Friday, December 31, 2004

Closing time
Every new beginning
comes from some other beginning's end

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Lush 99.5FM begins transmission at 0725h, Singapore time, on New Year's Eve. That's odd -- thought they'd have a big party or something at night.

Kung Fu Hustle (Gong Fu) is good for laughs. Much of the movie really focuses on stars from kungfu flicks of yesteryear (the official website has cast bios) and Yuen Wo-Ping's choreography lets them strut their stuff while adding heft to the Matrix spoofs.

As expected in action flicks these days, there was lots of CG but thankfully used mostly to enhance rather than impress. It also packed plenty of film and wuxia references to please enthusiasts. I'm personally getting tired of Matrix spoofs though.

A love of violence and martial arts (Chow is a diehard Bruce Lee fan). Actors who made their careers in films of the 70s and 80s, particularly kungfu stars. Lots of references to other films, usually parodies. I'm surprised more people aren't comparing Chow's latest with Tarantino's Kill Bill.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I delivered myself unto The Machine for the second time, and for the second time I have been found lacking, and thusly chewed and spat out like gristle. This time it only took them 10 minutes.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Nah, haven't been feeling like blogging for a long while now. Still don't feel like blogging actually.

Here're some short cuts:

Ocean's Twelve tries to cram too much into one sitting at the expense of the style and panache that made its predecessor cool. The lines are still witty, and the camerawork is pretty, but the plot is even thinner than the first and the denouement is anticlimactic.

Finally managed to catch The Incredibles. Excellent stuff.

Nobody Knows (Dare mo shiranai) created a bit of a stir at Cannes when its 14-year old male lead won the Best Actor award. I didn't think Yagira Yuuya's acting was exceptional (although there is no doubt that he will grow into a Japanese hearthrob for thousands of young Japanese/Taiwanese/Singaporean Chinese girls), and considering that Fahrenheit 911 won Best Film at the same awards I can't help but wonder, well, what QT and Co. were thinking.

(And no, I don't think Tony Leung deserved the Best Actor award either. Shame on him for that infamous comment too!)

But that's a done debate. It's not a bad film.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Had a close-up look at the Nintendo DS today. Utada Hikaru on the ads was what first caught my attention, but with double screens, a stylus, an in-built microphone and wireless communication capabilities this little machine looks very cool.

Moreover, the launch game for the DS is the quirky Kimi no Tame Nara Shineru (which translates to I would Die for You). Another quality title from Sonic Team. Visually unique, fun to play, showcases what the DS is capable of and hints at the great potential embodied in this package.

Monday, December 20, 2004

All the talk by the Government about raising the retirement age is pointless when no-one will hire older people to begin with. Is this not obvious?

Friday, December 17, 2004

Finally, a voice of reason! And from the Director of Economics and Strategy at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) and Vice-President of the Economic Society of Singapore (ESS), no less.

The Straits Times, Dec 17, 2004

Casinos: Economic costs as big as any benefits

By Yeoh Lam Keong
For The Straits Times

THE integrated casino resort project (ICR) has been proposed principally to re-energise Singapore's flagging tourism industry.

On its surface, the model looks seductive. Only 30 to 50 per cent of the project is supposed to be centred on gaming. The bulk of the revenues from the $2 billion investment, we are told, should, as in Atlantis or Las Vegas, come from an alluring infrastructure of high-end hotels, world-class entertainment, restaurants and convention facilities that would also synergistically benefit tourism as a whole.

Surely, the argument goes, if through ingenious regulation we can contain the worst excesses of the ICR's acknowledged social ills, we should be willing to step outside the box of our traditional caution and give it a spin?

The fact that Thailand, Korea and Macau are all planning to deregulate and/or further attract investment in this area gives added urgency to the project. Do we want to be left behind? Should we not, as Associate Professor Winston Koh of SMU, and others, have argued, also establish ourselves as serious players in the mega gaming/tourism sector?


LIKE its high rolling namesake, the ICR project looks tempting. A much darker picture, however, emerges if one looks at its economic costs.

First, while the benefits are potentially large (Prof Koh estimates the ICR can add 0.3 to 1 per cent of GDP), the costs are equally big. Cost benefit studies of Australia's experience in gaming estimate a sum of between A$1.8 billion (S$2.3 billion) and A$5.6 billion on both the benefits and costs sides of the ledger.

Australian Productivity Commission (APC) listed the following among the main costs: Bankruptcy, loss of work productivity, job losses, police incidents, court cases, divorce and violence. The impact on family dysfunction and breakdown is obvious.

The APC found that 96 per cent of problem gamblers suffered from depression, 58 per cent have considered suicide and 14 per cent had attempted it. Half spent over 50 per cent of their income on their vice.

Problem gamblers may constitute only a tiny minority - typically, 1 per cent to 2 per cent of any population, according to Australian and American studies. But the multiplier effects of their pathology can be large. In Singapore, potentially 40,000 to 60,000 people may become problem gamblers. But between 120,000 and 180,000 family members may be indirectly harmed by their vice.

Economist call such impact 'negative externality'. The market is ill-suited in valuing 'non-price goods' or in regulating the negative social effects of certain kinds of economic activity. We know, for example, that it cannot satisfactorily price the benefits of 'clean air' or a 'green environment' or prevent pollution reaching excessive levels without regulation.

Similarly, the market cannot adequately price or limit the impact of gambling-related depression, poverty or suicide on a family. What is the true cost of family dysfunction and breakdown? The counselling charges paid by pathological gamblers hardly captures the full cost.

For this reason, economists who have done cost-benefit analyses of gaming have argued that its costs have been badly understated. Most analyses, using conservative estimates, have found the costs outweigh the benefits.

Can regulation reduce these costs? Can limiting access to casinos to high-rolling tourists or to rich citizens, for example, reduce the number of problem gamblers? Can't Singapore have its cake and eat it too?

Unfortunately, the economics of the gaming industry work against this.

To begin with, the bulk of most casinos' clientele tend to be local residents - usually 70 per cent to 80 per cent even in tourist-intensive locations like Australia or Genting, in Malaysia. Atlantis and Las Vegas, which rely principally on non-residents or foreign tourists, are not at all typical examples.

In Singapore's case, the greater the regulation of locals, the greater will be the implicit 'tax' on its ICR as compared to less regulated regional gaming establishments. Over time, the more intense the regional competition gets, the more financially unviable will local regulation become. After sinking more than $2 billion into such a project, there is likely to be increasing pressure to relax or dilute restrictions on local clientele so the ICR can be competitive with other casinos in the region, subject to fewer restrictions. The financial viability of the local casino may require the acceptance of high levels of local misery.

Unseen threat

IN ADDITION, the ICR, by its very nature, will pose an unseen threat to the very tourism infrastructure it is designed to energise. This is because ICR-type operations typically subsidise the hotel, entertainment and other facilities attached to the casino. Often, such facilities barely break even or may even lose money, but the project as a whole is supported by the gaming profits from the clientele that such facilities draw.

If the ICR is extremely successful, there may be a positive spillover into nearby hotels, restaurants, pubs or entertainment venues. But this would be the rare and lucky case. Statistically, 30 to 40 per cent of gaming facilities fail, with a large proportion surviving, but not very well.

It is in these more common cases that the ICR could become a Trojan horse, with a potentially destructive impact on the local hospitality industry because of its massive non-gaming infrastructure. Being heavily subsidised, these facilities could damage surrounding hotels, entertainment venues or convention places. Around Sky City, Auckland, for example, hotel rates have fallen around 10 per cent due to competition from the casino's cheap subsidised hotels.

In a booming hospitality industry with already high occupancy rates, this negative impact might be small. But with significant excess capacity, flagging tourist arrivals and already thin profit margins, the effect could be a harmful diversion of trade, loss of existing jobs and bankruptcies. Unfortunately, this is likely to be the situation we face today.

More worryingly, the subsidised infrastructure of the ICR could act as a distorting barrier to entry and investment in the high-end segment of the hospitality and convention industry that Singapore is seeking to develop further.

Such potential negative impacts typically do not feature in standard cost-benefit analyses. They are, rather, hidden financial and economic risks that are inherent in the nature of the ICR project itself.

Given these risks, to describe the ICR as an 'option' that Singapore might like to buy, as some of its defenders have described it, may be misleading. Instead, the project is perhaps more accurately characterised, in financial market parlance, as the selling of an 'uncovered option'. Besides the certain social costs and the big initial investment involved in purchasing this 'option', the total losses to the economy as a whole could be unexpectedly large, open-ended and extend over an indefinite time horizon, as in the case of the sale of an 'uncovered option' gone wrong.

Considering these risks, the question of whether there are alternative projects that could fulfil the same tourism objectives as the ICR naturally arise.

Here, one cannot help but feel that Hong Kong has chosen a better direction with its West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) development project.

The proposed mega development will cost $5 billion and is designed to enhance Hong Kong's position as Asia's premiere centre for the arts, culture and entertainment. The WKCD is also expected to generate 8,500 permanent new jobs.

That is better than the 1,500 to 4,000 jobs that the Singapore ICR is estimated to provide, with positive rather than negative social effects and genuine benefit to related service industries.

Just as importantly, together with Disneyworld, the WKCD could help brand Hong Kong as the leading family-friendly, sophisticated Asian international tourist destination. By comparison, what impact on Singapore's branding would the ICR have?

Would we not be diluting our tourism branding by moving closer to the niches occupied by gaming cities like Las Vegas and Macau? Is this what we want as a key part of our tourism strategy, let alone in setting the tone for Singapore's social policy?

ICR proponents argue that gambling of all sorts is already rampant in Singapore. Professor Peter Collins, Director of the Centre for the Study of Commercial Gaming in Britain, estimates that gambling per capita in Singapore is already among the highest in the world.

Establishing an ICR, its proponents argue, could capture some of the business now lost to cruises and foreign casinos, and raise tax revenues that can be used for social good as well as to rehabilitate the worst effects of problem gambling.


FRANKLY, I find this argument rather weak. The existing scale of gambling is primarily determined by social policy and regulation rather than dictated by local consumer taste.

In regulated France, for example, spending on gaming forms only 1.3 per cent of GDP. Compare this to a similarly rich, but less regulated country like Japan, where 'pachinko' gaming turnover alone forms a whopping 6.7 per cent of GDP.

Unlike Japan, Singapore is not desperate for alternative fiscal revenues.

To my mind, the admittedly high existing per capita spending on gambling in Singapore is not an argument for establishing yet another gaming venue in the form of a legal high-end casino.

Rather, it is a much stronger argument for a careful review of regulation of existing gaming facilities - including legal 4D, 'football clubs' with their gaming machines and illegal gambling - as well as of the adequacy of counselling, education and community support for existing problem gamblers.

Although superficially compelling, the ICR project, with its dark and hidden costs, is a Faustian bargain. And as with most such bargains, the devil lurks in the details.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Do I want my children to grow up learning it's OK to gamble? Of course not; that's why I'm going to try my hardest to be a responsible parent and teach them that it's not OK. Which is a point these well-meaning but slightly silly people seem to have missed.

On the one hand, I approve of the Enlightenment-derived idea that people should have the opportunity to decide for themselves if they want to gamble or not, and that the Government should not shield its people forever from vices. On the other, I personally believe that the social cost of the casino will far outweigh any financial benefits it would bring to our little island. In way of empirical proof, I'm afraid all I can offer are the multitude of sociological observations that point out the harmful effects of casinos on the surrounding communities versus the pittance of reports on the benefits of casinos.

Let me try and approach this from another angle, with the aim of finding more solid ground. I don't think anyone will deny that with a casino at our doorstep, the number of people who will become gambling addicts will increase. So perhaps the real question should be: are our social services ready to handle more broken families, more troubled kids and more bankruptcies?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The front page of this morning's edition of Today out STs the ST. Hope it's not a precedent.

Here're more ways to waste time at work -- The Best Webcomics of 2004.

What they're playing now as test transmission is fun to listen to, but when's Lush 99.5FM actually broadcasting for real? I can't wait.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Not too many people know that Rich Dad Poor Dad is trash, and that Robert Kiyosaki is a shill. This is why. Some of John T. Reed's points aren't as relevant as others, but he builds a sensible and convincing case against this so-called guru.

As my brother and I agreed over prata, teh and deep-fried tofu on Sunday morning, some people just want to believe something. Anything.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Love is the answer, but while you're waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty interesting questions.

-- Woody Allen

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Kafka writes, for instance, of officials who revel in their despotic power over petitioners, 'against their own will [loving] the scent of wild game like that'. Though he was the least ideological of writers, Kafka had an acute feel for the obscene intimacies of power. Hinted at in his striking metaphor [The Castle] is a bestial, predatory appetite in the officials, sometimes submerged, sometimes baring itself.

-- J.M. Coetzee, "Translating Kafka"

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

No, I didn't know Grace Chow before today. Even if she were still alive, I don't think I'd ever meet her though but that's a moot point now.

She wrote a book, and she blogged the last 10 days of her life as a cancer slowly claimed her.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Speaking of dead authors, Goh Sin Tub's last book Walk Like A Dragon has somehow popped into my hands. I respect Goh for carving his own historical niche in the development of what passes for "Singaporean literature". He wrote concisely and clearly - in fact I studied his stories as models for English compositions in secondary school.

However, his work is too amiable and sedate to be memorable. Goh's historicity is one filtered through rose-coloured glasses thicker than glass Coca-Cola bottles. The plethora of praises from Government ministers and religious leaders that adorn the first few pages of the book are not simply an advertiser's gimmick. By being so uncontroversial, Goh has unfortunately become inconsequential.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Godzilla has a surprisingly distinguished pedigree. Sharing the Toho stable with the big green monster was famed director Akira Kurosawa, who at the time was producing some of his most acclaimed films. Toho's other big release of 1954 was Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai), and the studio regularly rotated actors and crew among its projects. The director of the original Gojira, Ishiro Honda, was a lifelong Kurosawa collaborator, and the film's haunting martial theme was scored by the eminent composer Akira Ifukube. "This is the period of the great Japanese film," says Mark Schilling, film critic of The Japan Times and the author of The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture.

Godzilla: Final Wars, just opened in Japan, is the famous monster's last hurrah. "Final Conflict" discusses the reasons for stopping the franchise, the possibilities for a resurrection (who knows?) and the significance of the very first Gojira.
Indeed, the first film, when viewed today after decades of lighter monster-movie fare, is shockingly brutal and unafraid to heap scorn on the Americans. The blame for Godzilla awakening from his ancient slumber is laid squarely on US nuclear weapons testing. Scientists investigating a Godzilla attack visit a hospital and take a Geiger counter reading of a healthy-looking girl in pigtails, and a grim knowledge passes between them - she's doomed to a slow death by radiation poisoning.

Monday, December 06, 2004

It's a welcome gesture that the Singapore Literature Prize is now awarded in 4 languages. I wonder how the organisers will cough up the cash though.

What I don't understand is how "Hwee Hwee Tan" could have possibly won. Mammon Inc is complete crap. I stated my reasons earlier, so if anyone wants to show me how that trash has more literary merit than the others on the shortlist, please, by all means.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

I don't think I did well in my JLPT at all :(

I take no pleasure at all in saying I can now go back to reading without as much guilt.

One Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1955, when I was fifteen years old, I was mooning around our back garden in the suburbs of Cape Town, wondering what to do, boredom being the main problem of existence in those days, when from the house next door I heard music. As long as the music lasted, I was frozen, I dared not breathe. I was being spoken to by the music as music had never spoken to me before.

What I was listening to was a recording of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, played on the harpsichord [...]

-- J.M. Coetzee, "What is a Classic? A Lecture"
Really, this year's Asian Media Festival Film Showcase had paltry publicity. Maybe next year's will be better publicised at the very least.

Incidentally, it ended last Friday with Puteri Gunung Ledang.

Like any other legend, the one about the Fairy Princess of Gunung Ledang has quite a few variants, but the one used in Puteri Gunung Ledang is really a synthesis of elements from the main legend and others concerning Hang Tuah. It seems that the driving force behind the new fusion was a desire to suffuse the film with a universal appeal. There's nothing wrong with that, and this is not one of the Puteri Gunung Ledang's flaws.

The film is badly in need of more editing. It moves slower than a lame tortoise and many scenes could have been culled without affecting any narrative or character development. The acting is decent -- in fact Tiara Jacquelina is the main reason why I ultimately found the film watchable -- but the leads have zero chemistry whatsoever. The reunion scene was especially painful to watch. As for action, considering that this is the first time anyone in Malaysia is making something as big as this, the fights are good if slightly cheesy. The costuming is quite impressive as well.

I have to admit that the novelty of the whole thing was probably what kept me in my seat the whole time. Well, that and Tiara Jacquelina. Still, the film is a breath of fresh air in our Hollywood-saturated cinemas, and I think it's a pity no-one's picked this up for general release here yet. Besides, nature's sacrifice has already been made.
Remember the Sega Saturn?

Segata Sanshiro was a fictional character and parody of Sugata Sanshiro, a legendary judo fighter. He appeared in two dozen commercials by SEGA to advertise the Sega Saturn in Japan between 1997 and 1998.

Sanshiro was a Judo master that tracked down and beat up people who were not playing the Sega Saturn. His name sounds similar to the phrase "Sega Saturn shiro!" meaning roughly "You must play Sega Saturn!"

The ads are over the top, but are funny and entertaining. Watch some of them here.

Hmm... not quite how I should be preparing for JLPT, is it?

Friday, December 03, 2004

Oops. Guangzhou is a city. Guangdong is a province.

So much for my uni education.
Now that the rest of Marina Square is due for renovation, most of the shops still open there are having clearance sales of one sort or another. Discovered a small but decently-stocked book fair there, but they were closing up for the day so I couldn't truly browse. I did manage to grab the Vintage Classics edition of The Tin Drum that I've been ogling at Kinokuniya for ages. It was a steal at $6, even with a creased spine.

There were others that caught my eye; I'll definitely be going back.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

There is no better evidence for the adage: "Fools and their money are soon parted" than the recently-concluded Singapore Idol.

As Ken Lim once pointed out, you don't need talent to be a successful pop star. I don't mean to detract from Taufik Batisah's win; only to help place it in perspective. Glitz and glamour are driven by equally illusory impressions of democracy and talent. For truth, look to the money.
But any trace of spontaneity from the public in official broadcasting is controlled and absorbed by talent scouts, studio competitions and official programs of every kind selected by professionals. Talented performers belong to the industry long before it displays them; otherwise they would not be so eager to fit in. The attitude of the public, which ostensibly and actually favours the system of the culture industry, is a part of the system and not an excuse for it.

-- Adorno and Horkheimer, "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception"

Sunday, November 28, 2004

I turn my PC on, and whoosh 3, 4 hours of my life go by. And it's not like I'm doing anything productive on it either.

I should just not switch on my PC.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Most of the action in The Polar Express consists of roller-coaster rides every five minutes (look for a Polar Express ride at a theme park soon). The animation's extremely detailed and smooth enough, but the film also has the creepiest elves and spookiest Santa ever. Look out for some very trippy moments, including a ride down a gargantuan gravity well, a curious black-white pairing (the engine room scene is classic Riggs and Murtaugh) and other movie parallels.
Julio Cort�zar (1914 - 1984)
Argentine writer, one of the great masters of the fantastic short story, who has been compared to Jorge Luis Borges. Many of Cort�zar's stories follow the logic of hallucinations and obsessions. Central themes in his work are the quest for identity, the hidden reality behind the everyday lives of common people, and the existential angst. The author's debt to the French Symbolism and Surrealists has been demonstrated in a number of studies. Unlike Borges, Cort�zar became a political radical who was involved in anti-Peronist demonstrations and supported the Cuban revolution, Allende's Chile, and Sandinista Nicaragua.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

If you haven't been there yet SoundBar is a small nook on the ground floor of hip The Gallery Hotel, and there's outdoor seating that spills out across the patch of lawn to the river where you have a nice view of HDB flats and a BP station.

Crowded, but expected of Heineken Green Room Sessions since their objective is branding/selling as many bottles of brew as possible (also the reason why NSmen and teachers never get invites, but they should seriously reconsider teachers). Moreover, there were print and (mediocre) radio ads too.

Anyway, Fantastic Plastic Machine was in full swing when my friend and I arrived (yes, we were late :( ), and the small area in front of the DJ console was packed tighter than sardines and hotter than a greenhouse.

With regards to music: he played house and latin mixes, throwing in remixes of his tracks every now and then. Solid fare imho. No one was dancing though. People were lounging, talking, getting drunk but not dancing although the the music called for it.

(I would have danced, but I was standing at least 20m away next to the largest longkang in S'pore, with nattering clusters of people around me.)

And worst of all, he left shortly after 12am.

Well, back to listening to his CDs. /sigh

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Well done Straits Times! Hire an veteran journalist with years of experience writing for respected publications, for your flashy new redesigned (again) paper. Then force him to leave after 8 months.
Letter from Singapore

Published by on 2004-11-19

Not so long ago, an important member of India's federal cabinet took me aside and asked why was it that Singaporeans were racist. I was floored by the question, which the official asked in all earnestness. In his long career dealing with ethnicities and communities all over the world, he said, he had never quite encountered the sheer arrogance and hubris demonstrated by Singaporeans.

"They think that they know it all," he said, noting the absurdity of a nation of four million people taking on a country of 1.2 billion people. "Even a minor Singaporean official will talk down to someone as senior as me."

I don't know if I fully agree with the cabinet official. Singapore and India, in fact, have been working hard at building stronger political and economic relations: they are about to sign a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), which covers not only trade but also investment and services. The Indian government hopes that Singapore, which has US$1.3 billion invested in Indian technology and telecommunications companies, will bring in an additional US$2.5 billion to help build India's languishing infrastructure next year. Singapore, in fact, is the biggest Asian investor in India, and third only to Mauritius and the United States. Singapore - whose GDP of US$100 billion is less than a sixth of India's - expects to attract more Indian hi-tech professionals, and also hopes that India will use it as an offshore center for financial transactions.

Unlike my friend, the Indian cabinet official, I don't believe that this is a racist society. Indeed, I have been overwhelmed by the good will and graciousness of everyday Singaporeans. It's easy to make friends here, and people have been uniformly and extraordinarily kind to me. In fact, I have been genuinely touched by the gestures of sweetness and thoughtfulness from everyday Singaporeans.

But this is certainly a "rules-driven society" - in the words of my friend Ambassador Kishore Mahbubani, a Singaporean of Indian descent who was his country's Permanent Representative at the United Nations and is now Dean of the new Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy here in Singapore.

Ironically, it was my article about the new School - named in honor of Singapore founding father - that may have precipitated my involuntary departure from The Straits Times on November 16.

But before I come to a fuller examination of the episode, let me say a word or two about the paper, which will be 160 years old next year. It's a beautifully designed paper, with 90 percent of a typical day's edition of 200 pages consisting of ads. I was hired in March 2004 as its global-affairs columnist. I wrote columns under my own byline three or four times a week; I also wrote at least one or two longish analytical features and profiles each week. And I wrote unsigned editorials (which are called leaders here, in the British fashion) mainly on developing countries, international finance, global politics, India, and the Middle East - subjects that I've long covered in a journalistic career spanning four decades.

The Straits Times has no competition in Singapore. It's owned wholly by a company called Singapore Press Holdings, whose stock is sold publicly but whose affairs are closely monitored by the government of prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, son of Singapore's founding father, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The paper is run by editors with virtually no background in journalism. For example, my direct editor was Ms Chua Lee Hoong, a woman in her mid 30s. She was an intelligence officer. Other key editors are drawn from Singapore's bureaucracies and state security services. They all retain connections to the state's intelligence services, which track everyone and everything.

At the newspaper, I was struck by the total absence of conversation or banter in the huge newsroom. Having spent two decades at the New York Times, including my student days in the United States, and having run my own newspaper subsequently, The Earth Times - not to mention my 18-year tenure as a columnist at Newsweek International, plus 16 years at Forbes as a contributing editor - I was accustomed to the spirited atmosphere of news rooms, not to mention disagreements and disputes.

I believe that what precipitated my termination from the paper on the morning of Tuesday, November 16, was my refusal to include in the article about the LKY School some falsehoods about Mr. Mahbubani that two editors suggested that I should insert. They both claimed that Mr. Mahbubani has had problems with the nation's security services and that he was viewed as a radical when he was a student at what was then the University of Singapore (now National University of Singapore).

There was no way that I could independently confirm such suggestions. Moreover, I believe they were false. Mr. Mahbubani may have been a student activist in his writings for the university newspaper - but since then has distinguished himself for nearly four decades as Singapore's emissary in various places. The fact that he was named head of the LKY School is testimony to the high regard in which he is universally held. (His first book, "Can Asians Think?" was a best-seller in Asia and Europe, and also did pretty well in the United States. His next book will be published in the spring by Public Affairs in New York.)

It would have been simply inappropriate to include unsubstantiated stuff about Mr. Mahbubani's alleged radicalism during his student days. And it's highly unlikely that he would have risen as high as he has, had he been really considered a national security risk. My own feeling is that among some of the intelligence and bureaucratic types who run the Straits Times, there isn't universal good will toward the LKY School or its dean.

Like newsrooms everywhere, the newsroom of the Straits Times has its share of jealousies, resentments and fiefdoms.

It is also a poorly run organization. For example, my editor, Ms Lee, killed a substantial quote that I obtained from Mr. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, chairman and publisher of the New York Times, on the grounds that he was "distracting." When I wrote an e-mail note to Arthur, whom I've known for a long time, to explain why his generously given quote to me was not used, here's what I received from Mr. Cheong Yip Seng, the editor-in-chief of the Straits Times:

we do not do this on this paper, namely apologise to a newsmaker whose quote we did not use. if i were the newsmaker, i would think poorly of the paper. if the nyt uses every quote of a noteworthy newsmaker, they will need to double the pages they use daily.

----- Forwarded by Cheong Yip Seng/SPH on 14/11/2004 06:37 PM -----

Needless to day, Mr. Cheong missed my point entirely. Arthur Sulzberger had made a special effort to communicate with me from 13,000 miles away to give me a long personal statement about the New York Times and its directions. I used the quote in a column on the media, but, of course, it was edited out. I felt that in view of my own long tenure at the Times, and my friendship with Arthur, I owed him an explanation, at the very least. It was common courtesy on my part, not brown-nosing to Arthur, who doesn't take to kindly to obsequiousness anyway.

Ms Chua, my editor, also killed two other exclusive interviews I'd obtained in recent days, mainly through my access to important people gained over four decades in international journalism. She said that what was said by Dr. Supachai Panichpakadi, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, and Mr. Peter G. Peterson, Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations - and the author of a recent best-seller - was "boring."

In fact, both were timely interviews. Dr. Supachai spoke about ending textile quotas which, starting in December, will give developing nations unprecedented access to the markets of industrialized nations. And Mr. Peterson spoke about the troubling U.S. deficits, and how both Republicans and Democrats have been irresponsible about dealing with the current-account deficit that's expected to balloon past US$600 billion this year.

Ms Chua further recommended that I should turn to a white colleague in the news room for lessons on how to ask questions. Since I didn't come to the Straits Times to be re-educated in journalism - after a pretty distinguished career of my own - I felt that her advice was inappropriate. She was, of course, well within her rights to kill any story she wanted, but people like Dr. Supachai and Mr. Peterson aren't usually accessible to inconsequential newspapers such as the Straits Times.

Be that as it may, I thought that the editor - who was trained as an intelligence officer, not as a journalist - was way out of line in recommending that, at age 56, I take lessons in journalism from a white man at the paper. Among the things that I was hired for, incidentally, was mentoring young people at the Straits Times.

Now some people I know in Singapore regard Ms Chua's behaviour as racism. I do not. But another episode in the news room last week certainly suggested racism to me. A Chinese colleague of mine - a fellow columnist named Mr. Andy Ho - had changed the thrust of my column on Diwali, which happens to be a national holiday here. While his technical editing was superb - and I told him that - what appeared in the paper subsequently simply wasn't my voice.

When I approached Mr. Ho about this, he waved me away in our newsroom like one would a persistent beggar. Perhaps he did not realise the significance of that gesture when directed at a Hindu-born person like me, however secular I may be in my sensibilities.

But he repeated his gesture in a manner that was so dismissive that I then addressed him by the only appropriate response, a barnyard epithet. I was struck, not by his gesture alone - I've seen worse during a career in journalism spanning four decades - but by the expression on his face. It left no doubt in my mind whatsoever that he would qualify for what my friend, the Indian cabinet official, would most certainly call a racist.

"Racist" is a hot-button word, never to be employed lightly. As an Indian-born, US-educated journalist, I have never been exposed to racial discrimination. Quite the contrary. America - supposedly still a land of great racial divides - has been generous to me, truly a land of monumental opportunities.

But here's another anecdote concerning a Singaporean that was certainly sobering to me when it happened.

Some time ago, a recruiter from a venerable Singaporean institution looked me up in New York, my home since I was in my early twenties. I was being offered a job, but at a salary far less than a white gentleman I knew with considerably less experience. Why was that?

"Because you are an Indian," the woman recruiter said.

"I'm an American," I replied.

"It doesn't matter what your nationality is," she said. "You are a person of Indian origin, and that's how our compensation is structured."

Needless to say, it was an offer that I had no problems refusing.

Years later, when I finally arrived in Singapore - which was some months ago - I was quite astonished to see how many non-Singaporean Indians in professional positions were serving with coolie-like servility that they would never display back at home. What was going on here?

"You have to play by the rules," one Indian-born colleague said. "You cannot shake the boat too much. In fact, you dare not shake it at all. The money is good here, so I can swallow an insult or two."

The behaviour of Ms Chua, the editor, may be simply the kind of office politics that people holding power engage in every now and then. But it's also part of a broader attitude that I detect among many Singaporeans in journalism's top echelons here - that no one else's record or accomplishment or opinion counts but theirs. Any divergence of view is immediately regarded as subversive dissent.

This is an important point because if Singaporeans are going to be perceived as filled with hubris and an unbending my-way-or-highway attitude, it is going to be increasingly difficult for this country to attract the talent it needs to sustain its economic ambitions. In fact, young Singaporean professionals are emigrating to Australia and Europe in record numbers because they feel stifled here.

For example, I would be very curious to see how many top-notch Indian professionals in technology and the sciences actually wind up in Singapore once the ambitious Singapore-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement is signed this month by Prime Ministers Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore and Manmohan Singh of India.

Why am I sceptical that there isn't exactly going to be an exodus from India to Singapore? Precisely because of what that Indian cabinet minister told me. Singapore can attract all the cheap coolie labour it might want, but the word has gotten around in the Indian professional community that this isn't the place to come for personal and cultural fulfilment.

One Indian sociologist put it very succinctly, if harshly: "Yes, Singapore will get all the white trash it wants. Yes, it will get all the brown trash it wants. Anything's better than living in villages without electricity. But it's going to have problems getting the brown sahibs it needs."

Without those brown sahibs, Singapore will lose out to its neighbours in the great globalisation game. Already, its consumer prices and cost-of-living are driving potential talent to places like Bangkok, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Delhi aren't such bad places to live and work in either, especially if you are in the technology sector.

Singapore, in short, is facing severe competition, and it's falling behind already. Does that mean by calibrating its culture to be more welcoming to outsiders is the answer? It's one answer, certainly. Does that mean Singaporeans should tolerate dilution of high professional standards? Certainly not. But why would any self-respecting professional coming to work here want to compromise his own standards?

And so back to that question: Are Singaporeans racist? Well, of course some of them are, just as surely some Americans are, and Australians and Argentineans and, dare I say, even Indians.

But Singapore lives in a unique goldfish bowl, and its own standards of economic excellence require its citizens to be more sensitive and magnanimous when it comes to dealing with outsiders. After all, Singapore has created a pretty well-functioning secular society for itself - even though one might argue that, in the cultural scheme of things, Tamils and Malays play second sitar to the Chinese.

This is such a beautiful place with such beautiful and giving people. It's hard not to be a well-wisher. But the Straits Times as a model of dynamic, open-minded journalism? It will happen on the day that it starts to snow here on the equator.

So what am I going to do next? A book or two to complete. Plenty of museums to visit in Singapore. Certainly scores of great food joints. Nice people to spend time with, as long as I avoid the paper's editors, of course.

Would I still recommend Singapore as a place to visit? Yes, I would, most definitely. And as a place to stay? Yes, I would, most certainly. SBut don't expect to practice the journalism of fairness and forthrightness. This simply isn't the place for that. At least, not as long as nail-pullers are running the news room. I got out before they pulled out my nails. But it still hurts.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

What a strange way to promote a blockbuster sci-fi feature! The Casshern premiere took place in a school auditorium, using a VCD copy and a pan & scan transfer at that. In other words, far from ideal aural and visual conditions. The setting did evoke fond memories of casual anime screenings back at university. For all of 4 minutes.

Even so, the film is great eye candy. I was torn between walking out and catching it later in a real cinema, or just sticking it out in my uncomfortable seat. The ponderous, confusing narrative made me decide on the latter -- I don't think I can pay money to endure this version of Casshern, truncated and modified to comment on the concerns of recent months, again.

The posters are very cool though. Stunning promos.

btw, limited edition Casshern Kubricks!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Ah, the madness is over. Our entry didn't get selected at this year's Fly By Night, but we can live without the icing on the cake. Working with and getting to know Dave, Jun and Lai Yee was a blast. Put fish back into tank -- Umlaut lives on.

Ugh. Need sleep. I kind of wish I had a real fever so I can call in sick tomorrow.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Phantasy Star 2 and 4 are the reasons why I've been reacquainting myself with the distinct benefits of caffeine. Not good, not good -- was thinking of stocking up on shuteye since Fly-By-Night kicks off this evening. But sleep has been lost for poorer reasons than two classic, very good RPGs.

Got caffeine?

Anyway --

Take me to the disco at the end of the world
Take me to the disco, take me to the disco
Everybody dancin' at the end of the world

-- Fantastic Plastic Machine is coming to town! Whoohoo!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

I managed to score tickets to the Casshern premiere on the 22nd, but I didn't know then that it was the opening event for this year's Asia Media Festival. Ah -- is that an animation fair I see on the schedule? And a symposium? There's a film showcase too. Don't see a schedule, but since the SFS is co-organising it's gotta be good.

I should stop salivating soon.

The whole thing is hosted by the Media Development Agency. That's a statutory board of the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. Yes, that's right -- government-backed anime events. ^_^

I wanna join the MDA! CanIcanIcanIcanIpleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I didn't know Kazuo Ishiguro wrote screenplays too. Will The Saddest Music In The World ever reach our shores?

Monday, November 15, 2004

The HK trailer for In The Mood For Love is, well, arty. The French one plays up the romance element of the film but exhibits restraint in its selection of (speaking) scenes, with no extra advertising except for a graceful addendum denoting Tony Leung's win at Cannes next to his name. The US trailer has all the subtlety of a baseball bat to the head with the narrator rattling off quotables from (American) critics.

The HK and US trailers are set to Bryan Ferry's rendition of I'm In The Mood For Love, which is dead romantic. It wouldn't fit with the film, but it works well for the trailers. Besides, apparently that's how the film got its name.
I'm in the mood for love
Simply because you're near me
Funny, but when you're near me
I'm in the mood for love


Sunday, November 14, 2004

Scenes from Oldboy are still fresh in my mind. Here's some trivia, thanks to IMDB.

  • Based on Japanese Manga "Oldboy" by Minegishi Nobuaki and Tsuchiya Garon.
  • Four live octopuses were eaten for the scene with Dae-su in the sushi bar, a scene which provoked some controversy abroad. When the film won the Grand Prix at Cannes, the director thanked the octopus along with the cast and crew.
  • Choi Min-sik trained for six weeks and lost twenty pounds to get in shape for the role of Dae-su, and did all of his own stuntwork.
  • The telephone number (08-6600330) which is supposed to go to Oh Dae-su's daughter's foster parents home in Sweden, actually has been "shut down requested by the owner of the number" (that's what the voice says when you call the number). But you are referred to another number (08-54589400) which goes to "The Embassy of the republic of Korea" in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • The famous one-take corridor scene was shot in three days.

Official Cannes site on Oldboy.

Another review, from Nixflix here.

I can't find the official Korean website, so the Japanese one will have to do.

The Oldboy Ultimate Edition DVD set comes in an all-copper case. Pretty! (but not worth the price tag imho.)
Let's see --
  • First Kim Possible (together with Fillmore!, the only Disney animated series I can stomach), then
  • Gundam SEED Destiny episode 4. Next
  • the final installment of Gundam SEED (at long last) followed by
  • Episodes 2 and 3 of the Macross Zero OVA (watched the first in the wee hours of the morning when I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep). Breathtaking dogfights and CG. Then
  • Franz Ferdinand music videos (didn't know the band members were all art students, but you can guess that they're fans of constructivist art), and last but not least
  • Korean revenge flick Oldboy. Devilishly stylish, wickedly clever. Miss at your own expense.

Yeah, pretty much spent my Saturday watching stuff and sneaking in snatches of JLPT revision.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Depression claims another young, successful writer. R.I.P. Iris Chang.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

It's interesting to see how Today and The Straits Time reported Senior Minister of State for Health Dr. Balaji Sidasivan's speech last night. The ST article played down Balaji's comments about gays and omitted his criticism of, which the Today article, which you can read here, picked up.

On the other hand, Today omitted Balaji's rationale for the different suggested approaches towards gays and promiscuous heterosexual males. Not that that rationale makes much sense to begin with:
As for heterosexual men who have casual sex abroad, he felt different measures were necessary. Dr Balaji said many were poorly educated, making it difficult to get the prevention message across.

"If the CDC can screen high-risk Singaporeans at our borders when they return, we may be able to protect Singapore women from catching Aids from these men."

I'd like to know how a "high-risk" person can possibly be identified. Can you pick them out with a MINDEF thermal scanner? Don't people lie on questionnaires? Besides, I suspect his premise -- that the majority of men who have casual sex abroad are poorly-educated -- is wrong.

And why is the gay community being singled out? The ST article states outright:

Overall, heterosexuals account for 80 per cent of HIV patients.

So wouldn't it make sense for the CDC to concentrate its efforts on heterosexual males? Instead of breathing down the neck of Action for Aids?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Not all of the ST is fluff. From time to time, you get lucid commentary like:
Nov 6, 2004
Women have moved on but society's in time warp
By Zuraidah Ibrahim
Political Editor

EDUCATED women here have been getting the metaphorical black eye or two lately.

How's this for starters: This week, to snag some publicity for a birth control programme, a committee chided tertiary-educated women for going for abortions, citing how the number of abortions among this group had seen a three-fold rise since 1988.

Riding on this statistic, a committee member rued the sorry state of educated women, adding that some who went to his clinic for abortions told him they didn't want babies to block their career paths.

What these statements omitted to mention was the inconvenient fact that the total number of tertiary-educated women had also jumped - four-fold. In other words, the proportion of tertiary-educated women going for abortions has actually declined.

One wonders, too, if the doctor was too quick to suggest that married women were torn between child and ambition, as if these were the only factors at play.

The choice may not be so cut-and-dried. Even if work gets in the way, it is hardly fair to characterise all the women concerned as heartless climbers of the corporate ladder, the way some of these discussions are wont to do.

The woman may be driven more by fear than by ambition - the fear of companies not willing to hire pregnant women, or of juggling the bundle of joy and the burden of work with a husband who is not willing to share the load.

The main point that the committee was trying to make was a valid one: educated Singaporeans who are not ready for children should know better than to resort to abortions; they should avoid conception through birth control.

But, have you noticed how the onus is placed on the woman? The experts could have chosen to highlight the fact that a rising number of tertiary-educated men are making their wives pregnant before they are ready for it.

No, instead, the accusing looks are directed at the women. It is as if Singapore's men share no responsibility for birth control; as if they are innocents seduced into surrendering their seed by the predatory females of the species.

One doctor on the committee acknowledged that part of the problem could be that the gap between marriage registration and traditional ceremonies made it embarrassing for these women if they became pregnant.

This is revealing of the state of morality and men-women relationships here. But more of that later.

Next, witness the letters to the Forum page lamenting the Singapore woman's lack of womanliness, her 'barbed exterior' and her insistence on putting career above everything else.

The onslaught against the Singapore woman comes amid this vexing concern that more men here are marrying foreigners or keeping them as mistresses. The prevailing sentiment - if the letter-writers and these men who marry foreigners are to be believed - is that women here are too difficult and therefore deserve this fate of being passed over for foreign women.

The presumptuousness of these letters in assuming that every woman's desire is to be wedded is exceeded only by their sheer chauvinism.

What about the role men play? How do they contribute to keeping a relationship happy and healthy?

The discussions, while they may be passed off as just idle chatter, reveal much about the mindset that still govern all of our lives here.

Singapore women have made enormous leaps in education and many have become independent, strong-minded, driven people, no different from Singapore men bred on the same ideals.

But here's the rub: The men just have not kept up.

More of them seem to be caught in a time warp. A time when women stayed at home, cooked and took care of their men's needs or, in a slightly updated version, women went to work but still found themselves left with taking care of the house.

In the second version, the men want their women to be their economic equals. But in everything else, they want to be more equal than their women.

This mismatch between what Singapore women have become and what Singapore men still are is really the reason behind the recent letters berating women and why it's so convenient to place the blame on abortions by educated women - on only them.

Society has some catching up to do.

For some reason, a woman's advance is always measured in terms of trade-offs she must make - between career and family - whereas a man's is never that.

In politics too, women politicians are constantly being asked that question. Few of us journalists ever ask male politicians about the trade-offs they make.

This mindset seeps into many other decisions - including whether to have or keep the baby. The responsibility of keeping the baby as implied by the doctor rests with women.

And worse, for those women who have to get rid of their babies because they have not gone through their traditional vows, why the insistence on face? What is being transgressed here? Society's expectations that a couple must not have copulated before marriage? Or, the veil of hypocrisy that it goes on but let's not tell the whole world?

If the marriage is legal, so should the baby-making be.

But no, for the sake of maintaining some myths about female virginity and tradition, abortion is the chosen way out.

The expectations on Singapore women are huge. At the workplace, they are supposed to be equal to men even though they earn less. At home, they contribute to the family income yet bear the larger burden of rearing children.

Yes, I know, there will be men who will say they are doing their fair share, they are as liberated as their women.

I have met these specimens too and some are very dear to me, but I would hazard a guess they are not the overwhelming majority of men.

For all that they have delivered, Singapore women have a right to be demanding and, yes, difficult even.

And if women decide not to have children, don't be quick to blame them. Men, and the rest of society, should also look at themselves in the mirror.

Well said! But is anyone listening?
The newly revamped Straits Times website now requires registration to view anything beyond the present day's issue. An unfortunate result is that all my links to the ST's columnists now require registration. Phooey.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

JLPT's a month away. Ugh.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Found an old scrapbook while cleaning my room. The pages reek of teenage angst - did I really write all that?

btw, does anyone know the author of this poem?
The Swimmer

Windhover, gliding
On the blue firmament
Of noonday water
I ride at ease
And see below me
Fathomed in twilight
Primeval mountains
Under seas.

Their peaks, sliding
Beneath the wing-tip
Which is my hand,
Shadow the gorge
And the dark weed stirring
Its forest fleece in a
Tidal wind.

If God, dividing
The light from the darkness,
Moved on the face of
Earlier seas
And called forth creatures
From every crater,
Where once erupted

(The great eel
As long as a valley,
The lunar crab
On a hill's brow
Squid with the cataract
Tentacles tumbling
Waterfall-white to the
Rocks below)

What man dare fathom
This land's mystery
With no lodestar
To bear him light
But a constellation
Of sunstruck fishes
Falling in fragments
Through the night?

The formatting's slightly off. The 4th and 8th lines of each stanza are not supposed to be up against the left margin.
Bride and Prejudice was trite and not very funny. It's amusing to play "spot the Bollywood influence" and the gorgeous Aishwarya Rai is a joy to watch, but otherwise it was pretty much a waste of time.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Fresh trivia from my alumni magazine: Joshua Marston, director of Maria Full of Grace, was from UChicago. AM '94 in Political Science, then went off to NYU for a Master's in filmmaking.

There's still hope for me then :p
Hence, as a token of our appreciation to you for making road safety a priority, we have enclosed a brochure with discount coupons and attractive offers from our participating partners in road safety.

Why are the Traffic Police sending me junk mail?

Thursday, November 04, 2004

There's very little religious commentary in Maria Full of Grace, so don't be misled by the clever poster. The merits of the film should be sufficient to reel in an appreciative audience however. Maria is solidly put together, managing to avoid moralising or sentimentality for the most part and fusing gritty reality with sympathetic characters. The film slows down a bit in the second half, but the suspenseful moments are well-crafted. The very emphatic Catalina Sandino Moreno, playing the titular character, truly carries the film.
Mmmm... Routledge Classics. Thought never looked better. And affordable too!

Monday, November 01, 2004

And yet the world doesn't feel smaller. If anything, the erasure of boundaries can make the world feel intimidatingly large, too large to feel at home in. These movies play on our unarticulated sense of that scary bigness, and they posit the feeling of being lost as the unavoidable consequence of a world in which we can go almost anywhere -- instantly, through virtual means, or in a few hours thanks to air travel. Some of these movies ("Before Sunrise" and "Before Sunset," "Irma Vep," "Lost in Translation") feature characters in foreign ports of call; in others ("Hamlet," "Nadja," "What Time Is It There?") the characters are just as lost in the places they call home. These are not xenophobic films, not movies that preach the virtues of sticking close to safe, familiar surroundings. They are about a world where the safe and familiar are being erased...

It's nice to know I'm not alone, even if the article is slightly overwrought. The author's defense of Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is, well, "unique" I suppose.
Nah, Kaena: The Prophecy wasn't very good. The animation was decent, the camera angles kept changing like an epileptic dragonfly, and for some reason the frame rate obviously slowed at several points throughout the movie. A waste of Anjelica Huston's and the late Richard Harris's voices.

The 2046 OST really grows on you. The music didn't particularly strike me during the movie, except for Connie Francis's extremely seductive Siboney and the Xavier Cugat pieces. After listening to it two or three times though, the soundtrack becomes addictively melancholic.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Blogger's been screwing up more and more often. Pages don't load, and entries are repeated.
I don't know where the sunbeams end
and the starlight begins
it's all a mystery
and I don't know how a man
decides what's right for his own life --
it's all a mystery
And life goes on.

Friday, October 29, 2004

I thought Maggie Cheung was very good in Clean. Acting in three different languages is no mean feat, and on top of that it was a very unusual role for her compared to what she's been cast before. A former drug junkie trying to pick up the pieces of her life after prison and attempting to build bridges with her estranged son.

(Perfect for the Yellow Ribbon Project. That is, if the authorities can stomach a film that references 80's punk rock culture, shows a legal system that lets drugtakers off relatively lightly, illustrates alternative lifestyles with humanity, and manages to convey feelings without sinking into melodrama.)

Possibly the most interesting thing about 5x2 (Cinq Fois Deux) is probably the reverse chronological order. Francois Ozon's latest starts with a divorce and ends with the first meeting of the two protagonists. Suddenly every gesture, word and incident takes on additional weight.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

I have no doubt that corporations can and will screw the public if they can get away with it, although I suppose many people will disagree with me. This is not to say that I don't like free markets -- I'm very much in favour of letting market forces determine the allocation of most goods. The problem is that real life hardly functions as smoothly as simplified textbook models (Those are only aids to illustrate a principle. Only aids!). Market failure happens too often and this is where things get interesting.

Anyway, I tend to be be left-leaning when it comes to intellectual property rights. Having written on the 1998 U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act and discovering for myself how industry concerns essentially dominated policymaking debates on copyright and digital media, I found a sympathetic voice in Tan Min-Liang's commentary on the IP provisions of the much-lauded (well, in The Straits Times anyway) U.S. - Singapore Free Trade Agreement signed last year.

Already I'm seeing versions of the DMCA being replicated in the proposed amendments to our copyright laws -- in particular the controversial law that makes communicating a means of infringing illegal, not just the act of infringement. And if anyone thinks Tan's claim that the IP regulations were meant to favour U.S. companies is exaggerated, think again.

Monday, October 25, 2004


Ah well.
(You didn't recognise Puff. And I know a cafe that only plays The Beatles, albeit from before they started drugs. Am I too late?)

Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff, oh

Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.
Puff, the magic dragon, lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee.

Together they would travel on boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff's gigantic tail
Noble kings and princes would bow whene'er they came
Pirate ships would lower their flags when Puff roared out his name, oh


A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys
Painted wings and giants' rings make way for other toys.
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane.
Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave
So, Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave, oh


Sunday, October 24, 2004

A very brief listing, because this format and my words are best suited for this:

UNIFEM Singapore and The Substation organised a charity screening of Lilja 4-Ever on Friday evening. The food was good and the movie was depressing. It hits hard, but in an extremely predictable way that strays a little too close to cheesiness. (Thank you for the ticket Shirley!)

Wild Rice's Visit of the Tai Tai on Saturday was impressive in all aspects.

Luna-id's staging of The Physicists was also excellent, but I felt it was paced too quickly for the gravity of the script to sink in. The set design was especially clever -- halfway through the fake walls of the first set are literally pushed down to create a new set for the changed circumstances of the second and third acts. After the play, we hung out at Cafe Iguana for a bit, partaking of their cheap(er) alcohol.

Good memories. Good memories!

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Just then, he heard Yao Surong singing. Yao Surong cried while she sang. When she performed in public, some people paid to hear her sing, but others paid to see her cry. This was an irrational place and many people did irrational things. So, shedding tears became a kind of performance and everybody said she sang well.

-- Liu Yi Chang, Intersection (Dui Dao)
Before we could all sink our teeth into yesterday's SFS offering The Story of the Weeping Camel, there was the small matter of the SFS Annual General Meeting. Kenneth -- SFS President, sci-fi aficionado, die-cast toy collector -- gave an explanation of the budget and expenses. Then he nominated a list of committee members for the 2004/05 year. No-one objected, and voila! Welcome to the new Committee, which isn't very different from the old Committee at all.

To an outsider, this process probably isn't "democratic". However no-one doubts the experience and expertise of the existing members and the fruits of their efforts are very much visible and tangible. Why mess with a winning formula? Moreover, they are all volunteers. Sure, they get free movie tickets and priority invites to events that the SFS co-organises, but for working adults the time committment involved is significant. After all, time outside the office suddenly takes on additional value that wasn't there before becoming a cubicle slave. To spend so much of that time on film (which is a distinctly individual, intangible, even unproductive-in-a-material-sense experience) implies a love for the art enough to dispel any doubts as to the sincerity of the Committee Members.

Now, governance of a city or country bears very little relation to running a film appreciation society built on the backs of volunteers and member contributions. It stands to reason then, that the methods of electing national leaders should not be the same.

But I've digressed. This was initially supposed to be a post about the admiration I have for the SFS Commmittee Members. During the AGM Kenneth reminisced about some of the Committee members, providing us glimpses into the lengths they have gone to for love of film. I want to be able to lose myself in something like those people seem to have, but I don't know why I never could and still can't.

btw, The Story of the Weeping Camel is straightforward and unpretentious. Very interesting in that it provides an intimate glimpse into the life of a Mongolian family in the Gobi Desert.
I'm an uncle twice over now. Isabelle Lim was born today at 10.33 am. :D

Monday, October 18, 2004

Surely some of you out there must remember Transformers. An evil, corrupt version of Optimus Prime -- paragon of all that is good and holy as far as giant shape-changing robots are concerned -- is deliciously profane, somehow.
 Posted by Hello

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Am fairly annoyed after being told that I wasn't entitled to the 10% discount that Singapore Film Society members get when they buy DVDs at Commercial Press bookstores here. I showed the counter staff my gaudy SFS membership card and the pair consulted another saleswoman but to no avail.

I'm going to pursue the discount anyway because I want to find out where the miscommunication took place. Even if it means that I have to summon the manager every time I want to get the discount there, at least I will know.

The moral of the story? Paying for your items 3 minutes before closing time is a pathetic excuse for: A) not asking to see the manager or B) refusing to purchase the item. The hurried sales staff and the frazzled people behind you in the queue with their sleepy and irritable kids? They can all f*cking wait.

I'm too nice for my own good.
I've waited ages to see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. 1930s comic book shenanigans with film noir sensibilities and Frank Capra-esque dialogue that Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow infuse with a palpable chemistry. Stunning CGI used not simply for special effects and scenery but also to fully evoke a dreamlike, flim noir environment. Blurry, soft lighting; black, white and grey with hints of colour. In all, great fun.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Ignore the synopses about the "futuristic setting" etc etc, because 2046 really picks up right where Wong Kar Wai's sensuous and evocative In The Mood For Love left off. Chow Mo-wan (reprised by Tony Leung) is still trying to come to grips with his relationship with Su Li-zhen. Emotionally bereft, his personal and professional lives get stuck in a rut. Chow ends up writing smutty pulp fiction and newspaper articles in between constant womanising and carousing.

The film centres on his relationships with a few of these women in his life -- a clear invitation to compare and contrast these relationships with each other (and of course, with the ones in ITMFL and DOBW) -- and on the story he writes, the eponymously-titled "2046" which is a thinly-veiled allegory of Chow's own emotional stagnation.

Most of 2046's weakness derives from the huge emotional and narrative debts it owes to Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love. If you have not seen DOBW, you could probably still get by. But if you have not seen ITMFL, 2046 will probably make little sense and resonate even less. For instance, the sections with Lulu (played by Carina Lau) and Su Li-zhen (played by Gong Li) are too brief to make any real impression on the audience unless you've already seen DOBW and ITMFL. Carina Lau does well, but it's Gong Li who somehow exudes grace and dignity far beyond the confines of her brief role. In fact I feel she overshadows even Tony Leung, who gives an excellent performance here.

Most the screen time is devoted to the relationships Chow has with between Bai Ling (Zhang Ziyi) and Jingwen (Faye Wong). Zhang pulls off her role well, but it's not very much different from the impetuous, wild child roles she's played in almost all of her previous movies. The woman is in serious danger of being typecast. Faye Wong spends most her time looking cute with those heartbreakingly large eyes -- especially when she's playing an android in Chow's novel. To be fair, she doesn't get a lot of character development. Kimura Takuya who plays Jingwen's lover and Chow's persona in the novel Chow writes, gets even less.

The best parts of the film are the narrative structure and the visuals. 2046 jumps between past and present (and Chow's imagined future), mimicking how people recollect memories. This isn't confusing however, so long as you're paying attention. With cinematography and costuming by the same folks who brought us ITMFL, Wong recreates his sensuous, almost decadent 1960s once again and populates with a host of frustrated, alienated individuals. However, 2046 lacks the emotional resonance and intimacy that ITML, or even DOBW, has.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


Scowling wilfully towards Autobot City, you're Megatron!

Look in a mirror and feel the evil. Then eat the mirror. You eat mirrors for breakfast. You are a badass death robot. You busted on Optimus Prime. You. Are. Megatron. Go outside and burn some animals, because you're worth it.

Which Colossal Death Robot Are You?
Brought to you by Rum and Monkey

Monday, October 11, 2004

Found a random note today, abandoned at the bus stop, before our army of cleaning staff or the October rains could get to it. Am sending the note to FOUND Magazine. I don't harbour any hopes that it'll actually be published. Even if it were published I'd never see that issue; not from the other side of the planet.

I'm sending the note anyway, because I can.
Derrida is dead. Long live Derrida!

Sunday, October 10, 2004

There is no doubt that Innocence is visually stunning, but it lacks the philosophical depth and thematic consistency that helped make its 1995 cinematic predecessor Ghost in the Shell a cult classic.

Fascinating visual touches abound -- kanji everywhere, cars styled as if from the 1950s. An eclectic mix of modern Japanese, Chinese and European influences pervades the work. However, there is no sense of these images having any greater significance within the context of the narrative. The boisterous parade scene in particular, with its riot of colour and mish-mash of Chinese and Japanese images, seems more of a parody rather than a homage to its subdued and meaningful cousin in Ghost in the Shell.

Also expected of Oshii Mamoru, this film is packed with textual references and quotes. However, he goes overboard with these in Innocence. The constant quoting and referencing alienate the audience instead of enhancing a mood or provoking further reflection, and the constant exposition doesn't help.

As a stepping stone for further exploration of burning philosophical issues like what it means to be human, Innocence is an excellent start, as the Midnight Eye review implies. In terms of narrative and structure however, it's not as coherent or engaging as the first. Still worth catching though, for the sheer beauty and fluidity of the animation.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Managed to hunt down (with help from hifiguy!) cheaper copies of the US hardcover edition of the last book in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. Won't need to shell out $50 for The System of the World at Borders after all!

A combination of hunger, a fit of nostalgia, and the fact that there really isn't a good variety of snacks for sale anywhere in the immediate vicinity of Buona Vista MRT all resulted in my buying a pack of Yan Yan. I open it, and on the inside of the cover there's a printed message saying I've won... another free pack of Yan Yan. The odd thing is that there was no sign of a promotion anywhere in the shop. Even the shopkeepers didn't know and had to call up the distributor for confirmation. Talk about random luck.

Toy technology and design has improved by leaps and bounds from when I bought my last Transformer (from the pathetic Action Masters line) and there are some interesting sculpts and figures out there, like the Beast Machines version of Blackarachnia.

In the last couple of years Hasbro executives have gotten smarter too -- they seem to have discovered the monetary benefits of issuing repainted versions of older toys. Let's take our lady Transformer Blackarachnia as an example. There are three versions of that specific figure. The first is from the Beast Machines toy line. The second is from the later Universe toy line. The third is also from the Universe line, but packaged together with another Transformer (also a repaint) as a K Mart exclusive, and renamed Crystal Widow.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Those bootleg VCDs I inadvertently bought have quality akin to that of a movie recording made surreptitiously in a dark cinema hall using a handheld camera. But Last Exile, the anime series produced to commemorate GONZO's 10th anniversary last year still looks beautiful. Watching the version I now have, is like looking at an Old Master painting through layers of grime and dust. Just imagining what the (official) DVD version looks like invokes admiration and awe.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

For pi-girl: Only music can save the baby camel.

For everyone: this year's French Film Festival. And will Maggie Cheung be coming to Singapore? Please please please.
More on Imelda:

The editing is deft and Ramona Diaz has the knack for choosing choice bits of stock footage to flesh out the life and times of Imelda Marcos. This never becomes a personal quest for Diaz however (unlike the work of a certain overweight white American filmmaker with huge political axes to grind).

Imelda Romauldez Marcos is given plenty of opportunities to exonerate or damn herself in candid testimonies. If her Ptolemaic rationalisations -- her theories of "beauty" and "order" complete with enneagram-like symbols, her insistence that there has never been any human rights abuses in the Philippines, her explaining away the fact that she and Ferdinand Marcos had separate bedrooms -- collapse under their own implausibility, this is hardly the director's fault.

Imelda Marcos's own self-perception is a combination of a messianic complex, monarchical tendencies and beauty pageant glamour all propped up by a stunning, even child-like, lack of self-awareness. The extent to which her vilification is justified however, is up to the audience to decide.

Diaz also presents her rise to power as a product of Filipino society even as Imelda condoned the abuses and tyranny of her husband's regime (as well as perpetrating a few herself it seems). Imelda, ironically enough, remains popular among the Filipino poor despite her blemished past and the fact that in concrete terms she has not really done much for them at all. The audience is invited to draw their own conclusions about how polities view their politicians, in addition to pondering Imelda's life beyond the confines of that infamous shoe collection.
I'm not a fan of horror movies and I never liked gross-out comedies, so the offerings at last evening's SFS core screening (One Missed Call (even if it is by Miike Takashi) and Sex is Zero) didn't appeal to me. I had to run errands downtown though, so I figured I might as well watch something I've been wanting to catch anyway.

Imelda is an excellent documentary (and not in the Michael Moore sense) about a much misunderstood political figure and her times. I was not disappointed at all.

(To whet your appetites, here's an Indiewire interview with the director, Ramona Diaz.)

Hey, The Necessary Stage is restaging godeatgod. After The Visit of the Tai Tai and The Physicists though, I don't think I'll be going to plays for a while.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Heavens. I'm more blur than a sotong in an inkpot.

Sepet is, of course, enjoying a general release run even as I type this. Excuse me while I kick myself.
Malay girl looks for Wong Kar Wai movie at pirated VCD stall. Meets Chinese boy who runs said stall. They fall in love.

Yes, yes, I know I missed Sepet. What I want to know is: will there be a commercial release?

Watched at Japanese Film Fest this year:
It's Tough Being a Man (Otoko wa tsurai yo!)
Osaka Story (Osaka Monogatari)

Monday, October 04, 2004

You have to see her dance! She was so wrapped up in it with all her heart and soul, her whole body a harmony, so without care, so spontaneous, as if that were really all, as if she were not thinking, feeling, anything else; and in that moment everything else surely vanished for her.

--- Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther

Sunday, October 03, 2004

South of the Border, West of the Sun is my least favorite Murakami Haruki work. I found it a little too straightforward -- unsubtle even. Driven more by angst and less by imagination and mood.

It seemed that way to me when I read it a few years ago, and upon rereading it I understand more of what Murakami was trying to convey but it's still my least favorite.
"Sometimes when I look at you, I feel like I'm gazing at a distant star," I said. "It's dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago. Maybe the star doesn't even exist anymore. Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything."

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Got to catch Thievery Corporation live last night! Awesome set. Great music that just got better and better as distinct tunes and songs segued into a seamless blend of Middle Eastern, Indian, funk, bossa nova and more, backed with an infectious foot-stompin' beat.

Left as much out of work committments as fatigue. I'd be more appreciative if I hadn't been only getting 4+ hours of sleep each night since Monday, and the sardine-tight crowds and smoky air didn't help either. But it's good music and fine company -- personality goes a long way.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Ecotonoha is a project -- to nurture a virtual tree collaboratively, and at the same time contribute to the actual environment to cope with global warming. As you make Ecotonoha's leaves, the virtual tree will grow, and as Ecotonoha grows, real trees will be planted by NEC.
This is one of the most beautiful Flash animations I've ever seen. Stunning simplicity.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

I knew The Terminal was going to be fluffy and contrived, which it was. In mitigation, I would never have seen it if not for the "friendly outing" (formerly known as a "date"). On hindsight I'm glad there was the third person, a mutual friend, to keep the moribund conversation chugging along.

Spielberg's cotton candy offering may have been inspired by a real incident, and the truth is far sadder, complex and less palatable to a mass audience. See The Guardian feature: "The Man Who Lost His Past". Also take a look at "Merhan Karimi Nasseri at Charles de Gaulle airport, France, since 1988".
Last Friday morning, just before leaving for work, I suddenly thought of a book (not really a book, but a photocopy of a book). So I went to the cupboard where I knew I'd wedged it more than a year ago when I unpacked my things from Chicago, rummaged a bit, and pulled Dazai Osamu's The Setting Sun (Shayou) out. Somehow that unread novel has been lingering in the back of my mind ever since I failed to complete it for a Japanese Literature class a lifetime ago, but that morning -- just that morning -- felt right for reading it.

I've since finished, but even typing that seems hollow when I don't understand it. Don't understand why the characters behave and think and feel the way they do.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Good stuff from Barcelona, reminescent of Pizzicato Five and blazing a cool trail of their own. Ladies and gents: The Pinker Tones!

Sunday, September 26, 2004

What Is Your Battle Cry?

Lo! Who is that, running amidst the mini-mall parking lot! It is Strangeknight, hands clutching a reflective halberd! And with an ominous grunt, his voice cometh:

"Brace yourself, oh human speck of dust! I destroy all in my path like a river of pure piranha!!"

Find out!
Enter username:
Are you a girl, or a guy ?

created by beatings : powered by monkeys

Friday, September 24, 2004

If you've wondered where the smurf came from, it took over the slot on the Medicom website that used to be occupied by the much cooler Kill Bill 2 Bearbrick. I've since replaced it with a new avatar that will not inexplicably morph into something else. But there's a certain novelty to the idea of having my Blogger Profile image change without warning into something wholly unexpected.

btw if you're in the US and you like anime, support Operation Zeta!

Thursday, September 23, 2004

David gave an excellent criticism of my last post: that it implies I expect someone with less education to be somehow less morally upright. This link is, of course, a ridiculous assertion anywhere.

My first reaction was to wonder about the logic of the post. Was that what I really meant? The post says "A, yet B", so does that necessarily mean "not A thus B"?

I am uncomfortable using logic as a defense, nor do I like falling back on the easy excuse that it's the indelible result of the Singapore hegemony of ideas about education here. In short, I admit that bigotry tinged my last post to an extent -- what extent I leave to you to judge from the unedited post below.

That's why I need people like David to help me purge myself of these views. Thank you.

Today, a guy in my camp approached me and asked me to write an essay for his friend for admission to the University of Chicago. Naturally, I turned him down with a vengeance.

What disappointed me the most was that this guy hails from one of the top JCs in this country, yet showed utterly no scruples whatsoever in asking me to be dishonest. Halfway through our brief conversation, he burst out: "But who's going to know?"

Words cannot describe my contempt for this boy.