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?