US, where I can order singles online or buy them off eBay -- here I have to rely more on trading. I hope the players here aren't bastards. If I have to buy boosters all the way I'm quitting. $6 a pack is too bloody much. Magic and Lord of the Rings boosters only cost S$4.00 each :(

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Channel surfing last night -- what's this? Baz Luhrmann's 1996 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet.. How come there were no ads for this?

This is a great adaptation, and it disturbs me to think that someday not too long from now this movie will be comsidered "old". These things can't be helped, but I hope people remember it the way they do Casablanca rather than some random old film.

Man, Claire Danes was sooooooooooooo cute back then......

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

The Esplanade Theatres on the Bay will soon be a year old. I've always hated their appearance. The hideousness, I believe, speaks for itself. The ugliness is intensified when you consider how incongruous those spiky ovoids look against the Marina Bay skyline and against the Padang. And let's not get into the sheer costs of building and running the place......

Is this really how we want to hurl our arts scene into that nebulous, semantic realm of the "first-class"?

However, there are fantastic views of the bay. Particularly from the Library@Esplanade on the third floor. That library is a wonderful place to relax with a good book, or just to think, with a mug of coffee and the bay sprawled out beneath you.

A good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Still reading. Done with at least 2/3 of A Clash of Kings. Time to start looking for a copy of the third book, A Storm of Swords, to borrow. I think I will take my time reading that one though -- the fourth isn't due until June 2004. Besides, I think I'm gonna literary indigestion from all that fantasy in such a short time.

Have sold off some of my MW Dark Age figures. Traded some others. The good pieces are going bit by bit and my small collection is even poorer now. I'm hardly earning profit, but cash in hand is better than plastic in boxes. I never play and if I can get a decent price for them, why not?

I should learn -- I've always had a fascination with games. But games are pointless when there's no one to play them with.

Hmm -- if life is a game, then...?

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Am about 2/3 of the way through George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Good stuff. Interesting enough to make me grab the second book in the A Song of Fire and Ice series last night before it disappeared from the library. I had to rent Thrones :/

I found out about the series via the A Game of Thrones CCG. Saw some folks playing it one weekend at a comic store and my curiosity was piqued. I have no doubt that it's a money sucking device -- all CCGs are. But it does look interesting.

Monday, September 29, 2003

This past weekend has seen some interesting reading coming from the Commentary pages of the Straits Times. For instance:

Janadas Devan on Friday argued for a need to decrease Singaporeans' dependency on the ubiquitous foreign live-in maid. I agree wholeheartedly with his views, and his suggestion of a COE for maids would help but only if accompanied by solid measures to encourage day-care and domestic cleaning companies. And it wouldn't hurt for Singaporeans to do their own damn chores every now and then too.

Some interesting Economics articles as well:

On Saturday, Eddie Lee discussed the need to encourage growth in domestic consumption here.

On Sunday, Chua Lee Hoong's article on the pricing of Government-linked / provided services made me wonder if the problem is not just with the method of pricing, but rather with lousy implementation and problems inherent in the structure of the industries themselves. That one deserves further rumination...

Friday, September 26, 2003

I Am A: Chaotic Good Half-Elf Bard Ranger

Alignment:Chaotic Good characters are independent types with a strong belief in the value of goodness. They have little use for governments and other forces of order, and will generally do their own things, without heed to such groups.

Race:Half-Elves are a cross between a human and an elf. They are smaller, like their elven ancestors, but have a much shorter lifespan. They are sometimes looked down upon as half-breeds, but this is rare. They have both the curious drive of humans and the patience of elves.

Primary Class:Bards are the entertainers. They sing, dance, and play instruments to make other people happy, and, frequently, make money. They also tend to dabble in magic a bit.

Secondary Class:Rangers are the defenders of nature and the elements. They are in tune with the Earth, and work to keep it safe and healthy.

Deity:Hanali Cenanil is the Chaotic Good elven goddess of love, beauty, and art. She is also known as the Heart of Gold and Lady Goldheart. Her followers delight in creation and youth, and work to spread happiness, love, and beauty. Their preferred weapon is the dagger.

Find out What D&D Character Are You?, courtesy ofNeppyMan (e-mail)

(But I like swords and staves...)

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Who would have that juxtaposing the life of a castrated court official and famous traveller with the lives of modern urban citizens would result in meditations on the things we have given up and the things we have gained and � well, was it all worth it? Plenty of possibilities inhabit the liminal spaces in between the life of Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) and the lives of the archetypical urbanites that play out their struggles to come to grips with their psychological distances from themselves and from each other.

Although the director Poo Hong Chen claimed in the post-production discussion that he had wanted to end his interpretation on a more optimistic note, it was a little difficult to see that given the anguished but dynamic performances of the cast. The end monologue by the Zheng He-like character describing in graphic detail the gradual process by which a boy�s testicles would have been massaged into pulp by a seemingly benign �nanny� didn�t quite help.

It was all very thought provoking, and what I took away from it all was a striking cautionary tale on the dangers of losing some innate spark, some undefinable element of the human spirit, by having it slowly crushed out of you while you wallow in material pleasure.

Perhaps things would have been slightly different if I had watched the Malay version, translated and adapted by well-known rising local poet and playwright Alfian Bin Sa�at. While the Chinese version focused more on urban anomie, the Malay version promises to highlight questions of Malay-Muslim identity, using Zheng He�s Muslim credentials as a springboard. The Malay version seems to be more political � perhaps linked to issues of globalisation and management of ethnic relations by the state? I wonder if I should go see it?

I saw the production with Justin. Here are his thoughts.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Finished reading Ihara Saikaku's Life Of An Amorous Man on Sunday. I have Life Of An Amorous Woman waiting to be read too, but after the Kinokuniya book sale this past weekend I have more substantial reading to sink my teeth into...

And where are my thoughts on Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral? Akan datang lah...

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Visited Half a Century of Chinese Woodblock Prints at the Tyler Art Institute yesterday. A fascinating exhibition of a form of Chinese art often neglected outside China. Woodblock printing after 1949 was used mostly for Communist propaganda, but this does not detract from the technical brilliance of the works and the adaptations of other forms like Chinese Landscape painting.

Of particular interest are the nianhua -- auspicious prints made to usher in the new year � whose bourgeois motifs of gods and spirits were replaced with PLA soldiers and other icons of the CCP. One particular nianhua has a large PLA soldier looming protectively over playing children, assuming the role of a particular guardian deity, incongruously still with the deity�s flags (used to denote ancient Chinese generals) behind his back.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Talk about being alarmist, but there's some truth in this article. Probably not too relevant to us here in Singapore though. The important points, I suppose, are to expose what corporations are doing behind the public's back and to not be a slave to technology.

High-tech Heroin by Robert Forno.

The Govt is seeking public donations for a new school in SM Lee's honour and for a new documentary on Singapore's history. Still missing -- S$15 million.

In SM's Honour

Why should the public pay for a new documentary (dare I say, propaganda)?What's wrong with The Singapore Story? Why should the public pay for a new school in NUS, when its lack of reputation for research and academic discussion is hardly conducive to the study of Government and Public Policy?

S$15 million's a lot of money. In these times of need, couldn't it be better spent by the public on themselves?

Monday, September 15, 2003

Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew turns 80 soon and he's still going strong :) Francis Seow must be having a fit.

Naturally, the Straits Times ran a feature on SM Lee in yesterday's paper. The usual articles praising him, examining how the generations after his view him and the great things he and his trusted lieutenants accomplished in those chaotic, poverty-ridden days to make Singapore what it is today.

His life is the stuff of movies. For instance, his marriage. His wife was his academic rival. They went to Cambridge, fell in love there and even married there in secret. By all accounts they are still happily married, and have immensely successful progeny too.

Interestingly enough, in the same paper is a article by verteran ST writer Asad Latif on Chin Peng's new biography. Chin Peng became the head of the Malaya Communist Party after World War II and led it against the British during the Emergency. To this day he remains strong-willed and independent. Unrepentant and unashamed about his actions and beliefs, but never fanatical.

He will turn 79 soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

It's 9/11, but this year the traditional Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival just happens to fall on this day too. Hopefully the worst that will happen today are several cases of indigestion from too many mooncakes.

Lies, lies and damned lies. I thought Bowling For Columbine was biased, but I didn't expect it to be outright fraudulent.

Bowling For Columbine -- Documentary or Fiction?

Oh, and Osama's probably still alive. At least he was this past April/May when this video was made. Talk about a tight slap in the face for Bush.

Speaking of which, the guy probably needs a real one.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Pirates of the Caribbean is great fun! :) Probably more fun than the Disneyland ride, and you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars or wait in long lines for 2 hours or worry about getting killed.

Oh well. I never really thought much of Disneyland, even as a child. Still don't think Disney's all that great, actually. As far as I'm concerned the only good thing they did was bring Miyazaki Hayao's movies over to the US without any snipping.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Finally out of the Stone Age -- got my handphone yesterday :) Time to annoy the people around me by keying in my own ringtones from various anime.

Eh, where's the built-in lunar calendar?

Now if only someone would just call or SMS me... :/

Also, Millennium Actress (Sennen Joyu) is slated for a Sept 12 release in the US. Looks like it's subtitled too -- which is always a good thing.

I first wrote about this movie on 13 March after watching it on a large TV, thanks to the efforts of a grad student in Japanese Studies who had pre-ordered the DVD release all the way from Japan. So it's not that new (Kon Satoshi's latest is Tokyo Godfathers, which premiered at the Big Apple Anime Fest earlier this year.) but it's still an excellent film.

I wonder when the movie will reach our shores again? I definitely want to see it on the big screen this time round.

Monday, September 01, 2003

Just got back from watching The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Not bad -- a pretty good action flick. As with all action flicks, don't think too hard -- just sit back and enjoy. Liberal use of CG but done reasonably well, with some memorable sets. Action scenes were nice. Thought the shape of the Nautilus looked horrible, but it's for plot reasons so that's forgivable. :)

Sean Connery was, well, Sean Connery. Let down by some cliched lines but ok performance. Heck, being Sean Connery was Allan Quartermain's special talent ;)

imho, the coolest character was Captain Nemo (well filled by Indian film veteran Naseeruddin Shah). He's got martial arts moves, sabre skillz and commands his own state-of-the-art submarine!

Hmm... must try and borrow the original graphic novel to read now.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Life! 25th Aug 2003

Love's a matter of Balance

by Tan Shzr Ee

When Balance opens to a crowd in a scented nursery sown with plastic flowers, a woman (Emma Yong) in a flimsy dress scuttles across the room.

It is the first of many delicate whiffs � of gesture, sound and silence � to traverse the play.

The ephemeral strokes are anchored by a text recycled in five incarnations. A man (Gerald Chew) reviews his life choices, replaying alternative memories of a time spent with a lover. He searches the what-ifs for catharsis.

The work marks the second collaboration between director Low Kee Hong and playwrights Paul Rae and Kaylene Tan this year.

Pulse in April expounded on women�s dark neuroses. Balance is touted as the mellow sequel charting the emotional landscape of a man trapped in postmodern love.

Once, this was pursued � and escaped � via the sex game; or bypassed by couples fearing misplaced promise. Here, couplehood has been gracefully sublimated into a precious, if over-comfortable, relationship between Yong and Chew.

They wear out the promise of love into a state of uber-absorbed emotional intimacy. They dare their practised co-dependency into territories playfully teasing breaking point. Love morphs into longing, absorption and jealousy.

Tan and Rae turn virtuosic poetry, masquerading as He Said/She Said dialogue, into quivers of insouciance, tenderness and disaffection.

Yong is pitch-perfect. She upstages Chew, as if sent in just to temper her subtle mood shifts. For a play recorded from Man�s point of view, it is Woman who holds � or withholds � the answers.

�Did you hear that?�


�Turn off the TV.�

The sentences are clipped. Unsaid words are buoyed by synapses of mutual mind-reading.

Man and woman fumble in a build-up of sexual desire, the waning of which poises on a split-second of eternity when no condoms can be found. The dithering over who should rouse to prepare a midnight snack is negotiated gingerly with immaculate second-guessing.

The stories stack up in space, time and movement, interlocking with three film insertions by Ben Slater unveiling different facets of the same sequence.

Balance is not a game a la Sliding Doors. Neither is it stability gained through facing off upheavals of passions.

Instead, it manages a finely calibrated equilibrium by treading on love�s liminal spaces.

When the interplay of these possibilities and inevitabilities spiral into a dawn so bright and loud, it is suddenly deafening.

Monday, August 25, 2003

I went to see TheatreWorks's latest production Balance yesterday afternoon. Tan Shzr Ee's review in Life is miles above whatever drivel I churn out. Unfortunately there's no online copy (Her unfavourable review of The Wedding Banquet on the same print page gets the web treatment though. Eh.). Also why not drop by Justin's blog to see what he thinks? Watched the play with him.

I wish I could've taken home one of the moving flowers. Creepy and surreal.

The performance reminded me of a scene from The Hours, where Meryl Streep's character recounts the moment when she realises what happiness is. That scene showed the fragility of the/a/some "moment" -- that ephemeral confluence of emotion, action and environment that cannot be adequately defined outside of the liminality it inhabits. Words are insufficient -- how can they be when experience is insufficient to reproduce the "moment"?

One can, I believe, develop an appreciation for the "moment". To recognise it, but also to mourn it. Reading Heian-era Japanese Literature, effused with aware is one way, for instance. In fact, part of the appreciation is the ability to mourn the passing of the "moment".

The problem, I suppose, comes when the mourning is too great; when one can't let go and let the "moment" pass. Instead, there is a chase and a quest to relive it that leaves many dissatisfied and frustrated.

Was this an element of the "imbalance" in the male actor? Perhaps I am mining my experiences and the last lines of the production for too much meaning:

We will not stay like this forever. We will unclasp, and let some meaning in. Until then though, it is enough to let the forgetting take its course. We will know when it is done. It is not so easy to relinquish the things that make us kind.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Wired 11.09: PowerPoint Is Evil

Part of the dumbing-down of modern society? Hmm. Powerpoint in and of itself doesn't make presentations any more interesting or informative. I suppose it's so prevalent because no-one wants to risk losing out by not using it.

Malaysia Hits Back

Oh, very smart. You don't like other people maligning your country and then you go label people from someone else's. If Singapore had done this we'd hear no end of it from the Malaysian press and certain Malaysian rabblerousing ministers.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Oh man... not another worm?!?

W32.Welchia.Worm. The joke is, even though it attempts to get rid of the highly annoying W32.Blaster.Worm that just appeared last week, it's really a variant of the damn thing since it exploits the same vulnerability (and another one) that Blaster did. Like an antibiotic on a rampage.

My PC hasn't been infected (yet), but dammit my 56k dialup connection is already slow enough as it is! >_<

More on 32.Welchia.Worm from The Register .

While you're looking at that fine website, why not peruse this article about how security whistleblowers aren't rewarded for pointing out security flaws but punished instead. Sucks to be a good guy in the US.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Am reading Mark Kurlansky's The Basque History of The World. Entertaining and fascinating. His writing style is a bit dry but clear. The content is presented in themed sections rather than in strict chronological order, which makes it more accessible to the lay reader -- an academic book it isn't. A leisurely introduction to the Basques that puts the mostly modern negative press about them in perspective.

I bought the book for a dollar back in Chicago, during the Annual Printer's Row Book Fair. This is the third largest annual book fair in the US, it seems. From there, it got packed into one of the boxes of books I sent over here by bulk mail. I was quite worried when only one box turned up but more arrived a week later. Now I have just one box left.

Clearly, I have no lack of books to read for quite a while.

Friday, August 15, 2003

Watched Jack Neo's latest movie Homerun (Pao Ba Hai Zi) earlier this evening. A good adaptation of Majid Majidi's 1997 film Children of Heaven with some smart localisations, but piles on allegories of the troubled Singapore-Malaysia relationship. The human drama takes a back seat a little too often in my opinion. This film seems to be have a more focused narrative than Jack Neo's previous I Not Stupid (Xiao Hai Bu Ben). That's not to say that that wasn't a good movie either. With its unprecedented and blatant jibes at government policies, it was a clever work that managed to establish rapport with its audience because it was so familiar.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Finally finished Tanizaki Jun'ichiro's The Makioka Sisters (Sasameyuki)... Can't imagine reading it in Japanese. :p

One of the things about the book I found interesting was the constant psychological guessing and second-guessing Sachiko kept putting herself through. Building all these mental scenarios like a chess game because you can't just go out and ask someone what they really think. Hence the tendency of the narrative to be bogged down in what seem to be mundane details (and why I took so long to finish it), but they do they serve to construct the life of the Makiokas in much colour.

What is most interesting to me is that Sachiko's sisters never seem to be who she thinks they are. They remain inscrutable because so much of the narrative and so many of the opinions are from Sachiko's perspective. So it's up to the reader to infer people's true personalities and motives from their speech and behaviour. Can't take everything at face value.

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Toy collecting is the new fad in business here, from what I gather. I believe it's driven mostly by the young adult population. Single or not married long i.e. few financial obligations but with spending power -- what else should they spend their money on but figures and toys from series they enjoyed in their '80's childhood? Correlated with this is the renaissance of '80's series like Transformers (in the form of Transformers Armada, beginning in Japan, then catching on in the US and now here). Established brands like Star Wars and Gundam continue to profit from their respective home markets in the US and Japan.

It's a bit strange to think that my Transformers are worth some cash now. I look in the display cases -- most rented by individuals from the stores and the shop takes a cut of the sales and/or collects rent -- and wish I'd bought a few more when I was a kid and kept them mint in their boxes (Where did all my toys go anyway???). I see some others that I have and wonder if mine can really fetch the kind of sums on the price labels.

It really looks tempting -- the prospect of so much $$$ for mere plastic, paint and metal bits... I suppose that's what's driving the increase in the number of stores (online and offline) dedicated to toy collecting. Profit margins can be large, but someone has to buy the toy first and sales in the toy store industry seem to me to be inconsistent. Moreover the market's becoming saturated, the economy's not in the best of shape and toys are by their nature faddish. It's not easy to run a business anyway. Will all that in mind, I imagine only those who got in early, who provide good service and who are dedicated owners will survive. Like any other industry.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Hey! It's National Day already. Happy 38th Birthday Singapore!

Friday, August 08, 2003

Here's one about iTunes.

Fast Company | Digital Squared: Living in an iTunes World

The writer claims that its success is showing that "the digital acquisition of digital products is a new megamarket". Well, duh. The writer implies in the article that services like iTunes didn't take off earlier mostly because the penetration rate of broadband wasn't high enough. I find that very difficult to believe given the sheer amount of MP3 downloading that's been going on for the last couple of years.

The second part is a little better. In my opinion the reluctance of record companies to change business models instead of suing the pants off anyone who threatens the existing CD and music video centred model, is the real reason why we had to wait so long for iTunes. However, maybe they were buying time for a secure (enough) format for distribution.

Went looking for a display cabinet for my figures and model kits at Ikea. Found a suitable one, only to discover that it was out of stock. When will new stock come in? October?!?!? >_<

20% store-wide discount at all Kinokuniya stores beginning today and ending 10th August, to coincide with National Day, like last year. ^_^

Being at Kinokuniya really puts me in a reading mood for some reason. Perhaps it's the bright lights and air-conditioning, and the fact that I'm surrounded by books. But I don't feel like listening to music whenever I wander into a music store, and I know listening stations are souped up to bring out the best sound quality on CDs. Is something like that happening at Kinokuniya? Every book I pick up has its attractiveness notched up a little. Then when I finally succumb and the book ends up sitting on my desk, the lustre fades somewhat.

Well, did my bit for the local economy today. PM Goh says we'll see 0 to 1% growth this year.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

It seems to me that the level of academic discourse here is still dismal compared to, say, the US or the UK. The recent dispute by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and two NTU economists over claims the latter made in their paper, is a case in point. The economists may have been sensationalist, but with a finding that 3 out of 4 jobs created in recent years went to foreigners it�s a little difficult to be sedate. The economists later retracted their findings and admitted using the wrong data, but this doesn�t mean that the issue is over (and it�s easy to suspect that the economists came under pressure). For one thing, the Ministry of Manpower�s counter-claim that 9 out of 10 jobs created in the same time period went to Singaporeans sounds too good to be true as well. I wonder if the government will announce how they came up with their figures? Based on MOM�s own data that allegedly can�t be released to the public, and which certainly wasn�t available to the NTU profs.

Not that the profs are political martyrs. Their refusal to release their paper for public scrutiny hardly helped their case, and goes against academic ideals. Were they hiding something?

At the same time, MOM�s knee-jerk reaction was far out of proportion. The criticisms levelled at the NTU professors were very close to personal attacks, essentially accusing them of incompetence. Not a good thing to do if you want to encourage academic discussion and research in the social sciences.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Am reading at the moment Sim Wong Hoo's Chaotic Thoughts From The Old Millennium Instead of your run-of-the-mill autobiographies, where you get the standard "I did this I didn't do that and got to where I am today", the CEO of Creative Technologies chose to compile a random collection of personal thoughts, observations and experiences -- including little magic tricks for kids (his reasons for this are that getting along with children is the best way to improve your EQ and besides, it's his book after all. The result was published before the year 2000 -- in fact Sim wrote the whole thing in 8 weeks -- in a ring binder. The point of the book was to be not a book -- you can start and end anywhere you like and to that effect each entry begins with a list of "links" to other, related entries. Interesting concept. For cost reasons, the ring binder was dropped for the 2nd reprint but this does not detract much from the frank, entertaining and conversation-like nature of the work. Fun to read, enlightening in some respects and just plain random in some others. Perhaps the section on Sim's self-coined "NUTS" or No U-Turn Syndrome is the most well-known of all, but there're some other interesting bits.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Had a haircut yesterday at one of those places that purport to give you a professional haircut in 10 minutes. Their words, not mine. Anyway, thought I'd give it a go. The end result was OK I suppose, but that's not saying much since my idea of a good haircut for my head is a couple of centimeters longer than the standard NS recruit haircut. What can I say? I like my hair short and can't imagine keeping long hair. I'd probably end up scratching my hair out in a day or two from the irritation of accumulated sweat and dandruff.

Nonetheless getting what must seem to you a simple haircut has, for a long time, been a little complex for me. Mainly this was because the hairdressers I went to in Chicago had no idea what a recruit cut looks like. Eventually I figured out that the safest thing to do was to ask for "the same style but shorter", and squint to see if something got shaved off that shouldn't have.

I did the same thing yestersay, although on hindsight I should have just told her to cut it until it was a few centimeters away from a recruit's hairstyle. Would have saved me the trouble of asking what exactly a "high slope" was, asking her to thin my hair and trim a little more off the top and generally facing more of the icy demeanor the hairdresser gave me.

Well, I can't say I was expecting all smiles and politeness when I sat down in the barber's chair there. Perhaps I was spoiled in the US, where even though I may not have engaged in conversation with the person wielding the shaver and the scissors, the staff were always approachable and were ready to smile. They weren't sycophantic. they may not have given a rat's tail about how my day was, but the important thing was that they still made you feel welcome -- like they wanted your business and meant it.

I didn't get that feeling yesterday. The business-like tone of voice, the close-to-freezing-point expressions and the soulless "thank you"... She wasn't even trying. Then again, I supppose that's due to the nature of that particular business, with its emphasis on an above average haircut delivered with speed. She probably isn't being paid that much, and the temptation to look at me as just another head of hair, close to the level of a common widget, is probably overwhelming.

So I got my cut. I'm ok with it, but the experience was.... lacking. Maybe I'll just go to the neighbourhood barber next time. It's not like the chain of barber shops will miss my business. Perhaps that's why the staff don't bother with pleasanteries, 'cos their ricebowl doesn't depend on that aspect of service. I wonder if it's a sign of the times that personal service, once associated strongly with a haircut, is no longer linked with that ritual of personal hygiene and physical appearance. Don't people want to build relationships with the ones who are responsible for making them look good anymore?

Thursday, July 31, 2003

So after failing to stop the file-swopping services, they're now targeting individuals. The Recording Industry Association of America is planning to sue individuals for alleged copyright infringement, and have obtained close to 1000 such subpoenas demanding the names of file-swoppers. ISPs handed them over without complaint (except Verizon who is bravely challenging the subpoena in court). Quixotic? Maybe, but there will be some of the intended effect. Parents will punish their kids (true, not many tech-savvy parents but I think that will change if the parents think they're in danger of lossing thousands of dollars) and universities will crack down on their students even though the schools will try to shrug off the subpoenas. Just thinking about going to court costs lots of $$$.

Not that I condone the RIAA. In fact with the vast majority of its critics I think it's a very short-sighted move. I also believe that file-swopping as it exists now is truly illegal, and that musicians have a right to a decent living. However, copyright law is simply too convoluted and counter-intuitive to grasp for most ordinary people. Hence all these myths about downloading MP3s like : "It's OK if you get rid them within 24 hours (who does anyway?)."

In my opinion, the record companies are to blame for all this. The current business model employed -- charging incredible amounts for CDs and producing lots of trashy expensive music videos to go with the overpriced CDs -- is probably responsible for the current glut of substandard acts. Popular music these days is awful. Teenage pretty boys and scantily-clad pre-teens who release a few forgettable albums and then fade into obscurity.

The artistes are criticising the wrong people. They should be rising up against the record companies for screwing them in unfair contracts instead of accusing the fans of depriving them of a decent living.

The Internet is making the existing business models that record labels and their executives got fat on, obsolete. The industry has been chosen to be blinkered. It took Apple -- a computer company and a great one at that! -- to show that selling music on the net was workable where so many others failed.

Perhaps these lawsuits are mostly useful as the stick to the carrot of online music services that are actually workable. I hope for a massive backlash against the industry. Will we see an industry where artistes have freedom to distribute their work online and to earn a fair amount from their songs instead of having a disproportionate amount siphoned off to music videos, paying industry executives and other costs? Will people be able to pick and buy the songs they want instead of buying CDs at more than 15 times their cost of production? Will the market be allowed to weed out good talent from one-hit wonders?

I'm not too optimistic, but let's see. The RIAA has lots of enemies, but also friends in high places.

For those interested in this subject, I heartily recommend Jessica Litman's Digital Copyright, for starters.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Am in the middle of watching Gundam SEED. This is the latest incarnation of the long-running Gundam franchise, of which I am an ardent fan. The criticisms of long-time Gundam veterans are valid to some extent -- SEED is the original Mobile Suit Gundam all over again, it presents nothing new, the mecha designs look lousy (why in @#! are there Zoids?), no original characters and *another* Char clone?!?

Well, I don't think it ranks up there as one of the great anime series of all time, but the series is decent to watch. The animation could be better, considering how famous the series is (maybe all the budget was spent on generating hype). Perhaps it's best to think of it as a retelling of the original Universal Century timeline with Gundam Fangirl-esque elements. An update to fit the tastes of today's Japanese youth and appeal to the Americans.

Speaking of Gundam, I was trying to get people back home interested in the Gundam War card game. While popular in Japan and in Taiwan (thanks to a licensed Chinese edition), interest here is virtually nil. The main reasons are cost, availibility and language. The cards are sold here with at least a 50% markup, and with the Japanese yen gaining against the Singapore dollar of late, these are some admittedly damn expensive cards. The Japanese department stores that once carried boosters and starters apparently no longer do so, so no-one knows where to find a steady supply. Lastly, the game is wholly in Japanese.

Well, so much for that idea :( Looks like I'll be alone in enjoying and collecting (when I can) the cool cards from this game. All new mecha art and high-quality screen captures, but no-one's keen on them.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Feels really nice to be typing this on a new computer :) Replaced my antique 350Mhz one yesterday. It's a great feeling to have everything work like you expect it to, for once. Not having to worry about crashing your PC everytime you open a second window, not having to wonder why Word crashed, not having to wrench your CD-ROM open to extricate a disc... Now if I can just get broadband I'll be all set :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

If the changes I made to my blog settings "have [already] been saved", then why don't they show up? Maybe I need to post something :p
[on Tokyo]

Since this was my second time there, I didn't visit any of the many sights in the city. This doesn't mean that there's nothing to see in Tokyo. For one thing, it's not all steel, glass, concrete and asphalt. If you look upon the city from the free observation deck in the Metropolitan Government No 1 Building, you'll see scattered splotches of green around the city, like little cancerous growths of moss. Nature's last, carefully tended bastions.

Tokyo is every bit as expensive as Germany and Austria. I had the chance to relearn that little fact. Still, it's not impossible to dine well. The finest of convenience store foods -- a tasty and possibly marginally carcinogenic mind-boggling array of noodles, rice, sandwiches -- are accessible to all so long as you don't mind eating standing up. It's a good way to learn how to balance everything *very* quickly.

No regrets though. For anime fans, Tokyo is the Promised Land, and the Holiest of Holies is Akihabara. This is the place to go for cheap(er) electronic goods (They say Singapore and Hong Kong are cheaper still). Otakudom knows no bounds and so some of the largest anime/manga/anime and manga related goods chains have strong presences in Akihabara. The Gamers main store is 6 levels of fandom goodness. Yellow Submarine caters to your hobby, role-playing and card gaming needs with five stores scattered round the area. You can't miss the Toranoana store, unless you've somehow become oblivious to a large bright orange building with a giant manga comic strip painted on the facade. And when your feet hurt, your mouth is dry and you think you've run up a deficit the size of the US's -- hey! It's time to hop in and out of the little shops that specialise in games, more cards, more manga, more DVDs......

(And if you go to Osaka, you can do all this again at Den-Den Town! Yay!)

Fresh sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market, after the wheeling and dealing of the early morning is over. Avoid getting being run over by bicycles and the diesel-powered platforms on wheels (you'll see when you get there), and feast on fresh sushi! Fatty tuna soooooooo good it melts in your mouth...

And when you're sick of the giant video screens and the endless rivers of neon, tired of wandering through the massive department stores and all 7 floors of HMV Shibuya and Tower Records and the endless throng of humans, why not take a day trip out? You could go to Kamakura like I did (went to Nikko the last time). The Daibutsu (Great Buddha) looks asleep. Not a bad idea given how warm and sunny it was. Popped into a few of the many Zen temples in the area as well. But if you really want temples, you should go to Kyoto and Nara and overdose on them.

Otherwise, I spent most of my time rummaging through used CDs for Pizzicato Five and other Shibuya-kei bands. Gawked at shelves and shelves and more shelves of cheap, used manga at Mandarake. Spent hours listening to CDs in HMV Shibuya. Tromped around Shibuya, Akihabara and Harajuku in the intermittent rain. Ate cannonball-yaki (size of a baseball, cooked and served like takoyaki but filled with all sorts of artery-hardening goodies like quail's eggs and sausage and mushrooms and peas and maize). Wished my Japanese was good enough so that I would have an excuse to browse in used bookstores and waste some more time. Wondered why high school girls hitched their skirts up almost to butt-level but wore knee-high socks. Discovered how expensive it is to be fashionable. Ate lots of beef bowls (cheapest hot food around).

Can anyone really define Tokyo? Pick a moment that captures the essence of this urban agglomeration?

Every Sunday, fans of visual-kei (lit. visual style. A term used to describe the fantasy Goth-like, androgynous look adopted by many Japanese hard rock bands who look like they routinely bite heads off of bats but are really nice kids who listen to their mums sometimes and want nice Japanese girlfriends) gather. They're dressed in sometimes outrageous outfits, some with painted faces, all just wanting to hang out. Among them weave curious tourists who snap photos. maybe they have no idea what's going on, or want evidence of further Japanese weirdness to show their friends back home and laugh with over a beer.

I wonder how many of the tourists notice that these youths meet regularly right outside the Meiji Shrine, where the spirit of the Meiji Emperor and his consort are supposed to reside, watching over the nation and the hordes of tourists that visit the grounds every year. This is a traditional Shinto shrine, surrounded by a large sprawling park like Shinto shrines are supposed to be.

To finish this Sunday tableau, a group of Christians singing hymns to the mostly black-clad crowd. They're really into their praise and worship, with electronic organ and songsheets and the choreographed hand movements. When they finished, they set about handing out bibles to whoever looked interested.

So you have inhabiting the same 100 metres: the entrance to a Shinto shrine, youths dressed like Goths but with bleached hair and *actual* style, and earnest believers evangelising a Western faith to them and all passersby.

I don't know if that is the Tokyo moment, but it probably comes pretty close.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Well, unpacked what's come in so far. Am still expecting 5 boxes of books by mail. Wonder what's taking them so long to get here.

One thing that struck me while packing, was how unnecessary the vast majority of my book purchases were. I developed a love for reading from childhood, but it was not until recently that I managed to divorce that from a love of hoarding books. Those are related, but really separate things altogether. In my case, I ended up buying just about everything I wanted to read without thinking much about whether I would reread it. With the exception of a handful of works, I generally can't be bothered to reread books. Once bought however, books these days have horrid resale value and they take up precious space in little rooms like mine.

I have resolved to use my neighbourhood library more. Heck, Singapore's so small and public transport's so good - I don't mind travelling to Changi to get a book I want if I have to. Which I probably won't 'cos the library system here has been modernised to an amazing degree. No more stodgy dusty spaces crammed with bookshelves. Instead, bright colourful decors, helpful staff with proper uniforms and a collection that meticulously updated, with videos, CDs and software. True, you still have to wait a long time to get the books you want, but usually it's not a big deal. Indeed, I feel ashamed to not have used the system more.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Am back in Singapore, so this post is really late. Still, bear with me, ok?

/clears throat

To Germans and Austrians, it's Wien ('cos they pronounce W as V and a 12th century English scribe in a fit of ignorance wrote it as it was pronounced and so we have been left with the horrifying legacy of the "weener").

To English speakers, it's Vienna.

To me, it's expensive and arty. Like Prague's sister who likes to go shopping a lot. With the Habsburgs who provided the money, some of the results are sumptuous, sprawling palaces, beautiful museums that still struggle to match their contents. The Kunsthistorisches Museum (which somehow translates into "Fine Arts Museum") is perhaps the pinnacle, with a mind-boggling collection of fine and famous Western art. If you're a fan of Bruegel (the Elder), Reubens or plush purple couches that are more comfortable than your hostel foam mattress, this is the place. For behold! The couches are aplenty and the audioguide is included in the ticket price.

Alas! Alack! I missed opera season. Instead I found purveyors of "The Classical Top 40", attired in Baroque court clothes with wigs and all instead of the 20th century garb their contemporaries in Prague wore. Eh.

Wiener Schnitzel? The city's namesake dish should be tried but only in the same way you're nice to your bratty cousins at a family wedding - 'cos you're there. It's a very large breaded thin pork cutlet. An extra large tonkatsu if you will, but served with salad and sauerkraut instead of wheat noodles. Not saying it's bad. It's just only as good as a deep-fried chunk of meat is.

Not all of Vienna's stuck in the past. As part of summer festivities, the city authorities have set up a giant screen in front of the Rathaus. The grounds right in front of the City Hall were filled with food stalls selling beer and food (not snacks but real, meal kind of food). Tables and benches formed a large dining area that was packed when I was there. And on the giant screen? Films every day. Well, not really films but recorded concerts and dance performances but the important thing is that there was a giant screen in front of City Hall and you could go watch a something arty every single day for two months. Now we just need someone to convince the Austrians that Playstation 2s are artistic.

The most memorable part of my stay in Vienna is courtesy of two Australians (Hey Peter! Jeremy!) whom I had the fine fortune to meet at the hostel. One night we tried to get into a club. So we went there, found out that we had an hour to spare and naturally we went to a neighbouring caf� and drank for two. We returned to the club, only to be told by the burly folk at the door that we had to be on the "guest list". So we left, unhappily, while one of the Aussies questioned whether the list dated from the Third Reich. On our way we came across an Austrian karaoke pub.

Did you know that there's a song called "I am from Austria"?

The pub was packed - we discovered (how did we do that?) later than we'd crashed a personal birthday party. No one spoke English, and being model tourists we couldn't speak any German. But a fat Goth male, with a bald head and a large beard to match his girth, wearing occult symbols around his neck, was the friendliest towards us. He seemed to be a dominant figure and I'd like to think that was why we survived the night. We were mostly ignored, and so the Australians and I murdered the German language endlessly that night.

But we really enjoyed� umm� hanging out with the locals. We like to think of ourselves as having made, tentatively perhaps, in our own little individual drop-in-the-mightly-ocean way, a small step towards international friendship, world peace and the end of global poverty. Peace through inferior singing!


With the sound of tourists. Salzburg is full of them. They come for the Mozart and The Sound of Music movie. The Sound of Music tour was shamelessly advertised everywhere in my hostel and the endorsement by the original Maria von Trapp is kind of pathetic. But I can't blame them - whoring cultural icons for tourists is everywhere. It's much worse for poor Wolfie. He's got his own chocolate with competing brands. Do you want the mass-produced one? Or the (allegedly) original Mozartkugel? Or the one that noone's ever heard of? There are Mozart liqueurs, Mozart scarves, Mozart ties, Mozart silverware and even Mozart cologne and perfume. How ironic that the genius died depressed, overworked and dirt-poor. He was buried in an unmarked grave and the memorial you see in the Vienna graveyard in which he was not buried, was put together by gravediggers from gravestone scraps.

It's so strange. The Mozarts sold all their furniture. The reconstructions you see in Salzburg, they're all from contemporary accounts or from details dropped here and there in family letters (wouldn't sell I'd bet). To see a cardboard cutout of Mozart holding a modern box of chocolates and smiling outside a shop, is an incredibly unnerving experience.

That said, I managed to catch a performance of Mozart's Requiem in a church. The performers included the Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra so there was some kind of standard. That, my friends, was the high point of my stay in Salzburg. Even the stupid girl (I shan't name her country of origin) next to me on a school trip doodling noisily with her ballpoint pen until I asked her to stop, couldn't spoil it for me.

Oh, and the silver-wrapped Mozartkugels taste better than the mass-produced gold Mirabell ones. Remember that when you go :)

Next: Tokyo wa yoru no shichi ji!