Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I was typing a long rant about how the National Library branch at Stamford Road should not be closed down, when my computer crashed. And of course the rant has vanished into the fucking digital aether. I'm on medical leave for two days and the combination of fever, cough, medicine and intense irritation is getting to me.

My country hates nostalgia. We do not value social or collective memory. We are tearing down a well-used library to make room for a road. The road is to ease the traffic congestion expected when the university campus opposite the library opens. It's the kind of logic that only appeals to city planners and construction companies.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Thanks to Pui Kwan (Hi! *wave*), I was able to watch Good Morning, Night (Buongiorno, notte) last night. So far every review I've managed to dig up on the net has been negative, with most harping upon the film's lack of drama or human emotion. To some extent these criticisms are justified and I agree that the film is more about ideas and symbols than straight up human drama or historical documentary.

There's still plenty going for the film. For instance good acting, excellent use of light and contrast, the watching motif, layers in shots e.g. multiple rooms visible through doorways, Chiara's surreal imagination (interspersed with, of all things, film footage!) contrasted with the (il)logic of her male comrades, the abstraction of state power and most of all the omnipresence of television. Ah! Mass entertainment is the true opiate of the masses.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Ok, so my weekend wasn't that great.

My father's oldest sister passed away. The cremation was on Friday. Gu Ma, rest in peace.

Watched The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by the Australian cast. Thoroughly entertaining.

Instead of going to Elevation and catching Jazzanova and The Funky Lowlives, I went to watch screenings of Eric Khoo's early short films -- Pain and Symphony 92.4 FM -- and his Mee Pok Man. The discussion in between was cancelled at the last minute -- apparently his birthday was on Saturday so he probably had some family dinner to attend. This was probably lucky for him because I think the audience (especially Amanda, Justin and Weimei) was ready to rip his work to shreds. Pain wasn't bad, but Symphony was atrocious. In all fairness, those films were Khoo's early works so you can't expect greatness right off the bat. As a pioneer he deserves recognition, but he is certainly overrated in other aspects.

btw, Mee Pok Man is watchable up to the point when the woman dies. After that it all goes downhill......

We went for midnight curry rice in Hougang. It was great comfort food, but I'm not willing to shell out $20+ for a cab ride home in the near future...

Sunday was spent in a funk. I woke up feeling crappy for no reason whatsoever, and promptly forgot the rest of my schedule for the day. Forgot about helping my SVDP group in the afternoon. Forgot about Twilight Samurai. >_< At least I got a decent haircut for a change.

Went to the Arts House in the evening to meet Amanda and watch the slam poetry competition. Got roped in to be a judge, which turned out to be rather fun. Each participating team comprised tertiary level students and a (relatively) well-known literary figure here. Was amused to see Stella Kon and Richard Yeo on stage. Amanda hates Richard Lord and I can't say I liked his performance very much either.

I still don't like slam poetry very much.

I still feel like crap this morning btw. But I haven't had my coffee yet either.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Better Living Through Online Personality Quizzes #263

Which Guilty Gear X character are you?

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Amanda and I have begun a serial writing blog. The same idea behind Yeats is Dead. Someone writes a chapter, and someone else continues, then a third person picks up from there and so on until some kind of resolution (if any) is reached. We're doing this purely for the fun of it. She started off the project, and I uploaded part 2 a few days ago.

We're still looking for someone to do Chapter 3, so if you know us and are interested don't hesitate to let us know. You'll be able to take the plot in any direction you choose, so long as you leave lots of loose ends dangling for others to pick up.

See what we have so far here. A permanent link will go up on the side menu too.
Watched Noi Albinoi (Noi the Albino) yesterday. Coming out of the little screening room of The Arts House, I couldn't unequivocally say that I liked the film. I still can't now and feel no need to, but the film has definitely left little patches of rosy afterglow in my memory. The quirky characters. The bleak, stark Icelandic landscape. The near perfect combination of restlessness and helplessness of Tomas Lemarquis's Noi, awkward and trapped in a little village where no one cares very much about him. And the ending where Noi eventually does escape in a sense, but with his intense physical and mental isolation magnified some more.
Oh how true, how true...


ST Life! MARCH 23, 2004

Arts glut


By Clarissa Oon

OF LATE, there has been an explosion of arts centres in Singapore to serve a population of four million.

This Friday, Old Parliament House reopens as an elegant Arts House for music, dance, theatre and other forms after a $15 million restoration paid for by the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.

If you prefer edgier forms from kabuki to new media, the International Centre of Asian Arts (ICAA) is slated to open in April next year in a converted Mohamed Sultan Road warehouse. It is the brainchild of drama company TheatreWorks.

They join two older arts centres: the 1 1/2-year-old Esplanade for large- and small-scale performances, and the 13-year-old The Substation whose art gallery and black-box theatre show offbeat, experimental works.

The diversity of spaces is a good thing for audiences as well as local and foreign artists who now have more platforms for their works.

But the rash of arts centres is also symptomatic of hardware-happy Singapore.

After years of high-profile lobbying turned the durian-domed Esplanade into a reality, it now seems easier to invest in shiny new buildings than in the talent and artwork to fill them.

At least $619 million has been or will be spent on the four arts centres, with money going to renovation or building from scratch, as in the case of the $600 million Esplanade.

As more arts centres and performance venues are built or proposed here, one cannot help but feel the country is spreading its resources too thin even as the cash-strapped woes of older venues persist.

At least $50 million a year is required to keep the four arts centres running, with money coming from the Government, corporate sponsorship, rental and ticket sales.

With cost-cutting in a climate of economic uncertainty, both the Esplanade and The Substation have said they are under-staffed and facing a budget deficit.

Among the factors leading to this were fewer hirers of its venues last year, as well as a 12.3 per cent cut in the National Arts Council's (NAC) operating budget last year.

The Esplanade, which houses a 2,000-seat Theatre and 1,600-seat Concert Hall, has about 150 full-time employees.

This is a stretch considering other similar-sized international arts centres such as the Sydney Opera House and London's Barbican Centre have about 250 full-time staff each.

The Substation has only 12 full-time staff, including eight administrators and two technicians. To be a really dynamic venue, it should ideally have at least three more full-timers.


AND then there is the problem of corporate sponsorship which every arts organisation must tap to supplement funding from the Government.

This is especially critical now that the NAC has stressed that the arts should leverage on business as well as technology in order to grow.

But for The Substation, with its experimental focus and a black box theatre which seats only 120, corporate sponsorship is hard to come by.

As Ms Audrey Wong, its co-artistic director, notes: 'We cannot promise companies that we'll help them reach out to tens of thousands of people.'

The Arts House is targeting a more yuppie audience base for survival, with help from three in-house restaurants and its genteel yet intimate setting.

As part of what general manager Colin Goh calls a 'business model that engages the tripartite relationship between the artistic community, audience at large and the business community', it plans to have corporate nights where companies host clients by buying up tickets for an entire show.

In addition to competing for funding and sponsorship, these arts centres also face the task of developing audiences for their programmes.

The most recent arts survey conducted by the NAC has shown that in 2002, 27 per cent of Singaporeans had attended at least one arts event throughout the year.

This figure is low in comparison with neighbouring cities like Hong Kong, which registered 30 per cent in 2000, and Melbourne, which ranged from 30 to 35 per cent in 1999.

Still, the arts centres can take heart from the proposed setting up of a new high school for the arts, as well as the slew of measures announced in Parliament last week to encourage students strong in non-academic subjects like sports and arts.

These measures will help expand the pie of arts-going audiences here. It is still too early to pass a verdict on The Arts House or the ICAA, especially as it is not known how much funding these and other institutions will be allocated by the NAC for the new financial year, beginning next month.

Hopefully, the arts centres will benefit from the 21.6 per cent increase to the NAC's operating budget this year, to $34.62 million.

But with another multi-purpose arts venue coming up in the form of Capitol, there may be little point in dedicating yet another new building to the 'arts', in a generic, catch-all sense.

The Capitol, which will reopen as a performing arts centre, is being handled by the Singapore Tourism Board, which is expected to announce more details soon.

What is needed is not only a bold, clear-sighted vision for each arts centre as to the kind of art it serves, but also the resources to back that up.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Watched Samira Makhmalbaf's Blackboards (Takte Siah) last night with Justin and Shing Yi.

Makhmalbaf claims in this interview with IndieWire that she did not have a specific agenda beyond being anti-war, and that she wanted to just show things. Just don't watch it sleep-starved like I did.
Finished Moonrise, Sunset, by the late Gopal Baratham. I had wanted to borrow his first and most well-known novel A Candle or the Sun, but no copies were to be found when I was at the local library.

Baratham was a better social activist than writer. The dialogue is clunky -- horribly so when he tries to write Singlish. He has a penchant for off-the-wall characters here, but treats most of them like caricatures. The writing is brash, almost vindictive at times. All these are better suited to political commentary and satire (i.e. A Candle or the Sun) than the metaphysics and drama he tried to tackle in Moonrise, Sunset.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Scenes from a Weekend #7363

Exploring a cluttered, messy little used bookstore and walking out with a guide to Volkswagen Beetles and a decades-old Malay learning guide. (Thanks Teck Loon!)

Singing Yatta! and Fish Fight! at Japanese karaoke.

Browsing at Tower Records with Amanda. Bought Mondo Grosso's Next Wave

Finishing my Rokugan D20 RPG campaign (for now), with a character that was alive for the ending.

The thing I miss the most? Sleep.

A good weekend to usher in a great week. Don't touch that dial!

Friday, March 19, 2004

I never expected to find a Pizzicato Five CD for sale in Singapore. Was at Gramophone yesterday with Amanda when I saw Happy End of the World. It's the US release, but beggars can't be choosers.

Gramophone also has P5's first US release Made in USA. Since I already have that album, I can safely say that it is one of the two coolest CDs on the shelf. The other is Happy End of the World, naturally.

Also picked up Gotan Project's La Revancha Del Tango:

"La Revancha del Tango" by Franco-Argentine outfit Gotan Project takes tango away from the ballroom, the floorshow and the heavy nostalgia that lingers in every step of the dance. Acoustic guitar, piano, double bass and bandone�n (the plaintive button accordion vital to tango) are overlaid with dub treatments, screeching violins, fast trancey beats and speech samples. They are clearly on a mission to get tango into clubland......."

I first heard them on Verve Remixed 2, and fell in love with their tart, saucy remix of Sarah Vaughan's Whatever Lola Wants.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

I finished Chua Beng Huat's Communitarian Ideology and Democracy in Singapore on Monday. Chua attempts to unmask the ideology of the PAP, some means by which the ideology is perpetuated, and more interestingly (to me anyway, seeing as I actually paid attention during my Social Studies and National Education classes) argues that the PAP is attempting to pursue a new communitarian ideology to replace the old one that had "survival" as its theoretical linchpin.

The book is about a decade old by now, but is still an invaluable aid to non-Singaporeans (or locals even) who really want to learn about our political system. Too many observers don't bother looking beyond the "Cowboy-vs-Indians" version.

An updated version that examines developments since 1995 in light of Chua's muted suggestions and Marxist analytical framework would very tantalising indeed :)

As much lighter fare, Yeats is Dead is perfect (shout out to Amanda for the recommendation!).

The writing suffers from lack of characterisation but that's understandable given that each chapter is written by a different person. A sense of fun permeates the work(s) though -- especially in the way that the writers appear to undermine the premises of those before, and throw in little jokes about one anothers' work. Expect to be blindsided by all sorts of funny and incongruous revelations.

A small contribution is made to Amnesty International for every copy bought. I didn't know that until I took mine out of the library and glanced at the back cover, and it tickled me a bit to think that the National Library Board here might have contributed a few pounds to one of the PAP's staunchest (but not very sophisticated nor discerning) critics.
The Guardian Unlimited asks: How well do you know Japanese Cinema?
Too... many... movies... to watch. Gah! x_x

I see that The Trials of Henry Kissinger is in the lineup. I've seen it before, and recommend it to anyone who's interested in Political Science / International Relations / U.S. history / Current Affairs / Government / Public Policy / Statecraft -- aw heck, just go.

It'll be screened on 25th April, at 7pm. Here's the relevant film fest webpage.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Monday, March 15, 2004

From Samurai Cinema 101:

"First we saw that Takeshi Kitano's Zatoichi was a surprise hit both in Japan and around the world, cleaning up at international film festivals. Then the Fall of 2003 brought the releases of Quentin Tarantino's love letter to Japanese chanbara film, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, and Tom Cruise starring in the US produced The Last Samurai. Further bolstering samurai cinema's profile, the awards season saw Yoji Yamada's Twilight Samurai receiving an Oscar nomination for best foreign film and, concurrent with this, there were a slew of samurai cinema DVDs released. Put these facts together and we find that now, more than ever, is the time to be getting into this genre......."

One of the features of this year's Australian Film Festival was the Geoffrey Rush showcase on Saturday. It was rather tiny showcase, lasting, as it did, only one day. It did, however, provide the opportunity to watch Shine, Rush's very first film. Thankfully he's made all the right career moves since then. His Oscar may have made the American-centric audience go into a bit of a tizzy, but there is no doubt regarding his versatility and talent.

Director Hicks (Snow Falling on Cedars, Hearts in Atlantis) has done well for himself too, both in his Hollywood and documentary careers. He was at the screening, accompanied by SFS President Kenneth Tan, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he would be giving a talk after the film. Hick regaled us all with stories and snippets about the making of the film. From funding troubles to encounters with Harvey Weinstein (co-founder of Miramax) to actor idiosyncracies (Noah Taylor who plays the young Helfgott had a piano phobia) and more. I stayed for as long as I could and was almost sorry to leave. But I had to meet Amanda and David.

We eventually ended up at a faux-Norwegian eatery called Skal, 'cos it was the only place nearby that didn't required standing in line for an hour. Prices were ok and the decor tried its best to look upmarket but the food portions could be larger. We weren't expecting too much however, since the management was the same people behind cheap conveyor-belt sushi chain Sakae Sushi. Amanda and David's friend May-ann joined us (Hi May-ann! *wave*) too.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Hey! Those MPs who call for a return to Asian family values may have a point after all!

Let's bring back child marriages! Old men who take wives a third their age! In fact, let's all learn from:

The recent debates in Parliament over our falling birth rate have thrown up several lucid and sensible suggestions from many MPs. More flexible maternity leave, forcing employers to rehire mothers, paternity leave for fathers, making men realise that they must share equally in household burdens, and so on.

And then, you get comments like these:

The Straits Times, 10 Mar 2004

It's your 'duty' to procreate

Carrots alone won't work; it's time for the stick, say several MPs, who want pressure put on married couples who don't want babies

By Tee Hun Ching

HAVING babies is a duty. Make that a duty to self, society and country.

Alarmed? You should be, if you are married and have no desire to procreate.

MPs like Dr Ong Seh Hong (Aljunied GRC) want to pump up the social pressure on such people whom he described as 'irresponsible'.

Yesterday, even as their counterparts continued pushing for carrots such as a five-day work week and cash incentives, Dr Ong and several MPs suggested it was also time to use the stick.

Indeed, the MPs argued passionately that procreation was a responsibility that people should fulfil regardless of sweeteners.

Adopting the most hardline stance among them all, Dr Ong emphasised traditional Asian values as he dismissed the common refrain that family planning is a personal decision.

Declared the father of three: 'Procreation is not only the duty of everyone, but also the responsibility of every citizen towards his family, parents, society and country.'

Those 'irresponsible' people who shun the stork, he said, should realise they would become a liability to the society in future.

To prevent this, he suggested making this group bear the costs of their old age by having them contribute to an account he called the 'Preventive Eldercare Account'.

The money in this account would then provide for their needs when they are old.

He said he believed that Chinese philosopher Mencius' words on filial piety - 'bu xiao you san, wu hou wei da' - still has relevance today. Translated, it means that 'of the three instances of unfilial behaviour, not having descendants is the worst'.

Mr Gan Kim Yong (Holland-Bukit Panjang GRC) also held out a Chinese phrase for those naysayers against children to ponder over - ai qing the jie jing. It means a baby is the product of love.

Marriage and having children came naturally to people of his generation without too much cost-benefit analysis, noted the 45-year-old father of two.

'Sure, there were problems and difficulties, but they add colour and richness to life. If you ask parents today, few of them would regret having babies despite all the difficulties,' he said.

He suggested an annual Love Campaign to add spark to the lives of young couples and help them appreciate the joy and fulfilment of having a family.

'It is like driving a car. We have the best engine, the lubricant is new and the tank is full. But when we turn the key, the engine does not come on because there is no spark in the chamber,' he said.

Dr Ong went a step further and proposed an all-out media blitz to promote family values.

Such messages, he said, could be transmitted through TV dramas 'highlighting the sorry plight of a childless old couple and the great problems faced by an ageing society'.

Joining in the chorus of MPs who lamented the erosion of values that led to having children being viewed less as a duty than a personal choice was Ms Penny Low (Pasir Ris-Punggol), who is single.

She said while children were a status symbol of sorts in the past, the reverse is true today.

The MP, who admitted she faced pressures to get married especially during Chinese New Year from well-meaning relatives, said: 'In the not-so-distant past, we had less to eat and wear, but we had more children to show. Today, we analyse and analyse the cost until we become paralysed by it.'

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Given the heavy anti-left leanings of the PAP, I am baffled at how Acting Minister for Education Tharman Shanmugaratnam came to be where he is now. The introduction to an interview with him published in The Sunday Times reads:

At Anglo-Chinese School, he used to be 'totally uninterested' in his studies, enjoyed needling his teachers and always occupied the last row in class. His best friends were troublemakers and dropouts, he freely admits.

Most of his learning was 'extra-curricular'. He poured his energies into hockey, football, cricket and athletics, playing a match or practising almost every day - until he developed severe iron-deficiency anaemia and a heart abnormality when he was 17.

Afterwards, he immersed himself in leftist literature, student activism, exploring 'alternative' political and economic models, and at one point, even formed a study group with Tan Wah Piow, the University of Singapore student radical who exiled himself to Britain to avoid arrest.

At the London School of Economics, he eschewed the university's standard economic course and crafted and pursued his own degree programme: combining the economics of socialist economies with the sociology of developing countries.

Upon his return to Singapore in 1982, his passport was impounded at the airport and he was hauled up for questioning by the Internal Security Department. But that was no bar to his subsequent career in the civil service: He was managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore before he entered politics in 2001. Since that election, he has swiftly risen through the ranks - as Senior Minister of State for Education and Trade and Industry, then Acting Education Minister. By the end of this year, he is expected to become a full minister.

The link should expire in a couple of days, but there's no harm in posting it here.

I sympathise with the unenviable position he's in -- education has always been a grave concern of parents here and hence a hot political potato. Moreover, with the recent scandals involving schools -- police called in to investigate porn VCDs being passed among students in school, teachers allowing students to perform oral sex on them, and most recently a boy who committed suicide after his teacher said she was going to call his parents down to school to discuss the romance he was having with a girl -- Mr Shanmugaratnam's got his hands full. On the one hand he's can't be fire-fighting all the time. On the other he can't look like he's divorced from the masses in pursuing his large-scale education reforms.

Well, he makes all the right noises in that interview. That's a good start.

Friday, March 05, 2004

This month's University of Chicago Magazine has an article on the UofC Japanese Animation Society. The article isn't very flattering at all, and fails to give enough credit to Japanese animation genre.

Anime glows in Harper's halls

But reading that article brings back so many wonderful memories!

There are so many things that I wish I could change or could have done differently while at the UofC. But if I, were a freshman again, fidgeting in one of those awkward seats unique to Harper 130, gazing at the opening credits while my eyes adjust to the abrupt cut of the room lights, knew full well the trajectory my life would take once caught in the pull of people I would meet and the sheer effort that would be demanded of me......

...... I would do it all over again. In a technicolour heartbeat, in the imperceptible flicker between cels.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Trix are for kids...

Kill Bill Vol. 1 Collector's Set, Japanese Edition.

It's... it's... undescribably cool... And that Be@rbrick is awesome.

/heartbreak... with blood everywhere, mochiron.
The BBC Drama Unit Does Holland

My first movie as a member of the Singapore Film Society was Girl With a Pearl Earring. It's a visually flawless period drama, and thanks to Eduardo Serra's skillful cinematography every frame literally looks like a Dutch 16-17th century painting. It gets uncanny very quickly.

The lacklustre characterisation helps reinforce the impression that the film is really a succession of paintings with some commentary on the side -- kind of like a play in a museum. Colin Firth's Vermeer spends all his time looking dark, brooding and angsty like a frustrated pirate. Tom Wilkinson tries really hard not to let Van Ruijven slide into Taiwanese-drama-serial villainy. Johansson in the lead role acquits herself well, and I liked Essie Davis treading a fine neurotic line as the high-strung Catharina.

For more information on the real painting, here's an in-depth study with lots of links.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Though the mountains divide...

Discovered the day before that Amanda is good friends with an old classmate of mine, David Lok.

... and the oceans are wide...

We had gotten along quite well back in SJI, but I lost touch with him after that. We went to the same JC, but were in different faculties and our paths just diverged from there.

... it's a small world after aaaaaaaaaaaaall!!!

Hey! When are we all meeting for kopi? :D

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Ah, there we go.
Added Haloscan. Trying to figure out how to add a Tagboard as well without screwing up my layout...
Had the afternoon off yesterday, and went to see Monster. I can see why they gave the Best Actress Oscar to Charlize Theron. Christina Ricci's performance here shouldn't be overlooked either.

I don't know how much of the film is true. I wasn't expecting a documentary of course, but Hollywood has never been known for factual accuracy when it comes to history and Monster is no exception. Even so, director Patty Jenkins doesn't allow the film to become bogged down in any moralising or social criticism. Her depiction of Wuornos focuses intensely on personal tragedy, letting it unfold in working-class suburban America, without sentimentality nor judgement.

Monday, March 01, 2004

This has been turning mainly into a book and movie column.

I tried keeping a diary once but could never get into the habit of making daily entries. In my defence, I would like to say that in primary school each day is pretty much like the one before.

Big Fish is a wonderful movie. A tribute to the power of imagination and the endurance of fables, constructed under Tim Burton's uncanny, surreal direction. Loved every minute, and the end made me cry.

(I will imagine an end like that. Everyone I've ever known, smiling and waving at me, glad not that I'm leaving, but glad for me in my leaving.)

Give me surreal. Soak me in the uncanny. Overload my imagination.

Rewind: Last week

Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep.

Moore and Gibbon's Watchmen.